True Colours

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A lot of women seem to have a very complicated relationship with food.  A friend of mine was talking about it the other day and was feeling bad that she has an emotional connection to food.  This person is an intelligent and attractive woman.  She both acknowledges and understands that she needs to eat to be healthy but then seems to struggle because she isn’t a sylph.  She knows, as again, we all do rationally, that being underweight is as bad for your health as being overweight – she is neither.  She has never expressed any desire whatsoever to be a size zero.  And yet……

It’s a worse open secret than Harvey Weinstein (allegedly) being unable to keep his hands to himself that the pictures of women we see in the media are not true representations of the women themselves.  I am not saying that Angelina Jolie should have a photo of her first thing in the morning splattered all across the papers or that Kate Winslet be subjected to being interviewed hair scraped back whilst she doing washing up – we all want to look our best and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – these ladies work in an industry where looking your best is a seller.  The thing is, they’re beautiful anyway.  If they walked into a room with the rest of us, they would be so far the most beautiful-looking person in the room that everyone would turn to look at them.  I bet Julia Roberts’ husband has to pinch himself every single morning because he can’t believe his luck.  They are just much better looking than the rest of us and no amount of photoshopping will make that more or less true.

The other thing is – what is wrong with having an emotional connection to food?  Why is that such a bad thing and why do so many women seem to beat themselves up about it? My sister doesn’t buy biscuits because she says that they sing to her from the kitchen whilst she is trying to watch a film in the lounge and she finds the noise very distracting until she eats them.  Another friend does not buy chocolate.  She says that even if she put chocolate in the loft, and she was down the bottom of the garden, it would call to her and she would be up there to get it out. I admit that I have never heard anyone having a similar issue with fruit and vegetables, but there must be an inbetween.  My sister and my friend deny themselves chocolate and biscuits on a ongoing basis.  And that must make them feel even worse about all food.  It’s just not on.

In around 1965, a young woman aged seventeen had just passed her driving test.  Her father, somewhat reluctantly, had let her borrow the family car.  Cars were a relatively new and very expensive thing to own at that time and not being particularly wealthy it would have been a considerable spend.  Nevertheless, he loved his daughter and against his better judgment, let her borrow the car.  (Yes, the story is going to go the way you think it is).

The daughter returned home a few hours later and the conversation went roughly as follows:

Father : “Hello.  How was your trip?”

Daughter : “To be perfectly honest, Dad, it was a trip of two halves.”

Father : “Oh really, why was that?”

Daughter : “Well, you will have noted, Father, that I have returned to the family fold on foot, whereas it would not have escaped your notice given the tense discussion before you handed me the keys, that I left at the wheel of your new automobile.”

Father : [uneasy now] “Yes, I had noticed.  Do you mind me asking where it is?”

Daughter : [speaking quickly] “It’s coming in a minute…..[mutters]… on a recovery truck…..”

Father : [string of expletives]

Daughter : “But the good news is that when I walking home, (yes I am absolutely fine by the way), I went past a bakery and I have bought you your favourite –  an egg custard.”

Yep, my mother yet again.  An endless source of material.  It will not surprise you to learn, that the proffered pastry did not improve my Grandad’s mood, regardless of it being his cake of choice.  It probably took until I was born over ten year’s later for my Grandad to be able to see the funny side.  By the time I was old enough to understand, it was a story he always told at family gatherings to raucous laughter – the time when my Mum wrote off his car but bought him an egg custard.

My Grandad dropped dead when I was twenty.  I loved him with the whole of my heart and at that point in my life my heart felt broken.  Now, twenty years on, every time I eat or make an egg custard, I think of him.  Me and my sisters gather round, bickering over who has the biggest slice and share the memory and our love for our Grandad over a baked item, the monetary value of which is negligible.  It is as if his hand is still touching ours through the years that will forever separate us.

My head tells me that maybe I could be shed a few pounds if I laid off the odd egg custard here and there. And if I was doing it every day, I should.  But what about my heart?  Why feel bad about looking after your heart?  We all need to remember – loved ones, friends, people who love or loved us once – and that is a good thing.  And things that connect us to those memories are a good thing, even if there is a risk that they may make us a bit more squidgy round the middle.  It comforts me to know that whatever lies in my future, just one small cake can remind me that in my past, and by one person at least, I was adored once too.

We all need to know that.

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Twinkle Toes

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People of Libya, the British Foreign Secretary’s words yesterday do not represent the views of the British People and I apologise unreservedly to you for him.  Not just his words.  For him.  There are no excuses and we have none to give you.  We are truly sorry.

I have to ask, and you may not want to answer as it does seem to be a sensitive subject, but are you happy with your feet?   It is well documented that we have a complicated relationship with our bodies.  Most of us aren’t happy with something – some people aren’t happy with their bum, or boobs, or their tum.  Some of us don’t like our hair frizzing in the rain, others get antsy about the tops of their arms being on display.  But I have noticed that lots of people, all sorts of people, seem quite unhappy with their feet and I wondered if you were one of them.

A former colleague of mine was most displeased with her tootsies in both size and appearance.  I queried as to whether they got her from A to B in a satisfactory fashion – neither stumbling about whilst in transit, nor causing her any pain.  She confirmed that they were entirely satisfactory in that respect but nevertheless she remained dissatisfied, although she could not be more specific about what it was she disliked (Too big?  Too small? Ten toes??).  I was unsure as to what other support I could offer her at this point, her being to all intents and purposes, a fully-functioning biped.

