Friday, 27 February 2009

To ruminate on recession

Rain falls ceaselessly over this ancient city. Here where millions dwell in the cold and damp there are still more who suffer from demons more vicious than the weather. At every corner, on every street there are those who seek solace in the back rooms of pubs and bars. Those who are getting stoned or drunk or both just to escape from their lives for just a little while. Centuries of people have lived here. Centuries of people have died here. Time has carried the city through all the disasters it has faced until today. And time will heal this too. But today, there are so many who cannot walk with a smile on their faces. Some because they don’t wish to display emotion to the rest of the world, others because they have very little to smile about.

Every high street bears the scars – boarded up shops and car dealerships. One more seller of the Big Issue. The streets are deserted by 8pm. Places where families and couples in love used to wander are lonely and desperate. Places where people seek solace from their circumstance are filled to the brim and in this dark underbelly people are able to smile, after a fashion. Most of these are men who have left their wives and children at home, seeking release from the burden of their responsibility.

Light streams from restaurants, the glow illuminating those within. And those without. The candlelight dances in circles at each table, highlighting the pathos of a half empty place. A place where people used to meet, broker business deals, laugh, canoodle, enjoy being human. Through the intermittent pools of light people dressed in grey and black pass like wraiths. Eyes to the ground, they pass without looking in, afraid that if they look through the glass windows they might be reminded of what they have lost.

Armies of the unemployed descend in waves upon the Job Centres. Queues snake around the waiting areas, carrying the venom of disillusionment. There are few here who have hope or faith in the empty promises issuing from Whitehall. Promises of job creation, increased public spending and decreased taxes are an insufficient salve for the wounds of those who have lost their jobs and have children to feed. Faces are haunted by the prospect of a winter without heating, days without fruitful labours and nights wracked with worry.

Billboards and TV adverts declare the plight of the shops as baldly as if they had written “we’re in trouble!” by offering their substantial discounts and savings. People mill aimlessly around shopping centres like stupefied bovines – looking, touching, coveting things they can no longer afford to buy; even with the substantial discount the salesman offers. Outside it is still raining. Redundant rain drops fall to dampen the spirits of the redundant workers below still further. Men campaigning outside a factory ignore the rain and continue their protest against “unlawful” job losses. The placards flash angrily in the rain. Huddled in their coats and under their umbrellas the men vent their frustration, loss and feelings of inadequacy. On their faces it’s clear that most feel that theirs is a futile mission, but they continue none the less. Perhaps because it is easier than going home to admit defeat.

In households all over the city self belief is crucified by job rejections and a scarcity of vacancies. There are now at least fifty applicants for every vacancy. Confidence plummets daily until nothing remains except the barely recognisable shell of someone you once knew. The face is the same. But the twinkle is gone from the eye, the spring missing from their step and the mirth absent from their conversations. These are the people who once had good jobs, who thought themselves indispensable, who attached a sense of value and self respect to the outcome of their annual appraisal. These shells are required to find a new source of self affirmation. Self belief becomes an almost religious experience – as reliant on faith as any denomination. People are nihilists, refusing or incapable of believing that things will improve.

The great city embraces all of these disaffected souls, cradles them in her bosom of light and noise and frenzy. Rocked softly by the whispers and murmurs of cars, tubes, buskers and buses those of us who live in this great place are momentarily comforted by the ancient, iron will we feel running through the city. She will not surrender to poverty, depression or adversity. Not for her the vain tears of desperation and hopelessness. She, who has fed for all these years on the good humour and delight of those who live within her boundaries, has strengthened her resolve and drawn her inhabitants closer to her and to each other. Vainglorious in the face of blight she imbues each person with the same sense of pride. London will cosset her inhabitants until they are able to heal themselves. Londoners will lift their chins in defiance of their own circumstance. They will remember the spirit of their great city and allow themselves to be driven by it. Surrender, hopelessness and despair will not prevail. People will rally together as Londoners, inhabitants of one of the greatest cities in the world. They have sustained worse and the memories of that survival are embedded into every paving stone, cobble and brick. The rain may fall for a hundred years but the city will stand. And Londoners will not stand without.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Untitled due to lack of imagination

Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” was once described by a critic as a play where “nothing happens. Twice”. Sounds rather like my life at the moment, except nothing seems to happen. Perpetually. I have resigned myself to a life of tedium and futility, at least for the time being. That doesn’t stop me dancing around the house like a mad woman with my earphones in. Like a silent disco, but in the privacy of my own home. I don’t think the world is quite ready for my special dance moves just yet. Small children might well be afraid.

