People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
‘How old are you anyway?’ That’s a question only a person only just out of their teens would ask. I’ve been ‘chatting’ to the grandchild of a friend. Only on the phone, obviously, so I missed seeing the expression of disbelief that my reply may have produced.
Age is just a number. Yeah, right. I’ll grant you it’s not all that important. Unless you're a cheese or a bottle of wine when the process is beneficial. I suspect I’m more inclined to resemble a bottle of milk than a bottle of wine where the ageing process is significantly less rewarding.
‘It must be wonderful, being retired,’ she said with the absolute certainty of youth. ‘All that free time and no stress.’
Ah, bless! Such innocence. I didn’t argue as I am no longer young enough to know everything.
I’m feeling more than usually enervated today. Weak, feeble, listless, it’s the weather, isn’t it? Overcast, dull, damp, it’s such a change from that brief sunny interlude when I was running around like a spring lamb. Marigold scoffed at this description at the time, but has no problem in ignoring my ‘woe is me’ protestations on the very rare occasions I fail to leap out of bed announcing a flurry of tasks I intend to complete with the next hour or two.
I eventually made a start on clearing out what I call the Folderol Drawer. We’ve always had one wherever we lived and this one is both wide, deep and capacious. Or it was until we started chucking things into it. It’s full to the brim with ‘stuff’ we don’t need, don’t want, may never need. The perfect easy start to the day. No heavy lifting involved.
I abandoned the task after a brief rummage uncovered a long lost favourite pen I’d long since given up for lost. Best not be too rash, the rest of this clutter may yet ‘come in handy.’ This isn’t a generational descent into hoarding – only one drawer after all – but an example of future recycling, even though I’m pretty sure none of these items serves any useful purpose.
Maybe in a year or two, who knows? Best not take any risks with potential future treasures. The favourite pen, with which I wrote out early drafts of books while still in my computer denial phrase, doesn’t work. Ah well. I’ll just keep it for sentimental reasons. I popped it back in the drawer.
I’ve done an extensive inventory of our pandemic hoarding stocks. It’s not impressive. As Marigold says, ‘beans and peas are essential items.’ As for variety, well there’s peas, beans and er, not much else.’
I busied myself for arranging them in use by date order. Life’s pretty full on these days; one treat after another. A couple of hours flew by, as they do in lockdown, (ha!) and I was looking out of my window at the wind and the rain as Marigold said, brightly, ‘Almost at the end of July already and we hardly been outside since the middle of March. We’re not missing much today.’
No, we’re not. It makes us appreciate those who are out in all weathers because it’s their job. The bin men for a start. They came even earlier today, banging and clattering. The continuation of their early morning calls is a boon even now most of the rest of us are either restricted to four walls or on furlough, the extra holiday with pay treat that keeps on giving.
Bin men help us all, gently reminding us another day has dawned, or is about to dawn, and giving us the opportunity to throw off the covers and embrace life again. Our post lady isn’t a ray of sunshine even on a nice day so she’ll be even grumpier today.
We don’t get much post lately, unless it’s from Matt Hancock who has become a pretty regular correspondent. I’m touched that a Minister of State finds time to write to me even in the midst of a National Emergency. (I thought a national emergency rated capitalisation)
One of the people we know – I won’t say ‘friends’ as that’s a very exclusive club – emailed us recently to say she’s ‘invested’ in a luxury kitchen and has ‘got the builders in.’
How lovely for her.
What’s a luxury kitchen and how will it differ from the (immaculate and fully kitted out) kitchen that was already in the house when they moved in six months ago? Nobody calls those labour saving appliances that so bewitched previous generations: washing machines, dishwashers and the like, luxury items any more and while everyone, including us, still calls it a Hoover we love our cordless Dyson.
Is it a ‘luxury’ though? Surely not. Luxury items continue to proliferate, even if only on the packaging. Luxury toilet rolls, bit of a stretch that, champagne truffles, bath oil, even smoked salmon. Are there tins of ‘luxury’ baked beans out there yet?
It all seems far removed from the days when the word luxury meant just that. My parents, suckers for slick advertising, went into raptures over the newest invention: a ‘fitted’ carpet. Wall to wall floor covering. It didn’t actually ‘fit’ very well, not after my dad realised the ‘fitting’ part was extra so decided it was a job he could easily do himself.
All prompted by an advert that seemed to be on Britain’s television screens twenty times a day: 'This is luxury you can afford — by Cyril Lord.’
It’s been a while since we had any luxury in our life. Better make that never. We don’t crave five star experiences. Our happiest times while travelling were spent ‘roughing it,’ either in a distinctly minimalist camper van or flitting from place to place choosing our overnight accommodation on a whim with luxury not even being at the bottom of the list of requirements.
