And the news channels are full of Whitney’s funeral

Sunday 19th February

My usual and first choice for TV viewing is the news channel;  BBC news 24 in preference to Sky, but in desperation even Al Jazeera will do, or the best cure for insomnia ever invented – The Parliament Channel.  But last night all that was on was Whitney’s funeral.  I did watch for a while, but it went on and on, and in the end just bored me.  Why on earth would anyone want their funeral to be live on TV; but maybe nobody bothered to ask Whitney.  She died quite young so had maybe not considered the question; how many of us seriously do.  We may express a preference for Cremation over Burial, or for a non-religious ceremony, or even a bio-degradable coffin, but all that most of us can hope is that these minimum requirements will be met, and that whatever relatives are in charge actually show some respect for the only person who matters, but is unfortunately not around to lay down the law.  Poor Whitney, I wonder if she would have wanted all this glitz and showbiz singing, even if most of it was very gospel tinged.  Was she in her own quiet thoughts that religious or is it just taken for granted, especially in America, that everyone is a true believer.  I am not sure what is meant to be achieved by all of this posturing and praising not only the Lord, but almost making her out to be a saint for our times it would seem.  Am I alone in believing that this is all so over the top; she was only a singer after all.  But maybe this is a black American thing which us white people, especially this side of the channel, just cannot tap into.  I mean pastors with microphones and all the weeping and wailing seem so overtly melodramatic to me.  But maybe that is part of the Faustian accord you enter into when you become part of the Star-making machine, not only is your private life ripped apart for all to gloat over, but even in death you have to be a star.  I just wonder where Whitney the woman is in all this, the mother, the daughter, the frail and broken star whose comeback last year was almost a joke, with commentators delighted to discover that her voice was in poor shape, and fans were walking out half way through her concerts.  I just wish they would leave her alone.  Maybe it is all a part of a grand marketing strategy to resurrect her, even in death, so that above all else, her records will still sell, and all the vultures can carry on feeding, just like they are doing with Michael Jackson.

A life lived in reflection

Saturday 18th February

I seem to have lived my whole life in quiet reflection.  Not that that on its own makes it any the less valid, I have sat and thought about things while others ran headlong into situations they may have sooner or later regretted.  I have weighed up the options and more often than not rejected the rash and hasty course in favour of a more measured approach.  Only once did I let my senses betray me, and was ruled by my heart rather than my reasoning.  You can read about this in ‘Catherines Story‘, and as Grandma might say, ”Everyone should be allowed one mistake, I suppose.”  Although more and more I am realizing, it was no mistake at all.  Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and besides although my love with Edward was of a much more sober and ultimately rewarding nature than that headlong impulsive all-embracing love affair with Adrian, I am not sure which meant the most to me.  Besides I wouldn’t have had the raw material for the book without it, so on reflection it was good that it happened, the pain and the misery as much as the elation.

I have also read avidly over the years, and if I could but recall all the books and list them, and work out how many hours each took to read, I could work out just how many years I have spent reading the exploits of others from the continental capers of Miss Becky Sharpe through all those long Victorian novels, whisking through the Edwardians with their elegant prose, swept away through the twenties by all the newly liberated female writers like Katherine Mansfield and Jean Rhys, the thirties of Mapp and Lucia and then those forties novels of Daphne Du Maurier and Somerset Maugham, the fifties of Eric Linklater and Nevil Shute, discovering the excitement of life as the sixties new writers came to life, and on and on through all the decades to the new writers like Zadie Smith, I have read so many books.  And all life is there in those pages of close typed text, and I have lived every moment of them just as if it had happened to me.  It has been just as real as my own memories, even if like looking at the surface of a pond I was living it all in reflection, it has been truly wonderful.

Scottish Devolution – what’s it all about

Friday 17th February

As usual, in this complicated world, things are not always as they seem.  What appears straightforward is often a blind alley, or a false trail, to deceive us from the real objective.  And I believe that Alex Salmond is doing just that with his famous devolution referendum.  Scotland has been part of a United Kingdom for four hundred years, more or less, and that while I would agree that for the most part this was a conquest in all but name, things are so equal now as to make no difference.  The argument that decisions are taken in London is the same for people in Cornwall as in Kirkcaldy, or even Essex or Hertfordshire come to that; in fact the Scots with their own parliament have far more control over their own destinies than people living in Hull or Newcastle say.  And apart from a very small percentage there is no great sentiment for independence amongst the Scottish people. And on the surface if Alec Salmond campaigns for a yes vote which is rejected he will be in a difficult place politically, after all the Scottish Nationalists whole raison d’etre is for Scotland to be independent, or is it?  If Scotland were a completely separate country who would the ScotNats (and all the other parties come to that) be able to blame for any perceived or real failure of Scotland, compared to England say.  Isn’t the fact that Westminster decides all the really big questions actually very convenient for any Scottish politician?

