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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?

flag

Happy Christmas!

25 Dec

I hope your Christmas day has brought you smiles, good food and drink, and all the presents you wished for. Mine has: Christopher and I have exchanged gifts, played a few games, had an early Christmas dinner, and are just settling in to watch the Queen.

TheQueenIn3D

As soon as she has signed off, I’ll be raising a toast to you all, my dears!

The World Is Breaking My Heart Today

15 Nov

I swear if it weren’t for the intense connection I share with one Mister John Humphrys , I don’t even know if I could face the headlines these days. So I’ve decided to respond to recent events with appropriate levels of hyperbole and/or sarcasm.

Of course, there’s more news today re: the BBC scandal. The whole thing is absolutely shocking and disgusting—both the alleged actions of the perpetrators and the alleged inaction of those who seemed to have known. Obviously my heart goes out to the victims, but I also acknowledge the feelings of those who are learning unsavoury details about celebrities they grew up listening to or watching. Thankfully, I’ve never had that experience myself, but I’m sure it must be unpleasant in its own way.

Then I heard more from Mitt Romney (wasn’t he supposed to have gone away now?), who thoughtfully explained that the reason that Obama won the election is because the President was using the government’s money to give gifts to people to lure them to the Democrats’ side.  What gifts were these—tickets to concerts, dinners or cruises? No, says Mittens. It was even more outrageous than that. Obama was giving them health care and education, through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Dream Act (oh my!). Plus he was actually trying to help people get access to the vote. Tell me it ain’t so! And who were these dodgy gift receivers? Latinos. Blacks. Immigrants. Women. Young people. Wait, wait, wait there, fella—you’re trying to tell me that Obama was actually using his government position to try help those people[i]? What the? Now obviously, there is just no reason why the president of any nation should give a shit about women. We can cross them off the list of who matters immediately, no argument there.  And trying to help Latinos, black people and foreigners—that just doesn’t make sense, because those groups don’t include you, do they, Mitt? How can that even be legal? And lastly, young people? Come on now, that’s just going too far. Why should any American be concerned about young people? It’s not like they live in our homes or came out of our bodies or will play any role whatsoever in our futures. Right, Mitt?

Romney, of course, doesn’t believe in “gifts.” Unless you mean money and tax cuts for kajillionaires. But those “gifts” don’t count, do they, because rich, older, white men (like say, Mitt Romney himself) deserve those things ergo they’re not “gifts” at all. Easy peasy!

Speaking of rich assholes, I then read about what’s going on at the Hostess company in the US. Workers there are striking and the head Hostess honchos have said, quit striking by close of the day or we’re liquidating the whole operation. So there. Cue outrage from the American public. Why? Because Hostess makes Twinkies and Wonder Bread. Never eaten a Twinkie? Don’t worry, you will, as they and the cockroaches will be the only things left when you, against all odds, awake to realise you are the only human to survive the nuclear holocaust. Twinkies may taste sweeter, but injecting bleach straight into your veins will pretty much produce the same effect on your body as Twinkies do.[ii] Yet Americans feed them to children. Even my own mother fed one to me once! Yes, it’s true! As for Wonder Bread: in my fifth grade health class, our teacher skipped out one day (the day we were going to discuss menstruation, though I’m sure that was purely coincidental). The substitute the school booked was a youngish man, who, when he took off his suit coat, already had his shirt sleeves rolled up (why that fact stuck with me and what exactly it implies, I do not know).  He silently opened a bag of Wonder Bread, took out one slice, moistened it and slapped it against the blackboard where it stuck. He then announced that the class time would be spent in silent reading (our choice of book). It was. Just as the bell rang an hour later, the sub pointed to the slice—still clinging to the blackboard—and said, “That is what Wonder Bread does inside your body and that is the greatest health lesson I could teach you today.”

So Hostess announces, hey America, you’re going to lose these great chemical-laden delectables unless these selfish strikers get their shit together. And sadly many Americans fall headfirst for it (luckily as their heads are clearly empty, this is less dangerous than it sounds). In fact, one clever Yank tweeted, “Great, now I’ve got to stockpile Twinkies because the world is full of fucktards.” The workers are striking because they are being asked to take an 8% pay cut and lose some healthcare and pension benefits. And apparently that makes them fucktards. Yet a kajillionaire who refuses to pay a little more tax to benefit others, he’s not a fucktard. He’s a good American.

