Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Very rare breed. A white chested Labrapigeon

Marigold Says...

What I have noticed now we are venturing out a bit is the number of designer dogs. Never noticed that many before. Have they all been bought because of Covid? Most of them are a something or other mixture with the word poo at the end and a very exotic looking one we saw the other day had a diamond collar. Didn’t ask what it was as the owner looked a bit shifty. The dog looked quite ridiculous.

We do see a regular walker who has a very fat bulldog. It waddles along and we can hear its laboured breathing from over the road. We talked to the owner once and she said it doesn’t like other dogs, but looking at it, it couldn’t do much harm as its jaws overlap.

Was reading the other day that all these lockdown dogs are going to suffer once the owners go back to work, and will be wrecking the house out of frustration, and let’s be honest they will end up dumped.

We had a rescue labrador for many years who was famous for escaping and eating anything. We had a bbq once and he pinched and ate 20 uncooked sausages, which he had dragged upstairs and was eating under the bed. You really can’t have a bbq without sausages. Banana skins were a favourite and empty yoghurt containers, plastic and packaging he found delicious. He lived till he was 17 and we still talk very fondly of him. Another weird thing he liked doing was getting dirty washing out of the laundry basket and burying it. If anything was missing, we had to go and find freshly dug mounds in the garden.

We had our first coffee ‘out’ today since March. The usual latte tasted awful, as we have got used to our dishwater strength instant brand. Maybe another time, we might try food. It seems if you have food you have to give a code, didn’t understand it all. It is so they can trace you in case of Covid or maybe salmonella poisoning. Who knows? Maybe they are marking you on table manners or your attractiveness.

We were meandering around the local YMCA charity shop. I went in for a treat for me for the sum of £3. Big spender. Told G not to touch the books ‘cos of virus but he couldn’t resist and was turning the pages with plastic gloves on. What did I buy? Oh, just a bit of unwanted rubbish for an up- cycling project. Or for sticking in a corner for six months and then taking it back to a charity shop. I do this quite often.

When I went to pay, behind the plastic screen was a bloke with a name tag on saying Tommy. To try to describe him wouldn’t do him justice. He had I would think probably once have been a skinhead but what do I know? Age anything up to 60-80 with the usual tats but no face metal. Oh he had got one of those plastic things in his ear that stretch the lobe. If ever needed this description can be forwarded to the police I thought. He didn’t have a pit bull as dogs weren’t allowed in the shop.

While I was waiting for some change to arrive I said to Tommy ‘you are very brown,’ which was safe conversation – or used to be - and I thought wouldn’t antagonise him.

He replied with “well, I do gardening 3 days a week, can’t do anymore as my back is knackered, and work in here two days as I get to sit down a lot. I have always been a sun lover and now they say it gives you cancer, but I am very stoic.’

This next conversation then floored me. He said, ‘have you ever read Marcus Aurelius?’ I think he said he was in Gladiator. ‘It was written two thousand years ago and is very prophetic today,’ he went on. ‘Also another good read which am reading for the umpteenth time is T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’

Never judge a book by its cover came to mind. I left feeling very ill educated, clutching my bargain.

Of course I have seen Gladiator but the character in it that I remember was Russell Crowe looking very fit, fighting a tiger, and thinking he was fab. I don’t remember a philosopher.

I can remember when we lived in a country area where they were counting the numbers of badgers in view of the TB in cattle and the threat of a possible cull of said badgers. We used to nightly feed the badgers. It was something we got very excited about and of course developed a fondness for them. We had a couple of mothers as well bringing along with them their young. They seemed very organised and had very good table manners, a certain hierarchy and snuffled around for the scraps we left them. We stopped short of buying special food for them.

Along the way we met a former tree surgeon who had hurt his back and had been drafted in along with a couple of others to count the badgers in an area marked out. We asked how on earth do you do that? He said it is impossible, I look at last years figures and add a bit. Obviously with animals lives at risk, not the answer we wanted to hear. He had been chosen as it was thought he was a bit of an expert in country matters. It was a lovely time in our lives and we remember the friendly fat badgers with affection.

At the same time we had a visiting cat that used to walk amongst them while they were eating and occasionally have some himself. Badgers eyesight is bad, so maybe they thought he was one of them.

Don’t know whether it is an age thing or just stupidity but I keep losing my glasses. Just recently they have been down the chair, under the bed and more than likely on top of my head. I am wondering whether to invest in a contraption that finds them, but what is to stop you losing that?

