Chocolate: Why you don’t need to feel guilty this Easter

April 19, 2014

Did you give up anything for Lent? Regardless of your religious affiliations or not, did you feel compelled to give up something you enjoyed? And was that thing, that denial of pleasure, the absence of chocolate from your life for 40 days?

I bet it was. How foolish of you, especially if it means you just go straight back to it as if nothing has changed – how many times can you give one thing up? I once gave up swearing for Lent – when I worked for the Catholics a few years ago. It didn’t hold and I think it made me worse than ever.

I am of the belief that the little evils of life like chocolate and swearing are good for you, providing the Moderation rule applies – you know, not the stupid education version of Moderation – the all things in moderation is fine. Of course it is.

But actually, as you should know by now, chocolate is good for you. Let me say that again – chocolate is good for you. Yes. It. Is. Medically proven and everything.

 

So, 6 reasons to eat chocolate (in case you need reminding)

1.It makes you feel good. On the tongue, in the mouth, down the throat and sticky on the fingers that must be licked. It is a sensual eating pleasure par excellence. Think Crème Egg…

2.It keeps you sane. It’s been known for years now that chocolate helps even out some of those chemicals that ‘help’ in the depression zones. Chocolate does things with the chemicals and calms and soothes and helps depressives see more light than dark. It also cheers you up cheaply and easily after a hard day.

3.It helps you concentrate and study more effectively. Just like oily fish is good for the brain cells, so is chocolate. It stimulates and soothes – what a wonder it is. So the best meal before a big exam is salmon and chocolate mousse, obviously. Perhaps instead of endless re-takes for GCSE we should simply stuff the kiddies with the chocolate bar of their choice?

4.It connects you to others. Most people love a bit of chocolate, from your cheap end chunky bar to the joys of Toblerone and Ferrero-Rocher and lovely rich melty stuff from Brussels and Switzerland – yes, we love Lindt too, and people who love chocolate must be all right.

5.It’s brilliant for celebrations – hence the joys of Easter. Nothing like a choccy splurge to celebrate the resurrection of Christ – I’m sure he was looking to his mates for a Mars Bar as they brought him down. Note that dining out often ends with chocolates and coffee… and a box of chocolates is a lovely simple act of love too.

6.It’s just brilliant anytime, anywhere – you know that. Make sure you have your own secret stash for moments of brilliance in your day.

Clearly there is no need to feel even the slightest glimmer of a twinge of guilt this weekend as you enjoy your bunnies and eggs, and myriad other treats. Know clearly that chocolate really is a health food, just like wine counts as one of your five a day. Happy Easter xxx (Images courtesy Private Collection).

Celebrity Death: are we all vultures?

April 12, 2014

People die every day. And mostly we don’t think about that, only when it directly affects us because it is a loved one. We pause for the victims of natural disasters, and political up-risings but we don’t tend to pour over the bones of those innocents the way we do the famous and dead. The death of famous people has famously stopped nations – you know: I remember where I was when JFK was shot, I remember the day Lennon died. But in our increasingly celebritised world we know the moment another is gone, usually at their own hands, always well before their expiry date.

Several questions arise: do we need to know about the untimely demise of Peaches Geldof and L’Wren Scott? Do we need to know the why and the how? (And we were told the how of L’Wren Scott) Do we need to see the suffering and pain of the ones left behind? Because let us be in no doubt both Bob Geldof and Mick Jagger are in extreme pain. Both men made eloquent, heart felt and loving comments in the wake of their loss. The Stones acted as brothers and their Oz tour was cancelled.

What is it about the way we live that people feel free now to not just offer sympathy and sadness about the recent losses from celeb-land but almost obligated to vent their spleens with vile outpourings of bile?

For all that Peaches Geldof and her family, and L’Wren Scott and Mick Jagger live a life in the public eye, we don’t know them. We have some idea about them as projected onto our screens and in our magazines, but we only have a version of them, a manufactured version of them that suits their and the media’s purposes. We, the audience, the fan, only get a highly mediated version of these people. We never, well hardly ever, meet them. We only know them in a very specific and artificial way.

So why might we feel as sad for Bob and Mick as we would for others we know who lose loved ones in tragic circumstances?

For me it’s simple: Bob Geldof is one of my heroes. I loved the Boomtown Rats when I was at uni and have a best of on my iTunes, often running through the set, so much more than I Don’t Like Mondays. Like a lot of other people I remember Band Aid and Live Aid and where I was when that concert happened. I’ve always appreciated his off-beat ways, his intensity, his devotion to causes and his adoration of Paula Yates and his oddly named girls. He is a man much blighted by tragedy and it seems to me that to be anything other than heart-broken for him at this time is to be inhuman.

