With so much time on my hands I am noticing the little things in life, like the aroma of soaking socks. A bit of background: I have faulty stitching in my walking boots which means that every time I go for a walk in inclement weather, I end up with a dirty left bunion and an even dirtier right big toe. I would take the boots back to the shop but their guarantee has probably expired and anyway, I just might kill someone if I have to return a second time to BLACK’S. These boots are the replacement pair of some other boots (keep up) that I bought in the summer of 2019. They started leaking very early on in our relationship at which point I took them back to the shop. The shop assistant, let’s call him Sven (for Scandinavian he was), asked me what I’d been wearing them for….. Duh!! ‘Walking’ said I. After asking if I had a dog (like that made a difference), he opined that leather boots were probably a better choice for walking. ‘So all of your fabric walking boots, for which you’re charging, in some cases over £100, are not fit for purpose are they?’ I retorted with a gggrrrr! This man was an idiot and should be sacked for disloyalty to the merchandise (despite being a Viking and aglow with manliness).
Anyway, this second pair has lasted longer but are now facing a formal discharge by their owner. I am indeed considering a leather pair of boots if only to save my poor woollen socks from over-washing and stinking out my flat with their farmyard pungency. Also, I think there’s something a bit spinsterish about washing socks; it has overtones of lavender gussets and hairy chins.
Swap beds – you’ll feel like a new woman!
Looking for a cheap thrill for those long Covid nights? If you have a spare bed in your home, don’t leave it empty and forlorn – throw caution to the wind and get in. Sleeping in another bed in another room can make you think you’re on holiday (if you’re a little deranged and/or bored). Currently, I’m having a fortnight in the Scilly Isles. It’s lovely. I have a lovely south facing view and some orange polyester curtains. Why not combine it with one or two new ablutionary habits e.g. if you’re used to a morning shower, why not mix it up with an occasional strip wash (you’ll need a flannel). Or, if porridge is your breakfast milieu, go rogue with some Kedgeree, and eat it in bed. It may seem crazy but it’s really quite refreshing. And it might make you want to have sex with the window cleaner.
Do rats eat pastry?
I’m currently conducting an experiment into garden snacking; who likes what to eat and where. My aim is to forge a friendship with the tits and other diddly birds. I feel that magpies and seagulls have the wherewithal to access burgers and spaghetti bolognese at will from rubbish bins whereas titty birds need an occasional cream cracker on a Willow Pattern saucer. So, I have a wooden thing that hangs from the tree and makes a good feeding platform. I’m currently going through my pastry phase (salmon en croute is favourite) which means there’s always scraps of rough puff to offload on my little friends. I’m slightly concerned about buggering up their beaks with all that sticky lardiness. No one wants to be a bird murderer, after all! But there’s only one way to find out. I put a few remnants out yesterday and, despite keeping a vigil, saw no creatures, large or small, tucking in. However, this morning, I examined the feeder and am pleased to announce that the pastry has gone. Who has eaten it is another question. My garden squirrels are like Chinese acrobats and can hang upside down while stuffing their face or maybe it’s those pesky magpies. Or maybe, just maybe, my pastry diners are rats who, I believe, will eat anything including people if they get the chance. I’m going down this alley because my neighbour has recently been visited by a rat that ate its way through the wall, then polished off half a pound of butter and a cappuccino layer cake. I reckon a rat that’s maybe into Parkour could scale the shed, run along the tree branch, leap onto the buffet table, gobble up the pastry, then finish off with a double somersault back to ground. Whatever, I’m taking no chances and am now wearing bicycle clips in the garden.
Power tools are scary. I live in fear that one day I will be required to put up a shelf and it will end with me losing control and making a big hole or screwing myself to the wall. So, imagine my horror when my internet-purchased Adirondack chairs arrived as FLATPACK. There were bags of SCREWS and other metal THINGS, and instructions and DIAGRAMS of a DRILL None of my usual odd job men were available and so I decided to HAVE A GO. I borrowed a drill from John Up the Road (not his real name), and without even a health and safety demo, got stuck in. OK, it took me all day but crucially, there were NO INJURIES and no left-over screws. And amazingly, when given a test drive by a succession of friends (of the ‘big old unit’ variety), there have been no fallings apart or splintered arses. I feel positively Amazonian! Having said that, I don’t want to drill again – it’s really quite exhausting.
