Eminem's Encore, from the newly converted

I'll tell you what's futile. Writing a review of an album that came out in 2004 when its 2011. But being a child spawned of the Sex Pistols, Tori Amos and The Smiths I came to Eminem late and drip fed. When I began to give him my attention, I realised Eminem was raps answer to Morrissey, and I'm a sucker for a primal beat so I became a fan pretty quickly. I digest one album at a time; Eminem's Encore won the most recent lottery. I found it so comprehensive that, as a writer who once said I couldn't make music for shit but could listen to it better than anyone else, I had to sit down and write about it. First thing I understood was, this is one album you must listen to in one sitting, preferably with headphones on and in a comfortable position. Settle in with drinks because I don't want you to go anywhere until the end. This is a cinematic album, it will drag you into it, shake you up and spit you out, and I don't care if you like rap or not or if you desire the content for your own life. Do you only watch films about World War II? If you can handle a variety of films you can handle this. Moments that would be disorientating if faced isolated in the middle make perfect sense when seen within their context. Of course the two related skits are obvious examples of cohesion, but musically there are plenty of linear and non-linear link-ups as well.

There is the genius of Eminem, something I go as far to say that he shares with Mozart; to what extent I don't venture to guess. Because Mozart saw an entire composition as one piece, from a birds eye view in an instant, rather than as a series of individually isolated songs and notes, unconnected to each other. This ability clearly isn't too much a labour for Eminem either. When he blinks he sees language, music, ethics, beauty and filth, all exemplified by his own story, and he lays it down in a rap record for us to play as we will. The pleasure is all ours when we allow ourselves to sit back and bask in that snapshot. It's a puzzle to unpick the threads and connect the dots with marvel, while all sorts of puerile, passionate and ethical thoughts march through our heads to a deceptively simple beat. Now that makes it sound like it could only be improved upon if it exuded a nice musky scent, rubbed my neck and fed me bonbons but nevertheless... I loved it the first time I heard it, but the second, third and fourth times I realised it was actually quite special and now I want to evangelise about it with the zeal of the converted.

In the opening track, “Curtains Up - Encore” we hear the crowd cheering him back on stage (Returning from the Eminem Show. In My 1st Single he makes reference to his inability to compete with his previous success.) Then it effortlessly slides into the studio style sounding first song, Evil Deeds. I liked how it went straight for the jugular, no extended bullshit about shaking asses but what we really want from Eminem: wit, honesty and fury. It set the tone for an album that had down and dirty intentions. He describes his childhood bouncing from place to place, singing to his absent father in mock prayer fashion. Then he comments on observers saying of him 'I can't imagine it, that little rich poor white bastard/Needs to take some of that cash out the bank and take a bath in it/Man if I only had half of it.' He responds, 'If you only knew the half of it'.

In the mesmerising Yellow Brick Road's intro there are several quotes sampled in. The first is about saving young individuals before it is too late for them, but the last says “We all have this idea that we should move a little bit from our parents station and each generation should do a little bit better...” After the intro of quotes he tells the story of his younger years, abandoned to grapple with racism and abuse. Those years that set him irreversibly on the path he was to tread on and hence set his own children on in an effort to steer them in a different direction, using the raw materials he had at hand. Bearing in mind that his intentions were to better his parents circumstances (as laid out by the intro quotes) I think he can be satisfied that he did very well, and use this album as proof of that. In Mosh he refers to himself as a fatherless Father. Of course no parent is perfect, and he holds his parenting up to a harsh light in his rap often, but there is no denying that he is a doting father who has fought to keep his daughters as stable, safe and loved as possible and they are constantly referred to in his songs. He is also indisputably wealthier than his parents were, and has been internationally recognised as a person of amazing musical talent. After all, I just compared him to Mozart, which is saying a hell of a lot. I consider Mozart the Original Genius Rock Star, and I don't pass the Mozart nod of genius out frequently. I award him this now. Therefore in both nurturing his young, providing materialistically and furthering humanity's achievement he has succeeded in the universal aim of improving on what came before him.

Eminem can put his success down to two things: His determination to exercise his right to freedom of speech no matter what his meaning or intent in order to pull himself up by his bootstraps and his remarkable talent as a wordsmith. The two characteristics combined are so compelling. I can see why people may find him repulsive because the subject matter he has to work with is not for the faint of heart, but I think he's a hero. A complete asshole at times, no doubt, but that's not what we're talking about here. I would drink with him any night despite this. If you look backwards over humanity all real progress has come from increasing the same basic ingredients (human rights, economic stability, artistic influences, and logic) so as far as I'm concerned he's exhibiting all the right signs of evolution. Right, so, down to the nitty gritty. Have I got your attention yet? Are you willing to put those headphones on and be entertained my way?

