The British Bulldog

Statesman, leader, painter, poet, historian, hero, bricklayer, boozer, animal lover; belligerent, bellicose, irascible, indefatigable, unreasonable, indomitable, invincible, overbearing, vain. Sadly, we shall never see another Englishman of Winston Churchill’s stature.

In Winston’s day, we were proud to be British. Who can possibly imagine what he would say if he could see the state of the country now.

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As much as for his war-time leadership and bulldog spirit, Churchill was renowned for his wit.

But how did he feel about homosexuality?

His enemies and detractors could list innumerable faults, but false modesty was not one of them.

“We are all worms,” he said. “But I believe I am a glow worm.” The perfect epitaph.

How brightly he would glow among the limp, dull grey worms in Parliament now.

Suffer the little children

Save the Children executives shared a “performance related” bonus of £160,000 this year. On top of their handsome salaries.

The Against Malaria Foundation quotes the cost of a mosquito net as ‘about $5′, which at the current rate of exchange is about £3.

The ‘performance related bonus’ would therefore buy more than 50,000 mosquito nets.

Can’t help wondering if donations to Save the Children are being well-spent.

 

 

Look what they’ve done to my home.

 

English: A panorama taken from the Westlands a...

English: A panorama taken from the Westlands area of Nairobi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first home I can remember in detail was a grey stone bungalow. The floors were of glistening herringbone parquet, except for the kitchen, which had polished red tiles.

The driveway to the house was lined with spiky sisal plants with long stalks of creamy bell-shaped flowers. Two shallow steps led up to the front door and into a wide corridor. Turning right took you to the kitchen, from where there was a door onto the garden. Beside the kitchen was an airy pantry, and behind that, our dining room, with windows looking onto the garden. When you came in through the front door, walking straight ahead led into a large, bright living room, with French windows onto the garden. If you turned left from the corridor, you’d find three very large bedrooms, a bathroom and toilet, and a range of fitted cupboards.

At the time it seemed a very beautiful and luxurious house, such a contrast to the dull, pebble-dashed semi-detached we had left behind in south-west London. The garden was vast, but not very attractive. There were a few prickly giant cacti and a clump of tall bamboo, where the cobras lived. The lawn, such as it was, was more brown than green. Beyond the lawn was a large uncultivated wasteland. Outside my bedroom window a pepper tree rustled in the breeze.  

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1954 – outside the bungalow in Lower Kabete Road

From our house it was a five minute walk to the handful of local shops. Driving past the greengrocer after midnight, any night of the week, you could see the Asian owners polishing and displaying their fruit and vegetables. There was a butcher, an ice-cream parlour, a modest general store and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

For a short while it was a peaceful and very happy house, until fate lobbed a grenade into it, it all fell apart, and I lost my mother. Despite that, I still have some good memories of living there. The house that was my home for nine years was in the Lower Kabete Road, in the Westlands suburb of Nairobi

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120205-Lower Kabete Road-17 (Photo credit: ChimpLearnGood)

In May of this year my memoir was published, partly covering my life in Kenya over twenty years, and I had a yearning to see the house again. I went to Google Earth to look for it. I couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. The whole area, once sparsely inhabited, was unrecognisable, crammed with new buildings and new roads, and Nairobi city was just another modern metropolis. 

The little collection of Westlands “dukas” had vanished. Now there was a vast shopping mall. Westgate, a few hundred yards from the house in Lower Kabete Road.

Two weeks ago, Westgate Mall was the scene of the Al Shabaab attack.

Watching the reportage, I was dismayed how that once quiet little corner had become the scene of such carnage. As well as killing and maiming those victims caught there, it also destroyed the memory of my childhood home, where the most traumatic moments of my life happened, Whenever my mind wanders back there, it only sees a ruined building pouring smoke, bodies, blood, shattered dreams, broken lives. It somehow feels personal, and also puts my own loss into perspective. RIP, victims.

 

Nice surprise!

As an antidote to the unpleasant choc, I received a very nice surprise. The Venomous Bead at Asurfeitofpalfreys has been kind enough to send me this most splendid award:

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You might like to pop along to TVB’s blog if the winter weather is getting you down and you fancy a leisurely walk, somewhat off the beaten track in the area around Saumur. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and history, the peaceful villages and the winding river. Go on, spoil yourself.

TVB has passed the award also to a number of outstanding bloggers, and really, if you are looking for good reads you’ll find some eye-openers, so spoil yourself again and pop along to meet them.

In the same relaxed spirit as TVB, with no strings attached, I’d like to nominate and pass on the award to Sarah at St Bloggie de Riviere, a lady who is inclined to speak her mind and not pull her punches, and is the author of the Floppy Monster educational books for small children.

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Marilyn Tomlins, who also receives the award, is a journalist living in Paris, and writing about life there as well as her particular interest, crime. She really gets her teeth into juicy murders, and her recent post on the Chevaline massacre attracted several hundred comments leading to on-going discussions of the crime. Marilyn has also written a fascinating book, Die in Parisa gripping account of Dr. Marcel Petiot, a  prolific serial killer during WWII, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. 

