Sunday, 5 November 2017

32. Sexual Harassment And The Older Woman

In the light of recent events, exposing the disgusting behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, resulting in the floodgates flying open for the numerous women, and men but, let's be honest, mostly women who have been sexually harassed and felt compelled to stay silent, I decided to weigh in to the argument on behalf of the older woman. If I'm accused of jumping on the bandwagon then so be it. The best time to get aboard is when it's already in motion.

Suddenly the media is awash with reports of women suffering the unwanted attentions of men in every area of life. Sadly, it appears it had to be flagged up by high profile women in the glamorous worlds of film and theatre in order for people to take notice. Now politicians are being exposed for their abuse of power and over-inflated ideas of entitlement, but any woman, in any walk of life will recognise those scenarios. You don't have to be a Hollywood star to experience abuse, from the casual grope through to violent rape. Stop any woman on the street. They'll all have their story. The surprising thing is this sudden outpouring of shock and horror. It's Jimmy Savile all over again. We all know about it, and we've all complained about it, but nobody took much notice. Now, all of a sudden, it's everywhere! And I'm glad. It gets the message out there that it's just not acceptable to touch a woman, any woman, in any way, if she does not want you to. It is not acceptable to make lewd remarks, and it is not acceptable to become angry and insulting when a woman rejects your uninvited approach. It is not acceptable to abuse your power and use it is a weapon.

There are those men who are taking to the media to whinge about how complicated it's getting for the poor lambs. But it's terribly simple. Stop blaming women for your lack of control and make damned sure it's consensual before you make a move. Otherwise it's harassment. Clear?

Of course I don't tar all men with the same brush. There are lots of lovely, sensitive, non-predatory men out there. I'm married to one. That doesn't dilute the effect of the ones who are the opposite of all that and who devastate and blight entire lives.

And now to the point of my argument. It would appear, from the media coverage that, by and large, you are only at danger from this behaviour if you are young, attractive and perceived as desirable. Not so. But when it comes to older women it gets complicated.

I've written on this subject in an earlier blog but I feel it's worth revisiting at this particular moment. There seem to be an undefined point when a woman passes from object of desire to sexless being. Now, there are many advantages to the ageing process and, in some ways, this is one of them. It can be a relief not to have to go through that dance on a crowded train, trying to make sure you've edged your way out of the reach of the guy with the wandering hands. I wish I'd had the courage of the woman who grabbed the hand on her buttock, held it aloft and shouted, "I just found this on my arse. Does it belong to anyone?"

You can go into a bar, buy yourself a drink and settle in a corner with your book without constantly checking for the man who thinks being tipsy on Prosecco makes him irresistible and is heading your way. It can be very freeing.

However, there are those who think that age renders you entirely devoid of feeling and preference. These people, sometimes complete strangers, imagine that laying hands on you uninvited is totally acceptable and who look shocked and affronted when you recoil or shrug them off. We're not supposed to mind. Worse still, I think we're sometimes expected to be oddly grateful for this unwanted attention. After all, we're no longer sex objects are we, so we can't possible take offence can we? Yes, we fucking can!

But I have a personal axe to grind. There is a particular man, who I sometimes work with, who is much too handy for comfort. He's a cheery soul. Greets all as his friend. Is possibly a little younger than me, but not much. And I dislike this 'likeable' man. For a kick off, he addresses me as 'sweetheart'. He knows my name perfectly well and I find the patronising use of 'dear' and 'lovie', that you endure day in and day out once you pass a certain age, offensive and annoying, but I can (just about) forgive those who don't know my name.....though there are better alternatives, or simply nothing at all, which is just fine. But this man's 'sweetheart' makes my flesh creep. And then there's the touching.

I'm comfortable with a matey arm flung round a shoulder, but not the sudden sensation of hands being slipped slowly round your waist from behind, or the brushing of the back of a hand across your bottom, just a little too firmly to be accidental, that really offends me. I know for a fact I am not alone, and I certainly don't flatter myself than I am an object of desire to this man. I honestly believe that this is his habitual way of behaving around women.  And as, presumably, nobody has ever challenged him he continues to think it's just fine.  And it so isn't. For ANY women, regardless of age.

It may well be ingrained in him from those unenlightened times when such behaviour was widely accepted. Not liked, but accepted.

But times have changed and it's never too late to learn. Or is it? I question myself as to why I haven't reacted to his behaviour. Am I afraid of being ridiculed for even suggesting a man would choose to touch me? That I'd be accused of an over active imagination?

I'm fairly sure that if I challenge him then I will be accused of being silly, or over-sensitive and most people would probably side with the transgressor. He's a nice bloke, he doesn't mean any harm, and who do I think I am?

