Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's warm 

We just went out, and I swear that strange things are happening out there. The Boff pointed out that there are these weird patches of green spiky stuff poking out of the snow in places. Very puzzling.


If you come back later, you might see us skating on this rink- from a very long way away, I hasten to say, so just look for two larger dots followed by three smaller dots- oh who am I kidding? Just look for the three small missile dots, followed at a safe and puffy distance by two larger dots.

A hangover is the wrath of grapes. Anon.


The Boff has just come home and pointed out that I've been quite schizophrenic today in my posts. I suppose he's right, but hey! I don't make ze rules. My winter wonderland was to cheer me up and it did a little, so yah boo Boff!. I sometimes wish he wouldn't read my blog, because he can come home and make direct comments about it. So, shall I grass him up to his boss about reading blog(s) from work? That'd stop him! Or would that be a little too close to home for most of you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Winter in Canada 

Six days in. Lake frozen over, petrified into waves as if time had been suspended without warning. Hoar-frost clinging in intricate patterns to every twig of every tree. Great skirts of ice on each tree trunk near the water's edge. Knife-fine ridges of vertical snow cleaving each tree on its north side. Muffled quiet: shouting is futile. Every sound disappears after a few yards- the only obvious sounds are those almost imperceptible ones, falling packets of snow tumbling silently to join the carpet on the ground. A distant mumbling of traffic, like the voices heard through a dream of which one struggles to make sense. If you stand perfectly quietly, the subtle cracks of ice deepening under lake's surface.
This winter is a treat, a blessing. Winter till now has always meant rain, wet cold whipping your face and legs, thick sheets of ice clinging to car windscreens but not lakes, to windows but not twigs. Winter has never yet meant such sustained cold, such alien beauty; for this alone, I am thankful.

Glum and uninspired 

It's raining, the muddy snow is all melting, and I'm feeling a little down and possibly slightly homesick. The children are all outside playing in the sluch. My ma in France is ill with flu, and it has snowed in Normandy, which happens rarely enough to be remarkable.
How well I remember the winter of 1984-85, when we were actually snowed in at my mother's and had to walk the mile to catch the school bus in -17c. I still recall with perfect clarity the sun twinkling across every granular snowflake in every ten foot snowdrift, the woman who'd had to abandon her car and teeter along in stilettos through the snow, and my sister hatless and wailing "My ears are bursting!"- just put a hat on before going outside, you silly cow. That weekend, we sledded on old fertiliser bags. Until the other day at the top of Mont Tremblant, that was the coldest I'd ever experienced. Now I laugh in the face of -10c.
Anyway, I can clearly picture my mother's house nestling among snow-covered fields and forest; I want to go and make some chicken soup for her and nurse her back to health, but I hope that my sister will do that. I think she's warm enough- always doubtful in a 200-year old house. I hope it snows again tonight; I'm getting maudlin, and we really can't have that.

Things they don't tell new mothers 

Number one: within 10 years, your child will work out new and clever ways to be rude to you.
To wit, this exchange earlier:

Me: Sim did you know that the Gluteus Maximus is the biggest muscle in your body?
Sim: Well it may be in your case, Mummy!

My how I laughed!

I'm cutting the little sod's pocket money this week.

Thank you 

And all thanks to the lovely and talented writer and graphics tweaker Jen at Random Gestures, behold! I have a new title. Thanks an absolute million, Jen. *cough*More*cough* purple pens needed I think. I might just send you a picture of me skiing as well, to give you a really good laugh.

Monday, December 29, 2003

A Yuletide offering 

Via Daisy, and her commenter Graeme, comes this wonderful web offering. Thanks Daisy! Virtual cookies, and not the kind you have to empty out every week either.


Aaargh! I'm STILL trying to make a new title for me site, by making a gif -well, I can't do gif on my puter, so I'm doing JPEGs, but that seems to be a problem. I keep having problems marrying up the background colours; so far I've managed to get pretty close, but it's still too pale, and I can't choose a particular colour code in Appleworks, may the devil snatch its soul, so I'm still too obviously short of the mark. Also it doesn't come out very clean- there's messy smudgy splodges everywhere on it, in the loops and between letters. *sob* I need and want a new title! I know what font I want; I just can't do it! So frustrating... *whimper* can anyone help me? Me weak and feeble.


Coming from a small and densely-populated island, Britain, I have a great deal of trouble getting my head around the concept of wilderness. You see, in Britain not a single detail remains that is unmoulded by humans, not a single square inch untouched by human hand. Even our wildest bits, say the Highlands of Scotland, are testament to their agricultural past.

In contrast, much of Canada is truly wild. There are 30 million people inhabiting an area the same size as the United States. There are whole square miles in Canada where in all likelihood, people have never trod, let alone influenced anything. And I'm quite certain that that alone, not to mention the harsh and unpredictable winter weather, makes people relate very differently to their environment from the Brits.

In Britain, we can afford to be arrogant about our surroundings. We may so easily remodel, rearrange, push around and remould to suit our purposes. In Canada, winter remodelling involves working out what to do with mountains of snow which are unlikely to melt before March- people here are mostly amazed to hear that there are really no systems for dealing with snow in Britain because it usually melts of its own accord. Here, there are snow dumps.

The youths I've met so far in Canada seem a lot more sensible than British youths. They know that death in their environment is a real possibility should they fail to stick to the rules. And they tend to be more careful, poised and sensible in consequence. Our landlords were amazed to hear about the laws governing the sale of knives in Britain, because here 14 year olds may happily buy hunting knives- usually to go hunting or fishing. My perception is that if young people (say over 9-10 years of age) are shown how to use such items and trusted to behave sensibly, in the main they will.

I think that urban arrogance exists everywhere, but that if children are allowed to do dangerous things in a controlled way, they tend to become less reckless. Sadly, too much of Britain is now urban, and there is no wild left; people's tolerance of danger diminishes, the safer their environment becomes, yet their ability to deal with real danger also diminishes. I find Britain stupidly and counter-productively restrictive of the activities to which it will give children access. Ultimately, through a lack of familiarisation and disregard of dangers, they cause people, young and old, to take stupid and unnecessary risks, and probably to end up in more danger than they need to.


We spent a glorious day down at Oka, home of a particularly smelly cheese, on the banks of the St Laurent River. There are 50km of cross-country ski tracks there, laid out in a glorious natural park. The conditions were perfect- powdery snow, frost clinging thickly to every twig of every tree. We did a first run of around 6 km, and then, after dark, a floodlit one. Even Dill managed all 10 km. Sim pronounced Cross-country skiing "more fun than walking, less fun than down-hill skiing". Incidentally he seems to be a natural at downhill skiing, which sounds expensive already.
And towards a pink and peach sunset, we came out on the edge of the frozen river; about 300 metres out, people were skating on the smoothly frozen stretches of river, the bits which iced over when there was no wind. I did not trust the ice enough to allow the children to walk much on- after all, it was above freezing temperature on Christmas day- but somebody had clearly driven a vehicle across the ice judging by the tyre tracks. Sim had great fun starting an igloo with some large pieces of ice he found lying around- one of which is in the photo.

