Monday, 29 December 2008

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

I enjoy reading books about the inner workings of the art world. It must be the deep seated envy that wishes I were an artist. Much to my disappointment, there is not an artistic bone in my body. I live vicariously through artistic friends (of which I have many including my husband) and I savour literature about art and the souls that produce the drawings, paintings, and sculptures that have the power to take my breath away and feel wholly inadequate in the space of 1/2 second.

What I Loved is a VERY cerebral but highly accessible novel. It is the story of love, grief, friendship, parenthood and our perception of ourselves and others in our various roles.

Set in Manhattan it is a story of an artist and an art history professor, their lives and losses, their children and aging. There are some disturbing events which will cause great anguish and fear in every mother and father who reads this novel.

Often I complain about the lack of character development in novels. The characters in this story are incredibly complex and Hustvedt uses thrilling and evocative language to develop the multiple dimensions of their personalities so much that they feel real. I so desperately want to meet Violet and Bill and Leo. They are not perfect people and I think they would make fascinating dinner guests. I'm certain they exist.

The ending of the novel is sad and yet not so sad. Not unlike many of our lives.

If you have harbour an intense interest in art and aren't afraid of exploring the possibilities of children growing into monsters (some do), then I highly recommend this book. If art bores you and/or you would rather avoid thinking about the monster scenario, give this a miss.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Uncle John urged me to read this short, exquisite story set in Germany during the second World War. Now I would have thought this topic had been done from every imaginable angle and that no new perspective could be found.

I would be wrong.

Bruno is a young boy whose father is in charge of the death camp at Auschwitz, which he calls "Out With". He's upset at having been moved from his wonderful home in Berlin to this outpost where he has no friends. He doesn't fully understand what his father's job is and although his bedroom window overlooks the grounds of the concentration camps he certainly doesn't understand what goes on there. He just wants to go on adventures.

As he walks the fence that separates his world from the other he finds another little boy sitting on the other side of the fence. They begin an unlikely friendship based on just talking. I loved this part because if you've ever watched boys play, they don't talk much. Oh, they make pirate growls and the sounds of cars driving and very realistic explosion noises but they don't talk much about what they think. These 2 little boys had no other choice. They had no toys and couldn't go exploring together.

But most extraordinarily, they don't talk about what is really happening mostly because they are too young and too innocent to believe the horrors.

When the Jewish boys father disappears, Bruno agrees to help find him and plots to sneak under the fence. He is never seen again.

This novel is simple. It is simply poetic. It is poetic justice.

Read it. It won't take long and it will haunt you for a long time afterwards.

Friday, 26 December 2008

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

A woman, Sally, decides not to tell her husband that a business trip is canceled and steals a week away from him and her young daughter to spend it in a posh country hotel all by herself. She ends up meeting a man and has an affair. A year later she sees a man on television whose wife and daughter have died. They live not far from her and whilst he physically is not the man she slept with a year ago he uses the same name as the man she met did.

This book is a murder mystery detective novel but never quite gets going. The plot is convoluted coming at you from different people's perspectives and lives. There are complications of the detectives love life which never quite develops into having any real meaning to the story. All the various mothers are despicable characters who hate being mothers and are rather selfish, self-centered egoists. I suppose worst of all is Sally who honestly believes she would never have to pay the piper.

Don't waste any time on this one.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Some Assembly Required

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
I searched for the tools to hand to my spouse.

Instructions were studied and we were inspired,
in hopes we could manage "Some Assembly Required."

The children were quiet (not asleep) in their beds, while Dad
and I faced the evening with dread:

a kitchen, two bikes, Barbie's town house to boot!
And, thanks to Grandpa, a train with a toot!

We opened the boxes, my heart skipped a beat....
let no parts be missing or parts incomplete!

Too late for last-minute returns or replacement;
if we can't get it right, it goes in the basement!

When what to my worrying eyes should appear,
but 50 sheets of directions, concise, but not clear,

with each part numbered and every slot named,
so if we failed, only we could be blamed.

More rapid than eagles the parts then fell out,
all over the carpet they were scattered about.

"Now bolt it! Now twist it! Attach it right there!
Slide on the seats, and staple the stair!

Hammer the shelves, and nail to the stand."
"Honey," said hubby, "you just glued my hand."

And then in a twinkling, I knew for a fact
that all the toy dealers had indeed made a pact

to keep parents busy all Christmas Eve night
with "assembly required" till morning's first light.

We spoke not a word, but kept bent at our work,
till our eyes, they went bleary; our fingers all hurt.

The coffee went cold and the night, it wore thin
before we attached the last rod and last pin.

Then laying the tools away in the chest,
we fell into bed for a well-deserved rest.

But I said to my husband just before I passed out,
"This will be the best Christmas, without any doubt.

Tomorrow we'll cheer, let the holiday ring,
and not have to run to the store for a thing!

We did it! We did it! The toys are all set
for the perfect, most perfect, Christmas, I bet!"

Then off to dreamland and sweet repose I gratefully went,
though I suppose there's something to say for those self-deluded...
I'd forgotten that BATTERIES are never included!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Out of Africa

Both Abigail and Sebastian performed in the St George's Dance recital last week and it was nothing short of spectacular. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a mother and I have to.



The story was about a girl who dreamed of all the animals in Africa. Sebastian was a fierce lion and remains the only boy doing ballet in the school. This production did feature four boys who have doing tap for several years and their dedication to the art was obvious!




Abigail was an elephant. For the ears, the costume department had made little sacks made from gray fabric with pink ribbons. When they put their ponytails into the sacks and tied them they looked just like elephant ears. It was adorable.




The music was super cool and I saw many parents (including myself) getting down in the audience. The costumes and makeup were clever and creative.

Reception (Abigail's class) only performed in the first production and we went back to pick up an exhausted Sebastian quite late in the evening following the second production.
My heartfelt thanks go to Miss Maggie (the ballet teacher), Mrs Jones and the entire production crew who must have worked hours and hours to make this such a special evening for parents and pupils.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Number Crunch

If you are lost in the sea of political mumbo jumbo about what has caused the financial crisis, this Vanity Fair article does really great job of laying the numbers bare.

The number is the first paragraph identifies that the world economic output was $48.6 trillion whilst the market capitalisation of the world's stock markets was $50.6 trillion and the total value of domestic and internals bonds was $67.9 trillion. These numbers are staggeringly large and impossible to fully comprehend (at least for a small mind/bank account like my own).

The article is long but extraordinarily useful for explaining how we got here and most importantly for putting it all in historical context. Take the time to read it.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mumbai Terrorist Atrocities

I have been horrified by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

I remember when I told my sister I would be travelling to India in April this year. She was worried and warned me that it was not a safe place. I reminded her that New York wasn't very safe in September 2001 and that India was an emerging nation with an intricate and fascinating history and future which was as safe as just about any other place in the world (notwithstanding Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea). I was thrilled to visit Chennai, Pune, Bangalore and my final destination, Mumbai.

The histories of Britain and India are inexplicably interwoven. I work with many colleagues who are from India and in fact with many Indians who are here temporarily and their families are back in India. As the news broke on the television and pictures were published on the front pages of the newspapers, I began to wonder if everyone was safe.

I was assured by the suppliers I work with that their facilities, and most importantly, their people were safe. But, so far, 175 people were most definitely not safe and hundreds more were injured.

This blog is by a man who is from India and teaches at Harvard. He was visiting Mumbai and staying not far from the Taj Hotel. You must read his blog posts. Click on the Day 1 post and read your way backwards. The story of the burning of the Taj dome brings tears to your eyes as you feel his nation's loss. It is an amazing individual account of a terrifying event. It doesn't have any of the spin, detachment or sensationalism of professional journalism. It is filled with emotion: sadness, fear, shock, horror.

My heart breaks for him and his country as they try to recover. We must find who is responsible and bring them to justice.

Thanksgiving Adventures


I get so utterly distraught on Thanksgiving. It is the price I pay for living in England.

Most people here don't know it is Thanksgiving or they have forgotten. Even my husband forgot this year.

I ate a salad for lunch on Thursday and rang my sister as soon as I got home from work only to make myself more miserable by listening to all the preparations going on. I caught snippets of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on the news. But gave up and went to bed early.

