I've been trying to motivate myself to leave the sitting room with the gas fire on (despite the heating costs, Freddy the cat insists on relaxing in front of it) to go into the so-called 'computer room' – i.e., the room with the computer in it – to call it a 'study' would be rather pretentious as very little studying is currently done there – to write this piece. Meanwhile, the snow is falling fast on beautiful downtown Banchory and even the wonderful Banchory Singers have cancelled their Saturday concert.
When I was a child in the Victorian era (well, it sometimes seems that long ago, but to be honest it was the 1950s) I could never understand why old people (like I am now) hated winter and winter weather, when living in the East Midlands of England we rarely had snow, so its arrival was a cause of great excitement. Now I think I was a very insensitive child, as like most kids I didn't have to worry about paying the energy bills – and in that era we didn't really have any.
I will refrain (unlike some of my age group acquaintances) from describing the ice inside the windows, the electric fire in the bedroom that only worked intermittently in a shower of sparks, and the paraffin heater that nowadays would be condemned as a health and safety hazard. I have never been keen on nostalgia and whatever the right-wing and UKTV claim, the 1950s was a rubbish era and I am happy to be a citizen of 2022 'woke' Scotland instead.
Nor is Christmas my favourite time of year as it seemed to be a time when my constantly warring parents brought their conflict to a peak (this being the 1950s, when aspiring working-class people didn't often get divorced, unfortunately for their families). My Christmas experiences have improved since, but this time, as I'm hoping to move in the New Year, putting up decorations among the packing boxes fails to appeal. And Freddy the cat would in any case make it his priority to destroy any Christmas decorations he spotted.
When the weather is like this, apart from packing boxes in the hope that my move will fall into place, the only thing to do is eat, drink and read.
Occasionally, I put on daytime TV as Freddy enjoys it, especially the programmes about animals, unless there are dogs involved. I was a bit tentative at having it on as a friend had suggested it could cause Alzheimer's, but as I'm usually doing The National
crossword at the same time, I never really watch it anyway.
I think it was Cafe contributor, Frank Eardley, who pointed out the number of adverts for cheap funerals, stair lifts and various aids to mobility on daytime TV. Very few are amusing, apart from the 'checkatrade.com', one which must have been dreamed up by a classics graduate like me, as it contains a camp version of Julius Caesar (what he had to do with checking tradespeople is not explored) and involves some witty allusions to Brutus the plumber 'stabbing him in the back' – well, it's funnier than I have made it sound.
Most of the adverts are an insult to people's intelligence. I see the bearded chap who advertises 'Cinch' (a sort of online used car business) has now written a book. I asked the lady in Tesco who was putting these out on the shelves what this chap had actually done, apart from 'Cinch', and she wasn't sure either, except he had been on Gogglebox
. No doubt he would claim to have reached these exalted heights by his sheer hard work…
To keep my brain going, I try to do The National
crossword, which is quite difficult and often I have to consult the thesaurus. I should add that I refer to the easy crossword, not the cryptic one. However, as a result of not wanting to leave the warmth of the sitting room fire, I have now solved the highest number ever of cryptic clues – 10 at the last count – so it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. I usually struggle to understand the ideas behind cryptic crosswords, although sudoku is totally beyond me, whereas the late Mr B was the equivalent of a Grand Master who could even spot the different 'authors' involved in setting these puzzles.
Many years ago, one of Mr B's employees – I'll call him Gerry – was a sort of undiscovered genius. He never bothered with going to school and forged his school reports, so his parents didn't know he had educated himself by wandering around museums and libraries. He had an 'interesting' career, including being an accountant (so he told us) for the Swedish mafia.
Gerry prided himself on being always able to solve The Times
cryptic crossword in less than two hours. One evening he, Mr B and I were in the pub for a business meeting – I had tagged along for the company. Gerry hadn't had time to read his Times
, so he gave it to me while he and my other half talked business (this was the time before feminism insisted that women be involved in business meetings).
Gerry hadn't had time to do the crossword either, so I took out a pen and started filling in the answers – except that they weren't answers, just random letters. I noticed Gerry becoming more and more abstracted as he saw me apparently racing through all the clues. In 20 minutes or so, I had 'completed' the crossword, and Gerry's face was a picture – he had an apparent rival for his crossword crown. The relief when he picked it up and saw I had been fooling him was palpable.
This is the first time I have written this piece originally by hand, when I haven't done handwriting in detail for years, all because it was too cold to leave the warmth of the fire and go and type it out. Sadly, my handwriting has significantly deteriorated with lack of practice but I have enough extra material to take me into the New Year!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant