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A Lovely Pre-Match Story

14 Jun

Once upon a time in a green and pleasant land, men, women and children woke with a great sense of anticipation. A little boy in Exeter refused to eat his breakfast until his father joined him in singing a variety of football chants across the kitchen table. A mother in Dewsbury quickly started her ironing, did the washing up, hoovered the front room, and nipped out to the shops to buy her lottery tickets so she’d have all her work done in plenty of time. Thousands of hungover lasses in Newcastle woke up in strangers’ beds with a desire to get home as soon as possible.

The sense of excitement grew throughout the day. A bin man in Croydon braved the PC Brigade, pinned a flag of St George to the back of his fluorescent tabard and walked into a local pub. As a group of Scousers pushed her and her shopping cart over, a granny gave a cry that sounded like “England til I die” (though it might have actually been, “Help! Police!”). A benefit cheat in Derby spent two hours making sure his telly was precisely angled to allow for maximum viewing pleasure. An intelligent and sexy woman in my very own village asked her houseboy Christopher to hurry through her usual pedicure.

A flock of doves flew over a playing field in Basingstoke.

Today was the day. An entire bunting-covered nation put their mobiles on vibrate, opened their tabs at the bar and waited for the moment of truth.

Congratulations on Your Now Legal Marriage!

29 Mar

girlsAs of Saturday, 29 March, same-sex couples in England and Wales are able to legally marry.

Now I’m not much of a fan as marriage regardless of the genitalia of either party involved. But today is not really the day to dwell on the inevitable disappointment, betrayal and/or financial disaster that will likely strike anyone who takes the plunge. No, I won’t even mention that.

Instead let’s focus on the positives. First off, it’ll be the end of the phrase ‘gay marriage’. Yes, yesterday was the last day anyone could gay go to work, gay eat dinner or wish they could get gay married. From now on, it’ll just be married. Love is love; marriage is marriage; and divorce will just be divorce (but again, we needn’t talk about that this fine day).

boysOf course, most importantly, this is an extremely great step forward for equality. Our children’s children will look back and wonder what took us so long to realise how bigoted we’ve been. We’re a part of history now and, for once, it’s a good part.

And finally it means that at least for the next few days, we’ll get to see a lot of photos in the papers of men kissing men. How can that be a bad thing, I ask?

 

Harm Prevention

4 Aug

The other day I was in the library and was confronted with a rather unsavoury situation. Now I greatly admire the staff at our local branch: they have always been polite —  in fact as a show of respect for my frequent custom, they often allow me to take home books for free as long as I show my loyalty card. However, my experience this week was quite shocking: inside the library was a large and perpetually annoying fly.

fliesNow as a rule, I cherish all sentient beings, even disgusting ones, and I’ve got no problems with flies when they are out in nature or buzzing around someone other than myself. But I am sorry: I just cannot tolerate them near my face. Call me a Nazi, I don’t care. Flies in my face are simply unacceptable.

Obviously, my first strategy was to move away. I left the periodicals and moved to a more central location, hoping that if he were to follow, at least there would be other people present for him to annoy. However, the fly did not take the bait. Fine, I thought, I am free from torment, and I sat quietly, reflecting.

Shortly thereafter, the library began to empty and I soon found myself alone in the big, book-filled room. Lo and behold, who shows up? That’s right, it was the fly. The dastardly little devil obviously just wanted to avoid having witnesses to his harassment. A war was now on.

I grabbed the first book I could and prepared to send the fly to his maker. I won’t detail the delicate dance of battle, but I can assure you that only one of us walked away still breathing.

As I sat down to wait for Christopher’s play group to come to a close, I found myself skimming through the book-cum-murder-weapon. It turned out to be Careful Now! The History of Health and Safety Laws. And I must say, I found it surprisingly interesting.

Buttloads of people currently find Health and Safety laws oppressively restrictive and generally stupid, and, quite frankly, they frequently are. I now know, though, that it’s incorrect to assume these rules are evidence of today’s Nanny State. Actually, H&S has been around for a long time and it used to be much worse than it is now.

NOW: East Riding Council restricts kite-flying on beaches because it is a risk to others.

THEN: In the early twentieth century, word went round about an old woman who had died after swallowing a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow, and a horse, so a small Cornish village ordered all farmers to slaughter their animals to ensure such a circumstance did not reoccur.

NOW: A school bans triangle-shaped flapjacks because they could thrown at children.

