Friday 10 November 2017

Values Matter

You don’t have to work in marketing to know that the commercial world goes around based on a thing called brand and brand values.  Whether you’re studying organisational change, as I did at university, motivating your team in a workshop to articulate what it is they think your business stands for, or clarifying a sales strategy, the concept of values underpinning your brand should come up.  (Unless of course you work for an organisation which displays a list of values under the Mission Statement but doesn’t look at them again until the Annual Report is due.)

We don’t use the same vocabulary when we are subconsciously assessing whether we want to be friends with someone (or not), but actually it’s not much different.  For some reason we decide we like them, we enjoy hanging out with them, and we want to go back for more interaction.  That is because, on some level, we share values.  Not all necessarily, but some.  We share a love of musical genre, humour, food, intelligent debate, politics, religion, sport, passion for the arts, gardening... or our children are at the same nursery and we both care that the establishment looking after our precious infant provides the quality of care they say they will.  In all healthy personal relationships we want to be able to trust that someone or something is as it says ‘on the tin’.  And those respected (or desired) qualities and attitudes coalesce into our values – the things we want to be, the things we would fight to protect. 

Let’s take that a step further.  If you are a writer, there is not a book you can write or sell without understanding the essential nature of your characters (their values, aspirations) as well as your audience (who are you talking to and why?).  When pitching to an agent and publisher - or when writing a press release – you need to be able to tell your reader your USP – unique selling point – in a sentence or two.  (Indeed all products need this kind of definition to survive in a busy marketplace.)  One of the funny things about Hollywood, so I believe, is that whenever you make an elevator pitch for a film there is only one way to get yourself heard: tell your desired producer what other film your script is like, and then highlight how it differs from that.  In other words – capture in a few words what we accept as good, and then show a layer of originality.  For example:  your film is like Murder on the Orient Express but it happens on a submarine and the captain/detective is played by Ethan Hawke.  Ok, bad example, as there’s little scenery deep underwater, but you get my point.  In that case we are projecting pre-existing values (what is already familiar and can be counted upon) and some excitement around the possibility of doing things a little differently (freshness, spice).  These are the underpinning values of people in the story business.  Well, I should say, in the commercial story business. 

Where am I headed?  I have been thinking about #LondonIsOpen and #LondonIsOpenForBusiness. 

I was delighted when the Mayor of London launched that Campaign shortly after the disastrous referendum result.  It comforted me, because I felt what it was saying to our European neighbours was not just ‘you will still be able to come to London’.  But also that the people of London were not all xenophobic or cynical, that millions of us still believed in the great post WW11 experiment to foster co-operation, cross-pollination, respect and peace amongst nations.  One day the concept of a global, multi-cultural village exploded in our electoral faces, and only days later one of our political leaders (at last) was saying “No, Londoners have values, broad inclusive values, from which we will not part!”  Ok, the practicalities of that are far more complex than a slogan – the bungled and slow negotiations for Brexit, a proof in point – but the values underpinning that campaign is what has inspired (and comforted) many.  

So where are we?  Every day lately the world seems to have gone totally off its rocker.  There are so many crazy things happening that I have to take regular radio-digital respite to avoid the negative energy waves corroding my natural inclination to optimism.  Then three things happened as I moved around London in quick succession recently.  In isolation they didn’t mean much, but together I realised it was a question of values (and the dissemination of those values). 


Walking along the edge of a busy pavement immediately adjacent to a bus lane, my stride was interrupted by a teenage girl leaning down in front of me and placing a can of coca-cola on the ground.  I had to stop or I’d have fallen into her.  She stood up and turned away without a word.  Automatically I looked at her, then the can at my feet (registering it was empty), then back at her.  For a moment I think I was expecting her to say something.  Nothing came.  “Hey” I smiled, “you are going to pick that up again, yeah?  “No” she spat.  I was stunned.  I guess an innate sense of responsibility as the adult in this scenario kicked in.  I spoke to her as I would to a niece or nephew, or to a student: “Oh, go on” still smiling “be a good girl and put it into the rubbish”.  There was nothing at all threatening or aggressive in my tone, and I fully expected her to respect her elder and pick it up; perhaps even be a little embarrassed that she was caught out.  Instead she said “F**k off”.  The girl opposite her said the same.  A 3rd girl added “don’t tell us what to do or we’ll kick your head in”.  And a 4th  tried to show how big and powerful she was by spitting: “or we’ll knife you”. 

I was so shocked to be abused by teenage girls in school uniform in broad daylight at Clapham Junction, that I actually laughed.  A black laugh, but none-the-less out it came.  “Really?” I said to the 3rd and 4th girls in particular.  “There is no need to escalate such a small thing...” and I ran out of things to say for a few seconds as my brain struggled to catch up with what had just happened.  “Again someone said “F**k off”, by which time I noticed two girls on the outer circle looked very uncomfortable.  They at least had a conscience; aka better role models.  I knew it was time to leave but couldn’t resist ,  “What I am talking about is good citizenship. Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary” and walked away.   

No, I did not need to leave with a sarcastic remark.  And if it had been a group of boys, or at night, I’d likely have been more circumspect.  However in no way did I deserve their rudeness and resentment.  Yet I have lived in London long enough to know that fear of rebuke, or worse, makes many people stay silent in such circumstances.  Time and time again adults say and do nothing when they witness bad behaviour by children and young adults (even if their intervention might help restore to society some of what we believe makes us civilised and ultimately comfortable).  This is a very sad fact of modern life and as I got on the bus I felt most for the teachers of those children.  For how can they succeed in preparing these rough and tumble balls of angst for the world if the adults of their generation aren’t supporting them? 


