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That which must not be mentioned

Picture from Where Did I Come From, by Peter Mayle & Arthur Robbins

Picture from Where Did I Come From, by Peter Mayle & Arthur Robbins

Apart from eventually dying of course, there are a few things in the world that we will all do:
Eating & drinking
Producing waste
Having sex

Even if we don’t have sex often, most of us do it. At some point. More people will have sex in their lifetime than will have a bank account, than will be a Christian, than will kill someone, than will own a house, than will learn to cook. There are more people having sex today than there are people becoming a vegetarian! This is because even though we don’t all have money or a shared faith or live in a safe country, we all have bodies and we all have hormones. Without them, there would be no us. How many adults do you know who have never ever had sex?

It’s up there as one of THE most natural things ever in the world to do. Breathing, eating, drinking, going to the loo… good, good, all good, all necessary. We must keep doing them… but stop having sex or do it badly or thoughtlessly and we’re also in trouble. We’re all in trouble. Rape, AIDS, other STDs, population problems. We need sex. But we need proper sex.
What we don’t need are wars or people beating the crap out of one another.

So… Why are books to do with such a normal, average, everyday human function seen as naughty? Why is violence allowed on TV earlier than sex? Why do we worry about our children knowing about sex? Why is it hidden like a bad thing, only allowed out late at night?
Why is okay to scare the willies (excuse the pun) out of our children with, lets face it – unlikely but very realistically portrayed – scenarios about aliens, monsters, soldiers, danger, death, violence, entrapment, on TV? Children believe a lot of what they see on television. We are hardly protecting them, keeping them safe and prolonging their childhoods by doing this. Unreal fear and violence are not the same as imaginative escapism – something which I am all for.

I’m not saying parents should be giving sexual demonstrations in front of their children (not until they are 16 and can be thoroughly ashamed, at least! ;)) or allowing them to look at pornography. (I don’t consider pornography safe, thoughtful or realistic…. But that’s another argument) But can’t we allow sex to be normal, and worry less when explaining the ins and outs (tee hee) of reproduction. After all it is more normal and useful than shooting people and plenty of kids have had hands on experience of pretending to murder people on computer games.
I’ve seen stabbings on soaps on TV before 9pm; blood, shootings, violence, punches thrown, and yet the major complaints the public seem to make are often to do with something of a sexual nature – such as a homosexual kiss. And kissing hurts whom exactly?
If it’s less hidden, if it’s less naughty, if it’s less forbidden. If it’s just assumed that it is a natural human function, surely that reduces the mystery, the fear, and therefore the danger and the chances of doing it wrong, badly, illegally.

Here’s something else completely amazing: there are two major body types; the one with dangly bits inside their pants and the one with no dangly bits inside their pants. Apart from some rare and interesting variations, just about every single one of us is one of those two major body types (Yes, really!) So why all the secrecy? It’s no big deal. What is a big deal is the way we try to make out that our bodies are in some way wrong, or dangerous, and naughty even. I’m not about to advocate naturism everywhere – (each to his or her own) it’s too cold here for one thing but can we get over this, please?
Do we go to swimming lessons and say to the teacher, ‘What ever you do, don’t talk about breathing in front of my child.’?
Do we ask people not to use the bathroom before dark, because no one wants to know that they might be having a wee?
Do we put a watershed on cookery programmes, call them The Korma Sutra or The Joy of Woks and stick an 18+ “Contains gratuitous food shots” symbol next to them?
No. Of course we don’t. I know I’m exaggerating ridiculously. But we do let children see adults driving at life-threatening 200 miles an hour on the Grand Prix, getting drunk at any time of day on television and punching each other as if those things are more safe and acceptable than having a sexual relationship.
What the bloody hell is wrong with us!?

Do you want to know what sparked this post?


They’re everywhere. Bloody everywhere. They have a hugely, massively, gigantically significant impact on the way the human race operates and yet we are not allowed to talk about them. Well maybe only titillatingly (OOH- she said ‘tit’!)

Every month, millions and millions ( I know – that’s nearly all of us!)… Millions of women in the world of child-bearing age, go though a pattern of hormones. Then, as we get older, we have to learn to live with a new pattern of hormones. Increases and drops in hormones change our skin tone, our appetite, our concentration levels, our weight, even the water levels in our body, our energy, our tiredness and our ability to deal with stress. Some days we are literally stronger than other days. Literally. Some days we are really quite fabulous and other days we need to be less fabulous or just differently fabulous.
Our society has two major ways of dealing with these patterns: Denial, and humour. Just like sex then.

Some of us treat our hormones with medication; try to make them go away. Some of us load ourselves up with pain-killers, vitamin supplements, herbal and homeopathic remedies. Often we just feel we have no choice but to pull our socks up, grin and bear it, pretend it’s not happening. Everywhere you go there will be women pretending they are not struggling, while – with almost animalistic instinct – they secretly crave a big mug of hot chocolate, a cheese sarny, a nap, ibuprofen, and a hot-water bottle.
Why secretly?
Because talking about it is seen as weak? Because it’s too much to do with body parts? It’s too closely related to reproduc – shhhh…..

