“Gibraltarians have come into their own” – my article in the New Statesman.

Photo: courtesy Catherine Cleverly

Photo: courtesy Catherine Cleverly

My favourite meal as a child growing up in Gibraltar was “tortilla de patatas” (Spanish, potato omelette) with a dollop of tomato ketchup and baked beans.  As an adult I’m still partial to this curious, Anglo-Spanish, culinary combination, which perfectly encapsulates the hybrid nature of the Gibraltarians.  Fiercely British with a strong, Mediterranean influence, all aspects of life on the Rock of Gibraltar – from the “llanito” mishmash of English and Spanish spoken everywhere to the local traditions and way of life – feel just as curious a mix as that plate of tortilla and baked beans. Continue reading

Share

Musical legacy

WilliamGomezphotoIt’s amazing how a piece of music can move you to tears, give you goose-bumps. I came across this clip of the stunningly beautiful “Ave Maria” written by the late, Gibraltarian guitarist and composer, William Gomez, conducted by another supremely talented Gibraltarian, conductor Karel Chichon. This was performed by the Latvian soprano, Elina Garanca at the Vienna State Opera House. One talented “llanito” (Gibraltarian) keeping another’s musical legacy alive. Continue reading

Share

Keep the beat, improve your language skills

Here’s an interesting article I’m reproducing here, courtesy of the BBC.

Moving in time to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills, a study suggests.

MoveToTheBeat
People who performed better on rhythmic tests also showed enhanced neural responses to speech sounds. The researchers suggest that practising music could improve other skills, particularly speech. In the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors argue that rhythm is an integral part of language. “We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills,” said Nina Kraus, of Northwestern University in Illinois.

Share

Everyone lost and saved

The four words said it all.  They were on a card stuck to the back of the runner in front of me.  “I am running the Race for Life for…everyone lost and saved.”  There were many similar messages on the backs of the thousands who gathered at Epsom Downs on this gloriously sunny and warm, Sunday morning.  All doing their bit to raise money for Cancer Research so that, as the charity’s slogan said, “we can kick cancer’s butt.”  I was running my first charity race with a group of Mums from my son’s primary school.

Group of St Joseph’s Mums after finishing the race.

We’d been supporting each other with tips and advice on training in the months prior to the race and there we all were on the big day, amid the sea of pink t-shirts, with our numbers proudly displayed on the front and our “speech bubble” cards on the back.  Names of loved ones who’d lost the fight against cancer, names of people still battling the disease, messages of solidarity with all those touched by “the big C” in some way or other.  Messages that showed they were in the thoughts of the 18,000 runners and walkers taking part in Race for Life at Epsom.  There was a lively, carnival atmosphere during the energetic, warm-up in the hour before the race started.  Amid the excited crowds I also spotted the odd, poignant moment of quiet contemplation – a silent, emotional hug here, a clasped hand of support there, countless photos pinned onto t-shirts, that spoke volumes.  We were all there to run the good race in support of a good cause.  As we sped off from the starting line I was surprised at how emotional I felt to be jogging along with all those thousands

Thousands of women and some children running together in support of Cancer Research.
Thousands of women and some children running together in support of Cancer Research.

of women past thousands of supporters who lined the route, hands raised, clapping and cheering us on.  “There lies true empathy,” I thought to myself as I tackled the first of many steep climbs on the five-kilometres course.  At the finishing line, hugs, tears, smiles, laughter, more water bottles and an enormous sense of achievement at having contributed to the efforts of so many in finding a cure for “the Big C.”  I’m sure almost everyone who took part will be back again next year – I know I will.

Share

Model train rides

SSME2There’s a quiet corner of the Surrey countryside that is forever England.  You wouldn’t believe it but through an unprepossessing railway arch in Leatherhead, lies the world of the model steam railway.  On 12 days a year this 9-acre site  is open to the public for train rides run by the  Surrey Society of Model Engineers  (SSME.)  It’s not just children who go mad for the little trains; they’re just as much fun for the grown-ups.

It’s one of those hidden gems (probably less hidden once this article is published) that is a throwback to another, gentler age, when a great day out for families didn’t necessarily involve exorbitant entrance fees, over-priced food and drink and the obligatory gift-shop before you can exit.  Run by a team of volunteer enthusiasts, the SSME has been going for over thirty years, meeting two or three times a week to tinker with bits of locomotive (all home-made) and train track, building and maintaining their stock of 14 diesel, battery-powered and steam trains.

SSME1On “public running days” as they’re known, men with solid, traditional names such as Roger and John, get dressed up in their old-fashioned railwaymen uniforms and spend the day running train rides.  They clearly enjoy getting their hands dirty shovelling coal, greasing parts that need oiling, checking points and filling up engine boilers with water to make steam.  There’s frequent replenishment of large mugs of tea brought over from the old-fashioned canteen opposite the ticket office.  The camaraderie between these train enthusiasts is palpable and there’s a spirit of “all hands to the pump” to ensure that everything runs smoothly.  And it does.  I’ve been to half a dozen of these “running days” but it wasn’t until my most recent visit, while my husband went on yet another train ride with our young sons, (see video) that I had a moment to reflect not just on model train rides but what lies beneath.  At the risk of sounding a bit “Pollyanna-ish” I realised that the simple, old-fashioned values of enthusiasm, hard work, camaraderie, passionate attention to detail and politeness which characterise the society of model engineers are truly uplifting. The large, green field encircled by the model railway rides was full of families enjoying a picnic, some were celebrating children’s birthday parties, others kicking a ball around as they waited for the next train ride.  All around me were relaxed, happy, smiling faces (and not a games console in sight!)   A simple idea, brilliantly executed in the most un-flashy, thoroughly British kind of way.  The result?  A day of good, honest and inexpensive family fun. Oh and to crown it all, the sun always seems to be shining (at least when we’ve been.)  Beat that if you can, theme parks!