Only days later I went to the cinema with reserved tickets.  I was actually on a date, but he’d stopped off to do get something and said he’d meet me in the seats.  When I got to Row J on the end of the aisle a teenager was in my seat and a coat on the other.  This girl was white, pretty and privileged, but when I said “I’m sorry, but I think you are in the wrong seat, these are mine” (and held up my tickets) again I found myself in an unexpected, antagonistic situation.  “Someone else is my seat so I’m not moving” she complained.  No logic could budge her.  Indeed she said I was irritating her?!  All the while I was conscious a) my date would be coming back – which is not a nice way to start an evening, and b) the cinema was full and the feature soon to start.  “Please” I appealed, “I’m afraid you are going to have to go and sort out your own problem.  Go and talk to whoever is in your seat and show them your ticket... or get an usher to help you“.  But this stubborn, arrogant girl – who fancied herself so much more grown up than she could possibly be - was having none of it.  An usher was summoned, then a manager, to no avail.  Finally she got out of the seat only to plonk herself down on the lap of her girlfriend in the next chair.  More voices joined the discussion: the man behind understandably complaining that she was too tall on the other girl’s lap and he couldn’t see; someone else asking for their money back to compensate for the disturbance.  But the young manager had so little training, maturity or confidence that he had nothing in his artillery to persuade her.  I had been standing back against the wall to let him do his thing, but as the movie started I sat down.  He was now leaning over me (and my date) trying but failing to reason with her.  The ‘event manager’ in me kicked in.  I whispered to him solemnly that actually it was illegal for two people to share a seat, and that he should hold the film and/or have her removed by security.  He simply could not let this situation go on any longer – particularly when she had still not been able to produce a ticket for any seat, let alone the ones in which she was determined to perch.  I also said that if he couldn’t fix it quickly the best solution might be to refund all our tickets.  (My date was not in favour of this idea.)  Ten minutes into the film, the manager found his spine and demanded that the stupid girl get up.  Which to all our surprise and relief she did; and he took her out of the cinema to calls like “I still want my money back... this is ridiculous etc”.  Needless to say, by this time NO-ONE was feeling good about the Odeon brand! 


Now let me jump to the positive side of the equation.  On a tube a couple of days later, I watched the opposite kind of behaviour spread as infectiously – more infectiously in fact – than the bad behaviour.  A middle-aged lady got on the tube and a man offered up his seat.  Then an elderly couple got on, the wife taking the seat next to me, the elderly gentleman standing.  I stood up, as did another girl simultaneously, and we offered him our seats.  He declined.  But it was clear his wife wanted him to sit.  “Please I said, I have no doubt that you are well able to stand, but you would be more comfortable sitting and I would be happy if you’d oblige me”.  His wife smiled at me with great warmth.  The gentleman took my seat and thanked myself and the other girl repeatedly.  The district line continued a slow journey towards Tower Bridge.  During the next twenty minutes I watched person after person standing and offering their seat to someone older, of the opposite or same gender, to a mother and child, to someone on crutches, pregnant etc.  Only one person (I won’t say if it was a lady or man for fear of making this a gender debate) in that entire carriage had not changed their original position at least once during the journey.  Generosity of spirit was flowing, the atmosphere of the carriage light and positive.  People were smiling.  People were saying thank you, nodding and bidding farewell as they stepped off the train.  Remember – like it was during London 2012! 

What can we call this behaviour other than kindness? Respect? Or actually, manners - for manners in their essence are behaviours that have evolved out of a desire to make people comfortable and welcome.  Manners is kindness and respect in action.

So may I end this far too wordy blog to say that #LondonIsOpen might also aspire to remind us that good manners can make our daily lives, our commutes and our communities so much more pleasant, so much more cohesive.  So perhaps we could find a way to practise these habits?  Perhaps find a way to collectively project those values ?  For it definitely makes us all feel better. 

#LondonIsOpen            #MannersAreInfectious            #ValuesMatter              #BeKind

Perhaps we might ask the Mayor of London to dedicate a day to remind us of these values?  Now that’d be a campaign I’d get behind!

I wrote about the generosity and positivity which radiated through London during the Olympics and ParaOlympics.  If you need a reminder see: 


Thursday 26 October 2017


Until a couple of months ago my only experience of sculling (or skulling) was downing a pint of beer.  Then I signed up for a series of rowing lessons on the Thames and ended up sculling in a tub for four.  The plan was to get some cross-training while preparing for a half marathon, give my knees a bit of a rest, and enjoy the lovely river on my doorstep. 

For six weeks things went well.  I progressed from feeling uncoordinated and unnatural, to rather getting the hang of it.  I was enjoying being on the water (as I’m usually running beside it watching the rowers) and I found it wasn’t difficult from a general fitness point of view.  Remarkably for autumn, I was also Blessed with good weather every session.  Of course I had a few blisters on my hands to show for it, but I was gradually getting confident enough to stop gripping the sculls so violently.  And by heaven that was a good thing, as the middle fingers on both hands were suffering some kind of impact shock – my knuckles still locking on occasion, definitely a sign of wrong technique and/or sudden onset of arthritis!

So I turned up for my final beginner class, ready to enjoy the low tide and sunny morning.  As we waited for others to arrive I told the instructors I would definitely be back for the intermediate course, and they complimented me on my steady rhythm when in the stroke position (seat 4) a few days earlier.  When enough people arrived to make up an 8, I was the odd one out.  So I offered to try a single scull and the tutor quickly consented.  I was nervous but excited to be trusted on my own after such a short time on the water. 

An intermediate student helped me get the boat down the hill to launch, then assisted me empty the water out when a big vessel went past unusually fast and the waves flooded the place where I was about to sit.  Little did I know that big boat would cause me a lot more havoc down the line!

