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The older I get, the more cynical I get. It is not a fact I am proud of, but it is a fact. I disbelieve just about everything the establishment and the media tell us. I am convinced that we are manipulated into being the submissive, law-abiding robots that we have become. It grieves me greatly.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

No one is watching

This afternoon I was walking down the road behind a man walking a dog.  He had headphones on and was singing along to whatever music he was listening to, loudly and quite badly.

I wondered if he was drunk or if there was 'something a bit wrong with him'.  As we sauntered down the road on a sunny but quite cold Sunday afternoon it began to dawn on me that the person who might have 'something a bit wrong' with them could be me.  Why shouldn't he sing if he wanted to?   The only person within hearing distance was me and I didn't mind, more to the point he clearly didn't care if I did.  Children laugh, skip, sing and run - and I find it entertaining.  When adults do it, I wonder what they are drinking or taking.  

My mother has lived her life by the mantra 'what will other people think'.   As children and teenagers my brother and I suffered considerably from her obsession with 'other people'.  The slightest deviation from behaviour that she considered acceptable would earn us the 'never been so ashamed' reproach.   Who were these people?  Why were their lives so empty that they stood around waiting for us to go by so that they could judge them?  Knowing what I do of her own childhood, I can see why she might think this, and I have a great deal of sympathy and understanding, but I don't understand why she carried it with her to the extent that it has ruled her life. 

When I was in my mid-twenties, I put on a great deal of weight. Since then I have lost and gained excess weight over and over again, I like food, I dislike me being overweight, I need to deal with that daily, not waiver between extremes, but that was the first time I had gained.  It became our constant battleground.  When mum had dragged every threat and insult into her arguments and they had failed, she then recruited other family members and friends to the cause, not that they actually knew they were part of her arsenal.  She would relay what others had allegedly said, and I would either ignore her or suggest she tell them to get stuffed.  Once she went too far and I actually started to call up the relative she claimed had insulted me.  Mum became hysterical, but still could not admit that she had lied.

During that time my mother and step-father hosted a ladies night for his local masonic lodge.  I was invited along with my then boyfriend.  Mum tried everything to get me to lose weight, 'so ashamed' was flung at me with alarming regularity, despite my obvious immunity.  Mum even bought me a very restricting and very expensive corset.  As I was not planning any trips to 1952, I refused to wear it.  The evening turned out to be a great success - and my mother and step-father openly admitted much of it was down to me.  I chatted with everyone and encouraged even the shyest person to get up and dance.  The next time I visited, all they could talk about was how many people had called them afterwards to say how lovely I was.  I asked her how many had said I was fat and mum looked at me as if I were mad.   

I do understand that it is not entirely mum's fault that she has this obsession and there is much more to her than this.  She was and is a very kind, caring person and will go without to help others.  She has been through some really tough times, remaining serene and calm. That perception may have been to fool 'other people' but it could also be comforting for those of us going through it with her. But it was not until I heard the man singing the street today that I realised that I still worry too much about what 'other people' think .  Like mum, I can tend to give other people control over my life and particularly my thoughts.  From my late teens my stock response to mum's mantra was 'absolutely nobody is watching us', I just need to believe it.   Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that at least two governments probably are watching us and very rarely for our own benefit, but as for everyone else, they really aren't watching.  My Sunday resolution is to be more like singing man and less like my poor mum.  

Thursday, 2 April 2015

All things tea

I love tea and everything that goes with it - teapots, mugs, cups, afternoon tea, tea shops.  At the age of 50 I have the consumer tastes of a 90 year old. 

I didn't touch tea or coffee until I was 26.  I was on a four-months detachment in the Falkland Islands.  We couldn't drink the water unless we boiled it so I mainly drank soft drinks from our one shop.  The management, in all its wisdom had failed to rotate stock, and had a massive amount of 6 months out-of-date diet coca-cola to shift.  Nobody wanted to buy it.  They reduced it to 10p a can and still nobody wanted to buy it.  They then removed all other soft drinks from the shop.  This was of course in no way an abuse of their monopoly nor incompetent management covering up for failure by maltreating its customers.  Good old NAAFI - supporting the British Forces!

However I have them to thank for my love of tea, because there was nothing else I could drink.  I couldn't take it with milk and didn't like it really strong so I am became a master at whisking the tea bag out of boiling water before it got to the stage where a mouse could trot across it.  Spoons are for sissies, asbestos fingers are the order of the day.  I returned to the UK and access to a wider range of teas - and yes, as we flew into the UK, the RAF pilots really did announce 'ladies you are now all officially ugly again' and we did all laugh and take the comment in the good humour in which it was intended.  

For several years I only drank earl grey. But when I was travelling through Ecuador it was very hard to come by.  I did manage to occasionally find some and eked it out by mixing it with English Breakfast.  That encouraged me to try stronger teas when I got home - the adventurous minx that I am.  Since then I have come on in leaps and bounds and have teas of all strengths and often mix up my own blends, sometimes by design, sometimes because I pour a new pack in the wrong caddy.  I still can't stand milk, I will never understand why anyone would ruin a drink as amazing as tea with milk.  I much prefer leaf tea, even though it is messy, it is worth the effort.  Tea bags are a good stand-by and handier for work, but it still has to be good quality tea.  

