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What Leaders Should Learn From Obama

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It struck me recently that if there were a sudden approaching crisis; nuclear apocalypse, meteor heading for Earth, devastating tsunami; something to wipe us out like in the films, we’d have to turn to David Cameron. If our lives were about to be thrown into an enormous tumble-drier, the person we’d have to look to in our hour of need to guide us through fire and brimstone, and provide our beacon the way that Churchill did in the war, would be a slimly, mid-level suburban Estate Agent in a Marks and Spencer’s Suit and odd socks.

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Politically, Obama is no different to any other politician, so far as I can tell, but I don’t want to talk about politics, I want to talk about a man. If America were facing destruction, one has some degree of faith that Obama would stand up and lead his Country through turmoil, fates willing. This is why he was elected President. One can picture Obama being heroic, giving his people comfort. One imagines that Obama would do something. He would lead his people, which is precisely the point of him.

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What did David Cameron do when London rioted? He stayed on holiday until it was absolutely over. He was photographed playing games on the beach with his family while his city burned. I wouldn’t suggest that he isn’t entitled to a holiday. As a matter of fact, I argued at the time in favour of his being allowed a holiday. An un-rested man does not make a good leader. But he should have been back in London before the riots were even under way. He should have been there with the people, doing something.

Obama is not middle-class, or posh, or particularly working-class. Obama is casteless. He has a depth that Cameron is constantly trying to beat out of himself, as all middle-class Englishmen are. Cameron strives to be bland, and inoffensive; to appeal ambiguously and dilutedly to as many people as possible. Obama, however, exudes strength. To be frank, Obama is majestic.

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Even if only apparently, Obama gives the impression of being trustworthy. It probably isn’t the case, but he gives the impression. He looks you in the eye. When an English politician is asked a question, they immediately begin to flounder. I wouldn’t waste my breath asking one a question, because I wouldn’t credit the answer.

Who else but Barack Obama would release a video of himself pretending to be Daniel Day Lewis playing Barack Obama, making jokes about his own ears? Hilarious and endearing, because it seemed absolutely sincere. Obama isn’t afraid to laugh at himself, which gives the distinct impression that there isn’t as much to hide. By his very nature, Obama instils people with faith, and a sense of transparency.

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When was the last time David Cameron was moved to tears whilst giving a speech? When was the last time we saw David Cameron laughing? Would David Cameron ever release a video making fun of his own ears? Never. David Cameron is bland, and non-committal; always trying to manage the level of offence caused by his words.

Under the names POTUS and FLOTUS (President of The United States and First Lady of The United States), Barack and Michelle Obama use their Twitter accounts to give the people a glimpse into their personal lives, and invest a level of playful intimacy that would make David Cameron shudder. We know the name of their dog, and the colour of their shoes, and we see photographs of them in their twenties, when they were hot and dust-covered youths in t-shirts. In everything, there is a sense that they are deeply in love, and from all available evidence, it would seem that Obama is a very decent man.

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The Obamas kiss in public; they touch each other.   They dance on stage.  They seem every bit the passionate, connected couple they are. They aren’t afraid to show people how attracted they are to each other. Even in public, they see only each other. There is no doubt about their relationship. They aren’t afraid to be hot. That doesn’t happen in England.

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David Cameron strives to remove all emotion from every public appearance, and the text of every speech. I realise that we are much more formal in England, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s the reason I love us. I am one of the old-fashioned people that longs for things to go back to how they used to be, and who hate the erosion of English tradition. That said, I think Dave could learn a lot from the Obamas when it comes to being genuine, and connecting sincerely with people. When Obama speaks to a crowd, he speaks to every individual. He moves every individual, and is often visibly moved himself. Whether with tears or laughter, Obama connects with every person in the room. One always has the sense that David Cameron is merely getting through another obligation without causing too much of a fuss.

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Politics aside, I wish that Britain had a leader that made us laugh, and cry, and trust, the way that Obama does. I wish we were lead by a man or woman that cared about us. I wish our politics felt less middle-management. I wish we had someone to respect, and follow, and be proud of.

We’re not even American, and most of us look up to Obama. Most of us have been moved to laughter, or a lump in the throat, when hearing him speak. Most of us have swooned over Michelle, and admitted, in a drunken moment, that Obama is actually quite dashing. Isn’t it a shame that, as far as I can tell, the majority of Britons are completely non-plussed by David Cameron, and probably don’t have much of an opinion of him either way?

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As much I deeply adore the quiet London dignity of 10 Downing Street, and all the age-old tradition of Big Ben, and Parliament, and Macintoshes and Tube stations, and spectacles behind newspapers, perhaps America is helped by the theatrics of Air Force One, and The Oval Office. The White House is a dramatic stage, and Air Force One automatically turns any President into an action hero. Having said that, only somebody who truly is an action hero could viably assume that role, or they’d just look silly. I can’t help but feel that standing next to an American President in a blue flying jacket with an Eagle on the lapel, any of our English politicians, in their suits and socks, look distinctly like Mr Bean.

On a personal level, I really wish Britain could be lead by a hero again, rather than another Waitrose Dad trying not to cause too much offence. What has happened to the Churchills and Thatchers?

Let’s have heroics back in Britain. Let’s be lead by somebody who gives a shit. I want a man that will cry. I want a woman that will fight. I want somebody that will do something, anything, for us, with us.

Somebody like Obama.

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In Flabbergasted Suspicion of Samantha Brick

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“I fainted with hunger on one occasion – a minor hitch, eclipsed by the fact that I was being asked out on lots of dates.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2310797/Samantha-Brick-Joan-Collins-right-Any-woman-wants-stay-beautiful-needs-diet-day.html#ixzz2QoqeA3bc 

I’m not entirely sure what Samantha Brick is.  Sometimes I think she might be the secret Nom de Plume of some subterfuging comedian, probably Steve Coogan, or Sacha Baron Cohen, who has created a comedy alter-ego, and at any moment will unveil the coup to much commendation and hilarity.  Other times, I think there is a very deluded, damaged woman sitting somewhere in a flat in London, hammering her wrung-out soul into a laptop keyboard, and frantically, greedily absorbing the massive amount of ensuing attention; enjoying her moment in the centre of a media commentary storm. 

There is, of-course, the third possibility that the Daily Mail are actually, in fact, happily and proudly publishing the kind of dangerous bile that has been produced under Samantha Brick’s byline, and flourishing it with genuine good faith.  If this is the case, then the Daily Mail are as unsavoury as they are incendiary and bigoted. 

The first time “Samantha Brick” was a trending topic was when The Daily Mail published a piece which was essentially Samantha Brick explaining to the reader just how beautiful she is, how she can’t turn around without a man offering to buy her a drink, and how this entitles her to a charmed life, but slightly annoys her.  That was the crux of it; she is astonishingly beautiful, and so never has to lift a finger because of the special service she receives everywhere she goes, and that she is mildly irritated by the abundance of suitors banging down her door, and clinging to the spindles of her barstools.  Aside from feeling slightly bilious, and embarrassed for her, I wasn’t particularly enraged by this particular piece.  I just felt that it was the voice of a pathetic, egotistical woman, writing a solipsistic sonnet to her own physicality, in a cheap, barely literate anger-monger of a newspaper.  Laughable, irritating, but powerless.

Her latest pontificatation, however, is in a whole other toxic stratosphere.  “Samantha Brick” has once again been lifted from ignominy to Twitter trending topic and international point of discussion.  The difference this time is that far from being impotent, Brick’s article, with the opening sentence in bold; “Joan Collins is right.  Any woman who wants to stay beautiful (like me!) needs to diet every day of her life” is destructive and predatory.

The basic point of principle at the centre of the piece; that women must spend their lives watching what they eat if they don’t want to become obese, is one that all women know to be starkly true.  There is no woman, alive or dead, so miraculous that she can eat capriciously without exercise, and remain svelte and beautiful.  Being sensible, and cautious about calories is part of every woman’s life, whether they are actively trying to slim down because things have been let go, or just being careful to maintain a healthy weight, we must all bear the cross of careful calorie management. This much I completely agree with.  I even began to read Brick’s piece on the basis that I felt recognition in her basic principle. 

However, within a few words it all turns much darker, and spirals into some kind of macabre and eerie vortex, which becomes a window into the mind of a seriously disturbed individual.  For me, the first indication that I was heading down a dark road was in the first paragraph, as Brick describes how a dinner guest brought some very expensive French chocolates as a token gift to their host, Brick, and how she waved them off down the path after dinner with one hand, whilst the other hand was tossing the expensive chocolates into the bottom of the bin, and purposefully covering them with coffee.  “So when one friend arrived and thrust a hefty box of chocolates into my hand, I rewarded her with ice-cold contempt rather than the grateful smile she was clearly expecting.  At the end of the evening, that very expensive box of hand-made French chocolates was consigned to the bottom of the kitchen bin, the contents ruined by the coffee dregs I had deliberately poured over them.”

Turn a tolerant cheek for a moment to the fact that this person is being paid a large sum of money to publish in a national newspaper the arrogant and selfish workings of their mind, and boastfully display an unnecessarily hurtful attitude.  One person’s black and ugly interior monologue is not enough to bring about the Raptures. 

