Tuesday, September 30, 2003


This evening, I have mostly been making my children eat chilis.

Don't call social services just yet: it was all done in the interests of science, well horticulture anyway. (that sounds sooo much worse somehow)
You see, my Dad, the self-unemployed computer consultant, now likes to grow stuff. And there's nothing he likes to grow more than chilis and peppers. He asked me to send some seeds from chilis grown in Canada. I found 19 varieties at our local market, and in order to catalogue them I found I needed to taste them all. Unfortunately, I hit on a few damn hot ones quite early on, and lost my sense of taste. Luckily for me, 8 year-old Hen and 6-year old Dill kindly offered to help (they're very fond of peppers). One 500g pot of yoghurt later, they've vowed never to touch another chili as long as they live. Oh my God, what have I done???
Competition time: Which of these d'you think was the hottest?

Monday, September 29, 2003

Time travel 

At 14:40, I received an email from amazon.ca confirming shipment of my order today. They must be using warp speed to cope with the shipping volume, since they then produced a delivery delay of -2.5 hours; I received the package at 11am today.

Things Montrealers take for granted- part 2 

1) Roadworks throughout the summer
2) Spending a fortune on heating
3) Rust in car bodywork
4) Ice storms
5) Truly awful tap water
6) Traffic jams every rush hour on and near the bridges (Montreal is on an island)
7) Shops shutting at 5pm on Saturdays
8) Not being able to grow artichokes
9) Arguments about languages
10) -30c

Nanny State 

A few moments ago, having composed and sent a long email to a friend who works in a government department in Britain, I was aghast to see the message being bounced back. Had my friend suddenly been sacked and had her mailbox deleted? Had she moved to a different job since 9 o'clock this morning? Had I mis-typed her address? None of these things. Her office was simply protecting her from the evils of internet smut, by rejecting the message for the cardinal sin of having the word "aarse" in it!!! (as in aarse-up)
Now in the last few weeks, I have had a lot of yummy leisure time, being the unemployed mother of three school-age children. So I have got rather heavily into Googlewhack, the internet game in which you have to find a combination of two words present in only a single web site. One thing that I have learned is that prawnographers use very complicated and totally unrelated words to disguise their line of work- they probably don't even bother wih the word "aarse" any more. I seem to hit mostly on prawnography sites in fact, expecially when using the lexicon closest to French.
So just whom does her office presume to save her from? Are they really so naive as to believe that prawnographers are stupid enough to use obvious search words? Or are they anxious to get their pounds'-worth of work from my friend, and judge any email with the word "aarse" in to be non-work, and therefore a waste of their resources?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Things Montrealers take for granted- part 1 

1) Rubbish collection and street sweeping twice a week
2) Bilingual education
3) Snow cleared from streets in the night
4) Clean, reliable and cheap public transport
5) Very cheap daycare for kiddiewinks
6) Cheap, plentiful and readily available sports facilities
7) Low levels of violence and criminality
8) Outdoors accessible all year round
9) High tolerance of cultural difference
10) Space

I hate roller-blading! 

I must have spent too much time reading as a child- 8 hours a day, every day, from age 3 to 17: you do the maths, I was always too busy reading to pay any attention to numbers.
Anyway, this combined with my parents' pathological overcautiousness, have left me with a real fear of hurting myself (strange since my pain threshold must be quite high, given 3 lots of childbirth with minimal pain-relief). This curtails almost every physical activity, since I am too scared of what might happen to really enjoy any sport. In no activity at the moment is this more apparent than when I go roller-blading with my troupe of performing monkeys. After two months, they are already semi-professional, jumping, twirling and speeding, whereas I creep along lamely behind, looking askance at every bump and curb, avoiding even the slightest downhill, and feeling generally like an elephant on a tight-rope. I just know that these things are out to get me.
Every day my children grow bolder, and I delight in seeing them trying out more and more audacious things. So far, since we've arrived in Canada they have: rollerbladed, climbed around treetop assault courses (see right), climbed a lot of trees without equipment, bungee-trampolined (now that is fun), rock-climbed in a proper centre with ropes and everything, walked up vertical mountain sides, been swimming in a lake, kayacked in a fjord, rock scrambled, roller-bladed around the F1 circuit here in Montreal and I'm sure I've left some things out.
Although I've also done most of these things, my over-riding memory of them is anxiety. This tends to spoil my enjoyment. The Boff tells that he and his brother were very active children, and that they never came to any harm, but I cannot stop thinking "what if, what if?" I try to just to bite my tongue- I want them to have fun doing these things, and not to have every facet of their lives plagued by the worries that I have. So far, this seems to be working. Armed only with the maxim "don't get yourself into any situation you can't get yourself out of again", they are perfectly able to attend to their own safety, with occasional input from manic-mummy. They've survived to 6, 8 and 10, and seem to be in rude health.