Paddle-board or should I say paddle BORED
God, the world has gone paddle-board crazy. You couldn’t enjoy a leisurely swim off Brighton beach this summer without some smug berk in a wetsuit and wraparound shades slicing across your path and smacking you around the head with a paddle. Anyway, long story short, I’ve had a go, and can report, once you’ve learnt how to gird your quads, switch on your buttocks and, most importantly, not look down, there’s really nothing to it. In fact, it’s dreary. I had a short lesson on an ox-bow lake near Eastbourne. I fell in, twice: the first time I went under and got stuck in a foot of putrid mud and weeds. Half an hour later, I was in the throes of executing a tricksy three point turn when one of my fellow boarders whooshed alongside and asked me a question about home-cooked chips. It was all too much. I opened my mouth to say ‘the secret is in the dripping’ and the next thing I knew, I’d gone overboard, swallowing a mouthful of brackish water. At this point I called it a day, handed back my board, pulled the weeds out of my gusset and went to the pub.
I have the summer syndrome of big brown nose. Why does my nose tan so much quicker than the rest of me? This is a conundrum of several years’ standing. In my youth, I burnt my way through lobster to conker evenly (one year on a beach in Mykonos, I even reached the water blister stage, such was my yearning for the Bo Derek all-over bronzed Goddess look) but now, I am walking around with distinctly uneven tanning. I know my nose is closer to the sun than the rest of me but no matter how much sun cream I slather on, it just keeps getting browner and browner! And it’s not only my nose that’s afflicted.
Every summer, I also acquire exceedingly brown knees. They’re sort of fried pork sausage-coloured, a brown knobble between the Rich Tea Biscuit of my shins and the Findus Crispy Pancake that is my thighs. I believe Kate Moss may have the same tanning issues as she has my knees – huge and a bit loose where the flesh above the knee can’t be bothered to hold itself up anymore and collapses in a concertina. I already have damaged legs – thanks to a lifetime of falling over and off things. I’ve fallen out of trees and cars, down concrete steps and off bunk beds. My most dramatic topple was when I impersonated Jenny Agutter’s sprint up the train station platform to meet her father (“Daddy, my daddy”) in The Railway Children. Such was my theatrical exuberance, I failed to see the small dog on a lead until I was sprawled on top of it, my denim-clad legs shredded and bleeding. I will never, ever be a leg model.
Help, my eyebrows!
To add to the problematics of my brown nose, I now have a hairy face. Unable to visit the hairy woman’s haven (Karisma, Narborough Road, Leicester), for my monthly threading and waxing session, I’m sporting quite sizeable eyebrows and a pubescent boy’s moustache. I have contemplated buying a home waxing kit but the last time I took the DIY route, I ended up looking like I’d been having oral sex with everyone in the VD clinic. Top tip: when you have a cluster of herpes-like lesions on your upper lip, avoid client meetings (unless they’re in a leper colony).
Useful/less birthday presents
This year’s birthday presents were by and large useful (gin, plants, books, gin) but there was one oddity. Thanks to those crazy Icelandic lesbian friends of mine, I now have what I take to be a hand muffler for enjoying coffee mornings in a blizzard. The last time I was in Iceland, when I wasn’t getting tipsy in an outdoor hotpot (a jacuzzi to you and me), I did a ramble on a glacier in a balaclava. I could have done with a hand muffler on that occasion. One hand could have remained firmly on the rope preventing my slipping into a crevasse, the other could have been clasping a mug of steaming oxtail soup. I wonder if Ranulph Fiennes has got one.
I was introduced to the Queen of Anal Retention a while ago but, unlike ASMR videos (which I find completely hypnotic – especially the ones where they tap their pointy nails on a butternut squash or fiddle with plastic toiletry bags), Ms Kondo’s frankly inappropriate relationship with her clothing leaves me feeling like I want to reach through the screen and rip her arms off, fold them neatly at the elbow and stuff them up her presumably bleached, hairless arse. If I decide to become a full-time Victorian housekeeper, no doubt knowing how to maintain a streamlined linen cupboard that sparks joy into my otherwise hollow, gusset-strewn existence, will be a boon. Until then, Goodbye Kitty you tidy freak in a child’s body.
