Blinded

I have always believed that if there was one sense I would be unable to live without, it would be sight. Of course, the loss of any sense would be devastating, but I am such a visual person, that somehow I could not imagine not being able to see. Last night, I was temporarily blinded.

It all started a year ago. A friend was cataloguing an intriguing variety of dates with her husband on Instagram. I asked her what this was about, and she explained that she had stumbled upon this concept on Pinterest. Ah, the power of social media! Basically, whoever took the lead, planned an annual marathon of monthly dates. They could be as simple or as complicated as the planner wanted. A lightbulb went off in my head, and I asked her if she didn’t mind my poaching her idea. My husband’s 50th was approaching, and I was sorely lacking in funds and imaginative gifts at the time. This way I figured, not only could I spread the love over the year, but also the expense.

The idea took root in my mind, and I started looking for interesting experiences that we could do as a couple, and even as a family. I sat and mapped everything out. I looked at the calendar, figured which dates would have to be indoors, and which (weather permitting) could be outdoors. I tried to make each date stand out, and be different from the previous one. Some were simple- like a picnic in the great outdoors. Others were more complicated- like a weekend away in Bath. The organisational control freak within me rose to the challenge with glee.

I did not want any evidence laying around, so I made a list on my phone. I then went and bought some pretty cards and proceeded to write a clue in each one of them. Not only was the date a mystery, but my husband also had the fun job of trying to guess what that mystery was. I then piled all the envelopes atop one another and tied them up with a pretty ribbon. On D day I presented this little pile of envelopes to him with a flourish. So far, so good.

On the 1st of every month, he would have to open the envelope marked with that particular month, and then play the guessing game, which I really enjoyed. Him, not so much. I thought my clues were really clever. He just found them impenetrable. Hey ho! The first couple of dates went without a hitch. Our kids are older, so we were finally able to venture farther than the local Pizza Express, for some romantic couple time. I was starting to feel quite smug. Then disaster struck.

My phone crashed and died. Along with it went my list. Of course, clever clogs here had no manual back up anywhere. Now, I was stuck with ten dates to book, and nary a clue as to what or when they were! I hastily scrambled together a list and once again went through all the mental gymnastics that it had taken to plan the dates the first time round. Eight I managed to retrieve by a combination of guesswork and dumb luck. Two still remained elusive. The mysterious dates were going to be a mystery even to me!

Eating humble pie was the only recourse. On the 1st of December, I asked hubby dearest to please open the envelopes for January and August too. Bemused, he did. I quickly took note, and shoved them back in his hands satisfied. And so followed a year of weird and wonderful experiences.

From ice skating to outdoor cinema to wine tasting to nude sketching, I dragged my half-a-century-and-proud husband the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. To his credit, if he complained, it was under his breath.

For our final date, I picked dinner in the most unusual of places. The clue in the card was: “Let me take you to another world”. Impenetrable huh?

As our Uber driver dropped us off, my husband looked at the heaving pub, and the people spilling onto the pavement, and asked, “Is this it?” He was genuinely confounded that I would bring him an hour and half into London to go to a pub. Not quite.

Right next to it, discreetly darkened windows, a black awning, and an unpretentious door beckoned. Dans le Noir? In the dark?
He was still in the dark as he peered at the menu in the dim lighting. “What is this place about?”,he whispered. “Shhhh, you’ll soon find out”, I whispered back.

Our hostess took our meal orders, told us to put all our belongings in the locker provided, remove anything with lights (watches, mobile phones etc), and then wait to be led in. Presently, we were asked to walk behind our host, sort of conga-style (walk not dance), each of us placing our hand on the shoulder of the person ahead of us. We were led through three sets of curtains, into a completely darkened room. This would be where we would eat our dinner.

Dans le Noir? has featured in a movie called About Time. Although not entirely accurate in its representation, it gives one a fairly good idea what to expect. One, as in, me. Hubby was totally dumbfounded. To suddenly and so totally be deprived of sight is a pretty disconcerting experience. Other senses get heightened. You are acutely aware of how vulnerable you are without the sense that gives you your bearings.

