Grey Matters

Sunday, August 19, 2012, 13:29

The original Star Trek series engendered several memes before the word was even invented; including some very vulgar ones about Spock and Kirk.
But most probably, the record for all the franchise is held by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Picard Song, for instance, made a meal out of his Make It So line.
There was the time he boldly went on Sesame Street and, with the aforementioned order, persuaded the recalcitrant Number One to stand in his place so the Count could, well, count him: and this gave the aristocrat the opportunity to utter the throwaway line “you need classical training…”
Then there was the compilation of the instances in which Picard asked for tea — Earl Grey — hot, an iconic catchphrase of his,  into a YouTube clip:

from scenes out of the episodes Contagion, Journey’s End, In Purgatory’s Shadow, Redemption, Lessons …
And then there was the alternate timeline is which, oh woe, Earl Grey had not yet been programmed into the Enterprise-D’s replicator system.
But I digress.
Riding on the success of the above, someone came up with a poster of Patrick Stewart reading a book called (perhaps inevitably) Fifty Shades of Earl Grey.
Until last week, I must have been one of the very few women in Malta who did not know that the ‘book’ was, in fact a trilogy. Perhaps I am naïve, but I would never have imagined that a neophyte glutton for punishment would not be shot of her Lord and Master after the first bruise or ten.
Now to add insult to injury, a section of the local press is conjecturing whether the books will lead to a new baby boom because reading it is ostensibly shooting the libido of hitherto frigid couples into the stratosphere.
The journalist surmises that a ‘different approach’ to sex will conquer routine sex meant for conception, and re-kindle desire in women with post-partum or post-miscarriage depression.
Is it possible that these people would not have sought professional help, and only got out of their rut by reading about subjugation?
Each to his own – but I wonder why women are actually praising a book (and I say this from hearsay not because I have bothered wasting my time on reading the ‘story’) that objectifies a person and strips her of her basic rights as a human being.
Of course there are many who will disagree with me and say I have first to read the book before commenting – just as there are those who ay doctors who have never had earache cannot possibly know how to cure it.
I have been offered the book by several friends of mine whom I straw-polled before writing this blog; and I was quite amused at their reactions when I said I would pass up their kind offer.
However, at this point I must also ‘admit’ that I have not read many cult books like The Da Vinci Code or the Harry Potter books or the Twilight series either; yet I devour anything by Michael Crichton and Terry Pratchett. Oh – and I only watched about two hours in toto of the whole  Olympic Games – most of which happened when I was at a friend’s house.
To say that “anyone” can sit down and write smut could be stretching a point. But friends of mine who do write said that some excerpts of the books appear to have been written on (by?) Automatic Pilot.
People seem to think that erotica justifies bad syntax – and even worse, a lack of basic research about BDSM.  It does not.  All it does is pander to people who want to impress by saying that they “read” and that, moreover, they read “the latest releases”.
Whose business is it why we read or watch something, or why we do not congregate at certain places or eat certain foods?  Just because some of us refuse to go with the flow and read or watch anything that is trending, it does not mean we are fuddy-duddies.
Do we owe people explanations as to why we refuse to cover grey hair, or get our short nails gelled into luminescent perfection, or fix our teeth into precise flawlessness?
One of my honorary aunties spent her mornings reading three newspapers. She could repeat what was written, verbatim – but she never bothered to compare and contrast what was said in In-Nazzjon and l-Orizzont; but, to be fair, always held what The Times said as gospel truth.
She was always well-informed, but I would not say she was educated.
Each of us has different priorities; and it may be difficult for someone to understand why having the latest technological gizmo is not important for the rest of us… because changing the stickers on our old cellular telephone is enough to make it “new”.
Life is not about being a trendy hip, cool, and chic clone because you do what everyone else is doing. I would rather win a Pub Trivia Quiz than a News Twenty Questions, any day.
And I do.


