A pencil and a dream can take you anywhere

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Mon Vie Provençal

So here I am in Provence- Provy! Vence to the Pro, the Pro Vo. Am I really in the south of France? Is that really dog poo on every pavement? Sometimes I just need to pinch myself.

So here we are living La vie Provencal, the path most trodden, the beaten track, the ex pat dream. Éguilles to be precise. How Éguilles is pronounced is beyond my family and I as each Aixois (Ex wah) and everybody local to it pronounces it differently. So I am going to make it up too (makes sense considering I speak Franglaise anyway) How will I remember my version? Well it’s simple “Eggwee”.

So to bring you up to speed… mum and I arrived in France, with mum remarking as an aside, by the baggage carousel, “You know they lost your dad’s bag here in Marseilles”. Almost on cue, having just made a point of rebuking mum for, I conceded, ‘looking at the glass half empty’, the carousel halts suddenly and we are ushered quite rudely “Allez allez and other French words” into a small room to be told that Mum’s suitcase is still in Amsterdam… great (“I told you”). So we see Dad, give the airport peeps the address to our new crib (should that be basonette?) and are told a courier will deliver it tonight or tomorrow. Dad had picked us up in mum’s German registered car so we arrive in Éguilles and the Gendarmerie pull us over and ask to breathalyse my dad… so as well as being suitcase-less hobos (well mum anyway) Dad is presumed to be a German, beer swilling drink-driving tourist. Bienvenue en France. We arrive to many boxes and a house, that appears on first impression, to be where hornets come to buzz derangedly, breathe their last breath and die….

I will concede the house is a beautiful house. It is, we have decided, somebody (somewhere's) dream house…. Mum originally ventured it was very 80s style but I recognised this was a move/jet-lag hazed concession, as the Provence daylight streamed through the house we realised that was a tad generous… 60s or 70s was far more realistic and blindingly accurate. Though it is what I will call a 60s/70s/21st century mash-up, if you will. To be fair it has brand new windows and modern bedrooms, electric blinds outside but then upstairs hallways lined with hessian wallpaper, a peach bathroom suite and a fold up, battered, pull out of a faux drawer ironing board as part of the (decidedly less than modern) kitchen units. Mostly when the French move they have the gumption to take their kitchen with them, I can’t imagine what possessed them to leave this one behind!

The landlady, a friendly wealthy lady, is very well preserved– to see her you wouldn’t believe she was in her eighties (it was at this moment I realised I could quickly learn to love this Provençal life) bless her she spoke V-E-R-Y slowly to us in French (well you would wouldn’t you?!) when instructing us that the blind guys were coming (I was shocked days later, when caught half naked, to realise they had come to fit the blinds!) Jokes! She enunciated as one would with a young (read: after school special) child “Lundi” got it “midi” yep “blah blah French words, more French words, déranger” got it- Monday, midday, deranged. A shake of the hand, smiles, smiles, waves and an“Au revoir!” and off she went. Luckily Mum’s school French was beginning to kick in, ‘déranger’, she recalled, meant ‘won’t disturb’. Well, phew, thank goodness for that I was not ready for a mad axe-wielding maniac to come on Monday at midday… heck I am only truly waking up at that time, after my third cuppa.

Mum’s errant suitcase turned up the following day as we were unpacking the muh-huh-huh-hany boxes. As he drove away she said the young French man who delivered it was very nice looking and polite and said I should have gone out to get the suitcase, somehow (through only a mother's set of eyes) she overlooked how the purple jogpants and mustard yellow hoody, that I had clearly donned in the dark, would not have had the desired, ‘look at me aren't I gorgeous’ effect she would desire or had him falling over himself to ask me out for escargot and frog legs in s-l-o-w enunciated French.

A few days in and I start to familiarise myself with the beautiful city that is Aix-en-Provence, affectionately called Aix, pronounced as in ‘X’ marks the spot – not Aix as in ‘aches and pains’. I have navigated my way to the town on the bus (when we didn’t have a printer my dad drew me a very good little map to the bus-stop so I looked like a right saddo) I started ambitiously with “Bonjour monsieur, ca va? Ca va bien merci, Je m'appelle Louise! Je voudrais un billet pour Aix s’il vous plait” which I then shortened to ‘Aix’ and now I have a bus pass it is merely “bonjour”- but only if the driver says it first.

As for my French, it is being dragged along quite begrudgingly, thank you. I got pulled (like teeth) into a conversation in an art gallery within my first week, the man was clearly an 80s lover (I failed to notice this as immediately as I should have) I hadn’t the heart or advanced French language skills to tell him I loved the 80s but it was a haze of care bears, my little ponies, happy eater, games in the playground and playing in the park. I also suspect that somehow blustering “J’aime mon petit ponies et bears de care” miming swinging on a swing, running around and eating hamburgers just wouldn’t have cut it…
This man, on learning I was English, wanted absolutely nothing (in the world) more than to wax lyrical about 80s music, focussing predominantly on British 80s music (naturally). I dusted off the 80s music files of my mind, conjured up images of me dancing in front of the TV in my underwear to Diana Ross’s ‘Stop in the name of love’ on Top of the pops (once I had got over the gripping fear that if I could see people on TV they could see me too) This man spoke little English and as you know from reading the above my French is tres de base to say the very least (which is as much as I try to say in French) so the conversation sounded very much like “frenchy frenchy french french, Nik Kershaw, french french french, Phil Collins, french french, Peter Gabriel, french, frenchness, frenchy, frenchier Duran Duran french french FOR-MI-DABLE!!” He then stumped me by asking me a question in English… I awoke at this point to search the archives of my mind. I cannot for the life of me remember the question but I do distinctly recall the, right I will have you know, answer I gave was 'Kim Wilde'- well why wouldn’t it be? (Geez, where do I pull this stuff from?) moral of this story learn French (and mental notes: brush up on your 80s pop music and avoid art gallery in park)

On the quest to learn French (subliminally and in my sleep) I have, of course, established myself at an international church and am sure to surround myself with Anglophones (read American, British, Aussie and South African) who, of course, speak English. Number one most asked question is whether I speak French followed by how long have I been here? (the second is usually in response to the negative answer to the first question) Now, at this time, there is an -albeit forced- level of acceptance, I bet they’ll be a tad less forgiving and way more judgemental when I proffer the answers ‘ummm un petit peu and 2 years’.

The bonuses to living in a multicultural city with a large student population has meant I fit in perfectly as a student (which I am not) most people I have met have asked what I study and I gracefully answer how old I am not and then go on to explain I have moved here with my parents -just to throw them off scent (lest they learn I lived a retired life when really I should be working or at least contributing to society, not lounging about Roman-esque streets supping coffee and catching up with friends who include many students and stay at home mums)….
The temptation of course is to start making up seemingly ridiculous course names next time I am asked what I study… ‘80s pop music majoring in Madonna’ ‘The out and out religious extravagance of the hugonauts’ ‘Berets and their immense effect on French economics’ ‘The workings of a French man’s mind- intensive course’ or ‘Advanced French literature with a focus on le chat dans le chapeau by Doctor Seuss’

That is you, my faithful blog reader (singular), up to speed. Although I would like to add (boast) that an unusual and a rather fortunate bragworthy twist of good fortune meant that my third and fourth weekend after arriving, were spent in gorgeous Châteaus nestled in the stunning French countryside. Naturally, as myself and two other Brits stood in a high ceiling-ed castle, in a drawing room with a grandiose fireplace we breathed in, exhaled in unison and together exclaimed “I feel right at home” (thus further perpetuating the myth that all English people live in stately homes)

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Fame Game

Matt and Luke Goss once pondered of themselves… when will I, will I be famous? Well Matt and Luke, I can’t answer that, I can’t answer that.

