A Birthday Fit For A Kaiser (Chief)

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When I saw that this week’s Discover Challenge was Designed For You, one memory in particular immediately came to mind.

Two years ago – October 2014 – and my husband and I were in Brussels, all set to attend a Kaiser Chief’s concert at the Cirque Royale. The tickets were a birthday gift from my husband. He bought them after I dropped a major hint along the lines of “Kaiser Chiefs are performing in Brussels in October. I’ve sent you the link!” I seem to remember him rolling his eyes, primarily because, well, they’re not his thing…and also because he knows I have a major crush on the lead singer, Ricky Wilson. Nevertheless, he said nothing until a short while later, when he came into the living room and announced, “Ricky Wilson awaits you in Brussels in October, my dear.” I was so excited!

The day of the concert dawned, and my husband suggested that we could perhaps get into Brussels early and go for a meal first. We both agreed that this would be a great idea, although we did so with a little trepidation. You see, whenever we go out to celebrate a special occasion, it is highly likely, given past experiences, that something will go wrong. And when I say wrong, I mean wrong! Allow me to elucidate.

There was my 30th birthday when we had booked a table at a local restaurant. I found out later that my husband had booked, as a surprise for me, a secluded, romantic table, with a bottle of champagne on ice to be waiting for us. When we arrived, we were seated at a table right in the middle of the packed restaurant. There was no champagne waiting, it took an hour for our starter to be served and when it was, it was still raw in the middle. A complaint to the manager was met not with an apology, but with an attitude worse than that of his staff. We refused to pay and dinner ended up being a burger on the way home (which was delicious!)

Then there was our wedding anniversary, when the hotel where we were due to have dinner and stay overnight, had conveniently forgotten to inform us that there was a kids birthday party followed by a stag party!

So, I’m sure you understand that when I say that we both agreed it would be a good idea to go for dinner before the concert, neither of us was expecting much. Indeed, we were rather prepared for the worst.

However, it ended up being the best night!

The drive to Brussels was quiet and easy. There was hardly any traffic, which is highly unusual. (For my readers in the UK, think M25. For those in the US, imagine a three-lane version of the 405 in LA!) We arrived and found somewhere to park straight away, and then we thought we’d have a stroll and find somewhere to eat. Where we found was a delightfully small Italian restaurant right across the street from the concert venue. The service was impeccable, the food entirely too delicious, and the wine was as though it had been blended with my palate in mind.

After dinner, we wandered over to the concert venue and took our places in the queue. We had about a half hour wait before the doors opened, and when they did, security called our part of the queue through another set of doors, which resulted in us getting a standing place one row back from the stage. Brilliant!

The concert began, and the Kaiser Chiefs took to the stage with all the energy and enthusiasm I had been hoping for. It was loud; it was raucous; it was fantastic! The third song they played was “Everything Is Average Nowadays” and I was jumping around with the best of them. And then it happened. Midway through the song, Ricky Wilson stepped across from the stage and onto the security barrier. A couple of people grabbed his legs to stop him falling; the security grabbed the back of his belt for the same purpose. And me? I put my hand up, intending to touch his leg perhaps, but instead, he grabbed my hand! Honestly, I may have been celebrating my 38th birthday, but in that moment I felt ridiculously, excitedly, head-swimmingly 17 again! I squeezed his hand a little…and he squeezed back! By this point I’m sure it was only the crush of the crowd holding me up.

I was on a high for the rest of the concert, jumping and dancing and singing until I lost my voice (I broke a heel too!) I smiled all the way home. My husband was smiling too, knowing that the night could not have been better, even if I had designed it myself.

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More Popular Than Jesus

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Exactly fifty year ago today – August 22, 1966 – amid a storm of public protest, the Beatles arrived in New York during their third, and final, US tour.

Two years earlier, the Beatles had been received in New York as if they were world heroes. As they stepped off the plane at the newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, a crowd estimated to number four-thousand screaming fans and around two-hundred journalists who, I would wager, were rather wishing they’d worn earplugs, were in attendance.

In 1966, however, Beatles records were being publicly burned, radio stations refused to play Beatles songs, press conferences were cancelled, and threats – both veiled and direct – were made. Even the Ku Klux Klan picketed concerts by the band. What had happened? What had caused the Beatles, the band that changed the face of popular music, to go from being lauded to loathed?

