Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Stop, Don't Jump!


I have been on a number of suicide prevention courses during my university career, in case I should ever come across a student in distress. Meanwhile national suicide levels continue to rise, particularly among the young, I suspect, as the act becomes more socially acceptable as a means to solve one's problems - an unintended consequence of the push for assisted suicide for the chronically ill - though no suicide charity has dared to speak up so far.  Which prompted the following thoughts on whether a more unconventional approach might be called for if I were to come upon a youngster on the brink.

Stop, Don’t Jump!

Stop, don’t jump!

I’ll have that dewy complexion, those bright eyes, that salon hair, if you don’t want them

I’ll have those admiring male looks, those limitless job opportunities, that chance to start over.

I’m a great believer in recycling unwanted pert breasts and precision perfect teeth

I could do with a new pituitary gland, a new pair of ears, 20/20 vision,

And knees that don’t creak

Which look wow in mini skirts

Your restless energy and raging hormones will be put to good use by me.

It’s true what they say that youth is wasted on the young

You just drink, smoke and fritter it away

Or at the first obstacle, call life a day.

But who asked you to cure cancer?

Just don’t be an a**ehole and look when you cross the road.

That’ll do for starters.

Maybe a random act of kindness here and there?

If you can tear yourself away from your smartphone long enough.

But if you can’t manage life’s basics, hand your meat suit to me

Let me try on that all over tan for size.

I’m sure it’ll fit.

I’ll pout for the rest of your selfies

Send your friends updates so they’ll never know

And you do carry a donor card, right?

What, you’ve decided not to jump after all?

Bugger!


©LS King 2017

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Eternal Youth At My Mother's
























Eternal Youth At My Mother’s 

In the bedroom of my childhood home I fall, I fail, I flail
In fitful draughts of sleep
Wind howling to a whistle
As it sharpens itself
On eaves and chimney corners
Long forgotten creaky floorboards and door hinges
Remembered once more
By the angst-ridden teenager
Now almost middle-aged.
The house has hardly changed
80s Buck Rogers wallpaper and all.
Perhaps if I had stayed, I wouldn’t have either.
Downstairs, I hear my mother burrowing
Through her hoard to the kettle in the kitchen
She wakes early these days
Me? I go back to missing exams in my sleep
And turning up to school
With no bottom uniform half
For a final hour before the alarm bell relieves me
Of another shift of nocturnal incompetence.

 ©LS King 2017

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Needless Tragedy

According to Wikipedia Leonardo De Vinci designed a sprinkler system in the 15th century. Da Vinci automated his patron's kitchen with a super-oven and a system of conveyor belts. In a comedy of errors, everything went wrong during a huge banquet, and a fire broke out. "The sprinkler system worked all too well, causing a flood that washed away all the food and a good part of the kitchen."

The Americans then reinvented the idea in the 1870s and started installing sprinklers in their public buildings.

The first tower blocks were built in Britain in 1951.

Why then was it not both possible and a mandatory requirement to install sprinkler systems in all blocks from the very first? It must have been crystal clear that a fire in one flat posed a risk to all other flats in such a building and a risk to the entire structure itself. In addition fire retardant materials were in their infancy in the 1950s and fire alarms, at best, rudimentary.

Aside from the risk of tragedy, there would also be the likelihood of scores of survivors who would need immediate re-housing, as is now the case following what is being described as 'the greatest loss of civilian life in Britain during peace time since WWII'  (70 fatalities confirmed so far with many more individuals still missing). Even before we had a 'national housing crisis', this would have been a real challenge, let alone managing to re-house all the survivors in the same area.

The lack of a sprinkler system in Grenfell Tower was only the start of the horror though. The block did not even have a working fire alarm and nor did the residents seem to ever have known a fire drill. There was also no Fire Certificate. Perhaps worst of all, once the fire was underway, the emergency services started giving out the standard large building advice to 'Stay where you are and await rescue' (advice I have always found profoundly stupid in my career in buildings management). Sadly many residents obeyed and stayed in their flats, only to perish. People who could have lived had they got out the moment they were aware the block was on fire. How in reality would they have been rescued anyway? The PVC windows were fusing in the heat on many flats, there were no balconies and the heat of the fire prohibited helicopters going anywhere near enough to rescue anyone. However many residents (if awoken) would have been unable to see the scale of the fire until it actually reached them, so it is not their fault that they decided to stay dutifully put, assuming it was an isolated flat fire which would be dealt with. The lucky ones were those who listened to their instincts and were in a position to be able to escape from the lower floors just in time, much as there were some horror stories of the single stairwell being blocked by people trying to hump suitcases down with them.

To compound everything, it now emerges that this whole tragedy could have been the result of an aggressive carbon reduction initiative requiring all old blocks to be refurbished at great expense with new boilers, windows and exterior cladding, cladding which far from being fire retardant, appears on film to be acting as an accelerant and combining with the vents underneath to create a 'chimney effect' spreading the fire at a horrifying rate. Indeed these panels have already been banned in the US and Germany, not just owing to their fire weakness, but to the toxic fumes they give off when burning, which can also cause injury and death.

Strange how Green Issues were considered more of a priority than basic fire safety provision and coroner recommendations regarding sprinkler systems following the deadly Lakanal block fire in 2009 had been sat on since 2013. There is also no requirement to retrofit the older blocks with sprinkler systems as all blocks erected post-2007 are required to have. Allegedly fewer than 1% of council and former-council blocks possess a sprinkler system and there are many thousands of such blocks throughout the country, at least 50% of which have now had similar cladding fitted to help meet local authority green targets. To retrofit sprinklers to all is said to be 'impractical' and 'economically unviable', even though the money was found to refurbish the buildings to meet green standards without evacuating the tenants (a friend in Coventry has just been subjected to such inconvenience which took nearly two years and left a lot of shoddy snagging works to be dealt with after).

