PC 219 It Doesn’t Take Much

I have a very sweet tooth and find it easy to get into habits and repetitive behaviour without a thought. Whilst living just off Northcote Road in Battersea the local Lighthouse Bakery (Note 1) offered a little bun filled with Crème Anglaise – called a Dewy Bun, one on its own was not enough! It became a daily visit. Down here in Hove I have recently discovered a Cinnamon Bun (Note 2) in Gail’s, a successful purveyor of coffee, artisan breads, stickies and the like. They are soft in the centre with a crisp sugary cinnamon skin; a must as a morning coffee accompaniment.

Having a somewhat addictive personality, it didn’t take long for the Cinnamon bun to become a daily indulgence! Not immune to Lockdown Spread, I realised something had to change. The nudge of the arrival of the Christian festival of Lent last Wednesday provided that impetus. No more Cinnamon buns – well, at least not until 40 days have passed – it doesn’t take much, huh! Lent lasts for 40 days, the time Christ spent in the wilderness finding and testing himself; today many go on retreats to recharge, rethink or recover, although forty days would be too long. (Note 3) Today I sense many feel they have been forced to ‘find themselves’ during enforced periods of lockdown!

All sorts of thoughts flash through our minds, a million times a second, in the blink of an eye; if we are awake we may focus on one or two until one becomes dominant. Doesn’t take much for the thought to develop into a feeling, an emotion and sometimes that emotion is translated into action. In PC 214 ‘Saints and Sinners’, I wrote that it’s the translation of these emotions into acts that sometimes causes a problem. Clearly this was uppermost in the mind of Ayatollah Khamenei when he said this week that looking at an ‘uncovered’ (ie no hijab) woman in a film was fine as long as the viewer’s thoughts were not lustful. In the same breath he recommended that female cartoon characters should be depicted wearing the hijab as he was worried about the consequences of them not being so depicted. Who would have thought it?

Closer to home, when our yoga studio was open Celina and I would take the bus into Brighton and walk down through the little lanes to Middle Street. Outside one of the shops was a homeless chap, there most days, week in, week out. Recognition of this chap, thoughts filtered through one’s own experiences, created a feeling of sympathy, of wanting to do something, wanting to be human. One could not not act! Into the nearest ‘take-away’: “Coffee, milk, three sugars and two sausage rolls please”. “That for the chap outside? He prefers semi-skimmed!” Always grateful, always polite. Doesn’t take much huh!

Duke Street in Brighton

I think for the most part our penal system works well, although I don’t believe that the automatic 50% reduction in one’s sentence with the remainder being spent on parole, is right. Fortunately HMG has recognised this and in the last Queen’s Speech said it would toughen sentences. In January 2016 I wrote a postcard titled Incarceration (PC 59) about someone we knew who had been sentenced in December 2014 to six years in prison. He came out in December 2017; we had dinner at The Ginger Pig and caught up with his plans, living within the restrictions of parole. Sadly it didn’t take long for him to be caught violating those conditions and he went back inside for another three years. Didn’t take much!!

Exaggeration seems to be apparent in much of life, in those who want to suggest a better/more wonderful/further than ever/beyond belief story that focuses on them. The feeding of the ‘Five Thousand’ is a good example. The idea that many many people were fed from an extremely small quantity of food is remarkable, although cynics might suggest that the atmosphere of excitement put off people’s hunger. But why 5000? Three thousand would surely have been enough to make the point? Was someone counting?

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we have passed the official start of Spring and are only a month away from when the sun is directly over the Equator. It doesn’t take much, longer daylight and milder temperatures, in daytime at least, for the Camellia to flower ……

…… and for the Tulip bulbs to start pushing upwards into the light.

A couple of weeks ago I was putting the finishing touches to one of my postcards, adding a little here, rephrasing something there. I am really not sure what happened or what key I inadvertently pressed but the screen went blank. Doesn’t take much to think ‘Oh! No!’ (or other, more choice words!)  etc …… and when I switched the laptop back on and retrieved my draft postcard those most recent changes had disappeared into the ether. Watching TV crime dramas it now seems possible to retrieve virtually anything you have deleted, inadvertently or not, but I have only a surface knowledge of my laptop and its inner workings are like, oh! I don’t know, the surface of Mars! Maybe with Perseverance’s help I will know more in future.

Richard 26th February 2021

Note 1 Rachel and Liz ran this bakery with a passion and that showed in their produce. Sometime around 2005 they sold up and opened The Lighthouse Bakery & School near Bodium Castle. I went for a birthday treat one year. For health reasons, combined with the pandemic’s decimation of the hospitality industry and their customer base, they have sadly had to close.

