Monthly Archives: June 2014

Bertie and the Rottweiler

Bertie squirms on the floor when he sees me. Tail flailing. Maggie’s looking through the books. I’m on the floor with Bertie before she notices me. He’s the sweetest-natured little dog. Coffee-and-cream. With a lopsided haircut. Maggie insists on cutting it herself. He insists on running off when it’s half done. He and Maggie are inseparable. I don’t think I’ve seen her without him in the past four years. I envy the comfort of their relationship. They know each other inside out. Respect each other utterly. Love one another with devotion, wholly devoid of fear.

The three of us wander onto the patio. Maggie and I chat about plants. The weather. It’s Glastonbury weekend. It rained heavens hard this morning. Naturally. A new British tradition. Bertie hares off across the lawn. He jumps and dances by the corner of the fence. Barking his head off. I watch the performance. Maggie moves the potted geraniums. A small, blonde head topped by a green baseball cap pops up over the fence. Grins. Vanishes. Bertie’s going crazy.

“What’s up with you?”

Maggie straightens up. Satisfied with the geraniums at last. She brushes the soil off her hands. The face reappears. For a split second.

“Come, Bertie. We’re going in now.”

He’s torn momentarily. A game of peek-a-boo. The love of his life. The treat box clinches it. One last furious bout of yapping and he’s at Maggie’s feet.

“He’s such a frightened little dog,” she says.

Bertie dances for his treat. No-one’s ever looked less scared to me. She tells me people have set bigger dogs on him. Someone threw a beer bottle at him from the back of a motorbike once. I rub his ears and listen. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone would want to hurt him.

Things might have been so different. If Bertie had been bigger. Had his person not been Maggie. His cavorting in the garden looked like fun. Maggie’s wise. She knew that wasn’t all there was to it. If he’d been three times the size. Hurling himself at the fence. Snarling. That little head would’ve disappeared. Screaming. Quite rightly so. A frightened dog’s a dangerous animal. Especially in the wrong hands. Frightened people like frightened dogs. Fear creates ferocity. Then the dog-person combination is disastrous.

Truth is, fear does horrible things. It tells us lies. It makes us put up barriers. It creates doubt. Distrust. It’s never a good basis for decisions. Unless you’re face-to-face with an escaped tiger. A little caution’s probably a good thing then. Fear makes people dangerous. A lot more dangerous than Bertie’s slavering-Rottweiler of a cousin. A frightened person’s far more scary than a dog. Manipulative. Aggressive. Dishonest. Full of hate. A frightened person won’t just attack the neighbours. If he’s hateful and manipulative enough, he could wipe out six million people. Just because he thinks they’re different.

The other day I saw a dog on Facebook. I’m not going to glorify the picture with a link. Neglected. Half-starved. Beaten. Heartbreaking. The epitome of everything we find outrageous. Rightly so. I was offered the opportunity to click on a link. Make a donation to help stop this kind of cruelty. I’m getting a tad cynical in my old age. I checked the source. It was group called Britain First. I was angry beyond words.

Britain First is a registered political party. It has no connection whatsoever with any charity working for the welfare of animals. It was cynically exploiting our love of animals for purposes of its own. Deliberately diverting money away from charities that might have done some good. Its advertising was manipulative. Aggressive. Dishonest. Full of hate. Sounds familiar? Should do. These people are just plain bloody scared. Scared of anyone who’s different from them. Fear makes them aggressive. And dangerous. Very dangerous. To anyone who values any kind of freedom.

Bertie’s had some pretty bad experiences. So has Maggie. Her story’s maybe for another day. They give me hope.  They’re one small piece of evidence. We don’t have to give in to the bullies. Or bully other people, out of fear. It’s possible to live a different way. Because there is no fear in love.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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A taste of things to come?

Alongside the blog I’ve been trying to work on a novel. It’s in its infancy at the moment. I haven’t made much progress, because so much energy has gone into blogging. However, I’ve been editing over the past few days, so I thought I’d post a sample. I would really appreciate some feedback on this post if anyone wants to leave any. How does it grab you? What do you think? Would you want to read on?

November rains over the fields and trees. Thick and heavy. Cold. The last leaves cling to the stark branches. Fading splashes of colour against the louring sky. Jess splatters through the liquid mud by the stile. Leaps and twists to meet the red rubber ring as it arcs and falls. A perfect catch. She lands and skids a half circle, running long and low to drop the ring at my feet. She’s sleek and fluid. Her breath hangs between us as she flattens for the next throw. I draw back my arm. Hurl the ring into the rain. She flies for it. Straight and true. We’ve performed the dance morning, noon and night for nigh on two years. We know the moves. We could do it in our sleep. And if my moves are sometimes more hesitant than hers, it’s only because people in general are less reliable than dogs. My boots slither on the slip of mud. It’s so wet I can’t imagine the world any other way for now. I raise my face. The rain invades the shelter of my hood and stings my lips and cheeks. Jess skates the far loop of her run and catapults back to me, trailing a spray of mud. Her determination borders on obsession. It’s a thin line.


