If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many interactions with other humans, it is that we don’t have to love everyone. We don’t have to want to kiss on them or lend them a book or invite them to ours for dinner. We don’t even have to like them. However, we do have to acknowledge their existence and respect the concept of community to be able to live in a fair and harmonious world.
Last night I attended an event where I saw the devastating effects of those who seem unwilling to recognise that other people also matter. Our neighbourhood association meets on the first Monday of each month, and September was my turn to host. Christopher spent much of yesterday tidying up the house and when people began arriving, we had tea and biscuits at the ready. It all started off so well. However, the mood quickly turned when we began to discuss the stone bench we’d commissioned for the greenway.
Colin from Number 18 had photographs of the bench his nephew Billy had just finished, and as we passed the pictures around, he broached the topic of the engraving. Billy would need to charge by the letter and thus we did not have enough money in the pot to have all our names engraved. It was clear Colin was torn up about the issue — he had offered his nephew’s services, but slowly the original estimate and date of completion had changed, and many in the group were a bit put out about it. Now he was asking for even more money, and Colin was stuck in the middle.
“We’ll take him to court,” said Mr Lee, who is and always has been a dickhead.
The colour drained from Colin’s face. Fearing he might slide off his chair and spill his drink of my rug, I quickly suggested that we each chip in five more pounds, and the engraving could be completed and the bench ready for installation by the Autumn Festival.
“Absolutely not,” Mr Lee grunted. “I don’t literally bleed money, you know.”
I felt like pointing out the idiocy of his comment, but I have learned my lesson in the past about trying to explain the definition of the word literally to this man.
“Billy wants 50p per letter,” explained Colin.
“We pay for our own or I’m out,” Mr Lee stated.
“I don’t know,” mumbled the extraordinarily fertile woman who lives at Number 24. “We’ve had to buy new school uniforms this year. . . ”
“That’s your own fault,” Mr Lee said. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out two pounds. “Just my first initial,” he added, sliding the money across the table to Colin.
Now I personally know this man is not hurting for money, but everyone has the right to be a miser if they so choose. However, it didn’t seem quite right that his response favoured him and him alone (we have a lot of long surnames living in this area). There are a number of people who’d wanted to include their family members’ names on the bench, and, of course, my own household’s contribution would be an additional £16.50. I was willing to pay, but since this was supposedly a neighbourhood project, it seemed more appropriate for us all to make the same donation to ensure that everyone was happy. However, Mr Lee, who was born with a short name and who (obviously) lives alone, was unwilling to put the group’s need before his own.
That was until we got to Any Other Business, and Mr Lee proposed a change to our recycling programme. As he is a keen drinker of Coca-Cola products, he complained that his recycling bin runneth over before each designated pickup. His solution was to petition the council for a weekly collection, but he was quickly reminded that the only way this could happen was via an increase in council tax. He said he was happy to pay. When the grumbling from the crowd indicated the feeling was not shared, Mr Lee stood up and shouted, “This group is supposed to benefit the neighbourhood! Why should I have to suffer just because of you lot?”
“Why don’t you just not drink so much Coke?” Mrs Jones suggested timidly.
Mr Lee turned sharply and fearing he was about to resort to violence, I gave Christopher the nod and he quickly moved into action, initiating our secret the-guests-need-to-leave-now procedure of cutting off all the lights in the house.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, standing up and looking elegantly distraught. “We’ve got some candles round here somewhere,” I added as I moved to open a desk drawer. “Or we could continue this discussion at the next meeting.”
“Fine,” Mr Lee said as he stomped out of the house.
The other guests gathered up their things and started to leave.
“You should get that fuse box checked out,” Colin said as he headed towards the door.
“Will do,” I called. “And tell Billy the bench looks lovely.”
Once they were all gone, Christopher turned the lights back on and we discussed Mr Lee’s appalling attitude. The group’s mission statement is to better the lives of those living in our neighbourhood. When it came to something that was good for all of us, Mr Lee was unwilling to pitch in, yet when the issue was one from which he alone would benefit, he expected us all to play ball. He could not see beyond himself (which is not a comment on his size, though as you might imagine from his soda habits, he is quite large).
Next month, I will suggest that Mr Lee hire some of the bicycle hoodlums to take his cans to the recycling centre on non-delivery weeks. Compromise doesn’t have to be complicated.