Sunset seen through ice on the St Laurent River- taken by The Boff today.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Eggs is eggs 

It's thanks to high quality posts like the one below that I manage to maintain a loyal readership of one. In my defense I was tired after a day's skiing, and The Boff seems strangely to contrive keeping me away from the computer when he's at home. Can't think why. So for the last few days, we've been eating, and the flat is almost tidy, and whilst I'm sure I could wax lyrical about all the lovely and strange ice formations I saw on our way up North yesterday, I don't feel like it much, so I bring you the post of the day, which is actually a rant:


I hate supermarket eggs. Why and how the hell do they get away with selling eggs which much be at least 6 weeks old? Listen here, people: if you buy a box of eggs with the word "fresh" on the outside, and if when you crack them into a pan, the white spreads everywhere like water, then you were robbed! "Fresh" eggs do not behave like that unless there is something very seriously wrong with the hen that laid them. I get nervous every time I have to use an egg- you just don't know whether you're going to crack open an ovoid parcel of yummy goodness or a time bomb (rather reminds of supermarket oranges- but don't get me started)
You might think that buying free range eggs would be a better bet; however, they are still produced by people who think that selling months-old eggs is perfectly acceptable. I had to argue once with a Waitrose manager who clearly did not believe my complaint, that the "Columbus" eggs I was returning for her inspection were actually around six months old- so old in fact that even the yolk was liquid in three of them -I didn't dare open the remaining three. The hen that laid them must have died peacefully in its sleep some months before.
I grew up with hens, and I assured the manager that only eggs laid under a hedge and forgotten for a long time could possibly be that nasty. She clearly had never been anywhere near a hen and evidently fondly imagined aseptic conditions of manufacture in a grey factory somewhere in the North-East- possibly China for the cheap ones. I nearly told her that came out of a bird's bum but I didn't want to put her off for life. I got a refund and a standard bland "we take your concerns very seriously, you silly neurotic cow" letter, but I wanted blood, or failing that a hen house complete with happy chickens, out of it, but it was not to be.
I'm very worried about how often now eggs come out the box uneatable, yet well within their sell-by date.
I can't wait to have my own hens: there is nothing so heavenly as a fresh egg. I would like hens with a long laying period, so that eggs in the winter are not out of the question, but I don't mind if they don't lay every day- I'll just have more than I need. Can anybody advise me on breeds? No, not you yuppie urban professionals, I'm not expecting any sense from you lot on this one- I'll ask you lot when I need to know about drugs or crime

My day 

Eep! Rush rush, bake boil, rush, vroom vroom, reference number, wait wait wait, here are your skis, hello friends, whoosh, whoosh, new snow Woohoo! Whoosh whoosh, up, whoosh, up, whoosh, ouch; snow's quite fun even stuffed up your nose at some speed; lunch scoff scoff, whoosh whoosh, down down, beer, goodbye friends; drive drive; cook, eat...sleep soon.
And best of all: I only fell once all day. That, believe me, is a record of some sort.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Farewell dear friends 

The last time I went skiing was in 1991, with The Boff and our friend Gherkin. I rather alarmed the boys by skiing over the edge of a near-vertical 30 metre ravine- particularly The Boff, who was convinced I was a goner. I really should not be let anywhere near skis, it's far too dangerous. Later that week, The Boff and Gherkin deposited me on the balcony, still asleep on my mattress, in the midnight frost one night. My, my, the japes...
Anyway, the reason I'm telling you all this is that we're skiing at Mont Tremblant tomorrow, so if my blog ends here, you'll know that the Grim Reaper came to collect me. Cheerful, me.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

As predicted, 4:30am was the time. I'm tired now; I could just lie down for a snooze....

At midnight 

It's just after midnight, and a fire engine has just rushed past our house to the scene of someone else's not so happy Christmas. It can't be a turkey cooking disaster, since surely would think of putting the turkey in the night before, unless they have an AGA (God! how I miss my AGA); maybe someone out there still uses traditional German candles on their tree; or a Yule log ran amok; perchance Uncle Bertie was attempting his trick with a gasoline-soaked rope and a cigar. Whichever it is, I hope it's not serious. That really is not a good way to start a happy family occasion. Anyway, I'm off to bed. I have it on good authority that Father Christmas may have already delivered the stocking items, so I look forward to waking up to the sound of squeals in four hours' time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

For a laugh 

Spotted by The Boff this morning, how to give your cat a pill- the hard way.

Happy Christmas 

Via non-blogging Ruth (Hi Ruth!) a Christmas Greeting from me to you all! May mulled wine (or whichever poison is yours) yeay course through your veins, may Father Christmas make it down your central heating flue, and may you all wake up to snow on Christmas morn.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


Blue Witch asks what we most dislike about Christmas. I could have written reams about commercialisation when I was 17 or 18, but the truth is that this collective madness no longer bothers me. If people are stupid enough as adults to be unwittingly taken in by the advertisers, in truth they must have too money or too little sense. Most people moan about commercialism, but in secret enjoy the spending fest, even if they wake up with a nasty bump with their first Visa bill in January. In my twenties I could have railed about how formulaic Christmas is, how every table groans with the inevitable and indigestible turkey, how people feel the need to eat Brussels sprouts, whether they like them or not, without fully understanding why. Brussels' sprouts have become as much an inevitability of Christmas as sitting down to watch some old dear witter her way through a speech not written by her or for her.

Now in my thirties, I tend to see Christmas more through the eyes of my children. I firmly believe that in the absence of belief in the religious nub of Christmas, it should be used as the one chance in the year when children should be rightfully spoiled. It should be magical for them; but at the same time, it should be about giving as well as receiving. Unfortunately, spoiling is a relative concept. Nowadays, children are "spoiled" all year round, and to stay special, Christmas has had to become the biggest spendfest of them all. Among all the festivals engineered by the marketing industry, it is still the king, and must never be allowed to be unseated from its throne. Children whose parents like to encourage what they see as independence in their offspring, by putting televisions, computers, CD players etc in their child's room, are left with little occasion really be to impressed at Christmas.

I taught for two years in one of the richest areas in Britain, and I can honestly say that I have rarely met a more miserable, depressed, jaded bunch of children on my entire life. They knew damn well that their life had already been as good as it ever would get. They had been robbed of hope, dreams, wishes and parental attention. As long as they kept out of their parents' busy way, their parents cared not one jot what they were up to. These were kids who at 11, possessed no toys; not because they were poor, but because they no longer played. Their presents were CDs, video games and DVDs- all designed to encourage passivity so that they would shut and stop bugging their parents. Most of them had never believed in Santa Claus because their parents were so enlightened that they saw fit to explain to them exactly how much they paid for every present. Some even got money from their parents- perfect for a distant relative who knows little about the child's personality, but the parents?

What bugs me most about Christmas I guess therefore, is that is yet another occasion that people fail at to be parents to their children. Excessive spending and over-consumption, once only one aspect of an otherwise spiritual occasion, robbed of their religious significance, teach children nothing but that greed is good, that happiness comes from things rather than people, that instant gratification is acceptable. They teach a bunch of shallow emotions and attitudes, all of which are underpinned by a meaningless ritualised echo of Christmasses past, the ones where, for once, children got what they really wanted. Christmas used to be special; it is no longer. That's what bugs.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha er 

The postman just delivered a present from my father: "They F*** you up- how to survive family life" by Oliver James. I think I'll just lie on floor and laugh weakly for a long while.

Hen has just said to me: "Mummy you're side-kick! You can tell the future!"


First day at home with my fledglings, and I have a mountain of things still to do, some of which would be better done without children. if you see what I mean.

The outdoor Christmas lights we bought last night- purple, of course, need you ask?- at CND5.39 (about 2.70 GBP, or USD3.50) are very pretty, but alas we need to take one set back because half of it doesn't work. The ones that do are very pretty of course, and they'll look lovely draped around one of the scraggy bushes outside our Devon house -isn't that wicked- we've never had outdoor lights before- but living here you realise how pretty they are, plus we'll be the only ones to see them, and they are very discreet. Done

I also still to find a present for er...various people. Dill also has a bowling birthday party to attend tomorrow, so we need to buy a present for that: can you imagine? Poor child to have a birthday so close to Christmas. Done...mostly

I have still to make the Christmas cakes, one for us and one for our landlords. I believe that the fruit is "nicely brandied"- the apricots I've been illicitly consuming have been yummy anyway. What a slattern I am, cakes not made and drunk on apricots in the afternoon... Done

I have to work out what we're going to use as stockings this year. Packing Xmas stockings strangely was not at the top of my list back in July. They'll have to use their father's socks- especially the ones without holes -he has these silly upturning big toe-nails that wreck socks in about a week. Possibly pillow-cases...

