Thursday, 31 August 2006

Happy Ben-day

Every Picture tells a story and that is certainly true for this card. But I will cut to the chase. One way or another it got posted without a stamp. I received an apologetic e-mail from my sister warning me that I could expect a demand for money from the postie. But friends here said,
'Oh no, they'll just send it back.' Unbelievably, it arrived, just as it was sent and I haven't been asked to pay any excess. Mind you, it may be that my sister confounded Canada Post by not putting a return address on it, clever, very clever, but who knows.

So...... Happy Birthday to the Benjamin of the tribe of Schnee. He will be able to celebrate later, after he gets back from work. His demands have been reasonable this year, unlike last when his aim was to lie around all day eating himself sick. And he did. Still, I guess that's what birthdays are about, growing older and hopefully wiser.

Kevin unfortunately is proper poorly. He has sensibly taken a second day off work and I think his doing so may mean the difference between whatever he has tipping over into pneumonia and recovery.

Stereotypes - interesting things. In today's Guardian, Miss England, a Muslim, has been criticising the government for negatively stereotyping the Muslim community. She is also annoyed that when she does interviews, instead of being asked about her favourite food etc, she is asked about her experience of being a Muslim in a Christian country. Now it seems to me is that what she is saying is that she would prefer to be stereotyped as an airheaded woman than a person with interesting views. Hmmm.... Still, let's run with that,
"Ms Kohistani said: "Tony Blair addressed Muslims in particular, telling them that they need to sort out the problem within. That was a huge stereotype of the Islamic community." " Er....excusez-moi? What? No it isn't.

Let's say for the sake of argument that a rogue element of the Labour Party were running around making bombs and trying to blow up planes IN THE NAME OF THE LABOUR PARTY. Now let's say that Tony Blair, as leader of that same Labour Party, instead of saying,
'Oi, dissidents, No!!! This isn't what the LP is about, don't go doing that or you're out. You want to be socialists, go and play with someone else, because this isn't what socialism is about,' he in fact went and whined at, for the sake of argument, Jacques Chirac,
'No fair Jackie, people are saying rotten things about my party, make them stop!' I think he'd get a bit of a flea in his ear.
I rest my case.
Except, to even things up, there was a superbly written, very funny article entitled 'How to be an ordinary, decent Muslim' in the same issue. The writer, Urmee Khan pokes fun at us, gently and as with all the best satire, there's a serious message in there. Nice one.

I have a way that the Middle East could help us out, maybe sell us something.* One of the areas of great natural beauty on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino, has run out of water. They are having to send tourists home and generally call off the end of the summer season. They are on the coast, so a case of
'Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink nor spare,' I may have misquoted that.
Perhaps we could buy emergency desalination plants from the land-locked desert nations. Seems logical, if global warming is going to make sea-levels rise, we might as well use the extra sea, or the warmer sea or whatever is causing it to produce drinking water. Ah the Star Trek solution, it always pleases because it is so neat, although generally dependent on replicator technology.

In an attempt to thwart the stereotype of rockstars as being a bunch of rich people who couldn't care less about the fans, Dave Grohl has announced that he will be going on a bender with the Aussie miners who were trapped underground for two months not so long ago.
""I'm not just having one beer with those dudes: we're going for it," "said Mr Grohl.
He was impressed that they had requested an i-pod with Foo Fighters' music on it while they were trapped. I can understand them wanting the Foo Fighters, but going on the experience of quite a number of people, asking for an i-pod was a bit of an act of faith.
Nonetheless, good on yer Dave.

* Yes I know they sell us oil, but I live in hope that we will develop ways to use less and use alternatives.

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

BBC Canada

We have a channel called BBC Canada, it's one we have to pay for separately, so I suppose you'd call it a premium channel. And on the whole it's worth the premium. There is a lot of Britcom on it and some old BBC dramas, which rarely fail to please. There are two things however that I find odd. One is that it also shows some Canadian programmes such as Holmes on Holmes. This is a very good home improvement type of show. A very enjoyable watch and yet not what you'd expect to find among your Beeb regulars. It is usually shown on one of the smaller cable channels both in Canada and Britain. Any British friends who feel it would be useful to be able to tell the difference between a Canadian and a US American accent - tune in to Mike Holmes.
The other thing is that although there is a time slot on Beeb Canada for Little Britain, it seems to show far more often on the Kids' channel which is next to it on the imaginary dial. Little Britain, a kids show? Don't make me laugh. Or rather it does, but I'm not sure I'd want small kids asking questions about rimming for example. Just a thought.

One of the BBC dramas that we have been watching on a Sunday evening is a 1999 serial called 'The Lakes'. Set in Ullswater in Cumbria, it follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a small community. Many of these people work at a hotel, appropriately called 'The Ullswater' and many of the same people go and hassle, or in one case even sleep with, the Catholic Priest. The rest of the population have sex in one form or another with the hotel owner's daughter, Lucy Archer.
Yes well. Last week, one of the characters asked the question,
'Whatever happened to white dog poo?' Or maybe he didn't say poo, but you hear what I'm saying.
'Good Question!' I thought, 'whatever did happen to it?'
'Whatever did happen to it?' Asked another character. No answer was forthcoming and I for one continue to wonder. I think there could have been a whole Seinfeld episode about that one, what a missed opportunity for Jerry.

Last night we watched 'the Kumars at No.42'. How I love this show. The cast are just brilliant, and it's nice to be able to step outside the straitjacket of utterly anal PC - although I'm a big fan of sensible PC - and watch a group of Indian-British actors making gentle fun of the vagaries and excesses of their own culture. Spot on Sanjeev, nice work Grandma. On last night's episode, Gabby Roslin who is mostly famous for being sidelined after her stint on 'The Big Breakfast' was a lot of fun, Charles Dance, whose most celebrated performance was in 'The Jewel in the Crown' about British Imperialism in India, seemed a bit overwhelmed by the Kumars. Horses for Courses my friend, Horses for Courses. At this point he had just finished directing 'Ladies in Lavender' so you can see how old these episodes are.

Meanwhile, back in Richmond BC, the season is still trying to make up its mind. It is sunny, but clouds are threatening us. We have a daily supply of tomatoes from our patio forest, a little early perhaps.
We have casualties, Kevin has a bad turn of the season cold, so bad that he actually slept well last night.
Perhaps a jumper is called for today..but then again, perhaps not. That's late summer for you.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Clean Sheets

Sweet rain – not much to be honest, just a few drops on the windscreen this morning, but welcome.
We don’t get as much here in Richmond as they do in North Vancouver, often at the Nature Park we’d have school groups arriving from across the city, soaked, beaten by hailstones even and we’d be dry, overcast but dry.
It seems to me that people here are more bothered by rain than in Britain. Oh, Brits grumble about it, make jokes about the British summer, but then we basically ignore it, carry on as if it weren’t happening.

The lad’s results have finally arrived, I received an e-mail first thing from his sister. Their father had had to go in to the school and get them in the end. The grades were adequate. If I consider how bright he is, they were shocking, but we weren’t shocked, he had done no work for them, and gave himself a weekend to do a year’s coursework after the deadline and before the DEADline. And nor could I even squinny, I did the same thing myself, scraping through O-Level and then having to go full on for A-level. Austen admitted to having done this too.
But given that Ben's gameplan was always to optimise the balance between fart-arsing around and getting just enough core subjects so that he didn't have to re-take any of them, I suppose you could say he scored.
As for squinnying – I had never heard that word before going to Portsmouth, and then, out of all the peculiarly Pompey words there are, considered this one to be a nice one to adopt and use, it sounded like what it describes, not in an onomatopoeic way, just…it sounds right.
And then last week, watching ‘Slings and Arrows’ on TV, I heard it in a speech by King Lear. Figures. I suppose I should look that up.

We clearly get a better class of graffiti around here. The yobbos who have spray painted this on a portacabin used by the secondary school across the road from us and the same message on the elementary school just across the playing fields, have taken the trouble not only to spell it correctly but to punctuate as well.
So not Italians then lads? ( I learnt this much from watching 'The Sopranos'.)
In general, my experience of graffiti in school at the very least, was that the artistes (sic) couldn't spell their abusive messages properly.
And yet, graffiti can have a use.
Many years ago, in the women's toilets in the Students' Union at Keele university, someone (I always thought perhaps the man himself) had written,
'Tom Slattery is the worst shag on campus'. About twelve others had then expressed their opinions. Clearly Tom was getting the action, even if only to report on his lack of prowess - you see why I thought he had written it....