Finally I got out of my wellies (aka gumboots for Aussies) and my feet were strapped in, the seat adjusted so I could stretch my legs out fully in the backstop position.  The instructor appeared nearby in a dingy ready to shout out instructions and, hopefully, help me stay afloat.  It might have been a beautiful October day but the Thames is not clean and in low tide particularly sludgy, so keeping my balance was the number one priority if I did not want to end up in the water.

I had always had a cox in the boat before, so had never had to watch over my shoulder.  The instructor had the good sense to navigate for me, while we moved to the other side of the Thames to face in the direction of Hammersmith.  It was crucial that he called out advice re which scull to put pressure on, or which one to use to turn, so that I could take my time to get the feel of being on the water on my own and find a smooth and rhythmic movement.  Once we were safe in the opposite channel, close to the northern bank, he was quiet while I got myself into ‘the zone’.  When he pulled alongside again to offer further instruction, I quickly told him I realised so much more, now that I was in a single, how important it was for both sculls to go into the water to the same depth.  It had only taken a minute to feel the intermittent danger of tipping, when one side catches more deeply in the water than the other.  We agreed that balance was the major element to concentrate on, to which end I had to: drop my shoulders; keep the sculls at an even height; keep my arms straight until my legs were fully extended; and of course manage the feathering and even dipping into the water. 

For the next thirty minutes I was all concentration, until I felt significantly more relaxed and confident.  I had certainly picked a nice gentle day for it, sun shining, low tide, few vessels in the vicinity.  Calls of encouragement, as well as shouted tips when I lost form, were most welcome.  As was the help with navigation: such as warnings to keep parallel with the riverbed but out of the shallows (which in a twisty river like the Thames is not as easy as you might think).

Just at the point I was feeling most satisfied with my efforts, it was time to turn, cross the river to the other side, and make our way back to the club house in Putney.  I’d been stroking continuously for about 45 minutes - no short periods of rest as we’d had in group tuition – and no doubt my initial adrenalin had subsided.  As I realised my upper body was tired, that I’d perhaps not saved enough fuel in the tank for the return journey, everything negative happened at once.

The tide turned.  Yes, you’ve heard the phrase before no doubt: “the tide turned”.  Off our tongues it rolls, glibly and without any visual or visceral appreciation of what it means.  Well, I tell you, it will never be said or heard glibly by me again.  For the turning of that mighty waterway we know as the Thames is so much more serious and strong than I could ever have imagined.  She is a monster.  And by God does she turn quickly and fiercely! 

One minute I’m sanguine and in control, the next I am being sucked up the middle of the river in the direction of Windsor: too tired to resist her pull AND too weak to reach the slower channel on the southern bank where I had been headed.  The instructor is issuing loud instructions but I’m beginning to panic, so I stop for a wee rest in hopes of re-establishing my equilibrium and technique.  WRONG!  When you stop sculling against a fast tide you not only don’t go in the direction you wish to be heading... you go more quickly towards Windsor!  

Then the bandaid comes off my most tender blister and things really get rough.  The pain in my palm is too great to apply the pressure I need to on the right side, to get into the slower channel.  The instructor is getting concerned we’re ‘losing ground’, which will only make things worse in the long run.  But I am going in odd directions, without a fraction of the finesse or consistency I’d showed previously.  I am also getting increasingly tired as nothing is flowing naturally anymore. 

Moreover as my right hand starts to puss and seep, the pain is so great it is impossible to control what I’m doing.  Start, stop, drift.  Start, stop, drift.  The instructor is nice but firm, yelling: “you cannot stop Julie, you must keep going, you must!”.  I get into the slow channel at last but I have a long way to go and tide resistance is still strong.  For a few minutes I power through.  Perhaps it is going to be ok.  But then I’m too close to the bank, my scull hits the sludge and pebbles, so I try to move out a little – only to end up in the fast run again.  All of these elements are compounded significantly by my inability to apply equal pressure to my right hand/right scull.  Nor am I dipping the right scull at an equal depth anymore.  The sculls are occasionally grabbing badly - my balance getting dodgy right at the time there are more vessels (aka more waves) about. 

I’m not sure what’s worse: the prospect of going into the water or the pain in my right palm?  But finally I’m back again parallel to the bank.  I’m hurting and tired.  But it’s a safer place to be and surely it can’t get any worse?  

Oh yes it can!  A huge dredging boat has taken up a position immediately in front of me - one hundred meters ahead they have completely blocked my path in the slow channel on the south bank of the river.  I now have no option but to leave the bank, again, and to move to the centre.  The force from the tide pulling me to Windsor is now matched by the pull of the dredger to my diagonal right.  The instructor is shouting:  “Julie, you have to get far enough away from it so that you won’t get sucked in!”  I can see the water being sucked aggressively beneath it, and feel trapped in some kind of torture vortex.  But try as I might, I don’t have any power left.  Indeed if my instructor had not forced me to keep going, I honestly would have dropped the sculls, cried, and floated all the way upstream to Neverland.  Or to that place the Hobbits and Elves sail to when the mission is complete.  I just wanted it to be over!

OMG how I did not fall into the water before finally getting back to our dock will remain a mystery.  But as I nurse the wound on my right hand I pledge the following: I will never again think the Thames a small waterway (compared, say, to Sydney Harbour).  I will never again take for granted the ‘turning of the tide’; never again row or scull without gloves and waterproof bandaids (and I don’t care if that makes me a big girl); and never again show off so much in the first half of the session so that I utterly wear myself out and nearly kill myself in the second half! 

Ok, I probably will show off again; in life I mean.  But not in a boat - where all the forces around me are trying to kill me!  I am suitably chastened.  And yes, if you must know, chaffed.  OUCH!!!


