United Nations Human Rights Council logo.
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The temperatures are falling. Outside the snow creates a misleading beauty that masks the possibility of road accidents, broken legs and hypothermia. Many people will be house bound and unable to get to work. It will cost the economy but it will give us time to think. Working from home is becoming more acceptable and if the weather continues to be unpredictable and dangerous, it may be the way forward. Working alone from your house might make you lonely, might make focus difficult, but you may find you become more productive, less distracted by other things; situations that can only happen when you are working away from home and dealing with colleagues.

Every time another person steps across your personal boundary, they steal a piece of you.  When someone says something nasty about someone else and you are offended on their behalf,  you are a witness to yet another felony and submitting to it. When you observe verbal bullying, you may not have the strength to speak out, but you can write the details down. It doesn’t take a minute. No journalist would go out without his notebook. Keep one handy, along with a pen and record time, date, names and incident. You will then have the power of accurate information, the knowledge which immediately gives you the cool upper hand – good power and knowledge is power.

Have you ever considered how you communicate? I think it’s all about perception. (One man‘s meat is another man’s poison and all that.) When words come out of someone’s mouth, directed at another person, they are the verbal picture of thoughts. But it all happens so fast that the two often get out of sync and the person on the receiving end ends us totally confused, completely misunderstanding what is being said, because what the speaker is thinking is not what he/she is saying.

However, it’s not always a case of the word/thought misalignment. Sometimes, something much worse is going on – the abuse of power. Power can be benign or toxic.  Power is the ability to make people think, feel and behave the way you want them to.  As children we were all under the power of a whole host of adults: teachers, parents, doctors. Then we grow up, but some things remain the same. We become sub-ordinate to bosses; managers, supervisors, senior partners, to mention just a few.  Think how many people in your life have power in some form or another, over you. Credit card companies? If you owe them money, yes. Banks? Less than they used to, but once they foreclose on your overdraft, their power becomes supremely active. And what about in marriage? The statistics for domestic abuse in the UK are still a disgrace. To be abused by a spouse or partner must be on of the most toxic uses of power.

So, how does power communicate itself to you? If someone yells at you or attacks you, you know they want you to submit. It’s clear and it pays off to acquiesce,  for instance when a mugger points a gun at you. Only the very bravest or the idiots, depending on your point of view, would challenge that use of power.

If you are being harassed or bullied at work, you have the power of human rights, government legislation and your union behind you.  Yet if you choose to say and do nothing, to allow yourself to be a victim and act in a submissive manner to a bully, you are not only letting yourself down but also all those other people who worked for years to get the laws passed. By letting others make decisions for you and by submitting to their opinions and actions that you know in your heart are wrong, gives your share of the good power away and that sort of power is precious and not to be squandered.

I am not advocating that you spend your life as a private detective, watching everyone for signs of power abuse. But bullying and harassment have been steadily increasing everywhere and not just by people you might expect it from. The police have come under fire for their aggressive tactics at the last G20 summit protest in London. If it hadn’t been for all those camera phones recording incidents that clearly show an abuse of their power, we would only have the police version of what actually happened and it might have been a version less truthful than the ones captured on camera.

When you feel that you are being more submissive that you would like to be in a bad power game, stand firm and remember you can use a type of communication that will work; stay silent. Give the bully his head. Let him/her blow off the verbal steam. Smile sweetly and make a bee-line for the nearest quiet place and write it all down.  After all, the pen is so much mightier than any sword and the simple act of writing releases feelings that might otherwise damage you. Then, after recording everything you can take time to work out a clear strategy. You can embrace your good power and put it to use, going down the right channels to find support.

The trick is to learn to make healthy boundaries in the moment by attending to your feelings, opinions, perceptions and needs. Your right is to assert them with integrity and compassion but to recognise harassment and bullying and refuse to accept them when directed at yourself or others.



A Turkish school uniform.
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Last September my little grand-daughter started school. She was not yet five but they take them young these days.I didn’t start school until I was seven and the memories are not good. I can see myself now, sitting on a long bench, that for some reason the teachers insisted on calling a ‘form’ sobbing my eyes out. Mum skittered back and forth like a demented dragon-fly, not knowing whether to leave me or to stay. Eventually, she was told in no uncertain terms to leave. She obeyed, with tears flooding her cheeks.