In March of that year, Maureen Cleave, writing for the London Evening Standard, authored a series of articles entitled, “How Does A Beatle Live?”. Cleave knew the band well. She had interviewed them extensively, and had even accompanied them on their first tour of the US in 1964. On March 4, Cleave interviewed John Lennon at his home in Weybridge, Surrey, where, she reported, she found an Aladdin’s cave of artifacts, including a full-size crucifix, a medieval suit of armour and a gorilla costume. There was also an extensive library, with works by Jonathon Swift, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Hugh J. Schonfield. The latter author’s book, “The Passover Plot”, had greatly influenced Lennon’s thoughts on Christianity. In her article, Maureen Cleave mentioned that John Lennon was reading extensively about religion and quoted a comment he made during their lengthy interview. John Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I don’t need to argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

When Cleave’s interview was published in the London Evening Standard, it provoked the three Zs of public reaction: zero, zilch and zippo. This was primarily due to the fact that the Church in the UK was making no secret of its effort to transform itself into something more relevant for the modern times. Three years before John Lennon’s comment, the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, John A. T. Robinson, had published a controversial, but extremely popular book, entitled “Honest to God”, in which he urged the nation to reject traditional church teachings on morality and the concept of God as a white-bearded old man in the sky, and instead focus on the universal ethic of love. Even the Reverend Ronald Gibbons, who met the band at the start of Beatlemania, said that a “Beatles version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” might provide the Church of England with the very shot in the arm it needs.”

In the US, however, it was a very different story…although it was not necessarily all John Lennon’s fault.

In late July, almost five months after the article’s publication in the UK, US teen magazine, Datebook, republished the interviews. However, rather than publishing Lennon’s words in their entirety, the magazine’s art editor, Art Unger, decided to use the line that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now” as a stand alone headline. The Beatles were instantly regarded as anti-Christian, and all hell broke loose. WAQY – a radio station in Birmingham, Alabama, immediately refused to play any Beatles records. The station asked listeners to call in and give their views on the issue. They did. And it was overwhelmingly negative. More than two dozen other stations followed WAQY’s lead in boycotting the band’s songs. Other stations went further, organising demonstrations and bonfires, issuing a rallying cry to teenagers to come and burn their singles and memorabilia.So vigorously menacing were the protests, that Brian Epstein was all set on cancelling the tour for fear that some harm may befall one or all of them. In the end, the tour did of course go ahead, but the Beatles hated it. Incessant protests outside the concert venues, combined with the oft repeated scene of rows of empty seats, not to mention the gruelling schedule of the past two years, left the band feeling somewhat disenfranchised with life on the road. The 1966 US tour culminated with a concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. It would be the last time the Beatles would ever perform a commercial concert.

John Lennon’s comments could never cause controversy today. In 1997, Oasis front-man Noel Gallagher said that his band “were bigger than God”. The reaction? Oh please! Stop copying John Lennon!

 

 

 

Youth!

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Youth was braver than I, and a good deal bolder

But still it would dream of being older.

Now youth is older, the world seems colder,

And life isn’t the fun youth thought it would be.

Youth hadn’t accounted for having to work

With idiots all day, and a boss who’s a jerk.

Responsibilities youth would love to shirk,

For life isn’t the fun youth thought it would be.

Up at six-thirty, stretching and yawning.

Youth shouldn’t be awake this early in the morning?

Yet another day on the treadmill is dawning.

Life isn’t the fun youth thought it would be.

Folks, youth is life’s winning ticket!

Need ambition? Youth lets you pick it!

Youth can tell bosses just where to stick it!

Keep youth! And life will be fun, as it always should be!

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Visualize the List

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My mum is one of life’s marvels when it comes to list-making. When she goes shopping at the supermarket for example, she doesn’t just make a list of what she needs; oh no! She makes a list of what she needs in the order of on which aisle they can be found. As she begins to make her list, she visualises the layout of the supermarket and walks each aisle in her mind’s eye. It’s marvellous to watch!

I remember a few years ago, disaster struck. My mum had made her shopping list, faithfully using her tried and tested system, only to find, when she got to the supermarket, that they’d rearranged some of the product aisles. Where she had expected to find tins of peas and carrots, there were boxes of tea in their stead. Bottles of cordial and fizzy drinks had been replaced by biscuits and crackers. For her, it was a nightmare! I can see her now, walking through the front door, looking more frazzled than a slice of bacon in a US diner, declaring; “What a bloody palaver that was! They’ve only gone and switched the aisles around. Even the assistants didn’t know where things were. It’s coming to summat when your Jammie Dodgers have been swapped with knicker stickers!”

