Exchange- not always Fair

The cross channel ferry, in this last week of summer term is full of excitable teenagers; two groups, seemingly, occupying every part of the ship, circulating round and round, galumphing through the bars and lounges, spreading over seating areas, thronging into the tiny shop, the games area and the restaurant, exclaiming, playing music, shrieking when they see each other. They rush past us in twos and threes. ‘I wanna buy something!’ ‘Let’s go outside!’ ‘What shall we do now?’
After coffee we descend to the salon with its recliner seats to catch up on some sleep, but it is full of adolescents, rucksacks, sweet wrappers. We are rushed at by their beleaguered teachers, whose dubious pleasure it is to shepherd their charges and bring them back unscathed.
Foreign exchanges were available when I was a schoolgirl, too; only as my parents were unwilling to pay for them, I’d be among the handful of girls who stayed behind and attended school. I can’t recall what we did, we leftovers. Revision, perhaps or some extra language study and conversation. I pity the poor teachers who were saddled with us, who had to find us something to do!
I offered my own offspring an exchange each, which was rejected by Offspring One, who harboured fears of being incarcerated with a strange family and having to eat a sensible, healthy diet. He chose to be a leftover. Offspring Two, however waited for the optimum moment to remind me I’d agreed to a French exchange, then when I enquired the destination, coolly told me ‘Canada’.
The exchangee came to us first. Catherine. She was not Canadian, but American, from Texas originally. She was tall, world-weary, unimpressed. She was an ocean away from my daughter. We served meals, attempted chat, remained polite while she chewed and made acerbic remarks.
Husband suggested a weekend trip to Paris. We packed our tiny Peugeot 5 and took a ferry across the English Channel then drove down, stopping on the outskirts of France’s capital in a budget hotel and taking two rooms. We got a double decker train into Paris to take in the sights: The Louvre, The Tuilleries, Notre Dame and The Tour Eiffel-sending the girls up and staying down ourselves to save money. They trudged after us as if dragged on leads. Next day we visited Fontainebleau and Versailles before heading home the way we’d come.
On the return ferry we bought meals from the self-service restaurant, where Catherine [and also Offspring, who followed suit] chose a meal and a desert. At the table our protégé ate one or two mouthfuls of the meal and pushed it away before tucking into the pudding.
‘Are we gonna eat again on the ferry?’ she drawled, chewing.
Husband frowned into his newspaper. ‘No’ he said, without looking up.
At last we arrived at Portsmouth. ‘That was cool!’ she suddenly said as the wheels rumbled down the ramp, showing enthusiasm for the first time. If we’d known she was to enjoy our descent from the gaping mouth of the ferry so much we could have saved ourselves a packet.
We did nothing else with Catherine, leaving entertainment to the school to provide. Offspring confided that Catherine had raved and boasted to her classmates about her French trip.
After she departed, Offspring prepared to make her own visit to the host family-Catherine’s own parents and sister. I sat down with her to share my hopes for her ambassadorial role, expressing my desire that she behave with impeccable manners, a desire that she asserted she understood very well. She went.
Catherine’s parents were charming to my daughter, taking her out and about, to Niagara, amongst other places. Offspring got on very well with Catherine’s younger sister as well as most of the Canadian schoolgirls and had a most enjoyable time.
And that was that; many lessons learned-and not only French!

Diary of a Consort

stillettos

Wincing, she sinks down into the pink, upholstered couch in her suite, reaches down to ease off the shiny, nude Christian Louboutin shoe with its killer four inch heel. The skin underneath has inflated into a padded blister. She sighs. At least there will be some familiar faces at this evening’s banquet.

This afternoon was a crushing bore of traipsing around, taking tea. Tea! Who likes fucking tea? Everyone knows Americans drink coffee! And she was expected to have some kind of orgasm over the tea set she was given. A tea set! Apparently it’s been made by some fancy British designer she’s never heard of. Oh yes-she went through the motions, said ‘wonderful’, claimed to know this Bridgwater person’s work. She rubs her foot. It might  make a Christmas gift for one of the staff, she supposes.

Then she’d had to trail after Don Fatso while he looked at golf trophies and had to pretend to be interested. As if! She’d have liked to have walked into Harrod’s store or to have sat in the front row at a catwalk show, or to have spent the afternoon in the spa, but no-she’d had to look at golf trophies.

