G said he feels like a hunter gatherer now. I said you are only ordering bacon and 4 chicken fillets from the butcher. The only thing you hunt is your glasses and then gather the rubber gloves to bring the delivery in off the step.
The role of ordering delivery food he has nominated to himself. Just as well as I aren’t very organised. I have never had such weird food and treats. I have noticed he has emptied his sock drawer which now contains lots of liquorice, dark chocolate and very cheap midget gems which he says are the best.
I really can’t imagine enjoying a meal in a restaurant surrounded by Perspex. It would be much easier and cheaper to get a takeaway and sit in the car which would be a similar experience. You could even have a conversation with the none existent people in the back or an imaginary dog. Think we will manage with neither of those options.
I've heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?” ― Ronald Reagan
People I know only through social media - ie not ‘real’ friends and for all I know not even real people – do seem to have some very strange misconceptions about me in the Lockdown Era.
Surely you’re lonely? No, I’m not and never have been.
Marigold and I must be getting on each other’s nerves? Oh, come on. We only ever fall out on those very rare occasions I am slow to realise my culpability in a dispute. I apologise, order is restored. Marigold adopts the Queen’s motto: never apologise, never explain, and who am I to argue with either of them?
I suppose you’re busy learning a new skill with all that free time? Another language, perhaps? Oh dear. These strangers who’ve surreptitiously invaded my life know nothing.
After moving to France, on a whim, the whole process took about three weeks from Marigold asking ‘do you fancy living in France’ to turning up with our entire possessions in a van I soon suspected to have been an MOT failure parked in the wrong slot by the Van Hire company.
The house was vast with equally massive outbuildings, the nearest neighbours were a mile away, the house was unliveable having been abandoned for the past thirteen years and we lacked both construction skills and the ability to speak French.
Learning the language by association only with the staff of builders’ merchants isn’t recommended, but we managed and after ten years I reckoned I’d ‘cracked’ one language and was ready for a fresh challenge when we moved to Spain.
I genuinely thought learning Spanish would be a doddle. It wasn’t. Learning a language requires tremendous feats of memory and there’s the first problem. I know ‘lots of stuff,’ but dredging it from the bottomless pit of my memory when an instant response is required, that’s not as facile as it used to be.
I could win Mastermind, I keep telling myself, if only they’d relax the rules a little. Instead of relentlessly firing questions at the contestants, why not allow a reasonable period of grace to allow those contestants who ‘know’ the answer, but need a little longer to come up with it. About twenty minutes between questions sounds about right. No, I wouldn’t watch it in that format either, but at least I’d stand a chance of winning.
Learning Spanish, as with any language, isn’t all that difficult. Learn a thousand words and you’re in business. Leaving aside the inconvenient niceties of grammar and perceived pronunciation for now, that thousand words will get you well past the ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ stage, but won’t ever get you presumed to be a native speaker. Fluency is reserved for the very few.
Add in my slight deafness, bad enough in English but seriously limiting in another language and I knew I’d got problems. Our only neighbour on the remote goat track that formed the access road to our ruined finca was an elderly man named Candido. He spoke to us every time we saw him. We never understood a word he said.
He was often the worse for wear after an afternoon sampling the (vile) spirit he distilled in his bodega/shed, which didn’t help our understanding and his Andalusian dialect was pretty much indecipherable. About a year later, a Spanish friend who spoke excellent English called to see us and confided he couldn’t understand anything Candido was saying either.
Marigold never sees the absence of linguistic skills as a barrier. She can ask for and receive food, drinks, directions anywhere in the world without using any words at all. I remember making an utter fool of myself in a Chemist shop in Croatia, or may have been Romania, floundering around with phrase book in hand while asking if they stocked knee bandages. When the woman produced a packet of Viagra I gave up and handed over to Marigold. She rolled up my trouser leg, pointed to the swollen knee and within seconds an elastic bandage was offered.
I really don’t know why I bother.
So, no I haven’t learnt a new language during lockdown. Just one more opportunity scorned. When we first hit Lockdown I realised I would be forced to find a substitute for the daily exercise routine my ailing, substandard and barely fit for purpose heart demands. No more ten mile hikes, yomping across moorland with a rucksack full of bricks on my back, no more pre dawn plunges into the ocean and absolutely no chance of ever breaking a world weightlifting record for the clean and jerk.
When I broached the subject to Marigold she looked a tad bemused. ‘I didn’t know you’d actually started an exercise routine,’ she said. ‘I remember you saying you were intending to start one. Sometime.’
‘I need to exercise,’ I said. ‘The Health Minister and Boris himself are worried about me’ and proffered in evidence my first ‘vulnerable person at death’s door’ letter advising me to avoid people, places and impure air at all costs to try and ensure my survival for another week or so.
Marigold was actually quite supportive of my plans. I can walk outside, up and down the path, without ever coming into contact with anyone else. It’s not much of a path, a return trip, there and back, takes about thirty seconds, but the only other alternative is to repeatedly walk up and down the hall which I can’t imagine is beneficial to either heart or floor coverings.
I have an exercise bike housed in what an estate agent would try and persuade a putative buyer was a second bedroom. With the bike in situ there’s not much room for anything else.
Marigold saw the bike for sale on Gumtree a while ago, long before the onset of a pandemic, and noticed its listing dated back eight months. ‘They’ll take an offer after all this time,’ she announced and we set off for a viewing.
