Rebel Rebel/Don’t Tell Me Truth Hurts

david bowie rebel rebel

On the way home today, I told M that something sad had happened, that a man called David Bowie has died. He was mildly interested. I explained that he’s the man who sings the song “Dance Magic” (that I have played to M in the car and that he likes), and who stars in the film Labyrinth that I want to show him when he is a bit older. M absorbed this information and then, in all seriousness, he asked me: “Do they have it on DVD or does he have to act it all the time?” I said yes it is recorded on DVD, why, was he worried that he wouldn’t get to watch it now? He was. Then he checked that the song was also recorded. I laughed and said yes of course it is how else would we have listened to it – David Bowie wasn’t in our car singing it was he (though that would have been awesome).

I am not of the generation that grew up with David Bowie. When I discovered his music (through my mum’s The Singles Collection when I was 15) he was already in his 50s. I loved that album and I fell in love with him in Labyrinth; I am ashamed to admit that is the extent of my knowledge of Bowie’s legacy. I have not listened to his albums in their entirety, nor have I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth. I suppose I am not a “true” fan except that I remember discovering Bowie as a formative moment in my teen years (a moment that coincided with the feeling that I had been born in the wrong decade and a longing to be a child of the 70s).

I remember the songs and the lyrics that resonated with me at different periods in my life:

“Rebel Rebel you’ve torn your dress, Rebel Rebel your face is a mess…” (going out drinking when I was 16; wearing random combinations of goth and hippy clothes as I struggled to find my place in the world).

“And all these children that you spit on as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware what they’re going through…” (classic teenage angst and being certain that I would indeed one day change the world).

“She wants the Young American…”/”I’m Afraid of Americans” (when I was obsessed with my American boyfriend/husband.

“Life isn’t easy, it’s not always swell; don’t tell me truth hurts little girl, ’cause it hurts like hell…” (whenever I need a reality check/am feeling sorry for myself).

Plus all the awesome freaky random totally cool classic Bowie (from, ahem, the Singles Collection) that is part of the soundtrack of my life.

I showed M the child-friendly “Heroes” on You Tube as a bedtime song tonight (and later, Ziggy Stardust). M immediately asked “are they a boy or a girl?” I asked what he thought. “Boy” he said. But that he asked the question I thought struck at the heart of what David Bowie is all about, and at the legacy he leaves behind. I explained the word “androgynous” to my five-year-old and told him some reasons why David Bowie was cool.

David Bowie was a part of my teen years and back then his music struck a chord with me that no other music really had – it was weird, it was cool, it was different, it was retro. Who was this weirdly sexy guy that in real-life was old enough to be my grandfather? I never imagined Bowie as old, but as Jareth the Goblin King – that was my Bowie – ageless and strikingly beautiful in an ethereal and slightly kinky way.

When I was a teenager I thought it would be cool to sleep with David Bowie; then I realised how old he was in real life and also that aspiring to sleep with someone was a bit of a crap goal. Subsequently I aspired to meet him and have a star-struck conversation (if I thought about it at all). Somehow, my life feels that bit emptier for knowing that I will never have that hypothetical conversation and get to tell David Bowie how cool I think he is. But then he obviously didn’t need me to tell him and after all:

“It’s only forever, it’s not long at all…”

Thank you David. My life would not have been quite the same without you.






My Brain Right Now

My Brain Right Now

*N.B. To clarify, I have not won the Lotto, or even bought a ticket yet. This did not stop me from having a good long daydream about what we would buy with the money and then being overcome with a sense of immense guilt that top of my list would be a nice big house in the country – or to build a house Grand Designs-style. This was followed by a further sense of panic and unease about the fact that I would have to give at least half to charity, but which charity? Would it be ethical to bypass the big ones in favour of smaller local charities? I would have to set up a think tank to see how the money could do the most good. Then further sense of overwhelming despair at the thought that £15 million (ish – after tax) would do practically nothing to solve the world’s problems anyway but then you really couldn’t keep the whole lot as that would make you a selfish arse.*

