Monday, January 29, 2007

Weird Times

The past couple of days have been a bit odd. I got moved from Pop’s house to my brother’s house, which incidentally is the house where I grew up. So I’m now in my old bedroom. It’s quite disconcerting because everything looks the same, but everything has changed.

Pops is frail, but still in reasonable health. While I’m here he’s undergoing radiation therapy to try and extend his quality of life. He’s not in any pain, or exhibiting any symptoms, so it’s become a kind of morbid holiday where I’m meeting up with relatives and going to the beach and discussing funeral rites, wills and inheritance tax.

Trinidad is a bit like my brother’s house, the same but different. I’m going to try and find some links to the local newspapers. It’s become a very violent and dangerous place filled with rumours of police corruption and political scandal vying for a place in the papers, next to kidnappings and murders on epic scales. Life here happens behind burglar proofing, high walls and security guards. It makes me claustrophobic. I can’t bear locked doors and guns. Any homesickness I might feel is quickly chased away by reality. Like all bouts of nostalgia, the Trinidad I knew while growing up, didn’t really exist because it was seen through the eyes of a self-centred teenager.

I’ve had a chance to finally meet my niece who is 18 months, named after one grandmother with the temperament of the other. With blonde curls and the cutest smile, she’s stolen the hearts of everyone around her, including mine. Broody? Me? I’ll never admit to it. Ever. I’m looking forward to grandchildren.

My nephew is about to take his SAEs, which is the equivalent to the old 11+ system. While primary school education needs to be paid for, secondary education is free and the competition is fierce for the handful of really good high schools. He spends his Saturday morning having extra tutorials, the afternoon doing his homework and Sunday evening revising fractions. My SIL (Sister in Law) looks at me strangely at my relaxed attitude to Boy’s learning.

The hardest part is being without my Boy. I keep thinking there’s something missing…the cuddles, his sense of humour. I’m taking loads of pictures to show him. I don’t have my USB cable, so I can’t transfer my pictures yet, but there will be some to make you envious. Blue skies, clear water and white sands. This is a beautiful but troubled country.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Four Legged Journey

I’ve decided that I’m going to call a halt to my career as a professional procrastinator. It’s way too stressful. I was packing 10 mins before I was due to leave. And tell me, if I’m only going to be here, why do I need 6 pairs of shoes? I need taking in hand with my packing, I really do.

The first leg of my journey started out with me standing at a bus stop waiting to go into the city to catch my National Express coach. When I finally got to the bus station, panicking and stressed, I was pleasantly surprised. National Express decided I was a VIP and laid on a coach just for me. Seriously, I was the only passenger. The driver, a bubbly blonde woman, was such a sweetie. I sat up front so I could chat to her and we had such a laugh. Bless her, she even got me a fish and chip dinner in Attleborough. Goodness knows what the new driver thought of the smell, but I hid the evidence. Unfortunately, she finished at Stansted, and then other passengers invaded my space! Humpf. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, if a bit chilly and noisy. Fortunately, I had my MP3 player and a weird game of I-spy with Monkfish to keep me occupied, as well as several calls from my Viking.

The second leg started with me in Gatwick airport. After I arrived, I had a quick recky to look for somewhere to kip for the night. I also had the most expensive, worst cup of tea ever. I cannot describe how disgusting it was. I know, given the circumstances, its a bit petty going on about tea, but honestly: it was vile.

I found finally found a bucket chair on the second level and began what was, one of the most surreal nights I’ve ever spent. Despite the fact it was only 23.00, all of the best spots were taken: the upholstery benches without armrests. I was quite pleased with my seat. It was next to long wooden benches with armrests, so I felt slightly smug in bagging my chair. With a bit of wiggling, I stretched out with my legs propped up on top of my suitcase, on the wheely trolley. I attached my backpack to my suitcase and then loosened the straps so I could get one of my legs through. I had my mobile phone on my chest set to vibrate (no comments on that thanks guys - you know who you are) to wake me up at 3.40, so I could beat the queue for the 4.30 check in. Unfortunately, I was sat opposite a bank of arcade games, including House of the Dead 3. My 3 or so hours sleep was punctuated with moans, screams and gunfire. I rolled my woolly hat over my eyes and dozed.
Every time I had to shift position, I woke up, pushed up my hat, shifted about and pulled hat down again. I’d have a quick look around and there would be more people sleeping next to me. All of the wooden benches were taken with other travelers. There was someone’s feet by my head and by my feet were someone else’s head. Not far from me two couples struck up a conversation which lasted the whole time I was dozing. It wasn’t at all annoying, the rise and fall of their voices was actually quite reassuring. Almost as if they were the sentinels guarding us sleepers. Note to self: learn not to pack so much.