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When he was a child his mother went to bed one night and never got up again. He was brought up by sisters and aunts and suffered through the Irish Catholic Education system. We know what happened to him and Paula, how they were blissfully eccentrically happy but then she fell insanely in love with Michael Hutchence, left Bob, had Tiger-Lily, and then self destructed not longer after Michael Hutchence had, leaving Tiger-Lily alone in the world, the centre of a very ugly custody case.

Whatever you may think of Peaches Geldof, her being in the papers for all the wrong reasons, her desperate need for attention, her wildness and foolishness, there is no reason to wish her ill, then or now. She was clearly a deeply unhappy lost soul. To lose your mother young (as too many in the Geldof clan now have) is one of the worst things to happen. Paula Yates died on the birthday of her third daughter, Pixie, on September 17, 2000. She was forty and seemingly had much to live for but clearly troubled too. A life in the spot-light, often sniped at and reviled by the media she, overdosed on heroin. Was it accidental? You never know these things, do you?

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To me, there is little doubt that Peaches was a deeply troubled soul. She had tried all sorts of things to make sense of her life and seemed to be settled and safe. But from her comments, over time and just before she died, it seems Paula was ever present in her life: a mystery that Peaches couldn’t sort through in a way for her to make sense of it. Why would your mother leave you if she didn’t have to? Weren’t you enough for her, wasn’t your love and need of her enough to keep her here? Has Peaches spent most of her life trying to feel okay about herself in the absence of a loving mother, despite a clearly loving father? But how ironically tragic is it that she has doomed her boys to her own feelings of abandonment all their lives. It is hard to believe she was in a hopelessly dark place. This is a girl who seems surrounded by love – father, sisters, husband, sons. But what do any of us ever know about the heart and mind of another?

So, from this unutterable sadness, what can we learn?

We should keep our own loved ones close, watch the signs that things may not be quite as well as they seem to be.

We should respect the grief of others, be they ordinary mortals like the rest of us, or the famous.

We should not presume to know anyone, we should keep our judgments to ourselves.

We should remember always and forever that being famous does not inure you against pain and suffering and being mortal. That being famous is a twin edged sword that both elevates and decimates.

Rest in peace, Peaches. Stay strong Bob. (Images courtesy  News BBC: Bob & Paula; cover of Is That It?)

Count Your Blessings

April 5, 2014

As I sit here this morning it’s warm, the sun is doing its weak British Spring thing and there’s a smell of promise and hope in the air, as bespokes the warming and lighting that happens in Spring. So, I turn my mind not to all that is wrong in my life, to the range of things that worry and beset me but to the things that I need to count as good in my life and appreciate what I’ve got, not what’s missing or entirely screwed up.

 

I am happy I have had my beloved fluffy boy for nearly nine years, that Zanz has brought me love and joy, loyalty and comfort, peace and protection, fun and laughs. I am so happy to have had such a dog, such a prince of a dog, even if not for as long as I wanted. So I am going to make the most of his much shortened time with us, and thank the sky for him being in my life and enriching it beyond measure.

Zanz

 

I am happy I have children, who have become amazing young people. I look at them and wonder and marvel and forget the tears and tantrums, the struggles and frustrations, and know my life is infinitely richer for having them, even if my body has never quite recovered! It is not possible to imagine a life without them and I am so pleased they are in my life and will be forever. They have brought infinite joy. And I quietly, but without any urgency or rush, look forward to grandchildren.

Pal, Pi & Me

 

I am happy to be married. Amidst the disagreements, the conflict, the changing, the never ending challenge of being with one person, there is a love that has mutated and changed but remained, and remains still in the kindness and consideration we show each other. A long marriage means compromise and sacrifice, but it mostly means companionship, understanding and acceptance, and someone to talk to endlessly about the things you love most – the kinder and the woof.

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I am happy to have friends, near and far. People to let off steam with, to be yourself with, to moan to, to laugh with, to trust and confide in. I love FB because it keeps friends in your circle, makes it so much easier to keep in touch, to stay in contact. And there’s nothing like a good chat with a mate, long distance or, even better if, in some bijou café somewhere, with wine a tapas and the day stretching before you, full of laughter and stories and wonder and amazement at the foolishness of yourself and the world.

Judy, Jen, Jac & Kim

 

I am happy that I live in a part of the world that, despite its injustices and idiocies, allows me and those I love to live in relative peace and freedom, even at increasingly exorbitant charges. I am glad we are not bound by the tyranny of fear and insanity that others live with daily, fearing for their very lives. I know it could be better, and therein lies one of life’s frustrations, but it is not as debilitating as so many other parts of the world, and for that I am grateful.

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I am happy to be alive. To have survived ill health, major loss, career disruptions, disappointments and still be here, looking forward, making plans, living a hopeful life. I appreciate that I can make choices about my life, that, given a range of loose parameters, I am in charge of my life.

