On the Subject of Baths

I commented in my last blog (https://megkingston.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/a-long-short-week/) that I was running a bath when a friend phoned. I should mention that this isn’t unusual – I often take a bath during the day and will answer the phone if it rings while I’m in there.

After all, Churchill used to hold meetings while he was in the bath. And if it’s good enough for Winnie, it’s fine by me. At least you can’t see me over the phone!

Baths are not simply a way to get clean – a bath is a refuge from the world, a place where I can relax and enjoy a book in peace. Depending on the weather, it’s a way for me to get warm after being out in the cold or to cool myself down when I’m overheated. It’s a way to scrub myself clean after hospital visits or just soak away everyday dust. It’s the place I wash my waist-length hair and it’s a legitimate excuse to ignore the doorbell.

A shower really isn’t the same. There’s no relaxing in a shower, no time to enjoy a soak – it just doesn’t cut it for me. I know the water-saving Nazis claim a shower uses less water, but I’m not convinced – it takes more than their regulation four minutes to rinse out my hair. And sitting on a chair is no fun in the wet when you can’t stand up to shower. And I share my bath water as Hubby generally follows me in.

Reading in the bath takes a little skill that’s worth practicing. I can hold a book in my left hand and turn a page with the thumb – all one-handed. Nowadays, I might be reading something on the Kindle – in its waterproof cover, of course. Or if my eyes are playing up, I can plug my MP3 player into an egg-shaped gadget that transmits an audio book over the airwaves to a yellow duck-shaped speaker in the bathroom. No mains electricity near my bath!

There are even animals that enjoy a good bath. Anyone who’s watched sparrows splashing in their garden will have noticed they spend far more time abluting than strictly necessary for cleanliness. And a horse crossing a river or walking into the sea. Although macaques in the hot springs of Japan are probably the nearest to human bathophiles.

I do love my bath. And I’ll continue to spend an hour there with a book and to answer the phone if you’re foolish enough to ring when I’m soaking.

A Long Short Week

As Arkwright used to say, “It’s been a funny sort of week”.

I’d foolishly expected a quiet week. It’s half term – people are spending time with their offspring, offices are quiet, I didn’t have a single medical appointment and – after all – I’m meant to be retired. Instead, I’ve had my busiest unplanned four days in years.

Apparently everyone saw an opportunity to catch up with little jobs – especially ones that required my input. At least that’s what it felt like.

It started with Hubby travelling all over the place for work. Not terribly relevant, except I couldn’t rely on him to help with transporting or shopping or anything. I even had to catch two big spiders and put them outside before the cats noticed them.

Speaking of the cats, they had to go visit the cat-doctor for their annual checkover. Fortunately, Hubby was here, but I’ve had a couple of clingy cats for the rest of the week. Cat cuddle overdose!

We had a CRAG writers meeting midweek, which I did know about in advance and was great fun. (We meet in a local pub and I always come home buzzing from contact with like-minded writers.) But I managed to complicate things by mentioning my idea for increasing sales to the landlord. More about this another day!

And then people deciding to phone me! Three people wanting my considered opinion, two editors and a partridge in a pear tree (*). Sending out books, chasing shops about stocks, booking a few weekend sales trips and sorting out access problems with my business bank account. And working on a new Chrystal story! A friend rang me this afternoon and I confessed if he’d left it five minutes later, he’d have caught me with no clothes on. (I was running a bath!) He’s too much of a gentleman to comment…

So, I’ve earned a quiet weekend. With wine – and we’ve started already. Cheers all and have a great weekend.

(*) The partridge is a lie. Sorry for any confusion.

Tubular Bells for Two – Wow

Tubular Bells, an iconic album produced by one man with a 24-track tape recorder, a lot of talent and a little help from his friends. It’s been performed live – and it takes a small army of musicians and singers. There’s no possible way to perform it live without a stage groaning under the weight of performers.

Until now. Two Australians. Four hands and four bare feet to play the whole album live on stage. Yes, they use looping – but it’s played and looped live as part of the performance. If you’d asked me, I would have said it was impossible.

The sheer choreography of two men moving between instruments, shifting stands and microphones to where they’re next needed, playing guitars or keyboards, whilst operating loops and playing drums with their feet. This pair won’t need a gym membership to keep fit if they keep playing this concert.

Yes, there were a couple of points where they stretched a passage by a few bars, giving them time to setup the next phase – but I can’t hold that against them. And they simplified some of the arrangements – but so does Mike Oldfield himself.

This is a stunning achievement and an incredible performance.

Go see it for yourself and then decide if I’ve overdone the superlatives.