THEN: For almost a month in 1923, children were not allowed to eat any solid food as the chewing motion was deemed “potentially threatening to others.” Parents were only permitted to serve soup and applesauce for twenty-six days before the law was reversed.

NOW: The Royal British Legion stops supplying pins with its poppies to avoid being sued by those who prick themselves.

THEN: Although the most famous of these cases is the American woman who sued McDonalds because her coffee was hot, it was not the first example of this type of litigation. In Victorian times, Lord Stephens of Stephanie brought a case against a five-year-old child who was playing with a stick in the street. Lord Stephens’ argument was that the stick could have flown from the child’s hand, turned the corner and continued into the window of a building where the good man was purchasing a piece of jewellery for his mother. The Court agreed that Lord was assuredly more important as a human being than any dirty child could ever be and awarded him the boy’s newborn sister (who was quickly deposited at the nearest poorhouse).

I am hoping, of course, that the fly’s family does not press charges against me. It’d be a bitter irony to have the book thrown at me for throwing the book at the fly. Bitter, but admittedly poetic.

Cricket for Dummies Girls Foreigners Novices

14 Jul

A lovely dear American friend named Martin got in touch to say:

Miss Agatha,
Over the past few days, you’ve been doing quite a lot of bellowing about something called the Ashes, which I have deduced is related to the sport of cricket. While it’s always thrilling to hear you cry out with joy, I confess I feel unable to truly appreciate your excitement as I find cricket somewhat confusing. I’ve been doing some research, but still feel befuddled. Can you help a poor man who just wants to understand?
Yours truly,
Martin

I don’t doubt Martin is not alone in his bewilderment, because it can be hard to understand any sport if you weren’t taught the rules by a frustrated, middle-aged primary school PE teacher who still lives with his mother. Even I myself once was ignorant.

Because I love learning, I went directly to the library to educate myself on the history, rules and strategies of cricket. The librarian suggested two tomes: Cricket for Dummies and Helping Women Understand Cricket (if you guessed the librarian was male, you are correct). Personally, I don’t like those . . . for Dummies books because I don’t believe in starting off the writer/reader relationship with an insult. The other book was equally appalling: most of its pages were dedicated to advice on keeping large plates of sandwiches fresh and jugs of tea hot to ensure players’ satisfaction at the lunch interval. Outrageous!

There’s also quite a famous summary which is often titled “Explaining Cricket to Foreigners.” Now, of course, we can’t ignore the xenophobic stupidity of the title nor the fact that, while the explanation is correct, it’s clearly designed to mock those who aren’t familiar with the sport. Here it is:

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

So it makes sense that Martin would come to me, a woman famous for her thoughtful clarity and extensive experience with bats and balls. So let’s get to work.

If you are familiar with baseball, realise that this will actually hinder rather than help your understanding. It ain’t baseball, people, and trying hard to connect the two is just going to get your brain cells in a tizz. So stop doing that.

Instead please read through the following helpful explanation of test cricket.

THE SET UP:

In the middle of a great big grassy field is a strip of dirt (called the pitch). At each of the strip’s ends are three wooden sticks (called stumps) with two little sticks (bails) balanced across them. Together, the stumps and bails make up the wicket. This is important.

Two teams of eleven players each wear white outfits.

Throwing the ball (which is maroon) at the batsman is called bowling. Bowling involves a little run then a little jump then whipping the arm up in the air before releasing the ball. It looks wonky at first, but it’s a proper skill because the bowler can’t go too wide (called a wide) nor can the bowler’s front foot cross a certain line (called a no-ball).

Batsmen use fat, flat bats made out of willow, with a thin handle at one end. Batsmen also wear helmets and pads to protect their legs because just because the ball is maroon, don’t think for a minute it can’t do some proper damage if you’re hit by it. (However, fielders do not wear gloves because they aren’t pussies about it.) That batsmen stand in front of the wicket to protect it from being hit by the bowler.

What’s that you say, Agatha? How can the batsman be standing in front of the wicket when you just said there are two wickets on the pitch?

Get your mind blown, suckas. There are two batsman. But there are also two bowlers! Can you believe that?

A bowler bowls six times at the batsman standing in front of the wicket at one end. This is called an over. Then the other bowler bowls six times to the batsman in front of the other wicket. The fielders move position to be better prepared to catch the new batsman’s hits.

One player on the fielding side stands behind the wicket; this player is called the wicket keeper. Big, webbed gloves help the wicketkeeper stop the balls that have been bowled but not hit.

