Monday, July 31, 2006

We saw a snake

Once upon a time, when I was fresh off the boat, I went walking with the Vol-in-Law through a field of waist high grass near his boyhood home outside Belfast. It was damp and dewy. And I was feeling distinctly nervous.

I said: "I don't like this. This seems really snake-y."

He looked at me incredulously. "Uh...St Patrick? There are no snakes in Ireland."

"Oh, yeah," said I.


There aren't many snakes in England. I can't remember ever seeing one. But yesterday we saw one on our way out of Richmond Deer Park, slithering across the shaded sidewalk. The Vol-in-Law said it was a huge snake, that covered the road with its rising coils. I'm not so sure. I tried to get its picture, but it didn't like flash. It slithered under a fence and into someone's garden where no doubt it's eating pests and vermin.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Camera shopping

So, I've finally decided which camera I want: the Cannon S3 IS - based on much reading of reviews and the clincher: anonymous comment on my previous post.
(Not so anonymous really, I know who it is - since he linked to the photos he's taken with that model). I've known the guy for almost 20 years, and he's a fantastic photographer.

After checking prices online, I went to Tottenham Court Road after work yesterday to go get me one - despite the fact it tops the budget I agreed with the Vol-in-Law.

Tottenham Court Road is the place to go for electronics in Central London. It's shop after warren-like shop of digitalia and electronica. And the souk-like atmosphere encourages bargaining. But no one could or would match even the price of Amazon (one guy came close, but he was sold out). I'm not the toughest negotiator at the best of times, but I really wasn't on form.

I walked out camera-less.

I did catch some interesting interchanges between staff and other customers. One woman wanted to return a camera two months after purchase and after some use because it didn't take good pictures in low light. Apparently they all came out blurry. She was quite upset and was waving pictures around - which I never did get a good look at. She was insistent that they had sold her the wrong camera - and maybe they had. Clearly she wanted a camera that would automatically read both her mind and the prevailing light conditions - and return a super sharp, beautifully composed shot of the subject she wanted. I waited around to see if they had that camera in stock - but no luck.


This morning an email arrived from my photographer friend - with more raving about the S3. He said one of the benefits was its fast speed which he said prevented a non-snapping travel companion from getting bored or annoyed with you. He reeled off 1000 shots and his wife "barely complained".

The Vol-in-Law was intrigued. In my film days, I often took a long time to compose shots - not wanting to waste a single frame (I did some great photos though) and even though I'm faster now with the digital the shutter lag means that I miss great shots of animals and annoy any posing human subjects.

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Moral equivalence

One of my co-workers is quite upset about the whole Lebanon thing and keeps drawing my attention to articles and editorials calling for Bush and Blair to call for an Israeli ceasefire.

I shrug. I don't engage. She was complaining yesterday about a story that US planes carrying bombs to Israel and stopping to refuel in Britain. What did I think of the US re-arming Israel?

I shrug. Well, Syria and Iran are rearming Hezbollah - I say, drawing some kind of moral equivalence.

Of course, I don't think there's any kind of moral equivalence. Israel is a recognised (by most), democratic state defending itself against terrorist agression.

Do I think Israel is over-doing it? Yes. Do I think Bush is egging them on in some kind of proxy war with Syria and Iran? Yes.

But so long as Israel is besieged by death-cult Islamists like Hezbollah or Hamas, I'm not going to criticize. The Lebanese government (which includes members of Hezbollah) is weak and has allowed a terror state within a state to continue and flourish. I don't think the massive bombing of all of Lebanon is the right way to deal with it, but I'm not sure what is.
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Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Lido

After our disastrous attempt to visit the pool on Tuesday, the Vol-in-Law and I met the Texan and her housemate at the Tooting Bec Lido yesterday evening.

What's a lido, you may ask. (You may also ask what's a Tooting or a Bec, for which I have no satisfying answer). A lido is an outdoor pool. In a country where it often rains, is chilly and overcast indoor pools outnumber their outdoor cousins - and so the al fresco versions have their own special name - the Lido. (Opinions differ as to whether they are pronounced LEE-do or LIE-do).

Opinions concur that the Tooting Bec Lido is a special lido. It's set amid mature trees in a park, it's 100 years old this year and is Europe's largest outdoor swimming pool. And it is big. It's about the size of an American football field -not including the kiddie pool. Usually my experience of municipal pools involves dodging unsupervised children and staying out of the way of the faster, more serious swimmers. But the lido was so big that even though it was well attended on a sultry July evening there was plenty of elbow room.