Another friend cannot bear for you to touch her feet.  She is so ticklish that she will flail and boot you in the chops.  I took her to have reflexology once.  For those of you who have not had reflexology it is a relaxing treatment for your feet.  You lie under a big fluffy cover and a therapist schmoozes your feet whilst you doze.  You then come round about forty minutes later and apologise for nodding off and wonder if you had muttered something you shouldn’t have whilst under the therapist’s power.  My friend was a little stressed and I had spent some months persuading her that she might find it beneficial, or at least relaxing.  Eventually she relented and I took her along.  I was sat outside the treatment room trying to read a magazine, the silence split by loud shrieks, and then cackles of laughter.  She really does have ticklish feet.

I have quite large feet. Size eight. It bothered me when I was younger as I had to get used to people muttering about going into the bowels of the stock room to see if there was “anything in that size” [read ‘massive’ for size].  I take the positives; there is always a rather good selection of shoes available in my size in sales, and (I may be flattering myself here, but with swimming being the only sport that I am have been half decent at), I like to think that they contribute to me being able to move through the water with a reasonable amount of efficiency – when I’m fit, and on a good day, and with a strong following wind. I am also quite tall at five foot nine, which no one ever seems to notice until I put heels on.  So if I had size five feet, not only would I look ridiculous, I would have some considerable trouble standing up without wobbling about.  Getting from A to B would be even more problematic.  Unlike my colleague, I am now at one with my big feet.  And I am really not bothered what they look like; they’re feet.

However, some days they do let me down.  Like yesterday.  I was out with the Hound.  And if you have read some of my other blogs you will be aware that it is usually the canine that lets me down, resulting in me being wet, muddy or both.  Not yesterday.  I was feeling quite positive; the day, the pace of our walk, the crunchiness of the Autumn leaves and the Hound was doing as he was told for once. Due to this uncharacteristic positivity, the eye of the Gods of Fairness was momentarily distracted from business up North and was drawn to me.  A ripple was sent through the Universe and hooked my right foot under a branch.  Over I went.  Face first.  One minute I was standing, the next I was lying face down in the mud.  To make sure that I was entirely covered, I then rolled over onto my back.  Realising that I was all in once piece and unharmed, being British, the next thought in my head was “oh dear lord I hope no one saw me.”  I debated belly-crawling into a shrubbery to check whether anyone else had witnessed my misfortune, or standing up and brazening it out if I discovered anyone there.  I plumped for option number two as no one had appeared to see if I was all right.  I sprang up, readjusted my coat and hair, and scanned the field.  Phew!  Apart from the Hound looking at me like I was out of my mind, I was entirely bereft of other humans.  Thank goodness.

Their work now done, the eye was drawn back northwards to Manchester and the Conservative Party Conference.  It was here that our illustrious Foreign Secretary was making the latest of his many bids for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for a politician managing to get both of their very large feet into their even larger mouth at the same time. Alas, and due to my over-confidence earlier in the day, the ripple had been delayed and arrived too late to knock him off the podium at the optimum moment, instead only resulting in the PM having a bit of a nasty cough when she spoke. Sorry.

So Bojo now has the record.  Everyone who heard that held their head in their hands and wondered what on earth possessed him.  “….all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.”  Maybe it was not properly explained.  I am sure that there are a number of bodies with IED devices that need to be moved as safely as possible to prevent further loss of life.  But the thing is Mr Johnson, that is not what came out of your mouth.  You are a Conservative politician, and to all intents and purposes from a very privileged position within our already very wealthy country, and you are also the Foreign Secretary.  Why do you not understand that you of all people cannot say things like that? Please apologise for your exceedingly poor choice of words.  Please.  We would think more of you if you would.  If you cannot or will not stop saying such excruciating things, then remove your feet from your mouth and use them for the only purpose for which they were intended – walking.  Strictly 2018 awaits.

Cornucopia

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This coming Friday morning before school, like many parents in England and Wales, I shall be rummaging around my kitchen looking for three suitable items for each of my children to take to their school’s harvest festival.  Last year there seemed to be a competition between the children as to who could take the largest squash-type vegetable, which resulted in some very small children with some exceedingly large vegetables struggling up the hill to Church. This year there is going to be three tins from my family:  not too heavy, won’t result in a big mess and lots of tears if dropped and easy for small hands to carry.

At two minutes past nine o’clock at night GMT on Friday 22 September, when most of the people at the harvest festival earlier in the day will be fast asleep in bed, it is the Autumn Equinox.  The Earth hits the turning point in its orbit when neither of its poles are tilted towards the Sun; day and night are the same length, hence equinox, meaning equal night (I know it’s right because I’ve looked it up). It is the end of Summer and many cultures have celebrated this for thousands of years and continue to celebrate, joining together in that brief moment of balance to give thanks for the harvest and to share its bounty before the coming Winter.

In Ancient Greece Hades took Persephone into the underworld each year to trigger the start of Winter.  In China they have the Moon Festival to celebrate the harvest, and from what I can gather it is an opportunity to stuff yourself with moon cakes, which I hear are quite delicious.  Pagans call this time of year, Mabon.  There seems to be some debate about where this name originates from – in Welsh Folklore there was a Mabon ap Modron, the son of Modron, the Earth Mother goddess, who features in the Arthurian legends as Uther Pendragon’s loyal servant and a follower of King Arthur.  There was also a female Cornish Saint named Mabyn.  Her festival is on 18 November which is half way between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.   I also assume that there will also be a number of Druids at Stonehenge on Friday night celebrating the setting of the Summer sun for another year.

