Stream of consciousness

Loki-AKA-Poufeball*uninspired sigh* ‘What shall I write my blog post about, beloved daughter?’

*looks up cheerfully from Biology revision* ‘Your paintings, what you’re thinking, a book, the view from your window, atrial systole and the sodium channel, those %$&^£! downstairs, Grandma, your work, your desk, why does Pouffeball [Loki the cat] get that black gunk in his eyes, funerals, that’s why they stopped Crufts, you know, Miss said, because of the pure-breds not being able to breathe, you know, look, he’s just like Henry the 8th, you know with that frill around his neck, you can just imagine him doing divorced beheaded survived, OH MY GOD LOOOOOOOK HE’S HOLDING ON TO HIS TEDDY!!! oh no he’s just got his claw stuck in it stupid Pouffeball I feel so sorry for myself, Falance [other cat] sneezed he’s so cute awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww if only he didn’t hate every one Falance always ignores me*


Alex_Sophia_Amelia_Capel_Manor__2013My daughter Amelia is 17 tomorrow. This time last year, I posted 16 photos of her. She wasn’t happy. I thought I’d do something different, so I’m trying to get a snapshot of what she’s like, by looking at what she likes, aiming to shoehorn seventeen in awkwardly.

The photo of the girls, pinched from her Facebook page, was taken at the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens annual harvest show. She’s been for the past few years with other young Stepney City Farm volunteers, The link shows a video made about the great work of the FCC&CG , featuring her being overly competitive with pride about an award-winning chicken. Show, Farm, chickens: three.

She’s just told Mum she’d like a duckling for her birthday. Same as she told me. Of course: what else for a fourth floor London flat with no outside space? And two cats. Ducklings make four.

Amelia’s on the right, with two of her four friends who’ll staying here tomorrow: wired on industrial amounts of sugar (I shall count ‘friends’ as making five in total, unless my deadline slips and I cheat to count them singly.)

She has several Pinterest boards. There’s ‘My cats :)’ featuring the love of her life: Loki.Loki_cat_newspaper I rather like her caption to this: ‘Loki is perfectly normal.’ I’m counting both cats together to make six. And ‘South Park!!!!!‘ I shall say, with no further comment, that her favourite character is Cartman: seven.

‘Inspirations (well, a mix of my role models and favourite actresses/actors ect’ (proofing isn’t up there, sadly) can help get the numbers up: there’s a couple of photos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside Withnail and Marwood from Withnail & I (Hurrah. Top parenting marks to me and nine.) And, oh dear, Dakota Fanning, for ten.

Game of Thrones’ mainly features Daenerys but has this (eleven):

George_RR_Martin_Game_of-Thrones‘Penguins’ is self-explanatory (twelve.) As is ‘Merlin :D’, if you think TV pretty boy rather than Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. I don’t think a week goes by without her lamenting its absence (thirteen.)

There’s ‘No Category in Particular’, with pics from Harry Potter, Dr Who and The Big Bang Theory (sixteen.) ‘Quirky Nails!’ makes seventeen and she can barely shut her bedroom door for nail varnish.

I’m going to cheat and sneak in an eighteen, as it will be her 18th year. Here is my opportunity to ruin all her future employment chances by displaying the four-letter word cover picture on her wonderfully-named ‘Muhahahahaha! (board of truth?)’ I think it sums up her sweet, quirky nature. Yes, I’m proud of her. Happy Birthday x Alice_Dorothy_crossover




A Study in Mustard


I met my husband on The Archers Messageboard, which was shut down on Monday by the BBC.

‘Mustardland’ was named for the colour that the board turned some seven years ago. A few years later, I spotted someone with insight and a wicked sense of humour writing about one of my favourite books. I thought he was a woman, owing to a board name based on a favourite band.

We swapped brief greetings in person at the first annual meet of board members I went to, at Tate Modern, delighted to put faces to names I knew so well: Basia the New York stylist who’d dressed Joss Stone for a Super Bowl, Greenjewel the Irish horticulturalist and musician, Grwg the Welsh medieval academic and triathelete, RUS the London bus driver and many others.

Months later we met at an anti-BNP demonstraton. My daughter, initially charmed by carrying a placard and yelling ‘The BNP is a nasty [Nazi] party,’ soon grew bored and he cheered her up with cake. They did a Nick Cave/Kylie duet and I was smitten.

We carried on swapping Messageboard comments, went to a Frank Sidebottom gig after a British Museum meet and married three years ago. As well as the usual wedding guests – friends from first schooldays, family and colleagues – there were our Messageboard friends.

Basia flew from the US to dress me (i.e. take my running gear off half an hour before leaving) for the wedding and we paid tribute in the ceremony to Greenjewel, who’d died suddenly, far too young, a few weeks before.

Archers Scriptwriter Keri Davies was at the evening reception with a few other Mustardland folk: he’d flown with my husband and Greenjewel to see Nick Cave with Basia in New York and feed the feral cats in colonies that board members helped support.

Basia openly helped countless other board members on a thread about alcohol issues, saving at least one life that I know of. She also found online help with a group supporting people and carers for those with cancer, sticking two fingers up to leukemia by starting to run marathons and raise funds through our online community.

I lurked there more than I posted over the past couple of years: one of 10,000 compared to the active 1,000 that helped make the Messageboard no longer viable, according to the BBC’s Head of Interactivity. He went on Radio 4’s Feedback programme to defend the decision and admitted he did not come out well, unable to provide any figures in support of the claim.

I wrote at length once only: sitting at home literally waiting to hear from the mother who had given me up for adoption at six weeks old. In no time I had kind and thoughtful messages from people who were adopted, had been or knew of those in in my birth mother’s and adoptive parents’ positions or just wanted to offer a word of support, calm, excitement or caution. All human life was there, as the cliche goes.

