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Saturday 13 October 2012

The Joys of Middle Age Part 2.

Today is my birthday. I am forty-five. This means that if you laid me end to end I'd feel obliged to buy you a drink.

Seriously though folks, the fact is that if you joined two of me together you'd make NINETY. There can therefore be, in mathematical terms at least, no question that I am middle-aged. Some people recoil from the thought of being middle-aged, as if it were bearing down on them like Kay Burley on a grieving townsperson. I choose to embrace it. I am middle-aged. There, I said it. (Ooh, I felt a bit like Harry Potter when he says "Voldemort" then.)

This is the third birthday I've had since I joined Twitter. A significant achievement, I'm sure you'll agree. What with that and the Nobel Peace Prize it's been quite a week. Anyway, I have written a blog on my birthday each year since I joined Twitter. (You can find them here and here.) This continues that grand tradition and I am sticking with the same theme, namely The Joys of Middle Age.

Sexy Time

In your 20's sexy time could be the kind of frenzied romp that smashed the lampshade and pulled the curtain pole off the wall, or that at the very least made the neighbours think the mice in the walls were back, but it could also be bloody hard work. First you had to catch, kill and cook your boyfriend and who has time for that nowadays when there's so much good telly on? When you're knocking on a bit, and if you are fortunate enough to have a long term partner, you have, in the grand tradition of Blue Peter, one you trained up earlier.  Even if you don't have a partner possible quarry tend not to be quite so fast on their feet so, all is not lost.

Sexy time in your 20's could be exciting and wild, it could also mean putting a chair under the door handle to stop pervy "sleep walking" housemates attempting to join in. Now it's okay for sexy time to involve comfy trousers and a couple of walnut whips, maybe with some hot Tina Fey "30 Rock" action as an appetiser since of course you both fancy her. (Who wouldn't?) Most importantly though, in your forties you know what you want if you can get it.


Science has  proven that in your 20's it is possible to live off Tango, Monster Munch and ouzo without your internal organs behaving like the alien in, er, "Alien". In your forties you have to be a bit kinder to the ravaged temple that is your body.  I'm still not averse to the odd Pot Noodle but, whereas I once ate nothing but fried egg pieces for two weeks, now my fridge looks like a proper grown-up's with unusual vegetables and condiments that are not Branston pickle and HALF DRUNK bottles of wine. Good food is one of the glories of being alive and in middle age I savour it more than ever.

Personal style

When you get older your personal style is supposed to become more refined, classic. You are supposed to want to start wearing structural grey garments and statement jewellery. Sorry, not me. I increasingly want to dress like Sylvester Stallone's mother. If it sparkles or has animal print I am on it like Paul Gambaccini on an obituary. When I was younger I wanted to dress like everyone else. Now I want to dress distinctively. I'm not saying I always achieve it, but I dress how I want to dress and I couldn't give a toss if it's "directional".


I wrote something a while back about having recently re-watched Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters". I watched it in my 20's and it washed over me like when your parents used to reminisce about when they were courting and you were thinking, "Yeah, yeah, great, now give me the twenty quid." This time it touched me deeply. I am not denigrating the friendships you have when you are younger. Many of my closest friends today were also my closest friends 20 years ago. But the weight of time does something to your knowledge and understanding of a person, compacts it like silted earth into much more precious material.

If you have read my two earlier birthday blogs (and if you haven't - Chop! Chop!) you will know that this is the bit where I tend to go a bit soppy and Hallmark greetings card. I make no apology for it. I am quite a soppy person.

I am middle-aged and I am glad of it. Being young is, or can be, fantastic.I loved it. I loved feeling free and doing crazy shit and learning and making my way in life. Of course I know I have been very lucky. Many people have dreadful hardship in their lives from a very young age. I don't know how I would feel about life if that had been my experience. I have been incredibly fortunate and have had a life filled with love and opportunity. Even so, you can't get to forty-five without the little of pebbles of sadness building up like stones on a cairn, and some days I feel the weight of it. Sometimes life doesn't go the way you want and it's hard not to rail against it and to force yourself to wake up and smell the coffee. But still, how glorious to open your eyes each day.

Sunday 12 August 2012

How Not to Miss the Olympics

We are all agreed that the Olympics has been a hit. (I do of course entirely respect the view of those who disagree, even though they are wrong.)

At first I had my doubts, which was understandable given the distasteful air of positivity and sportiness. But just as you never fancied that Dad in the playground that tucks his jumper into his trousers but changed your mind when you met him in his trunks at the pool, so the Olympics has won my heart by revealing its essential self.

I know you're all dying to read my thoughts on the Olympic spirit and what it tells us about the inner city but I am a terrible tease, so instead I offer some more practical advice on how not to miss the Games in the post-apocalympics period that lies ahead.

1.When complimented on your hair, don't forget to thank the whole hairdressing team.

2.Buy some union jack pants and cry when you hoist them up on the clothes pulley.

3.When your turn is called at the Post Office, moonwalk to the cashier and kiss your t-shirt.

4.Do a deep lunge while twiddling some turkey drumsticks in Sainsbury's.

