Sunday, December 30, 2007

Podcast ponderings

"Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society."

Ok, I admit it, I'm becoming a podcast addict. More often than not in the mornings my brain/eyes is not up to reading, and my brain/ears is not really up for listening to music. So I listen to podcasts. The BBC do a good range - all accessible through iTunes and the BBC website - so I get my digest of Woman's Hour, Thinking Allowed and Jonathan Ross's Saturday show (I get funny look laughing out loud to that one). I am also working my way through various lectures from Princeton and Stanford through iTunesU. But recently I was trawling through the various sections trying to find some more religious studies podcasts and I came across the "Speaking of Faith" series from American Public Media. I've now downloaded the 102 back catalogue of podcasts and I'm going to work my way through them. So far I've listened to "Einstein's Ethics" and "Gay Marriage" among others.

Today as my beloved husband was driving us back down from "oop north" (6 hours), when I could bird of prey spot no more (3 buzzards, 1 buzzard/kite (looked too big to be the former), 3 Kestrels, 1 possible Hobby) I tilted the seat back, nestled into my pillow - it really is "Baby, you can sleep while I drive" - and revved up the pod. I listened to a podcast called "The New Monastics - Shane Claiborne". Anyone interested in emerging movements in Christianity should really download it and listen intently if you haven't heard of him. His book is definitely what some of my Christmas book vouchers will be spent on.

Those of you who know my given religious identification - agnostic with Pagan-Buddhist leanings (said with a rye smile) - may wonder why I still think and read so much about Christianity. Well I can give you all the superficial answers about "one of greatest social and cultural influences on human civilisation" blah blah blah etc. and I guess to a certain extent that is true. But something else fascinates me which I can never quite put my finger on... but I guess it comes down to the fact that I quite like Jesus. Biblical Jesus/myriad of historical Jesuses, I'm not fussed, I just like Jesus. I do have a soft spot for Buddha too (so don't get your hopes up guys). I'm also generally fascinated by how spiritual movements turn into religions, which then fracture, and reform and aclimatise to the many cultures that they find themselves operating in - and how would one "get back" to the essence of the spiritual movement if one wanted to operate spiritually but outside of the tradition.

Well that is what Mr Shane Claiborne and his friends seemed to be having a go at doing. Drawing on the New Testament and their own life experiences and taking the "What would Jesus do?" principle to its ultimate conclusion.

[On an aside, I really, really loathe the WWJD wrist-band thing. To me it just felt that it was just a commercialisation and commodification of an extremely deep and difficult concept into a small piece of plastic worn alongside bracelets and watches.... does wearing a band help anyone really get in touch with what living like Jesus actually might mean? I'm generally thinking not.... okay... rant over...]

So they moved away from their Churches - Protestant and Catholic - which they no longer felt were the best way to serve their God. And moved into the poorest neighbourhood in Philadelphia and basically put themselves in the way of suffering - direct, up front, face to face with the worst of 1st world poverty, homelessness and addiction. And that's where they live, and practice their faith, in a small community - of both married and single - and just do their best to live everyday the way they feel their God wants them to.

They've got involved with direct action, with wonderfully ironic causes: fighting the Catholic Church trying to kick out homeless families from an abandoned church which it had no plans to use and the criminalisation of homelessness (lie on a street to long, get arrested! Like that is really going to help).... hence the quote at the top (from Jacques Ellul courtesy of Mr Claiborne).

Anyway, that is enough random ranting and I really must go to bed as it is 1.30am... but here are some more quotes from Mr Claiborne to get you thinking....

"Not long ago, I sat and talked with some very wealthy Christians about what it means to be the church and to follow Jesus. One businessman confided, "I, too, have been thinking about following Christ and what that means … so I had this made." He pulled up his shirt-sleeve to reveal a bracelet, engraved with W.W.J.D (What Would Jesus Do?). It was custom-made of twenty-four karat gold."

"I recently surveyed people who said they were "strong followers of Jesus." Over 80 percent agreed with the statement, "Jesus spent much time with the poor." Yet only 1 percent said that they themselves spent time with the poor. We believe we are following the God of the poor — yet we never truly encounter the poor."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule never guess

Yesterday Husband (reluctantly) and I attend our first pagan ritual. As I'm pretty certain now that the subject of my PhD is going to be modern paganism I thought I'd better start doing more than just reading. This is still a new and emerging religious form so there is only so much information you can get from books. No matter which approach I end up taking some kind of "participant observation" seems to be pretty likely to be involved. So I sought out a public ritual for the celebration of the Winter Solstice from one of the online networking sites. Anyone can attend but I dropped an email to the contact given and she said I was welcome to come along.

The ritual was organised by an eclectic Wiccan coven based in Surrey called the Cauldron of Cerridwen. From what I could tell their patron deities are the goddess Cerridwen and the god Cerrunos - both associated with the Celtic tradition. These fill the role of male and female deity present in mainstream Wicca.

The coven and other individuals met up at the pub in the village of Avebury. This is the location of one of England's greatest stone circles - in my mind, far more impressive than Stonehenge. It's used by a wide range for groups for varying rituals - with an official Druid "keeper of the stones".

The coven and all the bystanders - including me and Husband - formed a circle. With the leaders of the coven - male and female, not sure what they call them in this group - standing in the middle with a table laid with a black cloth, a flaming cauldron, a loaf of bread and a chalice. Words were said, and the four corners of the compass called, to establish the sacred circle. Part of the ritual was the re-enactment of the battle between the Holly King (the waning year) and the Oak King (the waxing year). Two chaps were dressed in green and did a mock fight with sticks , think Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The Oak King won and was crowned. Then more words were said and then the circle broken. I hung around a spoke to a couple of coven members before heading back to the pub for a late lunch. As Husband commented "how English" to start and end your pagan celebration with the pub.

It was a public, light-hearted ritual and I can't say I felt any particular "spiritual energy" raised, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the point of it. I imagine that most pagan groups only really get going in private. I'm glad I went. It helped confirm that I was studying the thing I should be studying.... but also made me wonder - how on earth am I going to get to know these groups? Well that's a problem for the New Year.

Blessed be.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A reflection for doctor/woman

One of my oldest and closest (despite the miles I hope) keeps a blog under the name doctor/woman. She is currently training to be a GP, after completing medical school and her junior doctor years. She doesn't always get to post that often, but when she does I love to hear her thoughts on her life and work... of course this is because I love and care about her... but it is also because in many ways we are very different people - not just because of our different careers - but because of our different personalities, quirks and foibles etc. We also have a lot in common, hence being good friends.

Her latest post started me writing a comment back to her, but then I realised that maybe it would require a longer reflection than would fit in that little comment box - so this post is for her (and me). I suggest if you're not familiar with doctor/woman, but are familiar with me, then you read her post first before you read this one.... otherwise this is not going to make much sense.

I believe that one of the greatest blessings of my time as an undergraduate was meeting the three wonderful women who became my friends, and were all training to be doctors. Now two are on their way to being GPs, and a third is working in gynaecology/obstetrics. I met them when they were 18. Having recently looked at some of the photographs I took of us in our first year (not many as it was before the days of digital) it makes me remember just how young we were. I feel so privileged to have been there to watch these girls become women, and to watch these students become doctors.

They are all remarkably bright, dedicated and hardworking and I admire them for so much for their tenacity and dedication to the path they chose when they were so young. But one of the things being their friend has taught me, above all else, is a lesson that I'm not sure I would have learnt had I not known them - and for that I am eternally grateful. Doctors are not superwomen/supermen. They are people, just like you and me, above all else. Medicine is the profession that holds the greatest mystique in our society. If I hadn't known these women as they grew up, and grew into their roles, then I'm not sure I would have grown to understood what it means to be a doctor.

They do know so much, and years of practice as well as education means that they do a good job and they are experts in their field. But they only have one brain, one body. Particularly those in general practice, have, by definition to be generalists not specialists. I don't go to my GP expecting her to have all the answers, but to work with me to find solutions or find someone else who might have an answer.

I so often overhear or am involved (but not contributing) to a conversation where people are dissatisfied with the medical profession. Yes, everyone, including me gets hacked off that the NHS doesn't have more money, that it has problems with organisational culture and modernisation, that we don't get enough time with our doctors when we do see them.... I have also encountered doctors who where basically arseholes, and just because they're doctors doesn't mean that that description can't apply - in fact because of their intelligence and background profile maybe there is a slightly higher proportion of arseholes in the medical profession than in the general public.... But what saddens me most is when people are criticising their doctor for not being able to solve a problem, or not knowing all the answers... I wish they'd give them a break... understand that medicine is just as much art as science.

