Monday 28 April 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finish every day and be done with it.

You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day; You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Sunday 27 April 2008

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Over 1000 pages......are you kidding me? Despite Oprah's urgings I had resisted reading this book simply because of its heft. I couldn't bear the thought of either carrying the book around or trying to hold it up as I read it in bed. But the enthusiastic urgings of various friends and other book reviews encouraged me to forget my misgivings and give it a go. I've carried this weight to Toronto and back and now all over my epic Indian Safari.

And I am glad I did. This was a history lesson and provided fascinating insight into the life of the resident of 12th century England (with a little bit of France thrown in for good measure).

I've heard that many of Ken Follett's previous books are filled with a cast of thousands and can be difficult to manage as a result. This book is no different. There is a cast of thousands; thousands of monks and landed gentry, and peasants, and royalty. The drama takes you from the rolling hills and forests of southern England to the religious pilgrimages to Spain and beyond and then back to the building of Notre Dame. And yet the subtle weaving of the stories of these lives is captivating. The lives of this cast of thousands cross paths time and time again making small and big differences to the outcomes of their lives.

Each character is lovingly developed with attention to the individuals. No shallow characters here. And no gross generalisations either. The characters never become parodies even the evil William and the alleged witch Ellen.

I wish I knew more about architecture before I started reading it but I certainly know more about architecture having read it. The purpose behind flying buttresses is now abundantly clear. I feel I understand better the purpose behind building those epic cathedrals.

Civil war, famine, bad weather, and greed/corruption of church officials and barons had a direct impact on the lifestyle of everyone and it appears to have been extremely difficult to escape the varying degrees of destruction and strife each one left.

My favourite character was Aliena, a member of a royal family, appearing initially as spoilt rotten, who loses her royal status, nearly starves and is brutally raped but finds deep inside her a survivor spirit and fights back year after year through hard work and brute determination to establish herself as a self sufficient woman making a fundamental contribution to society. Eventually she finds within herself the capability to love which had long been suppressed. She was such a strong character I loved and admired her.

The only disappointment is the very last chapter. Thomas Beckett appears out of nowhere and the story ends with a neat and tidy moral lesson. It took away from the rest of the book which seemed to be more about the fact that life isn't always fair.

Despite that one minor complaint, I highly recommend this book, especially if you are into historical fiction. Like The Other Boleyn Girl, this story has its roots in history although, I have no doubt, considerable literary license has been taken. Many of the characters a directly from our history books, eg King Stephen and Thomas Beckett, but others, eg Tom Builder and Prior Phillip, are purely from the author's imagination. My complaint is how do I know what is real and what is imagined. But this only causes me to read more.

City Comparison

Each of the cities I have visited in India have been fundamentally different. It has almost felt like I have been visiting different countries. Oh sure, there are some things which have been the same (everyone communicating on the streets with the excessive use of the horn and the overwhelming traffic) but each and every city has made a very different impression on me.

Chennai: The infrastructure of this city has got some serious problems. Everywhere you looked was a construction projects, not just buildings but pipes, roads, homes. The tsunami seriously damaged the area and the rapid growth of the IT industry has meant this city has got to work hard. This was the only city where the power seemed to give out several times during each day, not for long but for a few minutes. There appears to be very few Westerners here. I think I can count the number of white people I saw on my ten fingers. Hands down though, this wins for best hotel and location. Fisherman's Cove and the beach are a wonderful place to relax after a long day although it is far removed from the daily life of your average Indian. I struggled to envision what life is like for the Indian residents of this crumbled city. About 3 out of 5 people wear motorcycle helmets when traveling by motorbike. It is hot and humid, the most humid by far.

Bangalore: I had but one brief opportunity to see this city on one trip into the city centre when I met colleagues for dinner. The centre is very modern and urban. Lots of lights and shopping centres. There are lots of Westerners both in the airport and at the restaurant we ate in. In fact, if I recall correctly every table had a Westerners at it. Maybe that's the restaurant for taking all Westerners. The traffic was the worst here. About 4 out of 5 people wear motorcycle helmets when traveling by motorbike. It was much cooler especially at night than Chennai.

