Thursday, 26 July 2012


With the opening ceremony one day away, my thoughts have turned Olympic. The torch relay skirted the borders of Epsom last week, passed through neighbouring towns and villages: Guildford, Leatherhead, and Reigate. Epsom and Ewell notably absent from its scheduled route, so I boycotted it. Did I want to see the flame held aloft? A torchbearer's jog, slow-motion running? No, it wouldn't have raised a flicker of interest, I'd walk straight past it. The route just another farce, to be added to G4S and public transport. I'm enjoying these digs: bus drivers getting lost, security staff failing to show up, the military called in to check the ticketing and sandwich rationing. I celebrate the 2012 Olympics for its Fawlty Towersness - for being reassuringly British.

I remember the moment London won the bid; huddled round a TV screen, slaps on the back, loud cheers, and whoops of joy from my work colleagues. Seven years ago, I said the outcome would be this, but my prediction then is now only semi-gratifying. Chaotic project management is what we do and we do it well. The build-up reads just like a Fawlty Towers plot: misunderstandings, cross-purposes, meetings missed, and accidental occurrences, and like this fictional hotel, Britain is filled with demanding, tense, and put-upon eccentric residents. We've written our own Fawlty Towers script for the Olympics and hand-picked our own Basils, Sybils and Manuels.

Am I smug about this? Is this the Olympics legacy - farcical situations and hapless staff? Yes, and probably. But why not? Qué? What!? Yes, I'm admitting it: I'm proud of this laugh-out-loud comedy. It's priceless! I think we should be incorporating this more into the games: a global School Sports Day with competing events and fun races. Beanbags balanced on heads, hula hooping and going under nets; an egg and spoon race or rolling pin relay; and guess the combined weight of the GB team. I admire athletic prowess, but for the rest of us it's a stretch imagining ourselves doing any of it. Attempting such sports after consuming the official Olympic sponsorship of chocolate, fries and burgers would come with a health warning anyway.

As you may have surmised, I'm not a fan of the Olympics, but then I take a while to warm-up to any mass flag-waving event. I don't like being told to do it. I'll do it in my own good time thank you, which usually means two years behind everyone else, but by then our views will be united: London 2012, the greatest improvised comedy the Brits have ever provided.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Tea?” My friend asks as I decide which armchair to take a seat in. Where would baby bear sit? My mind diverts me from being polite and answering.
Tea?” My friend again enquires.
Hmmm, sorry. Yes, I'd love one” I reply, now sitting down and plumping the cushion behind me. This seat is just right I'm thinking.
I'm trying out ancient brews.” A voice shouts from the kitchen. She enters the lounge carrying a silver tray and plonks it down on the table, “And of course serving them in the traditional way.” She continues.
She lifts the lid from the silver teapot and stirs it. “I must get this right: pour, season, and serve in a delicate cup.” She mutters.
Should I be commenting I wonder? I decide to remain silent and watch. A brown liquid streams into the cup. It looks like ordinary black tea to me. This must just be part of the ceremony. I let her finish it. She picks up a silver container and shakes it. Speckles of white appear on the top and fall to the bottom.
I don't take sugar.” I remind her.
It's not sugar, it's salt.” She states very matter-of-fact, calmly passing the cup to me.
I raise the cup to my nose and sniff it. “What is it?” I ask her.
Beef tea.”
But I'm a veggie!”I remonstrate to her.
There's hardly any meat in it. I strained it. It will beef you up – just taste it.”She reasons.
I think I'll pass, but you go ahead and enjoy it.”
She brings the cup to her lips, taking a sip and wrinkles up her nose, “Perhaps you need to be ill to drink this.”

What is the purpose of me repeating this exchange to you? Well, it got me thinking about our connections to food and how this relationship has altered. Not just our own, but on an international scale. Country to country. Globally. BBC2's documentary “The Men Who Made Us Fat” has fascinated me. I was most annoyed when tennis interrupted play, pounding my fists as the programme kept being pushed back. I actually mooed when they rescheduled it.

What's my beef? Frankly, I think sorting out our dysfunctional relationship to food is more important. Why is Britain so wishy-washy when it comes to this subject? Happier not to enforce, 'We don't want to upset food companies' is what the government is basically saying. Is this a plot to turn us into obese, ticking time bombs? Chair-ridden, slurping and eating. When will they accept we're at crisis point? That legislation in favour of public health is desperately needed? Back in the day, before BSE and supersizing, I used to be potty about beef, roasted with Yorkshire puds, or minced as a burger. Now I've sided with the beef: a mad cow potty about disagreeing. Vegetarian cows moo longer and louder.

