Friday, October 31, 2003

How to sum it up in one word? 


do not believe in the existence of any form of higher deity. Usually, this poses no problems whatsoever. I know who I am, and what I feel. I can hold rational arguments about my "beliefs". Occasionally however, when filling in forms that require me to disclose my religion, I'm to be found deeply entangled in philosophical debate with myself about exacty what I should put. None of the "acceptable" words really quite describe me. I realise that the vast majority of Brits circumvent this problem by simply putting "Church of England" even though the last time they set foot in a church was the day they were carried in for their baptism. I have many religious friends, covering many different faiths, and I am simply not comfortable in pretending to believe in something which many people actually do fervently believe in. And don't get me wrong, I don't hate religion. I love bells, smells, pageantry and music (especially the music) as much as the next person. I even find the idea of believing strongly in something and following rules very attractive. I just don't feel it or the need for it. If I were to cave in and put "C of E", I would certainly be cheapening their faith. And so my choice of word changes according to the target audience. Here are some of my choices:

Atheist: from the greek "a" without and "theos", god= without god
My problem with this one is that it defines the espouser in relation to the alleged existence of god or gods. Within itself, it postulates the existence of these deity/ies. An atheist is simply a person who does not believe something which plainly exists; this makes them an outsider, a marginal, and potentially dangerous lunatic. Do I feel like an outsider? Not usually, not even regarding my beliefs. Although I know many religious people, they do not tend to be Joe Public, but deeply thoughtful, uncommon people. Joe and Josephine Public do not think deeply about god, the universe and everything, much. They're too busy getting with their lives. So atheist will only do for primary school forms, where they like things to be clear-cut, and neatly pigeon-holed.

Agnostic; from the Greek "a", without, and gnossos, "knowledge"= without knowledge
Although this was my choice in my teens and early twenties, when I was not as sure about what I thought than I am now, I started to find this one too wishy-washy and fence-sitty. Do I believe in god or not? Not, really. So I stopped using it.

Godless person; as in "cleanliness is next to godliness" ergo, godless=dirty; see also: "heathen"
Wonderfully Victorian pejorative description of non-believers who were invariably living in unmarried wickedness, refused to scrub their front step every day, and were generally degenerate. Apart from all the bad connotations, it would decribe pretty well my situation, except that I do wash...

Can anyone truly say this without seeing in their mind's eye a beautifully gaudy Eastern gentleman on a horse, slashing at some poor crusader with a scimitar? I can't even say it with a straight face, let alone use it on census forms.

Let's look at some dictionary synonyms: barbarous, unenlightened, irreligious, uncivilised, scoffing (eh?), pagan. Most of these definitions imply some element of brutishness. I don't feel under-civilised, so this won't do either. In some definitions it claims to apply to anyone who does not believe in one of the three "main" religions. Which is really nice for the Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, etc of this world. How can anyone take seriously a word with such ill-considered unenlightened and judgmental connotations? Best leave that one where it was last taken seriously, in the 19th Century.

Non-believer/unbeliever; "one who lacks faith or belief, particularly in a religion"
That's the closest so far; the only problem being that it appears to come from "believers" struggling to be liberal, since it neatly defines my "non-beliefs" according to their "beliefs". To be fair, it's still so far the closest word to being both accurate and non-judgmental. A strong contender.

But wait! What's this?

\Free"think`er\, n. One who speculates or forms opinions independently of the authority of others; esp., in the sphere or religion, one who forms opinions independently of the authority of revelation or of the church; an unbeliever; -- a term assumed by deists and skeptics in the eighteenth century.

Atheist is an old-fashioned word: I'm a freethinker, child. --Addison.

Freethinker. I like it. I'll keep it.

State of the Purple nation 

Now this is just plain nasty. Who could possibly be insinuating that I am living a half-life, apart from me, just now?
Still, apparently

what decade does your personality live in?

quiz brought to you by lady interference, ltd

My mood is living in the Doldrums, my husband is living in Colorado (until tomorrow at least), and my computer is living in the 1920s. Does any knowledgeable person out there have any idea what might cause a Mac suddenly to start going at the speed of a snail on Valium? This has been happening for a few days now, and I'm beginning to feel as though it's copying me... It's cramping my blogging style at the moment, since I can't visit other peoples' pages without wanting to thump the computer for being so incompetent. Publishing is taking over a minute per post. Also, I'm having trouble seeing comments on other peoples' sites, usually in Enetation. Is it just me?

Thursday, October 30, 2003



is nearly Halloween, and Purple Sister and I fall to talking about the strange animals we've kept. One of my favourite pets as a child, chiefly because I caught him myself, rather than for his intrinsic cuddliness, was my beloved and much-lamented Pincy, the cray-fish; Pincy was the unreleasable product of my only ever attempt at fishing, aged ten. After a fruitless day spent alone with my rod near the weir of a river known for its sudden outbursts (and try as I might, I can't imagine letting Sim do that until he's about 37), Pincy entered my life five minutes before my mother turned up to pick me up. He clung on for grim life, and proved that his claws should not be trifled with by pinching me smartly on the index finger as I prised him away from the grub.
He survived the indignity of the car journey, and lived in an old bathtub under the garden tap for a further 18 months, until his much-lamented passing during a family holiday. An unpopular family friend had been left in charge of the animals, and we suspected that he had eaten Pincy for lunch, since all we could find of him on our return was a collection of exoskeletal remains. During that same holiday, one of our dogs chewed a hole in the back of my FAVOURITE teddy bear, Boozy, who'd been my bed-fellow since I was 3. (He now lives complete with beautiful velvet patch, in our sweater cupboard, along with very well-loved Boff Tigger). Obviously family friend had fed the bear to the dogs. There could be no coincidence. First Pincy, then Boozy. We exacted our revenge by utterly ignoring the family friend for evermore. Purple Sister's bear Pinky, given at the same time by the same Granny, was, some ten years after Boozy's accident, swapped for a fur coat...

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Poetry corner 


ere is some Dylan Thomas written by my five-year old nephew using magnetic fridge poetry:

You have the lie
Shake my to but
Over shadows rust above summer
Dream scream club so bitter
Black shine elaborate
Chain in storm mad milk
Bare essential play did
Is in iron
What yet and sad

and here, for comparison, some genuine Dylan Thomas:

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter's robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Close enough eh? Now someone please try to convince me that this is not how the great DT (drunken trout) himself crafted his wares...

It's indecision...I think 


ow the Boff is one of those people who is incapable of making a trivial decision given any element of choice. In his working life, he will doubtless save us all from being fried to death in an atmosphereless wasteland. In his home life, he is the bloke who is incapable of choosing a car parking space in an empty car-park, agonises over what to eat in front of a full fridge, and generally puts off clothes purchases until push comes to crunch and he has to buy a coat or he'll freeze his bum off. (hint, hint)

So I was really very proud of him when he rang last night from Boulder to tell me he'd spent $80 on a pair of warm winter boots. And we don't even have any snow yet!
He had to have a sit-down afterwards to recover, but he's officially on his way to becoming a fully-fledged shopper...

Out of the Cellar 


ur family unit also seems to include our landlords at the moment. C., our landlady, can't seem to shake off her jealous French genes, the ones that say that you should not let your man out of your sight for more than a second if you don't want him to find his wicked way into some other woman's knickers. Earlier, whilst 5 months pregnant and jet-lagged Purple Sister #2 had a lie-down, and listened out for Sim, Hen and Carrot, I went to fetch Dill from her after-school art class.
As I walk back through the front door with her, I am greeted by C., half-way down our corridor, peering anxiously into all the rooms. "Hello!" she says, "I'm looking for my husband." She was clearly expecting to find him engaged in some debauched European clinch with me or my sister, probably both. "Where is your sister?" she enquires, looking straight into the room where PS#2 lies wrapped in a patchwork quilt. "I don't know", say I. "I left her here with the children, so I hope she's here!" (jokily). "Also", I add, "I do not know where your husband is. I have been out. Have you checked the cellar?" By way of reply, she continues down the corridor and looks in the study as well, even checking in the "closet" (I suppose he might just have come out of the closet! weak haha). "Oh", she concludes, "he is not here" (didn't I just say that?).
So she heads back for the stairs and finally hears D. moving around in the cellar. He's a man for God's sake! Where did she expect to find him? I mean, given a choice between

1)The Cellar, for which read power tools, games, wine-making kit, telly, Playstation
2)Making Small-Talk with the tenant and her sister, with or without debauchery

which would most blokes go for? You tell me...

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Quote for the day 

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
Ogden Nash

Should sleeping dogs be left to lie? 


urple Sister #2 has this habit of tracking and staying in contact with old boyfriends. Our father finds this very weird, and claims to never think about his ex-girlfriends ever again (he's talking about decades ago, he's been safely pinioned by a very strong woman for the past 23 years). We doubt whether or not he thought about his girlfriends when he was seeing them.
So accordingly, last night, PS#2 and I spent a joyous half-hour tracking down her flame from 15 years ago. We emailed him, and he emailed back this morning, emphasizing how very single and divorced he was, nothing icky or pervy though , and inviting PS#2 to a "house-warming"party. No mention of me at all, although he was quite a friend at the time...