Pune: This city is green and mountainous. More so than any other city I visited. It seems to have a combined urban/rural feel to it. No one wears motorcycle helmets. It was hottest here but no humidity. There were loads of Westerners. The hotel air conditioning had 2 speeds: off and deep freeze. At one point in the night I awoke shivering and turned it off. I woke a few hours later being viciously biten by mozies. The deet came out in force. One of the most disconcerting moments was when waiting for my flight to Mumbai in the Pune airport the electricity went out for more than 5 minutes. OK, that's not really reassuring. Every city (except Mumbai had power outages whilst I was there but at least it didn't happen whilst I was waiting to catch a flight. Eeeeke!

Mumbai: This city clearly has the best infrastructure and the most Westerners, mostly business men appearing to do the same type of work I do. I sat between 2 white men on my flight here and it was nearly all white people in business class on the way home. We encountered very little traffic on the way to the airport although granted I spent the least amount of time here. Oddly, the domestic terminal of the airport is nicer than the international terminal. There are very few motorcycles and it wasn't all that hot. They seem to generally obey the traffic signals here which is a first.

I have numerous mosquito bites, mostly on my feet (think I missed those with the deet spray) and will continue to take my anti-malaria pills for a week. I only had a couple diarrhea incidents (not bad for 1 week, I reckon). I was not involved in any road traffic accidents (the greatest miracle of all). I was not mugged.

I was deeply annoyed by the tipping culture, ie everyone (sometimes up to 3 people at a time) wanted to help me with opening doors, moving my luggage, etc and each and everyone of them expected a tip including employees of the airport/airlines. The greatest expense easily was tipping all these people when in fact I didn't need or want any help. I get the poverty but let's put these people to work on the infrastructure and stop the corruption.

I have expanded my horizons somewhat although to say I saw India would be a mistake. I saw what corporate India wanted me to see: nice hotels, nice taxi cabs, nice offices, nice restaurants. Everywhere I went was clean and air conditioned.

The middle age in me is relieved to be home safely but the adventurer in me yearns to go back and pull off the covers to experience the real India. I want to take my children. I want them to see the world as it is beyond their private school, big home and nintendo/Wii.

I slept like a log in my bed last night. My own sheets, my own pillows, no mosquitoes. It's great to see the world but it is greater to be home with the ones I love and who love me.

Saturday 26 April 2008

The Unexpected

I arrived in Mumbai expecting the worst leg of my journey to be my last one. I'd heard the horror stories of Bombay travel and was not looking forward to the last night before my return journey home.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

1. The domestic arrivals terminal of the airport is modern. And clean. And huge. The toilet even had toilet paper which no other airport has had. I didn't get hassled to help with my bags (which comes with the requisite expectation of a tip for pushing a trolley which I am quite capable of myself, thank you very much.

2. There was no or very little traffic. I arrived at my hotel within 20 minutes with no traffic jams and no scary driving. My driver only used his horn once.

3. I am staying at the InterContinental which is a humongous hotel. It is beautiful and everyone I have spoken to in the hotel has been very friendly. When my luggage was brought up and I gave the bell boy his tip, it was the first time anyone has ever said thank you or didn't ask for more.

4. The spa managed to get me a massage appointment for 9:30 pm which was divine and set me up perfectly for my return trip home. These massages are such a great bargain. I've paid less than £20 for a 60 minute massage!

5. I have just walked through the largest and most enticing food buffet I have ever laid eyes upon. I resisted the temptation and didn't touch the food but it was definitely a white knuckle moment!

My Indian Safari is drawing to a close and I will be home within the next 24 hours with any luck at all!

Friday 25 April 2008

Time Zones

Explaining that I am in a country nearly half way around the world is a difficult concept for a child. Add to that the notion of time zones. Well, that's just nearly impossible.

Any ideas on how to explain time zones to children (age 4 & almost 7)?

Thursday 24 April 2008

Airport Security for Women

The whole concept of airport security is done quite differently here in India. They don't care so much about liquids, ie no one has asked to see my little baggy of 100 ml liquids but lighters and matches are still banned unlike in the UK where it is exactly the opposite.

When you enter the airport you checkin luggage is taken from you and scanned. Then given back to you with either a tie around it or a sticker across the zip. You then go to the ticketing counter and hand over the bags.

Then you go through gate security and here in India there is a separate line for airport security for women. I keep forgetting and getting in the wrong line. But the men stare at me and point towards the correct line, so eventually I figure it out. Duh!

