29 August 2011

Shifting sands

Summer is on the wane. I can sense it in the chill of the evenings (not to mention the chill of the wet days) and the mist I wipe from my car windows each early morning as I ride out with the dog to the park. The weeks are whizzing past and in less than three weeks I take Kay back north to start her third year at uni. It seems like yesterday she took her A-levels but so much has passed since - including Greg. These past two years have been like shifting sands with nothing staying constant for long.

First, my one and only chick left the nest and so did my husband all in a flash, leaving me to adjust to living in a large house on my own. True, I filled the long days with hectic activity, decorating everything in sight, partly because it badly needed doing after many years of drunken neglect (in fact far too many to contemplate) and partly to distract my solitude. Interspersed with that have been the drives to my mother's house some two hours away to do the same for her. Every day has had a schedule of things to do, so that I wake early and suddenly find it's bedtime again, with no chance to rest or or do me-things inbetween. Like a hamster on a wheel, I have pushed myself to do more and even more until there is nothing left to do for the day. There have been minor changes in all the rooms - mostly achievable with paint or the removal or introduction of a piece of furniture. Enough to make it different. And nicotine-clean for the first time in ages.

There is still loads to do in those weeks before Kay returns to uni... a lot involving her help in clearing the cellar. The height of the cellar is only about three feet, so you have to crawl on hands and knees and the area is about the size of our garage which is situated directly above it. This cellar is full from ceiling to roof with old toys, 20-year old cans of paint, boxes of newspapers and magazines, cat boxes, garden chairs, rusty electric heaters, and no doubt Lord Lucan and Shergar. Once I have fought my way (on hands and knees, remember) through the veils of cobwebs harbouring a thousand different spiders and have thrown out the relics of our past twenty years, I can make room for some of the stuff I have been clearing from other rooms but not wanted to part with, such as an old dolls house and all its furniture which my father made himself for Kay. Sentimentality still rules over ruthlessness at the end of the day but I try to be "out with the old, in with the new", whenever possible. As I say, it all a bit like shifting sands and it takes a bit of getting used to. Where I am heading now, I don't know. I just take a day at a time and let myself be washed around like a cork bobbing about in a great wide ocean.

Picture from familytraits.co.uk

15 August 2011

Silent night

All is calm, all is bright in London again (for the moment) and there is a definite increase of PC Plods on the streets, outside shops, in the parks, in fact everywhere, round here. Massively reassuring to some and intimidating to others. The temporary breakdown of law and order definitely had the feel of Lord of the Flies about it. I am relieved peace has returned once more for Kay's sake, as she is working at a very iconic tourist site in the heart of the city, earning a bit of extra cash to support her student loan. Even though she is twenty now, I shall never lose the ability to worry about her and pray she is safe. Which make it all the more amazing to hear how some parents just don't know (or care) what their kids are up to, or even where they are, at any given time and whether they are setting fire to someone's home or running someone over with a car.

09 August 2011

The lunatics are running the asylum

Woman jumps from burning building in London riots

It has been impossible to escape the terrible news unfolding on our television screens this last few days. London (and now other cities in England) are under siege. It is as much a mystery to me, as it is to the media, the police and the politicians, as to why the riots have suddenly sprung up all over the place and how to stop them. Living two miles south and east from two of the London locations on fire, I feel a little apprehensive that it could spread to my area too, yet I have faith that the people around me are decent, law-abiding folk and would be just as shocked as I am at what is happening. So why is at happening in other areas? Why, as the police are saying, are these events on this scale unprecedented in recent history?( Not since World War Two have there been so many fires at once in London.)

First, I think it is fair to say that most of the rioters and looters look little more than teenage kids. My supposition is that, with it being the school summer holidays, these so-called kids are fired up with drugs, drink and boredom and seeking extra kicks elsewhere. Lord knows, alcohol is readily available 24 hours round the clock and drugs can be bought easily, if you know the right places. So are drink and drugs the cause? Or are they fighting the establishment, their parents, anybody, just because they can? Is it because of the internet (with sites such as Twitter and Facebook) that has facilitated their assembly in strategic places and stirred them to man the barricades? Is it because they are poor and are making a stand?