That's what I'm doing! 


y horrorscope from Pessimystic Meg said:

Random things will happen to you, based strictly on the laws of probability.

Now go out and get a goddamn life.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Does the end justify the means? 


ff sightseeing today with Purple Sister 2 and Carrot as well as all the Purple Bofflets. Because the weather was foul we "did" the Biodome. It's a zoo really, housed in the old Velodrome at the Olympic Stadium. There's only so many exhibition centres one city can use, so they turned the velodrome into an indoor theme ark (that started off life as a typo, but it made sense, so I kept it). They've divided the gigantic hall into four separate areas, and used three of them as living slices of Quebec. The visitor is treated to a tour of the Laurentian mountains, life in the massive St Laurent river, and life in the extreme north, plus some penguins for their pulling power. In the fourth area they concentrate a fragile yet popular (cynical, moi?) ecosystem, the tropical rainforest.

I know that many people object to zoos, and so do I on principle. This one seems different somehow though. For a start, the animals have a fair degree of autonomy, particularly in the tropical area. They are left the run of the four or five acre site, which although not a normal sized territory by any animal's standards, is still a distinct improvement on usual zoos (the horrifyingly cramped pool for the manatee at Amsterdam zoo springs to mind). They allow animals unlikely to eat each other to roam freely and mix with each other. The visitors watch the little daily lives of the capybaras, tamarinds, anacondas, lemurs, macaws and sloths from a Jurassic Park style walkway built above the forest floor. The whole building is filled with growing tropical vegetation, and a stream runs through the display, complete with waterfalls and pools for fish. It is extremely well done and conditions are closely monitored and maintained. I doubt that the smaller animals even notice that they are being held prisoner.

The only exhibit which really made me think twice was their showcase, the penguin tank. One penguin repeatedly jumped off a rock into their pool, swam along the glass, jumped out of the pool and walked along the shore, before jumping back in again, over and over again. If he were a child, he would probably be on Ritalin or Prozac by now, or medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another walked back and forwards in front of the glass, back and forth across the same three-foot stretch of pebbles, and he'd worn quite a path.

So I wonder whether my standard objection to zoos is valid in this case. Obviously the animals are not free. However, many of the animals seemed utterly at ease, and those that did not want to face the world were nowhere to be seen. We've been twice and have not yet caught sight of the sloths for example, whereas the capybaras bask happily on their beach, wiggling their little tails. The stated intention of the Biodome is to increase awareness of ecosystems and their fragility. So I wonder, whether as Mother Theresa said, "the end justifies the means". (I did a stint of volunteering for the Missionaries of Charity as well Billy- soup runs in East London at 2am in the dead of winter- opens your eyes to a few things) Is it legitimate to keep a few creatures hostage in order to help save their habitat from extinction? I wonder?

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Québecers under fire 


've been trying very hard this week not to laugh at the battle currently going on between Québec and Sony. Sony had the briliant and totally tasteful idea of creating a playstation game, Syphon Filter 4: The Omega Strain, which features shooting at a fictitious group of Québecois separatists in the subways of Toronto. Unsurprisingly, the Québec and Canadian governments are up in arms with indignant outrage. They've just won the right to have the Québec separatists removed from the game, which sounds like a hollow victory to me, since it's exactly what was meant to happen in the first place.

I'm probably being very obtuse, but I fail to find any moral distinction at all between this and any other kill'em shoot'em playstation game, Grand Auto Theft being my particular rant fodder. I mean, in none of these games are actual people killed, so any moral outrage expressed must be about the effect the games have on people who play them. Yet nowhere has the suggestion been made that Playstation geeks will march armed to the teeth into the centre of Montréal and try to kill real Québecois. I suggest rather that the whole indignation thing is politically motivated by political separatist factions of the main political parties, anxious to avoid bad publicity.

The envoy sent by Québec to Sony in Japan claims to feel discriminated against, despite not belonging to any such terrorist group. A real terrorist group now long-disbanded existed in Québec in the 60s . One of its former members found the whole idea amusing and snickered yesterday when told about the video game.
"I couldn't care less; they can do whatever they want at Sony," said Mr. Lanctot, now a book publisher. "We certainly don't share the same opinions, but I'm not going to go to war against those who don't share my opinions.

Unlike the politicians then. Still, it's nice to see big business caving in to the politicians for a change; it's usually the other way round.

Busy busy busy... 


t's all go today at Purple Boff Towers. The Boff flies off to Denver, Colorado, for a five-day conference, amd Purple Sister #2 arrives in his place with little R (who has picked his own pseudonym, but I can't remember what it is is, so I'll ask him later and change this- for the time being I'll call him Carrot). The boff's flight is at 12.40, and Purple Sister's arrives at 12.30, so what with check-in and check-out times, the Purple Bofflets and I will be spending all of lunchtime at the airport.

Whoever invented the stereotype of the boring desk-bound civil servant (update: coincidentally, Gert over at Mad Musings is discussing this today) must have not known what they were on about. The Boff, being the internationally renouned hexpert that he is, goes to about five conferences a year, most of them in rather pleasant places. This week for instance, he was at a 4-day one at McGill College. Next week, another four-dayer, with sightseeing on Friday. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it...

Anyway five-year old Carrot, who is fully bilingual because he lives in France, is really looking forward to coming ot Canada, and seeing his cousins. He is on half-term; sadly the Canadian school system does not have half-term breaks as such, so his cousins will be at school. Next week for me will be spent mostly sight-seeing with Purple Sister and Carrot.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The long jump 


o, some complete dickhead drunk man decided to flirt with the Grim Reaper at Niagara Falls in front of a load of people. Unluckily for him (possibly?), he survived, and is facing criminal charges. He claims to have been depressed before his jump, but that his close brush with death has made him love life. A quick internet search reveals that this near-death experience euphoria is not that uncommon. This man's brush with his mortal coil for example, completely changed his outlook on life.
And on this site, the author, Kevin Williams, answers some FAQs about near-death:
Does a near-death experience really change a person’s life?
Almost every near-death experiencer reports a changed understanding of what life is all about. The changes may be numerous and almost impossible to describe or explain.
Besides losing the fear of death, a person may also lose interest in financial or career success. "Getting ahead" may seem like an odd game that the person chooses not to play any more, even if it means giving up friendships. This can be hard on some families.
Becoming more loving is important to most near-death experiencers, though they may have difficulty explaining what they mean by that. They may seem to love everyone indiscriminately, with no personal favorites.
Religious observance may increase or lessen, but a deepened belief in God, or a "Higher Power," is almost certain. People say, "Before, I believed; now I know."
Some people find they have an increase in intuitive or psychic abilities. This is a common stage in Christian, Jewish, and other major religious traditions when an individual spends much time in deep prayer and meditation.

Curiouser and curiouser 

Ok, who's looking for me??? Come on! It must be one of you!

*thank you*

Name that poem 

Here's a burst from my favourite poem of all time. Do you know it?

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table

It is the most lovely, melancholy poem that I have read in the English language. And for some reason, it always brings to mind the character of Leonard Bast in Howards End, by E. M. Forster; both written in a time of social unease about class distinctions.

Update about stuff 


ell, stuff came, as you know. I unpack stuff. Children come home from school, all excited to see their winter clothes, and try some of them on. And that's when I find that they've all grown 2 inches over the summer. Many of Dill's things have gone straight to the pile for the Samaritans' box. She's grown from a size 4 tiddler to a normal size for 6, in three months. I wonder if my sister will notice when she comes on Saturday?
All in all, we could have saved ourselves the expense of shipping her things, but she's never grown that much in three months before, so we weren't to know. Must be the hormones in the beef. *grumble* Thankfully I took the precaution of shipping her sister's outgrown things, so she has something to wear.
Unfortunately, it's all been such a long time coming that we've had to buy long things for the children anyway, what with autumn being firmly here, and morning temps around 0c. They couldn't keep going to school in shorts, poor blue things.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Can you see me? 

Right guys. That nice Steve from Blogger Support has made some changes to my template to try to resolve the problems some people have with my page when there are pictures. So I need you to do something for me. Could you all please click on the comments, and tell me the date of the last post you can see, please? Thanks awfully.

Oh, and Daisy "1,000", thank you for telling me who you are! I like your site. I'll be back...


I have reached a grand


(bottom left) But who was number 1000? The hunt is on...

How to sell stuff # 1: selling to Women 

When selling trying to sell stuff to women, it is extremely important to remember this one thing: women have four main spheres of interest, which are:

When marketing aggressively to women, it is easiest to pick on one of these topics, as they are more likely to relate to them, and it will avoid the inevitable brain overload. They play really nicely on three main areas of insecurity which we've managed to generate in women: guilt, nurturing and insecurity about one's appearance. In a more primitive advertising era, marketers did not think twice about blatantly using these topics to sell even nasty things to women; cigarettes for example. Obviously now women would rather not be thin and have lung cancer, so we've had to alter our product base a little to avoid being tarnished and have to pay lots of cash in compensation to people who have been made ill.

