Sunday, 27 February 2011

This is England 2011

Ee, by gum. Where do the time go?

Bizarre though it may seem, I wanted to visit not just my parents' graves, where a geranium my sister had planted, that had come originally from their garden, had grown into a good approximation of a heart shape that linked the two, but also, the Canadian part of the military section of Brookwood cemetery.

We went at first through the wrong entrance, and toured the Muslim, Zoroastrian and Italian graves. Exit stage left and re-enter at the war grave end; the Canadian section is the first one.
They are still kept well, some still newly planted. The French headstones had, as you might expect, and yet somehow not, the dates and rank of the deceased, in their own language.

Then we went up to town in a mini. I was allowed to sit in the front on account of my extreme claustrophobia, indeed, just the thought of getting in the back brought on the first symptoms of a panic attack.
But we arrived at my sister's flat in Wapping, in one piece.

On Thursday, we toured Borough Market, and then got on the tube to Waterloo, then down to Sleepy Mansions whence to Château Crisp-e.
Meanwhile, back at the Schloss, the fire alarm was going off, apparently, it had been going off for twelve hours. Crisp-e kindly allowed us to phone home and talk Laurence through disconnecting the thing.

Friday, we were up at first light, to get a lift with the Tame Pharmacist back to Locks Heath.
The journey reminded me that although BC is beautiful, England has its own beauty, the water and the woods, even the buildings, shrouded in fog and gently lit by an early, watery sun.

We have had a quiet weekend, partly because I was banned from going to Ben's band, 'The Brompton Mix' 's first gig last night, but the early reports are that it was pretty sensational, and the band have already booked another.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Old Peculiar

Turns out that the Marmite flavoured chocolate is exactly as it says on the packet - very peculiar. I wouldn't say I'll become addicted to it, but nor does it make me want to throw it back up.

Yesterday, we went to Winchester and then hammered up to Woking to get Ben.
Today we took the kids to the New Forest, then a little pub in the country in a nearby village. This evening, dinner in Café Rouge at Gunwharf. Tomorrow, Pirbright and Brookwood to visit graves and then up to London to stay with my sister.
Making the most of half term and the location that Sue and Austen have moved to.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

En Route and Onwards

Back in the land of Boudica..
The flight was uncomfortable, more-squashed-than usual seats on an old 747. Sleep largely eluded even me from the discomfort. The heat was insane.
The woman the other side of me complained about the heat too, she was nice, but a talker.

The grandkids are taller, their speech more advanced. Holly correctly used the word 'polysyllabic' to Kevin's surprise, but not mine.

We've had fish n' chips. We've had Indian takeaway. We've had back bacon. I've been given Marmite chocolate. Awesome. Haven't tried it yet.
The supermarkets are full of different things, I want to try everything, but realise that's ridiculous thinking.

We've been to Sleepy mansions and met Ozzie, walked Ozzie, communed with Ozzie. Sleepy Mansions is the perfect temperature.

There's a borrowed dog at Sue and Austen's, small but well-behaved.

Loving the weather.

Onwards, ever onwards.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


The most brilliant thing, and bear in mind that there were many, to come out of the airport's overhaul for the Olympics, is the provision of free Wi-fi. This, surely, more than anything else will keep the campers happy, it certainly makes the time go more quickly. That, coupled with numerous living room style arrangements of really comfie sets around a telly screen, makes for a happier wait. My only whinge is the bloody heat setting. It must be about 25° and I feel as though my face might spontaneously combust.
Oh, I do have one other complaint. All this unpleasantness in the Middle East on the BBC World News is rather worrying.

Whisky is staying with Kevin's parents. I was so relieved that I was taking him over to them today, and not just handing him over to some kennels.
It was odd though, in the short time I was back home before our friend arrived to take us to the airport, I realised I was still aware of his presence in what I was doing, and then of course, his absence.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Collateral Damage

It would be fair to say that the packing is not going well. Were I Mary Poppins and could fit any quantity into a normal-sized carpet bag, then it wouldn't be a problem, but I'm not, so it is. In fact, somewhere in the mix, is the anti-Mary Poppins effect. When Alex and Seth arrived last year, they brought their luggage allowance, and when each in turn left, they left with their luggage allowance. Yet somehow, Alex's room is still completely full. We won't be able to take a fraction of the contents.
Ah well.
To add insult to injury, snow is forecast for here, for Thursday.

