Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

My Childhood. No Connection with Pandemic, I was just a very Flatulent Child

Life in House Arrest Conditions Addles the Brain. Here's the Proof

M Says...

Here we are again happy as can be all good friends and jolly good company.

Whoo hoo, some people are now allowed to sort of mingle, but with all sorts of conditions. You can’t have a bath together or look over a high wall.

We have expanded our walk and now go around the block. Very strange at first as we walked with a sort of reticence in case people popped up like hobbits trying to blow venom at us.

None of this happened, as it was very early, six o’clock in the morning and the only person about was a twelve year old paperboy, who was managing to ride a bike with his bag on his back, do a wheelie and smoke a fag at the same time.

Rattling along as well was the milkman. He had obviously got a good lockdown business going on selling cake, bread, biscuits and what looked like potatoes, everything but milk. It was either that or his weekly shopping. We ran away and hid when they came into sight.

The walking is showing results. I have built it up to such a speed I nearly overtake myself. I suspected someone next to me was clapping, but he was only batting away a fly.

We are starting to eat our meagre pandemic larder, including tinned steak. I think it’s just about ok. G thought it delish, mince mixture, yuk, again G liked it. Shiphams sardine paste, why oh why? Next door’s cat likes it.

G said we could put it on a baked potato. I said and then what throw it away? Nothing will ever be thrown away.
I have got some more pandemic staples which I will not admit to. Remember we were in a heightened state of confusion, and thought we were going to starve and be found in a cave.

 

G Says…

Not much from Marigold today. She’s been far too busy. Apparently. This isn’t laziness. Perish the thought. Even so, I don’t think temporary indolence is an unkind description. Monday’s are difficult, aren’t they?

Pause to check what day it is.

Yes! It’s Monday.

Phew!

I’m in occasional contact by the miracle of email with an old friend who tells me he’s about to croak any day now. He says that every time we speak, so a panic attack isn’t called for, but he’s been in bed for a very long time now.

‘We’re in the same boat,’ he says. Well, not really. It’s not like comparing my personal version of lockdown with most other people who can go shopping or have a beach stroll. They’re wearing an ankle tag, I’m in house arrest.

The difference is one of degree. My friend can’t go out and almost certainly never will. I won’t even attempt to equate chronic illness with lockdown. One occurs because sickness has already come, the other is an attempt to avoid it. One is usually permanent, the other is temporary – even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Of course the lines between health and sickness seem more blurred than they used to. Recently most of us were housebound. Some of us still are. But for some of us, this is a permanent state. Time for the rest of us to count our blessings.

I was reading recently about a Nasa astronaut Andy Thomas, who has been on four space flights, including 20 weeks onboard the Mir space station in 1998. After 141 days in space he must know a bit about dealing with isolation. He couldn’t even go outside to bring a parcel off the doorstep.

This section of what he had to say made a lot of sense. ‘When you’re in isolation, you get the opportunity for a lot of introspective thought. You get a chance to think about your life. What are the things you do that you like and what are the things you do that you don’t particularly like, but you do them merely out of obligation.’

There must be something about space travel that gives you insight. We all do things we don’t really want to do, but we do them anyway out of a sense of obligation, of duty.

Don’t we? Surely it’s not just me and that astronaut bloke.

Recognition of a situation is all well and good but doing something about it can be a big step. As another man from NASA said way back in 1969, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

I’ve been engaging in a bit of a dispute with our electricity supplier. I can’t write a letter as I’m forbidden to go within five miles of a post box. I may be slightly overstating the stern conditions attached to my enforced house arrest regime since lockdown began, but better safe than pushing up daisies.

My grandma used to say that, ‘I’ll be pushing up daisies next week if you don’t mend your ways.’

I should point out I was only about five at the time.

Our next door neighbour was called Daisy and on one occasion I asked ‘pushing up Daisy’s what?’

‘You’ll be the death of me, lad,’ she snapped which left me still feeling slightly confused.

So, postal service out of the question, It’s impossible to email them as all their emails to us are marked ‘do not reply’ and there’s a direct message service which I tried several times and the best response I had was ‘your call is important to us. The current waiting time to connect to one of our helpline staff is 37 minutes. Please try later.’

It’s a similar story on the Customer Services Helpline. ‘Is your call in connection with Covid-19? If so please press 1 on your handset.’ There are no other options.

Eventually I pressed 1 on my handset and waited for 17 minutes while someone with no musical taste whatsoever ran through their ‘I think I’ll kill myself now’ playlist.

Eventually I got in touch with Karen. Why Karen was ever considered suitable for the job of answering the telephone is a matter for Human Resources to consider at their next staff appraisal meeting, but I will say she was very polite.

Well, her tone was polite. I couldn’t actually hear what she was saying which I have noticed in the past tends to restrict normal conversation.

Okay, I’m a bit deaf, but when I passed the call on to Marigold, who can, and often does, listen to conversations being carried on fifty yards away, she said she couldn’t understand anything Karen was saying either.

