Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mock oranges. And referendum results.

Beware of ranting ahead. Sometimes something just has to be said.

The mock orange -  a handsome, richly scented, majestic garden shrub, topped with a prolific exuberance of frothing white hair ... oops! ... flowers, that misleads with aplomb, pretending to be something that it isn't, as it masquerades as an orange.
From gardening to referendum in one giant mocking leap. For anyone who knows me, this will come as a surprise, as I am not known for my political prowess or astute deliberation on current affairs. However, in the light of current circumstances and because it is perhaps, sadly, unlikely that Ruth Alexander and Andrea Leadsome will pull together a united bid to beat Boris - I propose the establishment of a new political 'party'.

There! Surprised? Indeed; perhaps, surprised that I know who Ruth and Andrea are.
Okay, so you know I'm not serious. But ... indulge me. There will be a point to this. For a moment assume that at the birth of this resolutely, because-anything-I-invent-will-be-trite-and-incite-much-laughter, nameless party, I have a measurable mass of support. Now, let's see how quickly I can lose it.

First - until we stop hating each other, this is never going to become a great country again. I am against the haters. Oh dear - my party is haemorrhaging supporters already. Watch them jump ship. Off they go. Too rude to shut the door behind them. Off to incite a demonstration somewhere; outside a school, perhaps. Good riddance! I am ashamed that people who claim the same nationality as me, jeer refugee children on the streets of France; print leaflets to tell Poles to go home and make death threats against politicians. I am ashamed that it still makes headlines that a politician has "outed herself" - why is this news? It is normal. Whether a politician is gay, or that horrible, heavily loaded-with-judgement word 'straight', should be no more important than whether or not she has a freckle behind her right ear. What matters is whether or not she is a good politician. My party would let everyone be who they want to be. And would accept them for who they are. It would of course, be colour-blind, age-blind and ability-blind, too.

Second - actually there isn't a second. It's all about the first. Read it again.

Third - ditto the second. I hope I have some supporters left. I really hope I do.

I don't believe in anything. Other than that if you dig deep enough there is a central core to all of humanity that is good. I also believe that it is fine for others to think I am wrong. But not for them to mock me. For I won't mock them. I am afraid though that I might be standing in a pretty lonely place when I take this stance. And that racism, extremist nationalism and disillusion with the establishment, have united to awaken a sleeping giant that could blow our country and Europe apart.

So, back to my proposed party and my mission statement: 'Accept others for who they are. Stop labelling people. Stop hating each other.'
We need to join together, not rip ourselves apart. Far from the outward-looking, proud, liberal, free-spending nation as promised by Big Fibbers to voters who were too eager to dream of a promised, independent land, the referendum result has forced to the surface a bubbling, angry, over-full, deeply-shaming and inward-looking basket of phobias and hatred.

But on the 23rd June 2016 democracy spoke.
Democracy elected to leave.
The Big thing to do now is to unite and get the job done. We need to be big girls and big boys and stop the bullying and name-calling. We desperately need some statesmanship; a firm hand on the tiller of our little island steering it, if not entirely out of Europe then, perhaps, instead into a more comfortable, post-Brexit, Norway-like agreement. Where we can pause and breathe and try to mend some bridges.
My political party would be one forcing the protagonists of this mess together - sit them all down; serve them lots of tea; feed them cake and biscuits ... Oh! That sort of party! Yes - what sort of party did you think I meant? ... And, until everything is sorted out, don't let anyone leave (other than those refusing to put hatred behind them, who would be forcefully ejected. Via trebuchet - straight into the English Channel).

There could be a great future ahead. But only if we come together to earn the word great.

Phew! Rant over and I'm going outside, into the post-Brexit rain, to prune my mock orange.

Prune: definition - to remove unwanted or superfluous parts. Why am I thinking 'Boris'?