Needless to say, practically all of my day’s allotment of brain space was taken up by absolute shite. Notwithstanding my very valiant attempts to be in the moment and play with baby L (who now is toddling like crazy, into everything, and screams at the precise moment when things stop being to his liking. Things today he has taken offense to are: being in the car seat; not being allowed chocolate-covered Brazil nuts; not being allowed to maul the dog; being left in his cot while I take a wee (so he is safe and doesn’t fall down the stairs!); me having a biscuit without allowing him one (I was not in the mood to forgo biscuits today so unfortunately I now have a biscuit-addicted baby and M and I sat on the stairs eating chocolate-covered Brazil nuts in secret when we got back from drama club). I do remember the smile on L’s face as he toddled maniacally towards me at the indoor play centre, absolutely certain that I would catch him as he launched himself towards me (there comes a point where he just gives up on walking and falls forward for me to catch him). The other night he was standing at his play table and launched himself backwards in a perfect arc, without even looking to see if I was behind him. He giggled when I caught him – now that’s trust for you. (Incidentally, this is the same exact arc he makes with his body to avoid being strapped into the car seat).

I will now try to finish the evening by winding down somewhat and remembering the real moments of the day (not the houses we are not buying and hypothetical discussions about the ethics of winning the lottery!)

Now for that glass of wine (come on, it is practically still Christmas, and those bottles of wine we got as Christmas presents aren’t going to drink themselves…)


In Condemnation of Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s “policy proposal” to ban all Muslims from entering the USA is as ridiculous as it is frightening. This is a man with a great deal of privilege and power who is using his platform to preach idiotic intolerance towards the Muslim population in America and now also towards the Muslim population abroad.

As a dual-national with an American husband I watch Trump’s public remarks with varying degrees of incredulity and horror, but not with amusement because this is getting serious.

This man is apparently the front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, which means that if he wins the nomination and then enough people vote Republican, he will be the next President.

This is very scary. It is a very scary thought that a man who displays such ignorance and intolerance could be the “leader of the free world.” How free we will all be with him at the helm is anyone’s guess. I am not naive enough to think that this will all blow over. I remember before I had even lived in America, when no one really believed they would elect George Bush. Look how that turned out. They could very well elect Trump as well. [Note to self: register as overseas voter to vote against Trump].

Those of us who disagree with Trump, who believe in tolerance and in freedom over fear and hatred need to speak out. This sort of talk is not acceptable. We are not living in 1930s Germany. We are not living in 1950s America. This is the 21st Century and this sort of thing should be behind us (though of course it never is).

When I was studying US History, I learned about the “myth of the black beast rapist.” In popular and political discourse, if a white man committed a rape, it was viewed as an aberration – as the work of one deranged individual but not reflective on the general nature of white men. If a black man committed a rape however, it was “proof” that black men, by their very nature, were dangerous rapists.

We are seeing this again in different form in America at the moment. If an average-Joe (non-Muslim) American kills a lot of people using a semi-automatic weapon, it is seen (in one narrative) as a terrible tragedy, but no big deal really – no reason to tighten up the gun laws, just the work of a deranged individual and not reflective on “Americans” in general or on gun-owners in general. When an Islamic fundamentalist-inspired shooting occurs, it is reason for Donald Trump to advocate a summary ban on all Muslims everywhere coming to the USA for any reason whatsoever.

This is ridiculous and dangerous and must be condemned.

So here I am condemning it just for the record.

We really cannot allow this man to continue to have his platform when he is preaching hatred, fear and division. We must all condemn him and his remarks as having no place on the world political stage.

Thank you.

Amaze (Coconut) Balls


Coconut cookies!

I did it! I made cookies like a normal person. Without trashing the kitchen. Without having a tantrum breakdown. Without using every utensil in the place. Without burning the cookies!

When my husband arrived home this evening the washing up was (mostly) done. The kids were fed and bathed and I was able to point to the bounty on the stove and say “there are cookies” without adding a long and tearful explanation of what went wrong or adding “but they’re not that great because…” to the end of the sentence.

