Tuesday, 31 January 2006

The young, the old and the in-between.

Edward is filling out even before my eyes. The health visitor called today to weigh and measure him, the baton has been passed on now from the midwives. He has put on 13 ounces since birth.
It is an irony that I am only able to have this quality of time with Edward and Holly because I live in Canada. If I lived here, I would be at work all week, maybe come round on a Sunday afternoon for tea. Which is nice, especially in the summer, but this, this is wonderful. I have spent all morning just looking at the CBeebies website with Holly, helping her eat her breakfast and then her lunch, play with her toys with her. Yesterday we went to the sea. Holly walked up the slope by Southsea Castle, peered at lichen on stones and toddled around.

Yesterday afternoon I went into the school I used to work at. I needed to take a bus, although I could have walked it, it would have taken me about 50 minutes, I walk slowly. At the bus stop a lady started talking to me about her family in Australia, about how she was going to visit her sister there and her guilt at leaving her mother in a nursing home. But she had looked after her mother who now had Alzheimers in her own home for nine years. I gave her the absolution that only a complete stranger at a bus stop can give.
When I recounted this to Austen I said how Pompey I thought it was. He thought it wasn't, that it was just me. Maybe he's right. Years of travelling across the Atlantic have given me a great appreciation of the stories of strangers, particularly senior women who have wonderful experiences to share about their families and friends and travels.

I entered school cautiously, and was welcomed warmly. I enjoyed seeing all the support staff and former colleagues. I had gone in specifically to see my last year's year 10 German class. This was my dream class. For the first time in my entire teaching career, languages had been made optional for key Stage 4, so those who chose to do one really wanted to do it. I made the decision to divide those who had chosen German into boys and girls instead of setting by ability, and this turned out very well. I took the girls the first term, boys the second, then the girls the third while Dean had the other class. We worked them so hard and they were so enthusiastic, it made both of us remember what teaching was supposed to be about. It was a class we both looked forward to.
Both classes are now being taught in a different pattern. As I went in, I got hugged a lot - just from the girls of course - it was GREAT to see them again. Some things don't change. Leo came in late, just sauntered into the classroom. His teacher asked him why he was late. He mumbled something, but he was standing in front of me with his back to me.
'Why are you stoned Leo?' I asked. He jumped and turned to look at me. His mouth dropped open and everyone roared with laughter. He went and sat down but I could see his head kept popping up, checking if I was really there. He took a picture of me on his phone.
It was nice to be there without having to do the discipline thing. There is a lot of warmth, but there can also be a lot of aggro. The right people asked me to please come back. The other right people did a double take and muttered, 'Shit, is SHE back?'

This evening I am going to visit my friends Karen and Steve in Lee-on-the-Solent. I will take the little ferry across the water and Karen will pick me up from Gosport. Karen and I have been friends since we were five years old so we share a lot of memories. Karen often worries that she isn't remembering things the way she used to, but the truth is that she has a much better memory than me and often tells me things that I have forgotten.
When I was on THAT flight on the way over, sitting behind me was the brother of the vicar of Lee-on-the-Solent. This was quite a coincidence since I knew I would be going there. Sitting beside him was a lady who was going to Norwich the following day and offered me a lift. It was too early in the trip at that point, however had I known about my sister's news then, I might have considered it.

Being in-between is nice, you get to enjoy young and old. Mostly I have to borrow other people's old though since my own have all gone. It is odd when you realise that because you realise at the same time that there is no generation to buffer you. No elders to pass on their wisdom for you to ignore. It's like standing on a cliff edge with the wind whistling around your bum.

Sunday, 29 January 2006

More con-Fusion

The evening streets were empty, Pompey were playing at home, a big game, FA cup against Liverpool. It seemed like everyone was either in the stands at Fratton Park or in bars or pubs with tellies. Pompey lost, but I know the fans enjoyed the game because I could hear them chanting and roaring even though Austen and Sue live quite a way from the football ground.

The Tangs seem to have bought Rositas. Rositas used to be Margheritas, a little Italian family restaurant. Now there is a difference between the Chinese food experience and the mediterranean one. When you eat in at a Chinese restaurant, you get efficient but almost invisible service, that's the Chinese way, but when you go to an Italian restaurant, you get welcomed into the family. Ideally there will be a round little Italian man or woman in charge of everything and you feel their love of food, wine and company as you go in the door. Tapas can be slightly less enfolding, but nonetheless, Spanish waiters are very attentive, they make eye contact, they also exude love for the food and sangria they serve. Now, you begin to see the dilemma. We don't want to lose Tang's, it is VERY good Chinese food, but if the owners have over-stretched themselves trying to run an Italian turned Spanish place.... doesn't bear thinking about. And lo, as I walk past Rositas, ok, it was match night, but the place was almost empty, a fluffy-haired Chinese waiter making himself invisible at the end of the bar. Austen says it has been like that for a while. Some fusion is doomed, doomed I tell ye!

David Cameron, brand new leader of the Conseravtive party, is a very clever man. He has grabbed even my attention. He has praised Tony to high heaven, said that he was the man, the man with the vision who led the country abley through the 90's and beyond. Now he, leader of the Tory party, is his rightful heir. Cunning huh? Very, very cunning, like a fox.

Yesterday I was in the market for another meal deal, but wanted to go to Sainsburys for something else, so I checked out the sarnies there. We are an industrious nation in general, I truly believe that, but when it comes to food prep, as I have said before, not so enthusiastic. I had forgotten just what an amazing range of ready made sarnies was available, I could have had a triple for two quid, chicken jalfrezi, chicken korma and chicken tikka. I was tempted, but settled for ploughman's, one pound seventy and real Branston pickle.

Austen is writing reports. Dear god I don't miss that. I know I've frequently ranted before about the hours you do in teaching, but I am going to indulge myself in a full on rant. My most basic working week when I was teaching, was 50 hours, that's 50 hours in school, no lunch and twice a week no morning break either. On top of that, the stuff you had to do at home or outside of school time, writing reports, parents' evenings, open evenings, meetings at other schools, a myriad of other paperwork that there is no time for, schemes of work, lesson plans, evaluations, references, writing up lesson observations, marking, endless bloody marking, assessments. Several members of my department would come in to school every single day of the week to keep on top of paperwork and so that they could go away during so called holidays. The government has been trying to deal with the workload of teachers and there have been improvements, but to reach their goal of the number of hours a teacher should work in a week, they would have to double the workforce. It's not going to happen, they can't get enough people to enter and stay in the profession as it is - some even go five thousand miles away to escape the British education system. Later today, I'm going back into the lion's cage for a visit, watch this space :)

Happy Chinese New Year

The year of the dog, woof. I'm a rooster, my year just ended, roosters have a fifty percent compatibility with dogs. Not supposed to wear white today and not supposed to swear, although not being Chinese I think it only applies to me when convenient.
My own way of celebrating Chinese New Year will be to get food from Tang's - the best Chinese food in Portsmouth, at least out of the small fraction of restaurants I have been to. It is pretty good though. Poor Mrs. Tang having to serve Chinese food to strangers on New Years Day.

Ben and I watched a programme about Mount WuDang where there are three temples and Kung Fu and Tao are practised and taught to young children. This seems like a good regime to me, the children get beaten for not making their beds properly, in fact doing the chores that surround their living is an important part of their education.
Master Wang was showing us how to deflect the aggressive Yang with the lesser yielding force of the Yin, he also made the children stand for an hour at night in the riding horse stance to balance the Yang force of the day with the Yin of the night. The self control of these children was amazing, they were learning strategy and skill and Master Yu showed us how these relate to guerilla tactics.
Master Li on the other hand, wants to use Kung Fu and Tai Chi to live for ever and to become a god, well, it's a tough job but someone has to do it, indeed, Madam Li -no relation- who presides over one of the temples is 103 and still practises Tai Chi and Kung Fu three times a day. She was thrown out of the temple when the peoples' army came to power, protected her pupils and refused to leave. She helped people through a famine in 1960.
It is difficult to not get caught up in the sheer beauty of the mountains and the simplicity of the life and discipline, but then what is the point of this monastic life?
Jade dragon, a little girl of ten has been sent there by her adoptive family to curb her excesses, except that the real problem seems to be her adoptive father who beat her relentlessly. She borrowed the film crew's phone to speak to her adoptive mother whom she misses achingly. On the other hand, beautiful dragon loves the life so much he will most likely annoy his family by becoming a monk and thus ending the bloodline.
I guess the answer is that religion, any religion, is not just the opium of the people, addicting and stupifying them, but it can be something that gets people through. This is more though. One morning I was up early enough to be walking across the park opposite our house as all the Chinese seniors were practising Tai Chi movements, they had appeared like mushrooms in a field with the early morning dew. As I walked across the field, they were all around me, each silently channelling the energy that keeps them healthy in mind and body. It is not just the focussing of the mind, but that it comes with movements that makes it different from many western religious practices.
I have Lao Tzu's 'I Ching' at home, when I get back I'll open it again, of course I also have 'The Tao of Pooh'.

On a different and yet oddly connected tack, the January sales are grinding to a halt and this is good, because they are almost giving things away, granted not always things one would actually want, but in there somewhere you can sometimes find a pearl. I myself bought a cashmere blend cardi reduced from 59 to ten pounds yesterday. Whilst I was - once again - in Debenhams, I noticed a spiel on a notice board for one of their designers, John Rocha. Now I have bought John Rocha's designs before, they are generally well cut, in nice colours and fairly plain, simple styles. But underneath a picture of the man himself, the poster claimed that his 'compelling collection was a fusion between John's Chinese and celtic roots'. Excusez-moi ? I mean 'come again squire?' He designs mostly jumpers and T-shirts, the T-shirts all largely consist of his own signature or name written in big letters. Now I can't remember the Celts ever wearing T-shirts, and although I suppose many Chinese people now do, I'm not sure I think of them as being essentially Chinese, maybe if he had a more Chinese name, like Master Wu. Tunics of rough fabric dyed in plant colours with a dragon and 'Master Wu' on them, maybe I'd see that as a fusion between the two cultures, otherwise frankly that sounds like meaningless pretension.

