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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Blog 85. Scary Scotland!

Almost too tired to blog after last week’s house move, I find myself quaking with alarm surrounded by boxes and a ferocious unbelievable assault of all-encompassing noise.

It would be too far a stretch to suggest that the last few weeks were an adventure. Adventure to me suggests fun, anticipation, nervous excitement. I’ve moved houses a few times, possibly more than average. This has been the most harrowing, energy draining and sleep-depriving bar none.

Scotland (Edinburgh especially) is where I wanted to be and where I now am. I moved here for, among other things, new creative opportunities. That box seemed to be getting ticked when I was offered two performance opportunities before the removal guys had even dumped my stuff in the wrong rooms and spilt the pot plant. (Looking forward to doing a short set for 10 Red at The Persevere in Leith next Wed 4th June). And I already have myself entangled in a slam – a kind of a poetry blood sport I promised myself I would avoid – but hey – I also promised myself I would do the first 10 things I was offered up here, so that trumps the earlier decision.

Something however is amiss. Something is scary. Something is wrong.

I am not talking about a social political uncertainty created by the looming referendum (see blog 37). I am not referring to the unease we feel listening to the frankly, school playground pronouncements from both sides. And by the way, who or what is the ‘No’ side now that Alistair Darling is being sidelined and the No campaign have their hands full trying to keep at bay some elements they would rather not be associated with?
Nor – while we are on the subject – is my fear to do with the deeply depressing recent election results showing that parts of the UK have a taste for bigots in suits (see blog 82 Max Clifford, UKIP & all our yesterdays) – though that is unnerving. Unnerving that is unless you are an able bodied white bloke with a pint in one hand a fag in the other happy to be at the head of a bunch of chauvinist, homophobic, racist misogynists.

No. I am talking about the rain.

Good lord.

I went outdoors. I thought was going to be beaten to death by RAIN.

I am no stranger to torrential rain. I am not unfamiliar with the biblical deluge; I lived in the north of the North of England for heaven’s sake. I am no stranger to a fearsome downpour, even one that goes on and on. There is some rain that seems far too heavy to just go on and on and on but it does, then it rains some more.

Also, I have experienced Edinburgh rain – usually during the fringe in the height of what is laughably referred to as summer (see blog 2 Edinburgh). I have performed at the Edinburgh fringe with just my poetry between me and rain Armageddon. I have walked through the streets of this great city with the rain so heavy that as it hit the pavement it ricocheted up my trouser leg so that if felt as if it were raining from below as well as above.

But today I saw/felt/heard rain that would have made Noah weep – even Noah as played by Russell Crow.
For the record and in case it is brilliant sunshine this Tuesday 27th May, I am typing this on Sunday 25th May. It is impossible to hear the keyboard because the rain is battering the windows, guttering and the back boiler behind the gas fire. It is like being inside an amplified drum and I half expect a whale to go cruising by any minute.

On the streets cars and buses threw water 8 foot into the air as they slushed through the gutter water. Sometimes a driver would attempt a pointless hand wave that, I presume, was meant as a feeble apology. More often they just pretended they hadn’t noticed because wherever they were going in their car was far too important to slow down to prevent  a mere pedestrian getting soaked by the puddle tsunami. And anyway THEY are dry so WTF.

Surely the frail and elderly are warned about this phenomena? I hope so. I think there should be some sort of siren, like you would get if a nuclear device had been launched and you had to get to a shelter to die neatly rather than sprawled in the street or blasted to oblivion.

Folk often talk about a baptism of fire when they come into a new and challenging experience. This was simply a baptism.

This week’s recommended blog from the archive;

Blog 50 Ed Miliband – Political Semolina

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Blog 84 STUFF!

I have railed against materialism on this blog. I have satirised consumerism, I've written poems and performed comedy sketches on these topics. Therefore, it is with a blush and a huge guilt complex that I reflect on the last three days.

I was packing to move house.

A few months ago when the idea of a move took shape and then solidified, I naturally felt an increase in my ongoing urge to clear out. My children learnt a long time ago that if something hadn't been used or worn or given a glance in – say – six months, the chances were, it would find its way into the bin or recycle bag unless they nailed it to the floor.

