Friday, December 22, 2006

Feels like Christmas (brrrrrrrrrrrr!)

Ok, its f***ng freezing!!!!!!! Just checked the BBC website and today's maximum temperature is going to be a balmy 1 degree centigrade. This has all come as a bit of a shock to the system as until last week we were nearly pushing double figures. This is when our lovely Victorian house gets put to the 'holding on to heat' test.... so far it has failed miserably:

- The traditional sash windows need rebuilding and so are draughty (and single glazed of course).
- The lovely, brand-new kitchen installed by our predecessors has no insulation in the walls (not even plaster behind the cabinets) - bit worried about food freezing! There is no insulation in the floor either so slippers are essential.
- The front door needs replacing and we currently have no flooring in the hallway so there is nothing to stop the drafts coming up through the floorboards.
- The loft is not insulated completely and as these houses were built cheaply we don't have full walls between our attic and our neighbours.
- The radiators downstairs are of the the single panel variety (and don't have thermostats) so aren't very efficient.

- The central heating is fairly new and so far is doing a valiant job in keeping up with the temperatures when its on full blast (just given up and put it on for a couple of hours).
- I have a microwaveable hot water bottle.
- I have a fan heater.
- I have two cats (unfortunately neither of them are Pallas Cats (right) - but they're trying to be)

Speaking of the fur balls... Lyle (a.k.a. Mr Tumnus, incompetent cat etc.) has cost us £230 this last week. There goes Husband and I's Christmas present budget. Why oh why didn't we get them insured yet? Anyway, he was a sorry looking cat last Monday as we came down in the morning and he couldn't walk properly - his back end was just not co-operating. We took him to the vet, who couldn't find anything wrong with him, gave him an anti-inflammatory injection and told us to bring him back for x-rays if he didn't get better.

One week later, after the injection had worn off, he was still hobbling around the house; so back to the vet for the x-rays. These showed he had fused vertebrae - probably from an earlier slipped disk - and a trapped nerve in his pelvis. Either/both of which could cause his mobility problems. Luckily/unluckily there is nothing surgically that can be done for either problem so the vet just gave him a long-acting steroid injection. It took a couple of days but he is starting to move around normally again and certainly looks an awful lot happier. Poor thing he must have been in a lot of discomfort - pity he couldn't tell us.

The cats are both scheduled to have their pre-Christmas bath this weekend. Oh they're going to love us. We've only washed them once before and it was 'interesting'. They've actually managed to both stay in remarkably good condition this winter - despite putting on about 3 tonnes of extra fur each. They are, however, starting to get a little bit smelly from getting damp-dry-damp again. Soon they will be smelling sweet again of Herbal Essences Rainforest Flowers shampoo. Then they'll love us even more as we'll have to grab them an apply anti-flea drops - woo hoo!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Something has really been getting to me lately. It's not that I haven't thought about it or tried to make some changes but I think its time to make more of a commitment. So here is my pledge to the planet for 2007:

'I will reduce my ecological footprint and that of my household in every way I have the power to do so, and so take responsibility for reducing environmental degradation and climate change'

My initial thoughts are the following (but I'm sure I'll think of new ways as time goes on).

1. Stop using plastic bags!
2. Get a wormery to turn our organic waste into compost.
3. Be even more fastidious about recycling everything possible.
4. Fit a water saving device to our toilet cistern and work on the 'if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down' principle.
5. Buy all food that I can locally and increase the amount of organic and fair trade food and clothing I buy.
6. Have another look at 'green' energy suppliers (after readings this article)
7. Replace all the light bulbs in my house with energy efficient ones.
8. Make an effort to 'green' my workplace.

Anybody fancy joining me in making a planetary pledge or have any other ideas for action?

(Sorry for the squiffiness of the formatting in this post... very odd)

Monday, December 18, 2006

And finally it has happened

The BBC news at 6pm analyses the personality of a recently arrested alleged serial killer by looking at his Myspace page.

We apologise for the recent interruption in Mad Medea's random chatter posts, which have been replaced with rants on social and political issues. We are hopeful that her intelligence quota for the year will soon be used up and the inane ramblings will then be able to resume.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Let the nuclear holocaust come!

That's what I thought as I was piling our 'big Christmas shop' into the kitchen cupboards. If something horrific were to happen to the UK/world in the next couple of weeks at least we wouldn't go hungry - for a while at least. It also reminded me to go and see if there was a petition on the CND website that I could sign to voice my objection to the, seemingly automatic, decision of the UK government renew or replace the existing stock of trident nuclear missiles.

I think the Non-Profliferation Treaty has got to go down as one of the most comedy worthy pieces of international legislation. So right, we won't build any more nuclear weapons (except we will), but we'll hold on to the thousands and thousands we do have (for as long as possible and then 'renew' them).... but if you want to make some new nuclear weapons we'll go ape sh*t at the very thought.

Now don't get me wrong the thought of Iran/South Korea or any other rather unhinged nation's leaders getting their hands on nuclear weapons scares the crap out of me. The fact that our (marginally less unhinged) leaders already have their hands on them scares the crap out of me. The thought of all the other stupidly destructive weapons that are also accessible to the worlds' leaders (and those pesky terrorists/freedom fighters) also scares the crap at me.

I just don't know what moral/legislative high horse we can climb on and wag our fingers (interesting mental image) when disapproving of Iraq and South Korea's desire to have their own nuclear arsenal. We have them and intend to keep/renew them. We are not choosing to find a nice big hole and bury our segment of one of the stupidest inventions in history, seal it with a nice big concrete cap and then have nice meetings discussing what symbol is likely to still mean 'this stuff is bad, B.A.D' in 10,000 years time. So what right do we have to say another sovereign nation should not follow their own stupid desires and develop an arsenal of their own? As far as I can see, until we make some genuine moves towards significant disarmament ourselves we don't have a moral leg to stand on.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Me? Pardon...?

Ok Adventuring Jen... here I go, this is me at the moment:

1. Yourself: bloated
2. Your girlfriend/boyfriend: out on work Christmas do after afternoon of festive falconry
3. Your hair?: in desperate need of a cut cut
4. Your mother?: in desperate need of a hair cut
5. Your Father?: depressed
6. Your favourite item: new DVD player that is able to play a DVD without subtitles!
7. Your dream last night: probably involved being suffocated by a cat
8. Your favourite drink: Waitrose Raspberry Cordial (have just run out... boooooo!)
9. Your dream car: Mazda RX-8
10. The room you are in: dining room
12. Your fear: being too tired to do anything
13. What you want to be in 10 years: not tired
14. Who you hung out with last night?: girlfriend (soup and gingerbread... yum)
15. What you're not?: conscious
16. Muffins: apple and museli (although I have a recipe for the mincemeat ones I must try)
17: One of your wish list items: An Angel Directs the Storm by Michael Northcott
18: Time: 19:38
19. The last thing you did: ate a fruit tea cake
20. What you are wearing: Laura Ashley wrap dress
21. Your favourite weather: cold and crisp
22. Your favourite book: at the moment I have fond memories of 'An Equal Music' by Vikram Seth
23. The last thing you ate: see 19.
24. Your life: tricky
25. Your mood: too tired to be sure (sorry Jen but we're on the same page)
26. Your body: right shape wrong size
27. Who are you thinking about right now? my cats
29. What are you doing at the moment?: writing in my blog.... what a silly question.
30. Your summer: pardon?
31. Best part of your life: learning stuff.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tell the world!

Tell the whole wide world... spread the news... da da-da da daaahhh. I don't know what that song is. My mum used to sing it when Thomas II 'announced' that he had used the litter tray (odd cat). But it seemed appropriate as I just got home to find at letter inviting me to an interview for a middle-management post at another organisation. The deadline had been about two weeks ago, so I was starting to think that I wouldn't hear anything. But I did. Although the job would be interesting (and very scary), more challenging (and more money), the main thing I'm happy about is that now I now that, on paper, I'm good enough to get to the interview stage. Yippee!

