Cheering Myself Up-

You have only to take a glancing interest in the news on a regular basis to begin to feel that the world is a gloomy place-and becoming gloomier by the day.

  • In various parts of the world there are the usual, horrific subjugations of parts of society by other parts [such as in Myanmar]. [It is difficult to understand, in this case how a woman with a history of persecution cannot bring herself to support and alleviate the suffering of her fellow countrymen].
  • Ill-conceived and pointless terrorist attempts continue to be made-the latest a horrific explosion on an underground train in London, in which a number of innocent people were injured for merely going about their business.
  • In the UK a debt mountain is growing and threatening to eclipse all previous peaks.
  • The USA and North Korea between them seem to have decided to blow the planet to smithereens.
  • Our beleaguered health service is [yet again] facing a crisis winter without sufficient resources, staff or funding, although if the previous story goes the full chapter the health service will not be necessary…

But overall, all of these grim stories almost pale into irritations compared to the ghastly weather incidents that have been occurring on an increasing scale this year. The Caribbean and the Eastern part of North America has seen devastating events as has Asia, with hurricanes, unrelenting rain, flooding and ravaging winds destroying the lives, homes and livelihoods of thousands.

Can there be anyone left other than Donald Trump who still refuses to believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

I can’t help feeling we have an obligation at least to know about terrible news events, rather than ignoring it all. But knowing can induce a sensation of helplessness-even despair. In order to mitigate these reactions I determined to trawl through the news and attempt to find some uplifting, heartening or entertaining snippets:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I read some years ago and recently watched on TV has won the prestigious Emmy award. And quite right, too! Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers with her thought-provoking tales of dystopian futures.
  • Some wonderful movie posters dating from the 1930s and 1940s have been discovered under a carpet near Cardiff in Wales, UK. They were sold at auction for £72,000. I like to hear that discoveries such as this are still possible!
  • A Polish lemonade company wanted to market a new product and call it ‘John Lemon’. What a relief they were stopped! Yoko Ono massed some big legal guns; now it’s to be called ‘On Lemon’ which would be unlikely to offend anyone.
  • A Welsh [yes, Wales again] teenager walked up Mount Snowdon [for the uninitiated this is the highest peak in England and Wales] wearing only his underwear, in order to raise money for a dementia charity. He gained the top but became very ill with hypothermia, having not realised that the temperature would be considerably colder than at the base of the mountain. Fortunately the lad was transported down on the train and treated by paramedics. That he recovered goes without saying-or I would not have included the story in the ‘uplifting’ section.

There you have it! Bad news/good news-a game we played as children. The second list was harder to find. Make of it what you will…

Advertisements

Close Encounters with American Tourists

I wrote about our meagre experience of Mexico in last week’s post, explaining that there were no negatives in that small, tourist-friendly slice of the country.

Mexico, however has a troubled relationship with its next door neighbour, the USA and more so than ever since The Donald made his debut as premier in America. Americans are unhappy that Mexicans enter their country.

Americans, on the other hand seem more than happy to visit Mexico. The narrow strip between the lagoon and the ocean at Cancun that is crammed with hotels housing tourists is full-to-bursting with Americans, weekenders. Before departure I’d thought that our chosen hotel was vast-that is until we arrived and saw the array of gargantuan tourist inns stretching along the beach in both directions.

Nevertheless our own, seemingly modest accommodation boasted five or six restaurants, seven or eight swimming pools, numerous bars and terraces and the inevitable beach front with thatched sun shades over sun loungers.

My feelings about the American tourists are, I’m afraid ambivalent. On the one hand they are open, friendly and gregarious. ‘Wheer ya fraaam?’ they shriek from their sun loungers as you stroll past on your way to the beach, inviting us to respond with far-fetched replies. On the other hand their conversations are loud and designed for all to hear. In the lobby bar they become garrulous with increasing amounts of alcohol. They demand high standards from the hotel staff, which benefits everyone but their consumption is a spectacle to behold.

Here is the flaw in the all-inclusive deal; the temptation is to over-consume. We rein in, eating only twice each day, taking only what we will eat. A glance around the dining rooms reveals how much is wasted, piled on to plates to be discarded by the waiting staff, meanwhile the girths of so many tell the tale of their many-caloried intake.