The Grenfell Action Group residents had repeatedly tried to raise issues about fire safety in the block with their benevolent-sounding management company Kensington and Chelsea Tenant's Management Organisation (KCTMO), but their concerns fell on deaf ears. They also took up their fears with their local MP and the Fire Brigade and were desperately trying to get an enforcement order placed on the building.

Having worked in buildings management for some years, I am entirely on the side of the tenants. I once administered a historic wood-framed former hotel in the middle of Oxford which dated from 1474. It was a huge rabbit warren of a building comprising around 100 rooms with many floors and roofs at crazy angles. Our Surveyor had his work cut out to install a fully-addressable fire alarm system throughout the winding corridors and landings and work out complicated maps of fire escape from each room. On the plus side it was only 4 storeys tall and had at least half a dozen fire exits into internal courtyards and onto the roof. For many years there was a live link to the local fire station so that if the fire alarm went off, it would automatically summon the fire brigade owing to the nature of the building.  I remember how horrified we were when the Fire Brigade cut this link saying we now had to take full responsibility for our own Fire Risk Assessments and for calling out the Brigade ourselves in the event of fire. As a result of this the College had to provide a 24-hour Porter's Lodge as we couldn't afford to take any risks and our insurance wouldn't insure the building otherwise.

While it is suspected the Grenfell fire was originally started by a faulty fridge in a flat on the fourth floor, it will take time for a Public Enquiry to get underway and possibly several years for a full investigation of the entire sequence of events and factors to be completed and the results to be known, let alone for the appropriate heads to roll over this tragedy, preferably with corporate manslaughter sentences ensuing. 

Meanwhile anger is building and it looks increasingly likely this could result in a riot in the richest area of London. Wealthy 21st Century philanthropists; now is your moment if you want to show you care, to open your mansions, wallets and hearts, offer your spare rooms and you could potentially avert the start of a great civil unrest in the capital. A 'war' between rich and poor to put it crudely. Do you really want another Brixton riots in Kensington?

On a final note let's have no more tower blocks in the future as they will never be 100% safe to live in, never mind the enablers of social cohesion, equality, good health and upward mobility their utopian socialist devisors once dreamed in the days when the first residents were only too happy to enjoy the luxury of an indoor bathroom for the first time, after being re-housed from insanitary slums.

Let's have mansion blocks for all -  a proven model of safe, healthy, high density urban living. And with an average lifespan of 200 years, these dwellings are about as sustainable in their carbon construction footprint (a factor conveniently overlooked in this throwaway world) as buildings get. 60% of high rise blocks built pre-1975 have now demolished and few even made it to the 50 year mark before being deemed 'unfit for purpose' and condemned. 

*Edinburgh is a good example of a historically high density city. Granite being so hard to cut in olden times that they had to make the most of every block by building tenement style dwellings from the outset. Another advantage of Granite is that it is one of the best natural fire retardant building materials there is and good at containing fires.





Friday, 9 June 2017

Stop Gaslighting Me!

A few days ago I was walking past a campus bus stop when I heard a young American couple arguing. I slowed my pace in case the girl needed assistance as she was quite a bit smaller than the guy and heard her yell 'Quit gaslighting me! We're done!' before stomping off. The boyfriend looked shocked and eventually walked slowly in the opposite direction.

Impressed by the female student's assertiveness I found myself intrigued to know what 'gaslighting' meant and looked it up (well you've got to keep up with the lingo when you work with students!). Were these two part of some obscure Victorian re-enactment society or something?

I was astonished to find that 'gaslighting' means psychological abuse and takes its name from a period drama film called Gaslight above (1944) in which a man tries to make his new wife think she is going mad by constantly interfering with the gas lighting, among other devices, and then causing her to question her own sanity by denying he has altered anything.

Which reminds me of how Lord Lucan apparently terrorised Lady Lucan in similar vein, trying to get her to accept that any odd incidents were all in her mind as part of his campaign to get her committed as an alternative to an expensive divorce and her being awarded custody of their children. We know the rest of the story from there when that didn't work.

The Yellow Wallpaper was a famous Victorian short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which illustrated the syndrome long before it had a name and in the novel Jane Eyre, we are surely left with many unanswered questions about the crazy wife locked in the attic and what manner of man Mr Rochester truly is, not least since his wife would have to die before he could marry Jane (divorce being considered scandalous and therefore virtually unheard of in those days). As literary scholar John Sutherland so insightfully poses the question in his famous essay on the novel: 'Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?'

In days of yore, many a man on the make would marry a wealthy widow for her money (both the woman and all her worldly goods becoming his goods and chattels upon marriage) and then seek to have her committed, (divorce being scandalous and ruinously expensive and murder being a capital crime). It was only post-WWII that divorce became possible and available for the majority.

So what exactly IS gaslighting and how does one recognise it? The first thing I read is that it's far more common than we think  The second is that you can be gaslighted (or should that be 'gaslit'?) by anyone - a parent, a friend, a boss, a partner, a business associate. It may occasionally be accidental such as a parent snapping 'Now look what you've made me do!' to a child who interrupts them at an inopportune moment, but usually there is an intent to undermine or manipulate someone at the heart of it. It always starts slowly and gently builds up, usually over a long period of time so it will be someone who knows you well and knows what your buttons are.