So I have great sympathy with doctor/woman for feeling the pressure that that mystique puts on medical professionals almost unlike any other profession. I'm not sure there is much we can do about it as few people are blessed enough to have the experience I have had. But I hope she finds enough time in her "civilian" life to feel like a woman, and has enough rewarding moments from her medical life to feel like a healer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Feeling guilty

So it has not been a good couple of weeks. I woke up last Monday.... or rather I didn't as I spent that day and the following two pretty unconscious. I'd dragged myself home for one night at the weekend for my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary - which consisted of arrive at parent's house, nap, go to anniversary dinner, go to bed, come home, nap. But other than that I knew things were going down hill, just not how far down the hill I'd rolled.

By Thursday and Friday I was actually able to check my emails, catch up on the essential things that I had to be done. But a couple of hours concentration in a day was all I could muster. The weekend was similar. Helped Husband take a radiator off a wall (why did we find that so exciting?) and stripped a bit of paint from old skirting boards. Then it was back to work.

I started feeling achy, but I thought it was just the stripping having a delayed reaction - it was rather awkward to do. Then it got worse. Woke up this morning after a very crap night, feeling like a horses have been driven over my bed to pummel me in the night. So another email to my boss, saying was it ok if I worked from home today?..... why do I feel so damn guilty! He is very understanding - but as someone who is very fit and healthy how do you explain without sounding whiny? You try and describe how the brain fog feels - yesterday I came up with the lack of concentration/stamina is like when you're trying to watch a TV show when you really should be in bed and you find yourself drifting off....

I'm there and I'm paid to do a job. I have achieved a lot in 6 months - rewritten policy, built relationships, got to know the university and handled an insane Bulgarian academic on more than one occasion. So I know I have achieved something, and I don't think there has really been anything that I haven't done because I've either been off sick or not been up to my best. And yet the guilt still seeps in.... because I'm not being "normal" and I need "understanding".

I think it is probably best if I wheel out the spoon theory and maybe a few things from Action for M.E.'s publication catalogue. Even though I know he is trying his best to understand, sometimes I think that hearing how other people describe the illness might be easy to process.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Up close and personal

Last night Husband and I went to see Josh Ritter. He was playing in a venue which we hadn't been too before so we had no idea what it would be like. It turned out to be a run down old church on the edge of the city centre which, too all intents and purposes, looked like a very neglected youth club. The car park was made of mud, but was free, and the tour bus just fitted into the back.

I guess there must have been around 200 people there. I used to go and see local, or up and coming bands in venues like this. I did not expect Josh Ritter to turn up there. He is obviously not as well known in the UK as I thought he went. It was his last gig in England before heading home via Cork, Ireland and he was grinning like a fool he was so happy.

The performance was amazing.... the energy in the up beat numbers had me dancing up a storm in my new cowboy boots. The tenderness in delivery of the slow numbers - some near the end that he sang un-miked with the audience joining in - was just overwhelming.

At the moment, and for the last few years, really great live music is my religious experience. It's the thing that takes me out of myself and lifts me up like nothing else. Last night certainly took me there.

Friday, November 16, 2007


This is something about which I ponder on a regular basis. Not what makes a person an adult, but what makes me feel like I have achieved that status inside. Something has changed these last few years. Life has moved on, I have: a husband, two cats, a mortgage and I'm working in my 2nd 'proper' job... but to me its the smaller things in life that keep popping up and prompting me to think about my adulthood:

1) Having three types of towel: guest, old (for dirty jobs) and everyday nice.

2) Commuting: in one of my previous workplaces, many moons ago, I was surprised at someone commuting 25 miles/45 minutes to work. For why would they do that? I know commute 70 miles/90 minutes, and I know why I do it.

3) Friends to visit: we quite regularly have friends to stay over night or for Sunday lunch. I love entertaining and cooking so will put on a spread. Then we'll go and do something: a concert, a walk in the woods - last weekend it was a trip to Stonehenge.

4) Stability: for me this is what has made all the adult-y-type changes possible. After so many ups and downs my life has settled down, and in a way that is rather pleasant most of the time. A friend that I hadn't seen for 3 years recently commented on how happy I seemed. And I guess that, despite the CFS, the commuting and the last remaining student debt - things are good.

5) Bon Jovi: my iPod pick for the last 10 minutes of my commute home last night, after I'd finished the Princeton University podcast on the history of sin. I'm a sucker for music as holders of emotional memories . Cheesy big-haired Bon Jovi remind me of when I wasn't an adult a reflection which makes me realise I am one.

6) Understanding pubs: There are almost no pubs where I come from, it just doesn't seem to be the tradition. And anyway, my parents wouldn't have frequented them if we did. It wasn't really until I started dating my husband that I grew to understand pub etiquette; an essential part of being an adult in the UK.

What makes you feel like an adult? If you do that is...

Friday, November 09, 2007

I am good

Ok, that negative post has stayed at the top of this blog for far too long so lets move on to something more positive.

I've been at my job for 5 months now and things are going well. It is a challenging position, there is so much to do and so much to think - my grey cells are certainly getting a work out. In mid-October I had my first papers go for consideration at the high-up committee. They went down well. I've just finished writing a new paper to go to the high-up committee in a couple of weeks. And, if I do say so myself, it is damn good. Myself and a far more senior person were tasked with researching and writing it. We had a chat, I pulled together all my evidence, he told me what he knew about it, I wrote it, he added about a dozen words and ta da! it was done. So I must be doing something right, as my work generally doesn't get edited heavily - in fact hardly at all. I'm proud of my paper as it dealt with concepts that are pretty difficult to explain in any ordered way, and I think it makes good sense. It's got practical recommendations for now and for the future.

So today I say....

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Ok.. so that wasn't so subtle

I have just been chastised for my facebook status message. Ok, it wasn't that funny (or clever) in hindsight. I'm normally quite reserved at passing public judgment but when a member of my extended family gets arrested for doing something so utterly stupid that I honestly don't quite know what to say it just slipped out. And it did not reveal any body's identity, not to anyone who didn't already know. But I admit it wasn't the wisest thing I've ever done. I have now been suitably told off, but still feel slightly indignant.... but I've changed it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another technology post

Ok, I know I ranted about recently, but I couldn't help sharing with you my latest discovery in the land of Web 2.0.....

I'm seriously thinking about where I want to go in my (as yet to begin) academic career. I love my job in higher education, it interests me, it challenges me, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it much further academically. I still enjoying reading about HE but I'm just not sure I can see a PhD in it for me. I am, however, considering returning to my Undergrad roots of Religious Studies. I'm not sure exactly where I want to direct my studies, a massive list of theoretical disciplines are whirring around my head - social anthropology of religion, sociology of religion, cultural studies - along with areas of study - secularisation/resacralisation, wicca, witchcraft, feminist spirituality, paganism, cult, myth and many more.....

Anyway, this means I'm going to have to start reading properly... anything I can get my hands on that interests me... and enjoy what was always one of my favourite past-times: 6 degrees of academic separation. This involves reading an interesting book or article, scouring the bibliography and picking what you want to read next from there, and then repeating the process ad infinitum. I find it the best way to circumnavigate an idea - backwards and forwards in time, and around the circumference of the literature.

So this leads to my technological discovery after I started hunting around for some free/cheap reference management software to help me keep track of what I'll be reading. I know EndNote/Reference Manager/ProCite are all used in academia, but I don't want to shell out £100 on one of those. Then I came across Zetero. It's free. Developed by academics for academics and students. And better than that, it is an add on to Firefox, not a separate programme, just a little logo in Firefox's lower right hand corner which when you magically click it, it opens up your library. You can automatically capture data from any kind of web page: library catalogue, amazon etc. and manually add anything else. You can sort and tag, have multiple "collections" for different projects, and export beautiful bibliographies.

I'm sure the pay-for programmes can probably do a lot more, but I like this one, it's small, simple, fits with my favourite browser and free, free, free.... yippee!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hungry cat

Make sure you have your speakers turned on - the soundtrack is half the fun....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The randomness of physicality

Just as I thought I was getting better from the nastiness of last weeks bug it comes back to bite me on the ass... or the ribcage as it seems to be. A trip to the Doctor's yesterday has diagnosed me with Tietze's syndrome, an inflammation of the cartilage in the ribcage. It has a number of possible causes, one of them being some kind of after affect of a recent viral infection... taa dah!