September is the month when thousands of little people start that long journey through the education system. The month always has that ‘school’ feeling for me. The hours I spent buying and altering school uniforms, rushing round Woolworth’s gathering up pencil cases, rulers, coloured pencils, writing pads; the nights I lost worrying about packed lunches – were they nutritious enough, was the bread cut properly, had I remembered the right flavoured crisps? My son and daughter-in-law will begin their own journey through that mine field of concerns and it will be a long one as they have three children.

While putting together a DVD of photographs (something all good grandma’s must do!) I looked into the shinning eyes of that baby girl, who would everyday be putting on her blue school dress and new school shoes and walking through the school gates all by herself. And she’s not yet 5! Her confidence and self-assurance is quite amazing. She has brilliant parents and I guess that the teachers have improved, too!

I remember one of my daughters’ first term escapades at school with poignant humour. I’d deposited her safely in the class-room and having returned home to start work, I was sitting at my computer sipping my first cup of get-me-going coffee when there was an almighty banging on the front door. I rushed downstairs to open it, only to find my five year old standing on the front step, fists clenched, face scarlet and quite obviously fuming. (The school was just a stone’s throw from the house, with no roads to cross, thank heavens!) She announced that she’d had enough of school and was never going back. At that moment, her teacher appeared, running up the path, with an even redder face and a lot of sweat on her brow. Teacher explained that my little darling had simply walked out of school and hadn’t been missed… for a few moments, that is… Once it was noted that she wasn’t sitting sweetly at the table, doing her cutting and sticking shapes lesson, teacher had put emergency procedures into action. These included three of her colleagues searching the school, while she, poor dear, rushed up the road to my house. My little daughter remained adamant while this explanation was being given; she WAS NOT going back to school. It took a few weeks for her to calm down and realise she WAS GOING to school and that she would be in school for several years. I am pleased to say, she sailed through it all and ended up with a very good university degree.

Unlike my daughter and my grand-daughter, I never really took to school. The uniform was itchy and I hated the beany hats we were compelled to wear on pain of excommunication. I hated the rules and regulations – uniform inspection every term, including knickers – they had to be regulation navy blue serge bloomers. I loathed some of the teachers, especially Miss O’Malley, all tweed suits and strange Roman sandals. It was Miss O’Malley who hauled me out of assembly and made me stand and face the whole school while she announced that I had ‘been hanging a cup on my lip‘ during lunch. (This was a highly technical term for sucking out the air in a plastic beaker to make it stick to my mouth and thereby amuse all my class mates. It hadn’t amused Miss O’Malley)  I would be receiving the necessary punishment to fit the crime; two half hour detentions.

There were some teachers who made a huge impression on me. One was my English teacher, Miss Smith. She loved literature and fired my imagination with a flame thrower. She was brilliant. Then there was Miss Martock, who came from New Zealand to teach us Latin. She spent every lesson telling us stories about Roman gods and goddesses. I didn’t learn much Latin in that first term but I was enthralled and engaged and ended up loving the language. Thanks you Miss Martock and Miss Smith!

I suffered the slings and arrows of education and emerged from the Catholic convent sausage machine reasonable well educated and with a very intense desire to become Jewish. Rebellion was instilled in me from an early age. My one regret is that I never found out whether or not those nuns had any hair under their whimples.

Now my grand-daughter will decide whether she likes her teachers or not; will have to survive the battle field of the playground and will criticize her mother’s beautifully hand crafted packed lunch. She will develop opinions and become argumentative; she will no longer be the sweet bidable baby in the photo ( albeit that she had one hell of a cry.) She will gather to herself a serious set of rules and insist her parents know nothing. She will forge new and passionate friendships and force her parents to let her have sleep-overs where other people’s kids will vomit on her clean duvet and get scratched by the cat, for which injuries, long and involved explanations to their parents will be needed. She will learn to sing school songs and act in school plays and her mummy will stay up all night trying to make the angel costume just right for the Nativity play. She will reach her teens and play truant and take her first puff behind the bike-sheds. She will fall in love with a spotty faced idiot (her Dad’s opinion) and take her first kiss to heart and have her heart broken and cry on the bottom of her parents bed and be comforted in her pyjamas with hot chocolate and cake. Eventually, she will emerge, a beautiful educated young woman, and it will all have been worth it.