The difference is that the queue is shorter. Few women seem to travel. Your carry on luggage must be tagged and once it is screen the tags get stamped. Then there is a curtained off booth which you enter after the metal detector where female security personnel do the body search. And then they stamp your boarding ticket.

Once you are fully stamped up, you are free once again to mingle with the men.

PS The airports are surprisingly small. Only 5-7 gates for departure. They make announcements over the PA when your flight is boarding which is slightly nerve racking because I really have to work hard to understand the accent. Only 2 more airports to go!

Near Catastrophe

I have no photos of Bangalore. At all. The place where I was staying was in the supplier campus and prevents all photography. So I can't prove that I was there except the plane ticket. Since I took an internal flight I can't even show you a stamp in my passport. I could be sitting on the beach in Brighton. But I'm not. It is Thursday so this must be Pune and it is 100 degrees F (40 c).

I am shattered. Yesterday my meetings started at 8:30 and went straight through dinner until 11:00 in the evening. In fact in the taxi drive home I had to announce that I was tired of working and could we please talk about something else, anything else.

I was relieved to get back to the hotel but not looking forward to packing, checking out and the airport tango consisting of queues, loads of people jostling for position, baggage tags, and the crushing fear of someone stealing one of your bags when you’ve turned your back for just a second. The whole rushing to the front of the queue is something I just don't get. I mean we all have to get on the plane so it doesn't really matter if you are at the front of the queue or the back of the queue, plane leaves when we are all seated (with our seat belts securely fastened).

I didn’t sleep well. I rarely do the night before I have to catch an early morning flight. I’m always afraid I am going to oversleep. I woke up every hour and had to turn on the light to check that the alarm clock was still working.

When the alarm went off and I drug myself out of bed and got down to the front desk.

I patiently waited until it was 10 minutes past the expected arrival time of my taxi. I then asked the man at the front desk to ring the taxi and see when it was expected to arrive. He did and then panic set in.

They had no booking for me. I was on the company campus and there was no way to hail a cab. My supplier had taken an earlier morning flight to Hyderabad and besides he’s British so he couldn’t help me. I asked the front desk to ring one of the people I had dinner with last night he was trying to find out what had happened but he was running out of time.

A man (I assume an employee of the supplier) comes out of the hotel and says he is going to the airport and will share a car. There is a wee little car waiting for him. My big suitcase takes up the entire boot. All the other luggage is piled into the back seat which I position myself around. There is no air conditioning so the front windows are open and my hair is flying away whilst I sit in the back seat and try to contain my complete and utter anxiety attack. The roads we take are the back roads and they are dirt. Dust is all over my clothes. At one point I text my husband. He sends through alternative flight times to Pune (he’s a saint and if I ever complain about it remind me of this moment). I text him that I am not entirely sure I am headed to the airport. My mobile then stopped sending texts. I realise I haven't been receiving email since the day before and I am beginning to worry that perhaps I’ve been kidnapped and this was all a sinister plot to keep me from visiting other suppliers.

OK, not really but I am angry. Very angry. I trusted them to make reliable travel arrangements for me. Easy. Simple. Straightforward. If they can’t do that how can they take care of the big things I need them to take care of.

I quite simply don’t deal well with that level of stress particularly when I am working on average of 4 hours sleep/night and have been working non-stop for 3 days. I am travelling to see another supplier. I look like I’ve been camping or sleeping rough. I've got meetings here today and tomorrow then tomorrow evening I'm off to Mumbai for less than 24 hours just to catch a flight home to London.

I am missing home.

I have now arrived in Pune and my two supplier colleagues met me at the airport (seems they were on the same flight which they had caught at its origination point in Chennai. They helped me with my luggage, got my driver who got my car which has air conditioning and is clean!

I am feeling better and am now headed into yet another office for a day of meet and greet. It is going to be an early night.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

I Bought a Rug

I never intended on buying a rug. In fact, the thought never even occurred to me.

Between the end of my session and dinner, my driver offered to take me to a shop which he had been going on and on and on about. I thought maybe it was owned by his brother-in-law or something.

The people I am visiting felt it would be a shame if I didn't visit at least one shop to procure a souvenir of my visit to Chennai. And they offered to send someone with me.

