Spring cleaning

Is it Spring yet? I wonder because I am having a Spring clean and obviously want to do it at the appropriate season. Ah, I see you visualising me whizzing around with a vacuum cleaner and feather duster. Well, you’re wrong. I am Spring cleaning from the comfort of my sofa although it’s becoming something of a nuisance. At the end of last week, my computer decided it would be best if the screen were in turquoise and purple. Clearly my computer and I are disagreeing a little here. I would prefer the white background with black, readable text. Master Mason tells me there is a problem with the connection between the screen and the keyboard. I am sad. The little laptop has helped me right through chemo and endless hospital appointments. I don’t want it to give up the ghost just when I am getting back on my feet. But it’s not to be. I have to be connected with a world in black and white. not turquoise and purple so I have to buy a new laptop. Master Mason is very helpful in this respect and advises me on what to get and where to get it. I duly order and purchase and it arrives today. Hurrah!

My mobile is also playing up. What is the thing about lasting only two years? It sticks and doesn’t allow me to answer calls sometimes, making me pretend I am not in. It needs the battery taking out of the back and re-booting before it will behave properly again by which time, obviously, the caller has given up and gone. Also, what is the thing about calling and not leaving a message? Surely if someone wants to speak to me, they might also like to leave a message. I must admit, I have got quite a fearsome answerphone message. It says very sternly that if I don’t recognise the number I will not call them back, hopefully deterring all the horrible spam phone call people one gets. It seems to be deterring perfectly nice and ordinary people from leaving messages, too. So, taking further advice from Master Mason, I call my service provider and order a new phone. I like to think I have beaten them down to a miniscule price but, to be honest, the price they quoted was so low and less than half what I was paying 2 years ago, that I feel I don’t have the nerve to demand they give it to me for less. The one bad thing is that the new phone will only have a micro sim card in it so all my contacts will be lost once I activate the new phone. Hence the Spring cleaning.

It actually feels quite daring to be deleting so many people. There is only a certain number I can be arsed bothered with transcribing onto my laptop and I wonder who half the people are. I have so many contacts, some I don’t even recognise. I realise strange things – I have started a collection of friends named Jane in the last couple of years. I now know 4 Francescas. When we named Miss Mason, we didn’t know anyone of that name but since that day, I have met 3 more who have become friends one of whom is actually Italian. I have a slight pang that I might be losing an important number or email address as I delete them but really, in this digital age when everything is online I think anyone who needs to find me will be able to. And hopefully vice versa. Only time will tell…


Mr Mason and the Hitler moustache

Some time ago, Richard Herring, the comedian, thought about reclaiming the toothbrush moustache. Obviously heavily identified with Adolf Hitler, it was a tough challenge and he received quite a lot of stick for even raising the subject. As I watched his efforts some years ago, little did I realise I would have my own toothbrush moustache kerfuffle to deal with. I am resting in bed before I head off to the hospital to have my arm wrapped in an effort to reduce the lymphoedema. It’s a long process that requires doing on a daily basis. Luckily it also involves a very soothing massage as the nurse moves lymph fluid around my body. She mentions that Mr Mason could help with massaging my back for when she is not around and I mention it to him later but he looks dubious. A look he quite often adopts these days. As Mr Mason finishes his ablutions in the bathroom, he wanders back into the bedroom with a piece of toilet roll pressed tightly to his face. In the olden days, it was not uncommon to see men wandering around with small pieces of toilet paper stuck to their faces from where they had cut themselves shaving. There seemed to be no embarrassment or sense that this was not the most stylish way of looking. I have to say that I haven’t noticed toilet paper stuck to men’s faces for ages. Presumably the rise of modern razors with their millions of blades has put paid to the need but today, Mr Mason is on a time warp, big style.

“I have cut myself shaving” he says. “I appear to have given myself a Hitler moustache”. Once he removes the toilet paper, I can see that he has, indeed, given himself a Hitler moustache of sorts. He appears to have sliced a chunk out of his upper lip and the resulting dried blood looks very much like a toothbrush moustache. We are very fortunate Mr Mason does not have dark brown hair or he would have to stay indoors.

