Sometimes, it feels like life is not going the way I planned it. I plant stuff, it doesn’t grow. Other stuff, which I hadn’t intended to be so prolific, is prolific. It’s unexpected. Sometimes, it’s very disappointing. Sometimes, it’s very frustrating. Sometimes, it’s surprisingly rewarding in ways I hadn’t expected.
Sometimes, it feels like very little has happened in the last 12 years that has been positive at all. My career took off, then I crashed. At the height of my ‘achievements’, at that time when I was a force to be reckoned with, I’d never been so depressed. All that time in Japan, I just felt lost, like I was ticking off boxes of things to do before I died. I was going through the motions. I was thin, healthy, running, fighting fit, filled with vitamins and supplements, eating well, in a great job doing good things, mostly with people I respected, and I was utterly, utterly miserable.
A lot of that came back to work. I had the misfortune to bring out the worst in another team member and she did all she could to make my life difficult at work. My boss was so weak that she wouldn’t pick sides or stand up and say that what was happening was wrong. I made the mistake of showing her how I felt, and she told the woman who was tormenting me.
And then, back in schools for the first time in three years, it felt like it was going somewhere, only for my life to be brought to a standstill on the back of someone else’s accusations. That all went away, in the end, but it took three years and over 1,000,000 pieces of evidence and data on my behalf, with not one single piece on theirs.
Then there’s been the move to France, which has not gone how I thought it would. I watch my world fall apart sometimes, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Luckily, my friends and family have been nothing but loyal, calm, supportive and reasonable. I can’t say the same for everyone, but I know that once my elements are back under my control then it’s full steam ahead. I think life’s like that.
So, when I sat marking this morning, even though Heston had been up since 3 this morning with a poorly tummy, even though I was agitated by the software I’m using, the birds were singing, the animals were sleeping peacefully and I felt lucky again. Last night, driving home from Jake’s concert, the skies were beautiful. The sun set was perfect. The world felt in keeping with me. I felt like I could breathe, properly, deeply, and that the last 12 years of agitation are coming to an end. I hope so. I nearly went down for the count in the sixth round, but I feel like I’ve done 12 rounds with Tyson and that I can build up to my 40th birthday as if it is something marvellous. I have 40 parties more-or-less planned.
I want my 40th year to be the greatest of my life.
Now I need you all to cross your fingers and hope it too.
Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by way of Lita Roza with her version of How Much is that Doggie in the Window?
Heston has been with us now since Thursday and there’s nothing not to love. He’s beautiful! He’s super-intelligent, very playful and lots of fun. He has already learned to sit down, though he still runs off from time to time when he’s done something naughty (or wants to!) and he’s sleeping in his basket next to my bed. He has lots of accidents and is a tinkler rather than a piddler, meaning he goes to the toilet ALL the time rather than waiting til his bladder is full. This is a bit of an issue, but his wees are so little they’re hardly worth bothering about.
Tilly is also being lovely. She won’t play with Heston, and it worries her he might steal all of her things (including her place in my heart) but he’ll never do that. Yesterday, we went on a doggie play date with Mme V and Tilly found an admirer in Dillon, Mme V’s spaniel. He’s bigger than she is, but it’s a match made in heaven from his perspective. She has a crusty nose, some aoutie wounds, she smells bad, she’s a bit deaf, she’s blonde and cute. She doesn’t want to play or fuss and she has a bottom that smells divine to Dillon. What’s not to love?
Tilly’s not so enamoured, but then Dillon has nothing to offer her. He is not made of biscuits. She has foregone sex and swapped it for eating, so Dillon is just an annoyance to her. She tolerates his nose in her behind, but she’s more found of being petted. Despite some little yaps, she soon got over her nerves when she realised Dillon was a lover not a warrior.
Molly has been brilliant with him, but she’s a bit afraid she’ll break him. He wants to play with her and she looks like she’s worried she might drop him and break him, a bit like those women who don’t want to hold a baby in case they hurt it.
Much Love to doggie playdates. Heston, Tilly and Molly had a ball, as did Jake.
Much Love to the weekend of sun, though it’s back to rain again.
