Sunday, April 30, 2006

Back in Blighty

Alright I'm back in England. I enjoyed Paris more than I thought I would. When I first saw it 20 years ago, it seemed so different and overwhelming. This time it seemed like a lot of other continental cities I've visited, only on a grander scale.

Yes, the boulevards are broader, the monuments grander, the museums bigger. But the food's not better and the beer's not cheaper. I'd consider going back, but there are other places I haven't been to yet.

I'd love to see Vienna, I haven't been to Portugal - and I've been trying to get the Vol-in-Law to agree to a trip to Rome (with little success thus far). Plus there are all those new EU countries in the East to see.

Comment dit "it's raining?"

Alright, my crap French has failed me meaning, I can't quite do all my post titles in the theme. Anyway, it might be "il pleut", but I can't quite remember.

So it's raining. I left the Louvre and it was pitching it down. A rather genial Algerian tried to pick me up, I'm sure the Vol-in-Law will be relieved to know that I wasn't tempted.

Nacer, the Algerian, upon finding out that I was married, informed me it was normal to want to experience new people, to experiment.

"Yeah, in France." I said.

La Joconde

I saw it. I saw the Mona Lisa. Amazing. I can't say what it is about the painting, but it is magnetic. It does glow across the room. It does not disappoint even after a lifetime of buildup. It is worth fighting through crowds to get a closer (but not nearly close enough) glimpse.


The retrospective of Ingres (French, mostly worked in Italy) was worth every penny (see previous post where I got a free ticket). Actually it was worth more than that. He was a fabulous portraitist - apparently he said. "In the head, the first job of the artist is to make the eyes speak" or something like that. Anyway, he did. His drawings of people (especially his wife) were tender and the oil portraits were very charaterful. In some the characters looked engaging or powerful, in others vapid or vain.

The French authored commentary on his life and works was not only in curious English, but also seemed preoccupied with his sexual life. He was married and seemed to enjoy a normal fantasy life - but it was always remarked on when he entered a phase of painting nekkid women (which he did very well).

No comment was made on his early works which featured a lot of nekkid men (hot!).

Update: this link takes you to a summary of the exhibit (in French) and to the period when Ingres was painting male nudes (but doesn't show the really dramatic one.

Au Louvre

I'm still waiting - and since Vol K left for Cali early this morning, I'm on my own and live blogging to pass the time. I haven't actually seen any art yet, but you can:

J'attend encore

I got in quick enough - but there are more lines inside for tickets to the museum. I'm impressed that there's an automated quick ticket machine. I get in line for that and a German woman hands me her ticket for a special exhibition that she doesn't have time to see. She walks me to the entrance to make sure it's ok to give me her unused entry. The guard can't believe she bothered. (I thank her in German - danke - maybe one of three words I know).

I can't believe I'm standing in yet another line to see an exhibit I hadn't heard of by an artist I'm only vaguely aware of (Ingres). But hey, I never turn down a free drink or a free special exhibition ticket.

2006-04-30 222
Lines inside the Louvre


I am in the queue for the Louvre. It is longer than a city block. I let it put me off going 20 years ago, but I will not be deterred this time. Actually, it's moving pretty fast - and there are soldiers with automatic rifles to keep us line should the crowd get surly.

2006-04-30 216 levels

Lines outside the Louvre - the entrance is on the other side of the pyramid

Fleurs du printemps

I have to hand it to the French - they know how to plant up a public garden. I've been very impressed by the naturalistic style of some of the municipal parks. I'm now in the Jardin des Tuileries - near the Louvre, and although the style here is more formal - it's an impressive city center park which tourists and locals alike are out enjoying on a slightly hazy April morning.

municipal planting
Municipal planting with white and blue forget-me-nots, wallflowers, tulips and more...

Pink tulip in a field of forget-me-nots

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Les gendarmes

So, it's been quite the day for protests, demonstrations and cops. Lots of cops. The local Parisian police, the gendarmes are much about, but even more the national police have swamped the city - and are in full riot gear, including the riot shields, helmets and we even spotted one with a gas mask. Oh, and by the way, they don't like to have their pictures taken. Nope. Not at all.

Vol K and I even wondered if it might be against the law, so stern were the looks.

Vol K: is there no freedom of the press?
Me: I don't know, maybe not.
Vol k: but it's a free country, right?
Together: No.
Vol K: I guess that's why they're French fries not freedom fries, right?

Anyway we saw 4 protests/public disorders that the French thought were worth dispatching police for.

1. About 20 people protesting to free the something lama - maybe that's the missing boy in Tibet or Nepal or somewhere (I'll update later when I have a chance to do some research - Update, yep - missing boy in Tibet.)


2. About 80 people protesting the poor treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt (we had earlier loads of police and barricades in front of the Egyptian consulate.)

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3. About 12 people surrounded by about 20 riot police near Notre Dame and penned in against a monument commemorating Napoleon's victories. No idea what that was about, but the 12 people, sort of hippy looking, didn't seem that bothered (however the riot cop did when he saw me taking a picture)


4. The madness on the Champs Elysee after Paris won the French football championship tonight . The parisians were definitely in high spirits, honking their horns, people running around shouting. But it seemed good natured, unlikely to turn ugly, but just in case the riot cops lined the streets, stoney-faced, gas masks at the ready.

Je mange encore

We had some crepes with all kinds of cream and chocolate and banana - and now we're eating again.

I am filling up on beer with a side of salad.

crepes - with everything

C'est dommage

Went to the Eiffel Tower, it sure is tall. Must have been at least an hour wait just to walk up the stairs. Gave it a miss. Now waiting to take a boat on the Seine down to Notre Dame.

2006-04-30 102 crop

Parlez vous francais?

So on to the arc de triumphe where a giant French flag was flying in the middle. It could be seen as a glorious tribute to the French state or it could kind of remind one of those football field sized flags that fly over used car mega lots.

Vol K wanted to find out what the flag was all about and asked a cop if he spoke english.

And loudly... And I mean LOUDLY he says "Do you speak French? You come to France and you don't speak French?". But he then explained that the flag was to commemorate the end of the war - May 8th. My dates aren't great, but if that was the end of WW2 or the liberation of Paris then I'd like to know if they were asking "you come to France and you don't speak French" when we saved their butts from the Nazis.

2006-04-30 050 levels

Je mange

We've just had lunch at a cafe on the Champs Elysee (sp?) - obscenely priced sandwiches and soup, but all very filling. Next stop Arc de Triomphe. There hasn't been a French triumph in a while, but the arch is pretty big.

onion soup
French onion soup - in France it is just called onion soup

Nous ont arrivees

Yes, we've arrived in la France after some delay at the chunnel (something about a broken shuttle??). There was much confusion over the cash machine at the train station (some twitty woman swore it was broken and we all left in a panic - I retuned 10 minutes later to find it dispensed Euros just fine) and a seemingly interminable queue for taxi. But we got to our hotel fine. Vol K booked the Hotel California, prompting much lyrical quoting. But I'm happy because it has a balcony where I can smoke.


My language skills are not coming back as well as they might - so to my new host country, please excuse my French.

Sans chaise

We booked late and Eurostar overbooks, so instead of getting seats in the train we got tip down perches in the luggage vestibule. No pre-trip smoke and no seat. Well, we resolved to make the best of it with a sunny disposition and a plan to loot the suitcases of our beseated fellow passengers.

But before I could pop the lock off the first faux Luis Vuitton case the French conductor asked us to follow him and set a dizzying pace through first class and into an essentially empty, unserviced, but first class carriage.


