Mr Roger Balls, a retired resident of our shores, shares his experiences and observations about life in quarantine during the Covid-19 crisis.
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Day 1 – Tuesday
So, Boris (Bodge) Johnson has announced to the UK that we have to stay indoors all day, every day except for necessities and emergencies. As Mrs Balls (aka Senior Management) and I rarely go out except for the above, this will make little difference to us. In fact, I’m looking forward to becoming a regular pilot light and not going out at all, if I can help it.
The catalyst for this directive was the total bunch of morons who convinced themselves that Covid-19 would be at home visiting its mother on Sunday so it would be safe to go out. Millions of them, milling about, coughing, sneezing and farting their collective way around the country. I know they only represent a small amount of the entire British public, but they were enough to make things worse for us all.
Day 3 – Thursday
I don’t intend to make daily entries for this diary, so don’t expect it. I imagine you’ll probably be grateful for the brevity. I mean, who wants to listen to the ramblings of a fifty-something (not vanity, I just can’t remember) trying to work out where he left the fizzy vitamins. As it happens, their exact location was made clear to me when I saw the dog coming out from under the bed, foaming at the mouth. I thought the little sod had got purple rabies or something. After half an hour chasing the bloody creature round the house (much to the amusement of Senior Management) I finally prised the tube from his jaws, all chewed up and bubbling, only to discover he’d eaten the last three.
Well, at least he won’t get scurvy.
Day 4 – Friday
An amazing discovery! When you give multivitamins to a dog, they get the shits. This cheering revelation was made apparent when I opened the back door this morning for a breath of fresh air. I’d barely got the door ajar when young Sammy (for ‘tis his name) shot past in a flurry of feet and fur. He just made it to the edge of the lawn when, – well, have you ever seen one of those videos where someone drops some mints into a bottle of cola? Bit like that, only more gooey. Good job the fizzy had gone out of them or the little fella would have probably launched himself over the fence. I did feel sorry for the poor lad. I must have stood there for five minutes absolutely pissing myself with sympathy.
Fortunately the lawn in question is actually Astroturf, which means it’s washable. After a bit of scraping and wiping, followed by a good hosing down, everything was back to normal. The lawn came up alright, too.
Later on we took our lives in our hands and went to Sainsbury’s for much-needed supplies. Unlike the morons (see above) we have not stockpiled on everything in preparation for some apocalypse. The shelves were not as empty as we expected but bugger me if you just cannot get hold of any mayonnaise. I mean, mayonnaise? It’s not as if it cures anything, and you certainly can’t wipe your backside with it, so why mayonnaise? Mind you, there weren’t any eggs either, so maybe that’s a clue.
Day 5 – Saturday
Actually this is starting to get a bit daily, isn’t it? That isn’t because I’m not finding myself things to do. Far from it. Today, for instance I discovered an out-of-date packet of bread mix in the cupboard. It was only about six months out so I figured that with the addition of some yeast it might stand a chance. Thusly did I mix and beat, knead and stretch, watch and wait, while some basic chemistry did its stuff. After about an hour it had risen (hallelujah – let joy be unconfined etc.) and was looking quite promising. I promptly cast it into the fires at 200 degrees C and waited the requisite fifteen minutes. And do you know what? It wasn’t half bad. Even the dog liked it, which is always a good sign in my opinion. Might clog him up a bit, too, which would be handy.
Day 6 – Sunday
Took Sammy out for a walk tonight. Deliberately left it late so no-one would be around. We found ourselves walking through the churchyard as the clock struck midnight. Wonderfully peaceful. Sammy busied himself piddling on all the gravestones with impunity. I told him “If a fleshless bony hand reaches up and grabs you by the arse, you’re on your own mate. I’m off!”. This had little effect. He just wagged his tail and pissed all over Henry Bagshaw (1869 – 1933 dearly missed etc.). This epitaph got me thinking about all the flowery language we see on old gravestones. What would happen if we were a bit more honest or forthright with our platitudes? We might see something like “Albert Grondling (1911 – 1987) Buried with his beloved bottle” or “Bob Sproggins (1899 – 1974) Should be toasting nicely down there by now”. It would be a lot more entertaining than “Sleeping with the Angels”. Made me wonder what might go on my headstone. Probably not allowed to print stuff like that.
Day 8 – Tuesday
Had another go at baking bread using another out-of-date bread mix. More yeast this time and a better rise. Woo-Hoo! I might actually get good at this. Every time I watch Bake-Off I want to get in the kitchen and make some bread. Staff of life. Man-cooking. Actually I do all the cooking in our house. Always loved doing it. Baking, however, has never been one of my great skills. Hence my fascination with bread. As usual Sammydog was very supportive of my efforts. I think he likes the chewiness.
The news has been full of reports about the need for ventilators for CV-19 patients. I never doubted the seriousness of this disease, but the enormity of the problems it is causing is now becoming clear. I saw that Dyson are making ventilators now, which got me thinking – are they adapting their vacuum cleaner technology to make them? From that, I wondered if I could modify our hoover to blow instead of suck, thus creating our own CPAP machine. I put this to Senior Management whose levitating eyebrows immediately betrayed her lack of confidence. She’s right. Knowing my technical skills, it would probably go horribly wrong and the last thing I would ever see would be my own lungs whizzing round in a bagless vortex. Oh, well.
Day 9 – Wednesday
I spent all evening really fancying a drink. Just a little something to sip and soothe. We don’t keep much alcohol in the house as a rule as it gets drunk. Along with me, usually. Undeterred however, I decided to have a rummage in the back of the cupboard. Behind the old tins of borlotti beans and fish stock cubes I located a bottle. Aha! I thought: This could be my salvation. Using my finely-honed Indiana Jones skills, I carefully retrieved it without disturbing anything. The label had something written in Russian or Polish and a picture of a plum on it. Just the stuff, by the look of it. I unscrewed the top and took an enthusiastic swig.
There’s a reason why bottles of booze get left at the back of the cupboard and, believe me, it’s not because they’re in any way special. Different, perhaps. Dangerous, even. But not special. It turns out that this stuff was in the back of the cupboard because, just like the Corona virus, you really shouldn’t put it anywhere near your face.
As I slid down the cupboard I could feel my features turning purple. My eyes were watering and tears were streaming down my cheeks. This was nothing compared to the chemical warfare going on in my throat. I took another look at the label to see if it mentioned battery acid. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see anything. After a few minutes the blurriness began to clear and I make out the shape of the dog sitting next to me, tail wagging. ‘You’re bloody enjoying this, aren’t you’ I thought, actual speech not being possible.
After a while I recovered and picked myself up off the floor. Carefully returning the bottle to its hiding place, I resolved to keep this to myself. If Mrs B asks why I look like this I’ll tell her I got a bit jiggy with the horseradish or something. Honestly, the police could spray this on rioters. Imagine water-cannons filled with Russian plum death-juice, dissolving unruly citizens by the hundred. Maybe I’ll take it to the shops with me and use it to scare off anyone who comes too near. In the meantime I think I’ll just go and put the kettle on and drink some boiling water.
Day 11 – Friday
Went shopping yesterday morning. Lidl first. No quantity restrictions although they were limiting the number of shoppers to 30. Not a bad day to wait outside, so it was ok. We stocked up and then went to Sainsbury’s where they were only allowing one adult per household in the store. So I waited in the car. But… both shops had Hellmann’s Mayonnaise!! Joy beyond measure! Ecstasy beyond explainability (I think that’s a word). The sacred sauce is back in the fridge where we have constructed a small shrine of tomatoes, cucumber, eggs and tins of tuna, and devotions are being made twice daily. All will be well, now.