Apart from all the questions of ownership of infrastructure, armed forces, or resources like the National Grid, the big question would be over the currency.  Surely Scotland would have to have its own currency, and not just those pretty banknotes so distrusted south of the border, but a fully fledged separate currency.  Because if they were independent they would be in charge of fiscal policy, and can you imagine the opportunities for crooked businessmen, let alone smugglers large and small if there were different VAT rates.  And who would rescue Scotland. If like Iceland, it came unstuck.  I don’t really think that Mr. Salmond wants to be completely independent; what he really wants is Devo-Max, that is; the most power that can possibly be exercised in Edinburgh without severing the vital ties of Sovereignty and overall wealth that being a part of the UK brings with it.

Anyway, we will see: the ScotNats are quite uncharacteristically delaying the vote for some time.  If they do succeed in having a third option on the ballot paper it would be very unlikely for any of the three to gain more than 50% of any vote, so again it would only be an opinion poll, and hardly legally binding.  Come to that why should not everyone in the United Kingdom be voting, surely we in England deserve a say in whether we actually want Scotland to be part of us.  Of course, that won’t happen, as there would be a strong possibility of us saying, “Okay, if that’s what you want – Goodbye.”

Waiting for a train

Thursday 16th February

I was far too early, as usual.  Punctuality is a crime I plead guilty to with no prompting; my train was not until 8.15 in the evening, but I was at Paddington way before 7.  How ridiculous is that, but I had bought one of those cheap advance tickets, which are not exchangeable if you miss your allotted train, so I made sure I was there early, ridiculously early.  I really couldn’t face wandering around the shops, if I went into Smiths I would be bound to buy a book, and I had only just started my new one; I was staying with friends in Wales for a couple of days, so Marks food store was pointless too, that left little more than Tie Rack.  Would someone please tell me who actually shops at Tie Rack, who needs a tie, or a scarf or a pashmina that badly, or do they rely on the bored and stupid for their customer base?

I considered settling down in Starbucks, but over an hour with a coffee for company seemed stretching it a bit, in the end I wandered upstairs to a bar which served food, and ordered a glass of dry white wine and a not too filling Ceasar Salad.  I wish I hadn’t, the wine was neither particularly dry, nor even good, it reminded me of those wine boxes which were so popular in the eighties, where the contents invariably tasted of the plastic lining of the cardboard box they had crawled out of.   I am in no way a wine buff, what tastes good is good in my book, and the only thing I do know is a cheap bad wine, I left it practically untouched, a bonus for the staff at least.  The Ceasar Salad was a weak imitation, not cos lettuce but some limp apology for it, possibly iceberg, the most tasteless of salads, the croutons were obviously out of a packet and the ceasar dressing from a bottle, which wouldn’t have mattered had it been Paul Newmans, or a decent make, but it was sharp and bland at the same time if that is at all possible. There was a smidgeon of parmesan, or some hard dry cheese anyway, but so little that one had to almost search for it.  I gave this up as a bad job too, no point in complaining; the staff were all eastern European and probably on minimum wages, I couldn’t see a manager for love nor money.  I know that these places do not rely on return business, and have a captive audience to a degree, but there really is no excuse for such bad fare.

Oh well, my fault for getting there so early I suppose, I wandered down to the Starbucks where I should have come in the first place and continued waiting for my train.

The creation myth

Wednesday 15th February

I have never been really religious, there was a spell in my mid teens when I did think I would pursue some sort of religious studies, but it didn’t last more than a term.  I found the Bible contradictory and frankly rather boring, all those begats, on and on, generation after generation, and all to prove that Adam was the first man, and the ancient Jews who presumably wrote the old testament truly believed it and in order to prove the fact, created this whole litany of family members down to Abraham, and beyond.  Before the emergence of Darwinism and the theory of Evolution one could understand that man’s awe in the face of the multiplicity and beauty of nature felt that the theory of God having created the entire universe in just seven days was sufficient to explain everything.  But their position has shifted with changing scientific discoveries to some sort of fable of God’s creation with the seven days representing eons, or phases of creation.  But now with more and more that is unraveled, not only about the big bang and the beginning of the Universe itself, but discoveries about the evolution of our own planet the creation myth holds less and less credibility.  Almost no scientists now give it any credence at all.  Which makes it all the more surprising that ever-increasing numbers of fundamentalist Christians, especially in the land of the truly gullible, America, are pumping this nonsense into the brains of young children. More frightening perhaps is that some of the Republican presidential wannabe’s even believe in the creation myth too.  Even without the creation myth it is a truly amazing story; the hard part for us humans is to try to understand the why of it all. Because maybe there is no why, there is just is.  This is the way it happened.  Life just evolved, not because anything but because it just did.  The way the whole Universe is, is maybe completely contrary to the logic that humans employ, that there must be a reason behind everything.  The creation myth is a myth simply because there has never been any motivational force at all.

