Fuck the Daily Mail, O Lord, and other useful imprecations for Sunday worship.

The BogPo: An apology

Sorry we’re late, folks, I keep having to travel to London to sort out my mum’s flat and plough through a mountain of dispiriting paperwork showing how for years she was bullied and ripped-off by her landlords, banks, BT, greedy ‘dogs’n’donkeys’ charities and crooked mail-order companies, to see if there’s anything left.

I mean, £59 for a small pot of foundation makeup? And how did an investment fund of £120k turn in seven years into one worth £102?

Ah, sweet mystery of life, as they used to say.

I have to go again tomorrow, to hopefully meet at 7 am Monday with some council employees who we’re paying to take a few bulky items away. It’s an average six-hour drive, which at my age I’m finding incredibly wearing. A night in a sleeping-bag. And £30 to park… Hopefully this is the last, although it means saying goodbye forever to the urban village where I was born and raised – a village I now call without irony or malice, ‘Beirut on Thames’.

Anyway, here we go.

Fuck the Daily Mail, O lord – right up its shitty, mean-spirited, jingoistic fat arse.

The familiar refrain starts up in my liberal lefty snowflake breast as I read that ghastly, ambitious, greasy-ladder-climbing Priti Patel, Boris Johnson’s bus conductress and something-or-other for International Development (oxymoron in today’s insular climate) has summarily wielded the axe to a £5m programme to improve the lot of women in Ethiopia, on the grounds that the money ‘could be better spent elsewhere’.

On consultants, presumably. Or sending Boris to kiss Jared Kushner’s holy little gilded ring?

And as she says it has nothing to do with the long-running campaign of banner headlines in the Mail claiming Britain is funding nothing more worthwhile than an Ethiopian ‘girl band’, we must accept her explanation, must we not.

Or, as that great patriot and vigilant defender of Britain’s Just About Managing middle-class, Dacre of the Mail (salary: £1.5 million) has thundered, week after week, funding Ethiopia’s ‘Spice Girls’ to the tune of less than 0.05% of our international development budget (in turn, o.7% of our £1.4 trillion GNP) is a colossal abuse of UK taxpayers’ money.

Because the programme, known overall as Girl Effect, uses as its promotional flag-bearer a five-piece girl band called Yegna (the g is silent, as in gas-chamber).

BBC News describes the project in somewhat different terms to those now well understood by readers of the Mail:

The five-strong pop group was founded in 2013 and aims to tackle issues including domestic violence and forced marriage through its songs and online videos.

They perform a weekly drama and talk show on Ethiopian radio, as well as running a YouTube channel. They released their first song, Abet, meaning “We are here” in Ethiopia’s official language Amharic, four years ago.

It is part of the Girl Effect project, which was created by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Nike Foundation in 2011, which said Yegna aims to “change the culture of Ethiopia in a good way, to explain the problems in the society”.

God forbid we should use a penny of the massive wealth of this country to do things in a good way, after centuries of doing the opposite. Or that any aid should be imaginatively aimed at achieving cultural change through targeting young people in a language they understand, rather than simply dumping sacks of rice and tinned milk on a few starving babies; the stock image of  chronic ‘African dependency’ favoured by prim British Conservatives dispensing their cold crumbs of Victorian charity.

Perhaps Messrs Bono, Geldof, Posh Spice and other well-remunerated luminaries of the pop world, assuming they have not lately been carried off by the Grim Showbiz Reaper, might be persuaded to dip into their sherbet fountains accounts to at least soften the blow, as the women of Ethiopia return to the life of uneducated, clitoris-mutilated, black-eyed, underage, half-starved, rapine domestic servitude they knew before the British government cravenly bowed to the will of the people, as channeled by that bullying monster, Dacre.

Fuck the Daily Mail, probably Britain’s most disgusting cultural manifestation after Nigel Farage – who, I see, has been given his own nitely radio talk-show on LBC, to make up for losing his £85,000 a year salary from the European Parliament – you know, the unfair, undemocratic institution he has been dreaming for many years of bringing to ultimate destruction, claiming a healthy salary and indecent quantities of expenses from it while yet he may.

Something to keep the taxi drivers awake, I suppose.

Postscriptum

To declare an interest, I once got a royalty cheque from Ethiopia for £8 for an educational TV script I’d written years earlier for Thames TV. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to cash it.

 

Crisis, what crisis? Oh, that crisis!