Jackie S

 

Finally, I am happy I am a reader, that I know the bliss of books, the pleasure of the page, the wonder of the word. I can happily spend a day, or more, lost in space and time in some other world, there on the page. I am so happy that there are writers who continue to make stories to share with us, to enrich us and challenge us and make us better people.

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What are you grateful for this weekend? Probably being a teacher, as we begin the Easter Holidays, which makes all the other rubbish we endure worthwhile! (Pictures from Private Collection)

Mothers: 11 from Literature and History

March 29, 2014

It’s Mothers’ Day in the UK this weekend: time to appreciate the woman who brought you into the world, or the one who brought you up. A time to stop and think about all that love, all that unconditional love that made you who you are.

I’m going to stop there. Mothers’ Day is one of those things, a bit like Christmas Day, that looks lovely and sounds sweet and offers joyful abundance. For some. And for those for whom it is a happy day, good on you, enjoy the warmth and love of your family – either being appreciated or appreciating. Fortunately, I will be appreciated as I’ve managed to be quite a reasonable mum for the last 25+ years (I hope and I like to think!).

me & the babies

But as a child it’s not the same. And I know for some of my friends out there that Sunday is not going to be a good day. Instead it will be a sharp pointy reminder of what is now gone, or what never was. Being a mother, along with generally just being a woman, has been a highly fraught role through history and literature.

So, today, instead of ranting about the rampant commercialism, that floods the high street and your local supermarket, in an attempt to avoid the hovering clouds of expectation and disappointment, let us have a little trawl through the past to see how Mothers stack up – are we more Mary or Medea??

 

Gaia – whom we better know as Mother Earth, was the first goddess of Greek mythology. She created herself out of chaos and then brought forth Uranus, the starry sky out of nothingness. No wonder we still consider Mother Earth as powerful woman.

Grendel’s Mother – the she-monster who wreaks havoc on Beowulf and his followers for killing her son. An epic bit of mother love. An epic poem too.

Lady Capulet – who wasn’t really very concerned about Juliet, just wanted her married off to Paris and threatened to disown her if Juliet went against her father. And we know how that all ended!

Mary – of course, the virgin mother, the one who gave us the Saviour. How can we get passed her for goodness and sacrifice?

Medea – who killed her children to punish Jason (of the Golden Fleece) to punish him because he had betrayed her.

Snow White and Cinderella’s step-mothers – evil, scheming, nasty old bags, doing their best to eliminate their rivals. Evil step-mothers are legion in fairy tales but we’ll content ourselves with these two.

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Borte – wife of Genghis Khan – who had four sons, and several daughters. She was chosen by the young Genghis – Temujin, supposedly because of her strong legs and flat face. She was immensely powerful and influential and helped keep the great Khan’s empire running.

Catherine De Medici – it took her ten years and she was married to someone in love with another but she become the mother of three French kings, and had a large hand in the running of France in the 16th century

Eleanor of Aquitaine – another mother of kings, and a formidable woman in her own right. She was married to Louis VII of France, and therefore Queen of France but with only bearing daughters her marriage was annulled and she went off to marry Henry II of England and had eight children, five sons, two of whom went onto be kings – Richard the Lion Heart and the more infamous John of Magna Carta ilk.

Ammu – from The God of Small Things, who loves her children more than anything, except perhaps Velutha, who she cannot love at all. Ammu runs away from a violent marriage back to a disapproving home, where her children run ‘wild’ but feel safe and strong in her love. Until she is taken from them and then they are lost too.

Sophie Sophie’s Choice has perhaps the worst experience for any mother in the world. Choose between your children. Oh, how can you choose, how can you possibly do such a thing? The fact that Sophie partly brought the hideous scene on her own shoulders does not excuse the vile callousness of the young German soldier. Choose. You cannot. No wonder she committed suicide, what else can you do as a mother after such a terrible-terrible thing?

 

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There are so many ways to be a mother, to have a mother. The truth is we are all ‘of woman born’ whether ‘untimely ripped from our mother’s womb’ or not and perhaps even if we cannot celebrate the day, we can pause and be grateful for the mother we had, because without her we wouldn’t be here, or more importantly, the people we are today. (Images from Private Collection)

A world in two halves

March 22, 2014

Have you noticed how much of the world divides neatly in two? Consider your own life and have a look at this week’s list – a life of two paths, two parts, two ways to live your one and only life – which alternative is you? I’m sure there’s a deep personality indicator here, but my Psych degree is years out of date!

 

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Herein a list of opposites, in no particular order, of things you cannot be at the same time:

Beautiful and ugly

Rich and poor

Kind and mean

Smart and dumb (as opposed to educated and stupid, which you definitively can be!)

God-fearing and God-less

Brave and meek

Optimistic and pessimistic

Hobbit and Pirate – think about it…

Fat and thin

Happy and sad

Old and young

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Self centred and considerate

Ignorant and aware

Reader and stupid – you knew it would be here somewhere!

