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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Pantomime

Like many schoolchildren at this time of year, one of my Childerbeasts has just been to the Panto (“Oh no they haven’t”). One of her classmates who has joined them this year is from the US.  This child has never heard of Pantomime.  Of course they haven’t – why would they have done?  This child had absolutely no idea what it was, so naturally they asked their British friends to explain.  The rest of the class had a rather difficult time explaining it.  It wasn’t until I had this conversation with my child that it occurred to me how utterly baffling it must be to discover this peculiarly British phenomenon, and even more difficult to explain it to someone who has not come across it before.  Difficult, mainly because we don’t really know why we do it either.  Therefore, after the runaway success of my Christmas present guide last week, without further ado, I now present to you my helpful guide to Pantomime.

History

According to Wikipedia the word “pantomimus” in Latin derives from the Greek word (for which I do not know how to change to a Greek keyboard) meaning a dancer who performs all of the roles or all of the story.  It continues that “Pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment….a participatory form of theatre in which the audience is encouraged to [join in].”

Western Culture has a long history of pantomime and it dates back to classical theatre in Ancient Greece.  Pantomimes in other cultures mean miming and only in Britain does it relate to our particular type of theatrical show.  So, anyone who is new to this cries “what is this particular type of theatrical show”?

The story will be loosely based on a fairy tale

Every Panto I have ever been to is loosely based on a fairy tale.  There is usually a male romantic lead, a female romantic lead, usually in pursuit of eachother, or looking for love and bumping into eachother.  There is also a maternal character trying to care for one or both of them and a baddie, trying to thwart their love with their evil plotting. 

The men dress up as women and the women dress up as men….sometimes

Perhaps this is becoming less of a thing now but all of the characters are mixed up in the sense that their clothing is not conventional according to gender.  The particular character that springs to mind is “Widow Twanky” who is always played by a man.  At the risk of broaching a controversial issue, this is not a trans issue.  Or on second thoughts, maybe it is because it is the character in the story that is the important thing, the costume is merely to assist with the story-telling and no one, and I mean no one, bats an eyelid.

Bad jokes

The show will be littered with the type of jokes that you get from a cracker.  I need to pause here to explain crackers further.

Crackers in Britain can mean two things.  The first is a dried savoury biscuit upon which you, generally speaking, put and eat together with cheese.  They can be enjoyed all year as a light snack.  However, at Christmas they accompany a large cheeseboard, cold meats, chutney and other nibbly bits.  One usually consumes too many and then complains loudly about having eaten too much, when you only have yourself to blame.  We also refer to these as biscuits.  But they’re not sweet biscuits, which we also call biscuits and Americans call cookies.  See? It makes perfect sense.  

The second are paper cylinders wrapped festively which contain a small gift, a paper hat and a piece of paper upon which is printed an appallingly unfunny joke.  These crackers are laid with the rest of the table for festive meals. When everyone is seated you invite one of your fellow diners to “pull a cracker” with you.  They accept and you each hold one end and pull.  After a modest amount of good-humoured grappling and some care for the glassware, there is a small bang as the cracker separates, with one person winning the half with all of the goodies, and the other entirely bereft.   But don’t worry, Bereft Diner, there is a cracker for everyone and everyone ends up with a paper hat (which you are expected to wear for the duration of the meal), a baffling and useless gift (a hair clip for someone with no hair – that sort of thing) and a rubbish joke, which you are obliged to share with the table.

For those unfamiliar with the type of jokes in crackers, they are the sort of jokes your dad tells.  You will notice this if your father or grandfather is at the show with you because you will see them taking mental notes of the jokes in order to deploy them at a later date. If they get a notebook out, leave immediately.

Audience participation

Generally speaking the British are uncomfortable about absolutely everything, including breathing.  And we’re comfortable that way.  But oddly not at a Pantomime.  Audience participation is expected and encouraged at Panto, and lots of people join in enthusiastically.  Just once a year.

Booing at the baddy

Goodies enter and stand stage right and baddies enter and stand stage left.  The villain will usually be preceded by a loud bang and a puff of smoke.  As soon as they appear, the audience is expected to boo loudly.  Loudly, but politely.  Not so loudly or for so long that the villain can’t be heard telling everyone about their nefarious plans.  They exit stage left with a booming cackle and a big sweep of a large cape.

Shouting stock phrases

You (the audience) may be asked by one of the characters to shout out a phrase at a particular time, usually to alert another character to something that they otherwise would not have noticed.  You will probably be encouraged and coached by that character to practise this all together so you all know what you’re doing at the crucial moment.  However, in addition, there are some phrases that will also come up that you will be expected to just shout out as a group when required.  Learn them now and I shall endeavour to put them into context next:

  • “Oh no it isn’t/oh yes it is.”

The audience answers back to this phrase.  Almost conversationally, one character shouts out “Oh no it isn’t” at which point you (the audience) will be expected to shout back “oh yes it is.” No, I have absolutely no idea why we do that.

  • “It’s behind you”

The audience is expected to shout this phrase out.  It may involve the baddy trying to sneak up on one of the goodies, the goody “hasn’t noticed” and they step around the stage in circles. I have a very early memory of Sister A (as a small child, not last week) being so enraged that the character hadn’t noticed that they were being sneaked up on that she got herself out of her seat and stomped her little legs down to the edge of the stage in order to berate them publicly.  In addition she made some unflattering remarks about their eyesight and even less complimentary ones as to their IQ.  It is the only time I have been to the theatre and seen the entire company helpless with laughter.

Singing

Oh dear god, yes there is also singing.  As in audience-participatory singing.  You may be split into groups – don’t panic at this point, it’s not going to be a rendition of ‘O Fortuna’. Again, you’ll get to practise. The words will probably be unravelled on a large piece of paper so everyone can see and someone may have a pointy stick to guide you along.  But if you can’t see or can’t remember, there is no need to worry, it won’t be tricky and no one takes it seriously.  So if like my beloved late grandfather, your best singing is a low growl that summons the rocks, or like my beloved late mother, you can sing only one note and it’s not one known to music, no one cares.

And finally….

You’ll probably get squirted with water at some point.  No, I don’t know why. Now that I’ve thought about it I don’t understand any of it. Yes, we are weird. Very weird.

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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Christmas Shopping

I don’t mean to be smug, well actually I do, but I have nearly finished my Christmas shopping.  Of course, I do now have to do all the wrapping so there is no need for me to feel too pleased with myself.  However, as I have spent months gathering gifts, I thought that those of you who are behind on such things (read men) would appreciate the benefit of my gathered wisdom with some gift ideas.  Utterly pointless gift ideas, I might add.  Things that are no use whatsoever to woman nor beast.  Gifts for which I can see, nor find, any discernible reason for them having been invented other than something that seemed like a good idea when very drunk very late at night.  Not only have these been made, they are now available to the general public for purchase; I now present them to you.

For small children

My nephew is eighteen months old.  Like many fortunate children his age, he has more toys than Argos and more clothes than M&S.  He has, however, started going to hide in a corner to do a poo.  So it isn’t long before he will be introduced to a potty.  Imagine my delight when I happened upon a Potty Piano.  An original gift that I am sure is going to make potty-training a breeze.   It would appear that with this miracle item the child sits nicely on the potty, tip-tapping their teeny tiny feet on the keys of the mat beneath them, the music making an angelic and festive sound.  No longer will small children get up and run off, butt-naked and proceed to pee on the carpet. No, no. I am confident that the Potty Piano will be just as successful, if not more so, than the musical potty.  Which every child would tip over to see where the music was coming from.  I simply cannot wait to see my sister’s look of unending gratitude when the Potty Piano is unwrapped on Christmas morning.

For teenagers

Of course whatever you buy for a teenager is destined to be wrong.  Resign yourself to that fact now.  You are out of touch, out of place and when finished buying for them, out of money.  So when they stumble into the house the worse for wear after festive celebrations, guide them to the bathroom with a toilet bowl light.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Apparently these things come in a variety of colours – they may even change colour.  They’ve got every other electronic known to humanity, so at least with this they might be able to throw up in the right place.

For excessively lazy people

Now this could apply equally to teenagers, but also to many people who are no longer teenagers, so I have created an entirely separate section here.  I have to say, the variety of crap available for people so lazy that they can hardly be bothered to breathe is mind-boggling, so I have restricted it to three.

Self-Stirring Mug and Temperature Controlled Mug

I have seen one of each of these available for purchase this morning.  Google them if you don’t believe me.  The first is for the person who is so lazy that having made themselves a cup of tea, after having taken the tea bag out of the water with a spoon, for reasons as yet unexplained by psychiatry, they cannot be bothered to return the spoon to the cup to stir it a bit.  I would have thought that if you’re that lazy, then you won’t have even made the tea in the first place.  But if I’m wrong and it is the final flourish of a quick stir with a teaspoon that offends a person, then this is the item for them.

Alternatively, a mere snip at £139.99 for the delight of keeping your drink at optimum temperature for as long as you want in a cost of living crisis, is a temperature controlled mug.  Along the same lines as the self-stirring mug, but perhaps if someone has coped with the pressure of making their hot drink, then it is too much to ask them to drink it in a timely fashion as well.  This is a gift for a person who cannot, nor will not, be rushed.  They are simply too important for that.  The same sort of person who likes to send their requirements in advance, just so you know how important they are – the champagne in their hotel room is to be chilled to a certain temperature or certain foods are expressly forbidden because, you know, they’re that important.  What’s the word for them?  Oh yes, twats. Make a donation to a charity on their behalf instead.

Boiled egg cooker

These have been around for years.  So someone is buying them and I want to know who it is.  I think it is one person and it is probably the person who invented it.  However, if you have an urge to boil six eggs at once then apparently this device will make your life so much easier than, say, a large saucepan of water on the hob.  Suitable for someone who can’t cope with the mental load of a bubbling pan and a timer.

Electric Lazy Susan

So for those of you who need a quick reminder, a Lazy Susan is that large serving dish with different sections that you can have in the middle of the table, so people can twizzle it round to get to the twiglets without having to negotiate the table itself.  You lean forward, you give the bowl a little nudge, you take whatever it is you’re after, and so on. So my question is this:  just how lazy do you have to be to purchase an electric version of this?  Presumably the effort expended in leaning forward to press the button is as much as moving the dish manually?  Is there one button only or is there a button for everyone?  Because if there is a button for everyone, then I don’t know about you, but that is an opportunity for everyone in my house to both fall out and get covered in dip at the same time.  And if there is only one button, then it is a quick lesson in what happens when you give someone too much power and a button.  Buy one for someone you don’t like, then sit back and watch the fireworks.

For anxious people

There are a lot of anxious people about at the moment, and with good reason.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed to the eyeballs, the best way to get me to calm down is to tell me to calm down. As I held my dying mother’s hand last year, I could think of nothing more comforting at that time than someone appearing with a sign telling me to ‘look for rainbows’.   Had they done so, I could guarantee that they would have had to have looked very hard indeed to locate any rainbows where I would have put the sign.  But what if someone isn’t available?  A helpful sign saying ‘Exhale’ has to be the answer.  At least someone would be able to keep warm for a bit by burning it.

For forgetful people

This is related to the above, but for the more confused person in your life.  Buy them a photo frame with a word on and put a photo in it for them.  For example, you could get a photo frame with ‘Family’ or ‘Friends’ on it.  They seem to be everywhere so I can only assume that there are large sections of the population entirely and permanently baffled. Put a photo of their family or friends in the frame as described on the front.  This person will then have an aide-memoir for when they forget who’s who.

For people with more money than sense

I rather suspect that this is no one reading this, or else you’re all hiding your wealth and your sanity very well indeed.  We all know you can buy anything on the internet.  But did you know that you can buy diamond rings on the internet?  Probably.  But did you know you can buy them from the same site that you bulk buy your loo roll from?  No?  Well you can!  For £333,999.99 (that is three hundred and thirty three thousand nine hundred and ninety nine pounds and ninety nine pence) they will also throw in free delivery. How incredibly generous.

Shocking as it will be to you, I am not in the market for such an item and unless there is also something he is not telling me, neither is Man of the House.  I would just like to say to any (probably) men who have now broken into a cold-sweat that their go-to of jewellery is a mistake – diamonds can never be a mistake.  However, mail order diamonds are a big mistake.  And certainly for that amount of money.  If you’re buying jewellery you want to be schmoozed.  And if you’re dithering between diamonds and a house and thinking diamonds are the way to go then, you at least want champagne (at the correct temperature, obviously), nibbles and until someone steals it off you when you are sleeping on the street, an armed guard.  Someone must be buying them or they wouldn’t be for sale.  Perhaps it’s you. 

In a cost of living crisis what could be better than items which are not only a complete waste of money in themselves, but in addition, a number of them also pointlessly use electricity in being able to fulfil their utterly pointless (I use the word loosely) function.  There is absolutely no need to thank me now for this helpful and comprehensive list, which I hope means that you will get all of your shopping done in one afternoon.  Now you must excuse me, I have a toilet bowl light to wrap.

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Crackers

A few months ago everyone was an epidemiologist.  Now this week, it would appear that everyone is an economist.  I am neither an epidemiologist nor an economist.  I know that all viruses are things to be avoided, and to avoid spreading airborne ones that it is best to keep it out of the air. As far as Economics are concerned, I’m also something of a lost cause. Man of the House tried to explain World Monetary Theory to me once.  I looked as blank as he looked when I tried to explain the light in Caravaggio’s ‘Lazarus’ to him.  I know enough to know what my mortgage rate is, what my bills are, and what my income is compared to that.  I know that if interest rates go up, then that will cost me more money because things are more expensive.  I know that food prices have gone through the roof since Brexit and continue to get worse.  And I understand a little bit of why.

There is nothing wrong with me being a bit of a doofus on this subject.  If I make a mistake, then the only money I am risking is my own.  However, I had always hoped that, even if I disagree with those governing us, I could respect them for two things 1. That they were more experienced and intelligent than me and 2. Whatever they were doing, they believed that it was in the best interests of the country.  I think we can all agree that both of those things have gone entirely out of window these past few years.  Just when we thought the nadir had been reached, down they go again.

So when Man of the House came into the room last Friday and announced that the Chancellor had gone “batshit crazy” I barely turned a hair.  We are used to “batshit crazy”.  As if that means anything anymore.  We are used to being told that the facts staring us in the face are not the facts. A party?  No, you don’t understand peasants.  It was merely a gathering of people having drinks and nibbles – that’s not a party.  Bankers having unlimited bonuses affects inflation?  Don’t be silly plebs, it’s those pesky public sector workers on their massive salaries and having the brass neck to expect a payrise so they can both eat and heat their homes that are causing inflation. Fossil fuels causing climate change?  What nonsense!  Who told you that?  Climate scientists?  Honestly! We are used to this sort of illogical, patronising and sanctimonious bollocks being spouted at us as if it is we, the Members of the Public, who are too stupid to understand things. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I don’t think our stupidity is the problem.

When Man of the House explained to me that the Treasury had just done something which meant that it and the Bank of England were and are pulling in opposite directions, I formed the view that I didn’t much like the sound of that. Aren’t they both supposed to be on our side? In my not even pretty little head, I see this as a Christmas Cracker.  On one side we have the Treasury, and the Bank of England is on the other.  And we’re the cracker. Now unless I have missed something, things never turn out well for the cracker. But you don’t have to take my word for it, and to be perfectly honest, why would you. Those (and I am struggling to think of an exception as I type) who do understand the minutiae of this, think that what the Treasury has done is unwise at best. The Chancellor “[doesn’t] comment on market movements” apparently. Well, tanking the pound would appear to speak for itself. As does assisting the rich to become richer and the less well-off to remain so. So as no comment is forthcoming there are only two conclusions one could draw; the first is that they know something that everyone else in the area of economics in pretty much the entire world does not, or the second, rather more unpalatable one; they don’t care.

