A Friend In Deed

I am – I was – an Eastern European mail order bride. Estonian, to be precise. There, that got your attention, didn’t it?

Well, all right – I’ll admit I met my husband through Facebook… which is more prosaic but equally true. I’m Eliisabet; Liisi for short. I speak Maltese like a native – but my naturally platinum blond hair gives my foreignness away… although some people assume that I dye it because… since I live alone in Qawra, I “must be a prostitute”.

These charming people also assume I am a godless whore. Actually, I am – I was – Greek Orthodox, but I lapsed. My neighbours get on my nerves, so I keep myself to myself… and add fuel to their fires.

Out of the corner of my eye I see twitching curtains and moving venetian blinds. I note the intake of breaths when I walk into the corner shop to ask for stuff in a Senglea accent. You can’t blame me. I lived there for ten years, and my then husband insisted I learn and speak the vernacular, because his mother did not understand English, go figure Estonian.

In the end, it was the possessiveness of his mother that led me to leave him. I was bent double with pain because of what later turned out to be a ruptured appendix – and he was on the phone with her, and kept pushing me away when I was frantically showing him a note on which I had written Hospital! Then, when he rang off, he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the car, all the while saying that I knew his mother came first, and that I was cheeky to dare interrupt his conversation with her.

He dared me to leave him, saying that I was a stupid dunce who would never manage to find a job. I called his bluff. I left him, and hid in my sister-in-law’s summer flat for a couple of days (she is the only one who ever gave me the time of day). I went job- and house-hunting, and landed both within the week…perhaps because my sister-in-law and her friends prayed over me – perhaps not.

As soon as I moved into the spartanly-furnished studio flat, Iona did a whip-around among her friends and got me some flatware, cutlery, bedding, curtains, books, an ancient fan, an old radio and an even older television set – and even some knick-knacks to make the place more welcoming. The rent was low, so I did not complain to the landlord about there being only the bare necessities. .

And then, it began.

The key would jam in the lock, and when I opened the door, I would hear footsteps sprinting toward the veranda. The curtain would move slightly, and then…nothing. I always kept the entrance and balcony doors locked, so nobody could have come in from either of them.

I would smell cinnamon and cloves. The next day it would be lavender. The day after it would be tea rose.

Clothes I’d left on the lines in the veranda would be folded neatly, and the breakfast mug and fruit salad bowl I’d have rinsed out and placed on the draining board would have been dried and put away in the hanging cupboard.

Once or twice, the kettle was actually whistling when I managed to open the door – but it would stop as soon as I moved toward the kitchen.

Iona got me new curtains, courtesy of the charity shop. I was too tired to hang them up – yet sure enough, when I got back home from work on the morrow, they were just where I had intended to hang them. Moreover, there was a tiny glass Christmas Tree ornament that had not been there before, on the desk beside my laptop, where I couldn’t fail to notice it.

Once, one of my male work colleagues called with a Care Package. He said he was feeling hot and bothered, and I thought it was an excuse for him to get his togs off. I switched on the fan, and opened the window to let the breeze in – and yet he sweated profusely still. He kept putting his index finger between his shirt collar and neck, and moving it backward and forward.

That was weird. Iona used to say my place felt like a second home. At one point, he gulped down his glass of orange juice, and said he had to leave.

I knew at that moment that this had to stop. I knew I was sharing the flat with a spirit being; but as long as I felt comfortable, I did not mind. But what if ‘something’, anything, happened to any of my guests when this entity did not take a shine to them?

Mulling over what I could do, I risked losing my sanity – or what there was left of it. Because meanwhile my husband had traced me, and told me I’d better get back home…or else. I countered by filing for legal separation, with a view to applying for divorce later. He didn’t like that at all.

In the end, I wrote a letter thanking my unseen friend for the kindness shown to me, and asking whether I could do anything to help with the “eternal rest” clause. I left the letter face up on my bed, and on my return home, I found it on the kitchen table. So I knew it had been read. There was no reply, written or otherwise. I tore up the paper into a million pieces and went out on the balcony. I swear I heard a giggle as the pieces fluttered away in the breeze.

I was at the office when the phone-call came. My husband had been to my flat, kicked in the door, and thrashed the place. He even ground the glass Christmas Tree into the kitchen mat. The neighbours of the flat below assumed he was fighting with me, because they heard “voices” shouting; one male, one female.

Then, they heard a thud just outside their door, and when they opened it, they saw my husband lying there in a pool of blood, with his skull caved in and his neck broken. I had a clutch of alibis; and so there never was a question about whether or not I had murdered him. They took away my computer and my cellular telephone, but of course there was nothing there to pin the murder on me, either.

The verdict was Death by Misadventure.

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Mind over Matters: The Right Mind-Set to Start School

 

The First Day Of School. A phrase that must be written like that, because it is such an important milestone for the child -and for the parents too.

School is the place where a child may spend more of his waking time than he does in his home, not counting sleep. It is the place where he will make and break friendships; where he will mould his character further – and decide upon his future.

School is the place where parents have little or no influence over the daily interaction of a child with his peers and superiors. They may try to tell him what to do and what to say – but when push comes to shove, he must face the music alone. Talk about performance anxiety!

Education and learning are stressful enough as it is – and combined with a cocktail of new emotion, rituals and situations, the trauma and strain felt by the child, who may not be prepared for them, increases. All too often, the promised fun and games take second place. What the child sees in Orientation Day is a nice, smiling teacher – not one who is worn to a frazzle by spilled water-colors and miniature wars over toys.