Happy Chinese New Year, may the year of the dog be all you make it and may your chinese food never contain any unidentified knobbly bits.

Saturday, 28 January 2006


Snow is rare in Portsmouth because the South Downs catch it and keep it for themselves. And yet, and yet, if you go into the Phoenix pub in Southsea you will see photographs of days gone by, the city blanketed in white.
When Amanda and I were small children we lived just outside of Portsmouth. I can clearly remember walking to school through the snow, the daily third of a pint milk bottles that the government issued to every school child had to be brought inside the classrooms and thawed on the radiators.
Yesterday when Sue and I came out of toddler group with Holly and Edward, there was a bite in the air that we hadn't noticed on the way in. As day turned to twilight, flakes of snow started falling, not many and not for long, but just that moment of looking up and seeing those flakes falling through the darkening sky, that Ridley Scott moment is one when time stops and there is a connection, silent communion with other human beings.

There used to be a TV ad like this. Two Nigerians in a hotel in London stop in the middle of whatever they are doing and both rush outside like children because flakes of snow are falling from the sky. They turn their faces to the sky and they have smiles so wide you'd think their faces would crack. I don't recall what the advert was for. Not successful then, but memorable.

I can remember it snowing just once in Portsmouth when I worked there. I had been visiting the home of a colleague who had been injured by a pupil. On the street a small chippie spilled out light and the smell of fish and chips. Whilst I was cycling past this comforting combination I was suddenly struck by ice. I was under attack from hailstones. I cycled against them as best I could, and as I crossed the main road, there was a thunderclap followed by another. The hail turned to snow, an instant blizzard. Within seconds the whole landscape changed. I no longer knew which road I was on and I could no longer cycle. Doors were opening, people were coming out onto the street to just look, moment of wonderment and connection. Kids pre-programmed to make snowballs and throw them appeared on the streets. Snow was scraped from anyone's cars and mini snowmen were built. So very Portsmouth, a microcosm. The snow lasted just that night, although there were flurries for a couple of days. Every flurry stopped a lesson, drew and hypnotised teacher and pupils.

I used to dream of snow, in my dreams I would look out of the window and the world would have changed, a continuous blanket wrapping everything in its whiteness, a cosy dreamworld like Sleepy Hollow, who knew what the snow might hide, what it might change.

I believe I would read anything with the word 'snow' in the title. One of the books that I most enjoyed reading several years ago now, was Peter Hoeg's 'Miss Smilla's feeling for snow', an amazing adventure through Denmark and Greenland. A snow book that I didn't read until last year was 'Snow falling on cedars' but it was one of the most excellently written books I have ever read, thought-provoking, fascinating, suspenseful.

Snow Patrol, a great Scottish band, I only have one of their albums, 'The Final Straw' but I played it over and over last year. It accompanied me back from school, Greenday on the way in, Queens of the Stone Age and Snow Patrol on the way back.

In spite of promises of huge piles of snow coming in from Siberia, I think those few flakes were probably it. A whisper of snow. I would like more but I'm happy to have been given any. I think I must have lived in the north in a previous life.

Friday, 27 January 2006

Bra Rage

Portsmouth is a big city squeezed into a small space. That in itself means the city has gravity, or do I mean it's a black hole?
The buildings look as though they have grown organically, strange shapes and styles all huddled alongside one another like trees that have grown from whatever seeds the birds happened to drop.
Kevin remarked once that it is odd for him to see all the shops, restaurants, pubs and churches side by side with housing. As Sue and I walked the children to playgroup today I looked again with my visitor specs on. Down one very short stretch of Elmgrove, probably big enough to house a Tim Horton's and a Rona, I counted three different Indian restaurants, three Chinese, a Carribean one, a halal meat shop, an evangelical church, a pub called 'The Honest Politician', several houses and flats and in a small terrace called 'the Mikado Buildings', the Portsmouth Irish Centre.

The places of worship can be similarly strangely located. Down a side street not far from Austen and Sue's home, is a large house that looks residential, except that in the wrought ironwork of the gates you can see a star of David and the words 'Southsea Synagogue'. A little further out of town is a mosque whose door is side by side with the door of the building attached to it, a church of some denomination or another. The one which always makes me stop and think, literally round the corner from Austen and Sue, is the Spiritualist Temple. This is a semi-detached house and I always wonder what it is like living in the other semi. Does the spiritual energy summoned in the Temple keep them awake at night? Who knows.

The people are the best of people, the worst of people. I am deliberately trying to parody Charles Dickens who was born here. Like everywhere however, most of the people are just regular folks dealing with the details of their lives.
I went into Debenhams department store yesterday. I have difficulty finding bras the right size and fit, so as I approached the lingerie department I was slightly in tune with the loud voice filling the whole floor, complaining about the lack of sexy bras in a larger size. The woman and her partner seemed to be upbraiding all of the staff in one go. There weren't many people shopping in the store but the haranguing had an entertainment value.
'You have all these bras in here, but when I ask for something in my size all I get shown is something that covers me up completely, I don't want that just because I have a larger bosom, I want something pretty, something sexy, what about younger women with the larger bust, they don't want to be shown these bras that cover them up, what about women with breast enhancements, how do you cater for them, how do you think my poor husband feels....?' and on and on it went. Personally I thought her poor husband would be rather embarrassed by it all, except that he seemed to be equally irate about the iniquity of it. I felt like an old man in a mac, trying to pretend I wasn't there and looking at underwear, whilst also wanting to see what this woman looked like. Was she a mature super model, an actress perhaps? When I did risk a peek, she seemed a very normal middle aged woman with an ordinary figure. Duncan, the floor manager was having to deal with the couple as all the salesfloor staff had slunk off. He calmed them down by pretending to care about their very real concern.
Like them, I didn't find a bra to fit, but clearly unlike them, I remember the existence of Marks and Spencer who usually come up with the goods. At any rate, I didn't trouble Duncan, who looked as though he'd had enough of dealing with middle-aged chests for one day and he kicked a box on his way back into the manager's office.

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Burns Night

Eddie Izzard, presenting the programme 'Mongrel Nation', told us that the British had a diet of meat and gruel made from oats until the Romans came. It had seemed to me that the Scots, having fought hard to keep the Romans at bay, or the other way of looking at it, the Romans having fought hard to keep the Picts and Scots at bay, had thus not had their eating habits improved, Glasgow's claim to culinary fame the deep fried Mars bar notwithstanding.
Anyone might be forgiven for continuing to think that when presented with the Burns' Night menu of Haggis and neeps. But they would be mistaken. Last night Austen produced an amazing meal of Haggis, which he and Ben ate, chicken wrapped in bacon and cooked in a madeira sauce for Sue and I. The neeps were mixed with other root veggies and sauteed with mint, there were also pan fried leeks and mash.

As the meal was served, Austen read the Selkirk grace from the BBC website and we listened to The Proclaimers. After we had finished and downed some Scottish wine, we read some of Robbie Burns' poetry, but since we didn't really understand much of it, we went on to other poets. Burns night, as Austen pointed out, does seem to be an acceptable way of reading poetry - haggis, whisky and poetry, perfectly manly.

As well as food, family - past and present - and music, Austen and Sue's home is full of books.
Yesterday, I went to WH Smith, a British institution. They did me proud, they were selling off the last of their calendars for 99 pence, I took several off their hands. This is the place to go for paperbacks, so this is the place for me. WH Smith have three for two deals all year round, so you can buy three books for between twelve and sixteen pounds, (including tax natch) books you may not have read otherwise, books to give people, books that fit in your bag so that you never need to be standing in a queue or waiting for a train without being able to read, books to take in the bath with you until they slowly disintegrate.
Children, we are told, need to be around books, they should be part of a child's cultural experience. If you go into the homes of lower achieving kids with behavioural problems not based on special needs, you frequently see a home devoid of reading material.
Books do Furnish a Room - I remember the BBC radio adaptation of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, listened avidly so that his books were destined never to furnish my rooms.
In spite of all of that, I look forward to being able to download a book onto a screen and keep it in my bag. I'm a terrible weeder, but then maybe even that comes from reading too much, too much Beckett.

After Smith's, I went to Waitrose. Waitrose has scanners which you can clip onto your trolley and use to scan your own shopping while you shop. Some Sainsburys have that system too.
In my previous limbo time I discovered that in Waitrose I could buy Mott's clamato, make a caesar, make believe. There they were, 100ml bottles sitting on the shelf - so someone else but me MUST be buying them. 100 mls for one pound 35. I ignored them and bought some elderflower water, I'll be back where the clamato is cheap soon enough, but elderflower - that I can only get here.

Austen told me that the Pope had decided to redefine the universe and that Limbo no longer exists. I don't think Anglicans ever had it in the first place. I hope no-one decides that the North Pole where Father Christmas lives doesn't exist, although I remember Kevin telling me that it had moved out of Canada.

On the way to the shops, on the pavement opposite King Edward the seventh's postbox, three goth girls went flying past on roller blades, black hair and long coats trailing out behind them, like twenty-first century witches all in a line. I stopped and watched them. I thought how Shakespeare would make something of this. Sue's dad, Derek, feels that we should celebrate Shakespeare, have a Shakespeare day like Burn's night. I can see his point, but yet Shakespeare is so universal. He wrote about Europe, about history, men, women, Venice, Denmark, Thebes, people, issues. He wrote sonnets and plays, tragedies and comedies. You may argue that 75% of the world's people don't speak English at all so how universal could his work be ? Because what he gave us were essentially stories. The poetry of his language would be lost in translation, but his stories endure, transformed into films, books and other people's plays.
So maybe I have talked myself round, we should celebrate the Bard, eat fish and chips and drink ale, read stories and talk about politics. If only we didn't do that every day of the year anyway, and if only we knew who Shakespeare was.