No-there is still more than a week of this interminable tour before they can go home; more boring tea parties, banquets, politicians and their frumpy wives and husbands. More tedious hand-shaking, small talk, having to be entertained while he has his meetings, does his interviews, makes more embarrassing remarks.

She rises and limps to the dressing room, where rails of designer gowns swathed in dust covers jostle and shimmer, sighing as she runs her hands over the luxurious fabrics, pulling a sequinned bodice across her chest, remembering the last American wife who visited the palace and wore a cardigan. A cardigan!

Of course she’s made her own errors, like having her hair loose and wearing a floaty scarf for their arrival at that tiny, scabby airport, where she’d had to walk across the tarmac with hair and scarf across her face and then, to top it all he had to grab her hand again, like the last time and he knows how much she hates it; so at least the breeze gave her an excuse to brush his hand away and it looked like she was holding her hair back. Whenever she clicks the giant screen on there it is again-her image, her hair blown across her face, the silk scarf whipping sideways like a garrotte.

A glossy pink nail has chipped and she clucks in annoyance. Soon it will be time to ring through for a bath to be run, for the beautician to start her make-up, for the stylist to create the casual sweep of her hair, for the dresser to attend.

He’s in one of his moods this evening; pissed because he didn’t get to line up with Prince Harry and that bitch, Meghan! And not the other two, not William and Kate, either. She’s glad, though. It meant that there was no competition in the style stakes, not Kate’s skinny, model-like body, not Meghan’s dusky beauty, not either of their dewy, youthful looks. She peers into the mirror. Her own procedures have stood up pretty well to the travel and the late hours- with a little help from the beautician of course and that old hag, Camilla is no contest.

Not much more of this. Soon they’ll be back in The White House and she can go back to choosing the flowers and getting her summer wardrobe together. With luck he will be too tired and too busy to make any demands and maybe she should think about having her face re-lifted? That should string things out for a while. He can always buy some women in. She smiles into the mirror-as much as her lips will stretch…

 

 

How do you Watch?

My maternal grandmother measured around four foot six inches in height and looked about the same distance in width. She was a complex character, at once merry and childlike but also prone to emotional outbursts. As a young child I adored her and loved nothing more than to snuggle up in her bed [once my austere, child-hating grandfather was up] listening to her nonsense rhymes and the funny stories that caused her to laugh with an infectious guffaw.

She ate an appalling diet of cream cakes, sweets and puddings, never moved unless she had to and lived to a ripe old age of ninety-eight.

She was also addicted to television, watching it for as many hours as it aired, which in those days was not twenty-four/seven but test card to close-down, when the screen would diminish into a tiny dot and disappear. She loved to sit on the sofa munching her way through a bag of sweets and watch whatever was on, distracted only by the sound of an approaching ice-cream van tinkling its jolly, summoning tune, at which she’d reach for her bag, withdraw a note and send one of us out to get a round in.

Spending time with my grandparents became trickier as I got older. The nonsense rhymes lost their appeal along with the long sessions of lolling on the sofa watching endless TV. One of her favourite programmes was ‘Peyton Place’, an American soap opera of the sixties which kick-started the careers of such actors as Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow. We children were not allowed to touch the TV buttons, on pain of the wrath of my grandfather, who also considered that the court drama ‘Perry Mason’ was too ‘deep’ for us.

During stays longer than a couple of days I’d feel an urgent need to get out and away from the endless hours of television, although the soulless estate the claustrophobic bungalow occupied was not over-conducive to walking. I’d wander the identical streets and stare into the windows of the shops in a small row called ‘The Cut’. At last, in an area of wasteland near to the estate I discovered a diversion that would take me as near to heaven as a pony-mad child could be: a riding stables. Thereafter I spent all my pocket money riding and any other time cleaning tack, mucking out and volunteering my services.

Grandma would be astonished to see how many channels there are on TV now and even more amazed at the ways we can view; recorded, I-player, Netflix and the rest. But what astonishes me is that despite the plethora of footage of one sort or another, how little there is that is worth devoting any time to. Since we returned from travel we’ve watched a so-so detective serial, some historical drama and the news. We almost never watch anything on commercial channels except for the channel 4 news.

The future of TV is even more uncertain as the young turn away in favour of alternative screens, gaming and interactive viewing. So It’s unlikely I’ll follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, few as they were!

Behind Him [part 2]

Part 1 of this story can be found in last week’s post…

Behind Him [Part 2]

                She stares unblinking at the man opposite her. It is her husband’s press secretary, immaculate in his dark suit. Why hasn’t he sent a woman?

