Thursday, 25 August 2016

Spooky encounter (London)

A friend’s Facebook posts had said if one were to see feathers, they were blessings from angels, so I've been saying, "Thank you, Angel," every time I see one. 

Told my friend Jackie about this. 

Yesterday, we were walking in a small local community park (veg and flower beds, and pond) when a butterfly came over to me and landed briefly on my right hand.  Jackie said, "That's better than a feather from an angel!"

She'd recognised it as a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album).  We googled it, and guess what they're commonly called??!!?  Spooky or what?

The Comma is a species of butterfly belonging to the family Nymphalidae. Its irregular wing edges are characteristic of the Polygonia genus, which is why they are commonly called anglewings.

Update 31 August: I've just realised it's "anglewings", not "angelwings"!!! The eyes see what the brain wants them to see...!

(London 2016)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Coping without an alarm clock

Being a night owl, I’d always had trouble getting up in the morning.  

One of my cousins resorted to a Heath Robinson solution, rigging up his radio to the alarm, but with the radio being at the other end of the room and on maximum volume, so that he had to get out of bed to get rid of the din.

My own trick during my primary and secondary school days was to move the alarm clock forward by half an hour, so that when the alarm went at 6:30am — the time I needed to get out of bed — the real time was 6am.  Very strange logic this, given that I knew in my head what the real time was.  Surely if I’d wanted to be woken up half an hour earlier than I needed to get up, to give me time to come round gradually, it’d have made more sense to set the alarm earlier rather than move the clock forward.  For some strange childish reason, my way of half tricking my brain worked well enough.

Later, I switched to something more effective, because being woken up earlier than needed meant that I’d just doze on.  What was supposed to be “just 5 minutes” would turn into an hour or, worse, longer, so that I’d end up being late.  A full bladder has its own mind and there’s no way one can sleep through an insistent full bladder.  

One year, a first year student Felix kept coming to class late.  When he said he needed to buy an alarm clock, I said, “You students are always skint — don’t buy one.  I’ll let you have mine on long loan, but the bladder is a very effective alarm clock, and it’s free.”   He nearly fell off his chair in surprise.

One needs to know, however, one’s own biorhythm — in this case, how long it will take a glass of water at bedtime to fill up the bladder.  If it’s 3 hours in your case, then going to bed at midnight for getting up at 4am means you’ll need to drink the water at 10pm, which makes you get up at 1am to go to the loo, then drink another glass of water for the 4am bladder alarm call.  

I know someone whose bladder sleeps through no matter how much tea she might’ve drunk before bedtime, so it doesn’t work for everyone.  Some people resent having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, so it doesn’t work for them either.  I’m personally happy for my sleep to be interrupted if it means not missing a flight.

Another method which works for me is to go to bed repeatedly chanting in my head the hour at which I have to get up.  I found out (many years later, in 2007) from an ex-RAF pilot (in his 70s) that they were taught this method.  So, what I thought was my own peculiar invention turns out to be scientific enough for the RAF!

Monday, 1 August 2016

The bric-a-brac shop (London)

I lived for two years (1983–85) on Hornsey Road (a busy enough road parallel to Holloway Road) and walked past a bric-a-brac shop every day en route to the Tube station.  I'd see an old man (in his 70s?) standing at a lectern, looking out of the glass-fronted shop.  

One day, I waved at him when we made eye contact, and he waved back, which then became a routine.  A few more weeks later, I went in to have a look around.  It was actually like a very untidy room, being packed up for a house move, with a back room in the same condition, also full of stuff, not properly displayed for selling really.  He told me he used to have a double bric-a-brac shop in Cornwall.  

One day, he invited me to see the back of the house:  the walls of the corridor leading to the kitchen at the back were painted a bright blue with all sorts of sea creatures of garish colours (shocking pink octopus, e.g.) dotted about.  He said his wife had done it, and they felt like they were swimming in the sea every time they went down that corridor.  

The back door opened out on to a narrow passageway (between his kitchen and the garden wall with next door, leading to the garden at the back).  The walls had big eyes (size of dinner plates) painted on them (sideways, and from the front).  He said, "See?  The eyes are everywhere and looking at you!"  There were also frogs (about 2 ft?) painted on the garden wall, again from various aspects (front, side), all with big wide mouths.  He said, "Look, the frogs are laughing at you!"  In the wall were little plants (ferns and flowering plants).  I said, "Is it OK to have the wall covered in them?  Won't the roots crumble the brick wall in time?"  He said, "Oh, we don't care.  Walls can be re-built.  The plants give us such pleasure."  

Into the garden, and yet more wonderfully chaotic / chaotically wonderful vistas.  He pointed out the cobwebs for me to watch out for (i.e., not to break them or disturb the occupants).  There was a little pond in the middle, to which, he said, loads of frogs made an annual migration to come and spawn.  Goodness knows from where, considering it was a built-up area, all terraced housing, and goodness knows how they all knew his garden was a good place to come and produce the next generation.  Ah!  A thought has just occurred to me:  maybe it's the abundance of the cobwebs (and therefore of insects)...  He'd put out the seat of a broken chair in the middle of the pond, as a shade / refuge for the frogs when it rained or got too hot, he said.

Another day, when I was in the shop, a woman (in her 50s) came in, with husband meekly in tow.  She had a haughty look.  Took a look around, and took a fancy to a vase.  "How much is this?" she asked in a haughty voice.  The old man said, "£45."  "£45?!!?  For THIS??!  That's too much!"  The old man refused to budge.  When the woman left, he turned to me and said, "I could've let her have it for next to nothing, but I don't like people like her.  I want my things to go to good homes anyway, where they'll be treasured and loved."

One day, I remarked that his shop was not open at weekends.  He said he and his wife (armed with her camera) went on themed walks, which would last a few months, if not years, until they ran out of material for that theme.  They were on a disused railway lines theme at the time, having done a Christopher Wren churches stint.

Yet another day, he gave me a present:  My Country and My People, by Lin Yutang, of whom I’d heard but whose works (the other famous one being The Importance of Living) I'd not read.  He told me it’d been given to him by a Jewish woman during the Second World War.  He’d been one of the pilots flying out Jewish people from Germany.  She said to him, “I don’t have anything of great value to express my gratitude to you for getting me out.  I have only this book, which I’d like you to have.”

I moved out of Hornsey Road on 28 December 1985, into Belfiore Lodge in Highbury.  Some five years later, I went back to visit the old man, but the shop was shuttered.  I rang the bell of the flat upstairs, and his wife answered the door.  She told me he’d died of leukaemia.

(London 1983)