Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where in the World?

Kos. Second largest island in the Dodecanese – 43km long and 8km wide. Nearer to Turkey than mainland Greece thus the large number of scary military compounds lurking round bends in the road.

A very pleasant place to spend two weeks – provided you get out of Kardamena. Sleepy fishing village by winter; drunken English resort by summer.

I'm back!

So, I've swapped the sound of sea and cicadas for sirens and children screaming.

I've been sat here arguing with myself for the last 40 minutes or so. I need to go to school. I can wing it. I need to go to school. I can wing it. Ring X; he has the information I need. It's not fair to ring staff during the holidays. I need to go to school.

I have to speak to all the staff tomorrow about the new intake. 160+ people all bored as hell sat in a hall. I thought the information was on my laptop but it isn't. It was on my school email but I deleted it in a temper tantrum. (I'd asked for the format to be changed at least six times to make it easier on the eye). My fault.

I can wing it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Holiday Update

If you thought the English heatwave was bad you obviously have not experienced a Greek one - upto 110F in old money. Scorching. Scared to get out from under the umbrella but I have now spotted at least two people whiter than me...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back in Two Weeks

All ready to pack. I have more books than bikinis and shoes put together so I am hoping my suitcase isn't going to be too heavy.

I have been assured by the airline that Gatwick is coping fine with all the new arrangements and that I need only turn up at the usual time. We'll see.

Be back in September.

This should be illegal!

After merrily perusing the knickers in M&S, I went to the tills to pay for six pairs. As I approach the counter I note it seems strange to have a young lad on the cashdesk in the middle of lingerie.

Then it hits me. I used to teach him. My heart sinks lower than you can imagine.

"You're not buying underwear are you, miss?"

"We are on the underwear floor. Is there another till up here?" I ask hopefully.

"No. You'll have to pay somewhere else."

"Well, I'm not paying for underwear with my carrots. Just stick them through the till."

"Aren't you embarrassed?"

"Yes, just get on with it."

"This should be illegal!" he declares.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Normal Service Resumes

Well, the British summer is back. Too cold without a jacket, too hot with one. Yesterday morning I went to the newsagents prepared. I did ponder who looked more ridiculous - the people struggling with their inside-out umbrellas at the bus stop or me in my walking boots and kag-in-a-bag (Millet's version of a pac-a-mac). Yes, okay, probably me but I am sure I was drier.

Yesterday evening had me fooled though. I again went to the newsagents (yogurt and wine) but this time in jeans, t-shirt and sandals. There were blue patches of sky and all was well with the world. Until I got halfway between home and my destination. The heavens opened. And I really do mean the heavens opened.

I spent at least six minutes with an Asian man sheltering under a sweet chestnut. He now knows rather more about English trees than he did before the downpour. He probably also thinks I'm mad. He too was going to the newsagents and he definitely said something about me in Bengali when we entered. I'm trying not to dwell too much on what.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Day at the Races

I have a slightly ambivalent attitude towards horse racing. I can never quite decide whether I should or shouldn't support it.

I first shunned the sport in 1998 after I'd backed the winner in the National. Earth Summit ridden by Carl Llewlyn. (I'd vaguely met the jockey as at that time he lived next door to a friend from uni in Wantage). I was overjoyed until I saw the front page of the Observer the following day. It carried a beautifully stark photo of a horse falling at a fence and the news that three horses had been put down. Stood on the Bethnal Green Road I declared I was not collecting my winnings. (C. told me after watching Everton in a scintillating nil-nil draw at Selhurst Park a few days later the tickets had been bought with the winners which he'd collected).

C. is a betting man and I have been drawn in on occasion since but none more so than Friday.

His running club organised a trip to Newmarket races - six evening races followed by Jools Holland and his band. I agreed to go as I put in very few appearances and I thought I owed it to C. to show I do still exist.