Oatmeal raisin cookies (at front - ignore the ones at the back they are my weird banana and peanut butter muffin things only I will eat done as cookies to use up an old banana!

Oatmeal raisin cookies at the front (ignore the pale ones at the back they are my weird “banana peanut butter muffins” that no one but me will ever eat and that I make to use up old bananas, done as cookies to see what would happen).

I made easy oatmeal raisin cookies (all of my Google recipe searches start with the word “easy”) and very scrummy coconut cookies. The coconut cookies consist of a cup of self-raising flour, a cup of coconut, a cup of sugar, an egg, and half a cup of butter. The recipe says to roll them into little balls and place on the baking sheet but word to the wise, they expand! My knowledge of baking chemistry is sadly lacking so I was expecting the little balls to just cook into little ball-shaped cookies like these European Christmas biscuits a friend of mine at grad school used to make. Instead they expanded to fill the whole baking tray and I had to cut them up. But they taste good. I mean, how bad is it really to eat a cup of coconut, a cup of sugar and half a cup of butter in one sitting? If anything it will help me put back on some of the weight I have lost from feeding L for 13 months and counting (at time of writing I have only had three cookies but the night is still young).

I am now feeling suitably self-satisfied and validated as a human being (how sad it is that baking a delicious cookie can do this for me). I am also wondering if these particular recipes are particularly idiot-proof awesome or if tonight’s success stems from the fact that for once I set a timer and took them out of the oven when it went off?

That and we had all the actual ingredients to hand.

Who knows? But yay cookies!

That is all.

Posted by © A L Roark

Happy Halloween


Sometimes you read something that stops you in your tracks and makes you feel like you are wasting your life/not noticing the wood for the trees. I feel like this most of the time as on one level I know I should chill out more and just enjoy life and on another level I have literally no idea how to do this. The other day I read on Facebook a post that basically guilt-tripped the reader into feeling bad about not being happy in the present moment (because, you know, we always want something else to happen for us to be happy and then when that happens there is always something else, etc etc…. yes I know but…)

Today was Halloween (hence the title of this post). I suppose today is still technically Halloween. I bought a bucket of candy sweets but we have had no trick-or-treaters (not suprising really considering our location and the general hysteria of many British people towards the concept, but I have to admit I expected at least one group of half-heartedly costumed teenagers angling for a cheeky pound coin).

Having organised the obligatory Halloween party (which consisted of my stepdad and brothers watching the rugby World Cup in costume, my mum and I talking about houses me going on to my mum about a house we went and looked at this morning whilst maintaining a wide-berth from my youngest son whom I am attempting to wean off of the breastmilk, and my zombie-first-born eating more sweets than is good for him) and got the kids to bed, I sit down and read this article about how the “early years” are crap but the rest is even worse.

Yeah. Thanks. Seriously made me laugh though. Why can’t I appreciate what I have, which is a helluva lot?

I was going to be happy when we had new carpet and lino. That time has been and gone. Now I am obsessed about getting on the property ladder, having some storage/outside space, possibly going on holiday sometime, and being able to sleep through the night without being used as a human pacifier.

Every night I say “goodnight baby” to my eldest son and kiss him. I have been doing this since we moved to this house from America. That was three years ago. He is no longer strictly-speaking, a baby. He is a wiry bundle of attitude who alternately amazes me and tests my patience. He is 5 going on 15 and I know I will miss this. I say goodnight to him and I have already seen his face change from the chubby (sort of) toddler face to the leaner and more learned school-kid face he has now. I picture saying goonight to him when he is 15. I can almost see it. Me sneaking into his room like a crazy person, whispering goodnight to my “baby” who is anything but.

But for today, the “hell of the early years” is this:

  • hearing “but what is there to do?” “what can I do?” “so what are we going to do now?” ad nauseum whenever the TV/Wii is turned off.
  • Having a baby all but surgically attached to my nipple every night and waking up feeling like Dracula himself had been visiting me in my sleep (so hungry/thirsty/grumpy!)
  • My husband making me an omelette and sending M upstairs while L fussed in his play pen and I stood and cried by the kitchen sink because… Dracula baby.  So hungry/grumpy (thank goodness my husband knows how to deal with my hangry side).
  • Making a Halloween party and zombie costume for M and then hearing the following:

“I wanted the party to be at Grandma’s.”

