Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Thank you Froglet! What a sweetie!


Cristina, Sim's teacher, has just rung to talk to me about my son's inability to do long division. There is something about long division that defeats him so totally that he loses his grasp on things he does know. She told me that he understands concepts of maths, geometry and logical reasoning very quickly, but that he is still very bad at arithmetic. Cristina told me several times that he did not know his times tables, until I managed to get a word in edgeways to remind that he has, in fact, known them all for about two years. She cited his inability to transfer the two factors 45 and 9 into a multiplication during a long division as an example of his lack of knowledge; when I managed to answer her, I pointed out that his problem with long division was in fact, just another manifestation of his problem with any task involving step-by-step instructions- he finds it very difficult to learn stuff by heart just *because*. She told me he had gone backwards since he arrived in her class- which I am also aware of, but which I would be unlikely to complain to a parent about if I were in her shoes. Anyway, the point is, that is feeling a failure about this, and that puts his brain into a spin.

I've tried to re-explain it to him, but I do not understand how they do long division here- I learned in France using a completely different system from either Britain or here. The only person who actually understands how they do here is Hen, who can do them so perfectly that he tries to pay her to do his homework for him-she refuses, thankfully. So Hen has to explain repeatedly to Sim how to do his long divisions, he remembers the steps for as long as it takes to complete the A4 sheet of homework, and then promptly forgets them. I rather fear that he may have inherited this from me- as someone who can never remember card game rules from one time to the next, to much hilarity from anyone who ever plays cards with me, and who has never been able to memorise stuff to save my life, I wonder if I've passed him a brain defect of some sort.

The point is, Cristina says that she is not bothered if he uses the British system for doing his long divisions. Unfortunately, he can't remember how to do them, the Boff (who is a mathematician, for Crissakes' sake) just scoffs when I tell him that we can't work out how to do it, and tells Sim that it's easy and he should just do it (what a teacher, my husband). So, given that several of you out there are teachers fully qualified to teach long division, does anyone have a good system I can teach the boy, that even I can understand? Or a website address? Ta.

I'm worried now. We've booked our return flights in August, and were lucky enough to find that that Air Transat, a Canadian charter company, run a summer service from Toronto direct to Exeter. As Exeter airport is 10 minutes' drive from our house in Devon, and it would save us three jet-lagged hours on the motorway in the summer heat, we gratefully took that option. Now, being the paranoid flyer that I am, I've just looked up the safety record of the Airbus jet. And it's not good. That's why I'm worried.

For the whole of April, Dave at Clear Blue Skies will be running a Blog Hunt, which sounds like a brilliant way of meeting new blogs. Click on the link to get the rules.


You will probably have noticed that I'm distinctly below par at the moment. It could be some form of late onset SAD, it could be "home"sickness (unlikely since we only lived in our new home for four days before coming here), it could be that the lack of interaction with real human beings is finally getting to me; it might be the real lack of things to do in the daytime, as soon as I've finished basic household chores- unlikely as well, since I'm in the middle of two books, one French, one Spanish (I need a dictionary to read the Spanish one, so it's somewhat less satisfying than fluent reading); I've a a sweater to finish (just started second sleeve- ie nearly there); I've walked to all the places I can walk to in the daytime; I'm sick of being blobby; something I had planned to be doing with my life next year keeps failing dismally and upsettingly, and I'm reevaluating what I want to do from September; in fact I may well be back later with my theory on plans, when I 've formulated the post- thinking straight is a bit difficult at the moment.

In short, I'm feeling very sorry for myself, and I'm not good company at the moment, either on- or off-line.

As far as the plans for September go, I'm planning on supply teaching for a couple of days a week, and trying to do some courses at the University of Exeter- Tudor history, Cathar history and creative writing. They offer a very good modular degree course that can be taken at your own pace within reason and it's only eight miles away from our house. I feel happy studying and in academic environments generally- it's what I know about. I just don't want to teach full-time because my prime commitment lies with my family; teaching is not something you can half do. Also, it is very unlikely that I would easily find a full-time job in the South-West, since the teaching shortage has not yet affected that area- teachers actually work until retirement age there, rather than retiring or leaving from ill-health- it's amazing! The students are apparently less difficult than in the South-East, the school managements are more laid-back and the living environments are more congenial.

I also have a garden to plan and implement, since our house has but a patch of ill-kempt lawn and trees to call garden. It needs a hen house, vegetables, a poly-tunnel, possibly a duck-pond, depending on the lie of the land- we have made enquiries with our neighbouring farmer about sub-letting an acre or so of the next-door field, and he seems amenable. Somewhere in that field, accoridng to the survey plans, is a culveted stream which could be made to flow through a (duck)pond instead of concrete pipes. Most of these plans will have to wait until I'm back there though.

We are also planning on extending the kitchen, which was an afterthought added to the building when it was coverted from a school into a house. It is a little small and dark and out-of-proportion with the rest of the building, so we have plans. We'll have to have a look at the money situation first though.

I suppose that at the moment, I just feel in limbo. Winter sports is off, due to lack of snow, it's not summer yet, and we're awaiting a stream of visitors, starting with V and D and their sprogs next week, which will be lovely. It doesn't feel like nine months since we last saw them, but then, it never does. That's the lovely thing about very old friends. Anyway, I'm hoping for a mood lift (can you get those in the same place as a face lift?) soon, and return to normal service (whatever that is).

Note to self: far too many brackets in that post. I'll get told off.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

e reveals all! 

This one's for those people who want a photo of me:

Sorry... *tries to look sorry*

Monday, March 29, 2004

I've been doing rather odd things recently, like obsessively looking at the Exeter webcam in my sidebar to see what the weather is like there, or just to get a glimpse of green around the motorway junctions- I think the grey must be getting to me. The grass here is still completely dead, the public parks smell of silage, as every blade of crushed grass gently decomposes where it stands. The bits where people have walked are just mires- it seems that the ground is still frozen a few inches below the surface, so the melt water has nowhere to drain away and stays in the top three inches. Having said that, the light levels are very high compared to Britain, and soon as the sun comes out, you immediately feel more optimistic.