What is most shocking, and wilfully detrimental, however, is the progressively explicit endorsement of starvation, deprivation, and punishment, which unfurls in a thick smoke of congratulatory venom as the article continues.

No girl, or vulnerable woman of any age, should be exposed to such outright encouragement to starve.  There are websites that are condemned and shut-down for the promotion of eating disorders, and much public time has been spent in trying to prevent the media presenting any kind of positive viewpoint when it comes to an unhealthy relationship with food.

The fashion industry, and every corner of the media, has been forced to update its ideals, and to consciously encourage healthy weight in young girls. It might not always happen in reality, but the general consensus, at least in intention, is that an unhealthy attitude towards weight in any form should not be encouraged. 

Why then is it not acceptable for popular women’s magazines to promote skeletal celebrities as model ideals for women to aspire to, but a national newspaper can unquestionably brandish such unashamed dripping stimulus to starvation?

There is an underlying virulence in this woman’s words that, for me, suggests a long-term battle with personal issues.  Reading the article back again, in order to write this blog post, it is even more apparent to me that Samantha Brick is obviously struggling, but instead of being transparent about it, even asking for help, she is using the energy in a destructive way, rather than a positive way.  Instead of writing an honest, vulnerable piece about the struggle it would appear she is facing with body image, food, and self-esteem, she is instead writing aggressive, admonitory bile which will urge many teenage girls who read it to immediately embark on their own struggle.

Brick’s words are underscored with an edge that implies greater personal investment than merely being annoyed by the overweight.  There is an aggression behind every phrase like ‘any self-respecting woman’ that betrays an inability to attain the objectiveness, and removal of personal emotion that all self-respecting journalists are bound to strive for, and observe.  This isn’t even journalism, let alone good journalism.  It’s barely a GCSE essay. 

“The logic is simple and irrefutable: any self-respecting woman wants to be thin, and to be thin you need to spend your life on a diet.”

The use of insulting overtones portrays the writer as a playground bully, making hurtful comments about the other girls in a sickly-sweet voice, to crudely cover-over their own insecurities.   Likewise, ‘modicum of self-respect.’  The prose is absolutely adolescent.

“I have no intention of letting my body slide flabbily into middle age. I believe that any woman with a modicum of self-respect should watch her figure with the same vigour.”

She tirades angrily, sweeping the entire British public under her umbrella of scorn with reductive generalisations.  “I was glad to see the back of Easter this month, as it seems to have been hijacked by the greedy masses who regard it as a free pass to gorge on chocolate.”  And then the puerility really stretches its limbs, in this nationally published piece.  Brick is arrogant, self-congratulating, boastful, and inflated. 

“Not a morsel passed my lips. Chocolate, cakes, sweets and any other calorie-rich, fat-laden ‘foods’ are banned in my home.  For three decades, self-denial has been my best friend.”

Generations of hard-work, blood, and sweat in the name of feminism and women’s liberation are undone in the work of a few sentences.  All of the endeavor of hundreds of women for over a century to be taken as equal, and treated fairly, is pissed up the wall in the name of vanity;

“One of my biggest incentives is that I know men prefer slim women. In the workplace, male bosses will always give the top job to a woman who looks fit and in control, rather than one who looks like a bulging sack in danger of imminent cardiac arrest.”

Who is this benefiting?  It isn’t tough love and a caring nudge to being healthier.  This is downright malice, and the undoing of good by someone with an agenda.  Eventually, she does give a glimmer, and hints very slightly at the personal agenda this piece is evidently serving;

“I have some insight here, as I was overweight until I was 14 years old. Bitter experience taught me that the world pays no attention to dumpy girls.”

‘Dumpy girls.’  So what about any woman reading this article who happens, by some misfortune of fate, to not be six foot, six stone, with a face like Kate Moss, and the breasts to match?  What does this woman care for the thousands of ordinary women, size fourteen, bodies that reflect lives and shelter children, who are reading this vitriol and slowly crying, looking down at scars, and bumps, feeling that they, their bodies, and their lives mean absolutely nothing to the high-flying, high-intelligence of the likes of a beautiful national journalist?

Fear not, she does benevolently offer advice, but ever with back-patting self-promotion;

“Little wonder that in my mid-teens I decided to lose my puppy fat, transforming myself as I lived, for the best part of a year, on Marmite on toast (no butter)…The Polo diet paid off: I could wear whatever I wanted and looked fantastic. I stopped only after a stern lecture from my dentist about the damage I was doing to  my teeth.”

Chortle.  Then, however, it turns darker.

“I fainted with hunger on one occasion – a minor hitch, eclipsed by the fact that I was being asked out on lots of dates”.

That, for anyone not able to read the whole thing, is the very nearest you get to a capitulation, or entreaty for compassion, or help.  ‘I fainted with hunger on one occasion.’  That’s it. 

She’s immediately back to dangerous bile, picking off the weak like a sniper, with bullets of pure arrogance, and hurtful insult.

“I am 5ft 11in and slimmed down to a size 8. One of my lecturers was so worried she pulled me aside to voice her concern. I put her intervention down to jealousy, as she was a size 16”.

Towards the end it reaches another level.  As someone who has fought through their fair share of devastating teenage eating disorders with best friends and sisters, it’s easy to recognise a certain quality in someone’s words.  The final paragraphs of Brick’s piece are naked, exposed pain, visible to all but Brick.  She is displaying her own personal difficulty.  She just won’t admit it.

“My 20s were dominated by dieting, and I managed to stay a steady size 8/10. If I put on a pound or two, I simply skipped a meal. I actually enjoyed – and still do – the hunger pangs. I see them as a reminder that I am not pigging out on pizzas and fast food.   I’d have a large black coffee for breakfast, so strong the caffeine would make me tremble. For lunch I’d eat a bagel with the bread inside scooped out and replaced with salad. Evening meals were either sushi or egg-white omelettes.

To avoid culinary temptation, I even made a point of renting a house without a kitchen. Of course, constantly denying myself food was not and is not easy, but it has always brought enough rewards to make it worthwhile.  In Los Angeles, for example, where I worked as a television producer, I was never out of work and never without a boyfriend”.

It’s at points such as this that it is almost possible to feel compassion for a woman so clearly struggling.  The one or two moments of vulnerability, which I do suspect are inadvertent, do let you see the woman underneath the brassy sensationalism.

“Luckily for me, there is no better weight-loss incentive than a Frenchman. Pascal would not tolerate a fat wife and has told me that if I put on weight, our marriage is over. What more motivation do I need?  Today I am a size 12 and I never eat between meals. Elevenses isn’t an excuse to gorge on carbs – it’s just another hour on the clock.  I maintain a food diary. I never shop when I’m hungry, I always read the packaging, and I weigh myself every other day”

The reader is never far away from more dangerous motivational poison, however, even when wrapped so intimately with the unwitting self-confession.

“Like my female French in-laws, I follow an extreme low-calorie diet four times a year – one each season. I lose at least half-a-stone each time, though the side-effects mean that I don’t have the mental or physical fortitude to work. 

The world admonished Kate Moss for claiming that ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ but I’d go further. As I see it, there is nothing in life that signifies failure better than fat.”

I think Samantha Brick should not be allowed to write publicly.  I think she should be taken into counseling to address whatever issues she has.  I think the Daily Mail should be abolished, or taken over by somebody sane.

The question to ask ultimately is how this has been published in a national newspaper.  I imagine that every other soul-destroyed writer who has spent years hammering keys from morning until night for absolutely no money or gratitude will want to know why someone like Samantha Brick is able to write like this, and be paid presumably large amounts of money to be published in a national newspaper, when there are so many wonderfully talented people writing their souls for no money, who dream of the chance to write nationally. 

There isn’t an answer, really, other than the state of the British tabloid press.  For, we must ask, would Samantha Brick be published anywhere else than The Daily Mail?  Would she get into The Times, Guardian, or Telegraph?  The answer is most definitely not.  Thank god.

 

Maggie: The Passing of Part of Britain

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Whether you agree with her policies, or have, or not have not, been affected by her actions, a woman has died. Understandably, many people of this Nation take a strong stand, one way or the other, because of how Thatcher affected their lives. I would be the last person to discredit, or detract from the raw anger still felt by the people affected by the decisions made by politicians. What I find hard to accept is that so many people are using the day, and subsequent days of someone’s death to dissect and analyse their policies. Surely, this is not the time to question whether a woman was right or wrong in their individual actions twenty years ago, but to allow a moment to pass; to acknowledge that a woman has died. Right or wrong, Margaret Thatcher was a woman, a mother, a grammar school girl, and as big a part of our history as you can get, for better or worse.

In the first few moments after I heard the news, I clicked on the Twitter hashtag for Margaret Thatcher, and found it almost entirely swamped with messages relating to Hillsborough, and a petition called No State Funeral for Margaret Thatcher. I was flabbergasted. Leaving aside whether it is right or wrong for people to attach this issue to the Hillsborough tragedy, making it more about that than the woman who is dead, why shouldn’t Margaret Thatcher have a state funeral? She was the first woman prime minister, longest serving prime minister in living history, she was part of this country for a very long period or time. Right or wrong, she is part of Britain. Why should she die and be carried away without dignity, and the acknowledgement any historical figure deserves? Because she is that, if nothing else. Right or wrong, we all know who she is, don’t we?

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To see the images and slogans ‘rot in hell’, bandied all over the social media sites, and indeed the world, and press, to read the passionate vitriol directed at this figure, often by people who have no idea what she did or didn’t do, let alone were affected by it, saddens me. Can’t we allow a moment of respect? Be angry, be indignant, hurt, furious, vengeful, but ‘rot in hell?’

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I heard today that ‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead’ by Judy Garland is Number 1 in the download charts. Villain she may be, but witch?

It has also been debated whether or not Maggie is a feminist icon. Long ago, when I was about seventeen, and I first created my Myspace profile, my heroes were listed as Oscar Wilde, Oskar Schindler, and Margaret Thatcher. After I wrote a pontificating piece to a local newspaper about the downfall of the town, a family friend gave me the nickname Maggie Thatcher, one which I hold very dear.

Feminism isn’t defined by what you believe, or which policies you support, it is something much more than that. Isn’t it be possible for a woman who argues in favour of staying at home to cook, clean, and look after the children, and a woman who argues in favour of a career, both to be feminist? They are both arguing for their own choice. Feminism is about the power of women, and the respect they are given, and how many women in history have won as much power and reverence as Thatcher? How many women have stood on such a high pedestal of their own accord, not as a wife, or daughter, but as themselves? How many women have been heard by the world?

Margaret Thatcher walked into Parliament amidst a sea of suits, and polished shoes; her own heels the lone click on the marble floor. She stood shoulder-to-shoulder with men, looked them in the eye, shouted them down, argued her corner. She stood in a room full of powerful men, and held her head every bit has high as they did. If Margaret Thatcher did one thing, she fought. She fought while they made jokes about her handbag, and tried to break her spirit. It only made her stronger.

Isn’t the emblem of everything English a lion? Margaret Thatcher fought for what she believed in with the heart of lion. Many politicians conjecture limpidly for what they think will win votes, or what is in the best interest of a particular agenda. Margaret Thatcher, right or wrong, fought for what she believed was right. How many politicians can we think of, to hand, that have fought as she did?

Maggie is a feminist hero, for me personally, because she equalled men. Someone said of Sylvia Plath that she was one of the only women to write as well as a man. It may sound very un-feminist to say that, but in a man’s world, it takes a big woman to stand with men. Men have innate confidence that doesn’t need to be learned, or fought for. Men have the security of being in the dominant position from birth, from the cot, to the playground, to the office. Few women have come along who haven’t asked for an allowance for being a woman, or to be treated differently. Margaret Thatcher stood with the men, not against them, or under them, or above them on a pedestal. She stood alongside them. She also, in my opinion, showed that a woman politician doesn’t fight with an agenda, she fights like a mother, to protect what she believes is right. She fought for every policy like a mother.

I think we should put aside what has gone before, leave the analysing of policies, and debating, and take a moment to acknowledge a great force in our history. Take a moment, each of us, to find the good. For everyone, there must be something to admire.

It is so easy to be swept along, onto the bandwagon, and quite often we’re arguing for untruths and axiom anathema. Most of us feel positively or negatively without even knowing the full facts. The red tops are hard to fight against. Let’s leave aside all the politics, and mourn the death of a great woman.

I hesitate to quote Harry Potter, but as it was said of Voldermort; ‘You Know Who did great things; terrible! Yes! but great’. Whether for good or bad, Maggie made a difference. How many politicians have done that? How many politicians, prime ministers even, have faded into insignificancy without making impact or memory, or even marking their name across the world?

Let’s mourn the passing of a British force; a woman with backbone, and balls, and big hair. A woman who fought hard, took no shit, and made people respect her as an equal. A woman who looked people in the eye.

Let’s allow a moment to remember Maggie, rather than Thatcher.

Books Worth Staying Up and Being Poor For

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Lots of books are good, but there are those few books that keep us awake at night because they’re too good to put down, or compel us to spend that last £5.00, perhaps even forsake lunch in favour of buying that special find.

There are some books that have had me reading through the night, when I can see sunlight slowly brightening through the curtains, and hear birds getting louder, and I know that my alarm will be going off in two hours to get up for work, but I just can’t stop reading.  The tiredness becomes something at the back of mind, something irrelevant, and I’m spurred on by some magic literary adrenaline.  Equally, I have given up lunch hours in search of a particular book, and ended up starving hungry for the whole afternoon, or left myself without money because I couldn’t not buy that book I’ve searched for.  Nowadays we can order books online and have them through the letterbox the following morning, any book ever written, but I still go in search of that old-fashioned thrill of searching the spines of Waterstones, or better yet, a small, independent bookshop.  This thrill is even greater.

These particular books aren’t just good, well-written and interesting.  They have to have something exciting and enthralling about them.

We read books for different reasons.  We might read a crime novel for the rush of working out whodunit, and the intrigue and mysterious plot, or we may read a romance to swoon at Darcy or Heathcliff.  Sometimes we read books because the characters wrap us up in their life, or because the twists of the story keep our breath short and avid.  I usually read books for the language.  I’m attracted to novels written by poets, because one often comes across a sentence that you have to stop and re-read, and let yourself be filled with a glow because the sentence is so beautiful.  I think the corny expression is; ‘takes your breath away’.  I love books that make me laugh, and have exciting twists, but I love books that make me smile just by how beautiful the sentences are.

And so, for any one of these reasons, sometimes a book goes beyond being just good.  A good book can keep me glued to a chair all Sunday afternoon, totally wrapped up, or make me oblivious to the people getting on and off the bus, but sometimes a very special book will make it impossible to sleep.

These are the few that have kept me awake most recently.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett.

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This book combins all of the reasons I’ve already talked about.  The characters, the plot, the language, the whole novel just made me happy to be reading it, and I didn’t want to put it down.  I looked forward all day to getting home and picking it up.  It’s a novel with so much warmth, and vibrancy, and jumps between every emotion possible.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.

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What can I say?  I’ve read this book so many times, but I never tire of being swept up in the wildness and romance of it, being totally enraptured by the desperation and bleakness, and the LOVE! ( I felt I should type that in capitals).  Oh, the love.

Comfort and Joy, India Knight.

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This book, although categorised at chick-lit, is so much more.  I don’t usually read chick-lit, apart from Bridget Jones, but I was immediately wrapped up in this novel.  It takes you away from your ordinary life and suspends you somewhere warm, and enveloping, and comforting (hence the title).  The characters, the exciting plot, the humour, it’s just so endearing and welcoming.  I forgot what was going on in my own life and stayed in a safe, colourful pocket somewhere.  It has a good story, makes you laugh, and is full of colour.  This book made me very content, and kept me up until it was light out.

Death Comes to Pemberley, PD James.

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As an ardent Darcyist, I was totally carried away with this book, which is essentially very well-written fan-fic.  It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and if you didn’t know better, you would think Jane Austen had written it.  PD James is remarkable, especially when one reads her long list of accolades and awards, and has been able to write a true sequel, as though it were actually created by the author herself.  It quenches that thirst for all readers of Darcy and Elizabeth who wanted more than just the one novel, a century after the original, and wanted the story to carry on after the author had died.  How often does that happen?  And aside from all of that, it’s an exciting murder mystery, with a great whodunit plot.

It started when I stayed up through the night to read the Harry Potter books when I was a teenager (and twenty-something), and I will always love that feeling of being part of something communal and important.

Why They Shouldn’t Close Down Social Media During Riots

At 6.30 pm this-evening, there will be a debate about David Cameron’s plan to turn off all social media sites during times of riot.  Yes, this measure may prevent people conspiring and communicating; arranging meeting places, and drumming up hysteria, which is a very important factor, but there are two very big reasons that I personally think social media should stay open for business at all times.

 

1.  EVIDENCE

After the event, there can surely be few more effective ways of catching hold of the perpetrators of crimes than having cold, hard evidence published on the internet.  A tweet saying; ‘Let’s meet at 4.00pm and throw a firework through Topshop’s window’, or a photograph on Facebook of a grinning hoodie, proudly brandishing his new trainers for all to see,  and the inevitable boastful comments that would accompany it, would undoubtedly be invaluable in securing enough evidence for conviction.  During the riots of the last few days, I heard Caitlin Moran describe this very idea as ‘Giving them enough rope to hang themselves’.

We will never compete with their vanity and short-sightedness, and all we need do is sit back and allow them to incriminate themselves.

 

2.  POSITIVE COMMUNICATION

Only those people who relied on Twitter throughout the riots this week will appreciate the inadequacies and shortcomings of the televised news services.  While Sky News and the BBC were playing down events, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, and then when they eventually had to acknowledge it, showing hours-old footage, repeating the same limited cannon of clips, and creating a very limited perspective for viewers relying solely on television, some of us were on Twitter.  One only had to click on the hashtag #londonriots, and you were immediately inside the action.  People were tweeting from the streets, in the middle of what was going on, people were tweeting about what was going to happen before it did, so that the news spread across the internet, able to forewarn, and preclude.  Photographs were coming from journalists, live onto the Twitter newsfeed, reliable sources were sharing the experience with the world, ordinary people were able to ask for help, express their fear, and sadness, and unite.  It isn’t an exaggeration to say that on Twitter for those few nights the wartime spirit of the 1940’s was very much alive.  Matters were discussed, shared, and wholly illuminated and verified without bias.  There was no agenda to the information, and the sources provided photographs.  On the first night, before I’d even heard anything about it on the news, I lay in bed, glued to my Blackberry, until five in the morning, and I felt so immersed in the action, so much part of the London unity, that my own life and surroundings felt distant, and surreal.

I can never fully express just how important those few nights of shared communication were, to the people who needed help, and to feel part of a community.  To the people who were inside their homes, terrified, but comforted by the entire world, talking to them on Twitter, or those of us who were far away from London, and wanted to feel in-the-loop.  No amount of televised news coverage could have competed with the information shared on Twitter during the riots, and even in organising the clean-up process.  I hope the politicians make this a consideration in their decision.

Yes, people may have used the social media to organise, but an equal number of people were warned about where the violence was spreading, and were able to move away from the area, or pre-empt it.  I think, in this case, more good would be lost, by losing that valuable facility for communication, than harm prevented by stopping the conspirational organising.

 

 

A Pantomime for the Summer. Review: Merlin, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.

On Friday I concluded, definitively, that the perfect way to spend an English summer evening is in the park, with open air theatre, a basket full of food, and a blanket wrapped around you.  I spent another wonderful evening at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, this time to see Merlin and the Woods of Time.  The atmosphere inside the walls is beautiful; glasses of wine, picnic baskets, deck chairs, people snuggled in blankets, all as the sun is slowly sinking behind the trees, and the air is soft and chill.

The production opens in a burst of energy and laughter, with a full-scale theatrical number, musical ensemble, with the whole cast on stage (or should I say ‘On the bark chippings’?).  The laughter of the audience, in particular the children, pierced the air.  When the kazoos came out, and the cast began parading around, blowing them, it was hilarious, and you could hear children laughing unreservedly.  Every so often, throughout the performance, the quiet of the auditorium would ring with the mischievous chuckle of a child, clearly showing that the children not only followed the plot rapturously, but that they got the jokes as well.

Bright, rich costumes, and vividly coloured puppets created an exciting and vibrant feast for the eyes.  A clever device was used, in the form of two sports commentators (with stereotypical voices), who were extremely funny, and created a lot of energy, and, together with the rest of the cast, kept the performance highly dynamic.  The humour is hard to pigeon-hole, as it was mainly very family friendly, often decidedly so, but occasionally a line or gesture was thrown in that was unsuitable for the children in the audience, but hopefully went over their heads.  It wasn’t entirely child-suitable, but as a whole experience, it’s very family orientated.

The characters are larger than life, and make it a kind of pantomime, but with the alfresco freshness of Summer.  Mordred, for example, played wonderfully by Robert Mountford, enters with energy, boldness, and loudness.  Again, very cleverly funny.

Every so often a line, or gesture, absolutely lit me up with joy.  For example, Lancelot being described as; ‘A bilingual, metro-sexual fairy’, or the moment when a siren went past outside at the precise moment of David Hartley’s line; ‘It makes all sounds melodious’, with a small inclination of his head, which couldn’t have been better timed if it had been planned.

Robert Mountford had a tendency, being tall and dressed dramatically all in black, to steal each scene he was in, no less than his shining moment, for me, when he came in as though he’d been decapitated, with the costume making it look as though he were holding his head under his arm, and he began to dance, which was so delightfully funny.  The giggles of children and adults alike could be heard above the music.

Lancelot, played perfectly by Paul-Ryan Carberry, was a pompous, dense fop, but played with intelligent humour.

When I saw As You Like It last week, I fell in love with Rosie Jones and her Maxine Peake spunk.  This week, as Elaine in Merlin, she didn’t disappoint.  One of my very favourite moments of the night was when someone asked; ‘Would you like some wine?’, and Elaine replied; ‘I would not! I am having a pie’.  It was one of those beautiful Waynetta Slob moments, with perfect comedic timing.  The later scenes whirl up into a dizzying chaos, as potions are brewed and drunk, time is warped, and the stage is flooded with the entire cast.  Throughout one of the most chaotic scenes, Rosie Jones (or should I say ‘Elaine’?) is walking around the edge of the audience, hunched over, eating a pie that she has just fallen in love with, thanks to one of the potions, giving disgusted and aggressive glares at the audience members.

Natalie Grady, who plays Morgana, made two appearances as a seemingly unassuming cleaning lady, dressed in overalls and headscarf, singing the Vera Lynn song; We’ll Meet Again, which could be perfectly unremarkable moments in the production, but for Grady’s growling delivery, and northern tea-lady charm, which was hilarious.

Alan McMahon’s Merlin, a tall, spindly figure, was camp, dapper, and Leslie-Neilson-posh.  His delivery and performance were completely golden in terms of comedy, so beautifully effeminate, and twinkly-eyed, and nimble-limbed.  In terms of the funny lines, his delivery was spot-on.

Nicholas Asbury’s commentator injected high-energy comedy, usually installed just above the audience’s heads in the special commentator’s box, he was wickedly funny, and the scenes with Poor Dee The River Girl were hilarious, especially the fight with the White Knight.  Any time a man is wearing a platinum wig, and fighting another man twice his size, only good things will happen.

The finale is grand, with another large-scale musical number, which leaves you on a note of feel-good warmth and energy.  I got a real feeling that the cast love what they’re doing, and they want their audience to enjoy it.  As a production, Merlin feels very warm-hearted, with wit and pomp, and theatricality, but all in the bliss of a park on a summer night.

Another perfect evening in the park, it really is the only way to spend a summer evening in England.  Go, while you still can!

My Mum said she felt 'Pampered', what with the delicious picnic we'd brought, and the comfy striped cushions we were given by the lovely people on the ticket desk.

What kind of person takes part in a riot?

 

I live in a world filled with bowls of pasta, cups of tea, and Aaron cardigans.  I live a sheltered life in a town where very little happens.  On Sunday night I stayed awake all night, until 5.00 am, glued to Twitter, reading with horror about London being destroyed.  I have a deep love of London, of the places, street names, buildings, and the people.  Seeing the photographs of a very particular type of person setting it alight gave me a lurch in the stomach, and made me feel intensely sick.

Tonight, after following the events solely on Twitter, I turned on the news, and, as much as I hate clichés, my mouth fell open, and I almost cried.  Seeing the destruction and brainless violence, by people who won’t even show their face, brings me to tears.  How inhuman and de-socialised do you have to be, how intensely do you have to feel separate to the country you live in, to want to destroy it?

I’ve grown up in England, and feel it in my bones.  As furious and disenchanted as I am sometimes with the Government and the way the country’s run, I never feel separate to Britain; I feel part of something very special.  As an Englishman I feel part of a nation that once ruled an empire spanning most of the world, in spite of the fact that we’re a very small island.  In Britain we have something very, very noble and special, and only people who have come from outside and don’t feel part of it could ever want to hurt it.

The fact that a man was killed by the police (a man who pulled his gun out first) may have ignited the first fire, but the brainless vigilantes who are sucking everything they can find out of every shop, and burning every building they come across, are not looting in the name of Mark Duggan.

Living in quiet, middle-class England, I understand that the Police have shortcomings, and are often guilty of corruption, but on a basic level they’re there to protect us.  If I’m in trouble; if someone breaks into my house, or I’m attacked on the way home, I ring the Police, and they come.  If I ring them then shortly after, they come and fix my problem.  With a few exceptions, they are good men and women. Policemen do a job passionately, and they are a strong force to stand up for people who follow the law.  I wish desperately that I could make the young people in London who feel so outrageously indignant about Police brutality realise that you only get shot by Police if you shoot them first, or put yourself in a position where they point their guns at you.  People who work hard, follow the law, and lead normal, quiet lives, will never face the barrel of a Police gun, or any gun.  Mark Duggan died because of the life he lead.

Any sympathy that might have been afforded to these people, any respect, or consideration, has been wiped out in fire.  No-one will ever take them seriously again, and they’ve sealed the same fate for everyone else.  When the students protested back in December, I felt so strongly that it would have been far more effective, instead of rioting and causing violence, to sit in the road outside Westminster, and outside the party offices, in complete silence, to stop traffic.  Imagine if the politicians had to step over thousands of silent, staring faces, who wouldn’t move.  How much more dramatic and powerful would that have been?

Violence is one of those things in life which is totally counter-productive, and does the opposite of what you want it to.

The people destroying London are not British, and are not human.  British people would never destroy any city, let alone London, and I hope that doesn’t make me sound racist, but we love London.


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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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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


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 »

Share book reviews and ratings with Vikki, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

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