In England we have been picking blackberries and apples like mad and have started stuffing them into pies and crumbles.  I am thrilled to announce that custard is once again a regular feature on the pudding menu.  Some people are making cider ready for wassailing later in the Winter.  Children pester their parents to stick holes and string through conkers so they can have competitions.  My son wanted to chop some conkers up for deer food. I counselled against this as unwise, but what do I know?  He cut his thumb and we went to A&E.  I thought the cut was deep, and the doctor (who admittedly who works from an entirely different brief as to what constitutes a bad injury) declared it not to be the case as the top of his finger was still attached….moving on…..leaves fall, animals prepare for hibernation….everything gets ready to go to sleep.  Except for the humans.  The humans have to stay awake all Winter.

As the days shorten, daylight becomes less.  We’ve all heard of SAD syndrome, which can make Winter a real struggle for some people.  Now the ideal solution to this would be to book a sunshine holiday.  However, funds and annual leave allowances may not allow this, certainly not for three months every year and particularly with the C word coming up in December.  There has been much talk and publicity about getting hygge – snuggling up with your family and friends, furry or otherwise.  I think we should get behind that.  Let’s all do more of that.  It doesn’t cost anything and at the end of the day, why else are we here?  To be rich?  To be famous?  Or to love and be loved?  One of the things we can all celebrate on Friday when the Earth shifts into that brief state of equilibrium is that in our tiny corner of the World, however dark the days themselves may be in the coming Winter, we are warm and we are fed, which are already two more blessings than most of the people who share our planet.

 

 

Photograph courtesy of carolinasimonorganics.wordpress.com

Summer’s Out for School

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Oh thank goodness.  I didn’t think we’d get through it.  I honestly thought that I might not make it this year.  If someone were to utter the words “what are we doing today?” to me one more time not only was I going to cry, there was a very real possibility of me turning to drink at seven o’clock in the morning.  The words “what are we doing next?” after having got back from a day out of activity were pushing me so far towards the edge, that there was a real possibility that I could have tried to drown myself in the bird bath, if we owned a bird bath.  And from the sounds of it from the Summer lots of other people were having, not one parent I know would have blamed me for it.  In fact, some of them may have already beaten me to it.

One friend went on holiday for two weeks and all of her family caught a sickness bug.  Not at the same time, which would have been pretty awful.  But in succession.  So just as one person was recovering, another one started to become ill.  And just for good measure, my friend caught it twice.  What a lovely break that must have been for her. Another missed her flight because her son, usually a robust young man, became so poorly so quickly that she had to take him to hospital (he’s absolutely fine now btw). Another friend, supposed to be enjoying a lovely and rare lunch out with her husband at a nice restaurant was so stressed by the pre-school build (see Abacus blog) that she didn’t eat most of it.  I also presume that her husband had some difficulty in changing the subject of conversation as well.

I seem to have had a Summer of my children constantly bickering with each other and not paying the slightest bit of attention to me.  I spoke to them, they looked me in the face, they turned without answering and then they walked away.   I asked them to set the table to eat the meal I had prepared – they ignored me.  When they eventually set the table, I requested that they sit at the table to eat, it fell on deaf ears.  And when presented with the meal, at least one of them declared it to be utterly inedible, even if it was they who had asked for it in the first place.  It seems that a lot can happen with the taste buds of a five year old in the space of an hour.  I asked them to get ready for bed.  My request was treated as advisory only.  Twenty minutes later, when I started shouting, everyone would cry and tell me how mean I am and query why I had not asked before I started shouting.

Some people had a good time: my son’s godparents visited France, and from what I could tell, made a very good fist of testing most of the wine and cheese available.  My daughter’s godmother had a game of football on the beach and managed to do a most impressive face plant into a puddle of wet sand.  Naturally her family rushed over immediately to make sure she was unhurt.  My sister had a lovely week in Sicily.

I am not alone in finding the task of trying to keep three children occupied for seven days a week for seven weeks every Summer holiday a daunting task.   I usually have a challenging schedule planned – holiday, days out, a few days away with my best friend and her child walking everyone’s legs off, holiday club, bracing strolls – you name it.  This year was no exception as in addition to a punishing regime, I was also involved with helping to build a pre-school.  Not me physically building anything you understand – dear lord, no – I think the building control officer would have been most upset about that.  But helping where I could, usually with a dustpan and brush and appearing with the odd baked item. You can see that it added to my timetable.  And the timetables of the other trustees I work with.  It seems to have been a Summer to struggle through for lots of people, for the mostpart in a first world problem kind of way.

But now…..oh, hahaha!  Now they are clean; they are pressed; they have shoes that not only fit them, but for the next five minutes will be scuff-free.  All of their tops and socks are currently brilliant white.  At the moment everything is in the right bag and everything has a name label on it.  And until October, for six hours a day, they are out from under my feet and under those of a paid professional.  Someone who actually chose to have a constant headache from the noise for a living.  Well, as much as I admire that, after the last seven weeks, I am happy to admire it from a safe distance.  In my case that distance being about two miles.  School – they’re all yours.

 

 

 

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

Pack It In

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This time two weeks ago I was frantically trying to pack for five people and a dog to go to Norfolk for a week.  As any of you who have undertaken this task (and it seems that at the moment we are a nation of people undertaking this task), this is not something you come to on the day of departure hoping to chuck a pair of knickers and a toothbrush into a bag and be on your merry way.  I had been washing and getting stuff ready for weeks.

After trying to count out the necessary number of pants and socks, I then started trying to gather the items of clothing that I had been secretly stockpiling.  That would be all of the clothing necessary for every possible type of weather that could be encountered on the east coast of England.  Rainy, obviously.  Windy,  undoubtedly.  Sunny, possibly.  Just the selection of footwear was enough to fill a skip.  Toiletries for cleaning unwilling children were essential.  A bizarre first aid kit was required because when you’re seven and you don’t want to go to bed you simply do not know what previously unknown ailment may strike.  And it could be a different one each and every night for a week.  Then I had the Hound to consider.   Apparently he would want feeding and generally tending to as well.  Damn him!  And let us not forget that I also had a size restriction in that I had to fit it all into a car along with five humans and said Hound.

