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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
Photo by David Disponett on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Public Domain Photography on Pexels.com

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.