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Tip up seats located conveniently near unattended luggage

En route

I'm in the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo and have discovered there's no smoking in the departure area. No smoking on the train either. And there was no warning of this before I passed thru security which is now backed up the wazoo.

France, we're kicking off on the wrong foot.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Huge local improvements

The Vol-in-Law and I, finally and after many attempts, got a meal in the local "gastro pub" The Garden House. A scant few weeks ago it was a spit in the sawdust, Chelsea-football-watching, dog-in-the-corner kind of pub. Now it's all pale paint, exposed brick, flowers and fruit on the bar kind of pub.

First off, since it was the first night they were actually serving food in the week, it took forever. Forever... I can forgive them for that. Teething troubles, I guess. The food was fine. But the beer is still too expensive. Three pounds a pint. Dreadful. Still, if it takes off, it could transform the area.

I've already seen a dramatic improvement in one of the local shops - the pressure of a bright new Tooting High Street- has already borne fruit.

To wit - the denture shop:

2005-10-22 022

nice display

Surely an example of an extreme makeover. It's amazing what the addition of recycled business card holders can do.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

It kinda makes me feel better...

Corruption in political elections in the US is kind of a joke. A joke that isn't actually very funny. If it isn't dead people voting, it's the far worse potential for widespread fraud using mysterious, black box electronic voting.

Folks in the UK are very proud of the "corruption free" government. When I suggest to British colleagues that things might be less than snowy white in this country, for example by referring to the corruption perception index where Britain comes in behind all those Nordic countries in 11th place (the US comes in at 17 in 2005) I get looks of mild offense. The British are very proud of their "above-board" government, and like ostriches they often stick their heads in the sand when it comes to scandal in their own ranks. (My view is that this attitude actually makes corruption more likely).

Changes to electoral law and postal voting in the UK has made election fraud easier...much easier. Bad politicians can collect postal ballots, rig elections and deny individuals a personal, private vote at the same time. There some indication already that there's been widespread fraud ahead of next week's local elections.

It's horrible, but I can't quite shake the schadenfreude.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gone native

Nicole in London has two great posts about how she's slipping...quietly, but surely into English (or more accurately) Londonish outlook. Both involve the London commute (fashion and getting intimate with one's fellow commuter). Really, it's so awful that if you don't go with the flow, every day would be a trauma.

I had my own experience today. I came barrelling down the escalator (walk or run to the left, STAND TO THE RIGHT) and a clearly provincial English chap said "I'd better stand to the right, there are real Londoners who want to pass."

Campaign time

It's local election time in England. On May the 4th, electors all over the land probably won't bother to go to polls to elect local councillors. In one sense, these elections are a bit like a midterm in the US, as they'll be seen as a referendum on the current government. But it's only a year since the last general election in the UK,

I can't vote, so I have a good excuse for not turning out. But that won't stop me from attending a victory party should my local candidates win. They're young and fun and bust the stereotype of pensioned off white fellows (not that there's anything wrong wiith having quite a few of those on councils that have between 50 and 60 councillors each in the UK system)

Folks have been campaigning hard where there are elections. The Labour government isn't at it's most popular right now and the other two main parties the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are hoping to make gains, and of course the Labour candidates are hoping to hold ground.

I saw a Labour canvasser out on the street yesterday. I smiled at him, even though I support the Conservative candidates locally. I'm glad to see vibrant local democracy. He latched on to my small gesture and engaged me in coversation. I guess things hadn't been going well. I was very polite, friendly even, but I doubt what I had to say cheered him much.
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Dispatch from the war on gardeners

Just in case you were wondering, I'm holding up pretty well in the war on gardeners. It was touch and go on Saturday with a rare warm, sunny day... I broke the hosepipe ban for the first time, when filling up my watering can (legal). I splished the hose over one of my flower filled pots and gave it just a tiny drink (subject to a £1000 fine). I don't think anyone saw me.

The garden is looking pretty fantastic now...

tulips and narcissus

...and I found a freaky white spider, too:


For those readers who thought I might have news of Paris, that's this coming weekend, my use of Franglais was misleading.

This past weekend we organised our new selection of wine, went to Richmond Deer Park where we saw deer, feral parakeets, a squirrel and a nature rat*. I bet you don't get that in Paris.

2006-04-23 086

* nature rat = rat found in nature, not crawling out of a storm drain on a London street.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Those crazy kids

OK, I definitely disapprove of happy slapping, huffing and hanging out on street corners, wearing hoods and looking menacing. But this seems more like public service.

Bacchus favors us

As an offer on the new oven we bought, we got a year's supply of wine. That's 52 bottles, in case you were wondering.

The 52 bottles arrived on Friday. Twenty-six white and twenty-six red. They seem reasonable quality, but I'm no connosieur. The first two bottles went down easy enough, though.


Not being big wine drinkers, we don't have a cellar, or even a wine rack. We just had four cardboard boxes of wine sitting in our dining room. Class.

But Bacchus truly favors us. He saw our need and he provided. We went to the dump yesterday and just as we finished and were about to leave (sadly empty-handed) when the guy pulling into the bay next to ours seemed to have a wine rack in the front seat of his car. I pointed it out to the Vol-in-Law and suggested that he retrieve said wine-rack. He hopped out of the car and managed to get the wine rack from the guy before it even hit the dumpster. We now have rack space forty-some bottles.

Rotation of 2006-04-23 103

Friday, April 21, 2006

the water rebellion

Paul Dyer, a professional gardener and winner of awards at the creme gardening competitions in England (Chelsea, Hampton Court) has called for gardeners to engage in a grass roots water rebellion.

From the Independent - which charges for its stories - via here which has ripped it.

One garden designer, who has won 14 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, is going further by calling for an outright revolt. Paul Dyer is urging people to use their hosepipes - a real grassroots rebellion.

"Thames Water is not going to be able to prosecute hundreds of thousands of people," Mr Dyer said, who has received messages of support from fellow garden professionals and the public worried that well-tended plants will wither in the summer sun.

You go, Paul! But I'm too scaredy. I did use a hosepipe this morning, attached to my water butt which stores rainwater from my roof, which someone told me is legal (though I could find no clear rules on whether that is in or out).

Paul Dyer is right, though the water regulations are stupid and fall unfairly on gardeners, as the Royal Horticultural Society (to which I belong) has pointed out.

The Royal Horticultural Society complains that gardeners in the South-east are being made to "carry the can" for low rainfall and the 793 million gallons of water that are lost every day in the UK because of leaky pipes. The society has published tips for saving water and a guide to legitimate use of hosepipes, such as cleaning garden furniture, which could be done on the lawn, opening a potential loophole.

And of course, Thames Water has sold off reservoirs in recent years to build housing, exascerbating the problem. And the rules are stupid:

What's allowed:

  • Fill a swimming pool
  • Have a water fight in the garden with the family
  • Hose down the dog or cat [good luck with that cat hosing!]
  • Clean the patio with a pressure washer
  • Leave a hose running on your driveway
  • Fill empty containers
  • Fill all the watering cans/water butts you could ever want
  • Leave a tap dripping for months
  • Water your allotment [not in all areas]
What's not allowed:
  • Top up a planted pot
  • Water the vegetables that will feed your family
  • Connect drippers to water your patio plants
  • Leave a porous hose running underneath your new hedge
  • Water planted containers
  • Use a spray rose on a hose to water your new lawn


My Dyer runs a garden design firm and his specialty is water features. These aren't really affected because you can use a hose to top up water levels and perhaps inadvertently water the marginal plants. On his website he has an interesting collection of water feature horrors, perhaps not interesting unless you are a gardening snob (which I am).