Signs to look out for:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself and making 'silly' mistakes if you don't double-check everything.
  2. You feel continually wrong-footed or that you are being dealt curve balls. 
  3. There may be a dim awareness that someone in your life always has to have the upper hand or the last word, as if to keep you in your place, but if it's trivial stuff or the rest of them seems to be 'a good person' you let it pass as it's not worth mentioning.
  4. You start to question if you are too sensitive and emotional. Or not sensitive enough.
  5. You often feel confused and demotivated and have a hard time making simple decisions.
  6. You find yourself apologising far too often.
  7. You can’t understand why you’re unhappy or having feelings of nerves or dread you can't quite put your finger on, or for no apparent reason.
  8. You often make excuses for your partner’s behaviour (if it's your partner).
  9. You feel like you can’t do anything right or that anything wrong that happens is all your fault, even if it isn't.
  10. You often feel like you aren’t good enough
  11. Your abuser will use phrases like 'I am only doing/saying this for your own good' and convince you that everything they say/do is with your best interests at heart. They are often paternalistic in attitude towards you so beware the 'father figure' - unless you are in genuine need of one.
  12. You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person
  13. Your run down state may result in health issues such as repeated digestive problems, colds or throat infections - usually signs you are having trouble digesting what is happening to you or speaking up for yourself. A bad back may indicate feeling a lack of support. Physical symptoms are often directly related to your feelings.
  14. You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things
  15. You may start to become socially isolated as your confidence evaporates or your abuser may encourage you to distance yourself from people, particularly loved ones, who might notice you've changed and attempt to rescue you or de-program you.
  16. Your abuser will encourage your dependence on them, typically with the belief that they are the only one you can trust.
  17. Worst case scenario: You will question your entire sanity, giving the other party complete power over you.
Some examples.

  • A parent promises their child an ice cream if they wash the car and then later that day when the child has washed the car and asks if they can have the ice cream, the parent denies ever promising it.
  • A woman kicks or punches her partner in his sleep on a regular basis but claims it is an accident or he imagined it.
  • A man has a row with his girlfriend over a trivial matter, but half an hour later denies it ever happened.
  • A woman pretends to like her partner's family and then comes up with all manner of trivial excuses for cancelling visits until much time has gone by and the partner suddenly realises they no longer see their birth family.
  • A boss promises a promotion and then keeps adding new caveats and conditions which have to be met before the employee gets it.
  • A friend does you a favour and then regularly reminds you of the fact indefinitely, conveniently forgetting you have also done plenty for them.
  • A parent withholds love and approval and only grants it when a child does their bidding (ie it's conditional love)
  • A friend says 'You're so pretty (name). If it weren't for that ski slope nose, you'd be perfect.' (beware the back-handed compliment/the compliment with the sting in the tail.)

So if you've experienced any or all of these signs/types of scenario in someone's orbit, ask yourself if you are being gaslighted. I know I have been at various times in my life and I now realise by who and what pattern to look out for.

Finally serious gaslighting is apparently almost exclusively the preserve of the narcissist, so it is most informative to familiarise oneself with this personality type.

We hear a lot about Health and Safety and its unquestionable importance but in this modern world of skyrocketing mental health issues, I think we need to pay a lot more attention to emotional health and safety, both our own and that of those around us. And we need to do this for 'our own good' as well as theirs. We all know the rudiments of bullying, but seldom the subtleties of this dark art and what motives may lie behind it.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Lady Lucan - her story


Lord and Lady Lucan. They look like an iconic 60s British couple, possibly even minor Royalty, with their photogenic looks and well-styled clothes. At one point Lord Lucan was offered a screen test for James Bond. 

Perhaps that is why Lady Lucan clearly finds it hard to let complete go of the glamorous dream which became a nightmare, just as some people struggle to accept that the apparent fairy tale of Charles and Diana should never have happened, and may even still sup from their Royal Wedding commemorative cup.

Yet Veronica Lucan alone emerges from this tragic tale of financial ruin, madness and murder like a 20th Century Victorian heroine, against all the odds, her voice finally heard, to tell her story in full, 43 years after that fateful night.

Some have passed judgement on her, saying she has 'just done it for the money'. I disagree. She has had 43 years in which to cash in on one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century if that were the case. Why wait until she is an old lady and live so frugally and privately all this time when she could have been in clover? It seems more likely that she wants the world to know her side of the story before she dies. Plus she probably could do with a few quid for her twilight years. She may live in a small mews house in Belgravia, but you can't eat bricks and mortar, and she is apparently wholly reliant on her state pension. 

Some have accused her of being 'cold'. Again, I disagree. Not only is she a product of her class and times when the stiff upper lip and farming your children out to nannies was the norm for posh people, but she has necessarily had to build a high wall around her emotions over the years for the sake of her sanity and survival. Her devastation is evidenced in the fact she still lives in her husband's former bolt hole, a stone's throw from the murder house, has never remarried or recommenced a career. She has battled brain injury from her husband's attack and entirely understandable depression from his psychological and physical abuse of her, even before his attempt to murder her. As if all this weren't bad enough, she was subsequently ganged up on by his friends and family who blamed her for 'driving him to it', (if they admitted he had anything to do with it at all - some tried to insist the crime was committed by an unknown intruder), by contesting him for custody of the children following their separation. She then saw her children eventually turned against her by the wealthy relations who offered to look after them for a while as Lady Lucan tried to come off her medications so that she has now not seen them for 35 years, never mind meeting her five grandchildren. 

As for being 'a bad mother' - was she ever given a chance and the right support following the tragedy to become a good one? And let's not forget this is a woman whose husband repeatedly tried to get her declared insane and committed to a mental institution as part of his psychological abuse of her in the years leading up to the crime, with the compromise that she at least agree to take the heavy medication prescribed by his doctor friends to regulate her anxiety and depression for her 'own good' and despite crippling side effects. Certainly she was a financially impoverished mother following the crime and not able to keep her three children in the style to which they had become accustomed, unlike her relations, who were.

