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Madonna and child

If we could turn back time to the good old days...

If we could turn back time to the good old days…

I now have a fully formed teenager.  A son of 14.  A son of 14 with a constantly vibrating phone.  A son of 14 with a constantly vibrating phone, a more active social life than me and a better wardrobe.

I have a 14 year old son who grunts for breakfast and spends all his time at home in his bedroom.  If he does ever venture forth from his boy-cave you hear him long before you see him, his phone is simultaneously pinging alerts and broadcasting whiny voiced Americans narrating their Call of Duty kill roster.    This has its uses.  His face is so glued to the screen that the tinny audio works like sonar to stop you becoming parental road kill.

I have produced a typical teenage, Kevin and Perry are alive and tutting, the stereotype is more accurate than an Swiss watchmaker’s daily routine and it lives in my house texting “what’s for tea?” and when he doesn’t like the answer replies with “what’s for tea tomorrow”.

Despite trying to ensure a culinary success rate of  every other meal, overnight I have become repellent to him, I am in equal parts embarrassing, irritating and irrelevant.  An annoyance cocktail for one and I am shaken and stirred by this.

I know teenagers are meant to pull away, I know that this is normal development.  I know I would be more concerned if he wasn’t like this, but I didn’t know how much I would miss him, how much I would crave the odd kindly look or gentle word.  The fun of watching a film together, the joy of having dinner as a family and I don’t know to change this.  If it is even possible.  I started to  look to the wider world for solace and advice.  This bought Madonna and her recent disagreement with her son into sharp focus.

I can understand why Madonna was so upset when Rocco went to live with his dad and I admire her spirit.  To dress up in a Pierrot  costume whilst baby pictures of him flash up on the screen behind her at one of her shows,  it a bold gesture.  Even if it demonstrates how little she realises it will drive him away further by showing him up in front of his friends slash the entire world.  I am constantly being told I am too loud even when we are the only people in a restaurant.   If I dressed up in a fancy dress costume in public my son would die of shame.   It was clear that Madonna would not be answer to my prayers.

I spend more time now worrying that I didn’t make enough of the chances when he was younger and did want me around.  Did I change Anakin Skywalker into Darth Varder enough (but those boots were a bitch to get on and off).  Did I play with him enough, or was there always work to be done.  Did I make enough of all the hugs and kisses and adoration in the eyes.  I don’t think I did, but then maybe it is impossible because the love they have for you when you are their world is infinite.

So today, go hug your child, smother them in kisses, put down the cleaning or the laptop and play hide and seek and laugh and laugh and laugh, because you just don’t know when the last time they want to be with you will be and I want you to be able to treasure it.

I’ve got the key…..

IMG_4920Life doesn’t seem to have got any slower since Christmas. If anything it has sped up like a demonic whirling dervish spinning ever faster and more out of control.   Between children, work and selling our house (in two days this time, Emoov.com are the business) life seems to be on permanent fast forward. The idea of being bored is  a quaint novelty from the dark ages of my teens.  Life at warp speed can be exciting and a buzz but it can also make me grumpy and unnecessarily short with people.   Today I was given a very big reminder from the Universe to be a lot nicer to everyone.

After a very emotional draining week at work, one that had been challenging, frustrating but ultimately rewarding, combined with all the normal stresses and strains of getting a mortgage sorted within a pressurised time frame I was spent and very ready for home time.  At 2.12 I saw I have missed a call from my mother in law.  The mother in law I was expecting to pick up our only garage key as she was dropping off our old cot.  Our only garage key that I had carefully taken off its key ring so that identification would be straightforward and placed in a bag along with my brother in law’s card and birthday present in the pre-arranged location.  So far so organised.   The morning was sunny, the wind none existent, it was a rare calm, happy exit to school and work that gave rise to the idea that  I could be a competent mother and adult after all.

What could go wrong?

At 2.14 I called Maggie, my mother-in-law back.  She answered.  It sounded like she was in a hurricane.

“Hello Maggie”

“Hello” in her voice you could hear the effort it was taking to keep upright, “where did you put the key?”

“In a bag with Chris’ card under the plant pot”

“No it’s not there”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeessssssss” there was another massive gust of wind

“What about Chris’ card?”

“He found that in the bushes”

“and the bag?”

“Oh hang on I think I found the bag, oh no it’s an old glove”

“that was our only garage key” I am ashamed to admit I did whine

“Don’t worry, we will keep looking, it’s bound to be somewhere”

I said something along the lines of that it must be in the bushes, Maggie said something cheerful as she always does.  I put the phone down and tried not to have a little weep.  Oh come on Natalie they might find it, have some faith.  I called a locksmith.

