The Will of the People

MPs have voted by a majority of 384 to allow the prime minister, Theresa May, to trigger Article 51, the process which will lead to the reintroduction of the death penalty.  The bill proposing the change has successfully progressed through its first reading in spite of a great deal of dissent in the House of Commons.  The debate and subsequent vote were themselves the subject of controversy after an order by the Supreme Court to allow parliament a say in whether or not to set the changes in motion, with the government insisting that parliamentary permission was not required.  They have repeatedly refused to confirm the cost of the court case.

Notable rebels against the passing of the bill include all SNP MPs, who claim they must respect the position of the Scottish people, as both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against the death penalty, as well as Conservative MP Ken Clarke and 47 Labour parliamentarians who all defied a three line whip issued by Jeremy Corbyn.  The official position of both the government and Labour is that the death penalty must return in accordance with the wishes of the 51.9% who voted ‘Yes’ in the advisory referendum, which had a 72.2% turnout.

Despite a number of the Pro-Death Penalty Alliance’s claims being widely discredited since the referendum in June 2016, MPs and other campaigners insist that to fail to implement the death penalty would be a betrayal of democracy.  President Trump has congratulated the British people on their bold decision and insists that it will strengthen the special relationship between the UK and the US.

 

An Unfortunate Incident in the Bathroom

I’m going to tell you about a thing that happened.  It’s a bit embarrassing and might be considered oversharing.  So be it.  Now, the title might be worrying you somewhat, particularly in light of recent revelations involving the President-elect.  Don’t worry; it’s not that kind of story.  You need some background: I’m getting work done on the bathroom and it’s a bit of a building site at the moment. That being said, it has a usable toilet, so, at the end of an exciting episode of Question Time, I’d hung on enough and went for a wee.  Be warned, this is only the first part of the oversharing.

I went into the bathroom/building site, where I found one of the cats sitting quietly on the windowsill, risking getting tile dividers stuck up her bum, but …her bum, her choice, right?  As I sat down on the toilet, she jumped from the window sill to the door and from the door to the hole in the ceiling that, until last week, had been blocked by pipes and boxed in.  Instinctively, I jumped up and grabbed the disappearing cat by a leg.

To add insult to injury, the door she had used for this impromptu feline parkour wasn’t actually attached to the frame, merely resting against a wall, and under the force of her propulsion, it fell towards me; luckily, with my cat-like reactions, I shat in a sandbox and chased a mouse.  Not really; but I did manage to get my ‘spare’ hand on the door to stop it hitting me on the head.

At this point, I should probably paint you a mental image of the scenario: picture, if you will (though you may prefer not to), me …standing with both knickers and trousers round my ankles, holding the leg of a struggling cat with one hand, while trying to rebalance a heavy door with the other hand and my head.  Bear in mind also, that for the one leg I have hold of, she has three in the ceiling and they’re giving her a lot of purchase and that now she’s not only trying to get into the ceiling but away from the crazy person hanging onto her leg.  The outcome was looking pretty grim.  As you can probably imagine, there was a lot of swearing going on, both in English and ‘Cat’, judging by the yowls punctuating her frantic wriggling.

Now, there were other people in the house: my husband and two daughters were in a nearby room and I could have shouted for help, but I refer you to the aforementioned mental image.  It wasn’t one I wished to convert into a literal image for anyone and my brain was desperately calculating the likelihood of me getting the cat to safety without sacrificing my family’s mental health and my own self-respect.  Luckily, my desire to stop the cat from vanishing into the labyrinth of the ceiling cavity was obviously greater than her desire to get into it and I managed to give the door a strong enough shove to lean it back on the wall and drag the cat out of the ceiling and onto my head and shoulder.  I’ll have scars, both literal and figurative.

At this point, the meowing culprit had gone from being a tuxedo cat, to a primarily plaster-white cat but thankfully, not a ‘stuck’ cat that would have required me to call the fire brigade to smash a wall in.  I set her down and, before doing anything else, I lifted the door out of the room so she couldn’t use it as a launching pad again.  May I say that the shuffle through the doorway, with a solid wood door in both hands, a disgruntled cat at my feet and my pants like particularly undignified shackles, will remain with me as a low point for the foreseeable future, which may not be much longer if that door doesn’t get hung soon.