It became a comfortable habit of mine not to purchase a significant item of clothing (albeit from the charity shop) without a quick pre-chuck-out. On occasion I have had to be careful not to re-purchase something I’d previously donated. Sometimes when a thing looked familiar – instead of my brain saying ‘you feel warmly towards that thing because you used to wear it’ my grey matter sends the ‘you feel warmly towards that thing because you want to buy it’ message instead.

Fortunately for my bank balance I have always viewed shopping as a task rather than a form of entertainment. Generally, being surrounded by STUFF drags me down.

There are no gadgets in my kitchen other than those that seem, even to me, to be essential. No microwave, no dishwasher, no George Forman grill (!) Anyway you get the picture.

But once I started to pack, the sheer amount of stuff, the number of things, the crap, overwhelmed me.
I began to suspect I may have cut it fine in terms of time allowed. But – I told myself – you've been handing over little parcels and boxes and bags of things to charity shops for a while. When my Edinburgh conveyancer finally got his finger out and we confirmed the date (and before it turned out he hadn't done something vital he should have done and I thought the whole thing would be off) I upped the clearing-out considerably. I decided to be ruthless, even with my books and they have been thinned out on a regular basis because they breed when I am not looking.

Items I’d hmm’d and ha’d about were cast aside without a second thought or regret. Things I really thought I could not live without were revealed as an obvious waste of space.

Lord, after a day and a half of packing, the task still seemed daunting. Even taking into consideration that some of the stuff belongs to the two daughters who have not lived at home year, and a lot more belongs to the one that does - there still seemed to be too much.

Maybe my aversion to 'things' is connected to upbringing. My grandmother is a psychotic shopper and my mum loves to get-a-gadget. I've been amazed at just how many gadgets there are for things you never knew you needed a gadget for…

My friends may chortle as they already think my sensitivity to clutter is verging on abnormal but there is going to be a whole new level of clear as I go from small house to even smaller flat.
Putting all that to one side – and suspecting that there may be more chucking out when the boxes are opened (which seems kind of mad) I think I am going to have a new rule. If I look around me and feel that it would take my children more than a few hours to clear up after me when I die – I’ve got too much stuff.

On a massive positive note – I am really excited to now be a resident of Edinburgh.

This week’s recommended blog from the archive is;

Blog 23. What is Love! (philosophy of Wil-e-coyote)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Blog 83. Hospital deaths were a NICE surprise!

I hope you are sitting down.

I wasn't sitting down when the announcement came on the radio and the shock was awful. I cannot afford for you to injure yourself and sue me when you read this blog so hold on to something.
NICE have announced findings that under-staffing in hospitals can be dangerous.

OK breathe.

Yes, NICE the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (what happened to ‘f’, ‘h’ and ‘a’?) have made an important announcement, after much consideration and looking at information and reports and statistics and especially figures for preventable deaths in hospitals. Apparently under-staffing can harmfully affect numbers of adverse incidents and patient mortality.


Let us only hope they do a parallel and more specific study into whether if you are tired and over worked you become more likely to make mistakes. I wait with bated breath for the outcome of that investigation.
Don’t confuse the NICE mentioned above with that other organisation with the same acronym, the National Institute for Could-have-worked-that-out-for-ourselves Easily.

All I can say, once I get my breath back is, thank god we have clever people getting paid lots of tax-payers’ money to tell us these things.

Being just an ordinary Jo (or Amanda) I can only hazard a guess at some of the mysteries of life and wonder about things like – would drinking tractor engine oil make you poorly?

To be honest there was rather a lot to take in this week in terms of confusing information. Evidently it’s not ok to legally (but immorally) avoid tax if you are a comedian but it is ok to illegally avoid tax if you are a singer and a mate of David Cameron. And it’s not ok to play a record with the ‘N’ word in it if you are an old DJ but it is ok to say the ‘N’ word (and be a misogynistic git) if you present programmes about cars and are a friend of David Cameron. How confusing is life?