Nowadays, we like concentrate on the products which, as well as making you thin, do not actually kill you. The first main thing to remember, I must emphasize again, is to use appearance, nurturing and guilt. The second main thing to remember is that you can never underestimate womens' intelligence. They are very easily impressed with science, poor dears, since needlework and cooking do not prepare them for the rough and tumble of working life. So here is a quick guide to some methods you could use sell stuff to women.

Nurturing and Guilt
Is your family getting the best? Do your children love you enough? Are you sure? If you are cross with them, they might love you less. So you should make sure that you are always rested and in a good mood. Headaches should be promptly treated if you're not to turn into a grumpy old hag whose husband will desert her for the younger model, and whose children will be emotionally neglected if you are ill for even a day. Are you able to keep up with your children even when you're on your period? You should be.

Appearance and guilt
Remember: the health of your relationship rests entirely on your ability to look good. Relax about this for even a day at your peril. You know that younger woman in your husband's office who always looks good? Uhhuh? She is your rival. What you need is cosmetics. We have many ways to separate you from your money, but since these products are very expensive, we must make you believe that they are the result of many years of strictly scientific research. We give them scientific names, so that you don't have to worry before spending a lot of cash with us that we are a bunch of pseudo-scientific charlatans. We bring you Pro-vitamin shampoo; the vitamins are released through digestion, so be sure to drink plenty of it if you want to improve your hair condition. We bring you Infusium 23: this sounds like it should be in the Periodic Table, doesn't it? Well it isn't quite, dear, but it might interest you to know that Vanadium 23 is, and that it has "good corrosion resistance". So close enough. What's good enough for a metal is good enough for you. We bring you Lipodiose, and Biotherm. They don't mean anything, but they sure sound good, don't they?

Guilt and Guilt
Too tired after a full day at work to cook properly? Don't worry, you can fake it with convenience "home-style" meals.
Neglecting yourself because you're working too hard? You'll let everyone down if you're ill, so make sure you eat right. Don't skip breakfast, do think about your bones. Women need to eat different things from men and children, but obviously less of it, so buy smaller, more expensive cereal bars; you know they're right for you. Furthermore, here is an expert's opinion about them: "We took a product that is familiar and that tastes great and put it in a package that women can identify with. And women love it". So there you go. We made it for you, now be grateful and buy it.

You might be tempted to think that these marketing strategies are still too blatant. If you still have lingering reservations about this, we've found the perfect, hilarious sop for the few feminist extremists who accuse us of infantilising and objectifying women: Awards! Encourage precisely the thing you don't want, that women be better educated, through awards such as "Women in Science". Be a scientist, love, and we'll give you Smarties. God forbid that there should be so many more female scientists produced by this scheme that our sales figures drop, so better make it as low key as possible, eh? We wouldn't the girlies to find out about it would we?

Happy Marketing!

I'm an avoider 


hen I was little, things in our household were ever-changing, according to my father's temper and mood of the moment. His refusal to be tied down to a regular job made our financial situation dodgy even at the best of times, since any money he earned (which was a lot when he did), sank immediately into his debts, accumulated when he was not working. My father liked to plan 30 years ahead and get others to carry out his plans, while he did something different. My mother was unable to plan more than a few hours ahead. On top of this, my parents did not get on very well (to put it mildly), and when my father was at home, there were near-constant arguments, usually with money as the pretext.
I think that there are several ways small children develop to cope with a life like this. Some kids are severely traumatised by living like this. I was Little Miss Dependable instead, the only empowered way to be in a situation where one has little control over one's life.
This has had several repercussions on my adult life. For instance, I am able to show no fear whatsoever; in fact I rarely feel afraid. I feel apprehensive in almost any situation instead. I am able to think clearly in virtually any occasion, and "keep my head when all about me are losing theirs". In a genuine crisis I'm your man. I can do any job on the turn of a sixpence, as well as if I'd sat down and planned it months in advance, and sometimes better (I find that I can end up putting errors into things by spending too much time on them). I know just how long to leave things so that the job will get done with no just enough time to spare (this once backfired catastrophically on me, on the morning I was due to hand in a 12,000 word dissertation, when after an all-night typing session, I accidentally exited wthout saving and wiped the lot, back in late 80s; thank god for Norton rescue programmes).
What I am constitutionally incapable of doing is actually sitting down and planning in detail how and when to do something, when there is still "loads" of time left in which to do it. This is a source of constant amazement to one of my bestest friends, who worked her own through school in one of the toughest comprehensives in the country, from the age of 11 to her brilliant achievement at A' level. Hats of to you, Y. If I'd been in your situation, I don't know what I'd have done.
This is why it came as no surprise for this quiz to conclude that I have an "avoiding" personality. Sure I can deal with stress as well as the next person, possibly better than some, but I emphatically do not enjoy it, and I will avoid it as much as possible. I do not believe studies which claim that stress is good for you. They are written by people who have plenty of autonomy in their lives, which is one of biggest antidotes to stress.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

May I present myself? 


adies and Gentlemen, I am The Purple Pen Lady. Sadly not The Purple Pen Lady, but she nonetheless.

Update: Hey I am The lady herself now! Great!

Later: I've done some investigating, and although I come out tops on a search for "The Purple Pen Lady" in Netscape, Google and Yahoo (I wonder who is doing me the honour of looking?), Alta Vista has never heard of me. So I've just put this link in. We wouldn't them falling behind in the business world, now would we? Ooh, I'm such a Blogtart (as opposed to Pop Tart, which a nasty piece of pseudo-breakfast which should never be attempted alone). It's not like I even care whether or not Alta Vista put me at the top of their searches for "the purple pen lady". Much.

Weeee! Yahoo! 


e have stuff!

I am the cat that walks by itself, and all places are alike to me.

The wonders of modern... 


know that everybody's going to laugh at me and call me a dinosaur, but I've just discovered Instant Messenging, and it is the way ahead, I tell you. Much better and more well...instant than email, and even better than chatting in comments boxes. Almost like the telephone (sorry Al) without the expense.



othing to do today except sit around surfing the Net and waiting for our stuph to come (like the gas man, anytime between 7am and midnight).

I need a haircut desperately, I'm beginning to look like a *cough*blonde*cough* version of the mother in The Adams family (come to think of it my children are quite like those children as well), but the only person I trust to cut my hair decently is now 3000 miles away. I think a flight to France would be extravagant and out of the question wouldn't it? It was extravagant enough to go 300 miles and a transchannel ferry ride for a haircut, but this would be excessive. Also he no longer works in the salon I used to go to.

According to Spaceweather.com, there is a gigantic solar flare happening at the moment (don't all rush to the window and look up though, it's very dangerous- it is fun to have fun, but you have to know how).

And my baby niece has been named Colette, which would not be my first choice, but fulfills the Irish/French brief very adequately. So Welcome Baby Colette, and a very sensible birthweight you were too (7lbs 12oz), and beautifully overdue (10 days). A good set of family traditions...

Better tidy some things up, if we're to fit six more boxes of things in here somehow...

Mud glorious mud 


am a gardener. I have realised this acutely in the last three months. I have gone cold turkey, but it's just not getting any better. I find myself complaining loudly inside every time I have to throw away perfectly good seeds from the insides of vegetables and fruit. I shout at myself every time I lift the lid of the kitchen bin to put in peelings and scraps: "Compost!!!"

I want to compost. I have been a compost convert since I was small and my father, after reading many books about self-sufficiency, dug a sunken compost heap, because of the dry weather in the South of France where we were living. The interest even lasted, with a kind of morbid fascination and frequent trips down the garden to see how it was getting on, through the burial of a borrowed deceased goat in the heap. It was an old billy boat, borrowed to er...chat up the lady goats, but what neither we nor the owner knew, is that male goats tend to die when you separate them from their herd- wounded pride inducing shock? It had huge horns, and as this happened in the summer of 1976, digging graves for goats though clay subsoil set like concrete turned out not to be high on my father's list of priorities. So he buried it in the soft, beautiful soil of the heap, and allowed the goat to give something back- none of the nannies were pregnant either- only unfortunately it had long long horns, and one of them stuck out of the ground for the next 18 months.

Vegetable growing has been with me therefore since my childhood on our knee-jerk conservative 1970s hippy farm, a commune consisting of our nuclear family and a few strays from time to time, who generally moved on after very few months and a huge quarrel with my father.

I miss earth. I can bore people to death with the composition of compost heaps. Bob Flowerdew is a god, and my bible is a wonderful book found by my mother in a junk shop, by John Seymour, The Self Sufficient Gardener. I don't know what possessed the person who gave it away. They can't have looked at it. It's the best book on organic gardening in the world, far superior to anything still in print. He didn't call it "organic" in the 70s, since organic was for bearded hippies then, and he would have trouble selling it. He is organic for practical reasons rather than idealogical ones, since you can't exactly make your own artificial fertiliser and poison (well I can, but that's another story entirely).

