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Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category

Not Swimming But Running Away

If you were to write down a list of the top twenty most important things to you and a list of the top twenty annoyances and asked lots of people whom you consider to be like you, or friends or family to do the same, and then compared them, there would be a few disappointments in every list – disappointing ways of looking at the world that leave you wishing they didn’t think like that and you’d rather they saw things more the way you did.

I expect if you asked the whole world to do it and created a database you’d have difficulty finding someone with the same lists. All forty the same? It would be harder than winning the lottery, surely? But perhaps that’s easier to cope with when you don’t know them. It’s weird when people see things very differently from us but if they’re strangers then we can dislike people’s views, even dismiss them as wrong perhaps. ‘Oh, they’re just “other”.’

It’s a simple fact that there is NO ONE that sees the world EXACTLY like us.
I kind of accept that.
Someone else might say they are avid musical-theatre-goers, fans of Bruce Springsteen, think that their hamsters are the most important creature in the whole wide world and that Roquefort cheese should be a main meal on Sundays – just like I do*, of course! 😉 – but there will always be a disappointment in there, a niggle that instantly repulses me for a few seconds, minutes or hours perhaps. Maybe I will remember forever how, despite the fact that we have so much else in common, Susie in Chichester likes planting Leylandii trees and I can never forgive her for that. In fact a little bit of my love for her secretly died when I found that out.
(It’s okay, Chichester people, she’s not real).

We should accept differences, avoid confrontation, and get over it, yes? It’s a rare treat when we find people we feel comfortable being ourselves around and we should come to terms with the fact that we’re all a bit different, you can’t change people so just enjoy their company, right?

And yet I’m still disillusioned and disheartened regularly. I don’t know why. I guess I just want to find more people that I feel completely comfortable with. It would be like a holiday to not have stomach-churning disappointment each time someone said something that didn’t sit comfortably with me. If another parent mentions the words ‘Gina Ford’ for instance, I instantly think, Oh God. Please tell me you didn’t?! And then I never forget. We’re not the same. We have major parenting differences, I’ll think to myself forever and ever after that how I’ll never be able to have that discussion with them about how much I loathe Gina Ford…

If someone says they respect Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell or Jeremy Clarkson… (I have a list) I visibly deflate a little and hope I’m not the only one in the room who doesn’t agree with the person speaking. Sometimes I disagree so much with someone’s opinions that I would rather be alone because to stay in that person’s company would either mean having a disagreement or keeping quiet and being quiet means being unfaithful to my own values. I can’t stand the thought of either.

And then there’s the extreme.
Have you ever been in a position where you find yourself thinking, I don’t agree with what’s being said here. I’m the only person sitting at this table who thinks like this ? I have. Too many times.

I expect it is one of the reasons why I write. And why I use Twitter. If there is only a metaphorical table of people sitting staring at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou all ready to disagree with me at the same time at least in writing I can get my own feelings across before they shout me down, patronise me or frighten me into silence.

When I say “frighten” I mean I don’t like arguing – so much so that I shake. Those within my shield of safety will laugh at this because I do argue with my husband. But I don’t like people throwing an entirely different viewpoint from mine in my face and either getting away with it without being challenged or preparing themselves to do battle with my views. It doesn’t change my mind it just makes me want to run away from confrontation. So I need people who see the world as closely as possible to the way I see it around me.

Exactly the way I see it, if possible.

Which, of course, is no one.

We should do that list. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours



Anybody there???

PS Near the top of my annoyances list would be:
There are far too many cat photos on the Internet. It drives me nuts. Seriously.

Cue dinner party table of people looking at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou…

*I don’t like Bruce Springsteen, Roquefort or people treating their pets like children and I don’t go to musical theatre


A flash fiction

‘Oh, isn’t he lovely?!’ they said, with only his wide smile, smart suit and ability to buy a round of drinks to go on.
Didn’t they so want to be one of his friends when they saw how he dominated the room?
Didn’t everyone laugh at his jokes?
Didn’t the women smoulder under his charm?
Wasn’t he the perfect host?
Wouldn’t it be marvellous to do all this again? Oh you must come to ours next time.
Cue the hand slipping around the shoulder and the pithy upper arm squeeze. Yup. There it was again.

