Thursday, 26 November 2015

Black Friday

For some Black Friday is a shopping idyll
Where you can buy everything that you 'need'
When the whole world turns into a Lidl
And we follow like dogs on a lead

Every advert that tells us "slashed prices"
Every promise "save 80 percent"
You can go get an asbo in ASDA
Queues form early - you may need a tent

You can fight over tellys in Tesco
Maraud over mascara in Boots
Or if you're a bit more upmarket
Go to Harrods and fight over suits

You can head out to Next just as dawn breaks
Fix your mind set to "that sparkly-top-that-is-half-price-with-a-slight-snag" is MINE!"
Park your car like it's just been abandoned
And hope that you don't get a fine

Or give all your money to Amazon
Have the boxes all sent your house
Shed your entire month's salary
With one little click of a mouse
Image from

These bargains won't be there tomorrow
These deals, they will not exist
These items, they won't buy themselves you know
But this shopping tale comes with a twist

You know when Black Friday is over
When your cupboards are bulging with stuff
When you think "yep, everyone's sorted
I've definitely bought enough"

There'll be an email in your inbox
A banner ad that will make you wail
And an ad on the tv announcing
"Good news people - we're having a sale!"

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Responding to War

A brief summary of the wars and terrorist attacks I can recall in my lifetime so far, and what I did as a result of each:

IRA Attacks
I wasn't quite ten but I do remember the Brighton bombing being reported on the news.  Bins were removed from town centres and train stations.  I put my crisp packets in my pockets and carried on being a child.

The Cold War
This boils down to a programme I watched and a book I read:
  1. Spitting Image - I'm not sure why my parents let me watch this as a child - the political satire completely washed over me as I concentrated on waiting for the "Gorby", Reagan and Thatcher puppets to appear and the song at the end of the show.      
  2. When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs.  I'm not sure why my parents bought me this book (do you detect a theme?).  Having thoroughly enjoyed Fungus the Bogeyman I thought I was in for a treat.  Instead I was absolutely petrified and wondered how quickly I could paint the windows white and turn the kitchen table on its side when the four minute warning came.  I cried a lot after reading this book.
I continued to enjoy Spitting Image, never looked at When the Wind Blows again and carried on being a child (albeit one with a knowledge of satirical songs that I could recite, but didn't understand).

The Falklands War
I was seven when this happened but have very clear memories of various features run by The Sun to support 'Our Boys' including a song to be sung to the tune of 'Don't Cry for me Argentina'.  It is entirely possible that we stuck a Union Jack that came in the centre pages of the paper to one of our windows.  It is also entirely possible that The Sun ran pictures of bare-breasted women wearing camouflage as a means to support the war effort.

I learned the words to the song, and carried on being a child (albeit one who thought seeing a pair of tits in a newspaper was normal).

The Gulf War
By this point I was using fake ID to get into pubs and dodgy nightclubs.  Quite often you'd encounter men who said they were soldiers who were off to serve and "might not come back", and they wondered if me or my friends might like to oblige them with a sexual favour.... 

We carried on going out, carried on using our fake ID but stayed the hell away from men with low rent chat up lines.

The Iraq War
By this point I had a friend living in Kuwait who described the time a rocket went over the British Embassy.  She hid under a table.  I thought again about 'When the Wind Blows' and decided that tables are actually a life-saving bit of kit.  I also worried constantly about her, hoped she would come home (which thankfully she did) and carried on living my life.

I was out shopping, buying a present for my husband to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  My phone beeped with a text from my brother that read "A plane hit the Twin Towers" - I called him to ask what the punchline to the joke was.  Then realised how far from a joke it was.  

Walking back to work some fighter jets crossed the sky and when I arrived at the office everyone was crowded around a computer - the news website crashed so we put on a radio and stood there in silence and disbelief.  I thought "Oh shit, this is it, WWIII is on the way."  I still can't believe it happened.  I did travel to America in the years that followed, and continued to visit tourist attractions, landmarks, corporate offices.  I went to work for a big American company.  I carried on living my life.

I was at Heathrow airport - and couldn't believe the news.  I phoned my husband.  We made sure everyone we loved was safe.  I was afraid but I got on the plane.  I carried on visiting London and using public transport.    

I have children now.  They want to know what's going on in the world.  I tell them a little, avoid 24 hour news when they're around, and am mindful of the newspapers.  They worry about whether there will ever be a time when "they don't have any family" or whether bombs will "come here" and then remark on how lovely the sausage rolls were that they had the other day, and write out their Christmas Lists.  They don't put 'world peace' - they want a Lego Death Star and Sylvanian Families.  They carry on being children. And I want to protect that.  To protect them.

I am not a politician, I'm not a soldier and I'm not a member of the security services.  I can't trawl the 'dark web' and track people, infiltrate ranks, engage in combat or seek to solve problems that have no clear resolution, so what can I do?  