Poet and banker – please tell me otherwise, I’d love this to be untrue!

Superstitious and rational

Indoors and outside

Patient and intolerant

Cheerful and miserable

Cat people and dog people

Married and single

Wise and immature

Gullible and skeptical – spell orange slowly…

Captain and crew

Civilized and barabarian

Country and city – or grass and steel

Neat and messy

Builders and destroyers

Shallow and deep

Champagne and beer

Nick and Tom – this is for you, Greta Creed

Pooh and Tigger

Gandalf and Sauron

Ratty and Mole

Sherbet and Skyhooks – remember?

Lion and lamb

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So, you have two challenges:

  1. Add your own exclusive opposites to my list, which is by no means exhaustive
  2. Check off where you sit and see if tells you anything you didn’t already know about who you are and how you live your life… (Images courtesy Private Collection and Phoenix Bewsher)

Reasons to be Angry, Part…

March 15, 2014

Hum along to Ian Dury and the Blockheads Reason to be Cheerful as you peruse this weeks musings: a consideration of the many reasons we have to be angry and a but as well.

The world is not a nice place, even for the relatively affluent of the West. We struggle, we fall down, we lose, we win. And it seems to me we spend an inordinate amount of time being angry – sometimes with good reason and sometimes just because it seems the best emotional response.

So, to a list, something we haven’t had for a bit: Reasons to be Angry

Rude people – in all bits of life, for no reason whatsoever – in the supermarket, on the bus, at work, spitting their nastiness at you without justification – taking their anger out on you

angry jac

Public transport – for those who must rely on tubes, trains and busses to get around and suffer the rudeness of bus-drivers, ignorance of fellow passengers (shoving, loud music, smelly food, etc), regular delays, over-crowding, unexpected cancelations – yes, all round crappy service

People who don’t read – no not people who can’t read – but those who can and actually don’t bother. You know, those who respond to your request, your email or letter and it’s manifestly clear they haven’t understood a thing because THEY HAVENT READ IT PROPERLY AT ALL – and you know once more how stupid most of the world is.

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People who don’t try, who don’t have a go, those who give up at the first sign of a set back, who can’t cope with any sort of criticism – yes, GCSE English students and your ilk, I am thinking of YOU.

People who bully, who crap on you for no reason other than they can and it makes them feel superior, even though they are the epitome of inferior. Their power and your powerlessness is the perfect recipe for anger.

People who lie, who can’t tell the truth, who don’t care about the truth, who deliberately dissemble and undermine the truth are truly rage makers. Yes, think politicians, CEO’s – any bastard trying to cover their arse and put you off. Not to mention children who lie at the drop of a hat, even when they know that you know the truth!!

Politicians – please don’t let me even begin on Michael Gove or Tony Abbott. God save us from democratically elected politicians who have no fucking idea about anything other than their own small world yet presume to lecture us because they think their position – which they owe to (some of) us – makes them somehow intelligent, all knowing and all powerful. At least we don’t like in the Ukraine, Turkey or Syria, etc, so I guess that is some small consolation…

The treatment of women in an increasingly misogynistic, hard line religious extremist world is very good reason to be angry. For anyone who thinks the feminist fight is won you are being an idiotic ostrich, ignoring the atrocities and injustices perpetrated against ordinary women who simply want to be able to go to school, drive cars, marry at a decent age and not be the property of a man, be it their father or husband.

The power and greed of big corporations who are literally raping the planet – killing the bees, poisoning our water ways, ripping down our forests, killing our reefs, and then suing governments and not paying their fare share of taxes. Corporate greed is killing our planet.

The ever increasing divide between the rich and the poor – actually it’s a gaping unbreachable chasm these days, as exemplified by the aforementioned politicians and corporate greed. Between them ordinary hard working people have been comprehensively screwed over.

 

But, stop now. You can’t be angry all day – no it’s Saturday and the weekend and it would be a waste to lose the day, the creeping warmth, in negative emotions, in the futility of anger. This is what I want you to do instead.

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Join an organization that is trying to make a difference – WWF, Greenpeace, sign petitions, attend rallies – it is a way to channel negativity and feel you are not alone in your anger and outrage.

Do something that makes you feel good – get outside, in your garden, go for a walk, watch the rugby, have a big sleep in, read in bed all day.

Be with people you love – always the best cure – and make sure you laugh – a big babbling, effusive bubbling laugh that can’t be stopped can cure anything.

hug pal

Hug the things you love the most – you can’t be angry snuggled up to the one(s) you love.

