LSB goes on-line shopping

Overnight it seems, we have hit peak middle-age. LSB in particular. He is currently sanding down the edges of a piece of wood affixed with coat hooks which I fished out of a skip last week. Yesterday he was toiling in the garden, hammering planks salvaged from said skip into a raised bed for future lettuce harvests. Then this morning he was all excitable as he read me Thomasina Mier’s recipe for fish tacos, growing especially animated over the pineapple salsa. You wouldn’t need to be contemplating weight loss when LSB takes to the cooking. It’s all Thai curries with full fat coconut milk and Vietnamese pork belly with molasses, which, in case it isn’t calorific enough, gets fried up again in the wok. It’s basically just a big dish of cholesterol. And there’s me having just ordered three summer dresses online because I’ve slim chance in of squeezing my pudgy form into anything else.

Speaking of Miss Piggy, you want to see some of the ensembles Himself ordered me for my birthday. ‘What in the name of God is that?’ I said, as the (thankfully last) outfit arrived. I’m partial to some comfy lounge wear me, for the aforementioned reasons of increased expansion. Sadly though, our definitions of lounge-wear bear few similarities. He produced a dusky pink pair of velour high waisted bottoms with elasticated ankles from the bag as l looked on in dismay. This was the part I could actually wear while clinging to a modicum of dignity. The top, when I dared to look, had a slashed sort of neckline, which I suppose, on a waif like creature would slide seductively off the shoulder while she reclined on the sofa flicking through ‘Vogue.’ Carrie Bradshaw, for example. She could carry off this look with aplomb, and possibly even pair it with some statement earrings and a pair of Manolo Blahniks as she headed out for brunch with bottomless mimosas.  And I still haven’t even got to the worst part. The essence of lounge wear, I believe is comfort, which for me, implies coverage. The top, was not only tight-fitting, but cropped. Oh my giddy aunt. Imagine the awfulness, sitting there with your cup of tea and Fox’s Chocolatey Rounds and looking down to see that one of your spare tyres had escaped, spilling over the dusky pink waistband of the jogging bottoms, are whatever the fuck they are.

I fought my way into them, but didn’t dare sit down. LSB looked on, and for once didn’t suggest that I keep them. (Usually he can’t be arsed with the hassle of returns so says everything’s ‘lovely.’)

‘They are perhaps a bit ridiculous,’ he admitted, and I agreed heartily, hoping that the brief look of me in them hadn’t extinguished any flame of desire which still exists after these months of lockdown.

The other items which were dispatched back to the warehouse this week were a pair of leather look white knee high boots. Readers, I have just turned 41. Eating and drinking establishments are not yet open to the public, and when they are, I’m hoping to enter one, and not be turned away because I look like an aging Russian prostitute. I say Russian because years ago I was invited to a tremendously fun Hen Party, the theme of which was ‘Miss World.’ I picked ‘Miss Russia’ out of the hat and someone happened to have a ‘Tatiana the Soviet Spy’ outfit which  was comprised of a very short white dress, white stockings, and of course, the boots. LSB has fond memories of the look and he’s been on about the footwear ever since. Then, for his sins, I was watching the episode of ‘Sex and the City’ where Charlotte takes Elizabeth Taylor to a dog show and she happened to be wearing white boots and he claimed that this was what reignited his interest. The fact that the dog goes into heat and proceeded to have her period OVER the boots didn’t appear to have dampened his ardour, and that self same night, away he went and ordered them.

Men, they’re a funny lot, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, it’s Father’s Day and I bought him two sensible eco-friendly t-shirts and the children drew him cards featuring all the neighbourhood dogs.  He’s away down the Ravenhill Road to ‘Screwfix’ now, buying me a special part to secure my new water butt to the guttering. It’s not exactly ‘If Carlsberg did special occasions?’ is it? Still, only a couple of weeks and we can hop-foot it down to the Ormeau Road again for an al-fresco beverage and a moment of levity. Can’t come soon enough….

 

 

SWB reviews a Damn Fine Book

Way back at the start of Lockdown a couple of friends asked if I could do book reviews. So, I’m getting to it, finally now, just as restrictions are being lifted. But hey, isn’t it almost summer and yes, we’re less likely to be on a beach on the Costa del Sunshine, but there will hopefully be time to read a book or two anyway, even we are freezing our backsides off in an Air B&B in the back end of Mayo for want of nowhere else being open. (And yes, I am aware that it’s been roasting, but perpetual pessimist that I am, I’ll be amazed if it lasts all summer.)

My first recommendation is The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman, which I took with me on my girlie weekend to Barcelona. Much as I love my friends, I was so captivated by the story that I carted my sun-lounger to a shady corner of the roof terrace so I could lose myself in the narrative. I didn’t budge for two hours, not even for a glass of cava, so I’m telling you, this is some read. And when I finished it I wanted more- so much so that the next day I started it again from the beginning. I’ve never done that before.

And, I kid you not, I chose it based on its cover. Standing there I was, in ‘Books Paper Scissors’ and I said, ‘What’s that you have there now Paul?’ because it looked so fun and whimsical with its bold red jacket with a yellow canary perched upon a shelf. It all got a bit meta- me in an independent bookstore looking at a book about a small bookstore. However, the obvious difference is that in this story the proprietor is a Hungarian Jewish émigré who has survived Auschwitz and come to live in the backwater of Hometown in Australia. Here she meets Tom, a divorcee sheep farmer, and the two form an unlikely couple.

Tom is a pragmatist, and like the rest of the straight-talking townspeople, he finds Hannah’s bohemian eccentricities mystifying, but it is this clash of culture, often expressed through snippets of dialogue which make the story so engaging.

