bookmark_borderShared a moment

A doctor came to see me the other day here at work in south London, he needed some tech support and noticing my accent he asked me where I was from. I told him a little fishing port in Northern Ireland, a long long time ago.

I looked at him and immediately knew he was ex-army. When you grow up through ‘The Troubles’ you know instinctively who’s army/police and who’s not, it’s a survival instinct.

He said to me “I lost a few mates over there in 85, all at the same time”. And he looked at me and I looked at him and we both know what he’s talking about, I’ve heard this before and there’s very little you can say apart from “I’m so so sorry, it was a terrible terrible time..” and we shared the moment..

And he says to me, in a very sombre tone “aye, they were in an army truck…” and I know what’s coming next, a fucking massive roadside bomb, ..

“and a tree fell on them..”

“apparently the IRA planted it”

I burst out laughing, more out of relief, thinking thank Christ it’s that old joke!

He had me going there for a minute, SUCH an old joke! I just didn’t expect to hear it in a hospital in south London of all places, he well and truly caught me out. I wonder just how long he’d been waiting for that moment, 35 years?? I bet he punched the air when he left the office, bastard!

bookmark_borderThe Perfect Husband?

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Here’s a little but wise story from Nasruddin about this dance I’m doing;

Once there were two friends who would meet every New Year’s Eve and discuss their future plans.
The first one asked the second, “What are you going to do this year?”
“I’m going to find myself the perfect wife,” the first friend replied,
“Someone beautiful, cultured and kind.”
A year passed. The two friends met.
“Tell me, how did you get on?” asked the second friend.
“Not too well. I found a woman who was beautiful but had never read a book or played an instrument and we had nothing in common. Next year I’ll search further afield.”
Another year passed.
“How did you get on with finding your wife this year?”
“I searched even further and found a woman who was beautiful and well-read and I loved her for that but she was selfish – only ever thinking of herself.
Next year I’ll search even further afield.”
A third year passed.
“And how did you get on this year?” asked the second friend. “Did you find the perfect wife?”
“I did,” replied his friend. “I found someone beautiful, cultured and kind but there was a small problem. She was looking for the perfect husband.”

That made me smile and there’s a lot of truth in it, Rumi, another Persian thinker once said “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” and I’ve come to discover over the past few years that we nearly always are our own worse enemies, and knowing that, acknowledging that fact is half the battle.

bookmark_borderDog Logic

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1. If I like it, it’s mine
2. If it’s in my mouth, it’s mine
3. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine
4. If I can take it from you, it’s mine
5. If it’s mine, it must never be yours
6. If it just looks like mine, it’s mine
7. If I saw it first, it’s mine
8. If you are playing with something else and put it down, it’s mine
9. If I am chewing something up, all of the pieces are mine
10. If it used to be yours, get over it.
11. If it’s broken, it’s yours.

This applies equally to Toddler Logic

bookmark_borderIs there a such thing as a wrong turn?

crowd

You’re curious and smart and bored
All you see is a choice between working hard and slacking off
There are so many adventures that you miss because you are waiting for a fully formed plan

To find them, look for tiny interesting choices
Take wrong turns
Talk to strangers
Open unmarked doors
And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they are doing

Do things without always knowing how they will turn out

And always remember, you are making up your future as you go along

bookmark_borderThe Fault in Our Stars

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Been reading The Fault in our Stars by John Green recently, the main characters in the book are sixteen year old Hazel and seventeen year old Gus, both of whom have cancer. It’s a lovely novel and John Green has obviously had some experience with cancer in teenagers or done his research thoroughly. And it’s a funny book too, gallows humour as we ex nurses call it, the story and characters resonated quite a lot with me because of my time working in hospitals.

However, there’s another character in the book, one of Gus and Hazels friends from the support group called Isaac, he has a rare form of cancer that’s cost him the sight in one eye and early on in the book he goes into hospital to have the remaining eye removed to stop the spread of cancer. Our sight is our most valuable sense, without it we really are severely limited, we lose a lot of our independence, losing our sense of taste is hugely inconvenient but it’s not on the same scale as losing our sight.

Strangely, John doesn’t explore this at all, Isaac goes into hospital and comes out again completely blind but it set me thinking, if I knew I was going into hospital to lose my sight in a few days time, what would be the last things I’d choose to look at?

I think there’s the obvious, my boys would be at the top of the list, I would ‘drink them in’. Knowing that I’d never see their faces again would be hard to take; in the years to come they would always have that youthful (and admittedly somewhat spotty) face, even when they’re bearded family men with teenage children of their own. And there’s so much in the future with my boys that I’m looking forward to, not being able to see their children’s faces, well, I can’t imagine how that would feel.

However, what else, at the end of the week you are losing your sight forever. Well, I’ve particularly enjoyed the colour of the trees this fall so I’d be out there drinking that in too but there are other pleasures that I’d miss terribly. Right now I can pick up my latest book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and read it, unless you get the unabridged edition audio books tend to skip bits, I suppose I could cajole/coerced/blackmail someone very patient/gullible into reading the actual book to me but it’s not the same, we all read at our own speed and even in these Kindle days there’s still a certain pleasure from holding the dead tree version in our grubby mitts; the smell, the feel and reading at my own speed.

And then there’s driving a car and the freedom that gives me. I know Al Pacino drove one as his blind character in Scent of a Woman but I’m not quite sure I’d get away with that in Londons green parks – plus I don’t know my left from my right so I’m bound to crash into a tree! And I think I’d miss the simple pleasures in life, being able to see a fresh orange as well as taste it and smell it, and flowers, and not bashing my head on the kitchen cupboard every time I walk in there. And art, I’ve haven’t got around yet to see Gustav Klimts The Kiss (above) and I can’t imagine not ever being able to see that one day, I have a few other favourite painting, imagine never being able to go to a gallery and see them, I’m sure the staff of the National Gallery wouldn’t be too happy if I started groping their paintings, wouldn’t they..?

However, there’s a restaurant in London that does something that seems completely illogical, it’s called Dinner in the Dark and the general idea is that you eat in complete darkness. It’s pitch black in the dining area and you’re taken through double sets of doors to your table by blind staff (as they are skilled at negotiating obstacles in the dark) and have a choice of four ‘surprise’ menus. The owners know that ‘the first taste is with your eyes’, sight is the dominant sense but they want diners to enjoy the smells, textures and flavours of the meal so it’s lights out time. I suspect a lot of the meal is ‘hands on’, trying to balance garden peas on a fork in pitch black is never going to work and I dare say most diners come out with at least some food down their front. I know I would, even when the restaurant’s fully lit!

Oh, one last thing, if you ever go to this restaurant then you will be pleased to know that the toilets are well lit, you aren’t taken there by a blind guy and have him pull your trousers down and assist you with your aim!

bookmark_borderSecrets of the OLDERhood?

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I read this a while back and thought it was worth sharing;

The secret to getting my wife to be less inhibited had more to do with me than her. It wasn’t until I started listening to what she wanted from me outside the bedroom that changes happened inside the bedroom. I needed to show that I loved her by talking to her and treating her as my equal in all aspects of life. Once she became secure and felt deeply loved by me, all her inhibitions disappeared. Damn, I wish I had figured that out sooner.
Danny G, age 58, husband for 24 years

Danny’s a lucky bloke to have figured that out, most go through life in a daze, never really joining the dots, at least Danny figured this out eventually..

At this ripe old age of 52 I’ve figured out a few things too, you know, the usual stuff;

  • consistently be kind even when others are treating you like shit
  • figure out who you really are and be true to that person
  • never let your bare bottom touch a public toilet seat

you know, the normal standard things we’ve all figured out.. but I wonder if you’ve figured this out as well;

OK here’s something that’s going to throw you, it’s something that you will remember and come back to again and again and if you strongly disagree with it now then trust me, eventually you will agree totally with it. The secret of love, true love, the love that lasts, the love that makes it all worthwhile, is constant forgiveness.

I’ve seen it in partner relationships, one messes up and the other forgives, because that’s what true love is all about, and with most couples there’s this swing, it’s almost like they take it in turns, one goes through a stage of messing up and the other forgives and then later on the other one messes up all the time and the important thing is that eventually this should balance out, the messing up and the forgiveness..

And I’m not just referring to partner relationships. It’s something I have borne witness to all my life. I see it in parents with their children, especially during the teenage and early adult years when they should know better. I have seen young adults come home to mum with some terrible event they’ve done wrong and after all the shouting and tears, there’s always the forgiveness, because that’s what it is to love somebody with all your heart, you constantly forgive them, in fact you can’t help but forgive them and hold them in your heart, it’s what we do..

bookmark_borderSecrets of the sisterhood?

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Apparently….. (always be wary of any sentence that starts with the word ‘apparently’, it’s usually a fib…or even worse, gossip!), apparently  the 2007 Meryl Streep movie The Devil Wears Prada is one of the all time greats. I know this for a fact as I met up with a potential date when it was released and she spent the entire (extremely long and tedious) date telling me so.  Knowing how fantastic an actress Meryl Streep is I was indeed tempted but having viewed the trailer I put it firmly in the chick flick bin (along with Twilight et al) having decided that even the mega talents of Meryl Streep couldn’t rescue it. This may  have been the wrong thing to say to my date.

One lives and learns but the completely  wrong thing to say was “I’m sure there were no straight men in the audience or if there were then they were definitely getting some that night”  Needless to say I never saw Ms Coffee Date ever again so my chances of getting some disappeared as fast as she did, actually I think she may have stormed off at that point.

Fast-forward six years and I’m starting to think I may have been mistaken, perhaps too hasty in my writing off The Devil Wears Prada. You see, being a typical (non-thinking) bloke I tossed The Devil Wears Prada straight into the chick flick bin along with any Twilight movie (in fact to be honest any movie with Kristen Stewart in it) but along with this I also tossed in Sex in the City and Bridget Jones. I’m sorry, I’m an ignorant bloke, I’ll blame the Mars/Venus thang.

However.. and I should pause here for effect..however, I read this quote from Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason on Friday evening and had an epiphany;

“Keep thinking back about what Mum said about being real and the Velveteen Rabbit book (though frankly have had enough trouble with rabbits in this particular house). My favourite book, she claims of which I have no memory was about how little kids get one toy that they love more than all the others, and even when its fur has been rubbed off, and it’s gone saggy with bits missing, the little child still thinks it’s the most beautiful toy in the world, and can’t bear to be parted from it.

That’s how it works, when people really love each other, Mum whispered on the way out in the Debenhams lift, as if she was confessing some hideous and embarrassing secret. But, the thing is, darling, it doesn’t happen to ones who have sharp edges, or break if they get dropped, or ones made of silly synthetic stuff that doesn’t last. You have to be brave and let the other person know who you are and what you feel.”

― Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason

OK, it’s not Shakespeare, not even Milton but still… it’s very good! What a fool I’ve been,  it suddenly struck me that these books weren’t written to entertain woman, they weren’t written so woman can relate to all the angst about weight, bum size’s and does he love me or does he not, no, these books are written solely as instruction manuals for men! The fact that woman find them funny and can relate to them is a spooky co-incidence!

Helen Fielding has bravely spilled the beans about what makes woman tick and for that she’s bound to get excommunicated from the Sisterhood!

So there it is, in black and white, how woman’s minds work, how these strange creatures view things and I can’t believe I’ve been ignoring such a valuable resource, one can read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus as many times as one likes but you won’t get as much insight into the woman’s minds (or be entertained so much) if you just stop and read The Edge of Reason.

(And yes, I do get the rabbit reference!)

bookmark_borderArmageddon?

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A gang of workmen pitched at an electricity junction next to the Embankment in central London on Thursday night, put on safety jackets, hard hats and as the law requires, surrounded the area with ‘Danger Men Working’ signs. They then (rather cooly) broke into the substation and ripped out all the thick copper cables. It would have been hard sweaty work. They loaded all the cables into the truck, retrieved all their ‘Danger Men Working’ signs and drove off into the night.

I know all this because at around 10pm I stopped receiving the usual spam emails…in fact I stopped receiving any work emails and when I looked at our website it was down; so were the seventy other sites we manage. Oh dear.

At that same time the managers of about 25 other London Universities were having exactly the same experience. There’s a special site we check to make sure everyone’s connected to the internet on the Joint Academic Network and for the first time ever it was listing everything as ‘Down’ in bright red writing. Oops!

It was the end of the world. Armageddon.  I looked out the window and checked the news on the telly to see if World War Three had been declared. It was like someone had pulled the plug on the Internet. Thousands upon thousands of students across London suddenly not able to study or even more importantly, not access Facebook and Youtube’s funny cat videos. Looking around the University library it was like a scene from The Night of the Living Dead, students lost… trying desperately to use their phones to send emails and access non-existent teaching resources.

It was like (shock horror!) when I was at University when The. Internet. Didn’t. Exist.  I had to (OMG!) do actual research and learning from “books” and “journals”, I had to “write” things down on “paper” using a “pen” and try to “remember” it.  I know, it was a new experience for a lot of them, imagine not having Google and Wikipedia to answer any question you had…Imagine not having access to Youtube, imagine have to watch terrestrial TV, no search function, no fast forwarding, imagine being cut off from all the funny cat videos…shudders!

So, like any sensible and mature University we called in the counselling team and set them up in the library and they were inundated with students in acute withdrawal. However, on Friday morning we had to pass the word around that we wouldn’t have proper access until Monday at the earliest. This sent shock waves through the community. We managed to get some limited access by routing our connections through Wales of all places so if the internet connection smelled of sheep and went baaaaaa occasionally then this was the reason. Additionally, google would only accept sheep related queries. This would be no hardship for one for my friends as he only ever googles about good looking sheep.

I’ve no idea what the black market price for copper is these days (though I have a friend who does!) but it’s must have been worth it for the gang to take such a risk in central London. At a really busy area right beside a Tube station, on a Thursday night, kudos to them!  However, I’d like to make a suggestion to any gang of thieves thinking of swiping our copper cabling again. There are easier things to steal and there’s no having to get messy doing it, just ramraid your local supermarket for some of these items;

Christmas cards  – £4.50 for one card, for heaven’s sake, it’s a bit of card and an envelope, pound for pound they are more expensive than beluga caviar

Razor blades – Gillette Fusion Proglide Power Razor £15.49/unit. Yup, for one! At that price I expect it to make breakfast and do the laundry as well.

Roses – a fabulous investment opportunity, currently £30 for a dozen this week but in two months time, around Valentines Day the price skyrockets to £100 for a dozen. More than triple your money.

ANY Apple product. Massively overpriced. Apple made $8.8billion profit in the last quarter, that’s roughly $30billion in a year. To any thieves out there, if you wanna get rich then stop stealing our cables and just raid your local Apple store, it’s easier, there’s MUCH more profit plus you get an iPhone/iPad into the bargain. Win Win!

bookmark_borderChristmas Rapping?

xmas-wrapping

I’ve decided I’m probably not human.

Possibly not even Leprechauniun.

The more observant of you will have noticed that the tag line for this blog is I’m not entirely sure this is my home planet, and it’s not without some justification. You see, every one of us are unique but some of us really are from another planet, or so it seems, especially when it comes to the London Leprechaun and Christmas prezzies.  This week I’ve been doing a survey at work and asking everyone at what stage they’re at with buying Christmas presents and the vast majority haven’t even started. However, I bought my first Christmas present in April and the last one on the 31st October. Told ya. Definitely not human. Probably the pointy ears gave it away.

I know this seems weird but I’m trying to pay attention here, we men get accused quite a lot (justifiably so) of not paying attention so this is my attempt to make ammends. Previously I have joined the last minute panic and bought my presents during the last two weeks before Christmas day and I’ve hated the madness of it all – and the freaking long queues, life’s too short to queue but I’ve done it for my family and friends. And in my twenties I’ve even bought flowers and chocolates from the petrol station on Christmas Eve, after all, what woman wouldn’t be delighted to receive a lovely bouquet of poinsettias with the heady scent of 4 Star or a box of no-name chocolates well past their sell-by date and with a taste slightly reminiscent of Turtle Wax car polish?  But I’ve been there and done that and have the scars (from thrown boxes of chocolates) to prove it, so when I turned forty I decided I would do what no man has ever done in the entire history of the planet and get organised for Christmas.

Consequently I’m now always on alert for presents for family and friends, it’s like my default mode, thus in April when I was wandering around Camden Market I saw something perfect for a friend and bought it, it’s been sitting in a box under the bed for eight months but that’s one item ticked off the check-list. And over the rest of the intervening months I’ve been gathering up presents, mostly in September but I bought the last one on 31st October. I know that sounds extremely smug (I can only apologise!) but the thing is, it’s important I learn from previous mistakes and I really really really REALLY don’t want to join the madness of the Christmas rush.

And if you needed further evidence that I’m non-human then it’s this. I know that all men are shit at wrapping presents, myself included, at the end of a wrapping session I usually have more sellotape on me than the presents and I’ve had to ask my sons to cut me free, one year I got so bound up with tape that I really did look like an extra from some kinky bondage movie.

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Anyway, I digress, I’ve given presents that look like they’ve been wrapped by a puppy high on drugs, I’ve given presents that have been wrapped in brown packing tape, I’ve given presents that are nuclear bomb proof by having more tape than wrapping paper and required an acetylene torch and crowbar to get to the actual present. So I’ve learned that lesson and I spent last Tuesday evening wrapping everything up nice and neat and even putting string and bows on a few boxes.  Most of them look reasonably presentable, (from a man’s perspective they look bloody fantastic!) but even then I know that no woman would hand over a present looking so shoddy, really quite shoddy, so I’ve got to keep on practising my wrapping skills.  And I reckon that’s why websites like Amazon are so popular, because (1) they save us men having to queue and fight for presents but more importantly (2) they have fantastic gift wrapping service thus saving us men so much grief, and to misappropriate the Mastercard slogan, Amazon Gift Wrapping – priceless!

 

And to put you in the mood, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses

bookmark_borderIf I was God, Part Deux

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I like to think that my natural ‘default state’ is being nice, kind, generous, supportive and loving, it’s my default mode but isn’t it fascinating the way the Universe conspires to teach me lessons, lessons I have no desire to learn, lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn?

I read this on the interweb a while back;

Isn’t it ironic?
We ignore the ones who adore us,
adore the ones who ignore us,
love the ones who hurt us….
and hurt the ones that love us.

It’s not a one-way street, sure it isn’t, I’ve been on both sides of the equation and I dare say most of us perhaps unwittingly have, though in my defence I stupidly didn’t know I was being hurtful. It’s said that ignorance is no excuse, which lead me to thinking this.. I don’t think God did that bad job when designing these fragile human bodies of ours but I think I’d like to suggest a small 21st century upgrade if that’s at all possible, I’d like to tactfully suggest God, if you don’t mind, that we evolve USB ports in the back of our heads. Then we can connect a simple lead to each other and really know what the other person is thinking, and more importantly, what the other person is feeling. Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss, we humans are masters at hiding things from each other and we’re experts in not seeing what’s plainly in front of our eyes but just occasionally it would be nice, refreshing (and probably extremely sobering), to connect with someone we’re close to and know when we’ve hurt them unwittingly.

Oh, another thought has occurred to me, perhaps evolving an USB port on the side of the head is too geeky a way of looking at things, how about instead of a USB port, that whenever we make love we connect our minds as well as our bodies…there, wouldn’t that be more fun..You’re in a bad mood hon, I’m just going to plug myself in here and find out what’s wrong…..hmmmm perhaps not such a good idea..

I think it’s of the upmost importance to treat others well, even if they’re knocking you down it’s still important to provide an example of how to live rather than kicking back, it’s something you will never regret doing when the years have past and you look back. I read somewhere that you should watch how a man treats waiting staff because how he treats them is how he will eventually treat you and I think there’s a lot of truth in that, I tell the beasties that there’s three golden rules to life and rule number one is always be nice to people, consistently, because yes there are people out there at will take advantage of your kindness but generally, like attracts like, being horrible attracts equally mean souls but being nice attracts equally lovely souls.

I kind’a have this weird idea, this intuition, that we create our own little universes, and are constantly creating it with every action, with every act of kindness, seven billion souls on this planet and seven billion unique universes. In the movie Cloud Atlas,  Somni 451 says “The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time. Our lives are not our own, from womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” In the book she’s talking about future lives but I think it goes further than that, I think by every kindness we birth not just our own future lives but our future years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and even the next second..

bookmark_borderChildish Confusion?

parenting-emo-baby-sad-cry-cubby-demotivational-posters-1298853903When I was growing up a lot of things confused me (and still do), here’s just some of the more obvious ones.

Cranes – no, not the feathered variety but the one’s used for heavy lifting on building sites. Where do they come from, in half a century living on this rock I’ve as yet to see a big lorry carry a crane. They just suddenly appear as if by magic, it’s like some builder plants special beans during the night, waters them and next morning a huge crane has sprouted up. We have the country’s tallest crane at work at the moment helping build a helipad on the top of the sixth floor but it appeared by magic. I didn’t see any trucks carrying it and if it came in pieces then how does it get built as it’s the tallest crane already..  all very mysterious.

Seasons – when I became first aware of seasons I had it all quickly figured out. The earth moved closer to the sun during the summer and we got warmer, 91,402,640 miles from the sun, three million miles closer than in winters 94,509,460 miles. Someone at this time told me that the earth tilts on it’s axis and that’s why we have seasons but the effect of tilting didn’t appear to my tiny mind to be as significant as coming three million miles closer to the sun so I discounted that. That was all very well and good and I held onto this theory until my teens when I discovered that Australia had summer while we had winter. This flew in the face of all logic, why would Australia be warmer in the middle of winter?

Spain – When I was very young one of my neighbours told me she was going to Spain for her holidays. She was very excited, told me it was another country and she had to travel to it in a plane. In my imagination I envisioned Spain as being a city in the clouds like in Buck Rogers Cloud City. I had this concept in my head for many years until my teacher showed me a proper globe with Spain firmly on terra firma. Imagine my disappointment, no cities in the clouds 🙁

Elephants and giraffes – I know David Attenborough will argue differently but when I was young I assumed God had slipped up when it came to designing elephants and giraffes, I thought God especially slipped when drawing the trunk and neck, or he wasn’t really paying attention. Evolution? Yeah right, pull the other leg, do you think I came up The Lagen in a soapy bubble?

Spelling – this confused me (and some of my friends as a child), why are the words pubic and public so similar, and prix and pricks… this lead to much amusement by my elder brothers as I assumed both words were pronounced similarly. I can still hear them laughing now..

bookmark_borderMy Favourite Things

OK, you can try singing this to some Gilbert and Sullivan tune… deep breath.. this is the shortest list I could possibly think of;

My Favourite Things;
Sitting between my two boys
Saying WOW!
Laughing out loud
Rumi
Someone’s name on my mobile display making me smile
Hedgehogs..
Shared body warmth
Traffic lights staying green as I speed towards them
Laughing inappropriately (oops!)
Rainbows
Red sky at night
Not wearing black like everyone else
My black cooking apron
Hugs
Dogs
Cats…actually anything with more fur than me – barring dates.
The smell of cut grass
My cooking
Anyone else’s cooking
Holding hands
Giving flowers
Douches chaudes avec deux
Pretending I can speak French
Pretending I can speak intelligently
Snow
Snowball fights
Real Christmas tree’s
Giving presents
Receiving presents
Questioning everything
Accepting everything else
Getting on a plane
Getting off same plane unscathed
Arriving home
My impenetrable accent
Ploughing my own furrow
Fireworks
Fireworks inside me
Clean sheets (is that sad?)
Ironing done (ditto?)
Bruce Willis (you won’t understand, it’s a bloke thing)
Father Ted (ditto, it’s an Irish thing)
Being brave
Finding rules and stomping all over them
Live music
Dead Can Dance
Riceboy Sleeps
Icelandic music
Music
RHS Wisley
Antoni Gaudi
Butterflies
Butterflies in tummy
Real icecream
Anything quirky
Hot strong sweet tea
Ditto woman
Bookshops
Folk saying Thank you
Spooning
Forking
Connection and engaging
Surprising folk
Jeans
Getting spruced up
Communication
Depth
Life, and the stupid stupid wonderful way it all plays out!
Me
You
People
Absolutely everyone else
Did I mention HUGS?
Hugs

Obviously not an exhaustive list, except perhaps to read.

Things I don’t understand
Israel/Arab conflict
Bling – obviously not on the same scale as above
Country and Western music
Dust – where does it come from?
Why are there no baby pigeons?
How much deeper would the ocean be if sponges didn’t live there?
Why we don’t ever read in newspapers ‘Psychic wins a lottery’?
Where do Forest Rangers go to get away from it all?
How is it possible to have a ‘civil’ war?
Why does the word ‘lisp’ have an ‘s’ in it, is someone being cruel?
Why is abbreviated such a long word?
If a poison expires, is it still poisonous?
If you choke a Smurf, what colour does it turn?
Would the world be a happier place if the law was that everyone had to skip instead of walk?

Stupid things I have done;
Ran into a lamp post at full speed
Was de-briefed in front of 1,000’s
Never learnt to cook proper
Never learnt to spell propery
Never learnt the meaning of the term ‘brevity’
I also…actually this could be an endless list

Books near my bedside table;
Illusions, Richard Bach
101 Things to Do Before You Are Five (!) (live?)
Bad Science
:59 seconds (not a reference to my sexual stamina; that would be called :13 Seconds)
Quirkology
The Deeper Meaning of Liff (sic)
The Cosmic Ordering Service (Would you like fries with that sir?)
Why is God Laughing? (was it something I said?)
Plan Bee (there’s always a plan B)
13 Things That Don’t Make Sense (14 if you count me)
The Bridge Across Forever
Notes From A Small Island
Northern Lights
Notes From A Big Country
Dead Men Do Tell Tales
Essays In Love
50 Psychology Classics
How To Live Dangerously (my other bible)
Conversations With God (trust me, it’s never ending)
Life’s Missing Instruction Manual
Is it just me or is everything shit? (turns out it’s just me after all)
The Little Book Of Silly Questions
Freakonomics
The Tipping Point
Blink
This Book Will Save Your Life (no, it won’t, two evening of my life I want back)
NLP For (shop) Dummies
Thirty Days Has September
Red Herrings and White Elephants
In Exile From The Land Of Snows
The REALLY Good Orgasm Guide
Everything I’ve Ever Learned About Love
The Queen’s English
The Way Of The Superior Man

(I fully intend to read them someday!)

Movies;
All Stieg Larssons ‘The Girl..’ movies
The original Swedish ‘Let The Right One In’
Young Frankenstein
Amelie
Oh Brother Where Art Thou
The Piano
The Hours (blew me away)
Amadeus
Blade Runner
Shawshank Redemption
The Princess Bride
Green Mile
Snatch
Love Actually
Armageddon
5th Element
Stranger Then Fiction
50 first Dates
Stardust (sorry)
Enchanted (so sorry!)
The new Star Trek (so soooo sorry!)
The Truman Show
Dead Poets Society
Hancock
The Matrix
Pan’s Labyrinth
Shrek 1 & 2 but definitely not 3
and I hate to admit it but Robert Downey Jr. in Iron man was surprisingly excellent
(Have to admit to loving watching The Big Bang Theory with my two beasties..)

bookmark_borderLiquid Sunshine – Part Deux

After a ‘dry’ cold miserable winter, nearly all English water authorities put hose pipe bans in place. Ironically, they put them in place on the first of April, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. Since April Fool’s day it’s rained. A lot! And there’s been flooding. Lots of flooding actually whilst hosepipe bans have been in force. Who says the English haven’t got a sense of humour.

I like the rain. I have no choice, if I want to remain sane..

Still, look on the plus side. England doesn’t have deserts, we have a mild climate and no deadly snakes, spiders, crocodiles, man-eating sharks, piranhas, Rabies, Dengue Fever, Sleeping Sickness, Bilharzia, Ebola, West Nile fever, Malaria, Guinea Worm and that fish that swims up the stream of urine into your bits.

Also, no major earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Most of the rest of this deceptively beautiful planet wants to kill you, in as nasty a way as possible. Yes, Australia, I’m looking at you in particular. Our own little patch of the ecosystem, by comparison, merely wants to annoy you and depress your spirits. How fortunate we are.

Before I moved to this green and soggy land, I did a bit of research. I was surprised to find that both Central Park and Boston had twice the annual precipitation as where I live now in London. Yet to this day, no one on either side of the pond seems to believe this fact. We get it in a steady drizzle, they get it in great downpours but then have long periods of that strange phenomenon called ‘sunshine’.

However, just to be obstinate, people here wear summer clothes throughout June, first in hope, then in defiance, and finally out of spite. Over the course of the month they get progressively wetter, colder and more downhearted. Yesterday was Summer Solstice. I rained all day. On Sunday it’s officially Midsummers Day. The weather forecast is for rain all day. The bloke who thought of calling 24th June ‘midsummer’ must have the English ironic sense of humour. Midsummer really needs to be moved to about the 1st September.

Whole regions are receiving a month’s worth of liquid sunshine in an afternoon; a rain gauge comes to resemble the speedometer on a Ferrari because it fills up so quickly. You can even make your own out of a straight-sided glass or jar – just draw horizontal lines at intervals on the outside using a permanent marker. Label each line with a suitable unit of measurement;

1. Whoa!
2. Unbelievable!
3. Holy shit!
4. Get in the car, this holiday is OVER!
5. We’d better start building an ark!

Leave it outside and wait with anticipation.

It’s Royal Ascot this week and thousands of ladies will be swapping their big hats for sou’westers. The Isle Of Wight Music Festival is on right now, from Friday 22 June to Sunday 24 June. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are on headlining duty. I hope they brought umbrellas, from the pictures on the BBC it seems to be a mud bath. Then we have Wimbledon Tennis starting on Monday, this is a cue to the weather to really start chucking it down solidly for two weeks. The London ‘Summer’ Olympics are starting on the 27th July and finish on the 12th August. That’s when our summer will start, the 13th of August. I can’t wait!

The water authorities reluctantly lifted their hose pipe bans at the start of this week. Excellent, now the hosepipe ban is off I can clean my car – but it’s raining . . . .

bookmark_borderPerfect Singles Ad

SINGLE BLACK FEMALE seeks male companionship, ethnicity unimportant. I’m a very good girl who LOVES to play and I respond very well to stroking and petting. Throw anything away and I will fetch it back and at the end of a long hard day I will fetch your slippers. I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pick-up truck, hunting, camping and fishing trips, cozy winter nights lying by the fire. Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. I’ll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me. Call (404) 875-6420 and ask for Daisy, I’ll be waiting.

bookmark_borderMoving House

It seems House is on its final season. I’ve only ever watched twenty minutes of one early episode and then had to switch it off. Anyone reading this from the other side of the pond will wonder about this but everyone this side of the pond will understand why we can’t watch it. You see, we all know Hugh Laurie from the eighties as one half of the duo A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie and as the dopey Prince of Wales in Blackadder;

 

and then there was ‘Jeeves and Wooster’;

 

So for almost thirty years Hugh Laurie has been doing comedy and the odd Merchant Ivy film but then suddenly he’s been transmogrified into some grumpy American Chief of Diagnostic Medicine and has an American accent and getting awards left right and centre. And it’s weird, like I’ve suddenly been transported to a different Universe where Hugh Laurie is a straight American actor. It’s hard to put this into context for my American friends but it’s like Jay Leno suddenly popping up on the BBC playing the part of Prince Charles for eight years and then trying to sell this back to America, you’d be sitting there the entire time unable to concentrate on the actual show/plot because you’d be thinking three things;

(a) but that’s Jay Leno !
(b) when’s he going to say something funny?
(c) how the hell does he do that Brit accent so well?

So anyway, hats off to Hugh Laurie for pulling that one off, but I’ve never watched House because it does not compute in my head – it just freaks me out, however, I’ve been thinking what are Fox going to do for a follow up? And I’d like to put forward the following suggestion.

Detached.   The daily goings on of ex-priest with a brilliant mind but Tourette’s syndrome, a mischievous fellow who was thrown out of the seminary after completing his training for scientifically and logically disproving the existence of God, who then moved to California to become a part time Bay Watch Life Guard, part time Paramedic and full time vampire hunter that incidentally does a side line in ballroom dancing.. There, I think that covers most bases, I can’t see why it won’t be a massive hit and my acceptance speech at the Emmy’s should be interesting – what with the Tourette’s syndrome..

bookmark_borderCrimes and misdemeanors, Part 12

The next time I’m wandering around the United States of America and a starling poops on me, I won’t blame the poor starling, no, I’ll blame Shakespeare. I know you’ll probably scoff at this but every time a starling dumps on you in America it’s Will Shakespeare’s fault. You see, in 1890 an American drug manufacturer called Eugene Schieffelin suggested that every species of bird named in Shakespeare’s works should be represented in America. Schieffelin belonged to the American Acclimatization Society, a group that aimed to help exchange plants and animals from one part of the world to another. In the 19th century, such acclimatization societies were fashionable and supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of that era, as the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem was not yet known. The only bird species that wasn’t already there was the starling, so in 1890/91 he released 60 and then another 60 into Central Park, and in consequence there are now 200 million in North America and have since become a major pest in the country.

Starlings aren’t the only thing that there are (or were) a shortage of in the United States, there’s also a shortage of Rowan trees, at least outside of the northern latitudes. It’s also known as Thor’s helper, Whispering tree, Whitty, Wicken-tree, Wiggin, Wiggy, Wiky, Witch wood, Witchbane, Witchen, Witchen Wittern tree. Many of these can be easily linked to the folklore surrounding the tree and it’s handy to know all this if you wish to piss off the TSA.

You see, I know this because a friend in North Carolina asked me to bring her the berries from a Rowan tree (very common in UK) the next time I came over on my wanderings.  She was into Wiccan and said that it would protect her from harmful spells, I rolled my eyes at that but I duly obliged, went to Wimbledon Common, filled a plastic bag with berries from a Rowan tree and put it in my hand luggage. I got to Rayleigh and the nice TSA man spotted the berries and immediately hauled me to the side. You could see his eyes light up, convinced I was smuggling some kind of drug.

He called over his supervisor and assorted attendants (it was a quiet day!) and I felt a bit of an idiot trying to explain to them all that the berries were for a witch in Rayleigh who needed protecting from bad magic spells.. I felt I had stumbled into a Harry Potter movie set..I’m trying to explain to these Muggles that witches actually do exist and are alive and well in Rayleigh, North Carolina.. You could see them looking at me and thinking, “REALLY? and I’m the Queen of Sheba!” I put on my most sincere angelic face and tried my best to convince them I wasn’t an international drug smuggler but they weren’t having any of it. I thought, “great, I’m going to spend the next two weeks in the clink keeping my butt very close to the cell wall”.

Eventually they actually rang up my friend and chatted to her.. She persuaded them to let me through simply because (a) she threatened religious discrimination (b) Rowan Berries weren’t actually on a proscribed list anywhere but more importantly (c) she threatened to cast a bad luck spell on all of them…  I’m going to remember that the next time I’m smuggling in some weed.. I mean Herbal Tea!

bookmark_borderTickle Cock Bridge

Warning, this blog entry contains a completely legitimate use of the ‘c’ word, yes, there are one or two legitimate uses and not just in the town named Scunthorpe believe it or not, if you are easily offended then you probably don’t want to read the last paragraph.

Been looking up the history of the area I now live in and we have streets called Franciscan Road, Rectory Lane and Church Street and the history of the area says there was a monastery here during the Dark Ages. Tooting High Road is actually built over a road the Romans built from London (Londonium) to Chichester (Noviomagus Regnorum) so the history goes back 2,000 years but the area was farmland as Londonium was (and spookily still is) a massive five miles away. Tooting appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Totinges. Lower Tooting was held from Chertsey Abbey by Haimo, the Sheriff of Kent and his sidekick Deputy Dawg. Its Domesday assets were 1 church, 2½ ploughs and 5 acres of meadow which is surprising as I have to travel for about 30 minutes by car now to actually reach countryside. Mind you, if there was no traffic or traffic lights I could probably do it in 15 minutes. I still can’t think what use ½ a plough is though.

Around me is Blackshaw road, Colliers Wood, Smallwood Road and Burntwood Lane and during the Victorian ages this area was known as the furnace of London, there was lots of Industry around here because of the easy access to all the forests of Surrey in the next county. Further down the road is Fair Green were the Irish would bring their horses from Ireland and trade them. If you look closely at some of the older houses near Fair Green you will see that the brickwork is quite rough and this is because the Irish would take the cast-offs from the brickworks in Tooting, the ones that weren’t good enough to sell and they built houses to stay in whilst trading on the green.

However, I was chatting to someone the other day about the history of the area and she mentioned that she had been to Great Neck in New York and I thought that’s a great name and I wonder how it got that name and was there an area called Great Legs or even Great Ass. But it seems that the English can outdo America when it comes to naming streets or areas, you see, up in Castleford there is a pedestrian underpass called Tickle Cock Bridge. Now I’m curious as to how Tickle Cock Bridge got it’s name, it’s a dark dank area and one must assume it was where the ladies of the night plied their trade. It was recently rebuilt, widened and lightened, had a facelift but the designers decided to line the walls of the underpass with a tactile red flock material, as an allusion to its colourful history.

Castleford council renamed it to Tittle Cott but the local residents were up in arms and rather surprisingly, the Castleford Area Voice for the Elderly, an over-50s group, successfully organised a campaign to have the name Tickle Cock restored.

We have other interesting names, for example, in medieval times Sherborne Lane in London was known as Shitteborwelane, later Shite-burn lane and Shite-buruelane (possibly due to nearby cess pits) and more recently it seems in South Yorkshire that the road signs for Butt Hole Road, in Conisbrough keep disappearing – apparently by American tourists.

However, we probably beat the world in the most eye-popping name and that’s – wait for it – Gropecunt Lane. Who says the English don’t have a sense of humour? Between the 13th century and the 16th century it was a common name for an area where prostitutes plied their trade, not only in London but across the cuntry. It was normal practice for medieval street names to reflect their function, or the economic activity taking place within them, hence the frequency of names such as The Shambles, Silver Street, Fish Street, and Swinegate (pork butchers) in cities with a medieval history. Sadly, modern sensibilities has caused all of the Gropecunt Lanes to gradually be renamed into something less offensive, like Beaverstroke Pass. Apparently.

There’s more silliness here

bookmark_borderCat ‘Tails’

It’s sometimes difficult to figure out who’s the pet and who’s the owner when you have a cat. I’ve been looking after the beasties cat for the last week or so and she’s under  no illusion as to who’s the pet here and it certainly isn’t her. Consequently I’ve had to adjust my routine to suit her, this involves being awake all bleeding night as she goes absolutely crazy chasing pretend mice around the flat. On the first night I thought I had burglars – albeit very amateurish burglars – as I could hear most of my kitchen being re-arranged as she investigated everything. I normally go to bed sometime after 11pm and that’s just the time she decides her day is about to start. I’ve been lying in bed comatosed only to have her suddenly jump on and off me and attack a shadow on the wall. The sound of claws slowly scraping down my bedroom wall at 4 in the morning could be termed under The Geneva Convention as a cruel and unusual torture. And as for actually reading a book, well, that’s totally out of the question as she places herself between me and my novel.

Someone once wrote that cats are put here on earth to remind us humans that there are higher forms of life than humanity but I think cats are put here on the earth to scare the be’jesus out of me. I have woken up most mornings from my slumber with her staring deep into my eyes from two inches away; who needs coffee, that certainly jump-starts your heart first thing in the morning! The other morning I woke up and was relieved to discover that she wasn’t staring at me from the required two inches maximum. I sat up to start thinking about my day and I nearly shat myself as a furry paw tapped me on the shoulder, she had been balanced precariously on my bed headboard obviously just waiting all night for me to wake up and pull that trick on me. I’m sure she tells her cat friends and they all have a good laugh before scheming more ways to scare the be’jesus out of me. Not only that but I think she’s in some secret cat competition to see if she can stand on the most difficult surface, the other morning I found her balanced on top of the radiator, this isn’t a flat topped surface but a hard sharp edge with only two inches between it and the wall, she was standing on it looking at me and I couldn’t decide if the look on her face said “Ha! You thought I couldn’t get up here!…foolish human!” or “Yelp!”

I also think she is in a competition to see just how far she can kick the cat litter out of the tray, it’s said that feet are the most perfect instruments for finding bits of Lego on the floor during the middle of the night, I think one can add cat litter to that, crunching on your way to the bathroom is not fun, it’s like doing one of those fire walks in the dark. I fed her this morning as she hovered around her bowls pointing at her mouth and rubbing her tummy in the universally recognised motion to feed me and feed me now before I collapse in hunger, so I put some food in her dishes and she immediately turned her nose up at it, walked over to the trash and started licking the black plastic sack hanging over the edge. What was she trying to tell me, that she will only eat ?Sheba. Or is it just to torment me? In some of the early James Bond movies the evil mastermind was always seen stroking a cat whilst laughing at 007 caught in his clutches, personally I think it’s the cat who’s the evil mastermind directing his fiendish plot, I feel like I’ve become a bit actor from Cats & Dogs.

However, what’s really interesting is how quickly I have become invisible. I collected the beasties last night and after nearly a week of constant (albeit nocturnal) attention I have now become persona non grata, I don’t exist any more, it’s like there’s a pecking order and when I am here by myself then I have to provide her entertainment but once the beasties appeared then I was dropped like a hot potato.

Give me teenagers any time, they are much easier to manage.

bookmark_borderNature vs Nurture

Its very hard to predict how your kids are going to turn out, you think they are born with a blank mind but I suspect all kids are born with their own very strong personalities already built in and it make me wonder about the nature vs nurture argument

I worked with a counsellor years ago who told me that if she had a kid for a number of years she would be able to mould that little bugger into whatever she desired but the older I get and the more I observe my two beasties the less I am inclined to agree, I’m believing more and more that nature aka genetics plays a bigger role and that nature won’t be denied..

When I was 11 or 12 I discovered classical music and whilst all the rest of my friends were listening to Radio One Top 40 I was listening to Strauss and Ravel and then Tchaikovsky, it was all what purist would call ‘commercial’ tunes, the sort of thing you find on the ‘The Very Last Classical CD You’ll Ever Need To Buy’ but I was 12 and didn’t know any better, I just liked the tunes.

I’m telling you this because at this very minute in time my second rug-rat is listening to this on youtube

There is a much shorter version here, the British Airways ad that popularised it;

and the interesting thing is that it’s playing in the background whilst he’s battling some Klingon Battle-cruiser in some far off star system.. I wonder if the guys he’s playing with online are playing the same tune or are they playing some heavy metal dirge that makes my ears bleed..

Physically he looks nothing like me (and between thou and I, I consider that a relief!), but I wonder if he has mentally inherited some of my traits, and If he has somehow inherited his fondness of classical music from me then I wonder what other traits he’s acquired too, perhaps my sense of adventure and my mischievousness….

It’s going to be interesting, watching both beasties grow up and mature into their own selves and recognise some traits as my own.. or are they my traits, perhaps I inherited them too..

My mother Doris and I ‘had words’ the other day, about once every seven years we ‘have words’ and I have to put her straight on a few things in my life, usually it’s when she tries telling this 50yr old what to do and usually it’s the exact opposite to what she’s done all her life but she doesn’t realise that, we got into a heated argument and I put the phone down because there seemed no point in continuing to let things spiral out of control. I rang her up on Christmas day to wish her a happy Christmas and after all the social pleasantries she said “I see you have a temper like your father..” and I asked her to explain and she said that Sam would rarely argue, he would go years without raising his voice and then once every blue moon he would fight back and fight back hard and she thought I had inherited that trait from him. I scoffed at her, I like to think I’m much more argumentative – ask the senior management at my work. Ha!

bookmark_borderThe Hobbit

It’s the end of December 2011 and Peter Jackson has released the trailer for The Hobbit just in a nick of time because we won’t be able to go see it for a whole year, until December 2012. According to Hollywood the world is going to end on December 21st, 2012 so getting to watch The Hobbit is going to be a close run thing. Not.

I have a friend who’s from the West Country and he auditioned for a part in the first Lord of the Rings movie but didn’t get the part. This was understandable, he’s a crap actor but he went to watch the movie and was surprised to see that absolutely everyone in the movie spoke with a West County accent! Pissed would be an understatement. I told him he should have applied to be a voice coach.

When I started Secondary school we had to read a choice of books, there was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover*. I got stuck into The Hobbit and read it in a few evenings but then discovered we were expected to write a critique of it in 600 words or more… bugger. This was a bit of a drag because The Hobbit barely has 600 words in the entire short novel and my critique would exceed that (okay okay, I exaggerate – a bit), however, it’s nothing compared to the ginormous task Peter Jackson faces because somehow he has to make three two hour movies out of The Hobbit and I’m not sure how he’s going to do that without turning it into a musical – which, by the look of the trailer is exactly what he plans to do. If they all started doing a Cornish version of Riverdance or Last of the Mohicans then I’m asking for my money back.

I must admit it’s interesting watching that trailer, it’s like being reacquainted with an old friend, and not just the LOTR movies but with the book from about 40 years ago and I think The Hobbit is stalking me, The Hobbit was the first text based adventure game I played on the ZX Spectrum and I kept getting killed by the giant spider dropping down from the tree. I better not tell you too much or I’ll spoil the musical ermm I mean movie for you.

It’s really hard not to write The Bobbit here, you know that, don’t you?

(* ok, it wasn’t Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I was just seeing if you’re paying attention, it was some awful book titled Last Tango In Paris, no-one choose it..)

bookmark_borderOpen mouth – insert foot.. again..

Saying it to a pregnant woman with raging hormones might be a mistake

Damn, just done something REALLY stupid (yet again). Standing in the queue for coffee and there’s an anaesthetist in front of me in scrubs, heavily pregnant and obviously about to drop. She orders a double espresso and glances at me beside her, I smile back and without thinking say “you sure you want to be ordering a double espresso,  you might have that baby here on the spot if you drink it…” and smile sweetly… she gives me a stony look and says ‘I’m NOT pregnant!” and storms off..

Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn!

How was I to know it was pie retention? Ouch! Kill me now!

bookmark_borderThe Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of Tudor Times

It’s interesting how real life is nearly always much more fascinating than anything today’s soap opera writers could come up with, some of the events that happened in Tudor England defies belief. I’m reading The Pocket Guide To Royal Scandals  (or is it The Pocket Guide To Royal Sandals?) and that explains the previous post and this one too. A large part of the book is taken up with Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth and when you delve into their stories you can understand why the BBC and Hollywood have made so many more films about them than any other monarch.

Henry VIII of course married only six times where-as Elizabeth Taylor married eight times (twice to Richard Burton) but it’s interesting how the Catholic church influenced both couples, when Liz started having an affair with Richard Burton they were still both married to someone else (Eddie Fisher and Sybil Williams) and the Vatican condemned Burton and Taylor’s affair as “erotic vagrancy”.  A totally excellent turn of phrase. The Vatican influenced Henry VIII marriages to such a degree that it contributed strongly to the Great Reformation and England breaking away from the Catholic Church.

The first act in this soap opera, the prologue, the pilot episode, happened when Henry VIII was ten years old. We all know that Henry’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon but this was not her first marriage, you see, she had been married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and next in line to the throne but four months after marriage in 1502 he kicked the bucket. Fast forward seven years and Henry has the hots for Catherine, his dead brothers wife but there was the small issue of the teachings of Leviticus;

Leviticus 18:16

“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness.”

Leviticus 20:21

“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing…they shall be childless.”

It became known as “The King’s Great Matter”, would Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon be contrary to the teachings of Leviticus? Catherine maintained that because of Arthur’s poor health during their brief marriage that the marriage was never consummated and therefore invalid and she was free to marry. I suspect the jury may be out on that one..

It would make an interesting soap-opera sub-plot, girl finds boy whom most likely will be King of England, marries him, the silly plonker dies after four months so what’s a girl to do but find another man who’s probably going to be King too, I’m sure the Tudor version of Hello magazine sold lots of copies following that little story.

Henry sought advice from the Vatican and obtained a Papal dispensation to marry Catherine. Getting Papal dispensations was a costly business, basically it was a nice little money maker for the Vatican. You see, the lines in the bible were there to stop interbreeding but of course every Royal House in Europe interbreed, everyone was related to everyone else, this was how they built alliances and stopped wars but the crafty accountants at the Vatican realised that and therefore if some King wanted to marry some woman from another country then the chances of them being a close relative was startling high and required a Papal Dispensation to allow the marriage. Of course these Papal (Paypal?) Dispensations cost a Kings ransom but who’s better placed to pay a Kings ransom but the Kings and Queens of Europe. Basically, the Vatican was laughing all the way to the bank.

However, fast forward 18 years to 1526 and Catherine had produced only one child that survived past infancy, a girl, known colloquially as Bloody Mary.  Wanting a male heir to the throne and believing Catherine to be past prime child-bearing years, Henry had his eye on Anne Boleyn.  Henry told Catherine in 1527 that he believed their marriage had been unlawful.  He instructed Cardinal Wolsey to begin efforts to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine that would allow him to marry Anne Boleyn. So one minute he wants the Vatican to bless his marriage and the next he’s asking the Vatican to annul it…go figure. The Vatican wasn’t having any of it and absolutely refused to give an annulment, so Henry separated from Catherine (and then the Catholic Church), made himself head of the Church of England, got Wolsey to declare the marriage null and void and married Anne Boleyn.

Anne produced Elizabeth and to show his gratitude, three years later Henry had Anne beheaded in the Tower of London and within 24 hours he married the third of his six wives. If a script writer approached Hollywood with a storyline like that then he would have had it throw back in his face as being far too ridiculous and yet this was only the beginning of a six season series to be closely followed by a spin-off called Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen..  The lives and loves of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were fascinating but compared to the Tudors, they were strictly amateurs.

bookmark_borderThe Queen of Fashion?

Guilty of crimes against fashion.

It’s long been the case that the ladies of the world use clothing and fashion to accentuate certain curves and disguise others. When I was growing up during the 60’s and 70’s there were many advertisements on the telly for strange underwear like the Playtex 18 Hour Girdle with its ecstatic panels to hide the blubber – I mean to ‘hold and smooth’ the wearers figure.

As a teenager I couldn’t figure out why woman of the world were going out and buying and voluntarily wearing strait jackets, surely they couldn’t all be mad? What I didn’t know was that the svelte ladies of the 60’s and 70’s were following a fashion path that had been laid down 500 years previously. You see, during the Tudor period in England there were certain looks that one tended to avoid, at least you did if you didn’t fancy burning at the stake. One look that was ill-advised was the dark swarthy look with dark skin, dark hair and even less desirable, dark eyes, this was pretty much a fashion faux pas and if you happened to have what I’d call a healthy look then you’d spend a great deal of your time dusting your skin with lime powder to lighten it, al-la Michael Jackson.

However, the most unfashionable (and eminently unwise) look was looking anything remotely like a witch. This might have been all the rage once, say during the time when the local villagers came to you to cure their warts and you’d cackle and hackle over a big pot of newts and toads bollocks, mumble incantations, spread some of your lunchtime hot-pot on their warts and charge them three groats for the pleasure but during Tudor times you kind’a wanted to avoid looking at all like witchy-poo.

So if your name happened to be Anne Boleyn in the early 1500’s you had a bit of a problem, you see, Anne Boleyn not only had very dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair but she also had an extra finger on one hand and a large mole on her neck – a sure sign of a witch if ever there was one – so what’s a girl to do if she wants to avoid   burning at the stake. Well, you do what woman of today do and you start a new fashion, you wear dresses with very long sleeves, sleeves that droop over the hands and cover your extra finger and at the same time you start a fashion craze for wrapping scarves around your neck to hide your large mole.  And this is exactly what Anne did, she started this fashion for long sleeves and one can imagine Tudor Vogue going crazy over this; short sleeves are sooooo 1480’s, today’s modern Tudor girl wants to be wearing long flowing sleeves, they’re so in. Of course it helps if you are Queen of England and married to a complete bastard who wouldn’t think twice about chopping your head off if he thought you were a witch. This from a man who’s fashion faux’s pas are legendary;  stockings held up with garters, fur lined gowns, cod pieces that made horses envious and a liking for headless woman.

However, fashion, or the growth of fashion caused poor Henry VII his own problems,  because in Tudor England, social class was everything and the surest way to tell anyone’s social class was by how they dressed. As merchants grew in wealth and influence, Henry VIII enacted strict laws that allowed him to know at a glance who a person was by regulating what clothes they could wear. Middle-class merchants could now afford many of the luxurious fabrics once only worn by nobles — a trend indicative of a much broader social change that could threaten the king’s own position. Clothes controls — first introduced in medieval times — helped maintain the old, familiar status quo. Cloth of gold or silver and purple silk were restricted to women with the rank of countess or higher. No woman was allowed to wear fabrics embroidered with silk, pearls, gold or silver except baronesses and those of higher rank. Enforcement of these laws was lax but heavy fines could be extracted from those caught in violation by the fashion police.

But what’s really interesting is that black was not a common colour, if one gets onto the tube in London in the morning practically everyone is wearing black, it’s almost like the London uniform but during Medieval and Tudor times black was rarely seen because to dye any cloth black took a lot of dye and this was expensive, so black was generally out, unless of course you happened to be a witch..