It was like this the day I met him. November. No trees or fields. Just grimy pavements. Balding buddleia clinging to buildings washed grey by the endless dirty rain. I was coming out of the shop. One Stop. Ubiquitous blue carrier bag. Barely strong enough to hold the bottle. I used to promise myself it would never come to that. Back when I believed in normal. And thought I was. I wouldn’t have noticed him then. I’d have passed by on the other side. Confident in my own righteousness. Oblivious of the fragile thread that held it.

He was going to ask for money of course. He always denied it. I knew the look. He spotted the bag and changed tack. Cursed the weather. Sniffed. Wiped his nose on his sleeve. He’d deny that too. He tried to keep his eyes off the carrier bag. He couldn’t. Bluer than robins’ eggs. The eyes and the bag. I was never going to get honeyed words from a drunk on a wet November morning. I was cold. He had a room. I had booze. He was broke. We were both rattling. It was a done deal.

The bay windows overlooked the park. It must’ve been the kind of house people wanted to live in once. Now it was eviscerated. Stuffed with poky bedsits. I didn’t notice at the time of course. I did notice the staircase. Cream. Institutional. Smelling of socks and stale tobacco. Brandon’s door was cheap hardboard. Magnolia. Tacky plastic handle. There was a hole at the bottom where someone had tried to kick it in. He fumbled for the keys. I shuffled and shivered. Tried to work out why I’d agreed to come here. He was hands down winner on the deal. He’d get half my booze. More probably. All I was in for was a few hours in a cold, dirty room. A half-hearted grope. A mouthful of abuse and a slap when I said ‘no’.

The room was bigger than I’d expected. There were sheets on the bed. Cream and brown. A cream throw on the sofa in the bay. Not a crease in it. Multi-coloured cartoon aliens zapped across the screen in the corner in total silence. There was a table and chairs. A matching set. Sketch pads and pencils laid out alongside crumpled Rizlas and empty cans. The world’s smallest kitchenette in the corner. A fan heater hummed steadily. This room didn’t belong to a common-or-garden drunk. Brandon took off his coat. Hung it behind the door. There was an ironing board there. With a pink cover. He motioned to the table. I sat down. Clutched the carrier bag. My last living hope.

I came to with a pounding headache. The half-light flickered crazy colours. I was sticky. My mouth cream-cracker dry. I could hear retching. I didn’t know where I was. Nothing new. I lay still. The ceiling was high. Ornate plasterwork crumbled round the light fitting. Brandon appeared above me, rubbing a tea towel over his sweating shaven head.

“You’re pretty.”

He sat on the edge of the bed. I used to be.

“No, really. You are. Perfect cheekbones.”

His finger barely touched my face. I didn’t pull away. Brandon pulled his T-shirt up over his head. He was hairy. Muscular, despite the belly. I tensed as he swung his legs onto the bed. He didn’t touch me.

“What’s your name?”


Go ask Alice.

The TV flickered. We talked like an old-fashioned date. Only horizontal. Brendan spun stories. I opened my heart. We lay in a perfect bubble. When he kissed me, it was the most natural thing in the world.

I hadn’t been happier in a long time. Maybe he hadn’t either. The TV cast shadows on the ceiling. The street light glowed in the window. We held one another. Half whispered. Kissed as if we’d never kissed before. Brendan’s phone broke the spell. He growled and rolled off the bed. I started to shake.

“Piss off, can’t you? No. Thursday. You know that. Fuck off and leave me alone.”

His hand trembled as he put the phone down.

“Now, where were we?”

But the bubble had burst. We were hanging. I needed to pee so badly. I didn’t dare move. I knew I’d throw up when I did. Brandon slumped on the edge of the bed. Started unravelling dog ends into a crumpled Rizla. The lighter wouldn’t work. He cursed and stomped. I began to wonder if I’d dreamed the last few hours. The knot in my stomach told me to get up and run. The warmth and the feel of him urged me to stay. Ride the storm. Even now I’m not sure I made the wrong choice.



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Revolutions and messages in dresses

I’d be over the moon if the labels found recently in clothes from Primark turned out to be genuine messages-in-bottles from distressed garment workers. For a start, it would put paid to my suspicion that the majority of the women in sweatshops are poorly-educated. The writers of these messages were clearly literate. In English. Not a language spoken fluently by the majority of Bangladeshi workers. Their spelling was better than some I’ve seen on Facebook. Sadly, that kind of education comes with a price tag. Not one a garment worker’s family could afford.