And every day. Every day she is haunted by the murder of her nanny, Sandra Rivett, a good and decent woman, who shouldn't have even been in the house on that fateful November night in 1974 were it not for the fact she had asked to switch evenings off in order to spend time with her new boyfriend and Lady Lucan had agreed.  Lord Lucan, having watched the house for some weeks to observe the pattern of comings and goings had been floored by this and assumed the woman making tea in the kitchen - of similar height and build to his estranged wife in the gloom - was his wife. However his horror at realising his mistake once he had bludgeoned the nanny to death did not stop him trying to murder Lady Lucan in the same manner, and it is only by dint of her quick-wittedness, that she managed to distract his attention long enough to flee the house and summon help at the nearest pub, despite severe injuries. However, prior to her escape, he was confident enough of the fact she wouldn't live to tell the tale to admit to her that he had killed the nanny.

I didn't know what to expect when I watched the ITV television interview with Lady Lucan last night but I found myself transfixed by her elegance, her grace, her unflinching honesty and her unfashionable lack of self-pity. There was even a little flash of humour here and there, hints of the sparkling woman she could have been. Even more impressive was her absence of hatred towards all those who had conspired to control her, badmouth her, kill her and finally desert her during her adult life. Ultimately as she admitted, all she had wanted was to have a family who loved her and whom she loved. 

Yet, this simple wish shared by so many, turned out to be an impossible dream which eluded her.  She is a woman who was unlucky in love, and all the other bad things in her life emanated from that simple fact. But like many abused wives, presumably she always lived in hope that Lord Lucan would change, just as he undoubtedly always hoped for that 'big win' which would set him up for life. 'Lucky' Lucan, it turned out, was an ironic nickname as he was never that lucky after his beginner's luck ran out and he subsequently fell under the thrall of John Aspinall and the Claremont Club

Aspinall is said to be the key to the whole mystery of what happened to Lord Lucan, but Aspinall died in 2000 taking any secrets to the grave.

And though Lady Lucan knew Lord Lucan (aka John Bingham) best of all, her theory of what happened to her fugitive husband (she believes he committed suicide by throwing himself onto the propellors of a cross-channel ferry from Newhaven, shortly after the attack) is not even in the top three.

What seems remarkable is that there are still people out there who continue to avow Lord Lucan's innocence of the crime or make excuses for him. As if a blue-blood can do no wrong or should not be expected to live by the same rules as everyone else. Many individuals face financial ruin through gambling addictions and other ill luck, but they don't go around killing people.  Nor had Lady Lucan obstructed his access to the children following their separation to offer any justification for his unconscionable rage. If anything she still loved the idiot and hoped for an eventual reconciliation.

Lady Lucan may not be perfect (she freely admitted she often verbally retaliated quite cruelly herself when her husband provoked her or stayed in bed all day when she was depressed) but what she gave in her television interview was a masterclass in human dignity and survival against the odds. So let's hear no more of this 'victim blaming'. If it's not acceptable to blame any other victim of domestic violence for their fate, why should it be acceptable in Lady Lucan's case, just because she is well spoken?


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Mass Meditation for Peace and Plenty


As random atrocities become an increasingly regular visitation on the Western World, perpetuated by self-appointed agents of their god or, no less horrifically, psychopathic individuals who fancy some copycat notoriety on their way to the grave, perhaps the best thing we can do as individuals psychologically is to focus our attention away from what we don't want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction) and concentrate on what we do want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction).

For most nations, the main want would surely be 'Peace and Plenty' so that we all have a quality of life and choices which do not force us down paths we don't wish to go down or to treat each other harshly as a result of life brutalising us into constant 'fight or flight' survival mode. Nor do most of us wish to be driven out of our own countries or forced to leave them (and our communities, friends and families) behind in search of a better life, and all the hardships and risks that entails. We want the option of a good life in our own nation as well as the option to travel or work abroad.

A long time ago (sadly I can no longer find the source) I read about a 10.30pm world mass meditation initiative. That wherever everyone was in the world, at 10.30pm each night they would commit to a couple of minutes either meditating or praying for world peace. With the various time zones, that would mean an enormous number of people asking their god (or the universe) for world peace at various times throughout the clock. I would like to resurrect this daily idea if it has fallen by the wayside to include 'Peace and Plenty' as peace without enough to eat does not quite fit the bill for a balanced and wantless world.

Here is a link to a once a year initiative of similar ilk called Earthdance, which takes place on 23rd September 2017 and has an incantation to go with it (see above). Or if you'd rather do the 10.30pm each night thing with a simple wish for Peace and Plenty throughout the world, please Like my Facebook page here.

Quantum physics is now telling us we are entering the Age of the Mind and the next generation of discovery will be a voyage around our minds and realising the power we all have if only we were to utilise our full mental capacity and energy and take control of our own minds. So strength in numbers folks. It's up to us to ask, meditate (and vote) for the world we want and visualise a bloodless revolution. Otherwise one thing is for sure. We will 100% continue to end up living in a world we don't want, hapless victims of other people's agendas, egos and mental illnesses, individuals who didn't hesitate to go after what they wanted, however warped or self-serving their particular vision.

So let's give mass mind power a chance and see what we can achieve. But let's avoid words like 'fight' or 'war' against want as aggressive words are counter-intuitive. 'As some wit once said: 'Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity!' Mother Teresa also once said: 'I will never come to an anti-war rally, but invite me to a peace rally and I will come.'

Strangely enough religious institutions seem uninterested in mass world prayer, except for sparing a thought for the sick of their parish once a week. Perhaps it's time to demand their involvement too.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Tale of Two Stuarts

This was the view from my office window for twelve years in an Oxford College.
Well not my sole office, for I shared it with two wonderful Surveyors over the years, both called Stuart, first as a secretary and latterly as a Surveyor's Assistant.

Stuart I and Stuart II were very different characters but I had an excellent giggling chemistry with both.

Stuart I was dynamic and mercurial with a natty taste in bow ties and expensive brogues and could whinge for England, particularly about 'this country going to the dogs' but nearly always holding forth with a twinkle in his eye and a ready laugh. He could crack the whip and had cleared the workshop of the 'dead wood' as soon as he arrived which meant he ran a tight ship by the time I was appointed (the final in a long list of secretaries).