“Mosh” has to be one of the most rousing cries to fight for the anti-war cause I've ever heard. I would take up arms under Eminem as my general in the name of peace any day. But seriously, I like his anger, I like his venom towards George W. (Bearing in mind I'm writing this in 2011 and the album was released in 2004. I'm just having fun in my spare time, these days we've got Obama and the troops are still hanging in there. Eminem for President, me as First Lady? Quick! Hide the red button!) His fury in the moment when he says to put an AK47 in George's hands and send him off to war to impress Daddy is tangible, but his responsibility when he asks how we could empower the monster is just as raw. He answers the point that Americans can be patriotic without feeling we must be unquestionably loyal to the President; and that's something that many Americans need to hear. We are taught to respect our President as a matter of reverence to the office that bears our freedoms. But the whole song is about the fact that the respect given can be abused to erode those same freedoms, not only of Americans but of others. He pushes this rap out with a heave and a shaking fist, willing the heavens to break, begging to go head to head with the powers that be and charge into battle as leader of the screwed over millions. And he does it in love of America. He grew up in Missouri where I did and he's only a bit older than me. We were weaned on the same curriculum and in similar circumstances, I speak his language. The pledge of allegiance is at the beginning of that song; we said that at the beginning of each school day. We were taught that it meant something. The social studies classes and talks of the Revolutionary War in elementary school actually fell on to some fertile ground, but that ground was left to grow wild afterwards. Eminem didn't sample the pledge in to the beginning of Mosh to belittle America; he clings to his freedom of speech because he loves it. The one thing he clung to as a child when things were so hard for him was that there was justice in our right to freedom and equality. It's no accident that Like Toy Soldiers precedes Mosh. It seems there's one thing Eminem can't stomach, and that's betrayal of those you depend on and who depend on you, whether you're talking nationally or in matters of the heart.

It then moves straight into disgusting sounds of vomit, when he goes into a blistering tirade against the infamous Kim in the song “Puke”. There are no comforting breaks between songs to make a cup of tea. You can imagine how she slowly heated, burned, then hit the fucking roof when she first heard this song. What a knife to twist. And he twisted it, and she knows exactly why. Not because its his permanent state of mind, but because he felt it bad enough, because they're both mad enough, it's real enough, and the rhyme came and it was irresistible enough, and it simply was. That's how they are where they are. It spins, it loops. In “Rain Man's” first ten lines he reduces etiquette to a comedy of errors, making a counter attack on those who attack him for profanity, on the grounds that he has a sacred right to say what he likes whether he means it or not, and whether other people like to hear it or not. He's almost gracious for drawing a line under offences since we're unable to do the same. Given the mention again of Bush in “Rain Man”, I presume the previous bit about bisexual/lesbian and then homosexual sex was a parody of George W, in anticipation. The Rain Man theme stresses that he can't stop his need to verbalise and bewails his fate as the good guy at the mercy of his tongue. But its so clever, the joke goes so many ways. He demonstrates his inability to stop being offensive by being offensive, all in the name of a noble cause. It leaves you helpless and at his complete disposal. This is why it's a mistake when people say that what Eminem's rap is about is sex, swearing and violence. It's more often about the control and of sex, swearing and violence, which makes it a whole different kettle of fish.

I think he spends so much time proclaiming his right to say what he likes, that he feels obliged to prove it by scraping the bottom of the barrel to toughen us up and drive home his point. That moment is “Ass Like That” which for me is the albums lowest point for its sheer irritation and gross out factor. Once he's proven that his literal and literary cock is bigger than ours he gets back to his true passion, which is rapping about the matters of his heart. Mockingbird is a touching song to his daughters that explains the tender side of his love for Kim, and that segues straight into the climax of the album, Crazy in Love.

If you wondered why Puke was so vile then look no further. Anyone who can love this obsessively is deeply bound to lose all semblance of normality when the object of their love breaks their heart. Eminem & Rhianna's “Love the Way You Lie” is like a songbird compared to the mania that was his raw material called Crazy in Love. I may be forever excluded from my fellow feminists for this, but this is amongst the most romantic songs I've ever heard. Yes I know it involves both parties exchanging blows and we all know that's wrong etc but there is a madness in falling in love, and the naked, endearing need in this song is inspiring. It's got a sweetness to it, even a beguiling touch of a blush, despite mention of dildos. That feeling is one of the great marvels of humanity and he wrote it. Those things come with fire, that's why they are what they are, its why he is what he is. Health and Safety are modern inventions, genius, art and progress do not recognise them. Climax indeed. “Love you More”, a bonus track, continues the description of all consuming love/hate relationship. I defy anyone to get to the end of that song without feeling like they've been sucker punched and they need to struggle for air.