Clean sheets? Just that today is Tuesday.
On a Monday I wash the bed linen and so on a Monday night we have the pleasure of clean sheets to snuggle into. Well, one clean sheet and a duvet cover to be more accurate, but enjoyable nonetheless.
In the dim and distant past, making the bed was a daily chore, folding the bottom sheet under properly, then the top sheet, then the blanket and finally the counterpane, and on top of it all, a candlewick bedspread. They even taught you how to do it at Brownies, taught you how to make a sleeping bag with one old double sheet, a blanket and a blanket pin.

I don’t miss any of that, but I do love Monday’s clean sheets.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Late Summer morning

Late summer, almost a month before Summer turns to Autumn and yet I can feel its approach.
Maybe it's the sounds, above the noise of a pneumatic drill I can hear someone practising the trumpet, I have decided that this is in anticipation of the return to school.

In England, I was always aware of a shift in the light towards the end of August, the deep orange Montbretia and Crocosmia would be coming to the end of their flowering and the light would alter subtly. But I haven't noticed that here. Not yet.
The sun sets earlier for sure, and should you be out around ten, it is dark instead of light-streaked.

The City of Richmond BC has a population of about 200,000 fewer than Portsmouth. The City of Vancouver has a population almost three times that of Portsmouth spread out over 114.67 square kilometers. And yet Portsmouth occupies just a few square miles, I used to cycle from the southernmost point to the north end of the North End and that was just under 3½ miles. I passed 8 pubs just on my favoured route.

And so England can certainly be a smellier country, more closely packed, more assaults on the nose.
When I cycled in Portsmouth, you would go through patches of different smells. In the morning, if it had rained, there was a particular smell to the damp pavement. Then there were the bakery smells of bread and pastries and drifts of flower scents.
In the evening, Chinese food, Indian food, burgers, comforting cooking smells, maybe barbecues in the summer months.
I found Portsmouth as a city, to be given to small areas of mustiness when I stood still, when I cycled, it didn't matter. In town Lynx aftershave (called 'Axe' here), women's perfumes, cheap, expensive, floating past you.
Fish to buy, freshly caught.
In London, packed into tube trains, more personal smells, people's deodorants, oral mintiness or coffee. Occasionally an unwashed traveller. Coming back, beeriness or other alcohol.
In the London Dungeon there is an area depicting plague-ridden London, overpowering fart-gas pumped in, unpleasant cheesiness rather than the sickly, cloying smell you imagine it to be.

As Autumn approaches, the smells change, in town, the sweetness of candy-floss and ice-cream give way to the potatoey smell of roast chestnuts and of....baked potatoes. In shops, the florals give way to spices, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, Christmas spices.
In the gardens and balconies in both countries, tomatoes reaching ripeness, the leaves giving off a strong, distinctive fragrance as you brush against them. Perhaps fragrance is the wrong word.

Richmond is home to Vancouver airport, and yet to the South there is farmland, so sometimes we can smell the fruity corruption of manure. The signs of late summer here are fields of vegetables ready for harvesting, and later, when October comes, big, orange pumpkins, lying on the surface as though someone had thrown them there and left them.

Perhaps it isn't the light or the sounds or the smells, but simply the body's awareness of the rhythm of the year, the summer comes gently to an end. Here, no August thunderstorms to freshen the air, just an end to the blueberries to signal summer's decline.

Sunday, 27 August 2006

Doctor Who

When Laurence arrived last week, he brought two things that his brother had sent with him.
The first was a Saturday Guardian magazine which has a selection of short stories from well-known writers. It is a treasure that I am taking out and reading from time to time, savouring each story, each advert, each article. I don't actually run my hand over it and whisper 'my precious,' but it has that kind of cachet for me at the moment.

The second thing was a disc of Doctor Who episodes. With Ben had come the first part of the series, some of which we had seen when we were over anyway, with Laurence came the remainder.
I am still stunned by how good David Tennant is in this role. It is as though all of the Doctors leading up to the present one have been...well, leading up to the present one.
The original Doctor, William Hartnell, of course will forever be..the original Doctor. And I liked Tom Baker personally, because he had so much fun with the part. Even Christopher Ecclestone, who was in the last series, or the first series of the New Who if you like, was good, he gave it gravitas, as Kevin pointed out to me, he was a well-known and revered actor that would draw people back in. But David Tennant, well he gives it energy, it is an absolute delight to just watch him playing the part. Of course, it is a combination, Russell T Davies (writer of 'Queer as Folk') is giving him some stonking lines to deliver, he too, I feel, has found the right actor to work with. Long may it last. In Canada we are getting the new series of Doctor Who at the beginning of October.

It has been hot here the last few days, very, very hot. On Friday afternoon, Karen finished work early and came over so we could spend a girlie afternoon. Well, kinda. My British friend Karen and I used to have girlie afternoons wandering around Gunwharf Quays and drinking hot chocolate, I miss those. Canadian Karen and I walked along Steveston pier and ate ice-cream. Karen obsessed (quite understandably in this case) about her flooded flat, I obsessed about whether we could get towed from where we had parked.
We went to collect the boys from work and walked along another bit of Steveston waterfront. We sat and wondered about a man parked in a car whose purpose in being there seemed to be to feed the birds - a normal thing for a British person, didn't even occur to me it was odd, but Karen queried it - and we loudly mimicked bits of sketches from Little Britain. Well, the loudly bit was me really, an elderly man turned round thinking I was accusing him of being the only gay in the village, or a lady, or some such.

As well as having a Who-athon yesterday, Kevin and I watched 'Scary Movie 4'. Our friend Steve had a small part in this, but sadly it didn't make it to the finished product. Like loyal friends we watched anyway - well, Steve's away freezing his butt off in a river, making a TV drama for CBC, so he won't find out for some time.
SM4 was a lot of laughs, I suggest you record it and store it away until you feel a bit low, then watch it on the basis that 'laughter is the best medicine except for diabetes'. I don't even remember who said that now.

In today's Observer, as well as an article about a new comedy by and starring Webb and Mitchell of 'Peep Show' fame, my interest was really piqued by a story about Sinclair Beecham, owner and brains behind the up market sandwich chain 'Prêt-à-manger'. He has a new project and it looks like an exceptionally good one. He has become fed up with London hotels that overcharge for everything from rooms to phone calls to Mars bars.
So he is building his own hotel where rooms will be reasonable, internet will be free, as will coffee and water in the rooms, and the prices for making phone calls won't simply stop people from making them.
Don't know about you, but I'm in.

Saturday, 26 August 2006


My own preferred method of delivering unnecessary sugar into my system is chocolate. I know that strictly speaking, sugar isn't a component of chocolate, but I have tried the unsweetened product and you just want to get it out of your mouth, quickly.

I have a dysfunctional relationship with sugar. By sugar I mean the refined variety, sucrose.
I do like my choccie and alcohol, but I think of sugar as a fiend rather than a friend, like injecting Botox into your forehead, when done by an expert, it can smooth out your frownlines so that your face looks like a death mask, inexpertly done - kills you stone dead.

My mother and my aunt both suffered from late-developing diabetes and so could I. The way things are going, so could any of us. Then sugar becomes a diabolical invader, feeding bacteria and yeast, suppressing immune response, allowing yeast infections to proliferate throughout the body.

Right from childhood we are told about the associated dental problems. Gum disease, Decay.

And we decay.

Quoting from the e-diets webpage,
"[Sugar] even contributes to that telltale sign of ageing: sagging skin. Some of the sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, ends up attaching itself to proteins, in a process called glycation. These new molecular structures contribute to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold."


It causes mood swings by making blood sugar peak and crash, and when it crashes, stress hormones are released to try to raise the blood sugar level, but the stress hormones result in anxiety, irritability, shakiness.
And in children - hyperactivity.

And then there is the chequered history of the industry, the Slave Trade in America, Anglo-French Naval battles.


But none of that is news to anyone - well, maybe the ageing thing, I didn't know that until I read it. And often do we allow the incubus to seduce us? Not the once-in-a-blue-moon confection, but the regular, the everyday. Sugar in tea and coffee, full sugar soft drinks, the cake or doughnut every tea-break. Good things, fruit, nuts, coated in sugar.
The sweets that are just boiled or stretched, or boiled and stretched sugar.

I've been that person! I've had the mood swings, the irritability, the susceptibility to yeast and other infections, the continual dental visits. And it's almost as if, when you're in its grip, you can't see any of the damage it does.

Only now, having to get on top of the first signs of high blood pressure and drawing a little closer in years to the age when my mum developed diabetes, I am having to be aware and take care, limit my chocolate and look for the hidden sugars in ready-made foods.
I've never been a cake fan, nor sweets other than choccie, well, maybe occasionally liquorice, but then I found a non-sugar sweetened version of that.
And without it in my bloodstream, I can see the fiend for what it is.

