Tuesday, 31 October 2006


So did you go trick or treating? We did but to a couple of neighbours that we know (one of whom had to be primed in advance with a stash of sweets.)

We could have knocked at a few more doors but the kids were new to the exeprience and it was more scary for them than it was for any householder.

Despite the fantastic pumpkin in the porch, see post "Pumpkin part deux" for picture (Karen, who has seen the real thing, says the picture gives the impression it's bigger than it actually is), we only had two groups knocking at our door. I think our house might be a bit scary. It has got a load of scaffolding at the front at the moment, it reminds a friend of going to the dentist and two more friends reckon it's haunted. And it is haunted.

A locksmith who fitted some window bolts for us told us he used to live in our street and he remembers seeing a report in the local newspaper years ago about a ghost residing at our house. Apparently a local celebrity (whatever that means) used to live here and it's their ghost that haunts the place. We've seen and heard nothing except creaky old house noises. Yes, my house and car keys do go missing on a regular basis but that's just me and the fact I foget where I've put them. Dave, who is a million times tidier than me, never loses his keys, unless of course I've borrowed them.

So when two friends admitted they always "felt a presence" in our house, I checked the local newspaper archives for tales of spookiness. I couldn't find anything but the archives didn't go back too far so I wasn't that surprised. My next step was to contact the paper, and I asked the old timer reporter, who used to do the "I've got a potato that looks like Tony Blair" stories, whether she remembered anything. She didn't. So I think I believe the locksmith but I have no evidence.

Do any of you have any ideas as to where I might get more information? Please don't suggest the Spiritualist church – I don't think so!

You're going to think I'm making this up, but as I've been typing this it's become very cold. It's as though I'm sat in a draught. I need to investigate.....

It's because the window is open. Either because we have a decorator painting the house, or we have a ghost with a sense of humour.

Monday, 30 October 2006


I was supposed to be going out tonight. It was going to be a fancy do in a fancy club in the West End: The Cuckoo Club (http://www.thecuckooclub.com/flash.htm - only visit this website if you are infinitely patient as it's flash based and very slow).

What was it in aid of I hear you ask. Breakthrough Breast Cancer were having a celebration party. They'd just completed 10 years of the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer (FTBC) campaign and wanted to thank all of their supporters.

I was invited as a representative of one of their corporate sponsors who supported several years of the FTBC campaign. We don't work with Breakthrough anymore but we do sponsor Champions League football. I'd say we have our priorities straight, wouldn't you?

I wasn't the only invitee representing the company: Ruth and I have both worked with Breakthrough for quite a number of years.

We were a bit apprehensive about accepting the invitation because of the stipulated dress code. Everyone is used to dress codes such as Cocktail Attire, Black Tie, Casual etc. and if we weren't too au fait with what to wear then there are even websites to guide us:
http://fashion.about.com/cs/glossary/a/partydefinition.htm. But the dress code for this event was just a little more challenging: Glamorous.

Now I could see a picture of someone and decide whether I think they are glamorous but if they are, it's probably a combination of what they're wearing, and how they're wearing it. They aren't going to be glamorous if they look like a bulldog chewing a wasp. I don't think I look like a bulldog chewing a wasp but "Glamorous" is still something that I think is difficult to attain because it isn't achieved through clothing alone. Someone wearing jeans could look glamorous. The famous naked Sophie Dahl advert could be considered glamorous:

Well I wasn't going to wear jeans, and I certainly wasn't going to turn up naked. So I had an outfit selected which I thought might get the clothing bit right, but there was still the problem that it was me in the clothing. I was going to live with that problem because there was little I could do about it.

Anyway, to cut an overly long story short I didn't go. Ruth phoned this morning and between us we decided we were too old to go out and stay out late on a school night. Plus we also agreed we were worried about the dress code. And we didn't phone to say we couldn't make it, we e-mailed. Actually Ruth e-mailed.

A tiny part of me was sad not to be there because I wanted to see what everyone else was wearing. But mainly I thought it was probably the right decision. We don't work with Breakthrough corporately anymore and, whilst we have made a contribution in the past, it's perhaps right that those people celebrating have continued their relationship.
This week though you may see me buying a copy of some of the gossip mags just to see what people were wearing.