Smell something wonderful – grass, aromatic candles, your dog – smells do lovely things to the chemicals in your brain, so go ahead and sniff

mars cake

And finally, when all else fails, eat some chocolate – of any description – especially Mars Bar Cheesecake! (Images courtesy of Private Collection)

The Rich Just Don’t Get It

March 8, 2014

I’m not rich, nor will I ever be. I’ve not been blighted by extreme poverty either. But I come from working class stock; I’ve gone without and worked for everything I have. So have most people I know. I know there are those in the world who believe they are entitled to all sorts of things – jobs, houses, healthcare, an education, fame and fortune – without working. Yes, too many kiddies of my acquaintance have that entitlement deep within them. They think that working hard, making an effort is for others; that somehow, just like on a range of pervasive and nefarious get-famous-quick shows they will float to the top without skills, talent or work.

Wise people know that won’t happen. Wise people know that most of us make our way in the world through education and work. But the messages in our world today, our western capitalist celebrity driven world, do not value hard work, or loyalty, or fair pay for a fair day’s wage. Governments may bang on about social mobility but nobody in positions of social status and power really believe in it or support it: they like and need the status quo – they want the majority of us to stay disempowered and most definitely not wealthy.

Have you noticed how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer? Not to mention the middle being squeezed out of existence. And our economies are not buoyant robust creatures living off the back of the rich, there is no trickle down effect because the way the rich get rich is by keeping it to themselves, paying limited tax and squeezing their own workforces, and others if they can manage it.

silly people

Several things this week have brought it home loud and clear: the rich don’t get it. They have no idea what it’s like for anyone in this world other than themselves.

1.Bankers Bonuses continue despite banks going broke being the biggest single issue to impact on the UK economy in recent years

2. The IMF effectively said the current model of capitalism is a failure.

3. Gina Rinehart, mining magnate of Oz, came out saying Australians just didn’t work hard enough, were paid too much and she thought we needed more of Margaret Thatcher’s tough, eat-em-alive and divide-the-country style leadership; that welfare was sending one of the richest countries in the world broke. Oh, yes, we all know that to be true…

Austerity doesn’t work. Squeezing the middle doesn’t work – their disposable income drops to zero as our costs spiral and our wages stall and plummet, and the high street dies and is filled with charity shops, pound shops and coffee chains. As disposable income dries up, so do jobs, companies go bust and more people lose their jobs. More people end up on unemployment benefits and cannot pay their bills and the government bill for Welfare does not shrink: despite all the government slashing and burning, it grows. But hey, the rich are okay – they’re still buying up the heart of London, living in Singapore, or overseas, not paying tax to the countries they make their money from.

richouse

The rich are killing us. The Ukraine revolt was in part about the gaps between them and us. The palpable disgust and contempt we have for Bankers is because they’ve ripped us off and are still ripping us off. Why has my pay been frozen for years now and bankers still get their bonuses? I didn’t bankrupt the country but I’m paying for it.

The outpouring of bile from Gina Rinehart shows what a truly ugly person she is – and I am not just talking about what she looks like. This is a woman who inherited her wealth, who grew up not scraping and scrimping but in an environment of wealth and privilege. A woman who is the wealthiest person in Oz, who wants to pay her workers $2 an hour, who has not had one single philanthropic moment in her life. She lives overseas in order to minimize her tax liability yet, the government panders to her and she berates her countrymen.

gina

Western governments have repeatedly got it wrong. The boom and bust pattern endures. The current model of capitalism has failed – look at the elevation of vacuous idiots in all walks of life. The IMF spelled it out, and I say it again, austerity does not work, but governments aren’t listening and more of us will lose our way as retirement ages are increased, pensions become harder to get and young people remain under employed.

When David Cameron was elected, it was widely mooted that he and the likes of George Osborne would be good leaders as money wouldn’t corrupt them as they were already independently wealthy and therefore able to make good decisions for all of us. What was lost in this hope was the fact that they, along with the Gina Rineharts of the world, and other leaders who have been in power far too long, have no idea what it’s like for ordinary people. What it’s like not to have enough money to get you from one pay day to the next, to have your buying power eroded by greedy CEO’s constantly putting up their costs, for the excessive infrastructure costs of life. Big business and shareholders drive the world, not customers, not people.

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I know I’m naïve, I know I should know better, but what has happened to us? Why are we driven by money to the extent we are? Why must we live in an economy not a society? Why have governments – and in this I mean democratically elected governments, I’m not even going close to dictatorships – repeatedly let ordinary people down? Why are governments only governing for a few, not for the many? Why don’t they care about young people, old people, sick people, hard working people, the environment, the future?

When did it all become about the money – when did the world lurch so far off its orbit that the only thing that matters is money? Perhaps climate change is the earth’s way of getting back at us for our stupidity, for being so moronically greedy and self serving all the time… (Images from pandawhale.com-Gordon Ghecko; buzzinnet-house; abc.net-gina; commonelectionguide,blogspot-sillypeople)

The Power of Pets

March 1, 2014

When I was a little girl (no jokes about how long ago that was) all I wanted was a wombat for a pet. I’d read a book by Nan Chauncy and the girl in that had a wombat, so I became determined to have one. My dad, God love him, took me seriously, found out some information about keeping wombats – destructive tank like creatures with their impressive teeth and claws – so he build a concrete and corrugated iron house behind the washing line for my wombat, complete with window and door. I was excited and happy.