There are two umpires on the field. They also wear white shirts but black trousers. There is a third umpire who looks at video replays, and a fourth umpire who is basically the other three umpires’ bitch and brings them drinks and new balls if the ball gets too beat up.

Here is a cricket pitch.

Here is a cricket pitch.

Here is a cricket pitch that has been invaded by a swarm of bees.

Here is a cricket pitch that has been invaded by a swarm of bees.

PLAY:

One team bats while the other fields. A team is at bat until ten batsmen get out. This is called an innings (no, not an inning). Then they switch places and the second team bats until ten of their batsmen are out. Each team gets two innings.

Obviously the goal of the fielding team is to get the batsmen out.

The goal of the batting team is slightly more complex: the batsman must protect the wicket from being hit by the bowler (if this happens and the bails fall off the stumps, the batsman is out).

The most ideal way to protect the wicket is to hit the ball with the bat. If it’s hit hard or far enough, both batsmen run to the other wicket and one run is earned. If they’ve got enough time to run back to their original wicket, they get another run. They can do this as much as they want but if a fielding player is able to knock the bails off the stumps with the ball (including by throwing the ball directly at the stumps) before the batman gets back to it, then that batsman is out. However, if the ball is hit so hard that it rolls to the edge of the grassy field (called the boundary), neither batsman has to run; that team just automatically earns four runs. If the batsman hits so the ball goes right over the boundary, six runs are earned. If the ball is hit up in the air and a fielder catches it, the batsman is out.

Another way a batsman can get out is called leg-before-wicket (LBW). The batsman cannot use the body to protect the wicket. If the bowler bowls a ball that seems like it would hit the stumps, and the batman disrupts the ball’s flight with a body block (well, a leg block since the pads more easily absorb the force of the ball than, say, the batsman’s crotch would), then the bowler (and other fielders) jump up in the air and yell “How’s that?” (usually written as “Howzat” for comic effect). If the umpire deems that yes, the ball would have hit the stumps if it weren’t for the batsman’s big fat legs, then the batsman is out LBW.

Though both batsmen run at the same time to earn runs, the one who actually hit the ball gets the credit. If a batsman gets credit for fifty runs before getting out, the batsman holds up the bat in the air and all their supporters cheer. If the batsman gets one hundred runs before getting out (called a century), the helmet is removed and the bat is held up. The batsman gets a standing ovation, sometimes even from their opponent’s fans, and the commentators talk about how this is a historic moment.

Brian Lara of the West Indies once scored four centuries in one innings without getting out. Now that was a historic moment.

On the other hand, if a batsman gets out before ever scoring a run, it’s called a duck and the crowd should feel free to mock the batsman, especially if it happens on the first ball that’s bowled (or if the batsman’s Australian). This situation is called a golden duck. Quack.

Please keep in mind, though, that the batsman does not have to hit the ball, doesn’t even have to try to hit the ball. As long as the bails don’t fall, it’s cool. Sometimes quite a long time passes in between runs. As a viewer this can seem tedious, I will not lie. But it can be very strategic play. This is especially true if one batsman is much better than the other. The crap one just has to not to get out; after six bowls, the other batsman is up and can start swinging and scoring.

Test matches last a long time, usually three to five days. If an innings is over quickly, that means fewer runs are earned. That’s bad for that team. So the teams try to make their innings last as long as they can, scoring as many runs as they can. Hanif Mohammad of Pakistan once made his own innings last for over sixteen hours! What the hell, dude? Each day’s play is usually about seven hours, with a few breaks for drinks or lunch. The batsmen who haven’t got out at the end of the day are the ones who start the next day.

During the match, the scores reflect only the batting team’s status. The scoreboard will say 113-4 or the commentators will say “At the end of that over, England are 113 for 4.” The first number refers to how many runs have been earned; the second refers to how many wickets have fallen (how many outs). At the end of the first over, the team’s score might be 250-all out (250 runs, all batsmen out). When the first team bats again (the third innings), those runs are added to their previous total but the out total goes back to zero. After the end of the third innings, the team that batted first can no longer earn any more runs. So if their grand total is 456, this means that during the fourth innings, the other team is “chasing” 456.

Obviously the fourth innings is key in determining the match’s winner. If the team batting during that fourth inning overtakes the score of the other team, the match is over and they win. If both teams play their full two innings (where each has ten batsmen out twice), the team with the higher score wins.

