24 January 2005

Brian Bengston

(Footnote (haha): Hi Brian, saw your Omaha ISP surf through. I blogged you twice - see here - and remember all press is good press LOL. Next time I had at least found your blog)

Ever come across someone who just feels like tribe? Like you want to adopt them and be their mum/aunty/sister and go round grinning like a Cheshire cat because you are in any way associated?

Met this charming, unassuming kid (grief, hope he doesnt mind that tag) on a poets forum. Treated him like an equal because in my early ignorance I thought the site was full of equals - it just so happened that his poetry screamed like an electric guitar in the hands of a master, when, 'off stage' he is so straightforward and nice. Sorry, I couldnt help it, I got a bad case of mothering instinct, fell hard, wanted to send him cake and writing paper and hot water bottles.

I should add that he is living life to the best of his ability in between bouts of (eventually terminal) illness.

Brian's latest works are on Fanstory.com. If ever an American stole the crown for keeping a British stiff upper lip, this guy has done it. His works (such as this) are so incredibly honest and beautiful and heroic that they come across as the kind of black and white movie full of hope and love, that still has you snivelling through two boxes of Kleenex. They should be required reading at schools. Heck, his face should be up on bill boards. America should get itself a Poet Laureate and he should be it.

Trust me, I'm his mum (well I'm working on that!)

Heres his other, published stuff.

OK Confession time. I spelt his name wrong - It's actually Brian Bengtson, but hey, this is top of the google search list if you do what I did and get the s and t the wrong way round - hence no edit.

19 January 2005

So What IS Profanity These Days?

Really really extremely cheesed off. Insulted, disturbed, in a huff, fuming. Graaaaaaa!

I belong to a poets forum sort of site (I'm not going to give the link here) and some new guy has come along and put two new works up that I consider profane, which is against the Terms of site use. The site owner has decided the guy 'hasnt gone that far yet' so I am now left in confusion wondering what 'profane' means to some people.

Dictionary definition: having or indicating contempt, irreverence or disrespect for a divinity or something sacred.

There I was, skipping through the 'adult content' poetry section having a happy saucy time, only to come across this blast of fury which declared that God created the earth, basically, to screw her over. More than that he wrote it in the first person, as God, and described the physical human act of rape in some detail. His other piece was about stealing someones holy book and ejaculating on it in a toilet. This is one sick mind full of venom and scorn, I've never been that close to evil, or maybe this time it caught me by surprise. I complained that the work should at least have a violence rating as well as the sexual content warning, but that too was ignored.

I feel sick, but am told he hasnt gone far enough, so I just have to burn his name in my brain so I avoid reading his works, or leave the site altogether.

Great. If thats not profanity, what is?

16 January 2005

Imogen in sardonic mood - too many Christmas pictures? Posted by Hello

All that stuff.

My Imogen, the youngest child at 8 years old, has gone through a two year period of thinking that 'kissing and all that stuff' is seriously yukky. If there's a happy ending kiss on the telly, even in a Barbie cartoon movie, she covers her eyes, cringes and asks to be told when its over. Walking home from school, the number of boys from her class that call across and wave is remarkable, all of them with sheepish grins, yet she waves back innocently without half the enthusiasm.

Anyhow, she has sorted her life out again.

She wants to be a teacher and a mummy and a pop star and an actress. She is also, she tells me, going to adopt a child so as to avoid all the kissing and getting married nonsense.
The joy of all this is that her little face frowns slightly and her squeaky little voice takes on a slightly serious tone, as if to say that this statement has been well considered and it is incredibly hard not to smile as she speaks.

I hope this blog is still here when she discovers boys!

12 January 2005

Guinea Pig Harem

To those that follow my RSS feed - yes sorry, this is a very old post. It just comes up on searches once in a while, so I've duplicated the picture now - at least in blogger you can upload a clearer copy than in Hello, which you can click to enlarge. (Sorry Hello.)

