Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Twelve years ago my friend Jane opened her front door to find her boss standing there. His name is Adam Carruthers and he was a police inspector. Jane still has nightmares about what happened after she let him into her home. She still suffers from physical pain, especially in her back, still has to make regular trips to the hospital for treatment. And she has to have a full time carer. But she is tough of spirit and she pressed charges, and eventually he was convicted and sentenced to a term in prison. Now he is free again, and Jane for her own protection has had to move from her home, and have her new one fitted with an elaborate alarm system. Just before the case went to court her skull was stoved in with a rock from behind as she was out tending her sheep, and as he had phoned and threatened her, she feels rather vulnerable.

On Thursday, the man who did this to her will be in court once more. This time, though, it is at his own behest for he wants his pension reinstated. Because he was convicted of two counts of rape whilst on duty, the council has seen fit to withdraw from his pension what they could of the contributions they had paid into it. This means he only gets 35% of what he would have got if he hadn't gone about abusing his position in such a violent way, which is about six thousand pounds a year. He is claiming family hardship.

It's not that I don't feel sorry for his children, I do. I even feel sorry for his wife, even though she is a grown up and chooses to stay with him. Perhaps she really does believe he didn't commit the crimes for which he was convicted. Perhaps she is so bullied that she feels unable to leave. But whatever it is that keeps her where she is I can't help feeling her husband should not get the money he claims. I can't help feeling that to pay him a pension after what he did whilst he was supposed to be working for public safety would be just so wrong. As Jane says on her blog it would make rape look like a pensionable occupation.

So, on Thursday morning I will take the extremely unusual step of getting up early so I can be outside the court to quietly protest along with a group of other people who feel the same. Ever the feeder I will take coffee and buns to keep everyone going. And, I have a large piece of card on which I would like to write in big bold letters something that will send a message to those who could, if they so wished, do something about this type of thing. But what?

Thursday, 22 January 2009


Two years ago on this date I tentatively, and with no knowledge of what it might entail, began this blog. I thus entered the sometimes peculiar, often delightful, always educational, cyber world. Apparently most blogs begun don’t make it to two years, but the ones that do are likely to keep going. So, I guess I’m here to stay until contingency whips me off elsewhere. And now that I can consider my ponderings permanent I thought I ought to do something to mark it. And what seems in order is a kind of series. An occasional, possibly random, series that will have an end. And I have just the thing:

Here is a picture of my favourite chair:

I love this chair. I bought it at a provincial auction years ago and paid much more for it than I intended, but it was worth it. I recently requisitioned it from the sitting room and now it's where I sit and read. It is so comfy. But it has gradually dawned on me that it gives me much more than I give it. There is a terrible imbalance in our relationship and I have been taking advantage. My poor chair has been suffering for too long, and instead of doing something about its obvious signs of distress

I have merely covered them up. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to do something, it’s just that I can’t afford to get it reupholstered and nor can I do such a job myself, I’m a crap seamstress. So it's more that I didn't know how to deal with the situation. But the other evening, as the horse hair was poking through the blankets and scratching my arms, an idea struck me: I could crochet a bunch of squares and just join them together in situ. This way I wouldn’t have to cut great swathes of fabric, nor would I have to be terribly accurate because wool stretches. I could do the whole thing by look and feel. Rather excited by having a practical project again, as well as the prospect of giving something back to the hard done by old chair, I hunted out some old balls of wool and a suitable hook, and began immediately.

This is, no doubt, going to take a long time. It takes roughly half an hour to make each square, I’ll try and do at least one a day, but it will depend on two factors: having enough time and having enough wool, and as neither of these factors will always be within the bounds of my control, I can't guarantee that will happen. I reckon I'll need about two hundred squares, so the whole project, from start to finish, is likely to take upwards of six months.

Which means this will be a sort of watching paint dry series: every now and again I’ll let you know how I’m getting on and may even treat you to a picture of the pile of coloured woollen squares I’ve accrued. Then at the end there’ll be a flurry of activity as I stuff the arms with wadding and attempt to secure it with patches of sacking, join the squares together, and finally squeeze the chair into its brand new cover. I think I’ll have to have an unveiling ceremony at the end, to which you will all be invited. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Weekend Supplement

The boys are out today. I woke, late, to silence. I was able to wander starkers to the utility room where my favourite pyjama bottoms were airing without any fear of horrifying my son. Make coffee uninterrupted and without having to speak.

Take it to my room and shut the door without feeling any sense of guilt at shutting myself away, and just be.

I wouldn't chose to live alone all the time, but sometimes it is nice not to have to think about anyone else. Is that selfish?*

*As well as indulging my inner hermit today, I've also: washed a load of towels, cleaned the bathroom, washed last night's dishes, and I have a pot of stew (made last night) bubbling on the stove for their hungry arrival.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Agony and the Ecstacy

Did you know that if you bake Nutella it goes fudgy? I didn't, but I'm always looking for new ways to use it and so with a scant amount of pastry left over from making a pie I made these

there wasn't quite enough Nutella in the jar to fill all the tart cases as much as I would have liked, so I topped some of them with a square of dark chocolate. Those were the best ones. A clear case of not having what you (think you) want acting to your advantage.

I have heard that chillie stimulates both pain and pleasure receptors at once. The first time I made this*

which is very hot indeed, I saw all the evidence I needed to convince me of the veracity of that clam: Bob agonised over every mouthful but couldn't stop eating it. Since then I've been making it only a few times a year as a kind of sado-masochistic treat, always telling the boys my plan just in case they feel they can't cope with it. This time, though, I had the foresight to leave the Vietnamese dipping sauce/dressing – the source of the pain – in the jug so that they could add as much or little as they wished. Why I hadn't thought of that before, I have no idea.