However, the match could actually end after the third innings (when the team that batted first has finished batting for the second time). If that team still has fewer runs than the other team, the match is considered lost (since that team won’t have another chance to bat) and the fourth innings don’t have to even be played (since the team with the higher score would just be adding to their already higher score). Everyone goes home and the people with tickets to Day Five of the test match feel they have been slighted, even if their team has actually won. Babies.

You can also have a draw in cricket, which many people whinge about — “It lasts five days and there’s not even in a winner? Whinge, whinge, whinge.” Yeah, well, shut up.

A cricket match ends in a draw if the fourth innings does not end (meaning the batting team has not got ten outs) by the end of the allotted time (by the end of play on Day Five). If that’s the case, it’s a draw regardless of who has the higher number of runs. Sometimes a team will just make that last innings go on forever, even if they know they won’t be able to score enough runs. It’s a hard way for a match to end (if your team is the one in the lead), but you know what? Life is hard, mate. Get used to it.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Like many sports, cricket is full of complications. There are many ways to bowl the ball and different fielding positions. There are cunning strategies. There is new technology to highlight one’s viewing pleasure and help umpires make their decisions. A scorecard can be kept using symbols and notes. Statistics and records are thoroughly analysed. Test cricket is played between different national teams, but there are many different levels. There can be one day matches, matches that last for only forty overs, all types of crazy shit.

But I think perhaps we’ve had enough for today.

Except to mention that the particular test match that had me erupting this week is part of a very important series of test matches that takes place every other year. It is called the Ashes and highlights the longstanding rivalry between England and Australia. Let’s let Lego explain:


So there, Martin, is cricket.

I’d just like to end with the suggestion that you and other readers from non-cricket playing countries and/or who are unfamiliar with the game just watch it. It’s hard to comprehend anything in the abstract. Think about the first time young people hear about sex — they can’t imagine how it works or why anyone would be interested. This is why it’s better to actually watch it happening (actually now that I’ve written that line out, please disregard my previous sex analogy). I’m just saying cricket — like all sports — has tons of little details that are hard to sort out just on paper. In fact, despite my own understanding of cricket, when I read back all I’ve just posted, I think, what the fuck are you talking about? So read but then watch and it’ll all fall into place.

Who knows? Maybe once that happens, you’ll fancy playing it yourself. Just don’t play for Australia or I will instantly become your mortal enemy.

Something I Just Felt You Should Know

7 Jun

You know I prefer to bring you cheer: exciting episodes from my usually fun-filled life, presented as a counterbalance to the depression-inducing reality that fills the pages of the mainstream media. However, I’m about to tell you of an experience so alarming I genuinely suggest that, before reading it, you sit down. Or if you’re already sitting, stand up and then sit down. Now read on.

With the recent publication of my book (you have already ordered your copy, yes?), the Council—never one to ignore a chance to get their grubby hands on someone else’s triumph—rang to invite me to open this summer’s village fete. Naturally, I was flattered, and naturally, I agreed to take part.

TedsTeesYesterday was the first meeting of the Fete Committee, and I was asked to attend, meet the group’s members and get a feel for the festivities planned. In all honesty, I don’t give a rat’s patooie about what exactly is going to go on; I’m the type of gal who can enjoy herself whether moles get whacked or not. But what I saw at that meeting has me very worried about the event’s success and, in some ways, the future of our entire nation.

Apparently, there’s a rumour going round that a minor royal—I won’t mention names but I can tell you it’s not her, or him, or the other two—might be in the village that weekend, and the committee spent more than fifty minutes (I counted) debating about what to do with this person: should they hold a parade? should they make him a judge of some contest? and yes, should he open the fete?

Now I remained silent throughout. I understand the importance of a visit like this: it could be a real coup for shops that sell royal-themed junk, our community foundation might get a boost, we might get mentioned in the national press, etc. My own self esteem does not rely on the village’s adoration (and if it did, I still wouldn’t be troubled since my book’s been at the top of the Village News’ Bestsellers List every day since its debut). I’m not even worried that the meeting ended before any decisions were made. I am happy to pencil in the day on my calendar and rub it out if the Committee decides to go in favour of Sir Blueblood.

What blew my effing mind, though, was the fact that the name of the village—the village in which all of us present at the meeting live—was misspelled on the agenda. And not one single person commented on it.

