Thursday, 30 December 2010

Living the Life I Lead

Well, I was happy here at home
I got everything I need.
Happy being on my own
Just living the life I lead.
Well suddenly it dawned on me
That this was not my life.
So I just phoned the airline girl
And said: “Get me on flight number 505.
Get me on flight number 505.”
The Rolling Stones (Flight 505)

YESTERDAY A FRIEND WROTE TO ME (put your hands up, Richard) suggesting (with bleak January not so many hours away) I start my autobiography (to write it, not read it, for it has remained hidden from you and me). If that were not enough, I might also begin a novel. January could be awfully busy.

One has come across the remark: "Each of us has a book within us." I don’t believe that, not for a moment, and the proof is in the pudding (as they say). How many novels by driven (if uninspired) writers are clearly over-egged? One could spend January making a list.

Allow me to confess (sorry, Richard) that I do not have a storybook in me, not at either end. Novels should be, I’m thinking, new somehow. The novels that do haunt my mind are those that I have read, and they retain their novelty years, indeed decades, after I have read them. The Waves belongs to Virginia Woolf, and water carried her away, but not her words; Island is the optimistic child of Aldous Huxley (that novel altered my life in 1967, everything changed as I read the last paragraph); The Magic Mountain came on loan from Thomas Mann, a trip to the snow and the consumptive death there; André Gide’s Fruits of the Earth has nourished me without being diminished; DH Lawrence gave me (and you) Women in Love and he stands in the room watching me when I read it, or think of it, a bloodied handkerchief at his lips.

I have come across would-be novelists, wordsmiths, who seem to write to a formula. (The oddest goal was to write an entire novel of 50,000 words in the calendar month of November just gone. I wondered whether there might be a 20,000 word short story of some brilliance, or a 90,000 word oeuvre that was sidelined in the cause of high speed bad art.) I do understand the need to write, the need dictated by the necessities of life (food and electricity), having written a newspaper column and also having played at being an art critic some years back. In the more distant past, I tended to write the bulk of our grammar school newspaper (Quid Novi) that I edited; bulk being a good word to describe my contribution (ballast would work as an appropriate word too).

Not all writers can be dismissed on the basis of their writing schedules. One hears of noted, successful authors who go to the office (as it were) at a certain time each day. I believe Roald Dahl would head for a shed at the bottom of his garden and put in his hours. Virginia Woolf wanted a room to herself where she could stand at an elevated desktop. I hope those that shut a door behind them and in their secret (the Mormons would say sacred) chamber weave wonders do not force the pen or pencil across an unwilling page, or type for the comfort of the clattering keys; I hope that the Roald Dahls have heard a voice (and only when it wanted to be heard, not when its source was having its bottom pinched).

When we remember we are all mad,
the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

There are writers who come by their gifts in ways that everyday boys and girls might not wish to share. I have read the words, the beautiful words, words tending to degrees of genius, that are the silver linings to lives (some wit noted that every silver lining has a dark cloud) that most of us would attempt to run away from (or to escape by way of spirits and substances and transcendental obfuscations). These are not writers with a word-quota (1,666 a day in November, damnit), but with a struggle for being, and are wrestling with all the angels that life can fling down on them. These are the creators of words, chapters, stories, poems, plays that nearly break my heart (perhaps they really do break my heart, nothing nearly at all) when I see their flesh and blood sacrificed represented on the page (and no God to stay the knife).

No (Richard), I shall not write a novel, starting in January. A biography then? In my case, if I could conjure up the words of my life, they would be delivered in the mouths of so many ghosts. I try to live my live in the present day (Buddha said we should not dwell in the past or think of the future), however, my ghost-writers would be hard to avoid if I was looking at my personal story from “In the beginning...” My Mother, dead over 18 years, might materialise as I sit at my desk (or on the sofa, or when I’m struggling to sleep), reminding me, as I see her eyes wide and lost under her glasses, that there is madness in me; my Father, who passed away in early 1996 could pop up (wearing the naff smoking jacket, cravat and smoking a pipe that made him an embarrassment for me) with the details of my conception and nativity (thank Christ!); my much-loved Nan Eldridge, taken by the cancer almost 35 years ago, may suddenly pour me a tiny glass of sherry, ask if I have a spare tab, and relate the family history that her father told her in 1910. (I know people who see and hear visions; one thinks himself a simple psychic as he deals daily with very real dead people. A psychiatrist would have a longer name, difficult to spell, more difficult to understand, for the would-be psychic. I think all apparitions are real, even if one might put a hand through one’s late brother to reach a glass of spirits at the bar.)

