Tell us what you think…

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“Don’t tell them anything!”

Retailers, online stores, services, utilities, even government agencies… they’re like desperate and needy friends – the ones you avoid.

Businesses used to pay to get this information. Market researchers were employed to sap the time of friendly householders keeping them occupied for up to an hour.

Armed with clipboards holding reams of paper filled with questions, tick boxes, dotted lines (for more personalised comments) and interesting ways of categorising age, class, probably ethnic origin and family size, they would politely get through the forms. Middle-class homeowners would see this as an (perhaps) annual good turn.

Now we’re asked to do it for free. Daily. Well forget it. Not more Mr. Nice Guy.

Popcorn justifiably shoved down back of date’s neck. Crushed and thoroughly rubbed in. Phone number erased. And (oh! If only!) post poor feedback left on

You wouldn’t continue a friendship or relationship if the other person conducted themselves that way:

First date (cinema). Queuing for popcorn:

 “Do I look nice?”

Entering the cinema:

“Are we going to hold hands?”

Walking along the aisle looking for good seats:

“Is it nicer coming to the cinema with than with your mate Ed?”

After the ads, just before the film:

“Are we in a relationship now? If not, is there any way I can improve my service?”

Popcorn justifiably shoved down back of date’s neck. Crushed and thoroughly rubbed in. Phone number erased. And (oh! If only!) post poor feedback left on

Every time I buy, browse, sometimes even inquire, I’m asked for feedback.

Feedback is time-consuming and laborious. Isn’t it enough that I’ve bought something from your shop?

Surely now in the 21st century we know how to sell. If we’re not getting it right, we won’t sell. Is that naïve? Problem is, it’s now more involved and convoluted than just, ‘did the shopper find (and buy) what they came in for?

Stores (real and virtual) want you to leave with stuff you didn’t plan on buying. And psychology graduates are now finding that they’re sought after in the world of commerce: to observe how we shop, analyse it and think up ways to increase sales. Rather than help people in need. Am I alone in finding this sinister?

I’m proud to say I’ve never bought a new car. Many of my best shoes and boots are ‘pre-loved’ (yes, another euphemism to remove any shame some might feel buying second-hand). Books, jumpers, crockery, furniture… there’s little I won’t buy used (bed linen… )

Feedback is time-consuming and laborious. Isn’t it enough that I’ve bought something from your shop?

There’s a great line from a curt police officer in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935).  Asking a police officer at a train station where the train on the platform is going, he responds with something like, ‘go away and find out for yourself. What do you think I am a station porter?’ A man with his head screwed on.

I didn’t like the feeble and pointless Pride and Prejudice (Kiera Knightley version). How could it have been improved? Don’t make it.  Would that have been helpful?

There’s a great advantage to the way I shop (charity shops). So far, no one’s asked me for feedback. (Though I think it’s only a matter of time.)

Do we go to the theatre and expect to provide feedback? Do we watch a new DVD and think moodily of the credits when we’ll be asked to give our opinion on the acting, direction, set design, costumes, locations…? I think this would be the death of cinema.

More than this, we’re not specialists. Few of us are media graduates. We just don’t know what’s good.

I didn’t like the feeble and pointless Pride and Prejudice (Kiera Knightley version). How could it have been improved? Don’t make it.  Would that have been helpful? No. Those who collate and make stats out of feedback would have simply screwed my sheet up and binned it.

Readers might ask why I’ve done it all. Well… to try to be helpful. Nice. A good girl? I’ve been deceived in my intentions and however nicely they ask, I refuse to do it. I’ll keep my valued opinions to myself, my consumer feedback private and my ratings hidden.

The day a charity shop asks me for feedback is the day I start shopping at boot sales. Again.


Paedophilia? Loving father comforting sick son…

BBC Trending: Is this picture disgusting or beautiful?

Shows how much better educated we need to be.

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This can cause far more damage… pushy parents, youngest kid asleep from boredom, seeing what’s ahead of him, vowing never to be any good at music…  

The opening line of this article alone has me in a purple and red fury. In some ways the picture appears to show a fairly everyday scene. It’s not an everyday scene for parents. But the use of the word ‘appears’ paves the way for the idiocy of some of the comments. Balanced reporting?

Though in the minority, the suggestion there’s abuse involved shows how much further we have to go in understanding what abuse is. This isn’t it.

Read the article and tell me you think there’s some sort of abuse here.

Even as a victim of abuse myself, I’m moved and warmed by this image. It shows vulnerability on the father’s and child’s side.