So I suppose – if the things that should be straightforward are complicated then it makes a kind of twisted sense if things that are utterly obvious are then presented to us as if they are full of mystery and require stats and reports and serious public statements.

But back to the findings that surprised NICE.

The weird thing was that just a couple of days before this stunning announcement, a friend of mine  told me about her elderly mother who died in hospital after being given the wrong dose of one of her medications. The lady in question was old and poorly but the mis-medication possibly hastened her death and in an unpleasant way. While I felt huge sympathy for my friend and her family, I have to admit, my gut reaction was to also wonder at the plight of the nurse. How many elderly patients was she caring for? How qualified was she? How much support did she have? Was there a senior clinician available at the relevant time? Because one thing I do know from contacts in the medical field is that when these things blow up it is usually the person at the coal face who gets it in the neck. It is rarely the more senior medic, almost never the hospital manager and it is never EVER the politicians who landed the NHS with the targets and PFI contracts that led to much of the present misery and a funding crisis.

SO take a deep breath before you listen to the news or read tomorrow’s papers – they may announce that crossing the M25 without looking increases your risk of getting run over.

This week’s recommended blog from the archives is

No.32 NHS & the Condom of Common Sense.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Blog 82. Max Clifford, UKIP & ‘all our yesterdays’

Any hope of a sensible outcome (or even process) in the European elections was snuffed out when the first election leaflet flopped onto my doormat.

I am left still trying to comprehend (among other things) the appeal of UKIP – or should I say Farage. Yes he’s been shamelessly promoted and normalised by the media but over and above that, what is his draw? He’s a frog-faced racist hypocrite who seems to have galvanised the previously limp passions of (some) white men over 60 – like political Viagra. And who’d argue he wouldn’t look better with a condom over his head?
According to various opinion polls and commentators and worried Tory insiders, he appeals to those who feel their country is not what it was; those who crave the ‘better yesterday’. Presumably they want a yesterday when everyone was white and spoke perfect English which was – NEVER. There was no such thing as Standard English until well after Chaucer’s time and today most so-called indigenous people don’t speak it. The Royal Family are a Continental European import and blacks and Europeans have been resident on this island since Roman times. The fictional better yesterday seems to be some mythical time in the 60s, 70s or early 80s.
So I thought – couldn’t we put all the folk who want it to be yesterday together? They could go live on an island with Max Clifford. Maybe we could get some posters saying ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ to make them feel at home? The men could have compulsory comb-overs and the women would be forced to wear pale blue eye shadow.
On this island the only T.V. will be back episodes of Crossroads and Top of the Pops with Jimmy Saville. The food will consist of sandwiches made from packet Mother’s Pride bread filled with smash and condensed milk sprinkled with powdered coffee.
I do get why the main parties are such a turn-off. The Tories are shits. The Liberals justify their existence by claiming to be keeping the Tories from being as shit as they would otherwise be and Labour are whining from the sidelines that they will be a bit less shit than the others if we let them have a go (see spoof leaflet with this week’s cartoon).
Just last week the Tories proved yet again their disdain and utter contempt for the British public by approving the proposed take-over of Astra Zeneca by Pfizer (talking of Viagra). Apparently on the basis that P has given assurances they won’t decimate the AZ UK workforce. And we all know how reliable those kinds of business assurances are from the Royal Mail debacle.
The Liberals haven’t worked out that Clegg is as electable as chilled dog vomit.
Labour doesn’t get that;
Ed is unelectable
Blair is not completely exorcised
You can’t just keep saying you will manage the mess; you have to prove you’ll clear it up.
If the Tories want to out-UKIP UKIP they could pass a law stating that homosexuality is re-outlawed, we all have to paint our rooms brown and orange and all women must be trained as typists and not complain if their bosses grope them. And we could all go to hell in a handcart singing Rule Britannia.
... young people could wake up, smell the coffee, get themselves registered to vote and introduce euthanasia for racist, homophobic, misogynistic hypocrites.

Click on the orange Amanda Baker - top of the right hand column to view this week’s cross-cartoon

This week’s recommended blog from the archives is,

Blog 35 Eton Mess – pudding or state of the nation.