As I watch ‘Pineapple Dance Studios’ I am forced to question the fame game. We live in a time when most young people want to be famous, for something or other (I opine, for all the wrong reasons) We have all seen our fair share of people star in ‘So you strictly think the next Big Britain’s got your Brother’s X factor?’ that merry-go-round of fame hungry try-hards. I wonder if we will see a huge gap in the work market when this generation actually leave school, as I get the impression that most are trying their hand at seducing that fickle mistress- fame.

I myself have my own claims to fame; I once starred in an episode of the hugely popular (in our boarding house TV room) itv teenage drama ‘Wilderness edge’ at the tender age of 13. When I was enlisted for the starring role of 'silent dancer at teenage disco', you can only imagine my euphoria. I returned from school ready to relax and my housemistress asked if I was interested in being in a television programme. What immediately ran through my mind was ‘discovery of teenage prodigy’ as a front page exclusive, amongst other narcissistic thoughts. But there were important decisions to make, like what would I wear? (I chose, you’ll be pleased to hear, a fuschia pink Benetton t-shirt, belonging to my friend Harvest, and a pair of Jeans) This foray into the TV world meant I danced to no music with some friends from my boarding house and sat around A LOT. I must say it really isn’t as glamorous an industry as Brad and Angie would have us believe. You will have to search for the sole wilderness edge clip on youtube to see yourself, firsthand, the top quality acting exhibited in this knockout television programm which, I forgot to mention, starred the ginger guy from Sharpe as the DJ at the disco.
I am sure you have your own claim to fame so, please, I beg you, don’t compare yourself to me, no one person can be as lucky as I.

The other day I went to see a movie called ‘Remember Me’ and Robert Patterson’s character, Tyler, quoted Gandhi who said
“Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it's very important that you do it, 'cause nobody else will.” And Tyler himself added, "our fingerprints don't fade from the lives we touch.” Wise words, RPatz, wise words.

This made me think of being remembered… this is beginning to sound a little morbid but I think we all want to have left some mark on the world. Jennifer Aniston has ‘Friends’ and ‘Picture perfect’, of course, Ghandi had his peaceful protests, John Cleese had funny walking, Luke and Matt Goss had their lucrative Bros back catalogue, Tiger woods has his infamous infidelities, Ringo Starr has that video he made "Don't send me anything else, peace and love, peace and love" and I, well I (lest you forget) have ‘wilderness edge’. This must lead the rest of you to contemplate: what mark will I leave on the world?

Some want to leave their mark on the world for shouting ‘who is she? Who is she? Who is she?’ (in a shrill pre-pubescent boy voice in the big brother diary room) just like Nicki someone or other. The same Nicki who thinks that particular BB stint qualifies her to inflict on us all her pretty narrow minded, immature, child-like rants and poorly researched opinions many years after she was in the BB compound for a few weeks.

I wish these teenagers or kidults that long to be on reality TV and have their 15 minutes of fame ("it's like my right") wished to be famous for something like getting a Nobel Prize, becoming the poet laureate, writing a book (anything but chick lit or those books Katie Price writes) or indeed for their invaluable contributions to Rocket Science. Instead they long to take their tops off and be plastered on a billboard or to be in ‘The Sun’ newspaper on page 3, or to caterwaul in front of Simon Cowell or perhaps lie their way into the Big Brother house with their somewhat lurid promises of sex, bitching, fights while actually being as dull as ditch water... drying on a wall... on a cold day... in Greenland. What some seem to want is the quick fix because a Nobel prize would mean endurance, intelligence and that taskmaster-hard work. I suspect these teens long for something that would be instantaneous with the least amount of work as, to them, fame equals notoriety and money. Failing that, they could hang around clubs in the vain hope of peaking the interest of a premier league footballer and become a WAG (or, indeed, the latest mistress). People have witnessed the dizzy heights somebody from a not so wealthy background can be elevated to, take Cheryl Cole for example, and long to go down the same route.

I think it far better to be remembered by those closest to you, who know you best. I still think of my Auntie Shelley, who died young from cancer, who always packed a bag for holiday and then took countless plastic bags on board a plane (these were the days before the hand luggage SS ruled the airways with a rod of iron and a beepy stick) and I always remember my Grandad with the pearls of wisdom he oft quoted like “if at first you don’t succeed, why the heck did you start it in the first place?”. I'd like to add they made more of an impression on me than this, this isn't their only legacy.

I am not bothered if my only foray into the acting world is my scene stealing ‘big box, little box, robot’ dance on 'wilderness edge' or whether I provided a few breaths for Diana Krueger on the blockbuster ‘Troy’ (my only true link to Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom) but I would care if when I was gone my friends and family no longer remembered me. I have compiled a few steps that ensure you will never be forgotten:

1) Always forget your purse when you go out, you will be remembered for being like royalty and not carrying money (that or a sponge)

2) Always act like a drama queen so you will be remembered for your flair of the dramatics

3) Smile in every photo, so you will be remembered as happy

4) Get yourself some freckles so in the summer everyone will be reminded of you. If you aren’t so Anglo-Saxon in skin tone, brown kohl works a treat (I am told)

5) When you meet someone new, subtly repeat your name 3 times (remember to annunciate, I was once called Lucy for six months as I was too polite to correct someone) and be sure to talk about yourself in the third person throughout your conversation: “my mum is always saying Oh Louise, you are silly” (or something a little more flattering)

And finally

6) Make sure, if given an opportunity, fill in for an actor or actress’s breathing on a large-scale Hollywood blockbuster, like, I don't know, let's say 'Troy', so that when your friends are watching said movie, they will quieten their friends so they can hear the breathing (Just so you know it was a fight scene and I worked for the sound company that was doing the post-production) and thanks Rob Vince for being the latest to keep this legacy alive.

Failing compliance with the above advice you may value this instead, I saw this as the signature at the end of an email from my good friend Jenny and thought it fit this blog perfectly.

Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What if.....

Being myself an avid fan of ‘The biggest Loser’ and a moderate tolerator of exercise this led me to think of the exercise we all do. We all seem to hear contradicting theories about the amount of exercise that you are meant to do whether it is 5 hours of cardio and weights a week or as 'little as' a half hour walk per day. Some articles would even have you believe that sitting around burns plenty of calories or there are those that subscribe to the ‘why bother exercising, when tomorrow I could be run over by a bus’ philosophy. Seen as the buses seem to go slow round here (believe me I have followed them home) I have decided to stick with the ‘half hour to an hour a day of physical exertion’ philosophy.

As I was coming back from a gym class today it occurred to me that ‘Spinning’ would be way more fun if it was actually spinning, you know like spin and spin till your dizzy, spinning. I envisioned a large field (somewhat like my primary school playing field) and the class would be full of people arms outstretched just spinning (and trying not to bump into other people) till they are dizzy and they fall down. Then they get back up and keep spinning, well until the class is over, at least. No inhibitions, no ridiculously tight spandex outfits, no annoying ridiculously fit trainers- you could even do it in your lunchbreak. This idea didn’t seem out there ridiculous, I mean there are classes where people go to just laugh… that’s right, laugh. The people running it must be making a mint, I mean I am guessing there’s no training necessary. The people attending must be really miserable if they have tried everything else though, I mean do they not have access to E4 or comedy central? If we are taking sports names literally I think I would definitely avoid squash, as I do not care to imagine what pain that could inflict.

This morning I was feeling the pain of yesterday’s ‘Pilates’ (pronounced Pih-lah-tees) class and went downstairs to my mum in an effort to garner some sympathy, I realised the pain in my stomach was from a backward to forward roll I had done, Mum said she had looked up to our class, while she was sweating away on the elliptical machine, and said it looked like a lot of stretching and joked that there wasn’t a wooden sword or plank in site (for those wondering, it was a play on it being a pirates class) We imagined this great concept, I said we would go around the room, dressed up of course, and challenge people to a dual, using mock Pirate type accents à la Cap’n Jack Sparrow (so pretty much Keith Richards) Mum then asked whether I ever played ‘Pirates’ at school, running around with the sportsmats on the ground and the big mats were the ship and anything off the mat was the sea and there were teams and stuff (that was all I caught) I thought what great fun that’d be and how if ‘Pilates’ based on the methods of breathing, stretching and such that a man named Joseph Pilates created, was actually ‘Pirates’ a riilly riilly fun game with mats and running around (and I am envisioning some laughing and screaming too) I know which I would choose….