I don’t know. I don’t blooming know.
So. I’m going to break this nonsense and tell you that once a month I get constant pain in my right hip for two days so that I can barely walk. I become very pale, and weak and dizzy. I get confused and find making decisions incredibly difficult. I get so over-sensitised that smells, tastes, lights, and noises are extreme. I am clumsy and have been known to have accidents that have involved trips to A&E. I am slow, hungry, unbelievably exhausted, and detached. By the time I have walked upstairs I feel like crying.
It hurts. It’s horrible. It has got worse as I’ve got older. But if I can be honest about it and take it easy for just one day, I’m absolutely okay. Why pretend otherwise?

We seem to have normalised being abnormal in this society.

Women seem to need to look like dolls but act like men to get on in the world.
I blame Lara Croft. What’s she got to do with real women?

The macho barbarian. I bet she doesn’t have periods.
‘Periods? Oh my God, she said “periods”!’
(I’m still trying to figure out how Margaret Thatcher managed to have children…)

I’m not blaming women. I’m not blaming men. I blame the gradual shifts in society that got us here and I blame fear. We’re too frightened to stand out and say, ‘Well actually… you know what… I think we might not be getting it quite right, here. I think I’d rather my kids learned about the reproductive system than how to blow someone’s brains out.’
I think we’ve got feminism all wrong too. Women are feminine. We are as strong as men but in very different ways. Different is good. It works better when we acknowledge difference. Like the dangly bits.

Where did I come from by Peter Mayle – a great book.

Seventeen: a gift

I’ve thought about writing this post for a few weeks now; thought about how I would start it, at least. Every angle I approached it from made my mind go off on a ramble about a different issue. I think this is partly because I am incapable of totally encapsulating any thought – I have a mind like a curious child darting through a labyrinth of rooms and passageways in a massive stately home; eyes constantly lighting upon something new – but also because something that has been a big part of your life for so long can seem to incorporate everything else in some way, somehow. It all overlaps. Eventually. Trust me.

But it’s an interesting story and there are interesting issues. So how do I fit it all into one blog post? Shall I start at 22 years ago or shall I start at 17 years ago? Perhaps I could do a Wikipedia-style page with links to each reference? (That was intended as a humorous comment but I am now wondering if it could work!) I tell you what: let’s not try to fit it all in. Let’s just get to the point.

So. What am I talking about and why am I writing this?

I wanted to discuss identity – about becoming a person in one’s own right, yet part of something and yet not part of someone. I wanted to talk about honesty, endurance, disillusionment, realisation, self-improvement, stress, togetherness, stubbornness, instinctiveness, knowing when to give up and knowing when to stick with something. (I can feel another tangent coming on now, discussing my understanding of the word instinctiveness and how I use it to mean intelligent intuition and not impulsiveness or spontaneity). I wanted to share something on my blog that brought all that together in one piece of writing.

So now I tell you why?

Why? Well firstly because even though I like neat, tidy, rounded symmetrical things and numbers that make pretty patterns – like my birthday for instance: 9/9/69 – how cool is that?! – I also feel pressured by Occasion. To the point of wanting to run away and hide. So weddings, or any birthdays or anniversaries which end in a five or a nought fill me with the dread of social expectation and the requirement to have celebration and fun – even if I don’t feel like it. And what about all the other numbers? The other years? Are they not worth noting? Poor little twelve, poor lonely twenty-three and poor neglected seventeen!
And secondly because I think sometimes we are so geared up for Occasion that we forget what it is behind the whole event. The real stuff we should be working at, the life we should be concentrating on, the people we should be appreciating get forgotten behind things, behind show and behind expectations.
Take Valentine’s Day, for instance. Who wants a gift, a card and a pointed-“because-this-is-the-day-I-have-to-do-it” gesture just once a year? Why?
And here’s something incredibly controversial – which many people will disagree with and that’s fine because this is only me talking about my life: I hate big weddings, loathe them. I didn’t want to celebrate ours with loads of people. I wanted a commitment between two people, a shared identity, and a sense of coming together to build a future and to be settled. Just me, my partner, and our future children. Roots down, hats laid, all the corners scented. All I wanted from the day we got married was a piece of paper and I wanted us to get on with our life. I didn’t want us, my parents or my new in-laws to fork out loads of money for one afternoon and surround us with people we only vaguely knew.

So when, after living together for two years – and being engaged for one and a half of those, we discovered we were expecting our first child, it was a perfect excuse to rush off to the registry office in Barnstaple and have a quickie cheapie wedding. See above photo. It’s a quite beautiful, romantic setting I think you’ll agree 😉

I also wanted to have achieved something worth celebrating first. The first three years of our relationship had been awful, the next two a bit lame…

22 years ago, a rather inebriated young man leant heavily across a busy bar, late at night, looked up through his thick, shiny brown floppy fringe and asked me (the new barmaid), in almost comic slur, if I’d ‘like to go out for a drink shum time.’
I knew nothing about him, other than his name, but had already spoken to him once or twice and had found the wide innocent eyes, tatty t-shirts and dirty jeans, combined with square broad shoulders and a suntan, attractive in a vulnerable, yet masculine, way. There’s something about that look that makes a girl want to mother a man even if she doesn’t agree with her inner mother! But there was something else: I’d seen that he had an open, amicable posture, that he turned himself physically to greet people and be involved with them and he would talk to anybody about anything as an equal. I knew that there was something special about him and, although I couldn’t quite pin down why, I found him intriguing.
‘Maybe you could ask me again when you’re sober,’ I replied, smiling politely and walking off.