My thoughts started to run away with me.  What if there was a freak hurricane and we needed special weights in our shoes? Would I have the right type of pants for an unexpected Summer fete? What if we happened upon some morris dancing  – was I prepared with a sufficient number of hankies?  Things were starting to get out of hand.

Did I mention that I was also trying to exchange contracts on the pre-school project before 3pm that day or all bets were off this Summer?  (See Abacus blog if you missed it). And collect and deliver sold raffle tickets and tombola prizes for our village fete to a neighbour at the bottom of the village at a time when she was in because she would need them ready for before we got back? Oh, and I was packing stuff from the lounge into boxes so it could be decorated while we were away.  Apparently it is easier to decorate a room without three kids and a dog in it as well.  Who knew?

Man of the House arrived back from work and announced that he had been rushed off his feet all morning but if he could possibly just have a sandwich, as soon as he had eaten he would be ready to “load the car”.   I see some of you have raised an eyebrow there and have muttered “would he?”  Yes, he would.  If I could just pop and get the kids from school, then by the time I got back he would have finished and we would be ready to go.  I was a donkey on the edge.  He took one look at my face and knew that I was a donkey on the edge. He drove all the way to Norfolk.

In the end I resolved that we were remaining in the UK.  Not venturing into the Amazon rainforest (although I have had a bottle of Coca Cola in the Amazon Rainforest) and not foraying into rural India (where I was still able to buy a banana).  But Norfolk, England.  And if for some reason I had omitted to pack a sufficient number of knotted hankies or emergency cravats, then we would just have to buy it when we were there or go without.

Since my return, it has occurred to me from the white-faced and starey-eyed look I have observed on several people’s faces that I am not alone in experiencing the horror of “packing for holiday”.  One friend told me that he had been ironing the children’s clothes at ten o’clock at night (no, I don’t know what he’s doing ironing the children’s clothes for holiday either, his standards must be infinitely higher than mine) whilst his wife (also a friend) was working.  Wife is a beauty therapist and apparently the minute she announces she’s going on holiday, all of her clients have to book in a treatment.  I have heard of people getting themselves waxed and buffed ready for their own holidays, but I must admit that having to rush in an intimate wax at ten o’clock at night before your therapist goes away had completely passed me by.

Meanwhile, across the county, another friend is also preparing for her annual week of ice-cream testing.  As he keeps on growing (how selfish!) she had purchased her son some shorts and invited him to try them for size.  They were returned to her a few minutes later with a declaration that they were too small.  Son had already removed the labels thus making an exchange questionable in an already tight timescale before the off.  When she raised this with him, my friend was treated to being shouted at and a slammed bedroom door.  I bet he’s looking forward to a beach holiday with his family.  In his pants.

Finally, another friend is also undertaking the clothes gathering exercise prior to cramming it all into a selection of bags and sitting on them to get the zips done up.  She was opining as to the reason why her Man of the House had not yet produced any clothes to pack.  Was it a) he wasn’t intending to join his family on holiday b) he was intending to join them but had already washed everything ready or c) he would hand her the clothes he needed to take the day before departure and mumble something about them needing a bit of a wash?

Oh the joy.  The sheer middle class horror of it all.  The bickering in the car.  The being two miles down the road and someone needing a wee.  The dropped Mr Whippy.  The sand.  The bloody sand.  And let us not forget the enormous pile of washing when you get back.

Have a lovely holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

No

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Interesting article online this week about a woman called Cheryl Yeoh.  Ms Yeoh is a tech entrepeneur who has gone public in respect of the sexual harassment that she was subjected to by a man she was working with.  Working in the tech industry, it is notoriously male-dominated, but I should like to say that her allegations relate specifically to one man only.

She alleges as follows:

1. She was sent a text by this man prior to a meeting, inviting her to his hotel room.

2. There was a meeting in her hotel room (Ms Yeoh states that this was not unusual in her industry) to brainstorm ideas.  The other people at the meeting (male – it is a male-dominated industry so that is not unusual either) brought alcohol and kept pouring whiskey into her glass before it was empty, which she found “a little weird.”

3. Then later on everyone left, but this particular man did not seem to want to leave.  She asked him if he wanted to leave and he said “no”, at which point she offered him her guest room as she thought he was too drunk to get back to his hotel.

4. He then came into her room and told her that he wanted to sleep with her.  She told him that she had a boyfriend and asked him to leave.

5. Ms Yeoh showed him to the door and on the way out he backed her up against a wall and tried to kiss her.  Ms Yeoh then pushed him out and shut the door.  She has commented that she was very pleased that she hadn’t had more to drink and that she was strong enough to be able to do this.

The sad thing is that this incident wasn’t news to me.  Nor, I suspect, is it news to any woman reading this.  And I am equally sorry to say that to some of the men reading this, it probably isn’t news, but they are as appalled as any of the women.

There are numerous accounts of sexual harassment that I can think of from my own life, or those of my friends which show that the attitude of some males to females is changing at a snail’s pace, if it is changing at all.  Examples, off the top of my head:

1. I know of two women who have been raped and who did not take it to the police.

2. A friend of mine was escorted back to her room by a colleague after a work party, and when she emerged from the loo expecting to be alone, found a naked colleague in her bed inviting her to join him.  She invited him to leave.