So what if exercise were as fun today as it was when we were children? When I was a child, I cycled most places, I spun for fun, I swam at a swimming pool we had at school and I played in the park most days just running around and swinging on the swings and jumping off and there was none of this parental supervision rubbish.
At my secondary school we had every (mind numbing, annoying) thing at our disposal, fells (mountains to non-Cumbrians) that we had to walk up and complete a certain amount of squares on a chart (oh how the matron miss Burns enjoyed filling that in). The chart was one square for every certain amount of feet and you had to complete 13 squares and climb a minimum of 3 fells. *A flashback to Mr Lonsdale my housemaster walking round the school dining room, hands in his pockets jangling… um something… trying to get people to volunteer to go fellwalking (by now I had a pretty good idea of the height of each individual fell) oh how I remember being volunteered by Emma-Jane every (single bloomin') time she volunteered herself and how I would then either walk way ahead of her or way behind (that’d teach her... or so you’d think)*
Oh how I remember queuing for all the things we 'needed': a bivvy bag (a glorified bin liner in a striking orange colour) that we could slide down the fell in should the (glorious)occasion arise- it never did (dang it) uncomfortable worn in old boots (that stank) and big thick socks and that’s all I recall, for I think some things were banished to the 'police line, do not cross' segment of my memory.

Also, being in Cumbria (lucky lucky me) we had rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling, crag hopping, netball, hockey, tennis, dry slope skiing (a great one for tearing clothes) and my true personal favourite- trampolining. Ah trampolining where we played games with names like 'scrambled eggs' and pretty much just bounced around, for fun (whatever happened to just bouncing around for fun?). I have three neighbours each with big trampolines and we have no garden so everyday I fight the temptation to jump on theirs. I am debating learning Dutch or improving my German just to forge a (admittedly shallow) friendship with them, one of them also has horses. “hello aardig om u, welke mooie te ontmoeten paarden u hebt, ik met uw trampoline kunt spelen? OoOoOoOoh en is dat een zwembad?” loosely translated from “hello nice to meet you, what beautiful horses you have, may I play with your trampoline? OoOoOoh and is that a swimming pool?” it could be the start of a beautiful friendship (for me).

These days most of us struggle to so much as walk anywhere, for the majority of people the gym takes more motivation than we are usually able to muster up, that or we are too burnt out from work. I know we don’t have as much energy as we did when we were children but more’s the pity eh?! Thank goodness for fun classes like 'Zumba', fun dancy aerobics to Latin beat music, that and other dance classes. There is a niche in the market though for proper spinning and a piRates class, I’ll have a word with the gym manager, I think I am more than qualified and I can do a wonderful impression of Elizabeth Swann… (be wooden, got it)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Facebook Top Trumps

My friend and I, whilst swinging on a sofa swing (something that wouldn’t look amiss on a porch in America) in Roermond, Holland, chatted about inventions. We contemplated a swinging bed (an inspired idea) kind of like you get for a baby but for adults and envisaged how good it would feel to be rocked gently to sleep. We thought of other inventions and then got talking about that friendly foe ‘Facebook’.

Years ago I joined a particularly catty book club, a book club where most members reviled one another, shot eachother looks when one commented on a particular passage of a book, where the founding member insisted the meetings were minuted and oversaw the typing up of minutes. These minutes were used to insult other members of the group and I think I left not long after someone chose Daniella Westbrook’s autobiography as their book choice. N.B: For those reading fortunate enough not to be familiar with Daniella, she was an ex-‘Eastenders’ (an English long running soap opera) actress who is more famous for having lost part of her nose to a cocaine addiction, than for her acting skills. The one thing I remember about this bookclub was when we read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (it had been my friend Louise’s book choice) and when we had read it we convened in her house to talk about it and watch the awful 'working title' production of it with Ikea Knightly as the iconic Elizabeth Bennett and some bloke (whose only fault was that he wasn’t Colin Firth) as Mr Darcy. Louise had made these 'Pride and Prejudice' inspired top trumps, using all the characters from the book and I thought it was pure genius. So remember those Top Trumps and stick with me now.

Anyway back to that swing, so yes, my friend and I got to talking about facebook. I told her how someone who was in my elder Sister, Lynsey’s, school year at Keswick School, had added me as a friend on facebook. Making a withdrawal from my suppressed memory bank, I recalled sitting at the dinner table at boarding school with this girl, I was a fresh faced eleven year old who had barely left home and cried if I went away for the night (ah the many times my mum would wait for me to come through the door when I had gone to stay overnight at a friend’s house because by about 10.30 I had begged a parent to take me home). Well, this gal (we’ll call her Sherry) was sat at the same dinner table as me and she was thirteen and, well, just plain mean. We were placed at tables and had to sit at them every dinner time, she was good friends with another mean girl (let’s call her Regina). Every time Sherry and Regina would bitch about people at other tables, me (lacking tact or social decorum) would overhear (for it was pre-tty darn hard not to) and turn to look at the person they were talking about. One day they whispered (loudly) that I would always look when they mentioned someone- so they were going to ‘set me up’ (their tactics were sophisticated, I know) So the premise of this ingenious plan was that they would gossip about someone, falsely, and see if I would 'rise to the bait' and look over, to prove (to only themselves, I presume) that I had a penchant for doing this. I stifled a smile, for I was in on their highly sophisticated master plan. True to plan, they 'loudly' gossiped about someone and waited. I had finished my food and, instead of craning my little neck to look, proceeded to chase some leftover food round my plate with my fork and appear completely oblivious to their gossip. Foiled. In your face! I obviously still feel this was (a somewhat pyric) victory because it was about 20 years ago now.

Anyhow this Sherry, never civil to me at school, added me as a friend on facebook. Why? I don’t know. All I know is, I foolishly pressed ‘confirm’ (I have since learned to ignore people I had a mutual dislike for at school) One day she got chatting to me (via status comments) and asked whether I had any kids yet. YET? Yet?? Is there a time limit? Did I miss the fascist memo that demanded by 30 that I meet some loser, have a couple of kids, ditch the loser and bring up my brats single-handedly? Yes, yes, it would appear I did. No, I don’t, I calmly stated, adding that I haven’t met Mr-right-for-me just yet (said I, quite bitterly) For the purposes of this paragraph I have made sweeping suppositions about this other person.

Which, in the spirit of inventions, led us to invent the game of ‘Facebook Top Trumps’. How would this game operate, I hear you ask? Those of you familiar with top trumps will know that you play against at least one opponent, you each have an equal number of cards and you lose or win cards on whether you can ‘trump’ your opponents statistics and the aim is to try and win the whole pack. So your opponent may choose the category, for example ‘Superpowers’ and reveal their number or statistic, someone like Spiderman may have Superpowers: ‘89’ your opponent may have Batman so theirs may say ‘0’- so you would win their card. You usually lead with your strongest as you are hoping your high statistic ‘trumps’ theirs. There is a great deal more to this, but that is for you to spend a wasted childhood finding out. What I am trying to lead you to enquire is: Say, isn’t facebook a lot like Top Trumps? Yes, how very astute of you, I would have to agree it is and I'll tell you why....

