Friday, October 5

My Top Secret Job has sprung a leak.

It has become known that I sometimes work as a cook.

People have been telling me all about their favourite recipes.  *

This is a regular occurrence and I'm often astonished by the number of youngsters who speak wistfully of tinned fruit and semolina 

Yesterday a man in his twenties explained his favourite pudding:

rice pudding with a layer of tinned mandarins underneath and baked meringue  on top

and then his favourite sandwich

white buttered bread filled with sliced shiny green apples and sliced Mars Bar

*The TSJ has nothing to do with food

Thursday, October 4

Still Mermaiding

This is my favourite swimming pool - a marine lake that gets refilled by the sea at high tide. The splendid autumnal sunsets have infused my swims with such ridiculous  romanticism that I've gone and signed  a promise to go there and swim at least twice a month until March

I have also booked a consultation with a mental health examiner

Friday, September 28

To escape my growing pile of rejection slips

I dashed to France for a hit of Mediterranean sun-and-sea and found the perfect slightly-difficult-to-get-to cove for my morning swims - just me, the fish and the sea-birds - until a boatload of Peeping Toms turned up.

Before France there was Derbyshire. Celebrating my father's 90th birthday. We hired a blazing-fireplace-cosy-cottage near Bakewell. There was a Grand Supper, my niece made a Bakewell Birthday Cake, the way we love our Bakewell Tarts (lots of Almonds, butter and sharp red jam) - it was truly delicious. Next day we visited Bakewell, a town consisting solely of tart vendors, each claiming to offer 'The Only Real Authentic Bakewell Pudding', two versions were sampled, the first was awful and the second inedible.

Mrs China has now been with us for a month. On Sunday she is moving to her permanent accommodation and I think we will both be relieved, she is still baffled by our rubbish disposal system and I can't understand her system of slippers and mats,  nor the systems of which things must see the sun and which things are not allowed to see other things.

I have come back to a little job which is a bit Top Secret - I drive to a massive aircraft hangar and unlock a series of doors until I arrive at a room where 214 objects have been collected, some of these pieces are worse than rubbish, others are worth millions (of which currency I shall not tell) I must unwrap these items, photograph them, say something about them and then seal them away - perhaps for ever.

Monday, September 3

I am trying to explain compost

my Chinese guest  is looking puzzled

any vegetable waste,  peelings, tea, coffee grounds ... put them in here  

I point at the kitchen waste bucket, she shrinks back in horror. Maybe I need to show more of the process, I pick up the bucket and beckon her to follow me up the garden, open the compost bin and tip the bucket  into it. She looks stricken 

Why would you do that?

It feeds the garden, the worms and insects break it down to make a rich soil - don't you feed your garden?

I feed my garden with yellow beans 


we have a Chinese guest this month

she looks absurdly young to be a professor of power electronics so naturally it's annoying to discover that she is only slightly younger than myself.

I watch her try to make sense of our house and her room. First of all we must address the FengShui, A mirror is immediately moved to a different situation

'The mirror must not see the bed  

I am asked to remove a small embroidered jacket that is framed and hangs on the wall as decoration

clothes must not be on the wall  

There is a large chest of drawers in her room, shelving and some hanging space but she doesn't want to use these, she has ordered a wire frame clothes airer

the clothes must see the sun  

In the kitchen my stove seems impossible and while she is struggling with my utensil logic she tells me that she can't switch on the lamps in her room, I describe the sort of switch to look for, miming the position and gesture to turn on and off, mime isn't enough, I use sound  - she finds this funny and I remember how differently cultures use sound for things, I am probably using the Chinese sound for 'frog' to explain 'light switch' and she thinks I am mad.

Before heading out to the university she gives me with a large red heart, resplendent in gold tassels and stuffed with  lavender, I am directed to put it in my car for good luck.

