Sunday, 30 April 2006

New Moon

It was amazing last night that I was able to see the moon, all day long it had rained and been cold, then early evening, it just cleared up and the sun came out in order to give us a truly magnificent sunset. I was pretty glad, I had put my quite healthy looking tomato plants outside and they immediately started looking a little peaky.

The eagles are overdue with their egg hatching now, the world waits with bated breath. Personally I think they're waiting until my friend Canadian Karen leaves for England, which she does this evening, so then the little eaglets can relax and come out, safe in the knowledge that she won't be after adopting them.

During the new moon monsoon yesterday afternoon, Kevin and I went out looking for a receiver for our television setup. I abandoned him and made for the shop's pretend living room where you could sit in a comfie swivel chair and watch 'Revenge of the Sith' on a high definition plasma screen TV. Hayden Christensen's acting wasn't any better in hi-def, and people didn't get any wiser. For example, why, when you live really high up in the air in a city where passing Jedi are likely to come into your front room and fight with light sabres, don't you have windows made of something more than regular glass? Likewise, haven't these people ever heard of the saying, 'Don't put all your younglings into one basket'? Then they look surprised when a passing Sith lord comes and kills them all. And if you are some kind of psychotic lizard with not very much protection for your internal organs, why would you only half enclose said organs so that any old Jedi can come along, open your metal ribs a bit further and then send a quick phaser shot in to finish you off? Doesn't matter how many light sabres you can hold at a time, that's gotta hurt pal.

Why, I wonder, does John Prescott feel bad that the country knows he had an affair. No-one cares, it's between you and Mrs. P if there is one John. The whole point is that unlike when we had a Tory government, the Labour Party hasn't spent twelve years droning on about 'family values' and then being continually caught with its trousers down. So you had sex in your office and various other places. Duh, having sex is what people do when they have an affair, like I said, twixt you and the missus, not the country.

Jenny Colgan, in the Guardian this week, is sourly amused by the idea that FHM magazine had voted Keira Knightley as the 'sexiest woman in the world'. In fact, I was made aware of this earlier by the sound of a huge guffaw from Kevin who was equally unenthused at this choice. Colgan describes Knightley as "Beautiful of face, Keira Knightley has the body of a hungry nine-year-old boy." Kevin was even less complimentary, his comment was,
'Keira Knightley and sexy, you can't say the two in the same sentence.'
I must say, it is an odd choice, Knightley is pretty and looked promising in 'Bend it like Beckham', but her ability to deliver lines seems to have gone downhill, mirrored by an irritation factor in her need to be überenglish in every interview. Maybe her figure will develop when her acting skills do.

While the new moon raised one eyebrow at us, we watched the elusive Deepa Mehta film 'Earth'. The DVD shop got it in after my enquiry a couple of weeks ago. This is a snapshot of India at the time of its partition from Pakistan as the British left. I find the whole history of Britain's involvement with India interesting. Many modern sci-fi storylines predict a world governed more by mega-corporations than States and yet this is the India of the 17th Century. The East India tea company had its own armies and its officials were like rulers, in fact they were sought out as allies by warring Indian princes. But 250 years later, when India, now a unified country felt it wanted to rule itself, just as the British were welcomed in, they were asked to leave, and financially exhausted from the second world war, there was no option but to do so.

Mehta shows us in this film, the uncertainties and conflicts. We see families who do not want the British to leave, we see factions who do. Many Muslims had been campaigning for a separate muslim state since the end of the first world war. We see the strength of that separatism, but we also see the strength of long standing friendships between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus who had seen diversity rather than division. The action takes place in Lahore, a city that was ultimately to be part of Pakistan. A debate around a dinner table focuses on whether Lahore will become Pakistani since the majority of its citizens are Muslim, or whether it will go to Hindustan (India) because the money in the City is mostly in the hands of Hindus.
The savagery perpetrated by the Hindus and Sikhs and the Muslims on each other is just horrific. One of the characters wonders whether they have learned anything in the 250 years of British stewardship. Another retaliates with the notion that before the British came, there was no syphillis.

I have found all three of Deepa Mehta's films extraordinarily thought-provoking. In 'Earth' we are shown how when dealing with matters that should be deeply spiritual, humans are so completely earthbound.

We needed so much expertise, time, money and energy to put humans on the moon, but the moon, well it just sits up there in the sky and pulls the tides. Who knows what other earthly things it meddles in.

Saturday, 29 April 2006


So, I have run down the Time Trail flapping my arms like a hummingbird for the last time. Well, last time for this year, and although I would like to do it again next year, because I have really, really enjoyed that programme, if I'm still available, then something has gone wrong with the plan. You know, the plan where I get to resume my career. Not the plan where I infiltrate Stephen Harper's government and bend it to my will, although that plan would proclude me from being a hummingbird next year too.

There are two celebs in the global Big Brother house that have me scratching my head. One is, as you might expect, Dr. Traffic Management - head prefect for Iran. The only possible explanation that I can come up with for his bizarre behaviour is that he's trying to irritate the hell out of the U.S. OR...he may be trying a big old experiment to see EXACTLY how far you have to push the UN before you get chucked out of the GBB house. I am still hung up on this PhD he has in Traffic management though, you gotta feel that it informs his thinking, but for the life of me I can't come up with a traffic paradigm that accounts for his uranium enriching antics and his pissing off the head ayatollah by saying women can go to football matches. Even the 4-way stop can't explain it.

If a traffic specialist can become top banana in a country that was formerly great - ie when it was Persia - then I'm wondering how far someone with an MA in Education can go. Well, unless Battlestar Galactica is pure fiction, and I'm sure the Space Channel would tell us if it were, then the answer is President of the whole human race, or at least what is left of it. Right, but I wasn't really aiming for that. Bugging Stephen Harper appeals to me, but even Pres of the US doesn't - now that I have watched many episodes of Commander-in-Chief, I can see that it's not only a frelling impossible job, but your hair and make-up have to look flawless all the time, whereas I favour a more laissez-faire approach to grooming. Megolamania is just as tough a call as dieting, it's that knowing where to stop element that really gets ya.

The other celeb in the GBB house that has me watching curiously is the Headmaster of China. I'm quite surprised when celebs whose main claim to fame seem to be human rights violations come out of the House and play tea-parties. Last year I was struck by protesters against his regime standing in silent protest on Granville Street. We have a lot of people of Chinese origin in Vancouver, so I'm thinking they know what they're not talking about. Last week, Amnesty International told us that although China doesn't publish full figures, of the countries that allow us to know who they are killing, China executed 1,770 of a global total of 2,148. The organs of executed prisoners are frequently sold internationally and without the permission of either victim or their family.
Whatever you do, don't mention Tibet.
And yet this week, there he was, cosying up to Bill Gates and ignoring Bush, normally a sound option, but in this case, Dubya was trying to get him to agree to lay off the human rights violations for a bit and China being so bloody huge, he couldn't even poke him in the eye with a sharp stick for saying no.
Yesterday he was off discussing oil with Africa. Who the hell does he think he is, Angelina Jolie?

An interesting statistic reported in the Guardian this week. It seems that the more daughters there are in a family, the more likely the family are to vote politically left. It seems that reason alone doesn't make people want to make society more equal, it takes the birth of a daughter. I shouldn't be cycnical about this. In China they give daughters away.

Yesterday, Anne sent me a link to the site on Hornby Island, BC where the world is watching a daddy eagle sitting on his ...?... eggs. CBC last night reported that one had hatched, but it turned out to be just a bit of fluff. If you want to watch with apparently, 3 million others worldwide, then here is the link.

I started in the Park and I'll finish there today. On one of the walks I took this week, pantomime squirrels teased me. Everytime I turned round and faced the children, squirrels gambolled behind them, whenever I pointed, the squirrels scurried away. This just kept happening until I wondered why the squirrels were messing with my head, but in retrospect I guess they just recognised the wavelength.

Friday, 28 April 2006

My Name is Earl's.

A few years ago now I saw a cartoon in the paper that I found so funny that for days afterwards it would pop into my head and I'd laugh. No-one else thought it so hysterical so I guess it just found my funny centre. It was just a picture of two hippos swimming around in a river and one says to the other,
'I keep thinking it's Tuesday.'

A line from last night's 'My name is Earl' keeps coming into my head and tickling me. Joy - the absolutely brilliant Jaime Pressly - comes out to find the car being towed. Her forehead furrows and she shouts at the man,
'What you doin' towin' a car with the American flag on it? ARE YOU PART TALIBAN???'