And Sugar is also a lesbian-teen TV drama by Julie Burchill. But that's another story.

Friday, 25 August 2006


So, TC, no, not Top Cat but Tom Cruise, continues to delight. You can't mess with Aussie women, well, apart from Nicole Kidman obviously, no, they have awarded Tom an 'Ernie'. How has he earned this? By being the most sexist celeb. God Bless Australia. I wonder which nation will give him a 'Twat of the Year' award.

I thought it very random today when NetDoctor announced that Pomegranate juice has been found to be beneficial to diabetes sufferers. The Pomegranate it seems, has the foresight to tidy up its sugars so that they don't all wander all over the place causing harm.
So far so good. And I can even see that if you are doing research, you would test all sorts of unlikely fruits and juices to see if anything new can be unlocked. But where, I thought, are people supposed to obtain pomegranate juice? How many people could correctly identify a pomegranate even?
Now, as it happens, in Britain, the big supermarkets allow you to order online and they will deliver your groceries to your home. This is a popular and very useful service. So I went to Sainsburys online and searched, and lo! Not only is Pomegranate juice available to buy, but it comes in two power combos, one with apple and Omega 3 and one with blueberry juice. I reckon if you drink some of this every day you will be immortal. Of course, they would need to be sugar free for diabetics, but if memory serves, if it says juice, then it is juice.

My brother-in-law, Trevor, draws Tony the Tiger. But the contract with Britain has recently been cancelled because of new measures to combat unhealthy consumption patterns. So Tony is no longer going to be assuring British children that eating sugar-coated cornflakes in the morning is g-r-r-eat. The teaching profession salutes.
Today, health charities are calling on the government to take an even firmer line on food advertising, the costs to the health service of obesity is huge.
To be fair, the Blair government have always taken this problem seriously. They listened to and acted upon the advice about school dinners which Jamie Oliver gave. They have damped the activities of the advertising industry. No, the problem is not the government, but rather the governed. We know what makes us unhealthy, but we can't stop ourselves.
This is why the advertising industry is key. They serve a useful purpose when they are ethically directed. Yes, their prime purpose is to sell, but they are also there to inform, they just have to be straitjacketed.

Yesterday was the day when British school children received their GCSE results. This is a horrible day for them, and it is a horrible day for their teachers. You have to explain your results, you have to set targets for them, you have to present a plan for how you are going to improve them. Results are not fun because you are judged on someone else's achievement.
Ben, as might be expected since he is here, has not received his. At the moment we are, as ever with Ben, in the realm of rumour and whisper. They should have plopped through the letterbox this morning since he wasn't in school to collect them. But they didn't and Ben's dad saw Adam who had seen Will who said that Assa had them...or something like that. The saga continues.

Since the status of taking a Modern Foreign Language was downgraded from compulsory curriculum to optional last year, uptake of them has fallen significantly. Just as MFL teachers said it would. But industry has been urging the government to promote languages, firms can't compete in a European market if they have to rely on others speaking English.
Now panic has set in, someone somewhere has realised that pupils are opting NOT to take a language because they are hard. Yes, we know that, so it seems to me that if you are an employer and you are faced with two candidates one of whom has taken a language, your best bet is to give them the job because they didn't back off from the difficult choice.
Language teachers have been giving this message consistently now for years. But there is no sense of validation in the knowledge that the government and industry are now seeing the situation as being in free-fall.
The only thing about this article that made me laugh grimly, was the statement that,
"French remains in the top 10 most-studied subjects at GCSE" which is an idiotic thing to say. How many subjects do most school offer at GCSE? Not many more than ten.

Often I start by talking about a film I've seen, but today I'll finish with one. We had rented the movie, 'The Hills have eyes'. We were probably not even halfway through it when Ben and I had to just walk away. Not because of the usual over-the-top gore of most horror films, but because of the sheer, abject stupidity of it. I can't see that you've made a very good film when the plot is dependent on people running around screaming and waving their arms and doing the EXACT opposite of what the majority of people would in fact do in that situation. I expect better.

Thursday, 24 August 2006


Reading my friend Sleepy's blog yesterday, I realised that I haven't a clue about what it's like to really suffer from insomnia. I'm like the annoying person who claims to have flu when they have a cold. The truth is, I've had those nights, like anyone, when sleep simply won't come, but a Nytol the next night lets me drift off, just like the advert claims.
Sleepy's not the only one of my friends who suffers from this, I know of two others and Kevin. Kevin's insomnia was quite frankly very useful when we were separated by an eight hour time difference. Now it's not so much fun at all.
I try making helpful but useless suggestions based on what I know helps me to sleep, a long walk or cycle, getting up early and no coffee after noon. I can drink coffee until about 16.00 before it causes me problems, but I err on the side of caution. I don't want to risk lying in bed with my heart pounding from the caffeine and KNOWING absolutely, that this isn't psychological, this is a chemical stimulant and nothing, but nothing is going to put me out until that chemical clears my body.

A few weeks ago, my friend Adam (Internet Explorer only) talked about 'Stockholm Syndrome'. I hadn't heard of it before, but found it an interesting idea. It came up again in today's Guardian in a heart-breaking story of a Viennese girl who has been found after eight years in captivity, and yes, I write it like that on purpose, because to treat someone like this is to treat them like an animal. Her parents never gave up hope and that has been rewarded, but how in the name of all that is Holy do you ever get over something like that? The man killed himself by throwing himself in front of a train. A startling number of people kill themselves this way as any London commuter knows, but my thought is, how do you explain yourself to your maker for kidnapping someone's child and keeping them in a cellar for eight years ?

I feel a bond with the planet Pluto. In fairness I did anyway because of reading Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Icehenge'. Now Pluto, at the whim of scientists, has been downgraded from planetary status to 'Dwarf Planet'. Pluto will always be the ninth planet to me, and still has as much impact on my astrological life today as yesterday. Except of course when it's Mickey Mouse's dog.

So, today is St. Bartholomew's Eve, hence the pictures from the William Hartnell Dr. Who episode where the Tardis arrives in Paris to try to stop the assassination of Admiral de Coligny or some such.
I first became aware of the awful events of this day when I read Prosper Mérimée's book, 'Le Règne du Charles IX'.
Unbelievably, at a signal given by ringing the bells for Matins, the Huguenots in Paris on the 24th of August 1572 were massacred and this sparked further atrocities across France. This in the name of the Christian Faith. Possibly ten thousand were slaughtered across France in those few days. I have a visual stuck in my head from the Mérimée book, that of a Huguenot wearing armour, screaming and falling from a building because fire was cooking him inside his metal casing.

Today Protestants and Catholics for the most part not only manage to get along but often embrace the good in each others' form of worship. I'm not saying that the Christian Church had to go through that horror and others like it to get here, but having gone through it and survived we have at least learned from it. I hope that we never again kill other people in our own Faith and desecrate their Holy places in the name of that same God (no gender implied) whom we all worship one way or another.

Who was St. Bart? Just some Jewish bloke, one of Jesus's twelve disciples. I don't know that he did anything spectacular, but his name made the list.

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Wave of Mutilation

My, my, my. I believe I am honest in saying that I am not a person who revels in the misfortunes of others, but in the case of Tom Cruise, well he was cruising for a bruising and yet - whoever thought he'd actually get it? What a plonker. He has it all and in spite of everything. He has been in some films which were good in spite of him. He has played the romantic lead despite looking like a ferret on speed. But the sad fact is, he believes his own hype, a legend in his own eyes. He'll get through this, he's a white, male celeb - hell, even the black ones can get away with murder or kiddie-fiddling.

Whilst I am on the subject of complete tosspots, a man in Britain has made, well if not the newspapers, then at least the Sun, by assaulting and battering his girlfriend because of his own inadequacies. That's not news! I hear you say. Well in this case it is rather, because the cause of his rage was his lack of a fully functioning penis. His lady friend failed to purchase him a pump for said organ, so he hospitalised her in a brutal attack and took his anger onto the ward. He was given three years and four months. I can think of a more appropriate punishment for him.
On the other hand, if this had happened in some countries, the girlfriend would probably have been publicly hanged.

I can remember being very excited indeed at news that the Pixies were reforming. We had been to see Frank Black at the Wedgewood rooms in Southsea, the equivalent of having a legend in your own living room. But it seems you can flog a dead horse, but you can't make it stand back up and neigh. The reunion tour was a disaster, the crew filming it, unskilled in the ways of the master - or even a rock band. It's a shame, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes a legend is short and spectacular, never forgotten but never repeatable.

