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Opsimath and Eremite

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March 21st, 2014

10:45 am:

I’m nervous of jinxing myself by saying so, but things seem to be looking up a bit for me,  Not only is it definitely spring now, with daffodils and everything, but I now have my Transport for London pass so that I can travel to see those daffodils and such in distant parts of the city for nothing.  I was moaning a lot about not getting my free travel pass at 60 when they raised the retirement age until my sister-in-law told me that TfL do one as well, but keep pretty quiet about it (notably by making applications on-line only)  After much faffing about trying to get a suitable photograph I now have mine!  Yesterday I tried it out, on a trip to the Job Centre and the shops, and rather to my surprise it worked.  I did forget my wallet, so the shopping was out, but still…
The Job Centre interview was to assess whether they can help me with skills training, and I think I rather bewildered the very young man, but he did actually give me a few pointers, before we ended up having a very pleasant conversation about computer gaming.  He was a very keen gamer, and I impressed him greatly by saying I (a little old lady with a stick) played Skyrim.  I didn’t tell him I played as a bald barbarian warrior called Nygel, because that would just have confused him.
Not exactly a job, but I did have a call from the g-d’s best friend, who will be stuck in England for a few months while she gets some hospital treatment.  She normally works in Austin, Texas, but has no insurance, so it makes more sense for her to come here.  Anyway, she was living with her mum in Bristol, but could she come up to stay in London, and what would be a reasonable rent?  Not only that, but she does a lot of transcription work, and may be able to help me get some while she is here.  She’s a lovely person, and it will be nice to have someone to watch Hannibal telly with.  The only drawback is that she smokes like a chimney, but she can keep that to the spare room,
which is nicely ventilated.



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March 15th, 2014

01:21 pm: A grand day out.

I was puttering along happily enough at the beginning of the week, noticing all the cobwebs that seem to have appeared in the flat over the winter, and vaguely thinking of doing something about them, when the niece rang up. She is now on a proper contract with Chatham House, rather than being an intern, and her boss had suggested she take a week off. So did I fancy a day out in Paris? I got fairly twitchy about going to Cambridge for the day last month, but this although reduced me to a twitching mess of anxiety, it was a twitching mess that managed to locate its passport, get washed and dressed and appear at St Pancras on time.

The niece is much better-travelled than I am, but for some reason hadn’t been to Paris before, so I was able to pretend I knew my way around. Within a mere half-hour or our arrival, we had managed to buy tickets and get on the right bus (in the wrong direction admittedly, but that did allow me to show her the area of Paris that corresponds almost exactly to Wood Green). She didn’t want to do anything too touristy, so we stuck to the Right Bank, pottered around Bastille, which is the only part of Paris I know at all well, had a look at my favourite park on the old elevated train line behind the new opera house, drank in the genuinely warm sunshine, marveled at the ability of the Parisiens to remain decorous while sunbathing in parks*, visited one small museum, spent ages trying to find a particular tea shop and book shop in the Marais and ate industrial quantities of delicious cheese.   The weather was beautiful (nineteen degrees and sunny too), and we didn’t get lost or miss any trains or buy any heavy items we didn’t need (wine doesn’t count). I’m still a bit knackered today, and all that cheese gave me nightmares, but otherwise I had a really, really good time.

There is something wonderfully science-fictional about being able to pop over to Paris for the day. Not so much 1950s jet-pack type science fiction, but more Jules Verne/Belleville, cast-iron bridge across the Channel sort of way. Wonderful anyway, especially with the terminus being practically on my doorstep.

*Seriously, the British just go mad when a few rays appear. The parks have been full of pallid wobbly white people in their underwear all this week.



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March 1st, 2014

12:14 am: Humph
I normally think of myself as pretty intelligent, but every so often I do something so hugely stupid that I deserve some sort of medal.  My TV can only work if connected to either the DVD player or the aerial (I have no idea why - it should, but that's the way it has always been).  Last week, when I re-connected it to the aerial after a marathon of Danish crime stuff, it didn't work.  Examination of the very old indoor aerial showed that the insulation had worn through.  OK, it was very old, so I threw it away.  Much cursing.  The new back-up aerial didn't work either, so I threw that away.  Today I finally went out and bought a rather cute new little aerial shaped like a big silver leaf.  It didn't work either. Much more cursing.  I re-packed it in the box to be taken back to the shop, then had another look at the plugs.  I had the set-top box (into which the aerial plugs) plugged into the DVD player and not the telly.  I am an idiot.  More cursing and thrashing around was followed by re-plugging.  It now works perfectly.  There was of course nothing on telly worth watching.  Back to the DVDs.  On the plus side, my Danish is getting pretty fluent.

