Thursday, 27 July 2017

Sorry, Who Do You Think You Are?


Another week, another of those 'stranger than fiction' events that dog my footsteps like a small persistent child in wellies. I'm walking to Tesco for the paper: it gets me away from the addictive lure of social media, when I encounter three old men (think extras out of 'Last of the Summer Wine') leaning on the parapet of Batford Bridge, putting the world to rights.

I join them, as you do if you're me. We stare at the River Lea sauntering under the bridge in an insouciant manner, and the shoals of tiny fish butting against the flows and eddies. There is a companionable silence. Then one of the oldsters remarks, 'Saw you in the paper the other week.' I concur. He did. I was. Brief appearance on TV's 'Victoria Live' was covered by the local paper, as they know anything to do with me is a razor blade in the Town Council's candy-floss.

'Didn't know you was a writer,' he continues. His two companions swivel round and study me narrowly. A pause. 'You don't look like a writer,' one of them observes cautiously. See, I bet that never happens to you. I bet you just rock up to wherever you're going, and everybody goes, 'Yup. Writer/teacher/etc..'

Apropos of what a writer looks like, or is supposed to look like, I know there are many people on social media who deliberately choose pictures that resemble their younger selves. Or pet pics.Which must make for interesting times when they have to attend a literary function, or meet a fellow writer for the first time.

Mind, who am I to point the finger? When I joined Twitter, I used the cover of Jigsaw Pieces as my avatar. After a couple of weeks, I had acquired numerous young male followers who flirted with me. Fairly outrageously.

For a while, I remained undecided whether to put them out of their misery, or just go with the flow. Eventually I gave in and replaced the cover with a picture that resembles the ''Real Me''. But it was with some reluctance, because it's quite nice to be thought of as youthful, with attitude and cheekbones you can hang off. And of course inside, that's exactly how I am!

STOP PRESS: The Victorian Detectives will shortly return, with new covers and in a brand new adventure!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.



On Saturday, I bade a sad au revoir to Annie-Rose, my 1988 customised 2CV6 Charleston. Now that the other Grumpy Old Sod is retired, we can't justify or afford to run two cars, so she has been sold, and is going to France, to live out her days in the Limousin region.

My love affair with these extraordinary French beauties began when I was 15, and a youth leader had a bright yellow one. I loved the shape, the chugging 'gawd-I'm-struggling-here' noise the engine made and the way other drivers' eyes widened in fear as the little car rolled dramatically when cornering.

I never thought I'd actually own one (mainly because I didn't drive), but the serendipitous coming together of passing my test and a local mum wanting to get rid of a red and white Dolly, got me my first 2CV. She had Paris stickers and pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and I bought her outwith asking the GOS, so had to park her in a side street until I plucked up courage and told him.
Red and white Dolly (not mine)

It took me a week of determined effort to master the gears. If you've never driven a vintage Citroen (and they are now vintage cars) this is what the dashboard looks like:


They have so many quirks and oddities (I have started one with the obligatory crank), and they are temperamental to industrial strength, but in a world of boring lookalike grey cars, they stand alone. And you can always locate them in multi-story car parks.

I am a member of 2CVGB, which meant I used to rock up to the local group every now and then. Many of them owned multiple cars, known as 'the fleet' and it was there that I bought a 1988 Plums and Custard Dolly for You Must Be Mad's 18th birthday. It had been 'moddied' by its previous owner, meaning that it could reach scary top speeds of over 90 mph. She used to take on the boy racers at traffic lights, and venture into the outside lanes of motorways, with me clinging onto the seat for dear life.
Plums and Custard Dolly

She learned to drive on it ~ we called the car Tintin, because of the Herge figure on the door, and the noise it made going uphill. It was the nearest I got to a 'fleet', and we brushed off the inevitable 'Are you going to mate them?' comments from passing locals when they were parked out front for cleaning. Eventually, when you could see the road passing under the floor mats, daughter sold Tintin, and I was back to one car again.

Annie-Rose also came from the local group too. Originally, she was light and dark grey, but in a moment of madness that I've never regretted, I had her resprayed pink. She is, I believe, unique, and we have enjoyed so many adventures over the years, turning heads and provoking stories of 2CVs owned by other people in their youth. I have rarely returned from shopping trips without finding someone admiring her, or wanting to ask questions about her.

I shall miss the quirkiness, the stubborn refusal ever to start first time in cold weather, the lack of proper heating meaning your fingers go blue in winter, waving to other 2CV drivers and the cameraderie of owning a car that ignorant people, who've never sat in one, regard as belonging properly in a circus tent.

