Monthly Archives: April 2011

The trouble with chickens…

Plotting the downfall of mankind

… is that they are always plotting… they always look like they’re up to no good. In fact, I think chickens are probably responsible for secret revolutions everywhere. George Orwell was very wrong with his decision that the leaders would be pigs, as in Animal Farm. I understand the allegory of leaders being pigs, though that’s unfair on pigs. It would be chickens. They’re evil with their dinosaur feet and their beady eyes and their plotting ways. Pigs are fat and happy. Chickens are restless revolutionaries. I’m sure this is why Cuba is such a revolutionary place, because there are millions of chickens roaming about there. Our chickens mostly spend their time plotting the downfall of the dogs – the military junta of our sovereignty – and chasing Moll off. However, they have busily been stealing my blackcurrants and redcurrants – then pretending they had nothing to do with it when I asked them.

My laryngitis has subsided somewhat to a pointless hacking cough – and my voice sounds more like my own voice rather than Barbara’s from The League of Gentlemen. If you haven’t seen her, she’s a post-op transsexual taxi driver in a strange village. The operation was not particularly successful and she has a deeper voice than most men.

First crops


 Me & Stephen have been busy in the garden, as per… the polytunnel #2 collapsed  in his absence and he was most distressed. However we have begun our harvesting – only radishes, peas and lettuce, but enough to keep us going until the main crops start. The potatoes are already beginning to flower – the broad beans are fattening up. We have radishes the size of turnips and turnips the size of swedes. It’s been so dry though – not a single drop of proper rain, other than a light soaking a couple of mornings – since the third of April – that’s almost a month. Luckily, the existing polytunnel has a super-duper watering system courtesy of Mr Stephen and it’s lush in there, at probably tropical temperatures and humidity. Unfortunately, whoever is in there is often caught out by the watering system being switched on by Tilly. Tilly has had the blame several times for me getting a good soaking, although Stephen’s insistence that it is her is a little suspicious considering she doesn’t have opposable thumbs to turn taps or a single thought in her head other than where to bury bread rolls, eggs or bits of things she might want later.

We’re now full to brimming in the polytunnel and all the plots are bursting – not just with plants, but with les mauvaises herbes. Bad grass. Naughty grass gets everywhere and I’m so tired of convolvulus that I dreamt about it last night.

Considerably better than January!

Steve is convinced that things have grown exponentially since he departed two weeks ago – he’s right. We have full lettuce heads and tomatoes beginning to put out flowers too. I’m absolutely amazed and delighted by it all!

10 things I’m loving today:

1. The Boy’s improved mood after I threatened to withdraw his right to electricity if he answered me back just one more time.

2. Steve, stick-man, saying he needs to go on a diet because he’s reached 12 stone! He needed a bit of meat to keep him warm.

3. Radishes:

Fat radishes

4. Verbena… I’d have hundreds of verbena if I could afford it:

Hot pink verbena

5. Steve relishing the chorizo and pepper risotto last night; nothing like old favourites that weren’t old favourites a year ago! I love cooking here, even if I only have one work surface! We’re also infested by ants.

6. Lemon, glycerine and honey home-made cough medicine

7. Sleeping with the window open

8. Cheerful lettuces in rows:

Lidl value seeds... impressive!

9. Brocante season. I love a good rummage, me! Brocantes, vide-greniers and bric-a-bracs are French car boot sales. And they love a bit of recycling.

10. Spending hours looking through photos my Nana has entrusted to me of her final 10 years with my Gramps. Happy pictures of the most lovely people in the world.

And 3 things I’m not loving:

1. Tilly getting up for a wee at 4:00 a.m. on my red patent leather shoes and me not realising what she was doing until it was done

2. Coughing for half an hour before getting back to sleep

3. The smell of nettle liquid feed. Evil.

Harmless looking, but the most evil smell in the entire world
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Opening boxes to other lives

I’ve been many people in this life. I’ve been the happy child, the sulky teenager, the hard-working student, the teacher, the expert, the kind boss and the bitch boss, the easy employee and the difficult employee. I’ve been a glamour-puss and I’ve been a ‘land girl’.

My dad today called me a land girl. My nana chastised me for wearing dirty shorts when turning up for an appointment at the doctor’s (well, in my defence, I had six hours of gardening to do in three hours and it’s the fashion round these parts to be covered with mud and dirt, possibly in overalls and my Nana thinks most French people dress like Kylie Minogue, when really they dress like Mrs Overall) and it’s true to say I have gone back to the land.

But I opened some of the last boxes brought to me by my dad and my brother, and it was like finding old butterfly wings having gone back to being a caterpillar. They were filled with beautiful skirts. I love beautiful skirts. I have about forty, all colours of the rainbow, usually in similar cuts – fitted over the hips, flared to knee-length. Mustard and browns, pinks and blues, greens and pinks, purples and whites, blues, turquoises, whites, blacks, chiffon, cotton, broderie Anglaise, lace. I had matching twinsets or cute sweaters, cardigans or Ralph Lauren knits to match every single one of them – and probably matching shoes. They are all gorgeous. Opening that box was like opening a box of forgotten treasures, looking at clothes that once meant so much to me – much more pleasure than my very functional shorts and t-shirt I now wander around in. These were clothes that I enjoyed, that brought me pleasure. And clothes I don’t have much time for in my life now.

But I’m not sure this is a bad thing even if it is a little sad to have so many beautiful skirts. I used to patrol the Trafford Centre every Friday after work as a way to release all the week’s tension. Clothes, shoes, make-up, music – I didn’t have many expensive things, but I still lived well. I had more clothes than I needed, just so that I had something lovely to wear, something that matched my mood. I spoilt myself, and I spoilt the people around me too. I bought my brother a gorgeous leather jacket that he still wears, and some beautiful t-shirts.

But it took a shock to make me realise that Buddha was right: you can’t hold on to material possessions and expect them to bring you happiness. The things you cling to will bring you misery when you lose them. I worked so hard – and money was never my primary motive – but clothes didn’t bring me peace of mind or make work life easy. One of my favourite stop-by blogs, Zen Habits, ran a post this week about consumerism. And it reminded me of my real values – the ones that I hold true. Can you hold opposite values? Is it possible to value beautiful skirts AND eschew consumerism? Hmmmm. Maybe it’s a case of moderation! Eschew consumerism unless there’s a really, really beautiful skirt that you will get lots of pleasure from!

