Thursday, 26 November 2015


I drag Husband to see Spectre. He has a day off so we go in the afternoon hoping he might stay awake. He doesn't, and I don't blame him. I love Bond movies, especially Sean Connery ones, even some of the Daniel Craig ones. Casino Royale for example, love that scene where he's going into cardiac arrest and has to use the defibrillator in the car. Genius. And all that Vesper stuff, so romantic, and I'm big on romantic. And if you haven't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with George Lazenby, you must, it's the best. Basically I fancy Bond, which I know no self-respecting feminist should admit to because he's an unreconstructed misogynist bullying assassin, but hey, he's also entirely made up. Husband's happy to go with me to see it because he usually benefits from the afterglow. 

Unfortunately there's no afterglow because Spectre is crap. It's dark, both literally and metaphorically, shot in a gloomy black, white and grey palette. I don't think Bond smiles once, let alone cracks a joke, and I like jokes. It takes itself way too seriously. Nicely acted and constructed and all that but not fun, and Bond should be fun. Not sexy either. Gone off Daniel Craig. Maybe because of those dismissive things he said about the franchise when he was meant to be publicising it. He's obviously grown to hate playing Bond and it shows. Andrew Scott, on the other hand, who plays 'C', now he can come round and do a bit of surveillance on me anytime. Although I'm sure he wouldn't want to, not least because he's gay.

"What did you think?" asks Middle One when we get home.

"Didn't like it," I say, "but that could be because I could tell Daddy didn't like it."

"I thought it was good," says Middle One, who has already seen it. "But I was in a really good mood when I went with my mates, so maybe that helped."

Good point. The mood you are in and who you're with has a huge effect. I always regret seeing Mama Mia! the first time on my own on a drizzly afternoon in Clapham, sitting next to a dodgy geezer in a mac. But I had no one to go with and I was desperate.

Next morning at breakfast as I'm stirring the porridge Middle One has another question: "Do you think we should stay in the EU?" he asks. 

Jesus. I haven't even had a cup of coffee yet, my eyes aren't fully open, my brain hasn't found first gear. This is one of the difficulties with teenagers - with children - they ask questions you can't always answer, sometimes early in the morning. I prefer it when they ask about films.

"Er, well, tricky isn't it, I mean…"

I recall this wasn't a problem for my parents. They were confident. They had answers. They gave them to us. And they agreed with each other. (That's teachers for you.) God? There isn't one. Really? No. In fact you don't even have to say the Lord's Prayer in school assembly if you don't want to, Libby (that's me). I don't? No. I don't have to put my hands together and my eyes closed, like they tell me? You don't. Wow. So I didn't. Instead I had a high old time watching which of my primary school teachers did and which didn't (lots didn't). No one ever tackled me about it. So I'd know what to do in the cinema if that controversial Church of England Lord's Prayer advert came on before Spectre, which it won't. I'd just look around to see who's praying and who isn't and then carry on munching my Minstrels. 

I have a go at the EU question. "Well, on balance," I say, "I think we should remain a member of it. Better to be in the tent pissing out than out the tent pissing in. Or something."

"Humph," says Husband, from over at the dishwasher where he's re-stacking everything in his own image, as usual. The 'humph' is probably because he doesn't agree, as usual. Our children are growing up in a different atmosphere from the one I grew up in. Lots of discussion, as in my own childhood, lots of debate. Very little agreement. I'm hoping this is healthy and means they can draw their own conclusions.

"Why? Give me some actual reasons," says Middle One, rather unfairly singling me out. "Everyone gives an answer but no one gives reasons."

"Right, good point. Again. Um, yes..."

Somehow I find myself dragged into a discussion about open borders and free trade between nations with Middle One calmly shooting down every thing I say, pointing out that what I profess to like about the EU we could happily have without being a member of it. Apparently. Like Norway. He suggests that I, and lots of other people, equate not wanting to be a member of the EU with UKIP and racism and lack of tolerance about migrants and immigration, when the two things are not inextricably linked and the Schengen Agreement is a completely separate thing. Another good point. In fact all his points are good.

