Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Last year, I advertised him on this site. He could be quite a catch. He's still single (as far as I know - he's a bit of dark horse). Knoxville better watch out.
Anyway, Happy early Birthday VolBro. I'm away and busy tomorrow and might not get the chance to post.
The light wasn't great, it's heavily overcast and tending to sudden showers this morning - hence the lack of scrumptiousness in this photo. But you get the idea. I'm away to the North today so can't wait and hope for better light tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Now at first glance, that sounds like not such a bad idea. I mean, after all, shouldn't you be contributing something to the society you want to formally become a part of? Gordo - as reported in The Evening Standard says:
"Being a British citizen is about more than a test, more than a ceremony; it's a kind of contract between the citizen and the country involving rights but also involving responsibilities that will protect and enhance the British way of life. "
I think that's right. I think that citizenship is a kind of social contract. In some ways akin to marriage - a new relationship - as strong as blood, but based on choice. Too many British people have no sense of what it means to take on citizenship of another country and seem to think that it amounts to getting a new passport that entitles you to go through the short line at Heathrow. I can't tell you how many Brits have just assumed that I had a British passport automatically upon marriage to a Brit (plus the three cereal box tops and £1.99 shipping and handling). I just don't think that's right.
But it hasn't really been thought through, it seems. Gordon Brown says he wants applicants for citizenship to understand British institutions. If that's the case, then studying for the citizenship test and applying for benefits ought to be quite enough.
The Conservate Party was, naturally, scathing:
Mr [David ]Davis [Shadow Home Secretary] declared: "Gordon Brown's proposals are ill-thought out and could be actually damaging. What about a doctor who has been here for some years, decides to become a UK citizen, and then has to stop working in the NHS for a period of time to do Mr Brown's community service?"
Indeed what about folks like me? I certainly have a pretty good understanding of the British public sector through my work, I'm reasonably politically active and I even give time at a local school. But we don't know if I'd have to quit my job (thus favoring all those lounge-about types who actually never seek employment at all) in order to do community service. I'm not sure that Mr Brown would see my Conservative leafleting as working in the community.
And as Mr Davis points out, there are bigger fish to fry in terms of handling citizenship applications:
Apparently, some kind of proposal for compulsory volunteering was developed, but the Treasury rejected the measure as too costly. Goodness knows what kind of ridiculous bureacratic nonsense was cooked up to check up on quality community work. Still, if people take British citizenship with its rights and obligations more seriously or perhaps consider contributing to their local communities (which is rewarding in its own right) perhaps it's not such a bad thing. But not like this.
He stated: "It is not that long since a minister lost her job after allowing citizenship applications to be granted without the proper passport checks being carried out. Gordon Brown should concentrate on remedying that, and answering our call to establish a dedicated UK border police - measures that will actually get a grip on the
problems in the immigration service."
Monday, February 26, 2007
Everyone in the UK who's been employed for a minimum length of time (and I think it's basically so you weren't pregnant when you were hired) gets 6 weeks paid leave at 90% of their salary plus and additional 34 weeks (it's around that) at £108 a week (that's about $200).
I get more because my employer offers more - and I've been working for them for quite some time. They aren't the most generous and they aren't the most stingy. They are a bit lazy - and haven't come out with a new policy since the law changed - but they tell me that the proposed policy will be that I receive my statutory 90% for the first six weeks and then I'll get the 34 weeks at half my salary plus that £108 a week. So essentially I'll get 9 months with not bad pay considering I'll not be doing any work for them. I can take an additional 3 months off with no pay, but they have to hold my job for me - and then I can take my remaining vacation days - which will accrue as normal while I'm off, and well, I get a fair bit of leave. Twenty-eight days in fact.
I can also take parental leave of a fairly generous amount of time up until my kid is 5. You don't get paid though - so I haven't looked into it. But basically you can use that time if your kid gets critically ill and your job is protected - in some ways it's probably not much different from the Family Medical Leave Act.
They also have to at least consider my request for part time work after I go back to work - and any refusal must be in writing and needs to be based on a solid business case. My husband has the same rights. My employers are pretty flexible, so I'm sure I won't have any trouble going to part time - or even working 5 days over 4 - which isn't impossible on my short contractual working week. (Although as a professional I usually work quite a bit more than my mandated 35 hours a week - but if you're an American reader - I'd bet good money I don't work as much as you do.) I will be urging the Vol-in-Law to do the 5 days over 4 thing though since he's an academic- this would mean he'd be guaranteed to have a lecture free/ meeting free day and that would be one less day we'd have to pay exhorbitant London day care costs.
The UK has one of the less generous maternity laws in Europe. Places with declining population (or fear of a declining white population - like France) tend to have better maternity coverage. It's not a chicken and egg thing - policy makers are trying to convince women like me (reasonably well paid, well-educated) to breed by paying us off. The policy doesn't actually work. A big deterrent for us breeding was making sure that we could keep our house after the maternity leave was over and we had to pay for child care. Child care in the US - my sense is - is more accessible and cheaper than it is in the UK. We also had to clear the regressive taxation in the lower reaches of tax scale. For the aspirant middle classes, breeding young is very expensive indeed.
The US is one of the few advanced countries that are still breeding at at least replacement rate. And I suspect that there will be little pressure on policy makers to improve maternity pay and leave until there is. This despite the struggle emotional and financial of young mothers who have to go back to work all too soon.
How was it?
