Friday 29 February 2008

Day Out

I spent the day with a central heating engineer this week. One of the business units that the company I work for owns offers customer a service which repairs and services broken central heating units (ie boilers). In the UK most central heating is done with hot water radiators although few are forced air.

One way of keeping in touch with the business and ultimately our customers is to go and spend a day with one of the engineers and find out what their day is like.

I enjoy this. When I used to work for The AA (a roadside recovery service in the UK) I went out with a roadside engineer for the day and had a blast. I also learned a lot about our business. I'd never been out with an engineer and decided it was time.

I had a really interesting day. Gavin, the engineer picked me up at my home and we went to the post office depot to pick up the parts that he had ordered the day before for the jobs he had scheduled for that day. Then we went into people's homes. And glimpsed a slice of life.

One lady was older than god. She had lived in her home for 37 years. Her husband and her had bought the home for their retirement. It was on a horrible housing estate but her home was immaculate. Her husband was no longer of this world but she told me about her 3 sons and her 7 grandsons and her 4 great grandsons and 1 great grand daughter. I told her I bet that grand daughter was spoilt. She just giggled.

One lady had been without heat or hot water for over a week. She was lovely and made us a cup of tea. We fixed her problem in under 30 minutes. Wish we had been there a week ago.

One retired couple had just returned home from picking up their 2 year old grand daughter at their son and daughter-in-law's home. They were off to the hospital to have a baby. Whilst we fixed their central heating (which had flames coming out of it at one point) the phone call came announcing that they were the proud grandparents of a little baby girl. Mum and baby were doing great and as soon as we finished they were off to the hospital to visit the newest addition to their family.

Gavin was very professional and competent. He's a talented engineer who conscientiously does his job and takes pride in his profession. The customers loved him. I learned a lot from him.

Now my job is to make his day easier and help him to make our customers happier.

Thursday 28 February 2008

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

A book group member loaned me this book ages ago and it finally made it to the top of my pile. If I had known it was going to be this good I would have read it sooner.

The story is told by Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob from the Old Testament. Dinah is only mentioned once in the book of Genesis and it is one verse filled with violence and tragedy as 2 of her brothers kill all the men in her city including her husband. Dinah's life goes through phases where she is a child, a daughter, a sister and then a young single career woman (midwife), followed by a wife and then quickly a mother then tragically a widow.

The life of women set in biblical time is revealed through their traditions and tribulations. It is captivating and frightening. For 3 days during menustration the women sit in a red tent. They share the potions for birth control and healing stomach aches. They pass down their stories and survival skills from previous generations.

Ms Diamant does not treat all the characters as infallible. In fact, many of the women are nasty and the men are wretched, not unlike the way they are portrayed in the Old Testament. these people were far from perfect. And yet, the sisters shared the same husband. Despite the jealousies and pettiness, they took care of each other's children including breast feeding another's when the mother's milk had dried up. I loved all the healing done with potions and prayers. This was a time of confluence between the God of the Old Testament and the many gods of Greek/Roman/nomad mythology. It is clear that everyone is a wee bit confused about who they should be praying to so they cover all their bases and give a little to each. I now understand that commandment about one god.

The stories about travelling to the various places were fascinating. As the people moved from city to city, languages and ways of living changed dramatically and yet there wasn't much distance between those places.

I absolutely loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough!

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Gaping Void

If you've ever felt the conflict between your creative side and your sensible side, you will appreciate this. Pure Genius!

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

Our February book group selection was a fabulous choice. Simply put, I couldn't put this book down.

Each chapter opens with an exhibition note of a fictional piece of art or life momento by Rachel Kelly. Each note is written as if it hangs next to the piece in a gallery exhibition of a retrospective of the artist's life's work complete with time frame, materials used and from whose collection the painting is or what it meant to her during her life.

Rachel marries Antony when he whisks her away from Oxford University upon learning that she is pregnant by one of the professors after one of her many suicide attempts. Rachel suffers from bipolar disorder and Antony gives up his fledgling academic career to rescue her. He takes her to his families home in Cornwall to live amongst his austere Quaker beliefs.

This book provides an insight into mental illness and the havoc it deals to the sufferers family. Mr Gale does not write sentimentally but instead explores the life of the artist, Rachel, and alternates each chapter with a perspective from a different family member developing each character in depth. The reader understands the character's life choices and gains a sympathy for each of them. Each characters is developed so beautifully. The course of their lives is revealed slowly urging the reader on.

The weaving of the Quaker traditions into the story is sublime. It adds depth to the story and provides a sturdy framework against the madness.

