I should be on holiday the week after next. Instead all the talk of the credit crunch has made me reconsider. Is it a good time to be splashing out on a trip, short though it would be, abroad? Serves me right for watching Newsnight, BBC News over and over and over. Strangely for me, I don't seem bothered that I'm staying here to watch the leaves fall, days shorten, goosebump clusters grow and chapped lips to threaten.. I hadn't even made my mind up about where to go- not a problem I had ever suffered from. Add to that the loss of Shopping mojo I had been experiencing all year.
I now spend on accupuncture, massage, good food and training.
I smell different, I've changed.
I'm sensitive to smells. The only good smell from childhood was mother's cooking and her hands- henna, chopped garlic, heat. Hooyo. I would snuggle my face into her hands and sniff. Ahh.
Perfumes gave me headaches. Headaches and I were already regular companions perfume or no perfume. I learned to avoid strong smells and grew up hating perfumes. Later, older, I would dodge pesky department store what-do-you-call-ems- who spray on sight. No, no, thanks, perfumes give me headaches. If I had someone with me, I'd get them to spray a perfume on and sniff their wrists from a distance(I really wanted to get over the perfume-hating). Something would reveberate in my brain. A neural pathway would flare up and scream, No. Uff, I'd say and find clean air to breathe.
A cousin once offered to spray a perfume on me. Why do people get offended when you say No to that? I spent quite a bit of time explaining the headaches to her. We were in somebody else's house in another city and on that artificial good behaviour you adopt in in laws' homes. When the room choked with this new smell that everyone else seemed to enjoy, I walked to the kitchen and stood at the back door for air. It was revolting, how could they bear it?
As I stood there, my cousin walks in behind me, I turn around and she sprays the smelly concoction into my face. It was one of those forced interventions that family members think you could do with it, as you were behaving in a manner unacceptable to the norm.
Cue, whisperd, mini argument whilst on fake best behaviour mode(very difficult to sustain). Who wants to have an inauthentic argument, you just want to let rip!
Ten minutes later, I was squinting through one eye and a throbbing head and ready to throw up in her lap should I vomit. I didn't want to vomit on their sofa, the shame of it, and I couldn't hold it in so I poured my guts out into your skirt, I'm sorry, you know I love you. Second wave. I'm so sorry; you didn't believe me, I should have been more convincing. Oh, look, it's seeped through into your googarad, I'm soo..get away from me, the smell makes me want to...wave troi.
At some point some people started to smell bearable. I asked what they were wearing. I discovered Green Tea; light, fresh, head friendly and started to relax about perfumes. Someone suggested Allure. I rubbed its body cream into my left hand. Within 15 minutes, I had a migraine and a desire to chop off my left hand. Uff.
I continued to experiment. I stayed away from Gaultier, Allure and some other nasties but my tolernace grew and grew. Soon I was on Boss Woman, Miracle, Chance. Strong smells. Victory. I don't know how many I own now- a lot- to suit every mood, to change every mood, to create mood when it's all a bit blah. I smell schizophrenic.
Current favourite which makes me swoon- Rock n Rose.
I've changed, I smell different.
Credit crunch be damned, I needed a winter coat. The weather forecast which I seem to now watch with as much regularity as the news predicts cold weather this week. I am not prepared. I hit the shops. Why did the CUTEST coat make me look like an orangatan? Things weren't looking good. No coats to suit my shape, budget or time spent looking(very little). There was only one thing for it.
Lush. The smelliest place in town.
I don't know how the sales people there bear the intense smell all day; they must stop smelling it. Still, I'm an addict. I had run out of their products- I only use theirs now, when did that happen?- and was desperate for a visit. The usuals for hair and body and something new for wherever.
The sales girls smell me as soon as I walk in. Must have a look in my eye. In no time, I have the usuals in a basket and am asking a colurful girl what THAT is? She proceeds to wash my hand with this thing(soap would you believe, looked nothing like it). She rubs my hand for quite a while. I comment how nice a simple thing like a hand massage can be. She smiles and starts to massage my hand and fingers.
*Must use that line again.*
My smell-whore basket:
I watched the documentary, 'Standard Operating Procedure' last weekend; it wasn't exactly light entertainment. I took in a bottle of water; popcorn would have been disrespectful.
