The hills are alive…

me on mountain

I don’t know where August went…. we moved house and then time seemed to go into warp speed. We went to France for a week with some members of the Dude’s family and stayed in a villa near Pau. Essentially, the week was spent eating meat, cheese and pastries and drinking many a G&T and imbibing all the wine the vineyards could produce. Or at least it felt like it. It was a great, restorative week which was much needed after moving house. I also got to demonstrate my considerable air guitar skills… but the least said about ‘air guitar gate’ the better.

For the final two nights of the holiday, the Dude and I stayed in a teepee near the Cirque de Gavarnie in the heart of the Pyrenees. The camp site consisted of four teepees with stunning views across the mountain range. It was simply breathtaking.

teepee 2

And talking of breathtaking, whilst we were walking on the Plateau de Saugue, the Dude asked me to marry him. I was, quite literally, stunned. The pictures of me prancing about like Maria Von Trapp were actually taken before he popped the question, so I can’t use that as an excuse. I blame the mountain air for my cavorting around, that and the fact that you can’t help but dance when the world is so beautiful.

me in mountain 2

Dear First Great Western…

I thought that I had finished writing idle rants, I was going to take the section off this blog. But last night on my way home from work, I witnessed an assault. The only thing I feel I can do to ‘help’ the victim, and process what I witnessed, is to write about it. I want some answers. 

My commute to and from work is part of my day that I enjoy, I walk through my local park and medieval streets, I amble through Oxford, and I get to people watch and read on the train. My personal safety is something that I consider when walking alone, so I change routes in winter and have always called a taxi rather than walk through dark streets late at night, because it’s sensible. But if I do need help people will come to my aid, right?

Last night at 6.30pm I was waiting on the platform at Oxford station, sitting on a bench and scrolling through my phone when I heard screaming. Loud, not having fun, screaming. A train was sitting at the opposite platform and was blocking my view, but someone was clearly being attacked. The woman on the bench next to me exclaimed as the train pulled away and we saw what was happening. A man was punching and kicking a woman who was lying on the platform, crying and screaming for someone to help her.

Four First Great Western station staff were standing about three feet away, watching them. This had been going on for some minutes and had I been on the platform I would have shouted at the staff to help her. The only thing one of the members of staff did was to ask the victim, “Is this a domestic?” She couldn’t answer, she was being assaulted. He asked her again, louder. “Is this a domestic, do you know him?”

The assailant kicked at her torso.

And again.

“Are you with him?” The staff member asked again, as the four of them stood watching. 

She managed to shout no. 

The assailant grabbed his bag and marched off down the platform towards the station exit. The staff members followed.

Meanwhile, three women (I think station staff, I’m not sure) who had been watching, horrified like the rest of us, scooped the woman over to them and asked her questions. They also exclaimed about why the group of FGW staff had not attempted to intervene, or call the police straight away. They asked her if she knew him, and yes of course she did, he was her ex-partner. Statistically, it was highly unlikely that he was going to be a complete stranger.

I’ve witnessed crime before, I lived in London long enough to see the odd punch up and teenagers throwing a boy onto the Underground tracks in the midst of a brawl (thankfully he was off the track before the train came). So, you know, these things happen and we all carry on with our day.

BUT, whenever I’ve witnessed anything before, people helped. They rang the police, they shouted, they intervened. Those crimes were different, they weren’t a woman being beaten-up by her (ex-)partner. Why didn’t those four, burly station staff do anything? Why did they have to know if she knew him or not? What difference does that make? She was being attacked, it needed to stop. They did nothing. 

And before the train company gives me a shovel-load of proverbial about the ‘health and safety’ of their staff, don’t tell me they aren’t trained to deal with aggressive passengers, or trained in calling the police, handling incidents etc, etc.

My commute to work is a part of my day that I enjoy, my personal safety is something I’ll think a lot more about. Because if someone does attack me, the four men watching will want to know if it’s my ‘fault’ for having had a relationship with the assailant, before they all walk off and leave me crying on the ground.

Coming Home…

Our new front door

Our new front door

Yesterday we picked up the keys to our new house, eleven months after we first viewed it. It really has been a lesson in patience and perseverance!  We walked around in a bit of a daze thinking about all the things that we will need to tweak and change, but we have time and the main thing is… it’s ours.

As I stood outside to get a photo of the front door, I was reminded of a card that my dad made for me two and a half years ago. It’s a pen and watercolour drawing of a green door which he had cut around so that I could open it to read this quote that he had written inside:

‘There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.’ Graham Greene.

The future that lies behind this green door is a little bit unknown but exciting, full of adventure and very hopeful. My dad’s card is now well-thumbed, so I’ll put it into a frame to keep it safe as it reminds me of my journey here.

One of the things that the future definitely has in store is gardening. The house has a lovely garden which is small enough to manage but big enough to make proper use of. There is also a tiny front garden which has this abundant hydrangea to greet visitors at our front door.

Our front garden

Hydrangea

I know that if you add copper to the soil you can turn the hydrangea blue… I might try to give the old girl a blue rinse next year. But I do like pink… I noticed a blowsy pink peony in the garden on our last visit but they dug it up and took it with them, I can’t blame them. But, they have left us with some lovely roses, penstemons and a beautiful smelling ceanothus – so enough for me to work with for now! There are also a couple of mature shrubs and small trees which are crying out for lights and lanterns…

There isn’t too much to do in the house, it needs freshening up and we need to find bits and pieces to fill it with as I come bearing only one chair and the Dude has been living in a man pad for the best part of a decade. Part of the fun will be finding our style together, and yes I am sure we will have the obligatory stand-off in the rug section of Ikea. Why’s it always in the rug section?! I wonder if it’s because that’s where your blood sugar levels are at their lowest after having spent hours trudging through? He’s a very patient man but we are as stubborn as each other, it’s going to get interesting. I’ve already noticed that I’ve been met with a wall of silence whenever I mention cats…..  or ducks, chickens, peacocks, goats, etc… I wonder why?

A cream tea in the sunshine…

Cream tea at Basildon Park

Cream tea at Basildon Park

Is there any greater pleasure than a cream tea in the sunshine? No, I didn’t think so…

A couple of Sundays ago, I was mad enough to run my first 10k race. Mad because I hadn’t done any training which, having spent three days after the race hobbling around in pain, is not to be recommended. After the race, I was buzzing on a high of adrenaline so the dude suggested that we stop off at Basildon Park a National Trust property near Reading for a post-race amble.

It was a true English summer’s day, with Swallows darting overhead and cattle hazily lumbering around in the surrounding fields. And as my weary legs lumbered from the car and up the sweeping drive, we were met with this view of the house.

NT Prop

Basildon Park

Certainly not a bad place to take a stroll to recover the legs! We sat outside and indulged in a sumptuous cream tea complete with Rodda’s clotted cream I am happy to say. If you haven’t tried Rodda’s, then your life is not yet complete, it’s heavenly.

The last owners of the house were Lord and Lady Iliffe who bought it in the 1950s and restored it, including the installation of a state-of-the-art 1950s kitchen which is still in the house and looking very chic and retro now. We were greeted by the smell of baking as a volunteer was making cookies in the kitchen, using equipment that the cooks would have used in the ’50s. It seems that the National Trust are introducing some more experiential elements to their houses which really bring them to life.

We also took a stroll around the extensive gardens, which were full of families picnicking and playing ball. Squeals of delight from happy, playing children were permeating the summer air as parents chattered together on rugs and blankets. It was an idyllic scene and a reminder that the National Trust is perfect for families. It’s also perfect for recovering first-time runners.

