Once every four years we get the chance to say Marry Me

Wednesday 29th February

And what a lovely notion that was; I wonder how many women actually took the opportunity, and whether it worked.  Was it legally binding, were there ever any court cases where the shy retiring man claimed his bachelor rights had been usurped by a domineering and demanding woman?  Oh happy day if that should have ever happened. But it is probably just another old wives tale, a bit of folklore which in a funny way did actually represent the very limited women’s rights for so many years. Especially in polite society where quiet tete-a-tetes were not always possible; how many years would a woman be kept waiting while her husband-to-be dithered and dallied and tried to decide if he should propose at all, or maybe the diffident and nervous young man was so scared of rejection that he couldn’t bring himself to say the words required.  How could the woman help him, she was supposed to be demure and not have sexual desires at all; in Victorian novels the sexuality of the woman is completely denied, they are passive creatures in the main, who may love their hero deeply but are never allowed to express their desire for conjugal relations.  Marriage was a desired state mainly for the status it gave the woman, for relieving her father of the burden of keeping her, for the continuance of the male line, to maybe add respectability and gentility to a son of a wealthy but unconnected businessman, but we never hear of the woman’s desire to just have a partner.  Maybe this was the greatest taboo of all; that women actually enjoyed and wanted sex, well unmarried and young women anyway.  Thank goodness we have come a long way from those miserable times, and a woman can let a man know that she fancies him, or even that she would like to live with or marry him without having to wait four years for that accidental date in the calendar, when in probability even then, she would lack the requisite courage.

I just want to say thankyou

Tuesday 28th February

Although no more Christian than putting C of E in the allotted space next to Religion on the Census forms each decade, my family still had what one might broadly call Christian values.  At least we expounded them, if not actually practiced them very much.  We believed in ‘Love thy Neighbour’, but on one side we had a crotchety old couple who kept themselves to themselves as much as we liked to on our side of the dividing drainpipe.  On the other, and a decent bike width detached from us, lived a succession of youngish couples, some with children, who never seemed to stay long enough for us to learn their names let alone actually love them.  We believed in helping those less fortunate than ourselves, but as Grandma liked to proclaim that ‘we were as poor as church mice anyway’; so apart from surreptitiously placing a few coppers in collecting tins when embarrassment would ensue if we were seen not to, we did not give to charity.  However despite this almost complete lack of any real relationship with Christianity I was actually Christened, and my Godmother, my cousin Joan did on the occasional birthday send me something vaguely religious.  The most obvious of these and strangely one I kept, when I have discarded so much else was called A Child’s Prayer.  It was full of beautiful photographs and had a simple line on each page “Thankyou God for……..”

So, in a spirit of hope and reconciliation I would just like to say thankyou, not to God, whose existence I very much doubt, but to the World at large and whoever feels it applies to them.

Thankyou for each day, the chance to start anew.  Thankyou for the seasons, to remind us of the measure of our span on this earth.  Thankyou for laughter, especially when passing a school at playtime. Thankyou for sunshine, peeping through on a cloudy day.  Thankyou for the gift of the written word, my closest of friends.  Thankyou for being there for me when I thought I couldn’t go on.  Thankyou for the things you didn’t say, when pity might have broken my back.  Thankyou for the kindness of strangers, when there really was no need.  Thankyou for letting me share these thoughts with you all, unspoken they may not have existed at all.