So I decided not to sit for 60mins on a train, then 20 mins on a bus to haul myself into work today. But now I've had about 2 and a half hours working at the computer at home and I'm starting to seriously hurt. I think a cup of tea and a hot bath are in order.

On other news it's been a weekend of visiting parents. My Mum and Dad made the trek over for the first time in a year. I admit I had done a bit of emotional blackmailing to get them here as I was a little miffed at hearing of all their holiday excursions but not actually receiving a visit from them since just after we moved into the house. It's just nice to spend "normal time" with Mum and Dad. Things were so strained in the couple of years before Husband and I got married, as Gran took more and more of Mum's time and the rest of us were pushed out. Rebuilding relationships through normality seems a good way to go.

More family arriving for a pit stop tonight as my cousin and his new girlfriend arrive for a night's stay on their way from south-west to north. M has changed so much in the last few years - he's "returned from orbit" as my Aunt puts it. He was always a nice chap but I think had a hard time growing up the kid of an incredibly geeky wholesome couple. I guess you have to learn to accept who your parents are just as they need to learn to accept who you turn out to be. Anyway, M has now grown up into a mature, caring, gainfully employed individual who would make any parent proud. The last time I saw him was my Gran's funeral so it will be nice to meet up under happier circumstances. I think some chocolate chip banana muffins may be in order.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


And so it struck, as it does occasionally, but it always comes as a surprise. I thought I was getting a cold. Nasty as they are, I can cope with colds. But after a couple of days of sniffing and coughing but still coping with daily life.... the lurgy hit. I spent yesterday with a cracking headache and throwing up. Due to the throwing up I couldn't keep any painkillers down to lower my temperature and take the edge of the headache. Today I've just got the headache and slight queaziness, so the worst has passed. But it was a horrible day. I suffer with my CFS but I'm so glad I don't get days like that as part of it. Blurgh!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


And so the annual cycle of renewal and re-invigoration has begun - the freshers are upon us. It has now been eight years since I was one of those wide-eyed bright and perky (or scowly and greasy) young people trying to make sense of this strange new thing called "University". Actually, I don't remember very much of my fresher's week... no.... I wasn't too drunk to remember.... I think it was all too much for my little brain to take in. I remember endless pamphlets, booklets and flyers thrust into my hands, 90% went unread. Trying to find my way around this enormous campus and living in this tiny little room. Oh, and queuing, endless queuing.....

I thank the great green blob in the sky that I had the fortune to meet a few good people that week - we banded together and survived the experience. Many of them are still my friends today, and I'm even more grateful for that.

My University do seem pretty organised with endless volunteers in fluorescent orange jackets giving directions and a band of returning students recruited as "Fresher's angels". So far I've heard that one Junior Year Abroad student has turned around and gone home, but I hope the rest of them manage to stick around. There is also plenty of "Re-freshers" events to offer some help and opportunities to returning students.

Our trip to the USA is helping me do a little more thinking about my future educational goals.... another Master's anyone? So maybe I'll be a fresher again before long....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

She's back

Touched down at London Gatwick at 8.40am yesterday morning having been awake nearly 24 hours. The holiday was amazing - great to see our good friends in Texas and what life is like there, amazing to see New England in all its glory. I'm in hiding today. I hadn't booked today as annual leave but when I woke up this morning I regretted it so I decided to take the day to sleep and chill - wise move. The cats are very, very pleased to see us. I can't sit or lie down without one of them moving in for a perch and a pat. Mr Lyle is currently staring at me intent on licking my chin.

Just heard that the job that Husband had applied for through an agency managed to send him an email about an interview to his work while we were away - after telling them we were on holiday and to use his personal email! The interviews were today so that's a great opportunity down the pan. He's fairly fed up with work, as despite the comraderie the conditions are worse than the NHS in many ways and he works such long hours he'll never be able to finish his studies.

Anyway, it's back to work for me tomorrow - although judging from the "out of offices" I received when I sent my email this morning it may be just me. Got friends staying tomorrow night and tickets to a folk concert.... life carries on....

P.S. Will post more about the trip, including my visit to a mid-western college campus, but for now let me just tell you this may have been a life changing experience.... anybody fancy visiting us after we emigrate to New England?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The last 10 minutes of Oprah

I'm working at home today so I can get the last bits of work done before heading off to the airport tonight, whilst still doing washing and taking the cats to the cattery. Fancying a coffee and a 10 minute break I flicked on the TV and came across the last 10 minutes of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Now I admire Oprah, and I watched an awful lot of her whilst I spent my 5 years horizontal and comatase as a teenager with CFS. The show is no longer broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK so I only ever catch the odd little bit on a satellite channel, and what I've seen recently makes me worry for her sanity. 9 times out of 10 she seems to be interviewing the author of the latest "spiritual" book which has revolutionised her life, the content of most of which seems to contradict her Christian spirituality.... anyway... today was different, and even more painful.

Oprah was interviewing a NBA Basketball player who decided to address the problem of kids being beaten up or even killed for their expensive sneakers, not by helping people understand that its who you are not what you wear that matters, but by bringing out his own cut price range of shoes. Now I'm all for helping everyone have the opportunity to play sports and so making sports shoes and equipment affordable is generally a good thing. But I didn't get even the slightest impression that the reason why he had produced these shoes was to help kids play sports, but simply to provide a "premium brand" that everyone could afford.

His shoes were priced at $14.98..... so that's about £7.50 - and they were allegedly similar in technical performance to normal sports shoes. But dear god, what hell hole in the Phillipines did a 6 year old child have to slave in to produce a sports shoe for that price? Did he think of "fair trade" or "trade justice" when he was approached to endorse commissioned these shoes? Now I know things are not necessarily different for a pair of Nikes that cost £100, but would it ever be possible to produce a pair of high-tech sports shoes fairly for that price?

Anyway.... I've be distracted from my major point. Why should someone who has made a brand "more affordable" be congratulated as if he had done a major piece of charity work? Oprah stated that Sarah Jessica Parker had been "inspired" by him to produce her own cut price line of branded clothes. Woo Hoo SJP! You're surely on your way to sainthood now. This is not something that should be celebrated as a higher good as it just supports the whole brand conscious consumer madness.

I will give someone a slap on the back when they make something that is "unbranded", affordable, produced fairly to all those in the production chain, and has a minimal impact on the environment. That is something worth talking to Oprah about.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Ok, I admit it, I'm generally no where near the forefront of technological discovery - but I don't think I'm at the rear either. This week's discovery is already changing my life. I'd heard about it last year but just took it as another "social networking" site and therefore something I didn't really need. Ok it had something to do with music but so what? Then an article in the Guardian newspaper made it sound a little more than that so I thought I'd check it out. Now, god damn it, I'm hooked.

How do you describe Personalised radio? Music spider-web? Aural world organiser? I don't know - all I know is that I don't think I'll ever listen to music in the same way again. So let's get down to the practicalities - it's legal, it's not a file sharing service (hence the legality) but it gives you access to 1000s of music tracks whenever you want by choosing a "radio station" based on an artist's "similar artists" or a genre. I'm currently listening to "artists similar to The Hold Steady" (as recommended by darling Rand) and so far I've had a Bournemouth band called Art Brut and an American band called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. I haven't heard of either of the them before, but so far I'm liking both of them.

Friday night Husband and I were sitting out on the front patio, drinking a little and enjoying the first summer night where we could enjoy the great outdoors (how crap is that) and had the "british folk" station playing through the window. On came Kate Rusby, June Tabor, Fairport Convention, Billy Bragg, Maddy Prior- things we'd heard, things we hadn't but like the sound of. A perfect soundtrack chosen for us by some wonderful algorithm beyond our comprehension. And do you know what? It's already learning what I like and making recommendations!

Go on, click the big red button.... and come into my magical musical land....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Oh no... they didn't

On sale at your local B&Q now for the bargain price of £89.99 - "Water butts":

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Note from our postman

Scrawled on junk mail for previous owners:

"Can you please get a box or container to put your packets in as you are never in and I then have to carry them for quite a few miles. Thank you. Postie Joe"

But I thought delivering parcels was your job? We're "never in" because we both work full time. You can leave parcels (today a paperback book in padded enveloped) with our neighbour, but not in a box (or on our step as today) as it is not secure. Or you can just leave them at the depot and leave us a card. But then that would kinda defeat the point of having a postal service, which is paid for by the sender, which then employs you Postie Joe.