It's all go, go, go for us here for the next few weeksmonths. We have good friends coming from England for Easter, then The Boff's mother and her toy-boy turning up mid April for a week. In the first week in May, my mother comes for two weeks, goes on to California to see my brother and then comes back here to fly back to France. At the beginning of June, we will be welcoming for a few weeks a charming young French lady, daughter of Purple Sister 2's friend, who wishes to perfect her English with us (she's already bilingual in French-German at 15).
Meanwhile, we eagerly await the arrival of Baby Wizard this week (Purple Sister 2's second and brother to Carrot) and an as yet undetermined sprog from Purple Sister 4-her first- at the end of May. That's three new nieces/nephews in one year, which is a little unreasonable I think.
Throughout June, I will be mostly examining our stuff and deciding what to ship back, what to recycle, and what to keep for our mega-holiday -6 weeks from beginning July to mid August.
Today, I have four, or possibly five, children to take to the cinema (one or two borrowed), it being an infernal school-free PED day. You'll be relieved to hear that spring does seem finally to have arrived, my gloom is leaving and spirits are lifting, and I should soon be up to summertime energy levels. Not a moment too soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Sugar high!!!! 

I'm writing this despite severe lethargy brought on by a sugar high. We went to a cabane à sucre, a sugar shack, today, deep in a maple wood. All over this part of Québec, and for barely six weeks, subject to weather and temperature, the sap rising in the maples is sweet; starches and nutrients stored in August and September, are being converted into sugars in order to help the tree burst its buds open. The sap coming out of the tree looks to all intents and purposes like water, but a finger dipped in the bucket into which it falls will quickly convince you of the 3% sugar content. This sap, boiled for four hours in a huge evaporator, becomes maple syrup. That's all they do to it (apart from straining out some gunk with a cotton cloth). It takes forty litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. A tree can produce as much a 2.5 litres a day if it's warm.

There are many huge commercial shacks in the Laurentians, but the particular one we went to was a "traditional" shack: it made maple syrup and maple syrup products and nothing else. It did did not serve food (usually substandard, we're told), there were no traditional terrible dancing, no accordions, no conviviality. Just maple syrup, and tire, that delicious sweet made by further boiling the maple syrup until it sets when poured onto snow in a wooden trough set before gaping punters. You get a lolly stick, which you use to roll up the tire into a lolly as soon as it's cool enough.

Young Sim, on an Augustus Gloop trip of his own, managed to down 12 lollies before declaring forfeit. In his defence, it was his first time with tire, so we didn't get cross with him.

It never ceases to amaze me how these people manage to keep their spirits up. You might think that this time of year, complete with vanishing snow and sludgy mud everywhere, would be a glum time of year: not a bit. The sugar shacks step in to tide us over the gap between winter sports and full-blown summer. I love this country: it's wild, woolly, full of totally lunatic drivers, and so civilised. I'm rapidly being confirmed in my belief that it's not the work ethic, religion or income that make a country, but its rituals and celebrations, its festivals and joy, wherever they may be found. These are the things you remember, the things you can be proud of.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Friday pic 

The Boff snapped this little fellow while he was busy in a hole looking for his nuts.
We don't know if he found them in the end.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Urban puzzles 

Just around the corner from our flat is one of those postal service dead letter boxes, where the mail to be distributed is dropped off by van to spare the postman the time and energy of walking back to the sorting office when his bag is empty.

It is a grey, oblong, filing cabinet-shaped and -sized thing- very dull, very ordinary.

Yet when the snow began to thaw recently, each passing day revealed more the inexplicable pile of cryogenically preserved fruit lying at its feet, in perfect condition despite the weeks or months spent outdoors. Not only apples, but oranges and bananas as well.

I've thought about this a lot, but I cannot for the life of me work out by whom or why this fruit was left there. Maybe a tragic grocery bag rupture back in November? Maybe a form of pagan worship of the god Kah-Nah-Dah Poh-st? Maybe a buddhist ceremony of thanks for some postal miracle rendered?

I'd always thought it must be due to an unique event, but I could be wrong: passing the box today, I noted the presence, incongruous against the sludgy brown pile of former fruit cells, of one perfect, fresh banana. Frankly, I'm stumped.

Product placement 

If you have never before visited dear Mr Oddverse, I would urge you to do so now- he is in fine fettle, and has produced some excellent Doctor Who pastiches in recent days.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"Are you my friend?", she demands, looking questioningly at me with slightly anxious blue eyes. Her hair is messy and ruffled, from lack of brushing. Small, perfectly-formed freckles spread over her nose and across her cheeks. This question is important, important enough for her to pin me to the ground so that I can't get away. It is not the first time she has asked this question. She kisses me hard and painfully on the cheek, hands on my face, her bony elbow digging painfully into my breast.

I look at her. I remember her as a cranky baby, so desperate to do whatever she could see others doing. I remember the amazing concentration on her tiny face as she struggled to a sitting position at three months, using only the strength in her tummy muscles. I remember her trying to talk to me at seven months, and getting screamingly frustrated because I could not understand her. I remember the way she could, even at five months, deliberately wind her brother up into a temper. I remember her perfectly-formed sentences at thirteen months, her decision to ditch the nappies at fiteen months, her unusual amount of empathy at two, with other children in her nursery. I remember how she refused to answer the register during her first year at school, because she thought it silly that they took it three times every day. I consider the praise heaped on her by her teachers since she turned 7, the kindness she shows to others, the way she works out many of her problems with others by thinking them through. I remember so much detail about this small, amazing, cranky person. And I want so much to be her friend.

I want to be her friend, but that is not my job. My job is to see her safely to the door of adulthood. My job is a very different one from a friend's job. It is so much more than a friend's job. My job is more one of guidance than entertainment. Sometimes that guidance will not seem to her to be in her best interests. I would love to be able to have a friendly, entertaining relationship with her, but I would have to step back periodically from it in order to do something she may not like or appreciate. I cannot, until she has become autonomous, develop a relationship of friends with her.

"No, Hen," I tell her. " I am not your friend. I am your mother".

"Oh," she says, relieved. "Then you are my favourite Mummy."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I am below par, ideas are not flowing freely, so no content today as such. Sorry. Backson.

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Nobody seems to have told Mother Nature in Montreal about spring. Our only tweety birds for the last couple of weeks have been hordes of voracious seagulls, which made me come over all Tippi Hedren for a while. I am rapidly losing the will to live, after a day of snow yesterday and minus 16 today (minus 27 with windchill).
On a high note, we celebrated the six-week anniversary of The Boff's ankle fracture by going skiing yesterday afternoon. Which was nice. The only trouble he had was removing his ski boot at the end of the day. The bone seems to be still in one piece. Which is nice.