While there was plenty of room - it lacked some of the modern amenities one might expect - like lockers. We all had to leave our valuables (e.g. camera, cell phone, wallet, keys, passport, smokes) by the side of the pool and hope for the best. But hey, London is known for the honesty of its citizenry. But we swam, I forgot about the possibility of trying to negotiate my way home without dry clothes or travelcard and a good time was had by all.

One other strange thing about the lido. It seemed to have special buoyancy laws. The Texan, ViL and I all found it more diffilcult than usual to keep afloat. And I have more than enough body fat to be a floater rather than a sinker, but we were all plunging like stones. Weird.

Tooting Bec Lido isn't really near any stations, so it's a little hard to get to without a car. I walked from Streatham, the Texan from Tooting Bec, and the ViL caught the 57 bus. Which is how we all got home again. It was a long walk even to the bus stop and the road took us through a council estate - for American readers - that's a housing project. But it wasn't bad. In fact, the estate boasted a Montessori day care centre with "organic catering", and the delivery van I saw parked up on the road (a common site on estates) claimed to haul mainly saffron, truffles, olive oil and the like.

Tooting Bec Lido

Parking for trick cyclists only

parking for trick cyclists only

bad blogger

Who is the bad blogger? Blogger the software - or the lazy blogger Vol Abroad?

Actually I'm not as bad as you might think. I've been mobile blogging during my commute, but some of the posts fail to materialise.

Bad blogger.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shirking from home

I was working at home yesterday - and it was beastly hot. The ViL decided that I should take a long lunch and visit the local pool. It took me a moment or two to get over the guilt of leaving my PC, and we got our towels and goggles and the pound coin for the lockers and put on our swimsuits.

We braved the heat of the car and when we arrived at the leisure centre I managed to snag a shady-ish parking spot. We ran up to the entry, if not exactly like excited kids, then certainly with a degree of anticipation.

And do you know what we saw? A notice on the door informing us that the pool was shut for a month from that very day.

Talk about bad karma.
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Monday, July 24, 2006

Consumer conundrum

I'm in the market for a new camera. My current camera a Pentax Optio S30 was a gift from my dad - and I've used it for a year and a half, and I'm ready to move on.

I love the macro mode of this camera - and some of the program settings are pretty good. But otherwise I'm not thrilled. The shutter lag is long - and for some reason, I just can't get the white balance right on a sunny day. Maybe I need to play around with the ev compensation more, but there's only so much fiddling I want to do. Not only that, but it seems like I can't get a good image even on the puny 3X zoom - never mind the camera shake. for a new one. The options are bewildering. I don't think I want to go for a full SLR job, because I love the portability of my camera (though it's certainly not the smallest). I'm tempted by the compacts with nice zoom - i.e. 10X or 12X, but you clearly need an image stabiliser with those or it's way too shaky.

My husband is a pretty smart fellow, but he's not into photography at all. And I can't seem to engage him in the procurement process. As soon as we get near a camera store, he starts to get all whiny. He did go out with my twice camera shopping in the last week - but was no help. I bought nothing on either occasion, but he bought some electronics for himself on the first trip and two pairs of shoes on the second trip.

I've been doing some Internet shopping for the camera again tonight and started to tell him how it went when I stopped myself.

"I'm not supposed to talk about the camera anymore, am I?"
"That's right," he said.

Home of Country Music

At the Texan's party, some fellow Texan's took to bragging - as they are known to do. Texas is the home of country music, they said.

Now, I don't want to disrespect the many fine artists from Texas. But really. And I'll even admit to be discouraged by an overslick "Nashville sound" - but not in mixed company.

One fellow took it in mind to dis Dolly. Even the Texan warned him off "You really don't want to go there," she said.


Ms C - from Texas and Tennessee - therefore a dual national, has a little dog called Amos Moses.

Those not steeped inthe genre of novelty country music songs, may be unfamiliar with the character Amos Moses. Amos was an illegal allegator hunter, with one arm and a big appetite. He was linked with the disappearance of Louisiana law enforcement official.

I kinda wanted to laugh at her for naming her pet after a slightly goofy country song. But then again my pet might have been born just a plain black cat, but Fancy is her name.
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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Get out your sponsor sheets

Want to raise money for charity? Want to wank? Now, for the first time in the UK you can do both.

London will be hosting the UK's first "masturbate-a-thon" next month in which hundreds of men and women are expected to pleasure themselves for charity.

Now, the aims are admirable, raising money to improve sexual health and access to contraception - and to de-stigmatise masturbation as a form very safe sex. Participants are encouraged to break the international record of 8 hours and 30 minutes - or at the very least to set the first English record.

