Archive for August, 2009


There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…

People can be so hypocritical when it comes to their children…

Amazon and I took a trip down memory lane yesterday as I tried to buy the books I remember from my childhood. I recently purchased ‘The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler’ by Gene Kemp because it was on sale for a penny and on reading it, suddenly remembered why childrens’ literature is so incredible. My Mum bought me ‘Grump and the Hairy Mammoth’ and ‘Grump goes Galumphing’  last year, so I started looking to expand my collection with ‘Grump strikes back’… then, of course, I began to recall more and more books until I found myself face to face with ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’

I loved this book – in fact, I think I loved it so much that all the pages fell out and it sort of disintegrated. Everyone I know who read this as a child adored it and yet, looking on amazon’s review page, I found this little gem:

I bought this book as I’d remembered it as a child. I was horrified to see that on every page it states that perhaps the old lady will die….until the last page when she does die!!

I didn’t really find this suitable material for my 2 year old. You can make your own mind up on this.

Surely, if this woman loved it as a child and wasn’t warped in any way by the death of the old woman, then her own baby is likely to feel the same. And what’s worse: letting your precious little bundle of joy grow up without a knowledge of death, only to be confronted by it later with no concept of what it is, or to read them a silly little rhyme in which kids learn the dangers of overeating? 😛

A similar comment marred the star rating of ‘Goodbye Mog’.

Almost every story contains a peculiar dream sequence, which is not only hard for a small child to understand, but ocassionally a little disturbing, like when the little girl dreams that a tiger wants to eat her or the story in which Mog falls asleep and never wakes up. The Mum/Dad relationship is incredibly old fashioned with Dad reading the newspaper, watching the boxing, shouting at the cat and generally being all but the father we would like to see presented to our children.

What, really? Do you honestly think the natural process of dreaming is hard to understand? Good heavens, lady! Your politically correct developing-person must live entirely wrapped up in super-soft organic cotton wool for it to be disturbed by a dream sequence in fiction. And I’m sorry, but if Daddy works all day then he’s absolutely entitled to come home and put his feet up for ten minutes to read the paper. A one-sided relationship where the man works, does the cleaning, cooking, and generally your feminazi bidding is not a healthy one to present your child with. Or would you prefer a father figure not to be featured at all? Personally, I’d rather see a full, functioning loving family – even if it is a little old fashioned – than a young ‘career-couple’ who bred to placate their own parents’ and now pay a childminder to raise their offspring for them.

Do people really have so little faith in their childrens’ imaginations that they worry their offspring can’t tell dream from reality, or be warped by the simple fact we will all die?

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An Apology…

Yesterday, I got somewhat irate at an idiot online.

Below is his blog post entitled “Selfish religious idiots!”.

I was wondering? All of you who are so deranged that you actually believe in a personal god.

Have you ever paused to think about this? If there was such a being, one powerful enough to create the entire universe, time itself…

Why would he give a fuck what you think or do? how egosentric and self absorbed do you have to be to think that such a creature would prioritize you! Next to say…. a super nova that will seed the cosmos with matter for new solar systems?.

And why the fuck, would he favor your interpretation of distorted iron age literature?

Frankly i find the entire concept hypocritical, firstly living under constant omnipotent supervision would be horrible. It would be worse than living in Burma or north Korea.

In fact the ultimate hypocrisy is how Christians often use this as an argument, “but how will people be nice and good without god?” Listen pal! if your only reason for being good is that you believe sky daddy is constantly looking over your shoulder, you are not a nice person at all! You are just behaving because you believe you are being watched.

And they wonder why i despise religion?*

This really hurt me – not for any particularly personal reason, but because someone could be so ignorant and hate filled. In other posts, the guy even discussed a “visit the ‘insane religious’ nations tour” that he and his wife had embarked upon.

Desperate to share this injustice with the world, and with blood still boiling, I tossed a link to the guy’s blog up on my facebook page and proceeded to write the following in response to his moronic babble.

You’re entitled to your opinion – as is everyone – but surely you see the hypocrisy in what you’re saying? Your theory that everyone who believes in a god is self obsessed and egocentric is somewhat undermined by your presumption that anyone wants to listen to this tired, angry rant anyway.

What harm can it possibly do if people – evangelists and extremists aside – believe in a higher power? It hurts no one and often offers comfort and help through difficult times. These religious organisations are about more than just spiritual welfare – they’re concerned with making the community a better place, letting neighbours meet one another and creating an invaluable social network.