Talking about it is not the same as doing, as with most things. So I sit here and plot my plot. It's the best I can do until August 2004, and even then I'll be too late for the growing season. I hope the tenants are following the strict composting instructions...then at least I'll have compost.

Disclaimer: Only the goat had a beard. Remember, my parents were knee-jerk clean-shaven CONservatives, with lots of capitals and some lower-cases as well. My mother, as I remember, was particularly clean-shaven.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Warm things 


ecause I'm so up to the minute, as it happens, BW, there is news today of the Warm Things. There was an answerphone message when I got home earlier, saying that although our stuph has now officially been cleared by customs, there was a "hold" placed on it by Mr UpikWe'reShite. I rang the very nice Scottish lady is handling the boxes at this end as agent to Mr UPS, and she said that it's because he hasn't paid his bill with them yet (!). While I was discussing with her quite how crap Mr UPS really is (well I was saying that, and she was wisely being non-committal, given that he is paying her to handle stuff this end), she got a fax, saying that he's paid at last, and presto, we'll get our stuff tomorrow.
Not a moment too soon either, since the Boff has no sweaters to speak of and is chattering with cold every time he steps outside the door into weather akin to being slapped violently around the head and legs with a wet carp. He is a Value Husband to make BW proud, and refuses to buy anything "because he has jumpers in the boxes". So he'll be warm tomorrow evening too....



always thought that being obsessed with the weather was a particularly British Isles type thing (you know, ever-changing due to Gulf Stream/Oceanic climate, causing insecurity in the population and giving them plenty of opportunities for small talk at bus stops).

It seems not. Today the weather is foul by anybody's standards. It is raining horizontally, it is windy, and the outside temparature is 0c. And so you say conversationally to people: "What terrible weather, eh?"
Sharp intake of breath from them. Small pause. They narrow their eyes at you. They say "Just wait till the winter. Have you ever experienced -30c?"

I swear they are trying to scare us. It is apparently quite cold for the time of year according to the Weather Office, about 5c below normal. But everyone lies! Oh no, they say. This is warm compared to how it is usually. It's usually -10 by now... etc etc etc The only way you can find your car in the morning is by playing spot the aerial. etc etc etc

I met a French lady today who has been here for three years. She was quite the opposite, playing down the cold. She told me that the first winter is really fun, what with the odd metre of snow on and off, but that it is perfectly bearable cold, and that as long as you're properly kitted out, you're fine. She said that last October was particularly nasty, but that normally it's a relatively pleasant month. The only really horrid weather, she said, is the freezing rain which can leave sheets of black ice ten centimetres thick (goody!).

So what it it with you Canadians? Why do you like to scare us newbies? It's not funny and it's not clever!

Sim is guest blogging tonight 


God is very lazy. "HE"made the earth by getting a bunch
of devils to do the work for him. They made the earth in one day
and then he told them to go do mars then the asteroid belt,
then the gas giants and last but not least pluto. (they already did
the sun, mercury.....) anyway alltogether it took about a week and
5 days. back on earth god was eating potato chips and watching the big
game insead of paying atention to the angels who were skipping and
playing soccer because most of the week was weekend now, going down
a little the humans were doing the same as god and the angels and if you
go down more you come to hell were a bunch of devils, (very tired ones)
were looking for gold for god.


Now time for a maths lesson what is 5+7 god asked the angels 12 an angel
said automaticly, that is how many days of the week there are. There are.
there will be 2 days of school a week and hmmmmm ,come on an angel
said its 10! DETENTION!!! god roared and he said rather quietly and quickly
Iwasgoingtoworkthatoutmyself. then boldly there will be two days of school
and ten days rest.


Monday, October 20, 2003

I am... 

Mr. Brown
Which Dr. Seuss character are you?

brought to you by Quizilla Thanks be to Billy for passing that on!
Which sounds about as right as you could expect from answering 5 questions. I must have been one of the first kids in Britain to learn to read using Dr Seuss books. My father was selling books for Grolier International back in 1970, and when he resigned he was left with a load of er..stock, including around twenty different Dr Seuss books and the Encyclopaedia Americana, which although horrendously out-dated as a reference work, is very interesting to read from a historical view-point. We still have those very same books, now a little dog-eared and mended with drafting tape, and my children love them.
Oh, and after the film industry's mutilation of "The Grinch who stole Christmas", they're at it again with "The Cat in the Hat", coming out in November. It may be worth seeing just for old time's sake...

In my own name 


ontinuing the theme of last week's posting about women not taking their husband's name on marriage, I was pleased to hear the CBC this morning interviewing Maureeen McTeer, the influential wife of a very senior Canadian politician.

As a young married woman in the early 70s, she was publicly vilified for keeping her own name after marriage and accused of not being subservient enough. She has subsequently had a long career of her own and run for Parliament in her own right, and has now written this book about her life.

Listening to her on the radio, I felt thankful for being born and brought up in an era when I did not have to confront people head on, just to stay me. I also felt deepful grateful to people like Maureen McTeer for pioneering egalitarianism. I realise that many people still believe that the struggle is not yet over, particularly for poor women all over the world, but I firmly believe that the vast majority of women in the First World can claim to have reached an equal footing with men in most areas.

The circle of life 


y daughter Hen is normal little girl, who likes to get muddy knees, climb trees and play with dolls. She also likes to dress me sometimes. Usually I don't let her because it takes too long, so she only gets to indulge her passion at weekends. So she dresses me. And it takes so long that I feel like jumping up and taking charge again and throwing my clothes on the way I usually do in thirty seconds flat, but at weekends we don't have the excuse of needing to run out of the house so I let her dress me.

And because I'm a very impatient person, I have to relax and pretend to be helpless, so that I don't have the option of jumping up and taking over. So I close my eyes and think, and it's always the same thought. I close my eyes and suddenly I've flashed forwards 50, 60 years, and I'm a really old lady, and I need help getting dressed. I'm thinking just the same as I do now, in fact my head is filled with thoughts and they're stopping me communicating, just sometimes I open my eyes and talk to people and I'm lucid, but most of the time I'm as helpless as a one-year old.

And I'm being dressed in this thought by my daughter and I'm thinking that's not right, I didn't bring you up to look after old ladies, go away and lead your own life, I'll be fine I can manage, but the same time a little voice in my head is whispering "look after me, I'm helpless" and then I think hang on she's seventy-three she's lived almost as much of her life as me, and I think back to when Hen was a one-year old and she had chubby red dimply cheeks and she had two modes, laughing and screaming, and I know that she's as impatient as me really and that this seventy-three year old Hen is impatiently patient with her ninety year old mother, and I want to shout to her that this is not her calling, but I don't because at the same time it's nice to be looked after by your own daughter, and I remember how independent she was as a one-year old, and I know then that ninety year old senile ladies are more helpless than babies at times and I feel ashamed that I have to rely on her so much. Yet I know that I'm shuffling towards the horizon, and I want to spend this time with my own, so needing to be dressed will do since I can't talk to her, she talks to me in a loud voice because I don't react, she thinks she's just helping in my last days, but I want to shout that I'm alive, and that you're either alive or dead not both, and that I'm still in here, but I can't get out or say anything. So I cooperate just a little bit, straightening my arm as she puts it through the sleeve, just like she did as a baby, that's the nearest I can go to communicating with her. And I'm tired, tired of life and being helpless but I'm not ready to go yet either, while life is still there I want to drink it in. Amd I wonder what she's done with her life between eight and seventy three, and I feel certain that she's been very successful and she's got gravitas and yet she is still the little girl with the muddy knees who likes climbing trees and plaiting her mother's hair as though she were a doll.

And then she's finished, and I open my eyes and it takes me days to get over seeing all this, because I have been to the future and I'm still tired from the trip...



ut for the day today. First to the Montreal Planetarium, to a show of pictures from the Hubble telescope, shown in their Imax cinema. Amazing pictures. We'll all be dead in 5 million years by the way.

Next we went down to the Old Port, to pier 16, where part of one of the huge warehouses has been turned into an indoor maze, Le Labyrinthe. They were having the obligatory Hallowe'en theme, with various hideous ghouls leaping out from dark corners, and that was just my children. It was OK, but I really think that the best maze I've ever been in (and I've been in a few in my time...) was the mirror maze at Wookey Holein Somerset. WH is altogether the best and most varied day out I have ever had in one place. It combined educational with recreational, and not surprisingly, the day we were there, it was heaving with school trips. It has enormous caverns, one of the only hand-made paper mills left in Britain (they make speciality paper mostly for the legal profession), a Victorian style 'penny arcade' and the most complex maze I've had to work my way out of. The only trick with mirror mazes is not walk towards yourself at any time. You can safely assume that if you're not coming towards yourself, then you're not walking towards a mirror. Sounds easy? Go and try it!

