Sunday, 29 September 2013


I love finding a bargain. We have so many charity shops in our town as well as a market, you never know what you might find. On Tuesday and Saturday the market is mostly fruit and vegetables (and is the cheapest place to get your 5-a-day) but Fridays are given over to antiques and flea market junk. It is fun to potter around and see what’s out there. I have a friend who sometimes has a stall on the Friday Market so I went out to see if I could find Peter, but instead I found a bargain.

I had a nosy around the CD stall and I found something I hadn’t thought of in years. The Clash--Combat Rock on CD for £3. I have a long history with the Clash. In 1982 for my thirteenth birthday Brad K bought me the 45 single record of Rock the Casbah.  Does anyone these days even know what I mean when I say vinyl record album and turntable?

I adored the song--the catchy chorus, the slightly unintelligible lyrics, the video (remember this was the early days of MTV back when they actually showed music videos) where an Arab and an Hasidic Jew bonded over rock music whist being inexplicably followed by an armadillo. I loved the way it pushed my Mum’s buttons--she believed that any band that said the word Rock in that tone of voice was probably saying F*ck. Good times.

Later that year I saved up my pocket money and bought Combat Rock on the latest musical innovation--the cassette tape. Man those were great--they were portable--you could record on them and play them back! You could put your tape player next to the radio and wait until they played the song you had requested (in my case Luka by Suzanne Vega) and then press play and get a badly recorded version of poor sound quality with a DJ talking over the music. But you had a copy and were sticking it to the man--you didn’t have to buy the music! Good times. My boyfriend Tim and I used to record music to share (this is how I was introduced to Pink Floyd) on one side of the cassette and then talk on the other in some rambling monologue about things like undying love and Elf Quest. This was before SKYPE people, you did what you had to.  

I recall really being moved by the lyrics of the first song Know Your Rights. I had grown up with social- conscience-political lyrics from the 1960’s but these were the first social-conscience-political lyrics of my generation that I had ever heard. Probably the second one I recall being moved politically by was Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil. Maybe these song were the beginning of activism for me.

Upon re-listening, I was moved all over again by the lyrics and shocked by how contemporary they still are. Particularly with the recent press coverage about the police cover up during the Hillsborough Distaster. Read about it here: Plus with all the cutback on benefits and welfare the amount of people having to rely on food banks has risen by something like 2000%. There are suddenly a huge number of people being made homeless and going hungry whist our bankers lives in luxury with £1,000,000,000 bonuses-- the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Our Meeting house has worked with other churches to set up a food bank in our town as previously they would have had to travel to Letchworth because  who can afford bus fare or petrol if you can’t buy food?

Here are the lyrics--do you agree that they still feel relevant today?

This is a public service announcement
With guitar
Know your rights all three of them

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a CRIME!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights

And Number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers

Know your rights
These are your rights

Know these rights

Number 3
You have the right to free
Speech as long as you're not
Dumb enough to actually try it.

Know your rights
These are your rights
All three of 'em
It has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough!

Get off the streets
Get off the streets
You don't have a home to go to

Finally then I will read you your rights

You have the right to remain silent
You are warned that anything you say
Can and will be taken down
And used as evidence against you

Listen to this

So maybe the message of the Clash is a good one.

Clash with authority if they lack compassion.

Clash with the system if there is injustice.

Speak up for those who cannot speak.

Speak your truth.

Make some noise.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A bit of an incident

There’s been a bit of an incident.

A squirty sort of incident.

A splashy sort of incident.

A splattery sort of incident.

A running around and shouting expletives that begin with S incident.

I had decided it was time to dye my hair. I don’t do it often--maybe every three months--and in between I try to keep the colour up with more natural methods like mixing cocoa powder with my shampoo. But it seemed time and so I went to the Health Food Shop and purchased a bottle of no ammonia healthy vegan hair dye. 

I came home and did it just like I normally do. I took off my glasses.  I mixed the small bottle in the big bottle. I shook it for 2 minutes. I popped off the safety cap. I gave it a gentle squeeze on the top of my head. So far so good. I got about half way finished and leaned my head down to get to the back of my head and that’s when it happened.

This is where it went terribly, horribly, no good, very badly wrong. The stuff inexplicably rocketed out at a crazy angle.  I screamed in slow motion and whipped around to see it make a huge splattery mark all over the back of the door. Some of it even got on the towel.