Note 2 Started a new book this week, The Last Snow by Swedish author Stine Jackson. A few pages in and a lorry driver asks a girl: “Would you like a Cinnamon bun?”!!! Another of those coincidences!

Note 3 ‘Forty days’ was a common period in biblical stories; the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai, the time Elijah spent wandering around Mount Horeb and the length of the rainstorm that produced the great flood. And the Hebrew people ‘wandered’ for 40 years before reaching ‘the Promised Land’. Who chose that number?

PC 218 The Corner Shop

I don’t think this country is any different from anywhere else in terms of the availability of small convenience shops, the ‘7-11’s, signifying their opening hours from 7am to 11pm. We have some 46 thousand of them, accounting for turnover of about £40billion, about one-fifth of all grocery sales. Such is their popularity we even had a British TV sitcom called ‘Open All Hours’ which was broadcast for 12 years, from 1973 to 1985. The owner, Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, was a middle-aged miser with a stammer and a knack for selling. David Jason played his nephew Granville, the put-upon errand boy, who blamed his work schedule for his lacklustre social life. The setting was a small grocer’s shop in Balby, a suburb of Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

I thought for this PC I could trawl through a few memories of the ubiquitous ‘corner shop’. You may have read my postcard about going to visit the house my parents had owned in Balcombe, 18 miles north of Brighton from 1956-1989 (PC 58 Going Home)? The house lay on the edge of the village, down Mill Lane. At the top of the lane was Mrs Malthouse’s corner shop; it was actually on the corner so deserves the moniker!!

To a teenager Mrs Malthouse was old but in all probability under 60! She sold fruit and vegetables, both openly displayed in wooded slated crates, dry earth from potatoes dusting the floor beneath, confectionery of every sort, the staples like white bread, full fat milk and eggs, newspapers and magazines and of course cigarettes and alcohol. Additionally there was a chest freezer containing, among the frozen peas and fish fingers, ice creams. But like everyone who runs a convenience store, the real gem that had no price was the gossip. A simple “Morning Mrs Malthouse. How are you?” pressed the imaginary start button to the flow of gentle local news items.

On operation in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, we had our own ‘convenience store’ within the regimental compound – see PC 196.  Incongruously, between the Nissen huts that were used for accommodation was a caravan that sold everything you needed; they were run by a chap of Pakistani or Indian descent known as a Chogie Wallah.

Moving to south London in 1987, around the corner from my flat in Cavendish Road, SW12 was the glorious little ‘village’, Abbeville Road (note 1). Whilst the ‘convenience store’ was only some 150m away, further down was Treohans. This was a real emporium that sold everything you might want, right then ……. and if they didn’t have some food ingredient you needed for a particular recipe, they always promised to get it the next day. Three generations of a Pakistani family ran it, and ran it very well, although the patriarch did little more than sit on a stool, leaning on his stick, and let his sons and daughters and their children do the running around. (Note 2)

Moving across Clapham Common to a house just off Northcote Road gave me access to another convenience store, this one run by Raj. Daily chit-chat was amusing, repetitive and often of a sparing nature – but I will remember him particularly for his advice on where to go for a good curry. “Don’t bother with these fancy expensive places on Northcote Road; go to Mirch Masala on Upper Tooting Road.” And he was right – Formica tables and little atmosphere but great food and cheap!!

Down here in Hove there are less Indians and Pakistanis, more Syrians or Ethiopians or Turks running the convenience stores. Sam, a Coptic Christian originally from Ethiopia, ran the nearest store when we first moved here. Now he drives a taxi and is proud of his university-educated children. Fattey, the current owner, does both, that is runs the shop and drives a taxi but he’s opened later during lockdown and I now go to Rami’s.

The other morning I was in Rami’s collecting my daily copy of The Times when a grey-faced, grey-clothed thin woman dashed in. “Oi!” she shouted with a throaty voice that gave one a clue as to her addiction, “Have you got any B&H? (Benson & Hedges cigarettes). Rami had a quick look behind the cover of the cigarette cabinet (Note 3) and replied: “Sorry, sadly we have run out but we’ve got …..” and the woman legged it, muttering ‘f**k f**k f**k’!! Must have been desperate?

We have all got accustomed to being able to access any sort of video clip, mainly through YouTube. A recent video clip from a convenience shop of a woman who had some issues – about entitlement, about not wanting to wear a mask, about the price of alcohol, about a complete lack of respect for the shopkeeper, suffering the effects of lockdown and anything else that might have explained her behaviour, went viral.