So moving on, this is what happens when you don't pay attention. Kevin and I had 'discovered' Nando's excellent sauces for cooking chicken some time ago, and I think we had first found them in Sainsburys. After a while we realised we could buy them here. Last summer we went to a food event in Richmond, where local establishments come and bring samples of their menus and you go around trying them for some nominal sum of money. Once more, we were impressed by Nando's chicken. We had noticed a 'Nando's' restaurant every time we came back from Save-on, and it looked a reasonable size, so every time we went past it we'd say, 'we must go there sometime.'
Now, I had asked Kevin what he wanted to do for his birthday and he had maybe wanted to go out, just the two of us, but as close as possible, since he was likely to be quite tired after work. 'Nando's,' I said. It was agreed.
Well, we drew up in the parking space right outside.
'Restaurant doesn't look up to much,' said Kevin. We sit and look,
'In's take-out...' BURNED. We went to Earl's.

I was a tad disappointed with Judi Dench's latest offering 'Mrs Henderson presents'. I had been looking forward to this, trusting Dame Judi as one does. The reality of the film was something less, the history of the Windmill theatre in London that never closed because of the Blitz. But if you can see past the fact that it's Judi Dench saying the words, what she actually said was the usual old woman-pimping rubbish. The programme had changed from Vaudeville to include tableaux of nude women. Mrs. Henderson tells us that this is because among her son's effects - he was killed in the Great War - she found 'French postcards' ie pictures of naked women and realised that he would have died without ever seeing a real woman naked. Well fucking guess what? Men don't have a RIGHT to see women naked. He probably also died without seeing a hippo swimming around in a lake wondering if it's Tuesday, or learned Russian or heard a nightingale or any number of things.
At a time when men and women couldn't be openly gay and married women didn't have the right to work and the school leaving age was 14, what does this over-privileged woman focus on? Making money pimping women to men. The women who were taken into the theatre were unable to make money any other way. That to me was something worth focussing on.
There are a couple of moments of tokenism in the film, yes we see some willies, but basically it's just about objectifying women for men. The politicians tell Mrs. Henderson that allowing the theatre to stay open represents an unnecessary risk since they are trying to minimise opportunites for German bombs to fall on assemblies of people. Somehow, in spite of, as you might expect, the theatre being full of servicemen, this is considered silly.
The only thing I found really worth watching in the film was the performance by Thelma Barlow, Mavis from long ago Corrie. How great that she was finally able to show her real acting talents. I hope this leads to more and bigger parts for her because she was just sensational.

And while I'm still on my feminist soapbox, where did Nepal come from all of a sudden? Yes, I know it has always been there, but for the past few weeks it has been in the news every day, rioting in the streets, demanding the head of their King on a plate. Well, not quite.
This week, I was intrigued by an article in the Guardian, showing how the disturbances may actually change things for women there.
As in the India of Deepa Mehta's film, 'Water', widows in Nepal are shunned and women in general we are told, 'stay at home'. Lily Thapa, a widow and feminist sees opportunity in the situation though. She looks ahead to peace and sees ways that it can and must be re-structured because it will by necessity be more female dominated. All power to her, I hope she achieves great things for the women of her country. Empowering women is empowering the country itself.

Lastly, I was not overly-impressed with Catherine Bennett's article about Sheer Hite's new book. I expect to be able to get a real flavour of the book from a Guardian review and all I get from this one is the distaste in Bennett's mouth from having to meet Hite. I can understand that Bennett may feel annoyed that Hite is still banging on about the female orgasm just as she was thirty years ago, but give us some credit, maybe if she had read the book a bit more thoroughly and passed some of it on to us we could see where Hite is going, after all, someone is still willing to publish her.

Quoting Hite, she says,
""Female orgasm is a metaphor for political change," she declares. "Changing our idea of coitus and 'how it should be performed' is key to changing the larger society.""

Well maybe what she is saying is something similar to the recent study that I have mentioned twice this week. People in more gender equal societies are more satisfied with their sex lives and gender equal societies are ones where women have been empowered. They are the societies where the debate is still open, where the difference between men's and women's pay is something that can be discussed openly and freely and where women are part of politics.

Personally, I don't ever want to NOT live in a part of the world where women can scream 'What's wrong with you, are you part Taliban?' and live to tell the tale.

Thursday, 27 April 2006


It's Kevin's birthday today and the first one we have ever been able to spend together. I have even flown out on the day before when Easter was as late as it was this year, but never been able to celebrate in the same country.

I've come to think that earth signs go well together, although it may be that only other earth signs can tolerate each other, I am Virgo, Kevin is, obviously, Taurus, I have other friends in successful partnerships where both are earth signs, but then, I know others still where both partners are fire signs, so perhaps any element combines well with itself. What I can't envisage is two Taureans being partners, but I'd be pleased to stand corrected on that one.

I did try looking up famous people who shared Kevin's birthday, but all I have been able to come up with is the US president Ulysses S. Grant and unconvincing pop star Sheena Easton. Oh well. Someone on the radio not so long ago said that in a room with 23 people in it, there is an 80% chance that two of them will share the same birthday. Sounds impossible? Yep me too, although sciencey people have tried to explain it to me - it's a statistics thing, probably better not to know. Another statistic that one of the sciencey people told me was that in every society where abortion had been legalised, there had been a significant reduction in the crime rate 18 years later.

I did notice however that there had been a number of freedomy type of things happen on April the 27th.
In 1960, Togo gained independence from France, followed the year after by Sierra Leone becoming independent from the UK. In 1994, South Africa was able to hold its first free, multi-racial elections and thus the day has become Freedom day ever since.
In some unspecified year, but on this day, Slovenia rose up against occupation. Today, in China, the first panda raised in captivity is to be released into the wild. Yep, I can see a theme emerging.

Although we are, I'm relieved to say, past the annoyance of having to buy presents for each other, we have chosen to acquire a new cable box that allows us to watch HD TV on our set. This gives a very clear and wonderful picture, but I really do wonder how someone who doesn't have a degree in electrical engineering - well me for example - can ever set these things up.

Later, we will be dining out and raising a glass in honour of the occasion. Happy Birthday Kevin, I hope we will spend many more together.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Two Brits

Two Brits who get gold stars from me this week are Helen Mirren and Jamie Oliver.

We have been watching the drama 'Elizabeth the First' with 60 year-old Dame Helen playing the Queen from her late 40's through to her death. Even though if you say the name 'Helen Mirren' you expect excellence, I have still been just spellbound by her performance. There are no cracks, no seams, no smudginess about it, you can't see the acting, it is as though she has become Queen Elizabeth the first and you have actually travelled back in history and are watching the state of mind of the real queen. You can see her thinking, her torment, her uncertainty. She is tortured by the decision of having to sign Mary Queen of Scots' death warrant. You feel the cold shock with her as she realises she has been misled into putting to death her physician. I love all the skirt kissing too. I wonder if just being in her presence could improve the skills of some of Hollywood's overpaid and overhyped, the rest of the cast with her in Elizabeth the first are flawless too, I'm sure due to good casting and directing, but I'm thinking a little bit of 'just being in her presence'. I've run out of hyperbole, but Dame Helen truly deserves more.

Jamie I know, is not every Brit's favourite. I think the reason he has never annoyed me is that I hadn't ever seen one of his cooking shows before coming to Canada, and well, I just liked his little chirpy cockney-ness when I saw it on Food Network Canada.
I had of course met his entire family through his Sainsbury's ads, marvelled at his nan on a motor scooter. When you've met someone's nan and they are that much fun, well you can't not love the person.
My respect for him went through the roof when he did Jamie's school dinners. Whichever way you dice it, editing, whatever, that programme changed the Burrough of Greenwich's academic results and it affected government policy. It was also compulsive viewing.
Now we're watching 'Jamie's Italian Escape' which I think he started during the filming of the School Dinners show, and so I'm sure has already aired in Britain.
It's not that we're learning too much about Italian food, but I am tremendosuly impressed at Jamie's willingness to speak Italian. Not in that British 'terribly sorry, I know I'm rubbish' kind of way, but in the way that other Europeans approach English. Jamie throws in all the words he knows, he lets his hands speak, he asks for words, and over the course of the episodes we have watched, we have seen him being able to understand more and use more Italian. I have no doubt that he has a translator with him, but what we see is Jamie listening and learning and then using the language.
I was equally respectful of his anxiety over having to kill an animal. He goes through on camera the kind of worries that any of us might in that situation. Meat isn't made in a factory by Sainsbury's, it always starts as a living creature. Jamie helps to select and carry the sheep to where it is to be slaughtered. The killing happens off camera though, I don't think Jamie did it,
'I've never killed a sheep before, not with a knife,' he said. We understood what he meant when he was about to shoot a wild boar.

Two Brits, quite different, both experts in their fields, but I'm sure if you spoke to them both would assure you they were still learning, and believe it themselves and that in itself is so very British.
Gold stars all round.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006


My daughter - in - law, Sue, has been understandably annoyed by a recent intrusion into her and others' privacy by supermarket giant, Tesco. Tesco has been allowing microchips to be implanted into the packaging of certain products and as customers who buy the item leave the shop, the chip triggers a camera which photographs the customer. This is apparently then used for customer profiling. I assume they have some kind of experts like the fab five who can work out which people are wearing Gucci to shop. I can just picture Carson Kressley shaking his blonde hair, setting his mouth to 'stun' and saying something mordant about sweatpants.