Garden

Through the garden door…

 

Thatcher’s Child has far to go…

The day I was born was momentous for more reasons than my screaming, reluctant entry into the world. Firstly, it was Shrove Tuesday and my sister was, quite rightly, narked that my arrival meant that she missed out on pancakes and apparently threw a mega-strop. Secondly, it was the day that the Miners’ Strike started as the National Coal Board announced their intention to close 20 coal mines which would mean the loss of around 20,000 jobs and the primary source of employment for many communities in the north of England, Wales and Scotland.

I had the fortune of being born in an affluent market town in the south-east, with all the trimmings of ‘ye olde’ tea shops and cathedral (let’s call it Torychester) so a strike somewhere up t’north was, for the county set, merely another example of Thatcher sorting the nation. And then came the Big Bang in 1986 and the free market, in all its glory, helped a generation of aspiring city boys achieve their dream of being able to say that ‘their hard work got them to where they are now.’ Thatcher sorted the overregulation of the financial sector and intended to do away with the elitist old boy’s network; the success of London’s banking sector lay in competition and meritocracy. Torychester baulked at the nouveau riche with their pinstripes and nouvelle cuisine, but this new social strata proved their point that hard work meant that even the lowliest pleb could rise from the quagmire and get rich, ‘even if they do spend it on vulgar things Lavinia’.

Thatcher successfully encouraged everyone to go out and do it for themselves. After all, too many people were “casting their problems on society” as a result of their dependence on the Welfare State. She pointed out that too many people were assuming that the Government would give them a house, provide for their children and give them an income to facilitate their cushy lifestyle of smoking, drinking and dossing about. How political rhetoric has changed…

As Thatcher’s child, I have far to go. I grew up playing with my dad’s squeaky dog toy of the first female Prime Minister and listening to my mother despairing at Thatcher’s every breath. And it is my parents whom I now blame for preventing me from embracing Thatcherite doctrine, as having a social conscience is bloody wearing if I’m honest. It would have been so much easier for me to have accepted wholeheartedly the Iron Lady’s view that, “…they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour.”

Sounds good! Looking after ourselves first… that’s what the nouveau riche were doing. That’s what the financial sector was doing. That’s what the privatised utility companies are doing. That’s what all the thousands of unemployed and homeless and people on benefits should be doing. After all, “it is our duty to look after ourselves” and if you aren’t doing that… what is wrong with you? Because your neighbour won’t want to know, they are ‘looking to themselves’ trying to make ends meet in the community that you live in which hasn’t recovered from the pit closures and is now being hit further with ‘the individual men and women and families’ having their meagre handouts from the state being reduced or taken away. Alternatively, your neighbour won’t want to know because you should be looking after yourself as they are doing, ‘I saw a homeless person in town Marjorie, must have done something wrong to end up begging. Why don’t they just go and get a job? I’m certain they were a drug addict. I just looked away, you know how they look at you.’

Thatcher passed away in her suite in the Ritz having truly left behind her origins in the flat above her father’s grocery shop. I imagine that spending your last days in a luxury hotel is definitely preferable to running the risk of dying from neglect in a privately run care home but still, where were her neighbours? It sounds like looking to yourself first could turn out to be lonely in the end. I’d like to leave the world as reluctantly as I entered it (hopefully without the screaming), and I believe that can only happen if I don’t spend my life just looking out for myself so I should probably offer to cook some  pancakes for my sister.

The F Word

One of my earliest memories is of being on a riverside beach in Cornwall with my mum, sister and some family friends. I must have been about two or three years old and was enjoying a traditionally damp English summer BBQ, pootling about amongst the pebbles when around the river bend came a boat full of merry holidaymakers. My sister and friends started to wave and shout cheerful ‘hello’s’… I mustered all the puff I had and shouted ‘FUUUUUUCCCCCCCCK!’

Time stood still, everyone turned and stared. My poor mother scrabbled around desperately for an appropriate punishment for this delinquent toddler. It was decided that I wouldn’t be allowed any fruit pastilles – sweets which I have never liked so, frankly, I was quite pleased with myself. They all thought that I didn’t really know what I was saying.

