Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

If you’re going to hoard food in a pandemic, choose items that make you giggle when you see them on the shelf.

Marigold Says...

 I have a very old friend in every sense of the word. She doesn’t “do” e -mails or modern technology from choice, so we make contact infrequently. She writes the most marvellous letters which is very refreshing in this day and age and I must say I enjoy writing back. She also does little illustrations as we read along. She writes and loves painting.

She has been on her own for about 12 years and by her own explanation “ I have seen off 2 husbands, one partner, 4 dogs, 3 cats and a tank of tropical fish.”

We met each other when we lived in France. When we knew her she was with her partner, a great bloke, who used to fish and collect “stuff” and make marvellous things, or just paint them. We have a few dotted about.

She is now on her own and happy to be so, not at all a recluse, as she is one of those sort of people who gathers friends. G adores her and so do I.

Anyway, the point of this is, I wrote a letter to her and we set off to post it. First box was sealed, so the next day early we set off again and found one. Hope it gets there as unlike computers you can’t just ‘save’ it.

Have been reading about the last remaining BlockBuster Video Store in Oregon which has been turned into an AirBnb. You can choose a movie from the racks, sit in your BlockBuster Bed and watch it on the big screen. No breakfast is offered just popcorn and chocolate raisins.

The thought of having chocolate raisins on tap while watching a film in bed with G doesn’t fill me with glee. Just imagine if you spilled them in the bed, what would the cleaners think?

We have spent many a happy hour renting films from video shops and excitedly rushing home to view with a plate of sandwiches and our feet up. I remember when you could post them back to the shop. That added a new dimension of excitability. Also combined with taking your library book back and choosing another - happy days.

G Says...

Marigold is missing out on one of life’s great pleasures during the perfidious restrictions imposed by a pandemic. I refer to what I call accidental conversations. Not actual conversations, with friends or even complete strangers, that’s bad enough, but those conversations which take place in one's presence, and of which one is merely a silent spectator. Privy to the words yet lacking the context.
How exciting is that? Harold Pinter, who needs you?

I’m still savouring a snatched fragment of conversation between two dog walkers we overheard the other day.

‘Never bothered me, the arthritis, but what with irritable bowel, a frozen shoulder, gout and now this wretched ear infection, I’ve had it up to here with trying to sound sympathetic when he goes on about his bad back.’

Now that’s true comorbidity. Respect!

Marigold isn’t alone. To the many men and women who cultivate a taste for accidental conversation a journey by train or bus, a walk through a supermarket aisle or just strolling along a busy street, is as good as a visit to the theatre. Not that the option of live theatre is available now either.

It’s true that, as with much ‘experimental’ theatre such as we’ve had offered up at Edinburgh Festivals the scenes are apt to end abruptly, and the plots are often not sufficiently expressed; but against this must be set the variety and immediacy of dialogue and the immense variety of the stories. As with life being like a box of chocolates as expounded by Forrest Gump, you don’t always get what you want. You certainly don’t get what you expect.

A chance remark, overheard in passing, lacking context or prior knowledge of both speaker and recipient, can be sufficiently engaging to occupy our own conversation for an hour or more. The more bizarre and inexplicable the better. A throwaway remark, devoid of any understanding of its antecedent history, can surpass anything produced by a television studio. All we need is imagination and there’s never been a shortage of that in our house.

Imagination is a precious quality. Life would be very dull without it. My own imagination was nurtured from a very early age by an innate ability to ‘play’ by myself. (I almost wrote ‘play with myself, which would have had unfortunate albeit unintentional connotations).

For an imaginative child an empty room can be a castle or an entire solar system and my own imagination took wings when I discovered the escapist world of books. I think it may be necessary to point out I read anything and everything put in front of me. I always have since I realised the written word was packed with possibilities at age five. Newspapers, magazines, books of all kinds, some very low brow indeed.

Judging by the reaction of some of this blog’s readers I have apparently been promoting myself as some learned scholar plodding through a series of dusty yet distinctly worthy tomes. Putting aside the current edition of Viz for the moment, I can assure you all this impression is very wide of the mark.

After certain uncharitable folk poured scorn on me reading the works of Plato and Pliny the Elder, (yes, there are some unkind people out there with distinctly plebeian tastes in literature) it took a moment or two’s consideration before ‘confessing’ to reading The Decameron. After all, by Ancient Greek standards the 14th century is practically cutting edge.

The Decameron is a collection of short stories by the splendidly named 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio – in translation, obviously. I struggle with the linguistic style of Chaucer, who would have been almost an exact contemporary, so medieval Italian would be impossible.

The Decameron is structured as a collection of short stories – think of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales - 100 stories told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa on the outskirts of Florence while trying to escape the Black Death which was afflicting the city and indeed all of Europe.

Very topical. Hence my interest.

In modern times we have the television set as our focal point, but for thousands of years humans huddled together around a fire and told stories. Boccaccio’s group trying to avoid a pandemic are 14th century Italy’s answer to Facebook and Netflix.