“Hello”

“Errfhh”

Hello?”

“Garforth Locksmiths” The man sounded suspiciously like he had just woken up from a post lunch nap.

“Hello I have a garage lock without a key”

“Is is a new house?”

“It’s about 20 years old”

“‘cos some of those new locks you just put drill in and the whole thing crumbles”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“It will be about £100 if it is a standard lock and I can come round tomorrow.”

Ok  I thought, not so bad as long as our lock doesn’t disintegrate, (you can’t have a conversation with a tradesman without that touch of peril can you?)  I would prefer not to spend £100 just before payday and the mortgage people scrutiny but it could be a lot worse I told myself, and you never know my in laws might have found the key.  I called them expectantly.

“Hi there, I was just about to text, we couldn’t find it, so we have left everything on the lawn in front of the house, hope it doesn’t rain.  Sorry,  Bye”

Finally home time, I got in my car, my parting words to my colleague.  “I am going to find that key and I will send you a picture.”  I felt like Scarlett O’Hara pledging her future in Gone with the Wind.

“What’s for tea?” shouts down Harry as I step through the door. “I don’t know” I snap.  Even though I knew exactly, as I had the pork chops defrosting.  Really why couldn’t I just tell him?

“I have to find the garage key”

“Mum, how many spellings did I have to get right to go to Subway was it 10 or Nineeeeeeeee? ” asked Nina very hopefully

“I. have. to. find. the. garage. key.”

I went out to look in the bushes.  I found the old glove, two old food bags and a packet of crisps.  But no key.  I started poking around the undergrowth, a deceptively dense tangle of leaves and roots that had swallowed up a Wimbledon fortnight’s worth of tennis balls over the years and never disgorged any of them .  I found an old tennis ball.   I snarled a bit.  Now I find a tennis ball now?  I  started to fantasize about a giant horseshoe shaped magnet descending from the sky.  Which in a funny sort of way did happen.

“Darling, do you know anyone with a metal detector?” I had called my mum for some moral support.  I had been searching for a whole 10 minutes but it was all feels so futile, already I was thinking about waking up the napping locksmith again.

There was a person working their way up the street knocking on every door.  He was a youngish man, dressed in a long coat with a flat cap and carrying a ruck sack on his back, in his hand a piece of paper.

He was three doors down from me.   He looked over at the mad woman squatting on her haunches moving leaves back and forth.  I am sure I would have been muttering and no doubt swearing.  “I don’t want anything thank you” My tone was sharp and I am sure very unpleasant.

“Oh that is ok” he said very mildly.  “What number are you?”

“What” I barked.

“Oh I just need to mark off that I spoke to you”.    “Do you need a hand?” He added.

“Ha no thanks unless you fancy looking for a key in all this”  I gestured down.

“A key?”

“Yes I know”

“But I saw a key when I was here at 1.00 pm”

“Really”  to say I felt some hope would be the understatement of the year, but I was cautious not to have it dashed away instantly.

“Where”

“Over here”  He led me to a point in the road, near where I park my car.

“Oh my goodness, you are not joking are you?”  still not believing my luck that maybe all was not lost.

“No”, he looked a little hurt “I would never do that”.

We walked over to where he thought he had seen the key.

“Was it silver”

“Yes”

“Was it slightly square at the top”

“I think so”

We tried to analyse the way the wind was blowing by wetting a finger and sticking it up in the air.

We walked over to the house we thought it must be.  We moved some logs.  It wasn’t there.

I turned round and asked him again  feeling slightly crest fallen “Where did you see it..” but the words were not out of my mouth when sunlight glinted on a sliver of silver.  I could hear a chorus of heavenly angels.   There it was.  The key just lying there waiting to be picked up.

I was so delighted  I hugged the man.  “Oh right mmmm I see, right” he said very awkwardly.   (Imagine surprising Clive Anderson with an uninvited display of affection, the result would be the same).   I not sure he is a man ever to have been hugged by a strange woman before and certainly not one twice his age.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you, I hope something wonderful happens to you this weekend you really deserve it.”

“It’s ok” he said ” you just looked like someone in distress”.

I tried to offer him a variety of rewards mainly alcohol, money  and chocolate related.  He refused them all and went back off down the road knocking on the remaining doors on the street.

As I put the stuff back in the garage, I marveled at his kindness.  I had been so rude at the beginning.  Most people would have just thought up yours you snotty cow and left me to stew in it.   It is rare isn’t it to meet someone so happy to help and for its own reward.  It is a salutary lesson and one I want to learn from,  I promise to try, but I fear I might not always succeed but I promise I will try.  Although maybe I am getting some good luck back, I did hand in someone’s beautiful grey suede Chloe Bag that contained their purse, driving licence and credit cards into Sainsbury’s last weekend when I saw they had left it hanging on the trolley in the car park.  Karma does work doesn’t it.   It is the key to a happy life.