Just curious. Please leave a comment. I'd like to ask a few question off line if I might.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Baby furniture and accessories are outrageously expensive - I haven't seen such crazy pricing since my last "life event" - our wedding - though to be fair - coffins ain't cheap either. They'll get you every time you hatch, match or dispatch.
So I was quite pleased with our purchases. From new prices, I think we saved about $500 today - not counting the little stuff we bought.
Check out our Flickr baby stuff set - nothing from today yet, but I have uploaded a number of my mom's purchases. Mostly adorable, but with the occasional humdinger. You gotta love the Solid Gold shiny vest-cum-Hammer Time pants-cum velour Christmas outfit.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
He stopped by the house halfway through - just so I could finger his kevlar (I'm still off sick).
He said it was just like The Bill (a popular British cop show) - as apparently about a month's worth of stuff happened on his "shift". He's pretty hyped up - telling me about all the crime in our local area.
He was impressed by the woman police officer who was his beat officer. He said she had a real way with criminals - and was able to keep them calm. Apparently, the young crims on the street flipped out when male police officers tried to talk to them or touch them - but when a woman searched them they didn't lose face in front of their crim friends - and so they were able to proceed without escalating the incident beyond control.
I asked if there'd been any arrests. Oh yes, he said. And the ViL told me about a guy who was arrested not so much for the dope they found on him - but for disorderly conduct. Basically, for swearing at the police. The ViL's advice is really, to really, really never swear at the police. He said "That guy could've been your brother," (implying that way his mouth got him arrested). I'll be sure to pass that on to VolBro.
Before that incident - she told the ViL that it was time to make some arrests - so they just headed to a local discount store Primark to find some shoplifters. Apparently, it was "opening a lobster pot" - they just went to store security and rounded up the active shoplifters visible on the security cameras.
The ViL breaks cover for this photo with the local coppers
I'm not sure there will be another baby in London with quite the same outfit.
She also bought this outfit:
It's hard to make out, but that's smocking underneath those little Scotty Dogs. And of course, the Little Lord Fauntleroy collar is easy enough to spot - from like 100 paces.
That's right - we plan to raise Cletus to be tough and sensitive.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I know perfectly well that Pot Noodle - that great British food substance - is shite. I'm a person that puts salt on my salt, but Pot Noodle is so salty it makes me feel all weird and dehyrdrated. But I couldn't resist a food substance that had incorporated the Confederate Battle Flag in its packaging. I should have, but I didn't. Maybe I was feeling oddly homesick...
It sat in our cupboard for quite a while. But I'm off sick today and the house is not really well stocked with food. (We have no food.) So I thought, today's the day. Plus I was curious if a noodle soup could really taste like fried chicken.
When I opened the lid, there was an extra little surprise inside.
It's like so tangy y'all.
Wow, a strange combination of California 80s and South East idiom.
Here's what it looks like without the ketchup packet. Yummy, dust!
And here's what it looks like after adding boiling water and stirring (the only required preparation)
This isn't the final product though. No, for that I had to wait two minutes for the noodles and corn kernels and bits of soya protein to soften in the hot water. Yes, that two minutes did feel like an eternity.
Ready at last. Did it taste like Southern Fried Chicken? No. Did it even taste like chicken? Not really. Though perhaps it's because I'm sick and my taste buds are shot, but really it just tasted like salt.
I was going to save the special sauce packet (for what I don't know), but I'm afraid the salty salt was just too salty, so I needed to add some salty ketchup to see if it tasted better.
It did taste better. But it still didn't taste like chicken. And now I feel all weird and dehydrated.
I'd like to say "Everyone feel sorry for me, 'cause I'm pregnant and I have a cold and I can't even take any cold medicine."
But that cold medicine crap doesn't work anyway, does it?
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Anyway, Paul wondered aloud why, in this country, so many people don’t seem to realise that you can be in favour of something without subsidising it, and that you can be against something without making a law against it. This doesn’t just apply to the UK, it’s a rampant blind spot for most of Europe and, from what I can see, has taken firm root in the minds of many Americans, too. What’s up with that?
I'd say this was a particular feature of New Labour - or perhaps democratic socialism as it's currently expressed in much of Europe (though I'm guessing - as I don't follow European domestic politics). My lefty colleagues see no difference between civic life and the life of the stae. That is worthy causes ought to be supported by the State - i.e. you and me through the public pound. I don't agree. Problem is - one person's idea of worthy may not be another's. I also believe that one should subsidise worthy causes - and that is why we have charities and that is why we should give to them.
Some things should be supported by the state - where this is both the most efficient and equitable use of resources. There will be always be a dispute in any society about which of those things should be produced by the state.
And as far as outlawing goes...I think this is another New Labour tendency, but not New Labour alone. Yes, I think racism is bad. Very bad. But do I think we should outlaw people saying racists things. No, I certainly do not. (New Labour does and has) I realise that some people in this country think that racism is a kind of greatest evil (I don't) and thus we should outlaw, outlaw, outlaw. I also realise that some people in the US think that abortion is the greatest evil (I do not) and thus we should outlaw, outlaw, outlaw.
Want a kitty in London? Then you better live in some kind of two-parent, stable household, with access to the outdoors and with one or both of you at home, a lot.
Or you better be prepared to fork out a shed load of cash. Like 400 bucks for a regular old cat kind of money*.