All of this is enough to distress any sensible, clear thinking person, let alone one so elegantly-coiffeured as my good self. I think I shall retire to my chamber to nurse my broken heart and curse the dastards who walk amongst us.


[i] According to the 2010 US Census:

Hispanic or Latino=16.3% of American population
Black or African American=12.6% of the American population
Foreign born=12.9% of American population
Female=50.8% of the American population
Young (ages 18-24)=9.9% of the American population
 

[ii] This is probably a good time to remind you that I am not a scientist.

All of the Constantly Happening Football

18 Aug

I hope everyone enjoys the start of the season, when every football team will be playing football several times and in various combinations.

The Olympics: The World Coming Together To Do Something Nice For Once In Its Life

26 Jul

The Olympic brouhaha: yes, it exists. We all knew it would and we were right. Babies need their own tickets but might not be sitting with their parents? Check. Budget issues? Check. Will.i.am carrying the torch? Of course. Security bungles? Got ’em. Confusing the South Korean flag for North Korean one? Yup. Boris Johnson? Obviously.

However, as the old man who appears to be living in an empty shed behind the primary school told me as I passed him this morning, “Catch the Olympic spirit, duck! Why not?” He has a point. Why not get excited for something that at least kind of temporarily unifies the world in the spirit of goodwill, dedication and sportsmanship? Before I had a chance to respond to him, he shouted, “Go for the gold!” then tipped over and fell asleep in a puddle of urine (I presume his own). I think we can find inspiration in his unintentionally wise words.

I shan’t be attending any of the events myself. I entered the lottery and did receive a few tickets, but I decided to be generous and donate them to a charity to make some poor kiddy’s Olympic dream come true. (A little boy from Laos received them, though I’ve got no idea who’s paying for his and his family’s flight to London but I can tell you for sure it ain’t gonna be me). I feel like my act of kindness is a perfect example of the positivity that the Olympic games can foster.

If you’re not much a sports fan, it’s easy to feel intimidated (read: bored) by the event, but there really is something for everyone at the Games. You’ve got twenty-four hours left, so use it wisely to learn something about what’s going to be happening here over the next few weeks. Stop being so difficult and just get with the programme, why don’t you?

Five Things Olympic Skeptics Should Consider:

  • Most of the athletes’ bodies are pretty damn easy on the eye and are usually displayed in tight and/or skimpy clothing. Those of you who normally have to shamefacedly ogle sexy, young things can do so openly during the Olympics. Cheer while you’re ogling, and you’ll earn respect for your patriotism.
  • The BBC will be broadcasting 2,500 hours of TV, radio and online coverage of the Olympics, none of which will be fronted by Fearne Cotton. That fact alone is bound to bring joy to the entire viewing public.
  • I don’t support gambling, as you know, but there’s some good money to be made if you place your bets wisely. For some insider information, look no further than this: I’d stake Christopher’s inheritance on Cyrek Nazwisko from Poland taking home the gold in Men’s Singles Synchronized Swimming. Apparently his precision is impeccable, and he’s an underdog as well which always makes for a happy ending (and large cash payout).
  • The Olympics are an ideal educational experience for children and adults alike. Two hundred and five nations are sending more than 10,000 athletes to London so there will be ample opportunities for learning about different cultures and customs while laughing at their silly names and ridiculous national anthems.
  • Basically, every copper in the country is going to be occupied elsewhere so if you’ve been meaning to have it out with that bloke who borrowed your ladder but never returned it, now might be a good time to break into his garage and take it back. You can thank the Olympians for helping you resolve that issue.

If you’re not interested in the Olympics, you’re not interested, and I’m not going to fight you over it. If you want to be stubborn and throw away a chance to enjoy something nice for a change, you’ve got that right.

But I’ll just leave you with this thought: the Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Remember the last time you heard those words and chose to ignore them? That’s right, it was the night before your ex girlfriend chucked you and told the whole town how crap you are in bed. Think about it.

Doctor, Doctor, I Feel Like A Pair Of Wigwams*

21 Jun

According to the Guardian, it’s possible that at least 26,000 patients may have been affected by today’s “go-slow” industrial action by doctors.  The BMA will meet to decide whether or not to do another day.

