40

I am turning 40 in 5 days.

What are numbers? I am almost used to the idea now. I didn’t think I ever would.

But I am fine about it. Honest. I think I kind of like it even. It gives me some sort of respectability that I actually do like. I am not young any more. But who said young was best? Youth is overrated.

Young people can be idiotic and arrogant. If I am idiotic and arrogant now I have only myself to blame.

Happy families – part 2

Yesterday I wrote about my Granny Charles’ family. I think that a murder in the family is a tragedy, to have two – unless you are in a Mafia family – is more than just tragic. My mum thinks that the family have a sort of invisible stigma. It’s a crazy notion and even crazier because my Grandad Charles’ family is only slightly less tragic. According to my mum (not their daughter but their daughter in law), they were inexplicably drawn to the abyss.

She has a point.

My Granny Charles had a sort of an arranged marriage. She married the neighbour’s son because her dad was gravely ill with stomach cancer and she knew that the marriage would make the dad happy. So she did. She was 22. But that guy wasn’t my granddad.

After her father died – quite horrifically, too – my granny had been married for some months and life was miserable. She described it as the gilded cage: she had everything she could ever want but she was extremely unhappy. And, grief stricken but determined, she left her husband. It was an incredibly brave thing to do. In 1939 the war was starting and my granny was on a fight of her own for her freedom. It can’t have been easy and you will have to excuse the frivolity she indulged in the following years.

She moved with her mum and sister to a townhouse and devoted the next three years to enjoy her young life.

And then he met my granddad.

He was four years younger, from a fanatical Catholic family. Their engagement and subsequent marriage did not exactly go down very well.  My dad remembers how his grandmother told her son in front of his sons (my dad and his brother) to divorce ‘that woman’. Coming from a lay Carmelite sister who went to mass every day come rain or come shine must have felt particularly poignant. My granddad was forbidden from taking communion and branded an adulterer – so he refused to set foot on a church ever again. I bet he took that decision with a heavy heart…

My granddad’s family were no luckier than my granny’s but they tried hard to look respectable. His younger brother killed his friend with the father’s foil. Allegedly, they were playing with them. My great grandfather was in the navy so there were foils lying around or something. It was supposed to be a playdate and the boys were just playing. It was all hushed – after all it was an accident. But he never quite recovered. He dilapidated his life, in a way. He killed himself in a motorbike accident when he was in his twenties leaving a wife and two daughters to fend for themselves and fend off the creditors.

The eldest daughter became a nun. A Barefoot Carmelite. She lived in a convent which she never left and the family could only see her behind bars. She didn’t even leave to attend her parents’ funerals. Or her brother’s.

The youngest daughters were the oddest yet. One was short and fat, the other tall and slim. The fat one never married. The tall one did, but when she was in her thirties and to some bump who was an alcoholic. It didn’t last and they just settled down together the two sisters. But they were not alone. And theirs was the most tragic and horrific story yet. It deserves a whole chapter just to explain their tragedy.

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Happy Families – part 1

 

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Every year around Christmas time, I do some genealogical research. In part, it’s because I need something to distract myself with so I won’t start working – and I know I need a break – in part it’s because I know so little about my ancestry.

I mean, I know quite a lot but I lack specific data: I know the anecdotes. The stories. I grew up with them as one grows up with the Grimms’. My dad’s mum, my Granny Charles (bear with me: both my grannies’ first name was Alice so we used to call them by their husbands’ names instead. n.b.: I am Anglicising the names here too) was forever telling us stories about her family. But Granny Charles  was a fibber and a great spinner of yarns – which was ok when I was a child – but it has led me to lots of genealogical deadends in my quest for my ancestry.

Granny Charles liked to spice things up or make them look more interesting or more romantic – whichever suited her agenda. But the important events were true. I had never really thought about how unusual her family and my Grandad Charles’ family were until later. Thinking about it now, it seems like both families were especially marked by tragedy. Perhaps more so than your average ‘Who do you think you are?’ episode. So prepare your tissues, everyone!