The Corporation by Joel Bakun

This was an 'on the way through the airport on to a train' book buy. I'd had my fill of fiction (having just finished Pi) and fancied some anti-establishment prose. This book is a little 'lite' for my taste - only 166 pages of actual book and another few in an 'appendix' interview with Noam Chomsky. I did, however, have medium hopes for it as it is written by 'an academic'. Joel, however, let me down on that front as you really couldn't tell there was a Canadian law professor lurking behind the rather light analysis presented.

The book does present a nice handy, hand-bagged size 'why I don't want to work in the private sector' tome. I think I got two main things out of it - which I kinda knew already but were brought to the front of my mind.

Firstly, that private corporations only exist to make profit for their shareholders - this is a fact that we must never, ever forget. Therefore any attempt at genuine 'corporate social responsibility' (i.e. not tokenism intended to get more customers and therefore eventually make more money) is actually an 'immoral' act for a corporation - it goes against their fundamental morality of profit making. It also means that in every calculation - to pollute, not to pollute, to poison workers/not to etc. - is based on cost. Is it cheaper to pollute now and be more profitable and pay the fine later? If it is, the corporation has a 'moral' obligation to follow the most profitable course of action.

Secondly, the up and coming concept of 'public-private partnerships' in the delivery of public services is a truly terrifying development. I've always disliked the idea of PPPs, but never really been able to justify clearly why; now Joel has provided me with a neat explanation. Corporations exist as entities created by the law and so under the 'rule of law' to some extent. But, when a corporation enters into 'partnership' with government, it implies that they then move on to equal footing with the law - to be cheesy, they become a 'law unto themselves'. Very scary.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Tis the season and therefore Husband and I start working our way through our 'Christmas' set of films. Yes, I know Groundhog day is 2nd February - but its snowy and a bit of a 'Scrooge' story - so it counts, alright?

It was Husband that introduced me to Bill Murray's body of work and I have to admit, I think he is a comic genius. I have a soft spot for that cynical, sarcastic acting style (or is it really just him) that comes out in Groundhog Day and many of his other movies. Which is probably why I really didn't like Lost in Translation. Very worthy and all that - but just not an enjoyable (or alternatively thought-provoking) film to watch. Why does that get all the plaudits and his comic work is just so undervalued.

Anyway, if by some terrible accident of nature you haven't yet seen Groundhog Day (or Scrooged for that matter) for goodness sake go out and find a copy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sex in the air

Right... now I've got your attention. Well, I just about survived my 16-hour day yesterday, but now I'm totally exhausted. Again, all I saw of Paris was Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the inside of 'le taxi' and the 8th floor of nondescript government building. Meeting was good. My papers went down well and there was some interesting discussions. Also had some time alone with my boss on the plane - which is very rare these days - and managed to ascertain that a) he hadn't found out about my recent debacle, or b) he found out about it but didn't want to know - either situation is fine with me.

Anyway, my observations from the flight have set me in mind to continue my recent foray into posts of a more sociological bent. It was the early flight to Paris, and so exclusively populated with business travellers. The plane was a Embraer 145 (very impressed that I managed to find this out within two clicks on the British Airways website - top notch navigation) which seats 49 passengers. The plane yesterday was full.

Not including the flight attendants (both women) I only spotted one other female passenger on the plane. She looked as if she was travelling alone but I was there accompanying my boss (so I don't count really). Just made me think about the lack of women in middle and senior management - to me the level of seniority where you are allowed out the country unaccompanied! I think (actually I hope) that in most organisations and business conscious sex discrimination doesn't happen any more. In my organisation we have a lot of women 'senior managers' but we all four directors and the CEO are men. Bit odd.

Maybe enough time still hasn't passed to get women far enough up the greasy pole. Maybe women just don't want to get to the top echelons of business and government administration. Maybe they prioritise other things in their lives. Maybe all the business women who could have been on that flight were all heavily pregnant or indisposed in some other way. Maybe women just don't like to fly...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Really not sure how I feel about this one. I like the first third - looking at Pi growing up in southern India, living with a zoo keeper father, falling in love with religion and becoming a practising Christian, Muslim and Hindu (simultaneously). Nice insight, nice characterisation.

Then the shipwreck and all the animals on the lifeboat. I just didn't really want to hear about a hyena eating a zebra alive and a tiger killing an orangutan called Orange Juice. I know, I'm a total softy when it comes to animals... and the ending does explain the violence but... still not sure I wanted to read that. In fact, I ended up skimming the first few tens of pages of life in the lifeboat.

Then it did get fairly interesting - tiger taming at sea was always going to pose a challenge. But then we have the surreal algae island.... still not clear about what that acutally was. Nice image of sleeping up a tree surrounded by meer cats. But then, I like meer cats.

Actually the main thing that pissed me off was the ending. I'm getting a little fed up with books that use the 'it was all a dream' or 'he was barking mad' excuse to tie up fantastical storylines. Some books can pull it off - Ian McKewan's 'Atonement' a case in point - because it doesn't undermine the 'reality' of the storyline. But sorry Yann, I'd rather have had either a nasty frenchman from the start or stick with the marauding tiger - don't cheat me out of both.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Funny thing about Christmas

Let's put my cards on the table, I'm not a Christian. In fact, at the moment, I'm not really anything. If you pushed me I'd say I was an agnostic with leanings towards Wicca and Buddhism - but that's just right now. My Mum is a Christian, my Dad is an ex-Christian (yes, that does make home life interesting sometimes). I studied religion for my BA and more recently I've researched issues surrounding equality and diversity in the UK. So, when the head of HR at my work announced that we couldn't call our work do a 'Christmas party' I flipped my lid. Luckily, unlike in the situation I blogged about below, I only went mad internally.

It has been a topic of conversation, on and off, around my office ever since. In fact, I chatted to one of our union reps the other day and she said it had been the thing that people had come to her about most often recently (which considering they've just rewritten our contracts and every HR policy is quite a feat).

From my understanding of legislation, the crux of it is than no one should be treated less favourably or harassed on the grounds of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability... and just recently age. They all have slightly different bits of legislation but the underlying principle is the same.

correctness' overkill where religion is concerned. It seems to be the bit of the whole diversity thingy-me-bob where sense goes out the window and every little bit of life must be stripped of its religious content. Since I live in an, at least nominally, Christian country this normally has the impact of wanting to Unfortunately, I think this has caused a particular 'politicalde-Christianise all our holidays and other traditions. So Christmas becomes 'the festive season', Easter is 'spring-time' etc. for fear of offending anyone of any other faith (atheists don't seem to get considered in the reasoning).

To me this is a total load of bunkum. Is anyone, of any religious persuasion, offended by someone else expressing their own religious beliefs? I think 99% of the time the answer would be no... and the other 1% need to undergo a good talking to by their religion's leaders. Thankfully, some of the religious leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths in Britain did get together this year and formed the Christian Muslim Forum. They issued at statement back in November, to try and cut short any discussion this year along the lines of 'is Christmas offensive to Muslims?' (although I think their statement could be equally applied to all other religious faiths).

I really like their statement, and the open letter to local councils that followed it (although sadly this was too late for Lambeth Council). To quote from the statement:

'We believe that our open and democratic society should promote freedom of religion in the public space rather than negatively restrict its observance.... We believe that any attempt to privatise and hide the celebration of religious festivals promotes frustration, alienation and even anger within religious communities. Such negative approaches devalue religion and undermine the positive contributions that faith communities bring to society.'

In their letter to Councils they explain that society has a choice between two ways of handling religious diversity: equality of affirmation or equality of invisibility. At the moment the trend seems to be towards equality of invisibility. Wouldn't it be better to work towards equality of affirmation? To celebrate or give everyone the opportunity to celebrate the range of religious affiliations that are present in a community?

Anyway, I'll be sending the Forum's statement to our head of HR and her boss for consideration of our policy towards religious diversity and I encourage you (whoever is reading this) to do the same.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Head on the block

.... or more accurately head rolling away down the scaffolding platform with my eyes still blinking. I don't normally write about work on this blog. Partly for fear of getting fired for making public comments on my organisation and partly because that isn't normally what I feel the need to blog about. Well, today I really feel the need. I'm reckoning if you know me, you already know who I work for, and if you don't know me there is definitely not anywhere near enough information in this blog for you to work out where I do work.