Thursday, April 20, 2006

After gay paris...

...they'll never get us back on the farm!

Vol K will shortly be here for another business trip to London and we'll be off to Paris at le weekend.

Le Eurostar tickets are tres cher, it being another long weekend in Angleterre. It would have been cheaper to fly, probably, but I guess she wants le chunnel experience. And frankly, le tren is more convenient.

When informed of the ticket prices, Vol K said "Holy $hit, that's an expensive taste of Paris...". Vol K needs to get with the program - it's "Sacre m€rde, c'est de trop!".

I haven't been to gay pair-ree in over 20 years, so it should be interesting. Our resolution is to live it grande while and chocolate and frogs and snails and petit chien tails. In preparation I need to brush up on my rusty French. I've been told the French appreciate it if you at least try to speak their language. The following phrases should ensure we receive a warm welcome and have a smooth journey:
  • Nous saved vous butts from les Nazis
  • Ce fromage n'est pas as bon que le fromage americain
  • Parlez-vous anglais?
  • Encore du vin, garcon... And
  • You call this a public toilet?!!

don't mention the war!

Oh, it's almost World Cup time (50 days from today!!) and the British authorities are advising English fans how to behave in Germany which hosts the tournament this year. Number one: don't mention the war, bitte.

Not the Iraq War, of course, but good old WWII. The one where we gave the Hun a bit of a bloody nose. The one where, needless to say, the Germans were so wrong

English footballing pride is unmistakably wrapped up with the war. After all, on wars: England 2, Germany 0 and in soccer the record is a bit more mixed. (It's summed up in the stadium chant Two World Wars and One World Cup). Yes, there was the famous 1966 World Cup finals win against West Germany, but since then... (via the BBC)

Since that memorable day at Wembley, it took England until Euro 2000 to beat Germany in a competitive match again.

Indeed in 15 post-1966 meetings, England have triumphed only three times.

England fans have used the theme from the film The Dambusters as a footballing anthem and a march from another WWII flick The Great Escape. But this may well be verboten in Germany, via the Telegraph:

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has already warned fans that they will be arrested and jailed if they perform a Nazi salute, chant Sieg Heil or goosestep in Germany.

He said the German authorities had not decided whether singing songs with war-time links, such as the Dambusters theme and Ten German Bombers, about the RAF shooting down Luftwaffe aircraft, would lead to arrest.

What? Haven't made up their minds yet? And here I thought the Germans were so decisive.

This German site is more emphatic, with an underlying message of:

You Englishers had better behave, vee haff vays of making you behave.

Actually what it says is:

We will offer the warmest welcome to true football fans... I think the British are intelligent enough not to insult a nation, but enjoy this huge football event as friends among friends.


But just in case a new cell block has been built at Nuremberg's police HQ [city of England's opening match not to mention Nazi rallies and war crimes trials], with space for nearly 300 prisoners. Even the stadium has its own lock-up block ready for hooligans and drunks.

Well, hmmpph - what's the World Cup without whistling the march from The Great Escape. To these stern admonishings I urge English fans click their heels and say "Ja, mein footballgruppenfuhrer!" (Though you might want to leave out the salute.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Celebrity baby names

Tom Cruise and what's-her-name from that silly show named their child Suri. The Guardian has a quiz on Tinseltown Tots and their stupid names here.

I took it and scored an astonishing 8 out of 10. I had to guess on many, as I didn't even recognise the name of many of the parents.

Skin so smooth

British transplant surgeons are accusing the Chinese government of selling the organs of executed prisoners. Folks have been saying these kind of things for a long time. The Chinese deny it.

But see the picture accompanying the BBC story.

Doesn't it look suspiciously like a Chinese takeaway box?


In other dead Chinese prisoner news, I can't quite get a post I read at Six Meat Buffet out of my head. In this one, the Chinese are accused of using executed prisoner parts for cosmetics. This is not denied (via World Tribune)

The agent said some of the company‘s products have been exported to Britain, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts was “traditional" and nothing to “make such a big fuss about,“ the Guardian reported.

Now when I saw that, I thought of a miracle lotion that I bought in Florence. It was one of the hottest, driest summers in Italy. My feet were uncomfortably dry, the skin was cracked and painful, and we had a lot of walking to do. I went to a pharmacy near the plaza where the replica David is displayed and in my non-existent Italian (i.e. my poor Spanish which seemed to work reasonably well) I tried to explain what I needed. I showed the woman my feet. Ahhh, she said, and then jabbered something in Italian and handed me a small tube. That mystery unction cost me about 11 euros. I had never bought such an expensive cosmetic product, but I paid up rather than try to explain in halting Spanish that I wanted something cheaper.

I applied it, and it was like a miracle. I was immediately more comfortable. But since reading that SMB post, I've been wondering just what (or who) was in that tube.

Rotation of 2006-04-19 002

I dug it out and checked the ingredients...they were non-existent. I assume super karite e lipoaminoacidi di grano doesn't mean dead dissident.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's pimms o'clock again

It's the first, real acknowledgement that winter is over and summer is around the corner. Yep, the first Pimms of the season.

Here it is:

Pimms O'clock

For my recipe, see an earlier post entitled Pimms o'clock

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Granddad blogging: Chopping wood

Last week my granddad experienced some tough love, this week it's all about heating the house.

The locust trees have pretty flowers on ‘em that smell good. The bees liked ‘em but they also have thorns on them and they would fall off. Little old barefooted boys runnin around would step on these thorns and get ‘em up in their foot and then they would start hurting and they would fester and you had to lay down and hold your foot up and let your mother take a needle and poke around and stick and finally pick those thorns out of there before they would get well. So I was never very fond of locust trees.

We had a great big locust tree right outside the front door of our house. I remember it was a big one. The trunk was as big around as you see on some big beech trees, big poplar and big oak trees. It had a big holler in it, and we lived up on a hill and storms came through an awful lot. They worried about that tree blowin over on our house for a long time. Finally a storm blew down some other locust trees, but didn’t blow that one down. So my daddy cut it down and cut it up into firewood. And we burned it up a stick at a time one winter.

We had to heat our house with wood that we cut. We would cut wood in August when the leaves were beginning to come off and the sap was going down and the wood was pretty dry, but still enough moisture in it to where you could saw it better than you could when it was real dry.
We had to do it with a cross cut saw. You pull the saw to me and backwards and forwards. Backwards and forwards and we piled up the wood back in the woods and then I think about November or the last of October we’d haul it up to the house and ricked it up between those various locust trees right at the house. We threw some of the wood off down in a wood pile we had and that wood had to be cut up in smaller chunks. We’d split it and make firewood for the stove. We’d pile up a great big pile of stovewood. Great big, I guess six feet tall.

Lot of people just cut stove wood as they needed it, but my daddy wanted to get it all cut and piled up. Sometimes we’d rick it up and sometimes we wouldn’t, but we always ricked up the firewood for the fireplaces. I had the job of carrying it out of the rick and rickin’ it up on the porch. And we burned lots of wood.

We lived in a house that used to be an old schoolhouse. Somebody had bought that property with the old schoolhouse on it and they took it and made it into a house to live in. The man’s name was Curt North, I never did see or know Curt North. But that was the name, and that’s who my daddy bought 70 acres of land that had this school house that had been made into a place to live in.

We lived there for a long time, and when I lived there it never was insulated it was just weather boarding on the outside, studding, and then some kind of planks of stuff on the inside that we’d put this canvas on and paper it then. And the wind came in under the doors through the cracks. In the room where we stayed all the time there was a hole about the size of a big marble in the floor. When we’d clean the floor, we’d pour soapy water, boiling hot water all over the floors and mop it and sweep it out through that hole.