The Boff and I were remarking earlier, as we watched our first-born consume an adult's portion of post-ski junk food, that nobody in their right mind would ever rear people for meat; we thought about the number of calories and nutrients we'd ploughed into him in the last ten and half years, and concluded that there was not a chance that his 75 pound body would ever be profitable. So I suppose we'll just have to hope that he gets a decent job... (Yes, this post is completely tongue-in-cheek)

Sunday, March 21, 2004


A recent Montreal Gazette article about Stanstead, a border town about 150km from Montreal, mentioned the Haskell Library and Opera House, in which, due to to being accidentally built across the US/ Canada border, hosts the performers in the US, and the audience in Canada. This may seem slightly mad, until you realise that the town islef is cut in two by the border: in common with a number of other border towns, thsi one has US and Canadian customs booths, complete with search lights, huge unsightly awnings- for the unpacking of cars- and armed officers, planted right in the middle of its high street. Back in December, a man wishing to proceed to church from one end of his town to the other, got into trouble with the Feds because although he'd been taking the ten-minute walk for many years, recent changes in staffing at his village customs booth meant that it was staffed during office hours only. He was therefore expected to drive fifteen (the article says 200 miles, but I'm certain the Gazette reported it as fifteen in December) miles round to the next nearest staffed booth, and thence back to his church.

This anecdote alone neatly illustrates for me the absurdity of neat, black and white borders. They are inimical to the way people are. As a toddler, I lived in that area of Northumberland known as "The Borders". "The Borders" does not stop at Hadrian's wall, but is a blurred area straddling the border between Scotland and England and extending into the counties on either side for thirty odd miles. Borders people refer to themselves as such. They feel more "Borders" than Northumbrian. And I believe that if it were not for the attentions of administrators and bureaucrats, most borders would be fuzzy.

I was very lucky to witness vestiges of the Berlin Wall before they were finally razed to the ground. I helped organise a conference in 1991 in the Reichstag, the old parliament house; the Wall ran right alongside the formerly glorious building. Looking out of the first floor windows, you could see over the graffiti covered sections of wall they had not yet removed, into an East Berlin street called "Unter den Linden", a famous street (Marlene Dietrich rings a bell- did she sing there?), the grey monolithic multi-storey apartment blocks contrasting with the much brighter colours on the western side. Divided by nothing more than imposed ideology and a ten foot piece of concrete. Seeing roads cut in two so starkly was just weird.

I thought also of the Palestinian family recently in the news because the Israelis built their wall between the poor people and their own village. I though of the many muddied edges of the area around northern Italy, Southern France, Switzerland, southern Germany. How the people of the Val d'Aoste in Italy speak French; the people of Nice are as likely to speak Italian as French; how Catalan extends far over the French/Spanish border into France, and is spoken as a patois (the rude administrative name for "unofficial language") until it fizzles out into Occitan to the West. Did you know that there are villages in Switzerland where they still speak a form of latin?

Stark, intangible borders are not natural. People loathe imposed borders, despite the cheery saying "Good fences make good neighbours". While most people in the UK are very hot on fences, here in Canada, groups of similar houses often do not have fences between back yards, and most people do not have fences or hedges around their front garden. I suspect that the same is true of the States. It is a very different attitude to the one I'm used, but very refreshing. I'm sure that arguments arise because of it, but I tend to think that people coexist more peacefully when they are not divided by a stark symbol of someone else's idea of where a territory should end. I think that most people will compromise rather than fight. Of course, by building a large wall or fence, you are removing the potential for petty arguments, but increasing exponentially the likelihood for massive conflict should the border ever be breached.

I'm not so naive as to believe that borders are evil and should be removed. They obviously serve a good administrative purpose for public services and tax collection. The problems arise when those in charge of the border would also change the way of thinking of the people within that border. Borders people think differently about borders than people who do not have to suffer them. Borders will however never correspond totally to the way people wish to live.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Feeling sorry for myself 

As the Québec winter wore on interminably through March, her initial delight at the acceptable face of severe winter, the beautiful snowfalls, the long icicles hanging on every building, the plethora of winter activities, turned slowly to intense hatred.

Elsewhere, daffodils were already bobbing their heads above bright green grass. Clouds were scuttling across the sky, casting occasional sunbeams onto the heads of gambolling lambs.

Meanwhile, back in Montréal, the only lamb to be seen was in the freezer section of the supermarket, the daffodils slept on beneath the ugly grey melting snow, and the temperatures oscillated between the freezing and the unacceptably cold.

When will this winter ever end? This is just not fair any more.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Post-it note 

61,707 steps, 26.18 miles
Trousers a little looser. but new fat is definitely appearing across my stomach. Weird.

An encounter 

He attracts my attention just as I'm steeping out of the chemists' into spring-like sushine. Tall, sixties, tweed jacket and unkempt beard.

"Could you spare one dollar, please?", he asks me politely.

I ask the question I probably do not have the right to ask. I want to give him the money- I've realised how hard life is for older homeless people in this cold city- but I want something more. A clear conscience maybe? The assurance that the money will not be spent instantly on drink or drugs- on second thoughts, not drugs, he doesn't look the "type"? To make him feel as though he's earned the money rather than been patronised? Whichever it is, I do not have a clear conscience about it; this I am certain of.

"What will you do with the one dollar?", I ask.

"Where are you from?", he replies, neatly side-stepping my question. It was none of my business, after all. He has detected my accent.

"England", I reply.

"Yes, but where in England?", he presses me. You can never really tell here whether people are intimate with the Home Counties or could simply not tell a Polish accent from a Spanish one.

"The last place I lived was in Surrey, near London", I tell him.

"Ah yes", he says. " My father died at Dieppe", he continues, in the same breath. So the father was probably stationed in England.

"Is he buried there? Have you ever been there?", I ask him, lapsing into my usual habit of asking several questions at once.

"No", he answers, "I have never been there. I want to go though. He is buried there."

"You should!" I exclaim, thinking at the same time that he will never, in twenty years, be able to save enough money from begging to get to Europe. In the same moment, I'm thinking about all the war cemeteries I had seen by the age of fifteen, neat, clipped grass over rows of identical white stones. The wind whipping in from the sea, the birds cheeping discreetly from the hedges. Any one of those graves I had walked over, sombrely but without real understanding, might have been this man's father. I, who had no real connection with any inhabitant of a war cemetery- all of my family got out alive- had potentially seen more of his father than he ever had. I tell him a little about the war cemeteries. "They're very peaceful", I say, hoping to reassure him. "You must try to get there."