Two things struck me:
I didn't know they held children at Abu Ghuraib. I didn't know the army gave the soldiers there a two week amnesty to hand in(or destroy presumably) images.
I took a picture of myself before I left the house that day. I was thinking of the film I was to see and whether a photgraph could ever tell a full story. I ended up taking more than one; moulding the story I wanted to tell. Each one told a slightly different story.
The film made for uneasy watching; there is no satisfying ending; some of the photograph-takers are partly taking a record but still participating. It reminded me how easy it was for a negative culture to take hold.
The mention of the children at Abu Guraib reminded me of the school(now, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) turned prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia which saw 20,000 people come through it, only 7 surviving. Here too the Khmer Rouge took photographs of all the people brought in. I had visited the school & watched a documentary there nearly 4 years ago to the day I watched the Abu Ghuraib documentary. Here, a snippet from an email I sent back then:
Seeing the children's pictures was the hardest. Imagine toddlers staring back at u helplessly. And knowing that they had been thrown into the air and shot, drowned head first or had their heads banged against nails implanted in trees. My stomach dropped long and hard many times. I was this close to crying in public.
When the guide left me, I watched a documentary. After reading the books, seeing the rooms in which the people were kept, the pictures, the instruments of torture, the film proved very difficult watching. I longed for it to end. My stomach turned and turned. I struggled to keep composure. At the end of the hour, I stood up to leave quickly but there were far too many people ahead of me. I stood and waited and listened to my heart race. I have never been so chilled and claustrophobic in my life. I am easily susceptible and it really shook me. I ran down the school stairs, dodging the blood stains and into the courtyard. But everywhere there were the silent screams of the people. I re-entered one of the classrooms. I took one picture of the children's photos- to remind me how lucky I am when I start to become ungrateful one day- and one of a Muslim man. All religion had been banned, mosques had been turned into pig styes and men had been burned alive in temples. I left, wobbling and worn out.
Days before seeing the Al Ghuraib documentary I had returned to Feltham Young Offenders Institute. It must have taken me 2.5 hours to get there, one reason I hadn’t signed up as a mentor. That day though, one of the coordinators mentioned I could not just mentor a boy but get involved with rebuilding communication & supporting his family if he so wished. There are more boys abandoned than you would care to believe. I filled in the form. With all the training I have had as a coach it would make sense for me to get involved. I am also going to start a project working with youngsters at schools this Autumn inshallah.
There’s a discussion/focus group that takes place for the Somali boys there every alternate Thursday morning. There used to be one also for Somali women but there weren’t enough numbers so it was dropped. The only discussion group that now takes place regularly is made up of men. The discussion groups are open to anyone who wants to go and talk to the boys and help in whatever way they can. Get in touch with me if you would like to be part of the discussion groups. You can send me a message through the blog or email me at email@example.com.
They would like to resurrect the women’s group so the plan is to start it off after Ramadan. One young lady has been getting together Somali women from West London for this cause. If you would like to be part of the women’s group discussion, please email me and I will put you in touch with the relevant people. Lest you think it won’t make a difference if you attend, I ought to tell you that the Somali boys at Feltham have driven this resurrection- they have said they want mothers to visit them. Two of the boys I spoke with that day said they preferred the women as the men tended to lecture.
If you or anyone you know are known for being compassionate and a good listener, please consider this opportunity.
On that note- the message when I attend the discussion groups is that the family culture does not allow for open, collaborative talking, sharing & understanding. The boys find solace in the groups/gangs they hang out with and find them to be their family. Is it any wonder?
And finally, they need volunteers at these prisons:
1 Fort Road
Get in touch with me of you would like to be volunteers and I will pass you on.
One of the boys told me he was dished out a harsher sentence than average for what he did. However, accurate his interpretation of his sentencing may have been, this is a reality for young minorities; they do get harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
Potential miscarriage of justice and I'm standing there feeling imprisoned myself. The boy's head hangs heavy. His eyes search the ground for answers. Zaynab says we need more lawyers. I think we need more advocates, lawyers or not.
Zaynab and I have a mantra- there is so much to do. It can paralyse you into inactivity and apathy. Or not.
Choose. And spread the word.
I go to the cinema by myself.
I don’t see the big deal. Some do.
The Friday before last, I decide I need mindless entertainment and go see Mamma Mia.
Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music's high
With a bit of rock music, everything is fine
You're in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance...
You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.
Whilst I wait for the movie to begin, I talk to my sister about one of those family dramas that never transpires but invokes enough emotion it may as well have done.
Where are you?
I’m going to the cinema.
She makes a remark about my movie-going regularity. She’s right. I used to avoid movies, even on the television; switch channels where others would settle and sink into the sofa. Now it’s become my story fix, coinciding with a disinterest in reading fiction. I try and see foreign films mostly but now and again mindless Hollywood also gets a look-in.
At the cinema, I ask for one ticket to Mamma Mia, please.
Is ‘one’ inaudible to some?
One of these days I’m going to say. No, two, don’t you see the tall invisible black man, dressed in jeans, crisp white shirt and sexy smile standing devotedly behind me?
You know they’ll crane their necks to see. You know. And it'll tickle my funny bone. You know.
Inside, I pop popcorn like it went out of fashion in the seventies. I spot a Somali couple take their seats and stifle my giggles with popcorn. There’s no way he’d be watching Mamma Mia unless it was early days. Early, early days. I stuff some more popcorn into my mouth. Hahaha.
Part of why I’m watching the film is Pierce Brosnan.
And there he is. He’s looking weathered but there’s something about him; he’s wearing jeans and a white shirt(yes, it’s a fetish).
Just one look and I can hear a bell ring
One more look and I forget everything, o-o-o-oh
Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you?
He starts to sing. My jaw drops. He’s awful. Awful. I laugh and laugh. Others in the audience find it funny too. One woman is laughing a full five minutes later.
I pray he won’t bray again. He does. Now I cry with laughter. Meryl Streep looks like she’s having a blast; he looks constipated. I put the popcorn down and slap my thigh. Unintended humour is the best.
The following day, after a rousing massage, I stroll floppily into a patisserie and wait to be seated. I wait for the moment.
For one, please.
Just one? She holds up a forefinger.
I break into song:
There's not a soul out there
No one to hear my prayer
Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
Won't somebody help me chase the shadows away
She seats me and I make small talk with a Japanese family and their designer shopping bags. They take photos of me with their slim-line camera. My first impromptu sing-a-song and I already have fans.
I say, yes, one and sit and make small talk with a Japanese family who have already forgotten I exist.
Am I to lug a blow-up man doll around to be accepted? Where do I get one to my ethnic specification?
Hello. Blow-up Man Dolls R US. Amanda speaking, how may I help you?
Erm, hi. I’m looking for a man.
You’ve come to the right place! What kind of man did you have in mind?
Mocca? Choca? Honey?
Choca, please. I think, yeah, why not, sounds sweet.
What do you want him to be wearing?
Shirt? T-shirt? Sweater? Jacket?
Shirt, white. Jacket, navy blue. Slim fitting not too tight; can’t stand too tight on men. Good shoes.
Of course, madam. Whatever you want. Accent?
Does he have to speak?
Not a problem. Look-a-like?
Hm, Blair Underwood. Was that his name?
I don't know, madam, what does he look like?
Oh, the guy in Blade.
No, that's Wesley Snipes.
I'll look him up, how do you spell Underwood? 'A', 'N'...
'U',' N',' D'..
Me and D what?
Oh, God. Forget it. Just do James Bond.
Good choice! Anything else?
What else can I get?
How about blond? Blond’s popular.
No. Black. Black is the colour of my true love’s hair.
Nothing, forget it. Do people actually order man dolls?
Why yes. Our most popular man doll even sings.
Like what? Waterloo?
If you're all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain't no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(Come on, give me a break will you?)
Take a chance o..
Madam? Madam? Do you want ONE?
I am fuming. First the carpet cleaners, then Allied Carpets with their lying non-arriving at agreed time floor people, then Currys with their lost(lying)driver and their non-delivery of goods, now the electrician with...my email to them will suffice! Everybody wants to tell me what I wassn't told!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I called your office yesterday to ask about installation of electric cookers. A young man took my details and said someobdoy would come around today between 3 and 4pm and that it would cost £40.
