Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Big Apple Returns

This used to be my favourite city.

 Marc and I spent a good deal of time here BC (before children) and loved every minute of it. We were travelling for business, on expense accounts with buckets of disposable income. We were young(er) with no real responsibilities or cares. We played in the city until the wee hours of the morning and suffered few regrets. And then children, marriage, mortgages, school fees, and all the associated pressures seemed to shift into the top priority slots. Frivolous holidays in New York? Who can afford that? Besides, what could the children possibly find entertaining in a city full of the most expensive hotels and restaurants ot to mention the top notch bars and nightclubs?

Ok, so I wasn't fully committed to finding the answers to those questions. Until now. And let me tell you, I have now found answeres galore.

So, where did I start with the planning for this holiday? Simple: I started with them. A simple question such as "What would you like to see, eat, do, and learn when we go to NYC?" was more than adequate to get this party started.

Abigail's answer was simple: The Statue of Liberty. She then elaborated by informing us that she thought someone would discover her on the streets of NYC and ask her to do modelling. I smiled. Funny, I used to think that myself......still do in my dreams. Sebastian's answer was a little more complex (of course, it is). Seb wanted to know why NYC was significant in the history of the USA and why it remains the most vibrant city in the world. Oh God, this was going to require some research.

Or maybe not...... I decided to let the city speak for itself.

We arrived Sunday night and the first thing Sebastian said after the taxi dropped us off in mind numbing heat and humidity was that he thought the city stank. Yep, there is a stench about it this time of year. Or most times of the year.

After a refreshing shower we headed out the front door of our hotel, crossed Central Park South into, you guessed it, Central Park and walked towards Columbus Circle. We saw some super fit black men doing a break dance/acrobatic performance. It was set to get dance tunes and the children loved watching it although Abigail did seem to find more than a little amused by the comment that seeing a black man running in Manhattan without a police officer chasing him was very unusual. Abigail caught a Chinese woman apparently hypnotising a Chinese man whilst sitting on a park bench. We caught a cab and directed him uptown. Way uptown. To Harlem.

Many of you might be thinking at this point, I done gone and lost my mind. Nope, I was hungry and there ain't no place better to fix an aching, empty belly than Harlem. Me was going to get me some soooooouuuuuul food.

The yellow cab drove us all the way up to 110th and barely stopped to collect his fare and kick us to the curb. We walked into the restaurant and was told to sit ourselves down just anywhere we liked, as long as someone else wasn't sitting there. Well, that's simple enough.

Their homemade lemonade was declareded by the children to be the best lemonade in the entire world and children have drank a lot of lemonade. We ordered ribs, fried chicken, cornbread,cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. Abigail went for the catfish fish fingers. And chips. We can bring a girl all the way to NYC from England and she orders fish and chips. What can I say?

We ate until we thought we would explode. Or the jet lag would leave us a lumps of lard huddled in the chairs. When it came time to ask for the bill, 2 slices of cake (1 chocolate, 1 red velvet) were delivered all packaged up for us to take home with us. Gratis. Free. Complimentary. No charge. They had such a great time listening to us and were so charmed by the children's English accents and manners they gave them cake. Get them! The children were so pleased with themselves, they wouldn't go to sleep. Abigail thought this might be better than being discovered as a star in the making.

We finally collapsed into our beds, shattered from a long day our travel and the early excitement of a city just waiting to show us what it had to offer our new demographic despite the humidity. Maybe, NYC is still my favourite city.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  My iPad is to blame for the lousy state of this article when I first posted it.  It wouldn't let me do any formatting.  Sorry, if you had to read it like that.  I will do my best to do my duty to ensure future technology challenges are beaten down.  Into the ground!

Sunday 15 July 2012

Thursday 12 July 2012


Back in July 2004, we moved into our new house.  Abigail was only 6 months old and we had gone from living in the centre of Windsor, a bustling town, to a rural spot in Old Windsor, a sprawling village.  We had bought a house that was 1 in a row of 4 cottages and a week later new people moved into the cottage right next to ours.

They were a young unmarried couple.  He worked for the same company as I and she was a veterinarian.  In those early days we rarely saw them.  They sailed on the weekends and we were busy raising our family.  Once, before they had their own children, he picked up Sebastian and hung him upside down.  Then promptly let him slip from his hands.  Seb dropped to the pavement and landed on his shoulders.  His wife was horrified (so was I) but once we determined that Sebastian was absolutely fine, we found the humour in it and still laugh about it today.  But soon they were married and then the babies began to arrive, all three little girls.

We grew closer to them as they faced the challenges of raising a family and were home on the weekends juggling taking care of children and a garden and a house with all the loads of laundry and meals to prepare and schools to evaluate.  He was babysitting one night for a few hours and upon his arrival, Sebastian announced that having just done a massive poo "I want you to wipe this" pointing at his bum.  The look on his face was hilarious.  Marc and I bee lined it out the door and let him get on with it.  His daughter's have since had their revenge on me.

As the girls got older and Sebastian went off to boarding school, Abigail started spending more and more time around their home.  Those little girls became like sisters.  She was the big sister and they adored her.  She would quite happily lead them in make believe tea parties or play with doll houses.  She read them books and kept them out of their mother's hair.

They taught her how to ride a bike and fed her endless fresh fruit platters.

We have handed down all of Abigail's clothes (even those that were handed down to us).  There is something very satisfying about seeing hand me downs on the girls.  Makes me feel like we are wasting the planet less.  The girls love to think they are wearing Abigail's clothes.  It is like they used to belong to a princess.

She loves these little girls and a deep loving friendship has grown between them.  I hope it will serve as a model of true friendship the rest of their lives.