For those of you who have never heard of them, Jammie Dodgers are a kind of biscuit (or cookie, for my readers across the pond). They are essentially two disks of shortcake biscuit with a splodge of gooey, sticky raspberry jam (or jelly *nods to my US readers) in between. They are utterly delicious and terrifically Moorish, especially when dipped in coffee! As for the “knicker stickers”, I’m afraid it doesn’t matter where you happen to hail from, I guarantee you will have never heard the term. It is my mum’s unique name for “panty liners’.

They say the apple never falls far from the tree. In my case, I think that perhaps it didn’t actually fall far from the tree, but it did land on the crest of a hill, roll all the way down and land in a muddy brook at the bottom. For you see, I am not a list maker. Never have been, and I guess I never will be, although I have just recently started Bucket List. Item number one was: Buy a bucket.

Seriously though, I am not, by nature, a list maker. I did try to be. A few weeks ago, when I found I had to go shopping, I decided to try and make a list using my mum’s method. I know the layout of our local supermarket pretty well, so I sat quietly and visualised the store, from walking through the door to traipsing the aisles and looking for products. By the end, I was really pleased with myself. I had quite a comprehensive list of everything I needed for the weekly shop. Buoyed by my newfound sense of organisation, I grabbed my purse and keys, jumped on my bike and headed to the store.

I felt ten feet tall as I stepped through the sliding doors. There’s no one more organised than me today! I told myself. However, all my confidence and enthusiasm disappeared the moment I slipped my hand in my pocket.

I’d forgotten the list.

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My Photography

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Many of you will already know of my love of photography, as well as my love of writing…and blogging, of course! However, I have recently found myself experimenting more and more with my photography, and, buoyed by my husband’s encouragement, I have decided to start a new page to showcase my work. Don’t worry though! I will still be regularly blogging right here on Do Not Annoy The Writer. Nothing will change and you don’t have to do anything, except to head on over to my sister page, Do Not Annoy The Photographer, and give me a follow there too!

Incidentally, someone recently asked me why my blog is called Do Not Annoy The Writer. Well, it comes from a T-shirt that my Dad saw once. He took a photo of it and sent it to me. It was a plain white T-shirt with the words, “Do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you” I thought it was hilarious, and so when it came time to name my blog, it seemed the obvious choice.

Similarly, when I began my photography page, it felt appropriate – given that it is the sister site of Do Not Annoy The Writer – to name it, Do Not Annoy The Photographer. After all, if you annoy the photographer, they can cut off your head without fear of getting arrested!

So don’t annoy me! Head on over to Do Not Annoy The Photographer and give me a follow. Pretty please!

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Dusk

“The sun sinks to her retreat below the horizon, allowing twilight to close her darkened shades on the day, before nighttime lulls the world into dreamless sleep.”

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Dusk.

Yesterday saw the passing of Snorky, one of my beloved cats. She had been with us for 15 years, after a neighbour found her and her sister, Bubbles, in a box on the street when they were just 8 weeks old. She had been ill for some time, after being diagnosed with a tumour in her chest in November 2015. At the time of her diagnosis, we were told to keep her comfortable, but that the prognosis was that she would last a couple of weeks at the most. She beat the odds…and then some! She not only survived, but thrived, for nine beautiful months. Yesterday though, it became clear that the fight had exhausted her. We took the heartbreaking decision to give her the gift of peace. This photo, along with its accompanying prose, were produced yesterday evening as I sat on the front step, sipping on a vodka and coke, just listening to the oncoming quiet of night. It had been a long and emotional day. 

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Generations of Joy!

In my recent post Coffee. Twix. Blog. I spoke of how my husband had arranged for my family to come over to Belgium for my 40th birthday. It was an amazing time, one where all of us were able to create new, and long lasting, memories.

One such memory was a lunch in a lovely Italian restaurant in Breda, Netherlands. The weather was atrocious, and so, not wishing to walk around in the rain with my Mum and Dad – neither of whom are in the best of health – and two young kids, we kind of plumped for the first place we came across. I’m so glad we did. The food was wonderful and we all had so much fun!