It's a strange, strange thing to see someone in Politics talking sense, especially about everyone's whipping boy, education. Or perhaps that's a little unfair, as a teacher, I did feel listened to under Tony Blair's government. This article however is uncanny, someone must have been positively eavesdropping. It starts badly, 'Schools must tackle Discipline' is the headline, so you think you're going to get the usual teacher-bashing tripe, but au contraire, it is in fact about giving teachers back authority.
"The whole business of children turning round to teachers and saying 'you haven't got the right to touch me' is knocked on the head firmly and squarely by this bill" God bless you Jim Knight, you might actually get people back into teaching, even staying. This is so on the right track.

In more serious matters, I read my stars every morning. I haven't really ever determined who is my favourite astrologer, so I just read the one that comes into my Inbox. Unlike others, I don't say, 'pshaw, what a load of bird-poo,' no, I always believe whatever they say. However....for some time I have been noticing that they are a week out of date. So, for example, what my stars said for yesterday actually happened last Tuesday and so on. This undermines my astrological belief system. After all, even I could write a retrospective horoscope. Perhaps the stars just need to catch up, or I need to slow down. Or maybe 'they' are right, it's all nonsense anyway...or is it?

Tuesday, 22 August 2006


We live ten minutes away by car from Vancouver airport. This isn't like saying you live ten minutes away from Heathrow. Yes, we can see and hear the planes, but considering the amount of air traffic going through YVR, it really isn't much of a nuisance.

YVR also has a good website and I had had the flight arrivals open all day. Given those two factors, we can usually wait until we see the plane has landed before starting out to the airport. Last night, waiting for Laurence, we knew that timing was going to be as long as a piece of string so we left around the time the plane was due in. As we approached the airport, so did Laurence's plane, it flew right over us, there is no mistaking the Zoom airlines planes, sky blue with the word Zoom written all along the side. And it is a charter company, so most likely the only one that day, I certainly didn't see any more scheduled.
That's a weird feeling, looking up at the sky and seeing the plane that you know your son is in approaching the runway, knowing exactly how it feels to be the person in the plane that is about to land.

Since we knew we had an indeterminate wait we settled ourselves in with drinks at the Elephant and Castle bar which is the best place to see people coming into Arrivals. About 1¾ hours after the wheels of the plane touched the tarmac, Laurence walked out.

To those who don't know Laurence, this may seem quite banal stuff, but to those who do it seems like a miracle. Laurence has never personally done anything to offend the Law, but he draws trouble to him. Just 48 hours before he was due to leave, the Old Bill were standing outside his dad's house, I imagine looking a bit bemused. I won't go into that particular episode, it's not a pretty one, but they refused to take him away. Instead, they took him to the railway station and he was exiled to Portsmouth to stay with his brother until it was time to leave for Gatwick.

He should be able to stay away from the RCMP, he doesn't have any 'dodgy mates' in Canada....yet.

This morning, I took my fourth trip to the government office that issues the social insurance numbers. Every time before had involved a lengthy wait. This morning we were in and out in around five minutes. Getting a social insurance number is a five minute event. You hand over your form, already filled in, they put the details onto the computer and then give you the number. Before, it has always been a five minute operation that has taken an hour.

Being able to speak English does seem to speed up the process. Usually, the name of the person who is next in line is called. And called, and called. The staff don't seem to be able to pronounce the Chinese names accurately enough to be understood, and then there is often a great deal of language brokering that has to go on, maybe the new person to arrive doesn't yet understand enough to communicate, so several other family members are there to help out. And somewhere along the line, no-one has pointed out the numerous places where it states that you should fill in the form before you go to the office.

So,for today, for my family, all who are scheduled to land have done so. All have social insurance numbers and one even has a job. Baby steps, baby steps.

Monday, 21 August 2006


Attempted to watch the film 'Inside Man'. Honestly, we rented this movie because it has Clive Owen in, except that Clivie has dropped the ball a couple of times recently on film choice. This one - well it's a bank robbery movie and really, life's too short to be watching films about blokes robbing banks.
Now I've never been in an American bank, although I have obviously been in a Canadian one. It seems unlikely to me that any bank in the US would have bank tellers and customers not separated by bullet-proof glass, were it not for the fact that at our local bank here, that's exactly how it is. Why is that? In banks in Britain there are vulnerable employees sometimes who wander around in the customer area offering advice, but I guess they would have to think of themselves as expendable because you can't get near the real business end of operations.
I didn't get through the film.

In a small article in Sunday's Observer, we are told that a small high-tech firm just outside of Dublin have developed a new energy technology that could quite literally save the world. But no-one would take the company's owner, Sean McCarthy, seriously. He had to take out a full-page ad in the Economist challenging the scientific community to come and test his discovery. Fortunately, some scientists also read the Economist and are now anxious to do exactly that. I think it's amazing that a small Irish company are just wanting to share this knowledge rather than keep it under wraps until they are ready to fleece the planet dry. I've no doubt they will make money, so they should, but what seems to be the most important thing to them is that this new technology can be investigated and used. It says a lot.

And just as well, it seems that 4 out of 10 Canadians don't think there is any kind of environmental problem, no global warming, and they are being supported in this belief by a retired academic, Professor Tim Ball who is going around disseminating false information on the subject. [The title 'Professor' as far as I understand is accorded to all university lecturers here, not just a chair in each department]. Ball seems to be yet another conspiracy theorist, the conspiracy here being almost the entire scientific community trying to mislead the general public into thinking they need urgently to curb energy consumption. It's difficult to imagine what sciencey people would have to gain from doing this, however, clear what Dr. Ball does. He makes money at an age when many have retired, going around stroking the apathy of those who don't want to change anything.

A fascinating story in, inevstigates the role of the bicycle in women's emancipation. I must say I never felt more emancipated than when I was cycling. In Portsmouth it was particularly true because all too frequently you could travel more quickly on a bike than in a car. And fellow cyclists, of whom there were many, did not all consist of whippet thin men in lycra with razor blade saddles. Not a bit of it, there were wheezing old men, fat, thin, old, young, women, men, police, postal deliverers, all sorts.

Laurence is currently in the air, at least we have confirmation that he was in the check-in line at Gatwick airport, and his flight is in the air. I will not breathe easily until he is in Arrivals at YVR, preferably unescorted by a uniform. Watch this space.

I must say, I'm pretty devastated not to be in the Guardian's list of world-changing women. Guess I'll have to try harder for next year.

Or maybe it's better to leave the glittering prizes to others, I wouldn't fare well with fame.

Sunday, 20 August 2006


I had a crisis this week and now I feel better thanks to my friends and family. Of course I have closely scrutinised the minutiae of my own reaction, worried away at it like a terrier with a....something a terrier would have at, until I arrived at some kind of explanation.
After 30 years of driving, I failed a driving test. And I felt like a train wreck afterwards.

I will freely admit that I felt very resentful about having to take a test. Had I been German, or Austrian, I wouldn't have had to. No, I have no idea why, the French, Belgians, Dutch, all drive on the right-hand side of the road and they have to take one. I have also been driving safely here for over a year. I've learnt a few things, like having to park in the direction of the traffic. I even, on one occasion, drove on the lefthand side of the road for a few yards when leaving Karen's house - I had a Canadian friend in the car with me, but she didn't notice. Never did it again.

Did I fail because of all those 'bad habits' we are always being told we pick up over the years? Well, I think pretty much that we know what those habits are. I know mine. I will hold the car on the clutch too often when I should get out of gear and put the handbrake on.
So was the strength of my reaction because I failed? I don't think so, I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think so, although that was a blow and a severe inconvenience, I think it was the manner of the test.

It started with the examiner treating me like a foreigner who didn't understand Canadian terminology, progressed to him treating me like an idiot child who didn't listen properly. We had artistic differences about my reaction to a car flying around a blind corner towards me when I had started to turn - I stopped and so no-one was actually killed that time. But I failed on that. I most certainly made an error of judgement in accepting a cancellation test in a city I had never been to and which definitely held some surprises.
But bottom line, I wasn't the one being rude to him. I felt bludgeoned, mauled. I was, quite straightforwardly, shocked.

I was still shocked and physically affected the day after, but my healing process was going on because I received such amazing support from so many people. My first line of course was Kevin - who hadn't experienced the test itself, but was shocked by the outcome. His shockwaves kept coming because in driving home we came across the usual continual examples of appalling driving and hazardous road behaviour.

Although I didn't want to think about the situation I had been in, everytime I talked or wrote about it, and people heard me and expressed horror, I healed a bit more.

I couldn't help contrasting this experience with how I felt when the car got towed not long after I came here. I had parked too close to a fire hydrant and I came out at night, in a part of Vancouver I wasn't familiar with, to find that the car had disappeared. I naturally assumed it had been stolen. When, later, it became clear what had happened, it seemed worse to me. I understand someone stealing your car, I don't even now understand the city putting a lone woman in a vulnerable position.

