Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Dead Eyes of Politics

The eyes are the windows of the soul they say and as I've watched the Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce drama play out I've been struck by the faces of both them and many of their former political associates who have been called upon to make media comment.  There has been an extraordinary deadness in the eyes.  No appearance of passion, no fear, no shock, compassion, contempt or outrage.  Just a black deadness.  

As someone who once was very engaged in politics I was aware how, if you let it, its toxicity could contaminate and eat away at the soul like a tumour - but at least that was an aggressive active force that could be challenged and that defied being ignored.  This dead expressionless presence (or should that be absence) is more sinister.  Have the bodysnatchers done their worst?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Steady the Buffs and Peeling Oranges

Every family has its code language, sayings and catchphrases that provide conversational shortcuts. Ours include "Steady the Buffs" and "Peeling Oranges."  These sayings exist and get used without any real reference to their origin and in fact there has been some dispute about where they come from and when they started being used.  We say "Steady the Buffs" when there is any sign of panic or chaos.  In fact The Buffs were the 3rd Regiment of Foot in the British Army who's nickname came fro their pale yellow(buff) jacket facings.    In 1858 an adjutant shouted out 'steady the Buffs' to get his men in order.  It became a popular phrase in the British Army.

As for 'Peeling Oranges?' that's a chastisement we use when someone gets themself a coffee or drink without offering to do the same for others.  I can't find any source for it although we suspect it was used by family after the war when oranges came back into Britain and Grandma would peel oranges for the children.  While googling the phrase though  I did discover this story that touched me.  

Ernest Hemingway, the author would spend hours peeling oranges and gazing into a fire before beginning the write a new novel.  When he was asked about this, he said he was preparing his soul to write - like a fisherman preparing his tackle before going out to sea.  "If I don't do this and think only the fish matter, I'll never achieve anything."

Friday, 1 March 2013

Be Fabulous.....

The Life Audit three stage time management and personal development programme covers 10 aspects of life.  Relationships, Health, Home, Work, Money, Citizenship, Leisure, Mortality, Soul and .... Style.  Yep, along with all the big stuff there's a whole section on how you look and present yourself to the world.  

I've lived in my customary black jeans and jumpers since Christmas it seems but saw these amazing confections in designer and dressmaker Gilly Woo's window this week.

I only have two words to say about them and they are simply......

Thursday, 28 February 2013

None of the Above - Stump at the Pump

As I write, the candidates will be counting the minutes to when the polls close in the Eastleigh by-election in Hampshire, UK.  In just a few hours time one of them will be named the Member of Parliament.  They will all be relieved it's over as its been a bloody battle - the campaigning, positioning and mud-slinging has been less than edifying.   Meanwhile, the voter, as so often before, has been left looking on in dismay at the choices before them.   It's felt like a farcical private dance between the politicos,  with the community left as something that exists outside the in-crowd manoeuvring.

The constituents would no doubt be chewing the cud over the shocking quality of today's politics over a pint of beer or a glass of wine in their local pub, if it hadn't probably closed.  Where do people go now to put the world to rights, now they don't talk about stuff in The Snug.  Online of course is where they are, in their bedrooms and in front of the telly - compounding loneliness and allowing anonymity.  This is certainly not a substitute for the warmth of human interaction and the heat of real live debate.  

I think its sad so many of our pubs have closed in the UK, research from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) puts the number at 18 a week - which is shocking for such an iconic feature of British culture

So what about this for a solution - to return politics to the people and custom to the pumps.    
  • Let's start a political party called the 'Z - None of the Above' party, which will ensure it is listed at the bottom of the voting slip.  
  • One struggling pub in every constituency will sponsor a parliamentary candidate covering the £500 deposit.  (They'll get this back many times through increased trade)
  • Anyone can apply with each pub's customers choosing the candidate with local hustings in the bar.  
  • Our party will be entitled to the electoral benefits such as the free postage of a leaflet to every elector broadcast airtime etc.  
What a great way to claw back politics for the people and away from the political closed shop and get people talking properly again, bolstering a local community venue and promoting a local business.    

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

All shall eat cake.....