Granny Charles, however, was a very funny character. She was loud and boisterous. She loved to laugh and to have an audience too. My sister and I loved her. She was so much fun. And most of her stories were happy stories, with lots of adventure and happy endings. I think those were the made up ones.

She was the fourth of six children born from a French Protestant farmer and her Spanish Catholic wife. They were crazy for each other but they couldn’t be more different. He was tall, green-eyed, blonde…a bit like those awful pictures of Jesus that you sometimes find around. In any case, she did liken him to Jesus. In her eyes, he was like an angel, or a god. Her mother, she didn’t like her that much. She was a pocket rocket, olive skinned, short and dark, temperamental and formidable. Their first daughter was Rachel, and she took after her mum. When she was born, they were living in Paraguay – for some reason which my granny could never elucidate or was not interested in revealing. Rachel was her father’s favourite and in those days there was nothing wrong with having a favourite. She was the apple of her father’s eye. She had a sweet voice that could cheer up the dead and her big dark eyes were compassionate and lively. When she was 15 some crazy wacko fell in love with her, pursued her and was turned down – her father opposed the match as Rachel was too young – but the man was bonkers and shot her and then himself.

My granny must have been 6 or 7 when this happened. He could still remember over 60 years later what it felt like to kiss the lifeless body of her eldest sister goodbye during the wake. Tragic but tragic things happen in every family, you might think. And I agree. But Rachel was not the only daughter to have been murdered.

Emma was the youngest daughter and fifth child. She was the mother’s favourite. She was so beautiful it hurt. I saw pictures of her when she was in her twenties. She was a cross between Rita Hayworth, and Ava Gardner. I mean, she was really very very beautiful. My granny was an attractive woman, but there was a coarseness in her – even when she was young – that she compensated for with her sparkly personality. Emma was just stunning. She didn’t need a nice personality. So she just didn’t have one. She was cold and distant. One of those women that you can only look at and be dazzled but that will never feel any love for her fellow human beings. She did get married, though, to some rich guy who ran his family business with his brother. I think they were wine makers and merchants. She had a son – my dad’s cousin – but I don’t think she ever loved him. She just couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, my granny never spoke about her in those terms, I only found out what she was really like from other people’s accounts, namely my dad’s. One evening her brother-in-law came to talk to her husband. He had a gun. They argued about money. He pulled his gun out. She got between them. He shot her. It was manslaughter.

The son was well provided for but the husband was devastated. He took to drinking and died prematurely.

It should end there. I mean, how many more untimely deaths can there be in one family? Before I move to my Grandad Charles’ tragic stories, let me just add one more, though.

Granny Charles’ eldest brother had a son from his first wife – I think she died very young but I never heard anything about her. This man – my granny’s nephew – was her favourite. He joined the Air Force. He was brave and handsome. But he married down. And had a son with this woman who was just a nurse – apparently that was not good enough. To make matters worse, he had an accident and died before the age of 30 leaving the poor wife with a young kid who no one really wanted in the family. This woman – another pocket rocket, I remember her well – decides to make a huge sacrifice for her son. She hears that Switzerland need nurses, she can work there for a couple of years and bring money back to buy a house where she can live with her son and stop depending on the family. So she leaves the boy to the care of my granny and goes away. For several years.

You see, that can really damage a person. That boy is very clever but he is not what you’d say ‘normal’. He grows up to become a very successful young man – professionally speaking. He has a PhD and all, but he never marries, there’s no partner or gf/bf that we ever heard of. So perhaps as a result, he also develops a bit of an obsession with working out. He takes to a level that it’s just not healthy any more. He is warned that he’s pushing his body to limits that can be quite dangerous but he doesn’t want to hear because he just can’t stop himself. One morning he did just that: crossed that limit. He was found dead on the beach where he’d gone for a run. His death was not considered suspicious. His heart just couldn’t take it anymore.

