Friday, 22 May 2009

Family Matters

I have one brother and two sisters. Both sisters have husbands and one also has two young children. They are my entire family now our parents are both dead. And, they are all (+1) coming for their holidays to my town tomorrow for a week. Luckily the sister who organised the whole trip is sensible enough to realise our little house can't cope with so many people, so they have rented a holiday house about two seconds walk from here. It should be great, we don't see enough of each other and we all get on really well.

Today I cleaned the house from top to bottom just in case one or more of them decides to pop in, but mostly I will be walking round to them, hopefully. Not because I don't want my family in my house but because the minute I have guests I go into hostess mode and get all stressy about making sure everyone has what they want: drink? are you hungry, let me fix you something? Either that or I have too much to drink and forget people need to eat at all. A rental house levels the playing field as no one feels any responsibility for any one else.

The last time we all got together for any length of time was Christmas 2006. We rented a large house on the coast and all pitched in to make it the best Christmas ever, and it was. I'm looking forward to seeing them immensely, but I know for a week I won't get any work done and, I won't get any blogging done. I will mostly be being fed by my sister and drinking wine and chatting in that way you do only with the people you grew up with.

So, I'll see you in a week or so.

PS I looked for a photograph of all of us together for this post but couldn't find one, I'll try and get one over the course of the week.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cupboard Love

I garden mostly in containers as pretty much everything I put in the ground dies. I have no idea why that is. I do put things in the ground but only things I don't mind losing. I would mind losing my onions so I needed something big enough to plant them in. I searched garden centres but found nothing that was both big enough and affordable and was about to give up when I remembered this old cupboard.


Only once I had filled it with top soil did I realise it was hideous so I scrabbled around and found some left over paint from our recent kitchen overhaul. It looks much bluer in the sun than it does in the house, but I rather like it. Anyway, at last the onions are in. I do hope better late than never applies here.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Chain Gang

I have in the last few days received, from several friends, this email:

I am supposed to pick 12 women (who have touched my life) and whom I think would want to participate. I think that if this group of women were ever to be in a room together, there is nothing that would be impossible. I hope I chose the right twelve. My hugs, love, gestures and communications hopefully remind you how special you are. Please send this back to me.
Remember to make a wish before you read the quotation. That's all you have to do. There is nothing attached. Just send this to twelve women and let me know what happens on the fourth day. Sorry you have to forward the message, but try not to break this, please. Did you make a wish yet? If you don't make a wish, it won't come true. This is your last chance to make a wish!

'May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.'

Now, send this to 12 women within the next 15 minutes. And remember to send this back. I count as 1... you'll see why.

Suggestion: copy and paste rather than forwarding it.

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~ Japanese Proverb

The first time I read this it was early in the morning. It takes me longer than fifteen minutes to respond to a kiss first thing in the morning. Also, I can't think of twelve women I know, let alone twelve women I could feel sure would want to participate (participate in what, anyway, and why only women?). So because I am slow and unsure the message had little chance of survival once it reached my inbox. The compulsion to haste lost, I had time to question then deconstruct the message, and I found it wanting on several fronts. This really irritated me: I know the friends who sent it did so with the best of intentions. The email took advantage of them. It hijacked their emotions in order to generate the response the originator required, which is to keep it going. Why, I have no idea? I have no desire to thwart some person's ambitions (no matter how insipid they appear to be) but in this instance I feel I must: this is lazy rhetoric and bad writing, and as writing, including textual analysis, is my area I have to spoil the sport. Here is
one small example of what I mean (you can't know how sorely tempted I am to do the whole thing but it would take me hours and you would lose the will to live reading it):

'I am supposed to pick 12 women (who have touched my life) and whom I think would want to participate.' I hate that "and", it has no business there, it indicates a considerable lack of care, attention, and thought
. It would follow from 'who have touched my life' but, for some reason, that has been put in parenthetic brackets and so the "and" jars. It makes no sense coming after 'I am supposed to pick 12 women'.

