Monday 30 July 2012

Living life with passion

The natural world is full to bursting in August - nothing is held back, nothing is begrudged or stinted.  Maybe we can learn by watching this wholesale giving.  There are times when we need to conserve our physical energy but this isn't one of them.  And it is certainly not a time to hold back emotionally.  In fact if we learn to live life with pure passion and joy we could find life a much more delightful place. 
You know how some people are so passionate, so full of life and the joys of living that they virtually leave you breathless?  Well, why shouldn't we all have that sense of wonder and delight?  It doesn't mean that we have to become different people; just that we try to introduce a little verve and enthusiasm into our daily lives.

People think of passion as something that is inevitably to do with sex. Well yes, it is, but passion itself is much deeper than just sex.  It can touch every corner of our lives.

I learnt a great deal about the power of passion from the absolutely gorgeous American lecturer and workshop leader Denise Linn who is the living embodiment of passion.  A five minute conversation with her is enough to kick-start your whole week.  ‘Passion is about living life to the full; it's about excitement; about making life really worth living,’ she says.   But surely passion is something you simply either have or you don't have?  How can you learn to be passionate?  Denise says that, although as children we are naturally passionate creatures, as we go through our teens and into adult life we gradually learn not to be passionate.   

We are taught that to be an adult is to be calm, in control, rational, considered - even cynical.  The passion is inexorably drawn out of us until we have forgotten what it means to cry at a sunset, to become lost in a painting, to giggle like a child.

Society regards passion as emotion out of control, as an irrational force that, left to run wild, would grind industry to a halt within the day.  In fact quite the opposite is true.  Live your life with passion and you will become more effective in your work, more pleasant to live with and, most importantly, you will enjoy life to the full.

Denise insists that risk and passion go hand in glove. By learning to confront our fears of looking stupid, of making fools of ourselves, we can begin to take risks in life.  Once we believe we can stretch ourselves and do more, we can start to find out what we really want to do with our lives:  instead of living life safely, we will begin living passionately, to the full. 


1.  Look back and remember what made you passionate as a child.  Tune in to that sense of childhood joy and maybe try reclaiming some of those activities.
2.  Think about what you are passionate about now.  What activities make you really lose yourself?  What causes are you passionate about?  Get involved.
3.  What stops you being passionate?  Work out what beliefs or anxieties prevent you from living with passion.
4.  Take risks.  Even small risks help you to push through your fear boundaries and gain confidence.  Be willing to make mistakes.
5.  Be kind.  Random acts of kindness (leaving a flower on desks at work, feeding a stranger's parking meter if it's run out) have a chain-reaction, making everyone feel good.
6.  Make a commitment to include activities you really enjoy into your life. 
7.  If you hate your job, find something - however small - that you can enjoy in it. 
8.  Imagine you were at the end of your life, looking back.  What would have given you fulfillment that you didn't do?  What would you regret not having done?  Why not do it now?
9.  Maintain passionate relationships by keeping your imagination alive.  Be spontaneous every so often - whisk your partner off for a picnic, buy a surprise present.
10.  Get in touch with your body.  Experiment with movement and music.  Crank up the music and street dance round the kitchen.  Dance is a wonderful means of freeing the straightjacket self.

This is an edited extract from the August chapter of my book The Natural Year – a seasonal guide to holistic health and beauty. Now available in e-format for Kindle and containing a lot of previously unpublished material.  The book is a season by season, month by month guide to living in tune with the natural world. 
"I read (and re-read!) this book many years ago and it inspired me and filled me with great hope. After loaning the book to several friends it eventually found a new home and I hope someone is now enjoying it as much as I did then! The philosophy seems so simple, yet it is so meaningful..." (from review)
I have kept the price low - about £2 from or $3 from - so, if you fancy living more in tune with the seasons of the year, go buy. :-)

Living with the seasons - August approaches

It’s nearly August.  Almost before we know it, the year has ripened, come to its zenith and now arrives the harvesting season.  The Native Americans called the first part of August, the Ripening Time and then, as it slides into September, the Harvesting Time.  In the countryside these names come to life - the fields bustle with activity, combine harvesters lumber like dinosaurs through the golden acres, big bales of corn balance on tractors which rumble slowly along the high-hedged lanes. 

In the garden the pure blues and pinks of early summer are shifting into warmer tones - deep reds and yellows, the purple of Michaelmas daisies and the overindulgent overblown deep blue of morning glory clambering through the trees.  Rose bay willow herb flashes purple in the hedgerows.

Despite the activity in the fields August is somehow a lazy month.  Nothing can get any bigger, any fuller so for a brief moment you just luxuriate and enjoy.  It's a time of sensuality - a sense of ease should hopefully pervade the body and the emotions.  Properly speaking, with the festival of Lammas looming, it's also a time of thanksgiving, a time to think about your life with a sense of gratitude.  A time to ponder on what you take from life and what you can possibly give back in return. 