Sunday, 29 October 2006


Is it wrong to gauge the quality of a place by it's clientele? I'm guessing you'll say "No, that sounds reasonable".

Is it wrong to gauge the clientele by how many of them smoke, especially near children?

You're probably divided on this. Non smokers with children will probably think I'm reasonable. Single smokers will probably stop reading now. Actually, they probably stopped a few sentences ago.

I don't smoke, and for someone who hates the foul weed, I have tried to start smoking more times than I can easily remember (usually after too much to drink). Anyway I can't smoke. I really have tried but I'm useless at it.

But being a non smoker I think I'm probably towards the extreme end of the anti-smoking lobby. I noticed one of the contestants on 8 out of 10 Cats (Fri night Ch 4) proclaiming that all smokers should be shot. I probably wouldn't go quite that far but I would make it prohibitively difficult for people to continue the filthy habit.

I've long maintained that cigarettes are too cheap, but my draconian methods for smoking prevention stretch beyond fiscal control. I believe smoking should only be permitted in underground concrete bunkers that have no ventilation. These bunkers would be accessible only by buses that would run only a few times a week. To reduce access to cancer sticks I'd make people pay extortionate fares on this bus route too.

So now you know I'm fairly "anti". But I hate seeing people smoking around children. Don't they know the harmful effects smoke can have on a child's health? A parent, who smokes, increases a baby's chances of cot death. Passively inhaled smoke that is inflicted on children, who have no voice, should be stopped, although I'm not sure how other than the concrete bunker idea.

So this means I have a fairly negative view of smokers, particularly those who smoke around their children, or anyone else's children. And if somewhere has a high proportion of customers who are parents who smoke, then I don't rate it very highly and I won't recommend it.

My advice to Paradise Wildlife Park near Broxbourne - instigate a no smoking policy.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Pretty Please

Today is a plea to people who use messaging services. Please don't type, delete and retype. We know you're doing it. So what's the point?

I mean either you're saying something nasty and you change your mind figuring it's too nasty, or you're being nice and you think you might be being too pleasant.

You could be revealing a great deal and decide you're exposing yourself too much or you could be being tight lipped and consider that you could loosen your tongue.

Context will tell us which of these scenarios is most likely and, you know what – we want to know what you were going to say before you had second thoughts. We want your unfiltered thoughts. We want your instinctive response not your considered response.

So leave the delete key for the typos, please.

Friday, 27 October 2006

Grumpy Old Man

The cupboards were bare today so we had to go shopping. I know it's bad when there's not even any milk for a cup of tea. This becomes even more important when there's a decorator working on the house ("milk and half a sugar please").

So despite having les enfants in tow I braved Sainsburys. Now anyone with children will know supermarket shopping with children can be a challenge. Anyone who doesn't have children but has watched Supernanny or Little House of Tiny Tearaways or this advert: http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-2465948386590250588&q=tantrum+supermarket will also know it can be challenging.
I actually consider myself lucky. My children don't tend to have tantrums or hissy fits in the supermarket. They tend to see the supermarket as a huge play area and run around laughing, hugging one another and helping me pick stuff off the shelves and pop it in the trolley.
My point is that their behaviour could be a lot worse and generally the reaction they get from other shoppers is positive. They usually make people smile because they're having so much fun.

Well today Ethan, as he was skipping around the place chasing Hannah, accidentally bumped into an elderly gentleman who was shopping with his wife. I immediately apologised even though it had been the slightest of contact. Anyway this man turned round and with venom in his voice said "Can't you control them?". It was one of those situations where the perfect retort is apparent hours after the event so I just said "No".

The only slight consolation was that a nice lady who had seen this happen, came up to me and said "Some people can't help being grumpy".

So this blog is dedicated to Mr Grumpy of Brentwood. If he has grandchildren I hope they don't have to spend time in his company.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Pumpkin part deux

You know I had a job to do. I had a mouldy pumpkin and it needed replacing.

Isn't it fantastic that there are wars going on, major political developments happening around the world, incredible sporting feats being achieved every day and I'm worried about a mouldy pumpkin, or at least replacement. OK, maybe it's not fantastic that wars are going on, but you get my drift.

