Thursday, 26 April 2012


Open wide, say ahhhh.” The doctor said. “Ahhhh”, I obediently replied, while she shone a torch into the back of my throat and poked about a bit. Blood pressure and cholesterol checked, both apparently normal. Next stop the dentist. Chair tilted back, the dentist peers into my mouth and continues to talk at me. Why do they do that? I resist the temptation to converse; I wouldn't want to unintentionally bite her. A fine story this would be for the tabloids. The headlines scream:
Dentist Bitten By Patient!
'A dentist lost a finger today after a patient bit back. In a savage attack, the patient chomped off the dentist's index finger. “She just went for me!”The dentist cried, “The nurse had to prise her off me.” The patient claims it was an accident and refuses to accept full responsibility. In a statement read out by her solicitor, the patient said, “She (the dentist) would persevere in making conversation. My jaw clamped around her hand in my attempts not to answer her. It had the desired effect of silencing her.” Unfortunately medics were unable to save the finger.'

I digress, but the above will come true if this examination's not over soon. “All done”, my dentist declares, “On your way out, don't forget to book an appointment with the hygienist.” I check my watch, I have a routine eye test at 1pm, but I'll skip to the point I'm making. Annual health checks put you on spot; you're observed under the critical gaze of a practitioner. Scrutiny is never comfortable, but then it's not meant to be. You may be told you're not brushing your teeth properly or be given advice on diet and smoking. You may take offence or resent this, but ultimately as individuals we all need to take responsibility. Professionals are not there to save us should we choose to ignore their counsel.

These personal MOTs reminded me of how in everyday life we all watch one another. Read each other's body language, examine an individual's appearance and analyse their mode of address. If, as individuals, we are held accountable, shouldn't this be extended to politics, oppressive regimes and, sport? Is it right for prestigious events to be staged if the public strongly protests? When is it right to defy, rather than pacify, scrutineers?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

One Brand, One Vision

Radio on, different pitches of voices boomed out their opinions and experiences. What were they talking about? A scandalous act, the government, or crime and punishment? The Big Six was a phrase frequently mentioned. I'd heard of the Supermarket Four, but who were these Six? Had I missed a new mega-mix? I listened intently to grasp this debate; it was a phone-in about energy: providers, fluctuating tariffs and how the energy used is calculated. I lost interest, but kept the voices on as I whizzed around tidying up, prepared lunch etc. The next caller passionately spoke and ignited a spark within me. Companies providing essential services charge over the odds. They declare themselves as competitive so as prices rise we shop around and switch. Would it be better if prices were fixed? Or if there was no competition, but one brand supplying everything?

I turned the radio off, I needed to think and jot down some notes. A thought entered my head reminding me of the We Will Rock You/Ben Elton plot. An empire controlled by Killer Queen, a one-brand machine. Choice stamped out, destroyed. We may laugh and joke, (we could never be programmed like this!), but aren't we beginning to live in a parallel universe? Without mentioning names, I can think of a British one-word brand currently building up its portfolio. Other organisations swallow up services or merge more discreetly. We think we have choice, but do we? How many of you know that a soft drinks company owns Innocent smoothies? Or a leading confectionery brand acquired organic Green & Black's? In Killer Queen's world there's blatant transparency; if we shared this vision would we be better off?

We're consistently told competition is healthy; it's good to have more than one choice. How would you feel if you found out this was an illusion? Would you feel tricked or cheated? Most products can be linked to a conglomerate; different brands or companies sheltering under one huge corporate umbrella. Their mission: to cover as much as the market as possible. Products and services must be bought, the consumer must be blinded. These multinationals and big chains provide the same overwhelming array of similar tins, packets and utilities. Given these facts, is the illusion of choice really necessary?

British consumers, fly the Union Jack, but demand greater transparency. If Freddie was here, I think he would say: “Gimme more vision!”

