Monthly Archives: June 2016


I thought I might become a hippy.

I know that, as you read, I am already attempting that, pretty much. But as I write – still in list-making, weather-watching, excited-anticipation mode – it occurs to me, particularly given the shocking murder of MP Jo Cox, that, in our currently over-wrought society, it’s probably basic human nature to want to run away from modern life and put flowers in your hair.

Of course, like many a ‘normal’ person before me, I think ‘hippy’, and then I immediately think ‘yes, but’. Yes, it’s a lovely idea, but a tad naïve, surely? Yes, it’s all well and good to dream of dropping out of society, but, surely, we modern women (and, though they’re ahead of us, men) should make like Sheryl Sandberg, and lean in? Yes, it would be nice to spend all day dancing around barefoot, spreading peace and love, but how will the world progress if we’re all away with the fairies?FullSizeRender-12

Wikipedia seems to agree. A hippy (or ‘hippie’ – there is some predictably first-world pickiness about the spelling) is ‘a member of a liberal counterculture; originally a youth movement that started in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world’.

The terms say it all, really. Liberal. Counterculture. 1960s. All concepts we equate with a certain state of mind. It wasn’t hippies who got us on the moon, created the internet, wiped out smallpox. It really does have a powerful whiff of well-intentioned lassitude about it, doesn’t it?

And my personal experience would seem to confirm it. I last encountered hippies in any number back in 2011, on an ill-conceived day out to the fabled ‘hippy market’ in Ibiza. After a tedious boat trip (we’d boarded the wrong one, and found ourselves using the local hop-on hop-off round-the-whole-frigging-island service) we found ourselves in an initially like-minded, but increasingly sweaty and irritable throng, shuffling round a down-at-heel, Disneyesque encampment – which smelled of cynicism – and where mostly off-their-face or raddled people sold a variety of ‘must-have’ souvenirs – really lovely, really innovative, really artistic, creative items, such as batik wall-hangings, dream-catchers, handcrafted thong-and-bead-based jewellery, incense burners, basketware, and intricately painted glass – that NO WAY IN THE WORLD you could get anywhere else.


So it’s clear to me that ‘being a hippy’ has, in the intervening decades, become the antithesis of cool and aspirational.

But then I thought a little more about what ‘counterculture’ really means, particularly as it pertains to performing arts festivals such as Glastonbury, beyond the usual tropes of muddy excess and composting loos.

And, you know what? I find it’s actually all rather lovely. And since I’m busy prepping for it, I even made a list.

It means simple pleasures. Not overcomplicating anything – and I mean anything. Simple food. Simple living-space. Simple clothing. Simple rituals. Simple comforts, like laughter and hugs.

It means accepting a degree of hardship can be good for the soul. Putting a five-person tent up – and down. In the rain. As a rookie. As a team. I hear businesses pay good money to have their executives do that.

It means novelty. (As opposed to novelties, such as dream-catcher earrings.) The rejuvenating business of doing and trying things you haven’t done or tried before.

It means singing. Lots of that. But not just random, thoughtless singing. Thoughtful singing, with other people, sharing words you all know.

It means appreciating natural rhythms like sunrise and sunset.

It means fire – that thing that gave humans the winning ticket. Both making it – at Glastonbury, incredibly, you can do that – and sitting round it till dawn, fully appreciative of our collective good fortune.

It means strangers. But in the sense that they’re not seen as strangers. Expecting the overwhelming majority of your fellow humans to be a) decent and b) just like you.

It means stoicism. Equanimity in the face of minor inconveniences. Of which I don’t doubt there will be many.

It does mean peace and love. The first in your soul, as you sit in your wellies, saying, ‘wow, isn’t this amazing!’ for the zillionth time that day. And the second for the mass of unwashed humanity around you. Because, in life, isn’t that (hypothetically, at least) the best way to proceed?

And if that’s how I’m feeling about it all before I’ve even GOT there, goodness only knows what kind of person you’ll find here next week. A better, more thoughtful, more appreciative one, I hope.