Let’s Pretend

Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 11:43

The other day, one of my vegan friends asked me over for lunch for the first time ever. I don’t really like fish flesh or fowl; so when she asked whether it would be a problem, I said it would not.
When she dished up, my eyebrows rose of their own accord. A huge, beautiful salad was topped by two cutlets. “Cute, aren’t they?” she asked. “They’re soya, and they’re simply delicious…”
Frankly, I cannot comprehend the pretence of eating meat when you profess to abhor it. Is this not the humorous version of The lady doth protest too much?
This blinkered attitude, moreover, is rife all around us.
Probably the one that hurts the most is the current exposé of Jimmy Savile and his cohorts. It is beyond obnoxious that when people tried to divulge their suspicions or even reveal what they knew, they were shushed up with complacent cajoling comments such as That’s the way it goes, or that’s Jimmy for you, and so on. This, the ugly version of eppur si muove is telling of how those who are in a position to do something, anything, often fear to rock the boat because complacency brings a hefty cheque at the end of the month.
So because the dirty old man (who began his nefarious career of abuse when he was still young) raised millions for charity, we condone his behaviour, and, worse, pretend that nothing was happening?
It was the same thing with the other predatory paedophile Jerry Sandusky’s reign of terror on the boys under his care. Let’s pretend, his defence attorney said, that he was teaching these inner-city boys how to use a bar of soap.
A lot has been said about how we must pretend it is only the people of Mellieħa who take exception at being called pufta. This, again, makes no sense at all; I do not see why anyone should consider it an affront to have his sexual orientation questioned. I don’t; I am content inside my skin and nothing anyone will say can make me change what I am into something they say I am, or that I ought to be.
More pretence comes with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Let’s pretend that women secretly want to be dominated and beaten into submission is part of the spiel that has many men “buy it for their wives” and women fantasise about how they would like to be seduced and ravished in a way that involves pain. It could also be, of course, let’s pretend that most women’s sex lives are so vapid that they need lessons in how to get titillated.
This is as risible as the argument recently brought forth by Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. As he begins his Hague war crimes court defence, he insists that not only should we pretend his ten charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity during the war in the 1990s never happens, but that, moreover, he ought to be awarded for all the good he did – including “reducing the suffering of civilians”.
Abuse of power is something that happens not only nation-wide, but also inside a home where children have a right to be safe. It is beyond my comprehension how an incestuous father could be so wickedly diabolic as to pretend to each of three daughters she was his only victim – and doing this by placing a price on the life of a sibling.
And it must be said that the risible sentence he has received gives the message that – make no pretence about it – this taboo, at law, is certainly not held in the same way as it is viewed by mothers of children the same age as this fiend’s daughters, and many others too.
Hoaxers and conmen throughout the ages have long known that people tend to fall for the “let’s pretend” ruse most of the time. Some of the fabrications are fun; others could possibly have lethal consequences.
We used to laugh at The Addams Family cocktails emitting chill-and-smoke effect fumes that could have been obtained by dry ice or liquid nitrogen. However, we never saw Morticia Addams or anyone else on the series actually drink the potions. Yet, pretending it is trendy thing to drink a Nitro Jägermeister has landed at least one teen in hospital with a perforated stomach.
We have enough of “let’s pretend” in the cinema – and in certain so-called news bulletins.
Reality is something that isn’t even present in reality shows, or many of the magazine programmes in which opinionated people mouth off, often speaking over others, hoping that their loudness will make them credible.
Why are we allowing let’s pretend to rule, and truth to be so elusive, in real life?

Vinegar Valentines

Wednesday, February 11, 2009, 09:45

As the days go by, I think how lucky I am…. Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day….. How can I say this….? I always wanted to have someone, someone to love…. I love your smile, your face, and your eyes…. I see your face when I am dreaming….. If we were on a sinking ship with only one life jacket… I’m so miserable without you… I want to feel your sweet embrace….. I want you, and I need you… Kind, intelligent, loving and hot….. Looking back over the years, I wonder….. My darling, my love, my beautiful wife… My love, you take my breath away…… Of loving beauty you float with grace…. Someday I hope to marry… We have been friends for a very long time… You are a part of my life….

Receiving cards with the above messages written on the front would make anyone’s day…. but opening them to find cruel words would wound deeply.

These cards are not run-of-the-mill “joke” cards. They deliberately seek to hurt, insult, the recipient, with acidic messages, and that is why they are called “Vinegar Valentines”.

They were originally sold for one penny – and that is why some people still mistakenly call this type of street literature “penny dreadful” (the name given to potboilers). They counteracted Cupid’s sweet arrows with tart barbs.

The picture, when there is one, is usually a caricature of the recipient, according to type… and sometimes, the message makes reference to this too. This is the type of card that Calvin (of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes) gave to his classmate Susie Derkins, along with a bunch of dead flowers, as an integral part of their love-hate relationship.

It is obvious that these precursors of hate mail were sent anonymously – and seeing that there was a time (not in Malta) before postage stamps were invented, when people had to pay to be given their mail… it means that recipients paid to get insulted.

Raphael Tuck & Sons, proud to be known as “Publishers to Her Majesties the King and Queen” with printing houses in London, Paris and New York, from the mid 1800’s into the early 20th Century also got on the Vinegar Valentines bandwagon, when they realised that it paid.

One could buy these Vinegar Valentines as we buy “open” cards today. Others were aimed at specific professions that people loved to hate – dentists, undertakers, politicians, lawyers, teachers, or anyone to whom one would have taken a dislike.

These days, most people tend to sign their Valentine cards – especially if they cost good money. It is only a few who want to play the guessing game.

Although Vinegar Valentines have gone out of fashion, some so-called humour cards are crass enough to be classified as worse.

Just in case you were wondering what was written inside the cards, the front of which was quoted at the beginning of the piece… here are the complete messages.

As the days go by, I think how lucky I am… that you are not my girlfriend!

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day… too bad no one likes you!

How can I say this…? I can’t stand you!

I always wanted to have someone, someone to love… and you’re not her!

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes… am I not good at telling lies?

I see your face when I am dreaming… and that is why I wake up screaming.

If we were on a sinking ship with only one life jacket… I’d miss you!

I’m so miserable without you… it’s as if you are still here.

I want to feel your sweet embrace… but don’t take that paper bag off of your face.