And yes, I was living to support the companies who profited from my purchases. I was living to support the faux-marble, faux-gold rents at The Trafford Centre. I was living to look good – and I still hold by the fact that if you like how you look, you are much happier inside. I know a bit of make-up and a lovely dress can make me feel more confident, happier, more in tune.

Zen Habits said something that really resonated with me:

“Either way, we find our path as consumers. And everything is solved by consumption — when we’re stressed, we shop. When we want to be entertained, we buy the entertainment. We buy our food in packages, we fix our failing health by buying exercise clothes and equipment. We fix our debt by buying personal finance books and taking out a second mortgage.”

I was that girl. I was the girl buying £5.00 ‘balanced’ organic pre-prepared meals, or organic tofu and noodles. I was the girl with the personal trainer and the £50.00 gym membership, the wardrobe full of gym clothes, £70.00 trainers (yes, cheap, I know!) I was the girl who riches bought physical health, looks and yet I had all this taken away from me – well, I chose under extreme pressure to walk away from it. Maybe it was a fit of pique at being suspected of dishonesty. Maybe I was piqued about not being supported. Anyway, it was my third job where I’d felt pressured to walk away, and suddenly, the money didn’t seem so important.

I began cutting things I subscribed to – first magazines went. I cut my shopping bill from £60.00 a week to £20.00. I got rid of the gym membership and the expensive haircuts. I cut out all the pedicures and treatments. I cancelled my sky subscription and my magazines. Now, I’m down to three bills: water, electric and phone/internet. I do all our shopping for 80.00€ a week, including dogs and cats. I haven’t got a pot to piss in as the proverb states. No ipod, no blackberry, no iphone, no kindle, no ipad. A crappy old laptop with cat sick on the keys and a beaten up plug-in keyboard. I can’t remember the last time I bought any clothes from a shop, let alone a shop that didn’t have an offer on. I can’t afford to be swayed by advertising.

And my life is simpler for it.

My joys now come from ‘free'(ish!) things: painting, photography, writing, reading, drawing. We don’t have television – French or English – though we watch a lot of movies and series on DVD. Now I never get any pre-prepared meals because I can’t afford the ones that are good quality. I don’t eat take-away or in restaurants because I can’t afford to. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t eat well. I’ve picked half a kilo of radishes today; we’ve had home-grown lettuce for the last week. We don’t drink ‘brand’ because we can’t afford to (although Jake is still brand-obsessed – he still hasn’t got his head around Dark Dog being 2.71€ for a 200 ml can and being able to buy 12 litres of non-brand coke for 2.35€ ) I don’t buy breaded chicken breasts or pre-prepared pizzas because they cost three times as much and they’re about three times less tasty.

One thing Zen Habits say is ‘watch fewer ads’ – easy for me. No tv. No ads. They say ‘avoid shopping malls’ – and that’s a done deal because I covet all those pretty skirts just like I used to. They say ‘when you really need something, consider borrowing it or buying it used’. I bought a fantastic bookshelf for 10€. It wasn’t ‘vintage’, but it’s cute. I’m getting to like items with history rather than wanting to buy things brand-new. Ebay isn’t so good here in France, but there are plenty of brocantes and bric-a-bracs, and Le Bon Coin. My sister brought me four ‘new’ tops – and I’m going to enjoy every single one of them, ‘used’ though they may be.

Am I ‘happier’? I don’t think it’s related to money, necessarily. I was rich, once – enough to buy a Dior handbag in a Tokyo department store. But that wasn’t a very happy time. Money gives me headaches now – it never used to – but having time to enjoy life is worth it. Having time to write is worth it. Having to spend 4 hours in the garden today without really touching the weeds – worth it. Meals that cost less than 5€ for 3 people – worth it.

Yes, I’d like to have a little more. That’d be good. But maybe I’ve learned my lesson again about not being materialistic! Zen has nothing to do with it. Necessity has everything to do with it.

How Green You Are!

There’s a reason I’ve not been so regular with my postings. My step-mum has been terribly ill and I’ve been family translator for her at all her doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds, x-rays and ‘urgences’. I have to say the French health system is phenomenal. We had an appointment on Thursday for her problems. The GP was fab. In England, you’d get a ‘see how you are over the weekend’ and ‘if it gets worse, come back’. Here, he ordered blood tests, ultrasounds and follow-up appointments, including the necessary three prescriptions (you have to have three when you are in France. It is compulsory, I think. Less than that means you’re just putting it on) and by Friday tea-time, though she hadn’t worsened and nothing showed up on the blood tests or the ultrasound, he ordered us to A&E in Angouleme.

At 7:30 in Bury, you have the first drunks turning up, beginning the onslaught of alcohol-related injuries that we English are so known for. Fights, stupidity, falls, people being run over, people with alcohol overdoses – if you don’t want to see Britain at it’s worst, steer clear of A&E on Friday and Saturday night.

In Angouleme, it was dead. There was one other person. Three nurses descended on us in a flurry of questions, hooked her up to an intravenous painkiller, gave her a glucose drip and soon we were trying to get to the bottom of her ailments. The doctor came at 11:00, after x-rays and further blood-tests and urine tests, said he couldn’t find anything, ordered more scans and told us we might as well come back at 10:00 in the morning – no point staying in if they can’t do anything.

The next morning, after 3 days of waiting rooms and salles d’attente, we returned. Brenda was whisked off for CT scans and ultrasounds, more tests. At 3:00, they decided to keep her in for observation. She’s still there.

Now whilst the doctors have made a valiant attempt to speak English, my French is better than their English. Plus, I’ve the benefit of having a sister in the medical profession. Thus, I can work out what white blood cell count is and translate various things they thought it was, and less is lost in translation. One woman told Brenda she was going to surgery. Whilst chirgurie is the literal translation, it really means a surgical ward with a specialism. So they really should have said she was going for observation on a ward – not she was going for surgery!! By 4:00, she’d been moved to a private room and she’s still there – horrible to be in a hospital bed in a foreign land.

So I’ve had no hammock time. Sadly.

My brother arrived yesterday morning, followed by my sister yesterday afternoon. How glad I am to see them! It’s been so long since I’ve seen my sister and I miss her so much. She’s where I was 5 years ago: assignments, work, running a household… and her spare time is rare and she has many friends to share it amongst, so I don’t get as much of her as I’d like, and she never gets as much of any of her friends and family as she’d like. I know that life, and I know it’s just one of those things. But it’s bloody great to have her here.

