Thursday, December 30, 2004
Owen is five years older than me and a rugged outdoorsy traveller type. He worked as a tour guide in Nepal for a couple of years, lived in South America too. He and his girlfriend missed our wedding because they were on holiday somewhere remote and exotic - they missed my brother's wedding almost a year later for the same reason. It came as no surprise then to hear that Owen would not be spending Christmas at home.
I was busy over Christmas - cooking and entertaining. I didn't check the news until after I spoke to my Mum on the phone. But even after I heard about the wave I was certain Owen was fine. I spoke to another family member the next day. She was inconsolable, wailing, crying, sobbing - I couldn't understand why she had assumed Owen must be dead. But then, we don't have a television. I logged on and checked out the news sites. Worry began to fester.
for us, a happy ending
My Mum called to tell me that Owen and girlfriend had spoken to my aunt. They had been picked up by a cruise ship. More details trickled out the next day. Owen and Samara had been staying on a tiny island off the coast of Thailand they had spent Christmas day on the beach. The next day they discussed whether to stay on the beach or head out to scuba dive, they went diving. Owen was all suited up and about to dive when the crew noticed the water was fizzing. The captain decided to take the boat out into deep water where they'd be able to ride out any storm more safely. They were out there for six hours and watched the whole calamity from the deck. When they came back to the island the tent they'd slept in the night before had been washed away. When they got back to the mainland, the hotel where they'd left their bags had been destroyed. They got on a plane to Bangkok and were going to spend the rest of their holiday there. They were in good spirits and seemed relatively unshaken. When I heard all this I laughed and said typical Owen - trust Owen, lucky Owen. For the rest of the day I congratulated myself for having not been too concerned. TA kept telling me that early reports were wildly optomistic, but nothing really sank in.
It took a day for the enormity of it to hit me and then the sense of guilt crept up on me: guilt for having not been worried, guilt for having misunderstood the scale of the tragedy, guilt for feeling relieved about Owen - strange second-hand survivors' guilt - and now the guilt of the impotent, life carrying on as normal while hundreds of thousands of people suffer. And of course, still, the nervous laugh - typical, bloody-lucky, Owen.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
My father loves family history, but his relationship with his family is distant and the geneology he pores over reads like the driest Old Testament list: X begat Y who begat Z. Perhaps it's because it's based on blood ties and I feel alienated, perhaps I just don't have the geneology gene, but I can never summon any interest in his carefully compiled family trees.
My mother has a much more vibrant relationship with her family, but very little interest in geneology. What she does have, and I share, is a love of stories. My mother has little models of the old men from the muppets in the living room. They are emblematic I think of her, our, affection for the old men of her side of the family.
Once upon a time there were three old men (there was also a young man and one that got away - my grandfather who died when my mother was 15 and uncle Jack who went to South Africa and never came back - stories for another day). The three old men were uncle Mick, uncle Dennis, my grandfather's brothers, and uncle George, my nanny's brother. After the war Nanny and uncle George shared a house and Dennis and Mick lived next door.
The stories about Dennis deserve a post on their own. I don't know any stories about Mick. My mother always asks, 'Do you remember uncle Mick?' To which I reply, 'No Mum, he died the year I was born.' This is her cue to sigh and say, 'Mick was a lovely man.'
The stories about uncle George are all tinged with sadness. George was the most beautiful little boy you could imagine. There is a photo of him, obviously taken in a studio, when he was four or five. He is holding a clay pipe, a bubble pipe, wearing short trousers and a smart little jacket. The striking thing is his gorgeous hair - perfect shoulder-length ringlets - and the solemn expression that reaches all the way to his innocent eyes.
I wonder what kind of young man that little boy grew into. We have a book of poems published before the war that includes a poem written by uncle George. The poem is called 'Violet' and ostensibly describes the flower, however, the story that goes with the poem makes this moment of literary success all the more poignant. Uncle George was in love with a girl called Violet and hoped to marry her - perhaps they were engaged, certainly they were courting. When uncle George returned from the war he discovered that Violet had married someone else.
Uncle George didn't have an easy war, who did? He was in a tank regiment. My memory says he was fighting somewhere in Africa, but perhaps I am inventing that. His tank broke down and uncle George was seperated from the rest of the convoy while he and his crew fixed the problem. It took a while and they were slow to catch up with the convoy. When eventually George's tank reached the convoy the crew discovered that all their friends were dead - there had been an ambush and none lived. George never got over the guilt of surviving.
His civvie years were uneventful - he ran a post office and then a cake shop. My cousin remembers him giving her cakes on the sly and always looking slightly lost, as if the apron was the only thing that reminded him of what he should be doing.
Throughout my own childhood uncle George was a benevolent presence. Not as mad as Uncle Dennis, not as crabbed as Nanny, George still had something of that ringletted, innocent, serious boy about him - he even smoked a pipe. I remember that he loved trees and nature. My last memory is crystal clear. Mum and I were walking in the park with uncle George. The park had a series of exercise bars and activities for kids to play on, the idea was to run around the park in a preordained circuit and stop at each activity. In his seventies uncle George was still proud to be able to complete a few chin ups on a set of bars.
Our phone often rang in the middle of the night - Dad was the keyholder at work and if an alarm went off the fire brigade or police would call him out. So when it rang in the earliest hours of the morning a week or so after our park outing I ignored it and went back to sleep. Mum and Dad must have been sleeping deeply because they never woke. So it was that Nanny couldn't reach us when George collapsed with chest pains. An ambulance came and he was taken to hospital.
Perhaps the trouble started in the desert, perhaps it was when he lost Violet, whatever it was that started it I don't think the years of cakes and pipe smoking helped to heal uncle George. During the week he was in hospital George's heart failed him, but looking back I think it broke bit by bit until he died of it. Through all his suffering he was sweet and good humoured and full of innocent wonder. Of his treatment in hospital he told his visitors, 'It's marvelous you know, the nurses have taken my lunch order for tomorrow: a full roast dinner. Though I suppose they'll have to liquidise it to put it in the drip.'
I will write a beautiful post.
I will write 'in praise of old men'.
I will write the most...
I will write a beautiful post.
It's not a boast
As you'll see when
I write a beautiful post:
I write 'in praise of old men'.
As soon as I have some time. Watch this space as they say.
(blame him). More on triolets.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Chirpy PR lassie in email to a competition finalist:
I don't know if you've done this sort of thing before, but usually what happensWHAT AM I DOING HERE?
is the PR firm drafts a potential quote for you, then you either respond with a
"yes, I'll agree to say that" or you make modifications to suit your own words
better. We ask for a reply as soon as you can get it to us in email. Of course,
we'd love to keep the plug for the XXX in there. Would you be willing to do that
for us? Here's the generic quote we have drafted...
Friday, December 03, 2004
It’s not often I get to display my geek credentials (for a start I don’t have all that many) but just occasionally TA and housemate C are otherwise engaged and I get to flex my geek muscles (is that an oxymoron?). Last night I performed an install by wire for my father, it was a uniquely bitter-sweet father-daughter moment.
Background: A month or so ago we gave my parents my old computer to replace my dad’s decrepit PC (we had upgraded my mum a year or more ago – her machine not the woman herself you understand). They recently bought a new printer for Mum and shunted the older one over to Dad’s machine.
Last night I rang for a chat. After a short preamble Dad said – sounding worried – that his printer had stopped working. The first hurdle was getting Dad to open the Word doc he was trying to print – he has yet to grasp the concept of saving a document in a particular folder/location. Finally he found the document he was looking for. The next hurdle was navigating XP’s tricksy menus – how was Dad to know that XP had ‘helpfully’ hidden the print option? Of course, the print dialogue box showed that he hadn’t actually installed the printer. Thank god for wizards, once we had located the control panel menu it was an easy enough process to follow.
So, why was this geek triumph so bitter at the same time as being sweet? In my Dad’s world view I’m supposed to call him wanting help (and I often do) this role reversal was deeply unsettling for him I could hear it in his voice. Perhaps he was thinking of his mother’s inability to use the telephone – that sense that the world has somehow passed you by and, hard as you try, you’ll never catch up with it again. My grandfather died long before I arrived but apparently he told the story of how as a boy he ran out into the garden to see for the very first time a plane in the sky. What a moment of awe and I imagine bewilderment.
I wonder what technology my generation will find too complex to learn and how soon we’ll become impossibly behind the times – to use IT terminology at what point do we become a legacy generation, still functioning but essentially useless? Interestingly enough, considering I work for an IT PR company that prides itself on how much the account staff know about the technologies they represent, the levels of software illiteracy are astounding. Worrying stuff.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Beetroot is the new sweetcorn. At the weekend I bought a bag of beetroot (bulbs?) along with my usual quota of veggies and on Sunday I made borscht.
On Sunday TA and I ate this with fresh rosemary bread from the market for both lunch and dinner. I parcelled up the leftovers to bring to work for lunch. I ate borscht on Monday and Tuesday. Yesterday I had a distressing moment in the ladies’, my mind running through all the possible reasons why such a thing might happen – cancer, something worse? – before the answer dawned on me: borscht!