It might be some or all of these things but I think the greatest reason is none of these. What makes us human, and differentiates us from other animals, is an ability to use our brains to work things out and to empathise with other people. When we don't have that ability we revert to being animals and I am afraid to say it, but that looks like what is happening here. These kids are feral and are part of a society that is feral, out of control and out for what they can get. No thought-processes about what they are doing to innocent people caught in the crossfire (setting fire to others' homes and livelihoods). The education system has let them fall through the net. Teachers are too jaded and scared to punish, if not bogged down by ridiculous politically-correct guidlelines; parents too busy to parent their children, so they don't even know what their little darlings are up to in the evenings or where they are.

I certainly don't have all the answers, although right now I could suggest a few, but I sure hope that once the Prime Minister has sat down to the emergency Cobra meeting this morning and sorted out the immediate problems, he gives some serious thought to some of the issues above. As a nation, we have been too lax with our laws (introducing some that clearly should never have seen the light of day); made decisions better not made (relaxing licensing hours for one); too soft with our children, we as their elders have not been allowed to show what is right and wrong for fear of being politically incorrect; and we have simply grown away from loving our neighbour. There is a sort of mentality of "If there is nothing in it for me, then why bother?" (I am by no means saying all young people are like this - I know only too well that Kay and millions like her have been brought up to consider other people.) It is time for change but back to old values. Sorry, but, for what it's worth, I happen to think New Labour got it entirely wrong and now we are paying a very high price.

02 August 2011


It seems a million years ago since I was in Venice, although it was just little over four weeks ago. On my return, I scooped up my mother who was suffering from a persisitent stomach bug and brought her back to London with me. She had been ill all the while we were away and her weak voice on the phone, when we rang from our hotel, sounded really bad, although she tried to convince us otherwise, so as not to worry us. Two weeks in the Alcoholic Daze household with meals brought to her bed or armchair had her leaping about like a frog on amphetamines! She is now back home again and coping well on her own. Of course, all the running around up and down my endless stairs to care for her, has left me exhausted and in need of another holiday!

I promised to write more about Venice, though, and I am so grateful to Kay for giving me the opportunity to see it. I really fell in love. I knew I would. I have been wanting to go there for so long and it did not disappoint. From the moment our plane circled over the lagoon to land and I saw the evening lights of Venice twinkling below me, I was as excited as a child in Disneyland. Our transfer from the airport had not been included in the package and I was a little apprehensive about two women arriving so late in a city we did not know, but picking up a bus from the airport to the heart of Venice was effortless (negotiated in my very pathetic Italian - I did study Latin to the age of 22, so it was somewhat similar) and at my first glimpse of the Grand Canal, I could have cried. Having done my homework beforehand, I knew what public transport to take to get to the hotel - a number 1 water bus whose route travels the whole length of the Grand Canal and back. The Grand Canal by night is beautiful with every building illuminated. It was magic. Our hotel was not right in the centre, but in the Dorsoduoro area - a ten-minute gentle stroll through medieval alleyways and squares littered with cafes, across bridges and quaysides. It took us past shops, cafes, famous churches and museums so it was never boring, nor was it menacing at night.

Along the canal by our hotel

A famous 500-year-old landmark near our hotel - the greengrocer boat

Over bridges

big and small

Through San Stefano Square

Past exquisite shops

As we were there for four days, we explored a different quarter of the city each day. It was quite manageable on foot and we only took a water bus to save our feet now and again. (It didn't save time as the water buses chugged round the bends in the canals, whereas we could take the quickest straight route on foot.) We saw magnificent churches, what seemed like hundreds of palaces lining the Grand Canal (every rich merchant worth his salt built a fabulous palace for his family in the grand old days) and shops to die for. We ate food we loved (what is not to like about Italian food?), listened to a Vivaldi concert in beautiful baroque surroundings and finished off each day with a tantalasing selection of ice cream.

Even the street buskers were in a class of their own.

The only negative side to the holiday was a) the ubiquitous crowds of tourists (in some places you could barely breathe out, it was so crowded) but then I was a tourist too, so I cannot really complain; and b) the £/Euro exchange rate was so bad that it really did seem very expensive, but then I am sure the locals do not pay the prices the tourists pay. The biggest shock was paying £30 for two coffees at the Florian Cafe on St Mark's Square. Even allowing for the £12 surcharge for the music, each cup of coffee was £9. Needless to say we took advantage and paid a visit to the loos there every time we passed by for the remainder of our stay in Venice.

This trip counts as one of the truly great holidays I have ever had: in truth I did not want to leave.

A gondolier who insisted on having his photo taken with me!