But you have to wonder just how safe internationally competitive marathon masturbation is Think of the hazards. Repetitive strain injury. The chafing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Happy Anniversary to me

Today is the Vol-in-Law's and my 9th wedding anniversary. Did he take me out to a chi-chi reservation-only restaurant? Did he shower me with jewels, fripperies and gew-gaws? Did he conduct a few minutes of Internet research to discover that the traditonal gift for a 9th anniversary is a copper tortilla press? Did he bring me flowers and say "I'd do it all over again?"

Umm, no.

No. The Vol-in-Law is at his parents' house many miles away and in the separate country of Scotch-land, helping them with their problems. I won't go into the details (though I've been itching to), but suffice it to say- it is all muy sordid-o. (ViL doesn't speak Spanglish, so maybe I'll just slip it in using our secret American code)

When I phoned him - after getting the latest blow-by-blow on the sordidad - I said "Hey, you know it's our anniversary today." He said "Is it? Well, happy anniversary."

Am I mad as heck? Will I pack his belongings into a Manchester luggage set (aka black plastic garbage bag) and chuck them out into the road? Nah. I can't be bothered. I'm not even a little upset. If VolMom hadn't mentioned it, I might have forgotten myself. Several years, I've only remembered after the fact and said "Hey, you know it was our anniverary last week?"

We're just not anniversary type people. I could say something cheesy like:

We don't need a special day. Every day is a celebration of the commitment we made.

But that wouldn't be true. Not. Every. Day. But most days, anyway.

Happy Anniversary, ViL.

Flight from Lebanon

While folks are arguing about who's the bigger villain - Hezbollah or Israel - a girl I know, was trapped in Lebanon. Lebanon had seemed safe. She was travelling with a school friend and her family who had connections there.

She and the people she was with slipped over the border to Syria, dodging Israeli bombs. They caught a flight back to London - arriving yesterday. Thankfully.

Of course, most people in Lebanon aren't able to leave. They have no place else to go - and must endure the bombardment of Israeli missiles.

I sincerely hope that the bombing can end and that Israel can work with a Hezbollah-free Lebanese government to create peace in the region. But let's face facts, so long as Hezbollah and Hamas and others live by a theology that calls for destruction of not just Israel but of the Jewish people - chances don't look good.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

America's uninsured

Who are America's uninsured? It may not be who you think. Check out this week's podcast from

Dr Mike Magee says:

Careful and deliberate economic studies have revealed that the current public dollars spent on coverage for the vulnerable, support of uncompensated care, and safety net infrastructure exceeds what would be necessary to actually insure all of the current uninsured. Thus, an increasing number of experts believe that what we call a crisis is in fact mismanagement on a massive scale.

Mismanagement on a massive scale. The US spends more on health care than any other nation, and has poorer outcomes than almost all industrialised nations and far less equitable coverage.

In the podcast, Dr Magee highlights that the healthcare market in the US is characterised by lack of information and perverse subsidies and incentives. He believes there is a market solution - by bringing in new players. I don't. He thinks that new entrants can solve the information and structural problems. I don't (though they might have some benefit in the short to medium term).

I think the health care market in the US is broken, that it's a tangled web of misinformation and perversities which have been lobbied hard for by health care corporations and producer interest groups (e.g. the American Medical Association). They've set up a playing field where very few consumers can win and the producers make a ton of money by offering inadequate services for most and overtreating others. While these market corrupting distortions remain, new entrants to the market have no real incentive to playing differently.

Mad dogs and Englishmen

It's a heatwave!

The first day the mercury rises above 70F, my host compatriots complain about the heat. "Oh, it's broiling," - "It's so hot." - and they start stripping down to sleeveless shirts while I'm still wearing a sweater.

C'mon y'all, I say, it's not hot. Not yet. It does get hot in England - it occasionally tops 100F. It may well top 100 this week. At any rate, it will be in the mid to upper 90s today and tomorrow.

The problem, of course, is that the English don't have any coping strategies for the heat. They just try to proceed as normal. You can't do that when most people don't have access to any air conditioning. Worse still, temperatures in the Underground regularly top 100F and it's absolutely hellish in the peak commuting hours - avoid that time.

Take a tip from a Southern girl, I say. Stay out of the noonday sun. Sit in a shady place and drink some ice tea. As someone who's survived many summers in Tennessee without air conditioning, you can live through it - even reasonably comfortably. The National Health Service has some advice, too.