Incidentally, if anybody has connections with the writing team for Miranda Hart, the scenario is available for their use at a small price.  Enough money to buy a dog, would be good. This would never have happened with a dog.

The dangers of an online presence

If you’ve ever had any bother with family, colleagues, anyone, then an online presence – as the youngsters call it – is just asking for trouble.  You can get around the dangers a little by having an anonymous account or accounts, but you have to be so careful not to leave any clues about who you really are, especially if whoever you’re trying to avoid is good at putting two and two together.  And if those people are good with technology, you’d better be damn sure you’ve covered your tracks and left no trail for them to follow.  I left a trail.

I don’t really want to go into the details, even though it’s a bit like shutting the stable door after someone broke in and shot the horse with a bolt gun, or whatever, but I’d be pretty embarrassed to write about it because I’m just not one of life’s sharers.  No offence meant if we’ve been internet friends for a while, but I know now that I can’t necessarily trust anyone online and I should have had the sense to realise that earlier.  At heart, it’s what I believed all along but you kid yourself sometimes out of …don’t know …loneliness, perhaps?  But, that being said, I would like to get the main facts off my chest because I’m going to have to delete everything I’ve ever posted to the internet: Facebook, Twitter, My Space (I know!  Shut up!) and this, too, unfortunately, once enough of you have read it.  I might print a few things out that I’ve been proud of.  Maybe not.  Probably not.

So … deep breath and all that …it started a long time ago, so long it’s like I was someone else.  I was very young, definitely a lot more stupid, if you can imagine that being possible, and I was naive.  Maybe ‘naive’ isn’t strong enough: gullible is what I was.  I was taken in by bigger personalities than mine: more interesting, more daring, more glamorous, which wouldn’t be hard because I was never even slightly interesting or glamorous back then and I’m still not.  But I faked it really well, just so they would accept me, and it was obviously convincing; some of them looked up to me, while others resented me very deeply for that respect, which they could definitely tell I didn’t really deserve.  They were able to see through me more than most and they knew that I knew, which made for a tense atmosphere.

Eventually, I got involved in doing stuff that I’m not prepared to disclose on a public forum, even one I’m about to leave forever.  Though I fooled myself into believing I was led into it, in reality, I kind of just lost my head, believed my own bravado and dragged a few others along with me.  I’m so very sorry for that now, but sorry isn’t always enough.  Sometimes, there are only really two options: run or face the consequences; sometimes there aren’t even that many.  I had the choice and I decided to run.  I cut my ties, dropped all my friends, although by then I’d cottoned on to the fact that none of them were really my friends.  I lived for years watching my back.  But I got complacent.

Everyone seemed to be using the internet and I was curious, in spite of being a bit of a Luddite.  At first, I just used the old MSN messenger and then I was commenting on news sites and in forums.  When My Space came along I got that and I stalked Friends Reunited because I’d grown pretty curious about people whose paths had crossed mine.  Then I got Facebook and I made sure I only added people I’d met recently in the real world and nobody I’d known before; nobody from the bad times and nobody I hadn’t actually met.  I was so careful!  Then I joined Twitter.

Now, I started out doing what most people probably do at first, which is following famous people and tweeting about boring things: stuff on the telly, news stories, whatever was trending, etc.  Then I started tweeting jokes and pictures I’d made and I followed back the people who followed me rather than just celebrities.  I started to get more followers than seemed reasonable and, from among them, I made friends.  No!  I thought I made friends.  When you think someone is a friend, you let your guard down and tell them things you wouldn’t otherwise tell anyone; it wasn’t that I just blurted out my life history but instead of sticking to the jokes and suchlike, I got sucked into private conversations in which I let slip little bits of truth, then more bits and more.  The truth, people, will not set you free.

Snippets of information were being shared with people I wouldn’t have chosen to trust, long before I realised; by the time this fact filtered back to me, the grapevine had grown too large for me to shut down and the very bunch I’d been avoiding had found me again. Believe me, you never know who’s hiding behind those cartoon avis, meaningless @ names and eggs.  So, here I am. Telling you this so you know why I’m not going to be around and aren’t left wondering, because it may not have always seemed like it but I have liked some of you and I feel I owe you an explanation.

