Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Closure cake 

I'm standing in the kitchen, vigorously stirring the custard which forms the second stage of the recipe I'm working on. I'll call the cake I'm making Closure Cake. I could tell you the real name, but I'd have to kill you. The recipe is a very old family recipe, passed for centuries from mother to daughter on the Western seaboard of France, before crossing the Atlantic 50 years ago in the luggage of a lady with one of the worst set of bad memories of the last century.

The recipe came to me during a baking session organised by neighbour and friend C. She is not French. Born in Canada, she is thoroughly Canadian, to the occasional consternation of her mother. C has no respect for recipes that require time. Over the years, she has cooked this cake many times, each time stripping out the parts she feels take too long. Gradually, the filling of custard has been replaced with standard bought pie filling of cherries or strawberries. C fits many things into every day, to the admiration of her mother, but she does not know how to do anything slowly and methodically. The cake has suffered in the process.

When I learned how to make this cake, I felt that I was learning a small piece of history. This is a cake designed to take an afternoon in the making. The recipe I have, copied out from a yellowing sheet that had been torn into bits during some unseen fit of anger -by whom?- had been badly repaired with sticky tape. A part of it was missing at the top of the sheet. The language, as flowery as the handwriting, dropped me straight back into a summer classroom, dust motes gyrating lazily against the far-off panes of glass in the tall windows, into the middle of a dictée.

The tone, magisterial and scholarly -in a recipe!- sent me back to a more secure, serene time, in the era before modern conveniences. I could see the blue patterned tablier busying itself near the long kitchen table, smell the apricots bubbling in the jam pan, feel the satisfaction of a job well done, taking pride in the detail.

For Odette, C's mother, disappointed and damaged product of one of the 20th century most violent events, and washed up on this land where method has given way to speed and convenience, I make this cake. I promised I would- she no longer has the inclination to cook. She waits.

I make the cake for C as well- for an insight into her history, she who always moves forwards, and has no real understanding of what her mother endured. She waits for nothing.

Finally, I make the cake for myself- the ingredients were in the cupboard in exactly the right quantities to be finished up in two quantities of cake mixture. I need a full stop to this year; I will get it by leaving behind the Closure Cake- one for Odette and one for C.

Mac put away -24 hours.

Be not afraid. I won't leave without saying auf wiedersehen. We're staying till tomorrow morning so that we can hear the first Jazz festival concert this evening. Then off to the Adirondacks.

And I couldn't leave without pontificating about my theories on camping.

I'm feeling high maintenance today- entertain me please.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Picking your collective brains 

Does anyone know of any online tool that enables you to plan your itinerary on a map, so that I could report in periodically and display our whereabouts? I have in mind a map of the States, with a line or a series of little markers showing our route. Does such a thing exist?


So here I am at 4am, eating fruit salad in front of the computer and worrying about all the things we still have to do before Wednesday- including finishing up a hundred-weight of fruit salad from Saturday's party. Also wondering if we couldn't leave on Thursday morning instead and catch the first night of the Jazz festival in Montreal- Ladysmith Black Mambazo are going to be at the opening free concert, and we can't miss that, surely?

White elephants 

We went unashamedly plebby today and spent the afternoon in the cinema. We went with the intention of seeing Farenheit 9/11, but found out it was a PG13 when we got there. The logistics of managing two separate cinema trips to see films that everyone would like (some wanted "Two Brothers", some "The Day after Tomorrow", and some "Super-Size Me"), overcame us, and we ended heading for everyone's second choice- "The Terminal".

Bits of it were shot in Québec's biggest, most expensive white elephant, Mirabel Airport. Mirabel Airport was the brainchild of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, erstwhile Prime Minister of Canada in the 70s; since its inception, it was a disaster- the transport infrastructure was never planned in advance, and because it is 90 km away from Montréal, the airport rapidly lost out to Toronto on the international east coast traffic for which it had been planned. It is now a shamefully deserted place, with only a dozen or so passenger flights every day. Which rather makes it ideal for hiring out to big-budget movies starring Tom Hanks and La Zeta-Jones.

The film itself was...interesting...rather far removed from Steven Spielberg's usual style. It had touching moments, but something about Tom Hanks' recent acting style just makes me want to punch him all the time, just.to.stop.the.furrowed.brow. La Z-J's phoney American accent drives me almost as crackers.

I think it may actually have had some interesting things to say about the nature of modern working lives, and the facelessness of unchecked bureaucracy. However, as an outsider, I felt that if the slant on many aspects of American life was ironic, it was too obscure for a non-native. The most touching parts dealt with the simple human solidarity of the underdogs at the airport- the little guys sticking up for each other. Hanks' bumbling intrusion was almost as welcome as a slug on a restaurant salad.

By the end of the film, as he began to slot into some semblance of social structure, I almost forgot that it was Tom Hanks in front of me. But the overall impression of the film was of a character actor bought in for far too much money, and with his own built-in obsolescence. When will they learn, and stop giving him monologues? He's just too...Hanks.