Whether they noticed and were just shy, I cannot say.  But what I can say is that this kind of outrage cannot go by unremarked upon. Needless to say, I wrote up a quick but shaming note which I left in the Council’s suggestion box as I left.

Please know that I am out there, fighting for all of you who care about civic pride and precise spelling. When we refuse to speak out against ignorance like this, it can lead healthy people to suicide, religious people to corruption and friendly nations to world wars (read your history books, if you don’t believe me).

What you’ve just read here is shocking I know, but sometimes the truth is. I just felt it was important to tell you what occurred. That way, if you happen to hear that the police were at my house this morning to arrest me for making terrorist threats, you won’t be confused. I mean they didn’t even issue an official caution, so why this is even an issue I cannot comprehend.

A Party in The Pub

9 Apr

You know how I feel about busy bodies. We’ve got one on our road–you know the type, always trying to build community, sharing news, getting signatures for cards or money for flowers when one of the neighbours gets married, gives birth, or dies (not always in that order). Ours is called Martha Montgomery, and it was with much trepidation that I opened the door to her yesterday evening.

“Miss Agatha, I’ve scheduled an urgent neighbourhood meeting. I’m sure you’ve heard the terrible news that Mrs Roberts has passed away and we’ve got to organise some kind of response,” she squeaked breathlessly, before handing me an invitation and running to the house next door.

Now, I confess I really didn’t know Mrs Roberts because when I moved into the area, she was described to me as “unfriendly and close-minded” and why should I bother reaching out to someone like that? However, I know that my presence is so valued by those around me that I felt I should attend.

The meeting was held at our local, which was the first of Martha’s many mistakes of the evening. A few of the men were already drunk by the time she clinked two glasses together to quiet the group. Thankfully, she did not suggest we open with a prayer, but instead launched into a short essay of tribute (I don’t doubt she has pre-written obituaries for everyone in our postal code). However, before she could finish listing all of the family members who are left to survive without their grumpy, old granny, she was interrupted by the landlord.

“Quite frankly, Miss Montgomery,” he said calmly, “I’d rather you move this meeting elsewhere if you intend to keep singing the praises of that terrible woman.”

Martha let out a gasp of shock, without realising that most of the group was already aligning itself behind the barman.

One of the non-drunk men (whose wife wasn’t present as she was attending a healing service at the Spiritualist Church) said, “I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but Mrs Roberts was a mean, mean person, and I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.”

A chorus of “amen’s,” “right on’s” and “get us a Stella, won’t you’s” echoed round the room.

Then, an elderly couple who had yet to speak or even move (I had been tempted to tap them to make sure they too hadn’t passed) stood up and looked at each other. “You say it, Timothy,” said the woman. Timothy nodded as his wife sat back down.

“We have lived in Number 8 since 1979. Mrs Roberts moved into Number 10 the same year. She was a horrendous neighbour. She was a horrendous person.

From the get-go, she was trouble. You lot are probably too young to remember, but she tried to get a petition going to have the milk float banned from the village. A few years later, she started in on the estate agents, posting a long list of ‘undesirables’ she didn’t want them showing around any houses. We’ve only got five curry houses and two Chinese, thanks to her worry about the village being swamped by Asians. She did everything within her power to destroy this area and the livelihood of everyone who has lived here.”

“And her children,” his wife piped in, “they were just as bad. She spoiled them rotten despite the fact that she made it patently clear that she hated minors.”

“Indeed,” said Timothy. “The truth is I occasionally wished her harm and I shouldn’t have done that. But now that’s she dead, I don’t mind. Rather than celebrate her life, I think it would be a much more sensible use of our time to try to undo the wrongs she did.”

And with that, it was agreed. En masse, we spread out, stopping at a variety of restaurants (all except the one on Devonshire Road as two people had heard the authorities had been round recently) to purchase meals and then picked up a School-Milk-006pint of milk for each of us. By the time we returned to the pub, the landlord had already set up a tin for donations and had collected close to twenty pounds. We spent the rest of the evening reminiscing and planning and appreciating those who are alive and who are not evil.

How You, Yes You, Can Help The Economy

20 Mar

Osborne BudgetAnd by you, I mean George Osborne.

Now I’m not an expert on the economy, but the thing is George, neither are you. You are an expert at being rich. This qualifies you for being the president of a yacht club. Yet through the most wicked twists of fate, you have become the Chancellor of the Exchequer and get to make life and death decisions (for that is what they are) that will affect millions of people.

Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute.

. . .

