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“What a wonderful contribution to National Vegetarian Week”

@FlorentineMuray said it so eloquently, ‘When you cook something you love, you add that little bit of a special spark’.” The Green Beret

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! 

 

I grew up in a house with no books. There were, of-course, a very small selection of baby books in our room, and the obligatory Dictionary, French Dictionary, and Medical Dictionary in the living room drawer, never opened. Aside from that; nothing. My parents, although possessing many wonderful qualities, are not academic. They read the redtops, if anything; never pushed me to do homework, and were only ever concerned when I was in trouble for not handing it in. 

It is remarkable then that I started school being able to read, and read well. This was thanks to one shining light in the darkness; Roald Dahl, and one stark exception to our bookless house. Each night, my mother would read to get me to sleep; a few chapters from three battered old books; The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda. I think the copies had come from a mixture of an older cousin, and those shelves in library doorways, selling dog-eared books for 50p.

It didn’t take long for me to reach that moment. I can’t remember precisely how old I was, or even when it happened, but I know distinctly that there was one night, when I’d started reading Matilda back to my Mother, instead of her reading it to me, that I realised. I realised it all. I had, without knowing, been learning the very important fact that you can be different to the people in your house, and it doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, just different. If your parents read The Sun, you don’t have to. If your parents think that books are irrelevant, and lofty, you can still love them fiercely (the parents, and the books).  

That was the moment when I understood. I am not alone. There are hundreds of shelves, in hundreds of buildings, with millions of words on pages, written by people who know how I feel, and what I think, because they thought the same thing. They may have thought it two hundred years ago, but they thought it. And I knew I would never be alone again. As soon as I could read, I belonged to a rich and limitless world full of people, and places, and thoughts. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
There are children who have never discovered Matilda, who believe that because they are different to their parents and siblings, and because they want to read The Famous Five in a corner with a lamp, instead of watching quiz shows with their family, it makes them stupid, odd, and abnormal. I wish I could tell those children how special they are. I wish I could shine the light for them. 
Shining that light is precisely what Roald Dahl does. Like the BFG’s long golden trumpet, blowing dreams through children’s bedroom windows, Roald Dahl, with his words, and characters, and help from Quentin Blake, reaches through the darkness of children’s lives, and shows them that they are normal, and crucial, and noble. He makes children see the nobility in their everyday actions.

What makes Dahl remarkable, for me, is that he did it all without really intending to. Roald Dahl was not a saint-like messiah, setting out on a selfless mission to do honourable deeds, and save children from awful lives. He was a battered old RAF pilot, who nearly died when his fighter jet crashed in the desert, who spent his childhood away from his family, being beaten and caned at boarding school, and lived his adult life as a spy, passing messages in the Second World War directly between presidents and prime ministers. He was an unsuccessful writer, writing books for adults without much notice, and the odd screenplay here and there, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, managed to bring extraordinary magic into children’s lives, and arguably changed the world, and the way we think.

Who else was brave enough to tell children that their parents and teachers might actually be catastrophically wrong, and even unintelligent? Who else told children that the monsters and dangerous things they’ve been warned about for their entire young lives might actually live in their own home, or school, in the next bedroom, or classroom, or down the street? And he gives children the bravery to fight them. For so many children, myself included, Dahl’s words give them the strength to fight back; to stand up. He lifts their chin up.

Owing solely and unequivocally to Roald Dahl, our bookless house is now full of books. Downstairs is filled with crammed bookshelves, and in my own tiny bedroom, the walls are covered in shelves, filled to drooping, and the room is filled with bookcases, and piles of books on the dressing table, chair, and floor; piled just high enough on every surface that they won’t fall over. All of them are mine. My parents still read the redtops. I can pay no greater respect or thanks to Roald Dahl than that. 

Happy Birthday, Bill : A Love Letter to Shakespeare

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Happy Birthday, Bill: A Love Letter to Shakespeare.

Dear Bill,

The 23rd April marks both your birthday, and the anniversary of your death. 1564 – 1616. I know those dates without even checking Google, since that day ten years ago when they passed me on the side of a bus with a picture of your face, and I have remembered them ever since. I take this day to express my thanks, and respect.

I call you Bill, as I’m certain that’s what your friends would have called you, and that’s definitely what you are to me. I think of you as a friendly arm around my shoulders in the pub, on a rowdy Saturday night.

I call you Bill because from a faded portrait on the wall of a gallery; a musty anachronism with stiff collar and balding head, your words transform you into something breathing, and visceral, and vivid; a tangible, vibrant part of the modern world; a crucial part of our 2020 lives. It is your words that change you from dull oil colours into a bloke down the pub, and you would be the clever life of every party, if only you still had flesh and blood.