Just what do I think I'm doing? I'm advising a man with no money, old enough to be my father, and who by all accounts has spent quite a lot of time on the streets, to make a transatlantic flight and catch up with the ghost of a man he's never met. Maybe lack of a father was part of the reason for his misfortune, but it really is too late to remedy. Merely in advising him to do something we both know is unlikely ever to happen, I'm making our two worlds collide painfully. We both know that he is far more likely to die of cold on the streets ot Montreal than he ever is to fly over the Atlantic to visit his father's grave. It is late for him, too late. I open my purse, and give him a two dollar coin. As I hand it over I feel as though I used him, as though I were paying him for his story. We walk quickly away from each other.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

If you need cheering up... 

Via non-blogging K8, who really should think about getting her own weblog, comes this salutary reminder that the internet really is all about bug-eyed marmosets singing odes to the moon: We like tha moon

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

We're all on this boat together... 

I was talking to someone the other day about politeness, and remarking that there are still many mainly older men who were brought up to show respect towards women- holding doors open, offering seats etc... We deplored the fact that many women take the door-holding thing as a slight to their equality- as though being treated like a goddess demeans them in some way. I said that I just think that women who refuse the simplest kindness from men who have been brought up to be respectful, are showing themselves up to be merely rude. They are not thinking that their refusal to accept the held door, or worse, the rude remarks they sometimes make to door-holders, are nothing more than hurtful and self-obsessed. They are not thinking that the seventy-year old bloke holding the door for them may only be doing what he was taught, and furthermore that his moment of door-holding may be the only thing he gets to do for someone else all day.

So it should come as no surprise that many younger men no longer offer these courtesies. I well remember commuting back from Clapham, the outer edge of Central London, to Berkshire, until I was eight and a half months pregnant. So pregnant, in fact that only a blind person would have failed to spot my round stomach beneath the maternity dress. Because I got onto the train at the second stop from the mainline station, it was usually full by the time I got on. Every single day I was left standing in the train until after Virginia Water, when the train emptied a lot ( a journey of about 30 minutes). And several years later, as I struggled backwards through a shopping centre door with two babies in a pram and a toddler in tow, a young man inexplicably waited for me to open the door for him. So absurd it was almost funny, given that there were three other doors available.

The thing about politeness, as I tell my children, is that it helps to oil the wheels. It is obviously not essential on a global scale, it doesn't pay tangibly, but it makes everyone feel happier and more relaxed. How many times have you allowed someone out of a side-turning into slow traffic, and seen them return the favour to someone else further down the road? It's contagious you see. Of course we could all rush about angrily, refusing to cede an inch to anyone, and being offended at common courtesy. But why bother, when we could all just get along a little better by taking a millisecond to smile, say thank-you, hold a door for the person following, or dare to offer our seat to the paper-pale woman who may be on the second day of her period? And be no more than mildly surprised at the person who reacts rudely to the offer.

Monday, March 15, 2004


It's at times like these that I remember the words of my old Dad, who, although otherwise utterly and irretrievably insane, is nonetheless a fairly wise individual.

Don't dwell on the small and insignificant detail, he said. If something bugs that you can't change, just send it packing (except he uses rather choicer words than those). And you can always walk away from a fight. He, brought up by his father to stand and face his aggressors with fist and foot, took the most courageous path of all, and simply walked away from those who would engage him. In so doing, he went against everything he'd been taught. The mark of a true pacifist in my opinion, and a family tradition I'm proud to carry on. Because eventually someone has to back down, either by being scared down or through maturity, for a fight to finish.

And, please, everyone to leave their high horses at the door.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

"Twin murder mom" 

This has been in the news since Friday. It's a story about a pregnant woman in Utah, who, having not felt her twin babies move for a while, had been to the hospital for a check-up. They had advised her to have an immediate Caesarian section, which she, as is her perfect right as an adult, refused. She left the hospital, and the babies were born a few days later. One of them was stillborn. Because of Utah's interesting laws on protection of unborn children -even that expression, "unborn children" is laden with legal significance, so I probably should use the word "foetus"), it would appear the Utah foetuses have rights over and above those of their mother, who is thus relegated to status of carrying case for the state's babies- she has been charged with murder.

As a mother, I feel for that mother. The pain of losing a baby must be tremendous, even if she was giving them up for adoption. I do not feel anything other than compassion though. As an adult, she had the right to reject medical treatment and advice as much as the next person. Except that by so doing, she, a poor woman in difficult circumstances, went against medical advice, which seems to be the biggest mistake ever in her situation. I do wonder what the next step along this rocky path will be: IQ tests to determine whether someone is competent to sign a consent form? Extensive psychological assessment of all hospital patients? Evaluation of socio-economic clout before overturning accepted rights- for which read: give the voiceless poor no choice since they don't know what to do with it anyway.

And the flip-side: if she'd accepted the C-section, and the baby had died anyway, could she then have sued them? Could the doctors have been held accountable for the baby's death? Of course not. They'd have "done everything they could" in the eyes of the all-important Law- and don't get me started on prophylactic intervention in childbirth...

Sometimes things just don't turn out for the best. Sometimes the hoped-for miracle does not intervene to put everything right. Sometimes shit happens. And in this case it happened to her. It did not happen to the state of Utah. This child did not survive, but its sister did. There was probably something very wrong with it. Whether or not it could have been saved by being cut out of its mother's body there and then is a moot point. But it's not a long shot I'd be willing to sign away my human rights for.