Keep out of the heat

  • If a heatwave is forecast, try and plan your day in a way that allows you to stay out of the heat.
  • If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm).
  • If you can't avoid strenuous outdoor activity, like sport, DIY, or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day, like early morning.
  • If you must go out, stay in the shade. Wear a hat and light, loose-fitting clothes, preferably cotton.
  • If you’ll be outside for some time, take plenty of water with you.

I would particularly warn folks against the skimpy, skin-tight outfits. Loose cotton clothing will actually help you feel cooler and less sticky.

Stay cool
  • Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home, as much as possible.
  • Close the curtains in rooms that get a lot of sun.
  • Keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside. Open them when the temperature inside rises, and at night for ventilation. If you are worried about security, at least open windows on the first floor and above.
  • Take cool showers or baths, and splash yourself several times a day with cold water, particularly your face and the back of your neck.

This window and curtain strategy is something I struggle to convince people of. The Brits, including my husband, refuse to believe that you should draw the curtains during the day. It's like there's a congenital need to open the windows to the day - otherwise it will be stuffy! Please, please remember the laws of thermodynamics - heat flows from hot to cold. If it's hotter outside than in - keep the heat out! Keep the sun out to avoid the greenhouse effect inside your house.

And I have another tip! If you're finding it too hot to sleep, dampen your topsheet - then use as normal, with the fan turned on. I guarantee you'll wake up cold in the night. (This may not be such a good tip for old people who might not wake up cold - and could actually lower their body temperature enough to cause hypothermia.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fancy is unwell

Our pert and prancy cat is under the weather. Normally she is a bundle of energy - unconstrainable, climbing, leaping and having kitty adventures. But now she is moving slowly and apparently she finds it painful to be picked up.

We're not sure what's wrong with her but the Vol-in-Law says it looks expensive.

UPDATE: Fancy is much better (read the ViL's comment below), but I'm going to have feed her antibiotic pills from tonight. I don't really look forward to that.

Doing a Zidane

A reader asked - what would push me over the edge - what would make me engage in a mad burst of physical violence like Zidane's headbutt of Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.

Well, I can't say for sure - but, here are some times I've seen red in the past, in reverse order:

6. Recently, when I was told that I couldn't keep a magazine box out on a desk at work (result of new hotdesking rules) and then discovered that someone had stuffed a random, unclaimed laptop case in the little storage space that I have. I actually said "One more word about the magazine file, and I'm gonna go Zidane on somebody."
5. The time our landlord accused of us breaking a window lock - after the Vol-in-Law had suffered two separate hour and a half inspections of window locks and keys without problems only two and four days before.
4. When the University of Tennessee bursar's office told me over the phone I had to pay a full extra semester's worth of tuition in order to graduate, despite the fact I had all the credits and requirements I needed, and had already paid the extortionate "graduation fee". (Through clenched teeth I said "Do I need to come down there in person to sort this out?" and they caved.)
3. When the second bombing attempt took place in London last summer.
2. The fourth day of the Katrina debacle when people were dying on the side of I-10 in the sweltering heat - when it would have been possible to walk to shade and water.

...and the maddest I've ever been:

1. When Taco Bell served me two straight cups of sweet ice tea in a row, swearing it was unsweetened before admitting that they'd mixed the vats.


The Vol-in-Law said he might go Zidane on somebody if he discovered them defacing one of his neighbourhood watch signs.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Safety in Syria

The daughter of a friend of ours had been in Lebanon - with a school friend visiting relatives. Her mother has spent a frantic week waiting for word and trying to find out how her 17 year old could get out of Lebanon safely.

The daughter and three other women (only one of them is really an adult) have crossed the border into Syria. It's strange times when Syria is a port of safety.


We went down to the seaside today. We were invited down to a lunch, we went. I wouldn't normally voluntarily go to the ocean. The sea is full of danger and sea creatures (see my previous post).

seaside, South of England
Sea creatures merely lurking out of camera shot

We drove many hours (2.5) down there and many hours (3.5) back. I didn't even stick my foot in the water.

Land of the Lost

Saturday we went out to Crystal Palace park - the site of the great crystal palace in of the exhibition of 18XX. We'd been talking about going down there for some time, but finally just decided to go on a whim yesterday.

Crystal Palace wasn't exactly what I espected. The palace burnt down back in the 30s, its former site is some kind of desolate wasteland - Ozymandias like. The rest of the park is a bit disappointing, too but one thing remains of that great festival of education, commerce and culture: the dinosaur park.