He smiles. “I guess all this has been pretty hard for you, right? It would be tricky for someone with a political or legal background but-“

“Mister Spicer, if you mean I am an uneducated bimbo and of no consequence you can come out and say it. Everyone else has.”

He leans forward, smile undiminished. “Melania, your husband needs you there. He needs you to take up your role as first lady. You won’t need to do much except attend functions, support charities and stuff. There’s a team to help you. They’ll tell you what to say and what to do. You’d only need to turn up and look nice. It’s just for show.”

Just for show. She looks down at her manicured nails. “Mr Spicer I have a job. It is to look after my son. He is only ten years old.”

When she looks up the secretary’s smile has left his eyes. “I believe your parents are quite involved in caring for your son, Mrs Trump-am I correct?”

She feels hot now, here in this office with its automatic climate control and leans down to take a tissue from her bag, nodding as she dabs at beads of sweat on her brow.

“And they’ve been given an apartment right here, I think, just so as they can look after your son? That was pretty generous of your husband, right? And of course their continued life here in the States will be subject to immigration rules.”

As Melania stares at her lap she feels the tight stricture of the net she has placed around herself tauten, breathing in shallow gulps to steady herself before raising her head and nodding at him.

“We’re prepared to be reasonable, Mrs Trump. We can give you some time to organise things here. Let’s say you’ll move in when your son’s school year finishes this summer. How does that sound?”

She thinks of life here without her parents, without Papa. At least when she moves out of the Towers they’ll still be in the country.

“Yes Mr Spicer. I’ll move in the summer.

 

“But this is where you should be, Mela, by your husband’s side! Of course you should be at The White House. It’s what I’ve always said, haven’t I Papa?”

Her father says nothing but can see the desolation in her face.

 

A few months later she begins her schedule, attending a gala as first lady, standing by his side on the stage again. The wearing of the couture outfit suggested by her team, the immaculate hair and make-up cannot disguise the dead look in her eyes or the stiff pose she adopts. Whatever her husband has been saying has come to an end with the applause of the crowd and as he turns to beckon her she takes her obedient step towards his side to raise her hand. He moves closer, half turning. “Smile,” he hisses. “Come on. Remember who you are!”

And of course, she does.

 

 

Surreal and Ridiculous

I can’t help but feel that my meandering drivel about being fit as an oldie has been rewarded by the hefty dose of flu that has descended with all its accompanying effects-creeping goosebumpy skin, a sensation that my head will explode, an inability to breathe through the appropriate channels, a tendency to drift in and out of consciousness and a barking, rattling cough that originates from somewhere deep in the chest cavity and leaves me gasping and bent over with the soreness it produces. So much for the self-pity…

Throughout this ordeal I have been drifting in and out of consciousness in the company of the radio; falling asleep during one programme and waking to another adding to the general surrealism that goes along with fever.

Listening to reportage about the American presidential candidate’s campaigns convinces me that I am indeed suffering delirium from my soaring temperature. Here is the competition for what is arguably the most powerful position on the Earth and yet it comes across like some sort of demented rave presided over by a lunatic dictator. [I am referring, of course to Trump-Hillary’s demeanour stands in stark contrast to the distasteful conduct of her opposer, -if that is to be the case].

How disappointing it all is! When America voted Obama in it seemed to have come to its senses. From having chosen film stars buffoons and shysters to play on the international political stage they had finally selected someone with an academic background, someone articulate and intelligent, someone who was intelligent, engaging and humanitarian. The world became a safer place.

I don’t suppose anyone was more disillusioned than Obama himself when his ambitions were thwarted before they got out of the starting block. He was no match for the reactionary wealthy white of America who wished only to keep their guns, their private healthcare and their oil supply whilst obliterating anyone who looked as if they might threaten the American dream.

I wonder how the president felt when he got a second term? Ambivalent, at best I believe. And it isn’t hard to imagine what he thinks of the unseemly descent into the vitriolic rant that is Donald Trump’s current campaign. I have to own up to feeling like cheering when protesters managed to get his Chicago rally called off.

It looks like all hope rests with Hillary-who has at least one terrific advantage. She is a woman!

 

The Big Why

The World events of the last forty eight hours have been a grim catalogue of horrific, grisly and incomprehensible acts that leave those of us who’ve been informed by TV news, radio or newspapers reeling in disbelief and repulsion.