As a student of English Literature, I feel about you the way other people feel about God; that you are father to us all.

With ink-stained hands, you gave us words where we had gaping holes in our native tongue. You gave form and names to emotions we couldn’t identify. You gave us stock phrases to perfectly express those ideas we had previously been unable to articulate.

You showed a dark, and frightened world that it is a clever, and noble thing to write words beautifully, and to let them shine like gold.  Which is why, at two o’clock in the morning, when my hands are covered in ink because I insist on using a fountain pen, and I’m in the dark with my i-phone lighting up the covers instead of a candle, I remember you.

To writers, you give words, and entire dramatic conventions. You built the foundations of their profession, and fleshed it out with wealth, and depth.

To actors, you give the best role they will ever play. You have become the mettle by which actors prove themselves. You are their Olympics, Grand National, and PHD.

To theatre audiences, you give unbound excitement, and breathless thrills every week, for the price of a seat. Four hundred years after your first audiences huddled together in rancid crowds, now we do the same, to listen to the same words. In 2014, I saw Maxine Peake play Hamlet at The Royal Exchange in Manchester. I was six feet away from her. It was breath-taking. You gave us that.

You hold a mirror to all human life, from the lowest to the highest, every corner of society; every beggar, and every king. You teach us how human beings love, and hate, and why, and the often terrible consequences. You show us jealousy, and revenge, and misery, and every facet of human emotion. You show us why siblings have all-consuming and co-existing adoration and contempt for each other, and the constant struggle that will always exist between them.

With the help of hundreds of actors over four hundred years, your characters have become part of our social consciousness. Just by the mention of a name, they are a shortcut to expressing paragraphs of description and backstory.

Like JK Rowling borrowing ideas from Tolkien, you may have patchworked ideas, and words together from different languages and cultures; merging characters from Commedia del Arte with plots from Ancient Rome, and Latin words with Dutch metaphors, but the skill is in the merging; in the sewing together with golden thread. Like Rowling, your magic lies in that final beautiful patchwork, and the sparkling world created by your words, and no-one else’s. The magic cannot be borrowed or counterfeited. The magic is in the golden thread, which lives only in you.

You gave us Morrissey, and Oscar Wilde.

You gave us; “A scratch”, and Mercutio’s death, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s; “I was adored once, too”, and a thousand other lines, and people to break our hearts, and heal them again.

You show us that the pen is mightier than the sword, always.

Whenever I draft a Contract Clause, or Client Disclaimer, or particularly assertive response to an argumentative opposing Solicitor (I am in the legal profession); that flourish in my turn of phrase, which I enjoy with so much relish, is there because of you. You are there in the excited hammering of my keys, and in that moment, I am Shylock, and the satisfied smile as I press the send button is for you.

Every text message I send in full sentences, with correct grammar instead of abbreviations, is because of you. Because when I was fifteen, in a comprehensive school, in a grey northern town in the nineties; you taught me how beautiful, and important language is, and how much it says about the speaker.

When I passed my GCSEs, and A-Levels, and Degree; in every exam, and rehearsal, and at the side of every stage; every time I hit the final full-stop to the conclusion of an essay, you were there. Every time a Literary Journal arrived in the post, with one of my poems published, the elation and pride I felt belonged half to you, and half to my English Teacher, Mr Blake.

At University, for a production of As You Like It, whilst memorising speeches that are three pages long, I learned how rich, and complex your language is. I learned how it flows like music, or water.

You handed us words like ‘moonbeam’, and ‘shooting-star’, and ‘arch-villain’, and a hundred others, like precious gifts to be passed through generations like heirlooms, and we do.

Here is a small selection of phrases that we use every day, because you carved them out of dirt and darkness, and left them as a glittering legacy, to articulate our thoughts, all these years on;

A fool’s paradise
A foregone conclusion
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sorry sight
All corners of the world
All of a sudden
All that glitters is not gold
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players
All’s well that ends well
As cold as any stone
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
Bated breath
Be all and end all
Beast with two backs
Beware the ides of March
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks
Brevity is the soul of wit
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
Come what come may
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Eaten out of house and home
Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog
Fair play
Fancy free
Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man
Fight fire with fire
For ever and a day
Frailty, thy name is woman
Foul play
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
He will give the Devil his due
Heart’s content
High time
His beard was as white as snow
Hot-blooded
Household words
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child
I bear a charmed life
I have not slept one wink
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In my mind’s eye, Horatio
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
Is this a dagger which I see before me?
It is meat and drink to me
Lay it on with a trowel
Lie low
Lily-livered
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Milk of human kindness
More fool you
Much Ado about Nothing
My salad days
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Night owl
Now is the winter of our discontent
Off with his head
Oh, that way madness lies
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Out of the jaws of death
Pomp and circumstance
Pound of flesh
Primrose path
Rhyme nor reason
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Short shrift
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em
Star crossed lovers
Stiffen the sinews
Stony hearted
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The be all and end all
The course of true love never did run smooth
The Devil incarnate
The game is up
The Queen’s English
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on
There’s method in my madness
This is the short and the long of it
This is very midsummer madness
To be or not to be, that is the question
To sleep: perchance to dream
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Well-read
What a piece of work is man
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

