Friday, 25 July 2014

The blogger’s dilemma

I’m finding myself in a state of semi-paralysis with my blogging lately. But I know why.

There’s so much news going on in the world right now – and most of it is bad.
No, not bad. It’s awful. It’s horrible. It’s terrible beyond words.

Bombs and rockets being traded between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. The innocence, limbs, sight and lives of children being ripped away by terror raining from the skies.
A passenger airline seemingly shot down near the Ukraine-Russia border.
Reports from Iraq that all women and girls over 11 in Mosul have been ordered to undergo female genital mutilation.
The continuing ordeal of Syrians fleeing the fighting in their own country.
Kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria still not found and returned to their families.
The daily depressing grind of the Greek economic reality as experienced by ordinary people, rather than politicians trumpeting fanfares of optimism based on data only visible from comfortable ministry offices.
Climate change, earthquakes, flooding, overpopulation... the list goes on.

Reality bites, that’s for sure.

I generally don’t blog about such grave matters, but it worries me that this might make me seem shallow, frivolous, uninformed or uncaring. 
I do care. Desperately. I just don’t know what to say about the state of a world that seems to be teetering on the edge of madness.

The main reason I don’t post about such weighty matters is the fact that the internet is already awash with people ranting and pouring out platitudes about the shocking events that bombard us from our screens. I don’t feel that me diving in and splashing about with the sharks, minnows and life rafts in that ocean of online noise would serve any useful purpose. 
Of course the news invokes an emotional response in me. Of course I’m outraged, saddened, sickened to my core. But do I have a solution? No. So, what possible positive contribution can I make by wearing my heart on my online sleeve?

Another reason is my awareness that the issues behind the simple, stark, horrible human cost that hits the headlines are incredibly complex. I don’t have all the information at hand to be able to play the pundit. Of course, innocent citizens being targeted is undeniably an outrage – but shouldn’t I have a full grip on the reasons behind it before I climb up onto my cyber soap box? 
There are more than enough people out there writing about the reality and the reasons behind it, including some frontline reporters of incredible courage, integrity and heart. My tuppence ha’penny’s worth would add nothing of value.

There’s another reason too. And it’s entirely selfish. But it's essential to maintain my equilibrium. 
Though fortunate enough never to have faced any major mental or emotional health issues, I simply cannot spend my days focusing on the horrors of the earth – whether they’re on another continent, a few hundred miles away or next door. I’m a pretty positive person (tempered with what I consider a healthy dose of cynicism/rationalism) and I try to focus on the good things in life rather than settling into a sulk at the state of the world whilst doing nothing about it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about paying my bills, if we’ll be able to fund our son’s further education or if neo-Nazis will rise to a position of power and drag us by the hair back into the inhumanity of an age from which we are supposed to have moved on from. 
Believe me, I care. With a passion (anyone who's seen me climb up on my high horse and launch into full soap box mode can vouch for that).

I just feel that we owe it to ourselves to appreciate the good things in our lives: the support of family and friends; a good belly laugh at something ineffably silly; the music of words well written; a hug; the kick of a really well-brewed cup of coffee; a cat’s purr; the kindness of strangers; a child’s laugh; the clink of teaspoon against cup; the glorious silence of sunrise in the country; the power of music; the velvety orgasm of chocolate melting on your tongue; nature’s summer symphony; the cold kiss of the sea when you slide in after a sweaty day’s work…

There’s a lot wrong with our world, but there’s also still a lot of good things to enjoy. Accentuating the light side won’t make the dark go away, but maybe it can give us the courage to really do something about the source of that darkness rather than letting it drag us down into depression?

So next time you heave a sigh at my latest fatuous post about cats, cellulite or cake, you'll know why.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: The (not so) Great Outdoors

There I was, minding my own business, prowling around the apartment, spreading myself on the cool tiles, having a nap, patrolling the balcony rail, sleeping, eating, playing with stray leaves blown in by the summer breeze, grabbing a small snooze… when suddenly everything changed.

I knew something was up. 

The humans were faffing about even more than usual. Big Red was pulling clothes out of cupboards, then stuffing them back again. Dangly Man brought up new and interesting bags from the dungeon of antiquities. And Noisy Kid…   well he just basically did the same as me but with long periods in front of the box of moving images thrown in. 

I guessed something was afoot, but how was I to know what was awaiting me?