A tale of two cabbies

TaxiSign

They say you can guarantee only two things in life, death and taxes, but I would offer a third; that your train will only be running on time if you are running out of time to get there and I was Wildeanly careless and in that situation twice in under 24 hours.

Friday night, car 13 came and picked me up from work.  I was agitated and nervous that the rush-hour traffic would be a severe impediment  to catching my train.  The minicab firm assured me they had sent their best driver, that I had left enough time.  I reiterated my destination and the urgency of the situation as I got into the car.

We sent off at a snail’s pace, and then, horror of horrors, car 13 turned left.  I was convinced that turning right would have been the quickest, most direct route.    My stomach was in knots, mentally  I was forcing  that acccelator down to the floor.  But car 13 seemed to be much more content to chat away, and in the first 5 minutes of the journey he seemed to spend more time with his head turned looking at me than at the road.

I closed my eyes, breathed out and thought some floaty serene thoughts.  Car 13 interrupted.

“How tall are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“How tall are you?”

Well that is some ice breaker I thought.  “5 foot 6 and a half”

“Your shoes make you look taller.”

No argument from me there, they were heels.

“How old are you?”

Now this is a question I normally avoid, mainly I think because I am in denial.  “46”

“Really?” Cue a very long turn around and a good study of my face, he must have been very practised at staying on the road.

“You look much younger”

Wow this guy is really going all out for his tip.

Modesty prevents me for detailing the next part of the conversation, let’s just say he was being very complimentary whilst going the long way around to the station, and not troubling the speedometre past 20 miles an hour.    I lifted up my arm in a very exaggerated fashion and stared very pointedly at my watch.

“My parents were always told the same thing” I said.  “I would have gone down Roundhay Road”

“Roundhay Road, no no, this way good.  Your parents, good looking?

“Errm,  mmm I guess so, it has been mentioned by some”

In the next ten minutes, somehow Car 13 then had my full family history, hatches, matches and dispatches even divorces.  I must have been anxious.  Once the conversation got going he didin’t turn round as much, but didn’t get any faster.  We approached Sheepscar Junction, I held my breath, would he do the City Loop, longer but potentially less traffic, or onto the inner ring road, more direct but currently masquarading as a car park.

He indicated…and made his move.  We were throught the lights and City Loop bound.  At last Car 13 and I were on the same route.  I looked at my driver.  He was, he had told me 6 years older than me.  In traditional Asian dress, he had a open face, brown and lined , yet it looked soft.   Weather beaten by the years to a smooth brown pebble fringed with a neat even white beard from ear to ear.

“I love my wife” as we sauntered along.

“That is nice”

“Oh yes I love my wife, she is small in stature,  a great cook, and I love my wife”

Thinking he knew all my history I asked how did they meet.

“What did we eat?”

I asked again.

“How did you meet?”

Car 13 shook his head “I know what you are asking!” As we edged into the final tunnel before the station.  “I love my wife, I have 4 wonderful children” he told me their careers, pharmacist, solicitor, studying bio-chemistry at University and the youngest, a shelf stacker in Asda.  “The thing is he is clever to talk to but just doesn’t wanna study you know”.   I could just imagine, the baby of the family, the apple of everyone’s eye, with the gift of the gab and no desire for books, especially when so much achievement had gone before him.  I had sympathies.

We inched through the tunnel.

“My father was very good friends with my wife’s husband.    We met when she was 19 and I was 23”

“You had an arranged marriage?”

“Oh yes, but I love my wife and she is perfect for me.  I have never loved another woman”

“What was like when you first met?  Where were you? What did you think?”

It might have been the sound of the exhaust emissions echoing around the tunnel, Car 13 might have misheard me, he definitely misunderstood me.

“She was 19 and I was 23, I was her first and she was my first, and I have never been with another woman.  I love my wife so much”.

I thought about this, we hear so much negativity about arranged marriages, and of course forced marriages are abominable, unthinkably cruel and abusive, but it was so lovely to meet someone even as fleetingly this as this, who had good experiences.  That the fates and their parents had achieved something good.  I thought about the western equivalent, the whole head over heels falling in love with someone you meet by chance and hoping that a decision you make, when you are suffering what is basically a psychotic episode, will be permanent.  Really on paper it is a no-brainer.

