Parents dread discovering an infestation of the itchy menaces, but with the right approach you can stop them in their tracks. Act fast “People are not treating an infestation at the earliest stages,” says Ian Burgess, the director of the Medical Entomology Centre in Cambridge, whose research is cited in the Nice guidelines for this persistent problem. “We quite often find people with hundreds and occasionally thousands of lice,” he says. Dee Wright, the owner of The Hairforce, a chain of self-styled “lice assassins”, says: “If you check your child’s hair and find a bunch of nits [eggs], you should be combing immediately, rather than waiting to spot a live one. It’s good to do a weekly check.” Choose your weapon wisely Many of Britain’s bestselling nit combs are ineffective, says Burgess: “They have gaps so wide that lice and nits can slip through.” He recommends using a plastic detection comb. “It needs to be rigid, and the front needs to be squared, to catch the legs of the lice.” The Bug Bust er Kit sold by the charity Community Hygiene Concern contains these types of combs, with different sizes for lice and nits, and is available on the NHS (free for children diagnosed with lice). “It’s not going to be done in five minutes,” says Burgess. “With thick or long hair, you need to spend 20 to 30 minutes per session. If you’ve found a dozen and think you’ve done a good job, you probably haven’t – there’ll be at least another dozen hiding.” Comb with care “Lice are movement-sensitive and scarper when you touch the hair,” warns Wright. Dividing the head into sections helps avoid missing any. Detangle the hair first and use conditioner. Metal combs, especially, can shred individual hairs, says Burgess. “We have even come across pseudo nits, where the comb has peeled back little knots that look and feel like nits,” he says. “So if you’re going to comb, you need to use a lubricant and do it carefully.” Forget chemical pesticides Burgess says that we have known about pesticide-resistant lice in the UK since 1995, yet chemical pesticide treatments are still sold – and frequently recommended by pharmacists and prescribed by doctors. “GPs aren’t listening,” he says. “It’s hardly surprising there are a lot of lice.” Play the long game Silicone-based shampoo treatments, otherwise known as physical pesticides, may effectively smother the lice, but some of the dreaded nits can survive. “We looked at nearly 1,895 case records,” says Burgess. “Most of those who had baby lice appear after a treatment had them within the first week, but the longest case was 13 days.” Either treat again a week or so later, or keep combing for a few weeks to catch any late hatchers.
‘With the gender reveal, you’ve isolated one aspect of a person.’ Illustration: Eva Bee/IllustrationIn 2008, Jenna Myers Karvunidis was pregnant and itching to throw a party. “Life is hard, but I like to have fun,” she explains. “I think it’s important to mark moments of joy.” Karvunidis (who loves celebrating so much that she baked a cake for her goldfish’s birthday) was determined to get her family “jazzed up” about her first baby. After the recent, much-anticipated birth of her nephew, her husband’s family were less excited about this next grandchild and, with her own family emotionally and physically distant, Karvunidis came up with the then-novel idea of a theatrical reveal of her baby’s sex.During their 20-week ultrasound scan she asked her midwife to keep quiet about whether the baby was a boy or girl and, instead of telling the expectant couple in person, the bemused professional sealed a note containing the secret in an envelope. Karvunidis then baked two cakes in the shape of ducklings, filling one with pink icing and the other with blue – a discrete toothpick for differentiation.Her family took some convincing to gather for a midweek party without apparent purpose, but as soon as the butter-cream duckling showed its contents – pink for a girl – everything changed. There were gasps, tears and someone shrieked: “I feel like she’s been born!” In that moment the cake and the party did all Karvunidis had hoped to bring her pregnancy to life.The arrival of Bianca (the eldest of Karvunidis’s three daughters) was still months away, but that day she did unwittingly birth something: the gender-reveal party. Her blog about the event was picked up by a popular magazine found in the waiting rooms of midwives and obstetricians in the area. The story spread through midwest America and then far beyond, becoming a mainstream part of US pregnancies and taking an increasing share of the $200-$1,000 US couples spend on their baby showers.The popularity of elaborate, emotive gender-reveal videos on social media may have helped spread the trend to the UK. John Lewis stocks a gender-reveal party balloon and online retailers offer products from confetti blasters to personalised sweets and scratch cards. Celebrities have also acted as inspiration. In an Instagram video last year, announcing her third pregnancy, Kate Hudson, her husband and sons simultaneously pop a number of balloons, spilling pink streamers and confetti on to the grass. The family jumps up and down hysterically, screaming with delight and hugging each other as a cloud of pink drifts skywards.Karvunidis is far from happy about what she unleashed. In late July this year, responding to questions on Twitter about her role in the gender-reveal phenomenon, she confessed to “major mixed feelings” and posted a family photograph featuring Bianca, the world’s first gender-revealed baby, dressed in a suit. Striking a strong pose with her hands in her pockets, Bianca was sporting what conservative media outlets would describe as an “androgynous” haircut.> Karvunidis feels that ‘aggressive energy’ is caught up in the ritualThe story spread like wildfire: like the Arizona wildfire which last year destroyed 47,000 acres of forest, at a cost of $8m. Dennis Dickey, an off-duty border patrol agent, started the blaze with his gender-reveal stunt: shooting at a rectangular target marked “Boy or girl”, which exploded into blue smoke before setting grasslands alight. It’s not just the environmental recklessness of Dickey’s reveal, and the increasing popularity of expensive and dangerous stunts, that bothers Karvunidis. She’s also concerned about what she calls “aggressive energy” being so caught up with the sex of a foetus. “When you announce your son with a gunshot, or by wrestling an alligator, I think, how far are we going to take this?”As a lifelong feminist, who has recently started law school, her unease about gender-reveals started soon after they began to take off – she felt the idea was becoming politicised by conservative forces. “I feel like the guy who invented gunpowder,” she half-jokes. Though Karvunidis accepts that the idea may have emerged, with or without her, from the cultural soup that surrounds pregnancy, she does feel some guilt. “I’m the one who put the form to it. I’m the one who said: ‘This is something we’re going to celebrate now, and this is how we’re going to do it’. I put it out there.”Though Karvunidis’s instincts led her to reject the gender-reveal shortly after she created it, it was her daughters’ experiences of modern American girlhood that solidified her views. Karvunidis explains that she’s always tried to model to her children that there should be no limits on what women can do. “I’ve gone back to school, I started a business and I try to be that person – the boss – so that it’s totally normalised for them.”But as Bianca has grown older she’s been busy giving her mother an education in gender politics. Karvunidis’s eldest is still just 10, uses she/her pronouns and considers herself a girl, but she’s firmly rejected the idea that girls should dress or act a certain way and questions preconceived ideas about what gender means – something her parents have fully supported her in. “Bianca tells me there are more than two genders and many sexualities. I hadn’t considered all this before.”Thanks to Bianca, who Karvunidis calls a “bad-ass”, she is now concerned that the parties she helped make popular are hurting trans and non-binary communities, a position shared by the many activists who have supported her stance. “At least when the child is born you are getting all the information at once: the sex, the colour of their hair, who they look like, how long they are, what their heart rate is. With the gender-reveal you’ve isolated one aspect of this person. When it gets elevated as being central to your identity that’s problematic,” she asserts.> She feels the gender reveal now helps an anti-liberal agendaBut Karvunidis’s worries about the extreme bent of the gender-reveal don’t stop there. Despite recent media focus falling on Bianca, it’s the world that her more “traditionally girly” daughters are experiencing that really makes their mother feel guilty.When middle child Stella was three, Karvunidis bought her a set of Lego for Christmas. The toddler sobbed on seeing it, declaring it a “boy toy” because it was primary-coloured rather than pink. “Our nursery was painted blue and yellow,” reflects Karvunidis. “We didn’t hold gender-reveals for our younger kids, but this still happened.” She now believes the gender-reveal party has helped conservatives create increasingly restrictive pink and blue boxes for children, which support their anti-liberal agenda. “I know I played a role in it and it makes me sick.” Her worries don’t stop there. “I’m pro-choice,” she says. “What else am I going to be? I have three daughters.” In her eyes the gender-reveal has benefitted those trying to curb women’s autonomy. “In the US, our reproductive rights are being eroded down to nothing. You’ll have a six-day-old ball of cells eclipsing an adult human woman’s medical decisions. It’s not a football player or a ballet dancer, it’s a foetus, but the gender-reveal helps people forget that.”Karvunidis worries that the increasing polarisation of girl- and boyhood is “a new extreme”. Professor Sarah Knott, author of Mother: An Unconventional History, says that sorting people into one sex or another was a rigid and crucial part of the fiercely patriarchal society from which we descend. But our contemporary take (complete with highly gendered toys and clothing for newborns) is, she believes, something new. For centuries, infants were dressed alike and wouldn’t have been differentiated by their clothing until later in childhood. “It seems that we are more focused on quickly establishing a person’s identity now than we were then,” Knott says.Where the gender-reveal is heading, no one knows, but Knott reminds us that habits around pregnancy and birth can disappear as quickly as they appear. And UK consumers seem reluctant to follow their US counterparts wholeheartedly.Still committed to being a bringer of fun, Karvunidis wants a more inclusive, tolerant and liberal world for her children – but not at the expense of joy and celebration. “I don’t want to shame people for having a party. I hope everyone has cake when they want it,” she laughs, “but let’s just eat it in socially appropriate ways.”Rebecca Schiller’s Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan is published by Penguin Life at £14.99. Buy it for £13.19 at guardianbookshop.com
It turns out miserliness is in the genes, as my son’s choice of footwear reveals. Often, when I see nice clothes in the bougie shops near where I live, I entertain a mild fantasy of myself as one of those dads who garbs their child in cooler-than-cool threads. I don’t think that would be a particularly noble vice, of course, but naively imagine it could be one of those annoying eccentricities – like vaping or making jewellery – that people would forgive so long as I occasionally made fun of myself for it. The only problem with this ambition is that freelance life has turned me into a miser, unwilling to buy any children’s clothes that aren’t made in runs of 40,000. When some snazzy jumper or beautiful hat catches my eye, I’ll invariably discover it’s priced as if it was hand-woven instore, by Richard & Judy. I don’t buy these items. No - like you, I place them back on the rack and, gripped by some odd horror that I will appear cheap, continue a discretionary period of fake ‘browsing’ to disguise my eventual exit, presumably out of a fear that the staff will know that the £79 price tag on that pair of mittens just made my soul leave my body. I thought I’d buck that trend this week by investing in his first pair of proper walking shoes. I was told a solid, more expensive pair would be best, presumably because they’d make walking more comfortable, not because he’d be inspired to display his sweet new kicks to the neighbourhood. In fairness, he might well feel cheated, since back when he was born we were gifted with so many clothes that he was covered head to toe in much nicer things. But I spent my entire childhood either wearing hand-me-downs from my eight older siblings, or freshly bought plastic shoes displaying non-copyright text like ATHLETIC SPORT 1999. Such bargains weren’t just common in Derry, they were mandatory. By law, raincoats had to boast the clumpy consistency of something fashioned from melted credit cards, and teachers would do spot checks to make sure every stitch of your clothing was flammable. What need for designer T-shirts when you could support the local polyester industry for a fraction of the price? And why would anyone settle for Giorgio Armani, when there was a perfectly good George of Armagh, NI, just down the road? Clearly such tightness is hereditary, since my boy had no interest in the spangly rubberised trainers we tried in the fancy shop and cried at the pleather beauties from a fancier one still. No, my penny-pinching progeny only had eyes for a drab pair of cloth clogs, which cost £6 and came in plastic tubing usually reserved for tennis balls and Pringles. I might not be a cool dad, but if he’s happy to save me a few pennies, I’ll let him. If that makes me a miser, I just ask you don’t judge a man until you walk a mile in his ATHLETIC SPORT. Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats
Alone in the velvet seats, Judy made me cry. I understand now. I absolutely get it, the reason one should go to the cinema alone. Last Thursday I had the day off work and took a piece of cake to a matinee performance of Judy. As the credits rolled, this epiphany swept over me in a wonderful wave, and I leant back in my velvet seat and sighed like a snore. Self-care is an amorphous word and one that has been wrung so dry from overuse it disintegrates to the touch. The concept originated as doctors’ advice to elderly patients about how to avoid falls at home, then evolved to encompass the doctors themselves as they started to understand the need for people with emotionally testing jobs to look after their own mental health. From the early 1970s, self-care became a political act, as people of colour realised autonomy over their bodies was essential in order to fight racist systems and push the civil rights movement forward. For an idea originally centred in day-to-day survival, in 2019 there aren’t half a lot of vitamin-infused sheet masks that claim to do the job. Though the word itself has dried out, the self-care market is flooded, an overflowing bath, running so fast and so long that the damp threatens the very foundations of the house. There are face oils, tea bags, vibrators, blankets, bath salts, tote bags and toothpastes. There are podcasts to subscribe to, and Instagram accounts to follow, of body parts and inspirational messages, which you can click through to buy as a poster for someone you disrespect. There are lotions to put on you, objects to put in you, crystals to hang from your neck and around your desk and above your bed, craft projects to theme a hen night, birth plan and marriage around. It is possible, if so inclined, for a person to build themselves an entire palace of self-care, a lavender-scented mausoleum in which they can meditate themselves into a state of complete absence, where the self is so cushioned by the care it slowly ceases to exist. I have been thinking about self-care recently in relation to those out on the streets protesting the climate crisis. Their days are soaked in rain and passion, and their nights bright with dread, their awareness and anxiety about the end of the world having overtaken any thoughts of their own individual comfort. The original meaning of self-care rolls often through my mind as I worry for acquaintances whose mental health is being compromised by their focus on apocalypse, whether fretting over the plastic their lettuce is wrapped in or when to glue themselves to a statue. Though I am in awe of their dedication, my personal dreads remain domestic and manageable. “Have you got snacks?” I texted a friend who had taken Trafalgar Square, and later: “What happens when you need a wee?” Her neighbour, she reassured me, had brought incontinence pads. And so it occurred to me that Thursday afternoon, that in the context of self-care, we so rarely hear about the matinee cinema performance. It was me and approximately 18 elderly ladies, two of whom thoughtfully included me in their discussion about whether red pepper causes arthritis. My cake finished with the trailers, as Judy started I allowed myself the privilege of a minute to consider the way the world canonises tragic women, whether Judy Garland or Amy Winehouse, their suffering becoming more relevant than their talent. And whether we, their contemporary audiences, were stretching the abuse they’d lived through into new shapes in order to enjoy them afresh once dead. That thought considered, sealed and neatly put aside, I watched and adored the film, taking up three velvet seats with my body, my problems and my coat. There is no darkness like the darkness of an old cinema at lunchtime. It calms you like a weighted blanket, the polite rustle of popcorn adding texture to the blackness. Until the first notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I hadn’t realised I’d been holding in tears for approximately an entire adulthood. I bawled, alone and loudly, as behind me I heard my pepper friends doing the same. Sobs pooled in the dip of my neck, soaked my T-shirt and dragged eyeliner down my cheeks in streams of sadness, stress and fury. At college I remember reading film theory about the way a cinema recreates the womb, dark red and warm, but it is also a time machine and a bomb shelter, and a place to be alone together. When the lights came up, I felt as though I’d completed a silent yoga retreat. My phone had remained in my bag, my makeup had removed itself, and my muscles had relaxed into a position suitable for bowing to greatness. I looked around at strangers similarly readjusting to the truth of a suburban afternoon, my face still gleaming wet, and we all smiled dazedly at each other, somehow cured. Email Eva at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter@EvaWiseman
Ivy league: Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and English ivy (Hedera helix). Photograph: AlamyThe concept of the living wall has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years. What was once a design novelty at fancy flower shows has gone mainstream, and most major urban developments now seem to have at least part of their surface coated in a matrix of panels filled with growing substrate, allowing plants to colonise their surface. But, much as I love these technological marvels, there’s a far simpler, more cost-effective way to clothe buildings in a living cloak of green: plant some ivy.Every time I walk past an incredibly complex watering system being installed and scores of workers on cranes hauling huge panels, I think to myself: “None of this is necessary!” Ivy is a cheaper, easier and far less risky option, and provides many of the same environmental and economic benefits as newfangled substrate-filled panels.This includes its proven ability to cool buildings in warm weather, both passively by shading its surface from the sun’s rays and actively by the loss of heat as water evaporates from their leaves. According to some studies, this can be as much as 28% on a west-facing wall on a hot summer day.What’s more, evergreen climbers can have the opposite effect in winter, acting as an insulating layer preventing loss of heat from the building. In one study, temperatures on an ivy-clad wall were 3C warmer in winter and 3C cooler in summer compared to bare brickwork. A small difference that can have a big impact on energy use.> Green walls capture tiny particulates from the air that have been associated with a wide range of health problemsGreen walls also capture tiny particulates from the air that have been associated with a wide range of health problems, and constantly draw carbon dioxide from the air around them by photosynthesis. Not to mention the wildlife value they supply by providing nesting sites and a nectar source, or the simple fact that a view of a leafy green tapestry beats bare bricks every time.One reason why this simple solution is not taken up by more homeowners and property managers is the fear of plants such as ivy damaging brickwork. But contrary to popular belief, studies suggest that sound masonry is unaffected by these plants, whose aerial roots only penetrate existing cracks. In fact, if the wall is well maintained, the insulating effect of the foliage from the freeze and thaw cycle can protect it from damage. Likewise, the dense leaf cover and water-absorbing aerial roots of climbers may help keep walls marginally drier, despite being popularly thought of as a cause of damp.In these situations, the main issue is preventing the vigorous new growth from choking drains and guttering and damaging paint finishes. Fortunately, recent research has shown that simply using an anti-graffiti paint is effective in preventing the roots from attaching to brickwork, meaning it is cheap and easy to paint on buffer zones to confine plant growth to exactly where you want it.So if you have a boring bare wall outdoors, do one thing this autumn, get out there and plant some ivy.Email James at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@Botanygeek
‘I love repairing an old jumper with a hole in it.’ Photograph: Juli Manara PhotogapherWhat’s your Sunday morning routine? I’m not a creature of habit. Monday to Friday I try to be up at 7am; on the weekend I might be up early and I might not. Breakfast? I make what is referred to as vegan brunch: bread from the E5 Bakehouse in London Fields, fried tomatoes from the garden, mushrooms, homemade baked beans.Do you work? I’ll head to the studio if there’s a show or a panic on. I have a team midweek, but on Sundays I have the space to myself. There’s a recycler’s next door, and their diggers spend a lot of time smashing metal outside the window. Not on Sunday, though. It’s a joy, and where I’m happiest.The perfect day out? We went to Gloucestershire last weekend to see Giffords Circus. That was wonderful. I found it quite emotional: the circus pulls you in. In the grand finale you feel you’ve crossed a bridge.How do you relax? With a book. At the moment they’re Jake Chapman’s 1984.1 and The Peregrine by JA Baker. I’m also reading Novacene by James Lovelock. He argues that humanity will sacrifice itself and dissolve into data. I’m not convinced.Are drinks involved? I’m a bit of a binger, really, but I can’t handle it any more. Maybe I’m too old or it’s because I’m a vegan, but I have to be careful else I end up overdoing it, which isn’t nice for anyone. A favourite shop? I’m trying really hard not to shop, refraining from consuming things unnecessarily. I try to fix my own clothes, although I’m slow; I love a pair of darned socks, or repairing an old jumper with a hole in it.And Sunday nights? I might try reading in the bath, but that’s fraught with danger. And then I set an alarm for 7am on Monday, which I may or may not get up for.Gavin Turk’s exhibition, Letting Go, is on at Reflex Gallery, Amsterdam until 6 December (reflexamsterdam.com)
‘It has youthfulness written all over it.’ A Chanel model at Paris Fashion Week. Photograph: Peter White/Getty ImagesThere is something “girlie” about blusher. Hence, there is an idea it has an age limit. Total nonsense, of course, as shown at Chanel AW19. Yes, it has youthfulness written all over it, but it is magic for a complexion that needs resuscitation. Nailing technique, shade and texture is key. For definition, without the faff of contouring, circular strokes of a powder blush on the cheekbones blended up and out is best. For ease, less density and a freshness that is unsurpassed, go for a cream. Pinks are flattering – paler shades, paler skin; deeper shades, deeper skin – but orange will give you a warm glow. Go easy, otherwise you’ll look like an actual orange.1. Nars Hustle Cheek Palette £36, narscosmetics.co.uk 2. Shiseido Minimalist Whipped Powder Blush £32, lookfantastic.com 3. Dolce & Gabbana Blush £34, harrods.com 4. Smashbox Planetary Cheek Palette £28, boots.com 5. Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Colour Stick N°25 £35, chanel.com I can’t do without... tumble into slumbers with this sleep mistI can’t remember the last time I met anyone who wasn’t sleep-deprived. Back in the day, this modern epidemic was limited to insomniacs and new mothers. I can remember lacking a decent snooze for so long that I understood why sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture. Nowadays, everyone is functioning on little sleep. Arguably, it’s because we are all so ‘busy’. Busyness has become a status symbol for our age. We are always ‘on’ and it’s becoming impossible to switch off. And that’s why our cortisol levels (the stress-producing hormone) are through the roof. For better sleep, the experts recommend removing electronic devices from the bedroom, exercising during the day and managing your circadian rhythm – the body’s internal clock – by reducing our exposure to bright lights at least three hours before bed. I’ll add another tip. Get yourself a ‘sleep mist’. I know, it sounds ridiculous and a bit basic, but it really helps. This one has blended essential oils – neroli, chamomile, lavender and geranium, all known for their sleep-enhancing properties – in a distilled flower water concoction. Half an hour before bed I go to town and spray it everywhere for good measure. Sleep comes quick and goes deep. I wake up feeling human as opposed to a half-functioning 21st-century bastion of busyness. Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Perfect Sleep Pillow Mist, £24 aureliaskincare.com On my radar… creams, oils and liquids to restore and replenishAge is no barrier Using base oils of prickly pear and rosehip, this intense oil blends jasmine, sandalwood and ginger lily with fatty acids to nourish and decongest. Older skins in particular will love this. De Mamiel Autumn Facial Oil, £80, demamiel.comSmooth operator Don’t be alarmed by the words ‘acid’ and ‘peel’. This resurfacing liquid exfoliator includes ingredients to smooth, clarify and brighten skin. It is incredibly effective without being aggressive. Murad Replenishing Multi Acid Peel, £48, murad.co.ukSkin deep Vitamin C fights pigmentation and protects against ageing. But it can be harsh. This concoction – using 10% L-Ascorbic acid – buffers the impact by including a skin-softening shea butter. Alpha-H Vitamin C Paste, £40, alpha-h.comFollow Funmi on Twitter @FunmiFetto
Mellow yellow: the last of the sunflowers provide some late-season colour. Photograph: Allan JenkinsSummer’s been dismantled. Packed away. The plot is hunkering down nearer the ground. Kala’s garden, too, has been half-cleared, now sitting in jugs and drying on shelves. Huge heads of sunflowers, seeds to be shared with friends and family.I have left the sweet pea structures on the plot, though the flowers are long gone. Two have been colonised by nasturtiums, tendrils reaching hungrily out as though to snare passers-by. The last wigwam is now webbed by an iridescent morning glory, its seed sent to me by a reader. New to me, I will grow them again every year, purple as Prince.Rain has hammered the amaranth, half now lying, languid, as though exhausted by the weight of its seed. The tall banks of tagetes ildkongen are diminished, too. Almost waiting for frost to finish them. A few dry days and winter sun may hold back the decline. I will leave it as late as I can before saving precious seed.The last sunflowers, felled like redwood, have crashed through the bank. The largest, once over twice my height, is stripped. Soon enough the plot will be only as tall as the puntarelle. Its energy returning again to the soil.> I will miss seeing Kala screaming about insects as she ties in her jasmine, dwarfed by flowersWe cover over more kale and I head to Kala’s garden. Her nasturtiums have near colonised the grass and are making a break for freedom over the fence. Here, too, her sunflowers have succumbed. It’s near the end of her gardening year. I help and watch as she works, tidying away for winter.I will miss seeing her out deadheading, screaming about insects and snails as she ties her jasmine in, dwarfed by flowers. It makes me happy to see her gardening strengthen every year. Now if I could persuade her to help mulch the allotment…Allan Jenkins’s Morning (4th Estate, £8.99) is out now. Order it for £7.91 from guardianbookshop.com
* Click here to access the print version. Normal Sudoku rules apply, except the numbers in the cells contained within grey lines add up to the figures in the corner. No number can be repeated within each shape formed by grey lines.Buy next week’s Observer Digital Edition to see the completed puzzle.