To top it all, the parents’ attitudes, and feelings of anxiety, guilt or fear may be subliminally transferred to the child, who assumes that being uprooted from his home environment into the alien one is somehow “his fault” for not being “good”.

Children must never be compared with others; they absorb skills at their own rate, using their innate learning styles. It is wrong to expect a child to conform to a set of milestones, at such a tender aged. Moreover, different children bring different skills, at different levels, to the same class. Some children barely know how to put their shoes on the right feet – others can tie their laces into a perfect bow. Some may not even know numbers exist, whereas others can count to 100.

Psychotherapist David Grillo explains it in this manner:

One of the best things about staring a child off with playschool or kindergarten or pres-school is that they are not thrown in at the deep end. The fact that they don’t have to take notebooks and stuff eases them gently into the world of learning.

For some kids, especially those who fall under the youngest age bracket, the first few days can be traumatic. It is the first time that they separate for a ‘long’ periodfrom the parents. Separation anxiety is normal, and is also a part of growing up. But supporting them and ensuring that the parents, or someone with whom they identify, are home when they come back will help. It is also a good idea for both parents and not one to accompany the child to the door the first time.

These days, most teachers or kindergarten assistants are very well trained. And that makes a lot of difference.

Preparing a child for school psychologically goes hand-in-glove with the mundane preparations of uniforms (if applicable). Getting this must be a ‘special event’, with an emphasis on ‘school clothes for children who are no longer babies.’

If possible, take him with you too when you purchase his painting tabard, his lunch box, napkins and enough socks to have a clean pair each day. This is not the moment to worry that your child is gifted and will be “kept back” by the hoi polloi. That comes later.

  • Some children like to be alone with the person who is taking them to school, for the journey there. Others would prefer to be with a peer. See what works best for your child and take it from there. If the child has to take the school van, because of distances or time constraints, make sure to prepare him for this.
  • Never cajole a child into behaving like a “big boy” (i.e. ‘no tears’) because the “others” will laugh at him. This puts him on the defensive. Say, instead, that you are proud of him for actually being a good boy, even if he is bawling his eyes out.
  • Gradually change the child’s routine so that a week before school begins, he will be getting up and going to bed at approximately the times he will be doing when school commences. This gets him used to the routine.
  • Tell the child inasmuch as he is able to comprehend, that it is normal to have butterflies when starting a new school moving to a new house, or starting an new job. The idea is to get he butterflies flying in formation.
  • Getting to school should not be rush-scuttle-dash-sprint. The child can set his own alarm clock and fold his clothes neatly over the back of the chair, and make sure any stationery needed is in his bag, on the eve of each school day.
  • If you have to refer to your own childhood experiences, make sure the child cannot read anything negative in your attitude or tone of voice.
  • If the child’s school requires a packed lunch, allow the child to select what he wants to eat, and perhaps to help prepare it.

Angele Licari, psychologist, has this to say about the above:

Firstly check if you, as a parent, are psychologically prepared for your child to be leaving home to start school. I would sooner begin with preparing the parents, and not the child about the loss and attachment issues affecting both.

If you have any anxieties of your own, these can be non-verbally be transmitted to the child and become his own. If your own move to school as a child was tarnished with any negative connections, then you might assume the child would be passing through the same experiences, thus finding it hard to let go in a healthy way. Come to terms with your own un-finished past.

Every so often, check how your child interacts with other children. Check if he is clingy, jealous, rough, intimidated, insecure, or perhaps too confident, and how s/he behaves towards others in general. Consider whether the source for negative behaviors is sibling rivalry; or having a younger sibling who is allowed to stay home whilst s/he is being sent to school. Address these matters before they escalate and compound the child’s stress.

Go through the daily routine with your child so that he can visualize what school means, while at home. You can help him understand that how he leaves home, (transport etc), what things he might be doing throughout the day at school, (games, reading, playing, etc), that he would be brought back home or picked up. This is especially important. It will help him feel he can cope with new things as a matter of course.

Discuss openly how you feel; ask your child how s/he feels about the whole thing. You can say that you will miss him but that you are happy that he will now be learning new things and enjoying the company of his friends. You can ask whether he has any thoughts about the whole experience.

In a matter-of-fact way, without any drama, remind the child that if there is anything with which he cannot cope, the teacher is replacing the parent or carers during school time, until he come back to ‘home sweet home’.

Some schools allow parents to stay in the building for an hour or two during the first weeks of school, just in case anything untoward happens. Ironically, this sometimes makes the parents feel more bereft than ever; it’s as if they are extraneous – because since the child has not thrown a wobbly, it must mean that he has “forgotten all about them”.

by Tanja Cilia

Media ethics: An oxymoron?

Friday, June 29, 2012, 00:00

In his message for World Social Commu­nications Day, Pope Benedict offers an uncommon challenge. As a general rule, communication is about making our voices heard; he indicates silence.

The Pope reiterates that inasmuch as the spoken word is essential in communication, silence is of equal importance.

The person who speaks but does not listen is not a communicator but one who dictates. And to listen is to be silent and harken at what has been said, rather than simply perceive sounds.

The Pope’s message was highlighted at a business breakfast themed Media Ethics, organised by the Church earlier this week.

Those present were treated – and I use the word judiciously – to a presentation by Fr Saviour Chircop, dean of the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences of the University of Malta.

Prof. Fr Chircop pulled no punches. In his inimitable style, he said that when we say we are independent, we protest too much. The collective we, being human, have already spent time in our private lives not going to sources to double-check facts, let alone gossip.