So, radical feminism, how goes it? you are wondering.
Sweden's Chief Prosecutor has been accused by (in the words of Liz Lemon) 'the folk hero who nobody likes anymore' 's lawyers of being a radical feminist, and a malicious one at that.
Well, in a superb article in the Graun, Jonathan Dean asks what the hell a radical feminist is. The term is loaded. We are supposed to sharply draw in our breath and shake our heads, but he points out that radical simply means grass roots. He says,

"Historically, radical feminism was a specific strand of the feminist movement that emerged in Europe and North America in the late 1960s. Distinctive to this strand was its emphasis on the role of male violence against women in the creation and maintenance of gender inequality"

He goes on to point out that

"in Britain at least, radical feminism has never been particularly dominant, partly because – in the eyes of many socialist and postcolonial feminists – it has been insufficiently attentive to the intersections between gender inequality and other categories, such as race and class. So Rod Liddle's peddling of the tiresome rightwing idea that radical feminism has destroyed the family, along with Dominic Raab's assault on "feminist bigotry" and the Vatican's efforts to address "distortions" caused by radical feminism, rest on at least two implausible assumptions. First, they reduce feminism to a horrifying caricature that never really existed and second, they make the frankly bizarre suggestion that radical feminism is the dominant ideology of our times. It would seem that not only do these radical feminists commit the outrage of not wearing makeup, but they use the time this frees up to consolidate their world domination. Or an alternative explanation might be that these are the paranoid anxieties of fearful anti-feminists. "

So, another way of discrediting a woman in authority.
Since Feminism in any case, is concerned with gender equality, I would argue that it should be a necessary condition for anyone, either woman or man who is involved at any stage in the process of Justice.

A grey area for me in the whole issue of gender equality, is that of positive discrimination whereby if you have two equally qualified and experienced candidates for a job, you would pick a woman over a man.
The hypothetical has always worried me, because what you always want is the BEST candidate for a job, except that the scenario always posits two equals. The writer of the article, which I cannot now find, points out that in actual fact, in real life, the man is far more likely to get the job simply because he is a man, which is in and of itself discrimination, just that it's in favour of the man.
But. But. If I test this out, it becomes more complicated still.

I am a teacher. For many years, teaching has been dominated in numbers by women, but in management positions by men. I honestly believe that this is changing.
Kevin is an engineer. Engineering has always been dominated by men.
Now my own situation is that because of my immigrant status, ie, being one, I not only cannot practise my profession, but if I went back and did those pesky courses that I'm qualified to teach, I would still be in a position, research shows, to be discriminated against because of my immigrant status.
Take this a step further, and if Kevin, who is the one of us who is able to make a living, was discriminated against in favour of a woman with whom he was competing for a promotion or job, and next to whom he was equally qualified, there would still be a woman in the equation, and one who is already being discriminated against quite soundly on other grounds,me, who would lose.

Out on the spiral arm of Feminism are those women who literally dislike men as a result of the negative impact on women, of inequality. One of my favourite Feminist websites has recently become to all intents and purposes a women-only site. And that, of course, is the prerogative of the owner.
There has been much discussion about this.
I will continue to read it, because of the insight and sheer bloody amazing writing of the author.
But my own view is that men count a great deal in the slog towards gender equality. No equality has ever been won by the disenfranchised alone.
Racial equality has advanced because a significant part of the privileged class, in most cases white people, have woken up to the evil of discrimination.
Likewise men had to 'do the paperwork' to give women the vote, at a time when many women were still against it. A paradigm shift as huge as gender or racial equality, requires action on all levels. Yes, we need strong, affirmative leaders. We need loud-voiced, articulate writers, we need activists to turn out to marches and demonstrations, but we also need people who challenge the disease of inequality every day and on every level.
There's always a cost. I've said it before and I'll say it again and again and again. There's a cost to Kevin, and by extension to me, that he refuses to join in the institutionalised sexism he encounters at work. There is a cost to me when I challenge sexist language. There is a cost to every person who refuses to simper and flirt to get their own way. But without those women AND men paying that price, the gender or race gap will not only never be closed, but it will widen again.