I want you, and I need you… to leave me alone.

Kind, intelligent, loving and hot…. this describes everything you are not.

Looking back over the years, I wonder… what did I see in you?

My darling, my love, my beautiful wife… marrying you messed up my life.

My love, you take my breath away… what have you stepped in to smell this way?

Of loving beauty you float with grace… if only you could hide your face.

Someday I hope to marry… anyone else but you.

We have been friends for a very long time… how about we stop?

You are a part of my life… the negative part.

Abjad jew Iswed… mhux Griż!

Leħen Is-Sewwa 02/08/2014

Mela darba, kien hemm skultur Ċiprijott jismu Pygmalion. Fettillu jonqox statwa tal-avorju ta’ mara li iżjed tard, issemmiet Galatea. Ġara li ffissa fuq l-istatwa u xtaq li kieku kellu mara eżatt bħalha. Din hi storja tal-Mitoloġija Griega, u hi ħaġa minn awl il-dinja li Ovid, fix-xogħol tiegħu Metamorfosi, jgħid kif l-alla Afrodite għamlet li l-istatwa ssir tad-demm u l-laħam.
Mela dak l-iskultur fil-veru sens tal-kelma kellu mara mhux talli eżatt kif xtaqha talli eżatt kif riedha u kif ħoloqha. Fil-letteratura nsibu eluf ta’ stejjer fejn il-mara takkomoda lir-raġel, jew għax tħobbu, jew biex ma titilfux.
X’inhu li jagħmel relazzjoni waħda tajba u dejjiema?
Qamet polemika dwar il-film imsejjes fuq il-kotba Fifty Shades of Grey. Uħud qed jgħidu li se jkun suċċess, filwaqt li oħrajn qed iħeġġu li jsir bojkott tal-fim għax mhux aċċettabbli. Il-ħelwa hi li hawn min qed jinsisti li dan hu biss fantasija, u li ma fiha xejn billi wieħed iqatta’ nofs siegħa (anzi iżjed) f’dinja tal-ħolm. U hawn, is-surrealiżmu tal-kummenti tikber, “għax films hekk jgħinuk tibni relazzjoni”. Il-kotba ma qrajthomx, imma qaluli li allaħares kellhom jiġu taħt idejja biex indurhom għall-qari tal-provi u l-editjar, għax kieku ntertaqhom.
U allura x’fihom dawn il-kotba u l-film pornografiċi u kontroversjali? Dorothy Pilarski, kittieba u ġurnalista mal-Catholic Register, u xandara fuq Radio Maria [Amerika], tkellmet sew fuq dan is-suġġett, iżda ħegget li jsir bojkot.
Li tgħid lin-nies biex jibbojkottjaw il-film ma taħdimx. Min ma kienx sejjer jarah xorta ma jmurx; u min kien sejjer ma jkunx jimpurtah mill-bojkott. U hawn Mata m’aħniex imdorrijin induru bit-tabelli madwar it-teatri biex inwissu li xi film hu oxxen.
F’films bħal dan, is-sesswalità ma tibqax rigal mingħand Alla, iżda ssir arma mistmella f’idejn dak li għandu poter fuq il-mara; u dak li hu pervers jintwera bħala normali, jekk mhux ukoll ta’ gost.
Films bħal dan jagħtu l-idea li dak meqjus normali hu ta’ dwejjaq jew ikrah, u wkoll jirridikolaw l-intimità u l-iskop tal-att konjugali. Filwaqt li l-assoċjazzjonijiet tal-psikjatri jiddikjaraw li xi azzjonijiet huma “mard psikotiku”, f’dawn il-films ma jitqisux hekk.
Il-film jagħmel il-mara agħar minn biċċa laħam; l-umiljazzjoni qatt mhi sabiħa. Qatt m’hemm xejn “sabiħ” fil-kattiverja u fil-vjolenza, la fil-kamp tal-battalja, la fuq il-lant tax-xogħol, u wisq inqas fil-kamra tas-sodda.
Il-pornografija tkisser il-familji. Aħseb u ara meta magħħa żżid il-vjolenza. La ddaħħalx lifgħat f’ħobbok.
Is-sess qabel iż-żwieġ mhux romantiku, iżda ħażin.
Jekk int ġenitur, qed tagħti eżempju hażin ferm lit-tfal.
Jekk tiftiehem ma’ martek jew ma żewġek, jew ma’ sħabek, biex tmorru flimkien “għall-kurżità”, tkunu ressaqtu lilkom infuskom lejn il-ħażen, meta int suppost tkun dawl għall-passi ta’ dawn in-nies.
Meta tara l-oxxenità sseħħ quddiem għajnejk, tkun poġgejt lilek innifsek f’okkażjoni dijabolika u ta’ dnub, li bħala Nisrani suppost li qed taħarbu.
Meta tisma’ kliem ħażin iżarżru f’widnejk waħda wara l-oħra, bla ma trid tiftakarhom… u forsi tużahom ukoll.
Raġel li jixtieq juża u jabbuża minn mara, xorta jkun qed jagħmel delitt, allavolja wara forsi jiksiha bid-deheb. Billi tikkollabora ma’ raġel vjolenti, ma tkunx sirt daqsu, iżda ssir tapit tiegħu.
Tingħata l-idea li s-sess huwa ġugarell li tużah kif u meta trid, flok li hu xi ħaġa qaddisa.
Tinsiex li jekk tmur tara film bħal dan, tkun qed issostni l-magna tal-ħniżrijiet li jsiru biss biex jimlew il-bwiet ta’ min jagħmilhom.
Tħallix lil min ibellgħek ir-ross bil-labra!

