March 2007


Dame Trot and her cat
Led a peaceable life,
When they were not troubled
With other folks’ strife.

Being single rocks. I wouldn’t get into a relationship now for all the tea in China. And that, I assume, is one heck of a lot of tea. Why is being single so great? Let’s start with the “no” column.

Lonely No bullshit.
No manipulation.
No picking up his clothes, his rubbish, cleaning the damn toilet after him.
No guilt trips.
No having to ask before agreeing to meet a friend, having to do things that he wants to do instead of what I want to do.
No negotiaotion, no compromise, no settling for less.
No ironing.
No emotional damage.
No having to be grateful that once a week he does a chore.
No wondering why, in spite of it all, I still feel so alone.

In short, most men are pretty hard to live with.

They* are lazy and selfish and they expect you to look after them, to care for their practical and emotional needs, to do all the daily grind of things they can’t be bothered to learn how to do. If I didn’t know it were true, it would astonish me to learn that there are still people out there, grown adults, who claim they can’t cook a thing. People living in the UK, who don’t know how to work a washing machine. People who can hold down a full time job in a complicated industry but expect to get away with saying that they cannot figure out how to change a nappy. Or iron a shirt. Who expect you to tolerate their rude, inconsiderate, selfish behaviour, and have the nerve to complain that you are snappy if they don’t think you do the job well enough.

They* are weak and insecure yet they dare not show it – so they spend their time bringing you down instead. Steadily, subtly, quietly. Whatever it may be, he blames you for being better than him, or mocks you for being worse. Whatever you are good at, becomes Less Important. Whatever he knows something about becomes More Interesting. Until, one day, without your even realising how he did it, you find that you have given everything and ended up as nothing.

[* "most men" - not "all men" - etc etc etc]

That’s the way of it. I was once in a relationship with a man who wasn’t like that. If another came across my path I might even consider un-singling. But let’s face it, men who are worth the hassle of learning to live with – they are pretty rare, no?

But let’s not just be negative here. Starting with the “no” section doesn’t mean there isn’t a yippetty-skippetty section, does it?

Lovehearts - single You can be who you want to be.
Even if that changes.
You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
That includes eating icecream out of the tub. Or pizza two nights running.
You get to spend huge amounts of time in your own company.
Antisocial hobbies.
(Like blogging.)
Hogging everything to yourself.
Even the utter, utter joy of being loved by your chlid. Or your cat, for that matter. If you have one.
Freedom!
Oh – and the sex is better too.

Who in the world would trade any of that? I will not sell my freedom cheaply – if at all.

Yet, hold on, how can this be? I’m not old or fat or ugly or a total cow or any of those other things that are supposed to mark you out as unloveable. Surely I could get a man? What’s wrong with me? See, people assume that I must be single because I am “unable to get a man”. Not true. In fact, despite the, ahem, handicap of being a single mother, I am fairly confident from past experience that I would have no trouble at all in getting a man. None. As long as I’m not too picky about which one, I mean. Trouble is, I am picky. My standards are high and I will not settle for anything less than a man who will both make my toes curl and simultaneously respect me as a human being and as an equal.

So I am single because I choose to be single. Partly because men are mostly rubbish – but also because being single is, yes, BRILLIANT.

See, I have a theory that the reason the world is so down on singledom is that they secretly know that being single is brilliant.

Most people are not single, and/or have invested their whole lives in the idea that being hooked up is the One Way to live a meaningful and satisfying life, so they are on the whole not open to the idea that being single is brilliant. To admit that being single could be anything other than a dry, lonely, empty existence is to admit that the struggles and pain they have gone through to make their relationship(s) work may not have been worth the effort. They may bear scars, these veterans of matrimony, but at least they’re not alone.

Newsflash: being single is not the same as being alone. Being single equals freedom, and that includes the freedom to make friends, to break friends, and to choose who you spend time with. To choose and re-choose and to learn and grow.

Newsflash two: being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. I’ve felt far more lonely in a relationship with a man who doesn’t understand me, even after years of trying, than sitting here ranting into the ether. Seriously.

Now, where did I put my cats?

Oh, yeah, I don’t have any. Does that mean I’m not yet doomed to be alone?

Stinking Bishop

This cheese is made locally – by Charles Martell at Laurel Farm in Dymock, Gloucestershire – and produced on a seriously small scale. It is vegetarian-safe.