“These pockets feel weird.” [Me: they’re just pockets. Either you wear the costume or you don’t. It is just a regular pair of trousers] “But they feel WEIRD. Can’t someone cut them out?” *daddy cuts the pockets out of the trousers* “These trousers are too loose!” *daddy tightens the waist elastic* “These trousers are too tight!” *Fights urge to band head against wall. Possibly threatens cancellation of party if whining about trousers does not cease immediately*

And obsessing about the house we saw this morning. How all our problems will be solved once we have storage/outside space/a foot on the property “ladder.”

But then we don’t have any problems. We have two beautiful, if demanding in the way that all children are, little boys and the rest is just so much stuff. But then it is hard to remember that when, as happened yesterday, you start the day with:

“Ah… something is wet, can you look ’cause I don’t have my glasses on… is it wee or poo?”

“It’s poo… all over!”

“Aaargh! You take him and put him in the bath and I’ll strip the bed. Oh no it’s all up by the pillows and all on my trousers *fumble for glasses, glance at alarm… 6am… wash sheets/bath baby before even a cup of tea let alone food*


Row-Row-Rollercoaster of Parenthood

My littlest L (nearly eleven months) and I were just sitting on the bed. I was singing some rhymes and making him laugh when he very deliberately took one of my hands and then the other. I thought he was going to clap my hands together as he often does, but instead he rocked back and forth and looked at me and said very deliberately “R.” I took this to mean he wanted to do Row Row Your Boat, which we did and he laughed. I know it is probably just because I am his mummy, but I think this is tremendously clever and more than makes up for the fact that he started the day by headbutting me in the nose.

I suppose that sums up the rollercoaster of parenthood pretty succinctly. Just when you are on your last nerve and thinking “you know, I could be on holiday somewhere right now” or “I could be actually looking for a book in this bookshop and then have the chance to read it rather than having to abandon the whole endeavour in the face of a crying baby and whiney five year old,” your kids do something that melts your heart and you are back to the stoic who needs holidays/books/personal space/alone time? that characterises parenthood everywhere.

My rollercoaster of parenthood for today went a bit like this:

Starting on a down: Woken up by being head-butted in the nose by rambunctious baby.

Up: Rambunctious baby giggling and smiling at me.

Down: Having to scoop baby poo out of a nappy into a test-tube before I had even had breakfast (I am a beast before breakfast) because the doctor ordered a stool sample for something he now seems to be on the mend from. Gagging and throwing up a little in the sink.

Up: Long-suffering and amazing husband takes over poop-scooping and agrees to take sample to the doctor’s on his way to the train station.

Down: Baby won’t eat his yogurt for breakfast. Kicks, arches, spits, won’t go in high chair, etc.

Up: I eat his yogurt.

Continuing on an up: I play M’s new Sonic Colours game with him and head off a meltdown over there only being one working Wii remote by pointing out that we can take turns. He tries to make me take my turn with the Wii remote still strapped to his wrist.

Down: Vague memories of playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog when I was a kid and sense of longing for a time when someone else did All The Things (thanks Mum!)

Up: Reading M’s new lift-the-flap science book with him (and I am ashamed to say, learning a thing or two from just the first few flaps!)

Down: Home visit from M’s new teacher, during which: the dog presented himself at her feet like some sort of sacrificial offering; L tried to grab the dog so that I had to keep batting him away with one hand while trying to sign the school-parent contract with the other; M ran at me and punched me like in Wii Boxing (not hard but still!) and then lay on the floor and rolled around a lot.

Up: Doing a Lego Mixel with M while L took his nap.

Down: M arguing about letting me be on a private phone call and having to play in his room for a bit.

Up: Went on a long walk via two playgrounds and M helped push the buggy up a mahoosive hill (yay exercise!)

