Gail-Nina writes ...

It's Friday, I've eaten a boiled egg and I'm going to get this letter started while the going is good (i.e. before I feel the irresistible urge to sit down with a cuppa and watch something archaeological on the iplayer.)

Sooo many thanks for all your kind wishes - never meant to raise any anxieties and honestly haven't felt so bad as to need a doctor. Much better now, if still a mite dopier than usual. I did assiduously look up everything on t'internet, but still had to conclude that while I had some of the secondary features associated with C19 (and incidentally with virtually every other flu-ish bug) such as a sore throat and the general sensation of limbs turning to lead, I never displayed any of the more specifically characteristic symptoms. I did also look up details about getting a test, but by that time I'd had my (non-characteristic) symptoms too long for testing to be valid, apparently. So I'm taking it easy and floating lazily on a sea of tea and coffee. Also boiled eggs.

For those who praised my continuing fight against apathy, I must admit that I do have an unexpected trick there. Every morning since this all began I seem to have woken up with a fit of explosive matutinal sneezing whose magnitude probably gets recorded on the Richter Scale. After that, apathy isn't really an option.

Needless to say, lying low and marinating myself in the pages of a particularly dense and obscure book about the origins of the cult of Selene isn't a style of life that generates many amusing anecdotes this week. I did, however, raise myself sufficiently to cook (as mentioned last week) a batch of traditional American biscuits. The outcome was spectacularly successful as to texture and height but the taste carried rather too much of that back-throat bitterness which comes from using baking soda as a raising agent. Judy has since sent me a recipe that obviates the need for this by using self-raising flour, so I shall try this one next and cock a snook at traditionalism.

(The snook, by the way, is a fairly large edible fish found in the Mediterranean. It is hermaphroditic. I have no idea how to cock it. Or cook it.)

My other moment of under-the-weather activity is less explicable, I'll admit. I have a free-standing electric cooker that stands between two kitchen units. Given that I tend to cook hard and fast, the surfaces not just on top but down the sides, and the back and even underneath can get very yicky (if you'll pardon a technical term.) I mean not just "wipe clean with a dash of Flash" but "scour clean with abrasives not seen in daily use since the Middle Ages" yicky. Also things do tend to fall down the narrow gaps at the sides. As you can imagine, getting it all cleaned up involves a military-scale operation that includes physically hauling the thing right out from the wall, scrubbing vigorously then pushing it back in again. Working on the seemed-sensible-at-the-time principle that hey! - I was already feeling pretty bad so why worry about feeling any worse? - I decided to tackle the task this week, on a day of particular unhealthiness. Best just to say that the cooker is now back in place and for once I feel I can be a heroine in my own eyes. Debris behind/under it included five knives, a fork, my favourite spatula and a teaspoon with a purple handle that I don't recall ever having seen before. Also bits of foodstuffs that had experienced a sea-change into something rich and strange and revolting. The odd shard of pasta was bearable, and leafy things seem mostly and mercifully just to have dried out, but every time I move an appliance or piece of furniture in this flat I seem to find at least one mummified greengage behind it. OK, I am pretty fond of greengages, but even so… Is the world trying to tell me something? (Like, for example, clean behind the cooker more regularly.)

Further upon culinary topics, I recently succumbed to a potent tugging at the strings of food memory combined with a "goodness, that's cheap" moment and bought a Fray Bentos Minced Beef Pie. You know - the ones sold in a flat tin, in which you bake them to create a curious flaky crust with some soggy under-pastry and luscious brown, gravy-thick filling that simply slithers down the throat. My memories are really all of the Steak and Kidney variety, but it happened that Minced Beef was reduced to 50p, presumably in a last-ditch effort to get someone to take them away. I only bought the one, so I hope it doesn't spark an unfulfillable addiction, as they'll never be that price again. Should I ever eat it, I'll let you know - at the moment I'm just looking at it in awe as an apport from the past. No doubt I shall be craving Vesta curries next.

Fridge full of beer

Speaking of inspirational consumables, Chris and Ann have sent a most comforting image of their son's beer fridge, a beacon of both preparedness and excellent stacking skills in these dim days. Look at the detail to spot cans of Brewdog with rather jolly topical reference:

Close-up includes Brewdog 'Barnard Cadtle Eye Test'

Apart from this, though, the gradual relaxation of lockdown restrictions means that topical satire has put out rather fewer feelers this week. Luckily Annie from Nottingham (hi Annie!) has thoughtfully passed on a passage from Dickens who, if my American friends will excuse such a generalisation, had long ago spotted a national tendency that still seems to be in place in some quarters today.

Charles Dickens' American Notes.

"Another prominent feature is the love of 'smart' dealing: which gilds over many a swindle and gross breach of trust; many a defalcation, public and private; and enables many a knave to hold his head up with the best, who well deserves a halter; though it has not been without its retributive operation, for this smartness has done more in a few years to impair the public credit, and to cripple the public resources, than dull honesty, however rash, could have effected in a century. The merits of a broken speculation, or a bankruptcy, or of a successful scoundrel, are not gauged by its or his observance of the golden rule, 'Do as you would be done by,' but are considered with reference to their smartness. I recollect ... the bad effects such gross deceits must have when they exploded ... but I was given to understand that this was a very smart scheme by which a deal of money had been made: and that its smartest feature was, that they forgot these things abroad, in a very short time, and speculated again, as freely as ever. The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: 'Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-so should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous and odious means, and notwithstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your Citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?' 'Yes, sir.' 'A convicted liar?' 'Yes, sir.' ... 'And he is utterly dishonourable, debased, and profligate?' 'Yes, sir.' 'In the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?' 'Well, sir, he is a smart man.'"

Another American garnish - popular Twitter poet Brian Bilston penned a piece on the phenomenon of inevitably sharing one's birthday with well-known individuals. Just for the record, I share mine with both the late William Henry Pratt (Boris Karloff) and his daughter Sarah, whom I have met. Brian's most notorious share isn't quite so apposite.

Still more topical, the British Library site recently posted an article on Midsummer Cherry Pudding, Chyryse, just in case anyone has a glut and is feeling particularly Mediaeval.

But the question I know you're going to ask has, alas, no answer - no, not a sign of Lilith. However there has been a discovery in Chris's household - I offer this solely as evidence that I'm not the only pack-rat and we're both as bad as each other - this from Christopher:

"I'm having a day on the top floor tidying and boxing up lots of things I've bought at Tynemouth and squirreled away. As it is so hot I can open the windows and get a wonderful through draft. I came across a bag that had another bag within it and opened it to find an egg box containing half a dozen several-year-old eggs! Light and dried out - ooops!"
Eggs in box

Do you think I've left it too late to ask for recipe suggestions?

I shall love and leave you with a couple of comments on the perils of ordering goods through the internet. Enjoy!

Text: Never buy from Ebay / I ordered a Dyson - Picture of bison

Text: We actually meant to order a baby monitor, but he was so cute we had to keep him - cartoon of baby minotaur

Keep well,