Life is something to do when you can't get to sleep.
Fran Lebowitz (1951-)

In my writing, the blog entries and the smart-arsed remarks on Twitter, I do try to stay close to the now, even if I’m here and there. I worry that the real current life is no better revealed than in our shopping lists (I needed cranberry juice yesterday, and Brie cheese, and this, in algebraic form, actually tells me a great deal about my life on Wednesday, 29 December, 2010). “There’s more to life!” (than my diet lemonade and lettuce). How many writers, real and hack, have said that? But it is true. Pushing through the old ghosts, my life is rolling along in the books I am reading. I usually read three or four books, not at the very same time, but I pick up the story that best suits my mood in the hour and might best stimulate my mind. Yesterday I was in Germany in 1943, the British and Americans were dropping bombs, and ragged Jews were struggling on foot to take showers at Dachau; today I was on board the Pequod in search of that most famous of whales (the little children would say: “Free Willy?” And I would say: “Dick! Moby Dick!”).

My ghosts appear (I suppose I’m looking like an Ebenezer Scrooge now) and remind me that the males of a generation of my family, known to me personally, fought the Germans in World War Two (I ask them if they feel comfortable with Arthur “Bomber” Harris and the annihilation of Dresden, for I do not from the supposed security of 65 years). And my Great-Auntie Maud, in her wonderful Lancashire accent brings back to me the memory of clambering aboard a nineteenth century sailing ship on the front at Morecambe when I was very young, and the ship, built for a movie, was called “Moby Dick”. (If it had been named Pequod the average tourist walking along the promenade would most likely not have made a connection, would not have found the three pence for the ticket to climb up the steep gangplank.)

Last night I read a number of poems that a friend has written over recent years. I immediately realised that many had a subtle musical underpinning. There was beat, there was movement, there were highs and lows, and all done with words. I’d love to write poetry. Virginia Woolf told her nephew, and others, that things did not become real until one wrote them down. She suggested poetry. Looking back on my life, there are many musical songs (poems, if you like) that mark the path on which I have travelled. (Not with breadcrumbs, the birds have not misled me.) The Beatles turned me on.

My family members tend not to be long-lived, and good physical health seems to avoid us like the plague. My parents died young. One of my real passions is genealogy (combining my love of family traits, family connections, culture and history itself) and so often one sees Father and Mother having ten or more children, and six die. Several times they try to hold on to a daughter named (for example) Mary, and each one withers within a year or two. (I’d have been superstitious and would not have used the names of the dead over and over; the next Mary would be Eliza instead or Hermione.)

Looking at my family tree (which is actually better described as a fairly large computer file on over 1,800 relatives going back a thousand years in some lines), I wonder at the lives cut short by disease, accident, poverty and over-work. My great-grandfather James Henry Proctor was sent to work in the mill at age nine because he was a tall child and could fool the mill owners into thinking he was eleven, and he was dead before he was 50. One morning, early, my great-grandmother, Sarah, called down the stairs to her daughter: “Elsie, bring some brandy, your Daddy is dying.” The brandy was not to attempt to resuscitate James Henry, or to alleviate his pain and fear of the dying he was busy with; the brandy was for my great-grandmother. Happened that Elsie became my grandmother and lived to be 104, more than twice her father's age at death.

There is a great deal of artistic ability in both sides of my family, I have several cousins who paint, makes films, act, design and photograph in ways that I’d love to. (Perhaps my spell as an art critic was my attempt to stand with them?) But how many brilliant painters (or writers, or musicians) in my family have died young (usually without having had families of their own)?