As we know only too well, pandemics are no fun at all, but the pressure of coming up with an entertaining tale when called upon appears to have promoted an aura of eustress and positivity within the group. Maybe we should all take a turn as story tellers.

Long ago reading became a lifelong affliction but also a pleasure not without its drawbacks. My weakness, one of many but this is a biggie, is books. I own a lot of books. The Japanese have a word for this condition: tsundoku – the pleasure of owning more books than you’ll ever have time to read. The word, thought to have been coined in the Meiji era is a meeting of two ideas: tsunde-oku – to pile things up and then forget about them, and dokusho – reading books. You may have to accept that as an etymological fact. I did.

I read voraciously, happily reread old favourites and even isolation won’t put a dent in my book a day addiction as I have untold numbers of books on Kindle as well. Having moved house many times, books in large quantities are a big problem. They weigh a lot for a start. I try to do a bit of ‘weeding’ on the occasion of every move. The books I’ve held on to in the hope I’d appreciate them at some later date, the books given by friends insisting ‘This one will be right up your street’ – no, no, no - plus all those, mostly proof copies of still technically unpublished novels, sent to me in my ‘writer’ period to ‘take a look at and let me know what stops it being a best seller,’ (no pressure then), they’re all off to good homes or that mythical ‘farm in Wales’ where excess and/or unwanted pets were reputedly sent.

Every time we move we vow to embrace minimalism. Each time we fail and books, in vast profusion, aren’t helpful. I’m not totally abrogating responsibility here, I’m looking on the bright side. Shelves of books aren’t ‘clutter.’ They’re furniture, ornaments, old friends.

I’m fully embracing the concept of tsundoku.

All these books just waiting to be read and plenty of opportunity to do just that. it’s one of the few bright spots of the Covid-19 era. A novel takes up a relatively small space on a shelf yet it’s much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

There’s a vast world of imagination inside a book. That’s true minimalism and reading a book has to be one of the least disruptive actions a confined person can indulge in. I suppose Marigold and I could learn to play the trombone in our freshly minted free time, but that’s not showing much consideration for others, is it?

Good manners still matter. I’ve suffered from a surfeit of good manners all my life. Manners, behaving myself, not speaking unless spoken to in the company of adults, all this was drilled into me in childhood, and rigorously enforced. It’s not made life easy. I used to let people ramble on, never interrupting no matter how tiresome their conversation. I made a conscious decision not to suffer fools gladly a few years back and it’s made certain aspects of life a lot less irksome, but as for the rest, I’m stuck with the legacy of my upbringing.

I still seem unable to pay for something with the exact change without saying ‘I think that’s right’ as I hand it over, having already checked it three times beforehand, then hanging around while the cash is counted and some unspoken version of ‘permission to leave now’ has been granted. On using a pedestrian crossing I do a strange little jog while offering an apologetic mini wave to any waiting motorists. They rarely acknowledge me, just sit in their cars wishing the weirdo doing the half skip half walk would stop waving his arms about and get off the road.

I apologise when someone barges into me, I apologise for not being able to provide the exact money in a shop, I say please and thank you about fifty times a day. Good manners are a chore.

Marigold is similarly afflicted. A neighbour misheard her name on first meeting her and has called her ‘Marlene’ ever since. Marigold says it’s too late now to correct her, meaning she must live with her new name forever.

Names don’t really matter, not really, as long as we all know who we’re talking to. I used to know a couple named Barnes who lived in Barnes which I thought to be the height of sophistication. We were living in Richmond at the time and it crossed my mind to change my name by deed poll to Richmond, but nothing came of it.

The Barnes of Barnes had a daughter named Juliana and it’s one of those names that sticks in my memory so when I read the other day about a book written by Juliana Barnes I took notice. It was soon evident they only had their name in common. Ms Barnes from Barnes married a Kiwi and went off to run a sheep station last I heard while the one in the magazine was a nun.

The book she wrote was The Book of Saint Albans. As it was printed in 1486 I don’t imagine the two were even related. The Book of Saint Albans is basically a list of collective terms for animals but also covered the topics of hunting, fishing, and coats of arms and provides the earliest list of collective nouns for every type of animal one could possibly imagine.

It’s been regularly updated as new species were discovered. Originally, these nouns were used primarily as hunting terms, although it’s hard to envisage a mediaeval hunting party setting out in pursuit of an ostentation of peacocks. A flock of ravens is called an ‘unkindness’ or a ‘conspiracy,’ both of which appear rather more weird than a simple ‘flock.’

A pride of lions, a prowl of jaguars, yes, I can see the logic there, but what about a wisdom of wombats? A murder of crows, a charm of finches, these I know, but a gulp of cormorants? Oh, come on, Sister Juliana, you can do better than that. As for a pandemonium of parrots, an intrusion of cockroaches or a gulp of cormorants…

Cognitive bias, what I usually call having blind spots, invariably manifests itself at the most inopportune moments. Certain areas of expertise are a closed book to me, yet I frequently offer up opinions on subjects about which my knowledge is minimal, at best, rather than my ignorance be exposed. Most of the time the habit is so ingrained I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s very little consolation to find it’s a common trait in humanity.

