Saturday, 31 December 2005

Sticky wickets

Interestingly, I am in Canada, and in spite of my very reliable sports filter, I have had two conversations about cricket today, maybe three even. Firstly, I noticed in the Guardian that the team that won the Ashes in the summer are getting honours in the New Year's list, of course, why wouldn't they, England winning the Ashes is like the hand of God reaching down from the clouds and making a big thumbs up sign. It is a miracle of incomprehensible proportions.
I mentioned this to Kevin as we walked back from the shops this morning, and some Pakistani or Indian boys were playing cricket in the park. This is truly admirable and the reason why Pakistan always whoops England's arse at cricket. Even IN England, I have only ever seen Pakistani boys out practising cricket in recent years, and then, definately only in the summer.
When I was at school, it was played in school, just not at ours, but then one summer we had a PE teacher who had played in the English women's cricket team and she indulged us for a few weeks.
Since it is already New Year in Britain, I have spoken to Austen and he tells me that so far England have managed to beat Australia but, as ever, Pakistan are unconquerable.

So in only two weeks I will be back there. Two weeks used to be the normal length of a visit, and yet it seems now that I am pressed for time. I am desperately looking forward to seeing Austen, Sue and Holly, Alex, Laurence and Ben, and my all my friends, but I don't really want to have to leave here to do so. Selfish huh? And this in spite of all the things I miss. I will revel in being able to go to Sainsburys, M&S, Boots, WHSmith, all shops that excel in their own fields and with the exception of M&S, where loyalty cards actually give you something.
Britain, land of prepositions and articles, where I understand the banking system, where the post is delivered right through your door even on a Saturday by men and women on bikes, where I know when people are using language ironically,and most of all, where the price it says on any item is the price you pay.
I look forward to going on the train, to being able to buy a drink in a pub without being waited on, to Indian food, to Chinese food which you can eat with a fork because British people look on chopsticks as the slide rule of the culinary world. To organic milk, to better driving and where people are not allowed to use mobile phones while driving, to knowing that your meat is ethically farmed and that advertising standards are enforced.
This visit I will be staying in England because of the new baby, but it is also nice to be near enough to France to go for a day, to be able to drive through Europe to Holland and Germany, just knowing you can do that.

In spite of all of that, this is my home now with Kevin, and I don't want to not be able to see the mountains. Here, there are fewer people, and even in a big city like Vancouver you never feel as crowded as in Britain. Nor do we have chavs here, and THAT is a big old plus for Canada.

Friday, 30 December 2005

Les mots, les paroles.

The first question I was ever asked as a teacher was,
'What's the French for 'cumberbund'?' Should have terminally undermined my confidence, it DID undermine my confidence but I carried on regardless. I still don't know the French for cumberbund, however I have asked a great many French ppl this question.
'So how do you spell that?'
' has a silent b, like in limb, dumb, or plumber,'
'Interesting, silent letters...'
'Yes, like gnarled, gnash, knight, knee, wry, wring,'
'How strange, a language with silent letters..'
'Hey! French has loads of....ah, I see:)'

We have been watching our DVDs of Little Britain over the first few days of Christmas, I think we have some more people hooked, at least Kevin's brother found a copy of series 1 and bought it to take back to Toronto. A character that goes over really well is Daffydd Thomas. In the complex way in which people think, that took me back to Renaissance French. We had the most charismatic lecturer for Renaissance French, who made it all come to life. She also made us do so much else without realising. When discussing Rabelais's 'Gargantua' she had us all scurry off to buy or borrow Teach yourself Greek, Plato's 'Symposium', 'The Last Days of Socrates', 'The Republic'. I can remember her hypnotising us while demystifying du Bellay's 'Divers Jeux Rustiques', her stance putting her in total control of the room, her hand painting in the air 'la disposition des mots sur la page,'.
There was a lot of reading around for mediaeval French too. We had to have a special dictionary for that, whilst it was possible to read middle French more or less straight off, mediaeval was harder, just squinting and reading fast wasn't enough. Many of the texts were Celtic/Breton stories that had gone back and forth across the Channel. We had to read the Mabinoggion and this came with an Appendix on how to pronounce Welsh. Hence Daffydd = Daffith.
All of those extra things we went off and pursued, all of those little paths that led nowhere in particular, they were the enrichment, whilst teaching us about erudition in the texts, those lecturers were providing us with intellectual truffles, ambrosia.

The book about the twins that I am reading, one of whom is schizophrenic, has become compulsive now as I am deep into the descriptions of her episodes. It is fascinating in the svengali or cobra sense of the word.

I also keep thinking about 'Brokeback Mountain', I don't think I've ever been so impacted by a love story, such intensity, so passionate and so un-cheesy, it must be difficult to make films about love without the interference of the fromage.

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Film, book, obsession.

Went to see 'Brokeback Mountain' last night and it surpassed all my expectations. Slow burn into the story, but incredible scenery so you are taken up with that. It is an intense love story and unbelievably well played by both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, but I have to say that Heath Ledger's performance was supreme for me, this was a part that really allowed him to show the depth of his ability. A phenomenal film.
The film also made me finally realise what the French 'Transhumence' is. They have a word for taking the sheep up the mountain, and I never understood why this was an activity worthy of such a word. I hadn't thought however, that the sheep are taken up for the whole summer and have to be watched over carefully all that time.

I'm reading a book about twins one of whom is becoming schizophrenic. This is another eye opener for me. The book is interesting for a number of reasons, for example the relationship between the sisters, the behaviour of the parents, the time that they are living through - they are several years older than me, so things I remember vaguely they portray in more detail - and the way that we are shown the mental illness developing. There seems to be no 'cause' although there have been earlier signs, and then some of the small things that become parts of the full-blown illness are the stuff of everyday experience, ok, well mine then.