Whatever happened to Baby Jane?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 07:25


The Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom informs us that “…More than a third of the babies born this year could receive a 100th birthday message from whoever happens to be on the throne in the second decade of the 22nd century. On occasion, the said Monarchy has been known to send greetings to Maltese persons too; so I live in hope for these children.
Think of a person who gets a Marilyn Monroe tattoo in his twenties – if he makes it to fourscore and ten, the lady will probably have lost her original proportions. In the same way, when we are long dead and gone, Malta will be populated by a clutch of doddering ladies going by the name of Shenika, Suleika, Saratoga, Shansia, Shandrika and dozens of their permutations.
There was a time when you could safely say “Anyone called Antonia or Raymond is about fifty years old; anyone who is called Doris or Charles is nearer sixty. Philip is from Żebbuġ, and Grace is from Żabbar.” Of course there are people who regret ever being called Patience, Chastity, Concord, and Temperance.
Names seemed to come in clutches – Charlene and Su’ellen date from Dallas Days, and most teachers of local schools will tell you that Di-lahns ruled supreme when Beverly Hills 90210 was transmitted from Italy, and parents insisted that Dylan was the sound of a bell, or Bob’s surname, not a name. For a time, it was also fashionable to add “Lee” to a boy’s name, or “Marie” to a girl’s name.
Since when I was a child, I have had foreign friends. None of them, except perhaps Rajis, had a “different” name. But she was from South Africa, where her name, she said was not unusual. Even friends who had one foreign parent had ordinary names like Annabelle, Jennifer, Richard and William It was Maltese children who had names like Salome, Solange, Maronna and Madion.
There only concession to uniqueness, for some parents, was selecting the foreign version of an ordinary name – selecting Jürgen instead of George, and Jan instead of John. Parish Priests were known to refuse to even consider names like Godwin and Josefa, because they were, according to them, “made up” – and yet, at least one set of parents got away with “Wendy” because they added “Anne” to it, this appeasing the celebrant.
But these days, parents are not content with having their child be one of the five Marijas in a class. In any case, when the future of the child in the audio-visual arts is already mapped out, it makes perfect sense (according to them) to call the child a telescopic version of two names – Melissandra or Isabellanna. Some give their children’s names weird spellings (Izmeglia and Lorehdana) just to make them stand out from the crowd.
It is not a simple matter of naming a child after a gem – Amber, Opal, Pearl, Ruby… or after a flower – Daisy, Astrer, Dahlia, and Rose. You have to make your mark by going for foreign names: Zbignew (to get rid of anger, in Polish); or Farida (unique, in Arabic).
The chances are that in the first week after school and parish catechism lessons begin, teachers compare notes – not about how fast and furiously they will be going through the syllabus this year – but about how many children have ordinary names.
It is a pity that we are allowed to foist names on children just because we are their parents or carers. It was, to a certain extent, understandable that at a time when old Uncle Arthur’s legacy of £3,000 to the first nephew or niece who named a grandchild after him would be a great temptation to pip all your cousins at the post. But when it came down top brass tacks, didn’t that make you out to be an avaricious person?
There are several things to keep in mind when naming a child – yours or anyone else’s. Just because a celebrity pair’s child is named after the place she was conceived, it does not mean you ought to emulate them. And yet, Brooklyn it was for some children who will probably be called Chewing Gum in the playground.
Consider what you tell people when they ask how you came by that name. Oh, she was so beautiful so I just had to call her Isabella probably will be understood to mean that you had seen Twilight.
Some parents think it is cute to give all their children names beginning with the same letter. They only have to wait until the postman brings just one single valentine card addressed to “B”. Apart from that, this trend is bound to confuse grandparents – as is evidenced by the number of them who call radio stations to dedicate records to said children but admit they do not know how to say the name properly.
Some children – Kayleigh and Marijja – have to correct their names each time someone writes them down badly. This does tend to get annoying. Incidentally, it pays to write down the initials of the first and second names, as well as the surname, before registering the name. S.A.D., B.U.G., D.O.G., and F.A.T. are not really attractive acronyms, are they?
Hippies made a point of naming their children after inanimate objects – for “who needs patron Saints?” after all? It was par for the course, some years ago, to hear of a girl called Xemxija. Whether the parents hoped she would have a sunny disposition is anyone’s guess.
One singer was ribbed because his name was the surname of a football player – these days, he is just one of a clutch of people whose parents do not even realise their own goal.
Or perhaps they do.