Well, I reckon I'm a woman. My age is immaterial.  My feelings are my own, as is my body. And it's time to say, "D'you know what, I don't like that. Please don't do it."

A small, personal skirmish in the great, feminist fight. But they all count. Don't they?

Thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

31.Baby Boomer Blues

I'm a Baby Boomer. There you go. I've said it. Now I'll just sit back and take a kicking. It's no more than I deserve, apparently.

Only today, writing in the Mail On Sunday, Vince Cable (who I quite liked!) has accused the old of shafting the young via the Brexit vote. I'm so angry I could cry.

It seems to me that those of us who happened to be born at the end of the SWW are being held responsible for pretty much all the ills of society. And we're not. We're individuals, just like the rest of you, and it can be annoying to open my morning paper or watch the TV news to find it's all my fault that the nation's going to hell in a handcart. It's not just annoying, it's hurtful and frustrating....and wrong. We are too easy a target and it's lazy journalism to make an entire generation into scapegoats.

To begin at the beginning, we can't seriously be held responsible for the fact that our fathers returned from the theatre of war and all its accompanying horrors to fall, with joy and relief, into the welcoming arms of our mothers. We didn't get a say in the matter. But there we were. A whole load of babies, an army of us, if you will, with the sole intention of being an overprivileged elite for the rest of our lives....quite deliberately.....allegedly.

We kicked off by overwhelming the welfare state. There was barely enough of that vile orange juice that came in medicine type bottles to go round. But we glugged it down our greedy little throats and grew big and strong. And then we had to be educated, demanding little bleeders that we were. And this is where the 'spoilt generation' theory starts to come unstuck. We ended up in overcrowded classrooms with hardworking, well intentioned teachers who had simply too many kids to monitor individually, so the less bright ended up at the back of the room, overlooked and undereducated. I know this. Years later I would be a voluntary one-to-one teacher of the many adults who came out of that system unable to to read or write. Bright, capable people who fell through a net that was bursting at the seams.

But on we strode, towards the Eleven Plus examination. I was reasonably bright and general expectations were that I might, in fact, pass and go on to the Grammar School. But I didn't. Nor did a lot of my classmates who had also been rated capable of passing. Our parents smelled a rat. And we were not demanding people. I came from a lower working class family. We knew our place. We didn't make a fuss.....usually. On this occasion, however, the families of just too many children, not all of them from the poorer end of the village, were shocked by the results and a meeting was called, attended by my mother who came home furious at having been told, by men in suits, that yes, there were a number of children who had achieved the requisite marks but, as there were too few places for too many children, they had had no choice to but to cream off those with the highest marks and condemn the rest to secondary modern education. And hard luck. Our numbers were a disadvantage, and we'd just have to live with it.

And thus we did, eventually leaving school at fourteen to an undeniably plentiful job market. Not necessarily the jobs we aspired to, and not many of them open to those of us without any qualifications, but there was low paid work to be had.. So we took what was going and worked hard. The work ethic was strong in us Baby Boomers and we grafted for the deposits that would enable us to buy our first homes, a privilege denied to most of our parents, the majority of whom were still in rented accommodation. Interest rates were high, which was fine if you were rich, but most of us weren't and taking on that monthly commitment was a scary business. Then, eventually, as we neared retirement age, we became the owners of those homes. Lucky us. We had what we'd worked and saved and paid for.

Yet now we are reviled, as if we are directly responsible for the fact that the young have an almost impossible struggle to get a foot on the property ladder, and nobody regrets this more than I do. I have three children and I have to watch them, longing for homes of their own and repeatedly finding it beyond them. This situation was created by the ineptitude of bankers and governments, not me. And no, I can't solve the problem for my kids. I think I mentioned my origins. I have no inherited fortune in the bank. What we have is the little we've saved from working all our lives whilst raising a family. It didn't leave much over.

Yes, I eventually got an education, as a mature student, with my fees paid and a full grant, to boot! That would be unimaginable riches to today's students, and I too have a daughter still trying to pay off her loan, long years after leaving Uni. I'm eternally grateful for my good fortune. It transformed my life in so many ways. But nothing I've done has contributed to the tragic lack of that opportunity for today's generation.

I learnt my socialism at my grandfather's knee. I've been a staunch Labour supporter all my life. I voted Remain in the referendum and wept when we lost. Make note of that. I'm old AND a Remainer, along with pretty much all of my friends, colleagues and neighbours in the same age bracket. Obviously the Leavers are out there, but I don't know any.

Yet much of the media has turned me into some horrible caricature of a blue rinsed, selfish, right wing, immigrant hating harridan with more money than intellect, narrow of outlook and hanging on to my ill-gotten gains, along with my sense of entitlement, with the feverish grip of some uncaring dowager.  And I'm none of those things.

