Sunday, 11 February 2018

Brexit-The Emotional Exit.

Even the word is harsh - Brexit- it sounds tough on the tongue, an ugly word, brutal in pronunciation.
A politically emotional word, one that makes me flinch while others preen.
I think of Paris, the Paris of today as well as the Paris of my past, a visit on a school exchange aged 14, a romantic trip with my first real boyfriend.
 Bomb blasts, carnage, heartbreak and tragedy encompass European cities as well as our own but I feel for us and them with a sense of love, a sense of comradeship.
 I think of Portugal and my first paintings inspired by the colours of the cliffs, the freezing sea, the wobbly restaurant attached to a rock face.Sardines on the beach and yellow houses. The quiet of the afternoon, the clanging of church bells.
I find it hard to believe that we are going to turn our backs on something so wonderful. Our friendship and alliance with Europe has brought us so much. Sumptuous food, oozing garlic, red wine drunk in pavement cafes, rich aromatic coffee, gingham tablecloths, hams, croissants, pizza.
And then there is fashion, who remembers the dull high streets of the 1970's, Shoefayre being the highlight of a rainy Saturday afternoon?
When I think of Europe I see colour, bright reds, swirling skirts, lipstick on smiling mouths, The emerald green of a silk scarf caught in the breeze, shiny hair in curls, dancing. Happy waiters, surly waiters, petite waitresses standing to attention, fishermen clinging to steep vertical cliffs, eager for a fat fresh fish to take to market.
To me Europe means art, fashion, food and wine. sunshine and sea. Glamour.

I dearly hope our European neighbours will continue to open their doors and their hearts to us brutal Brits who have rudely dismissed the hospitality offered by our cousins abroad.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

My House.

I have lived in my funny old house for ten years yet I have never known how long I would be able to stay so I have never felt inclined to splash the cash and decorate.
Times change however and for the first time I have secured a guaranteed two year tenancy on the property.

The house is a three bedroom semi with original features. One original feature is a windowless, door-less  'conservatory' which obviously did not fare well during the second world war.
The French doors are also original, they probably were original during the French Revolution before being shipped across the channel on a rickety raft. They are drafty and rattle in the wind, they have age spots all over the window panes, an antique dealer would probably love them.

When I moved into the house all the windows, keyholes and air vents had been covered in plastic sheeting and taped up.The back door had not been used at all for years and years. The garden was a jungle.
The bathroom was covered in mould and had an avocado coloured suite.
The kitchen comprised of a few sticky pine cupboards and gaps where appliances should have lived.

I have been very happy living in this funny house because here I am free.

The first time I opened the back door, after having spent ages stripping off layers and layers of plastic and sticky tape, I found myself greeted by about seven fat pigeons eyeing me suspiciously from their perch on a window ledge of the 'conservatory.' Not one of them flinched. They seemed to stare at me in unison before looking at each other as if to say, 'Ah, she's harmless, let's just stay put.' Which they did. I struggled through bindweed, ivy, poo and stinging nettles to reach the door ( non existent)
out into the garden. It was a cold, damp February day, I decided to leave the garden until the spring.
I left the back door open in an effort to air the house.

I went around the house removing colossal amounts of  plastic sheeting, bubble wrap and sticky tape and at last the house could breathe.
I went back downstairs to find two pigeons parading up and down the hallway. I tried to shoo them out but they flapped up and away up the stairs. They sat on the banister staring at me for quite some time before swooping down and out of the now opened front door, not before shitting all over the hall carpet.
That evening a fox sauntered in to have a look around, it actually looked affronted when I shooed it out with a broomstick. This house needs a broomstick, I realised that early on.

That was the beginning.
The garden is forever overgrown with bindweed but it is a lovely space, there is an ancient apple tree, a couple of mulberry bushes, a beautiful mature and magnificent Japanese acer , the colours of which are breathtaking, a fledgling acer which I planted and lots of unidentified other foliage.