Borscht (feeds the 5000)
Approx 8 beetroots (peeled, half cubed and half grated)
2 carrots (peeled and grated)
2 large potatoes
2 large onions
Any leftover veggies that you can easily disguise! (my haul included some leftover stir-fry from the night before – peppers, leeks, even cashew nuts!)
Lots of garlic (finely chopped)
Fresh beef stock (we use marrow bones to make ours)
At least one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Lightly fry the onion, garlic and spices. Add the veggies and stock. Simmer gently for several hours. Just before serving add the lemon juice and vodka. Serve with soured cream and dill.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
My Granny who lived into her nineties used to say 'you have to count your bessings'. Here goes: I live in one of the best cities in the world, right in the centre of it all in a nice flat. I have a husband that loves me. I have a reasonably well-paid job. I have some great friends. I'm learning new things.
So why on earth am I so dull and disatisfied?
Answers on a postcard to...
My Granny also used to ask people to put on their hobnail boots and give her a kick up the arse.
I think I've mentioned before that cleaner G has left our employ and gone to Miami (like you do). In the months since we've muddled along with greater and lesser success. This weekend I devoted myself to cleaning like a professional - every surface in the kitchen (and there are a lot) was scrubbed clean, every item out on display (and there are many) was put in the dishwasher (thank goodness for dishwashers). Then on Sunday it was time for the weekly pilgrimage to the Farmers' Market in Marylebone. Organic food bought from the people that grew it - the highlight of my week, when for just a moment I really am buying into the dream, then the walk home with heavy rucksacks and the slow realisation that another week has passed and the dream is no nearer.
We had a team meeting this morning and in the five minutes before it got started I was chatting to a couple of the others. A said: 'My friend has just told me she's pregnant for the second time.' F said: 'All I hear about from my friends is engagements and housewarming parties.' And then after some thought I said: 'But those things just don't seem possible if you live and work in London. I have friends who are married with kids and a mortgage, but none of them live in London.' 'Hmm,' we all said sadly and looked mournfully at each other while drifting off into our own private reveries.
Friday, November 26, 2004
Left work early to get to college in time. Arrived uncharacteristically on time only to find that my class had been cancelled due to a power cut.
Rang TA on his moby - no answer. Rang TA at home - no answer. Tried to assess likelihood that TA was in the local supermarket picking up delicious repast for dinner. Rushed around the aisles looking for a tall, skinny man in a suit carrying an umbrella, grabbed two bottles of wine, a bottle of sherry, some milk and some cheese - random items, things I knew TA wouldn't buy if he was in the supermarket. Found a short queue but then realised that I'd pushed in front of a hesitant OAP (the second time this has happened at this particular shop in as many weeks). Apologised, let frail-looking old lady in ahead of me. Her shopping: basmati rice, prawns, steak and some vegetables. Frail old lady: 'mumble, mumble, mumble, gall bladder, mumble, no, mumble, fat'. Me: 'Oh, poor you.' FOL: [looking at my alcohol-and-dairy-product-laden conveyor belt] 'mumble, mumble, wine, mumble, drink, mumble, mumble, nice, mumble, sad.' Me: 'Really? Yes. Hmm.' I said goodbye to the FOL and left the shop feeling guilty.
Beat TA home, picked up mail. Letter from college complaining about my lack of attendendance. My mood was not improved!
TA had not picked up delicious repast and both of us were stumped as to what to cook and - for the first time ever - I was not hungry. TA improvised while I retired to bed with a book. Suitably inspired, I shaped my eyebrows (which are usually a bit Dennis Healy), did girly maintenance tasks and lounged in a pair of manky joggers and a fleece feeling somewhat decadent (decadence is a state of mind and, for me, often descends when I have unexpected free time). After a tiny dinner I alternated between reading and chores - laundry, dishwasher, sorting through my wardrobe - while trying to act French and louche.
Left housemate C and TA to their own devices: that new playstation game where you're a gangster eating burgers, working out and shooting people, and toiling over a new website, respectively.
Went to bed early. Couldn't sleep. TA came to bed at nearly midnight and fell asleep immediately. I ground my teeth in frustration, poked him until he woke up and complained about the unfairness. Tossed and turned, sighed and generally tried to sleep in ways that guarantee sleep will not occur. Then, to my neverending shame, the following thought occurred to me...
We need more storage space under the sink. It's a shame all the cleaning products take up so much space. Wait a minute, Mum keeps all her polish, cream cleaner, bleach, dusters and cloths in a satchel hanging up in the kitchen cupboard, the when she or Dad do housework they take the satchel round the house with them. Why don't we do that? I wonder if TA will let me repurpose one of his satchels? Hmmm...
And so I eventually drifted off into a troubled sleep, punctuated with dreams where TA told me that I was obese.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Or it does if you're me since I've got an impacted wisdom tooth and it's infected. I scored some antibiotics yesterday, but they have yet to take full effect. I'm feeling woeful, full of woe - woe, woe, woe. I need lots of love and soft mushy food. Alternatively, since I spent a fun-filled five minutes adding to my already gargantuan wishlist on Amazon yesterday*, feel free to treat me to something nice.
*An exercise in futility since no one ever buys anything from it, me included...but at least it offers some of the same satisfaction as clicking 'add to basket' and 'proceed to checkout' with none of the associated expense.
ooh, new wishlist link...all my obessions exposed for your viewing pleasure.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
I have spent the last ten minutes trying to persuade Google to solve my quarter-life crisis, but for once it's not coming up with the goods. I know I've written ad nauseum about how I want life - my life - to change drastically and really I should stop now but I can't. In fact the whole founding principle of the UB was to document in some tangible, outside-of-my-head way just how much I wanted my life to change. But here I am over a year later, having quit my job and tried to create change I find myself in pretty much the same position as a year ago. On the surface everything ticks along nicely but underneath I'm seething. Something has to give, somehow there has to be away to achieve my own Good Life.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Went to the Farmers' Market yesterday. Filled with enthusiasm by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall's excellent book MEAT, I bought four trotters and half a pig's head (amongst other things). I also spotted Anthony Worrall-Thompson filming at the market. As TA said, it's obviously the place to be if you have a double-barrelled name.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The above is my favourite piece of stage direction ever, taken from A Winter's Tale. In my own winter's tale the bear is any number of things: work, college, TA's need to focus on work - meaning that I'm doing more house management, our joint need to spend time together at the end of the day [today is our second wedding anniversary]. But my lack of posting is due to more than that, I'm tired of my own voice and, although I have three or four corker posts mulling around in my addled brain, tired of writing too.
It's time for an interval, a costume change, some refreshments and witty conversation. Posting from now on will be sporadic, until the bear has gone. Thank you all for your kind comments.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Friday, October 22, 2004
Last night we were given not one, not two, but three tests in my practical biology class. I hope I did okay. It’s strange, but because there is definitely a right answer and a wrong answer and it really is possible to get 100 per cent, I’m getting much more stressed about my homework/tests than I ever did in English or History classes. I wrote up my answers for chemistry and maths – in fact I typed them up – and then I agonised about handing them in last night or whether to spend another day checking the answers.
It’s interesting that my feelings about chemistry and biology haven’t changed a jot since 'A' Level. I love, love, love chemistry, but often it could be written in ancient Greek for all that I can understand it. When the lecturer is talking I get so enthused by all the information and I’m such an eager beaver and I really think that I’m absorbing every tiny scrap of information and then the class gets asked a question and I realise that actually I haven’t assimilated any of this and will have to do some major reading when I get home. I get home; I open my books and – like the character out of the Fast Show – say, “In’t chemistry brilliant! It tells you about atoms and bonds and molecules and EVERYTHING. Chemistry is brrriiiillliiiiiaaaannnnt!” Then, after I’ve been reading for half an hour or so, I realise that I have absolutely no idea what any of it means. In contrast, I often find biology a bit dull, but it’s similar enough to arts subjects to stick much better in my poor brain.
Oh! This morning I had a 1:1 session with Frankie. He gave me a boxer’s workout! Complete with skipping; doing strange hop, skip and jump combos; weights; spinning and sparring! I nearly died – it was fabulous!
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Sorry, this is going to be a post of whinging - I'll try and make it short. I've spent hours, days this week and last working on a 'briefing book' for a Microsoft VIP to take on his tour of Africa. It started off with background information on all the journalists that might be covering his trip - collating, formatting and standardising pages and pages of information and past articles culled from Google (which later got reduced to a paragraph on each journo). Then, for the last two days I've been formatting and editing the beast (and let me tell you Word is shite for formatting). Now here's where the whinging comes in - any editor/designer will tell you - "give me the doc when it's finished" - I've been adding in content from feck knows where (a good deal came from the CIA), formatting, trying to edit as I go, getting pinged with IM and email with new additions. Then, THEN... at 6pm... Half the fecking content gets cut! So let's add up the hours - 8 today, 5 yesterday, 2 on Monday, 9 last week = 24 hours @ a billing rate of approx 180 USD per hour (I'm guessing, it may well be higher) and then consider that I'm the lowest billing member of a team of four people working on this. All these pages that Mr VIP will never read...and we all work like lunatics - why?
