Sunday, 14 January 2018

Resolutions? Why it's hard...

I wonder whether, like me, you resolve, this year, to lose weight and exercise more. I have been saying I must lose weight and exercise more for the last ten Januarys at least. I did, in fact, become a thin, healthier person in the mid 90s and kept the weight off for some years. How did I do that? The answer is quite straightforward: I found the time to go swimming at least three times a week. I became the weight I should be for my height and age - around 10 stone 6.

With the glow of success I got lazy. I knew I could lose weight if I wanted to... it was no big deal. But I'd forgotten that it gets harder to stay fit as we age. I didn't factor in that if you lose overall mobility, in my case, in the form of a slipped disc, the body loses less fat. About ten years ago I was flat on my back. When walking I moved awkwardly, was full of painkillers, and found sitting in a car - or even on a plane - most painful. A slipped disc takes between six months to a year to get right. Gradually I could swim again, but, even now, I have to be careful. The disc has repaired itself but I have a permanently trapped nerve. If I go mad at it, usually doing breast stroke, the pain starts.

Long story short: I have put on weight and I need to exercise more. If it means taking paracetamol so be it. The weight has to go.

Since Christmas 2017 I have managed two walks and two swims a week. On top of that I do a brisk walk to local shops once or twice a week and I diet 2 days out of 7 ( ie the 5:2 diet.) This sounds as though I ought to be losing the pounds but it isn't that easy. Last week I was focusing so hard on going out for a swim, preparing myself by putting my chilly-feeling swimsuit on the radiator before I left the house for the pool, that in my rush to get on with my new exercise regime I left my swimming costume at home. Of course I didn't know I had erred until Richard dropped me off outside the pool and was on his merry way to the pub. What was I to do?

a) ring him, knowing full well he was driving and wouldn't answer
b) ring him, leave a message to collect me and head to the hotel bar next to the pool
c) don't ring, just go to the bar
d) ask if they have a spare swimsuit at the desk, thereby sticking to my regime without taking in extra alcoholic calories
e) walk home, thus giving me a burst of exercise, but risk catching my death as I didn't have my winter coat with me
f) wait in the hotel, next to the pool, read the Sunday papers, and have a cup of tea
g) ring the pub where Richard was drinking and leave a message for him?

It didn't take too much effort to decide swimming was still the best option, given my lack of warm winter clothing and the fact Richard would be unlikely to answer my call and his pub might not answer their phone either. At the desk I had to confess my stupidity at leaving my gear at home. Two ladies, who, it has to be said, were more portly than I, were booking facials and exotic treatments and found my predicament hilarious. I was trying hard to stick to my hard to get in my 25-30 minutes daily exercise, but I was in luck... my spa did have a swimsuit they could sell me for £15. It wasn't my size but hey swimsuits stretch don't they?

After ten minutes in the warm waters I felt immensely holy. I was being very good and exercising like a minor athlete. Then the pain started... Because I was wearing a size 14 swimsuit, the size I should be, the tight straps had irritated my trapped nerve. I kept swimming but stuck to front crawl, minimising the pull on my lower back. I staggered out of the pool like someone drunk and managed to down a painkiller or two.

Tomorrow I had planned to go for a long walk... but the rain is due to pelt it down morning, noon and night. I will swap my Monday regime with Tuesday and do my walk then. Tomorrow I will swim instead. But I will remember my swimming gear. All I have to do now is decide which days I'll diet.Last week I read 'how to keep new year resolutions' in the paper.

thermae spa is for lounging not exercising!

 Easy, the article said, exercising and diet should be as regular a habit as brushing your teeth. Oh really???

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Why do they lament?

30 December
At Christmas and New Year we embrace a few favoured family traditions. We always watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Scrooge' aka 'A Christmas Carol' on Christmas Eve. Those activities were established by my brother and my mother. I try to follow Kings College carols on the 24th, that's my tradition. We take a post-meal walk but never open presents until the evening on the 25th. Who established those rules? I have no idea but the habit evolved most likely at my brother's where we sit down to eat the festive meal about 4pm. 

At Hogmanay we run round the house like mad things shouting 'Lang may yer lum reek' on the strike of twelve. My father - a MacPherson - handed that craziness on to us.

We also tend to do quizzes rather than bother with what's on the box. This year the only TV programme I watched 'live' over Christmas was 'Call the Midwife'. When I'd digested the storyline and contrasted it with 'A Christmas Carol' it seemed to me that our leaders, especially the ministry of justice - for prisons, the home office - for police and the DWP - for work and pensions - formerly social security, still have a lot to learn. Despite government inactivity regarding the NHS and our most vulnerable citizens both dramas will continue to be viewed in our house during Christmasses yet to come. And we'll still give to charities to help those in need, showing rather more concern than the Tories.