Not Much Love to the e-marker system. We pair-mark. This means I mark a thing, somebody else marks it too, and our marks are compared. If there’s a difference, we’re both stopped. Somebody more important looks at them and decides who’s right. If you are wrong, you ‘fail’ and you have one more opportunity before you are stopped. You can be re-trained, but then you are stopped again if you fail to be the ‘right’ marker on four paired-marking scripts.
You’d maybe want the check to be 20% maximum. That’s 45 scripts for me. I can live with that. Yesterday, I had 8 in a row. 8. And then I marked 7 scripts, and I had 5 more. The checking seems to be running at 50% at the moment, which is ridiculous, considering I was ‘right’ on 13 scripts and somebody else was ‘wrong’. That’s at least 4 people whose script was not inline with mine. I wasn’t wrong. I’ve done half of my writing paper marking and I’ve been checked 45% of the time. It’s a little overkill, especially when English marking is based on quality. It’s like that Minefield game.
Not only that, you have to wait whilst unresolved scripts are adjudicated. I wasted 90 minutes yesterday waiting for my marking to be checked. It’s longer today. It’s infuriating.
Anyway, I shall get back to playing with my puppy.
Not Much Love, either, for hiccups. I’ve had them since 7 am on and off. Drinking from the wrong side of the glass, holding my breath, none of it worked.
I picked up the latest addition to the menagerie this afternoon, Mr Heston. He was found in a cardboard box and had thus far been pampered by a marvellous array of ladies. It’d be rude not to show him off, though he does not photograph well. Neither he nor Noireau make it easy to be photographed.
Anyhow… here’s the day with the new puppy so far:
1:15 Meet Madame Verity for a secret assignation on the car park at St Claud.
1:30 Follow Mme V to Heston’s nounou
1:31 Fall in love with both Charlton and Heston
1:45 Put Heston and Charlton in the back of my car in their crates
1:46 C & H decided to cry all the way home
1:48 I sing ‘Three Little Birds’. Heston is quiet. Charlton cries more.
1:50 I sing ‘I can see clearly now’. Heston is sick. Charlton cries a bit less.
1:52 I sing ‘In the Jungle’. Both animals are quiet.
1:53 Charlton is sick.
1:54 Both dogs decide crying is the way forward.
1:55 I’m nearly sick because the car smells of sick.
1:57 With the windows open, I resume singing ‘In the Jungle’
1:58 I try a rendition of ‘My boy Lollipop’ which used to soothe Basil. They don’t like it. Revert to ‘In the Jungle’
2:03 Arrive home. Molly and Tilly greet Heston. Molly sniffs gently. Tilly barks and has to be shut in the house.
2:05 Charlton, his crate and his sick, Mme V and Mr N disappear. I hope they know the words to ‘In the Jungle’
2:06 Heston gets out of his crate and sniffs Molly and Steve. He follows me into the house.
2:11 He meets Tilly, who wags a little and then goes to lie down with Steve.
2:12 Heston and I have a petting session for five minutes of bonding.
2:20 Heston goes to sleep behind my chair.
2:40 Heston relocates to under the sofa. I realise I’ve not cleaned under there for ages. Oh well.
3:10 I go and look under the sofa, lying down in front of it. I lie in a puddle of wee. Oh well.
3:11 I get changed.
3:30 Heston comes into the garden with me. He rolls in the grass. He has a drink, comes back in and goes under the couch again. He comes out and plays ball for a bit. Quick little doggie. He knows what to do. Tilly never will and she’s seven. Poor Tilly Pop. She’s just not interested in playing.
4:30 No sign of life. Jake comes home from school. As soon as he comes in, Heston is out from under the couch and comes for petting. He rolls on his back then goes back to bed.
4:50 I go out to work. Steve takes Heston in the garden. Molly teaches Heston the game of ‘hit myself in the head with a popped football’ which Heston enjoys. Later, he tries the same game.
7:30 I return home to three wagging doggies and Steve. Heston has had his tea, has done a poo in the garden and a wee and he has played some more.
8:00 – 10:30 We all take turns with the mop and bucket. Pretty certain Tilly did one of the wees, and Heston’s squeezed out a couple.
Today’s Much Love Monday is coming to you with a little RHCP soundtrack.
This is one band I never get tired of, mainly because I’ve grown up with them. I was young and giddy when they were young and giddy. I was pensive and melancholy when they were pensive and melancholy. They’ve had a couple of off albums but the rest are pure joy. Let’s not talk Stadium Arcadium and remember how good I’m With You is. Hands-down favourite band ever. Tomorrow, I might do my top ten Chili tracks.
