What I’ve been Doing

Dear Blog

I’ve neglected you, but you don’t mind do you?   Or perhaps you do, which is why you suddenly disappeared a week ago, walking off in a huff out of the blogging ether.  Thankfully, this was only because I had to renew my DNS fee, a thing I discovered in mild panic when chatting with a Happiness Engineer (oh the wonderful, there-at-a-moment’s-notice HE’s.)   However put out you are, dearest blog, you’re my dependable little friend; always there for a catch up, even if I don’t drop in for simply ages and ages.

So many busy things have been happening.  I’m approaching the last bit of wallpaper that needs scraping off the lounge walls.  For two months the lounge has resembled the sort of room you’d find in one of those telly cleaning programmes where the occupants appear to be living in a nuclear fallout zone.  Not that I’ve seen those kinds of programmes for the past two months, because I haven’t watched TV for two whole months!  Yes, our TV had to have every snarled up power lead unplugged and then TV and stand were banished to the back room, unable to be used since the Sky lead and bog standard aerial are in the lounge.  Two months ago Son No.3 wandered into the lounge with his evening snack, noticed the chairs were all out of whack, plonked himself down on one and stared off into the general direction of the TV, to find a gaping TV-less hole.  The look of gobsmacked surprise on his face surpassed anything you could gawp at on your TV.  ‘Where’s the TV?’  he managed to blurt out.  He couldn’t have been more shocked if he’d come home from work to find his parents had absconded.  ‘Sorry, it’s gone until I get the lounge sorted out,’ I replied.  Since then he can be found morosely chomping on his favourite post-dinner evening snacks, forlornly gazing at iPlayer on his laptop (cornettos, Sainsbury choc chip cookies, babybel cheeses, apples – these are all consumed steadily, one after the other.)

But the eye opener, the absolute revelation (comparable to Paul’s on the road to Damascus) is that I haven’t missed the telly one bit, and neither has the husband.  Of course, this will have something to do with the internet and all its browsing loveliness (new suites for the lounge, knitting blogs etc) but a laptop certainly doesn’t compare to your average HD flat screen telly, and yet I haven’t missed anything about the TV talking heads at all.

And I haven’t been doing much laptop gazing either.  For I have been doing important community spirit type things, like taking part in the local primary school’s Last night of the Proms concert.  This was due to my limited role as children’s choir helper, and being a member of the newly created school adult choir.  Our leader had dreamed up the idea for this overly ambitious concert several months ago and had whispered in my ear, at the first rehearsal, that would I sing the solo bits on The Lord is my Shepherd from The Vicar of Dibley.  I whispered back ‘yes’ immediately, since the concert had been 5 months away, so what did I care at that actual moment in time?  In the ensuing weeks I tended to think of The Solo as something that wouldn’t actually happen; that it was all a figment of my overwrought imagination, until we started rehearsing the song and I was instructed to begin with my solo bit.  Due to a strange blocking out of The Solo, I hadn’t even looked at the sheet music and so launched into the shakiest, breathiest, weirdest solo bit you ever heard.  The Solo bits improved over time and I became less fearful of singing alone in the middle of a bunch of choristers, but still I barely practiced at home, preferring to believe that The Solo was happening in some sort of alternate universe and would be sung by somebody who looked like me but wasn’t actually me.

The day of the concert came and mid-morning it suddenly dawned on me that I would have to sing The Solo to an audience of roughly 250 people.  On previously informing Son No.1 that I was going to be singing in the school concert he got all pretend excited and said you might be another Susan Boyle and become a star on the local church circuit (the idea of there being a ‘church circuit’ tickled us pink.)  The comparison with Susan Boyle did not instil confidence.  I LOVED Susan Boyle at the peak of her BGT fame, but did I want to be thought of as a frumpy, grey haired, pre-makeover Ms Boyle?  Banishing such a vision, and with panic rising, I found some vocal exercises on YouTube and stood in the kitchen, vibrating my lips together whilst humming and turning my head from side to side – this exercise took some time to master; particularly the vibrating lips bit which was just plain stupid.  Desperately hoping the neighbours weren’t listening, I moved on to ‘slight coughs,’ followed by rapid arpeggios that rose up the scale, followed by the bending and straightening of the knees.

When The Solo came around, I discovered I had to stand forward of the rest of the choir and sing into a standing mic that was connected to a proper sound system.  And what a sound system it was. At a rapid rehearsal 30 minutes before the concert, I discovered that the mic made things sort of effortless.  What a wonderful sensation it was to warble into this mic and find that your voice magnified to operatic proportions and bounced off the walls.  My tiny rehearsal weirdly settled most of the nerves (knowing that the mic would take up most of the slack) and The Solo went off without a hitch, although Son No.3 (playing guitar in the concert due to pressure from his mother) did point out that there was a definite crack in the voice midway through, due to nerves.  But what care I?  I sang a solo in front of an audience, for the first time in years, and survived the strange out of body experience.  The downside was seeing myself doing it at the next rehearsal, as our leader’s son had filmed the concert on his phone.  Any pluses, like the fact I’d managed to sing and not just emit a terrified squeak, were immediately negated by watching the overweight, grey haired, fugly (not a typo) vision on screen.  Still, the way to overcome that is to count your blessings.