There is a collection of great concrete dinosaurs - based on the fossils found around that time (and predating Darwin's origin of the species). The scientists who constructed the dino models were quite revolutionary - but they didn't get everything exactly right. But it's still pretty cool.

I'm quite tired from today's adventures - so perhaps I'll update with more detail later - meantime, here are some pictures:

Land of the Lost - Crystal Palace, South East London

Land of the Lost - Crystal Palace, South East London

Land of the Lost - Crystal Palace, South East London

And here's a bonus Ice Age mammal:

Land of the Lost - Crystal Palace, South East London

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fundamentals of fundamentalism

I've been reading Londonistan: How Britain is creating a terror state from within by Melanie Phillips.

I'm maybe a quarter of a way through book, but something really struck me from the British commentary that springs up around one terrorist atrocity or another. Most commentators blame poverty, Palestine, ancient rifts, post-colonialism, globalism, America's new imperialism - anything, anything and everything but just sheer religious nuttery. It was as if they just couldn't or wouldn't see it.

The downside of this robustly downt-to-earth apprach is that the British now find it very hard to deal with religious fantacism. They no longer recognise it - or want to recognise it. Presented with patently ludicrous ideological ranting, they refuse to believe that anyone can take it seriously. So when [British based] Islamist clerics such as the hook-clawed Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri Mohammed were loudly trumpeting their hatred of the West and their calls to holy war against it, MI5 regarded them as little more than pantomime clowns, shooting their mouths off in the open where everyone could hear them and laugh them to scorn.

I grew up in Tennessee and the Vol-in-Law in Belfast, so we feel pretty safe in recognising religious nuttery when we see it. We grew in cultures that might kill or condemn, shout or persuade, rant, build bombs writhe on the floor or handle snakes all in the name of the spirit. And frankly, it's nuts. But the gentle folk in England just aren't really used to it - and they just refused to believe that people would do crazy things out of religious passion - how it can grip someone's soul just as hard as crack or smack - and make them do things a sane person oughtn't. (Indeed here's a fresh example straight outta Memphis)

Thursday, July 13, 2006


For the meeting I'm at, we're staying in dorms - vacated by the regular students, but filled by other conferences and a language school for Italian teenagers. The Italians are here for a month apparently, and I have to wonder how much English is being learned. They mostly seem to wander around the campus in small groups conversing in Italian.

Tonight the Italians had a dance - a disco as it's called. Our group watched them from the terrace outside the residence hall bar (yes, dorms often have bars in England - very handy). I'm getting old. I recognised very little of the music and they kids seemed like another species altogether - the girls dancing and the boys lurking. But by and large these kids seem very well behaved.

It reminded me of when I went off to Governor's School on the campus of Memphis State aged 17 - and nearly got sent home in the first few days as a result of a foolish prank. It was wrong, but seeing a stolen watermelon smash onto the pavement after a drop of 8 floors was a sight to behold.

The organizers told the gathered school the next morning that they knew who the guilty bunch were - but they wanted one person to confirm. That person would get to stay, but the rest would have to leave. We may have been kids, but we weren't stupid - if they had really known they would have picked us off one by one, so we all kept schtum and we all stayed to commit more misdeeds another day.
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I'm at a meeting with various public sector types today. They're all very left wing - which means I'm constantly having to watch myself and my "right wing" views. Tennessee readers (particularly those of you who really ARE right wing) might laugh that the liberal Vol Abroad could be painted as the reactionary type. I mentioned that a friend is a councillor in Wandsworth to someone I've worked with off and on over the years - and I think he was pretty shocked when he found out she was a Conservative. He even went downright aggressive at one point demonstrating his lefty views as some kind of fancy red plumage, daring me to agree or disagree.


I delivered a workshop today as well. I've been pretty sick lately, and I think I almost fainted at one point. It sucks being sick in the summer.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Heck week

Well, at work I hosted an event today and I'm off to deliver another workshop tomorrow - so I'm on the train as I type. I'm still feeling a little rough - so hopefully, I'll make it ok. I still don't know what I'll be delivering in the workshop - I will take a look at the delegate list, and if I don't recognise too many of the names, I'll just wheel out my usual tripe!

I'm staying in a University Halls of Residence - aka dorm for the duration of the conference. It's been a while since I've done that - can't wait to see if it's as wretched as I remember.

UPDATE: why yes it is as horrible as I remember - if not worse.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Le Fairplay

Zinedine Zidane - that amazing footballer - who so amazingly was red carded out of the World Cup final for butting Marco Materazzi in the chest has returned to France and a hero's welcome.