(It recently enjoyed uberfame as a cheese favoured by Wallace & Gromit in the 2005 film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – and Charles Martell was offered assorted deals to produce the cheese on a much bigger scale to cope with demand. He refused them all, and continues to make cheese his own way and on his own scale. There was therefore a time when you couldn’t get this stuff for love nor money, but that has passed and it is now available, from my local farm shop among other places – and at a considerably more moderate price than advertised above!)

The first, and pretty much only thing to note is that the name is no joke.

This cheese stinks. My whole fridge stinks. My whole kitchen stinks. I’ve washed my hands and they still stink. Of old socks and really, really ripe cheese. Even a hardened cheese addict like me isn’t sure whether the smell is entirely welcome.

Still, the cheese tastes good. It is creamy, smooth, squishy and smelly-tasting. It is something like a very ripe Camembert, but somewhat softer, and (unlike a very ripe Camembert) does not taste like old socks at all. The flavour is mainly in the rind, and it is a real in-your-nose kind of taste, like eating really stinky cheese flowers. I’m not sure how else to describe it…

I ate mine ploughman’s style with granary toast, onion marmalade, and watercress. I liked it. If it wasn’t for the smell, there’s be no question whether to get it again – it was good.

Choco-Lina, RosenblutenChocolate Facts:

This is a dark chocolate made with 67% cocoa, with raw cane sugar, sheep’s milk (ideal for the CMP-intolerant!), Bourbon vanilla,  rose-buds, and rose oil.

It is made in Austria – this website is in German, but parts of it are available in English translation. They don’t seem to do mail order, and the only place I’ve ever seen it is in the Chocolate Dream shop in Polperro, Cornwall.

More importantly, how yummy is it?

I’ve never tried chocolate with rosebuds in it. The rose flavour suggests Turkish delight, and the little dried petal fragments give you an interesting textural break from the chocolatey smoothness. Using sheep’s milk was also a new one on me, and it certainly made a difference to the flavour of the chocolate – not in a bad way, just in a way that took a little getting used to, an acquired taste.

On the downside, the cocoa content is a touch lower than you would ideally want for a good dark chocolate, and unfortunately it showed in the flavour. Also, it cost £2.75 for 100g and is different from but no better than chocolate you can get in a supermarket for half the price. So, although it was a nice one to have for a change, I’m not so sure that I would go out of my way to get it again.

Conclusion – something a but unusual, and worth trying – especially for the CMP-intolerant – but not a prize-winner.

Burning skyOnce upon a time there were two brothers, fraternal twins. They grew up together in their mother’s garden. The boys’ parents saved up so that they would be able to send them both to school, but there wasn’t enough money for university so the boys were told that after finishing school they would need to make their way in the world.

The boys listened, and realised that although a university degree would guarantee them a good job and a secure life, neither of them would be able to go to university after all their parents’ savings had been spent on school fees, unless they were to win a scholarship.

Horace was a clever boy, and resolved to work really hard and to win that scholarship come what may. Jason had a surer plan. One day, a few weeks before they were due to start school, Jason and Horace were playing on the roof of a neighbour’s barn. Jason dared his brother to creep out onto a bare rafter, betting with him and offering a whole month’s pocket money if Horace could balance all the way from one side of the rafter to the safety of the sound rooftop beyond.

Horace did not know that the bare rafter had rotted in the rain. He did not know that he would fall and break his legs, that he would get an infection and lose his right foot, that he would forever feel pain when the wind blew cold. He did not know that he would be unable to start school, that he would become nothing but a cripple, brushed aside as useless, fit for nothing. That he would never go to school.

Meanwhile, Jason did go to school and did well. He too was a bright boy, if ruthless. Since his parents were only paying for one twin to go to school, there was enough left over for Jason to attend university and to become a high-flying surgeon. He grew wealthy.

Meanwhile, Horace stayed at home with his parents, unable to earn a living for himself and dependent on their care. After their death, they entrusted him to his twin brother, knowing that the wealthy doctor Jason would be well able to care for poor Horace. Instead, heart blackened by that early crime, unable to stand the sight of his permanently suffering brother, Jason cast out the one he should have loved above all others.