I didn't have so many friends here, but those I did have had all experienced being towed and thus, although it was annoying to them when it happened, they were more accepting of it, they didn't understand my feelings of outrage, of violation.

Friends in the UK couldn't quite get their head round the idea of a car being towed away.
'So...didnt you see the road markings?'they'd ask.
'There weren't any.'
'Signs then,'
'None, I checked so many times for both..'
'If there were no signs and no road markings surely they can't legally do anything,'
'They did though,'
'Well, how do they let you know what's happened to the car?'
'They don't.'
'But how is that legal, what if something had happened to you?'
'They don't seem to think that's their responsibility.'
'But....' disbelief.

In Britain no-one could understand how it was possible for this to happen, government, even local government has a duty not to put its citizens or any other persons for that matter, at risk.
Here, I couldn't understand the apathy towards the process, but they couldn't understand the strength of my feelings. I felt defeated. I wanted to go home.

This time however, I knew I would recover. People's reactions were all of outrage, everyone I spoke to understood. I felt supported.

But I think I really got to the heart of my reaction when Kevin reminded me of the experience I had on the seacat to Calais.

I had borrowed Austen and Sue's car and they had managed to acquire a car with automatic transmission. I had never driven one of these before, but Austen gave me a short tutorial and off I went. All was well until I was trying to park it on the ferry. The cat had a tightly spiral parking zone and the person who was directing the parking was getting very cross and rude. Lairy, big time.

I became irritated because we had to keep stopping on a turning slope, not a problem at all to me had the car had a clutch, like I said, that's my bad habit, but with no gears, I didn't have fine enough control over this car. The man, little jobsworth, started gesturing and shouting at me. I was getting flustered. But in this situation I was able to say fuckit! I stopped, put the handbrake on, got out of the car to the annoyance of the oppo, and said to Kevin, 'I don't care if we're only insured for me to drive, I can't do this without gears, you've driven an automatic before, you'll have to park it.' I was able to do it on my terms, take control of the situation and shut the annoying little shit up. And that, was that.

In retrospect, that's what I should have done there in Coquitlam. I should have pulled over somewhere safely and told him politely and firmly to shut the hell up. It wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it would have saved me a lot of grief.

We live and learn. No-one wants bad things to happen to themselves or their friends or family, but when something like this does happen, it's important to gain strength from it.
Yesterday, I received one of those power-point presentation e-mails that I thought at first was going to be cheesy, but in the end it made me smile.
A man's donkey fell into the well, and as he wondered how he was going to get the animal out he just decided,
'The donkey's old and lame, and the well is useless now, I'll just fill the well in.'
So he shovelled dirt down the well. When the donkey realised what was happening to him, he panicked at first, but then he shook each layer of dirt off and stepped onto it. With the last shovelful of dirt, the donkey was able to step out of the well.

There was some additional bit about the donkey coming back and biting the man in the behind, but it doesn't really work for English-English speakers because we have two different words, ass for donkey, arse for backside.

And what have I learnt?
That chocolate is the greatest cure known to womankind. As are friends and family.

Saturday, 19 August 2006


Simmi and I have been discussing Günter Grass this morning. I love that the internet allows us to do that. A friend can have a thought at some point in the evening or night, e-mail me about it and then, in spite of being 8 hours behind, I can respond when I wake up, then for a while we get in synch.

I'm sure I have mentioned Grass before. Last year I read a novel by him, 'Im Krebsgang'(Crabwalk) which I thought was brilliant. We don't tend to get an insight into the lives of ordinary German people during the war. In this book, we get a multi-layered view of the lives of members of a family both towards the end of the war and in the modern day.

When we were in the sixth form at school, our German teacher took us to London to see both Günter Grass and Siegried Lenz reading from their own work. Didn't understand a word of it then, but I was awed anyway.

Now Günter's in a spot of bother. At the age of 79 he has announced that he was drafted into the Waffen SS at the age of 17. The Times, Thunderer, upholder of journalistic standards hohoho, thinks he should be stripped of his Nobel prize and all literary merit. When you read stuff like this, you can't help wondering whether the journo has some kind of angle.
'Is he Jewish?' asked Kevin,
'Hmmm..Oliver Kamm...could be,' said I
An e-mail flies across the magic field.
'Don't think so,' says Simmi, and offers a few reasons why she thinks not, which results in us having a side convo about something and someone else.
Then I looked at the Guardian and get quite a different and well-reasoned point of view from American writer John Irving.
I tend to agree with his ideas here, for pity's sake, it's almost like no-one realised Grass was German until he told us. Joining the Waffen SS is not the same thing as personally supervising the activities of the gas chambers, it was just something it was hard to avoid if you were that age at that time, in that country.

Had things turned out differently...well, things would have turned out differently.

One of the things Irving is taken to task over by the commentators, is that he expresses the opinion that Grass is a soul-searcher. I think many writers are. Even just bloggers. I know that I am a constant and continual soul searcher. The trick is to walk the line between introspection and self-obsession.

I will steer myself away from that and get briefly onto the topic of a different kind of grass. My dog-walking took on an even more obsessive turn before Brady was returned to his parents. I realised that I was not only scooping his poop, but also picking up bits of litter and even eyeing up the thistles and dandelions poking up through the mulch around the bushes. I caught myself. I stopped. Sad, so sad.

Friday, 18 August 2006


I was intrigued yesterday to read on WebMD that a recent study had shown that "People who have never married are more likely to die -- at all ages -- than people who are married and live together...." Strange. The two researchers took already existing government data and did statistical analysis on it. I too had to do statistical analysis as part of the quantitative methods section of the research module for my MA. I think it's one of those things where, depending on your brain abilities it either looks like a piece of cake to you or an impenetrable knot of figures. For me, the latter, but I could see that it was a very valid form of research, in fact since one problem for most forms of research is that the researcher affects the research, it almost looks like the perfect method.
Ah, not so. The biggest problem is in deciding which numbers you are going to interpret. Sadly Kaplan and Kronick dropped the ball on that one.
For some reason which can only be due to too little coffee or too much alcohol, they excluded unmarried couples living together but included single gay men.
So let me run that by you again. They are in California, although we are not told whether it is just figures from that State they are using, and they leave out gay men in permanent relationships, but include the ones who are at that time doing the old Bath house shuffle. Nice work lads. When the statistics showed you that married people are less likely to die from infectious diseases you didn't think, 'hmmmm..'?
And yet they published it anyway.

Another piece which floated past my nose yesterday, was the actual story behind the 'rumour' that I commented on a couple of days ago. This article was written and the weirdo interviewed by a Vancouver journo, Terry Glavin who writes for, among other things, the Georgia Straight. It's a good thorough write-up of Terry's investigation of Barrie Zwicker's claims that all of the terrorist activities since and including the 11th of September, are a western plot to discredit Islam. *Dr. Evil's puts his little finger to his lips and says* 'Riiiiiiiight.'

Good news for overweighties like myself is that we are more likely to survive a heart attack. What it does mention is that BMI might not be a good indicator of fat because it can't take into account muscle mass, what it doesn't mention is whether fatties are more likely to suffer a heart attack in the first place, which we have always been told is the case. Still, I can't help having a little smile to myself. A friend of mine recently suffered the indignity of having a heart doctor poke her and say condescendingly, 'My you are a big woman aren't you?' Hopefully the next time she does that to someone the person might reply, 'Ah yes, all the better to survive a heart attack.'

"A U.S. federal judge ordered tobacco companies Thursday to admit they lied about the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes."
Ok, the judge ordered tobacco companies to admit they lied. I think the wording of this report neatly side-steps the issues. I'm not saying the article is badly written, far from it, I think that is probably something quite near to what the judge said. How does a tobacco company say anything? How does a company lie? The company here is held to be something more or other than the people in it. Because the bottom line is, people, actual people conspired to lie to the public. Somewhere and at some time, a bunch of suits sat down and all decided that in order to protect their profits, they would endeavour to deceive the public and therefore place their lives at risk. Now I only know what American law I see on TV, but I'm pretty sure that deliberately placing someone's life at risk, and very serious risk at that, or conspiring to do so, is illegal. And yet the 'companies' are having their wrists slapped. No-one will be held accountable for this in any way other than being told to clean-up their act and not do it again.

Truth, if there be any, is in the details.

Thursday, 17 August 2006


Congratulations to my daughter Alex who has today passed through one of the many great British rites of passage - finding out exam results. I typed 'opening' first off, but then realised that it no longer involves a dreaded envelope, now it means looking at a website. She gained the grades she needed to go to Goldsmith's College, University of London and damn fine grades they are too and well deserved.