I predicted that he would suffer from endorsement losses, etc. But no - it's a "boof" and back to normal for the French.

The French may have a word for entrepreneur, but it seems have no word for "fair play". I watched the French manager giving a pre-match interview which went "Francais blah, blah,blah, le fairplay, frenchy blah,blah, blah". For a culture that prides itself on coming up with an officially sanctioned, authentically French term for everything - it astounds me that they have to resort to the idiom of barbarians - English - to have a word for fair play. Or maybe it doesn't.

Recently retired England captain David Beckham pulled a stunt in a World Cup match eight years ago (deliberately kicking an opponent from a prone position) and was rightly sent off. He was villified, pilloried and lambasted by the English fans and press. He cleaned up his act, grew up and became a mature leader for the team. Folks have forgiven, but they ain't forgotten. Departing England coach Sven Goran Eriksson pleaded with the press and fans not to do the same to Wayne Rooney after his sending off in this year's quarter-final. And Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is also paying the price for his winking, slimy bad sportsmanship in that same incident and may be leaving his premiership club Manchester United as a result.

There is a price to pay for bad sportsmanship, in England - if not in France.
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Vacation indecision

I need a vacation. One of the benefits of working in Old Europe is that I get plenty of paid vacation. Sure I may not make as much as I might in America - but I get a good amount of time off. Plus my work lets me bank leave days as well, and I carried over some time from last year. I've taken one day of leave this financial year (beginning 1 April) - so I have 31 days that I could use - and 21 that I must use. Plus I get about a week off between Christmas and New Year. (My three week trip to America over Christmas cost me about 9 days).

But I'm a hoarder. I hoard old magazines, bits of paper, lengths of string, clothes, shoes, random bits of crockery, etc. I might need it. I hoard leave, too. I might need it. Of course, what happens is that I hit my bankable limit and then struggle to take the time off in drippy, icky, dark cold March when the Vol-in-Law is busy, busy in the academic calendar.

Plus the Vol-in-Law has decided that I'm no fun to travel with. This might be true - actually, I'm fun enough when I get there, but the journey's not so great. I get a bit anxious about missing flights, trains or connections. I get anxious about not seeing enough while I'm there.

And then there's the fact that we have different expectations of a holiday. The Vol-in-Law would like to bask on a beach - and to me that sounds like hell. I could lie around at home with all my bits of string and crockery and shoes about me. When I go on vacation, I want to get up, see a museum, walk around a city aimlessly, drink a beer, eat a cheap meal, see a museum, have another beer and then maybe another one. I like city breaks packed with culture - visible culture I can see in a painting on wall - and beer. And not only that, I like to do it in emerging economies where the hotel and the beer and the food are cheap.

The Vol-in-Law abhors the stink and the chaos of the developing and post-communist world.

Now for the past couple of years, I've gone on vacation with VolBro, and this has worked out very well indeed. VolBro likes cheap beer. VolBro likes obscure developing places. VolBro tolerates my obsession with museums (though he drew the line when I wanted to take a special trip out into the wild suburbs of Budapest to visit a statue park of communist heroes now surplus to requirements). VolBro doesn't just tolerate my need to get to the airport early, he has to get there a full hour earlier than I do, which means that I get to seem like the sensible one.

But this year VolBro isn't coming to Europe. So my plan of a cheap flight to Vienna (for some culture and stuff) and then a boat ride down the Danube to Bratislava, Slovakia (for some more culture and cheap, cheap beer) and then a cheap flight back to London hasn't worked out. And now I'm casting around for a new idea that the Vol-in-Law will agree to.

Suggestions welcome.

Monday, July 10, 2006


I'm returning to work after having been off sick for three days. I've barely left the house since Tuesday evening. I can't remember the last time I've called in so many days in a row. I think it might have been the time I tore a ligament running for a train. If I'd had an automatic car or if it wasn't completely insane to drive into central London I might have still been able to work. That's the thing for a London office worker - the commute is often the toughest part of your day -and I find myself taking off sick (or at least working from home) when I might otherwise have gone in if I didn't have to face the Tube journey.

I'm already feeling this tube journey (blogging while commuting) but I'm putting on a major-ish event this week so I really need to go in.


Saturday I started to get cabin fever. I wanted to have some fun. Low key fun. The Vol-in-Law and I decided to check out the White Eagle - a Polish club with a bar and restaurant that our local Labour councillor said he'd had no trouble getting into. I like Eastern European food, so I've been itching to try the place. We drove up there and scanned the streets looking for a storefront place. Nope - it's in a giant old public house (I'm presuming) with parking out front (rare in our parts) with a giant Polish crest of a scary looking white eagle on a background of arterial red. Also out front was a giant, scary-looking Polish bouncer.