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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Grief

I have lost three people close to me in the past eighteen months; Adella, my mum and my brother in law. Obviously it would be extremely unusual and indeed, rather fortunate, for anyone to have got to my age (twenty one) without having lost anyone.  And I do not in any way claim that my losses are any worse or more devastating than any of those which any of you may have suffered throughout any of your lives.  However, I think we can all agree that on a personal level, losing three people in such a short space of time during a pandemic makes for a challenging time.

Instead of talking about how grief feels *spoiler alert* – horrendous – I thought that it might be helpful for those of you trying to support a person who is facing it full blast, if I gave my top hints and tips from my experience as a grieving person and someone who has tried to support people grieving.

1. Do or say something

Whatever you do, saying or doing nothing is not an option.  Yes, I know we’re all British and stiff upper lip and all that, but I so much appreciated people letting me know that I was in their thoughts.  I had a lovely card from a friend that said she didn’t know what to say but she was sending me her love.  Not a long, waffling epistle. Not dramatic.  No wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Thoughtful messages, cards and flowers from friends and family to let me know that they were there.  But don’t do nothing.  That is the worst thing you can do.

2. Ask them anything other than how they are

Now I’ve said that doing nothing is not an option, when you do something, whatever you do, don’t ask them how they are.  I don’t mean don’t acknowledge their loss.  I mean specifically don’t ask: “how are you?” And I’m going to put my hands up here.  I kept doing this to my sister.  Man of the House pointed out to me that it was not the question to be asking.  Don’t say this too loudly because I wouldn’t want him to hear, but *whispers* he was right.  It was, is and remains, a stupid question. In pretty much every conversation I can think of, actually.  Everyone will say that they’re fine when they are demonstrably not.  Someone in hospital?  They’re sufficiently unwell to require a stay in hospital.  Nasty cold?  Bad day at work?  You know how they are.  They’re shit.  They feel shit.  It is shit.  And as far as loss of a loved one is concerned, it is going to be unutterably shit in some way or other, probably for the rest of their lives. Talk about the weather if you must, but please don’t ask people how they are. 

3. Remember that none of us know how any of us really feel about anything

We each have individual relationships with each other, which is what makes them special.  But none of us know how the other feels about the loss of a particular person or a particular relationship with that person because it was unique. If at any point you feel yourself about to utter the immortal line “I know how you feel” – stop yourself; you don’t. 

4. Talk about normal stuff

You are allowed, encouraged even, to talk about normal crap. Jokes and piss-taking is also permitted.  As are personal comments about the bereaved not looking quite their best, and suggestions of brushes needing to be run through hair and teeth.  We have not undergone a personality change, but a loss.  It helps for us to know that life goes on, even if we feel like we have stepped out for a while.

5. Talk about the person who has died

A work colleague died a few years ago and memories were being shared on social media (see below).  I remembered that they once made a speech at the office Christmas party which included the line “I want to keep my speech like Natalie’s skirt – long enough to cover the important points but short enough to be interesting.” His family replied that it had made them howl with laughter.  And when I think of him, I always remember that.  People are only truly gone when you forget them.  Don’t forget them.

6. But not the detail of how they died

What is expressly discouraged is trying to get the bereaved person “to talk about it”. And by ‘it’ I mean the detail leading up to and including a person’s death.  I’m not suggesting that you, dear Reader, are such a person.  But there is always one person (and I suspect that person in your life has popped immediately into your mind right now) who takes a perverse delight in wanting the gory details under the not-very convincing disguise of getting the bereaved person to unburden themselves for their own good.  The bereaved do not need to unburden themselves out-loud over and over.  And do you know why? Because they lived it. And if they do, it will certainly not be to the funerial equivalent of a rubbernecker.  It is your job as someone who genuinely cared for the deceased to identify, intercept and distract this person should you encounter them. Talk about your iffy toe, your dodgy mole, your unpredictable bottom  – anything, but keep them away from the bereaved.

7. Offer to help with something specific

When someone dies everyone connected to the deceased, pretty much without exception, asks if there is anything they can do. I have done this.  And I meant it.  But on reflection it was not helpful for me to make a nebulous offer of “help” to a person who cannot think straight in the shock of grief to consider what I might have been able to help with.  If you are able, offer help with something specific. And if you feel confident enough, just do it.  My friend offered help with lifts for my children.  I could get my head round that.  A specific task that I could consider whether or not I needed help with.  I told my sister when her weekly shop would be arriving.  Leave a lasagne on their doorstep. A cake.  I came home from Adella’s funeral to a bottle of gin. Little acts of love wrapped up in everyday things. 

8. Don’t make us go out

There will come a point when we have to re-engage with the world.  We know that.  Just don’t try to make us. After my mum died a friend took me round some gardens on a Sunday afternoon and poked tea and cake at me.  That I could cope with.  Anything more vigorous or exciting, I could not.  You will have to judge the person you know for yourself.  Of course, if it looks as if the bereaved retreating into their shell is likely to be a longer-term issue, then you may have to consider an intervention at some point.  But I am telling you now, trying to persuade them out with the same tactics as one extracts a cat from it’s carrier at the vets is doomed to fail.

9. Self-flagellatory social media posts

I’m not even sure if that is a word but if not, it should be.  Social media has its uses, many, many good uses.  It can be a lovely way for people to share memories, exchange information, and so much money has been raised for charities in memory of loved ones (see above).  In a similar vein to the cryptic poster there is the person who, usually exceedingly peripheral to the deceased, posts something about being “absolutely heartbroken”.  I am sure that they are sad.  I am sure that they are upset.  We all are when someone dies, but for the love of god, and I can’t emphasise this enough, get over yourself.  It’s not about you.  Grief is not a competitive sport.  It’s about the person who has died.  I genuinely don’t know how to deal with these people other than ignore them.  All suggestions gratefully received.

10. Don’t go away after the aftermath

There is always a lot of activity leading up to someone’s final send-off; people to be contacted, arrangements to be made…..there is a lot to sort out.  People gather to show their respects. And then, for the most-part, they drift away.  I get that.  Life goes on as it absolutely must if for no other reason than to honour the life of the person no longer with us.  I was chatting to a friend about something banal around six months after my mum died, and in the middle of it she said she just wanted to let me know that she didn’t want to keep asking me, but she hadn’t forgotten either.  Be that person.  We all need that person in our lives.

So there you go.  Take from it what you will.  You may find it utterly useless.  I hope that one person finds some comfort in some of it, someday. You may have found yourself muttering in disgust as you read it and declaring it to be “all wrong”. If you are the latter, then you are unlikely to be the former. The world still turns.

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Zombie

Whilst the people of Ukraine face down the Russian war machine for the ego of one inadequate madman, never ones to miss the opportunity for self-aggrandisement when they could be doing something useful instead, various members of our government have been keeping the official photographer busy.  James Cleverley has been photographed sat alone at a well-polished table showing us what lovely handwriting he has.  Foreign Secretary and Thatcher-wanabee, Liz Truss has thrown herself into the dressing up box with increasingly gay abandon. Finally, the PM was photographed standing next to a plane last Thursday.  Looking Very Serious Indeed.  According to one of his sycophants who tweeted the picture, this was the “front line”.  At Brize Norton.  In Oxfordshire. 

Now we are all used to all of the disinformation flying around, so one does need to be wary.  I am pleased that Mr Cleverley is proud of his handwriting, although why he thinks we need to see it remains a mystery to me. I wish Ms Truss would stop her unconvincing drag act in a bid to show us what a wonderful PM she would be. And Mr Johnson? I live on that particular front line so I can let you have my live report. 

I ventured bravely into Oxfordshire this morning, a notoriously lawless county.  As it was raining and a bit cold, I put on a big coat.  With a hood.  I drove through some reasonably busy traffic to the supermarket, armed with a mask and some carrier bags where I talked to the self-checkout.  I then returned to my house. As my village has had a pretty tense disagreement with the one next to us over the date of the Summer Fete this year, my house was, much to my surprise, still standing.  I then walked the Hound when I weaved in and out of Oxfordshire.  In the wind and rain. I bumped into a neighbour when we complimented each other on our impressive bouffants.  So what I can tell you about this particular front line is this: avoid the M40 at rush hour if possible, the staff at Tesco are extremely helpful when the self-checkout accuses you of not scanning items that you have clearly scanned, and it is really quite muddy in the fields at the moment. Make sure you have good walking boots or wellies on.  And a well-fitting hat would also be advisable if it is windy.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe, the people of Ukraine have some real issues on their hands.  The Ukrainian President has declined to be airlifted out of his country.  People are making Molotov cocktails and sheltering underground.  It is reported that the Russian army has moved mobile crematoria to the front lines.  Actual front lines.  With machines designed specifically to process vast numbers of bodies. Because nothing gets in the way of an army advancing like piles of bodies.  

Of course there is never anything so bad that there isn’t always someone who can’t make it even worse.  Some British sanctions have thirty days before they kick in, leading many to opine as to the reason for this delay as the EU and the US seem to have managed it already.  One MP has sensitively suggested that any Ukrainians who want to seek refuge in this country should apply to pick fruit.  Because when you’re fleeing your home to escape being bombed to oblivion, do remember to make sure it’s in the right season and don’t forget to take a pen.  My personal favourite so far in the shitstorm of inhumanity currently on display is from The Telegraph: “They seem so like us.  That is what makes it so shocking.  War is no longer something visited upon remote and impoverished populations.” Who signed that off?  Good god.

This could all make one give up hope. And one could be forgiven for thinking that that is what it is designed to do.  Don’t.  Public opinion is doing a lot to move our politicians in the right moral direction, even if it is the threat of them losing their job that motivates them. The assistant in Tesco told me that they had had quite a number of people in buying supplies for humanitarian aid to be sent to Ukraine. It’s not fancy.  We don’t have a photographer to show the world how clever we are.  But it matters.  When it comes down to it it’s all that matters.  And it’s worth fighting for.

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Proof of Life

Somewhere in this country is a man.  A young man.  Aged twenty seven.  Actually, probably twenty eight now – I have no idea when his birthday is. I don’t know where he lives.  I don’t know what he does for a living.  I don’t know what he looks like. If he’s married.  Or has children.  Likes football.  Doesn’t like football. Likes shoes.  Chocolate.  Can’t stand cheese. The only other thing that I know about him is that he is of the same tissue type as a forty one year old man.  I know nothing else about him.  I don’t even know his name.

Nearly a year ago this mystery man agreed to be a stem cell donor.  He must have already had it in his mind that one day he might need to agree to this as he was already on the register.  And when the register was searched for a match for the forty one year old man, he popped up.  Doppelgangers.  Or even double-dickers as a confused child once thought. A ten out of ten match. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I was always taught at school that if you get ten out of ten then that is to be celebrated.  And the people who know a lot more about it than me thought so too.  So we celebrated. Cautiously.

I presume that what next happened went loosely like this: said man was approached by several doctors, possibly in a lot of PPE at the time as the nation was in the teeth of the second lockdown.  He was advised that he was a double-dicker for someone needing a stem cell transplant.  I assume he was then asked if he would be prepared to be a stem cell donor.  Then he was probably given a lot of booklets and details as to the procedure, endless forms and a lot of people coming to see him to explain the forms. As a matter of procedure, I expect he was told a lot of things, but chiefly; a list of risks even more terrifying than the leaflet in a packet of paracetamol, possible outcomes, no one was allowed to know anyone else and no money would be changing hands.

Whatever happened between being identified as a match and being given a lever arch files of papers, this man agreed. As with his donee, I presume that he knew very little about the person he had been asked to help save.  He could not have known that his doppelganger was due to turn forty one in February.  That he lived in a village.  Had just moved into the house, in fact. That he was an Estates Manager.  Married.  Two children with another on the way.  Loved Spurs.  Disinterested by shoes.  Even less interested in chocolate.  Didn’t like bananas.  He didn’t even know his name. 

I don’t know his reasons for agreeing.  Maybe it was the opportunity to give a gift that only he could give to that one person. A gift that no one who loves and knows him could have given.  Perhaps an opportunity to do something special that comes along only once in a lifetime. Even just to get out of work for a couple of days. Whatever his reasons, I strongly suspect that at the point of agreement, one person advanced towards him with a biro.  And then several more people advanced on him with a buffet of needles.  He faced the pokings, the proddings, the general inconvenience of going back and forth to hospital and the risk to his own person.  All for someone he didn’t know and would never know. No money, no thanks, no recognition.

He will never know that the man’s family and friends were beside themselves at the prospect of losing him.  And the relief in knowing that not only had a donor been found, but, crucially, he was willing to proceed.  It is probably better that he will never know how they joked about a bevy of clucking middle-aged women turning up to his house or his place of work to thank him adoringly and tend to his every want and need ad infinitum. He will never know that because of what he did that he gave precious time.  Time for the man to talk to his wife.  His children.  His mum.  Time to hold his newborn child.

He will never know that he gave not just the man, but all those who love him, hope. Hope in such a time of darkness that it is hard to believe that life can ever be good again. He will never know that the leukaemia hid.  That after everything he did, in spite of everything everyone did, that it came back.  The crushing truth that even if everyone is pulling in the same direction, together, some storms cannot be weathered.  And we will never understand why. The comfort in our grief is that an entire stranger was prepared to give literally something of themselves and expect nothing in return.  Not a note.  Not a thank you.  Not a face. Not even a name. And they did it anyway.

If you are interested in joining the stem cell register, you can find more information here:

www.anthonynolan.org/

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Eulogy

Thank you for coming today.  I know that some of you have come a long way and not all of you are in the best of health. We very much appreciate your support and you being with us.

First we would like to publicly thank the teams of medical staff from our NHS for caring for Mum.  In particular, Dr Macmillan, Dr Fox, Lyn and the teams of the Haematology Department at Nottingham City Hospital.  They never gave up hope – they always tried everything.  And succeeded for nearly forty years.  The gratitude that we owe them can never be adequately expressed.  If you would like to make a donation to the ongoing and pioneering work of the Nottinghamshire Leukaemia Appeal there is a box for you to do so, and we will make sure it gets to them.  Thank you.

Our mum, Kaye, was born on 28 March 1948 in Leicester, a daughter to our grandparents and a younger sister for her brother. My uncle has told you about Mum’s younger days. She was a terror. Mum went to secretarial college at fourteen and at sixteen was sent out into the working world.  She had many jobs as one might expect, but one of her favourites was as a secretary in CID which she left in late 1974 just before my older sister was born.  I came along just over a year later and then seven years after that, much to our father’s surprise, but not our mother’s, my younger sister appeared.  It was during her pregnancy with my younger sister that my mum was diagnosed with leukaemia aged thirty four.

Sadly my parents divorced some years later.  It was hard for Mum to be a single parent.  She went back to college to upskill after having been at home for many years.  Having learnt to type on an old-fashioned typewriter, it took her some time to learn that there was no need to bash the living daylights out of a computer keyboard.  Mum then started a job at college, which was where she worked in various departments until she retired.

After many years Mum met our stepdad, Rob.  One evening after they had been seeing each other for a while he told her that he couldn’t see her anymore.  He said that he had been diagnosed with leukaemia and that he was going to die.  In a response that he was definitely not expecting Mum replied that she had never heard such nonsense, she had had leukaemia for twenty years and she wasn’t going to die.  They married at Gretna Green. Their time together was short and as many of you know, Rob did lose his fight against leukaemia.  Not as quickly as anyone thought he would, in large part due to the medics at Nottingham and another due to my mum’s love and care for him.