Then there is the on-going sun lounger dilemma. On the first day we wander down from brunch in an innocent bid to find a patch of shade to enjoy a quiet read-but each and every place is reserved by a body or a beach towel. We retreat to a shady area of tables by the ‘Sushi bar’. Next day we are up early, like the Third Little Pig beating the wolf, dashing down to the beach to bag our own small patch. If you can’t beat them, join them. At seven o’clock the number of unreserved sun loungers is already depleted but Husband returns triumphant, having draped the beach towels and anchored them.

‘Please refrain’ says the hotel information, ‘from the practice of placing articles on sunbeds in order to reserve them. Security personnel have been instructed to remove items left longer than two hours’.

We scan the beach for signs of the sun lounger police but spot nobody-neither in uniform nor disguised in beach wear. Nobody is going to mess with the Americans, wall or no wall-nor will they be turning their backs on the not inconsiderable sums they bring in revenue!

Now there’s a cheaper option than a wall, Donald-just buy Mexico and be done with it…

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.

 

 

A Topical Story

           This week’s post is Part 1 of a story in which the principal character is one you will recognise from media coverage. Foisted into the public eye, perhaps more than she has been comfortable with I began to imagine how she feels and if, maybe, she has regrets about the life she has chosen for herself…

               Behind Him

                It is like the sea, she thinks, a tidal surge with flashes of light. In reality the flashes are cameras and the surge is people. She puts her hand to the high collar of her coat and swallows, composing her expression, breathing in long, steady breaths like she has been told. There is a roar, startling her and she realises she’s lost concentration for a moment then she remembers and raises her hand in a wave, stretching her lips in a smile-not too wide. She doesn’t want to appear stupid.

Standing behind, she can only see the back of his head and his arms as he spreads them, the finger and thumb of each hand pressed together to make the point. There is another roar from the crowd.

He starts to turn his head and she feels her heart jump and her throat constrict as his hand strays out towards her; but she takes it, dipping her chin as she steps forward into the limelight.

“Smile now.” The instruction hisses from the corner of his mouth and she parts her lips a little to show the perfect, white teeth she has maintained for so long. Another wave of camera flashes later and she is able to follow him down off the stage, stepping with careful tread in the shoes she’s deliberated over and managing to keep her head up.

She trails along through the cheering crowd, nodding, maintaining the smile, her cheeks aching just a little.

“You looked so beautiful!” Mama had said last night. “The white jumpsuit so elegant! You did so well. We are proud, your father and I. The first lady! Living in that white house!”

Papa has not said much about her marriage since he asked her if she was happy the night before the wedding all those years ago. He’s been more reticent than her mother on the subject of how well she’d done to bag herself a multi-millionaire business man, asking only if it was truly what she wanted. He seems content enough now to have the New York apartment but is tight-lipped on the subject of politics, offering only one remark to her.

“Remember who you are, Mela. You are an immigrant like your mother and me. Success and happiness are not always the same thing.”

Alone in the spacious bedroom she watches herself on the news, her manicured brows creasing at the sight of her own figure bent awkwardly to the microphone in a hasty bid to summon up some supportive words, stumbling, parroting, ‘Make America great’, looking like the stick puppet that everyone believes her to be. More footage shows their ‘victory dance’ as she is clutched in a stiff embrace and his engagement is, as always, with the crowd and the flashing cameras as he gestures to them during every slow turn.

She thinks of William, her only real achievement, a ‘mini-me’ his father calls him and she wills it not to be so, thinking of her disdainful adult stepchildren, whose cliquey conversations and  spiteful remarks she’s learned to ignore. She wishes her son could grow up like Papa having a strong sense of justice tempered with compassion. He is not ‘Barron’ to her; can never be. She bites her lip as the news images roll on, the pictures plastering a cover on to the reality.

 

“No, I am not going to The White House. I’ll be staying here in the Towers with my son and my parents. It’s important for him to stay away from the media and to continue his studies. You can tell this to my husband. My son comes first. Politics is nothing to do with me; that’s his job.

 

To be continued. [Part 2 of this story follows in next Sunday’s post…]

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!

 

There’s no Place Like it

What marks the beginning of 2016 for you? Is it the weather? Overindulgence of any kind? Resolutions you’ve made? Perhaps you’re beginning the New Year with some regrets about how much Christmas has cost? Or are you planning which world destinations you’ll be visiting?

