Following on from Gosling and his cereal spoon, I’m excited and proud to share this with you. They didn’t believe me, but this IS a real thing.
I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, even the squirrel in the garden’s seen it – but I’m going ahead and just putting this here for safe keeping, ok?
I was born in 1979. I’m the youngest of three siblings. My sisters are 9 and 12 years older than me respectively. They made up a whole heap of ‘playful’ nicknames for me when I was wee. Let me see. There was Dumbo, Biffo the Bear, Neil (from the Young Ones), Smelly Bum, Po Face… I mean, during the earliest period of my life, I imagine I did have a smelly bum much of the time – what with me involuntarily pooping and widdling in my pants several times a day – and if I’m honest, I suppose there were moments (you know, a few) when my face could be described as distinctly ‘po’. And I did have sticky-out ears. I still do. ‘Like a taxi with it’s doors open’, they used to say. But when they were feeling particularly mean, my sisters called me ‘Thatcher’s Baby’. They’d call me ’Thatcher’s Baby’ and I would cry.
I didn’t want Thatcher to be my mum. Her face was too pointy, her hair was too pouffy, her clothes were too blue. Her voice was too dull, her mouth was too angry and I could only imagine that her bedtime stories would be pretty fleekin’ grim. I’d never met her. And I didn’t want to. I was scared of her. I wasn’t exactly fond of The Bogey Man either, but deep down inside, I always knew that if I had to, I could probably take him. But Thatcher… I felt Thatcher had special powers. Powers greater than any I could ever muster. Powers to creep up on me from absolutely anywhere, to steal me away, to make my parents just hand me over. It took great effort and hours worth of soothing back patting from my mother to reassure me that I wasn’t actually Thatcher’s baby and that I wouldn’t have to go live in 10 Downing Street with the nasty lady.
I went to primary school in 1983. My friends and I sang this wee song in the playground nearly every single day… “Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her! Maggie Thatcher squash her ’til she’s deid”. There were accompanying actions to the song but I can’t for the life of me remember what the Maggie Thatcher ‘prop’ was. What did we throw, catch and squash? I cannot recall… Anyway – it doesn’t really matter. The song was by far the best bit. Catchy. By the time I hit primary school, I knew a little bit more about who Thatcher was. I knew she was the Prime Minister. I knew she was ‘a baddie’. I knew she cared arse all of a jot for poor people and I knew she was taking the men’s jobs away. That was my understanding – and although hardly sophisticated, I think it was pretty accurate. I feel I had the basics down.
Throughout my primary school years, my mum used to make me say my prayers every night before I went to sleep. Out loud. She’d make me pray out loud. This is an whole other story really, but the crux in this context is this… We’d say a wee Hail Mary or something then we’d get into the the specifics. For a long time, I remember praying for Terry Waite, for a lady we knew who was very sick and for all the people who didn’t have (or were likely to lose) jobs. We prayed that my dad’s business would survive. We prayed we’d always have enough money to pay for the nice house we lived in. Secretly, I prayed nothing dreadful would ever happen that meant my mum couldn’t afford to buy me that big family sized bar of Milkybar she’d ‘surprise’ me with on Friday nights.
Troubled, I talked things over with my dad at the kitchen table. I expressed my concerns about my Milkybar being under threat and he tried his best to explain a few things to me. He tried to explain that, as important to me as my Friday night Milkybar was, there were much more pressing issues at hand – like businesses collapsing, factories closing, jobs being lost, homes being repossessed, institutions being dismantled, entire industries disappearing and the divide between rich people and poor people getting wider and even uglier. I’d seen evidence of this stuff on tv. I watched the news. I got on board with John Craven. I saw men shouting and chanting, I saw Margaret Thatcher waving her fist in the air, I heard booing and jeering, I saw bar charts that did not look at all colourful. Something had to be done.
I got my writing set out – the most businesslike of my collection. I asked my dad if I could borrow his fancy fountain pen. (By the way, I didn’t once see my dad write with that thing. It was, to my mind, purely decorative.).