There is an upside to this. There is absolutely no pressure or opportunity to be sucked into the Black Friday shopping extravaganza/riots. Did you hear that a person was killed at a WalMart in NY after being trampled by eager shoppers? How absurd is that?

On the first Saturday after Thanksgiving I delude myself into believing that it is the real Thanksgiving and proceed to prepare a traditional feast for my family, who are after all, half American. The turkey is roasted and the stuffing is my extra special recipe full of surprises (no oysters since Marc hates oysters).

But Thanksgiving in a foreign country is not without its troubles. This year I had my fair share of challenges. The cans of condensed milk I opened for the pies were about 3 years out of date so I had to pop down to the store right in the middle of the production. The grocery store failed to deliver fresh cranberries which I didn't realise until mid morning on Saturday so there was no or little time to pop out for some. The dog munched into my gorgeous pies the night before.

But I rose above it all. The children are finally old enough to recognise the difference between a feast and mac & cheese so they truly appreciated all my efforts. Plus they now eat and enjoy just about everything that is put on their plates. In fact Abigail had seconds and perhaps even thirds of turkey. She really enjoys the combination of cranberry sauce (out of a jar, unfortunately) and turkey. And Sebastian now prefers my stuffing to Stove Top (about time, the philistine!).

I have a fear of gravy. Not eating it but preparing it. Each year I persist and the practice is paying off. This year's gravy was quite possibly the best gravy ever - sorry, Mom! Marc didn't talk much because his mouth was always full and he had thirds. Considering the resulting collapses on to the sofa, we were suitably stuffed.
In the age old tradition of giving thanks, Marc was most grateful to live in country where he and his are safe and warm which is particularly poignant given the recent activities in India (a country with very close ties to Britain). Abigail was most grateful for being given a big girl's wine glass at dinner from which to drink her cranberry juice cocktail. There's actually quite a deep thought in there which I interpret as her being grateful for having grown another year bigger and another year wiser. Sebastian didn't use any metaphors when dishing up his gratitude telling us he was thankful to be alive. Phew, me too!
Me? What am I grateful for? I don't even know where to begin. I have so much. But at the end of the day, I am thankful to have found a man to grow old with, to raise children with, to have an amazing life with its ups and downs and be fairly certain he'll be there for the roller coaster ride of life no matter what.

The neighbours popped in just as we were finishing and we made up wee little sampler plates for them to taste which they loved. Little Helena even ate the pumpkin pie!

I had asked Marc to carve up the gigantic turkey and put it into little bags for the freezer and made my first mistake by assuming that because I had asked it got done. I woke up this morning to find the remnants of a very large turkey carcass in Bailey's bed.

Marc had left the turkey on the counter overnight and it was far too much temptation for Bailey to resist and he demolished nearly all of it. Looking at him collapsed on the lounge carpet I reckon he's got that turkey tryptophan high and just wishing we could put a football game on the television for him.

I most cross over the missed leftover turkey sandwiches. Might have to pop down to the supermarket and get some cooked turkey for sandwiches. How sad is that? I am not so grateful right now for the dog.

Friday Antics

My life is never complete without random trips to hospital A&Es (ERs) randomly sprinkled throughout the year.

On Friday I had worked from home and managed to get the pumpkin pies for our Thanksgiving feast baked. They were cooling on the kitchen counters when I left to get Abigail from school. I picked her up at her normal time from school and we headed home. Sebastian has judo on Friday's so I expected we wouldn't need to return to school until 5 pm. I had left my work mobile in the house not expecting to use it whilst I did the school run. I did at the last minute grab my personal mobile.

When we arrived back home we went next door to visit the neighbours as we often do when we get home on Fridays. Little Helena (the 2 year old next door) loves Abigail and we are so busy we don't often get to visit. My plan was to stay for a cuppa tea and then get dinner started. I had just sat down with my cuppa when my mobile rang. It was Marc telling me to go to the school and get Sebastian. He had injured his chin during the afternoon's football game.

I left Abigail with the neighbours and raced to the school. When I got there I removed the band aid that the matron (school nurse) had put on his chin after cleaning up the blood and knew a trip to the hospital was required.

I phoned Marc and made arrangements for him to pick up Sebastian's classmates (Izzy & Hetta) at 5 as we normally drop them off on Friday's after school since they live in the same village as us. I rang the neighbour and asked her to keep Abigail and we set off for the hospital.

After an hour wait we were seen by a nurse practitioner who cleaned up the gash some more (it was still bleeding - ick!) She stripped it and glued it and put a plaster bandage across it and we headed home.

It seems that during the football match Sebastian's chin met Hugo's head as they were both heading for the football, neither of who were paying much attention to each other's fast approach. Seb stays he had the wind knocked out of him and Hugo has a nasty bump on his head. Thank goodness no teeth were lost.

When we got home, Marc's car was here but he wasn't. I noted that the pumpkin pies had cooled nicely and looked beautiful. I was hoping to resist the temptation for a slice until our feast on Saturday.

I went next door to find that Marc didn't need to pickup Izzy and Hetta (they had left for a family trip to Ireland at midday) and he had just gotten home after having waited at the school for 30 minutes. I'm sure their mother had told me but clearly in the madness I had forgotten.

The other neighbours had locked themselves out of the house and Emma had spare keys so they were round as well. It was chaos with 4 girls in the house all under 4 years old.

When we all got back into our home, I was horrified to find that Bailey (the dog) could not resist the temptation of the pumpkin pies and had jumped up on the counter and demolished 1/2 of one pie and 1/4 of the other pie.

Oh, I needed a drink!

Fatal Voting

Although US elections are not violent, voting in them is not risk free.

A study of traffic patterns in the USA dating back to Jimmy Carter's victory in 1976 found the risk of dying in a car accident is 18% higher on election days than on any other Tuesday in October or November.

Just thought you might like to know for future reference, say 2012!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie

I almost don't even want to confess to reading this book. A friend dropped it round in amongst a whole bunch of other books. She did warn me that it wasn't much but thought I might find it funny.

I didn't. In fact on several occasions I asked myself why I was still reading it and continually berated myself to stop. Just put the dang thing down. But I have this compulsion to read books once I've started them. As you can see from my reading list on the left I will start a book and if I don't get on with it I will keep it on the bedside table until I have forced myself to read it through. I will not be beaten by a book. Even a crap book. What's wrong with me? Why do I have this compulsion?

Ah, but this is about the book not me.

Oh forget that. I'm not going to spend the time to write about a waste of time book and waste your time making you read about said book.

Go to Jail. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Do not read this book.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

I picked this book up at the library at the same time as The Blind Assassin mostly because I just liked the cover. It looked like it would be a nice easy read and give my brain a much needed rest after the workout of an Atwood exercise.

In fact, this novel was an incredibly disturbing and insanely clever thriller. The stories of 3 different seemingly unrelated murders at 3 different times in history (spanning roughly 30 years). Jackson Brodie is a private detective investigating 2 of the 3 finding that they are all inexplicably linked.

The murders and the circumstances surrounding them are nothing short of horrific. I was sick to my stomach when it was revealed who was responsible for the death of little Olivia.

Jackson is both reprehensible and lovable all rolled into one. (Aren't we all?)

Atkinson is clever. She breaks all the rules of murder mystery and creates her own little devices for story telling. I loved her characters and the ending is poignant but not sugary.

It doesn't take long to whip through this and you will enjoy it.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America


A PROCLAMATION WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States


a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"


NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and variousfavours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us. And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree oftemporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft. GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine. (signed) G. Washington Source: The Massachusetts Centinel, Wednesday, October 14, 1789

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Another Booker Prize winner made the choice for our Book Group. I'm not sure why they keep choosing Booker Prize winner because it is obvious to me that they have neither the desire nor the motivation to read these novels of substance but they persist. I wonder if anyone else read the book. (NB: I always write my reviews in advance of the book group if only so as not to colour my initial review. I do put a note at the bottom just to tell y'all what the others thought.)