The other reason I’d be thrilled is that it would be much harder for us all to ignore the messages if they were ‘genuine’. When it comes down to it, who doesn’t love a story that tugs at the heartstrings? The flipside is we hate to feel we’ve been taken for a ride. I can see the scene playing out now. In a few days, with some careful orchestration by the press and the clothing companies, the whole thing will be declared a ‘hoax’. We’ll feel let down. We’ll consider ourselves perfectly justified in going back to pretending the people who make our clothes enjoy being exploited for a pittance. After all, it doesn’t matter whether their children have enough to eat or not. So long as we can buy the latest styles at knockdown prices, all’s well with the world. With luck, Primark could actually come out of the whole thing smelling of roses. After all, to date they are the biggest contributor to the compensation fund for the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster.

One or two bloggers have already sharpened their defensive pencils to declare that they ‘can’t afford’ to shop more ethically. Poor things. Harriet Bignell’s piece for Independent Voices yesterday almost had me in tears. Tears of rage. Of sheer frustration that anyone could have so little understanding. And get paid for it. The problem is we’ve all been sold a dream. We believe we’re perfectly entitled to have whatever we want. The people who pay with their lives for our affluence? Well, they’re not real. Are they? The last few days have brought us uncomfortably close to wondering if they might be. But don’t worry. This little stunt has brought them on camera for a while. Maybe pricked our consciences a bit. In a day or two they’ll be hustled into the wings again. We’ll breathe a collective sigh of relief. Carry on as if it never happened.

But it did. 1129 flesh-and-blood human beings died. More than 2500 were injured in the horrifying collapse of an eight-storey factory building on 24th April 2013. Those workers had been sent home the day before because the building was unsafe. If it happened here we’d be outraged. But this was Bangladesh. Multinational companies are still refusing to pay out compensation. They’re getting away with it. With our blessing. In fact we cheer them on every time we buy the stuff they sell.

Rana Plaza was the tip of a monstrous iceberg. There are around 5000 garment factories in Bangladesh. Conditions are appalling. Most will not allow unions. The majority of the workers are women. They earn around £40 a month. Yes. You heard me. A month. For a sixty-hour-plus working week. That’s recently increased from £23. A month.

But the iceberg isn’t just about personal vanity. It’s about a system that puts money first. Demonises solidarity and caring. Where greed eats our capacity to empathise with others. When you’re up against a whole system it’s easy to think there’s nothing to be done. All that drops-in-oceans-spits-in-buckets stuff. What difference can I make? Well none. If that’s my attitude. If I’m really worried more about the price of clothes than the value of human life. The system operates on debt. We spend now. Against our earnings in the future. We borrow the earth from our children. We’ve not the slightest hope of paying back. We take out credit on the lives of garment workers. So we can have huge numbers of cheap clothes, rather than a few that are ethically produced. Do we really need all this?

Alex Andreou, writing in the Guardian, says it would be easy to start a revolution. Just by buying less. Not buying anything we don’t need. There are multiple issues with the idea of need of course. We ‘need’ things that didn’t exist ten years ago. The system’s seen to that. I’m not an economist. I can’t critique Andreou’s theory. I do know the earth’s resources are finite. That we’re sacrificing other people’s quality of life for our quantity of stuff. I’m fairly sure if we stopped feeding the system with money things would change. And I know we can’t go on like this for ever. Time to start a revolution I think.



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.




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Just eat

When did you last sit down and eat a meal? I don’t mean sit as opposed to eating on the hoof. Something I used to do quite often. I don’t mean slump on a chair with a plate of food and shovel it in while you watch a film. Update your Facebook status. Get involved in a Twitter debate. Browse the news. Read a good old-fashioned book. Or all of the above. I mean clear a space among the books and papers on the table. Pull up a chair. Eat. Nothing else. Just eat. Feel the way a cherry tomato bursts on your tongue. Savour the texture of Wensleydale cheese. With cranberries. Wonder why you never noticed before that cucumber doesn’t taste the way it did when you were a child.

I haven’t got time for all that. That’s my gut reaction. Probably most people’s. My mind goes into freefall. What a waste. Just eat? I could do something useful. Update my Facebook status … OK. Read a book. That’s useful isn’t it? Just eat. Yeah. But it’s boring. I need to be doing something. Just eat. All well and good for those who’ve nothing better to do. I wriggle like a fish on a hook. I just don’t want to pay attention to something so mundane. Odd if you think about it. It’s fairly crucial after all. Breathing is too. We rarely give a second thought to that either.

A good few years ago I was part of a Buddhist meditation group. The teacher told us it wasn’t possible to do more than one thing at a time. I may have laughed out loud. I was heavily pregnant. I had two children under school age. What I hadn’t learned about multi-tasking by then will never be worth knowing. He insisted. With the gentle persistence of one who is actually right. We can never truly focus on two things at once. We can learn to flit from one to the other so quickly we don’t notice. We’re never fully present to both at the same time.