Mind you, we haven’t unwrapped that tent yet…


First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine June 25th 2016

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*I delivered the following column to The Western Mail at 9.30 last Thursday morning, thinking how I’d said my sixpence-worth, and could now take my headspace somewhere nicer. To writing fiction, and planning for Glastonbury. That same afternoon, as I sat editing some page proofs, came the news of MP Jo Cox’s murder.How horrible to have my sad, frustrated thoughts reflected back at me so tragically. RIP Jo Cox.


Someone once said to me – I forget who it was – that two topics to avoid in polite society were the terrible twins of politics and religion. (He also suggested feminism, as if it was a matter for actual debate, but, being a feminist, I punched him in the face.)

But back to the big two – society’s twin peaks. The sibling behemoths of impassioned altercation. On the big stage, the big divider, throwing communities into conflict. And on the smaller, the grit in the oyster of any peaceful family get-together, guaranteed to create a pearler of a row, and your auntie Mabel not speaking to you for a month.

I’ve tried to avoid politics and religion all my life. The first because I studied economics when I was young, and found it both hard and pretty boring. All those conflicting theories, all that micro and macro. And, of anything I’d studied that could be considered analytical, the most open to interpretation.

I also, in my early twenties, had a major revelation. That I don’t know a fraction of the clever stuff I need to if I’m to defend my political position unto death.

It’s the sort of revelation that doesn’t seem to trouble everyone, more’s the pity, but, seriously, how can most of us know enough? That’s why, historically, we’ve always embraced democratic governance. So we can elect a bunch of people who DO know.

The second’s easier. I have no need to defend or argue anything. I don’t discuss religion because there’s nothing to discuss – some believe in a deity. I don’t. And though I could write a sermon about the baffling business of religion’s continued post-Darwin existence, I don’t, because, while in this case I COULD defend my position, why would I want to? Lots of people of faith are my friends, and, unless it affects me, yours is none of my business.

Politics, however, is everyone’s business, which is why any discussion of it proceeds at one’s peril. Blue or red, left or right, green or monetarist Marxist nihilist (I made that up), politics affects all of us because we all live together, in a society which is governed by the presiding party’s laws. I can walk by your church, or your mosque, or your synagogue, but we’re all obliged to pay the same taxes.

Which is why, from the time when I was old enough to see beyond the end of my nose, I realised that politics was also best largely avoided because it invariably got everyone so shouty and entrenched.

And aren’t you done with it all now? All the mud-slinging and ranting? Aren’t you sick of all the shoutiness now, really? You can’t turn around without finding someone shouting at someone, be it on a debate on the telly, or a rant in the papers, or – worst of all – and the main reason I’m now so referendum-averse, on the highways and by-ways and alleyways of social media – particularly the dark, rancid alleys of the comment threads. Trust me, gentle reader. There be bile-spewing dragons.

So what? You might say. This is good, all this stuff. We’re all engaging, finding out facts and voicing opinions. This is the very opposite of post-modern apathy. So much better than the 10% turnout, or whatever, when whoshisname – bloody him! – got elected.

Yes, in theory, of course ‘robust’ debate is A Good Thing. But you know what? I hate it. I hate that we are having a referendum on this at ALL. Because while I accept that politicians are not made of spun silk and fairy dust (and that we’re credulous fools to believe all we’re told) I would rather them, in conjunction with the sane souls behind the scenes, to use their education, their experience, their general know-a-bit-more-than-us thing and guide us into the future with at least a half-competent hand, based on extensive research and boring old economics.

Rather that than leave this decision, perhaps the most important in a generation, to us – the great washed-but-unqualified. And, worse, to a population that shows itself, at least in part, to be ill-informed, over-emotional, angry, hysterical, mean-spirited, aggressive, and easily misled.

And divided. That’s the worst of it.

Or soon could be. So, since the lunatics have temporarily taken over the asylum, please treat your fellow citizen just as you might your lunatic auntie Mabel – with generosity of spirit, politeness and restraint.

Because goodness only knows how we’re going to manage it, but we’ve GOT to get on the next day.