At the moment I'm not sure whether I'm feeling like a total idiot or really, really angry - most likely a combination of the two. I think I went a bit too far in a paper I submitted to a group today. The Chair went ballistic and basically said he wasn't going to allow it to be discussed. He couldn't see why I'd written the paper, why I hadn't told him (breaching protocol I didn't know there was), where I'd got my conclusions from etc. and basically informed me that I was casting aspersions at an innocent party (the party by the way was not a person, but a policy).

Now, admittedly, my motivation for writing the paper had evolved along the way, I soon realised the little task that I wanted accomplished actually related to much wider issues. I still stand by my opinions and it actually makes me smile to think of what I didn't put in the paper. I am however worried that I
a) am going to get a b******ing from my line manager when/if he finds out; and
b) have permanently p*****d off at least two senior managers.
So those two things in particular make me feel like an idiot and that I should have kept my mouth shut. Put me in the naughty corner please.

I am also really, really angry that the group didn't actually get to discuss the subject of paper (they can turn the paper itself into paper airplanes for all care) - as it was immediately taken off the table by the chair. I'd done an initial background sweep of key managers (not all positive reactions but mostly) and I knew I had at least one other person present who would back me up in a debate. I'm also angry that I was right in my original suspicions there is no room in my organisation for anybody to: constructively criticise, make suggestions (my paper was a proposal), have ideas, or want to change anything. I just don't get it. I've never worked anywhere that is so mired in its past and unwilling to change. So much of what is done for the 'management' of the organisation - as opposed to what it is our business to do - is simply lip service. There is no sense of the value of staff or the desire to make it a great place to work.

Everyone is very keen to satisfy our external stakeholders, but I've never heard anything about internal stakeholders. Over this last year we've had a new 5-year strategic plan and several new internal strategies that have flowed from that. Staff were not briefed when the strategic plan was launched and haven't even been notified in many cases when major internal strategic documents have been approved. And they wonder why there is so much apathy? There is no accountability for strategic planning to the staff - if you say your going to do something or want something to happen that relates to us an organisation you should be accountable to your staff for that; not just to the Board of Directors. But if I make any noises in that direction I get told either to shut up or to stop being so naive or both.

Well I'm going to have to follow the advice of the loyal and wise Husband: accept that I'm just going to always have to keep my mouth shut and my head down, or start looking for another job...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fancied a new look

Well its taken a little bit of fiddling - and I admit I haven't done that much - but I decided to give the old blog a little bit of a facelift. Out are the spots, in is a subtle white brick background and swirly pink things. Let me know what you think!

I'm sat at home waiting for Husband to return - the hours he is working at the moment are just totally ridiculous. If he hadn't been up north at the weekend I swear he would have worked the whole time. I hope he manages to make it to Christmas in one piece. Thank goodness I've got the cats to keep me company and a (accidentally) giant three-spice gingerbread loaf in the oven.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

I can't say reading this makes me want to go out and read any more Jodi Picoult. I generally like a bit of light-ish fiction - I'm a big fan of Anita Shreve - but this just didn't meet the requirements. It was full of lots of individual little narratives that didn't hang together. Major emotional episodes - Delia switching her affections from her long term love and father of her child to their mutual best friend - were dealt with without so much as a by your leave. Graphic and disturbing pictures of maximum security life which the mild mannered pharmacist/old people's entertainer takes to with gusto just didn't make sense. Ruthann's suicide was obviously meant to be a beautiful expression of her native American world-view but was just thrown in quite carelessly. Considering how much is told through the inner voice of the characters they seem so two dimensional and their emotions trite.... ok I'm starting to rant, so I'll leave it there.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday morning ramblings

Just had email no. 9 with a batch of photos from Mum and Dad, who are halfway through their 6 weeks in south-west Australia, so I’d thought I’d share a few. Dad is already moaning about how the bright light means that he can’t take good photos – but I’d have to disagree.

I’m sat here on my own (except for the cats) is Husband is up in the north-east visiting family and seeing the Bluetones play for the umpteenth time. It would have been nice to go with him but, being realistic, I couldn’t have survived either the drive or the socialising. Can’t wait until he gets back tonight for a hug and all the gossip on Husband’s sister who seems to have finally found herself a nice, normal, single, child-free, employed man *quintuple shock* to get together with. Hallelujah!

Knowing that Husband was going to be away this weekend I decided to organise a little outing for me. A new spa complex opened in Bath in August and so I grabbed a few ladies from work and decided to check it out. On the surface of it, paying £19 to sit in hot water sounds like madness, but it was divine. Although there was a bit of to-and-froing between floors as all the facilities are stacked on top of one another, there were some lovely design touches including: four different steam room pods (jasmine was my favourite), rooftop open air pool (involved running out the lift and into the water as quickly as possible), and a funky bit of the main pool which has a gentle current so you can just float around the outside of the integral Jacuzzi (odd sensation, but I liked it).

Considering the mixed-ness of our bunch it actually worked out really well. Five of us had a nice lunch and a bit of browsing – although I couldn’t bring myself to spend anything I could have gone bananas in Ted Baker. I think this may become a regular activity – the spa that is, not going bananas in Ted Baker.

I’m on my own until Husband arrives back this evening – I’m quite enjoying the chilling time. Going to try and write a paper on internal communications in my organisation. I know I shouldn’t be working but its in my head so I might as well use it while I’ve got it!

Underworld (2003)

I have avoided this film like the plague, not due to a dislike for the subject matter (I'm a closet goth) but for a pathological aversion to the lead actress, Kate Beckinsale. As the film finally made it onto terrestrial TV on channel 4 last night I decided to give it a go.

The film was visually stunning in many respects, but in particular the costume design deserves a special mention. The attention to detail is glorious - someone must have had a lot of fun putting those outfits together. Some wonderful sets as well... I will be scouring the internet to find that staircase and entrance hall.

Unfortunately, for all its positives and ticking of my victorian goth loving boxes, my pathological aversion was justified. Kate was just a non-leading lady - no dynamism, no facial expression, no emotion. Considering she's flinging herself around in PVC and leather most of the time it takes a special kind of 'actress' to take the life out of role like that Celine....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Kids (1995)

I remember the furore that erupted on the release of Larry Clark's 'Kids' back in 1995. The movie is a brutal watch - kids aged between 12 and 16, having sex, doing a lot of drugs and drinking heavily. We only see one parent in the film so the impression is given that these kids really are on their own in the world. Their whole existence seems to be an embodiment of Durkheim's anomie. I recently bought this on DVD and so revisited the movie. I think I was probably more shocked watching it now than I was as a teenager when I first saw it. I didn't live like the kids in the movie but I could understand how, in the right combination of the circumstances, kids could end up right where Larry Clark puts them.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dinner with the cardinal

I’ve had so many thoughts buzzing around my head the last week I thought I should get at least one set of them down on virtual paper.

Following a random dinner conversation, I had been invited over to Dublin to witness a PhD viva voce on the subject of environmental theology. This was the first instance of the award of a new type of PhD in Ireland, which was intended to give established authors the ability to submit their extant body of work instead of a PhD thesis. The author in this case was Fr. Sean McDonagh a Columban missionary, mainly based in the Philippines, who had been writing (for a long time as the soul voice) of Catholic eco-theology.

His presentation was really interesting and the panel of two eminent theologians and an ecologist gave him a little grilling – but nothing too bad. His work did not fit the mould of a traditional PhD, it couldn’t, as he hadn’t written it with the intention of submitting it as such. So he was a bit light on methodology, and in some cases theory, but as he had made such a contribution to his field I, and obviously the panel, felt that it was only right that that contribution be recognised as equivalent to a traditional PhD.