He didn’t know it but at that moment an invisible claw soared across the room into my gut and hooked him onto my hardwiring. Call it pheromones if you like but sometimes you really do get physically hooked against your wishes and better judgement.

I wanted to know more about him, ready for if and when he did ask again, but the faces I asked told me I didn’t want to know. I was a pale, young, 19-year-old, still living with my parents and still trying to figure out who I was and where I was going. He was clearly too old, too experienced and too well-travelled for me.
I was told that he had been the British surfing champion 5 years previously and hadn’t quite got over himself. Why should he? Everybody loves a local hero.
Trouble in a pretty package, then.

The hook dug in deeper.

At a party, I let him pull me down into his seat from where I was sitting on the arm of a chair and kiss me.
It was then that I found out he had “unresolved issues” with at least one of his previous girlfriends and all the voices in my head began to scream, ‘Uh-oh! Run! Run! Stay away! Stay AWAY!’
But the hook had grown roots.

Within days I had a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t have a relationship with this man but one morning I found myself in his kitchen, looking at 20 unwashed milk bottles lined up on the windowsill – each one with one green squirt of Fairy liquid in the bottom – and knew then that I wanted to be his other half; the one that saw things that needed doing, the one that knew when it was time to leave the pub, the one that he would miss a surf for.
He was a challenge and I got bored when things were too easy.

It was a disaster, of course. I didn’t know anyone from his past, we didn’t like the same television programmes, I was jealous of the sea, of his friends, of his ex-girlfriends, of anyone he spent too long talking to in the pub.
He didn’t want anyone telling him what to do, asking him too many questions, criticising his taste, changing television channels. In fact it was his remote control that he wanted to curl up with every night – as he had done for years, not me.
I began to loathe the way he fell asleep so easily at night; as if he was so sorted, so complete, so perfect. And I hated the way there was some unwritten rule that, because he was good at it, surfing came first, no matter what. Even on my birthday. There were unexplained codes of behaviour that I had to learn and I didn’t learn them well.
I broke the rules by complaining and I didn’t fit by having different opinions.
After about eight months, the woman in the village store correctly predicted the end of the relationship.

But there was still the matter of the hook burrowing deeply and shifting regularly so that I could feel it. And I still worked in his local. All his friends and acquaintances had gradually become my friends and acquaintances. And he was still stood there, drinking, and being lovely to everyone. When I saw him, I just wanted to hug him.

We found ourselves together again a couple of months later. But the same problems were there and it all fell apart again. Only this time, something was different: we’d got used to each other – there were no more nasty surprises and it wasn’t long before the falling out and the splitting up eventually stopped. We’d both worked out just how much crap we were prepared to put up with and it did us both good to be forced to see things from an entirely different perspective.

These days he has grey hair and wrinkles and puts his family before the surf and even before his business, his home and his wife before the pub, and has learned to ask before subjecting me to football, golf or snooker on TV. He’s currently putting up with Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom for the sake of our 6-year-old.
I still think he’s one of the loveliest, friendliest people I have ever met and I now know what it was I couldn’t put my finger on when I met him:
He has a good heart.
He doesn’t look down on people, he’s not greedy, he has a deep sense of duty and responsibility that needed a girl like me to nag out of him! 😉 and his silly, childish sense of humour and people-watching passion are just like mine. It turned out that we weren’t that different after all. These days there is a lot more that we do have in common than we don’t. We like the same food, the same wine, we both prefer a quiet meal to a big party, we both despair of greedy people, of judgemental people, and we both think that North Devon is the best place in the world to live for us and our children and that being settled here is more important than cars, holidays, money, or any other badges that some other people seem to need.

And some of our differences turned out to be quite useful. I was far happier going for a walk on the beach with little children than going for a surf (something I never got the bug for) when we went to the West coast of Ireland on holiday. I was better at dealing with crying babies late at night and he was better in the very early morning. He’s good at routine, I’m good at planning and detail.
Sometimes we irritate the crap out of each other and our different minds can seem incompatible. But you have to learn in a relationship that you can’t own someone else’s mind, you can only add your side and appreciate another. It took me years to realise that it’s okay to adore someone that wasn’t made the same way as you.

Maybe we are Velcro.

I’ve learned in the last few years that anything can happen to change things quite drastically overnight and that you should never wait to say ‘I love you,’ to be romantic, to celebrate your life. After all, some of the best things happen when you least expect them and days that are specially set aside full of expectation can disappoint.

I’m glad we got married seventeen years ago. I have regretted it many a time – but only ever for five minutes. Not one whole day has gone by without me feeling huge love for my husband. Each year I am happier and more settled and see a kinder, fuller person in both of us. Each anniversary has been crap and ruined by babies, young children, illness, or too much alcohol and I value the impromptu days in between where we have sat up late talking, or have both been in a very good mood at the same time; the days when the sun suddenly comes out and – wow – nobody’s actually ill and we all laugh together, the odd time where we find that for once there isn’t a whole list of stressors to relay to one another at the end of the day.
Right now things are just right. Whatever happens next.

For me, finding out who I was and where I was going couldn’t begin until I had a life partner and was settled. Once I was secure in a relationship I could stop fighting.