If you want to read a sensible take on all of this, written by someone who really does know what he is talking about, find it here my-two-cents-on-the-eu-referendum

Friday, 24 June 2016

As the understandable world slips away

Ok folks ... 'folks' so often repeated in the referendum results coverage last night, that it could be trending on its own ... yes, folks - here is an early morning, bleary-eyed, need-another-coffee quiz for you: who knows where the title of this blog is from? It is misquoted; a little. Shortened and cropped; a little.
Poetic? Apt? Gloomy?
All of the above; a little.
I'm a little bit tired - something to do with cups of tea and ironing and watching television till 2am - so I'm hoping you'll forgive me. Perhaps, if I give you a clue ... Or spread this analogy a little thicker?

Beefing up the analogy, would take it to a little island. To an apocalypse, too. Although, that's perhaps, a little strong. Maybe, a 'seismic' shift in the world we thought we knew. On our little island. And if indeed a seismic shift - another word too often said, in the referendum results coverage, last night - why does no-one know how to pronounce seismic? Or at least, agree how to pronounce it? Remain or Leave; both regarded the shift as 'seismic.' Good seismic and bad seismic. Or 'see-is-mick'; 'sayz-mick'; 'sigh-s-mick' and 'see-z-meek.' Was this a reflection on their inability to agree on anything?

Anyhow, back to my island. A little island. Slipping. Adrift. Mine. Yes; I'm a Scot who lives in England. I used to understand what that meant. After last night, I'm no longer sure if I do. I don't want Scotland to slip away. Not even a little bit. Not at all, in fact.

Perhaps ... maybe ... hopefully .... after some choppy times ahead, things will settle. This is a democracy after all. Democracies are good. Aren't they? They should teach us to respect each other; to be colour blind; to hear what our neighbours say. Perhaps, we should believe the Brexiters, when they tell us now to think about the long term; about future opportunities for wider and more UK-beneficial trade agreements; about taking back control of the laws that affect our lives and control immigration; about how we will still - even after scaling down the exaggerated sums they had hypnotised us with during the campaign - have lots of extra money to spend on ourselves. But I fear they lose sight of us as a very little island in a very big world. A little island populated by 'littluns' scared of the nasty EU 'beastie' and governed by 'biguns' on both sides of the in-out argument, who told lies and manipulated and shouted and discoursed on and on and on, in an increasingly oppressive neverendum.

... you know where I'm going with this now? Where the title is from?

One tribe against another?
Leave against Remain.
Each 'walloping' each other 'properly' during the weeks leading up to the referendum.

... got it? ... William Golding; Lord of the Flies.

It's what happens next that is the worry. It will define who we become. I hope we have the statesmen and stateswomen to steer us well. For either tribe, uncertainty lies ahead. Is Farage Jack? Was Cameron destined to be Ralph, but saw a vision of the future and decided to step away from that role? Who will be Ralph now? And who Simon?
Is the EU the beast? Or perhaps, the EU is more like Piggy -  possessing a cleverness that is blinkered by rules; trying to be sensible but drowning in a sea of financial crisis after financial crisis; suffocating and struggling to breathe under a tsunami of refugees; and ultimately and inevitably doomed?

Perhaps, this is all a little silly? This being these words here. It's meant to be. That is my point. To rant, a little, and hopefully make you smile. Whether celebrating, weeping or resenting the result,  none of us knows what lies ahead. It might feel as though the 'understandable world is slipping away.' Certainly, the slipping will accelerate for a while as politicians from each tribe pontificate and ponder and catastrophize. Or, loathsomely, gloat. Hopefully, some will learn how to pronounce seismic and  that we don't particularly like being dismissed as just 'folks.'

I don't really think that Farage is Jack. Nor that we stand on the brink of our own Lord of the Flies.  I hope that the world becomes more understandable again and stops slipping. I also hope (that's an understatement if ever I wrote one!) that there is never a need to audition for the white-uniformed officer in the final chapter of the book. The saviour who would land on our shores when our little Lord of the Flies island had almost destroyed itself. I know who would love that role. Perhaps, he's dreaming of it already. Imagining it as he flies in to Scotland today. This visit as a dress rehearsal? Yikes! In his mind. Not in ours.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Love is what matters. Love is all.