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Named after a flower of the moor, it's my duty to support National Countryside Week which started on Monday. Seven days to coax people out onto the land and really notice it. Observe the natural habitats of birds, mammals and insects. Admire its wild and rugged, or picture-perfect landscapes. Drinking these in like a fine wine accompanied by the sun's full-bodied warmth or the splashes of chilled rain. This, the real world, the one we all share, but take for granted, expecting it always to be there, even if we turn our back on it. An article by the Prince's Countryside Fund Ambassador, Alan Titchmarsh, has impressed these thoughts on me. Why do we value our land only in terms of property? Real estate cannot possibly match the beauty of rural scenery.

Yesterday, I was reminded how we neglect what's right outside our doorstep. Boarding a train, I journeyed from Epsom to Chichester, via Horsham. It's not a route I've traversed before and the views were amazing. Greenness stretched out as far as the eye could see – fields, rivers, cattle and remote houses nestled within the window picture. The train became the obstacle disrupting the full view. Turning my head from side to side so as not to miss any of this openness. I've always enjoyed journeys more than the destination, passing through the countryside, woodland and hamlets. Other people might read or text, eyes down, whereas mine are permanently fixed to the window. Face set in a 'don't distract me look, I'm gazing'. Nabbing a window seat by plane, train, bus or car. My role in life is as a passenger. A disposition not suited to driving, I'm so absorbed in the sights outside the road is a tarmac blur, its white central line waving. I'm much safer as Lady Penelope, issuing commands from the back seat, “Drive on, Parker.”

Is my name the reason I'm affected by and appreciate the countryside? Perhaps that's why I yearn for any view other than concrete buildings? A single tree or a glimpse of green will do. I love to see the earth touching sky and the seasons changing. The lushness of Spring and the ruddy-gold hues of Autumn. I'm instinctively drawn to horticulturists, botanists, or those who describe themselves as green-fingered, for even wild flowers have to be cultivated. To be whispered to and encouraged. Nature needs nurture and vice versa.

Our suburbs are spreading, changing the land we live on. It's being eaten up by new developments or left unprotected. Towns and cities begin to look the same: an amalgamation of high street brands and businesses, new homes which nobody can afford and which aren't in keeping. Living on the borders of the Surrey Hills and West Sussex, I'm not disconnected from my wild roots, but I wonder how I'll feel if over time that link gets closeted. Will I become a fool who sees not the same tree that a wise man sees?

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Cross, I flung my tatty red suitcase on the bed and packed my favourite cuddly toy and blanket. I huffed and puffed shutting the lid, flinging myself down beside it. The angry mist dissipated... With nowhere to go, running away wouldn't be fun. I'll stay. The case unpacked, stowed somewhere safe until the next time my temper required it. At big school, running away was considered mature. I'd progressed from tantrums on supermarket floors and pavements. There was a nursery rhyme that described me perfectly: 'There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good and when she was bad, she was horrid!' Yes, I was a little madam. One of those kids that creates a scene and embarrasses their parents with a sit-in or game of statue. Body rigid, I shall not be moved! Eventually carried off, tiny limbs lashing out and screaming. I witness this same behaviour now in the family dog, Monty, when he refuses to move if it's not the direction he wants to sniff in. Is this a stubborn phase or just early forays at full-scale industrial action?

Children do not hesitate in demonstrating their feelings. Even in adulthood, I haven't forgotten what that's like; it's very freeing. It seems more adults too are remembering... Public sector workers walking out over bonuses, pay and pensions. Every member of the general public is affected by it and has an opinion on it. Some want industrial strikes nipped in the bud, others want to allow it. We've become a nation divided. Young vs. old, rich vs. poor, public vs. private, with everyone having something to say about banking. I wonder if in future, internal war is what this coalition government will be known for. For creating friction despite telling us we're the 'big society'. Please act like one big happy family, smile for the Olympics. Simmer down, call the protests off and for god's sake don't mention public cuts or the recession.

Do you want to know where I stand on this issue? I'll tell you... I've worked in and understand the grievances of both sectors, but I want to give my point of view as fundamentally a person; as a member of the human race who respects the right to exercise voices. Opinions have been aired where I agreed and others which I clash with, but regardless of the job or my position on it, nobody should be denied their right to strike. If that makes me a liberal, well then I'm proud of it. Yes, I realise it's inconvenient. Public transport and services grind to a halt, GPs down tools and surgeries get cancelled, but ban this demonstrative action and we're living in a tyranny. A Wallis Simpson form of government – trapped by circumstances of our own making.

Rather than publicly walk-out, we should regress to our childhood. Turn to stone in the throes of work in a demonstration of no movement. Playing statues as a grown-up is estimable.