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Happy brats ours 


ritish teenagers are reportedly among the happiest in the world , according to this article. As a teacher in Britain, I have to say that this does not really surprise me. The ethos of my school tended to encourage happiness in the students on the premise that happy people learn better-in accordance with Marvellous Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Briefly explained, this theory is about needing to fed, warm, secure, happy and free to make your own decisions, in that order, to be able to do your best in life.

The children at my school, a new version comprehensive, were mostly confident, out-going and friendly. We teachers bent ourselves double and triple every day of the week to ensure that. We taught in a huge variety of different ways to cater for different learning styles. Some children for example have a visual memory, and learn better through pictures; some are more verbal, and prefer to write things down; some retain well from hearing, so inject music or silly songs and you've got their attention; yet others are very physical and need to move and do in order to remember. There are more, but I won't bore you. Try this quiz if you want to know yours.

Until recently in Britain, little was known about these learning styles. Teaching was rigidly conducted and variety was according to teachers' moods. Most lessons were extremely book-based and formal. When I was growing up in France in the 70s and 80s, the same was true. Fortunately, the British education system has changed radically. Many more children are now able to feel happy and relaxed at school, compared with the formerly large numbers of pupils struggling to cope with teaching methods which were alien to them, more particularly if they suffered from a specific learning problem such as dyslexia. More young people now take formal exams. Detractors say that GCSEs and A levels are easier than they used to be. I do not feel able to judge one way or the other on this, not having been through the system myself. My perception is that they are "easier", but that the trade-off is the much larger number of children who are able to access GCSE and A level standard education. I believe that the only down-side of making the exams easier is the problem of assessing the very bright, which is something I will have to turn my mind to soon.

Growing up in France gave me insights into how those poor Korean (note the high school "lottery" system) and Japanese kids must feel (check out the kid's timetable half-way down the page). Their problems, no doubt compounded by cultural pressures to conform, are reinforced by the pressure for good exam results and the constant drive to succeed. They go home to hours of homework, and strong parental pressure. The long school day works against having a social life. As a child, a social life was out of the question anyway since we lived in a very rural area miles from anyone I knew or cared about. French children tend to be more home-based than British ones. Whilst children going out a lot creates obvious problems in Britain in terms of drunkenness, harassmment of passersby by large crowds of teenagers, rapes and drug-taking, it also gives the teenagers concerned the chance to try out new and possibly silly things without being watched; this is a luxury not often available to the French teenager, nor I imagine to the Japanese or Korean.

British children are lucky because they lead more harmonious lives. They have time for extra-curricualr lessons. They are able to dabble in the job market; teenagers having paid jobs is viewed almost as child slavery in France. In France, most work as such tends to be home-based and informal, such as baby-sitting, or helping out in your parents' shop; many jobs are not available to the under 17s. Many people leave university without ever having worked, whereas in Britain young people may have worked since the age of 13 (another barbarous practise, according to the French).

Most of all, British children have time to have a social life. However much I wish the parents of my pupils would take a little more of an interest in what their children are up to, most of the time the children are perfectly happy to have a fair amount of freedom. They are able to make choices, both good and bad. To my mind the jury is still out on whether it is good for them to have to make quite so many choices, but we are clearly doing something right. Can it be that letting them be freer makes them happier?

This time next year, I'll be in Hollywood 

Woohoo!! NaNoWriMo is a passport to riches and fame, says the BBC. Which is nice.

Saturday, October 18, 2003



omething's not right. We're into the second half of October and something is missing. The leaves? No they're still hanging in there, albeit in glorious colours. The rain? No, we've had our share of that, although admittedly less than in Britain at this time of year.
It's the fireworks. I'm grumpy and bad tempered at the best of times, but there's nothing more likely to set me off than bunches of deranged teenaged boys indulging their arsonist tendencies twenty hours a day, not to mention backyard paterfamilias singeing their eyebrows, their fence, their clothes and their children with enough explosives to have Shrubs on the alert. Here, being Canada, there's no Bonfire Night, ergo no erratic conflagrations day in day out for a month. And it's wonderful.
I believe that something should be done about Bonfire Night in Britain. It has turned into a mad monster of a festival, under-regulated despite the dangers involved. There is no reason on God's earth why pussy cats and family doggies, not to mention my fragile nerves, should have to put up with this. The letting off of fireworks should be allowed on licence only, with licences being granted only for special occasions, and for a sensible length of time around BN; let's say the week-end before and after, and every day between them? It's generous without being stupid. Even I could put up with 10 days, and might even learn to enjoy fireworks...from a distance.

I remember...vaguely 


ome gather round, children.

Sixteen years ago last Wednesday night, I was tucked up in bed, sleeping the sleep of the recently glandular fever'd. I was in my second week at University, and I vaguely remember waking up part-way through the night because my window was rattling. Cursing the fact I'd left it slightly open, I stumbled over to it and shut it, stumbled back to bed and went back to sleep.
In the morning we awoke to this, and I'd just slept through it. Typical.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Kitchen sink 


lease forgive me here, I'm about to have a housewife moment.

I'm quite environmentally aware, and very anxious not to pollute water courses etc with toxic chemical emanations from my drains. But enough about my cooking!

Seriously though. Last year (probably way after everyone else) I discovered microfibre cloths. You can buy them in any reputable supermarket but they cost a lot more ordinary cloths. Obviously being synthetic, they may have an envrionmental impact invisible to me, but they appear only to have advantages. They are made from extremely small fibres, which are supposed to catch dirt and hold it until they are washed. They can be put in the washing-machine as many as 250 times.

Why are they so brilliant? Well, they are designed to be used without cleaning products. When you get them out of the packet you just want to curl up on the sofa with them, they feel so soft. Don't be fooled. They are mean little sods on grease and dirt. You can use them either wet or dry, although they pack more of a punch wet. I was initially sceptical, but frankly now I'd use nothing else. I know that it sounds mad to be able to clean grease without heavy-duty acids, but they work mechanically, and the physics really do add up.

Two major companies including this one produce them for the mass market. I would urge you to give them a chance if you're not already converted. You'll never look back. I recommended them to my Mum who suffers very badly from eczema on her hands and arms, and she says they work for her too.

Take this! 

Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem.

More here.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Roman insults 


s far as I've established, the Doctor Fell thing is a translation by Tom Brown of an insult by Martial, Roman satirist of the 1st century CE.

Here is another one, which I thought quite amusing:

I know not whether Phoebes fled from the dinner table of Thyestes; at any rate, Ligurinus, we fell from yours. Splendid, indeed, it is, and magnificently supplied with good things; but when you recite you spoil it all. I don't want you to set before me a turbot or a two pound mullet; I don't want your mushrooms or your oysters. I want you to keep your mouth shut.

Ouch! It's like no bread-and-butter letter I've every seen. He must have had trouble getting invitations to dinner after that...

More like a 1st century tabloid columnist methinks. The man had a razor-sharp wit- I'll bring you more as and when the mood takes me.

I do not like thee 

I do not like thee Doctor Fell
The reason why I cannot tell
But this I know and know full well
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell



as any other blogger noticed Tuesday being their heaviest day for visitors? I imagine people struggling into work on Mondays, all keen and tired, but eager to to do well. By Tuesday the excitement has worn off, all you have to look forward to is another four boring days till the weekend, so naturally your thoughts turn to other things. You spend the day on the internet, at your employer's expense, but by Wednesday you're feeling dead guilty and are anxious to make amends. So you work a bit more, and surf a bit less, and so on until the end of the week. On Saturdays you're knackered and do nothing work-related, including surfing, but by Sunday you're ready to have a quick peek at your regulars just to see where they're at. And then back to Monday...
Am I even close?

On not being a chattel 


bout two months before I got married, I was signing a credit card chit in the supermarket, when it suddenly occurred to me that I would soon have to change my signature. Dammit, I thought, I've had this signature since I was 7. OK, it's grown up with me, and now looks adult, but dammit, it's still my childhood signature. Why must I simply sign away my right to be who I am, with witnesses, before a congregation of family and friends? It's meant to be the happiest day of my life, not the day I sell myself into slavery, right?

That's what started me thinking about marriage generally and why I was getting married. Most women seemed not to care about their surname, and seemed perfectly happy being an element in their nuclear family. I felt as though I'd be a mere chattel if I handed over my name as well, one that had been with me since birth.

Anybody who knows the Boff will know that this has nothing to do with him; he is the sweetest, most considerate man on earth. It was the whole institution which got to me. I loved him, yet I did not want to legally belong to him. Our marriage was not for the sake of convenience or convention, but because we wanted be a fortress. We had the foundations already. No amount of name-changing could possibly build the walls without the foundations. And we had those.

So I decided not to change my name on marriage. The Boff fully supported that decision. I'm still me whether or not I take his surname.