Both 'Midwife' and 'Scrooge' veer towards the sentimental yet have important messages to convey. The former's offering this Christmas showed 1960 society's attitude to Down's Syndrome, the latter the difficulties of being a cripple in the 1840s. The former tells of wife beatings from a domineering man, who was also a sexually abusive father, the latter of folk working for a pittance, barely able to afford a Christmas dinner, yet in full time work. Aspects of life for some in the 1840s and the 1960s are not yet behind us.

With SENDIST legislation - special educational needs and disability - schools and colleges now make provision for Down's and the disabled. In that sense, partly because responsibility for special needs was removed from the department of health to the department of education in the 1970s, Britain is a better place in which to grow if born with syndromes or handicaps. 

However the increasing demonisation of beggars and those on benefits has meant tolerance of the financially needy has all but dissolved - at least in the offices of the parliamentary Conservative party.
On Christmas Eve, 1843, Scrooge passes a group of waifs singing - and shivering  - on a snowy pavement for their supper. They were clearly making a nuisance of themselves outside his large home. He says 'Be off with you' in much the same way some of us ignore beggars, cap in hand, on our streets today. I don't always give to beggars. I'm not sure how I manage to walk past, but sometimes I do.

When asked by charity workers if Scrooge would make a donation for the needy 'for it is at Christmas time that want is felt' he merely asks 'Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?'

The lack of compassion for the poor as we stumble towards 2018 doesn't mean a return to the shame of the workhouse but our prisons are suffering - buildings, inmates and officers are all in need of much greater support than they receive from our government. Are we, the law-abiding electorate, not in danger of looking like the ignorant bystanders in Dickens' novels?

In towns we have food banks for the near destitute and soup kitchens for those sleeping rough. Labour wants to shift power from private landlords to tenants - giving them more chance to avoid eviction - thereby reducing the numbers of homeless. By contrast Finland has all but eradicated homelessness altogether. It can be no coincidence that the numbers sleeping on the streets of Britain has increased 134% since 2010*, when Cameron and the Tories came into power. According to Shelter a
private landlord/lady can make an eviction without giving any reason. If s/he chose to serve notice on 4th December this year a tenant could have been homeless on Christmas Day. If notice had been served on 11th December the recipient tenant could be homeless tomorrow. Not a happy new year for some. Tenants are given 21 days to clear up and move out. 

But to where?

The department for Communities and Local Government knows homelessness is on the increase. Why, as 2017 becomes 2018, do we have such a shameful housing problem in a wealthy country like ours? When social services, housing benefits and other benefits are cut and part-time insecure work becomes the norm for the mainly unskilled worker, where does rent money appear from? When private landlords increase and council or social housing decreases Britain sees its impoverished lying in the gutter. 

The night Marley's ghost visits Scrooge and shows him images of 'mankind' tormented by a lack of accommodation, warmth and food Scrooge asks 'Why do they lament?'implying he has no idea.

As I add up my donations to Crisis, The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities I hope the money helps those who are shivering, hungry, ill and homeless and I wonder what has changed since 1843. G K Chesterton's poem 'The House at Christmas' describes the virgin Mary as homeless '... driven forth out of an inn to roam...'

We celebrate the birth of a homeless child, born 2000 years ago, in the comfort of our modern sitting rooms, surrounded by cards, nuts, satsumas, decorations and more mince pies than are good for us. But the continuing increase in homelessness is a disease of modern Tory Britain. The Irish Times supports the idea of unwanted Christmas presents being donated now to be ready for those in b&b accommodation in December 2018. No change there then.

Why do they lament, indeed. 

*Homeless Link figures

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Happy lexicon 2017

This Christmas, following the latest trends, I will be signing cards as Mx Nina MacPherson, to show solidarity with our non-binary friends, our enbies. My gender is none of your business but have a merry yule all the same … is the essential message.

Now that Richard has his art work hanging at Bath’s latest vegan restaurant, Nourish, our food will, for the festive season, be plant-based mermaid dishes, followed by unicorn toasties.

Last Friday we rushed around our local top-end supermarkets searching for gluten-free desserts for our good friend Richard, yes another Richard, and discovered how helpful Marks and Spencer are in this regard. Now that we have been introduced to veganism aquapaba is going to be our new go-to dessert, no need for dashing to supermarkets for the perfect meringue.

