Monday, 24 April 2017

Peace of pudding

I give thanks for making myself pudding last night. Not for after dinner but for instead! My appetites for both cooking and eating are a tad jaded right now but it doesn't take much effort to whip up an apple and forest fruits Eve's pudding, nor to demolish two servings without realising you've done it. I give thanks for wedging the cooker door shut as it was nippy in the kitchen so I didn't mind some heat escaping, and as the oven really only seems to have two settings - chilled and chargrilled - it made for a sort of 'medium' temperature inside and a better bake.

I give thanks for a series of short videos on Facebook of a park not far from here I have been longing to visit. Not suffering unduly after yesterday's walking I'm wondering if I might get there soon but yesterday was downhill and on the flat, whereas this would be down and up and down at least...if not and up again after! There are a lot of seats though...and it's all looking so lush with new growth. Maybe next week when Jan is here? I give thanks for being able even to think of it as a possibility...

I give thanks for being able to take it physically easy this morning, catching up with internet chores before getting stuck into more cleaning and tidying up this afternoon. It's been weeks since anyone has been at my place but me, and as I tend to leave my specs off indoors it's been interesting putting them on and seeing all the cobwebs and dirt with fresh (focused) eyes.

I give thanks for finding this story which is often in my mind, but not anywhere on my computer. I came across a USB drive sorting through boxes at the weekend however and after plugging it in I found it!  Ooh, and I give thanks Rachel is on her way...I'm in need of some therapy!

Peace of Cake

Callista was not a physically appealing child. With eyelashes too stubby for effective fluttering and mousy hair too lank for winsome tossing, she valiantly mimicked but failed to master the prepubescent wiles of her peers. Her juvenile torso, the approximate shape of a dogfish egg case, was in no way enhanced by the frilly, flowery clothing she wore and her thick ankles and wrists were only brought to unfortunate attention by the strappy sandals and jangling bangles that struggled to surround them.

Her mother, similarly ill-favoured, chose her daughter’s name and wardrobe in the vain hope of cheating the fate of her genes and producing a pretty cygnet rather than the kind of ugly duckling girl that she herself had been. She had won her husband in an era when good looks were less of a necessity in finding a partner. While her classmates waltzed their way to romance in clouds of scent and organza she had joined her own mother at the Women’s Institute produce stall. Pinafore clad, she waited behind her prize-winning pies and preserves in as confident anticipation of attracting a suitor as a more alluring girl might do with a tempting cleavage before her.

No oil painting himself, Callista’s father was nonetheless a kindly, practical man. It was he who selected her middle name (the plainer, more honest, Jane) and, in almost as unrealistic hope as his wife’s, attempted to steer the female members of his household towards the tracksuit racks when forced to accompany them shopping. He wanted his daughter to appreciate and accentuate the qualities she did possess - her warm heart and cool hands with pastry - instead of laying herself open to ridicule by falling in with her mother’s predilection for dressing her in the confections of the day.

Mercifully, in adolescence Callista began exhibit some of her father’s common sense. She took to wearing shapeless garments of indeterminate hue and soon learnt to forego the current mating rituals and their unflattering venues. Pubs and clubs were not settings that did her justice. Alcohol made her already red nose shine, lycra gave her the appearance of a duvet stuffed into a bin bag. She seemed happy to spend her evenings and weekends at home honing her culinary skills, her pocket money on cookery books and extra utensils and ingredients to supplement her mother’s traditionally stocked kitchen cupboards. She bought a crème brulée torch and fancy shaped cookie cutters, stem ginger in syrup, cinnamon sticks and star anise.

With a sweet tooth and no slender figure to maintain she indulged a growing passion for the preparation, and especially the consumption, of cakes and biscuits, puddings and desserts. Though happy to eat their share of these delicious treats, her parents wondered how their daughter’s solitary hobby would help her achieve the kind of fulfilling companionship that had sustained them over the years. When Callista left school never having even been asked on a date they put their heads together. Her mother began to trawl her address book and contact long out of touch relatives, inviting distant male cousins of suitable age and sexual orientation to stay. Her father persuaded the odd unattached apprentice, willing and eager to please their foreman, to come round for Sunday tea.