Life is precious. To be a bit strange (I am permitted that, because I’m quite mad, as the Cheshire Cat would say: "We are all mad here!") one is something of a bivalve mollusc, an oyster. One might be rather rough on the outside (or at least feel that way), yet be smooth, iridescent, exquisite inside, and some have a pearl, the result of dealing with a tiny parasite, some have pearls forced upon them. Some pearls are beautiful, many are not so judged, but the oysters have all dealt with the irritant within their shells, amidst their soft tissues.

And another ghost whispers something that I’d quite misplaced (not forgotten, obviously, because here it is) for a lifetime: My two sisters had matching clothes for special occasions, like Easter Sunday church services, dresses with uncomfortable crinolines to make them stand out nearly like ballerinas’ tutus. Little straw bonnets. And pearl necklaces that were not complete, but were added to on occasion. Certainly the clothes were soon outgrown, perhaps given away to a relative or a thrift shop, but where did the pearls go? The oysters’ hard work.

Well, I sat right there in my seat.
Well, feeling like a king.
With the whole world right at my feet.
“Of course I'll have a drink!”
Well, suddenly I saw
That we never ever would arrive.
He put the plane down in the sea.
The end of flight number 505.
The end of flight number 505.
The Rolling Stones (Flight 505)

Oscar Wilde said, perhaps a little cruelly, but he did almost everything for a laugh and cruelty is a common cause of laughter: “Youth is wasted on the young.” Looking at that, I can say that it is only now, when I’m getting on in years, that I can see all the good things of my (often difficult, troubled) youth. And when one looks back, one’s youth is always just behind us. My youth was last night. I was wonderfully youthful. I intend enjoying my youth tonight, and will hope that it seems delightful when I struggle awake on the (most likely) bone-chilling morning of the last day of 2010 ... tomorrow. My alarm is set for 6.30am.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Purple Lights & Prophets' Promises

God depends on us. It is through us that God is achieved.
André Gide (1869-1951)

A YEAR AGO I MADE FUN of the public Christmas decorations in the village, in particular the lights on our main street which were outshone by the sign at Euro-Pizza; the parade to mark the holiday season also seemed unusual to me with its escort of heavy motorcycles and Alice in Wonderland theme.

It was too cold and chucking rain on the night of this year’s parade and I stayed inside. Our community newspaper reports that a good crowd turned out to watch a Cinderella-themed trek down Queen Street, again with the motorcycles, and drummers. Santa Claus (as we now must refer to Father Christmas) was in Amble’s new ice-cream parlour at the far end of Queen Street, an encouragement to the children to ignore the ghastly weather, struggle down to Spurreli’s, and place their gift orders with the Bearded One. Ho! Ho! Ho!

We are having a brutal winter up here in God’s Country again this year, and it has been looking a lot like Christmas for over a month. Not exactly like Christmas in the mountains above Salt Lake City (I’ve been there, done that, several times) where vast quantities of snow, dense fog and mind-numbing temperatures are handled fairly easily. Here in our frozen north, everything tends to grind to a halt as the first flurries begin. I think that Northumberland could do with some free enterprise when it comes to ploughing the snow from the side roads (it’s all narrow country lanes up here) and car parks. In Salt Lake City, people with trucks and tractors would attach ploughing devices and head off to make a few dollars. I went with a friend to clear some parking areas at Mormon chapels in SLC, and experienced the worst motion sickness I’ve had before or since; but there are people who enjoy that sensation (the same people who enjoy Disneyland’s rides, I think).

There’s a tree, barren of leaves, but well-lit by silvery fairy lights just outside my front door and twenty-five yards over to the right. It’s rather attractive, and I do not know if it is a public display or provided by the householder next to the tree, but it greets everyone coming into Amble from the north, from Warkworth. There’s a bench below the tree and I suppose a hardy soul could sit there and enjoy the glitter overhead. Well, there’s a foot of snow on the bench, so a very hardy soul with thick trousers.

