And They’re Off, again.

So, with a hop, skip and a jump we go from the profound but bleedin’ obvious to the banal.

We are off to London this morning.

My heart is soaring.

My body is an entirely more sluggish affair.  I’ve been wrestling with a head cold all week. I have a stiff neck which gives me the shambolic poise of Frankenstein’s monster, and I’ve got PMT that is giving me the air of a provoked lioness. I apologise if you are scheduled to meet me over the next week.

My advice would be to poke cake in my face. If that fails, throw a blanket over my head and run while the going is good.

Despite my obvious handicaps, the fact that my hair has decided to model itself on a Matt Lucas impression of Andy Warhol and lack of any charm whatsoever, I will attempt to make the most of the trip.

The children and I have been excited about it for literally months now. As ever our to do list far exceeds the number of hours in every day, and there are going to be things that simply have to be shunted onto next year’s list. We do like to be ambitious though.

As well as all the things we have planned, we also have many friends planned, which is just as joyful. We’re kicking off really early this week, by having a lunch date for today.  I told you we were ambitious.

The other thing which excites me about our trip is that it always signals the beginning of Bake Off season, and this year is no different.  Luckily for us, there is a tube strike scheduled to start on Wednesday night, so we have an entirely plausible reason for having an early night of it, and curling up with Paul and Mary instead of going to see the Complete works of Brecht in a disused car park in Wapping.

Ready, Steady, Bake…

Don’t desecrate – celebrate

I’ve just read Sali Hughes’ piece in The Pool about the recent New Yorker magazine cover in which thirty five women who claim to have been drugged and raped by Bill Cosby are pictured, next to an empty chair which stands for the eleven women who are still too frightened to be photographed, despite also having been attacked by Cosby.  The chair also stands for every other unacknowledged rape victim in the world.

It’s a powerful piece of writing.

It’s also really distressing.

The most distressing thing for me, is not what Cosby has done, although that’s sickening enough. It is the responses from people on social media about the article that make me despair. It shows me that many people feel that the victims are the ones in the wrong. It shows me that we are still living in a world where many people still think the best thing a woman can do in these circumstances is become invisible and stay invisible. It shows me that many people still think that it is a woman’s fault if she gets raped.

It saddens me that I am writing about this subject again. Only a few months ago I found myself writing about rape culture in response to the Bombay bus rapist’s comments. How tragic that in a different country, one that perhaps thinks of itself as ‘better educated’ than its Indian counterpart, the same stupid, ignorant, ill educated sentences spill forth from people’s mouths.

It shows me that somewhere we are failing our children, both girls and boys, if we don’t challenge this, if we don’t educate our children to think differently. Here’s what I will be saying to my children on the subject:

Rape is NEVER acceptable, under any circumstances whatsoever.

Rape is about forcing someone else to do your will without any thought or care for the welfare of the other person/s involved.

Rape is about brutalising someone inside and out, mentally and physically so that the rapist can feel good about themselves for a few sordid moments, at the expense of a lifetime of vulnerability and distress for their victim/s.

Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter if the victim wore skimpy clothes or a snowsuit. It doesn’t matter if the rapist thought the victim was too fat or too thin, too ugly or too beautiful, too loud or too quiet. It doesn’t matter if the rapist decided that the victim was asking for it. It doesn’t matter if the victim was on the wrong side of town, or drunk. It doesn’t matter if the rapist was married to the victim.

It doesn’t matter what the excuse is. It matters that the reasons are excuses. It matters that the reasons are excuses which only go further towards disempowering women and heap further indignities on women who have already been brutalised enough.  It matters that the excuses allow the twin crimes of sexual violence against women, and the demanding of their silence and compliance in this matter to flourish.

A culture which blames women for the fact that men cannot exercise self control over their own sexual appetites is a culture which perpetuates a male sense of entitlement when it comes to the use and ownership of a woman’s body and mind.

A woman is NEVER the toy, belonging, object, slave, whipping girl of a man.

I didn’t think I’d have to point out that the culture of sexual violence against the innocent and the demands of silent compliance to that cultural demand are exactly the same reasons why the hideous crimes against children which are only now being uncovered in all areas of society were allowed to flourish for so long. It seems I might have to draw parallels however, as too many people clearly think these things are different. Don’t fuck children and keep quiet about it. That’s naughty. It’s alright if you fuck women though. They’re tough enough to look after themselves. Is that it?

Consent, freely given and given in the full knowledge of what is being asked is the only grounds on which any form of sexual activity should be entered into.