Today we took ourselves off to Marsh Farm. For those of you unfamiliar with Marsh Farm (OK, that's everyone then), it's a bit like a city farm for kids that don't know what farm animals look like, except it's based in the country and it's a real working farm, bizarrely run by the County Council. What I mean is that it's bizarre that it's run by the County Council not that they run it in a bizarre fashion (and by that I don't mean they wear strange wellies – are you still with me?)

Weather was great and we had a happy brood of little ones excited about sheep, cattle, pigs and wotnot. We were taking a picnic lunch. I cheated on this one as our cupboards were bare so we took a diversion to Sainsburys and the net result was that the children ate more of the picnic lunch than they would have if I'd made it (cheeky buggers).

And the coolest thing about the trip was that they had pumpkin carving laid on. Two birds, one stone – bingo.

The only downside that I could see was that somebody (i.e. me) still had to do some carving but, as Mel tells me when we go to the gym, "no pain, no gain".

And they had templates and scoops and really sharp knives and they'd already lopped the top off. Anyway, it's better than my first attempt and I thought you might like a picture:

Wednesday, 25 October 2006


I got angry today. I mean really angry. Something happened this morning and it was "light the blue touch paper and run for the hills".

I hate it when that happens, because although my emotions were provoked by someone else's actions, it was my decision to get angry. I've spent the whole day in a foul mood.

I could have just let it wash over me. I could have ignored it and focussed on something positive. Why did I get angry?

I felt cheated, I felt let down, I felt disappointed, but most of all I felt angry. I always try to tell Hannah that if she's feeling angry she should just try to stop feeling angry because her emotions are within her control. I suppose today had taught me that it's perhaps not that simple. Or perhaps not that simple for me. It could depend on personality type. I do have quite an explosive personality. I'm probably not very tolerant either (I can hear friends and relatives shouting "that's an understatement").

Anyway, the person who annoyed me, knows who they are, they know what they've done and they should know what they'd need to do to put things right. Don't know why I'm telling you this, they can't be bothered to read my blog.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Something is rotten...

Pumpkin is really mouldy - had to throw it away.

I'll have to get a new one now. What a faff. I mean it's not too difficult but I've got to buy it and then spend about 30 minutes mucking around with it making it Halloweeny enough to go in the porch. Then I've got to remember to put candles in it.

I was wondering about the candles. Is it stupid to put a burning candle in a porch that isn't secured? My only thought was - is there a chance that some nasty person will come along and put that burning candle through the letterbox? Chances are they'd burn their hands and if they managed to get it through the letterbox we'd just have an extinguished flame and hot wax all over the hall floor. But I guess there's a remote possibility that the whole house could go up in smoke.

Am I just being overly cautious or do you think this is just an elaborate excuse for not doing another stupid pumpkin?

I know this looks really hypocritical because just a few posts ago I was letting you know how easy it is to carve a pumpkin. Well I sort of lied. It's not difficult, it's just an inconvenience, especially second time around. I also know that if I ask the children whether there should be a replacement pumpkin, the answer will be "yes". So I'm tempted not to ask.

Monday, 23 October 2006

Confession 2

My pumpkin is mouldy.

Confession 1

Picked Hannah up from nursery at lunchtime today and she was so excited. We were going to take the train to Chelmsford and have a girly shopping trip.

The train trip was a huge hit. Hannah was skipping around Chelmsford, high as a kite from the train experience. We did quite a lot of "mummy" shopping, and not a lot of Hannah shopping, but it was so different from what we normally do, Hannah was still having fun.

I hardly ever do any kind of shopping with the children because it's too stressful. It has to be so boring for them, it's not surprising they look for diversion, get frustrated and play up. Plus when they were smaller, having to worry about where to breast feed, where to give them lunch, where there would be child friendly toilets/baby change areas, buggy friendly shops etc. was just a hassle.