Update- here's a cached version of the link I put up yesterday; of all the ones I read, it seemed to be the most factual. This one lays out the law on the protection of the unborn child in the state of Utah:
"In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that unborn children at all stages of development are covered under the state's criminal homicide statute. The law exempts the death of a fetus during an abortion."
It would seem that in Utah, only doctors are allowed to kill unborn children. Hmmm...
Tuesday: Thanks to La Peregrina, we now have this good article written by a lawyer to consider as well. Thanks LaP! One of the most important lines in my view is this one: "And unlike court orders, criminal prosecutions can benefit from 20-20 hindsight. "

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I'd like to dedicate this to every student who's ever told me that they don't need to learn a foreign language because the rest of the world speaks English: Engrish.com. (Via the Googlewhackers Anonymous bulletin board; Thanks Xina!) Or this collection of interesting mis-translations from non-blogging Francine.
And this one's specially for all you veggies out there:

Some things I've learned over the years 

Things you can bet your bottom dollar on:

The slowest, least competent cashier will always be on the "one to eight items" checkout. If you're in a bit of a hurry, they will also have a speech impediment and be numerically challenged; if you have to be somewhere now, you can guarantee that the elderly lady in queue straight in front of you will start to quibble about something.

When the refuse collectors say 5:30pm, they do not mean 5:35pm. You will end up chasing the lorry down the road twice a week in your slippers.

You will never notice that the toilet paper has run out until after you've finished.

Watched pot never boils. Pot left to boil while you go on the internet for a few minutes will boil dry in moments, and alert you to the fact by setting off the smoke alarms.

If you decide to go out without gloves, the temperature will drop like a stone while you are out.

Fish gone bad does not improve with cooking.

Friday, March 12, 2004

If anybody's desperate to know what I look like, here's a pretty good rendition- from a link found chez Daisy. Thanks Daisy!
Update: thanks to The Boff, we now have a gif, which you should be able to see.

Post-it note to self 

66,798 steps; 29.43 miles walked this week.
Effect on figure: I seem to be even fatter- two pairs of trousers that fit- jeans getting tighter.
I'm eating less, exercising more; something is definitely wrong.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cocktail umbrellas 

My children love those little paper cocktail umbrellas, and badger me about them constantly. I can remember really loving them as a child, and coveting one. I can equally well remember the last time I really liked them.

I had brunch with my father at The Coconut Grove just off Oxford Street, on a Sunday morning in October or November of 1988- I cannot for the life of me recall the exact dates, only the brilliance of the leaves on the maple tree outside my college room. I was nineteen years old and drank my first pina colada. Barely two miles away, my sister hovered between life and death in the intensive care unit of University College Hospital.

I had met up with my father in Oxford Circus earlier that morning, and we'd walked the few yards down the eerily deserted Regent Street, to the spot where a banal traffic accident had overturned -possibly for ever- my cosy familiarity with my closest sister. The previous Sunday in the evening, I'd had a vision of my sister vaulting over the bonnet of a London Taxi; a premonition so intense that I had uncharacteristically shared it with my best, most rational friend in the whole wide world, who'd comforted me and done her best to laugh it off.

The following day, my sister crossed the traffic-bound street at lunchtime, her first day in a new job, when a motorcycle ridden by a courier emerged from between two stopped cars, and knocked her over, snapping both bones in her lower right leg. Obviously, the news came as no surprise, but as a huge shock; being the closest geographically, I set off for London straight away, disappearing for the next week from a game of "Secret Assassin" that I subsequently nearly won.

My just eighteen-year old sister was in casualty, her leg already twice its normal size, ugly and swollen purple. She bemoaned the loss of her new clothes, cut from her body in the standard fashion by the medical team. I stayed with her until, drugged with morphine to the eyeballs, she assured me she would be safe while I went and organised somewhere to stay for the night. Later that day, as she was wheeled into theatre to have her broken bones re-manipulated into place under a general anaesthetic, she instructed the surgeon to avoid opening up her leg if she could at all help it.

The next time I saw my sister was the following morning; as I stepped out of the lift to visit her, she was wheeled past me out of the orthopedic ward, blue finger nails, purple cheeks, blue lips, and whisked up to the intensive care unit. She had spent the night slowly and uncomplainingly dying from lack of oxygen, surrounded on either side by complaining old ladies.

It later transpired, once the staff had managed to stabilise her, and forced some oxygen into her through a new high-pressure ventilation device, that she had developed a totally foreseeable side-effect from badly fractured large bones: a fat embolism, where the bone marrow leaks into the blood stream and is filtered out by the lungs. She had been drowning for eight hours.

As the days passed, and the oxygen saturations forced into her through the mask went from 80% to 50% to 30%, and the other patients disappeared from the ward, either through death or recovery, she began to regain some colour. She was unconscious for ten days, remembers nothing of the two weeks she spent in intensive care; not even the kind nurses, who treated her with particular fondness, bringing her exhibition catalogues and fashion magazines she was still incapable of reading; not the frightening turnover of canary yellow liver cancer sufferers; not our visits.

She mostly recovered; people who knew her before the accident know that she is not as healthy as she once was, but to all intents and purposes she is back to normal- she went on to a very good university the year after, and later this month she will give birth to a second son. I cannot remember much of the 1988 accident- certainly not the date, nor many details of those few weeks. I just no longer like cocktail parasols, and I've never had another pina colada.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Avis de Recherche 

Where is Pob? Anybody had any sightings recently? Lives he yet? Not that I'm missing him or anything...


Speaking of religious (in)tolerance, this week has been odd in liberal, welcoming Canada . Except of course that it's not about Canada, but Québec.

It all started with one boy and his kirpan, and has degenerated into what, in any country less liberal and welcoming than Canada, would only be described as outright xenophobia (as opposed to racism- I wouldn't go that far in this case).

The boy in question is Gurbaj Singh, a devout Sikh, whose request to be allowed to wear his kirpan, or ceremonial dagger, to school, was so hotly debated. His parents, reasonable to the end, had fully compromised with the first court's decision that he be allowed to as long as the dagger be blunt, be worn under the boy's clothing, and be kept sewn into a cloth, itself stitched to the cloth strap.

The Québec Court of Appeal saw things differently however, and saw fit to uphold the school board's appeal against the first ruling and to ban the boy from wearing the dagger. The parents are appealing to the Supreme Court. The most remarkable aspect of this case is the reaction of the parents at the boy's school, who made the then twelve-year old walk a gauntlet of jeers into school before his parents decided to school him elsewhere. A mother of three children at the school, clearly not the sharpest tool in the box herself, poor dear, remarked, in a really liberal and welcoming way, that it was "about time that immigrants settled and integrated into our culture".

