Thursday, 26 November 2015

Revenge vs unity

It has been a strange couple of weeks. The news from Paris seems to have depressed everyone's spirits. Tragic stories of husbands who have lost their wives, or parents searching for lost children, are circulating on social media, bringing us closer to the pain and the suffering. At the same time, I remain conscious of the plight of so many refugees fleeing the world's trouble spots. I watch and I listen, but most of the time I feel powerless to help.

A frosty field in winter
Beauty even in winter
Yesterday members of Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan concert hall before it was stormed by Isis terrorists, gave their first interview to the news organisation Vice, explaining how they managed to escape the gunmen's bullets. Lead singer, Jessie Hughes, said he couldn't wait to get back to Paris and wanted to be there when the Bataclan re-opened. "Our friends went there to see rock 'n' roll and they died," he told Vice. I want to go back there and live."

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Social outcasts

People watching:
Greg Rook, Artist and Course Director, Fine Art, London South Bank University

Hours before Paris suffered a series of devastating attacks last week, I spoke to the contemporary artist Greg Rook about his latest collection of paintings, entitled Off-grid. For much of his painting career, Greg has been intrigued by communities of people who exist on the margins of society, sustained by the rigours of their own belief system. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, this preoccupation with survivalism feels strangely prescient.

The Good Life by Greg Rook

Through his early depictions of cowgirls/boys in the American West, Greg explored the myth of the "guy out on his own, working out what right and wrong should be". Comparing the dusty, raw linen on which he chose to paint with the rough ground of the American landscape, Greg explains how the lone figure became a metaphor for his position as a contemporary artist. Later he became interested in the hippy communes of the 1970s and their dream of an enlightened future that never quite came to pass. Greg refers to this notion as "past potential futures" - in other words, hopes for the future that were not fulfilled.

Friday, 13 November 2015


Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

I'm just off to analyse some intelligence and plan a few operations in the field. What? You haven't heard about my new job as an intelligence officer for MI6? Super-Mummy-spook? That's where it's at these days. Our Secret Intelligence Service is recruiting mummies. And about time too, I say! If you want a job done properly, ask a mother. Who else has a sense of perfectionism, bordering on O.C.D., as well as the ability to juggle several different lives? I am just glad that HM's Government has finally seen the light.

Shh! Don't look now: Mummy's undercover!
In case you think I am pulling your leg, look no further than Mumsnet's Jobs round-robin email last week. Second down on the list after an advert for Advance Production Operators at the biscuit company, McVities, there was a post seeking full-time MI6 Intelligence Officers. At last, I thought, a proper job for the working mother - assignments overseas protecting national interests. That fits around the school run and Christmas concerts, right? 

Monday, 2 November 2015

A pox on failure!

It has become fashionable to extol the virtues of failure. Our children need to flounder; they need to experience the blood-rushing slam of disappointment! In some ways, it is a bit like trying to catch chicken pox. No one wants the inconvenience or the pimples, but it is a rite of passage. For how else can our kids build up emotional resilience? The old public school system would have filed it under 'character-building', along with draughty dormitories and short trousers in winter. I even catch myself saying to other mothers: "Failure is good for them, you know." But who am I trying to kid? 

A signpost indicating success and failure in different directions
Does failure lead to success?
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As the next round of common entrance exams come around, many parents face a dilemma: whether to push their children to aim high (investing time, effort and pride) at the risk of watching them fail to secure a place at their favoured school. The poet Lemn Sissay has a saying: "Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you'll get to the top of the tree." But what about those of us who aim high but still end up in the lower branches?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Teenage fuel

My 11-year old daughter was bemoaning the fact that she was too tall the other day. Having just started secondary school, she was embarrassed that she was towering above many of the older girls. In an attempt to comfort her, I started to tell her that our culture prized superlatively tall women in the form of supermodels... then I stopped. Where was I heading with this? Was I encouraging her to aspire to being bony and underfed? Heaven forbid!

Teenage girls with fruit for eyes
Having fun with food...
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As mothers, we are advised not to comment on our own weight or even focus too much on the way our daughters look. Our girls and boys are growing up in a society where the pressure to look attractive/desirable is almost overwhelming. According to a recent government survey, two-thirds of British teenage girls consider themselves too fat. No wonder then that admissions to UK hospitals for teenagers with eating disorders have almost doubled in the past three years. To add to the complexity of the problem, obesity in children is also on the rise.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Moonlight Jasmine

This is my short story that was shortlisted in the Henley Literary Festival 2015 short-story competition. A few of you have asked me to post it on the blog so here it is! It is 3,000 words long so you may want to make yourself a cup of tea first. It was inspired by a true story.  

Jasmine flowers
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A spray of white blooms caught Connie’s eye as she marched past the flower stall, but she didn’t allow herself to falter. Not today. She had a very important meeting to make and she couldn’t be late. Possibly the most important meeting of her life… no, that was an exaggeration! Nonetheless, her mission was to reach the cafĂ© at Selfridges before eleven o’clock. All her instincts told her that she should be safely in situ before her foe arrived. Stepping into the gutter to avoid a ponderous group of tourists, she picked up her pace and continued down Oxford Street.