I can only do what I know.  The stuff that I was born and brought up to do: show kindness and compassion, give and receive love, enjoy life, make music, draw pictures, trust people, laugh, have fun, take the opportunities that life puts my way, enjoy the moment.  This life is a gift, and whatever way it is taken away from me, I want to know that I have lived my life, and helped my children to live theirs - happily and unafraid.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

London Calling

One of the things about living in a village is that it will eventually turn you into a Country Mouse and a trip to London will become a major event which involves discussing travel options with your friends because:

  • Your nearest train station might as well shut from 8pm onwards given the infrequency of the service (and the fact that you need to change to get on a main line which, if timed wrong, could leave you stranded at Reading as your car waits patiently in the car park at Newbury for you).
  • Driving to a 'proper' station involves either a parking fee that will make you swear (£17.80 for 7 hours at Reading..) or a walk to your car that includes having to cross a bridge with steps so steep you'll develop an irrational fear that the man behind you is going to push you down them (thanks Didcot).

This combination of extortionate parking, irrational bridge-fears and worrying about being stranded, led to me deciding to drive to an evening event in the arse-end of nowhere (or Docklands, as it is more commonly known).  The sat nav was set, I was ready to go.

I glided along the M4 and entered our capital city under the watchful eye of giant Mockingjay and Call of Duty ads - a grim portent of things to come?  Not initially - the sat nav lady had decreed that I should experience some impressive sights first:

The Royal Albert Hall where cyclists slither at speed between cars like black lycra-clad sperm rushing to a waiting egg.  They wear no helmets and use tiny flashing red lights to alert you to their presence - a far cry from the blinding bike torches and neon clothing of the countryside cyclists that I know.  The parking sensors go mad and I wonder how on earth they maintain their balance and concentration under the assault of traffic fumes, breathtaking buildings and unpredictable manoeuvres.

The Ritz where a top-hatted doorman skips like Fred Astaire across the road to usher an elderly couple into a cab.  They are elegantly dressed but look dowdy next to his tails and epaulets.  Back on the pavement a bell boy pushes a gilded luggage trolley filled with bags from Selfridges and Harrods.  He wheels them to a discrete side door so they can be whisked to the room of someone too rarefied to be seen with their own shopping.

Image from

The Strand, strewn with Christmas lights which makes me feel like I am on a float in a Disney parade.  Even the buses are in a festive mood - great sweeps of window curve up and over the side of the them like the flash of a shoulder revealed by an evening dress.  I am in awe, but not for long....

Hyde Park Corner and Holborn await me snarled up and twisted like a spastic colon.  Lanes closed, cars too close, people oblivious to the traffic lights.  The sat nav represents major junctions as mere roundabouts which confuses the hell out of me, lanes disappear behind netting and traffic cones, signs and road markings become invisible under the weight of traffic.  I pause for a group of pedestrians who have ignored the lights.  A taxi driver properly, massively, blares his horn to inform me that it really is 'each for their own'.  I realise that I am not cut out for using my car as a plough to move people - he'll have to wait.

After a learner-driver on a moped swerves across two lanes and into my path, I find myself off course and on Liverpool Street.  Which is a cul-de-sac.  A cul-de-sac full of taxis that have formed a little Yo! Sushi style conveyor belt to allow customers into their cabs.  They are not going to move for me (not a great night for me and taxis) and I end up reversing the length of the street - unfortunately not with my left arm slung casually across the back of the front passenger seat...

A good hour later the Limehouse Link tunnel welcomes me and I eventually get to the NCP which closes in just over two hours time unless I want to pay a £50 release fee.  It has taken me 2 hours to cross the city.  I am deflated as I walk from my car to the venue but then I cross the bridge and see this:

Many people would argue that there is no beauty to be found in the financial district but there is something about seeing London lit up at night, reflected on the water, that is pretty magical to me.

My inner Country Mouse marvels at the sight and then I remember that behaving like a naive tourist at night is not a sensible thing to do and put my phone away.  The event goes well and the journey home takes only two hours door to door - it's a result but what will stay with me is the journey there.

Those two hours crawling across the city felt like a valid way to experience London - beautiful, maddening, alive, infuriating, confusing, crowded and never, ever boring.  It drove me round the twist, and I feel like I earned some driving stripes, but most of all I fell a little bit more for our capital city.  London, I love you.

Soundtrack:  London Calling - The Clash

Monday, 2 November 2015

Quelle heure est-il?

What's the time?
6 o'clock and all's...dark
Not sure, anymore

Clocks 'spring forward' and 'fall back'
I wake up and it is the crack
of dawn
I yawn

My brain is in an awful mix
Is it 7 o'clock or 6?

At 4.30pm we go to the park
And sit there, swinging in the dark

Our body clocks are all confused
I don't think that we can get used
To shortened days
And longer nights
Bare legs now swathed
In winter tights

We bundle up indoors and pine
For warmer days and bright sunshine