Better leave the old one in a while or the spiders will get headache.

I really wish I hadnt found this..... Posted by Hello

Rampant Rumblings

We should have got shot of our two baby guinea pigs at 6 to 8 weeks old, before Christmas. Having fought through the tears and pleading of our youngest daughter, we finally had the family prepared for their departure. A quick call to the pet shop that had sworn to take them, however, established that the take up on baby caveys had slowed, and their cages were full already. They also took the opportunity to mention that they would prefer females, females can share a cage quite happily whilst two males will rip chunks out of each other. Same as usual, then. At that point in time we couldnt tell which was what.

Now our little eating & pooping machines are 12 weeks old and still here, and we have just discovered that they are a pigeon pair, one male and one female.
This is disaster. None of them can go in with big daddy, he has gone so long without his oats that he doesnt seem fussed by gender. His son, however, is in full teenage hormone rush and its hysterical to watch.

This is what a courting/rutting male guinea pig does:
  1. Starts to rumble like a washing machine on its last legs, complete with a deep purring noise and the visible shakes.
  2. Then straightens his back legs and starts a John Wayne swagger, on the spot. "Hey, look ladies, I'm so big down there I can't walk straight!" (Rumble and shudder continue throughout.)
  3. Continues in this vein until he thinks he's made his point, then makes a sudden, desperate mad dash at the nearest female backside, causing much squealing and chasing round in circles a la Benny Hill.
Its sad, but we have to choose fast between the pet shop and the vets. Hic Sob.

08 January 2005

Where have all the mushrooms gone?

Just a quicky.

Once upon a time mushrooms could be bought at the market, by weight, sifted into a large paper bag. Going from fresh air to fresh air, they lasted, if they werent all eaten straight away.
Huge flat, solidly textured things they were, slow fried until they shrank, to maximise the flavour.

Then came button mushrooms and the difference was like comparing avocado to a roast dinner.
Plenty of texture, and thats about all, these white little balls were cheap to produce - and were foisted on us with a massive advertising campaign. "Make Room For the Mushrooms!" the song went, incessantly, and I doubt that few ever stopped to wonder why something akin to a government propaganda flick was being hammered at us night and day when the subject matter was fungi, with absolutely no nutritional value at all. The likes hadnt been seen since the British Lion mark on approved eggs in the sixties and every second advert procalimed that you should 'Go to work on an egg'.

They did a number on us, made unripe, underdeveloped, tasteless, pointless button mushrooms a fashion statement, and from that a staple.

So instead of just having mushrooms, we had a choice, real ones, or button ones.

Buttons won out, they are hardly called buttons anymore, but have adopted the generic name. Nowadays if you want a 'real' mushroom they come in cellophane packs with ridged plastic bases designed to display them at a jaunty angle (why??), are guaranteed to go slimy with condensation overnight if you break the seal but dont remove them all, are all carefully selected to be exactly the same size, have no length of stalk on them worth tweaking off and frying separately and are called, for some ungodly and unfathomable reason, 'breakfast mushrooms'. Oh yes, and because fewer and fewer mushroom farms can be bothered to let their stock grow to full size, taking up valuable space whilst they do so, the damn things cost a ton. Grrrrrrrr.

07 January 2005

About me 2 (end)

Southall in the late sixties wasn't a complete bed of roses. The full-on racist attacks were still a decade away, but there were various glaring cultural differences that stood out a mile and either caused amusement or needed careful handling.

We soon found out that the children were terrified of dogs, only ever having come across vicious wild ones I suppose, and were totally gobsmacked to see us stroke the head of our soppy old black Labrador, Alice, or lean down to let her kiss us. This was a real ice breaker, mum promising children that Alice wouldn't bite, whilst the dog sat silent but hopeful, waiting to make a new friend.

Most of the boys of that generation grew up to own the largest, soppiest, friendliest alsatians you could imagine, albeit kept on outsized choke chains which were never needed; the mere image and kudos of controlling a 'vicious beast' (even one which in reality would at worst lick a burglar to death) was still considerable, in their eyes, but that's jumping ahead.