Saturday, September 1

I keep the front gate squeaky

it's an early warning system so I can decide if I want to answer the door -very handy with last year's Cheesey episodes and continues to be useful. I am currently avoiding Toothless Eric, several chirpy 'just-sign-here-to-give-us-a-direct-debit-donation' people and a spat of very young shark-skin-suited Jehovah's witnesses.

A few days ago the gate squeaked and clanged followed by a slobbery, panting commotion. I looked out to see a pack of excited small horses or maybe big dogs cantering around in little circles, they'd pushed to let themselves in but didn't know how to pull and let themselves out, a man was calling in the distance but he couldn't see them, some of the animals realised they could jump out over the wall until one bouncy Tigger remained making circles and yelping, wondering where his friends had gone. Tigger seemed to be smiling so I went out and wrestled the gate open amid his bouncy greetings so he could go and rejoin the herd.

Sometimes people figure out how to mute the squeak. One night, a human visitor arrived in silence and left an enormous turd by the side of the steps, I didn't notice for a few days because my tin watering bucket had been placed on top of it.

Friday, August 17

Nearly Emergencies

I returned to Bristol on Sunday.  The Man took the car out then he rang me

Did you notice the hairline crack - the one running halfway along the bottom of the windscreen?

I hadn't.  I arranged for someone to fix it

that evening the Man said

my arms are achey  

on Monday morning the GP listened to his body and said 

you seem fine but we'll just take some blood  to make sure

in the afternoon a text arrived 


keyhole surgery - three stents around his heart

on Friday afternoon his son brought him home.  

We  celebrated a week of not having an Emergency with roast chicken and sweet potatoes

Thursday, August 9

I'm in London on the top deck of a bus

someone is muttering in the seat behind me 

there is an odd burning smell 

the man is saying ow ow   OW!!! and then an extremely beery burp

seems to sort everything out

Monday, August 6

The Man arrived home with new hair

delighted that the barber he's been visiting for many years finally asked  -  

The usual sir?

He enjoyed the in-the-club feel of his 'usual' being remembered by the barber. Also he tells me that time saved on explaining means that he's in and out the barber's chair in ten minutes flat

How did you used to explain it?

I ask if he can make it shorter and look nice

Wednesday, August 1

a yoik is a nordic song

 it can involve a strong vocal projection akin to a yodel, the sound is intended to travel long distances so it can irritate the really far away neighbours. On Saturday afternoon I cooked Karelian pies* with Tuuletar, a Finnish band who demonstrated the yoik

The Man is a little hard of hearing - I can't get him to hear me if he's more than a couple of metres away from me - unless I yoik

in other news...

I've been commissioned to make a coffin cover - it's not the traditional sort of coffin and has a very particular shape.  

Today I downloaded the dimensions and started building a dummy coffin so I can construct a well fitted garment

Sunday, July 29

Best shot

KermesZ a l'Est on Taste the World stage making mitraillettes

shopping list

a big bag of big potatoes

20kg beef dripping

2 X deep fat dryers

a can of sunflower oil

lots of diced lamb

20 X eggs yolks

a lot of garlic

2 X jars of 'unsweeted' mustard

salt and pepper

many big baguettes


make audience chop potatoes

double fry in sizzling dripping

band prepare lamb kebabs shake maraccas and hoot horns

horn player uses electric wand to make mayonnaise while playing mouth organ

loud noise must be produced for duration of project

to serve

Wipe a cooked kebab through a 10cm slice of  baguette that has been
liberally spread with garlic mayonnaise - you now have a lubricated meat

cram sandwich with chips and more mayonnaise

you can be a little quieter now while you share the eating with a friend

KermesZ a l'Est also do this sort of thing

Tuesday, July 24

It's WOMAD time again

I will be operating the Taste The World stage*

a band of Balkan-music-playing-Belgians wish to make frites - the correct way 

Taste the World starts with a series of quests, today I must venture into the a part of the city devoid of homes, beard trimming workshops, and artisan bread shops. I drive my trusty steed deep into the land of wholesale fruit markets, timber yards, metal welders and ... the edible oil depot to collect 20kg of beef dripping   