I know I'm in Limbo, caught between two shores, two lives, because I watched three episodes of 'Holmes on Homes' yesterday. I used to do this before, I'd watch 'Cold Squad', 'DaVinci's Inquest' and 'Trailer Park Boys' on a continual loop on the smaller cable channels. When I'm in Canada I have to watch British TV programmes. I even used to watch the one on a Friday evening where a compliant and oh so British Ashley Hames suffered the humiliation of having things stuck up his bottom and hot wax dripped on his chest just to see what it's like. He'd always get very drunk and throw up and he'd always get blown off whenever he tried to pick up even the most skanky women. Such a Brit.

Austen has me looking at postboxes, the old red ones. I had never noticed before that they have the intial of the King or Queen who was reigning when they were made on the front. Near to the house, there is a post box with 'EVIIR' on it, much nicer than that of course, in swirly writing. Most of the postboxes have EII on them, the present queen, but this is clearly a post box from the reign of Edward the seventh. On the corner of Wilfred street in Woking, I noticed a postbox with 'VR' on it, 'Victoria Regina'. This must have been one of the very first, I'm sure that the 'penny post' was introduced during Victoria's reign, maybe while she was out visiting British Columbia.

I myself have me looking at pavements. Since an unpleasant towing experience due to being parked too close to a fire hydrant in Vancouver, I have been wondering why we don't have them in Britain. There are all sorts of little covers set in the ground, gas, electricity, 'Post Office Telephones' - this from the days when the Post Office did indeed run the phone service. Many covers that say 'CATV' - these seem far too old to simply mean Cable TV, but who knows. Finally I found one that just said 'FH'. But in a distance of about a mile, and I was paying stupidly close attention, I only saw two of these, so I feel that the mystery is only half solved.

Yesterday I came down to Portsmouth on a reluctant train. I boarded it even though it threatened to stop at every small station on the way down, I even ignored the advice of the guard when we got to Haslemere and an announcement encouraged us to cross the platform to get a faster train. The faster train looked pretty crowded and I could see a harrassed looking woman dispensing drinks from the bar, no doubt commuters like to start their evening's relaxation on British Rail. I chose to sit in splendid isolation and read my book.
There is a sign on South West trains that always amuses me. It says 'Toilets' with an arrow. It also has the pretty international figures of a woman and a man standing side by side, then there is a baby. The baby is huge and it resembles an egg wearing a nappy with big salami arms and legs sticking out horizontal to its body. It makes me think of a couple who have a cuckoo baby, bigger than them, the only place they can toilet it is on British Rail.

Now I'm watching CBeebies, all the old favourites from when my children were little are still on TV but upgraded to look more real. Postman Pat, Fireman Sam. I haven't yet seen Thomas the Tank Engine, but I'm sure he's on. There's an educational programme for small children, the presenters are just like the younger people in teaching, I can place them all in a classroom, remember the exaggerated hand and body movements myself. The continuity music is Bhangra, Bollywood music, and how perfect it is, every few beats punctuated by the hands going up in the air.

Limbo in the previous limbo time was always easier for me than for Kevin. The majority of his job is concentration, thinking about the problem in hand. Anything that requires thought allows for brooding. The major part of my job was in your face, full on, no time for thinking. Now, I'm here with my grandchildren, so once again it's easier for me, limbo's more fun when there's distraction.

I'm off to visit Gabriel, not the archangel, although nothing would surprise me in this city, my dentist. No limbo here, as far as the National Health Service is concerned, I'm still British.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Boys and girls

Kevin thinks I won't want to come back to Canada now that the Tories are in power. Paul Martin was never the Canadian I went over there for in the first place. It's not impossible that Tories could be in power over here next time, not that I like to think about that.

My main concern is about the percentage of women MPs. As far as I can ascertain, in both Britain and Canada, the proportion is roughly 20%, desperately unrepresentative of the percentage of the population that are female in each country. As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, when Tony's New Labour party came to power, they proactively worked towards increasing that percentage. I fear, though at present cannot substantiate that women may not flourish in a right wing political party.

When they are in the cabinet, women often seem to be under closer scrutiny than men. The Education secretary, Ruth Kelly, is currently making a complete pig's ear of her job, but she is also being accused of things that cannot possibly be in her purlieu. Likewise her predecessor, Estelle Morris. Education is in any case a poisoned chalice, like Health, the public all seem to have an opinion on it and just like Health, or in fact any other government department is generally run by people who have little or no expertise in that area. Ministers are supposed to be able to get their heads round any portfolio. I cannot remember any Education Minister who I could say did a sterling job.

So where are we going wrong? I had written previously about the disgraceful gap between men's and women's pay in this country, we think we are moving towards equality but the statistics tell a different story, how does this come about?
A section in my American Serviceman's instructions on Britain gives a couple of hints.

'A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can - and often does - give orders to a man. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this way. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes. They have died at the gun posts and as they fell another girl has stepped directly into the position and "carried on". There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing in her duty under fire.
Now you understand why British soldiers respect the woman in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect. When you see a girl in khaki or airforce blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic - remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich.'

The tone, referring to women as 'girls' is a little patronising. Women are to be respected because they are as good as men at doing blokey things. Well, any woman or man who has been present during childbirth cannot doubt a woman's fortitude and courage. But implicit in this is that men's activities are valued more highly than women's. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to think about what life was like for the women who stayed in the home and held the country together during the war.

A recently published book, 'Women Chauvinist Pigs' by Ariel Levy, has been reviewed in the quality nationals. Now I have not yet read this book, just the reviews. As far as I can tell, Levy is pointing to the 'raunch culture' of young women who think they are in control of their own bodies and yet are complicit in their own objectification. They 'collude in the pornoisation of our culture'. Women who don't collude are seen as spoilsports, they 'don't get it'. And interestingly, Levy seems to make a link between right wing politics and this debasing of the female side of culture. The right to abortion is once again being debated and she mentions Oprah Winfrey recommending a book about accomodating men's desires.
'There's just one thing,' Levy suggests. 'Even if you are a woman who achieves the ultimate and becomes like a man, you will always still be a woman. And as long as womanhood is thought of as something to escape from, something less than manhood, you will be thought less of, too.'

I think she's on to something. I also don't think that it's just women who are disadvantaged by this patriarchal oppression. But what do I care? I'm on my way back to Portsmouth today, the naval tradition there - women having to manage on their own for long periods of time has allowed more matriarchy - also a strong lesbian community. And again, what DO I care? I have chicken jalfrezi for lunch, that'll put hairs on my chest.

Monday, 23 January 2006

Three wheels on my wagon

...and I'm still rolling along. Maybe no cherokees however. I feel as though a wheel has come off, this cold is tormenting me. I feel better then I feel worse again.

I think the up and down of temperature change did for me on Friday. It was mild when I left Surrey, sunny as we came into Waterloo. Travelling across London on the tube left me overheated, feeling sticky and shiny-faced. By King's Cross I could feel a warning tickle in my throat as I dashed to the right platform. That's an annoying station, the main concourse is too small and over-crowded, the signs are confusing as are the platforms - split and spread apart. There were a lot of police officers on the station that day, luminous yellow overjackets dotting the station. One policewoman had a spaniel on a lead. A police spaniel, how bizarre.
Stepping off the train at Cambridge it was cold, a relief from the heat, colder still in Norwich, bearable at last, but the damage was no doubt done.

But I'm British, I will come through. I know this because Austen and Sue have given me a book which is reprinted from a wartime leaflet produced by the US war department. It is called 'Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942'. The section entitled 'The British Came Through' offers this advice to American servicemen.
'For many months, the people of Britain have been doing without things which Americans take for granted. But you will find that shortages, discomforts, blackouts and bombings have not made the British depressed. They have a new cheerfulness and a new determination born out of hard times and tough luck. After going through what they have been through it's only human nature that they should be more than ever determined to win.'
Another section, entitled 'Waste means lives' also struck a chord with me.
'It is always said that Americans throw more food into their garbage cans than any other country eats. It is true. We have always been a producer nation. Most British food is imported even in peacetime, and for the last two years the British have been taught not to waste the things that their ships bring in from abroad. British seamen die getting those convoys through. The British have been taught this so thoroughly that they now know that gasoline and food represent the lives of merchant sailors.
And when you burn gasoline needlessly, it will seem to them as if you are wasting the blood of those seamen - when you destroy or waste food you have wasted the life of another sailor.'
Wow, very strong stuff, and I had never thought of that aspect of getting food and supplies to the country during the war. I never waste food, but I have certainly been shoving too much of it into me over the past few days.
Maybe that's why that wheel has fallen off my wagon.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

Runways and churches

Kurt Cobain did a cover of Bowie's 'the Man who sold the World' which frankly, I thought was better than the original. Yesterday, in Morrison's supermarket I was very unenthralled to hear someone who wasn't Marc Almond covering Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love'. Honestly, is nothing sacred?

Morrison's took over Safeway here a couple of years back. The one we were in was opposite Norwich City football ground where my niece and nephew were going to a match. This time it was the yellow army I was witnessing converging on a single point. They all seemed nice, happy people, just so many of them.

Yesterday morning when I lay in bed and composed my blog, I had woken with a sore throat and a runny nose. Over the day that turned into a cold, full on.
The day was sunny and cold. We went tramping across the fields in the morning. A lot of the airforce were stationed around here in the second world war, you can still see the runways. Runways and churches, just about everywhere. Amanda told me that in Norwich itself, there is a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day.

