Why the #Ranter on the #Croydon #tram makes me proud to be #British

No, not her, obviously. It\’s the other people on that tram. All shades, all nations as she so ignorantly points out. But British to the core. Watch them. At first they do their best to ignore the filth she\’s spouting – instinctively respecting her freedom of speech.
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A black man behind her hears her use the n-word, stands up aggressively. He sees something – probably that she\’s got a kid on her knee – and angrily sits down again. A woman\’s arm stretches out to him, appealing for calm. Here is the essence of courtesy: you don\’t belt a woman, particularly not one with a baby. A man might have been thumped (though I doubt it); this ghastly woman is actually taking advantage of the very British self-control of all the people around her, all the while she\’s telling them they\’re not British.
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Brits are often called complacent or lazy or cold. No, what we\’re seeing on the tram video – and remember none of them could have known they were being filmed – is that basic very British virtue of tolerance. Nobody likes what she\’s saying but they\’re tolerating it. Not out of weakness, but out of strength. It takes a lot of strength to tolerate what she was saying about the people around her.
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She\’s probably been on like this for ages which is why the person was filming her. Exasperation, anger, loud disagreement from a black woman – yet no violence.
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One white woman snaps: she shouts \”I\’m English, what are you gonna say to me?\” It\’s nearly a Spartacus moment. She\’s saying, I\’m with the people around you and I\’m English. She also uses a clever appeal to the woman not to swear in front of kids. The Rancid Ranter seems to think that if her f-words and n-words are OK for the kid on her knee, they\’re fine for all other kids. Nobody agrees. There\’s a consensus of decency here: you don\’t swear in front of kids.
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The final touch? A white girl rushes over to the black man who stood up angrily, and hugs him. I don\’t know if they were in a relationship or not, but the humanity of the moment is extraordinary.

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Saddest thing to hear: the Rancid Ranter shrieks \”My Britain is nuffink now, my Britain is f*** all!\”

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She\’s so wrong. The other people on the Croydon tram are the real upholders of British traditions; the Rancid Ranter is just a sad frightened ignorant woman locked in a delusion.

On old-fashioned High Streets.

Right, that\’s enough about #cats for the moment. I\’ve been reading the #FTWeekend again.
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There\’s a lovely article by #EdwinHeathcote in this week\’s House & Home section (Window Pains 26 November 2011). It\’s about the joys of old Christmas high streets and the miseries of the modern chainstore clonestreet of today. He talks poetically about how \”streets need to allow us to dream again, to become places to provoke desire…\”
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I read it in exactly two minds. One mind was saying, yes, Edwin, you\’re so right, it\’s such a pity the high street is pretty much dying in most places outside London and isn\’t too healthy even in the heartlands of commerce. I too miss the pretty Christmas displays and tinsel and the smell of roasting chestnuts.
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The other mind was going, you overpaid chromosomally-challenged wuss, you\’ve obviously never tried the old-fashioned kind of high street shopping I used to do in Tooting High Street and, yes, Streatham. The real kind. The kind you had to do on a Saturday (because you were working) with a pushchair loaded with one screaming toddler, another whinging pre-schooler trailing along, the handles and underneath of the pushchair stuffed with shopping in bags that split, with your list and your purse in the folded hood of the buggy. The only thing that kept me even vaguely sane was doing the weekly shop with my lovely friend Melanie, who was tougher, smarter and better at keeping to a budget.
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And at every single shop, the supermarket, the butcher\’s, the greengrocer\’s, the chemists, at EVERY SINGLE SHOP you had to back through the swing doors with your buggy, do a three-point turn, battle round the shelves or queue up to get served, queue up again to pay, while watching out for sharp-elbowed tutting old ladies and thieving teens who all hated you because you had just barked their shins with your babybuggy. Then you had to swing round and back out through the doors again. Into the rain. Where the cars would swish by and drench you. And then, at the end of all that, you had to trudge home, uphill, both toddler and child screaming in counterpoint, child occasionally flinging itself into the traffic in despair, toddler turning purple because his nappy\’s wet and he\’s finished his milk and heaving himself up in the fearsome concrete-banana pose.
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Our joy when the superstore opened in Mitcham was unconfined. We felt a bit guilty because we knew the high street would die and we only went every couple of months (and it did die a bit). But it was such bliss to get the whole boring thing done in one go, queue up only once, travel by car so you didn\’t have to wonder which would give first on the way home, the handles of the plastic bags, the handles of the babybuggy or the sinews of your fingers. For a while they even had a creche. And you didn\’t get rained on or splattered with filthy water by someone like Edwin Heathcote in his BMW.
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That\’s why most high streets died. Because, for most of the year, they were shit.

