Thursday, 8 October 2015

Tory Tandoori

Where once Norman Lamont would chew slowly on a samosa
Where David Mellor, in his 90s heyday, would eye up the King prawn bhoonas
And John Major (sans Norma) would politely order a plain naan and korma.
Now, David Cameron, poised with a poppadom, dipped in mango chutney, 
In the Tory Tandoori,
In Putney
But on week nights its full, of braying broad-shouldered youths
Fresh from the boats
Steal the oxygen from the air with their brash and beery boasts
Of watery outings on the Thames
Of catching crabs
And capsizing
On drunken night-time rows
Blades splashing across the brown depths.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


(Not so) smart phones

Be with people, when you're alone
Know-it-all phones
Smarty-pants phones
Battery-powered glow worms
Go out but stay in
Unhappy apps
Take you places
You've never been

Stored close to your breast
Or lower down is best
Intimate circuit board
Jangling, hot
Pressed against the flesh
Love me
Love my GPS

Take it out
Put it away
The gnawing lure begs you to stay
A ping, a whistle, an old fashioned vibrate
Demands to be fed
The screen turns on, illuminates
The dark and irresistible
Chasm of the web.

Friday, 24 July 2015

An appointment with the ointment

From unctions to ointments, pomades and liniments; from preparations to suspensions via balms, gels and tinctures...there are so many words for goo. It is a lexicographer’s Lotto win and a linguist’s afternoon well spent. But this is not the only reason I love a bathroom cabinet. They are both a window on the soul of their owner and contain solutions (yet another word for goo) to almost all our ills, both moral and physical. The hope contained within is tangible. The presence of an overflowing cupboard above the sink reassures me that everything might just be all right. Those I have glanced at during brief stopovers at friends’ houses are usually stuffed full - their owners’ discontentment writ large in their Olbas Oil, their withered tubes of Anusol and their efficient-looking bottles of Neutrogena T-gel. The cabinet of the anxious high achiever always contains answers to conflicting problems - Bach remedies to calm you down, ProPlus to pick you up and Vicks to clear your airwaves when your immune system gives way under the strain.
My own cabinet is no different. I try to be a frugal shopper, but clearly something in me can never resist the hope offered by a trip to Superdrug. My instant reaction to discomfort is "Is there something for that?" Any sign of an itch or an ache and I’m sprinting up the high street for some overpriced bottle whose first ingredient is usually "Aqua". Do the makers of these products seriously believe we are fooled by such terminology? It doesn’t matter. They count on the fact that - in the haze of misery caused by the fast-paced boredom of modern life - people will cling to the slight hope offered by the 0.01 per cent 'active ingredient'. My side of the cabinet bristles with evidence of life's endless challenges: tea-tree oil for post-birth vaginal healing, lavender oil for insomnia and four kinds of face cream (I lurch between insanely cheap and stupidly expensive, depending on how optimistic I feel- I'm currently siding with Lidl own brand). My husband's side of the cupboard contains nothing but a single enormous cock-shaped deodorant from L'Oreal. I'm not sure what this says about him but we should perhaps keep him out of this.
I am a tired-out mum-of-three gnawed half to death by a sense that my career has shrivelled and died. My daily grind of scrubbing, mopping and barking instructions at lunatic children does nothing for the self-esteem. It is perhaps only natural I look to Proctor and Gamble. It is easier to exfoliate one’s butt-cheeks with a six pound St Ives body scrub - and enjoy the subsequent short-lived satisfaction - than to actually decide what to do with your life.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Graven Images