Identity and University have been pre-occupying me recently. One of the suggestions from my own London University college, King's, was that in lieu of a transcript, I should find the syllabus for my course from the department's website. Fine and dandy - well not really - but the syllabus has changed quite considerably, in that when I did my MA, there was a very heavy emphasis on Psychology, whereas that doesn't seem to figure at all on the current scheme.
We learned about Cognitive Psychology and about motivation and identity, I remember that. I have now sent an actual letter on paper to the registrar, they have let me down, not because I feel they should have to provide transcripts - which incidentally means a summary of all the marks you gained - but because they say they do and they don't.

Identity. We start life not knowing the difference between ourselves and the world around us and the developmental step that is every bit as big as the physical parturition of birth, is that of discovering that the world and we are separate things.
Our identity has a huge growth spurt in adolescence. Others who are not our caregivers become essential to our sense of self, and we kick against our parents. We turn into Harry Enfield's Kevin and Perry while our individuality develops rapidly. In some ways it's an absolute nightmare to teach pupils in this phase of their lives, in others, a real privilege.

Then the rites of the society we live in help to form us, rites like exams, jobs, skills acquired, religion, significant events in our lives, death, birth, love, loss and although the strongest of these can change us, we never again develop as quickly as we do during adolescence.

But then the pendulum swings. I don't know if much has been written about this, I'm certainly aware that the 'mid-life crisis' is an oft-documented phenomenon, but what about the loss of identity that can occur in middle-age? I was aware of it before coming here, but I think that exacerbated by the transition pains of immigration it is something I feel intensely now.

The disappearance one experiences at mid-life is not always a bad thing. I am reminded of this when out with my daughter. I really don't miss the unwanted male attentions of younger years, I don't even mind the feeling of being invisible a lot of the time, but sometimes I do. Sometimes I resent the invisibility of middle-age.

I ask myself who I am. I do this a lot. When you are younger and know absolutely who you are, this question rarely occurs.
I used to be able to say,
'I am a teacher, a manager, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a partner, a friend, a cyclist, a linguist, a philosopher, a reader, a gardener, a theatre-goer, a film-lover, I live by the sea and that's part of me, and I have degrees,'
But some of those roles have been taken from me by life and some by my move. I am no longer a daughter or a teacher or a manager. I no longer cycle very much. My language skills grow rusty from disuse, my degrees are recognised but useless to me.
But I can get to the sea and I still feel it's part of me and I grow my tomato forest. I am still a partner and a sister, I am still a mother, a grandmother too, but as my own children grow up and become more independent, that role becomes less immediate.

Now I am British to an extent that I never was before. Only now, away from what I am used to, I have become an oddity, a stranger, an exile.
I seek out and am sought by other Brits here so that we can hang on to some of what we knew, what we were.
Many people here are enchanted by Britain and the British, others are passive-aggressive towards Brits, there are those who feel we think we're better than them, projection of a pre-existing unwarranted sense of inferiority.
Some just see it as just part of who someone is, no more than an accent.

And I am a woman. I feel more of a woman now, in middle-age than I ever did when younger. I don't any longer think of being a woman as something relating to a man. 'I am a woman because I get lots of attention from men.'
No, now I am really a woman. I value my women friends and relatives so much more than I ever did in the distractedness of youth.

But it's a hard process. It's not as intense as adolescence, nor so filled with hope and expectancy, but there are as many tears and as much depression. Developing identity is something that happens whether you want it to or not. Losing it is something to fight against.

Or maybe I never existed at all.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Dog day

In the words of the great Jim Lahy (Trailer Park Boys for anyone who either isn't Canadian or hasn't yet found it on Paramount Comedy Channel)
'Shit winds are blowing Randy, shit winds,' or words to that effect. But I won't go there, not yet.

On the subject of poopy winds though, we are dog-sitting Brady (above). He is a cute little dog who looks like a small sheep, so a lamb then, and he belongs to Kev's parents.
Now, I know that everyone else on the planet already knows this, but if you are single and would like not to be, you need to borrow a dog. Everyone, but EVERYONE comes and talks to you. If'n you can borrow a dog that looks like a small sheep, aka a lamb, then you are more than good to go. You need to do a bit of background research on what the dog eats, although I can see the pick-up line opportunities in not knowing,
'I don't know, what would YOU recommend/what food to YOU prefer?'

But the down side - well obviously the downside if you aren't single can be having everyone talk to you about your dog's cuteness and food preferences - is the poopa-scooping, honestly, that side of things stinks. Especially if you have a thinly disguised obsessive side lurking just beneath the surface as I clearly do. I feel obliged to remove not just the steaming pile itself, but everything it has lain on, every blade of grass around it, the earth beneath, and the earth below that I salt. Well, not the salting, but all the rest. And then two wet wipes for good measure and a double baggy. I think I am too obsessive for this to go on long term.
For his part, Brady is equally obsessive, believing that it is necessary to dry pee on everything vertical that we pass.

The food side of things is dealt with by the kitchen genie - Kevin, since it is a very precise science, as is the delivering of meds, and I am glad those are his chores.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the dog-sheep sleeps tonight. Tomorrow, more walkies. And I don't like the new meaning (to me) of 'doggy bag'.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006


I'm not convinced that we need deserts. Puddings we need, deserts not so much. Of course I wouldn't be saying that if I were some desert-dwelling creature, a rattler say or a scorpion. I'm not sure whether a camel would miss them or not, they'd adapt. People would too.

I can't condemn them completely. Someone I respect and admire greatly, said that they were her favourite terrain. They hold a fascination for a lot of people.
But what if sacrificing them meant saving the planet a little longer? I have insufficient scientific knowledge to know if that would have any impact, probably the more so because I read so much sci-fi, but what if?

A similar question to this arose in the first of Kim Stanley Robinson's inspiring 'Mars Trilogy', 'Red Mars'.
It had always been the aim of the colonists who were sent there to terraform Mars, mainly because the ultimate objective was to allow humans to live outside on the surface of the planet. One person however, was dedicated to keeping Mars red, she saw the beauty in the planet the way it was, a desert. And the truth was that humans were living on it and in vast numbers. Great cities had been built but they were reliant on pressurised tenting, shields that keep air in and radiation out. A fairly easy target for terrorists.

Was there a point in the planet's continued existence as a dead, red, rocky world or was the greater purpose to be a new home for humans? Kim Stanley Robinson chose to terraform, otherwise there would have been no Green Mars and no Blue Mars, but he had made that point, made us look, think, listen.

The reason all this is occupying me today is a second major study in the last couple of weeks, warning of the very real dangers of global warming if we let it go unchecked. In what the Guardian claims to be the most comprehensive analysis so far, we are shown the consequences of the inevitable 2° increase in temperatures and the far more serious results of a 3° climb.

I don't entirely understand the paragraph where the author says that at some point plants can be induced to become producers of carbon dioxide rather than users of it, in which case my terraforming the desert plans would be quite counter-productive, however were we able to cover more of the planet with plants before they turn on us, and we decrease our emissions, then perhaps we can avoid that scenario.

I'm alright Jack, I'll be dead or hoping to be, not so for my children and grandchildren.
Marko Scholze, who I don't think has anything to do with footwear, says that we must act before 2040. I don't know what it will take to persuade people to drive and use electricity more responsibly.
Not Armageddon I hope.

Monday, 14 August 2006


George Dubya Bush, evil genius. Nope, doesn't sit quite right somehow, I guess it's the 'genius' bit.

I used to watch 'The X-files'. I was never particularly a David Duchovny fan, I just liked sci-fi. One time - not at Band Camp, but in France - my colleague and I had spent several hours quietening down the fifty-odd kids that we'd taken, made them go into their own rooms, camped out on the landing to catch them when they then all tried to sneak into each others' rooms. Then finally, exhausted, went to our room. We turned the TV on and it was X-Files. We watched, it's always fascinating to hear favourites dubbed into French with completely different voices. Then we discussed the next day's itinerary for five minutes and then we both looked back up at the screen and two women were having sex on the top of a car. We then had to hatch a plan to explain to parents why we had 'allowed' their kiddies to watch porn while away.

But the X-Files itself was all about conspiracies and I loved it, so I can't really claim that anyone who falls for all this conspiracy stuff is mental.

My X was a JFK buff. He was and remains, fascinated by that particular conspiracy, so there was another one that was a large part of my life for many years.

The whole idea that the Moon Landing was faked by the US government however, struck me as inane, along the lines of people seeing Elvis in Woolworths. Only the lonely could believe it, but it did produce some good thinking and science to 'prove' both that it had been a government plot to.... what? deceive the public I guess, why? because they could AND to disprove everything the conspiracy theorists had come up with. So, an interesting little intellectual exercise. I myself do my crossword every day.

