In my parents kitchen table there are two drawers. One of these is rarely opened. It contains the placemats we traditionally used on Christmas day.

As a child I loved these placemats. They had various paintings of animals and people on them- just my kind of thing! However I did notice that for Christmas guests they had a very mixed reception. Some guests even refused their placemat and didn’t want their plate to sit on it at all. How rude!

The placemats had paintings of fox hunting on them.

I have never been foxhunting. I think my mum went foxhunting once. My family love old, unusual and beautiful things. Also my dad loves to shock people.

Christmas was a very difficult time for my dad growing up, because his mother was often suicidal. He could be a little withdrawn at Christmas because of this past trauma, but would happily discuss placemats, with any shocked guests. His therapy, I guess!

Anyway, I remember debating at school about animal cruelty. I would be the girl who said ‘Hang on, isn’t foxhunting *VERY* traditional?’. It was an unpopular opinion. Truth is, I would lose myself in the paintings on the Christmas placemats. Every Christmas I would look forward to which scene I would get. When I was given my Christmas food, I was a little bit disappointed that my nice placemat scene was covered up. I couldn’t understand the upset guests who rejected their placemat’s scene. If you aren’t having it, I will!

I love animals, and I knew the sport was cruel on the fox. But I also knew that nature is cruel and animals tear each other apart as a matter of course. Mostly I was swayed by the beauty I saw in foxhunting. I loved the uniforms, and the whole dramatic look of it. It seemed like a way of being closer to nature, rather than an aggressive move towards it. I think a lot of foxhunters feel like that, and they are not otherwise cruel to animals. Foxhunting is an exception they make.

In recent years, my family has stopped using the placemats. However we also have a plate with foxhunting on it. Oddly it often gets stuck at the top of the pile of plates. This suggests that people prefer not to eat off of it, but no one will admit it.

Recently I have been learning about clean boot hunting. This is foxhunting where the hounds follow the scent of a human runner. No foxes are harmed. I still see foxhunting as beautiful and traditional as well as cruel. Clean boot hunting seems to be the perfect solution.

The idea of a clean boot hunt, is attractive for debaters, but it’s another thing to get hunters out there doing it. People need to be shown that it is a viable proposition in the modern world. I have a lot of respect for the people who are really making it happen. People take time to adjust to change. The clean boot hunters are met with opposition from both sides, but hopefully this will decrease as people get used to it, and understand it is different and that’s okay.

Here are the placemats –



History Teacher

My secondary school history teacher won Teacher of the South one year.

You might expect such bureaucracy to fall outside of the radar of the playground but you would be very wrong! We were all genuinely excited for her. I was also moved by how sweetly she responded to all this sudden attention and praise.

Her talent had been recognised officially by the mysterious powers of The Guardian. It was definitely something to celebrate! It felt well deserved too because we really were learning a lot, and it really was a lot of fun.

Every lesson she had invented new ways to make information memorable to us. If we were on Native American Indians, and had to remember the importance of red and yellow ochre paint, she helped us. She turned it into a song, with the lyrics ‘Red-ding Yellow Ochre’. Yellow Ochre was now the name of our beloved pony! Pronouncing ‘riding’ as ‘red-ding’ was some silly fun, but cleverly made sure we didn’t forget the red ochre too. She put her heart and soul into helping us learn and do well, and wasn’t afraid of making a fool of herself in the process.


I think for that reason, her classroom felt like a place where we were free to be silly too. Although my classmates were the same people I saw in other lessons, I didn’t feel intimidated by them there.

When we entered her classroom, we were taken on a journey. I think no one wanted to bring average classroom idiocy into it, because there was always an unspoken deep respect and need for the escapism she offered us, and invited us to be a part of. No one wanted to break that spell, and I wonder if it would have even been possible to!

It’s weird to think that I almost missed out on having her as my GCSE teacher at all.

It was parent’s evening. I was sat with her and my parents. She asked what I was going to chose. I solemnly said ‘I think I might chose geography.’ She looked heartbroken. My parents were surprised by her reaction, and reassured me ‘Oh geography, that’s nice. Mum took geography…’ Mrs Tingley took a long pause, straightened herself again, then looked deep into my eyes and said ‘It’s totally up to you what you chose, Rowan, but, PLEASE, PLEASE, *PLEASE* take history. *PLEASE* take history.’ To know I was so wanted in her classroom, was easily enough to sway me! I was flattered and felt that I was important to her. It also made a deep impression on me, that she would behave so unprofessionally just to keep me in her classroom!

I agreed to continue with History then and there, and enjoyed two fantastic years of her lessons. She taught us about the Native Americans, the holocaust and the history of medicine. Her lessons were definitely the best thing about school.




An interpretation of ‘Love is not the answer’


Today I want to write about a song from The Darkness’s third album ‘Hot Cakes’. As with ‘One way ticket to hell and back’ it’s taken me a ridiculously long time to get from seeing the awesome album cover to listening to the songs. I have no excuse. I discovered the music of ‘Hot Cakes’ about 3 months ago. I am really enjoying it!

However I would say that the erotic possibilities of pancakes are not limited to after they are cooked.


Here’s the song –

I think it’s a brave song which deals with issues other artists have avoided. There is a magic tension between the often stark lyrics and the way they are delivered. I especially like ‘Love is not the beginning and love, love is not the end’. The song forms a circle around the dark or unseen side of relationships. We are moved away from normal romantic imagery and notions, towards new territory. It can be seen as a cautionary song warning that if we idealise love itself, then we are not dealing with love, because love is by nature as imperfect as we are.

I also like the lyrics ‘It can melt a heart of stone and nobody can make it on their own.’


In some ways these lyrics remind me of The Kooks. They appear to be simple, but they open the doors wide for multiple interpretations. Especially as stone really has a melting point, just a very high one. Similarly people with apparently  stony hearts, can be reached with love, perhaps just requiring a higher dose! The Kooks say ‘She came to my show just to hear about my day.’ Which is also deceptively simple, especially as ‘show’ can mean ‘an outward appearance’- making the line suggestive of any aspect of interpreting body language etc.

I like the humour of ‘and nobody can make it on their own’ – which brings to mind someone attempting to make love to themselves. This line also pins down the observation that love is by nature a shared thing – and even if it only imagined, it is imagined as a shared thing, and that imagining has shared repercussions.

We cannot make a seashell or stone because they are naturally formed. The song returns love to nature and it’s mystery, and rejects the notion that we can take ownership of it’s power. The way that we imagine love is informed by our experience of it. So there is cycling of emotions occurring in the world around us, and the loops the song make journey through various shared aspects of love itself. Throughout this journey there is a refusal to sway to idealise any aspect of love, and I think that’s perhaps what guides the song to make it’s direct hit.



Hazel Eyes

Today I want to write about my experience of The Darkness’s ‘Hazel Eyes’ from their second album ‘One way ticket to hell and back’.

When the album came out, my college friends recommended it to me. But despite loving the band I didn’t want to listen to it. This is basically because I was terrified of what I call The Evil Train on the album cover. I didn’t want to have anything to do with The Evil Train. Call it artistic sensitivity or being an utter wuss, the end result was the same, I dodged the album like a small animal dodges hooves in a stampede. For a while.

For me trains were a symbol of fate, because they move on tracks. Forgetting that trains can switch tracks, I also saw them as a symbol of predeterminism. At the time I only believed in one possible future, in the same way that there appears to be only one past. This was an idea that gave me a smug peacefulness, and the idea that the train/fate itself could be possessed seemed to attack my philosophy. I pretended the album had not happened, and I did not listen to it.

After college I skipped off to university. Before the tidal wave of ordinary life could threaten to hit me, I ran away with a brain scientist to paddle in LSD etc. He had the impressive goal of searching for a cure for epilepsy. He weighed our recreational drugs with the same attention to detail he possessed in the lab. I felt in safe hands. Unfortunately he had an addictive personality and things slid into chaos. I stayed until he finished his Phd. It seemed that if I left before then he would have been unable to finish. My parents drove me home, and I remained quiet in the car. However once back in the house, and it was safe to do so, I screamed a lot.

One following summer I wrote to a man on a dating site. That day we bounced a few emails, and I found he was able to take some of the pressure off.  We got talking about many things, but especially music. Following my bad trips, I had the idea that I could not listen to certain things. He told me about his experiences with music in general, and recommended songs to me. He wasn’t bothered by the idea that a song could give me a flashback. And virtually holding his hand through a musical landscape, I was reassured that the songs he recommended weren’t going to hurt me.

I can’t remember how we got onto ‘One way ticket to hell and back’, but I explained my thoughts about the album cover. In his gentle way he encouraged me to listen to some of the songs. He hadn’t let me down so far, so I did as he suggested. The song I got stuck on was ‘Hazel Eyes’. I was fascinated by this song and we listened to it on repeat.

I had many questions, which my new friend helped me to explore. As a writer of detective fiction, he didn’t give me the answers, but helped me to explore my curiosity where it took me.

What were hazel eyes exactly? Are my eyes close enough to hazel to also inspire the singer? Are my mum’s eyes actually properly hazel? Does that mean he would like my mum’s eyes more? Does the song suggest that he loves pretty eyes in general, and its not so important if they are exactly hazel tone? Etc, etc. My neurotic thinking had become fun again! And the more I shared it the more fun it was. He seemed interested in everything I was interested in simply because I was interested in it. He said he always wanted to be a rock star, but couldn’t so was a writer instead. Anyway we spiralled together, and my madness found a home in him.

Listening to ‘Hazel Eyes’ again reminds me of getting to know him, and rediscovering I could still enjoy my neurotic nature and share that enjoyment with others.  I had been through a chaos and felt gloomy a lot of the time but the ‘Hazel Eyes’ song reached me through my gloom. I don’t remember much from that time, but I do remember listening to Hazel Eyes. So this means it feels like a porthole into a forgotten time, which adds to the songs fascination for me today. I also love the album as a whole.