I sincerely pray that this government won’t decimate our education system by cutting back to the bone. These children, starting school with such hopes and fears, are our future. Schools MUST be funded properly. Our children need good education; it is as important as good healthy food. PLEASE Cameron and Clegg – take note!


British Soldiers patrol Helmand Province.
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What is it that makes us depressed? It may be one catastrophic incident or the slow drip drip of small but significant happenings in our day to day life.

In the past, we lived in communities where people helped each other out when times were hard. That’s not a rose tinted spectacle view of how we were. We know from historical documentation that neighbours had to support each other because the State did little to help. It was the onset of the social revolution, with its National Health Service, that began to absolve us from the lay responsibility for the welfare of others.

People can feel isolated in the busiest town. With the closing down of village stores, school and post-offices, it is no better for rural communities. Many of our most thriving villages have become nothing more than collections of empty houses; second homes for the wealthy. Those who are left struggle to keep going, are often unable keep family together, because house prices have soared and sons and daughters are unable to put down roots near to their parents. The outcome of this is that the intricate web of support that helped us live, raise our children and get love and care as we age is breaking down very fast and there is nothing coming into to view to replace it.

This is where depression comes in. Our fragmented society is the breeding ground for this debilitating and dangerous disease, more deadly than any flu pandemic because it can last for years and devastate whole families for generations. In our fix-it-quick society, if we get depressed, we are urged to take the next new pill. It makes life easier for the GP, because hoards of us are asking our doctors to solve our sadness problems. A sympathetic and informed doctor can be a life-line, but in the end it is the cause of the illness that must be tackled. Mental Health is still the Cinderella service in the UK and any form of mental illness carries with it a huge amount of stigma, even though one in four people will get mentally ill at some point in their lives.

We all feel down now and them, but these days, so many of us don’t bounce back. Just watch the TV news any night and measure how you feel before and after. Last night I watched a report from two brave journalists broadcasting from a war zone in Afghanistan. As they tried valiantly to describe the horror around them, the sound of gun fire and missiles punctuating their words, the camera honed in on a child about eight years old. She walked calmly though the chaos into the remains of what had once been her home. Her sweet face bore the expression of a sleep-walker; she had withdrawn from her young life into a place where she could protect her fragile psyche. She seemed unaware of the journalists, the soldiers, the gunfire and of the mortal danger she was in. A soldier appeared  and shouted at her to run and hide. Her dignity never wavered. She did not look at him, but simply walked though the ruined doorway and like a ghost, disappeared. The journalists made no reference to her. They were crouched down in a corner, giving us the stats about how many British soldiers had been killed in this pointless war.

The impact that this child made on me was indescribable. It summed up the futility of war, the callousness of conflict, the inhumane attitude of humans to other members of the human family. It affected me far more than any funeral of any young soldier killed on the battlefield, terrible and tragic though that it. Soldiers choose to join up. They know that a job in the Armed Forces might mean an early death. It is the chance they take for doing the job. I am not saying that their bravery and dedication is invalid, but it is avoidable should they have chosen to become a teacher or a post-man. I long for the human race to reach a time when we do not use the lives of young men and women to try and solve international conflict. There must be better ways to achieve peace on earth.

The picture of that innocent child, someone’s beloved daughter, alone and traumatized will haunt me forever and might, if I did not have the inner strength to rationalise my feelings or family and friends to talk to, have pushed me over the edge into depressive illness; that was how deeply I was touched. And sometimes, in the frantic struggle of modern life, it takes just one incident, one image to do just that.


No doubt by writing this piece, I will be inundated with nasty spam but this morning, when I checked my comments and saw what I had been sent under the guise of a flattering response, I had to put fingers to keyboard and get this off my chest! The comment was sent by a site that thinks it’s okay to show women being sexually abused. That’s what I call pornography: sexual abuse. But it’s not just the women who are abused, it’s the men involved, those who view these sites and anyone involved at any level, because to make money out of nasty photos of sex, is to my mind, seriously abusive all round.