* Click here to access the print version.Fill the grid using the numbers 1 to 9. Each number must appear just once in every row, column and 3x3 box.Buy next week’s Observer Digital Edition to see the completed puzzle.
Living above Leonardo’s Milanese vineyard is a constant source of inspiration for fashion designer Massimo Alba. Not many people can say that they share an address with Leonardo da Vinci, but Massimo Alba can. The fashion designer’s Milan apartment is part of the Casa degli Atellani, an elegant palazzo and one of the city’s most celebrated museums. It is also home to the vineyard gifted to da Vinci by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, in 1498. “Every time I come home, I feel privileged to be living in this terrific place, surrounded by good energy,” says Alba as he leads the way through the museum to the garden where the Renaissance artist tended to his vines. Alba’s home, which he shares with his wife Marilena and their 14-year-old son, Nicolò, is situated on the first floor, but our tour starts in the sun-dappled gardens. Alba is keen to highlight the harmonious juxtaposition between past and present that inspires not only his work but his apartment, too. The 59-year old designer and his family moved here shortly after their home on the island of Ischia was destroyed by the 2017 earthquake. They had already sold their other two properties in and around Milan to raise capital to set up his eponymous label, so when the Casa degli Atellani’s current owners, the Portaluppi family, suggested Alba rented one of the storied dwellings, the family saw it as an opportunity to start their next chapter. “You don’t really own things [in life], only emotions,” reflects Alba, explaining that no longer being a proprietor – much like running his independent brand – makes him feel, “in a funny way, free”. The apartment is peppered with mementos from the past. When you step into the apartment you’re met with a treasure “from a lifetime ago”: an exquisite Tibetan chest that sits beneath a high ceiling. Beyond is an open-plan kitchen, dining room and living area with a retro floor-to-ceiling shelving system that acts as a room divider. Taking centre stage, the shelving unit is covered in dog-eared paperbacks piled high, unframed canvases, souvenirs, family photographs, hand-written notes, candlesticks, paperweights and small vintage lamps picked up at markets and auctions. It acts as a captivating storyboard of lives spent and shared. So, too, the artwork that covers the walls. Black and white photography and abstract oil paintings by Lillian Bassman, Kenro Izu, Evelyn Hofer and François Berthoud sit on floating shelves along one wall that stretches the length of the apartment. Meanwhile, giant scenes by French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier and the Sicilian photographer Ferdinando Scianna stand side by side on the floor next to a small sculpted chair by Tom Dixon. On the opposite wall, giant windows frame the view of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church across the road where da Vinci, commissioned by Sforza, painted The Last Supper in 1498, where it still hangs to this day. “In a certain way, our home is a melting pot, everything is slightly different, from a different place in time,” says Alba. As with the collections that he and Marilena design to be seasonless, comfortable and worn with everything else in your wardrobe, his home is a holistic extension of that. “We never look at each item; we look at the way items work with other items. We don’t want to change every season – we want to follow our inner voice and instinct.” Many of the pieces have sentimental value. Midcentury chairs by Danish and Italian designers including Hans Wegner and Gio Ponti are decorated with cushions Alba had embroidered by his friend, the artist Roberto Reale. They read: “Happiness is not in another place but in this place, not in another hour, but in this hour,” and “Hello there.” A lampshade also features needlework by Reale that reads: “ M’illumino d’immenso.” It translates as: “I flood myself with the light of the immense,” and is a quote from the late Italian modernist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, whose poetry Alba’s son was recently studying at school. Tibetan rugs, which overlap each other across the floor, have been hand-painted by Alba – himself a keen artist whose line of painted handkerchiefs has become a signature of his brand. Beds are draped in blankets he designed with the Scottish cashmere company Begg & Co. The kitchen, where I’m told generous servings of pasta and wine are served up for regular dinner-party guests, is decorated with classic Sicilian head vases, vintage mismatched glassware and family relics passed down from parents. “Personally, I like it when things from different times become friends and live together – something from the 50s, something from the 30s,” explains Alba. “I really feel it’s home. I feel close to everything I like.” Warm and inviting, it’s a home that is lived in, not looked at; the kind of space that speaks style and whispers “well-travelled” with a curiosity in every corner and a cup of coffee on the table. It’s kept feeling cosy by the walls and ceilings which are the same shade of matt grey throughout. They were done this way, says Alba, so that the rooms not only “become circular” and create intimacy but also complement the view of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It brings the outside in – as do the pots of Monstera deliciosa, along with unidentified succulents and vases of wild eucalyptus. One of the most memorable pieces from Alba’s home is a glass sculpture of a salmon by the glass artist Hugh Findletar, which Alba says he was drawn to “because salmon swim against the tide”. In creating this very personal space inside this world-famous landmark, Alba and his family have created a Renaissance of their own.
Plucky, steadfast, loyal – the rise of pampered pets began in the 19th century when artists and writers saw their many benefits. They can be expensive, noisy and annoying, yet today’s pampered pets have never been more cossetted and adored. Now new research reveals that it is the Victorians who were responsible for changing attitudes towards domestic animals. Historians are combing the historical archives for evidence of when familial, emotional attachments to pets became commonplace and socially acceptable in Britain. The work is part of a five-year project that will culminate in a book and an exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in east London. “We thought we would find that there has been an increase in people’s emotional investment in pets in recent times, but what we’ve actually found is that people in the early 19th century were also very emotionally invested in their animals. They just expressed that in a different way,” said Jane Hamlett, professor of modern British history at Royal Holloway, University of London, who has been leading the study for the past three years along with Professor Julie-Marie Strange at the University of Durham. “They had a different cultural sense of what a pet should be.” Until the 19th century, keeping pets was frowned upon and would crop up in satirical prints criticising the elite and aristocracy. “Quite often, you get pictures of 18th-century ladies dressed in ostentatious, over-the-top costumes with a lapdog,” Hamlett said. Pet owners, particularly when they were female, were seen as frivolous consumers who spent their money in absurd ways: animals were generally expected to earn their keep or be eaten by their owners. “What seems to happen in the late 18th century and early 19th century is that pet-keeping becomes culturally more acceptable,” Hamlett said. Writers and artists in the 19th century assigned a new “moral value” to pets, and consequently saw keeping them as beneficial for children. Pet ownership began to be seen as character building, particularly for boys, because it taught children to be caring and responsible. Pets were also thought to enhance the domesticity of a home for a potentially valuable social purpose. “The Victorians were very interested in the home and domestic life, and bringing up children was seen as very important for creating the right kind of morality in society,” Hamlett said. “And one of the things that children could do to develop morality was to keep a pet – so you get quite a lot of advice manuals from the mid-19th century onwards suggesting that children should keep pets to improve themselves and their moral qualities.” Even poor working-class families would capture wild birds like blackbirds, linnets and thrushes to keep as pets, often hanging the cages outside their windows and feeding them scraps, while aspirational middle-class families would buy more expensive pets, such as pedigree dogs, to signal their higher wealth and status. “Pedigree dog breeding really takes off in the Victorian period. Dogs were very popular for Victorians, partly because they embody cultural values Victorians were really keen on: they’re seen as steadfast, loyal, plucky and courageous,” Hamlett added. Wild parrots and monkeys imported from the colonies were popular choices for the wealthiest families, as the Victorians did not perceive anything cruel or immoral about keeping such pets. Rabbits were popular too – boys could be expected to build hutches from scratch and look after the animals single-handed – but cats were viewed less positively. “Many people kept cats during the Victorian period and felt affectionate towards them, but they were still very much seen as utility animals, which kept mice and vermin down,” Hamlett said. As a result, cats weren’t as well-fed as other pets and developed a reputation for being sly and calculating. This wasn’t helped by their traditional association with witches. “It’s only in the 20th century that cats start to be seen wholeheartedly as pets.” As pets became integrated into family life, contemporary publications and handwritten diaries show just how emotional the Victorians could be about their pets, triggering a new form of consumerism well-known to animal owners today. Self-help books on how to care for specific pets, particularly difficult exotic ones, such as monkeys, began to be published from the 1850s onwards. Health remedies such as “cough pills” for dogs and cats were sold widely and pet food began to be manufactured. Pet cemeteries were even created in London. Surprisingly, the love Victorians felt for their pets and the role of pets in family life has been largely ignored by historians in the past. “No historian has written about that topic and no research had been done specifically on the history of pets in people’s homes,” said Hamlett. Some of the historical documents her team has looked at have never even been studied before. “But actually, people wrote about their pets quite a lot.”