The British obsession with Class

Monday 27th February

The British seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Class.  Maybe we always have had.  It has certainly been a part of my life since I was a child, though I like to think that I have moved away from all that sort of snobbery in my later years.  I have to keep telling myself that everyone’s life is just as valid, and it really doesn’t matter if they watch Springwatch or The Only Way is Essex; and for all I know there may be millions who watch both, and why not.  Part of the fun of our culture though is in puncturing the pretensions that class carries with it, it has been the basis of so many comedies from Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, The Likely Lads, and of course Keeping Up Appearances, where Patricia Routledge superbly exposed all the foibles of a snobbish middle class existence.  In some ways it all seems a bit dated now, especially when we watch re-runs of Fawlty Towers, which was mostly about class too.  We can pat ourselves on the back that we have come such a long way, from that class-ridden way of life.  And while class may be less important today, it is still there.  Hunting, with those well to do county types in red riding jackets and silver hip-flasks is as popular as ever, and we do like to shop in John Lewis, and eat at Celebrity Chef’s restaurants, defending our choices as liking nice things, whereas the working class idea of niceness, with DFS sofa’s, chips with everything and shopping at Asda, can raise more than a touch of snobbishness in some of us still.  We seem to be having trouble getting class out of our system, and out of the system itself; class is far more deeply embedded than we like to think.  You only have to look at the bosses of large companies, most of whom were educated at public school to realise that the working classes still have a long way to travell.  In fact it is probably harder now than in the egalitarian sixties for a working class kid to really succeed on talent alone, what with student loans and middle class internships and help up the social ladder.  One only has to look at our politicians, with a cabinet made up old Etonians and Oxbridge graduates, and even the opposition is determinedly middle class these days.  The only working class voices one hears are advertising on-line casinos or on those wretched DIY makeover shows, or am I simply showing my class by even mentioning them.

Terrorist or Freedom Fighter – You Choose

Sunday 26th February

Why is it that we choose to portray some men with guns shooting at soldiers as terrorists or bandits while others are depicted as freedom fighters?  Is there really any difference?  If there is no democratic route to power, or if you are one of a threatened minority that will always be persecuted, if you are the wrong colour, or the wrong religion, or even the wrong faction of the right religion and you resort to violence are you ever justified?  And although we all preach democracy, when the people who get elected are not our friends than we covertly and sometimes overtly support those who would try to bring them down.  This used to be called realpolitik, the facing up to the world as it is rather than how you would like it to be.  But does it have to be this way?  Have we not grown up enough to realise that violence solves nothing, or in the end does violence always solve things?  The last Foreign Secretary we had who tried to create an ethical foreign policy had a heart attack which at a stroke removed him from the Foreign Office, the Cabinet and his own life.  He was replaced by someone who knew where the real interests lie and did as he was told.  And so we go on; there is no doubting that the ruling government forces in Syria are behaving atrociously, there is no democracy, there is a small ruling elite, the soldiers are shooting people in the streets, they are shelling cities that are in revolt, so who could possibly not support the rebels?  It may well end with a rebel victory, but not before a lot of people have died, and maybe a protracted civil war, and who is to say that life for ordinary Syrians will be any better after Bashar Assad departs.  And by the way, just who is supplying the rebels with their weapons?  It couldn’t possibly be us could it?   And in the end the only way to stop the fighting is to talk to each other.  Just why do so many have to die before this dawns on everyone?

The Difficulty with Memory

Saturday 25th February

Having read avidly and extensively since a child I think that we humans are mostly made of the same stuff; our thoughts and reminisces, the way we behave in situations and the trouble we have with memory.  In many ways memory is a spectacular and quite amazing thing, the very fact that we not only recognize faces, even from forty or fifty years ago in my case, though who knows whether at eighty that will stretch to a sixty year span, or an old photograph unseen for years, or films we saw as a young person, but also the smaller things.  The way memory works is quite extraordinary, sometimes you just hear a snatch of notes and you know exactly what the piece of music is, though you haven’t heard that particular one in years, or suddenly when you least expect it a conversation comes back at you from out of nowhere at all, and you are there, right there again with all of the hot emotions you may have felt at the time.

Just as surprising though are the things we manage to forget, or have difficulty actually remembering.  Sometimes you really want to recall something and it isn’t there at all.  Blanked out maybe, or erased, or just shifted to another less accessible part of your brain, and try as you might it remains stubbornly unremembered, though the very fact that you can remember something about it, just not the detail means it hasn’t gone completely.  And on those TV detective things where they are investigating something that happened many years ago, and the suspect seems to have almost perfect recall of times, even remembering glancing at their watch before opening the door to the gunman.  Well really, would you remember those tiny details; I know I have difficulty remembering how I filled my day yesterday, let alone on a specific day years ago.

