Wreck it Ralph!

One of my favourite films of last year ( I laughed! I cried!) I read Wreck it Ralph as a lesson in family dynamics :  an explanation for children of why so many weddings, funerals and celebrations end in fights, that isn’t just alcohol.

The film is set in a video game arcade, in which all the characters from the games have self determining lives outside the confines of their games : the premise of Ralph’s game is that he climbs up a building breaking it, while Fix-it Felix, the player’s avatar, follows after him repairing the damage with a magic hammer, and avoids destruction by birds or falling debris. If ‘you’ win, the people in the block run to the top and throw a party for Felix, and give him a medal, and they throw Ralph off the building, where he goes to live in his dump of broken bricks.

The ‘arc’ of Ralph in the film is that he has to leave his game/family in search of the acceptance /medal that his role in the game excludes him from. In freudian terms, this is the necessary trajectory of the child growing up : the point at which the complexity of your needs outweighs the comforts of home is the point where you leave to find your own rewards, and create a new family structure that meets the emotional needs of the adult you become through that process.

The happy ending for Ralph is achieved  through his development of a parental relationship with a child character from a racing game, and the help he gives her in her own search for acceptance in her peer group, which mirrors his own desire for social acceptance from the somewhat two dimensional inhabitants of the flats his job is to destroy. When Vanelope Von Schweetz ultimately wins the race, and her game ( for which read ‘life’) becomes a constitutional democracy with herself as president, it is a metaphor for successful parenting : he proudly watches her win her races from his own altered reality, which now includes decent housing for all, and the inclusion of refugees from outdated games. At the end of the film, he has successfully managed to pull his family/ game out of their fixed view of him as ‘bad’, through becoming a father, and obviously, therefore adult. His last words : “Turns out I don’t need a medal to make me feel good, ‘cos if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” is a touching reminder to parents of how much our own little ones mean to us. I did say I cried!

But that is, of course, Hollywood : and it hardly needs saying that the enduring success of an industry based on our desire for redemption, would hardly be so enduring, were the happy endings as reliable in real life as on-screen. Family life is the best thing we have so far evolved to get children safely through to continuing the species themselves, by which time, we need it to be as unbearable as possible to give us the motivation to get the hell out.

Ralph returns to his game/family, and is able to make changes there so that it meets his needs : they happily accept his changes as part of the joy of  having him in their lives. I am sure families like this exist, but perhaps, to reference Tolstoy’s view of happy families, the spectacle of a group of people lovingly nurturing each other through all of lives changes, without struggle or resistance, is so common and mundane that there is no need for it to appear  in dramatic form.

In real life, brothers Felix and Ralph, would have learnt in childhood to understand themselves and the world through their opposing roles : sometimes it seems like nature just loves the drama of matching a ‘fixit’ shy intellectual child with a ‘wreck it’ boisterous sports nut for a sibling, just for the hell of it. The answer is of course, nurture, not by the parents, but in the child’s evolution of its self, is the counterpoint of the ‘not-self’, which in the best case scenario, of a nurturing family, is helped by siblings, but in the worst case of a stressed, neglectful or abusive family becomes set in such unbreakable stone that conflict is the inevitable result of any attempt at progression by any family member.

If the sports nut grows up, and decides to become a university professor, in a nurturing family, the intellectual sibling should welcome the closeness of new areas of shared interest. Lack of nurturing in childhood is a threat to survival, and as such, activates the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with emergency responses, and children who are brought up with this, will need to work very hard indeed to allow their cerebral cortex, which deals with reason, to override their emergency responses. Children whose ideas of themselves and their siblings have evolved in brains bathed in stress hormones are unable to develop into adults, and change these ideas without a huge amount of work and commitment from their analytical brain. Any suggested change in those ideas will be experienced as threatening to their sense of themselves, and will be fought straight from the amygdala : “Stop trying to be clever, you’re the pretty one, it’s not fair” was something I saw my own mother throw at her sister, when both were in their fifties.