I try to give back to the society that nurtured me by working in the charitable sector and, whilst I can't support my adult children financially, I help out by providing free childcare as and when I'm able. That too is my privilege and pleasure.

Nobody bewails the shit we're in more loudly than I do. Nobody rages against the iniquitous inequalities of our society more vociferously. If I had the means to change it all I fucking would!

But I don't. And I'm not responsible for it either. I don't belong to some strange homogenous group that can be conveniently blamed for all that ails us. I am not over indulged. I have a state pension and a bus pass. I'm hugely grateful for both and lament the fact that they will almost certainly be denied to the next generation, but that's not MY call. My life hasn't been an easy ride. And I never take the fact that I'm now happy, healthy and have a nice life for granted. I wish it could be so for everyone.

So please, people of the media, look elsewhere for the cause of societies problems, because it's not me.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

30. Shampoo and Chiffon Scarves.

I left school when I was fourteen. I wasn't expelled or anything. That's what we did, dear children, back in the olden days. We gathered up our crinolines and went looking for work.
Image result for shampoo clipart
The laughingly named 'Careers Advisor' came to school and sat opposite me, your typical baby boomer, eleven plus failure and branded thicko, and gave me his most unctuous smile.

Him: 'Is there anything you enjoy doing?'
Me. 'Writing.'
Him, sniggering: 'I don't think you're going to earn a living at that.'
He looked at a card on the desk in front of him, picked up the phone and made an appointment for me. It was with a local hairdresser. If successful, I would be apprenticed and paid nineteen shillings and sixpence a week (that's just under a quid) plus tips. I can only assume he considered this paltry sum a 'living' for the likes of me, who'd just go off and get herself up the duff by a local layabout and be married in a couple of years anyway, at which point I'd stop bothering the employment market.

 I got the job.

I didn't do the other stuff.

And he was probably right, in that I would never have set the world of literature on fire, but I'd have been content to start off with the births and deaths page on the local newspaper, something like that. But I was fourteen. I'd no idea how you went about getting a job. That's why I still harbour a grudge against that smug, disinterested bloke who failed to fulfil the 'advisor' bit of his job title.

Not that it was all bad. I was a sheltered child, quiet and naive by nature, from a buttoned-up home where sex, or any matters pertaining to the body, were banned from conversation. In that salon the blanks in my education were swiftly filled. The youngest of my colleagues were in their late teens, and they all knew loads more about stuff than I did. Even the forty-something manageress, Lindy, was at it. As the most junior employee it was my job to open up the shop and prepare it for the day ahead. How well I remember the morning I let myself in and happened upon Lindy pleasuring the shampoo rep in the backwash chair. I'd wondered why he slipped us so many free bottle of conditioner with our order.

Then there was the day our senior stylist, Carol,  assisted by Lindy, ended an unwanted  pregnancy in the staff room, during the lunch break, which might be a fine example of the work ethic as not a perm or trim was cancelled.  Exactly what the mysterious procedure involved I never knew, as I'd been sent out to get fish and chips, presumably by way of celebration. It must have been a success because Carol, who was usually a moody cow, was remarkably cheerful for the next day or two. She was even nice to me. Normally she was telling me I was fat or didn't pass her the rollers fast enough. I hated her. I didn't know then about bullying in the workplace, but if ever that girl got the chance to make my life miserable she grabbed it. I wasn't sorry when she developed an allergy to perm lotion and had to leave.

I may have been shocked to my prudish core by all these goings-on, but it was a timely crash course in the ways of the real world.

And, generally, things were looking up. I'd hardly been there a month before I'd been taken in hand. My hair had been styled and coloured. The other girls had grabbed their make-up bags and sat me down to introduce me to the mysteries of of eyeliner and lipstick and, even more usefully whilst transforming me into a painted Jezebel, they whispered the secrets of birth control, before setting me up on dates with their brother's mates. I was a willing pupil.

Having been metamorphosed from a mousey child into a long-haired, short skirted minx I would dash home to cast off my dye stained, nylon overall and prepare to hit the fleshpots of the nearest town. I drank coffee out of glass cups in smoke shrouded cafes. I danced in grubby, dark basement clubs and learnt that, with a little perseverance, I could acquire a taste for the alcohol that was banned from my home as the work of the devil. I snogged in bus shelters, letting the last bus pass me by, thereby enraging my mother. And I took to smoking, just to add to my sophisticated allure. It was the best possible fun. But I was careful. I'd listened. I didn't want to be like Carol.