I think it's safe to say I'm intellectually out of my depth, which has started to happen a lot lately, particularly if I mistime picking Youngest up from his Maths tutor and instead of merely handing over cash and smiling winsomely, must perch on the edge of a chair while the exterior angle of a dodecahedron is being calculated. The lovely tutor actually looked in my direction this week, as if expecting some sort of response. Me? Suddenly I must deal with something urgent on my phone. Ah yes, someone important has liked my tweet.

I will have to begin answering tricky questions in the manner of my paternal grandmother. If someone asked her something to which she did not know the answer (to be honest most things fell into this category), she would say she gave all her brains to her two clever sons. Not a great retort for those of us who profess to be feminists - and yet who like a bit of Bond - but it seemed to work for her.

"You know what the EU is, don't you?" says Middle One as I'm spooning the porridge into bowls.

"No," I say, "apparently not."

"It's Spectre," he says.

I don't think he means it's monochrome and humourless, although that kind of works. I think he means it's without a mandate and yet controls almost everything we do. But at least if it was headed by Andrew Scott and not Jean-Claude Juncker I would definitely know which way to vote when the time comes.

Love E x


P.S. "Oh she's not a feminist," Middle One said a few weeks back, talking about a girl he knows, as if this is a good thing. Hang on a minute. "Any woman who says she's not a feminist, is mad," I told him. "Being a feminist means you believe women are equal to men and should have equal rights in the eyes of the law. There's nothing not to like about that and some women died for it." 

I might not know anything about the EU, or how to calculate the exterior angle of a dodecahedron, but I know that.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A class of their own.

"Kitty achieved an outstanding eleven A*s and one A at GCSE and is now studying five A-Levels, planning to go to Oxford to read Astrophysics with Further Maths on the side. In her spare time she plays volleyball, netball, rugby and hopscotch, all at international level and also cello, piano and comb and paper up to Grade Ten, while blindfolded. In the summer she travelled to Madagascar to teach disabled, orphaned, dyslexic children how to read. She's now going to sing an aria from Cosi fan Tutti, while standing on one leg."

Okay, so I exaggerate a little. It's Thursday night and we're at the sixth form awards evening. We never got here for Eldest. He did get an award at the end of Year 13 but he'd already left by then. He was expected to come back to get it. You must be kidding. Too cool for school. Really, he was, too cool to come back to school to collect it. I thought about going without him, sitting there in the front row, clapping manically to the empty space on stage when they called out his name, but decided it might look a bit desperate. 

So here we are for the next one - in Year 12 - with a seemingly endless stream of preternaturally accomplished kids parading in front of us as we wait his turn. Loads of them. Loads and loads. Especially girls. Unbelievably brilliant. All "mature," and "very hard workers," and so focussed on their future it can actually be read out as they traverse the stage: "Hoping to study anthropology." "Hoping for a career in politics." "Hoping to go to Oxford." An awful lot of them, as it happens, "hoping to go to Oxford."

No wonder teenagers are stressed out of their still-developing minds. Haven't they discovered the joys of having no flippin' idea what you're going to do with your life? Spending Friday night down the Black Bull drinking rum and black, hoodwinking the bartender you're really 18 when you're actually just 15? Or hanging out at Casanova's nightclub in the city centre until 2 am on Sunday morning with a boyfriend who's already left school. Then dashing off that overdue A-Level English essay in registration on Monday morning, seconds before Sir arrives? (I know I'm making it sound like Cider With Rosie and it was only north Yorkshire in the late 80s). When did youth become so serious?

They seem to fall into two camps these days. Those off their heads every weekend on MDMA and "gas", Instagramming their body parts and giving each other sexually transmitted infections, and those working their socks off, joining the debating society, backpacking to Cambodia, building huts for one-legged single mums and trekking the Atlas mountains for the Diamond Studded D of E (Duke of Edinburgh for the uninitiated). 

We didn't have awards at my school and I'm sure I wouldn't have been awarded one if we had. The only times I stood on the stage were to read out my poetry (I know, I apologise), when I was in plays, and once to inform my baffled audience that the way ahead was to nationalise all industry, when I stood as the Labour party candidate for our school mock general election. I remember a boy put his hand up and asked what's the difference between Elizabeth's policies and those of the Communist party? I replied that he had a good point, not much. The Tories won by a landslide. 