The only other issue we have is cream cheese. Mrs B has a passion for this and Sainsbury’s own brand is her favourite. However, at present they only allow you to buy three tubs at a time, so she’s having to be careful with it. Thusly, I have ordered some sachets of mesophilic culture from Amazon and, when they arrive, I shall have a go at making some. This should be sometime next week, so we’ll see how it goes.
I watched a short video about testing for CV-19. Apparently, the only country which engaged in a massive testing programme weeks ago is South Korea. They tested, traced and isolated anyone with, or connected to, an infection. As a result, where every other country has had exponential death rates, South Korea’s has been a virtual flatline near the bottom of the chart. They appear to have managed it very well. Makes me wonder if they knew this was coming? Hmmnn.
Day 12 – Saturday
So. Bodge has got it. The Health Secretary has got it. And Michael Gove is giving briefings at the lectern. What I don’t understand is that, given all the insistence that we plebs stay well away from each other, the politicians all think it’s ok to huddle in a chamber barely a fart’s width away from each other. I can’t think of a better way to spread it. Mind you, it might thin the idiots out a bit, a sort of political Darwinism, if you like.
Same for Charles. I could picture him hanging around outside his Mother’s bedroom, coughing a lot. Much more subtle than all that medaeval cloak and dagger stuff.
In an attempt to stay fit and learn a new hobby I have taken up twerking. At least, that’s what I’ve told Senior Management. I fear she has any number plans for me during this period of isolation, none of which involve me sitting down and putting my feet up. In order to to research the technique I have to watch any number of R’n’B videos, something I’ve never done before. Mrs Balls keep giving me dubious looks. “Oh, ye of little faith”. I wonder if there are any twerking championships for middle-aged men? I could start a new craze.
Day 13 – Sunday
Bread making Day – and probably my best bake yet! For some reason the dog goes mad for my bread. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the smell of the yeast? Also, my experiment with making cream cheese has been a modest success. At least, it isn’t disgusting (it actually tastes about right) and it looks the way it should. I think further experiments are on the way.
Just before this lockdown started we signed up with Netflix. Foresight or what? We already had Amazon prime so with the two we can sit on the sofa all day long (all night, if truth be told) and binge watch everything. I’m particularly chuffed because Netflix has the entire series of ‘Still Game’ and ‘Death in Paradise’. Brilliant. Yours truly is a happy bear. Life is good.
Day 14 – Monday
Apparently twerking is not good for middle-aged men with sciatica. This was the devastating news I delivered to Mrs B this morning just as she was about to suggest we do some work in the garden. With an appropriate smattering of groans and muscle spasms I convinced her that I was totally unfit for purpose and was relegated to the sofa with the remote control (Hooray! etc). My beloved did point out that there was no need to watch any more R’n’B videos but that’s ok. They were bloody awful anyway. No wonder young people are pissed off all the time if they have to listen to that.
I spent this morning with my Duran Duran videos instead. Proper music.
Bodge is in hospital. If the Prime Minister dies we’re in serious doo-doo. Not specifically because it’s Boris (I certainly don’t wish the man any ill), but because we don’t need a power struggle in the middle of all this. I’ve also just read (on the BBC website) that a tiger in a zoo has caught corona virus from its human keeper. This is not good.
On another note, I just read something about the Great London Smog of 1952 which killed 12,000 people in five days. This is what led to the Clean Air Acts. Funny how quickly we forget about these things.
Day 15 – Tuesday
I have been discovered. All is lost! Yesterday afternoon, overcome with youthful exuberance, I was grooving to Duran Duran. Unfortunately, Senior Management walked in halfway through ‘Rio’ to see what all the noise was about. I stopped ‘mid-groove’ before gripping my waist and going “Oooooowwwwwww”. I tried to tell her that I was doing some gentle stretching exercises to accelerate my recovery. My words were met with the raised eyebrow of disbelief followed by the beckoning finger of retribution.
I followed her into the garden where the finger straightened into the pointer of instruction. “Weed” she said. Not sure if this was a noun or a verb, I opted for the latter, fell to my knees and started whittling at the soil. While I worked, Sammy danced and frolicked around the garden, moves he had clearly learned from me. I wondered if he was to blame for my downfall. I doubt it. I probably shouldn’t have been singing so loud. Still, he seems to like Duran Duran. Never a bad sign.
Fortunately, the wonderful Mrs B has seen the funny side (she always does, bless her) and, shortly after midnight told me I had done enough. “I knew you were talking complete bollocks right from the start”, she said, handing me a much-needed cuppa. “What? How?” I asked. After all, I thought I’d been quite convincing.
“Your lips were moving” she replied.
Day 17 – Thursday
I was going to go out for supplies today but my knee is aching. I suspect it has become a casualty of the gardening but I’m not sure. We have enough for a few days so the shopping can wait.
Little jobs seem to keep appearing from nowhere. I had no idea there was so much wrong with the bloody house. So far I have fixed a leaky tap (the sort of job I dread but no disaster so far), patched up some chipped paintwork on the stairs, checked the shower for leaks and applied flea powder liberally to the dog. He hasn’t got fleas but we like to be sure. He immediately shook himself and disappeared in a miasma of dust. Probably should have done it outside.
Day 19 – Saturday
This knee business is getting worse. I can hardly move with it. I get attacks of gout occasionally but never in the knee, so this is something new my ageing body has visited upon me. I wouldn’t mind but I had a couple of toenails removed about a month ago and I need to bend my leg to dress them. It was while I was pondering this conundrum that I was hobbling about, lost my balance, drove the little toe of my good foot/leg into the bedpost and tore the nail off. Expletives have been deleted, dear reader, to save your blushes (and save me from prosecution by whoever at GCHQ reads this drivel). So now I’m a right mess. I have toes bandaged on both feet,
Day 21 – Monday
My inability to move around has led me to make the most of my surroundings. To this end I have been using my time to familiarize myself with everyday objects. Things I might usually take for granted or not even acknowledge but which surround me all the time. For example, how many of you have ever had a good look at your TV remote control? The shape, texture, and springiness of the buttons? I’ve also discovered that, when you take one to bits, and then put it back together again, it stops working. Amazing! I may be in trouble now.
Day 22 – Tuesday
I have hidden the TV remote. Most of yesterday was spent trying to convince the dog to have a good chew of it so I could blame it’s failure to function on him. Even the liberal application of marmite wasn’t enough to tempt him so I wiped it clean and stuffed it down the back of the sofa. Of course I have this bad knee so it was Mrs B who had to get up and down all evening changing channels. I did my best to look innocent regarding it’s disappearance but I’m not sure it’s working.
Day 23 – Wednesday
I was confronted by Mrs B this morning during breakfast. “Any idea why the batteries were taken out of the TV remote, Roger?” Batteries? Batteries! So that’s why it didn’t work. Bugger! Mrs B, however, wanted explanations and admitting that I was a twat wasn’t going to tell her anything she didn’t already know. This called for some rapid on-the-feet thinking. “Er – oh, yes, That might have been me. I needed them for the, er, other thing”. I grinned unconvincingly.
“And was this before or after you smeared it with Marmite? Were you intending to have it for breakfast?” An inquisitorial eyebrow was raised in my direction. I felt myself starting to buckle. Resolve, Roger, I told myself. Man up. Show some conviction.
“Actually, no, my love. The remote had started playing up so I was trying to swap the batteries. While I was doing this I dropped my toast on it, hence the marmite. As for how it got down the sofa I have no idea. I can only assume that while I was clean-“
“Shut up, Roger.” The eyebrows were re-united in a laser stare. “You were trying to feed it to the dog, weren’t you?”
How does she know? Did the dog tell her? I spent the rest of the morning de-Marmiting the remote, which worked perfectly once I put the batteries back in.