To me, the image shows neither an abusive parent nor a child victim nor even the seeds of abuse. Were the father to be abusing his son, it’s unlikely there would be no images.

How else is the father going to soothe his young son? Get in the shower fully clothed? Point a hose at the boy while he stands outside the cubicle? This would illicit the masses raising their hands up in horror shouting, Callous father!

I’m seriously beginning to doubt anyone really knows what paedophilia is. Ooh, a long word, that’ll make me look smart.

There’s a trend today where those who don’t know want to seem like they know. Throw in a medical term here; fling in some technical jargon there. He presto! I know stuff! Yes, I devoted an entire blog to these people. I’m afraid The ones who casually diagnose other people’s children as ADHD, OCD, on the autistic spectrum… That kind of tripe.

But I’m seriously beginning to doubt anyone really knows what paedophilia is. Ooh, a long word, that’ll make me look smart.

Educate yourself. Work with abused people. Read. Learn and then you might be qualified to use the word.

If we can stop focusing on the easy targets, (images like this) we stand a good chance of tackling real abuse.

There’s so much in this image that touches my feelings – about the true devotion of some parents. The sad desperation when your child is hurt or ill. The element of water, I think says so much. For the parents, symbolising literally a wash of tears and for the boy, just the helpless feeling of being bathed in the parent’s flowing love .

If we can stop focusing on the easy targets, (images like this) we stand a good chance of tackling real abuse.

But I think for many people, that’s just too much dammed trouble… A lot easier to bandy about words that will incite and look like you care.


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When I’m on foot

My hat cocked at a jaunty angle, my jacket nicely fastened around my fit and healthy torso and my lovely smart backpack with everything in it I’ll need on this excursion I am nothing if not smug.

People in cars pass me. I think: you’re investing in a nice paunch there. I’m going to stay trim and be able to walk distances when I’m an older woman.

 When I’m on my bicycle

Look at my beautiful thighs and buttocks. Working. Pedalling. Powering this magnificent machine.

And think about what my heart is doing. I’m alive! I’m sometimes going faster than you in your car. I’m nimble and responsive. Good for the environment and really quite marvellous all in all.

When I’m on my motorbike

I am without doubt the coolest, smartest road user. A cross between the eco-approved bicycle and those silly smart hatches that are little more than four-wheeled prams with engines (See Small Minds: Mini Mentality).

My leathers are flattering and fitted – trousers that hug my super thighs, a jacket that hugs my lovely waist, boots that just unify the whole look… Aren’t I just the most enviable road user?

I can go fast. I can slide in and out of you stationary cars. I can go ultra slow – my clutch control is second to none. And I can smell the air, hear the sounds of English life and be somehow in the world yet speeding past with the coolness of Shrek’s Prince Charming in his finest moments.

Similarly, I remove my helmet with a duly dramatic shake of my head revealing shiny locks and then remove my gloves to reveal immaculately painted nails.

When I’m on the bus

I don’t travel on buses any more. People coughing. Sneezing. Blowing their noses. Fidgeting. Scratching their hair… Bus drivers fulfilling their Formula 1 dreams with helpless, paying passengers on board. Road bumps? Pah! Sleeping policemen? Let’s wake them up shall we..? They should provide ‘waste bags’ on board like they do when you fly.

When I’m in my car…

You idiot! In your cheap velour shorts and nasty buttocks in my face. Get off the road! No one’s going to remember you for saving the planet riding that monstrosity, love. Orange skin and a bike that defies style definition. Oh, it’s a racer is it? Well, try racing in it woman…  If I ever get out of my car…

If only pedestrians would cross at crossings. Move, Mum pushing a buggy! You’re an offence to society. Warbling on your phone, holding your latte or hazelnut latte or iced latte you coffee drinking imbecile.  All your children will recall of their pushchair years is the smell of burnt coffee (yes they all burn it) and thinking Mummy talked to herself. Susie Orbach, the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra and all the nouveau therapy on offer would be unable to help.

Oh there’s a biker. Great. I’ll move over and let him through. He’ll be quick and will know what he’s doing. He’s got his life in his hands. There, he’s gone. Wish I’d have thought of that.

It seems almost impossible to put myself in someone else’s shoes/saddle. Why?

I don’t think it’s anything to do with today’s pace. It’s just being human. We all think we own the road.

Vehicles with engines pay road tax so I suppose drivers feel justified in complaining.  A bicycle rider would argue, well, we don’t destroy the road so we shouldn’t pay tax. Ditto for the pedestrian. I question the political/language definition of motorbike riders. When you tax your motorbike, the tax disc used to state: Bicycle. That’s so offensive.