There were no subdued whisperings like in the movie. Everyone was talking, and talking LOUDLY. All spatial awareness disappeared. We had to touch and feel for our napkins and cutlery. Pouring and drinking water was a challenge. Food ended up on the table or the lap more than it did in the mouth. Every morsel that did find its way into the mouth was delicious beyond compare. Abandoning cutlery for fingers and propriety for hunger, I marvelled at what a sensuous experience eating food in the dark could be. The flavours, the textures, the aromas took on an added dimension.

We were sat next to a very young couple, and as we exchanged pleasantries, we found ourselves opening up and revealing more of our lives than we had intended to. Darkness provided a sort of anonymity. They were similarly uninhibited. We tried guessing what each of us looked like. We swapped notes on how bizarrely wonderful this dinner was turning out to be. We talked, we laughed, and Roz, the girl, even commented on how, after having shared this intimate dinner in the dark, we could walk past one another on the street and not recognise each other.

For someone who has always believed that sight is the sense I could least live without, it was a strangely comforting experience. Yes, I was disorientated. Yes, I spilled my food, and drank my husband’s water accidentally. But I did not find the dark oppressive or scary. On the contrary, I found it liberating. For once, I felt I was not being judged on my appearance or skin colour or how short I was or what I was wearing. I was just me. And people were just disembodied voices. Some lovely, and some abrasive, some funny and some annoying. Just people.

The blind waiters were kind, helpful and understanding of our helplessness. For a change, they were in their element and we were not. They live with their handicap in our world. I wonder if we bother to extend them the same courtesies.

Thus, my #12datesinayear came to a close. It was an illuminating experience for the both of us. Whilst all our dates are happy memories, this one was extra special. It reinforced to us how very lucky we really are. How nothing, least of all our faculties or our senses, should ever be taken for granted. And yet, truly, even with being deprived of a particular sense, life is still wonderful, and worth living and experiencing.

Even if it is dans le noir.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Overthinker

There’s this lady that works at the Reception of my gym who really doesn’t like me. She has never been overtly rude to me, but every time I approach her, her face turns stony, her gaze glacial and her tone borderline obnoxious. I would think that perhaps that’s just her personality, except that I have seen her laughing with and being nice to other people. So, what is it about me that sets her teeth on edge?

I’m not a rude person. If anything, I am extra polite. Being in the service industry, I can’t help but be nice to people. It’s a default mechanism. Every so often however, I come up against people who take a dislike to me. Some, like the aforementioned woman, I have minimal dealings with. Others, who after a certain amount of time spent in my company, find that they truly cannot abide me. My overriding fear at times like these is: am I horrible person?

Now, I know that I am not a horrible person. I am just an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, and in the course of this life, just as I accumulate people who love me or like me, I am equally likely to accumulate those who don’t. Yet, with a writer’s predisposition to analyse everything, I’m truly perplexed when these instances crop up.

I examine my behaviour. I go over words, actions, expressions; tooth combing them to see how I may have caused offence. In short, I over think everything. Then I swing the other way, trying to feel blasé, as though none of this bothers me, when in reality, it does. It’s exhausting.

I wish I could be that person who lives and thrives, irrespective of others’ opinions of her. I wish these tiny slights or major snubs didn’t dent my self esteem and send me into a spiral of self examination. I wish I had the ability to not take everything to heart.

Yet, without any of this over-sensitivity, would I be the writer I am?

Perhaps that is the trade off.

 

Funk (Experiment Series 2- Part 4)

2006

“None of your Indian Princess act here, my girl. This is a toilet brush. Learn to use it!”

It had been two days since I’d arrived in London, and clearly, Mrs Jhunjhunwala or Auntie JJ wasn’t impressed with the skid marks I’d left in the bog. She handed me the toilet brush and bustled out, every fibre of her being conveying irritation. Slowly, I inserted the brush in the pot and swirled the bleach she’d poured in. The smell made me gag, and a little tear made its way down my cheek. Where was Ratna bai when you needed her?

“Really Gul, it will be a wonderful experience. You’ll become more independent. Learn to navigate a foreign city on your own. Think of all the fun you’ll have!”

