Thank Alan

Tallulah is obsessed with one of her teachers at school. All her schoolmates are also obsessed with this teacher. It is not because he is handsome, for which I thank Cheezus himself. It is because he is deeply eccentric.

Now, I love an eccentric teacher. You spend many, many years in school, and despite lots of old duffers waveringly asserting: ‘You will look back on your school days as the best days of your life,’ those years seem like a life sentence for many children, me included. I remember thinking: ‘Christ, if school days really are the best days of my life, I might as well kill myself now because adulthood is going to be absolutely hideous.’

Luckily, they were lying.

The highlights of my school life consisted of English lessons, being able to eat chips every day for four years once my mother had to give me money for the school canteen, and the joy of discovering a bonkers teacher.

I am glad that Tallulah is already accruing eccentric teachers. She came rushing home on Friday after school:

‘Mama, mama, mama! We had Mr. X again for Y this afternoon!’

Me: ‘Yes?’

Tallulah: ‘Yes. He was glorious!’

Me: ‘In what way? Has he finally woken in your feeble brain a deep passion for Y?’

Tallulah: ‘No! Don’t be silly! Y is a stupid subject.’

Me: ‘Oh. Fair enough. It is a stupid subject. What then?’

Tallulah: ‘Well, he was telling us about this charity thing he’s involved in. He told us that he got lots of great pictures of it this year because his friend Alan, sold him an excellent camera for £20.’

At this she dissolves into squeals of laughter.

I am confused.

Me: ‘Yes? Well that’s good, and lucky, but not funny.’

Tallulah: ‘No…but then he…(breaks out again, laughing hysterically)…put his hands together like he was saying a prayer. (she snorts) Then he bent his head over his hands and said: ‘Thank Alan.”

I start to giggle.

She is gasping now.

Tallulah: ‘Then we all burst out laughing, and he got really cross and said: ‘What is there to laugh about? It’s not funny. I said ‘Thank Alan,’ not ‘Thank Allah.”

She has tears rolling down her face by this point, and I too am laughing very hard. It is just the sort of story that will provide us with a catchphrase for months to come.

As predicted she has spent the weekend walking round the house, bobbing into active prayer mode and intoning solemnly: ‘Thank Alan’, before every meal, item, she sees.

Thank Alan.

The Girls are a bit Weird

On the way home from school yesterday:

Oscar: ‘Mama. I think all the girls in my class have gone a bit strange?’

Me: ‘Really? Why?’

Oscar: ‘Well, they are all giggling and they keep discussing the boys and which boys love them.’

Me: ‘Ah!’

Oscar (shaking his head in disbelief): ‘I had to protect X today.’

Me: ‘What from?’

Oscar (darkly): ‘Girls.’

Me: ‘What were they doing?’

Oscar (starts shaking his head again): ‘Well, they were chasing him round the playground, and asking him to choose which one of them he loves the best.’

Me: ‘Oh, right.’

Oscar: ‘Yeah, and the thing is mama, (his tone becomes serious now) you know that in those circumstances, nothing good can come out of it.’

Me: ‘Indeed not.’

Oscar: ‘So that’s why I think the girls have gone a bit strange. They’re just so weird.’

Me: ‘I hear you.’

George – Don’t do that

Yesterday was one of those days where every piece of news I read literally made me want to tear my hair out and jump up and down like Violet Elizabeth on crack.

I suspect that if I read the news every day in as much detail as I did yesterday, this would be my natural state, and I would just be a teeny, screeching, balding harridan, wearing whatever the opposite of desire paths is into the carpets (hatred paths? I’ll take it), whilst typing my fingers to the bone.


I do, usually, try to avoid too much news for this very reason. Sadly, I am wrestling with chapter nine, and it is winning, so I am spending a lot of time reading the Guardian whilst huffing violently like a fleshy steam train.

I have had to give up the Daily Mail completely due to the fact that I am afraid I will spontaneously combust before I’ve finished the damn book.