Horace found refuge with a poor woman, one Laura who worked as a prostitute in the back streets of the city. She was grateful for his humility, glad for the quiet of his company after the havoc and danger of her work. They never married, for such things were not the way for poor people of that city. Yet in time Horace became a father to a thin little boy. He named that boy Jason.

Meanwhile, Jason married a beautiful wife named Ophelia. Together, they had three beautiful children. He named them Jason, Janet and Jonathan. Wealthy from his medical practice, Jason sent all of his children to school and university. Jason Jr did well in business, Janet became a doctor like her father, and Jonathan became a lawyer with a growing practice. They worked hard and became even wealthier than their father.

Time passed, and the twins Jason and Horace grew old and died. Jason’s children set up their own families and prospered while Horace’s little boy became a scrawny beggarman without prospects of any kind, sheltering with his aging mother Laura.

One day, an earthquake hit the city. Jason’s children and grandchildren were safe in their soundly built houses. Horace’s family were not so lucky. The poor block where they shared a flat with another family was old and crumbling to begin with, and it fell to the ground. Laura, already aging and weak, was killed. As she lay dying she whispered to her son that the boy should go to his cousin and namesake, Jason Jr, who would surely help.

Jason had nowhere else to go. Nobody would help a ragged beggar like him, nobody would offer him work or shelter, and he had no other family. He belonged to no-one, no-one except the family that had cast out his father Horace. It hurt his pride to beg to his cousins, but what else could he do? He went to ask for help.

I deeply regret your sad situation, sincerely, I do. I pity you and I’m sorry that your family, and your father, have suffered so much. but I fail to see how it can be in any way my responsibility. It’s all past history, water under the bridge.

I have never taken anything from you, I have never oppressed you, or hurt you, or profited from your suffering. Why should I be expected to help?

And, look at it this way. I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got. Why on earth should I give it all away to someone who hasn’t ever done a stroke of work in his life?

You’re right, society does need to help those like you who are so hard-done-by, but that’s not my problem, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I personally have any responsibility. It strikes me, in fact, that you’ve just got your hand out now that you’ve spotted a gravy train.

Today’s front page news…
(It’s long, despite snipping, but bear with me, and skip to the end if you get bored.)

He had a devoted wife and two loving children. Yet one day, this man turned his back on them all and vanished into thin air. Here, the woman he abandoned describes the heartbreaking legacy of her husband’s selfishness…

Joe is like any other 11-year- old boy… But behind his cheery smile and animated chatter lies a heart-wrenching sadness. For, when he was only six years old, his father Larry walked out of the family home for good. He left no forwarding address or telephone number and, some four years on, Joe’s 38-year-old mother is still trying to track down his exact whereabouts.

Larry’s departure in October 2002 from their home in Poole, Dorset, was catastrophic for his young family. Toni says: “We had a row but it didn’t seem particularly serious – I was cross because he was late home from work again and the kids had been waiting up for him. Then suddenly he turned to me and said: ‘Well, I’d better go then.’ He went upstairs and packed a few clothes into a tiny holdall and slammed the front door. I thought nothing of it. During a row he sometimes did that, but after driving round the block for half an hour to cool off he would come back.

“As the days passed, I began to feel sick. The children were asking constantly where Daddy was and I simply didn’t know what to tell them. Joe kept crying and Lucia, who was too young to understand what was going on, kept looking for him around the house. It broke my heart. To leave your marriage is one thing but to selfishly walk away for ever in just the clothes you are wearing, leaving those who love you with no proper explanation is so cruel. Worse, I can never understand how Larry could simply abandon the children, without so much as a card on their birthdays ever since. I thought he loved them. They certainly loved him, and were bereft.”…

[When Joe first arrived, Larry, always ambitious at work, had started working longer hours than ever....] “I was upset,” says Toni. “I felt a young baby needed his father and mother and it was the source of many arguments. Larry was so busy working that childcare arrangements were left to me. I was in the process of buying my own restaurant and had to fit in caring for Joe, taking him to my mum, Jennifer, when it all got too much.”