I have no intention of ever running for public office — it seems more trouble than it’s worth and besides I don’t own any pantsuits. But in some ways, it’s not our leaders who are the problem. If each of us could just appreciate the fact that all our lives are equally important and ultimately intertwined, we might make better decisions about how our communities run. Sometimes it might mean personal sacrifice, but doing the right thing is sometimes difficult. And besides, if we create a caring climate for others, then it is more likely that we have someone to look out for us in our own time of need.
I mean, I hate those little shits who ride their bicycles up and down the street day and night, but I’ve never once hit them with my car. I’ve abstained because they are people too and have as much right to enjoy their leisure time as I do to safely drive down my road (also, I am slightly afraid they might vandalise my property if I call attention to myself, but that’s besides the point). To live in an environment of peace and harmony, we must create an environment of peace and harmony. For ourselves, for all of us.
Even the dickheads.
Christopher and I have been underground for the last few weeks, testing our bunker. Given the events of 2016 thus far, we decided it’d be wise to check things out in case we need to go down permanently.
I spent most of yesterday skimming the news and can see that our choice was a wise one. God damn, son, things are bleak. It’s hard to imagine a future that doesn’t involve everyone hating everyone all the time and eventually being murdered or a murderer. Yeah, I know the Olympics are going on as well, but I’m afraid they just don’t do much for me. I mean I’ve not got anything against them, but as far as I can tell, their primary benefit is that they occasionally move Donald Trump a little lower down the front page.
The fresh air feels good at least.
If you too are considering leaving the above ground nightmare, we’ve learned a lot and are happy to share some of our mistakes and victories. The main thing is to plan ahead: we had been assuming we’d make our final move on the 9th of November, but I’m worried now that doomsday might come early, so get started sooner rather than later.
THINGS TO PACK:
THINGS NOT TO BOTHER WITH:
Now obviously, I hope that the world can manage to get its shit together soon and no one needs to give up on humanity and try to restart their lives elsewhere. As we continue our preparations, we’ll be trying to maybe do some good and make some changes. Maybe you could do this as well. Maybe if we all did, things could get better. Maybe.
I say let’s give it a try. Because Donald Trump isn’t a joke. And neither are the people who support him who will still be around regardless of November’s result.
It’s not about which side has the least biggest twats supporting them or which side the most annoying celebrities are spouting off about.
It’ll make a difference so vote carefully.
See you on the other side.
There’s only a few more days until Easter Sunday, which means those who have given up things for Lent are probably arguing amongst each other about when they can legally light up their first cigarette in weeks (it’s not my business, of course, but I’d say if you wait until the Mass of the Last Supper is over, you can safely smoke your way through the Holy Triduum). Even though I’m not a follower of the faith, I happen to love Easter. Why? Because it’s absolutely crazy.
As anyone who’s ever received a Happy Birthday Jesus card from that woman who took a shine to you on the one day you agreed to pick up your grandmother at church knows, the Lord was born on December 25, and no Santa Claus with his presents and reindeer will ever take that fact away. However, when it comes to his being re-born, it’s all a little hazier, and it appears the head church honchos basically just said, screw it, let’s let the moon decide. Of course, three days before the rebirth celebration is the acknowledgement of Christ’s crucifixion and death, known as Good Friday, which seems a little harsh to me, but whatever, he’s your god. In fact, some Christians spread the whole holiday season out for weeks before, and I guess that makes sense because being born of a virgin is pretty good, but being born again after being killed, well, come on, that’s quite worthy of celebration.
Believe it or not, though, the being brought back to life thing isn’t even the craziest part of Easter.
The ways we celebrate the holiday are mad, and for some reason, animals are at the forefront. Pigs gets killed and spiral sliced onto plates for Easter Sunday, though to honour the porcine sacrifice, we decorate their carcasses with pineapple slices and Maraschino cherries. I’m sure that must soothe their departed souls.
Of course, the Easter Bunny is the main animal associated with the holiday. He is a human-sized hare who shows up at shopping malls to judge and frighten children. Parents are cool with this, because the bunny then comes round the house to hide a basket full of plastic grass, cheap toys and jelly beans for children to find on Easter Sunday, thus allowing the adults a couple hours of free time while the little ones run off their sugar highs in the back garden. There are usually eggs in the basket as well, though anyone who believes the bunny laid those eggs is just not thinking right.