Now - me and the Vol-in-Law we're kind of the ideal cat couple, we have a garden, we have a cat flap, we are experienced kitty owners, and we both work from home often enough that our cats aren't alone that much. So we were able to adopt from Battersea (cat and dog shelter to the stars). But many others are not able to, many have been turned away. So many, in fact, that I am able to gloat (yes, gloat) over my Battersea cat adoption. But I only do this occasionally. I'm not gloating now. I feel for Jen.
We had a hard enough time trying to get a cat - before we got Fancy. It was only when we turned up at the shelter with our pre-approved application and an empty kitty carrier gripped in our little fists that we were able to take home Fancy. I've blogged about our Battersea experience before, here and here:
Battersea Dogs' and Cats' Home supplies pets to the stars and turns many lesser mortals away pet-less. So I am quite pleased to have got a cat from Battersea, after three separate visits including a nerve-wracking interview about our cat-owning suitability.
When I told the Vol-in-Law about Jen's predicament he said "Quite right, too. Flat cats are not happy cats. Rent a house with a garden, or even easier just drive out to the provinces and get a cat there."
I don't entirely agree with him. There are plenty of cats particularly those with Feline Leukemia, who would make fantastic apartment cats. But my husband is right about the provinces thing - you can buy cats there on the black market for less than 50 bucks during kitten season.
And Jen, keep up the hope and the cat search:
i just know there’s a cat out there waiting for us, needing someone to love. and i know eventually we’ll find it. it’s just the anxious anticipation and the searching that’s so hard.
Fancy with her exclusive Battersea medallion (before she lost it).
*I don't know why I don't get into the cat breeding business...
And this is also one of my favorites:
And this one...well, it's kinda cute and I've put it on this blog several times and it was one of the first pics I uploaded (but over 500 views?)
I don't check this stat very often - but I did check it this morning. And lo and behold - one of my wallaby pics had absolutely zoomed up the viewing ranks. Goodness knows I think wallabies are adorable, but I can't fathom the surge in popularity.
Why oh why oh why?
There is some good information there (I think), but what I really like are the name polls. People put up three or four (usually dismal) choices - and you're supposed to help them name their child.
I always vote (almost always) - I had to pass on one when I saw that the choices included Aayden. I guess that guarantees that your kid will always be at the top of the list (well, just behind Aaron or Aardvark). I vote for the traditional and the properly spelled.
This morning I saw that one woman was in dispute with her "dh" (husband) over what to name their son. She preferred Atticus, he didn't. She wanted her child to have a literary name and wanted help thinking of a good character name.
I found that I couldn't think of a single one. I could think of scads of female character names - but the only male ones that popped into my head was Christian Leden (a Norwegian explorer who was actually a real person and wrote a now out-of-print memoir that I love) and Holden Caulfield. And would you really want to name your kid after a Holden - that snotty, spoiled brat? Misunderstood-schmishunderstood. And then I thought of Joe Christmas - but that's another name I wouldn't recommend. And I thought of Gatsby - errr, no good. I couldn't think of a single admirable male character whose name I could actually remember. I feel this brain blank is largely the fault of my poor memory for names and perhaps an overly gender-centric world view.
And then - the snobby part of me - is thinking about that woman and her query. Why is she so hot on a literary name when she can only think of one character? And Atticus isn't a bad name - but aren't you guaranteed a good smacking on the playground with that one? And anyway, how literary can you be if the only name you can think of comes out of To Kill a Mockingbird - on every single high school reading list and a popular movie to boot. (I'm trying not to be too snobby - since I could only think of cliched names myself - if at all).
I do know that some of my regular readers are better readers than I am - maybe they can think of a name of a male character with upstanding moral values who doesn't come to some suitably gothic sticky end.
I don't have this trouble deciding on names, since I'm using family names that I chose a long time ago. But baby Cletus's first and middle names do happen to also both be the names of well-known Southern authors - and one of them is even male.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
But then again, I don't get the zingers he does. From an essay he was marking this morning:
"It may seem like a movie, but Colonel ______ uses three different factory locations to mix the secret recipe of 11 herbs and species."
Yes, you want to keep the proportion of chicken to the other 10 species very secret indeed.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Had we bought a crib, had we bought a moses basket (ha! She's been on UK websites -that's Britspeak), had we bought a baby carrier, pram, stroller - well, had we bought anything?
"What are you going to do," she asked - "carry that baby around in a potato sack?"
I repeated this to the Vol-in-Law.
ViL: Potato sack? Where does she think we are - this isn't Rubesville, Tennessee - this is London. We don't just have those lying around. I don't know where we could even buy a potato sack.
Me: Yeah, we'll have to carry the baby around in a designer laptop bag.
Rich Hailey says that East Tennessee makes for better blogging. Michael Silence posits that East Tennessee blogs better because of the dominant strain of Ulster-Scot (or Scots-Irish if you prefer) culture in the area.
Maybe. He says:
This is a fiercely independent and contrary area, two traits required to be a blogger. For example, I've often described the basic beliefs of East Tennesseans as "stay off my land and stay out of my wallet." I think the reason blogging is so strong here dates back to this.That's what I describe as the quality of orneriness. But is Middle Tennessee less Ulster-Scot? Are the rolling hills and gentler topography a moderating influence on the temperament of the Middle Tennessean? I'd certainly point out that Knoxville has always punched above its weight in the literary stakes. But that's not blogging.
And if this is a matter of genetics...where are the famous Ulster bloggers? Or did the orneriest leave Northern Ireland between 1706 and 1760? Perhaps the Vol-in-Law, half Ulster-Scot and raised outta Belfast can chip in?