The only bright spot on the horizon is that at least I am wrestling with chapter nine, not chapter eight.

All the fun.

Yesterday’s final indignity was that utter fuckweasel George Osborne’s autumn spending review speech.

The only bright spot as far as I can see was the fact that he was forced to abandon his draconian cuts to the tax credits for fear that he had finally pushed the population too far. I was almost tempted to wish he hadn’t backed down so I could have legitimately marched on Whitehall with a burning brand and a pitchfork.

Obviously, although not appearing in the slightest bit humiliated or sorry about this, it must have rankled with poor George. He does not like to be bested. Hence the reason why he managed to wreak his revenge by tightening the thumb screws everywhere else. Not content with slashing nursing bursaries, and sneaking in hikes in student loans, he is increasing defence spending, while still paring the armed forces to the bone so we will have to start training the local brownies to use Trident. The list goes on.

My best rage though, the one I have shined and polished until it gleams like a red dwarf going supernova, is for the Tampon tax fiasco.

George is very sorry, but he is absolutely unable to take the VAT on Tampons away. He is going to ask searching questions about it, but you know, there are stuff, and things, and apple carts and all that. Europe doesn’t like it, so you know. Tsk and pshaw.

Instead he has very kindly agreed to put that money aside, and use it to fund women’s health projects. He is particularly keen on using it to boost funding for women’s refuge services.

Isn’t that nice of him?

Isn’t it nice of him to tax women so that they can pay for other women to be sheltered from the violence that men do to them?

Isn’t it nice of him to take money off women, so that he can give it back to women he took money off of earlier, because it is his austerity measures that are causing refuges to close in the first place?

Isn’t it nice of him that the sum looks so generous on paper, even though it won’t go a fraction of the way towards replacing what he and his government have taken away?

Isn’t it nice of him to give ammunition to men who say to women: ‘That’s good. You can’t complain now. You can’t have it both ways. He’s doing things for women. You should be pleased.’?

Right, so we can’t expect to bleed every month without being taxed for it, and we can’t expect the government to keep women’s refuges open without using the money they take from us as a penalty for bleeding every month, even though it won’t really keep any more refuges actually open when you spread it across all the services that are needed?

What were we thinking?

I don’t know why we were so cross.

My friend Keith mentioned that I would have been more offended if he had given that money to men’s charities. I agree. I would have. It does not make what he is doing right or fair though.

What I would have preferred is that he avoid tokenism altogether, and put the money back into another service he is sucking the life out of. How about if he had put it into education, or helping to keep free school meals for infants going for a bit longer, or kept a library open for a few more months, instead of trying to fob us off with this patronising and offensive sop?





Never Volunteer

Kahlil Gibran says that: ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.’

This helps me a great deal when I look at my children and think: ‘Quoi? Hein? Eh?’ Banging gently on my ear trumpet and wondering whether they are really mine or not.

Let’s take Matilda for a moment.

Where I am taciturn to the point of surliness, insular and cynical beyond all reckoning, she is gregarious, sociable and believes with unshakeable faith that the world is a wonderful place. Where I have been schooled by many generations of my equally cynical family not to put myself forward for anything, and have cleaved faithfully to my mother’s motto: ‘Never volunteer’, Tilly will join anything.

Absolutely anything.

She is affording me great delight at the moment with this mantra.

She started Sixth Form college in September. It is in the next town, and she now has a proper phone and a real bus pass, and independence to come and go as she pleases. She has embraced this to the utmost, and what with the Saturday job at the wool shop, where she spends large amounts of time colour coding alpaca yarn and advising people on the best way to knit pug dogs, we hardly ever see her any more.

One of the reasons for this is that she attended Fresher’s Fair in her first week of college, and was gently coerced into joining every, single, solitary society that there is. There is no need for the hard sell with Tilly. You merely have to look slightly doe eyed and desperate, smile a bit and tell a sad, sad tale of woe. She will literally give you a kidney within seconds of your mouth closing over the final sob.