One pace away for every year of marriage, the exclusion had become tangible. She was out of his circle. Had she moved or was she pushed?
Her performance hadn’t been up to much after all. Not quite the double act he’d been hoping for. The gregarious social couple moving in all the “right” circles hadn’t touched the feminist issues she’d expected it to. She’d begun to feel like 1950s arm candy. A secretary, an assistant. A PA. A Smiling Thing.
Where had her political life gone? What happened to her opinions? She felt around in her coat pocket for a tissue. She missed the feeling that she was standing for something, doing anything good. But she’d found that her inner strength had made her quieter, strangely. Tears of fury pricked at her eyes as she watched the stage and the repeat performance. Fools. They were all fools.
‘Not stopping?’ laughed Daisy from the office, as she walked by heading for centre stage, poking at the coat and not waiting for an answer.
Daisy. Daisy. Oh he’d be glad to see Daisy. He was half crazy for Daisy.
She wanted to tell Daisy she was welcome to him. Him and his fake teeth, his personal grooming products that took up more room than hers, his slow, degrading, emotional bullying.
But she wasn’t going to be tipped out of his net like an accidental catch. She was going to make a bloody great hole in it. She’d seen a TV programme about huge fishing trawlers that grab everything in sight and chuck back the dead and damaged things they don’t need. Ruining life that needn’t have been touched and then moving on without a care in the world. Maybe he needed unhooking from the bottom.
She slipped off her coat. Threw back her gin. Breathed in deeply. Stood tall. She practised her smile on the faces around her, the beam growing and spreading like a contagion. Oh, the power of a clique grin. The false togetherness of a room full of people all in it for themselves. She touched the arms of the inner circle with well-practised political matey-ness, and hissed in Daisy’s ear to piss off out of the way. Please. With wide, endearing smile. Oh, and mine’s a gin. So kind. You are wonderful. Isn’t she wonderful? Two can play at this game. I’ve learnt from the best after all.
The beaming bastard had a powerful edge to his voice that cut people short and as she approached him her personal space was invaded by his vibrations.
Those fishing trawlers were damned noisy and ugly when you got up close, she recalled. The little boats hadn’t stood a chance.
How rude he was. How charmingly rude.

Being a Grown-up

Being a grown-up…

… is all about acting like you know best
even when you don’t
and pretending to have all the answers
even when you don’t…

…and getting paid for dressing up,
riding on trains,
and playing with money

It’s just like being a child really
only you don’t always get to say where the money goes…

…unless you’re a politician.

So when I grow up
I’m going to be a politician
then I can carry on acting like a kid.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…

… and insults will slowly and painfully eat me up from the inside.

Before we judge someone – anyone – we should make sure we’re not just being a nasty bastard.

Judgemental comments
Throw away insults
Unnecessary criticism

They’re all forms of bullying and I hate them all.

We’ve all done it though.
Some more than others.
Before we insult anyone we should make sure we know what we are talking about. Chances are by the time we’ve found out what the people we think we have the right to judge are really like, we will want to withdraw our comments.
And I suspect the comments we make about others are quite often more to do with our own failings than theirs.

I think name-calling and derogatory comments are far worse than swearing. And yet I see people complain far more about swearing.
I think insults are possibly even worse than a single punch.
I was hit once at school. Thrown to the ground by a girl in my year. My arms were full of books and I couldn’t defend myself or even balance myself. So I ended up on my arse on a cold, hard floor. Bruised my backside.
But what really upset me – and still upsets me – are the names that girl called me on a daily basis. Nasty names. Insulting language.
The most interesting thing about it, though, is that she didn’t know me. She really didn’t know me. If she knew me, she would have known that it wasn’t true. She might have seen that she was hurting me, and being unfair, she might even have cared that she was hurting me, and quite frankly talking crap, if she really knew me.
She wasn’t the only one. Other girls made assumptions about me. And even some teachers. Someone even gave me the wrong report once at 6th form college and I was too shy and upset to point out that they’d got the wrong Rachel.

It’s happened a lot to me. I bet it happens to everyone at some point.

And throw away comments about people’s appearance and behaviour, and name-calling those who think differently from us happens far too often in social media.