This particular photo was taken while we waited for our food to arrive. I was standing by the table, taking numerous photos, and I happened to ask everyone to look my way and smile. My Mum, who is hard of hearing, stayed looking at her phone. I raised my voice above the clamour and said, “Mum!” Before she could even look up to see what I wanted, Lyra – my six-year-old great-niece – said, in her loud, but incredibly cute voice, “I thought you said bum!” Everyone laughed just as my camera clicked. What it caught was a moment in time, a memory, an energy, that you never get with a posed photo.

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Two generations of joy! My big sister and her granddaughter.

When a friend of mine saw the photo, she said, “You must have had so much fun! That right there is a depiction of pure joy!”

We did. And I couldn’t agree more!

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Kulminating in Stephen Fry

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On a street known as Vleminckveld in Antwerp, Belgium, there is a cozy little bar called the Kulminator. This bar is famous, not least for the fact that it boasts one of the most extensive collections of Belgian beer in the world. Here you can sip vintage beers (some of them date to the 1970s) while listening to Brahms, Chopin or Debussy (only classical music is played here). It truly is a delightful place.

It was here, a short while ago, that my husband and I sat with Peter, a friend of ours, each of us drinking a tall German beer that I recall as being thoroughly delicious, although the name now escapes me. Whilst I am not entirely sure as to how we got onto the subject, I do recall that at a particular point in the evening, we began to discuss who we would most like to spend the night with. I am smiling as I write this, for I am thinking of the now famous John Smith’s advert starring Peter Kay, in which, during the course of a double date, he is asked by his better half who he would choose if he could sleep with any woman in the world. In case you haven’t seen it, he responds with chivalry and tact when he tells his wife that he wouldn’t choose anyone, she is the only woman for him. When she persists, telling him that she’s offering him “Tess Daly on a plate” he finally drifts off into dreamland and says, “Claire from work.” Cue hilarious awkward silence.

Fortunately, both my husband and I are our own bosses, so there was no awkward revelations about fancying a quick bang with a colleague over the photocopier. To save my husband’s blushes, I shall refrain from telling you his choice, suffice to say that both Peter and I slowly and simultaneously lowered our drinks, looked at each other and then at my husband and said, “Really?”

Peter chose Famke Janssen, the Dutch actress whose Bond girl character, Xenia Onatopp, was as full of paronomasia than Pussy Galore

And then it was my turn.

So who did I choose?

Well, I’m afraid that I was rather greedy, for I chose David Tennant and Tom Hardy! I then followed that up with saying, “Actually, I would really love to spend a long, wine-filled evening with Stephen Fry.” “I’ve never heard of him,” said Peter, “Is he sexy?” In the unlikely event that Stephen ever reads this, I really must apologise, for when Peter asked that question, I laughed a little too loudly and inhaled some of my beer. Once recovered, however, I responded with, “No. But he is stunning.”

Throughout the course of his life, Stephen Fry has been known by many and varied names –  some that flatter, some that don’t – by many and varied folk – some that matter, some that don’t. His career has seen him wear many different hats, including those of actor, comedian, author, journalist, broadcaster, film director and national treasure (I am not sure whether he likes to wear the latter hat, but it suits him just as well as all the others nonetheless).

To me, however, Stephen Fry is so much more than the summation of his personal or, dare I say it, millinery history. To me, he is a man wrapped up in beautiful contradiction. Just as the New York Tribune wrote of Oscar Wilde in 1882, “The most striking thing about the poet’s appearance is his height, which is several inches over six feet”,  so too could the same be said about Stephen Fry. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, it is his height which you notice first, followed by his poise, which is ungainly and yet simultaneously elegant. To look into his heavy lidded eyes is to look into an intriguing soul, one that is at once confident yet self conscious, dreamy yet realistic, strong yet vulnerable, determined yet hesitant.

Above all though, Stephen Fry is to me, a man of boundless talent and knowledge, and a survivor. To quote his own words, he is “…a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance.”  It was that altar of language to which I ran when I encountered unexpected criticism of my first published work. I shall refrain from giving credence to the critics’ words by repeating them here, suffice to say that they were not so much about my work, but of me. Given that none of these people had ever even spoken to me, let alone met me, I found their comments cruel and unnecessary. Stephen Fry has, over the years, had his own share of run-ins with critics, so when I heard him say that, “Critics may perform a service…the point is that no one would volunteer for this dreadful trade but the kind of worthless and embittered offal that we, by and large, get”  he made me smile, when I felt that no one could. And for that, I am forever grateful.