The idea of external house decor was a new experience, as proud owners of houses painstakingly painted the entire frontage with colours to their liking, for example cerise pink brickwork and white on all the grouting. The bright colours were only available in gloss paint and gloss painted brickwork was quite a statement in itself.

The only real down side, apart from outside opinion, was that some of the more elderly gentlemen felt that the streets of London, if not paved with gold, were paved with prostitutes. Look at it this way; you come from a country were no decent single woman is ever seen outdoors un-chaperoned and is under no circumstances seen anywhere on the streets once dusk has fallen and well, wow, for a brief moment anyone with a taste for a bit on the side must have thought they had died and gone to heaven. It was rather embarrassing, walking home from Girl Guides in Uniform, with friends (we learned never to travel alone), only to have our concentration broken by a loud belch or a stilted 'Ello', from an asian pensioner who then proceeded to wink or make the universal sign for "How much?".

I soon learned that looking horrified and staring down at my feet in 'shame' got me a profuse apology; the poor old sod was almost as shocked and upset as me, at the thought that he had behaved inappropriately toward a 'good girl'. The shame wasn't really there, I was confident of my ability to run, the streets were well lit and the gentleman was always old, but I somehow knew they understood that as the proper behaviour of the sort of girl 'that didn't'. I often got a sideways glance at lots of head shaking and backward shuffling, with palms up and a look of absolute mortification. Those that knew a few stilted words of English ( and the older generation are always the last to learn) would do their best to repeatedly say sorry, although it sounded more like Sari and took a while to work out. This makes it sound like constant harassment, but it wasn't, you would only meet one or maybe two of them at most on the weekly walk home from the Church Hall, and then only half the year, when it was dark by 7 pm. It also reduced as time went on and the two societies began to understand each other.

On the other hand, girls that responded with a mouthful of abuse were just as likely to have a large walking stick waved at them and what must have been an equal torrent of disgust. I never did understand that, I thought perhaps it was outrage that a female should express any sort of aggressive opinion, but looking back now, it may have been that the 'gentleman' may have thought he had just been rather insultingly turned down for business by the sort of girl that wasn't supposed to be choosy.

I knew one boy who ran home in scout uniform with a nastily bruised stomach, kicked in the gut for refusing the offer of £5 for a particular service, but by then the racism was beginning to surface and as the offender happened to be a different colour to his near victim it was dealt with very quietly, the only change apparent to my young eyes being that from then on the boy in question always had a lift home from Scouts. That's sad and wrong, but understandable in a tinder box; too many on either side wanted an excuse to condemn an entire race. A couple of years later when a friend from church was beaten up by another 'friend' from the same youth group, kicked in the head when he was down so that the whole pupil of his eye was black for a fortnight, again it was dealt with privately through the church and between the families because one was white and one was asian, and by this time going out on a Monday meant you likely as not had to walk round dried blood puddles on corners outside pubs.

Apart from the infamous Southall race riots which happened when I was eighteen, I never actually witnessed any violence in the town. The race riots don't count. The leaders of the churches and mosques etc all got together and held a peace march but the violence that killed Blair Peach, a teacher who came by coach as part of the Anti Nazi league to face down a bunch of National Front supporters who had advertised they would be marching through Southall, was part and parcel of a clash between two outside forces with the Police stuck in the middle and cannot be taken as comment on the residents.