The obsession is mine, all mine, muahahahaha... On the local news last night, they talked of a scheme to build a field of energy windmills in BC. These have always fascinated me. Of course I am quite obsessed to start off with over green energy, but it is something physical about the windmills. They are so majestic, hypnotic. I have photographed them from the bus as we have travelled across Europe, I can stare at the for hours, and when I have, landscape without them seems too bare. Sometimes you get just one on its own. Last year in the Schwarzwald, going up the mountain at Schauinsland I could see one standing alone.
I can feel a pilgrimage coming on when they are built.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005


What kind of a man orders the execution of children to protect his own megolamania? - no, not who you're thinking of, I mean Herod. You have got to wonder at the three wise men tipping him off though, you can imagine it can't you,
'Greetings Herod, we're honoured that you give us audience. Very honoured indeed, yes, have some gold, frankinscense and myrrh, we've brought plenty along, no of course we're not implying by giving you an embalming spice that you're going to die, not at all, never crossed our minds ..... we're looking for a baby to worship? No, no, of course not just any baby, this is a future ruler of Israel, no, obviously we realise that you oh glorious Herod will rule for ever, no, don't kill your own son just to ensure that, erm...well, if we knew where the baby was we wouldn't have come to ask you, well, ok, Bethlehem somewhere, but no actual street name. Yeah but, no but, well, kind of a vision really......'

Anyway, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is today. Although the children lost their lives, it was the mothers who had to suffer most, they would have been unable ever to get that image out of their heads.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005


If you move home, as I did several times during the wilderness years, you always try to sort your stuff out, and think you have virtually nothing anyway. In fact you end up taking half empty packets and bottles, plastic kitchenware that you may need someday, books that you have already read but can't part with and knick-knacks, even though you have none.
When I was preparing to come to Canada, I had to be absolutely ruthless, the ultimate weed. I left with two suitcases and Austen and Sue stored five small boxes of books in their loft, and these were the irreplaceable ones, French poetry and mediaeval texts. It took filter after filter to arrive at what I finally kept.
It is difficult to part with junk sometimes, it was even for a dyed-in-the-wool weeder like me, but by God it was cleansing.

Today, the third day of Christmas, is the feast of St. John the Divine, aka, John the Evangelist.
In Britain, Religious Education is still a compulsory part of the curriculum to the age of 16. The nature of it has changed however, when I was at school it was all about the history of the Bible lands. We had a book called 'Patriarchs, Judges and Kings'. Today it is all comparative, the kids learn about different religions. I think the lot of the RE teacher is akin to martyrdom, only modern languages teachers are more reviled by pupils and bigotted parents.
The teaching of RE in British schools is to underpin our knowledge of our law, our history and our literature, but does it turn out a nation of Bible thumpers? Well, I honestly believe not. Of course we have them, no doubt about that, but not in your face all the time. The Queen and the Royal Family are seen going to church, but she doesn't see the need to constantly and publicly re-affirm her faith. I feel that mostly in Britain, people's faith or lack of it is their own, although, John the Divine notwithstanding, as everywhere, beware the word 'Evangelical'.
And back to St. John. He was, we are told, the youngest of the Apostles, which was just as well, because he lived to a ripe old age, and was finally exiled to some island where he penned his own Gospel and the Book of Revelations. St. John's Gospel is considered to be different from the others, the synoptic Gospels and therefore has some status as an independent account.
St John is frequently pictured with a cup with a serpent emerging and one story tells of how he was made to drink poison but survived. My thoughts on this are that he most likely drank something with a punch in it before writing Revelations.

My own experience of mind altering substances is in fact nil. I offer this not as some show of self-righteousness, but as an oddity. Having been at school in the sixties, lived in both Portsmouth and BC and having a number of good friends who partake, I can't really believe it myself. I've read Lewis Carroll, and marvelled at his vision, carried around constantly a copy of Baudelaire's 'Fleurs du Mal' and yet still.... I was once prescribed a very strong painkiller when I had a kidney infection, which induced a state of euphoria, but visions had I none.

I suppose really that one person's weeds are another's flowers, we pluck out what we can live without and we can use another kind of weed to enrich or destroy our lives. In the end, as with almost everything, it's a matter of perception.

Monday, 26 December 2005

On the feast of Stephen

This is a time of stillness, the turning moment of the year. It's a time for snow, a time for silence, for reflection and meditation.
Coming back from Surrey in the early afternoon, low clouds covered the peaks of Grouse and Cyprus mountain, soft, smooth cloud, like dry ice rolling out of a cauldron, like the mist that Myrddin created to hide the movements of Uther Pendragon.
Everything waits, the earth stands between life and death. The stone hovers in the air, the final one that took Stephen the martyr from life to death.

Sunday, 25 December 2005

Yule Log

Deep in the forest where the snow masks the ground, a trail of footsteps leads to a round mud structure with branches and moss for a roof, and even this is now interred in snow. There is a doorway hung with ropes of roots and leaves bound together, winter daisy chains of browns and dark reds. A man dressed in a belted tunic of coarse fabric over knitted undergarments, pushes aside the curtain and calls. He is carrying a wooden bowl filled with a porridge of wild oats and berries and a few green herbs.

A reindeer appears and then another, and the man empties the bowl onto a log which has been cleared of moss and fungus so that the deer can eat from it.

The man brushes aside a circle of snow with his hand. From beneath the trees where the snow has not lain, he collects twigs and tree bark and lays them in the circle. He goes back inside the dwelling and returns with an ember and a small bag made of sacking. He lights the fire and as it grows he feeds it with more bark, more twigs. He takes the bowl and puts snow into it, which he allows to melt over the fire. He takes a mushroom from the bag, runs a finger over the red and white cap and licks it. He sits down now, feeling neither the cold nor the damp beneath his clothing. He watches the bubbles as the snow melts and then boils. He breaks off a small piece of the fungus and lets it fall into the bowl.

