The Spy Who Loved Me

Scaling New Heights

I've mentioned before that lockdown has helped me rediscover my love of model kits. Yesterday I finished my latest project.

Citroën brought out the 007 Edition 2CV to tie in with For Your Eyes Only, in which James Bond drives a yellow 2CV through the Corfu countryside.

When I found out there was an aftermarket set of 007 decals, and resin headlights in the 1970s/80s square style, designed to go on Tamiya's 1:24 scale 2CV kit, I was hooked.

I took a lot of care over this one, dry brushing the seats to give a worn effect, using masking tape to do the chrome trim, and spending hours applying the tiny bullet hole decals (including my initials in Morse over the left rear wheel), and I'm really pleased with how it's turned out:




Cat Air


Way back at the start of lockdown, I registered for the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme - partly because it seemed like the right thing to do, partly because it would allow me to go out on my motorbike at a time when non-essential travel was frowned on.

You can volunteer to give patients a lift to hospital, deliver prescriptions or chat with people in isolation. Since it wouldn't be appropriate to give vulnerable people a pillion ride, and the idea of ringing a total stranger for a chat fills me with horror, I signed up as an NHS Transport Volunteer and downloaded the Good SAM app to my phone.

Nothing happened for several months, then a couple of weeks ago a siren alert sounded, scaring the pants off me, and I fumbled around in the app trying to find out what to do.

I phoned the person in need, who couldn't hear me properly, had no idea who I was and what I wanted, and was clearly worried by the whole thing. (I had assumed I would be talking only to pharmacists, not actual people.) I hung up, selected the option to pass the call to another volunteer, and was so traumatised that the next couple of times I got an alert I refused it immediately.

This morning I got another alert, for someone just a couple of streets away, and decided it was time to change. I called the provided number, established that their prescription was waiting in the pharmacy at Sainsbury's, collected and delivered it.

An hour later I got another alert and accepted it. It turned out to be another Sainsbury's job, so I regretted being so eager on the first one.

I'm not sure why things have suddenly kicked off after months of silence, but I signed up to do my bit and now I'm finally doing it.

Go Jump in a Lake

Outdoor swimming-pools are one of the things that have reopened, and as I've been missing swimming a great deal, I booked a slot this morning for the swimming lake in Beckenham Place Park.

The lake opened last summer and I kept meaning to go but didn't get round to it. This year has taught me many harsh lessons about making time for the things you want to do.

Reading the regulations, and surveying the swimmers on arrival, I was pretty nervous about it. I don't own a wetsuit or a tow float. I couldn't find my prescription goggles. I was probably gonna drown, or get shouted at, which would be worse. (In the end I swam in my glasses, which looks super dorky but at least ensures I can find my clothes again.)

It was fine, of course. I was given an orange inflatable float to clip round my waist, I took off my bike gear on the grass and waded in. There were very dedicated, serious triathlete types and there were people just going for a nice gentle circuit, and there was plenty of room for all. Big dragonflies and little blue damselflies darted above the water, while teenage coots dabbled about.

I arrived home just in time to attend an online meeting while wearing a towelling robe.

Cat Air

Adventures in Space, Time and Plumbing

Last night I went to an Actual Pub for the first time since March, which was very exciting. When the opening of pubs was announced, I joined most people in saying 'that sounds like a terrible idea', but my local, the Alma, seemed to be doing a responsible job, so I met two friends for a post-work pint.

When I entered I was asked to sanitise my hands, and had my temperature taken with a scanner. Orders were placed at your seat, and paid for, cards and contactless only, on delivery. It was reassuring, civilised, and nice and quiet. Might try a meal next time.

I needed a pint in me for the evening's entertainment. Earlier this week, someone on Twitter posted a clip from a half-hour documentary promoting Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and hosted, for reasons unknown, by Pierce Brosnan, who goes absolutely overboard on the drama ("He is a legend...that goes by many names...").

Since apparently I am Twitter's go-to person for making affectionate fun of Pierce, several people pointed it out to me with the suggestion that it would be fun to watch together. We agreed on 8pm Friday, and I think about a dozen of us hit Play on YouTube simultaneously so we could appreciate it in likeminded company.

Favourite line: "At that time a full-grown cow would have been the size of a Great Dane!"