And the concert was a surprisingly enjoyable experience, a thing I hadn’t counted on, not being a fan of amateur productions or having much community spirit.  There was much flag waving and plenty of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory, which nearly brought a tear to my eyes.  Afterwards, everyone was on a high and my Facebook feed was littered with how wonderful and life affirming it had all been.

The next community thing I did was lead the school’s gala procession.  I didn’t know I was going to lead it until I arrived at the meeting place, which struck me as ridiculous, considering the tiny contribution I make to the school’s life.  I felt like a total imposter.  ‘They obviously can’t get the staff,’ was my one thought as I walked, at a snail’s pace, down to the local castle in weather that was so hot I felt I’d melt away into a puddle, just like the W W of the W.  I carried the school’s all- purpose banner, with help from the lady who organises the gala every year, and for whom it’s an obsession (our theme was Peter Pan and she made all the props – ‘bless her,’ as she would say.)  But the highlight for me was realising that a bloke walking directly in front of me, with a local kids’ drama group, had been a member of a brilliant singing group on our last P&O mini-cruise to Belgium.  We’d stood in the ship’s lift with this four man group, one evening on our way up to dinner, and the husband got chatting (like he always does) and we found out that one of them lived in our town, and we didn’t quite believe him – but there he was, walking in front of me at the gala!

I left, as soon as we got to the castle, due to the intense heat and I had other things to do.  The getting away proved very difficult, as I was badgered into staying to hear the result, but I felt too withered and knackered.  The next day I was told we’d won (like we did the past two years.)  I would have said ‘they’ won, but my community-minded friends always refer to everything as ‘we.’  As a side note, ‘they’ tried to force the husband into walking with the procession when he came to take photos of me in my fairy outfit (yes, I was a fairy, but it’s best not to go there) at the meeting place.  The husband said ‘No,’ six times (I counted) in a firm and manly manner.  If only I could say ‘No’ to things with that degree of unabashed certainty, thought I.

Community things and choir things are not the only things I’ve been doing.  I’ve been helping to write cover letters and job applications.  The latest job application requested that you DO NOT send us a bog standard CV and oh so dreary cover letter, but make your application stand out, you dimwits!!!  So, that’s what they got, a cover letter which will fully test just what they meant by ‘not dreary.’

And the other thing I’ve been doing is reading.  Oh the joy of reading. I at last got my reading mojo back.  In the past two months I’ve read:

Lewis Carroll; The Man and his Circle
In the Shadow of the Dreamchild
Lewis Carroll A Biography
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
The Essex Serpent
After me comes The Flood

You will see an obsessive Lewis Carroll element here, or the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, or ‘my dearest Charlie,’ as his mother called him – but more of that in future posts.  You will also note an obsession with Victoriana – I was born in the wrong era – well, only if I’d been born into the upper middle classes where they had things like water closets (loos) and plenty of servants.

Yes, reading words that are written on bits of paper is here to stay.  My laptop will never replace the loveliness of turning a page or breathing in the woody perfume of the paper.

And the last thing I’ve been doing is watching the gloriously hang dog, slightly haggard and strangely Victorian looking Will Self on YouTube, who at 17 was addled with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, a streptococcus infection eating part of his face and worked as a council road sweeper.  The man is a walking dictionary.  If you want to widen your vocabulary (and you do don’t you) then watch the strangely hypnotic Will in full flow, the unheard of before words falling from his lips like nuggets of oral gold.  Words I now know the actual meaning of, because Will is now my free YouTube tutor.  Every time he emits a word that sounds decidedly foreign, I pause my video, look it up via Google then press play, feeling so much cleverer.  Words like:

Paradigm
Gnosticism
Efficients
Anomic
Fissiparous
Agglomeration
Notionally
Contingent
Egregious
Hegemont

The remarkable thing (Will would probably never lower himself by ever using the word ‘thing’) is that Will never draws breath.  He never has to pause and say ‘oh what’s the word I’m looking for?’  He simply knows every single word out there.  I wonder if he spends his evenings going through Roget’s Thesaurus?  Will Self is now Professor of Contemporary Thought (what a wonderful job title that is) at the University of Brunel.

Well, that’s it, it’s time for me to leave, expeditiously.