Mr Mason offers to give me a lift to the hospital so I can get my arm bandaged. In order to lure me in, he says “I have a bag of cat litter and a pack of toilet rolls in the boot” with a slightly mad look on his face. He is such a smooth talker. In spite of my better judgement, I accept and my journey goes smoothly. As I am early for my appointment, I go into Maggie’s first and catch up with some friends. Firstly I announce to my friend Tamsin that Tamsin will not be able to meet us this morning. She gives me an old-fashioned look (how I love that phrase) and I realise I have confused her with my friend Tatum. This is the first in a litany of frustrating dead-ends in my verbal dexterity. My mind is like a complicated maze at the moment and I continually run headlong into the hedges, bouncing off as I grab at words that elude me. I have quite a long conversation about going to Bakersfield in California some years ago and explaining we had gone to see XXX XXX who had a hotel and club there. Who is XXX XXX? they ask. I cannot tell them but I can tell them a lot about our visit, including that he had a young protegee who is current in country music. Who is that? they ask. Ah, that I cannot tell them that either. We have seen him play, I tell them. Both of them. And XXX XXX was elderly and forgetful but could play guitar although his singing voice had deserted him. He died a little while after we saw him although the two things are unconnected. This is despite the fact I told Master Mason that XXX XXX only died after he saw him and that the two things were undoubtedly connected, he being possibly on a silent rampage, killing elderly musicians. Some of the Village People  died after he saw them at the age of 5. I am saddened to say that his very first gig was to see the Village People (who were great) and Gary Glitter who has since been exposed as a paedophile. Gary Glitter did not perform as he injured his back, probably by falling off his platform shoes or so we posited. This early exposure to entertainment and very dubious individuals does not seem to have affected him unduly although he would tell you he needs counselling, should you ask him.

In the end I save the day by shouting out “Buck Owens!” for it is indeed he who is XXX XXX. My memory is definitely getting worse. Having expected improvement, I am rather depressed by its decline and don’t know how I can rescue it. Chemotherapy has torn a large, ragged hole and is holding my memories hostage. If anyone sees them, please let me know.

Ranting about food

It’s my own fault, I know. I decide to settle down and watch Masterchef with Mr Mason. Now, as we all know, cooking doesn’t get tougher than this. That’s right. It’s the idea that cooking is really tough in the first place, although clearly the idea of cooking in a television studio is not most people’s idea of a sympathetic environment. Obviously we cook food we hope will taste nice but lots of people make do with ready meals so clearly not all cooking has to taste good. And you only have to watch Freaky Eaters to know some people live on a diet of crisps and chocolate biscuits although perhaps they think cooking is SO tough they won’t even bother. I once knew someone to all intents and purposes sane in every other aspect other than she had never cooked a meal in her life. This was before the invention of Masterchef but post ready-meals. The idea of cutting up an onion actually terrified her. “Which part do I cut? How do I hold it?” Seriously? Afraid so.

In the mix of today’s contestants we have the usual selection of real cooks together with wannabe’s. I am pretty good and sifting the wheat from the chaff these days. There is usually a manual worker who will often be fairly good but not good enough. There is always one person who looks a little deranged or dangerous. This person is often a good cook. Always there is the bit of tottie. Wedged into the show like a slice of lemon on a g&t, she is there to flutter her eyelashes when she gets things wrong and to wring a little sympathetic soothing out of the judges. Today’s tottie wears bright red lipstick and tells us that she knows she’s got a lot ot learn but that she passionately wants it. Here’s a newsflash. Just because you want something passionately does not mean you can have it or that you are good enough at it. Rather satisfyingly, I am proved right and her cooking is bizarre. Yes, that sweetpotato and mango mash just isn’t destined to go with the fish. And the chicken that is raw? No matter how many times you say “But I cooked it for aaages!” still doesn’t make it cooked so it is safe enough to eat. And yes, you can pout and look distraught but sadly, you are not good enough. I would not be going to eat at her table any time soon, either.