So I was very amused today, whilst walking around the huge Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, to note the variety of languages and cultures represented on the gravestones, all of which nationalities are part and parcel of Québec's culture. Graveyards, though full of the dead, tend to reflect the profile of the living. There were gravestones inscribed in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese; they date from the end of the last century to the present day. I was left wondering exactly which part of Québec culture that poor dim woman, now eternally representing the view of the common Québecois people in the national Canadian press, thought she was representing. What's clear to me is that Québec, like the rest of Canada, is a melting pot, but that a significant vociferous majority feels sufficiently threatened to want to force their culture on everyone else, theoretically at least.

*Glances bottomwards* Two more...

Here are some pictures of that freezing rain in Québec City that I mentioned yesterday:

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Onward, ever onward 

Right, enough maudlin thoughts. I'm planning my potager and basse-cour for when when I become a peasant in September, and apart from the hens (I was trying to work out if I'll ever manage to kill any for the dinner table, and I decided that I probably won't be able to- hypocrite that I am!), I covet some of these and some of these. Two of each probably, to keep each other company. Apparently you can leave the latter for a weekend alone, but I doubt the same is true of the former, so they are still in the thinking mill.
And, of course, I simply must have some of these:

Monday, March 08, 2004

Pointless anger 

There are many many things that I need to download, bit by bit, to avoid overloading my conscious. Many things lurking where they have been put away for nearly two decades. I need to move some of them to the outside in order to move on a little in my life.

My friends, people I've known half my life, tell me that they are learning things about me through my blog. What they have never seen, is what I, along with everyone else, hide away- the things which make me the person they met at the age of nineteen; a seemingly childish, impulsive, attention-seeking person. And why would I have shared most of these things? They were mostly the children of calm clipped lawns surrounded by clipped privet hedges; my childhood was a wilderness edged with barbed wire and thorns, exposure to things far beyond the comprehension of other people of my age. Even at nineteen, their calm faces were generally unclouded by anything. They had had the leisure of being themselves- did I envy them that and the privet hedges? I don't think so. I loved the smell of privet flowering in June but it even then seemed like more of a prison than barbed wire and brambles ever were.

I do not know if this is a good or a bad thing. I am told that I appear wise. This perceived Wisdom is not something I pursue or want to portray- it is simply an inextricably woven-in part of my personality: for all my wishing it were not there, there is no way I can get rid of it. I feel like a desert sage, sitting under a palm leaf by the side of the main highway, watching people screech past. I have seen them all before; I have seen over the horizon, and I know there's no point speeding towards it.

My father, an only child, had no understanding of what siblings were. He, although neglected, had only himself to care about. I, by an accident of birth, was the eldest of five. Whilst my precociousness- talking fluently by 18 months, alphabet by two, reading fluently by three, might have seemed a real feather in my parents' cap, I was constantly on show at a young age- all these accomplishments were my parents', to display at my father's business parties as they saw fit. I do not remember when the shift from infant prodigy to run-of-the-mill child happened- probably around the time everybody else started to catch up with me. My father's perception of primogeniture appeared to have skipped over the bits to do with benefits and stopped firmly at duties and responsibilties. He pigeon-holed each of his five children with convenient monikers. By six, I was the Responsible One. My sister, younger than me by twenty-one months, was The Pretty One, and was as such absolved of any responsibilities, since I was there to take them on board. Sister 3 was The Clever One, sister 4 The Sickly One, and my brother was The Thick One, the one who would never amount to anything without huge amounts of direction.

The Responsible One was thus left baby-sitting younger siblings for hours on end from the age of six. At eight and nine, I was frequently in charge of my baby brother for many hours on end. My father, at home during that period while my mother went to work in a shoe factory to earn money to keep us, had an aversion to changing nappies; I changed my brother's nappy before going to school, and got him ready for the day; touchingly he left my brother all day in the same nappy, ready for me to change when I came home from school, along with a number of other chores- my siblings were sent outside to play. I did almost everything for my brother for about a year; I was to all intents and purposes a mother to him. I only know of one of my readers who will understand the effect that this can have on a young child- I would not wish it on anyone.

And in all things I was Responsible. I was Responsible for every one of my siblings' misdeeds- smack! I was Responsible for every breakage- smack smack! I was in charge of their safety, their arguments, their behaviour, their cleanliness. And if they were not up to scratch, then I, middle manager, got the blame. This should help to explain why I've never hit the corporate ladder for real- I was on it for nearly twenty years. I knew by the age of ten that it is a con, designed to rob you of life in return for a misplaced sense of importance. And I knew how very misplaced was the self-importance, when at any moment senior management could turn round and smack you, in front of your minions, and leave them perfectly aware that they could do whatever they liked without fallout. I think this has coloured every one of my working relationships, and probably made me difficult to manage- I don't as such feel inferior to my managers, but do expect them to be unreliable and fickle.

I still carry a lot of anger about this about with me. For nearly twenty years I've been on a treadmill, determined to put this to rest, but it still makes me very angry. I sometimes feel as though my psyche is a piece of calico (unbleached cream in colour, since you ask). I am standing on it above a yawning chasm, while life throws mud at me from the edge. When a bit of the cloth get stained, I take out my big pinking shears, and snicker-snack, cut the bit off. Thus does my psyche feel smaller and smaller with every passing year. I don't know how much more I can cut off before I'm left hanging onto a thread above the chasm. I suppose that eventually I will fall in, although I find that writing helps enormously; as I said before, writing has been my salvation for as long as I can remember- it's silent yet powerful. It takes a lot of energy though, so I can't do too much at once.

I am, I hope, bringing my children up very differently to the way I was brought up- and yes, I am aware how much of a cliché that is. I know that my parents made mistakes; everybody makes them, and many are utterly forgivable; I've just never quite managed to forgive my parents for delegating their job to me. It meant that I was more than ready to face parenthood by the age of twenty-five, but it also meant that I had lived and worked a lifetime by the age of eighteen. I walked out of that job in the summer of 1986, and have mostly avoided it since then.


Sunday afternoon, and the Boff decides he would like to visit the Montmorency Falls, which at 271 feet are taller than Niagara Falls. They are certainly spectacular at all times of the year, and must be viewed in all seasons really to be appreciated. In winter, the falls mostly freeze solid, with a smaller stream of water falling in the centre. The steam thrown up by the falls freezes in its turn, and over the course of the winter, a large ice hillock- called a sugar loaf- forms in front of the fall. The basin of water is frozen over completely, and you can walk across it on over a metre of ice.

Now what would you do if you had recently broken your ankle, and had your cast removed only a week before and replaced by a walking splint?