I quickly abandoned the hair dye and rushed to the kitchen to grab a wipe up cloth. I came back and tried to wipe it away with cold water.

It didn’t work.

I tried wiping it with hot water.

It didn’t work.

I ran to find the bottle of bleach we keep for emergencies.

It didn’t work.

I grabbed the instructions and searched in vain for directions on how to deal with this mess. I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t seem to read anything.

I’ll tell you why.

1. I wasn’t wearing my glasses

2. The light was poor so I brought it to the kitchen to look by the window.

3. It turned out I was trying read the part of the instructions that appear in French.

What it did say when I finally had the sense to flip the instructions over was something akin to Don’t let it spill anywhere as it may stain.

Well no shit, Sherlock.

I didn’t know what to do. I quickly finished colouring my hair as carefully as I could. I set the timer then I tried to continue scrubbing it.

It didn’t work.

So this is what we are left with.

How in the hell did it squirt all the way to the door? The door is a metre and a half away  (60 inches). Why did it decide to rocket downwards at such a strange angle?

Well I’ll tell you. They’ve only gone and put a bevelled bit on the squirty nozzle. So when I shifted the angle of the bottle to reach the back of my head, the goopy stuff shot out at a weird side angle. I hadn’t spotted it because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

So now, I’m afraid we are stuck with it. It will be  a constant reminder of the price of vanity.  Can it be considered art?  It actually looks a bit like a human heart, complete with blood splatters. Perhaps it is symbolic of a broken heart. I could win the Turner Prize for Art and be the next Tracey Emin. Or Banksy. It has a real graffiti-ish feel to it.  I could use it in an exhibition with Elvis singing softly in the background and call it:

The door of broken hearts that leads to Heartbreak Hotel, down at the end of  lonely street.

It makes a statement.

 That statement is:

 I am a bit of a dumbass. 




Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The crazy dried fruit lady

This is apparently my new secret identity. OK, maybe not so secret as I’ve just told you.

As you may recall, oh best beloved, I had an issue with finding some raisins that were not glazed in the evil known as  palm oil. I searched high and low and complained loudly and bitterly to everyone I knew that they didn’t make raisins like they used to--that is just being dried fruit not coated in some unhealthy substance. Somehow talking about dried fruit makes me go all eccentric and start really oversharing my concerns about the state of the dried fruit economy. This happened again today in Sainsburys.

I went to buy some medjool dates. Not those little horrible runty ones that are all artificially shiny that sat on the shelf next to the ones I wanted. The good ones. The medjool ones. But alas and alack! I could not find them. I looked high and low. I walked around the entire produce section. I furrowed my brow and tutted under my breath. I steamrolled my trolley to other sections looking for them. They were gone. All the medjool dates. The organic ones and the taste the difference ones. They sell two kinds of medjool dates, but none were on the shelves. I didn’t care which ones I bought as they were the same price, but I did  not want those freaky, shiny little ones. So then I spotted a young man who were worked there and my inner identity reared its ugly head and I marched straight over to him. He looked about 16 and was probably working there after school. This is what occurred.

Me: Excuse me young man. I can see that you work in produce as you are wearing gloves because this section is inexplicably like Antarctica. (it was freezing over in produce)

Him: (looking a bit worried) Yes ma’am. Can I help?

Me: I am trying to locate the dates. They seemed to have moved house without telling me.

Him: The dates?

Me: Come here, young man and have a look. Do you see these dates here?

Him: I thought you were looking for dates.

  Me: yes but not these dates. When a person eats dates it is because they want a healthy snack. These dates on the shelf here are glazed in glucose syrup which causes them to be so artificially shiny.

Him: Why would you do that to dates?

Me: Precisely my point. But next door to these dates lived a superior date called the medjool. It was not glazed in sugar syrup or palm oil like the horrible raisins you sell on aisle 3.

Him: (frankly looking a bit terrified) Um…Ok.

Me: Now last year the dates all lived over on aisle 3 with the other dried fruit like raisins and then inexplicably they moved house and wound up in produce. They have been here ever since in this precise spot . They have, however, fluctuated in price. They were both less than £2 (the best value anywhere) and then the organic ones went up by 15p and so I always bought the taste the difference ones, but then the taste the difference ones followed suit and now they both cost £2.15. This is still a better deal than Waitrose where they cost upwards of £2.50.