Conversely he could be incredibly kind and compassionate. He was also meticulous about getting every detail right. His friend Robin, a Surveyor as well, worked with us part-time and the two made a tremendous double act, but a tremendous professional partnership as well. Stuart I took the view that he wouldn't ask anyone to do anything he couldn't do himself, so he had trained in carpentry, plumbing, electrics etc. He could literally turn his hand to almost anything. However he also had Robin and myself on our knees with vacuum cleaners when building works overran and the students were about to move in!

By rights we shouldn't have got on for Stuart I was a hunting. shooting and fishing man with a love of 4 x 4's and good beer whereas I was a lifelong vegetarian and teetotaller, but somehow we 'got' each other and clicked, possibly because we were both Sagittarians and spoke our minds with birthdays only days apart. He also had an eye for the ladies and liked the window boxes to be kept short so he could admire them going past the windows!

We worked on amazing projects like the restoration of one of the oldest working mediaeval kitchens in England without compromise to its structure, wall painting restoration, chapel window restoration, roof and parapet repairs and restoration of a mediaeval internal courtyard, almost untouched for centuries.

Stuart I's downfall was that he wasn't much of a professional networker and not very good at compromise. After three years of my working with him (seven years at the College for Stuart I) and a change of Bursar, sadly Stuart had a disagreement with the college and ended up walking out.

I held the fort for a while after Robin also left (to pursue a year abroad to turn his hand to making his sporting activities into a career). The new Bursar (not a buildings man) eventually asked if we really needed another Surveyor to which I replied, shocked; 'Of course we do.'

Cue for Stuart II to appear several weeks later, a man in his early 60s with the bushiest and scariest white eyebrows I had ever seen, but equally dapperly dressed. He was much more laid back than Stuart I but I noticed things still got done and the pace of conservation and refurbishment soon picked up where it had left off. Stuart II also had the benefit of being a big cricket fan which meant he was never short of sporting banter to help him bond with the senior staff and fellows. Moreover he was generous with his time (not wishing to work full-time) and quite happy to help staff with projects on their homes, whereas Stuart I couldn't get home quick enough to spend time with his young daughter at the end of each day.

Perhaps because I had to hold the fort for at least one day a week, if not two, Stuart II started making it his business to teach me everything he knew. I also went on courses and gained an NVQ in Interior Design which I could then immediately apply to whatever project we were undertaking. Together we designed a new (but traditional looking) Porter's Lodge, numerous WC's, two luxurious academic house kitchens, en-suited various staircases, refurbished Fellow's rooms, offices and other areas. We had a rule that if we couldn't agree on a carpet, a colour or some other detail, then we hadn't found the right product yet. I came to be very grateful to Stuart II for his interest in my professional development and mentoring.

There was no such thing as staff development in our College. I didn't have a single appraisal in 12 years and only went on the courses I went on owing to Stuart II's urging. I also ended up writing the first ever Green Policy for the College.

Like Stuart I, Stuart II had an eye for the ladies and liked to joke he was a 'silver fox'. I bought him a silver fox badge for his birthday and he was delighted.
His wife suffered from a chronic illness so I also ended up giving him a lot of emotional support. Eventually she sadly died after a brave seven year battle. About a year later I found myself being consulted for dating advice and lo and behold, the Silver Fox was back on the dating scene for the first time in 45 years! One of the first things I remember saying to him was - 'Just remember, you don't have to marry them all! You can just date a lady!' He seemed quite surprised by this.

One of the most amazing things Stuart II did for me was defend my position when the Bursar (not a buildings man) decided to make me redundant after 12 years for the spurious reason that the building programme was coming to an end and I was no longer needed (though strangely, the programme of improvements and refurbishments subsequently continued following my departure to encompass many further projects).

Sadly my redundancy still went through, but I will always have fond memories of the college and both Stuarts.

This all came to the fore last week when I attended the funeral of Stuart I. A particularly sad occasion since he had taken his own life. Stuart I could fix everything it seemed, except himself. We'd kept in sporadic touch over the years and he had seemed his old jovial self the last time I saw him a couple of years ago, but apparently a few demons lurked behind the scenes. The only positive note was reconnecting with some welcome familiar faces. There was an unspoken feeling that it had been an intense and 'special' time when we were all together at the college and tackling so many core projects (sensitively) after so many years of neglect. On the other hand so many years of neglect were also to be thanked for making our college one of the best preserved Oxford colleges in the city, whereas others had let the most hideous brutalist buildings creep into their quads.

Certainly there are few jobs that you look forward to going to each day knowing you will be working in the most beautiful built environment and have at least one belly laugh per day if not several with your line manager and colleagues. There is something refreshingly down to earth about the world of Surveyors. There's no side to them. Not the ones I've worked with anyway. The workshop was great for camaraderie too and we worked with some wonderful contractors for years including a certain stonemasonry company, to the extent of replacing the worn gargoyles (designs repeatedly rejected by our blue-blooded benefactors for being 'too ugly!) Then there were the regular visits by film companies to use our quads for Morse and assorted costume dramas, so more than once I became a set dresser and met the likes of actors Nathanial Parker and Kevin Whately. Finally there was that most welcome 'conference bonus' each Christmas for putting up with some charming mature Americans over the summer undertaking a literature conference in Oxford and who would always invite me to one of their special dinners.

As for Stuart II? Well he stayed on at the College for another few years, though he complained it wasn't the same without me, before being retired in his early 70s on grounds of age. He now lives nearby with his second lady friend since being widowed.

Happy days in a unique workplace which, unlike some, will still be standing years after we are all long gone, weaving us into their fabric and making some sense of our toil in them.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Before I Forget...