In the afternoon, we went into Norwich city centre, more churches, lots of people, from the football stadium we could hear the crowd roaring and singing. I looked for calendars with limited success, on the one hand they are practically being given away this far into January, on the other hand, choice is ..well, frankly quirky.

We shopped and window shopped, 'licked the windows'as the French say, my sister's pain spilling out as we walked around.

In the evening we had Indian food, poppodums with raita and chutneys, pilau rice, Murgh Safeeda, Murgh Malik, Murgh something else, aloo bhajee and the elusive peshwari naan. I think the restaurant named the dishes after their staff, murgh just means chicken. We chose a creamy, spicy mild curry, and a hot one and shared. Wonderful Indian food, wonderful restaurant.

I know that I make some strange connections sometimes, I think of them whimsically and then can't let them go, but I'm wondering about those runways and churches. I asked my sister when we were tramping across and round fields whether there were any crop circles here - I think of this phenomenon being more associated with the west country. But she assured me that there were many. She said there was also an area nearby with the second highest incidences of UFO sightings in the country - second only to the west.
On the way here on Friday afternoon, I was trying to look at the various parts of the country I passed through with the eyes of a visitor. Well, ok, the specs of a visitor. I noticed the spires and square towers of the churches. Most of them were older, but at one point I noticed a modern spire. It was white, an exaggeration,
an accusing tapered finger pointing at God. Do spires I wondered, act as a lightning conductor, channelling the prayers of the faithful into the atmosphere? Prayers, human mental energy.
Runways, planes, where we are at in our technological development as a race. Bi-planes carrying men and women into the sky, full of courage and fear, metal containers of human emotion.
I have my ingredients in my bowl, I'm just not sure what I'm making with them. Perhaps there's an ingredient missing, the one that binds the rest together, maybe I just need some coffee or even some lemsip, perhaps when the cotton wool in my head disappears. Those trees are still watching me.


I have a room in the roof with sloping ceilings, downstairs in the kitchen is the aga. When I look out of the window, the sky is that morning colour scheme of pink and baby blue, there is a field just behind the house and I have a Tolkein moment. The field is bordered by trees, all of different heights, their branches bare, and it strikes me that they look as though they are standing there on purpose, that they have chosen to stand in a straight line and are looking towards the house. I realise I should be taking a photo, but by the time I have fetched the camera, the colours have changed. I still believe the thing about the trees though.

I don't know if people in North America have agas, or even if they would want them. My own rather basic approach to cooking has meant that I don't get the magic of the aga, but it is something my sister has always wanted and now that she has one, she cherishes it. Great things are cooked on it, but then my sister always managed to cook great things on an ordinary cooker. The aga is like a person, or rather a member of the family. Nana from Peter Pan perhaps, it sits there like some great producer of warmth and love.

Amanda and I got very drunk last night and frankly, it only took a couple of bottles of wine. We collected my niece Chloe, who had been playing netball after school, then went round the supermarket, chose French wine.
I can't help myself now, in my head I change everything into dollars. The Canadian dollar is stronger than I can ever remember, it's currently selling for 1.95 pounds here, so I just divide by two. The very good bottles of wine we buy cost six pounds each. On the way up here I bought a meal deal from Boots, costs 2.99 now, Boots seem to have taken advtantage of my absence to put their prices up. Would I pay six bucks for a wrap, a bag of crisps and a drink I wonder. Then I notice that I could have had sausage and chips from a van in the street for 2.20. On Waterloo station a vendor has soup and a buttered bagel for 2.95, but the fact is I can't compare, all I can remember is that the Flaming Wok will sell me a plate of sesame chicken, rice and broccoli for $6.95 plus tax.
I'm amazed to find that a phone call costs 30pence, haven't had to use a phone box in years, but my phone no longer works. I've been away too long, Vodafone have forgotten me.
Chloe can't believe that we can't buy wine in the supermarket in Canada.
'Can you buy marmite?' she asks.
'Yes, but only the small jars,' I tell her. We buy bags of rocket too - arugela - Kevin and I had difficulty finding that when we needed it for a recipe, I guess it's what you're used to. We seem to eat a lot of it in Britain, in salads, in sandwiches.
I whinge, whine and squinny endlessly about the chocolate available in Canada, but I swear, there is too much choice here, I could be like Charlie in a chocolate factory - or better still the fat boy - and just buy bagfuls then sit and munch it on the floor in the supermarket. Galaxy have brought out a whole new range. I want them to share some of it. I end up not buying any, I still have a half a bar of maple flavoured choccie from YVR in my bag, but it's nice to know it's there.

The aga calls. Well, I need coffee. The aga is always on, you just lift the lid on the hotplate and put the kettle on it. I miss my
French vanilla coffee beans from Costco though.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

East is East

The east side of the country tends towards flat and watery - I will remind myself that I typed that tomorrow when I'm climbing the inclined streets of Norwich.
When Amanda and I were young, our parents often took us to the Norfolk Broads, a series of waterways in Norfolk's protected wetlands area. We would hire a boat and live on it for a week. As a child I just took it for granted that every parent must have sailing skills. My father was a marine engineer and so he did, but I wonder now how much my mother enjoyed these trips, not that I ever heard her complain about them and she certainly would have done.

Years later, the company my sister worked for was taken over by a Norwich based firm and the family moved to Norfolk.
It is a year give or take a few days, since I last went to visit them, although I have seen them several times in between in Portsmouth. In spite of my waxing lyrical about British Rail, this is a three change trip, including a tube between mainline stations in London, but I see it as a reading opportunity and I seem to have been gathering books. I have almost finished the one I brought from Canada, lent to read on the flight, it has served me well.

Last year, I travelled on from London after a morning that I had been dreading for months. One of those days that seem to have their own gravity pull, causing brooding and darkening whenever I thought about its advent.
I had spent the morning at my barrister's chambers at Temple Court, a rabbit warren on the bank of the Thames. In the afternoon we were due in court and to that point there had been no reason to expect an end to the interminable saga of my divorce case. But we had not yet met X's new lawyer.
By mid-afternoon I was on the train to Norwich from Liverpool street, hardly able to believe that it was all finally over.

This year my disbelief is about another abrupt ending. My sister's marriage has ended suddenly and badly. All of her adult life, longer even, has been spent in this relationship, an absolute, something that could be relied on, and then suddenly, no more. Devastation, shockwaves.
Norfolk can be a place for happy families, but it can also be a cold place. I'm not sure what I will find there.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006


The Norsemen who settled the northwest of France, the Normans, conquered England in 1066. They then did four things. Photography being less popular than needlepoint in those days, they had a team to construct the Bayeux tapestry to commemorate their victory, they built lots of churches because clearly the pre-existing ones weren't up to snuff, they taught us to speak French -probably accounts for why we are so resistant to it now - and they catalogued everything. Yep, everything, every sheep, person, penny and stone. In 1086 they published the Domesday book. In short, they started our long training in bureaucracy.
Kevin and I were once watching 'Most Haunted' and Yvette said about a building that it was in the Domesday book. We laughed,
'Of course! Everything's in the Domesday book, duh.' Then Kevin did a double take because he realised that what that actually meant was that the building they were investigating was older than 1086 - not something that struck me as odd, but to a Canadian, well, that's different sir.

My experience of bureacracy in Canada, although I'm sure my Canadian friends might have a different perspective on this, is that if you need to find something out, you can generally ring or go and see someone and they will listen to you so that you feel they actually ARE listening and then see if they can sort out the problem. In Britain, although I acknowledge this is changing slowly, to ring or face someone is to court a brick wall. They will listen to you in a way that suggests they are tapping their fingers with irritation and then they will formulate an answer designed to get rid of you in the shortest time possible.
One good outcome of this is that we are pretty efficient at getting rid of unwanted callers at the door and on the phone. Another outcome is that we prefer to deal with most things by paper.

I have a number of small paperwork loose ends to tie up and since all my post goes to Austen and Sue's address, while I was down there worshipping the baby Edward, I was able to go through it and deal with some of it. However one piece is holding out and has necessitated my premature return to Surrey. I need two medical forms which ex-husband is supposed to have. The surgery says he has them, he says they have never given them to him. I have already made two phone calls to the surgery and they are adamant. This is weighing very heavily on me and I am now at an impasse. The only way forward is to go back through pages of paperwork and construct my case which I will then write in letters of increasing levels of annoyance but starting with neutral, how can you help me ? tones. And to be honest, the logic of the thing tends to support X rather than the surgery. I decide to try to talk it through with him, see if any light can be shed on the matter.
So we are in his study, I am showing him the papers, explaining each step carefully and thoroughly, trying to jog his memory. The more we look at it, the more it really seems as though the surgery is at fault. We decide to look for a particular letter concerning these forms but he can't remember if he has thrown it away or not.
Enter Ben, my youngest. Now X is dark-haired, slim, Mediterranean skin tone. Ben is six-foot plus, strongly built, fair haired, he looks as though he should be wearing a Viking helmet and wielding an axe. In fact he is wearing a T-shirt that says in both Punjabi and English, 'Proud to be Pakistani'. He says what he thinks at all times. I explain the problem to him. He then sets about solving it as any Viking would, by bulldozing everything in his path. He has a way of jocular bullying that has frequently landed him in trouble at school. I reprimand him over the way he speaks to his father, but he just goes straight ahead anyway.
'Don't bullshit me,' he tells him, 'if you know you've thrown it away, tell us and we won't waste our time.' X still isn't sure. Ben then demands access to everything and soon has X turning over every piece of paper. And then, miraculously, we find not the letter, but the actual medical forms. I guess sometimes Viking methods just work.