So, from this example alone, I get the impression that whoever wrote this didn't care enough to make sure it made sense. He (or she) just wanted to get something out there so he (or ...) laced it as heavily as possible with cheap rhetorical tricks – 'There is nothing attached'; 'Sorry you have to forward the message'; 'did you make a wish yet?', and on it goes – not dissimilar to filling a punch bowl with cheap booze and fruit juice, and forced it on the public. My friends, kind, generous, and pressed for time, were then rendered squiffy enough to pass it on. It's easily done. The message bombards the reader like a machine gun, one or two bullets are likely to hit the target and one or two are enough.

When I start mixing my similes I know it's time to stop. But I'll just say one more thing: the fact that a number of intelligent people have forwarded this message illustrates the power of language.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Noblesse Oblige

It was Robert Burns, was it not, who said something about seeing yourself as others see you? Here I have my second blog award in as many days. The last one was a bit of fun, this one seems altogether more serious; not brow-knittingly serious; not ‘what can we do now to minimise the damage we have inflicted on the planet serious?’ But serious enough to have made me stop and think about what I’m doing here:

1) The Blogger manifests exemplary attitude, respecting the nuances that pervade amongst different cultures and beliefs.

2) The Blog contents inspire; strives to encourage and offers solutions.

3) There is a clear purpose at the Blog; one that fosters a better understanding on Social, Political, Economic, the Arts, Culture and Sciences and Beliefs.

4) The Blog is refreshing and creative.

5) The Blogger promotes friendship and positive thinking.

The Blogger who receives this award must:

1) Create a Post with a mention and link to the person who presented the Noblesse Oblige Award.

2) Display the award conditions at the Post.

3) Write a short article about what the Blog has thus far achieved – preferably citing one, or more, older post(s) to support.

4) The Blogger must present the Noblesse Oblige Award in concurrence with the award conditions.

5) TheBlogger must display the Award at any location at the Blog.

The award was given to me by Savannah a blogger with a very light touch, who is at once extremely funny and deadly serious. You just know that Savannah knows what she is doing, that she gives thought to the things that matter, that she has a mind worth paying attention to. So if Savannah gives you an award like this, which is to all intents and purposes a blogging manifesto of the highest order, you don’t just say: ‘little me? No, no I’m not worthy,’ you take a good look at yourself in the hope, the faint hope, of seeing yourself as she seems to see you.

For me blogging is a way of joining in the conversation (as Don Patterson calls it). The (western) world-wide conversation about how to live a good life. I once heard a very old woman being interviewed on the radio. She had been one of those intrepid explorers and had travelled pretty much the whole world alone, on foot. The interviewer asked her what had driven her to do this; she answered that she hadn't wanted to find herself on her deathbed wondering what she had done with her life. I was about nineteen at the time, not an age known for considerations about mortality, yet there was something about this woman and what she said that really struck a chord. It still does: can you imagine lying there, in a hospital, the smell of disinfectant (and worse) oozing over you, surrounded by people fast losing control of their bodily functions, wondering, ‘what have I achieved?’ and being unable to come up with anything?

I don’t think you need to achieve something monumental: travel the world on foot alone, get yourself elected president of a nation, make vast sums, or cure world poverty, in order to face death feeling satisfied with the life you have lived. I don't even think you need to aim to do any of these things. I think all you need is to go through life being aware that you are not the only life-form and act accordingly. The difficulty is that acting: how do I know I’m acting accordingly? This question can be enough to paralyse the strongest of characters, but if we all share our experiences, good and bad, our triumphs and our failures, surely we’ll have more of a chance. That is the purpose of this blog: to share my experiences in the hope that they might help get someone somewhere to wiggle a toe or stretch out an arm once more.