Death By Proxy

It all began when I was standing at the sink.
No, no, I tell a lie. It all began much before that; even before there was a power outage.
Probably, it began the moment I set eyes on my (ex!) husband – but for the sake of this story, let’s just say that it began after supper.
Just for the record, the first time we met he’d arranged my bangs and the collar of my blouse “just the way he liked them”, and, mea culpa, I never realised it was a symptom of the way that he would try to fix my life – and me – from that moment on. I was enthralled by his attention. The snide comments and hostile criticism came later.
But I digress.
I had spent the morning and part of the afternoon in bed engrossed in the first two books of different series I had won on a television Trivia Quiz – you know, the ones where they ask questions about obscure topics…such as what the name of the character Liam Neeson played in Taken, was.
War ‘n’ Wit and Tex, the Witch Boy had…well, bewitched me.
It was getting too dark for me to see to read – and when I went to switch on the bedside lamp I realised that not only was it 5.00 pm, but there was no electricity.
I had not even had breakfast, go figure prepared dinner – and my (ex!) husband was due home in two hours.
I realised I would have to move fast to avoid the usual Grumpy Cat running commentary.
I leapt out of bed and whipped the quilt into place. I half-filled a pot with water, chucked in one chicken and one Italian herbs stock cube, some brandy, a knob of butter, the four turkey drumsticks that had been soaking overnight in marinade, a packet of mixed frozen vegetables, and a handful of frozen onion rings. Then I prepared a bowl of instant mashed potatoes, and chopped up some cherry tomatoes, olives, and garlic cloves, and doused them in olive oil (I would drain them just before serving).
The dusk and the street light gave me just enough light to work.
I put some water and disinfectant in a bucket and went over the floors with a cloth wrapped around a squeegee, and switched on the ceiling fans.
While the food cooked and the floor dried, I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair and pulled it back in a pony-tail, washed and flossed my teeth, put the books away, and leapt down the stairs three at a time.
I got out the votive candles that I’d bought for the Christmas centrepiece and lit them. They made eerie shadows dance on the walls, and of course I could not help playing about with my fingers to make some shadow animals.
My (ex!) husband always insisted that I do the newspaper crossword, daily, to “work my sloth-brain”, as he so courteously put it. So I took it out and called my genius friend Samantha to give me the solutions, as I usually did; I barter with her by keeping her kids while she is with her lover. I left out a couple of easy ones, so I would be able to act as if I had just thought of them while we were having dinner. I was – am – smug about the fact that my acting prowess never failed to take my husband in.
I grabbed the sponge to give my (ex!) husband’s breakfast mug and cereal bowl a quick rub-and-rinse, but as soon as I opened the kitchen sink tap, I screamed.
I felt as if someone had taken a steel sledge-hammer to my knuckles; not all of them, just six out of ten. My joints swelled, and my fingers throbbed and turned purple.
With tears pouring down my cheeks and biting my lower and upper lips alternately, I finished the task and sat down in front of the aforesaid crossword, barely able to hold the pencil… just in time, because the next moment, my (ex!) husband’s key turned in the lock.
I went to greet him, and he kissed me perfunctorily – as he usually did, and sniffed the air – and he likewise usually did. Smells good. But you’ve put in too much onion. I said it in my mind before he actually said it out loud, word-for-word, in exactly the same intonation.
He whipped off his jacket and draped it over the chair, and undid his tie, positioning it exactly over the middle of the jacket. Creature of habit, my (ex!) husband.
He had not even noticed my fingers. I showed them to him and of course, he assumed it was my clumsiness that had injured me. I told him what had happened, and he said that after he ate, he would take me to the clinic. Selfish sonofabitch.
He sat at table, and as he expected me to do, I asked about his day so he could boast about his wheeling and dealing. I was sick and tired of this charade – but it suited me, because I quite liked being the Lady of the Manor and not having to go out to work.
He happened to glance at the crossword, and pursed his lips. Not ready yet? I said it to myself before he did. “Oh!” I said, gingerly picking up the pencil, pincer-style like a Kindergartner, and dashing off the last five words without even looking at the clues, “I’ve been thinking about them while I fixed dinner…”
So, we went to the Clinic and the doctor said it was Gardner-Diamond syndrome. My (ex!) husband asked him – twice – whether I could have hurt myself shutting a drawer because she is so clumsy… and the doctor explained patiently how veins sometimes rupture spontaneously, and the red blood cells cause the contusions, and the swellings, and the pain.
The doctor said I must support each injured finger by taping it to the one next to it, and avoid extremes of temperature, and to wear mittens if possible.
We returned home, and the rest of the evening passed as it usually did – except for the part where he parked himself in front of the television set because we had wasted the time at the Clinic. Sex, showers, and bed. Did he care that I was in pain? Did he heck. The power came back at around midnight.
The throbbing pain kept me from sleeping, despite the analgesic balm I had rubbed on my fingers (and the whiskey I’d drunk).