However you look at it, love in all its forms is what makes getting up in the morning worth while. Whether it be the all consuming, unquestioning love for your child; the intoxicating, sometimes maddening, sometimes downright agonising love shared with a partner; love of the sound of birdsong outside the window; love of expectation and excitement for the day ahead; love of knowing that you will see, or taste, or smell, or hear, or read something new - a face, a painting, a view, a flower, a reflection in a window, a poem, a tune, a meal  - before you next sleep; love of knowing that you will do something good, be your best and make someone smile today; and love of the memories of friends and loved ones departed, for whom you go on because they would have wanted you to and every step you take is a step for them, keeping them alive inside you and you love that feeling of doing something for them.

A lot has been written and said and sung about love (a lot = massive understatement) but often it is an elusive love. Love that is unrequited. Love that is fragile and transient. Or love that breaks and drives people apart. But even if you feel buried beneath those sad, heavy types of love there is still good love to see and seek and find.

I love ...
Go on. Fill in the blank. Make a list.


I love chocolate. And wine. And Scotland (but not midges). And tomatoes. And pesto. And finding coriander in salad. And cheesecake. And blue-berries. And Tuscany. And gardening. And bookshops. And good coffee (I hate bad coffee). And vanilla tea. And my silver ring from Uist - that my dad bought for me and that my daughter now has a copy of. And the sound of laughter. And art galleries. And theatre. And Impressionism. And Coldplay. And reading. And Les Mis. And film. And the sound of my children singing. And arriving home after a holiday. And shoes that don't hurt my feet. And long walks. And frosty mornings. And poetry. And hugs, lots and lots of hugs.

But most of all I love my family and my friends and writing.

I include Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend in the 'most of all' category. Are they friends or family or both, I'm never too sure? With them, I never garden alone; they are my constant companions. Constant, bemused, why-is-she-scraping-soil-and weeds-out-from-between-the-bricks companions. Constant, lying-down-lazily companions. Constant, isn't-it-time-we-stopped-for-a-snack companions.

Constant companions who are happy to insert a wet muzzle between me and the weeds.

And constant, faithful companions who wait for me to return when I go upstairs. Four-legged-friend  didn't see me go out the other day and lay at the bottom of the stairs for hours, intermittently getting up to whine, 'Please mum, come back down.' When I appeared at the front door, he looked at me as if to say 'Now that's not fair - I didn't know you could get outside from upstairs.'

Perhaps, in their heads I am just the dinner lady, the provider of treats, the one who picks up their poo and sweeps up the hairs they deposit everywhere, the instigator of walks and of games involving bits of carrot, perhaps they just love food and don't love me at all. But no matter; I feel loved by them.

For a moment, let me remove my admittedly slightly nauseating, but unapologetically rose-tinted spectacles.
But before I do,  I can't believe I forgot carrot cake! I love carrot cake. And gurgling, happy babies. And the cool, smooth, crisp cotton of a soft pillow against my cheek.
But spectacles off -
The real world sadly beckons. The opposite of love is hate. Of course it is. We all know that. But what is hate? Graham Greene said, 'Hate is lack of imagination.' Think about this; what did he mean?Look, for a moment, at the people you struggle to love. Imagine what it takes to fill their shoes. Imagine how they feel inside when beaten with harsh words and prejudice. Try to imagine their thoughts and worries and fears. Then, try to accept them for who they are. And tomorrow, when you borrow my rose tinted spectacles and look for love, be colour-blind, racially-blind, gender-blind, sexual-orientation blind,  politically-blind, in your quest to make someone smile. I promise that smile will feel good. Maybe, you are all of those things already, happy to accept, to live and let live. The world would be a better place if more of us were.

Monday, 13 June 2016

How can they? Another rant - and no, I'm not apologising for writing this one.