It does my head in when you spend half your life looking for something again and again, going into the same space and checking again where you had been two minutes before. G sometimes helps and ends up following on where I have just looked. It is a eureka moment when whatever it is is found, only to be lost again later. NOT going to mention keys and pens. Wonder if they still have Lost and Found at railway stations. Always thought that was a great job. Bet some treasures were handed in. I often wondered what happens to all the stuff not claimed.

On a venture out donning masks, a water pistol and wearing surgical wraps, we tried Costa for a much needed cup of coffee. Told G to meet me at an outside table. I found negotiating the floor 2 metre ruling difficult when you get to corners.

First thing ordered two lattes, then they wanted me to provide phone number. I hadn’t got my phone with me and anyway didn’t know the number. Then they wanted my home phone number. I haven’t got one. By now they were getting fed up with me. I was asked for my e- mail, but bossy-boots girl working the milk frother said that won’t do, but eventually agreed on this occasion to take it.

I felt very, very stressed, a rash appearing on my neck, sweat on my brow and if they had taken my temperature as a precautionary measure it would have been 104. Think everybody hated me. The coffee didn’t soothe me, as it took an hour of stress re living the experience. Can’t imagine what you have to go through if you want a full English, as I don’t know my grandparents’ names and where they went to school.

And another thing, since G saw Trump and his security men walking down the corridor with black masks on he has sent off for one which doesn’t have the same impact when he is wearing shorts a tee shirt and flip flops. I am persisting with paper ones, which I moan about as they keeps slipping down. G actually got personal and so did I.

He said ‘it’s because your nose is a bit podgy.’

I said “well your honker isn’t exactly small”.

G said his nose was Romanesque. Is that even a word?

Anyway it isn’t exactly Caesaresque, I said.

Touché.

We saw 18 one night. The man supposed to be counting them should take note.

G Says...

I got ‘lumbered’ with the man in the YMCA charity shop who told Marigold he was a Stoic. Marigold displayed typical low cunning by engaging the man in conversation, encouraging him to ramble on ad nauseum and then abandoning me to his diatribe while she went to study the junk table, ‘everything here £1.’*

*If the sign referred to the entire contents of the table, not each individual item, it would still be too much!

The man behind the counter told me he read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Seven Pillars of Wisdom, alternately, every day and has done so for years. He used to be in the Army, is normally a gardener but works at the YMCA three days a week as he has a bad back.

‘Never without pain’… oh, I know that feeling, Tommy. Maybe I should pay more attention to stoicism.

We came across the Stoa Poikile, literally meaning ‘painted porch,’ while meandering around Athens on a very hot and tiring day. It’s not exactly ‘fancy,’ not even remotely comparable to the Parthenon on top of the hill, but that painted porch is where Zeno, the founder of Stoicism and his followers used to meet up for a chat. It’s still there, 2,500 years later.

Every philosophical movement I can think of bears the name of its founder, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that the humility so prized by Zeno led to the Stoic Movement adopting the name of the place where they happened to gather together, becoming Stoics, not Zenonians.

Marcus Aurelius didn’t last long in Gladiator. He appointed Maximus, Russell Crowe, as his successor, but was murdered by his son, Commodus, shortly after so Richard Harris, playing the part of Marcus Aurelius, could get that heavy armour off and go on his holidays. Or down the pub. Richard Harris was a famous hell-raiser, the tabloids are fond of saying, but we were both bowled over by his son Jared in the recent drama, Chernobyl.

I was slightly distracted while ‘chatting,’ – by which I mean ‘listening’ – to the charity shop sage as he told me he’d been an army officer and his name tag said, ‘D. Burgess.’ I spent much of my ‘education’ years with a D. Burgess, who was about to leave school to start a career as an army officer when we last spoke. The age group was about right; he looked no more like an 18 year old than I did after so many years and as for the ‘D’- nobody at my school was ever referred to by anything other than surnames so D. Burgess could have been anything from a David to a Dante.

The D. Burgess I first met when we were both aged 12 claimed to be a direct descendant of a famous Japanese poet. The poet in question died in the 12th Century so he wasn’t claiming kinship with anyone any of us had ever heard of. Considering he had the distinctly un-Asian name of Burgess I was initially quite sceptical, but when his tiny, enigmatic and very evidently Japanese mother turned up to watch us play rugby I revised my opinion. Why would anyone invent a 12th century Japanese ancestor anyway? Even twelve year old boys have limits on their imagination.