After a little while we thought it was time for tea and cake and we headed for M&S CafĂ© Revive. Hannah had told me all about the colouring in that is a part of the M&S picnic lunch boxes so she was keen to repeat the experience. I had to explain she wouldn't be getting a lunch box, because she'd had lunch but that we'd see if they had colouring in anyway (marketing to kids is so easy). Hannah chose apple juice and cake, and I had a coffee. One of the ladies behind the counter asked me if Hannah had had lunch. I was thinking it's 3:30, what kind of mother does she think I am, and does my daughter look undernourished (answer – no)? I replied that she had. She told me they had some lunch boxes left over from lunch, would Hannah like one? Of course, not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said yes.

What a bargain, £2.99 worth of stuff (well selling price, worth probably more like 60p) for free.

Anyway I still needed to pay for coffee, juice and cake, handed over my cash and received my change. It was then I thought "I gave her a £20 note, and this is change for £10". So I explained, and the assistant said I'd given her £10.

Now I was sure I'd given her a purple note, which is a £20, but I started to doubt myself. I said I honestly couldn't remember and not to worry. I went and sat down with Hannah. Then a manager came over and offered me £10. I explained I honestly didn't know anymore what note I'd given the assistant and that I expected they'd only know when they did a till reconciliation at the end of the day. I offered her my name and number should a discrepancy be discovered. She told me that it "didn't work like that these days, that recons were done at the end of the week and that £10 either way would be a drop in the ocean". That made me feel old. So she insisted I take the money. She said if I discovered I was £10 up, I should just buy Hannah something, but £10 was neither here nor there for M&S.

So I might have got £10 I shouldn't have, as well as a free lunch. Who said there was no such thing as a free lunch?

Sunday, 22 October 2006

The future

The future isn't here. Let me clarify, the future as I want it and have imagined it, isn't here. For example….

I went to the gym tonight. I couldn't surf the internet at the gym. Well if I had one of those poxy phones with the tiny displays I could have surfed, but in name only. It's not like big screen, normal keyboard surfing.

Now in my future, the future that should be here by now, things would be different. I'd be able to work out and, instead of listening to the fabulous Geoff show podcast, I'd be able to surf in my head. I'd be able to see a screen which wouldn't be real but would be a sort of mental projection. It would of course be wireless internet and to surf I'd just have to think of either the web page or the Google search term. If I need to e-mail I'd probably use Hotmail because web based e-mail works best in my future. To type content I'd just have to think it. If I needed to print anything I'd hit the mental print button and it would send a print signal to a printer of my choice.

Now clearly this would enable any form of web activity including chat, buying, downloading, uploading. Now how would this be possible? Well I think some form of minor surgery would be necessary – a bit like micro-chipping dogs. Content being uploaded, downloaded etc. would have to be stored somewhere, plus there would have to be some kind of basic user interface that enables the brain to be used for this particular application.

Now surely this sounds a bit more like the future than anything else that's available right now!

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Hypochondria by Proxy

I think I may be paranoid or a hypochondriac by proxy.

My Dad has a bad memory. Not just "forgetting whether you've paid the gas bill" bad memory.

Dad phoned me this morning and left a message about my birthday. He phoned again this afternoon to ask me to phone him ref the morning message.

Well I didn't phone because we'd a complete conversation about my birthday the day before.

So when I did call him it was clear he hadn't remembered talking to me the day before. In this situation I could react one of two ways: be paranoid that Dad doesn't remember talking to me, brush it off because Dad does forget things sometimes.

Well naturally I choose paranoia. Then the paranoia develops and I imagine Dad is suffering from Alzheimer's, hence hypochondria by proxy. I phone my Ian, long suffering brother (long suffering because I'm his sister), and ask for his advice: should I talk to Dad about it, try to phone Dad's doctor?

Ian tells me not to worry, he's seeing Dad tomorrow. If anything is amiss he'll call me.

But I couldn't leave it at that. I had to do some research into the symptoms of Alzheimer's just to see if Dad may be exhibiting a few more signs. What I found was that yes, he is showing more than one indication of this particular form of dementia (you see I now know that Alzheimer's is just one form of dementia). So I now think he needs to see his doctor.

Either that or I need to research Hypochondria by proxy (which sounds quite cool) and go and see my own doctor.

Friday, 20 October 2006


Does anyone else get those times when chocolate is a NEED? I've got one of those times right now.