Monday 14 August 2017

Least Favourite Saying

I admit it.  My least favourite saying in England is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.  I dislike the bumper stickers and embossed cups, the t-shirts and tweets which glorify the passive maxim.  I know that marks me apart as non-English in character (though actually I was born in London) but every time I hear that phrase I think “OMG it’s not the Blitz, can’t you think of something more dynamic to inspire your life?”  I was brought up in the new world – aka Australia, the former colony with post-penal (is that a word?) rebelliousness - so I’m more of a “shake it up”... “only dead fish swim with the stream” kind of girl.  I would suffocate without outbursts of passion.

Ok, keep calm - now that’s off my chest I’m getting to the good bit.

Yesterday I encountered a living example of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ which is to be greatly admired.  Indeed it was astonishing.  And as “there’s always a story” with me, I arrived at the pub in bright sunshine in Clapham Junction and blurted it out to my Irish friend, Siabhra, and most of the bar staff.  (Yes, I also talk to strangers – another non-London trait – with a naive presumption they will be interested in my life... and sometimes they are!).  Anyway another friend, Chun, said “well there’s something to take you back to the blog you’ve been ignoring”.  So BOOM, I’m back.

I’m on a packed 337 bus from Putney and a very young couple try to get on the bus with a toddler and stroller.  The stroller is packed high with renovation materials – tins of paint, primer, brushes and trays.  The curly-haired, chubby kid is wriggling madly and the tiny mum is having trouble, so it seems.  When the dad pushes the stroller into the middle of the aisle it jams.  It won’t go forward or back and, oddly, he doesn’t much mind.  He takes his hands off it in defeat and kind of slumps. The toddler is kicking off.  The driver calls something out and the skinny dad goes back to talk to him.  I presume he needs to swipe or pay.  So I jump up and try to move the pram, as there’s no room to pass and clearly someone needs to help this young mum who’s barely coping.  Yet the stroller won’t budge – too much stuff hanging over the side and banging into poles.  So I unpack it a bit.  I lift a few cans of paint which are strapped around the handles and detach them, resting them on my aisle seat.  I manoeuvre a few more bits and manage to push the pram through the gap and into the wheelchair area.  The conversation at the front of the bus is getting louder but I’m not registering what they’re saying, only that it’s taking a while.  Then I collect the tins of paint from my seat and bring them over to the mum who is now sitting all but one seat away from the stroller; a gentleman having given up his place for her.  In retrospect, when I clearly articulate “these tins need to be secured, I’ve only rested them on the top” the young girl seems vague.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  I figure she’ll get him to fix them when he returns.  I sit back down.

The dad walks past me as the bus starts up again, and proceeds to cuss and grumble to his partner about something the driver has said to him.  I don’t make out details as I’m in my own world enjoying the beautiful sun, until she raises her voice in high dudgeon:“ that’s the stupidest f**in thing I’ve ever heard”...“who the f**k does he think he is” etc, by which time I am vaguely gathering that the driver had a problem with the paint being brought onto the bus, they are unhappy about being singled out as unsuitable passengers, while also delighting in the fact they have something to complain about (you know what I mean, it’s in the ‘oh poor me’ tone). 

It’s only background noise so I don’t consciously piece this together, but one presumes their occupation of seat and wheelchair space made it impossible for the driver not to have moved off - well, not without a scene he must have decided to avoid.  So I'm blissfully unaware I have conspired to help them frustrate the driver’s wishes.  Nor am I cognisant of the risk.  After a few short minutes we round the corner past Wandsworth Council toward East Hill.

Disaster.  Bus hits a bump.  Stupid parents have not secured the paint.  BANG.  Tin bounces out of the pram and crashes to the floor, miraculously missing the silly girl and drenching an upper-middle-aged lady sitting next to the wall with multiple coats of paint right down her left leg, ankle and foot.  It is as thick and layered as an applied plaster cast.  Her bag takes a dose too, and the rest flows plentifully across the floor of the bus where masses of people throw up their legs like a Parisian Can Can or scamper out of the way and up the stairs.  Chaos.   Stunned silence.  Chaos again.

The girl screams at her beloved in words starting with ‘f’ and ‘c’, and he defends himself as best he can.  He clearly isn’t very bright.  A fact she keeps cruelly reminding him about.  And the toddler kicks and screams, such that if he doesn’t stop wriggling she is surely going to drop his fat little bottom right into the paint.  (I have to admit that would have been funny.)  But with the weight of him the mum falls back into her chair, putting aside for the moment her desire to choke the stupid ‘f’ and ‘c’; and probably him vice versa. That gives me an opening. 

I am able, thank God, to creep between pram, paint and feuding couple to help the paint-covered lady to stand up and try to delicately move from the position in which she’s most uncomfortably trapped; the excited child and parents still presenting something of a provocative possibility.  Taking one arm and her bag we somehow get her up, the left sandal threatening to slip away at any moment.  We hop, duck and weave to an accompaniment of four letter words until we have her over the massive white puddle near to the exit door.  The soon to be accused don’t even notice.  Can I smell alcohol on him?  Anyway his speech is not clear, and hers all too clear.  Oh dear, I don’t like that kid’s chances.

Back to the lady:  She, I, indeed most passengers, stare at her leg and foot unable to comprehend what has just happened.  A few mutter “ooh, sorry” but noone knows what to do next.  She has not uttered a word.  Her face is calm.  My God it is unbelievably calm.  Perhaps she’s just numb?  That would make sense.  I try to speak:  “I’m soooo sorry”.  “Are you ok?  This is so awful, what can we do... we need to get it washed off”.  As the bus comes to an abrupt stop she replies, “I’ll be fine”.  Seriously?  Fine?  The couple are still arguing, but her face is placid, resigned.  There’s no fight in her, no defeat either.  She is simply calm, stoic.  She knows you can’t get spilt paint back in the tin so what’s the point of making a fuss.  And she didn’t even have to go through a mini-hissy fit to get to that point... she didn’t even let off steam.  Wow. It is a revelation.  