The ancestor in question was Kamo no Chomei and I distinctly remember wondering whether our English Masters (always ‘Masters,’ wearing full gowns, never just ‘teachers’) were actually up to the task of instruction as the name meant nothing to them, despite the avid protestations of Burgess. It was only after a pilgrimage to the school Library that we were finally convinced of the existence of Kamo no Chomei.

I hadn’t given Burgess or his ancestors much thought in the interim – better make that none whatsoever - but as we walked home I mentioned him to Marigold.

‘That man in the shop? He told me he’d been sent to Borstal when he was fifteen and only joined the army at 18 to avoid being sent to prison.’

Oh. I thought it was too much of a coincidence.

I changed the subject but when we got home I looked up Kamo no Chomei. He apparently suffered some kind of midlife crisis and became a monk. Even the strict monastic life proved too racy for him and Chomei went to live alone in a tiny hut in the woods. Now that’s more like it if you’re talking about the solitary life, not this modern day watered down version with Netflix, the Internet and numerous other distractions.

I found an article: a critique of Chomei’s memoir of his years living as a hermit. He described the hut in great detail. Not exactly palatial, ten feet square and seven feet high, he took it with him into the woods in sections and erected it himself. Ikea obviously had an offer on flat pack sheds in 12th Century Japan.

Finding inner peace in utter simplicity is nothing new and surviving on roots, berries and water from a stream sounds like Bear Gryll’s idea of Heaven. It’s a short book full of impressions of nature, pious thoughts on humanity and belief in gentle fellowship amongst all men and he ends it by chiding himself for ever imagining anyone will ever read it and cursing the vanity of writers.

That’s below the belt, Chomei.

If you’re wondering whether my schoolmate Burgess was a chip off the old block and destined to become a rallying point for peaceful coexistence, I very much doubt it. On leaving school he went to Sandhurst where his bloodthirsty nature would find its spiritual home in combat training.

Due mainly to the wider effects of this pandemic the U.K. National Debt - what we owe as a country - now exceeds Two Trillion Pounds. In the US the debt is over 26 trillion dollars. Trillions? I can’t cope with trillions. One trillion is a thousand billions, or equivalently a million millions. It is a 1 with 12 zeros after it, that’s 1,000,000,000,000. One trillion seconds adds up to 32,000 years.

Gulp! That’s a lot of seconds. I need to go and lie down.

Numbers too vast to contemplate have always baffled me. As a young child the number overwhelming my brain was a billion. A trillion was a word that probably didn’t even exist at that time. Just as well as the sheer vastness of a billion was far beyond my comprehension. What makes up a billion of anything anyway? In real terms. That’s the question I desperately wanted to have answered as a young boy. If a million is a thousand ‘thousandths’ (as I was always told) applying the logic of an eight year old to the concept I was certain a billion would be incrementally formed by multiplying a million by a million. Not at all. One billion is apparently ‘only’ a thousand millions. I was therefore convinced as a young lad that it was very hard to become a millionaire, but anyone having reached that stage and wishing to progress to becoming a billionaire had a much easier route to riches.

With logic like that it’s no wonder I was easily confused by high finance and the mysteries of space and time. I’m not much better even now.

Dermot, our next door neighbour at the time, was a very clever man. He told me so quite often, offering as proof the fact he had been off work from his job on the Liverpool docks ‘on the sick with a bad back’ for two years and was living the life of Riley.

I never discovered who Riley was, but Dermot knew all there was to know about millionaires. It became clear at an early stage he wasn’t keen on them. There weren’t many people Dermot was fond of in fairness. The ‘can’t stand ‘em’ list was very long and included every member of his family he’d ever met and quite a few other relatives he was unlikely ever to come across plus every other person in the street. He muttered imprecations at every person rash enough to walk past his door and had never even spoken to my (admittedly pretty scary) grandmother despite having lived next door to her all his life.

I liked Dermot.

He explained the idea of scale to me one day using a woodlouse as a teaching aid. ‘See this feller here,’ he said, pointing to a woodlouse, one of several that had appeared from the gaps under the skirting board and prodding it with his finger. ‘Here, hold it in your hand.’ He picked up the woodlouse, risking his bad back in the interests of imparting wisdom and handed it over.

‘That weighs next to nothing, right?’ I nodded. ‘Just imagine a million of them. They’d weigh loads. A billion of them would weigh heavier than this house. That’s how big a billion is.’