Now, George, I’ve noticed that you’re reading on, implying that you did in fact stop to think. But I don’t believe that you did. In fact, I don’t believe that you ever think about the people your ideas are affecting.

I do believe that you think a lot about David Cameron (maybe too much, but who am I to judge anyone’s heart)? I do believe you think about the people you see in meetings: Tory politicians (they make you feel good), Liberal Democrat politicians (they make you feel kind of cross), Labour politicians (when someone reminds you that the Labour party still exists). You think about the Royal Family. I’d like to believe you think about your own family.

And I know you know there are “people” out there in the world. For example, when you appear on television, you can sense a human-shaped creature standing before you asking questions. You know enough about science to assume that it’s probably people—and not budgies or racks of lamb or desk lamps—who are driving cars on the street, who are doing surgeries or having surgeries done to them, who are teaching or being taught.

Understand that I’m not questioning your knowledge of reality, just your perception of it.  You work for the country yet I’m not convinced you care about the country. You care about those who are like you. And that’s a bit of a problem.

So how can you, yes you, help the economy? Two things: shut up and stop being a greedy bastard.

The same goes for all of that lot and not even just the ones in Westminster. I’m talking to any rich twat who pontificates about helping countries and people who are struggling. Don’t hold a glittery benefit with fancy pants food and cutlery or star-studded galas where you go on television asking people who are poorer than you to not be so selfish. Don’t fuck with a country’s social services just because you were once in the Bullingdon Club or because the president is black and you think you can capitalize on the country’s inherent racism.

Just because one is rich doesn’t mean one has to be a twat. I am what we sweetly used to refer to as “well off,” but I don’t spend my time pontificating about how other people should live or spend their money (note: making helpful suggestions is not the same as pontificating). But I do lead by example: I give time, effort and yes, money to help those who need it.

Why don’t you give that a try?

A Weather Advisory

24 Jan

Hotter:ColderAlthough admittedly my certificate in meteorology is from a non-accredited correspondence course, I am in possession of some important weather facts. I would like to share these with you now to help you avoid embarrassment in future interactions with humans who have, at some point, traveled outside of the British Isles.

England’s weather is generally pretty mild. Why you refuse to accept this, I do not know. It’s not a bad thing, we don’t mean it as an insult. For those of us who have ventured the world, mild weather is often a blessing. It keeps us from having to purchase entirely separate wardrobes for each season, and it allows children to be left out in the garden for the better part of the day without fear of sunstroke or frostbite. Mild weather is something to treasure, and I can testify that I do.

England can get hot in the summers, this is true. Why, I remember that I almost broke a sweat while sharpening my secateurs one July afternoon! Heat in England is lovely because it means the sun has come out. Alas, sunny days in England are too few but when you’ve got one, you should surely make the most of it. Sit in the garden, cool yourself with fan, but for goodness sake, do not whinge about the heat. Try telling the people of El Azizia that you feeling a bit parched by an English swelter and see how much sympathy you receive.

Let me also assure you that, despite what some people are saying, Britain is not suffering from arctic weather.  Would you like to know why? Because they’re stupid. I was raised in Trenton (NJ), which is hardly a hotbed of frigidity, but even Trentonites know that 2C is next to nothing (in fact it’s two degrees next to nothing). The average temperatures in January in my hometown range from -4C to 4C and we once even dropped down to -26C. I’m not saying that makes Trenton (NJ) better or worse. I’m just saying, keep perspective. When it feels like this in your sitting room, then you will know the true meaning of arctic.

Now, yes, today you probably had some snow outside your front door. I grant you that. The problem with snow here is not the snow itself, but the inability of people to cope with it. Here’s the scoop: the climate, my friends, is changing, so we should probably just accept that in winter snow will fall and figure out some way to make sure the roads are safe. Maybe this is something David Cameron could get Nick Clegg on: sort out a community response to snow so that everything doesn’t go all haywire. Just a thought, Dave. You’ve got your priorities, I’m sure.

Let’s all just try to stay sensible whatever the weather reports say, yeah? Overall, Britain’s weather is not too bad, and having to deal with extremes every once in a while is probably something we can all manage. Try to make the best of it: I insisted Christopher shovel the walk three times today and can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of it—sitting at the window watching my little snow bunny heaving the white stuff around. I managed to get through a pot of tea and a whole box of bon-bons.

It was lovely.