 

Oculus Rift

It’s Eurovision again.  I wonder how many Eurovision’s have been and gone since I started writing this blog?   Probably just two, but it seems like an awful lot more.  Surely once a year is maybe once too often to inflict a series of mundane but increasingly loopy pop songs upon us.  Maybe not.  The Euro lot seem to be loving it.  Anyway from one alternate reality to another………….

The husband got an Oculus Rift about 3 weeks ago.  Son No. 2 had spent two months debating whether to get one (unknown to us) and then took the plunge, at a hefty £700, plus a graphics card capable of handling the visual doodahs and various extra special USB sticks.  (If any computer experts out there find themselves unfortunately misdirected to this blog, maybe they could explain what I mean by ‘doodahs’ and ‘extra special’, ‘cos I have no idea.)

The son brought his Oculus home and set it up in the lounge.  This necessitated the bringing down of son No. 3’s computer, from upstairs, and hooking it up to the telly, where it sat marooned in the middle of the lounge floor looking very forlorn and out of place.  Then one VR sensor was placed on a table and the other perched on top of the mantelpiece.  The sensors detect head movement and also define the VR space, which appears to be 360o, being that you can turn all the way around.  I think that’s what the sensors do; it’s all something to do with LED lights and infrared and such like.  There were also two hand held controllers, around which your hands fit snuggly and quite naturally.

(Since I first used the Oculus I’ve become slightly worried about sitting within a field of radiation, whilst resting my peepers about a millimetre away from two screens (resembling a pair of really, really thick spectacle lenses) which must also be emitting some kind of awful radiation, and all the while encased in a claustrophobic, slightly heavy headset.  But such are the demands of embracing a futuristic lifestyle.)

Son No. 2 had prepared the way for VR via Facebook posts, in which he’d taken screen shots of his Oculus experiences and posted them.  I’d seen these images and been distinctly underwhelmed, forgetting that these images were in 2D.  When the Oculus was all set up I placed the headset on my head (obviously) and immediately found myself standing in a small room on what was obviously a spaceship, while a little Wall-E type robot hovered in the air a few feet away from me.  He was blinking his cute round eyes at me and then he waved, holding up a sign with a waving hand on it, beckoning me to wave back.  Now this was the first time I’d ever experienced a VR set-up and I couldn’t work out what had happened.  I lifted the headset from my eyes to check where I was.  Yes, I was in the lounge, facing the TV.  ‘I was on a spaceship,’ I said to no-one in particular.  I put the headset back on and there I was, standing in front of a sort of desk while my robot friend hovered.  I took the headset off again, my non-VR brain obviously unable to process what was happening.  ‘It’s a training thing,’ said son No.2, ‘it’s to teach you how to use the hand controllers.’  The headset went on again.

Someone else on the net must have drawn this comparison.  But do you remember the transporter in the old Star Trek series.  They’d all stand on round circles on the transporter, then a wiggly, shimmering light would cover their bodies and the next thing you knew there they were, standing on an alien planet which was conveniently full of oxygen.  That’s exactly what happened, minus the squiggly lines.  One minute, nay  one second, I was standing in the lounge, whilst the husband and sons sat around watching the TV screen, the next moment I was TRANSPORTED to another place.

Back on the dimly lit spaceship I got my bearings and began turning my head to look around.  There was a 3D printer to my left; a sort of old style computer to my right; drink cans littered the desk; there was a door behind me.  The robot handed me a floppy disk, which I had to place into the 3D printer, using my new ethereal, blue, VR hands.  On insertion the printer sprang into life and printed off a child’s rattle with bells.  I had to pick it up using my VR hands (difficult manoeuvre to get used to) and then spin it around – it made the sound of jingling bells!  Then butterflies appeared and I held out my blue hands, and a fluorescent pink butterfly landed on one finger.  I could fill this description of what happened with loads of exclamation marks, because if anything deserves the exclamation mark, it’s the Oculus Rift.

The husband had a go and was also transported, this time with delight and uncontainable excitement, when son No.2 loaded up something called Ultra Wings, which allowed the husband to fly a plane.  We rushed a kitchen chair into the room, so he could feel that he was actually sitting in the plane.  It must be said that the imagery on Ultra Wings is animated and very basic but it was as though the husband was in his own personal seventh heaven.  ‘I’m flying, it feels like I’m really flying,’ he kept SHOUTING.  This is a minor side effect of using the Oculus Rift.  When you’re in the headset you suddenly start shouting at everyone.  Being in a virtual spaceship, or plane, makes the brain think it really is on a spaceship, or plane, and therefore miles away from its present position, so you’ve got to shout from across the virtual miles.

This introduction to the Oculus Rift made the husband (and myself) determined to get one.  And luckily the price had come down (somewhat.)  We got the Oculus for £598 but then had to fork out £350 on a graphics card, but it was WORTH IT I say (and like I also say, VR makes you shout) – just so long as they don’t find any detrimental, mutant radiation affects in the future.