I'm still suffering from jetlag. I can't believe that I used to come back from Vancouver and go into work the next day. It was always a real challenge the first week, but it had to be done. Now I seem to be waking at 5.30 and tired beyond belief from late afternoon onwards. It always seems to be worse travelling towards Europe.

So, paperchase day today, although I plan some shopping with daughter Alex later, then travelling to my troubled sister in Norwich tomorrow - where there are as it happens, many Norman churches.

Traditions and history

Here's a funny thing, a lot of Brits I know are very attached to their washing lines. Not literally you understand, but when I say that in Canada or our bit of it, not many people hang washing out and in fact that where I live we are not allowed to, they will say how much they'd miss that. Yesterday I was able to hang some washing out. It is a bit of a ritual in Britain. You hang it out, then look at the sky, at the first spot of rain you rush out and get it in, at the first sign of sun you hang it out again, and truly, washing that has been dried outside smells wonderful. We also like to see washing lines full of washing. You know, I'm wrong, that's a European thing.

The train journey to Portsmouth takes roughly an hour, depending on whether you get a stopping train or a semi-fast. I love watching the countryside go past and the way the rain smears across the windows when the train is going fast. British Rail catering has always been notorious for being awful, but in recent years all that has changed, the coffee is very good, the sarnies, pastries, wraps, everything else are as good as you will find anywhere.

There are three stations in Portsmouth, all within walking distance of each other, that's the way it is with the trains in Britain. Wherever you are going you can go by train, you may have to change several times and you may have a walk at the end, but it is a part of British life that we can be justifiably proud of.
Sadly, it is also a method that people use to commit suicide, it's about as regular for commuters into London to be delayed because of a jumper as it is for commuters across Vancouver to be delayed by jumpers from the bridges. Actually probably more so, and the trains only get delayed because people have actually jumped, whereas very often on the Lion's Gate bridge it's because the police are trying to talk someone down.

So, I arrived, and although I could have walked, I phoned Austen to get me and he arrived with Holly in the car. She looked confused, maybe she remembered me, maybe not, but what a sweetie she is. I was able to cuddle her before meeting my new grandson Edward. My goodness he is tiny, so cute, a little bit yellow at the moment, but that will pass. Austen said that Holly is good with Edward, but she's a bit annoyed with him and Sue. And she did indeed kiss Edward very gently, patted his head.
When I left the UK, Holly was about to walk, could pull herself up and get around by holding onto things. Now she walks confidently and is starting to talk.

In the evening we took both children down to the sea. They have a double pushchair, one behind the other. It is quite mild here at the moment and as we went out the sun was just setting. I tried to take some photos of the sunset, but with limited success. The colour of the sky was breathtaking, deep red and gold with the trees black against it. We walked up by Southsea Castle where King Henry the eighth stood and watched the ill-fated Mary Rose sink into Portsmouth Harbour and we looked out to sea. Lights on Lord Palmerston's follies blinking red and green in the water, the lights of Gosport across the bay silver, and then turning round and looking back towards Southsea, the newly opened Spinnaker tower with its blue lights.
This city has so much history. Kevin and I once did a ghost walk around the old town. There is an old church ruin a stone's throw from the water. This is the garrison church where the Bishop of Chichester was murdered in 1449 which resulted in the entire city of Portsmouth being ex-communicated for fifty years. This explains a lot about Portsmouth in my opinion.

Returning to Sue and Austen's I was a bad guest and fell asleep on the sofa while they put the chidren to bed and Austen, an inexplicably good cook, made dinner. We talked about the world situations that bother me, Iran, Iraq, the French Presidency, Angela Merkel's chancellorship and the resurgence in interest in nuclear power. Also of course, yes, the Canadian election.
I slept soundly last night, whereas Holly it seems had a bad night, keeping her poor parents awake. Seems like Tony Blair may not have slept well either, since the police seem to have uncovered a plot by the annoying and inappropriately named 'Fathers for Justice' to kidnap his son Leo 'so that he would know what it's like to be separated from his son'. Pressure groups, another great British tradition.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006


At 5 am I coming up slowly from the depths of sleep, think I'm at home, realise I'm not but can't remember where I am. And then PING I'm wide awake. Sleep has made the events of the past few days seem unreal. Then I remember that something else is unreal. Life as we know it Jim, has changed.

A few days before I left, my daughter's long-running relationship had ended. It ended suddenly and without discussion, leaving her standing on the edge of a cliff. It's an odd thing, now someone that I thought of as part of the family, always around, isn't. How do I relate to him now?

Yesterday when I phoned Austen, he said,
'I need to tell you about something really bad that has happened, not health, not the kids.' His tone reassured me that it didn't concern his own little family. Then he told me some family news that left me cold with shock, as though the page of our family book had been ripped. That which was unchanging has changed. I will have to leave it there at the moment, but it affects my plans.

So I am sitting in the morning darkness, drinking coffee. I realise the milk is all gone, apparently the milkman doesn't come on a Tuesday. Milkmen are a part of British culture that is fast disappearing, one we've always tried to support, old people need to have their milk delivered and a good indicator of something being wrong is when milk is left out on the doorstep. Maybe the milkman tells someone, maybe a neighbour with a key will go in. But it cannot last, they can't compete with the supermarkets. In Britain, the big supermarkets Tesco and Sainsburys, let you order from their websites and will deliver to your door, well actually your hallway. They know what you like too. They will tell you what you bought last time, what you bought in the store. Big sister is everywhere and she's making your life easier.

I walk along to the supermarket's petrol station which has a small convenience store. It's fun in the dark, watching the houses and the country wake up. But even though I think I'm alert, I'm now standing at the counter my hair like a scarecrow, wearing one of Alex's sweatshirts that tells the world loudly that I'm from Iowa and
spilling Canadian and English coins everywhere. The boy asks me if I'm OK, it's weird to hear that Ali-G accent for real again.

When I get back I sit and watch the sky lighten and then, yes, yes it really is! Postie, bike leant against a tree, I watch him deliver post to the close, then hear the plop as letters fall onto the floor in the hall.

It's strange to be eight hours ahead again, I think I prefer being behind the times. I read the Guardian online and discover that I now have a dilemma. My favourite for the French presidency, Nicolas Sarcozy has a challenger, a woman Ségolène Royal, I will have to abandon Sarcozy, I know he will be devasted.

Off to the train station now, going to Pompey to see my grandkids. I will stop at Boots and WHSmith on the way now that I have sorted my Candian money, put it away for now, I found quarters in the strangest quarters.
I love the train. It is so soothing. The ads for British Rail used to say 'Let the train take the strain' and most of the time they're right.

Monday, 16 January 2006


So many false starts have cured my feelings of exile, no longer fully in my Canadian life I'm now anxious to get to my British one.
At the Departure gate, the same faces, scalding adversity has melted the ice of British reserve, we're comrades now, concerned for each other. How is the man who had tummy troubles, the other who took a fall leaving the plane? Two just as I have once done, are doing the dosie-doh of transatlantic relationships.
Finally in the air, too much has occurred to feel the ache, the wrench of leaving the city. We are flying into darkness. We reach Calgary and look down on a field of French marigold lights, like the lights of Vancouver on a Monday evening as I drive across the bridge into the city.

The plane is barebones. We are cramped in old, worn, love-thy-neighbour seats. The movie is on a single screen, it isn't any of the ones promised in the magazine, Johnny English, poor colour, Portugese subtitles. The soundtrack is played over the PA so it can neither be heard nor ignored.

The food is a chicken-like substance, resembles a chicken-like substance, ALMOST resembles ... you get my drift.

Food and movie over, the cabin lights are to be dimmed so that we can sleep, except that the lights cannot be dimmed, they seem to be wrongly wired, when the attendant tries to turn them off, the reading lights come on. He stands flicking the switch on and off.
But I pop a Nytol, cover myself with a blanket and sleep until a ham roll and half a cup of lukewarm coffee is pushed at me because we are nearing Gatwick.

Gatwick has some turbulent air and it feels as though we might bounce onto the tarmac, but we do finally land. We cannot however finally get off. We must await the pleasure of her Majesty's constabulary. Rumour spreads that two passengers have been drunk. Two passengers, maybe three, are taken off the plane, the police don't seem that interested. It transpires that the three have found the in flight meals stacked in the toilet and have been taking pictures to add to everyone's list of complaints.

So I'm here, my eyes feel like those time-honoured pissholes in the snow, and I've already scoffed a Sainsbury's prawn bhuna. I'm not sure it's real yet.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

False starts day two.

Another trip to the airport, another trip back home. Greeted at the doors by people I met yesterday - I was joking btw about the singing, but we were all sharing stories and moans by then - I was able to run back out onto the concourse and wave my arms at the departing car. Fortunately Kevin managed to see me, looped around and picked me up. We are due back for the next attempt at checking in at 13.30.
I'm sure it was worse for Tom Hanks.

False starts

Well, jolly japes at VYR today and I'm back sleeping in my own bed tonight.

Having left for the airport after Battlestar Galactica, a ten minute-ish journey traffic willing, and it was, I was somewhat surprised to see a long, long, long queue for check-in. Now, Brits, as everyone knows, all bond in times of communal irritation, so we all started talking to each other, know each others' life histories, little did we know.....

The computer system was down, so everyone was being checked in with slate, stylus and gas lamp.

When finally we were at the security gate, approximately five minutes before the scheduled take-off time, security were having a VERY THOROUGH day. We all dash to the departure gate, no stopping for Duty Free and straight onto the plane. Where we all sat for three hours until the Portugese ???? crew decided the engine was sooooo fucked that we couldn't take off. Throughout this time we were kept well updated...oh no, sorry that's right, NO-ONE bothered to tell us a sodding thing, but of course we'd all bonded at check-in so we were singing songs like 'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag' and 'It's a long way to Tipperary' while holding each others' shoulders and swaying from side to side.