My brother-in-law is also ill – vomiting all night. He’s also got sleep Tourette’s. He swears like a navvy in his sleep. I’ve not slept properly since Thursday, I’ve picked up some nasty bug from sitting in the doctor’s surgery, it’s my Nana’s 80th birthday today and I feel like I need a holiday. And then the boys are back on Wednesday. At least, I hope they are. I’ve not heard a peep from Steve in a week and I’m terrified something’s happened to him. 😦

Still, I know that’s just guys, and he’s back in England seeing all his relatives – I’m sure he has a million other things crowding his brain. It’s strange, but I could just do with him here. I miss them both so much.

The garden is at full strength – almost. Whilst I have a family here hoping for sunshine, I am waiting for the rain. It hasn’t rained properly for three weeks now and all our free water is gone. The garden is living off grey water and everything is dry. I even had to water the lawn yesterday – it’s looking like it’s around August out there – and I’m not surprised with all these days in the mid-twenties.

Everything else is robust – apart from the carrots, with which I have no luck. They just don’t seem to germinate here. I might have to do a series of pots with them in just to get them going. The peppers, which were slow to start, have gone from 10 seeds to 5 plants: not too bad in terms of wastage. We have about 100 tomato plants of various different species. All the potatoes have put up their first shoots and I can get to weeding between the rows. I have three different types of leek on the go and some ready to plant up to thicken up. The turnip tops are now huge and the biggest thing in the polytunnel, although as you’d expect, they are less courageous and vivid outside. Even my first cauliflowers seem to be fattening up their stems, though how they will ever turn into full-size cabbages is anybody’s guess. We have lettuces ready for Steve’s salad, huge radishes of varying sorts, broad beans in flower, our first crop of peas, melons and gherkins and courgettes putting out proper leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil growing well. The cabbages look a little thirsty and small, but the borlotti beans are much more adventurous and taking up the offer of free sun and warmth. I’ve planted out 10 sweetcorn and have another 10 to go out in the next couple of days. Here’s to hoping we have a bumper vegetable crop!

The fruit isn’t doing too badly either: lots of cherries beginning to form on our three cherry trees; beginnings of the plums we seemed to have so many of last year. The nectarine is flourishing. I discovered another quince tree in the hen quarters, although I’ve still got lots of quince jelly left from last year. Not sure exactly how to expand my quince repertoire! The apples – last to blossom – are still wearing some of their blooms. I pruned back a lot of the blackcurrants and redcurrants, although the great redcurrant bush didn’t get pruned quite enough – it has very few baby berries on it. Grape leaves are beginning to show, including little tiny buds of what will be grapes. The raspberries have flowered, and I’m not sure between the six bushes that we’ll have enough: oh well! I have found that the chickens very much like the baby berries, and so we need to enclose the bushes. Half my crop of blackcurrants and redcurrants have been lost already to our feathered high-jumpers.

And I’m not without flowers – pots and pots of petunias which seem to be growing tall and not putting forth any flower buds – will have to give them a pinching out maybe. Lots of alyssia and pansies, some sweet peas, although not as many as I’d like. Achillea waiting to go in, but no real signs of any of my aquilegia – not that I’d really thought there would be – it’s a very old packet.

Here’s to hoping that by September, all we will need will be meat, bread and milk!

Your waterfall eyes

It’s time for Writers’ Retreat once more – and there’s only one subject preoccupying me today: love.

It’s due in part to the return into my life of a boy I loved.

I met him when I was 20. I was seeing someone at the time – my first love. And that first love was rocky but lovely. It was filled with immense highs, like the night he told me he loved me and we danced all night long. He told me he loved me over and over – we danced for five solid hours without parting once. I’d been seeing him for eighteen months and this love was a long time in the making. The best moment of it will always be that night in a long-shut club, just the two of us and an endless soundtrack of cheesy love songs, then walking home at dawn through the cold streets as the sun rose.

But it was a far from perfect love, since he chose many times to go away and I couldn’t reconcile that with his professed love. Every time he travelled, it broke my heart to be without him for months on end. Eventually, it would drive us apart as I could no longer see the way we could be together when we were going in such different directions.

The first time he went away was for four months. I thought it was the end of us. I was filled with a sadness that I couldn’t comprehend. He disappeared one May weekend and I wept buckets at the coach station. No internet, no mobile phones, just an address in a faraway place that may or may not take his mail and pass it on.

By July, I’d heard from him a few times, but I was too insecure to think this was forever. It hurt too much.

And that’s when I met M.

He was standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house – his hand bandaged. He was utterly beautiful in a completely different way to my faraway love, who was rugged and funny and sarcastic, sometimes cruel and too sharp. He was cricket to my faraway love’s football. He was soft classical guitar to my faraway love’s rock music. He was gentle and beautiful.

He has the bluest eyes, and his hair was soft and cut fairly long at the time. His mouth is utterly kissable. The softest mouth I ever kissed.

He’d just split up with his first true love, and he was broken-hearted. I was too. We were both smarting with it. We talked a while and I fell in love with the idea of him. He reminded me of Gatsby at his best, noble and valiant, believing in a pure, true, innocent love. When I kissed him, he was soft and sweet in ways that my faraway love had never been. He was a salve on my wounds.

He walked me home through the fields, soft green grass and a misty summer dawn. We lay in the grass for a while, holding hands and looking up at the sky. He was yin to my faraway love’s yang. Soft, hazy, pastel colours. Gentle waters as opposed to raging fires.

The summer faded and my faraway love returned. We stayed the distance another year and a half, through more absences and more heartbreak until it was finally too much for me and I ended it. But I never forgot my summer morning love with his eyes as soft as still waters. I would have pursued it too, but he was smarting from old wounds much more than I was.

I wrote him hundreds of poems, dedicated hundreds of lines to this musical poet who had enchanted me.

Some distant heartache

Echoes here, reverberates,

Spoils future horizons

I called him the boy with the waterfall eyes.

I love that pure love that you can only know when you are too young to know better. Everyone should have a love like that: innocent, gentle, pure and ghost-white. It’s not real, of course. It’s an illusion of how love should be – just as Gatsby’s love for Daisy. It’s the love you know before you realise that people are just people and you love them warts and all. It’s that delicate first love, first blossom that gives way to something more substantial in later years and that some people spend the rest of their life trying to recapture. My faraway love and I, we had that real love, that warts-and-all love – but this love was something ephemeral, something transient, something immaculate. And it stayed that way.