But – yes, you knew that was coming – I did not get my wombat. Further advice was taken from a zoo keeper who said it really wasn’t possible to have a wombat as a pet, despite my father’s building and my desperation, it was deemed an idea destined for disaster.

Gentle reader, I did not get over this, despite appearances to the contrary. A few years later there was a TV show in Oz called A Country Practice and on that show the doctor had a pet wombat, called Fatso. I was a very-very unhappy girl – how could this be so, when wombats were not pet material! This injustice remained all my life, so when my baby girl said she wanted a pig for a pet when we moved from Darwin to Deviot in Tasmania, well, there was no way she was being denied the way I had been.

Rosie

Rosie could easily have been a wombat. She too, was a tank of an animal with that powerful snout and aggressive trotters. She turned her pleasant undulating enclosure into dirt and mud in a matter of months. She had a concrete and corrugated iron shed, with an open door, and a view over the river.

But she was never quite the pet we imagined in our promissory conversations. She escaped regularly, only enticed back by food; she killed the odd chicken who came into her space; she frightened the life out of Zanz when he was brand new; she bellowed for food and seemed on the whole not a very happy pig. To be sure we made many errors and would do it all differently now, but, and this is the key – Pallas loved Rosie and it’s fair to say Rosie loved Pallas back. Pallas was allowed into the enclosure to change straw, rub her tummy (as was Dave) and generally be with her. Rosie knew whose pig she was. And Pallas knew her parents loved her enough to get her the pet she wanted, despite the many and varied challenges Rosie presented for all of us.

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In the early days of life with my beloved I had two cats and he had one. There were pecking order issues, but we rubbed along together. Siska, my abandoned fluffy white beauty, was not that fond of other people. But she took a shine to Dave and her affection for him, when none had been present for any previous boyfriend, was one of the main reasons I knew he was the ‘one’.

siska and dave

So, we have had a range of animals and children since we took up together all those years ago in gorgeous Gove, a place no-one whose lived there ever gets over. Our first Shepherd was a ‘give away’ on the Gove notice-board and Persia was the sweetest, gentlest thing, who coped with toddlers shouting at her and rolling over her, bashing her with their little fists. My beloved and I were heart-broken when she had to be put down. Since then we’ve had more cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, fish and rabbits.

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There is a large body of research about the benefits of pets, for the young, for the ill and for the elderly. Pets help in the recovery from illness; they help the old and lonely feel connected and wanted; they help kids learn responsibility and sadly, about death and loss. Pets love you, no matter what. They ask for very little: food, grooming, a walk (perhaps not your tortoise or hedgehog, or fish), affection and attention – yes, they need time and the right space for their needs. A pet doesn’t shout at you, gossip about you; they forgive you and love you unconditionally. A pet does you far more good than you do it.

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Animals get to you, they get inside your lives, your hearts and minds and when things happen to them it is like something has happened to members of your family. I remember when Siska died in 1986, from kidney failure. I was alone in Darwin, on some in-service, and all I could do after I’d spoken to the vet was cry the night away. An over-reaction perhaps but she and I’d been through a lot together. She (and Bundy, her kitten) were my first pets; she’d followed me to uni a couple of times and managed to get herself lost, and then found; she came to Queenstown with me and then to the NT. She was my mate, my fluffy, huffy gorgeous girl and I cried buckets. Attila, Dave’s cat disappeared in Darwin, never to be seen again, so we were left wondering… Not nice either.

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This is the downside of pets. They die. You outlive them. Despite all your hopes of immortality for them, they expire before you do. And it’s hard. It’s horrible but it’s not enough reason not to have them.

Last week we nearly lost Zanz. Out of nowhere he seemed to age 10 years over-night, he was listless and completely devoid of energy – he was absolutely not himself. After some discussion and a terrible walk to the park he went to the vet. His spleen had ruptured and he was hours away from death.

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Happily the surgery was completely successful and after a terrible night of worry and anxiety he came home to us, big scar, shaved tummy and very quiet. But a week later, he’s on his way back to his Tigger-bounce self. He’s nearly nine, so his life is nearing it’s end (big dogs live less than little dogs) and it may be sooner rather than later. But, he’s one of us, a central member of our family, he came from Australia with us, travels to France with us, loves us to bits as we love him. When he finally goes I will cry an ocean for him and be sad for a long time. But I’ll never regret having him. He has brought nothing but joy and happiness into our lives.