There really ARE people who Keep Calm and Carry On – even in the midst of an unexpected onslaught.   She should have been a pilot!  (Hmm, maybe she is?)

As we slither down onto the curb I adopt her optimism: “Yes, hopefully it’s water based paint, so we just need a tap...”.  She pats my hand, in a way which is both comforting and dismissive, “Oh, I’ll just go home, I’ve not far to go now...”.  The paint is dripping everywhere.  One foot is stepping, the other sloshing sideways like a dead-leg.  “Where do you need to go?” I ask, wondering how in hell she can go anywhere with a leg and foot like that!  I mean, would another bus driver even let her on?!  Then the bus driver appears.

Game on.

He tells the selfish couple how stupid they are and why he tried to avert this risk.  He doesn’t swear.  Everything he says is reasonable, albeit impassioned.  When instructing everyone to get off the bus he adds “you all thought I was mean to ask them to get off the bus... but see what’s happened, now you know why”.  He looks at me accusingly.  (Or that may be my guilty conscience.)  “I didn’t think you were mean” I attempt, “I didn’t hear”... but he’s on to other things.  

When everyone is on the pavement a few passengers get stuck in.  I join the fray: “hey you, don’t just walk away, you owe the driver and this poor lady an apology”.  Lady is still quiet, calm.  The only evidence of her distress is the occasional confused look down at her leg as if she doesn’t own it.  If she is greatly discombobulated it is private.  She simply looks to the driver for advice, waiting patiently until the other actors in this scene all calm down.

“I already said sorry”, he replies pathetically.  “Well, why don’t you say it again so she can hear?” I add, perhaps trying to make up for the lack of passion on her side.  But when he does apologise I figure it’s time for me to shut-up.  And the totally un-contrite mum is still telling him off, so poor lad he really has bitten off more than he can chew with all these responsibilities – when all he wanted to do was make their little flat look better.  Oh dear, bit sad really.  

Nowhere in sight is there a tap.  No front garden with a hose.  I feel culturally discombobulated and useless.  So I apologise to the driver.  I wish the lady well  as she seems content to be left to the driver to get sorted, or abandoned on the pavement I’m not sure which.  And I change buses.  Everyone on the next bus is talking about the incident.  One lady saying: “They should have caught a taxi.  Probably only cost £5”.

Ah, hindsight is a beautiful thing.  But now whenever I see that sign “Keep Calm and Carry On” I’ll be visualizing that quiet lady standing drip, drip, drip on the pavement in Wandsworth.  What a woman.  I do hope she got quickly cleaned up and outside again to enjoy the wonderful sunshine yesterday!

And I promise myself I’ll write to TFL to tell them it really wasn’t the driver’s fault, as no doubt the bus had to be taken out of service.  That’s my next bit of writing. 

Get coffee and carry on. 

Saturday 28 January 2017

The Big City

Anyone who knows me knows I have to escape the big city sometimes.  Regularly in fact.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Ireland for many of the (opposite) reasons I sometimes find London difficult.  But the fact remains: big cities are often awesome.

After two months away from London I was wandering along the Thames today with glistening light and fluffy clouds over St Pauls.  I chatted to a stranger from the Netherlands I randomly bumped into.  I met a great friend and sat in a coffee shop and talked about a fraction of the things in two hours that we’d like to talk about.  And I went to a Robbie Burns Night Party in Stockwell where the socializing, formalities and recitations were theatrical and satisfying and I even genuinely liked the Haggis!

I confess it’s always hard to leave Ireland after a sojourn (specifically, Westport).  But it’s good to be back in Old London Town, for all sorts of reasons.  In just a few days I’m having meetings about interesting work possibilities, looking at a lovely new house to rent, catching up with mates, and been to a terrific West End show (definitely recommend Kinky Boots for a fun night out).  And though I fear this wee blog may sound like a shameless brag, I simply can’t be apologetic... because it’s too funny.  I must share.

Here’s 4 random conversations from the last few days.

Van does a u-turn, stops beside me on the road near Clapham North tube, young man leans out of window and calls:  

“Hey, I just have to say that you have the most wonderful hair.  It’s really beautiful.”

“Oh wow, thanks, that’s very kind of you. Actually I’ve just been to the hairdresser.“

“I don’t often see hair that beautiful, could I have your number......”

Conversation continues during which I explain I’m just about to go to Australia for a month so probably not much point.
“What about a drink tonight?”

“Sorry I can’t, I’m going to the theatre...”

“How about after the theatre?”

“Ah no, sorry, I have a friend in the show and I’ll be going back stage...”

“Then how about a kiss...........”

Broad daylight. Late morning. Not a bad offer, even if I did – surprise, surprise – decline :) Off I walked with an extra little skip in my step. 

[My hairdresser is good - thank you Toni from    J ]

That evening I’m going down the escalator at Waterloo telling my girlfriend about the encounter.  As you know my voice carries...  guy below us a few steps looks up and says:

“Did that really happen?”

“Yes, absolutely”

“Did you give him your number?”

“Ah well, you can’t blame him for trying.”

Then all 3 of us start laughing.

Now I’m at the Robbie Burns Party and in the space of 15 minutes these exchanges with 2 different women I’ve never met before:

“Hey, are you an actress?  Were you on Home and Away?”

“No, the other one.”

She calls out to her guy:
“See I told you.  It is her.  She was on Neighbours.  I knew it was you.  How exciting.  And wow, you haven’t changed at all in 20 years.  Seriously, it’s as if time has frozen.”

False or true (I wish!) I’m feeling a few inches taller when this follows from another woman. Indeed it's her opening line:

 “Hi.  You have great breasts.  Have you had surgery?”

“And you haven’t any make-up on.  I think I hate you.”

“Well, I do have some make-up on.  I’m wearing tinted moisturizer and a few hours ago I had a little mascara and lipstick, but probably worn off.”
“I still hate you.  What’s your name?”

I think the girls have it, don’t you? 

Too funny.  



Saturday 12 November 2016

Topsy-Turvy Terrible Trump

Topsy turvy!
Everything is upsy daysy
Topsy turvy!
Everyone is acting crazy
Dross is gold and and weeds are a bouquet
That's the way on topsy turvy day...... *

                                                  * from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

9/11, 11/9, the world has gone topsy-turvy, Terrible Trump is taking the White House and millions of munchkins are wondering when a massive storm might bring a house of impeachment (or wave of civil rebellion) down on his ooh-too-orange-too-unnatural-scary-head so that the rest of the world can come out from hiding and resume more logical, joyful and humane activities.

But the Dorothy who might have saved us isn’t allowed in the White House because she is a woman.  A woman perceived by the disenfranchised munchkins and a bunch of sexist oompa-loompahs to be too elite to rule.  It makes no sense. But when mercenary media and the FBI conspire in myriad ways to make a heroine look bad, it’s only in Hollywood that she comes out on top; or perhaps in New York.

Don’t believe me? Well – like or dislike our Dorothy – imagine a male replica of this same candidate on the campaign trail and tell me (in these same circumstances) that would not have led to the White House? Many an ‘ism’ is fuelled by resentment. It doesn’t have to be on the surface to be a real contributor. But the red heartland has too many strange lights in their eyes, bullets in their guns, blocks in their brain, and kinks in their kindness to see what’s really at stake.  

Not all the American munchkins have distorted vision of course, near as many despise Terrible Trump as idolise him. But, wish as we might, we find ourselves not on the road to Oz or clicking our heels to return to Kansas, but falling down the Rabbit Hole to a Mad Tea Party most of the world don’t want to attend – unless of course you’re a Mexican munchkin in which case you can’t come in because there’s a big wall keeping you securely in your third-world- who-gives-a-shit-about-anyone-but-ourselves-place.

At the new party there are characters much scarier than the Cheshire Cat... there’s a couple of self-crowned, cocky, foreign ferrets called Fuckwit Farrage and Bastard Boris. There’s Pukey Putin and Terrible Trump, assorted apparatchiks and wicked wannabes, all clapping their hands in glee, wielding Ursula-like tentacles to snatch and grab, reject or wound at whim. This is a party without conscience or compassion, it’s all ego and greed, the terrifying, I-really-do-feel-sick-and-sad, beyond the Twilight Zone, OTHER PLACE .

Yes, the other place we read about in 1984, Animal Farm and Schindler’s List... where ‘the other’ becomes a religion, and the Big Fat Male Pink (aka white) Pig Rules. And it isn’t a dream or a story, it’s real. 

On the upside, in this brave new world we should all be able to go for jobs we have no idea how to do.  I want to be a Nero Surgeon at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Why not, hey?  Perhaps you’d like to be an astronaut? It doesn’t matter if you get vertigo, claustrophobia and fail the sight test, qualifications no longer apply.

In this brave new world the outlaws rob the banks, tie up the sheriff, assault your women, put your children in camps, then get a ticket-tape parade through the main streets of the 1st world to celebrate.

There’s no income-tax. No public-services. No NATO or United Nations or international goodwill.  

In this brave new world no matter what you’ve done (or failed to do) you can get the most powerful job in the land. This White Man’s Club (strangely supported by some women and others who misunderstand what’s going on) is not a step back in time to the vast and glorious Commonwealth, nor is it a Middle Ages Crusade - though it may feel like it - IT IS THE FUTURE!

Or, as has been said, BACK TO THE FUTURE!

But BEWARE, there’s no special car waiting to magically take us all away to safety as lightning hits the clock tower. There’s just an ugly finger hovering over a red button, with keys to The Situation Room, and those fingers belong to a sociopath who stoked the fires of selfishness, racism, sexism, homophobia, in many cases ignorance and poverty, to believe the Wicked Witch was their economic saviour. 

It makes no matter that even his aides thought him too irresponsible to do his own Tweets. In this brave new world recklessness doesn’t stop you from scoring the top job.  And more ironic: this particular Witch has been a multiple bankrupt and tax-avoider, proving the greed and irresponsibility which led to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/2009 from which so many voters are still suffering, is far from gone and probably stuck in a sinister loop of circular-reasoning where Terrible Trump has no more idea how to improve his brand of fabulously unfettered Capitalism than thousands of others on The Hill.

Nevertheless in the topsy-turvy world of Terrible Trump, a character Doc Holiday might well call “the Anti-Christ”, is given the keys to our earthly kingdom.  And we are powerless to do anything about it.  (Or are we?!  See Michael Moore’s FB page @mmflint)  But we can’t lick our wounds by saying “oh those silly Yanks”, because only five months ago roughly half of the citizens of the UK gave America the quintessentially xenophobic example of Brexit to feed their isolationist nationalism. 

It seems many nations are caught in a BACK TO THE FUTURE psychosis of one sort or another.  Unless of course you’re lucky enough to be Canadian, God Bless them!

So just for the record: don’t ask me to be moderate in my outrage or concern, or in my judgement or sadness, because the oompa-loompahs who have got us into this mess have not been moderate in their intolerance or bigotry. And that fact remains however you attempt to explain or justify their choice. 

Make no mistake: this was not an election about left or right, Democrat or Republican.  This was not a debate about preferences or even needs.  This was an election about morality - a time in history where our very humanity was at stake.  And anyone who voted for Trump (or UKIP or Brexit) bear a heavy responsibility.