Spiderman interrupted my retelling at this point and said :

SM: Please tell me you did not go on and on about the history of the dates at Sainsburys to this poor lad.

Me: I’m afraid I did. Once I got on a roll I just couldn’t stop myself.

SM: Oh great now you’ll be known as the crazy dried fruit lady. Every time you walk into the shop they’ll all be huddled in produce and pointing at you saying, “there’s that crazy dried fruit lady.” I won’t even be able to go shopping with you now as they’ll say, “there’s that considerably older looking guy who is with the crazy dried fruit lady.”

I continued my tale.

Him: Did you try looking on aisle 3?

Me: Yes I did, young man but there were none to be found. Only your hideous raisins glazed in the tears of orang-utans.

Him: (taking a step backwards) Um…would you like me to go the back and see if there are any there?

Me: Yes please, that would be most kind.

He went to the back storage room (no doubt to tell his mates there was a crazy lady going on about dried fruit out there) and returned to say we were shit out of luck. NOTE: not the actual expression he used, but that was what his tone implied.


Him: I’m so sorry, but there isn’t any back there and as there is no shelf label anymore I have to presume that we aren’t stocking them anymore. This sometimes happens with food that very few people buy.

This is when, I’m sorry to say, I went all Lady Bracknell from the Importance of Being Earnest and instead of shouting out in my comically indignant voice, “A handbag!” I shouted out in my comically indignant voice,

Me: Not stocking them? Why that’s ridiculous. Every time I come there are only a few left on the shelf! Someone besides my good self must be buying them, it stands to reason!

I quickly regained my composure and hopefully my dignity and said:

Me: of course it is not your fault. You were very kind and tried to help. Is there a manager I could speak to, to commend you for your services?

He led me to a manager, who did appear to be trying not to laugh. I tried very hard, but did not succeed, to just give him an outline of the tale, but found I wanted to tell the whole story of my indignation about the state of dried fruit today. I did say that the young man had been most helpful (if unsuccessful) and then turned to leave.

As this story played itself out to its inevitable conclusion, I could feel my growing older until suddenly I had become my grandmother.  I was struck with an overwhelming urge to tip the young man 20p, just as funny old ladies had tipped me a quarter when I worked at Baskin Robbins. This I felt was going a step too far and if I wanted to get out of the shop without cementing my status as a mad old bat I needed to quit whilst I was ahead.    

But I am still shit out of luck when it comes to medjool dates. Damn.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Saga of the Broken Washing Machine

Basically, our machine has died. A coroner came out and declared it dead, but the funeral cannot be until Friday of this week. Then the carcass will be removed and a new one will hopefully take its place. I was a bit grumpy about it not being sooner, but this means I don’t need to take a day off of work to see the old one leave and the new one arrive. So that is something positive about it, I suppose..

 NOTE: this arrangement only works with appliances and not relatives. If you think you can just do away with your mum because she annoys you and someone will bring you a new model, you will be severely disappointed.

Here is the saga of the broken washing machine to the tune of Pop goes the Weasel.

Everyone sing along!


The washer started making noise,

There was a burning smell.

The landlord said to get it fixed

Then they’d reimburse us.


We asked around for several days

To find a good repairman.

We missed a day of work to wait

Then he gave us bad news.


The washer was so broken that

We needed a brand new one.

The landlord said to pick one out

Then they’d reimburse us.


We found a washer that we liked.

We tried for express delivery.

The soonest they could come was

Friday! That’s a week away!


The clothes are piling up so high.

We had to wash in the tub.

Tomorrow I’ll take towels to school

And use their machine.


Our only worry is that our machine is in the bathroom and the cord feeds through a hole in the wall to the plug in the kitchen. We sincerely hope this is part of the installation we have paid extra for because you don’t want us wiring the electrics! Otherwise we may have a brand new machine and not be able to use it! 


We’ll let you know how it goes on Friday!

That was the week that was

Or perhaps that should be: These were the weeks that were. We have survived the first two weeks of school but we’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time it write. Loads of ideas buzzing around in my head like bees, but nothing pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were). Did you miss me my little Spiderlings? 