On arrival at the house, with Marigold navigating this took quite a while, my initial impression was one of surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be so big.
‘It cost £450,’ the seller informed us as we crammed together in his hallway with the enormous orange contraption taking up most of the space, ‘but I’ll take £25.’
The owner (verbally) demonstrated its ability to record times, duration and, most importantly in his view, cadence by pointing at the large dial mounted on the handlebars.
‘I don’t think it’s working just now,’ he said, ‘Probably needs a battery.’
Marigold offered him £20, he was happy to accept, and we carted it back home.
Did I mention it weighs about as much as three fridge freezers? The magic dial didn’t work and still doesn’t. I doubt it ever will now as I knocked it off its mounting on getting it through the front door so my ‘cadence’ will be forever a mystery.
There are eight settings, varied by turning a knob on the frame. Setting number one is virtually free wheeling- a gust of wind will set the pedals spinning – while setting number five requires the rider to have thighs like Sir Chris Hoy to budge the pedals. I have no idea what the other settings are supposed to do as the knob only works on setting number one and setting number five.
‘Twenty quid, eh?’ I said.
‘He wanted twenty-five,’ Marigold pointed out, ‘until I beat him down.’
I use it, not every day but most days, pedalling away furiously (high cadence) until exhaustion point or five minutes, whichever comes first. Usually the former. As with my walking regime the key to success has been a smart watch, busily recording steps and heart rate. I need to keep an eye on my heart rate – enough to do good but not so high as to risk harm – so having a contemporaneous record is vital.
Knowing how many steps I take is of little value as I walk for a set time, twenty minutes brisk walking up and down the path at a time is all anyone could reasonably stand, but Marigold expressed an interest in the data so she bought a wrist band to record her own steps.
Now it’s a competition.
A one sided one as even someone as competitive as me draws the line at step counting. It’s 24 paces, end to end, along my marching route, 25 if I concentrate, while Marigold takes about 85 steps to cover the same distance.
Or so it seems. Does she really walk like a gheisha? I hadn’t noticed it in the past.
‘Eight thousand, three hundred and seven,’ Marigold announces, flopping red faced into her chair.
I nod and try to look impressed. I hadn’t even noticed she’d been out. For all I know she’s only been out there for ten minutes. I try not to look at my wrist, but just have to do it. It’s only half eight in the morning, I’ve not even got my shoes on yet, not even considered going out for a ‘walk.
‘A hundred and eight,’ I say. Marigold doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t need to. It’s another crushing victory.
I was glancing through a copy of The Spectator published on 15 October 1954 recently.
What, you mean everyone else doesn’t hang on to their ‘stuff’ like me? Okay, it’s a fair cop, I found it while doing what some people call online research, but Marigold and I say is just us being nosy.
The subject of my far from prurient interest was Compton Mackenzie. Let’s be fair to him, Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie. I was convinced he founded the Scottish National Party - even though he wasn’t Scottish he identified as Scottish – and it turns out he did.
I knew he’d been a prolific author, about 100 books, even though Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen are the only ones most people will have heard of and only then because of the film tie in. I didn’t know he had been President of both the Croquet Association and the Siamese Cat Club. Now, that’s much more interesting than founding a Nationalist Movement.
Getting to the point, finally, I’ll offer up this quote from the great man of letters taken from his correspondence with Sir Harold Nicolson who had ‘declared recently that the novel was dead.’ Compton Mackenzie wondered if this were indeed the case ‘I should presently be called as a witness in a murder trial’ and took issue with Nicholson’s conclusion.
He did add, however, 'While I would not say that the novel is dead yet, I often wonder whether anybody will be writing novels fifty years from now.' This was written in 1954, remember, and novels are still being written. More than ever before.
We will always need forms of escapism. In the present day, however, newspapers and magazines are in decline and the written word, if not doomed to extinction, shows every signs of morphing into very different means of communication.
Marshall McLuhan prophesied in the 1960s that people would eventually stop reading paper based print completely and henceforth communicate instead through electronic media. I was just one of the multitudes who mocked this sacrilegious subversion.
His words back then, ‘the medium is the message’ resonate rather more vividly today. McLuhan’s chief concerns were radio, telephone and television. If he’d foreseen the arrival of the Internet Age he’d have spontaneously combusted.
'But, what are you doing with all this free time? Explain yourself,' they demanded and after much prevarication I decided I’ll give it a go. If this ends up as a boring essay, please forgive me and the blog will be back in light and frothy mode very soon.
If you’re bored, please blame me and not Marigold who couldn’t be boring if she tried.
So she doesn’t.
The acceptance of routines can be very important for many people because they offer a safety net, safety, security, an impression of predictability. The outside world shrinks, becomes less of a challenge. Bad things happen, but only on television. Yes, burying one’s head in the sand is a massive con job, but reality is much harder to live with.
I decided I need to keep busy. After a week’s thought the best I could come up with was to take another look at a book I ‘finished writing’ about a year ago. When I say ‘finished’… Editing, formatting, all the technical fiddling that takes a scribbled manuscript and knocks it into shape takes up a lot of time.
Far too much time. Once the laborious, tedious, seemingly sisyphean task has begun it takes over one’s life. Everything else stops, but as I remind myself every day now, I have plenty of free time for a ‘project.’