The categories could include ‘amount of foreign holidays taken this year’, 'what job you have' (and perhaps whether you like it) ‘places you have visited’ (we decided that Sydney may equal a high score whereas, Skegness or Dagenham may be quite a low score) A big one would be ‘how many facebook friends you have’ (let's say 1007), then ‘how many (of those are) real friends’ (this could mean you have to minus about 1000 of the last statistic) ‘how many wall postings you may receive in a week’, ‘how many groups you are a member of’, ‘what your relationship status is’ (a seemingly important one) and ‘whether you have any children (yet)’ ‘Where you live’ could also feature but we are yet to finely hone this and couldn’t figure how it would be regulated etc etc then I think that is about how far we got with the game because we then carried on swinging and developing the idea of a King-size bed that could rock.

I began to question why people add us as friends and then proceed to make that cardinal sin of not even so much as saying ‘hi’. Not even a howdy, good to see what you are up to, haven’t seen you in years, my you look different (i.e. you’re way uglier than I remember, or didn’t you get better looking with age) etc etc. When those people you disliked at school add you purely to see what you are up to- I wonder whether they may feel they would win this round of facebook top trumps? Or, whether they would feel worse when they get a look-see at what you may be up to? But surely the bar is different for every person. I don’t feel bad when I look at others lives, sometimes I am thankful I am not married/divorced already with a few kids. I must be honest I felt sad when this ‘Sherry’ said she ‘relied’ on her kids and didn’t know where she’d be without them and claimed they were her ‘lifeline’, I genuinely felt sorry for them. I did realise (broodingly one day) that, amongst my peers, I am one of the only ones who isn’t married with at least two children. That said I am not sad about it I am capable of being happy for them and other people. I have many friends who are loving being in that position, but it’s not me, not yet.

Sometimes I update my status revealing what I am really happy about, upcoming holidays etc and realise I have genuinely supportive friends. They comment ‘have a great time’ ‘Lucky you, have fun’ and I sometimes feel a pang of guilt, as it could appear I was trying to rub something in. I try to regularly update because once I didn’t update my status for about 4 days and an ex student of mine, Boris, wrote acting genuinely concerned that I had dropped off the face of the earth. So I update for your sake. I am not so quick (not that I have never done this) to write every negative thing I am feeling, not to hide it, but rather that I feel there is a time and a place. I have written stuff in the past and had a sympathetic word in return and it felt good to know my true friends genuinely care and want the best for me.

I have also had what is termed a ‘friends cull’ on facebook, those people I added when they wanted to know about my life, that never initiated any other contact, no doubt scoured my photos (did a bit of what is termed ‘facebook stalking’), made suppositions about my life and then seemed to forget all about me. Like someone I was at uni with, she fell out with me (over someone else: see Psycho Essex girl in another blog) and I befriended her on myspace a couple of years later and I was sure to say hi. She accepted my friend invitation, then deleted me (the cheek!!). A couple of years later she then added me on facebook…. Pour quoi? Je ne ce pas! Today we are no longer facebook ‘friends’. I found myself worrying what she would think of my latest photos and what I was up to and realised I couldn’t live under that scrutiny and pressure (albeit perhaps self-perceived and almost certainly self-inflated)

Worse still are those that add you, you send them a message and they insubordinately ignore it. Why bother adding me?? Huh, huh? Ah the immense joy I feel pressing ‘deleted’ on these peeps. Now I just ignore people like ‘horrible girl who once spat in a drink then offered it to me’. Yes this girl spat in a can of Lilt and offered it to me- I, being polite (and a maybe a bit too trusting and dense), gratefully accepted only to have her laugh in my face with her friends. Oh, the strength it took to shrug my shoulders at her and say, “ah well, still tasted good”. The same strength rose in me again when I pressed ‘ignore’- if someone is that vile at thirteen what the heck are they like now?? I know people change, I know I am sure not the girl I was at twelve but if you were 90% pure evil at thirteen I can only imagine you took that into adulthood. We were never friends then, what would we have in common now? The inclination to gob in other people’s drinks? No, ignoring her felt good, I mean I wouldn’t want her spitting on my facebook page and having all her friends laugh at it.

Don’t get me wrong there are lovely people I am genuinely glad I am in touch with from school or other places, friends that are happily married and living in family bliss with their gorgeous children and I genuinely don’t begrudge them. Sometimes they are the same people that coo over the pictures of my niece, nephew and godson and always write encouraging messages, the friends I worked with that always write witty comments on my facebook status, or friends that are genuinely happy when I book the holiday of a lifetime or visit Swindon for the day. The friends that bless me daily with their encouragement, a quick message to say hi or a notification to say they ‘like’ my status update. I know I have enough real friends and rest assured that this would be a competitive category in my imaginary game of Facebook Top Trumps

Sometimes it is good to remind yourself (especially when you are feeling down) that facebook can feel like a constant, never-ending, cyclical, revolving, eternal Highschool reunion. At a school reunion you would want to show the best of yourself, look your slimmest and prettiest, be able to say you are truly happy and love your job and show only the best, best, best of everything in your life, to be able to say: Look at me, that weedy tactless spit drinker- look how far I have come- I am sooo sooo amazingly delirious with how good my life is. My good friends remind me that not one of us shows horrible or not-so-flattering photos of ourselves (especially us girls, you know I am right- I, myself, have been known to press ‘remove tag’ on some highly questionable photographs).

As long as you remember all this, instead of holding others’ lives up as a standard to which you can only hope to aspire. Remember that it is best to just be who you are and, most importantly, to be true to yourself. If you just remember that we can all feel like that, then you, my friend, are already ahead of the game.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

Meet, stay, move

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘eat, pray, love’, in this controversial book of hers, wrote all about the first year after she divorced a rich man that we all dream of or wax lyrical about. Lizzy left this hubby of hers and moved out of her Stepford-wife big house in the burbs and wrote about ‘eat’ing in Italy, ‘pray’ing in India and then falling in ‘love’ in Bali.

This blog has nothing whatsoever to do with that.

But it does have something to do with getting something from the places you live or stay. There was an incy sigh of relief when my friend invited me to join a facebook group, now, let it be noted I don’t just join any group you know. I don’t want to know what Cheryl Cole/Tweedy wore in one of her concerts that shocked people (I am going to venture that it was clothes) and I am not fussed about getting someone to a million fans so their newly pregnant teenage sister will call their firstborn child ‘Burberry’ or 'Fred Perry'. Nooo, this group particularly peaked my interest: ‘Cross cultural kids everywhere’ finally a name for my ‘condition’! You may have read a previous blog about identity and where I am from, well this explains it, I am a Cross cultural kid(ult) Or, more affectionately perhaps, a 'Global nomad'.
Having perused the discussion board on that page I have finally found people like me, yes me (can you believe it??) There was even a discussion thread with the heading: ‘Where are you from? The question that nags us all’. Heck, I may even call this group my home from now on. That said, I never see this cross-cultural ness as a burden, quite the opposite- I am considerably blessed. When I looked at a list of qualities we ‘Global nomads’ possess I found myself practically nodding, putting aside the ‘linguistic ability’ (Spanglish, I am told, does not count) there was ‘maturity’ (quit laughing at the back), a self confidence (not to be confused with arrogance), ‘family closeness’- like how close I am to my sisters Lucy and Linda (or whatever their names are), ‘international orientation’ (and my teacher said it was a good job I wasn’t taking GCSE Geography!), I am not blowing my own trumpet when I say I nodded, rather it is an acceptance of qualities I feel this nomadic lifestyle has awarded me.

I found the discussion board interesting and I am sure I will come back to it. It has always been tough not only explaining where I am from (earth?) but also explaining that my family were born in many different places, no not the back of a Ford Escort or a backalley- Mum was born in Singapore, my sister in Cyprus and my nephew in Germany. Even my mum struggles to say she is from Oldham (where she lived from 3 till she was 18) she has lived away from there far longer than she ever lived there.