Most people who identify with a religion – be it Christianity, Islam or Buddhism – do so because they feel a connection with those particular teachings, not because they want to be made to feel guilty, as you seem to imply. If you actually took the time to research what you’re talking about you’d learn that all religion’s are rooted in the idea of being kind to others because it makes the world a nicer place to live in, not because there is a fear of some intangible father-figure, ready to spank. Christianity preaches forgiveness anyway – God being prepared to forget all former misdeeds as long as the sinner regrets doing them. I’m not sure about other faiths, truth be told, so I don’t want to comment and come across as ignorant as you do.

Also, I don’t think you’re quite qualified to talk about which people are and aren’t nice, following your “visit the ‘insane religious’ nations tour.” Just that comment alone, nevermind the trip itself, is amongst the most hate-filled, ignorant and frankly disgusting things I’ve ever read.

You must have an incredibly high opinion of yourself to believe that it’s up to you to judge whether or not a culture is right or wrong.

It isn’t the religious people in the world who fill it with war – it’s people like you who hide behind tags of Christian, Muslim and Atheist etc. in an attempt to hide what frightened, cowardly fools they are.

I pity you – it must be terrible being so afraid of what is different that you have to lash out and call it wrong.

I feel somewhat ashamed of myself though – I shouldn’t have let this sad man’s hateful opinions make me so incredibly angry.  I rose to his bait and tried to force my views onto my friends by passing out the blog link. This guy isn’t worth the effort of being angry and certainly isn’t worth the energy it takes to read his tired drivel.

But that’s the danger of facebook, I suppose. You’re continually broadcasting information about yourself to people who are interested enough to add you as a friend. After a while, the presumption is that you can post anything and people will want to hear about what you have to say. Sites like facebook seem to have created a miniature celebrity culture in which we presume the world is interested in our deeds and opinions – the attention we receive when people comment is almost a way of validating our actions. Perhaps school has institutionalised us – perhaps in order to feel pride in ourselves we need to hear another person praise what we have done and these social networking sites are the way in which our peers can grade us.  I’ve seen people post incredibly personal news about themselves (sexual habits, notices of bereavement etc.) as their status – things that only a decade ago, we would never have thought to share because of their private nature. Are we so desperate to please, to be interesting, to be congratulated, that we need to let the world know these intimate details of our lives?

In future, I’ll try to curb my rage long enough to stop myself from spamming your feeds with links to idiotic passages like the one above.

Sorry.

* Post written by ‘Escaped Mental Patient’ on http://escapedmentalpatient.wordpress.com/ 22.05.07

Ashes to Ashes

I almost crashed on the way to the funeral.

I’d moved into the fast lane of the A1 north to let a car join from a slip road, however said car – a beat up Ford Fiesta – was only going at 30mph and decided to pull out into the inner lane, forcing me to do an emergency stop from about 75mph. Had I been in my old Polo, I wouldn’t have been able to stop – I thank the motoring powers-that-be that I bought my lovely little Micra, if only for its impressive breaks.

They squeak now, incidentally.

It got me thinking as I set off again, following a brief pause to get my breath back, about how fragile life is. We exist on a precipice where the tiniest event, if unexpected, can bring about disaster.

Seeing G-‘s coffin made that feeling real. I always think of coffins as being colossal things but they’re not – in reality they’re just tiny boxes containing the sad remains of what was once an entire universe. When a person dies, it’s not just their body which stops, not just their voice and the abstract knowledge that they are ‘somewhere’. Their entire way of seeing the world ceases – from their opinions of music to the slightly different shade of blue their eyes pick up when looking at the sky. I think about the living – about the energy we radiate that makes us twice the size we physically are – and coffins begin to seem even smaller.

We leave behind pictures, scattered scraps of writing, and large, carved stones but really, no matter how hard we try to make our mark, we leave nothing. Our generation and perhaps the next will remember us, but beyond that… we’re little more than names.

I’ve decided to write down what I know of my family tree in case later generations are curious. Instead of a list of names and dates though, I’m scribbling a few facts about what the people I know are like. It won’t do them justice, but at least it’ll give future generations an idea of who we were… like I said before, the concept of the universe being deprived of my mother is not something I like to think about.

This Week

This week looks to be chaos.