Brits are pretty used to the all-seeing eye, if you are in a town or city centre you are probably rarely outside the range of a camera. Likewise if you are on a main road. This is going to feature even more heavy artillery soon as cameras will be increased in range and number to stop people from drinking and using mobile phones whilst driving.

I have never had any problem with this. I think partly that is because when you are brought up as a Protestant and I've no doubt this is also true for Catholics, you know that God is watching every small thing you do and in fact even knows your thoughts. Compared with God's omniscience, the camera does sweet Fanny Adams.

There have also been a number of high profile cases where security cameras have caught the guilty and this serves to make us feel safer. You would be amazed at how much of the school where I used to work and where Austen still works, could be seen on camera and the clarity of it. The parents were always whingeing that we had cameras in the toilets.... There were limits.

Canadians do NOT feel the same way. There are privacy laws here which stop most of the camera spying. Since I am really not actually aware of the cameras in Britain, I hadn't really missed them. Even the speed cameras have gone the way of all things. I personally think that it would be a great help to the police and the public to have a few security cameras around the place, but people get quite agitated about the whole topic. Schade.

Austen passed on to me a story that had been in the press recently about a man who was caught on a security camera having a bit of one-handed self-fulfilment. The police tried to prosecute him for indecency but the judge threw it out, saying that you couldn't offend a camera. Quite right too.

Now some Canadians might feel quite threatened by the idea that it could be possible to be caught on camera having a quick J Arthur ..... not the ones who live within driving distance of the Nature Park however.

Last Friday, and this is far from an isolated incident, two of the Park's staff were astonished to see a naked rump giving it the the old pump action in broad daylight in the car park. After trying to get the attention of the rump's owner by more subtle means - revving up next to the vehicle, loudly banging doors etc. - one of them went to speak to the occupants of the car. By this time Mr. Rumpie-Pumpie was doing up his flies but his rumpee was lying fully UNclothed across the seat. Let's just say the RCMP were mentioned, there was fluster and bluster and the couple left. Personally I think we should install a camera in that corner of the car park. Damn the privacy laws, we could make money for the Nature Park and the stars of the show could enjoy some celebrity.

Monday, 24 April 2006

Summer Breeze

The Nature Park's school programme 'Signs of Spring' ends this week and the new one, 'Bees in the Bog' will start next week. I went in for training this morning, always a lot of fun. And my goodness isn't the outside world obliging, over the weekend and today it has been like full summer, the temperature outside the Surrey Arts Centre yesterday was 23º although the radio was only claiming 18º for Vancouver.

And the bees were out in the bog, honey bees, bumble bees, I have lots of bee stuff to learn. I also found out what a Douglas Fir smells like and wow, it is citrusy and fragrant, not at all like the good old antisceptic scent of pine we're used to in Europe.

Back in Blighty I have two toiling offspring, Alex is wrestling with an A-level history project that had to be prepared thoroughly and then written up over three days under exam conditions and Ben is knocking his head against deadlines for GCSE coursework and practicals. In my head, good weather and public exams are inextricably linked.

As are strawberries. In Britain, although we start getting Spanish strawbs a lot cheaper around now, the finest ones, the English strawberries are not generally in the shops for about another month, June is strawberry month in Britain, culminating with strawberries and cream at Wimbledon.
Here, we have been getting good, reasonably priced Californian strawbs for a couple of weeks now, so even more summery feelings.

At Kevin's parents' house yesterday afternoon, we were able to sit out on the deck and watch the finches in the trees, a pair of Canada geese on the golf course, and as you might epxect, the golfers had all come out to play.

I can't remember the last time I was able to appreciate this part of the year, not when I was, like Ben and Alex, preparing for summer exams, and not all the time I was in teaching. Summer started at the end of July and until then, hot weather and sunshine were just factors to be contended with, not always a battle that could be won.

My friend Dawn, an alternative high school teacher in New Hampton, finishes towards the end of May and I was forever being caught out by that. Around Easter she'd be looking towards the end of the school year, whilst I was thinking about the new term. And then when school finally finished for me at the end of July, Dawn would be starting to plan for the new school year.

In the house, I have to have the doors and windows open to let some air in, we have bug screens so it's only air that can get in. At the Nature Park where the doors also have to be open, we now have a curtain, strips of yellow plastic with solid diamond shapes at intervals, to stop the hummingbirds flying in and killing themselves. It reminds me of the one we used to have over the back door when Amanda and I were little, ours was black and red plastic strips like a big curtain of liquorish strips that rippled in the summer breeze.

Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind...yesterday dragons, today jasmine and the only herb involved is coriander. Odd, must be the weather.

Sunday, 23 April 2006


St.George, the mystery saint. Even the BBC website advises caution, it offers a few tenuous details about some Turk who upset Diocletian and was then beheaded - there were far more unpleasant ways of being martyred - but then tells us we should treat it as myth. Ah, so the Harry Potter version then.

Nonetheless, I think that Saint George is a damn fine saint for the English to have. I mean dragon slaying is one of our specialities, always has been, although I can see that in the heydays of the celts, when things were as Simmi might say, a bit more herbal, the dragons may have appeared to be more ..well...dragony.

In the film Excalibur, Myrddin conjures up a mystical fog that will allow Uther Pendragon to shapeshift. Arthur's army fights under the banner of a dragon, the two armies red against white, both dragons. Pendragon - dragon's head. Our own mythical creature.

Not entirely our own of course, many cultures have their own dragons, not least of all the Chinese. But the significance of the Chinese dragon is quite opposite to our own. The Chinese are the dragon's race, and the creature symbolises wisdom and kindness to them. Those born under its sign are fortunate.

But we do still fight dragons, isn't that what Harry Potter does even though the dragons come in many guises? Isn't that what the Christian soldiers still do ? Is Satan not still depicted as having dragonlike qualities? Don't we all fight our own dragons, just that we call them demons now....

We used to sing the hymn, 'Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before....'
Saint George's flag, a red cross on a white background is just like the bloody cross on which Christ was put to death. And this summer you will see Englishmen, mostly men, wrapped in that flag. Like in the Greenday track, 'Holiday' 'there's a flag wrapped around a score of men'. While the World Cup is on, Englishmen will all own flags, in the backstreets of Portmouth, grubby St. George's flags will occupy upstairs windows, maybe they never left, and suddenly, whilst Tesco removes St George's flag from their products, everywhere else will be draped with them.

The dragon this summer will be the football teams of the rest of the world, here be dragons, but they can be slain on the pitch. Not since 1966 has England actually won the World Cup, but the important thing is the slaying and the playing and the running around town wearing the flag.

But I favour the dragons of Uther and Myrddin's time, the dark shape that you just catch out of the corner of your eye, that casts a shadow as it swoops above you. England's dragons are real and plentiful enough, you just have to know where to look, and you need to play with them a bit before you dispatch them, you learn more if you don't raise your sword until you can feel their fiery breath on your neck....we can all be St. George if we choose.

Saturday, 22 April 2006


Kevin and I look forward to Friday evening not just because it is..Friday evening...but also because at 20.00, 'Most Haunted' is on. This turned out to be a phenomenon in Britain and is carried by the W-network here, god bless them.

When MH started out, Yvette Fielding and husband Karl Beattie had taken their idea for the show to several of the mainstream TV networks and been turned down. Living TV must have blessed the day that Yvette came into their lives though, it has been a runaway success, putting Living on the map and is now their flagship show. The several times a year three-day live events draw millions of viewers, sadly we don't yet get to see them.

The original spiritualist medium with the show, Derek Acorah, a true showman has been 'discredited' by the show's parapsychologist Kieran O'Keefe. Kieran set up a couple of made-up ghosts and Derek took the bait. But all this says to me is that some of the time Derek reads the minds of those around him. This explanation seems far more logical to me than that Derek would risk national humiliation - because a lot of people watch this, by using something he'd overheard.

Kieran O'Keefe always appears at the end of the show and tries to give a 'normal' explanation for whatever has happened. Last night however, even he was stumped. On camera we have a stone flying through the air passing two members of the team horizontally. The only other person in the room was the one holding the camera and was standing parallel to them. Bats can't really throw stones horizontally. Nor can he really explain the 'light anomalies', a phenomenon formerly known as 'orbs'. And last night, one of the team using his own night vision camera in a room on his own is freaked out by a loud groan in his ear which we could hear clearly.

