Saturday, 23 February 2013

Unsatisfying snow, being a bird farmer, and 2 remedies

So, here I am, catching a cold.  Hardly surprising, with the snow of 5 hours yesterday.  It didn’t settle, but on and off it snowed and snowed.  Sometimes the fattest flakes, swirling and unconcerned, winding their way down.  Watched from the house windows, these looked like an alien attack by stealth.  Though very ineffectual.  Then sleeting torrents of smaller flakes. See, if it settled, it would look like this pic I took about 2 weeks ago.  Most impressive and atmospheric.

Took Fluffhead outside and he spent a while trying to catch snow in his little hands.  Outside for hours. Got a picture of him looking truly confused that he couldn’t actually catch it, in that, even though he was also freezing, the snow melted as soon as it touched his hands.  He stuck out his lower lip, frowned hugely and stared at his hands as thought they were at fault here.  Funny.  I spread out loads of seeds for the birds, bearing in mind the ground was frozen.  I wanted to feel kindly and beneficent. I ended up feeling like a farmer.  Which on the tiny and inaccurate scale I was working with, was fine.  A farmer of suburban birds, helping them through a harsh winter with my sunflower seeds.  That’ll do for now, for a thing to be.

Back indoors I wanted the house to smell nice, seasonal and useful.  I cut up Braeburn apples and boiled them with a light covering of water, and several teaspoons of brown sugar, cinnamon and a sprinkle of fennel seeds.  It smelled so wonderful, simmering away for an hour or so, that by the end of the day, Stanley was demanding apple crumble.  I didn’t make it though.  I wanted simply the smell, and some apple sauce to hand. Which is, by the way, oddly good for IBS.  Its one of the only fruity things you can eat without becoming overly intimate with the toilet afterwards.  So I ate some, felt virtuous, and then put the rest in the fridge.  Thinking of my sniffles now.

To defeat the sniffles, I got herbal. 

One enamel saucepan (important that – when boiling stuffs for herb remedies, metal saucepans don’t work so well, they are supposed to give off tiny metal impurities; so if you want to be all purist about the endeavour fetch yourself an enamel saucepan – from online, or from special cookware shop!).  Then avail yourself of:

  •     1 pint of water, preferably spring water, but by god, I used tap, as it’s too cold to go out to fetch anything else, don’t you think?, besides which, its nearly but not yet payday, and I walk that line of hardly any money; you are familiar with this, I am sure…
  •      1 tsp whole cloves, heaped
  •      1 tsp cinnamon bark, not heaped

Put cinnamon and cloves in water, bring to boil.  Boil for 5 minutes with the lid on, then take off the heat.  Add:

  •      1 level tsp. ground ginger, OR, two 1” pieces root ginger, chopped small

And leave to infuse for half an hour.  (While your house smells amazing and your nose runs yet more, as a result.  Those cloves bite the nose.)  Strain into 2 mugs (I’m presuming your partner or child also has the sniffles; if this not the case, then you lucky thing – you get 2 cups to yourself!).  Then add, to each mug:

  •      1-2 tsp honey, to taste
  •     ½ juice of a whole lemon.

If taken early enough, this can ward off a cold.  You have to keep doing it though.  Partly because it smells DIVINE when cooking (is there a better reason to cook anything?), and partly because this is a simple and gentle remedy…it’s not your industrial chemical headslap that most medicines are.  Gentle and soothing, specially on your throat.  I also found my head started clearing.

As I look outside, that unsatisfying snow is gone for now.  I feel it should try harder and actually settle.  Thereby giving (a) Fluffhead something decent to stomp about in, and (b) hopefully becoming a real problem and snowing us in, thereby rendering Stanley unable to go to work on Monday – he can then work from home.  I can then torture him with more nice cooking smells, and he will be happy that he is here and not there.  Everybody wins.

I can see blackbirds, a magpie family and a collection of fat woodpigeons rooting about for my seeds.  So I get to feel useful and kindly for 2 days running.  I shall put more out in a minute.  And then get back to this strangely unfocussed, half asleep day I am having here…filled with a big to do list that I will get to in a minute...Yawn...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Imbolc in my head

I’m always planning elaborate rituals and complicated things to do for when the major wheel of the year festies come up.  I like the wheel of the year structure, I tend to get mired in wherever I am at any present moment, so the structure forces me to move along, move along, see the changes, say goodbye to past things and look ahead to new things.  It keeps me moving, when I have the world’s largest tendency to inertia and stuckness, mentally and physically.