I loved my undergraduate degree of theology and religious studies. It is a subject that I still think and read about often. One of the lecturers from my department was there and he seemed very pleased that I still had an interest in theology. I do feel torn sometimes as to whether that should be what I pursue in my academic life rather than higher education policy. But talking to my old lecturer made me realise that my choice of MA dissertation – looking at the construction of the meaning and purpose of higher education – continued the skills and attitude that I had developed through my BA. So much policy is just taken on face value – no one questions the underlying moral or ethical or religious viewpoint it embodies – and that is always what I want to examine when I think of policy.

Dr Michael Northcott was one of the examiners on the PhD panel. I had heard of him, although I haven’t read any of his work. He writes on eco-theology and political theology, with his latest work examining the distorted Christian underpinnings of the American political right - a book I must lay my hands on.

So anyway, after the conferment of the degree, the panel, Fr McDonagh’s friends and family and the staff from the agency who were responsible for the award, and me, went for dinner. So I was sat at a table with an Anglican priest to my right (Northcott), a Catholic Cardinal opposite to me and a Catholic priest (McDonagh) at the head of the table. It certainly led to a surreal, if very interesting, dinner conversation.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Good tea

Okay, lets have a slightly cheerier post at the top of my blog..... isn't this the poshest tea bag in the world?
It is also damn fine.... good enough for Prince Charles is good enough for me.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)

This is the second non-English language film - the first being the Russian 'Nightwatch' - that I've seen this year which seems to have broken the 'world cinema' mould. What I mean is, that although there were elements that did relate strongly to the Korean origin of the film, they didn't dominate. Sometimes watching 'world cinema' (what a patronising term that is) I just feel culturally lost - that despite the subtitles the film is still in another language. This was not the case with 'Lady Vengeance', I felt like I 'got it'; it wasn't an effort to watch. Actually, that's a lie, it was an effort to watch as it was an incredibly emotionally and morally complex film. Maybe then the real difference is: what I got out of it was worth the effort I put in. I'm sure some people would say that this means the film has lost its 'native-ness' and has moved to appeal to wider sensibilities through becoming more 'Western'. I'm just going to have to disagree with that. I think it is about the movie industries in certain countries starting to get past their teenage angst and starting to get everything in line to make some high quality, high production values, true 'cinema'.

Anyway, back to 'Lady Vengeance'.....urrrr..... where do I start?

The light - white, but soft, like the light reflected off snow. Slowly turns more towards umber as the plot develops and then back to white. Shows off the red of her eye-shadow, her white skin and black hair.

Brilliant cinematography - on more than one occasion we had to pause the film and rewind to just check out what had just been done. The best 'little' moment was the pulling of a shot out from a street-scape and into a room - can't explain why but was just magnificent.

Geum-Ya - Lady Vengeance herself - so terribly manipulative and evil but her retribution is only proportional to the evil that has been done to her and others that she encounters. Wonderful poetic justice of her vengeance means that this is not a 'gore fest' as the reviews state but a vendetta of greek tragic proportions.

Oh this is a useless post - just go and see the film. Then do what I'm going to do and work back through Director Chan-Wook Parks back catalogue..

Friday, November 17, 2006

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

I cannot think of any other contemporary author who has had the word 'zeitgeist' used in more reviews of his books than Douglas Coupland. I first encountered him a decade or so ago when I read 'Generation X' (1991). I liked it, although I did find it painfully trying to be truly 'of the moment'. Published four years later 'Microserfs' (1995) - the story of a bunch of coders who break free from Microsoft to start up their own company - seems to suffer from the same problem. Again, I did enjoy it to a certain degree.

There are moments of humour - the hunt for 'flat food' to slip under the crack of the door in order to feed a coder who has gone mentally AWOL after a bad meeting with 'Bill'. The irony of the 'we are changing the world' attitude of the start-up coders when all they are really doing is creating a program which allows you to build things out of virtual lego. The lack of connection with the reality of life despite all their efforts to become more rounded human beings. Unfortunately, the cheesy ending did kill the charm of it for me - Mum has stroke and learns to communciate again through the computer - too Hollywood.

This was a book chosen by my reading group - the Illiteracy Club - and, considering how negative the group has been about a lot of the recent offerings, I was a little worried about this one. The interesting thing is, although no one was wild about the book, it did get us on to a good discussion on whether a book that is so about a particular moment in culture/time, stay a good book for all time. We were all a bit sceptical about the staying power of 'Microserfs', feeling that it would survive only as a curiosity, not as a great work of literature - or even a 'good read'.

As the plan for the next few months' reading of the 'Illiteracy Club' is to try and read pairs of books which connect or contrast in some way, as a companion for 'Microserfs', we came up with 'Bonfire of the Vanities' by Tom Wolfe. Although I've read (and immensely enjoyed) 'Bonfire' before, I'm interested to see if the other members agree that it is a book which stands the test of time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Head thumping, bones hurting, muscles aching, vision blurring, mind spinning, ears ringing, heart racing, hands shaking, no sleeping, hardly working, big stressing, never ending…

(with apologies to Pepsi™)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Leave a light on....

Well it took Belinda Carlisle to get me in the bath today. Not an obvious motivator I guess but it did it for me. I was feeling a little odd last night, made soup but couldn't eat it, then we went to bed and I just couldn't sleep. Even when I did nod off, I kept waking up through the night. Needless to say I felt awful this morning and had to take the day off work. Anyway, I was having difficulty getting up the energy to get washed and dressed after watching Neighbours (will Carl remember accidentally sleeping with Izzy?), and 'We want the same thing' came on one of the music channels. So I decided, with Belinda to help me, I could face a bath. Grabbed her greatest hits and headed upstairs. Now I'm clean, legs are shaved and I have 'Live your life be free' going around my head.

I also had another secret motivator. More4 are showing Thirtysomething at 3pm on weekdays. The show was one of the things my Mum and I used to watch together - along with Northern Exposure - before I became a terrible teen. Not sure that Thirtysomething was a suitable programme for me considering the age I must have been, but anyway it reminds me of better times with my Mum. She and Dad have made it to Perth for their 6 week holiday in Australia. I can't believe she actually took the 21 hour flight - I'm really proud of her.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Directed by Richard Linklater (he of Slacker and Before Sunrise) this goes down as one of my all time favourite films. I don't know when I first saw this but it can't have been long after it was released - probably when it made it on to satellite. Anyway, its been on my DVD 'wish list' for ages just waiting for it to pop up on offer somewhere, which is just did at HMV online. No P&P - score!

I have a particular weakness for all things teenage. I'm not really talking about the wave of teen gross out comedies that have come out in the last few years but more brat pack, Dawson's Creek, Party of Five etc. Things that give that nice soft-focus, rose-tinted sheen to the (usually American) teen experience. It wouldn't take a Freudian psychiatrist long to work out that my penchant for these films derives from my own fairly crappy teenage experience - 5 years on a sofa feeling very ill - so I like living vicariously through my friends on screen.

Dazed and Confused, however, would have to be in any film aficionados top ten teen experience movies. Following a group of 1976 high-school kids on the last day of school of their junior year - when they 'graduate' to become seniors and so both rule their school and their town.

There is the permanently stoned one, the handsome one, the jock, the nutter (repeating senior year and so getting to beat freshmen twice), the older dude still hanging with the kids, the bitch, the geeks, and the adopted incoming freshman who get a taste of high school life. The film is filled with classic moments and classic lines.... all enhanced with a 'kick ass' mid-70s rock soundtrack (opening with Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion').

We see the adult tolerated (and even encouraged) hazing of the new freshman (beatings for the boys, humiliation for the girls); the eternal quest for beer; hanging out at the pool hall; and the end of school party out at the 'moon-tower'. I'm not saying its a work of genius but it captures a wonderfully idealised moment which is great fun to vicariously live through.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It's been fun driving to work this week as we've had dense fog each morning which lasts until lunchtime. I was trying to find a webcam photo to demonstrate the fogginess but all I could find was this one of our new south-western bypass; now if that's not stimulating viewing I don't know what is.