Yesterday was my birthday and I was treated to amazing foodie delights - each a visual feast too.  I make no apologies for writing of nothing else today.  Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. 
I head out most mornings to work in local cafes (as in to 'write' in cafes not waitress, a confusion I had to clear up when friends started sending sorrowful emails worrying that "it had come to this!" Not that I'd mind waitressing actually.  Happy days were when it was my main income as a student and it's how I met my husband when I worked at his restaurant)
Anyway yesterday the writing fuel was a Cornish Stack breakfast at one of my favourite places The Boston Tea Party.
It consists of slices of Hog's pudding with smoked streaky bacon, and onions, bread topped with melted gruyere cheese, garlic and thyme mushrooms, roasted vine cherry tomatoes and a poached egg.  

I was then treated to a family lunch at The Muset in Clifton village - the best smart restaurant in Bristol - offering incredible value too.  At the moment it's £10 for two courses and a glass of wine.  Chef wasn't too precious not to include a candle on his desert confection!
And then finally, walking home later came across some lovely people handing out free cake and hot chocolate to passers by.   We stopped - of course we did!
They were delicious, served up by Lucy Peppiatt, her family and friends.  

She told me; "We just decided that we wanted to do something kind for people in Stokes Croft. As my son said when someone asked him 'Why are you giving out cake?' -  'Why not?' 
 We had some good conversations with people, young and old, men and women. It was so good just to be able to be friendly.  I wasn't surprised to find that a few people were suspicious - why are doing this, what's the catch, what's in the cake?! They laughed though when we assured them there really wasn't a catch, and I think they enjoyed the fact that we really did just want to give something for free! All in all, it was a great experience of doing something on the streets of Bristol. I like the fact that in a world where there really isn't much for free, that we really could genuinely give something for nothing."

Doctrine wasn't served up with my cup cake but on asking I did find out that Lucy and the others are part of Crossnet an Anglican community who had the idea a few years ago to do church differently.  
So that was yesterday - the diet starts today.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Leisure - All that Jazz

Tucked away in one of Bristol's oldest parts of the city is a pub.  A world famous pub called The Old Duke.  It's not its ales, or decor (certainly not its decor!) that makes it such a destination for those in the know - it is that it's a venue for the most wonderful, timeless and joyous live music - traditional, New Orleans inspired Jazz. 


Named now after Duke Ellington,  the pub building dates back to 1775 when it was called The Duke of Cumberland after on cobbled King St.  It  attracts musicians from all over the world whenever they are near the city. The atmosphere is always amazing.  Every day there is free admission to fantastic music - sometimes bands, sometimes open mic and sometimes pull-together scratch ensembles as it was last Sunday including the incredible Andy Leggett from Germany who's instruments included a tin whistle and this magnificent bass saxophone.  http://www.andyleggett.com/en/

I love jazz - it is timeless, classless, ageless, just simply gorgeous music that has everyone smiling and toe tapping along.  The Old Duke in Bristol is just the happiest place to be - especially on a Sunday lunchtime.      

Monday, 25 February 2013

Work - It would be easier if all women were called Wendy

"It would be easier if all girls were called Wendy." That was the rationale of one of my first News Editors who proceeded to call all the women journalists in the newsroom by that name - this in the same organisation where Jimmy Saville was at the time.  As far as I can remember we thought it bonkers and laughed at him.  But at the same time we did know the individual intonation he would give each 'Wendy' when he wanted the attention of one of us! 
That was back in the day and now it would not be a laughing matter - but I bet he'd still have us all as Wendys in his head even if he knew better than to voice it.  
Giving lip service to gender equality in the workplace was on the agenda for the Professional Women's Network meeting at OC&C Strategy Consultants this month.  The motion was "Does the issue of Female Representation on Company Boards need politics?"