Monday, August 20, 2007

3 weeks to go

Tomorrow it will be three weeks until husband and I are off on our American adventure - and it can't come around soon enough. It's been 18 months since our honeymoon and our last proper holiday (i.e. longer than a long weekend), and I think we are both in desperate need of it. We booked the last thing we needed to book last night (I say "we" loosely as I've sorted it all as I'm the one who's good at that in our marriage, I just wanted him to choose the car - he went for a "Dodge Stratus" from Dollar) and now all we can do is wait. We've got machine readable passports so don't need visas, the travel insurance is sorted (with plenty of medical and legal cover, you know those crazy Americans), and the itinerary ("just in case") is nearly ready to go to our respective parental units.

Despite the fact that my job title starts with the word "international", I haven't really travelled very much. This will be my first trip to the States and also the first to that side of the Atlantic. I guess I am only 27, and with kids looking a less likely prospect, Hubbie and I should still have plenty of time to travel before we really do run out of oil and have to go back to pedalo crossings of the Atlantic.

We're off to Austin, Texas first for the City Limits festival and to stay with some University friends of mine. Then a couple of nights in Houston - Husband is being sent to the Johnson space centre while I pop on a work day trip to Oklahoma City. Then six nights in New England - spread between mid New Hampshire, Boston and Cape Cod. Expect lots and lots of pictures on our return

Monday, August 13, 2007

BBFC, what's happened?

I've been to the movies twice in the last couple of weeks after a long hiatus. Our Amazon DVD rental subscription normally puts me off paying the £6.20 to see a movie (so £12.40 for me and husband), but since our big TV broke and we're down to a 14 in portable until we decide to splash out on a new TV, some things just have to be seen on the big screen. Both films were aimed at young audiences, both also appealing to adults - Transformers and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Both films were rated 12A - i.e. if your under 12, you need to be accompanied by an adult.

I left the cinema on both occasions thinking, good film (surprisingly good for Transformers) but has the British Board of Film Classification lost its mind? I sat through Harry Potter with six and seven year olds crying behind me through the scary bits. It was a later evening showing of Transformers so I was spared a repeat performance but goodness knows what the afternoon showings have been like.

Transformers opens with an attack by an evil autobot on a US airbase in Qatar - the scene is like a cross between Starship Troopers and Jarhead - both of which received a 15 rating from the BBFC. The rest of the film is filled with a great deal of violence. I understand it is classed as "fantasy violence" but it still involves people being blown up and lots and lots of shooting! Many scenes made me jump, and I'm not squeamish. Harry Potter had less "violence" but was psychologically far more scary.

12A was originally applied in 2002 (to The Bourne Identity, dear God who would want under 12s to see that (excellent) film); replacing the 12 rating that had been brought in in 1989. Apparently it had been under consideration for a while but was prompted into use by Spiderman, as parents were complaining that their kids were desperate to see it but a 12 rating would mean they couldn't. So 12 was scrapped and 12A came in. But despite the fact that the BBFC policy for 12A indicates that this rating means that they think it is suitable for 12 and over only, but they leave it up to parental discretion to judge whether under-12s should see it I don't think this message gets across at all..... I guess the problem comes down to the fact that these films are made for and heavily marketed at kids.... and they don't include much sex or swearing or gritty person-on-person violence but that doesn't mean that 12A is a good idea as it sends a mixed message, and leaves parents open to pester power.... "No, I won't get scared Mum!"

In the words of a senior examiner from the BBFC when asked if she ever feels she has made a mistake in an interview in The Guardian, "I think every examiner goes home and thinks that....With me it was The Others." The Nicole Kidman horror film was passed uncut as a 12-certificate. Later, during one of the board's public consultations, Bates discovered that the film had scared the wits out of its younger viewers. "The problem with that film was that there was nothing onscreen; everything was implied. So within the letter of the guidelines I got it right. But it bothers me to this day."

I think the same is true for some fantasy films like Harry Potter, it is the viewer's imagination that helps make the film really scary or not - but for Transformers... how more "on screen" can you get! I'm generally not in favour of censorship for adult films - no matter how horrible I think it is, if it doesn't commit a crime in showing it, then it should get an 18 or an 18R if necessary. But come on BBFC, give the parents a break and help them look after their kids!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Not a flamin' 'gain

Right... I'm annoyed now - damn it I'm ill again. After a few months of feeling well, normal, for a while (not bouncing normal, but coping normally normal) I feel like crap again. Had a nasty bug which started about 2 weeks ago and just didn't shift - never quite became flu or a cold, but has left me totally wiped out.

I'm hoping a few days of 12-14 hours sleep and having a ginger cat permanently attached to my stomach will help. This had better not last long, the cat might get bored.

Anyway.... every down-turn seems to produce its own new language of lowness, so my new expression to describe how I feel is "like curdled milk" - warm and fuzzy, in a "gone off" kind of way. The irony is I'm DAIRY INTOLERANT!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Of Biblical proportions

"For thou didst cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, And the flood was round about me; All thy waves and thy billows passed over me." (Jonah 2:3).

And so the rains certainly did come. I was working from home/feeling ill on Friday so I managed to avoid the trauma that trying to travel home would have been. Decided to stay at home and work today rather than risk getting trapped anywhere. Husband's work is without power, water or road access as it sits right next to the river that is about to overwhelm flood defences as the water travels downstream. He is currently watching the cricket.

For those of you who aren't familiar with what has been happening in my home county of Gloucestershire, UK just log on for all the gory details.

Luckily our house is snug and dry - most of the way up a hill and just beyond the area affected by water and power cuts. But the damage is astounding, I'm amazed that the area hasn't been declared a disaster zone - or do we not do that in the UK?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Despite feeling like curdled milk (flu/cold/high temperature thing that won't go away), I am also feeling rather warm and fuzzy, in a good way, today. Had a lovely night out last night with my former colleagues as we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the organisation. In the time I'd been there we hadn't had a proper "big do" so it was so nice to have everyone dressed up to the nines - evening dresses, tuxedos and all that jazz - all in the wonderful setting of a restaurant made out of an art deco cinema.

I got to catch with all of the people that I miss having my daily natters with - over coffee, or when I need to stretch my legs. Had a good table - friends and interesting people who I didn’t know so well. Great food. Nice music. Very funny after dinner speaker – the gregarious Laurie Taylor. I even forced my dashing friend in his white tuxedo to dance with me.

Yes it was quite frustrating working there a lot of the time, but I met some damn nice people. I hope I'll be able to keep up with them even though I'm not there anymore. Had a good chat with my old boss - one of the people I do miss the most - I'm sure our paths will keep crossing in the future, although he'll be retiring at some point in the next few years.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Partly inspired by my train journey this morning and partly by Mark's post, today I was thinking, as I often do, how important music is to me. I'm not a very highbrow classical music scholar nor a low brow "just pop" listener. I'm an eclecticist.

Americana. Folk. Country. Indie. Alternative. Rock. Grunge. Soul. R n B. Pop. Acoustic. Singer-songwriter. Even a little Dance.

My album collection spans them all. Blues and jazz are absent, but probably due to ignorance rather than dislike.

The soundtrack to my morning was an old, familiar album from the early 90s, from one of the artists who helped me to discover the "new women of country" - Mary Chapin Carpenter. For any of you who like songs that tell stories that are based on acoustic music, and don't know MCC yet, let me know and I'll send some off to you.

"Come on, Come on" was released in 1992 and contains the first country song that spoke to me with its honesty. "He thinks he'll keep her" is a classic woman's country song - a downtrodden wife finds her voice and her feet. The title reflects a throwaway comment in a bar by her husband on the merits of his wife - "I'll think I'll keep her".

Speaking to me today was "The Hard Way". You can listen to it here and the lyrics are below. It is just a sweet little song, nothing mind blowing, but reminded me that the best things in life often coming from doing things the hard way.

Show a little inspiration, show a little spark
And show the things that drew me to you and stole my heart
And tell me something I don't know instead of everything I do
And look at me as if I mean something to you
Our hearts are beating while we sleep, but while we're wide awake
You know the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way

Show a little passion, baby, show a little style
And show the knack for knowing when and the gift for knowing how
And have a little trust in us when fear obscures the path
You know we got this far, darling, not by luck, but by never turning back
Some will call on destiny, but I just call on faith
That the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, to what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way

Caught up in our little lives, there's not a lot left over
I see what's missing in your eyes; you're searching for that field of clover
So show a little inspiration, show a little spark
Show the world a little light when you show it your heart
We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard (everything we got, we got the hard way)
Everything we got, we got the hard way
(Because the world won't stop) hang on, baby...