Since that first go, we’ve downloaded loads of FREE entertainment videos, because I like nice animated films (although it must be said that a lot of the films suffer from a tendency to be morbid.)  The husband has downloaded a few fairly innocuous shooting games.  And today I went on a tour of the White House given by Barack and Michelle Obama.  There I was, sitting in the loft, the home of our Oculus set-up, but virtually sitting on the lawn in front of the White House, which was lit up in a pink evening glow.  Son No. 3 was sitting next to me on his computer.

My chair gently glided through the doors of the White House and into a hallway with a lectern.  Barack Obama’s voice filled my ears, as he began the tour.  I looked up and down the red carpeted hallway and up at the ceiling.  It must be said here that the images on the Oculus are not always crystal clear, particularly objects in the distance, but at this stage in VR’s development that’s probably a minor criticism.  The screen then went black and a fraction of a second later Barack Obama was sitting directly in front of me, large as life and twice as natural, looking directly into my eyes and welcoming me to the White House.  I nearly fell of my chair.  AAAHHHHH!!!!  I screamed.  AAAHHH,  AAAHHHH – I took off the headset and started laughing hysterically.  Son No.3, who’d been watching the tour via the TV screen, joined in the hysteria, simply because his mother was HYSTERICAL.  ‘It’s Obama,’ I screamed, ‘he just suddenly appeared – he looks REAL!!’  I put the headset back on.  I could have reached out and touched him (I tried.)  He was still chatting on, pointing things out in the room.  ‘He’s so thin,’ I continued, ‘and he looks so nice,’  Then I was off again, materialising in the next room and the screen went dark again and suddenly I was sitting opposite Michelle Obama, at a highly polished antique table.  ‘She’s so thin,’ I said, repeating myself, inwardly noticing her nail polish, and her watch, and her hair, as she burbled on, pointing out pictures hanging in the room.  I was so taken up with the fact that I appeared to be in discussion with the Obamas that I didn’t take in a word either of them said.

It was an experience to rival the first time I’d tried the headset.  When it ended, I found another Obama experience which I feverishly downloaded, eager to be in the presidential presence again.  This time he was guiding me around Yosemite national park.

Well, Eurovision is nearly over and so is this post.  It looks like Portugal is going to win – has the world, or rather Europe, lost all musical sense?  And isn’t reality beginning to look just a little suspect?

Never mind, tomorrow I can put on my headset and escape back to the virtual world.

Afternoon Tea

I’ve been busy here and there, although ‘being busy’ is definitely a relative term when you’re a housewife.  For instance, I think going to Sainsbury’s means I’m ‘busy,’ or wafting a duster around, or going along to my various choirs.  It’s true that if you want something doing, ask a busy person; don’t ask me, you’re liable to give me a mini- breakdown, should you threaten me with the making of phone calls or the taking on of too much responsibility.  But I’ve been busy researching things and worrying about things (worrying is a full-time job) and not writing on my blog.

Joining various musical based activities means that, over time, you’re sometimes asked along to things non-group related.  And so I found myself going along for tea, or coffee, and cake, just over a week ago, with some of the singing ladies.  I didn’t want to go. I never want to go to group social thingies, especially when the other members have known each other for years.  But I made myself go.  And there I sat on a Thursday afternoon, round about 2.30 pm, while our hostess carried in a tray full of home-made fairy cakes (what a throwback that was, haven’t had a fairy cake in years), flapjacks and assorted biscuits.  She brandished a fairy cake in my face, urging me to take it.  ‘Sorry, I’m on a diet,’ I said, ‘due to having just had a holiday up north, where I stuffed myself with cake on an hourly basis.’  ‘Nonsense, take one,’ she urged.  And so the five of us sat around, on a couple of white settees and one accent, checked armchair, stuffing fairy cakes and measuring out our lives in coffee spoons.

The social chatter began with a whinging on about a recent Ofsted report (the ladies are teachers/assistants) which had unexpectedly criticised the staff’s efforts, causing a severe lack of morale.  I do a tiny bit of volunteer helping at the school and didn’t have a clue what, or who, they were talking about, but did begin to understand what stressful lives people lead, who actually do worthwhile jobs.  How they are so much at the mercy of ticking all the right boxes, of filling out mountains of paperwork, of doing their job, whilst under the scrutiny of inspectors taking just a snapshot of a school’s day to day life.  There must come a point when the teaching profession, as with so many other professions, becomes a thankless task.  The short time I spend in this school, on a weekly basis, is an experience entirely contrary to the results of their Ofsted report, which leads me to believe (in my complete ignorance) that Ofsted reports are a load of bollocks.