Some days I think I’m never fully present to anything. I fill with foreboding as soon as my eyes open. Leap out of bed and set the plates in motion. Spinning on their axes. Wobbling. Can I stop them falling? I drink tea while I’m dressing. Eat breakfast while I check my email. At least I eat it these days. Muesli with fresh fruit. Don’t even notice it’s gone. That’s not good news when you consider that the mind and not the stomach tells us when we’re full. No wonder all those diets never worked.

And if I stop? Hold the silence, when the smash of crockery is over … Find my breathing. Feel my breakfast on my tongue. Allow my eyes to soar with the gull against the sky outside my window. Upend all my priorities. Discover more is almost always less. Rich does not mean virtuous. Busy doesn’t always equal good. And it isn’t wasting time if I just eat.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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Ramblings from a garden

I’m earlier than yesterday. The sun’s still on the page. Makes it sharply white, so I’m writing on the edge of the shadow of my hand. Moving deeper into shade as the pen crosses the page. I can feel the sun on the back of my neck. Not burning yet. I’ve been paranoid about that one in the past. So many paranoias. Hard to let them go. Hard to find them when you’re in the garden. The sky’s bluer than it’s reasonably possible to be. The breeze not enough to flicker a flame. A train passing. Why worry? Why worry?

A siren sings. This city never sleeps. A cat in the sun. Alert to the breeze. The bee. The skittering leaf. Relaxed. Ready to pounce. Nought to sixty in no time at all. Then back to nought again. A lick of the paw. A wipe of the face. I didn’t mean to catch it anyway. Just practising.

Always practising. We spend our lives practising. Practice makes perfect. How we long to be perfect. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul. What a delusion. What a snare. Always chasing. Never catching. Licking away at our wounds. We don’t have the cat’s nonchalance. We worry what they think of us. I messed up. I burned the pizza. I didn’t make my husband happy. I never pleased a soul. The cat’s not worried. The moment’s gone. She sleeps.

The roses by the door have shed some petals. Flamingo pink and peach. Now blowsy. Overblown. Janet tends the garden. I told her how lovely it looked last night. Colours rioting. Vying for the eye. All she said was it needs weeding. In another life I listened to a drummer. Perfect. I said. You never missed a beat. He only heard the mistakes. Not the applause. The standing ovation. For a breathtaking performance.

Kind to ourselves we’re not. We grumble. Criticise. Chastise. Nothing’s ever good enough. Practice never quite makes perfect. Then some of us get religion added on. The Great Unpleasable. Demanding. Perfection. Holiness. We have to Get It Right. And if we don’t they’ll slaughter us. On God’s behalf.

How wrong can we get it? How is that good news? Why would we want it to be? If we’re perfect. If God picks us for the team. If we don’t screw up. If we wear proper modest clothing. Cover our hair. Believe the dogma. Obey the pastor. Follow the rules. To the letter. Don’t have sex. Except for procreation. Only if we’re married. And really don’t enjoy it. Submit to our husbands. Parents. In-laws. Regardless of the bruises … Then maybe. Just maybe. If God’s in a good mood. If we catch him on the right day. If we say our prayers. Morning. Noon. And night. Five times a day. Our parents had us Christened. Or Bar Mitzvahed. We might end up with a celestial harp. Instead of everlasting torment. I’m not sure which is worse.

Who’d want to spend eternity kowtowing to a god like that? Albeit one I don’t believe exists. I knew someone used to say man created god in his own image. Thought he was being clever. He did I mean. Not me. He had a point. We take our petty angst. Our bitterness. Our judgement. Condemnation. Greed. Violence. Malice. Venom. Hate. We mix them. Make a monster. Let it take control. After all, we can’t let messy things like love and peace run free. Who knows where that might end?



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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The iPad is the opiate of the people, or little blue aliens and the meaning of life

Another confession. I’m quite fond of those lovable blue aliens in the Argos ads. They’ve had a few quirky misunderstandings. Amused us by their attempts to get to grips with western society. But on the whole they’ve acclimatised to consumer culture pretty well. Which for Argos’ purposes that was all they ever needed to do. No complex moral issues. No agonising over money. Presumably there’s a printing press in the basement. Or alien credit cards with infinite limits in mum and dad’s wallets. Seems like a pretty nice life to me.

Of course things might be a tad more complicated for any real aliens who fetched up in the middle of a British shopping mall. The whole being blue thing’s going to cause endless problems for a start. Makes you stick out like a sore thumb. People get nervous about differences like that. I can well see how an extended visit to Yarl’s Wood might be the end result. Not a great introduction to consumer culture. Especially with the prevailing pay and conditions there.

Lets assume, for the sake of argument, that our visitors evade capture by the immigration authorities. Human society’s going to be harder to crack than consumer culture. How to fathom a breathtakingly wonderful planet crammed with beauty and diversity, whose dominant occupants seem hell bent on exploiting it to the point of destruction? So for the benefit of any aliens who might get in under the radar, here are a few home truths about life in the UK.