Looking back at my old posts I think I probably do that best when I share something of interest I’ve heard someone else say. Not that I want to play down my recipe for cocoa or my ideas about dress sense, these are the little things I believe can have a positive, daily, effect on life. But the people who stand up at the TED conferences, for example, seem to have such a clear vision that it feels like they contribute more than I ever could on my own. They deal with the big stuff, most of which we ignore at our peril: education, global warming, the advance of technology, and so much more. So whereas my chat about marking essays is unlikely to change the practise of education, or my views on tank-tops aren’t going to further world peace, I kind of hope that combined with what the big boys say about this big stuff, my arguments act like pieces of straw placed on the back of the monster.

Now I must pass on this award to five bloggers who I believe best exemplify its purpose. So here goes:

Mary: a bit like the lady explorer, she travels the world teaching English. Her blog details what makes us different to, but never less than, and also the same as, each other. And it does so in the most entertaining way. I have spent many an hour pondering what her stories mean.

Debra: an artist who strives to make a material difference to the lives of thousands of families with her Cups of Kindness project. This has so far managed to provide a huge number of meals, through the Akron food-bank, to those who would otherwise have to choose between food or such things as paying the rent, buying medicine, or keeping their kids warm. Take a look at her blog to get the exact number.

Jane Dearie: raped, beaten, and left for dead, Jane’s blog details her endeavours to make a change in the law to redress the balance between victim and perpetrator. She never flinches from telling it like it is.

The world according to me: she is young, she is exuberant, and she is currently in love. Nikki’s blog reminds me what youth tastes like (cheese, mostly!) with all its pitfalls and cloud hopping.

Leigh: the agony and the ecstasy of getting a book published. This blog explains the dichotomy between creativity and our current economic mess by sharing the writer’s experiences, detail by ‘holy mother of...!’ detail.

So there it is, thanks to Savannah for making me think about these things.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


With characteristic irony Scarlet has lauded me with the Sexy Blogger Award. In return I must list five things about me that are sexy. So here are five sexual terms that fit my life like a wet t-shirt:

Blow: today it is both sunny and windy, perfect conditions for laundering: my linen will barely need to be ironed when it is brought in later this afternoon. Thus saving my energy for other, less arduous activities.

Grind: every morning I indulge in one of my favourite activities and make myself a cup of coffee from the best whole beans. All the senses are given a boost: smell that fresh aroma, hear the machine powder those beans, see the clear, dark liquid turn creamy as it's added to hot milk, taste the intensely flavoursome elixir, feel the hot frothiness in the mouth.

Spoon: not a day goes by without spooning in this kitchen: from saucepan to serving dish, from serving dish to plate, I consider myself a multi-spooner. Once the last meal has been served my spoons are laid together snugly in their bed.

Bone: I’m always on the lookout for a good bone, every kitchen bitch knows this is the only way to make stock. I am lucky enough to have a pot that can take the largest of bones and bring them to the boil safely.

Head: if one is going to serve meals that are both delicious and nutritious, that take into consideration the tastes and requirements of the whole family, without going quite mad, it is imperative that one uses one’s head at all times. The mind must be kept fresh in order to create a multitude of tongue tingling, energising, recipes that constantly surprise and delight.

I must now pass this award on and I can't think of anyone in the blogshpere that is sexier than Savanna.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Two Birds and a Case of Sherry

I can hardly contain my glee. Carol Anne Duffy is the new Poet Laureate, I hope she's as pleased as I am. I've only known her work for a couple of years but I recommend it to any one who hasn't read it, it's good. But the goodness of her work isn't the only reason I'm so pleased, there are two more: a) she is a she, and b) she is a Scot. She is the first woman and the first Scottish Poet Laureate. She is also bisexual but I suspect that isn't a first. Anyhow the government has scored a hat trick: three minorities in one appointment. Whether this will be a good thing for those minorities remains to be seen (is there something ridiculous in calling half the population of the world a minority, and the whole of the population of Scotland one? That's Imperialism for you), but I'm raising a glass of fizzing hope tonight. Here is one of my favourites of hers:

Carol Ann Duffy, "Prayer"

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre

Thanks to: http://www.fp.ucalgary.ca/jwhamilt/Duffy%20Prayer.htm, for allowing me to copy it rather than type it up myself.