Then it all goes wrong. The shots rain down. Then he's back on stage for his final encore. I had a happy accident, I was listening to the album on Spotify and my default setting on all albums is that they play continuously until I change them. So while listening to the final track “Encore/Curtains Down” which is deceptively light hearted, I was surprised when it ended with Eminem shooting up his cheering audience. But while I was taking in the end of the album, and they were still desperately trying to escape the venue in terror, the album simply began again from “Curtains Up/Encore” and I could hear that the two samples of the screaming/cheering crowds on either end were the same. It went seamlessly in a loop, which was the entire point of the whole album. A beautiful never-ending to a story that could never have gone any other way. His very own Phantom of the Opera. That's what this album is really about, its like the Christian apologists, but it shows us the process of a thorny genius realised. He did that, ticked that box. It was its own exercise, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Even if it is 7 years late...

Life in ashes and a search for the inner Phoenix

Over the previous months there has been a noticeable lack of contributions to this blog. Regular readers will be aware I suffer from exceptionally bad migraines, and my health has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Increasingly during 2010 I have found myself paring back to my own essentials, basic living, earning my bread and fighting for some happiness where I can find it. My chief pleasure and occupation (writing) has become painful for me. Although I’m known for being somewhat sardonic I have an innate distaste for moaning about myself; sadly there hasn’t been a lot of scope for much else recently when I’ve sat down to write. I’ve been working on a few fiction pieces but as I’ve become more ill even those have become a struggle. I am not giving up, of course.

About six months ago, what were once simply painful daily migraines began to morph into a strange, constant stabbing pain in my right eye. After that it wasn’t long before I began to have episodes of slurred speech, very weak limbs, numbness and tingling along the right side of my face and through my arms and legs. I was finding it hard to stay awake, hard to concentrate on projects and hard to find my words. In every appearance it looked as if I’d had a stroke, but my neurologist insisted I had not. I trust him, he is a brilliant doctor. Eventually these symptoms became overwhelming, and I passed out while crossing a road with my family. Two weeks after that I was insensible, asleep off and on for nearly a week. In the midst of all this I had several MRIs, CAT scans and a lumber puncture while in Queens Hospital. They discovered I had either a very small AVM or Cavernoma.

I was released from Queens hospital three weeks ago and told to be on bedrest for two weeks. I was at once relieved I had finally achieved a diagnosis that could possibly be cured; AVM/Cavernomas can be removed surgically, and equally afraid that I had what felt like confirmation of the ticking bomb I’ve long believed to be inside my head. My Father had a brain aneurysm and I believe the tendency to be hereditary. On my Mom’s side of the family stroke is extremely prominent, so going through this at 31 does not instil me with confidence.

To make a tedious story more tedious, my own neurologist does not agree with the Queens assessment that my brain potentially needs a bit of crafty knife work. He is of the opinion that I am experiencing migraine with neuro-deficit, and the small Cavernoma was a coincidental find, but it is not the cause of my symptoms. How do I feel about this to-ing and fro-ing?

Well I can safely say my life has been as nearly ruined as it could be, short of the death of my loved ones. I have lost my health utterly now, I’ve lost my body. I can make myself pretty and wear a nice new necklace but not leave the house. I am writing this now and I’ll probably be worse tonight from the effort. Last week I fell down the stairs and broke and dislocated my middle finger. I don’t recall feeling dizzy at the time of the fall, but it’s telling of my general weakness. When I landed at the bottom and saw my mangled hand I stared at it in shock. All I could think was “Thank god that wasn’t the aneurysm!” I realised that in the split second when I started to fall I believed that in that moment I was dying, and I mourned for my husband and son in the next room about to witness it. That is how I am living now. Yes, I know there are people worse off but right now I’m grieving for what I’ve lost of myself. I’ve been fighting for all of my 20’s to overcome migraines and now I’m bedbound most of the day not from pain but weakness.

Matthew is on week two (or maybe three!) home from work to care for me and Alex so we’re praying to Jupiter and Mars that his career and annual leave will hold out. My drugs are being increased every fortnight in the hopes they will stop the migraines and stop any further stroke-like damage so I can at least play catch up.

Well, as I promised in the title, I am searching for the Phoenix from the ashes. Firstly, I’ve been remarkably happy since I fell down the stairs. The appearance of robo-finger cheered me immensely; it looks like I’m giving the world a gigantic fuck off with my middle finger. For someone who speaks softly it’s perversely thrilling. The sudden realisation that I did not have an aneurysm in that tumble of eternity combined with becoming part-Borg gave me a permanent fit of the giggles. On the back of that I decided we were long overdue for a holiday, but of course not the kind we usually take where we tramp around cities and palaces and coffee houses. That requires far too much stamina for what I’m offering this year, so instead we’ve opted for Menorca. I initially rejected it because I lumped Menorca in with Ibiza without knowing anything of it, and I didn’t want to go anywhere near a club. Matthew insisted I do some homework (shame on me) and I was instantly infatuated not only with the island but with a gem of a hotel. Our lovely Uncle Mike agreed to join us so it will be me relaxing on a beach come July with three lovely men.