Being widowed did not come easily to Mum- she never enjoyed being single.  Nevertheless she continued to go out with friends and have holidays.  Mum had some enduring friendships – Sue, Val and Shirley are to name a few who will have many memories.  One friend, Yvonne, recalled a trip to the States when they got absolutely soaked on a boat trip. Rather than rush for a towel, Kaye pointed out to Yvonne and everyone else on the boat that she could see the pattern on Yvonne’s underwear. Tactful as ever.

Kaye had a lifelong love of animals.  She loved horses and riding when she was younger.  She always had a furry heartbeat or two around the house to keep her company.  She also loved reading – particularly history books about the Wars of the Roses.  Mum had a busy, restless, mind – it never stopped.  And until she lost her hearing, Mum also loved music and dancing.  The Beatles,  Queen – she felt the loss of Freddie Mercury profoundly. She largely failed in her attempts to get us to do the positively ridiculous ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’. And there is a reason me and my sisters know all of the words to Barry Manilow’s songs and it is not because we are fans.

Mum delighted in being a grandparent.  She didn’t even mind a honky nappy.  She was so pleased to have had the chance to hold little her newborn grandson and bounced with happiness at holding a new little life.  She once told me that having grandchildren made her feel like her life had been worth it.

I don’t want to give the impression of our mum as a saintly figure because we all know that would be an enormous porkie – she was often bad-mannered, bad-tempered and badly behaved. She wasn’t always entirely in command of her vehicle.  During a power cut when was a my younger sister was a baby the lights came back on for Mum to discover that she had the bottle in the baby’s ear.  I was once woken up by a loud bang and found that Mum had come home the worse for wear and bumped her head attempting to negotiate her way into the bathroom.  Much to my horror, either forgetting or not caring that she wasn’t a child of the sixties anymore when in her late forties Mum bought some leopard print hotpants.  I didn’t even begin to delve into when or where she thought she was going to wear them.  I am relieved to say that they never left the house.  On another occasion at my older sister’s secondary school a Maths teacher had got the wrong end of the stick about an ongoing debacle with another pupil.  My mum was exceedingly keen to appraise her of the full facts.  So keen, in fact, that the Headmaster had to stand between her and the teacher concerned.  A few days before she died, a junior doctor was trying to take some blood and my mother told her to go and find someone who could do it properly.  The doctor looked at me pleadingly to which my response was that I had no sympathy for her as that was just the sort of encouragement I had had for forty five years.  When it came to my mother – if you were a goose who had upset her, if “boo” was all that she said to you, then you should have considered yourself very lucky indeed.

Mum was also fearless.  And peerless.  She faced numerous rounds of chemotherapy over many years.  Stem cell transplant, radiotherapy.   You name the drug for her condition and she probably had it. I wouldn’t say it didn’t bother her, but she did just get on with it.  We never saw her cry about it. The alternative was to give up, and that wasn’t an alternative to her.  So she never gave up. It was that simple. “Unique” is a word that has come up a lot in speaking to people since Mum died.  As I said, peerless.

Kaye lived her life exactly the way she wanted to.  She never let anything or anyone stop her from going where she wanted to go, seeing who she wanted to see, doing what she wanted to do or saying what she wanted to say.

When it became apparent that there was to be no escape from this particular scrape, Mum said that she loved us and was going to miss us all terribly.  We don’t doubt that she loved us.  But I hope the bit about missing us isn’t true.  I don’t want her to miss us.  I want to believe that Mum can go wherever she wants, whenever she wants, with whoever she wants.  Where Freddie Mercury is borrowing her leopard print hotpants, Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits are on endless repeat and only she can hear them and my Nana and Grandad are waiting to call her home.

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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Grief

Yesterday – 16 June 2021 – one hundred and fifty two thousand three hundred and ninety seven people were recorded as having died from Coronavirus within twenty eight days of a positive test. If you have read my previous blog then you will know that one of those people in that very large number was my friend.  She died on 3 January.  Adella.

I’m not claiming that I’m exceptional.  She was.  I’m not.  I know that by my age that grief has affected everyone. It is different for everyone. That it takes us all by surprise and works in very mysterious ways. I have lost grandparents, watched my stepdad fight for his life for six years only to die at forty eight. Stupidly, I never expected a friend to die. Certainly not one younger than me. This has very much been The Spanish Inquisition as far as grief is concerned.

It’s been six months.  The first six months since I was little that I have faced a world without her in it. And I know now that it will never look the same through my eyes.  I never even thought about it because I foolishly assumed that as I was older that I would go first.  And not for a good few years yet because whilst my children think that I’m positively ancient and marvel at how I am still here, we all know I’m not.  I thought that when I finally went, Adella, amongst other people would shuffle into the service and say that it was very sad but what a good innings I had.  That I had lived my life.  And it was a good life.  As far as Adella was concerned, I also expected a modicum of alarm on her part as with my departure it would mean that she only had ten months until she caught up with me.  Therefore if there was something pressing she needed to be getting on with, then she had better get cracking.  Shocked as you may be to hear it, and not for the first time, I was completely and utterly wrong. 

Some dear friends have very kindly offered their ears if I have wanted to talk. But I haven’t been able to talk.  We didn’t have any friends in common. We had pre-dated every other friendship we had or have ever made.  What comfort is there to be had to sit and weep with someone who didn’t know the person you are weeping about – for weeper or weepee?  There are no shared memories.  I can’t say to them “oh do you remember that time when….” and we can laugh and remember together.  I have been so desperate to share memories, to connect with someone who knew her, that I have sat on my hands to avoid crying down the ‘phone to her parents.  Can you imagine her poor parents listening to me whitter on?  Or her ex-husband.  I’m sure he’d be thrilled.  Even driving to her funeral I thought of something that we had giggled about over the years and my brain actually went “oh Adella will laugh about that when I see her. At. Her. Funeral.”  Idiot.

When we were little, Adella and I used to go out for a walk around the country lanes near her parents’ house.  And when we heard a train coming we would run, flat out, to get to the rickety humpback bridge ready for when the train went under it.  Sometimes we would get there.  Sometimes we wouldn’t.  But when we did the bridge would shake under our feet.  And sometimes the driver would sound the horn when they saw us waving from the bridge.

A bit older and we got into make-up. Once we were giggling so much at trying to put eyeliner on that Adella poked me in the eye with the pencil.  Which made us laugh even more.

Like every other girl our age, when we saw Patrick Swayze sashay across the screen in ‘Dirty Dancing’ we knew that he was coming for us.  And much to his inevitable dismay, George Michael was no longer the man we were going to marry. I never let her forget that she suggested we listen to ‘Darty Dincing’.  On a mixed tape.  Yes.  We are that old.  We were that old.

We grew up some more.  Adella had a baby.  I was drunk in a pub.  Adella had two more babies and got married.  I was drunk in a different pub.  I moved away.  She moved further.  We meandered.  Life was busy.  I always loved her.  I wish I had told her that.

On her last birthday, as I have said in my blog, I wished her a happy birthday.  That was when she told me she was going into hospital.  I thought about telling her that I loved her then.  I remember the moment.  I wish I had told her that. Reader, I didn’t. It haunts me. 

After she died her daughter sent me some pictures she had found in her mum’s things.  Amongst them was a poem that I had written for Adella about friendship – she had kept it with her for nearly thirty five years. Turns out she always loved me.  I wish she had told me that. 

If you love someone, tell them.  They might need to hear it. You might need to say it.  And it may not be for that moment that it is really needed – you or they might need to park it and dust it off later.  If you are finding yourself very British about it then find a way. Perhaps a well-timed personal insult will suffice if you need to warm up to it.  But warm up to it.  None of us know what’s coming for us – good and bad.  Of all of the things I could have never predicted, I never could have predicted this.  We can’t tell each other now. Only one of us has to live with it. And I got the better end of the deal.

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Stick It Out

As I am sure many of you are aware there is a certain level of sweariness that is acceptable in an office.  Due to this, many years ago, a colleague and I came up with a few choice phrases that we could deploy in the office that would be deemed acceptable.  So, for example, instead of dropping the c-bomb and being frogmarched into the Senior Partner’s office for a stern word about conduct, we used the word “catflap”. True, the Senior Partner may have wanted a chat about mental stability. Maybe he just thought we were crazy cat ladies and best left well alone.  Whatever his reasons, I have been collecting euphemisms ever since.

Before this all kicked off (you’ll remember when you could go out for something as mundane as shopping without fear of transmitting a disease that could be deadly to a vulnerable person) Diminutive Friend was in her car and exiting a shopping park with her teenage daughter. Someone cut her up in terrifying style, causing an outburst of foul language not seen since King Alfred realised he’d left the oven on.  Her daughter, like every other child on Earth, has the ears of the cloth when her mother is asking her to do something useful.  However, like every other child on Earth, when she is saying something that she would rather she did not hear, said child has the ears of a bat.  Immediately she pounced: “What did you say Mummy?” Slightly flustered and thinking how she was going to get out of this one Diminutive Friend quietly cringed “…er…..chicken sucker…???” as a hopeful note crept into her voice that she had got away with it. Dear Reader, she did not get away with it.  She is now reminded of it at every possible opportunity.  But I have collected another euphemism. 

My final offering has arisen from the word “doppleganger”.  This word has caused some confusion in my family of late.  The person concerned, who had absolutely no reason to know any different from learning a new word, thought that the word for a doppleganger was “double dicker”.  A gift for someone who can’t stop swearing and needs to find ways not to.

Over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that the world is populated by two types of people: those of the human race who are catflaps, chicken-suckers and double-dickers and those who are not.

Let us consider some of the evidence. On the side of the chicken-suckers, a few selected highlights and in no particular order:

  1. Fishermen being abandoned to their fate when a big show has been made by those who were very keen to put the country in the position it is now in, of the importance of our fishing industry.
  2. People who go to the trouble of bagging their dog’s poo up and then throw it in the hedge.
  3. £22 billion taxpayer pounds spent on a Test and Trace System that has never worked.  For comparison purposes, the Mars Rover cost US$2.5 billion. 
  4. I won’t start on the other contracts to mates or I might start ranting.  Follow The Good Law Project and you can rant too.
  5. People who wear their mask under their nose or refuse to wear one at all blathering on about their human rights.  They really need to go and study human rights.
  6. MPs who vote against a pay rise for NHS staff. See point 3 above.
  7. People who have mixed during a pandemic when they have been specifically told not to.  I have heard of people still having their hair done weekly, friends and family visiting their houses in number, sending their children to school when they are awaiting a Covid test result because it’s hard looking after a child when you feel poorly – no shit – (they tested positive)…..
  8. Those who have had their first jab now announcing that they can visit you, whilst neatly ignoring the fact as of time of writing, that seventy three point seven per cent of us have not.  Oh, and it remains illegal to do so.  Well, as long as you’re mostly all right.  Azincourt salute to the rest of us is it?  See point 7 above.
  9. People who are not disabled, parking in spaces for disabled people.
  10. People who park in parent and child spaces when they have no child with them.
  11. Teacher-bashers.
  12. Loo-roll brawlers.

That’s just a few.  I’m sure you have many of your own.

And for balance, on the side of the non double-dickers:

  1. Those not approving of anyone being abandoned to their fate by their elected representatives regardless of their views differing from their own. 
  2. People who donate to their local food banks.
  3. In spite of it never having worked, people who used the Track and Trace system to try to do the right thing.
  4. People who would rather that contracts being paid for with taxpayers’ money were awarded through a transparent system to companies with a proven record and that there are mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with that transparent system. So we know what our money is being spent on.
  5. People who do not need to study human rights to understand that wearing a mask may (even though they will never know it or be able to see it) help save the life of one person, and that’s good enough for them.
  6. MPs who think NHS staff should have a pay rise.
  7. People who have stayed at home, often at great personal cost in terms of their mental and/or physical health because they know in their heart of hearts that it is the right thing to do.
  8. Scientists who developed the vaccine. Badasses.
  9. The NHS who are administering the vaccine.
  10. People who have been collecting prescriptions, shopping etc for people in their locality throughout the pandemic. 
  11. Teachers who have gone into work teaching children both in classes at school and online when on many, many occasions, it has appeared as if the government have been actively working against them. And if not working against them, then giving all the signs of being bloody ungrateful. 
  12. People who have decided that they will not be fighting for toilet roll.  They will not be sweeping tins off supermarket shelves and into their trolley.  They will not take so much fresh food that it is not humanly possible to eat it all before it rots.  They will not. Because that’s not what decent people do to each other.

Again, I am sure that you have many of your own examples that could be added to this list.

Is your politics basically that if there is one parking space left at the supermarket, you would like to have it but you draw the line at the disabled spaces? Would you quite like to know where all of our money, that we have earned and handed to the government to spend, has gone? Have you spent the last nearly twelve months trying to do your best to follow the rules in spite of it making you want to weep because you just want to hug the people you love? On the few occasions you have been out have you resisted all urges to go up to someone and shout “over your nose, you chicken sucker, that big lump in the middle of your face? That’s your nose!”  Yes?  That’s you? Excellent.  I think we can work together.  And we’ re going to need to because we’re not out of the woods yet, and in spite of them being blissfully unaware, neither are the catflaps. As we move towards Spring, and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel, thank you for all you have endured.  For me.  For my family.  And the double dickers who would not afford you the same, let alone thank you for it. We are nearly there.  We must be nearly there.  And whilst I’m sure it is going to be bumpy for a while yet, there are many lives lost that shouldn’t have been and injustices that will need to be fought that shouldn’t be. But we can only do that if we have a care for eachother. As I said to a friend who has been told to shield again and was most displeased about it – I’ll stick the homestretch out for you, if you stick the homestretch out for me.

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The Way We Are

2021 has started off as 2020 meant to go on hasn’t it? I thought that I should keep my expectations low and then it might end up surprising me. And it already has. But not in a good way. Death rates in this country due to Covid 19 are currently higher than in April and not looking to abate. If only the government had had some sort of warning from the scientists. Oh wait, they did.

I then watched in wide-eyed horror at the events in Washington DC yesterday; gun-toting, mainly white nationalists breaking into the Capitol. Apparently the last time the Capitol was stormed was when the British were miffed about the Americans throwing some tea into the water in Boston nearly three hundred years ago.  As I write I believe that four people and a police officer are dead.  It is a dreadful state of affairs when one is saying that they are glad that it wasn’t considerably worse.  I also had to shake myself when watching to remember that we are also in a pandemic. So whilst the building was stormed and people were taking selfies, no one was wearing masks, no one was social-distancing – it was all one big jolly.  The illness and deaths that will follow from that one act are incalculable.  But follow they will.

As I saw the footage that we’ve all seen of that man who had his face painted, wearing horned hearwear, some sort of bearskin and not a lot else, shout furiously, I decided that perhaps I should turn the television off. I picked up my book, Ian Dunt’s ‘How To Be A Liberal’ ( sounds bland, but is anything but and I recommend for anyone interested in political history).  Hoping that it might provide me with some respite from the reality of living through a pandemic where large sections of the world seemed to have lost their mind, unfortunately I happened to be on the section about Hitler’s rise to power and Stalinist Russia.  Reading that one could be forgiven for concluding that homo sapiens is quite a bit of a shit.

I have wondered for some time what some people throughout history are so angry about.  The Persecution of the Jews, Stalin against his own people.  Further down the sliding scale I admit, but still on the scale Hardcore Brexiters ranting about immigrants and fish, anti-vaxxers screeching about their human rights being violated, Trump-supporting Republicans slavishly believing every deceitful word. 