End of part 1

 

 

Winter Blues

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Winter can be awesome. There are so many positives to it: for example, there’s no need to expose naked flesh meaning you can relax the usual grooming; you get to eat and drink lovely stuff just because it’s cold – and you don’t have to show your newly acquired love handles; nights are longer so you spend more time cuddling up, just to name a few advantages. But at the same time and despite all this loveliness, it can totally get you down in an inexplicable and inexorable way.

For me it is more than the cold and dark. Christmas and New Year’s Day are particularly tough dates, too. There’s the distance from my family (we are all scattered around the globe and I miss them oh so much), and there’s the year balance which this year has been stupidly difficult to do.

We all do this ridiculous stock taking thing around this time of the year, as if it mattered. I mean: it doesn’t. This week is no different from the next, and deciding that the year ends now and not in, say, March (as it used to in the Middle Ages, actually) is just random. So depending on where you cut your year you could be looking at it in a very positive light or not.

I must say that I have had a tough one but it’s also been filled with achievements. And yet, because I am so tired and fed up, it feels like everything has been rubbish. When actually the opposite is more accurate.

I blame it on the winter blues. And I think my balance would be a lot more positive if I was doing it around Easter time when the weather starts looking up and summer is closer. So screw this stock taking shit and let’s just use this time to hibernate, recharge batteries, and feel warm.

So much has been said about 2016, and I feel tempted to look ahead at horoscope predictions for 2017 not without a sense of dread, though. I know it’s preposterous and unscientific but I love the Chinese horoscope predictions. And I find them impossibly accurate – I know they aren’t, or perhaps I know they shouldn’t be…

For 2016 they said it’d be a tough year and that I’d have to work hard to achieve anything – but then isn’t that what has happened every year since forever? I shouldn’t have been surprised. I can’t remember anything ever being easy. And yet, people will think I am incredibly successful and lucky. I am neither.

Success is a very subjective value. Some people think I am quite successful: I have a lovely home, a husband that loves me, a career that is getting me to better places year on year, I am healthy, attractive…I know all that. But the price I’ve had to pay for all of it has been dear. No one needs to know how hard it’s been. And I don’t go around self publicising the sacrifices I’ve made in order to get what I have, but trust me: I have had to give up a lot. And I am not talking about chocolate or chips.

Often I’ve felt that I have sort of sold my soul to the devil. And now I have nothing left to trade with to get anything else. Almost as if I’d sold the family’s jewels to raise cash but I only managed to buy half a ticket to my destination.

I know this all may sound crazy so let me explain myself: I found the love of my life by chance but he happened to live in the other side of the world. I had to give up my life – my family, my friends, my career, most of my possessions – to be with him. And then I had to start my career again. It was tough and a steep learning curb. But I think I grew stronger and became a better professional thanks to it. Anyway, this means that while I should be in a secure position right now, I am not. And I am way behind in terms of earnings. I couldn’t care less about money but having no money has meant I haven’t been able to visit my family back home. And I haven’t seen most of them in six years now. It hurts to think that they believe – I know they do – that I haven’t been back out of lack of interest. It breaks my heart.

I could go on. I have paid a heavy price to be with the man I love. But I love him more than life and I couldn’t live without him. So it was a no brainer and it makes no sense complaining. I am not. I just wanted to explain what I meant. I feel I am a happier person now than I was before – despite everything. I feel home now. But there’s a part of me which will always be elsewhere. Almost as if home will never be 100% home. But maybe 80%.

And therefore winter can get me down. Not because it’s cold or dark but because I feel the missing 20% more than any other time of the year. That absence is heavier than any other time. And I can’t tell my husband that he’s not enough. It would be inaccurate and unfair. And it makes the loneliness heavier still.

But there’s hope: the days are getting longer and the ice is melting. I have decided to wait till springtime to take stock. It’s my birthday then. I will be turning 40!!

Perhaps not such a great idea after all…

 

 

 

Disengaged

I haven’t written in such a long time…I have been busy busy busy.