And then there are those memories that you do remember, but you aren’t quite sure if you remember remembering them or actually remember the thing itself.  My earliest memory was of a motorcycle skidding across a wet road, the headlight’s beam splaying across the road and lighting up some memorial gates to a park.  I replay this time and again, and both of my parents are with me, but sometimes it is a single rider, and sometimes there is someone on the pillion.  Am I remembering my memories of recalling this event time and time again, or the thing itself.  And of course my mother cannot remember it at all.

The Warmest February Day I Can Remember

Friday 24th February

What amazing weather.  After that sub-zero deep freeze of only ten or so days ago we are here in the warmest February day I can remember.  Whether it will be a record we will have to wait to find out, but it feels like it should be.  The forecast was right, as it seems to be more and more often these days, I particularly like the ways they present it – on the BBC of course, with the camera panning over the country and the shadow representing cloud cover thinning into brightness, very easy to understand, though an old-fashioned part of me still hankers for those milli-bars and High over Scotland and Low out in the Atlantic and the curved weather front with bumps on one side and sharp little thorns on the other. When I sometimes see them now in a newspaper it seems like a language from another time, which in a way it was.

I went for my habitual morning walk without a jacket on, and even undid my cardigan as the temperature rose; it was forecast to hit 16 in London, which is 61 in old money, but it felt warmer out in the sunny park.  And oh, the flowers looked so happy; snowdrops prancing in the sun, half-raising their pretty white heads up to the sun, and the purple and gold blazing crocuses everywhere, while the majestic daffodils stood waving their crowns in the slight breeze.  Birds were everywhere too, looking around them as if amazed that spring had come so soon.  I was half expecting to spot a squirrel or two, but maybe they need more than one good day to wake out of their hibernation, stuffed full of nuts from last autumn.  It was a real delight, and maybe just the sort of day we need amidst all this gloomy economic news, and Syria getting worse every day, and now an oil embargo by Iran, which is bound to end unhappily.  So step out into sunshine and shake off those Winter Blues for a day or two, who knows when the next Big Freeze will descend on us. It may very well be Global Warming, and if so someone will pay for it later, but for now enjoy it while it lasts.

The Same Recurring Dream

Thursday 23rd February

I seem to have slipped into a phase of having the same recurring dream.  Not the same dream every night, but within each single night a different but still recurring dream.  This has been going on for weeks now, or is it months maybe; recurring weeks and recurring months.  And it is so debilitating, I wake up more tired than I was when my head hit the pillow.  I have tried various remedies, a few drops of oil of primrose on my pillow, a small nightlight, avoiding my habitual late night coffee, even trying drinking chocolate with its sickly sweet taste – all to no avail.  I wake up at intervals throughout the night, sometimes as early as an hour after drifting off, and there I am stuck in the dream, and I know I will still be dreaming this when I wake again in an hours’ time and in the morning too.  I try to think other thoughts, change the direction of my dreams but wake again slap bang at the same pointless point in the same pointless repetitive dream.  And it is so real, I am really there in it, living out every senseless repeated action, or saying the same stupid things, or worse still seeing the same figures and numbers on the page in front of me. Five minutes after properly waking and I cannot remember the actual dream, only the recurring nature of it. I wonder if I am anxious about something under my blanket of calm, or if there is something important I have forgotten which the dream is trying to nudge me into remembering.  And my life is spinning away and past me like a ball of wool that has fallen to the floor, and the faster I try to pull the strand I am holding, the faster it unwinds and the further out of reach the ball rolls from my grasp.  My life too has drifted into a recurring dream that try as I might I just cannot shake myself out of.