I fear for the youth of today. So much is expected of them. So much pressure. We just muddled along, did a bit of work, got some half-decent A-Levels, which was more than adequate to get into a half-decent university and then go on and get a half-decent job. There was very little pressure, no university fees turning the future into a massive gamble, requiring you to throw your disc on to the spinning roulette table of life in the hope that your number might come up and you'll be able to pay it all off. Some of their numbers might come up, some of those sixth formers applying to Oxford might get in. But just based on the quantity applying, versus the number of places available, there are going to be some very disappointed geniuses up there.

Meanwhile we're selling them a lie: work hard and you will be amply rewarded. Rewarded with what? Plentiful free university places? A job for life? A house? A manageable mortgage? A decent pension? A functioning NHS? Er, no, sorry, that's all used up, your grandparents had it. And no matter that they might end up with anxiety along the way, or anorexia, or cut themselves because the pressure is too bleeding much to bear and it must have an outlet somewhere. Not just the pressure to succeed academically either, but to parade across that stage looking impossibly gorgeous and slim and attractive, both for boys and girls, before posting a picture of yourself with said award afterwards on Snapchat or Instagram (Facebook is "for losers," remember) looking impossibly gorgeous and slim and attractive. The pressure is huge, so huge many are buckling under the weight of it all, 16% of 12 - 16 year olds experiencing "neurotic symptoms," according to mental health charity YoungMinds. 

Sod it, I say. Grab that award and run from that stage and just keep on running, like Forrest Gump. Run and run until your impossibly skinny pubescent legs can't carry you any longer, until you flop down exhausted in a green and pleasant field far from school, a sweeping vista of bucolic freedom stretching before you, the claustrophobic towers of the mad metropolis far behind, like something from Logan's Run, and weep for all the fun you never had. Then go off and find a nice little village pub and order a rum and black. 

Love E x 


P.S. And yes it was lovely to see him receive his award and obviously I don't mean him, he needs to keep at it.

A still from Logan's Run, 1976. The film depicts a dystopian future in which the population is maintained to preserve consumption of resources by killing those who reach the age of 30 (and more importantly Jenny Agutter is in it and she's hot as hell).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Homeland of Counterpane.

Hit the water, melt into the cold, head goes under, arms circle, a silken glide, above and below, breathe and exhale, liquid then air, in and then out, emerge then descend, think and then don't. Repeat. Take a breath. Sink. Deep. Deeper. To the bottom. The world through a watery prism. Like for Dustin Hoffman in that incredible scene in The Graduate. There's something amazing about swimming, once it gets hold of you it's hard to shake off, like droplets.

Have you ever become addicted to exercise? Started to crave the escape, the endorphin hit? Chase it, plan for the next? It's easily done. It's the reason I went swimming despite having a cold. I ignored it and now I'm here in bed, another day fading through the crack in the bedroom curtain, occasional fireworks glimpsed climaxing above rooftops, missing a night out with mates to celebrate a birthday. 

The head cold morphed into something worse, something insidious, pernicious, that infiltrated my system, washed through my defences, brought me down flat like a well-executed terror plot.

I remember part of a poem in my Child's Anthology of Poetry, by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Land of Counterpane: "When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all about me toys did lay, To keep me busy all the day." 

He had a weak chest, Robert Louis Stevenson, a tendency to coughs and fevers as a child. Like many of the Romantic poets, like the Brontes, he died quite young: age 44. I'd like to give my illnesses a romantic spin, imagine I have a poet's lungs, if not the talent to go with them. If I'd lived in the 19th century and not this one I'd probably have succumbed to consumption by now.

I don't have toys about me on my counterpane but I do have stuff on the duvet: newspapers, books, Kindle, iPhone and, crucially, a laptop. I could do some work or continue writing something of my own, or I could carry on watching Homeland in the daytime, the ultimate sin. I started watching it when Eldest was back at half-term. We watch stuff together, we did the whole of Twin Peaks, Fargo, Breaking Bad. All I have to do is log in to the Netflix account, press 'continue watching' and...

So this is how I find myself gorging on episode after episode. Finish, click, play, forward through the titles,"previously on Homeland," back to suburban, paranoid, Star-Spangled Banner, flag on the immaculate front lawn, spooked-out, Washington DC. Filling myself in so I can watch season five: the ultimate debrief. 