August is a gathering month in all senses of the word.  While the corn is being gathered from the fields it's also a time maybe to gather your thoughts in readiness for the next big shift of the year (Autumn, the season of mind and will); a time to start thinking about what you ask from life, from your body, from the people around you, from your self - and what you give back.  Maybe it's also a time to start to consider what you need to do to change?  If, indeed, you want to change.    

The festival of Lammas which falls on August 1st is the festival of Harvest.  In the Celtic tradition it’s known as Lughnasadh.  Lammas is a Saxon name which comes from Loafmas, the first loaf of the harvest, made from the new corn.  The old traditions suggest that – at this time of year - we think about what we take from life.  In order to live we all take other lives every day - even if we are vegetarians.  There's nothing wrong in this and no guilt implied - it's simply that this is a good time to give thanks for our life and the lives that are given to nourish us.  It's a little like a major version of a blessing before eating. 

Blessing your food before mealtimes is a lovely ritual that keeps this festival alive throughout the year.  Offering thanks for our ‘daily bread’ is a ceremony that is carried out throughout the world, in almost all religions.  It doesn't have to be a standard blessing - in fact it's probably better to avoid simply galloping through ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful’ which has become pretty much meaningless to most of us.  Take it in turns to say thank-you in whatever way you like.  Children might like to find a short poem; adults might simply like a few seconds silence or a quiet thank you.  Extend your thanks to the cook as well.  But keep it short and sweet - no-one wants a cold supper.

Equally, give back to nature, to the special places you love.  There are certain places I visit which are very magical for me - small spots which always seem to recharge my batteries and give me a shot of love and courage.  It may sound silly or fanciful but they really do make a difference to the way I feel.  And I always take something with me - a daisy chain to lay on the water of a natural spring; a beautiful leaf or a speckled stone to set in the middle of a copse. If you’re of a more prosaic bent, you might like to clear some rubbish or do a bit of judicious weeding if appropriate.

The above is adapted from my book The Natural Year – a Seasonal Guide to Holistic Health and Beauty, in which I talk about my belief that we can all live more balanced lives if we work with the forces of nature, rather than pitting ourselves against them.  I wrote the book fifteen years ago and it was originally published by Bantam in the UK and Avon in the US.  Checking on Amazon, you can buy the original for $30 or so. Ouch.  But recently I regained the rights and, thanks to Kim Jewell who formatted it, it’s now available as a Kindle ebook for around £2 or $3.  I took the opportunity to update the text and to add in quite a lot of material that had to be cut from the original. 

The book has, over the years, had a lot of loyal fans and many people still write to me about it. 
Its reviews are lovely too.  This is the one I think I love the best…

You hear so often that a book changed someone's life... this book really has changed mine! Reading Jane Alexander is like sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with a friend.
The book is laid out by season, with readings and 'homework' for each month. It's all about living your life aligned with the seasons. For example: we all make resolutions for New Years Day, but really in the middle of winter instinctively we would like to curl up and 'comfort' ourselves and 'ponder' our lives. In spring, however our natural instinct is to clean up our homes, 'detox' our bodies and make some changes. We naturally become more active as it warms up outside and have a brighter outlook and are ready for a challenge (resolution)!
I have always felt most 'spiritual' when connecting with nature and living my life aligned to the seasons makes total sense! Reading this book has led me down the path my body and soul have been searching for - physical and spiritual alignment with Nature!
I re-read each month year after year and highly recommend this book!

Yeah, that made me smile a lot…

Sunday 29 July 2012

Exmoor House vegetarian barbecues and picnics

As regular readers know, I'm not exactly a foodie and, left to my own devices, I will happily eat the same thing (or nothing) day after day.  But the one thing that does get me salivating are Rosi Davis' tweets about the food she's serving at her Exmoor guest house.

So I said to her, 'Hey, about doing me a blog post.'  Cos this is the season of barbecues and picnics and really, us vegetarians tend to draw the short straw - a handful of crisps and the odd corn on the cob, if we're lucky.

Anyhow, Rosi said yes, so I'll handy you over without further ado...

Rosi Davis:  Here are some ideas for summery vegetarian food that you could use for picnics and barbeques. At our guest house at Wheddon Cross on Exmoor we specialise in providing food to suit peoples’ dietary requirements – we design the menus around our guests each day - and much of this article is based on dinner recipes we use for guests who don’t eat meat or fish. I’m an omnivore, my husband Frank (who’s the chef) is definitely a carnivore – but we both just love good food and really enjoy experimenting with taste and texture. I’ve avoided being too prescriptive, so haven’t given detailed recipes here: the aim is more to help inspire you.


Vegetarian scotch eggs

I had the idea for this a few weeks ago, we tried it out on ourselves first (as we always do) and it’s had the seal of approval from guests. The ‘scotch’ bit is pulse based; it can be any mixture that is the right sort of consistency to be moulded around the egg and not fall to pieces when fried. Coat peeled hardboiled eggs with, for example, flat green lentils cooked till soft with herbs and/or spices and (technical term) mushed up. You could also try using your favourite falafel-type chickpea mixture… or a nut roast recipe, if it’s the right sort of texture. You need to put a double layer of breadcrumbs (beaten egg, crumbs, beaten egg, crumbs) on the scotch eggs once they’re assembled, then deep-fry them. The scotch eggs go nicely with a garlicky mayonnaise or a tomatoey dip.