His movements and the world around him are slowing down. As he watches, each bubble seems to take minutes to rise to the surface, each one contains a scene. He moves closer, here there is a boy lost in the woods, here a girl eating dangerous berries. As he takes in each scene he concentrates intently, committing every detail to memory.

Snow begins to fall, so slowly that it must have no weight at all, and as though the man had no heat at all it shrouds him, coating his hair, his beard and moustache, even his eyelashes.

The bubbling has ended and he picks up the bowl, impervious to the heat and plunges it into the snow. He drinks some of the liquid and then offers the bowl to each of the reindeer in turn.

Under the trees is a platform of logs lashed together with fibrous grasses and animal gut, at one end are longer ropes made of rushes, gathered and dried during the summer months. These in turn are attached to two harnesses fashioned from animal hide. He pulls the log platform into the clearing and pulls the harnesses gently over the muzzles of the two reindeer. He slides the drawstring from the sackcloth bag over his head and shoulder, then picks up four reins of hide and knots them into the rings at each deer’s shoulders. He sits crosslegged on the rough sled and hauls on the reins.

‘We will go first to the girl who ate the poisonous berries,’ he tells them, and he feels them rise into the falling snow as it swirls through the winter night sky.

Saturday, 24 December 2005


I woke up this Christmas Eve morning not in my own bed. Kevin and I had spent the night at his parents' house. It's weird to wake up somewhere else, because you don't quite cotton on. Bumbling back from the loo only half awake, I looked out at the golf course behind the house and thought it was a cemetery. I know there is a cemetery in Vancouver because I was in a phone box opposite it once, vainly trying to get a cab, or maybe it was the crem. But it occurs to me that in Britain we do like to keep our dead among us.
I used to cycle past one of the entrances to the cemetery that backs onto George Road, off Shearer Road in Portsmouth, and in the morning there was often mist rising from the ground, giving it a creepy feel. I went in there last summer when I had a few minutes to spare in between work experience visits. I sat on the grass and ate an apple, my bike propped up against a wall. I found it quite a calming place.
Going through the cemetery on the eastern side was an indicator that the train had almost reached its destination whenever I was coming back from Surrey, I was welcomed by headstones.
The cemetery at Brookwood, near where I used to live in Surrey was a well-known and oft written about one. As you went through the cemetery pales, on one side of the road was the Moslem burial ground where Dodi el-fayed was laid to rest, and then, I believe, moved. On the other side the war graves, neat rows of crosses. There is a whole section here where Canadian service men and women were buried. Right by the railwayline there is a messy part, like a room in a house that hasn't been tidied, stones all higgledy piggledy, a litle overgrown. Why are the wargraves commission not interested in these I wonder. There again it is a little while since I was there.

A stone's throw away from Brookwood is Pirbright church. My sister's and my parents are both buried there side by side and a little way away, our aunt. I guess the verger cuts the grass from time to time, but it's a long time since any flowers have been placed, both my sister and I, and of course Austen, had moved away long since. But I have never been aware of their presence in that place in any case, though I think my aunt was there occasionally. I would always go to the sea to talk to my father and to Victoria Gardens to speak to my mother.

I don't often think about their funerals any more, but sometimes some small thing will jolt me back, and there I am, sitting in the funeral car with my sister and Austen as the undertaker in his black dress coat walks down the road in front of the hearse. That last journey is led by the measured steps of a man who knows the pace of mourning. I see my sons and nephew carrying my mother's coffin on their shoulders. I know that in reality Ben and Jeremy were not old enough then, but in my mind I have sketched them in.

In our intercession we pray for them, 'we remember those who have died in faith, Lord, in thy mercy, hear our prayer.' Do the dead intercede for us I wonder? I hope so, I'm going to need a lot of support to get there.

In Britain, and in Europe the dead are all around us. I miss them.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Absurd in the hand is worth two rhinos in the bush.

Don't think of a banana. Made you look! Well, made you think of a banana anyway. Now think of a Zogloid. Can't be done because I only just made it up and haven't decided what it is yet.
Now, David Letterman, I do not like that Letterman, I do not like him Sam I am, of Letterman I'm not a fan, howEVER... that he should have to go to the trouble of having his lawyers try to overturn a judge's ruling that some woman can have an injunction against him stating that he may not think about her is absurd. He couldn't possibly have thought about her until she made him well aware of who she was by doing this.
Now I certainly think that there are periods of our life that simply are absurd in the Ionesco sense of the word, that we start to question the fabric of reality because there seems to be a rhino in the road or that the room is inexplicably filling up with chairs - Ionesco incidentally was supposed to be not the most friendly of chaps, which is of course an option when you become a famous French playwright.
That a judge could issue such an injunction outside of fiction is so absurd that I can't actually believe it to be true. I think there must be something missing from the story, something we should be told.

I have just finished reading a book that I was lent about AIDS in South Africa. The story starts at a time before the end of Apartheid and shows how the situation there enabled the HI virus to take hold so easily. The book is called 'We are all the same' and is by an American journo, Jim Wooten. It was an enjoyable and at the same time enlightening read, following the life of a child, Nkosi, who was born HIV positive, was adopted by a white South African and who made a huge impact on public perception of the condition.

A film which I missed at the cinema but have watched on DVD recently, was 'Ladies in Lavender'. The two main characters were Maggie Smith and Dame Judy Dench, need I say more, the best there is. The film is set in Cornwall and clearly filmed by someone with a reverence for that part of the country. A carefully observed story of manners at a specific point in time. Beautiful.