The house, my funny old house has been transformed into a Chateau. I love the French style, shabby chic. It's a minimal house, the basics are all I need and all that I want.
The 1930's infrastructure that hadn't really been tampered with over the years provided a good template for decorating. Picture rails and dado rails, deep skirting boards, ancient embossed wall paper,old wooden internal doors and the original fireplaces provided me with the basic look and I simply enhanced it. It's been really hard work but I am so pleased with myself, my old furniture that I have collected over the years suits the house perfectly.
Of course a visitor might not understand my vision. There are no shiny surfaces or black and white lines. The bathroom suite is still avocado but is so old fashioned it now looks fashionable again.
Bedside tables are small towers of old Vogue magazines.
A retro radio stands pride of place in my little kitchen, incongruously blaring out indie hits on Radio X.

There is a broomstick in the garden and a horseshoe in the 'conservatory.'
Mr Fox sits under the apple tree.

All is well.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

My Pre-Internet Brain.

Douglas Coupland is a Canadian novelist/artist/designer who creates visual masterpieces, one of his pieces is a poster reading, " I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain," He has designed many more since this one which was included as part of the collection: "Welcome to the 21st Century."

Coupland is 55, a few years older than me and, like me lucky enough to have actually owned a pre-internet brain and can therefore compare past and present. It's quite a concept and makes me feel privileged to have been born in the 1960's, a generation of children who may well have been the last lot to grow up in a world of self-discovery and wonder, curiosity and creativity as well as in my case anyway, hunger and quite a bit of deprivation. I didn't know I was deprived though so it didn't really matter. I knew I was hungry quite a lot but then I just assumed everyone else was as well. Wasn't it a great feeling to see your big brother walk up the road with a rabbit tucked in his belt, or to not get caught whilst scrumping? (Younger people will need to google) 
A big joy of childhood was the library, a big quiet building where one could wander for ages and ages and go home with lots of dusty books under your arm. (yes, yes, today you know exactly what you want to read, you've seen the reviews online and a pristine book will arrive wrapped in a box) I still love the library, I still sit down in my Lloyd Loom chair and retreat into the world of 11th century Paris or Tudor England or anywhere in the world at any time at all for that matter, even space if I feel so inclined. The library today though is a noisy affair with lots of bleeping going on and people talking into their laptops. Old people shuffle about too embarrassed to ask how to actually borrow their books as the machine has replaced the librarian.
In my day my friends and I on the rare occasions that rain stopped play, would idle away time colouring in. That meant using colouring pencils to colour in pictures in a book. Now, that's an exercise in 'mindfulness.'
The thought of being stuck indoors was a frightful one. Why would anyone want to do that? There were, (still are actually) trees to climb, rivers to swim, orchards to strip, fields to scour. I think I spent about a third of my childhood in swimming pools, proper swimming pools with a proper deep end, not namby- pamby shallow  'safe' boring drips that pretend to be pools today.
Then there was school, Primary School was good fun, Secondary School not so much but I did learn a lot. Curiously although I hated Physics, my teacher to my hilarity was called Mr Grime, I learned an awful lot although didn't realise it at the time. Who knew flow tanks would have been so helpful?
I wasn't allowed the luxury of further education and went to work in London just short of my sixteenth birthday. At twenty I was promoted to a Chief Referencing Officer, fancy being a chief of anything at that tender age. My job was to travel across all of the London Boroughs collating evidence of land ownership. This would see me chatting to a Lord and Lady in Kensington one day and a big burly gypsy on a caravan site the next. I loved that job and it has stood me in good stead as a researcher.I expect all the information I found by trawling around with my pencil and pad can now be found on the internet, not so the myriad of stories behind the facts however.
Nearly thirty years later, my pre-internet brain is shared with my post internet brain.
Today as I walked around the park with my dog I came across a lot of young mums pushing their babies in their buggies. Ducks, swans, herons, cormorants, woodpeckers, parakeets, tits, a sly fox all totally ignored, bright orange and red crinkly leaves left underfoot and not kicked up in delight, squirrels left alone to squirrel their nuts. All the while the babies moaned and the mums listened to music or talked loudly into their hands-free sets.
The dog trod in a sticky pile of something and was covered in burrs, as I extricated them I realised my hand was covered in poo. I had my wellies on so climbed down the old roots of a tree into the stream and splashed about as I washed my hands, I dried them on a waxy leaf... much to the horror of a lady walking by who politely passed me a packet of disinfectant wipes.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Oh No, Another Supermoon!

Image result for pictures of the supermoon last night
The Supermoon.

Billy Bear the morning after the night before.