Deep in thought I didn’t notice car 13 pulled up outside the station.  With 20 minutes to spare. It had been like magic carpet ride with a side order of sociology.  I thanked car 13, it had been a pleasure to be driven by him, and as I waited for my platform  to be annouced, I thought well that was the stressful part of my journey over.

How wrong could I be?

Fast forward to 12.25 pm next day, Tower Bridge, feeling sick sick sick.  The Northern Line was down, I had missed my minicab, this was careless on a Earnest scale.  I had to get that train.  I had a hot date with 3 Doctors in the evening.  I scanned the horizon.  Nothing.  There were knots on my stomach knots.  Finally a yellow light.  Gone in seconds to a stick figure further down the road.  I cursed them.  Panic on a wine wuzzy head is not recommended.   And then another yellow light illuminated and headed my way.

The black cab squealed a halt.  “Kings Cross please” The doors clicked.  I was in,

I looked at the clock in the cab.

“I need to get there by 1? Do you think I will make it?”

“We should do, that time” he nodded his head up the display currently at 12.32 “is a couple of minutes fast”.

We were north of the river, the sun was shining  I closed my eyes again and took an enormous deep breath and sent up a silent prayer to the God of taxi drivers.  Please.

“You gonna away for the weekend?”

“No back home actually”

There then followed a conversation about how London has changed since I lived there, for the better.  More alive, vibrant, embracing the future not stuck in the past.  This lead to   Boris’ announcement the previous day  to shut tube ticket offices and how 24 hour weekend services would affect my cabbie’s business.  He was confident people would still like to driven home  and not share the underground with a bunch of Saturday night pissheads.  I could see his point.

“I’m from Stratford meself”  ‘Cept I’ve moved out, we all ‘ave.  When I go back there is no one there any more from my past.  They’ve all gone now”

It was at this point I realised I might not have enough money for my fare.  Sick and double sick.

“Umm.  Can I pay the fare with my card”

“Well you can but me machine takes a few minutes to warm up.  Do you want stop at a cash point?”

Oh God.  Just why.  just why I have done this to myself again.  “Er yes please”

We drove on to Angel.  I tried to remember the order of the stations on the Northern Line from London Bridge to Kings Cross.  Where on that list was Angel.  Was I close enough? I opened my purse and leafed through the receipts and counted my change.

“I used to work at BT.  32 years.  And we still meet every 1 December in Smithsfield Market in the pub at 6.00 am in the morning.  It’s an unwritten rule that everyone just shows up.  Every year.”   I imagined my ex- colleagues doing that.  We would have to meet up in the Broadgate Colony in Bishopsgate.  There probably wouldn’t  be enough cheap white wine in the City.    As a colleague once rather pointedly asked “Natalie do you buy your wine by the taste or the volume”.     But I loved the idea of a unwritten reunion.  No social media, no texts, no letters.  Just show up and see.  I wished I thought of it.

Then there it was, a forgotten fiver, nestled between a Sainsburys Brand Match coupon and a petrol receipt.   God knows how long it had been there, probably a hurried present from relative squashing  it into Nina’s hand as they said goodbye.

“I can see the roof of the station”

Relief washed over me.

“I have £19.00, just dump me when when the metre hits it, I am sorry I won’t have any money for a tip.

“Don’t be daft.. I’ll take you to the station my girl.    When I said goodbye to my niece and nephew in Australia I burst into tears”

“Goodbyes can be tough”

“God I don’t know why I told you that” he said ” Sorry”

“It’s ok” I replied.  And I marveled at how confessional both journeys had been.

Again we arrived at the station with minutes to spare.  The fare was over.  He didn’t want to take more than £15.  “Don’t leave yourself short, get a drink on the train”

“No, no please take this” I pressed the rest of my change into his hand.  “Thank you so much” and with that I was out and heading to the station and his next fare was in the car.

As I boarded the train to Leeds, I re-ran my brief encounters.  Two completely different men.  One a first generation immigrant minicab driver living in the North with his arranged marriage, and the second a born and bred Londoner driving that iconic black cab around the capital.  Yet both had shown me a  window into their world that I don’t think I will ever forget, and they both got me there on time.  You can’t really ask for more.

Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock

Clock

“This is really why our day goes so fast – even time on is double quick speed”

What you waiting, what you waiting, what you waiting for?  Gwen Stefani challenged herself  and the world with those words in her magnificent and very successful song  to self-believe and motivation.