So, then, after a day of that and some nasty inter-office politics with the US team to boot, I come home and write up my chemistry and maths homework. Equations, fractions and molecular structures. Frankly, I'm ready to cry!
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
It occurred to me this morning that if I was a character in a Richard Curtis movie I’d already be in countdown mode, since all his films seem to reach their happy conclusion at Christmas. Let’s think about this some more...
I’m not your typical Richard Curtis character – for a start I’m not posh enough, I don’t have a public school education* or landed parents. But then again I’m not ‘salt of the earth’ enough either, I’m no Martine McCutcheon. And, although Badger Mansions is in central London, it is simply not big enough to serve as a Curtis interior. To star in this movie I’ll need to be shot outside – wandering around Regent’s Park – and wrapped up in a scarf to stop my common tongue from running away from the script.
So, let’s forget all that character stuff and move on to plot. Oh dear, oh deary dear. I’m already married! Richard is not one to mince his words is he? As the script might have me say, ‘Buggering, bloody, bollocks – fuckity fuck, fuck!’ Now, if I was a few years older and TA was shagging the secretary, if one of us was about to die of a terrible illness, or if I was incredibly beautiful and TA’s best friend had an enormous crush on me we might be in with a chance, but I fear my starring role is about to be cut to just a few lines.
There’s a month and a bit until Christmas. This year, in a break from tradition, TA and I will be staying in London rather than going to the Isle of Wight to be looked after by my parents. TA’s best friend and his wife are coming to visit. They will be using Badger Mansions as a base while they travel around Europe during November and then spend Christmas week with us. So Christmas will have pleasingly Antipodean flavour, albeit one on a restricted diet since TA’s friend suffers from Crohn’s disease.
To be honest I’m a bit worried about creating joy for all of us. While I can see the romantic possibilities of holing up with my nearest and dearest, we’re on a tight budget and many of the things I take for granted – a real tree, decorations, family, a well-stocked drinks cabinet – won’t be there. I’ve spent Christmas away from the Isle before and I’ve been in charge of catering before – but never both at the same time. Also, the usual staples – television, eating, drinking – are not available to us. I turned to TA a day or two ago and suggested we buy some playing cards and stock up on board games, since there won’t be enough people to play a really blinding game of consequences or charades. I fear I’m regressing from Richard Curtis into Enid Blyton. Despite all my failings as a main character and the dodgy scenery, I want to script a Richard Curtis fairytale Christmas. Any ideas?
* US readers: in the UK public schools are the really posh private schools – Eton, Harrow, Roedean, Gordonstoun and the like.
Monday, October 18, 2004
I'm ashamed of you, really I am. I give you the opportunity to vote and nearly all of you go for the selfish option (boots), some of you go for the decadent option (dinner), a few of you spoil your ballot papers (charity) and a couple of individuals try to vote twice. I could not believe it: not one of you chose the self-improving option (books for college). I'm afraid the UB has ceased to be a democracy, if it ever was. Yesterday I bought four books for college, the prize money covered less than half the bill, but was certainly better than no prize money at all.
I've been feeling poorly the last few days and spent most of the weekend in bed. 'Poorly' is one of my favourite British English words. In fact, the best ever scene in Neighbours featured Helen Daniels explaining to a young aussie whippersnapper that when his friend, the comedy British ragamuffin (copyright Dickens), spoke of his granny being poorly it meant she was ill, not poverty stricken.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Yesterday I won 50 pounds at work for being the twentieth person to complete an online survey. This is great, but now I can't decide how to spend my windfall. Please help me. Use the comments box to vote for one of the following:
- taking TA and housemate C to the movies
- taking TA out to dinner
- buying books for college
- buying a pair of boots
Keynote: Bold self expression and reliance, keeper of stories
The badger is a giant of the weasel family. Those with this totem should study the weasel as well. The badger is grey, black and buff, with a white stripe from the nose to the back of its head. This in itself is very symbolic of how open it is, the keeper of much light and knowledge of other animals and the Earth.
The badger may look fat, but it is muscular and powerful. Its outer skin is loose, so it is difficult for bites from other animals to injure it. Its own jaws are exceedingly strong. The jaws are symbols of powerful self expression. This ties the badger to the mysteries of the ‘word’ – particularly the magic of storytelling.
I would ask you to remember only this one thing,” said Badger. “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.”
The badger is a remarkable digger. Fast and quick, it can dig beneath surfaces rapidly…This ties badgers to all earth spirits and gnomes of lore. It also hints at the ability tosee beneath the surface of all things and people. It lives in an underground complex of burrows called “earths” [UK: setts]. It has several living chambers, along with latrine and storage chambers. These earths hint at the stories beneath the outer, the inner places and homes of the outer world.
The badger is active both day and night. It is a carnivorous animal, living primarily on rodents such as rabbits…and squirrels and other underground dwellers…because of this it can be thought of as the keeper of the stories of other animals.
It is basically an unsociable animal. It does not “relate” well to others – even its own kind. This might be why stories are its symbolic means of communication. It is often easier for those with badger medicine to relate through stories than have to do it directly.
The young badgers, usually two or three, are born in May or June. The family always separates in the fall, when the young and the father move to find their own homes. Sometimes the father will help with raising the young, but as a whole badgers are loners and solitary. They are comfortable within themselves and very self-reliant. They can teach this or help those with this totem to teach it to others.
Because the badger is such a powerful digger it has knowledge of things beneath the earth. This includes minerals, roots and other plants and herbs. This also makes the badger a dynamic healer. Sometimes the badger is overly aggressive, but the technique is usually effective. Badger can teach the long-forgotten knowledge of roots and their mystical and healing powers.
The badger is bold and ferocious, and it never surrenders. If a badger has come into your life you should do some examination. Are you or those around you digging deep enough? It may indicate a need to get beneath the surface. It may reflect a time of great connection to the earth and its animal spirits. It may be telling you to draw upon the stories that intrigued you and held you fast during childhood. They may be symbolic of things going on or about to go on in your current life. Whenever badger shows up, there will be opportunities to develop self-expression and reliance. It speaks of a time to begin a new story about your life.
Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez
See what happens when I tell my mother about finding a badger?
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
I haven’t done long hours in a car on the motorway since I was a child holidaying with my family or driving up to university in Lancaster with my then boyfriend, Jamie. I had imagined romantically that the long hours spent on the road up to and home from Carlisle would be spent in happy conversation, listening to music and basking in the warm glow that only a mini-break can provide. Obviously, I have spent long, long hours travelling with TA before: plane journeys to Australia, a trip to Penrith on the train. And I have spent time navigating for TA while he drives before, once in Australia and a couple of times when we have moved. So I realised that TA gets fractious when he travels and stressed when he drives, however, nothing had prepared me for the grim realities of our road trip – a pleasure jaunt it was not.
First off, the roads were horrible – the M6 was bumper to bumper from Birmingham to Preston (on the trip home we were virtually stationary for hours between Oxford and home) and the radio didn’t work so we were stuck in traffic without any distractions. TA’s first observation of the M6 held true for the entire journey: “it’s just one long line of disappointment.” Second, TA is a bit of a softie when it comes to driving (understandable, since he drives about once a year) and required frequent stops – when Jamie and I used to drive up to Lancaster he’d not stop unless he absolutely had to, we’d burn up the M6 listening to Terry Pratchett books on tape and get there in less than six hours – so I was a bit surprised by this need for breaks.
At our frequent stops there was nothing to do except eat and avail ourselves of the facilities. The facilities were, predictably, a bit grim…but the food was unbelievably ghastly. I’d never eaten at a motorway services before – since with Jamie we’d never stopped and when travelling en famille my mother had always packed a picnic, which would be eaten in a field or the car a few miles away from the motorway. I think over the course of the weekend we had four meals on the road. The last dinner (at Oxford: if you ever need to stop there, don’t) was beyond my powers of description. TA had some ‘award-winning’ sausages. The menu didn’t say what the award was for, quite possibly they won the ‘least digestible and most revolting’ award. By all accounts a rat on a stick would have been more palatable. I had been fooled by the food on display into choosing a one-pot pie and chips combo. La! The pie was an optical illusion. The greasy skinned troglodyte unfortunate who was trapped behind the serving counter (I believe that his feet were chained, certainly he moved very slowly, and his name badge could well have said ‘Igor’) shuffled to a cupboard. Out came an empty pot into which he ladled dark brown lumpy goo. He then lurched over to another cupboard with a pair of tongs. A pastry – I use the term loosely – lid was perched on top of the sludge. Despite every fibre of my body screaming “No!” I took a bite of the pastry. It tasted as though it had been deep-fat fried in oil extruded from adolescents with acne. Vile. The brown sludge was marginally more edible and I even managed to identify some of the vegetable components, but the variety of meat eluded me. Finally, although the chips were golden, upon eating them it became apparent that they were raw.