The more importantly foggy place is, however, my brain. I don't know who first used the term 'brain fog' to describe what happens in a ME/CFS suffers head on a bad day - as I'm sure lots of sufferers, including myself, came up with it independently. It is so hard to describe the symptom, except as trying to 'think through fog' - nothing resolves easily, every perception and thought process takes a conscious effort and the world seems to be tilted at a slightly off angle.

Writing about 'brain fog' reminds me of what for me has been the other major consequence of living with a chronic illness... losing the ability to be light-hearted. Even when I'm having a good spell I often have to consciously remind myself that things are going well, to smile, laugh, make love with my Husband; to not stay caught up on the 'survival' mindset that suffering generates. I'm sure this feeling isn't restricted to ME/CFS suffers, or those with other chronic illnesses. It think it is a mindset problem that probably is an issue for anyone who has had a prolonged period of stress (or even a very intense short period of stress).

When I was little we had hundreds (literally) of films taped off the TV. I think my Dad had done some work for AGFA and as a result ended up with dozens of free VHS tapes. There were certain (fairly random for children of the 80s) films that my sister and I used to watch compulsively: The Slipper and the Rose, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Railway Children, Anne of Green Gables (mini series) etc. We also had Pollyanna, the version with Hayley Mills. Pollyanna is an indefatigably cheerful and optimistic child being raised by a rather stern Aunt after her father's death. When ever she was feeling down or trying to cheer someone up she would play the 'glad game'. She would always manage to find something to be glad about no matter the situation. That was until she (I think) falls out of a tree and breaks her back. Then she's not so glad for a while... until the town that she has charmed, charms her back for a classic Hollywood ending.

I have to say, I've never come across a true 'Pollyanna' in real life although I'm sure they are out there someone - probably get their lights knocked out on a regular basis for always being so damn cheerful. But maybe we (and by we, I mean I) should take a leaf out of Pollyanna's book and play the glad game once in a while - because no matter how crappy life gets we should always be able to find something to be glad about. Maybe that's the only way for me to re-instate my ability to be light-hearted.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Disturbing mail

Just checked into my hotmail account. This is the place where all my subscriptions go for everything I sign up to on the web. In my box today was a message from the publishers Politicos, advertising their new wares. The first disturbing discovery was a book entited 'Ariel Sharon: An intimate portrait'. I really don't want to be intimate with Mr Sharon thank you very much, and I'm not sure how many other people want to be intimate with him either. I went on to check out the book's entry on the Politicos site and found an even more disturbing read....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The turning of the year

Something has (finally!) happened with the weather this week. The whole of the country seems to have bathed in a Indian summer since late September and, frankly, I've been getting sick of it. I love frosty mornings: wrapping up all cosy in big jumpers and snuggling back into bed with purring cat shaped living hot water bottles.

Well mother nature decided to get her act together for Halloween and the air flow swung round to give us a nice blast of arctic air. The temperature starting dropping on the 31st as the trick or treaters were coming around. I like living in a neighbourhood where it is actually kids that come around - not teenagers asking for money wearing masks and hoodies. Most of them were under waist high and many had made quite an effort with their costumes. I decided to dig out my full length, hooded black velvet cape (you know the one we all have in the back of our wardrobes) and answer the door looking like that. At one point I opened the door to two little girls - they couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 - they were both struck dumb by being greeted by me in my get up. After a little awkward silence they managed to ask if I was a witch - I assured them I was, but a nice one - and then they took some sweets and scarpered. Husband's pumpkin generated considerably less trepidation, but did receive a significant number of compliments.

When Husband got home he put his wedding garb on, and I found my 6th-form red velvet ball dress; we looked a right pair! I'm glad I have a husband who likes dressing up. If only we'd had somewhere to go.

I made it back to work today after six days horizontal - bar greeting trick or treaters of course - it was good to be back in the land of the living, although it took a 500ml bottle of lucozade and a finger of fudge to get me through the day.

Monday, October 30, 2006

If I were....

Maybe it's a little early in my life to be doing this meme, but, inspired by my new found fellow higher education policy blog acquaintance Rand, I decided that maybe tonight is a good night for a little self-reflection. Husband is sat watching you-know-who playing a Premiership football match and I've had a wonderfully crappy day at home feeling very ill and unable to go to work. So, anyway, I feel the need for a little self-reflection.

If I were rich...

I would quit my job, have Husband quit his job and we'd buy a big house somewhere remote - Northumberland probably - and just chill out for a few years. Then we'd have a couple of kiddies and a little Scottie dog and spend our time growing vegetables; maybe I'd be able to do a PhD in blissful isolation from stress and strain. I'd give my mother-in-law and her partner enough money to not have to worry ever again and convert a few farm buildings so that family and friends could come and stay and share our happy existence.

If I were smarter...

I would have been able to make it back to school at 17 and take Maths and Physics at A-level to go and study astronomy at university. I'd have got a first in that and got a scholarship to do an MSc and PhD. Right now I'd be a post-doc researcher looking into the influence of dark matter on the visible universe. Even ignoring fantasy life, at the moment I just wished that I'd had the foresight to figure out that I wanted to do a PhD and check that my MA entitled me to Research Council funding for said PhD.

If I were a more disciplined writer...

I wouldn't have written my MA thesis in 4 weeks flat and maybe I'd be happier with it than I am. I'd also have started this blog and my book blog a while ago so that I had a better record of my life and so fill in the holes that my swiss cheese memory leaves behind. I think I probably might have carried on doing creative writing as well - might have a few published short stories under my belt and a novel on the way. Maybe I should try that novel in a month thing...

If I were more ambitious...

I would have applied to Cambridge for my undergraduate degree not to Leeds. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I'm the person that I became because of going there; I think I would have been very different now if I had attended Cambridge. I guess maybe my problem wasn't lack of ambition but lack of vision.... maybe they would have accepted someone with as rocky an educational history as me.... well Oxford is on my research list for PhD supervisors maybe I'll be a Oxbridge girl one day soon.

If I were better organised...

I would always have my work clothes ironed and packed lunch made the night before. There wouldn't be a stack of un-filed bills and other various paper based detritus constantly lurking on the dining room table. The two bags of clothes for the charity shop that have been in the understairs cupboard since we moved would have made it back into circulation. I would already be reading higher education policy stuff now and not reminiscing about 'Landscape and Memory' by Simon Schama.

If I were not a complete idiot in my (early) twenties...

I would have made more of my time as an undergraduate - debating society, yoga classes and student representative - rather than just lots of studying and a fair few men. I would have a had a brief fling with a certain someone not got engaged and had to leg it 3 months before I was due to marry him! But then without those things I wouldn't have been brought to the point where I met my husband; so as idiotic as they were I wouldn't take them back..... but I might have amended them a little.

I think I need to do this again in a few years.... actually doing this every few years might keep me on the right track.

Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

In all my blissful ignorance I have to say I went in to this film pretty much blind. I knew it was about the McCarthy era. I knew it was directed by George Clooney. I knew it was in black and white. Now that I've watched it, I wish I'd known a little more about the story it was trying to tell.

I feel like I only picked up around 1/3 of the plot, and a much lower proportion of the insinuations and the undercurrents. This was a complex film - in all the right ways. So I'm not going to try and tell the plot in miniature here. That isn't what this blog is for. It's to force me to think about what I watch, what it means, how it is put together - why it was made here, now (or there, then).

Good Night and Good Luck is beautifully filmed. The quality of the monochrome is silky; it's almost tangible. I don't know if that is due to a particular photographic process or because we're so used to seeing only the poorer quality of old black and white films. This smoothness seems to help the viewer skim over the 'bumpiness' of the film. It helps to ease some of the tension generated by the immensely politically dangerous situation that the journalists and their families find themselves in.