As a Cancerian I am used to the effects the moon has on my moods. Quite literally 'a loony' at times, full of beans, dancing around the kitchen, singing at the top of my voice, usually to tracks from Oasis, Cigarettes and Alcohol and Live Forever being  firm favourites . Then at other times quiet and fragile, thoughtful.  Away with the fairies on some days while deep in serious political discussion the next. Of course I suppose I could simply be described as a 'moody mare' and have been in my time yet the big white globe in the sky provides me with all the reason I need to exercise my attributes.

Today however I just feel totally cream-crackered.
And the little boy pictured above is to blame.
He is not a Cancerian, he is actually a Taurean so has no real claim to being affected by the moon , well, other than being a dog and therefore related to the wolf, and we all know about their relationship with La Luna.
Billy didn't spend the night howling, he spent the night jumping. Up and down. on and off my bed, and on and off the body sleeping on that bed, ie; me, all bloody night long.
Not delicate, light jumps that even big dogs seem able to do but great big dramatic leaps into the corners of my room followed by frantic scratching on the floorboards as if trying to reach Australia followed by eerie silence  before  repeating the performance, over and over again. This behaviour went on all through the night of the Supermoon.
I must have slept at some point because I woke up feeling shattered, Billy's face on my cheek his eye staring into mine.
He did look sort of sorry or perhaps I just imagined that he did.
He didn't seem keen on rushing out for his early morning walk, he was obviously worn out, so I did his hot water bottle for him and he clambered up onto the sofa for a nice long sleep.
I spent the day wandering about in a bit of a daze.
Until he woke up of course, even more full of beans than usual.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Not in Vogue.

Me,back in the very early 80's
I can remember having this picture taken. It is a photograph, not a snap. I had to pose, I was very tall (well, funnily enough, I still am) and very slim and very young and fancied myself as super model material. I was a bit premature on that front as the real supermodels were still struggling to make names for themselves back then, in fact the term wouldn't be christened for a couple more years. I sent the photo to a modelling agency in Mayfair. I didn't hear anything from the agency so just carried on in my job as a clerical officer at the Greater London Council. Then one day I had a phone call at work, a personal phone call which was very frowned upon. It was a man calling from the agency in Mayfair asking me where I was. I was flustered and replied that I was at work. He went on in a dramatic fashion to say that the studio had been set up and the photographer was waiting for me. I didn't know what to do as I couldn't just up and leave my desk. I tried to explain that I hadn't heard anything from the agency at all, let alone notice of a pending appointment. My immediate boss could see that I was in a pickle and indicated that I pass him the phone which I did. He asked the caller for an explanation and then calmly put the phone down. He then, to my astonishment , took some cash out of his wallet and told me to go and get a taxi to the appointment.
It was summer and I was wearing a dress, quite a smart dress as casual clothes were not deemed fit to wear to work at that time. I felt frumpy and not model material at all but a steely determination had set in and on the way to Mayfair I mapped my new life , it would include lots of glamorous parties, champagne, gorgeous clothes, Vogue covers, shining hair, good-looking men and of course, vast sums of money.
I arrived at the building which was a tall and grand affair, I presumed the whole house was the agency but soon realised that the number of bells attached to the wall gave the lie to that assumption. I pressed the bell to the agency and the door swung open. I climbed up a long staircase until I reached what was probably once known as the servants' quarters. I was ushered in by a youngish man who was wearing a hacking jacket and light brown cords, (I don't know why I remember this detail so clearly) he had a floppy fringe which he had to keep flicking from his eyes. He looked me up and down while rubbing his hand across his chin. He asked me to pull my dress up so he could see more of my legs. I felt a red flush bloom across my cheeks but pulled up my dress as instructed. He seemed to stare at my legs for ages and I felt awkward and embarrassed but kept telling myself I was being stupid as of course I would have to expect this sort of scrutiny everyday while being photographed by David Bailey and the like.
Finally, the man from the agency, (I can't remember his name) told me he thought my legs were a tiny bit on the chubby side but not to worry, I could exercise that away. I remember feeling mortified, my legs couldn't really have been any skinnier, they wouldn't have held me up. I dropped my dress back down to below my knees.
The photographer called from the 'studio' which was probably once upon a time, a broom cupboard.
I had lost my nerve, I couldn't bear the thought of my chubby legs being photographed. I dashed back down the staircase on my sturdy pins and hailed a taxi which took me back to County Hall.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Brexit Briefing: A Mistake or a Calamity?