My family has taken many holidays down in Cornwall and we love the place. Sennen Cove is one of my favourite beaches in the whole entire world and when it was mentioned in the book I nearly jumped up and down. I want to read everything Mr Gale has written previously and highly recommend this book.

Book Group Note: Just about everyone loved the book. There was a lengthy discussion about the relationship between the creative nature of an artist and the selfishness of the individual and how this impacted the relationship of Rachel with her children.

Monday 25 February 2008

I Know You

I went to high school with this guy. He was funny then. He's funny now!

Thursday 14 February 2008

English Eccentrics

One of the things I love best about living in the UK are the extraordinary people whom I live amongst. I came across this Vanity Fair article in their January issue (I told you I was behind!) . It had me laughing so hard I nearly peed my pants and insisted that Marc listen as I read it out loud to him. I was thrilled to find it on the VF site so I could share it with you.

PS Even Marc found it funny!


Sorry devoted followers....I'm juggling work and children off school for half term and dozens of magazines and books that I want to read. So for just a short time I've put blogging on the back burner. I'll be back and I hope you will too!

PS I've got a wee bit of writer's block. I hear this happens to the everybody so I'm just going with the flow.

Saturday 9 February 2008

PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

Sorry Brooke, but we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

I hated this book. I found it simplistic and shallow. If I didn't know better I would have thought it was written by a 16 year old for an audience of 16 year olds. No wonder the movie tanked.

The characters were not developed and not likeable. The story was predictable and unrealistically perky.

If you want to read a very good book about the death of your spouse and how the grief rolls in like a heavy fog read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. But avoid this absolute rubbish. Unless you want your brain to turn to mush.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I first tried to buy this book when we were last in Colorado. It hadn't yet made it on to the best seller list and Oprah hadn't yet sang its praises. Alas, the book store didn't have any copies in stock and ordering was going to take too long.

So I promptly forgot about it.

Then I started to read reviews of the book and I was quite put off. The whole premise seemed self indulgent.

I'm fed up with this me me me mantra. I just hate it when magazines and television shows urge women to take more time out for themselves. Now don't get me wrong. The 2 hours I spend getting my haircut every 6 months is nothing short of paradise. I'm a big fan a manicures, pedicures, and massages and I wish I had more time (and money) for those indulgences. And I did when I was younger and not a mother or a wife. But now I've got responsibilities that extend well beyond myself and I owe it to them to give them that wee bit of time (and money). I'll have more time for myself again when they are gone.

But I kept hearing what I great book this was. And Oprah interviewed the author and she seemed funny so I thought I would give it a go.

When I got the book it was covered with praise from Julia Roberts, Minnie Driver, Elle McPherson and Meg Ryan. I was a bit put off from the accolades from Hilary Clinton but decided they couldn't all be wrong. So I tucked in.

Elizabeth finds herself distraught over her perfect life. She's married to man she once loved, living in a beautiful home with a successful career doing exactly what she has always wanted to do. Her husband wants children and she has suddenly realised she doesn't, for reasons she is unable or unwilling to articulate in the book. Nor does she ever explain why she so desperately wanted out of the marriage.

As she extricates herself from the marriage she becomes involved with a man in a fiery passionate but ultimately doomed relationship again for reasons she never explains.

To resolve the mess she has made she decides to run away from her problems and her life and spend a year travelling and writing about her adventures.

The Eat chapters of the book have Elizabeth spending 4 months in Italy perfecting her high school Italian and eating everything in sight. Most of the time is spent in Rome although she does do some travelling around with a envy inducing trip to Naples for some "to die for" pizza. By the end of the 4 months, she has put some weight on her New York boney ass and can speak Italian fluently.

This part of the story is told with a wry sense of humour and self deprecation. Surely she realises how ridiculous this all is, I thought. But I couldn't be too hard on her. I quite fancy eating everything in sight when I'm in Italy and perfecting my Italian would give me sufficient justification for the weight gain.

The Pray chapters of the book find Elizabeth off to an Ashram in India to practice yoga and chant. I love doing yoga but chanting is something I've never quite understood. She must have driven everyone in the Ashram absolutely crazy with her obsession over her failed love affairs. I certainly know she drove me crazy writing about it. When she decided to spend her last 6 weeks in silence I thought we would be done with her ruminations but they took a self satisfied tone. She was just so chuffed with herself for not talking she was convinced she had achieved nirvana or "sat in the palm of God's hand".

At this point I wanted to throw the book across the room of the glib tone of her writing. I should have because the Love chapters of the book became so annoying it felt like fingernails across a chalk board.