Defrost duck, obtain wherewithal for apricot (hic) and brown rice stuffing. NOT turkey, at last. I'm heartily sick of enduring that horrible dry meat, and yet I've always been outplayed in the race to the butchers before, by evil mother-in-law. Not this year, Mwhahahahaha! Done

Hmmmm....vagueness Done

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Have you ever noticed how the some of the best moments on life are the unscripted ones? How a plan that goes awry can turn out to be a far better option than the plan itself? In the summer for example, whilst on holiday in the North, on one of our peripatetic holidays, we had planned to leave Tadoussac and crossing the fjord, head further North before veering inland towards Lac St-Jean. Yet, turning a corner on our way to glance quickly at a reputedly quite nice beach on the twenty km wide St Laurent River, we were greeted with such an expanse of beautiful sand that paddling seemed the only option. The only snag- if you can continue to call it such after you've seen your children tumble excitedly down its golden 50 metre face, tumbling and rolling like otters- was the giant sand-dune which stood between us and the river.
How plans mock us! The paddling in the breathtakingly cold water, tide coming in, and the breeze on our shivering bodies drove us up the beach to the shelter of a large toppled tree trunk, bleached and deposited by the flotsam of some unimaginably high tide. The drift wood lying around, the mussels we'd spotted while paddling, the matches we knew to be in the car, all conspired to keep us there longer than we'd planned.
So we made our fire, we cooked our mussels (don't worry, the St Laurent is fully tidal and very clean at that place- that much we did know), we stayed and sunbathed and paddled and enjoyed doing nothing all day. Not at all what we'd woken up in the morning for, but it brought us to the end of the day with a wonderfully unexpected feeling of freedom, self-reliance and safety.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Railings in winter 

This is how I imagine the Ice Queen's country in Narnia. As if everything were suspended in aspic.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Some days 


here are days when harmony leaves me. Days when every innocent stranger in the street becomes a potential attacker, when every simple mistake proves how stupid the world and every person in it are; on these days, all I see is the piss holes, the disjointedness of lines, the disharmony between pristine and churned up snow, between the thoughtfully placed public benches and the irritating graffiti, the unkindness of people towards each other, the yobbishness of passing boys which sullies every boy, the chaos of supermarkets where oddly, marketing seems unknown; the disorganisation of public services rankles on such days; on such days, I could run the world and still have time left to make a difference at home; I am ruler supreme, but I am the wizard of Oz: if challenged I know that I'll be found to be a small person- it's all bravado. So instead of taking over the world on such days, I resort to being merely angry and unpleasant. They don't happen too often nowadays, but when they do, I savour them. They are as a fresh a look at my world as I get with my settled lifestyle. I just need to vent sometimes, to have new eyes. It's just a shame I can't make it last beyond a night's sleep.

Bad mood bear 

Mood this evening: Malcontent

A few tips for winter travellers to Québec:

1) In order to park your car during snowy conditions, the best approach is a fast one, in reverse, straight into the banks of snow that line your street. Granted, this spews snow all over the recently ploughed pavements, but hey! you don't care, you drive a car.
2) Poor weather is no excuse for not speeding. If you come to a four-way stop, the safest option is not even to try to stop. If you try to stop and fail because you're speeding on icy snow, you're just giving any pedestrians false hopes that they can cross, and putting them in more danger.
3) Since you are driving an automatic car, you need not concern yourself with piddling things like gears. To get away from a traffic light in icy conditions, the best option is to put your foot to the floor. It doesn't work, but at least you can blame the car or the road conditions for your inability to stop the wheels spinning wildly.
4) If you employ a contractor to clear snow from your drive, check his qualifications carefully before signing. If he even looks intelligent, do not employ him! He will only want to do the job properly, thus depriving you of the joy of seeing passers-by running for their lives in front of a fast-moving snow-plough.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I won't tell you what it is, but if you need cheering up, click this.

Hats off 

To our local toy shop, a ten minute walk away. I did most of the Christmas shopping for the children in under an hour in this lovely shop. For the first half hour I was the only customer due to an "unfortunate" snow storm. I bought virtually everything I needed- sadly their selection of toys does not include a single tacky item, so I'll still have to brave Toysarse for Dill's magic beans. The cost came to less than 70 pounds, and they gift-wrapped everything I asked them to- even Sim's pack of optical illusion playing cards. One more chore down... Now to find The Boff's special item... And to make fudge for the childrens' teachers. And to finish the Christmas cake making, having restocked the glacé cherries we snarfed straight from the pot. And most importantly, to track down Dotty, the plush Dalmatian, Hen's favourite bedfellow for five years, who decided to go AWOL at the Niagara Falls Hilton. She says that he is all she wants for Christmas, so please keep your fingers crossed for me...

*whispers* Update: Dotty is found- hiding under the bed in a room at the Hilton; clearly he fancied the high-life... He's very sorry and he says he won't do it again, and he is shipping himself back by post- I hope he gets here in time for Christmas

Snow, snow, snow 

As they cleared the three foot high banks of snow from outside our house last night more was falling from the sky in a blatant mockery of the efforts to keep the roads clear. Travel advice this morning, now that a further 20 cm is choking the major roads (and still falling) is not to use ones' car unless absolutely necessary- Ha! like that's going to stop anyone.
One of the compensations was seeing the neighbour's toy Yorkshire Terrier going out for a pee and disappearing into the powdery stuff, sinking further with every step until the neighbour had to dig the vicious little rat out with a shovel. Can there be anything more ugly than fresh snow with pee stains all over it? Does anyone else remember this artist? "Piss Flowers"- WTF?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Quote for the evening 

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
--Will Durant

At least that's how it feels to me. Also, I always say that education is wasted on the young. You appreciate it so much more when you can choose whether or not to undergo it.

The spirit of adventure 


bout 15 years ago, The Boff, along with Mr Oddverse and two other friends, Gherkin and Jonny Shakeastick, took a road trip around the States for a month. Little did they know as they set off for their boys' trip, jealously watched by little old me, that they were laying down the path for all our future holidays. You see, I must have been a nomad in a previous life (although my blood group, AB-, seems to suggest a settled middle-eastern agrarian community), because I love the freedom you get from not knowing what is going to happen next on your holiday. The Boff and I have a 10+ year history of shocking people with the audacity of our trips; when Sim was two months old, we went to Crete on our honeymoon and were insulted by people who thought us cruel to walk the Samaria Gorge with him in a sling- it's not as thogh we were making him walk it, for God's sake; when Hen was three weeks old, Turkey welcomed us- much against the "advice" of our substitute GP whose only contact with Turkey seems to have been through the film "Midnight Express"- he cautioned us very strongly against Turkey- could we not change our destination to Greece instead? (forgive me again while I have a small chuckle at his expense)- Turkey was apparently a "filthy" place; that was the last "settled" holiday we went on, even though we spent most of it on the wonderful dolmus buses, gallivanting all over the Turkish countryside.