How to Grow a Planet

Wednesday 22nd February

And yet again the BBC has produced another incredible natural history series, this time about the evolution of the planet itself, ‘How to Grow a Planet’  It is a remarkable discovery of how the earth we know became just that, and the changes it went through to get there.  Most of the changes were driven by plants, not animals.  And the changes in animals came about largely through changes in plant life too.  We take plants so much for granted that we assume they must have always been here, and they have been here far longer than the animals, but they too have evolved over the ages from ferns to trees to flowers to grasses, and their evolution has triggered massive changes in the planet.  The presenter is Iain Stewart, a Scottish professor who has that sort of enthusiasm and authority which captivates and educates at the same time.  His Scottish brogue is rather sexy too.  The photography is beautiful, as you would expect from the BBC, but it brings together so much; geology, astrophysics, chemistry and biology to enlighten us.  The final surprise was how a single genetic mutation in a wild wheat plant meant that mankind for the first time started to farm and discovered how to make bread and settled in established communities, the end of the few million years of being hunter gatherers.   Amazingly this was only twelve thousand years ago.  And everything that we humans have achieved since then stems from that single plant mutation.  Makes you wonder if that hadn’t happened how we might have evolved, or not.  It actually makes Frozen Planet seem a bit boring.  I wish it had lasted longer and cannot wait for it to be repeated.

A Greek Haircut

Tuesday 21st February

It looks as if the latest crisis has just about been avoided, or should we say postponed.  For how long is anyone’s guess, but the consensus is that the sand is fast running out of the hourglass.  The main problem is really that the medicine administered so far is in danger of killing the patient.  This is all being dictated by Germany who perceive the Greeks as lazy and overspending, unlike the thrifty and hardworking Germans of course. The Greek economy is going backwards so fast that it is almost in freefall, and the unemployment and cuts in wages are feeding on themselves in an ever decreasing downward spiral.  In the same way that the arguments against increased immigration where the idea that there are only so many jobs to go around is demolished by the simple fact that the more people who are working, the more money they have and the more taxes they pay  simply creates more work for everyone else; the reverse is also true, if you make people unemployed and cut even the minimum wage, everyone is poorer, has less money to spend, pays less tax and even more people are unemployed.  So, Mr. Osborne watch carefully and make sure we don’t fall into the same trap.  As part of the jigsaw current holders of Greek debt will have to accept a swap of much longer term debt of about thirty percent of the value of the bonds they currently hold.  This is called a Greek haircut.  Well, if the bond holders are having a Greek haircut, all I can conclude is that the Greeks themselves are having a German scalping.

Judy Collins sings Dylan

Monday 20th February

Adrian used to rave on and on about Dylan; it was Dylan this and Dylan that all the time.  I could never see what all the fuss was about; a lot of nasty songs with a whiny tinny voice.  I never bought any of his records and had mostly forgotten about him, his name popping up in the news here and there.  But I saw this album ‘Judy Collins sings Dylan’, on sale actually and I bought it, not for the Dylan but for Judy Collins.  I remember her from the sixties, and as this is a fairly recent record I cannot imagine how old she must be now.  By the way, can you imagine any ‘Artist’ nowadays calling themselves ‘Judy’, those sort of names seem to have disappeared completely. Judy had a beautiful clear voice, almost bell like as the notes rang out, she was one of those artists along with Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte Marie who were in the vanguard of the modern folk revival in the early sixties; the very same movement that Dylan was part of too.

And what a lovely voice Judy has now, much calmer, more rounded and smooth, less range but mellower and I think better.  And the songs were good too, sung by Ms Collins you can actually hear all the words without struggling to work out what on earth Dylan was singing about.  And there is no doubting now what a good songwriter he was, I just wish he had let better singers interpret his words, rather than snarl them out himself.  One line particularly hit me, “Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.” But the best is a gorgeous love-song titled ‘Love Minus Zero, No Limit.’  A meaningless title which does no service to the beautiful lyrics, ‘My love she shines like diamonds, with no ideals of violence, doesn’t have to say she’s faithful, she’s true like ice like fire’  and ends almost sadly with the refrain ‘like a raven with a broken wing’

So maybe Adrian was right all along and that here was one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century, he just needed someone like Judy to sing his songs for him.