Your language is everywhere in the modern world. Adaptations, like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which is one of my favourite films, demonstrate how vivid and current your language can sound, and how freely it flows, as easily as if it were today’s grimiest street slang. This is the talent of the actors, and director, of-course, but mainly your shining words. In the right hands, your words flow so easily in modern culture, like rap lyrics, or spray-painted graffiti on a wall.

You are the beating hearts of Wuthering Heights, and the entwined plot turns, and many intricate misunderstandings of The Importance of Being Earnest. You are with Samuel L Jackson and Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction; every speech is yours. You are in Alan Bennett’s monologues; you invented the rise and fall of their form.

You are in every sentimental greeting card verse. You are in every one of Alex Turner’s lyrics; every couplet is yours. You are the reason tourists come to England every year for rainy holidays.

You are the reason the English go to parks on hot Summer nights, and eat strawberries, watching your plays on cushions. We sit utterly spellbound, noticing the dew-drops on the evening grass, because you make them into characters before us, and give them life, and names. You make us notice the grass as vividly as the velvet of the costumes on stage.

You are with us all. All the time. Every word.

I’m ending with a poem by Kate Tempest called My Shakespeare, which was the inspiration for my writing this letter. It was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and perfectly articulates what I would like to say, better than I can say it.

I’ve also included a link to the project website, and a video of the poem being performed live, which is the best way to see it.

http://myshakespeare.rsc.org.uk/gallery/my-shakespeare-by-kate-tempest/

My Shakespeare

by Kate Tempest

He’s in every lover who ever stood alone beneath a window,
In every jealous whispered word,
in every ghost that will not rest.
He’s in every father with a favourite,
Every eye that stops to linger
On what someone else has got,
and feels the tightening in their chest.
He’s in every young man growing boastful,
Every worn out elder, drunk all day;
muttering false prophecies and squandering their lot.

He’s there – in every mix-up that spirals far out of control – and never seems to end, even when its beginnings are forgot.
He’s in every girl who ever used her wits. Who ever did her best.
In every vain admirer,
Every passionate, ambitious social climber,
And in every misheard word that ever led to tempers fraying,
Every pawn that moves exactly as the player wants it to,
And still remains convinced that it’s not playing.

He’s in every star crossed lover, in every thought that ever set your teeth on edge, in every breathless hero, stepping closer to the ledge, his is the method in our madness, as pure as the driven snow – his is the hair standing on end, he saw that all that glittered was not gold. He knew we hadn’t slept a wink, and that our hearts were upon our sleeves, and that the beast with two backs had us all upon our knees as we fought fire with fire, he knew that too much of a good thing, can leave you up in arms, the pen is mightier than the sword, still his words seem to sing our names as they strike, and his is the milk of human kindness, warm enough to break the ice – his, the green eyed monster, in a pickle, still, discretion is the better part of valour, his letters with their arms around each others shoulders, swagger towards the ends of their sentences, pleased with what they’ve done, his words are the setting for our stories – he has become a poet who poetics have embedded themselves deep within the fabric of our language, he’s in our mouths, his words have tangled round our own and given rise to expressions so effective in expressing how we feel, we cant imagine how we’d feel without them.

See – he’s less the tights and garters – more the sons demanding answers from the absence of their fathers.
The hot darkness of your last embrace.
He’s in the laughter of the night before, the tightened jaw of the morning after,
He’s in us. Part and parcel of our Royals and our rascals.
He’s more than something taught in classrooms, in language that’s hard to understand,
he’s more than a feeling of inadequacy when we sit for our exams,
He’s in every wise woman, every pitiful villain,
Every great king, every sore loser, every fake tear,
His legacy exists in the life that lives in everything he’s written,
And me, I see him everywhere, he’s my Shakespeare.

Love always,

Vikki.

Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

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Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

Freda and Barry sat one night
The sky was clear, the stars were bright
The wind was soft, the mood was up
Freda drained her cocoa cup

She licked her lips, she felt sublime
She switched off Gardener’s Question Time
Barry cringed in fear and dread
When Freda grabbed his tie and said

Let’s do it, let’s do it, do it while the mood is right
I’m feeling appealing, I’ve really got an appetite
I’m on fire with desire
I could handle half the tenors in the male voice choir
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I don’t believe in too much sex
This fashion for passion makes me a nervous wreck
No derision, my decision –
I’d rather watch McCalmans on the television
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it till our hearts go boom
Go native, creative, we’ll do it in the living room
It’s folly, it’s jolly
Bend me over backwards on the hostess trolley
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my heavy-breathing days are gone
I’m older, I’m colder, it’s other things that turn me on
Yes, I’m boring, I’m imploring
I want to read this catalogue on vinyl flooring
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Come on, let’s do it, let’s do it, have a crazy night of love
I’ll strip bare, I’ll just wear stilettos and an oven glove
Don’t give me no palaver
Dangle from the wardrobe in your balaclava
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I know I’ll only get it wrong
No angle for me to dangle, my arms have never been that strong
Stop shouting, stop pouting
You know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting
I can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, have a night of old romance
Poetic, frenetic, this could be your last big chance
Read Milton, eat Stilton
Roll with gay abandon on a tufted Wilton
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Then he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I’ve got such a lot of jobs on hand
Don’t grouse around the house, I’ve got a busy evening planned
Stop nagging, I’m flagging,
You know as well as me that the pipes need lagging
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it while I’m really in the mood
It’s years and years since I got you even semi-nude
Get drastic, gymnastic
Wear the baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I must refuse to get undressed
It’s chilly, I feel silly to go without my thermal vest
Don’t choose me, don’t use me
Mum sent a note saying you must excuse me
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really absolutely must
I won’t exempt you, I want to tempt you
I want to drive you mad with lust
No caution, just contortions
Smear an avocado on my lower portions
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Be mighty, be flighty
Come and melt the buttons on my flame-proof nightie
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Not meekly, not bleakly
Beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

How I Feel about David Bowie

Bowie

 

It has taken me a long time to start writing about Bowie.  I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say.

For most of the last two weeks, since his death on 10th January 2016, I have been listening to his music, and continually watching Youtube footage, and generally Googling images of him.  That in itself is not unusual; I very often spend my morning train journey to work listening to one of his albums or another.
But since his death, the songs have taken on new meaning.  I now listen to every note, every off-vowell, and every hitch of breath, with renewed ardour.  I look for it all.  Now that this sparkling commodity has run out, and there will be no more Bowie, his music has become all the more precious.  Whilst in some sense, Bowie has become a non-renewable energy; so fortifying and affirmative to so many, and now sadly run out, he will never really run out.  It is such a blessing of modern life, and the electronic age that we all hate, that generations to come, in fifty or a hundred years, will be able listen to those same off-vowels, and hitches of breath.  Our great, great grand-children, long after we are gone, will discover Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane, and will laugh at the lines in Jene Genie, and choke at that final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide, when he announced that Ziggy would never perform live again.

Those songs, and recordings, and shaky video footage, and photographs can’t be extinguished.  They live on, where mortal Bowie can’t, as a wealth of fortification for people who haven’t been born yet.

For me, Bowie’s message is; you’re okay.  David Bowie says you’re okay.  It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, whether you dance like a square; you’re okay.  “Hey Babe, your hair’s alright.”  Even though your face is a mess.  At those moments when you feel helpless, and like your life is out of control, and your body doesn’t look the way you feel it should, just remember that you’re okay.  David Bowie knows what’s inside you, and knows you’re a good person.

As an artist, what I find remarkable about Bowie is that despite his persona being ostensibly superficial; constantly changing, all glitter and sequins, and smoke and mirrors, it was all him.  Popstars nowadays are the public face of an army; in front of talented people behind the scenes who write the songs, and mechanically engineer the sound, and their voice, and promote them, and produce their outfits, find their clothes, get them dressed, style their hair, perfectly apply their make-up, and everything about them.

The classic image of a popstar sitting in a chair with people all around, producing a perfect appearance, is all too true.

However, everything you saw about Bowie was himself.  He dyed his own hair bright ginger over the sink. He applied his own make-up, even those distinctive images of Ziggy, and Aladdin Sane, with lightning bolts, and glittering alien foreheads.  He created every inch of those mystical, iconic characters, and the images which have become integral to our culture.

When you listen to one of Bowie’s records, every instrument is played by him.  Read the credits on an album sleeve; vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone, harmonica.  All him.

Bowie didn’t have a team of choreographers, and songwriters, and musicians (apart from Mick Ronson), and stylists, and hairdressers, and wardrobe assistants.  It was just him.

For me, that is the mark of genius, and true talent.  He was a star, with no help from anybody else.  Just him.

The other thing about Bowie is that he wasn’t copying anybody.  Uniquely in the music business, he didn’t follow in anybody’s footsteps.  He didn’t tribute history; he made it.  As Tracey Thorne says in her book Naked at the Albert Hall, Bowie invented whole new vowels, not content with those already available.