You see, since then, we've never again stayed in the same place for more than two days while on holiday. When Sim was nearly 4, Hen just 2 and Dill a 6 month bump, we took a two-person tent to California for four weeks in April- we couldn't go any later because they would not have let me fly. We covered as many major national parks as were open by the end of April, going inland as far as Mesa Verde in Colorado (we actually chickened out of camping that day and stayed in a cabin instead- our gallon of water froze solid in the car, so maybe it was not so wimpy). We dragged Sim more than halfway up Yosemite Falls, but found we could not get far enough to complete the walk before nightfall. So we vowed to go back as soon as the children were old enough. Which we did in April 2002, Hen celebrating the second of her 7 birthdays in California, this time by making it to the top of the High Falls in Yosemite. This year in Canada is for us one giant holiday; and North America is singularly well kitted out for our type of holidaying- it's the pioneering spirit you see. The only place on the planet we've ever had any trouble finding accommodation is Buxton in Derbyshire, and other more minor problems have all been encountered in Britain.

If you consider my parents' way of holidaying, you would not find all this unusual. What is unusual is that The Boff is a serious adventurer despite his calm Home Counties upbringing and slightly unadventurous parents. I you examined our children, you would find them extremely well-equipped by now. They are brave, fearless (sometimes too fearless!) and strong in the main; we discovered long ago that if you ignore the moaning for long enough, they actually stop moaning and start enjoying themselves. And we see it as our duty to encourage them to go beyond what they think are their capabilities, and to try new things. If they don't do it now, they might just turn out as well as their father has, but we're taking no chances...

Tuesday, December 16, 2003



ntil this weekend, I'd always associated Toronto with Katherine Slapper, ex-boss and arch-nemesis back in the early 90s, when I worked in a merchant bank in Central London. Ms Slapper, an extremely ambitious native of Toronto, was never going to let the fact of being human get in the way of her inexorable rise to the top, so in those dicey times, she'd taken out an extra insurance policy against redundancy in the shape of a Vice-President so ugly that to sack him would have constituted actionable discrimination. Shagging him and flirting outrageously with him ensured her survival in the company beyond the gradual dissolution of her department and her firing of most of her staff, including me, on various trumped-up charges.
Anyway, I am pleased to report that she probably left Toronto chiefly because it was too pleasant for her.
I can now replace Ms K Slapper in my mind with a whole load of better associations, including the breath-taking view from the top of the CN Tower, the vertiginous ascent to 400 metres in just under a minute, the nauseating yet fun glass floor through which the people way below look like ants; the wonderful quay-side restaurant in which we ate very good fish at "Mr Bogart's table"; the sheer enormity of Lake Ontario- apparently the same surface as England, but it's one of the smaller great lakes; the wonderful and inevitable zoo, of which we were virtually the only visitors the whole time we were there; meeting the lovely and affectionate Asha, pet hornbill of the keepers, blind, brain-damaged and divorced since an ill-considered collision with a tree, who now lives in the staff kitchen and comes out only to meet special visitors- the anglophile keeper took a shine to us.
In 1991, I vowed never ever to go near Toronto; never say never.

Niagara in winter 


verything fresh, white, crisp. Wild ice hair swirling around lamp posts' heads. Cast iron railings choked with freezing mist in various states of transparency. Fringes of icicles clinging to the edge of every roof, wall, fence, bench. An elderly couple of British tourists, he sensibly kitted out in hat with flaps, scarf, leather jacket, she nylon stockinged feet in beige old ladies' shoes, light woollen jacket, hatless, relying on the ember of her cigarette to keep away the vivid, damp cold. Summer bushes bowed down to the ground, submitting to the weight of ice deposited by the rushing water. Rushing roaring pounding of water, even with half the summer flow. Later in the season, when the temperatures drop to intolerable lows, this water further downstream will begin to freeze into an ice bridge, for decades used as a bona fide passage across the raging torrent. And behind the fall, choking breathtakingly cold spray coats our hair, faces and clothing with sheets of ice, making our clothes as crisp, heavy and unyielding as poorly tanned hides. All the time, the mist conceals the full extent of the fall, toys with us by drifting upwards just long enough for us to glimpse the far side. We come away filled with water fall.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm back 

...after being stuck in a snow drift for 24 hours (well, a hotel room in Syracuse, NY state to be precise) since the "Thruway" was practically impassable. When we got back to Montréal around 3.30pm, the first thing we had to do was dig a big enough slot for our Purple Boffmobile outside our now very white house. Then of course we had to have hot chocolate, which is very nice with a slug of brandy, but unfortunately makes you pissed as a newt very quickly. All I'll say so far is that Niagara Falls in the winter is more than worth the trip; it is absolutely beautiful, with weird icicles everywhere in very strange shapes, even if your outer clothing does take 20 hours to dry afterwards. So, more sense from me when I'm less sozzled...

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I'm off... 

Byeee! See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Rant rant rant 

< rant> What is it about bodies? I mean mine in particular. It seems to develop strange fascinations for particular diseases that normal people might get once in a blue moon, when the conditions are right. Mine goes through phases. For the past three years for example, it's thought how cool it would be to make me suffer sinusitus throughout October and November.
The first time was during my first year of teaching, and being in my frst year, I took no time off work, until it got to the point where I was living on Paracetamol, collapsing with headaches and unable to think clearly. Then I went to my GP who, sensible and wonderful doctor that she was, asked me what I thought it was and prescribed accordingly (there much be some benefits to doctoring in a town where 95% of the population has the Internet at home, and 50% even know how to use it). It still took about 3 weeks to go away, even with the benefit of antibiotics, nasal decongestants and anti-histamines, which altogether added up to about 8 weeks of feeling like crap.
So now I've reached the stage of the unpredictable headache materialising anywhere on the left side of my head. It's annoying, but at least I don't have to be up at 5am preparing lessons, and holding forth to 25 kids 6 times a day. The worry is what to do if it gets worse. We're not on any GP's list, since there's a huge Government-induced shortage of them in Montreal, and it's hardly ER territory, is it?
I didn't find any sensible alternative treatment for it last time, despite running through the entire gamut, so I guess it's just a case of putting up with it until my nose drops off...Unless anyone can suggest anything? (Thanks for the egg one LaP!) < /rant>


Well, it seems that I can update from Safari (one in the eye for Ron! Ha!) but not from Netscape. I don't seem to be able to even look at my blog from anywhere, so maybe there is a god after all. I think that someone somewhere is trying to tell me something...
Luckily, we're going away to Toronto until Saturday evening at the earliest, so no chance of blogging for a few days. If you're really good, I'll bring you a picture of the ground from very very high up, through the glass floor of the CN Tower, the tallest tower in the world at 533m.
Be good and wise while I'm away.


I rather think that I might have broken my blog. I don't seem to be able to get into the template to change back the change I carelessly left last night whilst tinkering with the title. It won't let me in now, keeps telling me that the template page is not found on this server. Please, tell me what I've done wrong??? Whatever it was, I didn't mean it, it was just inexperience.... Pleeeease let me change it back, I promise I won't tinker again for a very long time.

This is what it tells me:
Not Found
The requested URL /btnbarTemplate was not found on this server.