The third leg, I spent a bit like a pretzel, dozing. The food was atrocious, but hey, you pay peanuts for a flight which should have cost 800.00GBP (no pound signs on this keyboard), you kind of expect a lack of frills. I am not a keen flyer. I really don’t like it that much. I’m nervous on take off and landing. I hate turbulence. However, while perusing the safety card. Hah! I noticed the make of aircraft. It was a Boeing 767-300 G-VKNG. Note to self: take pack up for the next flight.
Third leg was the most dodgy. After spending most of my time in a queue in Crown Point International Airport for immigration. I had to lug my bag of bricks around as I sorted out the flight to Trinidad. Many, many thanks to my sister-in-law for sorting out a ticket. This small airport gets an influx of 1000 travelers twice a week and seriously can’t cope. If I would have had to wait on standby for the Tobago Express (the little shuttle between the two islands), I would have been screaming. The shuttle was a small plane with twin props. It was a heck of a flight. I’ve decided that, yes, size does matter. I like BIG airplanes. It’s disconcerting feeling the small plane bouncing on clouds. Turbulence seems so much worse.

The fourth leg brought me home. My mum always laughingly called him The Factotum, a bit of a misnomer, because he looked after me throughout my childhood. He drove me to and from school, parties, helped me with my maths homework, looked after my parents and their home. We met up and headed home. Much of Trinidad has changed. There are now 3 lane highways where there were only one. Lots of construction and new shiney buildings. American billboards with Ben Affleck smile down on drivers weaving in and out of lanes. Indicator? What’s one of those? The traffic has got so bad that the Factotum took us the scenic route which shaved a half an hour off our journey. Night had fallen, but I was still able to recognise the places I visited when I was growing up.
It was good to see Pops. He is has lost weight, but not his smile or sense of humour. I brought him lots of naughtiness: chocolate. It’s been good catching up with him. He says I’m good for him, for the first time in a month he slept for 7 hours, instead of the 2/4 he’s been having. As I write this he’s off having his radiation therapy. The specialist says it will keep him comfortable and active for longer and it isn’t the nightmare that is chemo. I am so pleased he decided not to go that route. He seems fairly philosophical.

I’m glad I came. It’s good to be here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

So Long, Farewell, Auf We...

I sit here with the dregs of my coffee, in my fluffy pink dressing gown, with a pit of dread sitting in my stomach. Today, is a day for goodbyes. Some are merely temporary, some will be permanent. One of my constant challenges is to learn to let go. I'm rubbish at it. I want to hold on to the people I love and not let go, I want to hold on to the things that make me happy. Unfortunately, this does not work for me. So I'm learning to live in the moment, enjoy what happens now and hold the memories in my heart, when I say goodbye.

Grim stuff, I'm sorry. When I started this, I didn't intend to get so bleak so soon. If your eyes are beginning to cross, please click on any of the links to the right of this, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Those of you who visit Snapshots, will know that Ing has had a terrible loss last week. Today, he, his colleagues and Stacey's family gather to mourn their loss and honour a wonderful woman. I met her only briefly, although my attention was firmly focussed on someone else, I remember her smile.

As they say goodbye to Stacey, I can't help but be aware that I am leaving my child, my home, my friends to say goodbye to the man who raised me. I don't want to go. I don't want it to be real. I don't want to have to let him go. I'm really only 6 years old you see, and it hurts. He's my strongest link to my mum, who died 2 1/2 years ago. Ours was by no means an easy relationship; but for a man who took on the role of father late in life to another woman's children, I think he should have a star in Heaven to shine just for him.

Today, I set off to say my goodbyes to him. Thanks to National Express' not taking into consideration flights that leave at stupid o'clock, I'll be kipping down in the South Terminal tonight. I've got a 6 hour coach journey to Gatwick this evening, then after the 3 hour check-in I have a 13 hour flight. When I get to Tobago, I have to clear immigration and customs and for another flight to Trinidad. It's going to be a long jouney.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Odd Stuff

Something odd happened to me over the weekend. It was really strange and I have to say, it's never occurred to me that it could happen. I was completely nonplussed.

I couldn't write my blog. I spent most of Saturday adding labels to all my posts, in response to tax form which needs to be handed in before I fly out. I started two posts, and left them. I was completely floored by this. Like I said, it's never happened to me before. Normally, I've got at least 4 ideas for posts and when I sit down it's a a feat of self-control that I don't blog everything. Not over the weekend. I sat in front of the screen and watched the little cursor blink. Which it did for absolutely ages. In the end I got up and did something else. I read a book. Bothered Boy. Thought about writing my To Do List.

I trawled through everybody else's blogs. I trawled through BBC Online and the Guardian. I found this article about a duck, which made me smile. The bizarre behaviour of people, or should I say, the odd quality of mercy. I'll let you read it and decide.

So I must apologise if this post is not up to scratch, but I wanted to write something. And in case I forget to say Happy Monday!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

White Rabbit

Came across this in an early morning blog trawl. It's sufficiently weird and wonderful to make me want to share. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Corking

I'm on my second cup of coffee, trying to get my brain to start functioning for the final push. Your good wishes and nagging have worked and I've met 2 out of 3 deadlines this week. My final deadline awaits at 11.00 for my Prose submission. I'm almost pleased about my poetry, half of the poems were actually passable, two were only apalling and the last one was not too dire. I am not a poet, but the discipline of writing poetry is so good for my Prose that I didn't want to give it up. I realise that it will pull my overall degree mark down, but as I'm doing the work anyway, I might as well get the marks for it. Oh. Sorry, we've already had this conversation.

I have yet to figure out why, when I have a spate of sleepless nights although I feel like rubbish the next morning, I always feel so much worse, when I do have a good night. Answers on a postcard please.

I was doing my daily news trawl and I came across this article from the BBC Online Magazine. Reminds me of a visit from Hottie last year. She drove me to Waitrose to stock up on wine for the evening. We headed to the Naughtiness aisle, which in Waitrose is the size of a couple of large squash courts. We start looking for appropriate bottles. Hottie will drink anything, I will only drink Red, white wine gives me the most amazing heartburn, and to me tastes like vinegar. We picked up a bottle of Banrock Sparkling Red as a treat, for us and the environment.We're having a look through the shelves and I pick up a bottle and flash it for Hottie's approval. She looks at me as if I've just pulled something nasty from the local JobCentre. "Screw tops, " she informed me. "Are for the seriously alcoholic, or the terminally lazy." At which point I just cracked up. The guy who was standing next to us, trying to chose his poison for the evening, stopped and glared at us. Undaunted, Hottie looks him in the eye and says "How desperate are you if you can't manage to open a bottle with a corkscrew?"

I must admit I do agree with her. Corks are classy. Regular visitors to my abode will atest to my recycling activities, which do not happen often enough. Having your worktop crowded with bottles and corks is far more appealing than empty plastic bottles and squashed tetrapaks. And as was pointed out to me on Friday, if I really was an alcoholic, I would hide the evidence better.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blank

Mind, like page is blank. It has taken me all day to do, what should have been done in a couple of hours. I am preparing my Creative Practice portfolio (well, a box with stuff in it) to hand in for my interim assessment tomorrow. I still have a 1000 word critical appraisal to write and my document remains stubbornly blank.

While this entry is an exercise in procrastination, I'm also hoping that it will 'loosen' me up a bit, so I can have this wretched thing handed in by 11 am tomorrow. I'm beginning to get seriously worried about my lack of brain function. If I don't get my butt into gear I'm going to botch this degree. But my mind continues to be mush. Writing the most basic sentence takes forever. It's as if all my creativity had disappeared down the toilet.

I thought I'd try some exercise yesterday to see whether that would get the circulation and brain going again. What it meant was I got little or no sleep last night because I was so sore. I am functioning, as in cooking and actually doing the laundry, but nothing more than that is going on. Don't even mention the dissertation.

I fly out next Thursday and will be back on the 8th of February. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a PC to let you all know how I'm getting on, or not. Britwitch, who must be worshipped and adored, will be guarding my castle and my Boy while I'm away. I'm hoping he won't take advantage of her too much. He's pretty miffed that I'm leaving him behind, but we'll go out together for Easter, and it's the only way we could do this. I'm trying not to think of anything else at the moment. When I think too hard about stuff, it all goes horribly wrong.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Change One Thing

Along with the New Year comes the resolutions which I refuse to make - it's the only resolution I can stick to. I was watching Gillian McKeith on Tuesday and I was struck by a couple of thoughts and a bit of a paradox I wanted to share.

At present, it seems like all channels are bombarding their viewers with 'improvement' shows. How to improve your home, your children, you. Extreme vs. non-extreme. Plastic surgery, diet, shopping, therapy. All with the basic premise which I found deeply saddening ~ there is something wrong with 'you' that these measures will fix. There is also the equally worrying assumption that once 'you' have a new wardrobe, a new face, a new body, all will be well. I know I'm being slightly naive, happy people don't make good television. No one seems to want to celebrate success, unless it comes with a clear cost.

Anyway, I digress. For an hour I watched Dr McKeith (please note, she is not a medical doctor, a fact that seems not to figure prominently anywhere in her bumpf) bully and terrorise two hapless people. Meat, dairy products as well as a whole host of 'naughty' foods were cut out of their diets. They had to exercise 3 times a day for half an hour every day. Their excrement was examined, analysed and mocked. As were her subjects. At the end of her regime, there can be no doubt, her two subjects looked fitter and appeared to have gained in self-confidence. I do not doubt for a moment that adopting her regime worked for these two.

I have spent a bit of time wondering why the whole process rubbed me up the wrong way. Then I realised what it was. It was a puritan regime. It's success depends on the denial of pleasure. I'm sorry but drinking a glass of kale juice does not constitute pleasure in my reality. I have no doubt that she would argue that my tastebuds have been deadened by sugar, caffeine and msg. She's probably right. Would I give up meat, dairy products, wine, ribena, caffeine, sugar, potatoes, chocolate, crisps to become a 'better person'?

Ummm....no.
Which brings me neatly to my paradox. Most people lack confidence, self-esteem, they'll give you a list of their short-comings, faults, dislikes about their bodies. The self-help world tells us that we have the power to change these things and that we'll become happier if we do. Really? So in essence we have have to learn to like ourselves and change the things we don't like. Tell me again, how does that work?

I'm quite aware of the shortcomings of my life-style. More exercise and more fresh fruit and veg are always on my To Do List. I suppose I really enjoy my vices, I do try to keep them in moderation. But their presence in my life brings me a great deal of pleasure. That seems to be missing from the You are What you Eat Regime. I'm a Taurean, and the pursuit of pleasure and sensual activities are inherent Taurean traits. *slaps Monkfish and Cogidubnus for any double entendres - that's not what I mean*. Good food, good drink, shiney things, pleasureable company, good films, books....all these things enhance my life.

I don't mean to be personal, but when you look at Gillian McKeith. She is obviously slender and fit, but there's always a pinched expression and an almost religious zeal in her eyes. Perhaps I'm being unfair but, compare her with Nigella Lawson. Nigella is sensual, voluptuous and I love the naughty twinkle in her eye. So Gillian might live a bit longer, I bet Nigella will have more fun. I know who I'd rather aspire to be.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lamb Stew and the Kitchen Sink

Tonight, I feel the need for comfort food. Hence the lamb stew. Boy calls it a kitchen sink meal for good reason. It's a one-pot meal, and I'm not sure which army I was catering for, but I hope they're not going to be late. I have got a HOOOGE potfull as they say here in Norfolk.

Today, did not start well. I was half an hour late for my tutorial with my CP tutor. I was late because I'm a complete muppet; I completely got my times wrong. The 5 minutes we chatted was enough to put me back on track. This week has been a string of 'woe-is-me' meetings with my Course Leader, Student Adminstration and Support and the Critical Studies director, to explain why I haven't done my dissertation and to access the support from the College, which will mean I can finish my final year, this year. I've now got extentions for my dissertation of four weeks, which I'm hoping I won't need. I'd rather not have it impact on the rest of my coursework.

This afternoon, a group of us went to see Pan's Labyrinth at Cinema City. It was better than the reviews suggested. Excuse me as I cycle through my superlatives while trying to find something not clich├ęd. It was amazing. Everything that a fairy tale ought to be, scary, dark, compelling, with a real sense of menace. Guillermo del Toro juxtaposes the fantasy of the Labyrinth against the reality of Franco's Spain and the result is mindblowing. I did initially want to take Boy along, but the violence is brutal and explicit. It's one of the few occasions I've felt it necessary to restrict his viewing, but there are subtleties that he'll miss at this point. Go and see it!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Chilli to Make Grown Men Cry

It occurs to me that quite a few people reading this blog, are single or living on their own. One of the most difficult challenges living on your ownsome, is cooking. Cooking for one can be dull, boring and the temptation of ready meals, overwhelming. So I thought I would share one of the mainstays of our diet. Chilli. This is my Nigella impression.

First thing you've got to do, is the shopping. Take a walk around where you live, see whether you've got a butcher nearby. I know this sounds ludicrous in the age of the supermarket. But trust me on this; a good, local butcher is worth his weight in gold. Apart from the flavour of the meat, you're less likely to have to pour off half a pint of fatty water when cooking said meat. I buy steak mince. Its got a fuller taste and is less fatty. While you're out searching for your butcher, keep an eye out for a veg shop. I like small shops. I like the fact that they get to know your tastes, will put stuff aside for you, or order stuff in for you. I'm really blessed. I have a butcher and a fish and veg shop within spitting distance of each other. Shopping is a pleasure, not a chore, it always takes longer because I always end up chatting to people behind the counter.

Anyway, for the chilli you will need:
  • a handful of steak mince
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • a tin of kidney beans
  • red/yellow pepper
  • medium onion (red preferably)
  • chilli powder
  • paprika
  • garlic
  • sun-dried tomatoe paste
  • 70% dark chocolate
  • a tin of lager (not too cheap and nasty)
If you're feeling the onset of scurvy, throw in a carrot, handful of mushrooms into your basket as well, oh and some cumin and oregano. You'll also need to add rice, Cheddar and maybe some sour cream if you're ignoring your scales.

Dice the pepper and onion and fry in a large saucepan with a little bit of oil. I always measure my spices out beforehand, because I watch too many cookery shows. Add 3 tsps of paprika to 1 tsp of chilli powder and a half a tsp of cumin, the more asbestos your tongue and stomach, cut down the paprika and up the chilli, don't say I didn't warn you. Add spices to softened pepper and onion, stir in mince once the spicey concoction smells hot. Fry the mince until brown all the way through, add the contents of the tins of chopped tomatoes and kidney beans. Stir. Add as much garlic as you like, a spoonful of tomatoe paste, a shake of oregano, lager and a square of chocolate (we always operate on the One for Pot rule - one for the pot, two for the cook and assistant). Cover, turn down the heat and stir occasionally. It should be done in about an hour, feel free to cook for several hours if you fancy waiting. When the chilli is done serve with rice, grated cheese, sour cream and tissues. Enjoy.

The chilli will keep 5 days in the fridge and it also freezes if you have leftovers. Cookery is an art, not a science so experiment with different ingredients. Oh if you're in need of veggies, add the carrot to the pot when you're frying the mince, add the mushroom after everything else.

Have I done anything else today? Laundry, rambled round the internet, watched dire movies on the telly. It's been a good weekend. I can't say I'm ready for the week ahead, I'm not even ready for tomorrow.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Red Vs Blue PSA Holiday 06

A bit late...but amusing just the same.

Displacement Stuff

I'm sitting here, thinking about the things I need to be doing, should be doing and must be doing. Which is why I'm sitting here. Today, Boy has a friend who will be sleeping over, so all I need to do is feed them and keep out of their way. In a minute, I'll drag them down to the shops to get some food in the house for tonight and the week ahead.