I park alongside a fleet of lorries, buzz a wonky doorbell and am let into the sort of reception area that shouts at you that the entire workforce is male    

Scraps of discarded bits of paper  decorate the carpet, I wait for a man in wellington boots to process my order, I pay, he disappears then returns with my box of dripping

are you using it to make casts?

today I learn that sculptural casting is a common use for beef dripping

*Taste The World is a kitchen on a stage,  musicians come here cook (or direct me to cook) and talk about what they eat back home - click tags beneath this post for previous on this event

Thursday, July 19

overheard conversation

I came across this in one of my old notebooks

Three women are sitting at a table under a tree outside a café, they have tea and cakes, one of the women is asked about her new boyfriend   

So what’s this man like?
He’s the hairiest man I’ve ever seen - hairier than a monkey
hairier than Robbie Williams?
I’ve never seen Robbie Williams
He’s really hairy
Yeah hairier than that – when he was in hospital the nurse drew back his sheets and screamed

I'm being interviewed in a hairdressing salon

between the sinks are small mountains of bosomy torsos and manly sets of legs

phantom limbs stick out - waving or drowning or kicking the air

one of our volunteers inherited the contents of a vintage shop, these mannequins will go in our sensory room

our conversation is overwhelmed by the religious service going on in the care home lounge which is also a coffee shop. The hairdressing salon-slash-office is a glass-walled cube within the lounge-slash-church-slash-coffee shop. 

when the congregation shut their eyes in prayer we sneak out to investigate the sensory room

it's along the 'willow' corridor

care homes use plant names so they don't have to say 'dementia' too much, other homes refer to patients with dementia as 'bluebells', the same way some people say 'fudge' instead of other, ruder 'f' words   
we stand in the doorway of the sensory room, it's empty except for a row of chairs and a rainbow-coloured-fibre-optic-disco-light 

we'll bring in herbs and then people will smell the mint and it'll remind them of sunday roast lamb dinners

I think of the willow people feeling the boobies and manly trunks when the mannequins take up residence

Friday, June 29

I'm basically a mermaid these days

recent trips to Devon have offered many opportunities to get in the water and in Britain it can be a bit chilly. My first sea dip in May made me dizzy and my hands felt like they'd been stamped on - for some reason this makes me feel heroic.

I've also been walking along the river Dart. Today I found a good skinny-dipping spot. Being naked seems to automatically join people into a sort of club, pleasantries are exchanged in a manner that doesn't happen in 'textile situations'*   

*I'm practising this new context for 'textile' since I discovered that's how naturists refer to people who wear clothing, such as this naturist report on a campsite on Slapton Sands

"...a really good site, with what must be unique co-existence in this country. Large field with views to the sea - top two thirds of site textile, bottom third naturist, with just an open post and rail fence to mark an informal division. No gates, and the fence is open to drive / walk round at both ends. Very easygoing and relaxed. All facilities, apart from a fresh water tap, are on the textile side, so need to dress to access them."

image: Barry Lewis - Natural Theatre Company in London

Wednesday, June 13

Cat repair person for hire

I've returned to Devon to look after a cat called Edna, I was here a couple of months ago. Edna was a gaunt, trembly old thing when I arrived but after just 10 days in my care Edna turned into a lovely shiny thing, her tembliness became bounce, she had plumped up nicely and her owners exclaimed with joy about the new, improved cat waiting for them.

I seem to have discovered how to work the cat reset button

I'm not saying I can mend a properly broken cat, my abilities lie in fixing those slightly manky cats, the ones that have gone a bit boss-eyed and keep forgetting to clean themselves, or the ones that over-lick one area of their body, also the bony neurotic cats that shiver for no good reason and I'm pretty good at eliminating asthma attacks. I've had no luck with dirty-protest cats like the Bum-Crayoner but I do think there might be a call for a professional cat-plumper-and-polisher (feline-smoother/cat valet?) - I'm working on my marketing for this new business