Day 24 – Thursday
I have restricted myself to less destructive ways of entertaining myself. The pattern in the kitchen wallpaper repeats itself diagonally every twenty-seven inches. I have not yet been reduced to counting the holes in the colander.
Day 25 – Friday
There are exactly 233 holes in our colander. I can’t seem to find my will to live anywhere. It isn’t down the back of the sofa – I checked.
Day 32 – Friday
The more observant of you will have noticed that I have missed a few days. This is because my knee has been so painful I couldn’t even sit at my computer. Mrs Balls has been exceptionally kind and understanding and allowed me to only undertake light duties such a scrubbing floors and cleaning drains. No, seriously, she’s been looking after me, bless her.
I see in the news today that Donald Trump has suggested that people inject disinfectant to help kill the virus. He also recommended that people might try drinking (or maybe only gargling) with bleach after he heard that the virus takes up residence in the throat and airways. I’m blown away on so many levels:
• Many Americans still think he’s a great leader
• There might be enough of them to get him elected again
• There is a serious problem with democracy in America
There is a saying that a government will only educate it’s people enough to believe what they are told and not enough for them to question it. America is reaping the rewards of this. And now the State of Missouri is suing China. This will be interesting when half the world gets the same idea and sues America for umpteen invasions, bad food, consumerism, the Hollywood bullshit machine and God knows what else. Still, at least they have a very clever President. He said so, didn’t he?
Mind you, there is a kind of Darwinian poetry to all this. If all his supporters take him at his word and start glugging the Domestos, then the problem becomes self-limiting. But how do you get fifty-million rednecks to drink poison? I hear you ask. Just one word: Jonestown.
Day 33 – Saturday
Oh, so now the orange one says he was being sarcastic about the bleach and sunlight. Yes, when thousands of your people are dying, and millions of others are going bankrupt, what should the responsible President do? That’s right. Take the piss. Be sarcastic. Laugh at them. Christ, you could forgive Boris almost anything in the light of this. I saw the video of one of Trump’s medical advisors visibly squirming in her seat while he was going on about this, wishing to Christ she was working in a Brooklyn A&E department instead.
Day 36 – Tuesday
The US Department of Defence has finally admitted UFO’s exist! Amazing that, after all these decades, they have decided that the best time to do this is when the world is preoccupied with staying alive. “I know what, guys. Let’s release this one while the Prez is busy saying stupid stuff to the rednecks. That way, everyone will be distracted, and the idea of little green men coming to visit will just seem like part of the ‘New Normal’ we’re all going to live with”.
Well, it can’t get much bloody worse, can it? Whatever intelligent life there is out there must be pissing itself every time they tune in. Trump and his Dettol suppositories, Bodge and his corona virus mugger, and now in North Korea Kim Jong Fatboy has gone missing, presumed dead.
Day 38 – Thursday
We had a UFO today. In our house. No, really. I was making breakfast when next door’s cat decided to jump up on to the kitchen counter. Admittedly, Sammy had chased it into the house (no brains, that boy) and was intending to sink a fang or two into its backside, so it was less of a conscious decision and more of a bid for freedom. The loathsome animal clearly planned to exit via the kitchen window. However, on the way it landed on the handle of the frying pan, flicking the rather splendid ham and cheese omelette I had been making right across the room. It plopped onto the dog who, spooked by this alien landing, promptly ran back out into the garden, taking my bloody breakfast with him. By the time I got out there he’d shaken it off on to the grass and was happily tucking in. Senior Management arrived on the scene just in time to witness my exasperation on the patio. Sammy suffered no ill-effects – his fur is quite thick (much like the rest of him. I mean – chasing a cat indoors? Really?) so he wasn’t hurt. But as he is very greasy and smells like…, well, an omelette, he’s in for a serious bath in a minute. No such thing as a free breakfast, mate!
What? Oh, the UFO? Unexpected Flying Omelette. Geddit? UFO – Unexpected Flyi… Oh come on! It’s day 36. Give me a break. I haven’t had any breakfast, you know.
Day 39 – Friday
I’ve just had to sit here for five minutes working out which lockdown day we are on. The plot is well and truly lost. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I ever really had that much of a grip on it.
I went to Sainsbury’s today, sporting my new face mask. It’s a black one and I think it adds an air of mystery about me. I wanted to paint a grinning skull design on it, but Mrs B said it would just add an air of middle-aged prat in a mask.
I took my beloved’s comments on board and went shopping unadorned. When I arrived there was a queue as long as the shop. Nonetheless I was in and out in about an hour. No more for the foreseeable future as we will be trying to do our shopping online from now on. A delivery from ASDA went well last Monday although they did substitute some red potatoes with sweet potatoes, presumably because they’re the same colour. Otherwise it was all good.
Sammy has been washed and, as usual, ran around the house like a lunatic after his bath while Mrs B chased him with a towel. Why do baths excite dogs like this? Perhaps I should run around wet and naked after a shower (I wouldn’t try to imagine this too hard if I were you). Perhaps Mrs B would chase me with a towel. Hmmnn, no, it would probably be a slipper. Still, variety is the spice of life…!
Much, Much later…
20th October 2020
The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I have been absent for several months. The rest of you are either less eagle-eyed or don’t really care. I don’t blame you. If you were anything like me you’ve been enjoying the minor freedoms which the easing of restrictions offered us throughout the summer. Wearing masks, shouting to people from across the street, walking into every immovable object available because your bloody glasses have steamed up again. You know the sort of thing.
Sadly, vast swathes of the Great British public have been lax in their precautions and the infections are beginning to rise again. Bodge and Co. don’t bloody help. His press announcements get more like that “Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but…” character from Little Britain every day. In fact, when I saw Matt Lucas impersonating Bodge on Bake Off I nearly wet myself. He should take over.
However, it is in the face of this burgeoning second wave that I have decided to re-start this diary. More and more of you will be facing isolation and lonleiness this winter so I’m going to step up and bring joy and laughter to all who read this diary. Sammy, my faithful (and lazy) dog will join me on the ride, and between us we’ll endeavour to look busy so Mrs. B. doesn’t go finding us jobs to do. In this way I shall be vigorously working my small part in the face of the crisis.
Speaking of Senior Management, I’m happy to report that she is both alive and well. It appears some of you have become most concerned about her wellbeing. In August I received the following letter from a Mrs. Denture of Freshwater:
“Dear Mr Balls
Your diary has been a beacon of hope for me during this crisis. The trials and tribulations of your good lady wife do ring right true for me. However, I does worry for her. I, too, have a lazy, conniving, good-for-nothing husband and, although we are both in our seventies, and have been married for fifty years, he still manages to give me the palpitations. Just last week he got Swarfega all over the duvet. Thought it was funny, he did. Soon stopped his giggling when I got me sparging iron and give him a right twonk on the throbbler while he was a-bending over. Anyway, please give Mrs Balls my best and tell her we are kindred spirits.
Esmerelda Denture (Mrs)”.
Thank you, Mrs. Denture. I’ll pass that on. But not before I’ve made bloody sure we don’t have a sparging iron anywhere in the house. I have no idea what a throbbler is or where on my anatomy it might be found, but nobody’s twonking it anytime soon, I can assure you of that. And Swarfega in the bedroom? What exactly was he cleaning? Perhaps that’s the secret of a fifty-year marriage. I shall put this to Senior Management. You never know.
21st October 2020
I have been assured by the venerable Mrs. B. that under no circumstances will Swarfega play any part in our marriage. It was also made clear that any further suggestions of this nature will result in an unrestrained assault on my throbbler. How does she know what a throbbler is?