Confucius said, ‘real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.’ Okay, he said a lot of things, old Confucius, but that’s one of his better ones.

Speaking to an Italian ‘arteeest’ in a Liverpool art gallery a couple of years ago I was reminded of how I’ve learnt over time to disguise this specific example of my numerous failings, but it’s never been entirely successful. We were talking about art. Reasonable, given the surroundings, and my Italian new best friend, whom I’d never previously met, had decided I was obviously an erudite and cultured individual and the perfect person to engage in art appreciation discussion.

‘Is this you?’ He said. ‘Does it reach out and grab you?’

I was tempted to say, ‘Well, I know what I like,’ but didn’t. It’s the usual get out of jail retort of those wretches like me who know naff all about the actual manner of producing art fit to hang on a wall, but can make a purely personal distinction between what works and what doesn’t, but I’m still hoping to blag my way through this ordeal.

Sadly, events soon spiralled far beyond my bluffing capacity. ‘Isn’t it remarkable, the way the chiaroscuro practically leaps from the canvas? One could almost imagine Caravaggio nodding his approval.’

‘Remarkable,’ I agree, not having a clue what he was on about. When the conversation (lecture) moved on to ombreggiamento effects, I was torn between faking a seizure or dashing outside shouting ‘fire!’*

*As most of this ‘conversation’ was way over my head I had to attempt to remedy my ignorance and look up much of what he was talking about at a later date. Having done so, I’m none the wiser.

Okay, I now know ‘ombreggiamento’ is a fancy Italian way of describing ‘shading,’ but that’s about it.

Marigold came over eventually and rescued me. She always seems to gravitate towards the source of lively and interesting conversation and leaves me at the mercy of the weirdos. Not that we don’t like weirdos; many of our best friends are very odd indeed.

‘He’s interesting,’ she said, looking back at the Italian man. She’d not actually spoken to him, but had obviously concluded from twenty yards away he was far better dressed, far more handsome and, apparently, far more interesting than anyone else in the room. I resolved to cultivate an air of appearing ‘interesting’ in future.

The well dressed/handsome aspects may be beyond my scope.

We’d been dragged along to this event to provide moral support for one of our very odd arty-farty friends who was exhibiting her beachcomber collage collection. We like her work, we even have one on our wall, but it’s not to everyone’s taste.

In fairness, it’s been battered about in transit during several house moves and quite a lot of ‘bits’ have dropped off. Not that anyone ever notices.

Arty-Farty had been busily eavesdropping on peoples’ comments and would howl with joyous laughter when anyone ‘dissed’ her offerings. ‘I get far more pleasure from the bewildered and the loathers than I do from mere praise,’ she told us.

See, I told you we had odd friends.

We got a lift back with our arty-farty friend’s ‘bit of rough’ who turned out to be the gallery owner’s dissolute son. He told us he was a great disappointment to his father which was evidently a source of immense pride. ‘It’s not easy being the difficult one,’ he confided, ‘when one’s perfect siblings set such high standards. It was the same at Harrow when I was the first pupil in the family for three generations not to be Head Boy.’

I suppose a ‘bit of rough’ is a relative term. His car was a rusty relic of a bygone age, a Humber Super Snipe, way past its prime, but the fabulously battered leather seats made up for the scruffy exterior. Even the name, Super Snipe, has style.

I sat up front with the badly behaved one. ‘Look at that walnut dashboard,’ he said. ‘I keep getting told I need a new motor, but where can you find quality like this nowadays?’ It’s a fair point.

He leant over and removed a pair of gloves. Yes, the glove box in this car contained gloves. Nothing else, just a pair of battered gloves. Okay, not string-backed gloves, that would have surely been a step too far, but even so.

Where does he put all his ‘stuff,’ I wondered, thinking of my own car ‘glove box’ which had never seen a glove, I’d scarcely ever imagined it could be used in this fashion. There’d be no room for even a tightly rolled surgical glove anyway.

The last time I cleared out my car interior, the glove box yielded up a host of treasures. Documents, some of them even related to the actual vehicle, keys – mostly unidentifiable – a rusty pair of pliers and an electrical screwdriver, some wrapped throat sweets, a few tattered scraps of paper bearing the telephone numbers of people we hadn’t seen for twenty years, a long lost ‘favourite’ pen, several items of ‘jewellery ‘ worth about a fiver in total but highly prized by Marigold, an asthma inhaler (expiry date 2012) which I tested and seemed to be in working order) and about fifteen assorted nuts and bolts.

Not quite up to Spotted Dick standards, but Marigold's sense of humour has a broad base.

Last one. Even that's gone now.

Well, it's not the Ritz.

An example of Marigold's wasteful nature. I rescued this from the bin. It's nowhere near finished yet.

This bears scant resemblance to the original. Many bits have fallen over the years. Doesn't make any difference.

Another clever friend makes these little chaps. Our friends often make us feel inadequate.