Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Prickles on parade

It seems I am not the only one who is seasonally confused. Ms Tiggywinkle put in another appearance today, during daylight. She and Otto have something in common; both seem to be very short sighted. Mercifully for the hedgehog, Otto is too slow (low slung sardine pouch) to catch her, and she most likely sees a large black and white blob on the horizon. So far so good. However, our naughty tortie can smell meat on the move at 500 paces. Sadly this version comes with several hundred built in tooth picks.
She also has a nose which senses liver / beef / and probably gamey hedgehog from under her blanket on the sofa.

I have covered up the wee creature with leaves, in the hope that will throw Cookie off the scent. She wouldn’t be seen dead nosing through vegetables!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Peace diamonds

I’m a girl who loves jewellery. Not the high value, need-to-take-out-insurance type, but the quirky, cheap and “this says who I am” type.

So it was no surprise to start fundraising with second hand jewellery. A group of five of us started with a handful of items, then we sent out letters to contacts, then the jewellery started to pour in. So far we have sent funds to charities helping homeless women, disabled, food banks, and children who needed heart surgery in Israel. The money has gone to both Jew and Arab – just in case you were wondering.

We have our stalls in our homes, local craft markets, local fruit markets (!), conferences, churches, cinemas. In fact anywhere where we can roll out our stall.

Our road map to peace is done one pair of earrings at a time.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Another great Saturday

We are a tad confused, meteorologically speaking. It is a “don’t need to wear a coat” day. I am making marmalade from our window ripened lemons and the clematis is budding. This is supposed to be the middle of winter, but it feels like spring.

I have finished my assignment. Both grey cells are putting their feet up with a cup of tea. Later I look forward to baking a cake for some friends who will visit tomorrow. The only dark cloud on the horizon, a cholesterol report I received yesterday. I am 1.4 points above average. I have to cut back on dairy products. Sigh. Anyone have any cake recipes that use olive oil?

Thursday, 26 July 2007

A Silver Fern, by any other name

Today, I watched two ancient cultures collide in front of me like out of control trains.

I was sitting eating lunch in the sunny courtyard of the college I’m attending. A few students were singing to the crowds, another was practising a folk dance, another was offering to paint cultural symbols (the 24 hour wash off variety) on any bit of your anatomy it was decent to reveal.

Myself and another “mature” student volunteered to have a koru spray gunned onto our forearm, with our younger classmates cheering us on. From today, I am an honorary Yorkshire Maori.

The collision happened later as I was wading through rather a lot of botanical terms, trying to decipher a complex piece of floral art, attempting to find the common terms rather than the technical ones.

There I was, muttering Latin to myself at the computer, whilst displaying an ancient Maori tattoo, which will vanish tomorrow in the shower.

I am seriously wishing that the long Latin botanical terms would vanish down the drain too, and I could stick to “Peace Lily” “European Privet” and “Rattan Cane”.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Mid week grump

Is it just me, or does the extravagance of Dubai really make you think it has a Tower of Babel complex? I have just read the following about the construction of the Burj Dubai, soon to be the world’s tallest building.
When completed, Burj Dubai will have consumed 330,000 cubic meters of concrete, 39,000 metric tons of steel rebar, 142,000 square meters of glass and 22 million man hours. The tower will have 56 elevators traveling at 1.75 to 10 meters per second and double-decker observatory elevators that can carry 42 people at a time.
The 80,000 square foot foundation slab and 50-meter deep piling are waterproofed. More than 5,000 consultants and skilled construction workers are employed onsite, and the world's fastest high-capacity construction hoists, with a speed of up to two meters per second, move men and materials.

I can’t help wondering what kind of legacy the Emirate would leave to the world if it had invested all those resources into a humanitarian project. After all, it has Internet City, Media City, Medical City. What about Hope City or Compassion City? How many more buildings, islands, soccer stadiums must it build to justify its wealth?

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The token right winger

Every year the capital hosts a rather good world film festival, with a handful of local films thrown in for good measure.
Today I received a rather hilarious and somewhat panicky email from my husband at work. It seems he has a role in one of the films (shot in the 1980s).
It is called “A Civilised Society” with the country’s Education system at the centre of the film (Peter Jackson sure upped the ante on movie content and interest). To quote one of my husband’s colleagues “You win the prize for the longest sound-bite of any non union card carrying official!….. Don't worry, you looked so young that it is unlikely that anyone will recognise you now.”
Famous for 5 minutes and he is more handsome than Tom Cruise! Excuse me whilst I go and wriggle into my Blahniks for the after show party.