For years in Britain this has caused problems. At schools "we couldn't find your son/daughter's file until we remembered you don't have the same surname"; with friends mistakely calling our children by my name rather than theirs, which is their dad's; the Post Office redirections, which charges extra for every surname, same address or not same address; at banks, for insurance purposes, for travel documents, travelling with the children (although we were clever there, and gave them all my surname as their third name), etc, etc, etc.

For over ten years I have been weird and upset everybody, including other women who've always wanted to know why I didn't want to take my husband's surname (she's obviously not committed to the nuclear family unit), including members of my own family who will refuse to understand that I do not use The Boff's surname and continue to address me by it anyway.

And then we came to Québec. In Québec, everybody keeps the name with which they are born. No quibbles, no fuss. Every woman, married or not, uses her own surname. I feel normal at last. I feel as though I'm home.

Update: here's a 1974 point of view on the subject; and another more feminist personal view; and even in Malta, which you might think is a more traditional society than Britain or the US; and an overwhelming majority of little girls in this survey thought that women should keep their own name!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003



e had a genuine riot yesterday evening in Montréal! It happened after a punk rock concert had to be cancelled due to the band being stuck at the US/Canada border. Apparently about 1000 punks went on the rampage, burning cars and smashing up shop fronts and everything. What is so amazing about this story for me, since I'm just old enough to remember the punks from the first time round, is that such a lot of teenage angst is seen as cool by today's young people. Montréal reputedly has the largest number of punks in North America outside LA, despite (or because of) having completely missed the boat in the 70s. All the media people seem to agree that today's punks are generally a peace-loving, calm pussy-cat of a bunch compared to the original lot.

First Cheering Up Day (let's chew the CUD together) 


detect a certain amount of SAD in everyone today; even the usually fairly even-tempered Mr Oddverse is sick with it. As a cure, I suggest this little activity. I would like everyone who calls here to remember and leave in the comments box the funniest thing that has happened to them this year; this should add up to a fair few funny things (and I mean funny ha-ha not funny odd, although sometimes they're funny as well) for everybody to go through, cos it seems that I do get a few visitors... *grateful sniff*

Update: on mature reflection, I reckon we should combine BW's christmas Haters Unite and the Cheering Up Day, so that we could meet up to CHU the CUD. Whatd'ya think?

Horrific sights 


t's October, and therefore *nearly* Hallowe'en. Hallowe'en is huge here, on a par with Scotland, and everybody has decorated their house with pumpkins, witches, fake spider web and large binbag spiders. The children will do the inevitable trick-or-treating, which I think is completely frightful for more than one reason - I mean when in life is anybody going to get away with demanding sweets with menaces? Anyway, around the corner, a Canadian with a sense of humour has been doing some digging. They've left a large mound of earth in their front garden, decorated with two gloves and two boots sticking out of it in appropriate places, and planted a gravestone inscribed with the words "R.I.P. George Bush Jr". If I thought I wouldn't get told off by everybody for putting up pictures that are too big (plus I have not yet mastered our new camera, and don't seem to be able to download pictures from it) you could have a photo.


For companies looking to hire, the world belongs to users of purple pens

here! I've always said it and now I've been proved right. Apparently my boss is more likely to be happy with me than with any other colour pen. I'm also far more likely to have been promoted or given a raise in salary. *You could have fooled me, I actually seem to have taken a recent drop in salary*
Sadly the news is not so good for you men out there who use erasable pens. According to this article, you're likely to be a shirker who does not toady up to his boss anywhere near enough.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Fungi to be with 

ne of our tenants in Devon, a Frenchman, wants to know the best local places for gathering mushrooms. I love mushrooms now and would really like to know where to get the best ones. Unfortunately I never listened as a child when our neighbours in France tried to teach me which ones were good to eat, since I hated them then, and was never, ever going to need the information. I fully intend to start learning now, so that when we go back to Britain, I'll be able to make breakfast for free every morning. And if I really want to maintain a family tradition -did I ever tell you about the time my mother poisoned us all?- I should make sure I pick a few non-comestible ones in the half-light, and feed them by accident to my children. Maybe those carbon pills aren't the size of horse tablets any more...


ello to my Mama, who is back online after a long gap since I broke her puter back in April (naughty me!). I was only trying to take out some unnecessary things Ma, honest!
And welcome to the world Baby X, born last week to my second sister. X is not actually her initial as far as I'm aware, but since they've either not yet chosen a name, or I haven't been told what it is yet, then X she is. Perhaps my gentle readers could suggest some suitable names? Irish Dad, Anglo/French Mum.
Or maybe, Mummy, you could click the comments box below and tell me what they're calling her!!!! Send us a picture of her, and I'll put it up here.

Sweet eaters funded Bin Laden 

ritten by Wall Street economist Loretta Napoleoni back in the early 90s, but not published until recently because there was "no interest in the topic" until 9/11, this book traces the convoluted course of terrorist funds, and comes up with some startling and alarming facts. For example, that until the Taliban were toppled, and possibly still now, Osama Bin Laden owned the Sudanese monopoly of gum arabic, an ingredient used globally in sweets and soft drinks. That global terrorism acccouts for 1,5 trillion US dollars, which if withdrawn overnight would cause a gigantic economic depression in Europe and the US. More predictably, that major countries fund the activities of specific terrorist organisations, and that a certain chain of bureaux de change was wholly owned by al-qaeda and used to launder ill-gained cash.
Modern Jihad by Loretta Napoleoni

Heard today 

"I trust they will take on the Axis of Inequality at the same time they take on the Axis of Evil."

The first Thanksgiving in North America 

July 30th, 1578. A group of cold sailors kneels in thanksgiving on the beach of Qallunaat ("white man" in the local Inuit language) Island, to the north of Québec, near the mouth of Hudson Bay. They are part of an ill-informed voyage to prospect for gold in the New World. They will spend a month on the island, before setting back across the Atlantic ahead of the freeze with a cargo of worthless mica.

his service has been proven by archeological digs to be the first Thanksgiving service in North America, some 43 years ahead of the Mayflower immigrants. Canada celebrated its annual act of Thanksgiving today, October 13th, a month ahead of the States. There are pumpkins everywhere, all talk is of apples and harvests, and we all had the day off. Thanks be to the Canadian government.
We roared off to Vermont for the day, to catch the last of the autumn colours down there. The weather was beautiful, the hills were too. All gold and orange offset by the purest blue skies. Lovely... Thanks be to Mother Nature.
We drove through Stowe in Vermont, dwelling place of many descendants of the Von Trapps of "Sound of Music" fame; they dropped the "von" upon arrival in America, toured the States for twenty years before settling down in Vermont. Thanks be to the Anschluss. They run the "Trapp Family Lodge", a decidedly swish alpine establishment, which, one suspects, rather plays on the success of the musical. If you've wondered how much of the story was made up, I would have to say that many details have been tweaked, but that Maria von Trapp was reputedly a shrewd businesswoman. Broadly, the film compressed ten years of family life into less than a year; there were nine children rather than 7, Maria and the baron having produced two together by WW2; Maria was originally employed only to look after one of the childen who was bed-ridden because of rheumatic fever, and who later died young; and the family already sang together before her arrival- she merely introduced a new repertoire. Thanks be to the convent that kicked her out.
As we neared the Interstate leading back to Canada, we chanced upon the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream factory, and thought "why not?". Sadly we were too late for the tours, so four pints of ice cream later, and we were on our way again. Thanks be to Ben and Jerry. BTW, did you know that B&J's ice cream is made from milk produced without the use of the bovine growth hormone commonly used to build muscle and boost milk supply, which is legal in America? Thanks be to decent famers.
Back in Montréal by 10. I love being nomadic...

Monday, October 13, 2003


Searching for myself narcistically on Google, as one does, I discovered that someone named Kate set up a Blogger blog on the same day as me and, wait for it, called purplepen.org! Am I being paranoid? She may achieve cult status yet though *sniff*, since her entire blog consists of the words "test" and "test again".

Funny things that happen 

Back in July, the 10th to be precise. I had a carful of boys, since I was taking Sim and some of his friends out for the day to celebrate his birthday. I had just stopped at a roundabout which led to the slip road I needed, to allow a lorry and a canvas-sided van to go around the roundabout. I am not quick off the mark at roundabouts, which was a blessing on this occasion. As the van screamed around the roundabout, a pink lavatory fell from it and crashed across the roundabout in gigantic chards.

Being the public-spirited person that I am, I immediately put on my hazard lights to warn the people behind me, and stayed put to wait for the bits to settle. As I glanced in the mirror, I saw:
1) an MPV, driven by an irate and harassed-looking lady, pulling from behind me straight out to my right, heading for the slip road, and
2) a white van, driven by a white-van man, pulling straight out to my left and undertaking me needlessly fast on the hard shoulder, also heading straight for the slip road.