I won’t end this in a saintly statement saying I’ll try harder to see the point of view of other road users: I know I won’t.

But maybe I ought to get out more as a pedestrian/cyclist/biker… Maybe that’s a way of reminding myself I’m hot always right when I’m in my car.

Sometimes the only way to see the other side is to leap over and be there. It’s futile to think I can recall or bear in mind the perspective/sense of danger of other road users when I’m driving. We’re not built like that as humans.

So, what to do? I suppose the conclusion is to be a good road user however I choose to get around. Trash the self-righteous stance if at all possible and just do what I’m doing well. Tolerance. Probably a good philosophy to adopt in life.

Things I should be thinking: I don’t agree with your mode of transport. Your baby needs attention. I’m glad to see you considering your carbon footprint on that hideous contraption. You’re in my blooming way. You look stupid. Can’t you go any faster? Move, idiot!

Well, give me time…

REVIEW: Ke Sabroso by José León

Unmistakable Latin over layers of soul, Jazz and Flamenco, the artist has evolved each style and made a sound that was always meant to be.

Ke Sabroso

Crisscrossing traditions, straddling them skilfully, creating sounds that will become etched in your musical memory

It’s not often I’m persuaded to write a review. It’s not often I want to. Hail this album, Ke Sabroso by José León.

You’d probably look for it in the Latin section: sung in Spanish with rhythms and harmonies that are instantly recognisable as Latin, the delight in this is the skill he’s used in bringing in other influences from Flamenco to Jazz to Rock and even beautiful references to Middle Eastern sounds.

…it’s as though a good friend takes you by the hand and leads a tentative you to the carnival. Once in, you’ll want to stay.

Ten tracks launch with the title track, Ke Sabroso. This surely has to be included in any Zumba teacher’s tracks! Light in its feel, joyful and with energy that feels limitless. Vibrating with sounds that lure you into a colourful world of skilled musicianship and authentic sounds, it’s as though a good friend takes you by the hand and leads a tentative you to the carnival. Once in, you’ll want to stay. It leads the album truthfully: what you hear first sets the high standard you can expect throughout the album.

Mueve La Cadera, has an animal quality: the raw expression of a man watching a woman dance. There are grunts and growls and deep and traditionally masculine vocals giving the track a wonderful predatory sense. But nothing in this album is just one thing. This isn’t the creation of a man who only knows how to do one thing.

Take the track Mi Amor. It has the tender and helpless ring of a victim of infatuation. It resonates and listening to it you can’t help but feel involved yet determined to take your fiend aside soon and have a quiet word.

Few will be unmoved: it describes the perfect sound of willing submission by a strong man. The sudden end to the track leaves us with some hope: he might come to his sense. Or not…

It brings to mind the opening scene of a violent, vibrant Cuban film. There’s so much going on behind the simple but universally understood lyrics Quiero entender como puedo ser el único en tu vida (I want to understand how I can be the only one in your life.) – guitar, percussion with that glorious trip in the rhythm – in between the main beat, creating a sense of deeper thought – which so adds to this track.  Few will be unmoved: it describes the perfect sound of willing submission by a strong man. The sudden end to the track leaves us with some hope: he might come to his sense. Or not…

There’s a track on the album which creates so many vivid pictures. Flamenkito conjures the tail end of warm Mediterranean days.; a holiday you won’t forget and know you couldn’t repeat. For me, it’s the beach at sunset, locals just out from work enjoying a slowly emptying beach, football on the sand, bocatas and a bottle of limonada. It’s Spanish to the core yet has a unique sense that you, the visitor, are being invited in. A rare and precious moment. José’s years working as a Flamenco guitarist give him full authority to weave Spanish guitar into the scene: it’s authentic and full of imagery.

The most powerful track in terms of the variety of sounds is Mira Que Bonito. The falsetto vocals at the start deceive the listener. Delicate, slightly fragile but the driving baseline pushes the track along with a potent urgency and gravity. It gives a slightly threatening sound and there’s a sense that it belongs to another track but has fallen into Mira Que Bonito. It hasn’t. The textures José delivers are sure-handed and carried out with the expertise of a pro.

It’s sometimes easy to overlook the glaringly obvious. In this case, vocals. José’ produces emotion of every kind. Tender and without ego (Amor y Candor); predatory and frank (Mira Que Bonito); sensitive and masculine (Quiero Bailar Contigo and Mi Amor). It’s the artistic exploitation of a versatile voice that brings so much to each track.