The judge’s comments and facial expressions get increasingly bizarre. At one point, a flake of fish falls away from the main portion and it appears we are nearing the end of time judging by the anxiety on Gregg Wallace’s face. As contestants are plating up their food Gregg Wallace, in particular, repeatedly urges them to hurry up, just as they are, er, hurrying up and then admonishes them if they spill something with a “Take your time!” thrown in. Oh, and the thing the judges really want? What they really, really want? It’s just a good plate of food. “Just give us one good plate of food” they say. No longer a meal, it is a plate of food. If a contestant cooks something complicated, they say “Food doesn’t have to be complicated. Just give us a good, simple plate of food”. If someone cooks something simple, they say “But is that good enough? This is Masterchef!” If a contestant cooks a classic dish, they complain it is not inventive. If they invent, they ask what is wrong with classic cooking?

The lady from India is sweet and, quite surprisingly to Gregg and John, is good with spices! They wax lyrical about her ability to spice a dish she regularly cooks at home, almost to the point of being patronising. However, when she is asked to cook something more classic she is not so adept and they worry away at this like dogs with a tasty bone. “Can she go any further?” they ask and the camera stays on their little worried faces just to emphasis the point. One woman presents a lemon tart and I really feel sorry for her. The pastry has gone all wrong and the only bit left is a soggy bottom onto which she pours lemon goop. How many contestants have just run away at this point and refused point blank to go in for the mauling which surely awaits them? The raised eyebrows, the hand scratching at the chin, the long sigh and the penetrating stare. All artifices ready to be pulled out of their little box of emoting tricks.

They bring back former winners and good contestants to sample the cooking of the current contestants. This is an interesting idea, particularly because I have opinions about some of them. The one who was unexpectedly ill on a particularly gruelling challenge and was given a pass onto the next level is in receipt of a few pithy comments from me. There is another man who always used incredibly expensive ingredients in the hope people would be impressed. Sadly he did not impress me and he is also in line for some personal remarks about his apparent lack of neck. If I discover he has some unfortunate condition I will forever feel shamed. Most of the former contestants at least appear to understand the stress the new contestants feel and treat them sympathetically. On the whole. The man who was given a pass is rather scathing and I wish someone would spill a hot sauce in his lap. Alas, it does not happen.

While I am venting about food programmes, when did it become popular to pan fry something as opposed to just fry it? Why does ‘pan fry’ conjure up something better than ‘fry’? This, I have to admit, is one of Mr Mason’s favourite bête noire. Also ‘cooking off’ is another of his. Saying “I am going to cook off some onions” can send him into paroxysms of rage involving the grinding and gnashing of teeth. This is probably why he does most of the cooking these days. Ah, we know how to enjoy ourselves in the Mason household.


Dog’s Neighbourhood Watch

My blog has come to life. Now, like a naughty schoolgirl I get reminders of homework blogs I haven’t handed in. You’re late! they chortle. People will be missing you! Why? Does someone need the tone lowering in their vicinity? I am, as you know, adept at that.

Not much new has been happening around me lately. I miss paddling on Saturday due to extreme fatigue but this is not news. I also miss a team meeting which I suggested which is really not cool. I manage to weed out DVDs we no longer want and send them off to their new homes so that now I can sit and look at the shelves which look so tidy. For anyone who knows our book and DVD collection they will know this is actually quite big news.

During the week I am invited to a spa day at Brown’s hotel. Brown’s is apparently the oldest hotel in London. I counter this by saying that Kettner’s is the oldest restaurant in London and that shuts them up. Who? you cry. Well, it’s a bit of an uncomfortable story, being on the receiving end of something nice when the people giving it are a little, how shall I put it? Self-absorbed? The story goes like this. I am tired. We all know and are sick and, well, tired of hearing me say this but it’s true and I can’t escape it, much as I would like to. Someone at Maggie’s notices this and thinks she will do something about it so she arranges for me and a few other people to go to Brown’s Hotel for a bit of a spa day. It’s sponsored by another charity and Maggie’s will get us a taxi there so all is good. The agenda for the day shows yoga to start with followed by a ‘Head in Heaven’ treatment with a light lunch and makeovers happening all day.