Thursday, 12 April 2012

O Ye, Of Little Faith

Have you said your prayers?” My Nan would ask before I climbed into bed. No, I hadn't. The act slipping from my head; I wanted my head stroked and a story read! In mute reply, I'd kneel beside the bed, head bowed and hands pressed together. Mutter thanks to the Lord or select a page from 'My First Book Of Prayers'. My maternal Grandparents were Roman Catholics. That was the deal - if I stayed with them, I was indoctrinated! Around the house were discreet signs of their religiosity: Jesus on the cross and the Virgin Mary. Attending Latin Mass once a week to worship. I didn't understand any of it, but I acted as if I was a member of the congregation: respectably dressed, covering my head and kneeling when others did. The church smells and sounds even now can be evoked within me; the incense, the rise and fall of the Hail Marys. Collecting a post-church supper of battered cod and chips.

Some of you might think this was an underhand conversion, drummed into me during holidays, but it wasn't. My Grandparents faith was never forced onto me. The time spent with them was about inclusion: being included in their daily habits from household chores to individual tastes in food, drink, film and music. By adapting myself to their routine, I experienced a slice of their life. I think it was then I fell in love with retirement! Back home, I returned to my secular ways; no regular prayers or church involvement. Left to find out for myself about other religions and form my own opinions. If asked now I would describe myself as spiritual. God for me has no form or gender. I think of God as an invisible energy connecting every one of us to each other.

According to recent polls, the UK wants to retain its Christian heritage but be ruled as a secular state. Is this possible? Does having faith mean attending a church, a mosque, or a synagogue? A lot of people don't seem to think so. How many of us have said a quick prayer to ask for help or for someone we care about and don't label ourselves as religious? Do faith and religion go hand in hand, or are they separate? Could a lack of one or the other be why so many succumb to addictions? Food, drink and drugs comfort us, temporarily filling emptiness up and diluting pain. A modern religion which is harming us that we knowingly continue to practise.

Studies have shown, (regardless of your beliefs), prayer and faith is protective. Faith isn't seeking it outside of yourself, it's recognising spirit within. So, hands pressed together, I bow and say to you: “Namaste.”

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Testing, testing 1,2,3.” I intone into the receiver. I hit stop, press play. Words repeated back audibly. Does that voice belong to me? It can't be. It's lighter in tone and could be described as singsongy. To be sure, I press record and say: “'Allo, 'allo. Listen very closely, I shall only say this once.” I play it back, the words spill out low and fast. That's me alright,(who else could it be?) Speech always rushing out, playing catch-up with my brain. It will have to do, how my voice sounds is not important. Equipment tested out, I'm good to go, except I've yet to decide who to converse with? A relative, a friend, or a stranger? Who would you choose to share and record an exchange with?

People up and down the country are locked in a debate regarding this. Who to choose and what to talk about. It's all the fault of the BBC's Listening Project – an ambitious partnership between BBC Radio and the British Library to capture the nation in conversation and record it for posterity. A selection of these exchanges will be broadcast on radio; the rest joining a library of sound. I'm not sure I'd want to contribute my own recordings to it, but I like the idea of preserving life how it was and is today. To be able to, in the future, listen to voices recounting life experiences and family history. Think of how much information we miss in our everyday exchanges. Snippets when your mind is on something else, you're distracted. Inattentive to the teller and the story imparted. Details which eventually end up lost forever.

All of us have a story that's unique. Wouldn't it be great if we could go back and really get to know our great-grandparents and grandparents? Those born to a different generation, a different life. I'd get mine to recount their memories of growing up, work and the war effort. Given the chance, I'd love to get to know these relatives from the past, but even the BBC can't bring back the deceased. As a child, you don't appreciate other people's experiences until it's too late. Taught never to make the same mistake twice, I choose to get to know my parents. Hungry for them to elaborate on what seems like insignificant details. What was it like growing up? Were the 60s and 70s really outrageous?

I call sharing these thoughts 'murmurations'. These reminiscences, recorded or not will imprint in your memory. Head on one side, I sit across from my Mum, “I'm all ears”, I say. As her lips move, I pay close attention to this continuous sound of hushed speech.