I used to moan about it at the time but how we miss having to build in those ten extra minutes to run away from our cat each time we left the flat! Having eagerly clocked us donning coats and shoes, you'd follow us up to the communal gardens at the TOM, lagging behind and then breaking into a sprint, half racehorse, half baboon up the street, our black boy Django, also in tow, shyly weaving between parked cars.

I'd try to distract you by slapping a tree and teasing 'Bet you can't climb this tree!' and you'd always fall for the bait, scrabbling up the tree to show off while we tried to escape! Sometimes we'd split up doing detours round different streets to confuse you. Once I hid behind a lamp post round the corner. You stalked carefully past and then miaowed loudly in triumph when you spotted me as if to say 'Ha Mummy, I caught you!'  You liked to jump over the wall at the front of the gardens to surprise us with a mighty 'Miaow!' as well, lest we thought we could creep out the gardens without you spotting us.  We didn't want you following us up to the main road though, which you nearly did, on a couple of occasions.

It was particularly funny when punters were drinking outside the Bottom's Rest on a balmy afternoon and saw you following us. 'Just taking the cat for a walk.' I'd joke. I loved that determined look in your golden eyes. You were a natural cathlete. And of course this culminated in the Bottom's Rest being the only pub we could go to - where you could come too, much to the delight of the punters, again coaxing Django in too (as long as there were no dog-shaped objects). Not that dogs bothered you. You had no hesitation in squaring up to them and biffing them on the nose to show them who was boss.

Even funnier was when you had Django and Monster (a neighbour's black cat) in tow and all three of you would follow me to the communal bins at the end of our street. You were the leader of the pack. How they miss you now, not knowing what to do with themselves, although Monster often calls round and sits on the windowsill seeking a playdate. Poor Django hardly goes out though, except for little five minute bursts through the day. He's lost so much confidence since we lost you, even though we do our best to play with him and give him extra attention.

You loved the warm summer nights running around the neighbourhood when it was virtually impossible to get you (and Django) in, though we did our best to get you both in overnight. And once you gave in and allowed yourself to be captured with the aid of a meaty stick you always seemed happy to settle down, secretly pleased to be relieved of your catly duties for the night, even if you'd never admit it. Then you'd be bright and bushy tailed next morning, ready for a new days' adventures.

One time Django went missing overnight and we were really worried. Then you went missing too. We called you both all over the neighbourhood only to find you were both stuck in an empty house where some numpty had left a cat flap which opened inwards but not outwards again - you had gone to rescue Django and ended up trapped yourself, the two of you together!  You were both chastened and well behaved for several days after that experience and we found it sweet how you cared for your 'brother by another mother'. A cat demonstrably caring for another cat. How about that? But then you'd always been Django's friend - which is how Django came to live with us when his young owners lost their flat and ended up moving to places unsuitable for a cat. I remember how you almost high-fived each other with your paws each time you met  - two young dudes on the same block and him in need of a leader.

Another time Oliver got chatting to a man in the pub, only to find out that he lived round the corner from us and had woken up one night to find Mr Cheeky asleep and purring on his chest, having somehow got in through the first floor window! You were also a daily visitor to Gordon at Gwhizz bikes around the corner, inspecting all the bikes and amusing his customers.

A few weeks ago I had to contact the decorator who painted the courtyard of our flats last summer regarding an unrelated job and he asked how you were. I had to beat back the tears as I told him. The decorator was also very upset as you'd made it your job to be his Supervisor for those weeks he worked on our courtyard, inspecting the paint tins, the brushes and the workmanship! I had assumed you were being a bit of a pain and apologised at the time, but actually he loved you for it!

Everyone agreed you were such a character. A legend, no less.

Django is so timid without you. It's sad to see. While it seems far too soon, and there'll never be another Mr Cheeky, I think we will need to think about another friend for him. I don't think we should let him be a lone cat for the rest of his life.

It has been five months since you were so cruelly snathed from us and your wonderful life and neighbourhood by that awful couple, yet I find myself missing you as much as ever, particularly now the sunny days and balmy evenings - your favourite - are on their way again. I particularly miss how you would always spot us walking down our street from about half a street away and start running up to greet us. Or how we would drive round the corner and you would be there, always waiting and listening out for our car to return. Or finding you mooching round the communal gardens patrolling them and seeking out the catlovers on benches to be fussed as I returned from an errand.

I hope the day will come when I will be able to think about you with a smile on my face rather than a lump in my throat, but meantime I must stop writing about you now, my beloved.  We are going on holiday next week, so I hope that will prove a healing experience. As for Django, he will have a live-in catsitter, a nice Australian lady who also loves cats, but we are still conscious that it will be the first time we will be away without you to keep him company and play with him, assuring him that yes, we will be back! The only thing I guess he doesn't miss about you was how you'd naughtily try to lick the gravy off his catfood as well as your own, so I ended up having to feed you in separate rooms! On the other hand you could be generous, but you also needed to remind him you were top cat, lest he ever forgot!




Sunday, 2 April 2017

Ode to Superfood

Having been brought up in a 'macrobiotic' household long before such things were fashionable (my first chick peas were served to me in a petri dish at the age of six, for goodness sake!), I find myself both astonished and bemused by the cult of 'clean food' that is now all around me and the millennials trying to outdo each other on various Facebook groups with vegan oneupmanship, not to mention the not at all morally dubious trolling of any vegan novice who dares to commit a crime such as spreading honey on their toast or letting their child enter an egg and spoon race with a real egg!

However, while it's great to have access to so many amazing new foods, I do wonder about the environmental impact of having up to a dozen exotic ingredients from as many countries on each plate! Talking of which - I never bother with any other but Hawaiian Spirulina dahling - the rest is very second rate...