3. A man I knew quite well at university offered to walk me to somewhere slightly off campus (it was early evening in Winter and therefore dark).  My instinct was to refuse, although I couldn’t put my finger on quite why, so I told myself I was being silly and accepted.  As soon as we reached the dark section of the walk, he grabbed me and pulled me towards him.  I remember spinning round and round to try and get away from him and the tussle ended up with me facing him, him holding both of my wrists.  I debated whether to knee him; he let me go.  As soon as I could get away from him, I telephoned my housemate (who happened to be a man); he collected me from the bus stop and took me home.

4. A man I knew, a good friend at the time, drunkenly asked to feel my breasts one evening and acted as if I was the one being unreasonable when I refused.

5. I have had a hand put up my skirt by a man in a nightclub.  As soon as I turned around to see what the hell was going on, he immediately removed his hand and put it up my friend’s skirt.  A male friend went to punch him, and another stood inbetween them to stop a brawl breaking out.

6. A former boss made repeated and open references to me being “fair game” when he found out I was going out with someone in the office, and asked the person I was dating if I was a “good shag.” Yes, he really wanted to know.  And, yes, he was a prick.

7. A former boss of Man of the House attempted to persuade him to go to a Christmas party by saying that if he played his cards right, he might be able to feel up some of the women there.  When Man of the House advised that he didn’t want to go to parties and sexually assault women, his then boss said that it was absolutely fine to grope a woman’s breasts, because if a woman didn’t like it, then she would slap you.  Yes, he was a prick too.

8. A friend was literally cornered in the office by a male superior to her (in rank only) who congratulated her left breast very warmly, and for a number of minutes, on its recent exam results.

9. Every single woman reading this will know that moment when a man wants to touch, or has touched you, but presents it to you as either a mistake, or friendship and would therefore make you appear the unreasonable one if you were to say anything.

There are four things that are telling about these examples.  The first is that half of them are about me, and I am not trying very hard to think of them.  I am just an ordinary woman going about her day.  There is absolutely nothing so irresistible about me that men can’t control themselves, I assure you.  And even if I did look like Beyonce, I am yet to grasp how that would constitute justification.  So on that basis, I know that most women reading this would have similar stories to tell if you asked them, assuming that they were willing to share.

Secondly, these incidents are over a range of twenty five years, and not just involving “men of a certain age”.  Five of the eight specific examples that I have given relating to me involved men of a similar age to me.  I do not believe that Ms Yeoh’s experience involved a particularly aged male.  This is particularly saddening.

Thirdly, nothing formal happened in respect of any of these incidents.  If we must put aside the first example, then what can you do?  I’m a lawyer and I am really not sure, in formal and legal terms, what you do unless you are feeling particularly brave and are prepared to stake your job and your reputation on it – which is presumably what men who behave like this rely on.

Finally, on several of these occasions, for every man behaving like a Neanderthal, whatever his age, there was another man pointing out that that is not how we treat women.  To the three men who were there when the examples given occurred to me, you may not even remember what you did, but thank goodness for you. I know that two of the three of you are now fathers.  This gives me both comfort and hope for our children.

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

Abacus

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This morning I have a new-found respect for the postman.  The Hound is already quite keen on the postman.  The postman brings him a biscuit everyday, which he knows that if he sits nicely for, will be all his, along with an ear scrumble.  Although this makes the postman very popular with the canine residents of the village, it does render him very unpopular with colleagues covering his holidays.  As soon as the red van turns up, should the house have a dog, then that dog goes nuts expecting a biscuit and an ear scrumble and pursues the unfortunate colleague enthusiastically, wondering why the human is not responding in the appropriate manner with a treat.  Dog thinks that maybe the Human in the Red Van is not understanding that they are pleased to see them and becomes even more frenzied.  Human in the Red Van just wants to deliver the post and then preferably slobber-free, be on their way.

Please understand that I haven’t ever disrespected the postman; neither overtly nor muttered under my breath. But doing a little bit of something akin to someone’s job can always help to educate you in what it actually involves, which is no bad thing.  The Hound and I have been delivering leaflets around our village for our pre-school. And me and the Hound do not live in a big village. Oh my goodness.

First, finding some of the houses was interesting.  And once the house had been uncovered and checked for squirrels, locating the letterbox was even more fun.  Getting the leaflet through the letterbox proved to be a challenge on some occasions.  I believe that more than one of the leaflets may have been eaten as soon as it got through the letterbox.  Either that or the houseowner was sat behind door, poised to immediately snatch our delivery.  Gates.  They come in a wide variety of different shapes, sizes, bolts, latches and ranges of squeakiness don’t they? Steps.  Giant, tiny, mossy, slippery.  Residents.  Friendly: “hello, are you trying to deliver something, can I help you?” (“yes, please I’m a bit confused”); not so friendly “Yes, I was watching you…”  (“Were you? Yikes!”) And all with the Hound who wanted to sniff everything.

It took us over two hours.  In the rain.  And the Hound has been upside down on his bed with all four legs in the air ever since we got back.  I’ve had a cup of tea and some chocolate and I’m still done in.  I’ve heard people say that when they slow down they want to become a postie.  You’re out of your minds.

So my leaflet delivery was for my pre-school, a charity of which I am a trustee and have been for nearly six years.  I thought that if I volunteered to help out with my local pre-school that it would be a noble and worthy thing to do; make a few cakes and sell a few bacon sandwiches.  I was right.  I have made a few cakes and sold a few bacon sandwiches over the years.  I have also made some friends.  My baking repertoire has expanded greatly.  On one occasion, I had been asked to make a pudding for a fundraising event. I turned up at what I thought was the right address with my best culinary effort, but I wasn’t quite sure.  I rang the doorbell hoping to clarify that I was at the right house.  The door opened, a gentleman appeared, exclaimed with delight at my offering, thanked me warmly, took my pudding and shut the door. As I hadn’t established whether it was the right house, I tried to decide whether that was how you would react if you were expecting a pudding or if you weren’t. I decided that it was probably both.  When my dish was returned to me a few days later, I knew that the gentleman was in the first category on that day, but probably in the second as well.