So despite very little time (as usual), I was thinking toward Imbolc, the Festival of Returning Light, the time of Brigid, and I was feeling happy.  I like this festie a lot.  I love the idea of light returning, I love the idea of lighting little candles all over the place and watching them glow in the dark.  Of dressing the altar in white, and me too.  The white and red flowers put up, the little Brede’s bed I get out every year with the small corn dolly in it.

I was having visions of this grand evening set aside for cooking lots of little white themed foods and drinks.  And looking up all the associations to refamiliarise myself.  Making a proper purpose written ritual, and being uninterrupted while doing it.

See, get the catch there?!  Time to write a ritual, and uninterrupted time to do it.  Hah!  So I contented myself with the dressing of the altar.  It isn’t really an altar anymore, it’s a bit of bookshelf.  Fluffhead became far too interested in everything on the lower down original altar, so I had to find a much higher space.  I can’t do anything much on this new bit of a bookshelf, so technically, its more of a displaying or devotional shrine, than an altar.  But it’s got flowers now, and pictures, and the Brigid’s Cross.

And I read some of her stories, and I looked for snowdrops – the garden has a small throw of them, just outside my window here.  Little spots of perfect whiteness, little spots of light and green. 

And I think about new blog posts to be done, and books to finish reading.  Places to go, things to bake.  Stuff to think about, and do.

I wandered through my own Lands, burning old things, old thoughts, old feelings, old ideas, old relationships, and strewing them out behind me, as compost for the spring, for the new to grow through.  For Brigid is partially made of fire, and will heat anything through to a husk, ready for the regrowth.  It took several days in my head, to reorder my thoughts on some old things, to really clear the space and feel all those new mental snowdrops and crocuses popping up.  But I feel them now, and there’s so much more space than I thought!  Ahead of me there are fields of endless green, and little clumps here and there, of those snowdrops.  Everything is very clean and I can see for miles. 

Far away on the beach, there is my horse, the white one, of course.  Just trotting along the edge of the spray, back and forth, like a game.  I’ll go and ride, in a minute.  This afternoon there’ll be a picnic.  The sun breaks through, and shines so strong.

I start to run.  I start to smile.  The Lands whip past me, the beach glitters.  Running feels so good.  The gulls call overhead, my feet splash wet as I hit the sand.

I can hear my breath, hear my life.  There is joy in the rising sun, in my feet, in the air and its salt.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

That Laminated Card Thing

My confusion on reading David Mitchell’s Backstory, his autobiography

That is, David Mitchell the comedian, one half of Peep Show, one of my favourite home grown comedies.  Not the novelist of the same name who wrote Cloud Atlas.  (Mitchell gives an amusing and cringey example of the apparently many times he has been mistaken for that other person, in the book, one of many laughs the book gave me.) 

I should elaborate why there would be any confusion at all in my reading of this book.  Its not because it was badly written or structured – quite the opposite, exquisitely handled. Nope.  It’s because of the Laminated Card Thing.

Let me explain.

Do you remember an episode of Friends, ages ago, during that nebulous period (I think it was in season 2 or 3?) where Ross and Rachel are actually properly together for the first time?  (I've linked it, there, so you can see.)  And she and he are in the coffee house with the other friends, and Isabella Rossellini comes in.  Gorgeous and exotic Isabella Rossellini.  (Who most men remember from THAT scene in Blue Velvet.)  He starts melting, as he fancies her, and Rachel laughs and tells him to go for it.  The other friends are surprised at her reaction.  She tells them why she says this.  It’s because they each have a little list of celebrities, people you are extremely unlikely to ever meet in real life or interact with, that they are allowed to have fantasies about.  Because it won’t matter, these person/persons are completely unobtainable and unrealistic.  Ross has of course, being the nerd he is, agonized over his list many times, and eventually settled on it and been daft enough to laminate it, as now set in stone.  (And carries it about with him – how unlikely is that?  Bless comedy writers and their contrivances.  As if (a) you would ever forget who was on your list, really, and (b) like its important enough to NEED to remember constantly, and (c) lamination – that’s just silly…you can change your mind.)

Anyway, he has an amusing attempt at going for Isabella Rossellini, at which point it becomes clear she has ‘been bumped’ off his card for someone else, which adds insult to Ross’s already hapless attempt to converse with her.  It’s very funny, and silly.

But it gave rise to one of Stanley and my funniest occasional ongoing conversations.  That is – who is on our lists?  And can we laminate it?  Because, as stated, these people are completely out of reach (and in my case, most of them are dead anyway) it’s a harmless and funny conversation to have.  He can laugh at my choices, and I can say ‘who???’ to most of his, as he keeps picking obscure 80’s pop star females from his encyclopaedic knowledge of music.