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Ghoulish hobbies

When I'm too lazy to go on a real walk, we sometimes walk in the local cemetery. I bring my camera, and collect those delightful floral tributes now de rigeur at British cremations. Through the magic of carnations, styrofoam and spraypaints all kinds of delightful tributes can be made. I've seen all kinds, bottles of whisky, sporting goods, a royal flush, but this weekend, I have to say I was most amazed:

I remember those barbie torsos that had dresses macramed onto them by ancient maiden aunts and were given as gifts to be used as toilet roll cozies. If you don't remember the 70s, have a little peep here to see what I mean. (What is more embarassing? Toilet paper on display or a crochet barbie with toilet paper under her skirts?)

But this is the first time I've seen one as a remembrance for the dead.

Rotation of IMGP2269

and a close-up:


Monday, April 17, 2006

Why vote BNP?

The British National Party used to be practically, overtly racist. In the old days, it probably wouldn't have overstretched the mark to say they were the British equivalent of the political wing of the KKK. But the BNP has undergone something of a makeover. Now they say they're not racist and party leader Nick Griffin has actually done a pretty good job of keeping the worst of the BNP goons in line. Nick's personal profile was raised, probably, through a rather nasty prosecution alleging that he was "stirring up racial hatred" by verbally attacking the tenets of Islam. It was a very shoddy charge on a very shoddy law - and even though I expect he does have some very unpleasant views, he shouldn't have been threatened with jail for expressing them.

The BNP has been making grounds in local elections recently. They've done this under Griffin's leadership both by playing smart (being decent local councillors in some respects and understanding the non-race issues that local people are concerned about) and by playing mean (exploiting racial tensions). In today's Telegraph:

A recent study by social science think-thank, the Joseph Rowntree Trust suggests that the BNP is gaining further ground, if at least theoretically:

New research suggests that feelings of political disenfranchisement could drive up to a quarter of voters to support the far-Right British National Party.

Some of the places where the BNP has done well recently are white neighbourhoods which border on Asian (sub-continental) neighbourhoods in the ex-industrial North. For example after the riots in Bradford and Oldham in the summer of 2001, the BNP began consolidating gains.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for the Barking & Dagenham (London) area, said this weekend that 8 out of 10 white families might be tempted to vote for the BNP. Presumably that would be in the forthcoming local council elections in the first week of May. She would have picked this up while canvassing the local area for the local candidates, perhaps.

Some politicians are suggesting that the BNP is now a repository for protest votes, but that people don't necessarily want BNP representation. Well, maybe. But when you get to even a quarter of voters in local elections, that's no longer a protest vote. There's a real chance of BNP councillors getting elected.

So what are mainstream parties to do? Well, Labour wants to appeal to voters' sense of fairness, the British like fairness. That might work in the North. But I'm not sure that will work in parts of London. My understanding of some of the issues in Barking & Dagenham are:

  • many of the people described as white "working class" aren't working, they are clients of the state and in some families, no one has worked in generations.
  • these people are growing disenchanted with decades of Labour policy which has left them with poor education, poor work ethic and very poor prospects, indeed
  • new people are moving into the area. They happen to be black Africans. They happen to be hard working. Their incomes are rising. They are aspirational and grasping success.
Fairness is not going to appeal to the poor, white voters in Barking & Dagenham. After all, the African immigrants are working hard and doing well, and that seems pretty fair already. The BNP knows how to deal with the politics of disenchantment, of resentment and inadequacy, by telling people what they want to hear - that they're somehow better than their harder working neighbours by virtue of their ethnicity alone.

Techtags: , News, Current Affairs, Racism, UK, England, London, Culture, Society, Politics, UK politics

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Garden heresy

Kids, do not try this at home.

The blogging Takoma Gardener says to go ahead and cut back or tie back the bulb foliage after blooming, and you may suffer no serious floral repercussions.

I don't know, but I may try this in limited areas.


I'd given up my favorite addiction, it was just too heartbreaking. But I broke down and bought my first hosta in a while yesterday.

I've been a hosta fiend for some time now, and I'm not the only one: there's a website called Hostamania with the tag line "the site for hostaholics", there's a hosta blog connected with it. Posting has been pretty light lately, but hostas are deciduous, so maybe the hosta blog rests in the winter, too. There's a Hosta Hub, the directory for all your hosta needs. And there's a Yahoo group called Hostamania, too - which beckons: "Addicted to hostas? come join us"

Why do people love hostas? I can't really get underneath what the attraction is. But their form is so lovely, and they're just so collectable. There are so many varieties, but there all restful to look at, so soothing, like a nice smoke of opium. (I guess.)

It's not easy loving hostas in a South London garden, there are just too many slugs and snails. The gastropuds love hostas almost as much as I do. The slugs, I can fairly effectively, if expensively, keep in check with a product called Nemaslug. But the only real solution for the snails is hand picking...yuck!

There are several species of snails in my garden, but the worst offenders are the French, eatin'- snails, originally brought to this country for escargot supplies. They get big, they get ugly and they can get through a hosta overnight.

Here's some I captured earlier with a nickel, euro and 50 pence piece for scale. This is early in the season, so these aren't the real honkers yet.

I got talked into buying a hosta by a salesperson at the RHS Wisley Garden Centre yesterday (it was an easy sale), and I agonised over just the right one (not sure I made the right decision). But I bought Krossa Regal, which is tall and arching, a graceful vase shape, with grey-green, nearly glaucous (blue) leaves in some plants.

And I went to some elaborate steps to protect my new hosta two layers of copper impregnated, "shocka" mats and a copper tape around the rim.

hosta krossa regal

What are the sticks for? You don't need to stake hostas, it's to keep the 12 pound furry slug away from the plant. Mr Regal now inhabits Other Cat's favorite perch and she likes the taste of hostas, too.

what does your garden grow?


Some animals were harmed in the making of this post, and it wasn't the cute and precious kitty.

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Go Rummy Go

...and take all the rest of them with you.

I know all those retired generals mean well when they call for Donald Rumsfeld scalp (nicely summed up by Maureen Dowd via TN Guerilla Women). They're focused on what's best for the armed services.

And with good reason (via Mountain Runner)
The threat to the military readiness, morale, and overall capability of our armed forces has been real and deepening for sometime, despite SecDef's protests. Some have described this as the Thin Green Line. The threat is real and it is deep and can be readily seen in the politics of returning officers and vets coming out of retirement, example: Pete McCloskey. Don't forget about Representative John Murtha or the political discussions on how the Administration was going to gingerly attack him.

But really their scope is too small. The whole lot of them are rotten, there's a culture of incompetence in the Bush Administration. A denial of facts, reason and reality.

Via Seth Anderson:

Such a strangely stubborn President. I cannot recall a Chief Executive who refused to ever admit making a wrong decision, or one who refused to fire subordinates who had clearly lost the support of underlings, staff. Unless of course, this is a prelude to a 'spend more time with family' moment for Rummy.

In the midterms, incompetence ought to be issue number one. These guys just don't get it. They don't care about governance, they don't understand public administration and they don't want to. They think government is all some kind of grand joke - their personal set of tinker toys.

TechTags: Bush, Iraq, Politics, Rumsfeld, News, Military, Iraq War

Saturday, April 15, 2006


One of the things on our list of unpleasant things to do this weekend was get rid of the old oven:


It's freakin' heavy. We'd have to wrestle that mofo into the trunk of the car and drive it up to the dump and then wrestle it out and hope that one of those rather burly, surly chaps who sit around in their hut at the city dump helped us lift it into the "metal only" bin so that the scrap could be used to build a booming, new China...or some such.