That is what struck me most about the film. It wasn't really about the 'big politics' of the history it was trying to convey what it meant to the individuals to be pushing the (at the time very limited) boundaries of free speech in a supposedly 'free' society. It made me think about the extent that a true 'thought police' existed in America at that time. If you spoke out you lost your job, possibly your family and your home. The men depicted decided that it was worth putting their livelihoods and in some sense lives on the line to give the public a chance to see the other side of the argument.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Jesus Debate: Modern Historians Investigate the Life of Christ by Mark Allan Powell

Well my alternating fiction/non-fiction hasn't quite worked so far but I've been getting through this one in sections in between my tromp through novels. I have a very (at times worryingly) large collection of books from my undergraduate theology and religious studies degree; all of which I love and cannot bear to part with. My academic personality is most definitely schizophrenic - fully involved with my current career in higher education policy, wistfully longing for my days as a scholar of religions and drifting off into sexology on occasion.....

I should, at this point, lay my cards on the table and state that I am not a Christian in any way shape or form. I do, however, have a great interest in Christianity from a historical and sociological perspective - hence why I took a religious studies degree and still read about Christianity now.

Anyway, I remember enjoying this book immensely when I took a module on 'The Historical Jesus' with wonderful Professor Elliot who had proper professor wispy white hair and taught in his academic robe (for those who don't know me, I'm only 26 so that was very unusual!). The book is a neutral point of view survey of the developments over last few decades in the theories of who the historical person of Jesus actually was. Back in the early 19th century many historians declared that Jesus as a historical figure never existed which, even at the time must have seemed ridiculous, as there is more documentary evidence for him than for Julius Caesar - from Christian and non-Christian sources.

Since those heady days of denial the debate has most definitely moved on a fair bit although no real consensus has emerged. The book gives a summary of six of the 'biggest' readings of the historical Jesus that are floating around today - including that of the much vaunted 'Jesus Seminar'.

I like reading about the historical origins of Christianity. A fair proportion of Christians pay no attention to the 'historical' Jesus as they say that their relationship is with the post-Easter, eternal Jesus - fair enough. Another proportion, who take the Bible as the unerring, divine account of events would find the research into the historical Jesus as either blasphemous or extremely worrying as it treats the Bible as a historical source document pretty much like any other and therefore in need of scrutiny not blind acceptance. Many of the scholars of the historical Jesus are committed Christians and therefore do not find the process of picking apart the Bible - investigating how it was written, by whom, and how it was put together, as well as looking at sources that didn't make it - disturbing in the slightest, but actually help them understand their faith.

A wide range of 'Jesuses' (?) are put forward from a totally Hellenised Cynic philosopher with no interest in the supernatural; to a totally Jewish eschatological prophet interested in the political overthrow of the Roman authorities and the restoration of the true Israel. Each theory uses a slightly different set of criteria to decide which pieces of evidence can be deemed 'authentic' which often lead to radically different tellings of the story. Ultimately I think all the 'Jesuses' are interesting to both the Christian and the non-Christian reader. As a Christian who Jesus actually was does (in my humble opinion) matter - if you believe he had to become truly human to take on the sins of humanity. As a non-Christian, Jesus has to be one of the most influential historical figures of all time - just look what has been done, both good and bad, in his name.

All the way through the story of the 'Quest for the Historical Jesus' and the 'Jesuses' presented by current scholars the book is constantly pointing at a sub-narrative - there must have been something about this man that was special, for his memory to last so vividly and have an impact 2000 years after his death. Other Jewish prophets (and prophets of other religions) came and went..... why do we not, for instance, have a world religion based on the teachings of John the Baptist? What was it about Jesus (and Mohammend, and Buddha) that meant his image - no matter how distorted from what he was like as an earthly figure - remains a subject of both veneration and inquiry.

I am perfectly happy to accept among my Christian friends those whose faith is satisfied by a basic acceptance of the tenets of Christianity and supplemented by a personal relationship with God - they have no need of this book. But for those who wish to know who their God was whilst he was on this Earth this is a great way to start and will lead them on into an understanding of how, when and by whom the Bible was written.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A whole load a blarney!

We have returned from the Emerald Isle! Why are holidays so stupidly short (and so tiring for me)? After a bit of a dodgy start to the trip in Cork - I was dizzy and headachey so a city was not the place to be - we did have a lovely time. A few shocks were:
  • total lack of decent road signange and practically no 'village signs' (and what signs there were were for places that weren't on the map)
  • stupidly high house prices for the size of population (3.5million) and average salary (so dream of selling up and moving to live and being self sufficient there is out of the question)
  • amazing number of new houses (mainly dormer bunaglows?) dotted around the otherwise pristine countryside
  • knackeredness of Cork city itself (obviously had not been polished to a gleaming shine for the capital of culture in 2005).

Anyway now for some pics and commentary. After the semi-trauma of Cork we headed east onto 'great island' to visit the town of Cobh/Queenstown/Cove (depending on what you're reading). The old rail station has a very good museum telling the 'Queenstown Story' as this is the port form which around 3.5million emigrants left island for the Americas.

The weather on the Friday was lovely (despite the sky in the Cobh picture) but we knew bad weather was coming so we decided to head for the south-westerly most point of Ireland and get soaked by the rain and battered by the wind. Mizen Head was spectacular. It took 3 hours to drive the 75 miles or so from Blarney but was definitely worth it. Before crossing the very scary (dripping with rust, covered in scaffolding, 30m in the air) bridge we refuelled at the new visitor centre. We managed to wait just long enough for the torrential rain and so headed out and got well and truly soaked.

    Sunday, despite the weatherman's predictions, was lovely. We headed south of Cork to the fishing town of Kinsale. Very pretty, very busy as Munster were playing Leicester in the Heineken Cup so the pubs were packed and the Guiness was flowing. We headed out to the Old Head of Kinsale to visit the lighthouse and see where the Lusitania sunk (brining the USA into WWI). Chugging along we suddenly came across a large wall, razor wire and a substantial sign saying 'Members and Guests only'. The entire headland had been turned into a golf course with no public access. As we got out of the car to go for a wander where we could we saw several other cars do exactly the same thing. Somehow you just don't expect a large chunk of coastline to be inaccessible even if it is a golf course. Luckily around the corner was the most wonderful little bay packed with surfers (although note old lady paddling by hitching up her skirts on the right). Could quite happily live there for the rest of my days - gorgeous. Back to Kinsale for tea at the White Lady hotel which was fabulous also.

    For our last day we decided to drown our sorrows at the Old Midleton distillery - home of Jameson's whiskey - and home of the largest copper still in the world. After an interesting tour and purchase of 'ladies cut' jameson branded rugby top we declared the location a success and headed out to the coast to Ballycotton bay to say 'Farewell and see you soon' to the green and pleasant land.

    Since arriving back at 12.30am Tuesday morning my fair sister has been over to visit. She let me do a mini 'Trinny and Susannah' on her in Cheltenham with £750 spent in 6 hours. Ended up totally knackered out and I had one of my 14 hour kip days to day - needless to say I didn't make it to work. Still worth it though!

    The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

    Again a second book from an author who I have a feeling is going to become one of my firm favorites. I read 'A Garden of Earthly Delights' by Oates back in spring. It was published in 1967 and was her second novel. 'The Falls' was published in 2004 and has got to be something like her 30th novel (I can't be bothered to count). There are similarities between the works but if anything I think 'Earthly Delights' is the more 'serious' work but maybe I'm wrong. The interesting thing is that both books use the story of a woman's life as a lens to tell history and make social commentary and so I'm wondering if this is the way that Oates always rights and therefore why she is often considered a 'Great American Writer'. 'Earthly Delights' deals with the depression and is written like Steinbeck but without the romanticism. 'The Falls' has as its historical motif the infamous 'Love Canal' class action suit - the first action of its kind in the USA - connecting environmental pollution to human health effects.

    I was actually surprised at how small a role Love Canal actually plays in the book - the summary on the back cover of my copy indicates that it is central to the plot. The initial failed suit however is merely the catalyst for the breakdown of the second marriage of the protagonist Ariah Burnaby. We follow Ariah from the suicide of her first husband on the morning after their wedding night - by throwing himself over Niagara falls. Through her second marriage, birth and childhood of three children, death of her second husband (also by the Falls but this time murdered) and her children's quest in early adulthood to discover the story behind their father's death.