Tolkien with Tits

I know I’m late for the party, but I’ve got an excuse.

I’ve been aware of the phenomenal success of George R.R. Martin’s books, but haven’t got round to reading any of them. So many books, so little time! Neither had we watched the TV adaptations, largely due to not having a Sky subscription. (Other pay-to-view networks are available.) But I was tempted by a super-cheap offer on a boxset of Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD, so we settled down to watch it.

We were both impressed by the variety and depth of characters, the broad sweep of the intertwining plot threads and the sheer imagination that went into its creation. This is fantasy on a grand scale. But it’s still fantasy – and we all know that doesn’t sell unless it’s a well-established brand like Tolkien or Dr Who. Fantasy is for kids – so how has Game of Thrones become so popular with grown-ups?

In a word – sex. I don’t know how much is in the books, but the programmes are liberally strewn with naked boobs, buttocks and, um, bits. Then there’s the incest and other unsavoury practices. Is this what it takes to sell fantasy to a 21st Century audience? Do adults only tolerate fantasy if it has adult content?

Hubby and I discussed the nudity factor of the programmes. He suggested a lot of it wasn’t gratuitous because the sex was relevant to the plot – which I agree, it is. But if that’s the case, why so much more female nudity than male? I reckon there must be a dozen naked boobs for every shirtless chest seen onscreen. I have no doubt the skin on show is meant to appeal to the male audience. I don’t have a problem with this, I just like to be clear about it.

Having said all that, I enjoyed these series more than most drama broadcast on telly this year. It’s grown-up fantasy with all the ingredients of good TV storytelling. The top-flight cast sparkles, from known actors like Sean Bean, Aiden Gillen and Charles Dance to relative newcomers like Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke. It’s clear where the huge budget has been spent – on costumes, special effects and locations, as well as the cast; but there’s also some wonderfully written script and very black humour. If you’re not put off by the flesh and the strong language, then it’s entertaining, multi-layered entertainment. Characters to love and hate, scenery that makes me want to move to Northern Ireland and genuinely unexpected twists.

I might even get around to buying the books.

Malingering and Munchausen’s

My name is Meg and I have a disability.

A simple statement, but how do I prove it? Well, I can point at the medical evidence, which clearly shows that there are physical problems with my body that can be seen and measured. So there’s obviously “something wrong with me”. But there’s no test that can measure the amount of pain, fatigue or difficulty caused by those flaws. You just have to take my word for it that I’m as disabled as I say I am.

I think most people realise I’m honest about my symptoms. If anything, I tend to keep them to myself rather than inflict them on everyone else. One friend commented recently that he doesn’t associate me with hospitals. I was touched.

But with the current changes in the benefits system here in the UK, there are many accusations that the disabled are “faking it”, exaggerating their symptoms and generally malingering. Whilst their opposition point to individuals with clear disabilities who’ve been assessed as making it up. Both sides cite anecdotal evidence to make their case. In my opinion, both are correct. There are plenty of people with chronic illnesses that don’t show.

And there are also those who claim there’s something wrong when there isn’t.
I know I’m walking a tightrope here and this isn’t meant as a political statement. I’m not coming down on either side of the benefits debate, just commenting on my own observations.

Firstly, there are people who claim illness they don’t have or exaggerate symptoms for a specific gain. This can be as simple as phoning work to say you’ve got flu to get an extra few days off. Or saying you’ve got a migraine when it’s really a hangover. That’s malingering and there is documented evidence it’s been going on for thousands of years. The Romans knew that people would fake illness to get out of work! Nothing new here.

But there are also people who fake or exaggerate their symptoms for less obvious gains. Presumably for sympathy or attention from others.

One man I knew was openly jealous of what he perceived as the special treatment I got for my disability. He was fond of making statements that began “It’s alright for you, Meg…” when he’d had to walk 20 yards from the car park and I’d been able to park close to the door so I didn’t have to push myself so far in my wheelchair. He clearly thought I was lucky to have a disability because my life was so much easier as a result.

Then there are those who elicit details about medical problems and later claim the same symptoms. A relative asked for details of how my fatigue affects me in a way that didn’t feel like sympathy. A few months later she told me about her own problems – using my exact words about fatigue and then embellishing the problem in ways that sounded unlikely. I can only assume she’d been telling so many people about ”her” problems that she’d forgotten when she got the information from in the first place.

There have been many such incidents over the years – and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m pleased to see this recent report: here which recognises Munchausen’s by internet – people who fake illness online because it’s easy to get away with lying. The full report here is a dry read, but there’s a list of characteristic behaviours which can give the game away.

