In a recent newsletter, Gail-Nina Anderson outlined the situation:
... And perhaps then we can seriously get back to thinking about lectures and courses, which I know have started to loom large in our minds. I have been looking into this, I promise, but everything depends on the ever-changing rules, the specific facilities at the institutions where I hire teaching rooms and audience expectations about comfort and safety. A lecture which could not include coffee or socialising, seated a maximum of 30 and involved the wearing of masks throughout might not really fit the bill. There has been some talk of delivering talks via Zoom but my technical expertise and equipment are both sadly lacking in this area and this doesn't seem like the best time to consider upgrading my computer or finding the necessary assistance to help me with new skills and systems. Personally I don't hugely enjoy watching Zoomed talks on screen and I positively loathe looking at my own face, but I have been discussing matters with the Lit & Phil and will let you know as soon as I have any feasible suggestions for you to consider.
In the meanwhile:
Just to start by setting the tone:
You know that well-used narrative device whereby someone finds a message in a bottle that leads them to adventure/romance/profound self-knowledge? Well I was flicking through the pages of a novel purchased (in happier times, as Miss Prism would put it) from the Oxfam bookshop when out fluttered a sheet of paper on which was written a sentence which the merest moment's glance revealed to be something other than the half-expected shopping list. There were capitals and underlining and something about the script suggested a sense of urgency, so I perused it with a delightful tingle of anticipation. This was the message:
Ann has got A
I'm still honing the details of the wonderful detective novel I shall build upon this evocative foundation.
I recently received an email from a dear friend in York which contained the plangent cry "Never needed some normal more!" Well of course one person's normal is someone else's desire to start making Halloween cards in February because they've just found a batch of black card and some glitter pens, but we're probably all chiming to the sentiment in one way or another. The thing I'm missing most (apart from the chance to talk for hours about wonderful art works) is sitting down indoors somewhere, drinking coffee and chatting with friends. Also going to Tynemouth Market, buying such essential items as Parianware figures of Little Red Riding Hood and then sitting down indoors somewhere, drinking coffee and chatting with friends about exactly why I needed another Parianware figure of Little Red Riding Hood.
So possibly the solution is, in the absence of the reassuringly normal, simply to embrace every nuance of the slightly weird - such as devising a suitable recipe for the celeriac, aubergine and Thai basil which were my impulse buys in Sainsbury's yesterday? For someone who definitely isn't a vegetarian, still I find myself in irresistible thrall to all edible roots, tubers, stalks and leaves (and yes, I do realise that an aubergine is technically a fruit.) Even when I've actually gone to the supermarket to look for bread, milk, a birthday card with a cat on it and some fresh batteries for my light-up plastic skull, still I gravitate effortlessly towards any striking display of a vegetable nature.
Been feeling slightly vegetal myself since I have now (along with pretty much all of you, I trust) had the jab and though there were no dramatic side-effects, still I felt dozier than usual for a few days. (It remains possible that I have a case of Covid Toe, as my smallest left piggy increasingly resembles a tiny plum with a cashew nut on top, but I doubt that's anything to do with the vaccine and relates more directly to my habit of stubbing it on any and every projecting surface.) My only moan about the vaccination service is the way, with no useful choices offered, I was given an appointment at Gosforth Race Track, a venue to be reached only by taxi or bus (plus walk on what was then frozen, slippery surface.) It's a year since I used a taxi, while my one bus journey of 2020 was an unmitigated disaster - wasn't there a venue I could walk to or, if essential, get to on the Metro? The unquestioned assumption that everyone has a car really does annoy me, and under these circumstances the enforced reliance on transport one has been avoiding is really quite a sensitive issue. Luckily Chris was able to select the same venue/day and a time close to mine - different medical practice seems to mean completely different treatment - so I got a lift in the van. A certain niggle of quite unjustified resentment that I hadn't been given more choice might account for my decision to wear a large silver pendant in the shape of a skull, thus perhaps challenging my usual sense of quiet good taste, as dear Christopher did remark. In retrospect, though, I stick to my guns, on the grounds that a Memento Mori is always appropriate. I'd recently lost a friend to the wretched bug (albeit complicated in his case by other long-term maters of health) and it did me good to think how this would have made him laugh.
Afterwards we indulged in take-out fish'n'chips which was heavenly! (Thoroughly recommend Hooked chip shop, Station Road, Gosforth, though I don't think they do deliveries.)
The other reason, apart from vaccine-excused lethargy, why it's been so long since the last newsletter is that I've been locked in mortal combat with a short story I hoped to submit for possible inclusion in an anthology. I've managed this a couple of times before, leading to the unholy and addictive glee of seeing my fiction in print, but this time the anthology wasn't just spooky stuff, but monsters. Now you'd honestly think that to a mind like mine this would present few problems, but I seem to be curiously unable to summon up the monstrous. I can do ethereal spirits, chilling coincidences, ghastly premonitions, eerie atmospheres and worrying dreams full of unnatural boding (thank you, Gaspode - that's my Discworld reference for the week). Heavens, I once wrote a scary story about cardboard boxes! But could I manage a monster? (And it did have to be a monster - the editor wasn't just looking for stories where humans act in a monstrous manner.) Eventually I have wrestled the concept to the ground, completed the tale and submitted it, and though I have no glimmer of hope that it will be accepted, still I feel a certain glow of achievement in having nailed it. It contains several poems written in imitation of a poet so obscure that absolutely no-one apart from me and a few academic specialists will have heard of her. This makes it doubly unlikely ever to see print but hey - I done it! Next project is an article about... no, I'll save that for later.
With so long an hiatus between letters, I know I've stacked up from my assorted correspondents many emails that I haven't answered or passed on. Apologies - sometimes I just don't want to look at this screen for another second and sometimes I'm busy fuming about appointments and sometimes I'm just thinking "Monster? Monster?" and wondering whether it would be legitimate to revive Grendel's mother. I read all the emails, laugh, sympathise, consider and occasionally weep but I just don't always make the time or attention to respond as they deserve. Sorry.
So while we're on the subject, here are a few links on which you might enjoy clicking. Some were contributed by thoughtful individuals (thank you Julie, Heather and my Bro Paul) but if I haven't credited anyone, just see previous paragraph and forgive me!
And just for comparison with the one above:
I shall close with a timely warning for all puppy-owning athletes (you know who I mean, Vashon!)
And a thought about the previous newsletter - I hate to tell you, but although weight loss via tapeworm has seriously been a mooted prospect, and there may even have been commercially produced tablets, I'm pretty sure that the advert I posted last time was a fake. The central image was probably a genuine piece of turn-of-the-century advertising, but it didn't really suit the product. If you were promoting the fact that you could eat anything you liked without gaining weight, surely you would show plates of delicious food ready for consumption, rather than packaged flour, macaroni and olive oil? Also, I really don't think that the various typefaces match the period or style - a modern mash-up, I must conclude.
But do not worry, for I have found two more suggestions which I really do think are genuine (the adverts, that is - I'm saying nothing about the efficacy of the products) and sound far less scary:
So now I'm going for a nice relaxing bath with lots and lots of powder...