I keep finding myself on the verge of crying

Tuesday 14th February

I may be getting soft in my old age, who knows, but I keep finding myself on the verge of crying.  Tears keep welling up in my eyes over nothing.  On Sunday, at the news that Whitney Houston had died for instance; and I didn’t even like her.  People say she had a beautiful voice, but I am not sure, I never liked it; that awful hanging note on I will always love YOOOOOOOUUUUUU used to set my teeth on edge, the song was played to death on the radio at the time and I really grew to hate it.  And then the poor girl was such a mess, a drug addict, a selfish diva who squandered her talent and loved so unwisely.  But when the news came through that she had died in her bathtub I was in tears, to die floundering, slipping under the water, did she panic, or did she just slide under, in any case it must have been awful.  My heart just went out to her and I couldn’t stop crying.

Stupid that we can cry for those we don’t know at all; Princess Diana; John Lennon; Marilyn or Amy Winehouse, who whether they deserve our tears or not, seem to bring them out in a flood, while we sit stony faced and emotionless as news of yet another earthquake or tsunami comes on the news and the hundreds of dead pile up, or even worse those close to us sometimes leave us tearless; I never cried at Grandma’s funeral.

Is it this lachrymose weather, is it just mid-winter blues, is it just me in my mid-sixties, looking back at a life I could have, and really should have made more of.  Is it that despite being surrounded by friends who maybe do really care, I feel so bloody alone. I cannot even watch a nature film anymore, as the leopard lands on the impala’s back I look away, as the hawk tears flesh from a baby rabbit I have to change channels, and then we are into a press interview and a perfectly ordinary couple are appealing for help for a missing daughter, or just some silly drama on ITV, I am there crying my heart out for them.

But who am I really crying for, Whitney – no, not really.  The world and all its problems, not even that.  And you know tears of self-pity are the saddest tears of all.

A thin skein of ice over everything

Monday 13th February

While the thaw seems to have set in today, and they say we are in for some warmer weather, yesterday morning was still very cold.  I was up quite early and went for a walk and found everything was covered with a thin skein of ice.  It was really deceptive, what looked like slightly damp pavements were actually incredibly thin sheets of very clear and smooth ice.  Even in my rubber-soled walking shoes I was slipping all over the place.  Extremely treacherous, especially as the pavements were at last clear of the last remaining scraps of snow, you couldn’t see a thing, but you certainly felt it.  It must have been that the thin dew as it settled had turned to layers of deadly thin ice, that had no traction at all, made worse by the habit of our local council, who, in an effort to modernise our pavements have re-placed the old concrete slabs with a series of herring-bone patterned bricks, which are shiny anyway, so the ice here has become even deadlier.  Even the tarmac paths in the park seemed to wear a thin sheen of ice.  I soon gave up and came back home, I went out later and the ice had mostly evaporated with the warmth of the day.

And I realised that my life is much the same, deceptively safe from a distance, warm and dry, but lurking not far away is the danger zone.  And no matter how I think I am treading in safe dry well tried and trusted pathways, suddenly my feet skid, I lose my balance and nearly come a cropper.

And even my heart, my true and trusty heart that appears so warm and welcoming has before I have even realised, become a victim of the cold spell I am seemingly travelling through.  Though I am trying very hard to be open and giving, even the mirror does not lie; over everything there lies a thin skein of ice.

A word or two about Football

Sunday 12th February

Well, at last much of the furore about Fabio Capello has died down, and maybe a little time for some quiet reflection.  And what does a woman, and especially a woman like Catherine, know about football.  Not a great deal I would agree, but then what does anybody really know.  All I do know is that there is far too much money in the game, and that is one of the reasons that it creates such headlines, and also why at times it seems that the world has gone just a little bit mad.  I really do not know if Fabio Capello was a good manager or not; his record is a bit mixed; yes, he did get us to two Tournament Finals, mind you we normally do get there anyway, but the performance in South Africa was distinctly under par, even by our abysmal standards.  Who knows he may, had he stayed, have taken us on to win the European Championships, but it seems that anyone who by their own admission will be leaving after that, doesn’t have the same will to succeed as someone who will have to prove their ability to perform in the job however that particular campaign goes.  There was also always the language problem; whether Mr. Capello got his messages across succinctly to the players I do not know, but in any interviews he was clumsy and inarticulate and almost comical.  My biggest gripe though, is why anyone should be paid the ludicrous sum of six million pounds a year to be manager of England; they only play a handful of games a year after all; how hard can it be.  And it isn’t as if he does it all single handed, he has a huge team behind him, one actually wonders how he manages to fill in his week.  Even Managing Directors of large companies are seldom paid this sort of sum, bonuses or no bonuses.  Whoever the FA eventually pick, and can you imagine them not offering it to ‘Arry now, they should change the salary to reward success and make the manager work for the money.  The three most important abilities of the successful candidate should be, to be able to get the best out of every player, getting the players to work as a team, and being a bulwark between our voracious press and their expectations in order to just let the players play.  It really doesn’t matter what they know about football, because there will always be sixty million people watching who are sure they know better anyway.  Good Luck Harry, you’re gonna need it.