Through the eighteen years that have followed, we have kept in touch. Sometimes more me than him. Sometimes more him than me. We were never in the right time and space together, and probably we never should be. Life has put lots and lots of sea between us – an ocean too far to cross these days – literally as well as metaphorically. Families, responsibilities, distance, life, values, desires…

Funny though that this ghost of love should be so much a part of my present. I realised as I logged in, his name forms part of most of my passwords. How funny that I should still have lit a candle to this boy every time I log in! If you’d asked me who my three great loves had been, his name probably wouldn’t even figure. Yet there’s still an echo yet of that love in my days.

We see each other from time to time. Funny too that he was the one I called for a shoulder when Andy died. Funny that he’s the one I called when my Gramps died. Funny that I was the one he called when his dad died. It’s like we’re reaching out in those dark times to seek something pure, something true and simple. We’d meet up for a few hours, air our woes, confess all, then go months – years even – without seeing each other again.

He’s not for me – no doubt about that. We have nothing in common; he’d frustrate me and I terrify him. I’ve always been the brave one, the intrepid one. I was never scared to get scars, to tread where even fools fear to go. This isn’t good. I have no caution. I don’t know why. He is ever-cautious, ever-watchful, ever-afraid. He likes safe, I wish I liked safe, and I think I do, but when it comes down to it, I rarely play it safe unless it’s in matters beaten into me from childhood. He’s a realist to my eternal optimist.

But still, it’s nice to have a remnant of that remain. He soothes me and brings me tranquillity in ways that few people do. Time has made us both cynical and much more brutal, but there’s still a part of me, Gatsby-like, who wishes that she could beat back against the tides of time and recreate the past, even though she knows she can’t. It’s a love I could never stomach, anyhow.

It’s hard when you realise that this pure love can never last into adulthood – even though you wish it could. It’s transient and fleeting, and doesn’t bless most people. It’s innocent romance – a dream within a dream. I tried a little to cling to it at first, but it was like trying to hold onto a glamour, a tissue of beautiful cobwebs, a veil of deceit.

Now my loves are fixed in reality – which is a shame. I wish I could recreate the magic of those walks back from the cricket club in the pale summer dawns, those nights we lay in the fields looking up at the blue sky appear through mist. I wish I looked into people’s eyes and still saw magic and waterfalls and a purity of heart. You never can reclaim that. If you’re lucky, you have a love that deepens, that becomes more profound in many ways, a love rooted in reality that brings you comfort and solace, warmth and joy. If you’re lucky, it ignites your soul when you look into your partner’s eyes. If you’re lucky, you can trust them beyond trust to know they will always be there.

This boy was never destined to become that, but I hope everyone experiences that love once in their life – where you look into someone’s eyes and want to explore what lies beyond, like children searching for knowledge, something meaningful. You want to explore. It’s that love where you stay up all night talking, where everything that is revealed just makes the other person more magical, where you want to hear everything they ever have to say. It’s not comfortable love, it’s amazing love. It’s a love that isn’t really a grown-up love.

Now, I hold Romeo and Juliet in low esteem. Romeo with all his weeping and wailing who can’t see that being banished is better than being dead. But I forget that’s how that innocent first love can be. And Romeo+Juliet, the Baz Luhrman film, reminds me of that first love. In fact, the young Leonardo Di Caprio has a look of this boy I loved – all floppy fringes and huge, sad eyes – and when he looks at her through the aquarium, I like to think that’s how this boy looked at me once. And so it was.

Switching the big brain off…

Despite what Steve says about my brains and mind (or lack of), part of being bipolar means that you are sometimes overwhelmed by thoughts of whatever variety. My ex, Dale, was about the only one who got how that can be. He used to say ‘if only you could switch that big brain off’ – and I wish I could. It’s a lot like a computer when it gets too pre-occupied and it’s too full – it just freezes. And that happens to me. Sometimes, I need a hibernation like my laptop – and sometimes I wish I could just switch off.

Sometimes bipolar thoughts are great: your mind is swimming. Your mouth and hands work super-fast to create whatever. Nothing seems impossible when you’re hypomanic. The universe is wonderful and an inspiring place. Thoughts come quickly and easily. Keep that going, multiply by ten and you physically can’t keep up with your mind. That’s where frustration sets in and thoughts go from A to R in a flash of lightning, never mind B or all the letters in between.

Other times, you are overwhelmed by a tsunami of sad thoughts that come thick and fast. In fact, this is what I call my bipolar when it controls me rather than the other way around. Tsunami life. Sometimes, you surf it for a little while, getting the biggest kick of your life, like Patrick Swayze in Point Break. Sometimes, the sea is static… like being in the horse latitudes, dead sea, waiting for a trade wind, knowing something will happen and dreading what it is. Sometimes, you are overwhelmed and drowning – and being at the mercy of a big brain swimming with thoughts, drowning in them, unable to get air. And that’s how it feels. The Stevie Smith poem that ends ‘not waving but drowning’ is exactly how this feels.

And you don’t know when it will end or whether you will come up for air.

I used to deal with this by exercise. Lots of manic people exercise excessively. They can be stick thin, almost living on nervous energy. I used to run 100k a week. Sometimes, I would get in from work at about 6ish, go to the gym for 3 or 4 hours, scrub up and then come home. Sometimes, when it was really bad, I would get back when the gym shut at 10 and still be filled with energy. I would go to bed about midnight, knowing I had to be up at 6 and if I couldn’t sleep, I used to run. The loneliness of the long-distance runner. I used to have a track along well-lit streets that I would run – although in all honesty, having such energy means hypomania or mania and then you’ll take any risk. It doesn’t seem stupid to go running at midnight through dark city streets.

And I’d get back after about an hour, hot and sweating.

A couple of times, this wasn’t enough and I still couldn’t switch my big brain off.

But this physical exercise does one thing: it gets you ahead of the mental racing. Physical exhaustion leads to mental exhaustion.

I’m not a fan of cognitive-behavioural therapy where severe depression or mania set in. My friend Si says it’s like trying to learn how to hold the tide back with your hands. He’s right. You feel like Canute sitting telling the sea to stop and knowing it never will. But exercise leads to endorphins. This does two things. It can alleviate depression – nature’s own morphine – but it can worsen mania. Runners call it ‘the zone’ – where you’re so in the moment that your mind switches off and synchronises with your body – it’s all one. I loved the zone. But the zone probably worsened any hypomania. Endorphins are just as addictive as a drug.

Unfortunately, when you have stress fractures in your feet and your physio advises you against running and you still run and you worsen your injuries, then you end up not being able to run.

And then you get depressed. And depression leads you to need medication – or to seek it – because you can kind of live with a degree of hypomania – which is a lovely, blissful feeling of connectedness and synchronicity – but you cannot kind of live with depression because it will not go away so easily and it hurts.