Seen on the fridge 

Eternity goddess of a
drunk men"

Sim (1993- )

Saturday, September 27, 2003


Not finding my site soporific enough? Try counting sheep.

The year is 1703 

Following a discussion with The Boff this morning about the seemingly crackpot theory of the missing Early Middle Ages, I did a little internet research, and found a very intesting paper written by an historian. It is essentially a round-up and synthesis of widely available research, but the theory it puts forward is pretty amazing. It seems that Christianity, and by implication much of European and world history, may actually be younger than we supppose, by over 300 years!! The logic in the paper is certainly seductive, and if you don't wish to read it all, start on page 9 where the author lays out a few hypotheses about what could have caused the discrepancy. It seems to make sense to me, and certainly appeals to my inner revolutionary (living with a scientist sometimes makes it difficult to challenge basic paradigms, and it really isn't fair to tease!). The basic tenets of the paper are these:
1) There is no written evidence of the Early Middle Ages. Whilst that could be because we were all thrashing around in a quagmire, living off roots and with little spare time to write things down, the total non-existence of these yerars might also be a valid excuse.
2) There is no archeological evidence from that period- odd- had they stopped making pots for cooking, houses, shoes etc?
3) The study of tree rings has failed satisfactorily to indicate the existence of these years.
4) Any one of a number of influential megalomaniac kings around the year 700 could have had history rewritten to suit their desire to reign in the year 1000- an error later taken up and solidified by medieval monks charged with writing up the history of early Christianity.

Obviously none of this matters much now, but what it does make me think, and put in question almost everything I've learnt about history in my lifetime. It certainly reminds me that history as we understand it is only a collection of individual points of view, and that merely because a lot of people believe something does not make that thing true.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Affordable child-care 

Today all over Québec, infants have been kept at home due to strikes for increased pay in state-run daycare centres. So far, so normal you might think. But the odd thing about Québequois state day care is that, almost uniquely in the first world, it actually is affordable. It costs 5 Canadian Dollars a day, which is around 2 Pounds 50. For people out of Québec, it seems like an aberration to make it so cheap. However, this is how the Québequois choose to spend their taxes.
My feeling is that countries in the first world display a lot of hypocrisy with regard to women working. On the one hand, they condone houses prices rising so high as to be afforded only by two income families. On the other hand, they allow exorbitant prices for childcare- for those of you out of touch with this, it costs around 100-180 pounds per week in Britain per child, no reductions for siblings. If you do the maths, and compare average womens' wages with this, you will see that it is barely worth most womens' while to work, unless they can cobble together different arrangements. And who would willingly allow their child to be looked after in a "cobbled" fashion?
I realise that many people choose to remain childless, which is their perfect right, and that others are childless because of other circumstances; I realise also that in today's tight economy, many people resent paying taxes towards something they don't want. But I put to those people: if everyone stopped having children, we'd all be in the shit when comes our turn to retire, since there'll be nobody to pay pensions (and no, the pensions companies are not putting your contributions into a pot marked "Joe Bloggs", tenderly looking after it until you'll need it!). So go on, even if you hate children, smile at a parent today! Make their life a little easier- they're raising your cruise 'n golfing cash!
And sisterly feelings towards anyone who's bringing up the next generation, particularly if you're working for money as well: you're doing the hardest job on earth.

Quick survey 

How many total strangers have you had a conversation with this week, not counting standard courteosities towards shopstaff etc...? Do not count any virtual conversations. I mean the face to face kind. I'll tell you my total later, if I realise I'm not abnormal in this respect. So don't fib or you'll upset the carefully collated statistics!

Happy boy 

Here is a picture of Sim communing with nature yesterday.

New-fangled technology 

At the risk of sounding like a fogey, I must say that I find the pace of technological development quite astonishing. I mean who could have believed that in twenty years we could go from the ZX81 ( anybody remember them? "print "hello" go to line 1" or something like that, and you got a screenfull of hellos) to what I have sitting on my desk at the moment. And don't get me started on the G5 Mac...
Where was I? Ah yes. We may well need a new telly when we get back to blighty, our old one being eleven years and having just survived a lightning strike (I just survived that one too, but that's another story). We were thinking plasma for extra space, but just look at what'll be available soon. Here and here. You might like to take a look at the side- bar while you're in last one, there's quite an interesting article about octopus' er...bits.