I spotted a clearish path between the chards, and negotiated it, driving down the slip road. I toyed with stopping to help, but decided that with a carful of children mostly not my own, I'd pass on that occasion. As I passed the place where the bits of toilet were in their biggest concentration, Mrs MPV overtook me and drove straight over them, unable to stop at the speed she'd reached. All four of her tyres made a large and very satisfying "Pfeeeew", and the last I saw of her was her panic-stricken face as she headed down the slip road at around 50 mph, each of her tyres making a high-pitched "pfew" sound at every turn. She pulled over ahead of me, just ahead of canvas-van-man who'd realised he'd lost his load. Meanwhile white-van man had to stop behind canvas van man since he was driving in the hard shoulder; held up because of his inability to wait a few seconds.
Sometimes, not often, life just is fair.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

A Saturday in October 

The tuba player sits on a plastic garden chair facing the lake as we paddle through the lily pads. A professional musician, he plays "for inspiration" facing the glorious orange and yellow autumn forest, set against the brilliant blue of the Indian summer sky. There are no other sounds than the haunting deep tones of the difficult solo he is practising. Occasionally, small wood ducks take off ahead of us, their wing tips skimming the water. Once a beaver jumps clumsily into the dark water, startling us by slapping its tail resoundingly on the lake surface. The lake was created by beavers forty years ago, and we canoe right up to the dam and peer over the six foot drop.

Small spongy sphagnum islands provide habitat for a number of endangered plants including two species of carnivorous plants, as well as low cranberries. Most of the fruits disappeared ten days ago in a beaver created flood, but we find one still gripped tight by a curl of moss. It is pink, and tastes tart and sweet.

The owners have seen moose here, wading into the knee-deep water to graze the lilies; deer and their fawns come to drink at the water's edge. This lake belongs to Mother Nature, and today we feel a part of Nature, not rulers of it.


Le vent fera craquer les branches
La brume viendra dans sa robe blanche
Y aura des feuilles partout
Couchées sur les cailloux
Octobre tiendra sa revanche
Le soleil sortira à peine
Nos corps se cacheront sous des bouts de laine

Perdue dans tes foulards
Tu croiseras le soir
Octobre endormi aux fontaines
Il y aura certainement,
Sur les tables en fer blanc
Quelques vases vides et qui traînent
Et des nuages pris aux antennes

Je t'offrirai des fleurs
Et des nappes en couleurs
Pour ne pas qu'Octobre nous prenne
On ira tout en haut des collines
Regarder tout ce qu'Octobre illumine
Mes mains sur tes cheveux
Des écharpes pour deux

Devant le monde qui s'incline
Certainement appuyés sur des bancs
Il y aura quelques hommes qui se souviennent
Et des nuages pris aux antennes
Je t'offrirai des fleurs
Et des nappes en couleurs
Pour ne pas qu'Octobre nous prenne

Et sans doute on verra apparaître
Quelques dessins sur la buée des fenêtres
Vous, vous jouerez dehors
Comme les enfants du nord
Octobre restera peut-être.
Vous, vous jouerez dehors
Comme les enfants du nord
Octobre restera peut-être.
The wind will make the branches creak
Mist will come in its white dress
There will be leaves everywhere
Lying over the pebbles
October will get its own back
The sun will barely show itself
Our bodies will hide under bits of wool

Wrapped up in your scarves
You will meet the evening
October asleep near the springs
There will surely be
On the white wrought-iron tables
Some empty vases left abandoned
And some clouds caught on the aerials

I'll give you flowers
And colourful tablecloths
So that October doesn't take us
We'll go to the top of the hills
To look down on everything that October lights up
My hands on your hair
Scarves made for two

Before the beaten world
There will surely be, leaning on benches
Men who remember
And clouds caught in the aerials
I will give you flowers
And colourful tablecloths
So that October doesn't take us

And we're surely see appear
A few pictures in the window mist
You will play outside
Like northern children
And October might stay.
You will play outside
Like northern children
And October might stay.

Paroles et Musique: Francis Cabrel 1994 "Samedi soir sur la Terre"

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Post-dated workforce 

It's good to know that you can still make a living in old age in the States...

Friday, October 10, 2003

Sim's guide to avoiding chores 

This is a home-based method, but I really think that a lot of these techniques could be used in an office environment as well, with a little adaptation.

1) Pretend to be deaf to the extent that your parents take to have your ears checked at six-monthly intervals. This will buy you some time, possibly as long as six years, particularly if you can get them to believe that the hearing loss is restricted to deeper grown-up's voices. No problems with children's telly for example.

2) Feign ignorance of what's expected of you. In order to carry this out successfully, you must do something else in order to show willing. This will have them believing that they did not explain themselves well enough. So, if you've been asked to tidy your room, pick up a towel from the corridor instead. If you've been asked to do your homework, settle down to a snack instead. If you have to wash your face, wipe it with a clean sleeve.

3) Just when you're looking really stupid and clueless about what to do, one of your little sisters will step in and offer to do it for you. At this point turn on the charm for a few seconds, and gratefully accept. Your littlest sister will glady take over as long as she can patronise you at the same time. This is a small price to pay for not having to do the dishes.

4) Spend lots of time in preparation convincing your siblings that they really like to wash up, hoover etc... Then get yourself asked to do these, at which point the sisters will clamour to do it, and you can gracefully accede to their demands. You come away smelling of roses for being so kind to your sisters, and if need be you can act hurt and say "they just took over".

5) Ask youngest sibling to show you how to do things. She feels privileged at being able to explain something to you, and you get the job done for no extra effort.

6) When all the above fail, try playing with the minds of those in charge. Do the job, but look really upset and quietly hurt. Mutter things like "why do I always have to do everything here?" and "everybody hates me". This can destabilise them for a few minutes and can get you out of a tight corner. If you need to, dissolve into quiet tears and cry into the washing-up water. You earn loads of extra brownie points for doing the job despite being so upset. Store up these points and use them as bargaining chips later when negociating over pocket-money adjustements and future chores.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 09, 2003


Preserving anonymity is a funny thing in a weblog, which often consists in a spilling out of things far more private than one's name. After all, your name is blazoned all over simply hundreds of official documents.

Many bloggers use pseudonyms, no doubt for similar reasons, a few use their own names, some give away so much information that even with the best will in the world, it would be hard not to know what their real name is, and some inexplicably broadcast their full name widely before resorting to a pseudonym picked from a German war film.

Some bloggers no doubt portray themselves differently from the way they actually are, but what is the point of a blog if you can't make it do what you want?
Some of my favourite bloggers need not as far as I'm concerned have any other name than their pseudonym, so much does their personality come through. Their on-screen persona has acquired so much depth that they might to all intents and purposes be the person they portray themselves as, even though they must, as we all do, withhold parts of themselves.

People have been worrying recently about whether or they should use quote marks around my pseudonym "e". I absolutely do not mind whether they use quote marks or not. I call myself "e" for two reasons: the first is obviously so that nobody knows that my real name is Ver.... wait a minute, you nearly had me there, you cunning little minxes!

Actually my father usually calls me "e", which happens to be the initial of my name, for reasons never fully explained. Possibly laziness, who knows? The other reason I use a pseudonym is that my husband, The Boff, has to sign the Official Secrets Act every so often. Naming and identifying him in a public forum might put him and our children at risk, so I don't. I feel comfortable with "e" because it's been around since I was a child. I never spell it with a capital, and in emails I never spell my full name with a capital either, simply because I find that the capital just spoils the line- it's way too tall. e just doesn't seem right capitalised- it's too much like just the initial of my name. Am I making any sense?? I'll get my coat

Witch Hunt 

The québecois Justice Minister, Marc Bellemare, is in trouble because of a stripper, and there are calls for his resignation.
It would be commonplace, were it not for fact that the stripper in question is M. Bellemare's 21-year old daughter, and that the calls for M. Bellemare's resignation appear to have very little to do with the man's ability to do his job, and rather more to do with the way of life of members of his family. This all smells to me like a political witch-hunt, with colleagues using the incident as a means of getting rid of someone they do not like. He has a few interpersonal problems with other members of the Québec government, and recently allowed a police investigation to go ahead into involvement of various senior politicians with an under-age prostitute ring.
As I write, the lunchtime phone-in programme on CBC Radio 1 is on, and it seems that the over-whelming majoroty of the callers believe this to be a private family matter for the politician, which should have no bearing on how he does his job. There is a lot of sympathy for him. An hour ago, his daughter released a statement fulling supporting her father.
I often feel annoyed that politicians can stab each other in the back like this and try to pass it off as a decision made for us, and seriously hope that Bellemare gets through this unscathed, just to show them all.

YooHoo everyone! 

I've done something suggested by Ron, has it made a difference? Can you all see everything now?

The life work of Brother André 

If you stand in the middle of our street and look up towards the Mont Royal, the first thing you see is this. This monolithic basilica stands at the top of a hill, and is reached by a huge staircase, cathartically climbed by the most pious on their knees. Under the staircase however, runs a series of escalators, which give away the church's true age. It was finished in the mid 1930s, and was the brainchild of the remarkable Brother André.