A childhood. Nancy, Titty and Roger enjoyed one, and so did Milly-Molly-Mandy. As a society, we idolise the traditional notion of an age of innocence, where children have no greater worry than running out of corned beef on a camping trip. And as the possibility of making this fuzzy pastoral vision a reality appears to become eroded, we worship it all the more. Now, our children are taken from their selfish mothers and sent to nursery care at six months old. Schools leech all enthusiasm from children with endless neurotic preparation for the dreary and ill-conceived phonics ‘check’, and national tests. Roads are too choked with cars to play in or even cross alone. Computer games featuring vivid animations of bloody hand-to-hand combat are the only ‘safe’ option beyond scheduled and structured sports and cultural clubs. Downtime is dead. Long live Call of Duty.  And don’t forget the internet. One minute they are playing a harmless game on the Haribo marketing website, the next they are being devoured alive by a paedophile carnivore from Munich. So far, so scary. Risk has been outlawed and low-level hysteria prevails, as parents long for their children to bask in an endless summer of cornfields, welly boots and picnics wrapped up in gingham cloths. I am fairly typical. I will do anything to drag my kids away from the telly into the garden to look at snails. I am disgusted by their foul, capitalist, homogenised character pyjamas, and long for the day their cheap transfers flake off in the wash. I’ll admit it, I want my boys in flannel shorts fishing for sticklebacks in the local ditch. If only I was brave enough to ever let them out of my sight for a single moment.
Even the activity of simply taking photographs of our children is now laced with neuroses. In an era defined by social media and the ubiquity of the selfie it seems odd that it should be so fraught. I recently received a communiqué from my son’s nursery school detailing why we would not be allowed to take photographs of our children receiving their little ‘graduation’ diplomas. The risk that parents might put a picture on Facebook, and that the picture would be seen, and used as a sex-aid by paedophiles is too great, apparently. If the risk of a pervert seeing a fully-clothed picture is so high, why have the graduation ceremony at all? What if one of the parents at the actual ceremony is a child abuser? What if a paedophile is SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE and looking at our fully-clothed children in real life? Westerners may criticise Muslims for covering their women to 'protect' them from the sexual advances of men but we apparently want a similar thing for our children. Never before have I really been forced to face – through actual experience – the full silliness of this modern-day mania, where paedophiles have a quasi-religious significance. Let your child be seen and they will be snatched away by an unemployed loner who lives in a porn-strewn bedsit and smells of wee. It leaves me longing for the Red Legged Scissorman.
I won’t be protesting, however. If the nursery staff really believe this interpretation of their local authority’s policy, so be it. And I have no desire for some equally crazed stickler from Ofsted to undermine their good work with an ‘inadequate’ rating. But I have found a way around the problem: as in a court of law, there is no prohibition on drawing. I shall be sitting on the front row with my pencil in hand. And putting it on Facebook afterwards.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Playmobil bus of grief

It is 14 years this summer that my brother died. It seems as if a lifetime has passed since he drowned while swimming off a beach on the Isle of Wight. Our wounds of mourning have healed well in that time and thoughts of him are more fond and nostalgic than grief-stricken. Occasionally, it can feel as if the loss-monster is twisting his dirty spade into my guts - those mornings when I wake up from a dream of him. Or if I hear his voice on a tape recording he has made. Or stumble upon a picture of him as a student, dressed as a horse at Ascot or some such youthful caper.
But generally, it has been ok. Life goes on and we try to remember him without making too much of a fuss.
But watching my two little boys play together, building towns across the living room floor with Duplo Lego and Playmobil (and the odd Spiderman) I am prompted to think about my brother more and more. For much of the day now (bear in mind I am on maternity leave), I think about him and the childhood we shared.
We spent so many hours building cities with Asterix figures and Playmobil, sometimes in my bedroom, sometimes under the big ash tree in the garden, building dug-out houses with roofs of sticks and moss. I remember the total absorption - the ‘flow'- we experienced when we were engaged in these games that came so naturally.
The importance of these memories came to the fore recently when my parents started passing on my own Playmobil sets to my children. Previous kits (a police car, a medieval castle) had been torn to pieces by my not-quite-old-enough offspring and I was not keen to see my beloved 1980s stuff destroyed in a moment.
"Just let them enjoy them, it doesn’t matter if they get broken" my dad had said offhandedly. I try not to be too materialistic, but I found this wanton squandering of my toys painful.
I had to steal my tattered Playmobil school bus away and hide it in the wardrobe, the thought of it being torn apart by a three-year-old was so unthinkable. 
It took me a while to work out why these lumps of plastic were so important to me. Why does it hurt so much when the youngest one tears a headlamp off and loses it between the floorboards? Why do I feel a tear in my eye when I see three figures of schoolchildren with their hair torn off?
Then it occurred to me: the Playmobil sets are among the last few things I have left of my brother. We pushed that little bus around in the dirt endlessly and it became the basis for so many stories and scenarios that we shared. To lose the bus would be to lose a symbol of those happy and innocent times, before life brought us insecurities and responsibilities and grief.
I have resolved to keep the bus in its hiding place - I will allow myself to preserve this little relic. I have started to raid Ebay to keep the children kitted out with Playmobil sets with less sentimental value. I have my eye on an incredible exploding volcano/Jurassic scene, a sweetshop and a playground. I can’t wait to start playing with them.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Babies: The Consolations of Maternity Leave

To ease into my new era of domestico-political ramblings - some notes on babies and maternity leave:

To those who have never been on it, maternity leave is a glorious, self-indulgent holiday. To those who have, (I am on my third bout) it is an intense period of extremely hard home-working which seems to involve a large amount of exhausting lolling around.
Yes, I am in a cafe reading the i newspaper - but my little 14-week-old time bomb will go off any second, demanding me to perform a mini-striptease in a public place.
Yes, I am lying on my back on the rug working on my abs, but with every leg-lift I have to remember the next verse of the Sleeping Bunnies song.
And yes, that is me going for a pleasant suburban stroll in the evening crepuscule. But if I stop to look at a house or tree, or to marvel at the squirrels as they leap across the top of the wheeleybins, I will have 30 decibels of baby fed directly into my ear.
A large amount of time seems to be spent on the sofa, which is slowly becoming encrusted with breastmilk. She snorts and sucks wildly as I stare at the TV remote, so far across the other side of the room. I gaze into the walls for inspiration as the oxytocin washes over me and I forget which way is up, which way is down, and why we are here at all.
So, this period of intense child-rearing - a mere prelude to the reality of ‘going back to work’ and THE REST OF YOUR LIFE- is both a wonderful gift and a hideous prison. Irritations drip one by one onto my forehead until I beg for mercy.
But, as I am clearly a glutton for this glorious form of punishment, there are clearly upsides. For me, it is all in the little details, that keep you going through the sleepless nights and frustrating days, where minutes last an hour and months last a second.
Here are my 10 consolations of early motherhood:

1. The way the baby’s nose-breath cools your hot, gnawed nipple after it slips from her mouth - a much underrated design feature.
2. Wearing your favourite slippers on the school run.
3. The chance to marvel at the multi-purpose nature of one’s body parts.
4. Incredible bicep and deltoid development.
5. Popping into the office seems like a short holiday.
6. Looking into the poppet’s dark, black eyes - which remind me of a baby seal as it looks up at a hunter with a club - and sensing she might love me as much as I love her.
7. The three weeks after the birth, when you feel you are wheeling a miniature celebrity around the neighbourhood.
8. Seeing the sun is out and going outside immediately.
9. Admiring a washing line covered in clean drying nappies (I don’t like admitting this one...)
10. Spending an hour staring out across the garden, hoping for the robin to drop in.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Burying the Thatchet?

The deaths of the elderly, however expected, always seem to come as a bit of a surprise. So when I heard Baroness Thatcher had finally dropped from her perch, I put down my copy of Socialist Worker and took a while to look into my soul.
I was only young when she was in power, so sucked up my views about her from my family.
I was brought up in a Thatcher-despising household. The conversation as I grew up in the eighties was as anti-Thatch as it was possible to get. "That awful woman" was the common refrain. My dad put a massive "Vote Labour" banner around the end of the house once. Hating Thatcher, I knew, was in my blood, and I believed everything I was told.
In the intervening years, I haven't given much time to analysing her. Perhaps I developed a glimmer of admiration for a woman lording it over so many Tory old duffers.
But while I have carved out a pretty directionless career for the last 10 years and most carelessly popped out a couple of kids, it seems I should have been reading Thatcher biographies.
It was only when she slipped off the radar in the Ritz and it was beamed to the nation on Sky News, I actually realised what an icon she was.
Ok, ok, so there were the miners, the Irish hunger strikers, the Falklands, the selfish individualism, the raping of British industry and the creation of far too many energy providers.
But putting all that aside - she was incredible. My jaw hangs open in awe when I see her at work in all the documentary footage. The level of sheer power and influence she achieved as a woman, a person, a mother, is just beyond what seems possible even now. She has been criticised for not being feminist enough and didn't promote enough women. She didn't feel it was her task, she just wanted to get on with the job.
We need more real women coming through, doing real things, without taking the short-list ladder or blathering constantly about feminism and such (although I think feminism is great, obviously, and have the body hair to prove it.)
"Lean in", as Facebook woman Sheryl Sandberg would say. Thatch leaned in so much she threw herself across the table, pushed a couple of blokes in the face with her steely hands and another couple with her court shoe heels. Rock on, Iron Lady.
Personally, I fail to lean in at all times. I'm timid, although self-assured in a couple of limited areas and environments. But I know that ambition isn't enough. But Thatcher wasn't just a steamroller from Grantham. She clearly had a mind like a blooming sponge that mere mortals can only dream of. She qualified as a research chemist then a short while later with two kids became a barrister for Geoffrey Howe's sake.
Although I'm reluctant to reduce a female politician to her looks, I should at least say something on her style. Her self-presentation put us all to shame. The hair, the suits, the little scarves, the slightly larger scarves. All amazing.
There are many who will argue that we can't bury Thatcher-hate with her death - that we must remember the destruction she wrought. But I think we must.
Let's remember her as the impressive, aggressive, frightening, stylish political icon she was. No matter what the truth is, we have to stop blaming her for the country's current problems and set about solving some of them. Even if she caused them.
So on at her funeral on Wednesday, let's bury the Thatchet, so to speak.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gay Underwater Marriage