Yes, that's right: you would of course climb to the top of the ice hill, just because it's there and you have to. You would then painfully clamber down what is after all quite a steep slope of ice covered with a thin sheet of very slippery melting snow. Having made it all the way down, unscathed by some miracle, you would of course climb the three steep flights of stairs to view the fall from above, that are at the moment covered with so much snow that they themselves resemble a slope. Since climbing up is not the problem, but down is, because your achilles tendon has shrunk over the last four weeks, you will go up far further than is strictly necessary to see the falls adequately from above. Getting down again, a challenge even for the perfectly able-bodied, will be a fun-packed wild ride, with your wife wondering whether you about to twist your ankle and rebreak your healing bone, thereby permanently injuring your ankle.

Excuse me, I must go and boil a chicken.


Québec is apparently the only North American walled city north of the Rio Grande. Did it feel like a step back in time? Certainly. I don't know whether it is by design or happy circumstance, but so little appears to have changed since the late eighteenth century that for several hours, I could happily have thought myself in a town north of the Loire. The fact that the building style- pure French- including pitched copper rooves and dormer windows set into the edge of the roof, is potentially lethal when accumulated snow and ice decides to make a run for freedom, only adds to its charm. The streets are narrow, the signs francophone, the courtyards pure import. The only signs of modern life were beyond the city walls, in the shape of the Hilton tower block edifice.

Québec clings precariously to a cliff on the bank of the St Laurent river. The river is still tidal as far as Québec, though it is 700km from the sea. Thus were we treated to the sight of ice floes heading downstream at breakfast time, and back upstream at tea time. The river runs from South to North, thereby causing potentially huge backups of ice downstream, where spring strikes later and the temperatures are still low. Luckily, the river opens out dramatically just beyond Quebec, rounding the large and agricultural Ile d'Orleans; yesterday, one arm of the river was free flowing, the other ice-bound, people fishing through holes from small huts set up on the river; these are the last few days for ice-fishing enthusiasts- temperatures are rising, and the very real risk of ice breaking up sudddenly increases daily at this time if the year.

On Saturday morning, we were treated to our first taste of freezing rain; being English and hence as mad as dogs, we strode out in our normal winter get-up, only to retreat and a hour and a half later to the hotel room when several of our number (I'll name no names) began sobbing with cold and needed reviving with hot chocolate and a warm bath. Canadians are very keen on telling you how horrible freezing rain is; ordinary rain becoming freezing rain when it falls from the sky onto very cold objects, making driving and walking difficult. The temperature at ground level need only be -1C for chaos to ensue, as each drop of water fuses with and glazes every surface it touches. By Saturday lunchtime, every tree, railing and traffic light was imprisoned in a centimetre thick layer of ice.

And on Sunday it was sunny. The sun glinted through the trees, still laden with glorious crystal clear ice, and gave the impression that the whole world had turned to glass. I tried to take photos, but I'm not sure that they do the beauty of the day justice. We found that thanks to the thick layer of ice, we could effortlessly walk over snow drifts. At lunchtime, we went tobogganing on the Plains of Abraham, where once upon a time a famous battle took place. I am sorry that I can't show you the image I have in my mind of the sun glinting through crystal bushes and grasses.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Because we're just so impulsive and far-out, we decided last night on the spur of the moment to go to Québec City for the weekend. So we're off. See you on Sunday. I promise to look out for that restaurant, Daisy.

Post-it note 

Since buying my pedometer a week ago today, I have logged 53,078 steps, which represents 22.22 miles; this does not include a day's skiing, nor the day I forgot to wear it, when I walked about 4 miles by my reckoning. I also do some Pilates every day; the lesson's on a Friday.
Three sensible meals a day, no seconds, positively no snacking.
Effect on figure- nil, but I do feel quite a lot fitter. I suppose this is a benefit.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Woody in winter 

This little chap caught my eye last week. He was busy pecking away at the tree, but interestingly, he was pecking very slowly compared to the woodpeckers I'm used to. Rather than short bursts of concentrated fire, followed by a rest, he pecked away dogggedly for up to a minute before a rest. Does anyone know anything about North American woodpeckers that they care to share? Because the cartoon Woody always pecks very fast, doesn't he? And he's American. Maybe this guy is not even a woodpecker....

Update: I think he may be a Pileated Woodpecker. It seems it might have quite a treat to see him, in fact.

Roll on summer 

Who could have thought that spring could be so ugly?

It's spring break this week for the children (and their unfortunate teachers), and traditionally this break is spent on the mountainside skiing. Thsi week however is unseasonably warm, and all the snow accumulated over the last three months is fast melting. As the protective blanket disappears, the sound levels of traffic rise. The ebbing tide of white is also leaving behind a disgusting flotsam of waste; three months' worth of casually discarded coffee cups, pizza boxes and cigarette wrappers. Mud has reappeared with a vengeance. Old dog turds, until now preserved in ice, are turning into new mud.

The roads are heaving and creaking under the strain of unseen forces, cracking along their length as though some hibernating giant beneath were stretching and stirring. November's hairline cracks have become gaping precipices, rivulets of melt water and salt eroding the ill-adapted layer of sandy grit beneath the tarmac. Small depressions have yawned into gaping potholes, into which whole cars have been known to disappear*. A flying squad of potholers (doesn't that sound like a good name for a band- The Flying Potholers?) are doing the rounds of the city's main thoroughfares, climbing down to rescue the trapped and plugging the holes with soft friable tarmac which is carried away on wheels as easily as cake mixture on a rolling pin.

I hate this bit of the year. I just wish it would make its mind up what it wants to be- either summer or winter, not half-way.

*OK, I made that bit up- it's only bits of cars disappearing really. And nobody has actually got lost in a pothole either. Yet.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Talking of handwriting... 

Since Elsie's done it, here's mine:

Time for a spot of bloggazing, methinks. People round and about ask "For whom do you blog?", and "Why do you blog?" or even "What do you blog?".

I realise that at times I probably come across as unbearably smug-married and emotionally settled, and in truth I certainly am, compared to how I used to be. Until the birth of my son I cannot remember ever being happy or doing anything strictly for myself. It might be seen as quite a sad thing that my first child's birth when I was 25 was my first real autonomous decision; a decision freed from any constraints and expectations except for those of the man I love, and whom I'd chosen. It was the happiest day of my life, the day I truly started living my own life. Our lives started at the same time, really.