Callista plied these hapless chaps with buttered bara brith and many layered Black Forest gateau, with crisp macaroons and snowy peaks of strawberry studded pavlova…except for the one who proved to be diabetic. But, perhaps as overwhelmed by the quantity of food as the quantity of Callista herself, if the visitors’ eyes strayed with longing from their plates it was to the slow moving hands of the clock on the wall and not the young woman beside them. She remained an unclaimed treasure.

Regeneration in the centre of town saw the demise of the indoor market. The wooden table across which Callista’s parents’ eyes first met was no more and they racked their brains for some other way of courting courtship for their daughter. They reasoned that an older man, a boss perhaps, might see beyond her less than lovely exterior and recognise what contentment she could bring to their inner regions.

She was enrolled on an office skills course at a nearby college where she found to her surprise that her fingers so nimble with an icing nozzle fumbled with space bar and mouse. Unhindered by a social life however, she diligently devoted herself to her studies and when the year was out added the qualification to several unsuccessful job applications. Once again her father did what he could to assist, making enquiries among his business contacts until Callista was taken on by a double glazing firm. The manager was a harassed looking woman in her forties with no discernable Sapphic tendencies - so no chance of romance there - but her parents were relieved that their daughter had now emerged into an arena where she might find the one who would cherish her.

Callista answered the phone and sent out invoices, tasks that required no particular physical attributes. Good natured and generous, she got on well with the rest of the staff but always turned down any invitations to join their rowdy office nights out, the birthday celebrations, the leaving dos, the infamous Christmas party. Instead she baked festive food appropriate to the occasion, providing iced Victoria sponges complete with the relevant number of candles, simnel cake decorated with marzipan eggs, sugar dusted pies brimming with brandy laden mincemeat.

The single salesmen received particular attention when their birthdays came around with recipes chosen to show she recognised what was special about them. There was lemon drizzle for acerbic Sam, coffee for dusky complexioned Hassan, pecan pie for Jed who hailed from across the Atlantic, and even a fruit cake for Toby whose heart was immune to feminine charms but who still had a stomach to please. Yet, though the recipients thanked her profusely, not one began to recognise the special things about her.

Thus uneventfully the seasons went by. Her boss took a long sabbatical to raise a pre-menopausal baby and Toby moved into her role and office. Sam left under a shadow to join a rival firm. It seemed to Callistas parents that despite their best efforts their daughter would remain a spinster all her life, caring for them until their deaths before quietly going to her own. In fact it was during a discussion of this that her father, uncharacteristically careless, took his eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for a moment to express his concern to his wife and slammed at some considerable speed into the side of a turning lorry. They were both killed instantly.

She inherited the house of course, the mortgage cleared a few years previously. There were two insurance policies that paid out handsomely and a comfortable little nest egg of savings. Callista had never spent a whole wage packet throughout her working life. Her bank balance had been very healthy before the accident; now she became a little richer day by day.

Her colleagues were sympathetic about her loss and made suggestions as to how she could spend her unaccompanied time, her accumulating money. Take in a lodger, they said, take a holiday, join a dating agency. But none of these ideas appealed. They were the only people left in Callista’s world yet remained unable to help her define her dreams, her plans, her hopes of happiness. When the prettiest girl in the office got married she declined to attend but proudly made the wedding cake when requested. This poignantly romantic creation of fondant flowers and spun sugar lace was admired by all at the reception in a way that Callista was beginning to wonder if she herself would ever be.

A few months later the work syndicate’s numbers came up on the lottery and while the others blew their shares on clothes and cruises, on cost price conservatories and cars they’d been coveting, Callista worked out she could live on her winnings for the next few years, and handed in her notice.

She had the ancient gas cooker ripped out and replaced with a duel fuel, double oven Aga. It radiated a constant cosy glow and was always ready to cook, in much the same way as its owner. Now no one could notice or comment on what she ate, Callista gradually eliminated everything from her diet but the cakes and cookies and puddings she made. Nothing else was necessary for nourishment she decided. There was protein enough in the eggs and nuts and seeds she used, the dollops of cream or mascarpone cheese. Dried and fresh fruits would provide vitamins and minerals, and even a vegetable or two cropped up here and there, in pumpkin pie and marrow jam. And, of course, there was fat and sugar and carbohydrate aplenty.

She bought a computer and keyboard with extra large keys for her extra large fingertips and discovered the discretion of internet shopping. She found sites where she could order all her baking things, her toiletries and household needs, her hard to find plus size garments. It was soon after that she stopped going out. There seemed to be no point as so many things could be sent directly to her. Before long the only people she spoke to were delivery drivers and the occasional customer service advisor with a telephone query or order.