Mostly, like Wreck it Ralph, people sensibly go off in search of a medal in a different game, and keep exposure to siblings stuck in childhood to a minimum : Weddings, Christmas, Ancestors day, Thanksgiving…..


Making & Living

I am currently tandem reading two books written in the late 1950’s that are giving me a very interesting perspective on the current ‘trend’ for 1970’s style self sufficiency :

‘The Fat of the Land’ by John Seymour (1960)

The Waste Makers’  by Vance Packard (1960)

books The first of which describes the authors learning process in self providing in Suffolk, and the second describes the drive to ever increasing consumption in the US. Both of them, although probably now disappeared from print, perhaps never to reappear, seem to have much to say to us now, nearly two generations on.

John Seymour does an amount of moaning about the extent to which the government was restricting people’s ability to self-provide : rules about home brewing and animal slaughter, which were discouraging people from continuing these ordinary traditional  ways of making their living.  My father grew up in Walthamstow in the 1930’s and 40’s, which was in most respects, given the age of most of the houses there, much like the Walthamstow of today. He lived at the bottom of the market, and remembered local pig farms, and that most people kept chickens or rabbits in their back gardens, as well as growing their own vegetables.


By the time I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, most older people still grew veg in their back garden, but most younger families had stopped, and most English people I talk to about growing food now are usually at least a generation away from someone with experience. This was when the supermarkets came : first in the town centre, then on the edge of town, then , when their need for car parking outgrew the towns, they were built on land that used to be farmed, in a plasticised vernacular of an American farmstead, the irony of which I am sure is lost on most users.

Tesco: supermarket chain plans new store

Tavistock’s new farm style out of town : Build it and They Will Come

It is always fun to look back on what seemed like progress to the people of the past : well do I remember  the excitement of that weekly shop in Tesco’s in Lowestoft, that must have arrived in about 1981! : we went along ‘en famille’, probably on a Friday like everyone else, and always had a post- supermarket feast of exotic items like baguette ( bread, in the shape of a stick!) and brie ( mouldy cheese! That you eat!) that were not available in the bakers, or the International Stores. When we first moved to our council house (the shame!), we had a chicken run next to the veg patch, and they would alternate year by year, so the soil could be picked free of pests and manured, and the chickens could find some of their own food, and provide us with eggs, and a useful place to recycle kitchen food scraps. But I think gradually, it all seemed like too much hassle, and it was easier and cleaner to just buy it all in.  Great Britain did become ‘Great’, after all, by kicking the peasants off the land, so they were hungry and available to work for low wages in the Victorian factories: the second phase being to create willing and dependent consumers with no idea where food comes from, let alone how to grow it. Londoners from further afield tend to be less alienated from the land : almost without exception : Cypriots, Italians, Somalis, Bengalis, Caribbeans, Africans, Irish, Polish and Romanians : all seem to have a clearer and more recent memory of raising food at home : London’s diversity has always been the key to its survival, and this untapped knowledge is yet another unrecognised benefit that its adopted sons and daughters can bring.

Vance Packard’s book laments the invention of the concept of ‘planned obsolescence’ : whereby household machines were built to break down or go out of fashion as quickly as possible, to keep the economy growing, and never mind the waste of resources involved. As an interesting aside, he briefly discusses the dire implications of American dependence on other nations for resources, and wonders if this might result in political interventions in future struggles, where supplies of raw materials are threatened. Is it going too far to say that every war since the end of the Cold War, has been to some extent about control of oil?

It doesn’t seem that much has changed since the time these books were written : advertising still works by removing our sense of well being in ourselves and offering to sell it back, except now its not just our clothes and machines that need replacing, but our bodies as well. Governments still hamper our freedom to use the land we live on to live, except now its by welcoming rich oligarchs to stockpile it for future profit, and by surrounding the lucky few in social housing with deserts of grass, cut short for dogs to crap on. Nowadays there are again urban back to the land dreamers, especially concentrated in places like Stoke Newington, where I now (almost) live, and they are teaching themselves to use the land to grow food, and dreaming of a dream of resilient living.