Dave's out with the lads, probably getting a skinful (well enough for a 'gover). I've put the kiddiwinks to bed, eaten and had a beer. There are still toys on the floor that need tidying, the washing up needs doing and I'm really not in the mood. There's nobody online chatting. There's nothing happening on my patch of MySpace and all I've got in the house are Milky Bar Buttons!!!!! How sad.

What I'd really like right now would be some Green and Blacks Maya Gold. Or a box of Thornton truffles. Or those really nice chocs from Fresh and Wild.

Boys are thinking "what are you talking about?", girls are thinking "oooh, yeah, I could do that?"

I think I can prove that scientifically there's a good reason for my craving:

Excerpts from What's in Chocolate?

Chocolate contains small quantities of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. Sceptics claim one would need to consume several pounds of chocolate to gain any very noticeable effects; and eat a lot more to get fully stoned. Yet it's worth noting that N-oleolethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine, two structural cousins of anandamide present in chocolate, both inhibit the metabolism of anandamide. It has been speculated that they promote and prolong the feeling of well-being that anandamide can induce.

Chocolate contains caffeine. But the caffeine is present only in modest quantities. It is easily obtained from other sources.

Chocolate's theobromine content may contribute to - but seems unlikely to determine - its subtle but distinctive profile.

Chocolate also contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. It is the rate-limiting step in the production of the mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Enhanced serotonin function typically diminishes anxiety. Yet tryptophan can normally be obtained from other sources as well.

Like other palatable sweet foods, consumption of chocolate causes the release of endorphins, the body's endogenous opiates. Enhanced endorphin-release reduces the chocolate-eater's sensitivity to pain. Endorphins probably contribute to the warm inner glow induced in susceptible chocaholics.

Chocolate cravings are admitted by 15% of men and around 40% of women. Cravings are usually most intense in the late afternoon and early evening.

Perhaps chocolate's key ingredient is its phenylethylamine "love-chemical". Yet the role of the "chocolate amphetamine" is disputed. Most if not all chocolate-derived phenylethylamine is metabolised before it reaches the central nervous system. Some people may be sensitive to its effects in very small quantities.

Phenylethylamine is itself a naturally occurring trace amine in the brain. Phenylethylamine releases mesolimbic dopamine in the pleasure-centres. It peaks during orgasm. Taken in unnaturally high doses, phenylethylamine can produce stereotyped behaviour more prominently even than amphetamine. Phenylethylamine has distinct binding sites but no specific neurons. It helps mediate feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness, apprehension and euphoria. One of its metabolites is unusually high in subjects with paranoid schizophrenia.

I should point out that I don't think I'm schizophrenic. Who said that?

Thursday, 19 October 2006

I've worked it out

I read somewhere that MySpace has now got a user profile that has aged. The average age of a MySpace member is over 35.

I think I know why.

As people get older they are more likely to have a partner, more likely to have children, and less likely to have a life. Either that or as people get older they find that if they are single and/or don't have children, all of the people they know of a similar age are more likely to have partners/children/no life.

My point is that socialising as you get older, can be more effort.

If there are kids around then you might have to think about babysitters.
If there's a partner around they might not be understanding about you going off galivanting on a regular basis.

But you know what, it's more to do with age than any of these things. The older we become, the more we like routine and home comforts. We realise that we can't drink as much as we used to. We can't stand late nights as much as we used to. We're less tolerant of people than we used to be. We don't like trains, tubes, buses and driving at night. We don't feel safe travelling around on our own in the dark.

And what do MySpace, e-mail, messaging, bebo, friends reunited, face party, meebo, blogger, flickr etc. do for us? Well we can keep in touch with many people from the comfort of our own homes (or desk at work - should I be admitting that?). We can say things we might be too shy to say in a face to face meeting, keeping communication more honest. We can use a variety of media quickly and easily to keep in touch. We're less likely to get drunk and make an idiot of ourselves (OK notice I said less likely, it's still possible). We're less likely to end up sitting next to a smelly drunk on public transport. Oh, and we're less likely to do long lunches at work. Ooops, maybe I've just spotted an inconsistency with yesterday's blog.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Lunch anyone?

I've never been a schmoozer. That's what I call it, for other folk it's the process of networking.