In this still from a grainy in-store CCTV recording, you can just make out the red sweater and blue trousers of the woman on the right hand side, using her hands to sweep bottles of alcohol from the shelf – you can see the red wine lake on the floor!!

I was in Rami’s when Jim came up to the counter (he could have been Andy, Pete or Simon for all I knew). He’d bought a few things, sliced white bread, some margarine, a packet of sugar and a couple of bottles of spirits, and emptied a bag of loose coins that he must have raided from his coffee jar and said that’s £10 and you had better check it and here’s my card for the rest! I was surprised that he expected Rami to count it, or trust him; there must have been two hundred coins, shrapnel in some language, and Jim had made no effort to bag it! I didn’t want to appear nosy and simply glanced at Rami; he gave me a look and above his head I imagined a speech bubble: “geri zekali” – which I translated from his Turkish to be ‘retarded?’!  

All of the above are simple superficial observations. Dig a little deeper and you open the floodgates to supermarket competition, squeezed margins, very long hours for little reward and stuck with 25 year leases with no opt-out clauses. I have a genuine affection for these little shopkeepers, for without them the high street would be a dull place.    

Richard 19th February 2021

PS     Francisquinha should have been in rehab this week (see PC 217) but instead decided to start a vigil outside the King Edward VII hospital in London where the 99 year old Duke of Edinburgh is ‘under observation’.

Note 1. The local streets must have been named by someone French – Abbeville Road, Bonneville Gardens, Narbonne Avenue, Deauville Court, Trouville Road!!

Note 2. Treohan is an Irish name but you find thousands of English, Scottish and Irish names woven into the EuroAsian fabric of both India and Pakistan. For example Alistair McGowan, the UK impressionist and comedian, thought he had Scottish or Irish roots, but researchers for the BBC Programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ found his roots in India …… and in one village over fifteen families with the surname McGowan.

Note 3. From April 2012 all cigarettes for sale must be hidden from view, in an effort to discourage under-age smoking.

PC 217 My Week Francisquinha*

There’s a regular feature in the Saturday edition of The Times called “My Week …….” with an asterisk saying the article is ‘written according to Hugo Rifkind’ and is a parody of the particular individual’s week. Those politicians who have been lucky enough to have been lampooned by Rifkind recently include Joe Biden (23 Jan 21) Boris Johnson (30 Jan 21) and Vladimir Putin (06 Feb 21).

For example, Putin’s Monday (in this case the word is written in Cyrillic script!) starts ‘Am speaking with favourite oligarchs via entirely original Russian version of Zoom. Is called Zom. Ferry glitch.’ For those of you unfamiliar with the word ‘lampoon’ – it’s a verb meaning to publically criticise someone or something by using ridicule, irony or sarcasm. In a world where currently the news is all too serious, it’s a welcome levity.

During these days of vaguely enforced lockdown my imagination goes into overdrive (Note 1) and this week it’s all about giving life to an inanimate object; a little like Shirley Valentine talking to the wall in the film of the same name. In my case I think it’s easier to think of a bunny rabbit talking back than a wall ….. but maybe I am biased?

My regular readers may recognise the name Francisquinha, the subject of PC 172. I scribbled about our relationships with stuffed animals over the decades and today is no different. In fact she was reading over my shoulder the “My Week …..” piece last Saturday and suggested she could be the subject. Within a second she had twitted Hugo Rifkind and agreed a price; she didn’t tell me what it was as she knows I know she has a number of debts to clear.

Monday     “Je m’appelle Francisquinha Chantelet. À l’origine mes ancêtres venaient de la region de Pau dans le sud oust de la France. Ah! Excusez moi! Je dois parler en anglais …….mais we ended up here God knows when, certainly over two hundred years ago. It was probably during the French Revolution; think some stowed away on a ship to England. ‘God Save The Queen’ I say rather than ‘Vive La Republique!’Particularly with that Macron in charge – reminds me of macaroni cheese. I know it’s not done to let you know my age, but I am a proud 6 – about 60 in your years. It’s the start of the week so I get my claws done – currently I am into glossy pink shellac, goes well with my complexion.

I was looking over an article The Boss was reading about Myxomatosis and I could feel my little body begin to shake. It says in 1953 the viral disease Myxomatosis broke out here for the first time. It killed tens of millions of my families – we are all interrelated so that’s how I think of them – family. It’s written in a cruel way “Would the authorities allow the disease to exterminate such a destructive animal?” Moi! Destructive? Non! I am sweet and endearing and used the world over as a symbol of cuddleness, tenderness, cuteness and any other ‘ness’s you want to add. Bring them on.