We might have agendas or affiliations our readers or audiences would not know about. We might pander to the salacious instinct of our audience and strive for scoops and the devil take the hindmost… deluding ourselves that we are doing this for the common good.

Sometimes, journalism – and this includes citizen journalism, a latter-day blessing or scourge, depending upon how you look at it – is no more and no less than a weapon in the hands of those who wielded it to their own ends.

Integrity flies out of the window because, alas, all is fair in love and war for ratings. We weave tangled webs and it takes a very sharp reader to detect the bias in an innocuous-looking clump of lead.

And, today, life in the fast lane is so full of clichés that we just skim over what is being force-fed to us and we do not bother to delve into what is being thrown into the mix.

We have heard countless stories of bribes and moles and double agents and how facts become malleable and subjective, so that a story taken from the same source can end up looking as if it happened on two different planets when you read it in – Prof. Fr Chircop said this with a wry smile on his face – different sections of the media.

Nothing is sacred… even social sites are trawled for juicy bits of information about people in the gunsights. We know the names, the proclivities and the friends of those who have been accused of crimes… but we do not learn they have been acquitted… at least not with the same fanfare.

Truth is the casualty.

Fr Charles Tabone, the Archbishop’s delegate for social communications, rightly finds that one can never discuss media ethics “enough”. He is so right.

The minute a journalist gets a slap on the wrist for doing something unethical, the message is passed on to the rest of us that there is no way we shall be stopped from doing the same, or worse.

Self-censorship is something we must all do, but what if I don’t think there is something to censor?

Media ethics, what crimes are committed in your name!

Artificial dissemination

Sunday, November 24, 2002, 00:00

The Matrix is one of those films that tap into, as it were, the theory that it’s really machines that run the world, and that we are only “pigments” of their imagination.

That is what my children were trying to explain the other day; apparently the real date of today is about a hundred years hence (is that why the Millennium Bug failed to materialise?).

Out there, babies are being harvested and placed in pods until they die, whence they provide nutrition for humans (shades of Soylent Green). Their energy, in turn, serves to animate (for want of a better word) the aforesaid machines.

We are, though we may not know it, plugged into sockets that work by suctioning off from, rather than providing energy to, the sorry excuse for the human race we have become.

It’s just like the third Galactic Fleet battleship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which is called Suicidal Insanity. Or is it all just a dream?

One would perhaps not be forgiven for assuming that the multitude of gifts offered in sundry magazines by the people at Max+ were already present in the studio, waiting to be claimed.

Is it too much to ask what has happened to them, and whether those people who spent countless amounts of money on postage can ever hope to find out whether they will get any joy, or at least the knowledge that the stamps were put to good use (i.e., collected for the Missions)?

In the book I have just mentioned, there are these “peril-sensitive glasses” that put photochromatic, polarised lenses to shame. Each time danger threatens to disrupt the mental and physical equilibrium of a Galaxy inhabitant, the spectacle lenses automatically turn black, on the premise that what you ignore will just go away.

The people who hand you nearly blank bits of paper with an admonition not to miss the next Xarabank must know something I don’t; rather than a festive air, the bits of white become a dreary grey when trodden on by the thousands of people going in and out of Valletta daily.

I am old enough to remember the furore that Il-Madonna Tac-Coqqa had caused way back when it was broadcast on television (the latter-day version raised nary an eyebrow in comparison – but perhaps this happened because the group dynamics with the first set of actors was infinitely better).

At the time, self-styled pundits mounted soapboxes at every possible opportunity to denounce the “inherent wickedness” which today is taken as read even when a serial is supposed to be “funny”. As dear Guzè himself would say, rolling his eyes to heaven, O tempora, o mores!

In any case, Guzè Diacono is no more, and this means that the text will soon become eligible for Matsec material, perhaps as a sort of late apology. The least ‘they’ Ghaqda Letterarja Maltija could do is to have it read on Campus FM, as was the case with Is-Surmast.

Even here, however, we have had totally different bits of information thrown at us by different mediums, perhaps according to their Mission Statement. Super One told us that he was 90 years old in a headline, and immediately following that, he was said to be 92 years old in the information clip; the opportunity was taken to mention his namesakes in the literary world. The sister paper to this said he was a week shy of 90; the official announcement in the obituary slot on Radju Malta said he was 89.

Speaking of teleserials, every so often there are news items that tell of how particular episodes of foreign series are shot on location here. Now wouldn’t it be a great idea if every time this happens, the co-ordinators and everyone involved make sure we get to see the finished product (even though we may not make heads or tails of it since it would of course be one single episode), dubbed into Maltese?

Just a thought: the logistics could be taken care of by those who ‘have nothing to do’ because other people are doing it for them. It would help them shake off the boredom, and justify their wage packet.

There was a joke going around that one would be better off watching advertisements, rather than programmes, because they were less likely to be cut off in mid-sentence – although these days even that is not a safe bet.

Heaven knows that around this time last year Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, had tried literally to capture an audience by interrupting soap operas and baseball games midstream to make his speeches.

What might be worth doing, on the other hand, is keeping one’s eyes and ears glued to the television set during the newfangled hundred and one Dalmatian spots galore about this, that and the other.

No doubt, the people who commissioned them are likewise sitting, rapt with attention, just in case they are edited by one millisecond by those who have an axe to grind with the entity that would have commissioned them (does the word still hold when no payment is obtaining?) and the power to do so in the first place.

In his short essay Viewer’s Lament, John Steinbeck simulates a complaint that he never gets to see any ‘great’ or even ‘good’ television because he always chances on the cartoons, old Western pictures and Lassie.