I told you Dermot was clever. I tried to explain the concept to my mother later, but she hadn’t Dermot’s brain power and was far more concerned about me removing the woodlouse from her kitchen and going to wash my hands. Even though I’d already washed them before breakfast and twice the previous day.

I haven’t bothered to check the accuracy of Dermot’s calculations until now and I found absolutely no reference point for the humble woodlouse as a unit of measurement. Best I could find was an ant.

I know, I know, it’s illogical, but an ant will have to suffice. Apparently, eminent scientists and mathematicians all agree a million ants would weigh a little over 6 pounds. Dermot said a million woodlice* would weigh ‘loads.’ (* how tempting to write ‘woodlouses’ as I undoubtedly would have said at age eight.) Dermot said ‘loads,’ modern science says six pounds, but they used ants. About the same then. One billion ants, however, would weigh over 3 tons.

Has anyone ever checked this? Are we being hoodwinked? Are any ants harmed in the course of these experiments? Who collects them? Who counts them? I shan’t sleep until I have a definitive answer to these questions.

Richard Harris, dressed for Gladiator not the Groucho Club.

More Nonsense.

Dopamine, can you get it from Amazon? I keep hearing about this mysterious chemical reaction spontaneously occurring in our brain whenever we do or experience something we find pleasurable. This enticing reaction is apparently not responsible for pleasure as such, but occurs as reaction to our cravings, basic urges and desires.

This reward system goes back a long way. I wasn’t surprised to find the two most basic triggers for ‘reward’ are food and sex. Two essentials for life itself ever since the cave man era. Sex addicts would have thrived in prehistoric times, doing their bit to keep the population up in dangerous times, while another addiction that’s frowned upon now, addiction to food, would have been pretty useful a few thousand years ago when a gargantuan appetite would help make you the biggest, strongest person in the tribe.

Yes, I do appreciate I’m stretching a point in referencing atavistic behaviour in relation to our modern lives. So, dopamine is a good thing.

Oh, hang on, what’s this? The latest craze out of California – where else – is for dopamine detox. It seems these killjoys want to identify everything in our lives that give us pleasure and remove them. No more television, social media, cell phones, music, shopping for anything other than essentials, no more coffee, alcohol, fast food and, obviously, don’t even think of having a sex life.

If we’re to eschew pleasure, what’s the alternative? Yoga is recommended. Meditation, thinking pure thoughts, okay that’s five minutes accounted for. Can I read? Well, of course I can if I avoid any reading material that may be considered escapist so a maths text book will be fine.

I can at least eat, but only if I derive no pleasure from the act of refuelling. The suggestion is to munch on a raw carrot, focussing on tastes and textures while being grateful for the availability of food in its natural form. Do all these things and you may discover a life free from mindless pleasure and addictive behaviour. People actually sign up for this putative depuration?

From choice? It’s slightly reminiscent of the Transcendental Meditation movement espoused by the Beatles, but without the drugs. It won’t catch on in our house.

Just as we’re at the dipping a toe in the water stage of coming out of lockdown, there’s widespread alarm at an impending second wave and localised restrictions are back in fashion. Marigold and I are refusing all offers to attend rave parties – no change there – but we have been out and about to a certain degree in recent weeks.

My former walking route, basically up and down the garden path, has now been extended to the wider world. We try to walk an early morning mile through a variety of virtually uninhabited streets, crossing the road whenever another pedestrian approaches within a hundred yards of us.

We’re now expert ‘distance greeters,’ waving a cheery goodbye morning from the opposite pavements to the few people we meet. Occasionally we wander through the village shopping area, but usually at an hour when most people are still tucked up in bed. This is more likely to be populated, albeit not exactly thronged, but allows Marigold the opportunity to hear people other than myself speaking.

If we give any credence to the proposition that all life on Earth evolved billions of years ago from some mysterious primordial soup then whatever crawled, slithered or oozed onto land in Prehistoric times surely bears scant resemblance to the animals, fish, insects and reptiles we see about us in the 21st Century.

Distant ancestors of the group we saw exchanging unmasked air, fierce debate and occasional bonhomie outside the ‘just about to open up’ fishmongers had surely never slithered. Undoubtedly there would have been a Limo awaiting their arrival on that prehistoric shore.