Friday, July 06, 2007


I graduated four times in the last two days... ok, well I didn't actually graduate, but I led student processions into the Great Hall and stood next to them while they went up to shake the Chancellor's hand, so it felt like graduating.

Although I've been absolutely shattered this week, and I really could have done with a day at home today, it was still a really nice feeling to see all these young people so happy. It was also an excuse to get the old academic gown on again (although I swear the fabric was different than I remember) and wander around with a mortar board on. Free lunch as well (although not entirely edible as I was feeling fussy).

Friday, June 29, 2007

Mergers and acquisitions

And the day has finally come when I've finally merged my Book blog and Film blog archives into this blog. I was an over ambitious blogger when I started these things nearly a year ago.... as I think many of us are when we start on this blogging journey. So I thought it was time to rationalise my blog universe and transfer all my posts into the archive of this blog. I'm hoping this will reinvigorate my desire to rant about films and books, as doing so certainly helps me remember what I've watched and read.

I seem to have hit a mental road block where it comes to fiction. At the moment I'm happily ploughing through all my work related reading but cannot seem to get into any of the stack of novels I have sitting on by my bed. I also have £50 of book vouchers burning a hole into the top of my computer cabinet - my lovely and very generous leaving present from my last job. I also now have access to an academic library for the first time in a few years so some of the more obscure books from my amazon wish list are no longer inaccessible. So what am I going to spend my vouchers on? I have a great urge to buy two books on Judaism, which I lent to a fellow student at Uni and never saw again.... not perhaps the most useful things to clutter my house up with, but they were so lovely....

Friday, June 22, 2007

When I was 26....

As it was my birthday last Sunday, I'm going to steal doctor/woman's post idea and think about all the new experiences that I've had this year:

.... bought my first house

.... owned pets

.... traveled to Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Ireland

.... had my writing published

.... had my writing cited for the first time

.... bought an Mp3 player (and then another, damn you Windows Vista)

.... grown something (successfully) from seed

.... had heatstroke

.... made friends with someone who has a child

.... started a blog

.... peppermint tea

.... started a new job

I'm sure there are more but its getting late...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The shock of the old

Now firstly, don't get me wrong, my new job is looking like it was definitely the right move - lots to get my teeth into, a friendly team and a bearable commute. But let's just say it hadn't really occurred to me just how different some of the little things would be.

I've worked at a couple of universities before and I knew that things were unlikely to be as shiny, new and well resourced as working for a government funded organisation. However I thought I'd share my observations on the little differences so far.... (so be prepared for pointless bitching):

1. No kichen on our floor. I don't know how many people work on mh floor - it is all little separate offices - but I reckon at least 50. The fridge is in the head of service's PA's office, mugs are washed in the disabled toilet down the hall and water is boiled and tea making equipment stored on a rickety trolley in the corner of my office.

2. No central IT purchasing/renewal. Where I used to work we had a replacement cycle of 3 years (4 at a push), we had access to new technology: smart phones, smart boards, big LCD monitors etc. At my new work if you want a new computer, your office has to buy it, spec it, and install it. I currently have a beige (that says it all) quite early Pentium 4. I just got rid of my middle years Pentium 4 at home. It has at most a 14 inch screen with appauling resolution. I work from home at least 1 day a week and commute about 3 hours a day so... I need a laptop, with docking station and a decent sized monitor on my desk to work at my best. It has been moote but I don't want to push it as even my boss has the same crappy PC as me.

3. Library facilities are at least 20 years out of date. Book selection as far as I can tell is ok but IT resources are non-existent and the lighting and layout are horrible. Worst of all it is half the size of the library of where I did my MA but we have nearly twice as many students.

Yes, I know I'm moaning.... I feel like it god damn it! I probably shouldn't be, after all it looks as though I'm going to be happy here. They are upgrading some of the facilities - new sports centre, new (but rather small) student's union. But no library renewal, no IT upgrades for staff - admin or academic. I work in a fairly prestigious institution, well attended, brings in enough research money, good reputation... but they seem so behind in so many ways. At least they have ducks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Two things in the last 24 hours have made me think again about parental relationships - something I pondered quite a bit last year after reading "Mother, Missing" by Joyce Carol Oates - and what the absence of a parent can mean.

On the news yesterday was a piece about a deal that the NHS has made with the manufacturer of a drug for the treatment of bone cancer. I think as cancers go this is one that is pretty impossible to cure outright, but it is possible to use treatment to extend survival time, and this new drug can improve that further by 6-12 months. A good friend of mine's mother was diagnosed with bone cancer this time last year. She's had surgery and radiotherapy I think, and is back at work part-time - but she is definitely not cured.... As the GP who let the phrase "Let's try and make your remaining time more comfortable" slip indicated.

My friend is permanently estranged from her father and not particularly close to her sibling, who lives several hundred miles away. If her Mum dies, actually that should be when her Mum dies, that will be it for her close family.

A flash-forward example of a young woman who had lost her Mum and didn't know her father was on a dreadful C4 documentary last night, entitled "Animal Au Pair". It followed the fortunes of a woman farm-owner come reindeer breeder (?) and her search for an au pair both for her son and her animals. It became clear quite quickly that she was the least tolerant and sympathetic woman possible - basically wanting a live in farm-hand and nanny (two full time jobs) who she could pay a pittance to and order around.

The girl who lasted the longest (7 weeks) was from Zimbabwe, she looked bout 19. Her mother had died of lung cancer at the age of 49. She had some family in Zim, but wanted to come back to England, where she was born, and as it developed, find her long lost father. She was a beautiful young woman, still obviously reeling from her mother's death, living with this nightmare woman. Luckily, she found her father, and he seemed to want to know her again - so hopefully she will have a new "home".

I can't imagine losing - in whatever way - both parents as a child or young adult. To not have a "home" to visit and people who were there everyday when you were growing up. Now that I'm building my own family, my husband provides that safe haven more than my parents, but that is only a recent development.

To me, my parents are my anchors, we don't speak as often as we should or I'd like; and with an ocean between us (even only a little one), it has been nearly a year since I've seen them. I must fix that this summer. But they are still there, a repository of memories, a place to retreat for comfort if something bad were to happen. They are the 2nd people I call, after my husband, when I have big news like a new job, or even silly things like having re-decorated the hallway.

They're both in their late 50s so I guess they could well be around for another 20 years or so in them yet, but then there might not be. I'll miss them so much when they are gone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

That moment

I'm on my week off between jobs and despite first fears that Husband was going to have to work all week it looks like he is only going to have to work a few hours tomorrow morning - so we have started our "holiday at home".

Today, on a whim, I dragged us to Buscot Park - a stately home and gardens owned by the National Trust in Oxfordshire. It's about a 40 minute drive from where we live. I had an particular motive for wanting to visit.... but I didn't tell my Husband until we got there - not that he would mind.

I have a fondness for some of the art movements that spanned the late 19th and early 20th century - particularly Arts and crafts, Art nouveau and Art deco. More recently I've been exploring the pre-raphaelites, the artists that often went hand in hand with the artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement. Luckily for me, Oxfordshire has many connections with Arts and Crafts and the Pre-Raphaelites - Kelmscott Manor, the country home of William Morris is also close by.

Anyway... Buscot Park is home to the Faringdon Collection - a large collection of artworks put together by the 2nd Lord Faringdon in the early 20th century. It features artworks from 500 years of western and oriental art. But most importantly, it contains one of the most stunning pieces of Pre-Raphaelite art by the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a series of 4 paintings and 10 joining panels entitled "The Legend of the Briar Rose" - now all built into a room in the house. The main panels are snapshots of the story of Sleeping Beauty.

I walked into the room and felt a tingle down my spine. The paintings glow, the colours blend - so soft that they almost look like pastels even though the image is rendered in oil. The world is sleeping and from the palace guards, to the king on his throne, the handmaidens and sleeping beauty herself the whole world is dreaming. Entwined around all the figures is the briar rose that has grown and twisted around as the figures slept.