Readers of this, muh bogl, will know that my mum died just before Christmas. She’d been rushed to a city-centre hospital after collapsing at home with chest pains, that turned out to be not a heart attack but the discovery that she was drowning in fluid produced by a massive tumour on her lung – not the product of the 20-a-day habit she kept up until the last, but an unlucky secondary metastasised from a returning, previously non-aggressive breast cancer.

In fact, she had multiple conditions – she would have been 93 in December – and had had increasing difficulty in walking, to the point where she could no longer get to the front door, down the many stairs of her second-floor flat. She was effectively a prisoner, a vulnerable woman trapped in the otherwise empty building for nights on end, until a cleaner came on Fridays.

She’d been begging to be moved to sheltered accommodation after the building was acquired last year by a ‘rental management’ company. Until then she’d been fiercely independent. Her rent was artificially low, about one fifth of what the area might support nowadays, mostly paid for by the Pensions department and controlled by the local authority – whose social services and housing departments were powerless to offer her a safer alternative unless the new landlords decided to evict her.

Instead, the owners were waiting for her to die; and failed to comply in any way with their duty of care to a vulnerable tenant, carrying out no safety audit or premises inspection, as that had been done five years earlier when the local authority intervened to force her previous landlord to carry out repairs and improvements on a damp, mouldy and unheated flat they had not touched in over thirty years; failing to understand that their tenant of 51 years could not afford to move anywhere else.

How to make repairs to a duplex apartment near Harrod’s, so an old lady can be made more comfortable.
20161208_201428

#1: let’s put in central heating…

As she ‘blocked’ a bed in the hospital, which could do nothing for her other than provide palliative care in a general ward frantic with activity day and night, groaning, chalk-faced old ladies being wheeled in and out for X-rays at 2 am, we raced to come up with a solution.

There was no possibility I could provide nursing care in my tiny cottage, 250 miles away.

Between the NHS and her local authority, a solution was proposed that would have involved sending in teams of two carers every four hours to look after her at home; the only drawbacks being they couldn’t provide cover at night when she was most vulnerable, parking is impossible and the flat was in a horrific state as she had already started packing to move, imagining she would soon be rehoused – there’s a two-year waiting list for care home places – while a firm of property clearers and auctioneers had been through the place like magpies, scattering drawers and papers everywhere, leaving dusty holes where her furniture had been and a generous receipt for £500.

#2: safer wiring.

#2: and safer wiring.

She had sold her bed – it was an antique – or thought she was about to, and a new, put-you-up cot was still in its box in the hallway.

A put-you-up cot. For a 92-year-old woman with osteoporosis.

Dying was really her best medical option at that point.

This weekend, Red Cross CEO Mike Adamson (Red Cross volunteers are providing many ancillary services in our hospitals) has described the NHS as a humanitarian crisis:

“The emergency care system is on its knees, despite the huge efforts of staff who are struggling to cope with the intense demands being put upon them. This cannot be allowed to continue. The scale of the crisis affecting emergency care systems has reached new heights, as we predicted, mainly due to a lack of investment in both social and acute health care beds, as well as emergency department staffing.” (BBC News)

And the NHS director’s pantomime-horse reply?

‘Oh no it isn’t!’

Why not? Because ‘we’ve got a plan for the winter.’

Is Donald Trump running the NHS too? It’ll be so great, believe me.

‘Told you so’ corner

“It hinges perhaps on what the Leavers mean by ‘sovereignty’ – ours, or their own? They appear in fact to have no idea of how they propose to direct the UK economy going forward; what ‘trade deals’ may be done, that we do not benefit from already. They are like bungling art thieves who steal a priceless painting so hot that no-one in the collecting world will touch it. The British people have mistakenly voted for a principle, not a policy.” -The Boglington Post, 24 June 2016

“Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities: increasing market access to other markets and consumer choice in our own, depends on the deals, multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral that we strike, and the terms that we agree. I shall advise my successor to continue to make these points.

“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.” -Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s not-so Permanent Representative to the EU, in his resignation email to his staff, expressing his frustration that no-one in Government has a clue what to do about Brexit.

(He has today been supported by Canada’s EU ambassador, who agrees with his assessment that Brexit could take ten years to repair and be ‘catastrophic’ for the UK economy in the meantime.)

 

Pumpkin News

News that the Trumpkin has been at it again, petulant late-nite tweets spewing from his rhinestone-studded stateroom slagging Meryl Streep as a ‘greatly overrated’ actress.