Malingering is obviously part of the human psyche, whether we approve or not. People have been faking it for centuries and will keep doing so. But current patterns of individuals feigning illness for less tangible benefits are more worrying. It’s no wonder people and societies are suffering compassion fatigue when there are so many claiming sympathy they may not deserve.

Leaving those with genuine problems to take the “blame”.

Book Review: Stephen King – Guns

Kindle Singles are small, ebook only, publications. They may be a novella or a few poems. Or, as in this case, an essay on a particular subject. Unlike most Kindle publications, they go through a selection process which ansures a certain minimum standard. Stephen King chose to use this medium to publish his thoughts on the current debate in the US about gun ownership and responsibilities.

Title: Guns (Kindle Single)
Author: Stephen King
ASIN: B00B53IW9W (Kindle)

At last – a voice of reason in the Great American Gun Debate.

For those who didn’t study American history, the Second Amendment to their Constitution grants every American the right to bear arms. The Constitutional Amendments are sacred to US citizens in the way that most legal systems around the world are not. Many of these formalise basic human rights of people in America and they (especially the earlier ones) are viewed with a near-religious fervour.

And this Second Amendment is the one most often cited by supporters of the right to have any and all weapons available for private purchase. Their opponents point at mass shootings and statistics on deaths and injuries caused in part by the guns owned by Americans.

Stephen King walks the narrow divide between these two camps, arguing that it’s possible to keep the enshrined rule about bearing arms, but to ban certain categories of automatic weapons from private hands. What he’s saying is similar to the line taken by Barack Obama, but not identical. My own personal leanings are similar to both men, but differ in some details.
What this is is a calm discussion of certain historical and statistical facts that tend to get drowned in the shouting of the two opposing parties. King does make his own opinions clear, but he’s not trying to push anyone towards his conclusions. He’s more interested in being a calm voice that people will listen to in preference to some of the shouting.

A welcome summary of some of the key points in this debate, as well as a commentary on some aspects of American culture.

King will earn nothing from this essay as all his proceeds are being given to a related charity.

Personal read: 5 stars
Reading group read: 5 stars

Aging, Grey Hair and Personal Appeal

We live in a society infatuated with catchphrases and sound bites, which quickly makes truisms over-familiar. So the line about us all being obsessed with youth slides past our brains without consideration. But a few recent articles in the youth-fixated media got me thinking about the subject.

In 2011, TIME magazine published the findings of a large study on people’s perception of their own age. The headline conclusion was memorable for its mathematical neatness. They found that the average woman decides she’s getting old when she finds her first grey hair – at about the age of 29. Men on average start to believe they might not be young anymore at exactly twice that age – 58. When they notice decreasing performance in the bedroom department. And those are the reasons so much money is made from selling hair dye and little blue pills.

So why this inconsistency? The old adage that men are attracted to women who can potentially bear them children and women look for a successful mate who’ll be a good provider would have made sense for our distant ancestors and could well survive as a remnant from those days. And it’s so true. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the sight of firm young beefcake as much as the next gal – but there’s a lot to be said for a nicely-matured steak as well. If you want to know more, buy me a pint someday and start talking about favourite actors.

But are we really so polarised? And so unchanging? If we ladies are allowed to appreciate fit, twenty-year-old men and the concept of a puma (older woman who preys on young men) has entered the vocabulary, why can’t men admit to fancying a confident woman who is openly older than thirty? A male actor can expect to move from leading man into character roles as his looks mature and there are many who continue to find work throughout their adulthood. But their female counterparts vanish from our screens as soon as their first wrinkle can’t be hidden – apart from the occasional matriarchal role. Of course, there are always exceptions to any sweeping statement. There’s Helen Mirren and, um, Helen Mirren.

Women who try to break the ageist mould are targeted by press and public alike. Look at the furore over model Kristen McMenamy openly sporting her beautiful grey locks. And the latest brouhaha over classics scholar Mary Beard, routinely described as a witch for her long, grey tresses. I sport my few grey hairs without shame – I’ve earned them and I see no reason to try to hide them. Frankly, I’d love to see what my waist-length mane would look like in silver but the rest of it stays resolutely blond and I think I’m stuck with just that Mallen streak at the front.

Meanwhile the media lambasts women who dare to be proud of their maturer looks while pushing hair dyes and botox in the hope we’ll all become regular users and need ever-increasing doses. We are then meant to move on to the hard stuff of elective surgery and eventually become recluses, only venturing out with bags over our faces so we witches don’t scare the children.

After all, what’s so bad about getting old? It’s better than the alternative.