This was the way of it at Fresher’s Fair.

Since signing up:

She has tried fencing, because a friend wanted to try it and daren’t go on her own. Fencing is now off due to the fact that the masks are very hot and make her glasses steam up.

She has joined the Islamic society, even though she is not Muslim and would actually quite like to be a buddhist. They convinced her to join because they sometimes need someone to put the chairs out at meetings.

She has joined the Marxist society, because a friend persuaded her. She is not keen because there is apparently a very irritating young man in the Marxist society (who could have predicted that?) who is also in the Debating society, which is annoying her, because she likes the Debating society, but wants to stab him with a pen.

She has been co-opted onto the basketball team because apparently, if she did not go, they would have to fold the entire society. She is their only hope Obi Wan Kenobi. She can’t really see much because, a la fencing, her glasses keep steaming up, but it was quite good, apart from that, apparently.

There are other things, but these are sporadic due to the fact that she had already committed to the art and design club on Monday nights, and AS level English Lit on Tuesday nights, and the life drawing classes and the trips to the print works to learn wood cut techniques (God help me. I have visions of visiting her at the LRI while they have to fit a bionic hand. I am praying hard).

So, you know. Not my child, except I am lucky that she is.

She is lucky too, because entirely spontaneously she has played a blinder when it comes to crafting her CV later on.



When is a clock not a clock? Let’s Ask Richard Dawkins

This week I had a disagreement with someone on the internet. This is, of course, no surprise, given how long I spend on the internet, how opinionated I am, and how the internet is a veritable breeding ground for disagreement anyway.

The disagreement we had was over religion.

Again. No surprise.

Nor that I feel the need to write about it.

Basically, the person in question said that ALL religion was the source of ALL evil in the world. End of. He said that the blame for every single act of evil in the world could be put squarely at religion’s door. He said that any other interpretation was missing the point and allowing evil to flourish. If we banish religion from the world, we get rid of all evil.

Just. Like. That.

I disagreed. I pointed out that in my opinion, evil exists within individuals, and they use labels like religion, and/or other factionalising beliefs to justify their thoughts and actions. In that respect, religion can be seen as one of many scapegoats when it comes to not taking personal responsibility for doing hideous things.

He got out the big guns. He started quoting Richard Dawkins at me.

Oh dear.

Richard Dawkins, is to me, rather like the Pope of Atheism. My brief flirting with his oeuvre has led me to think that he is so vehement, so fervent, so fanatical, that he has turned his own brand of atheism into a religion.

Clearly I had just bumped into one of his lay bishops.

I count myself an atheist (with spiritual hankerings), but I would no more like to be aligned with Dawkins and his beliefs than I would with Pope Francis. They both have interesting things to say at times, but fundamentally their ‘join me as I bang my tambourine, or die in misery,’ schtick is not my bag. I’m much more of the ‘cake or death’, school of thought, and you know I’ll always choose cake.

So, Dawkins was on my mind yesterday, and when I woke up this morning I was greeted with the news that Dawkins has become embroiled in a Twitter spat. Here’s the lowdown.

Dawkins took to Twitter to suggest that Ahmed Mohammed, the young American boy who was arrested and illegally detained because he took a home made clock to school that his teacher thought was a bomb, was a hoaxer.

He suggested that Ahmed had deliberately made the clock to look like a bomb in the hope of being arrested illegally so that his family could sue the state he lived in for $15 million dollars.

He then, when it was put to him that this was cynical, and that maybe the boy was just being a boy and had had no such thoughts in his head, sent a tweet which pretty much said that: ‘boys can do evil things too, maybe Ahmed is like this boy,’ and  attached a video of a ten year old boy who was forced by Isis members to decapitate a member of the Syrian military.

He was, apparently, amazed that people took exception to this, and the fact that he later went on to draw parallels with the boy killers of the toddler, James Bulger in 1993.