Quiches, pasties, filo parcels

Some suggested fillings: tomatoes and mixed peppers; goat’s cheese with spinach and mushrooms; brie with courgettes (Somerset brie is made with vegetarian rennet); blue cheese, cream cheese and lovage herb (Exmoor Jersey Blue cheese, made with vegetarian rennet, is very blue and tastes deliciously creamy); mixed mushrooms; spicy lentils.

Omelette wrap & roll (thanks to Michelle Vickers of Ras Mbisi Lodge for the inspiration for this one)
Make omelettes with your choice of fillings (or just spice ’em up a bit). The omelettes need to be about the same size as the wraps you’re using. Just use a small amount of filling, and don’t make it chunky – the omelettes don’t want to be too thick, or the wraps will split. Place each omelette on a wrap or soft tortilla, and roll up. Cut into slices diagonally for a pretty pinwheel effect.

The barbeque

Halloumi and courgette burgers

We found this recipe in the Morrison’s magazine. We adapted it a bit for our guests, but the original version is also wonderful: the link is here. 
You could do the burgers directly on the barbeque, or in a griddle or pan (definitely use a griddle if you want to do the aubergine slices).

Vegetable kebabs

Always good! We use aubergine, peppers, square slices of onion, courgette, cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms… Marinate the cubes of aubergine in olive oil first. The squares of onion are good for holding things in place; watch out that the cherry tomatoes don’t split. Once your kebabs are assembled on their skewers, brush everything with olive oil (flavoured with herbs, chilli etc if you like) before cooking; baste with oil while they’re cooking if necessary.

The best garlic mushrooms

Use big flat mushrooms (e.g. portabella). No need to peel them, just wipe any dirt off. Remove the stem if you like. Spread the gills side liberally with garlic or herb (or garlic and herb) butter. If you’re making garlic butter, try baking the garlic beforehand for a lovely mellow flavour; if you’re using herbs add a splash of lemon or lime juice too. Wrap the mushrooms lightly in foil, to keep all the juiciness in, and barbeque till soft.


No summer meal is complete without them…here are a few with a slight difference.

Add a new dimension to a Russian salad (finely diced cooked potato & carrots, peas, bound with mayonnaise) by including a touch of smoked paprika.

Try ‘coleslaw’ made with grated carrots and courgettes instead of cabbage. Salt the courgettes lightly once grated and leave in a sieve for about an hour to drain, then rinse and squeeze out gently to get rid of the moisture. If you want a change from mayonnaise, use yoghurt, a light vinaigrette or just olive oil.

This is a simple and lovely pepper salad. Roast red peppers till the skin is charred and the flesh is tender; remove the skin (use the plastic bag trick*), slice and dress with olive oil, garlic and some ground cumin and/or coriander – or whatever you fancy! It’s even better when left to marinate for several hours.

Tomato salad with mint instead of the ubiquitous basil makes a nice change.

If you’d like us to do the cooking for you, you’ll find details of our dinner bed & breakfast packages at 
We also do dinner for people who are not staying with us at Exmoor House; because we make everything ourselves, taking dietary needs and preferences into account, bookings are needed at least 24 hours in advance.

Rosi Davis, Exmoor House Wheddon Cross, Somerset

* The plastic bag trick for peeling roasted peppers: once they’re cooked, put the peppers into a freezer bag (or similar – one that’s not going to melt) squeeze as much air out as you can, seal and leave till cool. The pepper skin should then be easy to pull off.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Samael, sequels and Hell on Earth.

Well, truth to tell, there isn’t much good news to impart but hey, you have to stay positive, right?  And I have finally finished Tanit, the sequel to Samael.  I wasn’t sure I liked it as I was writing it but, reading back, yeah, it’s okay. It’s dark, much darker than Samael – more downbeat I suppose.  But then, hey, Samael is in Hell and Gen is in hell on earth.  Which of them is worse off, I wonder? 

As I’ve been editing it, I’ve been thinking about the themes of these books.  What they’re trying to say.  On one hand, they’re typical teen novels, channeling my inner sixteen-year old – full of music, existential angst and that deep yearning for ‘real’ love.  I never set out to make any big claims, never tried to prove any deep points – I just wanted to tell a story.

But they're not just about romantic and sexual love but about love in all its many forms: parental love, deep friendship love, the love between an animal and a human, the love humans have for gods (and maybe vice versa).  And, at its heart, that strange mystical alliance – the deep esoteric love where a man and woman are bonded on all levels, on all planes.  A kind of love that is beyond rare.  A love that is the polar opposite of sweet, kind and squishy - a terrifying, dreadful, cosmos-shaking love. The kind of love that can make or break worlds.  Where lovers become gods. 

Here’s what Gen says (in one of the rare quiet moments when the poor girl isn't lurching from one disaster to another)...