So you can call me arrogant, de-friend me, criticise or ignore me.  I am not afraid of free speech or the normal push and pull of democracy; even if I doubt its efficacy when campaigns are filled with lies and hatred, voting is not compulsory, people lack education or are given too many examples of egoism-gone-mad to see the wood for the trees.  But this election was different – it was crucial - and I make no apology for being devastated or seeing the outcome as grossly immoral. 

Germany and Japan carry their collective conscience with great elegance and compassion, for the writing on the wall they failed to see in the 1930s. They campaign in their daily lives and in their parliaments for rigorous inclusion and munchkin-on-munchkin respect. Bigotry and drums of war are not tolerated.  These countries now stand up proudly for peace and human dignity. And that is why they now take their place as true leaders of the world.

You’ve missed a key moment America. You have blindly but willingly walked into a war of your own making – a war on compassion, tolerance and respect.  So how are you going to wind back the clock and be sure the next Tea Party is less Mad and more Moderate, less Heartless and more Humane? 

Because if you think the economic spoils of victory will be better shared or distributed this evil way, the Terrible Trump way... then you have no-one to blame for finding yourselves on the dark side.

Meanwhile the rest of us munchkins can only pray we find our own Willy Wonka in the merky waters of political leadership, our own transcendent Dorothy, so that you don’t drag us into that ugly abyss.

Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-da,

If you’re not greedy, you will go far

You will live in happiness too

Like the Oompa Loompa doom-pa-dee-do.

Highly recommended:

#ProtestTrump (in your city)   Don't be silenced!

