Sunday, 29 November 2020

Rules, rules, rules

Dear me. I'm no genius, but I've always considered myself reasonably intelligent. I won't say that I'm always quick on the uptake! But I can usually read rules and instructions and get their meaning. But I'm having a problem with working out who I can meet up with under Tier 2 rules

Here's my situation. I live alone. I am a one-person household. I am not in a support bubble. Where I live is now in Tier 2.

So far as I can see, when the current All-England lockdown ends on 2nd December I must remain on my own, and cannot resume socialising, apart from meeting up to six friends in the open air, provided we are socially-distanced. But I can't visit someone else's home, nor have a meal with them in a pub or restaurant. Although I can go to the local studio for a pilates session, I can't socialise afterwards, unless it's out in the open air. 

And this how it must be until either Sussex goes into a different Tier (Tier 1, hopefully), or the Tier system ends (apparently it might in early February).

During the five 'Christmas' days from 23rd to 27th December, the government is proposing a relaxation of the ordinary rules. It benefits families mostly. I think I'm allowed to form a Christmas Bubble with up to three other households. But only with them - nobody else. And most of my local friends will want to reserve Christmas Bubble-space for their families, so there probably won't be room for me. I have however arranged to see another person living alone, who will be by herself on Christmas Day. I rather think that's the only bit of social life I'll have over Christmas. And after 27th December, it'll be back to the regular Tier 2 rules, and unremitting solitude. 

Don't think that I am pining for company. I like being on my own, and it doesn't bother me one bit. I never feel lonely or depressed, nor do I feel cooped up because I can get out in the car daily and go for a walk at my destination, whether that's a small town or the countryside. And if the weather is awful, there's plenty I can do at home. I'm very good at creating projects for myself, and lockdown conditions are great for getting a big job done. 

So I remain upbeat and happy enough with just emails and texts as my day-to-day social contact. 

But I do miss my ordinary social life. I want it back!

Lockdowns - and the Tier rules - are very tedious. I haven't got lax or sloppy in my observance of social-distancing, but the novelty of it wore off long ago, as did the sense of imminent danger from a virus spreading like wildfire. Wearing a mask and keeping my distance has become just a necessary routine, a duty, something I do doggedly. Partly because it's compulsory; partly because it might do me or somebody else a bit of good. I could however drop it all tomorrow if allowed to, and I'd never miss it one bit. I want shop assistants to see my smile again. Who knows, it might brighten up their day. It would certainly brighten up mine.

So many people must be craving a return to normality, to being close again. There's talk now of a third wave of infection to come early in 2021, probably weaker than the first two, but the government will still have to decide what to do. I hope it chooses to ride that third wave out without any lockdowns or restrictions, relying on just the basic sensible precautions we had back in March 2020.

Much is made of the fear that the NHS will become 'overwhelmed', but I gather that the real problem is a constant shortage of staff, not a shortage of beds. And in any case, there are indications that ordinary winter diseases are going to be less of a problem this year, because most people aren't mixing so much as usual and - putting it simply - it's presently harder than usual to catch a cold. Many people believe that the NHS will actually have adequate capacity for extra Covid-19 cases, and won't need lockdowns to protect it. I see what they mean; I hope that's how it goes. 

Of course the arrival of one or more anti-Covid vaccinations will make a huge difference. Well, I'm ready to offer my arm. Just give me the invitation. And a card - or a stamp on my new passport - to say that I've had the jab. Then I can start forgetting all those hard-to-understand rules.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Aromat lives

Glorious news! Knorr Aromat isn't dead after all. They were just clearing out old stock. It's now back in a new sprinkler (or canister)!

It has risen again, like a phoenix from its own ashes, and once more graces the shelves of Waitrose. Mind you, its reappearance the other day was only temporary: it was there, then - poof! - suddenly it vanished - the display tray as well - leaving an empty gap. 

I'm sure the staff, when checking the shelves later that day, must have been puzzled. Surely they did order in a supply of Aromat, and surely it did arrive? But where is it now? Has there been fraud and thievery on a massive scale?

Only when analysing the day's sales to customers would they have seen that the entire stock of Aromat was taken by just one regular customer, who happened to be a My Waitrose Card holder, and therefore traceable. Who did the card belong to? A name would come up on screen. Ah, Miss Lucy Melford. Oh yes...we know her, don't we? Well, better get some more in. And let's hope she doesn't take all that too... 

That ought to have been the end of the matter. But somehow it snowballs, and I am swiftly brought before the county judge on a charge of misappropriating the entire supply of Aromat intended for Mid Sussex. 

Here are the court proceedings, as reported in the Mid Sussex Gazette and Globe. The very words of the defendant, a senior lady of hitherto unblemished character.