Many people, over the last two weeks, have commented on how personal this loss feels.  On the morning it happened, I opened my eyes, reached for my phone, and the newsflash had just appeared.  I immediately went in to tell my mother, and her reaction was exactly like I had told her about a family member.  There was no moment when she thought I might be joking, or it could be a hoax.  Just immediate grief.

David Bowie has always been in my family, as my parents were both enormous fans, and passed that love on to me.  I grew up listening to his songs.  When I was in my teens, we called our German Shepherd Ziggy.

Two years ago, I left home in the North at midnight, and travelled down to London with my Mother, on National Express overnight.  We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and stood in a queue of people for over two hours, all waiting to see the David Bowie Is… exhibition.  The tickets had been sold out for six months, so we were risking getting tickets on speck, as a small number are released every morning for that day.  As we approached the final stretch, with around five people between us and ticket desk, they brought down a barrier, and announced that tickets were sold out for that day.  After approximately two minutes of being distraught, we signed up for an annual membership to the V & A, and walked straight in. The experience of seeing his outfits, and shoes, and hand-written lyrics was something I will never forget, and one of the most special experiences of my life.

Part of the exhibition was a screen showing the video for Heroes.  I just stood, mesmerised, and watched it through around four times; watching his face come forward out of the dark background, and listening to his cracking, imperfect voice.  When it cracks, I can hardly handle it.  As Caitlin Moran says it perfectly, it’s like breaking ice.

My favourite part of the whole exhibition was a tiny scrap of tissue with his red lipstick blots on. It seemed so human, and at the same time so extravagant and glamorous. It was like looking at him.

The culmination of the exhibition was a circular room, with 180 degree screens, around 60 feet tall, screening his final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide at Hammersmith.  I had never seen it before.  I just stood there, with my mother, for around 40 minutes, watching it over and over.  That performance is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It’s unlike anything anybody has ever done.  Charisma like that, and a voice which is so flawed and imperfect, but absolutely breath-taking, and when the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile, like he’s pleased with himself at his own lyrics.  It’s magic.  I came home from London, and watched that video on repeat, solidly, for two weeks. I was even watching it silently, when I was talking to a Client on the phone in work.

Since the news broke, I have looked to Caitlin Moran.  As with all matters in life, I can always trust that she will perfectly articulate exactly what I want to say myself, but can’t.

In her Times piece, Caitlin opened;

“What a lucky planet we were to have had David Bowie. So lucky. Imagine how vast all of space and time is — how endless and empty, how black and cold. Imagine a tracking shot across the universe, nothing happening nearly everywhere, nearly all the time. And then, as it scrolls past our galaxy, you can hear, quiet at first, but getting louder as we close in, Rebel Rebel, coming from our Planet, from our Country, in our time, playing on tinny transistor radios, in a million bedrooms, as a whole generation, and the next, and the next, straighten their spines, and feel their pulses rise, and say; “This.  This is how I feel.  Or at least, this is how I feel now.  Now I’ve heard this”

And that’s how I feel.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000px

 

It’s Time We Knew The Truth About Kate and Gerry McCann

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None of us knows what happened to Madeleine McCann.  There are only a couple of people on Earth that do know, and we don’t know who those people are.  All that most of us can offer is speculation and conjecture, based on tabloid headlines, and news reports.  Some of the information might be accurate, and I’m sure there is certainly a lot missing.  I will therefore not presume to make any kind of bold statement, siding against or with the McCanns.  I don’t think anybody should be totally committal with their opinion until the information available is definitive.  Many people seem to have an absolutely categorical opinion, one way or the other, based only on a few words, or snatched rumours, or a glimpse from the corner of an eye on the news.  People argue vehemently, either for or against, without knowing what actually happened.  What I will do, however, is try to articulate the uneasiness I feel about two parents.

I should say, before I begin, that I am not an ardent researcher in this subject.  I know that many people spend a great many hours scouring the internet for facts.  I am not one of them.  Nor I have I particularly read a great deal on the subject, mainly because so much in the tabloids is untrue.  Any information I cite, I should warn, has been gleaned from the media, and websites, and newspapers, and has not been vigorously researched.  I am not a McCann expert.  Therefore, I apologise if any of the information I discus in incorrect, or inaccurate.  In truth, most of the information in circulation on this subject, and any subject, is sketchy at best.

As I said in my previous blog, the first thing that struck me as strange, when Madeleine first went missing, is Kate McCann’s words when she ran into the Tapas restaurant after discovering that Madeleine was missing.  She shouted; “They’ve taken her, they’ve taken her.”  Who are they?  If you use the word ‘they’, you must surely have a particular person, or people, in mind.  Either that, or you’re improperly rehearsed.