Also, I will never understand how PM Pierre Elliott Trudeau managed to be commmemorated in Montréal's successful airport- the airport formerly known as Dorval- after being responsible for one of the world's most expensive movie sets.

Sunday, June 27, 2004


...to all Mumsnetters. Service is not exactly what you might call normal around here, due to our imminent move- if you're looking for more standard blogging, may I suggest my archives? Also Liminal Musings (a two year son), Dirty Olive (an eighteen month old son), MBIAT (10 year old son and twin girls aged 15), Katie Fleck (five children aged between 1 and 6), Pewari's Prattle (she has a three year old and a newborn), Billyworld (two kids aged 21 and 19- no, it doesn't seem to stop even when they get to that age!), Chunnering (two children aged 5 and 9), Planarchy (two girls aged 11 and 13), Brain Spasm (three daughters aged 1, 5 and 9), The Mommy Blog (three kids aged 2, 3 and 6), Starry Sheep (a six month old boy), Word Shadows (delicious snippets of life with an eight year old boy), Momster (Mum with attitude to a 12 year old, a 15 month old and a newborn), and, if you read French, Lou, petit prince pas comme les autres (about a very different 6 year old boy) and Le blog de Matys, which started off as a yummy photoblog a few days after his birth.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Search engine droppings 

Dear, really- just look out of the window
...and to the poor chap who needs information about "purple patches near my penis", may I suggest a Uro-genital drop-in clinic? Sounds like VD to me......
and well done you! Register it quickly and you could have a nasty rash named after yourself.

Being boom-bust entertainers, ie nothing for months years, then hosting large gatherings, we are tonight having a boom (people who speak French from the 80s will appreciate that little pun). We've managed to off-load our extremely helpful children onto hapless guests of our party, for most of the afternoon, and we're up to our ears in fruit, veg and meat. Backson.

I'm doing a spot of tidying up, and I've got a few Gmail invites to hand out. All you have to do is toady a bit, and I'll send one your way.

No spammers please- you'd have to be someone I know to be a person, and who ain't going to flog the thing on Ebay, cos that would make me cross, and you don't want to make me cross, believe me.

Friday, June 25, 2004


On June 11th last year, as the removals men packed up the last of our belongings into cardboard boxes, we said goodbye to the house we'd lived for nine years, in which two of children had been born, and left in a subdued fashion for a year of vagabondage. I'd just lived in the same place for the longest time ever, and although I felt a tug, it was also time to move on.

We put the fish tank in to the back of the car and headed down the A303 towards a hotel on the outskirts of Exeter, ready to move in the following morniing. We spent the subsequent month split physically between a rented house Camberley during the week, and our new house at weekends. Our minds however were already soaring high above the Atlantic towards our year in Canada. We were excited about the changes, we who had expected to stay in Camberley for ever.

We have thence never really lived in our new house, and our judgement of it is coloured by the continual glorious weather we experienced throughout the whole time we were there: we have only seen the house in brilliant sunshine. The day we left to fly to Montréal, it was 30C in the shade, the same temperature as Montréal. Flying across the Atlantic for a year seemed at the same time a wonderful adventure, and the most natural and uncomplicated thing in the world. Propelled by goodness only knows what, we packed away things that were to be shipped.

This June, I have been packing stuff, some new, some old, into boxes, some new, some old, ready for our return trip. I'm not sure what I feel about going back now. I want to go back to our house, because it's ours in a way a rented flat can never be. I think I want to go back to England, but I know already that I'll miss Canada and how uncomplicated everything is here; I'll miss the easy friendships and natural companionability of those who live under a hostile sky.

As I tape things into boxes, I sometimes feel as though I'm packing millstones, things designed to slow us down and tie us to a spot on the planet; sometimes I feel as though I'm packing away our freedom, the things that allow us to perch on this hostile land and emerge unscathed from its harsh winter. Part of me wants to carry on flying and moving; another part is ready to put down roots again. I envy people who can happily stay in the same place for a very long time. They must surely be happier, less unsettled.

I don't know how I'll readjust to our life in Britain- I want to start my vegetable garden, but I also want to keep running. I suppose we shall have to see if we can do this again when we get itchy wings.

Quick question 

Since so many of you expressed surprise after hearing my voice, I would really, really, love to know what you were expecting- don't worry, I won't get upset, but I am very intrigued.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Today is the feast day of St John the Baptist, which also happens to be Québec's National Holiday. The sun is shining, despite predictions to the contrary, yet unlike the rest of Montréal, which has flocked to the river's edge for a barbecue in one of the many riverside parks, we are cooped up indoors, cathartically throwing stuff out. I'm not even sure the bin men are coming today. We shall be eating lentil soup and trying to pretend that it's still midwinter and that our wonderful year of freedom is not nearly over. Cheerful, me.