Only a fool handles polythene in a high wind
My back passage is full of asbestos – not a euphemism. This killer material used to be out of the way, on top of my shed where I never gave it a second thought except occasionally to think how ugly the corregation aesthetic is. The shed came down three years ago but the asbestos roof has been languishing down the side of the house all that time, waiting for my sorry arse to get rid. It’s been moved out of the way countless times and occasionally fallen over; bits have crumbled away to deathly dust, ready to be ingested by anyone lingering by my back gate. Then last week I thought, treat yourself Anna, go down the tip. I did a bit of research; the Brighton and Hove council website demanded I wrap the asbestos in two layers of polythene, restricting me to four bags, and requiring two forms of ID. It also reminded me asbestos is highly dangerous and should be handled with care and in the ‘proper’ gear. I was suited and booted thus:
. bobble hat
. homemade face mask (made from old pyjamas) – doubles as PPE at BLM rallies
. one pair of latex gloves/one pair of gardening gloves
Top tip: never attempt to handle eight metres of polythene sheeting in a high wind. No sooner had I laid out the plastic on the ground than the wind would send it flying. I tried to pin it down with a spreadeagled manoeuvre but every time I stood up to lift the asbestos onto it, the wind would take it up again. Then I kept losing the end of the gaffer tape and my twice-gloved fingers were far too fat for the scissors which greatly impeded the wrapping process. Eventually, after two hours of tussling the job was done. The tip journey ensued; no-one asked to see proof of residency; they just directed me around the back of the dump and showed me where to sling it. My back passage is pristine. Hurrah!
I still can’t make pastry
I’ve never been very good at making pastry. My mother said I was too slapdash – it either came out grey and under-cooked or shrunken like an old man’s penis. Now, in true lockdown spirit, I have recently revisited this hole in my culinary CV to see if, with more mature fingers, I might now be able to master what, in my legion of cookery books, looks dead simple. Disaster. My ‘breadcrumbs’ clumped. I added too much water. I rolled too thinly. The result: old male member shrinkage and a soggy bottom. I’m happy to report this final failure has provided a Damascene moment; I have discovered ready made pastry and have been throwing myself into quiches and tarts with gusto. I can now produce a rudimentary cheese flan and have even branched out into vegetables. The above number has purple sprouting broccoli and asparagus tips in it – I know, I’m really going places, culinarily speaking (if you can ignore my negligent edges, although the thrown-together or should I say rustic look is favourite these days). Oh, and my magic ingredient is mustard powder – although handle with care as it makes the lips itch and the eyes puff up when applied to the face by mistake – but is delish when consumed in a tart. Bon appetit!
Number 1: I’ve still got it in the headstand department
I wasn’t sure if I could still go up with straight legs. But it appears I can. I am a yoga warrior! However, I am struggling to execute the sideways crow – so too the ordinary crow (my spindly arms can’t cope with my extreme body length which means I have a tendency of shooting forward onto my head). I’ve been Zooming with my yoga school for eight weeks now and whilst I often miscalculate my living room dimensions and find myself stuck under the coffee table, generally speaking, I can do my favourite classes without injuring myself or the furniture. And, I can trump with impunity which is a revelation!
Number 2: I am a monster in Sainsbury’s
I am that mad, hairy woman in the supermarket who uses her trolley as a battering ram and has conversations with empty shelves. “Where are they all?”, I plead open armed as I turn the corner at Jams only to find a big gap where the eggs should be. I start to move off with a growl but then spy a half-dozen box lurking at the back, its lid half open. A reject maybe? I reach out to investigate further. BLUE! I recoil. No, I do not want to buy blue eggs laid by hens fed on “brightly coloured flowers for a more intensely yellow yolk”. I don’t want Instagram-friendly boiled eggs, I just want to make a Victoria Sponge – a little bit of something sweet to take the edge off my snarl.
Despite the polite two metre queue outside Sainsbury’s, once the doors open, it’s Supermarket Sweep. People flap around me like octopus at a Five Rhythms dance gathering. Last week, I shopped for four neighbours. I was in unfamiliar territory: panty liners, cat soup, indigestion relief, sweet white wine, packet cappuccinos! It was quite an education, discovering other people’s fancies and must-haves. In a busy aisle, I adopted my usual anti-Covid comestible procurement tactic i.e. hurling my upper torso forward in a fast lunge while simultaneously drawing back my groin. I’d kept myself safe but then, on leaving the supermarket, there was an ugly incident at the head of the escalator with a chunky vegetable soup. It fell out of one of my hastily packed shopping bags and exploded all over the floor and up the legs of the security guard. This caused a bottleneck at the sliding doors with people running into each other’s trolleys and sliding uncontrollably in the soup trail. Meanwhile, the security man, giving perilous disregard to any social distancing, retrieved the squished soup carton, and came so close I thought he was going to kiss me. As if to add insult to injury, having acquired a replacement chunky vegetable soup, my trolley wheels jammed and I got stuck on the end of the travelator. Sainsbury’s resident homeless man had to jump up and help drag me off it. Another growl and a very loud ‘oh for God’s sake’.