But medication and lack of exercise means the weight piles on. And thus the cycle is worse. Skinny me is manic me. Fat me is depressed me. It’s that simple. Sometimes it’s medicated me and unable-to-exercise-me.

So, working the land has been a struggle. And it’s sometimes physically painful. Sometimes, my legs hurt. I do this old lady shuffle which Steve finds hilarious. Imagine an elderly Chinese woman who has just had her bound feet unbound. You might think that an exaggeration, and it is – a bit. But my feet bones have been broken and it’s still painful.

I wrote a letter to my depression once; part of it read:

Outside and inside, there’s nothing I can do to myself to arouse any kind of sensation. I run on blistered feet, shins inflamed with over-use, only a few miles from stress fractures. I run with sore sides, aching hamstrings and achilles’ tendons that creak and feel like fabric that just might give at any moment. I push weights that put the men in the gym to shame. I pound ten rounds out of the punch-bag and then resort to an over-zealous abs programme designed for marines and inflicted on me by one of the men I actually pay to hurt me. You – you get to do that for free. And what I put my body through, you put my mind and soul through. An hour of judo combat or a ten mile run along the edge of the Pennines is nothing to an evening with you, where you put me through my emotional paces and set me on edge so I don’t know right from wrong any more.”

But the physical exercise is my mind’s only off-button. I find Tai-chi helpful too (but not yoga – too much still going on in my head!) because Tai-chi means you have to keep an eye on all your limbs and your posture and you literally can’t do it ‘unconsciously’ without thought until you’re very good – by which time, the process is calming and soothing anyway. So my blog has been a little empty recently – and much of this is to do with a (as I hope!) healthy level of physical exhaustion.

Having said that, I’m very much looking forward to my first quiet day in the wonderful hammock Deb sent me – letting my feet and ankles and knees and hip flexors and back have a rest. Tuesday, I’m going to lose myself in a book – my other way of switching the big brain off – and I’m going to let my legs have a well-earned day off. I am not going to weed, to prune, to clip hedges, to wash pots, to make ‘muse-bouches, to go to the supermarket, to work, to scrub floors, to hang the washing out, to walk the dogs, to do the laundry, to sweep floors, to clean windows or wipe down the cooker. I am going to sit in the hammock and I am going to indulge myself in a little escapism. I am going to thank the Lord for my feet having got me this far and still holding me up (mostly!) and I’m going to give them a break and find another way to reign the tsunami back in.

And nobody – but nobody! – better disturb me!

What I loved yesterday…

Yesterday, I was searching for photos of the ladies in the djellabas sitting outside the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and I remembered how fantastic Morocco is. In fact, I’d quite like to live there, although having read a few books on the subject of living in Morocco, it does seem beset by problems I have the good luck not to encounter in life in rich old Europe. If Marine Le Pen gets in to power, this is where I’m headed.

I travelled around Morocco in what became known as Le Grand Tour – Casa, Rabat, Fez, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara, Ait Benhaddou, Essaoira and Marrakech. My favourite part might have been Essaoira, but I loved all of it. Casablanca is an underrated city – it was warm and friendly, if very business-orientated. Marrakech was fascinating if frustrating at times. Those of you who know me well know how little I like the beaten path and if I can find a place less travelled, I enjoy it so much the more.

But I realised I had some amazing pictures of the Yves St Laurent gardens in Marrakech – it’s wonderful. It was the colourful highlight of my trip to Marrakech. Marrakech in March is lush. The trees were laden with oranges; the hotel was a 20 minute walk through various public gardens down to the walled city.

It seems France is in the news again…

Yesterday, a law came into being that has been reported across Europe. The law of October 12th 2010 says that it is forbidden to wear in public any of the following items: a hijab, a burqa, a hood or balaclava or a mask. Before you think of the absurdity of banning masks when it’s Hallowe’en or Carnival in Venice, I should also add that these are allowed for sporting events, festivals or artistic or cultural demonstrations, including religious processions. This law applies to everyone, including muslim tourists. You cannot wear these items in public places, on public transport, on the beach (because I wanted to wear a balaclava on the beach!) in public gardens, in shops, in businesses, restaurants, banks, stations, airports, town halls, tribunals, prefectures, hospitals, museums or libraries.

Of course, the media’s first reaction (especially in England) was one of ‘ban the burqa’. This is ridiculous. Firstly, the integral burqa is worn by very few women – the hijab is far more popular. Secondly, it fails to take account of the (perhaps token) statements about balaclavas (cagoules – at first I thought they were banning the nifty showerproof overcoat thing worn by trainspotters, planespotters and other fetishistic ne’er-do-wells, which smacked of ‘fashion police’ rather than ‘gendarmes’)

The over-reaction involves the fact that people seem to think they will be ripped off women’s heads. Not so. The wearers of any face-obscuring item will first be asked to remove it. This enables identity checks and every other Big Brother process about being who you say you are. Then, if you don’t, you might be carted off to a police station and fined 150€. So, should an IT-girl on French slopes decide she doesn’t want to remove her ski-mask and balaclava, she would be treated in the same way as a muslim woman who refuses to remove her veil.

Of course, the populist press only want to hear ‘ban the burqa’ and it was alarming to see in British newspapers that the two arrests in Paris yesterday were for ‘wearing a veil’ when in fact they were for demonstrating in a public place without permission. Quite a difference. But that’s not news, is it? The women arrested at Greenham Common in the 80s were arrested for similar things. Protesting is fine as long as it’s organised. With rights come responsibilities. But this mis-reporting has incited the British and the English MPs.

Theresa May, the MP not the dodgy ‘adult’ movie star said that no such ban would happen in England and this has brought out two different sides of the camp.

The first are those who think it is a good idea. They see the veil as a living tomb, the citizens within them as ‘non-citizens’. They see it as a symbol of repression. They point to the fact that you cannot kiss on Dubai beaches as a matter of public decency and that we abide by muslim rules when we are in muslim countries. And they are right. In Morocco, I got a really great insight into what I would say is a fairly progressive muslim society. Bear in mind the predominant culture is bedouin and that the ‘Arabs’ were just as much an invader in Morocco as they were in Spain. The djellaba is de rigeur.

Djellabas are pretty neat items. You put them on over whatever you’re wearing – like jeans. Some have a hood, jedi-style. I even saw a camouflage djellaba. Colourful djellabas are fine, and many of them were beautifully adorned with embroidery and amazing detail.