We lived in a tent for six months. Just outside Newquay and this marked the start of our love affair with Cornwall. Not a fancy ‘glamping’ style tent, this was a basic, two person ridge pole effort from Millets’ bargain range. We did allow ourselves the luxury of a mattress – a piece of foam, a whole inch thick – a rolled up towel each for pillows and that was it.
It’s hard to carry anything other than basic essentials when your entire belongings have to fit in an Austin A35. We found work easily enough, just as well as we had no money at all on arrival. Marigold got a job in the Bilbo Surf Shop and I reinforced my decision to abandon the academic life of Oxford in great style by obtaining work as a doorman at the town’s busiest and most notorious pub which was just over the road from where Marigold toiled away.
We used to say ‘bouncer’ not ‘doorman’ in those days, back when rodent control operatives were still rat catchers. I hear the term du jour is door supervisor now, but whatever the nomenclature the role is that of a ‘chucker out of undesirables.’
Being occasionally undesirable myself at the time it was a classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper. In many ways it was a dream job. I was usually able to persuade unruly or especially truculent customers to go outside for a breath of air without resorting to the violent laying on of hands and almost everyone was in happy, holiday mood.
I was provided with liquid refreshment ‘on tap’ as required and a staff meal, usually either pie and mash or the latest craze in the pub trade, a Ploughmans’ Lunch. If you managed to locate a ploughman in Newquay, never easy, he’d surely decline the offer of a chunk of hard cheese, some person’s misjudged version of half a ‘French Stick’ and a dollop of pickle where I suspected (with good reason) some of the dark lumpy bits were actually dead flies trapped in the glutinous mixture. That French stick may have had the correct shape, but there ended any resemblance to the genuine Continental article, but we weren’t to know that back then.
Even so, this was the 1960s, the British at that time were an ill informed bunch at the best of times, ever eager to pounce on the latest offerings dreamed up by advertising men in smoke filled rooms.
Not that much has changed in the interim, apart from smokers becoming workplace pariahs.
The Sailors’ Arms is still there, apparently still thriving, and still a Mecca for the young. I don’t imagine current regulations allow quite so many to be crammed inside, customers took it in turns to breathe back then, and I very much doubt it will be to my taste nowadays, but back then we loved it.
The bar staff were mostly itinerant surfers from Australia and New Zealand, following the waves around the world and the regular after hours lock ins were legendary. We rarely came across anyone there with much of a plan in their heads. The next big wave, that was about as far as a surfer’s imagination stretched and none of our circle possessed much in the way of a prescient nature.
Which suited us very well.
Morocco and its Atlantic coast surfing beaches was to be the next stop for most of us. Long haired, free spirited hippies without structured lifestyle plans, we fitted in perfectly back in 1969 and there have been many subsequent occasions when we’ve stepped back from the brink of complete respectability just in time to avoid being considered ‘normal.’
Marigold and I often think of those wild, carefree days and often the catalyst for memory is a song we associate with the Sailors’s Arms juke box, full volume and free play settings applied after hours.
I can precisely date certain songs by their association with that jukebox. Honky Tonk Women from the Rolling Stones alternating with Get Back from The Beatles. Elvis offering up In the Ghetto and so many more. Give Peace a Chance, Dancing in the Street, Pinball Wizard, Lily the Pink, they were on every day, every night with Je T’aime Moi non Plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin always available as a slow dance mood enhancer for the bar staff who had ‘pulled.’
Melting Pot by Blue Mink and Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris were on that jukebox too. Neither would get played on the BBC these days.
As avid travellers we’ve occasionally been asked, ‘what’s the point?’ The enquiry is invariably genuine. A woman said to me recently in response to a remark I made to someone else about the joy I find in the solitude of a desert landscape, ‘why do you have to actually go there and put up with the heat, the discomfort, all of that when you could just watch someone else show a video of a desert on YouTube?’
Would there be any common ground if I bothered to take issue with remarks like that? No, so I didn’t bother. Marigold thinks I’m mellowing.
‘About time too,’ she added.
Jack Kerouac would never have bothered to inspire the Beat Generation with ‘On the Road’ if he had been content to stay cooped up in his bedroom forming a view of what the world had to offer him by watching television.
I came across this passage a few days ago. Nothing to do with Covid-19, but it encapsulates the current lifestyle of many people.
‘The nights were long...The innkeeper could not travel to his village, but he was well supplied. He made soups and stews. He sat by the fire and read books he had been meaning to read...He drank whiskey and wine. He read more books.’ ― Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea.