Today, the sun has climbed aboard his golden chariot, the sky is the celestial blue of a Renaissance painting, birds are flibberty-gibbeting in trees so lush they deserve a more original adjective. A day, one might think, to be happy and carefree, to dispense with the woes of whatever there is to be woeful about. A day to rejoice that one’s heart still beats, pulse still pulses and blood still Grand Prix’s it through ones veins. Unless you happen to be Son No. 2, whose face is currently so long, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Desert Orchid. Pour quois? Simples! He didn’t listen to his Mum, didn’t heed the warning that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, we are referring to an X-Box bought on Amazon, an amazing ‘knock-down’ bargain. What the vendor failed to specify is that the knock-down referred not to the price, but to the recipient, when they found no leads, battery pack or any of the associated paraphernalia one might expect to make it work was actually included. A salutary lesson learned the hard way. But, Son No. 2 is not the only one to have woken up and smelled the con-artist. I’ve learned a lesson too and that is not to bother dispensing any more pearls of wisdom. The fact is the only voice most people listen to is the voice of bitter experience. Their own experience! As a parent, of course, I felt it my bounden duty to try and instil the wisdom of Caveat Emptor in the fruit of my womb, if only to spare him the disappointment of X-Boxes sans accoutrements. But like said X-Box, it didn’t work. However, he will not make that mistake again. But, looking at the balance sheet, I suppose he’s gained more than he’s lost; in the debit column, £70.00 and scales lost from his eyes and, in the credit column, invaluable experience.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME COULD BE A CROWN OF THORNS!
After several rounds of intrusive fertility treatment, a friend was recently rewarded by the birth of a beautiful baby girl, Fendi Millen, named after two of her favourite shopping brands. It could have been worse, of course, the poor kid might have ended up as Burberry Choo or Louboutin Rubenstein, or even IKEA Waitrose. But, it’s bad enough and poor Fendi M may be forever scarred by the fact that her mother put choosing the name of her long-awaited precious bundle on a par with designer goods.
Listen up, parents, whilst it might seem cute to land your sprogeny with a ‘designer name’, the reality can be misery for that child and deep psychological scarring. It can, and often does, colour their perception of themselves and of those around them. I know this, because in a past life I used to draw up Change of Name Deeds, which was interesting work because I never knew who was going to walk in the door, much less who was going to walk back out. And some were amusing, if not downright funny. One of my all time favourites was a flamboyant Italian, Annunziata, who turned up bemoaning her ‘bad luck’ caused, according to a fortune teller, by the fact that she was named after her dead grandmother. The advice was to change her name to something ‘straaang and victoohrious’. Thus, in the stroke of a few paragraphs, Annunziata became Victoria. She left, clutching her Change of Name Deed in a manner most regal, and with a lot less waving of her hands.
Enter Clive Mine. Exit Gold Mine – I kid you not. Since he could barely find the money to pay for his Change of Name Deed, I suspect his mine was probably of the disused variety. He did have a gold tooth, though, and a very nice smile.
Amusing as these examples are – the people above were adults and in a position to choose for themselves. Babies rely on their parents to make smart decisions on their behalf, and if they fall down on that responsibility the results can have long-term disturbing consequences. Several of my former clients spent years being bullied and taunted, the direct result (they believed) of having a ‘stupid’ or ‘ridiculous’ name that singled them out from their peers and made them the target of other people’s cruelty. And the new names they chose? Regular, everyday names; John. Emily. James. Elizabeth. Not one Orlando. Not one Honey-Blossom-Hawthorn-Clematis. And never, ever, a Fendi Millen!
Apart from being saddled with a stupid moniker, what all of these people had in common was a strongly held belief that their name was more than just a convenient means of identification. It held real power over them, a whole set of preconceived characteristics that put them at a disadvantage and prevented them from becoming the people they felt they were meant to be.
Think that’s rubbish? Well, try this little exercise. Think of a girl named Harriet. Think of a girl named Chantelle. Think of a boy named James. Think of a boy named Wayne. What image does each name conjure up? Are there any particular characteristics you associate with each name? A particular socio-economic group? Educational abilities?
Shakespeare’s Hamlet tell us, ‘nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’. Logically, therefore, no name is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Logical or not, as a society we are predisposed to pigeon-hole people, often solely on the strength of their name. I wonder if Tracey re-branded herself as Harriet, would she see herself differently. Would we see her differently?
Having witnessed the damage wrought, I believe parents should give far more consideration to naming their children. Think twice before labelling them in a whimsical fashion or aping some half-wit ‘celeb’. Rosebud Dipsy Doo doo might be cute at two. At twenty-two, it’s downright cruel! Agt forty, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Remember Zowie Bowie? He changed his name, firstly, to Joe and then to Duncan. Point made.
A recent survey found that an impromptu gift of flowers from the man in your life could lead to accusations of cheating. This, you understand, is not something of which I have personal experience as, in common with many other men, my husband doesn’t ‘do’ flowers. ‘Why,’ he exclaims, wearing the kind of persecuted face Ann Boleyn wore on her way to the block, ‘do you need flowers to know I love you? Besides, the last time I gave you flowers you mocked and scorned me. And five years on, you’re still nagging.’ Huh! I deny none of it. Let the crime fit the traducing, is what I say and pink, plastic and nasty ratchets up the punishment factor. Even worse, if the pink, plastic and nasty offering comes in a nasty, brown plastic hanging-basket guaranteed to be still going strong when only cockroaches hold sway. Listen up, men; this is for your own good. There is a strict hierarchy in the world of flower-giving, one you would do well to learn quickly if you are not to revert to walking on all fours.
Real = good (kisses follow and happy-clappy sounds)
Fake = skirting close to the wind. (danger of low flying kitchen knives, divorce, maybe violent death)
Red roses from Interflora = (kisses and hugs, candlelight dinner, nudge nudge, wink, wink and uninterrupted viewing of Sports Channel.)
Bunch of diesel-smelling, dusty blooms from service station – Only ever to be attempted by those wearing full Kevlar body armour, or by Arnie Schwarzenegger’s body double. (Most common complication – Eats leaves and shoots Carnation petals, thorns and stems from orifices not usually on public display.)
So there you have it, guys, the Dummy’s Guide to saying it with flowers. Just remember to choose your words (and flowers) with care.
The gospel according to our primary schools!
Picture this, two kids, seven years old. The first, ‘our Wayne’ plumps his plump bottom down in front of the TV or X Box every day, moving only to get himself to the table for his pepperoni-pizza with extra calories. The second, ‘our Alfie’ is outside every moment he can get, training like Shergar, (before Shergar went AWOL), in an effort to get fit for ye olde school sports day. Said sports day arrives. Three, two, one and they’re off, little legs going like pistons, mums and dads cheering them on from the sidelines (sticking out a leg accidentally on purpose to trip up the other competitors). As you would expect, our Alfie breasts the tape first with our Wayne bringing up the (or, his substantial) rear, Paddy Last (sorry if the names are getting confusing). And who would dispute that, thus far, all is right with this picture? To the victor the spoils – it was ever thus. Not anymore. Because, in these days of namby-pambyness, one apparently cannot have losers, only winners. Bang, goes our Alfie’s moment of sweet victory, his triumphant trouncing of his tiny adversaries, as his teacher announces ‘we are all winners here’. Newsflash, Miss Lottie-ol-nonsense, no we’re not and no amount of misguided political-correctness will make it so. In all walks of life, there are winners and losers and telling our kids otherwise is actually doing them a disservice. What’s to say that our Wayne won’t grow up to be a champion , I don’t know, pie-eater or something. How would he like it, if our Alfie came along and snatched victory from his jaws (having swallowed but a mere morsel himself). We can’t all excel at everything and that’s okay, a good thing even. Maybe coming in Paddy Last will inspire our Wayne to up his game next time round. Maybe he doesn’t give a monkeys one way or the other. But, let’s not fool the child, last is last, and let’s not taint our Alfie’s achievement by putting it on a par with everyone else. He has a right to be proud. So, to all the misguided bleeding-heart types who insist on feeding such drivel to our children, let me pose this question. Do you think at the end of World War II Churchill put his arm around Hitler’s neck and said ‘don’t worry, Heil, we’re all winners here’. For heaven’s sake, in only a matter of months we will be hosting the Olympic games, where traditionally there are winners and losers. Get over it! The competitors will! And, next time, the roles might well be reversed.
Ever whitened your teeth with urine? The Romans did. Ever use lead-based face powder? The Tudors did. Arsenic to make your skin luminous or Belladonna to brighten your eyes – no? Clearly, Edwardian beauties were made of sterner stuff. How about hot wax dropped onto your eyelashes to lengthen them or lemon juice in your pupils to brighten them? Fancy a smaller waist? Simples! Have a couple of ribs removed. When not otherwise engaged in covering up piano legs and shooing underfed kids up chimneys, the Victorians did the lot. Sharper cheekbones anyone? No pain no gain. 1940s film star, Joan Crawford had a couple of back teeth removed. She never ate steak again, but she looked mighty good in them thar flicks.
Dear, oh, dear! Makes you glad we live in more enlightened times, doesn’t it? No chance of us blinding ourselves with Lash Lure eyelash – in the 1930s they didn’t see it coming. Rat poison hair removal cream, anyone? Guaranteed not only to smooth your legs, but, er, your scalp as well, with maybe a bit of euritis, myalgia, and arthralgi thrown in for good measure. Possibly death! Those1930s gals, again! Terrific sports, what?
And if the foregoing makes you wince, have a look at this little lot. (Caution: read on an empty stomach). Injections of a deadly toxin, Botulism, to dispense with a few wrinkles. Faces and bodies carved up by scalpel-happy surgeons. Fat sucked out. Silicone pumped in. Noses broken, trout-pout lips and gigantic plastic boobs. Chemical peels and dermabrasion (the skin burned away in one, literally sanded away in the other). Gastric bands (I’ve lost my appetite). Flesh flambéed in ultra violet radiation. Body hair ripped out by the roots or by one of those depilatory instruments of torture (dreamed up by Vlad the Impaler in a particularly imaginative moment).Starvation, for that perfect size 0 figure.
Thank God we live in 2011, eh?
I am enjoying a break at the moment, hiding out in a lovely Grade 11 listed cottage in one of the many charming villages scattered round beautiful Somerset. The weather, if not brilliant, is at least pleasant, with only the odd scattering of rain chucked down by the powers that be as a sop to the farmers and gardeners who are revolting. (If childish humour is your thing, make your own joke here). In any case, here I am in the lovely rolling countryside of this cider-making county, loafing around and listening to the burr of the local birds, whilst dutifully mapping out the where-to-visit-today itinerary. On Sunday, it was off to Bristol to see Brunel’s HMS Great Britain and, let me tell you, judging by the size of the tiny bunks, anorexia is clearly not a modern-day phenomenon. In fact, so narrow were they, it would be difficult to lie two dry straws of spaghetti side by side. So much for the myth of the jolly fat sailor! For any naval history buffs, though, it’s worth the entrance fee.
The following day saw us spending a pleasant few hours in Bradford on Avon, a pretty Saxon town in Wiltshire. In true tourist fashion we ambled beside the Kennet and Avon canal admiring the picture-perfect narrow boats moored on each side, then popped along to have a look at the enormous 14th century Tithe Barn at Barton Grange Farm. As tourism is the mainstay of the area, there were a number of craft and souvenir shops close by and, like Pavlov’s dogs, I was soon salivating and champing at the bit, (which was a bit scary for onlookers!), desperate to go charging off into those Aladdin’s caves of . . .tat! Well, what else would you call six tin cans (I swear one still had a baked bean at the bottom) fashioned into a clunk-ugly cat? In disbelief, I turned my attention to a small mirror, the frame of which had been ‘distressed’ so badly, the poor thing was clearly distraught. ‘Shabby chic,’ the shop assistant told me with a ‘what would you know, ignorant peasant’ glare, as I took it over to point out the damage. Okay, so I may not be a member of MENSA (I can’t even spell it), but I figure there is something wrong when something that has been wilfully trashed (sorry, distressed) costs three times the price of said object in its ‘un-distressed’ state. I can’t help but feel the same about clothes that are worn out before ever you’ve worn them, threadbare hemlines (organic apparently), frayed, ripped and faded jeans that look as though some builder has left not only his bum in them, but half the building site too. And, okay, so I may be a woman d’un age certain, but I’m no fuddy duddy and certainly not averse to being conned. I have, indeed, been royally conned on several occasions (er . . . a dancing Mickey Mouse with no visible means of support). Not on this occasion, though. Replacing both tin-can cat and grief-stricken mirror and carefully eschewing the stuffed, ripped, patched-with-old-socks gingham rabbit (with cross-stitched eyes, only thirty quid!) I backed out like a vegetarian at a cannibal convention.
Today, we are off to Avebury to see the megalithic stones (more Hubby’s thing than mine – one megalithic stone is much the same as another). If there’s a souvenir shop lurking (with intent to con) in the vicinity, I promise I will just walk on by. Shabby chic? My foot! Shabby cheek!
First, though, I need to pack away the pink raffia heart-shaped cushion with the cutesy sayings stamped all over it I bought the day before. It will look just stunning in the living room, next to the tartan coal scuttle and the bulrush poker.
When I married my husband I didn’t realise he was part of a BOGOF offer and that I would get two for the price of one. The extra marital relation in question is my brother-in-law, or, the Philistine, as I like to call him. Yes, Kevin Moore, you know who you are. Worse still, our Kev cheerfully admits to this failing and positively revels in his ability to reduce me to a red-faced gibbering wreck in front of ‘them wot ‘ave a bit of culture’. Take our latest sortie to Pugin’s Grange in Ramsgate – the memory still has the power to bring the blood rushing to every extremity. Firstly, let me make it plain it wasn’t our intention to visit said establishment; we were, in fact, on our way to a local caff to sample the quality of the greasy spoon. But, and this is a rarity, the Grange was having an open day and, having lived for six years in the area, with nary the chance to poke my nose inside the door, I was in like Flynn. The problem is, our Kev was in behind me like Flynn’s hip replacement. Nevertheless, things got off to a reasonable start as I joined my oohing and aahing to that of a small, but select, group of Pugin aficionados. Happily, I craned and strained my neck to gaze at the wonders of the ornate ceilings. Reverently (when the guide wasn’t looking) I brushed my hand along the faithfully reproduced wallpaper (pretty garish, to tell you the truth, but who knew green and orange could work!). Overawed, almost to the point of tears, I gazed with longing at the Minton tiles (the tears were because mine are from Wicks and common as muck, as well as cracked). Still, all was going well and I was beginning to bask in that warm feeling of inclusion amongst your betters (a bit like when you were at school and the Head Girl let you polish her shoes with your tongue), but then we entered the dining room and things took a turn for the humiliating. A DVD recounting the story of Pugin’s life was playing in one corner, around which some of his more fanatical disciples, hungry to learn more of their master and hero, had gathered. I was hungry too (remember, we still hadn’t been to the caff), but hoping to milk my sense of cultural camaraderie, I was tentatively making my way to the edges of the worshippers when a sonic boom rang out.
‘Hey, babe, look at the size of this dining table. That would be perfect for doing my modelling or for making my jigsaws. Look, I could have a 25,000 piece one at each end. I could have my tools up this end . . .’
Believe me, had I not been dying of humiliation, I would have taken great pleasure in shoving his tools up whichever end he liked. Instead, my red face clashing horribly with the wallpaper, I slunk away, an outcast from cultural society, all thanks to my extra marital relation. Had I a bell, I would have rang it – unclean, unclean. Instead, I wended my weary way up into the bell-tower, figuring the panoramic view over lovely Thanet might go some way to restoring calm. Boy, was I was wrong! As I, and the small number of other asthmatic-sounding sightseers, excitedly looked for landmarks and gazed across the Channel to France, the sonic boom sounded once more, almost toppling us over the parapet.
‘Hey babe, this would be a great place to site a sniper rifle. You could set it up right here and bang, bang, bang . . .’
Cue gasps of outrage and and magenta faced as I schlepped all the way back down and into the Abbey next door. Even Kev, I figured, would have the grace to keep quiet in the sanctity of the church. Big mistake! Mega! As I left the side chapel, having duly admired a wonderful carved frieze depicting the Stations of the Cross, he called me back, his voice echoing up to the vault ceiling and reverberating off the stone walls making even the gargoyles cover their ears.
‘Hey babe, look at this. One of the soldiers is wearing an Italian helmet. It should be Roman. They didn’t have Italian helmets back in those days.’
I could hear the sound of Pugin swearing in his grave. That man has a gob the size of the Grand Canyon. Not Pugin!
So help me, I think there are times when murder is not only permitted, but essential – if only I had a sniper rifle or a large blunt object. Unfortunately, I did not have a sniper rifle and the nearest large blunt object, also known as Kevin’s head, was already attached to his body.
Had I known the day I got married, what I know now, I would have looked straight at my brother-in-law and shouted BOGOF! Instead, he was the best man.
PS. For those of you not afflicted by philistinic relations, the Grange and the Abbey are well worth a visit. It is owned by the Landmark Trust. You can find out more on: http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/visiting/opendays.htm
So far today, I have Googled, emailed, texted, Tweeted, Facebook’d, updated my website and blogged, all in the interests of furthering communication. What I have not done is to exchange one word with a living being. I did speak to the cat, but that was a pretty one-sided conversation and not much fun for either of us. (Summary: ‘Lizzie, did you poop in my herbs again?’. ‘Meow!’.)
Anyway, In order to cover all the bases, I have decided to sign up for classes in Morse code and Indian smoke signals, and if anybody can think of any other ‘platform’ I have missed, feel free to contact me – in whatever way you like. I’ll even consider old-fashioned, one-on-one speech.
Now, when a PR lady first decreed that I should have as many platforms as possible, I thought she was referring to footwear. I had a pair once back in the day, as the kids say between Neanderthal grunts, but one came to grief beneath a double-decker bus. My misty-eyed expression told her that she needed to disabuse me of that notion quick smart and wisen me up to the endless possibilities of technology, and how I could make use of it to promote me as a product.