France is in safe hands. Chirac has gone to Morocco for a week. De Villepin will have to manage things at home on his own, as usual. Sarkozy though - now he would be a force to be reckoned with should Chirac decide to do the decent thing and fall on his own sword.
I simply don't understand the furore over Sarkozy's description of the Parisian rabble as well...a rabble. I feel a lot of it has to do with some over enthusiastic interpretations of the word 'racaille', I had seen the word 'scum' reported in the Brit-press, but rabble is correct.
Now Nicolas seems to be getting it in the neck from some footie player and member of the French team. Sarkozy bitingly replied that the guy may be a great footballer, but was not a master of thought. Nice. He then pointed out that it was unlikely said fancy footworker was much up on the goings on in the French suburbs since he lived in Italy on a nice salary thank you. All hail Sarkozy.

I have chilbains. I can't understand why. I can remember having them before, in some very snowy winter, and I know that many of my British chums think that Canada is a frozen waste where polar and grizzly bears gambol and frolic, occasionally interrupted by moose wearing Mountie hats. The truth is that the weather conditions here in Vancouver are more or less the same as those in Southern England. And frankly, my lifestyle there gave more opportunity for cold and wet to seep in. Method of transport - bike. Lived in a very cold flat by the sea. Granted I didn't spend much of it there, was out at work from 7 to 7, then came in, had bath and went to my nest with two hot water bottles to watch TV and munch. I have wear socks to keep my feeties warm and dissuade the chilblains from staying, Kevin says I'm turning into a Canadian.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

No seques please, we're British

So, a bunch of non-sequiturs today.
There was an episode of Bromwell High on yesterday that was so funny I was having difficulty breathing. Whoever writes that programme just knows British schools inside and out. Ben tells me it has started airing on Channel 4 in the UK, rock on.

Spoke to Austen yesterday and he told me about a news item that had angered ppl. Same old garbage we get here, but there's actually no excuse for it in Britain. The question about whether ppl should be referring to Christmas as such had been raised. Usually in GB it's enough to say, 'well you can fuck right off, we have an established church.' In this case, a letter was received from one of the Archbishes, and counter signed by one of the Imams, saying that since, at the last census, in a form where ppl had the option to put 'no religion', 71% put 'Christian' they figured it was pretty much OK to refer to Christmas by its name. No kidding. Made me realise that in school, the Eid party was pretty much the beginning of Christmas, although I think that may not have been the case this year, Ramadan seemed to be earlier than usual.

So, another complete non-sequitur. I have been trying for some time now to get my head round what is going on in Israel. The whole Palestinian-Israeli situation has been going on for so long it has almost become background noise, until the withdrawal from the Gaza strip and then, you know, it gets your attention. Something big is about to happen there, I just can't work out what, but my instinct tells me we don't want Ariel Sharon to be out of the picture.

Went to see Capote the other night at Tinseltown. Wow, what a film, or, in Irish, filum. So carefully drawn. So competently portrayed. Such depth, we are looking closely throughout the film at this man and his psychology, through his dialogue, his mannerisms, his reactions and through camera work. So good to be presented with an interesting story from the angle of a character who is far from one dimensional, and that's just one of the fascinating people in the film. Seemingly some of it was filmed in Manitoba.

Last night we went to see the Festival of lights at van Dusen. I am STILL spellbound by them. It is something to do with the unreality, the brain can't quite cope with it, all these lights making shapes, hanging in the darkness, reflecting in the water. There was one part that changed in time to several movements from the Nutcracker Suite.

This is a sequitur though. The whole concept of unreality, as I pondered it, reminded me of how I felt last year in Berlin. We visited the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. The unreality thing kicked in as you go up a leafy, pretty little residential road towards the death camp. What must the residents of these typically German little houses with flowers and gardens have thought as the lines of people on their death march went past their front doors but no line ever came out ?
Inside was even more strange. There was a feeling of peace and serenity. I was not expecting that. Sachsenhausen was I think the first or one of the first two concentration camps and was sold to the German ppl as some kind of holding facility where people would be changed, persuaded of the right way of thinking. It was where a lot of the medical and scientific research was done, and there was a text and photograpic display of some of the horrors that were suffered there.
The art work throughout, screamed at you. This was art by the German ppl expressing their horror at what had been done to some Germans by others.
We went down into the charnel house. Bodies would have been piled here and there was a mortuary slab where autopsies were performed. The East Germans had blown up the gas chambers, we were not able to see those.
We went through cells where 'criminals' were held, communists, British soldiers, anti-Nazis. Another display recorded whole families who had been wiped out - gypsies, their eyes just staring from the photographs.
Sachsenhausen was an extermination camp not just for Jews and the genocide of the gypsies but also for Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and political reactionaries. Now it stood silent, surrounded by trees. The German people refuse to allow themselves to forget that at that point in history, their nation was a blind creature, hacking and torturing its own flesh.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Why I love Tony