Castle Climbing Centre Veg Garden


Mahonia Madness!

I have never been a fan of the Mahonia, perhaps because it is such a common ‘car park ‘plant, and perhaps because I struggle a little with yellow flowers in design terms : brash, harsh, hard to combine with other colours. Although there is a moment in midwinter, when these fragrant panicles are very beautiful Mahonia 'Winter Sun' - Mahonia x media - arbuste And probably have some benefits in supporting foraging insects. My middle school had these planted en masse in the dry shady areas around the buildings : I never noticed them flowering, but remember looking at their scruffy habit, and dirty looking berries, and wondering why someone had bothered.

The Frederick Messer Estate, which is my short cut route to Seven Sisters Tube Station, is my prime foraging ground  :


and I noticed a few weeks ago, that the Mahonias, part of the rather lumpen planting around the car park and playground, are in full fruit : at a time of year when nothing else is. IMAG0932 It took me about 10 minutes to pick a couple of kilos : so much easier than blackberries, which have to be teased singly from high thorny branches, these can be picked like blackcurrants, just by pulling off a whole panicle at a time. The fruit was very ripe, though : and this did happen. IMAG0933 Two women stopped to talk to me about the fruit, saying they had no idea they were edible : raw, they are bitter and stony, but they do cook up into very nice jelly, and with any luck a rather cheeky Mahonia Merlot! I shared my intentions with them, and hope they will look a little more kindly on their planting as a result.

Mahonia Grape Jelly

  1. Wash the fruit, and pick out any pits of stick, leaf, or berry sized snails you may find. IMAG0936
  2. Weigh them, and add a roughly equal amount of sugar, and some water. I did a kilo at a time, and added about ½ a litre of water.
  3. Bring to the boil, keep stirring, and after about 10-15 minutes, start testing the set, by putting a little of the liquid onto a plate, and checking whether it wrinkles up when you push it. Standard jammaking practice.
  4. When you think it is ready, pour the jelly through a sieve into another pan, then into sterilised jars. IMAG0939

The flavour is not unlike blueberry : not as tart as blackcurrant, but still very agreeable, on a piece of home made sourdough! IMAG0945 Mahonia Merlot. 1.Tip the contents of your sieve which still contains plenty of fruit, plenty of sugar, back into the pan, fill with water, mix and add some ordinary breadmaking dried yeast.IMAG0943 2.Leave it over night to start fermenting, then sieve again and bottle. I have used two litre fizzy drinks bottles, and followed my method for ginger beer and elderflower champagne, which is to keep the bottles closed, and vent regularly. I think you have to keep the air out, for alcohol to be made, although maybe keeping the bottles closed just makes the wine fizzy as it develops alcohol. 3. I am intending to keep it in the bottles until the sugar is all used up, then taste it and maybe add more sugar or more water. I think that at a certain point, the alcohol will kill off the yeast, and the wine will be ready to bottle.IMAG0947   Whenever I present someone for the first time with alcohol I have made, they always express a fear of it being ‘the wrong kind of alcohol’ and that it could cause madness and even death. In fact ethanol alcohol (C2H6O) is quite different from methanol (CH3OH), as Wikipedia will tell you, ethanol is easily made by fermenting a solution of sugar and water ( or fruit!) : its part of nature’s way of recycling fruit : we’ve all seen drunk wasps in the orchard in September! Cheers!

The Opium of the Masses.


If you had asked me before yesterday whether I was more in favour of religion or capitalism, I probably would have chortled that capitalism IS the only truly global religion, and gone on to say that religion has advantages such as community building and spirituality, that are notably absent from capitalism.