And there was music. Another discovery. I just loved that noise. And that's the thing about the teenage years. You start as this empty kid and get filled up with new experiences and the freedoms of the adult world you're transitioning in to. And sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes terrifying, and you find the things that help you make sense of it and get you through. For me it was books and music, and I still think it's not a bad combination.

I didn't love that job. It gave me varicose veins from all the standing and I got cracks in the skin of my hands so deep that they bled, from washing towels in cold water because the heater wasn't working again, and there was no washing machine. And the money was shit and the hours were long and the reps always tried it on and the poshest customers were the worst tippers. Actually, the best tip I got in that place was how to hide hickies with a carefully arranged chiffon scarf. Chiffon scarf manufacturers must have cleaned up in the sixties.

But I grew up in that salon. I met some lovely people who are still my friends and I got to chat to so many different customers, just in the course of a single day, which was heaven for a nosey girl like me. You'd be amazed what women will confide to their hairdresser, it's like the confessional but with a blow-dry thrown in.
And, eventually, I'd sort myself out, return to education, get a couple of degrees and have jobs that I chose and enjoyed.

Not that there's anything wrong with hairdressing. It's a fine, creative, essential profession and the skills of a good stylist can be transformative. But it wasn't what I wanted to do so I wasn't very good at it. I think back with shame to the lop-sided cuts and patchy dye jobs I sent out into the world.

But, I'd learnt some valuable lessons, and I'm even grateful to nasty Carol. Thanks to her, I always tried to be kind and supportive, to all my colleagues, but particularly to those a bit lower in the pecking order than myself. So maybe Mr. Whateverhisnamewas, didn't do me such a dis-service afterall. However, I really hope today's school leavers get a better deal than I did and that someone listens to them a bit more closely.
Most of us end up spending an awfully big chunk of our lives in the workplace and it's so much nicer if we really want to be there.

Bye the way, I can still do a half decent fringe trim, if anyone's interested?

Thanks for reading.

29. Brexit, Breakfast, Brickshit. WTF?!!

Back in the summer, the British people made a terrible mistake and voted for something called Brexit. I'm absolutely certain it was a mistake, but what that mistake actually entails remains a mystery.

For a kick-off, the powers that be don't seem to know what it is. Mrs Theresa May, she of the sexy kitten heels and stern, dominatrix expression, seems to think it's something called Bregzit, which is a worry as she's apparently in charge of the whole shebang.

Meanwhile, John McDonnel and Andrew Davies both seems to imagine we're debating Breakfast, which is a lovely idea. I would welcome the notion that legislation about Breakfast was embedded in the constitution.

Then again, there appears to be some confusion as the type of Breakfast we're contemplating here. John McDonnel expressed fears that it would be a chaotic Breakfast. Well, I for one can relate to that, and I bet a lot of other people can too. Indeed, I'm full of admiration for those who, on a week day, can still manage a beautifully set table with a choice of the full English, kedgeree or devilled kidneys with a selection of cereals and toast and conserves on the side.  In our house, back when there were three school children to be fed and equipped for the day, and two adults dispatched to work on time, I counted it a good day if everybody had a few cornflakes and a cup of tea inside them before the front door slammed behind us.

I'd chip the cemented cereal off the bowls when I eventually returned home.

I'd fit right in with the chaotic Breakfast idea.

But, apparently, there are two other options. Hard or Soft Breakfast. So what of them?

Hard Breakfast is, well, hard to contemplate. Would it limit us to overdone, charcoaled toast and Weetabix without milk? I'm not too keen on that idea. Or those horrible biscuits that claim to be  breakfast in a bar? Come to think of it, breakfast in an actual bar, with the option of gin on your Crunchycracklypopsios, doesn't sound too bad. But I digress. Hard Breakfast is not for me.

Soft Breakfast, on the other hand, sounds fine. That could incorporate Eggs Florentine (though that sounds a bit foreign, so we're probably not allowed it any more) or porridge, or scrambled eggs with a bit of smoked salmon. I could live with that.

But nobody knows, so we can't relax.

I've a sneaking suspicion that it's nothing to do with any of the above, and we could be in for a very bumpy ride, involving things much more serious that what we sling in front of our unsuspecting families of a morning. I think it might include issues that impinge on our very way of life and will now be dictated by views that I, personally, find abhorrent.

I have nice neighbours. They have always been kind, helpful and, on occasion, very generous towards me. Yet, on the morning after the vote, one of them, expressing her delight in the result, said such vile things about immigrants that I wanted to punch her in her sweet, little churchgoing mouth. It's a nasty, divisive thing is Brexit, and nothing whatever to do with the cheery chaos of the average family breakfast table. Would that it were.