To really give an idea of why I am a fan of Tony Blair, you need to understand what it was like for those of us with a socialist tendency throughout the Thatcher years, or as we like to call it, Tory misrule.
I wasn't brought up particularly left-wing, in fact my parents were members of the liberal party and my sister and I used to go out delivering leaflets with my mother and aunt, this was our family line. When I was old enough to begin to understand political ideas, my friend's father said something to me to the effect that once I really became interested in politics, I would become a socialist, and this, it turned out, was quite correct.
Middle class intellectuals did not flourish under Thatcher. It was a time when greed was publicly sanctioned, when 'upwardly mobile' was the buzz phrase, and it had nothing to do with spirituality. The Anglican Church was referred to as 'The Conservative Party at Prayer'. To my mind this spoke not only about the Church, but about the Tories as well. They were sanctimonious in the extreme. They droned on endlessly and publicly about so called 'Family Values' without ever questionning their own definition of what a family could be. Thatcher's most famous quote was 'There is no such thing as Society, just families and individuals'. It was a time of over-heated interest rates because of the conservative insistence on the rule of market-forces. Nationalised industries such as water, that should have remained under public control, were privatised. The things that we lefties thought should not have been left to people's conscience such as not buying goods from Apartheid South Africa, were, and things that should have been explained as though people were intelligent enough to understand, were simplified and shoved at us. A huge granite headstone awaited any of us who had ever slept with more than one partner whilst the Tory party itelf continued to cavort with its mistresses.
Nigel Lawson's 'summer of discontent' when he slashed income tax resulted in an even more overheated economy and an increase in differentials between rich and poor, the rich got to keep more of what they earned and lending rates went up further.
Thatcher broke the miners, she hobbled the unions and for those of us swimming at the bottom of the middle pond, in the socio-economic terms of the time those with status but not the money, she allowed the press to hound.
Accountability meant blame. It seemed that in every rant of the Tory press, teachers and social workers, those unpleasant reminders of the society that did not exist, were blamed for all the ills of the world. We had the worst contract ever imposed upon us, our working hours had no limit, we were to work 'until the work was done'. The public was encouraged to think of us as a profession who worked from 9 until 15.00 with thirteen weeks holiday a year. We had the National Curriculum thrust upon us as though without it we were incapable of deciding what needed to be taught.
Yet the Tories shot themselves nicely in the foot, they took down their Boudica, their Caesar, and like Caesar, they stabbed her bloodily in the back. Thatcher was the embodiment of conservatism, how could you embrace their vile politics and not believe her to be a god?
The grey man by whom she was replaced, gave a way in to the Labour Party. When Tony Blair's government took power, it was - pun intended - a red letter day. At the time, I would have preferred a more old style socialist, someone with a gritty northern accent, John Prescott of course, but although it was the hour, he was not the person.
Tony Blair's 'New Labour' was heavily criticised for not being socialist enough, but it was what was needed. Tony was our new vicar, Cherie Booth our vicar's wife. She had her own successful career, there has never been a whiff of scandal about either of them, his children were charming and the couple have increased their family whilst in power.
Even had there been scandal it wouldn't have mattered, the Labour Party have never tried to tell us who we can or cannot sleep with. They have created an atmosphere in their party and within the country where women, non-whites and gay and lesbian people are not demonised in the way they were under the conservatives. Again, Blair was criticised for insisting that every list of possible candidates for election must include a woman, but it was a successful strategy, we have more women in Parliament than ever before.
During the Tony years, we have not had to watch interest rates run out of control, social ills, for example fox-hunting, have been dealt with. We have been able to exist in an ethos of socialism.
Although those of us in teaching who had to go through the annoying process of 'proving' we were worth being paid more, to 'Cross the Threshold' we have been listened to, teachers' pay and conditions have been addressed and contracts changed to take out a wide range of responsibilities and tasks.
I see Blair as a Statesman, he comes over well on TV whether talking to the nation or as a representative of it. He doesn't use the famous 'dick waving walk' of Bush for example, and despite the country's partnership with the US over the war in Iraq, he took Bush to task over his refusal to acknowledge the need for imposed environmental targets. He also took on Chirac over the EU budget at a time when Chirac was slinging mud at Britain.
Blair is often blamed for entering a war with the US over oil. I understand and take on board Michael Moore's concerns over Bush's involvement with the Saudis. But I do not personally believe that this was the motivation for the war.
At the moment and sporadically, because he is not very well-behaved, we see the spectacle of Sadaam Hussein being charged with crimes amounting to genocide, destruction of villages of Muslim people not of his own sect, repression, torture, execution of ordinary citizens without trial, the list is endless.
In my opinion, the existence of WMD is moot. I believe that it is possible intelligence was wrong. The fact remains that Sadaam was a global problem that had to be dealt with at some point. He also most certainly had the capacity to build WMD. I feel it is naive to claim that there was no link between Iraq and Osama bin Laden over the 11/09 atrocities. The US -mostly- are damned if they do, damned if they don't. They, and Britain, were criticised for not pursuing Hussein after the Gulf War. They are criticised for doing nothing about any number of outrages throughout the world, or every repressive regime.
I know that conditions in Iraq at the moment are desperate. They were also desperate before for many ordinary people and most particularly women who had no rights. Although what our two countries have done is bloody, there is hope for the future where there was none before.
I do not believe that Blair had even the slightest choice about going to war. If I'm deep down honest, and I almost have to cut my own heart out to type it, I don't think Bush did either. The threat was real and growing. With the US going to war, Britain and Australia could not have just stood on the sidelines waving. What does it mean to live in Freedom if you allow other people to carry on in purgatory?
I know I have probably offended with these thoughts, but I wanted to put down the way I honestly feel.
Since the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair took over the leadership of Britain, it is my perception that it has been a better place to live. Relations with Europe have grown stronger too. But whilst I hated Thatcher's Britain, I have to cut my own heart out a second time to admit that I could not hate Thatcher. I deplored her politics, but she too was a strong and indomitable Stateswoman. When I watch TV5 and see the representatives and leaders of the EU all posing for a photo op, you can pick out a small handful of women, accent colours among the grey suits. If I squint, I can imagine Thatcher in there, and she eclipses the ranks and ranks of men. She did things with an iron fist but that did need to be done, mining was an industry that needed to change, the power of the unions needed to be brought under control. The National Curriculum has had a great many benefits. She did force through Britain's EU budgetary rebate which went some way to deal with the injustice of the Common Agricultural Policy. And she did insist on languages for all because she could see what Britain needed to compete in Europe.
I feel unhappy when I see that Labour might not win another election, there has been a nicer feel in Britain under them. It is a shame that the government always has to be steaming forward all the time, why can we not just be content with a period of consolidation and contemplation. Encourage the arts for a while Tony, and let the country enjoy their time under Labour.