5.Buy some Dracula teeth, put on a cloak and tell people to take their tops off. Hey presto! You are Sebastian Coe!

6.When you get on the bus, turn and wave to the queue, both hands above your head. 

7.Take a hobby horse with you when line dancing.

8.Ask women leaving the ladies' loos whether they have left a legacy.

9.Marry Clare Balding. Marry Denise Lewis. Marry Michael Johnson. Do not marry John Inverdale but leave the coat hanger in your jacket at all times.

10.Always ensure you are wrapped in the flag when crossing the finishing line. If you impregnate your wife with twins, all the better.

Last but not least, sit on the sofa, crying and tweet about the telly. Oh and watch the Paralympics.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Change of Lifestyle

Welcome to my life! Or rather my lifestyle, which is a bit different, in that it is how I live in my head, unencumbered by the constraints of time, money, general ineptitude and chunky ankles. 

In an idle moment today I indulged myself by making this "mood board" from leftover magazine cutouts that my daughter had been mucking around with at the weekend. 

"Look at this," I said proudly to my husband, "Isn't it pretty? This is what life could be like if we were much richer and naturally stylish, if we were not us. Why is our life not like this? Something is awry. Our tea towels, for example, are all wrong. We have failed. I blame you." 

The answer is simple. I must become a totally different person. How hard can that be? People do it on Oprah all the time after 15 minutes with Dr Phil and his magical hamster moustache. I will simply envision it.  

My table will be graced by the world's most beautiful fruit bowl, filled with guavas and pomegranates, not dusty grape stalks and a surgical bandage, no siree Bob.

I shall ride my vintage push bike with its basket full of hyacinths, wearing my pretty tea dress, flip-flops and cloche hat. This will not result in my unprotected head being stoved in when my flip-flops catch on the pedals and I am hurled into the path of a corporation bus. These things do not happen to people like me. And even if it did, I would go gladly to my doom rather than be caught in a stained fleece, leggings and a helmet, calling to mind an escapee from a high security hospital. 

My night table will be adorned only by a cut crystal water decanter and a slim volume of Rilke's greatest hits, sorry, I mean poems. It will not feature balls of hair, mouldy raisins and post it notes which read "Sell things?" and "ARMPIT SUDOCREM". 

The cupboards will be stocked with miso soup and harissa paste sandwiches and different coloured magic beans. There will be butterflied lamb for supper, not Special K or anything, oh no, we are not SAVAGES. 

At night the garden will be lit by hundreds of tea lights in Victorian glass specimen jars arranged to form the face of Diana Vreeland, the children's rooms will be adorned with original artwork, not posters of Rhianna fellating a Solero, the cat will not shit in the sock drawer, the phone will not be found in the bread bin, spiders will not hatch in my hair, I WILL NOT DRINK THE BATHWATER. 

It will be lovely. I just have to not be me. 

(First posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 10 May 2012.)


I need to get fit.

I used to be very fit. I used to hang off the wall bars at the gym and lift my legs up to my nose, quite effortlessly. I liked to cartwheel round the garden and, after several pints of snakebite, would do forward walkovers down the corridors of the student union.

Sadly that was knocking on 30 years ago. Now I am a dreadful indolent mess, whose efforts to haul herself out of the swimming pool call to mind a sea lion climbing the stairs.

I went to the gym for a while. It wasn't me. I tried the treadmill, but always ended up near horizontal, hanging onto the bar, like a toddler that is learning to walk by pushing a cart but that has forgotten to move its legs. It just never felt like fun, all that grunting and groaning and not even the excitement of having rearranged the furniture as a result.

Once every six months I decide that I will take up running but by the time I've found my sports bra, which is older than most Olympic competitors, I've generally gone off the idea.
We bought a Wii fit but it's proximity to the telly often proves to be a distraction.

I went to Zumba and liked it, but due to the same mysterious self-destructing gene that makes me eat Pringles when I don't really like them, stopped going.

I think I need some kind of head gear that will dangle a photo of Ryan Gosling in front of me while, at the same time, I am chased by Jeremy Clarkson.

That might get me to shift. I dunno though. I wish I'd just get on with it. I really annoy myself sometimes.

(First posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 7 June 2012.)

Excellent Tomatoes

These tomatoes were on display in the very fancy organic supermarket and cafe that I sometimes frequent when I am pretending to be posh and the kind of person who can pay fifteen pounds for a chicken. 

It's a bit like when I was little and my Mum would send me to the Pick N' Save (or Nick N' Save as we called it) supermarket for a pint of milk and I would pretend to be doing the shopping for a family of fifteen. 

I would wander the aisles, just managing to peer over the top of my trolley, palpating melons and earnestly studying packets of washing powder. I would then pop the stuff in the trolley, whistling nonchalantly, secure in the knowledge that my expert shopping technique would fool my fellow customers into thinking that I was a midget housewife with very good skin and a fondness for David Essex T-shirts, ankle socks and Clarks T-bar sandals. (Actually, that sounds pretty cool. I wish I looked like that now. I look a bit like David Essex does now. That will have to do.) I would then casually retrace my steps, putting everything back until a pint of milk remained. 