Worse, it is becoming clear that actions by some nations [my own included] to remove what were seen as despotic dictators have actually paved the way for zealots and terrorists to take over-the new version of al Qaeda, but in even more aggressive and unspeakably callous form.

Now, however that the genie is out of the bottle, what is to be done?

Would it help to know what it is IS really wants? In an effort to attempt to understand this I Googled the question. One disquieting discovery is that there is a commitment amongst the terrorists to ‘expand their territory’. They are also, apparently set on provoking a ‘war to end all wars’, to which end they do seem to be marching irrevocably on.

Reading an article recently by a woman posing as one with ambitions to join IS it transpires that young Moslem women and girls who are fleeing to join the ‘Caliphate’ are set on becoming part of what is seen as ‘Utopia’. Now I have my own ideas about what constitutes ‘Utopia’, but it isn’t recognisable in the twisted, repressive and brutal regime of the jihadists. Here is Wikipedia’s version:

“A utopia (/juːˈtoʊpiə/ yoo-toh-pee-ə) is a community or society possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities.”

So an IS run state, to these girls is a community possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities. What then, to the girls, are these qualities? Piety and following their faith seem to be at the heart of them. When asked about their attitudes towards the committing of atrocities their responses were shrugging acceptance or even condonation. A number of the women have small children. It is difficult to understand how they can accept and even believe in terrorist acts while caring for their own children. It is easier to view murderous bombers and beheaders as marauding male-dominated bands who’ve become de-humanised through a lack of family life and values.

More-life for a woman in IS territory is at best tyrannical and oppressive, at worst dangerous and brutal. Their children will grow up seeing atrocity piled upon atrocity until, inevitably, they follow the same track, even perhaps becoming suicide bombers. Utopia? Not as I think of it.

According to one analyst IS will continue spreading poisonous tentacles and gathering personnel and momentum until poverty and deprivation prompt disenchantment, but he also suggests this will take a very long time. In the meantime some way has to be found to deal with the relentless and horrific acts of violence that this scourge of our age is hell bent on pursuing.

America and Europe currently have no appetite for the all-out war IS allegedly wants. There are no answers, only questions…oh…and hope. In the midst of all the despair and hatred, what is left can only be hope.

Think you don’t have an Accent? Think Again!

A recent poll in The Independent newspaper revealed that the British accent is the most popular in the world.

This is an odd piece of news. For a start, who is to say what, exactly a British accent is? There are many. There is Geordie, West Country, Scottish, Brummie, Northern Irish, Kentish, Cockney, Liverpudlian, Welsh, East Anglia, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Home Counties and many more besides…

Within the areas there are also differences in accent. A trip around Scotland, Yorkshire or Birmingham would expose a plethora of differing sounds in words.

Presumably the ‘British’ accent of the study is ‘BBC’ style, although even in an organisation as large as this there have been attempts in recent years to get regional accents on to the airwaves rather than the plummy tones of yesteryear.

While it is surprising to learn that the French accent is less of a draw, it is no real shock that the Queen’s English is admired around the world. Many years ago I undertook a road trip along the West of the USA with a friend-my first jaunt to America and one that I considered intrepid, given that I would be driving an automatic car on vast freeways and attempting to join the LA traffic and cliff-hangers of San Francisco.

Part of our home made itinerary took in a trip to Las Vegas, which involved travelling across the desert. We’d scheduled in stops, one of which was at Victorville, a kind of truck stop on Route 66. We’d found a hotel [on our budget we were confined to the cheaper chains], dumped the bags but at that point, although we’d driven all day in sweaty heat, a beer seemed more compelling than a shower.

We found a simple, no frills bar which was occupied mainly with workers, mainly male, enjoying a drink after their day’s labours. The arrival of two English women provoked enormous interest, so much that we were unable to buy our own beers and were interrogated on every aspect of our personas and our trip. This, incidentally included a query as to whether we met the age criterion for alcohol [most flattering, since I was 40 at the time]. The flattery continued. ‘Ah luuuurv yer aaahccent!’ one of the admirers drawled. This threw me. Having moved about the country quite a bit throughout childhood I consider myself accent-less. ‘I don’t have have an accent, you do!’ I replied.

Every country, of course has regional accents but you have to be well versed in another language to recognise them. After many years of regular trips to France I still struggle to understand the Southern French tones, and even here in my own homely island much that is spoken with a Scottish twang escapes me-notably post match inquests from football managers etc

I don’t really have a ‘favourite’ although I must confess to there being one or two I really do not like. What are they? Not saying! What’s your favourite?