And what does Jim Webb have to say on blogging in Born Fighting - a recent-ish study of the Ulster-Scots culture? I don't know, I haven't read it - but the Vol-in-Law and his mother* - a genuine Ulster-Scot and mean as a one-eyed cat - both loved it.
*I'm pretty sure she doesn't read this blog.
On the way in, we ran into one of our fellow Tooting constituents who had been at the Tooting open primary the night before. We talked about the result and how pleased we were with our new candidate Mark Clarke. She also regretted not bringing her camera to the show. It was lovely - with all the early spring bulbs - the snowdrops, early narcissus, crocus and iris reticulata. I did bring my camera.
More photos here
And the ViL was good - and I poked around the flowers as long as I wanted and I bought some vegetable seed for the ex-pond including a heritage variety of Tennessee tomatoes called Cherokee Purple (Do any readers know this variety?) But we didn't buy any flowers. I was awful tempted by the double hellebores (the red speckled flowers above ) - but wasn't sure I wanted to pay £15 (almost $30) for one spriggly plant - plus we still had some things to do and I didn't want to be dragging expensive, spriggling flowers through town in the rush hour. Although I would have bought these lovely orange crocus if I'd seen them for sale.
We did stop on the way home at our local flower and pet shop and bought some primrose, which we can enjoy throughout the end of winter and early spring.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
We had two local candidates running - one is a councillor for a ward on the other side of the borough but who lives close by (Lucy Allan) and the other was Melanie Hampton - a woman who ran for councillor in Wandsworth's toughest seat for Tories - and well, lost. But other constituencies out there take note, she's a hard working campaigner - the never say die type - she doubled the Conservative vote and she's fun as hell to work with.
The third candidate was a young outsider - with some, but not recent, connections to the borough and Tooting Constituency - Mark Clarke.
Mark Clarke won. Melanie was also good, but Mark was a star on the night. Mark talked about all the reasons that you'd want to be a Conservative - giving people a hand up, equality under the law, valuing people's choices - including how they want to spend their money. He was funny and bright. I think he's got his finger on the pulse of this constituency and that he'll work hard to get to know it inside and out. And I think he's got a chance to win in this tough, tough seat.
Being a policy wonkish type, I have to say a little bit about the process. I'm a big fan of getting people together in a big old assembly hall and thrashing out who's going to be the nominee. The caucus system. I experienced my first Democratic caucus here in London (I gave up my vote in the Tennessee presidential primary to do so) - and it was fabulous. People were talking politics with one another and good-naturedly screaming and shouting and selecting delegates and it was great - and I left that caucus so fired up.
I did not think that the way the Conservative Party HQ was mandating open primaries to select constituency candidates was going to have quite the same effect. And it didn't - but the British are a reserved bunch - so they don't look to be fired up - they want to feel confident, perhaps enthused. And I think this open primary process helped to do that. We'll see how people are feeling later, but the buzz in the hall was good. The Vol-in-Law (who also participated in some of the earlier whittling down of prospective candidates) was feeling pretty enthusiastic.
The open primary works very differently from a Democratic caucus. For one thing, to be able to vote in caucus you have to be a member of the party and you have to be able to vote. I am a member of the Conservative party (but I didn't have to be) - and I'm not a British citizen, so I can't vote in a general election. But still I was able to vote in this process. I wasn't sure I should have been allowed to and I certainly wasn't sure that people who weren't Conservative party members should have been allowed to vote, but actually I think it worked out for the best - at least here in Tooting.
The open primary was held at the White Eagle Polish club in Tooting. The have a large narrow hall with a well used dance floor - it was a good choice of venue. Except - of course - the place is decked out in the red and white colors of the Polish flag - but also made the candidates look like they were up on some Labour platform, at least in my photos.
Mark Clarke, the winner tonight
Melanie Hampton, a tough campaigner
The photos are a bit off because I used the high ISO function and not flash from the audience.
Recently the Top Gear lads went to Alabama. Just for the heck of it, they painted slogans like "Country and Western is Rubbish" and "I'm Bi" on each other's cars and then drove around to see what would happen.
They don't get the warmest of welcomes at one small town gas station. (You know things are bad when a town's own resident calls his home a "hick town" - and when the gas station owner says "I'm callin' the boys!") Cripes.
Jeremy Clarkson finishes the piece with "I'm doing something I thought I'd never do; make a run for the border."
He didn't say which way he was headed. Perhaps he was about enter the Greenest State in the Land of the Free.
Watch the hijinks ensue (via YouTube)...
Hat tip to fellow Southerner and American expat Kathy at What Do I know?
It was all probably just a cultural misunderstanding. Sweet Home Alabama is actually one of the most welcoming states. (Don't let those bullet holes in the "Welcome to Alabama!" sign fool you. Most people keep their guns on safety there.)
Truthfully though, you don't tug on superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you don't mess around with cultural iconography... Jeremy might think it's cool to poke fun, but I'd like to see him do something similar in the nastier neighbourhoods of Glasgow wearing the wrong color football strip, or why doesn't he go to certain neighbourhoods of Birmingham still reeling from recent terror arrests with a car painted up with "The Prophet was a pedophile".