Number 3 – Too much Netflix can lead to wet dreams
I have been introduced to Netflix (which I’d hitherto avoided because I wanted to have a life). And there I discover my favourite show of all time: Mad Men. Like cracking open a new tube of Pringles, I have relished my first laptop forays but now (also like cracking open a new tube of Pringles), I find I can’t stop and am binge watching to the point where my waking and sleeping life are hopelessly confused. One minute, I’m lying in bed watching Don Draper finger some woman in a hotel vestibule; the next, I’ve drifted off to sleep only to find myself smoking a Sobranie in Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s conference room while Don (who has gone off Betty but has yet to meet Megan) is delving into my panty girdle. I wouldn’t mind but I’ve already seen all 92 episodes of Mad Men TWICE. I feel sick.
Number 4 – I have no urge to play the ukulele..
…or learn Russian or build a cold frame from a few discarded pallets and an old pane of glass. Like many, I have cleaned my skirting boards and hoovered under the bed but that was eight weeks ago. My body may be incarcerated but my mind is free to explore the far recesses of its creativity. For example, I have fashioned a bird feeder from a discarded grapefruit skin and some garden string. Very resourceful, I thought smugly as I hung it up in the holly tree. It’s been a week of watching and waiting and now I’ve gone full Johnny Morris, anthropomorphising the wildlife: “Brown nibbles, south south east. Repeat, brown nibbles, south south east,” (seagulls on a flypast). “Fuck that manky bowl of crud, let’s have a fight,” (rival magpies pecking each other’s eyes out in my lilac tree). “Come on in, it’s a lovely bit of compost,” (sparrows having an exuberant soil bath in my raised bed). I have learnt that my tits love euphorbia and squirrels freeze when you shout at them for digging holes in your broad bean bucket. Meanwhile, my homemade feeder just swings in the breeze, forlorn and bereft of avian visitors. Are the birds blind or are my seeds bad? Is my wasted bird feeder a metaphor for my lonely, listless Covid existence? Am I being paid back for eschewing the Zoom harp and poetry writing sessions or my utter failure, despite having all the time in the world, to finally get to the end of Middlemarch and/or countless other unbearable 19th century Penguin classics? If I had my eyebrows trimmed would any of these things actually matter?
Part Five – Hold onto your handbags – we’re in Salvador
I arrive in Salvador gagging for some culture, maybe even a bit of a booze-up. I’m ready to shake my Samba arse or maybe go legs akimbo with a spot of capoeira. But first, I need a bloody good hose down – I’m dusty and a bit crusty. I hop into a taxi and flash my phone at the driver indicating the hotel I’ve pre-booked. According to Google Maps, the seaside district of Rio Vermelho is pretty close by but Salvador is a big city of 2.5 million souls and to say it’s congested would be peddling an under-statement. We make slow progress through the city streets, over flyovers, pass by what look like hillside favelas and circle impossibly large roundabouts. Somehow, we avoid running down the countless hawkers who mill around the road junctions thrusting nuts, nick-nacks and chewing gum through the windows of idling cars.
Eventually, we arrive at my hotel which is up a side street just off the seafront. I had reckoned that this being one of Brazil’s biggest cities, a lot of people would speak English. Wrong! In the clean and modern reception is a very handsome young man with a row of shiny braces. I ask him if he speaks English and he laughs. His female colleague, who’s sat next to him and who also has a row of sparkling metalwork in her gob, also laughs. I tell them my name and am shown to my penthouse apartment. Remember Paula’s Pousada with its polyester decked bunk beds, cracked bathroom tiles, and non-flushing WC? This is the opposite. My eyes are dazzled by the sheer luxury of my hotel boudoir for the next three days. I have pristine white bedding, purple scatter cushions and mood lighting, I have a kitchenette, a walk-in shower and a flat screen TV. A corner room, it even has two views: from one window I can watch the waves crashing onto the nearby sandy beach; from the other I can watch next door’s pizza chef smoking a fag on the fire escape while an overweight woman in a boob tube pegs out her husband’s y-fronts.