Collateral damage. That's what it is.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Rites of Passage

My boy. His band's most recent track - I think.

My boy who lives here - Kev and I have just rescued from a bathroom floor in Point Grey. He'll be a sorry mess tomorrow, hangover and permanent marker. Rites of Passage.

Yesterday, Vancouver was luminous. The sun was shining, the mountains were snow capped, the trees were in bud. Today, rain. The mountains are, of course, still snow-capped, presumably more so since the rain falls as snow up there, and the trees are still in bud. The birds seem a bit hacked off though.

In Britain, as a general rule, it's difficult to find parking, and particularly in cities. There are never enough car parks, side streets either have double yellow lines (no parking) or are full of cars that have found a space and are guarding it for dear life.
Also, as a general rule, you're aware of this and don't drive anywhere you can't be sure of finding a parking space. This works most places, but I remember visiting my sister when she was living outside of Norwich. You had to drive into the main city, but on this occasion, we could not find parking anywhere, we drove around and around and eventually went home.

Now when I moved here, I discovered that people DO drive into cities, that there is parking along side streets, main streets, that there are normally adequate car parks, but people here don't think they should have to pay for parking and so there is generally plenty of space in them.

Until Wednesday.
Having driven out to visit my friend in hospital, I arrived to find that yet another swathe of the hospital car park was fenced off. I tried every part of the grounds, every hospital parking lot and visited every side street I could get to. This is so not one of the areas where I wish Canada would emulate Britain, so not.

But I have found another thing that could happily go the other way. I love the pot luck. That needs to be happening properly in Britain - where pot luck just means 'you'll get whatever's in the cupboard/fridge'. But now, I want to introduce the 'Toonie Party'.
Gail told me about this today, and it's a real example of joined-up thinking.

So, kids' parties.
And the 'toonie'.
The toonie is our highest denomination coin, being a two-dollar piece.
When kids go to the toonie party, instead of bringing a gift, they bring three coins, any coins, but obviously can't be more than a toonie. One goes into a jar for the birthday girl or boy to use to buy something they actually want. The second goes into a jar that will go into the kid's savings account, and the third goes into a jar for charity.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Outside the Zone

At the weekend, we watched the film, 'Social Network'. I had no expectations of it. None. I put it on, partly expecting to return to reading my book. In fact, I found it very engaging. The story was about the rise and rise of Facebook and its founders and the subsequent law suits brought against the central pillock.
The strength of the film for me was that you could understand every point of view, you could see how they got there, how relationships get shipwrecked. How ideas morph and how people don't see that happening.

I've been mulling over a couple of things. On Monday, one of my friends, and someone whose thoughts I'm normally in line with, said that every woman likes a bad boy. Even leaving aside the sexual aspect of that statement, my first thought was, And upon deeper reflection, I still feel, er....NO. And not even in a dominatrix way. No, no, no. So why do I not feel even vaguely drawn to the bad boys?

I wondered if it were because I have three sons (the eldest pictured above at the front of 'the classroom of the future'). My friend has daughters. But that explanation didn't ring true to me.
So maybe it's because, as a secondary school teacher, everything I had to do and achieve in my job, was continually being sabotaged by bad boys.
The girls who were bad tended to either blow up quickly and so could be dealt with, or not turn up. The boys who were badly behaved had a much more far-reaching impact. Their destruction was like a constant jackhammer thudding away, and a thudding which was rewarded by the girls and women who 'liked the bad boys'.
I just can't be doing with them, just cannot be arsed. Give me the intelligent, thoughtful ones any day.