I waited until 4:30 pm and when no one came round I called the office. I told the lady I sopke with that I had been expecting somebody between 3 and 4 and she said I DON'T THINK SO MADAM. How does she know what I had been told by somebody else? She said they would reschedule but since you did not honour your first commitment and have your staff talk to customers in such a fashion I fail to see a good enough reason to reschedule. I made the necessary arrangements to be waiting at those items for nothing. I want to know what went wrong where. This is terrible customer service.
I don't know what Trading Standards do but I am now officially on the bloody rampage.
the cleaners that came round to strip the carpet of dirt(dog and otherwise) also broke my wardrobe. Just to be clear- that wasn't part of the agreement. Clean 2 carpets, remove dog hair and move on- that was the plan.
Whilst still there, one of the cleaners told me they didn't need to use a brush to remove the dog hair, that the machine was enough to take care of the problem. I wondered what I'd paid the extra £10 for and made a mental note to contact their office if Icould be bothered.
The loud noise I had heard from the bedroom sounded like their wonder machine hiccupping hysterically. When they put me through the ubiquitous before/after presentation highlighting what a good job they'd done, they left the door ajar. I didn't think anything of it. I slipped back into the living room, willing them to be quick so I could get back to work undisturbed. Now I know they were hiding the hiccup aka wardrobe destruction.
I loved that wardobe. It was perfect for my many clothes- old and worn, new and unworn and those I live in too much to spend much time in a wardrobe. I was looking forward to a fill-the-wardrobe Sunday. I could walk into that wardrobe. Walk. Into. It. Carrie Bradshaw would have shrieked at its sight, devoted a column to it, 'Is a girl's wardobe her true sacred refuge?'.
No matter her. I(capital, capital I) loved it. They'd broken it and there was no way of proving it.
Still I was aggrieved enough to pen a semi-snotty email querying the extra £10(now that I was bothered) and the conduct of the cleaners. The email I got in response said the cleaners denied culpability(natch) and that I was NOT told on the phone that a brush would be used to remove dog hair as that is something they do NOT do.
Now I was hot and bothered. In full snotty mode I replied. How did she know I was NOT told that? Was it she I had spoken to; did they record their calls and was lying to/about customers and breaking their sh*t(paraphrasing here) what they called customer service, then threatened to notify Trading Standards(whatever the hell they do). Then I demanded she escalate the matter.
It took a while but I've finally received a response. It sits in my Inbox to be opened on a particularly bad day so I may respond with venom. It's all I can do so I'll give it my all. The pen is mightier than a brawny, grumpy cleaner.
Life, in its humourous way(to somebody somewhere) had in the run-up to Wardrobe Gate brought 2 enthusiasts into my world, both cleaners, one may be a caretaker; one at work, one where I live- to cover all bases. It was a curious matter at first, now a constant reminder that my wardrobe is kaput. The guy at work says special hellos(you'll know what I mean if you've ever been at the receiving end of any), stares after me and smiles like I've made his day. The one in my building is a little more...interactive. I wish I'd never held the door for him that day weeks ago. He wasted no time; got to give him credit, followed me out and said he'd never seen me there before. I'm new I'd said. I thought so he replied with confidence.
I(capital, capital, CAPITAL I) don't think so, man.
He's stopped me in my tracks and asked after me a few times. I'm never in the mood for boy-girl idle chit-chat. When the carpet cleaners turned up, he was there again asking hadn't I gone to work that day. I prefer they get to the point, ask for what they want/need and accept the response graciously.
After a really busy day recently, with a heavy bag, laptop and shopping, I saw him from the corner of a tired eye and pretended not to have. He stopped me with a Hi or a Hey or a Ho but he stopped me in heavy tracks. What's the matter he said; you look down today. I'm just tried, that's all, it's been a long day. Just make sure you take care of yourself, OK? Yes, thank you.
That mentally stopped me in my tracks. He had a good reminder for me. I tend to get careless with my self and can always do with that reminder. For that I think I can overlook the boy-girl idle blah-blahs.
For a while at least.
The carpet cleaners, however, will get a hoovering. Dyson style.