22nd October 2020
For this current round of entries I’ve decided to use the date instead of a day number. This is mainly to be a bit more conventional but also because I have no idea how many days ago this all started. It’s difficult to care, if I’m honest. Especially with politicians of all sides saying something different every day. If indeed they get to say anything at all. Last Sunday I was delighted to see Michael Gove, looking like cross between a well-slapped arse and a chipmunk, being hammered into by Andrew Marr. Couldn’t get a word in. Hilarious. Pity we can’t do it with the rest of them.
23rd October 2020
Today is Sammy’s new official birthday. Because he is a rescue dog, we have no real idea when his birthday is. So we decided to use the day he came to us exactly a year ago. The poor lad had been on a tough journey. He was rescued as a very young dog from a Kill Station in Spain, which is a kind of concentration camp for dogs waiting to be gassed – I kid you not, it really is as horrific as that. Then he spent some time with a family over here who, we think, fed him on sweets and scraps of pizza. Certainly that was the kind of food he recognized when he came to us. Also, he would spontaneously get on his hind legs and ‘dance’ for his food, so we suspect the kids misguidedly used him for entertainment.
By the time he came to us he was about four years old, terribly malnourished, with terrible fur and alopecia around his eyes and muzzle. Scared, timid and desperate to please, probably for fear of being punished. He is terrified of water and we recently found out that the Kill Station workers would power hose the dogs in the yards. They probably thought it was funny. Nobody with a kind heart works in a place like that.
So here we are, one year on. His hair has grown back around his eyes and muzzle, although interestingly, the new growth by his nose is white. His fur is now the rich reddish-chocolate colour it should be, and is much glossier. He sleeps a lot now, occasionally opening an eye to make sure the staff (that’s us) are behaving themselves and not secretly enjoying food without him.
One of the loveliest things to happen is when he puts his ears up. When he arrived they were so tight to his head for months, we didn’t even know he could do that. It’s taken the best part of a year to get this far, and there’s more to do, but we’re getting there. If you ever adopt a dog (which I highly recommend) and you’re not sure what to do first, start with love, carry on with patience and care. You won’t go far wrong. I have Mrs B to thank for that lesson.
Sammy’s birthday cake was actually a beef, carrot and potato pie. We all had some, but a special little portion was made for our lad. Of course, he had no idea what the occasion was, but he spent the rest of the evening comfortably full and snoozing happily on the sofa. Mind you, so did I.
24th October 2020
Storms today. Good excuse to stay indoors and enjoy a nice peaceful day. Big mug of tea, good book, dog stretched out, all sunny-side-up next to me on the sofa. Couldn’t be better.
Senior Management’s dulcet tones separate me from my reverie like a velvet-clad crowbar.
“Are you there?” She knows I am. I mean, I’m hardly likely to be anywhere else, am I? It’s pissing down. It’s very likely there’s a job at the end of all this, so I proceed with caution.
“Yes, my love.” Always open negotiations in a warm, friendly manner.
“What are you doing?” Ah. The trick question. Get this one wrong and I’ll end up digging the garden in my underpants or something. Above all, never say ‘nothing’ or anything which might imply same.
“I’m very busy at the moment”. Oooh, the ‘very’ may have over-egged it a bit.
“Doing what?” Bugger! Quick, think of something, Roger. She mustn’t know you’re idling.
“I’m looking after the dog”. Oh, brilliant. Incisive, that one: ‘looking after the dog’? Is that the best you can do? Yeah, she’ll never see through that one. Jeez!.
“Oh. OK then”
My blood freezes in my veins. This is bad. Really bad. ‘Oh. OK then’ is not a reply that means ‘Oh. OK then’. It is a reply which means ‘I know you’re lying to me, Roger. I know you’re just sitting there with the dog, trying to see who can be lazier. Never mind. It just leaves me more time to think up something really horrible for you to do later’. Call me paranoid but twenty-odd years of marriage has taught me that when everything seems OK it is, in reality, very, very far from OK. Remedial action must be taken, and quickly.
“Is there something I can help you with?” I enquire, adding “Darling?” just a fraction of a second too late.
“No, it’s fine. You put your feet up and have a rest. You’ve earned it after all the work you’ve been doing.”
Oh, shit. Now she’s being nice. I’m fearing for my throbbler. I wait silently, but nothing more comes. This is not over, mark my words.
25th October 2020
I knew it! There really is no such thing as a free lunch, is there? The moment Mrs B. turned up with the ham sandwiches and a bottle of Peroni I knew all was lost. And so it was. Buttered up like a slice of toast I was. All ready for the master stroke. Which came last night just as Mrs B. snuggled up to me under the duvet (another warning sign, Gentlemen. Be on the look-out for that one). (With your own wives, obviously).
Just as I was starting to feel over-dressed for the occasion, her gentle, cooing voice announced “Oh, by the way, I told Mrs Dunstead that you wouldn’t mind going round and feeding Wuffles in the morning. She’s given me her key”.
“What?!” I sat bolt upright, a cold sweat forming on my brow. “Wuffles? Are you serious!” Any thoughts of snuggliness had evaporated as a cold hand gripped my heart. And possibly my throbbler, for all I knew. Allow me to explain. Mrs Dunstead is a sweet little old lady who lives across the road. With her dog. Wuffles. Not one of those hairy little rat types, you often see. Oh no. Wuffles is a Rottweiler on steroids, with the compassion of a Millwall supporter and a hatred of all things Roger Balls. Poor Mrs Dunstead has been unwell and so I had been volunteered to help out by feeding her beast. Thank Christ that’s all it was. I can just lob a pork chop through the letter box and bugger off, sharpish. I lay back down, grateful for small mercies.
“Oh, and I said you’d take him for a walk, too”
The weather today has been even worse than yesterday. Eight o’clock found me walking this four-legged maniac in the storm from hell. Sammy was going to come but as soon as I said ‘Wuffles’ he hid behind the sofa and wouldn’t come out. If there was more room behind the sofa I’d have done the same.
The walk was like an expedition across frozen wastes. Apparently the Thugbeast can’t take a dump unless he’s walked a good two miles, by which time I’d taken on more water than the Titanic. Finally, canine colonic movement was achieved and, with the aid of a small spade and a shopping bag, I was able to clean up and slosh my way home.
And what was my reward when I got back? A roaring fire and some hearty pottage with crusty bread perhaps? Or maybe a full English fry-up with all the trimmings and a steaming mug of builders?
“There’s some of that ham left in the fridge if you want it” said a disembodied voice from somewhere near the telly. The indifference was wounding. After all I’d been through. Seething, I vengefully dripped water all over the kitchen floor. It’s the little victories, you see.
26th October 2020
As the ‘oh-so-generous’ offer of cold ham somehow failed to bring warmth to my saturated bones yesterday, I decided to take matters into my own hands and cook a meal fit for the kind of bloke who takes thugbeasts for a crap in the rain. I’m going to share it with you because you never know when your soul needs something better than chicken soup. It’s a slow-cooker recipe but you can just as well do it in a slow oven. If you don’t know what a slow oven is, ask someone old. You will need:
Steak – one per person. It can be any type you like, but if you can run to a rib-eye or a well-marbled sirloin it will be sublime, I promise you
Shallots – peeled but otherwise whole. 2-3 per steak. A couple more finely chopped for the sauce.
Half a bottle of red wine. Now this is the important bit. DO NOT COOK WITH CHEAP RED WINE. There is no such thing as a wine that’s “just for cooking”. If you’re not prepared to serve it at table, you shouldn’t cook with it. No lower than a ‘C’ rating, preferably D or E.
Two beef Oxo cubes
One teaspoon of Dijon mustard (English will do)
Now the secret ingredient: A good tablespoon of Sun-dried Red Pesto. Much better than any tomato puree. Try it in Bolognese – works wonders!