The other thing on my mind is the edge between comfort zones and standards. In my department at Mayhem, there were people who could not be moved outside of their comfort zones. Now this was quite a feat, to be honest. The government had an entire department monitoring and disseminating all recent research in every area of education. It was like having a large dog standing behind you the whole time, biting your bum if you even started to get complacent. It was challenging, but edifying. And it was that pushing beyond the comfort zone that allowed standards to rise. Ironically, my comfort-zone clinging colleagues, would always claim that they were just trying to keep up standards.
So now why, when I see examples of the dumbing down of the language, do I think that standards are slipping, rather than that I'm scared of stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing them? Here's an example. At the U.S. border, there is a correct sign for 'oversized vehicles'. When we return to Canada, we see an incorrect one for 'oversize vehicles'.
I have heard people describe something as 'cliché' rather than clichéd, the first is a noun, the second an adjective.

My answer is that keeping up standards is really not very comfortable. I have to personally step outside of my comfort zone every time I challenge the dumbing down.

Another film we watched at the weekend, because recommended by Sleepy, was 'The Last Hangman'. Provocative. A film that takes you well out of your comfort zone not just for the subject matter, but because it is so exceptionally well acted. I swear that Juliet Stevenson can sometimes suggest an entire internal conversation by a slight movement of one eyelid. But as with the book, 'The Hangman's Daughter', the hangman does his job as well as he possibly can, never taking the fact that his job is taking lives for granted, and always, always, Timothy Spall shows us a man so far outside of his comfort zone that he has to mentally and emotionally ringfence it and never visit it until the next time. And the next time, and every time, he strives to be the human face of inhumanity.

Monday, 7 February 2011

One of Those Days

Some days you wake up and have a feeling that it will be 'one of those days', and it is. Today, for example. But I'd like to know whether it's a self-fulfilling prophecy or whether it's a real premonition, because one you can change, the other you just have to weather.

It's blustery. Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows that the wind affects the behaviour of children. Probably animals too, and who knows, maybe everything and everyone.

I went to the hospital to visit my friend. The first thing I was confronted with was the absence of any parking space. Some kind of building work is going on and the car parks were all fenced off.
I'd like to go by public transport, which would in fact be cheaper and more ethical, but it would also take an extra two hours out of my day.

As I arrive, since I know my friend has moved wards since Friday, I have to pick up the telephone on the front desk to ask what ward she's in.
You can't go ten paces in this hospital without hand sanitiser, but here I am confronted by a phone, one of the most unsanitary pieces of equipment in any home, let alone hospital. The man at the desk has some wipes.

'Could I have one of those wet wipes please?'
'Why not?'
'You have to use latex gloves with the wipes,'
'I don't know,'
'Could I have a latex glove then?'
'I'm not allowed to give them out,'
'Right,' so I take some hand sanitiser and smear it on the phone with a tissue.

Across a crowded lobby, I am singled out by an elderly Sikh couple who speak only three words of English. I finally ascertain that they are trying to visit a relative who has given birth, and thanks to the colour coded wall charts, I was able to send them in the right direction.

Upstairs, my friend wants me to find a priest for her who visited last week. I know from previous experience that this is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I go to the desk.

'My friend would like a visit from the hospital chaplain please, he visited her last week on the other ward. All I know about him is that he's the hospital chaplain and he's Iraqi,'
'Does he wear glasses?'
'I don't know,'
'Is his name Ian?'
'Sorry, I don't know, all I know is that he's the hospital chaplain and he's Iraqi,'
'Is he Muslim?'
'No, he's a priest,'
'I see, but he's Iranian?'
'No, Iraqi,'
'Right, Iraqi, well, I think you mean Ian. He only comes on certain days,'[answers phone]
'Well, could we get in touch with him?'
'I think he might come on a Monday,'
'Good, good, if he does turn up, could he see my friend?'
'I'm not sure if today is one of his days though,'
'Ok, well, if it is....'

When I get outside again, two women stop me and ask if I know where they might have parked their car. By a process of illuminating elimination, I point out that the hospital is bounded on two sides by major highways, so work out in which direction their car must be. They want to know how they get there. I make some suggestions.

As the day goes, it's only half time.