Christian Stores1

But yesterday was Easter Sunday, when our glorious leaders have decreed that all big shops shall closeth, and those who wish to spend their easter weekend gardening, or laying a wooden floor in their son’s room because the moths have eaten the wool carpet, can go to small independent shops, but the retail park is an abomination on that day, and therefore closed.  Which annoyed me so much I was forced to conclude that apparently, I favour our right to express our capitalist beliefs at the time and location of our choosing, over and above the right of a tiny, but bossy, minority to make us stay at home, or go to the pub, or failing that, a church.

So, having forgotten the shopping anomaly of Easter Sunday /Passover ( I live in a Jewish Area, which explains apparently, why my local Asda didn’t sell crumpets shaped like Christmas Trees this year, as advertised on TV, but doesn’t explain why they didn’t sell crumpets in the shape of a Star of David ( a no-brainer, surely, in our age of religious tolerance? They could have done a pack of moons and stars, and created a real message of Midwinter peace) I drove to Wickes, only to find the barriers up. Strange, I thought, I’ll try B&Q : there was a car park, and tumbleweeds. Well Lidl was open, but, like I say, Tumbleweeds. Staples, Argos, CarpetRight, Poundland, Currys/PCWorld, Carphone Warehouse, Burger King, all were closed. I saw a man on foot stopped staring open mouthed at the closed retail sheds, as if he couldn’t understand what had happened. We haven’t seen scenes like this since the aftermath of the Tottenham Riots in 2011! I saw other poor souls driving in and then out, not sure what to make of it. I even went to Ikea, just to see. Yes, even the 24 hour Tesco’s on the North Circular.Was.Closed.

Next year, if they haven’t taken away this idiotic anomaly, I am going to use Easter Sunday to film the final scene of my (imaginary) Zombie Apocalypse film.


Published in: on April 21, 2014 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Local is the new Exotic!

It’s a measure of the distance ‘we’ have travelled in the last 100 years or so, that the meaning of the word ‘exotic’, has drifted from the original ‘ coming from outside’ to mean anything new and exciting : it is perhaps a relic of the victorian rush to colonise the world through trade, and bring back fabulous commodities that had never been seen before, from the farthest flung places of the globe.

I have been engaged recently on a so far fruitless search for some local honey : my nephew had hayfever a few weeks ago (its the trees! there is no hay!) and wanted to try inoculating himself with local pollens. I know it’s a bit early, but I like a challenge, and, after all, how long does it take to produce 375g of something by sucking it out of flowers  and condensing it with your wings?

I have so far found Essex and Hertfordshire Honey, which is quite local to North East London, as well as honey from Norfolk, Sussex, and Dorset. But by far the most prevalent is honey from ‘more than one country and outside the EU’, Portuguese, Brazilian, and I even found some from Malawi. I haven’t really bothered looking in supermarkets, as you can imagine, but even in my really local health food stores ( Whole Foods doesn’t count) it is really hard to find much home produce, of any kind, not just honey.

Last year I got a jar, harvested in Tottenham, from the beekeeper Ian Bailey : maybe I primed myself for this by my sheer excitement at possessing something so precious its not available in any shop, but it really was the nicest honey I have ever had.

The second law of capitalism is supply and demand (the first : find a natural resource and exploit it!) so I can’t understand why highly prized local honey that is not commonly available in shops, and has to be sought by much travel ( by bike!) and development of contacts,  still only costs about a fiver, which is pretty much the same as the boring old ordinary honey shipped over from the Brazilian rainforest.

First Forage of the Year

IMAG0667 I am having a bit of an oniony year so far : yesterday I repotted my collection of  foraged or donated onion family plants which include :

Allium ursinum : wild garlic : just coming into leaf :

An elephant garlic from last year : Allium ampeloprasum : quite big, if not quite elephantine enough to harvest

Allium proliferum : Egyptian walking onion : teeny, but the name gives me high hopes of it proliferating!

Three cornered leek : Allium triquetum : looking strong.

Then after my meeting in Walthamstow, of which more later, I cycled along the path that goes through the churchyard of St Mary’s and found this lovely patch of something definitely allious :  which I am not entirely sure which it is : it looks most like 3 cornered leek, but with flatter leaves than my potted ones : it is in the churchyard, under a tree, so maybe richer soil accounts for the difference.