He claims that he is not inciting hatred. He says that he is merely pointing out that Ahmed didn’t ‘make’ the clock, he just put it together. This irrevocably proves to Dawkins that Ahmed is a hoaxer. I say this because he actually said the boy was a hoaxer, not that he believed he might be. This one thing sparked more things for Dawkins.

It gave credence, in his mind, to the fact that this was only the beginning of a devious masterplan in which a young man (or his father, working through his son, as he also suggests) could predict exactly how egregiously he was going to be treated by his school, his local law enforcement officers and other members of his community, and that he would, months after the event, be able to sue them for untold wealth.

It also, by the conflation of words and videos, suggests both that Ahmed’s family are brainwashing him, and that Ahmed and his family and Isis terrorists are pretty much the same as each other. It suggests* that what Ahmed did was both evil and manipulative.

I find this hugely, and sadly, ironic.

Now, of course, Dawkins has not ‘said’ any of these things explicitly, and when confronted with explicit condemnation, has merely shrugged it off by shouting about Nazi sympathisers and numpties.

Dawkins is many things, but he is not stupid, and he has spent a lifetime writing books which rely on the exact and painstaking use and understanding of words and how to argue with them. Of course he’s not going to come right out and say something so offensive so directly, but you are not a numpty if you put together all the textural codes and signs in Dawkins’ text and come up with something that is both inflammatory and hateful. Far from it.

I am not entirely sure what Dawkins’ motive is. It is certainly not for the greater glory of God. I suspect it might be for the greater glory of Dawkins.

What it is not, is an argument for rationality, or calm or peace. What it is not, is a blanket of rational atheism we can use to stamp out the fires of religious hatred.

What it is, it seems to me, is a way to see those fires burn higher, and maybe what Dawkins is thinking is that if he watches the world burn in the name of religion, and he has stoked that flame one tiny lick higher with his mealy mouthed, snake oil slick, double-standard riven, politically glib cant, that it is a fine day for the cause of atheism.

Because of course, when we get rid of religion, there will be no hate left in the world.

Except for what I am suggesting might fall out of Dawkins’ mouth.

*I use the word ‘suggests’ a lot in this post. It is deliberate, because Dawkins is very good at saying a great many things in a way that makes it look like he is merely speculating.




I have surprised myself on several occasions in the last few weeks by reading articles by Frankie Boyle and agreeing with him.  His writing is superb.

The article I want to refer to today was actually about Theresa May’s wish to snoop into all our business. I am not going to talk about that. What caught my eye was this:

We will acquiesce to the scanning of Facebook posts to fight terrorism, which has killed 56 people in the UK in 10 years, but will still regard the killing of two women a week by their partners as a private domestic matter. 

That hit home and thinking about it brought me to this.

A friend of mine’s daughter was best friends with a girl whose father killed her, and her siblings and her mother a few years ago. I have seen what terrible acts like these can do, not just to remaining family members, but to the wider community.

Domestic violence is not a question of these things happening to ‘other’ people. It is happening to us.

Two weeks ago, listening to Radio Four, I sat in my driveway, transfixed, tears streaming down my face listening to Claire Throsser talking about how she had tried to protect her two sons from their father, who she considered to be a risk to them. Nobody listened to her. He took them to his house, lit fires, and locked himself in the attic with them. He was lucky. He died of smoke inhalation. The children not so much, taking several days to die from burns.

The report said that nobody could have predicted it would happen. Except Claire did, and nobody paid any attention to her.

On Saturday at Mumsnet Blogfest, Sandi Toksvig talked about why she had helped form the Women’s Equality Party. She quoted plenty of figures. The one many bloggers took away with them was the fact that there are more CEO’s called John in the FTSE top 100 business list than there are women.

The one I took away?

The government’s austerity measures have so far hit women harder than men. It is estimated that 79% of women have been exposed to hardship because of their cuts. One area that has suffered the most is the funding and provision of shelters and hostels for victims of domestic abuse. Refuges are shutting, and there were few enough of them in the first place.