Haiku of the evening 

I search for answers
In many web pages and sites
I find not a clue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Ye Gods, it's the school holidays. They finished at noon today, and we've already had three fights, including one particularly vicious one regarding the rules of dominoes. Young M, our borrowed child, is doing a spendid job of keeping them in check, while I pretend to pack, and blog, a little.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, June 20, 2004

What fun, what fun. We took a picnic down to our local park, which just happened to be on the path of the Olympic Torch. A few minutes before the actual torch went by, the sponsors, C0c@ C0l@ and S@msung drove by handing out wares and flags. Well, in truth, only the drinks company was handing out wares. Much as we wouldn't have minded being knocked by a flying DVD player or flat-sceen TV, it seems that their generosity extends only to the actual team. Stingy multi-national.

It turned out that we were inadvertently standing only feet away from a relay.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

I'm so excited! I won this:

Stupid *&%%*(* Blogger.


So, we've...erm, got through quite a few rental cars this year.

1) July 2003: First car at the airport. Nondescript sedan. Just had to be swapped for...

2)July 2003: ...Little Chrylser Voyager. Turned out to be too small for us and our stuff. But sooo sweet. Went back after ten days of squabbling about who was sitting on whose hands, clothing and hair, and our impending camping trip.

3) August 2003: First Dodge Caravan (an MPV type thing, to you non-North Americans) Oodles of space, excellent dashboard extras such as outside temperature gauge, fuel consumption and inbuilt compass. Had to go back when they called it in for a service, I think.

4) August 2003: Dodge Caravan (from now on, assume they all are) Came to us unvaleted, stinking of cigarette smoke which made us all fell quite ill; also looked as though car engine parts had been transported in the boot without the protection of a dust sheet. Went back after a week.

5)Late August 2003: Grey green Caravan. This one lasted for months- until some plonker skidded into it in Sears' car-park, holing the bumper below the water-line; then the ABS stopped working.

6) March 2004: Grey Caravan. Had to go back ten days ago because a light meaning "service me NOW!" kept coming on.

7) June 2004: Grey Blue Caravan (beautiful plumage, that one). Some total w@anker in a Jeep with bull bars rear-ended The Boff on Thursday at a junction; because it was such a tall Jeep, he missed the bumper and totally wrote off the tail gate. We'd had the thing for a week. Still waiting to know if our stupid insurance policy excess is going to end up costing us a lot of money. The Boff is fine, thankfully.

8) June 2004: Red Caravan. "Excellent!", said D, our landlord. "High visibility..." he added meaningfully. Anybody would think the Boff asked to be rear-ended by having a pale car.

I ask you, does 8 cars in a year sound unreasonable?

Friday, June 18, 2004


At what point, when your boy, who play an instrument of his choosing, and mostly enjoys it when he practises regularly, do you start to give up nagging about practise, and start to let things slide? There's only so many times you can nag, surely? (I seem to be breaking world records at the moment.)

If we were forcing his to do, I wouldn't mind so much (well, if we were forcing him, we'd be more upset, such is the nature of the pushy parent); if he hadn't wanted to do it, I doubt he'd be doing it at all, given the several false starts we've had with music.

I just think that if he gives up now because he can't be bothered practise, he's putting his short-term pain over his long-term gain. I think that if can arrive at a situation (can you arrive at a stituation??) where he's actually playing more enjoyably, he won't regret the practise. Conversely, if he gives up now because we can no longer be bothered to twist ourselves into funny shapes to get him to do the practise, will he regret later giving it up?

I wish these things came with an instruction manual.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

D'you ever get days when everything you say comes out wrong, and when you can't open your mouth without putting your foot in it? I'm having a day like that. I apologise profusely to anyone I've come in contact with today...

For example, one's first reaction when seeing pictures of one's new niece should not be "Oh my God, she's got her father's eyes!". At least not the way I meant it...

Photo day 

The woman just across the yard from us is pregnant. Her baby is due in two weeks, but she's washed and hung out these baby clothes twice in two days. No prizes for guessing what she's going to be doing within the next few days.

My neighbour C, wanted a picture of this, and it's allowed me to explore the macro function on our camera. I'm beginning to think that life should come with a macro function.

Coming soon, if I can pluck up the courage, a picture of our topless sunbather neighbour in her usual place in the communal yard, taken from our kitchen window. She's rather giving the builders working on the house two doors down something worth coming to work for...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I haven't yet mentioned that my back is much better, and has been since last night. I don't know if there are lymph glands at the bottom of one's rib cage, near the spine, but the back pain was at its worst at the same time as the lymph nodes behind my left ear swelling up, and subsided as the lymph node and pain subsided. I reckon it might have been related to insect bites. I'll just chalk it up to weirdness.

Credible insanity 

Earlier today, outside our local supermarket, my attention was drawn to a stall set up near the crossroads. Hand-written signed sellotaped to the edge of his folding table, stacks of magazines neatky lined up on the table, a scholarly middle-aged gentleman was trying to attract the attention of passers-by.

"Would you like to help get rid of Dick Cheney?", the sign read.

"And how!", I mouthed silently to myself, unfortunately while I was looking in his direction. I say unfortunately because he spotted and apprehended me.

"Well, yes of course," I said, when he asked me the question face-to-face.

And that's when the beginnings of our beautiful friendship began to fall apart. It quickly became very obvious that the man, New York twang in his voice, was a very well-educated nutter, with a passion verging on fanaticism. My heart sank to my boots when he started telling me that Blair was Dick Cheney's boss, turned over one of his magazines, and pointed to a square on the back informing anyone who cared to read that Dick Cheney was, in fact, a disciple of Satan.

"I would love to see Bush and his accolytes toppled," I told him in all sincerity. 'I believe that even in the States they have a mechanism for achieving that, called universal suffrage."

Apparently I didn't understand a thing, and if I am getting this wrong, I'm relying on my US readers to put me straight on this; no, apparently, the reason Bush won was not on the recount in Florida, but because Gore let him win Arkansas.

It was when he started to tell me how close the German philosopher Leibniz was to becoming Prime Minister of Britain in the 18th century, about his desire to spread the American Revolution to England, and to tell me about the present colonial will of Great Britain -I believe a lot of bad things about Britain, but the wish to conquer the world I really don't think is one of them- that I realised I was on a wicket so sticky that I was in danger of disappearing into it.

I made my totally legitimate excuses -I was going to be late to collect the children- and left the poor man.

Child safety 

If I had my time again with my children when they were very young, there are some things I'd do differently. I wouldn't introduce them to seedless grapes or fish fingers until they were practically adult, for a start. They may sound like fairly innocuous things, but I've come to think that they confer a false sense of safety and entitlement. Now, they expect all grapes to be seedless and all fish to be filletted. Obviously, they don't always get these things they way they like them, but they grumble when things do not live up to their expectations, expectations which I find unreasonable in the circumstances: the grape is a fruit designed to convey a seed from point A to point B, a fish needs bones to support its muscles, which we quite happily consume.

When Sim was small, he had a huge head, which, coupled with a boisterous personality, meant that when he fell - and god how he fell!- his head always hit the ground first. When he was a toddler, I used to fantasise abput building a padded cell somewhere in the house, where he could go just so that I could relax for half an hour. Other people used to quip, upon seeing the row of hen's egg-sized bruises across his forehead, that we should make him wear a bike helmet all the time.

We could have done what other people did: padded every corner, guarded every sharp thing, put him in a play-pen all the time, or sat him zombified in front of the telly. There are several reasons why we didn't: firstly because he could work his way out of, over, and on top of anything; and secondly because we, from our personal philosophy, had decided that we shouldn't. When our children were small, the only places with child-proof (ha!) locks on were the chemicals cupboard under the scullery sink, and the medecine cabinet.

We could not have stair-gates in the house we lived in, because the stairs were too wide; instead The Boff painstakingly taught each child how to climb and descend stairs on their hands and knees, starting from around six months of age. It took at most a week of daily sessions of around 15 minutes before they got the idea. Obviously we still had to be vigilant, but it was a beginning of safety awareness. We decided not to get the bike helmet or padded corner guards for similar reasons; all they would have taught our madcap child would have been that walls are soft and that you don't hurt yourself when you fall over. This is kind of the opposite of the message you hope they'll get.

The result of this highly controversial take on child safety (I'd never have made as a child minder!) is that two out the three spent their toddler years adorned with a range of brightly coloured bruises and contusions, and are now multiply scarred, mostly on the head- there were some very searching questions asked by Casualty doctors, I can tell you. Hen, touch wood, has never even had a cut requiring attention- she has a naturally cautious personality. The other two are learning caution, and I must say have made a lot of progress.

They are also, all three of them, healthy and very strong for their ages. They are allowed to climb things -mostly trees- on two conditions: firstly that it bothers nobody and causes no damage; secondly, that they never get themselves into a situation they can't get out of again. This means that they do not attempt things that are way beyond their capacities.

When they were small, I felt like a pariah at the local mother and toddler group on so many fronts, but when I see my children now, I'm glad we decided to let them find things out for themselves. My philosophy is that child safety does not mean protecting your child from the world, but rather letting them explore and discover their own abilities and strengths gradually; and learn how to overcome the difficulties rather than resenting them. I just wish they didn't know about seedless grapes and fish fingers.