After a prolonged discussion concerning Ofsted and its effects on staff  – there was mass weeping in the corridors, which certainly seems counter-productive – and appropriate interjections by me, in the form of murmurs of sympathy (as though someone had died) the conversation suddenly moved onto Death, which seemed in keeping.

I’m still unsure how this happened.  One minute I was licking buttercream icing from my fingers and thinking ‘social gatherings aren’t that bad, I just have to nod and smile in the right places,’  when B, sitting to my right, mentioned that she was looking into donating her body to medical science, to spare her children funeral expenses.  This was apropos of absolutely nothing.  Her only problem was that Northampton, the place she was hoping to wind up dead, would only take bodies in possession of ‘most of their bits.’   ‘I’ve had two hip replacements, something put in my shoulder, bits of my elbow taken out and I just know my knees are beginning to go,’ she chimed enthusiastically, before excusing herself to rush to the loo.  As she left the room her exit was followed by four pairs of mystified eyes.  Suddenly, a revolting noise emanated from an imposing bookcase, lining one of the lounge walls, and those eyes, full of further alarmed mystification, focused in on the sound.  It came from a luridly green plastic clock, where several species of bird took the place of the numbers.  It was three o’clock and the noise was the grating and very loud ‘caw-caw’ of a crow, ringing out three times.  ‘Sorry,’ the hostess (A) cried and jumped across the room, ‘it’s my RSPB clock, makes different bird calls on the hour and half hour; that was supposed to be a woodpecker.’  ‘That was a crow,’ R informed her.  ‘It was, wasn’t it?’ said A, and fiddled about with a knob on the back, whereupon a gentle tapping sound filled the air.  ‘That’s better,’ A said, ‘and I’ve turned down the volume.’ Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  ‘Can I take a flapjack,’ enquired R, her hand already outstretched, just as came back from the loo.  As though the previous conversation had never paused, B continued on with the saga of her missing bits and that she retained the hope that her knees might hold up, so that medical trainees could perform practice knee replacement surgery on her dead legs.  The fairy cakes A was continuing to ply me with were beginning to lose their appeal.   B made the point that her family were very upset with her for bringing up her future demise, but R, S and A all agreed that it’s something you’ve got to think about isn’t it?  (No.  I go with a policy of blissful ignorance regarding life’s two great subjects – Politics and Death – unknowingly I was about to be hit with the Politics.)  The thinking about it prompted A to give a heartfelt speech concerning her own death wish-list.

‘Have you ever looked into those Humanist burials?’  she chirped, her face positively beaming, as the clock on the bookcase also chirped (blue tit) – for it was half past three.  ‘There’s a new one where, when you die, they manoeuvre you into the foetal position (here I gently gagged on the remains of a flapjack) and then they put you in a sack and bury you in the ground.  Then they plant a tree directly on top of you so you’re helping the tree to grow.  I think that’s a lovely idea!’  R, B and S couldn’t contain their excitement, agreeing that this was a simply super idea.  I was still trying to get past ‘foetal position.’  ‘But there’s another even better one I think,’ A continued, from her hostess position of power in the imposing checked armchair.  ‘I recently went to a funeral, up on the hill, where they put you in a wicker coffin.  They’re beautifully made and look so much nicer than the normal ones (this rather requires the notion that when you’re dead, you’re aware of being in a ‘nice’ coffin. ) There were about five, laid out in a row, when we went.  They say a few words and then you leave before the coffins are put in the ground.  That’s much nicer don’t you think, than having to watch them being lowered into a hole.’  ‘I agree,’ said B fervently (we appeared to be on her favourite topic of conversation here) nothing worse than having to watch the coffins go into the ground and all that throwing of dirt and things.’   I took a swig of now cold coffee, in an attempt to divert my mind from the vision of five coffins in a row, even if they did look like  lovely wicker baskets.  Presumably the Humanists go in for job lots.

Sadly, there was no-one present with whom I could exchange sympathetic glances of mutual confusion and bewilderment, for all around me was an evangelical-type enthusiasm for Death.  Suddenly B reverted back to the school topic and asked if any of us remembered the awful loos back in the day.  Did they remember having to go in a bucket filled with some kind of chemical, and there were just a couple of loos for the entire school?  At this point all further thoughts of eating, or drinking, fled.  ‘I remember that!’ cried R (as though it were a cherished memory) and we weren’t bothered were we?  Didn’t even notice.’  I mentioned being completely unable to recall the loo situation at school.  ‘Ah, but you’re young,’ remarked R, ‘when did you start primary school?’  ‘About 1966.’ I said, (it’s a joyous moment when you’re considered ‘young’ at 56.)  ‘Ah, well, we were at school a good 7-10 years earlier, things had changed.’  Thanking my lucky stars that school toilets had not etched themselves into my memory, we were suddenly onto that other major Life topic of conversation – Politics.