Three couples, the men each wearing florid trousers, two bright red and the other an especially vivid shade of peach together with sweaters draped across the shoulders but not actually being worn. Their ladies, yes they must be classified as such, had identical shrieking laughs and appeared impervious to the inconvenience they were causing to the mere mortals patiently attempting to form a socially distanced queue outside the shop.

Parked alongside were two highly polished Bentley convertibles, one with the rear window festooned with stickers imploring us all to Save the Planet. A man with a more caustic nature than myself (!) may have pondered on whether a ‘gas-guzzling’ Bentley was an appropriate place to claim one’s green credentials.

We walked past, tutting of course, but Marigold made an instant decision to adopt the walking speed of an arthritic tortoise when she realised the three men were not just ignoring their shrieking wives, but actually having what that class of person probably doesn’t ever call a stand up row. All very mannered but there was venom enough simmering just beneath the surface.

‘Correlation isn’t necessarily causation,’ one of the males bellowed.

‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘just posh boys going on about pandemics. Same old stuff we hear all the time lately.’

As we lurked nearby one of the group looked about and decided I would make a good witness for the prosecution.

‘Ask this chap what he thinks,’ he called out.

‘No, don’t,’ I thought, but in vain.

‘What’s your view on this mask wearing nonsense?’ The irate Bentley owner asked, the tone of his question paying scant regard to the easily observed fact that Marigold and I were both masked. #

# Marigold is convinced I prefer wearing a mask as it (normally) discourages unwanted conversation and allows greater leeway in acceptable facial grooming. Yes, my Covid era beard needs tidying up, but with a mask in place, who would know?

I muttered a reply of sorts, aiming for an unintelligible and completely unrelated mumble in order to be disregarded. All three men nodded sagely; either they’re all pretty dim, I thought, or I was actually talking sense. I decided it was the former.

One of the men, the colour blind one in peach trousers, said, ‘See, told you,’ to his companions.

‘Are you sure you’ve got speech recognition turned on?’ retorted the one with an alarming comb-over. ‘Cloth ears, that’s your trouble.’

We walked on as they returned to their argument. That speech recognition comment was pretty much to the point, I thought. Adding ‘cloth ears’ was tautology though, plain and simple. Pleonasm too.*

*I can invariably be relied upon to think of the words and phrases I wish I’d employed at the time, but only five minutes too late. So often these days, sadly, they’re buried amidst the other dross infesting what’s left of my mind.

We carried on and found ourselves jinking and sidestepping our way through a group of dawdling window shoppers in the High Street. It was 07.30 so the shops weren’t open and we’d expected to have the pavements to ourselves. The sunshine had obviously persuaded a few others to struggle out of bed.

How selfish. This is our early morning walking route, not yours.

Avoidance of unmasked and potentially infected humans is a skill we have developed over the past few months. We cross roads, repeatedly, duck into alleys, lurk in shop doorways until the danger has passed. We have gained the wariness and keen sense of impending threat of a meerkat.

One of the browsers was saying to another, ‘I got shut of the lot of ‘em. In one vile swoop.’

Well, that’s an interesting variation, I thought. The subject matter remained unclear. What had been ‘got shut of?’ It could have been old shoes, unwanted presents or even annoying relatives, but the ‘vile swoop’ comment stuck in my mind.

I once uttered the original phrase ‘at one fell swoop’ in public when playing the role of MacDuff in a legendary* production of The Scottish Play.** Macbeth and Mrs Macbeth get all the best lines in the Scottish Play, but Macduff wasn’t a bad part for someone whose only previous stage experience was in pantomimes I’d written.

My performances provided ample evidence of how becoming an actor was a most unlikely prospect as a career possibility.

‘All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam At one fell swoop?’

*Legendary in the sense of being spectacularly bad.

** The Scottish Play. It’s considered unlucky to use the actual name of Shakespeare’s masterpiece after bad luck and a series of accidents accompanied the early performances and continued to do so. The Bard is said to have diligently researched ingredients of spells for his ‘weird sisters’ and did the job so well that ‘real’ witches placed a curse on the play in retribution.

Yes, the bizarre ingredients in the ‘double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble’ passage were supposedly taken from genuine spells. I can remember ‘fillet of a denny snake, in the caldron boil and bake; eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog,’ but there were lots more. Imagine how difficult it must have been for the three witches – the black and midnight hags - to source their ingredients back in 1606 when Amazon, Ebay, Waitrose and Deliveroo were unknown concepts.

Three Witches from Macbeth. I'm sure I saw them on Loose Women the other day

Bentley sticker

Okay, if you say so.