I'm putting all my (undoubtedly misplaced) faith in Article 50. I'm not sure if I've got it right but I'm led to believe that we're not really out of the EU until this mysterious Article has been activated. And who's going to want to trigger it? I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that Cabinet meeting. I can just see them all, gathered round the table at number ten, trying not to catch Theresa's eye when the subject pops up.
'What about you, Boris? I seem to remember you were frightfully keen on it?'
'No! Sorry Tezza, you sexy old thing, but I couldn't possibly. Not with all this this Foreign Secretary muck you've dumped onto my bloody plate. Just no time, you old slapper.'
'Well IDS, couldn't you be a sweetie and do this teensy, weensy favour for your little Prime Ministerikins.'
'Christ no! They all hate me as it is. I don't want to risk making it any worse. Are you mad, woman?'
'Not even if I give your lovely little bald head one of my special strokes, Iain?'
'That bloody David! Sneaking off home to Sam and his kitchen suppers and watching Aston Ham and leaving me to shovel up the shit. Bastard!'

If they all refuse, even the man who looks after the boilers at Westminster, we could be saved!

And let's not even get started on the debacle that's taking place across the pond. How that loathsome caricature, Donald Trump, even ended up as a possible replacement for the dignified, cerebral diplomat that is Obama is a mystery to me. Have they all gone mad? Did they put something in the water? It's a travesty, isn't it?

Good old Hills is far from perfect but, honestly people, take a good look at the choice. At least the woman has practised her craft and always been on the side of the underdog, unlike Trump who, it would seem, has crawled out of the slime, with a shit smeared silver spoon in his maw, and reared up to bellow his bile, devoid of any moral code, for the delight the disenfranchised masses. My sympathies are with them, but Trump, with his racist, misogynist ignorance, is not going to be their saviour. And that's the tragedy.

But I do like those Trump Pence signs, because it sounds like the form of currency they'd have in Trumpton, which is quite sweet.

I'm now going to sound like the decrepit throwback that I am, but I entered this world at the end of the last World War, and grew up with all that well intentioned rhetoric about our loathing for Hitler and how we would never let it happen again.

But here we are, watching it, clear eyed. And some of those people who would have spoken in favour of the Kindertransport, which took place back in the nineteen forties to save the lives of Jewish children, will now raise objections to a handful of refugee children being brought over to Britain from the hellish conditions they've been existing (you can't call it living) in, over in Calais. Hitler would be rejoicing. I truly fear his is spirit is alive and well and cavorting about all over the world.

Trump wants to build walls to preserve America for the.......what? American Indians? Obviously not. The USA is a country of immigrants. Just as Britain is a mongrel race. We were invaded so many times our language incorporates bits of every nation's tongue that could possibly get a boat onto one of our many shores. And lots of them did. It's good. It's dynamic. What's the fucking problem?

Let's face it. There's really only one race. It's called the human race. And I apologise if that sounds twee but I mean it and I believe it. If we can't extend a helping hand to our neighbour, when they're having a rough time, then it's a poor look out.

And tomorrow it could all too easily be us. So surely, whilst we're the lucky ones, we can afford to be kind.

Thank you for reading.

Please feel free to share if you'd like to.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

28. May The Fourth Be With You. A true story about a birth, the Queen, the bomb squad, Star Wars, a missed lunch, a wonderful, if slightly imperfect, result and our amazing NHS.

At around three fifteen on the morning of the fourth of May, nineteen eighty two, I awoke my snoring husband with the joyous/scary information that I was pretty sure I was in labour. He did what men, down the ages,  have done. He blinked uncomprehendingly for a minute of two. Then, as I emitted a noise that couldn't be interpreted as anything other than pain, he leapt out of bed and ran up and down the bedroom in a panicky, futile manner flapping his hands. Meanwhile, I lay there and observed him, in the equally age old manner of women since time began, and wondered why I had entrusted this person with the care of myself and the fruits of my womb. I sank back on the pillow and decided it was too late to make anything other than the best of a bad job.

Three hours later, having arranged the care of our other two children and, blinded by fear and tiredness, thrown a few, totally unsuitable items, into a bag (who needs leg warmers, a swimsuit and a packet of instant noodles on a maternity ward?) we set off to our nice, new local hospital

The usually packed car park was eerily empty, even allowing for the earliness of the hour, and there were bits of tape across all but one entrance. It struck us as a bit odd, but we had other things on our minds and drove in via the only way open and parked. My husband ran round to drag me out of the passenger seat, terrified anything might happen before people who knew what they were doing could get to me, and hustled me, as I whimpered, into the building.

Once there everything changed. Calm people, nice people, people who knew what they were doing put me in a bed, assessed me and told us, with mis-placed cheeriness in our opinion, that we had, 'a long way to go yet.'  So we settled in for the long haul.