Monday, October 11, 2004
TA and I got up at 6am on Friday. We packed and got all the items we were delivering to my parents - PC, PC peripherals, monitor, printer, mobile phone handset and charger, bubble bath - up together and had some breakfast. At 9.10am TA went to pick up the hire car while I waited with all our baggage in Badger Mansions' foyer. At 10am I rang my parents to tell them that we would be later than expected and probably wouldn't make it to Newbury by 10.30am. At 10.30am TA returned. At 11am, after a nervous start and a couple of wrong turns, we were heading out of London. Woo-hoo, I was Thelma to TA's Louise: we were young, we were wild, we were free, we were glad to be alive, we were stuck in traffic on the M45.
At this point I discovered that neither of us had printed out my parents' directions to the rendezvous point, in fact I could barely remember the name of the drop off point. Luckily, TA remembered the word 'Chieveley' and I had housemate C's road atlas on my lap. We were on our way to the Chieveley Services!
At midday I called my parents - 'We're nearly there!' I said. As we pulled into the carpark my phone vibrated - yes they were looking for us. We parked and walked slowly towards each other - like a hostage swap or, as TA bleakly observed, two divorced parents handing over the children. Computer and other assorted goodies were swapped for a box of chocolates and three jars of jam. Then four hungry adults braved the dark world of motorway services food.
(Thank you to Mom Moose for blogsitting - everything's been tidied and polished in my absence!)
Sunday, October 10, 2004
World History Made in Cupertino!
Rarely in the normal course of life do you experience an event which you feel safe in saying has never happened before, ever, in the history of the entire world -- probably not even in anyone's wildest dreams (and I for one have been known to concoct some doozies in that realm!)
However, I feel quite safe in saying that no one has *ever* selected a Christmas tree, in quite the manner we did this past weekend!
A bit of background...
Our family tradition is to pack up the poultry sandwiches, as many strong and able-bodied young turks as possible and head for the hills the day after Thanksgiving in search of...The Big Tree.
Typically there is much good-natured grousing involved, especially on drippy foggy mornings when, rousted out of bed by the cheerful sound of the doorbell, certain family members mutter direly wishful predictions about being "rained out". Once underway, however, the inevitable friendly bickering as to essential qualities of The Perfect Tree begins -- must be huge, must be "fluffy", must *not* be "shorn" looking. Certain individuals feel that circumference and overall weight should be considered as well as proximity to downhill vehicular access, but that's never happened so...
This year the search party was large enough to split into three teams, with the plan being that when potential trees were spotted, one team member would remain stationed as Guardian of The Tree while the Runner was dispatched to collect the other teams and lead them in to review the selection. (An aside: By default, I am always a Guard, since "running", in my case would likely involve tripping, falling, screaming, and generally embarrassing the rest of the troops) -- (Another aside: embarrassing the troops is something I have assiduously tried to avoid ever since the year That Other Woman was spotted wearing reindeer antlers ((identical to a pair I also own but happened not to have worn that day)) and *braying* cheerfully to her family as they cringed their way through the woods -- a long story for some earlier unwritten narrative)
Where were we...
By coincidence, this year all three teams located, secured and dispatched runners to alert the others to High Potential Trees at far flung corners of The Many-Acred Tree Farm. This necessitated a complex and highly-orchestrated rotation of the troops for the Comparative Tree Viewing process (we always operate on a consensus system with Mom's Opinion, of course, carrying triple weight in the final decision making process, but since Mom's Opinion, is strategically formed by a subtle evaluation of Everyone Else's Opinion, it is crucial for the Final Decision to take place in the presence of all parties). In short, there was a lot of running around, much shouting, and excellent exercise.
Finally, although it was a *really* tough decision, The Tree was selected. This only took place, however, after a sub-group went off to re-view The Backup Tree since there were some complexities involved of which we had not been aware during the first round. (Did the pinecones growing abundantly atop The Backup Tree sufficiently offset its "too shorn" appearance to a degree that would put it in first place now that we realized that the more natural and wider though shorter tree was actually a bit "prickly"?) (You can see why this often becomes an all-day affair)
By the time we all re-convened at the "This is It" tree, however, some Unforeseen Developments had taken place. An Other Family was there!
It seems that the beer can, which appeared to have been carelessly tossed into the branches of TheTree, and which we had removed and deposited with our own trash back at the car, was not just a random act of litter (never mind that we had noticed eleven other trees with beer cans similarly adorning their branches) it was (they claimed) their Mark!
"But, we posted a Guard!"
"But, our Mark was there first!"
"Beer can? What beer can??? Anybody see a beer can around here?? "
Seems they were not proponents of The Guard System -- their Malt Marker System trains troops to stay together, evaluate trees in unison, mark prospects until the beer runs out and then go back for the best one.
"Wait, Honey" (said the wife of The Other Family) "Wasn't this the one with The Dead Mouse?" (after twelve beers and a lot of tree-marking, no one else seemed quite sure)
"Dead mouse?" said those of us from The Backup Tree re-viewing sub-party.
"Gee" said one of our female Guards. "Would that possibly be the dead mouse over there that Someone found in the tree and threw at me while the rest of you were gone?"
Close inspection produced agreement by all concerned that this indeed was The Dead Mouse. Priority rights were thus established (although they agreed wholeheartedly that the Guard system was more compelling than the Beer Can Marker system) disappointment was swallowed, and we prepared to return to The Backup Tree (fearing that since it had now been left unguarded it would have fallen into other hands resulting in ((gasp!)) Treelessness for The Troops, and here it is past noon already!)
Our distress was obvious even through their alcohol-induced haze, and it was clear that these folks were in fact Nice People. Hurried conversation was heard among them. "What if...no, I really want this tree!...but they..."
Just as we were about to leave, someone suggested doing "rock paper scissors" for it.
"Or, we could flip a coin?"
"Waidaminute" said Eldest Son. "Why don't we flip the mouse?!"
"Ok, your family stand over there, our family stands here. What's your family name? Hi, Nice to meet you! So if it lands with the head pointing toward your family you get the tree. If the head's pointing toward our family, we get the tree, OK?"
It was close, but by about five degrees the mouse head pointed toward The Other Family. Cheers and groans erupted on either side, hands were shaken,we prepared to retire gracefully, and my Beloved Husband (who was seriously hoping to Get This Over With!) broke out a beer to drown his sorrows.
"They have beer???" (said one guy from The OtherFamily) "Let's reconsider this, folks. You know, we could let you have this tree, for say...a couple of those beers!"
"Hey, how about if I throw in a few turkey sandwiches and some homemade brownies?"
And so it happened that we became the proud bearers of a shorter than usual (which means that we didn't have to cut more than a few additional inches off the thing to get it in the house) nicely shaped, not too heavy, fluffy looking though deceptively prickly tree, which I am absolutely certain is the first tree in the history of the world to have been selected by means of the flip of a dead mouse and the barter of beer & brownies!
And now, Dear Readers, it's time for me to return you to your regularly scheduled program. Ms. Badger, I had a fabulous time playing here while you were gone! Hope we didn't do too much damage to the furniture, and that you and your own Beloved had a truly wonderful weekend.
Hugs all around,
Stranger Danger – Part 3
The memory triggered by Anita’s comment on that last post, is still clear in my mind, even a decade or more after it happened. I had just joined the very long pre-Christmas holiday line at the Post Office when a young woman, bearing babe in arms, came in behind me. She was struggling with the baby and a package, so I offered to hold the package for her, and we naturally started talking about the beauty and wonder of her child. The little one was squirmy, and the line was slow, and finally the young mother commented that if she had realized it would be so long, she would have brought in the baby’s stroller and “stuff” to keep her occupied. Ever-so-hesitantly, mindful of course that no one it their right mind would take me up on such an offer, I suggested that if she would like me to hold both the baby and her place in line while she went out to her car, I would be more than happy to do so. With no apparent hesitation whatsoever, she handed her daughter to me, and left! To this day, I can still recall the incredible flood of emotions that swept over me. The first thing I noticed was an instant up-welling of maternal feelings, the likes of which I had not experienced for years. I swear, if she’d started to fuss, I would have lactated on the spot! Holding a baby under any circumstances just does powerful things to any mother’s memory modules, and mine were no exception. Simultaneously, I observed that the man who had come into the line behind us now seemed rather unsavory. I turned away immediately, putting my body between him and the baby, but he moved around to the side and started cooing over her and admiring her, “too closely” in my protective opinion. What was that mother thinking?! She’d been gone so long already. What if she never came back??!! What would I do if the guy tried to actually *touch* the baby???!!! Folks (and this is the part that I remember to this day with crystal clarity) there was not a doubt in my mind that I would willingly have laid down my life to protect that child! Even with children and a family of my own to think about, I would not have hesitated for a second to do whatever it might take to preserve that little life. It was the clearest demonstration I’ve ever had of the instinct to protect the young of the species. I was already well-acquainted with the “Mother Lion” reaction when my own children were being threatened, but this child belonged to a complete and total stranger. Absolutely amazing. Fortunately, that instinct was not put to the test, because at that moment the mom, with stroller, returned, and all was well. I marveled to her (something just barely short of chiding as I recall) that she had been so willing to leave her precious infant, even for such a public moment, in the arms of a stranger, to which she replied “But, I knew I could trust you!”. How? How did she know that? Was the neon sign that says “Trustworthy Woman” turned on and flashing above my forehead? And how did Our Badger know that I was to be trusted with her blog baby for this extended “loan”? Not fishing for accolades here, folks, honest. Just trying to underscore my point that trust goes a long way in the world. I know, I know…there are plenty of circumstances where you should *never* trust a stranger, and of course you have to be selective and street-smart and all that good stuff. But gosh, aren’t we all a little better off going through life expecting the best from people, rather than anticipating that the worst might happen at any moment? Ok, this is getting too saccharine even for my tolerant taste. But those who actually know me will understand the heartfelt conviction behind these words, and I guess it’s served me well for quite a few years now. I’m not about to go over to the dark side any time soon.