B mentioned her hero Corbyn (in relation to school toilets I think; where the connection was I couldn’t begin to say) as a mournfully hooting owl announced that it was now four o’clock.  There was much blather about the current awful government, and much blather about our awful local government and their plan to build new houses on a patch of land dear to the ladies’ hearts.  I hesitantly mentioned that young people need houses too and A mentioned the local election coming up, where we’d be all having our say.  ‘What local election?’ I said, in an unprecedented and ill-advised move of stupidity.  Jaws dropped in unison.  ‘The election on May 4th, haven’t you had your cards through?’  (I probably had but they were probably lying abandoned in some drawer, never to surface again.)  ‘There’s a general election coming up too,’ A continued.  This was such news to me that unfortunately I repeated the former move of stupidity (which now had a precedent) and cried, ‘What general election?’   This was met by a silence so complete that the nightingale, announcing that it was now 4.30 pm, caused a collective jump.  There followed a lecture on the importance of being politically aware; on turning up to vote; on the suffragette movement (had I been to that movie about suffragettes, the one with Meryl Streep?  It was brilliant!) These bygone women had fought and died so I could have the vote!  You couldn’t argue with the righteous sentiments expressed.  R then left, having somewhere important to go and, after a rapid tour of A’s lovely garden, I left, before an eagle got a chance to announce that it was 5 pm.

I left with the feeling that I’d failed miserably, in terms of toilet-related repartee; in the formulation of funeral arrangements and in keeping up with current events; but very glad that housewives don’t get Ofsted inspected (I’d fail miserably) and with a yearning to own an RSPB clock.

 

 

The Short and Most Peculiar History of Ms Polly

Polly Dawkins was taking an afternoon nap the day the world ended.  This had been an unusual occurrence just a couple of years before (as was the World ending, if we don’t count the dinosaurs.)  Back then Polly’s usual afternoon activities had involved drinking copious amounts of coffee (from icky polystyrene cups) whilst staring fixedly at a monitor on her workplace desk.  Polly had been ‘something in the city’ and had been doing something in the city (even she wasn’t quite sure what, or who for or, more importantly, why – but it involved a lot of mind numbing number crunching) for roughly 10 years, before a sort of epiphany occurred, on one clear blue-skied day, when she had been staring out of an office window (the one nearest her desk) – her blue eyes all shiny and glazed over; her distracted mind dreaming.  She had seen hills and trees and glistening waterfalls and, down in a little valley, the cutest, fairy tale cottage you ever did see.  ‘Why don’t you go and live there,’ a kindly but sonorous voice had whispered in her left ear.  ‘Ok,’ replied Polly (in her head) I just might.  After all, my brilliant career is just more than a bit pants and I don’t feel like me anymore.  It’s time for a drastic change.’

Polly had also failed to find love.  She’d come close, once or twice, but perhaps she was too choosy, too unaccepting of human failings, too independent.  She was now 35 and had dutifully followed the life plan of an educated feminist.  She had a career, she believed she had choice and, above all, she was free.  This was all fine and dandy until one bleak Saturday morning, when she had woken up to find herself alone in her London flat, with an absolute yearning (which she kept very secret, even to herself) for a husband who would bring her a nice cup of tea, and who would perch on the edge of her bed and say: ‘Look here, Polly, why don’t you just quit the office job, pop out a couple of sprogs and I’ll take care of everything else from thereon in.’

Therefore, when a strange, sonorous voice had whispered in her ear, Polly had been in the right frame of mind to listen (even if she thought it might mean she was a teensy bit mad.)  And so Polly took all her money and ran; all the way to Scotland, to a tiny rented cottage at the foot of a spectacular mountain.  A cottage from which she intended to engage in meditative practices, designed to soothe the soul and bring forth an inner sense of peace.  A cottage where she eschewed all things technological – not that her phone or laptop would have worked up there anyway.  This hermit-like situation meant that it would be very unlikely that she would ever come across another living soul (but she would secretly hope to come across unexpected, prospective husband material) for the foreseeable future.  Polly was, you see, rather tired of the human race.

To aid the meditative process Polly decided to keep a diary.  Had she been able to use a laptop she would, of course, have blogged about her new solitary life but no, Polly went with old fashioned pen and paper and besides, Polly was as tired of the internet as she was of the people that filled it.  The slower, more time consuming nature of writing everything down, by hand, was oddly satisfying and turned out to be the only way to go, when the world came to a sudden end.