What hit me the most was when one of the group members confessed

“I jokingly refer to ‘Starbucks’ as home - I'm 29, have no idea how many addresses I even have or where I would ever call home. Starbucks has been the same in every country that it’s in - and the comfortable chairs and smells have taken a "homey-familiar" smell. (Starbucks became a refuge when I went to college-I don't think I had been to more than two before then :) But yeah - how do you explain?”

This triggered an ‘Aha!’ moment for me (no, not the 80s band). My friend Shazia, who gets ill from Starbucks products, actually said she had never met anyone that loved Starbucks as much as me (all my friends will vouch I have a strange affinity to this loveable- albeit it fairly unattractive-mermaid) Shazia may have said it with an incredulous tone but I wore it like a chav wears an ASBO, with sheer unabashéd pride- it is a badge of honour to me. I mean, heck I am making my wonderful friends, Sandi and Paul LeBlanc, visit the very first Starbucks in Seattle this year- the infamous Pike Place Starbucks (I’d like to add that we are going to Seattle anyway- otherwise that would be ridonkulous) This woman hit the nail on the head, like people gravitate towards Maccy Ds in any country they visit (even if I have made them watch ‘Super size me’- Tvrtko I am talking to you) I gravitate to the familiarity of Starbucks. In a world that has constantly changed for me, Starbucks is familiar, it is my constant- I know the drinks, the staff are always friendly and you can sit with your book and just feel at home no matter the city. I would liken it to a non-nomadic's grandmother’s front room (unless of course for you this implies the smell of denture cream, tinned salmon, madeira cake, the stale stench of talcum powder or vitamins, or indeed- an aversion to saucers)

This is also the same reason I am never a ‘tourist’, yes I have been on red-bus tours in many cities and I have visited a ‘tourist’ office but I am never truly a ‘tourist’, I always walk round a city, or a new place, like I have been there before. I like to think I have a confidence in my step even if I don’t know where (the blooming heck) I am. Plus if you are from nowhere in particular, how can you ever be a tourist? Yes, I do possess city and country guides, that I occasionally consult (hint: download the iphone app for the place you're visiting and it just looks like you’re checking your phone) My advice is to always have a rough idea of where you are going before you set out and, particularly if you are in skyscraper cities, try and avoid the propensity to look up constantly. Walk with purpose and don’t be seen taking tons of photos in crowded places. That last bit of advice is one I seldom take (my mum is convinced that should anything happen to the Washington monument or statue of Liberty, they could be rebuilt using our photographs alone). Learn to be happy with the first photo you take, I have this down to a fine art (*ahem* which I am well aware does seems to contradict my previous sentence).

I have learnt to be content, no actually strike that- self satisfyingly smug, with not being like everyone else. At one point I teetered dangerously close to (sharp intake of breath) ‘fitting in’ somewhere but luckily not long after felt the overwhelming urge to get the heck out of there. I have come to believe that I just wasn't designed to 'fit in', I am fortunate to be able to relate to most people I meet. I once met a girl who was from Oxfordshire, having spent six months there in between moves, I asked “whereabouts?” she replied (slightly too assuredly for my liking) that I wouldn’t (possibly) know it, “try me” I pushed, resignedly she admitted “Wantage”. Yep, ironically, that was the little place I’d lived in and for that six months. We learnt that we were in the same school and she was in the year below me. In these particular situations people either think they’ve met someone they can relate to or a belligerent and pathological liar. Worst case scenario they'd (perhaps rightfully in your case) suspect you'd been stalking them for the past few months.

I have learnt to laugh off being called a ‘gypo’ or a ‘pikey’ (whilst notifying and giving names and addresses to the local funfair-related caravan dwellers) and just accept that mine seems like an unusual lifestyle to people who aren’t from a similarly blesséd background. There were times I longed for somewhere to call ‘home’ (that didn't have chickens living under the floorboards and tin for a roof) but home is just a far out concept to me (you know, like lunar landings and peace in the middle east). I have to answer questions regarding where I call home, where I am from, where my parents are from, whether I am a Southerner or a Northerner and what accent I have (um, English, which may seem unusual to you, what with you being from England un’all) Yes, people pretty much stop short of asking whether the last three generations of my family were true Aryans.

I am a confessed sentimental but as the years go on, I am used to getting rid of stuff and trying not to become too attached to certain things (apart from my thirty something year old ‘tatty teddy’, Johnny).
I feel I have become ‘aware’ of great moments as I recognise that ‘things are fleeting’, that ‘good things really must come to an end’ I've learnt that friends are ‘for a reason, a season or a lifetime’ that ‘absinthe truly does make the heart grow fonder’ (or was it absence?) and that 'you can count your true friends on both thumbs' (or something) . I appreciate that ‘you really never know what is round the next corner’ that, if you allow it, ‘the world can really, yes really, be your lobster (or is it Oyster? I know it's seafood related...). I have realised in the last few years not to take for granted all those amazing times I have with my friends, that you have to make happiness happen and not expect it to just ‘come’ to you. Most importantly, I have realised that you have to ‘Bloom where you’re planted’. I am learning to live in the ‘now’ and I am trying not to always dwell on the past or look to the future for neither of those truly exist (I did say learning…) These are things it has taken years to learn with all my moving, once I had got over initial more pressing concerns like Father Christmas not finding our house, especially as air force issued houses don't have chimneys (mum assured me last year that he knows where I am) or keeping the Easter bunny fully aware of any address changes. (I got my mini eggs Easter egg today-phew!)

Without all my life experiences, my meh-huh-hany addresses (curse you application forms for asking for every address in the last 5 years) the many rooms I have slept in, the many views I have had from my window, the many neighbours I have had, the friends I have made in many places, the schools I have attended, the many jobs I have taken, the times I have stuck out as an alien in another country- like that sales assistant job I took when we emigrated temporarily to Aberdeen, I have realised I truly would not be who I am today- the Louise that you all know and loathe. I used to try and be a wallflower and just fade into a background but I was clearly just not designed that way, no God designed me to be that pestilent weed that you are always trying to use every (dang) product to get rid of.

I like to (delusionally) think I am like Vianne in one of my favourite films ‘Chocolat’(just without Johnny Depp on my arm)- I go where the north wind takes me. What people don’t understand about me is, after a few months/years (read: days) in a place, my feet start to proverbially itch. I wasn’t born to stay put and it is like a beacon goes off and parts of the world ‘call’ me. As I get older I am beginning to finely tune my ears to try and see whether it is a true calling aswell as checking whether it is really the north wind blowing and not just a dodgy air vent.

When I visited New York last year I found a card with this on:

Your Journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you’ve encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time’ Asha Tyson

It was like this card was written for me.

So, until I find that global nomadic tribe that have lived in the same places as me, have numerous freckles, medium brown hair, speak ‘received standard English’ and are willing to constantly move to places I want to go- then I will just have to go it alone and remind myself that my journey has molded me for your greater good.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Friends, Amigas, freunden, Ami

John Lennon et al once asked

“What would you do if I sang out of tune would you get up and walk out on me….?”

A good friend would. A bad friend would tell you it was in tune.

There are many laments, ballads, songs, poems etc about lovers but what about the people that outnumber that lover, in my case that need only be one but let’s sidestep that and focus on those that outnumber the lover… or lovers, if you’re a play-ah. Friends. Not only is this the name of my absolute favourite tv show, that I happen to have on in the background as I type, I probably don't need to describe it, surely everyone is familiar with this show I mean it is repeated on E4 daily every hour (it would seem) I however have the DVDs so have it on tap. Anyway… as usual I am getting off topic; you can see why I was constantly editing essays at school.

Friends, true friends… there are many emails and such, I am sure that talk about true friends and how you can know them. I feel I am old enough to recognise and appreciate those friends that are there through thick or thin, fair-weather or not so fair-weather, hell or high water, river deep mountain high and all other oft-quoted comparisons.