Monday, 23 July 2007

The language of flowers

Today a small triumph; I managed to wrestle a single carnation into a respectable cellophane cone, tie a florist’s bow and attach it to said cone. Trust me, this is NOT for the faint hearted or stiff fingered. It is a humble start, but I’m completely hooked.

I have ten classmates, the youngest is 19, and I’m happy to say, I’m not the oldest carnation wrestler. Our classroom sits on a hill in native bush, overlooking a bay. But lest that sounds too romantic, our toilet is in a shed and has a single outside cold tap to wash our hands in. Temperatures this week have not managed to get into double digits, so a visit to the shed is done in nanoseconds.

Glamour school this ain’t.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

A literary grump

Yesterday, our town was given over to witchery and the dark arts, manifest in small, goblin like bodies walking down the main high street. They weren’t Hobbits; Harry Potter, the final volume, had arrived. A colleague found it difficult to work, the traffic was so heavy, and parking impossible.

Frankly, I’m cheesed off with this boy wizard and the obsessive nature of the children who demand the next and the next and the next book. The only positive spinoff is that kids are doing that antiquated activity called reading for a short period. I’m sure it makes a change for the parents; for once the playstation and computer mouse redundant.

It seems even the most challenging parts of the planet got copies of the tome – Kabul had a supply flown in for the kids of diplomats.

A plea to Ms Rowling, please keep writing, but not about a kid involved in witchcraft. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but please can you create a different kind of character. Use your influence to introduce the next generation to some of the more elevated gifts in humanity. Perhaps an individual who changes the world through love, service, wisdom, hope and selflessness. One who does his homework, respects his parents, and grows up to fear God rather than utter spells. Then I will be one of the crazy individuals waiting in a queue overnight to buy your books.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Dinner on the wire

Some excitement here this afternoon; a rather sweet tableau at the top of the drive. Next door’s kitten, she who chased Miss Tiggywinkle earlier in the week, was staring up at two VERY large birds on the telephone wires. The male would have almost equalled the kitten in size. The Kereru, our native wood pigeon is not a very bright bird. They are huge and slow and on the endangered list because they were hunted almost to extinction. A case of “That ain’t a bird sir, that’s Sunday lunch.” Very nice with roasted kumara I am given to understand.

We had to be almost underneath the wires before they flapped lazily and flopped into a heavy chested swoop over to the next garden. They are the kind of birds that need an extended runway in order to take off. Aborted landings are probably also part of their flight training as young chicks.

Nevertheless, a nice sighting and duly reported to the national Kereru Sighting website.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Air Cuisine

I recently came across an amusing photo article in an Arabic lifestyle magazine “Bidoun”. Someone had the bright idea to take photos of airline meals. There were 40 on the two page colour spread. Air France had to take first place for looking healthy, mouth-watering and satisfying, British Airways had fast food and transfats, Iran Air a small cucumber and huge banana. The other 37 photos were quite gruesome and should have been forwarded to Jamie Oliver.

The story I “dine out on” stars Aeroflot before Perestroika. My friend and I were flying Moscow to Manchester and were sitting in the last two seats of a Tupolev. By the time the aggressive flight attendant reached us, they had run out of black bread and hard boiled eggs. Pity really, as I’m rather partial to both.

What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten on a plane?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

The Mystery and the Enigma

I grew up during the Krushchev and Brezhnev era. The Cold War was part of our every day news in the 60’s and 70’s. We heard about spies and the terrible things that Communism did to people. When our school history department took a group of students to the USSR, we all talked to them in hushed tones on their return, as if our north of England classrooms were bugged. Then in my 30th year, the Communist block fell spectacularly apart. In 1991 I remember driving past the notorious Lyublianka prison in Moscow and thinking “That’s where it USED to happen”. Past tense.

But today, the UK threw out Russian Diplomats, and the news reportage sounded horribly familiar. The Kremlin accusing the West, the West’s deft defence, parry and repost of actions and implications. I can already hear the sounds of trade deals falling apart, listed stock unravelling and politician’s blood pressure rising.

Eastern Europe may be in the middle of a heat wave, but the Big Freeze seems to be right behind.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

The remains of the day

We don’t have much night life in our town. There is a small pub, which closes at 10pm (or earlier if its too windy); and there’s a Thai restaurant, but that’s it.

The street where we live is silent every night, except for a few romantic cats howling in the garden at number 5. Tonight though there was action. Driving down our driveway, we saw a neighbour’s cat scurry under the hedge, pursuing something which waddled rather than ran. The cat is just out of kittenhood, so I don’t know who was most startled by the headlights of the car, the cat or the creature it was trying to stalk.