There are some aspects of my life that I do not share with anyone, mainly because they are like hungry caged lions. I would no more set them free among my children than I would hungry lions. There are some other very mundane aspects of my life which I choose not to share on my blog because even I find them boring. I'm not one of these wonderful writers who can write up the mundane and make it sound interesting, like certain people I read. What I choose to share with my readers are mostly my thought processes, my most preoccupying item of the day; I don't blog because I feel I have to. I blog because I sometimes need to get something down in written words to make sense of it. I don't have the self-discipline to blog when I don't feel like writing anything. What I do write runs out in fully formed sentences, sometimes passable, sometimes bearable, sometimes unclear. Unless it's a very long post, I never spend longer than twenty minutes on anything- my motto on this is "Measure twice, cut once". At times my thought processes are more obscure than others, for which I can only apologise, but do nothing about- it's my blog, not the BBC.

There are some things that I dislike about my blog, such as my blatant inability (most of the time) to express emotion. This may or may not be because I am an ice queen- I'll let you be the judge of that. I feel that heavy duty emotion writes itself. Would I really go back to my twenties' pre-children, pre-married state to get some raw turbulent emotion back into my life? No, or I'd do it in my real life. After all the expectations, both realistic and unrealistic, put on me until my early twenties, which caused me to boil with useless, destructive, emotional turbulence, I am glad that I'm on an even enough keel to be able to think clearly; nowadays, I can even talk to my father without wondering how to kill him and get away with it.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm wading through candy-floss, so soft and sweet is my life now- I feel blessed every day that I live this way rather than that way. I can well understand though why the children of destructive environments can be tempted to replicate them in their own adulthood- just sometimes, the abyss beckons me again. I can still remember it well enough to ignore its signal. Just sometimes, I worry that I come across as a stereotype- I don't feel like one; most often I feel like a longtime refugee from Madland whose case has still not been heard by the Calmland Immigration Authority. We all have a story.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Hear no evil 

After ten and a half years of marriage, there are few things about my husband that irritate me. In fact there is only one. You see, my husband is a viola player. For those of you who are not into classical muscial instruments, a viola is like a large violin without the tunes. Viola players have pages of internet jokes devoted to their supposed inadequacies, mental retardation and general social ill-adaption. Google it, you'll see what I mean. This is not what bothers me though. My husband is a natural viola player- he tried the violin and was on the verge of giving up when his mother tried him with the viola instead, at which point he streaked to grade 8 in just a few years.

Now violas are a little like the double-bass in the orchestral environment. They underpin the high notes provided by the violins, and provide a musical buttress for the tune. This means that my husband, along with all the other viola players in the world, had to learn very early to blend. Which brings me to the thing which really annoys me. My husband subconsciously blends with any background noise. This means that when the radio is on, he unconsciously adopts the tone and volume of the person speaking on the radio. While my hearing was 100%, this did not bother me- I could always hear him even below the noise of the radio or television.

A few years ago, however, I developed "glue ear" following severe 'flu, and the slight deafness in my left ear has never quite left me. This means that I strain more and more to catch what he is saying. Sometimes he is so quiet that I have to turn off the radio and ask him to repeat several times what he has said before he will make it audible enough for me. And he gets pissed off if I ask to him to say the same thing more than twice, even if he was not speaking clearly in the first place. Sometimes he will not repeat himself at all. He seems to think it's a character defect of mine that I cannot hear what he's saying.

Now, this would not bother me that much if it weren't for the fact that our son has adopted the same habit of mumbling and then not repeating audibly. This annoys The Boff as much as it annoys me, as he frequently cannot hear Sim either- a problem largely repeated at school with his teachers. I keep pointing out that he is only doing what his father does, but The Boff does not see it that way. I've tried reasoning with them, I've tried everything I can think of to make them speak clearly, including tactical ignoring- ie if I've half heard, but still don't catch the meaning, pretending that I did not hear at all so that they repeat the whole thing louder or more clearly with no frayed temper.

More and more though I feel like going into a rant about how the young people of today don't speak clearly, what a pity it is that they mumble and slouch, and how it wasn't like that in my day. I sound like my own granny, and that bugs me. Eh? What's that? I heard that!

Monday, March 01, 2004

My goose is cooked... 

Social death beckons yet again. I would never have believed there could possibly be so many minefields as I crawled out of my hermit's cave all those years ago...

This time I think I may well have fed bacon to a Jewish kid. That sounds terrible, so I may have to rephrase. A kid, who may or may not be Jewish, but in all probability, is, ate bacon whilst in my care.

Sim had a nine-year old friend from his judo class over to stay the night. As I took delivery of young Z, whose first name is both Old Testament and extremely popular generally- no clues there then, and whose surname is distinctly Germanic- possibly Mittel European Jewish in origin- no real clues there either, I asked his mum whether there was anything he didn't eat, as you do. Surely if his mum was particularly concerned about pork she would have mentioned it at this stage, no? She just airily said that no, in the main he ate everything although he made a fuss about fish, which I had planned for lunch yesterday.

So we had salmon, which young Z declared delicious -he has gorgeous manners, this kid. We ate a scratch meal of popcorn and fruit in front on "the Hulk" for supper last night. This morning I made pancakes for the children, and bacon and fried potatoes for The Boff, who does not eat eggs. I asked the children if they wanted any bacon. Young Z asked if he could try some. I thought very quickly about it, and decided that on balance, all the kids I know who have some kind of dietary restriction know exactly what they may or may not eat by the age of nine, so I gave him some without asking whether he should or not.

Having put away a mouthful, he uttered these heartsink words: "Mmmmm, bacon is goood!" Obviously the kid had never had bacon before. Ok, I cautioned myself, he's only had half a rasher, you might get away with it... But no! The lad comes back for more! He ended up consuming two whole rashers, and with such enthusiasm, that I get the impression that he somehow won't forget to tell his parents about it...

Maybe his parents are not especially strict: not to the extent of cooking bacon themselves, but not so strict that they ban him from trying things at other peoples' houses- I had a Jewish friend at university who ate bacon, deliberately to annoy his mother he claimed. Or maybe Z's mother, who is lovely incidentally, thought it so obvious about the Jewish thing that she didn't think to tell me. Or maybe he's not Jewish at all, but just had by some fluke never had bacon. Aaargh! Where are you, hermit hole?

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