In Indonesia, our little precocious brat found Love but that was no surprise to anyone. This spineless women couldn't last more than a year without the validation of a man. She falls in love with a Brazilian who had also ran away from his life. To make matters worse she raises money for a woman and her three children to buy a house and then hounds the woman when she doesn't buy a house immediately. She actually manipulates the woman into buying a house. I hate gifts with conditions. She should have bought the house for her and given it to her instead of the cash if the intent was to provide a house.

I was hoping for some insight into spirituality and approaching life with calm serenity. Instead I got a diary of a women obsessed with herself. After a year of travelling, eating, praying, loving (?) I fear she may find herself at the same crossroads in a few years when she's not getting exactly what she wants from the man she loves.

Give this one a miss.

Friday 8 February 2008

Youngest Scout

Sebastian was an honoured VIP at the grand opening of the local Scout's Headquarters last night.

It seems the hut (as it was previously known) was in a bit of a state of disrepair and had undergone a comprehensive refurbishment last summer with the help of local businesses. Last night was a ribbon cutting ceremony where all the people who had donated time, materials and money were thanked.

Sebastian was identified as the youngest scout and and along with the oldest scout he was asked to do the honours of cutting the ribbon and unveiling a plaque.

I was so proud of him. He took his duties quite seriously and posed for photos in front of the local paparrazzi like a superstar. I was just amazed no one asked for his autograph!

Thursday 7 February 2008

What I Wish I'd Said

Grief has a way of sitting in the back seat. But it never ever quite gets out of the car. And it has a nasty habit of jumping up into the front seat every now and again.

About a week ago I woke up from a nasty nightmare. I was speaking to my grandmother on the telephone but she couldn't hear me. No matter how hard I tried or how loudly I yelled she couldn't hear me.

On February 4 2005 I had the last conversation that I would ever have with her. She was supposed to come and visit me and my family and was due to arrive on 11 February. Clearly, that wasn't going to happen as she had gotten gravely ill over the Christmas holiday and spent weeks in the hospital.

But my Nanny was a tough old boot. She'd been sick before and she always recovered. I had convinced myself on some level that she would outlast me.

She called me about 8 pm in the evening just as she was being transferred to a rehabilitation home where it was expected she would make a full recovery and be back at home in the next few weeks.

We knew she would need some time to get her groove back so when we spoke we talked about rescheduling her trip to September. She felt certain that she would be up to visiting by that time.

When we hung up I told her I loved her and that I would talk to her as soon as she was back home and was really looking forward to September.

That last conversation haunts me. It is the stuff of my nightmares. I wish I had known that I wouldn't have another opportunity to tell her just what an amazing woman she was and how grateful I was that she was a part of my life. I wanted to thank her for loving me and helping me to grow into a strong and resilient woman.

People always say that you never know what is going to happen so make sure you tell the people you love that you do. I did. But what I wanted to say what so much more than that. And if I walked around telling people what I think of them all the time, I'd be in serious trouble (both good and bad). My friends would think I was losing touch with reality and start avoiding me. I'd be oversentimental. My sister would have me locked up. She thinks I'm a bit mad to begin with.

But just this once I wish I'd known. I wish I hadn't been such a positive thinker and so dang certain she would get better. I wish I had seen into the future.

And made that conversation count.

I know this time of year that grief is sitting right next to me. It is squeezing my hand and making it difficult to breath. I know that my subconscious knew this day was coming before my conscious mind did, hence the nightmare. I just wish I'd known that day was coming as this day comes round every year and reminds how little I know.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Practice Your Answers Now

We have an open door home.

That means that if there are no guests in the house, the doors don't get closed. Even the doors to the toilets.

it took my husband some time to get used to it but I grew up in an open door home so it never really occurred to me that this wasn't the way everyone did it.

It has led to some interesting discussion and this morning wins the grand prize.

Sebastian is aware that his mummy bleeds once every month. He knows that this is somehow related to a woman's ability to have babies but to say he has all the information to put the entire puzzle together would be wholly misleading. I give him just enough information to satisfy his curiosity.

This morning I am in the shower. Sebastian is peeing in the toilet next to my shower showing off his newly developed skill of standing up to pee. I turn the water off and am stepping out with my towel to dry myself off as my son turns to me with a tampon held up and asks me "What is this for?"

I freeze. I am not prepared for the question. Marc is on the other side of the door and he cracks a silent giggle. I look like a deer caught in headlights.

I try to recover before Sebastian senses my panic. Never ever let your children see you sweat.

I explain that it works a bit like a band-aid (plaster in UK) to help Mummy when she bleeds once a month.