Monday, 19 December 2005

Bouquet of barbed wire

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have all kinds of shit thrust upon them. A lot of the latter are women.
In today's Guardian there is a depressing report that in the UK, private sector pay for women is at its worst, 45% lower than for men, even in the public sector, full time women's pay is more than ten percent lower than men's. This, the article points out, is thirty years after the equal pay Act. Why are women caught in this particular tangle of barbed wire? I have no doubt there are a range of reasons, but underlying them all is that very old and withered chestnut, women still undervalue themselves and the work women do is itself still undervalued. I can remember a study about ten years ago, tho not enough detail to give a link or title, but it drew the conclusion that 80% of the world's work was done by women, well guess what, they are getting nowhere near 80% of the world's pay.

In the same edition, Susie Orbach writes about how women continue to define themselves and I suppose by extension each other, by body size and image. Are the two connected, does the barbed wire just reach out and snag us this way? Maybe. Only a couple of months ago a study in industry showed that most people in a position to do so would employ a thinner person over a fat one, and women have naturally a higher percentage of body fat. Sorry to be wimpy about details and stats of these studies. In today's CBC e-mail, they refer to a UK study that shows that girls habitually 'torture' and mutilate their barbie dolls. 'The doll provoked rejection,hatred and violence', says the article. Well just maybe that's the way they see the gap between their own bodies and the 'ideal' woman portrayed by the media and barbie. It would be interesting to see whether women's pay rises as they get nearer to the ideal. And of course, as we get older, we get further from that ideal. There is no doubt in my mind that middle age brings with it an invisibility, is this reflected in the pay packet?

The barbed wire leads next to something that concerns not only women but in this case it was at first sight men who were the antagonists. On both the TV5 and the BBC news we were able to see the first gay civil unions in the UK - in Belfast. One of the brides was American and said that they could walk the streets of New York arm in arm without being harrassed but they couldn't marry there. In Belfast they were able to marry, but were constantly harrassed on the streets, and lo - the streets appeared to be lined with what looked like mostly blokes - many priests, lamenting this move towards Soddam and Gommorah. Bless them, they have too much free time on their hands.
To the men of the church I say,
'See, here's a tip lads, you know yer man Jesus? Well, what would he do if he were here? Would he be lined up outside the register office with all o' you biggots hissing and spitting vitriol? Ya see, I'm thinking not.'

The last rose in my bouquet goes to women to women interraction. I scratch my head and wonder why we do this. This is the light touch, the gesture that is totally appropriate among close friends and family but equally inappropriate between strangers or casual aquaintances.
Last week, when we went out with people from Kevin's work, it was a large group composed mostly of men but with a number of women too. The server was a woman. I noticed that when she wanted the attention of one of the men, she would put a hand on their shoulder or back, but never once touched a woman. Why is that? It is a power play, and we can all do it. You touch someone subservient to you to show your power over them, a woman can do this to a superior man. This is insidious because it can never go woman to woman upwards or man to woman upwards, it is a 'worming in'. I noticed a woman co-worker do this same thing towards a married male cw. She was leaning in towards him, hand lightly brushing his forearm, creating an imappropriate intimacy.
My feeling about the server is that she was gambling. In a group mainly composed of men, most likely men would be doing the paying so she would get a bigger tip. She must have lost in one case and won in another, among the couples, I saw one where the woman paid, another the man. But she took power away from women, present or not, by doing that, 'this moment, this intimacy is mine'. Similarly the cw was saying 'look, I have power over your man.'

The wire is to tangled and so barbed in this area that it is difficult to extricate ourselves. Moment by moment we shoot ourselves in the foot, we stab each other in the back. We don't make the effort to move forward because we have little tricks we can use - like the light touch - to balance up the power play for a brief moment.

Lumière, plus de lumière.