I decided I wasn't quite up to that new experience and we drove on home. That was quite enough fun, it turned out. At any rate, as the Vol-in-Law pointed out, I always start to get bored before I actually get better.
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Sunday, July 09, 2006

What a cup

It wasn't the most exciting game of this World Cup. For me, it wasn't the most enthralling. But it was the final. Italy win the World Cup.

Tomorrow many of Italy's team may be signed to 3rd division teams as their clubs may be penalised with relegation in the wake of matchfixing scandals at home. But tonight they don't care.

Zinedine Zidane that beautiful, graceful player who played in his last tournament, captained France for the last time and played his last world class game - leaves football in disgrace. Sent off during extra time for head butting Materazzi in a bizarre onfield attack. I have to wonder if this is going to affect his post-career endorsement earnings. If France had won, then I guess he could gallic-shrug it off with a 'boof' and a 'c'est la vie' and happily march off to bank. Since they didn't (ha) then I guess, his idiocy will hurt his wallet and not just France's chance to lift the cup.


Neither France nor Italy were slated get this far - let alone to win. In the opening games, France certainly seemed no better than England and Italy struggled against the US during the group stage.

Italy won on penalties, but after a long and tragic history of going out of major tournaments for failing to score from the spot.

Let this be a lesson to England who have a similar record. It can be done. Practice, practice, practice. Believe.

Too bad I have plans

Hey, kids! It's fun open day at the local cemetery! With rides!

That's right - it's not all grave preparation demonstrations and green coffins. No, there's organ music and what might possibly be the world's fastest hearse and rides on the motorcycle coffin cart. And a parade - a parade of hearses through the ages. Fantastic. Something for everyone.

Dispelling old myths and quite possibly creating strange new ones.

fun at the cemetery!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Last train to London

A year ago today - about this time of the morning on 7/7 - I got the last train into London. I knew it was the last train in - they announced it over the creaking loudspeaker. I knew there had been a terrorist attack - even though the BBC was still reporting only "power surges". Call it instinct or intuition - but my Belfast-raised husband on the other end of the mobile phone agreed. This was more than Transport for London's usual inefficiency and poor maintenance of track and rolling stock. It was an attack on London.

I still got on that train.

I and one other guy on the platform in Tooting knew that it was more than a power surge. Normally commuters don't talk to each other, but that day - we talked. He said he had no choice. I didn't have my laptop with me - so couldn't work at home, so I felt I had no choice but to go in. There was something in the air that anyone who trusted their human sense of danger could recognise - we knew it was a bomb. But still, we followed the herd.

As we made our slow progress from Zone 3 and the beginnings of suburbia into what is palpably central London, my fellow passengers clung to their belief that it was some kind of big malfunction. The woman across from me refused to believe. "They said it was a power surge," she said. The official news - which I received in updates from my husband on the phone - still said nothing of bombs (though by that time the rescue operation was underway). "What have they done to my city?" I said. I remember feeling very sad, and brushing away a tear, and seeing that woman shaken by my sadness. I remember hearing a professor loudly admonishing a student over the phone, telling him he had to come to her office for a make-up exam that afternoon or fail - that she didn't care what the current transport problems were. And I remember thinking - he's not going to make that appointment and she's not going to care.

When I arrived at work, my colleagues were convinced that it was a London Underground snafu. The whole network was down, I had arrived on the last overground train to London. "It's a bomb," I said. "You don't know that," they said. "It's a power surge," they said. "C'mon," I said "What's a bomb but a big old power surge?" They thought I was crazy, paranoid. It was a while before official word rolled in and they believed me.

I began to feel angry that the Transport for London had let me get on that train. They had known it was an attack by that point and they let us go into the heart of chaos. I blame myself, too. I had certainly known it was a bomb - but with everyone around me, including officials, doing their best to deny it, I got on that Thameslink commuter train and headed in.

We're standing on that platform now. We're about to get on that last train to London. We have a serious problem in this country and no one wants to believe it. Instead of - "Saudi money is radicalising our British Muslims and turning some of them into human bombs- very few - but enough to kill, maim and disrupt," we are getting "We must counter Islamaphobia, deprivation and ensure a cohesive, multicultural society."

I want a cohesive, multicultural society. I love the vibrancy of London which stems from the diversity of her people. This is a city which will embrace you if you let her, no matter where you come from or what you look like. But let's not kid ourselves.