It’s impossible to see these as religious oppression. On the whole, they are practical to keep sand out of your inner regions, voluminous enough to keep a breeze circulating and I had a really good chat with a woman on a train about them – and she made me realise that it’s as much about respect as anything else. Not covering up so men can’t see you – because the men wear djellabas too – but that it’s a premise that you don’t go around flaunting your wealth, you have a little more dignity than the desire to show bling. It’s anti-bling. The houses, most of which are windowless high walls, open onto beautiful courtyards. This is the same. It’s a private beauty, not ostentatious beauty. France is quite like that anyway. You don’t see bling or show, fancy BMW X5s, Manolos or Jimmy Choos. It’s anti-commercialism.

Not only that, Morocco has a wide range of bedouin outfits, western outfits, muslim outfits – and people are sensible. It’s based on respect.

Now, the other side of the argument holds with free-will and that in a democratic country we should have freedom. And this is also true. This is something very dear to me.

But personally, and this has been forgotten in all of this, we dress appropriately. We use our discretion, because with rights come responsibilities. So, just because some suffragettes chained themselves to fences and fell under horses to get me a vote as a woman, and just because some bra-burners in the seventies made it illegal (in law, if not in practice) to pay women differently or to sack pregnant women, or to ask about intentions towards pregnancy doesn’t mean that I should now use this equality and freedom, liberation, to do as I goddamn please. It’s INAPPROPRIATE to wear certain things in school – so I was always suited and booted – I didn’t display tattoos. I didn’t wear jeans. I didn’t wear too-short skirts or silly revealing tops. Mainly this is because I was working with teenage boys, and having seen Leroy Parker’s eyes on stalks when a trainee teacher bent over and reveal a whale-tail thong sticking out of the top of her too-tight trousers was precisely why. I don’t want teenage boys perving over a flash of thong. I don’t want to do anything that distracts from the central purpose of the classroom: learning. I did once wear a ball gown, but that was for learning.

Likewise, it is INAPPROPRIATE of me to:

1. Go naked in the streets, unless I am my good friend David and I’d quite like to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, or unless I am an animal when fur is de riguer.

2. Go to a Manchester City vs Liverpool match wearing a Manchester United shirt.

3. Go to a Pakistan-Bangladesh cricket match wearing an Indian team shirt

4. Turn up at a South Africa/Australia match in an England shirt

5. Wander around Dubai’s streets in a bikini

6. Go to Iran wearing a mini-skirt and boob tube

7. Go into a mosque wearing a swimming costume

8. Wear a Ginger-Spice-inspired Union Jack dress in the middle of Bradford

9. Dress up as John Lydon if I’m going to meet the Queen

10. Wear lederhosen and slap my thighs in a science classroom

11. Put on a Nazi costume and go wandering around the streets.

12. Wear a ballet tutu to work in a packing factory

I’d be a provocative idiot if I did these things. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

And so it’s all very well to say we should or shouldn’t be allowed to wear particular clothing (or none at all) but there’s also a degree of provocation in wearing it. “It’s my right” is offensive to many other people. It’s my right to erect a huge Union Jack on my driveway in Bolton, but I don’t. It’s my right not to wear a bra, but I don’t take advantage of that. I can wear a bikini in M&S if I like, but I don’t. “It’s my religion!” is another argument altogether. It’s not in the Qu’ran to wear a veil, only to be dressed modestly. If it were, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco would all be wearing a burqa. “My husband makes me!” is not an answer at all, and terrifies me.

What is important to remember though is that whilst France has the largest Islamic population in Europe, it also has only between 350-2000 (estimate by Le Figaro) veil-wearers. Why is it then that so many of my formerly free-faced Bolton neighbours feel the need to wear the veil? 15 years ago, veil wearers were not so frequent. Now most of my neighbours and clients wear one.

There is, to me, an issue about integration. My veil-wearing clients often were not English speakers and would ask their children to call me. Some of them were just members of mosques where it was the habit and it was the habit for me. My other Muslim clients who didn’t wear a veil included a very intelligent second-generation Pakistani girl who had three older sisters – a doctor, a lawyer and an accountant. None of them wore a veil at all, although their mother wore a headscarf.

What’s more concerning is that so many of the women who wear one are young, independent and ‘English’ who don’t feel integrated enough into ‘English’ customs not to wear one. And that’s an issue.

Maybe France is wrong to be secular – but I uphold its values. Having worked in a Catholic school where you cannot teach sensible sex education (because sex is only allowed in marriage!) and you cannot advise them to be careful or avoid disease means that religion comes before education. If you cannot teach evolution, then something is wrong. I like that religion falls outside French state schools. Of course, you can elect to send your child to a private school where religion is allowed, but there’s a distinction. And someone in this modern world has to say religion has no business in politics or education. After all, America, our great ‘secular’ nation whose dollar bill proclaims, ironically, ‘In God We Trust’ and in which four states are prohibited from teaching evolution, so my personal thoughts are that religion has no place in law or in education. And I applaud France for being secular.

I also strongly believe that it is your responsibility to integrate into democracy and equality, never making yourself ‘more equal’ than someone else. If you are allowed to wear a hijab and I am not allowed to wear a cross, then you are more equal and the respecting of your rights violates mine. And that’s wrong. Either everything is allowed – whereby people will take advantage of that, teachers will end up dressing like prostitutes, ‘sexy’ t-shirts will be on sale for 7 year olds along with push-up bras and someone somewhere will decide naked is best – or there are limits which people will complain about. Since people are unable to act responsibly and appropriately, liberalism must be a little conservative. And that’s sad.

But not everyone thinks like I do – and that’s why a degree of intervention and restriction is needed. Maybe if we weren’t all so bothered about it, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is. Unfortunately, some people are provoked by the sight of a burqa, and some criminals have used it to disguise their identity and so laws like this will continue to be passed to appease the majority.

Finding inspiration…

I’ve been inspirationally constipated these last few days. Not sure why. It’s hard sometimes to find anything to say – even for me! Plus, it’s been magnificently hot – 27 degrees these last 4 days – and we’ve been outside for a good proportion of the day.

But… something caught my eye this morning and it compelled me to write. Not least because it’s so similar to my own views – although the list is different.