And then Pasión Flamenca which might be the sort of thing the invading Moors and existing inhabitants might have forged together in a moment of lucid artistry.

There are numbers which are almost heartbreakingly melancholy (Amor y Candor) but winningly uplifting; there’s Samba Sentimento, an instrumental which has the feel of an improvisation between a group of like-mined friends. Leisurely and easy, it has the pleasant feel of a Sergio Mendes composition. But this is not a sentimental journey back in time. José pulls it through the decades because of his sheer knowledge and being able to tap resources from RnB to Flamenco to Jazz and traditional Indian flavours.

And then Pasión Flamenca which might be the sort of thing the invading Moors and existing inhabitants might have forged together in a moment of lucid artistry. It plants such colourful imagery – vivid tiles, fountains, cobbles, pale sand, fine horses and the torture of conflict.

To end the journey is the lilting, tender waltz, Te Quiero Divina. With a distinctively retro feel, the track shows love in a rare and unguarded way. It’s sensitive and frank – there’s no shroud, no pretence and no shame in its utter devotion. A fitting finish to this astoundingly memorable album.

Don’t forego this album. It’s enriching, fresh yet with so much the Latin fan will want to hear.

The track whose lyrics stick in my head? Quiero Bailar Contigo. The track that exerts the most power: Mira Que Bonito and the one that makes me want to catch a plane to Andalucía now? Pasión Flamenca.

But save yourself the price of a ticket and get this album instead. It lasts longer, takes you further and the memories will inhabit your skin for much longer.

Small minds… Mini mentality

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Warning: this is not a portrayal of real Mini/Fiat drivers.

As a girl, I had a friend who was fond of writing on the blackboard: ‘The meek shall inherit the earth… if that’s OK with everyone else’

Irish Catholic, maybe she was trying to rid herself of some gnawing internal pressure.

But it looks like she was right. Because on the roads at least there is nothing so determined, forceful and power-soaked as a Mini/Fiat driver.

I have a medium-sized, very dull car. It’s even blue. Not a shade of blue I like. But maybe these car characteristics bring out a strong reaction in the ‘Big on the Inside’ Mini/Fiat driver.

Those sweet bulbous shapes in nail polish colours are the new aggressors.

The ads have found their audience. Those who’ve only just ditched the L-plates, can eat solids all on their own and can afford to bleach their hair and have pretty pictures painted on their cars. You’d know them anywhere. Pea puree green with a stripe, pastel pink with a cartoon flower or white with … well a double-stripe of course.

Half a dozen times in the past ten days I’ve been on a familiar A road. Speed limit on that stretch? 40mph. It’s built up. There are speed cameras. On the pavement you could see anything from a mobility scooter to a Mum pushing a buggy, holding a paper cup of coffee and talking to someone on the phone. (More stupid people.)

In my rear view mirror is a child in a Mini/Fiat. She’s squashed up against my bumper, has a friend in the passenger seat (they always come in pairs), tunes blaring, singing along, nail-extensioned hands unable to hold the wheel normally.

I put the brakes on suddenly. She pulls back and then further down the road (one lane only) sidles up on my right seeing how soon she can overtake me.

Are these cars marketed specifically to straw heads? I think so.

Or more specifically to girls who want to appear cutesy to other people looking at their cars.

There’s a glaring disparity between the image of these little cars and those who drive them. Inside these petite cars is usually (I’m afraid) a fully made up, heavy-framed blond. She’s thinking I am that slightly Italian-looking elegant woman driving around the empty streets of Rome. Just like in the ad! How cool am I!  I’m seeing a large baby incapable of following the simplest road rules.

Small but with an inflated sense of power and importance? I don’t know for sure but suspect some relationship between a feminine and agile car and the bulky, muscle-headed drivers.

They’re like bitter centres inside a nice shell; the hard, husky nut with a sweet coating; the toffee someone’s kept in their pocket too long still in its shiny foil: I’d hate to unwrap it.

You can’t blame the ads. It’s their job to sell cars.

I just want these bubble-heads to get off my tail. It’s one of the biggest road deceptions ever. Those innocent headlights, the toy-like appearance, the pretty flowers. And yet inside is a hairdresser/nail technician with a driver’s licence who’s prepared to kill.

Enough. I think it’s safe to say that until someone intelligent who has some driving skill/road sense changes my mind, I’ll continue to think of the drivers as at the bottom of the human hierarchy. Come on: prove me wrong.

Get real people off the TV! (Part II)

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(To be read in conjunction with Part I)

Things we must hear in property programmes.