On the subject of Kate’s return to the restaurant after the discovery, I was interested to learn today that one of the questions the police asked Kate, one of many that she refused to answer, was why she left the twins in the hotel room.  Having discovered Madeleine missing, purportedly taken by an intruder, Kate left her twins in their beds, and ran down to the restaurant to raise the alarm.  The police wanted to know why Kate did this, and why she would leave the twins in bed, when whoever took Madeline could still be around, even still in the same room, concealed.  Why, if you knew there was someone in the vicinity capable of taking a child, would you leave your two toddlers alone?  Kate refused to answer this question, like all the others. 

The second thing I found amiss was Madeline’s Cuddly Cat.  From the first day that Kate McCann appeared on the news, she was clutching Madeline’s small toy cat.  In the subsequent weeks and months, every time Kate was photographed, or appeared on the news, at press conferences, or meeting the Pope, she was holding the apparently named Cuddly Cat.  An image was projected to the world of a grief-wracked, distraught mother, in a foreign country, clinging to the only small piece of comfort she could find, the only thing she had to hold onto of Madeline’s. 

I found it interesting to learn, some time ago, that apparently this cat of Madeleine’s had been rigorously washed in a washing machine during the initial days of her disappearance.  Why would a parent want to wash away any trace or scent of their missing daughter out of her most loved possession?  That cat would be something so close to Madeline, it would have her smell, and smudges, and sweat, and tears, it would have slept with her from birth, Madeleine’s whole presence would be tied up in that cat.  As a parent, why would you wash away the last traces you had of your child?

The facts and details of the Police reports are so uncertain, and so often contradictory, that I won’t attempt to dissect the intricacies of the case, because it is impossible for anyone other than the people in that apartment that night to know what is truth.  I will, however, briefly mention one or two facts which have particularly caught the collective attention.

The fact that cadaver and blood odour was detected by dogs, both in the boot of the car, and on Kate McCann’s clothes.  How did it get there? 

The fact that the entire hotel room had apparently been bleached and deep-cleaned from floor to ceiling.  If your child had been taken, why would you sterilise the crime scene with bleach, removing any evidence or trace of whoever had been there, and taken her?

The fact that the McCann’s continually make a theatrical performance of offering to take polygraph tests, and then back out, and have so far refused to take any lie detector test. 

The fact that Kate McCann refused to answer any of the questions asked by Police.

The fact that she felt she needed legal representation.  

If you wanted to find your daughter, and you had nothing to hide, why would you refuse to co-operate, and answer any questions?  What harm could be done, if you were innocent, by giving honest answers to the questions, and helping with the investigation. 

What I find is that the people most defensive of the McCanns are basing their support for them on very little, and are simply unwilling to believe that such nice, upstanding people, and doctors, could be in any way responsible for the death or disappearance of their child.  On the other hand, the people most critical of the McCanns appear to base their opinion on the facts presented, rather than emotion. 

Personally, I think we should focus on finding Madeleine, and give no further time to the books frequently published by the McCanns, and the publicity stunts, and television appearances.  I think it would be beneficial for the Police to be more forthcoming with the information they do have, and for us all to focus on the little girl, rather than her disturbing and media-hungry parents.  One thing I would like to know, however, is why the McCanns seem so unwilling to help the investigation, if they have nothing to hide. 

I think it’s about time we knew the truth about these people, one way or the other, so that we can either offer them our love and compassion as devastated parents, or bring them to justice as criminals.

 

 

Learn Your Parents’ Music

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I grew up with a Mum that taught me about David Bowie, and Marc Bolan, and a Dad that played The Smiths in the shower as loud as the stereo would go. I spent a large portion of my childhood being physically forced to transcribe James lyrics so he could learn them for the Karaoke. There was never any question in our house about what real music was. 

I did buy the Number 1 single every week, and knew the lyrics to Take That, and The Spice Girls, because I had to fit in at school, but I always knew, at the back of my mind, that that wasn’t the real music.  The real music was what my parents played at full volume when they were getting ready to go out.  The smell of hairspray, and perfume; the twist of lipstick, and the creak of leather jackets, will always be married to The Style Council, always The Style Council, and Rod Stewart.

My parents didn’t forbid me anything musically, but neither did they need to tell me that modern music was trash, because they demonstrated by example. For my sixteenth birthday, I was given a Motown compilation, not because I needed educating, but because I needed more.

 The same applied to comedy.  I was recently discussing comedy with some work colleagues between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, who sited ‘old comedy’ as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.  When I mentioned Blackadder, Steptoe, Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, Pete and Dud, Rising Damp, I was met with a room full of blank faces.  Similarly, when I returned from Glastonbury in the Summer, full of excitement that I had just seen The Rolling Stones, I was greeted by a room that was silent for half a beat, and the dissection of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna singles then resumed.

