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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.