Anyway… so why will three not be a crowd?
Because, on Saturday, I am getting a new addition to the household. Please welcome Heston!
Heston is the little boy on the left.
A while ago, my very, very goodhearted friend had taken one of her four lovely doggies to the vet. When she was there, the vet received a call to say that someone had found a box of very young puppies. My friend had decided she couldn’t leave them, so she took them all home. The seven babes in the wood were hand-reared by a team of three very dedicated people. Two girls died – not surprising given that the pups were only a couple of days old. And of the five left, one lady had two of the boys.
My friend had asked me to put them on a Facebook page for ladies in France, which I did. 24 hours later and there’d been lots of ‘they’re lovely, but we have five already’ and I was beginning to think the boys wouldn’t find a home.
Then, Saturday afternoon, Verity called.
“Neil says I can have one!” she said.
We’d already had a discussion in her kitchen the night before about which were cuter and how sad it was. She has three dogs already: Dillon, her spaniel, and Barnaby and Lola her beautiful, beautiful German shepherds. I’ve got two – Tilly and Molly, although Molly will be going back to the UK in a few weeks.
“Wow!” Yay! Home for one.
“He says I can have one if he can call it Charlton.”
Okay. Men are weird. They have conditions like this. My brother-in-law would only have a kitten I hand-reared if he could call it Clint instead of Olly (a.k.a Wobbly Bob) and so I can accept this. Charlton are a Championship football team in London, and I’m guessing Neil’s gone for that.
“No problem.” said I.
“And if you have the other one.”
“Oh. Okay.” I said.
I’m a lot easier to convince than Neil. It took 24 hours and a name change for him. It took two seconds and a polite request for me. I’m easy like that.
“I could call mine Heston.”
I know it’s not what Neil is going for, but Charlton and Heston – it’s too cute. Plus, great names for little boy dogs. And a tribute to Heston Blumenthal to boot.
And so a deal was struck. Verity has had a playdate already. I had to forego that option as I was working, but I cannot wait until next Saturday when Master Heston will become doggie number three here.
Noireau will like it, because he’ll have a wriggly little puppy to play with. He likes to jump on Molly and Tilly, but they’re not very playful in return. I suspect Heston will be a good target.
Tilly won’t like it at first, but then I’ve got real concerns about her when Molly leaves. Tilly’s always had another dog to be the boss of her. First there was Saffy and then Molly. Molly is a good boss, since she never pinches Tilly’s food and she doesn’t interfere with her. However, Tilly is a nervous little dog used to being at the bottom of the pecking order. She went for Noireau when Noireau tried to get on my lap and she thought he was coming for her space. She’s not going to find it easy being elevated to top spot and I suspect she’d do a lot more nervous barking and panic about how she was going to keep everything safe here. Having a puppy she can train to respect her (or that I can!) yet who’ll be her back-up and security guard and bodyguard might make things a lot easier. I hope.
Now we suspect Heston is a lab x collie – so he could be big. He could be bouncy. He’s bound to be bright as a button given his mongrel status and bright-as-button parentage. He’s going to need training and obedience and games. Hooray. I’m looking forward to it. Tilly was six when she arrived here. She’s not so good at being trained, though she will sit for a treat and give a paw (because a treat is involved…) and she’ll chase things now where as she just wanted to chase chickens when she arrived. But she’s not blessed with brains, cute as she is. Years of ‘pedigree’ breeding have left her with spaniel traits a-go-go. Greedy, possessive, jealous, a hoarder, submissive weeing, nervous barking. Unless you train a spaniel early, it will steal food, get on tables, bury bones. She has good traits too – she’s a very merry and loyal little dog and is generally very, very happy. She’s not well socialised, with dogs or with people, and nothing I can do with her now will really conquer all of that.
And so I’m just hoping she doesn’t teach Heston any bad tricks. She can teach him to be good on walks – she’s fabulous on a lead. And that’s about it. Bless her. Much Love to my little Tilly Popper who also ended up here through misfortune. I will never understand how anybody could leave an animal. But then I’m far too sentimental!
So Much Monday Loveliness to little Heston. Let’s hope by this time next week I have photos to show you and no horror stories!