Being quite reflective, I am amused by how we have picked up the language of the show, the language of mediums.
A couple of Fridays ago, sitting in our living room, Kevin and I were both overwhelmed simultaneously by the smell of cigarettes. Not smoke exactly, but the smell as on a heavy smoker's clothes. We checked the windows and none were open. As far as Kevin was aware, neither neighbour smokes, but of course they could have had visitors, I'm just not sure how the smell of it gets through solid walls. There was no-one outside. When we told Kevin's parents about the odd incident, it was suggested, tongue-in-cheek that maybe we had a ghost. Kevin's thought was that we hadn't ever witnessed this before. My response was, 'but maybe they were in visitation.'

On the show, 'spirit people' or 'entities' are either in visitation or sometimes they are 'grounded'. They can draw energy from those in our world in order to interact, which is why the MH team often feel very cold or very hot during an encounter.

At my flat in Old Portsmouth I had several unusual things occur. The television just turning itself on during the night can be explained as could the lights flickering, but I never managed to explain how all the gas taps were turned on all at different angles without a human touching them.
I am convinced that my seeing purple lights has a very normal refraction of light type explanation. My optician didn't agree. I have woken in both of my Portsmouth flats to see hovering lights.

The flat in old Portsmouth was just a few doors away from a house where the Duke of Buckingham, not a very popular fellow, was murdered, so you wonder.... Portsmouth itself is in parts a very old city and I posted previously about the Ghost Walk and the Garrison Church, so it's not impossible that my flat simply was being visited. But from watching MH I also 'know' that people have ghosts attached to them. Goes without saying really.

We've both come to love Yvette and Karl, Richard Felix the historian with the team, David Wells and Derek Acorah, also now Gordon Smith, the spiritualist mediums. (maybe that should be media? ;) We love little fat Kath, the hairdresser who doesn't seem capable of getting Yvette's hair into a sensible style. We love Yvette's red leather trousers because they look so silly. We love Yvette for being such a scaredy cat. We, no I, love to cringe every time 'Ivvie' mispronounces something, which she does frequently, it's as though she has someone else write her litle monologues but no-one goes through them with her beforehand.
We don't trust Stuart or John the sound man, we discredit phenomena that happen around them. And now we feel betrayed by Kieran O'Keefe who denounced Derek to the press.

Most of all though, we love that this show deals with things that can't be explained, because that fulfills a need but it also opens up a huge universe of possibilities.

Friday, 21 April 2006

Queen Bee

Today is the Queen's 80th birthday, 80 is of course the new 60 so she's now just entering her senior years. I haven't really ever given much thought to the Monarchy, they were always just there, in the news, doing what they do. I did experience some annoyance however when the Queen Mother died and the school where I was working simply ignored this, whilst they had stopped lessons for the World Cup. What message did that send to the pupils?

Now that I am living in Canada, I think of the Queen more, because she is also Canada's Queen and I find it especially nice to see pictures of her sometimes in people's houses. We share a Queen, we have something in common. Something from back home that'll keep me going until Sainsburys comes to Canada.

I also read a couple of days ago that a Canadian octogenarian, who I think shares her birthday with the Queen, was over having lunch with her, and this too made me feel a connection, not that I personally know either. I do know Barb of course who will be 89 this year and gunning it.

If the Queen's mother is any indicator, we can expect Elizabeth the second to be around for at least another 21 years, and if she should decide to come and live in Vancouver, she might fare even better, Vannies have the greatest longevity amongst Canadians (real statistic) and Canadians live longer than Brits. I am basing this outrageous statement on my usual scientific sample of one. My Aunt who lived in Toronto developed the exact same medical complaints as my mum, but when she was ten years older.

So where does this leave Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, up the creek without a paddle? Not at all, she's a spring chicken at 50-something, and as we know, 50 is the new 37¾. She's a woman who can bide her time and as gracious as her current Majesty.

It has also now occurred to me what a good feeling it is to have a woman as our ultimate Head of State. I adore Tony Blair and loathe Stephen Harper, I am a woman with two Prime Ministers, the Queen has even more of them to cope with, since she has to oversee New Zealand and Australia too and a bunch of other places that don't make such good TV programmes, and they of course all have to defer to her. I'm not sure she really gets to tell any of them what they can and can't do.

Austen tipped me off about a documentary celebrating the Queen's life, which he said was quite thought provoking. It is called, provocatively, the Queen at 80,it can be seen here on Channel 27, KCTS tonight at 22.00.

So let's hear no more of this not getting along with the Queen nonsense, since I imagine she reads my blog religiously, 'Happy Birthday your Majesty'. May she reign for as long as she feels able until it's time for the wonderful Camilla and her husband Charles to take over.

Thursday, 20 April 2006

Of wallabies and other bees

There is something comical about the idea that wallaby milk is going to save us from superbugs. And yet it's not one of those 'how the hell did they ever find that out?' deals, it is logical that scientists in Australia would be testing the properties of all of their flora and fauna. And an antibiotic 100 times stronger than Penicillin is jaw-dropping rather than funny, the natural world just keeps on giving. And we...well we just keep on taking.

The article from Netdoctor that I mentioned yesterday, has since been reported in the Guardian, but with a different emphasis, there is less stress on the gender equality aspect and more on the 'over 40' side of things. But what caught my eye in the Guardian's write-up, was the honourable mention for Canadians. Apparently they come in at number two on the 'satisfying sex and relationships' scale. I'm not sure why Nicholas Lezard feels that randy Canadians make him feel like Philip Larkin, we did read a lot of Philip Larkin at school, although of course the only line from his work that everyone knows is I think from a poem called 'High Windows',
'They fuck you up, your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do,' oddly the one poem we didn't study.

Somewhere on TV last night, an advert for a National Spelling Bee flashed up. I can think of little more insane than a spelling bee. If you went into it with your mental faculties intact, spending any amount of time watching children spell words out loud must surely sap the will to live. Any teacher can probably relate to this. We are the only people that I know of who continually ask other people questions we already know the answer to. I can remember being fed this statistic during some early stage of my MA studies. The average time that a teacher gives a child to answer a question is three seconds. I immediately tried to make sure my pupils had longer than three seconds to answer questions, but too long and it becomes counter-productive because the child becomes more self-conscious. It also, like watching children spell things, becomes mind-numbingly tedious.
Spelling bees.....what the hell is the point? There has to be some hidden agenda. Why don't we have them in Britain, or Spain, Italy, Germany and most especially France? For goodness sake, the French have an organisation for protecting the French language.

The best thing on TV last night however, was the excellent 'Bones'. I love Temperance Brennan and I love this show. It embraces everything I admire about detective work and eschews everything I detest about the way TV depicts the same.
I hate the police or forensics shows where women supposedly do professional jobs but have to dress like sex workers to do them. I find this insulting. You can work out the token lesbians in these programmes because they have their blouse buttons done up, which kind of indicates that only lesbians can be professionals, although I think I implied previously that this was in fact the case, so maybe I am shooting myself in the foot there.

In SVU, where the female lead, who in my opinion is far and away one of the most attractive women on TV, does wear clothes that you might wear at work, even so, the police officers, supposedly the cream, are always smirking and looking smug. Real police officers, from the bobbies who tread the beat up to ...whatever they go up to, don't smirk. They are trained, as are teachers, to use neutral body language, neutral facial expressions, and this helps since when you do react in a neutral way to situations and conflict, you more often than not do not become emtionally charged by it.

Temperance Brennan is a real scientist and she simply states facts, I love that about her. David Boreanaz's character despairs of it because she doesn't hold back. But she is a complete professional at all times. In yesterday's episode, where Brennan was helping to identify bodies in New Orleans, and of course, why would TV use New Orleans without a voodoo theme, it is that objectivity that serves to heighten the creepiness factor. If Temperance Brennan can lose a day of her life through voodoo magic, not a trace of any drug in her body, then it makes you feel that there's something more than just belief in the power that is at work, because you know without any shadow of a doubt that Temperance doesn't believe in it. She is an anthropologist, she knows about everyone's beliefs. When discussing voodoo with Boreanaz, a Catholic, she baldy states that she cannot see the difference,
'They have the same saints, you have miracles, they have spells,' she says,
'But they have zombies,' says Boreanaz,
'And your Christ was resurrected after death,' she states, no smirk, no smugness, just fact, bam.

Towards the end, there is a scene that was just pure Temperance. The superb Giancarlo Esposito starts to weave a spell, no melodrama, just total creepiness. Temperance watches him and there is a moment of real tension when you wonder what the outcome will be when suddenly she appears to flick him in the face and he stops just like that.
'I've noticed that no-one's really scary after they've been poked in the eye,' she says.
There's no answer to that.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

All kindsa Shizzle

So it turns out.... this'll amaze you.... that people who live in societies with more gender equality have better sex. Ok, ok, in fact this study is talking about older people but I don't see why it should be any different for younger ones. You'd never have guessed that would ya?
I mean just as an extreme example, who, without doing a properly funded study on it, could work out that in societies where female circumcision, or castration as it really is, is carried out, that less and not such good sex was going to be available for both parties.