Then it started. A nurse, popping in to monitor my contractions, gazed out of the window and remarked casually, 'The bomb squad are coming to sort out that car. It's not supposed to be there.' Husband, desperate for anything to take his mind off the matter in hand, joined her at the window to observe what sounded like an interesting scenario. Seconds later, as I watched fascinated, he went back into panicky, hand flapping mode as he cried,' That's my car, don't let them blow it up!'
Frankly, by this point, they could have set fire to it and put it through a crusher and I wouldn't have given a flying fuck. Husband grabbed the keys and set off at an impressive turn of speed.

I propped myself up on my elbows and, in between a bit of wailing, observed him, out in the car park, abandoning all vestige of manliness to wring his hands in a grovelling manner before great big blokes in scary uniforms with shooty stabby things attached to them. They eyed him with cold disinterest as he fell to his knees on the tarmac in supplication. I was idly wondering if they might start assaulting him with any of their weaponry when they relented and he was allowed to drive our old banger to safety.

'What the hell's going on?' I asked the nurse.
'Didn't you know? The Queen's coming to do the official opening today,' she said.
'Oh, shit!' I said.

And it was just as I feared.

The vast majority of the staff disappeared to watch the arrival of HM, leaving me to wonder if the man who went round refilling the water jugs could handle a delivery if the chips were down. At one point a cheery nurse stuck her head round the door to give me the news that, owing to the royal visit, all patients were to have a lunch of unusual opulence, to include several courses and.....delivered with tremendous emphasis......A GLASS OF WINE! I was perking up a tad at this point when she added,
'Oh sorry. You're in labour so you can't have anything.' And she withdrew her perfidious head and was gone. Bastard!

I've always been an anti-monarchist but on that day I had some particularly bitter thoughts for the over-indulged, pampered lot of them. My greatest fear was that Liz might show up in my labour room, asking me if I'd come far, and would get a mouthful of such vitriol that I, and my blameless babe, would end up in the Tower. Hell hath no fury like a woman in transition.

My husband had to be issued with a special pass just so he could leave my room and go to and get a cup of tea. Moving anywhere without it meant he would risk being rugby tackled by one of the purposeful men with the glint of violence in their eyes patrolling the corridors and talking into their sleeves.

Even when I was being moved to the delivery room, on a trolley and now shrieking like a banshee, we were intercepted by a bloke with a big gun and an overdeveloped sense of his own importance. I remember thinking that if he decided to frisk me he'd come to regret it.

I lay on the delivery table, eyes closed, trying to remember my useless breathing exercises, and begging my husband for a drink of water (all I was allowed) and wondering why no water was forthcoming. I opened my eyes to see my sleep-deprived, nerve-racked husband slumped in the chair at my bedside with what were supposed to be MY headphones on listening to the radio. I cursed him, along with day we'd met, my foolishness at letting him within fifty yards of me and even threw in a malediction or two on the heads of all his forebears. He took it in good part.

Then he roused himself and decided to help with the aforementiond exercises. We'd been advised to find a song to match the rhythm of the recommended breathing. We, unwisely, came up with, 'What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor.' By this point I just wanted the whole, beastly business over with. There was a whole human person trying to exit my body via a ridiculously small aperture (see Blog No.7) so sod the breathing bit. Husband was determined to try and keep me on track. When, at last, a midwife tore herself away from viewing the Monarch, she walked in on the bizarre tableau of my husband clutching my unresisting body and rocking me violently back and forth whilst lustily singing a sea shanty. Her look was one of weary resignation.

And then she was born, our third daughter, and we were happy and the staff were happy and I was so euphoric I could even forgive Liz for showing up on what was so obviously MY day and not hers. And her daddy gave her her first bath and took her to the window to show her the buses going past the hospital.

There's a plaque on the hospital, commemorating the date. It says it's because the Queen turned up, but I know different.

A few years later we would discover that this baby had arrived with a large hole in her tiny heart. And in another hospital a huge team of dedicated, highly trained professionals would spend long, long hours repairing it. As that train of green clad figures followed the trolley carrying my infant daughter into the operating theatre it occurred to me to wonder, in the midst my terror, just how much this would have cost us if we'd have had to pay to save our child's life. More than we could ever afford, I knew that.

But, just as they'd brought her safely in to the world, those amazing people successfully kept her in it, and even found time and compassion to support her parents, every harrowing step of the way.

So today, thirty four years later, I shall meet up with that same daughter for a celebratory drink and, yet again, feel undying gratitude for all those wonderful men and women who made it possible. I'll offer up a silent 'thank you' for our peerless, priceless, endangered NHS and all those incredible, over-worked, under-valued people we take so much for granted to help us in times of dire adversity. We're lucky to have them. And I'm lucky to have my daughter.