It’s still so wet that the weeds have taken over and there’s little point digging since it’s three times the effort for a quarter of the result. The tomato patch that I hoed last of all is almost completely weeds. Oh well.
So, no cherries to speak of, and it looks like being a poor year for red onions (gone to seed) and ratatouille veg, but a brilliant year for potatoes, peas, beans, carrots and cabbages. Oh well to that as well.
I like to take photos of the season as it unravels and I’ve been using picmonkey for that… I have ‘plot-to-almost=pot’ photos. It’s been the broad beans today. I’ve picked about 4 kg of broad beans so far. Of course, most is pod, so in terms of actual weight, I’ve got about 2 kg of broad beans blanched and frozen.
I think this is my favourite app. So quick! Upload the photos you want in it and the layout and boom – a collage. No photoshop messing.
I planted these on the fourth of January. It then snowed and flooded and rained and was cold – so it’s been one hundred and sixty five days from bean to bean. Not bad though. I’m quite amazed by how quickly they come on. It never fails to amaze me that something can be a seed one day and a plant the next. The first leaves came up two months after planting – most of that time was very cold indeed. Two months after that, we had flowers. That’s 4th January planting, 4th March first leaves, 4th May flowers, then a month later, we had a huge crop. To be honest, I could have planted them a whole lot later, I think. Trouble is, you can’t predict having a month of bitterly cold temperatures.
Speaking of things that are seeds one day and plants the next, I planted a lemon pip (well, four, but only one has come to anything) which is now bursting with life. As to whether it will have lemons ever, I don’t know. It’s got lovely foliage though, so I won’t be upset if it doesn’t.
And because I have no cherries, but because I love this picmonkey app (and you can have it pretty much any which way you want it) I thought I’d do a cherry-inspired one from last year.
I was saying yesterday I felt a bit like I should just write the year off and go back to bed until next summer. Of course, I won’t. There are far too many things in the garden to enjoy quand-même.
So… last week was all about Manchester – and as you might know, Manchester is the home of many great musical talents. I’m not being an uber-purist about where Manchester ends – suffice to say if it’s below Bury, east of Salford, north of Stockport and west of Stalyvegas, it’ll do.
This week, my top ten are top ten ‘sounds of Manchester’. I’ve tried to do a kind of chronology, but I’m too lazy to do it properly. I need an anally retentive man in the style of High Fidelity to come and sort it out.
#1 Joy Division Atmosphere.
Could have gone for lots of tracks, but this one means so much more to me. It was the first single I bought of theirs and Love Will Tear Us Apart is just a little too popular. I still have many Joy Division posters. Top band. When Americans talk about British New Wave, this is is. Post-punk, nothing left.
This song is Affleck’s Palace through and through. Plus, I like it because the ‘disco’ in Bury was called Atmosphere, and it was nothing like this track, despite being equally depressing. I also like it because I kind of hope someone might have gone looking for Russ Abbott’s Atmosphere and found this by mistake.
# 2 New Order True Faith
The first on my list gave birth to the second. And this is one of my favourite tracks from them. I used to think that the day would never come… That my life would depend on the morning sun…
This just reminds me of PE where Mrs Riley encouraged us to do some kind of bizarre rhythmic dance to New Order. It’s a horrible memory to have of a top track.
# 3 The Smiths Girlfriend in a Coma
Here’s a cheery little ditty for you. I could have picked many, many things from the Smiths’ pantheon, but I love the faux-cheerfulness of this. Also, Morrissey doesn’t look quite so… special… in it. In fact, he doesn’t look unhandsome. Here’s a fact for you. My high school friend Anna was nearly run over by Johnny Marr on Deansgate. Boys that liked The Smiths were always cute. Witness Ferris Bueller with his ‘Meat is Murder’ poster.
So what if Morrissey is crazy now and says the most outlandish things. Like other Manchester men, he’s nothing without his partner, Johnny Marr – oh he of the twangly guitar.
# 4 A Certain Ratio The Big E
Perhaps from their more … hmmm… how shall I put this? … commercial period, this is a cracking song and one of my feel-good Manchester tunes. I won’t stop loving you. I still believe in you. When everything goes wrong, you think you’re on your own, I won’t stop loving you. And it’s also part of the soundtrack to the superb film about Ian Curtis
Bedfellows of Joy Division, Jeremy Kerr is also the brother-in-law of my RE teacher. See. Small World.