Actually, I’ve been more than busy. I have been lost in work. Snowed under. I have already confessed to being a workaholic and as such I go through binges: I confess. I binge on work. It’s ridiculous but if you’re an addict – as I am – you will understand that nothing makes you feel better, more in control, than gorging on what gives you that high. Whatever that is.  And it doesn’t matter how hungover, guilty or shit you feel afterwards, you know that you will do it again because the shittier you feel, the less in control you feel, the more you’ll binge.

So I have been binging on work and high on it. Until finally I felt totally disengaged from reality. It is quite a scary feeling. I’d say it’s almost like an out of body experience. You see yourself as an outsider would. Your face is not your face your body not your body. There’s no spark of recognition when you see yourself on the mirror – so you start avoiding it and  start looking shabby and dishevelled. Taking showers and baths becomes an ordeal because your body doesn’t feel like yours and to touch it is disgusting.

It starts sounding a bit like bipolar, doesn’t it?

So anyway, I soldiered on. I tried to keep it together. I think I just about managed.

So now I am putting myself in rehab. I won’t do any work for a week. I won’t check my work email box (I usually check it every half an hour when I am home – including Sundays and from 6 am to 10 pm). I won’t do anything work related.

I need to accept that I am not indispensable.

 

 

Muliebrity

mu·li·eb·ri·ty (myo͞o′lē-ĕb′rĭ-tē) n. 1. The state of being a woman. 2. Femininity. [Latin muliebritās, state of womanhood.

In the past weeks I have been thinking about how far from equality among the sexes we are (not between as there are more than two sexes! Duh!) in the so-called first world.

Some beaches in the south of France have banned burkinis. Why? Because some people may find them offensive. But they don’t find toplessness or tiny bikinis offensive. They don’t find the hypersexualised portrayal of borderline anorexic teenagers offensive. They don’t find the pay gap offensive either.

Yesterday, a hyperandrogenic woman who won an Olympic medal was accused of cheating because she’s a woman that naturally produces more testosterone than the average. She has been dragged through the mud, her sexual life dissected in front of the world media, just because she was born with a condition that could give her an advantage over her opponents. I don’t remember anyone asking Michael Phelps to quit competition because his body is so well adapted to swimming – physically, he seems to be closer to a water mammal than any other human being. Because it would be stupid, right? It would be ridiculous. How about the years and years of training and preparation? Surely, just physical endowment alone cannot win you medals.

Caster Semenya has been made to feel like a freak of nature, but surely, if you are an Olympian, by definition, you are a one-in-a-million person with a body and mind that can do things most human beings cannot do. That makes all of them freaks, technically. They’re all weirdoes.

Caster Semenya is not the only hyperandrogenic athlete in the Olympic Games but she’s the only one to have won a medal. No one is asking the other two to give up competitive sport: just the one who has won. She’s a threat.

A woman can be offensive and threatening in a way that no man can. I am not sure if I should feel proud.

Perhaps more painful still is the fact that some of the people who find some women so offensive that they should not be allowed to take part in competitive sports or go to the beach are other women. It helps me understand why we are where we are.

 

 

The everyday sexist

This morning I read two quite distressing news reports. Two men went to jail. One for rape and murder, the other for rape. Both girls had been vulnerable (drunk) and one of them was unconscious at the time of the crime. The man who raped her in front of a group of his friends was called a ‘legend’ for doing it – he’s just 19, she’s 18. When taken into custody over the crime, he showed no remorse. The other criminal – 30 years older than his victim whom he lured into his flat where he raped and murdered her – claimed that it had been her fault: she had ‘gone after’ him.

In their minds, the girls probably provoked them somehow to do it.

It got me thinking about consent. To me it’s quite clear: no means no. But I know – who doesn’t? – that no doesn’t always mean no. Actually, it seems that boys are taught quite early on that they have to put up with rejection and persevere because often ‘no’ means ‘just keep it up’. Meanwhile, girls are usually taught that a girl that says ‘yes’ is a slut so it’s better to say ‘no’ and ‘play hard to get’ so they ‘value you more’. How many of us, girls, have been told that – either explicitly or implicitly? Probably all of us.