The other personal outcome has been my decision to pursue creating a historically authentic, one of a kind dolls house, something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’m on a silent campaign to transform the dining room into an entire village but Matthew is insisting we need a table. He thinks I should be happy with just one palace...

Matthew and Alex have been amazingly supportive to me, and I’m trying to be so to them. Alex is a very mature almost 4 year old but he’s still very young to have such a poorly Mama. We’re about as attached to each other as a second skin and it’s been frightening for him to be separated from me during hospital stays. He’s grown up very quickly in some ways, always telling me not to exercise and to let him and Daddy carry things. I spend a lot of time trying to be with him as normally as possible, and I treasure the good days I have when we’ve walked out in the sunshine together.

On the writing side of things little has happened but for the fact that I’ve been invited to set up a profile on the awesome http://www.lazygramophone.com/ and they’ve printed a short story of mine onto postcards! It’s called Naress, check them out.

This shiny little blog piece has taken me an hour to write due to the marvellous robo-finger. It’s not as slimline as Sevon of Nine’s but I flatter myself that it will still have the power to assimilate anyone in my path.

Santus Circus, From Paris to Peking (and luckily England)

Saturday we went to the circus! It was Alex’s first ever, and my first in a long time. We’ve allowed some other travelling circuses to pass us by because of concerns over animal welfare issues. Much to our delight we saw that Santus Circus is full of vastly entertaining Homo sapiens. (I’m sure that Chinese dragon is happy with his work...)

Santus Circus, “From Paris to Peking” has all of the honest charm of the original circuses, but with some awesomely modern acts added to the traditional. It was not a sterile, clockwork perfect show, the likes of which you might see in Las Vegas or Dubai. It was better. It was real, raw, beautiful, amazingly talented; and it was right here on my local patch.

We’ve got to stop equating polish and big PR budgets with talent and worth. The Santus stars were magnificent and clearly have worked very hard and very consistently. The languages spoken amongst the performers and crew are Chinese, French, German, Romanian, Bulgarian and English; they manage to communicate with gestures & broken English. Despite the sextuplet language barrier they work together remarkably well. In circus life everyone works double duty, everyone helps pitch the tent, sell the tickets and pop the popcorn.

Perhaps one of the most magical things about Santus Circus is that unlike watching an act in a casino or on television, we the audience, are sharing an incredibly intimate space under the Big Top with the performers. Barely 20 feet away from our ringside seats the most entertaining, out of the ordinary things were happening!

The artistes were made of sparkle, flesh and bone; feelings of camaraderie and awe were jostling within me for dominant space. When the juggler once dropped a pin he handled it with great panache; he performed the trick again, then twice more with extra pins, to much applause. You can see their intense concentration, you can see them break into a smile of pure exultation when they’ve pulled off a stunt perfectly, and your heart soars right along with theirs. As they worked I caught myself wishing I could know them, be one of them, be their friend. I felt privileged to be watching so many talented people entertain with their very selves.

In the interval the Chinese dragon stood in the ring and for a small price Circus staff took photos of audience members with him, to be printed and delivered at the end of the show. Alex was very keen on the idea, and wanted to stroke the shaggy beast, but upon getting closer he got cold feet. The Ringmaster, Ernest Santus kindly took him by the hand and led him to the dragon, and the photo was taken of the three of them together. It is a lovely picture that I will always treasure for happy memories.

All of the acts are worth describing in depth and I suspect each person will come away with their own favourite. For Alex it was the slapstick clowns and their rather surprising piano. We all loved the Chinese Nanle Troupe who did amazing acrobatics with precision timing as a 10 strong team. You couldn’t see Santus Circus without losing your breath watching Duo Galaxy perform the Wheel of Death; he is the only artiste in the world who walks on the outside of the wheel on stilts!

Being a naturally sedentary person I had never understood the appeal of wanting to run off and join the circus. I have seen other circuses before, and enjoyed myself. This time though, I got the magic, and I got it with a vengeance. It was beautiful; beautiful in its humanity, its fun, its excitement, its daring and its perseverance. I’ll be seeing Santus Circus again next week in Clacton. I’m considering turning up with baked goods as a bribe; I want them to take me with them.