Share

The Iron Lady

So much has been written about her – during her life and since Maggie2her death.  Baroness Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher, the Iron Lady, whatever your preferred moniker, the mere mention of her name invariably got a reaction.

I deliberately chose not to write about her during the immediate aftermath of her passing, for fear the acres of newsprint and hours of airtime devoted to the story might end up sledgehammering this writer’s thoughts on the subject.  Time for reflection is a luxury most journalists don’t have in the race to beat a deadline.  On this story, the deadlines have been and gone and after some reflection, a time to distil the essence of Margaret Thatcher.  She was one of few public figures whose ideology spawned an “ism.”  Thus Thatcherism has entered the lexicon of all who read, speak and write about her.  Her single-minded determination to overcome any obstacles on the rise to the top is now the stuff of political legend.  She stood alone for much of her political and personal life, particularly since she was widowed.

Copyright: BBC

Copyright: BBC

Despite all her mighty, political ideals and achievements, whether you admired or detested her, it’s hard not to feel sorry for a woman who died alone, in a hotel, with just a nurse and a doctor in attendance.

Share
Supermodels

Beauty and the beholder

One of the Mums at my son’s school was a model. Everything she wears on the school run, no matter how ordinary, looks fantastic on her. Always. Don’t even think of competing in the “school run catwalk” I tell myself, she will always be, quite literally, head and shoulders above the rest. I then play “imagine” (just to amuse myself in a masochistic kind of way.) Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror every morning if you’re a model. Mirror, mirror on the wallYou know that invariably, you’ll look great (except perhaps when you’re ill) because you were blessed by the DNA-God. How wonderful and liberating would that be? Never having to ask “does my bum look big in this?” because you know the answer will be “no it doesn’t.” Not trying things on before buying because you know they’ll fit beautifully. I’m sure I’m not the only one, dear reader, who would be off her head with joy at the prospect. Now, back to reality. What does that do to a person’s confidence throughout their lives and in turn how does it shape a personality? According to research by Northwestern University in America, “physical appearance is a major factor in the development of personality, because people form opinions by what they see in a person physically and respond to that person accordingly. In turn, people tend to fulfill the expectations they believe others have for them.” We know “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but we also know that statistically, you are more likely to succeed in life if you are good-looking than not. Discuss. Write in to disagree if you must. The evidence is all around us. Flip the coin and imagine how it shapes your personality if you are ugly? I’m not talking “average-looking” or “no great beauty” I mean physically unattractive, not being blessed by the DNA-God, “no oil painting” and any number of commonly-used phrases to describe someone who is plain ugly or in some way disfigured after an accident or serious disease. All those I know who fit this description are, without exception, less-than-sunny personalities (an umbrella-term that encompasses grumpy, bitchy, envious, cantankerous, irritable, frustrated, bitter and angry.)

Aristotle Onassis

Aristotle Onassis

Woody Allen

Woody Allen

Life is what you make of it and of course there are many famously successful “uglies” that can disprove any theory about the links between good looks and a successful life (think Aristotle Onassis, Woody Allen.) But if it’s true that people tend to fulfill the expectations they believe others have for them, would we choose a “head and shoulders” start in the catwalk of life if we could?

Share

Here to serve

ServiceI was so taken aback by his words they made me stop suddenly. “We’re here to serve” said the head of my son’s kindergarten, after I’d asked to change one of his weekly sessions from Thursdays to Wednesdays. It was a simple request, admittedly, but I felt some trepidation at the time of asking. Why? Because life often feels rigid and inflexible whenever you want to do something that hasn’t been planned or put in writing with plenty of notice (I’m afraid to say the British are particularly good at this.) Or you’ve simply changed your mind because what you agreed to six months ago doesn’t work quite so well now. All this doesn’t apply to legally binding contracts by the way. Why should even the simplest things in life be set in stone?  Why am I so shocked when someone goes out of their way to accommodate a request, in a shop for example, or when you get a helpful voice on the phone trying to rebook tickets that the “rules” say cannot be exchanged or refunded?

Share

Race for Life

Today I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for some time but never had the courage. I’ve signed up to run a charity race. I wanted to raise funds like so many millions of others, to help find a cure for “the Big C” – that’s cancer in case you’re wondering. The disease that touches someone, somewhere almost daily. I am willing to bet good money that all of you reading this will know someone who has been affected by cancer. It was 1992 when I first heard about non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The man who first uttered those alien words to me was a doctor, who calmly told me that my father had it. “How did he catch it?” “Oh, it’s not catching” he reassured me with a wry smile, deliberately misunderstanding my question to try to ease the tension in the room. 18 months later and despite the best medical treatment in London, my father was dead.
Continue reading

Share