She exercised a little every day, bending down to fill or unload the dishwasher, chopping and kneading, creaming and folding, slow solid steps between range and kitchen table. When the narrow stairs became too much of a squeeze she made the old scullery into a wet room allowing ample space for ablutionary manoeuvre and invested in a sturdy double sofa bed that she left made up in the living room to nap whenever she chose. Though her realm was shrinking Callista grew, and grew contented too. The only thing missing from her life was someone with whom to share all its sweetness. But good things are waiting for those who wait. Callista still believed her hero would come for her, inevitably, eventually. And eventually, sure enough, he did. Or rather they did because funnily enough long-awaited heroes sometimes, like the buses of urban myth, come along in threes.

The first was a paramedic summoned on the advice of the Samaritans after a desperately breathless call when she thought she might be dying and had no one else to tell. She had collapsed on the bed by the time he arrived, the struggle to don a satin kimono in which to greet him proving too much of a challenge. Resourceful as his calling required, he found his way round to the unlocked kitchen door. Tenderly, respectfully, he coaxed the inadequate folds of the slippery garment over the mountainous folds of her flesh and helped her to her feet. No one had touched Callista’s skin for a very long time and her heartbeats skipped in a far more pleasant manner than they had done a few hours before.

Her second rescuer was the builder contracted by Social Services to dismantle part of the wall, for Callista, now larger even than the Aga, could leave no other way. She knew he was not the one she yearned for when he gobbled up her cherry topped Bakewells as indifferently as if they’d come from a packet, but she remembered him with fondness to the end of her days as the one who released her from her self satisfying confinement.

The third and most significant man to enter Callista’s life was a red haired reporter from the local newspaper who arrived at her hospital bedside the following morning hoping for a scoop on this human interest tale. Easing his ample buttocks onto an inadequate plastic chair he took out his notebook and began to ask gently probing questions. Callista was not really listening though.

Would you like a piece of cake?’ she whispered. For somehow she had managed to secrete amongst her voluminous nightclothes a Tupperware box containing remnants of her previous diet to supplement the Spartan nutritional regime now imposed on her.

Mmmm, carrot cake - my favourite!’ he exclaimed, suitably furtively, but smiling in moist mouthed anticipation at the butter cream coated slices.

Rotating the portion between his sausage shaped fingers, he gazed as if tasting it with his eyes before he took a surprisingly dainty bite. Callista watched him chew and swallow, the flick of his tongue to capture a crumb that strayed onto the first of his chins. She savoured his sigh of satisfaction, mirroring it unconsciously with a blissful one of her own. All the ingredients were gathered together, the blending could begin. The emptiness of Callista’s soul was filling with peace at last.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Subject to contract

I give thanks for the pearly sea yesterday evening. For the golden light just after sunrise. For a pillow to rest my weary head on in between...and a duvet to wrap around my weary heart.

For finding out a flat I'd had my eye on for a while is now sold subject to contract...because though it's better to have faith and hope, it's better it's not misplaced...

For 'reaching out' to other people a little (albeit mostly virtually) as I'm subject to contraction myself when I'm feeling sad. For honouring the sadness but trying not to dwell...though there are so many contributory factors it's hard to avoid encountering or considering them at all. For keeping on noticing things to be grateful for...remembering and noting them down even though sometimes it's hard to remember why...

For Mima inviting me to her place for lunch in her almost sunny courtyard...nice anyway, but always a bonus when your cooker doesn't work! For walking there without discomfort - which obviously doesn't mean a lot if you don't know the distance between but it's a further distance than I've walked in one go since the s word, so that's all you need to know!

For winning a battle with the freezer door by means of a hairdryer. For winning a battle with the downstairs door with a little help from my friend...

For these pretty trees in their underwear as murkiness sets in... For all the folk who thought this post title meant something far more jolly. Keep believing on my behalf please will you? Because sometimes I struggle to keep doing it on my own...

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The body dutiful

Well Easter came early and Easter came late this year. I give thanks for my second consumable treat arriving!

Um, ho hum...what else to say? I give thanks for waking very early but that it was morning and not still the night...for soon getting busy in the 4' 6" office. For getting out and doing what I set out to do despite both me and the weather being rather dispirited.