I attended the show on the large green attached to Bay Tree Garden Centre in Stisted, Essex. The stands were only sparsely occupied by punters; it made me sad not only for the Circus but for the locals missing out. Perhaps they drove past and thought it was just another entertainment. As a society we’re jaded, broke and bored. I spoke to Clunky the Clown aka Andrew Clinch, Circus Administrator , who said that over the last two years there have been fewer people turning up and more people economising when they get there (less souvenir buying and cheaper seats). I have to say, the value for money was brilliant; the show was two hours long and it was far more exciting and unique than going to the cinema. How many people waste money on text messages sent to useless talent competitions meant only to line the pockets of major networks and media moguls? It’s a shame that we live in a tabloid, D-list celebrity obsessed culture, yet this great show is struggling.

Part of the problem the circus faces is conveying to the public just what they’ll be getting for their money. They don’t have a large marketing budget or a slick PR firm behind them, and there is only so much that can be expressed on a poster or leaflet. Word of mouth and the wonders of social networking seem to be what’s in order, so please pass these details on to your blogs, facebook and twitter. Much of what we spend is wasted, invisible money, but I can assure you a trip to Santus Circus is not.

Below are the details for Santus Circus’ appearance in Clacton this week. After that the Circus will be in Heybridge, near Maldon. Next look for them in Kent and London, details are updated on their website 2 weeks in advance.

West Road Car Park
Beside Airfield
Clacton on Sea
Essex CO15 1AG

From Wednesday 28th April
To Monday 3rd May

Wednesday 28th: 5pm
Thursday 29th: 7.30pm
Friday 30th: 5pm and 7.30pm
Saturday 1st: 3pm and 6pm
Sunday 2nd: 3pm and 6pm
Monday 3rd: 3pm only

Travel info: Bus: 3, 10, 11 Nearest Rail: Clacton

For information / reservations: 07843 884 787 or 07952 418 487


First day only special offer - all seats £5
Adults: £8, £10, £14
Child / OAP: £6, £9, £10


This morning around 5am I woke to the sound of the most beautifully complicated birdsong. It filtered into my sleeping pill addled mind and sounded downright unbelievable. It was like the birdsong you’d imagine hearing on another planet, too extraordinary for common Colchester. They sang so clearly and sweetly, with so many ups and downs and trips and loop the loops but continually joining up together again. I wondered what the beautiful singers looked like, every colour of the rainbow, dusky grey, mother of pearl and pure gold feathers light as air. In my confused and momentarily pain-free state I deduced I had finally died and this was the beginning of my heaven. I was too focused on trying to catch every note of the birds to meditate on this in depth, but a few fleeting thoughts of regret flitted through my head. The book I’m writing that I’m desperate to finish, and my son and his need for me. Thinking of my son was like a call to arms, the ever present thorn in my right eye asserted itself and I was yanked out of my blissful dawn hallucination.

If you've been swinging on the Obama weathervane

I have nothing but scorn for the media and its faithful swallowers that hailed Obama as a political god in 2009 but began baying for his blood within his first year in office for failing to measure up to their own ideal. Now, after he’s had some hard earned successes the praise starts rolling in and you start reading the comments “I’ve always liked him” and “I think we all owe him an apology.” The litany of abuse that has been hurled at him over the last few months from people who act like their rock star crush has just got married has been appalling. Bush III, Obomber, Obummer, the Kenyan. These elements were of course around at the time of his inauguration but their ranks have swelled by people who have expected too much too soon. Do you think these latest headlines of his victories have sprouted up overnight? What do you think he’s been working on during this time? It can take years to agree contracts on the NHS…

A few years ago when building renovations were all the rage you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing some brilliantly determined (or utterly daft) person taking the beautifully derelict remains of a Victorian pile and laboriously restoring it to its natural, but more modern (liveable) glory. You watched the highs and lows of the journey, the successes and failures, but you didn’t expect it to happen overnight. Amazing that such common sense seems to disappear when considering such matters as nuclear weapons, national debt, international war, poverty, healthcare, gross injustice, environmental issues…

For the sofa sitting Presidents and Prime Ministers out there, Obama is performing a job that he is aware has a time limit to it, (please, let it be eight years). His job is not to perform miracles but to set everything possible in motion so that the Presidents who come after him will be filling progressive and iron clad shoes rather than shoes burning holes in the globe. He is a statesman, he is ethically sound and he is hard working. He works at a fierce pace because he knows his days as President are numbered and he clearly intended to make the most of them from Day 1. He’s at the helm of a nation covering around 3.8 million square miles with a population of approximately 300 million, and all that that entails. It’s not going to happen in 1 year, 2 years or even 4. If you’ve had your knickers in a twist because he hasn’t multitasked well enough so far, go find a crumbling château to salvage.