So I went shopping. I'm not the biggest shopper in the best of times and the thought of shopping in an Indian market was just a bit intimidating. But hey, what's a little intimidation for motivation?

The shop wasn't a market place at all but a relaxing environment full of beautiful handicrafts and a delicious cinnamon and cardamon tea which shocked and surprised me. After spending quite a long time browsing and registering in the back of my mind those items which would make good gifts for my children, the shop keeper offered me a seat and a cup of tea and started bringing out the most beautiful rugs you have ever seen.

And it was all down hill from there. The rugs are woven hung vertically (didn't know it mattered til then), hand dyed, hand woven, hand tied and certified to be free from the use of child labour (oh go, I hope so!). This is a seriously manual process which results in the most glorious rug you have ever felt under your feet.

And it changes colour. As you move in relationship to the rug the colour of it gotta see it to believe. It's a magic carpet! My very own magic carpet. I haggled with a little help from my escort. I haggled hard. I surprised myself a bit. I got a good deal, a very good deal!

Right, I've landed in Bangalore, very different from Chennai. Many more Westerners, more urban, although it was 10:30 pm when we were driving through the city, and no beach. Had a most unpleasant experience at the security gate of the complex last night that I must sort out. More details to follow!

Monday 21 April 2008

Bump in the Night

The jet lag here is quite the opposite I'm used to. I was up reading until well past midnight and didn't feel remotely sleepy. Of course, this could be due to more than just jet lag.

The village down the beach is having a festival. This means loud music so everyone can hear. Until 1 am. And fireworks until 1 am, which sort of drowned out the music.

When I finally did feel my eyelids start to droop I turned off the light and cuddled down into the duvet. Then I heard the closet doors rattle. I was afraid someone had sneaked into my room and was hiding in the closet. I lay paralyzed with fear until I decided that was ridiculous.

I turned on the lights to find the biggest creepy crawly ascending the wall opposite the doors. Remember this thing was big enough to make the closet doors rattle. Panic set in. I called for Marc. He wasn't here.

I picked up the phone book, walked over to the wall (checking my foot placement to avoid other creepy crawlies), and nailed it with the phone book.

Bug now well and truly dead lying on its back on the floor. I couldn't get to sleep for fear of more bugs. Reminds of the time I found a large iguana in my hotel room in Cancun, Mexico. But that's another story!

Sunday 20 April 2008

Guest is God

I spent the morning trying to catch up on my sleep and then moved into my Garden Suite which also has a sea view as you can see. I couldn’t wait to get myself down to the beach and spent several hours sitting on the chair, listening to the waves and the birds sing the songs of rest and relaxation. At least that’s what it sounded like to me.

One of the first things I did this morning was book an hour massage in the Spa. I have a serious spa addiction. It is difficult to travel and a nice spa treatment can fix all the knots caused by carrying luggage and endless queuing, not to mention less than flat beds on the airplane.

I don’t need perfume. I have a garland of fresh jasmine around my neck and it is undoubtedly the most intoxicating smell. And this garland was just the icing on the cake.

I was greeted with a divine cup of lemony honey mint tea which strictly speaking is not on my diet. I choose to overlook that minor point and drank it like a good girl.

I started with 5 minutes in the steam room. Coming in from the sweltering heat and humidity of April in Chennai I didn’t think I could get any hotter or sweatier. I was wrong. I nearly bolted before the 5 minutes was up but I stuck it out like a trooper telling myself that if I could give up food for 50 days I could sit here. As long as I didn’t pass out. I breathed a sigh of relief when she came for me.

She pointed me to the showers and gave me a lovely robe and those gorgeous disposable panties. You men won’t have a clue what I’m talking about but I have to ask who do they think those fit? Even with my recent weight loss I could barely get them on.

The massage started with the massage therapist (is that what you call them here?) telling me that here at Fisherman’s Cove the “Guest is God” and we wash the feet of God. Sounds good to me. My feet soaked in warm water filled with floating flower petals as she massaged and then dried them. Near as I could tell that was enough for my money’s worth.

But it was only the beginning of heaven. She had numerous clay bowls filled with various unrecognizable powders and potions which during the next 60 minutes she mixed and rubbed on my back, neck and shoulders. She gave me a massage like I’ve never had including my head.