Hillman is the master of ‘show don’t tell’. A powerful example of this is when he describes how Hannah and the clutch of survivors of the ‘slave army’, carefully ration any food they manage to find as they journey through a freezing Poland: ‘A bag of ten hard sweets was divided up, two minutes per sweet by strict count in the mouth of each woman.’

In another vignette Hannah offers to help Tom dig a channel for the flood water to drain away after a Biblical downpour. He is amazed at her ability to dig, her steady handling of the sodden earth belying her slight stature. He wonders if this was something she learnt in Auschwitz, but hardly dares ask.

The novel skips seamlessly between past and present, as Hillman uses flashbacks to tell Hannah’s story set against her current life in Hometown with Tom. This is no ordinary love story- it is a testimony to the human psyche’s ability to not only endure, but to flourish. Although a short novel, Hillman manages to create a vivid depiction of small-town Australia and post-war life in Budapest with a startling clarity. And Tom. Dear God. Everyone needs a Tom in their life. As the novel unfolds, Hillman builds upon his character with tiny details, so that by the end of it, you mourn that he doesn’t belong in your close circle. The world needs more Toms, and more books like this one.

I read it a third time, over Lockdown. Something about the language soothes and settles me.  We could probably all be doing with a bit of that right now.

 

 

SWB sows some seeds

I think I’m now firmly ticking all the Lockdown stereotypes off the list. My burgeoning waistline is testimony to the banana bread and cream sponges I’ve been baking. (Top tip: adding two tablespoons of peanut butter to your banana bread mix makes it deliciously unctuous). I’m watching You Tube videos on how to successfully transplant my tomato plants without killing them and I’m googling what depth of container is best for sowing courguettes. LSB ordered a BBQ on-line before remembering how all our past barbeques have ended up encrusted with moulded fat and been chucked in the bin. So our new lime ‘Smokey Joe’ from Hillmount is now sitting forlornly in the shed while we grill the sausages as usual. I’ve been fruitlessly scouring the net for a trampoline and discovering that earliest possible delivery is mid-September. I’m never normally ‘on trend’, but I’m slamming it at the moment.

One quick glimpse at my Instagram feed tells me that everyone is stressed to f**k, so I’m bang on trend on that front too. I’m swearing like a navvy, as evidenced on Thursday when I took the dog on her first outings since the accident and she slipped her collar and made to go careening down the street. The worst word, (you know, THAT one,) slipped from my lips as I took off after her. I didn’t want her bursting her stitches and undoing all the good the week’s rest had achieved. The children looked on bemused but thankfully wide-eyed in their innocence.

Later I apologised to them. They have, in fairness, been fairly dire this week, so tempers have been frayed and I have been very ‘shouty’. ‘I’ve been a terrible mummy,’ I said dolefully, as I put then to bed. ‘No, you haven’t,’ said the Small Child, putting her little head on my shoulder. ‘But you ARE a terrible teacher. TERRIBLE.’

The endless questions. MUM!! Can I have a drink? (You know where the fecking tap is!) MUM!! Where are my shoes? (‘They’re your flipping shoes how should I know?’). MUM!! Is my hoodie dry?’ This, from a child, who is standing IN FRONT of the hoodie where it is hanging, damp to the touch, in the laundry room. They have developed selective deafness so they remain impervious to demands to empty the dishwasher, but should they hear the slightest whisper about a socially distanced meet-up they are up off their seats and executing a victory dance.

My brain feels like scrambled egg. Lockdown is like death by a thousand micro-obligations, each task do-able in itself but the accumulation threatens to overwhelm. There have been rows over school-work, rows over eating vegetables, rows over the fecking FECKING Nintendo and the piles of abandoned clothes, not limited only to the house now, but which are also strewn around the garden. I keep reaching for the wine then feeling like an alcoholic and replacing it in the fridge until what feels like an acceptable hour.

Achievements are small but significant. Today I was interrupted and taken upstairs to be shown the cat sitting under the ironing board and the dog lying on a blanket across from her about a metre away. Not a single hiss has been emitted so this détente is worthy of celebration indeed.

So it brings me no end of comfort that other people claim that they too, are going slowly but definitely madder by the moment. I’ve had to completely stop listening to the news because I haven’t been able to control my Tourette’s every time Boris or Trump gets a mention, which is, let’s face it, at every single bulletin.

I’ve been feeling miserable, then feeling bad for feeling miserable, because one, I don’t have coronavirus (as far as I know) and two, if I happen to hand over a fraudulent tenner in the shop, I’m unlikely to end up dead in police custody. What really, does a middle-class white person have to complain about, living here in leafy suburbia? I suppose that’s the first step: understanding that you’ll never understand, and trying then to do something, anything, that will make a difference, no matter how tiny.

With two inquisitive minds in the house, there are questions coming at me that I have no idea how to answer. Please, I think, just go back to asking me what’s for lunch. ‘Was George Floyd a bad man?’ ‘Why did the police do that then?’ At what stage do you start talking to children about these things? So there have been many challenging conversations. We’ve watched the protests on TV but I’ve said we won’t be attending any because of the virus. So we are reading and donating and I’m signing petitions on line. As I said, I’m on trend.

But meanwhile, I’m baking buns and sowing seeds. This, I believe it where it all starts. Children need to learn by osmosis and be shown how to self-soothe, and when they see me out, pottering with my bags of compost, they see me happy and no longer rattled. It usually isn’t long before they abandon their screens and pop out to join me. Voltaire’s Candide, my most favourite of all literary characters, knew what he was on about when he said we should tend our gardens. It won’t heal us, or our fractured society, but it’s as good a place as any to start.