Monday 1 August 2016


Beginnings are important but it’s how a story ends that really counts. 
I’ve just had three glorious weeks holiday in Italy. I reconnected with friends, made new friends, spent quality time with family, read novels, swam in the ocean, drank wine, danced, sang, travelled from Rome to Tuscany to Sicily, and indulged in every form of cultural and culinary tourism. 
When I first landed in Rome I was tired and depressed, bruised by the disappointing EU Referendum result and suffering existential angst (to borrow from Simon Hattenstone @TheGuardian). At first I kept up with all the news, but after a few days I knew that to relax and rejuvenate I was going to have to stop reading.  I did, and was better for the escape.
Nevertheless every person I met or spoke to engaged me in conversation about the referendum result. With only one exception, every person was shocked and anxious about the development, fearing for what it might mean for Europe, now and in the future, for international relations, security and prosperity in general. Some laughed at Britain’s naivety and selfishness, not holding back when they said it would make the once great nation a small shadow of itself. Others cried or shook their heads in disbelief. What has happened to the British character they wondered? I felt their pain acutely.
Repeatedly these conversations moved from the public and political to the personal.  Friends and strangers wanted to know what Brexit meant for me. Yet I could only express something of the discombobulation I felt. I could only ponder the impact on my sense of identity.
[See my post immediately after the Referendum at]
Since the EU Referendum questions about identity keep coming up. 
They say a swathe of people who voted out were troubled by concerns about identity. They say they felt their national sovereignty was compromised by EU membership, and that open borders and immigration threatened their sense of ‘Englishness’ or ‘Welshness’ as well as their economic opportunity. Whatever ‘Britishness’ is for them, it means something quite different in London and other cosmopolitan centres. But such was the myth and propaganda. While I empathise with feelings of disenfranchisement, there are many reasons why their vote to leave amounts to a misplaced protest vote. That however is not my focus here. What I find ironic (and sad) is that if a crisis of identity and visibility were the reasons for their choice, they have not actually advanced their cause an iota. They have done nothing to redistribute wealth or enhance sovereignty or democracy. They may only think they have - for a limited period before the reality of Brexit (and its domino effect) takes hold.        
I wonder too what Brexit means for the people like me whose identity is built from an amalgam of cultural experiences and loyalties... whose inner multi-culturalism has been formed by existence in an open society which depends for its flourishing on freedom of movement... and whose modern, global self-image, character and history is very much cross-border? 
There are so many people like me!  There are many who have ancestors and DNA from countries other than the one they are living in. But more than that, there are millions of people whose identity has been shaped by different colours and customs, by the arts and by travel, who have deeply embraced new cultures and places in order to survive and thrive in the world, in order to be true to the complexities which make them unique.   
How can we be asked to choose one loyalty over another?  How can we be asked to think, to live, to work, to create, to love, to move within a randomly redrawn boundary of such narrower proportions?  What a cost it will be to suppress our spirit and nature to the new agenda – the change few predicted? 
I am, it must be said, furious about the lies and manipulation of the Leave Campaign.  I am disgusted by the lack of planning, lack of a blue-print for a post-Brexit economy, and the shallowness of their reflection upon the real meaning and consequences of their pseudo-nationalistic lobbying.  I am appalled by the loss of integrity in our politicians, the ruthlessness of their egos, and the degeneration of the media and public life to what feels like an all-time-low.  And I will support every possible project to limit the damage they have done and hold them accountable. 
But I also want and need a new conversation. I don’t want to let myself run away from Britain in despair.
I need to reach out to all the people like me who – beyond politics – feel the need to do something positive and constructive in the face of daunting negativity and right-wing nationalism. In the spirit of Jo Cox (who we simply must remember) I have to believe that once the lies and referendum rhetoric have been uncovered as false and irresponsible, that millions of people in Britain - even those who voted Leave - will reflect long enough to see that there must surely be more which unites us than divides us; from each other, and from our European neighbours and allies. 
If you too feel your identity is cross-border and richly multi-cultural, please lift your voice and resist the manipulative silence of xenophobia, the insidious resentment of racism, and do all in your power to resist your family, workplace and community becoming isolationist, defensive or irrationally suspicious.  Please stop listening to politicians or media who would have us frame the world with ‘us’ and ‘them’, scape-goating ‘the other’ for all that isn’t right in our lives.  Rather be all the more determined to celebrate the richness of diversity and culture which exists in Britain; the Britain that will never be great again unless we do something quite drastic now about the conversations we are having publicly and privately. Because, just like Germany in the 1930s, if we do nothing it could be too late. 
You cannot resist a torrent once it is pouring downhill.  We can only avoid blood on our hands if we recognise the warnings from history and turn the tide now. These are dark times - the large number of hate and terrorist crimes across the world in the last month, concerning and repugnant – and, whatever your view of Brexit, we need to shake ourselves out of despondency or flippancy. We need to take seriously the social, moral and cultural challenges we face, as well as the political. Our humanity and our future depend upon it. This is something we can influence before the next General Election. We can change the conversation so a new spirit informs the political landscape and obliges our representatives to behave with more integrity and conviction, more humanity and intellectual nuance.
Please raise your voice. In conversations and social media share #identity+ and tell your story about the cross-border loyalties which shape your identity... which exist independently of a political party, a vote or campaign.   
Julie Elizabeth Mullins:
Ø I am more than any temporarily elected minister or government tells me I am.
Ø I can define my own cultural boundaries and identify with many clans, communities, institutions, religions and nation states. 
Ø I am filled with experiences and values that are Australian - black and white – because that’s where I was brought up and educated.
Ø I am British born with Celtic ancestors, red hair and freckles.
Ø My first passport was European and I feel European.
Ø I cannot part with my love and loyalty for Italy, Ireland, England or Australia, nor my need for deep connection to them.
Ø That complex jigsaw is me.
Ø I am multi-cultural.
Ø I am a citizen of the world.
In the week between the referendum and my return to Italy (where I lived happily for several years) an incident occurred which touched me deeply. I was in a sports shop in London looking for some assistance. The young man who might have served me was talking to a couple of friends in a language I didn’t recognise. When finally I got his attention he was a little resentful of being interrupted and responded a little abruptly. When he brought me the shoes from the storeroom and I requested some socks he said “no, we don’t have them” and turned away.  A little surprised I said in reflection more than challenge, “oh that’s strange, in Australia they always give you socks to try on with new shoes”.  He replied “then go back to Australia to buy your shoes”.
I erupted.  Every frustration I’d been feeling that week - with colleagues who failed to recognise something monumental had happened and that I couldn’t ‘get over it’ in a heartbeat, and with friends who I hadn’t realised were so differently positioned – bubbled to the surface. I demanded to see the manager. He shook his head and moved toward the storeroom. I insisted: “Get me the manager or this is going to escalate”.  He ran into the storeroom and closed the door behind him. Another young man tried to follow. I stopped him: “If you do not get me the manager and you follow your mate into that room to avoid a customer that is requesting your help, you are also going to be in big trouble. Get me the manager – now!”  
Reluctantly he used his walkie-talkie, where I heard the manager ask “what does she want?”  I saved him the trouble and spoke into it: “if you come here I will tell you what I want face-to-face”.  The salesman backed away.  The only two other people, Islamic ladies covered with a burka, looked on nervously.  I was, it must be said, in full red-headed flight. 
When the manager arrived I prefaced my explanation with: “You better listen carefully Sir, because this will not end here if I do not get a sincere apology. I am very upset about the hatred and racism that is brimming beneath the surface of this country all of a sudden. And I will not accept this rudeness.”  I told him the story. He drew in his breath, paused for a moment, then apologised unreservedly and said he’d speak to the young man concerned. I breathed out. The two ladies nodded in shy (but surprised) agreement. I closed my eyes for a moment, then went back to my shoes.
When the young man returned, suddenly appearing more lanky and vulnerable, he stood beside me and quietly said “I’m sorry Madam I was rude, I apologise”.  “Thank you”, I replied, “I appreciate that very much.  We can leave it there then. Now, please, I’d like to buy these shoes if you’d kindly show me to the check-out”. He seemed taken-aback, not quite knowing how to proceed. 
As we moved slowly toward the til he added: “Madam, I am sorry I was rude, I really am.  I have had a bad day” and the tone of his voice had changed to one of sincerity and humility.  “It’s ok” I replied quickly and thankfully. “That’s finished now. I’m sorry too. I have been very upset this week about the EU Referendum result and sensitive about any attack which seems racially motivated.” He nodded with implicit understanding. “And by the way” I said as an after-thought, “you are very welcome in this country”.  Then the young man hugged me. He stopped between the shelves and embraced me gently but firmly, in what I could only feel was a sign of friendship and relief.   
It was a brief physical moment but a powerful emotional message. We were on the same side again. We were both human, vulnerable and in need of comfort, both wanting to feel welcome in the land we’d chosen to make our home.
As I left the counter the lad was smiling at me, telling his friends what had happened. I still didn’t identify the language. The manager opened the big front doors to let me out, the last customer of the day. He apologised again and said he’d talk to the boy about it. “No” I said, and I reached out to touch his hand. “You’ve said enough, thank you. He understands. And we’re good now. So let us end it here. I do not want him to get into more trouble. This story has had a happy ending, and that is what counts. We’ve all learned something. And after such a difficult week, it means a lot to me it could end this way. Thank you. Thank you very much.”  Then he nodded in recognition. The young man walked forward. We each waved and smiled as the big doors locked behind me – divided not by a wall of fear and resentment but a pane of reinforced glass.        
Walking across the pavement to greet a girlfriend for dinner I couldn’t help feeling just a little bit taller, a little less isolated, and a little bit more intimately connected with humanity.       
We all have stories. We all have hopes. Let’s share them. Let’s change the conversation.