In today's Guardian, we are now told that Bush conspired with the Israeli government to attack Lebanon. At least that's what the headline implies. But when we read further, it seems that 'the government' (of the US) met with Israel to discuss how to take out Hezbollah. Not the same Hezbollah, terrorist organisation that the UN had already discussed how to neutralise? Yep, one and the same. Not the same Hezbollah, partly bank-rolled by Iran who had already made several attacks on Israel? Yep, them's the ones. Not the same Iran who announced to the world around that time that 'Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth' ? Yes ma'am.
The rest of the story is mostly 'he said, she said,' type of stuff. 'Sources say' and so on.
In a hushed whisper we are told that US Special Forces have already been active inside [Iran]. Well thank God!

And the most insane conspiracy of all that I have heard recently? The US actually orchestrated the attacks on its own people on the 11th of September 2001. So then Bush again. Don't get me wrong. I think Bush harms his own people enough with his attacks on the LGBT community, by effectively dispossessing blacks, by undermining women's rights and a list as long as your arm. And yes, I KNOW he knows and consorts with members of the Bin Laden family et alia. But the World Trade Centre attrocities? Give me a break.

No, I take it back, Bush IS responsible for the 11th of September attacks, he ORDERED Israel to bomb Lebanon, he faked the moon landings and he personally asssinated JFK and he was head of programming for Canal+ in France. Because once we accept that we know the answer to all these things, we don't need to look any further, we don't need to discuss and investigate, we can just heap everything onto the head of one animal and then cut its throat.
Where have I seen this happen before? Oh yes, in Springfield. And South Park. Phew, glad we've got that one sorted.

Sunday, 13 August 2006


There was a bizarre story in yesterday's freesheet. A group of local women calling themselves 'Housewives against Prostitution in Richmond' sent a letter to the mayor and local councillors complaining that many massage parlours in the city were in fact offering extras. None of the housewives signed the letter. I do have a certain amount of sympathy, what they are saying really is that the RCMP or the City, who presumably licenses them are not being pro-active enough in investigating these places. But it's also a little naive. What does the term 'massage parlour' mean? It means brothel.
I myself went for a massage once. I didn't think of it on my own, I was given a gift certificate. The certificate was for a particular beauty therapy section of my hairdresser's which was in a department store. The paper qualifications of the beauty therapists were displayed on the wall. And yet, in spite of the legitimacy of it all, in spite of the beautician being a woman, it was odd to have that level of intimacy with someone other than my partner.
The only other context in which I have come across massage, was sports massage. My X was a runner and when he had injuries he would go to a sports physiotherapist, a man, also with significant qualifications and X had insurance which covered it.

I am, as I said, sympathetic to these ladies, and it is right that they should draw the attention of the authorities to the problem, but the bottom line is that, if there are a group of them, they should all be reining their blokes in. How often is it necessary for the ordinary person on the Clapham omnibus to have a massage? I suspect not so much. As both local papers said, the problem is just as much the men who go out looking to buy sexual services as the providers of it.

I can see this same misplaced blame in the story of the Edinburgh Fringe production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. You put on a production in Edinburgh, or in fact Scotland as a whole, and Ireland too and you accept the fact that these are countries where you cannot smoke in public places. So to whine lamely that your creativity is being stifled by not being allowed to do so is disingenuous.
Last year we saw a superb production of R&G in Vancouver, also a city where you may not smoke in public venues and presumably the director was a bit more creative than poor old Ben Waring, because there was no cocaine either, just a damn fine play.

And likewise, the British muslim leaders who fail to send a clear message to their own people that terrorism in the name of their faith is completely unacceptable, but instead place blame elsewhere.
'Don't put temptation in our way,' they bleat. Rein them in.

One last example of this. A film which is a classic, but only to me, is Jim Jarmusch's 'Ghost Dog'. Wonderful film. Ghost Dog is given a contract to kill a mob Capo, which he does, with the efficiency of a Samurai. But someone else hasn't done their job and another person is present. Ghost Dog will not kill her, it would be dishonourable. But then the very people who have given him the contract, decide that he must be killed precisely for fulfilling that task.
The mob are portrayed as buffoons, and Ghost Dog as an honourable modern Samurai.

All too often it is difficult to see exactly where blame should be laid, but equally often it is fairly clear where blame has been misplaced. And there is quite frequently a certain amount of lazy thinking involved.

Lazy thinking and apathy, how pitiful.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Q's and V's

'The best way to fight hate is with more hate,' said Cartman. These are not new eps of South Park, just ones I hadn't seen.
Cartman had upset his friends during a classroom presentation by claiming that ginger kids were suffering from an incurable disease called 'gingervitis'. During the night, Stan, Kyle and Kenny used hair dye, bleach and henna to turn Eric into a 'ginger'. The only way this could have been funnier was if Trey Parker and Matt Stone had had the kids do what British kids do. When using the word like this, they turn the 'g's' hard with the result that it sounds so much more like an insult.
Eric Cartman being who he is, is quickly leading all of the ginger-haired kids in the town in a campaign of terror against everyone else.
When I was first teaching, still in my training phase, I 'taught' a boy called Ben Q. He had ginger hair and he was a bully like Cartman. Well, bully's not quite the right word, he was more like a London gangster. He referred to the school as his 'manor'. And his rule was tinged with a sense of fairness. The class he was in was most definitely under his control, but at some point during every lesson he would say,
'Now we're going to do the work for Miss,' and they would all settle down and do just that.
My Head of Department, a little Welsh Dragon would say to me (you have to imagine a strong Welsh accent),
'You have to be more HORRible to them,' I was NEVER in charge of that class, Ben Q was, but between the two Q's I learned an amazing amount about classroom management.

The film 'The New World,' is basically about the Pocahontas story, but more accurate than Disney;) It was a good film, I'm now quite an admirer of the director, you could watch it for the historical details and the cinematography alone.
It also seemed very chaste. Neither Colin Farrell nor Christian Bale, playing Pocahontas's two lovers ever seemed to touch her very much, a couple of hugs and one or two almost brotherly kisses, mostly it was the light caressing her - and very well done too. Then I looked the film up on and discovered the reason for all this. The half Peruvian actress who played the Indian girl was actually fifteen when it was filmed. Oops. That must have somewhat weirded out Irish Colin (30) and Welsh Christian (32). Nicely done though, nicely done.

But V for Vendetta is going to be a new classic. Dark as all get out and we never once got to see Hugo Weaving's little elfin face. Awesomely put together. I freaked Ben out by telling him that this is what would really happen to Britain if a conservative government got in, but in fact there are no conservatives anymore, just little pudgy-faced 'Dave' Cameron.
The only thing that let the film down for me, because it grated on the ear, was Nathalie Portman's English/Australian accent. I wish she had gone for one or t'other. She probably thought she had.
'I've never seen those Guy Fawkes masks,' said Ben,
'Well all that tells me is that you've never been in Portsmouth around the fifth of November,' said I.
I loved Stephen Fry, is seems like a long time since he had an acting role to get his teeth into and with former comedy partner Hugh Laurie wowing the States as 'House' it's nice to see him back in the saddle. The boy done good.

I was a bit saddened to see that there is still no integrity in the Press, and this is the Thunderer too. A fellow blogger, albeit a rather more raunchy one who had a book based on her blog published, has been outed by the Times. If you want to stay anonymous so that your parents and general work colleagues don't know how many time a day you play with yourself and which of their husbands you have bonked, then you bloody well should be able to. Damn shabby show Times old girl, damn shabby.

Friday, 11 August 2006

Ground Elder

Anyone who has done any gardening whatsoever has some weed that they see as the mortal enemy. In my parents' garden in Surrey it was ground elder. It just kept coming back and choking off anything else trying to grow near it. It took an inordinate amount of time and nasty chemicals, but we got rid of that bugger in the end. Then you had to keep on it for some time afterwards to stop it coming back.

And thus with Al Quaeda so we are told. Any of my American friends who don't like hearing the name of their President dissed should put their fingers in their ears now and go 'Lalaalalalalalala...'.
On TV last night, a congratulatory George Bush said that as far as was known, none of the plotting was done in the US. Now, sad to say, I have noticed this, George seems to equate not finding any with there not being any and vice versa. When the RCMP pulled out a whole ground elder root, this seemed to send a red flag to Dubya that Canada was (yet again) harbouring terrorists. The fact that the British police have done an absolutely storming job and found a handful of the blighters doesn't mean that they were working in isolation. Far from it. I'd stake quite a lot on this meaning that there's a HUGE amount of evil plotting happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, I may be doing George a greater disservice than he warrants - hard to imagine, but anyway - he may have just been saying that to the camera to keep the American people calm, and then went straight to the bat-phone and called his head of Homeland Security,
'Why the hell haven't WE found a bomb-making cell? WHatdya mean you can't find them, bring some to me NOW!!!' (fists clenched and face all red). He probably asked for their heads on plates, which would be reasonable under the circumstances. If you have your fingers in your ears, then at ease now.