Sometimes you just have to feel the drear and do it anyway, especially when you need to go to places that shut at lunchtime. For the main road traffic moving quite freely so the cabs weren't too costly. For managing all the walking about and carrying quite easily though the wait at the rank was slow and standing still still quickly gets painful. For grinning to myself thinking a visitor to the town might look at the row of elderly and hobbling women on the corner keenly eyeing slow moving cars...and consider availing themselves of personal services elsewhere!

For finding somewhere where a cup of takeaway tea still costs a pound, watching the grey sea and grey sky and all the people passing by trying to let my low mood pass as well. For the kind young neighbour answering her bell and letting me in when the lock jammed in the downstairs door. For buying some plastic lidded boxes to sort some more stuff into and later making a start on that...though mostly just lying on the sofa wishing I could sort out me.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Good four tins

I give thanks for hearing some news of family good fortune, goodwill...and well...familiness! Not something Bob and I experience much out on our little twig... 

For unpacking and filling my new tea caddies...after coveting and convincing myself I 'deserved' them, that they'd help make the kitchen appealing to property viewing eyes, comfort me if I don't get any good offers or oportunities...and, on those magical days when someone makes me a cup of tea here, mean I can request the type by colour to make things simpler. The old ones were a gift several years ago along with a utensil pot, and as the tins were more than I ought to have spent, finding a 99p ceramic jar of just the right size for wooden spoons and so on in the charity shop yesterday was a bonus. I give thanks to Mima for lending me the money as I'd deliberately left my purse in the car on the grounds I was supposed to be getting rid of stuff not gaining it!

I give thanks for the wonderful Norwegian scenery on a Walter Presents series. For having seen some of it myself a couple of years ago, back when my camera lens wasn't like the surface of the moon. I keep seeing old photos come up on Facebook and thinking I've lost my touch but I think maybe it's not me... For managing to get up and go to bed last night in between repeatedly falling asleep on the sofa despite its charms...and getting back to sleep when I woke up much too early this morning.

For feeling more mellow today, still getting stuff done but not fretting so much about that which is undone...and that which I can do nothing about! For chucking more stuff that has no purpose in my life... And hanging on to faith.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Rug and bin merchants

Sooo...hmmm...Flaming pink and orange sunset yesterday evening..I give thanks for catching the end of that.

For the bright crescent moon and stars when I woke in the night and couldn't get back to sleep

For the words of a young boy reported missing (and found safe and sound!) in the first of a series of BBC documentaries. He was described as having learning difficulties but understood how when people were unkind, not realising he had feelings just like them, there was comforting magic to be found in the world of pretty wise nonetheless!

For Mima assenting to assist me with a carload of dispossessions (I got a job lot on s's), so I could sort out a whole lot more stuff to go... In the process finding a notebook in which I recorded something that had pleased me in every day for a few months at the end of 2002/early 2003. They were mostly just one liners...a lot about nice walks, or moments of pleasant communication with colleagues.. And one when I just said 'Nope, can't think of a thing'...Ah well, I was just a beginner then..

For the sun coming out in time for a cuppa and cake at a place I'd never been before just across the river and up the hill a little to a jaw dropping view (of which this is a rubbish picture). You can eat in the evening there as well. Oh I wish!

For the rug I'd planned to deliver to a charity shop getting out at Mima's instead where it would 'do for now' on her newly exposed floorboards, and was particularly appreciated by Molly the cat. For her offering me an unwanted small pedal bin of a size and shape I'd failed to find on line earlier as part of the flat 'window dressing' process that's planned before the estate agent comes (back) next week.

For not needing to do any of that tonight. I give thanks for leftovers to heat up and a cuddly throw to snuckle up under. I've been pushing myself as hard as I can, but sometimes I need to pull over...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Colour block

I give thanks for a good long sleep last night. Everything seems worse when you're tired doesn't it? I give thanks for another bright spring day. I have a great longing to go out and play, to travel about a while and see some different horizons even just for an hour or two but, out yesterday and tomorrow for day to day tasks, I had to stay in and conserve reserves today. I give thanks for delving into the corners of the bathroom instead, unexplored and untouched by cleaning hands for longer than I care to admit...for such a small room it has a lot of corners!

There's been a lot going on (and not going on!) for which I've not being giving thanks I give thanks for thinking about some things I have been grateful for over the last few days and haven't remembered to say...