Looking after another creature is good for you, it shows you care, it makes you less selfish, a better person. Stroking a pet is a soothing, calming thing, caring for a pet, no matter what sort, connects you to other living things, reminds you of your place in the wider world. Caring for pets improves/maintains your social skills; helps your mental health and, I think, increases your capacity to love and be loved.

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Pets are powerful creatures and don’t you need more power in your life? (Images courtesy Private Collection)

The Sudden Impact of Loss

February 22, 2014

Most of you know me to be a positive, up-beat type of person where the glass is always half full, where the future is in our hands, and we can make our lives better by facing up to who we are, and how we want to be. My most popular posts are my education rants and my life-style – live better – be strong posts. You may not be aware of the extent of struggle and loss in my life, but that’s as it should be, I don’t blog to whine and moan too much without offering some sort of solution, some way to learn from adversity. But, like many of you out there, I have struggled and I have lost.

Last Saturday night I was suddenly and unexpectedly laid low by the impact of loss. By something terrible and deeply distressing that happened many years ago, that I never forget, but that does not reside at the forefront of my existence. I know that many of you out there have similar losses, something that tore you apart at the time, that you struggled to come to terms with, that changed you and your life, that bobs up from time to time to remind you, to never let you forget – as if you ever could…

In my long and extensive life of turbulence, of love and adventure, of wins and losses, there are only two things that I would change: the death of my mother when I was 17 and the loss of my baby, Grace, before she even got a chance to get started. I know, my dear friends, that many of you have trod in shoes like mine: a miscarriage, a still birth, a lost baby to SIDS, or something similarly devastating. We look at ourselves, feel our failure more keenly here than anywhere else in our lives: failure as a mother is a primal failure, the most severe stab at our essential being: how can we not bring a child safely into the world, not care for it enough? It threatens our sense of self, our sense of womanliness and it can destroy some of us. It is the hardest burden to bear: to go on living when our child does not. It is the worst punishment for any parent.

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Grace died nearly twenty years ago. She was stillborn after I spent six weeks in hospital trying to hang onto her. A tiny-tiny hole, less than a pin-prick in the amniotic sac led to a slow leak which meant the fluid was draining away and she would not have enough to grow to term. The doctor said she was doomed once the diagnosis was in, but we persevered. I lay in hospital, still and quiet, trying my best to keep her long enough to grow to be big enough to survive. But the amniotic fluid was gone at 24 weeks and she was too small, and her lungs and brain were probably already irretrievably damaged. The equipment needed to keep such a premy baby alive wasn’t in Darwin at the time, so it was hopeless. But she was a tiny perfect baby. No imperfections, nothing to say why she died, why she couldn’t make it. She had soft blonde downy hair, perfect little fingers and toes but her eyes never opened. She never drew breath, never saw us, never knew how much she was wanted or loved. She was held and sang to and baptized. But she never lived amongst us, never knew her brother or sisters.

This is not a unique story – this, or a version, of this, happens again and again across the world. Babies die and families grieve. But we move on. We love what we have more and the final addition to my family made most of the sadness in my heart evaporate. Her smile, her breath and small perfections made the ache in my heart stop and slow, her joy in life and her calm serene being made it possible for me to face the world again, not such a failure, not so heart-breakingly sad all the time.

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Time passes and life moves in different directions. Children grow and the pain heals, but the memory stays, it just doesn’t hurt any more. This is what life does. It heals, slowly, without notice, and here we are in the midst of grown up daughters, having dinner and drinks, half a world away from the worst day of my life. I am happy, I am sitting on the sofa drinking champagne, having had a lovely meal prepared by my eldest daughter, my beloved sits happily beside me; life is in a good place. The girls are singing and laughing along to Bastille and there’s a lyric, a mention of Grace, walking with her, or acting with her. And it’s repeated. I look at my grown up girls, enough alike to be obviously sisters, blonde hair and smiles, hugging each other, and then I saw a space between them, a girl sized shape where Grace should have been. And I could see her, I could imagine her there, between her youngest and eldest sister, like them but unlike them – herself, smiling and happy too.

I was hit in the heart. It broke. There was joy and love in the room but my heart was empty and shattered by loss, by what should have been. Not two but three. Three golden haired girls laughing and smiling and hugging. My tears felt slowly and I couldn’t stop them. My heart was so full of love for what I had but full of pain and sadness for what was lost, what could never be. How can you be so happy and so sad at once? Out of the blue I was hit by the sudden impact of my loss, like a comet hitting the earth, reeling me off course, shattering my orbit, leaving an impression the size of the Gulf of Carpentaria in my being. Suddenly, for the first time in years, I was brutally aware of my loss, of the gaping hole in my life. A hole that has to be ignored, otherwise you go mad, you cannot go on. A hole that is, on most days, filled by what I have.