Porn had been around for hundreds of years; probably thousands, maybe even millions? But even if I were living in a cave, wearing nothing but an animal skin and gnawing a dinosaur bone, I wouldn’t want to receive unsolicited pornographic cave paintings!  It’s my choice if I want to paper my walls and ceiling with porn. MY CHOICE. I do not want to receive the stuff uninvited. And that’s what is happening to each and every one of us when we turn on our computers. We are suddenly at risk from unsolicited and offensive trash.

Freedom from censorship has been hard won. But the world wide web is a law unto itself. At present, it cannot be policed effectively and anyway, would we want it to be? But down in its murky depths are sites that should, in my opinion, be removed. The very worst sites are under scrutiny by the police but I think there are many that are allowed to continue because they are seen as acceptable. They are not acceptable. I do not find them acceptable. They insult women and they demean men.

I am no religious fanatic or a prude. But the abusive nature of porn sites really bothers me. I know you might say just don’t look at them. I don’t, but when they are thrust at you and you cannot stop the image flashing up on your screen, what then? The image has been seen. Like a horrendous car crash, you have to live with that image, your mind has been assaulted by it. My greatest fear is that one of my grand children should inadvertently, or through curiosity come across these abusive images.

The following is an excerpt from an article by Germaine Greer published in The Guardian in 2000.

The cool post-liberal consensus about pornography misses the point. Pornography has nothing to do with freedom of expression: it is primarily business, a ruthless impersonal industry based on the sound maxims that a) there is one born every minute; and b) you should never give a sucker an even break. It uses and abuses not only the boys and girls who provide the imagery, but also the fantasy-ridden sub-potent public, mostly male, that pays for its product.

New guidelines covering both mainstream movies and hard-core videos sold through sex shops mean we can now lawfully watch more pornography. There are virtually no constraints on the level of explicit sex in films now, and in R18 videos, close-up shots of penetration by penis, finger, tongue or sex toy, ejaculation, oral-genital contact and masturbation have become legal. But legal or illegal hardly matters, except that illegal, like all crime, pays better for less work. Can pornography go any further? Yes, it can. Can it go too far? No, it can’t. As far as male sexual fantasy is concerned there is no too far.

Illicit porn is the trailblazer. Where it goes, legitimate media must follow if they are not to allow the unscrupulous to walk away with the lion’s share of the profits, and ultimately the whole business. If cult movies can generate for nothing the kind of media interest that costs mainstream movies millions to pump up, mainstream movies will copy them – slowly, goodness knows, but inevitably. No matter how much froth and bubble there is around the question of what children may and may not be allowed to see, the real problem is what the parent generation demands to be shown. As long as there is demand, the porn industry will be there to serve it. As long as there are cigarettes, kids will smoke them. As long as daddy keeps tit mags and porn videos in his sock drawer, his kids will look at them. The notion that kids can exist in one world while their parents exist in another is a peculiarly English delusion.

Historically and etymologically, pornography is simply the advertising of prostitution. A great deal of pornography caters for niche markets of just this kind, and is totally unarousing to people whose sexuality has not been kinked in that direction. Minority sexual preferences are usually classed as paraphilias and dubbed abnormal; the permissive society tended to accept paraphilias as an essential aspect of human sexual activity. ‘Whatever turns you on’ was what you were entitled to in the innocent Sixties, before the lid had been taken off and we had a sight of the can of worms that is human sexuality. What the sex reformers of the Sixties thought they were liberating was people’s desire to pleasure each other; what they were not prepared for was the intensity of the need that many people have to hurt each other, and even to harm each other, if they are to get any closer to their own brain-sucking orgasm also known as ‘great sex’.

The inbuilt problem in the ‘whatever turns you on’ creed is that what turns one person on does not necessarily turn on his partner. Very few women develop paraphiliac interests; some say this is because their sexuality is still repressed, and that as they begin to share power and to identify their own sexual interests, they too will begin to demand exotic sexual services. The reality is that most women participate in sex games because there is no other route by which they can enter into what passes for intimacy with the person they love. In the sex industry the customer calls the shots; the purveyor of sexual services, like the purveyor of food or entertainment, like anyone working in any service industry, is in it for the money…  Many sex workers find the faking of pleasure a service too far, and draw the line at pretending to enjoy whatever it is the client wants them to do. In an unfree society, most of the activities called consensual represent the capitulation of the powerless to the demands of the powerful. Power comes in various guises, as money, status, patriarchy, and as emotional invulnerability.