Mummy had certainly sold it to me. What she’d omitted to mention was that I’d be stuck in a tiny flat with an eccentric Parsi woman and a flatulent poodle. Said eccentric was taking off for France for her annual girls’ (read old, ugly, fat women) meet, and I was to be caretaker of flat and poodle for (gasp) an entire two weeks! Before she left though, Auntie JJ was putting me through my paces. From making sure I dusted everyday (where was the dust?), took Chi-chi (flatulent poodle) for his daily walk, to going grocery shopping to the local Sainsbury’s, and of course, keeping the bog clean and smelling of (yuck) lavender.

Really, Auntie JJ wasn’t an ogre. She was just particular. (Peculiar springs to mind too).

Of course I knew why Mummy was eager to send me 4000 miles away. It was because of Farhan. She hoped distance would kill the budding romance between us. What she didn’t know was that the romance had blossomed and withered already. I wasn’t going to tell her either. Pride and sadistic pleasure lay somewhere behind my hazy strategy.

So, although, I hadn’t exactly jumped at the prospect of living in London for a bit, I hadn’t dismissed the notion out of hand either. Distance would be a good thing. I could lick my wounds, or maybe find someone else to temporarily lick them.

There were still two days to go for Auntie JJ’s departure though, and I hoped I wouldn’t suffocate to death by then.

*

Aside of the bric a brac that overpopulated her tiny flat, Auntie JJ insisted on keeping the heating on full blast, and the windows shut at all times. Admittedly it was December, and the air was colder than a witch’s tit, but I could’ve done with breathing something that smelt other than lavender, body odour and dog fart. Every evening, after our dinner of roasted cod, mashed potatoes and mushy peas, Auntie JJ invited me to imbibe a little sherry with her. Every evening I refused politely. I would then sneak into the bathroom, crack open the window, breathe some London fumes in, and exhale the smoke from my sneaky cigarette out.

I was bored senseless, and since Auntie JJ hadn’t dipped a toe into the 21st century with things like mobile phones and wifi, I was at a complete loose end too. I could choose to watch vile daytime television with her, listen to her snort over the Daily Mail everyday, or read the horrendous Regency romances her place was littered with. I chose none of the above, choosing instead to sulk in my room, planning all the naughty escapades I’d get up to while the cat was away.

Chi-chi, the old dog, seemed to sense my restlessness. He took to following me around the cramped flat with an expression that amounted to, “I know what’s on your mind, and I don’t like it”. He’d whine and scratch at my bedroom door if I had it shut. Then promptly deliver a silent, deadly fart as a present as soon as I opened it. I hated that dog. I think the feeling might have been mutual.

On the eve of her departure, Auntie JJ solemnly handed me the keys to the flat, and a list as long as my forearm.

“This is the first time I have allowed anyone to stay here after Persis died”, she sniffled a bit, “I hope you won’t let me down, my child. Your mother said you are a very responsible girl”.

A pang of guilt at the unholy thoughts I’d been having, made me lean forward and embrace her. “You have nothing to worry about Auntie JJ. I’ll take care of everything”.

Later, I aired all my clothes for fear that I’d end up smelling as fusty as her.

 

*

The thing about Farhan was that he was just so damn handsome. All chiselled face and grey eyes and musculature to rival a race horse. Religion didn’t come into it. Not for me anyway. I just wanted to get laid, and he was the best candidate for it. Mummy would’ve been horrified if she heard me speak this way. I was the ‘good girl‘, with the ‘bright future‘. I had no business entertaining such thoughts. Except that my raging libido thought otherwise.

At twenty one, most of my girlfriends had lost their virginity yonks ago. So, why was I still unpackaged?

We’d nearly made it. Ayesha had made herself scarce, giving her bedroom to us for our usual heavy petting session. His hand had crawled under my top and I’d arched my back towards him, hoping he’d take it further this time. He’d groaned as I’d touched him. “Let’s do it Farhan”, I’d whispered, slyly unzipping him.

“What? No. NO! Stop it Gul!! What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you?”

He’d leapt off the bed. “I’m saving myself for marriage. You know I’m engaged to my cousin Anjum. You’ve always known”.

“Bloody Hell Farhan! I’m not asking for your hand in marriage. I’m just asking for a fuck!”