In addition to catering, little did I know that I would also be helping to run a business and replace a building.  This is a building that all things being equal, the State should be replacing.  As we all know, there is no money.  There has been no money.   There will be no money and it’s getting worse.  However, what was news to me and might well be news to you is that primary aged children are the priority for local authorities; that is not a bad thing.  However, the absence of there being any kind of priority for pre-school children is the interesting point.  A building that is deemed to be unacceptable for primary aged children and would have to be replaced if they were in it is not even on the radar as far as the local authority are concerned for pre-school children.; they are under no obligation to replace it. That is not to point the finger at the local authority – that is the policy that they are required to follow.  I didn’t know that until I started talking to the Council about replacing this building.  I can’t imagine it is something that the government want to advertise.

The building has needed replacing for years.  It was being talked about when I joined six years ago.  And it had been talked about long before that.  We (and I mean everyone involved locally with the pre-school) has worked for years to fundraise for what has happened this week.  Years.  Raffle tickets sold, cakes consumed, eggs hunted in gardens, ducks chased down streams.  Bunting.  There has been so much bunting.  And tea.  So many cups of tea. This week we put a deposit down on a building. It is not a posh building.  It is not an expensive building as far as buildings go.  But it is all that we have, and any amount of money is a lot of money when it is all that you have.

In three weeks we are going for it.  We have to build over the Summer holidays so we don’t disrupt the business. We’ve still so much to do. Not only do five people’s jobs rest on us getting it right, so do the jobs of the parents who rely on us for their childcare and the future of the children who come to us.  I now know how Frodo felt carrying that damned ring when Galadriel said to him: “This task was appointed to you, if you don’t find a way, no one will.” If we don’t find a way, we will lose our pre-school; that much is certain.  No one will step in to save us if we get it wrong.  There is no more money, so we have to get it on time and on budget.  That utterly desolate possibility, and what it would mean for the people we employ, the families who come to us and signify for the future of our children, makes me feel so sad I don’t want to think about it, even though we have to when making every single decision from whether we can afford coat pegs or a sink.  Like the song says, on a worldwide scale, we are just another Winter’s Tale.  But it is our Winter’s Tale, and it means a lot to all of us. As we stare at the blank, final page, anything other than a happy ending is not something that I, or my co-trustees can bare to contemplate.  However, it remains, as yet, unwritten.

I’ll let you know how it ends.

http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Abacus

Carpe Diem

Caroline Aherne

 

There is nothing the British like better than talking about the weather.  It doesn’t matter what sort of weather it is; rain,wind, snow, or wall to wall sunshine, we like to talk about it and we enjoy a good whinge.  When it rains we wish it would stop, when it’s windy, we complain that we can’t use an umbrella because it is too blustery or it makes our hair go pouffy.  We don’t mind snow because much to the amusement of some of our European and American friends, the entire country grinds to a halt if we have snow.  Really.  I have no idea why but we seem to be entirely unequipped to deal with a bit of snow.  Probably because we only ever have a little bit of snow. However, in spite of being unequipped to deal with it, we do have specific criteria for how we like to receive our snow; heavy snow for twenty four hours only so we can all have a day off work, kids a day off school, a bit of a sledge, snowball fight and make a snowman, and then it can all go away please and be of no further inconvenience, thank you.

At the moment in England at least (and I say that because that is where my bottom is sat), we have the wall to wall sunshine option.  And it is roasting hot.  Very warm indeed for England.  As I look out of one window, I see sunshine. The other window, sunshine. And a large paddling pool that my children will no doubt launch themselves into the moment that they get home from school that I bought yesterday.  Even the dog had a dip yesterday –  Man of the House turned his back and he was in, having a whale of a time.

Now when we get this sort of weather in England, strange things do happen. For some men who insist on dressing for the body they want rather than the body they have, it is the time to disrobe and walk the streets half naked and usually sun burnt. For mothers it is to plaster your child in suncream and insist on a sun hat.  If your child is really small you can play that hilarious game when you put the hat on your child and they immediately take it off.  And you can do it all afternoon.  That is when they are not demanding a cuddle, which is what you want in oppressive heat.  Old people will insist on wearing a cardigan and whilst you open a window in desperation, they will reprimand you for creating an Arctic-like draft. However, even if we keep our tops and hats on, but our cardys off , the one thing that most of us will become involved with in some capacity is a barbecue.

Immediately the weather gets warmer, everyone, or perhaps more specifically, men, have an uncontrollable urge to cook outside. And it is often men who don’t really cook that this happens to.  Men who have shown no interest whatsoever in the happenings in the kitchen suddenly decide that they want to cook.  In a manly and primal way.  Meat.  Outside.  On an open fire.  Possibly in an amusing pinny. Clutching a beer.  At the hottest time of the day.  On the hottest day of the year.

On the morning of such a day, particularly if it falls over a weekend, the supermarkets are seething with people stacking their trollies up with food. Burgers, sausages, steak….you name it.  I was in there yesterday, beating my way through the masses, (my excuse being that my fridge had chosen the hottest day of the year so far to break and I had had to throw everything away) and I can attest to the empty shelves.  I always wondered why on earth supermarkets limit some special offers to “twenty promotional items per customer.” Now I know. So in spite of being a serial over-caterer, I was a small fish in a big pond.  My mother is also a serial over-caterer and her mother, my grandmother, was before her.  If you invite someone round for food and they don’t have to have a lie down on the floor after lunch, then you haven’t done your job properly as far as my family is concerned.  But we ain’t got nothing on pretty much everyone frequenting the supemarket yesterday.