I am a romantic at heart. I love arthurian legends, fairytales, true love and promises that are never broken. It's been a long time since I've been affected by a work of art as much as I was today and it made me feel so peaceful.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mad kids

Oooh... I've had a bit of a blog hiatus haven't I? I must be more efficient at turning my night-time mind blog posts in actual post the next day.

I've got rather bad insomnia at the moment and so other than late night Wikipedia editing, I've been devouring my copy of New Scientist magazine as soon as it lands on my door mat. It is the source of many a night time mind blog post but this time I'm managed to hold on to my rant and I'm actually going to get it down on electronic paper.

First of all a caveat. I take mental illness very seriously, it is real, extremely distressing condition that deserves as much, if not more attention and support as physical illness. I also believe that children can suffer from mental illness - although I believe the approach to treatment, particularly with medication, should be approached even more cautiously than it is in adults.

Both the editorial and an article were concerned with the massive increase in diagnosis rates for bi-polar disorder (manic depression) in children in the US. In 1996, 13 out of every 100,000 children were diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder, in 2004 that rate was 74 out of ever 100,000 - a more than five fold rise. In 1994 the DSM-IV official psychiatric manual definition of bi-polar disorder was significantly widened to include three new forms of the disease - including one that is "bi-polar not otherwise specified" i.e. doesn't fit into the other definitions but we still think its bi-polar.

The article tells the story of Rebecca Riley, diagnosed at 2 with ADHD, at 3 bipolar disorder and by 4 she was dead - from an overdose of prescribed clonidine. She was also taking valproate and quetiapine fumarate.

I get the sense that western societies are increasingly medicalising their way out of newly perceived "problems" with our children. I don't see any other explanation for the massive rise in diagnoses of bi-polar disorder in the US, and of I get the increasing sense that generally western societies are increasingly trying to medicalise with ADHD, autistic-spectrum disorders etc. in the US and around the world. I went to school with a kid with Aspergers, he had it bad enough that it was very obvious and most likely needed a lot of support. My cousin-in-law was diagnosed with Aspergers a couple of years ago, and although he may tick some of the diagnostic boxes, does this label actually help him? He is shy, only eats chips, and can flip his lid sometimes. But he is also perfectly able to have a decent conversation, has friends and is living in a very unusual and stressful household - so I can see why any person would flip their lid occasionally, and for God's sake, he's a teenager after all. A generation ago he wouldn't have been labelled as anything except a bit quiet.

How can you diagnose bi-polar disorder in a 3 year old? They haven't even got a lot of their sense of identity or how they relate to the world around them fixed yet. And even if you think something may be wrong - should we medicate them with serious drugs which have all sorts of side effects and can severely shorten life span? I think not - could we just not support the parents and the child instead?

I am a big fan of the BBC programme "House of Tiny Tearaways". It is a purpose built house where families come to spend a week with their kids and a clinical psychologist. They deal with the whole range of behavioural problems by helping the parents see how they can change their child's behaviour by changing their own behaviour. They have started the week with some real terrors and some terrible problems, but with the intensive support and guidance in almost all cases they've made amazing progress by the end of the week. In other circumstances, in other countries I'm sure some of these kids would have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and medicated - but shouldn't this be the absolutely last resort?

Kids will be kids, and some will act a lot stranger and be far more unruly than others, but they are only part formed and we should help them develop, not label them and medicate them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


A lot of stuff has happened over the last few weeks that has caused some deeper self-reflection than I have been indulging in of late. A couple of things have also happened in the last couple of days which really got my head delving inwards; mainly the re-appearance of an old friend and meeting my new boss (why does he have to be distractingly attractive?).

After chatting with my new boss I have been totally hyper-actively happy. I am finally starting to calm down now a full 48-hours after our meeting, but moving into a rather spaced state of mind as a consequence. After finding out more of what I'm going to be doing it finally struck me that 5 years post graduation this is it, the first job where I'm going to have direct responsibility for setting and helping achieve an organisation's strategic objectives. I'm going to be allowed to get fully out and about, build networks and make contacts on my own merits. I don't think 5 years is bad, and my current job has allowed me to jump about 2 levels in the system in which I work, something which I will be eternally grateful for - as I'm not very good at being patient enough to "work through the grades". I know its going to be a lot of hard work, but I am so much happier when I have a lot to do. My boss seems like a pretty genuine guy, who likes his job and the majority of people he has to work with and there is support from the really senior staff for what we're going to be doing.

The re-appearance of an old friend has put who I am now compared with who I was when I graduated in clearer perspective. After a very close 5 years or so of friendship things became a struggle between us, for reasons which I am still not entirely clear about. Anyway, she has got back in contact and given me her take on events. I feel one of the things that has changed about me since Uni is a greater capacity to put myself in other people's shoes - I guess that is a big part of maturity. Not that I always manage it in the moment, but with a bit of time I try and see where someone else is coming from. So, although my perceptions of events were fairly different, to me that really doesn't matter now. I don't want to re-hash the whos, what, wheres and hows...

If we can be friends again, then of course I want to be friends again. A lot of that depends on who we both are now I guess. And who exactly am I now? For me the biggest changes in my self identity have been since Uni, not when I was a teenager. Getting into work, living in the "real world" (not the student one), working through all sorts of stuff with Husband, buying houses, re-locating far away from family and friends.... all of these things have shaped me more than I realised at the time. I hope I'm more tolerant generally, but a little more selfish than I used to be with my time and who I choose to spend it with (a good thing for me, believe me). I have a clearer sense of my own political and moral standpoints and I'm more willing to argue on behalf of them when it matters, and more likely to leave them drop when it doesn't.

One of the things I value most are "old friends" - which I guess why this re-appearance has focused my reflections. I don't have friends from secondary school - for a number of reasons - but my Uni friendships are coming up to 8 years now... and the ones that have lasted, even if I no longer see the individuals as often as I'd like, are really precious to me. The comfort and peace of spending time with old friends is a real treasure - no expectations, no harsh judgements, just support and laughter. I find these friendships feel pretty much effortless now, to me (and I hope to them) it doesn't matter if we don't see each other for weeks or months - it we're still "us". For those "old friends" who read this blog, you mean the world to me still.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Asking only workman’s wages…

This may turn out to be a boring post but I need a place to boast. The last few weeks Husband and I have been giving our little garden an overhaul. Including the patio (or the “slab ‘o concrete” as we like to call it) I guess is about 12m by 3m with a garage at the end – confusingly our “front” garden is also our “back garden” – come and visit, then you’ll understand.

Unfortunately the garden had been rather neglected by our house’s previous owners and as spring has most definitely sprung it was in desperate need of attention. So far we have cut and scarified the lawn (twice). Not much grass was actually left so yesterday we overseeded it and then top dressed with compost.

We have also cleared all the weeds (and some shrubs that were too unruly to save) from the borders and attempted to bring the lavender that runs along the left hand border under control. We’ve weed-killed the path we share with our neighbour and dug up everything that was left in it, and then realised that we had even less intact path than we thought we did.

This weekend’s largest task has been the sanding, priming and painting of our gate, our neighbour’s gate and our gate posts (two gates, one path, go figure); and the sanding and painting of all of the gate ironwork. All is now resplendent in a wonderful national trust green and the gates will by dry enough to hang tonight. I purchased from eBay some wonderful new chrome house numbers to adorn our gates – which will be a surprise for our lovely neighbour.

For the next couple of weeks as the grass germinates we can’t do a great deal as we must not walk on it. Then it will be digging compost into the borders and getting planting. I want some ferns behind the tree at the bottom of the garden and some hostas in front. I think we’ll sow some annual flowers down the side for this year. And I haven’t decided what to do with the rest of the main bed.

Ok, you can now declare me officially middle aged!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chuckle of the day

Found this on one of my favourite "business blogs" - Change and Internal Communication. A conversation between the bloggers two kids:

"If you eat too much sugar it is bad for your heart. It explodes," says daughter, aged 7, with conviction.

Son, aged 4: "Oh! Does that kill the baby Jesus?"


Me: "Ahem. Um, what?"

Son: "Well, I have the baby Jesus in my heart, don't I?"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I would have been happy with one!

I think one of the oddest things I had to get my head around when I got married was that I was actually going to be part of a new family. Actually, as husband's are long divorced I've married into two, very different, families.

This weekend it was a trip up north to celebrate a big birthday with new family no. 1 - father-in-law and tribe. It was all very civilised, a select gathering, private fully panelled dining room at very posh country hotel/restaurant, silver service... it was all rather beyond the level of luxury that I've experienced before.