He’d looked shocked and backed away. “I can’t do that….my religion won’t permit me to sleep with another woman….”

I’d laughed then. “So, have we been knitting beanies and discussing politics all these weeks? Grow up Farhan!”

He’d walked out at that point.

Sanctimonious hypocritical jerk.

 

*

The bloody dog had to sniff every nook and cranny. It took him twenty minutes to decide where to wee, and another ten on where to poo.I tugged at his lead, and he just gave me a baleful look.

It wasn’t like I didn’t try to make it up with Farhan. I thought it was a lovers’ spat. He thought worse. Much worse. When the sniggers on campus became obvious, I asked Ayesha for an explanation. She wouldn’t meet my eye. After much hemming and hawing she finally explained, “They think you’re a nymphomaniac”.

I nearly spat my coffee out at that!

Nymphomaniac?! Chance would be a fine thing.

I tugged at Chi-chi’s lead again. He came along this time.

“Hey, you! Oii…lady…!”

I turned around to gaze at a strapping six foot two ebony god who looked distinctly unhappy.

“Yes?”, I tentatively enquired.

“You gotta pick up the dog’s poo, yeah?”

My gaze followed his to the deposit on the pavement. Chi-chi had done his mistress proud, and produced the loosest, smelliest, ugliest poo of all time. I shot the dog a filthy glance, and reached for the bag inside my pocket. What a disgusting practice this was. Couldn’t I just leave it there to organically decompose, like people did in India?

“You must pick up after Chi-chi, Gul. You will be fined if you don’t. It’s not just etiquette, it’s the law”, Auntie JJ had drummed this repeatedly into my head.

Yuck, yuck, ghastly.

“You not from around here, I can tell. Where you from?”, he drawled at me.

“Mumbai”, I mumbled, desperate to get away, and get rid of the hot mess in my pocket.

“India? Haha. Chicken Tikka Masala!”

Very funny, I thought, doing a mental eye roll. I started to walk away, but he fell in step with me. He probed, I dodged. Talking to strangers had never been my forte. Besides, my head was still full of Farhan, and all the unspeakable things I wanted to do to him, post rumour mongering.

“I’m David. What’s your name?”

Fed up, I looked him right in the eye and said, “Gul Batliwala. Nice to meet you David. Goodbye”.

*

He was waiting for me the next day, and the next, and the day after too.

Soon, we established our own little routine. He’d wait for me at the street corner. I’d pretend not to see him. He’d saunter up to me, big toothy smile and loose limbs. I’d studiously ignore him the first five minutes, and reluctantly hand out tidbits of information the other twenty five. I actually started to enjoy our brief encounters, as they were possibly the only highlight in my otherwise tedious days.

Christmas shoppers were out in full force. Carols were blaring out everywhere. London was grey, sullen, festive and expectant, all at the same time. Old memories of being here with Mummy and Daddy as a child, crowded in from time to time. Happier days, more innocent days. Days before Daddy’s affair with his secretary came to light.

“Gool, why you so gloomy all the time?”

Gloomy? Me? I plastered a fake smile on, and looked at him. “It’s called Parsi melancholia”.

That stumped him.

“Come out for a drink tonight? Just you and me? I’ll cheer you up”.

I looked at him assessingly. I had to admit he had grown on me. He was handsome, charming and loquacious. Not the brightest button or the sharpest tool, but hey, who needed IQ in bed?

 

*

I opened all the windows of the flat. Lit multiple candles, and fragrances sticks. Dusted everything within an inch of its life. Threatened Chi Chi with decapitation if he so much as pointed his rear in my direction.

David was coming over this evening. This could be the bravest or the most foolhardy move of my life. What did I know of the guy anyway? He could be a rapist, or a serial killer.

Well, at least I wouldn’t die a virgin.

*

Sade was on repeat on the CD player. The wine was chilling. The crudités were on display, and I had my sexiest underwear on under a Christmas jumper where Rudolph’s nose lit up every five seconds. I applied a little lip gloss, and gave myself a once over. Not bad. Not bad at all. I wasn’t vain, but knew that I had inherited my father’s coltish legs, and my mother’s sensuous lips. Shame that Farhan had no use for either.