# 5 The Stone Roses. I am the Resurrection.
They might have to be in here twice, being the defining sound of my late teens. My favourite Stone Roses track has to be I am the Resurrection. It captures Manchester insouciance like nothing else. I don’t care where you’ve been or what you plan to do. I am the Resurrection and I am the light. Confident, cocky, lovable, great tunes.
And, not unlike the Smiths, when John Squires decided Ian Brown was a little bit bonkers, the band fell apart. This isn’t a story that’s going to end here. Manchester bands seem to have a thing about having two prima donnas. Two egos are far too many for a band.
#6 James Laid
I listened to this album almost non-stop in 1995. It was on a cassette I took to France with me, back to back with a Depeche Mode album. I had so little space (and so much vinyl) that I only had five cassettes with me. It’ll always be about leaving St Malo and leaving Phil behind. Sit Down is a top track, but Laid is one of my favourite songs ever.
Tim Booth is strangely attractive in this video too, for a generally unattractive man. I love his songs because he seems to get what crazy really is. Anyone who has a line in their song saying ‘Dressed me up in women’s clothes, messed around with gender roles, line my eyes and call me pretty’ is a bit crazy if you ask me.
#7 The Happy Mondays Step On
I was never a huge fan of the Happy Mondays – Shaun Ryder was a talentless has-been even back in the day. However, they’re a lot of fun – laid-back good-for-nothings made good. That’s such a Manchester story. You couldn’t hate them even if you tried. This is why Bez won Celebrity Big Brother – because he’s impossible not to like, even if he can’t put a coherent sentence together and he still rattles, even if he’s not had a pill since the 90s. Even Shaun Ryder’s got something likeable about him, even if he is a hood.
Nothing is Madchester like the happy marriage of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays.
#8 Inspiral Carpets This is how it feels
An often overlooked Manchester band, they’re still pretty cool and trippy. Another 1988-1989 kind of vibe. This is how it feels to be lonely. This is how it feels to be small. This is how it feels when your world means nothing at all. Great music. Clint Boon’s synth is very 60s psychedelia as well.
#9 Oasis Champagne Supernova
Another chapter in the ‘too many egos’ in this band story. Noel’s the one with the talent. Liam’s the one with the attitude. Again. Manchester insouciance. Someday you will find me caught beneath the landslide in a champagne supernova in the sky. I don’t know what a champagne supernova is, but I guess it’d be a good way to go.
Liam practically invented the Manchester swagger. Unfortunately, now lots of people in England copy it and have neither the talent nor the balls to carry it off.
One of these people is the last in the list, though he’s a Wiganer by nature, and they’re not like Mancunians very much at all.
#10 The Verve Bittersweet Symphony
And that concludes my top ten. You’ll notice I’ve left out M People and Simply Red. That’s on purpose. Mick Hucknall makes me gip. Heather Small, well, she’s alright. She doesn’t fit in to either the snake-hipped floppy haired youth with haunted eyes category or the just plain barking mad as a hatter category that most of these bands seem to conform to. I could also have put Take That on the list, but my street cred would have fallen to pieces.
Few towns keep spewing out music like Manchester does. Some do, for a bit, like Liverpool did, and their well of creativity dries up. Not Manchester’s.
Today’s Monday Caffeine-and-Thunderbolt blast of happy energy comes to you via Kiss with Rock and Roll All Night
The first time I really got into Kiss was about 1990 – I was a late arrival.
I was seeing a boy named Si from Crewe who gave me a mix tape with a whole load of songs on it.
I miss mix tapes and I think this is why I like playlists. I’ve got an MTV generation attention span. I listened to that mix tape until the tape was thin and worn. It had lots of great songs on it – a few Kiss classics, some Motorhead, some Rolling Stones.
Admittedly, Si was also something of a catch. It wasn’t just about the mix tapes! I’d met him at a Michael Monroe gig – I’m convinced it was February 15th 1990 but I could be wrong. It was at the International II which was a tiny little dive of a venue on Plymouth Grove in Manchester. I saw all kinds of great bands there before they got too big to be good. Motley Crue, Guns and Roses, Ratt, Love/Hate, Faith No More… I guess it could hold about 500 people – maybe a thousand at a push. It was about as cosy as you can get before you take a step up into arena-sized venues. There were no seats. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t very much there at all, apart from a room. If you wanted to get on the stage, very little stopped you.We used to walk back up Plymouth Grove to Piccadilly Gardens to get our bus afterwards – let’s just say Longsight isn’t the most glamorous of places.