Anyway, the whole idea was to appear sophisticated. That's what I'm doing now when I go to the posh organic supermarket. Hmm, Jonty Bumpimple's Cotswolds Sausage Pie only FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS. "I'll take TEN!", I boom, to no-one in particular. 

I then saunter for a bit, sniffing the courgette flowers; "Are these ready for stuffing?" I enquire, before asking if they have any fresh snails or quinoa or condiments made by dead saints.

Basically, this goes on for a bit and then I say loudly; "Perhaps just one of your small baguettes please, my good man." And the nice assistant smiles and does not acknowledge that I am mad and that I've also been carrying the same JM Coetzee book for six months now. 

I'll tell you what though, those tomatoes are good. Firm, yet yielding, one sharp bite piercing the promise of taut glistening skin, flooding your mouth with an earthy sweetness that makes you write like Melvyn Bragg when he's doing a sexy bit.

There's too much talk of rotten tomatoes, these ones are excellent. 

(Originally posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 30 May 2012)

Football Crazy

Football, I like football. I like end to end stuff and flamboyant Latin types. Or am I thinking of a Ricky Martin concert? ANYWAY, I do like football though I don't think, in all honesty, I'd have made a terribly good premiership footballer myself. If I was a premiership footballer I'd be a bit like this: 

"Hi there! Have we met? Your shorts are FAB, you're so lucky, I could NEVER wear something that stopped just above the knee like that. Oooh, are you my partner? Sorry, not partner, gosh hang on, they told me this! MARKER! Are you marking me? I do hope so, you have kind eyes.

"Golly, on the attack again! This lot are keen aren't they?"

"That chap in the black and white is jolly good. He's doing it all running backwards! Like Ginger Rogers! Oh dear, there they go, on about the pies again. I always think they mean me, about the pies. Big boned, what can you do? But look at you! Thin as a pin. Major envy."

"How long till elevenses? Sorry, interval. SORRY, half time! Honestly, hopeless! Listen, this whole oranges thing, do you think we might ring the changes next week and maybe try some dim sum? Just something a bit different. Might be fun."

"I like your alice band. Functional and stylish. PARFAIT! Did you see Question Time last night? That guy from the union was on. PLEASE tell me you know him. Quelle dish!" 

"Anyway, what's all this about playing deep and square at the back? I'm so over it. Up the wing, cut it back and BOOM! That's what my Dad says. Oh dear, am I offside again? Sometimes I think I'll never get the hang of this."

(First posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 7 May 2012) 

Tidy Cushions

Look at those cushions. Plumped to within an inch of their life. A wee tip. If you have been sitting on your fat backside all day with your snout in a bag of kettle chips and you suddenly look at the clock and realise that your loved ones will be home in T minus 5 minutes, plump the cushions.
That's all it takes. 

There can be six inches of stoor on the skirting board and a decomposing kebab on the hall table, but if your cushions are plumped no-one will care. Dirt schmirt, who gives a monkey's? Plump 'em up and it's tidy. 

The only danger is that they look so goooood, so pristine, so fresh, so unsullied by the neighbourhood posteriors. In short, you can become addicted to a plumped cushion. If you find yourself addressing visitors thus;

"Do come in. How lovely to see you! Gosh, isn't it chilly? Brrr. Come in and get warm! Me casa es su casa JESUS CHRIST! WHO SAID YOU COULD SIT DOWN?! STAND UP! STAND UP! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU FILTHY LITTLE COMMUNIST!!"
or words to that effect, you may have a problem.

Likewise, barbed wire, "KEEP OFF" signs, trap doors, cross bows triggered when arse touches cushion, all of these can be warning signals that you've crossed a certain line. 

Still, when properly executed there is nothing like a plumped cushion for giving the illusion of an ordered home. You're welcome. 

(First posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 6 May 2012) 


I look out at our ordinary garden every day. Most days I don't even really notice it any more. It's funny to think how excited I was when we moved to this house, our first ever house, our first ever garden. I got my husband to film me hanging out the washing on my very own washing line. The first time I filled a vase with cut flowers from my very own garden I felt like a proper grown up. 

Sadly, the euphoria about the garden has worn off. I have turned out not to be a natural gardener. I do not have a green thumb. I swear when I walk past a flower bed all the living things in it wilt in my wake. 

So, I often don't pay much attention to the garden, since it just reminds me of my shortcomings, a bit like avoiding the mirror when you know you're looking as rough as a badger. 
At lunchtime today though there was a glorious spell of sunshine and I sat out with a coffee and found myself staring at my daughter's playhouse. 

We bought it when she was three, I think, seven years ago. We tacked pretty floral wallpaper inside. There was a teeny bench, a table and a play cooker along with lots of toy food. Plastic roast chicken, chips, peas, a cake cut into slices. Sometimes we would have proper breakfast in there. I would drink my real tea while my daughter poured dirty water into a plastic cup; "Cuppa tea Mummy?".

Some sunny days would see troops of small girls in princess outfits making endless pretend toast, or writing on the blackboard, sometimes just screaming and running in and out like maniacs, throwing water at each other, slamming their fingers in the door, folllowed by tears, hugs, elastoplast, sweeties, the usual. 