In this article, Sophie Walker of the WEP is quoted as saying that on one day last year, just one day, 84 women and 112 children were turned away from shelters here in the UK, because there was no room for them, and no other provision to help them.

Today is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

There will be those who argue that men can also be victims of domestic abuse and violence. I absolutely agree that they can, and I am not condoning violence against anyone, nor suggesting that dead women are better than dead men.

The numbers overwhelmingly show however, that it is women and children who suffer the most. In situations where domestic violence is a factor, there are more dead women and children than men. That’s a fact.

I’m not saying that women should start battering men, so we can even up the numbers. I’m not after that kind of equality. Although I fear it might become a factor if there is nowhere for women and children to escape to.

What I’m asking for is that we open our eyes to the fact that two dead women a week at the hands of their partner is not acceptable. Dead children are not an ‘unavoidable tragedy’ as the reports so often label them.

What I’m asking for is that we decide that funding that will save the lives of women and children and stop them living in fear is not a luxury we can do without, but a necessity that we need until we can figure out a way to end the violence altogether.

What am I doing? Well, I’ve joined the WEP who have a plan to help. I’ve also decided that this year’s Christmas card donation (I don’t give cards. I give cash to the charity of my choice) is going to support a women’s refuge.

It’s not the answer, but it’s a start.

p.s. I just donated to Refuge. If you want to donate, it’s a charity that operates nationally, or you can find somewhere that is local to your area, if there’s anywhere still open.




Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I don’t do book reviews very often any more. Partly this is because my reading rate has slowed down since taking up the pen on a daily basis. Partly this is because I review over on my literacy blog, and on Amazon, and by the time I get here I just want to throw myself on the mercy of a non bookish subject. Sometimes though there are book recommendations that must be shared.

Last year I read a book called Gold by Chris Cleave. I picked it up in the library, mainly because it had a really pretty cover. If I’m honest, the synopsis sounded fairly dull. It was a book about competitive cycling, and two women competing against each other for a place in the olympics. Not my usual fare. Luckily for me, I like to branch out from the norm every now and again, and after reading the first page and liking the way Cleave writes, I took it home.

I was utterly mesmerised by the book, despite the subject matter. It turned out to be rich and complex and beautiful and hugely rewarding to read, and it has been in the back of my mind ever since that I must pick up something else by him.

Last week the Amazon Vine review programme offered me his new book: ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’ to review, and I snapped it up immediately.

I have been having a difficult time getting into books recently. I’ve read good things. I’ve read bad things. I’ve read splendid things, but I haven’t hit on anything that totally gripped me for an age. Until I read this. I have devoured this book, and I am utterly bereft now that I have finished it.

It tells the story of Mary North. Mary comes from an upper class family. Her father is a politician. Her mother is a career wife. Mary, when the book starts, is at finishing school, and terribly bored. The minute that WWII breaks out, Mary uses it as an excuse to leave school and return to England, whereupon she signs up for the war effort.

She imagines that she will be doing something impossibly glamorous, like spying. Instead she is sent to work in a primary school, which is almost immediately evacuated from London to the country. The headmistress refuses to take Mary with her, telling Mary that she is incapable of teaching because she is too involved in the lives of the children she teaches.

Mary is left behind, and that is how she meets Tom, a young man at the schools inspectorate whom she persuades to let her back into teaching, and who she falls in love with.

Except things are not that simple, and as well as shocking her family by her passion for teaching, her insistence on mingling with a band of negro minstrels she has been inadvertently involved with, and her love for Tom, she shocks herself by also falling in love with Tom’s best friend.

The story is beautifully nuanced and emotionally complex. It is spectacularly funny and achingly sad, and set against the first two years of the war, both during the blitz in London and the siege of Malta, it paints a terrible picture of how war can tear people’s lives apart.

Cleave’s writing is unbelievably skilful, and the story reminded me vividly of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet chronicles in the best way. The book is available for pre-order and will be published in April next year.