I've written 104,000 words in the last nine months. Enough for a PhD. I've had a lot more fun than I suspect a PhD would be to write. But God, 104,000 words. Have I done anything else? Don't answer that!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Well, Yahoo certaianly seem to be running scared from Gmail. Thanks to Yahoo's dramatic increase in my mailbox size overnight, I've plummetted from 35% of capacity to 2% of total capacity. Which is nice. I also means that I now have an obscene amount of mailbox space to call my own. Lemme see: 1000mb+1000mb+100mb+100mb= 2200mb- ie 2.2GB, roughly the amount of space on my last home PC. Where will it all stop?
On a related note, I must say that I am really enjoying my Gmail accounts, both of them. The vaunted ease of retrieval is certainyl living up its claims so far. And frankly, my stuff is so mundane, that I wouldn't care if it were searchable by an army of spotty troglodytes from the bowels of geekdom. Good luck to 'em.

Phone lore 

I'm probably showing my age, but I do find it intensely irritating when somebody you don't know and are not expecting to call, rings you up, and as an opening gambit, says "Who is this?". Usually they don't just want you to play guessing games with them either. They just want to know who you are. The only possible response is a curmudgeonly: "Who is this?" in return, I find, which invariably floors them.

Why do I feel like an old-fashioned out-of-touch biddy when faced with people being incredibly rude? It's not hard to introduce yourself and say hello, is it? I just assume (wrongly, as it turns out) that anybody doing that must be cold-calling. How was I supposed to know she just wanted her garage door checked? I don't think I did her ego too much damage...

I'd forgotten about the summer rain in this place, and how violent and sudden the rain could be. I was just woekn up by the sound of a huge downpour beating down, pouring against the fly screens and all over the children's sleeping heads. There are 8 foot wide streams rushing along the edge of the street, trying to find somewhere to go. People out there seem to be driving gingerly for a change.

Monday, June 14, 2004

To recap: I lay on my back for about one hour, doing Pilates stretches and watching junk telly. I found I could stretch more, but I'm still in pain. I then went shopping, did the hoovering, swept the floor, went to fetch the children from school, and really it is no better. Ho hum.

Back still bad. If anything, it's worse than yesterday, but without the benefits of the painkiller with muscle relaxant that I took , but which barely worked anyway. I can't sit for long, so this could be it for today unless I can work out how to fix it. I'm off to lie on my back in the living-room. Tatty-bye!

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I'm a bit of a crock today. Having spent a lovely afternoon yesterday by a lovely lake in the Laurentians, we came back covered in more insect bites than you would think possible. I also seem to have done something to my back, a bit like a cricked neck, but much lower, and I have unsightly painful lumps behind one ear. I've probably got honey fungus or fire blight. Thanks BW.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

As part of a prize that I won over at the The Uncertainty Principle, Pob and I are swapping posts for the day. Here is his half of the bargain:

Prior to last years IT Department Christmas party, it was suggested by some wag that we should all draw names from a hat and buy that person a small 'novelty' (i.e. smutty) present. Why? Because 'We're mad, we are'.

Quite. A few of the IT guys have even been known to change their socks without filling out the necessary Change Control forms; that's how whacky some of us techies are.

I myself was delighted to be the proud recipient of a pair of leopard skin Y-Fronts with the words Girl Bait strategically positioned across the front, and I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit that earlier today I slipped them on and stood before the mirror. This was not done, as you may have assumed, to attain some depraved sexual gratification, although that was an unexpected side effect. No, primarily it was intended as research for this post.

In 1985 Nick Kamen swaggered onto the set of a 1950's launderette to a Marvin Gaye soundtrack, eased out of his Levis 501s to reveal a pair of boxer shorts, and instantly hammered home the proverbial nail into the metaphorical coffin of the Y-Front industry.

Of course, the advert was devised to revitalise the flagging jeans market, and indeed sales of Levis increased by 800%. I suspect the boxer shorts and the whole 1950's revival thing was just a lucky accident. I for one exchanged all my Y-Fronts for boxers and never bought another pair again.

Was I a victim of advertising? Probably, in so far as I saw something I genuinely liked and thought looked good. Boxer shorts also have the advantage of covering up more of you, although the downside is that they're looser and the supplementary pair of socks you wear tend to roll down your leg and emerge at your feet. This can be embarrassing at Discotheques.

So was I buying into an image then? It's impossible to tell, but I like to think not. Hence the research with the Y-Fronts; I wanted to see if twenty years later, irrespective of the vagaries of fashion, I still thought they looked awful. Let me just say that I won't be the catalyst for a major Y-Front revival just yet.

I find most modern advertising offensive, patronising, transparently manipulative, and in some cases downright dangerous. It reinforces stereotypes, plays on people's guilt (Are your sheets white enough? Do your kids get bullied at school because you don't put the same artery-clogging crap in their luchboxes that the other kids have?), and don't even get me started on the fact that we now have children as young as 8 suffering from anorexia and body image problems thanks to some of the images of photoshopped-perfection we are bombarded with.

I had a conversation with one of our marketing guys at Fly-By-Night Airlines this week, and he told me that the project I was working on 'needed some creative input'. I completely refute the claim that there is much in the way of creativity in the marketing industry these days. Most of the advertising I see achieves such a high level of banality that I find it incomprehensible that grown men and women have actually sat round a table for weeks on end and discussed it.

"OK people, we've got this campaign for a vegetable oil margarine, and I thought we'd run a few ideas up the flagpole and see if the wind catches them. Pippa, any thoughts?"

"Well, I'm thinking cows. I thought we could have some singing and dancing cows on a farm."

"Excellent Pippa, very clever. I see what you're doing there. People associate cows and farms with butter, and even though our product has never been anywhere near either, the general public are stupid enough to subliminally believe that's what it is. And having them singing and dancing, well that's just comic genius. What about you, Jules? Any ideas on a name yet?"

"Well, taking Pippa's subliminal butter baton and running with it, I thought it could be highly effective if we get the word in the title, but in such a way so as not to fall foul of Trading Standards. Something short and snappy like I Can't Believe You're Stupid Enough To Believe This Crap Actually Tastes Like Butter.

Then there's the so called Premium Snack market, which I see as a microcosm of the style-over-substance society we've become. For twice the cost, I can now buy cheese and onion crisps that come in a fancy packet with a picture on the front of a chef preparing the carefully selected ingredients in his kitchen. Of course, they're now called Mature Cheddar and Shallot, which basically means that a slightly different mixture of chemicals was added at the factory where they were mass produced. Consequently, we are duped into thinking the contents are of a superior quality by the presentation.

What started this particular rant was hearing a song by Eva Cassidy on the radio this morning. As many people will now know, Eva had an extraordinary voice, and despite recording a few songs for minor labels was unable to make the big time due to her eclectic style. Because her influences included folk, jazz, pop, the marketing people couldn't see how talented she was and had no idea quite how to pigeon hole her, and she wasn't prepared to compromise on the most important thing - the music. After her tragically premature death through cancer at the age of 33, a local radio station DJ championed her music, and the anthology album Songbird went on to be a number one hit and million seller in Britain.

Naturally, since then the marketing machinery has gone into overdrive because as any exec will tell you, dying is a great career move. That's the reason why Elvis is living on the moon with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

Guest post by Pob

Friday, June 11, 2004

Can't stop. Just rushing through. Busy day, very busy.

Have I ever mentioned how little I enjoy oblique remarks?

Today, in a day that saw my delightful landlady attempt to spray with her hosepipe my nearly dry washing in the back garden (for the fourth time since we've been here!!!), and tell a prospective tenant that "yes, they're out of here a few days before the 1st, so we'll get in here and give it a thorough in-depth clean" within my earshot, I suddenly thought of a good answer to that sort of behaviour: "Do I bring out the worst in you, or are you always like this?"

For the record, I spend a fair amount of time every day cleaning -anything between 30 minutes and an hour and half- which I don't think is too bad for a three-bedroom flat maintained by the owners.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Dear FutureMe 

You can send yourself an email to arrive at a date in the future of your choosing, by clicking here.

Heading for (box) closure 

I packed some boxes of clothes this afternoon. I squashed away all the items Not Wanted On Voyage, the work clothes in autumn shades of blue, purple and green -left unloved all year at the bottom of my wardrobe; the fancy stripy sweaters that have hardly seen the light since last winter-how were we to know you hardly ever need a sweater in this land of hyper-performant winter wear and triple glazing; the winter coats and gloves which will doubtless prove too warm ever to use in Europe; the childrens' clothes in the next size up -bought in sales, I never pay full-price for anything; earlier frustrations melted and I became calmer and calmer. The sense of belonging to this place weakened, the very air seemed to lighten, to become more transient. I even thought I could hear a faint echo, of the kind you get in hotel rooms: the echo of the unlived-in, the over-tidy- ha!
I feel better now.

Please everyone, hotfoot over to Blue Witch's and complete her quick survey. I'm not sure what it's about, but you get to shut your eyes and spin, so it can't be all bad.

maelstrom, burlap, figment, anaconda, detrimental, turpitude, abstract, realism, abject, eponymous, relic, basher, thingummy, gortex...

No connection between any of these words as far as I'm aware- they're the first 14 words that popped into my head as I typed. When I'm in this mood, I'm generally quite good at a particular internet word game. So that's what I'm off to do.

What are the first ten words that pop uninvited into your head as you type them?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I didn't see him. I heard him first.

"Is that one of those folding bicycles?", he asked, motioning his orthopaedic cane towards the ordinary two-wheeler I was unlocking.
"No, it's just my landlady's bike", I answered, turning round to face him. Late middle-age, stooped, grey-bearded beneath twinkling dark brown eyes.
"Ah! An English voice!", he exclaimed. "Where are you from?"
Not knowing whether this will be an expert on British geography or not, I told him that the last place I lived was near London.
"I didn't think you were from Manchester" he says.

"You know Manchester, then?" I was feeling a little homesick after all, so there seemed no harm in asking the man what he liked about Britain. It's become a familiar refrain in me recently. I suppose I'm after validation, reasons for feeling homesick.
"Yes," he explained, "I spent three years at the university there, when my dear wife was alive".

The conversation flowed from there. Soon, I'd established that he was an academic, a widower. He was interested in my interest in linguistic geography, because although a mediaevalist, his passion was Yiddish and linguistics. A pre-war child, he grew up as a Yiddish speaker in New York, one of the last Jewish generations for whom speaking Yiddish was not shameful.

As is usual when I meet academics, I was able to make the right noises to convince him that I understood and could keep up, but my actual knowledge was woefully inadequate. He suggested lunch inside the shopping centre, which we took at a kosher mediterranean place in the food court.

I was treated to a couple of hours of fascinating history of the state of Israel, of the Yiddish language, of the background to the first World War, and of the underlying reasons for the eventual cease-fire. He realised early on in the conversation that this is not a meeting of minds, that he would have to do most of the talking; this bothered neither of us- I was happy to listen and chip in occasionally as and when I was able, he was happy to speak confidently on something he knew a lot about.

At the beginning of lunch, as Norman retold an anecdote he had already recounted outside, I realised that despite his sharp eyes and acute intelligence, time was beginning to take its toll. Did he realise that he repeated himself? I doubt it.
Later, I left my name and telephone number on his pad alongside the details of a website he'd asked me for, in case he needed further information to find it, I wondered whether he would remember his impromptu lunch with a stranger.

I also wondered at my own capacity for this type of meeting. Since late teenage, I've been able to meet and talk confidently with total strangers (one day I shall tell you about the time a man tried to recruit me into prostitution, nay white slavery, in a square in Paris). I also know how to get out of awkward situations using only my wits. I suppose I'm lucky at being able to spot people who might cause me harm and distinguish them from harmless people.

A few days later, there was a message on our home answerphone, from Norman. He clearly had no idea who I was; he thought that maybe there was a political connection. I don't think he even remembered the nondescript lunch and scintillating conversation. I did not return his call; there seemed no point.

Haven't blogged much lately, because I've been trying to finish "Oryx and Crake". I know that Margaret Atwood can be an acquired taste, but I really, really recommend this one, if only for the prophetic feel to it- it somehow seems plausible, in the way that "1984" must have done when it was published.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Plain English Campaign 

"This is a poster-child chemical for something that ought to be zeroed out." WTF? Anyone?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Sim is as I write, teaching the three girls- Hen, Dill and young M, how to play poker, with gambling. They are gambling toys, hairbands, paste jewelry and pennies. I have no idea how my son knows how to play Poker.

Forward planning 

Dill in the bath last night- please bear in mind that she is not yet 7.
Me: So Dill, would you like to wear these [new] clothes again tomorrow?
Dill: Do we have school tomorrow?
Me: No, not tomorrow, it's a PED day.
Dill: Ok then, I won't wear them tomorrow, because I want to wear them to school, so I'll keep them till Tuesday.
Dill: Except that I've got Gym on Tuesday and we're not allowed shorts that long or denim. I'll wear them on Wednesday then.
Dill: Except I've got gym on Wednesday as well. I'll wear them on Thursday then. You've got time to wash them between Monday and Thursday, haven't you?
Me: Yes.
Dill: I'll wear them tomorrow then.

For the record, the clothes in question are a lovely blue t-shirt, denim shorts, and sweater with dog face on and stripy sleeves.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Some people are happy tanners. Some people, namely my husband, my son and youngest daughter, have the kind of skin that sees sun, and instantly goes a beautiful shade of gold. I am not one of those people. I am pale, peppered with pale freckles, that grow in girth from spring until autumn, looking like a river delta complete with multitude of small islands by the end of normal summer. A trip to some sunny country usually sees them turning more into a mangrove swamp seen from above- more freckle than not-freckle.

In a normal English summer, they might never get to that stage. Thanks to a combination of increased amount of outdoor exercise, lack of car forcing me to walk a lot, and relatively southern latitudes, for the first time ever as far as I can remember, they have joined together. My face is now one giant freckle, somewhat motley in places, and is mostly of a yellowish hue. Yes, I look like a liver patient. All the pictures taken of me make me cringe, I am who am shy of having my picture taken in the first place. Until someone manages to produce a decent picture of me, no way am I ever releasing one on here.

Busy day today. Young M, 15 year-old daughter of my sister's friend, arrives this evening to spend two months with us and our chaos. I'm not quite sure what the poor child has done in life to deserve it, but I'm sure we'll make her feel at home *evil grin*. She's coming to improve her third language, English.