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February 22nd, 2014

12:39 pm: In which I actually get out of the house and go somewhere for a change.
Yesterday, I had a lovely time in Cambridge, with the god-daughter, who had to look at something in the university archive there.  I think I may have visited Cambridge once before when I was about 16, and vaguely considering applying to the university.  Things were rather awful for me at the time, and although I was down to take some sort of initial entrance exam, it never went any further, and I ended up going to Reading.  So I might as well never have been there before.

As usual, I got in a huge tizzy about stpping out of my rut, and spent most ot the morning before I left turning the flat upside down trying to find my camera.  The last time I went out (before Christmas) I brought the camera, but found that the battery had died, so this time I was careful to recharge it.  The battery is here, but the bloody camera has now disappeared.  I suspect it may be somewhere in my bedroom, along with the mates to three seperate pairs of shoes, two hot-water bottles, my silver heart pendant and my passport.  A job for tomorrow, perhaps.

Anyway, Cambridge is lovely, albeit infested with bicycles, and also pleasantly small and flat for someone who hasn't walked much in a while.  There are almost as many bikes as in Amsterdam (although no-one chained one to me when I stood still for five minutes, which my niece assures me is how you tell you are in Amsterdam), and every shop seems to have a little notice pleading with people not to lean their bikes on the windows. There was also a nostalgic smell of coal-fires from one of the colleges.   It was a lovely day, and I headed for the botanic gardens first to look at snowdrops, but found that the route passed the Fitzwilliam Museum, so I ended up spending most of the day there instead.  The Fitzwilliam has recently been refurbished, and is lovely, like a baby British Museum, with a gorgeous classical gallery.  No photography allowed inside the building, even if I had had my camera with me, so ended up writing a little poem instead, but will not burden you with it.  There is a gorgeous ceramic collection, currently hosting a series of installations by Edmund de Waal, to make it more lovely, and also a beautiful tiny show of botanical watercolours.

After all that culture, I met up with the g-d again, and we had a drink and something to eat before heading home.  On the train back, we played Book Titles That Sound Completely Different If You Remove The Last Letter, an interesting game I pinched from Cabin Pressure.  The best ones we came up with were; The Spy Who Loved M (a sad tale of forbidden love in the secret service of the 1950s), The Velveteen Rabbi (the hilarious adventures of a trendy rabbi in 60s New York) and Twelve Years A Slav (the childhood memoirs of Vladimir Putin).  Almost up to the standard of Cabin Pressure's own Three Men in a Boa (an Amazon boat trip goes horribly wrong).  We also annoyed the hell out of the man sitting in front of us, but that can';t be helped.

Today is another lovely sunny day, so I'm off out to get some compost to plant the forgotten bag of bulbs I've just found.

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February 13th, 2014

09:18 pm: More weather - hooray!
I finally got out of the house for a short while this afternoon, to find that all the rain and wind had calmed down into a lovely, breezy, sunny almost-spring day.  There were even a few crocuses and snowdrops out, to go with the winter aconites that appeared in the park last week.  I was only out long enough to pick up some soup ingredients, and pay a library fine, then I had to collapse back wheezing on the sofa.   According to the weather forecasts it won't last, though.  There's another huge storm forecast for the weekend.  Oh joy!

01:01 am: I know I promised not to go on and on about the weather, but good grief it has been diabolical lately.  I'm sitting up late, unable to sleep due to a horrible cold that made me sleep on and off for most of the day, and I've just listened to the single worst Shipping Forecast I have ever heard,.  Thank heavens I'm not actually at sea - I usually listen to it because it is so soothing, but there seem to be severe gales everywhere.  The news is full of floods and storms, and there was a man who had something to do with the Holyhead ferries (all cancelled) saying that it was the first time in thirty years he'd had to warn of hurricane conditions, by which I think he meant winds of up to 100 mph, rather than an actual hurricane.  Meanwhile, the floods on the Thames seem to be moving downstream and I wonder what will happen when they hit London - the Thames Barrier only stops water coming up from the estuary, not down.  I'm tempted to go and have a look at the river, but my cold is so horrible that I'm resigned to huddling here on the sofa with a blanket wrapped around me, listening to the wind howling outside. 

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January 21st, 2014

05:55 pm: Return of the duck lady...
Yesterday I had another appointment with the back-to-work people.  I did see the mad duck woman last week, but she seemed to have completely forgotten about me, and spent all our very short interview trying to palm me off on someone else.

However, this time, I saw the new person, who seemed to be quite sensible and on top of the job, but the duck woman insisted on both of them seeing me at once.  Apparently, their company has only a couple of weeks to find me a job, but I don't have to stick with it, and they will help me find something more suitable afterwards.  This I got from the sensible new woman, while the duck woman rang around to find me a call-centre job.  She got me an interview withing 10 minutes - but unfortunately it was in Peterborough*.  Since I refused point blank to do any cold-calling, but don't mind taking (or trying to take) incoming customer service calls, she then went on to try and find me something else, while I continued to talk to the sensible woman, who seemed to actually listen to what I was saying.  After another 1 minutes or so, it emerged that the duck woman was asking for work with "incoming cold calls", which was understandably a bit hard to find.  From the responses of her co-workers, I think I now have the duck woman placed.  She is the office liability, the person who shouldn't really be doing the job but who can't be got rid of.  She has a fascinating combination of insane enthusiasm and complete incompetence.

