CITY WHEELS

This short set of thoughts and words came to me as my residency in Brighton was drawing to a close… for some reason it feels poignant and accurate of my life and home in what now seems a world away.

CITY WHEELS

“We built this city!” cries out of tune in a bar
As half-cut crowds fill my head with poetry.
This city is home, with foundations of rough pebbles,
Smooth talk and crashing drunken waves.
The streets sweat with high heels, overflowing pubs
And cash machines glittering their wares.

The houses dispense tottering girls as live music
Declares they hear a train is a coming.
Coming back uphill I see the wheel and its lights turning
As a city of rock rolls heavily in to the night.
Shouts of excitement slip away into whispers in
Side streets, as my home finds me on top of it all.

July 14, 2013 – Hanover Lofts, Brighton.

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TEARS IN HEAVEN

My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed in Paris a few days ago.

Headlines around the world (and my Facebook feed) are filled with the horror of the atrocity. Quite right too: it was a barbaric and ruthless slaying of gentle fellow men who dared to bring a little humour to dark parts of our world.

Whilst their families grieve, it feels that everyone is crying out also in their anguish.

These are cries of anger, outrage. People feel sick at the thought of terror striking deep in the beautiful city of Paris. This is a perfectly human response.

The media and nearly all the people I know are writing and talking of the horrors of Islam; some say that such atrocities done in the name of such a religion (or any religion at all) are a thing to be reviled.

I can see why.

Yet, in the daily news grind we all too easily forget yesterday’s headlines over our morning coffee. Or stop to think what might have seeded the murdering intent of the horrors in Paris this week.

In our outrage today, how many of us care to remember the hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq, at the hands of our countrymen and on the orders of the politicians we allow to lead us?

Our troops may be home, but our weapons are still being used. The killing goes on. Civilians in Iraq are being killed at the rate of four Paris massacres a day – over 350 in the first week of January this year alone.

One in five Iraqis has lost at least one close family member since the Coalition invasion into their country to ‘liberate’ them.

Where are our tears for the mothers and fathers who have lost their children? For the children who have lost their parents?

That’s 3 million children whose lives have been shattered and thousands of others who have died in bombing, shelling or caught in the crossfire of our own weapons of mass destruction used in the name of freedom.

We were not defending ourselves. We started it. And on paper-thin lies in the name of our society’s religion of shopping centres, money and the oil we use to power our everyday lives.

We’ve lost thousands of our own in this inferno of violence. But remember: for every soldier killed on our side, one thousand civilians have died in Iraq. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons…

And we cry out now that Islam is a violent religion? That these people are a threat against us? That we are freeing them from an evil ideology?

Can we really say our way of doing things is better, having wrecked such slaughter in a country that posed no threat to us at all?

For a death toll of so many on the orders of politicians who illegally kidnap, torture and then lie about it? On the orders of our leaders who try to cover up child abuse amongst their own?

We spend billions killing those so far away to make their lives better (we are told) while not having care enough for the poverty and injustice we see in our own streets.

Is this the better way of doing things that we are bringing with our better ideology, our democracy, as we call it? I often struggle to see that we are, let alone that it is worth killing so many to enforce it on others.

I cried last night for the families of those killed in Paris. I then cried for those killed in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. The tears seemed unending as is their ongoing slaughter. And children are still being killed by US air strikes in a fight against terror that we created in the first place.

Who is the real terrorist here?

I cast my mind to how I would feel if I had lost my mother, or brother or even my daughter in an airstrike on my home. My thoughts were certainly not of peace, not that her death as collateral damage would be the unfortunate cost of my freedom.

In such a dreadful situation, I think all of us would unleash our darkest and deepest anger at such a thing. Some might well swear to avenge the death of their child. Or others would. If you doubt me, perhaps remind yourself about how this country reacts to news stories of paedophiles. It’s not pleasant.

We don’t like to admit it, but we might feel violent rage to those who had done such a thing. We might strike back in any way we could, under any banner, under any excuse to avenge the killing of our children so callously. We might well want to create as much havoc and chaos as possible. We might see all on the other side as valid targets for our vengeance.

Whilst I have a deep faith that love, not white phosphorous, conquers all, it would be sorely tested if my loved ones were killed in such a way.

What if we dare to look away from the tragedy of what has happened in Paris, even briefly, through the eyes of those upon whom we have rained down such terror ourselves?

Might we get a sense of what drives the murderers to such ruthless atrocity?

More open eyes might start to see that it is not at its core about religion, it is not about ideology, it is probably not about cartoons.

It is about anger and about revenge. By any means possible.

To repay the hatred they feel for what we have done and continue to do in the name of a deathly, hollow freedom our violence has bestowed.

In many ways it’s a miracle we can live so peacefully and have not suffered more such attacks in our cities. The fact that so very many have not taken to avenge the deaths of their children, their wives, and their brothers is quite extraordinary.

Maybe we should look at things differently?  Maybe we should look at what hate we created in the almost-religious zeal to secure the oil we all use so freely?  And secured at such human cost to us all.

Sometimes love stands too quietly while evil seemingly triumphs. But love has a twin, in compassion. The ability we have for our hearts to reach out to others we do not know and have never met.

This is the divine in us. Let us leave aside our ideology, our religion (and those of others). Let us quieten our shouts of what is right and wrong for just one moment; and let our hearts go out to all have lost loved ones at the hands of terror in any form, anywhere.

Perhaps, then, the killing might stop.

Until that time, let us freely mourn our fellow man, woman or child. Let us shed tears for them: for those in Paris; for those in Iraq; for those killed around the world, every single day.

Each one is a tragedy. Each is one too many.

OF MANNERS IN THE COUNTRY

My mother warned me never to trust a man who drives a white motorcar or has a beard.