“…I see forests of aerials, the darkened rooms from which conversation, reading and even one level of consciousness have disappeared, and I am angry that I cannot seem to take part in it. Our children are going to be all right because they can’t remember how it was before. To them television is a way of life, as natural as breathing, albeit a little asthmatically…” Indeed.

And, every time there is a survey, or awards are handed out, the results are twined into such a mesh that, on reading about them, one wonders whether the information stems from the same set of figures published in any other sector of the media. Tanja Cilia

Angry Young Men and Women

   

May 9, 2013

 

Some teens look  back, forward, and around them in anger – the ultimate in one-upmanship over the horde of (mostly) working and middle class 1950s British playwrights and novelists.
Kingsley Amis, Michael Hastings, Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Thomas Hinde, and the rest would have been surprised – and possibly perturbed – and the number of teens going around with perpetual pouts and frowns, erupting into toddler-like tantrums when things do not go exactly as planned.
We tell our teens that people their age never had it so good; including that some of us had to find part-time jobs if we wanted money during our school-days…
They dismiss this with a shrug, rather as if it is their divine right to have all that they need, and a bag in which to put it. The gap between teens and their parents or carers, alas, often seems to deepen as fast as the adults thrown in rubble from the top to fill it up and make it even with the rest of the terrain.
We wonder why our teens are acting in such a way; after all, don’t we know what is best for them? Don’t we need over backward to help them achieve what they want?
It is all too easy to wash the teens off our hands by quoting adages like “as you make your bed, so you must lie on it”… and it is even easier to react to their irrational ire by even more of it.
However, it is better, safer, and more logical to nip the problem in the bud. Here are a dozen ways to help you do so:
1. The teen is often trying to test boundaries. How far will you let him go before you issue an ultimatum? Will he be able to needle you into a reaction by using specific phrases or body-language actions? The solution: practice deadpan in front of the mirror. The teen will realise that the reaction they so want will not be forthcoming.
2. Anger from us engenders even more anger-related behaviours from children. These may react either by seeking solace with their friends or other adults (of whom we may not approve) or by retreating inside an impenetrable shell, or by even more extreme reactions – including outbursts that can wreak damage.
3. The sulks and the silent treatment are what some parents give their parents; they hope that we will ask them what the matter is, so they can say how hard-done by they are. This type of mind game appears to be very popular. Look at it this way: a child who is angry because his jeans are not clean will not always realise that this happened because he did not put it in the laundry chest; you have to tell him that.
4. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is advice that ought to have gone out with the Ark. Yet, alas, many still believe that the only way to get a child in line is to use physical force. In this way, you are teaching a teen that “might is right” – and, never mind that a time will come when they will be physically stronger than you will – the chances are that they will behave in a similar manner with weaker siblings or friends. Bullying is never a solution. When you hit your child, you are expressing your anger and frustration, not teaching him mores and morals.
5. A generation ago, parents were told to use the broken-record method to make children kowtow to them. Smart teens recognise this, and use the same attitude to make their parents change their minds about curfews, hair-dye, piercings, and other issues. He will badger, pester and harry you until (he hopes) you give in and tell him to do what he wants because he has exasperated you. Bingo!
6. If a teen is angry, he will not, and cannot, listen to reason. He sees “Let’s talk” as an order, and not as a suggestion; so he is bound to refuse. Go a step further and tell your teen that when he decides he wants to have a coherent, reasonable, two-way conversation, you will be there, waiting for him.
7. Sometimes it is specific incidents that prompt an outburst from a teen. If a teen feels helpless, or excluded from his peer group, it is bound to make him angry. However, he expects you to read his mind to know why he is speaking in monosyllables. You can watch out for the warning signs – a tic in the cheek; baled fists; swift blinking; narrowed eyes; nail-biting… all these may herald an eruption of anger. Therefore, it is better to nip the episode in the bud; letting it all out is not the best of solutions.
8. The general idea is to let the teen know that you know he is angry, and that, although you can assume why this is so, you will never know for sure unless he tells you. A teen needs to know he has your support and love. This will not happen if you only communicate with one another when the need arises, or when the only time you are together is when you drive him to his next ball game.
9. Remember that your teens are probably watching you, and, as a corollary, learning by example. It is useless telling them not to get angry when they see you mouth off at someone who has cut in front of you on the road; or describing your in-laws in graphic detail when you think he is not listening.
10. One of the worst parenting examples I ever saw involved a child who had fallen off a swing in the playground. His mother actively encouraged him to bang the swing against the supports, calling it “rude” and “nasty” and “cruel” the while…in effect, blaming it for the accident. The child’s face as he did this was a picture. If we teach our teenager to lay the blame elsewhere, rather than at their own door, they will never learn how to discipline themselves and control their anger.
11. Life skills include being sociable even if you do not really feel like it; being polite; negotiating compromises with people who do not see eye to eye with you, and curbing anger, amongst other things. Developing healthy self-esteem is part and parcel of a well-rounded character.
12. If you treat your teens like adults, they will behave thus – but if you treat them like toddlers, they will behave like babies. Explaining a situation from your perspective educates them, without driving them to be on the defensive. A child who is in a receptive frame of mind because he is relaxed is more amendable to correction than one who is het up in the throes of an argument.
Anger, Ire, Fury, Rage: An Acrostic
A Antagonism… annoyance… abhorrence.
N Nothing you will do or say will soothe the
G Great wrath
E Eating the soul.
R Resentment.

I Irritation and indignation have
R Risen like an
E Eerie tide of aggression and

F Fulminating loathing.
U Umbrage and dislike combine,
R Redolent of wrath and resentment.
Y You don’t even know why you are angry.