For the record I have no personal knowledge or opinion of how well or badly the police handled the job. I only know that the ordinary Southall people stayed indoors and if only the NF had turned up alone, without resistance, they would have marched down empty streets to no great effect at all, watched by enough police to make sure it was only a march. By memory, word got out about the ANL coming too, so I wouldn't be remotely surprised if both sides were gathering numbers and tooling up for a bundle ahead of the day. I had to go to Ealing for some reason in the early evening, I already travelled there to grammar school and had friends and the beginnings of a social life. I lived at the opposite end of Southall to the march, which was scheduled to be over a couple of hours before then and because I went directly to the station by bus, mum reluctantly let me go. Unfortunately the train was packed with college types, excitable girls with rampant hair and hippy skirts, all travelling home from, as they saw it, this important social turning point. However well meaning they were, they boiled down to left wing do-gooders who did more harm than good, but neither of us knew that at the time and I had a very uncomfortable journey under the disapproving and suspicious glares, once I had been obliged to admit that I hadn't been at the march at all, but indoors watching telly.

Just for information the violence I did witness was not technically in Southall at all, but on the other side of the Grand Union Canal in a residential area known as Heston. Blood was drawn between two young Sikhs, on a small bus stop down a quiet road, with much posturing, threats of revenge and reinforcements etc, because one had called the other 'a Paki'.

By the late eighties, two stops down the same bus route a shelter was regularly being used in broad daylight by young lads who would get cozy and then skin up joints, with a lazy glare at people who might actually want to catch a bus which described at once total indifference and a supreme confidence that they had every right to be 'about their business'.

Growing up in Southall? Those were the good old days.

06 January 2005

Lewis, posing in blue last year Posted by Hello

Aspergers - a gift?

I cut my younger son's hair over the Christmas holidays. Gary spotted electric trimmers going cheap in Woolworths and brought them home, so both he and Lewis ended up with really short cuts.

Lewis, the one with Aspergers (Special Needs Showdown - sorry you have to scroll down a bit there) was until recently known simply as a difficult child. This got me into the habit of giving him Christopher Robin style haircuts, short back and sides but really quite long on top, for social reasons. Putting it bluntly I used every means I had to inspire teachers to query whether there was a real child with a real heart in there after all. I'll try and find a piccy.

When we first cut his hair really short, even I had a shock, as Christopher Robin became Eminem, to look at. Fantastic. I'm praying for the base line I shaved in around his ears to grow out a bit before I have a chance to present him to the special needs experts who have never met him but have decided that he doesnt need a SEN statement. I'm sorry to say it but the look, on his face at any rate, screams 'problem child'.

Phrenology went out of fashion when the Nazis took a really big interest in it and because of that I dont think its ever been properly researched, but like any idea that sticks, however crass and offensive and obviously outdated many of the common impressions are, and in this case think of the condemnation of people whose eyes are supposedly 'too close together', there has to be a grain of truth in there somewhere for it ever to have got off the ground in the first place, instead of being laughed into oblivion.

We were watching a documentary on Pink. I dont go in for documentaries or pop extravaganzas, but for Pink I'll make an exception; I love her music and the way her mind works. Gary's sitting there beside me going "Shes ADHD she's ADHD" and looking at how she explained difficulties with her family, the kind of independent stuff she got up to at such a young age, hearing their completely different view, just as valid, I could see that he might have a point, but Gary being Gary wasnt really listening as it turned out; he had simply caught a good shot of the bridge of her nose. He has this armchair theory that perception differences linked to the frontal lobe of the brain might be magnified by bone growth. To be honest I cant imagine that MRI wouldnt have already confirmed that, if it were true, I mean presumably it would involve more extra bone growth than can be seen from the outside. How thick is a human skull, for that matter?

The lovely South African specialist that diagnosed Lewis' condition made a confession that made me feel a whole lot better. She said she had worked all over, yet had never seen as many cases of Aspergers anywhere outside of the UK.

This set me to considering that, until a couple of hundred years ago, we probably were a fairly inbred bunch of mongrels in the main, predominantly a Celtic/Anglo mix. Surrounded by sea and only ever absorbing invaders, I can see how the gene pool could become if not dangerously singular then at least heavily pocketed with rarified and specific skill sets or conditions. So maybe we DO have the highest number of Aspergers sufferers per capita in the world. All that does is add credence to another postulation that if you looked for adult presentation of the symptoms in our society, the two highest concentrations would be found in the upper classes and the prison population.