If you are in any doubt whatsoever about the other person’s feelings about what they are about to do, or what they are being asked, it is better to stop until they are sure, one way or the other.  If this inconveniences you, then hard luck.

Nobody is ever ‘asking for it.’

Nobody ‘deserves’ to be raped, or have any form of sexual violence enacted upon their person.

Sex should be joyous, free and consensual. It should be exciting. It should be about shared vulnerability and about making something bigger and better than what is physically happening. It should be a celebration with someone you care about.

Sex should never been shameful. It should never be about exerting power over someone else (unless, you have both agreed that this is what you would like to do, obviously). It should never be about making someone else feel small, worthless or insignificance. It should never be about breaking someone, physically or mentally.

Sex should be an act of mutual respect between people who want to experience pleasure together.

It should be something you’d be pretty pleased to admit to in public. It should never be something you have to hide from people. It should never be something to fear.

Rape is beneath you.

I don’t really want to know the finer details of your sex lives, when you get them, my darling children, just as I’m sure you don’t want to know the details of mine.

Just make me proud when you bring home your boyfriends and girlfriends by loving them in the most respectful, adorable way you can. Make me blush by being able to shout your good fortune at finally having figured out sex from the rooftops. Make me have to stick my fingers in my ears because I’m too old and prudish to know the details of your swinging from the chandeliers with the objects of your affection.

Love people as you would wish to be loved. Respect people as you would wish to be respected. Cherish people as you would wish to be cherished, and never, ever take pleasure in the powerlessness of other people in the face of your own power. Never abuse your position in life. Never hurt other people to make yourself feel better.

Be better.

Be love.

The Dangers of Smoking

I’m peeping over my parapet of books to wave at you all and promise that I am still here. I’m reading until my eyes cross and my bum goes numb. Luckily the weather is absolutely foul so it’s not like I could be out there, tripping the light fantastic instead.  It would be more like dripping the light fantastic.

It nearly was at ten o’clock last night when the kitchen ceiling made ominous dripping noises. We had to send poor Tallulah out onto the flat roof to unblock the downspout of leaves before we had a major plaster crash.  She looked very fetching in her wellies and cagoule, striding about the roof, saving the day.

It brought back horrible memories of Jason and I trying to hoist a large computer server box up there (in order to get into the loft in a very roundabout way), using a piece of blue baler twine and a lot of swearing during a snow flurry one year.

I’m glad I’m now considered too old and inflexible to go out on the roof in adverse weather conditions. There are some benefits to the ageing process.

I have nothing much else to tell you. So I will regale you with a story from our Yorkshire travels which is still making me laugh, days later.

On a particularly recalcitrant bit of motorway, we were listening to the radio when Morrissey a came a wailing on.  Tilly said:

‘I think this is swede head.’

Me: ‘It isn’t swede head. It’s suede head.’

Tilly: ‘Swede/suede it’s all the same to me.’

Me: ‘You won’t say that when I give you a swede with a carving of Morrissey’s face on for your birthday.’

Tilly: ‘I would love that.’

Me (darkly): ‘Sadly, I know that you would.’

Oscar (intoning solemnly from the back of the car): ‘You mustn’t smoke swede, it’s very dangerous.’

Tallulah: ‘It’s weed, you idiot. WEED! Not Swede.’

I was recounting this to Jason on our return. He said:

‘You’d need some bloody big rolling papers to smoke a swede.’

Yorkshire and back again

We arrived home yesterday evening after three days of intense holidaying. In fact, up to this point all holidaying has been intense. It has been like being in a holiday stock cube up to now. We have done many, many things, seen many, many people, and idled little.

It is usually the other way around for us, and I’m not sure I can keep up the pace for the next four weeks without exploding. We’re going to London on Friday for a week, and my intention is to do as much of buggerall as humanly possible over the run up to what will be a bonkers holiday in order to reach some kind of zen state of mind, or something.

Today has been a strange mix of ferrying children here there and everywhere, and reading, reading, reading like a woman possessed. My review pile is staggeringly large. My books loaned and gifted from other people which must be read pile is staggeringly large, and my current rate of reading, due to sightseeing beyond my control, has been pretty poor. Today I have made up for that by belting through a few of the children’s titles I have been sent to review.

My aim, by Friday is to have cleared my current review and gifted/loaned pile. Can I do it? Probably not without severe eyestrain and putting on half a stone from idling around, but it may happen.

In the meantime we had a splendid time despite migraine, roadworks, setting off in the wrong direction to Yorkshire Sculpture Park (I am so used to heading to London on the M1 I turned the wrong way and had to take the next exit 16 miles later. Curses) and iffy weather.