Before you call someone a leftie-greenie-hippie or a prophet of doom because they care about the environment, or a softie, middle-class liberal because they care about libraries and the arts, or even stupid because their spelling is bad, or scum because they live on benefits, or a grumpy unsocial git because they seem angry, opinionated or moody, stop and think about what you are saying. Do you know that person? Do you have the right to judge them? Are you, in fact, just being short-sighted and narrow-minded? What gives us the right to name-call? When we do this are we not instantly making ourselves a less worthwhile human being?

After all, name-calling is the stuff of childhood, of misunderstanding, of naivety…

Is it perhaps just a lazy way of saying we don’t understand a person or a type of person? And that lack of understanding surely means we actually don’t have the right or enough information to be so unkind.

I think if someone thinks they are wonderful enough to be prime minister then perhaps they are setting themselves up to be called a lizard but what about the rest of us? Us mere mortals?

I name-call. I shout insults at the TV when Question Time is on. I call the government ministers names when they make plans for things that I can see will hurt lots of people and I think they are being ignorant. I have called Margaret Thatcher a cow and Boris Johnson an idiotic prat, but what I really mean is I really have no reason to agree with how they do things and I am absolutely frustrated by the way they see the world. I shouldn’t do it though. It’s cheap.

When I hear environmentalists called ‘prophets of doom’, or people that write about or fight for social justice ‘do-gooders’, or ‘softies’ or ‘liberal whingers’ I think that those throwing away those easy insults are being lazy and narrow-minded. They’re not thinking about what they are saying. People that fight for things, stick their necks out and see a bigger picture outside their own sphere are not soft, they are actually very brave and taking the difficult option in doing something for their fellow humans that risks small-minded judgemental nastiness.

Next time I’m about to reach for the easy insults I will try to remember how it feels and work out what I really want to say.

(I’m going to really struggle whenever Jeremy Clarkson appears on my TV screen, though… )

First person to call me a ‘softie, liberal do-gooder, out-of-touch with reality’ gets a slap 😉

The Birthday That Should Have Been

Celebrating the birthday of a wise man

Three years ago on 16 June 2008, my father quietly marked his 67th birthday.

I ordered him a ‘blue’ (purple!) rose called Rhapsody in Blue, which didn’t turn up on time for his birthday, but luckily I found one of the same name in a garden centre. So when the original one turned up, I kept it for myself. It was comforting to have matching roses.

Dad didn’t get another birthday.

This month he should be celebrating his 70th birthday with his family. With his wife, three daughters and seven grandchildren – one of whom he never got to meet. Our older sister would definitely have made it home from Australia for this birthday.

His illness and treatment were thrown upon him and us in a whirlwind. One day he was on a walking holiday, the next he was burning up with a skin rash. A few weeks later he was told he had aggressive leukaemia, and started aggressive chemotherapy almost immediately.

In a photo I took on his final birthday, he looks desperately detached. He had started his treatment and we were still hopeful but he was already on a journey that he would be taking alone and it showed in his eyes.
Mum was at his side constantly – through every appointment, every phone call, and every course of treatment, every sleepless night, every bout of desperation. There were tests and tests and tests. And there was fear. So much fear. I saw them, or we spoke on the phone, every single day. I felt a need to touch base regularly and carried Dad’s pain with me all the time. But he was the only one with the illness.

I don’t tell people how awful it was. I protect them from the details. To tell people what he went though; what we went through, would be like making them see it through our eyes and I don’t want to do that to people. You hear of counsellors getting ‘burn out’ from having to listen to too much awfulness. You may have heard or read this quote by Czech writer, Milan Kundera:

‘For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.’

I hope I never have to witness anyone suffer that much again. To say it was violent would not be an over-statement.

The other reason is that there were 66 years before that, that have been over-shadowed somewhat by his 9 final excruciating months of life. And that’s a shame.

You see he was something special, something you couldn’t pin down. You would be proved wrong if you tried to put him in any box or label him. He was extremely well-educated (and continued to educate himself throughout his life) and knowledgeable, yet he was humble and down-to-earth. He had good job prospects but refused to apply for promotion, had middle-class and working-class tastes, dressed like a gardener; liked expensive wine, but cheap biscuits, loved jazz and football and films with subtitles, but also watched Ugly Betty, Eastenders, and lots of crap TV. He loved cricket and would line up pots and tins in the kitchen until he found the right implements for tapping along to Booker T and the MG’s Test Match theme tune. He had a good ear and taught himself guitar and a little Gaelic when he went to Scotland. He believed in being able to form an educated opinion about things and not speculating or generalising. So he would watch and listen to what we watched and listened to as teenagers before he told us it was crap!