Remy the Hero-Cat

I have to be fair to Remy the #cat. He once covered himself in glory by (sort of) saving a #baby and was rewarded with #sardines and much cuddling. He was only about 18 months old at the time as we first got him when I was very pregnant.
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After Alex my baby girl was born, I was careful to introduce her to him as a mother cat with new kittens would  to an older kitten: first I hissed at him when he came near her, and then I made sure he could see and smell me breastfeeding her. He definitely understood. He never tried to get in her Moses basket and when I had to leave her even for a moment, I always found Uncle Remy sitting nearby, keeping an eye on her.
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We lived in a little house with no central heating, just a gas fire in the living room. So I had the baby there most of the time and I used to change her on a mat in front of the gas fir. Now it so happens that although I\’m very far from being a neat freak, my husband Chris was an outstanding incurable slob. As he came through the door after work he would leave a scatter of stuff behind him, including his tie which he would rip off, roll up and toss down wherever he happened to be. As I was messy too and overwhelmed with looking after the baby, I often didn\’t notice.
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One day I was changing Alex in front of the fire in a sitting room that admittedly looked as if a bomb had hit it. Remy came strolling past to supervise the interesting procedure.
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Suddenly he froze on the spot. He was staring at something that was obviously frightening him because all his fur was up and his tail bottled to three times its usual size. Oddly, though, he didn\’t run away.
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I tried to see what had scared him. Then I realised. Remy was staring at the rolled up tie… Which had a striped pattern and really did look a lot like a poisonous snake, with the diamond head and the coiled body.
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I kept quiet to see what Remy would do. And this is when he was a hero.
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Very very slowly and carefully, Remy silently moved himself around so that his furry body was between the tie-snake and my baby. Inch by inch he placed himself so that the tie-snake could only get to Alex through him.
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And then he pounced. With lightning paws, he batted and clawed the tie-snake\’s head and then he pounced on top of it and broke its neck, shook it, killed it and ripped it up with his claws.
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No goddam tie-snake was gonna get HIS little sister!
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As soon as the tie-snake was properly dead, I scooped Remy up and hugged him and told him how brave he was. It hadn\’t been a game. His eyes were wild, he was breathing hard, his heart was pounding three times as fast as normal and his tail was still bottled. Obviously I gave him sardines, his favourite food.
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It was well-worth having to buy Chris a new tie to know that when push came to shove, Remy the cat was willing to risk his life for our baby!