Clean Food for Free Radicals

Hands up all you atheists whose body is a temple
Hark at my green example
All hail, mighty Kale!
Seaweed, Flaxseed,
Green tea, Broccoli
Porcini, Zucchini
Swiss Apple, Saw Palmetto
Couscous, Sweet Potato
Omega, it’s Wheat Grass!
Those go-to berries, Goji Berries,
Cousins Blueberry and Cranberry
Black Raspberries, Morello Cherry
Pomegranate and Kiwi
Sesame, Carrot, Wasabi
Ginseng, the man root
Asparagus and Beetroot
If you’re not too Quinoa
On Courgette spaghetti Cauliflower
Pass the Pumpkin creamed Starflower
Avocado, Heritage Tomato
Pineapple, Mango risotto,  
Raisins Muscat, Dates Medjool
Papaya, don’t preach
I’m in fuzzy Peach
Just like a Pear in Himalayan rock salt
Raisins from Red Grapes, Sultanas from White
Know your Onions, get your Oats
Give a Fig for Chilli Peppers
Butter no Parsnips with Royal Jelly
Cactus juice, a heart of Palm
Abide with me, your superfood psalm
Beansprouts, Buckwheat, Chick pea
Yoghurt and Mulberry Smoothie
Walnuts, Plums and Millet flakes
Artichoke, Hemp and Strawberry cake
Oranges, Apricots, Turmeric
Spinach, Aubergine, Wild Garlic,
Cacao powdered Cashews
Lentils, Carob and Brazils
Sweetcorn and Sugar beet
Pasta forged in Wholewheat
Fungi on Halloumi
Truffle-sprinkled Gnocci
Cinnamon and cardamom
Nut milk, Fruit of Sharon
Cider vinegar sourdough
Spelt out in Bran and Molasses Rye
Get a PH in balance before you die
Honey, Chia, Spirulina
Aloe Vera, Gingko Biloba
Butternut squash, Banana
To be a centenarian, think fruitarian
Eat your food raw
To be drop-dead gorgeous when you bore
Bathe in Coconut oil, no planet despoil
Just be Grapefruit
You live in the age of Quorn
And silken Tofu for a new you
I don’t mind Polenta, but hold on the Placenta
Easy over, just how I like it.


                              ©LS King 2017



Gluten-wise?



Sign at Brighton VegFest this year

Monday, 27 February 2017

Eating the Roses






Facebook certainly knows how to rub it in. The above memories of Mr Cheeky flashed up on Valentine's Day from the same day two years ago when our little monkey decided to try and eat my Valentine's roses! Everything was for him in his catty mind!

In fact we could never have plants or flowers in the flat as he would soon demolish them one way or another. His funeral flowers have miraculously lasted nearly four weeks by comparison as Django is very respectful of plants.

I am a bit better now about not bursting into tears at inopportune times, but I still expect to see him around every corner in the flat. Writing the following poem helped a bit. 

The Grim Reaper’s Mate (Grief)

Whether you yearn to hear a key in the door
The flip of a catflap or the pitter patter of a paw
Grief doesn’t differentiate
Whether you’ve lost a person or a pet
It fillets your innards with pain so raw
You just don’t want to carry on any more
Your appetite is stolen and so is your sleep
You ache all over, no tears left to weep
The longing to rewind time won’t go away
You feel you’d give anything for just one more day
The what ifs’ and if onlys’ claim the wee small hours
It’s an effort to think about new dawns and showers
You make silly mistakes like putting kettles in fridges
And confusing an onion with a Golden Delicious
Your car drives you in unintended directions
You’ve aged ten years overnight when you catch your reflection
The rain doesn’t move you and nor does the sun
Will you ever smile again, let alone have fun?
You want to be alone but crave company too
Though no friend can bring back what you need them to
Yes, you’d give up a winning lottery ticket to have things back as they were
Whether you’re grieving the loss of a human loved one or a babe with fur

©LS King 2017



Monday, 20 February 2017

The Mad Catters' Tea Party - photos and update

Here are photos of some of the lovely attendees at the Mad Catters' Tea Party at Patisserie Valerie in Hove on Sunday night. 40 tickets were sold and along with the raffle and a few extra donations, the total raised for Lost Cats Brighton is £600 (rounded up from £595 by a kindly work colleague - thanks Michelle!).
With big thanks to everyone who supported this event, not forgetting the manager Daniel, and staff of Patisserie Valerie, who put on the tasty buffet spread and opened just for us, and the Lost Cats team themselves. 

It was particularly touching to meet in person some of the many individuals who tried so hard to help us find our beloved Mr Cheeky (on line and in life) after he was kidnapped from our home on 4th December, including a couple of dog owners who had taken Mr Cheeky's story to heart. There was also Heidi, standing on the stairs below, who unbelievably had a phone full of clips of Mr Cheeky playing with her boyfriend at work (her boyfriend works in a music company next to our flat and Mr Cheeky used to visit on a daily basis it seems). She was indeed wooed by endless clips of our pussycat and his antics when they first met! Sad as it was, it was so nice to see our boy having a great time whilst we were out at work feeling guilty about leaving him home!

It was a poignant night to remember our golden boy with a smile - he with the paw in every door - who spread his massive heart and love throughout the neighbourhood and indeed, introduced us to most of our neighbours!

The latest news with Lost Cats Brighton is having suffered their own sad loss last month of their founder Ron Ayres, they need to find new rented shelter premises, as their former rented premises ended with Ron's death. 
Meantime, having re-homed all the cats that they had, they continue to operate online helping reunite lost cats with their owners and are setting up a cat fostering service where cat lovers can be supported in a temporary fostering role until a cat is found a forever home. Anyone interested in fostering a lost cat in the Brighton and Hove area should email: ron@lostcatsbrighton.org.uk for further details.
Further Lost Cats fundraising events coming along in May in Hanover.









Sunday, 5 February 2017

Mad Catter's Tea Party, 19th February 2017

While still in deep mourning for our beloved golden boy, we feel the need of something positive to look forward to, so are working hard on the Mad Catter's Tea Party to bring cat lovers together for an evening of feline fun and fab tea party food to raise funds for Lost Cats Brighton in Mr Cheeky's memory.