I walked back up the drive 5 minutes ago to see if I could find either of them. Right next to a solar powered night light was an exhausted hedgehog, curled up, recumbent, and judging by the intermittent twitch of its whiskers, still reliving the nightmare of being chased. For a moment, I was tempted to tell it a bedtime story and turn off the light.

TGI Saturday

Another heavy frost. Not unusual for many areas of the planet, but semi rare for us. And Oh the bliss of Saturday mornings; one cat fighting for the warmest part inside the bed, the other for the closest bit next to the radiator. Chores for the day, making bread, making a big apple cake to share tomorrow at lunch, making real Italian Bolognese to share with another friend tonight. And in between the drizzles of sunshine, continuing a patchwork project and writing overdue letters to friends, the type with a stamp and which involves a short walk to the mailbox – remember those?
Like I said, the joys of Saturdays.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Mutant Ninja Entrees

If you are considering swimming off the coast of Dorset any time soon, beware. Today our national newspaper reported that a diver was attacked by a 91cm, 47 kg lobster whilst he was swimming near Weymouth. The lobster’s pincers went for him, but it appears he managed to get the beast into a half nelson then into a string bag.

It is believed to be around 50 years old and is now seeing out its retirement in a Marine centre.

As it translates to around 1000 portions of Lobster thermidor, I reckon it should be served up at a retirement home.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

How to endure

If an average of 2.5 rockets fell in your community every day for 6 years, you would kind of expect the international community to sit up and take notice. Perhaps even boycott the perpetrators or put economic sanctions on the country. If 5000+ had fallen in the past 4 years, i.e. the bulk of them, you would think that people would have vacated that part of the country altogether. You, and I would be wrong.

The residents of Sderot have endured this onslaught and continue to endure. Policies concerning Gaza come and go. Families are uprooted in the name of and in the hope of peace, and still the rockets fall. As Israeli rally participants said on their tee-shirts, “Sderot zeh kulhanu”…….We are all Sderot.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Timeless words of love

I’d like to add a “late entry” to the aforementioned competition. It was written by Leo Marks for his girlfriend Ruth Hambro and later used as a cypher for Violette Szabo who worked for Special Operations Executive during WWII:

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours.

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours, and yours, and yours.

A sleep I shall have,
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years,
In the long green grass
Will be yours, and yours and yours.

Pied Beauty

Yesterday, in a bookshop, I was given a coupon to vote for my favourite poem. A book is being compiled with poetry beloved of New Zealanders. If the poem you vote for is chosen, you receive a copy of the book. Great idea.

I must say, it took me a while to recall any poem – they seem to be stashed somewhere in a part of my brain labelled “Sorry we’re out, please try later”. I used to be able reel off all sorts of verse at the drop of a hat, but now, like jokes, I would probably only remember the last line, or part of it.

I came up with this, from Gerard Manley Hopkins, who I love for his syncopation and telescopic use of language:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise Him.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Creative Exporting

It would appear that Europe is getting all enviro-friendly and blacklisting food products with “food miles”. I’ve seen the negative advertising in British magazines. This includes meat and dairy products from our part of the world. Now I confess, I’m biased, but I reckon the ONLY country that can compete with our quality of milk is France. Our butter and our milk are fabulous. This is probably due to the quality of grazing here for our happy cows. The milk is why the coffee is the best I have ever tasted, and stretches to the consistency of cream. It is outstanding.

If Europe decides to boycott us, our economy is in serious trouble, as we are heavily dependent on agricultural exports.

Yesterday, on a brief walk on the beach, I came home with my usual collection of perfectly spherical pebbles. I collect them for I’m not sure what. But they are gorgeous and I’ve seen them by their millions on beaches around the islands. Today I have crushed my brain to think of a use for them. Could they be exported to make designer beaches? If so, we’ve got enough to decorate the parts of the world which are constructing 7 star havens. That way we can keep our happy cows and 7 star milk for ourselves and the world will have to come to us for the best lattes and lamb chops on the planet.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

A Grump

It seems buying new furniture and deafness go hand in hand. For the past 15 years, in three countries, I have endured TV advertisements where I have been aurally assaulted. The culprit is trying to sell sofas, two years interest free. To do this, he yells at 30 words a second at decibels similar to the take off roar of a jumbo.
I think it is the same person, with the same agent (and dialect coach) getting him jobs transcontinentally. Can we arrange a hit man to take him out? Or better still, arrange a mass buy out of all his sofas (with 24 months free credit of course), so he has nothing to yell about any more.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Ciao Bella

My husband’s niece returns tomorrow, after living for six months in a very elegant town in Italy. Life here will probably seem very parochial to her after living in the centre of a continent. After all, our nearest neighbour for a trendy holiday is four hours flight away, instead of a few hours drive.