I realised looking at the playhouse today that last summer was the first summer that no-one played in the playhouse. It had been gradually neglected in favour of going out on bikes, or playing swingball or just lying on the grass. Because it wasn't used we started "temporarily" storing odds and sods in it.

I looked in it today for the first time in months. The pretty wallpaper is still there, curling a bit, and so is the blackboard. The bench has been unscrewed and is lying in pieces. There are boxes of bird seed and an old cabinet. The cooker and all the plastic food were given away a while back.

Gradually, its function has changed. When was the tipping point I wonder? If I plotted the lifespan of the playhouse on a graph, when would I get to adjust my specs and point with my pointer and say "This is when the playhouse was no more."?

Of course it's impossible to know. It was a gradual thing. Just like gradually you prefer to get home to your own bed rather than sleep on someone's sofa, or you  gradually stop listening to Radio 1, or you gradually become able to have alcohol in the house without drinking it all. 
I asked my daughter whether she thought she would play in the house again and she was pretty doubtful. I then asked what she thought about us giving it away. She hummed and hawed and then said; "Can we keep it Mum? I know I don't play in it anymore, but it's my playhouse."

(First posted on my other blog http://therealshequeen.tumblr.com/ on 17 April 2012.) 

Thursday 26 April 2012

Leveson Inquiry: The Tale of Mr Murdoch

If you have been living under a stone, in a cave, on a planet far, far away, you may not have heard of the Leveson Inquiry. If you have been doing all those things you are clearly a very odd person and I'm not sure I want to address my remarks to you so, let's assume that you have heard of the Leveson Inquiry.

Today and yesterday the star witness was Mr Rupert Murdoch octagenarian antipodean and bazillionaire.

The transcript of his evidence session will be posted shortly on the Leveson inquiry website, but if you really can't wait I've posted my own version, that I just totally made up, below:

Counsel to the Leveson Inquiry (QC): Good morning Mr Murdoch. Thank you for attending. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Rupert Murdoch (RM): Well that's very kind of you young man. I do so enjoy these little trips, sometimes we go to see the ducks in the park, but not on a Tuesday. No. Tuesdays the vicar comes. Terrible man, dreadful bore. He might be a pervert. You can never tell. In days gone by some Sunday newspaper would have done him over but they're all in the doldrums these days. It's very sad. I know they say there was some rum stuff going on with secret tape recorders and whatnot, all that kind of thing, you know? They make it out to be worse than it was sometimes I think because they are jealous, especially the BBC.

No, not really. That was a joke. I always was interested in the BBC, but merely as an issue of the day, do you see? There was never anymore in it than that. I knew I was wasting my time anyway, everyone likes Richard Attenborough better than me. Sit around with a few mangy gorillas and you're a national hero, crush the print unions, all of a sudden you're a bad guy.

But that's how the cookie crumbles I guess. All those Prime Ministers, Blair, Thatcher, Asquith and so on, we were never as close as people say. I never wanted to make love to them, not dressed as a porcupine or anything else for that matter. If I did say that I must have been drunk, or they were. It was a light-hearted remark. It wasn't supposed to be taken as a threat. But anyway, Sunday newspapers, they were fun while they lasted but what happened was wrong, I know that now possums, my darlings.

As for the future, well I worry that in ten years time we'll all be wearing jet packs and eating roast beef flavoured tablets. Don't you? Like these smart telephones. You can talk to people on the other side of the world? Would you believe it possums? That's where the future lies.

That and those over-arm tidies you get for the sofa where you keep all the TV controls. They're going to revolutionise this industry. You just hang them over the chair and you keep all kinds of things in there. Your glasses, peppermints, the Radio Times if you're a goddam communist and believe in such things. Do you see? That's my take it on anyway, my darlings. Would you like a peppermint? No? Quite right, you shouldn't take sweets from strangers. Thank- you my darlings.

Is this thing off? Do you think they bought it?"

Friday 16 March 2012

The 10 Signs You May be Turning Into Your Mother

There are many milestones in romantic relationships. The first kiss, the first time you say "I love you", the first time you go ahead and just yawn right in your partner's face when they're going on and on about how Lesley at work eats that rank salad and worries at her hairline with a compass.

One of the key relationship moments for any woman though is when, in the middle of a heated exchange, she first hears the words, "You're turning into your MOTHER." Oddly, even if one's mother is a cross between Marie Curie, Livvy Walton and Carmen Electra, this is rarely seen as a compliment.

But, heaven forfend, what if it's true? What if we are turning into our mothers? So before you take the pinking shears to his "Q" magazine collection, take a long hard look at my helpful list which sets out the top 10 signs that you may be turning into your mother.

1. When you open your mouth your mother's voice comes out.

2. When you put on a swimsuit your mother's thighs come out.

3. Before you go on holiday you decide to keep your jewellery safe by burying it in the garden, marking it with a large stone. Or rather you get your husband to do it. You disapprove of your husband's choice of stone, worrying that it is too similar to other stones in the garden. You ask your husband to find a more distinctive stone. The stone is too distinctive. You work your way through every stone in the garden, or rather your husband does, before you finally settle on a half brick which you arrange casually on top of some dead leaves. You still worry that the hiding place is too obvious. You worry loudly and often on the 14 hour car journey.