A couple of hours after my arrival, I’m joined by Claudia, my new best friend and translator. Claudia, who I met at Paula’s Pousada, is a part-time chiropodist and waterworks employee at Sao Paolo council. She knows a lot about oil spillage (along with bunions, naturally). By the end of our three days together, I will also know a lot about oil spillage. She tells me there’s been an oil tanker incident off the coast of Brazil and injured and dead wildlife have been washing up on all the beaches up and down the country. That bastardo Bolsonara denies the spill is in Brazilian waters, says Claudia, but it’s hugely impacted on tourist numbers. No-one wants to swim in claggy brown oil, obvs!
Claggy brown oil is not the only thing to put off the tourists. The first thing I need to know about Salvador, Claudia tells me, is that we stand a good chance of getting mugged. My guide book concurs; it says tourists should NEVER go off piste, and if approached by young men brandishing machetes, should resist the urge for heroics. I remember a story I’d heard about a British couple who followed their Satnav into a favela by mistake and were promptly shot. Getting ready to go out that night, Claudia removes her jewellery and shoves her money down her pants. She implores me to do the same. We walk (a little uncomfortably) to a nearby Italian. It has red and white checked tablecloths and candles; oh, and two menacing security men who hover around our outdoor table carrying what look to me like machine guns. I fancy a creme brûlée but all the hardware and glowering puts me off and we make it an early night.
The next day we do a few churches (Baroque, lots of gold, lots of nuns), sample Acaraje, the local Afro-Brazilian street food (blackeyed pea ball – very hot, very messy), check out the capoeira (lots of leg cocking in a circle while avoiding kicking anyone in the face), and end up in Porto da Barra, a well-to-do neighbourhood that has a lighthouse, a great spot where people gather to jam, drink, and watch the sun go down.
We fancy a day trip to a beach but without the stabbings so decide to take a boat trip to the pretty island of Ilha dos Frades. The boat is rammed with cheery day-trippers dressed in colourful beachwear and carrying gigantic cool boxes. It’s only 9am but everyone’s necking the beer and caipirinhas like it’s the end of the world and when a Samba trio starts playing, they all go crazy and start doing the conga around the boat. On the island, we swim and sunbathe and eat a huge brown buffet. I let my lunch go down under a beach umbrella while Claudia combs the beach looking for oil. There’s a middle aged man sat with his back to me who has possibly had a surfeit of sun or a dodgy prawn, or just one too many caipirinhas. Anyway, I watch him casually turn his head to the side and vomit, a lot. Eventually, he’s down to dry heaving but I think it might be time to go home. Back on the boat, the Samba trio strikes up again although everyone is by now well and truly pissed so as the boat bounces through the water there’s a lot of lurching and quite a bit of grappling, especially during the Bossanova.
That night Claudia and I venture out for dinner in the neighbourhood. This time, my credit card is down my bra which is slightly more comfortable than having it nestled in my gusset. We find a table in a large square where groups of young, beautiful types are eating and drinking to the accompaniment of a live band. We’re sitting ducks for the usual hawkers who weave in and out of the tables with their bags of tat. I look at the menu and plump for fish and chips but the thing that arrives at our table is a deep-fried monster. On the menu it says it’s for two but really, this is a meal for four very hungry people. We can’t even eat half of it! Claudia gets chatting to one of the table hawkers, a skinny woman in her 60s who’s selling sweets. She’s wearing make-up and is well-coiffed but by the way she’s oggling our leftovers, I can see she would eat a scabby dog, given the opportunity. We tell her she can help herself. She whisks a plastic bag out of nowhere and swiftly scoops up the fish with her bare hands along with the by now cold chips – and even the salad – saying it will feed her and her husband for two days. There’s no shame in this transaction just a brief respite from grinding poverty.
On my last night in Salvador, I’ve been bumped out of my penthouse suite by a couple of newly-weds. I join Claudia in her windowless dorm for six. It feels like a coffin and the aircon is giving me cataarh but I can stand it for just one night. Claudia and I share a farewell beer in the lobby. As a parting gift, she trims my toenails and removes a splinter from my thumb with a diabetes needle. Cheers mate!