Down: M running back to play as we were leaving the playground. Me leaving the playground anyway and watching from a distance then going back to retrieve him when he showed no signs of coming and giving him a massive “stranger danger/what to do if you are lost/how to behave on school trips/mummy paranoia” lecture.

Up: Giving M a random gingerbread man as he watched TV (they love it when you do that).

Down: Me trying to be fun and spontaneous to make up for the earlier safety lecture and briefly spraying M with shower hose while turning on the shower. I forgot he “hates jokes and teases.” He burst into hysterics and told his dad on me.  Fail.

Up: L and the Row Row Your Boat incident (clever sausage!)

Down: M arguing with his dad about putting his PJs on.

Up: Reading stories and snuggles.

Down: L up until 11pm, distinctly negatively impacting on my enjoyment of both the lovely curry my husband had cooked and watching the last in the series of The Last Leg (which, after a lot of pausing and rewinding we never did actually finish).

Up: Nice warm bed… Sigh.

And we start the ride all over again tomorrow.

Posted by © A L Roark

A Photo Speaks A Thousand Words

I am glad that more people are finally paying attention to the refugee crisis (and using the correct terminology). Even our PM has now been forced into saying that the UK will help.

As a historian, I view these events from the perspective of the present, but also from the perspective of the future and how they will be viewed looking back. The influx of refugees and migrants to the EU seems to be a watershed moment. It is also an example of how ordinary people can and do shape the course of history. The American Civil War was not initially fought to end slavery, but as hundreds and thousands of Southern slaves fled their plantations and presented themselves at Union camps, they forced the issue. So too, the thousands of people fleeing from war and poverty and washing up on the shores of Europe have forced the issue and have now forced European leaders (including our own) to deal with the situation.

None more so that poor little Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body is now everywhere on social and traditional media. My husband doesn’t even want to go on Facebook at the moment because of it. He told me “it’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t want to see that. I already cared about the situation I didn’t need that photo to make me care.”

I think that it is right that the photo be published. I was upset by the story of the children that suffocated in the lorry; I tried to imagine the horror because I think about things like that and I empathise. I wrote to the PM asking him to help.

The photo of Aylan Kurdi seems to have done for the world at large what the news stories alone did for me. The photo is something tangible and easily shareable and it certainly has been shared a lot in the past couple of days. But it is not just the original photo and news stories that have been shared. I have seen photos that have been Photoshopped to show his lifeless body with cartoon angel wings, and a cartoon with his body lying outside a world map cordoned off with barbed wire.

I haven’t posted links to these images because I don’t agree with them. What right do people have to take this image, edit it, and flood the internet with cartooney-versions of a little boy’s death, so that forever more when people search for his name these images come up? To me, photos of his dead body, edited and added to by complete strangers is an entirely inappropriate “memorial.” I do agree with the original publication of the image because sometimes an image burns into the collective imagination and can help to change the course of history. But I do not agree with people editing and changing the image, even in “tribute.”

Who are you to take such an image, of someone else’s precious child, a child you have never met, and Photoshop it into something else? The image itself is powerful enough. That poor kid does not need angel wings. He is not an angel, he is a victim of a heartless and unfair world.

I hate images of my children being put on the internet without my consent. Have some respect for this boy’s family and for the boy himself. By all means share the image to raise awareness but leave it as is. Unedited, it speaks a truth (but not the only truth). Aylan was not the only child who died that night and there are plenty more still in danger.

Above all, he was a little human being. A little individual with joys none of us but his grieving friends and family know. By all means we should raise awareness and help other refugees, but we should be careful not to turn the memorialisation of a little boy we have never met and didn’t care about until his lifeless body washed up on the beach AND was photographed (other children who died that night; do we even know their names?) into a collective conscience-salving.

If you edit a photo of little Aylan and share it on social media but don’t write to the PM or your MP, don’t donate to one of the charities helping the refugees, don’t speak up when people try to demonize these people, then you are not helping. You are just engaging in a ghoulish exercise in social media-fueled narcissism.

Posted by © A L Roark