He worked his arse off as a teacher, always insisted on working in comprehensive schools, with ordinary people and didn’t want be a headteacher or deputy head because he didn’t like power, paperwork or school uniform rules. He wanted to teach, to help, to encourage. He worked late and he always brought lots of work home. (The teasing that teachers get about their long holidays didn’t apply to him)

People drove him mad but he still tried to see the good in everyone. He had Green and socialist values and mourned the demise of British industry. He had no desires for money, possessions or luxury, preferring to marvel (or tut) at the world around him. He had some imaginative (and shocking!) expressions for people with no sense of society or community.

I once said that if he and Mum could win the lottery, they would be able to go on holiday and have work done to their house and he could retire.
He said, ‘If I won the lottery, I’d give all the money to people who needed it. What do I want with a load of money?’
He was very cross at the greed and unfairness of humans.

He was a big and protective man to my 5’2” mother, yet he was a feminist who cleaned, cooked and went shopping (shopping in local stores wherever possible).
He had one of those ‘open’, constantly evolving brains. He had values and ideals but could never be accused of getting set in his ways, as he was responsive and receptive to the new and the different.
I don’t know if this is connected but he had a remarkably adaptable way of altering the way he delivered a conversation depending on whom he was talking to. He would look for a level, some common ground. He didn’t put people down or patronize or confuse – even if others’ ignorance or dogma meant that they misunderstood, insulted or even belittled him. He would be more likely to go home and swear about their ignorance later with a few choice expressions.

He wasn’t perfect. He had a terrible temper, would ignore people if he was tired, and despite being really musical, he really did dance like a dad! But I’m struggling to find anything else significantly amiss. People that don’t judge others are near perfect.

So while I am devastated I am also proud and happy. Proud to have had such a good, genuine, brainy man as my father. Proud of his values and – so importantly – that he lived by them. Proud of his natural ‘feel’ for life, music, language, the arts, politics, people and nature and downright ordinary gutsy British culture.
What he thought, he thought because he’d thought about it!

He should be here now. He should be seeing that I’ve matured, I’ve inherited some of his ideals and I do my absolute level best not to judge people. I’ve shaken off the silly frivolous obsession with appearances that I used to have and am ‘wising up’. Goodness, kindness and making the most of the jot of time we have on this planet – with consideration – are now my priorities. I am happier with who I am now even if I look like a lumpy scarecrow most days! He should witness this. It’s not fair. We could be putting the world to rights together.
Every time I hear or read anyone spouting angry, judgemental, narrow-minded clap-trap I pity them and their lack of human wisdom, and wish Dad was still here to think up one of his rude names for them.

Do you believe in ‘meant to be’? Fate? Providence? Things happening for a reason?
I don’t.
I do not believe my father was ‘meant’ to die yet, ‘meant’ to suffer so atrociously. I believe he should be here with his remaining family of all females who are staring at the big black hole he left.

He was meant to be here on 16 June, celebrating his 70th birthday, blowing out 70 candles (Mum would have counted and made sure of it), chasing his grandchildren around with a camera, making daft puns, dozing off in front of the TV and then waking up and demanding a cup of tea. He was a big-hearted – at times moody git, who would have made a very fine grumpy-old man.
He is missed at my kitchen table and I will never stop grieving. But I celebrate his life and his legacy and the bit of him that I carry in my heart.

Happy 70th Birthday Dad

Rhapsody in Blue
My ‘Dad’ rose

In his memory

The Chris Wood Sponsorship:
(A grant set up by Mum for language students at Dad’s old college)

Chris Wood
(16 June 1941 – 11 January 2009)

A comment from Jo (Carey) Belchamber, one of his ex-pupils:

Oddly enough, I was talking to a student about your Dad about an hour before I read this. You forgot to mention his sense of the ridiculous, his gurning, his passionate teaching (although you did talk about… his passionate temper!) and his awful ties! He really was an amazing teacher Rachel, and I think one of the reasons that I have been thinking about him recently is that you remind me so much of him now.

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