Well, after getting used to the unseasonably hot weather the British summer returned with a vengeance. The picnic was held under umbrellas and was eventually cut short. By the time Jools Holland was over (fantastic) I was frozen. My feet resembled lumps of ice. My lips so chapped as to be painful. Most people returned to the coach over an hour early in the hope of some warmth.

I had kidded myself that I wouldn't have a bet but you just can't resist when you're there. I decided on £5 per race for the six races and if I lost my £30 so be it.

The end result? My little money bag held £51.40 when I left. Two winners and two places. Not bad going for someone who didn't have a strategy and who now feels everso slightly guilty.
I've been tagged by Doug. Nine questions on books all starting 'One...'. One is impossible. I decided to actually complete this as quickly as I could otherwise I'd have spent all day agonising over choices and decisions. Here goes...

One book you have read more than once:

classics are probably top of the list – various books by Austen, Dickens, Defoe, Orwell. Fugitive Pieces Ann Michaels. If nobody speaks of remarkable things Jon McGregor. Thinks... David Lodge.

One book you would want on a desert island:

Gulliver's Travels.
I knew the story as a child but reread it as an adult. (if you haven't done so, I recommend it). Admittedly, Gulliver may have fared better had he washed up on uninhabited desert islands but he did get himself out of some pretty hairy situations. I may be able to pick up some tips. Failing that I could daydream about who I would get the Yahoos to bring back from the dead so I could question them about the best way to live on my island.

One book that made you laugh:

there is just one book here – a clear winner: Fowlers End by Gerald Kersh. It is truly a laugh out loud, hysterical book. Sadly out of print I'm told.

One book that made you cry:

I cry at the news and when reading the newspaper but I honestly cannot remember a book making me cry. I'm sure I must have done at some point.

One book you wish you had written:

Some sort of social observation set in London. The trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton, Grub Street by George Gissing, the aforementioned Fowlers End, Mother London by Michael Moorcock, London Observed by Doris Lessing, the list goes on...

One book you wish had never been written:

at the time anything I was forced to read for English GCSE which does include the greats 1984, Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights. I simply hated the teacher (I don't use the word 'hated' lightly) who I still remember told us there were 24 letters in the alphabet and she once read “the sharp on the hill” rather than “sheep”. We had a battle of wills once over a copy of Tess of the d'Urbevilles. The pear which formed part of my packed lunch had squidged over the cover. She went mad and shouted at me to wash it. I thought this a little harsh as it was an accident and also a little stupid as books and water don't really mix. (I did tell her this). She shouted at me again and so I went and plunged the whole book into a sink full of water in the girls' toilets. I'm digressing.

One book you are currently reading:

I'm going through a short story phase. I've just read The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty three new stories translated by Peter Constantine and have Michel Faber's The Fahrenheit Twins and Mick Jackson's Ten Sorry Tales waiting in the wings.

One book you have been meaning to read:

too many to list and I cannot choose just one. I have set myself the task of reading something by each of the authors mentioned in a section at the back of Moorcock's London Bone. Dedicated to Iain Sinclair it is simply titled: London's Lost Writers. Some mentioned are not lost or forgotten but the entire list runs to over 75 authors of which I've managed about twenty. I have a long way to go and some of the writers mentioned have been out of print for a good number of years.

One book that changed your life:

unfashionable now I know but Enid Blyton's Famous Five series and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken. I realised you didn't have to be a “girly girl” like Anne or Sylvia but could be brave and adventurous like George (Georgina) or Bonnie. What a revelation!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

This is not healthcare

I was left feeling deeply unsettled after reading an article in the newspaper last week:

Health inspectors are to crack down on beauty clinics in England after evidence emerged that women are being disfigured by rogue operators offering improperly administered laser therapy, Botox injections and anti-wrinkle skin fillers, the Guardian can reveal. (Continued here).

My first reaction was to harrumph and blame the women for being stupid enough to want the procedures to start with. I subsequently realised that throughout the article the author was referring to 'health inspectors', 'the Healthcare Commission' and 'people providing healthcare services'.

