Thursday, 28 June 2012


Oh my god! There's a GOD squad!” I exclaim to myself in astonishment. I'm reading a freebie paper with my lunch and this is news to me. I pause to take a bite of my sandwich. I assume the article's about an over-zealous religious group disrespecting other faiths and non-believers. What now? Are they going to count the number of times atheists and agnostics mutter god inappropriately? Take to the streets in coloured bibs and fine us for blasphemous language? I chew, churning this thought over. What if it's another kind of god squad altogether? One that's says your number's up. You've aged, you're past it. Swallowing the last piece of crust I ask myself: do I wish to read the full article?

Mind made up, I cradle my mug and resume my reading. As I find my place, I take a sip, promptly spluttering. The sentence I read: 'GOD helps you embrace Growing Old Disgracefully.' My splutter turns into a chortle. That's more my cup of tea I think, marvelling at how brown splashes are now staining my top. Synchronicity! My thoughts made manifest in tea. I read on: 'GOD is an older women's network who come together to have fun, to share experiences and knowledge, to learn from each other and to grow together in a safe and non-judgemental environment.' In a nutshell, their objective is to encourage a positive stance to growing older. It's not a new initiative, GOD began in 1988, but at this moment in time the topic of ageing is scathing.

A blistering topic on the news and yet it has to be said, as a society we take a dim view of ageing. A fact of life to be held off for as long as possible. To age visibly is to go grey, get wrinkles, lose your marbles and your flexibility. You have to appear to accomplish it discreetly. Is this how we justify age discrimination? On a negative perception of ageing? The 'burdensome' label once applied to over 65s is being slowly peeled off like a plaster. The cynical me says this increased empathy is due to more of us seeing ourselves as older. Is a self-centred approach the only way to change behaviour? To alter public opinion?

It might sound cliché, but where does it say people should be judged by their number? Everybody's needs and abilities should be assessed individually, not by class, age, race or gender. Why can't we be free to grow old disgracefully? Age with dignity?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Scratch 'n' Sniff

Scratch, sniff, scratch, sniff... Sniff, sniff, sniff... Positioning my nose nearer to the wall and inhaling deeply. The smell of freshly baked bread fills my nostrils, instantly reminding me of the crusty French stick we'd get from the bakers each Saturday, stuffing white tufts into my mouth as we continued to shop on the high street. As I scratch the next picture, I'm hit by a ripe, yeasty odour, the unmistakable whiff of mature cheddar. Eyes tightly shut, my mind's eye conjures up steaming plates of Marconi cheese, the pasta tubes engulfed in a massive bear-hug of thick sauce. For dessert, I get the unforgettable scent of melted chocolate. Its rich aroma reminding me of velvet mousse and milky cocoa. My mind has regressed to worn-out memories... This is, I imagine, what it would be like, if I could design my own scratch 'n' sniff wallpaper.

What makes scents so evocative? Do we associate smell with a mental image or is it the other way around? I retrieve memories from my favourite smells, but some scents I can't connect to any picture. True, most of mine link to food, but it's how I relate to events and people. These aromas largely evoke positive mental images. Smell starts the appetite off and crystallises the location, occasion or person. Mum is red wine and a rich tomato sauce; dad, a peppermint cream. I associate fried onions with my paternal grandparents' house and vanilla with my maternal. Pancake batter is holidays spent at Centre Parcs and pistachios is Tunisia.

As with sight, sound, touch and taste, smell is about recognition. What our nose detects we break down into neat compartments. We use certain words to describe them: aromas are reserved for food, scents for perfumes, and odours for bacteria. We all have our own unique blend of pheromones which provides information to others about us. Our sense of smell is a science which repels and arouses us. Without it, food becomes ambiguous and people are olfactory evasive. We're obsessed with masking any natural body odours. Is this why we take up with the wrong partners I wonder?