It’s all about the money …

One of the first things you’ll find out is what we humans say and what we do are two very different things. We pay lip service to the idea that people are important. Then we exploit them mercilessly. We’re outraged when 1100 people lose their lives in a Bangladeshi garment factory. But we carry on buying clothes from the companies that profited from the disaster. A year and more later very little has changed.

It takes no more than a cursory glance at the pay structure of most western societies to figure out the priorities. People who work with money get huge salaries. Bonuses. Expenses. Company cars. Subsidised housing. You name it. Those who care for human beings. The young. The old. The sick. The vulnerable. They have to get by on minimum wage. People are worth a whole lot less than money.


and how you look

Here’s where being blue is a real disadvantage. You’re just never going to match up to conventional standards of beauty. And believe me, looks make all the difference. You can become a celebrity. Make more money than you ever dreamed of. For no better reason than that people like the way you look. Personally I’m still reeling from the news that there are people out there who think an allegedly violent criminal should be released simply because he’s good looking. No really. Physical appearance is actually that important. Probably why I’m still a few quid shy of my first million.


The human body is anything but a well-oiled machine … except on a Saturday night

I don’t know what kind of spaceship you arrived in. I wouldn’t mind betting it was maintained to the nth degree though. You don’t want your clutch burning out just this side of Jupiter after all. It’s a bit like that here on earth. Machines, we look after. You won’t find the owner of a Maserati going three years without changing the oil. The human body’s a different matter. More complex than any machine, it’s totally dependent on its owner for four basic needs. Food. Water. Rest. Exercise. In the right amounts. Of a reasonable quality. Air intake is beyond our control. Thank God. Otherwise we’d probably tamper with that too.

As for the rest, it seems we’re utterly incapable of getting it right. A 2004 survey found that more than one in four adults in the UK were dieting at any given time. Actually it should probably be more than that now. Sixty-four percent of us were classified as overweight or obese in a survey published in January this year. Including me. Just in case anyone thinks I’m being self-righteous here. We’re not much better at water. One woman in five in the UK drinks less than the daily recommended amount of water. Says the Daily Mail. On the other hand we’re far too worried about our fluid intake. It all depends on what you read.

Our attitude to rest is positively punitive. Mrs Thatcher has a lot to answer for here. Apparently she got by on four hours sleep a night. It was a badge of honour to her. One that may just account for the lunacies of her heyday. These days we’re inclined to look upon anyone who admits to needing sleep as an utter wimp. This despite good evidence that sleep deprivation plays havoc with our physical and mental health and can have far-reaching consequences. Maggie herself fell victim to dementia in the end. And I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.

Exercise? Don’t even go there. Most of us are so conflicted over the benefits of exercise that we spend our lives on the sofa in front of the telly. Much safer that way. Especially for the kids. After all, if they’re mesmerised by a 42” 3D smart TV for 18 hours a day they’re not going to break a leg playing footie in the park. Stands to reason really.

All-in-all the average human body can really only be considered a well-oiled machine for a few hours somewhere between eight and twelve on a Saturday night in the pub. And then only because of a quirk in the English language.


The iPad is the opiate of the people

I’d like to spend more time on opiates and alcohol. No. Not doing them. Writing about them. But it’s just too hard to fathom how we’ve settled for a society where so many of us need to be off our heads before we can feel happy. Never mind explain it all to someone from another planet. Karl Marx once said religion is the opiate of the people. Doesn’t much matter who Karl was right now. Although he may turn out to have been a good deal wiser than most people give him credit for.

Here in the UK religion doesn’t major on controlling people’s lives these days. We have the internet for that. Nevertheless religions the world over have an appalling record on human rights abuses. Triggering and perpetuating wars. Oppression of women. Abuse of children. You name it. And it ain’t over yet. If anything, it’s getting worse. In all those far-off lands. Iraq for instance. Places we think are none of our concern. Especially if we happen to be Tony Blair.

The last thing I want to do is confuse you. But I don’t think I can avoid it here. There’s a fundamental tenet found in every religion on earth. The golden rule. Treat other people the way you want them to treat you. What’s that? I don’t know. Perhaps you’re right. Maybe there are religious people who want to be oppressed. Abused. Randomly slaughtered. Violently controlled by people who think they know what’s best for them. Not just religious people either. Come to think of it, if we take do-as-you-would-be-done-by as a basic principle for human behaviour there must be an awful lot of masochists out there. Politicians. Rapists. CEOs. Murderers. Bankers. Domestic abusers. To name but a handful.


