Putting The Boot In.

Many moons ago while I was working in my kitchen, my daughter came to me sobbing and asked if she could raise a very serious issue. Oh no – this must be the pregnancy/drug addiction/solvent abuse/pedophile situation that we watch as entertainment on the soaps, but do not wish to confront with the suds. I dried my hands and took her to the lounge, selected some calming baroque music and told her that whatever it was, we were there for her, that I knew several state registered professional counsellors and that we would not be cross. I decided not to raise the possibility of groundings, thrashings or bread and water diets. At last she spoke.
“Mother – um – I think it’s about time I had some Adidas trainers. I’m being blanked and excluded because I haven’t got brand names on my clothes.”
It was true. “But you’re not being held up at knife-point by trainer pirates” 
“No,” she conceded -“but I am called a retard and a dork. I’d rather be stabbed.”
The truth was of course that she was being stabbed. Needless to say we pulled together as a family, called in some counsellors and had the child suitably billboarded and labelled. I knew that one day our innocent unbranded world would end. We had had a good run. She was nearly seven after all.

 My dear friend Oscar Sparrow wrote a poem about fashion and how it had mattered to him as a kid – long before he became a stuffaphobe Buddhist and renounced all possessions. Check out “Fashion Footwear” here. 

And so it is that I tip out my load of kids each day at the college as waves of fashion branded youths troop in. A few retards and dorks mingle in, but are clearly an underclass of non-populars. Fashion and status have become tyrants, and it is not only the young who suffer it. In my guise of a sportive cyclist more and more carbon fibre bandanna clad executive types swap “better than you” tales of Specialised and Trek. I have a Boardman from Halfords and jolly good value it is too!

This whole subject came to mind as Prime Minister Cameron launches a mission to restore childhood and to stop kids advertising to kids on TV. Pester power is truly an awful phenomenon. Most parents I know with even 3 year old kids are hounded by demands – some of which the three year olds pick up from advertising on their lap tops. I witnessed such a thing earlier this week and I was astonished. Would you let a three year old play on the internet? Come to think of it they would probably be a bit sophisticated for some forum sites.

Some things are just so hard to judge aren’t they? The trial of Yulia Tymoshenko (ex-president of Ukraine) all looks a bit like a political shenanigans to me. (Good job Gordon Brown was’nt put on trial for losing £7billion on our UK gold!). I mean – she’s a simple billionaire girl who mis-read her gas meter. Seven years in jail seems harsh. I just hope they have decent hairdressing salons.  I can tell her that Gilles is very much on her side and that if ever she comes back to politics he would definitely offer to stuff her envelopes. Why are there so many multi-billionaires? Which bus company are they driving for?

Emma thinx: Reveal your inner darkness. Let your roots grow out.

King Of The Fountains

By the time you get to my age you feel that maybe you’ve seen a fair bit. Well – you may have done but the fact is that so much changes so quickly. I arrived at the internet keyboard as a pure virgin only a couple of years ago and it is only recently that I had the courage to venture onto a forum. I felt like an apprentice wildebeest attempting to cross a crocodile infested river. I had always imagined cyclists to be  gentle grass eating creatures. I had clicked on a link to the magazine of the Cyclists Touring Club. I figured there might be some advice for the guys on positioning your winter flask in your shorts to avoid embarrassment or a few patterns to knit your own Lycra. I spotted a thread about bus drivers and their interaction with pedallers. As a member of both communities I read on. Suddenly I realised that I had unearthed a 2 wheeled Al Qaeda cell. All bus drivers were reviled as Morons. I decided to put the contrary case, pointing out that cyclists needed to understand the operation of big vehicles and of visibility/mirror issues. Dear Oh dear! Back came echoes of bile and hatred. MORON, MORON! chanted an accuser. I felt the tearing of flesh as the crocs tore into me and pulled me under. And that was a forum for righteous lentil gobblers.

So- looking at yesterday’s item about honey bees, I read some of the comments that readers had added on the Newspaper website. The professors were “feathering their own nests”. A counter opinionater declared that another correspondent was a “Mong” who should get back under his shell.  The fact is that this sort of behaviour is horrid.  Everyone in the writing game has come up against Trolls who abuse other people’s work in an unacceptable way. In my opinion some “forums” are Troll fronts where many correspondents are mentally ill. A few days ago a man appeared in Court in the UK for trolling on  memorial websites to  dead kids. If you do not know of this case check it out here.

The fact is that anonymity permits the very worst of us to emerge, uninhibited by fear of actual violence or reprisal. I know a lad whose life was turned into a Hell by cyber threats on Facebook. I feel myself lucky to have grown up before any such thing was possible. I have just a suspicion that I might have been cowardly enough to express my true vile self.

Emma thinx: You can snipe at rabbits but beware of the cross hares.

