I listened to a lectures about the Romanovs today, if it were fiction you would think it far too far-fetched to be true. I knew that Peter the Great came back from his visit to western Europe and made all the aristocrats cut their beards off, but I didn’t know about his hobby of dentistry – as an after-dinner treat he might invite a luckless courtier to have his teeth checked, only to pull them out gleefully. And as for Catherine the Great, she had a man-taster as others might have had a food-taster. First the lady had dinner with him to see if his conversation and manners would pass muster then, if he passed that test, she would try him out in the bedroom too. As a result of her report, he might be invited to visit the Empress in her private apartments. And if she liked him, she’d keep him – for a while.
But what about the poor guys who didn’t pass the test. How embarrassing. Surely word would get about rapidly.
It occurred to me this evening that one’s level of impatience varies depending on the task in hand, sometimes minute to minute. I poured the last half glass of wine into my son’s glass (having filled my own, twice – over the course of an hour or so; I wouldn’t want to give the impression I had downed the first measure in a gulp) and went to fetch another out of the fridge. As I walked towards the corkscrew, I weaved sideways to retrieve the cork from bottle 1. I knew, you see, that I’d left the cork from that bottle in the corkscrew the night before and whilst I was quite happy, as part of the pre-drinking ritual, to unscrew it, I would not bother to do so immediately after opening the new bottle. So the old cork went into the part-emptied bottle. And, I realise, I do that almost every time.
At least it was a real cork. I know they are a bit unreliable and a corked bottle is deeply unpleasant, but I can’t take to plastic corks at all and they are not exactly the mark of a fine wine. Screw caps are ok, but sometimes the scored part doesn’t sever and the whole cap turns round and round and my little hands can’t break the seal and I have to resort to the point of a knife.
The corkscrew is nice. It’s Victorian and the design is still in use, the sort where, as you screw in, arms come up at the sides which you then push down again to force the cork out. It belonged to my grandfather and presumably a genteration or two before that and still works perfectly after all these years and bottles. My other Victorian ones are simply screw in and pull hard types, which gives a certain satisfaction when keen for a drink, but you risk being thwarted by a tight cork and having to pass it round the whole family as a test of strength or thirst.
Last night, the wine and biscuits went down very well and enlivened the meeting considerably. I think I have now committed myself to providing alcohol as well as coffee each time. We will have to be careful not to appoint a teetotal Rector next time, or at any rate, not one who disapproves of the fermented grape.
What’s up with Radio 3? This morning, as I was driving to the dentist, it was playing variations on Yankee Doodle. 9 variations – one would have been more than enough – on the harpsichord. Written soon after the original tune was, apparently, whenever that was. It was the most deeply boring but at the same time intensely irritating noise you can imagine. Then, this afternoon, I switched on – briefly – to find the ‘It’s a Knock-Out’ theme being played – why? It’s Radio 3. When the announcers came on afterwards it became apparent that the programme was aimed at children. They didn’t say so, they had an archly bickering conversation, ploddingly obviously talking not to each other but down to the radio audience. If you want to attract small children to a classical music channel, surely you play appropriate good music and treat them as people, not idiots.
I’ve been reading Victorian London, by Liza Picard, whose books I have so enjoyed over the last few years. She writes social histories of London at specific different periods and this is the latest and, it seems, the last. It’s the sort of book you can’t resist reading out vignettes from, to whoever else is in the room, and since this is no fun at all for the listener I try to be considerate and read while alone.
A meeting tonight at the parish church room. I spoil that committee. Normally they get coffee and sweets – jelly babies, Minstrels and Maltesers are the most requested. Tonight they are having wine and cheesy biscuits as well as it’s the present Rector’s last meeting. In the next 10 days he will have 6 farewell parties. I think he will need his promised month’s sabbatical to let his liver recover – well, it’ll be Lent by then so he can gain points in St Peter’s book for abstinence as well as recover from the excesses inflicted by parishioners determined to party to the last.
We are polite, as a family, on the whole, so when I annoyed my son tonight, it was not deliberately and his protest was a mild one. I tried to open a file dating back 6 years which had apparently become corrupted in its transference from old iMac to new a few months ago. Wailing self-pityingly (it was a huge valuation which would take ages to redo), he gently said ‘I’ll come and help if you like, but I do get this all day you know’. And yes indeed, it is the first thing they ask in IT support (have you turned it off and on again) because, as you know if you don’t have the luxury of a technician, that’s all that is needed most of the time.
Anyway, he did get the text up for me, but if – IF – my Other Half can find a printout of the original, it will be easier to go from that. Since the local council is even more strapped for cash than it was in 2000, they may not even go for a revaluation, but if they do, I’ll be ready for them.
