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From Red Shoes to Seeing Red.

The last time I went out in public was seven weeks (49 days) ago; about a week before lockdown became official (too late) in the UK. I went to see Red Shoes at the Bristol Hippodrome – joyously, brilliantly camp, huge talent, invention, colour. Everything I expected and more. I knew, because having watched the news from the East, that it was a risk, but somehow, if it was going to be the last show I went to for the foreseeable future (or, argh, ever) it would be worth the risk.


Since then I've battled with huge families with 4 trollies in my local supermarket, I've foraged secretly around nearly empty shelves, I've found 4 masks and a few pairs of gloves, and washed a lot of the skin off my hands. I've been to the hospital twice with a friend who needed surgery. I've had a couple of shouted conversations with my daughter and granddaughter from across the street and I've been sent streams of videos and jokes by friends. A lot of them feature the big blond imbecile from across the pond who, really, I don't find funny at all.


Actually I've done pretty well: writers are very well prepared for isolation: usually we live in an 'other' world anyway and adapt to the bizarre quite gratefully. But I do find that my rage at the way this pandemic has high-lighted the inequalities of society has sharpened to a dangerous point. The poor, the badly housed, the low paid, people with dark skin, the people who do the caring work, the old, the refugees, the prisoners etc are all suffering and dying disproportionately. It's just what they would expect and it's outrageous. We won't understand the full extent of this tragedy till there's a proper count that doesn't skew the figures, and the politicians stop lying about them.


Meanwhile our well-fed, well-cared-for leaders are beginning to bleat about 'getting back to normal' Well normal just isn't not good enough. It's not good enough for clean air, climate change, health and inequality. They're talking about 'business as usual.' Well business as usual is really bad, selfish, dangerous business – unless you're rich, white company men with lots of shareholders to please. Back to business is back to bad business. Normal is abnormal.


We need a whole new conversation where we actually listen to scientists, environmentalists and philosophers; not to politicians and money-men.


Nuff said.

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A Prize in Germany.

I've been lucky enough to have been awarded a prize for my life's work by a public radio station in Bremen. I'm enormously flattered and very grateful. But I'm also pretty jumpy.


I haven't spoken in public for over 10 years. And the last time I went to Germany was in 2004 when, during my stay, there was a huge terrorist attack on Madrid's railway. Of course this put German security forces on full alert at stations and airports. From my point of view, especially airports. At Munich airport, when leaving for home, I was searched 4 times and taken off the plane by a man with a gun. All because my passport is in a middle-eastern name. The flight was held up for over an hour and when I was allowed back on the plane I was greeted by waves of anger and frustration.  Which I understood well. I too am less than enthusiastic about sitting uncomfortably on a plane that's going nowhere.


History can't repeat itself, can it? All the same I'd politely like to ask those responsible to suspend terrorist activity till I leave Germany next week.


This is just a tad ironic because there are some who would say that since I joined Extinction Rebellion I have been responsible for countless travel delays and disruptions. Also, as someone aware of the huge carbon cost of flying, I shouldn't be flying at all. Well, fair point. But did I mention I've won a prize? That only happens once in a blue moon. And I really, really want to meet the people who are giving it to me. So, jumpy or not, I'm going.

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Wimbledon 2019

Wimbledon fortnight is like a holiday to me. I try not to work in the afternoons or make any appointments or write letters or blogs. Instead I spend hours watching wonderful athletes play their guts and hearts out at a game I loved but was never much good at. The stand-out event so far this year was Cori – Coco – Gauff in the third round playing Polona Hercog of Slovenia.


Wonderful to see such grit in a teenager. She'd lost the first set and was 5-2 down in the second, facing match point. Looking close to tears and even closer to defeat – nothing she'd done so far had had worked against a strong, tricky opponent who was playing wonderful tennis. Everyone was expecting her to fold; everyone was disappointed in her. But she didn't fold, she kept thinking & trying. And, with a little help from the other side of the net, she pulled herself together, thought out a different strategy and battered on.


A life lesson – it 's not that she succeeded; she might not have. But what's so encouraging to an old broad who's been defeated many times, she had the grit to stand up straight and fucking try.

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Tiger Woods, Medal of Freedom – Freedom for Whom?

Medal of Freedom, yes, that's what stuck in my cynical old feminist craw. My position on Tiger is ambiguous: on the one hand, considering toxic, curdling jock culture, I can't expect a supremely talented athlete to be a perfect man (no one is anyway), nor do I want to see him and his special gift destroyed, but I do resent him getting extra credit (a medal for fuck's sake) when one of the things he's famous for is beating on his wife. That looks like a typical Trump (with his famous respect for us wimmins) faux pas.

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It's Been A Long Time.

It's been a long time since I wrote. I'll explain this later. But first I want to congratulate Sara Paretsky for being the first winner of the Sue Grafton Memorial Prize last week. This is bitter-sweet because I really do wish Sue had not died. I wish she were still with us and writing – in which case there would be no need for a memorial. But I'm so pleased for Sara – no one could deserve honours more.


Two months ago, when I was rushing to the post office, I had a contretemps with one of Bath's notoriously uneven kerbstones. The kerbstone won. The result was a broken upper arm too close to my shoulder to be plastered. It hurts, so I've been self-protective and horribly self-absorbed ever since.


There has been something of an identity crisis too, because only 24 hours previously I had been on a squash court, leaping about like a young goatess. Then, suddenly I was an old lady lying helpless on the pavement being called 'dear' by several lovely but unwelcome strangers to whom I'm very grateful but who, at the time, I was wishing a long way elsewhere.


Meanwhile my beloved country has become even more of a thought-free zone and consequently a scarier place.


And there has been another attack and killing in a Californian synagogue on Shabat two days ago. An act of antiSemitism. This follows the utterly horrifying bombing of churches in Sri Lanka, which in turn had followed the shameful attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. No community, it seems, is exempt from the hatred of others.


This, tragically, is the zeitgeist we're all suffering from. This is the zeitgeist all thinking people should try, in their own ways, to contradict.


Shalom, salaam and peace to all.

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Clubbed To Death?

If you find yourself in the city of Bath with a yearning for a Classic Club Sandwich do not try to find one at the Kingsmead Kitchen in Kingsmead Square. If you do, you will be as disappointed as I was this Sunday lunchtime.

The menu said Classic Club Sandwich – expensive but perfect: just what I wanted. And what arrived was a fine sandwich: two slices of toasted bread filled, as advertised, with bacon, chicken and salad. But it was not the Classic Club Sandwich I'd ordered. Three pieces of bread (or toast), two fillings, right? Right.

The cafe was crowded, the wait staff were busy, so I ate my sandwich and was absolutely going to pay for it. But, in the interest of accurate advertising, I decided to point out the mistake.

Which was my mistake, because when I did – very politely – the waiter replied brusquely that I had been served exactly what I ordered. 'You gave me a sandwich,' I said, 'not a "club" sandwich.' He pointed to the menu and repeated that I had been served what was described on the menu. I said again that the menu was offering a Club Sandwich and not an ordinary sandwich.

English was not his first language, so just to be absolutely sure I knew what I was talking about I Googled the sandwich in question and nowhere could I find a picture or a description of a 'club' sandwich that did not have two fillings separated by a third slice of bread. I gently explained this to the waiter.

I should have left it there, of course. But the guy was looking at me as if I was stupid and trying to get out of paying. Which was insulting. Also I do not react well to frustration. So I had one more shot at explaining myself, this time to a young woman who described herself as a trainee manager. I can't remember exactly what she said, partly because English was not her first language either. But the upshot was that the original waiter came back an offered me a slice of bread.

That was too silly even for a connoisseur of silliness like me. So I got up and left with my remaining dignity, (not much, by then) and paid the full price. I wish I hadn't because I still find myself fuming rather than laughing – as this blog clearly demonstrates.


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In A Fog.

This silent foggy morning reminded me of Foggy, Foggy Dew, and I wondered for an instant about a blog entitled 'Whatever happened to the "fair young maid"?' Another mysterious absence in a bloke's song. But then I couldn't be arsed. Fog seems to sit too heavy on all my motivation. Be thankful.


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Talking Leaves.

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.

But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.

Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."

Carl Sagan


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Gothic Horror and Science Fiction.

Recently I decided to reread both Dracula and Frankenstein. I first tackled them in my early twenties – a long time ago. Now they both seemed unfamiliar.

I think that's because when I was twenty I was both depressed and impatient. I did not recognize large chunks of both books. In the case of Dracula that must be because the seductions were too slow and the activity too long coming. With Frankenstein the reason must have been because Mary Shelley was even more depressed when she wrote the book than I was when I read it.

It's time to confess that I skipped a lot.

This time I didn't skip a single sentence. This time I really appreciated the slow pace of Dracula. We seem to have lost the art of the long, teasing seduction in literature. But what startled me was Bram Stoker's description of the Count as ugly and grotesque. These days I'm so accustomed to vampires being sexy high school kids with pain and love in their hearts. It's so much more interesting to read about how mesmerising the ugly old Count is than to witness the banal sight of beautiful people falling in and out of lust.

Mary Shelley, however, is still a source of great heartache – not surprising when you consider her life. Then too, she was doing something a lot more complicated than Bram Stoker. She was inventing a whole new genre: science fiction. She was looking at the consequences of man playing God, and she saw it in terms of a child being utterly rejected by a father. How could she not? But consider how many synonyms she brought to bear on words like 'grief' and 'pain'. The woman was a Thesaurus.

Both books are hard going for a modern reader, but worth the effort.


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Let me explain machines to you, my dears. They're all fascists. If you can't think like they do you're doomed to burn in hell. That's all you need to know.

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