I am in the section in Ian Dunt’s book where he is talking about belonging and what a powerful pull it is.  A lot of people, furious and red-faced when we see them on the news, don’t feel like they are listened to or that they belong. So when President Fart tells them that he loves them, they genuinely believe him because they feel heard and they want to be loved.  When Boris Johnson talks about putting an arm around people, rather than their skin making a dash for the door, some people actually find that comforting. Yes, I know.  But they do. In spite of their actions demonstrating only their self-interest is at heart, the words themselves matter to people, even if they are demonstrable lies.  It’s what they want to hear.  Through a desperate desire to be heard and to belong, people believe the words.  They just want to be loved. Which means that they don’t feel loved.  That is rather sad.

Now you will tell from my tone that I am not a fan of President Fart and his British Clone. So why do I loathe them when others love them? When the PM talked about the virus being over by Christmas, as (and I am being charitable here) he continually over-promises and consistently underdelivers, I decided to entirely ignore him and listen to the scientists. When President Fart looked at the fact of thousands of his people dying, presumably landing in reports on his desk each and every day and still refused to wear a mask, I wondered if he had seen someone be ill or die from Covid.  I concluded, probably not anyone he cares about. 

All evidence over the last few years would point to a large section of people not caring about something ,or enough about something, unless it directly affects them. Not because they don’t want to, but people have busy and stressful lives and unless they see it, or feel it, they don’t believe it and have little time to accommodate it.  Rather like in Jaws when Richard Dreyfus’s character tells the Mayor that he thought he was prepared to ignore the problem of the shark snacking on holidaymakers until it swam up and bit him on the ass. So people hear a death toll of over a thousand people a day, and they know it to be true, but they don’t honestly believe it until it affects them or someone they love. Because that’s what makes it real.  It is not intended as a criticism, it is just the way we are. And that is the power of a deranged but powerful man telling rioters that he loves them.  Or the rank hypocrisy of a man who claps the NHS once a week which makes the front pages but won’t put our money where his mouth is and give them a payrise.  Their supporters feel like they belong to something or someone more important than themselves. To someone who cares for them and has their best interests at heart because they say that they do, even if all of the available evidence shows entirely the opposite.  Thousands of people are dying on their watch.  Thousands.  The numbers are real.  The people are real. Each and every one of them. And they are the numbers that they can get away with.  Remember that to be counted you have to die within twenty-eight days of a positive test.  If you linger, by day twenty nine you quite literally do not count. Except to the people you belong to, they don’t care about the twenty eight days.

A week last Wednesday was the forty fourth birthday of my childhood friend.  I messaged her to wish her a Happy Birthday, pretty much as we had done for eachother every year for the last thirty five years.  In spite of us drifting through life’s twists and turns, we still belonged to eachother.  She had been taken into hospital on her birthday because she had Covid and needed some oxygen.  I told her that that was a rubbish birthday present, but I was sure that now she was in hospital she would be feeling better soon.  She said her fingers were crossed. I left her alone because who wants to be replying to messages when they’re ill in hospital. Three days later she died. She is one of the 454 people who count as having died from Covid that day because she had the good grace to go within twenty eight days from her positive test. Except to her children, her parents, and to me, one of her many friends. We will mourn her loss each and every day for the rest of our lives. We knew and loved her; she belonged to each and every one of us. And she’s gone.

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Wings

Hello all. How are you doing in the second lockdown? Or circuit break? Or whatever the hell it is called this time. A communal and national effort to look after each other. I have been struggling to write for months, as you may have noticed from my silence. I have found things so difficult that I have just started reading a biography about Thomas Becket a) to force myself to focus on something and b) to try and cheer myself up. I kid you not.

I have been considering how differently people’s minds work over the past few months. I often feel that my brain doesn’t work quite in the same way as a lot of people, and that my eyes don’t see things in quite the same way. This can leave one feeling rather even more discombobulated than usual, particularly at the moment and particularly when some people seem to make it their business to talk utter rubbish, and oh how much rubbish we have been treated to over the past few years. My word, where to start.

For obvious reasons I have converted entirely to the online shop this year. I was browsing one of the many catalogues to land on my doormat. I saw, amongst other things, some angel wings. I gather that one is supposed to hang these in your house and marvel at the other-worldly idea that angels might be watching over us, and in short, it is all going to be all right in the end. Rather a lovely idea. Everyone needs to feel loved and cared for. More now than ever.

Unfortunately this is not what it says to me. Unfortunately I have seen the film ‘Maleficent’. And those of you who have also seen it you now understand why it doesn’t say ‘love and fluffiness’ to me. I see a brutal scene. Angels have been hunted. By people in air ships, armed with nets and probably spears as well. Once pinned down the angels’ wings have been cleaved from their bodies with axes. The wings are then cleaned, mounted and photographed for sale. The angels are abandoned- bloodied, bruised and entirely bereft. Left to spend all eternity wandering the cosmos with their entire reason of being taken from them by the very creatures that they were stationed to protect…..I am not the target market for angel wings. Neither, I suspect, now are you. But plenty of people must do or they wouldn’t have been in that catalogue.

Another example is a sign that I saw whilst driving through a small village: “To the Nursing Home and Church.” I burst out laughing. What could be more cheering for a person who has become so frail that they need the care and attention of a nursing home, on their arrival to see a sign advising them that they will be of little inconvenience once they leave us, because a place of worship is just a short hop away? How comforting. How sensitive. I would have loved to have been in the meeting for approval of that sign. And the layers of people it must have gone through to have been approved, then re-approved and eventually signed off.

“Next item on the agenda, Snodsbury needs a sign for their church. Everyone knows that churches are notoriously difficult to find with their big pointy spires and being built in prominent places in order to be seen from afar, so I know it’s taxpayer’s money, but we need to help this village out.”

[earnest nods all round]

“Isn’t the Nursing Home opposite?”

“It is.”

“Couldn’t we put it on the same sign?”

“Hmmmmmmm……..I know! I’ve just had a brilliant idea. We could put it on the same sign. Saving taxpayer pounds. Green as well. Might also save some time for those visiting the nursing home as they’ll know where to go in the future. Ha, ha! Excellent.”

“What about putting some angel wings on as well? You know, church, nursing home – showing people that we are throwing a protective arm around them.”

“Don’t be absurd, Brenda. How monumentally insensitive. Haven’t you seen ‘Maleficent’?”

Another more obvious but distinctly less hilarious example is to the soon to be ex-President Fart. If there was ever a person to make you wonder if you are even both human, let alone think differently about things, he is it. Currently found to be having the biggest public tantrum since Childerbeast Number One lay down in a shop doorway because he wanted to be both inside and outside at the same time and didn’t, aged three, understand the contradiction. However, baffling as it is to me and everyone else who has expressed a view to me, there are a lot of people who voted for him. They have watched him over the past four years. Not through their fingers in horror, but listening and thinking “good point, why aren’t we injecting ourselves with bleach to kill the virus?” In my darker moments my only question has been “yes, in a limited and specific way, why aren’t you?”

Closer to home, we can find another example, the soon-to-be Strictly contestant, Boris “the Fridge” Johnson. Whilst I have not been keen on many of the people who have governed us (I feel as if it would be like being keen on estate agents), and we have differed politically, I was broadly of the view that they were reasonably intelligent people and earnestly doing what they believed to be the best for the country, even if I fundamentally disagreed with them. Sadly not with this lot. England does bleed. Or rather, be bled. Us. By them. Follow The Good Law Project and you’ll see what I mean. In addition, every day is a new nadir of incompetence. Pick an area of government, any one you like, and I bet a complete hash is being made of it right under our noses. On that basis, as I can decline Latin verbs and have been known to string a sentence together, perhaps I should have a crack at running the country? We are being governed by a group of people who, seemingly in their entirety, are demonstrably less intelligent than absolutely everyone I interact with on a day to day basis, including the cat. And he just meows constantly for food. But someone voted for them.

There we are. I don’t like angel wings, that sign is utterly ridiculous and I’m sick to my hind teeth of the endless spewing of lies. The last few years is enough to make you wonder what is wrong with you when you seem to see things so differently and the world seems to be so upside down. Even in times such as this, there is one thing I am sure of that doesn’t discombobulate me; I know who I am. I don’t like cheese, I have never seen ‘Game of Thrones’ and you really shouldn’t leave me alone with a box of After Eight mints. But I don’t cheat, not even at Monopoly. And I don’t lie. So whatever happens, when the time comes for an angel to bring me my wings (later rather than sooner, I hope) – I will be okay with that.

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Lockdown

Three months ago if you’d have told me that I was going to be confined to my house along with Man of the House and the Childerbeasts for at least three months I would have asked what on Earth I had done to upset you so much that would make you want to be so cruel to me.  I would have panicked.  I definitely would have sworn.  And there would have been tears.  If you had then told me that home-schooling would also be on the cards, things could have got a whole lot more unpleasant there and then.  I usually have a military schedule for the Summer Holidays so as to minimise the screeches of “I’m bored” and “what are we doing today?”  But this takes planning.  Usually from about May.  The year before.  And that’s only six weeks.  I say “only six weeks” now like it’s nothing, because the Summer Holiday no longer holds any fear for me.  To have three months dropped on my lap with notice may have caused me to consider President Fart’s untried, untested and frankly unhinged cure for coronavirus. Parents weeping in the street and clinging to fence posts wailing “don’t make me go back in there” was never going to be a good look.

Once the order for lockdown had been issued we were all inside.  Except for one nasty section of the population who decided that the best place for them was a supermarket.  With fourteen trollies. I suspect that they are one and the same people who fight over electrical goods on Black Friday because apparently they need a television that much on that day.   I also suspect that they’re the very same people who were flocking to the beach in the warm weather and then complaining that other people had done the same thing because they wanted to social distance.  Oh I see, Deidre from Leicester.  So you wanted a private beach?  And you are irked that Dave from Birmingham and thousands of other people have had the same idea.  Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, the best way to isolate in a pandemic would be, to, er, isolate.

Diminutive Friend witnessed a store manager advising a lady (I use the word loosely) that she wasn’t permitted a trolley full of toilet roll in accordance with the signs all over the store and she started giving him verbal.  Perhaps she was expecting an unfortunate effect from all of the Vesta curries (showing my age now) that she had in her second trolley. Surely if you read the Daily Mail then one would expect a ready and never ending supply of something to wipe your bottom on?  Another candidate for Citizen of 2020 was witnessed by the mother of Diminutive Friend, not the springiest of chickens herself.  Along with a number of other people she found herself for the first time in her life, quite literally queuing for their health in order to go into her local supermarket.  A man of a similar age to her steamed past the queue snaking round the car park in his mobility scooter and headed at some speed for the doors.  Unfortunately for him, Mother of Diminutive Friend is not a woman to be trifled with.  And after an eight hour shift of policing similar behaviour, neither was the member of staff helping at the head of the queue.  This man was asked what the urgency was – apparently he wasn’t happy to be asked to queue.  That was it. He didn’t want to queue. He was told he would have to queue on this occasion. Rather than take his turn, he left, almost as quickly as he arrived.  I’m surprised it wasn’t to cheers of celebration having had the altercation described to me. 

On the positives, my village has a network of volunteers to support those who can’t get out and about.  Lots of villagers have been baking and the lady who delivers to the doctors’ surgeries and care homes says it is by far and away the easiest way to instantly become the most popular person in the building.  Worth noting for future reference. I believe that I have had coronavirus and as I adopted a horizontal position on the sofa, I was fielding offers of help from friends, and also people who don’t know me that well, because they knew that I was ill and they genuinely cared for my health.  I expect that the picture is the same all over the country.  Even, I gather, in Islington.

Maybe this has made us all genuinely value people who do essential, but often not highly paid, work.  Our NHS.  Rainbows in windows all over the country to support our keyworkers.  I haven’t been out clapping.  I decided quite early on that I could do more good by casting my vote for a party that won’t systematically destroy them.  But if you’ve applauded them, I applaud you.  Maybe we now value our teachers more.  I am fairly confident that none of my children’s teachers have been sat at their desk with their head on it saying to the class “We’ve been here an hour.  Just. Write. It. Down”.  I bet they haven’t done Times Tables with a large glass of wine either.  The DFE guidance for primary schools has changed forty-one times since the government announced without consultation with anyone who had been in a school, let alone run one, that they would be opening to more children.  Moveable goalposts?  I’m sure schools would just like some goalposts. People working in shops and warehouses.  Care workers who have holed themselves up in homes with some very confused and frightened people to try and protect them.  Refuse collectors – we would be quite literally in the shit without them. 

Maybe working from home can be more of a thing. We’ve shown that a great number of us can, which has got to be safer for those of us who can’t.  And the planet will surely thank us. Man of the House has had one call during lockdown when his advice had to compete with the cat purring down the line.  Another client enjoyed some words of wisdom along with commentary on my progress around the garden after an errant chicken.  And if you haven’t seen Andrew Cotter’s Zoom meeting with Olive and Mabel, you’re missing a treat. It’s lovely to see snippets of other people’s lives.

I am not for one minute suggesting that a continuing pandemic in a country with the world’s highest death toll is a success – apparent only by being not apparent at all.  Only an idiot would make such a suggestion.  And only an even bigger idiot would believe it.  My English teacher told me that she thought that great things could come out of great suffering.  I have always tried to see that or what is the point or hope for any of us?  In lockdown, a lot of us have had the unique opportunity to stop, look and listen.  To view the world and each other from an entirely new perspective.  And in doing so, I hope that we, the humans who have held the hands and will always hold the hearts of those who have been lost, are finally able to see our own humanity.

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Paparazzi

Less than two weeks ago a woman was feeling so desperate with the situation in which she found herself that she took an item, tied it around her neck and suspended herself so that she was hanged from her neck until she was dead.  She was discovered by her sister.  She was just forty years old.  And unless you have been on a news blackout because you simply cannot stand it anymore, you will know her name.

I have not followed the life and career of Caroline Flack – I think I first learned who she was when she quick-stepped across the floor on ‘Strictly’.  However, I do know that she hosted a programme called ‘Love Island’. Apparently “a group of men and women participate in a series of tasks with a partner until they meet the love of their life” (not my words – on IMDb).  It is reported that ITV made £77 million from advertising revenue alone from the 2019 series.  This is the programme that shot Miss Flack to fame. 

I understand that in the months and weeks leading up to her death, like many other successful women before her, Miss Flack had been much pilloried on social media and by the msm, particularly with regard to a matter that was being dealt with by the criminal justice system.  When news of her suicide broke, there was and continues to be an outpouring of grief – from those who knew and loved her, from fans and from those who one might suggest, wrote the stories that contributed to her state of mind that led her to end her life. A petition has been doing the rounds to propose ‘Caroline’s Law’ – ‘a law that would make it a criminal offence for the British Media to knowingly and relentlessly bully a person….up to the point that they take their own life.’

Laws are a good barometer of what is acceptable in a country and anyone in their right mind would support a law that might rein in the bile that is spouted by the msm if it has some proper teeth.  I am hopeful that this proposal is a turn in the tide for how we all treat eachother. However, we have a government that last week appointed an adviser who supported ‘universal contraception’ to prevent a ‘permanent underclass’.  Girls, I don’t think he was referring to contraception for men.  And I strongly suspect that the ‘permanent underclass’ is all of us.  So forgive me, but I venture to suggest that this is not going to be a legislative priority for this government.  A government elected less than six months ago with a large majority. 

Also, we must all remember that in Caroline’s case, much as we would wish to, we can’t save her now.  Nor any of the people who have gone before her; they’re dead and no amount of hand-wringing can change that.  They sat, alone, distressed and considered that their only option, out of all of the options that they had no doubt tried or considered, was to die. Whilst the law can send a very clear message about how our society views the factors that can contribute to someone’s mental state and apply a sanction, it cannot ultimately stop someone taking their own life. And that’s what I believe we all would like to help to stop.