I can even remember what I was wearing that night. I’d gone for a neon-pink lace tights ensemble that probably made me look like my legs had succumbed to some circulatory disease. I was also wearing a t-shirt I’d torn up and sewed back together with ribbon. I was classy like that. I’d also bought this skirt with D shaped eyes up the sides which was threaded with laces. It had a zip up the back. Just as all teenagers do, I thought I was fat, but that skirt is a size 8 (yes, I still have it) and I obviously wasn’t as big a pudding as I thought I was! That’s a US size 4, I think. Not super-skinny, but skinny enough!
I’d gone with my friend Pam, I think. I don’t really know why. I don’t think she liked Michael Monroe over much. In those days, I used to buy two tickets and take whoever wanted to come along. Si and I had the ‘eyes across a crowded room’ moment, spent the night either kissing or singing and he came up to see me at the weekend.
He was the first guy I’d gone out with who had a car of his own – and what a car. It was a 2.0 Litre blue C reg Ford Capri and we’d go out for drives on Sundays. He worked on the design team for Rolls Royce. At the time, that didn’t impress me, but I should have been a bit impressed in retrospect. In the days before texts and emails, we wrote to each other twice a week in between, despite spending hours on the phone as well. In fact, when I went on an exchange to Le Mans for three weeks, he wrote to me there too. I’ve still got those letters. There’s something about a letter that an email and a string of texts will never have, and there’s nothing like teenage love. Mind you, I was 17 by then and I’m pretty sure he was in his early twenties.
By June, he decided he wasn’t going to come up any more. I interfered with his Sunday fishing trips. That’s not the first time I’ve been dumped for a fishing trip and Steve owes me a boyfriend too because he was also responsible for encouraging a boy to go fishing rather than go out with me. Anyway, I cried all night and only Henny made me feel better. He’s always been a great shoulder to cry on.
This is me and Henny back in the days of yore.
I don’t know why I’m doing big starey eyes here. I hated having my photo taken though. Why have I no lips, and when on earth did I bleach my hair?
I don’t remember these things.
It’s a shame I had so few pictures taken because I remember so little at times it’s always good to have photos to prompt it. I’m wearing a Cannes Film Festival 1990 t-shirt. 22 years ago. Wow. How did I get so old?! I’ve more life between me and that time than I had in me in those days!
So, here’s Much Love to: ♥ Ford Capris ♥ Boyfriends with cars ♥ Michael Monroe ♥ Kiss ♥ Spending Sunday afternoons kissing ♥ The fact that my teenage years didn’t end up on Facebook before I got home quick enough to edit out any pictures of me with a) alcohol or b) cigarettes or c) kissing boys at gigs before my family saw them ♥ Cigarette bans in public places. Those old pubs smelled evil. ♥ Mix tapes ♥ Henny, who always looked after everyone and still does. No matter how much time passes, I know I could rely on him. And I’m not the only one. He has a heart of gold. ♥ Andy Mundy – the hairball next to me. He didn’t like pictures either. I have lots of pictures of his glorious hair. ♥ The summer of 1990, when everything was uncomplicated and my biggest worry was how I was going to get to Donington Monsters of Rock. The answer was in an old ambulance taxi thing that broke down after about 20 miles. We were towed there by the RAC and towed back by the AA.
I think these days seem so far away now that they seem but a dream within a dream, so here’s Edgar Allan Poe with my Monday poem for you
I have been thinking about that very female habit of ‘not shining’ and not feeling able to admit to our talents this week. In actual fact, it all sits under a general theme about appearance vs intellect that seems to have been raging inside of me for a while. Ironically, whilst I might think Samantha Brick is a lunatic for saying people are jealous of her looks, she actually doesn’t write terribly, though I dislike her use of her husband as a quote source. Perhaps she’d get more nodding heads if she said she’d been disliked for her brains.