Here's the full thing (not much Alan Rickman content, callmemadam, sorry).

Today's adventure was getting to know a little more about how taps work, since a few days ago the cold one in the kitchen became stiff and would only produce a dribble of water. I consulted the internet, shut off the water supply under the sink and took the tap apart. There was nothing visibly amiss, so I cleaned out the gunk and made sure all the parts were moving, then reassembled. It's behaving properly again, though I'm watching it like a hawk in case it tries any funny business.

More Zoo

Because zoos need our support to keep taking care of their animals (as one zoo owner put it in an interview, "you can't furlough an otter", I felt I was doing no less than my duty in going to two zoos within a week.

Wildwood near Herne Bay in Kent specialises in British animals, including animals we used to have before we killed them all off, so wolves, lynx, bison and brown bears. On Saturday I went along to one of their evening sessions with my old flatmate Calgor and his partner.

It was a cool, sunny evening after a grey and rainy day, and the light was particularly perfect as we photographed the fallow deer.

We walked through the red squirrel enclosure without seeing any red squirrels, and took the rope bridge (enclosed!) across the bear enclosure, where we very much did see one of the bears strolling up and down by the fence. We lingered for as long as we felt we could (social distancing meant little knots built up behind you if you stood still too long) looking down at the wolves, who were mostly loafing about while one fellow trotted around on important wolf business. I also loved the arctic foxes, who were snuggled up next to each other.

Once again there were timed entry slots, a one-way system and no indoor exhibits, but they were more relaxed about eating and drinking on the premises, meaning I could fortify myself for the ride home with a hot dog and a latte. It was very good to catch up with friends I hadn't seen since before lockdown, and I hope we can have a socially distant barbecue or something soon.

Arctic fox rolls

Fallow deer

A wolf who's apparently seen something interesting behind it

Leggy lynx
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Going To The Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

I took yesterday off to see my friend M for the first time since lockdown. Our original plan was to meet somewhere off the M11 and go for a country walk, but his local zoo, Shepreth Wildlife Park, announced it was opening, so we booked tickets.

The lockdown rules included timed entry and no eating or drinking in the zoo itself, so we met half an hour before our entry time to enjoy a picnic in the car park. We were tremendously excited to see each other and at the prospect of animals, and the stroke of noon saw us marching through the gates.

The otters were snoozing in a sunny pile, as were the meerkats (except for the poor soul on guard duty). The tiger, with a huge enclosure full of grass and toys, was lying on the concrete by the gate of its enclosure, presumably because that's where lunch arrives.

There was a one way system in place, but as long as you obeyed it you could go round as many times as you liked, so we did a second circuit and were lucky enough to see some of the animals that had been elusive on our first go.

The red pandas and Scottish wildcats were having their enclosures cleaned, so they were more active, and peering into one dark hutch revealed the pretty pardine genet, which looks just like a cat until you see its face.

The big treat, though, was a maned wolf. These are one of the zoo's main (mane) attractions, but a sign told us they're shy and you are unlikely to catch them outside their shelter, so we were delighted to see one lying in the long grass, moving its huge fluffy ears around like radar dishes.

Although the inside exhibits were closed, and you couldn't pet the bunny rabbits, we still managed to spend two and a half hours in there. The rules also included no sitting down, so we were pretty tired by this point and needed another small picnic before we could take to our separate vehicles for the journeys home.




Muskehound RedCoatCat


Shops and things are opening up, and I think it's polite and considerate to other people to wear a mask, as well as making me feel slightly safer. (I felt rude when I had my eyes tested and the staff were masked up while I wasn't.)

The one I ordered a month ago failed to arrive (a free replacement is on its way), but when I saw that one of my favourite designers was selling masks made from her fabric designs, I ordered one of those too. I reckon this will be going on for a while, and it will be good to have options.

I'm very pleased with this; the cats on red and orange 1960s chairs is obviously perfect for me (I already own it on a cushion cover), and the mask itself seems good quality. The front has a soft vinyl feel, the back is cotton, with a slot for a disposable filter (two are included), and there are plastic toggles so you can adjust the elastic round your ears.

(I'm sad that people can't see me smiling, but perhaps they can tell from my eyes. Or perhaps...perhaps not everyone wants me to smile at them!?)

Gail Myerscough online shop >

(While I'm plugging stuff, the EU passport brooch is by Tatty Devine.)