As I sometimes did, to escape from my dreary existence, I let my imagination run riot. I idly toyed with the idea of drawing my rouge blood cells out with a syringe… and injecting them into the butt of my sleeping (ex!) husband, to create enough pain so he would not be able to sit down for a month of Sundays.
Ah! This would be the other meaning of Blood Doping, as per articles with facetious titles such as If I Did a Bag of Lance Armstrong’s Blood, Could I Bike up a Mountain? (without the rider ‘and what if said blood were spiked?’)…
I concocted plans to inject him with air, to create an embolism. Probably, though, I’d be rumbled, if they decided to do an autopsy, because he did not have a dickey heart. Maybe I could kill him with insulin…Reversal of Fortune style, but I’d make sure my approach would work. But there was nobody, of all my friends who have diabetes, whom I could trust to give me a pre-drawn syringe, and keep mum about it. Oh, to delegate the whole enchilada to a hit-man. Or a cat’s-paw.
And that’s when the idea hit me. My (ex!) husband usually spent Saturdays entrenched in the greenhouse, fiddling about with his beloved orchids. He sold each bloom at about €50 a pop. Not because he needed the money, but just because he could.
It was Monday. Time enough. Maybe… My plan was sketchy…it was a long shot…it might not work… but it was worth a try. No one would suspect me, what with my quasi-disabled hands and restricted movement-span.
When replenishing my kitchen freezer from the one in the basement, I had noticed a wasps’s nest at one corner of the ceiling. They’d probably been grateful for the box of newspapers I saved for the once-a-month recycling collection, because it meant they did not have to forage far for material with which to build it.
I poured a good measure of honey inside a big bin bag, and made my way downstairs. There were no wasps flying about, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I manoeuvred a table just under the nest, keeping one eye open for the insects, and placed a chair on the table.
Then, I cautiously climbed on the table, and stood on tiptoe, on the chair, placing the opening of the bag over the nest. I knew I was risking a broken leg or two, but I was on an adrenaline high and nothing could stop me. Using the outside of the bag to shield my hands (I thought it would be better not to use gloves, since there would be some kind of residue on them), I detached the nest from its anchors and nudged it into the bag.
There was such an angry surge of buzzing that I nearly overbalanced. Apparently, the wasps were quick to notice the honey, and they quietened down almost immediately.
As best I could, I held on to the neck of the pulsating, droning bag while putting the furniture in its place again.
Next stop: The Greenhouse.
I took the bag and went in through the back door, just in case one of the neighbours was looking out of a window; and anyway, the orchids were nearer there than the front entrance.
Gently, very gently, I upended the bag and out rolled the nest, sticky with honey. Some of the wasps had died a sweet death by drowning – alas, there was nothing I could do about that. The others appeared lethargic. I hoped they would recover in time to carry out their duty.
I have always been taught that unless you act aggressively towards wasps, they will not attack you. So I kept calm when some of them flew toward me to examine me; and true enough, I was not stung.
I grasped the bottom of the bag and turned it inside out, making sure that no wasps were stuck to the plastic, turned it back sticky side in, and folded it into an oblong small enough to fit into my jeans pocket. I left the greenhouse, walking backward, in slow movements, just in case, and nonchalantly walked around two blocks, hands in pockets – discarding the bag into the street litter bin farthest from the house.
The strain nearly killed me.
Just as the wasps killed my (ex!) husband.
Around the time he left for the greenhouse, as I had planned, I was standing, not a hair out of place, at the delicatessen counter at the supermarket, selecting cheeses for the weekend, as I always did.
It had been my original plan to walk back casually, do some light chores, and then call him on the intercom to say that dinner was in ten minutes. I had stopped scheming at that point, since I would then play it on the wing, so it would appear to be a spontaneous thing.
However, my plan was dashed when one of the neighbours met me halfway. She had been running, and her words came out in between her gasps for air. Wasps… husband… urgent… stings… come… ambulance… swell… heart-attack…
I really should be nominated for an Academy Award.
I grabbed her by the arm and shook her, asking her to explain what she was on about. Taking a deep breath, she said that she had heard shouting and the sounds of breaking glass, and had run out of the house just in time to see my (ex!) husband reeling about in the middle of the street, wheezing and lurching, holding a hand to his throat. His face and hands were covered with angry red welts. With great difficulty, he had whispered my name and “supermarket”.
She had pounded on the door of another neighbour, explained the situation and told her to call for an ambulance, and ran to fetch me. It had been faster and easier than I thought it would be. Indeed, I later found out that wasps do not die after stinging someone, since their stingers are not barbed like those of bees, and are therefore not pulled out of their bodies when they attack.
I was told that probably, since the attack on my (ex!) husband happened in an enclosed space, the whole nest had been mobilised to sting. In these cases, unless antihistamine treatment is given within minutes, the victim dies of severe anaphylactic shock.
It could be that he had swatted one of the insects, and it had released a pheromone that warned the others that there was a threat, and caused them to attack him.
I will never know. Not that I want to. The Coroner’s Report states “death by misadventure”.