Canadians do Christmas illuminations so much better than us Brits. Obviously we have Oxford Street and nothing is going to compete with that, but well here, December is a month of lights. In Britain we tend to put lights on our Christmas trees, and some people will have a tree outside, and then there will be a couple of houses that look as though someone has come along with a siege engine and just pelted the house with sparkly stuff. Then we go and look at it and shake our heads and tut, and the national grid groans under the strain of lighting it.
Not so here. Granted some houses are more tastefully done than others, but I have yet to see anything like the sheer horror of Portsmouth's worst.
Where Kevin's parents live, as you go through the gates to the various groups of houses, you are in a beautiful enchanted forest. It is exciting to see lights in dark branches seemingly hanging in the air. Most of the houses have lights on the outside, in the bushes, from the roofs, just lovely. Inside Kevin's parents' house there are lights in amongst foliage, along the mantelpiece, a village lit from the inside as well as trees and candles, tasteful and beautiful.
Last year we went with my cousin Penny and her husband Tim who live on Vancouver Island, to another magical world, Butchart gardens. A light display representing the twelve days of Christmas, I was just stunned by it all, there were rivers and waterfalls of lights, there were trees and cameos, and colours and white lights, if I could even begin to describe how amazing it all was I would be a god among bloggers.
My experience of lights in Canada isn't restricted to Christmas. I have always loved the lights on Grouse mountain. The lights of the piste form a stairway hanging in the night sky. When I have flown into VYR at night, I know I have arrived when I can see the lights of Grouse. Sure, most of the time the pilot announces it too, but once when I flew in from Toronto there was a mad French Canadian pilot, he didn't, but I knew.
My title for this post was from a TV advert from some distant past, it was an ad for bathroom cabinets, and the woman said,
'les armoires Alibert, jolis, pratiques,' then she would turn the lights on and say the words above. Are advertisers missing something here? How the hell can someone like me with a poor memory, remember the words of an ad that must seriously have shown in the 70s ? Clearly because it isn't in English, I can also remember an ad that showed only at Christmas for several years,
'Cointreau, inimitable chef d'oeuvre,' I rest my case ;)
An English light experience that had similar impact on me to the Butchart gardens one was at the first school I taught in. The brother of the Head of Science was an artist/actor who specialised in performances at particular sites. I have explained that badly, but I can't remember what you would call it. It sounded artsy fartsy, but the school paid him to mount one of these things. It was breathtaking. He had been able to see the school site with an artist's eyes and he built a performance called 'Bison, Bison' around it. It consisted of a simple storyline and the audience was escorted as a group from one scenario to another. Both pupils and staff took part in the short scenes, but each one was skilfully set, some inside, some out, so that for example, we were able to watch a scene around a small bonfire. It was such an amazing work of art, lighting and drama.
Finally, on the subject of light, and having now moved to Europe, last weekend we watched a film on DVD that I missed when it was on at the cinema, and I reckon that is because it was shown for less than a week. The film was 'It's all gone Pete Tong', set in Ibiza and just sunshine and light the whole way through. It was clever, it was funny, it made you think. The acting imo was brilliant, especially from the lead, Paul Kaye. Big fun, very British, sometimes we don't have to send in our army to take over a country - or part of one.
Karen's comment and a couple of e-mails questionning whether I was being ironic about Tony made me want to wax lyrical, however that will have to wait. We Brits are, I feel, always only ever a micron away from irony anyway, we are an ironic nation, nonetheless, Stephen Harper has annoyed me again, so you may want to go and make a cuppa now.
I was doing my hexercises this morning, when Stevie's melty face once again appeared mysteriously on the screen. Ok, not that mysterious, it was an ad. Now, to expand something I said yesterday, Stephen Harper wants to give ppl with pre-schoolers actual dosh, Paul Martin wants to put money into day care facilities, improve and extend kinda deal.
Harper says,
'Do people really want institutional childcare?' Um...well hell yeah! Of course they frelling do. Just like they want institutional education. Because 'institutional' comes along with accountability. Now I am drivelling on here on the basis of my knowledge of British systems, but I'm thinking it's pretty similar here. There are many fine childminders who look after kids in their homes, BUT, in daycare centres, the staff have qualifications in things like nursery nursing. Childminders have to be registered and someone will come around and check they don't have dog poo on the floor, or are wanted in several provinces for paedophilia etc, but it isn't as easy to check up on what goes on in people's homes as it is to pop into a state or province or even city run centre. The centre will have someone in charge who checks up on the staff, who imposes and maintains standards. Staff in centres have better work conditions, they can go to the loo without leaving the children alone, they don't have to put the kids in the car and leave them there while they go to the bank, they have definite hours of work, if one is tired one day, there are others to pull up the slack. Better working conditions means better work from the employee. They can learn from each other, different strengths can be utilised, eg one might be better at teaching reading skills, another at actually reading. In a day care centre, men can be employed, I would be surprised if there were many male registered childminders. It is not day care workers who appear continually on Judge Judy and People's Court because they are tired and work long hours and never get a break to pee, to eat, and they make mistakes with no backup.
Harper - don't annoy me again today. I'm going downtown to watch Capote so I can avoid your ads.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

When I seen the size of 'er hot mince pies...

So, news from Blighty seems a little odd, big huge old Henry Moore sculpture being stolen, wassthatabaht?
Here the news has more gravitas - mince pies were excellent and we had eggnog with them, so real Anglo-Canadian teatime. Somehow this hasn't yet made it to the national news but only because my newsworthiness, my thunder is being stolen by the squabbling politicians. Or really, politician. Now I obviously don't get to put in my twopenn'orth (officially) and presumably don't actually understand Canadian politics, but from my outsider's view, I see a conservative (Stephen Harper) who must have forgotten to go to class when they did what 'conservative' means - since he keeps doing un-tory stuff, like promising to reduce indirect taxation and shoving wads of money at people to be used for childcare. He then starts squinnying when some liberal points out that some people might not spend said dosh on childcare. DUH! On the other hand he is trying to make it seem like he isn't trying to undermine the fundamental rights of everyone over the age of consent to get married to whomsoever they like irrespective of gender, whilst attempting to do exactly that. In English that's called 'going backwards' Stevie. In our local free rag, there was a good cartoon, a bloke on t'phone to Harper saying 'I have someone in my office who is interested in your childcare proposals Stephen.' In the next frame you see two men standing in his office, and the guy, still on the phone, is saying 'There's just one problem...'
Stephen is trying to cultivate a 'man of the people' look by appearing on TV with no tie. I like this, I think it has a lot of class, it puts me in mind of the team on Tele Matin (sorry, haven't figured out how to do accents yet) who are casually dressed but very professional. Sadly, it also makes me think of the pres of Iran who sports the same look. And one final thing, his face has the look of wax that has slightly melted. Brrrrrr.
Paul Martin, on t'other hand, not seemingly beloved by all Canadians, to me, has nonetheless the demeanour and appearance of an old hand. You know, the guy at the head of a company who doesn't dress in designer suits but knows everyone in the firm and has mastered every job. You have the feeling he knows what he's doing. The 'no bullshit' guy. We'll see.
Back to eggnog. The French for this -which has to appear on the box and so it should - is 'lait de poule' hmmmm. Anyways, you have to buy rum to go in it. But here, you can't just buy rum or any other alcohol in the supermarket, you have to go to the liquor store. Now the liquor store is government run I am told. So, the good things are that a) it is one shop where the price quoted includes tax and b)there is an amazing range of stock. The downside, again as I understand it, is that there cannot be competition in this area, because even if the govt allowed supermarkets to sell booze, the supermarkets could not then engage in a price war because the govt controls the price. Not in the way that it does in the UK where it has a special tax on drink and fags, but here it actually is the supplier. So, say you are some thriving little vinyard in the Loire valley, you can't sell directly to Canadian Superstore, you have to sell to the Canadian government through its body that deals with such things. I don't approve of this way of going about things. If I am going to give Paul Martin the same undying devotion that I give to Tony Blair, then he has to get one or two things sorted out. That is deffo one of them.