In Praise of City Centres

10 Jan

I had the pleasure of escorting an American friend on a sightseeing trip today. He was traveling to Newcastle for a conference on the literary implications of nose-blowing, so I took the train up to meet him. Instead of hitting the usual tourist spots, we simply wandered around the City Centre before he nipped off to deliver his paper, Congestion in Nabokov’s Novels. (I unfortunately was unable to stay to hear his  fascinating research, but I’m sure it went down a storm).

One of the things he commented on was the exciting array of pedestrians in the City Centre. He took great pleasure in hearing apologies from the number of elderly ladies who ran over his feet with their shopping trolleys, and he was particularly impressed with the teenagers pushing their babies’ prams, dodging the dedicated charity workers desperately harassing the early morning shoppers in the name of a good cause. While he was slightly less thrilled by the young lad taking the piss in front of McDonalds (I mean this, unfortunately, literally), he had to laugh at the good-natured way said lad dealt with the restaurant’s manager who attempted to shoo him from the premises. He even maintained his smile as he gave his witness statement to the police.

City CentreI do love showing my American friends around English city centres. They are such hot beds of activity, so much of it so very English. I myself still adore wandering through the markets; their mystery I initially approached as a novelty, but even after this long, I do my best to support as many stalls as I can. This may explain why I have a cupboard full of striped knee socks and bags of outdated, non-brand-name crisps which will never see the light of day. But I feel I’ve done my part to support my community by purchasing them, and that’s all a citizen can do.

The other thing I love about city centres is the great pride people take in them. The pedestrian areas are clean; litter seems to immediately be snatched up by the thoughtful and conscientious beggars who then feed it to their dogs. What community spirit! While we have to face the fact that city centres often do have problems, I am so chuffed when I see locals taking an active stand about the unfortunate but sadly inevitable crimes that often take place in urban areas. I take my feathered hat off to the commitment these men and women make to maintaining their municipal duties.

City centres often get negative press but I, for one, find them absolutely delightful. I would happily spend a day wandering any English city centre, as long as I can get out of there before dark. I’d kill myself before I went into a city centre at night. I have civic pride, but I’m not a fucking idiot.

The Year in Flags: A Review of 2012

30 Dec

Old GloriesSadly, this year, the American flag seems to have spent quite a lot of time at half-mast. In July, it was lowered for the victims of the Aurora shooting; in August, for the victims of the Oak Creek shooting; in September, for the victims of the attack in Libya; and now for the victims in Newtown. Flying the flag at half-mast symbolically honours those who died, but I can’t help thinking that preventing future tragedies might be a more meaningful tribute. Unfortunately, that would require big picture thinking—not always a popular choice as evidenced by this year’s Presidential election. Thankfully, the right man won, but enough voted for Romney to show that many Americans are confused by issues of class. “Middle class” seems to be interpreted as “not homeless” and ultra-rich means “me, not at the moment, of course, but any day now.” One’s actual lifestyle and the reality of how it and the country would be affected were inconsequential. A bit like what’s happening with the current debates on gun control. And on mental health care. And on who should have won The Voice.

Surely, there’s got to have been something positive in America over the last twelve months . . . let me think . . . oh yeah, more states and even the President spoke up in support of marriage equality. Oops, I forgot, it was that which directly led to shooting in Sandy Hook, right, Rev. James Dobson?

Union JacksCloser to home, though, things looked much cheerier: the Union Jack was flying all over the damn place. We waved the flag for the Queen’s Jubilee, for a successful London Olympics and for William’s good work in promptly impregnating the wife. Well done to us all!

Of course, the Tories still want to continue with their obviously-successful-so-far austerity cuts (after all, those Jubilee and Olympic celebrations don’t come cheap, you know), but luckily, this year the BBC taught us that if you close your eyes to the bad stuff, it goes away—never to return. So as long as you’re not young, old, unemployed, working or a Christian woman who wants to serve her church, 2012′s been champion for you!

Now, my dears, I know this sounds quite gloomy and doomy. (Perhaps I should have warned you in advance to delay reading until you’re sober, I apologise.) If you were expecting a bit of harmless fun, I’m afraid you may have confused me with black tar heroin. I’m all about the harsh truth, you know that, so put your seatbelt on, baby, because you’re about to get hit with the harshest truth of all: I’ve still got faith in humanity. You, yes, you, the one sitting on the chair, your continued commitment to keeping my books in circulation bettering yourselves and our world is proof that, despite the bad news, there is goodness out there, my friends.

So together let’s make next year a better one, yeah?

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