Happy birthday Jess!

And yes, your Star Wars fan dad will still do the May the fourth be with you thing. Sorry.

Thank you so much for reading.

Friday, 4 March 2016

27. The Day Gary Barlow Killed Our Cat.

'In the midst of life we are in death', as someone in the Bible (I think, I'm not an expert) once said. How true. Only this morning my portable radio died on me, just as we were getting to the denouement of the play. Very annoying. It left me sitting in the bath shouting expletives at the blameless thing. If you happen to know what I look like, then I apologise for that mental image. Feel free to go and poke out your mind's eye. Those of you who don't are safe.

And the daffodils that have been brightening my kitchen for the past week have now withered, their sap drained, all life fled. It's the natural way. The cycle of life and all that.

But sometimes we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to intervene in the natural process, and that's no fun. A while ago our much loved family cat, Molly, began to display the more distressing signs of old age and eventually, despite our hopes that a bit of extra TLC would revive her to her former, frolicsome self, we realised that she was a very unhappy, uncomfortable little cat and it was up to us to relieve her pain. Not an easy decision, but one that had to be made.

Into her basket she went and we headed for the local vet. My husband and I stood side by side in the Treatment Room, not making eye contact because neither of us wanted to be the one to break down first, awaiting the arrival of our allocated vet. And then the door opened, and in he came. Gary Barlow!

Not the real Gary Barlow, obviously. I'm sure we'd all know if GB actually moonlighted in the world of animal doctoring. Indeed, I'm inclined to believe it could only add to his allure in the eyes of his fans, so I think we'd have heard. But it was him to the life. The spitting image. And then he opened his mouth and those same, reassuringly flat, Mancunian vowels issued forth as he smiled compassionately and took charge of the situation. Good old 'Gary' was bloody marvellous and we will be endlessly grateful to him.

This lovely young vet was everything we could have hoped for. He was totally empathetic with us, as the doting pet owners, assuring us our decision was the right one, and all gentle concern for poor old Molly. He brought in a special, fleecy blanket for her to lie on in comfort and gave her a quick shot to relax her. Then he left us alone with her, to say whatever we felt needed to be said.

Naturally, as he'd left the room, I'd hissed at my husband,
'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'
Him,  'Yeh, I think so.'
Together,  'Gary Barlow! I know!'
Molly remained non-committal. She was never a 'Take That' fan.

And then he came back to deliver the fatal jab. It was as trauma-free as it could be for all concerned.

After that we sobbed liked bastards.

We took her home and buried her in her favourite spot in the garden.

And then I got to thinking. If it only it could be like that for all of us.

I know the arguments against legalising euthanasia and they are, of course, valid. Nobody wants the families of bothersome old relatives snapping up one way tickets to Switzerland before you can say, 'Where's the will?' But I would argue that, whilst we put so much time, effort and money into finding ways of prolonging life, we give precious little attention to improving the end of it.

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking I'd take comfort in knowing that, should I ever reach the point where either illness or sheer decrepitude rendered me irrevocably wretched,  then I could rely on those who cared about me to sort me out. Much as we did for Molly.

I can picture the scene. My loved ones are gathered together to discuss the problem.

'You can see she's not happy.'
'I know. I've tried to tempt her with her favourite, gin flavoured titbits, but she's not interested.'
'That's a bad sign!'
'Yes. And she can't even be bothered to move when I tell her it's time for 'Judge Judy' on the telly.' 
(It's my guilty pleasure, all right? Don'
'So sad. Remember how she'd walk for miles if you threw her the promise of decent gourmet pub at the end of it?'
'And have you noticed the state of her hair? Not nice and glossy like it used to be.'
'And her nose is awfully warm.'
'Last time the doctor came out he said there's not much you can do for them at this age.'
'So do you think it's maybe time to....?'
'To be honest, I think it'd be a kindness.'

And it would! It really, really would! The equivalent of Gary would be summoned and in he'd come, with his bag of tricks and, maybe, a fleecy blanket, all gentle concern and reassurance and in no time at all my suffering would be ended.

And then, for all I care, they can shovel me into the flowerbed next to the cat. Funeral costs are outrageous and I'd rather those I loved spent the money on a damned good knees-up. It makes more sense than brass handles and wreaths. They'd be lost on me anyway.

Sadly, as things stand, poor old Gary would risk being hauled up in front of the General Medical Council at the very least, and might even end up doing porridge for a while, which seems awfully unfair for doing someone a tremendous favour.

But there it is, we're trusted to make the right decision on behalf of our pets but not for each other.

Pity, that.

Thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

26. Citymapper, Sex And Talking To Baby.

The pretty girl, sitting next to me on the bus, is looking at her phone. She's been looking at it since she got on, ten minutes ago. I'm looking at the baby. It's a dear little thing, sitting in its buggy and getting very excited about its surroundings. It's pointing and babbling. It's smiling at me. I'm smiling back. The girl next to me looks at her phone. She's the baby's mum. I know this because the baby looks at her sometimes and goes, 'Mum mum mum mum mum,' whilst reaching out its little hand towards her, trying to get her attention. The girl goes on looking at her phone.

I have a terrible urge to knock the phone out of the girl's hand and shriek,
'Look at what's in front of you, you moron! It's more amazing and fascinating than anything you'll ever see on that fucking thing! Don't you know how lucky you are?'

But I don't. I'm an elderly woman, sitting on a bus. I don't do things like that. I wish I was brave, but I'd probably get chucked off the bus. So humiliating! And it's pissing down, so I ponder the tragedy of it all and keep my mouth shut. Pathetic.

I see it almost every day. I see small children, experiencing the world for the first time, thrilled, scared, fascinated and desperate for the attention of the adult in front of them to share, interpret or reassure. And that adult looks at their phone. I see couples at restaurant tables, eyes fixed on the phone beside their plate. They might as well eat alone. Or maybe they've reached the point of only communicating via text.

'How's your steak, darling?' Send
'Fine thanks. And the fish?' Send
'Bit dry actually.' Send
'Oh, bummer. Fancy sex tonight?' Send
'If you like. I can probably be on Skype about 11.30. Would that suit?' Send
'Lovely. Gives me time to check Facebook and Twitter, answer my emails, download those iTunes I want and have a bit of WhatsApp time with Barry. Would you believe, he asked me round for a beer?I told him, who does that anymore?' Send
'See you on Skype later then. The black bra?' Send
'Please. Want a dessert or just coffee?' Send

I worry about the young folk. I worry about everyone, truth be told, but them in particular.

It's probably a good idea if I nail my colours to the mast at this point and declare that I really LOVE modern technology and I use it all the time. But I didn't grow up with it. By modern standards I didn't grow up with anything. And our household was considered privileged because we had a black and white television with a tiny screen and a blurry picture and one channel, plus a big, black telephone in the hall that the neighbours would come and use, leaving two pence in the ashtray next to it. And my world was small and limited, but I did go out and look at it, the actual materiality of it.  I could not only see and hear it but touch it and smell it and feel the air and pick up on the atmosphere.

Now we all carry the whole wider world in our pockets. And that's miraculous. It's utterly wonderful when it inspires us to do things or see places that might otherwise never have entered our imaginations. But it's scary when it replaces the real thing. I, like a Cassandra of doom, foresee a time when everyone lives their entire existence through the medium of a screen, with all experiences becoming vicarious as we transmute into cyber-zombies, oblivious to our surroundings, glued to the little patch of light in the palm of our hand. That can't be healthy, can it? But, just like poor old Cassie, I doubt anyone will take any notice of me.

Real life can be a messy, unpredictable bitch. In cyberspace we're in control. That's very seductive. But give me the roller-coaster ride of reality any day.

Phones are fantastic. I have several aids on my mine to help me find my way round any unfamiliar city. I can see how far my destination is, how long it takes to get there, the public transport I can catch and even the number of calories I'll burn if I choose to walk. Amazing. My children urge me to use it. And I do. But sometimes the rebel in me surges up and I think, 'Sod it! I'm going to ask a real, live fellow human being to point me in the right direction.' So I do. What's more, even in the supposedly cold and unfriendly metropolis that is London, I have always been met with a friendly smile and willingness to help. It's sometimes led to a brief, cheery conversation and a bit of a giggle, sending me on my way with a grin. You don't get that from Citymapper.

Sometimes, in the weekend broadsheets, I read an article on the lines of, 'I Switched Off My Phone For A Week!' The following piece is written much in the style of somebody who's been terribly deprived and how heroically they survived. You know, like a hostage, chained to a radiator for five years or somebody who came through the Blitz. They say stuff like, 'Need to let Jacinta know that Waitrose is completely out of Cave Aged Cheeseyshit. Oh God! What to do? Feel faint, but push on to the fish counter, praying they'll have the hand reared, individually stroked scallops we so desperately need for the starter.'

 Come on people, get a grip. It's a useful tool but you can switch it off sometimes and the world won't end. So instead of looking at crap on Ebay, checking the weather in Buenos Aires or searching for pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch in his pants put the damned thing away and, whilst you're wondering what on earth to do to fill the time, talk to a baby....when you've finished reading this.

Thanks so much for your time.