4. You start making gifts of packets of mince to dinner party hosts because it was such a bargain, and everyone likes mince. Well, not the vegetarian couple from choir, but it'll freeze in case they change their minds.

5. You have a cavernous drawer of emergency presents and cards for all occasions. Births, deaths, marriages, moving house, driving tests. You also have blank ones with daffodils which can do at a pinch for Easter, divorce or a minor criminal conviction.

6. You engage the Scouts packing the bags at Sainsbury's in conversation. You tell them about your husband being in the Boys Brigade and sing "Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storm of Life" at full belt. You give them a donation, but you do not let them pack the bag.

7. One day, you come home late from work to be greeted by his nibs asleep in front of the Tour de France, 500 pairs of freakishly gigantic putrid trainers in the hall and an empty bucket of KFC. You go postal and tell everyone you are running away. To, to, to, to, er, to ROME YOU SELFISH BUNCH OF SH*TS! You pack a bag full of evening wear and your best bra. You get as far as North Berwick where you go for a pizza and get hammered in your room in a nice B and B.

8. You sigh loudly and roll your eyes whenever your partner speaks, you mock him mercilessly when he is unwell and you behave like a martyr over taking the kids to judo. Oh no, hang on, you don't, because you're not a total cow, your partner is a nice, thoughtful, reasonably stoic man and life is not a Boots advert. Thank Christ.

9. When you see someone you know down the High St who has been going through a rough time you do not pull your jumper over your head and hide in a doorway. Rather you smile and ask them how they are and if there is anything you can do, because you now realise that life's too short and it's really not about you.

10. I don't really have a 10. Anyway, this list is indicative only. Maybe your mother doesn't do any of this stuff. Actually, mine doesn't do most of it either. Mothers are not some homogeneous bunch of clones who think and act alike. (Note to advertisers, if you mention Zumba or cupcakes one more time I will hunt you down. I will hunt you down and string you up by the Bubles.)

Hopefully what most mothers do have in common is that they love their kids, they love them literally more than life itself. So that when the waves come crashing down, your mother will fight till her last breath to keep your head above water and she will do it willingly and with love in her heart.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

If It's Time to Leave the Party, It's Time to Leave the House

The Scottish Labour MP Eric Joyce yesterday resigned from the Labour Party after pleading guilty to assaulting four people in a House of Commons bar last month. Speaking in the House, Mr Joyce apologised unreservedly for his conduct which he said; "fell egregiously below what is required for a member of this House, or indeed anyone anywhere."

Mr Joyce has also, however, made it clear that he intends to stay on as the MP for Falkirk until the end of this parliamentary session in 2015. Interviewed on STV's "Scotland Tonight" programme last night he stated; "I was elected for a full term and that's exactly what I'll serve." He went on; "It's not the easiest thing in the wake of what I personally did two weeks ago... but the simple fact is that I have an obligation to serve out the full term and I will."

So, if I've got this straight, Mr Joyce has been judged unfit to represent his party, but is still fit to represent his constituents. Am I missing something, or is that not utterly disrespectful to the people of Falkirk?

This is where seasoned political types shrug their shoulders and say;"Oh well, it's in the grand tradition of making one last sacrifice for the party by not triggering a by-election which you might lose."

As if that makes it okay. Well it doesn't. "It was ever thus," might be a statement of fact, but it doesn't constitute a compelling argument in favour of the status quo.

Also on Scotland Tonight, the political columnist Ian MacWhirter stated that Labour sources had reportedly commented "Better a nutter than a Nat." If that is an accurate summation of the Labour party's attitude to this issue, then the contempt it shows for voters is shocking.

I would be very happy to give due recognition to the official Labour party view on Mr Joyce's decision not to stand down as an MP, but I have been unable to find it. Prior to Mr Joyce's conviction, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont stated that she thought he was unfit to stand for the Labour Party. Also prior to his conviction, the local Falkirk Labour Party said that if the allegations against him were proven they expected him to "do the right thing." But, to my knowledge, a statement from the Labour Party calling on Eric Joyce to resign as an MP has been conspicuous by its absence.

Their silence is in marked contrast to their swift reaction in suspending Mr Joyce on his arrest and, indeed, the readiness of Labour figures to comment in advance of the trial. (This piece by Tom Gordon of The Herald is pretty jaw dropping in the extent to which Mr Joyce's Labour colleagues were willing to go on record about his weaknesses.)

The whole affair is depressing and infuriating on many levels. Despite the seriousness of the offences, I have sympathy for Mr Joyce on a personal level. I also have huge sympathy for his family who must have been through hell in recent weeks.

But I am horrified that he and his former party, seem to think it is acceptable to put narrow party interest before principle. How can it be that you are unworthy of membership of the Labour Party, but you continue to be worthy of the trust and support of the community which elected you? Why should the people of Falkirk be expected to make do with a politician whose own party regards him as damaged goods? If this doesn't reflect the Labour Party view, why don't they call on him to resign?