One person’s comments in particular stayed with me: someone else who died suddenly and young. His sister found his log-in details and came to the Messageboard for the first time to tell his friends. They became her friends and she was there, years later, in tears, at the weekend saying what it had meant to her.

There were some snarky words on Twitter after the Feedback broadcast, about ‘crazy’ people who wanted to keep the Archers Messageboard. It is ironic that it housed a thriving community who wrote on mental health issues, many isolated through illness, disability or geographical location and heartbroken at the loss of contact and community.

I understand that it is not in the BBC’s remit to provide me with husbands, stylists, running partners or crisis support. Licence fee payers should not cough up for people wanting to find the perfect scent, endlessly debate which way round to hang their loo paper, post word games, parodies and poetry or debate politics, religion, the meaning of life or cake. By the way, some did discuss The Archers.

Lots of intelligent and sustainable suggestions were made about how and why the Messageboard could continue. I am sorry that none was taken up. As a professional communicator, I fail to understand why an organisation would silence countless comments and opinions to which it had free access.

I think that this was a bad decision and poorly executed, Auntie.

There have been many articulate, passionate, angry and hilarious words written in the defence of Mustardland. I am going to quote (in full: his unaltered words) a somewhat unusual one, just to show the lovely random nature of the people that the Messageboard reached:

‘A love letter from a notorios lurker.

‘I have been lurking for about six years, and only recently posted the odd comment.
I am not a native speaker, so I always felt a bit unable to be in any way as brillant as a lot of posters here are. I actually laugh in front of the [thing that you look on when using the PC]. I think about politics, radiodrama and ways to view life and have found the board utterly inspiring.

‘I have relationships with quite a few of you (yeah, creepy), in that I almost expect certain comments, regard views of some of you in surprise, I might even be disappointed with someone for reacting one way and not the other…

For being my invisible friends, I want to thank those of you, who knew for a long time to snide and congratulate, love or hate The Archers. Those who took such painstake in annoying me or finding such articulate reasons for what I also vaguely might have thought.

‘Thank you all!

‘I cannot believe the decision to close the board down. As I work in German radiodrama, I know about the efforts there to promote radiodrama (sorry for using this word again) and involve the audience in a forum just like this. To have an ongoing story with numbers of listerners like TA, to have a board like this where intellect meets interest, where people are actually guarding what they cherish would be the wet dream of many a German radio dramaturgue/editor.

‘I will now, that nothing seems to be at stake anymore admit to being a author for radiodrama. As such I have always especially valued the unforgivingness with which the quality of scripts, storylining, wording and continuity are discussed here.
I wonder if, had I ever been a TA writer, I would have had the guts to read your posts on contributions that I wrote, but I am sure that it would be wonderful to know that someone takes as much notice of what they have heard as is being taken here.
Radio authors have normally no way to know what the audience thinks, and the odd letter to the editor will never substitute the (more often than sometimes) profound discussions that are being led here.

‘I loved the message board also for the attitude that the Mustardlanders have towards TA: it is owned by them like a national treasure, all the editors, scriptwriters, experiments with the formats are something to enjoy or endure, but they are but a fleeting phenomenon. Maybe a bit like the way technicians in theaters view directors and performers, they all come and go, but the light will still shine for the next performance in twenty years time, and it will still be them using the switch. Or like an oak watches a person scratching their name into it. Or some other romantic metaphor involving the eternal stream of somethingsomething.

‘I loved you watchdogs, it made me hopeful for the medium.
Again, thank you.’

The naming of cats

Mr PancksLoki_Pancks_Gobbelino_ClarkFalance_Boo_Clark
‘But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

From T.S. Eliot, The Naming of Cats

This week’s optional theme, ‘what you are good at’, is the sort of thing to send me into a flap and then a non-Euclidean spiral.  I don’t think that I am good at anything. I asked my husband, who said some very nice things (evidently I know how to find places and am patient.) But it still feels uncomfortable to claim such qualities.

So I have decided to be random and claim to be good at naming cats. I base this on a statistical sample of two: Falance Boo and Loki-Pancks Gobbolino. Falance came to live with us when my daughter was six. Her suggestions, such as ‘Rainbow Princess’, were rejected on the entirely reasonable grounds that (a) he was a boy, (b) he would be taking up residence on a rather rough East London estate and (c) they were rubbish.

‘Falance’ comes from a lovely book called The Witch’s Boy. He is a magical cat who agrees to become a man. I like it because it’s unusual: we’ve never met another Falance-cat. A few people mis-pronounce it as Valance and I can only assume they think it is a tribute to the home of the Krays, Vallance Road, a few minutes walk from here. ‘Boo’ came from her desire for him to have a middle name: he used to jump out a lot. Falance is a black and white British shorthair – or moggy – and the most unfriendly, stand-offish cat in the world.

It was heart-breaking, watching my daughter’s attempts to cuddle him or get him to sit on her lap. Worrying that she would become permanently disfigured or infected by claw attack, I fell for the ‘Get a Burmese; they’re like dogs’ line. We did and he is.

‘Loki’ is of course the mischievous/evil Norse god, who ultimately brings about Ragnarok: the end of the world. The cat works tirelessly towards this, not least by regularly chewing through any power cable left outside of a locked cupboard.

‘Pancks’ comes from the character in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit. The BBC series was on when the cat arrived, making the same weird sound in his throat that the brilliant Eddie Marsan did in his portrayal.

Gobbolino‘ is another witch’s cat: one who just wants to live with a family and be loved. For reasons still far from clear, Loki-Pancks has come to be known as ‘Piggle’…
‘But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.’