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


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