“Why do people want to control those they love? To mould them to some warped idea of perfection?  Then again, I thought, was I really any better? We all have these images of perfection. I had wanted the archetypal mother, loving and nurturing, the kind who cooks supper in a neat apron, who reads bedtime stories. But then, when I thought about Mum, how could she ever be like that?  My beautiful, screwed up mum, who’d started out as a rock siren and ended up as a crazy cowgirl dyke.  And, frankly, that was way cool.  She loved me, bottom line, totally and unconditionally. She had even loved me when I’d tried to sink a knife into her – is there any greater love? 

"And Samael?  He didn’t ever try to change me and he never tried to hide who he was – he showed the good and the bad, without ever trying to pretend, without ever putting a gloss on things. I could hear his voice so clearly in my head.  ‘I’m not a nice guy, love. I’m not sweetness and light.’ But what was he? Really?   I barely knew him yet I felt like he was part of my soul.  No really, I felt him.
I wanted to sit on a beach with him, as the sun fell into the sea’s embrace. I wanted to feel his arms around me, holding me skin on skin, as close as close could be. And then, as the stars came out, I wanted him to make love to me, until we plunged together into the void, joining the constellations in their infinite dance.  I wanted him.  Full stop.”  
From Tanit.

Yup, all very typical teenage yearning.  The book also poses the question – ‘How far would you go for love? What would you sacrifice?’ 
It looks at deeper issues of right and wrong.  What if the thing you wanted more than anything would come at so high a price that the implications would resound, not just through your life but through eternity? 
What if you could have everything your heart desired  – love, wealth, beauty, youth, fame - would you pay the price?  What if that price were your soul? 

Wanna read more?  I’ve plonked the first seven chapters of Tanit (awful title, btw) on Authonomy.  As far as Samael goes, I never did hear back from HarperCollins after they requested the full ms.  The book is hanging around with a couple of other publishers…y’know, the usual stuff.

For anyone’s that interested, Samael has its own blog (a bit neglected of late) and Pinterest boardTanit also has a Pinterest board. 

And the third book?  Well, Genevieve will have to sit on ice for the time being as I need some dosh before I can research it.  Cos, see, the action heads out to the desert – the Texan desert.   And you know how I feel about deserts…

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Fleas, dust, time and the river...

Quite apart from dealing with broken hearts, I am in a tailspin. My lovely in-laws are coming to stay on Thursday. Suddenly I am seeing the house in a whole new – deeply unflattering – light.  Ye gods, what the feck am I going to do?  Their house is pristine. Everything is in its place; everything matches.  Yeah, sure, that’s just a taste thing – and I like the mismatched Bohemian mess of this place.  But, for pity’s sake, their house gleams.  And for sure, I couldn’t ever aspire to gleaming.  But…clean?  Clean would be good, right?  I’d even settle for not filthy at a pinch. 

Seriously, I don’t know where to start. Adrian is away at another beer festival, James is surfing at the beach. I am walking round the house with wild staring eyes wondering how it ever got quite this bad.  There isn’t just dust, there are dust armies. Dust sculptures. Dust installations. I suppose I could apply to the Arts Council for a grant? There are festoons of cobwebs punctuated by dead things. More to the point there are fleas.

Yes, the house has fleas.  The dogs have fleas. I have fecking fleas.  Everything scratches. The dogs scratch. James and I scratch.  The dust probably scratches too. Weirdly Adrian doesn’t scratch but then he just sneezes instead. 
‘Bloody hay fever,’ he says. Bless him.

Yes, I’ve doused the dogs with Frontline. It doesn’t work.  

The last time they came to stay (the inlaws, not the fleas) was over ten years ago.  The house we lived in then was relatively normal (just stuck on a hill in the middle of Deliverance country – honestly, families round there were seriously…familiar). I had a cleaner; I had a gardener. The sheets were new, things were polished.  I was still functioning in a vaguely acceptable way and cooked vaguely edible food. I was house proud. I subscribed to interiors magazines, for pity’s sake. 

This is the first time they will see the house. It’s high summer, the sun is shining fit to burst and yet the mould is still playing at a series of variations on the Turin shroud on the bathroom walls. I have given up on the Loo of Doom, Cellar of Despond etc – and just shut the door firmly and put up a sign saying ‘Danger – Beyond Here Lie the Kind of Life Forms that Dr House Says Lead to Definite Death’. 

The spare bedroom is now in what was my erstwhile office, hence packed floor to ceiling with books with titles like ‘Demonology’, ‘Psychic Self-Defence’, ‘The Sin Eater’s Last Confessions’, The Demon Lover’ and ‘How to Turn your Ex-Boyfriend into a Toad’. It is also the repository for all furniture which will not fit anywhere else so – apart from my mother’s old bed (antique, with suitably antique squeaking springs), it also contains a large sofa, a small weird wardrobe, a kitchen table and six chairs, a homeopathic medicine cabinet, a few occasional tables and an unconnected wood burning stove.  Frankly, it’s a mess. 

But hey. What can I do?  Unless a small army fancies popping over and blitzing the place – or someone sends over a crack troupe of industrial cleaners, there’s no way I can get it fixed. So I may as well not bother.  It is what it is. There are worse things in life than dust and fleas, right?  In the scheme of things, who gives a shit?
I have friends, good friends, the best, who are going through real shit right now. Nothing I can do about it and yeah, that sucks out loud.