We also intend it to be a unique event to remember!

We are therefore calling on all Sussex cat lovers to please share poster and print out for your window or workplace. And do book your tickets asap if you intend to come as they are currently going fast. Really want to make this a sell-out for Lost Cats Brighton (and our late beloved Mr Cheeky). Tickets here. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mad-catters-tea-party-ticket
Many thanks. Laura and Ollie xx


50% of ticket price will go on buffet and beverages (lots of veggie options) and the rest to Lost Cats Brighton.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Kidnapping of Mr Cheeky - the final chapter


It has taken me most of the day to process what has happened, but ultimately I wanted to say more than a few words on Facebook.

Today at 11.50am, as I was cleaning the windows in our flat, the telephone rang.

It was Emma from Wilbury Vets, Hove. A ginger cat had been brought in. It had been hit by a car round the corner in Cromwell Road, Hove.

Sadly it could not be saved. They scanned the cat and found a match with Mr Cheeky's details on the PetLog database, hence the phonecall. I asked if she was absolutely sure and she asked if he had any other distinguishing features so I mentioned the chipped upper right fang, She asked if he had had a collar and I said yes, he had a yellow collar on when he was kidnapped. Much to my astonishment he still had a 'gold coloured' collar on. She asked what I wanted to do as they could organise cremation if I wanted. I said could I pick him up after the weekend as I didn't think I was in a fit state to drive. She said she understood, They would put him in their cold room for the weekend until I was ready. She knew all about Mr Cheeky and sounded quite emotional herself.

So our baby was alive for 7 weeks and 6 days following his kidnap and was killed only today when he finally escaped (or was released). Clearly disorientated and with no idea where he was, he panicked and ran across a road, sadly to be unlucky. I wonder if his captors lived on Cromwell Road? It is also a mere 0.9 miles from our flat in Brunswick Street East. So near and yet so far!

I have been in bits all day thinking about it. He had such a tough start to life, abandoned as a young cat, barely out of kittenhood, living on the streets and rescued by Lost Cats Brighton (where we got him) and then only two and a half years of happy life with us before he was kidnapped by those utter slimeballs, for who knows what reason.

My last memory of Mr Cheeky was earlier on the night he was taken. I was sitting on the sofa in front of the TV and Mr Cheeky was lying on his back on my lap reaching up with his paws to try and brush my hair with his claws. It was one of his little things. He was fascinated by hair. But it was also a perfect moment which I will treasure always.

He was a tough and independent cat most of the time, (let's face it, he ran the neighbourhood in catly terms!) but just occasionally he would be as soft as a marshmallow and allow a big cuddle, usually when he was tired. Or if I let him sleep on our bed (big treat) he would start by sleeping nonchalantly at the bottom and gradually work his way up the bed through the night until he had wedged his head under my chin gently purring and bunting me with his nose until I was so hot I had to get up and relegate him back to the living room with his food and litter tray.

So farewell my brave soldier, the most fearless cat I ever knew. You wouldn't hesitate to look a dog straight in the eye or boof a canine nose which got too close. You even managed to cow an American bulldog two doors down and visit and walk around that flat as if you owned it. You had a paw in every door (little children loved you) and you followed us to the local pub too. You even tried to follow me up the street to get the bus to work and were a regular visitor striding up the aisles at the Sunday Assembly in Waterloo Street! You've paid a high price for being so independent, friendly and fearless, (or perhaps because of your resemblance to 'A Streetcat Named Bob'), but you could never have been an indoor cat. It just wasn't in your nature. I'm so glad you got a last taste of freedom, albeit tragically brief. God bless you my furbabe, until we meet again.

Thank you so much to all the Likers and Sharers and Messagers and well-wishers. You've been phenomenal. As have our dear neighbours. I only wish I had a happy ending - for all our sakes.

But if you are local and want to pay tribute to Mr Cheeky and help other lost cats in Brighton and Hove, there IS one final thing you can do.  I had been arranging a Mad Catter's Tea Party (dress code: Crazy Cat Lady or Eccentric) to raise funds for Lost Cats Brighton. (where we got Mr Cheeky). This will take place on Sunday 19th February (6pm-9pm) at Patisserie Valerie on Western Road, Hove. It is £25 a ticket - £12.50 for late afternoon tea with buffet and beverages (lots to suit vegetarians too), with the rest going to Lost Cats. Plus we have exclusive use of this gorgeous venue on two floors, so it would be amazing to get away from screens and mobiles for a bit and meet some of you lovely people in real life. Something to look forward to on this darkest of days. As you may know Lost Cats sadly lost their founder Ron Ayres last month and may shortly lose their rented premises, so it is vital they find new rented premises asap in order that their valuable work can continue (it is estimated Ron helped up to 200 cats a year in his 17-year post-retirement calling.Tickets here (even I as the organiser will be buying one!). It is a registered charity, so Lost Cats can also claim Gift Aid on anything we raise.

UPDATE 29/01/17: The lady who was alerted to Mr Cheeky's body in Cromwell St and who took him to Wilbury Road vets round the corner has been in touch with some further information and it looks as if our cat may have been being kept by someone in the street, very close by. Have just updated Police and asked them to investigate. It would be good to get a prosecution for pet theft if possible.

I leave you with a few of my favourite piccies of Mr Cheeky, some of them with his playmate Django, who has been doing his catly best to cheer up a weeping Mummy all day.


The male Marilyn of cats

You may rule the neighbourhood but I rule the cat flap! Mwah ha ha.

Mmmm we love fresh linen!

We also love Daddy...

Polishing cars with Django

Chilling in Bottom's Rest pub

I'm King of the bag!

You're not going anywhere Mummy and Daddy!

Chillin' after a hard day's catly duties

I saw this new fridge first ok?