Campaign for Real Seasons 


reckon I've worked out what makes we Brits so depressive at the approach to winter. It is nothing new, and I'm sure that most people will read this and say "I knew that already" but I've only just properly realised it. It's the the light levels combined with the lack of proper seasons.
Now here in Canada, seasons are seasons. Summer is Warm: 26 to 27c, and winter is Cold: -10 to -20c. And there is nothing like surviving a proper winter to make you reach spring glad to be alive. Although the Canadian winter is a bastard, there nothing like the exhilaration you get from stepping out into intense, nose-biting cold, which fills your lungs and makes you tired after about two minutes' walk. You realise how lucky you are to have shelter, and a warm one at that. You thank Providence that she saw fit to provide you with adequate clothing (Ed: you should really thank Sears department store for that). You feel absurdly glad for hot chocolate, and warm boots, for fleece and wool and thermal insulating layers. And you know that if you just make it through this, there will be spring and summer with its reliable warmth waiting at the other end.
The problem with British seasons is that it is almost as likely to be 12c in December as it is in July. The only way you can tell that winter has arrived is when your tomatoes fall off the vine and rot, and you realise that you have to put a sweater on. Otherwise, life continues with much the same degree of uncertainty as in the summer. You don't need any specialist equipment to survive the Bristish winter, you barely even need a coat, let alone a hat and gloves. The only area in Britain where I've found you can actually tell the difference is East Anglia, which tends to have some continental influences from the Urals, and thence has far more developed seasons. And there's nothing like the rush you get from hypothermia caught coxing at 5am on the Cam. When, after two hours crying in a hot bath, you've finally thawed out enough to move your fingers, you feel glad to be alive. Literally.

Dead mouse count: 6 (a teeny weeny one last night)

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Children, eh? 

If you don't have any children, don't really know or like them, you are forgiven for thinking that child rearing is all a big uphill struggle and probably not worth it. Unless the children in question are severely eccentric, that is, in which case they keep you entertained for whole minutes every day... Take a look- this, this, and this should convince you that I'm not misrepresenting the Purple Bofflets. They are barking, I tell you...

Mouse count: 5

Christmas Cake; still step 1 


bviously there was not a drop of brandy in the house, so on my way back from the supermarket with the dried fruit and other goods, amongst them a frozen duck, I stopped off to buy some strong drink- you can't get it in the supermarkets.
I struggled backwards through the door of our nearest SAQ, the monopoly purveyor of liquor, which being state-owned always has a staff-customer ratio of 7-1. As soon as I walked in, I was the centre of attention. A few of the young staff were working, most were pretending to work, including the middle-aged manager, busy, legs far apart, chatting up a young female member of staff. As luck would have it, the brandy was not three feet away from where he was standing blocking the aisle. I plonked down my six carriers.

As I peered at the prices on the shelves, written in a print so small it can only be designed to challenge drunk people, I lurched unevenly around my bags. By now, I could feel myself to be the centre of attention- you know that feeling you get when you know that you're being watched but you can't catch anybody watching you?- but I ignored it. I continued my search for the cheapest brandy, which must have made them even more suspicious, and just as I was reaching out my hand to take the one I'd chosen, a girl with a trolley of sherry ran over my duck. I was feeling very conspicuous by this stage, quite sure that they had me down either as an over-dressed bag-lady (as evidenced by the large number of staff watching my every move) or as a school-run drunkard. So of course, the only logical thing to do was to gabble: "Aargh! My duck! You've run over my duck! Not to worry! It's frozen!". To which the manager replied: "That's not a very good place to leave bags" - whatever happened to "the customer is king"? "I know", quoth I, in as severe a tone as I could muster in the circumstances. I regally floated off clutching the brandy- well to be honest I lurched off struggling with six bags and a bottle of brandy, but I felt regal.

Never since I was 22 have I felt so conspicuous when trying to buy alchohol. I took my choice to the till, where a lad no older than 21 rang it up. He scrutinised my face carefully, evidently to detect traces of drunkenness or unevenness in me. As he handed me my purchase, he said: " Have a good afternoon, Madame", to which I should have relied "Thank you, I will now". But I chickened out and wished him likewise.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Making a Christmas Cake- Step 1 


or the first year ever, I am making Christmas cake entirely on my own. Usually my mother makes her special cake, but this year the job falls to me. I'm not usually particularly keen on Christmas cake, but it seems like a good idea this year, not least because we'll be giving some away as presents. So here goes:

Step 1: Place dried fruit in a bowl and soak in brandy for two to three days. Do this preferably some time in November, but the 7th of December will do if you forget.

So I go to the supermarket to buy dried fruit. While I'm queueing at the till to pay, three middle-aged ladies, the customer in front, the cashier and her bag-packing colleague stand and chat about food. The lady in front is buying sushi; the cashier lady expresses surprise. She has not seen this particular type before, and she works here. And she loves sushi. There follows a five minute chat about the various merits of the different types of sushi, whether Californian sushi is the vegetarian or the cooked one, and all three agree that they love sushi. I stand in wonderment, struggling to think if I know any British lady of that sort of age (early 60s) who would be willing to try sushi even once, let alone know a number of different varieties of the stuff. My mother-in-law would, I'm quite certain, rather eat her own fingers than raw fish. My mother would probably politely decline on the dubious grounds that cucumber does not agree with her. How wonderful then to witness this conversation between three very Québecoise ladies. What a wonderfully and truly multi-cultural city this is.

Quote for the day 

England has forty-two religions and only two sauces. Voltaire (1694 - 1778)

Voltaire, though French, was a serious anglophile; he admired the tenacity and practicality of what many French thinkers derided as a "nation of shopkeepers"- and you thought Maggie coined it?



he great mouse massacre continues in our corner cupboard. Last night, just as I was dropping off to sleep, I heard the unmistakeable clothes-peg like snap of the vicious trap going off, followed by a thrashing, then silence. Ever practical, I decided to get up and reset the trap. I fished the poor limp corpse of little deer mouse number four from the back of the cupboard, and fingers trembling, dropped him in the bin.
Contrary to my country upbringing, and despite my hypocritical stance on meat (I eat it), I hate killing things. Even the taking of a mouse's life seems to be a slight against some kind of cosmic balance. I mean that mouse had its place in the order of things, surely? And if its life can be so casually taken by a more more powerful life-form, simply because it decided to over-winter in a house and eat the contents of a cupboard, then what is to stop some other, more powerful being from taking one of my children?
And then I remembered that most sensible people keep a cat for mouse control purposes, merely sub-contracting the killings for a tin of Kit-e-Kat every day, and I felt a little more at ease. The cat would not have thought twice about it, so why should I?
Also, the comforting thought occurred that one never has "a mouse", only ever "mice"; there are quite likely quillions of them living behind the skirting boards. I was just controlling numbers. Still the worry subsists that they have all been very fat so far. Just what are they eating? Clearly not just the peanut butter from the trap...
These are the stupid thoughts which keep me awake at night, worrying...

Sunday, December 07, 2003



n the point of leaving this morning to buy milk, my hand stretches towards the camera, to retain something of the glorious white unsullied snow on the front path, before my feet sink irregular prints into it and ruin it for ever. I have a sudden thought which makes my hand waver though. Do I walk abroad like a snap-happy tourist, taking pictures of snow clinging to branches, of packets of dirty melt hanging onto the wheel arches of cars, of the pristine park before the first Sunday morning dog walkers, of the behemoths employed clearing the night's snowfall from the roads? Or do I behave like a local, live the moment rather than record it, leave the camera at home, sink my hands into my pockets and my head into my shoulders, clap my tuque down over my eyebrows, and cooly ignore all this gloriousness for the entire five minutes of the most mundane of walks to the corner shop?
In the end, I chose the latter, but kept my eyes open and took the pictures with my mind. Safely stored away for future use.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

I believe 

I believe that Nike for kids is made in sweatshops by kids.
I believe that new cars are a waste of money.
I believe that Hilfiger clothes are over-priced tat.
I believe that Daily Mail wisdom comes from the mouths of closet fascists.
I believe that debate is good and argument, bad.
I believe that they do not "all want our jobs".
I believe that thinking does not make you a snob.
I believe that the crowd is not necessarily right.
I believe that most people are fundamentally pleasant.
I believe that blood is thicker than water.
I believe that you and I had the same upbringing.
I can't believe we have the same parents.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Reading lists 


don't believe in censoring what children read, although schools up and down the land do just this, giving children "free reader" status only when they've completed their allotted ration of Peter and Jane (or "Oxford Reading Tree" if you will insist on being modern). Luckily no-one in French schools twenty years ago had even heard of working out what was appropriate for a child at any given age, and my parents did not believe in censorship either. Well they might have drawn the line at Enid Blighton, but that didn't stop me.

I was a voracious reader from an early age, in two languages, and by the time I was 12 my diet consisted of a strange jumble of Zola -all 20 odd, Jack London-I so loved his frozen North stories- why else would I have agreed to Canada in the winter?-, Orwell, my father's copies of Playboy, Huxley, textbooks on forensic science, my mother's old Bunty annuals- they unwittingly nursed my desire for equality, my father's old Eagle annuals- we still have the first and second ones at my mother's house, probably be worth a fortune if they hadn't been so well...read, Enid Blighton, reference works on plant growing, Saki- in short, everything I could lay hands on.

Has this strange, violent, life-filled mix damaged me in any way? I don't think so. I think that a child will read whatever he or she is ready to read. My father gave me "Far from the madding crowd" and "The old man and the sea" around that time as well. I didn't take to either, but picking up the Hardy again at 17 was a revelation to me- it was a totally new book. I still hate Hemingway's machoism, but I can read one of his books for its other fine qualities. My son Sim (10) has steadily, over the last couple of years, ploughed his way through the books published recently designed for teenagers, the Philip Pulmans, the Eoin Colfers, the Pratchetts; he is a book-a-day boy, and I think that he may soon be ready for Huxley and Orwell. It is always tricky, choosing or recommending books to children, since you don't necessarily know what they are ready for; I think it is far better to give them the run of the library and to let them be autodidactic in their choices. So why then do public libraries insist on restricting childrens' borrowing to the childrens' section- I can see Sim going beserk if he were still on Pullman at 15- he is lucky that in his father's house there are many books, and that he will not have to suffer the pap "they" think is good for teenagers. It will be open hunting for him just as soon as we get some shelves built back in Devon, and get the blooming things out of the boxes...

One cold starry night 


ther people pick the very tops of tall buildings, city panorama, the view of a setting sun in the tropics, an intimate dinner over candles, overlooking the splendour of the Grand Canyon, casually dropping it into conversation during an advert break, after an argument and a reconciliation, at a train station or an airport, on holiday, at the end of a relationship, at an inappropriately early time in a relationship, after many years, too soon, too late, just in time.
How many people then have received proposals in the dead of winter, night sky infinitely high, stars twinkling coldly, halfway across one of the largest deer parks in London? Our bicycles momentarily discarded to allow me to sit on a bench to rest my two-month pregnant body, he drops to the frozen ground on one knee and asks me formally the thing we've already vowed.
If we are destined to remember in minute detail such things, and it seems that we are, then I am glad that there was no waiter to interrupt us, no siren to perturb, no dinner to consume, no view to admire, no train pulling out, no rug to pull, no hopes to dash, no deadline to meet, no biological clock to beat (Is it my imagination, or did I nick that rhythm from W. H. Auden or Maya Angelou? Or Dr Seuss? I do apologise...anyway back to it...). I am glad for the cold, for the stars, for the deer plucking at grass in the late evening, for the quiet, for the lack of other people, for the hard park bench, for the quiet assurance I could put into my "Yes I will".

The winds of change 

I know already that the changes around here aren't for the better when viewed in Safari, but can you all see the twiddly font and the pic at the top? If you can't, does it look unbearably terrible? Anything else I should know about the effect all this fiddling has had?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

A worry 

One of my sisters has changed so much that she is like a stranger to me. This upsets me a lot.

Sick, sick people 

Forgive me if I suspend my usual mild-mannered tolerance of the different for a while, to talk about this fucking sicko who is on trial in Germany for murder and cannibalism. His defence lawyer has entered a plea of illegal euthanasia of the victim for him. I know my law degree was a long time ago, and that I know nothing at all about German law, but it is my understanding that euthanasia is an pretty well-defined concept by now, exposed as it is to media scrutiny worldwide. I do not remember reading anywhere that it is legal to kill anybody in these circumstances: the victim was neither ill nor visibly suicidal, and in most countries even assisting suicide is a crime. It is blatantly, blindingly, obvious to me that this man is guilty of murder, and that his defence lawyer's best bet would have been to plead insanity for his client, arguing that no-one in their right mind could do such a thing... The thing this guy has done is so extreme that the glare of publicity is inevitable, but surely his crime should be seen for what it is: the senseless slaughter of another human being. The cannibalism is just a side-dish...
The only relevant legal issues should be:
1) Can a person give consent to be murdered? and
2) Does the consensual killing of a person constitute voluntary euthanasia? If the answer is Yes, then
3) Is this particular case of euthanasia legal or illegal, given the rules governing euthanasia?

Place Jacques Cartier web cam 

Viewed up hill towards the Hôtel de Ville- see today's sky, watch those vestiges of sunshiny warmth stream into the stratosphere...


I am unwell for the third time in a month, only this time I find my thoughts turning away from flat-roofed stepped brick, hustle and bustle and cars and buses and school timetables, and towards slate-roofed grey stone nestled in a sea of green forest and field. Therein are childhood books, motherly comfort and great still- still enough for a short hibernation and recuperation. Today is a good day to stay out of the fray.

Ça se perd en traduction... 

It's all Daisy's fault, you see, for reminding me yesterday about "Les filles du Roy", a restaurant in Québec City. I vaguely remembered something about "Les filles du Roy" and a quick google reminded me. These "filles du Roy", literally "daughters of the King" were a group of specially selected sturdy country gals who were packed off to Québec, then Nouvelle-France, to serve as brides, farm-hands and wives to the vast number of single men settling there. The French administration of Louis XIV had identified the challenge of holding on to a hostile territory against the twin foes of low morale and low birthrate; France wanted to populate her new acquisition as quickly as possible.

By all accounts, these ladies did a good job, since many of them married three or four times and between them they trebled the population in just a few years. It was during this search for information that I awakened one of my hibernating bugbears, and you are about to suffer the consequences...

Put very simply, and you can't put things too simply for a class of 13-14 year-olds, online translation engines do not work. Do not ever present to me a piece of work done using one of these sites and expect to get away with it. You do not even have to use that fun site which translates a piece of text of your choice through twenty different languages and back to your original one.

Try this translated directly from French to English using Google's chosen online translator, and then come back and tell me in ten words what the deuce that was all about. Sorry, who was that who selected the girls to go to Quebec? Chocolate éclairs, you say? And who is this Roy of whom you speak? And "quite bearing" they were too, these "Filles" who were also the king's pupils.

If you have ever used an online translation site for anything except the most banal language, you will already know what I am talking about. If you have ever experienced the delights of truly bungled translation, if you have stared in wonder at signs in hotels* written in an incomprehensible gibberish purporting to be your language, think this to yourself: online translation hell reigns. To the cretin from the Corsican Tourist Authority who decided to dispense with the expense of a proper translator in favour of free Babelfish, I have one thing to say: have you any idea how many times I've nearly wet my pants with laughter reading your dull recipes? Thank you anyway.

Online translation is fine for single words or very standard expressions. For everything else, there's people like Purple Sister #2. Please use her.

*The bad signs are in the left-hand column, but the stuff in red, which is wicked advice for the first-time visitor to Britain, should make those of you with a knowledge of British vernacular smile a little as well.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


A phenomenon I'd never noticed before: when it gets really cold, -10c seems adequate, humidity in the air condenses as ice crystals. These crystals dance around in the bright morning sunshine like fairy dust, swirling and rising and settling in a glittering sheen on any surface. You can forgive mother nature everything on a day like today.