Ms Streep, who has won probably more awards than the entire US Olympics team,  had delivered a speech at the Golden Globes that could have been interpreted as critical of Herr Strumpf’s notorious cripple-mocking appearance at a campaign rally last year. Although we have all seen it a dozen times on TV, and it made President Hollande of France throw-up, the Orange One furiously denies it ever happened (“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” – Mandy Rice-Davies, 1963)

  • Is an obviously intelligent, thoughtful, well-informed, mature woman who happens to work successfully as an actor entitled to criticise the poor behaviour and ugly demeanour of the inexperienced and incompetent President-elect?

I would say so, yes. We all are.

  • Should she be regarded as an absurd, self-important airhead who should know her place, because that is the perception some presidents-elect and others, non-actors – TV personalities –  may sometimes have of actors in general?

I’d say not, no. It’s a statistical fact that not all actors can be fuckwits; any more than all politicians and all businessmans. Some ‘reality TV’ show hosts seem pretty vacuous, though. I mean, Anti-intellectual and Dec?

  • Is the platform at the Golden Globe awards the right place to make political speeches to a roomful of absurd, self-important airheads, where they will easily be dismissed by politicians and businessmans as the usual tiresome drivel spouted by luvvies in moments of cocaine-fuelled euphoria?

Again, I should have thought probably not.

  • I should have thought Miss Streep’s better bet then would be to put her perfectly valid conspectus in writing, say 750 to 1,000 words, and mail it to the editor of The Guardian, the New York Times; Pumpkin News or the Huffington Post, or to appear in person on one of the many serious US cable TV shows offering pre-resistance to Trump’s horrific cabinet, a rogues’ gallery of billionaire carpetbaggers, sagging old drunks, congenital cretins and gung-ho military fantasists.

It might have some effect, although nothing much is working so far.

 

Advertisements

Let’s all move to… London (and why not).

Let’s all move to… London

London. Unlovely city of my birth.

I was born in 1949, at the old St George’s Hospital on the south side of Hyde Park Corner, that grand and busy roundabout dedicated to The Fallen, located at the very heart of Empire. The Second World War had been over for four years, yet I think I still remember the bomb sites, National Health orange juice, the great smogs; everywhere covered in wet soot. We lived in Maida Vale at first, before moving to the Gloucester Road, where between terms away at school and until my mother remarried I grew up, an only child – the only child – in a cobbled mews, living over a garage my grandmother had bought, ostensibly to stable her husband’s two Mercedes cars – in reality, because she knew my father well enough.

Colour had not yet been invented.

From dinner with my ex-sister-in-law in the rambling commuter-belt estates somewhere northwest of Kilburn, up by the North Circular, with some trepidation I drive south, up (down? South along) the Edgware Road, past Lauderdale Mansions; round Marble Arch and down Park Lane, then somehow negotiate frantic Hyde Park Corner on my way back to Knightsbridge, where we lived from 1965 until, a student, I left home and took a room in a shared flat in Chelsea, circa the Year of the Events, 1968.

Driving up this time was unavoidable in view of the amount of stuff I had to move back to Wales, and the family to whom I had to give lifts on this solemn occasion. Having no idea about the congestion charge, where it applied, how you paid it, I viewed the task with unease, not least because my car is powered by a modest diesel engine. Diesel has become the new dirty word among London planners and the medical lobbying group, Doctors Against Diesel, because of my very tiny contribution to the pall of NOx that is supposedly suffocating everyone – only the latest in a long line of palls down the years, that have borne away the surplus population of the city and made room for more incomers.

I despaired of public transport. On the surface heavily congested, barely moving, subject everywhere to seemingly purposeless road closures and never-completed works, buses offputtingly operated now only by obscure cards that, as a provincial still living in the 1980s, up for the day, I don’t happen to have about me; below-ground a place of airless, nightmarish horror, a multitudinous, silent grey horde of The Damned packed into groaning carriages from where escape in an emergency would be impossible, rapid mass suffocation inevitable; brutalised by random engineering works, and surprisingly expensive. Taxi drivers confide in me: they are all on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown.

Driving is indeed nerve-racking: cars coming at you from any direction, changing lanes without warning; buses pulling out, taxis cutting in – streets seething with pedestrians, most seemingly of Middle Eastern or African origin. The traffic lights at the many junctions seem sadistically phased to ensure minimal progress. It takes an hour to travel what, a mile and a half? And it’s already half-past ten at night; by which time the roads at home are deserted.