It has become a bit of a personal anthem for me, especially the line “take a chance ‘cos you might grow” (not sadly the bit “you’re still a super hot female” or even more sadly “you’ve got your million dollar contract and they’ll all waiting for you hot shot”).  It would pop into my mind on repeat, a most enabling mantra, spurring me ever on, particularly when I severely doubted I had any abilities.  It has been extremely effective as a “stop faffing and bloody get on with it slogan” during times of  paralysing procrastination.  Usually I was actionless because I was too scared.  This is because I am so risk averse I would make a Health & Safety officer working in a firework factory staffed by chain smokers look devil-may-care in comparison.

But recently I have discovered, and not to my delight or satisfaction that the tick tock part of the song is the real message for me.  I am terrified, to a pathological level of being late or veering off schedule and yet I don’t seem to have the tools or abilities in my behaviour to stay on track.  The deafening tick tock of an impending deadline makes me lose all ability to function like a normal human being.

To give you a recent example, the pressure of delivering four boys to lessons on time in their first week of High School was too much for me when I  felt the minutes disappear quicker than the sight of Usain Bolt’s back if you were foolish enough to challenge him to the 100 metres dash and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to keep to the timetable in my head.   I became a completely different person, quoting bits of “helpful” time management suggestions I had read in the school’s transition booklet.  It was like the past 40 plus years of social engagement and civilised interaction had never happened.   I had become Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, spurting out ridiculous and unnecessary rules and regulations to try to cover up my anxiety.  My friend was left wondering where the real Natalie had gone. I had to wonder too.

But it did bring this lateness thing to a head. It pushed it out in the undeniable open.  I could then see that despite often being late myself.  I hate hate hate being late.  I get such tension in my stomach, I feel such anxiety. My internal monologue becomes a countdown of such annihilating doom it would make nuclear 4 minute warning sound cozy and inviting. Every second over the deadline, my brain screams at me, will result in total armageddon.   This is not a pleasant way to conduct my life, and I really detest how I feel at time like that, so why can’t I just get myself going five minutes earlier?

What does all this prove?  That I am still fundamentally a teenager?  Still sticking two fingers up at the system?  Essentially anarchistic and unable to comply?  Or that like every other mother in the world, working or stay at home, there is just too much to be done on a daily basis, and we are squeezing every last minute, no every last second, out of every day?  In an episode of The Simpsons the family have to evacuate 742 Evergreen Terrace toute de suite, but Marge can’t leave that last dish on the draining board and risks death to return to the kitchen to dry the plate and put it away.  There is always something else to tidy up, clear away, sort out, and all to be done before there is any hope of doing something you might actually enjoy!

At one workplace they identified I had time management problems and said they were going to me some help.  I really wanted someone one to come in and sort out my filing. They gave me a book to read.   Yes you can imagine just how effective that was.  Chocolate Fire-guard anyone?

Over the years I have got slightly better, but I resent feeling a slave to my routine, that time is my master and that if I am to get everything done I need to be conscious of every second of the day.  Woebetide me or anyone that gets in the way of the SCHEDULE.

So here I am, admitting that I don’t like this behaviour, being aware of it and trying to make amends before I give myself an ulcer.  I think I might still be a work in progress though, writing this blog today meant I was two minutes late leaving the house than my schedule allows.  Normally I would still be able to get to work on time, but not today, oh no, road works on the ring road, cue grinding of teeth, and may I just say that anyone doing 28 in a 60 zone needs to be taken off the road IMMEDIATELY AND PERMANENTLY.  I got into work 3 minutes late, a colleague looked up at that betraying clock on the wall, not a word needed to be spoken, my insides churned and my mind cringed.  Still I haven’t left on time either for the past two weeks, or had a full lunch break this term, so I am more than fufilling my work commitment.   But I live in hope that tomorrow I will be on time, calm and serene and in the meantime I will have another quick play of Gwen to fortify my resolve.

Do you want the truth or something beautiful?

The words to Paloma Faith ‘s song “Do you want the truth or something beautiful?” came into my head as the credits rolled at the end of Life of Pi tonight.

As I lifted my 3D glasses to rejoin the grey world of the multiplex after 2 hours of being dazzled and shimmered and bathed in phosphorous lights and so completely immersed in a fantastical world, I admonished myself for not having read the best-selling book Life of Pi by Yann Martel, despite it sitting in my bathroom (of all places, for the past year or so).   I had dismissed it out of hand, what kind of plot was this?  A man in a boat with a tiger, adrift in the middle of the ocean. It was just preposterous, it would never happen, and so I missed the chance to read something, if the film is anything to go by, that is magical and enchanting, wondrous and wonderful.  It is the beauty of story-telling that makes it so compelling, I guess the ultimate visual metaphor, that life should be about the journey not the destination.