And then the Vol-in-Law would have to try to convince me to get back in the car rather than poke around the dumpsters looking for useful cast-offs (on past trips I've managed to collect very nice terra cotta planters, stone tiles used to finish off a home decor project and ring-binders full of porn).

But no need now. We discovered yesterday evening that someone unknown had taken the oven away. Thank you mystery thief/recycler!

silly things

Genderist at Haiku of the Id went back to work a week after cancer surgery - and now she's exhausted. My advice: chill out.

She does have a post on those silly formulas for porn star names, rock star names, etc. Which are always good for a laugh. (Name of first pet + mother's maiden name = your porn star name). We played this game at one of my old jobs and my boss wouldn't play, turned bright red and just refused. It must have been a corker.

The porn star name formula doesn't work for me. My first pet was called Emory and when combined with either my mother's maiden name or in another variation, the first street where I lived (Kennilworth), just makes me sound like a Tory politician, most likely sitting in the House of Lords.

I did like the Soap Star name formula which is middle name + city of your birth: Laura Knoxville. Not really a soap star name, though. In recent years it must inspire the image of a show biz career consisting of being pushed down a steep hill in a shopping cart, into a retaining wall.

Speaking of entertainers called Knoxville, he sure has put the city on the map for a certain demographic. I was on the Underground one day when a group of drunken youth struck up conversation with me. They commented on my accent and asked where I was from - I told them Tennessee. They looked a little dumbfounded. What's there? Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, I said. Elvis, country music, Dolly Parton... Blank looks. Then suddenly a shout of "Knoxville! Are you from Knoxville? " Ahh, a James Agee fan, perhaps?

Me: Yes, I was born there.
Kid: That's where Johnny Knoxville is from, right?
Me: Yep.
Kid: Is everyone from there that crazy?
Me: (I pause. I think about it. I want to deny it.) Yep.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Driving is for English speakers

The test just keeps getting harder, but the drivers are getting worse.

In the UK, the test to get your driver's license is impossibly difficult. It's so hard that there's no real shame in failing the test on your first or even second go. When I passed the test, people were shocked that I passed first time. Not because I'm a bad driver. I'm an excellent driver. But because so few people manage it. It didn't hurt that I'd already been driving for 14 years, two of those illegally in the UK. And of course I shelled out for the expensive driving lessons that teach you not so much how to drive well, but how to pass the stupid test. I really could not have passed without the lessons.

But the test keeps on getting harder, and what's the result? Some people, especially poor people who can't afford to shell out hundreds of pounds in lesson fees, just drive anyway (as I did.) But of course they may not even have basic competency (which is what you want a test to establish) and they won't be insured either. Because the test is so hard, drivers end up being of poorer quality and can't cover the cost of their accidents when they mess up.

So, I read with interest that Tennessee is not going to go forward with an English-only driver's license test - and that's the right thing. The point of the test should be to make sure that everyone understands the basic rules of the road, which don't require much English comprehension skills (after all, millions of people in non-English speaking countries manage to drive without so much as a by-your-leave). Yes, in an English speaking country, you should be able to read the signs, but I did ok in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany without any of those languages, except for situations like this:

Me: Hey, do you reckon that speed limit is in miles or kilometers?
Husband: Kilometers
Me: Can't be, that'd be way too slow.

State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfressboro) who introduced the English-only drivers' test bill to the Tennessee legislature saw amendments made that nullified the full force.

After the session, Ketron said he was none too happy with the changes to his bill.
"Sheriffs in my district tell me that (bad driving by non-English speakers) is a huge problem … especially in rural areas," he said. The bill as amended "doesn't do anything" to deal with this safety issue, he said.

Ummm, yeah. But your bill wouldn't have helped either. Speaking English doesn't make you a good driver. And let's be honest, people would drive anyway. Especially in rural areas, there really isn't much other choice. It's better to have people in the system, with some check on their skills than driving unlicensed and uninsured.

Leave now? With victory in his grasp?

Calls for a Rumsfeld resignation grow. How many retired generals calling for his scalp does it take for this guy?

The White House has said it is happy with the way Mr Rumsfeld is handling his job and the situation in Iraq.But the backing comes as the number of retired generals calling for him to be replaced has risen to six.

It is being described as a rebellion led by those who know Mr Rumsfeld's handling of the war from the inside. The two most recent generals to voice their unease about Mr Rumsfeld's handling of the war are retired army Maj Gen John Riggs and retired Maj Gen Charles H Swannack Jr.

Still, he's probably learned from his mistakes, since reflection and improvement seem to be such a feature of the Bush Administration. You don't want to throw away all that experience of hard lessons when we've got a new country to invade before the midterms.

Update: Via The Tennessean, someone else thinks he should go, too.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Easter

I'm looking forward to my four day weekend! And here's a little Easter levity for all you chocolate rabbit lovers.


One more thing I don't have to do

I note that Rosalind Kurita has dropped out of the Democrat primary race (from here and here). I think she did well, and I'm glad to see her profile raised in the State, but I'm also glad that she's dropped out.

I didn't think she could beat Harold Ford, Jr. my key source of evidence on that matter was that VolMom most likely would have voted for her, and she has a really soft spote in her electoral heart for underdogs (read no-hopers). I'd rather the State Dems were able to concentrate their efforts.

Best of all, without a Senate primary, I may not even need to bother voting in August. And before the civic-minded get all excited over my lax attitude, there's some doubt whether I (and other expats) can be voting legally in non-Federal elections, even if I do get sent ballots for county property assessor.

Both candidates conducted themselves with dignity. Now roll on November.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

War on gardeners colluded by snitches

I've started this post several times, and keep back-spacing out the swear-words. I'm mad as heck, and I'm going to... well, probably just mutely comply.

What am I het up about? Well, the hosepipe ban, of course. It's Day 9 of the War on Gardeners and already there are casualties. Scoffers might say - "What casualties? Are the wittle flowers thirsty?" No actually, the flowers are not thirsty, because it's been raining... a lot.

The real casualty in this War on Flowers is civility. In the nine days the hosepipe ban has been in place, 90 people have been reported to my water company Thames Water for ban breaches. But that's nothing, Southern Water (the company which serves the area south of me) has had no fewer than 1,500 tipoffs.

According to Jacqueline Maling writing for the Guardian:

Even tiny Folkestone and Dover Water, which service 65,00 households, has taken three calls since its ban began last week. Unfortunately, all three reported fellow villagers for actions not actually banned. Still, hats off for laudable civic mindedness.
Hats off for laudable civic mindedness? Shopping your neighbour in furtherance of some petty boundry dispute is civic minded? Has England lain in wait these many years for a hosepipe ban in order to use bureacracy and the threat of a £1000 fine as a weapon in neighborhood feuds? It disgusts me. Why not just resort to violence or property damage, at least it would be more honest.

And some nosy parkers go even further. Three Valleys Water has a "supergrass" (Brit speak for a really good informant) who snoops as she takes her daily jog. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Some water companies have encouraged this behaviour, establishing rat hotlines. This despite the fact that my water company has never even taken the trouble to write to me about the ban. I could be sprinkling in blissful ignorance until the fine came through.

Zoe Williams, also writing for the Guardian despairs:

If vocabulary is any index of shared culture, then we don't like informers. This is, I would argue, because they remind us of Nazis. Totalitarianism needs the collusion of its citizens; so the best way to guard against it is to be as uncooperative as you can, in any given scenario.

