A teenager’s dilemma

There once was a family, U, a relatively respected and wealthy family, who lived in a nice house at the end of the street in a friendly and sociable neighbourhood. This family had all the usual tensions between individual members, and sometimes one person would decide what happened, and sometimes it would be someone else, but usually they would agree and go along with whatever was best for everyone.

The neighbourhood was prosperous and well-regarded – indeed, many new families wanted to be able to join it and there was a bit of a queue to get in. It was easy to see why – it was cheap and easy to get around, children would work and study together happily, people were always popping in and out of each other’s houses, admiring their individual styles, doing things for each other, and often there would be opportunities in someone’s house to do something if there wasn’t in one’s own. They all wanted the best for each other, and they all put some money into a kitty to make sure that everyone in the neighbourhood had the same opportunities, and that together they could be safer, healthier and happier. Someone from each household was part of the committee to agree on how the kitty would be spent so it was fair for everyone.

One of the members of the U family, S, really liked being part of this community, and had been thinking for a long time about moving out of the family home and getting a place of her own just next door, still being very much part of the community, but in her own capacity. She didn’t see eye to eye with the rest of her family on a lot of things, and had to do a lot of compromising whenever household decisions were made. S thought that now was as good a time as any to ask about moving out, and the family agreed to have a good lengthy discussion about it. S had a part-time job of her own, and thought she’d be able to survive by herself on her wages and whatever she could take with her from the family home. The rest of the U family tried to persuade S to stay, and suggested how some changes might be made to keep everyone happy, including giving S a little more independence and a bigger voice so she could have a better understanding of how things were run and some more autonomy. Although a part of S still really wanted to leave, she decided that on balance it was probably best to stay in the big family home with a decent income and protection. It was a tough choice, but at the time, it was the right thing for her to do.

However, less than two years later, on a whim the family decided to leave the neighbourhood. Some members of the family felt that they didn’t like their neighbours any more, and didn’t understand how the community benefitted them. These family members persuaded some of the others that they could save their kitty money and spend it on themselves. Other family members, who were unhappy about how the household was being run, thought leaving might be a good idea just to be able to have a change, not really knowing how it might actually affect them. While a lot of the family, especially S, really liked their friends and neighbours and wanted to stay as part of the community, a decision was made, and the U family set about moving, although it still hadn’t actually decided where it was going, how it was getting there, or what to do once it arrived.

After the decision to move, M took over as head of the household, and her friends suddenly had a big say on what was happening. They had a party and at the party decided that they should start asking everyone that wasn’t a strict member of the family to leave the house. They declared that even the visitors who had given their whole lives to the household would also be asked to leave eventually, taking their families and livelihoods with them. They also said the kitty money that they were going to save in leaving the community now wouldn’t be spent on everyone in the household, and they turned their backs on their earlier promises.

S was appalled at this behaviour. She loved her friends and their families, she knew how much they contributed to her family (now and throughout history), and how much worse her life would be if they left. She was angry at the lies and selfishness shown by M and her friends. S did what she could to explore options to get her family to stay, and when that failed, started researching how to stay in the community on her own, even if her family left. However, even that was proving tricky, as now the community believed she was just as bad as the rest of her family in asking all of their neighbours to leave.

S thought to herself: when she agreed to stay with the family two years ago, she didn’t sign up to being dragged out of the neighbourhood against her will, so naturally she once again started to wonder whether she could ask about formally leaving her family. She clearly disagreed with them on a lot of things, and although she still only had a part-time job and basic skills in running her own household, she believed she’d be much happier tightening her purse strings and living alone as close to the community as possible, rather than staying with the family she didn’t like without her friends around to support her. She wanted to start and care for her own family, and perhaps, one day, be allowed back into the community of friends that she didn’t want to leave. But S didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t reach out to her friends as M had turned them all against her, she couldn’t reach out to M as she wouldn’t listen, and no one seemed to want to take her seriously. Maybe she’d have to force another discussion.


The dinner party

We have friends coming round for dinner tomorrow night. Which means we have to cook for them. And apparently we have to do three courses, all of which have to “flow”. Please. Who wrote the dinner party rule book anyway? The last time I checked the only rule was “don’t poison anybody”.

We started having the discussion about what to cook when we first made the invitation, last Monday. It’s pretty much all we’ve talked about since then. And when I say “we”, obviously I haven’t been doing it. I’ve been talked at mostly. But now I find myself on a date with Tesco and desperately hoping I find inspiration for a dish (yes, I have to do one) that is “English”, won’t cost the earth, and that flows with the other courses, none of which have been confirmed yet.