Our vocabulary about property must be dwindling. We’re stuck with a few repetitive and meaningless phrases which are supposed to conjure some sort of sense of the house. They go like this.

  1. Character property. The ‘muggle-guests’ (non-professionals lacking all the magic and wizardry of the trained) all have this on their list (more about this nebulous list later). To me, that must mean more than 70 years old. Stone built, inhabited by an old fisherman or his ghost. Cobwebs, wood, small windows… But this phrase is thrown about by every house hunter. And what do they do? Choose the ugliest, most characterless house. All uniform red brick and ghastly double glazed windows. I’ve concluded that the guests are talking about themselves. They want bags of character.
  2. Ticks all the boxes. Is there one universal form with a list of requirements that anyone, anywhere can use? I suppose in Europe it would have to include, door, windows, at least one room. So what the hell does ‘ticks all the boxes mean’? I can’t see your list. Your list probably has things like, ‘a house we can afford which looks like it costs three times as much’ or ’a garden that reminds me of Rosings Park’ or ‘this house will make me look like the character I want to be: established, secure, stylish, loved.’ Yes I think that’s it.
  3. The wow factor. What? Is this what we’re reduced to? The word, ‘wow’ to replace any fluent English conversation. With our rich vocabulary and infinite choice of adjectives, the muggle-guests choose ‘wow’. Hyperbole used ridiculously. Ok so it has some outside lighting. Or a few fruit trees. Or a range-style cooker. That’s normally enough. Wow!
  4. Oh come on now. You?! Lifestyle?! They want it to sound like they have hot tub parties with glamourous toned men and women. Or cook up exotic menus for their neighbours every week. Or go hunting or shooting.

What they mean is they go to their humdrum jobs every day in their Sharan. Eat a Galaxy bar and (to compensate) a yoghurt-jam combination for lunch at their desk. Have highlights. Buy microwave lasagne for dinner. Get drunk with their friends at the pub on a Saturday. Then maybe have sex (which will be blurred in future memory). Do some DIY. Have the notion that their memoirs might be interesting to others to read. Start a book. Buy the latest mobile phone. Have the notion that moving house will make them interesting/give them a reason to continue living/be the highlight of their memoirs… Lifestyle.

I won’t go on.

I’ll still watch housey programmes. I like looking at the properties. Unfortunately I have to tolerate the stars of the show (the homes) being ruined by real people.

Masterchef I can still appreciate. There’s very little talking and the ordinary people actually know how to do something: cook.

And don’t get me wrong some presenters are intolerable too. But they’re annoying because they’re probably trying to make a name for themselves.

So I suggest we segregate professionals from real folk please. Let real folk do the watching and leave presenting to the professionals? Thank you.

Get real people off the TV! (Part I)

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A few years ago, I was saying the opposite. “More real people on TV please!” Dozens of house-hunting programmes later with ordinary people competing with sewing/cooking/singing and I’ve changed my mind…

I now see the appeal of people trained to perform.

As one with a compulsive house-hunting programme obsession, I rarely miss a showing. But the Escape to the Country one must top the lot.

Shiny, smooth, friendly, tolerant people faced with deadpan voices, estranged couples, chubby, badly dressed real people who’ve made no effort to smarten up for TV… it’s awful.

They shuffle about trying to sound like they know what they’re talking about and just ape the presenters with their catchphrases and slick comments. (See Part II.)

I’ve seen it all. I worked many years at an estate agent showing these people around houses and flats. They all seemed to think they had to contribute something knowledgeable to the viewing.

“Is the attic boarded?” and “Is this a partition wall?” and “I don’t think we’d fit our king-sized bed in here.”

No dearie. You wouldn’t. This cottage was meant for poor people. The builders didn’t envisage young’uns like you with your home-offices and LinkedIn profiles and annual amassing crap living in a humble worker’s cottage like this in 150 years. They had a fire and some tools maybe.

But these people are now on TV. Commenting on the wallpaper and floor tiles of someone else’s house. Making a mess with cake mixture or zips and Velcro. Get off! Go and do all this in the privacy of your own homes.

I want experts on my TV. Reasonably well-dressed, people who’ve bothered to brush their hair and wear clothes that fit. Telling me things they know and I don’t.

It’s a mistake I hope programme producers realise that the ‘docu-drama’ approach is failing. Real people doing real things, God! I wouldn’t sit in my neighbour’s house for an hour watching them just… live.

Glamour. People who’ve been transformed by the make-up artist. People who can speak… Can we just leave it to the professionals? Leave the rest of us at home on this side of the camera. That’s where we belong.

The experiment’s over. The findings are: it didn’t work.