These blank faces of the young people, particularly the teenagers, lead me to wonder what their parents are teaching them.  I wonder, when I see one of these “Directioners”, or “Beliebers”; a new generation of technologically fuelled obsessives, why their parents aren’t teaching them that there is more to life than One Direction.  Why is no-one in their life teaching them what real music is?  Because it sure as hell isn’t Justin Bieber.

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Mania has always existed, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, right through to Take That.  Teenage girls have always been frighteningly obsessed by popstars.  For my Mum, before she fell irrevocably in love with Marc Bolan, it was The Bay City Rollers.  She sewed tartan into her jeans, and slashed her lip with a razor so she’d have a scar like Les McKeown.  Unfortunately, because she made the cut in the mirror, it ended up on the wrong side of her face.  However, whereas Beatlemania was on a certain level; girls screaming at airports and concerts, and then going home for their tea, happy and safe, the recent documentary about Directioners proved that this new generation of fans have taken things to a whole new level.  Aided by the internet, teenage fanatics can now devote their whole day, every day, to their chosen subject, and the hours spent online are proving extremely unhealthy.  The level of obsessiveness has already reached life-threatening depths.

Taste is very personal, and the kind of music, books, and comedy a person likes is what defines them, and what kind of person they choose to be.  These things are part of our identity, and how we signify to the world that were are angry, happy, goth, metalhead, pill-popping clubber, classically refined, jiver, swinger, crier, harmer, mod, rocker, romantic, new-wave, dubstep, rapper.  What we listen to is who we are, and there are no two people the same.  However, nowadays, that idea is already almost extinct.  The idea that no two people are the same is being rapidly extinguished by a generation of people who wear the same, listen to the same, watch the same, say the same, think the same, do the same.  Everything they do is the same, and the pictures they post of it on Instagram are the same.  What makes it dangerous is that they have no comprehension that there is an alternative.  For these young people, there is nothing else.

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Whilst recently browsing Twitter, I saw the hashtag #10songsthatmakeyoucry.  Bored, I clicked on the hashtag, hopefully expecting perhaps REM, The Smiths, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Jonie Mitchell, maybe Adele.  After scrolling for a good ten minutes, I didn’t see a single song listed that wasn’t by One Direction, Rhiana, Beyonce, or Justin Bieber.  No exceptions.  That was it.  There were no other artists listed, just hundreds and hundreds of people listing the same handful of songs by those four artists, perhaps with a Lady Gaga thrown in.  Where is the autonomous thought?  Where is individuality? 

I’m from a generation which, like those before us, take immense pride in the individuality of our musical taste.  When I was eighteen, at sixth form college, when questioned on your taste in music, what you listened to absolutely had to be completely different from anybody else in the group.  If you mentioned an artist or song that was mentioned by somebody else, instead of solidarity, you’d be labelled generic, and mainstream.  Your musical taste had to be eclectic, individual, authentic.  You had to actually like music for specific reasons, not just because everybody else did.  What has happened to that world?  From what I’ve seen, it’s slipping away.

If I have children, I won’t forbid them any music, but I’ll make sure I educate them well enough that they can choose intelligently, and find music that brings them to life.  Music should make you feel  so many things, and I want my children to have the power to choose from anywhere in history, rather than the top 10.

I want to grab these teenagers by the shoulders, each and every one of them, and scream into their faces that Lady Gaga is not the most inspirational artist ever to have lived, and play them some David Bowie, or T-Rex.  I want them to lose their breath as Nina Simone ends Feeling Good.  I want their throat to catch, as Bowie’s does, I want them to feel their heart quicken as Marc Bolan takes a sharp intake of breath, and they hear his words; ‘Take me.’  I want them to know what’s out there.  There is so much out there.  I want them to hear Bowie cry ‘Oh no, Love, you’re not alone’ in Rock and Roll Suicide, and feel a far greater solidarity than the one they get from having the Twitter Username ‘1DirectionFan32545223’.

Please, know that there is so much out there.  Your life can be enriched.  You can be so moved by people who play instruments, write their heart and blood into the words, and sing their entire soul out into the microphone.  Listen to somebody singing their own words, and you won’t even call Justin Bieber music. 

Listen to Alex Turner, if you want to be modern.  Music sung and performed by the people that wrote and lived it is completely different to the plastic, mas-produced, computer-produced pulp and trash that floods the world as music nowadays.  Listen to Mick Jagger.  Listen to Bob Dylan.  For God’s sake, listen to David Bowie.