Last week I was equally amazed to find out that a study had shown that stress causes eating disorders - who'da thunk huh?

Now I have a number of very good friends who are American and two in particular that have been friends for a long time, in Dawn's case a very long time indeed. R, I know, worries a lot about how the world perceives the U.S. because of Bush (though personally I think she should worry just as much if not more on account of Cruise). Well, American journo Tim Dowling tells us that the U.S. State Department has issued a 16-page leaflet telling Americans how to act and how to avoid acting, when travelling abroad. He tells us that the pamphlet advises people that "it is inappropriate to tell people about the Bible "unless you are a professional missionary identified as such." "
He also says,
"Finally, ask yourself: do you hate George Bush enough to travel? You may think you hate him a lot, but once abroad your denunciations of the man and his policies will have to be forthright and tireless. Every time you want to say, "So you guys say crisps for chips, and chips for fries, right?", stop, think, and then say "George Bush - what an asshole" instead."

It has been my intention never to mention celebs, but sometimes, well, I just can't control it, I just have to. If you look at 'go fug yourself'
and scroll down about four pics, you will see Katie Holmes as she was yesterday. She presumably looks quite different today. Now I would not wish post-natal depression on ANYONE, however, if the hand of some supervillainous being appeared from the sky with a card on which was written 'PND' and the other hand gripped me by the throat and a voice said, 'tell me who to hand this to or the planet perishes,' I wouldn't have even a moment's hesitation before pointing at KH. Having been mean, I really do hope the poor woman doesn't get it because as if having to sleep with Tom Cruise weren't enough, then tortured by the little ferret about the birth, not to mention the afterbirth - did I say not to mention that? I did, she should be spared the horror of PND.

And last, but by no means least, our very own Stephen Harper, what a Mensch, was threatening to throw all his toys out of the pram and even call another election if his ridiculous child care proposals don't get passed by the House. Go on Stevie, make my day.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Flipper pie

I have been trying to get my head round the issues involved in the seal cull, and yesterday, the Guardian's Canadian correspondant, Anne McIlroy gave an account of at least some of the concerns and I have asked a number of Canadians.

The first question I suppose that needs answering is whether the seal cull is necessary. There are two arguments for it that I have been made aware of.
One is that unchecked, the seal population becomes large enough to deplete fish numbers. This might mean that levels are unsustainably low and the fish are unable to repopulate, or that the fishing industry cannot make a living because quotas have to be reduced.
The second reason is that Newfoundlanders rely very heavily on the seal cull for their livelihood. This argument presents Newfoundlanders as using every part of the seal, meat, blubber, oil and even the flippers, yes, flipper pie is a real dish on the East coast of Canada, in the same way that plains First Nations people used every part of the buffalo.

When the Canadian seal cull is reported in the popular press, it is generally done in a very emotive way, showing old pictures of white coated baby seals being clubbed to death. Whenever an argument has to be presented in this fashion it immediately makes me think that there is a weak argument being advanced. As Anne McIlroy points out in her article, it is no longer legal to cul the nursing pups, ie the ones with the white coats, nor the mothers. She also states however that the pups only nurse for a few weeks, they are therefore legally fair game at only a few weeks old, but again the other side of that is that at a few weeks old they are independent animals and their life cycles must not be judged in human terms.

For me personally, the central question is how the seals are killed. I feel that McIlroy doesn't deal adequately with this.
I have been told that they are no longer clubbed, they are shot. I would have no problem with this, I do after all eat meat, in doing so I have to accept that someone kills them on my behalf, I even eat the flesh of mammals, there must be blood involved. I would NOT eat meat if I thought it had been killed or raised in an inhumane way, so it is important to me that this information is available and that I am aware of it. I know for example that these are concerns of both Alex and Hazel and I understand that Hazel is a vegan because she doesn't feel that animal husbandry is humane.

In the article, McIlroy alludes to concerns about whether seals are skinned while still alive and there is a reasonable response to this, however I think that this does make the process less clear cut. The argument that animals do have automotive responses post mortem is true. But it could also be that the animals have been skinned alive, in which case it implies that they are not in fact shot. A difficult one and I think individual opinion on this is going to be based on whether one has confidence in the food and fishing ministries of the country. I haven't been here long enough to make that call.

There are observers to the cull and I feel it would be helpful to both sides if those observers were not hindered. So-called activists on the other hand, anger the people who are doing the cull and achieve little except to garner support for those they are trying to stop. There needs to be more transparency so that there can be no argument that guidelines are being followed and if they are not, then there must be prosecutions and this too must be seen.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Mushy peas

Now Kevin is getting decidedly fed up of my going on about this, but yesterday, he was cooking a ham and I thought the perfect thing to go with it would be mushy peas, or squashy peas as we used to call them in our family.

I had managed to find a small box of quick soak marrowfat peas at Superstore and I remembered from when my mum used to make them (although my sister insists that it was my dad who used to do them) that you had to rinse them well after soaking and then watch them carefully when they were in the pan because they could quickly overboil spreading pea mush and froth all over the stove.

Soak the peas, tick, rinse, tick, add lots of water, tick, watch carefully and catch them in time as they are about to boil over, tick. All seemed to be going swimmingly, lovely smell, no mess on the cooker, plenty of liquid. And then I realised... there were no actual peas in the pea mush. I boiled them more rapidly, reduced the liquid, thinking that at any time they would suddenly form a delicious mush. It never happened. Well, it did technically but not until the what could only be now described as soup, had spent the night in the fridge.

Kevin searched the British recipe sites to find out what had gone wrong. Nigella, I thought was particularly unhelpful. She advocated mushing up ordinary peas with garlic and crème fraîche, which does indeed sound yummy. HOW....ever, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to mushy peas.

The actual mushy pea how-tos seemed to indicate that I had used too much water, but I know how much water used to go into that big old saucepan at home. Same difference as it were, but I guess I used not enough peas. Maybe even the quick soak have been pre-treated in some way that isn't helpful for long cooking, but whatever. We live and learn.

The way I like to see this culinary debacle is that since I'm not a Northerner, I'm not born with the way of the mushy pea. I will prevail however. The mushy pea will not get the better of me.

Kevin didn't miss a beat in rescuing the meal. He had cooked the main course and pudding in any case.

Tis Easter Monday, and apart from the schools and I believe some government establishments, everyone's back at work today. Shocking. Easter Monday is like Boxing Day, everyone needs it. Oh well, just one more thing to add to my mental list to bother Stephen Harper about.

Sunday, 16 April 2006


I'm not a big fan of the Wizard Whitebeard approach to either the miracles or the Resurrection. What works for me is some phenomenon that can be explained by science. The four Gospels show us some version of Mary Magdelene going to Jesus's tomb and finding the stone rolled back and the tomb empty. In the three synoptic Gospels there are just a few verses after this discovery that witness Christ's return from the dead, even in St. John's Gospel there isn't much, and in all, Jesus is only seen by his closest friends and followers.

So what are the possible explanations? That Jesus died completely, stone cold, rigor mortis and all, then literally got up and everything starts working, business as usual. Or that maybe he wasn't completely dead when he was cut down from the cross, that his followers knew that and came back and helped him out. Or that the followers saw him in the way that people do see their dead. All of those explanations can be described as resurrection, depending on what your mind can accept and wants to believe.

The belief of Jesus's followers and their own ministries and acceptance of martyrdom meant that his teachings were spread through the civilisations of Greece and Rome and the countries that they colonised. What made them so successful? Quite possibly it was exactly that, the story of Jesus having conquered death, executed in the Roman way and then alive again three days later. It's compelling, it beats the last minute reprieve hands down. And not only did it offer evidence of life after death, but the promise of forgiveness.

Yesterday I watched a Discovery channel docu-drama about the first emperor of China, the one who united the various cantons. He didn't do that by giving away sweeties, he did it by having a vision and then setting out ruthlessly to achieve it, cut, slash, tear apart. After a while when he had unified China, he suddenly started worrying about all the people he had killed waiting to torment him in the afterlife. He had the terracotta army constructed, gave them real weapons, used in battle and these spirit warriors would protect him.

Now contrast this with the option where all are forgiven because one man died and was resurrected. As I said, compelling. Life was brutal and short for many for a very long time in history and the idea of an assured good afterlife, well most people would say, 'yep, I'm in.'

Ghandi was a great man because he captured people's imagination, he had power over people but unlike many of history's other charismatics, he didn't exploit that - in a bad way - he felt deeply for his people and he did everything he could within the boundaries of his own interpretation of his religion, to improve their lot. To me, that makes Ghandi a truly, truly great teacher. Had he had access to Harry Potter's powers, that wouldn't have made him a greater one in my book, in fact it would have lessened him.

If the way the miracle of the loaves and fishes worked was that the crowd were caught up in the message and teaching of Jesus and that as baskets were passed around the crowd, so much was given that the whole crowd was able to be fed, then that for me is the greater miracle.