Most of all, I shall always remember, with great fondness, the many many days when my 2CVs and I have gone bombing along a country road, hood rolled right back, sunshine pouring down from a blue sky and Diana Ross blasting out of the cassette player. You can't get much closer to heaven than that!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

'Twas Brexit ...



Written jointly on Twitter by @WeNeedEU @TheFlyingSirens @carolJhedges
and @DanzierLea (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

'Twas Brexit, and the slimy Gove
Did lie, dissembling, in the Mail
All flimsy was the case for Leave
And Remainers' wrath prevailed.

Beware the Bozzawock my son,
The stupid smile, the floppy hair
Beware the Davistwat & shun
The Devious Maybot Lair

We took Verhofstadt's blade in hand
Long time the Leadsome foe we sought
So rested we by the magic tree
And stood a while distraught

And while in uffish thought they stood,
The Bozzawock, with wig ablaze,
Came whuffling through the London 'hood
And burbled as it came!

One two, One two and with th'EU
The Brexit bayed and showed a crack
"We want it dead, not white nor red,
Nor blue, but on its back.''

The end (or is it?)

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Once Upon a Nightmare


This is the story of Anna and Stefan. These are not their real names, but they are real people, and their story is all too real. Anna and Stefan come from Hungary and live in the next town to me. Anna works in the local library, which is how I met her, leading 'Baby Rhyme Time' when Little G and I used to rock up every Thursday to sing along.

Anna and Stefan arrived here twelve years ago, moved into a flat and found jobs. Stefan works for an agency in the social care industry, on low wages, visiting elderly people in their homes to help them live an independent life. Anna had a variety of jobs, but the arrival of their 2 lovely children meant that she was not in continuous work, as she took time off to care for her babies.

Neither of them ever thought about returning home outwith family visits. As Anna told me: 'Hungary has an awful despot as a prime minister.' And so their lives pottered on, the kids grew, started school, and Anna gave birth to their third child.

Then Brexit happened and their lives suddenly turned from OK to nightmare. It started with the abuse. Comments and looks if they spoke their mother tongue in the street. Stefan came home to find a group of local men waiting for him. He was threatened, called names and told to 'go back where he came from'. The abuse went on. The family went to the police. The harassment ceased. Then their very  loved cat was poisoned. The family stopped feeling safe, and started to look around for new accommodation.

Eventually, the council found them a small derelict house that had been used by druggies as a base. It was filthy, needles everywhere and nothing 'worked'. Luckily, Stefan is a practical man, and their friends all piled in to make the house habitable again. Once they were settled, they decided to apply for permanent residence. And the nightmare began all over again.

To complete the 86 page documents, Stefan needed 5 years of payslips, bank statements etc. 3 kilograms of documents. They managed to get this together, sent it off, and the Home Office promptly 'lost' some of the documents. Three months later, they were requested to resubmit everything. (This is only the first stage ~ it gets them a permanent residence card, which is compulsory for a nationality application.)

And it isn't free. It will cost Anna and Stefan £1,500 each, plus £1,000 for each child. Did I say that they both work in low-waged jobs? But even if they get the money together, that may well not be the end of their problem. There is worse. Much worse. Because Anna doesn't have 5 years continuous employment, having taken time out to be a stay at home mum, she cannot apply now with Stefan but must wait until next May.

And there is more: Stefan and Anna are not married, so Anna, in the eyes of the government, has to prove she is a family member. She may have no right to remain here. Mistakes and missteps dog the application process. As she says: 'Twelve years, & 3 children doesn't count.'  Once Stefan's application, and that of the children goes through, she could be told to leave. Who knows?

So while our MPs posture and bluff and accuse the EU (from whom WE chose to detach ourselves) of 'bullying' and 'intimidating' the UK, I offer this little (true) story to help get a sense of perspective. Anna and Stefan are just ordinary hard-working, tax-paying people. Like you. Stefan looks after elderly frail people, maybe like someone in your family. Two of their children go to a local school, like yours do. They have made their life here. And this life is being stress-tested and torn apart. Needlessly.

STOP PRESS: On their recent visit to Hungary to see family, Anna and Stefan took the decision to get married. They didn't want to, but they decided it was better for their application that they did, lest Anna's sporadic work record meant possible deportation back to Hungary and away from their three children, the youngest of whom is 18 months.