house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Destination L

Bored while something's cooking. Tum-dee-dum. The TV comes on and moments later I am watching young, loud people with fake tans in their choreographed pursuit of, what else? Love.

Now, even I have come to realise that numerous TV channels offer their formats of flirting shows. Take me out. Dine with me. Sex pod. Love Island. And I read on the bus that even Big Brother has gotten quite raunchy recently. These are all TV programmes in which young people - candidates, I'd like to call them - put themselves through mortifying tests in front of the nation; they ask and answer questions, expose their bodies and their past, bat their lashes, cook fancy meals, dance, kiss and touch total strangers and generally pretend to be someone cooler than, alas, they are. Someone worthy of affection or worthy, at least, of a mini-break in the tropical sun.

I won't go into motives or consequences, nor the cringe-fest that is de rigueur. But here is the snippet I catch on TV, while in my kitchen a handful of lentils are unsure about the miracle of soup.

This is a show where a young man is presented to 30 (yes, thirty) young women and, a few minutes later, we have a couple going on a dream date. The man, you may think, has all the choice... Not so. He can be rejected by the girls at any stage in the game: they don't like how he looks? Beep: red light, they withdraw from this round (i.e. this man).  He doesn't say what they like to hear? Beep, he is struck off. His talents not impressive enough? You get the idea.

Now, as my lentils labour in the pot, the candidate is introduced: a tall, good-looking man, with dreadlocks, lovely eyes, bright smile. He's wearing a vest and large Thai fisherman's trousers. At least ten girls dismiss him on account of that. He talks a bit about his dreadlocks. Beep-beep-beep.

Then he says - and here I abandon my lentils completely - that he works for Greenpeace and environmental causes. This triggers a red-light carnival - only two women, out of thirty, are left in the game, then only one. Why, the presenter asks the twenty-nine who opted out, why did you reject him? I turn the sound up and the soup down.

Because I'm really curious now: why would environmental activism be such a turn off for modern humans? 'You are one of those people I avoid like the plague on my way to work...' says one girl and that, despite not answering my question, turns out to be the most coherent answer on the show. Not hard, when the others are: 'Because I use hair spray' and 'because I work with lots of paper...'

The one girl that is left in the running declares - with a giggle - that she wasn't attracted by the guy or his environmental causes, but felt that they had a connection: she had also done some 'fundraising' in the past. In effect, he had not been chosen because he tied himself to coal trains or hung from the roof of the parliament with this dreadlocks and green flag flapping in hurricane-sized gusts of wind. No. He had been chosen because she had mistakenly pictured him shaking a can in the main street, to cover Greenpeace's admin costs.

Note to self (and to my 27 readers): television feeds fears (and probably melts ice caps too). There is a special, unseen kind of narrowness, a paralysis spreading through our veins, and wider still, across the land. Its one symptom: instead of fighting, fighting it, we sit and watch. The more we watch the less we see. The less we look around. So really, when it comes to watching, faced with a choice, it's better, ultimately, to watch your lentils boil than any kind of reality on TV.

As for our love candidates, and the title of this blog: forget 'destination Love' and start looking instead for destination Louispharailda (minor planet no. 3211) because Earth will be no better than my soup by the time we're done with it. 

Monday, 13 June 2016


Friday: a blur.

Saturday, first thought of the day: 'Where am I?' Because I'm not in my bed.

Now, I would be both scandalised and flattered if your pulse jumped a (tiny) notch when you read the sentence 'I'm not in my bed', now stop it. I'm not in my bed because my bed has no mattress. My mattress has been dragged into the living room and four teenage girls are sleeping on it like cannelloni in a tray. Sleepover in progress.

Four teenage girls sleeping late on Saturday morning equals uninterrupted, unparalleled bliss: coffee, sunshine, books, news, imaginary news (in the invented land of Vora), some scribbling, more coffee.

 Once we are all up, the day becomes a blur.

Liberating thought of the day: Brexit is irrelevant here. Scotland is not leaving the European Union. With or without England, Scotland is staying in Europe.

Happy hour: flamenco show at Alba Flamenca (my dance school!) Beautiful dancers and musicians perform with exuberant joy to a public of about 23 people (it's a very small room). I'm not even going to talk about the rhythms and the passion, and the sensual grace of the dancers - those arched backs, the strength, the infernal steps. It seems for a moment too exotic and otherworldly for the austere audience, well-meaning though they may be, clutching their riojas, overwhelmed.

The funny thing is I used to look at such dancers and think Oh yeah, flamenco, prance about, arms gracefully arched, flowers, optional castanets, easy peasy. So, despite my own regrettable two-left-feet status, I blithely enrolled in flamenco classes. A few months later I know, blister by blister, how hard each step is and don't even get me started about the arms. So to me, tonight's flamenco show is a bit like the clouds parting and the peak of K2 glinting in the far distance. That's how much ground I'd need to cover, the precise difference between my stamping and flapping and these dancers' ease and perfection. The only thing we have in common is the standard flamenco shoe and the fact that our ancestors shouted olé or something similar (the Romanian aoleu comes to mind) - at angry livestock.

Sunday: what, it's gone? 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Secret Garden

I have a new office.

I found it in a tourist brochure - it's a small public garden, in the centre of Edinburgh. And, because I am researching the city (things to see, things to do); and because I have to write a poem - a ghazal no less - for a character in a story; and because it's sunny and I have no inspiration and no coffee in the house: I go scouting in the Old Town.

I find the garden. I sit down with my notebook to apply myself to the verse of an imaginary man I don't know very well because I've just invented him.

In the meantime, it turns out lots of people have read the same brochure. The little garden is positively teeming. Some visitors are quiet and walk around as if there wasn't a pebble path under their feet, but a frozen lake very late in spring.

Others are loud and the loud things they say are not wise at all, or lyrical, or even necessary. They appear to be in love with their own voice. As a result they can't hear the secret garden. I can't hear my poet's ghazal. I wince, along with any passing ghost of the Old Town, and the advance midge brigade.

Nine French teenagers gallop in. They scream. They sit on the cobbles, as if terribly exhausted. They hang from the branches of trees. The tree nearest to my bench provides optimal branch height and thickness:  boys with muscular legs - in the way sausages can be defined as muscular - try to impress the girls with their acrobatics. Mostly, these acrobatics consist of hanging from a branch while talking nonsense very loudly.

In their turn, the girls try to impress by how cool they can remain and, when forced to speak, how long they can roll their arrrs while sending the resulting rattle exclusively through their nostrils.

I am there long enough to formulate a rule: Scottish visitors are the quietest. In contrast, the English and Europeans so loud that you'd think they are sending vocal distress calls home. By this rule, Americans should be the loudest. But no: they surprise by being the quietest of the lot. A couple of them are sitting on a nearby bench, talking in whispers and sign language. Either they know they have no chance to reach Texas on the strength of their larynx alone; or they're hiding their American-ness on account of Donald Trump.

There is a mediaeval fair in the Borders today, but I can't go. I think about it for a while. In mediaeval terms, this garden could be the cloisters of a very strict monastery, judging by the neat geometry and scrupulous care. They would have locked wives in here, to weave and chant away their hours.

At this point, the ghazal appears out of nowhere. It charges from head to hand to notebook. paying no attention to me along the way. I have a suspicion it is using me.  I wish they all did.