The Rob Ryan exhibition at the sculpture park was rather lovely. It is indoors in the main visitor building if you fancy going to see it.  We found a whole area of the park we had never been to before and frolicked among some marvellously bonkers sculptures and a lot of sheep pooh. As well as the Henry Moores and Barbara Hepworths, we saw some new Marc Quinn and Tracey Emin which we loved. We also enjoyed the experience of being inside Seizure by Roger Hiorns. Hiorns made a cast of a bedsit in London and then filled the whole thing with copper sulphate crystals. It is now in situ at the YSP and you can go and clamber round very carefully inside it.  It’s utterly insane, but rather lovely. The man who guided us round told us how to make our own.

One day I will crystallise the downstairs loo.

The weather as we arrived was cold and windy, perfect conditions for the massive picnic we had brought. By the time we had shivered through our lunch, the sun came out and by the end of the afternoon it was glorious sunshine and the park was looking magnificent.

I have decided that it is one of my favourite places in the world. I have also decided that having seen Hepworths in situ, in the natural world where she wanted them to sit, I am not going to go and see the retrospective at the Tate when we are in London. I have read that it is disappointing, and I do not want to be disappointed by the lovely Barbara.

We headed off into the night, and a very decent Premier Inn near Leeds Bradford Airport, which was much more rural and lovely than it sounds, and right opposite the vast Murgatroyd’s Fish and Chip restaurant which claims to have the finest fish and chips in the country.  As people were queueing out the door we felt we ought to check out these claims, and went and waited patiently for plaice and chips, which were very nice, but outrageously expensive at £14 per portion, despite the fact you got bread and butter with it.

In the morning we hied off to Salt’s Mill and Saltaire and spent a thoroughly satisfying day there. It is always a joy to visit.  There are vast numbers of new Hockney’s showing the arrival of spring in the Yorkshire Wolds to marvel at, many of which were at the big RA show a few years back. Here they are free to see and you can take photos. It was such a pleasure to revisit them. They also have tons of his earlier work, and all of it looking magnificent against the industrial backdrop of the renovated mill.

Not only that but there is a terrific restaurant where we had lunch, a frankly jaw droppingly good bookshop, plus antiques and kitchen ware and art supplies and other things that make your heart thump, if you’re me.

The village of Saltaire is equally lovely and picturesque. You can explore the allotments, the Italianate church, the huge stone lions, the other art galleries and delicious looking tea rooms, marvel at the architecture, get on a tram, go on a canal trip or go to the park, or walk up into the hills. It’s stunning and well worth a visit.

Our next stop was Sheffield, where we were hooking up with an old friend. Our journey back, navigating through the horrors of Bradford’s ring road system and then along the roadwork ridden M1 was so horrific we were too tired to paint Sheffield red when we arrived, so we stuck to the safety of the vast Meadow Hall shopping centre just off the motorway turn off, for our dinner. It wasn’t very novel or inspiring, but I didn’t have to navigate any particularly taxing one way systems and there was plenty of parking, which, by this time was a godsend.

The next day we met up with our friend Kate and her son Zach and went to Barnsley. It is not the most delightful of spots, I have to say, and I would find it hard to recommend it in terms of a road trip, but there was a good Nick Sharratt exhibition at the Civic Hall and we had damn fine pizza for lunch, so all was not lost, and at least we can now say we have been to Barnsley.

Which is something.

Our trip home was hideous. Almost the entire M1 from Leicester to Leeds is 50 miles per hour average speed cameras and road works, and back again. On a Friday afternoon when traffic was chocka block, we were down to five miles an hour at some points, and the intermittent torrential rain didn’t help. Lorry spray,  rain so hard you couldn’t see for it bouncing off the windscreen and constant warning signs flashing up made it a journey I wouldn’t want to repeat in a hurry.

Still we did it, and it was well worth the anguish in the end.

A little light moaning

A splendid migraine stopped blog posting last night, and I have spent the night on the sofa with the French windows open, drugs to hand, and a bowl even handier.  It is not entirely gone this morning, but I am soldiering on in the hope that things might improve if I gently coax myself into the day’s activities rather than hitting everything at a dead run, which is how yesterday started.

I need this migraine to shift, as the children and I are off for three days of adventure in Yorkshire.  I have plans, and they shall not be thwarted by the body of a weak and feeble woman.  I shall fight them on the beaches, etc, but mostly at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is where we are off to today.