This story 

The story you are about to read is one which I feel somehow inadequate to tell. After all, it is not my story, and I am only telling a thing which I know at second-hand. I was prompted to write by a fim I saw on television earlier called "Perfect circle". It's a sobering thought to me that while I was happily basking in the joy of a new baby whom I could feed adequately and whose only danger in life came from the baths we clumsily administered, other babies and children in Europe were dying or living in filthy bombed-out cellars. And this had never occurred to me until now. I decided to write this story for an acquaintance whom I feel I did not respect enough for her experiences. Anna is not her real name.

Read it from the top down.

A story- the beginning 


met Anna in a grey room at the University of Reading. We were on the same Postgraduate teaching course. I was learning to teach French and Spanish, she French and Italian. She spoke flawless Italian, and had that nerviness common to many Mediterranean women; she exuded southern mediterranean chic with her cropped hennaed hair and grey-green eyes, and really stood out in the drab 60s concrete room. She and I were somewhat older than most of the other students. She had an odd combination of self-assurance in the classroom and extreme lack of self-confidence in her abilities. She demanded reassurance from tutors, fellow students, new friends, on almost every aspect of a course designed to leave you with more questions than answers; we could not answer many of her incessant questions. I confess to having felt irritated by them at times, and felt them to be symptoms of a finicky nature. But we rubbed along passably well; living near to each other in a town some way away from Reading, we were posted to the same schools for the entire year. We did several projects together, which involved working together at weekends. And that's when I started to find out more about her.

She was born in a Meditarreanean country, near the sea, in an area famed for its natural beauty; tourists came from all over the world to bask on its warm beaches and sample the buzzing night-life. Later, she moved further inland, to a town even more beautiful than the first. This one was known throughout the world for its outstanding medieval architecture and stunning bridge. She got married, to a fellow student of her university. Anna worked as a high school teacher and her husband worked as a lawyer. They were very happy and settled. They had a few problems conceiving, but eventually they had a baby. They continued living in their beautiful old town, in their lovely flat.

The unrest 


ne day, while their daughter was still very young, there came talk of unrest in the land. It was happening in Anna's birth town; before long that town was a ruin. Everyone in the beautiful old town where they now lived held their breath and hoped that good sense would prevail, that the rot would not reach them. Life continued as normal. But it was not to be. Before long the madness begun in a beautiful coastal town, known thoughout the world for its beaches and cheap food, had engulfed the whole country of loosely conjoined counties.

The stunning mediaeval town with the truly breath-taking bridge soon found itself at the centre of an ethnic war raging on three sides around the town. One faction controlled the electricity supply, another the water supply. These would be cut off for hours or days with little or no warning, simply to wreak revenge. Anna and her husband wanted to stay, to keep their place in their rapidly disintegrating society. They went about their daily business as calmly as they could, going to work when they could, camping out for months in the flat and in the cellar. They had money, but their money was no longer a currency anybody could use in a town where uncertainty was the only sure thing. Food could be had, but it was scarce. They could feed their child, but visiting their aging parents on the other side of town meant dodging snipers' bullets for the whole three kilometre trip; soon even this become impossible.

The decision 


nna, already a born worrier, was visibly sickening; she was thin and so nervous that she would virtually faint if a door slammed. In the end, she could stand it no longer. She implored her husband to use his contacts to get them out of there. He was reluctant at first, anxious of losing his standing over a six-month war which they might be able to sit out, but when Anna announced that she would go with or without him, he was spurred into action. An Italian businessman who had used his services as a lawyer when negotiating the purchase of property in that stunning medieval town, now in ruins, its landmark arched bridge lying in bits at the bottom of the river, offered to help with all his considerable means.

The flight 


hey left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Anna was smuggled out in the back of an Albanian family's car, through the Mostar back-country now controlled by Albanian fighters. They crouched under blankets between the seats in the dead of night, she and her five-year daughter. Her husband travelled in the boot. They found their way to the Italian man's house in northern Italy where Anna and her husband weighed up the offer of overseeing the renovations of his mansion in England, or staying in his house in Italy temporarily. They chose the latter in order to retain the now jobless husband's last scraps of dignity. He at least spoke some English, enough to get by with builders. They stayed in Italy for a month; after sorting out the paperwork necessary to travel to England, they arrived in this strange cold country in November without even a coat, reliant entirely on the good will of others, mainly the established London Serbo-Croat community and their patron.

The aftermath 


here are many worse shelters than the one which providence picked for this little family: a beautiful twee thatched cottage right next to a huge house on a golf course in one of the richest areas in Britain, a haven for the untaxed and over-moneyed.

But look beyond the setting: A woman, in her thirties, with a little girl who would have been the eldest of six had her mother not gone through a stress-induced menopause whilst cowering for two years in a bullet-riddled building. A broken-spirited husband, used to high-living, now reduced to depending on the mercy of a rich patron with whom would have attended cocktail parties without the intervention of fate. An intelligent, trilingual, articulate woman unable to even find out the most basic information about her daughter's schooling because she is dumb in this country. A little girl whose early formative years have included blackouts, hunger and fear, culminating in a flight in the dead of night like a five-year old escaping convict. And the uncertainty of an end to their exile and a return to their own country.

Slowly, slowly, they begin to forge out a new life for themselves. The husband, professionally trained to negotiate, discovers a real talent when dealing with English builders. They call him "chief" since he is essentially their project manager. He goes out, he communicates. Anna, on the other hand, still suffering the shock of the past three years and the devastatingly certain end to her child-bearing years, takes longer to acclimatise. She learns English slowly but surely, and is able to attend meetings with her daughter's teachers before the year is out, and communicate with them. She watches television in English, reads voraciously, speaks to as many people as she can, forcing herself to approach the often forbidding mothers outside the school gates. She fights, how she fights. After two years, she is in a fit state to care for her daughter in what she feels is a normal way. After five years, by the time Anna and her husband have realised that they have been dispossessed of their Mostar flat by the Albanian family that helped them through no-man's land, their daughter is so thoroughly settled at school and so English, that they feel it would be cruel to take her back to a foreign country for their own benefit. So they resolve to stay until their girl finishes school.

The mansion renovation project, though deliberately spun out by their patron, is nonetheless reaching completion. Anna realises that in order for them to survive, she will have to go back to work. She has lost most of her self-confidence and feels incapable of simply going back into a classroom. Besides, she realises by now that British teenagers are very different from what she is used to, and that she needs to break herself in gently. So she applies to do a postgraduate teaching certificate of the kind that she earned eighteen years before in her beautiful, now ruined medieval town. She deliberately chooses to send herself back in to the past in order to access her future. Maybe she realises that she will never be able to see past this thing she has lived through, and that the way round it is to go backwards and start again. Whatever her reasons, she goes along to a grey concrete room on a September day in 1999, filled with dread and trepidation, and she goes forwards.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Welcome, oh 2900th visitor!

Bring it on! 


ell, it's -10c today, which combined with wind-chill, feels more like -15c. The Boff and I have been really disappointed with the winter weather so far, since it seems to have been just like Britain's. Apparently by this time last year they'd had 50cm of snow. We're mere tourists, of course, so we want to experience Weather, the colder the better. The Boff is so mad scientific that he's planning on going out in shorts and T-shirt to experience Really Cold when in happens. So come February, when everybody else is hankering for Spring and wondering if they'll live that long, we'll be striding out hatless with big inane smiles on our faces, saying : "Yeay, brilliant! Minus 30c!! Colder! Colder!!!" If we don't come back in 2004, you'll know that it'll be for one of three reasons:
1) we've been lynched by SAD Montrealers or
2) we've frozen to death or
3) we've been interned in a high-security facility for the totally insane
Update, 4pm: Woohoo, it's -14c or 4F!!! Freezy ears time! I challenge even a Geordie (which my brith certificate claims me to be) to go out without a hat!