Christmas was two days away, and four houses across the street, someone had gone to town with the decorations. All manner of illuminated fauna dotted the front lawn. Father Christmas hung precariously off the chimney, whilst his sled blinded anyone foolish enough to look at it directly. It was all in such poor taste that I didn’t know whether to shudder or applaud.

When the doorbell rang, I felt a shiver go through me. This was it. This could be the night.

David stood at the door in a black jumper and black jeans, carrying an enormous bunch of flowers in his hands. His teeth were in such stark contrast to the rest of him, that a giggle nearly escaped me.

“I got the dog some treats.”

Ahh, that was sweet. Chi-chi obligingly walked up, sniffed him, wagged his tail desultorily and walked away.

“Dog got the melancho thing too?”

Huh.

I poured him some wine, arranged the flowers in a vase, and then positioned myself close enough to smell his after shave.

“You’re a real pretty girl but you don’t say much.”

“Not much to say”, I reparteed, giving him my sexiest glance.

It didn’t take him long to slide over, and slide his tongue into me. This guy could kiss, and how. From gentle nibbles to doing it a la francaise, he ran the entire gamut. I slipped my hands under his jumper to feel the hard muscle of his torso. He returned the favour. We groped each other till exasperated, I took off my jumper and threw it aside. He grinned at the sight of my red bra. Nope, no virginal misgivings for this one.

Things were getting hot and heavy when I first heard the sound of someone choking. I sat up abruptly, pushing David off me.

“What was that?”

“What?”, he mumbled, trying to push me back down.

“Listen!”, I commanded.

We both listened. There it was again. A strangled choking sound. Chi-chi!

The dog was choking on one of the treats that David had kindly scattered on the floor for him. Panicked I ran over to Chi-chi and started hitting him on the back. Chi-chi carried on choking. Could one perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a dog? I was certainly going to try! I picked Chi-chi up and tried knocking the breath out of him by squeezing his stomach hard.

“Hey Gool! You’re going to kill the dog..”, David looked horrified at the sight of me in my undies, stomach thrusting a choking poodle.

“Help, you useless man!”

“How?”

“Dunno! Call 999 or something!!”

“They don’t come out for dogs.”

The argument was moot anyway. Chi-chi had only just gone limp in my arms. The dog was dead.

“Gool, I think the dog’s dead.”

No shit Sherlock.

*

Nothing like a dead dog for buzzkill. To give the devil it’s due, David did make some half hearted attempts at foreplay. But Chi-chi’s body covered with a sheet in the corner, finally got to him.

“Gool…I, ah, got to go now. I’ll see you around, yeah?”

I nodded dispiritedly.

Shutting the door behind him, I pondered my predicament. What does one do with a dog’s body at 11pm?

I got very little sleep that night. First I disposed off the evidence i.e. the treats that had killed poor Chi-chi. Then I looked for the list of instructions and numbers that Auntie JJ had left me. Finally, I ruminated on the possibility that I was jinxed as a person, and as a woman.

 

*

“Unhelpful cow”, I muttered as I slammed the phone down.

The 23rd of December is not the day to ring a pet’s surgery and ask for help. The receptionist clearly had her mind on the impending festivities rather than providing any useful information to a distraught dog killer.

She’d listened in silence as I’d explained the situation.

“Well, you could bury him in your garden.”

“I don’t have a garden. I’m in a flat. Listen, could you please send someone out to collect the body. If you could house Chi-chi till his owner gets back, I’d be most grateful.”

“Sorry, we don’t have enough staff for that. You could bring the dog to us. We’re not too far.”

“Yes, but I don’t drive, and I don’t have a car here. Please is there any way….?”

“You could take the tube.”

At this point I’d hung up.

Tears of frustration sprung up in my eyes. Poor old flatulent Chi-chi, lying in the corner, stiffening up with rigor mortis, sent my guilt into overdrive. I started to bawl my eyes out.

After fifteen minutes of self pity, I calmed myself and went looking for a carrier to put Chi-chi in.