The speakers were Helena Morrissey, CEO Newton Investment Management and 30% Club Founder, Therese Coffey, MP Chair of Executive Women in the Workplace, Meg Lustman, Managing Director of Warehouse and Helen Loveless, Enterprise Editor of Associated Newspapers.
A packed room of professional women from all sectors heard that while some things had changed in support of having more women in top positions on boards  - the shift was pretty minimal and was more about it being a subject out there for discussion rather any conversion into significant numbers in the boardroom.  
However, apart from a few questioners, the consensus came down clearly against any sort of quota legislation or political intervention.   Personally I think it would be terrible to have any sort of positive discrimination - have never wanted it, or felt I needed it - this one man's Wendy has been another's MD and for every difficult Board-blocking man I've worked with, I've worked for equally tricksy women.     
What was more poignant were the questions (from younger women) that veered away from the central theme.  Never mind reaching the heady heights of the boardroom - other old chestnuts had their outing. ie How to balance having a family with building a career (one answer from the panel - choose your career carefully) and how to  prioritise 'his' or 'her' career expectations and opportunities in a relationship with family plans.  I think it fair to say that most older women in the room didn't feel our younger sisters had reached sunny uplands compared to our own early career days - however un-PC they might have been.  

Friday, 22 February 2013

Relationships - on not being the favourite daughter

A survey reported in today's news says that 1 in 12 parents admits to having a child they love more than the rest.  Eight percent of parents say they know they show favouritism to one child above others.  This would be inconceivable to me, speaking as a mother of two children I completely love equally, if it wasn't for my experience as a daughter. 

My mother, always frank, has become increasingly disinhibited as she has got older.  She is now almost 80.  Just five feet tall with the brightest blue eyes and snowy white curly hair, with her flat, round toed Sarah Jane red shoes and cuddly cardies she looks like a central casting Granny. But the breath-taking candour of her outspoken observations isn't softened at all by their delivery in her soft Southern Irish accent. 

My sister and I have had our appearances, marriages, parenting skills and all life-style choices used as material for  inimitable maternal barbs.  

But  yesterday's announcement was classic when she announced to me in the middle of a busy cafe  that she preferred my sister to me.    My sister who was with us, winced along with the neighbouring coffee drinkers.  We'd both learned long ago not to take offence at Mum's statements and my sister has individually had just as devastating prounouncements directed at her,  but for the sake of all listening closely now to our table's conversation I said lightly, "Oh Mum - you don't have to tell me that."

"I do," she insisted.  "I do have to tell you.  Because its true.  Its always been true."   

Telling a friend about this exchange I was surprised to hear her story of contrary.  Although nothing is ever said, she feels her mother's constant disapproval of her compared to the praise and favouritism extended to her older brothers.  She feels their relationship has been eroded to a mere sham over the years by the hypocrisy.  "After all, she said, "Its not that your mother doesn't love you at all, she didn't say that and at least you know that if that was the case she'd tell you."

Mmm, not sure about her logic. Which is it best to be?  Better out than in?  Or least said, soonest mended? Leave a comment or email me direct at caroline@thelifeaudit.com if you have any thoughts.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Leisure - and love remembered

I walk for an hour most days primarily for health and to assuage the guilt, that the day before I ate and drank too much, was probably mostly sedentary and most likely indoors.  As I heave on the hairshirt grumpily each morning I choose to forget that I almost always finish the exercise feeling so much better and glad I made the effort.  

The feeling better has nothing to do with feeling fitter, thinner or that cobwebs have been blown away, I don't even particularly enjoy the walking itself - no, the feeling better is always down to something else. Hence this post not being under health and exercise.   This morning it was flowers that was the something else.   I like flowers, I'm interested in the seasons and nature and all that stuff and my walk today indulged me in flora in several guises.     Despite the grass being crispy underfoot with frost from the start of the cold snap, the buds were bursting on most bushes.
As were the catkins.....

Then I saw this bizarre sight where someone had stuck fresh flowers into the gnarls of a tree.  

Nearby a bunch of flowers had been firmly attached to a bench.  What story was behind these floral tributes?  What happened with whom on the bench and under the tree?  A love lost? A love remembered? For whatever and by whosoever, saying it with flowers was clearly the private tribute to a happy memory.  I hope it gave solace.

Meanwhile, keeping with the flowery theme - giving me a fizz of pleasure every time I go in and out of the flat are my newly potted up spring flowers and herbs.  Typically done just as the frost returned for another icy blast.  I hope they survive!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Money - Rich or Dead?