Here’s to the cockeyed optimists of the world!
Stranger Danger – Part Two
Terrifying my own children was actually the polar opposite of the values we consciously tried to impart to them when they were young. Rather than warning them about potential dangers lurking around every corner of life, we tried to give them the sense that life is a full-on adventure, where exciting discoveries are just around the bend. Of course, every good adventure is fraught with some degree of peril (a fact of life my death-defying older son continues to point out to me on a frighteningly regular basis) but for the most part, life’s a blast, and the people we meet along the way are really pretty cool. We taught our kids when they were on the verge of occasional independence, that if ever they were in a situation where they were afraid, or felt uncomfortable for any reason, they could safely go up to any passing stranger and ask for help. We taught them to be keen observers of people’s apparent personality, and we sometimes played “who would you ask” when we were on streets or in shopping malls, pointing out that if available, other families with kids would be most likely to respond to a child in need. We taught them to be wary and alert if an unknown adult ever approached them for any reason, but never to worry about initiating the approach to an adult they chose to trust. Trust seemed a far more precious commodity than fear, and hopefully one that would be more frequently employed by them in later years. Seeking the good in people, rather than the bad. Confidence, coupled with pragmatism. That’s what my little boys were made of!
Other than the aforementioned playground incident, I’m not aware that either son ever had reason to utilize those “stranger danger” teachings. Which goes to show, we must have been at least a bit right about the balance of good and evil in the world. Not that you’d necessarily know it from reading the newspapers. But on a stroll down the street? You betcha!
Our Badger has paid me a profound compliment -- she’s left me with the key to her blog home, and the trust that I will not abuse the privilege and will treat it with care. Something one might do for a friend, of course, but, we’ve never met. Does that make us strangers? Not by my definition. I’ve never met the young man in Shanghai who feels like a true son to me. I’ve never met the woman in New Hampshire whose daughter loves to read, but if she lived just down my street we’d be fast friends. I’ve never met the new mother in North Carolina, or the young woman in St. Louis whose babies sure could use an extra grandma some days. I’ve never met the doctor who put my older son’s face back together after a distant mountain biking accident, to whom I owe far more than my everlasting gratitude. I’ve never met the dear friend in Chicago who is close to the very top of my list of special people. And I’ve never met the family in Japan who hosted our younger son during his ‘round the world study-abroad adventure, and who treated him like one of their own. Until they ring our doorbell, I haven’t met the friends to whom our older son gives directions to our house in case they need a bed for the night or some cookies, or just a hug when they pass by in this direction. Until we rang their doorbell, we hadn’t met the families in New Zealand who gave us beds and hugs (and cookies!) when we stayed with them as part of our globalfreeloaders adventure.
Stranger danger? Not so much. But friends I haven’t met yet? Oh yeah!
I’ll be back tomorrow with something a little lighter that I think you might enjoy. In the meantime, if anyone besides my far-away friend Louise is really out there, give me some practice with the comments thing, OK? I’ve never fooled around with this before, but since UB’s avowed intent was to try and get me hooked… Sly creatures, those badgers, eh? But friendly!
Saturday, October 09, 2004
That’s what they call the program some schools around here run when kids are at an impressionable age and need to be taught to fear adults who are not their parents. Interesting concept.
Of course, I’d be the first to want my kids to know how to react when someone unknown to them approaches with malicious intent. In fact, my younger son actually passed, with flying colors, an inadvertent mom-administered pop quiz on that very subject. You folks across the pond know how we celebrate Halloween here in the colonies, right? Kids dress up in costumes, and go “trick or treating” by ringing (strangers!) doorbells and begging for candy treats. Well, when our youngest was maybe around age 9, his school had a pre-Halloween festival day where the kids all got to wear their costumes to parade around the school followed by games and such on the playground afterwards. Great excitement! All of the teachers, and many of the parents, dressed up for fun as well, but on that particular day, I had conflicting plans, so had told him, regretfully, that I couldn’t come. At the last minute, however, I decided I didn’t want to miss out after all, but, what to wear?! Some hasty scrounging produced an old black trench coat (Hah! A London Fog, it was! J) , husband’s baseball shoes from his days as a high school athlete (don’t ask why we still have those, let alone how I could instantly lay hands on them), and an abandoned “old geezer guy” full-head mask, left-over from older brother’s costume the year before. Perfect! I’d be dressed as, what, a homeless guy? What the heck, no one would know who I was anyway.
So, totally camouflaged, I wandered onto the playground full of kids, spotted my own, and came up behind him while he was playing with a friend. Crouching somewhat crookedly so as to appear a bit more decrepit, in my deepest, gruffest, most un-mom-like voice I grunted “Hey…kid!”
He turned to look. No recognition.
(Deeper still, and stepping menacingly closer) “Hey Kid…I’m talking to you!”
To his everlasting credit, my beloved son *instantly* backed away, grabbed his friend, and ran straight toward the nearest teacher!
Needless to say, I was completely chagrinned to have alarmed him so, but *SO* proud of his reaction! Once he figured out it was me (immediately ripping the mask off and calling his name reassuringly did the trick) he was wildly impressed with the disguise.
He asked me to put it back on so he could take me over to show me to the Principal (Hmm…what do you guys call the person in charge of a public school who would be the equivalent of a Headmaster?). Relieved that he didn’t seem to be psychologically scarred for life, I was pleased to oblige, and we headed over to see Mr. Fisk.
“Hey, Mr. Fisk. Guess who this is! It’s my Mom!! She came dressed as a child molester!!!”
(to be continued...)
Friday, October 08, 2004
The course title for tonight’s class is practical biology, but they should be done under the trades description act. It turns out that the class is going to be mainly working with excel – as if I don’t do that all day already. Grr.
So, the more exciting news is that I have invited a blog sitter! There may or may not be some guerrilla badger action here over the next few days. I’m very excited about this! Play nice children and please don’t scare the babysitter.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Class started last night and was brilliant, just brilliant. Tuesday nights are just chemistry and Thursdays are practical biology (oo-er). Last night was a whistlestop tour of how chemists learnt about elements and atoms and then a bit about electrons and bonding. I could feel a few electrons firing in my brain as it awoke from its workaday slumbers and was shocked into action. I came home really hyper about it - long may my enthusiasm last!
The downside is that thanks to the vageries of our respective timetables, TA and I are going to hardly see each other during term time: he teaches late on Wednesday and I'm out Tuesday and Thursday. We'll have to start leaving each other notes!
We're off to Carlisle on Friday - via Newbury, don't ask - so things might be a bit derelict here at the UB for the next few days. I'd advertise for blog sitters, but the place is such a shambles I'd be ashamed to let anyone in.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
It's all go on the creative front. Last night I put the nearly finishing touches on the top-secret craft project. I also gave TA his birthday card - it's his birthday today, but since we're both out until late tonight we had his birthday dinner last night instead. I made TA's card myself with the help of Shrub's photographic genius. It is A4 sized (A3 folded in half), made out of white card and prominently features a gorgeous photo of a red squirrel stealing nuts from a bird feeder. On the front it says: Happy Birthday, TA [squirrel pic] Have a GREAT day... Then on the inside: ...But don't go nuts! He loved it and I haven't stopped chuckling yet, I'm just so pleased with how it turned out.
I also created my first ever animated gif today. I once watched TA make one for me, but have never attempted it myself. I took a picture of a stopwatch and, after a few hours(!) of trial and error, managed to get a reasonably smooth animation of the second hand going round using layers in Photoshop and then exporting them into Image Ready. I then inserted the gif into a PowerPoint presentation that will be used for internal training purposes. Nice to have the opportunity to play and learn something new without the pressure of imminent deadlines.
Oh! And TA mentioned this morning that he thinks one of his TM Lewin shirts is ready to give up its life for my quilt... Watch this space!