Patrick Ness is currently my favourite writer – teenage or adult fiction aside – and he breaks rules like you wouldn’t believe. Present-tense 1st person narrative with idiosyncratic spelling and font use – he breaks conventions in such interesting ways. Without that, his trilogy starting with ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ is an interesting sci-fi-ish, fantasy-ish quest. It has all the typical quest features – teenage heroes on the cusp of manhood (and never had manhood been so important!), a female sidekick who often saves the day, an animal who proves his worth (and had some of the best dialogue for an animal. Forget Doug in Up, Manchee is the best dog character I’ve seen for a while. Especially when he comes back from his daily constitutional and says “Great poo, Todd!” because that’s what dogs would say. It has your typical villain – Prentiss – and a journey, something sought, a setback in the second novel that finishes on a downturn (think The Empire Strikes Back) but it does it in such interesting ways. It’s part Shakespearean Tempest with colonisation and new worlds being at the forefront. It’s part The Handmaid’s Tale with the subjugation and elimination of women. It’s sci-fi, but gently so. It’s futuristic, but it’s timely. I love everything about it. And then you have a guy who manipulates the written word in ways that are so easy for rule-breaking teenagers to grasp. The sentences and paragraphs that perfectly reflect the tension – I could find a million pieces of text that are as perfectly constructed, punctuation and syntax-wise, as Angela Carter’s prose, so rich and velvety and dense as it is. For all those primary school teachers who say you can’t start a sentence with ‘And’ and you should have a full stop for every other coordinating or subordinating conjunction, they need to (first read KJB and the psalms and then) read some of Todd’s perfectly-constructed prose where Todd’s actions blend seemlessly into one in a very cinematic and visually interesting way.

Anyway… his top 10 books that teenagers should be told not to read (and then they’ll read) is here…

And it inspired my own top 10, in that it mentions at least a few books I read as a teenager that probably I shouldn’t have read. Unfortunately, teenage fiction wasn’t quite as good when I was a teen – I would have loved the phenomenal amount of good teen literature these days. So in between the children’s library in Bury and the adult section, there were two carousels – meagre offerings – of ‘teen’ fiction, most of which I read very quickly – and so I ventured to the adult section, and these are the things that caught my attention:

1. Like Patrick Ness, Flowers in the Attic. I was entranced by this story. Incest, child abuse, rape, whippings, imprisonment… it might be candy-floss, but it’s as much a gothic horror in the style of Ann Radcliffe as anything else. I was hooked on the whole series, and then later by Heaven and the Casteel series.

2. My Stephen King of choice isn’t The Stand, but It. I thought long and hard about which one I’d choose – I remember reading Pet Semetery and Salem’s Lot and either of these could be the one I’d ‘not’ recommend to teenagers. I remember reading Salem’s Lot when I got back in at night and being utterly terrified. Another thing that got me hooked on Gothic Horror as a precursor (in my reading, not chronologically!) for Dracula. It, though, was so long, so intense – and the descriptions of Pennywise are remnants from a very twisted imagination.

3. James Bond. I read all the Ian Fleming books in series – not sure why – but they’re sex and violence and even though they’re repetitive, they made me dream of  a life more glamorous than the one I had. And they’re better than the films.

4. The Outsiders. I know the film came out when I was about 11 – but it was the book that got me. I read it over and over. The film launched many film careers – Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio – directed by Francis Ford Coppola… and if it did anything, it made me love poetry. When Ponyboy recites “Nature’s first green is gold” – it made me love, love, love poetry. I learned poetry by heart because of this book. It also made me read ‘Gone with the Wind’ – and subsequently watch the film. It was inspirational on so many levels: teens writing, tales of friendship I wished I had.

5. Anything by Judy Blume (although I confess I read these when I was 11 and not quite a teen!) Forever is probably far too racy for an 11 year old, but it offered fascinating insights into a world I wasn’t in yet. Plus, it made me realise that books were sometimes rude and real. I was still living in a dreamy Enid Blyton world before that.

6. Steppenwolf. I read this at the other end of my teens, when I was about 16 – and in ways that I never got with A Catcher in the Rye, which I read at 19 – it really got me with that feeling of existential angst and isolation that teens feel and adults don’t always.

7. Maurice by EM Forster. This came out in the cinema when I was about 14. I went to see it at the Cornerhouse, an arts cinema in Manchester. Small screens, old seats, smoky furniture – it was as much about watching it there as an impressionable teen as it was about the book, which I read before I went. I cried buckets. Now I’m not gay, but when you’re a teenager thinking about sexuality, this brings it to the fore. It made me a better person to understand that love is love, no matter when and where it strikes. It also made me realise that sexuality isn’t a choice and shouldn’t be defined by social constraints. The film unfortunately gave me a crush on Hugh Grant (thankfully passed) and Rupert Graves, who is still very handsome indeed. I think it’s probably responsible for a lot of my fag-hagging and attraction to hanging out with gay men. It’s probably a really crap book and I never plan on re-reading it, but for a teenager it was really beautiful and sad.

8. I misquoted the famous line from The Go-Between yesterday (I actually said ‘The past is a different country: you have no jurisdiction over what happened in it and there’s no point worrying about what’s going on there – like Libya. There’s nothing you can do about it and nothing you try to do about it makes a bit of difference’ – which I think is a vast improvement, but then, I’m full of my own self-importance!) and The Go-Between was another really important book. I must have liked reading about doomed love affairs! My English teacher, Mrs Trethewey – a genius of a woman who introduced me to Spike Milligan poetry and to John Clare – made us write a book report at the age of 15 – and this was on the list. I chose it and never looked back. I probably enjoyed Atonement a great deal from having read this. As a loose detour, I’ve just read that Keira Knightley is to star in Anna Karenina. How to ruin a good book. I despise that woman with her wooden acting. She’s like a clothes-horse. A mannequin has more personality and emotion – and not just Kim Cattrell’s Mannequin. Keira Knightley absolutely ruined Atonement with her pouty, skinny lack of emotion. This was a detestable shame, because James MacAvoy was soooooo good. When will casting agents realise that being wooden is not acting, and being British isn’t about being wooden. I digress.

9. Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells – showing how teenage fiction should be done. If ever you want to know why nuclear war is a bad thing, this makes it more than clear. This really affected my views of the world – you can see a lot of these books affected me because they were about relationships but some got me because they were about issues that would come to define me throughout my life. This was one of those.

10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. At the time, this seemed so cutting edge to me. I read it every year for about six or seven years. It was a totally different type of writing from everything I’d read so far in my life. It seemed such a free way of writing. I think I read it when I was about 16 or 17 and it will always be my book of festivals, my book of long train journeys. My copy has got hundreds of drawings in it and on it – I used to do ink drawings over the text of places I saw, road signs, buildings… I think it really got me about how free you could be, how you could live outside of society – and then, as my teen years finished, I conformed completely for a good 15 year period! Now the romance of On the Road has had a little rejuvenation within my soul.