    I found the book gripping and quite moving. The character of Ariah is complex from the outset as it is clear that she is not the most mentally stable of women even before her first husband's suicide. Her overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt and her own interpretation of the karmic effects of the happenings of her life drive her story through the book and have a massive (and almost unavoidable) impact on those around her. At first I thought that 'The Falls' lacked the unity of story of 'Earthly Delights' but come to think of it both books hop around - bringing their 'main' characters in and out of focus as she uses the story to bring into focus political and social questions as well as those of marriage and family.

    Well, I've still got another 30 or so books and dozens of other works to get through. I can see that Ms Oates will be keeping me busy for many years to come!

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    The little things

    After yesterday's bummer of a post I thought maybe it was time for a little light humour. Been working at home today which is always cheers me up (except for the fact that Gilmore Girls is no longer on the Hallmark channel at 12.00pm). Attempting my version 4 of a new organogram which will hopefully finally past muster with the senior managers - oh what a life I lead! Anyway, what prompted me to write this post was two things:

    Firstly, today's comedy conversation between husband and I:
    Scenario: Husband clearing out fridge of dead things before going to Sainsbury's....

    -Husband: what are you doing with these eggs in the fridge?
    -Me: they're fine (husband doesn't understand eggs, he has a fear of them)
    -Husband: no these ones in a bowl
    -Me: those are mangoes

    Well I laughed..... Secondly, I thought of another '3 things' thing: what you never want anyone to see you doing (with possible exception of husband, long term boyf).

    My 3 would be:
    - Jogging up the stairs in my pyjamas holding on to my boobs so they don't give me a black eye (this is what gave me the idea)
    - Using depilatory cream
    - Vomiting

    Come on... what are you're 3?

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Blue is the colour

    Had a good cry last night; first one in ages. Fed up with being ill and all that means for marital harmony (and a few things that I don't think I want to mention this publicly.... Adventuring Jen will understand....). More talking to follow tonight probably although probably not as Husband is working late on his magical adding up devices.

    Getting a bit antsy about my first 'performance review' at work. I'm halfway through my 2 year contract and so I feel its a bit more important than it might otherwise be. Feel the need to be this big career woman and have a plan. Both plans and lack of plans terrify me though so I'm stuck in the middle at the moment. Also terrified about what 'constructive criticism' I'm going to received. Boss is lovely but I'm a bit fragile at the moment so I'm worried anything will set me off.

    Just trying to hang on to my sanity for another 10 days or so before we head off on Husband's surprise birthday weekend. Hopefully our first proper break since getting married will help us both sort out heads out.

    Did have a comedy moment this weekend. We washed both cats. Lyle submitted fairly freely and enjoyed being toweled and then dried with the hairdryer. Tate was little less convinced of the benefits of the process and freaked out when I turned the hairdryer on - so he stayed wet for hours. They both look decidedly less scraggy and now smell absolutely gorgeous - we shampooed them with Herbal Essences Rainforest Flowers (I hope it isn't toxic to cats). Never washed a cat before but as the wonderful pair are long haired I thought it might be worthwhile getting them into the habit.

    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

    This was an 'Illiteracy Club' read (my work book club) chosen by our Head of Finance. I already suspected that we liked the same kind of books and this confirms it.

    I really enjoyed this book - so many characters and an increasingly bizarre plot that adds humour to what could have been the premise for a Robert Ludlum type thriller if it chose to be. The basic plot is: party for Japanese diplomat in South American Vice-President's house; terrorists break in and take hostages; hostage situation goes on for an in-ordinately long amount of time.

    I think the key to the success of the book is mix of hostages and the mix of terrorists and how they build relationships between each other. The terrorists turn out to be fairly mild mannered as terrorists go and when they realise the hopelessness of the situation rather than resorting to violence they drift off with the hostages into a more pleasant alternate reality. In truth except for one man who is missing his wife most of the characters would rather stay in the mansion forever - rather than face the disappointment that returning to the real world will bring.

    The only real weakness of the book for me was the epilogue. Wholly unnecessary and the sort of thing a Hollywood director would stick on the end so it ended on a more positive note. I wish I had just not read the last few pages and the sappiness (and unlikeliness) really bugged me.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Pretty pants and stripey suits

    Shopping part 1: Made into Cheltenham on Sunday for an hours shopping. Allegedly to find some nice dark shirts to go with Husband's new ganster style suit (everything is currently boring pink, white or blue) but out the corner of my eye I spotted a lovely suit from East. Black wool with fine silver pin strips - short fitted jacket and long skirt. Fitted perfectly with the image of the victorian school mistress that I am cultivating this season. So kerching went the cash register and off went I smiling at my accidental purchase. Now all I need is a cameo to go at the neck of one of my blouses and I'll be all set. I wore it yesterday and it is so warm and comfortable I'm sure I could chastise many young men whilst wearing it.

    Shopping part 2: After Husband put his finger through a hole in a pair of my knickers whilst doing the washing yesterday I decided to invest in some new attire for me nether-regions. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the rise of the shortie knicker. It keeps your bum warm but screams 'hipster' not 'old enough to have a broken hip'. Treated myself to 6 pairs - 2 white, 2 nude-ish and 2 black with pattern. Will have to force myself to throw out an equal number of pairs when I get home. Prancing in pants will also take place later.

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

    Another 'second read' after a much enjoyed (if that's the right word considering much of the contents) experience with 'Atonement' back in February. It was also another £2 remainder purchase.

    The novel is only 100 pages long (exactly if I remember correctly) and I read it yesterday in bed with my cat Tate (and later my husband). The back cover doesn't give much away except that its about a couple who have been together some time and an encounter which changes there life. This 'moment of impact' is the same device that McEwan uses in 'Atonement' and so I was expecting it to occur at the start of the narrative - when in reality it occurs in 'Comfort' at the end.

    Their are some beautiful observations of how a relationship can run after several (but not many) years together. The rare love-making, the lack of intimate conversation and the forgetting of how to have fun with each other. When the mysterious stranger figure of Robert terms up he seems to initially take them out of their comfort zone enough to re-enervate their sexual and romantic relationship.

    For me this change - amidst beautiful descriptions of what must be Venice - would be enough. But McEwan takes it darker, and then darker still. I'm not sure how this relates to the majority of the book and whether the book is any greater or lesser for inclusion. The feeling of being drawn into an 'Eyes Wide Shut' in some ways overwhelms the pedestrian charm of the rest of the novel. Yet I suppose that is what draws you on to the terrifying (and still to me baffling) conclusion.

    'Enduring Love' is sat in my reading stack so I will get around to my 3rd McEwan before long - although I've already attempted it once. We shall see.

    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

    This is the second of Shield's novels I've read - I picked up 'Unless' from the library last year. I really enjoyed that, feeling like I'd found my slightly deeper Anita Shreve. I bought the book from a colleague's husband's friend who had come by a large remainder from an out of business bookshop - I think it cost £2.

    The book takes the form of a fictional biography cum family history - following an individual woman from birth to death (literally). I warmed to the central character of Daisy as she seemed in many ways just to be piece of flotsam on the sea of other people's dramas. Her mother died in childbirth and she was given up by her father to be raised by a neighbour woman - who shortly after left her husband and went to live with her son in the big city. When she died Daisy went to live with her father for the first time. She marries but her husband dies by falling from a balcony drunk on their European honeymoon - their marriage was unconsummated. She marries several years later - this time to the son of the woman she was raised by and lived with as a child. When her second husband dies of old age Daisy retires to Florida where she lives out her days playing cards with a group of ladies who call themselves the 'Flowers'.

    In many ways the book is very reflective - on the vagaries of life, love and passage of time - but in most cases it is not Daisy reflecting on her own life (not until she is on her death bed) but the others in her life reflecting on her. Shields uses letters and other documents to tell substantial sections of the story placing the reader outside of the narrative.

    As I said, I did enjoy the book but I think it may be worth a second read in a few years time to fully appreciate its messages.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    Long time no blog

    Ok, after my list of threes I though it might also be time for a normal post as its been a little while and a lot has happened.