Monday, October 04, 2004
Last Friday at around 7am I was walking to the gym. For some reason I didn’t take my normal route, but instead decided to walk via Lamb’s Conduit Street. If I take this route I pass a mini recycling centre – mobile phone batteries, newspaper, printer cartridges, glass, plastic, it’s quite impressive. One of the bins is for used clothing. As I walked past, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a pigeon standing on the bin watching me. Everyone knows how much I loathe pigeons, but something made me look back at this pigeon prince of darkness. The corners of my eyes had deceived me, it wasn’t a pigeon. It was a little plush badger. Imagine my surprise. A talking burning bush wouldn’t have been more amazing to me. I actually stopped dead in my tracks. My heart raced. My palms prickled with sweat. I debated with myself: this little plush badger belongs to someone; it didn’t just apparate for me…but wait, maybe it did appear just for me – who could possibly love it more? He who dares, Rodders, he who dares…
The little plush badger accompanied me to the gym – he stood guard in my locker while I sweated with Frankie. The little plush badger made Friday a ‘bring your favourite fetish to work day’ at my desk. The little plush badger now keeps a watchful eye on proceedings and calms visitors to my cube – those anxious and weighed down with care find that stroking my little plush badger is the perfect antidote. The little plush badger is my friend.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
I bet you've always wanted to know this haven't you! Well, according to my sources you have to do the following two simple things:
- Eat sweetcorn
- Monitor your stools
If, after 24 hours, the corn has not reappeared you need to book yourself in for an internal drainpiping. Now, on hearing this my American friend K told me the following... (are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.) She and P were on a long car journey. They stopped off at a Dunkin Donuts or similar to use the facilities. While she was in the cubicle she heard the woman in the cubicle next door say: "Corn? When did I eat corn?"
Do I moan to TA about aspects of my life only I can change?
Do I overeat, binge if you must, when I know that I'll spend the rest of the day thinking about the possibility of being sick?
Do I demand more of others than I do of myself?
Don't I take action to create change or improve situations when I see the opportunity?
Do I force myself to endure inertia?
Aren't I more proactive?
Do I spend money I know I should save?
Is my reaction to stress most often: fuck it!
Do I continue to think that moving will change things, when deep down I understand that moving will only change the scenery, not my personality?
Do I never truly value experiences until they are over?
Do I look to TA for approval when I'm perfectly capable of validating my decisions myself?
Is it that I often repeat the same gripes in meetings rather than saying my piece just once and moving on?
Do I blush?
Just a few questions...
Work is kicking off again - this time it's all politics and tug of war about what my priorities should be and what my job is (and, more importantly, is not) it's crap and I hate being pulled one way then the other and being asked to do many tasks beyond my skill set. Obviously I can't write about it in detail here, but I can tell you that I would have been happy to spit in certain people's tea today!
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I was never one of those coordinated children who are good at sports. If I ran, I ran knock-kneed, if someone threw a ball at me I never caught it or managed to hit it, if there was a box or horse to jump over I invariably fell over it or got stuck half way up it instead. Games lessons were horrible and I did everything I could to avoid them up to and including taking a hammer to my toes in an attempt to break them. Fitting me out with fantastic gym kit was, therefore, never high on my parents' agenda - not to mention another favourite way to avoid games class was to lose my kit. There was a uniform and I had one (netball skirt, gym knickers, dunlops - before they were trendy - and an airtex shirt), that was it. I might have had a pair of tracksuit bottoms at some point, but I can't remember any.
I did flirt with running (on my own) at university and went as far as buying a berli shock absorber bra, but I never went all out and invested in sportswear. Any soft cotton trousers I have owned have been expressly for the purpose of lounging, decadently, while reading. Granted, silk palazzio pants (or whatever they're called) would have been better for this, but I'm a little too buget conscious for that, and besides they need ironing.
Since joining the gym I have cobbled together some kind of gym attire from my stock of summer shorts, tee shirts, my sole pair of trainers and my token sports bra. I have been washing my sports bra everyday. Despite the fact that I'm enjoying the gym and have shelled out money to be kicked around by Frankie, somehow it didn't occur to me to take the final step and buy workout clothes. A rather sad state of affairs don't you think?
This is where TA stepped in. On Sunday we popped in to Lilywhites before going to the cinema. I conservatively thought I could use one pair of tracksuit-type trousers, I ended up with two pairs, I thought an extra sports bra would be useful, TA insisted I buy two and to top it all off I got a hooded top thing too.
If clothes maketh the woman, it's time for Paula Radcliffe to move over.
Monday, September 27, 2004
TA, housemate C, housemate C’s pal and I went to see Hero last night. The film is sumptuously, heartstoppingly beautiful – so beautiful in fact that it was only this morning that I began to think about the message of the film. Hero asks you to think about the definition of heroism: what is bravery, what is sacrifice, how do heroes transcend the ideology of their times.
I’m lucky enough to know a few heroes, perhaps you do too?
I’d like to nominate TA to the pantheon of heroes; for having the courage to face redundancy with dignity, for having the strength of character to get up every single day and apply himself to new tasks, for being humble enough to go back to university and retrain. His ability to be patient is heroic. His generosity and ability to be decadent in the face of ruin are heroic. The way in which he holds true to his values and tries to instil in others a sense of their inner worth and latent capabilities is heroic. TA has the grace and depth of a hero; he thinks deeply, looks on every new thing as an opportunity to learn; and takes pleasure in harmonious detail.
K, of P&K fame
K is luminescent. She has such warmth, such a glow that everyone is drawn to her. She is interested in you, she is patient with you, she is generous and funny and will cook up a storm for you. To spend time with K is to be wrapped in a fleecy blanket and coddled. Of course, K is sweetly addictive and people drain her dry sometimes – unknowingly, but still. If it was me I would withdraw and regroup, but not K. She has this amazing disregard for her own needs – I don’t mean she is one of those do-gooding martyr types – she understands what her availability costs her, but loves others so overwhelmingly that she continues to give (time, love, affection and little tokens that show that she’s been thinking of you) even when she’s at rock bottom herself. Unstinting sacrifice is heroic.
At the risk of sounding trite, let’s all be heroes today.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Many moons ago, when I was but a slip of a thing I was asked to choose what subjects I'd take at A Level*. I pondered, I was pretty good at all the subjects at 15-16, and found everything pretty easy. My first thought was: physics, chemistry, biology and perhaps a maths AS (half an A Level) to help with the physics. I'd always loved science lessons and had always got top grades. However, since up until that point, we had combined science lessons I ws a little hazy on how the three subjects differed.
My English teacher took me to one side. 'Little badger,' he said 'I think that you'd really enjoy English A Level, there's none of that English Language nonsense, just pure and unadulterated reading of books.' So, now I added English to my list of subjects and since maths had always always been a weak spot, maths and physics went out of the window.
My later teenage years were not easy - whose are? - and school work was often at the bottom of my priority list as I was too busy rowing with my parents and moving in with my boyfriend, consequently, I didn't do well in any of my exams. By the time I needed to choose a degree subject I followed the path of least resistence and picked English (I later stuck history in there too). I had fleetingly looked at the course descriptions for the science courses, but was told that I couldn't apply for both - besides the curriculum for biochemistry used lots of words I didn't know, English courses just listed books I had yet to read.
I loved my course and later, when I was feeling understimulated, went back to college for an MA in postmodernism. However, I have never given any academic pursuit the time or dedication it warrents (blame rebellion, falling in love, breaking up, partying and then - for the MA- getting married), and that's why I've never graduated with the top grade. I'm really angry about this and feel as though I've still got something to prove - to myself, to the world.
So, my interest in biochemistry has always been there, it was just latent for a few years. Then, I started editing medical titles and I kept thinking, if only I'd kept up with my sciences I'd be able to understand so much more of this. The final straw came though when I started looking for a new job - all the good, well-paid editing jobs required a BSc. So, I applied and was accepted and I start in two weeks. I know this is going to be tough, tough, tough. This time I'm going to feel proud when I graduate rather than ashamed no matter what my grade.
*US readers: we take A Levels at 18, after two years of study. When I did them (things have changed a bit since then) you chose three or four subjects. A Levels were hard, I found them more difficult than anything I've ever done except perhaps finishing the dissertation for the MA. A Levels, because of the narrow range of subjects studied, tend to cover things at greater depth than the US system does at the same age.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
I'm really struggling with balance since returning from the US. The first - and most important - reason for this is that work has suddenly gone full-on mental. I'm currently doing ten-hour days as a matter of course and, because of the way this job is panning out, that's ten hours of people calling, instant messaging and e-mailing me asking me where their work is. The constant interruptions make everything so stressful.
My stress levels mean that making time for the gym is a high priority. I never thought I'd feel like this, but exercising really helps me to put the stress into perspective and relax. If I've been running or to Pilates before work I feel much more able to cope with the onslaught. Also, of course, I still have weight to lose and need to shape up. So, must make time for the gym.
Thinking ahead, it is vitally important that I fully commit to my biochemistry degree course. I'm currently reading and revising to get ready for it, but come 4 October - when term starts- I will be in classes two nights a week and will need to spend considerably more time working on it at weekends. The course lasts four years - eek - and will hopefully open up entire new career vistas for me. Sciences don't come as easily to me as Arts subjects so I'm preparing for a huge effort.
Blogging remains one of my favourite hobbies and, before my trip, I used to spend at least an hour a day reading others' blogs and writing here. It's great to keep in touch with how other people are doing. Carroll, who sometimes comments here, once wrote that reading blogs allowed her to share in lives she'd never be able to live. And isn't that a wonderful thing? I love looking out of other people's windows on the world - it makes the world seem infintely richer. I have found that writing here also helps me reconnect with my sanity - when I've been upset, depressed or anxious the comments box has been such a great help. So, I must make time for blogging.
Friends and family are my support system and without TA's love and my friends I don't know where I'd be. Of course I need to ensure that I have time to nurture my relationships - and have fun too!