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Nowadays I don’t often wonder about Grace, about what she might have been like, how our lives might have unfolded. Like my mother, I can’t spend too much time wondering what if. Those sort of thoughts do your head in. You have to put those things behind you. It’s why we must grieve properly and fully for our losses, so we can return to our lives and live them fully, more alive because of the pain, because of what we have lost. But sometimes, like on Saturday our loss hits us in the face and we are undone by the strength of our feelings; our emotions wash over us again, drowning us.

It’s the suddenness of the experience, the unexpectedness of it that really throws you. No matter how neatly we put away our experiences, how well we package up our pain and loss and tuck them away in the darker recesses of our minds, they are always there and it’s the simplest of things that can set them off – a smell, a song, a sudden trickle of memory. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing at all. It’s one of those things that tell us we’re human after all. People die, and it is right that we miss them and feel something and express it.

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Love your family. Cherish them and hold them close. Make the most of what you have, every day of your life. Oh, and your pets too, because they mean the world to us as well and losing them can be too much to bear too. (Images from Private Collection)

Valentine’s Day: famine or feast?

February 15, 2014

Valentine’s Day is a bit like Xmas for some, one of those days we just don’t want to know about, whether we’re single, sad, lonely or in a long term relationship where the romance just ain’t what it used to be. The truth is Valentine’s Day isn’t for all of us. It also has a mixed history.

The original St Valentine is said to have defied the order of Emperor Claudius and married couples so men wouldn’t have to go to war, which greatly inconvenienced the emperor as there was a shortage of soldiers at the time. Keeping the Roman empire going has its expenses. Another version has it that Valentine refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. With both stories he ended up in prison and was executed, leaving a note, signed: Your Valentine.

But before that there was the Feast of Lupercalia, February 13-14, where the ancient Romans had a good old time sacrificing goats, drinking and dancing naked in the hope of increasing their fertility. With the advent of Christianity, as was the way, the pagan festivals were taken over by the Christians, and Pope Gelasuis merged the Feast with St Valentine’s Day, which celebrated the matyrdom of the aforementioned St Valentine, to make the day less about lust and more about love.

During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds paired-bonded in mid-February, a romantic notion that attached itself to February 14. Our good friends Chaucer and Shakespeare did much to grow the romance of Valentine’s Day through their writing.

And then there was the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 where seven mob associates of Al Capone were gunned down during prohibition America.

One can agree that it’s a great day for flower sellers, chocolate makers, card manufacturers and restaurants. But for the rest of us it can be a day of deep disappointment, of feeling let down by your loved one, who just isn’t romantic, or not getting your hints. Like Christmas, it can make you feel worse about your partner, your relationship, your whole life! You’ll feel resentful because you want them to do something but if they don’t do it of their own accord all the flowers and chocolates in the world become utterly meaningless. So, don’t be disappointed – do something yourself, don’t wait for your partner to take the initiative. If you want something romantic to happen on the 14th February, then you do it!

So in my house, this year it’s been a day of success – new job for eldest daughter, passed driving theory for youngest, first day of half term pour moi and all round ‘life’s not too shabby’ for all of us. I decided we’d have a celebratory dinner, something low key, but where we chatted, laughed, enjoyed each other’s company and were happy in our bit of the world. I bought a couple of modest gifts for my household and prepared a lovely, but simple feast. Yes, there were bubbles, yes there was chocolate – but no flowers. And there was a meal to thrill the tastebuds and do easily for your next special occasion. Outside the world stormed and swirled but inside we feasted and then repaired to finish our season of Breaking Bad. We had a lovely evening and I might do the same next year.

Dinner

Appetizers: Olives, Strawberries, Doritos and tasty chicken bits – oven warmed. Served with long cool glass of Bacardi and Coke. Yes, dear Ozzie mates, not Bundy, because over here it is one of those lesser known brands. Indeed, how can this be????

Main course: steak with onions, bacon and mushroom ‘sauce’, French potatoes and peas.

French potatoes – adjusted from a recipe I read somewhere recently. 400-500 g of Charlotte or New potatoes, lardoons/bacon, chives or spring onion green bits. Boil potatoes until tender. Set aside til cool. Heat large pan, using oil and butter mixed, brown the potatoes, add the lardons and cook through but keep soft, not crispy. Add greenery and serve warm, make sure you spoon the oil and butter liquid over the spuds

Steak: choose a cut you like – rump, sirloin. Saute onions in pan first to give more flavour to the steak – cook on high heat to sear the outside. Turn only once, otherwise tenderness is lost. Keep your eye on the time, especially if you’re going for medium-rare, as we prefer. Serve sauted onions, bacon and mushrooms over the steak.

Desert: tonight it was chocolates, and mint ice-cream.

Ah, me, it was easy, simple, cost effective and very-very lovely.

Be happy, feel the love. Enjoy half term. (Images from Private Collection)


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