R Resentment and regrets….
A About time you realise ire is futile.
G Garbled emotions boiling within.
E Exquisite pain; anger propagates and feeds itself.

Inside information: cost-effective sugar and spice

Sunday, June 27, 2004, 00:00

Should I change the kitchen? Ought I put in air-conditioning? Must I really block the entrance to the kitchen’s en-suite bathroom? Will painting the front door a vivid yellow make any difference? Should I enumerate the hundreds of things wrong with the plumbing?

These, no doubt, are but a few of the questions asked by householders wanting to put their homes on the market. Most estate agents will tell you that spending a fortune on renovating premises to up the price does not necessarily mean you will recover the money. Indeed, those of us who have had new neighbours moving in over the years know that sitting rooms become garages, front gardens become extensions of children’s playrooms, backyards become greenhouses, and balconies walk-in closets, to name but a few so-called ‘minor’ alterations.

The story is told of the couple who had a corner house painted a muted shade of lilac. It had been on the market for quite a few months. A well-meaning relative told them that potential buyers were probably put off by the colour, and offered help in removing it.

They enlisted more help, and in a relative jiffy, the deed was done. And then came the phone call they never expected. “We passed by your lovely lilac house last month on the way to the airport last month; is it still on the market?”

Let us say you are like the acquaintance of mine who has lived in the house since royal purple was the ultimate colour for bathrooms; she still hasn’t used hers, content to make do with the spare shower, for fear the colour might wash off.

Even in such an extreme scenario, it would be pointless to say the bathroom is ‘new’ – the buyers would probably want to install a brand new one… and they would, to boot, probably suspect something wrong with the plumbing, as to why the room had not been utilised.

Think Englishman in New York. You may be used to the filthy grouting in your driveway crazy paving, the overgrown jungle of weeds choking the hibiscus and the aspidistra, or the way the gate screeches in protest when you open it; but how would you have reacted if it belonged to someone else? Sometimes the tiny details put people off a property.

Carrying out minor or major refurbishments does not necessarily mean you will recoup your costs. However, they may be the deciding factor in clinching a deal.

Most kitchens these days are made of fitted units, and included in the price; however, do not be surprised if prospective buyers complain about the wood, colour, lack of storage space or dearth of appliances, as part of the traditional haggling process. Most people will appreciate an extra toilet and wash-hand basin in the washroom or tucked away downstairs somewhere.

Consider whether updating the bathrooms suites is worth it. Even if you opt to change only the bath, it may mean finding a veritable disaster area, plumbing-wise, under the tiles, some of which will inevitably crack when fittings are removed. And are you sure you have enough matching tiles for the necessary patchwork?

Think cosmetic surgery. If you improve your nose, you will probably think your love handles need removing. And when you have done that, you will probably want the bags under your eyes ironed out.

If you remove shelving and paint one wall in a room, the other three will look dingy. Similarly, rest assured that if you renovate one room, the rest of your house will look shabby. But grubby doors and sticky floors never did anyone any favours.

Are you really going to use all the furniture you have put in storage for your new home? Will the venetian blinds made-to-measure for this property fit into the apertures of your new house? What about the carpets and curtains? Are you sure you do not want to leave them in this house as selling points?

While house-hunting, I have come across all manner of fobbing-off methods when I asked about things that did not seem right. In a house with not one right angle in the rooms, I was told that it was the ‘modern’ way to build. In a house where the entrance to the garage from the house was through a 40-cm slit in the kitchen wall, I was told that this was in aid of an ‘extra’ row of kitchen cupboards. In a house with iron beams at 45o to one another in the bathroom, I was told it was because of the ‘portico’. In a garage where water was practically streaming down the walls, I was told that the roof tanks had overflowed that morning. Moral: whatever you do, do not lie. It puts people off.

Think body language. If you fail to replace spent bulbs and broken window panes, even if you are not living in the house any more, you will not make too good an impression on visitors. For the same reason, a house that is clinically clean will appear artificial, but one where the term lived-in includes dirty socks on the floor and a thick, dark tideline around the bath is off-putting. An old trick is to have the smell of baking bread or freshly-brewed coffee lingering in the air – without making any reference to it. Avoid having curries or fry-ups when visitors are calling.

Think shopping list. Potential buyers will be less likely to pay extra for a garage that is not attached to the house, even if you hint it may become part of the package. A garden gives instant brownie points – but not if all the trees in it are beyond redemption and the soil is caked and cracked, decorated with dollops of dog mess. You could, in passing, mention how far the house is from the nearest bus-stop, supermarket, church, and playing field, according to the information you would have garnered through playing it by ear.

Think chain reaction. ‘Gazumping’ is the term that explains what happens when there is a chain of buyers who are also sellers, ready to move into their new home when theirs is sold and they have the wherewithal to pay for it. Be wary of joining such chains, because if one link defaults, you may be left high and dry, with a promise made to sell your old home but nowhere to move into.

Furnished accommodation can prove very expensive, and not everyone has relatives or friends who will offer temporary lodging.

Do not gossip about the neighbours, especially if you do not happen to see eye-to-eye with them. Apart from the fact that they may be bosom friends of the potential buyers, or even related to them, there will be time enough for new inter-personal relationships with them if these people move in, and it is not your job to be the liaison officer. Incidentally, if you are asked why you intend to sell the house, always give the same answer to everyone.

Death Watch

 

 

I had written two posts mentioning suicide.

I had hoped never to write another one.