It’s a difficult situation—most doctors make decent salaries compared to many but at the same time the Government’s mucking about with their pensions just doesn’t seem right. However, I shan’t be dipping my toes in the tidal wave of that argument tonight. Surely this Government, with its abundance of fresh new ideas, will be able to propose a satisfying solution, yes?

However, there is something that we the people can do to help ease the financial costs of the NHS.  My first recommendation is to be glad it’s around. I’m not saying that everything in the National Health Service is tip-top nor am I saying that we shouldn’t speak up against the problems. I myself have personally left over 53 cards in the suggestion box at the Royal Infirmary in the last twelve months. However, even as I was carefully writing out my complaint about the Matron’s disdainful look when I suggested my friend might prefer a north-facing bed, I did so gratefully for we are lucky to have the NHS and we mustn’t forget that.

Of course, I come from a country where health care for all means socialism and socialism is as evil as cursing children, kicking puppies and burying your grandma alive as soon as she’s got a little cough. Many Americans’ belief in individualism leads to a rather self-centred approach: I do for me, you do for you and ne’er the two shall meet (unless, of course, I need you to come put out my house fire, fix the pothole on my road, or stop this murderer from murdering me).

I don’t personally subscribe to this belief. I pay my taxes to benefit my community. I just don’t have the time to run school systems, police stations, libraries, etc. Though officials from all these institutions continue to contact me for input, I just can’t squeeze them into my tightly booked schedule. So instead, I throw some money their way. Does this mean I am always happy with how the money is spent? No. So I speak out: by voting or striking or filling suggestion boxes or hissing loudly whenever George Osborne comes on the telly.

It’s all about perspective really: one way of looking at it is that I pay my taxes to keep the NHS running so that when I am sick or hurt I can get help. Most things that benefit my community benefit me as well. However, even if I look at it as I am paying for someone else’s health care, then surely it must work both ways—someone else is paying for my health care.

Save this little boy’s money from evil!

Unfortunately, many Americans have a third perspective. They imagine that health care for all means that at the end of a long day of work, sweat dripping from their brow, they’ll be approached by a poor, toothless Jerry-Springer-reject sauntering up and demanding their hard-earned money to get a boob job for his common law wife (who is also his cousin). And they’ll be forced to hand over their wallets because that’s how socialized medicine works in their world.

However, it’s not just enough to be grateful to the NHS, we can also be mindful. Just because we have doctors available to us doesn’t mean that we should get stupid about using NHS resources. It’s not always necessary for us to go to the doctor. For example, even though some surgeries had fewer patients today, no one died (except for the people who did obviously). A lot of the times we book appointments when what’s really needed is not medical expertise, but common sense. Say you’ve got snuffly nose and a bit of a headache, you probably just need a good meal, hot bath and hard sleep. On the other hand, if you’ve just been shot in the eye with a staple gun, a trip to A&E would be appropriate. It’s about being sensible.

Sadly I’ll be unable to attend any meetings between the BMA and Andrew Lansley in the next few weeks, so fingers crossed, a compromise can be reached without me. We do live in frightful times, finance-wise, but we mustn’t let these difficulties hurt our country’s most valuable asset: the NHS and/or Jimmy Carr’s career.

___________
*Don’t worry, you’re just too tense.

Big Girls Need Big Diamonds

1 Jun

I have never celebrated sixty years of my reign over a kingdom, and I’m certainly not implying I have. However, I have celebrated six consecutive triumphs as Spelling Bee Champion at Al Herpin School for Exceptional Children (no mean feat, I assure you) so I do know a little bit about marking important milestones appropriately.

So far the Royal Household has been doing a bang up job with the festivities. I have been loving everything so far (top marks for the Yellow Duckmarine ride in Liverpool).

 

Here’s what’s coming up this Central Weekend.

Saturday, 2 June

The Queen is heading to the Epson Derby. Far be it from me to offer Her Majesty any advice (and besides there’s no grey running) so I assume she’ll be calling on the spirit of the Queen Mum before placing any bets.

Sunday, 3 June

I love the concept of the Big Jubilee Lunch, though I confess I won’t be participating (I’m sure she’d understand if she met the twats who live in my neighbourhood). However, I shall be buntifying the house to show my support.

 

I’m slightly less interested in the boat-related activities (The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and the Royal Barge rides) but hey, that’s me.

Monday, 4 June

It’s always lovely to involve music in any celebration, hence the BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace. However my concern can be summarised in two words: Gary and Barlow.