Well, last year was a bit of bottomer for me last year (I will not say it was a bummer as that has a *completely* different meaning over here) as my beloved school was in turmoil. Our school was deemed below level by the powers that be and declared in special measures.  Our head teacher (principal to my American peeps) quit and we had a series of temporary heads. We were scrutinised and run through the ringer, but all the blood sweat and tears (and there were lots of tears, oh best beloved) have finally started to pay off. Sadly we lost seven members of staff, but have added many new ones this year. It was a crazy time and although the stress was mainly on teachers, I felt their anxiety as if it were my own.

This year I have vowed to be different. I am a champion about worrying about what ifs. I endlessly sweat out situations in which I have no control.  I could worry for England if it were an Olympic sport.  I have trouble “letting go.” Spiderman once described me as a bulldog when I get my teeth into something. I am vowing to be different this year.

So far it is working. I had a brilliant summer. I was massively creative and had a lovely holiday and I came back to school feeling well rested and revived.

We decided this school year to make a vow to have more fun. More fun, you ask? I know it seems genuinely impossible because I often feel that we have more than anyone I know. But there are lots of ways to take more risks and have more fun and put ourselves (particularly me) in situations outside our comfort zone. So this is how it started:

The first day of school clever Spiderman had arranged for the genius who is known as Mitch Benn to come to his school to speak.

Mitch Benn is a comedy songwriter and host of our new favourite once-a-month night out in London--The Distraction Club. He is also the author of his first science fiction novel Terra which I would highly recommend--even if you are not a sci-fi geek--this is the story of the universal condition which is about feeling alone in the world and growing up. Terra is a human raised on another planet. She is the only one of her kind. Haven’t we all felt that way?


Luckily Mitch was there in the afternoon so as I only work mornings I skeedaddled over there and got to listen to him myself. Fun number one.

That night was actually Distraction Club in London so we went. Just like that. Look at us going out on a school night.  The night was fantastically funny with loads of great musical comedy acts and good food. (we saw Jonny and the Baptists there in June and they have a song called Not a Pub which talks about  a real pub doesn’t have a children’s section or a variety of wine or hummus and pita just a slightly racist landlord, some taxidermy and ales in jugs and pork scratchings (pork rinds to my US peeps) to eat. Basically, a real pub is like living in Louisiana. We are thankful that the Phoenix pub where Distraction Club is held is not a pub because they make the best sweet potato hummus with toasted pita bread for Spiderman and crudités for me.) Fun number two.

We bought some original artwork by Chris Riddell. Art makes us happy. Collecting makes us happy. Children’s literature makes us happy. This covers all three things. It is still on exhibition in Bristol, but will arrive to us shortly. Something to look forward to. Fun number three. 

I’m in a book club at church and we had our second meeting. We all hated the book (Solar by Ian McEwan if you want to avoid it) but we had a great discussion and delicious brownies. It is good to get together with friends and talk about books. We range from age 43 (me) to 91 (Nell) and the discussion was very lively. The book was touted as being hilarious but the one thing we agreed on was the funniest bit was where the odious protagonist got his penis frozen to his zipper when he was in the Arctic. Then he thought he felt it fall off but it was actually his chap stick. We were laughing at him and not with him, though. Fun number four. 

I am an unashamed groupie for the Offley Morris Men. I do not know why English people hate Morris dancing the way they do as I think it is brilliant. On Saturday they were dancing by the war memorial and so I went along to see old friends and watch them dance. They danced a good set with hankies, long sticks and short and the bark was flying! They always ask anyone from the audience to join in on the last dance and I seem to always be the only one. But hey--I love a jig and  so I was in there having a blast despite what passers by might have thought. I ran into someone from my school who inquired with that look like she smelled something bad  if I was there because I had to be (“Is your husband dancing?“ she asked as she peered at the jingle bell laden men) No, I was there because I wanted to be there. I admitted to being a huge fan of Morris dancing and she shook her head in a bemused way and said, “Your secret’s safe with me.”  Well, it is no secret. I am a Morris groupie. If there were a female troop nearby I would join tout de suite. Fun number five.

After a summer hiatus, I picked up my beautiful ukulele Tallulah again and have been trying out a repertoire of new songs in preparation for my Mum’s visit at Christmas. We’ll be able to sing along to Peter Paul and Mary’s Gillgarra Mountain and Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue. Fun number five. 