For the people who've taken the time to 'talk' to me now and then. I've been feeling very out of sorts what with one thing and another and a little virtual chitchat can brighten the spirits a bit. I also give thanks I know you mustn't rely on others to do the brightening...nor spirits if it comes to that...though I did enjoy small portion of sherry trifle last night, and I'm grateful there's some left for later!

For finding 2 Denby-esque bowls, side and dinner plates for a fiver the lot in one of the charity shops in town yesterday...and in good condition too! Most of my china is at least second hand and the glaze is getting scratched and pitted, so a newer sort of old is good and I like the shape of these...and the toning shades of body and rim though I can't quite decide what to call them. The big plates don't fit on the plate rack in the cupboard however, which annoyed me intensely until I decided just to leave them on the drainer until next time they're used instead.

For part of a conversation overheard on the busy breezy seafront. There was a rather elderly brown lady sitting on a bench and two beige coloured ones, not in the first flush of youth either, came along and asked 'Do you mind if we join you?' The newcomers were discussing how they'd not have as much colour when they got home as people they knew who'd been to the continent over the holiday. 'Shame I can't give you a bit of mine...' said the brown lady. 'Oh, I wish you could!' said the younger beige one, rolling up her trousers to reveal magnolia calves. 'Have you seen English legs? They're not a pretty sight until they've been in the sun a bit...'

For that sun now setting in a place I don't have to hang out of the kitchen window to see...

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Home cooking

It is one of life's cruel ironies that the more your health deteriorates the more housework there is to do, as you are in it more creating it. I give thanks for rallying yesterday day evening and getting supper cooked and some cleaning and tidying up done. Sorting out is a very messy business!

I give thanks for the aroma of the lentil stew fortifying me. It smells of...of...(I thought long and hard about this)...home! I don't have a sense of home as a place...or people...I've never felt safe or settled enough I guess, which is sad in a way but at least if you've never had it you can't lose it, you know? And if you've always had to look after yourself, I think maybe you learn to treasure the way you do somehow...including the stew you've been making for forty years or so! I remember a TV programme about kids in care and the presenter, who had been himself, saying to a sad teenager 'It feels like no one's there, doesn't it?' 'Well, you have to have to be there for yourself' And you do!

So I give thanks that I am...and I do what I can do... and for the delicious stew, which felt like being hugged from the inside out.

I give thanks for fixing the kitchen blind (hooray!) but not the oven door (boohoo!)  I tried all the things I've tried before to make it shut (apart from lying on my back and using my legs because I know that really hurts now) ...but all I got for my pains was more pains in more places. I give thanks I woke very early as it took a long time to get them out of bed, during which time I give thanks for remembering (eventually, after a lot of self criticism) though feeble failure and fibromyalgia share some letters and characteristics they are not the same thing. Every cloud has a silver lining and being so incapacitated for so long with sciatica I'd forgotten how much the rest of my body could hurt. I give thanks for all the people who have debilitating health conditions and people to say 'Here, let me help with that!'

So...hmm...some pain in the bank balance too I guess. The original cooker was bought almost 10 years ago 'to tide me over until the kitchen is done' and is battered, indelibly stained, rusty in parts and far from in many ways I don't mind having to replace it at all, but there's a lot of reasons why I'd not have chosen right now if it could have been avoided. However, even if I could find a way round using an oven for a while I can't show folks round a flat with a dangling oven door... Secondhand would be fine apart from the logistics, so I'm grateful I've the money to buy new and to cover delivery and fitting...and taking the old one away! For the internet to look at options on line, and that I could rearrange the things I had to do to fit in a trip to peruse the electrical shops in town here which have rubbish websites! For the strength to make the journey and a big bag of stuff to go to the charity shop so I needed a cab for at least part of it. I give thanks for the sunshine smiling on me...and hoards of other people...

I give thanks for doing very little since I got home except buying a cooker on line - not from a shop in town here, nor a big chainstore either, but an old fashioned family firm based in the north of the county (and the one next door) that I've dealt with before and know I can rely on for excellent service at a very reaonable price. They also had a cooker that I can bear to buy bearing in mind I might have to leave it behind if I move...and could bear to take with me if not! I give thanks I made enough stew for another meal, and that I'm sure I can manage just fine without garlic bread on the side...for the next week!
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