I understand where that comes from: we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If girls just indulged their sexual impulses – as a boy would – they would be constantly pregnant…oh, no, wait, didn’t they invent the pill like in 1960 or something? So why are we still feeding the same idiotic sexist prejudices and fears? In my humble opinion, it’s all about controlling girls’ sexual lives.

Anything that TRULY allows girls to take control of their sexuality is scary, apparently. That extends to consent: girls are not allowed to really say no. Because boys have been encouraged to believe that when they say ‘no’ they actually mean ‘yes’.

Somehow that extends to the rationale that therefore, it doesn’t matter if you really ask a girl whether she wants it or not, because her answer is always ‘yes’, really. So why bother asking, right? It’s such a shit rationale…because it can be pushed to explaining why girls’ opinions are never reliable: girls don’t know what’s good for them, they say one thing when they mean another, they’re afraid of speaking their minds, etc..

As I see it, sex is behind everything. It is behind the huge pay gap between men and women – in the UK it is huge, by the way. In such a sexualised – and simultaneously  sexually repressed society, I know it sounds contradictory but it isn’t: this is a society that doesn’t allow sexual expression to be a natural part of who we are – the real challenge is to rise above that.

We think we are so civilised and so advanced, but when it comes to sexuality – and especially girls’ sexuality – we are still no much better than 500 years ago. When Shakespeare made Juliet say the following words:

In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my ‘havior light:
But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard’st, ere I was ware,
My true love’s passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered. 

(Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii)

he was already denouncing a stupid practice that seemed ridiculous and unnecessary even then. So why are we still at it?

I was struck by the lack of emotion both criminals felt for their victims. These men are monsters, yet one of them was labelled an ‘oddball’ by the media today – rather than what he is: a psycho.

We really need to advance as a society. I leave you with a great video by the Thames Valley Police. In case you were still wondering.

 

Bejesus! and the art of swearing…

I am trying to refresh my French, brush it up enough so I can feel happier about speaking some basic sentences when I go to France (not a common occurrence, anyway). So I started watching videos by French vloggers (I will link them in the future) and one of the videos that I watched was about swearing.

Let me be very honest about this: I swear a lot in my first language. I don’t think about it, it’s just the way I speak. I don’t particularly think it makes me come across less or more intelligent, this is just the way I speak. In my country, most people speak like me and it’s all ok. No one gets offended.

Then I moved to England.

My approach to swearing was already different in English because it was a language that I used solely for academic purposes. I always spoke quite an educated variety of English and I try to use a range of varied and specific vocabulary.

My husband used to find it sweet and endearing when I did, but I knew other people seemed to gasp in shock if I used the so-called ‘f-word’ or anything like that. Let me explain: I probably don’t look like someone who swears. So I had to adapt: self-censorship is the worst kind of censorship in my opinion. Of course, I wouldn’t use swear words at work, but now I had to stop altogether, all the time.

So watching one of the French vloggers, she was talking about swearing as a part of French culture: even saying ‘this is one that little ones like to use’; the word was ‘crotte’ which is like ‘poo’ but I just found that such a relief. That’s the attitude to language that I’d like to see: people that get offended by words themselves, not by the intention of the word but its literal meaning regardless of context, are idiots.

So here some nice Scottish swearing for your enjoyment:

 

Extraordinarily Mighty Still: The Mighty Boosh bOX sET

    We’ve had this box set for several years now, but we decided we needed to cheer up this Friday and had a Mighty Boosh session. I had forgotten just how much I loved this show. It’s pure genius.

I  think that what I like the most is the fact that they take care of every last detail to make their crazy, surreal world click into place. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are so different and yet they have this amazing chemistry. As Vince Noir put it to Howard Bloom (the characters played by Fielding and Barratt): They’re like yin and yang.