Dandruffy myopia 

So I climbed, as you do of a morning, into the shower. Without my glasses (did I mention that I was very short-sighted?) , and in an early morning sort of state, I picked up the wrong bottle, and well...let's just say that I won't be suffering from dandruffy armpits.

For whom do you blog? Blog Me! 

Do you have any idea of who your audience is? What do you expect to provide for them? Why do you visit other people's sites? Which ones do you choose to list under "favourites" in your side bar? Do you visit them all daily? So many questions, so little time...

Thursday, September 25, 2003


I logged into Yahoo. Their tip of the day was "keep your emails short and to the point" Accordingly, in my inbox, I had a page-long morass of information from Yahoo about spamming, which I would put up here but for the fact that it would give you all access to my email account, so I won't. I ask "what is the point of to the point emails?" Why shouldn't we ramble in emails, eh? Particularly when one has a cogent argument.


I penned a small dittie
I thought it quite witty
I put it up on the Net
Then Blue Witch came along
She said it was all wrong
I was quite the worst poet she'd met.
Or not.


Next time you're lost for an insult, use this, it's brilliant!

I'm happy 

I've just heard on the news that this lady has been spared a terrible death. I had been following her case for several months, so this is a big relief. I love it when these unexpected things happen.

Blog me style tips. 

I want to buy some new jeans. I like darker ones, not tapered cos they emphasize the fact that I'm getting my dear mammas bottom (just put it with the feet would you). Any advice?

Blog me in a pedestrian way 

Today's hot topic: Car Free Day; it's all very well, but how about Car Free Life?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Blog me werse! 

There was a Blogwitch of cyanic authority
Who decided her lurkers should be more commenty
The idea she came up with, would, she suggested
Contribute to we bloggers feeling more rested.

Although at first it seemed just a batty idea
She did what she could to di-spell our fear
Here in full detail the scheme that arose:
We'd write the titles, and you lot, the prose.

More to come, he he he- after lunch!

And here, courtesy of ten-year-old Sim, my son and heir, is today's title:

What's worse than death, Mummy? Obviously you don't have to keep the Mummy bit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Purple pen's hiatus 

I will mostly not be blogging tomorrow since I have to go up to town to buy a metronome and stuff. What with the time difference, you wouldn't get anything here until after you'd gone to sleep (most readers of this humble site *grateful snivel* anyway), so consider the things below, and I'll test you all when I get back (You can take the girl out of teaching, but you can't take the teacher out of the girl).

Blog me! 

Can people with tidy minds have untidy houses?

Blog me 

I may get into trouble for this with Madame BW (better, Mme BW?), but here's what I think is an interesting blog. Assuming that none of us has ever met (so if you know one of these bloggers, please just sit back and chortle quietly), this should be quite funny.

Write a shortish description of another blogger in the Blog Me! scheme. You can include complete physical description, lifstyle etc. Be fanciful, but not too rude or you'll upset someone!

Lies, all lies 

I found this really quite chortle-inducing.

Blob me 

Teenage. What is it?

Blog me more 

Paid employment or homemaking?


Bilingualism (or more, why stop at two?) should be encouraged in all people. Discuss.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Blog Me! 

Why do you leave your comfort zone, and what do you expect to find when you get there?

Blog me 

What is the worst thing you ever did as a child that nobody found out about?

Blog me more 

It is 11.39am as I write. This morning, The Boff drove me to the airport to sort out some car hire paperwork. He dropped me at 10am at a station near the airport. The bus came, and dropped me near the lovely market where I do our weekly shopping. I bought all our meat for the week (organic), picked up some sushi for lunch for me, used my correspondance ticket to get on the Metro, and got home five minutes ago after a lovely walk from the metro station in the warm autmn sunshine. Total distance travelled: around 15 miles. Total time spent travelling: 30 minutes Total cost to me: 1 dollar 66 canadian, around 80 pence.
Why can't public transport be better in Britain?
OK, I'm going to modify this one a little (sorry Harriet and Blue Witch, and thank you for your comments)
You are despot of Britain for the day; give me a five-point plan for improving the country.

Blog Me 


Sites where you can do the writing in the DIY "I title you write" Blog Week (starting at midnight tonight, ending midnight Friday):

Blue Witch
Ron's World
Santiago Dreaming
Sime World
The Purple Pen

OK, here goes- it feels rather like setting homework. Do your best!