In my mind these procedures are the absolute antithesis of healthy. These are commercial beauty treatments, albeit drastic ones, carried out for immense monetary gain, masquerading behind this concept of health. Denial of the ageing process and the beauty myth are powerful bedmates. The womens' glossies and the lads' mags both perpetuate the idea that women should fit a very narrowly-defined idea of beauty and should you not have it (that'll be the majority of us) you can buy it. And, in so doing, you will show to the world you're a modern woman making empowering and liberating choices. Bollocks. This is not the sign of a healthy society.

The really scary thing is I seem to be in a clear minority with my opinions. Cosmetic surgery has become commonplace and mainstream without so much of a smoking bra let alone a burning one. I had to ask myself the question 'where have all the feminists gone?'. I feared the answer would be to the local lap dancing club.

After feeling quite depressed about the whole affair I started searching the world of blogs in the hope of finding some like-minded soul. On the f-word, home to contemporary UK feminism, I found mention of a new feminist magazine: Subtext.

I was dubious. I have never been scared to say I am a feminist but... Would this new publication be a little too extreme for me? Would they try preaching to someone who clearly believes that shaving her legs is a weakness but one she will continue to practise? Not at all.

The first issue of Subtext arrived this morning. I was a little unimpressed with the presentation but the content more than made up for it. I have read it from cover to cover. Twice.

One magazine, hoping to survive without advertising, is not going to revolutionise society's love of cosmetic procedures but it will mean I no longer feel alone and I will continue to speak my mind at the very real risk of ridicule.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

July 2003
Nearly hospitalised by a Staphylococcus Aureus infection caught through a bite on my leg. Multiple injections, antibiotics and the risk of getting septicaemia.

July 2004
Another visit to the hospital. Eye swollen to the size of a golfball due to a bite.

August 2006
Sod the visit to the hospital. I know what they are going to say. Eye swollen to the size of a golfball due to a bite. Combined with my fetching sunburn I look like a freak.

All of these bites have been sustained in my sleep - despite the fact we close the windows early in an attempt to stop the critters getting in. I do get quite annoyed about this. The neighbours have the lights on, windows open. Why are they not getting bitten to buggery? Why do they not look like elephant woman when they get up?

I knew we had visitors when I woke up in the night. C. and his pillow had decamped to the front room. He rarely gets bitten but cannot sleep for the murderous sound they make buzzing round your head. Me? Pull the sheet up and hope for the best. It's only the really horrible specimens who go for what's left - eyelids - and they seem to like mine.

Some still believe they are good old-fashioned English gnats whereas I have now found evidence to say they are mosquitos (evil foreign bastards from the Continent). The council's fact sheet (useless as far as I am concerned in a first-floor gardenless flat) points out they are culex mosquitos which makes not a jot of difference to me and my bites other than it is reassuring to know I'm unlikey to contract maleria.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Following in Constable's footsteps

I've done it all back to front as usual.

I've had a truly fantastic day out and look like I have applied war paint to my nose and cheeks. My right side is redder than my left and as Colin pointed out once I'd made it home “I see your legs haven't changed colour”. They stay gloriously glaring white all year long.

Sketch for Hadleigh Castle circa 1828-9

The Gardener bought me a postcard on a visit to see Constable's monumental six foot canvases at Tate Britain on the understanding we would make a pilgrimage out to the featured Hadleigh Castle over the summer. I did expect to see the exhibition before undertaking the task but a phone call early this morning suggested the weather would be good for the walk and before I knew it we were winging our way to Benfleet. It was superb. We met few people on the footpaths yet the castle itself was teaming with life; mostly women picnicking with young children. A far cry from Constable's feelings of despair and desolation when he completed his masterpiece.

There was a very English feel to the landscape. Ash, hawthorn, kestrel, dragonflies and cows. The straw has been baled early due to the scorching weather. The sea in the background and strangely the distant chemical works.