I have learnt that you can’t own people, and you shouldn’t use someone as part of your own identity. But I’ve seen that people can and do change. They can change quite a lot and you can learn to put others first.
And when something good happens you should make the most of it.

So I’d like to say Happy Anniversary to my sometimes infuriating, imperfect, salt and pepper-haired, kind, funny, dishwasher-filling husband. My Come Dine With Me-watching pal, my wine-drinking pal, the other half of Team Parent, a brilliant surfer, a community-spirited man – with the most enormous list of contacts in his phone and who he is always available to. My childish, pointless-argument-partner. (A game of Wii Golf, darling? 😉 ) We’ve been through a lot together, we’ve put each other through a lot. I have to fish for compliments, I hate the way you say, ‘Uh…loveyoutoo,’ unconvincingly before you go to sleep. You still cuddle the remote control more than you do me. You still sulk horrendously and I have to work out why by going through a check list – but not before I have completely blamed myself and wondered what I am doing wrong and if I should divorce you to make you happy. You make me laugh, you make me cry, you are my wonder drug and you are my best friend. You are the reason I have sat at the computer for 2 hours, writing this as a gift for you and hiding this from you every time you walk past. (Thanks for the cup of tea, by the way)

We have both learned that even when it infuriates us and is totally inconvenient that we must give the other an opportunity to do what it is that makes them tick. Not always though. We have also learned that, even when it infuriates us, for the sake of the other person, we can’t always do what makes us tick.

Happy Seventeenth Anniversary, Rich! Well done to us both for sticking with it.

Oh – and sorry for running the cold tap to rinse the grapes while you were in the shower!

Perfect marriage? No such thing.

And because I’m such an unconventional, hell-raising rule-breaker. I’ve written this and read it to Richard a whole night before our actual anniversary. Go me and my outrageous attitude…

Support where it’s needed most

(All puns intended)

Stand and deliver – your money or your bra!

A few weeks ago, when the scale of the famine in East Africa started seeping into our news, I began to look at which organisation was best to donate some money to and saw that Oxfam were on the case. I shared links via social networks and hoped that one or two people would notice, repost, and that I might possibly have done a tiny bit towards raising awareness. I didn’t donate anything straight away but decided to check with Richard if it would be okay if we donated £25.

Two days later our puppy became very unwell and by the next day he had to be left at the vet’s for rehydration, antibiotics and something else that I can’t remember the name of. The bill was just enough to be not worth contacting the pet insurers (they only pay out over a certain amount) but enough to make us gasp.

The comparison between spending that much on a dog and how much difference the same amount could make to maybe three or four (?) people in East Africa disturbed me. How could we pay that on an animal and then give less money to help literally starving fellow humans? How much would it take to rehydrate one baby, for instance, I wondered?

“Charity begins at home,” is one statement people think they can use to justify that.
Or maybe, “The dog is my responsibility and those people are not.”
Well, as far as I am concerned, the whole planet is my home, we’re all interconnected and we are all responsible, to a greater or lesser degree, for each other. I also believe that famines in Africa, due to past Western interference and extreme and irregular climate change, are the direct and indirect outcome of the way we, in the West, behave or have behaved on the past and therefore (arguably) they are our responsibility.

But of course that still leaves the problem of money. And the problem of explaining my decision to donate my new chosen amount. If I’m going to take £X amount of money out of the (partly because of recent doggy addition) dwindling household budget, do I have to have a manly steak dinner on the table, cold beers in the fridge, no claims to the remote control for a month, the dog walked and bloody good answer to where the money’s going to be coming from?


Currently, I’ve been thinking about replacing all my worn-out underwear. I do this about once year.
Only, I’m not going to. I’m going to make do and spend money on support where it is really needed.

I’ve given donations today to Shelterbox (link) the emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies for families around the world charity based in Cornwall that I know have been out to East Africa delivering supplies this week,
and DEC (link) The Disasters Emergency Committee which covers Oxfam and other charities supporting the East African crisis appeal.

And when you look at my profile pic you can think of me sitting in my shabby old knickers.

Be yourself, you say…

(For all my fellow corner-huggers)

I’m worried about what I should do with my hands, if I’m holding myself wrong, standing awkwardly.

Just don’t worry about it, you say. Don’t think about how you hold yourself. Just be natural. Be yourself.

Be natural, don’t think about it. Don’t think about my hands. My hands my hands my hands.
My hands are suddenly huge, arms hanging, dangling. I must not think about them.
And what if I blush? Laugh too loudly?

Ah, a drink. Good. Something to hold. But what if I spill my drink?

Just relax, be casual, you say.

Relax. Be casual. My hands. My big hands. They’re shaking. I’ll finish my drink – then I can’t spill it.
Am I too tall in these shoes? Shall I lean a little to one side? Too casual?

What’s that? Someone spoke to me and I ignored them? Should I go and find them? Apologise?

No, you say. Maybe just mention it if they come over again, you say.

Ah… a tray of champagne. I’ll have another drink then.
I’m smiling. Why am I smiling? Do I look like an idiot? Am I grinning too much? False? A bit false? I’ll just look around the room and then… then what shall I do? Shall I talk to someone?
Oh – where are you going?
Oh yes. Okay. Don’t be long.
Oh no. Now you’re stopping to talk to someone.