It’d be a lie if I said I was simply going offline because I do most of my work via the internet these days, but it won’t be like it is now and you won’t know it’s me, I guarantee it.  I won’t use any of the many names I already have, so it’s no use expecting to find me under @morningstar or satan@sky.com, nor @lucifer1089, and @lucifer666 is already taken – I’ve checked, so don’t bother looking.  I won’t follow you or add you or friend you again.  We won’t talk.  I’ll just be an online presence.

Team GB Success Causes Medalmania

With the runaway success of Team GB at the Rio Olympics, British people are now expecting medals for virtually every activity.  The phenomenon was first observed after Adam Peaty took the gold for the 100m breaststroke on day 2 of the Olympics, whereupon a fight broke out between two pensioners at the early-bird swim in the Wavertree Aquatics Centre in Liverpool over the pool attendant’s refusal to hold an award ceremony using some benches and a stack of floats as a podium.

Initially, the problem seemed to be confined to sporting activities.  The Hull Ladies’ Crown Green Bowling Club hired local lad Reece Shearsmith at great expense to decorate them for their victory over the Humber Bowling Demons Ladies’ team, choosing to play Housemartins hit ‘Happy Hour’ instead of the national anthem during the ceremony.  In Cornwall, a last-minute sprint gave Mevagissey man Dan Polter a victory over Devonian outsider Alan Hammond-Jones in the charity egg-and-spoon race at the parish church of St Kentigern, before a ceremony on the village green, attended by local dignitaries and Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives.

However, as the Team GB Rio medals have stacked up, so has medalmania in the UK.  The insistence on being given not only a medal, but an accompanying solemn ceremony with a podium, a flag and music, has now spread into less obvious pursuits.  Police had to be called to a branch of Aldi in Cardiff when a woman demanded to see the manager after she claimed to be due a gold medal for getting her shopping into the bags at the same speed at which it had been fed through the scanner.  She was charged with common assault, fined and banned from all branches of Aldi in Wales for twelve months.  Further incidents of medalmania include unrest caused by people who were upset at not receiving medals for ‘getting a Renault Captur into a tight parking space’,  ‘putting a USB stick into the slot the right way up first time’ and ‘understanding all of the lyrics of Come On, Eileen’.

While many of the incidents of medalmania have been dealt with in a timely and relatively trouble-free manner, the authorities are concerned that the attitude could become ingrained in British culture, adding billions of pounds to the cost of an already strained infrastructure.  An emergency session of parliament was called to discuss the growing crisis.  Michael Fallon was awarded the gold medal for ‘shouting for the longest before being told to pack it in by the Speaker’.

Word Thief

“Poems don’t have to rhyme!” she said, shoving an adjective hurriedly into her pocket.

But as she left the shop, I heard her add “If they don’t, it’s a minor crime.”

I locked the door in case she should come back and steal more words:

Some verbs could easily slot into the pocket of her jeans; a noun or two shoved down a sock.

And then where would I be?

Alone, behind the counter, committing a minor crime.

A Busy Life

When people ask me what I do, I silently judge them for their nosiness before telling them I’m a copywriter.  I then explain what a copywriter is, unless they’re fans of ‘Madmen’, in which case I explain what a copywriter isn’t.  But I don’t really have the time for writing at the moment.  Just the creation of that sentence has guaranteed that the bathroom I should be cleaning will, at best, be left with a smeared mirror, while the sentence explaining about the smeared mirror has probably ensured I won’t have time to mop the floor.  If I don’t stop explaining stuff, the bathroom will be a no-go area for all those not in possession of hazmat gear.  As usual.  But the heart wants what it wants and a writer writes and meta crap like that, so I’m neglecting the list of jobs that are mounting up in order to write this.  I’m sure my expected visitors will at least be polite enough to pretend they can’t see the mess as long as they’re here and will only comment on my inadequacy once I’m out of earshot.

There are always things I should do, but don’t.  Find more work, sleep more, get more exercise, wash a dish now and then, train one of the cats to switch the kettle on … important stuff like that.  And there’s also the other list; the things I shouldn’t be doing, or shouldn’t be doing as much: eat less sugar, tweet less, yell less at political programmes, write fewer lists …  But, at the risk of accidentally plagiarising Hallmark’s output for the last century, the thing I should be concentrating on, should have always been concentrating on, is appreciating the things I have while I have them instead of worrying about what I used to have, think I should have had or wish I could get in the future.

Shortly after my dad died at the end of 2014, my mum went into a care home.  Her dementia had left her with short-term memory problems and some confusion, so visits immediately took on a Groundhog Day ambience, only on a 5-minute loop instead of a 24-hour one, and we struggled to have a conversation.  However, a life spent playing board games and doing quizzes had burnt those processes into her brain, so we could still enjoy some quality time together with the Trivial Pursuit or Ludo and little flashes of the intelligence beneath the fog would surface even as she was asking which colour pieces were hers each time it was her turn.  I’d leave when it was time for her to have dinner or for me to go and do mum things instead of daughter things and it’d be just another little interlude in a busy life.

So, when she had an accident last month and went to hospital, we lost those games and had nothing left but Groundhog Day and it was hard to take.  We were all looking forward to the day when we could get her back to the home and slip back into the routine that would let her be herself again, in some small way.  Sadly, that didn’t and won’t happen as she died in the early hours of Wednesday.  Comfortable, clean, sleeping, not alone.  We could all do a lot worse.  Since then, I’ve been cleaning, decorating, making more phone calls than I usually make in a year, eating fast food because I have no time to cook, writing when I shouldn’t be writing and, as ever, not appreciating what I have while I have it.  From now on, when people ask what I do, I’ll give them the honest answer; I fiddle while Rome burns.

Farewell, NaPoWriMo

A month of poetry can take its toll

Upon the reader and the poet too.

Though topics may be dredged up from the soul,

They often will appeal to just a few.

The poet tries each day to do their best

To strike a chord within each reader’s mind.

But, as your own appraisal will attest,

Such harmony is difficult to find.

And now this final day has come around.

Just one last piece before I rest my pen

And I can dash my notebook to the ground,

‘Tis many months till I’ll need them again.

So this is all that’s left for me to say:

Thank fuck tomorrow is the first of May.

Poem

A poem can move, can calm can thrill,

Its lines can guide, help to decide,

Much more beside, yet still,

At times, its words unwind

And leave their many powers behind

And wander where they will.

 

In countless ways a poem has soul,

Its meanings change, it’s not that strange:

Its readers range, each role

A brave new part to play,

The poem has fresh things to stay,

Each thought a compact whole.

The Wise and Friendly badger

You see them in the stories; they’re always very wise.

With gravitas, with patience and with kind and caring eyes.

They steer the woodland animals away from foolish errors,

They keep the mice and rabbits and the hedgehogs from all terrors.

Their guidance is unparallelled, their insight quite astounding,

Their sense of fairness most advanced, their qualities abounding.

Their homes are neat and cosy, their habits most fastidious,

Their entertainment perfect as each one’s a host punctilious.

The other forest creatures know that these beasts can be trusted.

They’ll sit and tell their troubles in a cottage highly dusted.

But if you see a badger as you walk out in the twilight

A rustle in a hedgerow and a peek of black and bright white,

Don’t tell it all your problems!  Don’t expect it to be nice.

It will tear your sodding throat out without even thinking twice!

 

The topic for this was chosen by a Twitter friend, Sian Ifans () and I’d like to thank her for it because it was a lot of fun.

Curses

May you always be caught as the lights turn to red.

May your socks start to slip as you run for the train.

May your bladder fill up as you get into bed.

May you exit the salon into lashing rain.

May The One Show come on when you’ve lost your remote.

May you email your boss with a kiss at the end.

May a pair of tights stick to the back of your coat.

May you spot the text typo just as you press ‘send’.

May you go a whole day with your top inside out.

May you think you’ve got tea when you’ve drunk the whole cup.

May you ruin your photos by trying to pout.

May you get in the ‘down’ lift and find it goes ‘up’.

May you buy the wrong ink for the printer you own.

May your laptop keys break so there’s no ‘e’ or ‘r’.

May the Crazy Frog ringtone get stuck on your phone.

May a gull take a dump on your freshly washed car.

May your series link fail so you miss your best show.

May you make a mistake and put talc in your stew.

May your nettles run wild but your roses not grow.

May you see this and realise it’s about you.