 

*

Dead dogs are dead weight, I soon found out, as I lugged the suitcase to the tube station. Every ten paces I had to take a break and change hands. Of course Auntie JJ had taken the good case with wheels on her holiday. I’d found this old one filled with photo albums at the back of her wardrobe. I’d left the albums lying on her bed, taken all the mothballs out, and placed them like a charm around them.

Then I had spent a good hour trying to cram Chi-chi into the case.

Hauling him towards the station, I wondered how I would explain this fiasco to Auntie JJ. She’d adored the dog, and I’d killed him. Well, not killed him with my own bare hands, but certainly with my negligence. Some dog sitter/ houseguest I’d turned out to be!
Having purchased my ticket I made my way to the right platform. Two dozen stairs confronted me. I took a deep breath, and started my journey down. I’d made five stairs when the burning in my arm made me stop and take a breath. Two young lads passed me by. They looked at me, said something to each other, and turned around to come back.

“Need help with that sweetheart?”

I nodded gratefully. “Yes please. If you could just take it to the bottom of the stairs, I’ll take it from there.”

They grasped a handle each and started to carry it down. See Farhan? Chivalry isn’t dead. I followed them down slowly. The only trouble was, they didn’t actually deposit the case down the stairs. Instead they carried on at a good clip.

“Hey! Hey!!!”, I shouted, but they just jumped into the train as it pulled away.

I stood dumbfounded.

I guess I’d just been robbed. Of a dead dog.

*

2017

Parsi melancholia is easily overcome by Punjabi joie de vivre, and three children. Needless to say, I didn’t stay a virgin forever. Auntie JJ never forgave me the death and abduction of her dear Ch-chi. I was persona non grata for the rest of her life. Can’t say I blamed her.

Now, when my kids beg me to get them a dog, I remember the Chi-chi saga, and demur. “I don’t have a good history with dogs”, I say cryptically. Only Sanjay knows the whole story, and he guffaws each time.

Maybe we’ll just get a cat.

 

THE END.

©Poornima Manco 2017

 

 

 

 

Bloodline

Every nation has its Achilles heel. If in America, everything big and shiny and new is aways seen as an improvement, then in Britain royalty and any connection to it confers an automatic superiority over lesser mortals. I’m sure such like must exist everywhere. But in India, there is a fascination with dynasties. In the absence of royalty, we have lineages.

I grew up in India. I grew up in a household that had supported the Congress party. Up until the time I could think for myself, my allegiance lay in the same place as my family’s. Later, as the party fell apart, and a certain family name became inextricably linked with it, I started to wonder why, as Indians, we placed such importance on a bloodline. Did having the same genes make you necessarily better at the same thing as your forefathers?

A recent row that erupted in the Hindi film industry, also known as Bollywood, was over nepotism. That ubiquitous practice of promoting family regardless of talent or merit. Bollywood is rife with it. Millions of rupees are ploughed into projects with star sons or star daughters. So rarely do they bring any returns. And yet, riding on the coat tails of their ancestry, these talentless no hopers survive and thrive. If an outsider happens to question this practice, they are mocked at, shunned and publicly humiliated. Then life carries on, pretty much the same as before.

Be it the Gandhis in politics, or the Kapoors and the Bachchans (amongst many others) in films, there is an automatic presumption of accession. Yet, what if nature does not provide that which nurture wishes to promote?

Cricketers’ sons do not automatically become cricketers. Writers’ children don’t always write. Artists’ progeny may have no interest in art. So, why do parents or society see it fit to shoe horn people into professions they may have no natural ability or aptitude for?

There is no denying that amongst those that DO have the interest and the inclination, not forgetting the competence and faculty, ancestry can play an important role. Here, the foundation is laid and the environment is conducive to progress and excellence. Support, mentoring and an understanding of the profession can be invaluable. Nature and nurture can work in tandem.

Sadly, more often than not, its the chaff not the wheat that gets pushed to the forefront.

Perhaps it is time for us to abandon these idiosyncrasies, and celebrate talent, intelligence, courage and competence wherever it occurs. Perhaps it is time to relegate nepotism and favouritism to the rubbish heap where they belong.

Or perhaps, it is just time to get my head examined. Utopia, after all, exists only in the minds of the mentally challenged.

Ka-ching!

