Monday, 16 March 2015


Life moves on a pace, don't it?

In just a few days, I have written down more words in more places than I have done in weeks, fulfilled the role of removal man, taught Littlest how to make cassoulet, eaten more mother's day chocolate than I care to admit, scoured lists of literary agents, reduced the list of agents, resolved to shrink it more, stopped procrastinating (although, arguably, this blog is procrastination - but writing while enjoying a coffee is better than staring blankly into space while enjoying a coffee) and watched the lives of those around me evolve, as they embark upon the changes that will define their next few years.

An undoubted pleasure of growing older is observing the exciting and changing lives of our younger loved ones. I feel that their lives move faster than mine did at their age. They are bombarded with instant information. Instant answers. Instant maps. Instant suggestions about where to eat, which friend is nearby, what movie is showing right now. Information completely inaccessible to a younger me or that could only have been found after hours spent in libraries (not the friend nearby bit obviously. Back in the not-even-too-distant past, we either bumped into friends or were frustrated at missing them. Does coincidence happen any more? Is deja vu perhaps diminishing as everything is premeditated,  informed and consequently unsurprising?)

Intelligence today is both artificial and fast. And moving faster all the time. It's not an urban myth that the computer programmers of today will be out of date in two years time - it's true. How are mere mortals meant to keep up? Especially, if they are older mere mortals.
This older mortal is fairly happy to be left behind. As long as I have heard of things and have a rough understanding of what they might do, I am not too fussed if I have no idea how it works. Technology becomes imbued with all the nuances of magic - that I can chat to my niece on the other side of the world, take a photograph with my phone and send it to my son, pinpoint my position on a map on my phone when I've surfaced from the London tube too soon and am lost and use it to find my way, is as much magic to me, as the magic of wizards in story books. As long it works and I can make it work, I'm happy.

Worthless and not important? - the technology that speeds us up, races away, throwing open endless possibilities, confuses us because it constantly presents us with too much choice - yes and no. In my opinion, technology in communications and medicine is utterly, unbelievably brilliant and exciting beyond measure. Smart pills that measure and fine tune diabetic control, 3-D printed prostheses that exactly fit the patient, and phone apps to catch heart arrhythmias are all here, already, and on the horizon are new therapies that literally blow the mind (well, they blow mine). But anyone who watched Comic Relief last Friday knows that across Africa people still die because they don't have clean water to drink, or mosquito nets to prevent malaria, or the medicines and vaccines that we take for granted. And it's not just Africa. Across the world millions of people who care not that it is possible to turn your heating on via an app on your phone when you begin the commute home from work. And who don't fret that they might not have time to watch all their recorded television programmes. And who don't worry that they've lost a few Twitter followers in the past 24 hours. And who aren't posting Instagram pictures of themselves every five minutes. And who have no idea what a selfie-stick is. Sometimes, we need to remember that if we have a roof over our heads and regular food to eat, we sit within the richest 1% of the earth's population. Yes! That's probably everyone out there reading this.

Floxinoxinihilipilification is the longest non-scientific word in the English dictionary. Too long for everyday use. Its definition is 'declaring something to be worthless and not important.' Ranting about it even. We perhaps forget our humanity if we obsess too much about our personal technology. Once in a while, we need to be reminded that there are other things that are more important.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Those end of the day, sun setting on the horizon, heat turned up in the car because shivering would use up too much energy, sleepy drives home from school are so often punctuated with sudden 'Oh, she's not asleep then' questions that are impossible for a tired, I've had a long day at work parent to answer.

Recently, I've jousted with -

  • Do boys pick their noses in front of girls on purpose?
  • If you have food allergies does that mean you can't have babies?
  • Why is it okay to shave under your arms - when you have hair to shave under your arms - but not okay to shave any 'southern' hairs? ... Yep! Southern is an exact quote. I couldn't have made that one up. Actually, in case you were wondering, I didn't make the others up either.
  • Do you believe in heaven?

The believing in heaven one was today's - we started with the usual what was good, what was bad about your day questions which usually elicit an answer where the long-ago-discarded how was your day would at best receive a bored "Okay," at worst be met with a grunt or a disdainful shrug.