Being an oldie, rather than a xennial, I will likely not convert to an avolatte, as I do prefer my drinks in a glass, or a cup. I’ve never got used to drinking cappuccino from a cardboard takeaway cup, a habit we renounced in San Francisco in 1997. Yep it was twenty years ago today and since then cardboard cups litter the place. Strange to tell I prefer to sit and enjoy my coffee rather than supping it on the move, spilling it down my top and giving myself heartburn.

The greed of the banks has been a topic for conversation with friends and family in recent weeks. In order to avoid paying any overdraft charges whatsoever history was made in our household when Richard gave up his current account and joined his funds with mine. After thirty-six years of marriage we have a three-day-old joint account. The shocking rise in bank charges makes me want to bank with Tesco but First Direct may be more up my street. We are not spending shedloads this Christmas. Instead we’ll be at home in a state of lagom. Tonight we are singing Christmas carols enjoying firgun and general bonhomie. The dark nights and dull mornings lead one to sense that hibernation is no bad thing, hygge is easily achieved in our house: drinking cocoa, feet up and watching TV or simply reading a novel is the new party-hard. Lykke is something to relish, I feel.

Next year I will have to stick to my resolution to lose weight and exercise more. This will involve ignoring the manspreading around the swimming pool, careful there. I don’t, however, enjoy the sausage fest in the pool when I’m trying to swim.

These days, when confronted by shopkeepers or tradesmen one stare from me ensures I don’t suffer from mansplaining and as I attend few meetings now I don’t have to endure  hepeating. Thank goodness most of my Headteachers have been women and we didn’t have to put up with over confident men, nor manfants, at school management meetings.

If that foray into new words entering the Oxford dictionary hasn’t given you verbal indigestion all that remains for me is to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas, away from thoughts of Brexit, and political the spelling.

If it snows reach for the warmest gorpcore, stay safe and snug.

That’s the new way to be.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Stop the Clocks

Mum died a year ago - at 8 pm on November 4, quite suddenly and painlessly, from a stroke. She was 92 and had been in a nursing home for less than two years.
The entry for mum, in the Book of Remembrance at the crematorium, looks dignified and hers is the last on the page for November 4th. I doubt whether that's because no-one else died in her part of the industrial Midlands on the same day. We are talking about a vast urban population. It may have something to do with the huge increase in costs for funerals and memorials.

The bench we ordered when dad died in 1993 was finally refurbished in time for mum's birthday - this August - when she would have been ninety-three. My aunts - her sisters - took a posy there on mum's anniversary. It all looked very fitting.

Since creating 'mum's garden' at our house I have been adding another plant to mum's favourite collection of flowers on significant dates. This November I planted a cream hellebore named 'Christmas Carol'. If mum had still been with us I would have taken her a similar Christmas Rose - she would have approved.

Strangely however, our indoor Christmas cactus has, as last year, flowered early. When my brother rang on November 4, 2016, to say mum had died, the Christmas cactus suddenly bloomed. It was at least seven weeks early. And again, a whole year later, the cactus flowered prematurely, sending spikey pinky-red flowers way up into the air. Again to the day when mum's spirit left the temporal world.

Even more confounding is that two carriage clocks and a kitchen wall clock stopped working - all within 24 hours of each other - as we approached mum's anniversary on November 4th. It was a simple matter of changing the clock batteries but given that one of the clocks is fifty years old, another twenty-five and the newest approximately ten and their batteries were replaced at very different times of the year it is curious that they should all stop ticking on the same day.

Stop the clocks.
We will remember.

Friday, 27 October 2017

More haste less speed is a pain in Uranus

I don't know whether Mars is in Uranus this week but I'm slowly learning, after minor pratfalls, that rushing to get things done does not pay off. And it leads to a pain in Uranus.

I have edited a once-long chapter in my ms, 'The Keys to Heaven', and cut it by at least at third.The pace is better but in the cutting I neglected the finer things like making page one make sense. In trying to get my editing done before we go away for Richard's birthday I've been rushing at it. Writing won't cope with a race - it shows on the page. I have learned to slow down... It's not worth making errors which then have to be undone - costing more in time and producing poor quality copy.

Similarly I turned a ten-minute repotting job into a two-hour slog this morning. All I had to do was remove a weakling African violet, scrape old compost and leaves from it, put it in specialist species compost, water it, arrrgh..., and place it near the window. So what went wrong with such a simple task?