We sat near the birthday Auntie and opposite father-in-law and partner. Also sat next to cousin (one of three "boys" of Auntie-in-law). The three boys, now all in their 20s, aren't exactly the most average of cousins-in-law. All intelligent, all had every opportunity they could possibly want, all pretty much drop outs. One at least now seems to have found a long term partner (who didn't say a word, and wasn't introduced to us). The other I think is currently working in a local pub and pretending to write a sit com. Husband and I were sat next to cousin number three.

M fulfils the much missed role of family mad person. I'd always considered him a little eccentric - in the camp, childlike way. Now, having spent an evening sat next to him I realise that he is totally barking mad - luckily in the pleasant way, not the stab you in your sleep way. He spent most of the night making no sense, did not follow any social conventions (like waiting for everyone to be served before eating)... until I checked with Husband that he is always like this I thought he was totally stoned. Apparently he has been like this since childhood - so the great British eccentric (now read nutter) is still alive and well. M is currently doing an MA in Acting at a drama school in Essex.

Anyway, it was a lovely celebration and I feel I have a little more insight into new family no. 1 - what strange beasts families are!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

10 things I don't understand about my man

  1. Buying an Easter Egg (or any other chocolate) and then not eating it for weeks.
  2. Professing to be obsessed with cleaning only to not agree that cleaning involves a duster (apparently hoover clean is husband clean).
  3. Molesting me in my (and his) sleep.
  4. Liking doing destructive DIY but then giving up when it comes to the construction.
  5. Obsession with steam trains and football (and getting disappointed when I don't do more than nod and look confused).
  6. Pretending the cat is a guitar.
  7. Putting vacuum packed baguettes in the freezer (ok that was just once).
  8. Moaning about not doing anything interesting without a) sorting out something to do or b) wanting to get up off his arse when we do have something interesting to do (although he always enjoys it in the end).
  9. His collection of Cathy Dennis, Betty Boo and other CDs no straight/sane man should own.
  10. His liking of Guinness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The joy of recruitment

Well, after a small amount of nagging I have finally received my contract for my new job (10 days after the offer). Unfortunately the offer letter (which is the same as what I had been told verbally) and the contract do not match. It looks like they've grabbed the old contract template from before their pay scales changed so it makes no sense - wrong spine point number, wrong salary - although 30 days annual leave and get to stay with the same pension scheme, woo hoo!. So back that will go to HR. Also had a bit of a battle to get them to send me a form to claim my interview expenses - which should have come with my interview invitation. Think I may have pissed off a high-up's PA, but I was very, very polite. Oh well.

Getting very excited about new job and very happy and chilled out about the current one. I guess now that I know I'm leaving, I find it easy to forget about the long term lack of change frustrations and just focus on what I need to achieve in the next 2 months. Quite a few people have been rather shocked that I'm leaving, but then I was on a fixed term contract, so its easy to explain it away. There are lots of people I'm going to miss - I'm arranging lunch dates like they're going out of style - and I hope I'll managed to keep in contact with most of them, as they are my 'people' base here in the South. They are a couple of people I really wish I could take with me as they are pretty unhappy and frustrated at work - so fingers crossed they'll move on soon. A job is never worth wrecking your mental health over.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Zing, zing zing! Went my heartstrings!

Twang, twang, twang! Went my neck! My neck has well and truly twanged. Something went on Saturday morning and it has just got worse since then. I barely got any sleep last night because of the pain and this morning I've just been horizontal and medicated. I've managed to get an appointment to see my physiotherapist tomorrow morning so hopefully the twanging will be put to an end.
Feeling like a very middle aged woman which has not been helped by my attempt to try on a tankini (I'm spa-ing this weekend with a friend from work) which made me realise that I really must shift this extra 15lbs. And my arse is that top from Next a 36F!

On a good news front, I've been offered the job at the University. Having not heard anything before the weekend I had talked myself out of it, not wanting to be disappointed... so I wasn't too revved up when I got the call. Also means I will be about £200 a month worse off as the travel is so expensive, even with the raise it doesn't cover it. But it is a permanent job, and one I really, really want to do, so I think Husband and I will just have to bite that bullet. The pay will go up through increments over the next few years anyway. And since when have I been all about the money?

I haven't officially accepted it yet and they've sent me an email with all the details that I can then reply to. The other thing is I haven't talked to anyone there about my CFS. It is good in a way, means they really do 'appoint blind' (even though I declared my disability openly), but just means I need to check that they are prepared to be flexible in the way I need it. Just checked out their policies online and it looks like the medical clearance form I would fill in would prompt occupational health to recommend reasonable adjustments, so I'll just have to be clear (but positive) about what I need on that form. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhh! I can't believe I'm going to have to start a new job, I was just getting used to this one!

Friday, March 23, 2007


There are so many different kinds of waiting, each of which has its own delicious torture. There is waiting for a good thing, like Christmas as a kid, or your family or best friend to arrive on a visit or back from long trip away. There are waiting for the bad things, like someone to die or even as petty as I was this morning, waiting from an email from a colleague who has a tendency to get nasty for no reason. And then there is the other kind of waiting, waiting for a phone call that could change your life significantly.

I had my interview on Wednesday. I came out thinking/screaming in my head: 'I WANT THAT JOB'. It is the same feeling I had when I came out of the interview for my current job (which shows how much I've moved on in the last 18 months). The University suits my idea of higher education (i.e. teaching and research), the people were smiley and friendly, the campus was grassy, the commute was a bit long but involved a train so I could read/listen to music to my heart's content. I think I did the best interview that I could have done and came with four or five questions that I genuinely wanted answering - at least two of which got them thinking, which has got to be a good thing.

I think they had one more candidate to interview yesterday and then they obviously have to get together to work out who to appoint. They said they'd let me know as soon as possible so I was expecting to here either the end of yesterday or today. I'm trying to take the delay as a NOT BAD THING, as considering the people on the interview panel I can imagine trying to get them all together in a room to talk about the appointment is going to be no mean feat.

This is truly torture and I don't know if I want it to end as that means that I might not have got the job... send me positive and calming thoughts.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The air is turning blue

Unfortunately, my mild mannered husband has gone to the bad place. Middlesbrough have just lost 1-0 to Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA cup. Looks like it was quite a 'nasty' game which didn't help the level of swearing in the living room next to me.

I never thought I'd marry a football fan as it wasn't something I had been brought up with. But, he is a northerner brought up by a flat-capped grandad who worked in heavy industry... so I guess it was inevitable.

He's now just gone 'out for a walk' and slammed the door behind him.

Oh well, more sofa for me.... xxx

Friday, March 09, 2007


My cross-Atlantic random blogger I love to read, Rand, and I are obviously on the same wavelength as I am also in the mood to write a 'That was the week that was...' post. Husband is out bowling with his work so I'm here at home save for the munchkins

Ok, right, its been a 'bad' week. Monday bed. Tuesday, at work but should have been in bed - what did I do again? Wednesday bed. Thursday bed. Today work for five hours then feeling so dizzy and sick that Husband had to drive me home at 3pm to the sounds of me going 'Oh god...' and 'wibble'. This is post isn't proving as interesting as Rand's. Ok... more rambling required.

I got shortlisted for a job this week. Interview is set for the 21st - and thank god no stupid presentation this time! But, being a University, they want all your references BEFORE you are actually interviewed so I had to fire off some swift emails, including one to my current boss. His reply included the line 'Yes, I had been meaning to talk to you about your intentions'. A little bit useless if you ask me. I have six months to go on my 2 year contract... talking to me about my 'intentions' currently depends a lot on what his intentions are for me! I think I could do my current job for another year, if the European work continues, if not, I'm just not going to have enough to do without taking on some other projects.

I'm also still very frustrated about the general madness of where I work (yes, I know everywhere is mad, but this place has noooooo excuses). Got chatting to a friend/colleague today who is an even sillier position than I am. She looked so defeated and feels like this was a really backward career move. How rubbish is that? Note to all employers, do not hire good staff and then not allow them to do what you hired them for. I don't get how everyone can have such good working conditions, benefits etc. and yet have such a crappy organisational culture. Actually, yes I can, when the senior management has no sense of the need to value the organisation as an entity in itself and people need to buy in to to feel a sense of worth in what they do.