The overhead lights on Queen Street are new this year, and are purple. Small, purple and plentiful. I have been walking Cailean after dark (which is not that late in the afternoon just now, think three o’clock) to the Town Square at the bottom of the street, with the world somehow transformed by the bluish colours above. Other lights are attached to the first floor outside walls on Queen Street, in most cases above shop-fronts. Several of our shops have lovely displays in their windows which can still be seen at about 3.30pm as the businesses are open. Shutters tend to come down at five and the village world is less beautiful.

Our pavements are not always clear of ice, and the snow on the road gradually gets filthy and shifted up onto the pavement’s edges, narrowing any pathways. One must walk most carefully. I plod along hardly lifting my feet. Cailean, in his dark blue or tartan overcoat pads along quickly on short dachshund legs. By the time we get home he’s shivering and his underside is very grubby. I’m cold as well, no matter how many layers I’ve dressed in, and even my sturdy shoes are soggy and need to go by the fire. For all that, we are enjoying our walks in the purple world.

When I went to get my fibre-optic Christmas tree out of the cupboard in the back porch a week ago I found it below no end of boxes, bags and bits of furniture. That cupboard is a catch-all. So I decided to empty the cupboard, remove the tree in its box, and then restack things neatly. And I did all that, in a little over an hour. There’s no heating in the back porch and it was not exactly pleasant work. My cupboard is now as tidy as one could get, the tree in its box is still in there, on top of everything; I was so tired that I couldn’t be arsed to take it out and assemble it. I’ve settled with arranging my greeting cards around the fireplace in the front room. Perfectly happy with that, I am.

There is a tall brass standing lamp with a very large pink shade in my front room. It looks like something I imagine a Victorian whorehouse might feature. This is conjecture; I’ve not been in a Victorian whorehouse. But one sees films. With the lamp lit the room glows pink. The electric fire is disguised as a coal oven, and that gleams nicely. With the greeting cards along the hearth, on the mantelpiece and around a large mirror, the room is very seasonal. If my curtains are open, there’s usually snow flying around outside and icicles hanging about. Yes, it works rather well.

I have put up some lights. This meant that I had to stand on the one chair with a flat, fairly hard seat; not something I like doing as I do not enjoy heights, ladders, wobbling and reaching. Two days ago my overhead light fixture in the bathroom suddenly made a popping noise, and one of its three bulbs went dark. A few hours later a second bulb blew. Now my bathroom is in the centre of the flat, and there is no window to the outside. There are no electrical outlets; one could not even take in a small lamp in an emergency. It is always like midnight in there! In the past I’ve only been able to get the particular bulbs from a shop up in Alnwick, so I was wondering how I’d manage that in the ice and snow. However, I was plodding past a little shop in Amble that sells electrical goods (radios, hair-dryers, clocks and TVs) and thought to go in. The shopkeeper now has light bulbs and (Hallelujah!) had the very kind I needed. A secular prayer answered?

I headed home with my bulbs (I bought extras, the darn things seem to burn out every six months) and got out my chair. A few unsteady minutes later my lights were up and the bathroom was well-lit once more. No peeing or shaving in the dark!

Yesterday the electricity went off all over the village. The snow was falling heavily and the roads had not been ploughed or gritted, and few cars had even tried to navigate them. Coast Guard, fire and hospital ambulance vehicles crawled past the flat, a helicopter was overhead somewhere, sirens going off. Despite the falling snow and cold, suddenly the street outside was heaving with people on foot heading down the hill after the emergency crews. Hours later the lights came on again, but I have not been able to discover what the brouhaha was all about.

For some, this is a most holy season. I grew up singing carols and Christmas hymns at grammar school and in church. We usually had a tree in the living room, and we had dodgy lights on it; if one burned out, they all switched off. Which was the bad bulb? An hour to try every last one.