On my pre-holiday  list of tasks I'd itemised putting garden chairs away, finish painting tubs and switch off the water to the outside tap. We did all that by 11:00 this morning. Hence I decided, with no outside water, to repot my violet in the downstairs wet room. All was going well, although I should have put newspaper down to gather the crumbs of waste compost, until I watered the new, gritty absorbent compost. I didn't realise my new pot had a very large drainage hole in it. As soon as I watered it the compost ran out of the rather large hole and straight into the sink. What a mess! I placed two crocks in the bottom of the pot, yes... should have done that anyway, and completed the job. The plant was looking good but the sink was full of soil, it wouldn't drain and there were spent soil granules on every surface.

Trying to plunge the sink made even more chaos. The suction sent sprays of muddy water around the walls, on the floor, over the lavatory, behind the radiator and everywhere you could think of. And still the water wouldn't drain. I moved everything out of the wet room, tried to tidy, knocked bottles of bleach over and created pandemonium. That bloody African violet was on its last legs and will likely die, and I had a sink which was blocked with perlite and mud.

Richard tried to rescue the situation but he had no better luck than me... It delayed him doing what he needed to do by more than a couple of hours as he had to go to our hardware shop for drain unblocker. What a fool I'd been! Meanwhile, with muddy hands, I had to use another sink to clean up so I could hang out the whiter-than-white washing. It was a lovely, sunny morning.

When Richard returned he had to switch the outside tap back on and uncoil the ready-for-winter hose, push it through our wet room window and, as the hardware store suggested, try to shift the soil by hosing it away. Sink unblocker wouldn't work.

After another hour baling mud out of said wasbasin it was finally free. Water went down the plughole once more. Good old Richard and good old hardware store.

More haste less speed has never been truer than this week. I've been trying to hurry things along so that we can go away for a few days. I've made a mess with my writing, sprayed the downstairs loo with soil and switched the water supply to the outside tap on and off about four times.

My list for today was: put garden chairs away, switch off outside tap, paint outside tubs, repot violet,  iron for our holiday and continue editing - all by 11:00 am this morning. It's almost 4 pm and I have achieved 3 of the above.  I shall now sit quietly and collect my thoughts. Rushing has achieved very little... The sun is shining. If I hadn't packed away the garden chairs I could have sat outside and soaked up some rays... Clearly I need a few days away.🌞

Friday, 6 October 2017

Return to Sender

For over a year I have been using our local deposit point - in that way, when we are expecting deliveries, we don't have to stay in all day, we just collect them from the deposit point at our convenience.
So confident was I that the system was working perfectly I ordered three items, to be delivered to the deposit point, for my husband's birthday. I made the order three weeks ago and, no, the items have still not arrived.

For something new to wear, from a specialist 1950s jive shop, I ordered a replacement dress for one I've ripped, but of which I'm fond. That was for Richard's birthday too and was ordered well over three weeks ago. The delivery was taken to our deposit point but was refused, ie someone wouldn't sign for it, and my lovely Audrey Hepburn dresses were returned to sender. I'm now doing what I was trying to avoid ... waiting in for five days in case there's a delivery at our home...

Another order of M&S underwear and jewellery should have been delivered this week. I chose to have it delivered as there was no delivery charge. But, yep, you guessed it, I ordered it over three weeks ago, hoping to be able to wear said items by now, but not only was despatch delayed by two weeks this package was also refused at our delivery point. ( Someone new or someone very  busy was on the desk and had, erroneously, sent the items back. ) My new bras have been returned to sender. I asked M& S if my returned lacy, underwired-in-almond bras could be taken to our nearest store for click-and-collect. It took 24 hours to get the very personal and polite reply but there was no mechanism for that process and I would be refunded. I therefore have to re-order everything. I am going into town today and could simply go in to the shop but I was trying to save time ... I wanted to concentrate on my novel's final edits rather than choosing bras from a vast array of styles, colours and fit.

So, today, 6th October, I await the delivery of my husband's birthday gifts. I asked our delivery point not to refuse them... and why had my items been refused? Because of some error. Dare I hope my husband's birthday gear will be here ready for his birthday ... at Hallowe'en? If so it will have been the longest shopping trip ever.🎁😑
Oh what a tangled web we weave when we try to proceed πŸ•Έ(without going out to the shops).
Let it be a lesson for me... Trying to save time has resulted in re-orders, not knowing where my items are and the inevitable waiting in for a parcel ( or 5). In most cases the shops are not in our town and I couldn't simply go in and make a purchase. Their stores are in Cornwall and that's five hours away.
It would have been quicker to have driven there and back... (But too exhausting.)

