On the Road — Again

Back in May 2015 I set out for a short business trip. And limped home – finally – at the end of October. Almost 6 months on the road, 6 whole months – half a year. Granted there were extenuating circumstances, family health being one of them, but it was almost as if once on the road I was on a relentless treadmill that just couldn’t or wouldn’t release me.

Tomorrow I get to go home. And I’m not sure what to expect. A week or so in my own home, with my own thoughts and my own challenges.

Today though I’m at BlogHer Food in Chicago and have just enjoyed two exceptional days of content, interspersed with those magic moments when women who never met before find themselves sharing painfully poignant memories of death and hope, laughing and crying in the corridor.

There’s a sisterhood at a BlogHer event that’s unlike any other blogging conference I’ve attended – in a few short hours you make friends that you take away with you for years to come. It’s amazing and inevitable. Longing for next year.

Craven, heinous the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Craven Heinous

Craven Heinous

I was finishing a post on bad habits – like smoking – when the news broke of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Twelve dead – mainly journalists and cartoonists, the editor, and two policemen.

France – never a placid, non-violent nation, is poised on a precipice – and one that we in the US need to watch closely. Its large Islamic population has become increasingly militant, so much so that there are areas of Paris in which police only venture fully armed with automatic rifles and full protective gear. It’s not unusual in Paris to see a police van screaming round a corner packed with fully armed men, rifles at the ready. The hatred for the Moslem immigrants, mainly from Algeria which France ruled for over 130 years, has grown. And while France is forbidden from collecting official numbers and statistics about the religion or ethnicity of its citizens, it’s estimated that of the 66 million people who live in France over 10% are Moslem. In the port city of Marseilles – ranked by some as the most dangerous city in Europe – 40% of the immigrants are Moslem.

So what does this mean in the wake of the worst terror attack in France in 50 years? Forget “A Year in Provence”, wine, The Louvre and the Riviera – France is all that to most Americans and more. But it is a troubled, politically stressed country with myriad problems, the highest taxes in Europe, some of the most extreme right wing politicians who are fairly close to attaining a greater role in leadership, a very expensive country where people live on credit. All this and more fuels a smoldering fire which, when inflamed, could prove devastating not only for France, but for the rest of Europe,

Today I’m troubled. Deeply troubled. A bad habit of mine – introspection. Maybe I should try harder not to care — but I can’t. I do.

Procrastination and Regret

Procrastination and Regret

Procrastination and Regret


Do you remember Aunt Izzie?

Her death in “What Katy Did” taught Katy the meaning of regret. It was – for a sickly sweet book – a very poignant moment. And yes, “regrets I’ve had a few” — but one particular one is nagging at me as we come to the end of the Christmas holidays.

When we first moved to the neighborhood I was delighted by the Christmas decorations at one of the houses round the corner. It was very simple. Propped up against the third floor window from a second floor balcony was a rustic ladder. And every Christmas the homeowners placed a jolly Saint Nick with a sack full of presents on that rickety old ladder, with a spotlight on him as he climbed up to deliver his bulging bag of gifts.

And every year I promised myself I’d take a picture to remind myself just how whimsical and enchanting some of the most simple decorations could be. So this year I thought to myself – go over there and take that picture before you forget again.

But when I arrived – the house was the same, the rustic ladder was still there – but no Saint Nick. Not on any of the nights before Christmas. Now there’s just an empty ladder.

And I felt I’d lost something really special. Something meaningful is now missing from my life – something I can’t get back.

Have you ever had this happen to you?

In the habit…

In the habit

In the habit


Just a quick memory from the past.

I was about 9 years old and I’d just come home from the Sound of Music. Always the actress I’d pleaded for and received the cast recording and I couldn’t wait to put it on the gramophone! (Yes, Virginia I DO remember gramophones!)

Soon the house was alive with sound of me laboriously learning all the words to every song, slowly driving my long-suffering, but extremely patient mother to complete distraction. I think it got particularly painful when I got to “The Lonely Goatherd” which I warbled louder and louder until I arrived at the “yodel-ay-ee” chorus which I shouted from the family room, thoroughly out of tune and sounding more like a fat bull frog than a singing Austrian postulant.

For those of you who only know the movie of the Sound of Music, the opening sequence – Maria spinning round in a large meadow breaking into song – The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music….” the stage version is quite different. The two versions I saw both opened with a piece of scenery spinning round and Maria lying on her back kicking her heels in the air as the music swelled.

Three days later I solemnly asked my mom to come to a show. In the family room. While she knew it was going to be my very own version of the Sound of Music, with me singing almost every part in the show, and my younger siblings performing theirs, she clearly had no idea what we’d be wearing.

She also hadn’t remembered that she’d recently changed the floral curtains in one of our bedrooms – a fairly hideous blast of pink peonies on a cream background. She’d taken them down and left them in a bag near the door to go to Goodwill. Which is where I found them and put them to excellent use.

When the lights went on, there I was, lying on my back, kicking my pudgy legs in the air, singing my heart out to the gramophone. Then I stood up to reveal a nun’s habit, complete with white wimple, made from peony encrusted curtains. “What on earth..?’ my mother asked, her voice trailing off into laughter.

“I’m a nun”, I said very seriously as my flowers swirled crazily as I spun round.. “I’m the founding member of the first order of Jewish Nuns.”

We decided that I definitely had artistic license – and the peony covered nun’s habit has been a standing joke in our family ever since.

Bad Habits New Resolutions

New Year Resolutions that have been broken and abandoned litter my memories of New Year’s past. Like the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of my life, they’re locked in stinky dark, little corners with flags like “Diet” and “Eat Healthy” and “Call Home More Often,” drooping and listless. I used to make resolutions – as many as nine or ten when I was younger – but by the end of the first week of January it was abundantly clear that they were all forgotten and ignored.

So then I came up with a bright idea. I wouldn’t call them New Year’s Resolutions at all. Instead I called them “Bad Habits” that had to be broken. Habits like wearing a bathrobe round the house over my sleep T-shirt so that the neighbors or golfers couldn’t see me through the hedge and from the path at the end of the yard. Why they would want to was always a mystery to me but I was told year in year out by my husband that it’s much easier to see into a house than I would think. Especially at dusk or in the evening when the windows made my performance better lit than the last Broadway show we’d seen.

I still maintain that people have to want to stare in. And what possible jollies could they get from watching an over-middle-aged, over-weight, grey-haired woman sitting at a table with a laptop open in front of her, in a T-shirt that says I/O in big letters across the sadly sagging boobs. None of them could see through the screen of the laptop, nor would they know that I/O was a highly prized T-shirt from the last Google Developers Conference in 2014. 

But today as I sit tapping this into some new software I’m testing for my radio show, the curtain to the window is partially drawn to shield me from prying eyes even though I/O is accompanied by jeans and flip-flops. 

The bathrobe habit went the way of all New Year’s Resolutions. In two ways. One I didn’t wear it again after about 2 days and Two, I remembered to hang it up and not leave it gracefully adorning my bed/bookcase/sofa/ delete as applicable. So maybe the other Bad Habit – “Dealing with my Clutter” – was broken?


That “Clutter” habit – that’s the Smaug of all my good intentions and bad habits. I personally believe that everything I own has secret velcro attached to it, so that as soon as it comes into contact with anything else I own, it sticks to it, expanding the surface area it covers by a factor of 3. Within hours I’m buried under clutter – and so this year – 2015 – is the year that Bad Habit – will be tamed. 

At least that’s this year’s resolution.

Which will no doubt go the way of all the others.

Rinse and repeat.

FaceBook’s Uneasy Dead

There’s something very unsettling about FaceBook, and it’s not the usual “meddling in my life,” “watching my every post,”coupled with hundreds of requests from friends to give them lives on one of the King.com addictive timewasters.

No, it’s more unsettling than those. It’s the fact that long after people die in the real world, their Facebook pages go on. You get notifications about their birthdays – even though they’ve been gone several years – it’s as though they are “undead,” living a zombie-like existence is the land of Facebook Evermore. Maybe they died at 82, but on Facebook they’ll be 87 next week.

There has to be a way to quietly let the dead go. To allow family or friends access to their silent pages, to post one last note – and then archive them in a special area of Facebook, the Père Lachaise of writers, racers, dads, moms, kids – all of whom left some page in the ever-ever land that’s Facebook.

While we Americans don’t do death well, we don’t talk about it, we don’t give people enough time off work to grieve and handle arrangements, and we have a huge industry of funeral directors and undertakers – many of whom have the unctuous, oiliness of Uriah Heep – we don’t allow our loved ones, or even our acquaintances, a dignified death on Facebook.

I think we should.

Then again, remembering the late, great, hysterical Spike Milligan, hero of The Goon Show in the 1950’s, is best done standing in front of his grave in the churchyard in Winchelsea. With his incomparable wit and understatement – Spike’s Celtic Cross memorial is inscribed in Gaelic with the immortal words “I told you I was ill.”

Had it been Facebook the unsuspecting would still be sending him get well cards.

For want of a nail, the horse was lost…

How many of you remember this poem?

For want of a nail, the horse was lost,

For want of the horse, the rider was lost.

For want of the rider, the battle was lost,

For want of the battle, the Kingdom was lost.

And all for want of a horseshoe nail.


Everytime searchers are looking for a downed/missing/crashed plane I think of that ditty. Because today’s black box technologies are so archaic and so pathetically inept, they remind me of that nail. And that because it was missing, the Kingdom was lost.

Black boxes, which aren’t even black but rather bright orange, are battery powered and record some 20 hours of data in a loop, thus erasing earlier data as the loop continues.  But in today’s world that system is way out of date. With internet equipped planes, and web enabled flights, the obvious solution would be some kind of streaming data with it being collected and stored on the ground. That would make for almost instantaneous retrieval of “black box” data: the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), which in turn would greatly facilitate the work of the NTSB and those looking for the cause of the disaster. It would also greatly reduce the agony of those still waiting to learn what happened to their loved ones, on such ill-fated flights such as MH 370 which has now been missing for a month.

Considering the cost of data storage, the cost of streaming data, and the ability to access it instantly, the failure of the world’s collective aviation organizations to modernize the collection, storage, and retrieval of this data is nothing short of scandalous.

Scandal – Scandals – Scandalous

What a delicious way to start the month, I thought. Scandal. Steamy affairs, illicit liasons in five-star hotels where there’s more than just a chocolate on your pillow, naughty goings on between “nice” people.

Then I thought – no. Not that sort of scandal. How about this sort of scandal? When the government lies to its citizens about their privacy, when phone calls, tweets, blog posts – yes even blog posts – almost any and every utterance is recorded, monitored, filed and catalogued. Isn’t that a scandal?

Or is it the potential early release of a man who betrayed this country, selling our secrets to an ally, who in turn first used the illgotten intelligence to carry out its own missions and strikes, and then passed that intelligence onto the then Soviet Union. That to me is a scandal.

But then so is the hushing up of medical problems for many of our soldiers who served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and whose exposure to chemical agents has rendered many of their children deformed, and/or with disfiguring birth defects. That’s also a scandal.

Dictionaries define scandal as:

1. a disgraceful action or event: his negligence was a scandal

2. censure or outrage arising from an action or event

3. a person whose conduct causes reproach or disgrace

4. malicious talk, esp gossip about the private lives of other people

5. scandal law – a libellous action or statement

I wish the word was used more selectively. Birth defects and deformities due to the wilful and wanton exposure of our troops to harmful chemicals – is a scandal (see definition 1) – Britney Spears’ underwear malfunction is not.

The indiscrimminate monitoring of our enail, phone calls, conversations and communications by government agencies both at home and overseas – without our agreement and without our knowledge – THAT is a scandal. When Lindsey Lohan’s credit cards are declined in New York, it’s not.

So having ascertained what is/is not a scandal – or even scandalous – let’s take a look at some real honest to goodness scandals – revisit some oldies but goodies, and maybe take a peek at some you may not have heard of yet.

April is the cruelest month, wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, and looking at scandal may be one reason why that’s still true.

Dumbwomanslane? What kind of name is that?

On the way into the picturesque towns of Rye and Winchelsea on England’s south coast, there’s a twisting, turning, hair-pin-bend ridden, narrow country road called Dumb Woman’s Lane. It’s a favorite site for tourists and travellers in the area who enjoy taking pictures of themselves with the sign! .imgres-1images-4

It’s also curious.

Why, in an area known for some of England’s most fabulous women – writers such as Virginia Woolf, Catherine Cookson, Angela Carter even Beatrix Potter spent time here, artists and actors – Dame Ellen Terry, Dame Anna Massey – the list is extraordinary – is there a road with such a demeaning, insulting name?

Or is it?

It’s part of our knee-jerk culture to immediately suppose that the Dumb Woman of the eponymous lane was stupid, ignorant or a fool.

But there are at least two different versions of how the street got its name: one that it used to be a main thoroughfare for smugglers bringing lace, brandy and tobacco from France into England in the 14th through 19th centuries and that one poor, hapless soul saw contraband being hauled up the lane, and her tongue was cut out so she couldn’t tell anyone, or that a woman who was mute used to dispense herbal remedies in the area, and the street became known as “Dumb Woman’s Lane.”

So why choose Dumb Womans Lane as the name for my blog? I am surely a woman, and I am not, nor have I ever been, dumb – in any sense of the word. Yet sadly in many countries women are still considered “dumb” or “chattels” or even worse, domestic slaves, and so for them – and for all women who have no voice – here’s a place where I can spout. I can say the unsayable, write the unrepeatable and generally ROAR as I said in my opening post.

Like Peter Finch said in the movie “Network” so many years back – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” So watch out politicians, injustices, anyone whom I think deserves calling out for any reason – dumbwomanslane will not go quietly into this good night. This woman is not dumb. No way!

The Pressure to Feel

Israel’s Ariel Sharon is dying – and I feel an extraordinary pressure to try and find something positive to say. But I can’t. The man who countenanced and permitted the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982 which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians – is preparing to meet his maker, and I’m wondering what that encounter might look like.

The eulogies of course, are bound to be full of plaudits and revisionist history. His courage, his ability to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, his tenacity and his obstinacy.

Ever a man of strong convictions and contradictions, Ariel Sharon was loved by the Israeli right wing and loathed by Palestinians and most Arabs. His flamboyant displays of bravado, including the notorious visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000 which arguably provoked the Second Intifada, resulting in the deaths of yet more Palestinians (over 2,000) and Israelis (over 1,000), were his signature.

After years of covering the Middle East and especially Israel and the Palestinians, I wish I could feel something as this divisive figure prepares to shuffle off his mortal coil. But I don’t. Not a thing. Just a realization that my ambivalence is probably my loudest shout. Or as Morales sings in “Chorus Line” —
I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And cried ’cause I felt nothing.”