Mother’s Day Proclamation – it’s not what you think it is

Written in 1870 by a feminist, pacifist and activist, Julia Ward Howe's “Mother’s Day Proclamation” has nothing to do with women harassed by an over demanding modern life or a nice lunch out. Far more unsettling, it is a raw and powerful piece of writing that expresses the impotent fury of women forced to send their flesh and blood off to die in the name of causes that they did not believe in. Women who knew their sons were massacring the sons of other women who felt exactly the same way. What she writes was and is still revolutionary; we don’t want our men coming home covered in blood and asking for congratulations. We don’t want to raise our sons to be conscientious members of society, only to have them taken away and taught to kill. We say that the government does not know best, and we no longer wish to have our lives dictated by them.

The women she was writing for nursed through the night without the aid of medicines and slaved away to keep their families fed and clothed. They were largely without choices in life. They often married whom they were told to, had sex when they were told to and had babies when they passively became impregnated. Whether or not they lived through the whole experience was in the hands of the gods.

Irrespective of the circumstances that women have lived in, with few exceptions they show a notably feral love for their children. It is not uncommon to find a mouse transform into a tigress if her cubs are threatened. Julia Ward Howe was writing in response to the carnage of her place and time, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, but her words ring crystal clear to us today. I would urge for them to be passed on, so that her vision can still inspire 140 years later.

“Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.”

Mama’s Day, Round 5

Although I used to get amusingly scrawled Mother’s Day cards from my cats, my first “official, human” Mother’s Day was in 2006 whilst I was incubating Alex. I had hyperemesis and was incapable of lifting a finger without being sick. Sometime around the 2nd trimester when everyone was bristling with irritation that I was still being sick up to 20 times a day even though I was “supposed to be past that after 12 weeks” I was hospitalised for dehydration. I was really rubbish at being pregnant so thank the heavens it isn’t a condition I’m obliged to return to in order to achieve a motherly halo.

Mother’s Day, Round 2, I actually had a bit of flesh and bone to show for my trouble, it was this very small infant boy called Alex.

Round 3 and I was taken out to lunch to a lovely Chinese restaurant. The tables were decorated with bamboo plants. Alex was fascinated by them so after lunch and before I went to work that night as a waitress we stopped at the garden centre next door and bought him his own bamboo plant for his bedroom. He said “bamboooooohhh” with an exuberant “ooh” at the end. Despite the best attempts of our youngest and most badly behaved cat, that bamboo plant is still alive and almost well.

Round 4 was only last year but I don’t remember it; I’m sure it was lovely. And here we are at Mama’s Day, Round 5! Which seems impossible since Alex is only 3, but he will be 4 this year and I am of course counting the year of his percolation.

When Alex was a baby Matthew and I referred to me as his Mummy, as you do. When he began to speak for himself he only ever called me Mama. I was of course grateful that he was calling me anything at all. After a while, all of my friend’s babies were moving on to the standard Mummy and my admittedly odd little boy was still adamantly refusing to acknowledge me by any other name than Mama. I was very insecure in my mothering, and for some reason I felt it was important to teach him to say Mummy. Looking back on this I really cannot fathom why but… well as I said, insecure and a bit stupid described much of my first eighteen months of parenting.

Alex refused to say Mummy and became angry if ever I tried to coach him. Thankfully it wasn’t long before I threw the towel in. From the moment he was born Alex’s will has been frighteningly strong and this clearly was a very low priority. He was such a queer little thing, right from the very beginning. Always with his own definite way of doing things, always so prickly and always all consuming; like a blanket of molasses spread thickly all over me.

Going from an autonomous human being to a constant nurturer for an often unfathomable person was not the relatively smooth ride that I naively believed it would be. I found early on that a wonderful coping mechanism is to pretend your baby or child has been beamed in from outer space. We all know children are round the twist; no adult could get away with hysterics because a drawing of a stickman on the pavement didn’t return your greeting when you walked past. When your toddler goes through a phase of eating only bright orange food, or your preschooler refuses to eat dinner unless you agree that it’s actually cat food, it’s much easier to be sympathetic to the poor dears if you visualise ET. Imagine they’ve just crashed and hatched, and have only you to guide them through the maze of humanity. What a sobering thought.

Long after I’d come to my senses and realised that the way he said Mama was absolutely darling, came a day when I was on the phone with a friend. He toddled over to me and said “Mummy?” with an expectant smile. I was shocked – it sounded so foreign coming from his mouth. My friend had heard him say it and, before she had a chance to filter her words from her thoughts she said “Oh my god, ‘Mummy!’ he sounds so normal saying that!”