I reluctantly got my feet back on the ground and returned to reception looking a bit dozey. She marked my forehead with a brown dot of something or other and put 2 grains of rice in the middle of it and placed my fragrant garland over my head.

The last thing I wanted to do was leave this sanctuary of bliss. This was worth the airport hassle and the 10 hour flight anyday!

India First Impressions

  • Holy crap, everyone drives like crazy maniacs. Some roads have lines. Some don't. Doesn't matter. They don't pay any attention to the lines. Even when the traffic is coming at you from the opposite direction. And red lights at traffic signals appear to be merely decoration.

  • These people never sleep. I arrived at the airport at 4 am on Sunday morning and the airport was packed by western standards anyway. And on the way to the hotel there were loads of people walking. The driver said they were going to church. At that hour of the morning? I'm not sure God is awake. And they don't walk on the sidewalks. Even when there are sidewalks they walk in the street.

  • The humidity is stifling.

  • The smells are equally intoxicating and revolting. One minute you'd get this amazing whiff of what I am sure was delicious food and the next minute the smell of raw sewage was causing me to gag.

  • Shoes appear to be optional.

  • The diet is going to be difficult to stick to. I am so tempted by the dining menu!

  • The effects of the 26 December 2004 tsunami are still evident. Refugees are still in residence in numerous camps and the landscape has been permanently damaged. Over 691,000 people were affected and nearly 8,000 people died in this area. Nearly 5,500 cattle were also lost. Many are still living in what appears to be horrific conditions.

  • Boy these people can talk. I don't think the taxi driver stopped talking for the entire 30 minute journey. I could understand only about every 10th word but that didn't seem to put him off.

  • There really are cows in the middle of the road. Lots of cows.
  • This is going to be an adventure. I am headed to the beach!

Flying British Airways

There was no small amount of panic when I realised I had little option but to fly with British Airways to India. Unless you have living in a cave you will have heard about the recent traumatic opening of Terminal 5. I was relieved to learn I did not have to brave the chaos of T5 but BA is a challenge in itself.

I got my boarding pass online so check in was a breeze but then the trouble started. The lounge at Gate 10 was closed so I would need to use the lounge at Gate 1. Not too bad you might think, at least there is a lounge. that would be true except my flight was scheduled to depart from Gate 22 which is at least a 30 minute walk from Gate 1. With no moving sidewalks, well, none that work anyway!

I waited in the lounge waiting for my boarding call which I had been told would could about 12:40 for a 13:30 flight. At 12:55 they still hadn't called the flight so I decided not to take any chances and head down there. After walking for ages past non-functioning electric sidewalks I arrived at the gate with all the other passengers (100s of them). I found a seat and waited. Finally at 13:25 they announced that there was a slight (?) delay and they would start boarding in 10 minutes.

And they planned to leave just 10 minutes late. OK, so I knew that was never going to happen. Why can't BA treat their passengers like adults and give us the cold harsh reality? Well, no sense worrying about it. I can't change it. And at least I wasn't in T5!

Air Canada gets my vote for the superior First Class cabin (at least on the flight to Toronto). BA advertises their first class seats as flat beds. Let me tell you if those are flat beds then the world is flat as well.

I didn't sleep well. Some of that is due to the extreme anxiety in the pit of my belly. I wonder what awaits me.

Saturday 19 April 2008


OK, so I'm off into the big bad world again but just before I go a couple of notices:

  1. Patrick Gale is signing copies of Notes from an Exhibition at the Windsor Waterstone's on 23 April at 7 pm. Tickets are £3 and can be booked on 01753 856456. We read this in my book group and loved it. If you are local head down there!
  2. Toasters Don't Roast Chickens is a book by a local mum, Melanie Gow. her children attend the same school as my children. She has written an inspiring book about treating her sons numerous illnesses with everything she could find. I haven't read it yet but I have spoken to others who have and they say it is fabulous. She is having a book signing at Waterstone's Windsor on 26 April at 11:30-1:30. No tickets are required for this one. Even if you can' make the book singing I think you should get a copy of the book!
I'm off to India this morning: 4 cities, 3 suppliers, 7 days and countless opportunities for it all to go horribly wrong! Everyone is expressing concerns about my well being. How come before I was a wife and mother no one cared this much? I'll be fine! And I hope to keep you all posted right here.