Finally a rep from 'My Travel' boards and tells us that we are going to be de-planed and escorted through the airport where a bus would be waiting for us to take us to our hotels. Before that however, we were going to be fed. So the crew bring out some lukewarm shepherd's pie and before anyone could have finished eating, we were given the bum's rush off the plane. I am then in a farcical chase with the rep round our bit of the plane to ask what was supposed to happen to those of us who wished to go home for the night. I needn't have bothered since there was in fact no-one to escort us, no-one to tell anyone what to do. It was bloody shambolic.

I'm going to bed, have to be back at YVR at 9 tomorrow. For now I'm drinking BC wine. Bottoms up.

Saturday, 14 January 2006


Today dear chums is the day I leave for the UK. Am I packed? Nope. However I have my camera and my list, oh and my gold tooth.

Just before going out to dinner last night with friends Steve and Christine, crown fell off. Ok, crown fell off while I was eating a turtle. The British NHS will only spring for gold crowns unless they are at the front of the mouth and I always put this down to porcelain being dearer, but turns out that may not be the case. As it happens, Steve has also been having problems with a crown, porcelain one, but his nearer the back. Steve is an actor and has opted for porcelain because of being photographed etc. His keeps breaking though, so maybe it's the use that the back teeth get that calls for metal.

Camera - well I am notoriously bad at taking photos, but I have promised that I will try harder this year. The thing that I foresee is this, apart from my new grandson and my growing granddaughter Holly, nothing will very much strike me as photoworthy in Britain because I've seen it all before. But I will try.

My list, what is it I need to bring back? Too late for mincemeat now, but I have some things. For example, I need a calendar. I have a very nice calendar sent to me from the States and that is up in the study, but I need a long one with writing space on for every day and preferably pictures of Arctic animals for the kitchen. My working calendar, and I can't find one here, can't find one at all.
What else ? UK comedies - Peep show the second series, the Book Group, long overdue second series, too early for Little Britain series three unfortunately.
Horlicks, bread sauce mix, gravy granules, ready made English mustard, Cadbury's drinking chocolate. Oh and a bottle of Middleton whisky.

My flight leaves at 19.55. I had to ring the airline to check that the details hadn't changed from six months ago. Oh yes they had. Time, aircraft, seat. I need an aisle seat. The man with a northern English accent said,
'19.55, got you a seat a few rows back from the toilet.' Goodness me, I'm almost there already, twenty-four hour clock and the word toilet, even an understanding that 'I need an aisle seat' means 'I need the toilet,' we Brits are obsessed by our bodily waste, bless you my son.

I will be taking THE i-BOOK. I have not bonded with the i-book, but my own HP laptop is too heavy and clunky and doesn't have a built in network card, so we have to do swapsies. Kevin assures me that when I start using it I will love it, I'm lucky really that he's prepared to part with it.

So, as soon as the season opener of Battlestar Galactica is over, I will be on my way, toodle pip chums, see you when I get to Blighty.

Friday, 13 January 2006

A dark cloud over Minas Tirith.

Something is stirring in Mordor and I'm not sure what it means, something doesn't add up. Why is Sauron the second shaking his fist towards the West ?

An obvious answer of course is the Alliance has committed so much to removing Sauron the first from his seat of power whence he exterminated by conservative estimates (those of the anti-war faction) 5% of his own population, in a war that has become very unpopular indeed, that no-one will dare do anything.
However .... he has annoyed others.

By making outrageous statements about how Israel should cease to exist, he has annoyed, unsurprisingly, Israel. But he has also annoyed Germany with this. Angela Merkel is far more conservative than Shroeder, even as we speak she is whispering sweet nothings into the ear of Dzhoardzhe Boosh. (Sorry, I just love the way the French TV newscasters pronounce his name, all soft J's and oo's). But sensitivities too. Germans are so desperately sensitive about their historic relationship with the Jewish people.

I found an article by a Guardian journo which allowed me to understand what I had been seeking, why Sharon has become so important to the Israeli people. In a very small and over simplified nutshell, the way I read this is that because he was a strong and aggressive leader, hostile towards Palestine for so long, when he decided enough was enough and started to consolidate and make peace for his people they trusted him enough to go wherever he led.

Iran has had controversial historical links with France too, you remember that Khomeini
spent time in exile there, but she has been closely involved with the monitoring of the whole foot stamping 'we will enrich our Uranium to Nuclear Weapons grade if we want to' fiasco in Iran, so France has also been right royally pissed off too.

The threat to throw out the UN inspectors rings a bell does it not? This time however, everyone is shouting NO WAR from the rooftops. The Iranian President does not have the history of genocide and violence that Hussein had. But although not a religious leader he has been trying very hard to make this a religious issue. Does he think that by shouting loud enough the Muslims who live peacefully in a milieu of religious tolerance in the west will rise up and overturn governments? Undoubtedly one or two would, but I doubt it would happen en masse, Islam is embedded now in western culture, not to the same extent as in Mahmoud's 'Muslim lands' but embedded and part of it nonetheless.

Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, resulting in a massive debt of $800 billion by the end of military action in 1988, led to Iraq invading the country it owed most of the money to, Kuwait. Does the President of Iraq see this as the paradigm that will stop the Alliance from taking action? Does he think the UN will yet again fail to clarify what it means by 'serious consequences'? Or does he know something we don't. The history between Iran and Iraq clearly shows poor relations. And yet......and yet..... In April of 1991, Hussein was told to and agreed to, get rid of its chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. Despite the now infamous failure of allied forces to find the legendary WMD, by the time the UN inspectors were told to leave Iraq, tons of nerve gas, anthrax and thousands of chemical bombs were still unaccounted for. Can you put those things down the leg of your trousers and whistle Dixie while you trail them around on your way home from the supermarket? Possibly not.

Like I said, stirrings in Mordor and tremors throughout Shelob's web. You can't help wondering what's going on.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Sic transit, sick of transit.

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive," Robert Louis Stevenson. Travel's on my mind. I think there's a whole philosophical digression in the RLS quote, but not mine, not today. I want to arrive, I don't much mind the travel, what I don't want to do is leave. It's not a moment either, it's the whole afternoon, the drive to the airport and then the little red car pulling away with me standing outside departures. I don't like the departures bit of Vancouver airport anywhere near as much as I like arrivals.
One time when I was leaving, Showcase had a 'Kath and Kim' marathon. I adore this Aussie comedy and watching it all day long eased the gloom, but halfway through the second series I had to go. Irritatingly, they were at the same point in showing the second series in the UK when I had to leave to come here.

But it's not just leaving, it's the whole deal, it's transition that is so hard. Every morning while doing my 'hexercises' (exercise plus spells) I watch the W network and they show a lot of British improvement programmes. This morning, Kim and Aggie (How Clean is your House?) dealt with a Brit called Ting Wong and his disgusting filth. Kim took a saucepan caked in burnt on crap, put cola in it, heated it and while we watched the saucepan became gleaming. She put a few drops of fabric conditioner into water which she used to clean his telly and reduce static. She rubbed baking soda into his carpet. He may not have known these tips, but why the fuck couldn't he clean up his own crap? The place was stinking as they went in, takeaway food on the carpet, grease, grime, junk, garbage in every space. He's just one in the series. Kim and Aggie have cleaned the USA, they've cleaned Britain. I've only ever once seen an episode where the recipients of Aggie's lab sampling and Kim's cleaning dominatrix approach didn't hail them as saviours. The ladies go back after two weeks and the former grunge monsters are born again home keepers. It's that first step that is the hardest, they never know where to start to make that transition.

Another show has an even harder transition, that towards healthy eating. 'You are What you eat' has a thin bullying woman who deprives families of their junk food and makes them exercise.
Over eight weeks the families scowl, whine, whinge, swear and stamp their feet while Gillian holds the line. By the end they have lost weight, sleep better, poo better, have less wind and their depression is lifted. But anyone who has ever started a diet knows how tough that one is.
This show works because the whole family makes the transition together, when Jamie Oliver tried to change the nation's school dinners, he was fighting the parents. He prevailed through sheer hard work and an ability to think strategically, and the London Borough of Greenwich which ran this pilot reported a massive reduction in the use of medication for asthma and other allergies and a rise in pupil concentration in the afternoon and in measurable pupil achievement.

I like to think of bad times as extended transitions - often they are just that - and I tell myself that DH Lawrence once said, 'This too will pass,' yes it will, one way or another, it will pass. Sometimes that means improvement, sometimes it means getting used to the changed state and sometimes it means just riding the wave and letting it take you where it will.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Four men, no broom

Imagine if you will, especially British chums, if all the political party leaders in Britain had to debate on TV in one of the other European languages because Britain is part of Europe. My analogy doesn't quite work because there are so many different languages, so they would have to agree on one, 'first choose your weapons.' Wouldn't that be awesome though? Realistically, it wouldn't be too hard since they have been to school in Britain, so in all probability they would have all have studied French.

The only British premier I remember ever hearing speak French was Edward Heath, thereafter known as '
épicier Heath'. Can't remember why the grocer bit, something to do with us being a nation of shopkeepers. Thinking back, that was amazing, what is more amazing is that we have been part of the European Union since 1973, then it was called the EEC, and yet I can only remember Edward Heath ever publicly using any language other than English.
Last night on TV, all four party leaders had a debate in French. I guess Canadians probably take that as a given. I thought it was utterly gobsmacking. They all spoke fluently in French. I honestly can't find the words to express how astonishing I find it. On the world stage, Canada's leader can fluently speak both of the official languages of the country and this was demonstrated by the potential leaders having a debate. Wow.
Possibly a cynic might argue - not the group of Greek philosophers, just the sneery people - that I find this so amazing because I don't come across that many ordinary Canadians who speak fluent French. Or do I? Maybe I just don't ever attempt to engage in French conversation, although in my defence the only place I see a lot of signs in both languages is at the airport.