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Lashings of Ginger Beer

We went out with some people from Kev's work on Thursday and there is a British guy he works with who said to me 'How weird is it hearing Hugh Laurie with an American accent?' I know that 'House' is on in the UK and that we all pretty much think that, but it makes you wonder, how did they pick Hugh Laurie? I mean he IS the quintessential Englishman, hell when he was with comedy partner Stephen Fry, you had two quintessential Englishmen together (tho odd for the not-gay one to be the better-looking). Hugh Laurie was Bertie Wooster, he was the silly prince Regent in Blackadder. But I realised that the answer is that the character of House is a very English stereotype, the curmudgeon, just with an American accent.
One of the (for me, and prolly only me) many enjoyable things about being in North America is that if you have the stamina, you can watch Conan O'Brien every night. Granted you would have to seethe through Jay Leno first, but if you wait it out, you can hit the jackpot. In Britain we used to get just three shots of Conan over two nights at the weekend on some cable channel that wasn't even listed in the guides, CNBC. Conan manages to be funny and self-deprecating and when he slobbers over his female guests he makes sure you know it's pretend and he'll do the same for his male guests.
Today is sprout day. (Immediately I think of the Robert Rankin book, Sprout Mask Replica) Buying sprouts isn't like buying mincemeat, they are there in the shops, it's just that they aren't being pushed at you as you enter the shop, and I bet that right now on British TV there is a Jamie Oliver Sainsburys ad (genuflect) featuring sprouts. Sprouts are important to Brits just as Marmite is, you love 'em or you hate 'em, and even if you hate 'em, you gotta put one on your plate for Christmas. Btw, we can buy Marmite here, but I have yet to find a Canadian who likes it - on the other hand, it really needs to come with instructions for use. 'First butter your bread. Then spread a thin layer across the top of the butter so that you can see the butter through the marmite'. Perfect. Marmite crisps were the most divine and munchable crisps, but Walker's just teased us with them, then they went away, or did they....?

Home Thoughts from Abroad

So, now I am going to redefine my focus, since I remembered that my reason for wanting to blog was to give some Home Thoughts from Abroad for my British chums when I am here, and Abroad thoughts from home when I am there.
Ok then British chums, I have mastered the wrong side of the road ;) well, kinda, mastered the gears being on the wrong side too. Ah, that's not true of course, it's the steering wheel that's on the wrong side, the gears are in the same place, but have to be worked with t'other hand.
Now, I have wrestled with and bent to my will another piece of great Canadian engineering, the toaster oven. The cookers here (well the ones I have seen) don't have grills on them. And by grills, I mean what we call grills, not what they call them here in Canada, which would be like a large toasted sarnie maker. As usual I digress. So we have a separate device to toast things in, bread, rolls, waffles, but you can also bake things in it, tho I have only tried doing jackets spuds, however, that worked.
Now, how we take certain things for granted. You take for granted that you will be able to select the mince pies and mincmeat that most please you from an awesome array at Sainsburys, Tesco, Marks and Sparks and Waitrose, to name but a few. (You couldn't see this, but I genuflected when I said 'Sainsburys'). Last year I was here for Chrimbo and was fretting about mince pies. There was something sold in some of the shops here as 'mince tarts' and such they were - no lids. So I bought some 'mincemeat' and made my own. Yeuch, ghastly, awful stuff, had corn syrup or some other devil's condiment in it. The whole constistency was syrupy and disgusting.
This year, I decided to make my own, went to Auntie Beeb's webbie and got a recipe, but wait....could I find vegetable suet? Naha. Regular disgusting old suet from around an animal's kidneys? Naha. Manager at Superstore made me spell it and then decided that maybe they had some in the pet section. I ended up with something called vegetable shortening which I then had to freeze and grate into my mincemeat.
So, tomorrow, I make the pastry and assemble the pies. I expect them to be celestial. (This would be a first for my cooking.) I will also be putting up the decs.
One thing we have that is prolly hated by most Canadians, but quite charms me, is a TV channel with just a burning log on it, just to make you feel all cosy through the Chrimbo season.
I see that Tony has got the EU budget negotiations sewn up, and Chirac seems to be behaving himself. Well, tidings of comfort and joy chums. :)

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Dangerous animal

A salad of philosophers, Descartes' meditations, sitting in front of the fire reflecting on the nature of his own existence, Plato's large and dangerous animal that only someone with the vision to see what really is and trained to do so can tame and Montaigne - an early blogger - his idea that by writing down his own thoughts he in some way reflected the human condition. Hmmmm.
Well, here's what I think, the blog IS a dangerous animal because you have to know the nature of it. It isn't like e-mail or a diary where you can say secret private things, give outrageous opinions about people and events, it is more like Montaigne's 'Essais' where he knew it was going to be published. Of course de Montaigne used the interesting trick of writing in really convoluted Renaissance French so that it was difficult to understand.
Asleep yet? Cool, me too, I'm going to have to get way better at this.