Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lights Out, All Out

Two days, nine hours and 30 minutes.” I announce to nobody in particular. There's plenty of time to prepare myself. I pull out the checklist from my handbag: torch, tick; candles, tick... Oh my God, I don't have any matches and I don't smoke. Matches, matches, where can I get some matches? Does Epsom even have a shop that stocks matches? Perhaps I should buy a lighter? Hmmm, I'm not sure... Lighting a flame inside makes me uneasy. A typical Fire sign, I barely keep my own internal fire under control. Tick, tick, tick...The clock's second hand moves noisily. Another two minutes lost on this countdown to Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is a lights-out event organised by the The World Wildlife Fund. On the 31st at 8:30pm, millions of homes across the globe will turn out their lights for an hour. Humanity united in a global switch-off to protect the environment. Plunged into darkness, will the world cope with this blackout? One hour may not seem like very much, but a large majority of us have never known what it's like to be pitched into blackness. The Second World War is spoken of, but it's not a part of our own life experience. Candlelight is seen as atmospheric; a romantic glow between two people. A log-burning fire is cosy and comforting; the wood cackling as the flames leap and spit. Flickering flames are hypnotic; lost in a trance as the shadows cast dance. None of the above are lit for necessity, they are referred to instead as 'mood lighting'. Flames have a soothing effect and might also be described as ritualistic; a match struck for a purpose. A ritual performed to commemorate an event or person.

Electric lights have become the norm for us. The flick of a switch and the room is lit with an unnatural brightness. An artificial glare, no corner left undiscovered or in dimness. Houses and windows alight, a fluorescent yellow highlights their territory. Rooms flooded with light shows the occupiers are home, but is this constant usage necessary? For a full 60 minutes, offset the negative effect by turning lights out, all out.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Big Bad Wolf

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf, big bad wolf, big bad wolf, big bad wolf? Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Tra la la la la.' Answer: I am. For some reason, this rhyme always enters my head when I think of modern technology. I admit to a certain extent I'm techno-phobic. Anything that claims to make our lives easier gives me the shivers. Goosebumps appear when voice activated and touch screen devices are near. A future where human usefulness could be obsolete is just creepy. Unlike the fairy tale, this intelligent little pig knows her flat won't always protect her.

When this subject is raised, the statement that's made is: “Look what modern technology has done for us!” “What has it done?” I ask. These are some of the responses I get: Women have been freed from back-breaking domestic chores. Family and leisure time has increased. Appliances help us lead a much more convenient life. All these might be true, but does this mean we're better off? I'm not entirely convinced. What's wrong with a bit of manual labour? Some human input coupled with technology. Aided by appliances, but still in control. My all-time top chore list looks a little something like this: 1) Cooking, 2) Dish washing, 3) Hoovering, 4) Dusting and polishing etc. My heart leaps at the sight of a sink filled with dirty plates, a squirt of detergent and hot water. My hands delving into the frothy white bubbles; meditative dish washing commences. All of the above allows you to be present, to be in the moment; mind not racing ahead to what's next?

Technology is poised to take over the home and remove these irksome tasks. Robots will hoover, fridges will monitor perishable goods, you can have the perfect bath run for you and, a mirror to display your health stats. Furniture and appliances will interact and talk to you. Everything will be program controlled. Activated by voice or dainty finger taps and powered by electricity. Old homes huffed and puffed down and completely redesigned with cutting edge technology. The future we wanted is about to be gifted to us: we'll be free to sit on our butts, surf the worldwide web and twitter. Choose to inhabit an illusive world. Plant virtual trees, have virtual pets and talk to thousands of friends we've never met. Like the Big Bad Wolf, this sounds dangerous doesn't it?

Thursday, 15 March 2012


We're in the midst of Climate Week and I'm feeling supercharged. I like to think I'm doing my bit by running off nervous energy. Neck, shoulders and back permanently tensed; mind overactive. Constant disruptions – the telephone calls, distributing post, dealing with customers face-to-face and taking payment. The phone rings again, I grit my teeth and answer. “Blah, blah, blah, Heather speaking.” Energy spent in juggling tasks and ensuring everyone, apart from myself, is happy. By the afternoon, my mouth is dry and my cheeks are rosy red. I'm wired. This is just your average day behind a reception desk.

The job of a Receptionist is forced pleasantness. A presiding tension that lurks in the background. A weird mental feat of preparing your smile and tone of voice. Eight out of ten times this act is genuine, but on other occasions I'm sorry to say it's not. What customers see is a calm upper half, while the lower furiously paddles away underneath. Lunch is a chance to escape; a much-needed breather. Time out for good behaviour. Counting down until I have to race back and open up the hatch, commence the second half of the day. Hopefully the auto-pilot kicks in or I lose the plot completely... CRASH!