* You'll find the recipe in Nigella Lawson's book Forever Summer, but the gist of it is: cook some black rice and some tiger prawns, leave them to cool down, mix them together then pour over some Vietnamese dipping sauce which is nothing more than two tablespoons of lime juice, four of fish sauce (Nam Pla), four of water, two of sugar, two cloves of garlic and two finely chopped birds-eye chillies stirred together in a small jug or bowl.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

To Be or Not to Be...

Have you all seen that video made by Dove the soap company where a beautiful young model is photoshopped to make her skin smoother, her hair fuller, her eyes bigger, until she looks like no human can? That's sort of what Kim did to me!

He took this photo:

Then using all the tools photoshop has to offer transformed it into this:

If you compare the two you can probably see what he did. He darkened my eyes within and without, subdued the nasty frown lines between them, and, if I remember rightly, slimmed down the area below my cheek bones to make them stand out more. I can now see why some people resort to cosmetic surgery: the temptation to have all the shadows removed: neck lines, hand lines, all bodily lines, was almost overwhelming. But my enthusiasm was censored by a feeling that it would be ridiculous to have photographs of myself that deny something essential about me. I'm no longer 25, 35, or even, god damn it, 45. Would I like to look 25 again? Yes. Would I like to be 25 again? Um, no. Would it be odd being 45 +++ yet looking 25? Not having experienced that particular combination I don't know.

But I can't help feeling that it would be, not least because I don't act like a 25 year old, nor do I sound like one. So with the help, given the cash, of surgery I could get myself looking like one but couldn't do anything about all the other things that say: 'this woman is considerably older than 25.' Which means something would be out of kilter. I would open my mouth and sound wrong. I would look in the mirror and see someone who hasn't lived the life I know I have. It would be like having my smell removed. It would also give the nod to current western cultural, establishment, values that push the almost alien as the level of beauty that we must aspire to. And I could never do that. Which, of course, is the point of this post: I couldn't not show you the real me behind the new banner. Even though what Kim did in photoshop to the original shot was minimal I somehow couldn't have you thinking that I believe I really do have smoky eyes and have never frowned.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A Bite at the Apple

I am very slow to replace things, or embrace new stuff. I tend to keep going with what I have until I'm pushed to go to the shops once more. It's not that I don't like the shops, I do, I love being in the city amongst the interestingly dressed. But I tend to feel I'm doing fine with what I have, so why go to all the hassle and expense of getting new. For example, I still haven't changed to an electric kettle, I was one of the last people I know to embrace MP3, and I only manage to get a haircut about twice a year (I have been known to go for two years between trims too).

There does, though, come a time when new is needed. My keyboard has been difficult for some time: you had to press each key exactly in the centre for it to register and some of the keys stuck so badly they needed a hefty prod. All of which made typing anything at all a rather slow and grumbly process. But you just get used to things don't you? And it had been the instrument on which I had been typing for years, so it felt like a collaborator without which I wouldn't have been able to write. But on Saturday Bob was doing something on my computer and his amazement at how unfit for purpose the old horse was decided things: a new one must be got and got now. So this evening, delightful trip to Glasgow over, I have this teeny tiny elegant thing that just works. I already wonder why I put up with the old one for so long!

Next to the notepad I use to make shopping lists to give a sense of its minute proportions.

Kiera Knightley standing next to Nigella Lawson.

There's now so much more space on my desk, joy!

Update: Kim came round the other day clutching his camera, and now look I have a marvellous new header! Don't you think I look tough, I've always wanted to look tough?

Friday, 9 January 2009

Kindred Souls

I really seem to have fallen on my feet. The head teacher of the primary school I'm going to be doing a philosophical-creative writing project at for the next three months put me on to this: Shift Happens.
Isn't it great when you get to work with like-minded people?

There's a brilliant video presentation on You Tube that I would have posted here but I can't seem to do it. When Bob comes home I'll ask him for help. Meanwhile a link on the site you'll find yourself on if you click on the link above will get you to it.

(Don't worry folks, I've done it. -Bob.)

Monday, 5 January 2009

Christmas no More

After all that anticipation and excitement, planning, shopping, decorating and cooking; thank you, you too and the joy of a fridge full of well it has to be eatens; the holiday is over. This morning my alarm went off at 7:15 and for a good few seconds I couldn't imagine why. All number of explanations – it's a terrible dream, it's broken, the demon has come – flashed through me before I realised the ghastly truth: I had to take Bob to work.

It took forty five minutes of snooze button pressing before I managed to garner enough oomph to stagger out of bed, pull on some clothes (cold jeans, eugh!), and fill the kettle. Tea, a fag, and the fan heater that lives under my desk seemed snatched away as eight-thirty came, and outside had to be faced.

Bob safely delivered I headed home and as I drove thoughts, like caffeine fuelled kids, of must-dos fought for attention: search the house for that old book of Winnie the Pooh stories; complete proposal form for university's ethics committee; write article for the student rag; compose begging letter to 'registry' about lack of fee paying ability; speak to school about those bloody February classes (I've been trying to do this for weeks, though not, it has to be said, with any force); deChristmas the house

(chuck tree out the window, take down cards, put away baubles, vacuum up glitter), and search freezer for something to feed the boys tonight. Write something.

Writing, like exercise, is something I need to do for general health purposes, but I just can't seem to work it in. Mind and matter are getting flabby. And the flabbier they get the more difficult it is to use them. All I really want to do is lie on the couch in front of the fire and read. But I can't. Why?

Will someone please remind me?