Friday, 30 March 2007

We should have a choice, non?

Yesterday I discovered to my dismay that all the waste pipes in my kitchen and bathroom were completely blocked. No, but completely. I couldn’t run water in the sink, washbasin or bath for one second. In this wonderful flat of mine, all the water ends up in the same pipes. (What idiot devised this, back in the 1930s, that’s what I want to know.) I couldn’t understand how my pipes could go from totally clear to 100% clogged up in the space of one day – they were perfectly fine the day before, but I had to do something about it.

In my experience, the only thing that really works when this happens is Mr Muscle Sink & Plughole Unblocker (it’s also the safest, I believe, since it doesn’t harden in the drains). Off I went to my local Tesco to buy some of the stuff. They had a ‘3 for 2’ offer so I came back lugging three bottles of the miracle product (you can’t be too careful, can you?).

Then came the fun part: I got hold of one Mr Muscle and tried to unscrew its cap (no smutty jokes here, please). No could do. It was childproof. I pushed and turned and pushed harder and turned harder, in vain. OK, I had two more chances to succeed. I grabbed another bottle… Nope! Finally, the third Mr Muscle cap yielded to my will. Phew! I poured the gooey liquid through the plughole and let it do its business overnight.

Reader, it worked.

But, what I want to know (apart from who devised the drain system in my building, of course) is why we who are not children, we who do not have any children in our homes, we who can tell the difference between a bottle of Volvic and a bottle of hydrochloride what’s-it, why we have to buy these bottles with childproof caps? I’m little but I have extremely strong hands (ask anyone who’s had their back massaged by me, or, even better, ask Linda Pilkington, the owner of Ormonde Jayne: her hand is probably still smarting from being crushed in mine – I was trying to be friendly, LOL!) and what I can’t open... I was going to say, isn’t worth opening, well, no, but you know what I mean. I understand the need for childproof caps but why can’t we buy bottles, etc. with ordinary caps as well ? I think I know why but I’m asking anyway.

And what about older people with arthritis? (Actually I have a touch of it in my left hand at the moment, but I’m right-handed so it didn’t have a part in my inability to open those bottles.) What if you’re an arthritic person whose pipes are blocked or who wants to take some vitamins so they can live a little longer and bother everyone else with their special requirements, like ‘easy to open containers’? What about them, then?


Wednesday, 28 March 2007


How long before Iran promises to wipe Britain off the map, do you think?

Or isn't Britain such a thorn in its side?

Update (29 March): It's getting there... How unreasonable of Britain to make such a ‘fuss’ about nothing! Tut-tut! (Or should it be ‘Slap’?)

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

For God’s sake!

Did you know that you don’t have to be a Christian to say a prayer talking about ‘crosses’ and ‘churches’? No, neither did I. And did you know that suggesting that Jews might not be comfortable saying such a prayer is being as intolerant as the worst fundamentalist? No, neither did I.

‘Crosses’ and ‘churches’ are Christian symbols – exclusively. They have no place in Jewish religious rituals (I can only speak as Jew in this instance). Many Jews would find mentioning those words in a prayer abhorrent. How could they forget that thousands of other Jews were murdered in the name of the Church, by hordes of devout Christian brandishing crosses? The Christian religion is not universal (it might have wanted to be, once upon a time, but it didn’t manage it, quite). There are prayers that mention god without being so specific; those are fine.

During the war, trying to escape from the Gestapo in la France profonde, my mother was hired as a companion by an old woman, who had portraits of Hitler and Pétain above her bed (could there be a safer place to take refuge in?). Every night, on her knee, the woman prayed God for them. My mother was trying to ‘pass’ as a Christian: she had dyed her hair blonde; she wore a cross and went to church. She was forced to: her life was at stake. She played that difficult role for a few months, until the woman, who was very kind to her and completely unaware of her real identity, gave her away – unwittingly – to a member of the French milice. Luckily, my mother had heard them talking and she left at the earliest opportunity.

I am not a religious Jew, but I would only consider wearing a cross if my life depended on it. As for churches, I like visiting them, for their beauty, their architecture, their art, and I have attended the odd wedding/funeral in them, but I would not worship there.

I don’t care what you believe; just don’t impose your beliefs or your religious symbols on me. And don’t accuse me of intolerance when I object to your trying to do so.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Supermarket etiquette

Forget about foreign languages, what kids need to learn from an early age is how to shop in supermarkets. We acquire that skill by watching other people, mostly our mummies; unfortunately these days women are as bad at it as men so young shoppers don’t have any role models and Supermarket Rage is a very common occurrence.