The stone age did not end because of a shortage of stone

Saturday 11th February

You shouldn’t always wish for things so hard, or so it seems to me.  I had been the first to bemoan there not being a real winter just a few weeks ago.  There I was, so confidently predicting that we would escape completely the ravages of Winter, we had had such a warm November and mild December, and January had crept in and out again with hardly a murmur that I had almost forgotten about February, often the most vicious of months.  Well I have truly had my comeuppance, as Grandma would say; Winter has us in its grip. But in fact we are having an easy time of it; most of Europe is having a harder time of it than we are.  There are reports of people freezing to death in Hungary and the Ukraine, and in the Czech Republic they have temperatures of nearly minus 40.  And we begin to ask ourselves if Global Warming has anything to do with it, three cold winters in a row may not be a record, but it might be a sign that the climate is subtly changing.  Along with the ever warmer summers we seem to hear reported each Autumn we are getting much colder snaps in the Winter.  Climate change has been knocked off the agenda of late, but possibly it is the greatest problem mankind has ever faced.  There are those doom-sayers who even predict that we are rapidly approaching a tipping point, where no matter how much we reduce our carbon emissions we have had it, the earth will simply not be able to cope, and will enter some sort of drastic end- phase.  Trouble is they cannot quite make up their minds whether we are going to boil or freeze to death.  I suspect that the truth is that we will blindly carry on with gradually increasing weather problems until someone comes up with a replacement for oil and gas that really works, and that slowly we will pull back from the brink.  I heard a brilliant quote on Newsnight recently by a believer in new technology who predicted that the age of oil was almost over.  When Jeremy Paxman asked what would incentivise people to give up oil and move to a new energy source when there was still so much oil about.  The man whose name escapes me, said, “Listen, the stone age did not end because of a shortage of stone.”  Meaning that it ended because a better technology, metal, came along

The difference between a man and a woman

Friday 10th February

The other day I was on a tube train, minding my own business, when a fairly smart man happened to sit next to me.  He placed his briefcase on his lap, clicked open the two brass clasps, and opened it.  I couldn’t help but notice that inside everything was so neat and tidy, pens all filed in a row, laptop neatly folded in its little protective grey folder, his kindle in a smart black leather case to one side and a notepad to the other, and there were a few papers all neatly clipped with those little plastic coloured paperclips that are so common nowadays.  It was all as one would expect really, no surprises, everything neatly arranged, compartmentalised, a place for everything and everything in its place.  He checked a couple of papers, glanced at the large dial gold watch on his wrist, then took out his kindle, and gently shut his case, and relaxed.  By complete co-incidence just opposite me, a young woman dashed onto the train and slumped down in her seat.  She had a smart and large and probably very expensive Mulberry handbag, almost the size of a large carrier bag which she set down on the seat next to her.  Rummaging furiously she took out one thing after another, but rather than set them down beside her she tossed them back in the bag as rejects, in and out came her unprotected and scratched laptop, her case-less kindle, her credit card folder, her oystercard, her bulging purse, an umbrella, a bunch of keys, then she found what she was looking for her make-up bag.  Without any apparent embarrassment she flipped open the compact mirror, and proceeded to apply foundation, eye shadow, lip gloss, eye-liner, and a dusting of powder. Absolutely oblivious to any looks she might be receiving she performed this private ritual right out in full view of the whole carriage.  She then tossed the make-up bag into the large Mulberry handbag, then as if suddenly remembering something started rummaging again, this time for her mobile phone.

I am not saying that men are always organised and smart, or that women are all ditsy, and lack the most basic ideas of decorum, at all.  But men do seem to be able to compartmentalise their lives far better than we women seem able to.  Maybe we are busier, or are expected to be so many things nowadays to be successful, and of course men do not wear make-up.  But if they did I am fairly certain that they would plan to get up that half hour earlier to accomplish the task, and certainly wouldn’t dream of putting it on in a tube carriage.

No conclusions of course can really be drawn from this; it was after all, just one man and one woman.  But next time you are on a tube train, just look around, do a bit of people watching and see if you can spot the difference between a man and a woman.