These wise words, from the smoky kitchens of Chelsea mews houses in the days of the John Profumo scandal, seem apposite today as they were then.  As we all know, white cars are driven only by salesmen, criminals and the newly-rich.

If you doubt her advice, just take a look at Alan Sugar.

Such clear-cut regulation can seem to unfairly and irrationally divide. It is no less here in the countryside.

To those who visit, the rules seem many and confusingly the most important ones of all are never spoken of, least of all written down.

Now some, like Second Breakfasts or the fact that the pubs and the few small restaurants that exist in these parts only serve lunch at lunchtime mean that, at worst, an ill-informed visitor might go hungry for a few hours.

Some transgressions can, however, scar you near-permanently as ‘city folk’. It doesn’t matter how muddy your not-white Range Rover is, it will take you years to remove the tarnish of such a reputation.

If you live on one of large farming estates here – or in part of a gothic castle, as I do – the rules multiply quicker than the bushy-tailed thieves of the walnuts from the trees outside my front door.

My weekend guests have often given me blank looks when I’ve told them that they cannot under any circumstances use the West Drive (which actually lies due south), no matter what their TomTom might say otherwise.

Invariably they ignore my detailed map, get lost and arrive very late (up the wrong drive) having rung me two or more hours ago to say “we’re only ten miles away”; at which point I’ve started to mentally prepare cocktails and lay the table for dinner.

I actually sympathise with the horrors of the M4 on a Friday evening that guests might endure. I also have nothing but a kind ear for tales of the hell-hole of Membury Services where they seek a comfort-break. (Note:  Leigh Delamere is much better. Magor is better and cheaper still).

However, please remember your host, who has got up early and visited the butcher, baker, pie-maker and the greengrocer. They are now sat in the kitchen staring at a Number One cut of prize Herefordshire beef and trying not to drink too much, in case they have to drive to meet you after you’ve got lost.

Such delays can bring on zombie-like impatience for dinner and horror of horrors, no time for a proper welcome with a G&T; or a brief of how the heating works. This is the countryside, not Quaglino’s darlings.

Here, we eat at seven. Possibly eight, if you are coming from London or it’s the middle of summer.

Remember, we have to get up at dawn to feed the chickens or make emergency calls to get the boiler refilled with oil so you can have a hot bath over the weekend. So excuse us if we leave you with the gin and show you where to turn the lights off.

We may live in huge houses or gothic towers, but we had to let the staff go when our great grandfather gambled the fortune away on a fail-safe investment in 1929. Thus doing breakfast for guests, whilst we nurse a hangover with only four hours sleep, is Not Much Fun.

Whilst on the subject of hangovers: never, ever finish off the gin in a midnight thirst-rage assuming you can replace it in the morning. We don’t have 24hr off-licenses here. In fact we don’t have off-licenses at all and nowhere is open at all on Sundays. We will silently curse you the rest of the weekend.

Gosh, there are so many rules.

Or manners as my grandmother would call them.

Of course, she believed that if you had to ask what the rules where, you were likely somewhere you shouldn’t be.

However, the first rule of hosting is to make your guest feel comfortable. Thus an error on your part will receive nothing but a smile. Possibly the wave a hand airily and cheery laugh, if it’s something really bad you’ve done, like let your dog chase the sheep in the top field.

This makes the whole business of the countryside complicated for everyone.

But it was on my walk back from church that the simple answer to all this dawned on me.

I was on the forbidden West drive, to which I am granted access only on Sundays for services at the estate church. It’s a ritual I now enjoy much more than the now fading appeal of Downton Abbey. Whilst avoiding the icy potholes in my inappropriate suede footwear (even I can make mistakes), I was idly contemplating the etiquette of coffee after communion services.

In the absence of fellowship of instant coffee and cheap biscuits by the font, country custom dictates reciprocal invitations for decent caffeine at one’s home, with anyone whose first name you can remember.

If you do not know the rules, this can lead to all sorts of trouble.

Of course the correct answer, when invited for coffee at a neighbour’s house depends on the time of the service.

For early services (those that finish before 11 o’clock), then you can say yes, unless either party has weekend guests, in which case the answer is no.

Don’t forget that, if you do go, you should then stay for no less than half an hour and no more than an hour. Too little time chatting over a custard cream is rude, too much is an imposition. Don’t forget to reciprocate the invitation at the earliest opportunity.

For later services, when it may be midday by the time you leave (depending on the sermon), then the unspoken rule is that everyone offers invitations to each other, but no-one accepts. It’s obvious why: we all have Sunday lunch to think about, whether we have visitors in weekend residence or not.

Actually there is a very simple answer to all these situations; even one’s as complex as whether to accept an invitation for coffee: rules are manners and manners themselves are nothing more than organised kindness.

Since returning to live in the countryside my friends worry that I might be lonely. They forget that in the country one is very rarely ever alone. One must beware gossiping with a friend in a remote field about the local ne’er –do-well, for the subject in question is very likely to have materialised unseen behind you.

This brings warmer advantages though. There is never a lack of help here and we all keep a friendly eye out for each other. Oddly, with greater space comes greater community. One often finds assistance before even needing to ask for it.

Here, kindness is all around.

This is why the countryside has so many rules. It’s not about prevention of fun but rather encouragement of friendship and community. Whilst at all times respecting other people’s needs, be that need for sleep or time to make Sunday lunch for weekend guests.

Act with kindness in all your actions and the countryside, if not the world, will be a glorious place. You will find yourself with remarkable people and in remarkable places. And be invited back.

So now you know. We haven’t written the rules down as that would be rude as well as not very British of us.

Please visit. We want to share the joy of where we live. We want to share our local single-estate gin. We want you to have a fabulous experience.

Just remember to be kind. Arrive on time, leave farm gates as you find them and don’t finish off the gin without us.