My list changes with the weather.  Christopher Lee was the first one ever on it, and he’s never left.  Sighhhhhhhhhhh.  He was such a sexy Dracula.  (I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It many years ago when I was 10, to ask if I could please be bitten by Dracula in person as Christopher Lee.  Amusingly, I did not get a reply; and I did not realize how sexual that request was, at all.  Luckily enough, really, subsequent events show…).  For a long time Pierce Brosnan, as Remington Steele, was on it.  More of him later.  Lately, I had Timothy Olyphant on it – what a sexy smile, what a look of mischief!  Where the hell has he gone??  Oliver Reed has never come off it either, forever calling ‘Bullseye!’and saying to Nancy‘I lives wiv yer, doe’ne I?????’ in a very menacing and grumpy voice, in Oliver shivvvvvvvverrrrrrr.  There are others, they come and go.  Elements of the ideal man in my head; of course, the ideal you never really want in real life, as ideals are not rounded, or …er…real, in any way.  Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele made me laugh, with his light comedic touch (that everyone forgot after the increasing hardness of his Bond portrayals).  Oliver Reed’s eyes called to the love of the bad boy in me.  Christopher Lee called to that in me that wants to let go and be carried away.  All stuff in real life that has very little place and wouldn’t make me happy at all.  (I discovered from actual experience!)

(I had a sexual fantasy once.  Don’t panic, read on, this is way cleaner than it sounds like its going to be.  About Pierce Brosnan.  We are in a garden, or a field or something, somewhere, some nebulous somewhere.  And we are sitting on the grass talking, and then he stops talking.  And leans over me.  And looks at me.  For ages.  With those eyes of his, so blue and clear…mmmmmmm…Yup.  And that’s it.  That’s the fantasy.  He looks at me.  I think I have a problem with proper sexual fantasies with actual people.  Actual people I cannot manipulate in my head at all.  I just take them as they are, what I have seen.  I spent a lot of time when watching Remington Steele in the 80’s just staring at his face as it’s so pleasingly put together.  I loved the way he moved, the way he was so light and funny, and the mobility of his features.  I remember Fry and I having a conversation about sexual fantasies when he was about 14 or so – we were open and liberal in talking of stuffs.  He found it hilarious that the depth of my fantasy is a LOOK.  Considering of course he was a teenage boy surging with hormones and imagination; and that I have phases of reading raunchy American bodice rippers, so I have a lot more to work with in terms of torrid situations than I ever use.  And experience, of course, as a grown up woman.  But no – a look contented me.  Fry was both highly amused and found me incomprehensible.  I think he called me ‘special’ with a sarky wink.  Anyway.)

So.  David Mitchell.  (We will get to the point of all this eventually, never fear.)  He has been on my list for a long time.  He might be getting to the laminated point; he’s been there so long.  If I ever tell people this, they find it surprising, as he’s not classically pretty, and always seems to act in parts that are a bit OCD, a bit of a loser – to the point where a lot of people thought he was like this in real life, he did the persona so well.  (He addresses this misconception in the book, also, and his own part in playing up to it.) The reason he is on The List is that he is so clever, and funny.  I listened to him on panel shows, I read some of his newspaper columns, I watched him hither and thither, and I loved his eloquence.  I sometimes, mostly, agreed with his political opinions.  There’s no point, for me, in liking a man who is simply pretty (or indeed, pretty at all  not necessary).  Fantasies involve mind, brain, intellect, wit.  If he can make me laugh, keep me entertained with explanations of string theory when we’re naked (hello Stanley!), then we’re doing really well.  From what I saw of David Mitchell, I thought, WoW!  I’d never get bored here!  He’s clever!  Funny!  Thoughtful!  And normal looking – real!