That reminds me. Good Friend and Barely Planned Child are coming around for lunch next week. Barely Planned Child (BPC) was a surprise, but much too loved to be called a mistake. He very recently turned one and is walking. Which means that I best make sure my floors are clean so that he doesn’t go home with blacked socks. Or whatever it is that small children wear on their feet in other people’s houses. Surely they don’t wear shoes at that age? My feet have suffered enough during my adult life. I don’t think we should inflict the same on children who have no choice but to acquiesce to Mother’s choice of footwear. I think going barefooted as a youngster can only stand you in good stead. It cultivates a nice hard foot pad. Useful in later life when you need to walk barefoot over glass, hot sand or coals. During “Big Brother – Shipwrecked” for example. Imagine how you would thank your mother if you won a million pounds by demonstrating your hardy feet. Also, barefooted children take the pressure off their hosts. You can always explain away dirty floors by suggesting the small human frolics in the garden for a bit. No one will be any the wiser as the cause of the dirty feet and you save yourself the back breaking job of mopping and sanitising your floors. Mind you, given the microscopic square footage of the average London flat; it hardly counts as one of the twelve labours of Hercules. I am convinced that if Hercules had been a woman, mothering BPC (or any other child for that matter) would count as the thirteenth.

In other child related news, my Best Friend from School has recently started her eldest daughter at pre-primary school. Since she lives on the other side of the world, said institution is known as Kindergarten or “Kinder”. Not at all like those tasty chocolate eggs with a toy inside I’m sure, but I suppose this stage in education might be more important than collecting Kinder Surprises. Anyway, I digress (again). Apparently in order for the Kinder to guarantee happy, healthy participants; mothers are forced to work as indentured labour at a variety of tasks like: tea lady, sand pit monitor and the ubiquitous fruit lady who exists simply to ensure that you get at least one of your five-a-day shoved down your throat during the course of the day. I suppose this indentured labour idea works for all parties – the school gets free labour and so frees up some of their budget for either lavish staff parties or replenishing wax crayon supplies (dependant on whether the head teacher has a moral conscience and real interest in education or if they prefer booze, cocktail sausages and feeling up Miss Perkins from Admin). Mothers get to spy on their children. Ensure they are not mixing with unsavoury individuals (although I am not entirely sure that one can be unsavoury aged 4 ½). The child earns some kudos from having a nice/cool/generous/well dressed/ pretty mother. Woe betides you if you are none of those things. Your child will be tormented with your glaring inadequacies. At 4½ you might not have it in you to be unsavoury, but by god you can be honest. To the point of cruelty. I have no fear for BFfS however. She will be an exemplary Fruit Lady. As a qualified (and superb) chef I have no doubt that she will be able to carve appetising gargoyles, My Little Ponies, Buzz Lightyears et al out of apples, melons and whatever other hard fruit she can take a paring knife to. No apple quarters for this Kinder class. They will have fully jointed Paddington Bear replicas lovingly carved from Cantelope melon and served with a Raspberry coulis. She will be mobbed by hungry children and her child (who I have to admit is a delightful little person) will be forever heralded as the saviour of Tea Time for bringing her mother in to save the fruit table. Fibre has never been so much fun.

