Saturday, 30 September 2006

Dawn to Dusk

Happy Birthday today to my second to oldest friend Dawn. Dawn and I have been writing to each other since we were eleven, and we have met twice. Funny, the English use of the word 'oldest' there, I have many friends who are older than Dawn, who is in fact the exact same age as me to within a month, but only British Karen has been my friend for longer than Dawn. We seem to be very different people, and yet our lives have followed quite similar paths in many ways. So today, I raise a glass to Dawn, Happy Birthday second oldest and most patient friend !

For some reason I realised yesterday that since I have been here I had never seen a horse on the road. I'm surprised I didn't think of this when Sleepy sent me that article about the Swiss bloke who was caught speeding in Ontario and who claimed that it was because of the dearth of goats.
Horses on the road can be a bloody nuisance, but they're a nuisance you get used to and yes, they do slow you down.
So what of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Do they not patrol the roads on horseback, er, no.
During the summer, Alex, Lou and Hazel did see a Vancouver Police officer on horseback in Stanley Park, but I'm not sure that does it.
I suppose the reason is twofold. Firstly, there's enough open land around here for horses not to have to be moved around on public roads and secondly, local motorists are completely thrown when they come across people who observe the speed limit and general road rules, so a horse would blow ALL of their diodes.

I was quite amused by the story of the father who had clocked up £250,000 in legal fees fighting Marlborough college for expelling his son. The son was chucked out for basically being a complete git, the father was convinced this was just a blind to cover up the school's wanting his predicted GCSE grades not to sully their figures. Oh lor, oh crikey, OBE as Billy Bunter used to say.
Now Mayhem was a state school, thus unlike Marlborough, "one of Britain's most expensive public schools", no-one had to pay to go there. And yet, didn't we play out this self same scenario over and over, just not in the courts. You wouldn't believe, unless you have been in any way involved in the education or health services, how parents will argue and bluster and tie up management time, arguing that their little git of a kid wasn't, and that (usually) he was being bullied by teachers. Yep. Like we had time to take out of our 60+ hour weeks to bully kids who were perfectly well-behaved, or the motivation to do so.

Year in, year out, I am surprised when the days are drawing in early. As though it had happened suddenly instead of little by little since the longest day. It helps me to leave thoughts of summer behind and look forward to the winter. It has rained in the night, giving much needed relief from the beautiful yet relentless Indian summer. The leaves are starting to turn on many of the trees and yet already we are crunching brown leaves underfoot from others. Autumn has arrived.

Friday, 29 September 2006


I think that Brits are a little more wary of puppets than Canadians, because we have the scary memory of Rod Hull and Emu. I don't think it was ever clear whether Rod Hull realised that Emu was just a piece of fabric on his hand. A bit like Cartman in an episode of South Park I saw recently, where his hand became a Jennifer Lopez replacement.

At the Nature Park, we use both plays and puppet shows to introduce ideas to kids in the programmes. These are little kids, generally aged 5 to 6.
When I was a teacher training mentor at Mayhem, the University programme coordinator once showed us how to introduce ideas using a puppet. We were all teaching secondary aged children, we'd have lost all credibility.

Yesterday evening, I went with Lori to a workshop she was doing with 'early years educators' autrement dit childminders, on puppetry. And I had no idea how interesting and complicated it really is. I almost understood Rod Hull .... just for a second you understand.

Lori and I had taken all the puppets into the room, sorted them into 'mouth puppets' and 'non-mouth puppets' and put up the puppet show scaffold. Even when you have a simple glove puppet with a mouth that moves, the operation isn't simple because you have to get used to only moving your thumb rather than flapping your whole hand, and you have to make the eyes look at the audience instead of staring off into space.

As the attendees were arriving, I was sitting practising the techniques Lori had already taught me with a puppet on each hand. As people came in, their eyes were drawn to the two puppets and there was a kind of suspension of belief even from these adults, a hush, an 'ooh' an 'ah', as though you had gone to see a play and one of the actors in full make-up and costume were sitting in the audience.

Lori demonstrated how it is easier to control behaviour of young children using the puppets, they will accept being told off by the puppets more than by an adult, and lo, someone's mobile phone rang and the crow on Lori's hand said,
'Hey, is that for me?' and the phone was turned straight off.

I enjoyed the workshop and learnt more than I was even expecting. I think the audience enjoyed it even more than Lori was expecting, but it was fun, and very good for the arm muscles - you are holding the arm with the puppet on up above the front of the Punch and Judy style show framework, and this can cause another problem, dead puppet syndrome.

I think that as with many things, when you see someone experienced doing it, it looks easy, and when you have to do it yourself, you realise how complicated the thing is.
I don't think I ever thought of the Muppets as not being real, but the skill that must have gone into bringing them to life is something I am only just grasping, it's not just a question of being able to imitate Kermit or Miss Piggy, that isn't even half of it.

Puppetry for adults, puppetry for children, the difference can be the body parts you choose to use.
Now that I've thought about the art of it, I'm starting to wonder about those Aussie guys who did the puppetry of the penis, what do you say about someone who needs to turn their private parts into an imaginary friend. Hmmm?

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Medical Matters

I have registered with a doctor and she wanted to send me off for the doctoracious tests that all docs want you to take whenever they see you for the first time. My new doc had practised for ten years in China before coming to Canada, then had to do her training all over again. She is very gentle and cautious, good qualities in a doctor.

So my blood tests show that I have high cholesterol, both the good sort and the bad, and am very anaemic, no surprises on either really.
The anaemia's neither here nor there, however it was interesting that the scale used here is quite different from the one I am used to from the UK which is the same as one of my friends in the States is familiar with.
The cholesterol however, needs to be addressed. I seem to be one of those unlucky people who, in spite of eating a reasonably low-fat diet, still has the problem. I have to spend three months trying to reduce my LDL count through diet and exercise.

My real medical fear is diabetes. My mum developed this late in life, as did one of my Aunts, and it seemed to really screw up quite a lot of things in the system. At first, for both of them, it was manageable through diet, but gradually, both ended up on insulin and in my mother's case, in her later years, quite difficult to control even with this. It also turns out that diabetes makes the whole cholesterol thing a far greater problem. At the moment, even with all that slurry slurping along through my arteries, I fall into the 'low risk' category for a heart attack within the next ten years. Should I do something inexplicable such as take up smoking, I move up immediately, likewise if I develop diabetes.

In order to prepare myself for the upcoming events of the next ten years, I read a book called 'Menopause for Dummies'. There wasn't much about the menopause in it, it was all about the perimenopause - ie the years leading up to it. However, it did seem like an exercise in self risk-assessment. What, you have to ask yourself, would I prefer to develop, breast cancer or heart disease? Osteoporosis or risk of stroke? The choice can be yours.

At least you do have choice nowadays though. Professionals, instead of just deciding that you need this or don't need that, are far more likely to show you the options. I know a couple of people in the UK who are having this dialogue with their doctor.
I think the trick here is to sort out what is free choice and what is guidance. There seems little point in having people trained to be experts in their field unless they can give us informed guidance, and even less point if we don't listen to them.

Anyway, I'm off to eat vegetables, oh and since laughter is the best medicine - except for diabetes, etc., etc. - to watch this video clip that Sleepy sent me.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Dank Places

We went to the dank places in the Park today and we found these beauties.
Lori had an Australian moment and then we both remembered that we'd seen Terri Irwin on TV and that we'd both cried with her, so then we got choked up again.

Walking home from the Park yesterday, there is a section of road where there is no footpath and the grass verge slopes steeply away so you are forced to walk on the edge of the cycle lane. Richmond likes to encourage walking and cycling, but not to the extent that it provides anywhere to actually do it.
A car came wandering over the white line towards me. Driver on phone. Next one, same thing. A third car, exactly the same except the woman had a baby strapped in the back. I can imagine some dire emergency making the odd driver feel compelled to answer their phone, but this was three out of three and all three did exactly the same illegal and extraordinarily dangerous thing.
In Newfoundland, where the Canadians that other Canadians make fun of live, they have made the use of cell phones illegal whilst driving. I know who I think are the idiots.

Ah, the Vatican, again with the excommunications. This time it's a Zambian Archbish who not only got himself married five years ago, but now has ordained four other married priests. See, I think that's the sort of thing that encourages people into the Church, it probably also discourages priests from inappropriate thoughts. I see it as a win-win situation, but I am not in charge and nor would I want the job.