Facing the facts

Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 11:16

Xerxen.  Xerxen.
He started. There was nobody in the room; and yet he could have sworn that somebody had addressed him by his surname. On the other hand – he knew that had been on the point of dozing off.  So it could have been a mouse scrabbling across the parquet.
“What does a girl have to do to get noticed around here?”
This time he was sure he’d heard correctly. The voice came from the portrait of Margaret Wilson, who was usually referred to a ‘The Martyr of Solway’.
Just for the record, he had already “noticed” Margaret.  He’d even written a haiku-poem about her (he considered himself quite the bard), because the bit in the story about how her hair had floated around her head like a halo in the water of the Solway Firth had really impressed him… as had the bit about the original being a nude, with clothes put on later for the sake of Victorian-style “decency”.
Martyr of Solway
A Daughter of Time:
Won’t sign abjuration oath;
Condemned to drowning.
Chained fast to the stake;
No allegiance to the King…
Watches her friend die.
Why not save your life?
Recant, revoke, and renounce,
All that you hold dear.
Martyr of Solway –
Naked, looking to the left…
Dressed, looking towards right.
Your soul is now free;
A Tale of Trail and triumph…
A worthy victim.
His was no ordinary job. It was a unique concept.  A museum dedicated solely to portraits – indeed there were more portraits in it than there were in the National Portrait Gallery.
What he had not bargained for was that the portraits…talked!  Talked is stretching it a bit. It was more like a zillion vibrations, reverberating through his brain, each person with his own voice, timbre and accent. Nary a muscle of one of them ever twitched. The millionaire who compiled the list of depictions he wanted had purposely left out the picture of Dorian Gray… because of personal reasons and not because Basil, the artist who painted the original, had put too much of himself in it.
The basic idea behind this Museum was many years later reinvented and taken several steps further  in a specific franchise of films that took animated portraits and sentient artefacts for granted. But to Xerxen, it was a novel experience… in more ways than one.
At first, the Voices only spoke to him when there was no one else in the room. In the beginning, they had sounded like the cacophony of  radio static or playground babble, and he had to sit down and cup his palms over his ears to drown them out. But soon he learned how to discern what they intended to communicate, and it was then that they lowered both their tone and the volume. In time, the portraits didn’t even whisper; he just heard them inside his head.
After the divorce, he’d got custody (his ex-wife had severe mental health problems). When the holiday child-minding system he had cobbled together developed holes, he took kiddo to work. He left him in the cubicle to watch the screens of the CCTV and do the things ten-year-olds do when they are left to their own devices.
The child was reasonably well-behaved. Truth to tell, Xerxen had explained thoroughly about how it was “them against the world” and that if the child did something to make him lose his job, they would not have money to pay the rent and would be out in the streets in next to no time.
The four panels depicting Marilyn Monroe tended to erupt into giggles together, yet slightly out of sync, giving the sound slightly surreal effect. It set Xerxen’s hair on end.
Van Gogh coughed, a grimace on his cadaverous face. It’s only humans here, isn’t it? We could do with a couple of Louis Wain’s cats.  They would keep away the mice you think you hear when someone calls you.
Napoleon snorted. Cats! Bleurg. Why not horses?  Mine – Désirée, not Marengo or Vizir or any other one of them – Babieca, Dhūljānāh, Matsukaze, Bucephalus, Shadowless…
Mr Spock interrupted them in his clipped tones. There’s a counter in the first room that sells overpriced tat – framed reproductions of reproductions, jigsaw puzzles…and even fancy stuff   like Hiawatha’s wampum necklace and Starship Enterprise uniforms. For shame. It’s illogical.
How could Spock have known what there was in a room that was not in his line of vision?
Napoleon Bonaparte, forever astride Marengo (talk about being saddle-sore!) read his thoughts, and chided him. We of the fifth dimension are imbued with seventh sense. We know what you are thinking. Resistance is futile.
Xerxen blanched.  So it was true – they could read his innermost thoughts, and he wasn’t merely imagining things.  He wasn’t barmy.  A couple of times he had seen kiddo look askance at one of the portraits. He wondered whether he could hear the Voices too, but he didn’t quite feel up to asking him – yet.
He could actually write a book, self-publish it, and make money out of all this. He would camouflage it as fiction – and sell it in the foyer.
And he did.

Thread Carefully

When I was a child, I caught the occasional spider and let it loose in my room without telling my sister.
But, it wasn’t a practical joke.
I was being eco-conscious, way before the word was a twinkle in any environmentalist’s eye.
The spiders themselves never caused a problem; however, their webs did – especially when bits of them dangled from the corners of the ceiling or light fixture. Removing them completely would have meant evicting Itsy Bitsy and Incey Wincey from their tiny homes. And leaving them there made the room look messy. Option number three, trying to sweep them closer to the ceiling, left oily marks on the walls.
Eventually I discovered that touching the web lightly on one side would make the spider scamper to the other side. Then, I could carefully pinch a corner of the web between my thumb and index finger, and move it closer towards the wall where I hoped it would be less noticeable.
Not many people know that the spider generates different fibers for different parts and purposes of the web. Some are the bridge, frame, anchor and radius threads. Then there is the mystical capture spiral; the only actual sticky silk on the spider web. It can stretch up to three times its length before breaking, ensnaring prey touching it.
The fiber secreted by spiders has been compared to Kevlar, which is five times stronger than steel and used for bulletproof vests. How amazing is it that such a small creature can produce something so tough?
Each thread of a spider’s web is a real-time work of art; the creature itself is a lesson. Rip the web, and it’ll weave it again, in one meticulous session. The lives of each of us connect with those of others, like the different threads of a web. Each of us has a different, yet connected mission in life. Some of us can offer support; some of us stability; and some of us hold the whole fabric of our friends’ lives together because we help them interconnect with one another.