Women are the worst for disliking brains, I think. Whilst Steve often says I’ve got brains but no common sense (he’s wrong. I have fairly little of either!) he flatters me. I was once called a ‘flawed genius’ by a former boss. I corrected him on both counts. I am neither flawed nor a genius. I’m neither modest nor proud of my brains, if that makes sense. I accept my limitations. I’m fine at mental mathematics. Seven sevens are forty-nine. I cannot do equations, I get in a muddle. My graph work looks like I need to be introduced to Mr. Ruler. However, I’m pretty impressed with some stuff I do. I look at some of my photographs and I’m pleased with them. I’m pretty confident I can churn out some writing of an above-average standard and I’m a smart-alec when it comes to words. I’m also pretty darned marvellous at working with people and teaching. I’ve got a good way at getting most people to learn despite themselves.
However, I’ve been the ‘too clever for my own good’ girl – when a woman I know used to tut when I spoke in meetings. Nothing that came out of my mouth pleased her. Sometimes, you feel like you have to be small, be rubbish at stuff, just so you don’t hurt other people’s feelings or make them feel inadequate.
You will ALL laugh now. I infuriated one ex-boss so much that when our performance-related pay came up for review, we had to all submit an 11-page document detailing what we’d done to deserve it, and make reference to evidence. She asked everyone else for one or two pieces of evidence. She asked me for all of mine now. Not only did she end up with over 200 pieces of evidence, she could find nothing to complain about, so she put my target as ‘to be more humble’. Seriously. I needed to be more humble.
I am rubbish at humility. I went and asked her how I could be more humble. What do humble people do? Do they go around like Uriah Heep rubbing their hands together saying ‘Ever so ‘umble’. Is there a pie you can eat? And if it’s not genuine, is it just false modesty?! Isn’t that hypocritical and therefore worse than being proud?
I don’t know.
I never achieved that target, as far as I’m aware.
But at the same time as I joke, it got to me. I worked so fucking hard. Excuse my French. I worked harder than everybody else I knew. I was good because I worked at it. When other people were at home having a gin and watching Eastenders, I was working at being good. It’s the only thing I remember about 11 pages of things I’m good at and had achieved. I can’t remember any one of those 11 pages of things I’d done, except the one thing some miserable grump thought I was not.
And for a while, I thought it was my fault.
It is not, of course, my fault. It’s not a character flaw to be proud of what you achieve or to say you are talented at something. Saying ‘I can do that’ is not tantamount to being a child molester.
I love these lines from Marianne Williamson, the Peace Alliance activist. Sometimes they are alleged to be the words of Nelson Mandela. They are not. I have them printed off and they remind me of a different way of seeing things:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And it’s true. There’s nothing more I love than being around fabulous, talented people because they validate me. They remind me that I have my own talents.
Now, I’m not one for this notion that all children have some innate talent that it is our job to find. However, I believe most of us have got some thing that we can foster and nurture and grow to be a talent. Having seen how much ‘talented’ people work at their skill, by the way, I’m not really one to believe in talent. Probably 1 in 1000 people who are superb at a thing are actually ‘talented’ at it. And they work at it too. Football is a good analogy. There are lots of wonderful footballers who are very good at what they do, but then there are the occasional Wayne Rooneys who have a special something.
However, I do believe that not all ‘intelligence’ is about school stuff. Although Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences is a little crude and simplistic, I like it. He says there are many forms of intelligence, including logical (maths) and linguistic (words) but also spatial, physical (like your great sports people), musical and naturalistic intelligence. Then there are two that don’t really fit: intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. Those who understand themselves and those who understand others. The great spiritualists, thinkers, actors and writers could equally have intrapersonal or interpersonal strengths.
And, to Isaac Newton to end:
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
I was thinking the other day about the comment on my post about the kind of anti-elitism that exists in England where it’s not okay to be educated or to be intelligent, especially by people who generally are.
It’s quite weird to me that nobody thinks anything of intelligence except for middle class people who don’t want to be middle class. And then it’s like a social stigma. You become an outcast because you’re either proud of your education or you’re too clever to disguise it. I speak, by the way, as the first person in my direct family tree, to have a degree. I definitely wasn’t the last but I’m proud to be first. I’m also proud that two people in the next line up got theirs by grafting at night school. Whilst there are teachers and the likes back in the annals of my family history, my grandfather worked in a factory, as did my Nana and I couldn’t be more proud. I was the first person to properly go to university. Again, I wasn’t the last, but it was a good feeling.