So, yes, I could clean like a skivvy on speed.  Then again, I could sit at my PC and try a bit harder to get myself out of the total utter mess I’ve got myself into. But hey…who knows eh?

Who knows how long any of us have got?  That interstellar highway could be coming through any second now. The Grim Reaper, bless him, could be readying his pointy finger just millimetres away from your or my shoulder.  Soooo... I take me a bag of cherries and me dawg and I go…

…down to the river…

Monday 23 July 2012

How do you mend a broken heart?

I met a woman recently. She was beautiful, in all ways – with the voice of an angel. But she was also sad, so terribly terribly sad.   Her husband had died just over a year before and she couldn’t stop talking about him. When she remembered him her eyes became soft and her voice lowered. Her hands touched the silver necklace she wore like a talisman.  Yes, he’d given it to her.

‘He was the love of my life,’ she said simply. ‘He was everything I ever wanted.  Everything I ever needed. We were just so…right, in every way, on every level.’ 

She told me that her friends were losing patience with her and telling her she should start dating, find somebody new.  ‘But how can I?’ she said. ‘How can I find someone to take his place?’
‘You can’t,’ I said. ‘You won’t. How could you?’ 

But then?  What do you say to someone in that position? How do you comfort them?  That time heals?  Does it?  Maybe it numbs. A little.
‘It’s just so cruel,’ she said. ‘So unfair. We didn’t have that long; we didn’t have long enough.’  

For some loves, there is never enough time. For some, there is no time at all.

When I told her that my last remaining work as a journalist is to write an agony aunt column for Natural Health magazine each month, she smiled. ‘Answer my question,’ she said. ‘Please.’ 

And so, today, on this bright beautiful sunny day, I am sitting here with a heavy heart.  Thinking about loss, about time, about separation, about broken hearts, about lost love.

What would you say to her?  What advice would you give?  How do you live with a broken heart?  How do you cope with the cruel vagaries of Life and Time?  

Wrestling with teens, bingo wings and ruminations on film sequels.

So, I was never going to be the Earth Mother type, right?  I tried hard when James was small – y’know, trying to fulfill the archetype – giving him the psychological safety blanket that the warm nurturing Mother dispenses.  It was a bit hit and miss but then again, trying to get Adrian to act the firm but fair Sky Father didn’t exactly come off either. 
'Psychology isn’t my strong point,’ he said with a shrug. No shit, Sherlock.

But now he’s a teenager (James, not Adrian) I no longer feel the necessity.  In fact, I feel my most important role is to act as surrogate sibling.  So I tustle with him for the last sweet in the packet; snort with him over deeply inappropriate funnies on the Internet; goad him and needle him and, yes okay, wrestle with him.  Cos, see, I do think there is nothing worse than a spoiled only child so I seek to redress the balance.  Our relationship seems to suit us both exceedingly well. I am a revoltingly lax and liberal parent who frequently veers into incipient madness.  Which makes him, by necessity, a relatively sane, sensible and balanced child who keeps me grounded.

‘Mum!’ he said the other day, opening the glove compartment of the car, his tone indicating a mixture of shock, amusement and resignation.
‘Huh? What have I done now?’
‘You finished off the Haribos.’
I shrugged.  ‘Of course I did.’
‘But they were cola bottles. You hate cola bottles.’

He shook his head sadly. ‘You’re such a mess.’
Which made me howl with laughter.  Now Adrian thinks I shouldn’t let him call me a mess but – really – why not?  It’s funny and it’s true and it’s said with love and affection.  It’s part of our relationship. We banter.  I poke fun at him and he pokes my upper arms. ‘You’re gonna start flying soon,’ he says with an evil cackle. Bloody nerve. I have many less than perfect bits but…
‘I don’t have bloody Bingo wings!’
‘Flap! Flap!’
‘You little bastard!’
‘So that’s where my above average intelligence comes from, huh? Cos it’s sure as hell not from either of you two.’
‘Lemme get my hands on you, you little…’

Cue Simpsons style chase round the kitchen ending up in a fight on the sofa. 
‘ChildLine! ChildLine! I’ll call ChildLine!’
‘Be my guest.’ Handing him the phone. ‘Any time like now would be good to pick you up.’
‘No, that would be too easy. I’ll stay and torment you. Brouuuhaaahaaaa.’

We talk about pretty much anything; there are no taboos.  I don’t put filters on his laptop – if he comes across anything weird he tends to tell me and we talk about it.  So yep, we’ve talked about porn, racism, homophobia, advertising, politics, religion, smoking, drugs, alcohol, political correctness, poor taste in pop.  We trade memes and yes, occasionally I commit the ultimate parental crime of posting on his FB page. We laugh – a helluva lot – and poor Adrian hasn’t a clue what we’re on about. 

‘What the hell is trololol?’
‘Never mind, Dad.’  And we launch into a rendition of Carmina Burana, the misheard lyrics version.
‘An octopus! Let’s give him boots! SEND HIM TO NORTH KOREA!’
Adrian shakes his head and walks away.