Anyway, I'm off back there next week, with the possibility of a part-time call-centre job to encourage me.


Which is about 100 miles from where I live.

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January 19th, 2014

02:13 pm: Cake or Death?

I haven’t been on here for a while, due to a delightful combination of computer problems and a bad chest infection (begun when I got stuck waiting for a night bus in a howling gale at 3 am, and realised I am no longer twenty), but here I am now.

Yesterday, I had all three of the god-daughters round for tea at once, for no particular reason. The eldest, who lives just down the road, walked, the middle one arrived on her very expensive new bicycle, and heaved it up the stairs or safe-keeping, and the youngest seems to have skateboarded here from Mile End. I tidied and cooked like a mad thing all day, and we had leek quiche, hummus, winter coleslaw, beet salad, carrot salad and taramasalata, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream, chocolate cake and a cheeseboard (this last was mainly there for humorous effect, since by then we were all very full indeed). The middle g-d had omitted to tell me that she was now a vegan, so she was stuck with the coleslaw, hummus other salads, plus some hastily-bought Hobnobs as dessert. Apparently Hobnobs are the only widely-available vegan biscuits.

The chocolate cake was a little too successful if anything. I had originally meant to make this
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/03/how-to-make-pressed-chocolate-cake
but on looking properly at the recipe, I saw that it needed TEN eggs, which makes it a chocolate omelette in my view, so I went with a regular chocolate cake recipe. Normally I find chocolate cakes do not taste enough of chocolate, so I added extra cocoa, and produced something that was very chocolately indeed. I made it in the bundt cake mould it got a bit mashed up when I tried to get it out, so it ended up with chocolate icing around the edges, and a centre filled with a mixture of broken bits of cake, sour cherries in syrup (not sour enough) and cherry brandy. Dear gods it was rich; the older g-d and I both managed a slice each, just, while her younger sister ploughed through two, and today I have more than half left. I’ll have to invite the god-son over tomorrow to help finish it.

The older g-d tells us that she has come up with a life plan. Instead of going to Mali, which her mother and I were rather dreading, when she graduates this year, she and the boyfriend are planning to settle in Paris. Hooray! Much better food, shops and art than in than Mali, and far less chance of horrible death. She was a bit miffed that my first response was “Great, I can come and visit you”, as that was what everyone said, but that’s what you get for moving somewhere nice.

Today, I’m making a start on the huge pile of leftovers, and planting a few leftover bulbs, since it feels almost spring-like outside. I also have some new seeds, and the morning-glories, peppers and beans might benefit from going in early. I’ll plant half the seeds now, just in case there is an early spring, and hold onto the rest just in case there isn’t. The brother gave me some seeds from a couple of highly-spicy pepper plants he bought when he was in Devon last year, including some of the dreaded Dorset Naga, allegedly the hottest pepper ever. Since I seem to be quite good at growing large numbers of hot peppers, but not at getting them actually HOT, this might be interesting.



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January 7th, 2014

01:12 am: News report on the radio just now mentioned an artist in Taiwan who is sueing a souvenir salesman for making a 5-foot copy of the artists's 50 foot inflatable rubber duck, which exploded last year, after being attacked by eagles. Sometimes I really do wonder if I'm on the right planet.

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January 6th, 2014

01:38 pm:

Well, that’s Christmas and New Year over for another year, and it’s back to work, or at least to looking for it. I have to see the daft duck woman this afternoon, then I can finish taking down the last of the decorations and start properly looking for some sort of paid employment.

A couple of my friends have a daughter with a birthday on January 6, so that always makes a nice finish to the festivities. She’s 14 now, and VERY much into Sherlock, so after cake and fizzy wine some of us stayed to watch yesterday’s episode, which I found very much more fun to watch with a room full of other people. She’s a bit of a fangirl all round – when I called her father on Thursday to get times for the party, they had been waiting at a stage door for an hour to get Tom Hiddleston’s autograph. Apparently most of the audience for his recent production of Coriolanus was teenage girls, which is not the demographic that play normally appeals to.

Her posh cousins were over earlier; they are lovely people, but have a reputation in our side of the family for eccentric names (including a Boadicea). This time it emerged that there is also a cousin called Hannibal. I went through agonies trying not to catch the god-son’s eye, when we heard this, but we had a hilarious tube journey home speculating about him. What, for example, was he like at nursery school (“dangerous and a bit nippy” was the g-d’s suggestion) and above all, what can his parents have been thinking? The g-s pointed out that a number of career options might be difficult for him, notably medicine, psychiatry and catering, Especially catering…



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