June 2016, after the result of the referendum the mood of the Brexiteers was high, they were delighted in their ' win.' As a Remainer I was shocked and disappointed at the result but took it upon myself to wonder why and how I had misread the mood of the nation.
I maintain my view that for a lot of people the EU Referendum vote was a protest vote against personal circumstances.
However, the vote was to leave the EU and now (perversely) I feel those brazen Brexiteers have been dealt a disservice. Those very ideals they voted for have been broken down, put into a transition period or diluted as to make them an irrelevance.
The lies on the bus are known as lies on the bus.
The politicians are the last at the party propped up against the fridge, in the kitchen, staring into the dregs. Or they are not at the party at all. They weren't invited.
Ironically the Europe we voted to leave in 2016 is now on its uppers. France and Germany are enjoying a reconciliation in friendship.
Europe is united against the threat and incidence of terrorism.
The Brexit negotiations are a disaster and an embarrassment.
Europe is laughing at Little Britain.
Our demands will not be met.
We seem to be asking for all the benefits of membership of the union but simply do not want to pay the administration fees.
Great Britain will be far better off in the European Union.
It wasn't broke therefore why fix it?
Britain will be isolated, financially worse off, disrespected and alone if we leave the EU.
Exit Brexit.
Future generations will accept a mistake but not a calamity.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Mental Health Awareness: The News.

The Tooth Fairy. Oil on canvas.  Celia Turner.

A little while ago I found myself sitting in the dentist's waiting room. I don't mind visiting the dentist, in fact I actually quite enjoy it, so different is the experience compared to when I was a child. Back then it was such a gruesome affair, brutal even, compared to modern day dentistry   I remember the waiting room of yesteryear, very uncomfortable rickety chairs, peeling paint and pictures of gnarled old trees adorned the walls. My brothers and I would make up stories about those trees, anything to keep our minds from Mr Paddyachy, he of the white coat and cruel intentions.

In the surgery of modern times there are no pictures or peeling paint. On the wall is a flat screen television. Sky News is on all the time. We, the patients, are treated to scenes of utter devastation, tiny babies being pulled from the aftermath of an earthquake, dusty faces and bewildered eyes stare at us from the ruins. We see a shot of a bedroom hanging from the side of a building, the bed has a red bedspread. Old women, bent over, wander amid the debris, headscarves askew, crinkly eyes crying. The scene is eerily silent. It is also silent in the waiting room.
Next on the screen is a big man shouting and pointing at an audience. He waves his arms about, he has weird hair and for some reason seems a bit threatening.
Next up are tanks and soldiers, BOOM and BANG and bodies under blankets.

Then, just like that, we are given the latest sports report. This has always confused me. Why IS sport so important? Why is it on the News? It seems distasteful to end a distressing news report with a downcast description of a lost football match.

The children in the waiting room look uncomfortable but there is nothing for them to do except watch the television.

Figures from the NSPCC's  Childline Service show the number of children and young people looking for help with anxiety has jumped sharply, the report states that there were 11,706 counselling sessions where anxiety was mentioned in 2015-2016,This is an increase of more than a third (35%) on the previous year. The report also states that the problem seems to be getting worse, with provisional figures showing that from April to September the service dealt with an average of more than 1000 cases of anxiety a month. Children as young as eight have called the service to discuss their fears, with girls seven times more likely to contact Childline than boys.
Childline president, Esther Rantzen said children and young people are sometimes upset by world events, " Seeing pictures of crying and bewildered toddlers being pulled from bomb damaged homes upsets all of us," she said. "Often we fail to notice the impact the stories are having on young people."

I can absolutely relate to this; I can remember seeing footage from the Vietnam war when I was a very young child and being really, really upset by it.  'The News' was then deemed to be a 'grown-up' programme and I never dared to break the serious silence my parents kept up when watching it.Therefore I didn't ask what was going on, I simply remained haunted by the terrible pictures I had seen.