The added funniness to this is that of course Stanley has his list too.  We regularly watch Only Connect (one of the bestest quiz shows on TV; it celebrates brain without being snobby – it mocks itself as it seriously gets on with being clever and funny, we love it).  On Stanley’s list, right next to obscure 80’s popstresses and Swedish film stars (yawn, of course) is Victoria Coren, host of Only Connect.  I have to admit, the woman is also on my list, on and off.  What is NOT to love?  She is small and pixieish, her face shines with intelligence and she is awful at telling jokes – and clever clever clever.  To the point where I feel if I met her I might not like her because I’d feel all intimidated and therefore fail to see her as she perhaps actually is (er – normal), and just see this goddess of elfin braininess.  Stanley of course, has not failed to notice her perfectly pert figure and cleavage dresses.  He was therefore, devastated when she married David Mitchell last year.  (Ross – did you ever have a chance with Isabella Rossellini???  Of course not!  Stanley…?  Ehem…?).  I thought it was amazing!  Our Practically Laminated Card Lovers met in real life and liked each other and got married!  It speaks volumes for how similar Stanley’s brain and mine must be!  It’s a good omen!  Our avatars, our more successful surrogates shacked up!  Grand!  Excellent!  Etc!  (Also, in the book, David Mitchell writes the most affecting chapter about Victoria Coren.  How he met her and it didn’t quite work timing wise, and then he basically pined for 3 years till she turned up again, then it did work…he speaks of her with a calm reverence, a sort of down to earth honesty about his love for her and how it has affected his priorities in life that…you don’t often hear on a dude.  It’s lovely.  And brave.)

So when I heard this man I am most interested in had written an autobiography I was very interested to read it.  Because you never really get an idea what he is like in person.  Its not like he is someone all baring, someone like, um,  Russell Brand, where you really get an idea for his character in real life when you see him anywhere – he’s very verbal, lives life large and in public and very open.  David Mitchell definitely doesn’t do that. 

This is what I thought of the book, when I made notes on it, for this post that was fluttering about in my head:

I do not know how to review this.  I wanted to read it because I think I like him as a person, and he’s my laminated card man – one of them, for his intellect.  However, while reading this, I found that I respected his intellect more in some ways, especially in the way he structured the book; and much less in others – e.g. that lazy lazy lazy argument/old chestnut about atheists and Stalin and slaughter – have you not thought past that??  I found his insistence on his ‘normal’ upbringing together with so much focus on his private schooling and its associated jargon words, and then the whole Cambridge and Footlights experience and that jargon too - and general utter difference to my own experience alienating and hypocritical in some ways.  I found his chapter on Stanley's laminated card woman, Victoria Coren, one of the loveliest things I have ever read a man write about his love: brave and honest.  I felt as if I had gone to the pub with a man I admired and wanted to get to know and was confused by the result: at the end of the drink I had no idea whether I liked him more in person than my impression of him from TV [and how unbalanced would that obviously be??] or not.  I was bamboozled.  I enjoyed about 60% of the book; and got bored during about 30%.  The remaining 10% was very interesting [his thoughts on TV comedy, its crafting  and TV execs, the ways of the BBC and Channel 4 etc].  So…?  Maybe I’d need to have another drink with him?  Get to know him better?  But this is it.  This is all I get.  A different impression and I’m not sure if the new one is preferable to the old one.  A large part of this feeling may be simple jealousy that I thought he was a bit messed up like me, and he ended up being way sounder and more relaxed of persona than I thought.  Yes.  Definitely some jealousy there!  So.  I did very much look forward to this enjoyable and confusing book.  And I’ve really taken it personally; so it really affected me.  Don’t know what to say other than that.  If he wrote another book, I’d read that too.  I’m still very curious about him. 

See?  I was confused by the book.  And this is the thing.  You can’t have any kind of relationship with people you don’t know.  I know that sounds both (a) overwhelmingly dumb its so obvious, and (b) stalkers, pay attention!, and (c) why on earth did I imagine I had a ‘relationship’ of any kind with him anyway – even simply as an admirer of his work?!  That’s not a ‘relationship’, it’s just a thought.  It makes me laugh that I’ve taken the book so personally.  He says himself at one point, that some acquaintances of his are disappointed in him when they hear that after a few drinks he will cadge cigarettes from people outside the pub and smoke them.  A social smoker.  These people are disappointed that he smokes and disappointed that he drinks.  He says, quite rightly, that people like this ‘should invest their hopes with more care’.  As should I.  About what exactly I’m not sure, maybe about thinking he seemed more like me than he turned out…But then: since its all in the edit, and what he chose to add, leave in, take out, tone up or down I will never know.  And really, the book was structured so skilfully, zipping back and forth as well as any novelist, that I am convinced he could paint any picture he wished of himself.  He just chose this one.  Hmmm.

There should be some neat conclusion to this post – something about fantasy life versus real life; something about real people and pretend TV images, something about celebrity culture and people imagining they really know the people on Strictly Come Dancing etc (‘cos she’s so normal like me, that could’ve been ME!’ I have heard people say - uhuh).  But I’m not going to be tidy and tie it all together.  I’m sure you have your own thoughts on it all.  I’ll just leave it at this - I blame Friends for all this…On to the next book!