A food tray. Now, do I? You’ll tell me off if I don’t eat anything. Is it bite-size? Hmm – two bites. I can’t do two bites.
Dear God, did I really just tell the waiter I have a cooking oil allergy?
Oh dear. Someone’s coming over looking all pally. Who-the-bloody-hell-is-it? Do I know this person? I’ll just turn around and pretend I haven’t seen them. Pretend to get something out of my bag.
Now that’s someone else who thinks I’m a peculiar freak. But I do say the most awful crap in a panic so best to just have another drink before I mingle.

What are you still doing over there? Do come back.
You’re coming, you’re coming. That’s it. Come back. Don’t stop.

Yes. I know they’re lovely and I know I should have come over but you know I don’t like to move when I find a safe corner.

How many drinks? you ask me.
Oh God, why? Three. Or is it four? Do I look drunk? Are my eyes red? Shall I go to the bathroom? Where is it? Ooh… It’s quite a long way. Will I make it do you think?
Okay. Hold my drink. No don’t, actually, I’ll take it.

Now I’m walking like an astronaut on the moon. Why am I doing that? Stop it. Walk normally.

Hello? Did someone say hello? I’m not stopping until I’ve checked my face.
Glass. Where shall I put my glass? I’ll just finish it and then I don’t have to take it in with me.

May as well go to the loo while I’m in here. Whoops. Feeling a bit tipsy, actually.
Burp. Yes. That was me.
Ah. Now I’ve put my thumb through my tights. Praps I’d better take them off. Ha-ha. Can’t seem to do that without falling over. I seem to be giggling quite loudly too. I’m not sure why. I’m sure this is not funny.
Did I flush? Did I even have a wee?
I look in the mirror and don’t recognise myself. Well, would you believe it – that haggard old tart in the mirror is me.
What a sight. I need a drink. In a dark corner.

Someone vaguely familiar has taken pity on me and is asking me what I am “doing with myself these days.”
I wish you were here. What is it that I do?
‘I’m nothing really, I kind of … well…I mean,’ I’m saying with my vacant expression and confirming what they all think about me anyway. Lazy and gormless. Is that me?

Oh you’re there. It’s a bit too middle-of-the-room-y here, don’t you think? I keep bumping into people and I need to be somewhere where the wine waiter can get to us.

Stop worrying. Be yourself, you say again.

Yes. Sorry. You carry on talking to people and I’ll make more of an effort.

Good. I’ve managed to successfully bore a few people away by pointing out how red my eyes are and how it’s nothing to do with alcohol. So now I can get a drink. Although it’s not true that I’ve tried out twelve different types of contact lenses in the last two years. Why do I feel the need to make up such dull rubbish?

Two. I’ll take two. One for me and one for you. You’ll come and find me eventually, won’t you? Now where’s my corner?

Be yourself, you said.

I’ve lost you. I can’t see you and now lots of people are dancing. I’ll just sit here and wait and sip self-consciously. Oh now mine’s empty. Yours is getting warm. I’d better drink it then.
Feeling a bit sleepy. I’m sure I’m officially the drunkest person in the room and I feel a bit overwhelmed.

Be yourself.
Myself? Me?
I’m not sure I’m even here.
I didn’t notice that this table was blocking a door. I’ll just crawl under and… Ooh… It’s not even locked.
Marvellous. A little study: sofa, desk, stereo and books. What more could a girl want? I’ll just stay here and behave myself and maybe listen to some music…
Now, this is fun.

I’m waking up and you’re looking down at me
Ah, found you, you’re saying.
I found me too, I say, smiling and breathing deeply.


(Not a true story but I am in here… in bits…)


Inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret, incomprehensible; mysterious or enigmatic

It appeared silently and unannounced but to her it was a like a boom, a thud to the adrenal glands. A whooshing in the ears accompanied by instant trembling. She was vaguely aware of a whimper escaping from her throat and tried to hold herself very still in her purple pyjamas on her purple bedding like camouflaged prey.

Oh God. I’d forgotten about this. Why now? Make it go away. Please no, please no, please no…

The adrenalin was shooting through her arms and legs and her fingers tingled. The fight or flight instinct was most definitely flight. But still she stayed in the same place. Her eyes fixed. If she kept her eyes on it, she could watch it while she planned her next move. If she looked away, anything might happen. Her right leg jiggled.

Run. Run. Get away, get away.

She bravely shuffled backwards slightly in order to find the floor with her feet, intending to back out of the room but it moved too and she found herself leaping into the air and standing on the bed, stifling a scream with her hand.

Oh, help. No. Don’t like it. Aaaagh!

It scuttled away under the bed.

She long-jumped off the bed and across the room towards the door in two enormous strides. Slippy fingers couldn’t grasp the handle quick enough and she danced on the spot as if to keep her feet off the floor. As she threw open the door a moment of sense stopped her and she thought about how she would keep warm. She gritted her teeth and charged back into the room, growling at the space around her, made a grab for her bed covers, hugged them tight and raced back out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She punched on every single light on her way to the sitting room and then leapt onto the sofa, drew her legs up close to her away from the floor, wrapped her arms around herself and looked about the well-lit room, panting.

‘You have to sleep in your room again sometime,’ I – her mother – said, four nights later. ‘You’re not getting enough sleep in here.’
We – her parents – went upstairs to bed, hoping she would have enough sense to turn the lights off tonight.
‘I don’t get it,’ I whispered to her father. ‘How can such an intelligent, rational girl suddenly become so peculiar?’
‘It’s a mystery to me.’