I picked a handful, to make risotto, maybe, or pesto, or perhaps an adapted east end sauce for sausages like the parsley ‘liquor’ you get with eels. Any recipe suggestions greatly appreciated!

This plant is an interesting example of perennials producing useful food, when the sun has only just come out, and annuals are still mostly curled tightly asleep in their seeds : although me and my son have started some pumpkin and black bean seeds on the windowsill :IMAG0673Cute, yes, but feed us, they won’t!

My project in Walthamstow, is with a care home, to help them with their sustainable garden project : It’s an interesting one, because of the potential to change the way a large organisation looks at landscape, and even the earth : but man, is it hard going! None of the people have any knowledge of permaculture, or even organic gardening,  and are doing a hard job for quite low pay : and the last thing I want to do is increase their workload. It would be easier, I realise, to set up a site and work with a small group of like minded individuals : which is an easily funded and much trodden route : Organiclea, Edible Landscapes etc. It would be like a perennial plant, with last year’s growth to build on, rather than an annual growing from seed, in what may turn out to be stony ground. Although before I star moaning too much, it occurs to me that Perennials are largely stuck, where they put down roots, whereas the seeds of my project in its year can potentially reach further :  as far as the birds and wind will take them.

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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One at a time…

I became a landscape architect, way back in 1999 ( yes, I partied) because I wanted to work on projects to transform the environment, and empower communities to engage with changing their place for the better. One of the first projects I worked on was the forecourt of a call centre somewhere in Scotland. I never visited the site : why bother, there was nothing there but an area of grass overlooking the River Tay. What my employer wanted, thinking back, was a quickly produced, cheap to build, turning area for cars that would look nice in front of the building, and require no maintenance. What I did instead, and which was probably chucked out as soon as I resigned in a huff, was created a break out area, for the call centre staff to be able to commune with nature in their breaks. I struggled like this for about 15 years, trying to find the space for people and nature in what was supposed to be an environmental design profession, and not really succeeding. I wanted to work together with communities to design spatial solutions that worked to improve people’s lives, not just produce attractive images for publication : aesthetic design / landscape as art was fine as far as it went, but to me seemed shallow :


Then in 2005, everything changed. I had a baby, did my maternity leave, and found that the worth of my many skills was invalidated by my need to work ‘part-time’, which in architecture means having to leave the office, not just at a regular time, but basically ever. The fact that this causes a skills drain is the subject of regular bemused hand-wringing in the professional and mainstream press :


I am and have always been, incredibly ambitious : On the last day of college I had a conversation about aspirations with a fellow landscape graduate, that has stuck with me : I was not intent on a particular area of design, but I did want to do useful public projects that would be significant to real people. She replied, ” I am sorry, but I really look down on those kind of ‘worthy’ projects : I am much more into minimalist design”, which one sentence would be a whole blogsworth of unpicking in itself. But, she is probably at least the head of a practice landscape team that…yawn. Sorry, what was I saying?

If anything, I have got more ambitious, while earning less money, and doing ‘lower status’ work : I work with people in urban areas to design and run sustainable systems for growing food and maintaining their landscape. Its a job that has no actual title : its permaculture, yes, but calling it that doesn’t necessarily help : I have settled for the moment on Community Landscape Architect ( I removed the ‘Chartered’, because that also doesn’t help.)  Why people think gardening is easy, I don’t know : the knowledge and experience you need to do everything well is perhaps why our best ones are the oldest!

This work is actually Revolution, but disguised, so as not to bring the government’s new water cannons out, as Gardening. My ultimate design would be a place that looked as if it has not been designed at all, but had occurred naturally : so that my peers, my boss, my trainer, and actually, my lunch are all Nature herself.

Every time someone says something like :”I have never thought about that before” or “I’ll remember that, next time”, or when people who scream at the sight of worms stop screaming, and start looking, I feel that I am helping to build the revolution, one thought at a time, and one person at a time, which is the most powerful way there is.