It was odd however when the headline came on that the Bank of England had released the names of the suspects. Odd, and yet comforting.

I was glad that the media was making it clear that Pakistan had played a big role in giving information to the police. One of the worst aspects of all of this is that it seems likely that the suspects were Pakistani-Brits. Worst because there is already a lot of racial tension in many parts of the country between Pakistanis and whites. And yet it is also true that most people have friends who are of Pakistani origins and there is no tension. I personally see a greater hope for relations with the muslim state of Pakistan than with that of Turkey, riddled as it is with disease and corruption. Pakistanis have been an ordinary part of British culture for a very long time, so it hurts to see that compromised.

In the Guardian, the picture of two Bobbies standing outside a terraced house in Walthamstow, is shocking in its ordinariness.

The general mayhem at Heathrow terminal 4 just seemed like the regular mayhem you get there in the summer, but I ached with empathy for those people, their patience already over-stretched and having to re-pack and so on. Extraordinarily stiff-upper lipped though.

Thank goodness that this particular and awful plot has been foiled. Praise should be heaped on the heads of the British police, and it was nice to see John Reid being able to announce something good. But the weeding and pulling has to go on and on until the whole root system has been lifted and put to the flames. And I trust that despite the whingers, it bloody well will.

Thursday, 10 August 2006


Are we the architects of our own destruction? Hell yeah. Well, to a certain extent. I mean, pretty obviously there are lots of scenarios where we are just going along minding our own beeswax and then a bolt from the blue comes down and kapow, there we are, lying on the ground with smoke coming out of our feet.
But all too often, when we look, really look at stuff that happens to us we can see the strings that lead back to our own hands. We are our own puppet-masters.

Some freak blogging accident just caused that part to spontaneously publish. Odd.

I have a picture in my mind of my friends and random commentators covering faces and going 'NOooooo, not Sartre again...' Maybe later.

I have been thinking about John Bunyon. Not something I've done in possibly thirty plus years, if not forty. I think we had to read 'The Pilgrim's Progress' at Primary school, although I think it was probably a Noddy, illustrated version. Why? Why would anyone one want to make small children read such a drab tome? No idea, still who can forget the Slough of Despond?
Every morning when I take Ben to work I go past a slough. I think we would call this a marsh, marshes. Slough is an ugly word in my opinion, so appropriate really. In these parts I have heard it pronounced 'slew' which to me sounds less ugly but more silly. Imagine Bunyon's Pilgrim being stuck in the slew of despond, he'd be out of it in a trice.

From time to time, I myself get stuck in such a slew. When that happens I think Bunyon would have us meditate on Christ's life and then we feel better. Sometimes that works for me, very much depends on the day really, chocolate is faster, but can also get me stuck faster because then I go spiralling downwards thinking about how I have no self-control and so on.

Everyone has their own strategies for getting out, and here's where Jean-Paul - not Giovanni-Paulo or whatever the last Pope's name was - but M. Sartre, really does help. I find it useful to sort out what I myself have caused or can have some control over and what I can't and then how I deal with the things I don't have control over, my limitations. Yeah, that sounds trite doesn't it. It is less simple than that. Puppets are difficult creatures to control and we are way more complicated monsters than they.

It's very easy to get the strings tangled up, get more bogged down. Women for example, have times when they are goddesses, pure and simple, and times when we are the same as the rest of the mortals, so we have to know whether the slough is of our own causing AND whether we are at a goddess time or a mortal time. You know what they say are the three most important things about saving yourself, introspection, introspection, introspection.

How much of my slough have I caused? Well, quite a lot really. Going to a different country is a big leap into darkness, however much you feel you know a place. How I deal with it inside my own head is down to me too. But without a shadow of a doubt, there are things that I have no control over. However, in my slough, well, let's call it my marsh, there are beautiful things, birds, plants, new things to look at and learn about. The sky is the most beautiful azure. And I can see other people walking about as though there were no marsh, so here am I, trousers rolled up to my knees, paddling about and I can see that there are paths through it. Sometimes the people stop and talk to me, they are interesting people, good people. And as the days pass in the marsh, the sky and the people and the flora and fauna keep me sane and I can move around, it's just ..well, swampy. Surely you have those dreams where your movement is like moving through jelly or something more restrictive than air?

Wednesday, 9 August 2006


I was interested in Adam's comment on my blog a couple of days ago, about how there was a change in accents between where he lived before in Iowa and where he and Lisa live now, in Wisconsin. Accents are strange indicators. I get annoyed with people here for referring to my 'British' accent. Ok, my accent is British, but first and foremost it is bog standard RP English. If someone has a Welsh or Scottish accent then others don't remark on their British accent, so I feel that it is equivalent to ignoring the other parts of Britain and the UK to simply equate a British accent with an RP English one.

Irish accents are interesting, because most people can tell the difference between Northern and Southern Irish accents, and it is a very big difference. Fewer, I feel, can tell the difference between a Canadian accent and many US American ones. Sure we can all hear a 'Bronx' accent or a 'Southern' US one. And if everyone in the mid-west actually spoke like Frances McDormand in 'Fargo' then I think we'd all be able to pick that out too. Incidentally, I'd swear that the picture on her imdb page is really Juliet Stevenson.

But when you are accustomed to the accents of a country or region you can really narrow down where someone is from to a small area, just as Adam was saying. When I first went to Portsmouth, I was astonished that there was such a strong accent in the city. It has a west country sound to it. And yet if you even go across the bridge to the suburbs, the accent is rarer and beginning to fade, and go past Bedhampton and it's gone.

I can understand the mechanism by which different accents develop, that doesn't seem too onerous, and yet I like to think that there's something about the geography of a place that holds an accent. As though over the years, a place gets soaked, steeped in the accent of the people who live there so that, even if they all went away and then new ones came in, the ground would give the accent back to the people. Too romantic, too fanciful? You'll be telling me next that Ents aren't real. No, seriously, please don't tell me that.

Away, far away from the subject of how people speak is how they die. In today's Guardian is a piece written by a man who helped his wife to kill herself. When I used to teach Philosophy A-Level, as part of the Ethics module, we would discuss some applied moral questions. I noticed over the time that there was less discussion. At first when we would talk about abortion and euthanasia, people would argue. But I taught this subject for twelve years and towards the end, no-one, at least no-one studying the subject to that level, was expressing views against either.
I believe and firmly hope, that Euthanasia will become legal. As the man in this article says, it causes more distress and obviously expense, for a family to have to go to Switzerland to do what they need to do. And compared with the earlier attempt when his wife self-medicated and it just didn't work and caused more suffering, to be able to do this in consultation with an expert is so much more civilised.
This was of course, a clear-cut case, they were no grey areas, no moments of indecision on the part of the man's wife, but to argue that people could be coerced into euthanasia is not an argument against it, it is an argument for having it discussed and debated and clarified to the n-th degree by our top minds. And then to have that debate on-going while we work with the system.

I know I have mentioned the notion of men who are feminists before on the blog and had some quite strong reactions, but I bring it up again because I feel that men who do consider themselves feminists are vital to the cause. If it remains a fight purely for women, then it is divisive. Of course the point of equality isn't to make everyone the same, it is to give everyone the same rights and whenever there are rights there are responsibilities.
Men have daughters, men have sisters, men have mothers and men have partners some of whom are women. And men have friends who are women. There is something so deeply, deeply flawed about a man who doesn't think that women should have the same rights as them. There is something scary about a man who still makes jokes about women being inferior. This is the stuff for psychiatry to deal with. And unless you have people 'on the inside', challenging stereotypes, whether put as jokes or real opinions, the battle will take oh so much longer.
It scares me when the opinion is expressed, 'The US isn't yet ready for a woman President,' because it begs one big old well-defined question, 'WHY?'

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin was working with a colleague, an engineer as he is, who said to him that as she was a woman, she could never be as good at her job as a man. She is not Canadian by birth. I think his immediate and instinctual reaction of basically, 'that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life,' whilst it may not have broken down thirty plus years of brain-washing, was certainly the best possible start to breaking down that barrier, because an inner barrier must be what years of tosh like that has created within this woman.

How much sheer bloody talent and skill is lost to any society who devalues half its population ? And how much richness is gained by getting the best from everyone? Oops, sorry, I nearly bumped into Plato again, and I know how I failed to endear him to anyone before. Top banana Plato, at least he fought against the ingrained misogyny of his time. Good man.