A year or so ago, after Fusilier Lee Rigby was butchered on a London street, the English Defence League (or bunch of fascist bastards as they are more commonly known) marched on a mosque in York. The muslims met them with tea and biscuits, and they began to chat, and then they had a game of football, and the riot police went home.
I thought of that last night after the news of the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. I thought of all the millions of muslims who are, in effect, our brothers and sisters in this world, who are bracing themselves to pay the price for the atrocities that extremists commit in their name.
Ordinary muslims all over the world are suffering terribly at the hands of extremists at the moment; 200,000 are thought to have died in the civil war in Syria. Thousands more have had to leave their homes. Isis is marching across the Middle East. Young men and women in the west, seduced by the sham ideology of ‘freedom fighting’, are leaving their homes to join the chaos. Some are ending up as suicide bombers, and western governments fear some will come home as terrorists. Maybe that is where yesterday’s killers came from.
We, as the general public, can do nothing, really, to stop these random acts of murder. But we can do everything to show our solidarity as human beings. At the end of some Christian church services, the people in the congregation shake hands with each other. Let’s start going out of our way to shake hands, in reality and metaphorically, with people who don’t share our faith. Let us show that we can stand together. Bugger extremists with guns, let’s show the power of people with pens.
Cup of tea, anyone?
Top picture by Ann Czernik, at http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits .
Second picture via creative commons, courtesy of http://dpdpksmedan.org/category/download/page/9/
So that’s it. Eleven days of national blow out, all come to an end. The party’s over, the socks made from recycled toothbrushes, a present from your auntie, have been shoved under the sofa, waiting to creep out in August. The bizarre half drunk bottle of orange brandy that your father in law brought round because he thought it might come in useful, has been stashed in the farthest recesses of your larder, waiting until you need to clean the drains. One or two pine needles litter the carpet, all that’s left of the tree, and there is a tiny piece of stuffing with fluff growing round it at the back of the fridge.
Alarm clocks are going off at unmentionable hours, bills are arriving, and the voices of the solar panel telephone salespeople are once more heard in the land. Truly they are cold calling.
All is gloom and ordinary.
Can you tell that I’ve given up drink for January?
Picture via creative commons, courtesy of http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2014/081/9/f/pony_meme___get_me_a_cup_of_tea__by_twistermon-d7b84vr.png
So you’ve spent weeks planning what to buy people, you’ve braved the crowds and trawled the internet until your eyes bleed and your credit card crumbles. And then you wake up on Christmas morning and discover that your nearest and dearest have had mass hypnosis, or frontal lobotomies (or one too many sherries), and have decided that you really needed a dressing gown that you can wear while appearing on Only Fools and Horses:
Or, possibly a pair of socks (pretend you’re a Brit on holiday!) :
Gloves that look like underpants? Yes, handerpants are just for you! (Slip them on and pretend you’re having that perfect apres ski moment with the Beckhams):
They might even have got you a farting teddy bear (he just can’t help himself…you are in for a surprise!)
And look at this nice wallet. Mmm. Tasty. (You’ll bring home the bacon in this, fnar, fnar)
But, (and be afraid here, be very afraid) all this is as nothing when I tell you that my husband, who is a practical kind of guy, was once stuck for what to give his brother as a Christmas present.
‘I know exactly the thing,’ his dad said. ‘He needs a manhole cover.’
(He got screwdrivers)
raindeer hat courtesy of http://www.baronbob.com/humping-reindeer-har.htm
I was thinking the other day about…well, I can’t remember what about, and that’s half the problem. My brain has gone mushy.
I’m doing all those things they talk about in Readers Digest. (At least, I think it was that. For all I know it could have been Miniature Donkey Talk, or OMFG: Official Meeting Facilities Guide). I go into rooms and can’t remember why I’m there.
I start sentences and get stuck at the most tantalising moment. ‘Yes, but that’s nothing,’ I will confide to a friend. ‘I remember a time when I took all my clothes off in a train and….’ Friend looks at me eagerly.
‘When I took all my…’ I repeat.
Friend nods. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Yes??? What happened next?
And then I look at her rather doubtfully because at the same time as I am talking something really mundane enters my head, like the fact that the woman at the entrance to TK Maxx is pleading with her seven year old son, ‘Look, Ryan, I’ve gotta have a roll up, right? One roll up, and then we’ll do the escalator. We will Do The Escalator. Right?’
And whatever I was talking about has vanished into the Christmas mist.
Still, my mind is as a steel trap compared with the rest of my family when it comes to remembering stuff. In the 1950s my mum and dad lived in Malaya, as it was called then, and when they wanted to come home they had to fly in a succession of Dakotas. Which was fine, until my mother left my brother, then a baby, at Milan airport. Apparently, they were all ready to taxi off when this Italian judge came running out, shouting, ‘Signora, signora…I think you have left something!’