On the other hand, I’m well excited for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Beacons—two thousand and twelve beacons lit around the Commonwealth topped off by the Queen’s lighting the National Beacon. Brilliant idea! I would suggest refilling the Royal Zippo that morning (or having the Olympic mother flame near) just in case. One can never be too prepared.

Tuesday, 5 June

A service at St Paul’s makes sense, as does lunch at Westminster Hall. Of course, there will then be a Carriage Procession because carriages are pretty much synonymous with the grace and elegance of royalty.

Once back at Buckingham Palace, she’ll make a balcony appearance, and there will be a fancypants flypast by the RAF.

Lastly, there will be a feu de joie. I confess I’m a bit disappointed that the celebration is ending on this note: I don’t support violence and am concerned the rifles may frighten the Corgis. But I guess it’s just the done thing in these circumstances. I suppose wrapping up everything with a make-your-own-sundae party at an ice cream parlour (as I did after my sixth spelling bee win) might be seen as a bit of an anti-climax.

I’m glad Lord Mandelson announced an additional bank holiday so that everyone can thoroughly enjoy the extended weekend. However, I wish he had demanded it be a day of service, namely asking citizens to clean up the litter and vomit revelers will have left throughout the streets (yes, I’m looking at you, Camilla). I myself charitably will be hosting a small garden party for local dignitaries where I’ll be giving a talk on highlights from my writing career. It’s just another of the little ways I like to help the less fortunate of my community.

The Queen has always been a very important mentor to me, so it was a struggle to choose just the right gift to send her (in the end, I went with a book token). Even though she’s so busy, she blessed me with a quick thank you card—it’s so lovely to see that, despite her prestige, manners still matter to ER II.

I wish everyone—from the Queen and her family to Piss Stain Charlie, the tramp who lives at our bus depot—a wonderful Diamond Jubilee.

God save our Gracious Queen,
We mean it, man!

Surely Such Grace is Worth 69p?

31 May

I would just like to take a moment to say just how great our Queen is. Seriously, I think she’s just swell. I am proud to be one of her subjects and I defy anyone to suggest the UK’s had a better queen in the last one hundred and eleven years.

I appreciate that my view of royalty is not unrelated to the fact that I was born abroad.  In America, we use the word king to describe cigarette lengths and the word queen to describe bossy bees and thin men who wear wigs and paint their lips to extend well down their chins. So, while my childhood was not dominated by forced reverence to any monarch (which, by the by, in America means a butterfly and would therefore be inappropriate to curtsy to or rearrange our Christmas dinner time for), my adulthood has not been affected by outrage over the fact that the royals are draining the public purse with their fancy pants palaces and crown jewels. I am therefore unencumbered by any outside influence on my decision of whether to cherish or condemn our Queen.

I choose to cherish. Here is why: she’s got a great head on her shoulders, does our Elizabeth. She’s smart enough to have been made Queen, after all. And she continues to be re-elected, so clearly she must have the public’s support. She also has a strange, lingering sort of beauty. Regardless of your age or sexual preference, you must admit that if you bumped into her at the Sainsbury’s petrol station, you’d stop to stare. My guess is you wouldn’t be able to take your eyes off of her. I know I wouldn’t.

ER II is also worth celebrating for the very fact that she keeps going in the face of adversity. Would you have the balls to keep going when newspaper columns are calling for you to literally be dissolved? I shudder to think how I would cope (and pray thanks that the media continues to praise me and my work). How many of us would be able to organise our time successfully so that we could open a bridge in the morning, wave at distance to retarded children midday and then count our swans by tea-time? Our Queen has a tough job, and it is a job. Do not think that having one’s face appear on every stamp, every note, every coin and the occasional Sex Pistols’ album isn’t hard work. It must be exhausting. Yet, every morning she gets up and goes to work, just like the rest of us.

The Royal Highness is one hell of a gal and when I swore allegiance to her, by golly I meant it. I think she is a great role model for young women today. Like Barack Obama she shows that it is possible for underrepresented minorities to reach the top of their professions. But more than that, she teaches girls that, with a little hard work and determination and a dash of inbreeding, they too can grow up to be leader of a once-great empire. And possibly have a pub named after them to boot.

So I say, long live the Queen and the inspiration she spreads like haemophilia!