Think about it - what are the essential ingredients of either a genius or an atypical eccentric? Obsessive interest in a subject, intense creativity and a very high intelligence. Then add, more in some cases than others, indifference to social cues - a sort of 'being on another level'. Of course, stick the same mind into mainstream school (although teaching methods are at last making allowances), berate the child for disinterest in the full curriculum, ostracise him for being unable to notice the myriad social cues that contain such a hotbed, tell him off constantly for not performing to the impossible norm and he'll end up unfulfilled, lonely, with low self esteem and probably a lot of internalised rage. I'd bet anything that more people have gone through the judicial system since 1910 than in the hundred years before that and I'll bet that the resentment inspired by nationwide classroom schooling was a huge factor. I love learning curves.

To cap it all Lewis is horribly dyslexic. I ought to be panicked for him? Nah, so was Einstein.

P.S. Link to brilliant Aspergers site filched from a really useful blog: GJ Willis' Art Notes. Thanks Gail!
I sort of wish I hadn't started the 'about me' thing. I meant it to be a sweeping and generalised background to explain 'where my head is at', but the memories it has generated over the last couple of days could turn into a whole flaming book and I don't like the way my ego perks up and looks ready for action, like a dog that vaguely heard the word 'lead' or 'park' being mentioned, when I consider writing some more.

So this isn't that.

Generally speaking I like blue cheese. Mid summer, finding an exotic sandwich shop down some tourist-free backstreet or other, the idea of a baguette containing Stilton along with its other burgeoning, glistening fillings is enough to make me, well quite happy. Content.

Now, with the kids back at school and husband back at work, it has somehow lost its glamour. The first two weeks of January are traditionally, in our house at least, the time when the fridge has to be slowly relieved of all the still fresh foods that weren't completely consumed over the holidays and to that end (also because its a slightly tight month for cash) we buy only the basics; bread, milk and ingredients for 'proper dinners' such as mince.

So how exactly is this stuff supposed to get eaten? These dregs that no-one fancied enough to polish them off in the first place?

Here I am then, facing a near empty fridge, wondering whether to try and force down blue cheese on toast or a stilton and mayonnaise sandwich, or whether to go without altogether. Somehow, with a sliced loaf at my disposal instead of a warm, scented crusty baguette; with no grapes or bacon to soften the flavour, this is beginning to feel like purgatory. Even with all those things I doubt I could face it - Christmas, in this case, seems to have amounted to aversion therapy.

Back to just coffee, then.

04 January 2005

About me 1

When I started this blog I was clueless, couldn't tell HTML from gobbledygook and just wanted somewhere to be occasionally silly, stretch the creative doodas and just get into the habit of writing.

Nosing around, I followed links and copied stuff and found myself resisting the urge to fill my basic single side column here with everything from a blogpet to a weather icon, just because I realised I could.

Now I'm getting into the swing of things, or at least edging my way towards understanding the basic sense of community on here and on the various supporting sites like blogexplosion ( see button) and starting to feel brave enough to leave comments at the nicer/funnier places I've found, it seems time (mostly for fear of return visits!) to paint myself into the scheme of things.

Born in Southall, West London, in a two-up two-down cottage with an outdoor loo and a tin bath hung on the wall in the back yard, I was there when Middlesex existed, when Southall wasn't part of Ealing and had its own town hall, and most of all before the rush of 'Asian' British citizens. To be honest, although it must have seemed like a mad and sudden influx to the adult population, one day I just had friends of different colours, same as I already had friends with different builds and different hair.

The Council moved us in 1967 when I was six so they could demolish the cottages, and granny came to live with us. She had only ever been just around the corner in the first place, and I thought her cottage was nicer than ours as it had an old cooking range and the outdoor toilet was built on, instead of being in the shed at the bottom of the yard like ours. Hers had a beautiful huge orange flowering of mould, the most exotic thing I had ever seen and I was only ever allowed to her toilet with a head full of dire warnings not to touch it, even though that seemed grossly unfair to a four or five year old. The adults kept removing, but to my delight it just kept coming back.