*

I’d left London in 1985 and gone to live in the depths of the countryside: first working in, then owning a small advertising agency, sausaging our rare-breed pigs, moving ever-westwards by stages until five years ago, newly redundant, I arrived in the thunderous outskirts of ‘Boglington-on-Sea’, a busy university town and holiday resort, from where I seem to be unable to progress further without an Irish passport. Something I now wish I had. Would an Irish-American grandmother be sufficient qualification to escape from Camp Brexit, I wonder?

Thus impoverished, I seldom return to London; perhaps three or four times a year, to visit my old mum – or passing through. That’s over and done with now, she died in December, in a frenetic hospital ward where no more temporary rest was to be had. That first night, they managed to lose her teeth.

The flat was rented, the landlord somehow smelled death and turned up while we were sorting through her things, with a polite written request that we evacuate her 50 years’ worth of obsessively hoarded stuff ASAP or owe another month’s rent. It was Christmas. Having not lived in London for so many years, I had no idea: where would you even start looking for a removals firm?

The make-up bottles, brushes, tubes, compacts and sprays, hopeful anti-ageing remedies filled several large binbags; her vintage clothes and shoes, heaps of books, theatrical playbills, possibly saleable furniture and small curios, piles of remittance advices from a well-known firm of auctioneers who had kept her going financially for years, optimistic financial forecasts from an ultimately ruinous Lloyd’s of London agent, my old school reports filled yet more bags; her beds, unsaleable antiques, her piano, required the attendance of experts and burly men; and now the total number of  people I know living in the entire city was down to two, neither of them quite so conveniently and centrally located, it has to be said.

No-one lives in Knightsbridge anymore.

*

Hunzi and I tramp the lamplit streets for a late-night pee, around the old village between Holy Trinity and Kensington Gore, with its bijou Queen Anne cottages, cobbled mewses and glimpses of little town gardens, many ominously hidden behind builders’ hoardings. The photos in the posh estate agents’ windows offer a selection of virtually identical, anonymous, modernised interiors anyone can acquire for enough £millions – ‘price on request’ (I roomed in a flat on the King’s Road  for £4 a week). These pretty little investments are being snapped up as a wholesale commodity by billionaire kleptocrats and money-launderers, gutted like fish and ‘modernised’, expanded internally with floating ceilings, plate windows and recessed lighting, undercut with serial basements down to Hell for pools and ‘media rooms’, embellished with planters so improbably neat you might imagine the flora to be artificial; obsessively tended by contract window-box gardeners.

And by night maybe one in ten of the houses in Rutland Mews or Ennismore Gardens, the slightly grander abodes of Trevor Place and Montpellier Square might be showing a light indicating occupancy; perhaps below street level, where here and there a Philippino houseboy can be seen morosely ironing a shirt, TV flickering in the background. Otherwise the village is deserted, dead, except for the restaurants and gated compounds of Cheval Place where chauffeurs hang around with bored expressions next to their blacked-out SUVs and limousines. Glancing in the side window of one car, I see a prostitute giving her Arabic-looking client a vigorous blowjob in the front seat.

Yes, it’s dead posh in SW7.

Just around the corner, the Brompton Road heaves with late-night tourists and people of Middle Eastern appearance enjoying the dank night air, Turkish coffee and a smoke at pavement tables outside the many shisha cafes that have replaced the elegant couturiers, from where Arabian music blares out late into the night. I have come to re-christen London ‘Beirut on Thames’ – the civilised, cosmopolitan Beirut of course, before the war.

Across the road, that garish temple to the execrable taste of the ludicrously rich, Harrod’s continues to exert its magnetic attraction for the not-so-wealthy; the pavement outside virtually impassable for tourists gawking at the tawdry, overpriced junk in the overdressed Christmas windows. In the glaring lightpools of the dead of night rich kids in their Ferraris burn rubber up and down the Cromwell Road, the raucous snarl of over-revved Italian engines echoing through the canyons into the early hours; the police have given up chasing them.

Why on earth are all these people here, when all there is to see is more people?