Since I don’t work Fridays I have decided to do something adventurous on some of these days. So I went into London by myself for a lecture. This may not seem like a big deal but I am hugely phobic about travelling on my own because I could not find my own arse with a torch and a map and sign saying “this is your arse.” This is really how bad my navigation skills are. I was going somewhere relatively nearby--Friend’s House the Quaker headquarters about 15 minutes walk from Kings Cross station or right across from Euston station if you take the tube.  Spiderman managed to defuse my anxiety about all that could go wrong by turning it into a board game. You know you roll the dice to try to get Spidergrrl to Friend’s House. Along the way were lose-a- turns which included stopping to buy a Big Issue (magazine sold by homeless people) so lose a turn, plus £2.50 but have a warm glow in your heart. There was also a lose-a-turn where I got distracted thinking I saw Paddy Gervers from Jonny and the Baptists but it just turned out to be a lady with long blond hair.

Paddy is on the right


Well, anyway I did get there without losing anything. I went to hear a lecture about the 50th anniversary of the publication Towards a Quaker View of Sex which was so radical in its time because it said, among other things,  a loving and committed homosexual relationship was not a sin in the eyes of Quakers who believe in the goodness of all people. You must remember that at this time male homosexuality was illegal --even stuff you did privately in your own home could send you to prison.  Many people spoke movingly about how at this time they had so much self hatred and contemplated suicide and felt they were cut off from society and had to choose between being in a loving relationship and God’s love. The document saved them and gave them hope. Quakers have always been at the forefront of change--we were the first religious organisation to publicly come out in favour of gay marriage as well. It made me proud to be a Quaker and proud I did it on my own which is good practice because I’ve got a peace education workshop there in a few months as well. Fun number six.

Saturday night Spiderman and I went out to Ransom’s Rec for a bat walk. We heard a fascinating lecture about bats in Britain, saw some bats that had been attacked by cats (their number one predator in the city--so lock up your cats at night, folks!)  and had lost a wing and would now have to live in captivity. Then we all went out into the *freezing* night with our bat detectors and went on a bat hunt. We did not see any, but we heard several on the bat detectors. It was so cool! We often see bats in the summer flying by the river skimming off water bugs and so Spiderman and I have vowed that when the weather warms up we will fork out the £60-£90 for our own bat detector. No point in doing it now as they’re all about to hibernate. But if you come and see us when it’s warm we can go out bat watching. Fun number seven.

Today after Meeting for Worship we had a speaker who has come from doing peace and reconciliation work in Burundi. We raise money for this so it was wonderful to hear what our money goes for. After we had a simple bring and share lunch and it was so enriching to talk to people about real global issues. We had long discussions about examining our food choices and purchases to see if they “contain the seeds of war and oppression” (a quote from Quaker Advices and Queries) and how sometimes sacrifices must be made to boycott companies who do not care about animal or human rights. Our old friend NESTLE has recently come out saying that fresh water should not be a right but a commodity. Everyone should be allowed a 30litres (an average bath tub holds 90 litres) for washing and drinking but beyond that they should have to pay for it, preferably by buying their bottled water. This from the same company trying to patent a herbal remedy so that people who pick the plant and use it will have to pay them. It was such a wonderful time together, eating and sharing ideas and making the world better. Fun number eight.  

This is just over two weeks! I am really noticing how much I am getting out of life by spending time doing things that enrich me and it really helps me to give back love and hope into my community.

The only bad thing that has happened is our washing machine has broken and it is taking longer than I care to get it sorted. But as we discussed at table on Sunday how lucky we are to have enough clean water to use a machine. Many people are not so lucky. So even with a minor  hiccup I am still really relaxed and groovy and not stressing over things I have no control over.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

This is why we have no money

We like to spend our money on life--experiences, art, theatre and anything that enriches us. Who needs the latest gadget when you can buy an original illustration from the amazing Chris Riddell?

Yesterday Spiderman came across this collection of very funny parodies of Unwritten Books that are on display in Bristol at the moment. They are wickedly funny--you do need to be well read to understand some of them--and they were beautifully and cleverly rendered by Chris Riddell.
Go here to see the full exhibit:

But then we got to this one and we knew we had to have it for our own.

We just loved it and so impulsively bought it. This may mean that we'll be eating lots of beans and rice for the rest of the month to make up for the purchase, but to be fair we always eat lots of beans and rice so that's not exactly a hardship.

We are lucky because it is coming from the exhibit it will already be framed so that is even better. Instant Art.

Art is bad for the pocketbook, but good for the soul. This will be feeding our hearts for years to come.