While we are on the subject of inappropriate religious actions, I see that the Taliban have murdered Safia Ama Jan, head of Women's Affairs in the democratically elected Afghan government. This was 'in retribution' for her success and efforts in educating women. Yeah, you can see how that upsets people, and by people I mean twisted, rotting bigots. The person who claims responsibility was called 'Mullah Sadullah' - has a sort of comic ring to it were it not for the emanations of pure evil that surround it.
Far be it from me to make comparisons, but in our own religion, and I think that this is one we stole from Judaism, we are wont to quote the line,
'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.'

There's so much watchable TV on at the moment that we can't keep up. We finally saw the first episode of Studio 60, Sunset Strip and we were totally liking it. That's all I can manage in the way of in-depth critical analysis, and Adam's already done a good job on it.
One of the Law and Order series that I love is Criminal Intent. I was a bit miffed however, when D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe as Goren and Eames, were supplemented by Chris Noth's already existing L&O character Mike Logan and partner. Now I like Chris Noth, no probs there, I just didn't want him subbing in this.
Last night however, his new partner arrived, an auburn-haired pixie of a character and a very strong pixie too. Gay of course. How do we know this? Because there is the compulsory female mechanic scene, you know, the slightly butch Latina mechanic who wears a headscarf and tattoos and who makes much eye contact with our woman. A propos of nothing, except to let pixie know that she has a girlfriend already, she had a cell phone that rings in the too-high-for-anyone-over-thirty to hear range.

'I've never had a partner who.......had freckles,' said Logan. Naaah, somehow I don't think it'll catch on as a euphemism.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Island City

Richmond, according to its own posters and flags is an 'Island City by nature'. Well, yes, I kinda think they could have stopped before the 'by nature' myself, but that's just moi being picky.

So today I have been back doing training for the autumn programmes at the Nature Park. Of course they are 'Fall Programs' here. One of the programmes is about insects and other insect-like creatures and I have learned much. I already knew that what Canadians call a daddy longlegs is not the same as what we call one. For us Brits, the Crane Fly with its little wings and long dangly legs, like a creature designed for lower gravity than ours, is the Daddy Longlegs. Here, it's the Harvestman.
I didn't know that a woodlouse is a crustacean. Interesting huh? And a ladybird is actually a ladybird beetle, which the children here call a ladybug.

Later on we have a play called the 'Halloween Howl' in which I may get typecast as a witch, an understudy witch. I'm looking forward to this.

The other interesting situation in the Island City that has been ongoing since I arrived here, is the Firefighters' sexual harassment case. It seems that female firefighters finally had enough and took the department to court. The case has been reported in the national news, but locally of course, out of the woodwork have come a different type of bug, people who have written letters to the local press, some of them even spelt correctly, bad-mouthing these evil houris who are trying to take down the noble men of the fire department.
Sounds like something out of the 70's ? No kidding. Finally in this week's freesheet, the Mediator appointed to the case has ruled that there is so much evidence to support the women's case that he has declared it did take place and warning what would be the likely outcome if it were to be taken to full trial.
The whole thing pisses me right off really. Not only have these women had to suffer conditions at work that most people haven't had to put up with since the 70's, goodness knows how many women have been put off joining the fire department, but they have had to have a lot of guts to fight their corner and then been hounded by members of the public. What a crock. And you know what? I still found it amazing that they won their case, because so rarely do these things see justice.

I can't leave the 70's behind though without mentioning a British TV drama that is being shown on BBC Canada. So Brits will have maybe seen it at the beginning of the year and North Americans may not be able to see it at all.
'Life on Mars' caught our attention not because of the inaccurate (as it turns out) description of the series, but because one of the actors in it, John Simm, had been in another BBC series we had watched.
Simm plays a Detective Chief Inspector of police investigating a murder when he is mown down by a car travelling at light speed (that's what it looked like) and is sent back to the 70's. Except that he isn't, because that would be ridiculous, he is in a coma and he is working out the clues he has already gathered by sifting through his own subconscious, and in his mind he is in the 70s. But it does bring back a lot of uncomfortable memories about the 70s workplace.
I guess the women at the Firehall didn't have to watch a TV series to experience that. I hope they don't have to go through it again.

Monday, 25 September 2006

Cats and Dogs

Yesterday I dismantled the tomato forest on the patio, it was still fruiting but looking mightily bedraggled.
As though the new autumn had been waiting for precisely that cue, this morning the temperature was lower than it has been, around 11° and there was thick fog to the south of the city. Everything looked more beautiful behind its treacherous veil. Had I been alone, I would have stopped and taken pictures of the water and the mountains, but Kevin had to get to work.

Monday is two DVD rentals for $4.50 day at our local video store. It is small and you are slightly at their whim. I am still waiting for them to get a film that Canadian Karen recommended about six months ago, but most weeks I can find something to entertain. Things have been a bit fallow of late however, until this past week, when I was able to rent two brilliant movies.
The first one was 'The Squid and the Whale'. Austen had seen this and said how much he and Sue had enjoyed it, and it was indeed a very well observed sketch of human behaviour in what is a common scenario. And superbly portrayed by Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels and a well put-together cast.

The second film was 'Lucky Number Slevin'. Now this was one of those brilliant films that come along once in a while that catch you up in their spell from the opening sequence and spit you out at the end. It was completely absorbing and thoroughly satisfying. There is a leitmotif throughout the film, of utterly awful wallpaper. It is clearly deliberate, it doesn't distract from the action, but it does amuse and I think it may be making a statement in some way that I haven't quite thought through yet.

There was a truly horrible story in the news yesterday about two Rottweilers who attacked and killed a five-month-old baby in Leicester. The two dogs have been put down, but those parents will never, ever recover from the horror of seeing their child literally torn apart by two large dogs. The stuff of fevered nightmares.
And as though that weren't enough for one family, in an unrelated incident, the baby's grandfather was stabbed and his partner murdered just a few hours later.

British Airways crew members have delivered a baby on a flight from Heathrow to Boston. This is the sort of thing that you expect air crews to be able to deal with, however the only time I was ever on a flight when a medical emergency occurred, the Air Canada crew seemed totally non-plussed by the situation. A woman fainted at the front of the aircraft, but no-one seemed to know what to do and this worried me a lot. Eventually I think they found a nurse on board.

I find it interesting that the MoD have over the years, gone to such lengths to cover up their investigations into UFO sightings. It's almost as though they feel a little embarrassed at being involved at all, but then they are the Ministry of Defence and if there is a threat, they would be the ones who would have to deal with it, so they need to get over that really and delve a little deeper into the phenomena, and they also need to be a little more honest. I realise that their brief is tough, they have to plough a middle path between frightening the public and really assessing whether something is going on that we don't yet understand. All this 'weather balloons' nonsense doesn't help either case.

So now, should we be up for boshing out a little over two grand, we can own our very own living, breathing hypoallergenic cat. How wonderful, every home should have one for Christmas. I wonder if they come in colours that would fit my decorating palette.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Bring me to life

The old saying, 'There's nowt so queer as folk' should have a variant, 'there's nowt so fecking stupid as folk'. Seriously now.
Today's top science news story, reported in the Observer, tells of a British research team who have succeeded in taking cells from DEAD embryos and turning them into living cells. There should be no downside to this. This is like God giving the thumbs up to stem cell research.
But of course not, how could this not rattle the bloody cages of the 'right to life' zomboids? You can see their little muzzles twitching, their eyes popping from their sockets, as they search to turn this around. After all, why offer hope to the families of Alzheimers sufferers when you can turn up the heat on your own already sour gastric juices just because you hear a scientist say something like this...

"All 13 had stopped developing a few days after conception. 'They were in a very early stage of development,' said Stojkovic, now head of Sintocell, the Serbian medical research centre.The team then waited 24 hours to check that the embryos were no longer dividing before beginning their experiments. 'These were all deemed to be arrested embryos,' said Stojkovic. 'In other words, they were dead."

No, Uriah Heep-like, the 'right-to-hate-science -ers' wring their bony hands and proclaim,

"There is the critical question of how you know when an embryo is dead or not"

See, I think that if a whole team of very experienced scientists reckon it's dead and the cells no longer fit the definition of life (which as coincidence would have it I happen to have looked up yesterday) then 'this parrot has ceased to be'. Another scientist made this point,

"Regardless of how you feel about personhood for embryos, if the embryo is dead, then the issue of personhood is resolved,"

There was one reasonable scientific concern quoted,

"'If there was something wrong with the embryo that made it arrest, isn't there something wrong with these cells? We don't know.'"

Ok, fair enough gov'nor, and clearly that will bear a great deal of further research so long as y'all are left to get on with this work.