Stay tuned!

Friday 18 April 2008

Great Britain is Repossessing the USA

To: The citizens of the United States of America:

In light of your failure to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas which she does not fancy).

Our new prime minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.

A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. Then look up aluminium, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters and the suffix -ize will be replaced by the suffix -ise.

Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (Look up 'vocabulary').

3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.

There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell- checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize. You will relearn your original national anthem, God Save the Queen.

4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent.

Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.

6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

7. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. Holden Monaros are also approved.

8. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables.

Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

9. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline)-roughly $8/US gallon. Get used to it.

10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with ktechup but with vinegar.

11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager.

South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them.

American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.

13. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). Don't try Rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.

14. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America . Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.

16. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

17. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; strawberries in season.

*God Save the Queen.*

Only He can.

John Cleese

Editors Note: I am working to get the baseball thing reversed. And thanks to Clare Bear for sending this to me. I am still laughing!

Wednesday 16 April 2008


I am fairly well travelled. Well, I used to be before I had children as they sometimes cramp your style (and make the carefree life of travel to exotic locations very very very stressful). I've spent Carnival in Bahia, Northern Brazil and the millennium celebrations in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I've been mugged in Seoul, South Korea (3 times) and got lost in Brussels (very very very drunk) with my sister.

OK, that last one didn't require vaccinations but the others did. Alas, it has been 8 years since my last course of vaccinations and some vaccinations I've never had, eg rabies. I needed some boosters.

In preparation for my trip to India I had to journey into the centre of London yesterday afternoon and spend an inordinate amount of time being poked and prodded. My aim was to obtain my Fit to Travel Certificate which would mean that I was covered under the company insurance scheme but I got far more than I bargained for(besides a very sore arm).

I watched as the nurse unloaded a bag full of goodies:
  • One Tummy Kit: full of stuff to treat diarrhea and all those symptoms associated with eating dodgy food and unclean water
  • One Medicine Kit: full of pills to treat most aches, pains, burns, scraps, cuts, including paracetamol, bacterial cream, hydro cortisone, travel sickness pills, antibiotics and even codeine. Cool!
  • One Minor Operation Kit: I'm not kidding! In addition to band aids and gauze and burn covers and bandages and tape there is a pair of scissors, a suture kit, needles (of various sizes, of course) and syringes, a venflo just in case I need to give myself an IV, oh and I mustn't forget the scalpel.

I feel like a mobile Medicins San Frontieres.

Now, could someone please explain to me why I have never had to have any of this before? Even when I travelled for business? OK, so I had a bodyguard in Korea for a while but I certainly never had a scalpel.

There is an upside to this. I also have an International SOS card and a Blood card. The blood card means that if anything happens to me they will fly in blood especially for me all the way from Geneva. I wonder what is wrong with the blood from India. The International SOS card means that if something happens I call the emergency number and they send a helicopter for me. Now I'm thinking this could come in handy if I'm running short of time for shopping. I don't suppose that would classify as an emergency for some but others could give a pretty persuasive argument.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Finally, Niagara Photos

After some mild (ok, not that mild at all) panic, I have recovered my photos from the Niagara trip and share them with you here. We are lucky to have them!

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Lounge Review

The executive lounge at Toronto Pearson Airport for Air Canada (aka Maple Lounge) wins my vote for the best airport lounge. Ever.

The chairs are comfortable. And I tried out a couple of them. Just thought I would walk around and give them all a go.

There is free WiFi and desks with telephones and desk lamps and rubbish bins.

There are showers although I did check them out personally but lots of others seem to.

The food buffet is a selection of fresh vegetables and fruit with some gorgeous breads, cheese, spreads and dips. Usually you get some stale donuts and individually wrapped carb rubbish. Alas, I looked and smelled but did not touch except to wrap up a couple of the homemade cookies to take home to my children.

There is a vast array of drinks to choose from including over 7 different teas, 5 different coffees, 12 different fruit juices, waters, sodas, and even alcoholic beverages. I've had 2 cups of tea which will probably be just about enough caffeine for me as I appear to be typing at the speed of light.