Celebrity culture seems to be a big problem in all of this.  And by that I mean a group of people who want to be famous for its own sake and that being promoted as something to aspire to.  Not for having an actual job that contributes to society – a carer, or a teacher, a secretary – but being part of a modern day freak show which also involves being quite unpleasant to eachother because of “telling it how it is”. In reality it is only slightly more sophisticated than the Victorians pointing and laughing at what we now know to be very ill people in lunatic asylums.  Taking ‘Love Island’ as an example; from the photographs of the programme, it would seem that people have to be in their twenties and have perfect bodies and perfect faces to be on the programme.  That’s a lot of pressure isn’t it?  You haven’t even been on camera and you’re probably already preparing yourself for the social media onslaught because the distinction between giving an opinion respectfully on a point of legitimate discussion and being personal has been lost.

With all of the focus on the swimwear and yachts, it also permits a mentality to permeate which forgets that each of these people, are actually people.  With thoughts and feelings.  A gameshow, part of a bizarre culture designed to fuck about with people’s heads and hearts in order to win.  Winning being the ‘perfect relationship’ and the yacht to Instagram and interviews to sell for the consumption of complete strangers.  Infinite wealth and resources on a finite planet.  I bet the psychiatrists, psycholgists and environmentalists could have a field day.

Thankfully I have a plan for something we can all do whether the law changes or not.  Whether we have washboard abs or not.  A yacht or not.  Or simply don’t have a lot of time because we have a proper job to get to.  My plan is a cunning one.  One so cunning that we could stick two ears and a fluffy tail on it and call it a fox.  And we know it works.  How do we know it works?  Because of the City of Liverpool.  Many of us will remember the indescribable horror that was the Hillsborough Disaster.  Taking the Wikipedia page this time, Hillsborough was: “…a fatal human crush during an association football match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England on 15 April 1989.”  Ninety six people died that day.  The Sun ran a story headlined ‘The Truth’ with three subheadings about the Liverpool fans: ‘Some fans picked pockets of victims’, ‘Some fans urinated on brave cops’ and ‘Some fans beat up PCs giving the kiss of life.’  I hope it doesn’t really need stating, but it was complete and utter bollocks.  Four years later, Kelvin MacKenzie, who took that decision to publish said “I regret Hillsborough…It was a fundamental mistake.” To this day, no one buys The Sun in Liverpool.  And so to this day, thirty years on, it is not sold there.

So there it is fellow permanent underclasses.  Vote with your feet.  Cut off the revenue stream. Stop buying it, stop reading it, stop watching it, stop clicking on it and for the love of God, stop sharing it.  Stop.  All of us.  Right now.  Cut off the oxygen supply.   There is a time and a place for cold, hard honesty and debate – why people use food banks, the chronic underfunding of the NHS and why Cadbury’s Crème Eggs seem to shrink every single year – but someone’s struggle with their weight or relationship is not.  So at this very moment, we should all agree that in addition to not participating in other people’s pointless prattle, that if we cannot say anything nice to someone’s face, then we either whinge about them privately to one other trusted person in our own front room or we keep our mouths firmly shut. 

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White Out

It has been the most exciting week so far.  I am frantically washing and packing for the most middle class of holidays, a ski holiday.  Before you all reach for the smallest violins in the world to play at me for bemoaning having to pack for a holiday – it’s not for me.  It’s not my Winter break. I won’t be testing the fondue and quaffing a cocktail.  It’s for the Eldest Childerbeast.  On Saturday he is embarking on his first ski trip and his first holiday with secondary school.  This has raised a number of issues for me.

First, none of us have ever been skiing.  Partly because Middle Childerbeast is not a fan of moving about at all. Partly because Youngest Childerbeast is a fan of moving about too much and often in different directions at the same time. Mainly because we have a big enough mortgage as it is and if this is the cost of a holiday for one, then one for five is going to be eye-watering. In spite of never having skied before and following a rousing speech from his Headteacher, the Eldest Childerbeast came home from school and announced that he would like to go out on the piste. After a sharp intake of breath at the cost, Man of the House and I agreed.

Secondly – my child?  Abroad?  Brexit? Skiing?  What could possibly go wrong?

Finally, I was rather worried about the mental health of the teachers at his school.  The health and workload of teachers is an increasing concern with school budgets being what they are – you’d have to be a lifelong Tory to have not drawn the correlation between the cause and effect.  However, when I heard that eighty children are going, on a twenty seven hour coach trip, each way, to Italy, to spend a week crashing into eachother and (I think that this is what we call ‘the clincher’) some of the teachers go every single year, I was deeply concerned. Being a teacher is one thing, but giving up a week off to spend more time with a load of sweaty, mouthy adolescents that are not even your own children is quite another.

Due to his novice ski status, about six weeks ago I took Eldest Childerbeast for a Sunday afternoon of skiing at The Snow Dome. It was highly entertaining to watch a group of people slip, slide and clutch the arm of the person next to them to avoid falling over when I was not one of them myself. I met a large number of parents from all over the country who appear to have had almost precisely the same conversation with their children at almost precisely the same time that I had with mine. We tittered politely when one person careered down the slope and cannoned into the crash pads at the bottom, causing people to scatter to try and get out of the way before disappearing in a volley of snow. It occurred to me that on an annual basis,at February half term our European friends are invaded by our teenagers. And on an annual basis, like the teachers, they seem to welcome it.

The afternoon was a productive one. Whereas everyone on the slope started off wobbly and poised to get out of the way at the moment’s notice, by the end of it Eldest Childerbeast was whizzing downhill, slicing through the queue of people waiting to get the lift to the top of the slope, whilst simultaneously braking and turning, deftly managing to wangle it so he got near the front of the queue but without causing an outbreak of tutting. Only one child insisted on repeatedly descending on their back and head first. There is, perhaps, just no helping some people.

Eldest Childerbeast hasn’t really given any thought to his holiday since. That is to say, he is very excited, but has not given any consideration to how many pairs of pants he will require. That may well be because he has no intention of changing out of the pair he puts on before he goes. Neither has he scoured the shelves looking for hand cream that won’t set his eczema off, and it will probably come back unopened, but I have found some anyway. Nor has he written a list of foods that he is allergic to in English and Italian so there is no room for misunderstanding. It will probably stay in his rucksack, but I have written it out anyway. The fluffiness of his socks will not have crossed his mind. The warmness of his pyjamas will not have even featured. As I sit here typing this I am pondering on life’s important questions – how many packets of chocolate biscuits in his suitcase is too many? How long would it take me to get to him if he had an accident? And I know that I said that I wanted my children to have every opportunity that they would like to take, but surely I only meant that when they were babes in arms and them being grown up enough to take them felt like a lifetime away?

He has not even gone yet and I am already missing not shouting at his to stop swearing at his computer and to pick his wet towel off the floor. And as the coaches pull away on Saturday I know I will feel bereft. As the sound of eighty teenagers shouting “roasted” at eachother fades into the distance my only comfort will be that it could be worse. I could be a teacher. And for the next twenty seven hours, I could be on that coach.

Photograph by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

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England Bleeds

Photo by it’s me neosiam on Pexels.com

Gosh I feel sorry for the Prime Minister’s handlers.  They let him loose to be questioned by the general public on a radio show, which they had thought would be much safer than being interviewed by Andrew Neil and he was immediately taken to task by a single mother about his comments regarding their children. Just when they thought they’d navigated the last catastrophic bollock that he dropped when shooting his mouth off for the Torygraph, another one appears.   

For those of you who missed it Mr Johnson is father to an undisclosed number of children himself and not in a relationship with any of their mothers which would therefore make them single mothers, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I am not sure what that makes him.  According to the current PM we are “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”. I say “we” because if you’re a regular reader, then you might have noted that I am the child of a single parent.  My parents separated when I was twelve and divorced five years later.  Technically that doesn’t make me illegitimate on Mr Johnson’s list, but it does make me three out of the four and on seventy five per cent I should respect the result of the referendum.  Unless, of course, it’s utter piffle.

As I read the latest splurge of bile that has been vomited into the ether, I asked myself three questions: 1. Are the comments fair? 2. Is there anyone left to offend? and 3. Just who is the kind of person that this sort of dialogue appeals to?

This might not be a popular point of view but I think Mr Johnson might have a point.  About me.  As the child of a single mother.  First, I am ill-raised.  My parents were and are useless.  Hopeless.  But it was and is nothing to do with their marital status.  I make no excuses or apologies for it and they certainly don’t.  They just weren’t and aren’t very good parents.  And that, quite simply, is that. Second, I would not say that I am ignorant as such.  I went to university and then Law School. I even understand some of cricket.  However, I am perfectly content to accept that like pretty much everyone on the planet I am undoubtedly nowhere near as clever as I think I am. Very few people are unwaveringly confident and consider themselves to be intellectually superior to everyone else.  Except for the stable genii.  To my mind those people should not be left alone with the tv remote, let alone the nuclear codes. But that does seem to be where we are, much to the eternal bafflement of most of us.  Last, but certainly not least, when called for, I can be aggressive.  Or in other words, a stroppy cow.  I cannot think of a single person who knows me who would disagree with that.  “Formidable” was one word ascribed to me once.  “Gobby” has been a less complimentary one.  Particularly with injustice.  Which might explain why I ended up in my job.

Moving on; is there anyone left to offend?  Just to run over the Highly Derogatory Comment List at the time of my writing, those currently making the cut are: gay men, black people, women of the Muslim faith, children of single mothers, by association single mothers, dead people in Libya, and possibly the most infamous catch-all (in a very crowded field) for everyone involved in a business, which is pretty much all of us one way or another; “f**** business”.  Colonial poetry has been recited in Burma, and if you haven’t seen the footage of a small child being rugby-tackled then google it if you must, but please watch from behind a cushion because it’s like watching an episode of ‘The Office.’ Consider the most embarrassing thing your most embarrassing relative has ever done after too many sherries and you’re only half way there to the amount of cringing.  By the time I publish this piece, I expect at least one more group of people have been insulted in order to try and appeal to whoever it is who likes this sort of language.  Which as an aside, makes me wonder why those nodding in agreement with such talk consider themselves to be either exempt or immune from the next inevitable barrage. 

As the above list covers quite a large proportion of the population it does leave one to opine as to who the incumbents are trying to appeal to, because it clearly isn’t me.  If you’re reading this without frothing at the mouth, then I suspect it isn’t you either.  But it must be someone and they must exist, in number, somewhere in this country, because it seems that a lot of people will vote for them.

Notable by their absence from the list of people above is heterosexual males.  More specifically white, middle-class males.  Maybe it’s them?  But this presupposes that heterosexual white males aren’t offended by such remarks about fellow friends and citizens.  Man of the House is a white, middle-class male and I could have peeled him off the ceiling at the “letterbox” comment.  Similarly, I am not black, but I found the description of black people so offensive that I couldn’t bring myself to repeat it to a friend who hadn’t read about it.  It is extremely unfair and breathtakingly stupid to consider that only the groups of people being insulted are offended by such things.  No one I know espouses such views; no one.  I feel certain that many of their parliamentary candidates do not espouse such views.  But here’s the rub: some of them are still standing up to be counted with those who do.

Which leads me to the Christmas card list. Very. Short. Indeed.  It must be.  Surely.  If the incumbents get a majority they’re proposing to hand power to the Executive so they can do whatever they damned well like and ignore Parliament.  Whilst the furious head-nodders might think that that is okay when they’re doing something that they agree with, what about when they’re not?  What about when you don’t fit neatly into the box? No one would vote for that would they?  Or do they think it can’t or won’t happen?  History tells us otherwise.

The apparent and increasing tendency to only care about something if and when it directly affects a person is a very sad state of affairs indeed and it was not ever thus.  There is simply no way of making someone care about something if they don’t. I confess to not giving two stuffs about Aston Villa being trounced at the weekend, but Man of the House was very upset about it.  Diminutive Friend is currently rather put out that less than twelve hours after she had decorated her Christmas tree, the fairy lights chose that moment to go kaput.  Okay, middle class problems both. But I would help Diminutive Friend sort the damned lights out if she asked me to because she’s my friend and it’s vexed her, so it vexes me by association.  I’m afraid I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to help Aston Villa.  But if it was in my gift to help, help I would because it matters to Man of the House. 

There are two lines that keep popping into my head about the parlous situation in which we now find ourselves.  The first is that line at the end of ‘Henry V’: “…and made his England bleed…” The signs are strong from lots of people who know a lot more about these things than I do that if the nationalists get their way England will bleed.  The second is the distinct impression being pedalled that concern for each other is a laughable weakness and that the whole thing, our lives and those of the people we love, is a really very amusing game.    Saying that you care when all of the facts and figures staring you in the face after nine years show that you really, really don’t.  Truth is immaterial.  As is honesty.  Or integrity. Sorry, not sorry.  Move on, nothing to see here.  But there is plenty to see here.  And there are a lot of us watching.  With each other. Whilst we get used to disappointing football teams and wrestle with the Christmas tree lights. In the words of one of the world’s most famous single mothers – “I think you’re the weak one.  You’ll never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”

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Supreme

Photo by Recal Media on Pexels.com

Unless you have been living on another planet (and you may well consider Mars an attractive alternative at the moment) you will have noticed that there has been a lot of activity in the UK Supreme Court this week. If, like me, you are a girly swot and proud of it, you may have also read the submissions that have been made public on the Supreme Court’s website (https://www.supremecourt.uk/brexit/written-case-submissions.html) and watched the proceedings with great interest live from the Supreme Court. Some of you may be slightly less interested but are aware that the PM is in Court and it may all get a bit more fraught next week. You’re right, next week is going to be very interesting indeed.

I should just pause here to make an important initial point; the case before the Supreme Court is not directly to do with Brexit. The Court is not considering and has not been asked to consider, and could not in any way consider, what, if any, form of Brexit, this country will or will not have, now or ever. This case is about parliamentary supremacy and the abuse of power.

If you really want to get up to speed, then the actual documents prepared by the most highly skilled and experienced legal teams in Britain are the place to start. I would urge you to read the submissions for yourself. Seeing something and reading it with your own eyes must always be preferable to someone (most definitely including me) telling you what they think they say. If you really can’t face that, even with a large glass of wine on a Friday night, there are a number of extremely intelligent commentators and I would therefore recommend that you see what they have to say instead. I would not urge you to get your information from the msm. The Mirror is not a legal authority in any way, shape or form. Neither is The Daily Mail. Judges are not enemies of the people. The only side they are on is that of the Law. Which they apply. When they are required to do so. That is one of our checks and balances on making sure that there is a sanction when people steal, or, as has been suggested in this case, lie in order to prevent that check and balance coming from Parliament. However, if you prefer something half-baked, distinctly less experienced, definitely less skilled and without a shadow of doubt a lot less intelligent than the actual papers in the case or the legal commentators, but something (I flatter myself) more challenging than The Sun, then carry on reading.

When I was an undergraduate I was taught that under the British Constitution, Parliament reigns supreme. It is elected by the people of this country and what Parliament says, goes. Not the government, not the Sovereign, not the Prime Minister and not the Courts, Parliament.

There are two main questions before the Court in this case:

1. Is this matter justiciable? i.e whether they have the power to look at it at all – courts should not get involved in politics, but it might not be just about politics; and

2. If it is justiciable whether the prorogation of Parliament prevented Parliament from scrutinising the government or in other words, to stifle parliamentary supremacy, which would be unlawful.

Now there have been three days of submissions from a selection of QC’s on either side. It has been the most compelling viewing since JR got shot. Okay, I’m not that old but I vaguely remember people talking about it. Now they’ve put it an awful lot better and with more gusto, learning and panache that I could ever muster, but in essence the position of each side is this:

Government: Of course we didn’t do it to stymie Parliamentary scrutiny. It is perfectly usual to prorogue Parliament with a new government so there can be a Queen’s Speech. Okay so the timing might be a little off – and it’s not like we said we weren’t and then went ahead and did it…oh…er…maybe we did….but other people have done it and got away with it. What’s in the Act stays in the Act unless Parliament changes it. Which they’ll have loads of time to do when they get back – there’s absolutely nothing else on. Parliament doesn’t do anything in September anyway – here’s a memo from the PM saying so. We really don’t know what all the fuss is about. You want us to what? Put it in a Witness Statement so that if a person swearing it could be found in contempt of Court? That’s a bit rash!