Regardless I was thrilled to have an excuse to read this book. Both The Handmaiden's Tale and Alias Grace are in my top 20 favourite book list. I read The Handmaiden's Tale over 20 years ago and it had a profound effect on my opinions towards women's reproductivity rights.

But it has to be said that Atwood books are not for the faint of heart. She unexpectedly veers into the science fiction realm every so often and that is not my favourite literary genre. The book group read Oryx and Crake a few years back and I remember struggling to turn every page.

The Blind Assassin is considered by many to be Atwood's best novel and a literary classic so convincing me to give it a read wasn't a hard sell despite the sci-fi undertones.

And I was not disappointed. The book starts at the turn of the 20th century, the start of the industrial age and is set in a small Canadian town. The focus is on twin sisters, Iris and Laura.

The book alternates between present day and moving forward through the sisters lives. although you know quite early on that Laura committed suicide the events in their lives which occurred around the Second World War when their lives are truly shaped are not revealed until the end of the book.

The book is a gripping page turner although there are these odd chapters of a story interwoven between the chapters of their lives. I was left wondering what in the world they had to do with the rest of the story being told and was tempted to skip them as they didn't interest me as much. Fortunately, I persevered and a good thing that was because at the end it becomes obvious that to have skipped those would have meant you missed out on a vital part of the story.

Atwood is a master for setting time and place. Her descriptions of the village and the people who populate it are exquisite. The details of the women's clothing is pitch perfect. My mind's eye was filled with precise pictures. I don't know of an author who does this quite so expertly.

The ending is a shock and I won't give it away here in the hopes that my blog fans will race out and based on my recommendation, read the book. Go on, do it. It's time well spent.

Book Group Verdict: I've decided to take a break from my book group and see if I can find another group which is more closely aligned to my objectives for a book group. I may reconsider this decision at a later date but for now this is a reader looking for a new home.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Friday, 14 November 2008

Silence is Golden

Sebastian participated in raising money for a cancer charity by keeping silent at school. Here's the local press coverage. Can you find him in the photo?


Saturday, 8 November 2008

Not a Joke

On my recent trip to France I was browing the WH Smith bookstore in Terminal 1 of Heathrow airport before departure. Everything you are about to read is the truth. This is not a joke!

A woman walks into the book store headed for the travel section. After perusing the shelves for a while she asks the clerk "Do you have any books on Vietnam?"

The clerk replies "Is that in Austria?"

I look up and look at the clerk to see if she is serious. When I see that she is clueless, I look towards the woman who asked the question. She stares back at me. Both of us don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Calmly, the woman replies "No, it is near China."

To which the clerk replies "I don't think we have anything on that part of England."

I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants.

Friday, 7 November 2008

No Rest

I could never be President. Not that I would ever want to. The pay is really bad and someone is always complaining about the job your doing. Plus if you are really good at the job, you don't get anytime off.

President-elect Obama just went through the longest job interview EVER! The people interviewing him (the American public and various other stakeholders around the world) weren't entirely sure about the job description or what they were looking for in a candidate.

Worst of all, the job changed dramatically just a few months before he was offered the position. When he answered the question from the journalist about whether he still wanted the job, I know I would have probably given a different answer.

Then he gets the job! Yeah!!!!! And he celebrates for, oh, about 2 minutes. OK, 17 minutes to be exact.

And then he gets busy working on the task of transition. And getting the morning briefing. And working out who is going to do what for him. Seems he started working on what his first day of work was going to be like back in July. One of the weaknesses of the Clinton administration was an unpreparedness on the first day of work. In short, Clinton made such a bad first impression on his employers those first few weeks and it took him so long to recover his credibility, anything he wanted to do in his first year was pretty much scuppered.

Some are criticising that President Obama was counting his chickens. I say we made the right choice. A man well prepared to do the job who never doubted our ability to make the right choice.

Adventures in Flying

My flight to France was absolute torment. I really must give up flying or figure out how to procure drugs strong enough to knock me out so as to prevent me from experiencing the intense anxiety associated with my air travel. I feel like I am turning into my father and within the next few years I will be unable to muster the courage to board a plane.

I boarded the flight at Heathrow on time. At the gate the ticketing agent told me that British Airways had to change me seat due to "operational reasons". I asked what kind of reasons were operational? She informed me that it probably meant the seat was broken.

Given that I fly a lot I know the real answer was more likely to be that they had oversold the business class tickets and had to move the boundary back into the economy class part of the plane. I was horrified when I learned I was at the back of the plane; not just further back, but in the very LAST row, behind a group of 50 French school children returning from a trip abroad. I suppose I would have been even more incensed if I had purchased a business class ticket only to find that I was allocated an economy class seat.

Not to worry. I was letting this annoyance roll off my shoulders and let it go into the universe. I had more important things to focus on. Like catching up on my reading. About halfway into the 2 hour flight, the plane suddenly starting bumping and jumping about. Seat belt signs were lit. Drinks went flying off the trays and into the air. Lightning burst in the sky outside the aircraft window.

I bent over, hugged my knees as tears fell from the corners of my eyes and I began to hum "Tomorrow". You know the one from the musical Annie - The sun'll come out tomorrow. Betchour bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun......Just thinking about - OK you get the idea. I tried to remember if I had kissed and cuddle my husband as well as my children. I remembered that my will is probably out of date. I tried to remember what the precise value is of my life insurance policy.

Above the din of my screaching was an Italian or maybe Spanish or some sort of Latin language prayer being recited at high volume by a gorgeous young woman sitting across the aisle from me. She was repeatedly crossing herself.

I reached across the aisle, determined not to die alone and grabbed hold of her hand.

In the midst of all this chaos, the French school children didn't even blink an eye. They kept reading their Teen Magazines and playing with their Nintendo DS Lites and listening to their iPods.

I've had these experiences before but they tend to be short lived: 10 minutes out of 3 hour flight. But this time it lasted for nearly 40 minutes. The pilots announced at one point they were going to fly out of our scheduled flight path to get us out of harm's way. Oh good god, did I really need to know that I was in harm's way?

We landed 40 minutes late. I let go of the woman's hand only when I applauded the succesfull landing of the aircraft. I couldn't get off of there quickly enough (but keeping in mind I was in the very last row, it wasn't very quick).

I got my luggage and started what turned out to be an epic journey by public transport (bus) from the Nice airport to my hotel in Cannes. (That's another post!) But in my haste, I forgot to say goodbye and thank you to the stranger across the aisle who shared my fear, who held my hand, who hopefully prayed for me in a language I couldn't understand at break neck speed and who showed supreme compassion. I'm glad it was her sitting next to me and not those school children.

Tonight I board my return flight. The weather has improved considerably and I am hoping (and praying) for a much less eventful but ever so much more important journey home.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

No Sunshine in Cannes

It has been raining for 4 solid days in Cannes. Not drizzly annoying rain. Sheets of water fall and the wind whips the umbrellas inside out all day and all night.

Most of the day is spent inside the conference centre so you can forget about the miserable weather outside but you can't escape it when you make the mad dash back to your hotel room. Or attend a session outside the main Palais de Festival.

Upon arrival your feet and shoes are soaked. The bottoms of your trousers can be wrung out. There is no standing on the promenade enjoying the view of the Med washing up on the sand and the warmth of the sun on your face. Your hair which looked great when you left your room in the morning has taken on the look of a drowned dog and your mascara is running down your cheek.

I will be glad to return home to my children and husband tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

President Obama

I fell asleep......again.

When I awoke to the sound of my breakfast being delivered this morning I raced to switch on the TV only to find that the cable service in all of Cannes was down. There was no answer at the front desk. Or on housekeeping. I was fearful for a while that McCain had won and everyone in France had drank the kool aid just to avoid 4 more years of a Republican American President.

I finally got my internet connection up and running and I read the news there. At first I couldn't believe it. And then the enormity of what had happened hit me like a tsunami.

My chest puffs out with pride and my eyes water. As a country we have spoken. We have stepped well out of our comfort zone and we are taking a risk. The message this sends to the rest of the world's citizens is profound.

I spoke to my sister and we had our own little election celebration via telephone. Today (and possibly tonight) I shall hoist a glass of champage and toast the victory. And the future.