Reading a recent (badly written but interesting) report I did realise that maybe it is the nature of our bit of the public sector - lots of responsibility but no power - we are not even vaguely the makers of our own destinies, we just get a 3rd hand destiny which is only decided upon after tortuous negotiations with umpteen stakeholders. Ok this will make no sense to anyone else, but I'm ranting.

Right now for my random Rand-inspired 'Separated at birth':

Barenaked lyric of the post, from 'Bank job':

"You had the last word, the go or no go
I knew every laneway in Ontario
But it's not what you're sure of, it's what you don't know
It should have been filled with the usual ones
Throwing their cash into mutual funds
We all had our ski masks and sawed-off shotguns
But how do you plan for a bank full of nuns?

Well, I guess we panicked - we all have taboos
And they were like zebras; they had us confused
We should be in condos with ocean front views
Instead we're most-wanted on the six o'clock news"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Let's get naked!

I always like to have something to look forward to. In the past I had a tendency not to book things in advance, mainly because of money. About a year or two ago Husband and I came up with a pact - if you want to do it/see it/buy it and not spending the cash there and then means you won't get the chance again; for goodness sake just do it. Now this does obviously apply to big ticket items but mainly to things like concert tickets and that cardigan in Monsoon that was sold out by the time you decided you should have it.

Something I booked about four or five months ago was the Barenaked Ladies at the Bristol Academy. I've liked BNL for years, and luckily has husband, so we couldn't pass up the chance to see them, full stop, and definitely not in a decently small-sized venue (I generally hate stadium gigs). They've just brought out two new albums about a month apart, we bought one the other week and the second is on its way with my book club book from amazon.

Anyway, I thought I'd let you into my little barenaked world by sharing with you this video, which was made by fans, to accompany the song 'Wind it up' from one of their new albums.

Now this gig is almost upon us (4 April) I need to go hunt the net for the next thing to look forward too...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The madness of Charles de Gaulle

Thought I'd do a pre-bed blog as although I'm totally exhausted my chest is all tight with remainder stress. Flew to Vienna and back this week, via Paris, in 36 hours I had two 8 hour journeys (door to door), a few hours sleep and a 7 hour meeting. I honestly don't now how my boss does it - or for that matter why he'd rather change in the worst airport in the world (must take camera the next time to take a photo of the two identical signs pointing in opposite directions) instead of fly direct from Heathrow. Admittedly Heathrow can be a nightmare too, but at least you wouldn't be doing a transfer through it.

I saw pretty much nil of Vienna itself - although the glimpses I did see and the guidebook definitely made me want to go back for pleasure. I do enjoy the actual meetings - the trips would be totally masochistic if I didn't. There is something I find captivating about listening to a bunch of people from all over Europe talking, debating, negotiating. All with the same aim but all with different viewpoints.

I applied for a job last week though the deadline has just passed. Although I would miss the group of Euro peeps that I've come to know this job would keep that element going, and make me more my own boss. Anyway, we'll see what happens in a few days if I get an invitation to interview. I don't know if my boss knows I'm looking at other jobs - admittedly not with all out determination - as I still haven't been told what his plans for me past September are. I have to say its not the first organisation I've worked for - or heard of - that has no conception that if you don't firm up someone's future far enough in advance, they are pretty likely to find somebody else who will.

The rest of work has been manically busy. That's the other thing that drives me mad about my job: some weeks I'm twiddling my thumbs, and some weeks I'm totally run off my feet. I'm completely shattered but I've got tons to do tomorrow: a set of minutes, proofreading a non-native English written report, finishing off a Board report and a million other smaller things. None of them could have been done any earlier than now and all have to be done by the end of tomorrow or Monday. Aaaaaaaarrrghhh!

When husband swung the car around to pick me up I just told him I wanted to have a total 4 year old 'paddy' (the word for tantrum in our family). To throw my arms around, scream at the top of my lungs and whine 'I'm fed up'. I know the feelings will pass, aided by rest and muffkin cats this weekend. Husband has been great since I got back, doing shopping, cooking and putting up with a ridiculously grumpy wife.

Right... bleugrh over... I'm off to bed to be molested by a ginger cat.

P.S. Picture is of the airport before they built about 3 million new terminals... doesn't it look beautiful.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm beginning to see a pattern

I think with a year's worth of observational data its time to do some analysis. Don't worry, I'm not talking about my marriage, I'm talking about the new status quo regarding my CFS.

I think my illness has well and truly entered a third phase. When I first got sick as a kid, I was sick all the time - with only one in seven years straight. It was utterly crap, boring, daytime TV, headaches, frustration - basically not fun.

Then something changed, I got back to school, did my A-levels and went to University. Whilst at Uni I was generally ok, few ups and downs, and the odd major crash lasting two to three months. They were horrible, feeling like I was trapped in the body of a very grump 80 year old. But I came out of them, and was well to the point of actually going jogging (yes, me, jogging, don't faint).

Then 2005 happened. I moved 250 miles, got a new job and a new husband. About 1 month after I came back from honeymoon I crashed. But after a week in bed I was back to work half time and worked my way back to full time - so not the 2-3 month crash I'd had before. Since then I've never been 'right' (or 'right' for me anyway). I always seem to be working the last bit of my energy on credit. Even when we've been on holiday I've struggled to walk very far or stay awake for long periods of time. With the odd blip day here and there I've been working full time. That, however, has pretty much been it - not much of a life outside - and when I do try to do something, like decorating the hall last weekend, I end up in a heap by the end of the week. I worked from home yesterday, but I wasn't even up to doing that today.

So I reckon this is my new pattern, I'm going to call it "Livin' on the Edge" as a homage to Aerosmith. How long this one will last, I don't know. I haven't decided if its better or worse than big crash, long boom of the previous few years - although at least it does help us with our financial stability. Would be nice to feel like I had some energy left to live the life of my own choosing, but it doesn't look like that is what's happening at the moment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Interrupted breast rant

I was just about to start a rant about the fact that the media reporting scientific research don't seem to have any concept of the differences between correlation and cause, when I was rudely interrupted by the facts of the case I was about to cite. Actually, it doesn't undermine the dodgy presentation on the BBC Breakfast News show the other day but at least the article on the web shows that in this case, the research does show some kind of causal relationship.

Anyway.... what am I talking about.... ah yes.... research seems to show that there is a causal link between being breast-fed and climbing the social class system. Accounting for other factors, individuals who were breast-fed have a 58% incidence of moving up the social classes, compared with 50% for those who were not breast fed (an increase of 41%). The difference was even perceptible between siblings, where one was breast-fed and the other was not. The research is based on a huge cohort study of individuals born in the late 1930s who had all been studied as babies.

I can't decide whether having another pro-breastfeeding argument is a good thing, or is it just something else that kids will be able to throw back at their Mum claiming "I'm not posh because I didn't get any!".

Anyway.... even though the facts rudely interrupted me this time, I sure there will be many times in the future where Husband walks in to find me screaming "correlation not cause" at the TV.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Well its about time!

And finally winter has decided to make a proper showing - we have snow. I'm working from home today but Husband headed out in his "action accountant" outfit - steel toed wellies, cord trousers, big jumper (he left he hi-vis jacket at home). I'm waiting for the heating to have been on long enough for it to be passable for me to have a bath without freezing my extremities off. Four hours and counting.

The cats are pretty much in hibernation mode. They both seem to have puffed out their fur to ridiculous proportions and make every attempt possible to steal my body heat whenever I sit down. I don't think either of them have been out today - frozen cat on a stick would be a possibility. Anyway, Lyle has lost his third collar in 6 months, which means he doesn't have a magnetic tag to open the cat flap; so it's probably best that he doesn't go outside.

Most of the schools around us were closed. The snow hasn't been at all bad (about 10cm) but as its all very steep hills and narrow roads around here, they become impassable pretty quickly. The kids were out on their sleds by 8am. I could see them slipping down the grassy bank in the park at the end of our road. Husband nearly slipped into a load of them as they watched to see he could make it down the end of our road without losing control - dangerous thing to watch if you ask me. Hopefully this means that he'll have to come home from work early today to make sure he can actually get up the hill. I think tomorrow will be the fun day as all this snow and slush freezes solid over night - now that will make for interesting driving conditions.

I do find it rather humourous how England (sorry, make that the bottom half of England) comes to a halt with even the slightest flurry of snow- even when they've had tons of warning. Other countries seem to have their infrastructure functioning even in really heavy snow. Yorkshire didn't seem to have too many problems coping when I used to live up there. I used to enjoy "skating" to Uni along the lethal flagstone pavements!