I knew what she meant. It wasn’t that Alex usually sounded abnormal. It was just that he often sounded so ancient for such a bonny babe. Suddenly I felt a pang for my confused, old and new little boy-little man, and I never wanted to hear him say Mummy again. Or rather, I never wanted to hear him say anything against his own heart with the sole aim to please me, again. I nuzzled him and kissed him and said “It’s ok you can call me Mama.” Weirdly enough he never used Mummy again until recently when he’s realised it has the potential to wind me up.

The way he says Mama is like a caress, it’s his own expression of love for me. Many children call their Mothers Mama; I know it isn’t unique to us. But, he insisted on it, despite my absurd opposition. When he says it now, even though he is a proud 3½ I am grateful that his will was stronger than my postnatal herd instinct. I feel loved and loving every time I hear my given name.

I often battle with guilt because while I love my son more than anything I absolutely require an abundant amount of adult time for my mental health. If it were within my power to choose I think I would have been surrounded by a whole flock of children and animals, content within the domestic sphere. However the way I am made is simply not compatible with that picture. Like immeasurable other men and women I am trying to find and maintain the balance between personal satisfaction and personal sacrifice.

Most people agree that Mother’s Day is the perfect time for us to show the Mothers in our life our love for them. My message to those Mothers is to take a moment to reflect on the joy, wisdom and strength that you gain from giving your love. I have no saintly claim to patiently inspired mothering, but for me Mother’s Day is two parts breakfast in bed and two parts humble, overwhelming gratitude that this creature loves me, and is mine to love. I am very lucky.


Like buses, my blogs come one on top of the other. Another, less personal blog on Mother’s Day soon to follow.

The Problem with Being Peeled

Some people are Masters of Themselves. They are composed and in control, they feel by and large what they choose to allow themselves to feel. Whether by talent learnt throughout a lifetime or a gift bestowed from a kind fairy at birth, these people are within reason, emotionally solid and safe. The self-possessed are often successful, in part because they have managed to navigate the world without spearing themselves on a foolish spike along the way; they remain committed to a fixed goal. It is a trait to be admired.

I will never be amongst these dignified people. Sometimes I feel the exclusion like an acrid wound in the chest. Inexplicably I am open to sensation, experience and feeling and unable to efficiently cap them off. Most of the time I find it a mixed blessing; I may never feel truly satiated but I am quite an effervescent person and the people around me seem to love that energy. I’m grateful to be able to make others happy. Despite my belief that the more composed amongst us will find success easier to realize, I absolutely intend to arrive at the destination I have chosen; in that respect I am quite terrifyingly steadfast.

I am not Mistress of Myself in all ways. I control my life as well as many other people do; I control my reactions and actions adequately. When I differ from other people I have usually made a conscious decision to allow that difference, rather than swim upstream against my own current. The complication comes when something triggers a strong interest or feeling in me. It could be anything, big or small; I’ve had this issue with ideas, people and places. It is as if a certain something or someone has above it a pinpoint precise blinking light that says “attend to me” and I find it a distraction until I have seen the task through. I want to protest that I’m not crazy, obsessed or hallucinating but of course the more you do such a thing the more you sound all of the above. It’s a smarting catch-22; the disability of the 6th sense, speak of it and you shall be diagnosed. In our time different abilities and disabilities are thankfully being shown the respect that they merit. However it is still taboo to say that you know or worse, feel something without factual evidence. Once you tread down that road you’ve lost credibility for all else. Well, as a matter of fact I can manage that road and the road of logic simultaneously; I’m marvellously talented.

I have occasionally tried to use willpower to overcome the urge to trail after that bright light like its slave; I’ve even managed it for an arduous year or more. But as time goes on it begins to invade so much of my waking and sleeping thought that I unwillingly become preoccupied with it. It’s like having the combination to a lock but not the right pattern to enter the numbers in, and for that information you need the cooperation of others. Pursuing intuition is not so much an option as a necessity for peace of mind.

In most cases the overall result of these flashing lights has been beneficial, which has provided enough reason for me to carry on. The most pivotal and rewarding relationships and achievements in my life have been a direct result of this fierce push, and indeed I literally have the flashing light to thank for my life. However I don’t know if I could stop even if each instance of pursuit was a total failure, the feeling is that compelling. Sometimes I hate it, when it becomes a conflagration, when it veers beyond the limits and I realise that once again I have crept beyond the pale.

This is one of my great flaws; I am too raw and unable to self-censor in the times that I am driven by a persistent blinking light, sometimes it is unfair to those who it also affects. I could never be unfailingly sweet and patient like Melly. I’ve got all of Scarlett’s boxes ticked, for better or worse.

Statement from a nation of one

My intention was to improve myself; my knowledge, talent and worth, so that I could use my Self as a sword, cutting indentations in the jungle vines suffocating any small portion of humanity that I could reach. I will carry on with the same agenda because it is all I can do, but I suspect success as I wanted isn’t possible; I am useless and helpless, shouting into a void and not even shouting anything particularly beneficial, at that.