I’m quite used by now to still not hearing something repeated to me for the third time, normally dealt with by laughing inanely, saying ‘oh yes’ and hoping for the best.

We’re no further forward, but being home all day does give ample opportunity to keep trying the help line and hoping Karen is on her lunch break.

Being stuck at home can make you rethink how much ‘stuff’ we really need. I made a very casual enquiry to Marigold this morning. ‘Do you really need all those clothes stopping your wardrobe door from closing?’

I couldn’t possibly write down her reply. I decided to set an example and set out on a marathon trying on session of my own sartorial splendour.

We have downsized as regards property, but not so much when it comes to clothes. I have tried to set aside the outfits, winter and summer versions, I had reserved as suitable only for ‘out side jobs’ involving dirt, dust and the likelihood of the clothing becoming swiftly unfit for purpose.

I told Marigold but she claimed to be unable to distinguish between the ‘only fit for clearing out a septic tank’ clothing and the pile I had reserved for ‘going out.’

I discarded any items that don’t fit perfectly. Quite a few of them, surprisingly. Alterations are not on the horizon. Then there are the shirts or sweaters that don’t ‘suit me.’ Sadly I had to agree with Marigold that her opinion should take precedence. She decided the pile of ‘mucky outside jobs’ clothing should be significantly enhanced.

A stressful episode, not to be repeated any time soon. It’s not easy maintaining a reputation as a dandy and snappy dresser in the face of such brutal scrutiny.

Before the Pandemic. Coffee and toast in our favourite cafe

Here's the 'at home' version. The presentation needs some work.

What? There's More? Afraid so.

One of our arty-Farty friends has been rabbiting on about an online art course she ‘just adores’ run by Ivy Newport.

If you want more info it’s called Flight and Feather, an online mixed media and encaustic workshop.

Discounting, for now, a wise remark made by Alexei Sayle – ‘anyone who uses the word workshop who isn’t an engineer is a self abuser (or words to that effect) – I just said, ‘oh, that sounds good.’

Isn’t it great when the person at the other end of the phone says, ‘do you want me to explain about encaustic painting?’ and you’re able to say ‘no thanks.’ Wax encaustic painting technique was described by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, written in the 1st Century AD.

See, I knew reading weird books would come in handy.

Elvis Presley, The King, wasn’t just a great singer he was a notable gourmet and way ahead of his time as a nutritionist. I suspect there will be people who disagree.

Well, hang on a minute. Leaving aside for now the Cheeseburger addiction, a well known medical condition and may even be an actual ‘syndrome’ which is the Gold Standard for medical issues, what about his favourite sandwich? If you’re not yet serving up peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches, you’re missing out on the fodder that kept Elvis ticking over in between burgers. Try one. Do you want to live for ever?

I love sandwiches. It started early in life. Sugar butties were a treat I can still taste even now. The joy of a crisp sandwich only really took flight when I opened a bag of crisps and the little blue bag of salt was missing. Smiths made very good crisps but their quality control system was notoriously unreliable. Missing out the salt should have been on the statute book as a crime against humanity. After rummaging in vain I laid the crisps between two slices of bread and made what I imagined to be a unique feast.

I was only five so the realisation I wasn’t the first to experiment in this way was hard to take.

Smiths crisps received a body blow quite early in my childhood when rival firms sprang up offering the hitherto unthinkable: ready salted crisps.

Walkers set up in business in 1948 and now has not only the biggest crisp factory in the world in Leicester, but by employing Gary Linekar has enabled the poor fellow to make ends meet and accept a mere pittance* from the BBC for his media ‘work.’

*If you’re American, this sentence contains irony. Yes, I know, it’s a concept you will find almost as hard to understand as the Laws of cricket.

Getting back to crisps, I must mention Golden Wonder. By the mid 60s they’d blown away the rest and were the biggest crisp makers by far. With a proliferation of crisp makers adding a new and even more irrational flavour about every twenty minutes and expanding into designer crisps, organic crisps, fat free, potato free and bizarrely named ‘healthy’ crisps I’m getting rather bewildered.

I prefer the original, plain crisps to most of the fancy ones. I think asking for a packet of ‘plain’ crisps sounds slightly tacky. I much prefer requesting a packet of ‘regular’ crisps.

A small point, maybe.

Arranging crisps on a sandwich is an art form, but the degree of difficulty is worth it. A decent sandwich needs careful preparation. Banana sandwiches are delightful, filling and nutritious with the option of choosing cross cut slices or for the purist longitudinal strips.

Chip sandwiches, sheer delight, must be on white bread for perfection and vinegar usage should be minimal. My personal favourite has to be the fish finger sandwich. Even writing about it makes me want one.

Today I’ll be eating mashed potato blended with brown sauce in my sandwich because there are no rules anymore. If that sounds boring, why not mix in a few processed peas as well? Pre-squashed obviously.

I wonder if I’m considered sufficiently a la mode to write a food blog.

Probably not.

As with art appreciation, I like what I like and that’s good enough for me. I like breakfast buffets in hotels. It’s my naturally greedy nature. I wander around with my bowl or plate, spoilt for choice but loving it.