It's home time hooray! My body is taut like a rubber band. I've got knotted muscles all over. Stiff and wooden. A stabbing pain in my right shoulder. I'd make the perfect female companion for Pinocchio. I have tender spots in places I shouldn't. On my days off, it will be the reverse. I'll be drained and floppy like an overcooked piece of spaghetti. Mind and body AWOL. Where do they go? I honestly don't know, but they leave a fraction of me far behind them. Disconnected, I hang around in a state of nothingness. A surreal numbness. A dense fog where sentences cannot be formed. Utterly depleted. Who needs prescription or hallucinatory drugs when you can feel like this every week?

Woman down, I'm saving energy. These 'down days' are my body's way to tune up and recharge my batteries. I'm plugged into an invisible socket somewhere. The adrenalin temporarily halted while my circuitry's checked and my energy levels are charged; restored to standby in case of emergencies. The fog slowly lifts, mind and body return from their vacation. Supercharged, it's a new day at work and all systems go again!

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Skinny bitch!”, “You're so slim!”, “There's nothing of you!”, and other such remarks are standard. Assumed I'm a school girl or student on a regular basis. Sometimes it's complimentary, other times it's not. 10+ years knocked off my age. Bonus! You may think this would be the case, but it's not. I'm being undermined by my own exterior. The public face can brush them off, but the mask slips at home. A tough critic on myself, these personal references knock my self-acceptance. Why? Because they're mirroring back what I already know. Strangers are my looking glass. I'm self-conscious for the rest of the day, or even a week. History continually repeating itself; the walking wounded. Told to toughen up, I'm being oversensitive. My question is: How do we separate truth from judgement?

Body weight and image is a personal war for a large majority. Everyone has their insecurities. A passing remark can incite all sorts of damaging thoughts and behaviour. We've all been taught to retort with the following: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' Raise above it. A fair defence, but words, flippantly said, can hurt. Vocalised, these negative thoughts can haunt your head as a ghost haunts a house. They hang there in your personal space. Dormant, awake, dormant...

Inhabiting a world where views are extreme and we campaign for human rights and, yet we're addicted to self-abuse. A craving to sabotage ourselves with alcohol, drugs or food. A personal onslaught that means, like Britain, we've individually lost our own identity. This advancement brought on by emulating the United States of America. Our island still managing to squeeze people in, while the population grows fatter. Some wallow in their expanding appetite, others die from denying it. The result is a huge public health cost. The plaintiffs battling it out between them: Eat vs. Restricted , the Naturally Flawed vs. the Perfected.

As this spirals out of control, the British Government seems to have no intention of stopping it. A major health reform agreed, but the need for a fat tax not obvious enough. How much more evident does it need to get? The government wants businesses to voluntarily pledge their support. To reduce sugar and fat and raise cost. Why would any food company offer to do that when their profits have grown as obese as their most loyal consumers? The government's attitude is what we're left with: Act like an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. Keep calm and carry on wounding yourself and each other.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

High Street

Yesterday was an additional day, an extra day tacked on to the year. Happy birthday to leaplings, well done to employees raising money for charity, and congrats to women who got down on bended knee. I too made a leap and tried a new activity. My 24hrs were given away to an imaginary game called High Street. I devised it myself as a rival to Monopoly. It has no board, cute counters, or money. This game is visionary.

The player is handed an imaginary card, You own the High Street for the day, it says. Printed on the back: What shops will you have? My mind immediately returned this reply: Butcher, baker, candlestick maker? “Damn you!” I spoke aloud to myself, “Why must you always think in riddles and rhymes?!” I was too quick to dismiss this thought, my mind was being truthful. Forget the butcher, but a candlestick maker and a baker would be on my list. What else? A grocer, a chippy, a post office, a florist, and a pharmacy. It reads just like the card game, Happy Families. The penny dropped, I'd recreated the seaside village where my grandparents lived – Middleton-On-Sea. To this I'd add a bookshop and natural health store.

I was content with my selection, but puzzled. Why did my mind so easily recall Middleton-On-Sea? Was it only because of happy memories? In part, yes that's true. Childhood is often viewed with nostalgia. I'm guilty of that, but I don't believe this explains it. Service was and still is the definitive factor. The greeting, the welcome as you walk through the door. The close-knit community. Everybody knew everybody. Neighbours and traders stopped to have a chat. A face-to-face social network of contacts.

Perhaps this is just one of my old-fashioned hankerings, but look around... What's on your High Street today? Mine is disappearing. Its profits swallowed up by recession. A line of empty premises, replaced by charity shops. Second hand clothing and bric-a-brac. I like the odd charity shop, but this is getting ridiculous. The diversity has gone. Shops and services vanishing. A ghost town. Some retailers now offer no service at all. Cashiers supplanted by machine. The constant badgering to do-it-yourself. Try it. No smile, no discourse as products are scanned. Instead it barks unhelpful commands at you. If a shop manager asks in these shops, “Are you being served?”, I bite back, “No, I'm not!”