Sear the steaks in a hot pan or wok. Once you’re happy with them, fling them in the slow-cooker. A little fat should have rendered off them in the pan so put in the shallots (whole and chopped) and brown them a bit until the chopped ones are soft. The pan should have a fair coating of brown-ness from the steaks and onions, so add the wine, stock cubes, mustard and red pesto. Mix thoroughly as you bring it to the boil. Add that to the slow-cooker, making sure the steaks are well-covered, stick on the lid and leave it on full for about four hours. The steaks should come out meltingly tender and the sauce should be as rich and thick as a Tory backbencher. Serve with vegetation of your choice, although I quite like it with roast mashed potatoes. But that’s another recipe for another time.
Senior management was delighted not to have to cook, and we both sat down to a candlelit dinner (I can be quite the romantic when the mood takes me) and a generous amount of wine. All thought of Wuffles the Thugbeast were expunged from my mind and the day ended with me flopping into bed, a happy little Roger.
28th October 2020
“Mrs Dunstead, you’re an island girl, aren’t you?”
This exchange began when I returned the Thugbeast to its owner after another yomp around the island. During my perambulations it occurred to me that Mrs Dunstead, with her age and wisdom, may be able to solve my problem.
“Why, yes, I’ve lived here all me life, Mr Balls”. Her soft island burr reflected the kindness in her face. Lovely lady. Just awful taste in dogs. “Is there something I can helps you with?”
“Well, um…” I felt like a schoolboy asking about the facts of life. “Er, well, Mrs Dunstead, I was just wondering, do you know what a throbbler is?”
A look of horror filled her face. Her mouth fell open and her eyebrows shot up under the brim of her little woolly hat. Oh shit, I thought, is this something arrestable? Never mind the Police, how do I explain this to the wife? I started babbling an apology. “I mean, er, sorry, I don’t… um-” I stopped as her head tilted to one side and a coy smile spread over her face. For a moment I feared she was having a stroke. But no, there was definitely a sparkle in those green eyes. The smile became a grin.
“Ooh, Mr Balls, I had no idea you was of that persuasion” She poked me playfully in the ribs and grinned lasciviously. “No wonder they calls you Roger!” A wink, a giggle, and she was gone. I stared dumbly at her front door, none the wiser but rather more worried. Have I just inadvertently propositioned an old lady? Oh Lordy, what have I done? I slogged off home, wondering if getting out of bed was such a good idea after all.
30th October 2020
Yesterday’s walk with the anally-retentive Wuffles was the worst so far. I’m sure he holds it in just to annoy me. This godawful weather doesn’t help. Three hours in the pouring rain, from bone-soaking drizzle to biblical downpour. Honestly, there are fish drier than me. All because little Wuffles won’t go in the garden like a normal dog. For a while I wondered about giving him some strong laxatives to save me from being out in the rain with him for so long. See if we can’t get it down to about five minutes. I imagined him exploding across the park, a hazard to toadstools and squirrels alike. Then I thought of Mrs Dunstead having to shovel it off her carpet because he couldn’t make it to the door in time. No, I couldn’t do that to her. Especially now she thinks I’m some sort of sexual adventurer.
Thankfully there were no Police cars waiting for me at her house this morning. In fact, everything was normal although she did give me a bit of a ‘knowing smile’ when I returned her creature. Knowing what? That’s what I want to know. I’m still no closer to finding out what my throbbler is. Or, indeed, where I might find it. I may have to Google it. Mind you, round here ‘Googling your throbbler’ probably involves rubber gloves and fish paste and gets you ten years for indecent use of a foodstuff.
31st October 2020
I see Bodge & Co. have inflicted their own brand of horror story on the nation tonight. Well, if anyone thought there wouldn’t be another national lockdown then they were deluding themselves. Had to happen. I don’t believe it will stop at one month though. My guess is that it will carry on until the 18th of December, leaving one week for Christmas preparations. Then it will re-start in early January, leaving us all in the dark (almost literally) until spring comes.
OK. It’s Hallowe’en. The night for spooky tales of restless souls. So, I’ve got one for you. Before I start I’m going to make it clear that I’m not the spooky sort. Feet on the ground, eyes wide open. That’s me. Therefore, what follows is as factual an account as I can give you.
About twelve years ago we lived in another part of the island. I won’t say where. You’ll see why. Just outside the town was a large park which, one autumn day, I was walking through. The credit crunch was hitting everyone and I had just been laid off, so I had time for daily walks etc. It helped to keep my head clear and the stress down.
I got to a part of the park where there were quite a lot of trees, and there, kicking through the leaves, was a little girl shouting out ‘Georgie’. Nothing special about her. Dressed in something pink, a hoodie top I think, and jeans.
“Have you lost something?” I said. I thought that she had dropped her doll or something. She looked up, but not at me, just towards me. Fair enough, I was a stranger so she was right to be careful. There were plenty of other people around so I figured her Mum would be nearby.
“I can’t find my dog”, she said, and then carried on shouting for Georgie as she walked off towards the other side of the trees. I didn’t think much more of it – in my experience dogs in parks bugger off for ages and then come running back just as soon as it’s time to go home for dinner.
Then something strange happened. I heard a noise by my feet and there was the whitest West Highland terrier I’ve ever seen. “Hello boy. Are you Georgie? They’re all looking for you”. The dog lay down on the leaves and started to whine. It was a desperate-sounding whine, almost a low howl. “Go on, you’d better get going. She’s just round there”. He wasn’t showing any sign of moving so I looked around for the girl or any adults who might be her parents. But blow me if, when I looked down again, he was gone. No sound, nothing, just gone.
So, I went too. No dog, no kid, no problem. I had far too much on my mind regarding work (or the lack of it) to worry about dogs. I strolled back home and gave it no more thought.
About three weeks later, Sarah (Mrs Balls) and I were walking through the park when Sarah said “Oh look, Roger, there’s that poor woman again. I don’t know why she doesn’t get rid of that dog”. I followed her gaze and saw the same Westie (as sure as I can be) being dragged along on a lead by probably the most miserable-looking human being I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean Scrooge-like tight-fisted misery. I mean grief etched into the face of a woman made old and wretched long before her years. Pain and fury emanated from her as she hauled the dog along.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Paula Smith” Sarah replied. “It’s so sad. Her little girl Kirsty died of Leukaemia last March. Only seven”. Sarah took her tissue out and wiped her nose. She feels these things deeply, bless her. “The dog keeps running off to the park. She’s always having to bring it back. Like she hasn’t got enough on her plate”.
I didn’t say anything at the time (I was feeling a bit, I don’t know, taken aback, I suppose). But later that night I asked Sarah if she knew where the dog went when it ran off. Yes, you’ve got it. The place where I’d seen it, and the girl. Apparently they would play hide and seek by those trees for hours, bound by joy and love, the way children and dogs so often are.
So what was going on? What did I see? The little girl was there, plain as day, I promise you. And the dog was obviously real. The funny thing, and I didn’t clock this until much later, was the way the girl reacted when I spoke: Looking towards me but not at me. Could she hear me but not see me? But why could I see and hear her?
Paula Smith is not the mother’s real name, and Kirsty is a substitution too. But the rest is true. Not long afterwards I found a contract job in Middlesborough, and put it all out of my head. But now I’m back, and retired, the sound of autumn trees and leaves brings it all back. By now the dog is probably gone, so if there is anything after all this, maybe they’re back together, playing somewhere in the leaves. I don’t know.
2nd November 2020
I’ve just been watching a very interesting video on how to make charcoal. “Why, how fascinating, Roger!” I hear you cry “Why in god’s name would you want to do that?”. Or words to that effect. Well, to tell you the truth, there’s always been a touch of the pyromaniac in me. Not the sort that goes around burning down public buildings or forests, mind. I just enjoy a good real fire – indoors or out. I suppose it’s all part of the primordial leftovers that have travelled up my genetic line (Mrs B can probably think of a few others, but they’re mostly concerned with eating habits and toilet seats). Also, my father liked a good ‘burn up’ as he used to call it, and many was the late autumn or winter evening he and I would be outside, toasting nicely as a load of household rubbish met its fiery doom.