My current thinking is pea and ham soup, which, frankly, flows quite well when you pour it. Pea and ham both seem to be quite English foods, and it’s probably very reasonably priced. I think I’ll plump for that. If I’ve been murdered in the next 24 hours I think it will be very obvious to work out who it was and why.

Maybe I should put more thought into it. I’ll search for Delia’s recipe for pea and ham soup and make it myself. There’s normally some sort of offer on ham, and peas are quite cheap. Maybe I’ll get some sugar too in case I have to sweeten it to become the dessert course. But which sugar? What would Delia say? Has anyone ever done a pea and ham soup for dessert?

They must have. There’ll be a forum out there for it somewhere. And maybe they’ll be one for ways to avoid getting murdered. And ways to get out of your own dinner party. Is life really supposed to be this difficult?!

Life without laptop

No, laptop is not the name of a dearly beloved pet. Nor a partner or lover. Just a laptop. We haven’t gone in for names.

But I have had to suffer the most beastly 10 days without the thing, while it’s been off gallivanting round the country getting repaired.  Yes, 10 whole days. And what have I done in that time? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sitting and staring out the window would definitely rank as my main pastime in this traumatic period in my life. I had no idea I’d miss that fuddy duddy little fella of mine quite so much. We don’t even like each other. I mean, my laptop is actually particularly and quite spectacularly awful, but at least it’s a laptop.

The thing is I freelance, so it pretty much is my life. And I really need it for my entertainment, I’ve got two episodes of Downton Abbey to catch up with, for God’s sake. I am literally a deprived adult.

Now I do have a “smart” phone, and bless it, it has tried to help me in my dilemma. But writing Pulitzer and Nobel winning literature is just not that easy on a phone. Nor is access to an array of documents I hoped to work on and send to people.

If there is one positive to take from this terrible saga, it’s my not being able to do my invoicing. My template simply won’t work on my phone. I hate invoicing, possibly more than I hate the marmitey crumbs my flatmate insists on leaving in my butter. But not even my distinctly dwindling funds and complete and utter lack of purpose could tempt me into an internet cafe to attempt it there. No thanks.

But alas, the lovely people out there somewhere have now restored my laptop to life, and if anyone’s glad, it’s my bank balance. It’s waiting for me to send those bloody invoices, so I may as well get on with it. Oh, it’s a hard life.

Musings on the dawn of referendum day

Eurgh. So they are digging up the road outside my flat at the moment, which means I have to walk down the way a bit in order to cross it in the morning. I have to cross it because I’m going to go to some church hall I’ve never been to before, to put another kind of cross on a small bit of paper, which I’m then going to put in a box. What a way to spend a Thursday morning (well, probably afternoon by the time I’ve got up late, gone for a swim, made myself scrambled (organic) eggs and got myself sorted). Life’s tough.

And what is it with crosses anyway? Everyone’s doing those these days. Why not make it a parallelogram or regular dodecahedron and really test people’s capacity to think before they mark that paper? Or at least something, you know, funkier, for us funky types. And while we’re at it, seriously, paper? I jolly well hope it’s recycled paper, and will be recycled again after use, because you know the environment is totes important. I bet they had to use a lot of trees to make those. And there are children dying in Africa because of it. We’ll see them on the adverts at Christmas and they’ll make us feel guilty for eating our Christmas dinner, and then we’ll turn over the channel and pretend it’s all fine.

Then tomorrow night I’ll probably have to hide inside because there will be poor and ignorant people out on the streets starting fights and burning things. Seriously. This is not the middle ages. When I can bring myself to read some sort of news publication at the moment it’s what I see pictures of, so it must be true. Then I’m probably not going to get much sleep and be really cranky the day after, and all because of democracy. What a rubbish idea.

I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about democracy, because if I did, frankly I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But as far as I get it, the part where people set fire to things and bully and intimidate other people isn’t quite how it’s supposed to work? I may well be wrong. Then again I’m middle-class, so I’m never wrong. It’s one of those things that just is, and the sooner people get over it the better, I say.

The sweet, sweet irony of UKIP’s latest poster campaign.

If I’m the first to write about this then I hope I get some kind of award for investigative journalism (jokes), because I think it’s an absolute corker. But let me tease you for a sentence or two before revealing my full hand….

The facts – UKIP want the UK out of the EU. One of their (undoubtedly many, if you can bear to listen to them blabber on without wanting to chop off your own ears) reasons for this is the fact that they believe immigrants are taking jobs away from native British people. I won’t go into the politics at this moment (read someone else’s blog for that), but after the semi-gaffe of their leader employing his immigrant wife as his secretary, comes the whopper. The party this week unveiled their high-profile poster campaign, one of which features an “out-of-work” tradesman begging with a plastic cup, who we are to assume is British (the tradesman, not the cup). However, the man in question is in fact none other than Irish actor Dave O’Rourke. That’s right. An immigrant.