Me, as a product? Surely, she meant my books? But no, these days it is simply not enough to leave the marketing side of one’s opus to others (even though they have ‘da knowledge’), one has to BECOME the product, BE THE BOOK! One has to emerge from one’s garret or the local pub blinking owlishly, suited, booted and coiffed, all ready to embark on ‘the publicity trail’.
But, as I smile winningly for another photograph (look, it’s as winning as I can make it – there are limits to how much you can pull your stomach in), dig deep for a new slant for an interview, press whatever flesh comes my way for pressing, I can’t help but wonder who really cares what I look like, or what my opinion is on the state of asparagus in the EU, or whether I have two Weetabix for my breakfast or none at all.
As a reader, the Litmus test for me has always been whether or not the author ‘gives good book’ (I love American expressions, they’re so vomitous!). Their personal attributes (or lack of the same), opinions, lifestyles etc, do not concern me one jot and I can’t help but feel that I’m in the majority camp on that one.
PS: I give good book!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about keeping hens. There is something very honest about a hen, something comforting like Prozac or warm chicken soup. Dogs and cats, I’ve noticed, all seem to have a side to them, a hidden agenda, a me, me, me mentality masquerading as loyal affection. Buster, the boss-eyed beagle, wants to be played with, praised endlessly for being a good doggy-woggy, taken for long scent-marking walks and fed large expensive meaty bowls of Growler several times a day. Tiddly Winks wants, nay, demands to be worshipped and cuddled for precisely no other reason than that she’s a cat and, therefore, superior to every other living creature. And what return do you get on your investment in these divas of the animal kingdom? A flea in the ear and often everywhere else too! Henny, on the other hand, plain little Henny Penny, with her beady little inquisitive eyes and ruffled pantaloon feathers is just herself, innately honest. She neither demands attention or affection. She doesn’t slobber, chew or scratch the furniture. She doesn’t hiss or spit. In return for a modest mess of pottage she amply rewards her benefactor with a regular supply of lovely fresh googy eggs. And Henny’s politics are green too – no yolk! (so much for swearing I wouldn’t make any puns in this blog). Note her Dyson-like ability to hoover up those smelly old veg parings that would otherwise fester in the bin, attracting flies and other undesirables like the local tramp. I know, I know, I’m coming over all broody, but I’m seriously beginning to feel like the sky might fall down if I don’t get my very own hen. Rhode Island Red, Golden Comet, Foghorn Leghorn – I’ve Googled and the choice is endless and confusing. Judicious consideration and weighing in the balance is what is required. So, I’ll think about it over dinner tonight. Nothing like a crisp bottle of Sauvignon and a nice bit of roast chicken to clear the mind.
I am a writer, something many people seem to think does not qualify as ‘real work’, and thus take advantage of my being at home to interrupt me any old time at all. This is especially true of cold callers who normally send me into a frenzy of rage, unless I’m feeling particularly mellow, when I like to engage in a bit of harmless fun.
Fun with Cold Callers – Part 1
Trrrng Trrng (very poor sound effect of phone ringing)
Me: (mellow version) – Yaws?
CC: Can I speak with Tara Moore?
Me: (tutting sympathetically) – Oh, dear, you’ve not heard then?
Me: We’re holding the wake now? Would you like to pass on your condolences?
CC. Uh . . . ah . . . (or Nigerian equivalent)
Me: Hang on, I’ll just fetch one of the rellies. Back in a mo.
CC: No. . .no . . um . . . I only wanted . . .
Me: To send flowers? How kind. Lilies were her favourite you know. Stargazers, in particular. Did you know the stamens are poisonous to cats? No? Well they are, so keep Dibbles away from the vase. And they stain your clothes too. Not cats. The stamens. Although your own personal cat might stain your clothes – it’s not for me to make accusations against the feline fraternity.
Me: Energy? My good man, the woman has no energy. She’s dead!
CC. (doing vowel wounds) aah, eee, iii, ooh, uuu . . . sorry to have troubled you.
Me: You can still send flowers
CC. click …. brrrr (very poor imitation of dead line)
Fun with Cold Callers – Part 2
Trrrng Trrng (usual very poor sound effect of phone ringing)
Me: (officious) – Inspector (cough!), who’s speaking?
CC: (hesitant) Er . . .can I speak with Tara Moore?
Me: (snappy!) How do you know the deceased? Can you account for your movements between 5.00 p.m. yesterday and 7.00 a.m. this morning? Do you own a Samurai sword? Have you ever learned butchery? Stay where you are, we’re coming round.
CC. click …. brrrr (very poor imitation of dead line)