Another reason is my inner disaster movie. There is a small part of me that thinks that, when civilization comes to a grinding halt and all the Waitroses are shut, there will be a need for people who can do useful basic tasks like make fires, repair stuff, improvise, and cook things without dying of it. I always feel a slight pang of envy when I see people living ‘off-grid’. But back to the charcoal. All you need is an old biscuit tin, some short sticks of hardwood, and a fire, burning nicely. You put the sticks in the tin, seal it up, put it on the fire and wait an hour. Bob’s your uncle, charcoal everywhere. You are now the hero of the apocalypse.
Mrs B saw discovered me watching the video. I explained my end-of-the-world survival plans.
“Won’t you need a flame to start the first fire with?” Ever the practical, my beloved. That’s why I love her. “You’re absolutely right, my love” I said. “I’ll have to make sure I have some matches in my pocket when the bomb drops”.
“Make it a big box, won’t you dear?”
9th November 2020
Hooray! A vaccine. Bloody marvellous. Thank (insert appropriate deity here) for the scientists and everyone else involved in making this happen. After all the stupid conspiracy theories and nonsense we’ve had about just everything this year we now have a proper scientific breakthrough. Now all we need is for the government to get it out to the people who need it. As this activity is slightly more complicated than a piss-up in a brewery, I’m not sure Bodge & Co. will be up to it. Perhaps they’ll use DHL. I know I’m a cynical old sod, but this is important and they better not mess it up.
11th November 2020
It had to happen, didn’t it? No sooner do we get a vaccine than the flatheads come out and start going on about tiny nanobots carried in the vaccine which can control you and make you do irrational things. Apparently these tiny robots have transmitters and receivers in so that your actions can be monitored and then controlled remotely. So I have a question and it is this: Why on earth would Bill Gates go to the hundreds of billions in expense to create a tiny robot (which will, in all probability get flushed out of your kidneys within hours) to control you when they already know where you are, what you watch, listen to, speak to, what you say, what you want, think and feel, because of your phone and the apps on it?
They can already bombard us with media messages and propaganda so we do what they want. Look at advertising. We’re all buying stuff we don’t need. Best mind control ever and it’s been going for a hundred years. What was it Juvenal said about bread and circuses? Well it’s happened in the 21st century with Deliver-eats and Face-App.
Sammy the dog is watching me while I type this. He hasn’t seen me looking this purple since the incident with the Russian Plum Death Juice (Haha! Another plot to overthrow the West, you see! It’s the eyeball-dissolving nannybots). He’s got it right. No media, no news, just tummy tickles and doggie nosh. Perhaps I need to be more like him. I’m not eating that Winalot stuff, mind. I’d rather eat Marmite.
18th November 2020
I don’t know about you but every year, about this time, I get my annual pains. When I was a lad I would hear old people say things like “Oooh my joints are hurting. I think the weather’s about to change”. I didn’t think anything of it then. Well, you don’t when you’re a kid. But now, in my fifties, I find it happening quite regularly, specifically in my knee. When I was at school I had an injury playing rugby which ended up with me getting Osgood-Schlatter’s disease in my knee. Look it up – it real, I promise. I had to have my leg in plaster for a month but it more or less cleared up. Now, however, the pain comes back about this time every year, and within a few days I can almost guarantee the weather will get colder. How does that work? Anyway, it bloody hurts so the Voltarol has to be applied vigorously. I hate to admit it (because it’s admitting to getting old) but Voltarol has become the new KY jelly to me. I slap it on in bed and spend the rest of the night with a smile on my face.
25th November 2020
I’ve received another letter from Mrs Denture of Freshwater:
“Dear Mr Balls
I thought I would write to you now that we are entering the festive season. Not many remembers the old ways we used to have fun on the island, before all that health and safety malarkey came in. Wonderful times we had, and nobody worried about catching the crobbies because we had the Blue Unction for that. Anyway, you only caught the crobbies if you had been playing ‘Hunt The Groolie’ with the wrong person, if you catch my drift.
Another game we would play was ‘Tickle the Parson on the Throbbler’. Of course, you didn’t need a real Parson for this, just someone who wasn’t allergic to carrots or mustard. Just as well, really, because after the incident with the turnip (Dippy Mary, that was!) the church wouldn’t send us any more Parsons. Said it was getting too expensive with the insurance.
Then there was ‘Acting The Goat’. This game dates back to the Great Goat Famine of 1674. I won’t go in to too many details because you seems to be a gentleman of some refinement. Suffice to say, we had to stop during the war because wellington boots was in short supply and we needed the leeks for eating.
Speaking of eating, that’s something I really miss. The food we had at these parties was fabulous. We used to have Pickled Pidgeon pie, Jellyfish jelly (that were nice on hot toast), Furious Mushroom Soup – it’s like Wild Mushroom soup but with a lot more pepper and a pinch of Epsom Salts. Polished your insides, that did.
I’d better go now because I have much to prepare. Also, the cat’s got the pluggies and needs swirtling with some warm linseed oil. I often have to do the same for my husband, but I think he just pretends because he likes it.
Wishing you commensurate greeting for the season,
Esmerelda Denture (Mrs)
P.S. Let me know if you wants any recipes.”
I’ve just looked up Blue Unction. Apparently it’s a very old ointment for treating intimate infestations of the crablike variety. It goes back a long way (probably goes down a long way, too!). A recipe from 1824 includes Lard, Suet and Mercury. I don’t know if it poisoned them or if they died from the cholesterol. Either way, I wouldn’t want it anywhere near me.
All that aside, I might suggest some of these games to Mrs B. As an island girl herself she might be interested in reviving some of the more obscure local traditions. After all, it would be a shame if they were lost for ever (except for jellyfish jelly – that one can go). Apart from anything else, I want to know what a Groolie is and where it can be found. Sounds like fun. Hur. Hur.
4th December 2020
It has been made clear that, under no circumstances will carrots, mustard, wellington boots or leeks be permitted in the bedroom. Nor Goats. Also, if I so much as enquire about my wife’s groolie, much less go anywhere near it, she has promised to tear out my throbbler, boil it and feed it to the dog. Seeing as I have no idea what either of these things are, I am left having to tread carefully. Honestly, this place is like a foreign country, with a language and customs all its own. God know what it was like a hundred years ago. Townies like me probably didn’t make it to sunset.
Lockdown over, although they probably won’t notice in the North. Poor buggers. I shouldn’t complain. It’ll be coming south soon enough.
9th December 2020
Had a shopping delivery today. We re-started online shopping a month ago when the second lockdown started. It seemed to make sense and, to be honest, the way some people behave in shops would make you think that they’re either immune already or they want to give it to as many people as they can. I’m sure I’ve said this before but if this virus covered you in disfiguring, pus-filled sores then more people would take it seriously.
Anyway, I digress. Focussed as we were on emptying bags and filling the cupboards, we didn’t notice the absence of the dog. Normally he’s hanging around at a time like this in case the odd packet of biscuits, or better still, a chicken, should fall on the floor and roll his way. It wasn’t until he turned up holding an empty OXO cube carton in his mouth that suspicions were raised.
“Did you order any oxo cubes, dearest?” I enquired of my beloved.
“Yes” came the reply of someone who really didn’t want her ability to order basic foodstuffs questioned right now.
“Seen them lately?”