“Dear Mrs Thatcher…”
I can’t remember the details of my letter now – but I’m sure I asked that she not close the mines, that she do something help support UK manufacturing and that she do all she could to make sure my dad’s shops didn’t have to close down. I maybe told her how much I loved visiting the factories my dad worked with and how much I wanted a corduroy jacket with a funnel neck and silver popper buttons. I probably told her how much I liked going to school and how well I played glockenspiel. Maybe I shared with her my feeling that my headmaster, Brother Jerome, thought she was A Bad Egg. If I did try to tell her about the ‘Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her’ game – my dad would have made be scrub that bit out. I signed my letter, popped it in an envelope and addressed it to Mrs Thatcher, 10 Downing Street, London. I posted it. Then I waited…
I was in Primary 7 in 1990. I’d been allowed out of class to do some practical work with water and scales and weights and stuff. As much as I hated maths and counting and sums, I did enjoying measuring and weighing things. Length of jotter = 13cms. Diameter of clock face = 30cms. Height of statue of the Virgin Mary = 47cms. There I was, filling up my plastic litre jug at the sink, when Brother Jerome swooshed by – a big grin on his face, his arms wide. ”She’s out!” he beamed. “She’s out?” I clarified. “She’s out!” and he set off round the school to spread the word among the teaching staff. I’ve heard stories this week of people being sent home from school early on the day Margaret Thatcher resigned/was papped oot. I wasn’t sent home from school, but I did enjoy an extra-long playtime with my friends that afternoon.
So Margaret Thatcher’s dead. I didn’t celebrate on Monday, I didn’t celebrate yesterday and I’m not celebrating today either. Instead, I’ve spent the week mostly staring at my computer screen, aghast. My jaw dropped in disbelief as Thatcher was repeatedly hailed as our ultimate British female role model and as one of the feminist icons of our time. [Y'all know that her vagina doesn't immediately identify her as feminist, right? And as for this 'Margaret Thatcher as positive role model' stuff... Sure, the gal worked hard to make her way into politics then worked even harder to poke her way through layers of jowly old boys to become Tory Queen Bee. Great. Sincerely. I get it. Beyond that though - I struggle to list any qualities in Thatcher I'd feel inspired to emulate. And crikey... Don't even get me started on those embarrassing girls on Question Time. Jesus joney. Methinks they were confusing Hollywood Meryl Streep Thatcher with real-life Thatcher?] I bit my tongue and ground my teeth as I witnessed the fall out of Thatcher’s death from a new – and very different – ’London’ perspective. That north/south divide people talk about sometimes? It’s a real thing. And I was particularly bothered by those people who took to poo-pooing anyone under 40 for even having an opinion on Thatcher or for so much as reacting (positively or sympathetically) to her death. ’How would you know? You weren’t even born’. ‘Oh – so you’re a miner now, are you?’ Blah, blah, blah. Well, I wasn’t born in the 1940s. My knowledge of world history is ropey and my grasp of politics poor. My engagement with current affairs can be described as a bit ‘interrupted’ at best – but you know what? I’m pretty confident about where I stand on Hitler. He was a bit of a nasty, right?
… So, Maggie never did respond to my letter. And I guess it would pretty creepy if she did now. She didn’t reply to me – and from what I can tell, she didn’t do any of things I asked her to either. I haven’t been celebrating this week mainly since Maggie’s death don’t mean a thing. Not really. Y’see – you squish one wicked witch with a house, another one flies down – pointier and more putrid than the last. You melt that one – then what? There’s still those pesky winged monkeys to deal with. Then, say, they magically disappear off the scene… what happens after that? On and on it goes. And now, I’m not sure, but if my memory serves me correctly, when we catch up with our pals in Oz later in The Return To Oz, that whole dead witch stuff did not exactly herald a new era of freedom, fairness and success did it? So, ding dong, schming schmong…
You know those quick fire quizzes – the ones where you’re supposed to instinctively pick your favourite of two things, like… tea/coffee Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin, beer/cider, salt/pepper, sweet/savoury, Beatles/Stones* etc.? They’re fun aren’t they? I think they’re supposed to reveal stuff about your personality type or something. The quiz master/mistress says, “Cat/dog?” (Cat/dog is always on the list of pairs), I say, “Cat.” Every time. ”Cat.”