*

Arriving from the North at Euston I observe a never-ending stream, a torrent of whey-faced commuters pouring into a hole in the ground: the Underground. I think immediately of the procession of the dead, and decide instead to take a taxi across town to the hospital and screw the cost (only £25… and it took an hour, including many detours to avoid the worst of the traffic). I stop off, and pay £5 for a small cake to take to the bewildered, toothless old lady, cut off from the world behind blue drapes. A harassed nurse brings morphine on demand. My mother explains, she has had to become an addict as the bastards won’t let her smoke. Back at the flat I sort through a time-vault of publicity stills, a promising actress of dark-eyed, vital beauty.

Next day, Hunzi and I seek refuge, space – air – in the Royal Parks. He remembers from year to year where the stray tennis balls are found along the fenced-off shrubbery behind the courts; and sure enough there are two inside the railings. With an eye out for park rangers I purloin the nearer, and we play chase and catch in the rain until the ball becomes caked with London’s tenacious brand of black dirt and an object of no further interest. It seems a measure of the impressive wealth of the city that the intensively coached players can’t be bothered to collect the balls they knock accidentally over the wire at £2 a time.

Avoiding speeding Boris Bikers, the morning phalanx of joggers, extended Arab families out for a stroll and the pretty boys of the Household Cavalry exercising their perfectly turned-out mounts on Rotten Row, helmets gleaming, swords jingling like distant goat bells across the plain, the sun striking fire from the newly regilded Albert Memorial, green parakeets whirring and screeching in the familiar London plane trees, the 09.35 Emirates Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi wheeling in towards distant Heathrow, I could almost imagine the life I once knew here.

Growing up then, marrying, moving ever-westwards: Chelsea, Putney, Hounslow – Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, I had thought perhaps one day I might return, to sit out in retirement at some quiet pavement cafe enjoying the passers-by, exchanging pleasantries with other villagers, smoking Gauloises, pottering about the little shops. The dream faded long ago. In the Fulham Road I feel underdressed, a poor refugee amid the elegantly attired, eminently tall young men and women striding purposefully in their Burberry and Dolce e Gabbana past decor shops filled with Babylonian luxuries, temptingly expensive patisserie; barking important messages about property deals into their iPhones; past knots of Ukrainian building workers in high-viz jackets awaiting pick-up to ferry them on to the next basemented development no-one will ever live in again.

In Thurloe Place I encounter a small man with a blue Macaw perched on either shoulder, with whom he seems to be enjoying an animated conversation. He glares defiantly back at my curious gaze. You probably know him. While here and there may be glimpsed an elderly, well-dressed individual, white-haired, knobbly with arthritis, looking as disorientated as I feel in this city, the village of my birth, abandoned and struggling as my mother did for years in defiant poverty, until the ever-changing yet somehow consistent story of London, the mist of its history swirls around them and swaddles them and bears them away into obscurity.

The Great Wen, as Cobbett sneeringly dismissed it, is and has always been a Darwinian habitat fit only for the young and the wealthy, the broker, the builder, the garbage man and the cleaner; an overcrowded and barely functional bazaar of scrabbling opportunism and excess, of smart prep schools and ludicrously tank-like cars; a place for tourists to see themselves, teeming humanity reflected in a shop window.

To be honest, I could grow to like it.

1936 ww

What is a ‘Leppo’?

Along with millions of others around the world, as Christmas approaches I am trying as hard as I possibly can to avert my gaze from what is happening in Aleppo.

Because there is absolutely not one fucking thing I can personally do or say to halt the medieval slaughter of innocent men, women and children; doctors, nurses and paramedics, dying for mercy in that ancient ruined city after four years of almost incessant bombardment; seige and starvation, their schools and hospitals deliberately targeted by the little arch-cunt of the Kremlin.

Someone, perhaps someone close to him, has to take out that psychotic war criminal, Assad, and now. A parasitic, enteric worm, he has surely forfeited any right to life.

But they won’t. The rotten, tyrannical scum of history seldom face justice in their gilded lifetimes.

Clickety-click

I’m having trouble finding the words.

To be more accurate, I’m having trouble finding the letters with which to make the words.

That’s because they’ve been slowly wearing off the keys of my little four-years-old silver Asus lappy-toppy box-thing, and several purely black ones are leaving me guessing as to their alphanumerical or punctuational function. (It has occurred to me that there is some correlation to be drawn here between the vanishing keypad and my aging, fuddled brain, from which stuff is disappearing at an alarming rate. However, while stuck in the bathroom the other day, the names, faces, functions and disturbing habits of the entire teaching staff at my preparatory school came flooding back after fifty-five years…)

Take, for instance, the title of this piece: ‘Clickety-click’ (Bingo-callers’ argot for the number 66). Because Christmas is coming, there’s no ‘l’… (Type of humour to avoid. Ed.) No, seriously, when first set down, it emerged as ‘Ckickety-ckick’. That’s because ‘k’ falls next to the invisible ‘l’ and my typing-finger brain tends to go for the nearest key to the one I can’t find.