As I said, he is also a survivor, and through his survival, he has given me a greater understanding of my own husband. His candid discussions about his bipolar disorder, allowed me to comprehend my husband’s depression all the more. My husband has battled depression for many years, both with medication and without. For the past two years or so, he has been medication free, but that is not to say that he doesn’t suffer. He does. I have seen it. And it breaks my heart that I can’t help him. Recently though, when the black cloud descended, he said that he could not pinpoint why it happened, what triggered the slide into the void of despond. With nothing else coming to mind, I paraphrased Stephen Fry, telling him that, “Depression isn’t a straightforward response to bad situation. And it’s interesting that you should refer to it as a black cloud, because depression just is, like the weather. You can’t reason yourself back into cheerfulness any more than you can reason yourself into an extra six inches in height.” I noticed that he slept a little easier that night, so I hope it helped.

So this is my portrait of Stephen Fry, an intriguing soul, a physical and literary giant; a man whose vulnerability is part of his strength; someone whom I shall probably never meet, yet who has helped me on my own path more than he will ever know; and who I regard as the closest thing this world shall ever get to Oscar Wilde. And to any critics who wish to write poisonous words about this stunning man, I say only this. How can you be so cruel to one so beautiful?

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Visual Jokes

Whenever we think of jokes, we tend to think of the verbal variety. There’s something quite satisfying, cathartic even, to telling a good joke. The moment when you reach the punchline and everyone (hopefully) laughs, makes you feel, for that one moment in time, almost invincible. I can fully understand why many comedians say that audience appreciation is addictive.

That said, I would never have the nerve to stand on stage and tell a joke, even though I love telling them. I can distinctly remember a moment many years ago, when I was meeting Karen, my soon to be sister-in-law, for the first time. Over dinner, the subject got around to humour and telling jokes. Karen said that she couldn’t tell a joke if her life depended on it, claiming that she always got muddled up, forgot a crucial part, or could remember the punchline but not the rest. My now husband, emboldened and fortified by alcohol, blurted out that I was great at telling jokes. This news was so startling to me that I practically choked on my wine; indeed, the fact that I was coughing so much meant that I didn’t have time to protest before he said, “Go on babe, tell a joke. You know loads.” Even though nothing had changed in our immediate surroundings, it was as if a spotlight had clicked on, holding me fixedly in its magnetic beam.

It has to be said though that, mortified though I was by my husband’s suggestion, I too was filled with Dutch Courage, so I grasped the nettle, got a firm grip on the situation, and many more idioms that I shall refrain from mentioning, drained my glass and said, “So I went into a record shop and I asked the guy, “What have you got by The Doors?” He said, “A bucket of sand and a fire blanket.” Karen laughed so hard I thought she may have a toileting issue!

Emboldened still further, I followed up with, “I went to an ice-cream van and I said, “Can I have an ice-cream please?” The guy said, “Hundreds and thousands?” I said, “We’ll start with one.” He said, “Knickerbocker Glory?” I said, “I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.” At this point, the decorum and dignity which Karen was desperately trying to cling to evaded her, and an arc of wine spouted from her mouth and across the table. Naturally, all three of us found this particularly hilarious and it was several minutes before any semblance of sanity was regained.

However, not all jokes are of the verbal variety. There are many that are visual. In fact, I am convinced that Mother Nature herself is a comedienne extraordinaire when it comes to visual hilarity. How else do you explain this, the veritable Kim Kardashian of the mushroom world?

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The “Kim Kardashian” Mushroom!

Then there are those moments when you come across something visual that you are convinced must be a joke. I had one such moment not so long ago, when I had the occasion to use the bathroom on the ferry from Calais to Dover. I entered the cubicle, as you do, when my eye was suddenly caught by the roll of toilet paper. I perhaps must point out that it is an idiosyncrasy of mine to always check whether there is toilet paper in a public cubicle before I commit to locking the door (I have been caught out on previous occasions, and believe me, friendships are never formed by having to ask if someone can slide some tissue under the door for you!) On this occasion, however, I was neither struck by the presence of the toilet roll, nor by the lack of it. Rather, it was the position which grabbed my attention.

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Sometimes, all you can say is “WTF?”

Now, before you ask, I am not in the habit of taking photos in toilet cubicles, but in this case I made an exception. After all, who would believe me otherwise?

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