When I was bundled into a box, I didn’t complain. I went willingly into its bowels before realising that a metal bars would slam closed behind me, leaving me helpless as I was unceremoniously carried down to the metal box on wheels and subjected to an eternity of bumps and low hums. When we we eventually stopped, the humans started making idiotic noises about “holiday”, “countryside” and “freedom” as they bumped me and my box down some steps and opened it up to some strange new world.

I think I was supposed to be impressed.
I wasn't.

There are so many smells. My poor nostrils are in a state of exhaustion trying to get a handle on all the new scents assaulting them. I must have burned about a zillion calories just twitching my nose.

Then there’s the noise. Whoever it was that waxed lyrical about the pace and quiet of the countryside is a dirty, filthy liar. 
I mean, have you ever been to the Greek countryside in mid-summer? The noise NEVER stops!

All day long, armies of weird prehistoric robot-insects sit in the trees buzzing. En masse. Like some kind of weird alien tachicardiac pulse. It’s deafening. I swear I’ve only had about 19 hours sleep a day since we got here. It’s been sheer hell.

And it's not just the noisy buggers. There are all sorts of weird critters crawling around the place. 

I mean what, exactly, am I supposed to do with this? 

I’m not proud of it, but I must confess I’m ever-so slightly freaked out by it all. Outside looks nice enough, from a distance. From the safety of the right side of the window, it all looks very interesting, with enticing bits and pieces that waving gently in the breeze. 

But it's SO flippin’ big. I kid you now, it’s enormous – you genuinely cannot see the edges. Heaven alone knows what’s lurking beyond the horizon.

I’m an urban, urbane feline. I’ve only ever known the comforts of my first floor flat. And now I’m supposed to embrace the Great Outdoors? Sorry human, but… I don’t think so.

OK, I might deign to see what lies beyond the back balcony. Or file my nails on that handy tree trunk. Whilst I’m at it, I may investigate to see what exactly those weirdoes making all the noise look like (or even taste like) up close and personal. And perhaps I'll see if I can get to know that cute tabby who decided to serenade me as I sat in my moonlit glory on the windowsill last night - at least until Big Red thundered out of bed and dumped me like a sack of spuds on the floor.

But right now, I've got more pressing matters to attend to...  spreading myself on the cool tiles, having a nap. patrolling the balcony, sleeping, eating, playing with stray leaves, grabbing a small snooze.

It's tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Sometimes the bravest thing to be is… yourself

The words “brave” and “courageous” are over-used in my opinion. Especially in the media.

At the risk of sounding callous or lacking compassion (believe me, I’m not), young kids suffering from disabilities or serious illness are bloody unlucky, not brave. So too are refugee kids uprooted from everything they’ve ever known by war, hatred or famine. True, they may draw on whatever reserves of strength and hope they or their families have to handle the lousy hand life has dealt them and get on with things, but they're sadly not given any choice in the matter.

Dare devils or adrenaline addicts who put on a tight muscle t-shirts and throw themselves off tall buildings or engage in macho-crap escapades to try to convince themselves (and anyone who’ll watch) that they're some kind of local action hero aren't brave - they're just terminal show-offs.

And those Z list celeb touting their latest melodrama under a screaming headline of “Supermodel’s ordeal!” when they have the misfortune to have a cancer scare, get mugged or emerge from some imagined glamourous but traumatic trial DEFINITELY don’t qualify.

True bravery is about being inwardly terrified of something, but going ahead and doing it anyway, because you know you have to.

It’s about knowing some will condemn you, criticise you, even cut you out of their lives. And still going ahead. It’s about having the sheer brass balls to be yourself without excuse or apology. It’s about accepting that some will automatically drop you into a stereotype box – even though everything you do in your life flies in the face of that stereotype.

This weekend, the teenage son of one of my oldest friends announced to the world that he is gay. It can’t have been easy for him, especially in his chosen career in the army. But he had fabulous support from his brother (also in the military) who assured him that everything would be fine with the people that mattered.
And it was.

He is happy about who he is. I imagine he is even happier now he knows that his family and friends accept this newly-revealed detail about him.

After all, the fact that he’s gay is just a detail, a tiny aspect of all the things that make up the package they love.

He’s a soldier. He’s gay. He’s open about it. And he’s ready to deal whatever life throws at him. He chose to come out, instead of hiding behind a façade to please the rest of the world. And now he’s getting on with his life.

I salute him, his courage and the people standing with him who gave him the strength to be who he is.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Boom or bust on the beach

Summer is well and truly here in Greece.

I can tell from unmistakable aroma of my fellow passengers on the train during my daily commute (a heady mix of sunblock, sweat and last night’s tzatziki). 