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The Defence Is That She Appeared To Be Fourteen

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I think we were all equally shocked this week to learn that paedophile Neil Wilson, who engaged in sexual activity with a thirteen year-old old girl, has been given an eight-month suspended sentence. 

Wilson, who is forty-one, brought a thirteen-year-old girl to his house in Romford, where he watched her strip out of her school uniform, and she then performed a sexual act on him. 

At Snaresbrook Crown Court, the Judge, Nigel Peters, told Wilson that the girl was; “predatory and egging you on.”

The Prosecutor, Robert Colver, described her as; “predatory in all her actions”. 

What most people are finding difficult to comprehend is exactly why the Prosecution Counsel is laying blame with this teenage girl, and using such language.  Surely that defeats the object of the Prosecution being there?  I still can’t make sense of it.  Why would the Prosecution label a teenage girl, and a victim of child abuse, as a predator?  Alan Wardle, Head of Corporate Affairs at the NSPCC, said; “The child was 13 and the man was 41 – it’s pretty clear who the predator was.”

In describing this girl, the Judge said; “She appeared to look around 14 or 15, and had the mental age of a 14 or 15 year-old, despite being younger than that.”  Even if that’s the case, even she appeared fourteen; wouldn’t that still make her legally underage?  Their argument isn’t that she appeared to be over the legal age of consent, or that she was sixteen, but that she appeared to be fourteen

The argument for the defence is that this girl appeared to her abuser to be two years below the age of consent.  If she appeared fourteen, doesn’t that still make her a child?  If the main point of defence is that the girl appeared to be fourteen, doesn’t that still mean that Neil Wilson willingly took part in sexual activity with what was, and appeared to him at all times to be, a child?  According to his own defence, at no point did he believe she was a consenting adult.  How is that even a defence?    

Bafflingly, the Judge said; ‘There was sexual activity, but it was not of Mr Wilson’s doing.  You might say it was forced upon him, despite being older and stronger than her.’ 

If the man was ‘older and stronger’ than this teenage girl, as the Judge states, how could a sexual act possibly, in any way, be forced upon him?  I don’t know what either of them look like, but most thirteen year-old girls are pretty light, and sufficiently slightly built to be incapable of posing a significant threat to a fully-grown man.  How many thirteen year-old girls are so large that they pose such a threat to a man that the man is incapable of defending himself?  Is this teenage girl so incredibly enormous, and the man so exceptionally small, that he couldn’t at least push her off and get out of her way?  

To say as a defence that a man was incapable of fighting off a teenage girl, at least enough to get out of the situation, is insulting and infuriating.  

I think of my own dad when I was young, and the men I know, and most men in their forties, many of whom have teenage daughters with lots of teenage friends.  Most men, if a teenage girl behaved even slightly inappropriately, would jump like lightning and be out of the room as fast as their legs could carry them, rather than be compromised.  All normal men would flinch at the slightest hint of a provocative glance, and be out like a shot.  Most men in their forties, if faced with a teenage girl on the beach in a bikini, would turn all Hugh Grant, go bright red, and look very embarrassed, and probably start examining a rock, rather than look anywhere in that direction.  

The Crown Prosecution Service has said that the language used by the Prosecution was “inappropriate”, and David Cameron has made a statement to say that it is not appropriate for a prosecutor to describe a 13-year-old sex abuse victim as “predatory.” 

The question is, why was it said in the first place? 

I’ve seen several public comments on the coverage of this news item suggesting that the Judge has displayed excessive sympathy with the offender, and should come under personal investigation himself.  Whilst it’s extremely dangerous to throw around such suspicions, I can certainly see why people would take this view.  As it has been pointed out by several online commentators, no adult in their right mind would use the terminology used by this Judge, or describe a sexual act as being ‘forced’ on a fully-grown man by a thirteen year-old girl.

We all know that teenage girls can be provocative.  We all know that girls can look and behave much older than they are.  With make-up and the right outfit, a girl of fifteen could appear twenty.  Heck, most of the Rolling Stones have been married to or living with teenage girls at one time or another.  Teenage girls can be flirtatious, manipulative, and sexually enticing.  They can be devious, and lead men on.  It has been happening for centuries, I’m sure.  However, the majority of men would see a child for a child, and would back swiftly away, if only for their own protection, if nothing else. 

However, whilst a girl of fifteen can often appear twenty, in this particular case, the defence itself is stating very loudly that this particular girl did not appear twenty.  The defence in this case states that the man on trial, the man convicted of being a paedophile, at all times during the incident believed this thirteen-year-old girl to be fourteen.  Is that even a defence? He didn’t believe she was twenty.  He believed she was fourteen.  

The Judge told Wilson; ‘you have come as close to prison as is imaginable’, but when the Prosecution is calling the victim ‘predatory’, I don’t think that’s true.

 


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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