We now have 24 hour news channels, often the news is just there,as background noise but it is important that we realise that all this 'news' can be overwhelming and frightening to children. We must try to educate and reassure our young people and to take care that they are not overly exposed to violent and dramatic scenes on an everyday basis and to keep 'news' in context. After all 'The News' rarely exposes its audience to 'good news.'

On my next visit to the dentist I took the painting pictured above, I told him it was a gift for the young people to look at while waiting for their appointments. He told me they have the news to watch and I replied that the news was often too grim for such a young audience. He said it was real life.
If I was a child again I think I'd rather look at a pretty painting than at a screen full of crumpled buildings and sad looking grandparents wandering around in a daze.
Real life can wait.

We'll see if he puts the painting on display. I hope he does.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Life and Times.

This is a photograph of me and my eldest daughter, she is thirty years old now. The photo was taken by her grand-dad on holiday in Spain.
I had Emily when I was 23.
I had no plan for our lives, other than to be happy.
The early years of my marriage and motherhood were lovely. We owned our house (well, with a mortgage) my husband had a good job in The City and I was a stay-at-home mum. Me and Emily had a blissful couple of years. Then when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband lost his job and the recession kicked in. Our riches turned to poverty.
Our freedoms turned into prisons. The prison of poverty and depression.
My husband fell into a despair. But I had two young people to nurture.
A lot of people were in the same boat and we all helped each other out, some managed to stay strong while others fell by the wayside.
Then circumstances picked up again and we were OK for a while. My husband chose to spend a lot of time in the pub, but that was alright with me as it just meant that I could enjoy my two precious daughters.
I ignored my husband's mood swings. I was too busy playing with my daughters and my nieces and nephews. I absolutely adored being a mum, an auntie, a sister-in-law.
There are good memories: lovely restaurants when my husband was working, Bibendum was a firm favourite with its swish, ridiculously handsome waiters delivering outstandingly good food.
Oh and the brilliant gigs.  Oasis and  Pink Floyd in 1996 resonate in my memory. The Oasis gig will live me forever. That night in the stadium at Maine Road was easily the best night of my life. I remember feeling the years falling away, I danced and sang like a teenager, I laughed and cried, the atmosphere was electric and the adrenaline was pumping. I was on a high for about two weeks after the gig, silly smile glued to my face and managing to get a lyric into nearly every conversation. 'I'll pick you up at half past three- we'll have LASAGNAAAAA.' I must have driven everyone potty.
But there were nagging problems in the marriage. A sense of isolation. My husband was never there. He missed birthday parties, births, joyous special individual moments.
He was an angry man. But I remained oblivious to this anger, in fact I found it boring- which is weird, but then I had been brought up by an angry dad so maybe the anger or discontent didn't have the desired affect he wished to pronounce on me?
Life went on.
The girls thrived. We got a dog- Alfie, a black Labrador.
Emily went travelling while my younger daughter attended college. My husband was still in the pub.

My brother became seriously ill. My sister-in-law and I were very close, our children had grown up together and I love her very much. My poor brother died slowly, bit by bit really, over the course of three years from a brain tumour. He died on November 8th 2002.

But on the night of 7th November 2002, my husband complained of a bad headache which turned out to be a brain haemorrhage.
A real nightmare ensued.

My husband 'recovered' although when he awoke from nine hours of life saving surgery, he said he wished he had died.

Still, we ploughed on.

Then, in 2007, our car broke down.

How silly is life?
I suggested to my husband that the car had overheated and we needed to let it cool, replace the water and start it up again. My husband was enraged at this suggestion and threw a very large, very heavy bunch of keys at me, hitting me in the face.
A young boy, walking past witnessed this and it was the look on his face that ended my marriage.
The disbelief at the anger, the over-reaction, the bullying behaviour? I don't know. But the look in that young boy's eyes changed my outlook forever. And I thank him for opening my eyes, to my marriage and the direction of my life.

Fast forward ten years.
I live in a funny old rented house. I live with Emily and our dog, Billy, a chocolate Labrador. My younger daughter lives nearby with her partner who is lovely.

We are happy, we love each other, support each other  and life goes on.

Emily is pregnant with my first grandchild.

I am writing a lot.
My dad is relying on me to help him now that he is old and alone.
My sister-in-law is content and has carved out a new life for herself and her family.
My ex is still in the pub.

Life goes on.
Round our way the birds are singing.
Round our way the sun shines bright.