  • 13% of British Muslims think that the four men who carried out the London Tube and bus bombings of July 7, 2005, should be regarded as “martyrs”
  • 7% agree that suicide attacks on civilians in the UK can be justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 per cent for a military target
  • 16% of British Muslims say that while the attacks may have been wrong, the cause was right
  • 2% would be proud if a family member decided to join al-Qaeda. Sixteen per cent would be “indifferent”
Via The Times

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sick again

I had big blogging plans and big social plans for the 4th of July. But both were cancelled due to high fever. I did manage to turn on the World Cup semi-final and crash on the sofa, listening to the commentary and on occasionally opening one eye.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Threat of force

I bought him the autumn I first moved into my house. He's never bloomed. I've tried to find the right position for him, but nothing. Cajoling didn't help. Last year, I said "Listen buddy, no bloom in 2006 - it's the compost heap for you."

Witness the result:

threats work

More great news from across the pond

Egalia of The Tennessee Guerilla Women highlights that Brits see Americans as vulgar, money-obsessed and frankly just a touch cruel.

More on this later, of course (I'm working towards that SUV right now) - but we Americans shouldn't lose too much heart. Despite all that, 70% still like us Americans.

Is that all there is?

Bill O'Reilly says:

But what this really comes down to is simple: Who do you trust to keep you
safe—The New York Times or the Bush administration? You make the call.

Can't we have something else?

(HT: to Living in the Past)

Still gutted

This post is dedicated to followers of European football and SEC football - all 8 of you.

The Vol-in-Law is away, in a place without a tv or internet (and no it's not prison), so he called me on Saturday to check the result. He isn't as big a fan of English football as I am (for instance he gloated mercilessly when Northern Ireland beat England) - but he was pretty disappointed.

When my husband called last night, he was still disappointed, and I told him I felt about as bad as when Tennessee got beat by Alabama last Fall.

He's not getting a lot of support from his family. He told me he'd had a conversation with his non-sports fan sister. She lives in Germany, and apparently she'd gone on and on about what good winners the Germans were.

Sure - anyone can be a good winner. Well, maybe not Georgia, but anyone else can be a good winner.

Then she went on to say that she was glad England lost, that they deserved to lose. Not because of Sven's poor selection and choice of formation, not because of Rooney's bad temper, or some lacklustre performances on the day, or England's perennial penalties problem - but because the England players were so common.

Common? Perhaps. But hey, that furry-chested, head-butting Figo who looks like he walked out of a 70s disco, or that winking, cheating Ronaldo those guys are all class. I could go on...

My brother may not support England, but at least we could offer each other moral support during Tennesse's heartbreaking season. And when we watched England's devastating last minute loss to France in their opener at Euro 2004 together on a ferry from Norway - at least my brother sympathised. And not just over the result, but the whole emotional ride of supporting England.
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Racist mayor abuses office

When I saw that headline in my feed reader, I thought - what has Ken Livingstone done this time?

But nope - it's about a mayor in Tennessee. For goodness sake - elected officials should be smart enough not to do this:
The complaint accuses Mayor Danny Crosby of frequently using racial slurs since his election in 2004. In one instance, the complaint said Crosby swore in a new police officer on Martin Luther King Day and said, "Happy James Earl Ray Day," a reference to King's assassin.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

What's in bloom?

Summer's here at last. It was actually hot today. Around 90 degrees. I know it's hotter than that in Tennessee, but we don't have any air conditioning - none of the houses do here.

Fortunately, I have the toughening experience of many hot summers in the Fort without AC.

The warm weather has brought out the flowers. Of course, it also means I have to bring out the watering can - with the hose pipe ban I have a lot of lugging around of H20 to keep my flowers pretty. My garden is small so I really pack them in - which means the garden isn't very drought resistant. Still, I think it's worth it.

what's in bloom

Things in bloom in my garden now and over the past week or so.

Still gutted

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Saturday, July 01, 2006


Well, I'm four for four on my World Cup quarter final predictions. I got them all wrong.

France, Italy, Portugal, Germany remain for the semi-finals.

I can believe Portugal beat England...on penalities...again. But Brazil goes down to France? I didn't see the game, but unbelievable. I don't think I can watch the highlights tonight...I don't want to re-live the pain. I am really tore up over the loss - or as the the English would say - I'm gutted.

Now that England's 'bout them Vols? Not long now til it's football time in Tennessee.

(I may be one of the few people in the world whose car sports both England and UT paraphenalia).

It's over

England's out of the World Cup.

Loss on penalties. Again.

Tears in my beer.
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