This is why, in theory at least, the only time the British have, historically, been prevailed upon to side with authority against any other entity is when that third entity is a bag. Unclaimed bags we will grass up to the authorities, though if you've ever been on a tube with one, you'll know that most people would prefer to give it the benefit of the doubt. (Stare at it for a bit ... see what it has to say ...) But is all this really true these days? Have we become snitches all?

Yes, well Zoe, I fear that might be the case. I'm glad you're defending the character of your country, but I'm afraid its indefensible. The British are all too willing to accept the yoke of authority, be it the insane and regressive tax on tv (the television license, a subject for another day), the interference with the nannying state or eager compliance with the hosepipe ban. She even cites this:

But the Mail ran an internet poll on the matter, and found that one in three respondents would shop their neighbour for such a crime, given half the chance.

And it's because I know this to be true, and because one of my neighbours seems to me to be just the kind of sanctimonious bourgeois who might grass me up, that I'll be humping buckets to water my precious plants this summer.

Poetic justice

Fantastic. I thought the BBC Headline said it all: Claivoyant conman foresees jail

But an officer of the court had the best line for the fraudster who stole money from a widow after claiming he'd been in touch with the spirit of her dead husband.

Jailing him for 18 months, Recorder Peter Cooke said: "I
am sure you have foreseen that you are going to prison."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Good news at last on the legislative front

Well, I read from the Tennessee Guerilla Women, that Tennessee's anti-dildo measure died in committee.

...recent legislation proposed in the TN legislature, which would have made it a criminal act to “knowingly sell, advertise, publish, or exhibit to another person any three-dimensional device designed or marketed to be used primarily for the stimulation of human genitalia.”

While the TN bill died in committee, almost identical legislation has been enacted in other Southern States. Last month, the Supreme Court of MS upheld similar legislation, saying the ban of sexual toys was not protected by the right to privacy.

Although neither a purveyor nor advertiser of three-dimensional devices designed to... and I'll admit not a customer either, I thought this legislation was stupid, invasive and a waste of taxpayer money. But shamefully I didn't do anything about it.

See, I'm all for keeping legislators out of our bedrooms, and I know that it's the thin end of the wedge and all, but I just couldn't quite work up the gumption to write to my state rep in support of the sex-toy-freedom.

Dear Legislator,

Please keep sex toys unfettered and unregulated. And if they must be regulated, let it be for safety or truth in advertising.

I will be voting on this issue.



See... But anyway, there's a party in support of sex toys in Memphis (where else but degenerate West Tennessee) and if you're of a mind - all the details are over there at the Tennessee Guerilla Women.

granddad blogging: tough love

Last time in granddad blogging, my grandfather took the bad end of the deal on the first day of school. This week he experiences a little tough love.

When I was a little old boy, and like lots of little boys, I was fascinated by knives. My Uncle Ben had a real pretty little knife with a real sharp blade. He always kept a sharp knife, and I wanted to see it. He didn’t much want me to see it and my daddy said not to, but anyway somehow or another I finally got to see it and I took it and stabbed it in a locus tree. I remember where we were. In our front yard there was four locust trees that grew real close together and I was standing sort of in the middle of them and I stabbed this knife in one of those trees.
I didn’t have a good hold on the handle and my hand slipped down the blade of the knife and sliced into my hand down into the bone, cut the leaders in two and that’s the reason always now my little finger is still stiff on my right hand and not as large as the little finger on my left hand.

It hurt real bad, and my daddy said that was good enough for me. We were supposed to go pick beans that afternoon, and I didn’t want to go ‘cause I’d hurt my hand and he said if I hadn’t played with that knife I wasn’t supposed to I wouldn’t have hurt my hand, so let’s go pick beans.

He gave me a big basket and we picked beans and got it full. I couldn’t carry it in my left hand so I had to carry it in my right hand and I guess that pulled my hand a little more. But anyways it was a long time before my finger got well and it’s always been stiff*. I would say I was about 8 or 9, pretty young.


I made a terrible mistake one time, I don’t know what happened, but I did something that displeased my daddy and I had rubber boots that came up to my knees and he picked up a switch or had a switch or something, anyway, he gave me a good switchin’ on the legs. But, of course, he was hittin’ me on those boots, and I told him “That didn’t hurt!”, and he said “Well, we’ll come up a little higher and see if that’ll hurt.” And it did. And I didn’t say any more about that.


*His stiff and unbending pinkie finger was a source of endless fascination for us grandchildren. Because he had cut through a tendon (I guess) the finger could bend if he bent it with the fingers of his other hand or we did it for him, but it had no normal motion he could control. The lame finger was a salient, but unobserved lesson not to play with knives.

Go to the granddad blogging home page for more including WWII oral history
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More on illegal immigration

Yes, it's time for the Vol Abroad to declare an interest in the illegal immigration debate. I am the descendant of an illegal immigrant.

I believe that most of my ancestors came to America legally, some of them before it was the USA, and some of them came as a result of previous illegal activities - as indentured servants, probably sold off for their debt. But I'm aware of at least one illegal immigrant in my family tree, my great-grandmother.

She and my great-grandfather emigrated from Finland, separately and legally and met in New York. They lived in Chicago for a time, and eventually went back to Finland to claim part of a legacy from her father. My great-grandfather Henrik left Finland and went back to Chicago, but Anna, my great-grandmother stayed in Finland with my great aunt (US born) and just about nine months after Henrik left, my grandmother was born.

At some point, a couple of years later, Anna decided that she wanted to go back to America There's some indication that rumors from the Finnish community in Chicago that Henrik had publicly taken a mistress may have been her motivation. The motivation may have been Henrik's tendency to invest in ventures that failed (with her money?). Whatever the reason, she packed up her two children, left the family farm in that sodden Northern clime, and took a boat to New York. She was turned away by US immigration. I'm not sure why they were turned away, but they were.

Well, she wasn't having that. She left her children with their grandmother in the tiny little village, and took another boat. This time to Canada. She wrote Henrik and told him to come and get her. She waited on the border until Henrik came and smuggled her across.

My grandmother didn't see her mother again for years - and at the age of seven, she travelled with another family across the sea and then took a train on her own to Chicago from New York.

Home appliances

For those three readers who care, here's an update on my updating kitchen.

We finally got the oven installed. And as advertised, it sure does cook fast. That's the magic of death ray technology for you.

Unfortunately, all the ovens on the market now are smaller than the 1970s big boy I used to have - now sadly relegated to rubbish pile.


Yes, that is an Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on our old oven. The Vol-in-Law put it there, and I ripped off the Kerry portion after election day, I was so mad.

Here's the new oven:

New oven

Not only does it cook fast, it looks pretty snazzy, too. It's so shiny. I can't wait til we have a thorough patina of fingerprints, so that no single one will be that obvious. And because no new oven fits the hole in our cabinets, we have a big hole just above it. When I came in and saw the finished installation I said "Man, that hole's so big and ugly. That's too big to fix with duct tape."

Fridge update:

For those of you concerned about the fridge magnet situation, here's a photo with the one fridge magnet I'm allowed, plus the one cat.

Fancy on the fridge

That's it for the big purchases...the next thing I want to get is a rain guage - and I think that's less than 20 bucks, plus shipping and handling.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why am I here?

Jen, my near neighbour, and fellow American expat blogger, posted an interesting excerpt from the good old Financial Times on Sunday (dang capitalist FT requires subscription for too much, so no linky).

It's all about the flood of American immigrants to the UK. Which is kind of funny since I just posted on immigration to the US.