By now I am assuming you have passed the ‘fickle, you’re my friend, you're not my friend, you can’t come to my party anymore, such and such and such a blah is my best friend, not you’ phase, I, for one, know it is an area I am working on but still feel I’m in a position to talk about candidly. I have had friends and lost them (what? They just fell down the manhole). I know what it is to have only 2 people come to your birthday party (your parents do count!), I was 23 at the time and, luckily, years later I know far more people would come now, if I was ever in the same country as my friends for my birthday and if I, say, put out some sandwiches, chocolate and lemonade, or something.

I have friends that have been there through loads of things, dished out sound advice, been a shoulder to cry on and totally been there when I needed them. Heck one of my best friends stayed on the phone while a psycho ex-friend smashed the front window of my house (apparently this wasn't impolite in Essex) and stayed on the phone whilst I used the house phone to call the police! I believe that many of the friends I have made over the years have blessed me and have been to make up for those awful frenemies (those enemies masquerading as friends) I had. This ‘psycho’ smashing friend I had was also the reason I lost my other frenemies. A hard lesson to learn at the time- but there is nothing like sorting the wheat from the chaff.

So how do we know our true friends? True friends do not use you as a taxi service (stop sitting in the fricking back of the car and ordering me around alright!) They do not use your house as some kind of holiday home (I did not say it was near the beach!) They wouldn't answer the phone at 3 and tell you what time it is (of course I know what time it is!) They don’t tell you that you look better without make-up when you have ready access to both daylight and a mirror, they don’t tell you muffin-tops are in this season, they don’t buy the exact same clothes as you and not at least have written permission from you, a rabbi and a priest, they do not concede that ‘you’re photogenic’ with their teeth firmly clenched, they do not send you harassing texts telling you they’re going to ‘f*** you up’ (I won't speak to you about this one again Aunty Mabel) No, a true friend has the mark of a true friend, unfortunately it isn’t as distinctive as I’d like (Is an ear piercing siren and a neon sign too much to ask for??) but as you get older and wise wisedy wiser you start to recognise true friend qualities. Basically those kinda friends that put up with you almost as willingly as your family have to.

My good/gooder/goodest friends encourage me, are honest with me, compliment me without clenched teeth, sometimes compliment my friends in the bargain (and unwittingly themselves) I won’t name names but a friend of mine once asked, genuinely (oh bless you Isabel Crofton-Martin) while looking at photos of my friends “are ALL your friends good looking?” “Yes” I replied. That is always how I comforted a friend who was feeling like they were ugly “Oh sweetie, you’re not!.... I don’t hang out with ugly people” well not for long anyway. Jokes! Now I am not saying if they didn’t do the above that we wouldn’t be friends, it just sweetens the bargain. Friends are the ones that are genuinely happy for you when something good happens etc, anyways, you're not stoopid, you get the idea.

John Lennon continued in his song, that I started with:
“Oooo I get by with a little help from my friends--” now I love Johnn-o but one thing that struck me was I don’t feel I just ‘get by’ I feel people say ‘get by’ like it is a sub-standard condition to the feeling of satisfaction. For example, my ex-housemate used to say it, I’ll set the scene: Me coming home from (a hard day at) work “Hi!! How are you?” My ex housemate (big exhalation of breath-visible chest up and down dramatics) “Oh... Getting by” or, let’s not forget the equally jolly, “plodding along” (kill me, kill me now) I, personally, thrive from a lot of help from my friends however John would have struggled to sing that as it would have thrown the whole chord sequence off and didn’t work syllabically.

I am far away from all my friends, but I get so much from their friendship no matter the distance. My mum has a theory that I keep friends who live in other countries so I have places to visit, it just happens that not long after meeting me people book flights, emigrate, take menial jobs on farms if they have to, cut forces tours short, pretty much anything to put a few thousand miles and a couple of eastern block countries with stringent visa programs, between us. Bless me though, I am a dedicated penpal and constantly write to my friend in Kyrgyzstan at 10 Kyrgyzstan road, Kyrgyzstan. Haven’t heard anything back as yet but he did warn me that their postal system was predominantly camel and pacca based… still fingers crossed.. (Sings to herself, Oh yes, wait a minute Mister Postman Hey, hey, hey, hey Mr. Postman...)

My friends support nigh on every whim of mine (it is practically compulsory if you commit to a friendship with me, by commitment I am talking about that checklist y’all filled in) they laugh at my jokes, proof read stories I write like ‘Tarquin the hairy backed spider takes a trip to the park’ (can I have that back now please Isabel?), they put up with my constant ‘friends’ quoting and accept the fact that I am barely in one place for very long and that I will not be able to see them very often (this could be seen as a blessing rather than a curse, though) I know people often curse facebook for not giving them enough news about their ex boyfriend’s new lover or whatever in their news feed or complain about msn messenger but these two mediums are what keeps me in touch with my friends that are as far away as Canada, Australia, Austria, Japan, America and that guy I asked out recently, Kyrgyzstan.
But you know friendship is friendship wherever we are. What I lurve about my friends is we pick up where we left off, no matter how many months or years. I also relish how I gravitate towards people who love the things I love, friends that are willing to sing any songs in the style of Nancy from ‘Oliver’, friends who, not only know, but love films like ‘Teenwitch’ and are willing to quote ‘Anchorman’ till we have exhausted just about every line from it. What I love is the pure (dog faced lying and pretence of) acceptance they have for me, particularly in regards to my faith, my music taste, my movie taste, the stories I write, the 'friends' quotes, the 'jokes'.

Most of all I feel that my friendships reflect my life, where I have been, the friends I have made along the way, places as far flung as Prague, Austria, Hemel Hempstead, RAF Brüggen and, you know, Volvo.

So this was my little homage to my friends that and, well I realised I hadn’t blogged in a long while!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Stop the world I want to get off.....

I’m going to risk sounding like an old lady in these blogs, harking for simpler times, asking for less complication, for bicycles to be the only form of transport and for teenagers to stop hanging around on street corners. Okay I’m joking about bikes.

It seems to me, as I observe the world from my pious watchtower, that things they are a-changing and not always for the better. I read an article about 100 things that are actually getting better, and although I didn’t get a personal mention, I persevered with my reading. It did include polyester and floral arrangements, Wal-mart and office chairs but I thought there must be something in there worth inspiring me, I couldn’t agree with the Beatles getting better (half of them have passed on from this world) it did mention being single, comforting after my 17 year old hairdresser saying that being 31 and single can be fun too, quite a concession. The one I liked the most was number 100. You. It said, and I quote, “You’ve just got this glow about you—some combination of wisdom and inner peace, plus a lovely self awareness. You’re not sweating the small stuff; you know what feels good, feels right and you simply don’t muck around with the rest. You’re not a kid anymore, and we mean that as a high compliment. There’s a new kind of lightness about you. And your hair has never looked better” It was like it was written for me; to me and about me ;) the last one is purely because I was at the hairdressers this very morn.

Anyway. I wanted to talk about things that haven’t got better. Harking to simpler times comes mainly because I think an influx of products has made us as consumers, perplexed. Don’t leave me now; this is not an economic essay.

This is mainly because I keep witnessing a few things, first of all when someone wants to lose weight they don’t just research healthy food and benefits of exercise, they search the internet for the easiest weight loss plan with the quickest desired results. Then everyone has become, thanks to the all-dancing interweb (that never lies) all nutritionists in training/practice, some people can tell you the very last calorific content of a dustmite (it's zero by the way) Others ‘know’ that in order to shed x amount you have to burn x amount through exercise, other diets tell you to cut major food groups like carbs, others to survive on protein and eat air, others purely cabbage, others chocolate ice-cream whilst sitting on the sofa. Is it any wonder the world’s combined waistline is getting bigger? We live off old information especially information on chicken that convinced us it was lean meat, um thanks Fat Fighters—maybe so, that was until they started pumping the chooks with lots of growth hormones in order to keep up with the demand, but this is not about the chickies.