I am sure she will experience reverse culture shock and I have been wondering what will strike her most about her erstwhile “home”. Here are the things I noticed. The Central Business District is a sea of black clothing, not just business people, young people in casuals too. The next ring out of the CBD, the young people wear cut off trousers, sandals and tee shirts (regardless of temperatures), beyond that circle, anything goes, sartorially speaking.

Drivers here generally obey the “Code”. I found that difficult for over a year, having lived in a country where you could drive at any speed on any bit of the road, left or right and get away with it. In this country, having forty dents in your car would not be seen as prestigious.

Here, conversations in public are friendly, but gesticulating, yelling and posturing aren’t common. She will probably wonder why meals don’t take long to eat and why there are only four people around the table and not 14. I am thrilled that she has had the chance to become Ms Continental Europe, and look forward to her stories.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

What's in a name?

Genealogical research is addictive. What could be more gripping than finding an exciting ancestor in the closet?

In Britain, most of the surnames are from professions, locations, or mean “son of”, translating to Mac, O’ or Son, or in the case of the Welsh, tacking an “s” on the end of the father’s name. Some of the Scots have descriptions of faces as surnames. I believe Cameron means “bent nose” or something equally embarrassing.

My father has been an amateur geneaologist for nearly 20 years. He has been assisted by coming from a long line of hoarders, pack rats and attic fanatics. So, he had a lot of papers and photos to work with. Our family name originates in the north of England, and in Old English translates as “field of barley”. As barley is the poor man’s cereal, it doesn’t take much to deduce that we were a poor lot. On the other side of Dad’s line, it seems we were French, which came as a bit of a shock. Mum’s people were originally Welsh, which would explain the dark hair and penchant for leeks.

My husband’s side is exotic. Four generations back were Hungarian aristocracy; more recently spice traders and rabbis.

Our very different histories converge a little more on our father’s side. That side of his family were Old French, and also originated in the North. The surname is the name of a very small fish. The jeweller who made our wedding rings engraved them with medieval fish swimming around the eternal circle of gold.

If I were to conclude that our surname originated in a profession, I could only become a Fishmonger or a Florist. And for those reading this blog who don’t know us, a prize will go to the person who guesses what it is.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Time Bank

I read an interesting article this morning in a Middle Eastern newspaper online. It was about a Time Bank that had been set up in a major city. It works by offering time / gifts / talents in exchange for the same from another person. An example, one person taught a group creative writing on a weekly basis, “They have become family to me” and in exchange, another person walked her dog for her when she was out at work. This has meant that people from all over the city have got to meet each other and serve one another.

I am really pumped up by the examples given and how it has changed so many lives. It saddens me that we have lost so much “sharing and caring” in our world, and I am considering floating this as a project amongst my friends. I am sure it would catch on. The immediate challenge would be what could I offer? Baking, vacuuming, taxi service, cat butler? I’ll pass on dog walking and baby sitting, both too terrifying for words. What would you offer? Let me know your ideas.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Happy Anniversaries

My husband has three opportunities to remember our wedding anniversary, our civil marriage (1st March), and the religious ceremony, 3rd July. The third one is moveable, as the Jewish one falls on a different day each year, according to the lunar calendar. This year we decided to take friends out to a Turkish restaurant to celebrate with us.

This is our third year together. Our wedding ceremony was bitter sweet as my father was too ill to attend. Mercifully, three years on, he is still with us, much to everyone’s amazement and joy. In those interim three years, two of our wedding guests have died, one couple has adopted two children, one god-daughter has gone to university, and another will do so this year. One couple have started to build a house after 7 years planning, another launched an airline, another ran for a political seat in the UK.

It does make me wonder what the next 3 years holds for us and our wedding guests. If you were there, and are reading this blog, drop me a note with your highlight of the last 3 years. Even if you weren't there, still tell me your highlight.

On being a socialite

If I were famous, like the underfed Paris Hilton, there would be some very boring things read about me in the newspapers.

I love to eat home baked bread, made into toast, with plenty of butter (quelle horreur ). If I could do anything on my day off, I would choose to stay home with overfed cats and “nose buried in book” husband and throw a calorific supper for friends. We would sit around sharing our life experiences, talk about God, the Universe and Everything, drinking endless pots of tea. An exotic holiday of choice would be visiting friends in both hemispheres, hanging out drinking endless pots of tea and cooking up a storm in a variety of kitchens, chatting about God, the Universe and Everything.

Nightmares include shopping for clothes (too much toast and butter), being photographed (too much toast and butter) or being interviewed (especially if I were eating toast with too much butter), driving too fast in a car and getting car sick (too much toast and butter).

I definitely have a much better life than Paris Hilton.