Polly’s first diary entry had been alarming in nature.  It read:

9th March 2016

Christ, what have I done!!!!!!  I’ve quit my job; I’ve actually quit my job.  What was I thinking?  Can I live on my savings – and for how long?   I must be mad.  I wonder if they’ll take me back?   Maybe I am mad.  Maybe I could plead temporary insanity and go crawling back on my knees.  No, that won’t do, no one in the workplace is indispensable.  They say the first sign of madness is talking to yourself, which I’ve been a doing a lot of around here.  Well, not entirely to myself.  I have been conversing with the birds, and the weeds, in what passes for a garden in this, to be honest, less than picturesque cottage.  I’ve even started talking to the mice, who seem to think this is their home.   At first I squealed like the mad woman I’m becoming, every time I saw a long tail sticking out of the pile of old newspapers by the door (quickly got rid of the papers) or saw them scuttling along the stone floor, but now we’re on first name terms – Minnie is particularly cute. Amazing how your definition of what constitutes ‘company’ changes, when you’re living in a damp forsaken house at the bottom of a mountain.  The question is, am I mad?

There were more entries, running very much along these lines, until a year later, when we come to the ones about how well her veg allotment is doing, and how she was storing the surplus in an old garden shed, and how you couldn’t beat the quality of the drinking water, provided by the little stream which ran past her cottage.  And how she was making her own jam and chutney.  And how a little store in the nearest village (which was miles away but Polly did have a tiny little car) provided flour for bread making, the sort of bread which would keep for simply ages; not to mention the rock hard biscuits, which would also keep for ages.  All of which, as you’ve probably already foreseen, came in very useful when the world ended.  Why, it was almost as if Polly subconsciously knew something the rest of us didn’t.

And there Polly was on the fateful day (October 31st 2018) taking her afternoon nap on her comfy couch in her now cosy living room.  A couple of mice had just scurried along the top of a nearby armchair (they’d become very forward those mice and not at all nocturnal) but we won’t squeal, we’ll ignore them and, after all, they are Polly’s friends.  The couch was more like a double bed, it was so long and wide and filled with gigantic and soft cushions.  Polly had nestled down in amongst those cushions, her head resting on a particularly large and fluffily pink one.  She was lying on her back, one arm across her eyes.  The rhythmical sound of gentle snoring filled the room.  Polly’s other arm hung over the side of the couch, dangling carelessly, its hand touching the fur of a small dog (the dog she’d got for company) which lay beside the couch on a rug; the dog was also snoring.

What a peaceful scene that was, especially when we also note that there’s a crackling log fire, a mere three feet away from the slumbering Polly and her dog.

Meanwhile, roughly 3,000 miles away, a crackling fire of a very different sort was making its way across vast swathes of the Americas.  For, against all possible odds, a 3.5 mile wide asteroid had suddenly appeared, as from nowhere, and landed in exactly the same spot as the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.  Upon landing it caused worldwide forest fires, several tsunamis and quite a few earthquakes but, crucially, there wasn’t enough soot and dust to completely block out the sun.  This meant that the few living things that were left (which turned out to be mostly water based creatures) had a miniscule chance of long term survival.  Of course, this didn’t apply to the humans, who were an absolutely useless lot survival-wise; being that most of them had never watched Bear Grylls and, even if they had, had never bothered to take notes.

Now, the news that the world had ended never reached the UK.  This was because the Americas had been destroyed, so there was no one left to take photos of the asteroid on their cell phones, or to film it glowing in the sky, or to post ‘Christ, the World just ended LOL’ on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  Now, the scientists among you will be adamant that this scenario is quite absurd, and will further throw your hands up into earth’s oxygenated atmosphere when I go on to tell you that a couple of the tsunamis caused a global flood (in very  much the style of Noah and his Ark) and, when this flood reached UK shores, the only bit of the UK it spared was the bit of Scotland where Polly lived.  And I mean just the actual bit where Polly lived.

The other bit the flood spared was the top of Mount Everest, where a group of climbers sat marooned.  This group was made up of strangers, who had all been subjected to the same sonorous voice as Polly, which had instructed them, a couple of years ago, to get into training for a once in a lifetime trip up Everest – the group included: a doctor, a builder, a carpenter, a farmer, a herbalist, a chemist, a physicist and an engineer – four men and four women, all single and who had all been somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo.

Meanwhile, worldwide, there had been absolutely no time for damage limitation plans, or for any general looting, or rioting, or the stockpiling of tinned food and bottled water, or the buying of gas masks and the searching for anything which would serve as a weapon (cricket bats, table legs that kind of thing) in case Zombies appeared (the cricket bats and table legs would have been quite useless here.)  No, everyone in the entire world (except our survivors) simply drowned en masse.   And afterwards there was complete and utter silence.

Except for some rather lovely singing coming from inside Polly’s cottage (Polly could carry a tune, even if she said so herself) and various cries of: ‘where did all the water come from?’ and ‘what the hell are we going to do now,’ emanating from the top of Mount Everest .