Other letters you may not get in the post this Autumn include ‘a’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, followed soon I anticipate by ‘s’, ‘m’ and ‘t’, whose traces are precarious.

You might think that, turning 66 today as I have, I should have taken a typing course by now, if it mattered. Or that, having been a journalist for several years and earned a meagre living, such as it was, almost entirely since then from the typed word, in various editorial roles, I should by now have succeeded in memorising which fingers need to go where.

My lightning reflexes however have always made it unnecessary to prestidigitate on the keyboard without needing to look where I’m going. I’m not much one for automatism. I can rapidly look at the keys, assimilate their positions, unscramble the three fingers you need for this sort of thing, and go for the letters with a fair degree of alacrity.

I’ve written millions of words this way, a penny a piece. But I do need to be able to see what I’m doing, where I’m going. And now I can’t, not entirely. I’ve become keenly long-sighted.

Muh gudfriend, Tony H. (it’s not a winsome literary abbreviation, I genuinely can’t remember his name) brought cake to choir practice, that he had baked himself, and the little group sang Happy Birthday, which happily had passed out of copyright last week. I emerged with my soup-strainer moustache, that I am having to grow to play a pirate in a pantomime, sticky with delicious chocolate fondant.

The practice was for a fundraiser at our local supermarket later in the morning, entitled ‘Buckets for Boobs’ – a clue being breast-cancer awareness. I stayed on after and joined in another choir I sometimes sing with for charity, happily for them as, while they were vastly over-represented in the ladyboobs department, only a tiny handful of men had turned out.

What is it with men, we’re such a handful?

Anyway, they sang Happy Birthday afterwards too, in public, which was a bit embarrassing, since I have tried to keep up a reputation for being surly and unhelpful in choir, apart from always knowing the start-note while the leader is off fumbling with some weird tuning device or another, refusing to believe me, and we were blocking the supermarket exit.

And along with the card I got from my old mum, and the four bottles of wine I plan to take to a party this evening, and the place on the weekend jazz workshop next month that I’ve thoughtfully given myself as a present, to go with the £3,000 guitar I gave myself last month as a precaution in case I forgot my birthday this month, that’s been about it.

Ckickety-ckick, sixty-six.

Eyes down for a full-house.

The big switcheroo

Interestingly, my early-morning reverie today focussed on my wavering sexual orientation.

I’ve been told my prostate gland is the size of an orange, when it ought to be more like a walnut – very Christmassy, but cycling is definitely off the cards. On Friday I have to get a CAT scan, and I’m hoping it’s not my lovely radiographer friend D. who’s doing it, I can think of better social circumstances under which I’d prefer to pull my pants down a bit further.

The options include a dice-n’-slice operation to reduce it, or removing it altogether – a prostectomy. It certainly avoids the possibility of it turning cancerous. And without sexual function we might as well get rid of the balls too, flobbering around, always getting in the way. I lay awake, having awoken from a dream in which I made myself up as a woman and was not displeased.

I decided that I have never been entirely what you would call manly, always preferring the company of women, baking cakes and not going to football matches. Despite the little white pills, the honourable member doesn’t stand up to scrutiny anymore. I began wondering whether 65 was a good time, given that without his prostate a man ain’t a real man and I’ve had my kids, to get a gender reassignment?

It might be fun to enjoy a long life in which you could experience being alternately male and female, like Orlando in the Virginia Woolf novel, although I should have to be a lesbian. The thought of sex beneath some sweating, grunting, balding, potbellied, hairy-shouldered man thrusting bluntly at my expensively constructed vagina is a total turnoff, even if he has promised to take me to Paris.

I thought about the many gender reassigned males I have known. You could get over the big hands and muscular shoulders, and being six feet tall already without the kitten heels, I guess. You could stop walking like John Wayne and think Darcy Bussell instead – although, come to think of it, she walks like she’s just had a vasectomy. But all of them seem to have been driven slightly mad by the oestrogen therapy – I assume it’s that, I can be grumpy myself.