Fortunately the boss sensed my discomfort and held me close to his chest. By the way I do recognise that you humans are going through a similar pandemic as we did in the 1950s; you have my sympathy.

It’s Tuesday so I get the weekly edition of The Warren, a glossy magazine full of salacious gossip and untrue stories about those of my race who think they are celebrities. Huh! Nothing famous about them, save for the odd nip and tuck to lift an ear or make a bobtail more appealing. Of course no one can match my beauty, so I read these tales with a smug expression and if they knew I have a removable tummy I can microwave, which gives me a very warm tummy, I would be even more popular. Big headed? Moi? Non!

Wednesday French toast for breakfast. I am with my owners for the 1000 yoga class. I still can’t do many of the asansas but I sit watching the screen and try to look interested.

I am getting quite a fan club as my cute smile and bright eyes warm the participants’ hearts. My Sasangasana (Note 2) posture is of course my favourite so I will demonstrate it pour vous.

Thursday I get stuck into the daily soap opera on Rabbit TV. You probably don’t know, why should you, that I have a mini iPad. It’s pink! I can hop about between the three channels – one is a serious one showing educational programmes, about reproduction for instance; we all love sex but no one I know watches it, hence that saying “breeding like rabbits” (Note 3). The one I watch has wall-to-wall soaps  ……. endless mindless drivel, which I love.

Friday is an exciting day as I am allowed bucks fizz for breakfast; this accompanies croissant with confiture – jam to you English but I love the word confiture as it’s a nod to my heritage. Very occasionally the champagne is not Tattinger. Zut Alors! Don’t they realise there are standards? I normally go out for the evening with Mumu, a real, live, large Black & White cat who lives next door. Mumu is female so we do a little mindless vagina rubbing, knowing nothing serious will come of it – oh! and we sink a few cocktails; I do love her. (Note 4)

Saturday

Lockdown has meant my travels have been really curtailed so far this year. You may remember I went to Singapore (PC 168) at the end of 2019 and stayed in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Flashed my eyes, spun my ears around, and got an upgrade!!

Sunday

Last night I had food which makes me fart; there seemed to be lots of kale and cauliflower. It’s a myth that rabbits only eat carrots, you know. Anyway my farts are rather silent and sound like a gentle ‘Poof!  Poof!’Sadly they are deadly! Not popular as I sleep between my owners.

A Bientot. Adieu!”

Then it’s the start of a new week, with all the excitement that that currently holds? For Francisquinha – see PPS below.

Richard 12th February 2021

PS Thanks to Hugo Rifkind for the inspiration for this PC.

PPS Francisquinha will be away next week in rehab.

PPPS I was sixteen when I met a girl living near boarding school, whose father breed rabbits. They were enormous and expensive– and for about nine months two of us had some hutches behind the Biology Laboratories – looking after about five.

Note 1 A expensive car’s manual gearbox might have an ‘extra’ gear, an overdrive, which you could select for motorway driving, for instance.

Note 2 Sasangasana posture is known as Rabbit Pose.

Note 3 To reproduce …… ‘they drank like fishes and bred like rabbits’. A further extension is ‘breeding like Catholic rabbits’. As the Catholic Church forbids any form of birth control, the ‘joke’ implied is that Catholic rabbits will breed more than non-Catholic ones.

Note 4. I think Francisquinha had read that birds simply rub their sexual areas together to mate!!

PC 216 Spreading and Sharing

I suspect we have all read or heard the lines about ‘spreading my dreams’ and ‘treading softly’? They come from the second part of the Irish poet WB Yeats’ poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” and are:

“I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

What I hadn’t understood was that the speaker was only able to imagine his dreams as “heavens’ embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light, the blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night and light and the half-light” were out of reach as they, he or she, were poor. Personally I think the symbolism of spreading dreams works better than spreading an actual article like a cloth.

…….. but then my little brain goes ‘ping’ and ‘What about Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth 1 wouldn’t get her feet wet?’ The image is probably one from a child’s history book!! As with much of exhibitionists’ behaviour, truth sometimes gets bulldozed for the story (Note 1)

I was scribbling bits of this PC around teatime one afternoon this week and beside my laptop was a cup of tea, a couple of pieces of toast and an open jar of Fortnum & Mason’s Lemon Curd (Note 2) from the ‘fridge. You know how it is; you open a new jar of jam, or marmalade, or chutney or some other goody and read ‘consume within 4 weeks’ – so that forces you to have tea and toast until the jar’s contents are finished! But in this case, imagine my surprise when, inside the lid lying upturned on the table, it says ‘Spread Joy’ and I am writing a PC about spreading!!