First published in The Western Mail 18th June 2016


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I like boats. Boats are a brilliant invention. Be it a coracle or a frigate, a schooner or a yacht, boats are just so fabulously useful.

There’s a boat in the news currently. You might have seen the pictures. I say boat, but I think you’d probably call this a liner.  The biggest cruise ship that’s ever been afloat.

It’s called the Harmony of the Seas, which is a cumbersome enough name, and the stats about this behemoth are really something. I won’t list them (see Boat Fancier Quarterly for all that stuff) but suffice to say this is a ship you’d be hard pushed to miss  – it weighs just over 225,000 tonnes.

And of course, being new, this is a boat that’s being talked about – as journalists, lured aboard for the usual PR purposes, wax lyrical or otherwise about its assets.

But as usual the real meat isn’t the journalism itself, but the comments such pieces attract.  And the realisation, as I dab off the bingo card of predictable viewpoints and lazy Titanic references, of just how strongly we seem to feel about other people’s holidays.

Well, actually, I probably already knew this. That was why Holidays From Hell (in which the Diddlysquats from Epping were pitted against the Windsor-based Forbes-Dingle-Flibberts) was such a successful television series.  And that’s largely because our class prejudices endure so well. Cut a stick of Blackpool rock and we all know (or like to think we do) exactly what kind of person is going to be running right through it.

But what never ceases to amaze me is the degree of spleen some people feel inspired to vent as a consequence. Why?  What’s that all about?

Ecological concerns, obviously. The ‘Harmony’ of the Seas (really? Did you not think to run that by someone?) turns out to be an extremely thirsty vessel. So I do have some sympathy for the person who commented that, since the ship’s so big (1400-seater theatre, ice rink,  spa, hospital,  Jamie’s Italian) that you barely even realise you’re at sea, then why not locate it to, say, Bognor?

But beyond that it’s derision and spite, pure and simple. Because perhaps more than any other kind of holiday, cruising attracts a veritable tsunami of opprobrium. As a vacation choice, it is a victim of its own success.

First up it was hated because rich people did it, and what rich people do is just SO very annoying. Only, in this case, rich AND OLD, which was worse. All those bath chairs and heart attacks, and going ‘what ho!’ to the captain. And all that with a nasty whiff of Brash American.

But they regrouped, as forward-thinking multi-nationals are wont to do. And gave us an alternative concept in cruising. The concept being Center Parcs on sea. None of that top-table snobbery. No ten meals a day stress.  No crew-versus-guests rounds of deck quoits.

Just round the clock sport-n-family-friendly fun. And a food court.  And shops. And no standing on ceremony. (Because everyone knows only children who’ve been to Stowe, say, or Eton, know how to stand on ceremony anyway.)

So nowadays, since everyone is catered for, what’s not to like?  Sorry, did I say like? I meant hate.

Rich people, old people (as already mentioned), young people, commoners, people who like their holidays  ‘chavvie’ and ‘plastic’ (someone  – a brave soul – said, yes, thanks, she did), people who would be doing us all a favour if they were ‘sent out to sea and sunk’, people with the cultural imagination of gnats, thick people, poor people (I believe the latter can apply to work there, for a berth in the bowels and an array of sub-human rights), morons, those after a ‘correction facility for those who want to smoke and eat fat’ (eh?), half-wits who choose to vacation on a ‘ floating metal council estate’, those ‘rich people who want to visit poor countries, without the inconvenience of actually having to meet any poor people’, ‘big-headed, over-dressed, pompous loud mouths’ (lots of those, of course – turn left for stereotype), the kind of ‘useless people’ who another correspondent suggests would be perfectly suited to being sent off to sea in their thousands with only eighteen lifeboats – toodle-oo! Oh, and my personal favourite –  ‘lab mice with money’.

Nice. But, you know what? If it wasn’t for the seasickness (I’m a martyr to my seasickness) reading all those comments has actually inspired me to WANT to take a cruise.

Because the people who write that kind of stuff definitely won’t be there.

 First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, May 28th 2016

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