Britain and Ireland joined the EEC in the same year as Denmark. In the summer of 1971, our parents took Amanda and me to visit friends in Denmark and I think I look on that trip, more than even school exchanges with France, as the beginning of my European awareness. The Danes were debating their entry to the EEC at that time.
Our parents' friends lived in Copenhagen - how arrogant that we rename other people's cities for them - although my parents knew them from Nigeria. There were things about our lives that changed with that trip, for one thing, when we left the house that summer, closed the door and got into our family Renault, Amanda and I would never again have to sleep under sheets and blankets.
Our mother was the trier out of ideas, the buyer of gadgets and new things. She was thrilled that my father was prepared in Asta and Vagn's house to eat the types of cheese that you could only buy in Delicatessens then, and what is more to eat them with sliced cold meats and pumpernickel for breakfast. We had yoghurt with fruit in, not yet popular in Britain and Danish pastries, known as Vienna bread to the Danes.

The evening meal, as is often the case in mainland Europe,
seemed to last forever, although even my mother a committed smoker, was nonplussed at the practice of smoking at the table between courses. It was frowned upon, we were told, to season your food as this would imply that the food was not already seasoned to perfection.

We had to shower. Our Danish hosts did not find the British habit of 'soaking in our own dirt' a very nice one. To Amanda and I, showers were a torture associated with school. Not only that, but one of the showers was in the open in the basement, Danes appeared to have no concept of embarrassment associated with nakedness.

We were taken to see the castle of Kronborg at Elsinore, this was much talked about and planned by all the adults. It was an interesting castle for sure, but Hamlet was a play kept for serious students, those who studied English to A-level - like, eventually, my sister. At school we had only done the plays suitable for young ladies, the one about the Jewish money lender who wanted to take a pound of flesh, the one about the faery folk who all had sex with the wrong people and the one about the cross dressing twins. Or whatever.

I had a penfriend, Rosa F Nielsen and we went to visit her and her family out in the country. Farmers they were. Rosa's family spoke no English, Amanda and I had picked up about half a dozen phrases in Danish, of which one was 'Nej til EF.' (No to the common market) Nice one. Farmers. The common agricultural policy, a continual, an ongoing thorn in the side of Britain was very favourable to the farming community. But they were nice folks and Rosa, who did speak English, explained this all to us.

We went with our friends to their summer house, we drank schnapps, we sailed to Sweden and wiggled our toes in the silver sand. There is a picture of all of us children at the beach Amanda and me, Thorsten, Henrik and Carsten
sitting on a log.
We had so much fun, Denmark was new to us, exciting, clean, light, the friends, the best of people. In Copenhagen we bought candles and went to see the little mermaid sitting on a stone in the sea. We saw cinemas that showed films that weren't even allowed in Britain.

When we returned home we brought duvets and covers, what the English then called 'continental quilts'. We brought back a huge havarti in the car, and by the time we got to England it smelt like poo.
But most of all we brought back ideas and memories and maybe a nascent sense of what it means to be European.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

We are a grandmother !

Well, OK, that was Queen Victoria, I'm a nan. Gott sei Dank, Edward James Hindman born on the 10th of January 2006 weighing in at 6lbs, 1 oz. Mum and baby doing well, dad, grandad and uncle getting bevvied. Nan tearful with relief. All's right with the world.

Hair today, gone Saturday.

Jeannette is the hairdresser I have always wanted. Don't get me wrong, I had a couple of really good hairdressers when I lived in Pompey, but Jeannette is creative. Women's mags always tell us to ask our hairdresser what they suggest, that has never worked for me.... until Jeannette. So now I am all cut and coloured once more, I always leave it until the last minute.

But there is something in the air here. Vancouver is such a creative place. How can I explain this? When I went to Montréal a few years back, there was just a French feel to the place. It wasn't just the language, there was a style, a way of thinking that was French, it was all around you.
The same is true of Vancouver and its creativity. You are aware all around you of the art, theatre, film, photography, writing, music, cuisine. People here know about it, they talk about it, they are IN it, like fish in a creative sea.

That's not to say that Britain doesn't produce great art, films, plays, writing, cuisine...egh, not so much of that. So where does it go on? In garrets I guess. When I think about it, if you wanted to find any of the above in Pompey you could, but you have to seek it out, you have to winkle it out of people.

Even I have discovered a creative-ish side, have been to a writing class, joined a group. I feel constrained by my Brtishness, the need to analyse and correct into oblivion. But I'm getting there.
The writing group also gives me, I realised, one of three forums for discussion of language itself, along with my Dutch-English study group and my crossword.
I do the Guardian's online crossword everyday, just the quick one, I can't do those cryptic ones. But we can e-mail the editor and he sends out a newsletter. At the moment there is a sciency discussion going on about his clue for the word LASER.

 "I was brought upstanding
by a complaint about the following clue for LASER, which appeared on
December 16: "Device for concentrating light (5)"
The complaint was clearly not trivial since it came from someone
working in the Quantum Optics and Laser Science Group in the Blackett
Laboratory at Imperial College. But first a digression. "Laser" is an
acronym of "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation".
But, my complainant tells me, the way the devices work is by
oscillation, not amplification. For some reason it was felt that
"light oscillation by stimulated emission of radiation", or LOSER,"
was not an ideal name for the invention."

So there you go.
I was once able to complain myself. A clue had called for a Canadian city and the answer was Ontario. I received an e-mail within the day and an apology was published.

Not long ago, one of the Dutch people on the study group list had queried the difference between 'to go up the road and to go down the road.' Usually you can expect a spirited discussion on such trivia, not this time. I posted that I felt in common usage there was no difference at all. One other Brit posted something else and that was the end of it. I told Kevin about this. His take was, 'well if the Brits won't get worked up about it, it's a sure sign there's nothing to discuss.'
I realised that a background noise to my working life in Britain had been this ongoing discussion of language. In the modern language department we were seen as the reactionaries. All teachers were responsible for teaching literacy (and numeracy and moral and spiritual, personal and social, the list was endless). To me, that was at the basis of what we taught. We were supposed to correct English spelling, that was a directive. So in briefing I queried whether American spelling was acceptable, since I know from American friends that both English and American are acceptable there.
The English department was asked to comment. I don't believe the words 'Heresy!' or 'Burn the witch!' were actually said as such but you get the idea.
I only knew we were having any impact as a department because someone in English told me that kids were now writing ALL nouns with a capital letter as is done in German. I thought they should be pleased that we had done such a great and mighty task as to get them to identify nouns, but then hey, I was trying to work out how much longer my department could get away with pretending not to have noticed the German spelling reforms.
Report writing was another time of aggravation. The then Head of English would pick out the most archaic reasons for sending reports back. As head of a different language department I was consulted by the annoyed, the judged, the damned.
'Can I spell 'recognise' with a z?'
'I guess,'
'SHE says it's American.'
'Don't think so, not that one, just an older English spelling.'
'I KNEW it.'
'Course I could be wrong..... want to know the French for it, German?'
One head of year sent a report of mine back with the word 'amiable' crossed out. Discussion over whether I have made this -I thought commonly used word- up from a French word.
It was useful to me though, being in this ongoing process of language maintenance because my department were looked upon with suspicion, often hostility as outsiders; in a country of Xenophobes we were collaborators.

Work, creativity, the one improving the other, keeping each other in balance, yin and yang.

And in the world of labour, Sue's goes on. It must be 23.00 in Britain now and she went into hospital for the second time this morning at 9 am. I know she's in good hands but I hope she delivers soon.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Rule Britannia

No news from England about the new baby yet, Sue is tired, Austen must be too, tomorrow morning Sue will go in to be induced.

The talk yesterday evening turned to passports. It seems that certain countries will not accept visitors who have less than six months left on their passport even if the length of stay is much shorter than that. Of course no-one tells you that until you turn up for your flight.
The Canadian passport lasts for five years, so this brings it down effectively to four and a half, depending on where you are travelling to.
The British passport for an adult last for ten years, and when I renewed mine last year, since it still had a few months to run on the old one, this time was added on.
I mention all of this because the UK passport authority have undergone some kind of miraculous change over the past three or so years.
I can't remember exactly when, but maybe about four years ago, things were dire if you needed to get a passport or get it renewed, bear in mind that most Brits do have one because we still technically need it even to go to the rest of Europe. They were taking six weeks plus, the Passport Authority were snowed under, people were having difficulty getting their passports back in time for their holidays, it was an unholy mess.
By the time I needed to renew mine, it had become a slick operation. The Post Office now offer a checking service for a fixed low fee of £5. Once they have checked everything that's it. You can buy a special envelope for the return of your original documents and when you send the application you are given a tracking number.
Two weeks to the day, I had my new passport, a week earlier I had received all my original docs back.
How did they get so efficient? No, I seriously don't know, did the government throw cash at them, did they have some bureaucracy Czar in? Whatever it was, it has been an amazing success and if the formula can be applied elsewhere it damned well should be. Incidentally, I needed to change the name on my driving licence, and although I was annoyed at having to send off my original birth certificate as soon as it came back from the Passport Office, that was equally quick and efficient.

Inside my passport it says that 'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary'.
Now I read this as if anyone harms me then Her Majesty's Navy will be steaming right out to sort them out, don't you think? Of course it would be the navy because they rule the waves and because there is so much evidence of them where I lived in Portsmouth. Well, duh, home of the British Navy.
I think I'd most welcome HMS Warrior, an impressive warship commissioned in 1860, to come and protect me. I would expect the flags flying from all masts to be sending some suitable message of annoyance that one of Her Majesty's subjects had been mistreated. And I expect the cannons to be checked first.