The other side: You lied to the Queen, you lied to the Electorate and you lied to Parliament. Parliament should be given the opportunity to sit if it wants to (and not if it doesn’t) to decide what to do about it.

Guess which side persuaded me of their case? I’m fascinated to see what the Supreme Court says next week.

Michael Gove famously said that the British people are tired of experts. No we’re not you patronising politician. The experts have been a joy to watch this week. Give me some more of those experts and be bloody quick about it. I cannot trust a government that treats our democracy like a game of monopoly to be won, even if they’ve been promised two hundred pounds for passing No Deal by the Banker to add to their own offshore stash. But especially if they are not prepared to swear it in a statement of any kind, not even one single person will put their name to it. Not that they care a flying flamingo what I think, but they should care about the Court. I trust that even if I personally disagree with the decision that the Court may come to, I can respect it, because I know that they’re experts. I know that the judges have more knowledge in their little fingers than I do in my whole head. But also because the Court will, as they always do, lay out all of the reasons for their decision, line after painstaking line, page after page. Backed up by facts and evidence. In black and white. All for the entire world to see. Honesty, truth, transparency. And they’re brave enough to own it.

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Peer Pressure

“When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old, He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold. With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand, For God and for valour he rode through the land.”         Jan Struther 
Photo by Syed Hasan Mehdi on Pexels.com

No peerages for guessing what I’m writing about today. There has been a wealth of choice as we all reconvene after the Summer particularly if you, like me, have been watching far too much of BBC Parliament from behind the sofa. Yes, the Honours List has come out and, as per usual, a selection of people who really don’t deserve one are on it.

We all know about knights. Armour, bravery, ladies in those pointy hats with the hankies coming out of the top swooning at their manly prowess. Historically an honour given to men (not women, obviously, because how on Earth could we be expected to get on a horse and fight in a skirt? Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc clearly didn’t get that memo) for military prowess and service to their monarch. The Knights Templar are probably the most famous who fought in the Crusades. And when they became too big for their boots – money, it’s always about money – they were slaughtered on Friday 13th which is why we all think it’s unlucky. Which it is, if you are Knight Templar. Keep your wits about you this coming Friday. There was an informal chivalric code that all knights were expected to obey, the keys here being honour and nobility. Richard III; when he made his final, fateful charge down the hill as Bosworth, led from the front. Henry VIII, whilst being quite a bit of a shit in pretty much every aspect of his life, was brilliant at jousting. You get the picture.

So for those of you who don’t know, about twenty five years ago, a man called Geoffrey Boycott was quite good at cricket. Also, about twenty five years ago, a French court found that he was quite good with his fists. He was convicted of assault of his then girlfriend. Anyway, it has been questioned as to why someone convicted of a criminal offence and particularly an assault on a female partner, should be recommended for an honour, and recommended particularly, I would like it to be noted, by a woman. It’s a good question.

One hopes that it remains a fundamental tenet of justice that having made a mistake and paid their debt to society that someone who has a spent criminal conviction is given the opportunity and support to learn from it and move forward with their lives. Of course there are shades of grey within that – some people don’t want to change, some people can’t, some people will simply never get better and in the eyes of many, some things are simply unforgiveable. However, that is the principle, and frankly if that goes, then rather like the government thinking that they are entitled to pick and choose which laws apply to them, then if we all start thinking like that, we’re all in trouble.

When asked about potential criticism of the honour from a domestic violence charity, Mr Boycott’s response was: “It’s twenty five years ago , love….I don’t care a toss about her, love.” A position that would be more believable if he hadn’t then said he voted Leave because of it. It is language that every single woman reading this has been batted with by a man when he’s trying to both belittle and dismiss her.

A potential client telephoned me once for a quote on a job. I gave him the quote and other pertinent details. expecting him to end the telephone call and then call me back if he wanted to instruct me. Rather than do that he decided to take the opportunity to berate me, an assistant solicitor at the time who was merely telling him a fee from the firm’s fee scale, that I was too expensive and he wouldn’t be using me, and whilst he did so he called me “dear” a lot. He then put the ‘phone down. Another man tried a similar thing with a Partner on another occasion. She was older and stroppier and had heard it all before – she stopped him mid-sentence and advised him that she was not his “dear”. This week, Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, rose to speak in Parliament and was told, by a male MP to “sit down, love”. I rather suspect that the journalist interviewing Mr Boycott was not his “love” either. Casual words speak volumes.

Mr Boycott maintains his innocence and has said that he under the French system he was guilty until found innocent. As you know, the English & Welsh system is innocent until proven guilty. The suggestion he made was that he would have been found not guilty under the English & Welsh system. The issue I have with this is that whilst the French may do things differently, the Court which had all of the evidence before them, evidence significantly over and above the photograph which has been doing the rounds on the internet, and they, the Court did not find him innocent.

Thirdly, it was twenty five years ago. And if there was a modicum of remorse for the entire incident being shown by the guilty party then I might have some sympathy for this position. However, on the one hand, the criminal conviction is being hawked as being so long ago that we should all just forget about it because the Court got it wrong anyway and no one in England believes it. However, the same logic is not being applied by the hawker to an impressive cricket career of twenty five years ago. Shall we all just forget that as well because it was also a long time ago? Ditch the peerage with it? Not keen? Strange.

There has been talk of the peerage system being outdated and needing modernising; I disagree. I think we should go back to basics. Given some of the decisions, I’m all for letting the Queen decide. She’s an eminently sensible woman who has shown herself to possess a super human ability to hold her tongue in the most trying of circumstances when the rest of us would have completely lost it. And her criteria are that someone should get an honour if and only if they have done something truly exceptional for the love, safety and security of our community, our country or our world. Someone who is gentle and brave and gallant and bold. Someone who rides through our land for God if they have one, or for good old-fashioned kindness and love if they don’t. For valour. They all ought to have some riding lessons. For what is a knight without their horse? And if we are going back to basics they might be required to ride into battle at some point so they will need a horse. And just so you know, Mr Boycott, if we do, it’s knights at the front, love.

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Inside Out

nuts in round white bowl
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None of us are getting any younger, and as far as I am concerned, frankly, it is beginning to show. I am spending increasing amounts of money at the hairdresser’s, and in sharp contrast, Man of the House is spending decreasing amounts of money at his barber’s. I noted that I go to the dentist every six months, have my eyes tested every two years, and naturally look forward with eager anticipation to my next cervical screening, but as a generally healthy person, I have never had a proper check over. So over the next couple of weeks, I am embarking on a personal MOT.

Next week I have a Health Check. Or as they are called in our house, a Death Check. After I had handed over the not insubstantial amount of cash to a very friendly lady, I then received a list of less than friendly instructions. The first is that if I am late they will still charge me the full amount. Well they’ve already got my money, so that was nice customer service before I had even got through the door. The second is that you can’t eat and can only have water to drink for the eight hours preceding the check. Mean. The third one is that you have to fill in a questionnaire answering a lot of personal questions, and I assume that if you lie (“Cake? Me?  Never touch the stuff”) they will know about it. Unkind. Then at the appointment (assuming that I am not late because if I am I presumably get detention) a complete stranger will come into the room, poke and prod me all over and tell me exactly what is wrong with me, which I wholly anticipate to be pretty much everything.

It occurs to me now that I am paying for someone to tell me that I am not as slim as I thought, as tall as I had believed, my diet not as good as I had hoped and in spite of walking over twelve miles a week with The Hound, I’m not very fit either. They will probably also hand me a black envelope containing a piece of paper with a month and a year printed on it, which if it is sooner rather than later, may be considered a blessing if after all I am indeed using too much oxygen. All in all, and at best, the outcome of this excruciating and expensive experience can only be one of overwhelming disappointment. B minus, Could Do Better.

Last week as part of this regime, I had a hearing test (free at Specsavers if you have any concerns). I have suspected for some time that I have some hearing loss – it’s a family thing. I arrived and after some hearing-related small-talk the audiologist shut me in a booth with some earphones on and I had to concentrate really hard to hear different noises. If I heard a noise, I pressed a button. It was quite a bit more difficult than it sounds. It’s a bit like all of your children shouting at you at once and you being asked to hear the cat meowing at the front door. The test confirmed that I have some hearing loss in one ear that requires further investigation. Of course in certain circumstances, and particularly with three Childerbeasts in the house, one duff ear might be considered a good thing. Now when they kick off (“I was sitting there first”, “get off me”, “that’s mine”) I can simply lie down on the good ear and muffle the sound.

I was trying to come to terms with the inevitable ear trumpet and ear bashing when what I really needed was a boost. Brunette Friend messaged me with what I hoped was cheering news. Nope. She had stumbled across an advert in a department store aimed at women for “sex proof” mascara and wanted me to know that we have all been having sex incorrectly if we weren’t dolled up to the nines. Yes, you too. Unless you all knew about this and haven’t told me.  To quote Stephen Fry, more of an oil slick than an oil painting I may be, but I’m not sure a face full of make-up much improves me. And up to that point, I hadn’t really cared. So not only is my body not good enough, I don’t look right either.  Shit.  We discussed a number of concerns: 1. Are heterosexual women supposed to only have sex if they’re wearing mascara? 2. What is it you are supposed to be doing with your eyelashes during sex that requires your mascara to be sex proof? 3. Is the person in charge of this marketing the same one who gave the green light for that new lovely Ikea dining set that has been in the news this week (google it)? and 4. Did our partners know about this? Grade C. Requires improvement.

To make my middle-class week even worse, I then learnt of an injection pen that is being marketed, mainly to women, to suppress their appetites. And from the speech of the lady who was telling me and the assembled company about it – this is meant to be a good thing.   She advised that a fellow female, of whom I had never heard and whose only apparent contribution to society is to market this nonsense, has been shouting about it from the rooftops. Ever the cynic, I suspect that is because this will make her rich. If I have got this right, she both injects herself and starves and starves her body of the nutrients and fuel that it needs in order to function and stay healthy so she can pursue an aesthetic of the absurd. A look that is entirely unrealistic and unhealthy for any woman wishing to live a long and healthy life. And a look that gives out the very strong message that it doesn’t matter one iota if you achieve nothing in your life, it doesn’t matter how long that life is as it is of no concern to be bothered about what is really going on inside your body, or no consideration should be given to what sort of person you are. All that matters is that you have your sex proof mascara on and you look pretty. I wonder what the Death Check people would have to say about that. “Yes Miss Pointless, you look very good in a bikini, but to have abs like that you have starved yourself to the extent that you have stopped ovulating and therefore your womb is knackered and your heart is about to give up.” And I also wonder what their colleagues in mental health would say about rock hard abs and prettiness being marketed en masse as the only thing that matters in life. You can probably guess what I have to say about it and contains quite a few swear words.

It is with no apology at all that I shall be going to my Death Check with no make-up on.  I am not afraid to admit that I don’t own sex proof mascara.  Neither do I own rock hard abs.  I’m not thin.  I’m not pretty.  But I’m doing my best, and my best does not include teaching my children that crap.  The people who know me and love me don’t seem to care about things like that.  But I have noticed, that they, and I, do feel quite strongly about cake.  Sssshhhhhhhh! If we could just keep that between us for the next week or so.

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Daddy Cool

This week a number of people have been quietly muttering to themselves whilst they have been making or are planning to make their way around the shops looking for Father’s Day cards and presents for Sunday. Sister B telephoned me this morning to ask me what I thought our father would like. I said that I had a vague memory that he liked fudge. In the absence of any ideas, let alone better ones, she immediately made her way to Thorntons.

Twenty minutes later she telephoned me in some distress from outside a jewellers. She had impulse-bought her Man of the House a bracelet and was clearly wondering whether she had made the right choice. I enquired as to whether her Man of the House was jewellery-wearer. She said she wasn’t sure. She said that the jeweller had said that she could return it for a full refund. On receipt of this news, I made soothing noises, comments such as I am sure it will be fine, couldn’t she blame the choice on my niece (aged eight) and that jewellery is such a personal thing it is difficult to get right. She said she’d send me a photo.

I received the photo. It was a man’s bracelet. I have strong opinions on a number of things – you have probably noticed- but men’s jewellery has as of yet, passed me by. Thinking that it was the right thing to say, I said that it was not too bling. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, as he would probably like more bling. At this point, realising that sense and reason had left the building, I did the only thing a responsible sibling could or should do in such circumstances – I sent her a clip from Youtube of that episode of Friends when Joey buys Chandler a bracelet and he hates it.

All was quiet for about another twenty minutes and then she rang again. This time from The Body Shop. Would our Dad like a shaving kit? I said I didn’t have a clue. Not the faintest clue. I expected that he does shave and therefore might find a use for it. And everyone appreciates something useful. This should not be an unusual conversation to have with a sibling. Except that I haven’t seen our father for thirty years.

My parents split up when I was twelve. I know I am not unusual and I am not claiming to be anything but ordinary. In common with many people their behaviour followed a particular pattern; my father tried to pay as little as possible after leaving the matrimonial home as somehow in his head physically leaving the house meant he had absolved himself of any responsibility for the life he had brought me and my sisters to. Therefore my mother made life as difficult as possible for my father to see us by being vile–a constant reminder that seeing him was utter betrayal. To cut a very long, tedious and upsetting story short, the ultimate result of this game of two cats and three mice was that me and my sisters didn’t see my father and we went hungry. Literally. What little my mother had she kept for herself. My father knew that, I suspect it is one of the many reasons he left her. The only positive I can take from the immense amount of energy that my parents continue to pump into hating eachother over three decades is that they must have really loved each other once.

Therefore, for obvious reasons, Father’s Day was at best, a non-event for me until I had children myself. I loved my stepdad and in stark contrast to my mother he never demanded anything – certainly not attention and definitely not on Father’s Day. So that first Father’s Day when I was still mourning his loss and I shuffled off to buy something for Man of the House from Childerbeast Number One was a little strange for me as it hadn’t featured on my radar for nearly twenty years. When Sister B started seeing our dad again, much to everyone else’s confusion, Sister A and I supported her absolute right to self-determination, regardless of that being in a different direction from us. It is therefore testament to the strength of our relationship that she feels able to ask me what our Dad may or may not like for a gift in the expectation that I will genuinely try to help.

So this Fathers’ Day, I want to thank you, Dad. It is a daily struggle to unlearn all that crap from you and my mother, but struggle we must. And struggle we do. My wish for you this Father’s Day is that you let go of hating my mother just long enough to see the real tragedy of what you both did. The little girl that became a woman and mother herself can only really remember that her Daddy might like fudge. So I hope you like it. I’m afraid it was that or those dates you get in the oblong boxes at Christmas. If you play your cards right, next year my sister might get you a bracelet.

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Nul Points

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I have a confession to make. It may well lower your opinion of me, if indeed it could get lower. I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I love it. I love the staging, the costumes, the dancing and oh my goodness the lyrics. I loved Sir Terry’s commentary (“This woman has been poured into something black”). I love Graham Norton’s commentary (“Not sure I’d want to hear a Netta album”). I watch every year. This year I watched in horror as that poor Russian man tried to escape whilst singing in a shower in a thunderstorm. Last year I was wondering what on Earth Freud would have made of the line; “This trumpet makes you my girl.” And although not a particular fan, I did notice that Man of the House commented on how effective one female entrant’s outfit was in successfully distracting him from the song.