Monday = workworkworkworkwork
Tuesday = workworkworkworkwork
Wednesday = beach with Mr. C.
Thursday = Sheffield, for G-‘s funeral.
Friday = Drive home and then workworkworkworkwork

If you don’t hear from me for a wee while, now you know why.

Down

My dad’s cousin lost his wife yesterday. She wasn’t an elderly lady and had no underlying health issues but she’s gone all the same, just a few months after having become a grandmother.

I think that’s what upsets me most about the situation – that the baby will grow up without knowing G-. My own nan was my absolute hero – throughout the time I knew her, she carried herself with quiet dignity and wicked sense of humour – and I hate to think of anyone else being denied the kind of relationship I had with her, and that I know G- would have cultivated with her own grandchild. Both women will be known now as a series of anecdotes and scattered photographs which I find absolutely heartbreaking. No matter how good a writer you are, words can’t recreate two people so vibrant, kind and dignified.

I found my wedding card from G- and her husband and it’s odd to think that the handwriting on it can never now be replicated. Death creates scarcity, rarity, from the knowledge that the will which made these things can never come again. The things I think of as Nan’s, my children will think of as mine, the papers she wrote on will be lost and the anecdotes forgotten through the generations until she is no more than a trail of bureaucracy. Three certificates – birth, marriage and death – seem ill-suited to chronicle the life of such an extraordinary woman.

I think of my own mother – of her slightly off-kilter style and brilliant wit – and L-, S-‘s mum – a knowing, self assured matriarch with expertly placed barbed comments and equally well-timed hugs. I think of our fathers – very different men who happen to share a birthday – and hope that my children will enjoy V-‘s childish antics and my dad’s fortitude. I have been as blessed with my in-laws as I was with my own parents and desperately want any future generations to not only meet but also remember these incredible people who came before them.

Life is precious, short, and unpredictable. I may not change the world, but if I can make just one generation feel as loved and cherished as my predecessors have for me, then I will have done enough.

I once tried to express this thought in a story and have pasted it below. I hope it’s more succinct than the above ramble.

__________________

A stitch in time…

I can still hear your words in my head, every time I pick up the needles. Your ever patient voice always makes me smile, and makes this sometimes arduous task into a joy. It’s when I feel closest to you, when I can really feel that once you were there, beside me on the sofa. I have few happy memories from when I was that young but this one little snippet of a recollection makes up for all the bad ones.

It was Christmas – or rather a few days afterwards, when the novelty of all of our new toys had worn off – and you sat with a half finished glove swinging like a pendulum between your knitting needles. Mum and Dad were out trawling the January Sales and David was pushing a toy car between Grandad’s feet as he slept. An American Tale was on Television for the first time.

I clambered up onto the sofa and sat beside you, watching those needles twitch as your hands fed them a continuous length of yarn. I could only have been watching you for five minutes before you reached down to the flower-patterned bag at your side and pulled out two little pink needles and some wonderfully garish turquoise wool. In what seemed like seconds, you had cast on and pulled me into your lap. You held my hands as I made my first stitch and quietly recited instructions to me for each one which followed. Even when I knit now, all these years on, I still hear those slow, loving words.

Over the following two weeks I must have dropped as many stitches as I made but you found all of them somewhere in the mess of what I would later declare was Grandad’s Motorbike scarf. It barely fit around his neck but I’d run out of turquoise wool by that point so you cast off for me and we presented it to him, both of us proud of what we’d done.

It was only the other day, coming back from the service, that I realised little had changed in all those years. In my mind, you still sit beside me in case I drop yet another stitch – and I know I will always hear your serene instructions. I wonder, though, whose careful directions you followed as gloves, hats and tea cosies  fell from your needles. Was it your mother, or hers? Had Grandad’s mum, the magnificently named Flora McGregor-Fleming, taught you how to knit one purl one, as you as you had taught your own daughter-in-law?

And who had taught them? Did each of them hold these little treasured memories of learning to knit? And who were all these other women? I know of you, Evelyn – your mother – and the Annies – your Nans. But then, who came before them?

Realisation dawns as I finish a row in the tasteful blue scarf that I’m making for the man who will be Grandad when I am Nan. All that is left of these women who came before me are their stitches. And as suddenly as realisation comes so does a happy little laugh – with each stitch I make I am closer to you, and you your teacher, right back to the first person who sat with two sticks and thought Somehow, I’ve got to make a cloth from this because I can’t afford a loom.

A stitch in time saves more than nine, it saves all the billions which came before it.

Teen Pregnancy

I saw a young girl walking through the village whilst I was on my way to the shop this morning. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen – and that’s being generous – but she looked very close to giving birth. Her boyfriend was with her, looking awkward and ungainly at that difficult age where girls are still slightly taller than boys. They stoically clung to one another and defied me, or anyone else, to look at them disdainfully and my heart went out to them for the prejudice they’ll face.

Teen pregnancy is a big ‘problem’ in Britain. Looking at some statistics provided by wikipedia, twenty UK births out of every thousand are to mothers in their teens – a staggering number when compared to other European nations.  I wanted some more information though – some of the stories behind the numbers – and so found myself watching a recent BBC documentary via the modern-marvel of iplayer . This programme followed two girls and their mothers’, one of whom was fourteen year-old Lydia, and the other sixteen year-old, Chantelle.

Lydia initially came across as a childish creature – stubborn and determined to do things the way she wanted (rather like my good self, some might say – although unlike me, she grew up considerably as the programme progressed 😛 ).  Chantelle, on the other hand, struck me as being a sensible young woman from the outset and continued to prove herself throughout the course of the show. Whilst Lydia was throwing a temper tantrum because someone had managed to bring home how ridiculous she was being, Chantelle was the only one there (including Lydia’s mother) who had the presence and strength of mind to say, “Yes, it’s hard, but that was her opinion.” Later on in proceedings, she managed to comfort her own mother, though she herself was streaming with tears, because that was what needed to be done.

Thinking about it, I see women older than me letting their other children push the pram while they have a cigarette and talk on the phone. I see others (and I kid you not!) speeding the wrong way without lights on down our one-way street – child seat in the back and baby-on-board sign proudly proclaiming just how irresponsible they’re being.

Frankly, I’d rather have a teenager like Chantelle raise the next generation than these thirty-somethings who think that just because they’re older, they’re better parents.

To the Water

Some of you will have read this before – it’s a short story I wrote based on the influence music can have at certain points in our lives. The following story is based on what I associate with this song:

My story is NOTHING like the video, by the way.
___

TO THE WATER*

I brake hard when I see the exit and turn sharply to the left. The car behind honks the horn and you yell abuse out of the window. I laugh and the dog barks, pressing her velvet black nose against the glass behind me, leaving snail-trails as she goes. She knows where we’re headed, even if I’m not totally sure.
I haven’t been here for a long time but the narrow curves of this side road are familiar. I seem to remember we spent a lot of time here last summer but I couldn’t drive then and to be honest, I concentrated more on the music and the rough skin of your palm on my bare thigh than on the road.
You haven’t wound the window up yet and I can smell the bitterness of the sea on the sharp evening breeze. It’s almost summer now, so the nights are getting longer again; the sun’s descent into the ocean slowing to a creeping fall. Even so, by the time we’re finished and head back to the car, it will be dark. This in mind, I lower my foot a little – I want us to be by the water when the day sinks behind the horizon.
“Oh desert speak to my heart, oh woman of the earth…” Your singing is diabolical, so off key, like a cat’s howl. But it makes me smile so I turn the volume up and join you, though I sound little better.
“Maker of Children who weep for love, maker of this birth.”
The dog is over-excited as we pull into the car park and I turn off the ignition. I look at you and grin but there seems to be no time to talk – the creature in the back will not be denied her freedom. She’s barking and ricocheting off every conceivable surface. Eventually she realises there’s a gap between the front seats and charges for that but she doesn’t count on it being too thin for her broad Alsatian shoulders. We laugh, then you get out and swing your seat forwards. She bounds from my rusting, old car and goes tearing towards the beach without a backwards glance. You chuckle fondly and watch with such kind attention that I can not help but imagine you watching your children.
I don’t bother locking the car and without waiting for you, I go racing after the dog, laughing, calling for her and slapping my thighs with pantomime enthusiasm. You watch me run and then, after a moment of careful consideration, give chase. You’re faster than me and throw yourself around my waist, tackling me to the ground. I squeal and try to wriggle away, sand creeping into the folds of my clothes and getting stuck in my hair. I spit out a mouthful and cough as I taste the sea. All the while we’re laughing.
You let me go for a second and I half crawl, half stumble away. I am breathless. You get up and stand doubled over, rest for a second then follow, knocking me from my feet again. The dog chooses now to return, thinking that this is a wonderful game, devised solely for her amusement. She paws at us and snaps playfully, licking any exposed skin and tugging on loose clothes. When she has finally had enough, the three of us sit panting in the sand, gathering our thoughts and remaining shreds of dignity.
The air is cooling and the red sunlight, reflected on the waves, looks like a million scattered rubies. I try to shake the sand from myself and turn to you with a little smirk as I run my fingers through my hair. Neither of us has said a word yet and it seems wrong to somehow. The moment itself, the tension and the electricity, say more than we eloquent mammals possibly could. Above us the greying sky is freckled with the first stars and other than your beloved dog’s breathing, all I can hear are the waves and the thick bass of my racing heart.
It’s been so long since last time – almost a year has passed in fact. I wonder absently if it will be the same, if your lips will still taste like the cola you’re always drinking. I do not entertain the concept of maybe. This is inevitable. Just as the moon will rise, as she will wax and wane and the tide will ebb and flow, we will kiss and it will be everything. I allow myself a little chuckle at my sudden poetical leanings and then concentrate on you again, and your beautiful blue eyes. You do not ask me why I laughed – you understand me well enough to know I will not tell you.
And I know you well enough to know that you want to pull me close to your chest so that you can stroke my hair and kiss my face. But I also know that you’re afraid. You made a mistake before and you’re terrified of repeating it. And all the while I’m terrified of letting the perfection of this second slip away, unfulfilled, leaving us both disillusioned.
“Tell me you still love me,” I command, bold as ever. Your eyes are the same colour as the greying sea. My words hang heavy in the air and play again through my mind. I look at you, trying to read your perpetual frown.
“I can’t.” You cast aside my command as simply as that. I realise in this moment that I am no longer your Princess, no longer your black eyed angel.
My heart feels ready to explode. There’s a burning in my chest that spreads to every limb and rots numbly in my stomach. My breathing quickens until I feel as if I’m panting again. I bite my bottom lip, screw my eyes tight-shut and wait for the sudden feeling of nausea to pass. I dare to look again, take a deep breath and remind myself that a lot can happen in a year and that you might not be the person I knew after all. Perhaps you have found someone. I force myself to concentrate on the horizon. I try to rationally explain away all the wonderful feelings I’ve had tonight, but my hysterical thoughts fail me. I look back at you, trying not to appear too broken.
“I’ll show you I love you,” you whisper.
Relief floods over me in the same instance that curiosity takes hold of all my senses. I watch you intently, waiting for whatever magical act you’re about to perform. The world around me no longer exists and as clichéd as it may sound, there is only you.
You pull a scratched and scarred leather box from your pocket. You offered that ring to me before – Christmas day as we lay in bed you gave me all I’d ever wanted and I denied you the light and rainbows ending we had both longed for. I will not be so foolish again. I remember the cloudy emerald and the matt silver band of the antique ring. I think, as I did when I pointed to it in the shop window, that it will look stunning on my slim, pale fingers…
But you’re standing up. You toss the box with all your strength into the water. It goes for about ten metres, then there is a little splash and it’s gone – probably forever. I look at you, askance.
“That ring was offered by another me to another you. Please, let’s just start again.” It sounds scripted, like you’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Still, I can’t help but stare, wondering where this sudden courage has come from – I know you now as a man of awkward silences and twiddling thumbs. It had been different back then, of course, but you had never been as decisive and articulate as this. I offer you a smile as my acceptance, the baton of ineloquence now firmly in my hands. You help me up and clinging to your arm, as if all my strength has gone from me, we walk back to the car, your dog hot on our heels.
We will kiss, but not now. We will go home, but not now. Now we will hear the rest of the song and we sing as loudly as we can. Your hand rests on my leg as I press my foot to the floor and hear my wheels spin in the sand.

“Run to the water, find me there,
Burnt to the core but not broken
With a nuclear fire of love in my heart
Rest easy baby, rest easy
Recognise it all as light and rainbows
Smashed to smithereens but be happy.”

*Run to the Water – Live, The Distance to Here, 1999

No Entry

I do appologise for the lack of entries recently – normal broadcasting will resume as of tomorrow.

All being well, I’ll have a short story to share.