And yet, sometimes, even now, he likes me to revert to Earth Mother mode.  Like when we got the Ice Age trilogy last week and he wanted me to snuggle up with him and watch a DVD per evening.  Funny thing – he loved them, even though it was years ago we watched the first one at the cinema.  I confess I have a huge soft spot for the first one. It’s funny and smart and tugs on the heartstrings like fury.  The second and third?  Nah.  Which made me think – how many movie series are there where the sequels and beyond are as good or better than the first?  Shrek 2 was sort of okay but not a patch on 1 and, after that it just descended into a big... mess.  
In fact, after…oh at least ten minutes of serious thought, I came up with only four exceptions. The Godfathers (obviously). Lord of the Rings (definitely). Star Wars (possibly).  Harry Potter (patchily).
Did I miss any? 

Oh and by the way, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is out now in cinemas. God help me, James is desperate to see it.  I’ll take a huge pack of Haribos, my iPod and face mask.  But then again, every so often, there is a seriously funny line. Hmm. Anyone seen it?  What you reckon? 

Saturday 21 July 2012

In which Kellogg's take me to Champneys to eat biscuits

Anyhow.  Yesterday was…curious.  I got up at 5am and drove to the station after about three hours of sleep in a sort of fugue state to catch the early train to London.  It was pretty well empty – hardly surprising when I clocked that the ticket I’d been sent had cost £240 – and no, I wasn’t in first class.  How bonkers is that?  My plane ticket for Greece cost way less than that.

I was going to Champneys, the smart spa in Tring, courtesy of Kellogg’s.  I love Kellogg’s – I seriously do.  Not just because they produce Special K (my total guilty pleasure) – yes, I know, it’s not exactly a cream donut but when you scoff the stuff in industrial qualities it probably ends up amounting to much the same thing. And certainly not because they produce Krave (my son’s total addiction) – hey, even the guys at Kellogg’s have the grace to look a bit abashed about that one. You ever tried it?  Basically chocolates masquerading as breakfast cereal.  
'And so?' says James.
'Whatever,' says I.
Interesting aside – they don’t put MSG in it but apparently Pringles (which are, let’s be honest, stupidly moreish, do contain the stuff – so there you go, that’s why you can’t ever eat just one). Food for thought, huh?  

Be very grateful this is blank...
But no, more than all that, by far, I love Kellogg's because they invite me to lovely pamper days.  The irony is not lost. I am so broke I can’t even afford to get my hair cut.  I can’t even afford to get my disaster of a bush sorted out so now I’m getting ingrown pubic hairs which are threatening to turn septic. Yeah, okay, so that was way too much information. Sorry.  But Kellogg’s, lovely lovely Kellogg’s, plonk me on a killer expensive train and then usher me into a kick-ass Mercedes taxi and then deposit me at this vast pile to be pampered for the day. 

And yeah, I know, you’re muttering into your beards that they hardly do it out of the goodness of their hearts; that they don’t sit there up in Manchester thinking, ‘Poor old Jane. She’s having a seriously crap time right now (and boy, those ingrown hairs are a bugger); let’s organise a pampering press day to cheer up the miserable old cow. How about it, guys?’  Nah.  

For sure, they hope that I’ll write good things about their stuff, that I’ll spread the word through social media and, in my small way, raise brand awareness.  But, as anyone who reads this blog knows; it could backfire horribly.  Let’s just briefly stop a moment and remember the dog food that (allegedly, according to Adrian) nearly killed the SP and ended up costing me an arm, a leg and a perfectly nice sofa. The PR, bless his cottons, had the grace to laugh but did say that it was one he ‘wouldn’t be showing to the client.’

But...whatever...I was very grateful for the invite. Cos not only did they cheer me up with champagne and lunch and steam rooms and massages (of which more anon), but they very thoughtfully arranged for two of my dearest old muckers to be there too.  Alice and Becky were two of the Disney 7, the mad crew with whom I went to Florida back in 2009. Lovely, lovely people. I’d seen Alice at a few odd occasions (hmm, mainly Kellogg’s dos, come to think of it) but I hadn’t seen Becky since we waved goodbye (still cackling) at Gatwick.  And so yesterday we spent a good couple of hours talking – in fact we talked so hard we clean forgot we were in the outdoor Jacuzzi and our whole bodies, not just our fingers, went all weird.  So we cackled a bit in the steam room and then we had smoothies in the cafĂ© and really, it was lovely.  Cos she’s one of those people that I just feel easy with and, yes, even manage to talk a bit of truth with… (sorry, too many whoms were threatening to overwhom me). 