Boiling water is another must have.  At work we have water-urns which produce very hot water, but for a decent cuppa you need freshly boiled water, and to warm the pot / cup so the tea stays hot as long as possible.  I am not fussy about the type of mug or cup, but it must not be too thick and the inside must be white, not coloured (this is my idea of not fussy, you should see my idea of tactful).  I have several teapots - not the cute 'looks like a house' type, I just can't resist an attractive teapot, so I have seven.  Despite this abundance of pots the one I always use is the cheap, red small enamel teapot that I bought in Bert's of Brighton.  It is showing its age now, but perfect for two cups of tea.  I hanker after 'For Life' stump tea pot as well, to go with the other six pots I don't use.

I quite like mint tea in the late evening, but at all other times it generally has to be black tea and I have a few favourites.  H.R. Higgins in Duke Street has a fantastic selection and is a lovely shop; and the Kent & Sussex Tea & Coffee Co in Pluckley, Kent does great tea.  I also liked Taylors of Harrogate Ntingwe Kwazulu and tend to keep a supply of Twinings bags and leaf tea in case I run out of any of the others.  I have foolishly assumed that paying a higher price for tea means the workers who provide it enjoy better conditions, but I need to stop assuming that.  Having just looked at the ratings for tea companies on 'ethical consumer' I was shocked that Twinings scored so poorly.  I don't know why I was shocked, it isn't like I have cared enough before to research it.  This blog piece was just me waffling on about how I love tea, but it has made me realise that I need to love tea which provides a decent living for people.  I don't want others to suffer so I can faff around being precious about brands surrounded by tea pots I don't need.  The more we know, the more we realise we need to know.  If nobody else is even interested in this piece, it has definitely made me think about what I will drink going forward. 
  

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bottom gear

Over the last few days I have driven some 1200 miles through France and it has left me most definitely feeling my age. It was also not ideal conditions for driving - howling winds, heavy rain and much of the driving in darkness.

I now have much greater appreciation for British roads. French motorways are laden with either tolls or potholes.  They seem narrower and are definitely less well lit.  I really missed cats eyes.   The rain was torrential.  If I drove up behind a large lorry, the spray was horrendous, but overtaking large lorries on dark narrow motorways makes me feel a bit sick.  I have to coach myself past them with a little pep talk on how much better it will be when I am over it – the kind of pep talk I haven’t had to go through since my divorce. 

On the return journey, speeds of over 65 miles an hour in the fully loaded small van felt unstable.   When I got home and was on the M2, I realised I was bombing along, overtaking lorries without a second thought.  I get to France and I turn into Mr Bean behind the wheel.  Going through one extremely narrow section of roadworks made me feel so sick I nearly had to stop, bribe someone else to drive the car whilst I hid in the back - but my pigeon French isn’t up to that kind of request and if you want to get back into the UK these days, lurking in the back of vans isn’t the best move.

I also suspect that my age has something to do with it.  My brother and I used to laugh at dad, who won't drive in the dark and would leave hours earlier than he had planned because he said he must get home 'before the rains get in'.  Now I am starting to agree with him.  Driving in rain is now so tiring, that I couldn't face a 30 mile trip tonight to visit a friend.  I don't think I am the greatest of drivers, but I always used to enjoy driving and have been on road trips covering thousands of miles and loved every minute.  It could have been the reason for the journey which got to me so much, but if I win the Euro lottery, I am definitely going to consider getting a chauffeur to drive me around.  

I forgot to take CDs as well, so the only company I had was French radio.  I listened to music stations until I got completely sick of both Sam Smith and Uptown Funk and then listened to talk radio, conning myself that I was improving my French by repeating what they were saying - or at least what I thought they had said. My final entertainment was when the van was searched at Dover.   I had expected the first question to be where had I been and why, but he asked me where I lived, so it threw me.  I took a while to answer, which made me worry I looked guilty and I then started stuttering.  I am the kind of person who feels guilty when I walk through nothing to declare with nothing to declare, so being searched makes me want to show everything to the customs guards from my few purchases of French wine and the contents of my luggage to the length of my intestines.  He was a very nice customs guard and even helped me manoeuvre the van out of the parking spot ... I say that as if it were a hydraulic truck, not a car-based van. 


I got home a bit less keen on driving and a lot less keen on driving in France.  The French have got two things right though, their service stations are better than ours - cleaner, better food, and the price of the fuel is much cheaper.  Diesel is €1.18 a litre (£0.87) in towns and €1.35 (£1.00) on motorways (petrol is €1.22 / €1.45).  I topped up my wine rack as well. It would seem rude to spend a weekend in France and not have a glass or two of wine, even if you do have to wait until you get home to enjoy it.  I opened one of my bottles when I got home.  I was so freaked out by rainy motorways that before I knew it there was only one glass left in the bottle.  I'm pretty sure that the extremely low prices mean lower alcohol content and the consumption is in no way reflective of excessive alcohol consumption.  I did briefly feel bad about the amount that I had drunk, but then I looked at the amount left in the bottle, and it looked so lonely that I drank that as well – there’s a lot to be said for not having to drive in the morning.