We arrive at Browns and are met by a very nice lady who shows us up to a suite. The suite is fabulous with bowls of tulips and hyacinths everywhere and a bathroom full of Ren products (I restrained myself and only brought a soap home). We are offered drinks by a waiter and all do a lot of smiling. We are offered seats and then the squirming begins. I can see why it all went wrong. There was no plan. No matter how free and easy and informal you want a session like that to go, there has to be a plan. No plan = stuff goes tits belly up. It is suggested that we all introduce ourselves so we do this briefly and then the organisers (I hasten to add these are NOT Maggie’s staff) begin to talk about themselves. One of them has had a double mastectomy in the past and is now fully reconstructed, one of them tells us she likes hugging and feet and will be attending to both during the day. The last spot is reserved for the makeup artist who works with the stars and will give us tips and techniques throughout the day as well as making us up. She begins to tell us how she has not had cancer but has had 2 scares so she knows how we feel. Umm. No. You don’t but good on you for trying. We are then asked what we would like to do. The day is ours! We all sit and look at each other. It is decided that the makeup lady to the stars will do a visualisation. I sit in a comfortable chair and do what I do best which is fall asleep. Periodically I open my eyes a bit to see if people are still doing a visualisation or whether she has stopped droning on. It is hard to tell because some people have their eyes open and others are closed. Eventually, I manage to wake up sufficiently to move in my chair and that seems to be the signal for the visualisation to finish. Hurrah. We are told how this group of women moved to Cornwall, one beginning an organic skin care company and the other starting a charity for women to have somewhere nice to go. The other one is the makeup artist who has been working for 4 days non-stop and keeps telling us how tired she is.

I am going down to the Spa for my Head in Heaven treatment. It is divine. A lovely woman massages lots of oily stuff into my face and then massages my scalp. It really is fabulous and relaxing and I could do with a lot more. When I arrive back at the suite, lunch has arrived. In a moment of inspiration they have ordered the afternoon tea so we have an array of tiny sandwiches and little cakes to contend with. Every time a plate is emptied, another full one is put in its place. There are even scones with a massive bowl of clotted cream and it is all delicious. It’s nice to have lunch and to chat but the women running the day really seem to clump together and talk about themselves quite a lot. I had been looking forward to being made over or having my feet massaged or even, as was on offer at one point, having the makeup lady do a Reiki session for me. Nope. None of it happens. They eat cake and drink tea and that’s it. No makeovers, no food massage, no Reiki and thankfully, no yoga. We all eat cake and drink tea, too, and then at 3pm it’s the end and we all get up to go, uncertain whether another taxi is coming to collect us but they don’t know about that, either.  I am offered the choice between a candle or some face products and I choose the latter.

It’s a strange day. I feel I have had some very nice things happen to me but also that I have somehow missed out something which was half-promised but which failed to materialise. It leaves me curiously unsatisifed. I present Mr Mason with the bar of Ren soap and know he will not appreciate how expensive this stuff is. And he doesn’t.

In the evening we watch a documentary on apes and monkeys. It is fascinating and we are given a display of Dog’s Neighbourhood Watch skills when the howler monkeys start up. We are always able to tell in television drama whether the animal noise is real or not. Dog will only respond to animal noises made by an animal. Humans pretending to be dogs or other creatures just don’t cut the mustard for him. Where would Percy Thrower be if Dog ruled the world? Once the howler monkeys get going, Dog goes to the window to look for them. He pushes the curtain aside and looks up and down the road. No sign of them there. He then goes to the back door to peer out into the garden to see where they are. It perplexes him when he can’t find them. Eventually they quieten down and Dog goes back to bed and back to sleep, one eye ready to open at the slightest animal sound.

Next time, I’ll tell you about the time Mr Mason gave Dog artichokes for supper. Commonly known as ‘fartichokes’ for their flatulent power, Dog’s duvet hovered about 2 feet above him all night and I nearly died of asphyxiation. There. That’s something to look forward to.