9 flower & bees


On yer Bike!


At God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

I have been cycling in cities, mostly London,  for about 20 years, now, and by dint of a quite miraculous level of caution on my part, I am not dead!


I live in North East London, and my most common cycle route is down the roman road which morphs from  Stamford Hill to Stoke Newington High St, then Kingsland Road, then maybe Shoreditch High St. Anyway, thankfully I don’t go that far, because it really gets a lot more dangerous with every change of name. There are a lot more cyclists on the road now, so we are all having to improve our skills of Phalanx cycling, a la Chinese, and I find I am joined by a lot more biking women these days, so welcome, ladies, and non-ladies to

Rachel’s Guide to Cycling Survival:

  1.  Be Highly Visible : my bike is yellow, my hi-vis jacket is yellow, my panniers are, yes, they’re yellow. When I replace my recently stolen helmet, I am tempted to buy a yellow one.
  2.  Don’t ever assume that the driver of a car has seen you, because there are any number of things they could be looking at, both inside and outside the car, such as their phone, their sat nav, their lunch, their radio settings, attractive people walking along the road, shops, the inside of their eyelids etc. Even if you are a blazing ball of fluorescent yellow, still, be ready to slam on those brakes at any second. You tube is full of entertaining little helmet-cam films of  drivers making life-threatening mistakes.
  3.  If you keep only one thing on your bike honed for maximum performance, make it your brakes, for mine have saved my life on many an occasion.
  4. Don’t trust other cyclists : YouTube is full of entertaining little windscreen-cam films of cyclists making life threatening mistakes. I’m sorry, but we have all seen people riding with headphones on, overtaking cyclists who are overtaking other cyclists, not looking behind before changing turning or pulling out, or indeed, ever. To be fair, many of them are new to two wheels, and haven’t passed cycling proficiency, as I have. Ok I failed first time for not looking behind after an emergency stop, but it was only because the instructor had emphasised its importance so much that I thought doing it would show an embarrassing lack of initiative.
  5. Remember that most car drivers neither know nor care how to ride a bicycle. For example, I regularly get beeps and indignant gesticulations for waiting in the middle of the junction to turn right. Yes, you and I both know that’s the correct position, but honestly, I think we are alone.

I have noticed, though, that since the Olympics in 2012, there are a lot more bikes on the road. It wasn’t the inspiration of British medal success, because it happened before, when ‘they’ did something to traffic to make it more difficult for people to drive. I’m sorry I don’t have more precise information to support this, but I have always cycled, even when I was almost the only woman I ever saw on a bike in London, and everyone thought I was mad.

I had to travel on the Overground before 9am this morning, and based on that experience, I think we are on the verge of a revolution in cycling in London : how people can bear to start their day crushed in with everyone all up their aura like that I don’t know. If only they knew the joy / knife edge of London on a bike. We need to reach the tipping point, though, when so many people are cycling that vehicle drivers no longer feel able to cut us up / side swipe us / overtake and turn left, and that means numbers! Get that bike out of the shed and give it a spin!

Blaming the Victim

(This post was originally created in January 2014)

Someone on Change.org today wrongly thought I might like to sign a petition to BAN the tv programme “Benefits St”, a channel 4 bollox-umentary about a street in Birmingham where nearly everyone is on state aid of some kind. The reason being that people on twitter were against claimants and had lots of self righteous things to say about taxes, scroungers and, er, baseball bats.

People who like making sneering and aggressive comments on social media and forums actually aren’t the problem : except when their actions become criminal, of course, then they can be dealt with by the law, and we can all see how they deserve more pity than fear. Banning a programme because the people in it don’t like they way it was edited, seems like a bit of a dangerous precedent to set. And certainly against the rules of the ‘reality’ genre.

