Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I've just been to pay my debts in the local newsagents.

Stormin' Norman, the alleged caretaker on my estate, and his new-found ally, the street-cleaner, Dipstick, were scrutinising my every move this morning as I emptied a bag of newspapers into the already very full recycling container. Their close attention made me slightly flustered and I had to keep reminding myself to keep hold of my keys.

They waited until I had tried putting a wine bottle in the clear glass bin before calling out, in unison, "You won't get anything in there, love. All full up". I decided to save myelf the embarrassment of trying to put anything in the green bin and went to the newsagents over the road for my daily Guardian.

As I clanked into the shop with my empties I realised I only had 50p of my original 70p left in my hand. I don't blame this on my stupidity but the two men gawping at me and putting me off my stride. I knew the owner would say don't worry; pay whenever. Unfortunatley, he wasn't there and I was faced with a complete stranger.

Most people in my situation would have simply said "give you the rest later, mate" or gone home but oh no. I ramble on with my croaking voice (not quite got over the cold) about the recycling and why you should always have a purse and various other random thoughts. He quite conceivably thought I was dangerous and ushered me, my paper and bottles out as quickly as possible.

As I slapped down the 20p this evening the owner almost collapsed with laughter. "So, you're the Mad Bag Lady".

The shame!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Still just one or the other

A friend bought me Leo Hickman's book A Life Stripped Bare. My Year of Trying to Love Ethically (from an independent book shop on Stoke Newington, of course) for my last birthday. It made for a very amusing read so when I remember I have a look at his column in the Guardian's supplement, G2.

Today's question: Is it ok...[to] go on a stag weekend?

A number of year's ago I somehow ended up at the stag night of a friend of a friend of a friend at Liverpool Street but for obvious reasons I don't get invited to many. So I am going to address the question: Is it go on a hen-do? (Thus covering the single night or the increasingly popular all-weekender).

(Hickman seems to think that these are possibly “slightly less bacchanalian” affairs but I'm not so sure).

My first experience of a hen night was at the age of 16. I was naïve, innocent and ever so slightly scared. V. was a true Essex Girl who worked full-time in the card shop where I was the Saturday Girl. The evening panned out to be a memorable one. Three generations of women in a Greek restaurant in Ilford. It was at times loud, good-natured, feisty and raucous. I left drunk and on top of the world.

A far cry from the last two celebrations to which I have been invited.

B. was an English teacher at my last school who I didn't know well. A Northerner stranded in London without her best friends her hen-do looked like it might turn into a pretty dismal affair so all females in the vicinity were co-opted into the occasion. Doing anything through a mixture of sympathy and pity is usually a bad decision as this proved to be.

The details started to leak out, which, at first, were reassuring – a late afternoon drink in the environs of Covent Garden and for those who wished to carry on into the night a club. (I made a mental note to bail out somewhere around mid-evening).

Then came rumours of matching outfits. I was sufficiently alarmed to seek clarification from B. herself. I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightening.

There was, and still is, more chance of the Pope giving a Benediction in his boxers than me cavorting around Central London in a too-tight sequined t-shirt (“Bab's Bunnies”), complete with bunny ears and tail. I protested. Loudly. And to my bewilderment found myself in a minority.

Supposedly intelligent women were telling me I would look odd if I didn't wear the fluffy accoutrements. I started to doubt my sanity and fear for the future generation.

There was genuine confusion on all sides. To me, parading around London in a bunny girl outfit did nothing more than turn me into a sexual object for the cheap gratification of men. To them, it was a harmless bit of fun.

I don't think anyone except G. believed me when I called off sick on the day. We'd agreed to stick together – we'd promised each other to turn up in the t-shirt, refuse the bunny gear and to slope off at an opportune moment between pubs. There was no way I was deserting without good reason. I think I had pre-traumatic stress disorder.

I was saved from the next occasion as I'd already bought tickets to a play in which a friend was performing. I'll be honest here. They were £5 seats in a church hall rather than the £40 West End tickets I led people to believe. I sent a cheque for £25 along with my sincerest apologies and all best wishes for a great night. The reason was this. I could not, under any circumstances, good friend or not, get into one of those awful, vulgar limousines for make-up and party games. At the time I was not brave enough to say so.

As I see it, hen nights and stag-dos both seem to have the unfortunate side-effect of sexually exploiting women. I'm sure similar things have been going on for hundreds of years; this isn't a new phenomenon. I decided today, however, that I am going to take a modern, principled stand.

If I believe I cannot go to someone's hen night I am going to be honest and say why. The peer pressure surrounding these events is immense. I know I run the very real risk of being labelled: pious, boring, uptight. I will be accused of taking myself too seriously. Herein lies the truth of the matter. Despite all the talk of women's rights, pre-marriage celebrations show we're still being reduced to the Madonna or the Whore.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ok, so I have been a little quiet. This has something to do with the fact the internet will not work at home. The reasons I have not done anything about this yet are:

1. Too tired.
2. Couldn't cope with getting angry (which is what invariably happens when I try to fix something).

Last week wasn't great. I started it in buoyant mood - the end was in site. Nearly six weeks off. I foolishly put in an email to a colleague at the LEA "I can take anything they throw at me this week".

I didn't mean literally. I think I suffered slight concussion after being smashed in the face by a rogue bottle of water at something approximating point blank range. Through my tears, and gritted teeth, i managed to tell the perpetrator "I think you need to stand outside".

I wanted to scream, shout, swear and, quite frankly, rip his head off.

I was glad at the end of it that I escaped without two black eyes. (Hit me square on the bridge of my nose). Possibly something to do with the 20 minutes of ice-pack to take down the swelling.

Combined with a raging cold and a form trip to Southend (just what I wanted; not) I wasn't much company to anyone and was best off shut in a dark room by myself.

I didn't quite make it through the half-day Friday. My legs gave way (probably the heat) and was escorted home.

I'm here now to pick my things up and that's it. For 6 weeks. Hurrah.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wish I had a Camera (2)

1. As I rushed past a freshly-written piece of graffito in Shadwell which went along the lines of: BLAIR AND BUSH SEND BULLETS AND BOMBS TO RACIST ZIONIST APARTHEID ISRAEL...that's as much as I can remember. Blue marker on a boarded up shop-front.

2. The man from the ice-cream van who drove into the bunting (Irish tricolour; union flag and plain white) hanging from St Anne's church to the railings of St Anne's school trying to disentangle the aforementioned from the roof of his vehicle. Hilarious.

Double Take

As I settled myself onto a fold-down chair on the DLR this morning, I noticed the two men squashed into one and a half seats opposite were wearing the same clothes. I guessed they worked at the same place until I glanced at their faces. Identical twins. Now, I can understand your mum making you wear the same clothes when you're 5 or 15. But 35? There's something a little wrong with that.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Best of British

I was delighted to read in the Guardian on Saturday that the Morris Minor had been voted the most British motoring design. As a child I was impressed that my dad had once owned a Morris Traveller (an estate version with Tudor-style timber whacked on the back) and in answer to questions about what I would want when I was older I'd politely reply a Morris Minor and a pig. (Yes, this does say something about me as a person. I'm just not sure what).

Here's the complete top ten list of the UK’s most quintessentially British vehicles:

(I would like to have provided images for those of you unfamiliar with these British greats but I am still experiencing technical difficulties so I can't. Click on the link if you don't have a clue).

1. Morris Minor
2. Aston Martin
3. Rolls Royce
4. Fire Engine
5. Mini
6. Black Cab
7. Double decker bus
8. Robin Reliant
9. Milk Float
10. Green Goddess

What a fantastic list! I would like to invite you to say how many of these vehicles you have travelled in. You need to beat my nine to win! (Bonus prize to the person who works out which one of these designs has not been graced by my presence).

Saturday, July 15, 2006


You'll have to scroll down to see my post about Desdemona the London Duck. I've finally been able to add the photos. Hurrah!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hug a Hoodie

I had a moment of absolute crisis on Sunday. C. was out running in the forest and I was sat comfortably reading the newspaper.

I had only reached page two when catastrophe struck. I was agreeing with a Tory.

It could have been me talking – criticising Asbos and curfews; wearing hoodies “is not a crime in itself”; and hoodies being “defensive rather than offensive”. But, no, it was the Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron. Woe is me indeed. (I've no idea what side of the fence Melanie Gill, a child forensic psychologist, sits on but I concur with her statement that the criminal justice system is “vengeful and punitive”).

A wonderfully named Home Office Minister, Vernon Croaker, sums up Cameron's approach as 'hug a hoodie'. Sod the politics, I think it's a brilliant idea.

I am a fully paid-up member of the 'tough love' brigade. Its an approach that keeps me safe in my work (I've only been hospitalised once!) and it earns me respect.

Children need to be taught what their rights and responsibilities are. They need clearly defined boundaries for functioning on a day to day basis whether at home, at school or in the local community. They need to understand actions have consequences and what they are.

Please note the word taught. All of these things are absolutely necessary but unfortunately aren't inherent. When they aren't taught it is seen as the fault of the parents or the teachers. I agree that in some areas, for example where I work, there are many parents who are not equipped for the job. The vicious circle that has left them unable to adequately parent their children has to be broken. Local communities need to take responsibility for all the people in them which leads me to my second point.

For children to respond and to act on their rights and responsibilities they need to feel they are valued and that they belong. The media and local communities find it much easier to demonise and exclude young people than to include them. A self-fulfilling prophecy is at work here. Low expectations lead to disengagement and a 'who cares?' attitude.

For me 'tough love' is about having clear boundaries, high expectations and respect. It's about consistency, problem solving and conflict resolution. But it's also about listening, showing you care and building confidence.

Go hug a hoodie today!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dark Side of Sunny Spain

Some time ago a man joined us in the pub with the intention of moaning about the state of the East End (of London). I attract these kind of people on a regular basis. I think I must smile too much and am trying to cultivate a slightly more miserable look.

He explained that he was thinking of moving to Bulgaria as it was cheap and there wouldn't be loads of foreigners. I asked him to answer three questions:

  1. Would he learn the language?

  2. Did he know anything about their culture and how would he contribute to it?

  3. Does Bulgaria have an NHS equivalent and, if yes, would he expect just to turn up and use it?

I left him in a state of confusion and he clearly didn't get what I was driving at. C. on the other hand was quite exasperated. I do all the talking but he's the one who'll take the punch when someone takes against me...

It was an article in Sunday's Observer that brought this to mind. Dark Side of Sunny Spain for Britain's Elderly Expatriates.

Complaints have been made that the British ex-pats are “placing an unbearable strain on scant medical resources” and that “Spanish doctors – even those who speak English – are now refusing to treat anyone who cannot speak Spanish without an interpreter present”.

I have to be careful what I say here as I have a tendency to generalise but from the people I know (including family) who have moved across the water I would say the following.

British ex-pats move for the same reason as the guy I've mentioned above. They think the UK is going to pot and the local people are being dealt a rough deal as foreigners move in and swamp the local services.

They live largely in Brits only compounds and enclaves; most of their day to day services are provided by other Brits. They see no need to speak Spanish or contribute to the existing local communities. Its thought that fewer than 10% of the ex-pats with serious medical conditions can actually speak Spanish. Some of the remainder have lived in the country for over 20 years and have complained that medical staff don't speak English.

These people totally fail to see they are acting in pretty much the same way, if not worse, than the foreigners back home who they believe have sent the country to the dogs.

I'd like to think this'll be a wake-up call. But I doubt it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I thought I'd take a moment on the computer while my jar of roasted peppers sits upside down in a bowl of boiling water. I suppose not being able to open it is just desserts for buying such a poncy ingredient. It is, however, an integral part of my monkfish and prawn summer stew.

I've been far too busy at work to think of much else really and blogging opportunities have passed me by. Regulars have missed the story of me chasing the Evil Child round the estate in bare feet, pyjama bottoms and a vest; the wannabe airline pilot on the tube who wished everyone getting off at Canary Wharf a good day "except the idiot who blocked the doors at Canning Town. I don't care what kind of day you have". And the pre-teen sisters who, while their mother blissfully slept, carried out a modern-day inquisition on a drunk scaffolder. They were delighted to inform me when I got on the train that he uses women's under arm thingy because the boy's doesn't work and makes him smell like a buffalo's fart...

I can now, intermittently, make comments on other blogs but cannot add photos to postings as I discovered to my frustration last night. They are in draft form until I crack these bloody problems. I am giving up on all things technical until at least Tuesday.

I have the faintly ridiculous task of reading all 556 pages of Dicken's Curiosity Shop by Monday evening. I bought it on the way home this evening and managed 28 pages of my 139 page daily quota before getting off at Upney.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Back in early June we decided to do something gloriously and ashamedly touristy – take a tour on one of the bright yellow amphibious vehicles we'd seen trundling around Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament.

Tickets are limited – and at £17.50 for an adult not cheap – so we booked up online which was clearly a wise thing to do. The weather was amazing, all the tours were sold out and there were quite a few disappointed children throwing tantrums at the start sited behind the London Eye.

A little late we set off in Desdemona with Tony Merrick as our guide. An ex-stevedore from Lambeth; a laugh a minute man. Potentially annoying in long doses but for the purpose of the trip fantastic. Knowledgeable and amusing he did keep us entertained and I learnt a thing or three - including the following gem: the lamp post used by an intruder to climb into Buckingham Palace some time ago (he was found in the Queen's bedroom) now sports two electric cattle prods! (We've seen them).

The most exciting part of the journey has to be splashing into the Thames at Vauxhall where the Pleasure Gardens once stood and where Handel's Water Music was first performed. We're now part of the small elite who have been over and under Lambeth Bridge in the same vehicle.

We absolutely loved the journey but I think the guide probably makes or breaks it so possibly pot luck as to who you end up with. They can't all be like Tony!