Anyway, the FT article says that there were more Americans granted permanent leave to remain (kinda like the green card status) than Bangladeshis - 4, 120 Americans settled here in 2004.

According to an analysis of the latest available census data by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a London-based think-tank, there were about 155,000 US-born people living in Britain in 2001, outnumbering all other migrant groups except those from the Irish Republic, India, Pakistan, Germany and the Caribbean…
The numbers that I hear are higher - with around 75,000 American citizens (which is different from American born) living in London and around a 250,000 living in the UK. There's some indication that the number may be even higher - there are many people in the UK entitled to American citizenship (for example if they have a US parent) but may not be aware or know how to take it up. (Some of this population is legacy of WWII).

But the FT questions why so many Americans are coming to the UK:

…Yet the surprise, surely, is that any Americans move to Britain at all. While American brides may have a long tradition of settling with British husbands - Nancy Astor, Wallis Simpson and Madonna, to name a few - why would other Americans want to leave the land of plenty for a grim, drab and relatively poor little island with leaden skies, high prices and appalling food?

Well, I moved to be with my husband, though when I've been a month without glimpsing sunshine as can happen in the winter, I do ask myself the very same question. But really, y'all your drab little island ain't that bad. And believe it or not the food has improved markedly - in London it's pretty easy to get good food at well, I was going to say reasonable prices, but that would be not entirely true.

I like it here. I like a lot about being here. And now that there are so many Americans around, I feel less like a foreigner and more like part of the vanguard of American imperialism. (Just kidding!)

Immigration in the UK

Now I know that the US is all a-flutter over immigration matters these and rightly so. Why can't the US have a decent, orderly and humane answer to immigration? The current system is a creaking shambles. But instead of coming up with a reasonable way forward, why is the Republican party falling all over itself to see who can come up with legislation that cattle-cars 11 million people South of the Border mas pronto?

I've been watching with interest but not saying much. To be fair, I'd be happy to see the right wing Republicans tie themselves into knots over this guys are pissing off what could be a nice little electoral earner for you. I'm generalising here, but Latino culture is aspirational, conservative and deeply religious. All that stuff y'all claim to be.

Over on this side of the pond, we have our own problems with immigration - like the US, the UK has very little opportunity for unskilled labor to enter and work in the country legally, which means some people come illegally despite this being an island nation with securable borders. We have issues of cultural clash here, too - and it's not usually about the quarter of a million Americans resident in the UK. But there's one thing that I think definitely works well - and that's the free movement of labor within the European Union.

Like NAFTA, we too have a free trade zone. But in the EU, it's really a free trade zone, not just for goods, but for services and labor as well. Well, sort of.... Accession country citizens (new to the EU, like Estonia or Poland) have to wait a certain amount of time before they can go and work in Germany or France the same as any other EU citizen could. I believe that only the UK and Ireland have truly extended the free trade zones to include labor from new countries. And it works. I think it really works. Sure, my neighbourhood is now full of young Poles who have extremely dubious taste in music (down with Baltic pop!), but they're working, they're contributing and it's mostly without trouble.

Why can't the US have free exchange of labor with Canada and Mexico? I'm not sure that there would be many more people coming to live and work in the US, and if there were they would probably be the higher skilled. But even better, current illegals wouldn't have any reason to abuse other parts of the system and employers would have no reason to pay under the table. During economic downturns, transnationals would have every reason to go back to Oaxaca or Ottawa, safe in the knowledge they could come back later. As it is now, I know Mexican illegals (who have steady jobs and pay taxes, by the way) who can't go home, can't visit their aging parents, because their life is in Tennessee, their children were born in the US. If they go to Mexico they risk a perilous journey coming back.

Sure, there would be still be issues about Guatemalans and Hondurans and other parts of Latin America, but that's something that could be sorted out more easily.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Taking the world by storm

My cousin A went into labour on Friday. Her sister had serious complications (preeclampsia, I think) with her two children and it looked like A was going the same way - although the baby was early, doctors thought it was time to induce. The weather in Nashville thought it was time for a tornado.

In A's hospital, all the other patients were put into the hallway - I remember the tornado drill - it's to avoid the flying glass. A stayed in her room, they didn't think it was safe to move her. Doctors finally decided that it was time to for an emergency C-section, but since a tornado was bearing down, all the operating theaters were shut down. A was moved to the Emergency Room where patients were being triaged. A was immediately put to the top of the list - and that's where my new little baby cousin was born. Taking the world by storm already, she's a little small, but very healthy.

Baby girl still doesn't have a name, because A has been too sick, too out of it, to take part in the decision. She's been on medication to prevent her seizing. She's really unwell.

UPDATE: A is doing much better - she was finally able to hold and nurse the baby. Her husband also held the baby for the first time today...he waited so that she could be the first to hold their daughter.

No word yet on the name... I hope it's not something stupid like Windy or Stormy.

They said it in my town

The Dixie Chicks are not ready to make nice...via Egalia at the Tennessee Guerilla Women today (or via Frank at Left of Dial some time ago).

Yep, they're coming out with a new album and they are unrepentant.

For the record, I didn't like what they said:

"Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," singer Natalie Maines told the audience. . . .

and I'm ashamed they said it my town - at a gig in London three years ago. There ya go.

But I have some sympathy with the sentiment - after all, I'm not too pleased that GW is in the White House, either. I voted against him and I wish he hadn't won. But I think it might have been a little better to say, "As a proud Texan, I hate that that awful George Bush and I share the same home state," rather than to say something that's a slap to regional pride - that sounds as if no president from Texas could be good.

My Texas expat friends didn't think it was too clever either. Around that time it was hard enough to be American in London. There was a lot of overt, palpable hostility against Americans and against me as an American (from people who ought to have known better) that I won't find easy to forget. The Dixie Chicks comment made it harder to stay out of the fray, and there was an expectation that every American should be denouncing the President, the actions in Iraq, the whole American way of life... or else we were all rabid right-wingers and slayers of Iraqi infants. I made a decision to keep my mouth shut at work, to say nothing for or against the war, nor to be tempted into personal attacks on G.W. and I suffered for it.

But none of that excuses the way the Dixie Chicks were treated. Sure, don't buy their records. I was mad enough that I didn't. When I played their music at a party a couple of years ago, Texas friends said "Isn't that the Dixie Chicks?" - "Yep," I said. "But I didn't pay for it. I downloaded it!" Which seemed to be OK But don't threaten them with death. In their own words:

It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

I can see why they're not ready to make nice, though I am. Go and listen to their single Not Ready to Make Nice here...and when their album is released, I'll be buying it.

Sunday morning coming down

Despite much of the UK being an essentially godless nation, with not a lick on the church-going I grew up with, Sunday trading is highly regulated. Larger stores (like a big grocery store or a department store) are only allowed to open for six hours - usually from 10 to 4 or 11 to 5. Within the last 20 years or so, big store opening wasn't allowed at all on Sunday.

This Sunday, there is a big controversy over a ferry company's extension of its schedule to a 7 day service through the Western Isles of Scotland. Locals- fierce Presbyterians - on Lewis and Harris accuse the company of "wrecking a way of life", according to this BBC article. Today was the first Sunday run, but the ferry was met by a harbour sealed up by yellow tape.

Well, ok then, don't take the ferry. Let the people who want to use it to visit the hospital and other essential services that are open on your island have all the spaces. I have little sympathy for islanders who not only lock up the public toilets on Sunday (I guess the natural eviction of bodily waste hardly keeps the Sabbath holy) but also spend public money on Saturday evening chaining up the children's swings so that they are put beyond use for the next day.