Lunch was eaten at the Salvation Army tea house to the north of the castle. I loved the ordering system. You look at the menu and then fill in a pre-printed sheet with the quantities of what you want and the table number. You then pay at the till and the food is brought to you. The staff have various needs – from what I could tell Down's syndrome and different moderate to severe learning difficulties. The service was excellent as was my cheese and onion toastie.

A walk and a pint or two in Leigh on Sea followed by a crunchy seashore saunter to Chalkwell finished our day.

We've made an agreement to go back in the winter to see it from Constable's point of view. We'll see!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bring your own

My dad rang Friday while I was at Borough Market to let me know he'd just heard on the radio that Tesco were going to reward customers who brought their own bags in which to pack their shopping. I think he thought I'd be pleased.

Against my better judgement I do use Tesco when I have to but I do use my own bags. My mum has caught onto the idea of reducing rather than recycling but she doesn't do the shopping. She writes the list and dad duly toddles off to Sainsbury's. She kept trying to send him with bags but he forgets them. I found a collection in the front garden on a recent Sunday morning visit - she'd thrown them at his departing back.

Dad explained to me you'll get a clubcard point for each bag you took with you. I quite bluntly took the wind out of his sails by pointing out I snapped my clubcard in half quite some time ago.

Saturday's financial pages in the Guardian had a complete article on the issue. It made me quite livid.

Germany has charged for carrier bags for as long as I can remember. Ireland, likewise, has a 10p tax on plastic bags. This has reduced demand by 93% over four years. That's some saving on the 1.2bn handed out willy-nilly previously.

Our supermarkets and government do not have the balls to make a similar decision and so it is up to us environmentally-minded consumers to try and make a difference. I haven't regularly used bags from the supermarket for nine or ten years. I am really quite proud of my motley collection. Here are just a few.

Spitalfields Sunday Market

Bought new from Amnesty it doesn't have a beetroot stain.

'Christmas stocking' from Mum. Pound shop. Admired by the server in Neal's Yard.

Romford's Sunday Farmers' Market.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

London Satire

Perhaps a quarter of the way round the Museum of London's excellent exhibition, Satirical London , 300 years of irreverent images, I became alarmed by the level of childish noise emanating from the other side of the wall. I don't expect museums to be silent but there has to be a certain level of decorum. Shouts, screams, laughter. Wrestling? The mother is joining in! I kept passing glances at the porters but they seemed quite happy watching me to ensure I didn't try sticking a Hogarth in my rucksack. “Why are you not doing something?” I wanted to yell.

Hogarth was probably the reason I was there in the first place. I have a slight obsession with him and there was no conceivable way an exhibition on satire and London would exclude the master himself. The most famous of his prints were there – Beer and Gin Lanes (along with others). These two were cleverly updated in 1965 by Ralph Steadman in Private Eye and more recently as Cocaine Lane by Martin Rowson (2001).

I think this is what struck me most about the exhibition. Although London has visibly changed over the years – you'd be an idiot to think it hasn't – there are still so many links to the past. People.

Progress may have changed life to the extent that someone dropping by from Georgian times would not recognise life at all from a first glance but on closer inspection so much of the human condition remains the same.

George Cruikshank's The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1818) illustrates this admirably. How to carry an umbrella – by poking everyone in the eye – and how to stop up the passage – by standing in the middle of a very busy street - are just two examples but I defy anyone to say they haven't experienced the very same on Oxford Street over one hundred and fifty years later.

I had to laugh at myself when I got to the end. Just past the Spitting Image Charles and Di slippers was a table with paper and crayons to create your own piece of London satire. Behind it a rack of Punch and Judy style puppets to create your own show. To scream, to shout and to wrestle. Just glad I'd managed to keep my mouth shut about the noise.

(It's free!).

Read this!

I can't say much without giving the plot away. It's excellent - simply written but amazingly powerful. I had to keep stopping while I was reading it to think. I feel a bit bereft now - not sure what to do next. Read it!