... can a shrug ever be anything other than disdainful? If only I could have shrugged off the heaven question.

It reminded me of this oft encountered sign on my regular dog walk - walk on or go straight up to heaven ...

Littlest clearly had made up her mind about heaven. But she is little and impressionable and I adhere to the policy that as a parent it is best not to say what my beliefs are because belief is personal and individuals need to evolve their own belief systems rather than be influenced or manipulated by others (however well intentioned the others might be. Or not.) So I squirmed. She pushed. I tried to define heaven - what is it? Why is it something that people might want to believe in? What happens to us when we die? She had answers to it all - it's a place that it's comforting to believe in if you are about to die, where entry is decided by God and depends on whether you have been good enough in your life.

Which reminds me, all this arose because she had just recounted how someone had been cruel today and made another child cry. And I had suggested that it's useful to imagine that everything you say is being filmed and to stop for a moment to consider if you could justify what you are about to say in the future. That reminded her of the questions asked at the pearly gates. And thus the question about heaven. My fault I think. Size six shoes straight into the hole that I had dug.

She doesn't believe in any of it. The heaven stuff. She thought the imagine-you're-being -ilmed suggestion was a good one.

So what did she think happens when you die? Basically, 'you're no longer alive, you can't think, can't feel, can't be sad because, just like it was before you are born, you don't exist.' This idea of nothingness doesn't frighten her. She wasn't convinced that anyone might be frightened. 'It's nothing and you can't be afraid of nothing.'

Pushed to breaking point, I gave in. No, I don't believe in heaven either. I adhere to the Nothingness Theory of Littlest but not in an absolutest way. If we create good memories with those we love then our 'spirit' (if you want to call it that) lives on - in and with them - and I can't think of a better 'heaven' than that.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Of mice and strawberries. And bigger beasties.

I love this time of year. All apart from the low lying sun that makes driving an eye-watering nightmare.

The days are getting longer. The sun blissfully higher. And the garden is waking from its winter slumbers.

Some shrubs are busily, early flowering, like this osmanthus, covered in tiny white trumpets -

It's a season full of promise - the daffodils will soon burst yellow, their dancing heads heralding spring. And, annually, reminding me of my Scottish 'Gran' who - bucket in one hand, scissors in the other - would decapitate all the spent, crisply-browning blooms. She was small and bent and dainty in her sensible shoes. This was her job. Even when slow and frail. And she did it every spring to ensure healthy blooms the following year. In a few weeks, I'll persuade Littlest (bribe her, probably) that it's a job perfect for her. I'll give her an old pair of gardening scissors and tell her about my Gran, whom she never met.

Apart from the daffodils, the rest of the garden is suddenly and predictably bursting into life - one warm day is all it takes. Insects appear. Birds, confused, bustle about, unsure if it's time to begin nest building or to feed greedily for the next cold spell. It is, after all, only March. There will be more frosts. More snow, perhaps.

Snow?... Snow drops!

and primulae

and catkins

all - and many more - joining the spring pageant outside.

If only technology could send you the heady smell of honey from the osmanthus

and feel the heat that was on our backs

from a sun that casts long shadows

It's a time of year when gardeners can choose to either sit back and watch or begin their campaign for garden improvement, nurture and domination. The former has definite benefits - you can sleep, in the sun. Snore even. Nonchalantly chew on the wood of plants that didn't survive the winter.

Or sniff around the rhubarb and nibble the emerging stalks. But the result of this approach is utter defeat beneath the growing, exuberant, unchecked spread of weeds.

The alternative might be back-breaking. But ultimately rewarding.

When finished, this will be my renovated strawberry patch.

I just need to figure how to prevent the mice and bigger, four-legged, collared beasties from getting the strawberries first.

... a cat - to catch the mice and provide chasing-entertainment for Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins, thus distracting them from the yummy fruit

... a fence, a fruit cage, or a fence AND a fruit cage

... something pungent between the rows of strawberry plants - onions, garlic, lion poo, southernwood

... a scarecrow (... unemployed graduate in need of a summer job?)

... !?