The purpose of pornography is to arouse desire in the absence of desire, to raise appetite where no hunger exists, so as to provide a market in which the purveyors of pleasure can make their living and their profits. Where need exists, there is no necessity to stimulate demand; where no need exists, enticing imagery must be used to create demand. People who have no desire to eat a piece of bread and butter, because they are not hungry, can be stimulated to desire chocolate if the chocolate is presented to them as something more than food, as ecstasy, rhapsody or orgasm. Chocolate is a fattening comestible marketed as if it were a drug; when foodstuffs from apple pies to processed cheeses are presented as causing euphoria, it is the drug experience that is presented as the way to wellbeing. Commercially produced food is also fake food, not made principally of the substances mentioned on the label, but with chemical analogues and fillers, and laced with taste additives and excessive amounts of salt and sweeteners. Your healthy yoghurt-coated apricot pieces are mostly vegetable fat and sugar, neither of which is mentioned on the label. In a similar way, commercial fast sex is fake sex, divorced from both passion and reproduction. Food advertising sells fantasy food and sex advertising sells fantasy sex.

Just as the advertising of fast food and confectionery has eliminated appetite so that no one now knows what it is to work up an appetite, or that hunger is the best sauce to any food, pornography has eliminated desire. Food marketing has brought eating disorders upon us, and it is as likely that sex marketing will have the same consequences. We already gorge and starve on sex, so that love-making becomes displacement activity – fetishistic, obsessive-compulsive and deeply pointless. The analogy with sex and drugs soon became obvious; we began with alcoholics who abuse one kind of drug, and moved to chocoholics who abuse another, and from heroin addicts to sex addicts.

There was a time within living memory when for most people, fast food and fast sex were both unattainable. The nation had much less food and much less sex than it has now, but it is very possible that it enjoyed both food and sex more than it does now. Pleasure, like pain, is difficult to quantify; one could never prove that we are having more sex but of poorer quality in 2000 than in 1950, any more than we could prove that potatoes really did taste better 50 years ago, but enjoyment and rarity do seem to be connected in the human psyche, if in a curiously problematic way. An orgasm prolonged for more than a few minutes would soon begin to pall. Routine sex is just that. If you drink champagne once a year, are you more likely to find it delicious than if you drink it every day? Or are you more likely to be disappointed and think that it is not the drink it is cracked up to be? The pleasure principle takes intelligent management; we need to know what to expect from our champagne, how to judge good champagne from bad, and when and where and how fast to drink it.

Sex is much more complicated than champagne, especially if two people or more are involved. A wine buff has to learn his pleasure by experiment and also by study; pornography might be thought of as the information system that shows the sex buff how to enjoy sex. There are important differences; the literature of wine cannot give us the sensations of drinking or having drunk; gratification must be delayed. People don’t often drink wine while reading about it, and less often find that they need to read about it before working up a desire for it, but people often have sex while watching other people having sex on video. Pornography both triggers a genital reaction, provokes excitement and suggests imminent release; pornography is what makes fast sex possible, alone or with others.

Fast food is a way of neutralising hunger and hence the intrusion of images of food into other mental pursuits. Fast sex, too, might clear the decks for a different kind of action. The proliferation of pornography is rather like the rise and rise of the potato crisp, which now occupies both sides of a whole aisle in the local supermarket. You used to have to hunt for a sachet of salt in your crisp packet; you can now get crisps not only ready-seasoned, but with sprayed-on chemicals that simulate the flavours of prawn cocktail, smoky bacon, Worcester sauce, smoked ham and pickle, roast beef and mustard, cream cheese and chives, sour cream and onion, scampi and lemon, and doubtless, one day, altar-boy semen. Crisps are a very good example of food that fattens and does not feed; virtual sex, like virtual food, is designed to leave the consumer unsatisfied.