The secret behind their humour is that they are still capable of thinking like children and their scripts and songs reflect their ability to connect to that part of your brain that still remembers what it felt like to be 9 years old. I love it!

I wish the BBC produced stuff like this again. I have tried some of their new comedies and nothing gets anywhere near this level of wackiness. As a matter of fact, Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy on Channel 4 is not as good – which disappoints me, if I must be honest. Somehow, Fielding has crossed a line there that makes his humour more forced and less naïve. It seems that without Barratt’s ‘yang’ to balance his ‘yin’, Noel Fielding misses the mark when it comes to script writing.

Apparently they will collaborate on some new project soon. Looking forward to that! Meanwhile, if you’ve never watched The Mighy Boosh, you don’t know what you’re missing: check it out ASAP!

Thank you Noel and Julian!

 

 

 

 

TMI: Reading the news

I love information. I can’t get enough of it.

Lately, I have been reminded of a film I watched over 20 years ago, Class Action (I looked it up on IMDB – love that site!). In the film, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Gene Hackman play attorneys who are preparing to go to court in a civil lawsuit. In her preparation, Mastrantonio’s character requests information – this is a pre-internet world, some data bases were digitalised but most were just on paper or microfilm – and she gets everything. The whole archive. It was boxes and boxes from floor to ceiling of reports and files. I remember one of the characters saying that if you want to hide the truth, just provide too much information making it virtually impossible to trudge through all of it in a systematic way.

Similarly, I recall having heard that the best way to lie is to hide your lie among truthful statements – this concept can be extended to flawed syllogisms and generalisations that have no scientific foundation. Let me give you an example: There’s a global financial crisis – which is turning 8 years old in the western world; there are rising levels of insecurity and violence in certain areas – race and religion have something to do with this; as a result of a global trend, unemployment in some industries – such as the metal industry – is endemic and getting worse as factory closures leave entire communities without their main source of livelihood; in the UK, numbers of immigrants from Europe and refugees have risen – and these people need housing, health care, school places and jobs, this is putting extra strain on our economy; this is not a time to demand more – as there are so many who have nothing – but to work hard and be grateful for what you’ve got. I haven’t made anything up but hidden in those simple truths, there are some unsubstantiated claims – some are ignorant assumptions, others have a hidden agenda. Concealed among the facts, they come across as factual too. And that’s dangerous as we have seen recently in Britain, to our utter embarrassment, I must add.

So why was I reminded of this? It just occurred to me that we are suffering from overexposure to information at the moment. And information needs to be analysed systematically, it needs to be put into context and we need time to sort through all of it. But there is no time! Before we can accept the latest event, something else has happened making it impossible to see the bigger picture, make inquiries about the background, join dots, and reach conclusions. What happens then? We have to accept ready-made solutions: as soon as news develops, some media are already giving us the conclusion. Before you can question anything about it, it’s gone! Eventually, you don’t distinguish between your own conclusions and those provided by the media.

This is beginning to sound a lot like brainwashing and conspiracy theory. Typically, we tend to react with cynicism and mockery to those who see conspiracies everywhere. Now where did that come from? Who suggested that notion that we couldn’t think there actually is a conspiracy to keep us all in the dark and believing certain convenient half-truths? Isn’t that a clear example of how we have taken some concepts for granted as universal truths that shouldn’t be questioned?

I read a lot of different news sites from different parts of the world, in different languages; and I try to read a range of political opinions – though I have mine. I think I am open-minded but I am beginning to wonder if I am not suffering from information overload right now. Perhaps there’s too much information out there and I should be pickier?

In the film, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character does trudge through the files until she finds what she was looking for. And that also struck a chord: I believe that you always end up finding what you set out to find. We all read the news with an expectation of what we’ll be reading. Where those expectations come from, that’s what we should be thinking about.

Mastrantonio’s character exposes the flaws of the other attorney’s case with evidence – I wish it was that simple in the news.