Ours had a load of scary wooden shelves filled with unspecific things, and spiders.

The new house had a back garden, 100 foot long and desperately overgrown. Instead of living across the road from Southall Park and the market, now we were quite literally across the road from the Grand Union Canal. There was only a steep drop and a towpath the other side of the tarmac road out front and for that we never had the power cuts that hit the rest of Southall in the seventies, because our electricity was on the same circuit as the essential street lights that stopped people accidentally driving into the filthy water.

Mum started work again once my youngest brother was born, and got a job with the IWA, the Indian Workers Association, doing the typing and correcting the English grammar as she went. Even though she was one of the most open minded people of her generation, I do seem to recall her feeling that one should speak slowly and clearly, as a sign of respect, if talking to someone who might not have a full grasp of the language. "Have - you - had - a - nice - day - dear - ?". Speaking clearly, it seemed, also meant upping the volume by a notch or two.

Its only now, looking back, that I realise my mother must have been obliged to defend her decisions, sometimes. For example, because of her work I ended up playing with two very nice girls who had clipped and proper English accents to rival that of the Royal Family, to be blunt, to my mind, they sounded like Ovalitinies, or the lady on the radio who did Listen With Mother. I remember one of them sobbing her heart out whilst I looked on helplessly, because she had been taunted and called a filthy wog, when she didn't even know what the word meant. "I looked it up in the dictionary, and it means Egyptian! Do they think I'm Egyptian?" I couldn't help, I heard of it, but didn't have the first clue what it meant.

I can't remember her name now, which shames me, but I can remember that she and her sister were "good intelligent girls, their father's a Doctor, and they have better manners and spoken English than the white children these days". As I say, my mother must have had to defend sending me to play with them. I didn't give a hoot whose dad did what, so that comment had stuck with me, as it had seemed important.

I still don't know the politics behind Southall becoming an asian enclave; maybe Ealing Council was in force by then and decided to shove their quota 'all in one place' and as near as possible to the next Borough, Hounslow, where the airport was, or to put it another way as close to 'not really being in Ealing at all' as it was possible to manage. Most whites that could, moved out. My mother complained, when another family tried to hide their airs and graces behind a veil of false reluctance at having to leave, that if they didn't want the town to fill up with asians, then why were they leaving? Why go, if you know it means that an asian family will have your old home? She wasn't so much angry at the airy fairy excuses used to mask fear, or feelings of insecurity, so much as browbeaten by it. It was like watching her lose people she had honestly thought more of than that, watching her faith in other people's good hearts and common sense take a proper knocking. Finally her attitude hardened; if they wanted to go they could jolly well get on with it, we, and Southall and life in general would be better off without them.

This is going to be longer than I realised, and the telly beckons, so more another time, perhaps.

03 January 2005

Anyone out there want to offer to pay me for churning out my own personal and distinct version of twaddle?
No, thought not.

Shame really, I could spout with an air of tongue-in-cheek authority on any subject you care to mention. All it takes is enough time in Google and Jeeves to quote a few authorities and form a temporary opinion of my own. Peanuts. When I say air however, I do mean air as in vapid and intangible; or at least above ground, ie without foundation. All smoke and mirrors, me.

But all is not lost (what, did she just say that? Is she going to start using words like 'aplenty', or worse still, 'galore' and turn into a dead end small town journalist making stories out of ten people queuing at the Town Hall? Dear God no, shoot her now and save her good name). Seriously, I have found another website that has taken my full attention for the last 36 hours or so, as it allows and even encourages people to write poetry, as well as short stories and whole novels if the fancy takes you.