The discussion of what we may and may not see in video and film has nothing to do with pornography, and everything to do with the ever retreating threshold of shockability. The censors take account of what may be routinely seen in other media, and decree that video and cinema may not quite catch up (catching up to the internet would be a lot too much a lot too soon) but can move a little closer to the ever-fluctuating norm. For 70 years or so, the movement has continued in the direction of showing more; what we would expect sooner or later is that the nation’s stomach will turn; a tidal wave of revulsion has been known to sweep away all kinds of practices, from dog- and cock-fights, gay bathhouses and sex-aid shops, to burning books, imprisoning deviants, veiling women and shaving men’s heads. The Taliban is no new phenomenon; what we should perhaps pray for is a quieter and less cruel revolution, in which people stay away from gross and brutal spectacles simply because they have no stomach for them, and their promoters start losing serious amounts of money.

There is absolutely no prospect of this happening that I can see from here. Virtual sex and sexual services go on expanding at an astonishing rate. Our best hope for a collapse of the whole monstrous business is that the constant pilfering of material from pay-as-you-view sites to be downloaded into free access sites will suck the profits out of pornography. But by that time, pornography will be all the culture we can pretend to. It is already a vastly bigger cultural presence than all our opera, ballet, theatre, music and fine art put together.

This article appeared on p1 of the Observer Review section of the Observer onSunday 24 September 2000. It was published on guardian.co.uk at 02.21 BST on Sunday 24 September 2000.

Now ten years on, where are we?


Abstracting Contemporary Architecture. III. So...
Image by dimitridf via Flickr

On Monday we will know the details of a plan this government will put into place for new social housing tenants. From 2011, if you move into what used to be called a council house, you will have your income checked after two years to make sure that in that time, you have not won the lottery, become a successful entrepreneur and made a fortune or been left a legacy of million your old aunty. The point being that from next year, if you take on a social housing tenancy because you are too poor to rent privately or buy a home, you must stay poor in order to stay in your home.

The logic of this plan escapes me. I understand that if you are already a social housing tenant, you will not be affected by this new legislation and will be able to stay put for the rest of your life and hand your tenancy down to your next of kin. Only new tenants will be hit by the new rules. So all at once we will have a two tier system? We already have an antiquated class system in this country, and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening by the minute, yet the government will add to this inequality with this social housing plan. Not to mention the costs of putting the bureaucracy in place – it will take some organisation to keep tabs on the income of tenants. How will it work? Will tenants be asked to submit accounts to a government inspector once every two years? Will someone in a grey suit come to your house and look under your bed for gold bars?

It has a surreal feel and I wonder where it will lead. Does this government simply want to get rid of the poor, the difficult, those they see as the dregs of society and who are a drain on resources? Some people are just too vulnerable to buy houses or to rent from private landlords even if they did have the finances to do so. Some people have not had enough education to understand the system. Some people will stay poor for life, not because they are scroungers and will not work but because they cannot deal with life. Are these the people who will be able to stay in their social housing for longer than two years at a stretch? Is that the ethos behind the plan?

The government say the plan will help free up social housing for those who really need it. Okay, for the people I have just mentioned but there will be families who have fallen on hard time, maybe had their houses repossessed, lost their jobs or suffered unexpected illness and become homeless because of this. They may have to move into social housing. It will be a relief after all the problems. At last they have a secure roof over their heads. They can work hard and and pull themselves up again. Great. They will defeat adversity, make life better for themselves… and feel, at last, secure? Except they will not be secure because as soon as that happens, they will be asked to leave their home and move on. Everyone knows how traumatic moving can be, especially in such circumstances. Children can be severely affected. All the hard work could lead to nothing but another new start somewhere else. The stress would be extreme.

Maybe I am being too critical at this stage because we do not know the details of this plan until Monday, but I hope that it is well thought out and will not plunge hundreds of people into chaos.


Cover of "Royal Wedding"
Cover of Royal Wedding

At last, some jolly news! It matters not whether you love or hate our royal family, it was good to hear some news that did not make me want to cry. In fact, I did shed a few tears, but then everyone cries at weddings, or the prospect of one. Kate Middleton, or Princess Catherine, as we are told she will become looked serene and pretty in the face of a hundred flashbulbs and the usual banal questions put to her by a large bevy of journalists this afternoon. She held onto her Prince and he emanated warmth and sweet romance. The sapphire ring belonging to his mother, glittered on her finger. Nice touch, William. Despite what people said about Diana, she was his Mum and he loved her. To give this woman standing beside him, that ring means he loves her too. It’s very touching.