‘Oh. I don’t bloody believe it! Where have you been hiding, you little bastard?’
She knew it had been a good idea keeping the lights on. Imagine if she’d not seen it… If it had run across the floor and crawled up the sides of the sofa and … well … what then?
She drew her legs and her covers up close and stared, perching like a fairy on a toadstool, straight and statuesque.
‘Stay away, you bastard. Stay away from me,’ she hissed.
Where would it go next? What would it do next? Why was it even there?
And why was it so dark, mysterious and unpredictable?

She imagined dialling 999…
‘Hello. Yes. Spider. Big one. Really big. Massive in fact, with the fastest big ugly legs you ever saw. It’s going to… OH! … Help. Please come quickly! I may need a helicopter.’

I was fast asleep in bed, dreaming that my mobile phone had been making a noise and forced myself awake enough to investigate.
One missed call and one text.
‘Spider. Help. Can’t move.’

I appeared downstairs at 1am, stumbling and squinting into the room, and peering angrily at my daughter. I mumbled something crossly and then went to the kitchen to get a glass. I placed the glass over the spider and then took a postcard from the bookcase, slid it under the glass and carried the spider away to drop it out of the kitchen window, swearing about something to do with sleep and waking the dog up.

‘You know this is completely irrational,’ I said, coughing and heading back to bed.

‘I know.’

‘I need to sleep,’ I said, as I fell back into bed. My cough won’t get better if I don’t sleep. And she needs to sleep. Sleep deprivation can make people a bit odd. And what if she can’t get up for work? She’ll lose her job.’
Her father grunted and went back to sleep as I lay in the dark wondering if the light was still on downstairs, why our daughter had a fear that neither I nor her father had. I did have a terrible flap if a moth or a daddy longlegs came into the house on a summer evening though. Why? Was it the unpredictable behaviour? The sudden movement? Maybe fear is healthy, I thought. Maybe we all need to be afraid of something. But this fear that there may be something lurking and a terror attached to an uncertainty about how and when it may appear, I didn’t have.

I coughed myself into a reasonably alert enough state to say goodbye to everyone in the morning and showered while worrying about our daughter. She hadn’t tidied her room for months and the day before she made an attempt to clear up in order to vacuum. But she’d refused to take anything out from under her bed.

‘I’m not tidying her room,’ I said to her father when I was dressed. ‘She’s supposed to tidy it herself in order to get her monthly allowance. It’s not like we ask anything else of her.’

‘We’ll never get any peace otherwise,’ her father said, heading upstairs with the vacuum cleaner. ‘Or sleep.’

I tapped “Spider phobias” into Google and took a sip of coffee. ‘It’s not going to get rid of her fear of spiders, though, is it?’ I yelled.

People with young children want reassurance that life gets easier when the children get older. There will be less worrying, less juggling, more sleeping.

You don’t have exactly the same problems, that’s true…

This is where we are now. In the middle of the spider saga.

To be continued…

Zoom Out

… Um… Four… Six… Seven. Huh? Oh. Whatisit then?
Oh – now there’s a queue behind me and they’re all thinking the cashpoint refused my card. How embarrassing.
Oh yeah… that’s the number for my other card. Flippin’ numbers.
Right. Balance.
How much?!
Oh great… Rent, groceries, train ticket and it’s all gone. Still can’t afford new shoes. I’ve been wearing the same pair all month. They must think I’m the poorest girl in the world at work!
Oh god. Now they’re all looking at me. I’ve got money you know. I have money! Was just checking my balance! (I don’t have money)
Oh, I can’t believe – at my age, my parents still expect me to drop everything to spend the weekend with my grandparents. I don’t have time – I look bloody ridiculous and need to get my fake tan re-done before my interview on Monday. Oh great – now it’s raining. Why is it always bloody raining?! Oh man! Look at my reflection! Look at that massive spot on my chin. It’s so red – it matches my coat. Everyone will see my spot and stare at me and think I eat crisps and chocolate all day. Life’s so unfair!

Zoom out

Down below on the Streets of Bristol, a young man is begging for change around the corner from a cashpoint machine. Further along the street a middle-aged man is holding a green plastic charity collection box. A smart young woman in a red coat walks by. She doesn’t appear to notice either of them. She’s twenty-two-years old and has £30 pounds in her pocket for a drink with friends later tonight. She looks like a successful, confident, healthy woman. She’s striding through the Bristol streets on her way home. Her thick, shiny, bronze-brown hair is flying out behind her. She walks past a double-fronted second-hand shop. She looks at herself in the first window. There is a blue and green enamelled vase in the window that her grandmother would love but she doesn’t even look in. There are some nearly new designer shoes in the second window that are exactly her size but she doesn’t buy second-hand. She has a job and a flat and her parents live nearby on the outskirts of the beautiful city of Bath. She often goes to their house for a big roast Sunday lunch. But this weekend is Granny’s seventieth birthday and she has to go to Wales. Her grandparent’s neighbours are pig farmers and it stinks there. She doesn’t like her job. She’s always tired and thinks she doesn’t get paid enough. She feels as if everyone around her has more money, a better place to live, can afford to get their nails done and has more money to spend on clothes and shoes and holidays.