Guilty as charged, m'lud. I confess to buying Waitrose's entire stock when shopping in Burgess Hill two days ago. I know it was high-handed and wrong, but I couldn't help myself. I was brought up to be quick-thinking, decisive and adroit. My parents are to blame. And so is society. I'm just a victim of clever consumer advertising. (Snivels)

Yes, m'lud, I agree that everyone else in Mid Sussex will now have to wait for the next delivery. Poor devils. (Weeps)

Yes, m'lud, it was very ruthless and forthright of me. But how can I truly feel remorse? M'lud, in these Covid times, one seizes one's chances, and dare not dither. One must act. One can't go away and think about it. One can't be weak and fuddy-duddy. The Law of the Jungle applies, m'lud - the stern and implacable law of Mowgli and Tarzan. (Shows a bit of leg to the judge)

Case dismissed; jury applauds; court officials cheer; police escort home, blue flashing lights, siren, the full monty - and in return for giving the Super her autograph, Miss Melford is allowed to drive the police car at 180mph down the A23.

I exaggerate, of course. It was only 110mph. 

So is this the same product of old? Well, not quite. 

The canister used to be made of metal - aluminium, I think - but now it's all plastic. Presumably that keeps costs down. It also allows the canister to be larger, although it still weighs just the same as the old one (90g), and so presumably doesn't contain any more product. There's now more room, of course, for product information and special claims, such as 'resists Venusian death rays' and similar.

Old above, new below.

The recipe has been altered slightly. Looking at the nutrition table on the side of canister, I see that the number of calories per sprinkle has slightly increased, from 143kcal per 100g to 165kcal per 100g. There's now a little less sugar in it, but a little more fat. However, it seems to make no difference - I haven't noticed any change at all in flavour, nor anything else. 

So, Aromat is back - and welcome. Seasoningwise, I'd reconciled myself to managing with just ordinary salt and pepper, but a sprinkle of Aromat certainly adds something extra. And I've now got enough in my cupboard to last me until the spring! Hurrah! 

If I don't feel sorry for the frustrated people of Mid Sussex, I do for the people who unwittingly bought large supplies of the old stock on eBay or Amazon, in the belief that they were buying the last of the line, and paying way over the odds in some cases. They'll now have an enormous quantity of superseded seasoning on their hands, as well as a hole in their bank account.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The Agglestone

In the last post I described my visit to Lanyon Quoit, an iconic dolmen in Penwith, on 13th September. Then I went to see the Cheesewring, an impressive stack of granite slabs on Bodmin Moor, on 23rd September, the subject of another fairly recent post. But that wasn't the end of it. On 30th October I braved some rather wet weather to take a close look at the Agglestone, a big sandstone rock on heathland near Studland on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. 

Having parked at Studland, I posed in front of a mirror to record the off-putting wetness of the afternoon. 

The rain was clearly going to be relentless. But I was looking forward to the two-to-three mile walk to the Agglestone and back, and wasn't going to be put off. I'd never seen it before, and wouldn't get another chance during the current holiday, my last of the year. According to the Ordnance Survey map, the route was clear and straightforward. 

Mind you, some of the signposting on the way was hard to read - such as this hoary old finger-post. 

After negotiating some waterlogged paths - easy with the trusty Dubarry boots on my feet - I got my first distant glimpse of the Agglestone, a blob of rock on a knoll. 

Encouraged, and with the rain temporarily lessening, I just followed the obvious path. It was a bit of an upward scramble at the end, but then I was up there with the Agglestone before me. It seemed imposing at close quarters.

I allowed myself a small moment of pleasure. Another destination clocked up!

What one sees now is not how the Agglestone used to be. It stood tall, horizontal, and anvil-shaped as recently as 1970. But gradual erosion had made it unstable, and in 1970, fifty years ago, it toppled over onto one side. Apparently it had weighed 400 tons, and by the look of things, significant parts of it broke off in the fall. It must have made a pretty loud noise as it hit the ground and cracked apart. I hope nobody was nearby - they would have had the fright of their lives! However, despite its fallen state, the Agglestone remains most impressive. 

I walked slowly around it. Iron in the rock had stained the lower parts ochre yellow and pink-red. These are similar to the vivid colours you see at Alum Bay, at the far west end of the Isle of Wight, on the other side of Bournemouth Bay. I expect the geology is much the same.

It was very breezy up on that knoll - not especially cold, but I was glad to be wearing my green, fleece-lined, waterproof, hooded Seasalt raincoat! I was cosy enough. 

The rain had stopped while I took my photos, but now it began again. Time to go. There was a clear path that dropped down the far side of the knoll, then bore around clockwise, making a loop that eventually rejoined the way I'd came. I took it. On the way back, the map told me that I'd see a smaller rock called the Puckstone. How nice! The chance of two heathland landmarks!  

As I walked, I looked back at the Agglestone, which now resembled a sitting bullfrog in the failing light.