Grumpy Prince Charles muttered about them taking long enough about it, or some such when he was interviewed in Taunton today. Camilla, on the other hand, came across as genuinely happy and excited about the match. It’s all very different in 2010, thank goodness. Kate appears intelligent and composed; a girl who is not wet behind the ears, like Diana was. She has good parents, a no-nonsense family and can be clearly marked as upper middle class. Considering that the middle classes are struggling to survive in this county at the moment, this wedding might give them hope!

I won’t be camping out all night in The Mall next year. But I will watch the wedding on TV, probably with a group of friends, a lot of wine and nibbles and make it a good excuse to eat and drink a lot, as if I were really at the reception. No doubt it will be a public holiday, except that Tesco’s will remain open to sell Royal wedding cakes and booze. Until then, the news and speculation will go on and on: when will the date be set? What will she wear? Where will they go for their honeymoon? Will the queen wear pink or lemon? Will it all cost too much money? Lot’s to think about then. Well, it take’s the mind off the cuts, wars, divorces, murders….  As Prince William said: ‘The time is right…”


Old people HDR alte Menschen Leute
Image by Wanderlinse via Flickr

Some of my recent experiences have led me to think about the way businesses behave towards their customers. There are certain sectors of the population that are exceptionally vulnerable to dishonest businesses. Take for instance the boom in private housing for the over 50’s. I recently heard of a very rich man who managed to get planning permission to build an gated community of houses for older people. It’s unlikely he would have obtained consent from the planners had the development been for an ordinary housing estate because of where the land was situated. But  no doubt he portrayed himself as caring and concerned individual, creating a safe, secure and supportive community for all those wealthy retired people. Glossy brochures promised a support centre on site if you bought into his scheme. Buyers were told a warden would live at the centre and be available 24/7. This was a real incentive to older people buying houses on the estate. Of course, there would be a monthly charge for all this but this seemed justifiable when you read in the brochure what would be on offer.

However, the building designated as the centre quickly changed it’s use and became a restaurant, opened to the general public, sold as a franchise. It looked as if the security of the gated community would be compromised by the world and his wife using the restaurant, and the original idea of a warden and a centre especially geared up for older people appeared to have vanished. The good news is that the residents formed themselves into an association and are fighting this man’s presumption that elderly people will roll over and accept anything rather than make a fuss.

In another case, a firm of builders continued to market their houses even though the Administrator had been called in as the company were in serious financial trouble. The agent acting for the firm, also denied that they knew anything about this and continued to act for the builder and take reservation deposits. Now, maybe the agents really did not know that they were selling houses that might never actually be finished, but it seems unlikely as most estate agents work closely with their clients, after all they will get a hefty fee for their trouble.

In business reputation is everything and that means being straight with everyone we have dealings with. Integrity is paramount. It builds trust with customers and it encourages creative thinking in a workforce. In these difficult financial times the most important thing for customers is that they feel they are dealing with an organisation that works to an ethical code, has built a reputation for this and is reliable and honest.

Finding the way to make your contact with clients, staff and others as honest as you can, can be challenging. Making unrealistic promises about deadlines or expectations, the wishful thinking approach and denying that things are going pear shaped are all ways to make an organisation fail and lose a previously good reputation. Competitors are out there, waiting for the next mistake, and some of them will, themselves be just as unprincipled.

Honesty in business is the only way to create trust. But what sort of honesty? Is it comparable to the honesty we promote in our own personal lives? Once, there was a notion that business was like a card game and standards were different. A statement in the Harvard Business Review, January 1968 was entitled ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?’ Albert Carr, the author put forward his theses that some measure of deceit was pretty much acceptable. He wrote: ‘Executives from time to time are almost compelled, in the interest of their companies or themselves to practice some sort of deception when in negotiation with customers, dealers, labour unionsgovernment officials or even other departments of their companies. By conscious misstatements, concealment of pertinent facts, or exaggeration – in short, by bluffing – they seek to persuade others to agree with them.

There must be times when telling the complete and utter truth is not apposite? You wouldn’t tell your wife  that her new dress didn’t fit her and she looked ungainly and fat in it, would you? Maybe you would…  But you might suggest she wears something warmer, cooler, more conservative, with a jacket?  In business, could tact sometimes become little white lies? Establishing when this is apt is the secret. The notion of clarity should be your priority because it is only one step from all that careful tactfulness to telling downright lies.