Last year we had ships from many nations in Portsmouth Harbour for some ongoing celebration which seemed to last for at least a fortnight and which included the celebration of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar - in spite of Trafalgar day being on the 23rd of October. There were sailors from all nations including Canada and the United States. Now I say this not as a joke or in any way meaning to offend anyone's sensibilities, but how do you tell the difference between a Canadian and a US naval personnel? Ok, well you may be able to tell the difference between accents of course, and you may find some lapel pin of a maple leaf even on the civvies of the Canadian, but the real answer is the colour.
During my time in Portsmouth, there were two occasions when we had US naval ships in. 3,000 sea men and women disembarked the first time, drank Portsmouth dry of Budweiser would you believe and the shops and restaurants suddenly took US dollars. However all of the personnel that I saw were black, and this on both occasions. I have no idea why this might be and I'm not going to offer any smarmy answers, just the simple observation.

I certainly wouldn't hold my breath for Her Majesty of His Tonyness to send the Navy out to rescue me in distress, and I do try to behave myself so that they don't have to, but I did feel suddenly proud to hold such a document. As a point of interest, the Canadian passport has almost the same wording, but in both languages and without the all important "require".

Sunday, 8 January 2006

It's raining, it's pouring

Well, at least it was yesterday, it was a Noachian deluge - term I learned from Bill Bryson's book - it was so loud at times we could hear it over the TV. More on the way.
Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Sue's waters have broken, three weeks early, I should have been there for this. The hospital have sent her home, but she's in labour, if the new baby isn't here by Tuesday they'll induce. Ben has gone down to look after his niece-goddaughter Holly, Alex is also on her way. Derek, Sue's dad is around too, so although I feel pretty useless being so far away, they have a good team there.

It may have been raining and pouring, but it wasn't the old man that was snoring, it's me and keeping the old man awake. I didn't realise I snored, and more, I didn't realise how annoying it is. When Alex used to stay with me in Portsmouth I would sometimes wake up and she was snoring, but it was more like a loud cat's purr, so I found it more comforting than anything else, the sound of my daughter sleeping. I can even remember the days of having a cat who would come into the bedroom while I was asleep and I'd wake up to its purring. That was less comforting, since the cat would invariably be on my head, its hairs going up my nose.
I used to love to hear the foghorns from the ships out to sea when I lived there. Sometimes they would go all night long, but for me for some reason, that was also a comforting nightime noise.

Although sleep and thus hopefully snoring, ronflement in French, onomatopeaic, was short last night, waiting for news, when I did sleep I dreamt of Rudesheim am Rhein. I know why. There was a film on TV last night, a tune that reminded me of the bells at Siegfried's Musik Kabinett, had to go and get some Asbach, wonderful brandy made in the Rheinland from the grapes grown on the slopes there. I was sitting outside the Musikkabinett in the sunshine waiting for something or someone, hmmm...maybe news.

We abandoned that film however in order to watch 21 grams. Again in my case. In the dark hours in Portsmouth I would take refuge at the cinema. Great cinema we had at Gunwharf. What a film that was, not a very complex story, but fragmented, sliced into scenes and then pieced back together, gradual reveal heightening the emotional tension. Camera lingering on Melissa Leo's hands, Beniccio del Torro's tortured face, Sean Penn's death rattle. This intellectual crossword puzzle of a film was such a masterpiece.
When the pain moves from the chronic ache to the hard and furious, a couple of hours' escape through the intellect, the senses. As in labour, when it becomes unbearable, when you cry out 'come kindly death and take me now,' the midwife will have you channel that pain into pushing.
I may be 5,000 miles away, but in my head I'm with Sue and Austen now.

Saturday, 7 January 2006

Apologies to commentators

I do apologise to anyone who has tried to post comments and they haven't appeared. I did alter the settings at one time because someone reported difficulty posting comments, and somehow made it worse or more erratic at any rate. I think I've fixed it. I'm very upset to have lost people's thoughts into the ether somewhere..:((

Mind games and myths

I have now slipped into my comfort zone when driving, no longer paralysed at every junction because I have to look in all directions at the same time. And then as soon as that happens, I turn out of our complex yesterday and WHAM I think I've zoned out and am driving on the wrong side. Coming towards me is a cyclist of indeterminate gender, on a tricycle with a metal arm coming out the back attached to a small trailer. No, I mean coming straight towards me and messing with my brain. But it is him/her who is on the wrong side and soon veers off onto the pavement.

On the way back from town I start to feel ill. Instead of thinking I'd eaten something that had disagreed with me, I was already picturing myself checking the details of my medical insurance and wondering whether I would make it back to the UK and the good old NHS. Turned out I had just eaten something that disagreed with me.

I see purple lights, have done for a time. This I know to be a mind game, since I have had my eyes very thoroughly checked out specifically for this, and been to the doctor. Therefore the lights are imaginery, what does it mean?

We have a myth box. It is a great and wonderful piece of TV/computer technology that Kevin has built/is building based on a specific video card. It means we can record things off TV straight to the Hard Drive and watch it when we want, we can programme it to do the thinking, so like, 'Record the L word' and then we don't have to worry about when the new series starts, it will even NOT record ones we've already watched. It will skip adverts at a single bound (and command) and it means you can pause 'live' TV. A couple of nights ago Kevin suddenly realised that SG1 was on ten minutes into the proggie. But mythbox automatically records SG1 whenever it notices it is on. So he just started watching the recording from the beginning, while it was still recording, skipping the ads so that he had caught up about fifteen minutes before the end. And there is so much more still to be found.

Last night it had been pre-set to record Most Haunted and Ghost Whisperer and we noticed the new and controversial show 'The Book of Daniel' was on, so we watched that. Brilliant! I really enjoyed it and I admit that I would never have bothered to watch it had it not been for the people boycotting it and making death threats to the programme's producers. We have a fine tradition in Britain of irreverant shows about priests, 'All Gas and Gaiters', 'Father Ted', 'The Vicar of Dibley'. I also love magic realism, it's one of the things I liked about 'Due South' and 'Northern Exposure'.
The eponymous Daniel has one kid who's gay, one who got caught dealing drugs and who draws manga, one who is adopted and is a complete arsehole, his wife drinks martinis all the time, his father is bonking the bishop (played by Ellen Burstyn, she's terrific in this part) his mother has Alzheimer's, his sister-in-law is bonking the woman who was brought in as part of a threesome by her now deceased husband who has stolen the church's money. And he is 'connected' to the Catholic church via an italian priest played by the actor who used to play Carla in Cheers's ex husband Nick Tortelli and who can get 'anything done' ie HE really is connected. And throughout, Daniel pops painkillers and is visited by his imaginery friend, Jesus.
LOVED it!!!! Kevin thinks it may not make it but I hope it does, it was a lot of fun.

Friday, 6 January 2006


I'm not convinced that Epiphanies actually happen very often. Sure I think there are times when we realise a change has occurred in our life, or other people notice it, but how often do we have that rinsai experience?

My daughter Alex was very affected last summer by the Bard on the Beach play we went to see when she was over. The play was Stoppard's 'Rosencranz and Guildenstern are dead' and it was extremely well done. I do think that live theatre IS an incredible experience, and I can easily bring to mind performances that uplifted me or took me to another place. Seeing Billy Whitelaw in Beckett's 'Footfalls' was one such. I swear to you that time and place stood still in that little theatre in Hammersmith. Well, Ok, place always stands still, or does it? Hold that thought. What I was really trying to say is that the space between myself and the stage seemed to alter so that there was no distance, I felt as though in the darkness I was hanging in the air breathing in the words. I was going to say 'my very existence defined by the words,' but that sounded too bloody pretentious, although it was how I felt.

Anthony Sher's Richard the third was another such performance. It was at the National, though I forget which theatre, probably the Lyttleton. When a great actor gets hold of a part like that, you are able to understand the character. Well duh. Ok, yeah but, no but, I don't think that always happens. Sometimes a character is portrayed but not always does the actor really MAKE you understand the motivation of whoever they are playing. Sher did that. I totally GOT Richard the third - well, Shakespeare's one - from his performance.

Although there is something special about live theatre, movies can have a similar effect especially when seen on the big screen. I do remember when I saw the first Matrix film at the cinema I was so drawn into this other world they had created that I felt odd leaving the cinema and having to push myself back into the 'real' world.

And one two, three, I'm back in the real world and beyond. Finally I am reading Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'. I think it has been backwards and forwards across the Atlantic with me a couple of times, looks like Bill Bryson himself had the same problem. Well, not the travelling with me bit, but the going backwards and forwards across the Atlantic. It is proving to be a fascinating read. I never realised quite how crazy scientists can be. Newton, he tells us, 'once inserted a long needle into his eye socket and rubbed it around 'betwixt my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could' ' I mean...come again? what the hell was all that about Newton you crazy guy? Not sure either how he could have done it or what he could have gained from it apart from a certain notoriety. Prolly something to tell the lads down the pub. Oh well.
And the earth has to spin at an incredible rate to turn completely in a 24 hour cycle, place actually does move (and of course the earth). And the earth moves round the sun at a startling rate and very soon it's the 6th of January again.

The sixth of January, when we celebrate the arrival of wise men from the east who came to see the future king, the world changer, born in a stable in Bethlehem in Judaea. So the Jewish child, Jesus was shown to men from the east, at least one of whom must have been an astronomer/astrologer since they read the message in the stars and followed one. None of these men would have been Jews themselves and from the gifts they brought, they would have most likely been from the middle east.
Times of hope, times of change. Just like now.