As you all know it follows the same format every year. The host nation introduces each act with a few minutes that they use to advertise what a wonderful country they live in, and to pique our interest in visiting that country by poking the entrants with a stick and getting them to prance about in some of the more enticing places. Tel Aviv Museum in Israel, Castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon, that sort of thing. It always looks lovely, but frankly, just drags out what is already a very long event.

I appreciate that Eurovision is an excellent opportunity for countries to advertise themselves on an international stage. However, in order to hold the interest of the viewing public instead of them thinking “can’t we just hear the song?” I think it is time for a change. Surely if one wants to really understand a country, get a real flavour of it, then you really should experience it as the people who live there do? Therefore instead of getting artists to cavort in places of national beauty and/or interest, I propose that all twenty six entrants are filmed experiencing life as a national of the host nation. As I am British, I can only suggest my country and I do so in complete confidence that the UK is never going to ever win the Eurovision Song Contest ever again. I am sure that you all have some excellent examples, and I didn’t want to hog the field, so here is my top ten.

10. Queuing

Had to be. One simply cannot understand Britain or the British if you don’t get people of other nations to understand queuing. It doesn’t matter where or why. There doesn’t even have to be a reason. But queue you must. Put the performers in a queue. Let them observe and learn sighing, the non-aggressive smile to someone else in the queue and if someone tries to push in, the British expression of fury: the tut and the eye roll.

9. Making a palatable cup of tea

 Leave the baffled artists in a room with a kettle of boiling water, three tea bags, a tea spoon, a teapot, a bottle of milk and a mug together with a colour coded card highlighting the correct depth of colour for an acceptable cup of tea. The cup of tea is then presented to Sir David Attenborough for testing.

8. Successfully make a same day appointment at the doctor’s

Present them with a telephone and a landline with instructions that they are to call the number and make an emergency appointment for the same day. Failure is not an option. “Is it an emergency?” “Well I haven’t lost a limb, but I am not a doctor which is why I need to see one –do you mind me asking when you passed your medicine finals?”

7. Buy lunch from M&S

Parachute the group into any British town with directions to M&S. There they must purchase the most British of foodstuffs – an egg and cress sandwich, a packet of scones, some strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. In order to be successful they must do so without bumping into any pensioners. Unbeknown to them is that in spite of being able to shop at any time in the week because they are retired, a great number of British pensioners venture out on weekday lunchtimes simply to swing their trollies into the path of people trying to buy a quick sandwich for lunch.

 6. Swim at the local leisure centre

A swimming costume, a towel and a pound coin for a broken locker – beware the obligatory floating elastoplast, oh, and for the love of God, don’t touch anything – go.

5. Translate the Daily Mail

Using gloves and tongs for hygiene and keeping contact to an absolute minimum, present the singer with a copy of the Daily Mail and ask them to answer a question on the ‘news’ it contains as follows: • Are all of the problems in the world the fault of: A) Women showcasing their jaw dropping curves; B) Gay people flaunting their incredible figures; C) People from ethnic minority groups wowing with their enviable bodies; D) Immigrants flashing their incredible abs; or E) Combination of all the above.

4. Get onto/off the Coventry Ring Road

Driving on the left isn’t sufficiently interesting. A professional racing driver dressed in a dinner jacket and bow tie takes the performer towards the Ring Road and as they approach this horror in a moving Ford Fiesta the professional driver escapes by being winched through the driver’s window James Bond style. They have one instruction: get off the ring road and do so without your passengers leaving their nails in the dashboard. Best of British.

3. Go to Ikea and don’t buy anything

Blindfold them and lead them into Ikea. Remove the blindfold and leaving them only with a bottle of water they must get to the exit within thirty minutes and (this is the clincher) without having bought anything. Not even a hot dog.

2. Find a seat on a peak time train

Hand the fellow European a credit card with an eye-wateringly high credit limit. Ask them to pick where in the country that they would most like to visit and ask them to buy a return train ticket to that place at peak time. Neglect to mention that they will be standing shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers for three hours in order to reach their destination.

And finally – Drive around the M25

It’s a circle – how hard can it be? A simple instruction: drive around this road and then get off again. The professional racing driver drives this artist onto the M25 in the Ford Fiesta. This time, rather than the exciting helicopter exit, they simply open the door, step out and walk away through the parked cars.

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Every Second Counts

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Nearly twenty years ago a couple were out on a date.  They had been seeing each other for a while – both divorced and with children – they had both been through the mill a bit as is the same for most people who have lived even a little bit of life.  The man was nervous.  He was going to tell the woman that he couldn’t see her anymore. Not an easy thing to do. He wasn’t sure how to tactfully bring it up.  Telling someone that that you can’t see them anymore is not nice for anyone to say or for anyone to hear.  Can’t, rather than won’t.  Won’t is the reason why most people stop seeing each other, and also not nice to hear.  Can’t is a different ball game.

After fussing his pint for a bit he decided to just blurt it out.  Get it over and done with.  That had to be for the best.  At least it would be said then. So he did.  He told her that he couldn’t see her anymore.  He wanted to, but he couldn’t.  He had been diagnosed with cancer, and he was going to die.  So it really wasn’t fair that they kept on seeing each other.  And then he waited.

The woman took this news in with remarkable calm.  And responded in the only way that she knew how, which was to be entirely tactless.  She dismissed him as talking nonsense.  This was not the reaction he was expecting.  He enquired, with some considerable interest, as to why a terminal diagnosis was, in her non-medical opinion, nonsense.  He considered it to very serious and was coping with it as well as could be expected in the circumstances.  The woman advised that it was nonsense because she also had a blood cancer.  She had been diagnosed in her early thirties and her diagnosis was not promising at the time.  It was not particularly promising now but her doctors continually did their best.  A number of years had passed with her future being knowingly and medically uncertain, so she had learnt to live with it.  And so would he.

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A man is rushed into A&E in an ambulance.  He had collapsed at home. The consultant on duty has no information about the patient other than there is a man with leukaemia lying dying in A&E.  The patient’s file would be coming over from the hospital treating him so the doctors could see the detail.  But that wouldn’t be quick enough for the consultant faced with a person dying right then and there.  So he did what he could with what he knew in that moment to save his life.

He couldn’t have known at that point that the man had undergone six years of chemotherapy.  He couldn’t have known that he knew the name of all of the nurses and doctors in the haematology department, and they him, because he had spent so much time there.  He didn’t know that his wife had sat there each and every day, holding his hand.  He didn’t know that he had got up at four o’clock every morning for the last six years to see the birds when the sun came up, because he knew he was dying and he couldn’t face it lying down.  And he didn’t know that the man had got on his motorbike less than forty eight hours earlier, because that was what he loved to do, and bugger it, he was going to do it.  Just one last time.

The doctors were trying to buy time whilst the file came and then they would be able to work out what best to do.  Time that could not be bought because the man now had sepsis.  They probably knew that but they tried anyway because that is their nature.  The (grown up) children were summoned by his wife to his bedside.  They watched the monitors and talked to him, hoping that he could hear them and that they could make sense of the bleeps and the numbers and that they meant something positive.  They knew.  They all knew. But they didn’t want to. Always the medical team worked quietly away.

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It is said that love comes quietly. One minute you don’t think or don’t know that you love someone and the next you know that you do. And then you know you’re stuffed because love takes some undoing. After being completely and utterly abandoned by my own father, I never expected anyone to come into my life that could even begin to fill the gaping hole in your heart that you just have to live with.  Not that they didn’t or even don’t love you.  Just not enough. 

My stepdad wasn’t perfect.  He was grumpy, he was miserable and you could never give him enough damned tea to drink.  He was on so many drugs at one point that he shook.  If he got his hands to stop shaking long enough to get his fork to his mouth, his head started shaking so he couldn’t get the fork in his mouth.  We did the only thing you could do in such circumstances, which was to mercilessly take the piss.  When he died I felt completely and utterly broken.  I cried every morning in the shower for two years so that no one would know.  I don’t know when I stopped doing it everyday.  Such is grief. 

When he was first diagnosed the doctors said that they hoped to give him five years; he lived for six.  That was two thousand one hundred and ninety days in total.  Fifty two thousand five hundred and sixty hours.  Three million one hundred and fifty three thousand six hundred minutes. I shall be grateful to the NHS for the rest of my life for every single last one of them.

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Smear Campaign

close up of microscope
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Right listen here you women under thirty. And, I address Welsh women under thirty in particular. Headline in the news yesterday is that up to a third of you are not going to your cervical screening tests. This is not good news. Not good news at all. What’s that all about? I want to have a stern and matronly word about what might be bothering you.

The Nickname

Yes, it is awful.  Named because the cells to be examined are smeared across a slide before being placed under the microscope.  I am not a scientist but some of you are – I would expect that a number of things that are put under a microscope for examination are smeared across a slide first.  Am I right?  I have absolutely no idea why it has become common parlance for an important scientific test that can save a woman’s life. It’s almost as if they were trying to put us off. I can only assume that the word ‘smear’ was attached to it by someone who didn’t like women very much – the common and everyday sort of misogynistic language that is very slowly being eradicated. A bit like ‘mankind’ or women getting wrinkles, but men getting ‘fatigued’ – that sort of crap. It’s proper name is cervical screening, for that is what it is: screening your cervix for abnormal cells so that those cells can be quickly and easily dealt with before they become a more serious problem.

The Embarrassment 

I get this, particularly when you are younger. And we’re British – we pretty much have the international monopoly on being uptight. I have had three children, and age and numerous medical procedures and examinations have knocked the embarrassment factor out of me. The first time you go is a bit nerve-wracking however much you have or haven’t been poked and prodded in your life. The second time isn’t much better tbh. By the time you get to the third you are pretty much resigned to the whole thing.  But as a woman who has had many cervical screening tests, there is no point at which any of us will ever skip into the surgery, shout “yippee!” and leap up onto the bed in eager anticipation of the speculum.  None.

Now it may be first, second or third time for you, but it will not be the first, second or third time for the medical professional carrying out the procedure. It is difficult for me to emphasise enough to you how disinterested medical professionals are in any of your body parts, and that includes your lady parts. Medical professionals in this area see them all day, everyday. You don’t. In fact, unless you are very bendy indeed, you are the only person in the world who has the least chance of a proper look at your own cervix. But you know for you have a job yourself that any job, whatever it is, stops being a novelty after you’ve done it for a week. Otherwise, how would you do your job?

Yes, a complete stranger performs the test. I think that’s better don’t you? What if you’re lying there and your aunt, who is a doctor, walks in? If a stranger performing the test is a bit embarrassing then someone you know would be positively mortifying. You never have to see this person (except possibly in this context) again. And even if you did happen to bump into them socially, unless you were to whip off your trousers and assume the position, it is unlikely that they’d recognise you. Your aunt, on the other hand…..

And whilst I am here, the person doing your screening does not care if you have waxed vociferously; they don’t care if you have a bush like a rhododendron; they care not one jot if your legs are hair-free or if you’ve just shaved that bit that pokes out of the bottom of your jeans; they could not be less interested in whether or not you want keep your socks on because your feet are cold. What they care about, what they really care about, is getting the test done and done properly so it can be sent off to the person with the microscope to analyse and they can go home at the end of the day and watch ‘Bake Off’.  Just like the rest of us.

So wear a skirt so you can simply lift it up and not feel quite so exposed, take a friend to sit outside so they can shuffle you in and wait with cake for when you emerge, tell the doctor/nurse that you are a bit nervous, babble inanely to them, take some earphones so you can listen to some music instead, do whatever it is to make you feel better about the whole thing, but don’t not go because you’re a bit embarrassed.

The Procedure  

I agree that it is not the most comfortable way to spend five or ten minutes of your life. But it is only five or ten minutes of your life, potentially for your life. And I wouldn’t say it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. You all must know someone who has had cancer and chemotherapy. If you don’t, seek someone out and talk to them about their experience. If you’re sitting in a quad at work, at least one of you will have been affected by cancer, and if you haven’t, one of you will be. Five minutes of uncomfortable is a picnic in comparison to being faced with chemotherapy.

And there is some more good news. Short girls take note – one of my friends (we shall call her Diminutive Friend, for she is teeny tiny) told me that your height makes a difference to how easily your cervix is located. Diminutive Friend claims to be five feet two inches tall (Diminutive Friend is optimistic).  However, that is why she feels like her cervix is located in her throat when she goes for her cervical screening. I, on the other hand, am five foot nine, and Diminutive Friend has made many uncalled for and unkind jokes about the doctor or nurse advancing on me with a miner’s helmet, compass and a map in order to locate my cervix. There you go ladies of less height, something to be grateful for at last.

The Worry of What They Might Find  

There is a statistically small risk that the person with the microscope might report that something transpired from your test that requires further investigation. This would probably require someone else, if you’re lucky another complete stranger, having a bit of a poke around your now freshly waxed lady area. On the other hand, if you don’t go for a test, there is a statistical certainty that the person with the microscope will not make such a report.  If something does pop up in that report, you have two things that are vital; information and time. If nothing does pop up, then you can go about your daily business not wondering what might be because you know you’re looking after yourself.  However, just because they can’t make the report, it does not mean that the thing you are frightened of finding isn’t there.

Also, let me take this opportunity to assure you; your foo-foo is fundamentally no different or unusual to anyone else’s. Common sense and the continued survival of the human race dictates that bodies, including vaginas, are broadly speaking, all much of a muchness based around a generally successful design that has worked for millenia. The person performing the test is not going to recoil in horror declaring that they’ve never seen one that looks like that before. And, if there is by some infinitesimally small likelihood something slightly unusual about your vagina that is likely to affect your health and well-being that is also visible to the naked eye, then they are the person to spot it because it is their area of expertise.

I can’t make you go. I know I can’t. And your mothers would not have brought you up as I am hopefully bringing up my children if you weren’t prepared to stand up for yourselves. We want you to be strong and strident and shouty. For we are strong and strident and shouty. We want you to do all the things that are over and above what we have achieved, and continue to achieve, because we’re standing on the shoulders of the women who went before us. We want you to learn, to write, to sing, to dance, to read, to travel. We want you to vote, to protest. To help us sort the bloody government out – now that really is embarrassing. To get your noses pierced, get a tattoo. Cover your hair, not cover your hair. Wear utterly inappropriate shoes.  We want you to fall in love. We want you to fall out of love and say you’re never doing that again. And then we want you to do it all over again. There are times when a stiff British upper lip is called for – an unfortunate haircut, watching Boris Johnson trying to speak French, someone else taking the last chocolate biscuit – this is not one of them. Tell me I’m wrong. Please. Argue with me. Tell me I’m out of touch, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. And then tell me why. I want you to do that. I need you to do that because we’re buggered without you. And the thing is, the thing is: you can’t do any of those things when you’re dead.

Because you’re dead.

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Make It Snappy

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You know when something awful has happened in your life and when you wake up in the morning there is that briefest of moments when you don’t remember it?  For that one spark of time everything is okay and nothing has changed so as to be unrecognisable from how it was before. Then you do remember it. And you feel even worse because you can’t believe that you could have been so stupid to have considered that the catastrophic thing that has happened, hasn’t happened.  Because it was so massive, how could you even have thought to forget? There is also the horrific event itself which you felt dreadful about anyway, which now you feel even worse about because for less than a second you thought it hadn’t happened and then you have to relive the horror all over again.  I had those experiences when both of my grandparents died, when my stepfather lost his titanic battle against leukaemia and also now, to a lesser extent admittedly, when I know it is going to be World Book Day. 