But the recent sorry excuse for reportage – a pathetic hotchpotch of biased comments with concerted, subtle, yet vicious splotches of slut-shaming and vindictive, malicious comments and misinformation following articles, allowed to stand by newspaper editors who ought to know better,  has put paid to that hope.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that some murders and suicides that happen locally get more column space and extensive audio-visual media coverage than others. As a corollary, there is a national discussion by self-styled experts about whys and wherefores.

The media relies on the fact that its audience laps up inaccurate, oversimplified and potentially dangerous, sensationalised reports. I was perturbed at the words and out-of-context sound-bites dug out from statements.

In other sections of the press, we are told that bullying leads to suicide. However, nowhere have I seen it stated that mental manipulation, whether or not it is Gaslighting, may lead to a similar end for the victim. Neither have I seen links to helplines, except once, just in case copycat suicides are in the offing.

I am told that ‘journalists’, whatever that term means these days, have to stuck to fact and not offer opinion – that is the domain of bloggers and / or  opinionated bitches like myself, and, apparently,  the people who regularly trawl the virtual news-sites to leave their insidious,  warped points of view for our delectation.

It is not easy to ‘know everything’ about something that happens. And yet, multifaceted issues are fed to us in drips and drabs, in a seemingly logical manner, in a bid to sway our judgements and mould our conclusions to match the agendas of those who have something to hide.

At this point, I have to ask many, many questions.  If you knew your friend was shoplifting or doing drugs, or riding his motorcycle hell for leather without a crash helmet, would you shop him? Or would you not want to get involved, lest you be tarred with the same brush by ‘ignorant adults’?

If you assume it’s just a phase, or that it is not your business… would you, then, hide the fact that he was having sex with minor?  If you thought he was a megalomaniac, or  sociopath, psychopath, or any other kind of –path, whether or not he had a history of underlying mental illness would you seek help, or would you cover for him because “that is what friends do”, while secretly envying his stud-luck with the girls?

Because of course, there is only one thing worse for a girl than to be called a slut – and that’s to be called a prude. Still, alas, when a man and a child have sex, the man gets high-fives, but the girl loses respectability. Even when he, shudder, shock horror, expresses trepidation that he will be branded a paedophile.

If, on the other hand, someone told you that all of the above could precipitate a death because the person involved fell into an “at-risk category”…would you change your mind?   Or would you shrug and say “shit happens?” ignoring the fact that the warning signs were there all the time?

If you had an acquaintance who always seemed sad, would you approach her? Now let’s take this point farther. If you had a friend who self-harmed because she was lonely, and felt excluded, would you ‘do something about it’, or would you assume she was showing off, or worse, that she was ‘in good hands’ because someone else had her back.  Is it really possible for just one person to have anybody’s back, in these circumstances? Nobody in a position to do so has yet explained that suicide is not an automatic response to feelings of rejection, depression, anxiety, despair, and isolation.

The non-sheep of us have been hauled over the coals for pointing out that you do not fall from a height without breaking a limb or four; that you do not even consider the possibility of a suicide attempt failing; that you do not keep a kid out at night of you know she is listed as missing; that sexts of minors constitute child pornography; that a person’s Facebook wall is not usually removed by anyone except himself… and this cannot be done when you do not have access to it.

I chided a journalist for treating the death of Lisa Marie so flippantly and histrionically, and asked him whether he would have extracted the same quotes from a social site, had she been his little sister. He did not reply.

As part of the research for this article, I clicked a random photograph on “See who’s here” on Ask.fm. Just for the record, there is no need to have an account with the site, to do this. The very first, and only, ‘conversation’ I saw was “il-hara kemm nobodok / mur aqbez / omgzz / suwisajd”.

Is it possible that this kind of activity is ‘fun’? Healthy, and psychologically sound, it certainly is not.

Gossip feeds the voracious appetitive of idle minds; note the hullaballoo about L’Wren and Peaches Geldof, which may not, after all, have been a suicide but due to an extreme diet.

This spawns the disgusting phenomenon of writing schlock – in error-riddled English – to attract audiences.

Private Dancers – In Public

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The sticky, stinky brown stuff has really hit the fan. Some asinine attention-seeking (female) teens have been cavorting in front of their peers, and the media caught wind of it.

However, I was more shocked at the reactions and opinions of quite a few of my friends – mur ara, as one of them succinctly put it, than at the foolish antics of the girls.

One of the women to whom I talked justified her point of view by saying at least I know where she is; another chided me for being behind the times for not taking this in my stride, and another insisted that these days you cannot stop them or ground them because they will call the Helpline – oh, yes, you can; and so what if they do?

Some time ago, in Italy, there was a great to-do about under-age cubisti; youngsters hoping to be ‘discovered’ by talent scouts, who spent their evenings writhing away in suggestive and provocative poses on ‘cubes’ (raised platforms) in seedy clubs.

Whether these, and our local girlies, are offered the casting couch is anybody’s guess.

But I digress. This is much more than a sad case of finding an outlet for raging hormones and the wish to ‘experiment’

Beyond the “what a shame” fifteen-minute yearning for fame lie deeper issues.

Is it possible that these children cannot find a better way of using their talents? If they love to dance so much, how about their organising dance-based fund-raising activities? Rope in some wannabe models and singers, and Bob’s your uncle. I am sure some NGO would back their efforts – if they could find the time to organize their thoughts – and their wardrobes.

My eye was caught by the fact that they had been paid (or rather, given a tip, considering the paltry amount) €10, for frolicking and prancing about in beachwear. Their payment would not even by them a decent – and I use the term judiciously – bikini. So somewhere along the line, I will have to believe that they do not do it for the money.