    Last week was my first time as committee secretary at work. Bit stressful but I was so glad when it was over. Minutes have now been approved by the chair and apart from the fact that I was having a flowery language day they seemed to go down alright with him. Just have to wait to see what everyone else says.

    Spent three days last week in Brussels. Decided I could quite happily live in that city - manageable size, nice cafe culture, knackered old buildings and tons and tons of chocolate. But I'm not going to bore you with pictures of the Grand Place, Bourse or Palais Royale. These are my two favourite sights:

    The event went well - except for the stifling heat and me running around like a headless chicken for two days. I think I only managed to insult one Board member so I don't think that is too bad. Absolutely knackered me and I've spent the last three days in bed. Feeling really guilty about not being at work - and rather shocked that this had such a bad affect on me - really wasn't expecting to feel this terrible. Off to the Docs on Monday to moan and gain sympathy. Tis the life I lead.

    3 Things?

    Right I've been tagged by adventuring to do this - and then as I read back through her responses I realised that I could well give many of the same answers - oh well..... I'll try to be original but apologies to Jen for stealing her thoughts.

    1. Three things that scare me
    Being an adult
    Having kids/not ever having kids

    2. Three people that make me laugh
    Eddie Izzard
    My Husband
    Stephen Fry

    3. Three things I hate the most
    Being ill
    My dad being ill

    4. Three things I don't understand
    Nietzsche (tried and failed, my only 3rd class mark at Uni)
    People drinking and driving
    The rules of cricket

    5. Three things I'm doing right now
    Drinking a cup of coffee
    Half watching/listening to an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation
    Watching Mr Lyle climb through a big bush (actually now he's walking on the keyboard)

    6. Three things I want to do before I die
    Be well (continuing the theme)
    Have no debt
    Get a PhD

    7. Three things I can do
    Bake fabulous cakes
    Have 'inappropriate' conversations very loudly in public without caring
    Be a hostess with the most-ess

    8. Three ways to describe my personality

    9. Three things I can't do
    Move at any great speed unaided
    Kill Daddy Long Legs

    10. Three things I think you should listen to
    10,000 Maniacs version of 'Because the Night'
    Push (acoustic version) by Moist
    One Cool Remove by Shawn Colvin & Mary Chapin Carpenter

    11. Three things I'd like to learn
    Psycho-sexual counseling
    jewelry making

    12. Three favourite foods
    Divine milk chocolate
    Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' Tadkha Dhaal
    Marmite sandwiches

    13. Three beverages I drink regularly
    Starbucks Soy Milk Latte
    Fizzy water
    Clipper Tea

    14. Three shows I watched as a kid
    Rent-a-Ghost (when Mum and Dad weren't looking, its the occult you know)
    Chronicles of Narnia

    15. Three people I'm tagging (to do this)
    I'll get back to you on that one.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Bag of dreams

    I always wondered if it was possible to fall in love with a bag. I've been lusting after a proper work bag for many moons. Now I finally feel I have the job to justify it and love them as I do my everyday tote's from deepening just don't quite cut it on a proper business trip. They do alright as they kind of fit documents in, but they certainly don't seal completely or keep out the elements.

    I've been hunting around the web tonight as Husband watches the Champion's League on Sky Sports and I was almost totally convinced that I was going to go down the Radley line. High quality, not too fashionable design so will last..... I then I came across I know they may not quite be to everybody's taste - the logo print a little Louis Vuitton - but I want one, and I want it now. But which one? Business tote, Briefcase or Fashion Tote? All water and stain resistant - and so well designed! And will that mean I need the matching wallet...... I've already picked out a Hidesign briefcase for Husband so I'm thinking mutual present to excuse the lavishness.

    Okay, that's enough wittering. I'm generally having a crappola of a weak. Kicked off by a super-horrible migraine on Sunday night - which instead of making me sick seemed to get the other end of my digestive system going. That laid me in bed on Monday due to no sleep and total wooziness. Last two days at work have since been manic - and I think I've managed to piss off most of the people on the new committee that I'm secretary for and that's even before the first meeting.

    At least Husband has booked his time off work for his birthday surprise next month. Can't wait as it will be just what we need. Must get on to buying a few birthday presents soon - thank goodness I get paid on Friday!

    Thursday, September 07, 2006


    If anybody ever tells me that they think travelling internationally for work is glamorous I will smack them round the head with whatever large object is to hand. Just logged my hours on my time sheet for Tuesday and Wednesday - I did two 11 1/2 hour days. All I saw of Paris was the Eiffel tower as we were landing and the inside of a Ministry of Education office block. Still very interesting, great opportunity and the meeting went well. Roll on Brussels in two weeks....

    Husband picked me up at the airport (sweetie) and we drove home through heavy rain with me semi-comatose in the passenger seat. Arrived home to find that Tate had missed me so much that he had brought me a wonderful present - a large, dead rat. I suppose a dead rat is better than a live rat, but it still wasn't quite what I had asked for. Did make me realise that there are 'country' rats and 'town' rats. Our local rats in Leeds used to be evil brown/black things with beady eyes. This chap was quite cute with a mottled brown back and white tummy.

    Obviously disturbed at my lack of enthusaism for his first offering Tate decided to have another go. At about 4.30am I heard a noise which I can only describe as a cat trying to impersonate an air raid siren. This went on for 2 or 3 minutes and when Husband failed to wake I made my way downstairs. Tate had captured an absoloutely tiny mouse which he was playing with (still alive). I tried to get it from him and a chase around the downstairs ensured with the mouse either in Tate's mouse or close enough that he could grab it again. Anyway, managed to get the poor fella in a box and put him in the front garden - don't hold out much hope for his survival though.

    Well, the working day is nearly over so I had better make a move - just hoping there are no more 'presents' when we get home.xx

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    One wedding down, one to go!

    Got back from H&S's wedding at midnight last night - absoloutely knackered.

    Sights of the M5:

    • 4 life size plastic cows (4 black and white, one brown and white) on a trailer
    • an 'F' reg perfect condition Nissan micra (that's a whole person able to vote old)

    Worth the effort though as it was a lovely day. Very classy. Helen looked stunning - I always forget how mini she is, tiny waist. Same figure as me minus about 2-3stone.... slightly depressing. Best thing about it was catching up with Grace, Becca and their men. Grace and I got rather hyperactive on some kind of vodka based fruit punch and I started talking very loudly about subjects that weren't really for public consumption.

    Ben did the man thing and drove us home. We have discovered some 'new' services - ones that Ben had always claimed you couldn't get to from the M1 - Donnington Park. Very shiny and new with a funky integrated Travelodge for those of that persuasion. Had to stop for a 'comfort' break where I managed to pick the only loo with a broken seat. One of the hinges was busted so I kept sliding around - but as I had started... I had to finish.

    Totally overwhelmed at work at the moment - can't believe I was ever bored and constantly hunting around for things to do. Still trying to work out some dodgy accountancy practices, running a new management committee, chasing up a new accreditation scheme steering group..... and I'm off to Paris tomorrow to spend 8 hours in a room and not see any of the city - Booooooo!

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Multiple Muffkins!

    Ok so my first serious post has to be about the cats! Apart from my husband these little chaps have got to be the best thing(s) that has happened to me in ages....

    They've been with us about six weeks now and although they've settled in pretty well there are still the odd antics. This weeks' comedy moment involves a toy cat called 'Abbey' that I've had for years - Mum and Dad bought her to keep me company. Abbey was on the bed and Husband thought that 'animating' her might amuse Lyle. To a certain extent it did, as he became extremely agitated as if another cat had invaded his territory this led to fisticuffs with Abbey and then scooting off the bed to hide. Ok, maybe you had to be there.

    Tate (ginger) is continuing to regress to kittenhood as he increasingly wants to sit on my lap, lick my arm and make kneading movements with his front poors. He obviously hasn't twigged that this won't get him any milk as my forearm doesn't tend to lactate. At least it shows he's chilled out since the chimney-bath-vet incident.