Christmas Eve was reserved for a family meal. The turkey tended to be dry and for some reason we had nasty tinned Danish hams. A sherry trifle (without the sherry) was usually served for dessert. When I was in my mid- to late-teens I used to attend a candle-lit service at St Paul’s (Church of England) with friends at midnight on Christmas Eve, usually fortified with eggnog. Gifts were opened early on Christmas Day. We always had a tin of Quality Street chocolates. Christmas Day meant The Queen's Speech on the telly. Boxing Day meant more visiting with family.

I hardly think of Christmas in a Christian context now. I’m not really alone in that. I’m fairly sure not one of my greeting cards has featured a Nativity scene this year. I have had several dogs wearing Santa hats, which Cailean appreciates.

I think there’s no Christian church or sect that holds strictly to the belief that 25 December is the actual day on which its Jesus was born. The Mormons, I think, say it’s on their magical 6 April. If one believes the Bible (and I cannot say I do now) the indications are that Jesus was born in the spring.

It would be nice to mark the season as a time of peace. The birth of the Prince of Peace if you wish; though the Bible has him saying (prophetically, accurately) that he was not bringing peace, but a sword. Looking at today’s headlines, we seem further from peace than ever. The bright lights might well be explosions in the East.

Here’s a lovely bit of Shakespeare (Richard II, Act II, Scene IV):

The bay-trees in our country are all wither'd
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change;
Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap,
The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,
The other to enjoy by rage and war:
These signs forerun the death or fall of kings.

Shakespeare seems to have sad tidings, little comfort and joy. Despite that, the words he uses are exquisite. Little purple lights above a cold, dark street.

What to do? Back to André Gide:

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Today, at the Demonstration ...

DUKE OF AUMERLE: Where is the duke my father with his power?

KING RICHARD II: No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?

William Shakespeare (Richard II. Act III, Scene II)

WE HAVE HAD SOMETHING OF AN UPRISING here in England as students faced with university fees increasing threefold have painted banners, hitch-hiked, rented buses and otherwise found transportation to the main cities. London, of course, has been at the top of every protestor’s list; in particular the area of London, Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament.

A few weeks ago rioting students smashed their way into the headquarters of the Conservative Party. Watching the television coverage (Today’s riot will be shown from early afternoon until the evening, with little or no commercial interruption...) it seems to me that glass doors and windows can be smashed, demolished, breached rather easily. There seem to be a good many scruffy lads in hoodies and balaclavas taking to the streets with tins of spray paint, rather than fountain pens and artists' HB pencils, and the means to make hand-sized missiles from larger blocks, and to create flaming torches, which can be pitched at the overwhelmed lines of police. Some of these “students” have managed to get interviewed on the major television networks, out on the battle lines. Curiously, some speak little English, and rather than challenge the Government on its Education policy, they’ve ranted about the Middle East and Afghanistan. I cannot imagine this sort of behaviour being tolerated in the USA. Let’s not import anarchists!

Last week’s pitched battle in Parliament Square featured a good deal of damage. Winston Churchill’s statue in the Square was defaced. Up in Whitehall the Cenotaph was also desecrated; one of the thugs has been arrested and charged and he turns out to be the son of one of our more famous rock musicians. His eloquent apology, so heartfelt and beautifully phrased that I imagine the finest (most expensive) lawyers wrote it, was issued within a day. He claimed not to know what the Cenotaph was. As every city, town and village has a war memorial, and the Cenotaph in Whitehall is the focus of national attention every year in November (so just a few weeks ago), I find it remarkable that a university student could be so blissfully ignorant concerning its identity and purpose. During last week’s goings-on, the national Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square was attacked, and attempts made to set it on fire. Then Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were set on in their car on the way to the theatre. Mobsters yelled: “Off with their heads!” The Prince has armed escorts, but no shots were fired. I imagine that sort of restraint would not be found in many cities of the world. Put President Obama’s children in a car in Washington DC and have dozens of thugs smash at it, and poke through the window, and spray paint about ... I’d not expect a royal wave. Security would take out the perpetrators.