The implications? Embarrassment for UKIP, and a giggle for the rest of us. Clearly someone didn’t do their homework (I’m not pointing any fingers at a certain German secretary, I promise) in researching the actor’s ethnicity before plastering his handsome face across their anti-EU campaign. And I’m certainly not saying a British secretary would have been any better (although who knows?!). But for a UK political party purported to champion British workers over “unlimited cheap labour” from elsewhere, surely they could have employed a British actor as their poster boy for this campaign? You know, support for British workers and all that?

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe it’s all some sort of convoluted double-bluff to prove their point about the UK being overrun by immigrants. And I’m sure once this blog goes viral, and UKIP’s PR people have produced enough positioning statements to block the Channel Tunnel and prevent any more immigrants entering the country, we’ll be treated to some equally cumbersome explanation of their choice. Either way, for now, I’m grinning (and waiting for my award, thanks).

You can’t choose cucumber!

I got into quite a heated discussion with my flatmates recently (heated on their side, obvs) about a relatively simple topic: if you could only eat five foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Now, living with a couple of women of a certain age and penchant for health and spirituality, they made careful calculations as to ensure they got very balanced diets, including all necessary vitamins and food groups. And this went on. Before I knew it, they were making tactical substitutions, researching availability and comparative potassium levels of different foods. All the while, I sat back, observing the madness. A wry grin appeared on my face. Error.


I could feel their stares boring through my glossy exterior, and I was compelled to join in. Now, as quite a simple man, I felt perfectly able to respond with a succinct, honest answer. Burgers, bread, cheese, chocolate (and for the sake of having something vaguely healthy and balanced, given present company), cucumber.” Little did I know when answering that the cucumber would tip them over the edge.

So, I got a lecture on the relative nutritional value of cucumber, and how, actually, it was “nothing”. They spouted facts about it being 90% water, low in fibre, yuddah, yuddah, yuddah. I started to wonder if I’d actually died and was being judged at the gates of Heaven on my food choices. Was this real? Were we really, seriously discussing this ice-breaker conversation as though our very existence depended on it? Would we wake up tomorrow and find that only our five declared foods would be in the fridge waiting for us? Or would we not have a fridge? Maybe the food wouldn’t be there either, and we would have to hunt and gather it ourselves like some sort of stone-age troglodytes?

Snap. Back in the room. I think they’d been talking for a while, so I suggested broccoli as a peace offering. It seemed to work. They giggled, and I thought I had escaped. Then they suggested whether I would want mayonnaise to go with my burger, as they knew I liked it. Here we go again. I quickly explained how I simply must have my broccoli to balance the diet, couldn’t possibly live without chocolate, and then I just ran for the glowing sanity of the hallway and shut the door behind me.

Thankfully, the next day, the fridge was still there. I went and bought a cucumber to celebrate.

Will you come with me?

Ahhh. Singledom. How evident you are when I, wanting to make the most of a half-price theatre ticket deal at short notice, once again find myself with an excellent seat for one at a West End show. And tonight was the same story.

Yet did I feel lonely, wallowing in self-pity, longing for a partner or friend to share it with? No. Did I feel inconsequential or inadequate? Please! Did I feel frowned upon, judged or pitied by the numerous other couples or couples of couples I shared that auditorium with. I don’t think so. 

Most importantly though, did I have a good evening? Yes! Did I feel liberated, not having to worry about whether the other person needed the loo, or had to rush to get a last train, or that it wasn’t really their kind of show? I absolutely did. Yes folks, it is possible to go out by yourself and have a perfectly splendid evening. Or day, or weekend, or as I have done and I know many others who also have, a whole holiday.

People, this is the 21st century. People don’t care if you’re with someone else, same sex, different sex, miscellaneous nationality, potential mother-in law, or a copy of the Evevning Standard. And nor should you.

Life is too short to miss out on great things just becasue you don’t want to do them alone. So what if you can’t find someone to go with you somewhere last minute, probably becuase they are already doing the exact same thing for somone else? It’s not that bad. Honestly. (Plus you can always bury yourself in your phone/book/magazine/re-arranging your scarf numerous times if you can’t bare to look at anyone during the interval). People are on their own these days for all sorts of reasons. Think about it. Sometimes we don’t like to. It’s safer not too. But it’s ok. People on their own are still people. Live a little. I dare you.