I accept that some people need to believe a literal translation of the Bible, but if I had to do that, I wouldn't be able to take communion.
Resurrection, symbolic, literal, it offers us consolation, for our loss, for our misdeeds, and hope, renewal.
Easter, new life. Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, 15 April 2006


It's the time in between, just that we know that Easter Sunday will be coming, and we can spend the day preparing for our guests tomorrow. For Mary and Jesus's disciples and friends it would just have been the day after, the shellshock day, the day when you can do nothing because the world has changed forever, when the suffering of the person is over but you will never see them again in this world. And you cry and you can't eat and the pain is unbearable and yet even so, you don't want time to move forward because this moment is the closest you will ever be to them. That's today.

Yesterday, we watched a Canadian film, Saint Ralph, an absolutely beautiful story of a 14-year old boy who fixates upon winning the Boston Marathon because he believes it will be the miracle needed to bring his mother out of her coma. The main character is wonderfully written and portrayed as are the priests at the catholic school who both encourage and discourage him from his dream. They seem convinced that believing you can bring about a miracle is blasphemy. I cried the whole way through it.

So the Pope, wearing his cloak of infallibility, has decreed that historians who have long debated the role of Judas in the arrest of Jesus, are all wrong. Why Lord bless us sor, how lucky we are to have such a man as yeself to tell us what to think. I can see it all spiralling downhill from here. Simmi pointed out to me yesterday that one of the first things Benedict the sixteenth got rid of on taking office was the department at the Vatican responsible for promoting good relations with the Muslim world. Lest we forget, 'Arbeit macht frei' so we all need to just get to work and not bother our silly heads with such unimportant world matters.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the traffic specialist who runs Iran, is still cheekily refusing to stop enriching uranium to weapons grade level whilst continuing to threaten and condemn Israel. He feels that Israel should be part of Europe, which many of us might agree with, just we might have different views on how that might be brought about. Say, for the sake of argument, if Europe stopped just the other side of Persia.....

And speaking of traffic, another short Canadian film we saw last night, was 'The Delicate Art of Parking'. Two of the main characters were played by Hank and Wanda out of Corner Gas. It almost had me blubbing again since it started in the very compound that our car had been towed to. But it was a very funny, very dry humoured film, very, very Canadian.

Friday, 14 April 2006


I have always found the crucifixion fascinating and I guess that's part of the deal. The man we had learned about in church being nailed to a wooden cross. From that cross we see his whole life, all his teachings. The method of execution becomes the symbol for the religion. What other faith can boast that? And as a child that's what we saw, a man on a cross, a little bit of blood dripping from the nail holes, maybe a small amount around the thorns on his head, but mostly he gazed out at us, sorrowful but peaceful.

It was actually a great many years later, when I was teaching at my previous but one school, that I learned exactly what crucifixion meant. Our Headteacher, a large, bluff Geordie, did an assembly about the crucifixion. He was an historian, so this was his thing, he had held us transfixed below the walls of the old city in Boulogne where he told us about the killing fields. Now he was going into minute detail about what you would suffer with each terrible thing that happened to Jesus, how it would feel to drown slowly as your lungs filled up with your body's own fluid, unable to breathe properly and clear the water. How it was a slow and excruciating death. How if your relatives could afford to pay for your legs to be broken, that time could be shortened considerably. How the occupied populace were terrified at the sight of these crosses with the dead or dying on the high ground. He made our blood grow cold, he made us start to realise for the first time what it meant to die like that.

Mel Gibson's film, 'The Passion of Christ' received a lot of criticism and from many quarters, but I was mesmerised by it. The scourging was insane, but I have no doubt extremely realistic. For pity's sake he was actually criticised for using animal flesh for some of the effects, what the hell was he supposed to do, have a real actor scourged to the point of death? Well, ok, I'd be up for him doing that to Tom Cruise, nasty little ferret who shouldn't be allowed near a woman, but in general, well....
What he stopped short of however, was any realism in the actual crucifixion. It was as though phew, finally, up on the cross, now we can get this over with, that was a bit of a nasty few hours. Oh yes it was, but far, far worse was yet to come.

Crucifixion was a truly horrible way to put a living, sentient creature to death. But in some ways, it was almost a challenge to humans to think up more awful ways of killing people. So-called witches, of whom something like 90% were women, were burned at the stake, although so were heretics...and then Catholics. Incomprehensibly awful. When Anne Boleyn's cook, at the instructions of some high up, was caught putting poison in her food, he was boiled to death. Can you even begin to imagine? In the film, 'The Last of the Mohicans' we see a traditional Native American form of execution where the victim is tied by the legs to two horses who are then startled so that they run off in opposite directions. Makes you shudder. We saw Mel Gibson himself as William Wallace in the film 'Braveheart', being very stiff upper lip as he is about to undergo that most British of tortures known as being hung, drawn and quartered. Evil.

The horror of Jesus's execution must be what enthralls us. Pilate did not want to make a martyr of him - and how very sensible he was - even though in the Creed we say, 'he suffered under Pontius Pilate', there was a lot of misrepresentation in this story.

And yes, I know, I KNOW that the story doesn't end there and that the important bit was what happened next, but this was the human bit. This is what we think about today, Good Friday, because this was an HORRIFIC passing from life and at the hands of other human beings. These are the creatures we are, ones who suffer courageously as individuals through all kinds of horror, and ones who as a crowd are capable of the greatest evil.

Through all of this, I also think of the suffering of the woman who had to watch it happening to her son. How do you survive that?

Thursday, 13 April 2006

Maundy bloody Maundy

Well, the Queen's dealing with that one - she distributes her Maundy money today, Goddess bless her. She gives to remind us of the Last Supper and the treachery of poor old maligned Judas Iscariot. Ok, and I could get a whole blog out of that but for the fact that I'm on a feminist tear again.

Firstly, there was an interview in the Guardian last week with an American author, Catherine MacKinnon. She asks, 'Are women human?' and goes on to argue that we certainly aren't treated as such. Quoting from Stuart Jeffries' article,

"Of all the provocative passages in Catharine MacKinnon's new book Are Women Human? the following hit me hardest. She writes: "[T]he fact that the law of rape protects rapists and is written from their point of view to guarantee impunity for most rapes is officially regarded as a violation of the law of sex equality, national or international, by virtually nobody." "

It's this sexual aspect of relations between men and women that has been the subject of three films we have seen recently.
'Memoirs of a Geisha' I found interesting, certainly fascinating to see that whole culture laid out, although in my opinion, it dragged a bit as a film. However the Geisha culture that was portrayed there perpetuated the view that women are put on this earth to serve men and they can only reach some level of success by doing so. The girl's virginity was auctioned off to the highest bidder, some vile old toad that no young girl would want to be entered by. There was a competitiveness that was encouraged and served to keep the girls even more enslaved. Vile. But the second world war came along and as ever, women were now needed to go and work in the rice fields - off you go, don't come back until we tell you.

Two films by writer and director Deepa Mehta have also left us horrified. We have been unable so far to get hold of her first film, 'Earth' but the video rental shop were pushing 'Fire' because her most recent film, 'Water' has just been released on DVD.
'Fire' deals with how women in a particular layer of Indian society are at the mercy of their husbands' whim. An arranged marriage is a sham because the new husband has a girlfriend whom he loves. The wife is there to produce babies and to help out in the extended family, especially looking after the ageing grandmother who has had a stroke. In the household is the wife of, I think, the brother, who has decided to be celibate irrespective of what his wife wants. The two women, rejected by their husbands, discover their sexuality with each other. The film was banned in India.

'Water', another powerful film, dealt again with how marriage does not serve women in India. A twelve year old girl arrives at an ashram, delivered there by her family because she has been widowed on the death of a man she had never even met. All the women in the house are widows, many widowed as young girls and they will spend the rest of their life in the ashram. One of them supports the household through prostitution. We see one of her clients, a married man, who ignores his wife and informs his son that since he is a Brahmin, he can sleep with whoever he wants. It gets worse but I'll let you see the film.
It is the teachings of Ghandi that offer any hope at all to these women. The film is set in 1938 and we are told that a law has just been passed allowing widows to re-marry. At the end of the film, Mehta tells us that there are 34 million widows in India and many still live in the conditions portrayed in the film. I suppose it is hard to let go when your religion tells you that you will be re-born into the belly of a jackal.

It really makes me think back to that article I quoted a week or so ago about how feminism has failed Muslim women. It certainly sends me back to the title of Catharine MacKinnon's book, 'Are Women Human?' You have to wonder really.

Change has to come from two sources, it has to be enabled, facilitated by people outside the problem, those who hold the power, for the most part men, but not always. Those women who do hold power and authority have a responsibility towards other women.