The Troubles, Kashmir and DC

I’d just like to start with an apology for non-political people. Sorry. This is going to get political!

Yesterday, I had a brief discussion about the cause of the Troubles in Ireland with a client. He asked me what it had stemmed from and a bit about my take on it. As far as I can see, English landowners bought up or were given huge tracts of Ireland and some of them treated the Irish worse than slaves. By this, I mean if you own slaves, they are your possessions and it’s good sense to look after them, unless you see them as an expendable labour force – a death from starvation here and there is nothing to you – so you feed them, house them and so on, like you would with working animals (what a terrible image) because it’s in your best interest to do so. With a hired peasant workforce, you have no such obligation. You can pay them terribly, leave them to fend for themselves and know that if they don’t like it, there are millions of others you can employ for a wage that won’t cover the food and lodgings they need. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal”, written in 1729, sums up many people’s views of the Irish at the time – and not necessarily satirical views at all! He proposes we eat the children of Irish beggars, “a child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends” and perhaps, most biting of all: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

He brings to the forefront that this argument is as much about ‘papists’ as it is about Irish, and that many more children are born nine months after Lent (and as a teacher, I can tell you there are a surprising number of children born in September, 9 months after Christmas revels. So much for planned pregnancies!) He also says it will give the parents a saleable commodity, their ‘corn and cattle’ having already been seized by the landlords. And this is part of the problem to me. Multiply all the Irish resentment by 400 years and is it any wonder we have bombs in Omagh? In fact, English landlords and tenant farming is precisely the problem in Zimbabwe, is it not? Such treatment of the indigenous people where they feel (rightly or wrongly) that their lands have been removed from them by foreign colonists leads to leaders like Mugabe.

So… when David Cameron tells the Pakistani people that Kashmir is partly an English problem, he has a point. I know his critics are saying he shouldn’t apologise for our colonial past, but if we expect the Japanese to apologise for war crimes, shouldn’t we apologise for our crimes against humanity too? And, he has a very valid point.

What’s the problem in Afghanistan? Is it really Bin Laden and the Taliban? The Taliban rise off the back of the Mujaheddin, coming from the battle of a native people trying to defend their country from more powerful allies, be they English, American, Russian or Chinese. Here sits Afghanistan, a pivotal point on the global maps of the past – a cross-roads, a pawn that every major country wanted to control. And here sits Afghanistan in 2011, a wreck because of its unfortunate position and the fierce resistance of the people who want to run it how they want. I’m not going to judge the Taliban because it’s not my place. And neither can I judge British involvement in wars over 200 years in the area. But both are facts. The Taliban exist. And Britain used Afghanistan as a pawn against many things: the Iron Curtain, Chinese expansion, Russian expansion, control in the Opium Wars…

What’s the problem in Iraq and Libya and Egypt and Yemen? Western and European involvement in politics that are nothing to do with us because we’ve got a vested interest politically in whatever is produced in that area, or in keeping them ‘on side’ in wars against other nations? It’s not that simple, of course. As my A level English teacher said, I have a tendency to make sweeping generalisations. But I’m a fan of ‘the bottom line’. Ignore all the other little by-products and we have many countries who have reared up against the Empire and pitted us as Darth Vader against their freedom-fighting Luke Skywalkers. America was no different.

And England aren’t alone. France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal – even Russia and China – we all have our roles in colonising countries who had very little say in the matter, and we all had problems at home that maybe we should have dealt with first. Riddled with moral issues of our own, we gallantly went around the emerging continents  – Africa, the Americas, Australia, Oceania, Asia, colonising everything we can get our grubby little hands on.

And when we’re not colonising, we’re cutting up countries to apportion. Israel, India, Kashmir… some noble British or American cartographer comes along, draws an arbitrary line down a map and it’s settled. Pakistan and India. African nations (check out anywhere there’s a neat line on a map and you can see the work of sweaty little cartographers of the past cutting up countries like cake) Yes, I know there’s more to it than that, but when you get down to it, that’s essentially what happened.

This is why Heart of Darkness is a great novel, and even its progeny, Apocalypse Now. It raises the problems of colonisation – that you do it for perhaps noble reasons, or perhaps just a smash-and-grab for whatever resources lie untapped – but whatever noble reasons you might do it for are lost in the fact that what you are doing is essentially raping and pillaging with violence and menaces.

And no, the Romans, the Vikings – they were little better. Maybe someone should resurrect Caesar and Alexander to apologise for riding rough-shod over Europe, North Africa and the Near East?

So… as for David Cameron’s comments – no, they’re not out of place. He’s right to accept some responsibility and face up to our ignoble past. However, we aren’t alone. Most of our countries, our home nations, have done atrocious things in forming the boundaries that exist today. Indigenous people’s rights have been stamped on and thwarted. Countries have been torn apart and stitched back together in arbitrary fashions. Borders have been drawn where none should exist. None of our nations are above taking a little responsibility that somewhere along the lines we’ve violated someone else’s rights. And if we all start apologising, it’ll take a long time before the global hand-wringing is all over. Maybe we should have a global amnesty on responsibility for the past and look forward to finding real solutions that come without riots, without wars, without extremist governments, without meddling rooted in preserving the resource connections we seek to pillage, without little short French dudes getting out their planes to sort out North Africa to – some would cynically say – ensure an election victory as Thatcher did with the Falklands.

And so, Marlow was right when he said:

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force– nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

Kurtz – played of course by Brando – embodies the nobility at first of that idea – to civilise, to bring order, to bring humanity. Do any of us English doubt what the Romans did for us? Not if we’ve seen The Life of Brian… but I can’t say there is a solution to Kashmir, to Afghanistan, to Zimbabwe, to Israel unless we can all agree to stop meddling and getting involved in other people’s politics for whatever reason, be it humanitarian or a desire to protect a resource we esteem. And that in itself brings many other problems as we then have to allow the real citizens to form a government that works for them. That can be bloody, violent and horrific – and then we feel we want to intervene as some kind of global referee.

It’s no wonder political actions are so problematic. But, for me… it’s a good thing that DC has done. It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it acceptable. It doesn’t solve anything to apologise for the past. But when we accept our mistakes of the past, maybe it’ll make us think twice about making them in the future. And, like parents who’ve made mistakes themselves, you have to let your children make their own mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s the only way we learn, as people individually, or as a collective of nations.