Blaming the victim is a response born of fear : whenever I hear someone is ill, I have to stop myself from criticising their lifestyle choices and reaching for the Echinacea. If it was their fault it won’t get you is the subconscious thought behind it, and lets face it, losing our jobs, and being forced to eke out our lives on the dole is something to make anyone who’s still got a job shiver a little ( and not just because they’ve turned the heating off to save money). “They” are lazy and stupid, with too many children, and greedy, and not from round here, and should be punished, and have their lives, and their children’s lives made more miserable than they already are : these first thoughts are the touch of the rosary, the extra step avoiding the crack in the pavement, the touch wood talisman that says there but for the grace of god. Except it’s not god, its a government that is just waiting for us to stop listening and think about something else, so it can hand over yet more millions to the already super-rich corporations and individuals, while the children of ordinary people are brought up with the double poverties of present resources and future opportunities. And saying its their own fault, and if they weren’t so fat and lazy they could be joining in the bonanza for the rich is nothing but a lie, because the jobs that would pay a single breadwinner enough to live on are gone, and there are no caps on landlords profits, and people largely have no choice.

Did you notice, by the way, the news last week that the FTSE 100 index, which shows how much the top companies in the economy are generating rose 14.4 percent last year? So large corporations are making huge profits : yay! Bankers are going to get huge bonuses! Yay! Food banks are booming!

2013 Review of the Year

One of those round robins from an old friend plopped onto my doormat this morning. robin pooping

‘We’ don’t really do these in Britain : and for possibly obvious reasons. The midwinter feast, which eventually morphed into the various festivals of light we call Christmas / Diwali / Hannukah etc was created

a) because it’s the darkest time of the year, and

b) it’s a good time to kill and eat animals you don’t want to have to feed all through winter, and

c) the vegetarian option : it’s near the end of the harvest, when stored crops are abundant.





christmas lights




It’s a time when summer seems impossible : proximity and excess have made you hate your family beyond reason: it’s getting dark at 3.30 ( I’m supporting Scottish Independence if only for this reason), and winter has only just started. Getting drunk, pigging out, having fires, and pleading with whatever Gods will listen to just make the sun come back, all seem like a good thing to do.

So, would a letter from someone you haven’t heard from all year, enumerating their various achievements and a description of their summer holiday cheer you up? No, I didn’t think so.

Maybe I, as a self-hating Brit,  don’t like these because they read as boasting, and that’s just not cricket ( see next paragraph for politely understated explanation). Yes, objectively, it’s all good news about little Timmy starring in the school play, getting £200 from his dad for achieving a karate black belt, taking up a third instrument, swimming 20 lengths without armbands, etc. but its the one-sidedness of the format that gets to me : an A4 printout, in the post, in an age when digital broadcast of your most banal thoughts is a basic social requirement, doesn’t exactly invite a dialogue.

Also, while I am broadly in favour of children ( if only for the continuation of the species), I consider it bad form to go on about my own. Because I know I have produced the brightest, most beautiful, funniest, most sociable, talented, sensitive and wonderful child ever to have walked the earth, and I feel a little bit sorry for every other parent, simply because their child, while being perfectly ok ( if you like that sort of thing) isn’t as good as mine, I can be very graceful in acknowledging their children’s achievements, and don’t need to go on about it.

But maybe I am being too harsh : maybe persuading others that we are fine is never more important than when life is tough. Like a time for family togetherness and joined social celebration. I remember a card I got a year or two ago : from an Italian lady,  addressed to the previous owner of the flat I bought ten years ago, and with no return address : in which it became apparent, in very few sentences, that she had just discovered that her husband had a secret child who was now three, and promising a proper letter in the new year. It never came, but I do sometimes think of that poor woman, who I never met, but who was so distraught, as to send out this cry into the void.

In my own year  : I have officially achieved Mad Cat Lady status : after the kitten explosion of the summer ( at one point there were 15 of the blighters!) Mini-Mitzi has finally had her operation, and is looking a lot more playful and chirpy as a result. I am now down to six cats, which yes I am aware is 100% over the sane limit of three per household.



No really, that’s all that happened. I’m writing this in my dressing gown.


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