Meanwhile, whilst I am surrounded by people who persist in producing wonderful children, Husband and I continue to argue about having our own. Time is ticking on. There is a limit to how long I will be enthusiastic about the idea of carrying a child (who, lets face it, with my genes is never going to be small boned) in my womb for nine months and then ejecting it into the world with the limited support of the national health care trust. Furthermore, I’m not getting any younger and the body doesn’t bounce back quite like it used to. I have ascertained this by conducing rigorous and thorough experiments involving vodka. I’m not 21 anymore. Husband fails to see this. The man is governed by his Spreadsheet of Life. This contains the formulas which are set to inform him when it might be the appropriate time to purchase a house, get married, play golf, invest in a new jumper and have children. I am sure it’s all very logical and rational. And I could never dare declaim* against logic. I admire most things that I have very little of. But for all I know there is a flaw in the formula and the “right time” might never come up. Where would I be then? Oh I know….dancing around my house cackling like Cruella DeVille and extolling the virtues of vodka over fruit. At last! Something to look forward to!

* Word of the Day! Ha! My work here is done.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Stalking Disturbs Slumber in the Suburbs!

RigorMouse remains where I discovered him this morning. He looks small and a bit pathetic, but he will have to stay there until Husband comes home and removes him. My grisly discovery was made as I walked out of my bedroom this morning and the corpse is the final piece of the puzzle.

Last night was not a good night. Husband and I were fractious and consequently did not settle well into our slumber. We slept listlessly until around two in the morning when the cats began to disturb us with scratching, pouncing and purring. Husband and I are the owners of two cats. I have to confess to being predisposed to liking animals of the canine variety. Husband is firmly a cat person. I desperately crave the company of animals of most descriptions (I draw the line at reptiles of any kind, snails and newts. Anything else is fine) and as a compromise it was agreed that we should get cats.

The first I shall call Don Corleone which should give you some indication of the appearance and nature of this cat. He is a gargantuan creature with an air of superiority and a bearing which suggests that he barely tolerates his existence with the two humans he clearly considers should be permanently enslaved to him and his every whim. Mostly those whims involve food which contributes to his continued growth. Sideways. He is however; a mummy’s boy and I have a genuine fondness for him, especially when he rests his bulky self on my lap during the evening. There is something comforting about watching CSI with a large, black cat purring softly on your lap.

The second feline is affectionately known as The Pebble. She is diminutive, grey and skittish. She is also supremely intelligent. She prefers not to be touched and often seeks the solace of the great outdoors in an attempt, I suspect, to kill her doting humans with the terror of her being killed on our busy road. Quite what she would gain from our removal I cannot be sure, but it could have something to do with wanting the super king size bed (and functioning electric under blanket) all to her self.

Our sleep was disturbed by the noise the cats were making. We presumed they were wrestling each other in a poorly matched weight class contest. What was really happening was a malicious, calculated fight to the death. They hunted together. Good cop, bad cop, though I find it difficult to determine which would be which. Of course I have made these assumptions based purely on the evidence I see before me, like any good CSI would. Grisham has taught me well. If this were an episode of CSI it might go something like this:

I see a miniature rodent corpse. Standard field mouse I assume. Certainly not a rat. What is mysterious is that the body shows no signs of struggle. No ligature marks, puncture wounds or defensive wounds. The onset of full rigor suggests that the victim has been dead for some time. The surrounding area has been disturbed – chairs are askew, items have been knocked to the floor. The victim might not have fought but he did try to run. And he was pursued. Given the angle of the misplaced objects I assume that he was pursued by something considerably larger than himself. Witness confirm hearing strange noises in the night, like two cats playing and periodic silence before the “playing” commenced again. No one was able to give a description of the two felines in question. I judge that the cause of death was massive coronary failure. Brought on, I suspect, by the exertion of running for his life. Or he could quite simply have died of fright. Looking around me I am forced to assume that the predators can only be The Don and his trusted sidekick, The Pebble.
Later that day, when accusations are made, both suspects admit their guilt under my furious questioning (and denial of tasty tinned cat food. Prawn flavour. It’s tantamount to torture), confirm that the Rigormouse hit was part of wider gang related violence. The perpetrators are granted parole and placed into a witness protection programme in exchange for information. The closing scene shows Don Corleone lying peacefully and non-violently on a bed, doing his best to spread his black hair all over the white duvet cover. Cut to Pebble who is sitting in the sun minding her own business (but one still suspects her placid demeanour belies the ruthless mind beneath). Meanwhile elsewhere in the neighbourhood a ginger tom cat is under constant surveillance…