Don’t leave your basket or trolley right bang in the middle of the floor! When did this habit start? When did it become OK to block everybody else's way because one is too lazy to carry one's basket to where the pomegranate-juice cartons live? No one would leave their bags unattended in the middle of the pavement while they went into a shop so why do it in a supermarket?

If it says ‘Less than 10 items’ (by the way, resist the urge to tell the manager it should be ‘fewer’: he’s not interested), do not turn up in the queue with a trolley full to the brim and then smile apologetically to the people behind you: it won’t wash.

Don’t leave the stuff you want to buy on the belt while you go off to get an item you forgot to pick up earlier? It's a neat trick, isn't it? You reserve your place in the queue and no one can move your groceries aside without feeling like a louse.

When the cashier begins to check out your purchases, don’t stand there flirting with them or nattering into your mobile; unless you’re very old or suffering from some handicap and are therefore slower than an able-bodied person, don’t wait until you’ve paid, start bagging the stuff now, otherwise the next person will huff and puff and probably curse you to the twelfth generation for keeping them waiting.

Don’t act surprised when the cashier requests money from you. What did you expect? Did you think it was Free Food Day and you wouldn’t have to fork out for your over-packaged cook-chill meals? Hand in your card or cash and then resume packing so by the time they give you your change or ask you to key in your PIN you will have finished and no time will have been wasted.

Finally, don’t hang about checking your receipt while the next person – me – is trying to access their items, which are now tumbling all over the place, get out of the way!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

The answer is 'no'

The other day, while I was putting away some letters and cards I received in the past two years (yes, I keep lots of stuff and, yes, I'm very behind in my filing), I came across several envelopes containing hand-painted cards, a few pebbles and bits of driftwood. They were sent to me last Christmas by the guy who was the Art Master at the school in Tewkesbury where I was the ‘French Madamoiselle’ in 1969-70.

David was a lovely, eccentric artist. At the time, he was having an intense affair with the PE mistress – a buxom girl called Sue, who became my best friend there. I used to tag along, when my presence wasn’t an intrusion, and sometimes even when it was beginning to be (it was the late ‘60s, LOL!). We used to listen to music and have impromptu parties. David had a Mini, which he drove like a madman. We went to the Cheltenham Film Club to see – oh, how bohemian! – foreign films (England was so insular then). David wasn’t just an artist, he was also a wonderful photographer – he took the one photograph of me I don’t mind looking at. He was friendly, fun and kind, and I was very sorry when I left and lost touch with him and Sue a couple of years later (they didn’t get married, by the way).

Fast forward 32 years and in a fit of nostalgia I register with Friends Reunited to see if any of my old ‘pupils’ are still around, and before I know it I receive an email from David. He has been married for years and years, has two grown-up daughters and is still teaching, painting and taking photographs. He wants to meet me; wants to come down to London and stay with me; wants to take me to an exhibition... Hey, slow down, it's all going a bit too fast. We exchange a couple more emails and he says all the wrong things. I can’t quite put my finger on why they’re wrong, they just are, and I know we wouldn’t get on. He calls one evening and again says things that make my hackles rise. I decide I don't want to pursue the relationship any further. I find some excuse for not responding to his emails. I feel angry and disappointed: he has spoiled the sweet memories I have of my year in Tewkesbury. I would have got the message. He didn’t. Since then I’ve received masses of letters and cards and odd objets trouvés (he lives by the sea).

What saddens me is that it’s not impossible to renew old friendships: I am in touch with a few people I used to know 30 years ago and who weren’t part of my life for many years in between. When I found them again (or they found me), we picked up where we’d left off. It’s a fantastic feeling – there’s nothing like old friends – but it doesn’t work every time and one has to acknowledge it.

I curse the day I came across Friends Reunited – I gather it has a lot of broken marriages, and even some deaths, on its conscience – and I’m slapping people who behave like stalkers and refuse to recognize when they’re unwanted (yes, I’m talking about you too, S).

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Or this

It's been revealed recently that English-speaking doctors from the Commonwealth, i.e. from Canada, Australia and India, for instance, have to pass a proficiency test before they're allowed to practise medicine in the UK, but doctors hailing from countries of the EU don’t, even if their English is appalling. As you can imagine, this could have terrible consequences.