Even then my mother just smiled at him. ‘No, really, ‘ she said comfortingly. ‘I’ve got my handbag. And my passport. What else could I possibly need?’
But it was only when I met my husband that I began to realise that forgetfulness can be specific. Steve, when he wants to put something down, generally puts it up; his favourite places are, the top of the fridge, the top of the wardrobe, or above a door. He lost a drill for three years and then discovered it on the top of the window shutters. (Don’t ask). On holiday one time in Chamonix, in the French Alps, we had a lovely picnic in a summer meadow and then drove off. Only for him to realise he’d left his Swiss Army knife on the roof. Which, when he stopped was, strangely, no longer there. Optimist that he is, we went back and searched for it. And, get this, we found it. In the middle of a bloody Alpine meadow.
We weren’t so lucky a few days later when he left his sandals on the roof of the car in the middle of Cannes and drove away. They sailed off into the blue, God knows where. We never found them. He had to go to a supermarket in bare feet to get a new pair. Which, even for the French, was a Bit Bohemian.
A few years later I drove off with the kids in the back of the car only to hear a vague crash as I neared the post office. Eldest son said conversationally to eldest daughter, ‘I knew she wouldn’t see that dinner plate on the roof.’
And then…I’m not actually sure I should be telling you this, but, we went to Ikea and husband bought a wardrobe door in the bargain basement. He thought it would Come In Useful. It was an enormous thing; far too big to get in the car. So he tied it to the roof. And, determined that it wasn’t going to fly off, he tied it on very tightly. Too tightly. Because at 60mph it reached maximum waggle (I’m sure that’s the correct physical term) and yes, you guessed correctly, it flew off on a major A road Somewhere in England. All we heard was a giant Craaaaack! And then a bang as it hit the road. Neither of us wanted to look round in case there was a mortally wounded motor cyclist lying behind us, struggling feebly under some bloodstained particle board. You can imagine our relief, therefore, when we did look and there was nothing in the road but a trail of splintered wood. Gosh, how good we felt. We picked up the pieces and found that they now fitted quite nicely in the car, and drove away, quickly.
So there you have it. What was I talking about?
Images via Creative Commons, courtesy of:
What ho chaps! What ho, what ho, what ho! I have a day off, and I ought to be bent dutifully over my Christmas card list. But no! A pox on it! I shall write them in the traditional manner late on Christmas Eve, so that my nearest and dearest have something to look forward to in the New Year.
I will write a post instead about what.
At the risk of sounding like Abbott and Costello, what is an interesting word.
You can say hello with it as in ‘Wotcha!’ which I have just discovered dates back hundreds of years According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘wotcha’ is a contraction of: ‘What chere/cheer be with you?’, which was a common greeting . Chere/cheer meant ‘face’ and thus referred to a person’s expression of their mood.
Person a: ‘hello!’
Person b: ‘wotcha!’
‘What’ is used a lot in greetings. What’s up? What ho? What news upon the Rialto? (The last comes from a Shakespearean inquiry about two for one cinema nights)
Then there’s the tired teenager’s method of dealing with parental rage:
Parent: I am not a taxi driver, this is not a hotel, that bedroom is a health hazard…
(For Essex teenagers, this is contracted to whatevs.)
Then there is, What what? An archaic, upper class, expression used to prompt an agreement. As in, ‘Awfully chilly tonight, what what? Is it always like this at the North Pole?’
(What what is easily interchangeable with the expression, donchernow)
You can express dismay and amazement with the term, Do what? As in,
Person a: Your mother has run off with the gas man and Arsenal lost at home to Redditch United.
Person b: Do what?
What seems to have been in existence before 900. And its great granny and grandad was the Old English hwaet, and Old Norse hvat.
So there you go. Eh, what?
Image via Creative Commons, courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Carl_Larsson_Model_writing_postcards_1906.jpg
Exactly 18 years ago today, I punched my husband. I was past speaking, but I hit him hard enough so that he fell half under the bed, with a muffled ‘Ow!’ At this point the midwife, who was a cross between a sergeant major and girls’ school hockey captain, told us both to behave and that she would not tolerate fighting on her labour ward. Quite what she was going to do if we continued, I don’t know, considering I was in the last gasping stages of giving birth.
Steve, in his defence, had been told to make himself useful by dabbing my lips with some damp cotton wool on the end of a stick. Being a technically minded kind of guy he set out carefully to poke every square micron of my mouth. I’m sure I told him to stop. He’s sure I didn’t. Whatever. The pethidine was wearing off and I was in no mood for being shakily dabbed at.
Shortly after that, everything changed entirely because Rose was born. We had waited so long for a baby that, even when she arrived, I couldn’t believe it. I remember looking at her and saying wonderingly, ‘It’s a baby.’ Honest to God, if she had been a puppy I would have been less surprised.
