Friday, March 30, 2007

never before its time

I do not wear white shoes before Memorial Day.

I do not hang a Christmas wreath or erect a Christmas tree until Thanksgiving is over.

Some food needs slow cooking, don't try to speed up a roast.

I'm not ready to blog about the 2008 Presidential Campaign.

Survey karma

I'm not normally an adherent to the idea of karma, but I'm a strong believer in survey karma.

Three years ago, my council sent me the Best Value Resident's Survey. Now, because of what I do for a living, I knew that it was very important that I fill it out. I knew that not only would my council be judged on the survey results, but also in effect their response rates.

I filled it out, sealed it up in the return envelope and placed it on table to take out to post (we don't have collections from our houses in the UK). Well, I never sent it back. And since then, my surveys, at least the ones I've been solely responsible for, have had absolutely crap response rates.

Our household wasn't selected for the most recent BV Resident Satisfaction survey - so I haven't been able to make amends on that score. But I'm keenly aware of karmic deficit, so when a well-known British survey company - Ipsos-MORI - phoned me earlier this week to get my views - I didn't even ask how long the survey would be, I didn't ask what it was about or who paid for it, I just agreed to take it.

Well, turns out it was all about being a Londoner - sort of.

  • Was I happy with the public transport? (Not bloody likely)
  • Was I happy with the Olympics fundraising? (spitting mad)
  • How about Ken Livingstone's oil deal with Venezuelan Marxist crypto-dictator Hugo Chavez? (not thrilled)

In fact most of the survey was about how much or how little I associated various initiatives with the Mayor and then how positive I felt about those initiatives. I wish I could remember the wording now - but some of the questions were extremely biased (such that it's hard not to answer positively about Ken) and I could see how the results touted as "London loves Ken".

Other interesting bits of the survey included how I felt about public art (I like it, generally) and whether I thought promoting London as a "world city" would bring in more tourists and businesses. I thought that was pretty stupid. Tourists already know that London is a world city, but I think they come here for the heritage. Businesses already know that London is a world city - and they come here because of that or the financial markets. Or they choose not to come here because the infrastructure is crumbling and the tax rates and cost of living are crippling.

So finally, I finish this 20 minute survey and I say to the young woman on the phone as she's thanking me and hanging up "Whoa, I'm not done yet, can you tell me who commissioned this survey?"

Well, she has to talk to her supervisor about this - but turns out it's Transport for London who paid for this survey. I was very polite - she just reads out the questions - but on the inside I'm fuming.

Yes, a few questions were about transport, but most of this was Ken Livingstone favourable push polling. Why is Transport for London paying for this? Is this a good use of taxpayer and fare payer money?

I just hope that participating in this propaganda survey improves my future response rates.


On a related note, I attended the selection meeting for London Assembly member candidate for Merton and Wandsworth last night. (Why do we have to share an assembly member with another borough?) I knew two of the candidates - Richard (Dick) Tracey and Matthew Maxwell Scott. But Krystal Miller and Jo-Ann Nadler were new to me. I thought Jo-Ann was very impressive, but because she's been working for the BBC for a lot of her career - including doing election coverage - she couldn't be active in campaigning. I'd love to see her with a little bit more experience. Krystal is a very young new councillor at Merton, and she sort of needs to come on a bit - but she's got a lot of potential.

I went to the meeting with a fairly open mind, but at the same time pretty much knew I was going to vote for Dick or Matthew - solely because they are members of my local constituency association and Matthew also a member at the ward level (and I've no doubt about their competence or dedication, either).

Dick has a long and impressive career as a politician - and clearly had the confidence of the room. I was certain he would be selected. Matthew put on a great performance and has packed a lot of experience into his 30 years, but Dick has form (including tangles with Mr Livingstone) and will make a formidable scrutineer of the London Mayor.

The voting proceeds thusly: you vote for one candidate. If one candidate gets over 50% of the vote, then that's the selection. If not, there's another round of balloting until somebody does get 50%. It wasn't stated whether the candidate with the lowest number of votes would drop out - but I assumed that was the case.

The field was strong enough that I really thought it might go to a couple of ballots. So I cooked up a plan that allowed me to vote strategically for both Matthew and Dick. In the end, my clever plotting came to nought, as Dick won on the first ballot. The right choice.

Thursday, March 29, 2007



My photo book from Blurb ( arrived today. It's full of pictures of our vacation in France and the text from my vacation blog entries. It looks awesome.

Only problem was it cost me crazy money to get it shipped to England. I didn't know that it would until I'd spent hours compiling the dang thing - and so I just sucked it up and paid.

Blogging, digital photography and vanity publishing have converged and mean that I can actually create a photo album. Before what I had was really good intentions and a stack of prints and some wadded up ticket stubs. I have a couple of empty photo albums. I even have some undeveloped rolls of film (e.g. our trip to Norway - which would have made an awesome photo book). This is my third photo book and the best so far.

I have big plans for baby books. But I know that a lot of first time parents have big plans for baby books, and as time progresses the plans remain but are joined by a big stack of photos in envelopes and locks of hair and blood stained baby teeth. Elizabeth of Career (aka Busy Mom) and Kids has blogged about this recently - and sought advice on how to get moving on getting photo albums finished.

But of course, I won't be like that. I won't be as bad as my own parents either. We moved so often, and my parents were so disorganised on the photo front that my childhood is largely undocumented - except for the studio photos my grandparents proudly displayed. I'll be different, I'll do my online photo books and make duplicate copies as gifts for proud grandparents. And my kid won't misbehave or break things and will never use the outside voice when the inside voice will do.

Extreme skiing

Some guy just skied down the longest up-escalator in Europe. Which happens to be at Angel Tube Station in North London - on the Northern line - which is my line.

The Metropolitan Police are examining the video for clues. The Transport for London Ungerground people are furious.

My view is - it's ok to laugh and to support public prosecution. No one was hurt and my journey wasn't delayed. But we don't really want to encourage such num-nut behaviour - do we?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stubborn baby

Apparently it's quite normal to worry about your baby's in utero movements - or lack of them. Early on, if I felt Cletus moving and laid my hand on my tum - he would stop. And he would never, ever perform for daddy. This didn't make me worry about the health of Cletus, but it did cause me a little concern about his potential personality. Was this a sign of latent orneriness? Was he being a stubborn baby?

Today I had a doctor's appointment and my GP asked if the baby was moving - "Yes," I said, but I told her that I didn't expect much movement following the appointment. Whenever the doppler had been used to measure his heartbeat, he'd stopped moving for about 24 hours afterwards. "I don't think he likes it," I said.

The healthcare professionals seem to be in the habit of really shoving that doppler into my belly and thus into Cletus. Ouch. No wonder the little fellow sulked for a full day.

Today she was more gentle. The softer approach didn't seem to harm the measurement and little Cletus hasn't sulked.


The weather has been very changeable. But today it was warm and lovely and since I'm using up a vacation day again - I was able to have lunch outside. My magnolia is going a bit brown prematurely - as we've had some days that were just a little too cold.

magnolia stellata

But there are still some nice blossoms.

Monday, March 26, 2007

releasing my inner hippie

I don't mind a little tofu eating or sandal wearing. Never have. But I've always been a little hesitant to truly embrace the hippie and the dippy. While I love vegetable based dishes, including those that don't involve meat or dairy products - I find myself vaguely suspicious of vegetarianism and downright dubious about veganism. And organic?? - a pack of lies and propaganda - I'd no more buy an organic cotton shawl than a syringe full of heroin.

But as I approach my time of confinement - I find myself really dreading the idea of confinement in a rather dreary NHS hospital. I don't want their food or their rules. I figure hospitals are for sick people and if I'm too sick to care that I'm in hospital then that's exactly where I should be. I'm embracing the whole concept of natural child birth and the empowering birth experience.

And to whom have I turned for inspiration? Those crazy women from The Farm - just up the road from where I went to high school. I've just finished reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth - and what a fantastic book it is. A nice easy read - it's packed with useful information and a real sense of the positive experience of going through labor without drugs. (And I love painkillers!)

What's really funny - is that the beginning of the book has all these birth experiences and there are loads of women who are describing their treks to Tennessee to birth on The Farm and this strange and exotic locale of Summertown (well, Summertown is strange). But it's a bit odd to see the place you grew up described as the apex of some epic and mystical journey.


We interviewed a doula last Friday (kind of like a birth consultant) and she asked me where I was from. I told her I was from Tennessee and that my mom lived not very far from where Ina May Gaskin practices and teaches midwifery. This woman - who will be studying to be a midwife - was just amazed. She asked me if I'd been to The Farm. I have. I told her my mom had a lot of friends there - though I didn't know if she knows Ina May (turns out she has met her). I discovered I could probably be really cool in holistic midwifery circles.

I hadn't yet finished Ina May's guide at the time of the interview - but it would have been pretty nifty to be able to point to one of the photos of glowing ecstatic women giving birth and say "I know this woman, she was a guest at my wedding. She was wearing clothes on that occasion"

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fridge cleaning

We went shopping yesterday after a disastrous trip to the park. It was colder than we expected, we were underdressed and cold, we left the park as soon as it started to rain.

As is our habit, we got two shopping carts and split up. Unfortunately, we covered some of the same ground. Ooops. We have a lot of yoghurt now. I mean a lot.

The Vol-in-Law puts the food away. He has a system it's best I don't mess with. On the upside it means I don't have to put the food away - on the downside it means he does go on a bit about using up the fruit and veg we already have in the fridge before buying any new perishables. (It sounds like this...blah, blah, blah)

He was especially disturbed by the amount of fruit we had and the amount of fruit we had just bought. He suggested that I make a fruit salad. I'm not big on fruit salad - but I did use up a full bag of plums making a delicious plum cobbler.

plum cobbler

After tasting that, all was forgiven in the fruit overstocking front, I think.

I might have been a bit better with a bit more fruit. But here's the recipe I used. I had to use the batter bubble up from the bottom type of cobbler rather than the biscuit topping type recipe because, well - I wanted to use up milk, egg and use melted butter - since butter in this country doesn't come conveniently packaged with tablespoon and quarter cup markings.

Official bird of London

A cute little immigrant to London - the ring necked parakeet - is potentially facing a mass cull. I've blogged about the parakeet before - these escapees from the pet trade (or perhaps from the film set of The African Queen) have now colonised well in South East England - and can often be seen along the banks of the Thames.

ring necked parakeet
I photgraphed this gorgeous critter today.

Apparently, the anti-immigration nature Nazis are about to conduct a study - which no doubt will fit up the poor little parakeet for a variety of crimes - e.g. out competing the locals. The punishment for being a fitter introduction is death.

Never mind the other animals that actually are pests and need culling - like the pigeons of Trafalgar Square or the fat and fearless rubbish eating foxes that are the scourge of our suburban terraces (biting babies and killing cats and attacking old people). No - they have to go after a pretty species, that as far as I can see aren't really troubling anyone (they can screech a bit, but that's nothing compared to the fearsome howling of foxes).

Instead of culling the parakeets, I think that we should embrace them. They are the ultimate symbol of London - the brighter, harder working immigrant (like a Polish plumber or Australian bar staff). They should make the ring necked parakeet the official bird of London.

Ross Clark, a guest columnist for The Times, feels similarly.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

How sorry can you be?

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the banning of the slave trade by the UK parliament. There are loads of activities, exhibitions and edutainment. There are also lots of calls for apologies for the slave trade.

Enslaving innocent humans, a system that encouraged and institutionalised casual cruelty and brutality cannot be endorsed or condoned. It was filthy and dehumanising for slave and slave-holder and everyone who participated or looked on without speaking up against the vile practice. And slavery continues today - through human trafficking, through "forced labor", foreign "sex workers" and systems of indenture through illegal immigration - that we still haven't stamped out.

Let that be said.

But sorry? I'm not sure. I wouldn't be here today - I wouldn't be me - if it weren't for the slave trade - if it weren't for my black ancestors deep in my genetic past - no doubt brought to America in chains. My baby cousins, a quarter black, wouldn't be them without the slave trade.

Sure, there would be different people in our places. But we wouldn't be us. And I'm glad we're here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

cemetery ramblings

Yesterday the ViL and I went for a walk in the nearby cemetery. It's a lazy day option, but I do like checking out whether there are any new and interesting floral tributes.

We'd noted that many of the headstones had been staked with great, giant dowels. It looks absolutely attrocious. I've blogged about the desecration of cemeteries in the past - when headstones had been laid flat - but now Lambeth council has gone for the "headstone on a stick" option.

temporary supports for headstones

The workmen were there staking headstones as we were taking our walk. The ViL and I, as we are wont to do, started grumbling about it. We are grumblers and under-the-breath mutterers. Well, apparently we weren't under-the-breath enough about it, because a great giant, grey bearded fellow (picture Santa's evil twin wearing muddy coveralls) whose job it is to stake the headstones approached us and asked if we "understood the work being done."

Now mostly, I just wanted to get away from crazy greybeard. I've got nothing against people who work in cemeteries for a living, but you have to wonder what other career they might have pursued had they scored just a little higher in the charisma section of the personality test of life. But crazy greybeard was trying to appeal to my husband's sense of reason and logic. No, crazy greybeard - don't do it! - I thought. The ViL is a PhD lawyer - he's all trained in out arguing you - and let's face it - this headstone staking isn't really logical. But I suppose that crazy greybeard has to deal with plenty of irate or unsettled relatives, and figures it's best to head them off at the emotional pass.

The ViL starts out all reasonable "Yes, I understand the theory..." and then the ViL starts expounding on all the arguments we'd been muttering about - e.g. there being greater hazards in the (very) uneven paving and pathways that old people often tread to visit the graves in this particularly cemetery.

Crazy greybeard said that 5 children had died over the last 10 years, and that many of the graves were unsafe. Apparently the new fangled headstones come in two chunks (or more) of marble cemented together and are much less rugged than the old ones.

The ViL pointed to the staked marker at our feet. The plastic straps weren't even touching the headstone, which was one of those low lying ones that barely rose 12 inches from the ground. Sure it was at risk of crumbling - if you jumped on it, a bunch - but the stake rising from the ground at a 45 degree angle posed a greater safety hazard. Crazy greybeard had to concede that this marker was unlikely to hurt even a baby - and he scanned the cemetery for a headstone that might kill you if it fell on you. "See that cross over there, that would hurt if it fell on you," he pointed to an old monument many staked rows away.

The ViL asked the man if he was a private contractor - (yes). I wanted to ask the fellow how the contract was written (was he also the tester? was he paid a flat fee to make the cemetery safe or was he paid by the stake? how much was he getting per headstone "made safe"?) - but mostly I wanted to get home to pee - so I said nothing. The crazy greybeard gave up on us and suggested that we ask the fellow in the office if we had any more questions. We didn't. But I am thankful indeed that it's not our local taxes paying for this.

The ViL also, and perhaps rather uncharitably, suggested that perhaps the children killed by falling headstones had been attempting to pull them down - and that it was more a case of natural justice than unsafe memorials.

On our way out, we saw a young woman standing outside the cemetery fence watching the stakes driven into the ground with some kind of nifty hydraulic hammer system. Crazy greybeard strode through the tall grass and not-yet-safe headstones to ask her if she "understood the work being done." She said "I'm just waiting for my boyfriend to come back to the car." But he explained the life-saving necessity of his work anyway.

temporary supports for headstones

Thursday, March 22, 2007

interior design considerations

Genderist and her husband are picking out the details for their new home. She's designing a fantasy ambience of Volunteer expatica.

The best news is that we found some authentic Tennessee river rock to use in the master bathroom as a snazzy updo for the tile. Everyday when I'm in the shower it'll be like I'm a little bit closer to home. We made positively sure that there would be no Alabama river rock included by mistake. They understand the gravity of that mistake; it would be a deal-breaker. Showering with Alabama just wouldn't be the same, and you'd probably stink more when you got out of the shower than before you stepped inside.


A long way from the Fort

I was born at Fort Sanders, a long, long time ago. Fort Sanders is a hospital near the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville. It's situated near the apex of a long, dolomite ridge and thus was a nice defensible position - hence the building of the Fort. Fort Sanders is also a neighborhood inhabited by raucus UT students and ne'er-do-wells who cling to their student life like a barnacle to a ship. (I've lived there in both student and barnacle phases). My parents and my grandfather have lived in the Fort. My brother lives there now (as a barnacle). In some ways, I feel like the Fort is the pole to my existential globe.

Why do I wax on this now? Katie Allison Granju, Knoxville blogger, is looking for a place to birth her baby. She seems to be looking at the Fort, but is disturbed by their lack of consideration for her wishes.

The staff seem to be much more concerned with limiting liability than in supporting a positive experience for Katie and her husband. In my view (and this as someone with no real experience of childbirth, but whose time is less than 2 months away), childbirth should be seen as natural and normal until it's not. You can labor in a hospital because it's convenient to interventions, should you need them.

Reading the comments, others have had similar experiences (not all at the Fort). Interventions against their wishes, etc. To me, this sounds like hell. This is what I fear the most about birth. Secondly (and perhaps shallowly), I fear the dismal, dingy surroundings of the NHS delivery suites and post-partum wards where I might have to share a room with 3 other people and their squawling offspring. I fear the fear and anxiety which might make me "fail to progress" in labor. My blood pressure surges every time I step into that hospital.

This is why I'm choosing a home birth, despite the fact that I'm risk averse by nature and afraid of ruining the the upholstery of my sofa. And that's why, even if I can't have a home birth (e.g. if I develop complications later on), I plan to stay at home as long as possible with a doula (kind of a birth consultant). Of course, I do live right across the street from one of the best acute care neo-natal facilities around. It's a five minute walk from my front door - though admittedly it's more like a 10 or 15 minute waddle.

I won't go into my mom's birth story at the Fort - since that was in 1970, but suffice to say it was pretty archaic. I was apparently the first baby to be roomed in - ever. And when my brother was born 8 years later, it was at St Mary's.

Rachel, from Women's Health News, has more.


Lindsay's birth story (of Suburban Turmoil). Congratulations Lindsay and family.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Switcho, changeo

The budget in the UK has been announced. This is an "exciting" annual event. This is the Chancellor, Gordon Brown's, annual moment in the sun. Of course, he's looking for more sun soon as the Prime Minister, but for the time being...

Anyway, Gordo likes to make out that he's a swell and generous kind a guy. Sure, he taxes the rich, but only to give to the poor - especially the poor little tots.

Only it's a terrible lie and his current budget is a prime example. The headlines all read that he's cut the basic tax rate, but he's managed to actually increase the taxes on the very low paid while reducing taxes on those earning over $100,000.

Labour will tell you that the very low paid with children can always apply for tax credits. Sure, but you're forced to apply as a supplicant to Gordon Brown and entangle yourself into a notoriously knotty bureacracy. (The Treasury admitted only last week the system of credits was baffling.) But the point is that the young and potentially aspirational folks on low wages are hit with yet another Gordon Brown sucker punch.

What with taking maternity leave this year - I'm going to be taking a big old hit in the income. But we're only 11 pence (that's less than a quarter for US readers) better off under Gordo's plan. If I were still earning my fully salary, we'd be £138 better off under his budget. Surely that can't be right for a "redistributive" Chancellor?

1,000th post

I did my 1,000th post - errr...about 25 posts ago. I didn't even notice when it happened. It's kinda like when the odometer flips - and you miss it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wither Spring?



...was here, but now it's not. Icy, blustery winds are blowing in from the arctic. I'm wrapping up my hanging baskets with black trash bags at night to protect the begonias I stupidly planted in them last week. (Fooled I was by the weather - I normally won't put stuff out til May!)

Blogging is light because I'm doing a fair bit of work blogging. (Don't bother looking for it - it's dull - really dull). But I'm on vacation Wednesday through Friday. Hurray! I'm looking forward to doing nothing...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A new wave of immigration

Like it or not - Tennessee is experiencing a new wave of immigration. Via A Cup of Joe Powell, here's a film which captures the stories of the Mexican immigrants who are coming to America's heartland.

"Working-class people in Mexico and eastern Tenessee are caught in the throes of massive economic change, which challenges their assumptions about work, family, nation and community. This film chronicles nearly a decade of change in Morristown, Tennessee through interviews with displaced or low-wage Southern workers, Mexican immigrants, and workers and families impacted by globalization."

A short clip can seen here via the Austin, TX university website

Bad haircuts

My old pal has found a barber shop that suits him. A really old fashioned barber shop. But like most of these places - there's one guy who's really good - and maybe another person who's, well, still learning. In a unisex joint or many of the women's places you can pay for different grades of expertise and (presumably) talent. I'll have the "director's cut", I'll have the "master cut", I'll have the cheapo cut by the gal who normally brushes up the hair from the floor cut.

But apparently in a truly all male preserve barber shop a different system operates. The "naw, you go ahead" system.

St Caffeine describes:
He's obviously the less popular of the two guys there because both times I've been, he's cut my hair while others, who were there before me, continue to wait. It doesn't matter to me; I just want to get in and out as quickly as possible

I've always wondered how this make the "lesser" guy feel. While regular customers wait it out for the superior cut, the newby jumps the queue. It's got to be obvious what's going on.

My husband used to go to this dirt cheap barber shop in Sheffield. We were dirt poor, so it worked out. But the guy who owned the shop did these amazing hair cuts. I mean he could have been charging at least 10 times what he did if he only operated from a different neighbourhood - and in London 20 times. I'm sure he could have doubled or tripled his prices without a significant effect on business. The Vol-in-Law always came back looking slick - and he's the scruffy academic type. But, the barber shop second was not nearly so good - and the Vol-in-Law was never quite able to work the "naw, you go ahead" system to best effect - so he was often out-maneuvred and ended up with the lesser cut. Once the poor gal who cut his hair (do you really trust a woman who works in a barber shop?) also managed to cut his ear. He came home with blood streaked jawline and a bad hair cut.

Shortly afterwards the barber shop instituted a new policy and a sign appeared. Regular cut £X, Apprentice cut £Y (X > Y)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's a rat trap baby

England's landfills are full to the brim. And they're expensive, too. Central Government has placed high taxes on landfill usage to encourage recycling. Recycling has increased by a lot (mostly by making it more convenient for people) - but a lot of "recyclables" end up taking a very long cruise to third world countries - where they're picked through by the desperately poor for anything useful. I guess that's recycling.

But anyway, we could all recycle more and we should - or at least reuse or choose goods with less packaging. And so far, the British public has responded fairly well to inducements and positive messages. And more could be done.

They say you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. The Labour government knows another good vermin attractant. That's trash. That'll be trash that's been cooking in the bin outside your house for two weeks.

In fact, not content with the measures already in place - or successful measures used by other countries (e.g. regulation, tax on packaging, etc) the Labour government is just plain determined to make our lives miserable. And yes, it will be miserable if we switch to fortnightly collections of rubbish as Environment Minister David Miliband is suggesting to councils.

Via the Evening Standard

Fortnightly rubbish collections are to be forced on millions of homeowners by a backdoor stealth campaign, it was revealed. Town hall chiefs have been told to go ahead with ending weekly visits by the binmen in winter - so that the cold weather will keep the smell down.

The hope is that by the time people notice bad smells and vermin it will be too late to bring back once-a-week bin collections. Councils have also been told to bring in cutbacks in their refuse collections away from election times so that voters cannot interfere. The cynical instructions on how to use stealth tactics and steamroller opposition have been put out on behalf of Environment Secretary David Miliband.

Now, I'm not 100% opposed to the idea of picking up recyclables on week and picking up the trash on alternate weeks. Maybe that would work in rural places, although I don't think it would be that nice. But in London - no way, never.

Londoners are filthy little piggies. Londoners have been wallowing in filth attracting vermin since Roman times. We have a little saying in London - you're always within 10 feet of a rat. And soon there will be visible evidence of the little blighters as they revel in your rubbish. Of course, that's if the giant-sized raggedy foxes don't scare off the rats in their bid to get to your festering rubbish - being stored right beneath your front window. (Since very few Londoners have big front gardens).

I feel like this is just a giant step backwards - big strides in public health were made by ferrying away our waste in the sewers and dustcarts. Let's not wallow in more filth than we have to.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bad, bad putty tat

Somebody is a bad, bad putty tat. Somebody thinks it's a good idea to rustle plastic bags at 3, 4 and 5 in the morning. Somebody crawled up in between us at 6 and meowed in our ears. Somebody scratched the Vol-in-Law. Somebody thought it was a good idea to roll a pencil across our hardwood floors at 7.

We're tired. We're grouchy. We don't do well with interrupted sleep. I'm wondering how well we're going to manage with the parenthood lark. I'm just hoping that maybe the baby and the cat will fall in love with each other and keep each other occupied all night long - quietly, and perhaps in another room.

other cat
Watching for an opportunity to disturb our sleep

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Hey kids, it's the Ides of March. Beware the Ides of March. Somebody might try to stab you if you speak in the Senate. I remember that from Sophomore English. And even though I've never spoken in the Senate, it might be best to turn down all public speaking engagements on the Ides of March.

In fact, I did turn down a public speaking engagement today! I wasn't due to speak today, but next week, but today I backed out. It's a 20 minute slot on my very dull specialty subject. When I agreed to talk they'd given me more time - but my slot got squeezed because they'd secured more speakers. Usually, I don't get out of bed for less than 45 minutes to bore entertain the masses. It takes me the first 15 minutes to woo the crowd with lame anecdotes, which would have only left 5 minutes for actual content. I told the organisers I wasn't feeling well enough to travel.

I actually feel ok today, but it's probably true - my feet are a bit swollen, and I'm moving a little slow. This pregnancy thing is kinda catching up with me. But I might have tried to go if I'd had a 45 minute slot.

Did you know that Julius Caesar is buried in the Roman Forum - which wasn't a normal place for Romans to dispose of bodies? Yep. And did you know that people still leave flowers on his grave. It's a tradition. I saw it myself when me and VolBro visited Rome.

What a waste of flowers.

floral competition

I took a half day leave yesterday to visit the RHS Flower Show. It was a strange combination of Mediterranean Plants and the usual daffodil and camellia competitions.

competing narcissus - aberfoyle
Narcissus - Aberfoyle on display - I don't think it won - but I thought it was awesome.

I used to go to these shows to buy plants. But now my garden is absolutely chock full. I'd have to kill something to make room for more stuff. Fortunately, I'm pretty ruthless with the clippers - so that's not such a problem for me.

And we may be facing a bit of a kill-off over the weekend and into next week. Spring has sprung (so we thought), but apparently ol Jack Frost hadn't quite finished with his tricks and we're in for cool weekend. I'd already (foolishly) potted up tuberous begonias for summer hanging baskets. Guess I'll need to cover them with trash bags to keep them from freezing out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Not dead

My dad's been visiting and I've been covered up with work. So I'm not dead, just resting my eyes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mandarin ducks

My dad is visiting. We took him to Richmond Deer Park. We stopped by our favorite cat food store in Wimbledon [borders] on the way. I used some of the cat food to feed the ducks in Isabella Plantation.