Handling Loose Balls

Me and my big mouth! Over a couple of drinks with a colleague of Gilles last night I mentioned my difficulty with the offside rule. Now- all of his life this guy had been waiting for an unsuspecting little butterfly to fall into the back of his goal net. He was on me like a spider sensing the death struggle of a gnat. Within seconds I was wound into a cocoon and injected with a paralysing sporty drug. Salt and pepper pots, a beer glass, several coasters and a wine cooler shunted up and down the table. I agreed with everything that was said but was suddenly confronted with a test to see if I had been listening. I had not been! I had got behind the pepper before the gin bottle was played.

So it was that instead of my Sunday morning romantic novelist’s lie in with warm baguette, I found myself with a bunch of parent types at the edge of a windswept recreation ground. Gilles had agreed to bring me to watch his chum’s boy play football and to finally split the infinitive and the atom of the offside rule. The ref looked like he had the right clothes but the guys who ran up and down the edges looked like passers-by who had been handed flags. It was these conscripts who were to judge the offside rule. Seemingly anyone you meet in the street who can hold a flag will know it.

The game kicked off and various stampedes of lads hurtled up and down. All of a sudden, a parent type shouted “Ref! That’s gotta be offside – Lino, Lino- you must be blind!”
“Lino – that kitchen floor stuff?” I ask Gilles.
“Lino – it means the linesman,” (That’s the conscript guy with a flag).
The referee blows his whistle for play to continue. A parent of the opposing side calls out “well played lino! – that was never off!”
It then became apparent that the lino guys were from each team and their decisions were allegedly based on a biased interpretation of the rules. By the end of the game it was more or less agreed that all of the officials had obviously lost their sight with solitary handling of their balls. Why does anyone want to be a football official?

Torn shreds of clouds scampered across a pale sky as church bells peeled for morning service. The sound of a ball punted at the far end of the field reached my ears long after the action. This is a world of rules facts and beauties. We are nothing but poor interpreters and conscript linos.

Emma thinx: A granted freedom is merely a longer chain.

Making a Splash

Last weekend at the motorway services I saw an advertisement which said “You shoudn’t have to plan your life around toilet stops”. I must confess I don’t know what product they were offering. I guess it was some kind of she-wee potty or maybe some medication. All the same, I think we’ve all known one another long enough to reveal some of the inner secrets of bus driving. You just cannot stop the bus and get off for a wee. The same problem applies to lorry drivers. My ex husband used to carry a 2 litre plastic milk bottle. If he hit traffic and he was trapped in the cab he would dangle his dingle into the neck and obtain relief. In cold weather with a failed heater, this can be a challenge even for the well developed male. If ever you pull into a lay-by you may see a few containers looking like they contain whisky or orange squash. They do not! Some very inconsiderate truckers just empty the full bottle out of the window whilst travelling at full speed. Do you still want that wind in your hair cabriolet? I hope you realise that in reading this you are being admitted to an inner cognoscenti of romantic novelists, truck and bus drivers. If you are on or driving around a public bus and you feel that the driver is pushing the boundaries of traffic etiquette please try to be aware that the poor soul at the wheel may be in a desperate plight.

The reality is that we are animals no different to say – cats. We have to go but we want to do it somewhere else, and certainly not in our own clothing. The agony of the long distance bus driver is known to many folk in different guises. My worst personal incident was when driving a coach into central London a few years ago. I had had lunch a little late and had had an extra cup of tea. On the A40 I hit terrible traffic. As we crawled towards the Marylebone Road I knew that I could not make it to any kind of refuge. Just as we were about to take the flyover I saw a park to my left. I pulled over, waved at my open-mouthed passengers and dived for the gates. LOCKED!!!! Pressure was unbearable. Then I saw some kind of yard with bins. I dived in and squatted between some huge galvanised stinking cylinders. After a desperate wrestle with trousers – release at last. Even if the Queen of bloody England (she hasn’t got bits) had turned up I could not have stopped. Evidence of my crime flooded out into the street. I felt that sense of shame and relief that surrendering soldiers must feel. Then I bolted back to the bus. The passengers were coming up to London to see a show. I think they thought it was part of the entertainment. A couple of guys gave me a decent tip and a wink.

Emma thinx: The purest happiness is release from anguish.

That curtain smile

From the genteel parks and terraces of Leamington to the cab of my bus this morning. “Ee’s doin’ is teef.” Came the voice from the 23rd floor. Regular readers will know that this is the standard response when I call to pick up a particularly time challenged student. “Could ee do is teef before the bus comes?” I reply.
 “Wah? We dunno when you’re gonna be ‘ere?” 
“Get ‘im ta do is teef when ee gets up.” I reply in dialect
“Ee does – ee gets straight aht a bed and does ‘is teef.”
I wonder if I’ll ever meet the voice from floor 23. I suspect she has a hard life up there. At least the dental hygiene should be OK.