Thursday, June 7

In a room full of people. I am talking about mudlarking

a woman came over to us she unzipped her handbag and started rooting through it

I live at Walton-on-the Naze where the coast is full of shark's teeth - look I've got one in my purse

Tuesday, June 5


Scenario 1 : an almost empty charity shop this morning  
I am examining curtain fabric, an exotic-looking young man is standing near me, he is examining a denim coat and keeps exclaiming

Oh look sheep fur ... it's lined with sheep fur ... even the arms are lined with sheep fur  

I put down the curtains, look at him and put my hands inside the coat sleeves. He looks sheepish and modifies his claim

No ... there's not really sheep fur in the arms ... but look at the sheep fur in the body 

I open the coat fully, indeed the body is lined - with tan teddy bear fabric. It is a beautiful coat and would suit him. I say that he must have it. He declines - unsuitable weather.

Scenario 2 : a crowded waiting room in the hospital this afternoon.   

I sit by an elderly Indian lady, she is dwarfed by the enormous wheelchair she is sitting in. She rolls up her trouser leg to show me her knee, she says that now she always wears trousers:  

Sari is very elegant but it collects a lot of dust between the legs as you walk 

Scenario 3 : with The Man and His son at supper this evening

Strawberries and cream are on the table. The son puts strawberries in his bowl and then cream ... a lot of cream ... then more strawberries... then more cream
I put too much cream in, so I had to add more strawberries, but then there wasn't quite enough cream so I had to add more ...  it's a delicious circle

Thursday, May 24

Footwear Coordinator Wanted

at the  Royal Shakespeare Company   - can my newfound passion for pockets expand to a general aptitude for sartorial appurtenances? 

'... As Footwear Coordinator, you will be reporting directly to the Head of Costume Props, Footwear and Armoury  ...'  

... and of course I know so much about armour   

art  shoes by Gwen Murphy found here

Sunday, May 20

The new job went tits up

turned out I didn't fit

A uniform had been ordered for me but hadn't arrived by the time I started.  I fashioned an approximation of 'The Institutional Style' and at the end of my first week I was summoned to the Principal's office and told that my uniform should not have pockets, could I please find a less pocketty shirt. 

I tried to make the case for pockets:
•  easier to steal stuff 
•  ability to carry tissues/drugs and issue these to people who need them

The Principal remained adamant on pocketlessness so I snipped them off  and she said I was being silly and that might have been the beginning of the end or maybe the end had started right at the beginning and I couldn't tell

Tuesday, May 8

Jobs jobs jobs

The Natural History Museum is looking for a Curator of Meteorites but too late for me  to apply because I am now employed to bring Art to the Bewildered at a specialised facility on the edge of town. The Bewildered includes myself, the rest of the staff, the residents and the visitors

Despite it being in my job title,  I've stopped using the 'A' word, too many people find it frightening or annoying,  if asked what I do, I've learned to say that my job is to make life more interesting, no-one seems to be able to argue with that.

Data Privacy Rules are being updated - I'm not even allowed to write myself notes anymore let alone tell you what I'm up to, so details will be scant I'm afraid. 

Being part of a big work crew again after two years in anthropological study is delirious. My colleagues all  seem exotically fascinating - there's Big Doreen who told me off on my first day for standing on the wrong mat, and Mousey-Cat who keeps asking me really really sweetly to do 'little jobs' for her. Toya takes up all the space wherever she is, she's covered in tattoos and spends the entirety of every break in the tiny staff room having Facetime with her boyfriend or, in the event of internet breakdown, telling us all about what he-said-she-said last night and the night before, there was a brief moment when she stopped to draw breath and Helga, a young Finnish nurse leapt in to veer the conversation away

I would like one of those tattoo sleeves but for my leg - just one

me: would you call it a tattoo half-a-trouser?

elderly nurse: I don't understand, how can you have a trouser tattoo?

me: Actually it'd be more like a one-legged pair of tights - a tattoo stocking

Toya: .... he says he's taking me out for dinner tonight and I said well I'm paying and he said ...