Our cat food is very expensive because we have to get hypo-allergenic food for Other Cat who has sensitivities to food coloring. (Basically she itches so bad she scratches bleeding holes in herself). The Vol-in-Law thought it was a terrible waste of money.

But luring the ducks within range of my camera was worth it...

mandarin pair

...I think.

the great global warming swindle

I'm scientific. I've got a degree in an applied science. I know about science stuff, or I did anyway, before I forgot it all. But the point about science stuff is that it isn't the facts that matter so much as the approach - the spirit of scientific enquiry.

But facts do matter as well. Climate has been changing a lot since before humans evolved - so humans had nothing to do with it - and that's a fact. There have been much wilder climactic swings than global warming gloomsbodies have been predicting. I'm reasonably familiar with these changes because my applied science was geology...a very long history of the earth. Humans tend to have a very short perspective - take a step back - there's been a lot of climate change.

So I have this long perspective which makes me sceptical. Also, I appreciate scientific enquiry which frankly I've been too lazy to look into when it comes to climate change - but I can't jump into one camp or another until I'm reasonably convinced. So I'm a global warming sceptic.

This week Britain's Channel 4 broadcasted a documentary called The Great Global Warming Swindle. It was an interesting mix of social commentary and science. The science bit is:
  • that the greenhouse effect doesn't really work like it's commonly understood
  • CO2 is lagging indicator of temperature not leading - so causation works the other way round (heating up of the earth releases carbon from ocean - and heating the ocean takes a loooong time),
  • the earth heating is caused by changes in the sun,
  • human CO2 is a relatively small amount of the total so cutting back on emissions won't make much difference.

The social science bit was:
  • humans like to doom monger, this is just the latest in a long line of scary stories
  • this is the cause that anti-capitalist political activists flocked to after the dismal failure of communism and socialism.
  • scientists jump on the bandwagon because they're funding hounds - and there's now a ton of money in global climate change i.e. you want to study squirrels?, you want to get a grant? you better write a proposal that includes the effect of climate change on those fluffy-tailed rats or you ain't gonna get no money.
  • and there was a little bit on how humans are a bit short sighted - gosh, it's an early spring this year* - I can't remember such an early spring - must be global warming

But not many dispute that in the past few decades the earth is warming up and that there are some consequences. Particularly for humans in marginal cirucmstances - the desperately poor living in areas where climate change has the largest impact.

So the key questions still are:
  • does human activity have any impact on climate (even if it's not the major driver)?
  • would changing some human behavior (e.g. consumption patterns that lead to carbon emissions) make a difference to climate change?
  • is the benefit to some humans living in desperate conditions greater than the cost of changing our ways?
  • if changing our beviour would make a difference to climate change, is there a sufficient benefit to humans of maintaining the habitats of interesting animals like polar bears? would we be really, really sad if they were gone? (probably)
  • is it more efficient to compensate the humans who are most effected rather than change our ways?
And additionally...

  • Are there other consequences to burning fossil fuels to human health and the environment?

I would suggest that there are severe consequences to our patterns of consumption - for example inner city children who suffer respiratory damage from the particulates in gas or petrol. I find it ironic that people Britain are so worked up about climate change (which probably wouldn't affect them too much) caused by burning fossil fuels and yet were extremely late to banning leaded fuel which is absolutely proven to damage children - both to their physical and mental health. That's just one example. If we concentrate too much on global warming, we may be in danger of overlooking other serious consequences of human behaviour on the environment and other humans.

*Note - I've seen heard a few comments here and there on how much earlier spring is this year and how that's a sign of global warming. My impression is that spring is just about on time this year, but was really late last year.

For example:

First daffs
Last year - the first daffodils on 25 March - and I mean the very first - and there were no others in my garden.

The year before:
end of march - spring flowers
the daffodils are quite well established at the end of March

And this year - first daffs at the end of February.
first narcissus
But I have had them bloom much earlier - even in January.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Citizen S.

The Texan pulled her finger out and got her British citizenship application sorted. Now she's a dual national. (I keep meaning to do this...)

In the old days, you just paid your money, swore fealty to the Queen, her heirs and successors and you were citizen. These days it's a lot more like the American system where a big deal is made of citizenship and the process of becoming a citizen. I think that's a good thing. There's a test and a ceremony.

The Vol-in-Law and I attended the Texan's citizenship ceremony this week. It was held in the registrar's office of her local borough - LB Merton. I've had occasion to visit the Merton's Civic Centre (Town Hall). It's crap. It's a hideous building. It deserves to get placed on a list of Britain's ugliest buildings. (Although that accolade actually goes to another building in the borough nearer me, so perhaps the powers that be didn't want Merton hogging all the limelight). So I was surprised and pleased to find that Merton's Register office is actually a very nice building. A lot of British couples get married in register offices and they're generally well appointed, so not a bad place for a citizenship ceremony.

set up for citizenship
The Citizenship set-up

The Texan paid extra and opted for a private ceremony. Which meant that it was just her, the two character references on her citizenship application (not required, just a nice touch) and me, and not a load of other foreign riff-raff. The Vol-in-Law was one of the two Brits the Texan managed to ply with enough whiskey to sign off on her good character. We headed down there in what we thought was good time and got caught in a snarl of traffic making us late, but we beat the Texan to her own do.