But it must also come from within, women have to free themselves and when you have been well and truly brainwashed for your entire life, that's the most difficult thing in the world.

Perhaps the Queen could, like her own son, look beyond the pensioners she's giving money to and start muddying the waters a bit. Monarchy is doomed anyway, but by heck they could go down fighting.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006


So, long before Little Britain, there were the Piranha brothers, Doug and Dinsdale, who nailed Stig's head to the floor because he transgressed the unwritten law.

Now parking your car around this city is a bit like dealing with Doug and Dinsdale. There are few lines on the side of the road telling you where you can't park, actually I say that just to cover the possibility that there might be some, but I have never seen any, just unwritten laws and every once in a while, strange counter-intuitive symbolic representations here and there telling you sweet Fanny Adams.

When I go to my writers' group on a Monday evening I always try to ask if there is any reason known only to Canadians why I can't park wherever I have parked. This Monday I learned one. Two-way street, arrived on the side of the road opposite my friend's house, so crossed the street and parked. Fortunately, one of the group pointed out to me that you are not allowed to park as I had. I don't even know how to describe this. We drive on the right, so you have to park facing in the direction you would drive. Ok, I don't object to this, just that there are no signs telling you any of it. Ever.

I was once towed, yes the car was actually removed by the people who are supposed to look out for us, late at night, because I parked too close to a fire hydrant. No markings, no sign. I transgressed the unwritten law and at that point, the Piranha brothers' justice seemed fair in comparison, after all, Dinsdale was a gentleman. I felt violated by the city. If it really is that important that people don't park anywhere near fire hydrants, surely they would put lines on the road, unless the point is just to catch you out and tow your car.

Like Simmi, I have had a run-in with gravity. There is a long ramp that leads from Superstore down to the car park underneath. On the way down last Friday, a woman not totally in control of her trolley let it run into my heel. Now I am limping slightly and have exacerbated it by walking to and around the Nature Park. But today, I took Kevin's bike and cycled there. I felt whole again. Er...maybe you need to be a cyclist to understand that completely, it's as though the bike is part of you. Yeah, I know, soppy again.

Having waxed lyrical about the wonderful human being yesterday, I want to say a word about how vile people can be when they are in a group. Simmi sent me this article about the revival of class stereotypes in Britain, as embodied by Vicky Pollard. It's an interesting article, and makes a lot of very salient points, more in theory than practice though I feel. It's all very well to slate people for making fun of chavs, but frankly, they are a truly objectionable section of society and for the writer to refer to them as 'the poor' is laughable. Although he mentions Harry Enfield's Wayne and Waynette Slob, the phenomenon that is Chav puts me more in mind of Harry's 'Loadsamoney' waving great wads of cash in your face whilst telling you about it and spending it all on crap.

Makes you all nostalgic for Doug and Dinsdale. Whatever happened to Spiny Norman I wonder.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Earth sign

I'm very bound to the earth. Earth sign and it shows. Yesterday there was a moment in my day when I was suddenly struck by the brilliance of the people around me. That happens to me a lot, I just think about people, friends, family and am just floored by what amazing creatures people are. That either sounds unbelievably soppy or just plain Nietzchean.

It's a question of people's being,their existence defined by their personality and acts causing a sort of non-physical gravity. Think of the way we were taught to visualise gravity, a sort of rubber sheet that is pulled downwards by the presence of a physical object. Massive things cause spacetime to bend, and massive means anything that has mass. Other less massive things are pulled towards it when they are already close enough to be in the area where the rubber sheet starts to dip inwards towards the bigger object.

Imagine that humans, with their consciousness and ability to change things - so call that their human existence - had a gravity that affected another psychic rubber field around them. By psychic here I mean of the psyche.

There are people to whom we are bonded by love and whatever the friendship emotion is, I guess it's a form of love. We say, 'I love you,' to our friends and they know what we mean. We can't imagine the world continuing to exist if they were suddenly gone from it. And the feelings we have for those people are so strong, we think that it's not just some response within us, but it must affect the world itself. Psychic gravity.

Then there are other people, ones we know and whose company we enjoy, but to whom we aren't so bonded, but we recognise something awe-inspiring in them. Immense courage, determination, intellectual ability, creativity. Surely, surely the world must be diminished when that is lost. Just as the end of a physical object causes a hole in the rubber sheet of gravity, the loss of a human consciousness can't be without consequence.

There are people I know whom I value for their interaction with others. They make other people feel alive, or challenge them or just affect them, ground them. Imagine the psychic gravity loss when someone like that has lived their life.

Others, sometimes younger people, sometimes older, I look at and I can see the potential brewing, like looking into a seething pool and seeing colours, textures, sparkly bits and just knowing, knowing absolutely that there is so much to develop.

Individual skills. When I watch people engaged in a task, doing whatever it is they do, I just think,
'My god, how incredible, what must it be like to have a mind or a skill like that? To see so clearly or to be able to understand the incomprehensible or just to create something that is so wonderful.'

I can think of people from all of those categories who have gone from my life, from life itself, and over and above the loss I think that I have been enriched by knowing those people.

Yesterday evening, in that moment, I imagined how crazy it would be if any of those intellects were snuffed out. That ability to apply information, solve problems like a computer, but in a human head that is also capable of great creativity. So crazy that I almost can't believe it could happen.

How bound we all are to this earth. Perhaps.

Monday, 10 April 2006

Careful what you wish for

Not all the feedback I get about my blog comes through the comments feature, I get e-mails, have telephone conversations and people lie on my sofa eating wings and complain about me not talking about TV enough.

So over the past week or so, some of the things people have mentioned are these. Not enough philosophy, wrong philosopher, too much Jesus, wrong approach to Jesus, too much promiscuity in the L-Word - oh wait, no, that was someone's comment about the L-Word not my blog, not enough small talk, driving too slowly on the on-ramp (just checking to see who'd fallen asleep already) AND... not enough Hazel and Alex. That last one was from Hazel and Alex, I don't yet have a picture of Hazel, so I have posted one of Alex. I'm sure this will be remedied in the summer when Hazel comes to stay. For their information, particularly Alex who doesn't always read her e-mail, Kevin has now bought the tickets for Bard on the Beach.

So here's some TV stuff. There's a new American sitcom called 'Teachers' and this is one of the series that Carmen left the L-Word for. The advance sp on this was that it wasn't very good, but we find it quite engaging. It's funny and has some good characters, although personally I find Carmen's character rather a weak point, the others all gel together nicely, whereas Carmen, or rather Sarah Shahi as she really is, seems like a graft-on. The thing which particularly bugged me was that Kevin looked the series up in and it claimed to be based on the British series 'Teachers'. This I found bizarre because the Brit series wasn't a half-hour sitcom, but an hour-long drama. A bit like saying that 'Scrubs' is based on 'ER'. Oh well.

On Saturday (small talk) we went out to buy some Tylenol (like paracetymol)and ended up spending $40 plus in Save-On. I hadn't taken the bag Di sent me because I wasn't expecting to buy much, but I always have my small emergency cloth bag in my handbag, so I took it out and the cashier packed it. Whilst I was paying, an elderly lady was studying my bag closely.
'What does 'scheib' mean?' she asked. I should have known that this would happen one day. My bag says 'meine Leute waren im Schwarzwald und alles was sie mitgebracht haben ist diese scheiß Tasche'. Yes, bad grammar and all. 'My folks were in the black forest and all they brought back was this shit bag'. I explained it to her. I said that I didn't think anyone would ever notice. She smiled and said good-humouredly,
'Well, it makes things more interesting doesn't it?'

I'm not really feeling in a Jesusy or philosophical mood this morning, so that bit isn't going to be covered, but Austen did send me the absolutely cutest picture ever of Holly holding her palm cross aloft. I'd love to share it by posting it here, but since my blog can be accessed by anyone on the internet, I thought better of it. Alex on t'other hand, well she's old enough. Not enough Alex and Hazel? Careful what you wish for my kitten.

Sunday, 9 April 2006


On Palm Sunday when we were little, Amanda and Karen and her sister and I used to go to church and receive our crosses made of palm. I don't suppose they were shipped in from the Holy Land, more likely some African republic that we were currently patronising, but somewhere other than Europe.

I'm guessing that across (an ever-shrinking) Christendom - point taken Simmi - the sermon this Sunday will be about leadership in some way, how Jesus was born for / achieved / had thrust upon him, the mantle of leadership. And that's fair enough, the people were needy, all occupied peoples are needy and want a great hero to rise up and throw off the yoke of oppression, even if in some cases they're better off. And under Roman occupation you generally were better off, they were cruel and ruthless until they subdued you then they improved your life no end.