Yesterday's Blue Monday brought a flurry of Life Auditors laying claim to it being all about the money.  Forget the snow, the failed New Year's resolutions, the long-time-till-summer-ness of the day that has given it its pantone rating -  no, January 18th was proper gloomy because the Christmas spending credit card bills were hitting the inbox and doormat.

"Its my personal bank balance, stupid" groaned Jon from Brighton which prompted Joe in New York to point out that the saying, first intoned by Bill Clinton, was a "snowclone."  

Snow bound as I am right now at the foot of three hills all too slippery to venture up, I  had to look it up.  Nothing to do with icy blasts it is instead apparently a "neologism for a type of cliche and phrasal template originally defined as a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants."  So there you go!

Not much comfort for one colleague who sadly observed, "Rich or Dead" when considering his financial predicament.   Worryingly it was less a question and more a statement!  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Health - Fit for Purpose

Grey, grey days at the start of the year, compounded by staying in Bristol city centre hadn't done much to help me keep my New Year's resolution to have daily exercise and fresh  air.....until we walked on Clifton Downs!  Never mind the physical stuff, which we got from putting accelerator foot in front of brake food for an hour, it was more the exercise in 'spectator' sport we enjoyed.

Which included model aircraft flying - and look at the lovely architecture behind, of the Clifton houses that encircle the Downs.  The one benefit of this time of year is that they are very visible and stand out against the bare trees and the sullen sky.

There were several dads and sons footie games going on plus dozens of people running, cycling, walking and talking.  It was a feast of community enjoyment of a big open public space and put my slightly dragging feet at the thought of the walk to shame. 

Talking of walking - it was muddy!  Very.  But my Christmas present waterproof walking boots had their first outing and proved totally 'fit for purpose."  More of which later. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Daily data - Blessings counted!

Life Auditing is a private process.  Quite the reverse of group therapy.  The data you put into the charts is for your eyes only and comes from the private observations you make of yourself and the life you lead.   What falls out of the bottom at the end of the process is the individually tailored answers you've been looking for.  (And often knew already in your heart of hearts)
 I presume the private nature of the process is why Auditors prefer to email individually questions and comments rather than chatter about them in a more general sense.  Either is fine and I am always pleased to hear individually from anyone as they carry out audits on all or parts of their life.  In the last couple of days, since New Year,  new joiners have registered from all over the world and the new App is registering in top app charts.  These comments summed up some entries being made in the Blessings Counted section of the first Life Audit Daily Accounting chart - the Daily Journal.  

"Gave my girlfriend a big hug before we left for work and loved the familiar smell of her perfume. It stayed with me all day."  Steven, Barnes, London

"Stuck in traffic but seeing children playing and laughing in a park was a joy to watch."
Dilys, Manhattan.

"Woke up early and had first coffee in favourite mug watching the sun rise...,,,,feel excited about the day ahead and doing something positive to make changes with The Life Audit. Curious too about what it will show me."  Laura, Adelaide.

"My bad cough has gone!  Brilliant!"  John, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

"Very happy to see my colleagues  - I am lucky they are such a good crowd, I'm glad to go to work each day" Sam, Toyko.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Resolutions are not just for New Year's Day - Thank goodness........

......because, in our household  there have been many failures at this New Year's Day's first hurdle including the diet controlled diabetic who has had a large bowl of left-over Xmas pudding with brandy butter and who is now on the sofa enjoying the sleep that only that sort of sugar rush can induce.  Snappy exchanges with loved ones over little things, walks that haven't been taken! Dogs that haven't been walked.  Bottles that have been opened and glasses poured. Trashy films chosen over unopened improving Christmas books.  Duty calls not made, tidying up not done.......the list could go on.  
Yes I know this blog is meant to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative"  to quote the magnificent Johnny Mercer/ Bing Crosby song but sometimes having a plan, letting that plan change and going with the flow is the best thing to do - and that is what has happened here today.  

The only good thing about this list of failure is that things that can only get better (to coin another hijacked lyric) and that thank the Lord, tomorrow morning and every one after it will always be the first day of the rest of life to make fresh starts and new resolutions. 

Happy New Year to you - how have you got on?