“What?” The apple of my eye looked up and followed my gaze to the oh-so-pleased-with-himself Sammy, who sat there, excitedly wagging his tail and brandishing the empty carton. “Sammy! Where did you get those?” she demanded. The mere tone of her voice informed Sammy that he had done a ‘bad thing’. The wagging stopped, the ears went back and he sat with his head down in a ‘I didn’t mean to be bad’ pose as the carton fell to the floor. All of this is intended to engender pity and manipulate Mrs B into leniency. I know because I do exactly the same thing when she speaks to me like that.
“What have you done with them?” Sammy slunk off to the sitting room where an OXO cube sat on the rug, its corner chewed off. He’d obviously tasted it, decided it wasn’t good eating and left it there. That might have been the end of it but our Sammy is nothing if not thorough. Nearby sat eleven more silver cubes, each with a corner chewed off. So that was it. He’d checked the OXO cubes and come back, pleased as punch, to tell us that they were all disgusting and not to eat them. Almost a pity to take away his moment of glory. The truth is, it’s impossible to get annoyed with him, especially when he’s doing his ‘I’m just a poor little rescue doggie, and nobody loves me’ routine. Yeah, he’s got us sussed alright.
They started rolling out the Pfizer Covid vaccine today. An elderly lady up north was the first to get it. As usual the press were there to record the event. Matt Hancock even burst into tears on TV (probably had a hankie full of onions in his pocket). As usual the conspiracy theorists were out there, reminding us how it’s full of mind-controlling nannybots which will make your teeth drop out. You didn’t hear them making such a fuss when Pfizer brought out Viagra, did you?
12th December 2020
We put up the Christmas Tree today. It was a bit early but Mrs Dunstead gave Mrs B an antique bauble by way of thanks for all her help earlier this year. It was one of those gossamer-thin glass ones from about a hundred years ago, hand-blown and delicately painted. We’ve given it pride of place on the tree and have a special box for it to be packed away in on Twelfth Night.
Mrs Dunstead is still poorly, bless her, but her grand-daughter, Jenny, has come to stay with her for the Christmas period, which relieves yours truly of any duties with the Thugbeast, Wuffles (Hooray etc. Joy is indeed unconfined). Jenny finished Uni last summer and been back on the island ever since. I saw her the other day being hauled through the park, woolly hat flopping about as she fought to stay upright, giant dog in one hand, giant bag of poo in the other. She almost made it, but then Wuffles spotted a squirrel and shot through a massive laurel hedge, taking Jenny with him. An explosion of leaves and twigs ensued, followed by some very impressive expletives (I’m guessing she did modern languages at Uni). Once the dust had settled all that was left was a hedge with a pair of boots sticking out the middle of it.
I went round to where the other end of Jenny was poking out. “Need a hand, Jen?” I said, desperately trying to hold my face straight. Her woolly hat had been pulled down over her face and one hand was flailing around as if she was trying to swim her way out. Helpfully, I pulled the hat off. The expression on her face made me want to put it back on. With volcanic fury, Jenny spent several minutes colourfully venting her spleen on the subject of dogs, grandmothers and stupid old men (old?) who think this is funny.
Spleen vented, she paused for a moment. “Any chance of being dragged out of this bloody hedge, Roger?”. Her other hand sprouted from the foliage and between us we got her out. She looked back at the hole. “There’s a bloody great bag of shit somewhere in there”, she said. “Never mind that,” I said, “we’d better find your dog. For all we know he’s buggered half the squirrels in the park by now”.
As it happened the wildlife went unmolested. The Thugbeast had run straight home and was happily curled up by the gas fire by the time a bedraggled Jenny got back. I left her on the doorstep, still a bit shaken by her experiences though I think it was more rage than shock. Has the Thugbeast met his match? We shall see.
December 22nd 2020
General preparations for Christmas are progressing. As usual I will be curing a salmon. This does not involve the laying on of hands to perform miracles but the layering on of salt, sugar and aromatics. I do this every year and get away with generally good results. If you fancy having a go, this is what you need:
• At least one full side of salmon. I usually do two (you’ll see why) and cure them face-to-face.
• Cling film
• 100 grams each of fine sea salt and brown muscovado sugar
• 1 tablespoon of juniper berries very finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon of ground coriander seed.
• 1 Jar of dried dill.
Dampen your work surface. This will help the 1-metre piece of cling film to stick to it. Lay one side of salmon on it, skin down. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly and thickly cover the fish with it. It should be about a quarter of an inch thick. Put the other side on it, flesh side down, press together and wrap the cling film tightly (or just wrap it if you’re doing a single piece). Now wrap another three sheets of cling film around it so it is completely sealed. It will leak quite considerably during the curing process so put it in the plastic salad tray in the bottom of the fridge. Now, go and entertain yourself while you wait for Thursday’s diary entry.
December 24th 2020
Back already? Let’s get on then. By now your salmon should have given off quite a bit of gloopy brown fluid. This is ok. Both the gloopiness and the brown-ness come from the muscovado sugar. Unwrap it in the sink and rinse off the remaining cure, bits of juniper berries and coriander etc. Dry it quickly because you don’t want it to re-absorb any water.
I usually use one side for Gravad Lax and the other for smoking. The Gravad Lax is easy: just sprinkle liberally with dill herb, wrap it up in cling film and it’s ready to eat in a couple of hours. Slice thinly and serve. Crumbly cheese like caerphilly or wensleydale goes very well with it. Mrs B is particularly partial to it.
The other side I usually smoke (because I love smoked salmon and could eat it until the cows come home). I have a bag of Chestnut wood dust and an old barbeque for this purpose, and every Christmas Eve can be seen in the garden like some old wizard, wreathed in smoke as I top-up the burner and check the fish. The process takes about six hours and by the end of it I smell like a kipper. The salmon, however, is perfect and for about ten quid I have something you would pay sixty for in the shops. Happy bear.
Tier three from midnight tomorrow. We can have our Christmas and that’s it. Oh, well. It was bound to happen. I’ll just have to stay in and get gently sozzled with the dog. He likes smoked salmon, too.
Well, Christmas went rather well. I cooked dinner as usual (Mrs B is happy to concede that I am the better cook, and I, in turn, bow to superior abilities with the hoover. Usually when she can’t hear me). Our rib of beef was delicious and the salmon not too bad, though I say it myself. A splendid bottle of Jam Shed Merlot washed it down and the whole experience was entirely positive. Top marks, Roger. You deserve the rest of the day off. And once the washing and wiping up was done, and the dog fed and walked, I got it.
While Mrs B and I cosied up on the sofa with a glass of port and a mince pie, there was a food program on telly where they were cooking Sea Cucumber. I first encountered this ‘delicacy’ thirty years ago when I was working in Malaysia. It was an ‘end of project’ dinner for all the foreign contractors, given as a sort of thank you. As the whole thing has been run by the Chinese it was one hell of a knees-up. I’ll tell you more about it in later entries but for now let me focus on one dish which arrived, consisting of funny brown gelatinous cubes, covered in sauce and wobbling about on a bed of noodles.
These days I have a rule not to eat any unknown substance which wobbles, but back then I knew no such caution. I was told it was Sea Cucumber, and accepting its description at face value, I took a hearty mouthful.
Sea Cucumber is one of those rare delicacies which is best enjoyed by somebody else. Not least because it does indeed possess a face. And a bum. It is, in fact, a slug. A huge underwater gastropod whose main aim in life is to make Malaysian locals wet themselves helplessly at the sight of a young Englishman trying not to throw up. Some say the experience is indescribable, but I disagree. Imagine a salty, spongy, soft jelly with gristly bits in it, which gets stuck in your teeth just after you’ve realized how revolting it is. A sort of congealed snot with a textured skin. If you can’t imagine it, go and eat a slug. That should do it. A colleague said it was TFH, which means Truly not very nice at all. You have been warned. Take my advice and stick to the noodles.