President-elect Obama, if you are reading this, you have run an honourable and thoughtful campaign. You have inspired a nation to let go of the burdens of racism. We entrust you will not let us down. Good luck. Let me know if you need any help!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Election Coverage via Cannes, France

How very bizarre it is to be watching the events of today unfold surrounded by an international community of several thousand from all over Europe and the USA.

I am on my annual pilgramage to Cannes, France for the Gartner IT Symposium. It is still, IMHO, the best IT conference I have ever attended and this year is proving no different. Except that the weather is just as miserable here as it was when I left dark, grey, cloudy, wet, and cold England and quite frankly I was hoping for a dose of sunshine. The wind is howling, the heavens open up and soak everything below them every couple hours. Do not venture far from your umbrella is something I have learnt the hard way.

Gartner is an American company and nearly all of the presenters (100s of them) are American. Many of the people who support Gartner here are American. I will be having dinner this evening with a couple of Americans and we hope to watch the election returns well into the wee hours of the morning. I don't want to make the same mistake I did in 2000 when I went to bed assured that Gore had won only to awaken and find it had been stolen out from underneath him (as if my watchful eye could have prevented such a travesty of justice).

Nearly everyone else here is from the UK and Europe. I am surrounded by non native English speakers. I respect the commitment it must take to come to a 5 day conference where ALL the presentations are done in English. If I am tired at the end of it, they must be shattered.

There is a lot of buzz on the conference floors and in the presentations about today's election. Everyone is checking out the web for news and trying to catch snipets of newscasts on the 1 television in the Symclub (don't ask). The presenters make references to the candidates and the impact the outcome of today may have on our lives over here an ocean away.

Lots of people have asked me if I have voted and how I think it is going to go. I am not a political analyst. I have voted but I haven't a clue what the result may be. I read the same papers I hope everyone else reads (although I don't think Sarah Palin reads given her ridiculous response to the Katie Couric question). I watch the same news. I get the feeds via telephone, email, twitter.

But I am nervous. There is a flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I wait and hope.

For Change.

The eyes of the world are upon you. Do Well.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Libraries

In an attempt to do my bit for climate change and fiscal responsibility I was wondering around the local library for the latest book group selection. This is a big departure from my previously ingrained habits.


I love a book store. One of my favourite places in the world is Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. But I tell you, I don't need a fancy book store to lose time. Any old WH Smith or even the book aisle in the local supermarket can distract me for a good 30 minutes.

Not only is this not good from a time management perspective, this can be a bit rough on the bank balance as well. Books are expensive. Lots of books can bankrupt a person.

And I don't have a big enough house to have a library. I passed on what I could but inevitably I ended up with stacks of books destined for the recycle bin. Not good.

So, hi ho hi ho, off to the library we go. We live in a smallish village and I was surprised to learn that we had our very own library just down the road from our home. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but suffice to say my expectations were relatively low.

How wrong I was! The children applied for and successfully procured their very own library cards. Both picked out books to enjoy during the school holidays and I found the book I was looking for as well as one I didn't know I wanted to read (that's one of the reasons I go to book stores)!

The librarian was so helpful and despite a very small room the library had an extensive selection of books, especially the children's area. When I was about 10 years old, I declared I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. I am now considering a career change. I won't need as much money since I will be saving all that money borrowing books rather buying them!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

More Pox

So my previous conclusion that Sebastian had already had chicken pox based on a couple of red spots has been proven to be false. Incredibly false.

Abigail's pox has now been whole heartily passed on to her older brother and Sebastian now has so many chicken pox I am no in no doubt that he is well and truly infected.

Couldn't have happened at a worse time. I am off this afternoon for my annual pilgrimage to Cannes, France for the Gartner ITxpo Symposium. Marc will be home with Sebastian all week unable to attend school. That will be another week Marc is unable to work and, worse, he will have no help from me. Bummer!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Hold On

Hold on to what is good even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is
a long way from here...
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you.
-- Nancy Wood, from Many Winters

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Voting Countdown

I've already cast my absentee vote.....and they better count them this year!

But if you haven't already voted and/or are waiting for 4 November, here are some useful links for ensuring you vote and helping you to come to a well informed decision.

Google Maps

Election Related Videos

Everything about the Debates

Voting Information

It is your duty as an American citizen to vote. We are lucky to live in a place and time where the power rests with the people to make this decision. People before us died for this right and women fought hard to earn this right. People who don't vote can't complain about the outcome.

You are equally responsible for ensuring that you are well informed and make a thoughtful decision. Do not make emotional decisions based on rhetoric and rumours. NB: Barack Obama is neither a Muslim or an Arab. And he is just as much white as he is black. And more importantly, does it matter? Some thought a Catholic couldn't be president and John F Kennedy proved them all wrong!

Read, listen and watch a wide variety of news sources and make sure you understand your voting ballot. If you are submitting a mail in ballot you need to do this within the specified time scales. If you are going to the polls, be prepared to stand in line, perhaps in bad weather. Bring a book and an umbrella. It is a small price to pay for the privilege.

Make sure your children are involved in the process. Now is a very good time for them to gain an appreciation of the history behind how governments operate, how leaders are chosen and why it is so vital that each voice is heard.

Governments are not evil alien machines. They are a gathering of people (like you and me) who have agreed to work on our behalf to ensure that the country we live in works. We pay their wages (taxes) and pay for the programs they implement (more taxes). Make sure you elect the most qualified, smartest person in the room who you would trust with your money to do the job on your behalf.

Apathy will kill democracy and if you think the economic crisis is bad, I would bet that the death of democracy would be worse.

Vote and Make it Count!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Blog Purpose

I had originally intended this blog to be a useful tool to keep my friends and family scattered all over the globe informed about the comings and goings of the Clare-Panton family. And then there was this realisation that by its very nature a blog could be read by and is indeed read by loads of people that I've never met. Not that it bothers me (although the fact that it doesn't bother me does seem to bother lots of people who know me - although I'm not really bothered about that either).

Other than throwing my life out there for all and any to read about, my other blog topics seem rather haphazard and don't really follow any of the blogging rules of thumb that I've read about. Rule Number 1 of blogging success seems to be find a topic and stick to it. That just seems rather dull really.

I have been searching internally for that motivation to keep on blogging as I have watched my visits plummet (must be the fault of the financial crisis) and discover that most of my family rarely reads -who are all those strangers reading?

I have found it. The meaning and purpose behind my blog is to help me remember what has come before today. It seems that my memory is fading. I started to write my annual Christmas letter and much to my frustration I couldn't remember what went on this year. A quick troll through the blog archives and suddenly I am reminded that we have had a very busy year indeed. I was trying to recall if I've read the book Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller or just seen the film. A quick search in my archive revealed that whilst I have read Notes from an Exhibition I have not read Notes on a Scandal. I am buoyed by the hope that at some point in the distant future my children will read these words and find me, the wacky person they happened to call mummy but who was really an obsessive compulsive big hearted neurotic who loved to read and above all else loved them very much.

So whilst this blog doesn't appear to be of much interest to many others I am quite interested by its contents which I suppose is the ultimate test. Although that won't ever pay my mortgage.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

A true story about a young girl being arrested in Iran after the fall of the Shah and held in the infamous Evin prison was never going to be a fun read. And yet I never suspected it to be this captivating either.

I couldn't put the book down despite reading with only one eye open for fear that the next paragraph would bring just more tales of the unthinkable. This was a sort of non-fiction version of The Kite Runner. I know very little about the experiences of every day families living in Iran. I know even less about their experiences under the Shah and during the Iran-Iraq war.

Nemat was just 16 years old when she was arrested. She was part of a small minority of Christians descended from Russians who had immigrated to Iran during the Russian revolution never imagining their descendants would be caught up in the Cultural Revolution.

During her imprisonment she is tortured and is forced to marry her interrogator. The relationship she forms with him eventually saves her but it doesn't make what she is forced to endure any easier.

Nemat now lives in Toronto with her family and she refused to speak about her experience for several year until the imprisonment and execution of another made headline news and she felt that by speaking about her experience she could saves others.

The early chapters of the book alternate between the terror of the torture and the events leading up to her arrest. The writing style is factual and not flowery.