Poetry, or rather my poetry is, I feel, something to be produced like childhood or holiday photo albums, only if someone else specifically suggests it. It is not something I would start spouting or churning out within a hundred miles of here without some sort of recognition of skill prior to the event, but that too is available at FanStory.com. The whole concept is that everyone who submits work for dissection also does their best to make valid and honest comments about everybody else's work.

It can backfire a little, particularly if you are a hound for constructive criticism. High praise such as 'Some of your verses are truly excellent' only makes me frustrated. If I do have the potential for excellence, then before I can let my head swell up I want someone with a greater knowledge (cant be hard to find?) to do me a real favour and tell me which verses fell short of the mark, and exactly why, otherwise I'll never improve.

Then again, I am already shy of awarding anything less than 3 stars out of a possible 5 to other contributors, when the idea is to try and keep 1s and 5s to a minimum but to speak honestly for anything else. Already I am bypassing the efforts that make me feel more like they need marking in red pen with a large "See Me After Class" at the bottom because:

a) I don't feel competent to be that much of a critic, I mean who am I for flips sake? God?

b) I gave a 3 to a guy with a brilliant concept who had presented a heavy and thought provoking subject in a dancy little rhythm, way too light and bouncy for the content. I said so, in the nicest words I could think of, praising both elements as distinct items. The response I got back (in public, mind) was "What Ever"! If you don't want the bloody criticism don't bloody ask for it!

Sodding Philistine. I read his bio thinking that just maybe I had piqued some poor spotty, angst ridden teenager, but no he was a fully adult man with a family and a very high opinion of himself. Weirdo. Still that sort of thing smarts a bit, and cant inspire anyone to offer honest assistance where it is most needed, for fear of stroppy little hitlers spitting back.

Well thats where I've been. I stuck in an old piece of work from the darkest dustiest recess of My Documents, then wrote two for competitions, which were complete in no time because I always find it easier to be industrious under instruction. A quatrain at least this long; a poem about or including this picture; much easier than waiting for inspiration. Catch 22 I then discovered, was that you can only post two new items each day.

Each of those pieces are up for criticism for a month now, during which they have to acquire so many favourable critiques (fifteen?) in order to move across to a more permanent spot, or something. I havent really read it all, but I do know that what has kept me creeping back in there every so often today, was the urge to see if I had received any more good reviews.

Knowing my addiction to email and my ability to be a total workaholic as long as it involves a keyboard and screen, perhaps signing up to something else where I can constantly wonder if I've 'got mail' is not such a clever idea; particularly if you were to ask my husband.

01 January 2005

Over the last couple of years the British prisons have swapped all the canteen cutlery from metal to plastic. I would guess this was a cost cutting exercise as much as anything; less for the washing up machines or staff, no need for a couple of Officers to man the metal detectors at the canteen door, etc, but it must have had a knock on effect on the food provided, also. Who hasnt sat at a barbecue and snapped their plastic fork, trying to pick up something with pastry on it?
One grumble that quietly surfaced at the time was that a suitable quality of plastic knife could still inflict a wound and worse, be snapped off making the removal a bugger of a job.

This caused a lot of merriment to an adorable neighbour we have, a real East End barrow boy who has spent too many years saying that "Prisons aint prisons no more, they're bloody holiday camps". An ex incumbent himself, he looks with scorn at the provision of radios, TVs and electrical points and anything else that, in all honesty, was probably missing from most temprary housing in the real world during the era when he 'did his time'. But stories, does he have some stories, such as the magical disappearing dinner.

Once upon a time, in Pentonville Prison, a single officer would do the night rounds, when all the cells were locked. He had a station at the centre of the wings and would walk each wing, leaving his dinner at the centre, before coming back to have his meal. The meal was invariably gone when he got back, however, and no-one ever worked out how.

According to our nameless friend, it was his cell mate. The man had, he said, fashioned a key to their cell, from a metal dessert spoon. Every night, timing it perfectly, he would let himself out, walk to the centre, calmly consume the officer's meal and then silently return to lock himself back in.

Beat that, Ronnie Barker.