For me the departure of 2015 is stained with the enormous blemish of homelessness, both near and far. Much of it has been caused by the weather-climate change, which we can no longer attempt to deny. Here in the UK there are many who’ve been put out of their homes by floods three times. I admire the spirit and resilience of these unfortunates as they mop up yet again, but you have to wonder if it might not be time to re-locate those who inhabit vulnerable areas.

Elsewhere-in the USA for instance, weather conditions are no kinder, with lethal tornadoes reducing everything to matchwood, followed by blizzards. Then in Australia searing temperatures have produced ideal circumstances for the punishing fires they’ve had to combat. We hear less about the enduring droughts in countries such as Namibia, where families are unable to keep the few animals they depend on alive.

We know that the conditions that have caused climate change are mostly man made. And so are the conditions that have brought about an exodus of Biblical proportions as a flood of another kind spread across Europe in the form of refugees.

Those who survived their grim voyages in defective vessels provided by corrupt and ruthless traffickers might be considered to have been the ‘lucky’ ones; but after a traumatic and exhausting ordeal on inhospitable seas they have had to traipse across one country after another seeking refuge. Of all these unfortunate, desperate people it is the mothers with tiny children who elicit the most sympathy from me. Their plight must have been dire for them to leave everything behind and risk the lives of their small children in un-seaworthy boats then plod miles with them, sleeping in the open along the sides of roads and railway tracks and depending on the unreliable handouts of local communities. What did they know of Northern European weather? Not enough to prepare them for the cold and the wet. A sick child is a worry to a mother in a warm home with food and medicine available. What can it be like for a mother camping out in a strange environment with no access to facilities?

I’ve only once experienced the unnerving panic that homelessness provokes, when evicted from a rented flat in London. But I was single, in my twenties and in paid employment, needing only to look through the flat-share ads for a new home. The anxiety then was fleeting. For the children growing up with the uncertainty of having been displaced and little hope of a warm, safe place to live the repercussions must surely last a lifetime. Under the circumstances ‘Happy New Year’ is tainted with a hollow ring…

The Tale of a Festival

The hedonistic, gargantuan, explosion that is the festival season is well underway. Here in the UK we have just had the mother of all festivals in the form of Glastonbury, to the excited trilling of some and the grumpy grumbles of the ‘not-like-it-used-to-bes’.

No, festivals, and indeed live music concerts are like anything else, not what they used to be. This is generally taken to be a bad thing but is not necessarily always so.

The first Glastonbury festival [known then as the Pilton festival] was held in 1970, although festivals had begun to take place on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere before this. In the USA there had already been Woodstock, which set the bar for festivals to follow, was turned into a feature-length movie and passed quickly into legendary status. Watching the film was the nearest we British teenagers were going to get to a Woodstock experience although not all of it was riveting. I remember the thrill of Ten Years After but Sly and the Family Stone must have been somewhat less enthralling because I did actually drift off during that bit.

As the third and last child of the family I was cut some slack during my teenage years and able to do pretty much as I liked. My then BF was a grammar school attendee and a choirboy, attributes which must have assuaged any fears for my safety and morals my mother had. This meant I was able to attend live music events and indulge in the inevitable, obligatory experiences they provided, legal or otherwise, with impunity.

As much as anything, festival or concert going enables those who’ve been there to analyse, relate and share years after the event. Hence ‘I saw The Stones at Hyde Park’ or ‘I saw Dylan at the Isle of Wight’ bestows a kind of status on the sharer of this information. Knowing this, merchandisers can make loadsa money from flogging commemorative T-shirts bearing details of the festival and most importantly, the date. This says of the wearer ‘I was there’.

This weekend, the first in July is the date of our own, local, modest music festival. During the last few years Husband has taken on an organising role, provoking much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair as the date approaches. The regulations, risk assessments and fire documents, which become more demanding each year have at last been completed. The fencing, stage and marquee are all up. I prepare to step into my, more meagre role-that of selling tickets at the gate or picking up litter. The proceeds, such as they are go to local charities, the bands giving their performances free, the crowd gathered from the immediate community. It is anxiety-inducing and exhausting-no less for the fact that we stagers are increasingly old-stagers-but remains fascinating and fun. As they stream through the gate dressed in their ‘festival’ finery, children, dogs, wheelchair grannies, minders, partners and friends in tow it is like watching a smiling carnival procession, and all with one aim-to enjoy a weekend of music in the summer sunshine…