"Oh!" is all he says and flushes the toilets, pulls up his pajama bottoms and goes downstairs.

My heart is pounding and I have to sit down to recover. I am now going to write a script for all those questions that I know are coming and I don't yet have an answer for.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Husband v Sister

My husband loves my sister and my sister loves my husband. Not in that sicko way but like brothers and sisters should. Better than in-laws typically do.

My sister posted an astute comment/observation to my Laundry Fairy post. The comment was aimed at my husband. Bullseye.

When I showed my husband her comment he chuckled. If I had said something he would have been cross and insulted. But when Steph says it he chuckles. Are you kidding me? She gets away with murder (being the baby in the family and all, blah blah blah).

So this morning I asked him if he wished he had married her instead.

My husband stops dead in his tracks and replies, "Must those be the only 2 choices?"

Monday 4 February 2008


Janell posted a comment to my blog a while back with an observation that most of the recollection of the times of my life (childhood memories, travel adventures) include precise descriptions of the food I ate.

At first I thought to myself, "I'm not obssessed by food" because of course I took this as a criticism.

Then I tired on one of my new habits of a lifetime and told myself not to look at this as criticism but to examine the comment for truth.

I found there is a lot of truth in that comment. And I'm not bothered one bit by it.

Food is one of the trilogy which makes up our most basic of requirements to sustain human life. The other two are oxygen and water.

Obviously we need oxygen to breath and clearly we need water to stand. But food gives us the energy required to move and think and create and pray and love and be.

So what if my life's memories are navigated around a menu of the delicious (and sometimes not so delicious) meals? I tell you one thing: it makes it a lot easier for me to remember the milestones and every day occurrences.

I love remembering what I ate on my 30th birthday at Caviar Kaspia in Paris. I love remembering that one of my favourite dates with my husband was at Blue Water Grill in NYC, NY as I watched him develop an appreciation for sushi (and me). I love when my children's eyes light up because I've made their most favourite and yet most basic of spaghetti bolognese as if I was some kind of kitchen goddess. I love serving friends homemde puddings like cherry and pear crumble!

Am I obssessed with food and eating? No, but it helps me to keep track of time.

Saturday 2 February 2008


How I wish I had been given the temperament and skill of a gardener. Everything I read and everyone I talk to says that you must garden all year long.

Well, let me tell you I don't start thinking about what my garden looks like until April and by then it is too late. In January and February (and March for that matter) I cannot fathom the idea of staying outside in the cold, dreary rain. It is too dark in the evenings to be useful. And there is no way you are going to convince to spend my precious Saturday and Sunday in the wind getting whipped and covered in mud.

By the time spring arrives we've done none of those preparation tasks that keen gardeners advise and we spend the rest of the season playing catchup.

I so envy the pristine gardens of homes when we drive by and their rose bushes are bushy and blooming. The flower beds have no weeds and they display varying flowers and colours throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. The tress are groomed and the walks are swept.

I imagine the caretakers of these gardens must achieve a trance like consciousness to persist through the unpredictable and cruel English weather to deliver such glorious gardens. They must also be retired. And not own a dog or have any children living at home.

Perhaps I too will achieve this zen mastery of the garden in 20 or so years. But not yet. Unless anyone can recommend a free gardener? Maybe someone whose job is finished in their own garden and they've got a bit of free time on their hands and they just couldn't bear for my garden to look like an abandoned lot any longer....just leave me a comment and I'll get in touch with you.

Technology Curse

Yesterday our broadband went down courtesy of our neighbour, Simon. these are not the same neighbours who cut down the lilac tree. These are the neighbours on the other side.

It seems that one of the lines into their house wasn't working so well. They called a BT engineer out to resolve the problem. He resolved the problem by breaking ours. It took the engineer all afternoon to do this.

He had left the site before we realised our's was down. He did return this morning to get it all working together and clearly we are back online. I wonder if the occupants in the other houses still have service.

Friday 1 February 2008

Lights Out

Yesterday, the UK suffered from a brief (about 1 hour) of really horrendous weather. Gale force winds blew in from the arctic and tried to kill us all.

When we got home it was obvious that we had lost electricity at some point during the day as all the clocks were blinking except for the battery powered ones (obviously, doh!). And the computer needed rebooting. At least, that was my original assessment.

In fact our network card had been fried. Not entirely sure how that happens. Entirely sure that I don't care.

Marc was able to replace it last night and we are now back on line. So that's my excuse for no post yesterday. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

There is more bad weather predicted. Might miss a couple more. Stay tuned.