So - how on earth am I going to fit it all in?
Monday, September 20, 2004
I wanted to write about 1/making a new friend, 2/adverts on American television, 3/housemate C's trip to Ireland and homecoming, 4/how difficult it is to get on the property ladder, 5/ how Frankie hurt my bottom (again)...and many other fascinating things. However, unfortunately, I'm up to my eyes in work and haven't time to write anything. Perhaps tomorrow will be better?
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Top-secret craft project has taken up a like of its own, which is brilliant and scary both at the same time. I hope I can do it justice. TA is by turns perturbed, pleased and parental in response to my sudden passion for creation.
Today for an hour or so he took matters into his own hands - helping, but taking over too. Whenever he does this I am reminded that our aesthetics really are very different. He's all about perfection and polish - I like the things I make/paint/create to have a roughness, a raw and bleeding edge. So when I think something is looking just about right he comes along and wants to fix it for me.
TA and I went to the gym today and then out for coffee. I cooked lunch and TA talked to his brother on the phone. This afternoon I cleaned the flat, while TA played a computer game. This evening I cooked dinner, while TA played a computer game.
After dinner I went into the kitchen and started cleaning up. TA followed me in and deposited his plate but then disappeared. I started cleaning up - I take a Jackson Pollock approach to cookery - thinking: any minute now he'll be back to help me clean up. I unloaded the dishwasher - any minute now. I loaded it with dirty crocks - any minute. I wiped down the surfaces - he'll come and help me soon. I wiped down the oven. I was finished, in TA came. "Do you want a hand?" he innocently enquired. I left him in the kitchen and went into the living room to answer e-mail. Any minute now he'll bring me a cup of tea, I thought. In he came...wait for it...with a chocolate milkshake. One chocolate milkshake. For him. Now he's watching Back to the Future - and I'm still waiting. Some days I wonder what goes on in his head!
Friday, September 17, 2004
Today has been all systems go. I went to the gym extra early so that I could get into the office by 8.30am. Then it was barely controlled chaos: first Microsoft wanted to send a statement of support to the wire; then they didn't; I had five documents to format and anglicise; someone wanted to convert a pdf to a word file, but it had security settings and no one had the password; then I was asked to make another round of changes to a PowerPoint presentation.....on and on it went...until at 7pm - halfway through printing and binding said PowerPoint presentation - the colour printer gave up the ghost and I had to make an emergency call to Kinko's. Luckily they could oblige us. Then I spent an hour binding.
Top-secret craft project will have to wait another night. If you want pics of the work in progress drop me a line at the usual address.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Is happening to the UB - when I look at it at work my latest posts don't show up...how odd.
So the top-secret craft project isn't the quilt, it's a present for a new friend I made (more on which in another post). I dreamed up the idea while on the plane flying home, inspired by my visit to the Portland Art Museum Especially this bit of it. Woo - scary!
TA picked me up at the airport on Saturday and escorted me home. It was strange - for me at least - three weeks apart had made him seem just a little bit unknown. I was nervous around him for the first few hours! TA said several times - we need to buy a new chair. I was a little freaked out by this, but since our dining room chairs are a little wobbly noy unduly surprised. I asked TA which chair had been broken, but he wouldn't tell me. When we got home all the chairs were in working order. Odd. I unpacked in the kitchen (I had a rucksack full of wine) so it was several minutes before I went into the bedroom. When I did I discovered that TA had built me a desk! He'd lined up my biochemistry books and bought a beautiful orchid - perfect.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Sorry it's been so long - I've got enough material for at least ten posts, the trouble is that the clamour in my head means that I can't seem to concentrate on getting even one post written. I'm still suffering from jet lag and tomorrow morning Frankie is going to kick my butt like it's never been kicked before. Oh dear...
Anyway, now that I've defrosted the fridge and half completed a top-secret craft project I should be able to devote some time to blogging tonight. It'll be great to catch up with everyone!
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
holiday was great and training is going well. Living it up in the hotel by watching trashy cable and staying up late. I left a magazine out with a note to the chambermaid saying help yourself. In return I got a note saying I am a different cleaner but will pass the mag on to Evelyn. She tells me you don't like spiders so I have hunted for them. Puzzled and amused, today I wrote a note saying help yourself to bananas. I hope that these exchanges will continue to increase in strangeness.
Friday, August 20, 2004
After feeling nothing at all about my trip to the US, the excitement kicked in at 5am, which is unfortunate because being kicked awake by excitement is a little upsetting and now I'm knackered. Last night I milled around Badger Mansions being very ineffective - my approach to packing being: sit down, moan, open a bottle of wine, tell TA that I'd only have one glass, watch West Wing with housemate C, chat to housemate C, realise that it is now 11.30pm, realise that the wine bottle is now empty, get out of the chair, throw six pairs of shoes in a bag, throw all the clothes that fit and are clean into a bag, throw all the cosmetics, toiletries and jewellery I own into a bag, and put all the bags into a rucksack.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
I've been full of thoughts, heavy thoughts, thoughts like rain clouds - dark, blanketing and strangely comforting. And when I'm full of thoughts my first instinct is to reach for words to drain my overburdened head. Today, though my thoughts are refusing to preciptate into words. I could shoot bullet points at you like hailstones, but that would be spiteful. I could lose you in a freezing blizzard, but what would be the sense in that? We could both get lost in the snaky sentences of blinding fog, but that's so boring even when it's done for some grand stylistic purpose (yes Mr Dickens, I'm thinking of you).
I'd like to caress you with a light mist, refreshing like sea spray; drench you like a tropical waterfall so that you feel invigorated by reading and when you stop and look around everything sparkles - but today isn't the day it's going to happen. Today, all I can hope for is that the thoughts remain clouds; that the rain doesn't start until I'm alone, safe, at home; and that when it does there's a sheet of blotting paper to soak it up.
TA is very particular about his shirts – they must be TM Lewin, they absolutely must be double cuff and they must be a lovely colour. He has pale blue shirts, dark blue shirts, lavender and purple shirts – such beautiful colours and such wonderful fabric (mostly he has plain, but recently he's bought a couple of gorgeous patterned shirts). I love these shirts – I love that they remind me of when we were first dating, I love their texture, their weight, their quality and the fact that they have been worn by him. I love these shirts so much that I have been thinking about how glorious it would be to make a quilt out of them: a quilt with big bold squares (plain, unfussy, not to mention quicker and simpler to make). I’ve been daydreaming about winter nights sitting with a needle and thread piecing together a magnificent and decadent quilt.
There are a couple of difficulties however: first, TM Lewin shirts do not wear out, I’ve never seen TA throw one out; and, second, TA is fundamentally opposed to having a patchwork quilt on our bed, thinking them twee and something that should be consigned to the Little House on the Prairie. He’s not against me making a quilt, per se (although I think his shirts are very much off limits until that mythical far-off day when the seams start to fray, or he comes into enough money that he can buy a complete new set) he’s just against a quilt ‘gracing’ the bed that he designed and built. Of course, I’ve pointed out that since I sleep on this bed, which would not necessarily be my first choice of marriage bed – Japanese-style, low to the ground, red lacquered and very, very hard – the least he can do is agree to sleep under my quilt (and he has agreed to the justice of this point) but the fact remains, he is very doubtful of a patchwork quilt’s aesthetic value and looks at me as if I’ve grown a second head whenever I mention it.
So, I’m now thinking of making a quilt out of shirts that are similar to TA’s (bought on the cheap from secondhand shops) and then giving it to his parents as a Christmas present – not really the same thing at all I think you’ll agree – none of the romance, the history, the passion. I’m secretly hoping that once TA sees this quilt he’ll have a change of heart and agree what a beautiful idea it really is…tear his shirts from their hangers, rip his shirt from his back and beg me to transform them – like straw spun into gold – into a quilt that will keep us warm for the rest of our days, a quilt that our children will play under and crawl over and, eventually, inherit.
Monday, August 16, 2004
- Amy from Ever So Humble - where has this blog gone? Can anyone help? Amy, if you're reading get in touch...
- The five blog post titles that I had in my head this morning - now my mind is a blank as a new canvas, no idea what that's about.
- My will to diet and exercise disappeared on Sunday and, lo today, it hasn't come back - not even after a bagel for breakfast, one for lunch, two jaffa cakes and two Mr Kipling Almond fingers...oh dear.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Yesterday I ran for thirty full freaking minutes on the treadmill (over 5km!), then went and kicked my own butt on the recumbent (yes the chafing is still there) bike for a further 30 minutes. Today I did weights.
I've got a enormous chicken roasting in the oven - this will be served with new potatoes, greens and roast carrots tonight; with pesto and salad tomorrow lunch time and either chicken curry or Vietnamese style tomorrow night; and the carcass should make a nice soup.
I've got a 2000 Chateuneuf du Pape waiting to be opened.
I'm sitting here sipping vodka-laced iced tea.
The flat is clean.
There are three fantastic cheeses, some red grapes, a pear and some cashew nuts to follow the roast chicken.
Tomorrow I'm going to the Marylebone Farmers' market.
Tomorrow I'm going to lay out my clothes and work out what I should pack for my trip to the US.