It is not a suspenseful movie, we know the protagonist survives as we see him retelling his tale to an ever more sceptical listener at the beginning of the film.  However the film is not short on drama and tension.  At one point it gave me the biggest shout out loud shock moments I have ever experienced in a cinema.

Ang Lee as a director is renown for his films looking very handsome, in Brokeback Mountains, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal had to fight very hard not to be upstaged by the Montana backdrop.  He is also known for his films being ground-breaking, those spectacular flying scenes, so original in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon have been copied many times over since.  In Life of Pi these two aspects of his film making have come together magnificently, every shot is exquisite with many take your breath away moments.  In Life of Pi, the 3D effect is not a cynical money making exercise, it does truly enhance the story-telling and make it even more glorious to watch.  This really is one of those films you must see in the cinema for maximum impact.

There is a charm and an innocent to this film I have not experienced in a very long time.  The story is told slowly and carefully, and after seeing so many films recently where I have despaired at the rising levels of gratuitous violence , even in supposedly family orientated films, it was very pleasurable to watch and very easy to enjoy, and I would recommend  Life of Pi whole-heartedly to everyone for a genuinely  original and different, uplifting and life-affirming experience.

Fly Me to the Moon and let me play among the Stars

Oscar Wilde said famously “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars.”

It has always tickled me, maybe because I love looking up to the heavens and gazing in cosmic awe and wonder at the constellations.

I am sure the origins lie in being introduced to Greek Mythology at a very tender age of 7 at primary school.  Mr Parker, thank you.  I loved learning the names of all the Greek Gods (and their Roman counterparts) hearing their stories, finding out what they symbolised.   Odyssey is an epic story of a man’s ten year struggle to return to his wife and child after the end of the Trojan War.  A tale that has been told over and over again in myriad of different ways and yet is as true and as relevant today as it was to the Ancient Greeks.  Indeed I believe my love of Shakespeare first started because I delighted in all the references to the Gods and Goddesses in his texts.  It was an exciting code to puzzle over to unlock the meanings.  I worry Shakespeare will become less and less accessible to children today, if these universal stories are no longer taught we will lose the foothold into those great works.

So what does this have to do with the stars?  Well there is Orion The Great Hunter isn’t there.. eternally chasing Diana across the heavens.  He stands over our house every Winter like a guard, his belt and dagger so clear on those cold, hard, black nights.  I am totally seduced by him, you can keep the Plough and the North Star, as long as I can see Orion, everything feels it is in its place.  The Universe is functioning as it should.  The clockwise procession of the Solar System is keeping time.

I love to look up at Orion and know that all of mankind has gazed up at wonder at him too. Homer, The Egyptians, Shakespeare every single person on this planet. Such an infinite connection to the past and the future.  It gives me goosebumps every time.

This week though even Orion has been outshone.  Last Friday I noticed two startling large bright stars in the Western horizon.  Just after dust.  They were beautiful.  Diamonds in the sky.

I remembered that Venus is very visible to the naked eye at this time of year.  The Evening Star is well named.  But the light beside it dwarfed it, could it be a satellite?   A quick consultation with Twitter yielded a very rapid response.  Jupiter.  JUPITER.  How can we see Jupiter unaided?  That we can, lead me to wonder how I had never seen it before.  It is an unmistakable beacon of light.  Every night I look up, my eyes are magnetized.  I can’t tear them away.  I feel spellbound.

My mum and I, not living close to each other, often refer to the beauty of La Luna, especially when she is full, as a way of feeling more connected.  The distance doesn’t feel so great when you can see the same beautiful moon rising each  night.  This month we now have Venus and Jupiter to marvel at too.   Apparently you can see Mars (near the Moon) and Mercury very low on the horizon at this time of year.    I am surprisingly excited to learn this.  I am even thinking about buying some binoculars!

And as I always like a soundtrack maybe I can listen to this and dream about the heavens as I star-gaze away.

Love is the Message – In defence of Valentine’s Day

It was impossible to miss that it was St Valentine’s Day this week.

My Facebook timeline contained only two types of comments.  Either it was girls with bragging rights as they had been festooned with cards, hearts and roses. Or it was surly men complaining this was “forced love” day.

I can see both sides, that bolt of electricity that shoots through your body if you receive a card or token from a new admirer, there really is nothing like it.  Indeed the Japanese have a word, dokidoki describing that delicious feeling when your heart beats faster because you are with someone you like.  I love the poetry in that word.

On the other hand the cost of forced grown roses shoots up exponentially just for this one day.  It IS a rip-off.  All my long-married girlfriends get flowers from their husbands the day after.  They too are very happy with this arrangement.  When kids, food and fuel demand almost the entire monthly household budget, a dozen red roses delivered on the day seems more profligate than any over spending monarch of old.