Where staff are concerned, how open should you be? Giving away every last detail is not a good plan, especially when things start to unravel. Uncertainty is threatening and while every business goes through periods of doubt, employees like to feel that it will succeed in the long run. A vision is crucial when times are hard. Openness in staff meetings creates a sense of working together and sharing the good and bad times. Every business has its bad times. A workforce who work in an atmosphere of trust and inclusion, will be ready to be there when the chips are down. The payoff is respect and loyalty. Resolving problems may need confrontation. But this can be creative, too. In a safe open arena, anything can be discussed. Even if bad news is the outcome.

There are so many good things that come out of honesty that it is hard to believe that some people will discount it. In the current global culture of seeing what you can get away with, for as long as you can get away with it, it is quite a challenge to motivate change. Finally, it’s as well to remember that clients can be dishonest, too. Making promises to honour contracts and then pulling out a day before those contracts are signed, is often seen as acceptable. All good relationships are based on trust and business is no different. It can only thrive and prosper when there is a true belief that what one is doing is truthful.


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Are you single and looking for love? I’m married and looking for cake… That’s a gag I heard on TV last night in a programme about an old people‘s home…Time to take stock of the ingredients that make up my life. Take this test. Ask yourself these questions. Ignore my answers, you will have your own….

When was I happiest?  When I felt truly free.

What is my greatest fear?  Illness.

What is my earliest memory? Singing with my sister in the bath!

Which person(s) do I admire the most? My kids.

What do I hate about myself? Too tolerant.

What is my most treasured possession(s)? My kids.

Where would I most like to live? Wherever I feel loved.

What would my super power be? To eat as much as I like and not get fat.

What makes me unhappy? Lies.

If I could bring something back from the past, what would it be? A temperate climate.

Who would play me in a film of my life?  Bette Midler.

What is my favourite word? Eat.

What is my guiltiest pleasure? I don’t often feel guilty about things.

To whom would I most like to say sorry? My family.

What does love feel like? Complete peace with a touch of madness.

What was the best kiss of my life? He knows.

Who would I invite to a dream dinner party? Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Chaucer, Henry V111, Anne Boleyn, My Dad, R.D.Laing, Elvis.

What is the worst job I have ever done? Clean toilets…

What is my biggest disappointment? Not to have listened to good advice from people who loved me.

If I could go back in time where would I go? Renaissance Italy

When did I last cry?  I’m Italian!

What do I consider my greatest achievement? My kids.

What song would I like played at my funeral? Puccini.

How would I like to be remembered? As a compassionate woman.

What is most important lesson life has ever taught me? Think before you act.


Becher Kakao mit Sahnehäubchen
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This recipe is gorgeous! That, I believe is the proper usage of the word. When you eat a slice of this pie you will want to gorge yourself on it! It’s a treat to be eaten on cold winter days with a steaming cup of hot chocolate, staring across an icy countryside, hoping for a white Christmas! At least that’s how I eat it….

You will need:

A packet of digestive biscuits

A large tub of cream cheese or for the less fat option, a large tub of natural yoghurt, either is good.

3 eggs

A good handful of blueberries

3 or 4 red plums



This is how you make it:

Put the blueberries and the plums into a pan (don’t forget to take the stones out of the plums) Add sugar to taste and simmer until cooked but not mushy. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

Depending on the size of your pie dish ( I use a medium size one with a loose bottom – ouch!)  put a load of digestive biscuits into a blender and whizz up with a good lump of butter until you have a sandy, soft mixture.

Grease the pie dish with butter and push the sand around the pie dish to make a base. Don’t bother with the sides unless you intend to serve the pie without the dish.

In a large bowl, put 3 eggs, about 2 large spoons of sugar (more if you have a very sweet tooth) and the cheese or yoghurt. Whisk until smooth. Then stir in the drained fruit (Keep the juices)

Pour the mix into the pie dish and pop into the middle of the oven at about 170C. Cook until the top has set. Take out and refrigerate or eat slightly warm with a good splash of cream and the fruit juices. Gorgeous!