My experiences are so far removed from the threats and reality of what Nemat endured it is difficult for me to understand. But I will continue to try. Her story deserves to be told and read and stopped. Recommended at 280 pages!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Pox

Yesterday we discovered that our little angel, Abigail, was infected with the dreaded chicken pox virus. Now before you ask, no, they don't vaccinate against that here in the UK. Get over it! She's got little red spots all over her tummy, chest, neck, ears, head, and a few on her legs. Some of them have crusted over and some are still mysteriously appearing.

I have incredibly vivid memories of my own childhood battle against the dreaded itchy spots which they didn't vaccinate against way back then either. I was in 4th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Pyatt. She had big red hair not unlike Margaret Thatcher. We were studying the culture of the Native American Indians and I had built a beautiful model of a plains settlement complete with tepees, buffaloes and pretend fires scaled down to size. I had worked on this day and night and I was so excited to show it off.

On the appointed day my mother came in to help me get dressed and discovered the tell tale red spots all over my body and promptly tucked me back into bed. My joy at getting to stay at home all day was quickly diminished when I realised I wouldn't get to present the creative fruits of my hard labour. I cried. When I realised I would be out of school for over a week, I cried some more.

My mother spoke to my teacher who assured her and in turn assured me that I would be able to present my project when I went back to school. So I went to bed and tried not to scratch til I bled. For 6 days.

By the time I returned to school with my project proudly held aloft, the teacher had long forgotten her pledge and the students had moved on to studying something else. I received a dismissive instruction to put it on the table in the corner where it sat and gathered dust until the end of term.

Fortunately, my daughter appears to be far less traumatised my her viral experience. It is half term so she was going to be home from school anyway. Her father is watching over her until I can escape from my back to back meetings in the office. Her appetite is suppressed and she has just a very minor elevated temperature. She is bouncing around and seems to be quite happy about her predicament. Whilst she has some itching, she is a very old soul and is displaying very sensible scratching practices like not using her nails and only rubbing. Where ever did she get such sensibilities?

She is such an angel. Although she did announce that her father is much better at putting on the calamine lotion and blowing air on her spots than I am. I've studied his technique and really don't see what I am doing differently. I guess I will just have to live with that inadequacy and consider it an opportunity for growth.

Victory House



Just like in the Harry Potter novels, Sebastian's school is divided into houses: Victory, Revenge, Vindictive and Rodney. Yeah, not sure I get Rodney either but I have it on good authority that the houses are named after battleships. Never heard of Rodney but that's just the way it is.


Sebastian is a member of Victory. Not entirely sure how they decide on which house which pupil gets in but I am fairly certain it is not a magic hat.


Last week the school had an interschool football (soccer) match. This meant that the various years played each other and won games for their house. Since Sebastian is on the C team this may be one of the few times/year he actually gets to play a real match.


The good news is Victory was victorious and took 2nd place. Those darn Revenge pupils took first but that is merely a temporary setback.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Another Harvest Festival


You never know what you got til it's gone.

Lat year I hadn't fully appreciated that children didn't participate in a Harvest Festival after Year 2 so I didn't fully appreciate that it was Sebastian's final performance at the same time as it was Abigail's first. Maybe I should have videod that one. Oh well, that poignant moment is well gone.

This year we got to watch Abigail in all her glory and she performed very well. She sang all about the magic penny (give it away and you have more) and recited a poem about the role of the farmers (very important person if you want to eat). She stood perfectly and didn't even wave. She even cast me a disapproving glare when I blew her a kiss making it very apparent that such public displays of affection would not be reciprocated when she was on stage and in character.

At the end the chaplain led a very moving prayer about how lucky we are to have food on the table and live in a country where there are no wars being fought in our streets or in our fields. How lucky we are to have access to clean water and state of the art medical care. And how lucky we are to attend some of the best educational institutions in the world.

I'm not sure Abigail understands everything she has to be grateful for. I think she was grateful that she had a mother and father who didn't embarrass her. I was grateful she still has a few more years to perform in a Harvest Festival.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Circus of Sorts

I have amazing memories of going to the old coliseum in Denver, Colorado to see the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey circus as a child. Back then the circus would arrive by train and then parade through the streets of downtown Denver to arrive at the coliseum. I'm sure they don't do that anymore, mostly because they tore down the old coliseum and built a new coliseum for the National Stock Show and Rodeo. And I don't think the circus travels by train anymore. Heck, I'm not sure there are circuses any more. Good Lord, I sound like those people who talk about the times before television and telephones and you still rode your horse into town.

When Sebastian was about 2 we took him to the circus in London. I must have been pregnant with Abigail although to be honest I can't really remember. Now how's that for a memory? I can remember the circus arriving by train 35 some odd years ago but not 5 years ago when I took my first born to his first circus. I must be getting old!

The circus in Denver had 3 rings and a flying trapeze and loads of animals including dancing bears and elephants with gorgeous women with loads of makeup and little clothing riding them. There were tigers jumping through fire ringed hoops and men with long curly bleach blonde hair riding motorcycles on spinning wheels as it all rotated above the ground. And there were clowns. Lots and lots of clowns. I loved the clowns.

I was so looking forward to taking Sebastian to the circus and I was well aware that he was a bit young but that wasn't going to stop me from having a great time. I knew we were in trouble and I was up for a sore disappointment when we walked across the park and I saw the wee little tiny tent. It was one of those "we don't live in the USA anymore Toto" moments.

There were no animals. Apparently there seems to be some sensitivity to animal cruelty over here and putting animals in a circuses is considered cruel and unusual punishment for a crime they didn't commit.

There was only one ring. Which is a little bit good. I was always afraid that three rings meant there was more going on than I could keep track of and I knew I missed things. This way I would catch all the action. The trouble is they could have done with a few more rings just to up the action factor. There was rarely enough action taking place in one ring.

And there were very few clowns. No way near my clown threshold was met. And Sebastian has absolutely no memory of the event. At all. Ask him!

I swore I'd never go to the circus here in England again!

Ah but what do you do when one of Marc's clients generously gives us some complimentary tickets? Well, not being one to kick a gift horse in the mouth we go to the circus. The start time is just an hour after school lets out so we shove food in their faces and change them out of their school uniforms in the car. We drive like maniacs to the circus, get parked and race to the open seating hoping we get a seat closest to the front that we can see round the really tall people that seem to always sit right in front of me and my children.

I think we are early when we enter the tiny tiny tiny tent and there are fewer than 30 people seated and we have no problems getting a front row seat. I have just enough time to run and get popcorn and return to my seat and the circus begins with fewer than 70 people in attendance.

The Cirque Surreal has no animals. And only one clown. No flying trapeze. And I'm not entirely convinced that anyone in the troupe spoke a word of English. It would appear that they are mostly from Eastern Europe with a couple from Asia and one from Africa. Not that it matters but it was indeed a strange evening's entertainment.

There was a very muscular young man juggling. With his head, feet, hands, arms, back up to 8 balls. This was Abigail's favourite bit.

There were two Oriental dancers and the girl was particularly limber. I gasped as she wrapped herself into a perfectly formed circle and was held above her partner's head and then she dropped to hold on to his waist with nothing more than her little toes maintaining her perfect circle.

There was a woman, actually a couple women who swung from ropes above the crowd.

I particularly enjoyed the two men on a large steel apparatus suspended above the ground with spinning wheels as they walked around and, in my opinion, nearly fell to the ground far too often for my sensibilities.

Sebastian danced in the aisles to the music and despite only having one clown, he was a good clown and was Sebastian's favourite bit.

No horses, no dancing bears, no elephants, no lions, and far too few clowns but not bad for free.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

I needed a break from thinking and this book was given to me by my friend Jane when she took my to the hospital for my back surgery. And after the intellectual challenge of Midnight's Children I needed a brain vacation. This novel was just what the doctor ordered.

Set in Venice and alternating between now and the middle ages, a woman runs away from a broken marriage to find her ancestor's stories in the winding alleys and canals of Venice. Venice has never been my favourite city for far too many reasons to list here including a rather messy break up of a long term relationship. I've always thought this a wee bit unfair to Venice and have fancied giving it another chance at redemption.