Luckily we are not adventuring with anyone else today, so if we don’t turn up until mid afternoon it is no problem. It is a relief to have that flexibility, as I am still at the eating dry toast and wincing stage of the game, and the thought of belting up the M1 at lightning speed does not appeal terribly much right at this minute.

I blame the migraine on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Tallulah had a rehearsal for her show yesterday, and I had to attend, as I needed to talk to some people about various bits of paperwork that are needed to ensure that Tallulah is not being exploited (as if that would ever happen to Tallulah. It’s more likely to be the other way around, frankly).  This entailed sitting through two hours of intensive rehearsal of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang section of the show.

I used to like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Nevermore, quoth the raven.

Some things

So, here’s some other stuff that has been kicking round in my head over the last few days.

Firstly, it is very hard to read lots in a house which has both uncomfortable beds AND uncomfortable chairs. This is entirely unsatisfactory as I do not consider a slacker holiday (as oppose to a London holiday where we never stop moving) to be complete unless I’ve read at least ten books.

I did not read ten books. I did however read the magnificent Bone Clocks by David Mitchell which I am still thinking about and rate as one of my best books of the year so far. I bloody loved it. I also read The Dust That Falls from Dreams, which is the new Louis de Bernieres book, which I enjoyed very much in an entirely different way. I also read the new Kazuo Ishiguro novel, The Buried Giant, which I didn’t like very much at all. I realise I want to like Ishiguro more than I do, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever really enjoyed a book by him, and this was no exception. I keep trying though, for reasons which are entirely unclear to me.

I’ve managed to read quite a lot since we got home, which is good, as the piles of books which need reading pronto are piling up by my bed in a looming and frankly alarming manner. I have banned myself from going to the library until at least fifty percent of them are read. This self imposed rule is already causing me quite a lot of stress, but not as much as being killed under an avalanche of unread novels will if I don’t impose some self control somewhere along the way.

I was, as you know, delighted to be home.  As we entered the city on our triumphant return I distinctly remember being incredibly aware of being delighted that I was home and thinking how funny it is to be delighted in a city which is pretty damn ugly most of the time. It’s my ugly though, and that’s what matters.

We have had two excellent meals out since coming home. We finally made it to Cultura, a new restaurant/cafe/bar/banana on Queen’s Road. We had lunch there. The food was extremely good, although the website gets on my pip (sorry for that if you’ve clicked on the link). Luckily you don’t eat in the website, so all is well.

Then we went to a new Turkish restaurant on London Road called Konak. The food there was excellent, the prices were incredibly reasonable, the portions were huge and the staff were super friendly. All in all we felt very blessed, and very full.

I have a new thing. I am becoming obsessed by odd t-shirts. I’ve never been a fan of quirky t-shirts before, but I seem to be amassing a large collection, predominantly from my trawling of charity shops. It turns out that I only really like ones that have been bashed around by other people first, so they don’t look too new and shiny. At the weekend I picked up a particularly pleasing navy blue one with a diagram of a pair of scissors on the front. I wore it today. It gave me immense pleasure.

It’s the small things.

I must confess that even though we are over a week into the summer holidays, I don’t feel like we are actually on holiday yet. We have been so busy, and will continue to be for the next little while that I am not yet in holiday mode. There simply hasn’t been enough turning off of alarm clocks yet. It will come.

I await it with baited breath.

Northumberland and beyond…

Hello there! We have returned from our adventures in the far north. I must hasten to catch you up on a few pointers before we set off once more on Wednesday.

We liked Northumberland very much. It has lots of sky, and plenty of birds and gorgeous scenery, all of which we approved of.

We rented a farmhouse, which was mostly lovely. Unfortunately BT are laying fibre broadband through the area and due to their meddling and issues at the exchange, we ended up with no broadband until Tuesday night, and no phone signal at all for almost the entire duration of our holiday, unless we were perched atop a hill with the wind blowing in the right direction.

It is all very well to say; ‘But you must switch off and chill out on your holidays. You do not need the Internet and its soul sucking ways.’  In theory this is true, but when you want to find out where something is at short notice, or opening hours for things, or menus for places, the internet is an absolute godsend and does not require you to chat to the local people, or buy a guidebook, or a map or anything else, and we missed it rather.

There were also issues with mice in the roof, although they were very well behaved rodents and stayed in the roof for the duration of our holiday. Nor did they smell, or pooh (at least not discernibly), but they were plentiful, and noisy and squeaky, and not at all daunted by people living below them. It was not easy to sleep in the mouse prone bedrooms, and these were soon abandoned.

Plus, it was, although gorgeous, not very comfortable bed wise, or comfy chair wise, and for such a large house, we ended up using remarkably little of the space in it, constrained by wildlife and our own selfish desires for sprawling etc.