I've had a very busy few days. My Super rang me on Wednesday and we briefly discussed options. He's advised that I apply for extensions, extenuating circumstances and the year out; his logic is simply if I've got the back up and don't use it, no harm done. I must admit, the more I think about it, the less inclined I am to take the year out. I've only got 5 months to go, my creative work is all on track. It's only the dissertation which is tripping me up. I will spend this weekend tinkering away on my degree work, filling out forms and thinking. I have decisions to make.

Not all is dire though. I got invited to a posh do on Thursday by my Viking. It was lovely escaping for the day. It meant I had to travel by train. Damn. So I was one happy bunny staring out the window, letting my thoughts drift in and out. I just wish I could put my finger on why journeys resonate with me to the extent that they do. Anyway, it has been ages since I'd had an opportunity to get glammed up. I did go out and invest in some new shoes; M&S to the rescue. Getting ready is just a much fun as the actual going out. I know, it's a girly thing. But I got to put on make-up, a fabulous dress and new shoes; show me what woman wouldn't have fun? I don't think I embarrassed my Viking, he seemed fairly pleased that I scrubbed up okay.

The posh do was amazing! All of these fabulous women dressed up to the 9s, the men in d-js. The food was great, the drink cheap and the music danceable to. Yes, I was cruel, I made him dance with me. Needless to say, by the end of the evening, my feet were killing me. But it was worth it. I got spoilt rotten and had loads of fun. A lovely memory to counter-balance the difficult stuff.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The New Year

Lots of my favourite bloggers have been reviewing their year and I've spent some time thinking about 2006.

Some key moments for me:
  • ending my long-term relationship in February
  • continuing my degree
  • coming to terms with my boy going to high-school and becoming a teenager
  • blogging
  • letting go of some out-of-date emotional stuff, I'd been lugging around
Ing's post on the Beauty of Uncertainty really struck a chord with me, because I am a Woman with a Plan. Or at least, I was. In 2006, I accepted that I haven't actually got a clue. All of the things I thought I wanted for myself, are actually really bad for me. So in essence, I don't know about 2007.

I suspect it's going to be fraught, painful and bloody hard work, but then, when hasn't life been like that? I have good friends who care for me, virtual and real life. I'm still breathing in and out. My Boy is a delight. I still manage my mortgage payments. All in all I think I'm doing fine. I might feel a little bit bruised and tired, but that's okay.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam Hussein

It's not often I feel motivated to write about political issues. I suppose I just suffer from overwhelming apathy with regards to the events which unfold on the political stages around the world. It's not that I lack an opinion, it's more that I haven't wanted to use my blog as my personal soapbox. I think there are people out there who are better informed, more articulate and more interesting than my tuppence worth.

Today, I feel slightly different. On Saturday, Saddam Hussein was executed. Today's Guardian led with the picture of him hanging from the noose and I felt very uncomfortable to the point of distress. The accompanying article is very worrying indeed. I leave you to draw your own conclusions, but I think a grave mistake has been made.

I am not denying that Hussein was a nasty piece of work, and he did many things which are morally reprehensible. But the account of his execution is truly appalling. In this I agree wholeheartedly with Moby, it is wrong to celebrate his death. He was someone's son, someone's father. How much hatred will be stirred up by this? How has his final humilliation and death served peace?

Ringing in the New

Happy New Year! May 2007 bring you new adventures, success, laughter and love.

Boy and I saw the new year in with Gee, some of her clan and some members of the Norwich Chant Collective. We finished off several bottles of wine, a bottle of champagne and a several coffees. Played Articulate, which was a real hoot. I think boardgames are fabulous, especially when played with good friends and family. Competitive games bring out the spikey side in people who appear on the surface easy going and laid back. Many creative insults were hurled during the course of the game.

Needless to say I am feeling somewhat delicate. I've only just managed to get out of my PJs. Boy is happily playing on his new XBox 360. He finally managed to save up enough to take advantage of a good deal. Now he just needs to save a small fortune to get some decent games. Mind you, there will be some money definitely put away for Halo 3, which just looks amazing.