The ceremony itself was pretty nice - and if I described it to you, it would sound cheesy, but it was actually very well done. I was a bit worried when the first thing the officiant said to the Texan was "How will you be paying for this?" - and she replied "By credit card." But somehow we all managed to recover the tone. There was a bit of guff about the obligations of citizenship, being British means being tolerant, then an oath and a complicated, ornate choral arrangement of God Save the Queen was played on CD.

Being a bad sort, if we're at home and God Save the Queen comes on I usually sing "My Country Tis of Thee" over the top of it. It drives my husband bonkers. This might be the equivalent of singing the original lyrics over the top of the The Star Spangled Banner. But I didn't do any such thing at the ceremony and only sang them quietly in my head.

I have to commend the officiant. She did it all very seriously and well - and was really helpful identifying camera angles for me and told me I could get up and move around to take pictures and even took a group shot of us all. She had just the right touch of levity, though to, and we all had a jolly laugh. Taking on citizenship is solemn and sacred, yes, but shouldn't be dire. It's not a funeral, it's more like a wedding.

At the end, after Citizen S. (the Texan) swore her oath and got her certificate. But that wasn't, we filed down to the administrative guts of the building to watch Citizen S. pay for the ceremony - all details complete.

The Merton registrar waits for Citizen S.'s receipt.

A spouse is for life

one man and one woman

The law of the land...marriage is between one man and one woman. I saw this in the Merton Registrar's office. I guess this is part of the reason that civil partnerships were set up for homosexual couples, I suppose it was just too hard to mess with the statute law.

Presumably in the very same room where this sign is so prominently posted civil partnership ceremonies take place.

I've said it before. I'm in favour of gay marriage. I disapprove of civil partnerships as I think they're a squishy compromise that undermines the institution of marriage by encouraging chatterati heterosexual "partners" to create a committment contract-lite. I simply do not understand why people with kids and mortgages are still shy of the registrar.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Meetings with remarkable bloggers

I was within spitting distance of famous British blogger Guido Fawkes this morning.

More than ever, I want to be a famous blogger so I can throw off the chains of conventional fashion.

Guido (Paul Staines) was sporting orange cords with an amazing greenish-tan and red checked (ish) jacket. I'm a girl who likes orange...but even I wouldn't wear orange cords. But good for him.

Keep reading this blog. Fashion iconoclasm here I come.

What to do on your due date

I'm saving this for later.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fox reports, I obey

The Vol-in-Law has Fox News on. I don't know why. I guess because I'm hogging the laptop and this is his dirty protest. The story just on was "Make more babies, win the war on terror and save America."

Fox reports. I obey.

Happy Birthday VolMom

Happy Birthday to VolMom

Here's what's in bloom on your birthday in my garden...

purple bulb
I forget what this is


magnolia and skyline


And my kitty - Other Cat - not exactly in bloom, (she is bloomin' fat) but it's her birthday, too. Now she is seven.

other cat on her birthday
See VolMom, Other Cat is blowing you a birthday kiss

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wrong number

My first apartment was in Fort Sanders in the student slums of Knoxville. Along with my first digs, I got my first very own phone number. Only, of course, someone else had had that phone number before me. Her name was Michelle and a lot of people called for her. In fact, it's only just occurred to me that maybe Michelle was in the habit of giving out my phone number. Who knows?

Anyway, she got around. And when I say she got around, I mean, I think she had a lot of boyfriends. Boyfriends she didn't treat very well. Boyfriends who had greater depth of feeling for her than she did for them. They sounded pretty desperate and heartbroken anyway.

Oh, did I mention that apparently I sounded a lot like Michelle? I sounded so much like Michelle that some of those young men didn't believe me when I informed them that I wasn't Michelle. I had to hang up on several poor fellows.

Time moves on and there are new methods of communication, but there are still wrong numbers. Misdirected messages. Crossed wires.

The reason that I mention this is that Girl from the South gets other people's emails. And it's pretty funny or pretty tragic depending on whose misdirected messages come her way.

Batten down the hatches

In today's Guardian, a story from 20 years ago:

Twenty years ago today, the Herald of Free Enterprise set out from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge on its crossing to Dover. Within half an hour, the ferry was lying on its side with its 539 passengers and crew fighting for survival in freezing seas. The bow doors had not been closed.

Twenty years ago, two of my husband's cousins died in that disaster. His aunt lost two of her children, her oldest and youngest daughters and the oldest daughter's fiance. They were on one side of the ferry. The rest of the family survived - just.

They received shockingly little compensation for lives utterly destroyed. The negligence was appalling - the head of the enquiry found that there was a "disease of sloppiness" among the ship's management. The employee responsible for shutting the bow doors - which would have prevented water rushing in and capsizing the ship - was asleep when the ferry left port.

Tory tipping point?

The Telegraph has written about Tooting as a potential conservative tipping point. Is that Tooting the constituency? (which takes in the very swoosh Wandsworth Common) Does that include Tooting the ward, where I live? Some people seem to think so.

It's an interesting article which covers some of the demographic shifts and changing attitudes in our area.

Hat Tip: Mark Clarke, who told me about the article last night.

Springtime showers

VolDad is visiting. Although he's kinda, sorta visiting on business, his business doesn't start until today - so I took the day off yesterday and we went down to Wisley. London is full of sights botannical (most famously Kew Gardens), but Wisely is Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)Garden that's easier for me to get to by car rather than public transportation. Still a bit cold-y and my dad a bit jet lagged, it seemed like the easiest thing to do.