I’m never really sure how to feel about animals. I always keep in mind how much I enjoy eating quite a few of them. I know that as a Romantic novelist I should be a cat and dog lover with at least a frilly poodle called fartio. I can never quite get over the knowledge that cats torture little birds. Dogs on the other hand roll in dung and lick their own and other dogs’ bottoms before moving on to your face. Both species can be infected with parasitic worms that cause severe illness and blindness in children who are apt to pick up cat and dog faeces. If this kinda stuff worries you check out Toxocariasis here. I only mention this because a friend’s daughter lost her vision on account of this problem. I suppose that my attitude to animals is unsentimental, practical and culinary.

All the same, I can see the charm of dogs. In the yard where the buses sleep there is a rag-bag of sheds, grease pits, vehicle repairers and various oily humans who appear to have been absorbed in an osmotic process by their overalls. All sorts of welding, car cutting, foreign tongues, hammering, revving engines, paint spraying and diesel smoke merge to form a synthesis of something I call Fumanity. I adore the place. In amongst this mechanical stew lives Alf – the workshop dog. He is a terrier and looks like he is a kinda mobile wiping rag. So many lubricated hands pat him that he has taken on the colour of sump oil. He kinda growls out with lop-sided white teeth through  an axle grease beard. Most of the time he runs about with an old football begging for anyone to kick it for him to chase. Then he dives under or into trucks, bins, piles of scrap, greasing pits or buses to retrieve it. He also attacks any kind of water hose – the water just beads off the grease. If anyone wants me to investigate the full story of Alf please let me know. I believe he has lived there for many years.

Just as an aside I must admit that since I have been back on the buses, grinding out a working life, all that romance fiction seems  wonderful, yet for me un-writeable. I just can’t imagine swooning in the arms of a billionaire hunk. I dream of traffic and hooting road- ragers. If a spillionaire (saturated with uncountable wealth) hunk cut me up in his Ferrari I’d probably smack his smug orthodontically perfect gob.

Emma thinx: Do it doggy fashion. Collar him and take the lead.

The Fizz that’s the Bizz

Phew! I just read yesterday’s blast from the saloon bar. So – today I’m gonna stick to some nice soft subjects like the things we do for our kids. On my twitter tree branch today I met a lady who makes the most beautiful jewellery (Keri Kalwaytis @GardenVibe ) . Seeing the pictures sent me back to when one of the kids had to take part in a “Young Enterprise scheme” at school. I believe that many such activities amount to going home and getting the wrinklies to sort it out. So, I (the team) came up with jewellery making. Several gawky adolescent boys with wavering voices and hair trigger embarrassment issues were set to work with delicate silver wire and mini pliers that seemed to get lost in hands the wrong size for their arms. In the end I (the team) took over production, supply chain and packing. It was a great team effort which was awarded with all manner of entrepreneurial back slapping and speeches from local business folk. I was proud. In fact I was so proud that it nearly wiped out my disappointment at being awarded a B for one of the essays I had helped to shape.

However, nothing has ever erased my shame surrounding my daughter’s poetry class at school. Now, she hates poetry as do the kids of most poets. She also hated French. One day she came home in despair. Her world had ended. She had to write a poem. When I could no longer bear the torment of my child…..I wrote it myself. That day I had been standing on a bridge in reflective poet mode.(You kinda wander looking wistful and fay yet with a secret distant intelligence playing on your face like folks on arty TV shows. You have to keep an eye out for traffic. A lot of poets get squashed). Small craft in the Thames were at slack water limbo until the tide turned and their ropes once again took up the strain. I thought of the currents of our lives as we are pulled – often by forces unperceived and how maybe we could use this as a metaphor for the creak and stretch of our souls as we cope in the stream of time. I scribbled out the poem and she copied it – declaring that it was my normal purple “I’m an artist” gush. Well, I was publishing a fair bit in those days, but she had a critical point I thought. I heard no more of it until it was parents’ night. I was met at the hall entrance by an excited young teacher who took me to a notice board to show me……yes you’ve guessed it – my poem. She declared that the child (she was about 12), had a special talent and asked if anyone in the family was “an artist”. I put on the commonest of accents and threw in a few grammar errors to show that none of that posh stuff was for me like. I even asked if it could get in one of them apology books where there was loads of different poems. The rest of that year was a torment for the poor child. She was hailed as a poet and lost all of her cred with the Bermondsey Gangsta Girls. I fought back with a few rap rhyme lines that she trotted out and kinda made it back in. The teacher left and I promised never to intervene again.

But, I did. My biggest shame was the Sherbet fountain slogan competition. One of the kids had left a wrapper and I read that you could make up a jingle and win a BMX bike. Now, none of the kids really liked sherbet but I used to buy them out of nostalgia and my love of liquorice. Well, I made up the jingle and sent it off with the wrapper. My line was “It’s the liquorice lick with the fizz that’s the bizz”.  Now – come on – not bad eh? All your Wordsworths and poet laureates – eat your hearts out. Several months later a huge box of sherbet arrived when I was awarded some kinda prize. But who the bloody hell won???? Must have been some big name poet with a publishing contract. I refuse to accept that it was a 10 year old who just wanted a bike.

Emma thinx: Honesty is the best policy-if you can afford the premiums.