My sister wanted to buy a pushchair; she already had a toddler and wanted to be able to have them both in, or at least in the vicinity of, the pushchair. The information was overwhelming, added to that we are all bonafide critics as well as part time nutritionists and our own GPs. She was besieged with information, she asked a few people (the pope suggested maxi-cosi) and conducted a national survey. Did she want her baby to hang low? Did she want to tie him in a knot, or tie him in a bow? Did she want one hanging off her back or clinging to the other for dear life? Or side-by-side within regulatory kicking distance of the new sibling, unable to get through any normal sized door and unable to fold into a car? Decisions, decisions…. I wondered if everything had been simpler how would she have felt if she only still had one or two choices and all 2009 mothers chose the exact same one. Maybe when nursery finished you just put your child in any chair and stroll away… simples. My mum was given (I know, like for free) a pram when I was born, a large silver cross pram with a hood, she put me in lying down and my older sister sitting towards the front of it chatting to her (this eased the situation of people walking past looking at my mum strangely for having a full blown conversation/sing-song with a comatose baby)

The same goes for supermarkets; there are so many different varieties of everything. So do you get the more expensive one with more colours on the tin (oooh, aaah), the one that says 'value'/El cheapo/savers or the one still made by the exact same company with more (flashy, bright, colourful, mesmerising) colours on the shiny tin and a 5p increase in price? Ah, those companies must be laughing when they are working in the same baked bean factory putting the same product in different tins at different hours of the day!

What gets worse is that we have so much information that we get into what I will call 'pick and mix' territory. I have a friend who reads so much about diets (in the hope that is enough for the fat to just slide off her body) Although the placebo effect of the books has yet to kick in, she takes a little bite from every diet, she doesn’t just follow the one and wonders why she sees zilcho resulto… ohhh noooo, she chooses to follow a diet that cuts carbs and then eats pizza or loads up on chicken, as it is ‘lean’! She tells us how much we should exercise (though we do and she doesn’t) and cuts out caffeine one week because one book says you should and wine the next (“it’s full of sugar dontcha know?” “Uh yuh, I told you that”). She is a prime example of things becoming too complicated. Companies quickly realised that the dietary industry was ginormous business (ah the irony) and it has resulted in people wanting a share of the multi-billion pound industry and, for us mere consumers (Sheep), to be confuseated (confused and nauseated- see what I did there?) with a deluge of information.

Then there are trends and fads that are just that because something will come out that says you should drink x amount of water a day (“but Evian said I should”) then someone else says that isn’t actually necessary (“Carling said so”) Do you walk with weights strapped to your arms and legs? Yes? Have you been doing that for a good few years now? Great, because someone wants to tell you that actually it doesn’t make any difference, whatsoever. We are all waiting for current information to be contradicted. With that in mind- is it any wonder some people do sweet FA and that the fence actually seems like a very comfortable place to perch?

Then we have things that work for some people and not for others, instead of ‘one size fits all’. It seems almost everyone is now a reviewer of everything. These people want to tell you what worked for them and what didn't, we don't question that we are not actually the exact same person. Recently Amazon (foolishly) allowed people to review everything from a ballpen to a bed and the amount of entries were astonishing. One such reviewer wrote of the ballpen: “worked perfectly with one hand but completely crap with the other”….

So, although I can concede that one thing can work well for one person and not another, in our pursuit of happiness (and everything in between) hasn’t the market been flooded with too much choice? That’s what I mean by a simpler time, when you went to a shop and could buy one brand of baked bean, one type of cauliflower, one brand of toothpaste, people just didn’t know any different. Hasn’t a little stress been added with trying to get good value for a good product, aswell as something that makes our teeth whiter, our hair blonder, our potential wrinkles avoidable (as long as you use it for 30 years prior), our stomachs flatter or our cholesterol lower….?! Then some may wonder, did I make the right choice? In those simpler times there could be no comparison with what someone else had bought. We could rest assured we bought the right monkey back scratcher, because it was the only one.

With Sky and digital tv we now have about a 1000 channels (and Bruce Springsteen thought he was making a point when he sang '57 channels and nothin on'!) I actually feel less stressed when I have five channels; I don’t take too long to choose between a programme about a pygmy elephant boy in Outer Mongolia or Under Siege. Don’t misunderstand me, I like to have things at my fingertips too, but I still think it needs to be tailored just a little.

So as for me, I’ll eat healthily, exercise the way I want, choose the one (unless he’s a blind deranged ex-asylum mental patient) that asks me to marry him, eat only Heinz baked beans, carry my (for now imaginary) children over my shoulders, watch only channel 4 and eat only Haagen Dazs ice-cream and I will wear my hair the way I like it because, not only are trends fleeting but I'd rather skip looking like Victoria Beckham/ the population of Essex --thanking you muchly! I am pro-choice (as long as it’s mine).

It seems to me that Woolworth’s has gone but pick and mix still remains.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I may be the worst person to read a murder mystery novel, I am quite content to let the narrative transport me rather than actively engage. This can be particularly frustrating at a murder mystery party as I suspect no one and my apathetic side muffles my competitive side. I read murder mystery novels in quite a laissez-faire fashion, truth be told many characters merge for me (which may explain why I never know quite who to suspect) If a television adaptation is too long, I may get confused as to who was who in the first place and realise I should just stick to what I know. I could never really work out the ghoul in Scooby Doo either, even if they were the only other secondary character apart from the ‘pesky kids’ and Scooby himself.

I loved that my Grandad always said if he arrived at a hotel and Jessica Fletcher from ‘Murder she wrote’ checked in at the same time, he’d turn around, get back in the car and drive to another hotel. I mean why would you risk it? Poor lady, everywhere she goes, there is a murder (maybe she orchestrated it, I mean she needed something to write, the woman had deadlines, didn’t she? just a thought). I digress.

So basically things need to be far simpler for me, think I’ll stick to reading ‘Peter and Jane go to the shops’. I think the type of people who read murder mysteries, crave the complexity of those books. Can we not make things complicated enough on our own?

I wonder, like the ghouls in Scooby Doo, are the answers to our problems hidden in plain sight?

The world has helped us to make everything simpler, we don’t have to use gears we have automatic cars, need food cooking quickly? There are microwaves. You don’t need to put a record on or a tape in or even a CD on anymore because, thanks to a man called Ian, we have the ‘ipod’. We have drive-through restaurants; in America you can go to a drive-through ATM for Pete’s sake, sometimes you don’t have to leave your car for anything. This is a world where we have machines that can exercise for us. Want to diet? You can get a diet plan and a shopping list printed for you, lest you have to utilise your poor little hand to write ‘a packet of Ryvita and a pot of cottage cheese’. Want to find love? you need never leave the house. We call for pizza or a chinese meal and it's delivered to the door. We can order books, films and clothes off the Internet. Hate fighting miserable kerfuffling people at Christmas time? That’s what the magic wonderful wonder web is for. The world has used all its power to make things simpler for us, so why are we still complicating every-little-thing?

When I have a problem my mind seems to clog up, if I could visualise it I think it would look similar to spaghetti with thick sauce. Confiding it to a friend and asking for advice seems to untangle it slightly; their 20/20-blurfree-problem-vision versus my complete-problem-induced-cataracts seems to start the unravelling process.

Why is it, then, that when we look at someone else’s problem the answer seems to slap us in the face? What I propose is that when I have a problem, someone should present my problem to me, as their own, and when I have offered a solution they should then say “you know what? (Slaps their head) Silly me, that wasn’t my problem atall, that was yours!” Problemo solved!

I also think the biggest boulder that prevents us from solving our own problems is us, we place soooo many obstacles in the way, when someone offers a solution how many of us say, “I can’t because…” how many of those obstacles are our perceptions? How many of those roadblocks do we place in the way? Hmmm?