How can they - again and again - attempt to justify the unjustifiable? To claim that they are safer exercising their right to bear arms.

America's gun control legislation - or lack of gun control legislation - is again to blame for a mass shooting on American soil. Not religion, not extremism, not hatred, not mental illness. All implicated, yes,  but all underpinned by the ready and easy access to lethal weapons. What stands at the root of all blame? Guns. Just guns.

Another mass execution has happened. In Florida, this time. It will happen again. Somewhere else. And again. In another place. And again. Over and over. It will continue until politicians muscle up against the NRA and call an end to laws that put lethal weapons in the hands of American citizens. Yes - American citizens. Americans killing each other. Because their interpretation of the Second Amendment says they can carry arms. It is their right, as written by the founding fathers, to do so. Written at a time when their fledgling country was reeling from a civil war that had pitted states against neighbouring states and against federal government and where the people both demanded and given their recent history, very reasonably needed legislation to protect themselves from any future vagaries of an oppressive government power. In an internally peaceful USA (the clue being in the word United, perhaps) this is, arguably, no longer the case. When will they see that carrying arms is but a short step away from using those arms and when you use those arms, people - brothers, sisters, mothers, sons, fathers and, in Sandy Hook, children - are slaughtered?

Man up against the NRA bullies and gun obsessives and just stop it. Stop the killing. Otherwise, it will happen again. Next week, it will be somewhere else. Yes, next week. And the week after that. And the one after that. There have been over 130 mass shootings in America already this year (gunviolencearchive). That is about four a week. Four occasions in which four or more people were shot (injured or killed). Sixteen Americans involved in mass shootings, on average, each week. Sixteen. If you add to this all those involved in gun-incidents of any size this grows to a staggering 100,000 people shot dead or injured by guns, each year, on American soil. If that figure isn't shocking enough, try this one - in the USA, in 2007, more pre-school children than serving police officers, were shot or injured by firearms. Or this one, among 23 high income countries all across the world (including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the UK), 80% of all firearm deaths at any age  and 87% of firearm deaths in children, under the age of 14, occur in the USA. Also children in the USA are 10 times more likely to die from an accidental shooting than children in the other 22 countries studied. (Firearm Fatalities) Why? Because a third of all Americans own guns, perhaps? If they own guns, then it is no surprise that their children will sometimes find them. And play with them. And accidentally shoot themselves and each other and their parents.

Why don't Americans do something to stop this annual cull?

Because the NRA is too powerful; it has a lot to answer for. As for Trump - there, I've avoided naming him directly in recent blogs but today, out pops his name for all to see - yoo hoo, here I am, Mr I-told-you-so. Mr Aren't-I-the-clever-one? Mr Thank-you-for-congratulating-me-for-my-foresight. Mr You-see!-The-sooner-we-ban-Muslims-and-Mexicans-from-entering-America-the-safer-we'll-be. How can he attempt to spin such atrocity into political gain? What part of him thinks that's appropriate?

It must stop.

President Obama wants to stop it. But he doesn't have the clout to do so. Because too many senators sit in the money-lined pockets of the NRA. Obama looked sad and angry and defeated in his news statement yesterday. How else could he look? What else could he possibly say? Here we are again - expressing condolences, again, naming innocent victims again. It does not matter who they were, nor what they were; nor what was the colour of their skin; nor what was their politics; nor what was their sexuality. They were human beings like you and like me. Bullets are blind. They kill those they hit. All that matters is that the victims were innocents. Innocent. Obama asked of Americans, What sort of a country do you want to live in? That quietly asked question demands an answer.

I fear it won't get one. And the slaughter of innocents will continue. Fail to protect and you fail all future victims. Fail to protect and heap guilt upon your own shoulders when the families of future victims look around for someone to blame. Could failure to protect be the basis of a mass action against a state system handcuffed to gun-rights activists? I don't know why I am writing this but, like my angry words after Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks of last year, I feel that to say nothing would be wrong. And I don't know what else I can do. I hope that someone out there, across the pond, is brave enough to do something to stop it now. I wish them luck.