I often wonder these days if the aim should no longer be attempting to pit pure gold against stainless steel, but instead to simply bring comfort, relief and happiness to as many people as possible. If I’ve got no sword to wield, I’ll set aside the ambition to even a few scores and offer a lap for a dying man to rest his head on instead.

I read the news daily, I watch what is happening. When I think about the outside world I am transported to a place where the sky is turbulent and gunmetal, the clouds streak past and my hair whips across my eyes. Everywhere I look there is rushing and chaos. How could I have thought I could place any of this into a semblance of order? I want to freeze the image and transform it into some grotesque tapestry, then slide each strand of silk down to rest with its matching colours, in peace. It is madness to try for such a thing, there are infinite shades writhing about before me and I am paralysed. I am a fool.

When I read the news, and the comments under the articles, I feel like I’m in the middle of a drunken brawl. No sooner have I recovered from one blow than I am enraged and ready for once more unto the breach, then a clip from the left takes me unawares and I’m back on the floor, marshalling my strength for another round. This is of course, purely an analogy of imagination for me; someone of my physical description doesn’t normally have much experience of raucous brawls.

All the hatred towards Americans I cannot even begin to address; there is as much truth as there is fiction but none of it applies to me any more than the man in the moon is made of cheese. There are so many insults I could bandy about to every nationality, but truly, I cannot waste my time on it. Racism is as destructive as it is dull and predictable. I never fail to be horrified by both of my own countries (America and England), and all others equally. There is one very good reason for that, we are all made of the same stuff; we are all susceptible to committing the same sins and making the same mistakes.

Bruce Anderson’s article, “We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty” left me, along with hundreds of others, horrified at what it explicitly said. It is unfathomable to me how anyone could advocate the torture of innocent people, even children. That the example he chose to write was for the preservation of the National Gallery made my stomach turn; such a highbrow illustration. Another headline tells me that Celebrity A sends Celebrity D a text message and I want to turn from it all in disgust.

Somehow running from it all in disgust simply isn’t an option for me. Nothing short of a full lobotomy and a straightjacket would stop me from wanting to understand or have some involvement. It’s a bleak blog, but it’s been a bleak day. There is hope, there is light and love and delight, of course. We would be unable to see this darkness if there were nothing else. Days like today I feel so tired. If I had the money I’d paint the sky with red puffs from an aeroplane “It’s not me.” Many of us are trying to stop the juggernaut. I’m just not sure it’s working.

Primark demonstrating Irony

My sympathies to Mr. Varley, who reportedly found an inch long blade in a pair of baby shoes he bought from Primark for his 4 day old son, Oscar. I well remember the fragility of having a newborn, and this is just the sort of event you don’t need to add to your already rampaging paranoia. My son is three and a half now and I’d still be horrified if I found a blade in any of his newly purchased garments. I wait with interest to see the outcome of the investigations being carried out by Primark.

However, I cannot let this news article go by without commenting on the irony of it. Primark has a well documented history of manufacturing their clothes in sweatshops that employ children working in dreadful circumstances. Of course Primark is by no means alone in this; you’d be hard pressed to find many high street stores that have histories much better. As a consumer it takes only a minimum amount of common sense to understand that if you are purchasing something for a ridiculously low price, someone, somewhere is being had.

I once had a conversation with a former work colleague who, like many people, had never really given child labour much thought. She was genuinely curious and asked me what the furore was all about. When I explained that children as young as 5 were forced to work 12 hour days in sadistic conditions, and subjected to all kinds of abuse, she actually said “I know it sounds terrible, but as long as its not my child having to do that, I really like Primark.” While you’ve got to give her points for honesty, anyone who can’t see the inhumanity of that sin we are all a part of has a drastically tunnel-visioned way of viewing life.

There are stamps for food being vegetarian friendly and gluten-free. We have a traffic light system to remind us not to consume too much fat. I want it made clear on every item purchased if it was made by an adult, in decent conditions and earning a fair living wage.

A spokesman for Primark said: "Primark is investigating this issue and is extremely concerned to hear this news and the company is taking urgent action to investigate this issue. The company cannot comment in detail on this complaint until its inquiries are complete, but the company apologises to the customer for any distress this must have caused. Primark will of course keep the customer informed about the progress and outcome of its inquiries."

I wouldn’t wish ill on any child. I would like readers of this story to take a moment to reflect that with only a small twist of fate Mr. Varley’s four day old son would be destined to grow up to stitch those shoes, not wear them.


UNICEF, on child labour

North Korea using forced child labour

Children sold into slavery to make chocolate