That said, I rarely describe myself as ‘a cat person’. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I understand what it means when people do – or when people, generally, identify themselves according to the animals they live with or do or do not like. But what I do understand is this. I am scared of dogs and – as much as I love rabbits, I doubt I’ll ever have one. Dogs – the big ugly ones? With the teeth and the jaws and the muscley shoulders and the creepy evil smiley faces? Well, I’m mostly afraid they’ll eat me. The other, ‘normal’ ones – I just think they smell a bit funny and are unpredictable and jumpy. They make me feel uneasy. Don’t trust ‘em. The pretty ones, the ones who look silly or have human haircuts – I can get along with. But I get along with them best at a fair distance. I like rabbits, but I mostly like to look at them in books or on the television or in the pet shop. I’ve never held or even touched a rabbit and I wonder, in the back of my mind, whether, if presented with one, I might not be a bit nervous and/or frightened.
Cats on the other hand… Cats I feel comfortable with. Mostly. I have met a few cats that I absolutely did not feel comfortable with – but there are good guys and dicks in the animal kingdom just as there are in people world, right? What I’m saying, is – on the whole, if I had to share my house with a furry creature, I’d most like that creature to be a cat.
Until the age of about 15 I shared my house with a cat called Soapy. Soapy Cat. To this day, no one has been able to give me a proper reason as to why she was called that. Growing up, people would ask me all the time, “And why is your cat called Soapy?” and I used to tell a stupid story about bubble bath to get them to stop looking to me for all the fucking answers. That story was a lie. Anyway – one day, poor Soapy Cat went to the vet and never came back. The story, as my father likes to tell it, is that my mother ‘killed the cat’. Of course, she did no such thing.
In 2005, a big fat grey cat with a funny nose and a crooked tail came to live in mine and Beardy’s house. She belonged to a rock starlette who, due to rock starlette commitments, was leaving Glasgow for the glitz of LA. We were pleased to offer a home to Smokey. Smokey Cat. I was relieved that, unlike ‘Soapy’, this name was fairly self explanatory.
After a few days of testing out the comfiness of every item of furniture in every room of our house, Smokey Cat settled in and quickly became the third member of the Maclennan family and best pal to both me and Beardy. We didn’t mind that she left little tiny balls of hardened poop all over the house. We didn’t mind that she stomped on our heads in the night or that she clawed away at the wicker base of our vintage ottoman. We didn’t even mind that she commandeered all the best chairs in the house or that she had a penchant for puking on the hall carpet. She was our favourite and we loved her.
When Smokey Cat got sick and the vet told us she had a big ol’ nasty cancerous lump on her back, we were devastated and very, very sad – but we were prepared to say our goodbyes and let Smokey Cat wiggle off to the big litter box in the sky if we had to. However, we should have known that this moggy – with her rock’n'roll back story and her hard ass adventures fighting foxes and such, wouldn’t give in that easily. The cat doctors cut a big chunk of her body away, stitched her up like a furry pillow case then stuck a plastic cone on her head and sent her home. Smokey Cat healed beautifully and promptly developed a ne’er wavering addiction to Dreamies. A few months later, she was bundled into her carry case and safely made the long journey with us to London Town. I reckon she heard we were going to a place called Fish Island and decided, that no matter what, she was not missing out on that. But anyway, the stupid lump started to grow back – even bigger than before – and by Christmas, our wee cat pal was really, really ill.
What should have been the first day of our Christmas holidays turned out to be the last day we’d have with our favourite feline companion. We spent it walking her round the garden on her lead, feeding her treats and tickling her wee head. After we said our goodbyes at the cat doctor, we ran (literally, ran) to the nearest pub, drank 3 double gins in the space of about 30 minutes then came back home and danced in the living room to this…
They say that cats help relax humans. That they are a calming force in a household. I believe this to be true and can confirm that since our London Basement became a cat-free zone, it hasn’t felt quite right. It doesn’t seem quite like home – and I feel like a crazy person. A crazy cat lady with no cat is no kind of proper lady at all.
We’re not quite ready to welcome a new wee kitty into the house just yet – but we will. While we prepare for that, I’ve begun to make a cat shrine to try restore some calm to The Basement. C A T V I B E S.
My new cat shrine features work by (from top left) Nicola Rowlands, Julia Pott, Paul of Navarone and Clare Nicolson. I can’t remember the name of the artist responsible for the amazing cat lady illustration. I intend to talk some more about these things and the people/places I got them from later…
*The answers to these questions are as follows…
tea/coffee > tea
Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin > Frank Sinatra
beer/cider > cider
salt/pepper > pepper
sweet/savoury > savoury
Beatles/Stones > I hate that this is a popular pair. I will not choose.
So. You know those lists I was just talking about? The ones where I scribble down notes about stuff I’ll write about later? Well, um… I just found this one lurking in my draft posts folder. I thought you might like it. If I’m remembering properly, I typed this on a sick day. A sick day spent on the couch, infront of the tv. In the day time. Daytime tv. (And if this isn’t proof that it’s not bad for your brains, I don’t know what is).
1. Frog tape. I am impressed with this. A product I could really use.
2. Loose Women. What happened? Who are all these people? Carol Vorderman looks very weird.
3. Telling our parents we hate them. My heart still gets sore when I think of times I was horrible to my mum.
4. Fast cash for fast lives – Kerry Catona. Someone got sacked for that, right?
5. Louise Mensch – Unfashionista. Field day! Surely!
6. Pug dressed as bingo ball.
7. Crufts – humourless dog people, Twitter, dogs with no legs/tails/ears/faces
I don’t know how it does it, but the city just sucks time right off the calendar, doesn’t it? Sucks it right off o’ there… It’s like a big month munching monster on a mission.
I make lists of things I will write about. When I eventually sit down to review my scribbley lists of things I will write about with the intention of picking one and actually posting a blog entry, more often than not, I find the moment has passed. Blog-worthy milestones and special occasions are missed or topics, which in some moment were burning a hole in my brains, are no longer current – or no longer bothering me or exciting me that much. Sometimes I find I’ve just plain gone off the idea. Everything’s whizzing by much too quickly and I’m missing it.
I haven’t written about The Basement (where we’ve lived for the past year). I haven’t written about my new job (I’ve been in it 10 months). I haven’t written about the crisis that was turning 33 (and given how quickly time is flying, I’ll be 34 the next time I think of it and will have a whole new crisis to avert). I haven’t written about Smokey Cat (she died). I haven’t written about our 1-year-in-London anniversary (actually, I haven’t properly celebrated that yet either). I haven’t written about being homesick (comes and goes) or about being people sick (I’m not sure I like ‘em much, generally). I haven’t written about my new expensive shoes (and you know how much I would have enjoyed that. They’re not new any more and probably wouldn’t fetch more than a fiver on Ebay now I’ve worn them every day for 6 months)… I haven’t written about any of the nice places I’ve visited or about any of the fun we’ve had. I haven’t written about any of the dinners I’ve eaten (which I’m sure you will agree, is particularly shocking) and I haven’t written about things that have annoyed me or made me laugh (of which there are a few corkers). I haven’t written about my reunion with my Super Friend and Made in the Shade sidekick and I’ve gone and allowed pretty things, shit things, funny stuff and really piss silly stuff to just float off without a word. I mean, maybe any words I had to offer about them would have been rubbish and a bit ‘Och, whatever!’ anyway – but still… Pure pish.
Here’s a mini disco for a blue day.
The Rolling Stones, Out Of Time
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast, The Time Warp
Alexi Murdoch, All My Days
Rancid, Time Bomb
Poison, Nothin’ But A Good Time
I might rip up all my lists and start again.