In less than a week I will be hanging out with my best friends in the beautiful town of Northampton, Massachusetts.
I'm sending a parcel to the Oregon office - I'm packing badger beer.
Friday, August 13, 2004
I learnt something new about my IT trainer today - she makes fabulously beautiful jewellery. Isn't it amazing the talents people have that, in everyday life, remain hidden? The chap who sits opposite you might well have a wonderful dark, rich baritone, sticky sweet singing voice - the kind of voice that makes your sternum vibrate and your knees go weak; the receptionist might well be a champion swing dancer. Why do we all hide our lights under bushels? I wonder how many lights just need a spark to set them shining? I'm sure that everyone has an unexplored apptitude for a skill they've never dreamed of - how do you discover you are a natural free diver, formula-one driver, parachutist, or glassblower? Wouldn't be wonderful to be a flint, sparking all this untapped potential?
Coming back down to earth, this badger menace story had me in stitches. (Thanks Jenny!)
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Carrying on from yesterday's post, I've got a couple more links for you. How to create your own language (TA take note*) and some theory on how we construct sentences (L3 to L8 are most interesting from an editing standpoint).
The title of today's post reminds me of a very strange editing dilemma I came up against a few years ago. I was working on a trade publication called Retail Buyer International - a glossy, but fairly useless magazine aimed at department store management. An article had been submitted by a fairly prestigious chap that discussed lighting and other tricks to get people to stay in the shop longer and, hence, spend more money. In amongst all the waffle was a disturbing phrase: cunning linger signals. I reworded the phrase, chuckling to myself about the unconscious minds of eminent gentlemen, and when the article had been laid out sent it to the author's PR chap for approval.
Quick as you like, the PR chap fired off an email - Professor X wants to know why 'cunning linger signals' has been changed. I was beginning to smell a rat! I drafted an email that referred to the 'James Bond tone' and explained that this was unsuitable for such an august publication, but was overruled by my team manager. In the end we settled for: 'cunning linger signals' might have unfortunate connotations when read aloud.
Next thing I know, my phone is ringing. PR chap seems to think I've had a sense of humour bypass. He is at pains to tell me that the 'unfortunate connotations' were the very reason the phrase was included. His final riposte? "I hope I can slip something in under your nose next time."
*TA likes to invent languages when he is creating D&D scenarios.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
It seems I struck a nerve! I really can't tell you how it is I came to have no friends, I'm fairly outgoing - I like pubs and restaurants and even dancing; I like long walks in the countryside (as long as there's a pub at the end); live music and events; museums (especially the cider museum and I'd also like to visit this shoe museum); talking and listening... I'd make someone a good friend. Somehow though I do have real trouble connecting with people now that there's no school or college to provide an ideal environment for friendship. So I'd like some advice please how does one make friends as a grown up?
passive vocabulary, reading ages
There's an email thread doing the rounds in the editing department - essentially my manager wants to know how newspapers pitch themselves - what is the average vocabulary of an average reader? When I was teaching English we distinguished between an active vocabulary, the words we use, and a passive vocabulary, the words we understand. However, vocabulary is only part of the readability puzzle - as this rather fascinating page shows. Why is this important? Well as editors we have to make informed guesses all the time - what acronyms do our readers understand without explanation, what terms need explaining? When should we split a sentence up, and how, and when should we leave all those sub-clauses in? If we get it wrong the text becomes less readable or, worse, the reader respects it less because it - quite literally -doesn't speak their language.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
I was going to link to a news story about a new product for single girls lunched in Japan - the boyfriend arm pillow - but sadly the link has gone dead, I hope the picture suffices.
I'm tired today - I gymmed my little heart out this morning even though the chafing has not completely healed and I've seem to have developed an eye infection. The manky eye got so bad that TA had to bring my glasses to work for me. But anyway enough about my physical deficiencies...
TA and I had a difficult but good weekend. Housemate C had got hold of Wife Swap on DVD (not what you think, US readers) and we found it difficult to tear ourselves away. After watching a few episodes I became increasingly introspective - a mood that continued into Sunday and our visit to Fruitstock. Over lobster and champagne we discussed everything once more. What would happen if we split up*; whether Australia really is our goal destination; how TA should be approaching job hunting; whether we are dividing household chores effectively; what counts as necessity and what counts as ridiculous extravagance (yes, I realise that lobster and champagne falls squarely into the second category). Housemate C has decided to sign up to Badger Mansions for another six months after all and now that we know we are going to be here for at least that long TA and I are trying to work out how to progress in other areas of our life. After many hours of discussion we came up with the following:
- There has to be a cutoff date, we settled on the end of February 2005, if TA hasn't found animation work by then he will have to give up on it/look for other work instead.
- Since doing piddly little jobs for producer Nick and others is not bettering his chances of finding a full-time position and is in fact distracting him from finding work, TA will from now on concentrate on his showreel and turn down small jobs that offer no chance of advancement.
- TA must make more of an effort to get into intern and trainee programmes. He must also consider applying for jobs doing broadcast animation as only looking for games work is halving his chances.
- I must make more of an effort to meet new people. I don't have enough friends. TA is worried about me, I'm worried about me. The last two years have seen three friends move away and one get a LTLP - suddenly my social life has disappeared, not helped of course by my antisocial, depressed phase.
*We're not splitting up, we were just exploring why we both feel claustrophobic - there's nothing like an enormous amount of debt to make you feel shackled.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
First, before I forget, I'd like one of these for Christmas please.
So...I go to the gym. I run, run, run; I cycle, cycle, cycle. Then I go to the gym again and do the same thing all over again. All up, I've gone nine times in the last seven days. I've run and cycled plenty. I wear a sports bar to prevent chafing or 'jogger's nipple' as it is called. However, no one warned me about cyclist's bottom. I have developed small, yet intensely uncomfortable, patches of chafing in what I shall refer to as my builder's cleavage...not good. Team my cyclist's bottom with Myla's finest g-string and, as I'm sure you can imagine, today, walking has not been a relaxing undertaking.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Crippling laptop troubles along with general rage at various frustrating aspects of work conspired to make today really very unpleasant indeed. Pilates this morning and a jolly hard-core jog this evening were the only bright spots. I would say more, but my teeth are still grinding so perhaps I'd better concentrate on deep, calming breaths instead.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Don't those two words say fairytale more than any others? A certain type of fairytale. They say little girl lost (ruby slippers), they say little girl in danger (red cloak) they say little orphan girl (Snow White with ruby red lips), they say out of control girl (the red shoes). They say menarche and coming of age - girls becoming women, women learning wisdom. What woman doesn't want a beautiful red cloak to match her ruby lips and gem encrusted slippers - who hasn't known the attraction of dancing all night long? I want to be a woman that drinks deep draughts of heady, heavy wine. I want to be a seductive, vibrant, swirling, magnetic force of nature. Smell the blood on the wind, hear the drum beat, sing, stamp my feet.
I'm reading, or rather re-reading, Women Who Run with the Wolves at the moment. Every chapter explores a different aspect of 'wild woman wisdom' and page after page I find myself nodding my head in recognition, usually while drinking a glass of ruby red wine. But I fear it's just another form of escapism - escape from the everyday, humdrum world - to believe that I'm communing with my wildish nature. When I wake from the dream - 8.50am on a Monday morning - I find that life is grey and dreary and that all my ruby redness has to be folded away and hidden under a drab skin.
(thank you Jamie)
Sunday, August 01, 2004
When I was at primary school I had two best friends, the girl who would become beauty threrapist E and A (who is currently studying graphic design and living in Australia). When I was maybe six, maybe seven, we were playing at A's house. A's house had a big garden and the big garden backed on to a park. At one end of the park was a twisting path that led down to a reservoir. The reservoir had been been turned into a nature reserve and allowed to grow wild. On this particular day the three of us sneaked out and went to play in the reservoir. Perhaps it was this time of year, perhaps it was Spring...it was certainly hot. I remember feeling sticky as we skirted round the green and slimy water's edge. First we took off our shoes and socks. Dipping toes in water, testing boundaries - testing ourselves. I can't remember who saw the tadpoles - but they were there to be seen: hundreds, thousands of them. Tiny black dots with muscular tails, whipping through the green, fecund water. The deliciously cool water that we'd let reach our knees. One thought occupied us - how to capture these babies, the proto frogs, proto toads. We had jam jar plans. Quick as you like our knickers were off and netting tadpoles. We ran back to the house admiring each other's catch - trying to keep them wet until we could fill our jars with water.
Three years ago tomorrow the animator and I went on our first date. When I was single I used to spend a lot of time, and yes I mean a lot, imagining what it would be like when I met that special someone. When I was single I'd moon about the place and my thoughts would sound like a non-rhyming, non-kitsch first draft set of lyrics for Que Sera Sera. Will they be handsome/pretty, will we be rich, will they understand me like no one has before, will we have many children, will they be a sculptor (blame Ghost, and The Bone People) ...
All that time using my knickers as a fishing net hunting for a frog to kiss. Who'd have guessed I'd meet a prince?
(Thank you Carroll, funny, this wan't the post I had in mind when I sat down to type)