What is it going to take for our politicians to realise that they cannot keep treating the electoral system like their own private property? I understand that it may be good for the Labour party to avoid a by-election in the near future. But frankly I'm not interested in what's good for the Labour party. I'm interested in what's right. I imagine that goes for many allegedly sought after floating voters, of which I am one.

We have come to a very dangerous point when our political leaders seem to be serially unable to grasp the extent of the electorate's disenchantment with politics. Despite my whining and moaning in this post, I spend most of my time trying to enthuse people about democracy and defending politicians from the familiar charge that they're all in it for themsleves, or they're all as bad as each other. And then they go and do something like this and frankly I feel like a prize bloody chump.

Mr Joyce wound up last night's interview by saying, "It's easy to sound terribly over idealistic about it, but I am gripped by a sense of public service and I will continue to serve through to 2015." Talk about devaluing the currency. Mr Joyce may be sincere in his view but I doubt he'd find very many supporters on the streets of Falkirk.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Bravo for Bosoms or "It Takes All Sorts"

It's not very often we get excited about the mail in our household. Bills, pizza leaflets, community council newsletters about the lethal front step at the Post Office. Not stuff to set the pulse racing, to be honest.

There is one exception though. Every couple of months I get the new Bravissimo catalogue. For those of you not familiar with this great institution, Bravissimo is a firm which sells women's underwear. Its speciality is bras for ladies with a fuller bust.

Its arrival is always greeted with delight, particularly by my husband who falls upon it like a long lost friend, settling onto the sofa and reverently smoothing the pages as he nibbles delicately at a ginger nut. This is usually accompanied by wistful sighing in the manner of Adrian Mole's Dad admiring his neighbour Mrs Singh's pretty saris.

I get pretty wistful over it too, mainly because it highlights the poverty of my own underwear collection. I have blogged before about how one of the consequences of being in a long term relationship is that your foundation garments hanging on the washing line begin to resemble dead moles on a fence. Flicking through the Bravissimo catalogue brings me into contact with a way of life I have only ever heard about in the movies. Green bras, orange bras, jungle print bras with mauve trim. I feel like a Morlock that's stumbled across the Eloi picnicking in their smalls.

I'm not entirely sure where this Calvinist (no pun intended) streak about underwear comes from. It may be something to do with the fact that for many years, my choice of bra was extremely limited blessed, or perhaps burdened, as I am with a large bosom.

This wasn't always the case. In my teens my chest could have been described as fair to middling in size. It was possible for example to go out bra-less without closing major routes to non-essential traffic. But then I went to University and drank too much beer and ate too much pizza, and properly matured and then I got pregnant and the result was a bosom like the Hindenberg.

Having seen photos of me when I was younger, my daughter is fascinated by the change in my chest. "Where were they before again Mum? Show me. Up about here?" She also finds it hilarious when a feeble bra fails in its duty and one breast lists to port and the other to starboard, like a boss-eyed sailor.

Fashion can be difficult when you have a big chest. Anything with a shawl collar for example makes me look like I am smuggling asylum seekers. Passers-by look down expecting to see several pairs of feet sticking out from under my coat. Frills make me a dead ringer for the dowager from a Marx Brothers' movie. Either that or Maw Broon.

And coming full circle, there is the problem of finding underwear to fit. Years ago, I flirted briefly with a padded bra. The madness of this is akin to the Michelin man buying a puffa jacket. When discarded it stood proud like the dwelling of some ancient pygmy race. My then five year old nephew saw one once and simply cried, "WHAT IS THAT!?!" eyes wide in terror.

I remember going to be measured for a bra when I was pregnant. The sales assistant sucked her teeth, pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows and said, "We've only one that'll do for you dear. It's called the "Doreen". Of course I cried. Wouldn't you?

It's at times like this that it is tempting to hate one's bosom, a more common state of affairs than you might imagine . Breasts are perhaps the most obvious outward signs of our femaleness and, as such, I think how we feel about them is quite important. It is a shame therefore that many women feel their breasts are too big, or too small, or too low, or too round or not round enough.

I'd say that, where bosoms are concerned, it takes all sorts. Breasts are as individual as the women they belong to. Why should we want them all to look the same? There is no more reason for us to have identical breasts than to have identical faces. You may have a whispered hint of a bosom or a rather more "out there" pair, either way, basically, it's fine. I'm just glad that nowadays I can find a bra that fits.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

My Gran, Stories and Me

A few days ago I was looking at some old family photos and came across some pictures of my maternal Grandmother, my Gran. I idly posted some messages on Twitter about my memories of her and suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I really missed her and wished that I could see her again.

Some people on Twitter sent lovely messages, sharing memories of their own grandparents and a few said "You should write a blog about her", so I have. I am sure there will be mistakes and omissions in this post. Some stories will be half-remembered or perhaps embellished a little - but you don't have to know everything about a person to love them or cherish their memory.