We’re gloriously human

I can see you backing towards that spaceship already. It’s not all bad news though. There are plenty of people trying to change the world. Or at least to live a little more kindly. Charities. Campaigners. Food banks. People with alternative lifestyles. People who choose spirituality over religion. Who don’t want to force everyone to see the world their way. Who opt for peace. Love. Delight. Non-violence. We don’t always get it right of course. But we know we don’t. And in the end, maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Now about that unlimited credit card. There are one or two things I could do with the next time you’re in Argos …




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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On loving words and being kind to myself

I’m sitting in the garden. Late afternoon sunshine. Now and again a cloud drifts by on the breeze. It’s summer. The flowers are vibrant. So many colours there surely can’t be names for all of them. The only clue I’m walking distance from the centre of a city is the low hiss of traffic. From this distance you could mistake it for the sea.

I’m writing. As if life wasn’t good enough already. Words tumbling onto the page. All tangled now. Putting me in mind of the multi-coloured mass of wool in the bottom of my grandmother’s work basket. Waiting to be sorted. Never quite submissive. I love words. And wool. How can you not love a material so versatile as words? You can use them to inspire. Question. Woo. Rant. Soothe. Weave stories. Make pictures. Paint songs. Modify moods. Create atmosphere. Change the world. The words I write today may go no further than the pages of my pad. Or perhaps they’ll flow. Grow into poems. Blog posts. The bare bones of a novel. Who’s to know?

I’ve loved words all my life. As a child I used to lose myself in stories. My own and other people’s. I can’t remember not being able to read. The words became my refuge. The safe place where I was in control. Insofar as you ever can be when it comes to words. A million miles from the hostile grown-up world.

I don’t know why we love to be so miserable. I wouldn’t mind betting I’d have hated reading those first two paragraphs a year or so ago. I’d have found myself brimming with a grumbling resentment. A covetous longing for the writer to be as unhappy as I was. Our lives are filled with bills and obligations. Promotions. Unpleasable bosses. Picky partners. Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. I was far more grown-up thirty years ago than now. If being grown-up means you have to be downtrodden.

It seems it’s not enough to be miserable alone. It’s become a moral mission. People on benefits are not as miserable as those in work. Apparently. They must be made to suffer more. Workers are in danger of being happy. They must labour longer. For less money. Have no security. Zero hours. We’re made to feel suspicious if anyone crafts life differently. We resent her freedom. Hate her non-conformity. The system’s punitive. Guilt-based. Rooted in fear.

And as for children. Their lives are fast becoming as miserable as adults’. It’s ‘achievement’ all the way. Whatever that may mean. Forget play. Imagination. Creativity. A drive’s afoot to eliminate all three. As early as possible. I sat in the back of a classroom a year or two ago. The end of the afternoon. The teacher was reading a story. My favourite part of the school day. To lose myself in words again. It wasn’t happening here. Every few sentences the story was interrupted. Not by fidgeting children. By a list of targeted questions. Designed to elicit understanding. I was fidgeting by the end. Never mind the kids. How to destroy a perfectly good story. No wonder so few children want to read.

And so I grieve. For words. For childhood. Those who’ll never learn to play. Imagine. Lose themselves in stories. The truth is life can be creative and fulfilling. That’s surely how it should be. We only have the one time here on earth. Why spend it doing things we hate? Where’s the good in that?

I came in from the garden. Made chickpea sweet-and-sour and sat down with a book. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. A single sentence jumped out at me. We have a responsibility to treat ourselves kindly, then we will treat the world in the same way. Maybe we’re so busy chasing security and wealth we’ve forgotten to be kind. Especially to ourselves. We indulge ourselves instead. New shoes. Comfort food. Binge drinking. All bring temporary relief from the relentless cruelty of the world. Kindness goes a long way deeper. Kindness is sitting in a garden. Late afternoon sunshine. Playing with words. Choosing beauty. If only for a moment. Walking with happiness. Kindness is learning to love yourself. Knowing you can’t fully love another if you don’t. I wish I’d understood that years ago.



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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There but for fortune

Emily made me cry last week. Makes it all the harder seeing her now. I’ve never seen her here before. But there she is at the counter when I turn round. Stick-thin. Eyes half closed. Skin taut across her chiselled cheekbones. She looked like a death’s head the last time I saw her. Didn’t think she could get worse. The girl she’s with I know less well. Can’t remember her name. She was sitting on the wall by the kitchen window when I went to butter the next round of sandwiches. Ubiquitous pit-bull-staffie. Its paws on the wall beside her. Begging for attention. Getting a perfunctory push for its pains. Almost khaki-coloured. The dog. Not the girl. She’s more yellowish. Matchstick arms. Scabbed. Pitted with bruises and scars.

I was talking no more than an hour ago to one of the young volunteers. New in the world. They always find it hard to understand the Emilies. In the end most of us do. It’s not a career option they tell you about in school.

“Excuse me, Miss. How many GCSEs do you need to be a crackhead?”

Kelly. The other girl’s name bubbles up. Not a spark of recognition from her though. Either she’s forgotten me or she’s too out of it. Likely both. Emily’s confused.