Brother André joined the brotherhood as a young man, ten years after being left a sickly orphan at 12. He struggled for forty years to get his superiors in the monastery to acknowledge his true calling, and was given all the nastiest jobs to do. These included tending the sick, with whom Brother André had a natural affinity for obvious reasons.

Brother André got the last laugh, as in all the best fairy tales, for he began to amass quite a following of people who claimed that he had worked miracles and cured them. By his fifties, he had had his first church built on the top of the hill, but this was soon outgrown, and the Oratory was planned, built and completed during the Depression despite severe financial problems. Brother André lived into his eighties, against even his parents expectations that he would die young. He will always be remembered both for his "miracles" and the gigantic monolith he left behind.

I think that this is what one might call "triumph over adversity" aka "sheer bloody-mindedness".


Sorry if i'm not updating much at the moment. I'm trying to sort out a few image problems (on my site!!), so I'd be very grateful for any feedback about loading times, picture quality etc... Full service will be resumed later!

Quality of life 

This afternoon, I dragged S, the legal eagle, up to the top of Mont Royal, a huge hill park in the centre of Montréal. The sun shone, the leaves crunched, and we talked. Poor S claimed that he had "spent the last 18 months in a windowless box" and thoroughly enjoyed the few hours out in the open. We talked a lot about jobs and quality of life. I admitted to loving my life at the moment, unencumbered as it is by any constraints beyond housework and school runs. S said that he enjoys his job despite the very long hours he's had to put in. I have come to a few conclusions about my life:

1) I am too lazy to hold down a 70-80 hour a week job. Been there, done that for the last two years. It put a nearly intolerable strain on family life, and was only acceptable because there was an end in sight. Being badly paid for it did not help, but earning a large amount of money would not have made it any easier.
2) I need the sky. I grew up in the countryside, and I pine without trees, grass and open sky. My worst job ever was in 1991, working for a City bank, behind air-conditioned double-glazing from 8am till 6pm. After three months, I had perpetual boils and perpetual SAD.
3) No amount of money is worth handing over my soul for. I prefer to be free. I am very lucky to have a husband, The Boff, who loves his job, and gets paid to do what he likes doing best. So he brings home the yak, and doesn't suffer too much stress in the process. I can say this safely while we are in Canada, where I can't really work even if I want to; I will probably go back to working part-time when we go back to Britain.
4) The things I really need came with me in the plane to Canada, and they didn't travel in the hold. There are more people dotted over Europe who are part of my essential kit, but the main ones are here.

I suppose that means that I am finding the time to prioritise. I feel blessed to have the time. Time is the ultimate luxury for me.

How to scare a 6-year old 

Sim and Hen spent most of dinnertime this evening teasing Dill until she cried with information about the Sun. She refused to accept that the Sun was not on Earth, and when Sim explained the size difference to her in graphic terms, she burst into tears. He then went on to explain all about Red Giants, and how eventually the Sun would grow so big that it would burn us all to a crisp. She is probably scarred for life now, and will blame it all on us in years to come.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Did anyone else out there have this drivel shoved repeatedly down their throats by their strange parents? Or is it just me?

Mostly busy today 

I wil be mostly busy today giving a frighteningly high-powered legal eagle university chum a whistle stop tour of Montreal. I'll look for bilingual adverts while I'm out.

Blue Witch's Study 

If you haven't already done so, take a moment to go and complete Blue Witch's study.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

"Expect the worst and you'll never be disappointed" 

Now I do apologise if this come across as a rant. It's really meant to be an explanation of my position and my views. Whilst I realise that some of you may hold very different views, the usual disclaimer applies, OK? This is my opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

It was sparked off by something on Pewari's site, a posting about what she described as "random acts of kindness" This posting had me nearly in tears for her. Why should she, as the young mother of the next generation, have to feel so absurdly grateful for what most of the world would treat as perfectly normal human behaviour? Well the truth is that bringing up children in Britain is like that. You feel as though you are on sufferance everywhere. You cannot go anywhere or do anything with children without people assuming that they are going to be badly behaved. I'm no behavioural psychologist, but we did have quite a few lectures on "positive discipline"when I was studying to be a teacher, and from these I came away with a proto-philosophy on both my parenting and my teaching. The basic principles are that if you expect good from people, they more often than not provide it. If you expect them to behave badly, they'll probably live up to your expectations as well.

I don't deny that there are many badly behaved children and young people in Britain (and everywhere else), but for every violent or malicious child, I am quite certain there are ten inexperienced and mistaken ones. Simply ranting and raving does not solve it. We should all feel a sense of duty in the bringing up of the next generation, be it only in order to protect your retirement beer/cocktail money.

For every smoking nine-year old out in the street too late, see a potential criminal at fifteen. I'm not advocating that you do this, but I had a colleague who would go up to any clearly underage smoker, whip the ciggie out of their mouth and crush it, telling them to go home. She very rarely received anything more than some cheeky backchat, was able to show that child that someone cared, and often gained valuable insights into that child's life as it opened up to her. By the way, you often find, if you challenge children in the street about their behaviour, that they immediately ask: "Are you a teacher?" Obviously since you are not wearing a uniform, you are not a policeman, and since the only other people who ever try to inject some discipline into them are teachers... That is sad enough in itself.

So yes, there are badly behaved children, but hey, there are many many badly behaved adults as well. Have you ever been in a town centre at pub closing time? Most children however can grow out of their bad behaviour as long as they are given the chance. Many people however seriously believe that children are a different species from adults. You can bring them up to be quiet and obedient, like dogs, and they then discover how to interact socially and forge their own way in life by magic, at some er...point.

Many people believe that it's perfectly acceptable to say extremely rude things to children, on the grounds that they probably don't understand that much anyway, so you really have to get your point across forcefully. Now, go and find someone who is slightly inferior to you in seniority or rank at the office, lean really close to them, preferably jabbing a finger at them, and shout at them: "You are no good! You will never amount to anything! You'll never do anything decent with your life!" If you want to grab them by the lapels and shower them with spit at the same, you'll be doing exactly what I have seen even teachers do to children. Have you got a black eye or pending lawsuit for bodily harm and slander hanging over you yet?

Here are some of the things you regularly hear people saying about children, things that it is pretty much acceptable if not de rigueur to say if you're trying to look cool, and what I say to them:

1) "Children should be seen and not heard" What bliss that would be; children who keep themselves to themselves throughout childhood, and then morph into fully sentient, emotionally balanced human beings at age 20. This little Victorian luxury was brought to you by gangs of skivvies and nannies who kept the children of the wealthy firmly out of the way of their parents until the daily half-hour when they were presented washed and scrubbed and fully briefed on how to behave. Not so for the children of the poor, who were adult at 5, and statistically likely to be dead by 25.

2) "Children are noisy" Well of course they're noisy, they play! All baby animals play. So lambs look cute gambolling and bleating around the field? Try turning 6 of the little blighters loose in your living room, and then see how cute you think they are.

3) "I blame the parents" That's the easiest one to say, mainly because it neatly passes the buck. Well sorry, but there are many stupid people out there, and nobody yet has come up with an ethical way of stopping them having babies. So I guess we're stuck with stupid people for a while to come. This doesn't help the poor children of these people, struggling both academically and socially through life with very little parental support from parents who know neither how nor what to give their children. If you really want to make a difference, then volunteer in one of the "Big Brother, Big Sister" or Reading mentoring schemes which exist in many inner cities. You get to give up your lunch hour once a week to give a struggling child support that it will probably never get in any other situation unless and until it gets into trouble with the law.

I see that this has turned into a bit of a rant. It was partly due to the stories in the news this week about the 13 year-old who's just had a beautiful healthy baby boy, and the reactions in the comments box on a fellow blogger's site (imagine "apoplectic of Tonbridge" commenting several times, and you'll have the shape of it). Applying a little common sense to this case, I judge that the girl in question appears very physically mature for her age, more than capable of bearing children. Children are borne by 13-year-olds all over the world, always have done, probably always will be. What she lacked however was the experience and judgement to decide how to use her body; these would in an ideal world have been provided by her mother, but judging by the dear lady's reaction, please see number 3 above. The lady is doing the best she can now both for her daughter and grandson, by looking after the baby while her daughter goes to school. So she is also having to "pay" for her negligence as a parent. In olden days she'd have passed the baby off as her own, but would that have been "better"?

Where is all this leading? Well, as the mother of a 6, an 8 and a 10 year-old, it is by the way of support for Pewari and all the other mums out there who are having a hard time meeting everybody else's expectations of their very young children. I'm quite certain that you are doing your best, and nobody can expect anybody to do better than that. Children are often "badly" behaved, mostly though inexperience, but makes neither them nor you parias. Your own children often seem worse behaved than others, but that's because you're more tuned in to them than to others, which is as things should be. People have been known to come and praise me for my children's behaviour, but I find this uncomfortable, a) because they are complimenting me for something which the children are doing, and b) because the children are not always well-behaved, nor always badly-behaved. They just are. And ultimately they just are people, with all the same contradictions and complications that adults have.

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