Colour Hex 

This quiz, from Blue Witch, is surprisingly accurate for me, until I remember that I provided them with the information in good old crystal ball reading style, and although I think the colour looks like nicotine stained kitchen ceiling:

you are khaki

Your dominant hues are red and green, so you're definitely not afraid to get in and stir things up. You have no time for most people's concerns, you'd rather analyze with your head than be held back by some random "gut feeling".

Your saturation level is lower than average - You don't stress out over things and don't understand people who do. Finishing projects may sometimes be a challenge, but you schedule time as you see fit and the important things all happen in the end, even if not everyone sees your grand master plan.

Your outlook on life is bright. You see good things in situations where others may not be able to, and it frustrates you to see them get down on everything.
the spacefem.com html color quiz

Hand me the Earth on a stick, weaklings... 


ow this is going to sound weird, I know, but when I visit my site meter several times daily every once in a while, the bit that I'm most interested in is the "time zones" bit. I know that it isn't going to happen, because most of the Pacific is virtually devoid of any humanoid life, but I would so love to go to there just once, and see that I have at least one reader in every time zone. How pathetic is that as ambitions go? All I want is to be global, it's not much to ask...
For a while, I had someone whom I fondly imagine was in Alaska (-9 hrs from GMT, although it's not called that any more, is it?), and I was really happy. I must have put them off though... Nada pops in to represent +8 hrs on a regular basis - Hello Ms +8!- but between that and +1 (Belgium/France) is a void which I am powerless to remedy, since my three words of Russian are unlikely to hold up to close scrutiny in a blog (in case you were wondering: da, niet, daniet, gdye eta vocsal?, eta dalyeko?- appallingly transcribed into roman letters) and China seems to be out-of-bounds to blogs.. The Americas and Canada are very well represented, --hello -5, -6, -7 and -8 hrs! --don't get too excited about -5hrs, that's all me, narcistically staying online all day.
Anyway, I have a cunning plan: I perceive that many of my wonderful readers are from +0 hrs GMT. A profusion indeed. So, guys, how about a little holiday to places far and wide? You can choose your own longitude, far be it from me to force Antarctica on anyone. All I ask is that you all log onto my site at a pre-arranged time from your far-flung places. My only problem now is which flea-infested foreign hell-hole to dispatch certain people to, since "abroad is unutterably bloody", and he won't mind where he goes. How about Turkey, near the Syrian border-- +4hrs? Even our Turkish-born and bred au-pair wanted out from there... Oh, and I think Anadyr in Russia (+12hrs?) and -60c through the loooong winter, may just be still up for grabs...

Monday, December 01, 2003

Blorgy hell... 


ey, I found out by looking at my site meter, that my post about Dill's pets is up for judging over at Blorgy. Dill is quite tickled by the idea *e shamelessly exploits angelic-looking six-year old*, so why don't you make a little girl very happy and go over and vote 5 what you like for it? It's only had two six eight ten people voting for it so far...Oh, and I forgot, vote 5 for Billy while you're there if you haven't already: "I could have been a contender". If you don't him already, go and have a read, he's good, and funny. That manic Sunday post is atypical.

A thought 

If you carry a heavy load fast, you don't have to carry it for as long.


a man seemingly rooted to the spot, while rubbish swirls about his feet in the wind



ell I took the purity test, found chez Elsie, but I'm not going to tell you the results because I know you'll all laugh at me. Suffice to say that there too many noughts in several areas, and that the pope was invoked. I think I needed to get out more...

I forgot, worthless mother that I am, to get Advent calendars for my babies, so I'm off out now, dropping by the school to give a forgotten lunch to Dill. I'll leave you with this sign, spotted in the window of a shoe-repair/key-cutting type place:

"We repair everything except broken hearts"

I confess... 

...I'm a knitter.

There, I've said it!

Who's mad? 


n a week in Montréal in which a woman diagnosed with "borderline personality disorder" has been convicted of murdering her baby daughter, ostensibly to get back at her ex-husband, and two "normal" youths arrested for the rape and attempted murder of a fourteen year old girl, you seriously start to wonder about the boundaries between madness and sanity.

In Victorian times, life was a lot simpler. If your family thought you were mad, or even if they didn't but just wanted you out of the way, they could have you put away for ever and a day in an asylum where you would eke the rest of your miserable days, alternately gnawing on your own fingers or doped to the eyeballs on laudanum- and badly constipated too I should imagine.

I still remember being told in a criminology lecture that many criminologists believe that most offenders have some form of mental problem. On CBC Radio 1 last week, a judge spoke about the high number of offenders who come before her manifestly the victims of Foetal Acohol Syndrome (mental impairment caused by the mother drinking in pregnancy) which causes severe social problems. Because ultimately, crime is a social problem, both to society at large and to the people who cause it. Who in their right mind would commit crimes which cause them to become parias in society? The theory behind this is that everyone wants to belong, which may be true to a point.

However, there are some people who are simply unable to belong, however hard they try, or however much they may wish to belong. The woman who murdered her baby had what is called "borderline personality disorder", a personality type which is what the layperson might generalise as "extremely needy". She has always had psychiatric problems, but had never had a diagnosis until this awful event. Her parents had sought help for her for twenty years without success. In hindsight, it is clear that she needs to be looked after, and that it is far more than a job for her family. I believe that her lack of ability to function independently at 41 years of age marks her out as truly "mad", rather than a soft case.

By this definition, many homeless people would qualify as "mad", since many have such severe social problems that they are incapable of living independently. However, until they commit some terrible crime, they are left to fend for themselves. I wonder if this is a good way to treat sick people?

And yet we continue to fill our prisons with people convicted of property crimes, which although irksome and anti-social, is hardly asocial- you actually need quite good social skills to play the system and these are clearly skills which could be put to productive use. I reckon that the resources would be better used providing better psychiatric care to very needy people and improving psychiatric services within prisons. Property crime should to my mind be dealt with through community service, by making the criminal essentially pay back what they have stolen, even if they have to work for many years for nothing. Violent crime should always call for a custodial sentence, if only because it is easier to treat a person who is coralled.

And those two youths would nearly killed a girl this week are reported to be in total shock. I assume that they expected to get away with it because they thought she would die, stranded on an island in the middle of a freezing river with nothing on. What did they think would happen? That they could make the terrible thing they did "unhappen" by concealing the evidence? This is not the behaviour of people facing reality, and makes me wonder if they are in fact, totally sane. What is certain is that even at 18 years old, they are not ready to be independent yet.

Madness to my mind, is a complicated spectrum of interlinked needs and abilities, rather than a definable set of diseases. The human mind is so intricate that it is hard to say what is "normal" or "abnormal". As with all disabilities, mental illness is only a disability if it stops you from doing what you want to do (within acccepted social limits). So for example, "bi-polar disease" may not be a disability to a artist whose creativity is closely linked to their disease, since medicating them may stop their flow of creativity. On the other hand, it may well be huge problem to anybody working in an office environment, where predictability and even temper are valued. Extreme shyness would not be a problem if you wanted to be a wild man of the woods, but is a bit of a bum rap if you're a party animal at heart. Truly anti-social behaviour, such as found in psychotic murderers fits far more my idea of certifiable madness, since the person is isolating themselves from almost every other living soul through their behaviour.

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