Not sure this book convinced me it was worth a repeat journey. Whilst the story is easy to read it just doesn't hang together and there is a definite false mysterious urgency.

Clearly the author has done loads of research about the art of glassblowing and she evoked lovely images of the intricate process passed down through generations of Murano artisans. But the story is false and the main character, whose name already eludes my memory, makes absolutely no lasting impression of being someone I would want to read about.

Skip it unless you seriously need something to carry down to the beach or to get you through a rather frightening hospital appointment. In those cases, this is a jolly read.

Pages = 365 of very large print and even wider margins.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

I wish I could say exactly what this book was about. I wish I could say that I hated this book because I can't say what it was about. I wish I could have avoided finishing this book when I couldn't figure out what it was about. But being the ever vigilant book group member that I am I pressed onwards and forced myself to read it.


The book was our October book group selection. I've always wanted to read a Rushdie book and I was well aware that his books are not for literary lightweights. So I settled in for a long hard slog. This is a large tome weighing in at well over 600 pages and if I was going to finish this before the next book group I knew I needed to get started.

The problem was that the first 50 pages took me almost a week of nightly reading to get through. I have no idea what those first 50 pages were on about. In fact, I'm not sure what the whole first book (the book is divided into 3 books) was about.


Book 2 captured my attention though and whilst I am sure the subtleties of the book were completely lost on me I was kinda getting to grips with the whole plot (such as it was).


It seems that I was reading a potted history of India since their independence from Colonial Britain. The story is told by Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight on the very day of independence. And this is where it all goes wonderfully weird.


It seems that there are 1001 (precisely) children in India who were also born at that time (or thereabouts) and they all seem to have some magical mystical power.

I wish I could elaborate but I can't. The story wonders and weaves through characters lives and times. The language wonders and weaves through stream of consciousness and absolute nonsense. Book 3 was so confusing I found I had read 20 pages and had no clue about what had happened.

Oddly though, this doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. I just let the words wash over me. I do believe that if I knew more about the history of India I could have perhaps understood the associations of the story much better. If I have interpreted this all correctly the entire story is a rich metaphor of the formation and development of the nation of India, such as it is.

Rushdie must be either completely barking mad or nothing short of genius. OK, possibly a bit of both (or a lot). The language and phrasing of the book will lead you straight to the dictionary and his occasional outburst of stream of consciousness left me cold. C'mon - give me some punctuation!

Book Group Verdict: I am the only book group member to finish the book, again. Some gave up after just 50 pages which is seriously lame. Some gave it a real good go and simply ran out of time. The overall verdict was pretty much in line with my review above.

pgs 647!!!!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Birthday Gift

What a Great Idea!

Not sure this will fly with Abigail but just might send a message to Sebastian! What do you think?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Eton in the Press

Absolutely undoubtably the very best article about Eton ever written! Christopher Hitchens is a genius!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Dreams

I rarely dream. Or I rarely remember my dreams which is seriously disappointing. I would love to know what my unconscious mind is doing when I'm not paying attention.

Every 6 months or so I'll have a night of vivid dreaming. I'll wake up and think what the heck what that all about. Which is exactly what happened the other night.

In my first dream I was in Colorado driving a car. I was jet lagged or something because I couldn't pay attention to what I was doing. I nearly ran the red light at Alameda and Sheridan. and then found myself at an unrecognised junction somewhere in south Lakewood and nearly ran a stop sign. Just as I slammed on my brakes I nearly broad sided a little car. I pulled over and proceeded to go looking for the car I almost hit and couldn't find it. But when I returned to my car there was yellow crepe paper (?) between my car and the car I almost hit and the police were there hauling the men out of the car. They were arresting them. I then got a stamp on my driving license that said "my actions caused someone to be arrested". I got fired from my job and then I woke up.

The time was 1:45 am. I scratched my head for a while and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn't so I read until I got sleepy again and turned the bedside lamp off around 2:45.

If I have a second dream on nights like this it is usually a slightly different version of the same dream but this time I was in for a whole new experience.

In my second dream Marc had found me a flat (apartment) closer to a city where I needed to work. It was across a river from a big futuristic metropolis that was a mix between NYC, Denver, and San Francisco. The flat was on a hill overlooking the city, had no windows but did have a terrace. The part of the terrace for my apartment was blocked by a big tree. I could only see the city if I strayed into the neighbours terrace and you weren't allowed to do that. All the other residents were ancient (over 80) and the place smelled. I wasn't allowed to see my children except on the weekends when Marc might come pick me up and take me to our other home somewhere in the country. The children were not allowed to visit me as no children were allowed. I would sit in my flat after I got home from work and cry missing my children so much it hurt.

I woke up at 4:50. I couldn't get back to sleep and finally dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 am and started my day. But these dreams persist in my conscious mind. Do they mean anything? If so, what? Kind of wish my unconscious mind would keep its thoughts to itself.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Kid's in Charge

OK, it would be fair to say that I think, uh, you need a little bit more experience than this 35 year old has when they are getting ready to put you in charge of trillions of taxpayer's (that would be you and me) money.

So, just how many ways can the Bush Administration mess us up? It ain't over til it's over and January 2009 is looking far far away!

And if you think this ain't hurting you, think again! Look around you. Look at your pension fund. Look at you share options. Look.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

School Bags and Helicopters

During the school week on any given day, Sebastian and Abigail have anywhere from 2 bags and 6 school bags to remember to take to school and bring home. These school bags contain the various pieces of kit they need to do their activities at school. These activities include, piano lessons, ballet, pe, judo, violin lessons, swimming, games and just their normal homework bag. They also need to remember to wear every day without exception their blazers and caps/hats. Now you might say these rules are harsh. But these are the rules and part of our contract with the school we have chosen is that we follow their rules.

Obviously, Abigail at 4 (nearly 5) requires a bit of help. I have put a laminated sheet on the refrigerator with little pictures of the activities and she does pretty well in the morning checking it and will invariably go running for her hat if she has forgotten it before running out the door. but of course she has 1/4 of the kit to remember.

Sebastian is another story altogether and he's been doing this for much much longer.

Monday as I was standing at the school gates I was approached by a mother/nanny who handed me one of a pair of Sebastian's football shin pads. Luckily, this one had his name written in big bold permanent marker all over it, a hard learnt lesson after 2 previous pairs of shin pads went missing during last school year. I spotted Sebastian sauntering back from the playing fields urged on by two of his football coaches. Seb was wearing his brand new (literally 4 weeks old) school shoes. He had obviously been wearing said shoes to play football in. It was a wet rainy muddy day on the football pitch and the shoes were soaked through.

I was incredulous and asked Sebastian where his football boots were. He didn't know. I asked him where his trainers (tennis shoes) were. He didn't know. I pointed out that his new school shoes were ruined. He shrugged his shoulders and said we could get him a new pair.

I had a meltdown. Two very important lessons we as parents MUST teach our children is the value of money and respect for property. But how? Well, I'll tell you: I emptied his room of all of his property and informed him I was selling it on eBay to try to buy him some new shoes (3 pairs at this point). Of course I don't think I couldn't buy myself a beer with the proceeds were I to do such a thing but I think he might be getting the idea.

So what does all this have to do with helicopters? I've read several articles recently about the new epidemic of helicopter parenting and I am shocked. The stories I read detail how parents go on job interviews with their 20 something grown children or negotiate their salaries and benefits packages. Parents are even calling in sick to work for their adult-children. But the worst story I've heard is where a father called up his daughter's future manager to explain that his precious little girl "was particularly sensitive and would require an harmonious environment to work in". Are they having a laugh?

Children must learn to take care of themselves, be able to learn from setbacks and address their own disappointments in life. In short children must learn to cope with the consequences of their actions. This will ensure that they are capable decision makers and responsible contributing members of society when they are adults (and their parents are no longer around to make their decisions for them).

So, just how much should I interfere to ensure that Abigail and Sebastian are well prepared for their school day? I firmly believe that parents should include independence and self sufficiency in their critical success factors for child rearing. Should I let Sebastian incur minus points (which could eventually lead to detention/expulsion) for losing his football boots and trainers or failing to wear his cap? Should I take away his savings (and any future earnings for the next 2 years) to replace the lost items? Should I pull him out of those elective activities which could possibly hamper his future prospects?