A friend rang tonight to ask me to email members of the committee of which she is secretary and I am chairman (I don’t go for chairwoman, chairperson or chair; chairman is in such an instance gender neutral). Her internet connection is down for a few days – going on to Broadband is only straightforward if someone in the family has some idea what they are doing (thank you son). She was audibly overanxious and I sympathised. A few years ago I wouldn’t care if I did not check emails for a week. Now I could not possibly last a day. If I haven’t answered within 24 hours I get anxious enquiries about my health – ‘there must be something wrong, you are so efficient’. No I’m not efficient, it’s just the strangely compulsive nature of emails, and the knowledge that if they disappear down a page or two you will never look at them or remember them again. So Do It Now! But why?
On the other hand, nice to know people care. Even if you do have to leave their emails unanswered to find out.
Apparently ‘novelty cross-bred’ dogs are now fashionable. Like occasional ‘smart’ trends for apple crumble and bread-and-butter-pudding, this one never went away here in the countryside, where the sight of happily procreating dogs is not that unusual around the local meadows. Apparently, stars such as Julianne Moore and Jake Gyllenhaal have puggles; a cross between a pug and a beagle. Much of the point of this seems to be the entertainment of making up a new name which combines that of both the parents’ breeds; labradoodles and the like. Hm. Anyway, didn’t the Queen do that decades ago with her dorgies – dachsundsxcorgies?
My late lamented bearded collie/Irish setter cross and still, happy to say with us, whippet and something cross was/is a good deal healthier than most pedigrees. Anyway, whyever would I want an animal with a more upmarket family background than my own? Which has inbred health problems into the bargain.
I am on the lookout for a puppy to replace late dog, but am in no hurry and have simply put the word out in the next village. No terriers (because there are fields all around and I don’t want to keep having to haul it out of rabbit holes), no Springer spaniels (not ideal as just pets, better as working dogs and need loads of exercise), nothing too small (I’m clumsy and will trip over it, I’d as soon not fatally crush it), nothing enormous (I want to be stronger than the dog) and no greyhounds (I inherited my mother’s greyhound. Sweet nature but just not my sort of dog).
A friend cuts out snippets from newspapers and sends them to me every so often. Always enjoyable, sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes amusing. One, just before Christmas, was a mystery of obfuscation, to which he had appended a note ‘makes you think’. I wrote back, hope you didn’t understand it either or else I’m dim. Fortunately, the awfulness of the pretension was what had appealed to him too.
Today’s batch contained an article about Stonehenge, which, not that he knew it, I visited as a child and often pass by. I was glad when the cost of the tunnel by Stonehenge spiralled and caused the project to be abandoned. I have not visited since the barriers went up years ago; the point to me of Stonehenge is to wander around, no need to touch and so erode the stones, but to be close enough to ‘feel’ them. To park at a truly crappy Visitors’ Centre over the road and then be roped well away from the stones seems more than pointless, and so does an artificial Stonehenge Experience – they just are, and that’s enough for me. Second best is to drive past and be uplifted by a casual glance as one slogs down the A303. And know that one is only half an hour (given good luck and no hold-ups) from a more practically uplifting cup of tea or G&T with my sister.
Still shopkeeping. Young man came in for a potato to bake. It would be the first potato he had ever baked for himself. I enthused and reminded him to pierce it so that it wouldn’t explode. We agreed that raw vegetables are more delicious than cooked, except potato.
Later a customer came in asking for a fruit basket – ‘I’ll wait’ she said cheerily. Had to explain that I have never done one before (son’s speciality) and so she watched me with interest and amusement. Filled basket prettily, cut cellophane, secured with rubber band, trimmed cellophane, reached for sticky tape to fasten. Rubber band pinged into the air of course, so I had to start again, this time with assistance of customer. Eventually done and decorated with purple bow and she left good-humouredly to visit her friend in hospital.
Then had another customer who evidently found me a sympathetic listener as he decided to tell me about the problems he had had in his younger days with finding a girlfriend. At any rate, having found her, keeping her happy. I discovered far more about his lack-of-sex life than I expected or wanted to. Not to mention The Girl Who Changed It All but who chucked him out a week later because he didn’t like her cageful of pet mice in the kitchen and said so.
I seem to have offered to throw a farewell party for the Rector on Saturday week. I have issued a general invitation to the village and so have not the faintest idea how many will turn up. I suppose that the important thing will be to have plenty of alcohol available, although if only a dozen arrive then they will have to eat all the food that I will have worriedly got up at 5 a.m. to prepare. Even though I’ve airily said that ‘a glass of wine and a sausage roll’ will be what they will get, no one will believe me.