Anyhow. Somewhere in the middle of all this niceness the Kellogg’s bunch gave us their presentation which was, actually, rather good.  They were launching their first biscuit – aimed at people who are trying to lose weight but keep falling head first into the cookie tin and not emerging until they have munched their way through a whole packet of Hobnobs or whatever and then proceeded to hurl themselves into a broiling cauldron of self-loathing. I’m not big on biscuits so it’s not my particular ‘issue’ but hey… each to their own and this is a smart idea.  These things don’t come in chunking great packets – they come in little self-sealed jobbies that contain two sweet offerings – at 99 calories for the pair. Theory being, having consumed the whole packet, your psyche says ‘job done’ without having scarfed twice your daily calorific load. They’re also designed to be filling – and to taste good.  And yeah, you might think that goes without saying but, seriously, have you tried some of the stuff that's out there?

Okay, so let’s take a look. Biscuit Moments?  Uggghhh!!!!  REVOLTING name. How can you have a biscuit ‘moment’? But, as they pointed out, it’s a helluva lot better than Fibre Plus.  

Hate the packaging – it just screams ‘DIET!!!!!’ (though, come to think of it, that’s probably the point). They look weird – kind of like an anaemic Garibaldi with icing drizzled over.  Let’s take a taste.  Way too sweet for me – there’s a jam filling (strawberry or blueberry) that makes your teeth sing. But, fair play, they are seriously filling – and if you have a sweet tooth, they might be right up your street.  I tested them out on James who absolutely loved them (blithely ignoring the packaging or maybe not realizing it was shouting ‘diet food aimed staunchly at women’). 

His preference was for the blueberry and announced they were ‘just the ticket’ for a mid-cycle snack. In fact, I had to double-check that they really don’t have MSG tucked away in there cos, since writing this, he has eaten his way through three packets (ummm, there’s that theory of mine blown away).  He’s just looked over my shoulder as I was downloading this picture of them and started licking the screen.    
So, thirteen-year old boys love ‘em.  And I suspect a lot of people will. 
‘Couldn’t you do them with chocolate?’ I asked wistfully (and, the words unspoken, ‘And have another launch at another fabby spa?’).
Kellogg’s Sarah tapped her nose.  
‘How about coffee flavoured?’ I sighed hopefully.  Even though I don’t drink coffee (only decaf) I adore anything coffee-flavoured.
‘Oh, I wish,’ she said. ‘But apparently it’s too niche.’
Oh come on!  Let’s sex up these damn biscuits!  Lobby Kellogg’s for funkier packaging and some seductive fillings for the blighters! Let’s make ‘em gorgeous – how about vivid pink or neon orange biscuit for  a bit of contrast to those dark chocolate or caramel coffee fillings? How about drizzling a clashing colour of icing over the top?  Make them totally square rather than that boring old brick shape. Put ‘em in silver or gold shiny pouches with DECADENT or TREAT or DROOL stamped on the outside. 
Sorry, just got a bit carried away there.  But really, why not make it all a bit more fun? 
Anyhow, back in the real world, Kellogg’s Special K do this website that aims to help anyone wanting to lose weight. I reviewed it before and still think it’s pretty good.  Check it out here.  Oh, and try (oh GOD that name!!) Biscuit Moments and tell me what you reckon. 

Biscuit Moments available from August 2012 - £1.99 for a pack of five sachets (each containing two biscuits).

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies...

"You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other."
- John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson [November 13, 1815]  

‘I love your blog because you’re so honest,’ someone said to me. And I frowned inwardly and shook my mind. Cos I ain’t honest; not remotely.  And that is why I often stop blogging altogether, cos really I do wonder sometimes…what is the point?  

Someone (a different someone) yesterday asked why I blog. Specifically she asked why I don’t put ads on my blog; why I don’t make money from it.  And I said that partly it’s cos I haven’t got the nous or dosh to get the blog set up in a commercial way but mainly it’s cos I don’t want to have to tow any particular line. ‘I write to please myself,’ I said (wincing a bit as it sounded so bloody lofty). ‘I write a blog cos it’s the only place where I don’t have to answer to editors; where I can say what I please. Where I can be myself.’
But really that was a wopping fat lie cos I don’t and I’m not.  The gap between what I think and feel and what I write is a yawning chasm.  I censor myself all the time; I don’t speak the words unspoken. About anything.  Why? 

Well, partly because I don’t want to be hurtful, I suppose.  Of course Byron Katie would say that’s bunkum; that I can’t possibly know what will or won’t hurt people and, anyhow, it’s not my business.  But, I dunno – why take the chance?  And our society is built on everyone lying all the time.

We’re taught as small children that we should always tell the truth. But then, quite early actually, we’re also taught that we should lie. That sometimes lying is bad, very bad – and sometimes it’s good, kind, smart, sensible, the right thing to do. How bloody confusing, eh?  No wonder children end up wanting to blast the hell out of zombies on-line.

Take my sister and I ducking beneath a rail at Marks & Spencer when my nephew – about three or so – shouted out in that clarion clear voice of a toddler:  ‘Mummy, why is that lady SOOOO fat?’ And the look of intense puzzlement on his face as my sister explained to him (okay, hissed at him from under the anoraks) that it wasn’t ‘nice’ to say that. ‘But she IS fat, Mummy,’ he said.  And she was. ‘And you said I should always tell the truth.’ And she had.  Btw, I've told you that story before so it must be true, right?