But we must leave Polly, and our Everest crew, and travel upwards, as far as the eye can see. Up and up we go, past the second star on the right; past giant nebulas and swirling galaxies; past a couple of black holes, until we reach the bit of space at the point before Time began.  For this is where all the Gods live.

I’d like to say that the Gods all lived on top of something which looked very like Mount Olympus, where they wafted about in floaty gowns tied with golden cords, and weaved their way in and out of Grecian pillars but no, they all worked for the God equivalent of the Council, and they all had boring desk jobs.   And currently the end of planet Earth was their number one topic of conversation.

The God of Statistical Improbability (Calculus), the God of Inevitability (Doom) and the God of Chaos and Confusion (Havoc) were in a meeting.

“Well I think that went rather well,” Calculus was saying (this may seem heartless but you must understand that, to the Gods, we are but as ants to be crushed underfoot.)

“I agree, Earth was in need of a re-boot,” piped up Doom. ‘It’s been going pear shaped for far too long.”

“Of course, it’s all the Creator’s fault,” chipped in Havoc, “but nobody dared say anything for fear of getting kicked into the Nether Regions.”  (Doom misheard this bit and thought Havoc said ‘kicked in the nether regions’ and instinctively winced.)

“You’re right, of course,” said Doom.  “I mean, what did the Creator expect?  Building the thing in just 7 days, sticking around for a mere 2,000 years and then buggering off.  This might only be a rumour, but did you know that one of the Winged Messengers mentioned that things were going downhill fast on planet Earth and the Creator said: “which one is that then?”  He’d completely forgotten all about it.”

“Well, we had to do something,” said Calculus, “Earth has been giving out a really bad vibe for quite some time.  Those humans have been getting way above themselves (the Gods, it must be said, seemed oblivious to the fact that they shared a lot of human characteristics.) The human known as Professor Binzel of MIT confidently asserted that there was no asteroid out there big enough to obliterate the planet.  So I taught him a lesson; after all spare the rod, spoil the child.  By the way, did you get word to our survivors Havoc?”

“Yes, a bunch of them are on Everest and then there’s Polly, oh and her dog…..to be fair to the humans, the one known as Brian Cox did issue a warning that ‘there’s an asteroid out there and it’s got our name on it’ but, like the prophets of old, nobody listened.  I think we should call this one ‘The Big Cox’ in his honour.’  (Havoc was the only God with a sense of humour, even if it was very, very childish.)

“Who’s Polly?” shot back Calculus and Doom.

“You were given a list of highly skilled, reasonable, environment loving people on which the future of a re-born Earth rests,’ continued Doom, “there was no Polly on that list, or a dog.”  Havoc looked a bit sheepish.

“Well, I sort of fell in love with her when she was looking out of her office window, it was her blue eyes.”   (Polly would later think that this was kind of typical, that the world had to end before she’d ever find herself a husband.)

“And what did Polly do?” demanded Calculus.

“I think it was something involving a lot of admin,” replied Havoc.

“For the Creator’s sake!”  screamed Calculus.  “Right, Doom and I are going to have a discussion, if you could leave the room please Havoc – now!”

After about an hour, it was agreed, and sanctioned by the God of Major Cock Ups (whose word was always final) that Havoc would be banished for the crime of saving someone who was of absolutely no use in a post-apocalyptic setting, and that his punishment would be to become mortal (in the manner of a previous God before him) and that Earth would be his new home.  Havoc pleaded if they couldn’t do it the old fashioned way, like they used to do with those ancient Greeks.  Couldn’t he go down there in human form but still be a God?  He and Polly could then have loads of little demi-gods who’d save the planet and they could forget about that lot on Everest.  The answer was No.

And so it was that, about a month later, Polly opened her cottage door to find that a personable young man was standing there.  It was love at first sight (well, it would be, given that he’d previously been a God) and Havoc (now Hamish) told Polly all about it (the end of the world) and Polly said she’s thought something pretty catastrophic had happened, being that she now appeared to be living on an island but, apart from that, she’d never been happier.  You might think that Polly would have been upset that her family and friends had all drowned, but she was ever an independent and pragmatic person and, besides, she’d begun to think that the dog was superior company, in that he kept his opinions to himself.

Shortly after that, Doom pulled the plug on the flood and the Everest lot climbed back down.  Of course, everything was very wet and in a very bad way indeed – there were dead bodies littered everywhere – and the Everest lot had a real job on their hands, but that’s another story.

Meanwhile, Doom and Calculus hoped very much that this lot of survivors would do rather better than the biblical lot.  In fact, Calculus was of the opinion that they shouldn’t have saved any humans at all, but should instead have waited to see what evolution would have come up, with what was left in the seas.    What they did do was send a Memo to the Creator, reminding him to include Earth in any future Council directives.