The rain got more and more insistent, making visibility poor. Still, I was pretty confident of spotting the Puckstone. I was following the map very closely. It was supposed to be just off the path - I could hardly miss it. 

But where was it? Well, I think Puck himself must have bewitched my eyes, as try as I might, I couldn't spot it. I can only assume that it didn't stick out much from the ground, and was hidden by all the gorse, ferns and bracken, so that I walked by unknowing. Or else mischievous Puck took it away for the day, so that I wouldn't find it, and then put it back once I'd gone.

Never mind. The Agglestone had been my major objective, and I could definitely say 'mission accomplished'. Next time, though, I'll go and see it on a warm and dry summer's day. If there is a next time, that is. I'm not sure it was quite rewarding enough.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Lifting Lanyon Quoit

How I miss the bright, sunny days of late summer! Fortunately I can easily conjure them back by looking through my vast photo collection. I enjoyed many carefree holiday moments this year, and to be honest wasn't much thwarted during the four months or so between the two big lockdowns in England. 

On 13th September I spent a day in the far west of Cornwall, heading first for Penzance, then St Just, then the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch, and finally Lanyon Quoit, the famous dolmen. I'd been here before, in early November 2010, when I secured these late-afternoon shots:

Lanyon Quoit has become one of the iconic sights of Cornwall. But what you see now isn't how it was originally. It was once a burial chamber completely hidden inside an earthen barrow. The earth part vanished long ago, leaving four upright stones standing, capped by a large twelve-ton slab. I should think it must have resembled Trethevy Quoit on the south-east edge of Bodmin Moor, which looked like this when I shot it in July 2010:

Eventually Lanyon Quoit must have become unstable, and it fell during a wild storm in 1815, damaging one of the uprights very badly. In 1824 it was re-erected after money had been raised from a local subscription. But only three of the original uprights were serviceable - so it now had to stand lower to the ground, with the big slab uncompromisingly horizontal. 

I suppose the naval team, who undertook the work with their block-and-tackle, did their best. They had to ensure that the remaining usable stones were firmly planted in good ground, and that the result was visually striking. In that they succeeded: the dolmen is still standing to this day, and it is indeed a striking sight. But it's at right angles to its former position, besides being radically different from its pre-1815 appearance. It's not the real thing any more, and it must seem a horrible travesty to archaeologists!

Really, it was high time that something was done to restore the dolmen to its former authentic glory. So when I came along on 13th September, I studied the stones with the eye of a trained engineer. (Which doesn't of course mean that I was in fact a trained engineer. But I assert that I was in spirit.)

Yes...that capstone just needed a bit of a shove. A bit of shoulder in the right spot. And then heave it sideways a little. As you can see, I was full of confidence.

I got into position. I took the weight.

Then I gave it an upward heave. But it needed more oomph than I thought. 

Would you believe it, it wouldn't budge! Not an inch. Astonishing! 

After several minutes' effort, all to no avail, I decided to give up. I know when I'm beaten. I reckon that nineteenth-century naval team must have inserted steel pins to hold the slab onto the uprights. Huh, what a rotten thing to do. 

Well, I had to get back to Carnon Downs for a cup of tea, my afternoon snack, and a kip. I couldn't stay here too long. Reluctantly, I walked away. As I reached Fiona, another car stopped in the lay-by and a couple got out. I gave them a socially-distanced hello. I wondered whether I should stick around, to see whether their two shoulders working together would succeed where on my own single shoulder had failed. They were bound to have a go. And after nearly two hundred years those steel pins could well have been quite rusty, so that a combined heave at the right moment just might have done the trick. You never know.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

His 100th birthday today

19th November was Dad's birthday, and he would have reached the grand old age of 100 today

I like to think that he would still have his usual sharp mind. But I have to admit that by now he would have been crucified by creeping arthritis, and on that count alone his life would be very uncomfortable. 

He would also have been a widower for eleven years. I wonder how he would have borne life without Mum? They were devoted to each other. I would have been no substitute at all, beyond becoming his live-in carer. I'd join him in the same house that I live in now, but the other bedroom would have been my room. I dare say we would have pooled our very decent pension incomes and be living in great style, with all the best and latest gadgets, especially those that saved physical effort. Dad was no fuddy-duddy when it came to useful tech: he'd embrace it. 

But nothing can take away the pain of loss. And Dad knew that pain. Dad had a very successful life, but it was marred by the death of my younger brother when Dad was 75 - the only time I ever saw him break down and cry - and the death of Mum when he was coming up to 89. He followed Mum so very soon afterwards. But if he hadn't, I think he would have found a way to live without her. He wouldn't have become introspective and bitter. He was so much bigger and better than that. He was resilient, inventive and resourceful. He also had a talent for drawing and writing. The first was out of the question - the arthritis in his hands was too bad for fine work - but he'd have set to (in two-fingered style) with a computer keyboard, and might well have produced a novel, or even a history, based on his experiences in life. He would have binged on TV golf, and, keeping his mind alert, would also have followed the news carefully. He would have had interesting things to say about the events of 2020.