December 31st 2020
What a year! Pandemics, panic buying, bog-roll famines, an NHS which has gone beyond heroic, Brexit, Captain Sir Tom, all offset by a bunch of posh boys, led by a drunken muppet.
Typically, though, I am ending the year with a cold. I am assured by Mrs B that it’s definitely nothing to worry about because trying to get out of the washing up is not a recognised symptom of Covid. Also, I rang 111 and they confirmed it. A very nice nurse type person listened carefully to my symptoms and told me not to be so lazy. Nonetheless, I am making the most of my incapacity and trying to stay as un-involved as possible. I wondered out loud last night if a nip of something might help belay the symptoms. “Alright. Hang on a moment” she said, and trundled off. I sat there, thinking warm thoughts about my beloved, until she returned with the bottle of Russian Plum Death Juice. “How about a glass of this? My aunt used to swear by it.” I froze mid cough (quite a feat if you’ve ever tried it) and gurgled a bit.
“Did she?” Aunt Nikita was fairly robust but I couldn’t see her swearing by this stuff, even in time of catastrophe and plague. More likely she swore at it. In any case I wasn’t going near it again. “Haven’t we got any Benylin?”
“I know what you’re after” she said with a wink. Oh, hello. Is it Christmas? “Not in my condition, darling” I murmured, not too loud in case she heard. A moment later she appeared with a glass of the Hennessy XO we keep ‘for special occasions’. “Oh thank you my love” I cooed, cradling the bulbous glass in my grateful paws. Yes, I know I sound like something out of a Dickens novel but sometimes he hit the nail right on the head.
I’m sure next year will be just as entertaining, frustrating, ridiculous and hilarious as this year. I just hope it’s not any worse. Of course, if I need cheering up I can always try feeding some more fizzy vitamins to the dog. In the meantime I’m sure there’s some more of this Hennessy somewhere.
January 3rd 2021
One of the more interesting presents I received this Christmas was a shower gel and deodorant set. Now, whenever you get something like this happens, one’s first thoughts are along the lines of “Uh-oh, am I getting smelly in my frail dotage? Is a faint odour of fish and chip wrappers following me around?” Fortunately, on this occasion it was not the case.
The gift in question was a pack of ‘Lynx Africa Marmite’. All the woman-attracting properties of Lynx Africa combined with the irresistible fragrance of Marmite. This came from a lovely little friend whose sense of humour is possibly even more wicked than mine.
Mrs B found it hilarious. Why? Because both of them know I cannot stand the stuff. Loathe it. One of the few flavours I have never been able to my head around. What no-one seems to realise about this stuff is that it’s made out of French peasants’ underpants. Apparently (and I have no reason to doubt this) it was developed in the sixteenth century to ward off evil spirits and keep diseases at bay. They would smear it all over themselves for protection. And it worked! Not one single Frenchman went mouldy for over three hundred years. It only came over to Britain in the 1830’s when a British sailor licked a French woman by accident and discovered he quite liked it. Must have been very hungry, that’s all I can say.
Anyway, back to the toiletries. The initial fragrance (Africa) is really quite pleasant. Fruity, a little spicy, the sort of thing that should have respectable ladies wanting to sniff you all day. But then… After a few seconds the Marmite comes through. That deep, savoury, bottom-of-the-oven sort of depth that posh chefs bang on about for making gravy. Then it hits you. The full-blown Marmite experience. Heeurgh!
My beloved is insisting that I try it. I’ll think about it. I’ve thought about it. No.
January 4th 2021
Went to have a shower this morning. Every bottle of shower gel, bar of soap, sachet of shampoo, and handpump of handwash had disappeared. Before me, on the rack in the shower, stood the bottle of Lynx, grinning evilly at me. Hmmnn. Well, I can go another day.
January 5th 2021
Considered showering with toilet cleaner. Even this has gone. Perhaps there’s some Vim under the sink.
January 6th 2021
Couldn’t wait any longer. Even the dog was avoiding me. Had a very long much-needed shower with the Marmite Lynx. Absolutely certain I could hear giggling outside the bathroom door.
I emerged from the bathroom, gleaming, glowing and, well, definitely fragrant. My wife came up and sniffed me daintily, as though I were a delicate flower.
“Oh, darling, you smell – “ said my beloved, and left it at that. The dog, however, won’t bloody leave me alone. He obviously thinks I’ve got pockets stuffed with dog treats or something because he keeps snuffling around me all the time. Follows me everywhere, ears up, tail wagging. I keep telling him to bugger off but he won’t have it. “He can’t help it, Roger. He just thinks you’re delicious” said Mrs B, sliding down the wall, helpless with laughter.
January 7th 2021
Had a really strange dream that I was completely naked in a car wash. The big soapy whippy rollers had got me trapped and I couldn’t get out. Their flailing strips were lashing me around the face over and over again and I couldn’t breathe. It was terrifying.
Woke up to find myself being enthusiastically licked by the dog.
“Don’t worry”, said my highly amused wife, “I’ll get you something which will take away the smell”. I went into the shower to find a bottle of industrial-strength ‘Lily of the Valley’ shower gel. Honestly? I came out smelling like a little old lady with a Government health warning. They obviously use this stuff to get plenty of room on the bus. At least the dog is leaving me alone now. Good job it’s January. If this were June I’d be covered in bees.
January 18th 2021
Today is ‘Blue Monday’. It’s supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. The day when things really cannot get any worse. The papers are full of accounts of young people struggling to cope with their depression and anxiety because it’s Blue Monday. One of them was even claiming it puts pressure on people with mental health issues to deal with their problems.
No it doesn’t. Not if you ignore it completely and see it for what it is, which is a load of made-up rubbish. “Aah – how do YOU know, Roger” I hear you cry. “You’re just a cynical, middle-aged bloke with an aversion to Marmite and Russian Booze”. Because it is. Blue Monday was a) named after a song, and b) made up by a psychologist named Cliff Arnall. He invented it in 2004 after a holiday company asked him to come up with a scientific formula (bogus) for why people get down in January. It’s not real.
Nonetheless, lots of (mostly young) self-indulgent people latch onto it and sink into their ‘depression’ faster than a fat kid on a see-saw. What if we had ‘Fill your shorts Thursday”? I bet they wouldn’t all suddenly develop dysentery just to ‘feel special’.
One person who is definitely not feeling blue is our Sammy. If anything, he’s feeling rather green. And smelling it. For some reason as yet unknown to mankind (well, Roger-kind) he decided to sit in the middle our large and sprawling rosemary bush. I made the obligatory joke to Mrs B: “Oh, look darling, there’s something big and hairy in your bush! Hur, hur”. She wore the expression of a woman who, after twenty years of this, is wondering if a good lawyer could get it down to manslaughter. I deemed this a propitious moment to visit said bush and assess the situation. Sammy was a happy as Larry, and grinned up at me in his lollopy doggy way. I have no idea why he was there but the promise of a chewie got him out of it and back indoors. Since then, he’s actually made the house smell quite nice. Perhaps I’ll try and get him back in there tomorrow.
January 21st 2021
At one minute past nine tonight it will be 21:01, 21-01-21. I might celebrate this unique, once in a lifetime event with a wee dram.
23:11, 21-01-21. Fell asleep and missed it. Typical.
January 22nd 2021
I’m sitting on the sofa, keeping the dog company and watching Father Brown, when the love of my life calls in from the kitchen.
“Yes my love”.
“Do you get those shooting pains across your body like someone’s got a voodoo doll of you and they’re stabbing it with a huge pin or something?”
I considered this for a moment as I performed a quick ‘systems check’ of my body. Everything seemed in order so I reported back. “No, my love”.
There was a brief pause and then she said “How about now?”
Note to self: buy some garlic and possibly a crucifix.