But I have to come clean and say I like Valentine’s Day.  When you are as forgetful as me, it’s good to have a day to remind you to put some romance in your life.  Not going over board, just a card, maybe a small token to show you still care, and most definitely some steak and champagne in the evening.  That is a must!  I am eternally grateful to Gordon Ramsey for doing that live cookalong programme a few years ago.  He did a Valentine’s menu of smoked salmon, steak and homemade oven chips.  He taught my husband to cook the perfect sirloin that night, and every 14 February I give thanks!

But I have to say leave it to the gay community to show us how to do it with style.  This was the best message on Facebook yesterday.   This is really the spirit of Valentine’s Day isn’t it.   Just lots of imagination and romance.   It doesn’t have to cost the earth, it just has to show that you have made a bit of  effort for the one you love.   As the comments by the pictures attested, all us girls were swooning and madly picking up tips for next year.  So thank you Paul and Chris for sharing, I hope you had a wonderful day and thank you again,  you  have improved my future Valentine’s immeasurably.

Thank you UKuncut

these were the words that stopped me shopping in any Philip Green establishment back in October 2010.  And do you know what Top Shop et al I haven’t missed you one little bit.

This was the first time tax dodging on this scale really entered my consciousness.

Hard on the heels came the OUTRAGEOUS HMRC actions to relieve Vodaphone of a £6 billion tax bill.  I can still hardly type the words without frothing at the mouth.

It was this action that lead a group of students to take some direct action and protest outside Vodaphone stores in London, and I am proud to say in Leeds.

Over the past year, I have watched and supported UKuncut as they  have taken to the streets and with wit and invention informed people of the levels of tax avoidance been carried out by large corporations whilst the rest of us had to suffer the savage cuts.  We were not all in this together.  They said.. don’t believe the Government hype.. there is another way.

But I don’t think, when UKuncut turned their attention to the HMRC itself anyone could have predicted the how deep the culture of “sweetheart deals” for corporations such as Vodaphone ran.  Not in this day and age, and when not when services to the poor and elderly were being so savagely cut.

UKuncut highlighted that the Permanent Undersecretary for Tax Dave Harnett had a very “cosy” relationship with the bosses of major corporations, coming top in the league of most “wined and Dined” civil servant.  He has later admitted he “shook hands” on the Goldman Sachs deal that let them off £20 million in tax on bonuses.  It is like something from a Dickensian novel not modern-day, when we are supposed to be ruled by transparency, procedure and accountability.  The man at the top of the tree at the HMRC was shaking hands of deals to let billionaires off their taxation responsibilities.  My belief has been completely beggared.

Due to pressure from UKuncut and from the whistleblower Osita Mba, a revenue solicitor, who first alerted Parliament to the Goldman Sachs deal, Dave Harnett has now “retired” but a 170 page cross parliamentary report on Tuesday has further established a systemic failure at the HMRC to deal with large corporations tax liabilities

So I say thank you UKuncut for your tireless work.  On Tuesday even the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail were taking up the cause.  And we all know what happens when Daily Mail readers get morally outraged!  This is a job, incredibly and brilliantly well done.

And it just goes to show, if we all stand up and make our voices heard.. we can change things, we can make a difference.  We are living in exciting times.

 

Made of Stone

It is with great sadness and a very heavy heart that I announce the reformation of The Stone Roses.

The Stone Roses. The Stone Roses. The STONE ROSES. How am I not overjoyed? how is this not the news I have been waiting for since that acrimonious break up in 1996?

The unmistakable sound of my halcyon days. John Squires’ pure jangling guitar like a clarion call for indie dreamers everywhere. Ian Brown, never the greatest singer, but whose words and delivery broke down the berlin wall dividing ravers and indie kids.  The man who spawned a thousand Liams.  Mani and Reni must not be overlooked either.  Their  funk rhythm and beats were the backbone of the group, never more gloriously displayed than in Fools Gold.

I would go to sleep every night listening to the eponymous first album, the hardest decision being whether to listen to the first or second side.  I know, this was a time of the cassette.  A cassette I might add I bought in a Woolworths.  Another lost feature in our landscape, something else that has disappeared from our modern world.

I must confess my love for the Roses did take some time, I had to fully embrace the culture before I completely fell in love with them.  I was working in London when I first heard them, thinking this is the place where everything happens first.  Everything had always happened first in London.  I had vowed to myself to be at the vanguard of the next music scene after being born just too late for punk.  Of course the delicious irony was that it  was happening 50 odd miles from where I grew up, Manchester.  Madchester was the capital of indie dance and the emerging baggy culture.  I watched from afar, learning about Spike Island and the Hacienda from front covers of The Face magazine.  That bible of indie style and culture.