I have assembled some pictures from every decade of his life. These are mostly not my own photographs, but that doesn't matter.

This is Dad age three, in 1923.

This is Dad aged ten in 1930; and as a boy scout later on, around 1935.

Here he is aged twenty in 1940, called up to the Army and training at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire. Then when aged twenty-two in 1942, serving with the Eighth Army at Cairo.

After the war, he met Mum. Here they are in 1946, when Dad was twenty-six. The betrothed couple; and their wedding day at Porthkerry near Barry.

Now it's 1954, and here he is aged thirty-four, with my Uncle Wilf. Both pushing prams on the promenade at Barry.

1965 now, and Dad is forty-five. Here he is with my little bother Wayne at Houlgate in northern France.

From the 1970s, Mum and Dad's social life greatly expanded. I was still at home, but doing my own thing. Wayne was getting pretty independent too, and during the 1970s overtook me, leaving home and getting married much sooner than I did. These shots show Dad enjoying various aspects of a happy life.

Here he is, with a rather glamorously dressed Mum at my cousin Rosemary's wedding reception in 1975; and dancing there with another of my cousins, Sylvia.

A jolly Christmas Day morning in 1976. 

Trying his hand at mackerel fishing at Newquay in Cornwall in 1977. And the Queen's Jubilee Medal ceremonially presented to him at Buckingham Palace in the same year - still proudly hanging in my hall. 

Larking about with Wayne at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall in 1979:

Dressed up for an Old Time Music Hall evening with Mum and close friends in 1980:  

Dad retired at the start of the 1980s, and having moved to Liphook in Hampshire, joined the local bowling club with Mum. Both became very involved with the club, Dad being in his time both President and Treasurer, and Mum a stalwart on the catering side. Some shots from that era.

Dad had no training whatever in drawing, but definitely had talent, and would design the bowling club's social posters. Here's one for a fancy-dress event. 

Club membership involved away fixtures - bowling holidays even - in sunny places. I think this next shot from 1991 could have been taken on one of those jaunts. But equally it could have been on a regular holiday to Spain or Italy. Now which of my parents do I resemble most? Dad was age seventy, Mum sixty-nine.

Eventually excruciating arthritis forced Dad to have a double knee replacement operation in 1993. He was seventy-three. The operation was a success, but his bowling days were over. He kept his sense of humour though!

Later in 1993, I accompanied Mum and Dad on a long weekend in South Wales. Here they are together on the beach at Oxwich Bay on the Gower, in a picture I took of them:

This is a poignant shot from 1995. My younger brother Wayne (now aged thirty-nine) stands full of life and vigour between my proud parents. A few weeks later he was killed in a car crash.

During the second half of the 1990s, and on into the early 2000s, Mum and Dad enjoyed cruising. In 1996, they crossed the Atlantic and back in the QE2. Here's one of the official pictures:

In 1997, I went with Mum and Dad to Exmouth, and we tripped out to look at Dad's boyhood haunts in and around Kentisbeare, deep in the Devon countryside. Here he is at Blackborough, with Kentisbeare far away in the distance behind him. Off to his right (our left) was a track that led to the primitive farmhouse he lived in for much of his young life, his keep paid for by his father (who didn't want to look after him, and let someone else do it). Dad was now seventy-seven.

Ten years later, in 2007, in a pub. Dad was now eighty-seven.

And lastly a shot from 2008, at home. Dad was now eighty-eight, and was taking it easy. But it's still hard to believe that only seven months later he would be dead - of a cardiac arrest. 

Perhaps it's just as well that I don't have Dad with me now. As I said at the start, he would be in constant pain from his arthritis, and it would defeat even his powers of adaptability. I'm glad he was spared that. 

And I think I should stop commemorating these imaginary birthdays. It's highly unlikely that he would have reached the age of 100, or any later age, and I should let the notion go.   

Even so, I have often wondered, during the last ten years, what he might say about my own life  since 2009. I like to think he'd give me full credit for coming through those years rather well. But I can't be sure what he'd think about the person I became, once I was alone, and independent, and free of all the circumstances that had ever held me back. Once I'd shaped my own future, without consulting him. Perhaps he'd still be wistful for the old, quiet, amiable, compliant me, who had always said yes. Perhaps I would make him feel slightly uncomfortable with all the self-confidence and assertiveness I'd acquired. 

On the other hand, he'd have enjoyed the good games of cribbage or piquet I'd have given him daily. And the tasty lunches, with a good pint, in the country pubs I'd have taken him to. And all the jokes we'd share. 

I wouldn't have let him down.