The reality of it is that I now have a dead mouse lying on my floor and don’t have the nerve to dispose of it. I cannot possibly pick it up with my bare hands. I expect he will be….gelatinous. I consider using Husband’s barbeque tongs to pick Rigormouse up and take him outside to his final resting place. I have prepared a small grave for him under a bush in the garden. The cats watched me disapprovingly as I dug it using my pink trowel. I suspect that this is the cat equivalent of a human watching someone else bury a beautifully cooked leg of lamb. Still, even with the aid of the tongs, I cannot quite bring myself to approach the mouse. Looking around in desperation my eyes finally settle on the glass top of my Nigella Lawson Living Kitchen cake dome. Perfect! Thus encased RigorMouse awaits the return of Husband so that he can be moved. In the meantime, Don Corleone sits staring intently and somewhat menacingly at the tiny corpse under the glass. For the first time I am grateful that we don’t have dogs. Dogs would certainly have exhumed the mouse and brought the partly decayed corpse back into the house just when we least expected it….

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Confessions of a Tormented Housewife

Could this be my darkest hour? The hour in which I find myself struggling to remember the best way to change a duvet cover? Or perhaps the hour in which I realise that I have been unemployed for four months? Or perhaps it is the hour in which my husband gets home and I realise that I have nothing to show for the eight hours I have been awake in the day.

Having been unceremoniously ejected from my job where I worked at director level, networked with CEOs, government ministers and various other people full of their own self importance I find myself thrust into unfamiliar territory. I have struggled to reconcile myself with the notion that I am one of the hundreds of thousands caught in the tidal wave now commonly known as “The Recession”. I have always worked, always been independent, a survivor, some one who was proud of the contribution they made to society, even if it was simply through paying the correct amount of tax. Now I spend my days aimlessly; desperately wanting to smoke menthol cigarettes behind the bike shed and eat chocolate cake but knowing that I really should be going to the gym and preparing dinner for the longanimous Husband. My greatest fear is that I should become a fat, unfit, unemployable Misery who cannot manage even the most menial of household chores.

Let us be clear here – it is not that I cannot do things. It is that I choose not to. Well, that’s what I tell myself. In secret I read the great tomes of Perfect Housewife Anthea Turner, petrified that I might be found wanting in my domestic abilities. I slavishly place lavender seeds in my linen drawers, scented soap in my bathroom, use bicarbonate of soda and vinegar as a staple cleaning agent and fold my shirts in the way first invented by some ancient Japanese T-shirt folding sensei. None of these small accomplishments seem to suppress my own feelings of inadequacy. Doubtless, there are few of my friends who can boast a colour coded cupboard and alphabeticised CD collection. Next week I plan to sort my not in-substantial book collection according to the Dewy system. This will take some research as I cant quite remember if Literary Theory belongs to 321.2 or if that’s Political theory, but I am pretty sure that my John Grisham novels fit in somewhere around the 364 mark – Criminology. But even after decoding the mysteries of the library system I don’t think I will be satisfied. I feel my brain slowly putrefying with the passing of every hour in which it is not adequately used. Likewise, my body grows used to sampling the many things I cook in order to keep myself busy. The slower the pace of my life, the slower the pace of my metabolism, the slower my cognitive functions. The slower each of these things becomes the lower my self esteem falls. I suppose if I had better MS Excel skills I could graph the decline of my self esteem in some pretty colours with an illuminating key and well labelled X and Y axis. Bit by bit I could demonstrate the impact of each insecurity as it surfaces each day. Unfortunately though I am not sure I know how to make such a graph, which is a shame as it would be an interesting occupation. For a time.