Yesterday morning was light and bright. But by the time we got to Wisley a storm front had moved in. But it was only a little storm front. It wasn't drenching. It was windy and cool and slightly damp making. We huddled in the garden cafe with hundreds of others - and the moment the sky began to lighten we left (without sampling the tasty but expensive RHS cake).

I managed to get a few pictures before the skies opened up again.

stripey crocusPublish

And it hasn't really stopped raining since. (Good thing they've lifted that hosepipe ban).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

How much do you hate this Tory?

Here's a site that lets you rank how much you hate individual Conservatives. Most of them are MPs, some are shadow cabinet ministers, one of them is Tooting's parliamentary candidate, Mark Clarke.

The site has used my photo of the Mark Clarke. This one:

Mark Clarke

That's not really how I would like that photograph to be used, but I did assign a fairly liberal version of copyright to the photo (as indeed most of my photos), so I'm not really sure what I can do about it. Well, that's politics and copyright for you.

I suppose I should be glad that many folks seem afraid of Mark Clarke. I guess that's fear for you. And I guess I should be glad that folks are using my photos. That's flattery for you. Sad thing is, I really can take much better photos. But mostly of flowers and stuff.

Maybe there's not much call for a "love my flowers" website.

threats work

Hat tip: Harry's Place

Lunar eclipse

We had dinner at the Texan's last night. She served duck. I brought my own sausages. I've tried duck and wasn't impressed. Just one of those things. Everyone else ate the duck and enjoyed it.

We kept popping outside to check the progress of the lunar eclipse. Apparently it was the first full eclipse in ages. I'm not sure I'd seen one before - but maybe I just wasn't impressed. It wasn't exactly what I expected. I expected a blood red moon. It's more kind of charcoal pink. But it was pretty cool, to see the moon get eaten away from the bottom (instead of from the side) over a period of minutes not days.

We danced around the garden like pagans for a couple of minutes (it was very cold - we were all underdressed). And then we went home.

You can find out more about lunar eclipses here:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hurray for St David

Other than being my brother's birthday, and the birthday of the son of the conductor of the train I'm on (you'll see why that's relevant in a moment), it's also St David's Day. Do you know what or who St David is the patron saint of? You'll see why that's relevant in a moment.


Regular readers will know I was a bit unwell last week. I had a cold. I also had a number of pressing assignments at work. And I am now 6.5 months pregnant - or thereabouts. I was so excited about no longer being a smoker and having the post cold dregs settling in my chest that I didn't really account for the cold + baby double whammy on my system. And then I was pulling out as many stops as I could muster for work, too.

Yesterday, I was really struggling, finishing off assignments (including a surprise one of cooking up an hour and a half workshop in an area I know little about), plus I needed to travel up to Liverpool - plus prepping for my speaking gig today, plus remember that surpise assigment? I only just figured out yesterday that I had 3 hours of workshop facilitation today.

Needless to say, I didn't catch the early train I wanted to in order to have a chilled evening before the event today. I was rushing for the train I did manage. Unfortunately, so was everyone else wanting to go to Liverpool and a train load of people who had wanted to go to Manchester, but had suffered the disappointment of a cancellation.

The way it works is everybody stands around in the main hall of the station and waits to be told which platform they will be departing from. Usually the info is posted well in advance, but yesterday it was only moments before departure. Platform 18 was announced and my heart sank. That one's so far away it's practically in a different borough. The herd set off - and though I didn't know about the cancelled Manchester train - I could tell a heck of a lot of people were trying for that train - and they were all moving a lot faster than I was in the hope of getting a seat.

So I'm huffing and puffing and dragging my heavy pack and I can see I'm probably not going to get a seat. And I know I'm not going to make it the 2 and a half hours to Liverpool stood up.

I kinda collapsed in a seat - despite the fact I could see they'd been reserved. And I was so despondent at the thought of trying to fight my way to a seat that I sobbed and gasped - and frankly couldn't stop. Fortunately, the place I'd stopped was opposite the train manager's office. And they took pity on me and let me sit there and wouldn't let anyone sit next to me despite the fact that there were people sitting on the floor of the vestibules and even in the aisles.

Not that anyone would have wanted to sit next to me really since it took me just about an hour to catch my breath. Seriously.


The presentation went ok. It was one of the few times in my professional life where I could make a joke about half nekkid men appearing in soft focus in a calendar and get away with it. I could not let such an opportunity pass unseized. I did surely objectify the firemen I was speaking about and to - and I should feel bad about it. But I can't think of a more deserving group. And they were putty in my hands after that.

The facilitation was a little tougher. But I managed. I put a lot into my presentations and I'm pretty exhausted now. I did manage to catch the train from Liverpool a lot more easily and landed a seat no problem. But travel is still exhausting.

The train conductor was in a jolly mood - it being his son's birthday I guess. He chirpily announced it over the train PA - and he also informed us all that it's St David's Day. He's the patron saint of Wales. I know this because I know a lot of useless trivia, but it's the kind of thing I think many Brits would know. Our conductor promised an upgrade to first class for the first person who could tell him who or what David did the patronly saint thing for. I didn't believe him. And I certainy thought that even if it were true - someone else would be able to answer before me.

But when he walked through the carriage asking the question, I shouted out the answer. The compulsion to shout out trivia got me to be captain of the Quiz Bowl team in high school and today it got me bumped up to first class.

Free drinks, a light snack and plenty of leg room.

Hurray for St David. (Who is also, according to Wikipedia, the patron saint of Pembrokeshire, poets, vegetarians and free upgrades.)