Monday, February 12, 2007
Look, I like the Dixie Chicks - not loads and loads, just like a normal amount. But I got to admit, I wasn't too impressed with Miss Natalie Maines and her mouth. It was hard enough being an American in Europe at that time, and she didn't make it any easier to try to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Thanks for making it so that those of us who just weren't sure about the whole thing ended up looking like we were raving chicken hawks just cause I wouldn't criticise the war (well I wouldn't say anything about it).
Serr8d kind of captures the crux of it...
Mind you, I wouldn't have given a rat's patooie about what they said, if they had said it in Houston or Nashville, first, and not overseas a la Clinton and Fonda. "We're on the good side with y'all..." immediately puts anyone who disagrees with anti-war, anti-USA, and Bush Bashers on the "bad" side. Well, that puts them on my bad side.
You think the Dixie Chicks had it bad in the US - you should have seen what the Texas Expats thought of them. (I played some Dixie Chicks at a party and only when I explained that I hadn't paid for the music but had illegally downloaded it did everybody calm down.) But do I think the Dixie Chicks deserved what they got? Hell no. No, way. Nobody deserves death threats over a political statement. Especially not some musician in sequins and fringe. I mean aren't we all supposed to be patriotic if we defend liberty and free speech?
Anyway - NewsComa picks it up the real crux of the matter - it wasn't just the Dixie Chicks - it was the whole squashing of speech thing that seemed to be going on in America at the time.
I think historically for many liberals who did not like Bush and did not want this war, to see the complete annihilation by media and dismissal of the Dixie Chicks after Maines statement was somewhat terrifying. We were in a freaky time in this country, and there was the underlying message that you couldn’t really say anything. I know I went through this on a smaller level in northwest Tennessee. Unfortunately, due to my job, I became a nodder. I’d just listen, try to interject (be told I was unpatriotic) and go off licking my wounds. You beat a dog enough, that dog goes and just hides under the porch. As ashamed as I am to admit, I spent a lot of time under the porch in 2003 and 2004 looking at people’s ankles as they walked by. It’s not something I take pride in admitting. In the past 18 months, that has changed.
I remember thinking in those months that I was freer in Old Europe than I would have been in America. Hey, I'm glad it's feeling better in America. Frankly, it was a little freaky.
But I can't do that. I do have to do the classic colonial and apparently deeply annoying - "You think this is hot/stormy/cold/variable?"
We had snow last week. Those of my colleagues who know I'm from Tennessee assume that we never see any snow*. "I don't guess you get much snow where you're from," I've been told during the two recent frozen precipitation episodes. The correct answer is, "well yes, not so much." The correct answer in the weather dialogue is always to agree with the weather conversation initiator. But I can't do that so I explain that we tend to get about as much precipitation in Tennessee as we get in South London - which, it's true is not much - except sometimes we get ice storms, too - and those are really bad - those put snow to shame.
"Well, I bet you don't react as badly to it as we do," is the immediate response. And it's true that London - and England in general - could react better to the snow. Particularly on the Underground - where on many lines no actual snow accumulates - with the trains being, you know, underground.
I lost count of the times I heard "Ladies and Gentlemen, there are delays on the .....(insert virtually every line)" yesterday. London's biggest snowfall in 7 years (or 15 if you go by This is Local London) was accurately predicted as early as Tuesday. Even down to the right day. Yet the transport system still couldn't cope because the snow was too sticky. The Met Office said that snow was unusually large. London Lite gleefully reported that "These giant snowflakes with their increased moisture are sticking together far more than expected, causing it to settle quicker and deeper". - via Going Underground.
and from my fellow expat, but one who's an actual Yankee who knows snow:
i really can’t wrap my brain around just how less than an inch of snow can cause so much chaos. other cities all over the world deal with snow for whole months of the year - perhaps someone from london’s city planners could go visit one of them and report back?
jimminy cricket - what a palaver for something that was completely melted away by midday! the exact same thing happened last time it snowed, too. i had a better sense of humour about it then, it seems.
i miss snow - but in london it’s far more trouble than it’s worth. ::sigh::
more predicted tonight - i’ll be lucky to make it to work tomorrow.
So, the correct answer again is to say "Yes, it's crazy that the schools have closed/ that there are delays on the Underground/ that my speaker at an event failed to show because she claimed she was snowed in."
But I can't do that.
I have to say - "You think you react badly. You should come to Tennessee. Y'all are moaning about schools being shut down when there's three inches of snow on the ground. I've not gone to school because of a dusting. At least the stores stay open, their shelves aren't denuded of a month's supply of milk and bread and rock salt and toilet paper. So no - really, all things considered, it's not so bad."
And that doesn't go down so well.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Last weekend was a big exception. We cleaned in advance of the Vol-in-Law's parents visiting us midweek. When we tired of that, we went out and distributed leaflets for this Tuesday's Conservative Party primary (more to follow on that later, I'm sure).
But we were back to the old routine this weekend. A lovely walk in Richmond Park. A little shopping in Wimbledon Village (not something I would advise the frugal shopper to partake in - as any village which has a Max Mara on the high street is probably not your average village) - and then dinner and zonking on the couch.
I didn't even manage to get very many good pictures. But I did spy a not-so-shy robin - and managed to slip off my back pack, open back pack, slip out camera case, open camera case, turn on camera, focus and shoot:
before the inevitable happened:
I also got a lovely shot of a Mandarin duck. I always wonder if the poor things will be slaughtered in an anti-bird flu frenzy one day - and the discovery of bird flu at a turkey farm in England in the last week or so only makes the question more pressing in my mind.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
They were going on about how the Labour party - and indeed Britain - would miss Tony Blair when he was gone. That is, we'd miss him in comparison after we've had a while with the dour Gordon Brown (the current Chancellor and heir apparent to the UK Premiership). They talked about Tony Blair's superstar quality - how he lights up a room, how after he's smiled at you, you want to swear off washing.