Down Came the Rain

Tenacity’s clambering up a waterspout;
Adversity’s a cloudburst from sweeping me away.
Perseverance is climbing back up–
Bold in the face of a torrential rain.
Sometimes I feel guttered – washed out,
like it always downpours on my parade.
Help me give my life a new spin again
before this resilience wanes.
–Tanja Cilia

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”.

60 Ways To Tell You’re Middle-Aged




Middle Age.

Two words that are not so much frozen in time, as frozen time, themselves.

That time in your life when deja-vu is true, because you’ve been there, done that, and tried the t-shirt on for size. It’s the time of life when the hairs – sorry, stray eyebrows – on your chin sprout white, and jelly belly happens even when you have not eaten any. It’s the time of your life when you unconsciously rhyme most sentences in a fey attempt at humour, and make atrocious puns in the vain hope of raising a wry grin from your readers.

Middle age is a time when the kids, if you have any, are torn between admitting you were right, after all, and wanting to prove you were wrong, with their own brand of twisted logic.
It’s a time when your brain drains and you have to send out questionnaires to your friends in order to compile your blog…. and then cheekily assemble the results alphabetically so that you can pretend they are your own brainchildren…

1. At cafeterias, you complain cappuccino froth is too tough to chew;
2. At the airport they say you are over-weight, and you’re not carrying luggage;
3. Conversations with people your own age often include lists of medications;
4. Dinner and a film constitute the whole date instead of the beginning of one;
5. Gardening has become a big highlight of your life;
6. It takes a couple of tries to get over a speed bump;
7. It takes all day for those “sleep marks” on your face to disappear;
8. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as “casual chic”;
9. Most of the time you’re at your pc it’s because you’re working;
10. One of the pillows on your bed is a hot water bottle in disguise;
11. People treat you as everyone’s grandmother;
12. Small children refer to you as “that really old person”;
13. The waiter asks how you’d like your steak – and you say “pureed;”
14. When you do the “Hokey Pokey” you put your left hip out – and it stays out;
15. You actually read the small print in any contract you sign;
16. You almost regret your tattoo, even though no one can see it;
17. You are now sagely and complacently nodding agreement with most of the above.
18. You arrive home early enough to garage the car;
19. You avoid looking at yourself from behind in a full length mirror;
20. You begin every other sentence with, “In my time…”
21. You believe black Lycra makes you look slimmer;
22. You call menstruation ‘the blessing’ rather than ‘the curse’;
23. You can talk to strangers and flirt without appearing to do so;
24. You cook for all the neighbourhood cats;
25. You decide to wear white tights with black shoes, or vice versa;
26. You discover that the pharmacy sells denture cleaner as well as prophylactics;
27. You discover that your measurements are now small, medium and large – in that order;
28. You don’t get up for old ladies on buses any more; they get up for you instead;
29. You don’t know what time the last bus leaves Paceville any more;
30. You eat cereal at breakfast time
31. You feed your dog Atkins Diet instead of McDonald’s leftovers;
32. You find your mouth making promises your body can’t keep;
33. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14;
34. You go to a Garden Party and you’re mainly interested in the garden;
35. You have to wear glasses to read the newspaper;
36. You keep food as well as beer in the fridge;
37. You keep repeating yourself, repeating yourself, repeating…
38. You light the candles on your birthday cake and the smoke alarm goes off;
39. You look like death warmed through, even with full make-up on;
40. You prefer pop-socks to tights – whatever the length of your skirt;
41. You remember the time your phone number had four digits;
42. You run out of breath climbing a bus;
43. You sleep during an action film;
44. You speak your mind even when it’s obvious you mustn’t;
45. You start scribbling sums that involve pensions, gratuities, and insurances;
46. You start video-taping telenovelas;
47. You stop filching hubby’s vests to use as t-shirts, and use t-shirts as vests;
48. You stop using sexy lingerie as outerwear and use outerwear as lingerie;
49. You think it’s too much bother to de-fuzz so you wear dark tights… again;
50. You think someone is stealing an hour from you when the clocks go forward;
51. You think you have lipstick on your teeth when a hunk gives you the eye;
52. You tune into the easy listening programme – on purpose;
53. You wake up at the time you used to go to bed;
54. You watch a TV game show and you know most of the answers;
55. You wear dessert shoes to go to the shops – and take them off on the car;
56. Your car insurance goes down and your car payments go up;
57. Your houseplants are alive, and you never use them as a mini ashtray;
58. Your Insurance Company has started sending you their free calendar – a week at a time;
59. Your new recliner has more options than your car;
60. You’re the one calling the police because the kids next door won’t turn down the stereo.