One person we all hope won't be brought back to life, and that indeed the rumours turn out to be true and that he won't just pop up and say 'rumours of my death were wildly exaggerated' is the evil Osama Bin Laden. Have the clever Americans been lobbing bags of e-coli infected spinach at him? Obviously not, only the righteous eat spinach, everyone knows that.
No, the story is that he had popped across the border for a weekend break at the Costa del Pakistan, when a rogue typhoid brewed up in the ocean and hit him. Obviously I have interpreted here. No-one wants to suspect Pakistan, a country that plays cricket, the game of gentlefolk, of harbouring the planet's most wanted terrorist.

I'm in the mood for gore today, I have been reading Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber', now THAT's good short-story writing. Nicely done.

Saturday, 23 September 2006

Uni, Police chase, Bus Tickets

Today is moving-to-university day for Alex. Austen has hired a car or van and is taking Alex and all her stuff up to town. Maybe I should glossarise that for non Brits. When we say 'going into town' we mean going to the town centre of wherever we already are. When we say 'up to town' we mean London.

It has been a bit of an odd time for Alex since she got back from Canada. The waiting for the results, then the results arriving, then the confirmation of university places. And then the time, neither here nor there. And friends trickling off right from the beginning of September. And then today, the day she has been waiting for, when she moves into the Halls of Residence and suddenly she is amongst strangers, strangers who will become some of the closest friends she will have.
Alex has been very wise in her choice of uni. London is of course one of the oldest and finest universities in the country, this may mean nothing to non-Brits, but we rank everything. We will ask each other,
'What university did you go to?' and make a judgement based on that, then 'and what did you get?' Another judgement. Afterwards, several weeks later in fact, we will endeavour to find out whether they are a nice, trustworthy person.
Yeeees, of course I'm exaggerating. Slightly.
But London isn't so far away that Alex can't get back for the weekend, hell, for the evening if she wants, and of course, people will be very motivated to visit her.
The college she has chosen has a reputation for excellence in her subjects so good choices have been made.

'Police pursuit crash victim named' says the headline in the Guardian. It doesn't specifically say high speed car chase or anything like that, but nonetheless it leads you to think that the police pursuit of this maniac was in some way connected with the fact that the idiot knocked down and killed a 32-year-old woman and injured her daughter. The truth was that a police car simply followed a Jeep which was being driven erratically, but they lost it until they came across the scene of the accident. For some reason, someone thought it appropriate to ask the Police Complaints Commission whether there would be an investigation, to which they replied no. Must have been hard for them not to use heavy sarcasm. They haven't really got enough staff to investigate every example of officers doing their job.

I love buses. I have to admit that, no, I love public transport in general, just that there isn't that much here. I like the coming and going, the people watching opportunities. I do some of my best thinking on the bus. Of course, if we had trains I could do even better thinking. I love trains even more than buses, they have toilets and coffee, hell they even have alcohol. Fabulous, so British. And you can't miss your stop unless you go off to sleep.

Here, you can buy a book of bus tickets from certain shops and then you have to put your ticket into the little machine by the bus driver. This is like the French 'composter' to validate the tickets. I am a bit crap at this.
If you put the ticket into the machine the way round that it says on the ticket 'put in this way', it doesn't work. You turn it round. One day this week, mine still wouldn't go in.
'Put it in more sideways,' said the driver. Most bus drivers are lovely and helpful, but they don't all have a good grasp of the English language. Of course the bloody thing wouldn't go in sideways, it's too wide. She meant at an angle I later discovered by watching more bus-ticket-adept passengers than I.
This is quite a good system, but then so is paying the bus driver and allowing him or her to give you change. No change given here. Too dangerous.

On the way back from my friend Gail's yesterday afternoon, I had to change buses. I struck up a conversation with an elderly Chinese woman. I offered English, but she used the language of smiles, nods and hand signals, nice lady, I felt I bonded with her.

To my friend Eve, a very Happy Birthday.
To my Jewish friends and half Jewish friends and my Jewish inclined friends, Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Friday, 22 September 2006


One of the most wretched things about being a grown-up is the lack of grown-ups. This sucks bigtime. My cousin said to me once that it has suddenly dawned on him that we were now the generation in charge.
Well my friends it is a cold and windy place. Nietzche said something like that, Zarathustra woke up one morning and realised God was dead, long live superman...basically the same thing only from a syphalitic froth.
Of course, it isn't entirely true, plenty of people my age have parents, so there is quite literally another generation still there, still doing what they do.

In some ways, it shouldn't matter, the rules are in place, the system works and so long as everyone follows the rules, everything flows smoothly. And there's constant fine-tuning to the system, so it gets maintained and updated, in short it works.

But what if you wake up one morning, and find, like Zarathustra, that the system isn't real and that there is no-one in charge, what then? What would seven of nine do? Well, first of all, we'd panic, yep, when in doubt panic, panic has developed for a reason and the reason is that panic is chaotic and from chaos comes order. How? How do we grown-ups make order out of chaos?

Well here's my point. However the hell we like. We're grown-ups. We can choose to remain in chaos for a while - it can be liberating. We can choose ourselves, we can choose to turn to others, and whomsoever we choose is going to be part of the resolution. Or we can choose God. Any God or Goddess, it doesn't really matter since it is a personal choice. Maybe we need guidance. Tough, there's no-one to guide us until we make that choice.

So here we are, standing baying at the moon, our veins full of the steady throb, throb of life. Do we run into the wind with the pack ? Do we turn and lope away ? Do we draw the moon down?

If you think it's been random so far, then it doesn't get any better because I'm about to move from Zarathustra to Saint Ignatius Loyola. I feel this prayer is really about inner strength, and of course that is what Nietzche was in fact having Zarathustra feel. And with a new moon tonight, this is what I am feeling, inner renewal, strength, and inquiry. I hope Saint Ignatius will forgive me (course he will, he's a saint, it's in his contract) but I have changed his words to suit the new-moonliness of the day.

Teach us, great Power,
to serve You as You deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Your will;

Thursday, 21 September 2006


Alf Garnett - who could forget him? Well, to be honest I couldn't remember the name of his sitcom, 'Till Death do us Part' until I was looking up the excellent actor Eamonn Walker on and found that he was in the later 'In Sickness and in Health'.
My parents must have watched this TV programme and yet it was frowned upon, but then I think that was the point of it. You loved to hate the man who hated everyone. Alf didn't even like Scousers let alone black people. I wonder if anyone said 'innit' before Alf did.

It kinda stuck in my head yesterday, the whole Alf Garnett thing because of the full moon I think. How angry he always was. He would just sit there in his chair and spit ire about anyone and everyone, even about his wife, the wonderful Dandy Nichols, the 'silly old moo'.

And of course Tony Booth, Cherie Booth's dad was the hated Scouser son-in-law, although I think his character and Una Stubbs's weren't actually married.

Alf was hissing for England in some ways, we were supposed to be, and were, both fascinated and repulsed by him. His racism was being satirised at a time when racism wasn't so much the dirty word. Getting there, but not arrived. He was an angry little man frustrated by his own life. The working class conservative.

And the thing is, you know that man, he still exists. There are still permanently angry men sitting in armchairs all over the planet, hissing at and about nothing and no-one in particular, half understanding the world around them, not listening, not engaging, not expressing.
It's just that if they are mostly confined to an armchair, like Alf, they can't do too much damage, but if they are appearing pop-eyed and rabid, telling the Home Secretary that there are areas of the country he is HOME secretary of he can't go, then they are dangerous.
Alf Garnett was a ridiculous little man superbly portrayed by a brilliant actor. And he was a racist when he spoke, but not to the core.

Stands to reason (can't you still hear him saying that?) that the to the core racists who attacked John Reid yesterday were not actors but fanatics, the irony is that they were non-whites.

Bunch of silly ol' gits.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Subliminal Messages

I'm eagerly anticipating starting two books by Angela Carter that I have on my bedside table, but I haven't yet finished my current read.

I've mentioned the book 'Blink' a couple of times, it has some interesting thoughts on how the subconscious controls us, just like Freud said really, not that the author, Malcolm Gladwell goes in for anything fancy schmancy like Mortido and Libido, but he does show us that this submerged iceberg drives our behaviour.
And he uses it. I have arrived at the bit in the book where he's mostly just waffling. There may be more fascinating studies to come, but when you get to the waffle, no, not the 'small crisp batter cake' but the 'lengthy but vague or trivial talk or writing', then it leaves your attention unleashed and able, as Nigella Lawson would say, to notice other things.