‘Fuck’ is one of the most contentious words in the English language. I have gone through life peppering my speech with it. It’s become one of my many bad habits… but strangely, it doesn’t seem to get as much of a reaction as the other contentious F word. Feminism.

Sometimes, saying ‘I’m a feminist’ wins you looks of approval and exclamations along the lines of ‘damn right, sista!’ (not that I live in Queens NYC, but you get the idea). Sometimes, saying ‘I’m a feminist’ results in shakes of the head and the assumption that you are an angry man-hater. Sometimes, I just end up saying ‘Fuck, I don’t know.’

What I do know is this. I grew up knowing that as an adult I would be able to vote, go to university, get a job, have children when I choose, have my own bank account and that my father or future husband won’t be able to commit me to an asylum as a result of my PMT or not wanting to do the housework (always a cheering thought as I would have been committed years ago based on that criteria). So, compared to my grandmother and mother’s generation I’ve got it pretty good. But, surely these are just examples of basic human rights? The Suffragettes might have won us the vote and the Women’s Liberation Movement might have given us birth control and the choice to be something other than a housewife but what are feminists doing for us now?

The debate is fierce and yet we seem to be going around in circles. On the one hand, we want a kick-ass career and on the other we want to have the choice to leave work to look after our children. At any moment we might celebrate the right to make our own choices and in the next moment we criticise women for changing their names after marriage. We want to have the choice to dress and look however we want without being judged by societal norms, but we pick apart other people’s appearances all the time. There is no harsher critic of a woman than another woman.

And that’s partly why I find feminism so confusing. We are in-fighting and it’s resulting in mixed messages. For example, our daughters are growing up to believe that flaunting their sexuality is empowering. I’ve witnessed British teenage girls abroad dancing on bars for free shots. They were having fun, getting drunk and having casual sex. I sat on a curbside craving my pyjamas, a book and a mug of horlicks, but then I started to talk to an 18 year old girl who looked like she had just walked off a glamour photoshoot. It became clear that she genuinely believed that she was an empowered young woman. In the early hours, I sat with her and a man at the hotel bar (I have no problem embarassing myself in the name of research!) – she was so drunk that she could barely speak but nevertheless, happily went back to his room with him. I just wanted to explain to her the difference between enjoying your sexuality and valuing yourself on your sexual desirability alone. I didn’t though, because she made her choice. But I went to bed feeling worried for a young stranger and for young women who base their self-esteem on casual sexual encounters. I’m not sure that’s what the Women’s Liberation Movement intended when they campaigned for women to have access to birth control. I’m not saying casual sex is wrong, but I am concerned that it is becoming too closely linked with feelings of self-worth for some young girls.

I hear women expressing gratitude that their partner has hoovered. I also hear them mocking their partner for not doing the washing up correctly. Each time I cringe because it seems to me that this is not only deeply patronising towards men but also implies that a woman should be grateful when her partner does some housework. The point is that both genders can hoover, iron, wash up and tidy as well as the other; there should be shared responsibility for the household. But, there are some things that we cannot do equally and it is these things that should be celebrated. I like that I can be carried over the threshold by a man, I also enjoy the thought that I can bear him a child. Alternatively, I enjoy the intuitive bond that women share and that, yes, we can multi-task.