On 'Harry's Law' this week, her first client brings her a priest who wants to talk to a lawyer.
'I've brought you a priest,' he says, 'in case you need spiritual guidance,'
'That's OK,' says Harriet, 'I self-medicate.'

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ribbet, Rabbit

Ah, Thursday, and not, as my photo would have anyone believe, frosty, but raining again.
Chinese New Year - the Rabbit, not good for us Roosters apparently.
Teenagers were letting off fire-crackers over in the park before sundown yesterday. One of the dogwalkers met me as I was returning, her dog had been seriously terrorised the day before by the dog that looks like a meercat, she didn't like the sound of the firecrackers and scuttled away.
I had left it until the last moment to go to a meeting which was due to start at 17.30, bad move, there had been a big accident on the main road and everything was at a standstill.

A propos of very little, I've been trying to persevere with British Sea Power today - it's not doing it for me, I had to have a blast of Stone Roses as an antidote.

Yesterday, there was a most excellent post on Figleaf's blog, about male rape in prisons.
I had never thought about this as a serious issue, I must admit. The only time it is talked about is as a threat on TV shows, so it's easy to think it's just a fiction.
The U.S. Justice System is now taking it seriously and has produced a draft paper on reform. We wouldn't and don't tolerate other abuses in the corrections system, so why the hell would be tolerate this? It is the absolute anathema to human dignity. Figleaf himself makes some interesting points about this issue. For one, he sometimes sees comments on feminist posts about rape, complaining that men get raped too. He says that if each one of those commentators had at the same time complained to their congressperson, reform might have happened sooner. In fact, it is from a feminist initiative that this has now come to pass.
Even so, one of the commentators on the post itself, spews the usual vitriol. Feminists would not take on this issue if they didn't gain more out of it than men.
Well duh, almost by definition. Since women are the disadvantaged sex, it's virtually impossible to find an area where equality wouldn't improve things more for women than for men.
And this person is also over-looking the fact that, since feminist theory is based quite significantly on the terms 'feminine' and 'masculine' being culturally created and not referring to any natural phenomenon in the way that 'female' and 'male' are, men are benefited in general by feminists challenging these stereotypes. Many men suffer greatly from a culturally imposed ideal of what it means to be masculine.

Kevin sent me an article by a woman who highlights that sometimes, feminists seem to have a very white-middle-class-ableist-cis centred focus. And I have seen this criticism before, clearly if this is the experience of some, then it is going on and needs to be addressed. This particular writer calls us out over the 'forgotten' areas of Inclusive Language. I must admit, I hadn't thought about the expression 'to step up...' It is a very thorough look at the issues and the problems when people are exclusionary in their use of language. She also gives a list of all the nonsense people come out with when challenged.
She's spot on. Heard them all.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


As promised, here is NOT a picture of a returned sock. After five days, the sock was returned not via the pooposphere, but barfed back intact. Thank-you Di for reassuring me with the tale of the Tesco's bag that took a week to pass through a hound. And I've learnt to always put my boots away when I've stuffed my socks in them.

I've been to the hairdresser's and had more than my share of the day-to-day lives of people who exist purely for magazines. In fact there was one that had pictures entitled, 'Celebs do the same things we do!' or some such tosh, and pictures of well-known people actually doing things like shopping, breathing and walking. What is wrong with me that I even opened the stupid thing and thus know that?

I find it utterly bizarre that people have complained to the British Advertising Standards Authority about an ad for Yves Saint Laurent's perfume, 'Belle d'Opium' on the grounds that the advert suggests drug use. YSL has had a perfume called Opium for donkey's years, have none of them ever noticed it had the name of a drug? it alright to name your perfume after a drug, but not ok to point it out?
Also, showing the model doing something that suggests drug use, does this render the perfume a gateway drug? Like, you've never done any drug taking before, but when you see the TV ad with the model being all languid and druggy, do you think,
'Blimey, I'd never thought of taking drugs before, I'd better get off my backside and go down the chemist's,' ? (This person wouldn't know the diff between Boots the Chemist and a drug dealer, natch).

To some, no doubt, religion is their opium, to others, opium is their religion, to yet more, opium is just a perfume.