And now, as I say, it’s 18 years on and Rose is officially grown up. We’ve watched her grow from an intensely absorbed, imaginative little girl to a beautiful, generous and kind young woman. I know you don’t really like me mentioning you on my blog, Rose, but happy birthday, and thank you for being you.
Today is Armistice Day, and I want to pay tribute to Reg Hill, one of the last of the Old Contemptibles.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star for conspicuous gallantry and I was sent to interview him when I worked on a weekly newspaper. Being a junior reporter and only 19 I didn’t really know much about anything, and that day when I arrived on his doorstep in November 1978 was no exception. My knowledge of the Great War was fairly sketchy and I had just pushed the doorbell when I realised I had nothing to write on and nothing to write with.
But by then it was too late. Reg had already opened his front door. He was 96 and he looked small and vulnerable. I couldn’t help thinking that he actually looked like a tortoise that had lost its shell. But in two ticks he had welcomed me in, brushed off my ineptness, put the kettle on and given me a pen and a fancy boxed set of paper and envelopes to write on.
Reg was with the British Expeditionary Force present in France up to to the end of the First Battle of Ypres on 22 November 1914. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, who was famously dismissive of the BEF, reportedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to ‘exterminate… the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army.’
Sixty four years later Reg settled into his armchair and said, ‘There’s only three of us Old Contemptibles left in North Bucks now. That’s what Kaiser Bill called us. So we thought, right, that’s our name then.’
Reg was a sergeant artificer in the Rocket Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916. ‘We were in the trenches after a bit of a do, and we were being shelled and I heard this voice shouting, ‘Blesse, blesse,’ and I knew that meant, wounded, see, in French. So I put my head above the parapet and I could see this bloke lying out in No Man’s Land. I couldn’t just leave him there, could I?’
Despite his mates’ best advice not to risk it, Reg scrambled over the top, under fire, ran to the man and heaved him on to his back.
‘We were heavily shelled – I had to jump into shell holes three times on the way back,’ said Reg. ‘Terrible places, they were. Full of water.’
And he carried that man on his back all the way to the nearest first aid post. ‘They made such a fuss when I got there,’ he said, in some wonderment. ‘And being French, they insisted on plying me with wine before they let me go back.’
Reg went on to fight at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and survived both, before being invalided out with a wounded arm.
‘I always go to the Remembrance Day services,’ he said. ‘Because I lost some good chums. No mistake about that.’
Reg died not long after that interview and was missed by many. I still think of him.
Fellow blogger Naptime Thoughts has been sending me pictures of Walmart People. These are rather oddly dressed people who go shopping in the US supermarket chain Walmart (which owns Asda). For example:
Or possibly even:
She asked me if we have anything similar in Britain, and I’m afraid I’m a bit out of my depth. The closest I could find was Tesco asking customers in its 24-hour stores not to come shopping in their pyjamas.
But frankly, if you have nice jammies, why not? So, instead, I thought I’d do a post on people on the London Underground. The joy of London, is that it doesn’t matter what you look like, nobody takes any notice of you. At All. Many foreigners think this is because we are polite. It’s more to with Not Wanting To Get Involved With A Nutter.
I give you life on the Tube:
Fans of Hartlepool United (don’t ask):
A pink elf:
And my personal favourite:
Poor bloke. I know the Northern Line is bad, but he obviously got on at Embalment.
Pictures courtesy of Pinterest:
People of Walmart:
My mum is 94 today. As I’ve said before, she still lives on her own, and does her own cooking and shopping. I’ve written elsewhere about her spirit and coolness in the face of danger. And her handiness on a Scrabble board. I just want to say what happened after I visited her this week.
When she came out of her flat to wave me off, I got cross because she didn’t want to use her walking stick. ‘Ach,’ she said, picking it up in disgust. ‘You’re making me old.’
Happy birthday, mum.
I don’t normally accept awards, because I can’t cope with the general request to think up seven interesting facts about myself. But Naptime Thoughts nominated me the other week for the Very Inspiring Blog award, in which (since she has changed the rules) you are allowed to lie through your teeth. How could I refuse?? Also, go check out her blog. It’s very good.
The first instruction is how you would change the world if you were in charge.
First off, I would banish:
(That’s enough moaning,ed).
Ok. Ten things I have to make up about myself, but that I wish were true.
Hmmm. Right. I would like to:
So now I nominate:
Bruce Goodman, with the plea that he doesn’t stop blogging at the end of the year.
First Night Design, beautiful artwork, and great historical stuff;
Larry Woodgate, love his exasperated views of American politics;
Charles Yallowitz, check out his books;
Tara Sparling, one of the funniest bloggers I’ve read;
Sally, with her humorous views on motherhood;
Olga, who is possibly the kindest and cleverest blogger I’ve come across;
Mel Healy, really thoughtful stuff, and when he’s not being serious, very funny;
David Prosser, massive hugs;
Simon, check out his cooking – and his pictures.
All pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of: