phew…..

I’m not a joiner-innerer…. never have been.

As a five year old I did a term at dance class and insisted on staying at the back with my mum instead of at the front with the littlies.

In my early twenties I did three pottery classes -followed about 8 years ago by a couple of terms of pottery (my friends and relatives have the  proof), a term of tai chi and just before I got cancer I started a Swedish massage course….but my health put a stop to that.

Some of my not partaking has been financial, some of it shyness….most of it the deep hole of not joining in that I dug in my teens and stuck with most of my life.

The thought of walking into a strange place, full of unknown people, to do a thing I don’t know if I’ll be any good at – has been socially debilitating.

Al and I went for a one day glass course a couple of years ago and I liked it so much I bought a kiln…. and decided that I should say yes to things more often.

And I have… (a bit)…. volunteering and joining in things….
But classes have still eluded me – they are the last bastion of scary joining in – so when coming off my anti-depressents in the middle of winter left me…. well…. invigorated, with a new lease of life and a yearning to do things (you weren’t expecting that were you)?
I started eyeing up  my local social club…they have exercise classes….I saw ladies carrying mats and drinking bottles in… but no…. my phobia held firm and I was saved from ‘proper’ joining in by my friend Bang who lives in my village and asked if I wanted to try yoga…in her home…just the two of us – and I said yes.

Our yoga sessions now involve three of us and almost always have a follow on session involving tea and cake and putting the world to rights from a fairly left wing perspective – and I love them.

But anyway…long winded preamble, really just to say, I went to an exercise class today, at my local social club, with the ladies with mats and bottles (turns out most of them have special yoga socks too)…it was PiYo and run by the lovely, mum of one of Rafes school friends.
I got through it…it was a bit confusing but I managed to fight the urge to hide under a table and just sat out for the bits I couldn’t cope with – to be honest – I think I prefer my yoga straight…and slower…and thoughtfuler…with time to breathe my way into positions…but something to get the heart pumping would be good.

Putting my boots on to leave and the hall starts to fill up with ‘more mature’ ladies and it appears the next class is ‘Strictly come exercise’ or summink like that…. its dance based step exercise….also summink like that.
So…as taster sessions are free…I thought why the heck not and stayed.

Older ladies are friendlier and chatty and the class was fun and funny….especially at the back where it degenerated into farce with lots of make it up free form dance and me always going left when everyone else was coming right…. I think I’ll join in again next week.

But just the one class….as I went for a quick warm under the duvet with a coffee when I got home and Rafe woke me when he came home from school.

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Coffee chains are shit….

…and in so many ways.

But like many things that you know are ethically/politically a ‘bit shit’ you keep on buying their coffee occasionally for the ‘coffee shop experience’- a weak echo of the original 17th/18th century coffee houses -but still… a place you could tarry a while and read a free paper over a coffee that wasn’t just brown water with some bitterness to it – you could even grab a sofa if you timed it right.
It’s not like Mr Eclectic Chicken and I frequent them often – I think if I had a lifestyle that involved buying an expensive coffee every day I’d have slit my wrists or become a yak farmer in Mongolia by now as an alternative…. but yanno…. sometimes when out shopping you get that ‘I deserve a silly priced coffee and perhaps a muffin’ feeling and it’s usually when in a ‘retail experience’ location where an independent seller of beverages can’t be found

These rare events in our lives have fallen in a cluster of 2 of late…. we’ve been a captive audience in an out of town Tesco – so that must have been a Costa and today a service station where it was a Starbucks.
Both times it was a thoroughly depressing way of receiving what is now, that so many places sell decent coffee, a fairly average beverage. The staff were slapdash (I don’t blame them on their wages), the place grubby, the tables uncleared… the decor no longer any sort of shabby chic but just shabby and shit.
It was thoroughly depressing and full of people looking like they were ‘trying’ to have the coffee shop experience whilst simultaneously trying to ignore dirty cups and sticky puddles.
You can’t take two instances as a reason to give up on something, I hear you cry.

But fuck it coffee shops have been on tipping point a long time. I just decided to give up Christmas….I gave up mobile phones earlier this year and anti-depressants the other month and I’m on a fucking roll for giving up the modern day shite I’m expected to find intrinsic to my life.

Costa…. Starbucks…. your coffee just isn’t good enough for us to justify buying it off you – we’re middle aged – we already own a thermos flask and when we’re nowhere near a pleasant little independent cafe- we’re about to start using it.

my last christmas….

I love Christmas…. actually..no…lets start again – I love spending time with people I like, I love doing things in the long dark part of the year that cheer me up… I love good food…I love giving and receiving presents.

None of that…even all combined outweighs the stress and misery of ‘doing’ Christmas.

Christmas is just a consumerist habit for most people… like easter and valentines day – neither of which I do because a) I’d rather eat my chocolate in more cost effective ways and b)celebrate my love for my husband in a more personal way…at a more personal time. The commercialism of both the latter occasions makes me feel sick and makes me totally despair as to what sort of society we have become.

The one thing all three events have is some kind of christian overtone, undertone wombling free…. and I’m not a Christian…I don’t believe in a god…I don’t do organised religion – so why on earth am I clinging to the big C. this last, organised religious holiday and high-day?

Pressure is the answer…social and familial pressure. The social pressure of conforming I’m usually very good at flicking the V’s to…. but family pressure is a trickier biscuit. One never likes to offend ones family members…does one?

For at least the last twenty years I’ve threatened an end to christmas… and I’ve slowly stripped it down to a more minimal and bearable affair… I’ve always been happy my children going wherever they think they’ll have most fun and can count the extended family christmases I’ve had as an adult on the fingers of one hand.
I also like good food – but actually a roast dinner at christmas doesn’t taste any better than a normal roast dinner. In fact, having turkey makes it less enjoyable and goose is SO expensive because it’s christmassy – the last Christmas my husband and I had on our own we had steak and salad and I’ve never done the whole overflowing trolley thing in the supermarket because I worked out years ago how much food you ‘really’ need to get through a two or three day holiday.

So that just leaves presents… I love getting presents…I love making people happy by buying them just the right thing…. but be honest – how often do we manage to hit the giving and/or receiving sweet-spot under pressure of christmas shopping.

I used to tie myself up in angst knots for weeks, trailing round shops looking for exactly the right thing until a few years ago when I just said ‘fuck it’ and started just buying people ‘something’…. and yanno…no-ones ever mentioned a slide in standards so i presume they couldn’t ‘feel’ the months of pressured angst, sweat and tears I wrapped every present in. I say this with the proviso, of course, that sometimes I do see things I ‘know’ people will like at odd points in the year and instead of doing the thing I’d most like to do i.e. give it them straight away and make them randomly happy-  I hide it away to try and relieve my pre-christmas pressure build up.

This year… the husband and I have no kids around (one is at his other parent and the elder is going to come and house-sit for us) and we are going to Marrakech… where they don’t ‘do’ Christmas. We’ll be eating nice things because we’re somewhere foreign, being happy because we’re together in slightly warmer climes and…well…. that’s it… what more is there?

So now…as we approach the beginning of December I have most of the presents I need to buy this year…. the ones I haven’t got are people I’m most likely to see something for in Morocco… most of my stress is trying to help my husband as he’s still at the ‘fretting for months to get something really special’ stage of buying presents to celebrate the birth of someone he absolutely doesn’t believe in. I have no food to buy (though I have made Christmas cakes…one for me and one for my daughter… that might have to end too) and we’re not going to buy a tree because we won’t be here…. if the house sitter wants a Christmas tree she can do what we did when she was little and paint a branch to hang things on.

Right.

So this is my last Christmas… I hope my husband will be joining me in ditching this last bastion of consumeristic christian based diktat next year.

…and yes…. this means you don’t have to ever buy me a present for Christmas again or send me a card. I suggest the radical solution of buying yourself a present to cheer yourself up in the depth of winter instead of buying something for me…or next time you see something you think would make me smile… get it for me because you love me and give it me whilst the feeling is hot or send me a postcard to say you thought of me.

That’s what I’ll be doing.

giving it some lols for cancer

 

This morning I tried to be normal and join in with something- it was the ‘secret’ breast cancer thing – yanno- you post ‘there’s a squirrel in my car’ or ‘I’m thinking of getting butt implants’ on social media and then anyone who comments or likes the post gets a jolly message about it being a big secret game for breast cancer awareness.

I hoped that joining in would make me feel a part of ‘something’ but almost immediately I regretted it and felt worse each time I passed on the ‘secret message’ by private memo until eventually I just went back and quietly deleted the original post…

Tomorrow is children in need day – which I also don’t join in with because my misgivings about it outweigh the enjoyment so many people seem to find in the dressing up, having fun and ‘joining in’ malarky…. we’ve just had ‘poppy day’ too …at which I head against the perceived wisdom year after year by wearing a white poppy and not supporting our present day troops and I don’t join in and buy the annual ‘song’ or collectables made from genuine WW1 shellcases.

It’s not that I’m a grumpy ‘not joining in’er’…I’m just deeply suspicious of mass events based on a moral standpoint of some sort….like ‘think of the children’. That phrase always reminds me that the government actually don’t give a flying fuck about children – if they did child poverty would trump paying for wars every time. It’s not just government…they pass the onus of caring on to  massive charities  and these behemoths seem more about maintaining their own positions than the thing they are supposed to be fighting for.

I’m aware that I over-think things sometimes…. but this morning I thought for once I’d let go and run with the populist flow and actually….it very soon felt like poo….

Maybe it’s partly because I’ve had cancer (an atypical non hodgkins lymphoma attached to my colon – seeing as you’re asking) and being all jolly and secret about it in a ‘ lols and haha’ sort of way feels like a betrayal of the days I spent in agony vomiting on the floor, having intrathecal needles stuck into my spine, being too ill to spend a whole christmas day at home, shitting myself, shooting stomach acid out of my nose through a tube etc etc etc…

…it felt so very wrong, for me, to treat cancer in a way that makes it feel in any way trivial.

If you enjoy the whole joining in with charidee ‘events’ thing…carry on…. but I’ve just had a short, sharp reminder that its seriously not my thing.

Driven Grouse Shooting

I got an email this morning to say the petition to ban driven grouse shooting had been discussed in parliament. Here’s the debate if you are interested.
As with many debates, in parliament and elsewhere, one side argues from a position of looking at the worst of a situation and the other side argues using examples of best practice. From those polarised positions it’s always difficult to find a middle ground.

It’s a complex argument….most arguments are and I both despair at the stupidity of some MP’s, marvel at the depth of knowledge of others whilst simultaneously spotting both those riding their own hobby-horses and those who have probably been invited to a decent dinner or two to spout the right lines.

Prize for flowery rhetoric  goes to Rishi Shunak – Conservative MP for Richmond and who sits of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs committee he says…

“Whenever a ban is proposed, it is incumbent on us all to be certain about who that decision would impact on. To many, the image of the losers of a ban on grouse shooting seems clear: old men of a bygone age, sporting tweed jackets, expensive hobbies and outdated views. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real victims of a ban are not caricatures; they are ordinary working people in constituencies such as mine in North Yorkshire—the farmer’s wife who goes beating at the weekend so that her family can make ends meet through difficult times; the young man able to earn a living, in the community he loves, as an apprentice to a gamekeeper; the local publican welcoming shooting parties with cold ales and hot pies. Let us be absolutely clear: those who support a ban on grouse shooting should do so only if they are prepared to look those people in the eye and explain to them why their livelihoods are worth sacrificing.”

He’s obviously lost sight that the ban proposed is on driven grouse shoots but other than that – he’s right… those who go grouse ‘shooting’ would not really be the losers. The vast majority of people who can afford £3,000 for a day’s shooting are unlikely to lose out… they’ll just move on.
E J Churchill, based in Oxfordshire, for example offer shooting trips abroad they claim their “extensive resources and expertise in the game shooting world covers such places as Spain (partridges), South America (duck and dove), Turkey (wild boar and ibex), Iceland (Ptarmigan and Goose) and Africa (plains game)”. Here is their International Sporting Brochure.
Basically if you can’t shoot one thing in one place….there’s always something somewhere else.

So yes – ban driven grouse shooting and some of the trickle down money in the rural community would cease to trickle down just like it does in the rest of the country when those at the top making large amounts of money decide not to trickle it down…but when you can afford a 21st party for your daughter with dinner laid out beneath the Palladian colonnade,  fireworks erupting in time to angsty anthems like The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and living statues draped in togas filling the house’s lemon-coloured alcoves. Where they spent money on a marquee full of professional dancers on podiums for droves of naughty boys to ogle…you’d think they would have the means to be able to trickle money down into the local economy with or without driven grouse shooting.

Like the bigger picture of ‘austerity’ it is a choice… a way of keeping money in the hands of the very rich and a way of keeping that farmers wife grateful for the pittance a days beating will pay.

I know E J Churchill (the company name of Sir Dashwood and his wife) and their ilk are not typical of all shoots… my ex father-in-law was a member of a consortium who owned a bit of land which they held for shooting, they paid a part-time keeper and they managed the woodland and stocked it with pheasant…and they shot the pheasant and they all filled their freezers with pheasant and they ate the pheasant.
It was a hobby, that provided some local employment and some good free range meat.

Personally, I’m not against shooting things you can eat…as long as they are eaten.

When I lived in Suffolk I had a friend who used to supply us with a free goose at Christmas because they had links to a large shoot where most of the birds shot were just bulldozed into a hole to rot. There were too many for the local game auction and butchers to be able to sell.

I naively asked why the those partaking in the shoot who had paid their vast amounts of money didn’t take them home and the answer was that each gun is only allowed to take home a brace (two) birds. That is standard practice whatever the sort of birds shot… be they wildfowl, as was the case in this instance, or pheasant, or indeed – grouse.

Most shoots will restrict the number of birds shot in a day to, let’s say, 150 – 250 and the number of guns to 8 – 10. You can immediately see there are a lot of dead birds needing to find a home….maybe the beaters get a couple of birds too and that way their minimum wages* don’t feel so bad.
So at the end of your day’s shooting you accept your two (often plucked and oven ready) birds and off you trot…. so it’s seriously not a day about shooting food.

Whilst on the subject of food…. remember that local pub landlord selling beer and hot pies to the shooting party – I’m sure he exists but so does the £1000 elevensee bag and the sort of client interested in champagne and caviar at 11am isn’t going to be having a pie and a pint at lunch time.

I haven’t even started on the rights and wrongs of the environmental and ecological issues surrounding driven grouse moors… but that’s not my bag today… my bag is the same as in most debates that go through parliament at the moment. The Tories just put their support where the money is and then they also claim to be supporting the little people too… the farmers wife, the gamekeeper -the little people who depend on the largesse of the big people and this is most apparent in traditional rural constituencies where the feudal system isn’t quite dead and buried.

But trickle down economics isn’t working is it? It’s still only the very rich (or the very grateful) who know the taste of grouse.

*Commercial shoots will pay minumum wage but most small shoots pay much less for a day’s beating as people will go along to be a part of the day.