But my thoughts are stalled at this road leading into Jerusalem, little Jewish bloke on the back of 'the colt of an ass' while a hopeful populace threw palms in his path. Palms. And this is what we remember - as well we should. Because while we Celts were running around wearing animal skins and bonding with the earth, and I am in no way disrespecting that, and eating gruel, oh, ok and somehow mysteriously building Stonehenge, the Old Testament was writing itself.
I found the leather bound, gold-edged Bible that my father had given me when he came back from sea, the one with the pictures of the desert and the sea and the golden gate of Jerusalem. The OT finishes on page 800 in my Bible, and the New Testament finishes on page 247.

It's the palm that sticks in my mind. As a child, a world away from cosy, rainy Britain, I was given a reminder of a land of figs, dates, honey. A land where water was turned into wine when we didn't even know what a grape was, although to be fair, that wasn't for the want of trying to bring it to us, Caesar had a good crack at Britain about 40 years before the birth of Christ.

Exotic Holy Lands. Where creation was accounted for. Where battles had been fought and where the twelve tribes of Israel had given us a history that we little British children who went to church every Sunday and who listened in assembly every morning, knew as well as our own. The characters in those tales, Abraham, Joseph, Isaac, Benjamin, Jacob, David. And the women, Esther, Ruth, Sarah, Naomi, Rebecca. Strong women, just like our Celtic ones.

From the pulpit every Sunday we heard about the stories of Jesus's forefathers. And then we would hear the stories of Jesus's life and ministry. And once a year we children held in our hand a reminder, not just of the shape of the cross, symbol of Roman occupation, but of the Holy Land, of strangeness, a small piece of exotica that stood for thousands of years of history.

We celebrate Christmas with our northern pine and spruce trees, and we celebrate Easter with our hares and bunnies and chicks, but on Palm Sunday we had the real thing, our own piece of the East, our very own palm.

Saturday, 8 April 2006

Fun and Frolics

Today's Gaurdian is full of fun and frolics, more so even than usual, and that's before going into the magazine section.

So Dan Brown has won his case. Or I suppose more accurately, Baigent and Leigh have lost, and now owe £1 million for that little frolic. I wonder if someone could now take Brown to court over the poor quality of his writing and characterisation. No, I think probably not since so many people, including myself, bought the book and read it - albeit wincing - in virtually one sitting. OK, I exaggerate slightly, but I found it difficult to put the book down. I really can't imagine what Baigent and Leigh hoped to achieve, so someone took their research and ideas and turned it into a best-seller. I can see they might be bitter, especially since the character whose name was so obviously some kind of play on words and turns out to be an anagram of their own names, was so horribly written. But they surely, surely must have known they were on a hiding to nothing. I guess they're going to have to get their own wheels turning again and write something even bigger to pay their legal fees. My one little smile about the whole thing is that it turns out that Dan's missus does all the work - how unusual - and should she ever decide to dump him, well that has been acknowledged very publicly.

A piece that had me laughing like a drain, was the article about the BNP having selected a Greek-Armenian candidate and now being up in arms about it. D'oh! The BNP is basically the British Nazi Party and their very existence is based on racism. They are kind of a joke in Britain, like the very real Monster Raving Loony Party, but there is always the worry that maybe they might get a few votes. The Labour party appear to be especially worried because it no longer represents old fashioned socialism and the British National Party are trying to exploit this. But you've got to wonder how they managed to actually allow, in their own words, 'an ethnic' to be adopted as a candidate before anyone noticed and even more to the point, why tf does Sharif Gawad want to cosy up to a bunch of white supremacists? Unless he is the ultimate agent provocateur. I hope they rip their own entrails out trying to work that one out.

Finally, my own diodes exploded trying to get my head around this one, I'm going to quote directly from Martin Kettle's article.

"During the Falklands conflict in April 1982, a call came through to the Whitehall office of John Nott, Margaret Thatcher's defence secretary. At that time the British military task force was still steaming southwards through the Atlantic and the eventual outcome of the hostilities could not be predicted. But this call came directly from the Argentine-occupied islands themselves, from an SAS unit secretly at work close to Port Stanley. "We are looking straight at General Menendez in the cross hairs of our rifles," the SAS caller whispered. "Do you want us to take him out?"

Back in London there was a hasty high-level discussion about what to do with this opportunity to remove the head of the Argentine forces on the Falklands. But the response was unanimous and quick. Don't kill him, the SAS were told. We don't do assassination."

I don't really have anything to say that Martin doesn't say more than adequately in his article, though I did whinge at him about using the term '9/11'.
It's odd, in old fashioned war, hand-to-hand, on the field of battle, the aim was always to get to the leader take him or her out, because once you did, the battle was won. So does that tell us that the rules have changed or that we don't want to be done out of a bit of a skirmish? I think the rules of war have changed. In the days of hand-to-hand, mostly you were taking out a soldier. Now you would be taking out someone who sat at a desk and ordered genocide, and people must see that one being taken down.

Friday, 7 April 2006


Austen asked me if I had read this article in the Guardian a couple of days ago. And, well, I hadn't. It's an interview by journalist John Sutherland of the author Phyllis Chesler and it's a very well written piece so I would urge you to read it.

"In 1961, Phyllis Chesler agreed to marry her college sweetheart, a young, westernised Muslim man who had come to study in the US. At his request, they married and lived in his home country, Afghanistan. "When we arrived in the country they took my American passport away - very typical with foreign wives," she says."

Sutherland then goes on to describe how Chesler's experiences as a western woman, plunged suddenly into an islamic society, led her to the conclusion that feminism has failed Muslim women.

I can't argue with anything Sutherland says in his article, nor with Chesler's conclusions, I quote again,
"The result, she argues, is that "instead of telling the truth about Islam and demanding that the Muslim world observes certain standards, you have westerners beating their breasts and saying, 'We can't judge you, we can't expose you, we can't challenge you.'"

I think she is right, we are so afraid of being labelled islamaphobic that we don't challenge loudly enough. The rights of women as human beings are disregarded as a matter of course in many of these countries, even ones we are friendly with such as Saudi Arabia, although as I have said before, the signs are that this is changing.

But I wonder whether it is really the religion of these countries that is to blame, or is it simply a common factor?

My experience in teaching has exposed me to quite a range of approaches to Islam. I have mentioned before the easy dialogue between Muslims and Christians at my previous school. We went to their Eid party, they sent us Christmas cards.

There was a girl who started with us who came from quite a traditional Muslim family and when she arrived, she wore the headscarf that has created so much of a stir in France. After a while, she went through the ritual where her hair is pulled out by female relatives, so again, something that was quite different from the experience of many of our other Muslim children. But even she, after a while, decided and was allowed to do so by her family, that she was no longer going to wear the headscarf.

A Muslim colleague in my own department told me that within her own family there was a range of observances. She did not believe that her head had to be covered, and she felt that much of the fundamentalism we see is not based on anything within the Q'uran.

There was the recent example in the British press, of a Muslim girl who had taken her school to the highest court in the Land because she wanted to be allowed to wear some kind of total body covering dress and trousers to school. The school, whose Headteacher was muslim, had agreed a suitable tunic and trousers unform with the local imams. The courts ruled in favour of the school, pointing out that she was agreeing to the rules, including the uniform rules of the school, by attending.

In Britain, and I am sure here in Canada too, the differences in behaviour between Muslims and Christians are not so huge, they do appear to me to be in the nature of how the religions are observed rather than a complete disregard for the egalitarian laws of either country - and look how Ms. Chesler was suckered in when her boyfriend was in America - he behaved as a westerner.

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, and it is one that has a long road to travel before it meets standards of treating all of its citizens that are acceptable to the EU. Nonetheless, as a nation, it has expressed a desire to join the EU and to meet the requirements. There are fundamentalists within the country who disagree, but they are in a minority and not in control at present. Turkey has a hell of a lot to gain from joining the EU and the EU has a lot to gain by letting it - ultimately.

And yet, and yet, it is difficult to ignore the fact that many of the countries where women are monstrously treated, denied human rights and suffer the ridiculously named female circumcision - circumcision does not after all remove a man's sexual sensitivity - are Muslim countries.

I am not offering an answer. I personally feel that Christianity grafted very well onto European Celtic practices. Maybe an affinity is what I am suggesting. And now that we have mostly stopped fighting within the religion, we get on well enough, there is something for everyone within the faith, although we're probably at our best when we identify the nutcases and don't listen to them.

So is there something about Islam that has an affinity with the more repressive societies? My opinion, based on what I know from Muslim friends rather than any personal knowledge of the Q'uran, is that there is nothing inherently repressive about the religion. It may be that as with anything else, it's how it has been used and represented that have created what are now entrenched problems.

But I return to that point Ms. Chesler makes about sensitivity. We cannot ignore abuse on the grounds of religion, we cannot close our eyes and let women be systematically mistreated and yes, our leaders should not be cosying up to countries that allow practices that are fundamentally inhumane. Religion must not be used as an excuse, because after all, what sort of god would allow that?

God as a deep-seated mysogynist, doesn't ring quite true somehow.