Thursday, 31 May 2012


How many words and images can be associated with the Diamond Jubilee? This is the current trend we Brits have succumbed to and with good reason you may think, we should show our national pride, but does everything have to be stamped with the flag: red, white and blue on products, businesses, houses and people too. A trend which will unfortunately last until long after the Jubilympics and in Queen Victoria's most quoted words: I do not approve.

Flying the flag for your country is equivalent to a caveman beating his chest. It's a statement that physically says: 'This is my territory', 'I'm proud to be British, or x, y and z etc.' Flags symbolise your allegiance. Where you've been born and bred or who you've pledged loyalty to. A flag doesn't just represent a country, it represents you. You're a product of the country too. Your identity forever affiliated with the national flag and its head of state. Is that why I disapprove? Yes, but no. No, but yes. I don't know. I've been attacked by indecision...

In my opinion, too much national pride can be dangerous. There's nothing wrong in championing your beliefs or country if it doesn't ostracise or harm others, but when people can no longer be tolerant or objective it's a problem. A flag can get contaminated with violence. Euro 2012 is one such event that hasn't been adequately addressed by FIFA, where football is being used as a front for racist taunts and out-of-control aggression. Should Poland/Ukraine have been selected for this tournament? It damages the sport and the impressions you form of the host nations. The same could be said for the recent Eurovision. If the stories are to be believed, people were forced out of their homes to build the venue. Is it right that we separate politics from awarding prestigious events to a country? Shouldn't its policies and human rights be independently reviewed and inspected?

Flying the flag for any event has come to be expected. In yer face, there's no discreet about it. Bunting makes me feel distinctly unpatriotic. It's a non-verbal cliché that stereotypes your beliefs as an individual. I distrust it. But then I'm one of those: an ambivalent Brit, a whinging Pom. That's right I'm declaring myself as a classic VM: a Victor Meldrew type and I'm remarkably jubilant about it!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cereal, Bowl, Spoon

Be-be-be-beep, be-be-be-beep, be-be-be-beep... “Shut up! Shut up! It can't be time to get up!” I grumble and roll over to silence it. Where am I? What day is it? Groan. I'm in my own bed and it's a Monday. I yawn and stretch. 'Get up, get washed and dressed', an inner voice says, 'then you can have breakfast.' I stumble out of bed, wash, dress and groggy with sleep wander into the kitchen. “Cereal, bowl, spoon. Cereal, bowl, spoon.” I repeat this morning's memory test over and over...My brain nudged into life as I open cupboards and drawers for equipment. I mentally match the list in my head with the items before me; bowl tick, spoon tick... I'm missing the most essential ingredient: cereal. I pull open a door to reveal my stash; a space filled with dried fruit, nuts and cereals. An eye-level sight that excites and disturbs me, my mind veering between empty bowl, food, empty bowl, food. The average morning breakfast debate has ensued.

Everyone has a vice they say, mine happens three times a day if I'm good, and starts with breakfast. The most important and my favourite meal of the day. A confirmed cereal muncher, I can quite happily eat it dry on its own, or with milk or yoghurt. An early introduction to Kellogg's was all it took to acquire this habit. As an addict, I should have been called 'Three-bowl Heather', one bowl was never enough to sustain me. I blame the variety pack, the milk turning chocolatey and competing with cousins for the toy cleverly concealed within. Cereal is moreish and a perfect any-time-of-day snack and as a child I exploited that.

This period of my life is long over, but it takes She-Ra strength to maintain it. I consume one standard sized bowl, not three, and breakfast leisurely. This is my time and nobody else's, my alarm clock set to allow me to enjoy it; me, a bowl and a book or paper. If I left the flat and went without it I'd become one of the seven dwarfs. I've seen this same effect on others who skip and during the morning commute I mentally compartmentalise them: Dopey, Sleepy or Grumpy. Which one are you? Is failing to break the fast worth it?

Breakfast is the theme of this year's National Vegetarian Week, so why not wake up to different breakfasts? Rise to the challenge: make breakfasts taste 'grrreat' and healthier!

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Quick, grab the camera!” I shriek, “I've just seen a flash of red!” I run to the back door and fling it wide open; Monty, the family dog, is hot on my heels and overtakes me. His throaty growls disturb the peace: 'Clear off! This is my territory!' they say. A streak of red was darting over the fence into next door's garden. Damn, we missed him! Monty's growls were dying down, but he continued to patrol and snuffle, then trundled proudly up to me, his tail waving. With a few barks and some whimpers he communicated to me: I did my job. I always chase squirrels off and pigeons are fun to barrel into. I don't know what that was, but this is my turf, I'm the only red creature allowed here. Mother joined us outside, “Foxy outwitted the pair of you” she simply stated. Monty and I exchanged puzzled looks, was that the case? Had we just been outfoxed?