Rambo mouse II

Having defied our #cat and chased it round the kitchen, #Rambo #mouse stayed under the fridge for a while. I moved the fridge but couldn\’t find him.
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The next thing we knew was that Someone was eating the vegetables in the little pantry next to where the fridge was. Someone with quite a small bite, a big appetite and small black poo pellets. There hadn\’t been any mice there before – but now there definitely was. The smell was powerful.
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Remy the cat was not interested at all. We had several frank and free discussions about what cats actually do for all that food they eat, whether cats in fact hunt mice or is it the other way round? Remy wouldn\’t go near the pantry and stayed in his airing cupboard.
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I went to the nearest ironmonger which was (and still is) Mallett\’s in Truro. The man offered me some of those mousetraps you see in Tom & Jerry but I was too soft and townie for that. At considerable expense, therefore, I bought a special perspex humane mousetrap. It was a square tube with a cunning little drop-down door triggered when the mouse took the bait.
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Now I\’m quite proud of what happened next. My American husband\’s Great Uncle Ray used to hunt wolverine in Michigan and I\’d heard from my husband about how you bait a trap. So I washed my hands carefully, put some milk chocolate at the end of the trap and sprinkled some of the little poo pellets all the way along the tube.
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Next morning my husband called me from the pantry where he was looking for his keys. \”Honey,\” he said, \”There\’s a mouse in a plastic tube here, who\’s trying to kill me.\”
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It was Rambo mouse, good and busted. With great respect I took him over the road to a field and let him out. He disappeared into the grass with a defiant squeak.
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My husband said this was a mistake. He said it was certain that in a few years a great horde of Rambo mice would charge out of the field and conquer all before them.
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It hasn\’t happened yet. But you never know.

The Story of Rambo mouse

Unfortunately cats think it\’s loads of fun to torture half-dead mice. I\’ve been conversing with Jayne Reed on my Facebook Author page about arguments with cats over this. She saved a humming bird from a cat once and says it was like holding a throbbing cloud in your hand.
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Once upon a time my family moved from south London (pavements, roads) to Devoran village in Cornwall (fields). We took our Sarf Lunnon tabby mog with us, whose name was Remy (short for Remillard – geddit?)
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Remy was a cat of character and arrived in Cornwall with a swagger. But the minute we put him down on grass in our back garden, he was horrified and scuttled into the house. \”Yer wot?\” he clearly said, \”Where\’s the concrete? Wot\’s all vis green rubbish?\”
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After a few weeks he started getting used to it though there were still a few problems. Once he was chased all the way up the garden by a badger from the sett at the bottom of it. What the badger\’s intentions were he didn\’t say, but Remy clearly wasn\’t going to stick around to find out. After he recovered from that, he started doing some hunting.
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One night I woke up at about 3 am to hear a loud yowling and crashing downstairs in the kitchen where there was a catflap. My husband was an immoveable snoring lump, so I went downstairs to see what was going on. Another cat\’s probably got in and Remy\’s fighting it, I thought sleepily, picking up a rolled magazine.
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When I opened the kitchen door and switched on the light this is the sight that met my eyes:
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The large tabby Remy was backed into a corner, swatting with a paw at…
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A mouse, standing in the middle of the floor, squeaking ferociously at him.
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I laughed so much I nearly fell over, at which point the mouse chased Remy around the kitchen and then disappeared under the fridge with a final defiant squeak.
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Remy galloped upstairs and hid in the airing cupboard. I went back to bed still giggling.

The best dayjob?

I\’ve been working at Waterstones for a week now and I\’m wondering if this is actually the best dayjob I\’ve ever had? It\’s a no-brainer, really. Writer + bookshop + (some) money = happy…
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At the risk of sounding all dewy-eyed and peppy, everybody\’s so lovely and patient, even while you\’re fumbling around doing stamp-cards (don\’t ask). And then sometimes you get to go on fascinating little treasure-hunts for books people can\’t quite remember. I love these, even though pretty much every other member of staff is better at it than me.
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My feelings might change as Christmas grinds closer and closer, but I\’m still getting a buzz every time I sell an actual book to an actual customer – ha! Take that, Amazon! And that Sony!
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Biggest surprise: like all my offspring, many youngsters are prepared to spend amazing amounts on beautiful well-designed hardbacks on any subject they\’re interested in.
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POW! to you, Google!

The Platinum Rule

I love the Financial Times Weekend edition – it\’s almost Celeb-free, it has excellent arts coverage and it has Tyler Brule\’s column.
Admittedly, for a long time I assumed that the magnificently spoilt, arrogant and picky Tyler was one of those amusingly exaggerated fictional characters that clever old satirists invent.
Then I discovered that there actually is a style magazine called Monocle and that Tyler Brule is, presumably, real. Or realish. I was gobsmacked. Of course, his wittily preening columns immediately became even funnier.
A few weeks ago he got himself into an entire column\’s worth of  hilarious passive aggressive tizzy when some dreadful woman stopped him getting to the treadmill at a gymn by digging in her bag and texting on her Blackberry… For a whole ten minutes!
This weekend, he was having a moan about the general charmlessness of modern First Class life – especially airlines and luxury hotels. The poor love had actually had to drink cranberry juice out of a plastic tumbler on a plane.
And yet he\’s right. Modern life is generally charmless at the moment because all the idiots in charge are squeezing the things their uncharmable accountants deem to be an unnecessary cost. Among which, of course, courtesy is number one and high-quality detail number two. And so with its roots gone, charm dies too.
The result of this self-destructive stinginess is that the most vital oil of society – courtesy – is replaced by computerised switchboards, robotic scripts for operatives and plastic tumblers.
Courtesy is expensive – though often not directly in terms of money, funnily enough. It takes time, effort and empathy. It\’s also something you can\’t really fake because it comes from applying the golden rule of \”do as you would be done by.\”
For any high-end company to have charm, courtesy has to permeate the whole business. It has to be in the cultural DNA from top to bottom. And any company where the directors grab as much money as possible for their pay and bonuses while cheeseparing their employees, will not have it. That kind of greed is the ultimate discourtesy to the people who need to be courteous to their customers: they\’ll know they are being taken for a ride. They may parrot the courtesy scripts and the mission statement and whatever, but they won\’t be able to be truly courteous.
The platinum rule backs up the golden one. It says that you get back from life and other people what you give out. If you go around with your passive aggressive teeth gritted, hating 99% of your experience for being charmless, what you\’ll get will be even less charm and courtesy. Your discourtesy will surround you with discourteous people. It\’s amazing, really – like magic. The minute you start giving out genuine pleasantness, you start getting it back.
Tyler Brule\’s columns are a perfect demonstration of the platinum rule. Everyone should read them.

Happy to be starting at Waterstones tomorrow!

I\’ve always wanted to work in a bookshop like Waterstones in Truro. Yes, I know it\’s not really like Black Books and I know it\’s certainly not going to feature me with my feet up, reading all the books. Actually, if it did, I\’d get bored. No, the reason is that I just love books. I love being surrounded by them. Deeply nerdy though it may be, I feel that each book is a friend just waiting for me to open it up and start a conversation or an argument.
Yes, I know that Kindle and eReaders are taking the world by storm and one day I expect I\’ll get one – though not before they\’ve sorted out the white-black-white page change which gives me a migraine. But I bet I won\’t feel that way about virtual books.
Many years ago (no, I certainly won\’t say how many), when I was about nine or ten, I did a deal with my parents over my pocketmoney. Instead of me getting it every week and splurging it automatically on sweets, they agreed to save it up for me and give it to me monthly so I could buy a book with it.
When I got my book money I\’d strut into our lovely local high street children\’s bookshop on a Saturday morning and spend at least three hours happily agonising over which one to choose. I bought all of Rosemary Sutcliff\’s books, all of Alan Garner\’s. Then I discovered second-hand bookshops and spent even longer havering over the random selections available in Hampstead, when I could get my father to take me there, because I could get far more for my money. I loved the smell of secondhand books and still do, I loved the smell of new books and still do. I loved going into any bookshop or library and looking around at all the potential friends. It made me feel so excited, I\’d sometimes do a little dance. I still feel excited but I no longer do the dance in case they call for the chaps in white coats.
Just going into a bookshop still makes me feel happy and inspired. How many pleasures are still as fresh and delightful after so many years?