Maybe I’ll just end up as one of those self-effacing,  smooth-faced, crop-haired, secretive little chaps in elasticated slacks and pierced-leather shoes, with hoarse voices and a string-bag, you’re never quite sure what they are. I’ll be sad to lose my magnificent basso profundo, as will the ladies of the Soprano section – then, I can always buy a campervan.

 

Postscriptum

The above produces an offer of counselling from muh gudfriend, Sir Roger de Boyle, for a ‘small consideration’. Precisely…

Muffing the muffins

Does it help, knowing we are all in the same hopeless boat, adrift on a sea of uncertainty and disarray?

Possibly.

I mentioned in the Post next to this one, that my muffins refuse to rise. By which I mean, they don’t develop those big overflowingly generous-looking tops.

Muffin-tops!

I started with a recipe from Delia Smith, doyenne of homely cooking and centrefield mastermind of Norwich United FC. Go, the Canaries.  It was a miserable failure. Could it have been that she specifies plain flour with a teaspoon of baking soda? But all I had was Allinson’s self-raising wholemeal, with the bran sifted out? Would that have made the difference?

All the ingredients were fresh off the supermarket shelf. The egg was Free Range. I first macerated the expensive fruit, as recommended. I measured carefully, everything except the oven temperature. I have no idea how to set the oven temperature on my cooker. I need a new cooker, with a temperature setting thing, not a random digital counter. So I just got it pretty hot, about halfway up. Heat is heat, right?

I used crinkly paper cups, in a muffin pan. I made sure not to under-blend the wet-n-dry ingredients. I made sure not to over-blend them (it’s Be Kind to Gluten Week). My batter was deliciously partly-mixed and chunky. Raw, it tasted wonderful. I spooned it with sticky difficulty into the cups, right to the top as directed. Finally I followed Delia’s advice to put the tray in the top of the oven.

What I got 40 minutes later were six small cakes. They tasted fine, I’m still eating them, but no way could you call them muffins. The bits of expensive fruit had burned around the edges. And the cakes had to be scraped off the paper cups, leaving most of the outside behind. My cakes were overdone on top, and soggy in the middle.

Something was wrong.

Next, I turned to Claire Ptak, she of the Velvet Bakery in London. I had had a bit of a torrid time with her Plum Victoria Sponge last week, as the quantities in the recipe were so clearly off-kilter. 700 ml of whipped cream, for one 18 cm sponge? There was a bucketful left over even after I’d splodged a half-inch or so layer for the filling. You don’t measure liquid milk, surely, in dry grammes? And it was still runny after the recommended max. 40 mins cooking time. That turned into an hour and a half.

The ladies at choir that night were a-flutter with praise for my Plum Sponge, but I knew Claire’s over-heavy sponge didn’t deserve it.

Claire’s muffins were even worse than Delia’s, and more expensive, blackberries being hors du saison in March. Just for the hell of it, I folded some of the spare cream into the mix, which made them taste fluffy and delicious for one evening, but rubbery and sour the next day, as if I had forgotten the sugar. They still didn’t rise. Was one egg enough? And a teaspoon of baking powder added to the self-raising flour? Was that too much? Was I using the right blend of baking powder?

Yet again, cakes. Burned on top, and fluffy, going-on rubbery in the middle.

Today I changed the flour. I bought bog-standard McDougall’s Plain. I suppose I should have sieved, but I’ve never found a single lump in a McDougall’s bag. I tossed instead, and doubled the quantity of baking soda and – on Yotam Ottolenghi’s advice – added a pinch of bicarb, which I am now unhappily farting. I filled the cases right to the top. The mix was suspiciously runny.

Confidence was low, as I was conscious of the fact that, on the next page of Ottolenghi – the pages have all stuck together after my wild success with his Apple Cake with Olive Oil the previous week, where it came out looking exactly like in the photograph and grown women wept at my feet – he was going to ask me to put in FIVE teaspoons of baking powder. One tastes bad enough (do these culinary celebrities read their own stuff, one wonders, idly?).

Forty minutes later, the muffins haven’t risen again. They don’t look at all like Yotam’s riotous explosions. They look flat, with hard tops and soggy middles. The expensive blueberries are again burned. The cakes are again decimated by firm, irremovable adherence to the crinkly paper. I think I’ll drop the crinkly paper idea, especially if the muffins are not going to form perfect domes above it, like in Costa Coffee.