Now, I sympathise to some extent with our university students, but the fees they are going to have to pony up are far less than those that students in, say, America do. I’m interested in scholarship opportunities. I’d rather see working class, but intelligent and determined boys and girls in our great universities than rich kids with parents who sit on the boards of our corporations who are in Oxbridge to party and punt and poke fun of the lower orders in footlights productions. The best, and not necessarily the wealthiest, should rise to the top.

I am in favour of peaceful protests. I know the temptation to play to the television cameras is overwhelming, and the youngsters probably feel strongly about the War in Afghanistan (Britain is broke, we hear day after day, yet we can pour money into a losing battle for a distant land with little but sand, scrub and opium poppies to offer us), but let’s talk about what the day’s banner is highlighting. I’d go to an anti-war rally and march under that banner. I cannot multi-task so well, the banner could get too large.

As our economic crisis and the increasing cuts in government funded programmes, and huge job losses, are felt, I expect the workers will join the demonstrations. We may be seeing only the beginning of a long, hard winter. Seems to me that if people dislike our governing parties, the Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats, we should be getting rid of them at the ballot box, starting in the villages and towns, and then the counties and if parliamentary seats can be freed up for new elections by disenchanted electorates, that’s fine.

So, that’s a picture-postcard of Britain as Christmas 2010 approaches on icy feet. And I wondered what quotation I might use. One always associates King Richard II with a disenchanted populace. Richard II was born in 1367, became King at the age of about 10, and had to deal with the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 when he was just a lad of 14. I dare say, as do the historians, Richard had a fair bit of help in putting down the Revolt. He actually gave in to many of the demands of the peasants and their noble supporters, but a few years later he got his revenge on everyone he could. Richard II was the first of our kings (and hardly the last) to be convinced that he was King by the Grace of God. He had a bit of a superiority complex.

Richard’s peasants were up in arms over three sets of Poll Taxes imposed to fund unsuccessful overseas wars (in Europe). Richard married the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, King of Bohemia, and started sending considerable amounts of money, raised by taxes, to his father-in-law’s causes in Europe. An EU of the 1380s, if you like.

Of course, if you’ve read your Shakespeare (and Richard II is a popular live production as it has some glorious speeches) you will know that in 1399 King Richard was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke who declared himself King Henry IV, as one does. Richard, who had been something of a gourmet, who was fond of new and interesting foodstuffs, expanded the Palace kitchens and even commissioned a cookbook, was, after his abdication, a bit of an embarrassment and a focus for enemies of the new King Henry IV, and was gaoled and starved to death. Dead in 1400 at the age of 33. He did not lose his head. He eventually was buried in Westminster Abbey with his wife. They’d never had children.

If you are demonstrating in Parliament Square, you should notice Westminster Abbey over to one side. I suggest you go in the Abbey at the end of the day, you may be able to go inside for free (even more likely if you can persuade the doorkeepers that you’re going to attend evensong). Get yourself a guide and find the tomb of King Richard II. Pop round to Poets’ Corner too, and look up at the monument to William Shakespeare, who oversees all, and appreciate that it is probably Shakespeare who we should thank for our perceptions of King Richard II and the difficulties he had with his subjects, both high and low born.

Shakespeare worked hard, came from a fairly humble family but worked at his schooling. He phrased his opinions in words that we hug to our breasts 400 years later. He rose to the top.

Go to the demonstration, speak well (and learn how to do that, it can be done at home and at the public library), and deserve our support and respect. Represent us well.

At the end of the day, when night is darkest, we will all be gone. Our marks on the earth will dissolve and fade. Perhaps a few words will linger on for a thousand years (The Holy Bible and Valley of the Dolls come to mind). The best we can do, should do, is to teach those coming up after us to be an ensample, to create history from our footfalls.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ice, with Tequila

O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
William Shakespeare (Richard II, Act I, Scene III)

LAST NIGHT I WAS SAT in the bar at a luxurious hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was warm outside; I was protected against the heat by air-conditioning, behind glass doors. I knew I was in Santa Fe by the view, adobe buildings everywhere, including the upscale one where I sipped some sweet cocktail.