Of course my natural impulse is to make sure he's got everything with him when he leaves in the morning and when he comes home in the evening. But then I'm just a helicopter.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Saturday Visitors

I've noticed some rather strange behaviour from my reader community. It seems Thursday is the day that everyone and their brother, sister, mother-in-law, second cousin twice removed reads my blog. Why? Are my blog posts better on Thursdays? I don't think so. I went through the Thursday posts and they are pretty much of the same dull variety as the rest of the week.

Saturday readership on the other hand plummets to an almost non existent low. Why? I thought initially because people don't read on the weekends. But that didn't hold true when further analysis revealed that Sundays are my second highest readership (after Thursdays). Is it because everyone is way too busy on Saturdays and Sundays are a bit more relaxed leaving them some leisure time? To read my blog? Don't you have anything better to do with a Sunday?

My blog visits have never recovered from my February vacation went I just ran out of things to say. Partly because I don't think I've recovered fully. I've increased the frequency of my posts recently but due to increased demands on my time from just about everyone and everything in my life over the last 9 months or so I find blogging unfortunately falls to the bottom of the heap.

When do you read my blog? And why?

Monday, 6 October 2008

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I read this quickly during a recent attack of insomnia and rather than put me to sleep (like some of my other recent literary pursuits) I was captivated and couldn't put the thing down.

The premise is that the Queen (Elizabeth, the one that lives in that big castle I can see from my bedroom window) wonders into a mobile library parked outside Buckingham Palace whilst chasing down her beloved dogs who seem to have done a runner. She is driven (out of duty one would suppose) to borrow a book, as one does when one goes to a library. It appears that the author believes that the Queen has never read a book in her life.

She is quickly transfixed and transformed by the extraordinary journey that reading takes one on.

I cannot even begin to give the ending away. It is well and truly a shocker. I found myself giggling through the entire book and thought it was incredibly clever. I've never read The History Boys also by Alan Bennett particularly after watching the wreck of a film. I might just have to give it a go after the magic of this wee little story.

NOTE: It is truly wee, only 121 pages of large print. Shouldn't take more than an hour or 2.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Bert & Ernie

I don't remember B&E ever being this cool when I was a kid.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

To Fish or Not To Fish

Similar to my organic produce dilemma, I am confused about how much and which fish I should or shouldn't be eating and/or feeding my children. This question has become particularly astute as I decided during my weight loss journey as I have tried to fundamentally change what I eat and what I feed my children.

Marc does not eat fish. Well, he sort eats fish. He'll eat sushi. And he'll have me taste fish to see if it is fishy and if I say it isn't he will try it. I'm not sure how I decide if fish is fishy but it seems to work.

I made a decision a few months ago to feed my family fish at least once a week and harking back to my Catholic upbringing this has somehow morphed into Friday's as being fish night. It isn't the best choice because the children both have fish and chips at school on Friday lunchtime but that's my approach for now and I'm sticking with it. They don't seem to mind that they get fish twice a day.

But then I started worrying about the how much fish is too much mercury. And what fish shouldn't be on our table at all due to environmental factors. And then I found this website with an exhaustive list of the fish that are ok, so so ok and not ok under any circumstances.

There is some trouble with this list.
  1. It appears to be North America focused. Imported fish seems bad. Does that include imported to the USA or just imported to anywhere? What if it is imported from the UK? Does that mean it's not imported to me and therefore is ok?
  2. The list is very specific about where and how the fish is caught. That's not always on the package labelling here in the UK, especially since I do most of my shopping online at 1 in the morning. I can't imagine trying to figure out if it is line caught or wild Alaskan.
  3. The list is long. I'm not sure how workable this list is during my weekly shopping trips.

The good news for me is mackerel is a good fish. I love mackerel. My children love mackerel. My husband hates mackerel. Kippers are not listed. Does that mean this is ok? Or is there another name for kippers? Tuna seems to be ok and seriously not ok. Ug, I love tuna. Does it count if I put it into my world famous tuna noodle casserole?

I think I'm more confused than I was when I started this quest.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Good Result

A few weeks back our dishwasher broke. That's not entirely true. The leaking had been happening sporadically for quite some time. It's just that 2 weeks ago it started happening every time we ran the dishwasher. My husband loves a challenge and fancies himself as a bit of a DIY man and decided he could do the fixing without any professional repairman intervention.

I shuddered. My house is littered with half done or badly done DIY projects attempted by the amateur hubby repairman. The children's bathroom on the first floor has had painting equipment in it for almost a year now. It's still not complete.

But who am I to deprive this man of a challenge? He took the dishwasher out to the back garden and proceeded to take it apart. I knew there was trouble when he put it back together and we had a clear plastic part hanging about that he claimed he didn't quite know where it went. He ran it and it leaked.

He ordered a new door seal and I did the dishes by hand until the new part arrived. He dutifully fitted it and ran the dishwasher. It leaked.

He thought maybe he fitted it the wrong way round so he took it apart and refitted it. It still leaked.

So he pulled it out from the wall and watched sitting on the floor as the dishwasher ran its whole cycle. He discovered that there were 3 pipes at the back of the wall and the 2 that weren't being used were over flowing and the 1 being used seemed to be backed up.

He capped the two that weren't being used and got some drainer unblocker to pour down the 1 that was being used.

And then disaster struck.

My husband is a bit of a klutz. Not not a bit. A lot of a klutz. He drops more dishes than the children. He trips over his own feet on a regular basis. And he spills the drain unblocker all over my wooden varnished counter top, which proceeded to eat through the varnish at lightening speed and leave a very unsightly big brown stain all over the counter top. OK, so the counter top wasn't in the best of shape in the first place. It probably needed re-varnishing 4 years ago when we moved in. And there are some Easter egg dye stains which occurred a few years back. But it certainly didn't have an ugly brown stain in the middle of it.

I had nagged and nagged at him to sand and re-varnish the counter for years but it just never seemed to be at the top of his To Do list.

I was outraged. He was afraid. I stopped talking to him. He silently went and got a sander and proceeded to spend the entirety of Saturday sanding the counter top. Then we silently went to the hardware store and picked out the varnish.

Whilst Seb and I handed out plastic cups of water to the weary runners in the Windsor Half Marathon as part of Seb's Beaver Scouts duties, Marc varnished the kitchen counter top.

And I have to say it looks beautiful. And feels beautiful. Much better than it was before. A good result. Now, what do I need to do to get him to finish the bathroom?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

RIP Paul Newman

Paul Newman has died.....as if you hadn't already heard that. I'm sure you don't come here for breaking news.

CBS News has a very good video tribute to him. I'd love to put the link directly on the blog but my html skills are causing me some challenges. Click here for the text and then watch the video on the left hand side.

Debate



If you are registered to vote in the USA, you have a responsibility to listen to this and every debate which follows.

If you are not registered to vote in the USA and are eligible to vote, get yourself registered.

If you are not eligible to vote, sit back and enjoy the madness of the next couple months as the population of the most powerful country in the world elects the most powerful person in the world. It may startle you. It may frighten you. It will certainly entertain you.

Bailout

An interesting perspective.

What exactly does a dirt farmer do?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

To Be Organic or Not To Be Organic

I hate feeling like I'm getting ripped off. And the prices of organic products seems to me to be a bit of a rip off. And my family certainly can't afford to buy everything all the time organic. And I'm not sure we even need to be.

This website lists the various produce items and rates them according to their pesticide levels if they are non-organic.

I guess that means peaches and apples will be organic in my home. But I'll skip right past those organic onions next time!

Where is the Second String QB?

Friday, 26 September 2008

Regrets

I’ve had a few…..

1. I never visited New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina. Now I could go. But I know it is not nor will it ever be the same. Pity.

2. I never flew on the Concorde. I watched it fly over my home for years in Windsor. I ever got to tour the inside of one when I was working for British Airways. But I never got to jet set the ultimate experience. And now they don’t fly anymore. Bummer.

3. I will never visit Yankee Stadium. OK, so I don’t like the Yankees. But just like the day when I went to watch my beloved Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, I was more interested in the history of the stadium than the baseball game. The NY Times does a brilliant job here taking about how much history I have missed. Wish I could have been there!

Economics

I didn't do well in economics. I took both micro and macro economics in university and barely managed a B. The only good thing about macro economics was this really fit boy who always sat a few rows in front of me. He had the most gorgeous hair in the world. After one disastrous date with him though I realised the only thing good about his head was his hair. Everything in between was empty space. There was nothing good about micro economics.

But I think he did better in economics than I did. The trouble was it was all theory and the theory always got proved wrong. Or so it all seemed to me. I thought saving was good and spending was bad. Economics seemed to be saying this was not necessarily so. Which may be what has gotten us into all this trouble.

The recent financial crisis rumbling throughout the world is bringing back seriously bad memories for me. it makes me wish I had done better or tried harder.

I've just recently happened upon the Economix blog from the NY Times which tries to make sense of all that theory and how it relates to what is currently happening in the financial markets and how that relates to you and me who are just trying to make ends meet. Give it a read. Let me know if it makes any sense to you.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A Bit Sore

I had two lumps removed from my back last night. I'm a bit sore and can't find a comfortable position to rest but am relieved to have them gone.

The two lumps appeared quite a few years ago and because I was overweight they weren't really causing me any problems. Now that I've dropped the weight the one on my left side was causing me considerable discomfort when I sat back in a chair or sofa.

The consultant diagnosis was that they were benign lipomas, which is just a fancy word for fat growths, apparently common in women between the ages of 40 and 60 and have nothing to do with being obese.

After some local anaesthesia (which hurt the most and brought tears to me eyes), the surgeon made 2 incisions above the lumps and popped them out like spots. One was about double the size of a pea and came right out. The one on the left side was larger and required a bit more oooomphs and digging but eventually came out as well. I was then stitched up and have some shower proof bandages on for the next week. Stitches are all on the inside. I should have some small scars which will stretch and the lumps will be sent for biopsy but they looked pretty benign to me (just like chicken fat). I'll check back with the consultant in about 3 weeks.

All in all I was at the hospital for 1.5 hours and other than some shaking caused by the shock of being sliced open, I was fine until the anaesthesia wore off about 2 am this morning.

I have to say thanks to all the offers of help I have gotten. My colleagues at work have been extremely supportive and the mums at school were little angels. A big thank you goes out to Jane Andrews who finally convinced me that driving myself to and from the hospital whilst Marc took care of the children was not a good solution. She turned up at my door just before 6 pm with a load of magazines and a chocolate bar. She went with me to the hospital and diverted my attention sufficiently before the procedure to keep me from freaking out. She was there waiting patiently when I came out and sat with me after my cup of tea whilst I stopped shaking and then dutifully delivered me safe and sound right back to the bosom of my home and family. Gratitude is really an insufficient expression for the calm she brought to me and my husband last night.

Sebastian had waited up and wanted to care for me. My husband has made me endless cups of tea and coffee and even brought me my breakfast in bed.

I am in bed resting and am hoping that I will be back on my feet by tomorrow. I may even feel like going for a run this weekend! A weight has been lifted from my shoulders and despite the short term ache, it feels good.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Like the Wind

OK, so I didn't run exactly like the wind but I ran. And I completed the race without needing to stop to catch my breath, collapse or flag for oxygen, first aid or rescue.

2 years ago I participated but walked about 1 mile of it and I was considerably heavier. I had done some regular training in the 12 weeks leading up to the race but had never managed to do even closest to the full distance in a training run. I finished but was VERY slow. Embarrassingly slow.

Last year the race was cancelled due to the foot and mouth infection for which I personally breathed a sign of relief. I had done NO training. And I was even heavier than I was the year before. I don't think I would have survived.

When I started the weight loss journey in March I set myself a goal of finishing the 8k this year and improving on my time in 2006. Shouldn't be all that hard, right? I'd be 50 pounds (or so) lighter and I would have months and months to train.

I lost the weight and diligently trained. Right up until the school summer holidays started. I woke up this morning with a knot in the pit of my stomach as I faced the reality of not having done any running since 18 July. However, I had done several runs that were nearly the same distance I was about to do.

As you can see I started off the run with a broad grin full of optimism and hope. I finished the run looking decidedly worse for the wear. It took every ounce of determination I have ever had in my body to get me round the course.

But I did it. I didn't walk any of it (although my pace was slower than some walkers at times but we won't talk about that). I don't have the official race results yet so am not dead positive about my time but I was carrying my own stop watch and I am sure I improved on my time from 2006. In fact I reckon I improved on it by over 20 minutes. I missed my goal of finishing within 60 minutes but not by much.
Sebastian and Abigail were waiting for me just before the finish line. They both breached the barriers and ran towards the finish line with me. As we neared the end Seb told me to run, run as fast as you can, run like the wind. And so I broke into a sprint. And nearly collapsed once I had crossed the line.

I can do better next time and there will be a next time; when my very large blisters are healed, when I can get up off the sofa and resume normal walking speed, when I don't moan when I sneeze, cough, go wee; when September rolls around again.

Today's Run

Today is my 8k run. If you haven't sponsored me already (and you can) please do!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Last Harvest



We've brought in the last of our summer harvest. The biggest success this year without a doubt are our tomatoes which last year were a complete washout. The potatoes are still in the ground and I am hopeful.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Sigheh

How bizarre is this?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Spending Money

This is an informative interactive graphic (courtesy of The New York Times) about how people spend their discretionary income around the world. Check out the different headings (electronics and household goods are a bit of a shocker) and roll the mouse of the boxes to see the precise amounts and names of countries.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Losers

In the run up to the US presidential race I thought it might be interesting to look at what awaits the loser, if only because there is always a loser.

There are 9 people still alive who have fought hard and lost the longest job interview of all time (unless you count my sister who is currenlty undergoing the most excrutiatingly long job interview of all time!).

George McGovern was the Democratic candidate in the 1972 election. America was divided over the never ending saga in Vietnam. He fought hard and won millions of young voters with his notion of peace and hope and change. His campaign was wildly successful until it was revealed that his Vice Presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had been treated for depression in the 1960s. At first McGovern stood behind Eagleton but then accepted his resignation and took on Sargent Shriver as his running mate. It was a PR disaster. McGovern looked flaky and disloyal not to mention indecisive. Not good for a future president. He never recovered.

A few of the candidates lost as incumbents: Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush (Sr) and are still hanging around.

Jimmy Carter was generally regarded as one of the worst presidents of all time when inflation and interest rates caused a short recession during his presidency despite unprecedented employment levels and a massive decrease in the national deficit. To make matters worse the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis happened on his watch. Reelection would have been a tough sell. Jimmy Carter is still active in politics (more so than some think he should be) but his biggest post presidential contribution, in my humble opinion, would have to be his involvement in Habitat for Humanity which helps families build their own homes. He won the Nobel Peace in 2002. He's the second oldest living president.

And we all know what George Senior is up to......


One candidate, Ralph Nadar is a candidate in this year's race (again) although why remains a mystery to me. His participation in the 2000 race probably lost the election for Al Gore. I sure wish he wouldn't do that!


Walter Mondale was Vice President for Jimmy Carter and failed in his bid for the presidency. His post presidential career included a stint as US Ambassador to Japan during the Clinton Administration. Other than that he maintains a low profile (read off the radar).

Do you ever ask yourself what ever happened to Mike Dukakis? I mean I love his cousin Olympia. She's a great actress but Mike slipped into obscurity much the way his Massachusetts miracle slipped from the fingers of the citizens of MA. He splits his time teaching political science at universities in California and Massachusetts. Not sure he's got much to say other than to serve as an example of what not to do.

Bob Dole is 85 and maintains a staff for his very own web page. You can read all about his latest activity on his web page. Forewarned is forearmed: it is pretty dull.

Al Gore has been very busy banging on about all this global climate change stuff after he lost his bid for the presidency (and we all know he didn't really lose, if only Florida would learn to count). He even won the Nobel Prize!

So far John Kerry hasn't done much but it is early days.

And what do you think McCain will be up to next year at this time?