Zoom out

From Bristol, in the West of England, it’s easy to escape to the coast, at the weekend, where it’s cool and fresh in a heatwave. The beautiful, lush, fertile countryside of Somerset, Dorset and Devon are not far away either. Or within no time at all, one can be in the Welsh valleys. Her grandparents live not far from Mount Snowdon and the family have enjoyed many summers in Snowdonia National Park, climbing mountains, or picnicking by a river. She thinks she’d rather live somewhere more cosmopolitan across the Atlantic Ocean like New York or warmer like California, though, and she’d like to have a modern kitchen and nice shoes. Not live in wellies in an old farmhouse. She thinks her family are poor and tatty. She prefers the smart look of the people who work in the cities.

Zoom Out

The British Isles is made up of two big green Islands known as Britain and Ireland. The landscape is varied, the climate is varied, but it is rarely far too hot, far too cold, far too wet or far too dry. There are no poisonous snakes or spiders, no deserts and no predators. The soil is mostly good for farming. The Romans liked Britain. From the air the Islands of Britain look like an old lady in a hat, leaning over her knitting. The coastline stretches, bends, zigzags, curves in and juts out. Waves hurl themselves onto wet black rocks or creep sleepily onto soft golden sands. In Britain you are never more than a few hours from the coast, you are never more than a few hours from the countryside, you are never far from civilisation, you are never far from help. (Zoom in again temporarily. Ironically, though, some of the poorest people in Britain live in the richest, busiest cities. They are nearest to sources and organisations of help and least able to ask for it.)

Zoom out

The British Isles is surrounded by oceans. The oceans cover seventy percent of a round, blue and green planet with patches of red and yellow desert. The planet is home to over six billion people. They don’t all have a red coat and a job, a flat and roast dinners on a Sunday. They don’t all have enough money to pay their rent, buy food and visit their grandmother on her birthday. In many countries people don’t expect to live until their seventieth birthday. In many areas the climate is far too cold or far too wet or far too dry or far too hot and the soil is not good for farming.

Zoom out

The planet turns as it orbits the sun. It creates day and night. Seasons and weather. Cycles of life. The moon orbits our earth. It brings high tides and low tides. A full moon brings light enough to see at night. Before electricity people adapted their lives to the phases of the moon.

Now some cannot even see across the street or through a pane of glass. Some people do not even know where they are.

Sunday Worship

I have this faith

It doesn’t have preachers, buildings, rules, gods, books, inclusive or exclusive criteria.
I don’t impose it upon others, I don’t judge others that do not share my faith, I do not try to change people.
My faith doesn’t involve labels or belonging or rituals.
It doesn’t involve me hating and rejecting or accepting and embracing other people because of their differences or similarities.

It doesn’t involve arguments, wars, zones, barriers or worship.

It is quite simply this:

I have faith in people.
I believe that everything is real, physical, tangible.
I believe in one life. One chance.
I believe in doing good and being good simply because other people matter, not because an invisible force may be looking down on us or we are scared of punishment. I believe that thinking how your actions impact upon others is a much less selfish motive than thinking about your rewards or living in fear of your judgement. Being good for the sake of being good rewards others by bringing more good. It is a healthy perpetual thing.
I believe we have feelings, strengths, weaknesses, and that some people have better luck in life because of the places we are born, the experiences we have, the love we are – or are not – given, and the genes that carry information to make us who we are.
I believe that impartial information and education give beneficial stimulation that cause our brains to develop and us to see the world better. I do not believe we are blessed – or not – by a higher entity. How unfair would that be?
I do not believe in a god or gods that would make bad men rich and babies suffer. Or a god or gods that would sit back and let that happen.

I do not complain that others have a faith that I do not want to embrace. I do not fight others whose faith competes with my own. I do not stop people from blessing me or praying for me. I do not believe it will do any good but if it gives them comfort, who I am I to take that away from them?

I turn on the radio on a Sunday and religion is everywhere, I do not write to the BBC that this goes against my faith. The church bells strike at 10.45 to call the local community to worship. I do not complain. In fact I believe most places of worship to be very beautiful because man is very clever and, when he wants to, can work very hard.

I believe human kind when it works well is a wonderful thing that should be celebrated.
I believe nature when it works well (and it usually does get by better than man without any religious restraints) is a wonderful thing and this morning I stood in the garden and celebrated the combination of man and nature working together, the coffee in my hand – brewed by my husband, the songs of the birds in our trees and Devon hedgerows – attracted by the provided-by-man safe places to hide, the sun on my face – brought by the tilt of the earth, the flowers and weeds in the garden – placed and misplaced by the harmonious combination of the deliberate and accidental, the guitar-playing from my daughter’s bedroom – not because she has a gift but because she inherited musical genes and has played a lot to improve herself.
I do not worship on a Sunday, but I do feel pleased, lucky and grateful for the things that have gone well. My lack of worship does not make me self-important, higher than anyone or anything – quite the reverse: it makes me feel a small equal part of an interesting world. My admiration for others takes the place of any worship: people with sound reasoning, people with huge intelligence, and people with great kindness.
People. I believe in people.
I think invisible beings get given too much credit for the marvellous-ness of man’s wisdom, hard work, creativity and kindness. When humans do wonderful things they really are amazing.
I believe a cluster of information from my body and a cluster of information from my husband’s body grew into our beautiful, clever children. I believe that every step of their existences is due to something physical.