Believe me I am not talking about this as if I haven’t got any problems of my own, it has taken a few years to realise that we put some of those obstacles in the way ourselves. If the solution seems simple sometimes we think… hmmm that is way too easy, there must be a more complicated way, surely. While scratching our heads we decide (holds hand triumphantly in air and envisages a large audience for this speech) "Come hell or high water, even if it takes my whole life, all my energy, a large team of volunteers, a well publicised facebook group, a charity organisation, heck, if I have to dedicate my entire being to it I will, yes will, make it my mission to make this way more complicated than is humanly necessary." (A loud cheer erupts in the auditorium)

Why make it more difficult for yourself? I am not asking you to evaluate your entire life and pick the easiest answer, crap job? Leave. Unhappy marriage? Divorce. Those are not the simple answers. What I am asking is that you don’t make it more complicated for yourself; see if any of those roadblocks are your own reinforced slabs of concrete.

I am certainly no psychologist, nor am I presuming all problems are simple. I am suggesting if they are not deeply ethical or world changing stop minding the ‘what ifs’ and seek the simpler route. If you have good friends you can trust, talk about it. Or go with the impartial route, if my friend came to me with the same problem what would I advise? We don’t need to make it more complicated than it is. I have spent years studying subjects where as an audience or reader we were made to search for sub-texts and hidden things, we had to look for symbolism and some suggestions, I fear, were pulled off the home page of tenuouslinks.com. My friend had an English teacher who said that the reason the lady was called ‘Mrs Haversham’ in Great Expectations was a play on ‘have a sham’ ummm… think you are searching much deeper than the author anticipated there, love. I once had to endure a Science Fiction class one semester at university (in my defence it was the best of a bad bunch). In it, the *ahem*, geeks, debated an entire lesson on the intricacies and subtext of ‘Bladerunner’ that’s right, I said ‘Bladerunner’ (kill me, kill me now) some of their theories were extremely questionable and well, let's face it, a little over my head. I do, however, remember wondering (whilst fighting my boredom induced coma) if that was indeed the author and filmmaker’s original convoluted intention.

When you are young your parents break everything down, take it step by step, word by word, they don’t present you with ‘War and Peace’ as your first book, no we have ‘At the Zoo’ and ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ (still bedside favourites of mine) Why make it complicated and difficult?
Granted, “well then you can’t come to my birthday party” isn’t an acceptable solution to friendship differences, and “I’m on their side, not yours” won’t hold much sway in a peace negotiation.
But do we really need to look for more complexity and make matters harder all the time? Why yes, I think we feel we need to. Sometimes I want to look at the world through a child’s eyes, appreciate things for what they are, accept some of the things I am told, question things yes and yearn to know more, but not get ahead of myself and not make things harder than they already are.

For some things a back-to-basics approach would be the more desirable route, that and a simple answer to a simple problem.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Who Am I?

“Who am I to tell you I'll always catch you when you fall?
Well I, I wouldn't be myself at all. I wouldn't be myself at all, at all”.
sang the great philosopher Will Young, pop idol 2002.

Who am I? We have all asked ourselves that very question at one time or another. Who do you say I am? I have many nicknames, Gussie Winkle (long story) Louisianna, Liesl, Loulabelle, LouLou, Neese (ok that from my almost two year old niece) Lou, Lola… the list goes on. I like these nicknames. I feel it reflects who I am to different people, I don’t morph into a different person with different friends (although that’d be a great superpower), but I think my friends see different sides to me.

Like most people, I have worried what others think of me, I still do sometimes, and then I catch myself and think “why do I care”? If they are not someone close to me why should I be bothered? (…“because they are people, people with eyes!”) I care most about what my friends and family think and their opinions do matter to me. I have enough good friends and an amazing family to challenge me if they feel I have done something wrong.

I dislike parties or meeting people for a couple of reasons… first, the dreaded question: What do you do? I used to make jobs up such as a diamond miner, or a sexer of oranges- cutting them in half to determine if they were male or female, someone who takes words we no longer use out of the dictionary (someone believed this and asked what words I had taken out lately, so I said ‘gullible’ he answered “really?”- walked into that one) I can now proudly say I am an English teacher, thankfully (wipes brow).
Second there is the “where are you from?” question. I always take a deep breath before I answer that one. I can’t say Germany because I am barely here, I am also not German nor am I fluent in the language (unless we are counting pigeon German) so I say it is difficult, I was a military child and have lived in sooo many places, it is difficult to pinpoint. Plus no one is ever content with just ‘England’ as an answer, ‘but whereabouts?’ Who are you, the ‘specific hometown answer regulator’, hmmm? Next time I should spill my drink on them, better still their drink and detract from the question, altogether (don’t say you weren’t warned).
I know why it is, we all want a common ground, and we want to be able to identify each other by that. I am like Jessica Rabbit; this is the way I was drawn. I am actually amazingly thankful for the fact I have moved around, I am not afraid of it (only the question about it).It also means I am hard to pin down. We are used to putting people in neat little categories and boxes, we don’t mean to, but we do. What if I don’t fit your box, who am I then?

I worry about where to say I am from, I don’t want to lie but find myself justifying it, I bluster answers like “ummm I live in Germany but I don’t speak the language (truth is I never speak to anyone) plus I shop in Holland and Dutch is, like, really hard.” Heck, I am tired of my own answers, my own justifications. I may make the name of a country up and then act offended when they don’t know where it is and shocked that they don’t know that English is their common language, whilst rolling my eyes. I now have visions of people googling it, or looking in an atlas for my fictitious country! (Cue evil plan laugh).

I was recently told that I looked German (by a Spanish teenager who didn't know I lived in Germany) then he concluded I may be Swedish (I suspect he had never seen anyone from either of these cultures or countries). My A-level English teacher once guessed I was either Norwegian or Irish, there is Celtic in there somewhere, it’s the fair skin and freckles. There is also a chance my family from Yorkshire originated from Vikings, but could have equally been from the Normans. My friend once introduced me as her friend from the Czech Republic (we met in Prague), I did have dark hair at the time- the girl leaned in and annunciating she asked “and –where- are- you -from?” to which I smiled and replied “Watford”. People often try and pin it down to where I was born. I was born near Manchester (and then spent 2 weeks there) although I spent lots of holidays there I don’t have a northern accent –but can mimic one if it helps. I lived for 9 years in the south of England but don’t feel as if it gave me any particular identity, I just joined the countless others who emigrated there.

I once was a part of a large church, I spent 5 years there and not just Sundays, it was my community, my social life, when I chose to ‘tear’ myself away I was left wondering who I was, I realised my identity was that tied up in it-scary but true. Since leaving almost three years ago, worry ye not. I know who I am now.

If we transcend the traditional methods of identification, what can we identify ourselves by? When I left that church I remember asking myself, who does God say I am?

My friend Isabel reminded me that first of all God says: “You are my daughter.”

This is an extract from 'the father's love letter', that I think answers the above question.

My Child, you may not know me, 
but I know everything about you. 
Psalm 139:1
I know when you sit down and when you rise up. 
Psalm 139:2
I am familiar with all your ways. 
Psalm 139:3
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. 
Matthew 10:29-31
For you were made in my image. 
Genesis 1:27
In me you live and move and have your being. Acts 17:28
For you are my offspring. 
Acts 17:28
I knew you even before you were conceived. 
Jeremiah 1:4-5
I chose you when I planned creation. 
Ephesians 1:11-12
You were not a mistake, 
for all your days are written in my book. 
Psalm 139:15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth 
and where you would live. 
Acts 17:26
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Psalm 139:14
I knit you together in your mother's womb. 
Psalm 139:13

So it is fair to say I am me and if God knows who I am, well then that is good for me.

Next time we're at a party together, ask me who I am at your own peril.