Of course spreading in a confitural sense is more often associated with either Peanut Butter or Nutella – neither a favourite of mine but for some an essential daily ingestion. My habit of tea & toast had given me, naturally, Lockdown Spread (my waist measurement’s going up weekly!!)

Since the advent of the internet and development of social media, the pressure to ‘share’ one’s thoughts, one’s experiences, one’s photographs, one’s bling, one’s view about this or that, as that view’s the right view, for some is constant and addictive. Some years ago I suggestion to a friend over lunch she was addicted to Facebook. Wow! If I had put my hand in a wasp’s nest I might have got less of a reaction; observations can often be true no matter how unpalatable they are.

When you use the word ‘spread’ it’s a simple extrapolation to spreader and then the association with muck! And these days you might argue that a lot of disinformation is just that, muck. Today I read that Majorie Taylor Greene has been stripped of her committee appointments in the American House of Representatives after numerous posts about QAnon, the Pentagon 9/11 attack and for suggesting some school shootings were hoaxes. “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.” she said in an apology. Sadly muck sticks!

I thought I could share the following, printed in a serious newspaper, and quoting a 30-something PR Executive of ‘Caribbean heritage’: “Too little is known about the side effects of covid vaccines (for me) to take the risk?” So she’s happy to cross the road, having no idea of the mental or physical state of vehicles’ drivers but not happy to take a vaccine that statistically is safe? She went on: “Since the start of the pandemic we’ve seen the news that Covid is higher amongst black people but nothing was done about it.” I read this a number of times, this claim that ‘nothing was done about it’ and now could write a postcard particularly about what could and should have been done!

Observing the internal conflicts across the USA over the last three months, there were news stories, true or not, that one was able to share, often at the click of a mouse, without honestly wondering whether what you are sharing is real or not. A good example was ex-President Trump, who claimed that the election was stolen from him, spreading muck, without any attempt or need to explain or produce evidence.

The spreaders of misinformation have a lot to answer. These idiots claim that some of the Covid vaccines contain alcohol, or even porcine substances or beef, leaving those in South Asian or Islamic communities wary. (Note 3) Oh! And that the vaccine can change your DNA. Here in the UK there is a distrust of Government in BAME communities, exemplified by the comments about vaccine side effects above. As an oft-quoted recent example is the Grenfell Tower fire disaster of 2017, when 72 individuals, mainly BAME, died when fire swept through the 24 storey block of flats. ‘The Government’, in this case the London Fire Brigade, told residents to ‘stay put; we will rescue you’; they couldn’t! So now the NHS and its vaccine programme are tainted by association!

During the Second World War there was a growing awareness that talking too much or too freely, passing on gossip, was potentially dangerous ….. “Walls have ears!” Communications were very basic and radio traffic prone to interference and distortions. Often information was relayed; in one oft-quoted apocryphal example the original message “Send reinforcements! We’re going to advance.” was eventually received as “Send three and fourpence; we’re going to a dance.” (Three (shillings) and four pence 3s 4d)

The other day a doctor was ranting and raving on Facebook about some aspect of the current government’s policy that they thought had been a complete failure and for some reason tied the policy to the wealthy and privileged. For whatever reason they then asked for someone to develop a vaccine that would kill white, heterosexual wealthy males over 60. I said that I was almost in that category (define wealthy?!) so asked her whether she meant me. Oh! No! Just the politicians. But Mr Dimwitt or Ms Not-So-Bright would have taken it as gospel, particularly as a doctor was writing it and started banging the dustbin lids to encourage its development.

And there’s me writing the word ‘gospel’ as in ‘it must be true’ …….. ‘to believe something without doubting it at all’ …….. when we all know that the Christian gospels were written some forty years after Christ’s death and so aren’t necessarily true in their exact meaning!

Just needed to share these thoughts …….

Richard 5th February 2021

Note 1 Was it Sir Walter Raleigh, or Sir Francis Drake? Both seem to have made the gesture. For the latter, his ship The Golden Hind was moored on The Thames at Deptford so he could receive his knighthood in 1581from his queen. She arrived at the top of some steps where there were large puddles. Drake spread his cloak over the rainwater so Queen Elizabeth’s feet would remain dry; in doing so he marked his place in history as a gentleman. Those steps are now known as Drake’s Steps.  ….. and not Raleigh Steps!!

Note 2 Fortnum & Mason on London’s Piccadilly is known as The Queen’s Grocer

Note 3 One of the quoted reasons for the 1857 Indian Mutiny was that the grease used for the cartridges in a new rifle was either of pork origin, offensive to Muslims, or tallow (cow fat), offensive to Hindus.