It's time to bring this blog up to date. It's time to bring this country up to date. It's time to start rejecting bigotry and old-fashioned prejudice dressed up with so-called "valid political arguments".
Those against gay marriage really do believe that "redefining marriage" will lead to the end of civilisation.
Well, if marriage is as defined by the religios, I managed to do that when I got married in a hotel down the road from my parents.
Marriage has, for some time, already been redefined. Once, it was all meeting the priest and never getting divorced even if your husband was sexually abusing the kids.
But now, divorce abounds. People remarry six times, with a younger groom each time. People get married up the London Eye or hanging from a bungee jump crane over a carpark in Milton Keynes. People get married in wetsuits in the local pool. God doesn't even need to be invoked for marriage to take place.
So, I simply don't accept the arguments against gay marriage.
So teachers "could be sacked" if they refused to "promote" it, whatever that means. I don't believe schools are really in the business of "promoting" any kind of marriage, but even if they were, we'd sort it out with a good old debate.
So there will be legal teething problems. We'll get through it. Democratic and civilized countries do. Let's prove we are a civilized, forward looking country. We are a better place for the smoking ban. We'll be a better place for gay marriage.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Topless Sunbathing? How Very Eighties...

So what's it to be, Prince Harry's testicles on the front page of The Sun or Princess Kate's blurry breasticulates in a foreign gossip rag? It's a question many of us have surely been asking over recent days. Well, my answer would be neither over breakfast, if you please. As a washed up housefrau, the decadence of it all appalls me. Just put your clothes on, kids, you'll catch a chill.
 "There's a couple of freshly laundered fleeces on top of the radiator and those t-shirts you wore yesterday have got another day left in them," would be my words to them, even before I start worrying about the poor royals' human rights.
But it does strike me these blue-blooded Monarchs-in-waiting are indulging in some terribly old-fashioned hobbies.
I didn't realise anybody played billiards anymore...and since when was it fashionable to do topless sunbathing? I tried it once, aged 19, in the South of France, of course. There's something about baguettes and berets and terraces littered with Pagnol novels that make even the meekest of students throw their TopShop crop top to the four winds. But it is so terribly eighties. Breasts are as milky white as the Elizabethans now, surely? It's all Lily Cole and that pale one from the Sugababes, isn't it?
Anyway, as for the moral outrage, well, Harry was asking for it. It may have been different if a dodgy paparazzo had flogged a picture of him having a crap in a hotel toilet, but he needs to choose his party mates better if he doesn't want to be photographed. Sending him to Afghanistan seems a little bit of a harsh punishment for this lack of judgement, but that's the Clarence House disciplinary for you.
As for Katie, well, of course she could reasonably expect privacy. Where does one draw the line - pictures of her flossing her immaculate teeth through the bathroom window? Shots of her squeezing her spots in her boudoir taken on hidden camera by a treacherous servant? Is it all in the public interest? However, the thought of her basking in the sunshine with her t*ts out, no doubt reading Flowers in the Attic or whatever while I graft my arse off and freak out over my bank balance daily does grate a little. (Ok, so it grates a lot, but I'm still coming out in support for her over all.)
Anyway, so the point is, they may be naff and rich and make me angrily jealous at their gilded lives, but they have to have a chance to let it all hang out (quite literally).
Clarence House regularly tries to keep the press at bay with its approved photocalls and interviews. Skiing, touring an orphanage, relaxing with family at Christmas, etc. In years to come, should we expect to see official shots of Harry in the shower or Kate and Wills in the bath? Perhaps they could do a "Hello" spread and make some additional dosh by having some Molten Brown product placement.
At least they're not politicos. At least they are young and attractive. Certainly, that's part of their problem. The Sun has dozens of shots of prime ministers picking their noses and chancellors eating beefburgers wearing clothes from Cotton Traders. All of them far too unpleasant to publish.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The End of It All

It was the defining moment of the summer for me. Tears were welling up in my mother's eyes as we stood for the German national anthem. 'How silly,' I thought as I looked over to her, 'what kind of idiot British person would cry during the German national anthem? Has she forgotten the war?'
But at the same moment I had this slightly xenopobic thought, I was urgently suppressing a tear from my own left eye. The sheer excitement and noise of the Olympic stadium, even during a relatively boring morning athletics session, had moved us to tears. It only took a few strains of the Deutschlandlied to send us over into "ridiculous weeping women" territory. I can't even remember which German had won a medal.
We soon pulled ourselves together and got on with some calmer admiration of Iraqi dwarves throwing javelins. But from that point forth, we knew we had finally cast off any remaining shreds of cynicism towards the "Summer Like No Other" or however the Olympic jamboree was branded.
And of course, it's over now. Already I am looking for the cracks reappearing in the transport networks, the rubbish accumulating on the gleaming streets of Hackney and Newham, a return to misery as usual. So many words have been written, so much over-excited puff consumed, an unsustainable suspension of all criticism must, at some point, end. We are not North Koreans after all.
What we must remember is that London is amazing city. It was before the games, and will be afterwards. Just because the papers aren't telling us what to celebrate every morning doesn't mean we won't find our own reasons for joy. We will just have to find them ourselves. Which is surely more fun.