Cat Air

Boy in the Support Bubble

Last week, the government announced 'support bubbles', which would allow people living on their own to join up with another household.

To my surprise, there was a specific provision for people in relationships where one partner lives alone and the other has e.g. a flatmate. So I discussed it with my flatmate, and we agreed to extend our bubble to include Howard.

On Saturday, I rode down to Stockbridge to meet him, and we greeted each other with a hug for the first time since February (we'd met up twice during lockdown, maintaining social distance). We sat in the churchyard to eat our sandwiches, along with several other groups who were doing the same. A café where we'd eaten on a previous occasion was doing takeaway coffee and ice cream, so I queued for some of that. It felt good to do normal things like hold hands, and share a bag of crisps rather than sitting two metres apart eating separate picnics.

We rode a couple of miles to Danebury Hill Fort to have a walk and look at the wild flowers. Plenty of other people had had the same idea, but there was enough room for all.

First order of business back at Howard's place was getting him to run the clippers over my hair, which had been getting increasingly annoying over three months of unchecked growth. I had it done pretty severely, much to the surprise of my colleagues this morning, as they only knew the lockdown version.

I've been missing the sea, so Sunday's ride was to Weymouth and Portland. At Portland I climbed up Pulpit Rock, so named because it's supposed to look as if there's a Bible leaning against it. I was a little anxious about getting down again, as, like a cat, I am much better at getting up things than reversing, but I had Howard on hand to tell me where my feet should go, and inform me that I wasn't to get stuck up there because my bike was blocking his in.

We had lunch at the café on Chesil Beach and saw two of the rare little terns that are being encouraged to breed there.

Before I headed home, I was able to visit callmemadam. We sat two metres apart in the garden and had a cuppa. Luckily the weather was good.

When I got home, my flatmate gave the traditional greeting of pointing at me and laughing while saying "HAIRRR!! CUTTTT!!"


Casino Royale

Our Movies In Havana

I didn't deliberately set out to watch two films set in Cuba quite close together, but my subconscious had other ideas.

I hadn't seen the 1959 film of Our Man in Havana, even though I love both the novel and Noël Coward, who plays intelligence agent Hawthorne. I caught up with it over the weekend and enjoyed it very much; it's faithful to the book, with a lot of humour. Highlight: the drawing of an entirely fictitious atomic weapon that happens to look a lot like a vacuum cleaner.

Last night I picked Buena Vista Social Club from the BFI Player because I like Ry Cooder and Wim Wenders; I hadn't listened to the album, although I'm rectifying that right now on Spotify (it's GREAT).

It's a lovely film, introducing the Cuban musicians Cooder brought together, some of whom hadn't played for years and had been all but forgotten, showing us their homes and daily lives, then following them to New York and their performance at Carnegie Hall. Everything one has heard about Cuba is here: shabby plaster and bright paint, cigars and guitars and old American cars.

Maybe I should complete the Cuban trilogy with Die Another Day. Or maybe not.
Husky Airways

Lockdown Eye Test

Specsavers' website said they were open for 'essential and urgent' appointments, please book a slot and fill in a form. I filled it in to find out whether "I get my eyes tested every couple of years and my prescription's probably changed a bit" counted as essential, and apparently it did, so I went along today. When I informed my colleagues I'd be out at lunchtime for an eye test, of course, they all asked me if I was driving to Barnard Castle.

The branch I visited was inside the Sainsbury's megastore at Sydenham. They had closed the shutters across the shop, with a gap at one end, blocked by a table, where they asked you your business before admission. All the staff wore masks and gloves, the equipment was wiped down before use and there was a box for glasses you'd tried on, so they could be disinfected before they went back on the shelf.

"Do you wear your glasses for driving?" I was asked. Friends, I could barely recognise a car without my glasses on, let alone drive one.

It turned out my prescription hadn't changed as much as I thought it had, but my lenses were pretty scratched (and the earpieces a bit chewed) so the optometrist advised me to get a new pair, which I wanted to do anyway.

I prowled around for ages unable to find anything I liked, then spotted a pair in the box of tried-on frames, so the sales assistant cleaned them for me and they were great. Thanks, person who tried them on and rejected them!

They were one of the most expensive pairs in the shop, inevitably.
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