But the other day. somebody English said ‘Ooh! You can sew too!’ in a catty way when I was picking up a bag of cushions that need a seam – as if I were over-endowed with too many talents. Sewing is now a middle class thing to do as a hobby, of course. You don’t sew stuff because you’re too poor to buy nice clothes but because you’re ‘crafty’.
“Yes. My nana was a couturier. Well, she was a machinist in the factories in Manchester.” Couturier is the French and sounds so much more glamorous. She is a fabulous machinist, as is my mum. My mum’s embroidery and beautiful sewing is something I can only hope to have picked up a little of over the years. They know fabric. Fabric is their canvas. I grew up surrounded by pincushions and cotton, poking belts right way out with a knitting needle. I still wear three of the coats my Nana made me. She made them twenty years ago and they still look like they are brand new even though I wear them all the time.
And the best thing about my family, about my school, is that they made me very proud of who I am. No, I don’t have the best of brains, and I’m not being humble. I’m a B grade girl made good. I work hard. I’m the B grade girl who gets an A by a process of attrition and hard work. My first Masters assignment was a C. The next was an A. I try hard and though I’m not blessed with talent, I’m blessed with determination and enthusiasm. I get there in the end, especially when I’m nurtured. Good teachers get As from me. If you don’t have faith in me, I wither.
So having worked bloody hard all my life at my own brain, I’m proud of it. I’m still working on it. I’m proud of my graduation picture. I’m proud of my certificates. I did lots of stuff at night school. I was working on a photography course at the same time as my Masters and I’ve added another couple of A levels to my repertoire since I left university. And I worked hard. Some years, I was working as a teacher, writing, marking and doing assignments all at the same time. One nightmare day, I was doing a huge presentation for 120 head teachers, had my third Masters assignment to hand in and then ran off to set up my final photography exhibition. I left the house at 7am and got back at 11pm and did the same the next day, too.
So when someone anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, comes along, I get all angry. Why shouldn’t I have qualifications? And, if I have, why should I hide them? I like learning. I’m a geek. I like speaking French, or reading things in Italian or Spanish or Portuguese or English or Dutch. Danish is next on my list of languages to look at. I work hard at French and English too. I still read French grammar books and can spot dreadful subjunctive errors and abuses in the papers. I still do exercises in French and think about French and I’m interested by it. And I’m not going to apologise for it or pretend I don’t, or intimate that people who can speak more than one language are some kind of genius (two thirds of the world manage perfectly well with two, three, four or even five languages).
Sometimes I like to talk about Samantha Brick and the Daily Fail, about celebrities and about pop music. Sometimes I like to talk about where the world comes from or what happened at the Nicene Council meetings, or why the Virgin Mary became a Virgin for Life or find out. Sometimes I like to go to the opera or the ballet. Watching all Shakespeare plays is on my list of things to do before I die, but I still watched several seasons of Big Brother. Just because I can conjugate pouvoir in the imperfect subjunctive doesn’t mean I don’t swear like a navvy. I might read the Booker Prize winner, but it’s usually heavy going and I prefer murder mysteries. I loved Great Expectations over Christmas, but I love Grimm too.
Yet I sometimes end up feeling I’m something of a freak when I happen upon anti-intellectuals who feel so insecure they’d rather attack my learning as some kind of bizarre side-show trick I do and who think buying nice clothes at Whistles is the natural state of affairs and I’m weird because I don’t do that. Any more. That’s what freaks them out more, I think. I can Clarins, Lancome and Dior with the best of them; I have Planet suits and Russell and Bromley shoes. Sometimes, just sometimes, catch me in the right light and I look a bit like them.
But it makes me feel like Cady in Mean Girls.
If you’ve not seen Mean Girls, it’s about exactly what it says. Mean Girls. Mean Girls who will say “Vintage. So adorable!” when they see you in an old skirt and then turn to their friend and say: “That is the ugliest fucking skirt I’ve ever seen…”
They’re the girls who say “We don’t have a clique problem at this school” when they’re the clique.
They are the girls who will say “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me. But I can’t help it that I’m popular.” and interpret any non-sycophantic behaviour as jealousy.
And no matter how much they bitch, they always finish with “Love Ya!”