Monday's title:

Drip dry or iron?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Service with a smile 

This is customer service, British style- it's positive and negative at the time, and I've yet to decide which will have the upper hand.
We came to Canada for a year, and sent off our winter things just after we left Britain in July.
So we sent off six removals boxes of clothes, long trousers etc. The Boff (husband) found a cheap enough door to door company. They were charging 400 pounds, which seemed reasonable given the effort involved on their part. Boff was quoted a delivery time of 4-6 weeks. Five weeks later, I decided to ring them up to find out when we might expect the delivery. This is when it started turning into a classic Monty Python sketch.
Mr delivery: Oh no no, we quoted a delivery time of 6-8 weeks.
Me: (not totally sure of myself since I didn't make the original arrangements) But I can assure you that we were quoted 4-6 weeks.
Mr Delivery: (patronisingly) Well I'd hardly be likely to say that when it takes 6-8 weeks now would I?
Me: But we need those things! It's nearly the end of August, it's going to be winter soon! (little does he know that it's 27c outside and likely to remain so for at least another month) WE'LL FREEZE! My children have no winter clothes!
Mr Delivery: Well there's not much I can do about it. Your stuff's on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic. I can't very well ask them to speed up can I? It will dock in Toronto on September 8th, you'll get your stuff in the week of the 15th.
Me: (fuming) OK I look forward to it. (puts phone down)

Fastfoward to September 15th, and I decide to touch base with Mr Delivery Guy.
Me (breezily, it's still 26c outside) ...after usual preamble...: So when can I expect my things then?
Mr Same Delivery: Oh no no, it takes 8-10 weeks.
Me: (quite annoyed by now) But look this is ridiculous! When I rang up three weeks ago, you assured me that my stuff would take 6-8 weeks, and now you're telling me 8-10 weeks. What kind of a company are you? Are you seriously expecting our business on the return trip?
Mr SD: errr.....yes?
Me: Because we're leaving here in ten months, and we'll need to have all this stuff sent back again, and the way things stand at the moment, I would not touch your company again with a barge-pole. Where exactly is our stuff then?
Mr SD: sound of phone ringing in background Can you hold on please, I've got a call on the other line? It's business.
Me: No I can't bloody well can't hold on, I'm calling from Canada! And besides, I'm business! Just because you've already got my money does not mean that I'm not business!
Mr SD: answers other phone and asks them to ring back OK can I take your number and ring you back when I know more about it, in about 5 minutes?
Me (thinks HA! fat chance!) All right here's my number.

True to his word, Mr Delivery rings back 5 minutes later. Gone is the jaunty, patronising tone. I now have a meek, humble, business-wise, apologetic Mr D on the end of the line.
Me: Look, I don't want to make your life difficult (lies, I want to wreck his business by now). I just want to know where my stuff is, and make sure I get it as soon as possible.
Mr D: I've been making enquiries about your boxes, and it seems that I've not been told things that I should have done been told by the company whose cargo space I share. I am sorry for the delay. Your stuff will be in Toronto on Spetember 28th. I've rung the company and told that them you're a neurotic cow (well he didn't exactly say that, but that was the gist) and that you're making my life difficult so please can they help get you off my back. I'll do what I can to speed your stuff up (what, like ask the ship to go faster?). You should have in time for the first snowfall. (actually I made most of the last paragraph up)
So now we wait to see whether we decide to entrust this business with our belongings on the return trip. However new his business is, he appears to have some major problems, both in his attitude to his customers and in his relations with business partners. I did notice however that his customer interface considerably improved once he realised that he was in the wrong.

The point is, are people like Mr D so used to customers ranting and lying, that they have a bank of ready made comebacks, such as the mutable deadlines, all ready? Or is Mr D simply in over his head? Why did it take me a fifteen minutes intercontinental phonecall to find out what American delivery companies let you have free access to on a website (you can track your package from beginning to end in its journey across the country thanks to its individual code)

Support Group needed 

Help someone! I think I'm developing a serious Googlewhack habit. At the beginning I had it under control, but I realise now that it's just getting out of hand. Is there a cure? Is there any hope? Or must I just resort to loquacity abstemiousness? (haven't checked that one out, but it's probably on a wordlist anyway) Aaaargh there I go again!