One of the challenges I set my self each day is to use the “word of the day” in the correct context within a sentence which doesn’t sound completely pompous. The greatest challenge is remembering how to spell that word. And then trying to remember what it was the day it becomes “word of yesterday”. Today’s word is “burnish”. How apt. It means “to polish and make shiny”. Well, that should be easy to use for one who is obsessed with polishing – or rather burnishing – of her family heirloom silver cutlery set. Perhaps I could write a list of all the things in the house which need burnishing and assign them each with a weekly burnishing day. There that’s the word of the day used in context several times. Well done me. I might need to have a little lie down after all that mental exertion. Or perhaps just stare into space for a while. Imagine I’m watching paint dry.

For dinner this evening I intend to use some left over roast pork to create a highly original and hopefully tasty Chinese stir-fry extravaganza. Edible thrift. Husband will be pleased. Of course this means that I will have to go to the shops and purchase some key ingredients – ginger and honey spring to mind - which means I will need to change out of my rather fetching baggy tracksuit bottoms and Husband’s old blue jumper (at least 3 sizes too big). Drat. Perhaps I could just put on my enormous coat (bought in the days when I had to fit a tailored suit and blouse underneath which dictated a certain capaciousness) and hide the unsightly “home” clothes, slip into Sainsbury’s, purchase my goods and escape before anyone notices the bedraggled creature who might have eased herself out from a dark cupboard under the stairs. Oh, and I will need a woolly hat to hide the unsightly hair which I haven’t bothered to straighten. I wonder if I could sell my GHDs on e-bay and permanently forgo the pretext that I am a well maintained, immaculate woman who gives a damn? The money I raise could be put towards restocking my diminishing supply of chocolate.

Anyway, I digress. Clear evidence that my feeble mind keeps only a tenuous grasp on the thread of conversation. Dinner. Right. Pork leftovers and some pre-packed stir-fry vegetables. Served with rice and a honey/ginger/soy sauce type creation. Protein? Tick. Carbs? Tick. Fibre? Tick. Vitamins. Dubious considering that all the vitamin C will have been leached from the vegetables during the pre-packing process. Never mind. Vitamin supplements to hand? Tick. Good that’s dinner sorted then. Tomorrow perhaps I will attempt something a bit more creative and nutritious. Today I just can’t be bothered to create much more than the aforementioned edible Pork Thrift. It is locally sourced Hampshire pork if that makes a difference?

I expect to be slightly more energised tomorrow, since I have a date with the delectable Clyde. Not to be confused with my paramour (no time for that. I have ironing to do don’t you know?!), Clyde is my horse. Well not mine exactly, but I do get to spend a lot of time with him which I find most satisfying. Given that we have had some rain I expect that the tracks will be wet tomorrow, giving Clyde and me an excuse to wander along at a glacial pace whilst enjoying the scenery. During this time I will attempt to spot the first spring buds. Spring signals a change for the better – new beginnings, growth and renewed life. Just what I need. So I will enjoy looking for the signs and when I cannot see them I will take it as a portent of doom. Winter will linger for a little longer. No matter to me and Clyde. We still enjoy each other’s company. He enjoys mine because I don’t carry a whip and I feed him excessive numbers of polo mints. I enjoy his because he allows me to escape from everything else which is on my mind. Mostly because I am concentrating so hard on not falling off that there isn’t much space in my mind for anything else. Still it’s an escape – change of scene, fresh air, peace and quiet and some trees. Perfect. I might even find the energy, or rather the inclination, to make Husband’s favourite slow cooked lamb shanks for dinner. I won’t mention this to him just yet as I am equally likely to suggest an Indian take away. I will try and commit to memory as many details of my morning out as possible. Exposure to a wider scope of humanity might well provide excellent fodder for recall later in the week when I am tired of imagining paint drying.

Emboldened by thoughts of an excursion, I feel the sudden need to hang some washing, do some ironing and make a cup of strong coffee. After that I suppose I will journey off to the shops with a spring in my step. Hell, I might even change my clothes.