But catch up I did, and boy did I fall for the Stone Roses hard.  They sang they wanted to be adored.  And they got their wish.   Their music to me was beyond compare, as harmonious as the Byrds or Simon and Garfunkel and as political as the Specials.  Every note was sublime, utterly utterly glorious.   Like all fans I sat through the five long years of the legal dispute with the record company Silvertone, hoping and praying and dreaming and willing the follow-up into existence.

The Second Coming.  Was there ever an album more aptly named?  To sum up the almost religious fervour and anticipation.  And was there ever an album more instantly rejected? Yet when you really listened even though it was heavier and darker and more intense, it was another masterpiece.  Just listen to Love Spreads and tell me it isn’t.

They toured again in 1995-6.  I didn’t go and see them.  For one reason only.  Performing live was not their forte, and  I was, still am, very prone to stop listening to bands if they can’t do it live. The Roses were too precious to me for that to happen, and so I stayed at home,  I preserved their memory, enshrined in those two perfectly recorded albums, to be revered forever. Pristine and in tact, unblemished.

This is why I am not joining the ranks of the adoring fans queuing up to buy tickets tomorrow for their home-coming at Heaton Park next June.  I can not have my cherished memories destroyed at this late stage now by something as prosaic as a poor live performance.  My head says they can’t play any better live now, so reality now would only spoil everything.

But if they were to get it together live, am I ready for the reality of  the voice of a 50 something grey haired man singing hymns to his disaffected youth, and not hitting the notes as he once (well almost) did?   In all honestly I don’t want to remember them in any other way than those four fresh-faced Manc lads, because in my head I don’t feel any different to that girl who listened to their music every night  to fall asleep and I don’t want that to change ever.

We are the 99%

It makes my heart soar to see Occupy London Protesters taking inspiration this weekend from the month-long occupation of Wall Street.

This is a planned peaceful protest to occupy the Square Mile in London in order to highlight the social and economic injustice in the UK and beyond as part of a global movement for real democracy.

It is so wonderful also, that the Vicar of St Paul’s has welcomed these peaceful protesters with open arms.  He understands their message and has asked the police to leave.  In return, as this is a peaceful protest, the occupiers moved to one side so that services were able to go ahead for today’s congregation.  It was wonderful to see such mutual respect and co-operation. I was even happier to see this actually got some news coverage this morning.  The networks have been shameful in their under-reporting of this issue in recent weeks.  This is one protest that deserves the oxygen of publicity.

I am so happy that people around the world are finding their voice and realising that together we can make a difference. That together we can stand up to corporate greed.  That we are the 99% of the population who are paying in blood sweat and tears whilst the 1%, even in a time of recession, are getting wealthier and wealthier.

One banner read The People are Too Big To Fail.  A poignant reminder that ordinary people’s needs have been completely forgotten during this economic downturn and yet it is their tax revenue that has kept the banking sector afloat since 2008.  A banking sector let us once again remember, that refused to take any responsibility for their part in the global financial crisis, that refused to rein in their excessive bonus culture after the crisis and are currently refusing to consider much-needed regulation.

Another banner said People before Profit. We live in a time when CEO wages have been escalating ever upwards completely detached from their work force or value.  In the US CEO pay has increased by 24% last year.  In the UK rises in Executive pay outstripped rises in performance.  On average FTSE Top 100 CEOs earned 221 time the UK median earning for 2010, and 417 times the national minimum wage.  It was also noted that private companies with large public sector contracts paid their Chief Executives far more than the highest paid public sector employees.  Another example of taxpayers funding the very wealthiest in society.

During the same time scale workers’ pay has, at the very best, only gone up by 3%, and is no match for the increases in fuel, food and energy.    At worst, jobs have been lost to make corporations ever yet more profitable.  Profitability which then translates into even higher  pay hikes of the CEOs.  A vicious circle if ever there was one and one that needs to be broken.

There is a wonderful book called The Spirit Level:  Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  Quoting from Chapter 13 “Across whole populations rates of mental illness are five times higher in the most unequal compared to the least unequal societies.  Similarly, in more unequal societies people are five times as likely to be imprisoned, six times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher.  The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined to just the least well-off: instead they affect the vast majority of the population.”

This is why we need these protests.  Corporations and governments need to see the damage these terrible inequalities inflict on ordinary decent, hard-working people. The protesters occupying the financial districts around the globe are starting the discussion to make a better world, and I support them wholeheartedly all the way.

All sources quoted via the click through links.