The civil servant said he'd been in a teeny-tiny lift with Gordon Brown and Brown didn't look at him, didn't make eye contact and didn't even say hello. This to a man who'd been in hours long meetings with the Chancellor and was just about to be in a two-hour meeting with him again.
I don't like Gordon Brown, but I had to acknowledge that I'd do something like that. Not every day, mind, but on one of my bad days I'd be quite likely to do something just like that. The senior civil servant was flabbergasted. I can understand why he felt that way - he doesn't know me and I was doing some presenting and facilitating yesterday - and was very much "on" - friendly and confident. But I've stood in line at the local grocery store next to a quite senior regulator, who I know and like and have worked on projects with and not looked at or acknowledged him until forced to. That was on a bad day. I wasn't deliberately blanking him, though. Truth be told, I didn't actually recognise him til he kinda waved his hand in front of my face.
I don't want to be like that. I just know that I sometimes am. That's why I can't go into politics - at least not in a "face" position. On a bad day, I'd offend constituents. Without meaning to. So I understand Gordon Brown, maybe, but unlike him I wouldn't dream of becoming a politician.
My husband says that he has a lift-recognition policy. The Vol-in-Law says he will acknowledge, smile and say hello to anyone in an elevator that he recognises by face or anyone who is wearing a suit. He says this has always worked out for him.
"Are you a winner or a sinner?" he hollered at just about everyone. I may have grown up in the South with street preachers and tract-distributers - but this guy had as much in common with London market traders calling out their wares as the hellfire and brimstone corner prognosticators of Tennessee. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to classify myself as a winner or a sinner by this guy (can't I be both?). And I rarely used that tube station.
My man the street preacher finally got himself an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) for megaphoning some lefty BBC types. (This is a civil order to stop doing something or to stay out of a certain area. If you defy the order though, it becomes a criminal matter and you can go to jail.) After the ASBO, I didn't see him at Oxford Circus. He was replaced by a woman with a weak voice and without the salesman's patter. Sometimes there was a man out there, too. But it wasn't the same.
Last night - the street preacher, Phil - handed me a religious tract as I exited Oxford Circus station. "Will you considering becoming a Christian?" he asked me.
"Don't you have an ASBO?" I wanted to ask him.
Photo credit to Dave Gorman who has a Flickr set dedicated to these London street preachers.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Me: Well, I don't really follow pro football...
Him: I don't even know who was in it.
Me: Well, it was the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears.
Him: So who won?
Me: Well, some people might say that really Tennessee won the Superbowl, 'cause see one of our former quarterbacks, Peyton Manning was the winning quarterback.
Him: So who won?
Me: Oh, uh, Indianapolis, the Colts - Peyton Manning plays for the Colts. I mean - the Vols won.
And for those who suggested that I might christen baby Cletus - Peyton. No, I will not. This doesn't change my mind. But thanks for the tip.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I have been to two sales and picked up some more clothes.. I got abeautiful blue smocked one piece suit (it has little Scottish terriers on the smocking)
Oh, smocking....great! I thought it was a lost art, but apparently somebody went and dug it up again. The Vol-in-Law had to ask me what smocking was. And I discovered that it's really hard to articulately explain smocking - but I described it as folding and pleating fabric. "Hmm," he said. "That doesn't sound very masculine. And wouldn't all those folds just be a trap for baby vomit?"
Nashville blogging mommy extrordinaire Lindsay of Suburban Turmoil is also expecting a boy and has already decided she's in the pro-overall, anti-smocking camp of baby boy fashion. She has a lot of good reasons why smocking shouldn't be allowed on boys.
But me - I'm in the cheapo fashion camp. If VolMom wants to buy smocking for her grandson - I say go ahead. Worse comes to worse we can dress him up in the smocking - snap a quick pic and let him wear it until it becomes a baby vomit trap.
VolMom is continuing to shop and wanted to know if we wanted more smocked items. I said only if they were deeply discounted. The Vol-in-Law was very doubtful about the smocking and said his fantasy baby outfit included camouflage. He wanted to dress his boy as a wee little hunstman* in camo with a "UT orange vest"** with tiny little pockets for baby-sized shotgun shells. I know very well that Lawrence County affords a a variety of opportunities to dress your child in clothes that will help him blend in with a pile of leaves - so I passed on the request to VolMom. The next day:
I must have lost my mind, but today I had to go to Loretto and I stopped by and got a RealTree camo outfit for poor little Cletus. I hope you and the ViL appreciate it, because I shelled out $28 for a t-shirt and matching overalls. I bought size 6 months because I couldn't imagine a child any smaller in such clothes. I hope the ViL is not disappointed that it is hunter camo. I am appalled enough to be buying bambi-killing clothes, but I hope I never stoop to getting military camo. I don't want my grandson to be a trained killer on my dollar.
Thanks! He said that was exactly what he wanted. He said not to worry about the trained killer thing - because he's going to raise little Cletus to be a chicken hawk just like Dick Cheney. Septugenarian lawyers had best watch out, though.
The ViL pointed out that he himself would be a septugenarian lawyer in 36 years time. Don't think I hadn't thought of that already.
