Everyone round our way (by which I mean in the WhatsApp groups I belong to) seems preoccupied with food at the moment. Our excellent local Indian takeaway is doing its best to keep going, and keep us going, so on Friday night we ordered a meal – only slightly marred by a thick haze of sanitiser – and ate like kings. Unlike our previous cat, Captain Oates is not that keen on curry, as you can see, but he wouldn’t have got some anyway. We must have cut down on food waste in our house by about 50%. We don’t squander a single crumb, and leftovers make repeat appearances in increasingly unconvincing guises until they have gone.
That’s one good thing.
It reminds me of something I came across while researching Bluestockings, in Pauline Adams’s wonderful history of Somerville College, Oxford. She quotes a ‘Bursar’s Song’ written in 1933, all about making the most out of what you’ve got – however unpromising.
I produce from my larder (and what could be harder?)
New dishes in endless variety.
It provides an incentive to genuine inventive,
I claim it without impropriety.
If at breakfast there’s fish and you don’t like the dish
And in fact you refuse to partake of it,
Next day I may choose to produce it in stews,
Or rissoles or Scotch eggs I may make of it.
I never despair tho’ you turn from jugged hare;
It can soon undergo metamorphosis,
It’s not recognised when it’s subtly disguised,
And as curry with rice quite amorphous is.
If you sneer at rice kernels they change their externals;
As soup they’re an absolute winner:
If it comes to the worst they may well be dispersed,
As savoury scallops at dinner.
Another good thing: since last week I’ve learned chiff-chaff, chaffinch and curlew. I’m hoping they’ll come in useful soon.
Workwise, I’ve drafted another chapter of my brief biography of Josephine Butler. I’m on a roll with that (mmmm. Bacon roll. On sourdough with English mustard and black pepper, please). I added a narration to the PowerPoint presentation I use(d) for talks on Ladies Can’t Climb Ladders. Now I just have to think of a way to make it into a downloadable video. If I can get it to work, I’ll record a series – called ‘Behind the Scenes of History,’ perhaps – revealing the AMAZING things so-called ‘ordinary’ women have been doing throughout history to change their world and ours. Would anyone be interested?
Meanwhile, we’re doing our best to preserve in ourselves what’s best about living in a global and local community. That includes trying to keep cheerful. We all have different and personal reasons to know how serious a situation this is, but the dark isn’t so frightening if you know there are lights shining somewhere, steady and bright; the more the better. You might not always be able to see them, but they’re there. Keep your little flame burning.
See you next week.
This should have been the busiest time of a busy year, travelling around talking about one book while trying to finish the next and drawing up a proposal for the one after that. I was looking forward to being flat out and boasting (modestly) about how much in demand I was and how well the book was selling.
It is good for the soul to realise (with a bang) that life isn’t all about oneself after all. It’s not even about #MeToo. It’s about us. There used to be a sit-com on TV, years ago, featuring a ridiculously earnest couple who went around the village in matching fair-isle tank-tops and sandals with socks, helping people whether they liked it or not with a steely cheeriness. Was it something to do with a neighbourhood watch group? Or Reggie Perrin? Can’t remember. Anyway, that mortifying fear of interference has never quite left me: people will think I’m a busy-body if I bother them, or somehow hoity-toity.
Now things have changed. I'm really trying to stop looking inwards and start looking out. My husband and I have signed up to a couple of local WhatsApp groups to volunteer practical help and moral support to friends and neighbours who could do with some (virtual) company. I’ve also offered to send regular emails to people who feel lonely or cut off.
Meanwhile, I can’t write - as in work-writing - all the time till summer… Captain Oates is keeping us occupied to a certain extent in his own inimitable way. This morning I came downstairs to find he’d nicked the rather generous supply of dog-treats we keep for walking next door’s Irish setter. When I questioned Captain about this greedy breach of good manners, he glared fatly at me and growled.
I know: we’ll do more gardening. Dig for victory and all that. I might even start knitting (unlikely, though I did make some jam at the weekend which has the consistency of tarmac). Or sewing outfits for Captain like the ones Ruth’s duck Rosa wears in Louise Penny’s wonderful Inspector Gamache books. If you don’t know them, by the way, you’ve a HUGE treat in store.
In fact that’s it: I’ll catch up with the whole series, like a bookish box-set. Then I’ll start at the beginning again with my beloved Commissario Brunetti volumes (hope he and Paula are OK in Venice). Then I’ll learn the names and songs of all the birds in our garden. Formal names, I mean. Obviously I know Blackie the Blackbird, and Bobby the small beige one and Kevin the jackdawy-crow-rook-raven. And then – any other suggestions?
The novelty’s going to wear off soon, especially for those of us with vulnerable or far-off friends and family. But I’m convinced we’re going to learn a lot from this episode, both individually and collectively, that will stand us in good stead when it’s all over. And it will be over.
Enough for now. Good wishes to everyone. Captain Oates says it's time to leave his desk and make lunch, so I'm off. Jam, anyone?