I’m just getting over a bit of a bladder infection, and got up and made my way to the WC (they seem to be called Restrooms in the USA) to relieve myself. When I’d done peeing and washed my hands, I wandered over to a window and pushed aside the curtains. It was quite dark, though I could make out the shape of the terrace across the street in the dim street light on the corner. Snow was blowing along the street, from east to west, as it had been for about eight days. Looking down and out, my window ledge was under a foot of snow (still) and the pavement was shimmering with crushed snow and ice.

Hardly Santa Fe in August.

I’d not been drinking some sticky, warming concoction in a bar. There was a mug by my bed with the remains of some hot cocoa (now long cold). I grabbed the mug and padded out in my bare feet to the kitchen, stepped into the back porch (no insulation on its roof, it is colder than Main Street in Park City, Utah, in January), reached into the cupboard that contains the controls for the boiler, and flipped a couple of switches. Back into the kitchen. I ran hot water, nearly boiling, into the kitchen sink, and rinsed my mug. That done, I filled the mug with milk and put it in the microwave for exactly 3.50 minutes. That gets it just boiling.

While the milk heats in the microwave, I hitch Cailean up to his harness and lead and push him out the front door. The back door (pictured this morning) is now blocked by snow. Cailean takes two or three tiny dachshund steps, squats, and widdles and runs back inside. Just as I put the small measure of Cailean’s breakfast into his bowl, the microwave makes its five loud binging sounds. I add an artificial sweetener tablet and a spoonful of coffee to the boiling milk. Then we go back to bed till seven, by which time the flat will have warmed up.

I get up and have a shower at seven o’clock. Cailean stays under the duvet on the bed until sometime after ten if we are home for the day. For the past eight or nine snow-days, we’ve been very much at home. I usually get a text or telephone call early in the morning from someone checking to see if I’m okay if I'm not collected to go out at the usual 8.00am.

I don’t eat breakfast if I’m at home. If I go out for the morning, or for the day, I will get something to eat while away from Cailean. He’s on a diet and if I have a meal in front of him (never mind he’s had his weighed-out portion of Adult Diet Lite Chow) he gets awfully anxious and whines a good deal. This spoils my enjoyment of my bit of toast, or bowl of cereal.

I’m writing about the days at home today, rather than my days out, as my longest journey has been to the pet shop. That same morning I got a haircut. Five aging men waiting for the one barber to clip her way through us. Waiting in the tiny barbershop. It was lovely and warm, almost steamy, and one could watch the telly or the snow blowing into the doorway at the bank across the street. The bank has been unable to open as the required number of staff for security purposes cannot get to town with the roads impassable. The girl in the barbershop lives only doors away, and was content to manage without her colleagues.

Our minimart has been getting food in irregularly, and each arrival prompts panic-buying. At times there’s no dairy or meat, no vegetables, but plenty of Cheerios boxed cereals and Kleenex tissues. Rather eager participation in the Lotto; I dare say people are thinking their first million will buy a house in the Seychelles.

I plodded along to the minimart this morning and managed to get fresh strawberries, freshly-made soup, pasta filled with buffalo mozzarella and salad greens. I also bagged two cartons of 1% milk from a dairy down in Yorkshire. Usually I get my milk from a Scottish concern, which is closer than Yorkshire, but right now one gets what one can. Yes, I got a Lotto ticket. If I win the £12,000,000 tomorrow, I’m not going to the Seychelles or anywhere overseas. However, I might pack a bag for myself and Cailean and have a week or two in a posh hotel ordering the fun beverages one might get in Santa Fe. “A tequila anything, if you please, with a wee umbrella. And a dish of pistachio nuts. Rawhide bone for my companion.”

I may well see snow from my hotel window. Unlike by flat, I dare say I could request that the heating be on before I wake up. No wandering in the near-dark to get the boiler fired up. And surely, for all the money I’d have from my Lotto win, there would be a place outside for Cailean to toilet that did not involve jostling with polar bears.