A year later, when Joe was two, Toni fell pregnant again. “This time it was an accident and Larry wasn’t happy,” remembers Toni. “He’d landed another job in a much larger company and become incredibly ambitious. He fretted about getting tied down. Lucia was born and Larry didn’t even make it to the hospital.”…

“It was left to me to look after the children, and trying to run a business with two small children in tow was incredibly stressful. Larry wanted them to have a nanny or go to a full-time nursery but I didn’t want that, so I tried to do it all. My mum would help as much as she could but sometimes I would take the children to meetings with me – I just didn’t want them brought up by strangers…. I was shattered. I felt like a lone parent – I was doing all the meals and most of the domestic chores. I took the children to school and playgroup and when they were ill, it was up to me to take time off.”

Eventually, in October 2002 matters came to a head… It was during this row that Larry stormed out for good. After a week, Toni acknowledged that her husband wasn’t coming back. “I was in a dreadful state,” she recalls. “I found myself in a nightmarish limbo where I didn’t know who to turn to or what was happening.”

Two weeks later, she received a solicitor’s letter. “It said Larry would contact me and the children when he found alternative accommodation. I was shocked. I was so desperate that I faxed a letter to the solicitor saying he could have the house and the children if only he would come back and explain what was happening. But then I received the worst letter of all. It said simply that Larry didn’t want the children.”… A few days later, Toni received another solicitor’s letter saying Larry wanted a divorce. When, a month later, she saw her own solicitor, there was more.

Toni says: “He told me that Larry had admitted adultery. It was a bolt from the blue. Because he’d been going out more before he left, I’d asked him if there was anyone else, but he always denied it. Now, I realised that on all those evenings and at every weekend when he was supposedly at the office working, he was seeing someone else.

By now Toni’s neglected business had gone into freefall. “I was living on credit cards and was forced to sell the house to pay the bills,” she says.

She and the children moved into a flat and Toni contacted the Child Support Agency to arrange maintenance payments from Larry. “But no one could find him,” she says. “It was as if he’d simply vanished.” After Toni and Larry divorced in 2003, Larry had changed his name. After 18 months, the CSA found him and he made some payments, but within about nine months they’d stopped.

“Life at home was very hard. I couldn’t replace Larry and the children desperately missed him. Even though he’d been out so much, it still felt as if there was an enormous hole in all our lives. All routine with the children went out of the window. Now, they never wanted to go to bed – it was as if without their dad’s kisses they couldn’t get to sleep – so I would let them fall asleep downstairs with me. None of us could bear to be at home, so I filled their days with trips and treats – we’d go to a restaurant after school and the zoo all day at weekends. My mum helped as much as she could, but it was a terrible time.”…

In a final twist, and in a last bid to track down Larry for the sake of her children, Toni’s new partner Michael recently rang Larry’s old company, posing as a friend. He was cheerily told by a colleague that Larry was on paternity leave, looking after his wife and their newborn baby boy. The news came as a savage blow to Toni. “I was gutted,” she admits, “After all, this baby is Joe and Lucia’s half-brother. I wonder if Larry ever thinks of them. To abandon Joe and Lucia and to go on to have another family as if nothing has happened is, to me, unforgiveable.”

Not much of a news story? A bit mundane?

Try the original version – courtesy of Daily Mail.

Penguin courtship

You feminist people, you with your mind control, will you never let up? What have you done to that sweet, innocent, naive little Maia? Jeez. Now she can’t even watch a simple documentary about cute penguins without getting all ired up about patriarchy? You hairy-legged lesbian misandrist harridans you. Gah. Will you never rest until all men are belly up in arctic waters?

</MRA intervention>

Now, where did I put my chocolate?

He is wet sleeves.

He is water
swimming across surfaces
and streaming to the floor.

He is bubble-streaked hair.

He is the minute polishing
of each glass.
He is the enthusiastic whisking
that fails to remove
any roux from the whisk.
He is the slapdash rinsing
of dinner plates.

He is
the very clean
bits of onion
that collect
in the plug-hole.

Above all,
he is in bed, and asleep,
before anyone notices
the unwashed pot on the stove.

Sweet Peppers

Take: 1 small onion; 5-6 large cloves of garlic; olive oil; 1 sweet pepper (red); 4-5 large button mushrooms; black pepper; Worcestershire sauce; couple of handfuls of risottto rice; about 1pt vegetable stock (from powder); and maybe a little milk.