If that wasn’t enough, in the five minutes it takes to step, cool and refreshed, from the shower, dry off and get dressed I’ve started oozing perspiration from every pore (even ones I never knew I had). I would blame the inevitable march of the menopause – after all, by all account, hot flushes are the one things everyone tells me are unavoidable. But to be honest, if I wasn’t hot and bothered when the temperature’s flirting with 40 degrees C, I’d probably be dead, right?

It’s time to start planning our escape from the grime of the city for the dust, dried leaves and cicadas of the country. Time to resurrect the wardrobe.  

A quick review reveals that:
  • I don't possess a single pair of shorts – they just don’t seem to make them to accommodate my thunder thighs, unless they come with an elasticated waistband large enough to go around a small family car;
  • Inexplicably, the five or six pareos I had in varying shades have been whittled down to just one – in pale lemon yellow. Considering that my skin tone ranges from pasty, fish-belly white to painful looking surprised pink, yellow is simply not my colour;
  • Time, repeated wear, exposure to salt water and sun, and being abandoned in the in-laws’ country house for nine months has taken its toll on my swimwear collection. The bikini tops and bottoms that saw me through the last few years are no longer a viable option. Either they’ve been worn to a whisper-like, single molecule thick sliver of slack lycra that I might as well just hit the beach in the nod, or my efforts at the gym since I last wore them has resulted in the briefs drooping delicately to my knees 20 seconds after pulling them up over my still considerable haunches.

Don't get me wrong, I REALLY want to be that confident big lass who strips down to a bikini to enjoy the beach in all her glory, without a thought to the imagined sneers of onlookers offended by her acres of flesh. Trouble is, to be that paragon of plethoric virtue and personality. I need to find the right two piece – and that means I’ve got to go cozzie-shopping. Oh lawd!

I hate clothes shopping. More often than not, it’s an exercise in humiliation for me – and the merciless fluorescent lights in the changing rooms don’t help. But attempting to squeeze my lumps, bumps and bits into a collection of multi-coloured cornetto cones, camel toe creating briefs, busten-boosters, DIY wedgies and triangular scraps of fabric has got to be the worse.

And of course, just like you gotta kiss a lotta frogs to find your prince, you have to wriggle your heaving, sweating bulk into a lotta bikinis before you find the one you’ll dare to grace the beach in.

I’ve already done a pre-shop market survey – and the news is not good.
Triangular scraps and shoestrings dominate – unless I want to go for the heavy-duty upholstered cargo crane style bustenhalters and granny knickers look. 
I don’t.

My spirits did soar briefly when I spotted a nice, seemingly sensible and vaguely presentable two-piece in a shop window with a price tag of 35 Euros – until I realised that was just the price for the briefs. Unless I want to unleash my nearly half-century old boobs on an unsuspecting beach near Oropos frequented by Greek families who frown on toplessness in general (and my son and his friends who would object even more strongly to aging mums swinging low), I’d have to shell out another 35 for the top to go with it.

I don’t think it’s worth deportation and my teen boy never speaking to me again.

My last resort before being forced to shell out 70 Euros or more is good old M&S.
I don’t know how much the Greek economic crisis has eaten away their selection at their Athens stores, but I’m hoping that they will have something in stock that (a) can cover and hold in place the important bits of a female any larger than an anorexic ant, (b) doesn’t have a cleavage boosting bra whose infrastructure of wires and stiff moulded foam looks like a Jean-Paul Gaultier reject, needs 3 hours to dry and can also act as a stand for your iced coffee, and (c) won’t make me look like a granny (no offence to grannies on the beach – I fully plan to become an action grannie myself when my time comes – but not before I retire).

Wish me luck. If I fail in my mission you may be reading reports of sightings of a mysterious white sea beast surfacing off the eastern coast of Attiki.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Whiskered wake-up

Dawn Pawrus
06.55. In the morning. On a Monday.
Awake before my time. Refuse to get up before 7am. Roll over onto back and chill. 

Rude awakening as Stoopid Cat (perched and purring on bookcase next to bed) decides to leap off and use my belly as a trampoline to bounce beyond bed and scamper gracefully out the door.

Surprise attack and resulting clenching of abs wake the need to pee – hitting the snooze and staying put for 5 minutes no longer an option. Throw on nightie over scary bedtime nakedness (No.1 has a friend staying over – wouldn’t want to traumatise the poor lad!) and head for the loo.

Cat sits on mat in front of toilet, blinking serenely up at me as I do my morning tinkle.

These are the things they never show in TV reality shows, folks.