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For everything that is good about life in rural France, Jacqueline at French Village Diaries will keep you in the loop and up to speed. She blogs about French food, books about France, her vegetable garden and her pets, the France that people dream of. A lovely feel-good blog to visit to raise the spirits and give you a warm fuzzy feeling and healthy appetite, and she is my third nomination.

The dress I stole

The current winter sales brought back memories of the time I stole a dress, and the awful consequences.

It was sufficiently long ago (in another life, in fact) that I believe the likelihood of prosecution to be negligible (knock on wood!) And were the company (which I shall not name) to launch criminal proceedings I could cite the tax avoidance (evasion?) of which their supremo is accused and suggest that proportionately that person is a great deal more culpable of dishonesty than I am (not that that is a valid defence in law, of course).

Anyway, this is how it happened.

Money was no object at that time. See something, buy it. Simples.

It was a time when I needed to maintain a full and fashionable wardrobe for professional purposes. I’ve never enjoyed shopping for clothes, being at heart a jeans and jumper girl all my life, but duty called.

When the winter sales opened in London I followed the frenzied throng into a large department store and onto the Ladies Clothing floor. From the rails I scooped up an armful of dresses and squirmed with them into a curtained cubicle half the size of a telephone cabin, with one of those mirrors that make you look shorter and fatter than you are and unhealthily pale.

I tried on a heap of dresses while being smitten by elbows and knees coming through the curtains of the adjoining cubicles. Space was so limited it wasn’t possible to see whether they suited or not, and not really caring – I could always give them to a charity shop – I made a short sharp exit, dumping the heap on the counter and handing over a cheque for the amount on the till slip.

Once home, I tipped the bags of rags out and tried them on at leisure. Most of them would do, although one was somewhat too frilly for office wear and I put it away for a frivolous occasion.

A little later when checking the receipt, I noticed that I’d been charged for 7 dresses, whereas I actually had 8. The frilly one had slipped through the net. I’d take it back the next day.

But when the next day came the thought of carving a path through the bargain hunters to go and sort it out didn’t appeal. I’d wait until the sales were over. By which time I had completely forgotten about the frilly frock hanging in the wardrobe.

Fast forward many months.

At the time we had an acquaintance, a beautiful, fiery Russian lady whom we had been able to help out during a difficult period in her life. Now firmly back on her feet, she had fallen in love with a shy Englishman, and was determined to marry him whether he wanted to or not. She arranged an event whereat she would openly declare her love for him in front of witnesses, and pin him down to matrimony like a moth pinned to a card. The venue was a London nightclub that she had booked for an entire Saturday afternoon. Two hundred of her friends were invited. Including us.

What do you wear on a Saturday afternoon in a nightclub for a Declaration of Love? I flipped through the wardrobe and there right at the back was the unwittingly stolen frilly frock. Too frilly for day-wear, not sophisticated enough for evening wear. Perfect. Waves of guilt washed over me, but were calmed by the thought that (a) it had been stolen long ago (b) if the cashiers incorrectly undercharged customers, there was a good chance they also incorrectly overcharged customers and they’d probably made up the shortfall (c) it had only cost £6 and the logistics of the shop tracing the transaction and rectifying it wouldn’t be worth the investment of time and resources.

So I put it on, and off we went.

The afternoon was interminably long, as our hostess stood in the spotlight on the stage reading poetry, playing music and swaying gently. After a very, very long time the great moment arrived, and she called onto the stage the retiring Englishman, who stood shuffling his feet nervously while she quothe at him. Then she presented him with a large, flat packet, beautifully wrapped, and commanded him to open it.

With obvious trepidation he did so, to reveal a magnificent red kimono, embroidered with dragons and peacocks.

“Put it on!” she ordered. He shook his head. So she put it on him, declared her love and then plighted him her eternal troth while he stood gazing at the floor seeking a chasm into which to vanish.

Actually a great deal more than that took place, but as it’s irrelevant to the rest of the story, I’m omitting it. Having got the Declaration of Love out of the way, our lovely hostess then began talking about her life, from childhood in Russia and via the rest of the world to the dismal circumstances that had led her to London, where, without the help of so many kind people, she may have thrown herself into the Thames. She thanked those people, one and all. We all clapped.

“And now,” she said, “I am going to ask those lovely people to join me here where you can all see them.”

To my horror, she called our names first.

Grabbing my hand, TOH pulled me to my feet. We had now been sitting for three hours. The frock, which was made of a cotton/synthetic material and had originally been just-above-knee length, had pleated itself like a concertina from the waist down, and was now bunched around my hips. As TOH tugged me towards the stage I tried to pull the frock down, but it was springy and as much as I pulled it, as much it sprang back up again.

No doubt there have been moments in life where I’ve been uncomfortable, but never on that scale. Standing there in the spotlight, the more I yanked the hem down, the more the fabric sprang back. My knickers were in clear view to the other 198 guests. 

There’s a moral there somewhere. :)

 

The Sales

We went shopping today. It’s sale time in France. The shops were almost empty. The stuff in the windows wasn’t at all exciting. I didn’t buy anything.

Tell a lie – I did! An Oxford ring-bound A5 address book, in pearlised pink. €5.85 from an office supplies shop. Not in the sale. But I’m thrilled with it.