Because chickens lay eggs and even the craziness of Easter can’t change that. When I was growing up, we’d take hard-boiled chicken eggs, drop them in vinegar and dye, and marvel at the lovely colours. Sometimes we’d write on them first with crayon, with the promise that our names would appear once they emerged from the dye. I’m telling you, it was fucking magical. Now, I’m sure, kids use 3D printers or whatever to do their eggs, since technology is the magic of the day and everything good gets ruined. Sometimes adults hide these coloured eggs outside, and kids have to go find them. When I was growing up, my family held Easter egg hunts every year, and Grampy Carmichael used to hide one special silver egg (one of those plastic ones ladies hosiery used to be sold in), and the lucky child found it would get to enjoy the dollar and dirty joke inside. It seems hide and seek is a real theme of this holiday. Whether or not this is some kind of comment on the myrrhbearers not finding what they expected to find at Jesus’s tomb, I do not know.
However, eggs aren’t the only way that we mess with chickens’ minds at Easter. We often place the chicks whose development wasn’t stopped by being boiled in their shells in the baskets next to their siblings’ coloured tombs. Sometimes we dye the chicks pastels, just because we can. Or we form chicks out of marshmallows and cover them with sugar. (Suggestion: let them go a little stale before biting their heads off — yes, they’ll rip out your fillings but, trust me, it’ll be worth it.)
There are also Easter parades where people show off their hats. I mean, who doesn’t love hats?
Whether you’re into Easter for its religious significance or just for the insane traditions, I truly hope you have a good one. I was part of the parish’s planning committee, so naturally I’ll be donning my Easter bonnet this Sunday out at the egg hunt on the village green. Christopher will be suited up nice and smart next to me, though he won’t be taking pictures again, thanks to his police caution last year. Good luck to the little ones looking for the eggs — if you find the silver one and aren’t sure what that word means, I’m sure your father will be happy to explain it to you.
If you’ve ever been stuck in city centre traffic on the way to an appointment with your solicitor, you’ll know that most people walk through their days a bit zombified. They might be obnoxiously staring at their phones, mindlessly stuffing their faces with food, or stupidly listening to the people with whom they are having a conversation. Seeing this with my own two eyes made me realise why our world is so full hate. I’ll admit that watching them pass by my taxi filled me with quite a bit of animosity — so much so I am ashamed to confess that I got a small pleasure when, once the cars got moving, the driver sped through a puddle and splashed some guy with a ponytail (though I can’t say I agreed with any of the driver’s life philosophies which he sadly felt quite free to share with me and which I documented as evidence for when I undoubtedly read about his arrest for a hate crime).
After realising I had allowed such a distasteful vibe to take over my normally quite tasty demeanour, I decided to get my shit together and become more lovely and loving. And naturally my first step in this direction was to eat some toast and honey.
I learned this habit back in my girlish days through my acquaintance with a young man named Humberto Gray Badillo. Hum and I met one sunny morning in a park near my house. He was admiring the hydrangea that grew around the door to the men’s toilet, and as I passed, I heard him whistling a cheery tune. When I asked for the song’s name, he spoke and his voice basically took my breath away. I couldn’t quite place his accent (I’d have guessed either Andalusian or southeast Missouri), but, even to this day, I have never heard the phrase “When The Saints Go Marching In” uttered so beautifully.
Obviously, I was charmed, and he and I spent the rest of the day on a park bench, sharing stories and flirting like all get out. It turned out he was a man of the world, and he kept me entertained with stories of his adventures, though he lost me a little when he started going on about his favourite band’s drummer. Mostly, he was interesting and engaging. Needless to say, I woke up in his bed the next morning.
As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I saw him reenter the room carrying a tray, on which was a cup of coffee and a covered plate with a freshly cut rose lying next to it. I slipped out of my Inspector Gadget costume and popped a t-shirt over my head before tucking straight in. When I lifted the cover, though, I was surprised to find only one piece of toast and a small jar of honey.
“Trust me,” Humbo purred.
I slowly spread the honey across the bread and lifted it to my lips. It was deliciously sweet and smooth as it moved down my throat. And a few minutes later, I was tripping balls.
It turns out that Hum’s honey had been harvested near a farm that grew a special crop — mostly oleander, thorn apple, and mountain laurel. He began to explain precisely which compounds were the cause of the psychedelic effects, but at that point, I was much more interested in the fact that his words were coloured and fluffy as they floated through the air and popped like bubbles over my head. It was fucking great, I can tell you.