What can one do, but turn to the Interweb Thing? Keying plaintively: ‘Muffins won’t rise’ produces literally hundreds of Help fora on the subject. Gratifyingly, it seems that no-one in the entire world’s muffins will rise. And no-one really knows why not, to judge by the shot-in-the-dark answers from self-styled experts.

There are only six key ingredients in a muffin, and it is even a help that they should be inexpertly blended. Flour, sugar, egg (Yotam recommends using several), milk, melted butter, raising agent – plus your choice of flavouring. What’s to go wrong?

Well, there are only four base-pair combinations in the human genome, and we haven’t run out of strange faces yet.

But I’m not giving up, nossir. Someone recommends putting the tray in the bottom of the oven, after an initial blast of searing heat. Someone else says not to use too much raising agent. Someone else says it’s cheaper and easier and much, much less time-consuming to buy muffins from the cake shop… Oh, yes, that’s me!

Try that next. Saves washing-up.

Try anything.

Finance with strings: a moral and cultural dilemma, for which advice is required.

I imagine myself as a connoisseur of a certain category of items. I am not a collector of them, I am a specialiser. I should like to own forevermore just one of those items, rather than many. It therefore needs to be a special one. But not so special that it has no marginal utility for me, or overestimates my capability ever to beneficially maximise its usage.

(You see, it might be a Ferrari, or a McLaren, or a Lamborghini, but I’d be terrified to touch the gas pedal on any of them!)

For several weeks I have been seriously considering buying an item priced at £2500. It has all the aesthetic appeal, quality and utility I could ever wish for, but it comes from a US company that makes a lot of such items in a wide range of prices. This one is somewhere towards the lower end of the upper end of what they make. It is good, but not special.

Now, however, I have been offered another item, priced at £3500. This has the aesthetic appeal, quality and utility, perhaps to a superior degree, but also with some rarity value, as it comes from a small, specialist UK manufacturer. At present there is only one available anywhere. It is quite special and it might sell quickly and I would lose the opportunity to acquire it.

But I do not know how much of that additional £1000 is vested purely in its rarity value, or if it is genuinely buying me £1000 extra quality and utility. I cannot know, until it is in my hands.

Should I buy item A, then, I know I shall probably spend the rest of my life wishing I had had the courage to go for item B, to the point where if another comes along I would happily sell item A to acquire it. By then, it may prove difficult to afford it.

I do not currently have the cash to buy either item, however I am expecting within a few days to learn if I am able either to a) remortgage, or b) sell, my house (for reasons unconnected with my obsession), and I have taken care to build-in some extra to acquire at least item A and, at a pinch, item B.

I can ignore item B and wait a few weeks to buy item A for cash. Or, I can reserve either item for up to two weeks with 10% deposit, which I can afford – although in the case of item B it will take half exactly of my savings and there may be other priorities. Or, I can arrange a hire purchase contract, although if I can neither obtain the mortgage nor sell the house, I should not be able to afford the repayments without making a large deposit that I do not have the cash for.

Or, either item can be easily acquired on a ‘pay nothing for 12 months’ basis.

This latter course is tempting, but is a gamble. I should have the item in my hands in five days’ time. A bird in the hand, indeed!  But what if neither opportunity to raise finance were to eventuate? A forbidding tsunami-wall of debt would approach ever closer as time goes on. Should I fail to make payment in full by April 2016 I should have to commit to a repayment schedule that I could not afford on my income, at a very high rate of interest.

Tomorrow, I leave for London for a few days. Advise me, o perspicacious augur: should I settle this now with a 12-months’ payment holiday (and on which item, A or B?); pay a deposit in the hope of having more cash in good time – it might take several more weeks to come through – or postpone a decision until after the holidays, hoping not to have lost any opportunity in the meantime, perhaps by then having had confirmation of the offer of a mortgage, or with the keen interest of a buyer ringing around my little kitchen –  but still being faced with the same dilemmas as to which to try to buy, and what would be the best way?

And finally, why do I always get myself into these situations? Should I not just take up baking cakes? (My muffins keep turning out a disaster, despite using expensive cookery books and adding extra baking powder, they refuse to rise. More advice is needed on that…)

Pip pip!

UB (worried face)

Postscriptum

Apologies to my Spammers, Lookers and Pursuers for the lengthy hiatus beween Postings, the last one being three weeks ago. I couldn’t think of much to say in the meantime, that wasn’t too deeply personal. (Another time, maybe.)

Afterlude, April 9th

The matter has been settled for me. My credit application has been rejected. That’s a relief.