My only complaint would be the other passengers. There is a man on my right who is eating with his mouth open. Every bite he takes greets me with some lip smacking to end all lip smacking. On my left is a man who appears to be older than god and he has been sniffing his nose for at least 20 minutes straight. I want to tell him to either blow it or get over it because if he ain't dislodged it by now it ain't going anywhere!

It's now time to board the plane and head home. I missed home and will be happy to be back!

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Everyone was doing it. So I decided I would do it. No, not that. Everyone was reading or had read The Other Boleyn Girl. Plus there was a movie coming out with 2 of my favourite actresses and I never want to see a movie before I've read the book.

I initially resisted because I've often thought that Philippa Gregory is a bit of bodice ripping, heavy breathing romance type novelist. And I don't generally go for that type of novel. Plus it was long (529 pages) with really tiny print. Hmmmm, I thought, that's a bit odd for that genre. Maybe I got this wrong. It has happened before. not often but once or twice.

I love historical fiction. Now if somebody had told me that was what this was all about I would have read it ages ago. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set in the court of King Henry VIII as he is becoming dissatisfied by Katherine of Aragon's failure of produce a male heir to his throne, which, let's face it, used to be the only thing a queen was good for.

King Henry VIII apparently took a fancy to a young lady in the Queen's court, Mary, who was Anne's sister. The fact that Mary was only 14 and already married did not appear to bother the king in the slightest. Mary went on to bear 2 children and it was during her second pregnancy that King Henry decided he fancied Anne Boleyn. And the rest is history, as we say.

I did some research after I finished the book in an attempt to separate the fact from the fiction. It appears that they know very little for fact and much of what is contained in the book has actually been confirmed as historically accurate.

Which is a good thing because I found the book to be absolutely fascinating. The detail about life in the court and how you got there and how you stayed there and how you were disgraced and banished (or beheaded) is incredible. I loved the way these distant yet historical figures were brought to life not in the context of history but as human beings with dreams and disappointments. The women had numerous miscarriages and there is quite an interesting approach to cleanliness. I could imagine the dresses they wore based on the exquisite descriptions and I could even taste the food and wine.

The portrait painted of Katherine of Aragon is very complimentary and I am afraid that Anne is not portrayed in such a manner. She is shown to be power hungry and selfish slowly losing her grip on reality as she looses her grip on the king. Whilst everyone at court is manipulative, Anne is shown to be more than her fair share. The fact that Anne was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, arguably one of the finest monarch in British history is an astonishing fact, especially when you consider she had to unseat Mary, Queen of Scots, daughter of Katherine of Aragon. The argument must have been thin considering Henry used the same argument to sentence her to death that he used to divorce Katherine.

Ultimately, Anne is beheaded. And Henry marries again. And again. And again. And again. But we knew that. What we didn't know was that Mary, Anne's sister went on to marry a man (after the one she was married to dies) she loved and died in relative obscurity and inheriting all the families wealth when her parents died quite early, finding true happiness at last.

Maybe we need to rewrite the fairy tales to show that marrying Prince Charming isn't all it might be cracked up to be. But I do highly recommend this book especially if you enjoy reading about Kings and Queens and the such.

Pages: LOTS! I don't have the book in front of me so I'm not exactly sure but I think it is about 800 or so.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Caring with Food

Most cultures around the world use food to show they care. This is probably somehow related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The most fundamental of these needs is the physiological needs which includes food.

I show my children, husband, friends, and family that I care for them by making nutritious and delicious meals for them. My children show me they love me by giving me chocolate (except when I'm on a diet). I make dinner for friends which shows them I care enough to make an effort.

Whilst here in Toronto we have been entertained and taken out for dinner every night by our Canadian colleagues. We are building working relationships and we are doing this by eating together.

I think they are finding it very odd that I go out to a restaurant with them and sit with them and talk to them but eat nothing and drink only water and green tea. Or sit on my hands as they devour scrumptious sandwiches and salads for lunch. Heck, I'm finding it very hard.

Last night I sat and watched the group around me eat mushroom risotto, rib eye steak, and caribou. Don't even get me started on the desserts.

Everyone seems fairly convinced that I can't live on water and green tea and yet I persists. I hope I haven't insulted anyone and no one is offended by my lack of participation in the metaphorical breaking of the bread. I was there in spirit. I hope that counts.

Besides I've invited them all to the UK after June 8 and promised them some gastronomic delights and more than a few bottles of wine.