So, sometimes we don’t tell the truth because we want to be nice. Often we don't tell the truth because it would be personal or professional suicide. But more often we avoid the truth because we want people to like us.

We don’t want to show the world just what petty, nasty, greedy, jealous, mean-spirited, vapid, shallow, cruel, lazy, stupid people we can be.  We like to present a good persona.   

It's sensible. A reasonable persona is a useful tool if you want to navigate the social tides in a calm and pleasant manner – if you want to avoid conflict and lead an easy life. Nobody likes a trouble-maker; nobody likes the awkward sod.  Well, a few people do like Nobody, but hey, in general, en  masse, people don’t want the truth – they want the sweet little lies. 

Not just emotional stuff – all truth.  Years back, I caused a furore at a job because someone asked me my salary and I told him. My boss was incandescent with rage. In fact everyone was incandescent with rage – with a few exceptions (who were obviously earning more than I). 

But, more pertinently, we don't tell the truth because we want to pretend we like ourselves - we don’t want the fat lady to turn round, look hurt and make us feel bad.  We lie to ourselves even more than we do to others. And writing it down can make it real in a way that just thinking it never does. Sometimes I write things and just wince at how revolting they make me feel. And I think, shit, if I ever published that, nobody would ever talk to me ever again.  And, hey, sometimes that is almost tempting. Which probably makes me some kind of masochist - or, as Adrian keeps saying, an odd-ball wannabe hermit.

So we lie. We all lie. Sometimes overtly, sometimes by omission. We dodge the truth with one another and with ourselves.  But then again, what is the truth? When I ask myself that, I flounder again. Because the truth shifts and changes, depending on who’s looking at it and when you’re looking at it and which way up you're regarding it. Doesn’t it?  The truth can be another lie. 

And where does that leave us? I’m telling lies; you’re reading my lies and then maybe you leave a comment which probably lies. Or, at least, doesn’t say what you really think.  And we all lie to each other, all the time. And so, really, you gotta laugh, huh? 

Btw, I just cleaned the fridge with what turned out to be toilet cleaner. I just saw the words ‘mould’ and ‘mildew’ on the bottle and merrily sprayed until the stench of bleach made me feel a little sick. I presume this wasn’t a good idea and I should probably chuck away the food that was in it? 
Yeah, I’m telling the truth there. Honest. 

Thursday 19 July 2012

The A-Z of Depressed Words

What can I say? The school holidays have begun and parents everywhere are faced with the challenge of keeping children amused for ridiculous amount of time. 
When did this keeping amused malarkey begin?  At the risk of sounding like the proverbial ancient fart, I used to amuse myself quite happily. Yes, yes, in perfectly innocent ways. 

‘Yeah, but you did weird things,’ said James. A long pause and then two words spat in accusation. ‘You painted.’
‘It’s true,’ I replied meekly. ‘I did. And I made things.’
‘Weird things,’ he repeated, firmly.

I frowned. Were dinosaurs made out of chicken bones weird?  And felt trolls? 
‘But I made money out of it all,’ I said defensively.  ‘Like I had an art gallery one summer and flogged my paintings; and then I did a haunted house and charged admission.’
‘Weird things.’

This sort of malarkey has never washed with James.  He’s never been a child who likes his own company. Some people just don’t.  When he was little I spent hours trying to instill in him a love of the arts – books weren’t just read, they were play-acted; rolls of lining paper were stretched out on the kitchen floor and we hurled paint around together; we made godamn musical instruments for pity’s sake. 
Some of it rubbed off.  He loves music (just doesn’t particularly want to play it himself). He reads furiously (but sticks to auto/biographies mainly).  But he refuses point-blank to do art or drama (too much of that around in real-life, he says).
So I guess there will be X-Box. There will be a lot of cricket and squash and a helluva lot of loping and sighing and eye-rolling. 
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘We could always go back to some of the old games.’
‘Like what?’ he said suspiciously. 
This was a game we used to play on long car journeys (alongside one word/clause/sentence stories and car number plate dramas).  You know the score – you pick a theme (countries, cars, fruit, breeds of dog, authors etc) and go round in a circle taking the next letter of the alphabet. Jeez, it wears thin. 
‘Oh for **** sake,’ he said. ‘How depressing is that?’
And so, for your despond, I give you…

The A-Z of depressed words

A is for Apathy
B is for Boredom
C is for Crestfallen
D is for Despond
E is for Entropy
F is for Forlorn
G is for Gloom
H is for Hopeless
I is for Inconsequential
J is for Jaded
K is for Kiss (of Death) – interesting one – no really gloomy words start with K (C is pretty tough too) – the sound is just too explosive and cutting.
L is for Lost
M is for Morose
N is for Nylon (yes, I know but really…it is depressing, right?)
O is for Oppressed
P is for Pitiful
Q is for Querulous
R is for Redundant
S is for Sluggish
T is for Torpor
U is for Unremitting
V is for Void
W is for Why?
Y is for Yawning (as in chasm)
Z is for Zero

Can you add any better ones?  To accompany I offer you the wondrousness that is Edward Gorey. You haven’t come across him?  Oh, you lucky, lucky people. Go seek.