Christened Jane, though most folk called her Jean, she was born in 1908 in Ayr, birthplace of Rabbie Burns. She was one of 9 children; 8 girls (Annie, Belle, Agnes, Jenny, Mima, Alexandra, and Bessie) and a boy (David) . She came somewhere around the middle. Her father was the trainer of Ayr United Football club and they made ends meet as families did in those days, with Sunday shoes a luxury and dolls conjured from wooden spoons and dishrags.

She was around 60 when I was born. She and my Papa lived in a small brick "corporation" bungalow in Ayr, with an immaculate garden full of roses. Gran would sometimes set a bowl of water with rose petals in it near a radiator or the fire and the sweet, dusky smell of roses reminds me of her.

She always wore dresses - never trousers, rarely a skirt and blouse that I remember - shift dresses or "shirt-waisters" in strong colours with strings of sparkly crystal beads that you now find in trendy vintage clothes shops. She wore cardigans, with a hanky tucked in the pocket or up a sleeve. She had horn-rimmed glasses which made her big hazel eyes even bigger. When she died I asked if I could have her glasses and they are still tucked away somewhere in our attic, several pairs all the same with their blue-ish rims.

I never saw her dance, nor wear a swimsuit. The swimming pool was "the baths" and the beach "the shore". She never swam (I don't know if she could) but sat on the tartan rug ready to wrap you in a towel and provide a "chittery bite" to stave off the cold.

She had arthritis and when we went for a run in the car we would stop and pick sheeps' wool from the barbed wire fences which she would wash and use to cushion her painfully twisted toes. She wore sturdy girdles with suspenders attached and sometimes I would have to help her with them because her poor sore hands couldn't manage the fastenings. I think my Mum sometimes found her weeping silently with the pain, but I don't ever remember seeing her cry.

She was a wonderful cook, not a great baker, but a magician with savoury treats. She cooked sweetbreads and ham hough and boiled ox's tongue. She also made legendary creme caramel, sometimes equalled but never bettered in any restaurant kitchen. The kitchen and pantry had grey slate flagstones and for special occasions she would stand at the kitchen counter and make elegant curls or balls of butter with two wooden pats.

She was very particular about table manners and always used good linen, which was folded away in the sitting room sideboard, where a green glass box full of stamps sat next to a little square of mirrored tiles and a china figurine of an old beggar lady. Out in the hall there was a thin red runner bordered by lino which was excellent for marbles, though sometimes we got in trouble for the racket they made.

The beds were old fashioned, probably just a cut above utility and had blankets and candlewicks or old fashioned satin eiderdowns. On cold nights there were stone hot water bottles, wrapped in towels, to warm the sheets. Pink fabric lampshades with ruffled rims were clipped to the headboard for reading in bed.

The bedroom was papered with hunting scenes and in front of the window was a dressing table with three hinged mirrors on the top. I would move the little cut glass tray with candlesticks and trinket pots which sat on top and close the mirrors around my face, till it was reflected into eternity like Rita Hayworth in "The Lady from Shanghai". Sometimes, I would try to make myself cry to see what it looked like. Nothing about the house was unusual, yet many objects in it always had a certain exoticism, perhaps because they were of the past, part of a world that was tantalisingly out of reach.

Because the house was small, I often slept in the double bed with Gran and in the mornings my brothers and I would get a story, quarters of orange sprinkled with sugar and, sometimes, a "Black Magic" chocolate. Trying to recall her face as it really was is difficult of course, frustrated by the insistent images of photographs which drain life from the original. The nearest I get to recapturing her true image is when I picture her telling us a story, her eyes wide and mischief in her smile.

She told wonderful stories, mix and match fairy tales where Cinderella would climb the beanstalk and discover seven dwarves and the heroines were cheeky and resourceful and often told the princes "Thanks, but no thanks" at the end. She liked gory stories too. She would tell us of the man who loved to eat pigs' trotters and who one day, ate and ate and ate till he could eat no more only discovering as he got up from the table that HE HAD EATEN HIS OWN HAND! (I think it took me till I was about 13 to work out that this couldn't possibly have been true.)

She bought us wonderful children's books. I often wonder how and why she picked them. They were rather out of the ordinary for the time I think, though many are now classics. "Madeline" of course with her unruly nature and ruptured appendix, lots of books by Roger Duvoisin, "The Happy Lion", "Petunia" and "Veronica's Smile". The one I loved best was "Anatole", about an honourable mouse who saves the Duvall Cheese factory with his exquisite palate ("good""not so good" "needs orange peel".) When I was a bit older my favourite was "Cuckoo Cherry Tree", a book of dark fairy tales by Alison Uttley .

My Gran was clever at school and excelled at English. On her last day at school she ran home eager to tell her parents that her teacher wanted her to apply for a bursary to attend Grammar school, but her mother told her firmly, "Jane, I've got you a place", a place in service and she started work as a maid the next day.

After she died my Mum found scraps of paper scattered around the house with fragments of remembered poetry, and the beginnings of stories written in Gran's spidery hand. In another time would she have made more of her love of language? Who knows. Her life didn't lend itself to periods of introspection.