America; please, stop it. Now. What on earth is stopping you?

(Americans and their guns)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Look at the blue-bells. And fu'-doodle-cakes!

When is it acceptable to overhear a stranger's conversation and admit to the stranger that you have been listening?

Yesterday, I overheard. I listened. I admitted. All without uttering a word myself. Until I nearly fell over the stranger's child. My body language betrayed my eavesdropping. My mumbled apology confirmed it, as I stumbled round the child. My embarrassment flamed my cheeks, when I recognised the look on her mother's face, as she wordlessly demanded to know what the hell I was doing.

"I thought I'd missed something. What you'd said. I - I was stepping backwards ... eh ... looking for the ... um ... 'blue-bells' ..."

The mother laughed - of course, she did; it was the National Gallery, after all. A library-hushed place of polite whispers and manners. And of course, being English and also in England, she apologised to me. We are a nation of apologists. Or should it be apologisers? Or apologees even - though, I suspect an apologee (if there is such a word) might be the recipient of an apology?  In yesterday's situation, we both apologised and both received apologies. So were we both apologists and apologees?

I had overheard the mother tell her child to look at the blue-bells. I had failed to see any blue-bells on the forest floor of the George Shaw painting; 'The Living and the Dead'. And stepping back to better my view, the large canvas still failed to reveal any. So I stepped back further. And nearly crushed the little girl. Whose nic-name was 'Belles'.

The painting was of a huge, crumpled sheet of metallic 'blue' dangling from a tree, a tarpaulin or a deflated balloon, perhaps - neither an uncommon foundling in the countryside, orphaned by the wind which snatched it from whatever celebration it had once adorned, and dumped it in a far off place, where it catches and tears and crumples and collects rain and drips and rustles and lingers for years. The painting contrasted the dusky, dull brown of the bare winter trees, with the searing crispness and shine of the blue material. It was strange and captivating - the textured blue reminiscent of the madonna's cloak in Titian's The Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist (also in the National Gallery) - but at the same time unsettling and certainly not something I'd want in my house.

"Look at the blue, Belles," the girl's mother had said.
I hadn't heard the comma. Or the capital letter.

The painting reminded me of this, which Four-legged-friend, Bertie Baggins and I found on a dog walk - a striking flash of blue on the horizon which became a sad deflated balloon stuck in a hedgerow when we got closer. We rescued it. And re-homed it in the bin.

But back to the National Gallery and being in England and English, the mother and I chatted briefly, comparing what bribery had been used to drag children round an art gallery at half-term - I think she was trading her treat - the gallery visit - with lunch for Belles and her brother who readily admitted to being bored and had that limp, lanky, even-my-limbs-don't-know-where-to-put-themselves-because-they're-so-soooo-bored gait that is the instinctive behaviour of adolescents temporarily denied access to their electronic gizmos. Littlest and I were going to Covent Garden, for shopping and ice cream.

Littlest, who planned her outfit for our trip to London the night before (mine was assembled ten minutes before we left and regretted for most of the day. Can mothers take a leaf out of their daughter's books? This one needs to!), is not-so-Littlest any more and her language is changing, or rather her use of language is ... hmmm ... maturing (? ...  if maturing implies a loss of innocence, then it is the correct word). A lot (probably most) of her friends swear. She probably does too, when she's with them. At home however, 'fu....' has morphed into fu'-doodle-cakes. Which I think is fu'-doodle-caking brilliant!

Dinner's late due to writerly procrastination - fu'-doodle-cakes!

The wine's finished - fu'-double-doodle-cakes!!

A golf-course owning mogul, who thinks a thesaurus is a dinosaur, as presidential candidate - fu...u...u...u'-doodle-cakes!!!

... fu'-doodle-crumpet is good too. As is fu'-doodle-pancake.

But my favourite could be fu'-doodle-waffle!