“What are you doing here?”

“I work here.”

She takes a few seconds to process this. Hugs me anyway. She can’t keep her eyes open.

A year ago Emily was hoovering the drop-in at One25. Within an inch of its life. Never seen the floor so clean. She was excited about her new flat. Her recovery. Maybe seeing her kids again. She was two stone heavier. Still slimmer than I’ll ever be. Still beautiful. Despite years on the streets. Everything she’d been through. She’s beautiful now. With the terrible, wraith-like beauty I’ve also seen in an out-of-control anorexic. Raw. Naked. Life-and-death. Larger than either will ever be for most of us.

Seeing Emily come so far and then go back was what made me cry of course. Specifically it was the moment when she dropped onto a chair. Temporarily defeated. Her leg purple-red. Angry. Throbbing. Almost double the size it should have been. She had one of the world’s most effective painkillers coursing through her veins. Russell Brand says he cannot accurately convey … the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. He should know. She was in agony.

I’ve done heartbroken. Furious. Confused-and-not-understanding. None of it helps. Russell Brand says addiction is an illness. Peter Hitchens thinks it’s self-indulgence. Who’s to say which of them is right? Russell certainly seems to have the edge in terms of personal experience. And I’ve met people who thought illness was self-indulgent. Until they became ill themselves.

I know which way my heart tends, but I have neither the experience nor the political acumen to judge between Russell and Peter. By the same token I have no right to judge Emily. Kelly. Anyone whose life’s been ripped apart by drugs. Or alcohol. I don’t know what kind of pain they need to neutralise. How they took the first steps that led to this. Or why. I do know it’s all too easy to be smug. Self-righteous. Look down on ‘poor lost souls’ who ‘couldn’t cope’. To judge. Condemn. Or try to rescue ‘them’. But life just ain’t that cut-and-dried.

When I started volunteering at One25 I still had grandiose ideas. Thought I might one day save the world. I met Emily. Kelly. Alice. Susie. Faith. Elise. And all the others. I drank tea. Ate chicken dinner. Cheesecake. Discussed politics. Nail varnish. Childbirth. Marilyn Monroe. I discovered real women. With real lives. Not stereotypes. Victims. Or self-indulgent narcissists. Flesh-blood-soul-and-spirit human beings. Courageous. Resilient. Battling a world of horrors I’ll only meet in nightmares. A few months in, I knew I wasn’t there to save. Simply to accept. Wholeheartedly. Unconditionally. As I was accepted. After all, had the world turned differently by the tiniest degree, I could have lived Emily’s life. Faith might have lived mine. We can never know for sure. And I can’t help being reminded of a song



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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Dear Mr Gove …

Dear Mr Gove

I notice you’ve got yourself into yet another pickle this week. You’ve been telling schools they need to promote British values. Now let’s be honest here, we’re all a bit confused about what ‘British values’ actually are. A straw poll by a friend on Facebook brought up a range of suggestions, most of which I hope you’re not planning to promote in schools. Greed.  Cricket. Imperialism. Football hooliganism. Binge drinking. Exploitation. Shooting peasants (not misspelled). Likewise Twitter came up with some helpful ideas under the hashtag #BritishValues.

On the whole, the Daily Telegraph seems less confused than the rest of us. But even they were forced to admit that many of the values we hold dear as a nation can’t be considered uniquely British. Indeed some of them may be far stronger amongst minority communities in these sceptred isles.

Many of us are struggling to understand why you find it necessary to label as ‘British’ values that are considered important the world over. Tolerance. Equality of opportunity. Mutual respect. Freedom. That kind of thing. To annexe these as ‘British’ might almost be considered an act of provocation by other nations, some of whom have a far better record in these areas than we do. In the interests of world peace, I’d like to share some of my own observations of British values, gleaned from my experience as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. I hope you will find the following helpful in planning any changes to the school curriculum.

Complaining about the weather

This is an essential part of any truly British conversation, regardless of what the weather happens to be like. The vocabulary required is extensive and should be introduced as soon as possible. Isn’t it miserable / dull / horrible / awful / hot / freezing? It’s emptying/ tipping/ bucketing/ wetting / peeing / pissing down. I can’t stand this heat / cold / rain much longer. We could do with a drop of rain / a spot of sunshine. Skills such as how to sound sympathetic, whilst actually feeling gleefully smug that it wasn’t you who left your umbrella on the bus are also quintessentially British.

Drinking tea

A value sadly lacking in most other nations, especially those on the far side of the Atlantic. Mind you, I’m not surprised Americans don’t drink tea. The tasteless, grey liquid that was served to me on my only visit to the USA would put anyone off for life. Proper tea should be made in a teapot of course.  One should use one spoonful of tea leaves per person, and one for the pot.  Don’t forget the tea strainer, the bone china cups and saucers, and the hand-knitted tea cosy.