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Strange wildlife, strange weather 

Isabel came, but she'd become just a tropical depression by the time she reached us, so she cried a lot and left after a couple of hours. I could have done without the skunk surprised by the sudden downpour though. Had to shut all the windows at 1am. Should have scored a Googlewhack with "precipitations reekers" but it wouldn't allow me "reekers"! Boohoo!
The latest guidelines on getting skunk smell out of your dog have shifted away from tomato juice, which apparently makes your dog smell like ratatouille, to preparations containing hydrogen peroxide. I just can't seem to get the image out my head of the chocolate labrador upstairs becoming a bottle blonde...

Friday, September 19, 2003

Tough love and the Gogglebox 

Growing up without a television for much of my early childhood, I've always wondered quite how necessary it really is. My own children watch very little, not by choice since like all kids they're inclined to veg in front of it for hours, but because while we are here I am limiting them to one hour or less of French-language broadcasting.
The two sprogs upstairs, being a little older, are given more freedom than ours. We arrived in mid-July and had barely seen J, the 13 year-old, since we arrived. When we did catch sight, he always appeared tired and grouchy. Imagine our surprise recently, when after their Dad caught them "doing their homework" in front of the telly and removed said telly to the basement, J started to come alive. These last few days after school have been spent, not slumped and uncommunicating, but playing up a tree in the park with my ten-year-old simian son ("Sim"). Both Sim and J are actually talking to each other, and enjoying each other's company.
So here's my stance on the telly-for-children debate: have one, but don't let them watch it. They won't feel deprived because one will be in the house, but they won't be able to waste their youth absorbing inane made to measure pap.


If you've never spent any time in Canada, it's tempting to believe that it is just an extension of the States- or rather a bridge between the States and Alaska. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canadian and Americans hate each other, more particularly since the Irak thing started and Canada steadfastly refused to go to the party. Even MPs here poke fun at their neighbours. And, speaking as a quasi-French person, there's something pretty weird about speaking French to staff in shops, before handing over dollar coins with pictures of our Queen Elizabeth on the back. Apparently though, the dear old thing has not set foot in Quebec since someone threw an egg at her thirty years ago. She sends her representative, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson along instead.


Such a lovely name for such a bitchy bit of weather. Luckily we are unlikely to suffer much more than some heavy rain and fast wind. The East Coast of the US seems to be suffering more. If only that nice Mr Brush could take it as a sign of the wrath of God, brought on by aggressive foreign policy.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Language barriers 

Not a lot of people know this about me, but this man is my favourite singer in the world. I've been a fan since 1979, he's been a rising light since 1977, so you imagine how deeply ingrained in me his music is. Don't be fooled by his aging hippy appearance. He is a poet who can actually write good tunes, and has a decent singing voice (on his studio albums at least- he gets a little ropey live).
If he were an English language singer, he would definitely be a bigger star than Elton Longjohn. As it is, he has a hugely tight-knit fan-base, composed mostly of Northern Hemisphere French speakers, and is very little known outside the francophone world. Others (namely Céline Dion) have overcome the barrier by selling out to the stubborn, monolingual anglophones. Not Francis.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

For all our Cordon Noir Mums 

I had always thought that my mother's brand of cooking was somehow related to her peculiar levels of dottiness. Now I'm shocked to discover that my experience is shared by thousands of other thirty-somethings. Bang goes another gentle illusion that my childhood WAS different, and that I was definitely stolen from my real (obvously royal) family.


First there's the vague feeling of loss. You know that you haven't seen it for a few days, but you can't quite remember when you last did see it.
A day or so later, you have a few minutes to spare, so you look for it. That's when you realise that not only is it nowhere to be found, but that it is not the only thing missing.
But how can this be? We always shut all the windows and doors before leaving the house. We have noticed no sign of any break-in. The only conclusion is that SOMEONE has been in your house, and has helped themselves to your camera and video camera, completely calmly, before leaving again through the front door, which they thoughtfully pull shut behind them. Creepy...
Then comes all the administrative kerfuffle, reporting the "incident" (what incident?) to an incredulous policeman who believes either that your just ten-year old son must be on drugs and has taken these items to sell at his primary school, or that the perfectly respectable forty-something couple and their two delightful children who live upstairs and own your flat are really an international burgling organisation and have been rifling through your drawers while you were out.
He then lectures you about changing all locks as soon as you move into a new place (as if normal people think like that!), and finally fills out a report and leaves you, alone with the spooky feeling that someone, somewhere may have a copy of your front door key and is able to come back when they want to take your computer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003


I realised a few days ago that there are people in this world whom I consider very good friends, but that I haven't seen for several years.
The question is, are these people really still friends, or merely the idea of friends? Are true friends, like family, simply always there, whether you see them or not? Or are your true friends the people who share your daily life with you?

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