* I should explain that the Vol-in-Law, having been raised vegetarian is squeamish about all things dead meat - i.e. it's me who has to dispose of what the cat dragged in. He has never been hunting. And being a Brit, I don't think he'd fired or even held a gun until well after we had married.
**As I've always explained to others, UT orange is not the same as blaze orange - the hunter safety color. These are completely different shades. This error makes me feel I have not properly educated him in the subtleties of the SEC color wheel.
Update: My in-laws are visiting and I told them about the camo purchase. They laughed, but deep down, I'm pretty sure they disapproved. (They're kinda big on disapproval). I told them about the ViL not knowing what smocking was and questioning the manliness of smocking. "Well, he was in smocking when he was a baby," my mother-in-law said. "Yes, I'm sure he was," I said.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Chic wasted on tots
To the Editor:
Do babies and toddlers actually care what their clothes look like? I was shocked to read that mothers actually spend $100 on their toddler's jeans and $28 on a T-shirt!Such young children do not care what they look like or if they are wearing the new "in" style look this season. Not only that, but children grow so fast, they would not even get good wear out of their costly clothing.
Also, why would one risk the chance of having their child's costly attire ruined by allowing him or her to play outside or eat food that has any chance of ending up on his or her outfit? I say stick with hand-me-downs and consignment sales and find a better use for the extra money. Maybe a college fund?
Unlike Ms Elder - I exhort the mothers of Tennessee to spend reckless amounts of money on baby fashion. The grandmother-to-be has been hitting the consignment shops and has found some good deals, but unless you Tennessee parents buy (and then re-sell) your expensive baby-gear there will be nothing left to buy. Could I request though that you avoid items with excessive designer branding (a personal dislike of mine) and perhaps get (and pass on) some more orange items?
Monday, February 05, 2007
Purple crocus in my garden
We had an anti-social weekend - and spent the whole time cleaning or delivering political leaflets.
In our down time, I don't know what the Vol-in-Law did, but I worked on my photo book of our vacation in France. I think I've nearly finished - except for the proofing. Regular readers of this blog may doubt my ability to proof - riddled as my posts are with typos, transatlantic misspellings, homophonic offenses and lazy sentence construction.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
But still...the taste of a sun-warmed, vine-ripened, freshly plucked home grown tomato is incomparable. Like wine, it's not a sensation just for the palate. There's the sight of ripening tomatoes on the vine, the cheery redness (or bright gold - if you prefer), the dumpling darling with its curling green star-shaped cap hanging from the stem. Then there's the feel - the tiny hairs on the leaves tickling your hand as you reach through the foliage for the treasure within, and then the smooth, near-to-bursting silky skin stretched over firm plumpness of the fruit. The smell. I love almost every smell of the tomato - from the earthy-promise scent of the leaves to warm semi-metallic tang of the ripe fruit. I don't so much like the smell of rotting tomatoes - that's the sad scent of a missed opportunity. The sound? - well, there's the sound of someone getting to that ripe tomato before you - "mmmm," they say "that's good." I always make sure I'm the first to taste my own tomatoes.
But more must be said of the the taste:
A tomato is supposed to taste like a tomato, which eliminates 98 percent of the ones in stores, which are bred for shelf life and durability, not taste. When you hold a tomato and you breathe the stem, you should get a good keen whiff of tomato. They call real tomatoes "heirloom" tomatoes to distinguish them from the Styrofoam kind, but they're pretty rare. And so the younger generation is forgetting what a tomato tastes like, and in another 20 years, you'll be able to sell them kumquats labeled "tomato" and this beloved staple will be gone forever. - Garrison Keillor
I used to grow tomatoes in pots against the brick wall at the top of my garden, just below my kitchen windows. But as that spot is next to the down spout - the tomatoes gave way for a water butt in preparation for the hosepipe ban we had in London last summer. Plus, I the tomato growing was less than successful the previous year. I'm not ruthless enough with the pinching back and everything got a little out of control. And I bought some tumbling tomatoes - designed to grow in hanging baskets - which certainly satisfied the visual and olfactory elements of growing tomatoes (they were awful pretty in the basket) but they tasted like February store-bought tomatoes. So last year I grew no tomatoes.
Overgrown tomato plants and the water butt and garden pond.
But this year, a new spot has opened up in the garden. Thanks to the piscine disaster - the hottiest, sunniest spot in my backyard will soon be free. Yes, it will take a bit of preparation. How many holes do I need to drill in the bottom of the plastic pond to create suitable drainage? How many bags of potting soil will I need to fill the darn thing up? How many tomato plants should I plant in the old pond? (Three or four, I've decided)
But most importantly what kind should I get? I've been pouring over the seed catalogues which are stuffed through a gardener's letterbox like a dealer pushes samples to schoolchildren. Should I get midsized, terminal, bush, branching, yellow, red, stripy, heirloom, purple, bell-shaped or cherry? What will guarantee me copious amounts of delicious juicy, ripe tomatoes?
You may remember Garrison Keillor's tomato sketch, "you'd kill for a
vine ripe tomato in January, not those things they strip mine down in
Texas but real tomatoes - then by August it is leaving bags on neighbor's
door stoop "pick them and bring them in. maybe they will crawl into
the jars by themselves" - U. of Florida Sustainable Agriculture Discussion
I've never had copious amounts of tomatoes in England. I'd love a bumper crop though clearly flavor trumps quantity. I'm going to write the American fellow at Pennard Plants soon and get his advice - they sell vegetable seeds - and perhaps he could suggest a carefully planned cornucopia of container grown vegetables.