Whilst we’re on the subject of liquid refreshment. May I remind those who have confused drinking lager with patriotism that lager is not, and never will be, British. Ale is British, and should be served at room temperature in a pint mug with a handle.  Lager is a European interloper.


To be honest, the words ‘British’ and ‘cuisine’ don’t collocate well. True British food is often bland, overcooked and a bit of a mystery to anyone brought up on a more interesting and varied diet. In teaching this value it may be best to go for the Full English Breakfast first. Most students find this relatively palatable. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding can be introduced next, but it may be best to exercise caution with the soggy cabbage. Please note that Yorkshire pudding should only be eaten with beef.  To eat it with anything else is sacrilege, and most definitely not ‘British’.

Some students struggle with fish and chips, as the practice of slathering said dish with vinegar can cause lasting trauma. Spotted Dick and Toad-in-the-Hole should be reserved for advanced classes …

Culling Badgers

The primitive urge to kill without good reason has not succumbed to evolutionary progress in some sectors of the British populace, in particular the wealthy and members of the Conservative Party.  Having been deprived of the savagery of fox hunting by their more highly-evolved peers, these people have turned their attention to badgers. Although it seems foxes are by no means out of the wood yet.

I realise this list is far from comprehensive, rather like many of our schools these days. Nevertheless, I hope it will give you a few useful pointers on how to approach the thorny issue of teaching British values in schools. Should you require assistance on more pressing matters, such as how to drive more good teachers out of the profession, how to transfer valuable educational assets to your friends and business associates with the minimum of fuss, or how to decimate creativity in the curriculum, please feel free to ask for my advice. You may not like it though.

Yours etc..


I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.

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Kate, Tracey and the perfect storm

Ella’s sitting on the café counter kicking her red shoes. Trying to chose a cupcake. Pink sprinkles? Yellow flowers? Kate’s ordering coffee.

“I’m lucky really,” she says, fishing in her purse. “Ella’s dad still wants to be a part of her life. Even though we’re not together any more. He’s with someone else now. Of course.”

Ella chooses sprinkles. Kate sweeps her off the counter

“I’m sorry. I’m fifty pee short. Can I pay you next week?”

Being lucky’s a relative concept when you’re a single mum.

Tracey’s next in the queue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so cold. I know it’s December, but it’s actually quite mild for the time of year.

“Are you OK?”

Tracey’s even less lucky than Kate. Her children’s father isn’t part of their lives now. He’s in prison. For beating Kate senseless. Her children are in care.

“Bloody freezing,” she says. “Me electric’s gone.”

She hugs her coffee. She missed an appointment. Letter got lost in the chaos after her partner was arrested. They’ve punished her by stopping her benefits. They prefer to call it ‘sanctioning’. Not punishment. Sounds nicer. She’s been in a freezing cold house for three days. No food. No heating. No hot water. No way even to make a cup of tea. A fairly hefty punishment for having a violent boyfriend. It hasn’t done a lot to help her chronic depression. The reason she was signed off work in the first place.

Since the European election I’ve behaved pretty well. Kept my head below the political barricade. Blogged about all kinds of other things. Today Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West has pushed me right back over the edge. Thanks to him, Oxfam is facing an investigation by the Charity Commission. Their crime? To have the audacity to publish a poster suggesting that poverty in the UK is getting worse as a result of decisions made by the government.

Shameful he says it is. I couldn’t agree more. Benefit cuts leave vulnerable women like Tracey destitute. Zero hours contracts mean people are technically employed, but actually have no guarantee of work … Oh, hold on a minute. He doesn’t mean that at all. He means Oxfam getting involved in politics. Objecting to what his political party happens to be doing. When they should be deferentially distributing alms to the deserving poor. Focusing on the relief of poverty and famine overseas. Not worrying their pretty little heads about politics. After all, what does poverty have to do with politics?

Ever since the very first caveman decided to clobber his neighbour and take over his cave, wealth and poverty have been the root and ground of politics. Poverty’s the inevitable result of a few people grabbing far more than their fair share of the world’s resources. Politics is one method of holding onto that privilege. Which of course is why My Burns is up in arms about it all. Especially with an election in the offing.

It seems to rattle Tory politicians when an influential charity decides to exercise freedom of speech. Iain Duncan Smith didn’t exactly emerge from last year’s spat with the Trussell Trust smelling of roses. Maybe Mr Burns thinks he’ll fare better. Or perhaps this is all part of David Cameron’s ‘moral mission’. His crusade against the poor. After all, the Trussell Trust are relative newcomers. Having a pop at them may simply have been testing the water. Oxfam are major league. Discredit them. Muzzle them. Along with any other charities who might want to point out out what the government’s up to. Preferably in time for the next election. Then who’ll be left to stand up for Kate and Tracey?



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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