What to do in the future? Find another deposit point, or just stop buying things? ... It is a first-world problem. The dalai lama would simply laugh and have something philosophical to say about the way we make ourselves ill going to work to make money to buy things we don't really need.

Happy hallowe'enπŸŽƒ

Monday, 2 October 2017

Are we behaving as if it's the 1930s?

My novel opens in 1918 on the day women, aged 30, finally got the 'married women's vote'. Ninety-nine years ago around 8 million women stood alongside men, in the polling booths. It took another ten years for universal suffrage to be extended to all in the UK. The 'Votes for Women'  movement was a grass-roots pressure group forcing the government's hand. Today, almost a century later,  we hear how votes for a referendum in Catalonia - for a declaration of independence from Spain - was banned by Spain's constitutional court. Police used force to try to block voting. As an interviewer on 'Today' stated Spain is a young democracy, having been ruled by Franco from pre-world war two until his death in 1975. In other words they are still learning how democracy works.

My father always said the USA is a young country, implying they are still learning how to run themselves whilst, apparently, being the most powerful nation in the world. When the USA went to the presidential polls last year, Donald Trump, at best 'a wild card' with his lack of  political experience, gained fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, a political heavy-weight, yet he was voted in as President.
This was described as a populist movement against the political elite.

In Britain we have had a referendum which asked us simply 'should the UK remain in the EU?'.
In another soi disant populist attack on our political status quo the vox populi was to leave the EU.

The situation in Spain, the USA and in the UK show democracy in action, struggling for birth or re-birth, but shifts in people's perception of who they want to represent them are taking place. In Germany Mrs Merkel has been voted in for a fourth term as Chancellor, but with neo-Nazis nipping at her heels. Her stability seems desirable but at a considerable cost if neo-Nazism is on the move.

My novel ends two weeks after Britain has declared war on Germany in 1939. Europe and the USA beat the Hitler dictatorship. The slump of 1929 sent shockwaves through western economies and people were poor, unemployment was very high and the lot of the common man - and woman - was desperately hard in the 1930s. Economic unrest can lead to civil unrest and war.

Do we have this level of civil unrest and poverty now, causing populist movements ie Trump's ascendancy and the UK referendum? It is said parts of Bristol, in the UK, are as poor as the dreadful days of the 1930s. But is this a localised pocket of poverty? Are children walking the streets barefoot as pictures from the 1930s reveal?

It seems one reason for the populist vote for Trump was a result of the American rust belt ... declining industry, joblessness, folk forced to move to find work. A reason for our UK referendum leading to Brexit was, similarly, joblessness, a belief that being in the EU meant Eastern Europeans were free to travel to the UK and take 'our jobs' and school places. Again joblessness or austerity have, possibly, created a gass roots movement leading to a protest against current politics and politicians. More voted in the UK ref than in any general election. Is this democracy at work? I would defend the right, of course, for people to have a referendum. If the people of Catalonia want a referendum it's easy for me to say they should have it. But what if London wanted a referendum to split from the rest of the UK, or Birmingham, or, as nearly happened, in Scotland's referendum, the Scots voted to leave the UK? We wouldn't want that level of independence and break up. Spain likely doesn't want Catalonia to leave it. Democracy is hard to achieve; it can lead to outcomes we don't all want.

Thus democracy is good if the results of a democratic vote go the way you want it to. I didn't vote for our Conservative government, I think its austerity policy has damaged thousands of our most vulnerable citizens and I certainly didn't vote for Brexit. However, since 2010, Britain has had a democratically elected Conservative government, which I don't like, but we aren't a dictatorship. Are the conditions across the USA and Europe as bad as the 1930s? Blaming East Europeans for our joblessness sounds familiar. Despite my dislike of Trump and our Conservative government we don't have neo-Nazis nipping at our heels like Chancellor Merkel in Germany. Aren't they the elements to watch? Trump, austerity Britain and our Conservatives will go. Democratically. But we know what damage was done in 1933 by Hitler and his Nazis.And we have just seen Attwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' on UK TV.  Let's hope the conditions in the USA and Europe are not the same now as in the 1930s, nor Gilead. Let's hope further discontent can be avoided and no extremist force takes over in any of our democracies in the forseeable future. Perhaps we are all still learning how to be democratic, not just Spain. Let's hope upheavals in the land are small ones and not the seismic shifts of the 1930s. We don't want another 1939.