And any reader advice is welcome, too.
Friday, February 02, 2007
rape is an appalling topic no matter what the circumstances, but rape in the u.k. is truly horrific because only 5% of reported rape cases end in a conviction. that’s a number which has, in fact, been falling since 1977. of the cases that go to trial, one of every two ends in acquittal. in other words, a victim who manages to make it to trial has only a 50/50 crapshoot of getting to see her attacker put behind bars
and reading the reports, it’s not hard to understand why. in news item after news item, there’s just no sense that anyone in the justice system takes rape seriously. there’s a lot of talk about the number of false accusations, the difficulties of determining consent if someone’s been binge drinking, and passing the buck blame-gaming. all we hear is how hard it is to determine what happened when the two parties know each other. attempts at judicial reforms have been dismissed by judges, police incorrectly record allegations as “no crimes”, and more than a third of dropped cases have should have been pursued. but perhaps the most telling indicator of how rape is viewed and prosecuted in the u.k. is that women are still often questioned about their sexual history as part of the trial.
And there's more...
there’s still a lot about the u.k. that is inherently sexist
Yep, human condition, I think.
some of it is more overt (the topless photos inside the “newspapers”) and some of it is more subtle (the use of the endearment “love” in a pejorative and belittling way). margaret thatcher notwithstanding, there are still a lot of obvious inequalities and insidious patriarchal attitudes that pervade the culture. i was quite struck by it when i first arrived, and i am sad to say, it has since faded into background noise. because, well, i live here - and you just can’t spend all day every day in a black cloud of righteous indignation.
Nope. You can't. Plus some of this "background sexism" is obvious only when it's fresh. I think there's loads in American culture that we often just don't pick up on because we're raised with it and used to it. When you come in new to a place, the cultural assumptions are a lot more striking. Besides, I think the "love" thing is kinda sweet. As it's used in Yorkshire, you can tell it's not sexist - men, women, small children, the odd surly teenager are all called "duck" or "love" by men and women alike. The use is fading, but I still think everyday endearments are, well, endearing. Like anything, it can be abused and used in pejorative fashion.
Personally, I feel a bit freer here and less constrained by sexual and social stereotypes. Maybe that's living in London, maybe that's age and maturity. Maybe I've lived here so long I really don't notice anymore. All I know is that my home culture is still pretty darn sexist.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I'm not the only one who's sad:
She made me want to be better, and have a hard edge with a smile on my face, ignoring adversity. She asked the hard questions, and took a beating sometimes. She never pretended that she wasn’t human, and she made me want to write editorials for a newspaper. She created an environment where she trusted that newspapers had an objective voice, against the odds of ownership and political pressure, regardless of shrill critics.Katie Allison Granju
tonight I just want to say that Molly Ivins made me want to write better. She made me laugh my ass off many times. And unlike most of the rest of the American press circa 2007, she never, ever, ever stopped asking the hard questions, or digging deeper.
Molly Ivins was a Texas original. She was loved by her readers and by her many friends, particularly in Central Texas. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase.
Did Molly make me want to be better? Nah. But that doesn't mean she didn't inspire me. To be even more irreverent in the face of local politics. An approach that now pays my mortgage.
Read more tributes to Molly at The Texas Observer
No apparently, the controversy is whether it's morally reprehensible or not for moms to have a wee glass of wine while they sit around shooting the breeze watching their kids play. This apparently all stems back to a piece on The Today Show featuring people I've never heard of (I've been away for a while.)
That's why I was pretty damned irritated to watch Meredith Vieira attempt to rip Melissa Summers of Suburban Bliss a new one in a Today show segment on cocktail playdates.
All, I can say about this is...is well, only in America. (Or maybe Saudi Arabia.) Good lord people, we're not talking about mother's ruin here. In England, this topic would be laughed right out of the road. And apparently a lot of American mommy bloggers are just as perplexed by the furore, via Blonde Mom Blog:
It’s tempting to criticize others for their parenting choices. Sometimes I drink a glass of wine or a beer in front of my girls. Does that make me a bad mother?
All kidding aside, when next year’s presidential candidates discuss the issues that are of utmost concern to the average parent, moms occasionally drinking a glass of wine in front of their kids will not be part of their talking points.
Now of course, in England, the middle classes generally are louches. It's quite common for parents to finish off a bottle of wine between themselves of an evening. And while I'm not sure about the concept of the cocktail playdate, families with small children getting together and serving food would almost certainly serve alcohol as well.
To drink or not to drink
I was recently asked by colleagues if I had cut back on my alcohol consumption during pregnancy. (Note people said "cut back" not "quit".) I replied since I was always more a binge drinker than an every day drinker, the pregnancy thing had definitely but a dent in my lifestyle. What I meant by that is I do keep bad company and we did have a habit of knocking back a few of the weekend - but for most of the year I'm not in the habit of drinking every day. Clearly that style of drinking is not appropriate during pregnancy.
But I'll admit - I probably still drink a half-glass to a glass of wine each week - and no more than a half-glass at one sitting - and during a formal meal. You might as well start as you mean to go on...
I'm very much aware that my hard drinking days are probably over for quite some time, but I will continue to drink. And in England, at least, that will go completely unremarked upon.
HT to NiT