You can call me an atheist if you want to. But only if you do it in a gentle way. It’s not something I have studied, though and I am not part of a group. You can call me a humanist if you like but, again, I have no books or groups. You can call me unholy if you want to but not if it means you judge me or worry for my soul.

I believe what I believe. It’s what I feel to be right. It’s how I am.
And the best thing about it? It doesn’t hurt anyone.

I don’t argue with anyone else’s faith. So why should anyone argue with mine?

Oh and I also believe man’s discovery of creating a tasty, stimulating drink from some roasted beans was absolute genius.

The One Who Stood Up To Clap

It’s not enough to speak from the heart, to have strength of opinion, even to be right. Although, of course, who was right and who was wrong and the shades of grey in between in this instance were still open to question, or rather – open to public persuasion, should I say.
You see it’s not always what you say but how you say it. We are a nation of film-goers, TV watchers, air-punching sports fans. We like catchphrases, anthemic music, rollercoasters, and we get far too drunk far too often, sunburn ourselves dangerously, drive too fast. We don’t care what’s good for us and what’s bad for us so long as it socks us between the eyes roaring, ‘CUH’M-O-N!’ then has meaningless sex with us, throws us from an aeroplane and plays Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive at full volume as we fall screaming for a new kitchen (with stylish backspla-a-a-sh!…)

We are spoilt, over-stimulated, lazy, demanding and impatient. So when Ten-Tonne-Terry with his Braveheart-style rabble-rousing cliché and face like a beefsteak tomato got going, everyone sat up, shut-the-hell up and listened for three minutes. Three minutes. Never a second longer. He knew their limitations… or was it his limitations? There’s only so much received phrasing one can fit into a speech about the drawbacks of putting floral displays on a council estate after all.

I come to the town every year to mumble my well-worn little spiel, promoting the benefits of beautifying public spaces for the good of all, bow thanks for their time and duck out.

Terry’s always assumed – because I am a quiet bachelor – that I am gay. I’m not. Not that I was going to put him right. It made no difference to my job, my impact at these meetings. They weren’t interested anyway. It did mean, however, that how the evening eventually panned out stunned him somewhat. And I couldn’t help quietly enjoying that feeling.

I took my specs off, realised I needed them, put them back on again, fiddled with my papers, scratched my well-shaved chin, coughed, and took a deep breath.

‘Figures show communities benefit from developing a sense of pride in their area, children benefit from being allowed to participate with projects in their local area, the unemployed are better motivated when they can see how working on a skill can be based in and beneficial to their neighbourhood. Vandalism on such projects is in fact relatively low and the actual number of youths that attack community displays is very low – it tends to be the same one or two people and on the whole the vast majority of the community are ashamed and quite often make attempts to repair. Where projects such as these have been going on for a number of years, sense of community, feelings of well-being and contentedness have risen and other beneficial projects have been inspired.’

There was more but I paused. It was the same old, same old every year. It made sense. But it never convinced the committee. They knew what I was going to say and they had stopped listening years ago. Two people left the room before I had finished talking.

These were good points, good facts. Why weren’t they convinced?

Terry started a conversation with the man behind him.
I’m not one for sayings, clichés, well-worn phrases – I find them a bit limiting and prefer to chose my own words but I have to say the words ‘straw’ and ‘camel’ come to mind.

Years of giving up my evenings to travel to village and town halls across the region, years of being ignored, interrupted, shouted down, and never ever thanked for my time, well… I had a point to make and it seems I had never made it. I was angry with myself as much as anyone.

They looked.
It was a new word and I was standing up this time. I looked too. I looked into the room, demanding their attention for the first time. Oh dear, politicians start their argument with the word ‘look’ I thought.
‘You see…’ I substituted, stumbling. ‘…It’s all very well beautifying the town centre and handsome avenues around the South, but you’re alienating a whole section of the community here. What sort of message are you giving out?’
I was trembling slightly and probably sounding a bit confrontational but … well, shall we just say ‘bee’ and ‘bonnet’?
‘Some people deserve better than others? Is that it?’
And then I saw her.
Second row from the back. Three seats in from the aisle. Light brown hair. Medium build. Pale green fleece top. Rosy, outdoors cheeks. Sat in between two men but, for some reason, quite clearly and obviously alone. Her head was tilted slightly to the right – my right, her left. She was listening. She was interested.

‘It’s all very well Terry spouting, “Throwing good money after bad” and “Leopards can’t change their spots” But what exactly is he saying? Where are the leopards? What is this good money and bad money? And another favourite of his: “What goes around comes around”? What exactly is it that has gone around?
One night an unknown number of unidentified people kicked over some flower displays and trod on some dahlias. And therefore everyone in and around the Mullaton estate is deprived of being part of the Communities in Bloom scheme. Who exactly have we punished here? Onwards and upwards, I say!’

‘Too right,’ came a man’s voice from the back.

‘Get out there and ask people on the estate to join in again. Bring the community back together. Get everyone on side. Forgive and forget. You’re all in this together. There is no them and us at the end of … ’ No I drew the line at that one.

That’s when she stood up. She clapped. She smiled. She nodded wisely.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, her eyes said.

It was love at first sight.

Second sight, actually.
Bloody clichés.

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