But there are things that still need to change. At university I was harassed by a lecturer who made it clear that he wasn’t too fussed about keeping it professional.  I didn’t know how to respond so cried in my room and spent the rest of my degree course avoiding him. I didn’t want to be perceived as having ‘made a fuss’ so I didn’t report him, but it made me feel cheap and angry at myself for not being more assertive. So, when a man shouted ‘suck my cock!’ at me from the window of his van I memorised his number plate, rang the police and reported him for harassment. I also reported the man who followed me home and I would have reported the bloke who grabbed my bum as he cycled past me but on closer inspection he was about 14 years old so I shouted after him that he was “behaving really inappropriately” in my best ‘I-am-a-grown-up-telling-you-off’ voice. These are minor incidents and some people have queried my response to them (which pisses me off frankly), but the point is this… I enjoy my body, I love being a woman but on no account will I be reduced to the sum of my parts. The policeman who took my call said that I had the right to walk down the street without being intimidated. He was right, but I wanted to point out that whistles, comments and occasional unwanted touching are a sad part of a woman’s life. And while we are dancing on bars for free booze and showing disregard for our self-worth, why would other people treat us any differently?

My own stance on feminism has changed over the years, I used to be angrily adamant that I would never ‘just be a housewife’ as if a man was going to come along and imprison me in the kitchen. Now, I know that raising a family is one of the most challenging, rewarding, and important jobs there is and that dedicating yourself to this doesn’t need to rule out individual achievement or aspiration. As with everything, it’s about balance, hard work and, ultimately, team work with your partner. I like being in the kitchen and I also enjoy my job. For me, feminism is equality for men and women. It’s about taking action if you are being groped on public transport and taking action if someone tells you that someone making inappropriate comments towards you ‘was just a bit of banter’.

Feminism is also about respecting each other’s choices, some women will stay at home to look after their children, others couldn’t think of anything worse. Essentially, third-wave feminism is furthering the work of our mother’s in the 1960’s and 1970’s but whilst we continue to strive for our rights, we have to remember the great things about being a woman and support each other’s choices. We are nurturing, emotional, complicated, fragile, resilient, resourceful and downright awesome.  So, yeah, I’m a fucking feminist.

Time and tide…

Image

Bosham Harbour in West Sussex

Last weekend the dude and I visited my parents in West Sussex and went for an amble around Bosham. It’s one of those bizarre English pronunciations, so it’s ‘Bozz-erm’ rather than ‘Bos-ham’, ‘Bosh-am’ or, as the dude suggested, the funkier sounding ‘Bo-sham’.

I grew up in Sussex so was often pootling about near some water, skimming stones, plunging into the icy English channel for a swim, sitting watching the waves, and as a teenager making illegal bonfires with friends on Portsmouth beach whilst drinking cheap alcohol and listening to someone playing Red Hot Chili Peppers on the guitar. Miraculously, these escapades only resulted in one hospital visit, that I know of, and only a few disgruntled parents driving to the seafront to claim their disastrously inebriated child.

Now, I live in land-locked Oxfordshire so always enjoy and appreciate the coast so much more when we go and visit. Bosham is on an inlet of Chichester Harbour so it isn’t directly on the seafront, instead it’s a tucked away haven with gentle tidal water lapping at the town’s edge and sailing boats launching from the slipways dotted about. The town and tide have no boundary to keep each other out, so the water creeps up through the roads at high tide, and the town grows to it’s full size at low tide.

Bosham Church

Bosham Church

Bosham Church is a pretty little 11th Century church, and it’s depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry as Bosham is said to be where King Harold left England for the ill-fated trip to Normandy in 1064 which sparked war and, ultimately the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. We walked around the churchyard in beautiful spring sunshine.

Bluebells in Bosham churchyard

Bluebells in Bosham churchyard

I love Bluebells and they have been abundant this year, carpeting woodlands and here they are clustered around someone’s gravestone. As a final resting place, it’s not a bad spot.

boat

‘My’ sailing boat

We walked from the churchyard and ambled our way around the harbour, watching the sailing boats drift by. We stumbled upon this beautiful wooden boat, moored in a little creek and I was so tempted to hop in and sail off into the sunset! But, apart from not having the faintest idea about sailing, I don’t really fancy the idea of spending the next few years in a cell somewhere. So, I decided to keep on walking and think of the little wooden boat as something to dream about…