Garlic chives in flower – this perennial herb needs full sun. Photograph: Alamy Stock PhotoPlant this Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are the plant that keeps on giving. Harvest the mildly garlicky leaves, then enjoy the white flowers in late summer through to autumn (they are also edible). This perennial herb needs full sun, and will only die back in harsh winters. Height and spread 30cm x 25cm.Split this If your rhubarb is huge but not very productive, it’s time to split the clump. Dig out the crown and use a pruning saw to cut it into pieces, each bit with a visible growing point; chuck away anything dead or mushy (be brutal). Replant with the top of the crown on the surface of the soil.Read this Celebrate orchards this weekend by finding your local apple day event at ptes.org. If you can’t make it in person, Caroline Ball’s new book Heritage Apples (£25, Bodleian Library) tells the story of Britain’s love affair with this fruit in lush detail.
‘To love trees is to invest hope in the future.’ Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphotoMy friend Ming is a friend of oaks. Whenever she sees a sapling that’s doomed to be mown or trampled, or has appeared in the middle of a vegetable bed, she is there to rehome it. Now, when I see an oak sapling in the wrong spot, I think of her and move it. To love trees is to invest hope in the future. To have faith in times to come is not easy right now, but there is scientific evidence that mass tree planting may be one of the simplest and cheapest ways to reduce our impact on our ecosystem.We will need a lot of trees, however – more than a trillion, and they will have to span the globe. They will not negate climate change on their own, but they will store carbon, help clean the air, filter and slow down rainwater to help prevent flooding and, if a diverse bunch is planted, help increase biodiversity. A target of a trillion trees needs worldwide backing from every country and every government. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the likelihood of that.Young oak tree sapling. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphotoBut on 30 November the Woodland Trust is leading the Big Climate Fightback as part of national tree week, where you can either plant a tree or make a donation and it will plant one for you. Research suggests that every tree matters, even if it’s just a few more on grazing land, or on your street. We don’t need to create dense forests, but we do need to start fitting them in everywhere: that means at home, at work and all the bits in between. Does your office block have a car park that could be home to some trees? Is there a local playground begging for some shade? Or is there a strip of grass by the side of a road crying out for a tree?Autumn is the best time to plant a tree. Photograph: AlamyThere will be hurdles – you will need permission on land you don’t own – and much concrete to crack, but there’s no time to be lost. Autumn is the best time to plant a tree. It’s a good time for seed-sowing, too. There is an abundance of free seeds scattered below many trees to harvest; a few recycled yoghurt pots and compost and you’ve got the beginnings of a nursery.If you’re looking for the perfect tree for your garden, Martin Crawford’s Trees For Gardens, Orchards And Permaculture is the bible for productive nut, fruit and medicinal trees that store carbon and provide something for the larder. If you don’t have space at home, consider supporting charities such as Trees For Cities, which has been improving lives by creating urban forests for more than 20 years. Or get in touch with the Incredible Edible Network and the Orchard Project, both of which are planting fruit trees that will be rewarding communities and the environment for years to come.
Grandmaster Flash and Tracey: ‘UK rap is a baby compared with the US.’ Photograph: Amit Lennon/The Guardian Grandmaster Flash, 61, hip-hop pioneer, and AJ Tracey, 25, MCGrandmaster Flash – born Joseph Saddler on New Year’s Day, 1958 – is often credited as one of the pioneers of hip-hop, but his achievements are as much in the field of engineering as they are in music. It was Flash who invented the slipmat that allowed records to be manipulated by DJs; who used solder and Super Glue to give decks a separate headphone channel, so they could hear the record they were cueing up; and who invented the “quick-mix theory”, allowing small portions of tracks to be looped. Those innovations formed the basis of modern DJing.Hip-hop has gone through many iterations since Flash debuted his skills on the wheels of steel (a phrase he popularised) at block parties in the Bronx. AJ Tracey, the London MC, tries to embody them all, combining grime, UK drill and trap in his music. An outspoken supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, he is one of the leading lights of the UK rap scene, registering a No 3 album and selling out two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace. The pair immediately hit it off and talk constantly during the photoshoot – about love, their roots and Nando’s, sometimes to the dismay of the Guardian’s photographer. “How can you photograph us having a talk if we’re not talking!” shouts Flash.Grandmaster Flash So what would you do if it wasn’t music?AJ Tracey I don’t want to say something incriminating! I was at university, so, hopefully, I would have got a job. I was doing criminology.GF Criminology? So which side of the coin were you working?AJT Ha, both sides. Studying their side, but doing my side. I love learning about history. I thought criminology would give me a bit of an insight into how cities work.GF Did your parents want you to stay at college?AJT My dad was born in the UK, but he actually got sent back to Trinidad for a while for misbehaving. He was impoverished and obviously black people had it hard it in the UK. He was a rapper, too, but my grandma told him, “I want you to go to school and bring some money to the family because you should be grateful for the British education.”> My mother was a pirate radio DJ. Being a white Welsh woman spinning hip-hop was unheard ofSo when it was my turn, he said I should go to college. Any parent who cares about his son would say that, especially any parent from Trinidad. And when I told my gran that I wanted to do the music thing and leave uni, she rolled up her sleeves, got the spoon and just whacked it.GF I used to get my ass whacked, too! My father was an avid collector of vinyl records. The rules of the household were: never to go in the closet where dad’s records were, and never to touch the stereo. But as soon as I heard his tools go over his shoulder, and the door slam, I would grab a chair, play music and dance around the living room. Whoever was home would say, “Dad will take your head off if he sees this”, and he would kick my ass, but in a way that made me know the records were really valuable, so I’d do it again.After a while, I had to start diagnosing the vinyl. My mother was a seamstress, so I took one of her needles and put the tip inside the black tunnel and felt a vibration. I’m like, “Holy moly – the music lives in the black tunnels!” Then it was on: me going in the closet, him beating my ass, me going in the closet. My dad was the brother of the 1948 featherweight champion of the world, so he had hands of stone.AJT I can identify with that. My mother was a pirate radio DJ. Being a white Welsh woman spinning hip-hop was unheard of – my dad obviously fell in love with that. She used to spin NWA. She’s got NWA’s first vinyl, and she has two copies: one to spin and one that’s sealed. She knew it was going to be crazy valuable. That’s the record I wasn’t allowed to touch. But actually my mum was the one saying: “Go for it, do music.”GF Oooh, that’s interesting. It was mom saying go for it.AJT What would you have done if not music?GF I think I would have been an electronic technician, because I was always unscrewing the back of amps and seeing how the circuitry worked. That’s what my people wanted me to be. I actually had to stop hanging around people –AJT – who were telling you that it’s not going to work out [in music]?GF Exactly. In my teenage years, when I was trying to figure out the quick-mix theory, I had a crew. They would knock on the door and say, “Can Joe come out and play?” I’d say, “I’ll be right there.” After months and months, they realised I was never coming out. So all my friends left and my audience was my miniature doberman pinscher named Caesar.Later, when we would play in the neighbourhood parks, my problem was there was no place to plug in, because if you asked a person in the nearest apartment, that’s a lot of juice! By this time I had knowledge of electronics, so I worked out that the lamp-post turns on at dusk automatically. I had to break the lamp-post door, find the electronic timer, cut the head of the extension cord and wire it so the electricity was going all the time. These were the challenges.AJT I wouldn’t go to the park, but I would go to pirate radio stations to try and get the microphone. You almost have to fight your way in there. It’s really a hood thing – you need to be built tough, because you need to go in there with your people and say: “It’s my turn.” Often it was 2am in Enfield – not many listeners could hear me, but I could hear me.> The big-time drug dealers would come to the park with us and buy 300 bottles of pop and bags of crisps for the audienceGF Exactly! It’s about that practice. For us it wasn’t pirate radio, but we did deal with the cops. Early on, they would shut us down. But what would happen is that all the big-time drug dealers and hood rats and killers would come into the park and jam with us – what we were doing just brought the best out of people. Drug dealers were going to the shop and buying 300 bottles of pop and 300 bags of crisps for the audience. And the cops would just sit around and be happy they had nothing to do.AJT Man, I can’t imagine British police saying it’s a good thing, but one day they will. UK rap is a baby compared with the US – we’re still new to this. We need some more time for everyone to become accustomed to black culture.GF Are you a perfectionist?AJT Absolutely. I’m my worst critic.GF Me, too. I’ll come off stage and people will be cheering “one more tune”, and all I’ll be able to think about is 15 minutes into the set I fucked up a mix.AJT Me too, bro. My tour manager will say it was a great show, but I won’t be happy, because I know I fumbled. They’ll say no one noticed. But I notice.GF So what’s the biggest difference for us? The internet.AJT That would be the defining thing. You were in the Bronx, and I was growing up in west London – but with the internet we’re half a second away from everyone. I was recording music in a trap house, pressing a button and uploading it to SoundCloud – which means it’s in people’s bedrooms, in white households in America, in Japan. It’s much easier for me to sneak around the powers that be, and the gatekeepers, and get my sound out there. I still wanna rap about things that are close to home. You can’t tell me I should speak on Trump or Brexit, just because it’s two big things that are happening. That’s not how it works. I will speak on Grenfell or the Labour party – things that are close to home.GF Right. It’s got to be something that affects the artist, their family or their neighbourhood.AJT I wouldn’t say we had the same struggles, but they’re similar struggles. Our parents, being black and from black heritage, the struggles of being a perfectionist. I feel like that’s within every artist – the struggle that led you to excel, and that in turn leads you to want to give perfection. Janet Ellis, 64, writer, actor and television presenter, and Will Lenney, 23, YouTube superstarLenney and Ellis: ‘I think it’s important for the ideas to come from you.’ Photograph: Pål Hansen/The GuardianIn 1983, Janet Ellis was looking for a new challenge. Having previously only accepted acting roles, she initially felt offended when it was suggested she audition to be the new Blue Peter presenter; she was only persuaded after betting her agent £5 she wouldn’t get the gig. She lost the bet, and became one of the show’s best-loved hosts.Her four-year stint was followed by regular BBC presenting jobs and occasional TV appearances with her daughter, the singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Her main focus is now fiction; her second novel, How It Was, was published in August.Children’s television has changed a lot since Ellis’s day, not least in that little of it is watched on television. Half of children over eight say they prefer YouTube, and the majority of 12- to 15-year-olds say they regularly watch content made by vloggers. Will Lenney, better known as WillNE, is a 23-year-old YouTube superstar with more than 3 million subscribers. His posts are mostly first-person looks at internet culture: These Life Hacks Are Beyond Useless or Remaking The Worst Tik Toks I Could Find, for instance. He’s often joined by other popular YouTube personalities, although Lenney brings a sense of humour and self-deprecation to his vlogs. The channel began as a bedroom exploit in Whitley Bay in North Tyneside, but has now made Lenney rich enough to move to a flash London apartment, where his videos are recorded.Today, Ellis and Lenney’s 41-year age gap feels immaterial; they josh and banter as if they have just been announced as two brand new Blue Peter presenters, assuming boy-band poses and swapping stories of their most disastrous links (Lenney just rerecorded his, whereas Ellis’s went out on TV to millions).Janet Ellis This is a question you must be endlessly asked: how do you become a YouTuber?Will Lenney There’s no “follow this first step”, no path. You give it your all and hope for the best. I think that’s probably one of the biggest similarities between our careers.JE Yeah, I had no career plan. When I was little, I wanted to act, but when you go, “I want to be an actress”, people just go, “Well, did you know, 75% of the people in the profession are out of work?” And I have to say, I just went: “Well, poor them.”WL Sod yous, yeah? I like that. The one thing I’d say is that if you start out wanting to do YouTube as a job, you’re finished from the get-go.JE I get that. When people say, “I want to be a presenter”, I think: what do you want to talk about on camera? Why do you want to be there?WL For me, it started as a hobby – just making daft comedy videos maybe once or twice a year. I failed my A-levels spectacularly and had to retake them, but I used all the spare time I had to give the YouTube thing a really good go.JE I got my provisional Equity card early and did loads of theatre, and then four episodes of Doctor Who. Along the way, I had Sophie and then went straight back to work. I did a kids’ series called Jigsaw just weeks after she was born.WL That must have been hard.> I've always had an office of people whose job it was to find something to do. On Blue Peter, 75% was viewer-suggestedJE I didn’t know any different. I had her when I was 23, so the same age as you. I felt clever, you know: “I can do all this and I’ve got a kid.” Also, in real life, if somebody says: “Right, you’re going to get up at six in the morning and go parachuting”, I’d say no. But presenter-me says, “Oh yes!” I suppose what makes a good presenter is allowing people to see that actually, you would rather be in bed, or that you’re scared.WL Totally – especially on YouTube, when people will go, “I got up, I ate breakfast, you know, I went to John Lewis.” If you bring people into that, they feel like they know you as a mate.JE I wanted to ask you about ideas, because the stuff I’ve done, there’s been an office full of people whose job it was to find something to do. On Blue Peter, 75% of it was viewer-suggested. Do you have people who suggest content?WL I think it’s important for the ideas to come from you, because it’s your channel. But we get immediate feedback with analytics. You can see the number of people watching your channel over the last 60 minutes, then for each minute, how many times someone clicked on each video. When shows like Love Island are on, there’s no point in uploading, because I can see the huge drop-off. No one is on YouTube at that time.> I would never put something in my videos that I wouldn’t say to my mumJE Yeah, we owned them: the audience had nowhere else to go. Not just the kids, but the parents, because everyone understands the words Blue Peter. It’s been on now for 60 years. Even by the time I joined, it was 25 years old, and if parents went into the room and their kids were watching they would probably stay, for reasons of nostalgia. I have grandsons now, and they’re all fully YouTube conversant, but it’s not that thing of getting home from school and it’s there, and mum might come in and watch, too.Do you like the fact that it enables young people to have this thing that has nothing to do with us?WL Parents should always be aware of what someone is watching but yes, we specifically target who we think is our demographic. Having said that, I would never put something in my videos that I wouldn’t say to my mum.JE That is an excellent rule.WL That usually helps me walk the line pretty well. I find it liberating. I quite enjoy the responsibility, or burden, of knowing the buck stops with me. JE I left the BBC years ago, but you become a spokesperson for it. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to defend children’s television, and you will be asked to defend YouTube.WL Yeah, I get that quite a lot. YouTube is very strictly regulated now, whereas maybe it wasn’t seven or eight years ago. There are dos and don’ts. Now, if you say certain jokes, YouTube are not going to put any adverts on your video. I just have to make the decision: is this worth the risk?JE With live telly, people always assume that you’re desperate to swear or do something wrong. But I wouldn’t ever do that. I joined Blue Peter when I was 28, so I wasn’t going to be living a nun-like existence, but the first responsibility was always – it sounds so prissy – to the viewer. I don’t want to be the person they see falling over pissed and being horrible to waiters, or something. But this was way before Twitter, paparazzi; I suppose it’s harder now.WL It can be very volatile. There was a big YouTube scandal in 2017 when a lot of advertisers pulled out over concerns about what their adverts appeared on. It had just become my full-time job. I’d moved down to London, I was paying rent, and suddenly you go from getting paid, say, a pound for 1,000 views to 10 pence.JE When the News Of The World published an exposé of Richard Bacon, 22, taking cocaine, it was horrible. He’s still one of the best presenters they ever had, and he was immediately sacked and the then head of children’s programmes, Lorraine Heggessey, sat in front of a bowl of daffodils and did this sort of Queen-like speech before the programme went on air, you know: “very disappointed in the behaviour”. They dragged some of us out of retirement because they were suddenly one presenter down. So I went and did a few programmes. But it was ridiculous.WL That’s a horrible existence that, innit? On the other hand I’ve been doing these live shows and it’s been such a lovely experience and privilege just to speak to people on the street who enjoy what you do.JE YouTube makes people scared, so you have to hold their hands and tell them it’s fine. My 10-year-old grandson has started talking into the camera completely unaffectedly, wandering around the house – using entirely the wrong angle.WL You’ve got to start somewhere.JE Well, he always starts with: “Hey, guys.”WL That’s so sweet. Ten is young for it, but by the time he’s 15, he could get bloody good. I haven’t even been doing it for five years. I hope he keeps doing it. Alice Oswald, 53, Oxford professor of poetry, and Yrsa Daley-Ward, 30, Instagram poetDaley-Ward and Oswald: ‘Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem.’ Photograph: Pål Hansen, Gareth Iwan Jones/The GuardianAlice Oswald was elected Oxford professor of poetry in June this year, succeeding Simon Armitage and becoming the first woman in the role. It follows a string of prestigious poetry prizes, and acclaim from her contemporaries: Carol Ann Duffy hailed her “the best UK poet now writing, bar none”, while Jeanette Winterson said she was “making a new kind of poetry”, bringing the countryside, myth and nature to life.Oswald’s career has centred on traditional published collections and literary magazines; by contrast, Yrsa Daley-Ward self-published her debut collection, Bone, in 2014, but rose to prominence after publishing excerpts and new poems on Instagram (she has amassed more than 150,000 followers). These were initially interspersed with photos from her modelling career and videos of live performances. She bristles at the label “Instagram poet”, but the way she posts poetry, sometimes as a screengrab of her Apple Notes app, or scribbled down in a notebook, feels especially urgent. Modelling has mostly been replaced by acting, and she’s currently appearing as Connie in World On Fire, Peter Bowker’s new BBC drama about the second world war.> On social media, we can’t hide from the fact that a lot of things are very self-centredDaley-Ward, who was born in Chorley, Lancashire, and raised in part by strict Seventh-day Adventist grandparents, now lives in New York, from where she spoke on the phone to Alice, who was in her cottage in south Devon.Alice Oswald I think it’s fascinating that poetry has found its way on to Instagram. I wonder whether it might then grow into a form where it’s not so autobiographical, and maybe the images are not personal – that it might create a form that’s more like Chinese poetry, which tends to be both visual and verbal at the same time.Yrsa Daley-Ward You know, on social media, we can’t hide from the fact that a lot of things are very self-centred. They just are. And if we think about things generationally, as well, people [of my generation] are almost obsessed with our journey, our feelings about this, our trauma. I don’t think you have to be like that to do well on social media. I always hear this thing “Instagram poet”, but often people are using excerpts from much longer works.Do you ever split poems up in that way? Do you see four or five lines from the larger body of work as standing alone, and maybe even meaning something else?> It seemed to put people off when poetry was taught in schools. It’s exciting that social media poetry has changed thatAO Yes. I like the notion that the poem is a very intense, airborne thing. One only captures a little bit of the poem you get in a book – just a trace of some actual alive poem that’s always elsewhere.It does feel as if people are talking more about poetry now, and I’m delighted by that. I was always frustrated that it only ever seemed to put people off when it was taught in schools. It’s exciting that, suddenly, performance poetry and social media poetry have changed that.YD-W I think there’s been a huge surge. People are going into prisons and care units and facilitating the writing of poetry. I’m from a very religious background, so I grew up on biblical text. Also, I’m Jamaican and Nigerian, so I grew up on knowledge of the ancestors or oral storytelling, fables. When that meets this modern way of processing, understanding and speaking about things in a very simple and succinct way, you almost, as the writer, don’t have to make it happen. It’s already there.AO For me, poetry is all about expressing the fact that I don’t know what’s going on. Does that have any resonance with you?YD-W I’m interested in what I do know and what I don’t know. I think I found poetry because I wanted to talk about things that were in front of me. But I don’t always understand a feeling before it’s on the page. So I think the genesis of it is still what I don’t know. Then somewhere in that process, it becomes very personal.AO When I was younger I used to suffer from that panic of, “Oh I’m never going to write again, this has gone.” Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem. It’s not really up to me – I just have to do the listening.YD-W I know I want to be very serene, and not that intentional. Which is why I write in the morning because then everything still feels possible. I feel open and not too much has happened in the day to make me distracted.AO I, too, love the early morning – to get up before anyone else is awake, drink strong coffee. That does offer a kind of clarity that isn’t always there in the rest of the day. But I do notice that, however much I try to say to myself that it’s a daily discipline, probably the more inventive poems emerge at times when things aren’t manageable.YD-W Yeah, I agree – I think because the mind has to go somewhere.AO That’s exactly it. If you reach impossibility, then that’s when the imagination kicks in, I think.YD-W There’s a passion that comes during those times. Where you put your energies is particularly surprising and important. AO Yes, I remember when I was 20 or so, and I decided to try writing so-called free verse. I remember feeling physical panic as I was doing it, which was exhilarating. But I think the things poetry summons up are quite terrifying.YD-W Absolutely. But I think we can always rest in the knowledge that the work stands alone. When somebody is there with your book, you’re not there in person. It’s no longer about you.AO There’s a difference between Alice and Alice Oswald, and I spend most of my time trying to escape Alice Oswald. I hate her. If she is anywhere near me when I’m trying to write, that’s a disaster. So I have good ways of getting rid of her. I find her entirely fictional and redundant. I like the thing you say somewhere: “You know you’re writing the truth when you’re terrified.”YD-W I think that whenever you are nervous that you’re revealing yourself, or that you’re saying something you haven’t said before – that’s when you’re striking something important.• If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email email@example.com, including your name and address (not for publication).