It already has. A little while ago, a man probably died because of this mad policy: he collapsed in the surgery of a French GP, who, suspecting a heart attack, called for an ambulance straight away. Unfortunately, instead of saying the man was ‘unconscious’, he said he was ‘sleeping’, so, you know, the ambulance people didn’t think it was such an emergency and they took their time. And who can blame them?


Monday, 5 March 2007

You won’t believe this

As part of my English degree I had to spend a year in England. I didn’t want to. I was in love with America and should have been studying there (I’ve already told the story of how it didn’t happen). I adored the English language but didn’t find England attractive at all – the weather, the food... Still, I had to go. I didn’t know much about the English or how to behave in their country so I bought a book. It had just come out and was entitled Comment vivre chez les Anglais (I still have it, although the advice given in it doesn’t really apply any more: it’s a wonderful snapshot of the country in the late ’60s). It was an invaluable resource: it told me about the most curious habits of the English and helped me to avoid the worst faux pas. There was also another book, which said that only an Englishman could have penned Alice in Wonderland – something to do with the fog. Anyway, although they both made clear the English were eccentric and had a taste for nonsense, they never hinted they were completely bonkers and had unfair laws.

What about this, then: there is a thing called ‘chancel repair liability’, which is beyond understanding. It’s complex stuff but, basically, it means that if you own a property situated on land belonging to the Church of England you are obliged to pay for the upkeep of the chancel of any church or chapel located on that land, whether or not you are a churchgoer. And the church doesn’t even have to be close to the property. Furthermore – and that is pretty scary – there is no financial limit to this liability.

It’s an outdated leftover from the Reformation, but the House of Lords ruled recently that the chancel repair liability remains enforceable and doesn’t contravene human rights. That’s why a couple, who had challenged it, are currently wondering how they will manage to pay the £250,000 that’s being demanded of them by the Church. Initially, they had been asked to pay £6,000 but, you know, with legal costs…

It’s bad enough living in a listed building, where you can’t hammer a nail in a wall without having to fill in forms in triplicate, but this is preposterous. And how does it not contravene human rights: it places buildings above human beings.

Told you you’d find it hard to believe.

Slapping anyone involved in the Reformation (no, it’s never too late) and the Lords, who don’t actually live on the same planet as you and me!

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Guest Slapper of the Month XIV

She recently won the Silver Award in the Best Perfume Blog category at the 7th Annual Basenotes Awards. Her perfume reviews are legendary. Her taste is immaculate. Her writing is lush and evocative. She is Victoria of Bois de Jasmin and this is her Slap.

Seduce Yourself!

When Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965 and changed its focus towards enpowering women to express their sexuality, the move was hardly uncontroversial. Yet, I cannot help thinking when I flip through Cosmo that there is nothing empowering in its features. “How to Seduce Him…” “How to Give Him the Greatest Pleasure He Has Ever Known…” “5 Things Men Love…” In fact, Cosmopolitan is only one of many magazines that suffer from the overwhelming emphasis on “how to please your man.” In one article we are given guidelines on how to understand what he wants before he utters the words and in another we are taught how to double guess him. We are encouraged to wear vanilla rich fragrances because they remind him of his mother and grapefruit perfumes because some unsubstantiated study suggests this will help men to perceive us as younger. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with thinking of others and offering a pleasant surprise to our loved ones, but I take issue with women’s magazines when they forget about the woman herself. What about discovering one’s own interests? What about pleasing oneself for a change?

There is a lot talk of feminism, egalitarian values and how far we have gone since the 50s, but at the same time, the rhetoric of guilt and sacrifice surrounding the issues of marriage, motherhood and relationships is strikingly palpable. When we assess the success and failure of the feminist movement in terms other than income, the story becomes even more complicated. As Madeleine Bunting notes in her article Let's talk about sex in The Guardian, “Female rates of depression continue to be twice those of men; rates of adolescent eating disorders and self-harm are on the rise. Women report high levels of stress in managing complicated double shifts - a day in the office sandwiched between the chores of running a home. Women account for a disproportionate number in the sharp increase in those claiming incapacity benefit.”

Although women’s magazines should not be blamed for all of the problems in our society, they seem to perpetuate the self-denial of one’s own desires. Ultimately, the need to assert our point of view seems to be lost, which goes beyond beauty and perfume and influences other facets of our lives and careers. We are bombarded with messages designed to influence what we want to such an extent that after a while it is impossible to separate our own wishes from those of others.

While I slap publications like Cosmo for their failure to truly empower their target audience, I acknowledge that they can provide amusing distraction. Perhaps, in the end, discovering your own pleasures is not a job that any columnist or pundit of the moment can ever do for you.