To be truthful, I find the Sunday trading laws make my Sabbath far less restful than it could be. I work full time, often don't get home til 8pm in the weekday (if not later), so the weekend is the only time I can catch up with my normal household errands. If I don't get it done on Saturday, then I have to face shopping on Sunday when all the people who might have gone to the store over a 12-15 hour day are all crammed into six measly opening hours. Never mind having your restful activities like hiking or chilling out in the park interrupted by the need to get to the store before 4pm.

Fridge envy

A familiar complaint among Americans visiting or resident in the UK is the size of the appliances. "The fridges are so tiny!" is the common remark.

And indeed they are. We had an above average size refridgerator and still we got the "It's so little."

When we lived in a semi-furnished flat, we had two fridges - ours and the landlords. One fridge we set cold, for milk and beer and the like, and the other we set cool, for fruit and vegetables. Not terribly energy efficient, but it was a nice set up.

When Vol K was visiting recently, she remarked on the diminuitive stature of our food cooling device. The Vol-in-Law, after years of such comments from other American visitors, suddenly noticed the smallness of our old fridge - and decided we needed a new one. Since we already have a deep freezer, we decided (perhaps foolishly) that we could do without one that had a freezer compartment.

The new refrigerator arrived Friday and we went food shopping yesterday - so next time Vol K visits (in a couple of weeks - she now comes this way on business) - she'll still find it a little small by American standards.

Our new fridge click through for notes on our larder items
Clock up the food miles
Food arrangement is by the Vol-in-Law, my role in putting away groceries is to hump the bags from the car - since I tend to take a "shove it anywhere" approach to storage.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Talkin' 'bout the weather

Yesterday, I was very busy with work and then as soon as I came home we went off to Ikea for an evening of shopping and fighting through crowds, so I missed the news of tornadoes in Tennessee. All my relatives should be sound asleep...or at the hospital in Nashville where my cousin A went into a high risk, pre-eclampsia threatened labor yesterday so it's not really appropriate for me to call right now.

I hunted around the The Tennessean site, to see where twisters had touched down, and I couldn't see any near Lawrence County - nor anything too major in Nashville proper (?), but I don't even know which hospital A is in.

That's not real weather
England gets a lot of precipitation (no matter what the water companies tell you), but the weather is usually pretty gentle. Sure there was the Great Storm of 1987 - when 16 people died, but that was the worst storm since 1703. We just don't get the harsh weather here as happens in Tennessee: the driving downpours, the pipe-bursting cold, the windstorms, the ice storms, the weeks of still-aired broiling heat (and I don't even think of TN as a particularly extreme weather state), the hail, the hell and the highwater. To wit: the list of tornadoes in Middle Tennessee since 1830 , some of them I remember, and some I've heard tell.

Don't mention the weather
But it's best not to mention the storm conditions 'back home' if I want to get along with my host citizens. In a book called Watching the English by Kate Fox, she describes "the weather conversation" that goes like this:

Person A: It's dreadful weather (the rain, cold, dreary, etc)
Person B: Yes, it's frightfully (wet, cold, overcast, etc) the essential social lubricant - the entree into all other conversations with strangers. And by disagreeing with Person A's assessment of the weather, you shut down any further possibility of positive or neutral interchange: She goes further:

Although we are aware of the relatively undramatic nature of the English weather - the lack of extreme temperatures, monsoons, tempests, tornadoes and blizzards - we become extremely touchy and defensive at the suggestion that our weather is therefore inferior or uninteresting. The worst possible weather-speak offence is one maily committed by foreigners, particularly Americans, and that is to belittle the English weather. When the summer termperature reaches the high twenties [low to mid 80s Farenheit], and we moan, 'Phew, isn't it hot?', we do not take kindly to visiting Americans or Australians laughing and scoffing and saying 'Call this hot? This is nothing. You should come to Texas [Brisbane] if you wanna see hot!'

Oh, dear. I can't tell you how many times I've committed this dreadful faux pas. Particularly since it gets far hotter and far colder in Tennessee than it does in the UK, not to mention stormier, windier, etc. Last year, when we finally got to a week of not goose-bump raising weather, the English were flushed and fanning themselves and I was still wearing a sweater. "It's hot," they said. Having been here a while (but not having read Watching the English) I said "It's warm," as I tried to agree. They insisted that it was hot, but I just would not, could not agree. I could see my conversational partner growing annoyed, but didn't really understand why.

Ms Fox doesn't mention the worst sin against the weather, though. The English may be aware of the undramatic nature of their weather, but they have a high degree of faith in its changeability. Many an acquaintance has said "Well, we don't have the extremes of weather, but our weather is very changeable. There's an old saying, I don't know if you've heard it, 'If you don't like the weather in (Coventry, Sheffield, Cumbria, _____), just wait, it will change.'"

And I reply, "Oh yes, I've heard it... we used to say that about East Tennessee weather, but there it's really changeable. Below freezing one week and wearing shorts the next."

"Hmmpph" is the usual reply.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Office fun

I spotted this post on creative office pranks at DaTaste (via Bay Area is Talking). My friend Vol K is a big office prankster, including elaborate uses of plastic sheeting, so I'm sure she'll appreciate this. I especially like the keyboard seedling tray.

I can't say I've ever worked anywhere that had a big culture of office pranks, which is kind of too bad. However, I am engaged in a war on a colleague's ficus. I'm slowly killing it with low doses of secretly administered salt solutions in the guise of watering it while the colleague is away. But that's not really a prank - I mean it mean.

The great and the good

Yesterday I had to go to this "breakfast launch" of a campaign in my area of work. Let's say my area of work is hardware...then this would have been a launch of a new line of cushiony-soft handles for screwdrivers. All very good, but does it give you any extra torque?

The Northern line and the Victoria line were all fubar, so I was running quite late for this event. These things never start on time, but I knew I was running a little later than that. I try to avoid looking at clocks when I'm in this sort of position, to avoid stressing myself out, but sometimes it can't be helped. I got out at Westminster tube station, and started rushing toward my meeting when I heard the chimes of Big Ben, turned around and even with my myopia I could see that I was 15 minutes late.

A junior Government minister was speaking at this event...quite junior...if my line were hardware he would be the minister for cordless screwdrivers, with special responsibility for interchangeable bits. But he was kinda hot... Some of these politicos may be endowed with only average looks (as the minister for bits was), but have that charisma and manner of looking right at you, seeming to be speaking to you in a room full of the great and the good, that makes them kinda sexy.

So since I was late and took my seat even after the cameras were switched on, Mr Minister noticed me. And when it was his turn to speak he chose me as one of his allies in the audience (it's an old speakers trick, find a couple of sympathetic people and keep glancing between them). OK, I looked back, I gave him the sympathetic look, I even flirted a little bit. It was fun. Though if I had a chance to talk to him one on one, I'd tell him that he needs a little more practice dodging questions. The trick is to seem as if you've answered it to everyone but the questioner...he just sort of moved on to another topic.


Afterwards, I took the long way back to the office, through St James Park and Green Park - Royal Parks near Buckingham Palace. It was chilly but clear and bright. The daffodils were all in bloom. It was lovely.

St James' Park

Daffs in Green Park
Green Park

It was nice to enjoy the birds in St James Park, there are many exotic varieties there, including pelicans that often interact with park visitors (they were sitting in their island in the middle of the lake yesterday, so no pics). Given that bird flu has now been found in the UK, I wonder how long the birds will last in our central London parks.

Here's a pic of one the park mallards snapped just at the point when he realised that I had nothing more to offer him than a cigarette butt.