I take a break between episodes. It's warm. I open the bedroom window, remove clothing, lie on the bed. Wind rattles the loose casement, curtains flutter, guns flare from the office where Youngest is playing a computer game. I shut the laptop. Sleep...

Later. It's dark. The familiar room is alien, menacing, full of shapeless forms. Is it day or night? Week or weekend? I'm bathed in sweat. The door opens. Did someone open it or is it the wind? Where am I? In a cabin in the woods by a lake with a handsome marine. He's strong, intelligent, a tortured soul. Gunfire ricochets. A shell explodes overhead. Is he friend of foe? Only I can save him. He approaches the bed. Something amazing is going to happen, something erotic, poetic, life-changing, defining, cleansing, a rebirth, an epiphany.

"I'm doing soup," says Husband, "chicken broth or pea and ham?"

Love E x


P.S. Turns out 'binge-watch,' to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, is the Collins Dictionary word of the year 2015. I watched 22 episodes of Homeland in one weekend. So I caught the zeitgeist as well as the flu.

Paris 13.11.15

Friday, 6 November 2015

Car Crash.

When I was about twenty I crashed my parents’ car. I’d just passed my test. I was turning right across two lanes. The driver coming towards me in the opposite near lane stopped and beckoned me on. I went. Another car coming up fast in the further lane ploughed straight into me. Smack: huge dent in the nearside. I drove home. Went straight up to the bathroom in my parents’ house. Pulled the blind down. Crouched in the corner in the dark. Shock. Humiliation. Wanting to disappear.

Everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind,” I read this week, I also watched Homeland: Season One, all of it, back to back and read an article in the Guardian about the migrants in the camp at Calais and caught a snippet of a programme about a boy who nearly died in a motorbike accident, 19 years old, smashed to smithereens, and wrote 11,000 words and watched Catastrophe on Channel 4 and read that suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 18 and 45. But I knew that.

“Tell me if you ever feel suicidal,” I say to my boys as they're going out the door on their first day back to school after the half-term holiday.

“I’m feeling suicidal right now,” says Youngest, “what you gonna do about it?” 
I laugh. He laughs. Middle One laughs. Without humour (and music) life would be barren as a refugee camp. Never hang out with people who can’t joke about anything and everything and especially themselves. Or with people who refer to themselves in the third person. Often these are the same people.
There are jokes about sex Catastrophe. Filthy ones. When Rob Delaney pretended to wank into a loo because a woman at work turned him on I tweeted it was close to the bone, which I thought was funny, and quite wonderfully so did he.

I go trick or treating with Youngest and his friend and my friend and it's so busy we can’t walk on the pavement. Lots of houses have signs on the door that say: “Run Out!” I overhear people speaking Polish and Spanish and French.  “Foreigners coming over here stealing our sweets,” says Middle One when I tell him about it later and I laugh because that’s a joke.

Adorable children keep coming to the door when I’m cooking something to take to a Halloween dinner party. “What do you say?” I ask. “Happy Halloween?” they reply. Surely they shouldn’t get sweets if they don’t know the drill.

I sit next to someone at the Halloween dinner party who says, “Your children might go off the rails and get into drugs."

“I doubt it,” I say.
“How do you know?” he says.

“The bigger tragedy for me, more than an interrupted career, would have been never to have had children,” I say.
“How do you know?” he says.
“I know,” I say. “I would have had children at twenty if I’d found someone willing to have them with me... and if I’d been a competent driver. I would have spent £100,000 on IVF if I’d had problems conceiving. If that didn’t work I’d have gone to China and stuffed a couple of little girls in my luggage.” That's also a joke.

I tell people I hate Halloween ever since I made that K9 costume for Middle One out of two cereal boxes covered with silver foil with red transparent Quality Street papers for the eyes and ears that swivelled and he threw a tantrum and said it was rubbish. He was about eight years old.

But I don’t really hate Halloween. I’ll miss it when the children have gone. It was once about death but now it’s all about confectionery. That’s quite funny when you think about it.

Everyone wants to go up to the bathroom and pull the blind down and crouch in the dark in the corner sometimes, especially when the doorbell keeps ringing.
I realise that now.

Love E x


P.S. I haven’t had a car crash since. I love driving. Especially now with heated seats and music turned to max.