In Roald Dahl's book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, the fox is a crafty character. Stealing food from under his neighbours noses and digging up their plots. Make no mistake, there's something quite mesmerising about Mr. Fox. You'll know what I mean if you've crossed paths with him or a vixen. The red coat; the bold, but startled look; will human or fox react first? Witnessed in the flesh, the effect can be hypnotic. Living in a third floor flat, you forget how to connect with nature. You begin to appreciate rare glimpses: squirrels stealing half a baguette, crows fighting over a slice of pizza, or the occasional rat loitering by some overflowing food bins. An animal's instincts can reveal a lot about human nature. We too squabble over food and are opportunistic.

Vermin is the word we choose to use to describe such pests or bad people. Labelled as rodents or as undesirables, they need to be removed or domesticated. Residents want them moved on, when asked they remark 'get rid' and 'not in my back yard', complaining to the council. Where to then? Tame, incarcerate or destroy are the one-word replies to the question. Foxes, unfortunately, are included on this list and at times are disliked with a vengeance. Doesn't anybody ever think: couldn't it be us encroaching on their territory? Every house that Jack builds takes away another fox's den and makes their habitat smaller.

The fox, like an impoverished human being, is forced to resort to cunningness for their survival. A inherent aptitude we humans haven't lost, but choose to deny or hide. Perhaps that's it, we don't want to admit to our foxiness? But in doing this, aren't we sanitising nature? Fantastic Mr. Fox might be underhand, but he does what he has to. Sound familiar?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

House Haunting

21 Leverton
Have you ever heard of house haunting? A house haunting a spirit? Haunting previous tenants and telling new ones to occupy me? I have. A particular house has for years haunted me. I can visit whenever I wish to. Wide awake or asleep, it's there exactly as I remember it. I frequently wander through its rooms, beginning at the back of the building. I unfasten the latch on the white-painted gate, the blue kitchen door is swung open. Greeted by a kiss from relatives and the hiss of saucepans. In the lounge drinks and stuffed celery sticks are handed round. A short interval until lunch is announced and everyone scrambles to their place at the table. A leisurely meal where we all eat far too much and have to burn our over-indulgence off with a post-dinner amble. We return to a misted-up house, cups of tea and homemade Madeira cake. Our exits are made by the front door and our goodbyes said on the driveway.

An irregular shaped house with internal quirks, but this is what made it perfect. The creaks and groans of the floorboards; the slow click of footsteps on wooden stairs; and the plunk of aluminium blinds hoisted up or down. This house aged with me... Half-terms and Summer holidays were spent here, on the coast, with my seaside relations. Like a dressing-up box, this house contains a large chunk of my childhood memories. Now years on, this house bewitches me... haunting my thoughts, so I roam. The decor and furnishings are always the same; toys and books retain their well-used look and there's whiffs of homemade cooking. Life hasn't stopped, it's just got stuck in this time frame. This house, as it was then, is alive and breathing. It lives on, never changing. Stuck in time, but not stuck alone.

For sale or buy to let, where we lodge can be significant. Memories formed by our dwellings. The history contained within four walls is what makes moving home or the loss of property so emotive. Growing up, my parents seemed to be obsessed with exploring houses or churches. I'd roll my eyes, be dragged round, or sit in the car and listen to music. Now, it's my head that's bent over property papers. I ask myself in my best Loyd Grossman voice, “Who lives in a house like this?” Will this house haunt its present occupants once they've left?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Memory Lapse

Fast forward, I'm 78; I've aged well, a little grey, but sprightly. I'm sitting in a hard-backed chair; there's an unfamiliar person before me. He sits behind a desk, wears specs and has a beard; he looks professional. My mind wanders off; where are we? I try to take in my surroundings. A plain, clinical room with the latest voice-activated, touch-screen technology. There's no pens, papers, or folders. No personal clues about its owner. It's cold and my back's getting stiff sitting like this.
A hand pats mine and a male voice gently asks me: “What year is it?”
My full attention is now fixed on this stranger, “It's 2058,” I reply and smile sweetly. So that's it, he thinks I'm thick or senile.
Who is the Prime Minister?”
Some good-looking, middle-class chap I expect. I've never been interested in politics.” I'm deliberately being evasive. I won't play this game. I may be closer to 80 than 60, but there's nothing wrong with my memory. I still cook and live quite independently.
Where are you right now?”
I'm opposite you answering these questions.” That's thrown him. He sighs, leans back in his chair and observes me. I do the same, staring at him determinedly.
What to do... What to do... What shall we do about Heather?” He repeats over, sounding just like an owl. Who is this Heather? He turns to address a female person on his left. Now where did she come from?!
A sudden jolt! A head jerk! I'm returned, slumped over, to my sofa. I must have dozed off watching a Louie Theroux BBC2 documentary. I remember – he was following dementia sufferers in Phoenix, Arizona – the pieces fall into place, my dream scenario now making sense. I'd dropped off at the bit where a woman's memory was being tested. Three objects were named for her to remember. 2 seconds later, these objects could not be recalled and I struggled along with her. Apple... Apple... what came after apple? Total wipe out. Screen gone blank. Shut down. Next: spell WORLD backwards. The woman was successful. I wasn't, my brain just doesn't compute like that. It took me longer. I need to see words written down or printed. No wonder I fell asleep, it was exhausting.
How useful are general cognitive tests? Is it right these are used to establish a diagnosis? How we retain information and interpret the world is individual.