Plus plus, there was an Aga to wrangle with.

Basically we ended up camping in the kitchen/dining area, and eating a lot of picnics due to not wanting to learn Aga wrangling or eat lots of stew. We were due to come home on Friday, and ended up cutting our losses and returning on Wednesday evening instead.

We were helping our friends move house this weekend, and wanted at least two days to loll around and sleep before shovelling furniture around the county and cursing Ikea flat packs.

So we had several days of what I would refer to as Northumbrian glamping, before coming home to the frankly bloody marvellous amenities of our own house.  It is a real pleasure to appreciate your own home so entirely, and even now, after several days back at home, I keep wanting to burst into tears of joy every time I see my lovely, lovely bed.

Things we liked about Northumberland:

Seeing the Angel of the North. I have wanted to visit it for years. Love Anthony Gormley, and loved it. Even Jason and the children were impressed.

Climbing Souter Lighthouse (National Trust). Jason got to turn the enormous lamp, which floats on a bed of mercury. He was most impressed with himself.

Visiting Cragside, which along with Souter is a National Trust property, and another place I’ve wanted to go to for years. Cragside is truly splendid and we spent a good few hours there and didn’t really crack the back of it. Gorgeous Pre Raphaelite interiors are only a part of what makes it worth visiting.

Hexham is a great market town with a wonderful abbey and fantastic shops. We visited several times. Props to the One World Cafe, whose owners were lovely and whose food was delicious.

Kielder Water is beautiful. We visited one evening when everyone had gone home, and it was just us and the birds and the wind. It was great.  We went back to see some of the art works around the reservoir. We particularly enjoyed the labyrinth.

We went to Jedburgh in Scotland one day, mainly because Jason had never been to Scotland before. We had the great good fortune to see a bagpipe band in the grounds of the Mary Queen of Scots house/museum. They were amazingly good and we listened to them for a long time, which is not something I thought I’d ever say about bagpipe music.

We visited Lindisfarne and went to the Priory. The scenery is stunning and we were blessed with glorious sunshine and endless blue skies. It was heaving with people, which spoiled it a bit for me, but it is worth a visit, if only to cross over the causeway. (Lindisfarne Priory is an English Heritage site, Lindisfarne castle is National Trust just in case you need to know such things).

We visited Wallington, another NT property, which is really spectacular, and has the most stunning grounds where red squirrels are being reintroduced into the wild. Naturally we saw neither hide nor hair of them, but we did enjoy poking around the house which is quite eccentric.

We visited Bamburgh Castle, which is neither English Heritage nor National Trust, and as such requires you to pay.  We found it was much more impressive on the outside than the inside, and once you’ve been spoiled by NT properties it can be a bit of a let down.  Bamburgh itself, and the coastline around it is gorgeous though.

We visited Alnwick twice. Once we were recommended to get fish and chips at Carlos’ on the High Street. We recommend it to you, too. They were excellent.

We went back to visit the castle, which is the setting for the Harry Potter Hogwarts school (exterior shots only), and Downton Abbey.  We were out of luck as they were filming Downton there for the whole week.  On the other hand we had a good nose through the spectacular Barter Books, which is in an old railway station and worth a visit even if you don’t want to buy books.  I didn’t buy any. Northumbrian prices for second hand books are not to be borne by me I’m afraid. We also had a great lunch at a little cafe called The Olive Tree. The owner is lovely, and all his fare is hand made. The cakes in particular are well worth stopping by for.

We also recommend eating at The Cheviot Inn at Bellingham. The service was slow to glacial, but the food is all home cooked and was delicious, so as long as you’ve got time to spare, you will be happy.

Hadrian’s Wall was somewhere we felt we had to visit, and we were lucky to find a deserted bit down a lane we were exploring. We got out, clambered all over it, took lots of pictures and decided we had done our bit in terms of paying homage to a series of low rise walls. Depending on which part of the wall you go to, various agencies own/maintain it, so you will have to figure out what best suits your purposes and visit accordingly.

Do drive up the heritage coastline. There is castle after castle and so many ruins of one period of antiquity or another you soon get rather blasé about them you see so many.

Do take time out to explore the National Park and Kielder even if you only drive aimlessly about like we did, stopping wherever takes your fancy. We never stopped saying: ‘Look at that vista.’ It became a bit of a running joke by the end of our time there.

There was plenty we didn’t do, and one day, with bigger beds, better arm  chairs and no mice, we will revisit and fill in all the gaps.