Friday, May 4

My sister has been sending me fringes

photos of fringes that she might adopt as part of a new hairstyle - what did I think of this one? ... or this one?   

yesterday, there was a photo of the final fringe, in situ on my actual sister's actual head - it was GREAT!!!

Then she went to pick my niece up from school.

The niece looked at her new mother, clapped her hands over her mouth and ran back into school, the teacher went in after her and found the child sobbing - because her mother's fringe was sooooo beautiful

When my niece had calmed down, her mother said that she could also have a fringe if she wanted, the child was beside herself with delight and they popped into the hairdresser on the way home, she thinks hairstyles are like tattoos

Will we stay like this forever?

The nephew on the other hand was less keen, he thinks the fringe is ok as long as his mother keeps walking and there's a wind to blow it up a bit but he doesn't like it when she's just standing still. He is making plans on how to deal with unwanted still hair.

Thursday, April 26

The House painting is finished

The painter disappeared and promised that the scaffolders would be here, today at nine sharp to take the scaffolding down. Because the scaffolding was pinned to the wall some unpainted spots on the wall will be revealed, the scaffolders promised they'd spot them in, paint man worried that they'd not bother - I had to be here when they arrived to ensure final painting touches happened.

Two loud, crashy, bum-cracky blokes finally arrived at 2pm, all sweary about having been sent to do the dismantle on their own, they weren't going to finish the job today and they were going to be really smashy and messy about what they did do.

Unluckily for them I was by now a whole lot swearier and smashier ...

Ok, so I found a job

but I'm also still looking ...

this is for a job at Splash!


We require two Photographers to shoot children with their parents in our swimming pool concessions located in Guildford, Kingston, Crawley and Woking. The job is sociable and enjoyable...

or this, for an art teacher in London 


We are looking for teachers who are experienced with young teenagers aged 13-16, and can solve their problems...

Tuesday, April 10

Close inspection of my windows

has revealed more rot than was suspected. A man with a Black Country accent, gold teeth a headscarf and dreadlocks came and took the worst one off to the window workshop leaving a sad boarded-over hole behind, this has coincided with news that the car needs a new radiator AND air conditioning system. 

I must try to  interweave Happy Thoughts among the grim reality of my latest news:
HT 1. I went to see a movie  - 'The Square' at a cinema called The Cube - loved the movie but managed to kick over a full glass of rum as I took my seat

Cheesey* has moved back into our neighbourhood, he appears outside my gate to alternate abusive language with wheedling tones - you and I could get on really well if you'd just give it a chance. On Sunday I was inside the house and heard him swearing at someone in the next road, his choice of words indicated that he was harrassing another woman, I walked out to see him pushing his trolley up the road, he'd tipped over the big rubbish bin in the entrance to her block of flats, she was on the phone to the police saying that this had been going on for weeks.

HT 2. I found some fine-wool-brand-new-never-worn Jaeger trousers at the charity shop - perfect fit perfect length

*clicking on the 'Cheesey' label below will throw up yet more Cheese

Tuesday, April 3

I returned to Bristol Saturday afternoon

and am just starting to dry out at the edges. The first Devon day was drizzly, the second was showery, the third really rather rainy, the fourth, fifth and sixth days poured buckets unendingly. Saturday morning was dry but overcast so I took Old Dog for a trip to Sidmouth - a 1950's seaside town slotted in a valley between eye-bogglingly red cliffs.

On Easter Sunday one of the lodgers locked herself in her room with a medical emergency - something to do with recreational drugs and a bit scary but we've recovered now.

This morning the scaffolders arrived to metal-up the front of our house. The very chatty decorator arrives tomorrow. This afternoon I suddenly hated the test colour patches that I'd painted on the front wall and went rushing around the neighbourhood with a paint swatch book, holding the coloured squares against houses that I think look nice. At the moment I think we're going with 'Frosted Sage'.

This is my 1005th post, I always just miss significant anniversaries so I'll just say now that in three months I'll have been Sandwiching for TEN YEARS

Tuesday, March 27

The Oldest Dog in the World

is currently keeping tabs on me. We are in coastal Devon. Old Dog tries to maintain contact between his nose and my leg at all times just in case I make off with any bones or shoes or go out without him. Old Dog is exasperated by my inability to use the fridge properly - I am simply not  taking out enough things, he's pretty sure there are sausages in there and there is definitely chicken. When I opened the freezer an unsealed bag of meatballs spilled out, bouncing and rolling across the kitchen floor, Old Dog hoovered up a mouthful that had rolled his way, then almost strangled himself trying to crunch them up and swallow the pieces down before I could prise his jaws open.

When not caring for elderly animals I'm looking for paid employment, I am in job-seekers-Limbo,  Dante might have written about this, it is definitely one of the  circles of hell - an endless cycle of ploughing through illiterate/incomplete job descriptions for shockingly poorly paid posts, making applications then being politely informed that I was nearly-but-not-quite-good-enough.

Sadly I was unqualified for the job entitled "Head of Large Objects' at the Imperial War Museum but did seem to have the necessary skills to apply for the post of  'Funeral Arranger' with one of the UK's principal funeral directing companies. The application process included a multiple-choice questionnaire:

Q. 1 - As a Funeral Arranger you will sometimes have direct contact with 'The Deceased' how do you feel about that?
A) Fantastic, I've always been fascinated by dead people
B) Horror, I would not be able to do that
C) I understand that it would be a necessary part of the job

Q. 2 - You will have to meet relatives and friends of 'The Deceased', they might be upset how do you feel about that?
A) Great, I thrive in emotional situations, I would cry along with them
B) Embarassed, people should keep their emotions buttoned up
C) Being upset is a normal reaction to bereavement, I would be sympathetic

Following my success at pressing the 'C' button I was telephoned and interviewed by a Call Centre Person - she knew nothing about the job. When I mentioned that I had not been able to access a full job description or details of compensation/benefits/terms/conditions etc. I was told that those details would be forthcoming only if I was offered the job - I persisted and discovered that I would be expected to own a reliable car and use it to do the job, that I would be expected to be entirely flexible in my availability as I would work rotating shifts including weekends, evenings and bank holidays - but I would be paid only for 20 hours per week, the salary would be around the level of the National Minimum Wage (not quite £8 per hour)

In Other News 

I have discovered a new Hero 
Natalie Haynes is very funny and very clever, do listen to her talk about Sapho on BBC Radio 4, or just check her out on Youtube - she is simply the best Classics teacher ever!

Wednesday, March 14

the oldest cat in the world

is my responsibility this week. She has become so fragile and bony that I am almost afraid to stroke her, she creeps gingerly up to me then complains loudly that there is not enough food or her water needs freshening - I fear the effort will see her off.

Last night I dreamed that I went down in the morning to find her stiff little body on the sofa. 

Sometimes I stay in homes that are so full of pillows and cushions that there is no space for a body, this house was moderately cushioned but had an amplitude of odiferous things -  'linen sprays' - I didn't even know 'linen spray' was a thing -  pots of sticks dipped in scented oil, jar upon jar of scented candles on every flat surface.  

My sister had a theory - they must be really farty!

Tuesday, March 6

before Christmas

my ears, nose and cervix were inspected in the appropriate medical establishments. Yesterday the orificial examination circuit was completed with visits to the dentist and the colonoscopist. Inside the colonoscopist's inspection chamber the kindly nurse asked me to take off my own clothing and put on some stiff navy shorts with a velcro'ed flap around the sitting area, they were labelled 'Dignity Shorts' Once again Edward Lear provides an appropriate illustration

Friday, March 2

The Beast from the East arrived in Bristol yesterday

it came in from London with me. By the time I'd skidded the car into our road the kerb was no longer visible. I had to park quite a way from the house, the blizzard forcing me to comedy-walk to our front door. Already the kids were out with sliding devices to polish the hill outside our house.

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