It’s been a long held belief to never ask a woman her age or a man his wage. Yet, only last week, BBC was forced to reveal the wages of their top earning presenters by the government. As expected, many interesting disparities emerged. However, what was even more startling was how uncomfortable this made most of us feel. Was it fair to these presenters to have the details of their earnings so publicly exposed? Was it fair to the rest of us? Who would this disclosure benefit?

Even as Jeremy Vine squirmed on air upon being questioned about his salary by an ex coal miner, and whether he thought he was deserving of it, the wage gap between the blue collar and the white collar was set out in no uncertain terms by this forced revelation by the Beeb. Did a presenter have more value than a coal miner? Did he risk his life and limb to put food on the table for his family?

Forget about presenters for a minute. Let’s look at footballers. A Premier League footballer makes more in a week than most of us do in a year. All for kicking a ball with flair. Why is it that movie stars, sports stars, models, pop stars and the like rake in the moolah while nurses, teachers, fire fighters, police officers struggle to make a decent wage? Do we, as a society, have the pecking order all wrong?

Of course it can be argued that ‘talent’ needs its own rewards. While anyone can do the more pedestrian jobs, there can only be one Cristiano Ronaldo, and he’s worth every dollar he gets. So also, there is only one Chris Evans and he presents the most popular slot on the most popular radio station, and therefore deserves every penny of his 2.2 million salary. It can also be argued that for most of these top earners, their shelf life isn’t that long, and therefore the adage of ‘make hay while the sun shines’ applies to them.

There is no denying that we all need a bit of sunshine in our lives. And by that I mean, the entertainment of our choice. For some of us it maybe watching sport, for others it maybe getting lost in music, or going to the movies or listening to the radio daily. We are happy to pay good money to be entertained. Yet, does this justify over inflated wages?

A study done some years ago revealed that Britons would rather talk about sex than income. Bedroom antics were more blithely revealed than earning figures, and that’s saying something. Talking about money is polite society’s last taboo. Why? Because talking about money is seen as tasteless. For those who are more privileged than others, on account of their backgrounds or professions, perhaps it sets off a few guilty twinges too. Who is to say?

BBC’s pay grades have not just revealed the glaring disparities between them and us, but also amongst them. Firstly the gender disparity. The highest earning female presenter happened to be number 8 on the list, and earned a fourth less than the highest earning male. The highest earning minorities presenters made even less. Could this be on account of being lesser talents? Or, is it because certain hierarchies are so entrenched in these institutions, that only a big reveal like this would shine a light on them?

What is crystal clear is that there is a massive imbalance in the way pay scales are structured. Whether these are presenters, sportsmen, entertainers or CEO’s of large corporations, it is grossly unfair that a section of society, however deserving, makes so much more than an equally deserving section that puts in the hard graft, and comes away with so little.

In Japan, the average CEO earns 16 times more than the average Japanese worker. In America, it is 319 times more. Fair?

So, whilst this pay reveal may have momentarily disrupted the cushy lives of these undoubtedly talented, but also undoubtedly lucky presenters, what it has unwittingly done is create a debate around the contentious issues of value, worth, disparity and discrimination. Let’s hope a redressal isn’t too far off.

 

 

 

 

Friend or Foe?

We have a strange relationship with time. As children, it seems to stretch out in front of us, endlessly. Days are long, oft monotonous, and the routine of school, homework, exams seems to be a never ending loop with no end in sight. We can’t wait to grow up, to govern time, to make it do our bidding.

In our youth, time is still on our side. With the careless optimism that fills our days, we match our step with time, outpacing it sometimes with our feckless, buoyant energy, ignoring it other times in our sleepy, enervated lassitude but always, always taking it for granted.

When jobs, marriages, partners and children jostle for space in our lives, time is in short supply. We race from one moment to the next, barely pausing for breath. Days, weeks, months, years fly past and we can scarcely keep count.

It is in our twilight years that time once again slows down. Our days are numbered but they are no longer filled with a hurried urgency. We don’t have the luxury of an entire lifetime. We don’t have the insouciance of youth. Our fruitful, fertile days are history, and all that lies ahead is the certainty of death.

