Why I rate slow fashion

Sustainable Fashion

A while ago, a friend of mine was working at a landfill site. Two arctic lorries had turned up full of clothes from a high street fashion retailer, and he had to sign off that the contents of the lorries had been buried. Maybe naively, it was the first time I’d heard of such a practice, but it genuinely prickled my human conscience. As a pretty psychopathic creative, I know that whatever it is that I’m making, be it clothes, words or music, I genuinely cannot help but weave a little bit of joy into every stitch, sentence or sound. I mean I can’t help it because it’s what I love doing. Whatever conditions existed in the factories where those buried clothes were made, they were all made by real human beings. Because robots can’t make clothes yet, other than 3D printed ones. And I found it incredibly tragic that the essence of humanity which had lovingly put that sleeve in – because you have to put a certain amount of love into it or its gonna look shit. But that joy, creative love and humanity was buried that day.

That was maybe 30 years ago, and we’re all used to knowing now, that a lot of fast fashion ends up in landfill. And because we’re used to it, it’s become normalised. Part of the process.

And we also know that the problems don’t end there. For example:

The amount of water required to produce the cotton to make a man size sweat hoody, is the same amount of drinking water as would sustain one human being for 24 years… 24 years! One human being!

I don’t know many of the facts and figures. There are many amazing people out there who do, and write blogs and books. All I know, as a seamstress, is that if I pick up a shirt on a rail and it retails for £4.99, something isn’t adding up. I know how long it would take me to sew a whole shirt, buttons, cuffs and all. The retailer will be taking half that money for a start, and rightly so, they have extortionate bills to pay. The supplier another cut, the factory owners won’t be going short, but for the sums to work, the makers, the producers and the environment must, MUST be losing out. It’s common sense right? We have got used to clothes being incredibly cheap. I could probably pick up a dress for a night out more cheaply today than I would have spent on a crushed velvet number for a goth night twenty (or so…) years ago.

Fast fashion is in no way sustainable. It smashes through environments, resources and communities, and then vast amounts of it end up in landfill when the quantities produced just aren’t sold. Post pandemic, our western High Streets are going to look very different with the selling of the Arcadia Group, and fewer department stores left. This will not only impact our shopping, our unemployment and our city centres, but the very infrastructure and back end of these businesses all over the world. And I’m sure Sir Arcadia clothes landfiller himself won’t suffer too badly, having been knighted in recognition for great social contribution… grrrr

But enough off the bad, how can we dress fabulously without this massive cost to the planet and the people on it? We can buy vintage, and enjoy the lasting magic of great clothes with the nostalgia of decades past. But we can buy new too. Business can be kind. Business can be circular and not follow the make, use, dispose model which we have become used to, but instead look to prolong the life of an item, produce it in harmony with its environment and find ways to recycle the product when it’s finished with. Businesses don’t have to make vast amounts of profits which shareholders can speculate on. Those kinds of businesses will always exist, because some people are greedy. And that’s ok. It’s just human nature.

But there is a choice.

Slow fashion; conscientious fashion; call it what you will, but I think it’s just about being kind. Appreciate the process your garment has gone through before it ended up in your wardrobe. Has a whole village had its water supply diverted so cotton fields can thrive? Has anyone literally died in a factory such as on 24th April 2013 when the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories collapsed? Sometimes it’s difficult to know, but there are more and more sustainable and organic fashion brands out there who do know their supply chains, pay their workers a fair wage and care how their business is run. Even if we choose 1 time out of 10 to give them our money instead, then I think our clothes will have come from a happier place. To use a quote from @packagefreelarder in Southsea and apply it to fashion – we don’t need one person doing slow fashion perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. The multi nationals will always be there, and we can wave our fists at the big boys and girls, but we can also choose where to shop with our money. We may have to spend a little more, and wait a little longer. But we, and the planet (and looking fabulous!) are worth it.

I started HannahSouthsea in lockdown. I watched the Netflix series Next in Fashion, and was completely inspired to get creative. I’d already had my own fashion label, Spanbodywear, in the noughties so had the skills, a sewing machine, an over locker and plenty of fabrics and haberdashery and off I went. I am so grateful to everyone who has bought, liked and commented on my crazy garms already and I hope they bring as much joy to life as I get from making them. I use mostly organic fabrics but also deadstock which is reclaimed , recycled, what’s in the cupboard or left over from other companies – ie anything that hasn’t been bought new for purpose. I am learning all the time, and whatever the future holds, I choose to believe that it’s gonna be bright and bold but above all, a little kinder.

If you wanna see more, do check out my Etsy site, give it some love and be fabulous!

Hannah xx


Be Kind – Be Boss – Be You

Anushka and the Witch

horror - sci fi, short stories

Baba’s ancient articulated finger rapped on the phone screen listlessly. Her withered old heart was indifferent to the glossy lifestyles of the equally lifeless, as they flickered like an old movie before her one functioning eyeball. With the force of a bicep curl, she squinted the other eye closed awkwardly, puppeteering her dull grey top lip, tightly upwards on that side, until only a small crescent of eye remained.




Remnants of scarlet and purple nail polish, chipped and abandoned, bounced into view as she scrolled. With her mouth open to squeeze her corrugated face together, she was caught completely off guard, and a large glob of spittle plopped from her contorted lips onto the screen. It landed as a fettered bubble puddle on the acid yellow bonnet of cute-underscore-anushka’s latest post. Her first Mercedes CLA250.

“You’ll do then,” she rattled, wheezing onto the back of her wrist in an outward breath so laboured that even the cat did a double take in case she never inflated again. Her hand fell back down to her lap as she threw her head back, mouth lolling open to inhale the sweet russkim dukhom, or Russian sweat that all old people seemed to exude. She stared at the rough wooden planks, which served as her ceiling, and touched her bony rigid hand to the side of her shrunken skull. Her long nails caught in her pathetic threads of white hair, which tugged out as her wizened talons pulled away.

“Ugh, not again!” she exasperated, looking at the web of time past in her palm. “I need some new life!”

The cat, unusually nut brown, as if he belonged to the very timbers of the house, leapt up onto the narrow windowsill, his soft paws placed with intent between Baba’s carefully curated crystal tool box. His back was arched, creating a silhouette against the tiny squares of greasy smoked glass, beyond which, the Sosnovy Bor pine forest stood in repetitive columns, keeping Baba hidden from the city beyond.

“Don’t even think about it!” she squawked, as the cat regarded a smooth weg of purple banded amethyst with a hole bored through it, eroded by water which had exploited a crack in the crystal. He lifted his front paw defiantly, and brought it’s full might down on the blue-violet rock, just hooking a sharpened nail into the hole at the last minute for maximum effect, and flung it off the ledge.

In a fly’s heartbeat, Baba’s outstretched claw caught the precious stone centimetres from the threadbare Turkish rug on the floor. In the same moment she was standing to her full height of eight feet, and with one scrawny hand wrapped around the amethyst, she backhanded the cat into the centre of the room with the other, before his feline senses could react.

“Miiiiaaaaaooooowwww,” he yowled.

“Don’t think you can outsmart me, S-a-t-a-n-a.” She said, labouring the syllables of his name, while she pushed her hips forward with her bony hands in the small of her back.

In one stride she was back at the armchair, and crumpled heavily into it, grabbing her phone as she sat down. Satana sashayed his scrawny midriff past her shins, and she absent-mindedly used the motion of his moving pelt as a miniature car wash to get rid of the muck on the screen. Her clenched skeletal fingers opened smoothly, like the petals on a flower, and she regarded the amethyst hag stone. She flipped it between her thumb and index finger, bringing it to her keen red veined eye and stroked Anushka’s name on the glassy screen. As the profile slid into view, she drilled down into the life that was Anushka Sokalov.

Cute-anushka. Where are you?

The room was doused in orange and her concentration burned with bittersweet flames in the hearth. Scouting embers whistled and cracked up, up and out of the chimney seeking to find their mark, while a distorted flesh face hung, stretched above the fireplace, it’s Frankenstein features played by the dancing firelight. There was a bold ‘pop’ of yellow flame in the grate, and Baba’s lips curled in triumph, as the grotesque mask unwittingly grinned back.

Anushka Sokalov lived in Sosnovy Bor, just the other side of the forest.

Anushka was aware of the slightest warning spark of hot embers as she left her modern build student apartment. She briefly wondered if there was a fire in the forest, but in soaking up the new greens of the pine trees which flanked her apartment block, she thought instead of the vivid yellow presence of her beautiful new car and stretched her imagination to believe it was still there. She didn’t own it, of course. Just rented it for a few hours for the insta pics, but it was 1395 rubles worth of likes, and counting.

She reached the NailBrite salon for her weekly manicure, and was picked up with the smoothness of a conveyer belt, the minute she swiped right over the stainless steel button on the doorframe. She knew all the technicians, and her Instagram presence had meant that NailBrite was hot gossip in Sosnovy Bor, and beyond. She always picked a Wednesday. Not only were there no squawking teenagers, but it was also Dobroe Delo, or kind deed day. Customers paid a bit more for their manicures so senior citizens could get free or subsidised nail treatments. The majority of the elderly received a tiny state pension and not much else, and boy did they love their Wednesday mornings! There was chatter and apple cake, and creepy tales of the old Baba Yaga who lived in the forest and ate people, all filed and lacquered to perfection. The usual Euro techno beats were replaced with a more traditional soft folksy sound. Anushka felt warm and snuggled in a blanket of nostalgia, and she could be more incognito than her Instagram persona generally allowed.

“Hi Nush – how’s our favourite celebrity?”

She was greeted in a high pitched voice by Cassandra, who emphasised the ‘-ebrityyy?’ at the end of the sentence, with sustain and a genuinely excited smile. Cassandra was a little mouse of a girl from Vietnam, whose hair was pulled back into a professional ponytail. Mouse-like because she skittled around the salon, keeping everything just so and not getting in anyone else’s way. But when it came to her manicures, she was firm and dedicated to the task in hand, and woe betide any other technician who took a gel to use without checking with her first.

“Like a lion, baby, like a lion!” Said Anushka, clawing the air in front of her. “But a lion with a terrible set of talons!” She said, over acting the despair in her voice with a tremolo, and holding her hand pitifully in front of her sulking lips.

“Aoaoaoaoao…” Cassandra came running over, absolutely alarmed at the nail crisis in her salon. “Sit down! Sit down! Here you go, your favourite soda Miss Anush – I call you over, two seconds!”

She motioned for Anushka to sit on a velvet upholstered pink chair, with vertical cerise candy stripes on the back and arm rests. There were six identical chairs next to each other, in front of a highly instagrammable wall of fake silk flowers, in every shade of pink imaginable, from the softest peach to the most decadent violet. Spotlights hung from the ceiling, illuminating each chair, ready to capture any moment in life that required it, and the words ‘# LUV MY NAILS’ pulsed across the vertical carpet of flowers in bright pink neon.

Anushka breathed in the counterfeit lifestyle, understanding its trickery, yet nevertheless devoted to it. She barely noticed the door slide open beside her. Neither did she feel the witch’s gaze as Baba shot her a glance on entering the salon.

Baba nearly vomited as she took in her surroundings. What was it with pink? And the lacquered air seemed to coat her old lungs with a heaviness she hadn’t known since her pipe smoking days. At least it was wrinklies Wednesday, so if she was to be seen, she’d fit in quite well. She walked slowly down the line of chairs, with her right hand wrapped around her left, leading the way in front of her. Her mind was still, and she moved smoothly, keeping her head bowed, so as not to draw attention to herself. She reached the furthest chair and sat down, silently, under the designated spotlight. She wanted to click her fingers and turn the damn thing off, but that would have broken her carefully controlled spell. Instead she looked at her own time-ravaged manicure, and again wished she could snap off the spotlight.

It hadn’t taken much to map out the movements of cute_anushka. Her life was literally an open Instagram account and she’d even broadcast the fact that she’d be at NailBrite at 10am, Wednesday morning. Baba had to work fast. She’d hung mandrake root in front of the indignant eyes of Mr flesh face back at home, which she knew would give her a certain level of invisibility. But it was a fragile fix. She needed to get in and out of that salon without drawing unnecessary attention to herself. She also carried a small mirror in her coat pocket, facing out; to further deflect any unwanted scrutiny, and project whatever was behind her into the eyes of her beholder. This was currently a multi-pink wall of flowers, and she was understandably distressed at this portrayal of herself.

“Ready for you now, Mees Anush!” Cassandra announced excitedly. “Come sit, sit please!”

Anushka’s Lev like mane bounced in a tumbling wonder with it’s own momentum as she walked. It was her hair that really got her noticed as an influencer. Shades ranging from fine alabaster through bleached sand, flaxen golds, and toffee yellows spiralled together. It incorporated the bounteousness of summer and the harsh tones of winter, all caught in exotic bubbles of champagne. She was over six feet tall, and even Baba looked up to take in her full height, almost ruining the veil of her disguise.

She settled opposite Cassandra who expertly wrapped her expired acrylics in cotton doused in acetone, and then pressed little foil cones around each nail to help lift last month’s lifestyle choices. This time she was going for her signature lion claw, starting with a rich metallic bronze at the cuticle, fading through to a white gold at the tip.

Baba shifted in her seat slightly so she could keep an eye on the proceedings. The foils were off, and after a hand smoothing treatment and massage, Cassandra was expertly pushing cuticles, trimming off excess and smoothing to perfection. Baba saw her opportunity. She moved out of her chair, like a stalking huntress, her head and line of vision perfectly still, her limbs propelling her silently forward. Her face was directly behind Anushka’s mane, and she had to stop herself gagging on the warm coconut aroma. In a duel assault, Baba wrapped a couple of silky strands of hair around her warty finger and tugged. In the same split second as she briefly captured Anushka’s attention, she reached round with the other thieving hand, and pinched up a nail clipping from the fluffy white towel on the table. Cassandra noticed this slight anomaly and looked from the towel and then to Anushka’s distracted gaze. The salon hung in a temporary time lapse, without even a breath, until the door slid smoothly shut, and Baba left the building.

“Oh, I think my hair caught in something,” said Anushka, shaking her head left, then right.

“You just want me to notice your hair – cheeky lady!” Cassandra mimicked Anushka’s movements, smiling broadly, and began applying the sculpting forms to Anushka’s fingertips.

Back in the forest, Baba was holding her head remarkably high when she reached the edge of the trees where her cottage stood. It was the first time she’d had human contact in quite a while, and she couldn’t help smiling at her successful mission of mischief. She hitched up her raggedy green skirt, and made her way purposefully through the skull topped fence posts that intermittently marked out her territory.

She got to the wide steps that led up to her front door, and rested her elbow on the wooden worn handrail. She put a foot up onto the first step, and looked up at the shabby little house with it’s rickety timbered panels, and undulating roofline, the odd tile missing and the resulting leaks re-directed to those who had wronged her. Again, she cackled inside.

“I’ve got a nice treat for you!” she said, slapping her hand on the wooden rail.

Imperceptibly, the house shifted with the weight of a bear disturbed during a long winter sleep.

“I said I’ve go a treat for ya!” she bellowed, flapping her old ankle at the bottom step in an attempt to wake her sleeping abode. The house creaked, and the windows looked a little less closed.

“That’s better,” she said. “Let’s get things ready for little Anushka!”

With a certain joi de vie, she climbed the uneven stairs. It was a few years since she’d done an actual spell, and she was properly buzzing. She danced round the kitchen with lightness and ease, plucking coloured leaves from small jars and scooping measures of pungent potions, while softly humming and spinning in a clockwise direction. She dragged her sizeable granite pestle and mortar next to the table, and began pounding the constituents together. She worked vigorously, again in a clockwise motion, holding the pestle in both hands to guide its weight as it crushed and mashed, and ground and pulverised.

Her arms and hips worked together rhythmically to the beat of the pestle and mortar, and all the while she muttered:

“Cute Anushka, come to me, your life to give, my life to live!
Cute Anushka, come to me, your life to give, my life to live!

Like the turn of the tide, she felt the ingredients surrender their original potencies and agree to join forces in a new direction. She grabbed the mortar and carried it into the living room, setting it down and flinging back the Turkish rug on the floor.

An array of bright sigils in the floorboards twitched as the removal of the enchanted carpet broke the seal, and they were connected to all things once again. Baba knew they were lively and open to intent, so she padded round softly to soothe each one. With her palms down she made circular clockwise motions, one hand crossing over the other, whilst exhaling soothingly as she coerced them to her will. Ultimately, much like bambinos, they were all eager to please. She crossed to the north side of the room and plunged her grappling hand into a large cauldron shaped wooden bowl of salt. It was a dark, dark wood; smoothed over centuries by the attrition of the fine rocks it held. With the grains spilling through her cramped fingers like an hourglass, she worked quickly, again, following the path of the sun, and prowled around the idents, sketching a large circle on the floor, and not taking her eyes off any one of them for a second.

Happy that she now had the undivided attention of the energies in her care, Baba unhooked a large metal ladle from beside the fireplace, and scooped out the blended contents from the granite mortar. In the middle of the circle was a small burnt hollow in the floorboards, which she carefully poured the spellbound particles into. She squeezed some saliva into her pursed lips, and did a small directed spit into the centre of the mound, then reached into her pocket to retrieve Anushka’s strands of hair and nail clippings.

She carefully placed these in the oily mix of her saliva and powder that was starting to swirl clockwise in an ever-increasing spiral. She stepped carefully out to the edge of the circle, and placed four small yellow candles, equidistant apart, in the sprinkled salt perimeter. She took her trusted Zippo lighter with a black skull in relief on it’s case, and starting with the candle at the North side, she lit it, saying, “North wind of ice!”

She moved round to the next candle in the East, lighting it in turn and saying, “East wind of hot and cold!”

And so on to the South and West candles, “South wind of searing heat!” And, “West wind of home!”

She stamped her feet loudly and rhythmically on the floor, and one by one the sigils began to jerk and writhe as if absorbing the potency of the flames. The outer symbols caught light first, not with fire, but with a molten heat travelling through them, igniting Baba’s intent and shaping it to her will. These snapped at the heels of the resting middle shapes, which flipped to their reverse forms, reshaping her intent, ready to act in the world. Finally, the inner motifs were ablaze and began to move; vicious and vibrant, chasing each other round and round. Intermingling and interlocking, their dazzling forms eventually impossible to separate. They rose upwards, around the central crucible, creating a powerful and unavoidable vortex, hell-bent on bringing Anushka to the witch’s cabin.

Baba stamped faster and faster as the vortex became it’s own form, and then she stopped, arms outstretched in front of her, one hand against each side of the whirling mass. With a magnificent lunge towards the hearth, and with all her body weight, she willed the mini tornado to move with her. There was a blinding crack of pungent sulphurous yellow as the malignant cloud broke free from its circle of origin, and was sucked straight up the chimney, disappearing on its debauched errand of devilry.

Baba collapsed to the floor, her exhausted heart trembling unevenly against her rib cage like a wasp in a jar. She could have gone into town and simply coshed Anushka out cold and dragged her back. Or persuaded her with small talk. Each option she felt would have left her equally as ragged. Small talk particularly got her so strung out that she’d find herself clutching her arms around her body and clawing at her own elbows with the anxiety. And surely witchcraft demanded a certain amount of showomanship after-all?

With her new claws firmly in place, Anushka had a brunch date with Mila, her BFF since school days. They had absorbed tea and life until they could absorb no more, kissed each other firmly on each cheek, and slapped their right hands together high in the air before turning and going their separate ways. The sun shone brilliantly and yet Anushka could feel the skin on her arms prickling. She crossed them in front of her, hugging up to her shoulders with her warmer hands, and then thought she saw a snowflake whip round in front of her eyes.

She looked up to see a mini tornado towering above her, and momentarily stopped in her tracks. Her science mind was fascinated. She’d heard of ice storms, when warm humid air met with storm clouds and after a brief battle with gravity, generally fell as hailstones. This was really localised though, as in right above her head. She turned back to see Mila, but instead was engulfed in the swirling ice vortex, her champagne curls sticking across her face and her eyes stinging, as she was blinded by the caustic cloud.

She was finding it hard to breathe, but could just about see her feet approaching the pedestrian crossing. If she took it, she could follow the path alongside the pine forest, which would get her home, albeit the long way around. She stumbled along; taking shallower breaths, as the ground beneath her feet became more uneven. Twigs and pinecones cracked, and crunched, as she took ungainly steps forward, and she knew she was heading into the forest. The acrid smell of the cloud was drawing in fresher scents of clean pine and notes of citrus and lime, which turned to oranges and Christmas as she was guided deeper into the trees.

She put her head through her bag strap to keep it securely to her body, and held her arms out in front of her, with no idea where the next tree or hollow might be. Although she noted that although she couldn’t see anything, she hadn’t bumped into anything yet either. And then, just as quickly as the storm had arrived, the ice shroud surrounding her seemed to evaporate. She was left, a little disorientated, looking at a clearing in the forest with a small diamond encrusted house in front of her.

Her mouth fell open as the terror of the ice storm melted away. Her instinct was to use her shiny new nails to comb back the wet hair stuck to her face. But she left the motion half completed, utterly forgetting why she’d lifted her hand in the first place, and her hair being completely dry anyway. Her hand fell instead, to her chest, and she stood, rapt and enchanted.

She was pulled forwards towards the house, the front gate, latticed with metal worked gold feathers swinging open invitingly in front of her. She felt as if she was on a travelator at the airport, aware of walking, but it felt more as if she was pushing the scene behind her with her feet rather than walking through it. She arrived at a sweeping set of white marble steps with two highly polished golden Faberge eggs on either side of the handrail. They were adorned with hand painted winged fantastical creatures, and as she reached out to one of the eggs, the animals began to dance and chase each other around the smooth surface. She let her hand rest on the egg, and flinched slightly at a roughness under her fingertips.

Amazed she hadn’t thought of it before, she pulled out her ‘phone. She slipped her finger through the faux diamond ring on the back of the case, and lined it up with her other freshly manicured hand, entwined with the animals on the Faberge egg. She moved the phone up beyond the winking diamonds in the pale blue walls of the cottage, to the highly decorated windows, carved in wood and shimmering with gold. Each roof tile looked like a small gold bullion, and the eaves surrounding the upper windows were exquisitely sparkling with softly coloured lights.

The door was open, and she stepped across the threshold.

Baba’s vice like grip locked onto the back of her skull, pulling her into the room like a rag doll. Anushka’s heart beat so hard, and she flailed behind her trying to grab for the doorframe. But Baba was too strong and propelled her forward, kicking her stubborn feet as they tried to friction grip themselves to the uneven floorboards. The enchanted bling was gone in an instant. Now it was dark and menacing, a mouldy stench entered her nostrils and a low sounding frequency engulfed her body. Her shoulders contracted painfully and her stomach flipped in her chest, as she was forced through another doorway, the low frequencies rushing around her as the intensity increased.

As her eyes adjusted to the gloomy horror, she became aware of the origin of the menacing sound waves. A pulsing dark oblong in the corner of the room was emanating a roar of such disquiet, that it engulfed the very essence of everything. But she was picking up shapes in it too – it was her reflection. Dark and distorted, her own horrified face being pushed into the edges of this nothing, and the hideous witch behind her relentlessly forcing her forward.

Baba took the final step, with one last brutal shove to Anushka’s head. At the same time she slammed her shoulder, with the full force of her scrawny yet sizeable body, into Anushka’s back.

In an instant, she knew things had gone horribly wrong.

Anushka had seen the over sized pestle and mortar leaning against the fireplace. In a final fight or flight bid for freedom, she gasped a lung full of the thickened odious air, and flung her two outstretched hands towards the pestle handle, at the exact same moment as the witch had come at her with full force from behind. As Anushka hurled herself out of the way, Baba’s momentum catapulted her directly forward, and her face met that of her reflection in the glassy abyss that she had conjured in her own living room. She clung on desperately to Anushka’s skull, but only managed to lock on to a few strands of hair, which ripped out as she rushed headlong over Anushka’s head.

“Uuuurrrgggghhh not again!” she cursed, and screamed, an ancient visceral scream as the air in the room was torn apart. Anushka’s eardrums were grated with jagged shreds of noise as she grabbed the heavy handle, and swung round in a full circle to slug the remaining few inches of the witch into the dark abyss that had been meant for Anushka.

The vacuum that Baba’s scream had created imploded in on itself with an explosive thunder-crack, and the portal slammed shut. The house gave a huge involuntary shudder, and ornaments and potions crashed around her. Anushka was breathing heavily, still holding the pestle handle, its heavy load resting on the floor, so she looked as if she was ready to take a baseball swipe down a dark corridor which no longer existed.

A noise a bit like a balloon inflating attracted her attention from above the fireplace. The most grotesque fleshy face was stretched flat across a wooden frame, and was freakishly distorting, its eyes seeming to bulge with rage, its mouth ready to spit venom. She leant the pestle back up against the hearth, and although her stomach churned in revulsion, she couldn’t help but look at the monstrously pudgy profile. It’s meaty bottom lip kept bulging out pathetically, while its eyes blinked angrily, and she realised that a ringlet of blonde hair was hanging directly over its left eye, and it was unable to do anything about it. Without breathing or touching the corpse like features, she steadily reached up and tucked the fetching fringe over the top of the frame, causing the meaty cheeks to burn a deep crimson. There was a faint waft of coconut and familiarity – it was her hair that the witch had torn out. Somehow Baba was now trapped in the mask, and Anushka was the one who felt a surge of power as she stepped back from the fireplace.

She had defeated the witch in the forest! The Baba Yaga.

This was gonna be big insta news.

She hung her head down in front of her and whipped it up again, shaking her mass of curls into a triumphant photo shoot finish. The house itself seemed to pull its rafters together as if absorbing this new life force of possibilities. Anushka held up her phone and looked coyly sideways at the convulsing creature on the wall, as Satana brushed past her ankles.

“Come on Baba.” She said. “Smile for the camera!”

Love in the Time of Covid #9 – To Vax or Not To Vax?

covid 19

That is indeed a question.

I have very good friends who sit on both sides of this ‘question’. I would vax, but am not going to un-friend my very dear friends who wouldn’t.

Although I say I would vax. When I was picking up my prescription before Christmas at my local chemist, I was offered the seasonal flu vaccine. So many daggers flew from my eyes I pretty much emptied my arsenal. Why would I want a flu vaccine? I’ve had flu before and it’s never done me any harm. Surely natural immunity’s a good thing? When I got home I realised that having had a heart operation and being over 50, of course I was in the bracket to be offered a flu vaccine. And now knowing a whole lot more about covid 19, I understand that it’s not about me and my illness, it’s about protecting the whole population. Especially the old and the vulnerable, who I could infect and unknowingly kill, whilst getting better myself.

As hunter gatherers, we lived a fair distance apart, and diseases burned themselves out quickly. About 12 000 years ago, a hunter erected a pen around a couple of wild sheep and cabbages and we started to live together, in groups. Infectious diseases had a field day. We are already post human and need vaccines just to live next door to one another.

We vaccinated our populations before knowing what a germ was. When bacteria were first seen through a magnifying glass in pond water, no one thought it could make people ill. In 1850, Robert Koch in Germany proved that TB was caused by bacteria, rather than being inherited, as was widely believed at the time. The first vaccine was discovered by Edward Jenner, who successfully vaccinated a boy against cowpox in 1796 (hence the word vaccine from Latin vacca = cow), and this was the basis for the modern smallpox vaccination. Smallpox was certified as globally eradicated in 1980. Thanks to the vaccine. Water purification and vaccine programmes were imposed on the general public, though not without resistance. How could you be protected from a disease by being injected with it? But at the beginning of the 20th Century, diseases were being controlled, cities were self-sustaining and faith in science and rationalism was high.

This changed with the 1918 flu epidemic. Regulated healthcare and homeopathic remedies existed side by side. Nothing was considered conventional or alternative, they were just different. The horse and the motor car travelled together in the streets, and quantum theory existed, as did witches. Many people in the industrial world turned to medical doctors for treatment, but the scientific community had no answers, as viruses had not been discovered yet. The infection was thought to be bacterial, and government laboratories produced large quantities of vaccines against the bacteria. This did nothing because in fact the flu was caused by a virus. Consequently the American Medical Association advised its members not to put faith in vaccines. The New York Times said science had failed to guard us and The Times ran stories of neglect and lack of foresight (mm sounds familiar), and that someone should be answerable for the nation’s health.

Doctors started prescribing the recently developed Aspirin, but in far too large quantities which did more harm than good, increasing the mis-trust in science. So doctors fell back on older techniques, and homeopathic remedies had a resurgence. Alternative medicine was able to claim higher cure rates, and rightly so, at the time, as good nursing and attentive healers can pay dividends to a patient’s sense of well being and strengthened immunity. A lot of the cures were no more effective than placebos, but the effect of positive thinking can be a very powerful thing, linked to the trust established between a patient and their doctor. Without medicine, religion became another source of comfort, and among the bitterest enemies of conventional medicine were the Christian Scientists. They claimed prayer alone had proved superior and their following grew rapidly, believing themselves to be untouchable. Much like Donald Trump ‘wearing the armour of God’ and holding a bible above his head (and upside down) for a photo opp outside St John’s Episcopal Church last Monday, after threatening military action on his own nation.

At least I think that’s an upside down bible…

When a virus infects a person, anti bodies are formed, that attach themselves to the virus. This prevents the virus from attaching itself to us and causing harm. These antibodies remain in the blood for years and hence we can be ‘immune’ if the same flu virus comes knocking in the future.

As a virus is a parasite, and can only reproduce inside a host, scientists had a problem back in 1918, trying to recreate it in the lab for vaccine making purposes. It was 1931 before a virus was successfully grown in a fertilised chicken’s egg, and 1936 before the first flu vaccine was produced, way after the pandemic had passed. The virus in the egg produced more of itself, and the weakest versions were grown in another egg. This process was repeated 30 times until the resulting virus didn’t replicate very well at all. This vaccine was injected into people, who experienced very mild symptoms, but were protected against re-infection. All this, before a flu virus was actually seen for the first time in 1943.

Now, again, confidence in vaccines is low in many countries. In August 2019 the UK lost its status as a country that had eliminated measles after a declining MMR vaccine take up. In late 2018, Brooklyn New York City saw the largest outbreak of the disease in nearly 30 years. The Global Vaccine Summit is currently being hosted in the UK, on line. It seeks to raise 6 billion pounds from around 70 countries so we can continue to immunise half of the world’s children against deadly diseases such as measles, polio and diptheria and prevent them making a comeback. Already this year, as a direct result of the covid 19 pandemic, almost 40 million children in Pakistan missed their Polio vaccination after nation-wide programmes were halted.

Unless we have a water tight track and trace system, without a vaccine, the threat of infection will never go away. And that’s if we even find one. We were promised an HIV vaccine in 5 years, 30 years ago. Germany and South Korea are managing to keep covid 19 at bay, post lock down, with track and trace, but there is little room for error. At the moment, our system in the UK is said to be ready for ‘Autumn’. And a track and trace system operating in the face of world wide Black Lives Matter demonstrations and rioting is another moral wrangle. The abhorrent and inhumane treatment of the black population at the (often white) hands of those controlling us all, is an injustice that has prevailed far too long. The blood is on all of our hands as a complicit society and through direct social action we can strive for a goal of real change. And I’m mortifyingly white to say this, but…

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Portsmouth, UK

However, (ok, I chickened out of but), there is still a pandemic out there, and I hope against hope that there isn’t a further climb in numbers two to three weeks down the line, or once again we will be letting down the weaker members of our society, who as a civilisation are the very people we should be taking the most care of.

We don’t yet know if people who catch covid 19 acquire long term immunity. But we need to recognise that there is a general public who have very valid questions and concerns. What are the motives of the big pharma companies? Is Bill Gates going to micro chip us all? And if the vaccine is rushed through does that mean bypassing safety concerns? No one has so far said that a covid 19 vaccine would be mandatory. However, to achieve herd immunity, 80% of the world’s population would need to take up the vaccine. A recent study of Fox viewers in America showed that only 60% of their viewers had faith in vaccinations. Americans who voted for Donald Trump are also prone to anti vaccination attitudes, exacerbated by his tweets. Some people are ideologically opposed to vaccines, some just don’t like needles whereas others are more vaccine hesitant. On line there lives a vocal community of vaccine doubters armed with reasons why vaccines should not be the norm. Maybe on line is where we need to see more balanced and scientific reasons why people should be vaccinated to give both sides of the argument.

Bill Gates (and I know not everyone trusts him!) said in an interview on Radio 4 recently, that regardless of who invents it, the vaccine will be produced by pharmaceutical countries all over the world, working together. The companies with capacity are currently building factories in different countries to cope with demand. The widespread use of the vaccine will be limited by logistics rather than by manufacture. But can the big pharma giants ever be trusted by the public to be helping the world rather than profiteering?

And apparently he’s not looking to micro chip everybody. He did say we will know who has and hasn’t been vaccinated. But this will be down to medical records rather than nano technology.

On the plus side, if a vaccine is found, and if it works, it may just convince a generation that it took a vaccine to return us to normality. And look towards a future where lock down and economic disasters are more avoidable.

The Outfit I Will Never wear again

short stories

My fingertips played through the pyjamas on the H&M rail. The call of the Bat logo was strong but the hospital had said I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms above my head. I’d never get my bat chic on. Maybe I’d have time to make some….

My ‘phone rang:

“Lucy? It’s Gillian from Southampton Hospital. We’ve had a cancellation, you can come in this afternoon.”

Eeek – did she mean a death?

I called my husband Bassalot (because he likes bass – a lot) who very calmly, said “Well, what do you want to do?”

What did I want to do? I was actually just on my way to meet a good friend, Katy, for a couple of glasses of Prosecco at Southsea castle and earlier that morning I’d said I’d cover at Avalon all day Friday (tomorrow) where I worked. I was feeding my friends cats at the weekend while she was at a festival, had barely started my iron rich diet and – my pyjamas weren’t ready.

All weighed up against the very serious matter that my heart needed fixing. I decided against the cancellation and Gillian was very understanding. Both realities co-existed in my mind over the next seven weeks but project pyjama was back on! Well, if a fashionista has to go into hospital for a hi-octane heart bypass operation completely out of the blue, said fashionista is gonna need some lo brow frivolities to take her mind off it. So I bought a pattern, scoured the fabrics on offer locally and had decided on some purple leopard print velour with skull buttons from Amazon. De nerr!

Finally in hospital, I scrubbed up for the last time with fluorescent pre surgical purge. As I’d be asleep for a while, I decided I should have ‘good hair’ so gave it an extra condition. I then slid my pink, iron laden body of antimicrobial goodness into my purple leopard velour jim jams. Rod Stewart looked back at me from the mirror.

I texted Bassalot and told him I loved him with all my achy breaky heart and he should probably be drinking tequila about now. I also relayed my Rod Stewart concerns. He sent me the selfie he’d taken before he left and assured me that Mr Stewart was the coolest. Then he sent me a picture of a bottle and a shot of tequila.

Night time was sweaty. The synthetic velour adding an extra layer of shrink wrap to my steely resolve. I took the heat though as I had read an article saying velour pyjamas were big news.

I had a heart bypass operation.

Two nights later Kung Fu nurse strode into my room and hooked my neck in the crook of her elbow to swing me into a seated position like a rag doll.

“You can get out of this gown now and put your pyjamas back on.”

I had dared to imagine this moment. Dared to imagine my life post op: hopefully pain free, unregimented by pills and iron consumption, and gloriously enrobed in purple leopard velour. I did put them on and looked in the mirror.

Hi Rod. After it’s well coiffed entrance into theatre, Rod‘s hair was now a fashion crime. There was a narrow white dressing covering my protruding chest bone, showing small red dots disappearing down my cleavage. Like the ‘Cut Here’ line on a sewing pattern.

Kung Fu nurse did checks every four hours and I got hotter and hotter until I overtook the safe mark. There was talk of blood tests and charts and doctors and eventually the velour was laid to rest in favour of a sleeveless shirt and pants.

I still have Rod in a drawer. But there he will stay.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and was told I needed a heart bypass operation. I had a lot of time post surgery so thought I’d write the whole thing down.

As a forty something year old relatively fit female it had taken 18 months to diagnose why I was getting stomach pains and what had led to my human malfunction one Monday morning in the local Post Office.

Luckily an ambulance was nearby, I wasn’t billed for my overnight stay with the NHS and 6 months later I got the surgery I needed to give me my best chance of continued life on planet Earth.

I wrote these 500 words as a competition entry entitled ‘The Outifit I Will never Wear Again’ and subsequently used it as a spoken word piece as part of ‘The Front Room’ Women’s Day event.

To read the full story of the funny / sad / gruesome events unfolding, follow my blog http://www.tenpastsix.blog and hold on for the ride!

Chapter 1 will be here on Monday 26th August at ten past six pm!

Love in the Time of Covid #8 – The Customer is Always Right

covid 19

So given a choice, would we rather have the pubs or the shops back open? Most people would probably say pubs in fairness, but tuff, because what I actually know is retail, so that’s where I’m going with this. Shops, in all likelihood, are set to start a phased re-opening from June 1st. As with the rest of this pandemic, we are waiting very much day to day for any decisions to be made on whether any shops will open on this date, if so which ones, and what will the guidelines be?

Many shops are operating perfectly well, and have been since the rest of us were closed. The big supermarkets have Perspex shields and arrows on the floor, with social distancing reminders marked out by tape on the floor. Smaller health food shops / newsagents / kiosks etc are one in, one out, maybe offering a delivery service, and most places are saying they’d prefer to take card payments to avoid shared handling of cash.

I’ve worked in many retail establishments from downright cool, to being self employed, to department stores, to the health and beauty industry and thriving family businesses The one thing they all have in common is the customer.

And the customer, as we know, is always right.

Aaaah, the customer. But the thing is, I am also a customer, and there are instances in life when I think I’m right. I’ve stood behind various counters, being told what a customer has seen in the window three weeks ago, despite the fact that I know what was in the window three weeks ago because I bought the stock in the first place, chose it and put it in the goddam window! Also, I know that what they’re describing was actually in the window about eighteen weeks ago. Or being told that on our website at their house, there’s definitely a picture of a blue top with black skulls on it, but it’s strangely missing from our actual stock. Or how as a woman up a ladder with a drill I’d better ‘be careful luv’, presumably because my dick safety harness isn’t holding me securely to the ladder, or at least giving me a proper centre of gravity so that my boobs won’t just wobble me off.

In all these situations, the customer thinks they are right. I once witnessed an accident with two of my good friends. Another guy we didn’t know, had been run over. He survived with a punctured lung, but the three of us were police witnesses. I was completely blown away by the fact that all our statements were very different, despite the fact that we’d all witnessed the same accident. And these were people whose opinions I trusted. None of us were lying, purely recounting the events as we’d understood them.

And so it is for the customer. From the centre of their world they are right. They have seen our window for a snippet of the time we have, and have remembered a picture or item that would look stunning in their new kitchenette, now all that loo roll has gone. But in the last eighteen weeks their mind has morphed that item into something that they want, rather than something that we have to sell. They’ve fallen for the Bill Bailey’s infamous glossy book of Argos dreams.

Any excuse to feature a pic of the fabulous Bill Bailey
Sonisphere 2011

And I’ve fallen for this myself. Thought about something I’ve seen in a shop which is the most magnificent artefact in the world and I must, must, must have it and I can’t afford it but on my one precious day off I’ll go out of my way to get it and – it’s just a vase. I can understand why I remembered it as the top trump I did: larger than life; cool factor 8 million; guilt rating after purchase; affordability; availability; instagramability etc. But I draw the line at arguing with the shop keeper about the difference between what I’ve come into their shop to buy, and what they actually have on the shelf to sell me. Because I know at this point that I’m wrong, and have retail amnesia brought on by product lust.

I don’t berate myself for this. I try try try to live my life in a compassionate way and understand that I share planet earth with 8 billion people and billions more animals and life forms, but I don’t live off grid. I am constantly advertised to everyday telling me that particular objects and ways of life will help me to be a fabulous me. These feelings of need and lust are strong and subversive forces, and difficult to resist. Studies with MRI scanners have found that patterns of brain activity in people experiencing lust are very similar to those taking cocaine. Lust can easily overcome reason. It’s one of the seven deadly sins for a start, and as such, a driving force of human behaviour. The fact that it’s called a sin means we can feel shame in lust exactly as we may feel guilt of shopping. Of course advertisers and retailers play to this feeling. No one ever made a fortune by appealing to restraint or wisdom – lust is why shops work in the first place. We buy into a way of life that is far more than the single item itself.

And I love shopping! It’s a part of our human soul. Ok, I could become a Buddhist and try and rise above those feelings. But I choose more to go with the ‘and it harm none’, embracing my human wants and desires, but with a conscience. No man is an island, and my actions (including my shopping habits), are a result of, and affecting many more people than myself and I don’t want my actions to ever hurt another human being.

Buddha and Bruce

We will all be venturing back into shops soon. And to go by the government’s recent track record, there won’t be any specific guidelines about how shops are to operate, and everyone will have very specific ideas about what they expect in the retail environment, from both sides of the counter. Talking to my friends and colleagues about Covid 19 has shown me just how different people’s understanding of the virus actually is. Some people don’t believe there’s a virus at all and others literally are so freaked that they only go out once a week for an essential shop. Everyone is going to have different opinions about what is and isn’t safe based on their fears and understanding of an unprecedented situation which no-one ultimately knows the answer to. So more than ever, we need to have each other’s backs, and appreciate that business owners will be trying their best to make things safe and get their businesses running again.

So I will patiently listen to the customer who impatiently tells me what was in my window three weeks ago, or that this is the way I should be conducting my business, and know that the force driving them isn’t necessarily common sense. It’s pure unadulterated beautiful humanity with all its joy and flaws. But enough now – if there’s one thing I do know – it’s my windows.

Now let’s go shopping!

Promo shot taken by The News for the opening of Gunwharf Quays

Love in the Time of Covid #7 – Take me to your Leader

coronaviros, covid 19

Stay Alert.

What are we supposed to get from that then? We either get one instructions which doesn’t tell us anything specific, or a myriad of conflicting instructions from various governments around the world, enforced on the people who happened to have been born on their bit of land.

The virus has got it easy compared to us. 8 simple genetic instructions on how to wreak havoc on us, the unsuspecting population of hosts. Or even, to our shame, the suspecting population of hosts.

We, on the other hand, are having advice thrown at us from all over the place. Be it governments, social media, our friends and family, bloggers thinking they know it all. And while this confusion reigns, our foe Covid, is rampaging across planet earth, oblivious to territories and borders and world leaders with their different rules and regulations. We’ve even set ourselves up in handy refugee camps and cities. All of us sitting pretty together and making the job of the virus that much easier.

In a democratic country, we get to choose our leaders to make important decisions about life and death for us. Ok, that may be up for debate. The first past the post system we have in the UK means the elected leader may not have got the majority of the votes at all. The Brexit outcome shows how a vote can be won on bare faced lies, and Trump vs Clinton maybe one big rigging hoax from start to finish. But we should be able to trust our leaders to guide us through the tuff times. And then there are dictatorships, communism, monarchies, republics etc where people don’t get even get to choose who makes the rules. Some work, some systems not so well, but they’re all in place to govern or rule a group of people in a territory.

Not what we thought then…

Except Covid 19’s territory is the entire planet. As one. But planet earth is not responding to it as one. We are ultimately divided in our response, which is giving Covid 19 an advantage in certain countries. At some borders it will be stopped in its tracks, at others it won’t even need a passport. And once it gets into a country, there will be houses, which are so locked down it won’t get a look in, vs those with an open door policy where a cough or a touch becomes a golden invitation. I can’t see how, without a more united approach, we can come out of this efficiently. Planes can take off from some places, but not land in others for a start.

So great leaders would be handy in helping us to navigate. Even more so, great leaders who talk to each other, so we can get the balance right between staying healthy and not overwhelming our hospitals. But also living the life that we’re here to live. Our population growth on this planet is an outbreak as much as Covid 19. But right now, Covid 19 has the edge on living the dream.

The life of a virus is not all planned out though. We are both comprised of genes, or a set of Ikea directions telling us how to assemble ourselves. The virus has 8 steps. We have about 20 500 hereditary instructions from our parents telling us where our noses should be, how tall we may grow, if our hearts will be healthy etc.

Our instructions are arranged in a double helix DNA spiral, solidly dependable for reproductive purposes. The genes of a flu virus are arranged in a single RNA strand, which is pretty flimsy. As it hi-jacks its host’s cells to make more virus, it’s fairly hit and miss as to what it actually makes, so errors creep in which can change its list of instructions. Hence new flus are produced. This is why we need a new flu vaccine each year and the World Health Organisation have to place their bets on which strain of flu will be the major illness in the winter season to come. In the 1918 flu epidemic the first wave was relatively mild, as it was more easily adapted to birds. After a small but critical change, the second wave was far more devastating, as it was better adapted to humans.

Covid is fashion size medium (for a virus) and roughly spherical. More apple than pear in dress fit. Its genetic instructions are on the inside, surrounded by protein. Then its protective bubble (dissolved by soap for the win), and then a stalk which pokes out through the membrane. This stalk is what gets the virus into our human cell. One of its 8 instructions. The other instructions are contained inside, and could relate to how sneezy we might get (how potentially the virus can travel), how long the virus can survive outside the human body, and how long it takes for flu symptoms to actually develop. All these things will shape the type of flu we are dealing with.

In effect the virus’ strategy is messy and haphazard by nature – but what’s our excuse?

Many lessons have been learned from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, quarantined off the coast of Japan at the start of the pandemic. As soon as the passengers had left, the cabins of infected passengers and the communal areas could be swabbed for traces of the virus’ genes. They were, as you might expect, on phone receivers, tv remote controls, chair handles, pillows and most concentrated in the bathroom and toilet. They were also in the rooms of the infected passengers who had tested positive but weren’t showing any symptoms. From tracking the movements of patient zero, the main areas where infection was spread were in the closed spaces, which were crowded and where there was close contact between passengers. Recently, in South Korea, 119 cases of Covid 19 have been linked to a nightclub, which had just reopened after easing the lockdown. A crowded closed space with close contact between people.

On the cruise ship, they carried out a black light experiment in the restaurant where one acting passenger put uv paint on his hands, to represent the virus, and then a crowded restaurant of people ate a buffet. Even the passengers eating alone picked up traces of the virus from the communal serving equipment. They repeated the experiment with kitchen staff, wearing PPE, serving the buffet instead and keeping a person’s width between each diner. With these small changes there was a huge reduction in the spread of the uv paint.

So with proper advice and small changes, we can get back out there. But not with dithery whiff whaff about staying alert. A Scottish MP has suggested that staying apart would be a better sound bite.

Because the government are more pre-occupied with the economy, than useful things like testing and contact tracing, its apparently ok for a cleaner or child minder to go into a strangers house, and then onto another, and another before they go back home. Or have complete strangers round to view your house if it’s on the market. But it’s not ok for us to go round a mate’s house for a chat. We need clear concise instructions on how to deal with the virus, not the government trying to tell cleaners how to clean, or estate agents how to sell houses. We don’t need to be micro managed in our jobs. We’re the experts there and will adapt accordingly. Our local garage is doing car MOTs, and there’s a disinfectant bucket to put your keys in, the payments put through over the phone and the garage dog has to say hello with a tail wag rather than a full head nuzzle – but it’s working. Many local restaurants have been operating as take-outs just fine since lock-down without any ‘help’ from the government. Schools have been open with limited numbers of pupils and the teachers I know, have felt safe. And they haven’t done that by being alert. They’ve done it by using practical common sense, soap and understanding how the virus spreads.

Covid 19 gets off on the things we love and our everyday behaviour. Being close to each other and living in a communal world where we are breathing the same air and touching the same door nobs. It can survive on stainless steel and plastic for 3 days which is 1.5 times longer than the influenza virus. This is an instruction in its favour. Also, that patients can carry the virus, but show no symptoms. So we still need to be careful even if we don’t feel ill.

It’s important to take responsibility as individuals, but also as a collective. And not just on our own shores, but as inhabitants of planet earth.

World Flag designed by Black Powder Engine

Love in the Time of Covid #6 – Know Your Enemy – The Science Bit

covid 19, Lockdown

The world is currently under attack from a tiny, tiny, tiny capsule containing instructions on how to infiltrate a human cell, and force that cell into making more tiny, tiny, tiny capsules. The result, is that our human cells then feel rubbish, and we experience the symptoms of having the flu. Normal flu works like this too. But normal flu viruses have been around for a while, so a) many of us have immunity to certain flu types, and b) vaccines are available. As long as a certain number of people have immunity / have been vaccinated, the flu will hit a brick wall as far as spreading goes.

Covid 19 is all new. No immunity. No vaccine. 8 billion people on the planet. Party, party.

Having (probably) literally been shat from a bat, that tiny, tiny cell was accidentally eaten by a human who then coughed on someone else and infected them. Covid 19 then spread like wildfire. In fact better than wildfire, which is how we began this year, focusing south on the disaster that was the Australian bush fires. As the hot season in Australia ended, and the fires were being brought under control, so Covid 19 was embarking on a tourism season like no other, and brutally putting a stop to any holiday plans we might have had.

Lanzarote – not this year

As super villains go, Covid 19 ticks a lot of boxes: ability to self replicate; invisibility – at least to the naked eye; immortality and even animal control – it makes us cough and sneeze in the hopes of finding a new host.

But other than that, it’s pretty rubbish.

It can’t think. It can’t plan. It can’t run. It’s a parasite, and can only live in another living organism or host. It needs us to reproduce itself. Outside it will die in 72 hours. Its survival and growth depends on that of its host and its host’s actions.

And that’s us.

We can think and plan. And we can have hope. Hope that as a collective we can do things that will make the final result not so bad. And apparently we can even run outside, except we should be staying in but it’s important to go out and exercise as this will stop you getting sick but other people, who are also out, may give you filthy looks. And don’t even get started on the arrows directing people around supermarket aisles…

So we need to sort our shit out.

It’s tricky, because unless we’re working front-line, or have tragically lost people we know and love, or indeed have known people who’ve had the virus and then recovered, many of us are not seeing the mass effects of Covid 19. It is a flu. And, as with seasonal flu, of those who fall ill, about 20% of people get that flu really badly. An even smaller percentage of those people die every year. Many deaths are due to further complications such as pneumonia, and it is often the over 65s’ who account for most of the deaths, because our immunity to diseases decreases with age. This is equally true for Covid 19. But with no immunity or vaccine, potentially all of us could catch it. A small percentage of about 8 billion people dying, would be a phenomenal number of people needing hospital treatment all at one time, and the worlds health services would be overwhelmed. Hence the ‘Stay at home, and save our NHS’ message.

So we really do need to sort our shit out.

Some governments have done this for us. New Zealand has followed an elimination strategy, to eradicate Covid 19 entirely from the country. On March 23rd, New Zealand went into hard lock-down. Only 100 people there had tested positive, and no one had died. Borders were shut, and anyone who did enter the country was quarantined for 14 days. Compare this to our own situation where on March 23rd we’d already registered 335 deaths, people were merely advised to stay at home, and businesses closed but there was no quarantine or contact tracking. New Zealand has only just allowed take-aways to re-open. Ours never closed.

Australia is practising a similar strategy as it did back in the 1918 flu epidemic, and to great effect. It’s only fault then was to re-open its borders too early and the third wave of flu hit it hard. Arguably, New Zealand and Australia are in a unique position to do this, as island nations, geographically far from other major countries. Anyone who’s played Risk will know that Australasia is not a strategic position for world domination by human or virus. Ours is a mammoth task compared to New Zealand, but surely then we should be taking mammoth actions to protect everyone?

As in Australia in 1918, the timing of any measures introduced is critical. They have to be introduced early, and kept in place until after the danger had passed. Lock-down strategies place the interests of everyone over those of the individual. However, those working on behalf of everyone, (ie. governments), may have other priorities, such as the need to make money. The demands of a thriving economy and the nation’s health are rarely aligned. But if lock-down is lifted too soon, the virus is presented with a fresh supply of non-immune hosts.

As restrictions are lifted, this really is on us. Covid 19 isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We’re going to have to live alongside each other. If Covid 19 was dog shit, we’d find social distancing a breeze. If there’s dog shit on the pavement, we walk around it. If there was dog shit everywhere, for the smell, we’d probably wear a mask. If doctors and nurses had dog shit on their scrubs, the government would be laughed at for saying they should re-use them. If someone was nearby with dog shit on them we’d give them a wide berth, and if we had dog shit on us we’d go straight home and have a ruddy good wash.

With no cure and no vaccine, having a wash is probably our best bet, as soap does actually dissolve the tiny, tiny, tiny capsule which contains Covid 19s instructions for world domination. It literally bursts its bubble and its 8 meaningless genetic instructions go down the drain.

So a little bit of soap, and a little bit of hope. Hope that whatever happens, this crisis won’t go to waste as an opportunity to look at ourselves, and demand better from our world leaders.

And if it looks like you’re over reacting, you’re probably doing the right thing.

Love in the time of covid #5 – Baz Luhrmann – Are we Still Free to Wear Sunscreen?

covid 19, Lockdown

From the first time I heard Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen on the Jo Wiley show on Radio 1, I think life started to make a little bit more sense.

It would have been the late 90s, in a small industrial unit, tucked away in Portsmouth, whilst sewing an ever increasing pile of furry legwarmers. Generally, I’d start the day with a dose of the Chris Moyles’ Breakfast Show. I don’t have any excuses. This ran into the Jo Wiley Show, where in my mind, I was likely to hear the best new music on a radio station (this is way before 6 music, Spotify or podcasts). Eg. Goldie Lookin Chain, who, it turned out, were playing The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth that night. We had a call from Mr Shenton, sound engineer extraordinaire at the Wedge back then, saying there’s a bunch of Welsh rappers playing here tonight – you’ve got to come down! Newport, Newport, so good they named it twice.

The Sunscreen song, though, was different to anything I’d really heard before. I loved it’s sentiment, and it stopped me in my sewing tracks. I’d only heard of Baz Lurhnamm as having directed the latest (at the time) Romeo and Juliet film (1996), which I guess, gave it a different heritage and experience to other songs. I didn’t realise it then, but now I look back on the times in life when I’ve had to think A or B, (and before the lockdown meme that told us it was definitely B), I’ve referenced his lyrics more than a few times. Both in heartfelt matters and in very practical ways:

‘You are not as fat as you imagine’ – True dat.

‘Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements’ – Makes clearing out an old drawer or cupboard so much easier.

‘Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours’ – Sometimes, just sometimes, when you get that crushed feeling inside and really wish you could be anywhere else – it’s ok to walk away. Life can begin again.

‘Your choices are half chance and so are everybody else’s’ – Yes, come on humanity.

‘Friends come and go but with a precious few you should hold on, Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle’ – thanks Facebook. But yeah, now, more than ever, realising who those special people are. And if you could get on a plane, train or automoblie tomorrow who would you go and see?

‘Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise; politicians will philander; you too will get old and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.’ – haha, one of my favourites.

I set out in this blog to try and make a light-hearted list of covid happening observations thus far into lockdown, by using the sunscreen song as a framework. However, having listened closely to Baz again this morning, it’s made me reflect on how much of his ‘advice’ I actually live by – and some notable exceptions that I ignore. But how it has helped me through the bleaker landscape of life, and also, not take too much for granted in the epic times. So I’m gonna start with Baz’s first piece of advice, and go on secondly, for me at least, to his most poignant.

‘Wear sunscreen’.

Well, fuck that, I never do. I put it down to being a tweenager in the 80s. Caught between being a fabulous Chelsea Girl just wanning to have fun, whilst being drawn to the dark side and gothing up by wearing so much Leichner clown white on my face and fully clothed in black on black, that no uv radiation was gonna touch me. No one really wore sunscreen back then or had fake tans. It was the real Miami Vice deal or nothing. I’ve always loved the sun. I’m generally quite a busy person and sitting in the sun or, once upon a time, smoking a joint, were about the only two things in life that would make me properly sit still for a while.

So covid afternoons have been pretty much that for me. Feeling really appreciative to have a garden outside the back of a terrace house, I’d stretch my tortoise neck out of the back door to check the sun possibility (obviously I’d already checked my weather app the previous day). I’ve always been obsessed by the weather. I thought I’d be a weather person on tv for a lot of my childhood. The other day, my husband was talking to one of the young people working at Music Fusion and saying ‘my wife (me!) says this is the last of the sunshine for a while’. My weather advice was now being voiced around Portsmouth – what a responsibility – I spent the rest of the day hoping I’d got it right! Tortoise check in place though, I’ve been sitting in the sun, reptilianly lifting the odd arm or leg to turn a book page, touch a screen or lift a beer. And all without sunscreen. Sorry Baz.

‘Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, or know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.’

I used to worry about a lot of things. My parents are adorable yet cautious creatures so I grew up carefully and without much risk. I grew up with children’s stories written about nuclear winters, and in an age where sex was dreadfully risky, and still not much talked about. Unless you were having sex without a condom when you would for sure get Aids or pregnant, both equally as awful according to the media.

But surely worrying is kind of a bad fantasy. We generally think of fantasies or daydreams as a good or positive thing, but our drifting into an imagined or improbable bad future is just as easy. And generally worry is just that. An imagined bad future. It hasn’t happened yet so its not real, but we are story tellers as a species and our imaginations are incredibly good at weaving tales to ourselves which can seem so real that our bodies then start reacting with real emotions. Thinking of worst case scenarios can definitely help us to plan for the future, but worrying about the worst case scenarios that we create can be really harmful to us. If it hasn’t happened yet, great, surely we’re still winning?

I would never have worried about having heart disease. Nothing was further from my mind when I keeled over in the Post Office. I could have been driving, or on my own at home up a ladder painting a ceiling (which is what I was doing two days previously). In both cases I would quite possibly be dead now. It absolutely was something that blindsided me at 10am on some idle Monday.

I never worried about a pandemic. Despite hearing on Radio 4 news every morning about the Wholesale Seafood Market closing in Wuhan, China in early 2020, to the first cases of the coronavirus being reported in Europe and then the UK. Brexit, Brexit, Brexit was all the politicians, the economy and facebook were worried about, and bang, here we are, pretty much the whole world in lockdown.

Here are 5 things I have learned:

1 If you need bubble bath don’t write bubbles on the shopping list or you’ll come home with prosecco
2 Watching too much ‘Money Heist’ can lead to random learning of Spanish phrases: ‘No manana, no – AHORA!’ – ‘Not tomorrow no – NOW!’
3 Don’t check your mate’s conspiracy theories online or that algorithm will hunt you down
4 Get a bird feeder / bird bath – birds are great and quite fighty

5 I’ve earned a beer just for staying in – right?

The future is uncertain, bloody uncertain, but I’m gonna stick with Baz, and deal with each bit of shit as it hits the fan, rather than the imagined shit that hasn’t even started flying yet. Hopefully not all of it will stick.

Love in the time of covid #4 – Southsea Independents

covid 19, Southsea Life

I live in the seaside resort of Southsea. The nearest city is Portsmouth, and we’re situated at the southern end of Portsea island, Hampshire. Southsea developed as a fashionable Victorian seaside resort, originally named Croxton Town (who knew when you buy a beer in Croxtons?), but later adopting the name of nearby Southsea Castle.

My first experience of Portsmouth was a soggy cycle south with a friend in my teens. We stayed at youth hostels, cycling from Oxford to Portsmouth and then around the Isle of Wight. The rain had finally cleared just as we reached the tip of the South Downs, and we looked down on Portsmouth, sparkling and glinting in the optimistic sunlight. It looked like a vast metropolis of possibilities to my tiny Middle England brain. So a few years later I chose to come to Polytechnic here.

The view from Portsdown Hill

Portsmouth is practically an island. With all that an island mentality brings with it. It is still attached to the mainland, but barely. By 3 roads, all at the top. And we’re surrounded by islands. To the East is Hayling Island, look West to Gosport on strictly speaking a peninsula, and south is The Isle of Wight and then the French. Most of the council housing estates are all just off the island to the North. This means that Portsmouth itself doesn’t have a lot of the inner city problems associated with other cities because all the problems are over the (Portsdown) hill and far away.

In a survey where Portsmouthians were asked to list their three biggest fears the running order was:
1 – paedophiles
2 – drinking in the street
3 – the French

The French?? Henry VIIIs legacy I guess. Back in the day, looking out across a misty English Channel from Southsea castle, I guess you would have good cause to be scared of the French. Our best ship, the Mary Rose, didn’t stand up too well. And just to touch on paedophiles too, (tho not in that way). Yes, it was on a Portsmouth housing estate where mob rule torched a paediatricians house for fear of crimes yet to be rendered.

Island mentality I think is generally a positive minded well meaning groupthink centred around preservation. In the absence of anything but Portsmouth existing, sometimes, given a threat, the best way may well have been to bare knuckle fist fight your way out of a situation. Thus preventing the demise of Portsmouth. The biggest employer historically, the dockyard, is now largely a tourist attraction. A massive chunk of navy land has become Gunwharf Quays, a premium retail outlet centre. And possibly the biggest employer in the city is now the University. The university incidentally attracts huge numbers of new students to the city every year, some of whom, like myself, don’t actually leave. Maybe I would say this, but I think this introduction of a wide variety of twenty somethings from all over the world has added to a new layer in Portsmouth on top of the fading defence industry, which it was built to be, and is still fiercely proud of. As a city, there isn’t a huge amount of wealth here. Naval heritage yes, but actual money, no. This is a great leveller for the people living in the city and Portsmouthians generally rub along quite happily together and are an affable bunch.

In some ways it’s a hand mirror to the island mentality of the UK. I think the two are not that far apart.

So oi loikes Portsmouth oi does. And it’s dialect.

Who would have thought then that this almost island nation of ne’er do wells would be topping the charts when it came to Google’s location data, gathered via Google Maps, to track people’s movements during the pandemic? According to Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson ‘Pompey is showing the rest of the country how it is done’.

This is a far cry from how we’re often described be it a few villeins, bordars and serfs in 1086, to ‘the diabolical citizens of Portsmouth’ in 1758 and, even more recently when Boris Johnson in 2019 called Portsmouth a city ‘full of drugs and obesity’ – hurrah!

But on top of a town filled with war and preparations for war came trade: wheat; wool; wine and woad as well as the delicious stories of Spice Island, smugglers and pirates. And trade is still a huge part of Pompey from the gold spired metropolis of Gunwharf Quays, to the well trodden market ways of Commercial Road and then the colour and variety of independent Bohemian Southsea. Always in flux – until now.

I’ve always worked in some form of retail, from selling my own clubwear line in the noughties, to working from the extremes of corporate department stores to family run businesses.

Winter @ Spanbodywear in the noughties

I’m not sure if I chose a career in retail, or that once having worked in it, it literally pinned me down by the throat and price gunned me into a life of servitude, unsociable hours and endless promotions. Even in lock down now I have to pinch myself as I work in a non essential business and am actually at home in the sunshine, while other people in shops are at work. I always seemed to still be working, be it Christmas, weekends and bank holidays as shops are required to be open when most other people have time off. That aside, I also love working in retail. There is a very real time connection with people and commodities when you work in a shop. Everyone shops for something at some point and you get to talk to GPs, mothers, captains of ships, teachers, politicians, other retail workers, downright racist bigots, bus drivers – and how do I know all this? Because they tell you. There is a real human need to communicate and a lot of that has been lost on the High Street, even before covid 19. We don’t all go to the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers any more. We do go to coffee shops and I think that’s a good thing. Whether it’s somewhere to go alone to work, think or write poetry but in the company of other people or if its to socialise and meet people out. And now, in lockdown, that’s gone too.

Lockdown has forced decisions on everyone, but here I’m specifically thinking of small independent businesses. Many have had to shut, tattooists, hair dressers, beauticians etc. Some for social distancing and some for economic reasons. Others are still continuing a presence on line, especially restaurants.

Keen to try something other than home cooking in these unprecedented times – my cooking is nourishing but basic, what we both wanted was a take out curry. I checked on line, and, to go by the websites, most restaurants were still delivering. In practical terms, however this was simply not the case, websites, for the most part, not having been updated. I found another list of take outs still delivering in the time of covid, but again pretty out of date. I Whatsappd friends and finally found that Bombay Express on Albert Road was our spicy balti beacon in the wilderness. We hesitated. Our bourgois sensibilities having loftily propelled us far from the smokey lock in days in the back rooms of that very establishment. We soon crashed back down to pandemic ridden earth, and realised it was that or no curry. It was amazing! We left a £5 tip in the letterbox poking out for the delivery driver and barely spoke until the spongey naan had scooped the remainder of the gloopey saag into our grateful mushes.

It turns out, I’d done a lot of research that night, and it seemed a shame to potentially let it all go to waste. My husband suggested I should put it out on line, as it was the very list I’d been looking for when the first pangs of curry withdrawal set in. I could hear my Mum reading me ‘The Little Red Hen’ as a kid and saying ‘I’ll do it myself – said the litle red hen’.

I’ve never really thought of my blog as a website, but it is as good a domain as anywhere, and ten past six is a pretty good time to be thinking about ordering a take out. So for the remainder of the lock down, the tenpastsix homepage will be an updated lists of as many varied and amazing independent businesses as I can find in Southsea. Those who are still doing amazing things in unprecedented times, and mostly even delivering to your front door so you don’t have to go out. Please check all the website details carefully as different businesses have different opening times and ways of ordering and please let me know if you are a business and want adding or if I can change anything to remain up to date – happy eating!

Look after yourselves, it’s the best way to look after everyone else. And support your independents by keeping the spice in Spice island!

love in the time of covid #3

covid 19

Things had come crashing down to Earth after the Mars adventure. It had become obsessive – visiting Mars at the design museum, reading the ‘Moving to Mars’ book from cover to cover and following the SpaceX journey.

I decided to Google short story competitions – surely there were others out there? It’s not for a moment that I thought I could win anything – I marvel at everything else I read – just the vocabulary that other people seem to know astounds me – I’m constantly looking up words that other writers use. I needed practice at writing, I needed some sort of portfolio and I needed deadlines. Competitions and taking up any opportunities that came my way seemed like a good place to start.

I wasn’t disappointed. There were hundreds! All sorts. From flash fiction (where you were given a photo to write a short dialogue for), to high profile magazines and publications, and then a competition from the BBC to write the opening scene for an episode of their hit noughties series ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.’

I’d loved that show at the time and thought that would push me in another direction. To write dialogue as a script. So I got involved. Luckily I-player streamed all 9 seasons (9 seasons – who’d’ve thought?) so that was my evenings for the next few weeks – although I only got as far as season 6 before the effects of covid 19 really hit home.

WHO had now declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and by Saturday 21st March the UK had confirmed 225 deaths.

My own personal introduction to covid 19 was a bumpy one. I was working on that Saturday and didn’t have my phone on me – it’s a retail thing. On my lunch hour I had a voicemail from my father in law asking in a small voice, if I was aware of my husbands condition.

I wasn’t.

I’m not one to worry, but after trying his mobile four or five times, AND THERE BEING A PANDEMIC AT LARGE, I thought I can’t just work for the afternoon not knowing about ‘his condition’. His condition, after a quick check in with said father in law was apparently throwing up and a temperature. So I grabbed a cab home – it was still my lunch hour. Anyway said husband was propped up in bed noting ‘Oh, you’re home early.’

At which point I gave him a kiss and trotted back to work.

The following Thursday my protein breakfast was going down as normal when I noticed a text from my boss. He and his wife both had had flu symptoms which could be covid 19 so they would’t be in work and could I ‘phone so we could discuss the rota.

My mind jarred. I had worked pretty closely with my boss the previous day. I work in a workshop with a retail space where we give one to one consultations with customers. There was a large piece that we’d worked on together. At that point I can’t say social distancing was a thing we’d really got our heads around. We’d been discussing anti baccing surfaces, not sharing work phones anymore and pushing online sales in light of the recent pubs, bars and restaurants closures. But if he had got it, I honestly thought there was a good chance I had it too.

I asked my husband what he thought and we both agreed. I’d be happy to go in and work but not to have contact with the public. It didn’t even seem like a grey area although the NHS weren’t advising you to self isolate if you’d been working with a colleague who then became ill, just if it was someone you lived with. My concern was that I worked with the general public.

Apparently this wasn’t the answer my boss was expecting / needed to hear from his shop manager. His first priority was to the business that he’d built up and ultimately his, and our, livelihoods.

So I didn’t go to work and started 14 days of isolation.

My husband, we figured, could go out, as I hadn’t actually displayed any symptoms. He was already working from home for the charity he runs.

In less than a week, full lockdown of all non-essential businesses had been put in place.

I didn’t come down with any covid 19 symptoms.