1. Peel and chop the onion and garlic and put it on a low heat in a big pan with the olive oil.
2. While the onion and garlic is sweating, deeseed and finely chop the pepper and then add it to the pan. Finely slice the mushrooms and put them in too. Add the black pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Keep stirring as you turn the heat up a little.
3. After a couple of minutes, add a little more olive oil and then the rice. Keep stirring so that everything keeps moving around the pan.
4. After a couple of minutes, add a little of the stock. Keep stirring until the stock has been absorbed and keep adding a little more stock, stirring just about all the time, until you have poured in all the stock. This should take about 10-15 minutes or so.
5. Test a couple of grains of rice. If they are cooked and the pan doesn’t look too dry, then you’re done. If they are not cooked or the pan is a bit dry-looking, add some milk and stir is in. Keep adding a little more milk (or water) and stirring the food until the rice is cooked and the dish looks moist and ready to eat.
6. Eat!

As a main dish, this will do about 2 people. As an accompaniament it will do 3-4 people.

COOK’S TIP
For a richer meal, if you haven’t been eating chocolate raisins all afternoon, try finishing the rice with double cream instead of milk.

Some time ago, a petition was started on the Prime Minister’s petition site:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to steadfastly proceed with plans announced in the Queen’s Speech to make possession of extreme pornography illegal and to include a much wider range of pornographic imagery, such as R18 material, within the scope of the Criminal Justice Bill.

In 1972 the late Lord Denning, former Master of the Rolls, said that the law against pornography had misfired: He said: “Much that is obscene has escaped the reach of the law”. The pornography industry has exploited to the full a law that is inherently flawed and has failed to fulfil the intention of Parliament in the 1959 Act to strengthen the criminal law. It has had the opposite effect.

4,089 people signed the petition and the Government has now responded as follows:

Whilst welcoming this announcement, your petition also expresses concern that the proposals outlined by the Government should cover a wider range of pornographic imagery. The Government certainly understands that pornographic material is offensive to many people and it may be helpful to set out these issues in the broader context of the Government’s approach to regulation of adult material in general.

Government policy is that controls on published material should aim to strike a balance between freedom of expression and protection of the public, and should be proportionate to the potential harm that might be caused. At the extreme, there is material which we believe should not be published at all, which is be covered by the criminal law. The Government considers that criminal sanctions should be reserved for material featuring indecent photographs of children, which are covered by the Protection of Children Act 1978, and for material which is considered by the courts to be likely to cause harm in that it is likely to “deprave and corrupt” persons “likely to see, hear or read it”, which is covered by the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA).

In the consultation on the possession of extreme pornographic material, the Government put forward a case for making a limited category of extreme pornographic material, which it would already be illegal to publish or distribute in this country under the OPA, illegal to possess. We believe this is necessary to combat the circumvention of existing controls which has been made possible by the development of new technologies. We are determined to continue to act against publishers where we can but we also require the individual to take greater responsibility with regard to this material. The aim is not to bring additional material within the scope of the law.

The general test of obscenity is flexible, allowing the courts to reflect society’s attitudes towards pornographic and other material. The OPA applies equally to material published over the internet, though the overwhelming majority of potentially obscene material published on the internet originates abroad, in countries which do not share our approach to this material and is therefore outside our jurisdiction. This development has caused us to take action to plug this gap as I have mentioned above.

There have been successful prosecutions for internet related offences under the OPA and there were 30 prosecutions under the Act in 2004 (the last year for which figures are available). We continue to believe that the OPA is a flexible tool with which to tackle a wider range of obscene material according to the standards of the day. As set out in the response to the consultation, we intend to increase the maximum penalty for offences under the Act from three years to five years imprisonment.

With regard to your views about extending the proposals to more mainstream material, banning possession of any material is a serious step. We consulted widely on our proposals last year and acknowledge that there will always be debate about where the line should be drawn.

Moving InMy more observant reader will have spotted that I have been settling in to WordPress.

I still have some work to do, but progress is happening. And I have that feeling that you get after moving into a new house, when despite the fact that you still have boxes everywhere, you realise that you think of this new place as home.

I have noticed that traffic to my book blog is low to non-existent. Oh, loyal readers, how can you bruise my fragile ego this way? Or is that my more observant reader has been on holiday and nobody else has spotted that Touchingly Naive Books has been settling in to WordPress as well? Ho-hum. Take a look. I haven’t got the curtains up yet, but you can still cast your eyes over recent gems including the excellent Cunt, the execrable Moby Dick, and the teenaged Noughts and Crosses.

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