What is time then? Is it a friend that helps us grow, change, develop and experience life? Or, is it a foe that eludes us when we need it most, and stabs us when we aren’t looking?

Time is both and neither.

Time is a silent companion that knows only to march forward relentlessly. It bows to no one. It turns back for nobody.

The sad truth is, that by the time we come to appreciate its worth, it is nearly always too late.

The fruits of Abstinence

As Socrates once proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In the last six months I embarked upon an examination of sorts. An examination of my diet, the effects of certain foods on my body, and crucially, whether I was at all capable of living without certain naughties in my life.

For those of you who read my previous post Abstinence, you would have noted that I had planned a month long expulsion of four dietary baddies: alcohol, sugar, meat and coffee. Unwittingly, that month- May 15 till June 15- ended up being FIVE weeks long! And boy, was it a looooong month. It was a struggle in many ways. The easy ones to give up were the coffee and the alcohol. Perhaps because a binge of one nearly always followed a binge of the other. Co dependants, and therefore co evictees. The meat and the sugar were much tougher.

In the previous months, I had tended to over compensate in one quarter when imposing a ban on another. For instance, in my sugar free month, I happily munched my way through all manner of meat preparations, drank my body weight in gin and kept myself buzzing on cappuccinos. I still (miraculously) lost weight! However, this time around, I denied myself the crutches I had become accustomed to. My sense of deprivation would most certainly have derailed me, had it not been for one little detail: my stubbornness. There was a dogged determination to my pursuit of ‘cleaner’ living.

At the end of that month, I baked a cake.

This cake was a celebratory one. Not for myself, but for my daughter who had just finished her GCSE exams. It was a hazelnut torte, the layers sandwiched together with swiss buttercream, finished off with chocolate ganache and decorated with ferrero rocher chocolates. I wish I could say that not a crumb passed my lips. Alas, that would be a bare faced lie. I ate not one, but two slices, and you know what? I enjoyed them too.

So was all of that abstinence an exercise in futility?

Nope. Not at all. This was never meant to be a life long prohibition. It was meant to be an examination not just of the ouster of certain foods I had determined I was dependant on, but also of my will power and ability to see it through till the end. That I managed, and am quietly proud of my accomplishment.

However, the dilemma that faces me now is how do I carry this forward? When I’d tried explaining to a friend that I was doing a no sugar, no meat, no alcohol and no coffee ban, he’d looked at me quizzically and quipped, “No life either?”

Sadly, for those five weeks, I wasn’t the most fun person to hang out with. In fact, at times I was a bit of a pain in the rear. The restaurants I agreed to go to had to have vegetarian options. I always declined the wine and the dessert, and stared mournfully at the lattes my friends rounded off their meals with. That is not how I want to live the rest of my life!

So, going forward the catchword of MY life will be moderation. Don’t drink an entire bottle of wine because it’s there. Don’t eat meat everyday because you are too lazy to look up new and exciting vegetarian recipes. Don’t eat an entire bar of chocolate because you are bored. And don’t drink five coffees in a day because you couldn’t haul your bottom to bed at a decent hour.

Which brings me to the mystery element of my abstinence.

In all of this taking care of my body malarkey, I stumbled upon an interesting truth. My bedtimes were inevitably at some godforsaken hour. Not because I was working hard on the great Indian/English/American novel, but because I was trawling through reams of nonsensical social media postings. What was this strange pull that social media exerted on me, and could I break the spell? I set about finding out.

For the entire month of June, I have sworn off social media. Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp have been cruelly culled from my life. Aside of answering a few panic stricken messages on Whatsapp, that I reluctantly signed back onto for a day, my life has been social media free. And oh, the joy of it!

I can now choose to read the news items I wish to read, without Facebook’s algorithms determining I need a glut of information about something I might have displayed an interest in once. No more reading every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion on what is wrong with the world (and how they will solve it all, hiding behind their computer screens). No more seeing a casual acquaintance’s blow by blow account of her agonisingly mundane life’s minutiae.

What a relief it has been. I have caught up on my reading, my writing and finally started to listen to the podcast I’d earmarked two years ago! I cannot, in all honesty, Continue reading “The fruits of Abstinence”