Parents of primary school-aged children will know exactly what I am talking about.  They didn’t do it last year at school and that had lulled me into a sense of false security.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that it would be happening this year and two costumes were expected. Not by the school, by the Childerbeasts.  Childerbeast Number Two wants to go as a person possessed of magic– okay, not too bad, we have magical items in the dressing up box.  Childerbeast Number Three will be enjoying ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ and can attend school in crocodile colours if they so wish.  Also not too bad.

However, although they can just go in green or brown or yellow, my Childerbeast does not wish to keep it simple.  No, they want to go dressed as an actual crocodile.  And she’s not the only one in her class.  I think the little buggers have got together and discussed what could possibly inflict the most pain and irritation on their parents.  A crocodile costume you say?  In forty eight hours?  And to go on about it constantly?  Yes, let’s all do that.  We’ll get them to break their “no wine in the week” rule before Tuesday.

Yesterday with what I thought was only twenty-four hours to go, I found myself perusing a well-known department store looking for crocodile-themed items.  It was not an not easy task.  Partly because not only do people who stock department stores seem to think that little girls are obsessed with unicorns, they also seem to think that the only colour they like is pink.  So, I made my way into the boys’ section where it would seem that people who stock the same store think little boys are only interested in blue, green and yellow.  Equally annoying for boys, but handy for me on this occasion.

I availed myself of some crocodile-coloured clothes and a green scarf that I thought would do as a tail.  As I was paying, another woman placed a blue hoodie at the till next to me and advised the sales assistant that although it was blue and from the section labelled ‘boys’ it was for her daughter who was not a fan of pink.  I felt a warm glow of pride for this woman’s daughter.  I placed my items on the counter and told my sales assistant that I was going to fashion a crocodile costume out of them for World Book Day and I hadn’t got the faintest idea where to begin.  She offered her sympathies and failed to hide a note of distinct glee from her voice as her children weren’t having to do it this year.  I refrained from advising her not to be too smug, but as we all know: The Gods of Parenting are always fair.

I returned home and the items purchased were greeted with what can best be described as a muted response. She wanted to go as a crocodile; this was merely green trousers and a yellow t-shirt.  I said that I was going to make some scales and staple them on.  That helped.  A bit. Along with the discovery that I had another twenty -four hours than I thought I had.

I was expressing this sartorial concern to Brunette Friend on the way to school this morning.  One of her Childerbeasts also wanted to go the full David Attenborough and she had been up late into the night making the costume.  She is infinitely more skilled at these things than I am, which is rather like saying that Michaelangelo was better at painting than the Hound.  She offered me her green and brown felt and a glue gun with which to assist my own descent into hell. She said she’d come and free me when I had overdone it with the glue gun because it did peel off with a layer of skin if you got it on yourself. I returned home to begin. 

If I could just pause here – I know why people become teachers.  I had previously thought it was something to do with caring for the next generation or wanting to help children reach their potential.  Or if the Daily Mail is to be believed, the massive pay cheque and the long holidays.  But it’s not is it?  It’s because you all get let loose with glue guns, I know now.  I’ve had a lovely couple of hours cutting and sticking.  And when I ran out of crocodile scales, I just went around the house looking for things to stick.  So far, I’ve glued the washing basket lid closed, the toilet seat down and the chocolate cupboard shut because I stupidly said I’d give up chocolate for Lent.

So I now have a sore back from sitting in a fixed position for too long and something resembling (and I wouldn’t put it any higher than that) an outfit that has a strong hint of reptile about it.  In two hours I shall discover whether my work is of sufficient standard to please the Childerbeast.  And if it is not, then I am out of options and I can’t even comfort myself with chocolate. 

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Chicken Run

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Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

For those of you who read my blog regularly you will know that my family and I keep chickens. I came quite literally face to face with my nemesis the other week. No, not my mother. A fox. As I came back from walking the Hound I encountered some feathers in the road. Not those of Speckled Jim, but feathers which looked very much like they had previously been attached to one of our speckled chickens. As I walked further up the hill I saw a bushy, black-tipped tail above the brow of a low hedge in our garden. I chased up the garden and the tail picked up speed to a light trot. I surmised that Mr Fox was still in the vicinity and his name was not Basil. I got to the top of the garden and Definitely Not Called Basil had reached the brow of the hill ahead of me. He stopped, turned, looked at me and then slowly walked away. If he could have flipped me the bird, he would have done.

At this point some of you may be wondering why I didn’t unleash the Hound. Those of you who have met the Hound will not be wondering. So for the benefit of those of you who have not been brought a shoe on arrival at my house, the Hound thinks he’s a chihuahua and is no match for a dog fox Definitely Not Called Basil.

So then began the grizzly and unpleasant job of securing the crime scene. As far as the Childerbeasts were concerned, we had six chickens in the morning and only two in the evening. That caused enough upset. The reality was rather more unpleasant. I found one headless body not far from the house, and whilst I was locating suspicious piles of feathers and trying to coax anyone hiding back out with some corn, my neighbour came round to let me know that she too had located an equally suspicious pile of feathers on her front door step. As her chickens were in, she had reached the inevitable conclusion.

Whilst I was in the garden with my neighbour, Definitely Not Called Basil, brazen bastard that he is, came back. His paw stopped mid-air as our eyes locked and in that moment we assessed eachother. He wisely concluded that he did not want to take me on and retreated.

After an hideous evening with lots of tears shed by the Childerbeasts, Man of the House spent an entire weekend trying to create a secure area for the chickens. We agreed that it would be unwise to create a buffet arrangement in that Definitely Not Called Basil could get in but the chickens could not get out. One of his suggestions was to put an electric fence around our entire garden. Tempting as that was to deter some visitors, I was not keen. Another would have looked like Colditz which might be considered a little too elaborate. So we have settled on some fencing. The enclosure is close to, and in the sight of, the house. And four new chickens have joined the two who came home on the evening of that fateful day.

However, the two who came home keep getting out. They jump onto a wall, sneak under the hedge and into the woods beyond. In order to try and limit the future carnage, I have put some canes across the top of the wall with some bunting to encourage the two escapees to stay in the enclosure near to the house. The bunting I have chosen is all twenty eight flags of the European Union. We have been having much Fun with Flags and they have been re-arranged several times to try and encourage the two chickens who insist on escaping, to remain. I am not suggesting that the other four will not be literally snapped up at any point, but the enclosure was made with their longevity in mind and one hopes it provides a certain degree of protection. However, there are only so many times I can re-arrange the flags and chase two chickens around the garden with a stick and some corn to try and save them from themselves before they get devoured. Therefore, I must prepare for the inevitable, which in spite of the efforts of the adults in the house, will affect us all.

It is almost as it there is some sort of analogy that I could draw with current events, if only I could put my finger on what it is.

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Chooks Away!

 

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Photo by Achim Bongard on Pexels.com

Mock me if you will, but this household has recently acquired six chickens as a part of our continued strive to have less impact on the planet, and yes, whip up an omelette when we’ve all had an oeuf of Brexit (gosh I am so funny). Yes, yes, I know. If the French and English fishermen move onto less middle-class catches than scallops to fall out over, Operation Stack becomes Operation Car Park because the ports are blocked and the NHS has finally collapsed the death knell being that drugs that are not manufactured in this country are not able to come into this country, then six chickens are not going to save me or anyone else.

In the short time that we have had them I have noticed how incredibly thick chickens are. They have not a thought in their head. Yesterday they escaped from their capacious living area for doing whatever it is that chickens do, and had made their way up to the lawn, which is at the top of our garden. And when I say the top of our garden, we live on a hill and the lawn is not only the only flat portion of our garden, it is higher up than the roof of our house with steps for humans to reach it. The lawn is a substantial work of engineering, much adored by Man of the House, and lovingly re-seeded two weeks ago.  I made my way up to shoo them back down to their area. Five of the six went with little trouble. One of them decided to break free from the group and run off in completely the opposite direction. I was around thirty feet from her when she decided to launch herself from the top of the lawn. She flapped her wings as she cannoned over the hedge (planted specifically to stop a child doing something similar) and mid-air it became apparent that her flight feathers on one side had been clipped. She banked left and disappeared from view. I heard a thud, which I presumed was her ricocheting off the chicken coop. I rushed back down the garden expecting that my quandary over what to cook for dinner was now solved. I found her having rejoined the group without a care in the world. A perfect demonstration as to why chickens are the descendants of dinosaurs. They are made of stern, uncomplicated stuff and a big bang was nothing to them.

In addition to half a dozen mini velociraptors trashing the lawn, like lots of people who adore Sir David Attenborough and wonder if he is the only person in a position of authority with an ounce of sense, I have also been on a mission to eradicate our house of plastic. This is a much easier task to say than it is to do isn’t it? I have a veg box because they don’t wrap cucumbers and broccoli in plastic (who the hell thought of that cretinous idea? They should join Mr Gove and have their feet roasted on an open fire as suggested by a fellow Twitter user for the fronted adverbial crap), I have switched to beeswax wraps (www.beebeewraps.com are excellent – no I don’t get any money for suggesting them, they have no idea who I am), and bars of shampoo and soap in the bathroom which cause endless amounts of confusion. As of this morning I think that Man of the House is washing his body with hair conditioner, his hair with a body bar and I don’t want to even think about what he’s doing with the bar of shampoo. I also buy eco-friendly washing products that are made in eco-friendly factories, have less impact on aquatic life and are packaged in recycled plastic. I have also been trying not to buy palm oil which is even less easy because the bloody stuff is in everything. And I have started ordering milk from the milkman again.

Except, according to news this week, the single biggest cause of pollution in the world is a kind of fart. And you would be entirely forgiven for thinking it might be President Fart, but it’s not, that would be fake news; it’s cow farts. And by buying milk, in addition to (as one of my vegan friends has previously horrified me) I am not only supporting young male calves being shot at birth and their mothers being permanently pregnant, I am also contributing to cow farts. As I am by eating beef. And I am not a big beef eater. In case you missed it, the upshot of that if we carry on we’ve got about twelve years until we’re all completely buggered. So just enough time for the children of those us of my generation to be reaching adulthood and being left with a bigger mess than the one their grandparents and the current government are intent on leaving them with Brexit. Great.

We are British, so let us not be defeated by this news. We must press on, and press on we shall. This weekend, I am going to avail myself of all of the milk alternatives available to a person at my local supermarket. Such is the wealth and privilege of the country I live in. And me, Man of the House and the Childerbeasts are going to do a blind tasting. I may take photos of some of the more disgusted expressions for my own amusement. Then we are going to see which one we like the best. And we are going to attempt to make the switch.

I am not going to make any rash promises. We are not going to become vegan overnight and start cycling everywhere. However, I am going to attempt to demonstrate to my children that we should all attempt to be what I believe Mahatma Gandhi actually said which was “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change….We need not wait to see what others do.” If we don’t do something, and twelve years really means now, we the Europeans won’t be able to bicker over Brexit, the Americans will not be able to tittle-tattle over Trump and the Russians will not be around to visit Salisbury in the snow or otherwise. Smaller, feathery and not very scary this time, but after sixty six million years, dinosaurs will once again rule the Earth. So much for homo sapiens, sapiens – wise, wise man.

 

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The Thigh’s the Limit

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The other week my daughter (who is the length and build of a racing snake) commented that her thighs were fat and they should be covered up.  She’s eight.  And she’s not overweight.  Still coming back from the stratosphere after last week’s Cartastrophe,  I explained to all three of my children that hips, thighs and bottoms are very important, as not only do they hold your entire body up to permit you to move about, they also help to keep all of your internal organs in the right place.  I spoke at length about how important it is that these parts of your body are strong, and looked after, and in order to be strong and looked after, they need to have a food source and also some muscle to them which involves exercising, because they have the weight of whole body resting on them.  Who knows if they were listening to me?  They probably weren’t given that they kept asking me to move out of the way.  However, I spoke to Sister B earlier today and she said that Niece (also the height and build of a racing snake and aged eight) had made a similar comment whilst poking her thighs.  This displeases me intensely.

In an entirely unrelated conversation, a couple of weeks ago a friend revealed to me that at the age of forty she was “going to get the legs out.”  Rather than it being her issuing me with a warning to run for cover as she was about to strip off, she meant that she was wearing (woo-hoo) a dress with a short skirt.  Now when I say a short skirt, I don’t mean a bum-skimmer.  Just a perfectly decent and acceptable skirt above the knee.  She had decided that she was not going to hide her legs away anymore.  So after forty years of keeping them under wraps she has unleashed them.  And they are perfectly lovely legs, which I am given to understand carry her about without any difficulties and have been known to run occasionally.

Inspired by the latter conversation and enraged by the former, last week,  I purchased a pair of shorts.  I can hear you wolf whistling now.  And I don’t mind telling you that partly because I wanted to show my daughters that thighs without that ridiculous gap are normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and also because I too have spent forty years covering my legs up, I had all good intentions of wearing them.  They’re not short shorts.  Whilst I strongly believe that you should wear whatever the hell you like, as far as I am concerned, no matter how good my legs may or may not be, short shorts are only for anyone under the age of thirty and Kylie Minogue.  It is to my (and that of Man of the House’s) eternal chagrin that I do not fall into either of those categories.  Plus my legs are quite fair indeed; unlike Kylie’s, they are translucent rather than transcendent.

Of course, just by making a purchase, it is not as easy as all that for a woman to wear a pair of shorts.  Men buy shorts, put shorts on, and they’re good to go.  It’s like swimming.  Men think to themselves “oh I fancy a swim, I shall take my shorts, a towel and a pair of goggles and make my way to the local swimming pool.”  It should be that easy for women, but it isn’t.  Women think “oh I would like a swim.  But do I want to go through at least an hour of hair removal before I am fit to be seen in public? And where I am going to find this hour undisturbed so that I may gather my array of tools in order to shave, pluck and wax so that people will not gasp in horror or faint when I disrobe?”    So I had to commence on the task that is not dissimilar to painting the Forth Bridge.  Ladies of diminutive stature be grateful because whilst those of us on the taller side may be able to reach some things on the high shelves, not only do we continually bang our heads on the cooker hood, it also takes us bloody hours to shave our legs.  Deary me you don’t know how lucky you are.  So after a geological age, my leg hair was dealt with for at least twenty four hours.  I could have got the shorts on and the legs out there and then.  But I felt that it would be unkind to everyone, and especially unkind to the Hound who can only see in monochrome, not to do something about the glare.

I decided to set about dealing with this issue with some fake tan.  I first had a fake tan only a few years ago.  Man of the House had said “why don’t you have a fake tan before we go away?”  Thinking to myself “Blimey, if he thinks I need to have a fake tan, I really do need to have a fake tan” I immediately booked myself in to a beauty salon.  Someone stood me in a shower cubicle stark naked apart from the tiniest disposable pants in the world (me in the pants, they were professionally and appropriately attired for the task) and advanced on me with a spray gun.   If I hadn’t have given birth to three children when I couldn’t have cared less if a brass band had been in the room, I might have felt a tinge of embarrassment.  As it was, I barely flinched when I was asked to put myself in all number of ridiculous poses, which the therapist confidently assured me was to achieve the much-vaunted all over glow.

This year I thought that I could probably manage my legs myself. I had been advised by a friend that one should moisturise one’s legs prior to application of the fake tan to ensure even cover and no streaks.  I placed a towel on the bed, myself on the towel, moisturiser on my legs and then the fake tan.  I lay down to let it dry and closed my eyes.  That was a mistake.  I woke up to a little face next to me at the side of the bed, for whom a promising career in the diplomatic service awaits: “Mummy why are your legs orange?”  She should have looked more carefully.  They were orange at the front and stripey at the back.  A wash did not improve them.  So I am afraid that the shorts, and my not very subtle point about thighs are going to have to wait for a few days until the legs aren’t streaky and I can spend another eon shaving them.  By which time Summer will be over and I can retreat to the comfort of my jeans.  Thank God.

 

 

 

 

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