After the war she took in lodgers and with the profits she rented a sweet shop. She made a decent enough go of that and wanted to buy a guest house, but my Papa wouldn't sign the mortgage papers. He didn't refuse out of malice, he was just a working class man of his generation who didn't believe in taking on debt.My Gran took the money and booked a long holiday on the continent, travelling to France and Italy with my Mum and Aunt, an exceptionally rare experience for women like them at that time.

She was a strong woman who knew her own mind and wasn't afraid to speak it. She had a temper and a sharp tongue and was prone to feuds with the local butcher, being barred on more than one occasion when she questioned the provenance, or cost, or something of his ham bones. She liked to watch the wrestling and would shout "Bite his bum! Bite his bum!" before letting out a throaty chuckle, eyes wide again in mock horror behind the blue-rimmed specs. She had her secrets, some of which I know but even now wouldn't share, because they're not my secrets to tell.

She died of pancreatic cancer in her early 70's, her hair still almost jet black with just a few strands of grey. After she died my Mum says a that a strange black cat with a smattering of grey hairs suddenly appeared in our garden. It would sit and watch my Mum hang out the washing or tidy the weeds. After a few weeks it disappeared as suddenly as it came. Perhaps it was my Gran's familiar, perhaps not. It's a good story, one she would have liked.

My parents live close to us and see my daughter often, more regularly than I saw my Gran. Sometimes she will stay with them and we will get a phone call from the three of them giggling like naughty schoolchildren in the queue for sweets at the cinema or in the toy shop. Sometimes I would come home from work in the dark and see them dancing in the lit sitting-room window. Sometimes I see glimpses of my Gran in my Mum, and my Dad will look at me when I am being thrawn and say "Aye, your Gran'll never be deid."

She is not here anymore, but she has left her mark, part of herself, atomised in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, not just in her blood, it's not that simple, but in the memories we share and the stories we tell.

Friday 6 January 2012

Memories are Made of er, Something

Contender for most depressing news of the day is that apparently our brains start to deteriorate from as young as 45 - 15 years earlier than previously thought. According to a study in the on-line version of the BMJ, memory, reasoning and comprehension skills all tend to get worse as we enter middle age.

Well, tell me something I don't know. No, please. Tell me. Especially given that the list of things I don't know grows by the day; passwords, the name of my Primary 3 teacher, what happened at the end of "Moonlighting".

I have known for some time that fings ain't wot they used to be in the brain department. I'm not quite at the stage of wafting down the street in my nightgown, trilling "We'll Gather Lilacs", but there are days when I've got one foot out the door.

I've never had a particularly good memory. Not for events at least. My memory seems to resist a linear narrative in favour of a jumble of split second recollections, lightning flashes of past moments, untouched by troublesome context. My brother will say "Oh, that was the day Gran had the fight with the butcher. I got a comic and you were sick on Mum's shoes." To which, despite entirely useless and annoying promptings, I will reply, "I don't remember." I really don't. I have no memory for like, what actually happened or stuff. I just remember my Mum had nice shoes.

My memories are of picking the hot tarmac out of the pavement, or the rustling wrapping of the sweets I stole from the secret drawer in the dressing table. Basically my memory is all "Don't trouble me with the facts, dude."

I also have no memory for lyrics or quotations. All I remember from four years of English Lit is that old perv John Donne going on about a "hairy diadem". I did however have startling powers of recall where conversations or jokes were concerned. Like a choir master with perfect pitch auditioning a tone deaf school boy, I would wince as some poor soul mangled the punchline to a juicy story. No longer.

Sadly, it is my facility with the spoken word that seems to be showing the most wear and tear. I used to roam the sunlit uplands of language at will, merrily vaulting symbolic stiles and fording rivers of simile. Now I need a good mental run up to the minor incline of a longish sentence, before collapsing in the heather of an over-extended metaphor like this one.

That terrible feeling of the wheels grinding slowly, click, click, click, till the brain at last shudders to a halt at the right word and the tongue falls weeping on the required phrase, "Yes! I would like a BANANA!" Banana! It is a BANANA! Joy to the world! We are saved!

No wonder I seek out the company of fellow peri-menopausal women: women who point dumbly at the sky like a UFO obsessive because they have forgotten the word for cloud; or who are reduced to miming "scorching case of thrush" to the practice nurse while they make a phone call on their purse.

All of which makes me realise that I don't think I hear men talk about their "senior moments". Certainly not as often as women do. Is it because they don't have to contend with that spot of hormonal bother? Or do they simply like to keep their linguistic and other mental deficiencies to themselves? Perhaps their brains get more regular exercise from rehearsing the scores of decades of international football matches?

Perhaps we women are too hard on ourselves. As I keep telling my daughter as she rolls her eyes at yet another instance of my mental infirmity, "Everybody remembers what I forget, but you forget what I remember." Great swathes of dull domestic family life still fall on women's shoulders and it's not the kind of stuff that anyone wants to hear about. I could drag you to the pub to chew the fat about what went in this week's lunch boxes, but why bother when we could pour bleach in our eyes? (Plus, I can't remember.)

I do miss the mental athleticism of my youth, just like I miss a 24 inch waist or my real hair colour. But where does that get me? The solution is big pants, a bottle of hair dye and er, something else.