To call these dancers “erotic” is to make fun of them – I would prefer to call them a pedophile’s wet dream. And let’s not talk about married men who insist that variety is the spice of life to excuse their constant (not seven-year) itches.

But, alas, these girls too immature to realise that they are merely setting themselves up as such. To them, it is ‘fun’. And perhaps, mud-in-the-eye of their fuddy-duddy friends who are not into risqué behaviour.

We have been told that the children’s parents are their ‘friends’ on social sites. This assumes that the parents know about the behaviors, and possibly approve of the fact that their children are getting, if not fame and fortune, at least notoriety and pocket-money.

But wait – does not the fact that money has changed hands constitute “child labour”? I am under the impression that a teen cannot even receive money I she baby-sits the children of a neighbour; how does this, therefore, square up?

Deutschmarks or dollars; American Express will do nicely, thank you…
Tell me, do you wanna see me do the shimmy again?… And any old music will do… All the men come in these places…And the men are all the same…

So sings Tina Turner. And this might explain why all the dancers were girls. They usually are, except in certain dives.

Ironically, one of the dancers was saying that like Greta Garbo, she and all teens want to be left alone – and then, they go and show off. This is illogical.

It has been said that the Police and the Children’s Commissioner is “investigating” this. The parents of babies, toddlers, tweens and teens do not want investigations – we want action.

I have seen enough drunken children in Paceville, despite the ‘prohibitions’. There are enough teen pregnancies, despite the ‘sex education’ lessons. I have seen more than enough children puffing away in the street, despite the ‘awareness campaigns’.

With role models such as Rihanna and Lady (!) Gaga, children are wont to push the boundaries of what is accepted by society. They say that “everybody does it”; but peer pressure works in positive mode too.

If the dominant girl in the peer group takes it into her mind that they will henceforth go jogging, her followers could well agree. In any case, if state school grounds were open after hours, they would even have a place to congregate without risking future repercussions from potential employers who run internet searches on job applicants.

If one bossy girl commands her troop to wear jeans and a t-shirt, and hie off to an old people’s home to perform Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they will toe her line. Eventually.

However – I will have to add that this requires dedication and rehearsals. It is much easier to grab some underwear and improvise, is it not?

Because, inter alia, mindless gamboling in non-restrictive clothing this is easier to fit in with studies and home life than something that requires assiduity. And ‘instant recognition’ of people in the street tends to be inebriating to someone who is too young to cope with its ramifications.

And…any excuse is better than none.

The Mistress at Christmas

Friday, December 26, 2008, 13:03

Lucienne: When I was Miss Goody Two-Shoes, I wondered how a person who has stolen someone else’s husband could be so blasé and conceited about it.

My father would probably have a heart attack if he found out what I’m doing. Since mum died, 10 years ago, I know he has dated – but he has never brought a woman home…he’s that strait-laced.

It’s an addiction – I cannot live with him, but I cannot live without him. We work in the same building, for different companies, so I was fated to meet him.

People accuse mistresses of breaking up marriages; I’ve actually sellotaped his. He was on the verge of leaving his wife before he met me; she nags and her cooking consists of opening tins and packets. I persuaded him to stay; it suits me better like this.

I have made my own arrangements for the festive period – but I will cancel them if he manages to shake her off for an hour or two.

Katie: Most people picture a mistress as a predator with figure-hugging clothes and perfect make-up. I’m not – but his wife is.

When I’m with him, I feel like a teenager again; he says I’m like a breath of fresh air after her speciousness; to her, a broken manicured fingernail is a tragedy.

Too much is at stake for both of us to go public. But I know I have been his only “other woman” for the last 16 years, because I’ve had him followed by a private detective several times.

They will be having a family meal at a hotel with the rest of her stuck-up family. Me? I’m having snack soup and toast. Who cares?

Maria: He is old enough to be my… uncle. Still, I regret not being able to flaunt him.

Meeting him was a Sliding Doors meets Benny Hill moment. I had treated my friend’s twins to an outing. They were careening towards the ice-cream compartment of the supermarket and they bumped into him, making him drop a six-pack carton of eggs. “Double trouble!” he said. I stuttered that they weren’t my sons. He said that blushing suits me.

Talk about audacity and duplicity – he was with his wife the next time I saw him there. I was simultaneously spooked, intrigued, and turned on to realise they were following me; she didn’t even notice. He dexterously palmed his business card into my jacket pocket, and I followed through. This was three years ago. He has spoiled me for other men; those of my age-group seem so childish now. They don’t have his manners, charisma, and gentleness. So I sort of understand why this “imperfect gentleman” cannot be mine these days.

Carmen: “The Other Woman” is his wife. I come first in everything, except in his will. But otherwise I’m well looked after – after all, I have to look nice for him, don’t I?

At his insistence, I have told my best friend about him, just in case something happens to me and he won’t be in a position to know. If anything happened to him, I’d know soon enough, because… just because.

As a child I’d always imagined that at my age (30 last birthday) I’d be settled down with six kids, as my mum was. But, frankly, I’m enjoying almost being almost married without being manacled to a husband.

On my birthday (which I share with one of his kids), on Valentine’s Day, and at Christmas, I feel wretched. He always makes up for it, though. I went into this with my eyes wide open but I resent it nonetheless.

I never berate him for not calling, and I am not always available when he wants to meet me. This keeps him keen. He’d be astonished to learn I cry for him most nights. My biological clock is ticking merrily away, and this really hits me when all my siblings come to our house for the Christmas meal, with their kids.