Earlier on in the book we were shown how even those of us who could honestly and hand on heart say that we would never discriminate against someone on grounds of colour or gender, do so without realising it. And you start to realise what an onion it is to peel, how many layers of this there are. Gladwell avoids one level that I find most grating and harmful in writing in that he does not refer to every non-gender specific example as 'he' but varies between he or she. He avoids this particular subversion.

But adrift now, I suddenly realise that most of his gender-specific examples are men. I can't tell whether they are black men or white men unless I know the individuals, but they are mostly men.
Not all of the men mentioned are illustrating something good, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are certainly not. Nor are they strictly speaking white. The book doesn't really mention how we subconsciously treat people with skin colours in between black and white, so I'm not sure whether say someone with the skin colouring of Salma Hayek would fare as badly as Oprah Winfrey.

However, leaving that aside, I counted, possibly not too accurately, but I counted, the number of women's names that were referenced throughout the book, against the number of men's names. There were only four names that could at a stretch have been either. 142 men were referenced against 18 women.
That itself gives a continual subliminal message. When we read this book, we are constantly not only being shown men as heroes and great thinkers and few women as such - that is one level - but we aren't even hearing women's names. Every hit on our brain cells is a man's name, so at that level of consciousness women are hidden.

In this post, I have deliberately inserted a woman's name every time I have mentioned a man's name and it is rather clumsy because I haven't taken much time over it. There was no reason to mention Nigella Lawson for example, nor Salma, nor Oprah, but then this is a blog rather than a book that I should spend months editing and fine-tuning.
And when I compared the skin colours of Salma and Oprah, did your brain side-line the point I was making and instead compare their physical attractiveness? Did that happen when I mentioned Bin Laden and Hussein?

This book has made me more aware of what the author was trying to bring to my attention, it has raised my awareness to that extent. Finding a solution is another matter.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006


Joanne is back. She spent the summer working in Tofino on Vancouver Island for Parks Canada and now she has returned, so this morning, I went into the Nature Park to see her and Lori. We walked the trails.
The Real Scientists - for this is how we think of them - were removing their bug traps. There were a first few autumn mushrooms, at least one that would have given you a trip - possibly to the hospital - had you licked it.

Although blueberries are the berries of summer, the bushes still had fruit, beautiful dusty denim blue fruit. And blackberries, wild ones, such as these, and cultivated ones.

The forest has changed, the bog, more marshy, the greens deeper. I love the autumn and I love the forest, and right now, with the leaves just on the point of changing colour, is not an ending, but a beginning.

The pumpkins, seemingly early this year, are already spread across one of the fields we pass in the morning, and the greengrocer has small ones for sale. Fruit of the earth. One of the two Buddhist temples we pass on the way to taking Laurence to work, has orange lanterns all along its fence, they look like paper pumpkins. It also has flags all along the perimeter, but no way for me to tell what it's about, no French, no English, no time to look whilst driving.
I love the roofs of the temples, the colour of turmeric, it even looks like the texture of turmeric.

This morning, a friend who never sends on anything that says 'send this on' sent me a prayer. I also never send on anything that smacks of the chain, but I also was moved to send this one on. This was the prayer of Saint Theresa of Calcutta.

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Somehow, it just seemed like the right day for it.

Monday, 18 September 2006


We finally got round to watching the film 'Syriana' last night. I found it completely engaging and at the same time confusing. I generally don't mind confusing in a film because it gives me mental cud to chew on. I think to a certain extent the confusion wasn't just mine, I think it was intentional to show how complex issues become when Politics, Business and religious fervour all become intertwined. It was also fascinating enough to be able to watch again. Nice to see Deep Space Nine's Dr.Bashir get a role that he can get his teeth into at last. He was excellent in this, as was George Clooney, a good enough actor to put on serious poundage for a role.

In the book 'Blink' that I am reading, I was interested to read about the American President Warren Harding who, according to the book, was one of America's worst ever presidents. He seems to have made it to the White House by way of looking right for the part, ie sending out subliminal signals to people that made them think he would be good in post.
The reason this section interested me particularly is that I have myself been able to pick out successful candidates for jobs twice on exactly this basis, that's to say not that I picked out the people who would necessarily do the job best, but those who would be appointed. I should point out that neither of these people were ones whom I appointed in my own department.
In Senior Management positions in Education in Britain, all the candidates are wheeled in at the same time and given all sorts of challenges over the day. They should televise it really, it's exactly the sort of reality show people watch. In both cases, I was able to tell in a split second, just by seeing the candidates, not even talking to them, who would get the job. On another occasion I was able to tell that no appointment would be made.
'Blink' shows many examples of this and makes you wonder just how useful the batteries of tests are.

I can't not mention the fascinating news story about the poor Chinese man who has had to go through the triple trauma of first losing his penis in an accident, then having a dead man's grafted on and finally asking for it to be removed because he can't deal with it psychologically.
Wherever I have read the story, it is presented as mildly humorous, and yet it's actually a most horrifying and tragic story.
We were watching the tail end of some TV programme the other night about the comedy act 'Puppetry of the Penis' where a couple of Aussie blokes made strange shapes with their willies. I don't have one myself and it made my eyes water. I'm not sure we saw enough of it to judge whether they had good material, I'm sure they must have done, but the show was making a comment about why it is that we find sexual organs amusing. Actually I think they just pointed out that we often do but without much comment.
And now that I re-read the news reports, maybe they're not in fact humorous, maybe you just think they must be.

At a school in Guildford in Surrey, not the one here, the one near where I used to live, three girls consistently bullied and eventually attacked another girl with a pair of scissors because she was more intelligent than they were.
Ok, I say that to make it controversial. They bullied her because she was 'a metaller'. But my experience from every class in every school I ever taught in, was that the metallers were always the more intelligent ones. What is the connection? I don't know and it was something I thought about a lot. They were also the more interesting ones. Although there is a difference between Goth music and Heavy Metal, there is also an overlap and sometimes you couldn't tell the Goths from the Metallers and nor could they. They were the ones who could relate to the teachers too, not by any means the ones who would do any work, but they might come and talk to you, there was some connection there.
And oh my dear lord, can anyone bully as obsessively as school children? And make no mistake, they can and do bully teachers too. It's always a game of perceived strength where the Vicky Pollards and their entourages are concerned.

Misfits, all of them, one way or another, apart from the Aussie blokes who made money from playing with themselves in public. Yeah, maybe them too, jury's out. But what makes the difference between a misfit and someone who stands out?
It's just a trick of the mind I'm sure.

Sunday, 17 September 2006


In the course of my transition from British driver to BC driver, I have learnt an interesting truism. The speed limit is in fact the speed limit. Around most of the city and except where otherwise stated, the speed limit is 50kph. But there is a difference here from in Britain. The city is bigger. In town, in Britain, where the speed limit is 30mph, you are rarely in a position where you are crawling along a long, straight road that can have two or three lanes, for miles and miles at 30. Not so here. And of course, in Britain there are the speed cameras. Here they are rare.
So what transpires?
Firstly, there is a mistaken understanding of what the different lanes mean. I have learnt that there is no fast or slow lane in the city, no passing lanes unless there is a specific sign that says, 'slow drivers keep to the right lane'.
And yet day in, day out, keeping to the speed limit, we are passed by people who weave and speed and duck and dive.....and beep their horns. It causes tension.
In the local papers people write in and upbraid the illegal drivers, the driving organisation in BC has 'drives' to improve observation of the law. But all without result. And I remain shaken but not stirred.

I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales. Well no, not quite. I am reading a book that was read by Kevin who borrowed it from the small lending library at work. Scary huh since Kevin is an engineer ? But in fact the book is about the subconscious. It's one of those pop psychology books, which I don't mind, you can often get something from them and it refers frequently to research, and I did enough psychology in my Masters to be able to keep it in perspective. I think that's true at any rate.
There was a section where it talks about the subconscious decisions people make at speed dating sessions.
I'm sorry in a way that I have missed out on speed dating. Oh I wouldn't want to be in the position where I felt I had to do it, but it does seem rather a fascinating idea. And I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to have speed-friending sessions. You just go along to meet people, any people, you spend five minutes just talking to a succession of different people just to hear about them, learn new ideas, touch new minds.
Of course there would be the odd one who couldn't conversation cue or who couldn't express themselves well. But then for some it might be a way of learning how to put ideas across and for the across talkers, well you'd only have to put up with them for five minutes.
There could be age-group sessions and cross age-group sessions. People who enjoy being single could go there, couples could go there, lonely people could go and of course you'd have the MC, or whatever the person who co-ordinates it is called, to move everything along. Someone to put in the punctuation.

I think under the circumstances, even I could become a kind of speed freak.

Saturday, 16 September 2006


I can't believe how quickly beautiful, serene September is thundering along, like a stampeding buffalo. Before we know it, she will have passed by leaving just a trace of subtle, earthy perfume.

Strange little shifts in alignment keep happening.
I am rather put out to hear from Sleepy that Dog the Bounty Hunter has been taken into custody. Dawg's one of the good guys, he treats people well, he goes after the baddies and he does it in a colourful way. There is something so compelling about Dawg and his wife Beth. This had better turn out well.

Another little shift. Yesterday I heard about a friend's dad whose car had been totalled and he had been hospitalised and rather traumatised in an accident which was an exact replica of the situation which cost me my road test. The difference was obviously that I did an emergency stop - so beloved of the British driving test but not allowed by the Canadian one - and he did what my examiner would have had me do.
But I didn't want someone's dad to have to go through this so that I can say, 'there, look, see, I was right,' the karma seems wrong somehow. It seems so wrong that I feel doubly spooked by it.

Yesterday evening, after my beloved 'Most Haunted' - we are recycling so rapidly now that I can almost sit in my chair and call out,
'Look behind you Ivvie,' we watched the second episode of a new series starring Anne Heche that is set in Alaska, 'Men in Trees'. You have this little background tune running through it from time to time where the words 'in Alaska,' keep being whispered. And for sure they do, because the thing is actually filmed in Squamish, just two hours down the road from here and where we stopped on the way back from Whistler last month.
Things are quite often filmed in places other than where they are set, but this is too close for me to get the fantasy of Alaska going. Not only that but as ever - and a damn good thing too - there are local actors in it, faces you see in many Canadian dramas and series or ones that are filmed in and around Vancouver.

I am irritated by my own inability to sense things, as though a veil shrouds them from me. And last night I dreamt about the things the psychic had said to me, like bubbles rising slowly from the subconscious.
Neptune sleeps and dreams.

Friday, 15 September 2006

Boiling frogs

I discussed before the chronic insomnia of at least three of my friends and family. In today's Guardian, there is a piece about Alan Berliner who made a film about his insomnia and almost perished in the attempt. Well, maybe not perished so much as nearly went mad.
I was particularly fascinated by his analogy of boiling a frog,

"As Wide Awake progresses, he becomes increasingly sleep deprived, a condition he likens to boiling a frog slowly, - a frog constantly adapts its body temperature so it would not realise it is being cooked alive - "I look dreadful," he keeps saying."

I find it rather comforting to know that, although I assume it only applies to the amphibious type of frogs. Not that I'd ever want to actually boil the other kind however much they had pissed me off.

I'm not a big fan of gory horror films, the type that rely solely on blood and guts and no plot. Some years back, I watched the original Hellraiser film and it frightened me half to death, clearly good at what it set out to do, blood, yes, gore, tick, but also plot.
I was nonetheless rather surprised at myself for renting the most recent Hellraiser film, 'Hellworld'. I think it lacked the slow burn of the first film and in fact had succumbed to the formula of recent horror, bunch of teens have sex and get horribly dismembered, but it did have a little twistette at the end. And it did have Lance Henriksen which I think adds a certain expectation of underlying unpleasantness.

You know that e-mail that does the rounds every six months or so, the one where you get to have your intelligence rated based on how many letter 'f's you can spot in a sample of text? The trick is that no-one sees the word 'of' so everyone ignores the 'f's in 'of' until the second time they get the e-mail.
Well something like that is going on here, only no-one is learning from experience.

I'm trying to get my head round this.
Now the Pope, went back to Germany whence he came and there he made a speech.
In it, he refers to a text he has read recently which quotes a 14th Century Christian emperor who claimed that the Prophet Mohammad had introduced only evil and inhuman ideas into the world in that he stated that what Mohammad brought to the table that was new, was the idea of spreading faith by the sword, thus even the 14th Century bloke wasn't claiming that Islam itself was evil and inhuman, just the suggested method of spreading it.
Pope Benedict then goes on to discuss this question in quite an interesting way, and with particular emphasis on the nature of God and the nature of Soul.

Completely out of character I know, but certain non Christian factions seem to be able to read this as 'the Pope says that Mohammad was evil'.

Pakistan, joined later by Iran, Turkey, Egypt and the British council of Muslims, has called for the Pope to apologise for hurting the feelings of Muslims. That seems to be after the Vatican had already issued a statement saying that there was no intention to offend the sensibilities of Muslim believers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said,

" "The Pope is a distinguished scholar and one unlikely to say offensive things," he said. "If he quoted something said 600 years ago, we should not assume that this represents the Pope's beliefs about Islam today.

"Muslims, as well as Christians, must learn to enter into dialogue without crying foul. We live in perilous times, and we must not only separate religion from violence but also not give religious legitimacy to violence in any shape or form." "

Exactomundo my friend, exactomundo. But here's the thing, here's what's bugging me as well as the selective hearing involved. If all these religious leaders can stand up and have a go at the Pope for something he didn't actually say, why the feck can't they all stand up and stop the atrocities which are being committed in the name of their Faith?
Or am I missing the point entirely and they don't actually want it to stop ?

Where there's no sense there's no reason. Is that why you can boil a frog without them noticing? Oh no, it was because they upwardly adjust their own body temperature, I must pay attention.

Thursday, 14 September 2006


Big, heavy, thumping rain last night, I hope Canadian Karen's flat hasn't flooded. Today the temperature is more tolerable, nice, very nice.

So, 'Rockstar' came to its dramatic conclusion last night and guess what, the Canadian won, even though in Kev's and my opinion he was one of the lamest of the contestants. Dilana had always been my choice, right the way through, her voice and stage presence were phenomenal and she had a kind of musical intelligence. Throughout the weeks of the show the 'Rockers' were able to re-arrange other people's songs, Lucas, the winner, thus managed to murder quite a few, Dilana never failed to make magic out of every song she sang. She was quite simply, an amazing talent. Her voice had the energy and quality of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin and then some. the end of the day, she is a woman, so the band were never going to pick her as their front person. And frankly, they were wise not to, she would have eclipsed them and at least now we can have a really good album from her rather than the lame-arse stuff that 'Supernova' were coming out with.

Yesterday I went to get my hair cut. In the town centre the Psychic Circle were having an event, so I went and got channelled. I have never had this done before and I didn't really know what to expect. She didn't tell me anything I didn't know, but she did tell me some things that she didn't know about me. She did tell me some things that could be applicable to many women of my age but she only told me ones that were true for me and she told me things that were specific to me. She answered some questions for me and I learned something about energy flow from the experience, not from anything she said, but from a feeling that my energies had been freed by the process itself and from an insight. A lot of what she said to me I could have got from a therapist, but at several times the cost.
I found this a totally positive experience.

I have to say, I couldn't help contrasting this with the computer technology of Amazon who today sent me an e-mail containing the titles of books I may like to try based on my previous buying. Is this just what the psychic does? Well maybe, but the fact is that Amazon were basing what I might like to buy on skewed information - my last order with them had been a bunch of university textbooks for Alex.

Well, turns out that Bill Clinton reads my blog - I can't see what other reason there could be for his timing in endorsing Gordon Brown as Labour Party leader and potential Premier.

AfterEllen reports that Storm Large, who was the last but one woman singer eliminated from Rockstar, and also superb, appeared on Ellen this week. Dammit, dammit, dammit, if only I had read this in time I could have seen her sing again. Fortunately there is a YouTube link from the site.

Pakistan it seems was on the verge of taking a big step towards being in line with the modern world by getting rid of its outrageous laws on rape - four male witnesses and if you fail to prove your case you basically get charged with adultery and die. BUT sadly, conservatism has won out and only minor tinkerings will be allowed.

""We are going to make it easier for [rapists] to be convicted," says Tarique Azim Khan, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, the ruling party."
Just....they're not going to take any steps to achieve it. Hohum.

Wednesday, 13 September 2006


A couple of weeks ago, Canadian Karen and I were having a conversation based on situations we had both encountered but which in my opinion, amounted to Utility.

Karen was bemoaning the fact that something at her work could change based on the vote of all the staff and she feared that they would simply vote selfishly.
This sparked off a memory from working at Mayhem.
The Headmaster wanted to give us an extra day's holiday in place of one of our In Service Training Days (INSET). In order to do this, we had to do two or three 'twilight' training sessions. Several people pointed out that although it would be lovely to have an extra day's holiday, in order to do the twilight sessions they would have to make difficult and costly childcare arrangements and possibly not even see their children on those evenings.
Now my own opinion on this was that a good leader would have proceeded no further, taken the rap and gone back to plan A. However, this was not the case, our leader decided to allow the staff to vote on it, which again, seems like the democratic thing to do. A cynic might argue that he knew what the outcome would be and so he would have his way on the matter, but oh well.

As everyone knew the problems for several colleagues, and as all teachers are members of one union or another, I assumed they would vote ethically rather than selfishly, but I was wrong, oh so very wrong. The vote was something along the lines of 75% in favour of the day off. Although it would have been nice to have an extra day of holiday and I, like many colleagues who didn't have small children, preferred to stay in school instead of taking work home, and thus was in school until at least 18.00 every night in any case, so to me this was a free day, but of course it never occurred to me to vote for it.

To me, the Utility Principle should apply. John Stuart Mill took the idea of ethical utilitarianism from previous thinkers and brought it to us as the underpinning of a political philosophy, and one that is a shining strand in modern socialism.

We should act, and our laws and rules should be formulated so that Happiness is maximised and Pain is minimised for the people as a whole.
Now the example I have given, may seem at first to show that people act in accordance with this principle in that they maximise their own happiness - ie everyone gets a day off - and minimise pain - ie the people with childcare issues are fewer than the number who don't - and thus the Utility Principle applies.
But this is not the case for Mill, in fact he is very specific and clear about what he means by happiness and what he means by pain. What is selfish and base does not constitute happiness. States of happiness caused by higher level activities, such as reading poetry, or altruism, have higher utility overall (meaning to society) than lower ones such as lying in bed for an extra morning. The pain of the people not being able to see their children on those evenings and having to go to considerable effort and expense to have them cared for, was very real pain and does impact on society. In fact we can't even calculate the future cost of such pain.

I would argue that socialism relies on this principle of maximising happiness and minimising pain across society.
On Monday I was given a lift by a friend who asked me about Blair's socialism, not a surprising question since there are many people who contend that if you are not an out and out communist you are not socialist enough.
Alana's question was partly based on an incident where an American friend of hers, either visiting or living in Britain, had come across the apparent anomaly of the Private Health Care system existing alongside of the NHS. The friend seemed to have reached the conclusion for some reason that Tony Blair had introduced this, whereas it has always existed and the idea that he could dismantle this or even that such a thing would be desirable, is ludicrous, all of which I explained.

But people's memories are short, and however diluted you may feel Blair's socialism is, he did nonetheless, do what was necessary to put the Labour Party back into power and thus change the ideology on which the country is governed.
Conservative ideology is based on the notion that people are fundamentally selfish and government exploits that so that there is much for the most selfish, the stronger in some way, and some crumbs 'trickle down' to the masses. If the masses are only receiving crumbs then they will be motivated to get off their backsides and aim for the glittering prizes.
Socialist ideology is broadly based on the idea that if we work together, we can all have enough. So we maximise happiness and minimise pain for all.

The problem is that Socialism may well be naive as I was in thinking that my colleagues would not put themselves first. Mainly because of socialism and to a certain extent liberalism over the past century, people have more now than they had when Bentham and Mill were writing about Utilitarianism.
The Labour Party in Britain is squabbling over the Party leadership instead of putting the ideal of socialism first and instead of reminding everyone in the country what it stands for.
And it needs also to take the next step in its thinking. Blair did that once and has been continually criticised for it, but without socialist thinking being able to adapt and move on while keeping its strong underlying ideals, there is no future for it.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006


People are funny. Mysterious stingray mutilations have been going on in Australia. As though you can punish animals for a man's death, more especially because there would be nothing further from Steve Irwin's whole life message than to do that. Bizarre.

We have left watching the TV series 'Deadwood' until it is actually being shown on the History channel. It really gives you an idea about how brutal life was in those days. Not much to look forward to apart from death as far as I can see. The most you could hope for was a less horrific one. Thought-provoking though.

Whilst typing this, I have the weather channel on, hoping to see a promise of rain. What I have actually discovered is that BC doesn't exist. No, it's like some mythical Province. We've had a detailed report on the Maritimes, OK, fair enough, they have hurricane Florence approaching, they deserve some airtime, and then Ontario, then we moved to the West of Canada - which apparently consists of Alberta and Manitoba. I can see BC on the weather map, but the weather lady can't.

Kevin and I had a similar-ish experience to this last year when we were visiting Cork. We were looking for Castlecor where Kevin's family had emigrated from. It existed on the map. We circled the area, but the place itself we could not find. We found a builder's sign - it existed as a telephone exchange, but not in reality. We asked people. We were directed to a grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary protected the land, and this was apparently it.
I wouldn't have been at all surprised, had there been a local weather channel, to see that Castlecor had a special weather system but no physical existence.

At just before 4am, a truck came by and emptied the bins in the school opposite. In built-up areas here, emergency services have to turn their sirens down, yet waste management can wake residents up in the middle of the night. I will put it down to the 'fluence of the mountains again.

Well, now I'm pretty peeved. BC finally has a mention and Whistler, just two hours from here, may get some snow on high elevations, but we have to wait until next Wednesday for any rain, and then only four drops.
Bah, humbug. You'd think they might give us a TV screen saver of a storm, like the Christmas log. What the hell are the local warbands doing? Isn't it their job to call down rain for us? I guess we must have annoyed them somehow.

Monday, 11 September 2006


Thank-you for all the Birthday Greetings.
At primary school, the whole class would sing you a birthday song, not 'Happy Birthday to you' but,
'We wish you many happy returns of the day...' which then went into a prescription of how you should behave on your birthday, 'thoughtful and kind all the day, swift to do right, slow to do wrong...' I'll try my best.
I'm going to set myself some new year's resolutions, get myself ready for my half a century, should I be fortunate enough to make it to next year.

Condiment Rice seems to have been exiled to Canada for my birthday, I think she should treat this as a bit of a wrist-slapping. Newfoundlanders need to think of themselves as martyrs for having Condo visit.

It seems as though the eleventh of September is the first day of the year in the Coptic and Ethiopian calendars. No, me neither, no idea whatsoever.
In 1973, a Coup d'Etat in Chile means that the 11th of September is referred to as 'el once' or 'el once de Septiembre', which in fact is what it would have been called anyway, even had there not been a coup. So there you go.

In 1297, William Wallace, or Mel Gibson if you like, defeated the English, in 1609, Henry Hudson landed on Manhattan Island, in 1777, the Battle of Brandywine took place, no idea if or why this was important, but I liked the name, in 1962 the Beatles recorded their debut single, 'Love me do' and so arguably modern pop and rock music started on my fifth birthday, and last year, Israel declared its intentions to leave the Gaza strip.

I share my birthday with Harry Connick junior - deep joy - Moby, B'elanna Torres from Voyager (the actress not the half Klingon) and more interestingly, DH Lawrence.

Canadian actor Lorne Greene died on my birthday in 1987, as did Jessica Tandy in 1994 and in 2003, John Ritter. Apparently the beheading of St. John the Baptist is remembered on this day too.

An article in today's Guardian looks at claims by a South African scientist that dolphins are not really intelligent as has always been claimed. It's quite an interesting read and looks at both sides of the argument. The author also makes some pertinent comments about the science involved - we are not allowed to experiment on dolphins in the same way as we are on rats. I guess one way of looking at this is that as a race, we are more ethical than those small grey aliens who are always abducting humans and experimenting on us. (I know this to be true because I saw it in South Park).

In health news, netdoctor today reports a study that shows eating mandarin oranges reduces risk of liver cancer, heart attack and stroke, on further reading however, it reduces them in people who already have serious conditions anyway.
The best health news though, is that drinking cocoa is seriously good for you.

"Chang Young Lee, professor of food chemistry at Cornell University, found that the antioxidant content of two tablespoons of pure cocoa powder is "almost two times stronger than red wine, two to three times stronger than green tea and four to five times stronger than that of black tea." The antioxidants in hot cocoa protect brain cells from oxidative stress that can lead to Alzheimer's and other disorders."

That's what I'm looking for, not so much the things that keep you alive longer, more the things that keep you ALIVE longer especially when they contain chocolate. Well done Chang Young Lee, just what I was looking for on my birthday.

Sunday, 10 September 2006


Yes, I'm a day early. Here's the thing, tomorrow's my birthday so I wanted to remember the sadness beforehand.

When it happened, the eleventh of September 2001, I had just started work at Mayhem. I hadn't told anyone that it was my birthday and I had not done so for a reason. It was the first birthday for me since the death of my parents. Although it was ten months since their deaths, I still felt raw, vulnerable, depressed. I didn't want anyone wishing me a happy birthday because they, my parents, couldn't, because this day was a day that connected me and my mother, the day she and I went through life's first trauma together, and she was no longer there.

Around break time I received a text message from Austen, who was still working at a school in the London Docklands at the time. That was the first I heard about the atrocities. I can't remember the rest of the day, just that.

There is a paranoia that sets in when something like this happens, my brother-in-law frequently had to go to the States on business, he had to take internal flights, he had been to the World Trade Centre, where was he now?
A similar thing happened last year just before I came out to live here. On the day of the London bombings, the seventh of July, I had told my friend Ree that I was going to a concert. Knowing that most go on in London, and that even from Portsmouth, London was easy to get to for the evening, she was worried about where I was. I was actually in Chichester, and Alison Moyet, whom I'd gone to see, was held up because all of the trains were disrupted.

Vileness. Not forgiven and not forgotten.
A while later, my sister said to me,
'The Americans always say '9/11', so just think, it happened on the ninth of November,' and to some extent she was right. Austen told me of a pupil whose sister's birthday was the same as mine. Last year for the first time she made the connection between her birthday and the terrorist attacks on the WTC.

And tomorrow is the funeral of Steve Irwin. The Guardian always tell us what we the readers are reading this week. Out of eight sites, seven were about Steve-O. The other was the Test Match between Pakistan and England.

Benjamin has arrived back in England, safe and sound. His flight didn't leave until 20.55 last night. When I used to go back and forth, there was of course no good time to leave. That late flight was nice because you could more easily sleep on the plane, but the day was largely spent prowling around the house like an unhappy tiger. The only time it worked for me was when Showcase had a 'Kath and Kim' marathon on and I was able to wallow all day long. I got to about halfway through the second series before I had to leave. Then last year just before I came out, Living were showing series two. I got to exactly the same point before I had to leave. I still haven't seen the last few episodes.
I'm wondering now if Steve-O could arrange that for me.

Saturday, 9 September 2006


It rained last night. Thank you for that, weather god.

Today we are helping Ben to pack, and as for anyone who travels anywhere, there is more going back than arrived.

Check-in is harsh, peculiar, each time something happens, some new disease, a terrorist threat, the rules change, this latest one particularly irksome, no water to be taken on board.
On board, as though it were a ship. Last night, I took Brady for a walk at night, watched the planes coming in to land, their port and starboard lights blinking red and green. The way our parents taught us to remember which is which - red for port because it is the colour of port and port is on the left because the port is passed to the left. How bizarre, it was assumed we knew about the etiquette surrounding an alcoholic drink so that we could be taught some rule of the sea, but we did.
And we must never refer to a ship as a boat or a boat as a ship.
But a plane is a ship, it has a captain and a crew, it has port and starboard, you go on board. And a starship is a ship. It also has a captain and a crew and a bridge from which everything is controlled.

Reading Sleepy's reference to Bill Shatner yesterday, Kevin reminded me of a documentary he'd seen, 'How William Shatner changed the World'. It was presented by Captain Kirk himself, but it was about how the ideas in Star Trek had prompted scientists to researching or developing some of the technologies or ideas in the show. I suppose that's why we have replicators and transporters in every room, and who hasn't heard of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle because of watching Star Trek?

This morning we watched a TV programme about the science of psychic phenomena, it showed experiments in remote viewing. It seems it doesn't matter how far away the subject is. We wondered why they don't have people remote view distant planets. They also looked at experiments in psychic healing. We should be training this part of our brain, we could be more tuned in to each other, to our world, to other worlds. It could help us listen. To God.

Ships, planes, starships, little modules for travel. They bring people to you and they take them away again. Except in our heads.

Friday, 8 September 2006

Climate and coffee

I met my friend Yvonne for coffee in Ikea yesterday, she's travelling to England today and thence to Ireland.
'Oh, lucky you, at least you'll have some chance of rain in Ireland,' I said to her. She was amazed, how could anyone not want this undending sunshine to continue?
Relentless is how I think of it. Bloody relentless. A few drops of rain and I thought my luck was in, but no, the sun just carried on frying us all alive.
Well today is overcast, and further south there were storm clouds looming, not that you can count on the signs in the sky meaning what you expect here - the mountains play tricks.

An interesting theory in the Guardian today is that climate change, the drying out and desertification of the planet, forced society to develop faster than it might have done otherwise. It's a fascinating piece because the author acknowledges that this was not necessarily a positive thing and that some people's lives got harder and life expectancy grew shorter - just like Marx said really, as we become separated from our own means of production so we become alienated.

Simmi sent me an article about a Swiss man who was caught speeding in Ontario.
'It was the lack of goats what made me do it officer.' Of course.
The article mentions that the guy was doing 100 mph in a 60 mph speed zone, but don't panic, we're not really allowed to drive at such speeds here, this would have been kph. Simmi said, 'I bet the Swiss don't have to do the test,' and she was correct, there is some kind of freak connection between the German speaking countries where they don't have to do a road test in BC, they just get given a licence. But now I wonder whether it is to do with the goats. Who knows?

Last night we saw a brilliant film. These days, spooky films don't always live up to their promise of creepiness. But 'An American Haunting' did. Haunting it was indeed, and the casting of Donald Sutherland, pure genius. I wish I hadn't seen it because then I'd have the enjoyment of it in the future. Wonderful, and like the best of this genre, enigmatic.

Back in Ikea, you get free refills of coffee. The decaf was cold. I assumed I had put in too much milk, so went and tipped mine out then refilled. Same. At a nearby table, a woman came to the same conclusion and went and told someone.
'Why do you drink decaf?' asked her friend,
'It keeps me awake,' (Ooh, just like me, I thought)
'Doesn't have any effect on me,' said the friend,
'So why d'you drink it then?'
'If it has no effect, why d'you drink it?'
'I can't get going in the morning without my coffee,' At this point, decaf woman looked over at me (I thought) and I realised I was staring at them,
'If it gets you going in the morning, why not at night?' She glanced over at me again but didn't lower her voice, except the conversation had moved on to something else. I like the combination of drinking coffee and people-watching..... and eavesdropping of course.

Jim Jarmusch's 'Coffee and Cigarettes' is nothing more than eavesdropping on people drinking coffee. It is fascinating in that it is disconnected, the way real life is. You see couples come together for coffee and cigarettes, talk, sometimes awkwardly, then go their own ways, sometimes awkwardly. We didn't even manage to finish the film and I felt dry-throated and wired.

Last week I had coffee in town. I watched the people, their body language, their self-awareness, interactions, what they wear, how they have their hair done or cut, how they sit. I observe and I judge. I judge on what they do when they get up. Do they just get up and leave all their mess on the table or do they take it to wherever the things get cleared to?

The sky has cleared again. I can see leaves rustling on the trees, but the sky is blue.
There's one cloud in my blue sky, Ben goes back tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Mags and Fags

Up at the very crack of dawn - yeah, no, don't go there - in any case, 'twas not I but the bloody crow, and even earlier, at three I was awoken by an aircraft that sounded as though it was landing on our house, bear in mind that YVR has a midnight curfew. I can understand that delays sometimes make the curfew an impossibility, however Kevin's brother Trevor flew in on a flight that was actually scheduled to arrive at one am the night before.

But...I was out of the house quite early this morning, needing to get to the Post Office which, like many in Britain is situated inside another shop, in this case Shoppers' Drug Mart. Shoppers' is like Superdrug with aspirations towards Boots. I like aspirations and I like Boots, ergo I like SDM.

So...anyhow, I decided to check out the magazines because Austen has asked Ben to bring him back an American Football magazine, or a Canadian Football mag, or.....whatever, we haven't been able to find one. This is odd really. The range of magazines on the shelves in stores here is unbelievable. But in spite of this, no football of any nationality. I found two dedicated to snowboarding, and one called 'Real Simple', I didn't bother to check this out, I assume it was a minor interest mag for people who uphold the right to use bad grammar.

Then there was a men's mag called 'Details' with a picture of Ashton Kutcher looking quite grown up on the front. Ashton, claimed the headline, may be the best husband in the world. Not quite sunshine, not quite, can he solder your network card back together in his lunch hour and bring it back in his coffee break? Yeah see I'm thinking maybe not.
Nonetheless, let's recap, a mag with Ashton on the cover and another headline reading, 'Are straight men victims of heterophobia?' Come again squire? Yes, I'm always passing women and gay men hissing 'STRAIGHTY' as a term of abuse at non-gay men in the street. Straight men have absolutely NO rights to civil partnerships in Britain, they have to get married. They are constantly getting straight bashed by marauding feminists and their gay friends.
Give me a break.
I would however mention a good read and as ever an interesting slant on the topic of homophobia by Sleepy.

One of Sleepy's readers had never heard the term fag hag. Strange. They might as well not learn it, because it may soon have another meaning. In Britain, people are being asked to spy and tell on smokers who light up in public places. Quite apart from the obvious concerns about this, why would anyone bother? You can't scratch your bum in Britain without it being caught on camera, the difficulty is actually dealing with all the information that comes in. Imagine the convo.
'Yer but, no but, right, this is Vicky 'ere, I seen Jimmy Riddle smokin in a pubic place, yeah, public place, tha's wha' I said anyway, 'i sarw 'im fingerin' Stacey Moffat an I know they done it once when 'er mum was down the pub cos like 'e told us all the next day. Anyway, 'e was smokin'.'
'Thank-you Vicky, do you know where Jimmy Riddle lives?'
'Yeah, but no but, right....'

What are they going to do? Have a flying fag squad waiting for the call, to rush out and arrest Jimmy in the middle of the street?

Still, as ever, the point of any of it is to make us think twice before doing it and by and large that works.
The article ends by telling us that when the hotline was introduced in Scotland, calls were down to 14 a day by the end of July.

Coming off the topic and back from the shop this morning, I noticed that the legend 'Yes, we eat pussy!' had been removed both from the primary and secondary school walls. I'm impressed with the efficiency of this. But I'd be more impressed were it not for the fact neither school has any boundaries. Both schools occupy grounds that are public areas. So, when I walked back to our house, the primary school was on break and I simply went straight through the children playing. I personally have been police checked into oblivion during the process of coming here, but it isn't stamped on my forehead.

At the school where Sleepy and I worked in Portsmouth, and where Austen still works, we had a problem of keeping the pupils on site, but I think it would be fair to say that the danger was to the public and from them (the kids), not the other way round, so we had occasions for example when we had information that pupils from another school were coming down for a fight, when the school fields would be flooded with staff members and police cars parked in the road.

It only needs one incident, one kiddie being taken or interfered with or even spoken to by a stranger. And please don't think for one second that my title applies to this. It is not gay men, (or smokers, or readers of magazines) who harm children. It is just damaged people.

Still on education, I noticed that in Education Guardian this week, the government seem to have decided to go back to having children learn their tables and learn the sounds of letters before they learn to read whole words. Hmmm... where do I remember that from? Oh yes, childhood. The article isn't saying that children haven't been learning tables just that they need to do it earlier. Well, in my mind, that's what we did as soon as we started infant school as rising fives, however one of my friends who reads this actually started primary school with me and she has a MUCH clearer memory of those days than I, so she may want to correct me on that.

And with only a very tenuous connection to what I've written about today, if you did read Sleepy's post that I linked to, she mentions heroines. One of mine is Hillary Rodham Clinton and yesterday I greatly enjoyed this article sent to me by Ree. May she go from strength to strength and from sea to shining sea, and that goes for Hillary too ;)

I almost forgot, but not quite, that Adam and Lisa's site, 'Posegate' now opens in Firefox and Safari, which helps me a lot since I use Firefox. Yesterday Adam posted about one of my anti-heroes, Tom Cruise or more to the point, Cruise's alleged child Suri. Adam thinks Scientology plot clone, I think adopted from across the sea. Look at the picture and see what you think.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006


Or as we sometimes say, 'House!' Well, I make it sound as though I've ever been to a Bingo Hall, which I haven't, although I've seen them on TV. I understand they have super duper electronic ones here. How do I know this? Because one of the first pieces of writing we had to do when I joined Anne's class was about somewhere we loved to be. Another student wrote about one of these places. It was an amazing description and I was mesmerised by it, but I couldn't totally follow it because it was so much outside of my experience.

HOWever, I wasn't intending to write about Bingo, nope, I did mean House. A new series, or as they say here season, has started. I have learnt my lesson and will give no spoilers. Kevin said to me last night that it had seemed at first that the focus of the show was too narrow to last, how long could they keep up with the whole 'bizarre and unusual diagnosis' theme? And yet here we are with the opening of the third series and last night was just storming. Ah Hugh, did you ever dream that the most successful role in your career would be a non-comedy one, playing an American doctor? But who knows, perhaps even greater things are to come.

OK, now a question which will cause discomfort. How do we know whether our breast tissue is dense? Today, news of a recent study showing that tumours in dense breast tissue are more difficult to find and more likely to occur. For the majority of us, as we grow older so do our breasts, and they become less dense anyway. But this study isn't about tumours in younger women, so it is really a question we can't answer. Is our breast tissue denser than that of other women in our own age group?
I do want to know about all new research, and yet I can't help thinking that this one is setting us up for more worry, and this is one factor we can do nothing about. And this is the monster that all we women fear because it takes so much from us.

Short today. My laptop network card has given up the ghost. This is seriously unfunny. I am writing this on Kevin's mac, with which I have a love/hate relationship. I like the convenience of it when I travel, it is light and will search out networks like a bloodhound. But I don't like the OS as much as Windows, I know you're not supposed to ever diss Apple, but there you go. I'm hoping we can get mine up and running this evening. As ever, watch this space.

Addendum : I think that computers are just in the phase that TVs and telephones used to be. When I was young you could never rely on a TV picture lasting very long, they would roll or flicker and then the TV set itself wouldn't last as long as they do nowadays. Likewise the telephone service was always being inexplicably cut off and sometimes for up to a couple of days.
Now it's computers. And even they are getting better. Mine has a temporary fix as Kevin has come home with some joined up thinking and stuck a wire in the side of it. I didn't think of that, I'm already out of the loop when it comes to anything but wireless. Pathetic, but connected again. :)

Tuesday, 5 September 2006


This morning there was mist on the fields as we drove Laurence to work, this really marks September in my mind. Misty mornings, making you wear a jumper only for the day to heat up later on and make you regret it. Purples and silvery greys are the colours of September for me.

School started in Britain last Friday, and one of my friends in the States has been back a couple of weeks. Today, across the road I can see cars in the car park of the secondary school, it must be starting up tomorrow. Ben has another week before college starts and Alex another two before uni.
Alex is feeling that sense of disconnection, that drôle de guerre, cut adrift from her life in Surrey, looking towards her move to London and yet not quite there. I can empathise with how she feels.

I still can't believe that Steve Irwin has died. Someone on TV likened it to when Princess Di died, and in truth, it did feel a bit like that. Disbelief.

Women's fertility seems to be a theme in the news. The British medical establishment are looking to deny fertility treatment to women who are obese, in spite of having recently been advised by the government that since the country itself needs a higher birthrate, they should be offering treatment on demand.
In the Guardian, Nichola Morris tells of the treatment she received in trying to get medical help for her problems in getting pregnant.
I am pretty sure that the name Nichola is pronounced the same as Nicola, I point this out in case you are the TV voiceover person who last night mis-pronounced the name of one of Britain's finest ever actors, Anthony Hopkins. Anthony is pronounced the same as if it were spelt Antony. At some point, someone is going to reach through the TV screen and crush your inarticulate bloody windpipe for such blasphemy.

To continue however with my musings on fertility, which belongs to the nation, I discovered - and don't panic when I say this - that I am 'pre-pregnant'. At least I would be if I lived in the U.S. The fertility police are out to get you if you still have a menstrual cycle. And as soon as you are no longer pre-pregnant and want to take something for it, HRT for example, look forward to hearing loss.

But all is not lost. Yes, everyone's out to control or own your fertility if you're a woman. If you're a man, don't reproduce over the age of 40 because you increase the risks to your child of autism, but if all else fails, at least you know, if you watch enough Bollywood films, that Lesbians Are Unhinged Killers who Want to Seduce Your Daughters.
I don't know if this is a pisstake or whether it's a real film (implied by the article). If it isn't then please someone make it, preferably someone with an actual sense of humour. (I noticed that my friend Raymond had commented on 'The Aristocrats' and he also seemed unimpressed. I couldn't find a permalink, so you have to go to the post entitled 'It seemed funny at the time'.)

Yesterday I saw a T-shirt with the words,
'My imaginary friend thinks I'm mental'. I nearly bought it.

Play Misty for me someone...please.....