Most people were purchasing an amount of food which suggested that not only friends and family were coming round for a bite.  They were also expecting friends and family to bring everyone they know as well, and in addition, at some point, the host was fully expecting their house, garden and everyone in it to be under siege from some hitherto unknown army, for at least a week and utterly incapable of rescue. Which also explains the mass purchase of the Nerf guns.

Once food is purchased, it is customary for people all over the country to pile up charcoal briquettes over an enormous number of firelighters, and mutter under their breath that they can’t get the damned thing to light.   It will take so long to light that by the time it does everyone will be so ravenously hungry, there will only be one deeply unappetising sausage ready and that will have fallen through the grill onto the briquettes.  It is usually the sausage that you give to the dog.  However, someone will have burnt their fingers retrieving that sausage and in desperation will eat it anyway.  As people are getting really rather hungry now, some of the women present will rashly suggest using the oven inside the house that is perfectly acceptable, or even superior, on any other day of the year. Naturally, their suggestions will be spurned whilst the water guns are brought out in readiness for the siege by the army of unknowns.  By the time that everyone has eaten and everything has been cooked, the barbecue is going really well.  Now, the day after, all that will remain is for us to spend an hour cleaning the grill, eat a strange combination of cold food for three days and also spend quite a lot of time finishing off random bits of pudding.

And when the sun comes out again, we’ll do it all again because we’re British, and when it comes down to it, we’re nothing if not hopelessly optimistic and a bit odd.

Fly Maybe

The Rescuers

I expect that Flybe are hoping that today might be a good day to bury bad news.  If you can negotiate your way through all of General Election gubbins, you may stumble across an article that says that Flybe is promising an overhaul after posting a twenty million pound loss. That’s a big number isn’t it?  It is reported that they are going to turn the business around by reducing the size of their fleet due to a slowing growth in consumer demand. That sounds measured and sensible.  I might be able to help them with some suggestions because I had the misfortune of flying with Flybe for the first time last week.

It was a week last Saturday, which was also on a day that was a good day to bury bad news because whilst me and a hundred or so other people were sat twiddling our thumbs at Birmingham Airport, thousands of people were ensnared in the BA balls up.  Our delay had nothing to do with the BA thing.  Nothing.  Our delay, both outbound and inbound was due to complete and utter incompetence. Not that the BA thing wasn’t.  It is just that this incompetence was not related to that.  So before you book your holiday avoiding BA but plumping for Flybe, just read to the end.  Please.

Our flight was due to take off at 11.15am.  The plane was on the tarmac.  Later than expected, but nothing too awful, we boarded a bus to be taken to the plane.  The doors were closed.  And we were kept on the bus for half an hour.  The doors then opened and we were deposited back at the gate.  For five hours. For about four hours, we were told nothing.  The screens were not updated (although they kept taunting us with promises to update) and not one member of staff appeared.  In desperation I took to Twitter, and was told a load of rubbish by whoever picks up their messages. My travel agent was trying to obtain information and was also told a load of piffle.  I asked via Twitter for everyone to be updated.  Nothing.  When it all became too taxing for them, I mean, we were only customers; radio silence.

After about four and a half hours, a Member of Staff appeared at a desk and was deluged.  A lot of people had drifted away from the gate, so were not a party to what was being said, and no one appeared to have thought that updating all passengers was important, so only those within earshot got the information.  Member of Staff then walked down the gate and Man of the House stopped her asked her what was going on. She advised that thirty four people were not able to get on the plane.  She had asked people to queue up (those in the siege who had heard this had indeed already done so) and the last thirty four people to do so would not be leaving Birmingham on that flight.  Man of the House queried this and asked if she was seriously suggesting that people fight their way to the front, children fighting adults for their place.  Her response?  Without pausing for breath she confirmed that was the case and that was why she had asked the police to attend.  She then gestured to two police officers.  And we all know that police officers have absolutely nothing better to do at the moment, so I imagine that they were particularly pleased to be there. It is difficult to describe the expression of Man of the House at this point, but I suspect that it is the same as yours right now.

When it came to boarding (bearing in mind that only those people who had already formed the queue and Man of the House because he had made a direct enquiry had a clue what was going on), Member of Staff announced to those within earshot that those with ferry connections and (possibly after having had the opportunity to reflect) those with children, were permitted onto the plane first.  I am not able to comment on the scene after that as I was fortunate enough to be on the plane, trying to calm my now near-hysterical daughter.  I did, however, speak to the last person to get on the plane.  She said that seeing that the plane was boarding, people had started to queue up.  The Member of Staff had then put her hand behind her back and told the people behind her to stop.  The last lady on the plane had no idea why that had happened until she got on the plane, the people behind her had no idea why either.

When we got on the plane we were told the truth. The crew had been told that twenty or so people would be getting on the plane that morning.  All the weight/fuel calculations were done on that basis. The crew were then told it was over one hundred people and at that point the plane would be too heavy to have everyone on, even just to be on the tarmac.  Apparently the people who could remove the necessary amount of fuel from the plane at Birmingham Airport don’t work weekends, and it would seem that Flybe were fresh out of ideas, not that they had any in the first place.

So, we took off five and a half hours late.  But we were the lucky ones.  Thirty four people were left in the terminal.  I understand that they left Birmingham Airport at ten o’clock at night.  Thirteen hours after they were supposed to.  They were twenty minutes from their destination when the destination airport advised that they closed at midnight and the plane could not land.  They were diverted to Athens.  Seven hours away from their destination by road.  Checking even the most basic of information and procedures does not seem to be a priority for Flybe.

Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, we were also delayed on the inbound flight.  Three and a half hours this time.  I knew when we checked in because a fellow passenger had ascertained that the flight coming from Birmingham hadn’t even taken off.  Back I went to Twitter.  Apparently staff sickness was the issue.  Is Flybe so thin on the ground for staff that if someone calls in sick they have no plan to deal with it?  We were given no other information in the airport, except from holiday reps desperately trying to find things out, just as we were, and none of the information they were given was accurate.  Feeling every so slightly tetchy, my sarcasm was now getting the better of me and I suggested to Flybe on Twitter that perhaps we should just have a passenger sweepstake on guessing a time for take off, given that they had no idea when their own plane would be arriving.

Eventually we did leave.  Turns out that that staff sickness crap, was just that, crap.  The plane had gone in for its service and came out late to the crew, hence it being late taking off from Birmingham and that being the knock-on effect.

Flybe, I would suggest that the decrease in your customer demand is because the dreadful way you treat your customers is causing them to shop elsewhere.  Your routes are loss-making because of the vast amount of compensation that you have to pay out to people due to your inability to organise your own schedule, a steadfast refusal to communicate with your customers and the way in which you insult their intelligence with “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses on the occasions when you do.  If you have profit-making routes, I suspect it is because they are sufficiently short distances for the compensation to be in the lower band provided for by the EU legislation for you to financially get away with paying the compensation and still make a profit.  However, if you don’t put your house in order, and sharpish, you won’t survive because all of your routes will be loss-making.  People work hard for their money; their time and their holidays are precious to them and they will choose not to spend it with your company.  If you continue to treat your customers with such contempt when they are simply expecting the service that they have paid for, and which you have promised, your business will not, and does not deserve, to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture: The Rescuers – Walt Disney Animated Classics

 

 

All the King’s Horses

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Billy Connolly once said that the desire to be a politician should forever exclude someone from actually being a politician; he had a very good point.  I wonder what kind of Parliament we would have if it was made up of MP’s who when first asked if they wanted to get into politics responded with “Hell, no” and made a run for it.  I wonder if we might have a better government and a better democracy, rather than the well-sauced gravy train that we seem to have at the moment.

Mr Connolly also said that we shouldn’t vote, because it encourages the politicians.  Again, given our ridiculous voting system, and the selection of votees currently on offer, I also have sympathy with that point of view.  I suspect that most of us would agree that encouraging politicians in any capacity other than to learn how to answer the damned question being put to them, should be positively discouraged.  It’s a bit like celebrating there being more estate agents in the world or being pleased about the increasing number of solicitors on the roll.  No one is ever happy about those things.  However, although I can see the point,  I cannot subscribe to it.

Before the term was bastardised for a day when people disgrace themselves buying things they don’t need, for prices that are not really discounted, the real Black Friday was on 18 November 1910.  Women who were protesting were removed from the Houses of Parliament and many were seriously injured in their removal.  On 4 June 1913, nearly three years later, things had not improved for women and Emily Davison famously died after having thrown herself under Anmer, the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby.  She died four days later on 8 June 1913.  I write the words describing it now.  Everyone knows about the woman who threw herself under the King’s horse.  Her life reduced to one sentence. Can you imagine what a horrific death it must have been to have been trampled to death by a horse and then taking four long days to die?  All she wanted was to be treated equally and have the same rights to vote as men.   It seems a tad harsh to me.

After Emily died, in order to try and beat the women who were on hunger strike into submission, the government (all male) introduced what is known as the Cat and Mouse Act, because of how cats play with their prey before they kill them.  Women were imprisoned.  They went on hunger strike.  Emily Davison was force fed forty nine times.  When the women were sufficiently ill, they were let out of gaol until they were well enough to serve the rest of their sentence. Then they were returned to gaol where they went on hunger strike.  And so the cycle continued.

Of course, as well as Emily Davison, we’ve all heard of the Pankhursts.  There is also another suffragette called Sophia Duleep Singh, of whom you may not have heard.  She was such a pain in the arse that apparently King George V declared “Have we no hold on her?”  I fervently hope not.  Sophia died at the age of seventy two having dedicated her life to women’s rights.

It is easy for us to speak of these women with our mouths, and to forget with our heads what it must have been like for them.  To be arrested and imprisoned for wanting to be treated equally.  Equal treatment is not shocking today, but only because those women and the necessity of two World Wars beat the government into submission. Would I be prepared to give my life for it?  Would I be prepared to be beaten up, or go on hunger strike for the rights that I now have?  I’d like to think that I would.  But it is not something that I have ever had, or will ever have to seriously consider; those women lived it.  Some of them died for it.

No one really likes politicians do they?  I was incandescent when Nick Clegg said he wouldn’t vote to raise tuition fees and the minute his feet were under the table, he voted to raise tuition fees.  If Theresa May says “strong and stable” one more time in one of those ridiculously staged public appearances, I will think that she is really a robot whose programming has hit a glitch.  And Diane Abbott’s grasp of figures is worse than mine, which I didn’t think was humanly possible; life is full of surprises.

Considering the selection, I really do think that we have come to the time in our political history when a box “None of the Above” should be included on the ballot paper. Things would get really interesting when “None of the Above” get in.  I suppose that’s when we start rounding up all those people who don’t want to be politicians, to be politicians.  But until that day, even if you just spoil your ballot paper, please register to vote and then vote.  Not for your country, not because the Press told you who to vote for, but because what is now your right was once considered a privilege.  On the 8th June, it will be one hundred and four years to the day that Emily Davison died, never having lived to see her dream come to fruition. Putting a cross on a piece of paper or a scribble through it is the only way I can think of to best honour her sacrifice.