I know I'm being stupid, but I still don't understand how to blog by email. It could be useful while we're on teh road, so I'm trying to investigate it, but Blogger Help is frankly not helpful at all. Do I have to sign up somewhere for something?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

This house is a two-storey apartment building with a basement. Built in the 1940s, it is positively ancient by Canadian standards. People express shock and wonder that our house in Britain, of impeccable Victorian design and construction, can actually still be standing. The house here has a wealth of period features, none of which I would consider antique: this is probably just European snobbery. It does have one antique feature though, and I don't mean that in a good way: its single bathroom.

By 1940s standards, any sort of internal plumbing was obviously the height of luxury. Nowadays, our family of five is stretching the poor installation to its fullest capacity. It's the size of a large cupboard, and it only takes 3/5th of our family to fill it completely. First thing in the morning not fun with only one loo.

Images of our four lovely conveniences, complete with views over cows and green grass, flit through my brain as I hop around in the corridor waiting my turn. It is not unusual for someone to be brushing their teeth at the sink, someone else in the shower and someone else on the loo at the same time. That just can't be sanitary, can it?

Some of my biggest gripes and reservations about places other than my own home involve inadequate plumbing. I'm usually to be found, happy as larry in the middle of Spain, moaning about why on earth they haven't yet discovered the U-bend. Can good plumbing be so difficult? If you're going to build a flat that because of its surface area could happily house 15 people (according to the Québec tenants' association*) then why on earth provide it with only one bathroom, for crying out loud??? Surely two loos wouldn't be too many?

I would just like to point out at this stage that our flat is a three-bedroom flat, but that the association takes only the surface area into account. I would further like to say that our Devon house used to be a school, and that for reasons outlined in the comments, is possibly (but happily for us) overprovided in the loo department). End of statement.

Friday, June 04, 2004

A snack 

An old man on the Metro, meticulously dressed in a shirt and jacket with a white cotton cap, consumes a peach, one of the first of the season. With his tiny pocket knife, he carefully cuts pieces from the peach towards the stone, eating them hungrily straight from where his thumb wedges them against the blade.


I was threatened by email -you know who you are!- into producing this:

I have a new niece, born by emergency caesarian at 10pm GMT last night.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


This was caught on the move- strangely, she doesn't enjoy having her picture taken: she'll do anything to avoid it. Not that that stops us- it just means we get more unconventional shots, like this one of her wheeling around. She's got a lobster in her left mitt, but I cropped the picture because she's holding it in front of me.

I'm in a foul temper and have been all week. I'm shouting at the children for little or no reason, I'm impatient with them, I don't want their noisy friends round, I'm constantly on the edge of a headache, I'm avoiding getting mixed up in complicated projects with them (oo-ooh! Baking gingerbread- complicated!). I'm becoming a harridan. This post contains the word 'I' seven times. Duck me.

Later: tanked up the the eyeballs on Calpol (children's paracetamol) because we've run out of the grown-up version. I'm feeling mellower. Now where's the wine?

Update: Thanks Pob!

Decisions decisions decisions 

I'm trying to choose between my head and my heart at the moment, between the MA in Applied Translation and the MA in Literary Translation at the University of Exeter. My head says to go for the applied one, because there's more chance of work from it. My heart wants the Literary one. I'm going for a walk over to the Health Food shop to clear my head and come to a decision before filling in the online application form.

This is for all those people who've been baying for likenesses of the boy and his haircut.
Before: Saturday morning, at breakfast, in his pyjamas:

After: this evening, after supper, in his pyjamas (yes, he does live in them)

As you can see, it's weird. The haircut, that is, not the boy. Mind you, now I come to think of it...

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

*bawl* I don't wanna go on holiday! I don't wanna go to the States! I don't wanna camp in mosquito swamps for six weeks! I just wanna go home!

The mullet lives yet. It may be just a temporary reprieve, it may be a stay of execution. I haven't decided yet. Too busy. Need boxes. Need police report. Need new brain.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Which among you has never, when faced with a gutter overflowing with rainwater, been tempted to grab a stick and clear the leaves from around the drain? I'm a terrible busybody really I think- or maybe a beaver, in whom the sound of rushing water causes a frenzy of dam building. I just can't jump over a huge stream at the side of the road without wanting to sort it out.

There's something quite thought-provoking about seeing the water, liberated at last, pour into the drain. So much water, yet in the dry you think that the pavement is as low as the street goes. Seeing gallons of storm water empty themselves into a hole in the road reminds you that the concrete beneath your feet is merely capping a warren of tunnels in the city street.

I wonder how far the street would sink if all the tunnels suddenly collapsed? The answer can sometimes be seen in the middle of downtown roads- the weather has a strange effect on the substrate of the roadway, washing away the core of the road but leaving the tarmac. The tarmac gradually weakens over what can be a substantial cavern, until suddenly it collapses as well, leaving a pothole the size and depth of a car wheel. I find that quite scary. Give me a firm field any day.

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