I know his wife. We were in the same class at school.

* Names and some details have been changed.

Mind over Matters: The Right Mind-Set to Start School

 

 

The First Day Of School. A phrase that must be written like that, because it is such an important milestone for the child -and for the parents too.

School is the place where a child may spend more of his waking time than he does in his home, not counting sleep. It is the place where he will make and break friendships; where he will mould his character further – and decide upon his future.

School is the place where parents have little or no influence over the daily interaction of a child with his peers and superiors. They may try to tell him what to do and what to say – but when push comes to shove, he must face the music alone. Talk about performance anxiety!

Education and learning are stressful enough as it is – and combined with a cocktail of new emotion, rituals and situations, the trauma and strain felt by the child, who may not be prepared for them, increases. All too often, the promised fun and games take second place. What the child sees in Orientation Day is a nice, smiling teacher – not one who is worn to a frazzle by spilled water-colors and miniature wars over toys.

To top it all, the parents’ attitudes, and feelings of anxiety, guilt or fear may be subliminally transferred to the child, who assumes that being uprooted from his home environment into the alien one is somehow “his fault” for not being “good”.

Children must never be compared with others; they absorb skills at their own rate, using their innate learning styles. It is wrong to expect a child to conform to a set of milestones, at such a tender aged. Moreover, different children bring different skills, at different levels, to the same class. Some children barely know how to put their shoes on the right feet – others can tie their laces into a perfect bow. Some may not even know numbers exist, whereas others can count to 100.

Psychotherapist David Grillo explains it in this manner:

One of the best things about staring a child off with playschool or kindergarten or pres-school is that they are not thrown in at the deep end. The fact that they don’t have to take notebooks and stuff eases them gently into the world of learning.

For some kids, especially those who fall under the youngest age bracket, the first few days can be traumatic. It is the first time that they separate for a ‘long’ periodfrom the parents. Separation anxiety is normal, and is also a part of growing up. But supporting them and ensuring that the parents, or someone with whom they identify, are home when they come back will help. It is also a good idea for both parents and not one to accompany the child to the door the first time.

These days, most teachers or kindergarten assistants are very well trained. And that makes a lot of difference.

Preparing a child for school psychologically goes hand-in-glove with the mundane preparations of uniforms (if applicable). Getting this must be a ‘special event’, with an emphasis on ‘school clothes for children who are no longer babies.’

If possible, take him with you too when you purchase his painting tabard, his lunch box, napkins and enough socks to have a clean pair each day. This is not the moment to worry that your child is gifted and will be “kept back” by the hoi polloi. That comes later.

  • Some children like to be alone with the person who is taking them to school, for the journey there. Others would prefer to be with a peer. See what works best for your child and take it from there. If the child has to take the school van, because of distances or time constraints, make sure to prepare him for this.
  • Never cajole a child into behaving like a “big boy” (i.e. ‘no tears’) because the “others” will laugh at him. This puts him on the defensive. Say, instead, that you are proud of him for actually being a good boy, even if he is bawling his eyes out.
  • Gradually change the child’s routine so that a week before school begins, he will be getting up and going to bed at approximately the times he will be doing when school commences. This gets him used to the routine.
  • Tell the child inasmuch as he is able to comprehend, that it is normal to have butterflies when starting a new school moving to a new house, or starting an new job. The idea is to get he butterflies flying in formation.
  • Getting to school should not be rush-scuttle-dash-sprint. The child can set his own alarm clock and fold his clothes neatly over the back of the chair, and make sure any stationery needed is in his bag, on the eve of each school day.
  • If you have to refer to your own childhood experiences, make sure the child cannot read anything negative in your attitude or tone of voice.
  • If the child’s school requires a packed lunch, allow the child to select what he wants to eat, and perhaps to help prepare it.

Angele Licari, psychologist, has this to say about the above:

Firstly check if you, as a parent, are psychologically prepared for your child to be leaving home to start school. I would sooner begin with preparing the parents, and not the child about the loss and attachment issues affecting both.

If you have any anxieties of your own, these can be non-verbally be transmitted to the child and become his own. If your own move to school as a child was tarnished with any negative connections, then you might assume the child would be passing through the same experiences, thus finding it hard to let go in a healthy way. Come to terms with your own un-finished past.

Every so often, check how your child interacts with other children. Check if he is clingy, jealous, rough, intimidated, insecure, or perhaps too confident, and how s/he behaves towards others in general. Consider whether the source for negative behaviors is sibling rivalry; or having a younger sibling who is allowed to stay home whilst s/he is being sent to school. Address these matters before they escalate and compound the child’s stress.

Go through the daily routine with your child so that he can visualize what school means, while at home. You can help him understand that how he leaves home, (transport etc), what things he might be doing throughout the day at school, (games, reading, playing, etc), that he would be brought back home or picked up. This is especially important. It will help him feel he can cope with new things as a matter of course.

Discuss openly how you feel; ask your child how s/he feels about the whole thing. You can say that you will miss him but that you are happy that he will now be learning new things and enjoying the company of his friends. You can ask whether he has any thoughts about the whole experience.

In a matter-of-fact way, without any drama, remind the child that if there is anything with which he cannot cope, the teacher is replacing the parent or carers during school time, until he come back to ‘home sweet home’.

Some schools allow parents to stay in the building for an hour or two during the first weeks of school, just in case anything untoward happens. Ironically, this sometimes makes the parents feel more bereft than ever; it’s as if they are extraneous – because since the child has not thrown a wobbly, it must mean that he has “forgotten all about them”.