Our sense of smell, if you ask me, is under-rated. Most of us use it subconsciously and not to its full capacity. Imagine what life would be like if you had a cold continuously. Your environment turned down a notch, unable to distinguish fragrances and the taste of food in your mouth. Your senses are a man down making the world seem like a cardboard cut-out: two-dimensional. Could this be why we eat mindlessly? I've made it my new strategy to beat the UK's obesity epidemic: smell more, get thinner. Scratch 'n' sniff, become a scent connoisseur and breathe in deeply.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


I saw a mouse!”
“There on the stair!”
“Where on the stair?”
“Right there!”

This exchange was lobbied back and forth between my grandparents when three mice, to be precise, came to visit them. My cousins and I would play school on the wooden staircase, an upper step used as a desk, the lower as a seat, three pairs of legs dangling through the gaps. Tracing, colouring, drawing and writing... All assignments were marked by our nan, who simultaneously played the strict headmistress, the kind school teacher and the cook replenishing us with snacks. This childish act was where I first said to myself, 'Well I declare! I'm a mouse!' My sentiment echoed by feet going clip-clippety-clop on the stairs.

How do you define being mouse-like? Quiet, unobtrusive and reflective. Preferring to observe than be observed, to express themselves in the written word or in a tête-a-tête than formally address a large group of people. The most commonly used descriptive word is: introverted. We wrongly assume this word denotes shyness; it doesn't, not always. Yes, I might blush speaking aloud in front of my peers or around someone I want to impress, but introversion is more complex than that. For introverts, the real world, putting yourself out there, makes you feel anxious, nervous and sick. Even a minor gathering or an unfamiliar situation can cause distress. In public, introverts feel they're stuck in a permanent interview where their every move is being assessed. Friends, foes, people you do or don't know, it makes no difference. You feel on show - unable to relax into apt ocular behaviour.

A mouse is overwhelmed by too much stimuli. They're high reactors to external stress like background noise or visual images. The whiskers bristle, the noses twitch, they skirt the walls and scurry back to their self-contained flats. A mouse can easily get drunk on these disturbances. In this sociable world, it's hard to be sensitively introverted. You apologise or make lame excuses for your nature. It's presumed there must be something wrong with you if you're comfy with solitude or would rather be at home in your pyjamas. The world needs thinkers, people behind-the-scenes; in other words, a mouse.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


BANG! The starting pistol fired, '”And they're off”, the commentator dryly stated. The resounding crack took me back to a televised scene about shooting unwanted livestock. Male calves to be precise. These animals, shot soon after birth, were described as a waste product. No form of slaughter, in my eyes, is humane, but it was done as quickly as possible. I didn't turn over as most people do and choose not to acquaint myself with this fact of farm life. The reality is British veal is a meat that doesn't make it from the shed to a field or even a plate. Why is this? How can we justify this needless killing when this meat could be eaten?

The market for veal in the UK is apparently limited, yet there must be some demand as supermarkets import it. The European welfare standards for rearing male calves is frankly appalling. It's akin to keeping a group of fair-skinned people hostage. Daylight shut out to keep their naked flesh pink and unblemished. This comparison may seem barbaric, but perhaps if I explain my reasoning behind it you'll see it's not. I view all beings as equal, so if we're prepared for other sentient beings to be raised in this way, then we shouldn't mind the same treatment applied to us. The manner in which this young flesh is raised breaches our code of ethics. Most polled consumers find this method distasteful. In Britain, it's illegal for male calves to be chained up and kept in the dark. Reared here, calves have more freedom, but as this detail is not highlighted this source of food gets wasted.

My stance on this, compared to other veggies, may be unusual, but I dislike anything being thoughtlessly discarded. Vegetarianism won't halt meat production. It's a lifestyle choice I made for myself, I won't oppose another person's right to eat meat because of it. In this context, I'd rather animals were used for food than disposed like household garbage. I'm of the view consumers shouldn't have the option of economy vs. free-range. All animals should be reared free-range! If people support better animal welfare, they should be prepared for this to be reflected in the cost. Meat needs to be perceived as a luxury – it's a life sacrificed for us to eat.