Alas the honey I had this morning came not from an exotic location but from our local Sainsbury’s, so the magical effects were not quite as mind-bending. Yet the sweetness of both the honey and of my memories lifted my mood and reminded me that there is much loveliness in the world and that I should choose to be a part of that instead of succumbing to the ugliness out there. I mean, that taxi driver was definitely a racist prick, but I’d rather counter that with love than hate (keep in mind that tire slashing can be seen as an act of love in the right circumstance).
The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote “For bees, the flower is the fountain of life; For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.” Let’s all be messengers of love today. Why not, eh? It won’t give us quite the same buzz as a psychoactive drug does, but at least it’s legal.
So the newspapers are starting their annual How-To-Waste-Your-Hard-Earned-Money-On-People-You-Don’t-Really-Care-About spiel. Yes, blonde woman with more money than sense, please tell me what to buy — I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that everything you steer me toward is from a company that’s supplied you with products all year.
Bah humbug to you lot.
Even gift guides written by those who don’t personally benefit from sales are usually rubbish. ‘Gifts For Guys’? Come on now. I can guarantee you that my father, Christopher and Roy Keane, despite each being a so-called guy, have tastes which differ greatly. Any gift-giving recommendation based on gender has been offered by an idiot.
Same goes for suggestions based on age. These two were both born in 1928, but I seriously doubt their lists to Santa include the same items.
During my life, I’ve met many people and many types of people and have satisfied most of them. Thanks to this experience, I’ve put together some guidance that, while frank, should prove useful.
Firstly, let me ask, have you or your partner given birth to some sort of offspring in the last five years? If so, put a picture of it on a mug and give one to every person you know. Older relatives will appreciate this — no one else will, of course, but they’ll expect it from you so go ahead and take advantage of that. Once the child is older than five, no one (including you) is going to want anything to do with it, for its existence will no longer seem so magical; therefore, strike while the iron is hot.
Secondly, are you a narcissist? If so, you likely only give presents so that people will think you’re wonderful. But think about this: you are wonderful, you know that in your heart already. So put your wallet away; just let us bask in your glory for another year. That’s more than gift enough.
Thirdly, on an unrelated subject, do you own a gun? Why?
Now let’s focus on the people you are shopping for. Often what causes the most stress when holiday shopping is trying to find the perfect gift for each and every person you know. No. That’s not going to happen so just you stop thinking about that right now. Basically, here’s what it boils down to:
That’s the gist of it. Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a maddening or bank-busting event. Use your common sense, be thoughtful, and you’ll be fine. And get rid of your gun, for god’s sake, what are you thinking?
Punishment: it isn’t all bad. We look at countries where those who steal have their hands cut off, where those who betray are thrown out of the community, where those who murder are murdered themselves, and certainly, those of us living in a civilised world would never approve of such measures. However, while our punishments may be different, they serve the same purpose: a wrongdoer must get her comeuppance. Our society would fail to function if we could not be assured of this belief.
I first witnessed this precept beautifully illustrated many years ago. I will never forget the date: it was sometime in April when I was anywhere between seven and fourteen years old. My mother and two of her bridge-playing girlfriends had insisted that I come with them to see a young artist who was giving a talk at the State Museum. My mother had won the tickets through a radio contest (I believe she had correctly guessed the weight of the DJ’s recently shaved beard clippings). I was dragged along to make up the foursome (my father had refused to go as he believed it was bad luck to be the only man walking with a trio of women).
I have always loved the State Museum; even as a child, I could see myself in so many of the breath-taking exhibits that have been on display there. However, I had not been keen to attend this afternoon, only because it meant spending an afternoon with Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters. On the way into the building, I caught my reflection in the window glass—I was wearing a particularly nice hat —and decided to just keep as much distance between them and myself once we got around other people.
The gallery was quite packed (luckily, there were only eight other radio prize winners there and, believe you me, they were easily recognisable). My mother and her friends sat in the front row (so obvious), but I chose a seat closer to the back, where the lighting more subtly accented my striking features. The artist—she went only by the name Melinda—was beautiful. I can see her now in my mind’s eye as clear as if I had seen her yesterday. She had long blonde hair, gorgeously tanned shoulders, penetrating eyes, and shades of midnight blue paint staining her fingertips. I was transfixed by her and hung on every word of her speech on whatever it was she was talking about. When she finished, I gave her a standing ovation. As people began milling out, I was horrified to see that my mother and her cronies had cornered Melinda. Although I had hoped to speak to her myself, I could not think of anything worse than being identified with those three so I did my best to sneak out of the room unnoticed. I escaped to the bathroom, where I splashed some water to cool my reddened cheeks.
However, the humiliation was far from over. I was galled to hear that my mother had arranged for Melinda to come over to our house later that evening. This meant that the next few hours were spent in a rushed panic, my mother desperate to stage a scene which implied she was a more interesting woman than she was. She stopped at the most expensive florist and bakery in town. Once we got home, I hoped my father would put his foot down, but, as usual, she disregarded him completely. In fact, she forced my father to shave (despite the fact that it was a Saturday) before Melinda’s arrival, as she had the nerve to claim “we artists find stubble repellent.” She put me in charge of hoovering (her not giving me the responsibility of arranging the flowers indicates her level of ignorance). By eight o’clock, we were ready to greet Melinda.
My, how the time flew by! Melinda entertained us with incredible stories of her adventures across the country, doing everything a bohemian artist should be doing. I was enthralled and felt I was getting a glimpse into my own future. Luckily, Melinda’s fascinating chestnuts—peppered with details of colours, sounds, and smells—kept my mother silent for the majority of the night. This fact alone, I think, helped charm my father, who was quickly as seduced as I.
Around midnight, Melinda was clearly tiring. She had explained when she first arrived that she was flying out the following morning to show some work in an offbeat gallery in Trois-Rivières. However, my mother, it seemed, was not ready to bid the artist farewell. She dragged out some of her own paintings and asked Melinda for some constructive criticism. It was torturous.
In an effort to wrap things up, my father began tidying up the dishes. My mother admonished him for “rushing our guest” when there was still a piece of cake left. The room went silent. I wondered whether my father would take his usual, easy route of surrendering to my mother’s vicious tongue or if Melinda’s presence had changed his life in the way I already knew she had changed mine.
However, before he had a chance to decide what to do, Melinda stood up. “It’s a wonderful thing to have such a conscientious husband,” she said to my mother. “He’s right, though, it is time for me to go.” She stepped over my mother’s canvases to make her way to collect her coat.
“But Melinda,” my mother cried, “Please eat the last piece of cake.”
My father sat back down. I was frozen in the tension of the moment.
“No, Mrs Whitt-Wellington, I will not eat the last piece of cake.”
Melinda came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. She walked over to my father and extended her hand. I silently prayed that he would grab her, wrap his arms around her slender figure and the three of us would walk out of my mother’s house forever. But he didn’t. He shook her hand. Melinda passed my mother on her way to the door, gently touching her shoulder. And then she was gone.
Seeing my mother receive her just desserts for once in her bloody life has stayed with me all these years. I shall never forget that moment (probably because I replay it in my mind at least twice a day). She did wrong, and wrongdoers must eventually reap what they sow. I am so grateful that I was there to witness it.
Punishment where punishment was due.
Well, today marks sixty long years since the world lost the lovely, lonely James Dean. If I could remember the event, I’m sure I’d remember it like it was yesterday. There were just too many unusual things about his death for me to have ever really properly come to terms with it (which may explain why I will only ride in a Porsche if there are no other non-James-Dean-killing cars available).
However, the truth is that there were just too many unusual things about James Dean himself; perhaps an unusual death is the only one that would have made sense. He really was something else — his beautiful face, the way he became his characters, his cheeky charm, his fluidity (you know what I’m talking about), his hair. I mean, come on, we’re talking perfection here, people. And, of course, his early death means he stays precisely as he was: we never had to watch him grow up to make humiliating professional and personal choices as all other young actors eventually do.
In truth, my admiration for James Dean played a role in my decision to hire Christopher. I realised that if I squinted really hard and totally blocked out his voice when he spoke, Christopher was the spitting image of James Dean as Cal in East of Eden. Sadly, that was some time ago now, and glancing over at him now as I write this, I am filled with a sense of real disappointment. How hard could it be for a man to stay beautiful forever, I ask?
I don’t know. However, instead of squinting at Christopher, I think I’ll spend my evening in my bedroom, thinking of James Dean when he was beautiful and not dead.