‘I love reading to the children at bedtime and I have all the joy but none of the hard work. There’s a photo of them on my fridge at home’. Sarah Having a weekday lodger seemed like a big shift, and we had loads of trepidation about a stranger living in our flat. But the financial benefits won over the awkwardness factor. Eight years on, it works because we get on. We don’t see each other very often, but when we do it’s a pleasure. Alan is self-sufficient. He doesn’t want to be a flatmate, and we don’t want one. That – and total honesty – is the key. We’ve gone from being a couple to a family with two children. When I was first pregnant, I was worried about what would happen, Alan-wise, when I went into labour. He said he’d go to a hotel. He understood instinctively. The children, now three and five, adore Uncle Alan – although my friends think he’s imaginary. We met his family for the first time recently and I felt like I knew them already. Alan Our relationship is like one between neighbours rather than flatmates. We have distance and closeness, without it being awkward. We’re friends, but we don’t have to share chores. I work long hours and I eat out in the evenings with colleagues. I’m off home to Dublin to my own family at the weekend – my kids are grown-up. It’s hugely important to me not to encroach on Mike and Sarah’s privacy, but at the same time, they’ve always included me. I thought about leaving when their children were born, but they said they’d love me to stay. The kids love me – I love reading to them at bedtime and I have all the joy but none of the hard work. There’s a photo of them on my fridge at home. If you have a story to tell about who you live with, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Under one roof in the subject line
What links John F Kennedy with Molly Brown? Photograph: AP The questions1 Chang and Eng Bunker were the original what? 2 What is the official language of Andorra? 3 The saltwater is the largest species of what? 4 Which title character works at Michael & Eagle Lettings? 5 Lady Eve Balfour co-founded which organic farming organisation? 6 Which pizza was named after a brand of tinned fruit? 7 Which rapper has “Always Tired” tattooed on his face? 8 In France, what diagram is known as a “camembert”? What links: 9 Oubliette; panopticon; Bridewell; supermax? 10 Charlemagne’s Abul-Abbas; Pope Leo X’s Hanno; Barnum’s Jumbo? 11 NaCl; piper nigrum; C12H22O11? 12 World cycling champions; Gilbert Baker’s equality symbol? 13 Saint Paul; Stephen Crane; Molly Brown; John F Kennedy? 14 Harriet Jacobs; Olaudah Equiano; Frederick Douglass; Solomon Northup? 15 Hope, Washington; Vietnam; Afghanistan; Burma; Mexico? Did you solve the pizza puzzle? Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto The answers1 “Siamese” (conjoined) twins. 2 Catalan. 3 Crocodile. 4 Stath (in the comedy Stath Lets Flats). 5 Soil Association. 6 Hawaiian. 7 Post Malone. 8 Pie chart. 9 Types of prison. 10 Elephants. 11 Condiments: salt; pepper; sugar. 12 Rainbow: wear the rainbow jersey; designed LGBT rainbow flag. 13 Survived shipwrecks: off Malta; SS Commodore; RMS Titanic; PT-109. 14 Wrote narratives of their lives as slaves. 15 Chief locations for Rambo films: First Blood; Rambo II; Rambo III; Rambo; Last Blood.
Geoffrey, 65, university lecturer, meets Alex, 62, model and fashion writer. Geoffrey on Alex What were you hoping for? To meet someone interesting for a pleasant evening. First impressions? She had very long, silver-blond hair, and a cashmere shawl that was effortlessly wrapped around her. What did you talk about? Not Brexit – though we agree! University lecturing, children, siblings, dead parents, potential grandchildren, wedding rings, languages, Iran, China, Dignitas, bad dates, exes. Any awkward moments? We both mistook the fruit-topped cheesecake as being the tiramisu we had ordered. Good table manners? Of course. Best thing about Alex? Simpatico. Would you introduce her to your friends? Oh yes. She would be a great asset to a party. Describe her in three words Sophisticated, Italian, charming. What do you think she made of you? A pleasant evening’s conversation. Did you go on somewhere? Only to the station. And... did you kiss? Subtly. More cheek to cheek. If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be? To have had more time to talk on our respective journeys home. Marks out of 10? 8. Would you meet again? I’d invite her to a party. Alex on Geoffrey What were you hoping for? A fun evening out, good food and good conversation. First impressions? A friendly gentleman. What did you talk about? The state of UK higher education (I used to be a university lecturer), the pleasure of becoming a grandparent (I am going to), the pitfalls of online dating and, finally, death. Geoffrey is a great conversationalist. We laughed a lot. Any awkward moments? I did not pay attention to the menu and ended up choosing the wrong starter. I could not eat it and had to alert the waitress to take it away. Geoffrey was too polite to say anything but there was this awkward wait. There was also a mix-up with a tiramisu that was not a tiramisu at all. Good table manners? Yes, definitely. Best thing about Geoffrey? His easy-going manner and friendliness. Would you introduce him to your friends? Sure. Actually, he knew an old flame of mine very well. It is a small world. Describe him in three words Affable, well-mannered, personable. What do you think he made of you? He seemed to enjoy the evening. Did you go on somewhere? The station. And… did you kiss? Just some air kissing. If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be? I made a fool of myself over the starter. The food was altogether very good; it was an oversight on my part. Marks out of 10? A good 8. Would you meet again? As friends. He gave me his card. . Alex and Geoffrey ate at Chucs Cafe Kensington, London SW7. Fancy a blind date? Email email@example.com. If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com
How does it feel to campaign against racism, come out, have an abortion or lose a parent to suicide? People who went through the same things, years apart, share their stories. ‘The biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby is making women feel guilty’ Sam , 26, and Diane Munday, 88, had abortions five decades apart Sam and Diane are sitting in Diane’s front room in Hertfordshire, hands warmed by mugs of coffee, chatting as if they are old friends. In fact, they have just met, brought together by their similar personal and political experiences, which took place some 50 years apart. “Back in the 1960s, nobody talked about abortion. It was a word that was never said, never written,” says Diane. When her dressmaker and friend, married with three young children, died from a backstreet abortion, “it knocked me between the eyes,” she says. She thought of her again when, married with three children herself, she became pregnant at 29: “I knew the minute that pregnancy was confirmed that I wasn’t going to continue with it. I had reached my limit in my circumstances.” Her choice, in 1961, was between an illegal abortion, and paying a doctor to say that a legal termination was necessary for health reasons; she opted for the latter. Diane’s abortion took place on Harley Street in London. “Oddly, I came round from the anaesthetic remembering the young woman who died. She was dead and I was alive because my husband and I, borrowing from my mother, could afford an abortion. I said to myself: ‘I will fight for other women to have the privilege of being able to control their own fertility.’” Diane went on to play a key role in helping to change the law: “And here you see me, aged 88, still fighting.” She turns to Sam: “So tell me about your experience.” Sam explains, that after she suffered terrible side-effects from hormonal contraception she and her then-boyfriend tried natural family planning, which failed. “The first time I was pregnant, two years ago, I was terrified. I didn’t have a stable relationship, a good job, a proper home I could raise a child in. I was too young.” Diane responds, softly: “It wasn’t right for you.” Thanks to campaigners such as Diane, who fought for the Abortion Act 1967, Sam had a legal termination at a Marie Stopes clinic. “I decided to have a surgical abortion under general anaesthetic because I was so afraid, but it was fine,” she says. “The only time I really felt scared was going through to the operating theatre. I started to cry, and asked someone to hold my hand. Then I was out. “There’s still a lot of silence. I found the silence so suffocating, I decided to talk about it on Twitter. I was scared of anti-choicers harassing me, but within a few hours at least 40 people had messaged me, giving their support. It was mostly women who’d had abortions, saying they had never spoken about this before, that their family didn’t know.” Sam is shocked to hear that Diane had a similar experience, half a century earlier. She joined the Abortion Law Reform Association (now Abortion Rights), in 1962: “The first public meeting I spoke at, I went in trembling. They were respectable ladies wearing hats and gloves. I stood up and said, ‘I have had an abortion.’ During the tea interval these ladies came up to me, one after another, saying, ‘You know dear, I had an abortion back in the 30s, I’ve never told anybody before.’ I wasn’t alone.” Despite Sam’s openness, she still felt a sense of shame when she needed a second abortion after emergency contraception failed; by now, she says, “I knew the relationship was not one that I could have a child within.” “Again, you made a responsible decision,” Diane reassures her. “I really think it’s the biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby: making women feel guilty.” Diane drank only half a glass of champagne when abortion was partially legalised in 1967, and is still waiting to drink another half glass: she says she will not rest until it is legal for everyone. Sam, who campaigns for Marie Stopes, agrees: “The only thing left now is for abortion to be taken out of criminal law and be treated as a healthcare issue across the UK, including Northern Ireland. It’s for us to continue the work. I’m so grateful that you all fought so hard for us to have those rights,” she tells Diane. Diane smiles. “That makes me feel very happy. There are only a couple of us early pioneers left now – you’ve got to carry that fight on for other women.” Sam has tears rolling down her cheeks. “Do you want another coffee?” asks Diane, gently. ‘We’re hearing the exact same slurs and experiences as we did 40 years ago’ Roxy Legane, 28, and Nona Ferdon, 91, civil rights activists Midway through their conversation, Nona Ferdon proudly shows Roxy Legane photographs of her standing with Martin Luther King Jr, pictures that were taken on a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Nona explains how, as a clinical psychologist working in Hawaii, she was part of a medical unit that joined the civil rights demonstration. “The atmosphere was very tense,” she says. “Two weeks before, people had been stampeded with horses and policemen. We gathered around at a chapel, and it was the first time I heard We Shall Overcome. The second verse was: ‘Black and white together, we shall overcome.’ That was very much the feeling.” Her eyes brighten as she talks. Five decades later, Roxy is battling racism – and, as a woman of colour, experiencing it. She works with anti-racist groups and runs the community project Kids of Colour in Manchester. Her own memories of racism go back to childhood. “My dad wasn’t welcome at my mum’s parents’ house. He was from Mauritius, and they were white, and thought he couldn’t provide what they wanted for her, and for me there was racism wrapped up in that. [Also] growing up in a predominantly white environment, being around lots of micro-aggressions.” She tells Nona that progress feels slow. “Last year I put on an event about racism in education, and a 13-year-old talked about his experiences of violence and restraint at school. Older people in the room were saying, ‘We’re hearing the same slurs and experiences that we heard 40 years ago.’ That is shocking and frustrating.” She describes being contacted by a mother whose seven-year-old, a mixed-race child, was spat at by a white child of the same age, and told she could not play with white children; and meeting young people of colour who, flattened by the oppression they face, say, “I just want to be white.” Nona agrees that progress is slow. But, she says, “There have been tremendous changes in the US. I remember the day the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, people of colour circled around, block after block, trying to vote.” Before this, they had been prevented from voting because they had failed impossible, deliberately obtuse literacy tests that included questions such as, How many bubbles in a bar of soap?, she explains. While Nona still feels the outlook is bleak, with Trump in the White House, she tells Roxy: “Please believe me, there have been such massive changes. If you could put your mind back into 1950 – it was a different world.” “I feel aware of how far we’ve come,” Roxy says. “But similarly aware of how much there is to be done. In the UK, we’re good at covering up our racism – but it can be seen in who is most likely to have poor housing, or be in the prison system, or unemployed, and that comes back to people of colour. We look at the US and think: how can they do that to migrant children? But we split up and destroy families here, too.” When Roxy talks of how drained and helpless she can feel, Nona encourages her to talk, to take care of herself. “You’ve got to have someone you can sit down with and say, ‘My God, you won’t believe what he said to me…’” She adds, “I’ve tried to teach my grandchildren this: every day you live is a footstep in tomorrow, and a brick in the person you want to be.” Once the conversation has drawn to a close, Nona’s daughter takes us to visit the 10 leonberger puppies they have bred. “Now this is what I call self-care,” says Roxy, as she holds one close. ‘I was 19 and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out’ Alex Evans, 45, and Paul McGregor, 29, lost their fathers to suicide, 18 years apart When commercial manager Alex Evans, 45, meets entrepreneur Paul McGregor, 29, at the Guardian’s offices, it looks from the outside like an ordinary business meeting, all handshakes and nice-to-meet-yous. But in the room there is a tension, as if we are all holding our breath. Paul, his voice steady, goes first. “My life was straightforward until I was about 18. I grew up in Essex with my parents and older brother. I was quite academic at school, played a lot of football. My mum and dad were childhood sweethearts. On the outside it looked like a happy family. But when I was 18, my dad just broke. His eyes were distant, he was saying things – we didn’t know what to do.” After taking antidepressants and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, he killed himself on 4 March 2009, at the age of 45. Paul now tells his story at events to raise awareness of mental health issues; but Alex, from Sussex, has not spoken at length about his father’s death before. “My family was broken,” he begins. His father was an alcoholic, and in the year before his suicide he lost his driving licence, his job, and the phone was disconnected. He killed himself on 29 October 1991, aged 44, when Alex was away with friends. Before leaving for that trip, Alex says, “I got home after my Saturday shift at McDonald’s, and saw Dad asleep, slumped in the corner of the kitchen, absolutely paralytic, all the dirty dishes piled up. I tried to wake him and he went for me. He kneed me in the balls, tried to headbutt me.” His brother broke up the fight. “The emotion broke. I was outside, crying and angry. Something inside snapped and I said, ‘I’m never going to cry about this again.’” His jaw clenches as he explains what happened next: his father tried to apologise, but Alex slammed the door and walked out. That was the last time they saw each other. Paul, the younger man, identifies the link between their experiences. “I think you’ve probably trained yourself not to show your emotions. But as you were talking, one emotion came through that I can relate to massively, and that’s guilt. As you were talking about what you didn’t do, I could see you starting to well up. It’s the same with me.” Both men spent their young adulthood hiding their grief. “I was 19, and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out,” says Paul. “Then I’d get to work, and it was: ‘Everyone all right?’ and then I’d get back in the car and cry.” “In the year or two afterwards, I was the archetypal angry young man,” says Alex. “I had my head shaved, a big gold earring, I was like a red mist on a hair trigger. A lot of people saw this horrible man when I was out – and then I’d be in bed weeping, with no one to offload on to.” While Paul found a therapist, Alex has never felt able to. “My wife says, ‘You’re so unemotional, Alex.’ She doesn’t see that sometimes when she goes to bed, I get some old photo albums out, with the suicide letter. I can get quite weepy, and I feel very lucid in myself about my emotions. I can have a conversation with myself about how I feel. But when she walks in, I’ll freeze. We have no secrets and I love her dearly, but I still find it hard to let go.” Both agree that social attitudes around mental health have changed for the better – but not around suicide. “There was definitely a stigma,” says Alex. “I always joked about it: when people asked how he died, I’d say, ‘The usual way – he stopped breathing.’ I used to hate myself for doing that.” Paul thinks little had changed by 2009. “I remember my dad saying ‘Be careful near the local psychiatric hospital, because there’s loads of loonies and nutters that might be round there,’” he says. “If that’s what he was conditioned to believe, then that’s probably why he was silent for so long.” When Paul asks how it felt this year to outlive the age at which his father died, Alex says that he felt as if a weight had been lifted. “I’ve almost found it’s freed me up a bit. I’m writing my own story now. I’ve got past the point where he was, and it’s uncharted territory.” For Paul, it is talking that has been freeing. “But that doesn’t mean I’ve dealt with it – there are still times when it’s horrible,” he says. Alex agrees. “Part of me thinks – even knows, deep down – that you never get over it. There’s something about it that just wrenches you. But this is the longest I’ve spent talking about it. It’s part of the feeling that the road is opening up.” ‘Gay marriage is a symbol; it’s society trying to do better ’ Tochi Onuora, 20, and Jean Thomson, 90, were both outed at school Sitting in his host’s living room, surrounded by her books and newspapers, Tochi is telling Jean what it was like being outed at school, 70 years after she was. He was 13 and had come out to close friends when, suddenly, everyone seemed to know he was gay. “I had a support network, and people’s reactions weren’t bad, so I was fine – relieved, almost. But I don’t think that’s the usual experience,” he says. It was not Jean’s experience: at 12, she fell in love with a girl of 14 at her Scottish boarding school. “She was going to be a musician, and if you had some time off during the day you could go and see her practising the piano.” Love notes between this musician and a few other girls were discovered in their underwear drawers. Her voice falls as she describes the traumatic school disciplinary process that followed, in which Jean was forced to admit they had kissed. “I was called as a witness. It was humiliating. She didn’t play the piano after that. It was a dreadful thing to do to her, and it was a terrible thing to happen to me, too. I never really recovered,” she says. Jean feels an enduring sense of isolation. Tochi’s experience of growing up gay has been less lonely, he says, in part because of technology. “I have a sense of being different, but I’m an ethnic minority, as well, so I’m not unused to that. Then again, I’ve grown up with the internet, and if I hear something negative and I want to find reassurance, I’ll do some research. And then I can say, actually, I’ve read these 10 articles and seen this person talking about it on YouTube. I might see someone has posted on my university’s LGBT+ social media channels, and I’d feel comfortable approaching them in real life. It’s less isolating.” Jean tells of a period in her life when she also found a community. While lesbianism was not illegal – unlike male homosexuality, which was only partially decriminalised in 1967 – it still felt that way. Jean’s voice lifts as she describes developing a circle of gay women friends through the Minority Research Group, formed in London in 1963. “I read an advertisement for it, and recognised that it was a gay thing.” There she met two women activists, Esmé Langley and Diana Chapman, who “had decided there were too many isolated gay women. Women from all over the country flocked there; it was really the beginning of the gay women’s movement.” Jean asks Tochi how the history of the criminalisation of homosexuality affects him. “At school, I knew if someone said something homophobic, I could go to a teacher,” he says. “I think that privilege of not having to think about it on a legal level is very different. But there is still a feeling that this isn’t quite OK, and that means you might delay coming out, or just get very good at performing. “Sometimes, at a time when some of the legal versions of discrimination have been addressed, it means, when you do complain about something, people think they resolved it 15 years ago. But I still I feel I can’t go to certain places. When I see a St George’s flag I cross the street, because I feel like that’s a symbol of someone who doesn’t agree with my existence. People think we solved racism and discrimination against LGBT people. I’m like, no, we didn’t.” Their views differ on the issue of gay marriage: for Jean, it is “an unnecessary addition to the gay world. I don’t see any reason to be the same as people who are having heterosexual partnerships.” “I was really happy about it,” says Tochi. “It’s society recognising that it hasn’t been good enough, and trying to do better for LGBT people.” “I think things have changed quite considerably, but it’s still difficult,” says Jean. “I don’t think I could have had this conversation with a gay man 20 years ago – there would have been much more of a sense of danger about it all.” Tochi laughs. “Twenty years ago! That’s when I was born.” . If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and address (not for publication). Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. 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Bob Dowling on the lessons he’s learned. First of all: why me? The whole family knows I never write anything. An old girlfriend once said my letter read like a social security card. My favourite poem is Ode To A Girdle *, partly because of its brevity. And this is a fine time to try to get me to start writing. I’m 98: when I get an idea into my head, I forget what it was before I can write it down. Why not wait till I’m 100? I live with three of my six grandsons, a seven-year-old and three-year-old twins, in Connecticut. It’s mayhem, but we had four children in four years, so I’m used to mayhem. One time we were going to visit my wife’s parents and had all the kids and the dog in the car. When I started driving, I realised we had left a suitcase on the roof, because our clothes were flying all around the road. When I stopped to retrieve them, the dog tried to get out and I accidentally shut the door on his ear. He flew around the car, shaking blood everywhere and scratching up the kids until everyone was howling. The twins’ father – Tim’s brother – has them enrolled in every athletic event in North America. He recently had them challenge me to a running race. We went down to the beach, where my son drew a starting line and a finish line in the sand, and shouted: “Ready, set, go.” I had a bad start and came in third. A few days later there was a rematch: 25 yards, this time on grass. I lost, because I stepped in a chipmunk hole; the little bastard dug two holes six inches apart. I’m working towards a third race, somewhere flat. Now that the state has taken away my driver’s licence and I have to walk everywhere, my legs are starting to round into shape. I’ll leave those shrimps in the dust. Actually, the state didn’t take away my licence. When I got notice that it would expire on my 98th birthday, I figured they would never give me a new one, so I sold my car. Then I found out that, in America anyway, they will renew your licence no matter how old you are, as long as you pay the fee. I went to get one, just for identification purposes. They asked if I wanted to renew it for six more years, but I only did two. I do miss my car. There was never a chance of me having an accident. Everybody got out of the way as soon as they saw me coming. I’m thinking about getting a golf cart instead. Lately, I’ve been looking into medications for memory loss. I can’t recall what I had for lunch, but I can clearly remember things that happened 90 years ago, like the fight between Florence Parker and Sylvia Needles on the lawn of the Methodist church. That’s where all the kids went to fight, because it had a nice grassy lawn. Kids seemed to fight a lot back then. But the doctors say the medication route is not promising; they say it’s a waste of money. What they recommend is exercise, and a good diet. I think fear is the greatest problem of the elderly. It prevents you from doing the things you like doing. I used to be a distance swimmer, racing across harbours all over the state, but now I swim only where I can touch the bottom. Lately, I’ve been swallowing water when I swim, so I started doing backstroke. It works fine, as long as I don’t swim into a boat. The point is not to worry about the fear too much: do as much as you can, and take advice from friends and relatives. Anyway, where was I? * Tim Dowling writes: This is news to me. I can only imagine my father is referring to On A Girdle, by the English lyric poet Edmund Waller (1606-1687), which begins: “That which her slender waist confin’d, Shall now my joyful temples bind.” He’s right, though, it is brief: three stanzas, 12 lines, a mere 83 words in total.
For Brad Ngata and Glenn Chaplin, some crucial time with a life coach helped them gain insight into what makes the other tick. Names: Brad Ngata and Glenn Chaplin Years together: Almost 25 Occupations: Hair stylist and business director It was a surprise to almost everyone gathered in the Blue Mountains garden, not least Glenn Chaplin when his partner, Brad Ngata, got down on one knee and proposed. It was Australia Day 2015, more than two years before the marriage equality laws were passed, but for the couple celebrating 20 years together, it was time. “We had all our friends there [and] it was a perfect beautiful day.” Marriage wasn’t something Ngata had been interested in until he went to the “beautiful, intimate, small wedding” of a friend. “I thought, I want to do that. Why can’t I do that? I should be able to do that.” The couple met at Sydney’s Taxi Club on Australia Day in 1995. Chaplin was on a date with someone else – “It wasn’t really working, obviously,” he says drily – and there was an instant attraction between the two. “We looked across the dance floor and that was it,” says Ngata. The next day Ngata told friends at the hair salon where he worked that he’d met “the one”, although he also remembers them joking that he said that every week. The couple were soon inseparable, spending hours watching black and white films together. “It just felt right,” Ngata says. “Right from the start.” For Chaplin, the defining moment came a few years later: “I knew I’d be with him forever when he gave up drinking,” he says. Ngata has been sober for 22 years, something Chaplin is very proud of him for: “He was unreliable before that but when he gave up drinking, he got reliable and mature.” It had been a long time coming, Ngata says. “I was kind of failing at a lot of things in that time. So it was my rock bottom. It was time to make that decision and I did, and stuck with it.” His life improved dramatically. “I think, too, it was having someone who was on your side, [who] gave you the courage to push forward.” Not long after that, Ngata quit his job and the pair decided to open their own salon. “We always knew that we wanted to work together,” Chaplin says. Although he kept his job at Amnesty International while they waited for the business to grow, it didn’t take long. “It pretty much exploded, in a good way,” Ngata says. “We [were] quite ambitious in that way, so there was a lot of building, and then we doubled the size of the salon, and then [we were] winning awards, we had a lot of PR. Everything was happening.” That was a heady time in the Australian fashion world, and the couple and their downtown Sydney salon were at the centre of the storm. They were connected to everyone – designers including Ksubi, Sass & Bide and Fleur Wood – and Ngata juggled runway looks with celebrity haircuts while Chaplin ran the business and produced the shows. They travelled the world together and, in 2012, opened a second salon in the city. The pair were together all day every day and there was rarely an escape from work pressures. “There’s been incredible highs and then incredibly challenging times, but I think we couldn’t have gotten through it if we couldn’t rely on each other,” Ngata says. About 10 years ago, they visited a life coach – a step they recommend to other couples. Ngata says: “[Sometimes] you need that third person, who understands how to get the best result on all different kinds of levels, and to be that third person where you’re in a safe place. You can have relationship hygiene, talk about [things], say it, get it out and then get really good advice and tools to try and fix it somehow.” The coach helped them to get insight into what makes the other tick. They went to her for four years: “That was probably the best thing we did because we didn’t realise how we both grew as individuals from doing that,” Chaplin says. A few years later they decided to step out of the fashion whirl and downsize to a single, smaller salon in Darlinghurst, just as luxurious but much more relaxed. They also split their time between Sydney and a home in the Blue Mountains. “We moved there to have a quieter life, and get Glenn into a garden because that helps to de-stress him.” Getting out of the city each week gives them time to reconnect to one another. “[I realise] how important that is to us, to have that downtime, because you jump in the car, you go over the Anzac bridge, and that’s it. Everything, it can all wait until Wednesday. And that’s something that we afford ourselves the luxury of having, even though we work hard to keep it.” Being away from the hustle of the city has strengthened their bond and the house gives them space to do their own thing. “I always say the ideal for me is to know that Brad’s there, but in the other room,” says Chaplin, with a laugh. Next year they’ll celebrate 25 years together and they plan to finally tie the knot. The passing of the marriage equality bill in 2017 was significant for them and they want to make things official. “We know how committed we are and, given 25 years, we’re very committed,” Chaplin says, “but I think that just signals it to everyone else.” Ngata jokes: “My straight clients say to me, get married, be miserable!” So what’s their secret for staying together? “I think you’ve got to get on with it,” says Ngata, “because if you don’t, then there’s no point. [And] you’ve got to communicate. That took a lot of therapy to get to that point: Open your heart was what I’ve been told to do. Face the fear and do it anyway. Just step over that line.” Through everything, their commitment to each other hasn’t wavered. They’re in it for the long haul, Ngata says. “There’s good times and there’s bad times, as much as a cliche as that sounds. But ... Glenn was there when I was going through a pretty dark period. So I’m there for him when he’s going through a period for him … You’ve got to look at the whole history of your relationship and not just be defined by one moment in it.” Chaplin agrees: “Never does it cross your mind in a serious way that you’d leave each other. You just bear with whatever you’re going through and you know that, ultimately, it’s going to be fixed and it’ll all come good again, and you trust that.” . We want to hear your stories about staying together. Tell us about you, your partner and your relationship by filling in the form here
It’s been a decade since micro pigs were first touted as perfect little pets, only for their owners to look on in horror as they grew and grew. And yet we keep on buying them …. Grace weighs 178kg (28st), sleeps on a special orthopaedic mattress and gets through £20 worth of food a week – the “micropig” that Nigel Graham from Malvern bought his wife, Sam, has turned out to be anything but. The craze for small pigs, known as micro or teacup pigs, took off about a decade ago. The Beckhams were reported to have bought mini pigs in 2009; Paris Hilton was regularly photographed with a tiny pig in her handbag around the same time. Micro pigs were thought to be the perfect pets – as intelligent as dogs; good for people with allergies to (conventional) pet hair. But as more and more tales have emerged of pigs growing well beyond their promised mini size, the notion of the micro pig has gradually been exposed as a myth. In fact, when the Grahams bought Grace in 2014, the trend was already well established, perhaps proving that all sense goes out of the window when faced with the utter cuteness of a piglet. Esther the Wonderpig is perhaps the world’s most famous pig, with a strong online profile. She belongs to Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter in Ontario, Canada, who were told she wouldn’t grow to be heavier than 32kg – she now weighs about 295kg (46st). In 2012, Colin and Susie Webb made the news with 160kg (25st) Babe, the pig with which they shared their terraced house in Scarborough. Micropigs “are a fallacy” says Kevin Kersley, who breeds kune kune pigs – which are small, growing to around knee-height, but not micropig-sized – and chair of the British Kunekune Pig Society. What breed are the pigs sold as tiny porkers? “Your guess is as good as mine,” he says. “Unscrupulous people tend to breed the runts of the litter to try to decrease the size of the pig, but genetically the original size is built into the offspring, even though its parents may be small. I’d imagine there would be some kune kune in there, to start off with a small size.” What’s more, he says, pigs should not be kept as house pets. “You can keep them in a paddock, or if you’ve got a big enough garden.” And you’d need more than one pig: “Never keep a pig on its own, that’s just downright cruel. They are a herd animal.” They need to be registered with Defra, and you need to know a decent farm vet, not your usual veterinary surgery. This year, one pig sanctuary, Pig Inn Heaven, said it was struggling with the number of requests to take in “micropigs” that had outgrown their owners. “We have rescued pigs from one-bedroom flats and cellars,” Janet Devereux, who runs the sanctuary, told the Daily Telegraph. On her website is this sober reminder: “A micro pig is a piglet, then it grows.”
People stay in touch with exes for all sorts of reasons. Some do it to bolster their ego, says Annalisa Barbieri. Two years ago, I started a relationship with a wonderful older man, but from the beginning something seemed a little off. After we celebrated our first anniversary, I had the shameful impulse to ask to see his phone. He agreed . There I saw what was bothering me: a previous girlfriend had been texting him every day, and he had been replying: photos, kiss emoticons, five-minute-long voice messages. It had been going on every day for the year we had been together. They apparently had an intense, somewhat problematic, two-year relationship, but she moved abroad. He says they were going to break up anyway. I felt they were being disrespectful towards me and towards themselves, putting all this energy into something that had theoretically ended and not allowing new relationships to fully blossom. He said they texted because they remained good friends, that’s all. That is hard for me to believe. He said he was not aware this could be so damaging to me . He told me he had stopped messaging her so often and that, for him, it made no difference. A year has passed and everything is great. However, I still have moments of doubt. He travels a lot and works in the same field as h is ex, sometimes travelling to the same places. I can’t help but imagine emotionally charged encounters, if not more. Does my insecurity have some sort of foundation, or I am making a bit too much of this? I wonder what made you ask to see his phone after a year? And I wonder what made you write now? I think we can become insecure when we know something’s not right, and that some people make us feel more insecure than others. We tend to lack confidence in situations, or people, when we feel information is being withheld and we don’t know the full story – so we fill in the gaps with our own imagination. I would have liked to know a bit more about your past relationships and if you’ve always been like this. If so, then it’s worth looking at why relationships make you feel insecure. Or maybe this is your first serious relationship and you don’t have exes, so you can’t understand why people stay in touch with theirs. When I found out my first boyfriend still occasionally saw his ex, I couldn’t understand why, either. But people stay in touch with exes for all sorts of reasons, some of them benign and some not so much. Some people like to have their exes on the back-burner to bolster their ego. I’ve known men like that. Five-minute-long voice messages and texts every day is quite a commitment, however: does he lavish the same attention on all his friends? What’s the context? I’m also intrigued that he’s older, has experience of relationships, but doesn’t seem to think that being in touch with his ex might bother you. Plus, so much texting yet it “made no difference to him”? Then why do it? I think he’s being disingenuous. Gavin de Becker writes (brilliant, fascinating) books about how we ignore our intuition, often to our detriment. It has made me realise the power of intuition, which social conditioning has largely taught us to ignore for fear of seeming silly or paranoid. We don’t feel we can trust our instincts, so often look for proof instead – as you did with your boyfriend’s phone. In De Becker’s book The Gift Of Fear, he writes about giving a talk and asking how many people in the audience had children. Then he asked: “How many of you have left your children with a babysitter?” And finally he asked: “How many of you aren’t absolutely sure about your babysitter?” A few hands went up. So he said: “What are you doing here? Go home.” This isn’t really about who your boyfriend is in contact with or not; it’s about the fact that you feel something isn’t quite right. Pay attention to that feeling and explore it. There may be nothing going on, or you may just feel doubtful about him and have pegged all those doubts on to this one thing. For this relationship to have a future, you need to be able to trust him with your fears and know he will try to understand them; he should not only respect them, he should assuage them. A relationship where you doubt both him and yourself will eventually exhaust you. . Send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.