Today those neighbours are moving.  Their family of 5 has outgrown their tiny 3 bedroom cottage and they've bought a house up the hill.  It isn't far but it is too far to walk, too far to borrow a pint of milk or an egg or a cup of sugar or a bottle of ketchup.  It's too far to pop round for a cup of tea and a slice of cake on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  It's too far to ask for emergency babysitting.

I am so very sad to see them go.  I'm not sure how Abigail  will cope with losing her little sisters.  Last night she told me she was sad but hoped we could go round to visit.  I know it won't be the same.  Deep down, she knows it won't be either.

We are lucky to have had them as neighbours and we wish them lots of love and happy memories in their new home.  We also hope they miss us lots and invite us round for tea and cake on rainy Sunday afternoons.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Course of Human Events

What follows is what I consider to be one of the greatest complaint letters ever written. Authored primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and reviewed/edited by John Adams, and Ben Franklin, the Declaration was a letter to King George to express why the united states of America had been at war with Britain for over a year. It clearly itemises their complaints and on what grounds they felt they had the right to complain. They were passionate.  They were reasonable.  They were courageous.  Read to the end.....you wouldn't want to miss that last sentence!

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish [[sic]] brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Happy Independence Day. BBQ safely!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Fifty Shades of BBC Radio Berkshire

Last week I'm sitting in my office happily minding my own business writing various blog posts, short stories, tweets, and occasionally glancing at my novel.  You know, the usual stuff.  I had been dealing with some difficult phone calls all morning long and I was feeling a bit low.

The phone rings mid afternoon and the man on the other ends announces that he is with BBC Radio Berkshire and my friend, the indomitable Melanie Gow, is doing her usual stint on The Culture Show.  The show had run into a slight glitch in that they were discussing the publishing sensation that has become the Fifty Shades Trilogy and non one in the studio had actually read the books.  they wondered if I would be willing to weigh in.  And, Mel knowing me the way she knows me, knew that I would have read all the books.

She was right.

For those of you living in a cave or under a rock, Fifty Shades is a series of 3 books, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed.  A young virgin (22) just graduating from university (already unlikely) meets a very, very, very rich older man (27).  Ok, not that much older but don't spoil this for me.  He proposes that she become his submissive to his dominance in a somewhat twisted contract of employment which would clearly never hold up in an employment tribunal.

Ana, aka young virgin, is appalled but cannot resist the smoldering, good looks and charm of Christian, aka twisted sexual deviant.  I won't be giving anything away when I say she looses her virginity to him and a whole lot of other things.

The buzz and hum of the media is marvelling at how this series of books has broken all publishing records.  10 million copies sold in 6 weeks?  The author, E.L. James, has crushed every record set, although critics are saying she can't sustain the sales to break some of the long standing records of the Harry Potter series.  I say, oh, just watch her.

The media has gotten themselves all worked up over the fact that, first off, there's a lot of sex in the book and, secondly, the sex is graphic.  Woop de doop, I say!

Now I won't lie, the sex scenes are titillating.  But they are also fascinating.  I suspect that most readers like myself, don't know all that much about bondage, submissives, dominance, and being tied up.  I suspect very few readers have a sex life that resembles anything like the sex described in the book.

So the media just needs to calm themselves down.  This is a bit of escapism.  That's it.  We all read the Twilight series and none of us wanted to become vampires.

These books are not under any circumstances high literature.  They are poorly written and repetitive.  In fact they are so repetitive, I found I could scan entire pages and not lose the plot.  I could just jump to the juicy bits.

E.L. James started this series as a fan website for the Twilight series of books which was a very chaste series written as it was by Stephanie Myers, a devout Mormon who believed girls should not have sex until marriage.  Bella certainly didn't have sex with Edward, the vampire, until they were married.  There was a lot of kissing going on but little else.  I reckon those books would have been a lot better if Bella knew what sex with a vampire was like before she promised to love, honour, and cherish forever.  And with a vampire, forever is a long time.  The Twilight series wasn't a well written series either.  But no one got themselves into a twist.  And he was a very much older man!

Besides, the Fifty Shades trilogy is, after all, just a romance series.  I getting ready to spoil the whole series here so if you haven't read the last book and don't want (or can't guess) how it ends, stop reading this paragraph.  Ana successfully breaks through Christian's sexual deviance and together they resolve the incredible damage done to his character by the sexual abuse of an older woman at a young age.  He learns to love in a gentle and respectful manner.  Ana also learns to have a bit of fun and engage in fantasies.  They meet in the middle as two adults with a very fulfilling sex life.  Which I reckon is really all most readers would like.

In the fast-paced, mundane world of school runs, ballet shows, full time employment outside the home, grocery shopping, sports days and Friday nights sat in front of a television until you fall asleep because you're too knackered to even consider a marathon night of mind blowing sex every night of the week, these books are fun to read.  And might even lead to 10 minutes of "well, that wasn't so bad" sex with the one you love.

So, jump down from that towering pedestal of judgement on which you are comfortably perched and let me read what I want to read, for whatever reason I want to read.  

My only criticism is not aimed at E.L. James or the books.  I do have a problem with where and how these books are being sold.  I don't want my 8 year old daughter picking them up off a table at the front of the store and flicking through it.  I'm not going to dictate when children should be allowed to read these books.  That is up to the parents.  Could the publisher please put a paper ring around the books which would prevent them from being flipped through in the book store?  That way my daughter will only find the books on my iPad and read it at home.

I didn't get a chance to say all this on the radio.  But if you missed it or was wondering what I was on about, if you did hear it, now you know!