My only complaint is my fellow diners. A man we came across in a rather dingy hotel in Ukraine springs to mind. I think it was in Yalta, but can’t be sure. The wretch who irritated me was hogging the toaster. One of those where you lay a slice of bread on a revolving grill and it turns up again about thirty seconds later transformed into golden toast.

While we were waiting for the man to load up the contraption with a dozen slices of the local dark, dense and almost black bread, I made the mistake of saying to Marigold, ‘this bread may not be up to being toasted. Each slice weighs half a pound.’

The irritatingly slow toaster hogger whipped round and launched into a ‘well, that’s just where you’re wrong, matey’ type of retort.
Not at all what I’d expected.

He was obviously not a local as the Ukrainian version of spoken English was by now pretty familiar to us after a week or so spent traversing this vast country. I didn’t exactly argue the point of whether Ukrainian bread made good toast as my knowledge base was pretty low, but my expression must have spoken volumes as the man seized his toast and stormed off.

When I reached our table, Marigold always claims the most remote section as she hates anyone chatting to her when we’re trying to fuel up for the day. Any other meal is fine – in fact we both rabbit away pretty much nonstop at every other time of the day - but breakfast is sacrosanct.

I once thought a Trappist Monastery breakfast would be perfect, but we stayed in a monastery in Spain once and the monks were a very chatty bunch. That was in Caravaca de la Cruz, one of only five places designated as Holy Cities by the Vatican.

If you want to know the others, (we’ve visited four out of five without being regarded as remotely saintly), you’re welcome to look up the details in one if our earlier blog posts entitled No Dirty Habits.

We’d barely taken a mouthful when ‘toaster man’ appeared and took a seat at ‘our’ table. There were half a dozen other empty table nearby, but our worst fears were confirmed: he had come for a chat. It turned out he wasn’t Ukrainian, as we’d already surmised, but had moved here from Poland a few years ago to raise the intellectual level of Ukrainian university students. He didn’t use those exact words but that was the gist of it.

Despite surreptitious nudges from Marigold that came close to overturning the table I made the mistake of joining in with his ‘chat.’ After about a minute I thought to myself, ‘I’m getting in over my head here’ and lapsed into silence as our unwanted dining companion reeled off a stream of inconsequential advice and instruction.

Did you know a funambulist was a name for a tightrope walker? No, neither did I. If I ever have to say or write the word again I suspect I shall just say ‘tightrope walker.

Our new friend, self proclaimed, had a name I could neither spell nor pronounce. Marigold insists it was Dettolfungious. It wasn’t, but I think she’s on to something as it was a very long name and certainly began with ‘Dettol.’

Unfortunately he spoke almost entirely in the third person so he repeated the name about twenty times in the next ten minutes.

‘Dettol is surprised at the low level of knowledge in this country. Dettol is particularly surprised at how few people have any interest in molecular gastronomy.’

‘Well, better add me to the list,’ I thought, laying my prune stones around the rim of my plate in an artistic fashion.

Had I really eaten 14 prunes?

(Having looked it up later, an annoying habit I sometimes wish I could break, I now know molecular gastronomy is a sub discipline of food science that investigates the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking).

‘Dettol is concerned about the lack of knowledge he finds everywhere he goes. You would be surprised how few people Dettol meets are even aware the process by which bread toasts is called the ‘Maillard Reaction’.

He paused, possibly expecting a nod of agreement or appreciation from me.

I missed my cue.

‘Dettol reminds you the process is a variant on caramelisation, a chemical reaction between the amino acids and sugar contained in bread. It’s a non-enzymatic version of browning bringing out furanones to create a different flavour in the same way heated sugar gives rise to caramel, as far removed in texture and taste from sugar as toast is from bread.’*

He sat back in his chair again as if waiting for applause. Marigold looked momentarily concerned when he looked directly at her, but relaxed when he switched his attention back to me.

*No, of course I didn’t remember all this stuff verbatim, but the ‘Maillard Reaction’ is now glued into my memory banks, along with a load of other unusable nonsense and I was able to ‘remind’ myself of Dettol’s wisdom when writing this.

My plate was empty by now, Dettol’s toast, cheese, ham and large pile of what looked like cat sick remained untouched. He was the only one talking. This was a lecture, not a conversation.

After expounding on the inadequacies and inconstancy of Ukrainian lifestyle, customs and educational standards for a further five minutes or so, Dettol pushed back his chair, said an abrupt ‘goodbye’ and strode away.

We watched as he sat down at another table containing two weary young people apparently still in recovery mode from a prolonged and exhaustively gymnastic sex session.

I mentioned this to Marigold who appeared not to have reached the same conclusion.

‘That was fun,’ Marigold said. ‘I don’t know why you encourage people like that to start talking while we’re having breakfast.’

The unfairness and inappropriateness of that accusation still lingers.

Come all this way and now there's no one to talk to. Might as well be in Lockdown.

Marigold won't allow any photos of herself due to Lockdown Hairstyle issues. I'm not so shy. Here's a current photo of me. Well, some of me.