But you know what....I think it's time for a change. OK, maybe not a radical change but a change nonetheless.

I don't think I'll be maintaining a little black book full of contacts, one for every day, but I do think I'll be a little less reticent.

I've never really seen the point of "lunch" or "drinks" or "coffee".

I mean grabbing a lunch in the canteen is good for chatting to the people you sit with for the rest of the working day and also for preventing blood sugar levels dropping. It is good to get away from the desk and it is good to chat in a slightly less worky environment. But do you know what's better? Meeting someone for lunch, i.e. having a lunch date. Somehow because it's prearranged it's different, and better. It's the kind of time when people can be less guarded, they can tell you what's really on their mind, what's really going on.

Going for drinks is something that doesn't readily happen in our office because we don't have a neighboring hostelry. But I'm London one day a week, and that's the perfect time to catch people out of the office environment, relaxing and wanting to share news.

And coffee. Well I do coffee, but it's usually anti-social coffee, grabbed quickly between meetings. I used to do social coffee but it stopped. In the office it's an opportunity to catch up with colleagues, outside of work it's an opportunity to catch up with ex-colleagues, potential colleagues, potential suppliers and the list goes on.

When I said it wouldn't be a radical change, I meant I'm not going to be going mad. You won't catch me "lunching" every day. But what you will find me doing is saying "yes" more often to invitations. Normally I'd be too busy and my schdule would be too hectic and I'd feel too guilty. Well the guilt stops here.
This isn't something just for me, it's for other people to. The old BT ad was right - it's good to talk. OK, maybe I talk a little too much but the intent is there.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

A funny thing happened...

No seriously I'm curious, who are you?

One of my blog viewers told me a cautionary tale today....read on for more.

Now imagine you work in London with a long commute to and from work. You're lucky that you have a variety of different modes of transport to and from work. Sometimes you use the train, other times a coach, occasionally car and bike.

On the particular day in question you decide to take the train home. Now the disadvantage of the train is that it's a little too far to walk home. Now let's assume that on this particular day you haven't left your car at the station. So maybe on your way home, you phone home and your lovely other half picks up the phone. You explain you need help getting home, and your lovely partner says she'll drop everything and pick you up from the station.

So your train arrives and you alight at your station. You go outside and spot your target car, the one with your partner in the driving seat. You don't want to keep her waiting so you move quickly, open the passenger door and climb in. Only then does the realisation hit you, that you have climbed into a complete stranger's car. You make your excuses with profuse apologies and climb out. You then find your wife's car is a couple of cars away. You climb in, you explain hoping for sympathy and you're met with an uncontrollable display of hysterics as your wife isn't sympathetic, she finds the whole thing hilarious.

Monday, 16 October 2006

Drawing a veil

I'm clearly missing something. I just don't get it.

There's a lot in the press over the last few weeks about whether Muslim women should wear veils. I don't understand why this is an issue.

If there was someone in our team at work wearing a veil I wouldn't dream of asking her to remove it. It would be like asking someone to remove their shoes or jacket. It's an integral part of the outfit. What's more, if it is a religious thing then I have even less right to get involved. I'm a heathen. Who am I to tell anyone what to do regarding religion?

There was Jack Straw who says he asks his constituents to remove the veil. Now there's asking, and there's asking. There's "Would you remove your veil please" or there's "If you feel comfortable, and would like to remove your veil, please feel free." I'm guessing he uses the former approach. I have less of an issue with the latter approach. He argues that he's only asking, but when someone in a position of authority, i.e. an MP, makes a request aren't you more likely to feel it's a demand or something with which you should comply?

And then there's the teaching assistant who's been told she'll be sacked unless she agrees to remove her veil. Why? I'd have said that, working in an environment with loads of snotty kids who pass colds around like there's no tomorrow, the veil is a very sensible item of clothing that helps her to stay at work because she doesn't catch the filthy germs that small children harbour.

I did have some practical questions about the veil though. None of my friends wears a veil and I did wonder "how do they eat with something covering the mouth?". Or does eating have to become a solitary affair in a room where there's nobody else around thereby facilitating veil removal?

I also thought it would be the perfect outfit for a bank robbery. You must have noticed that when you go into a bank there are often signs asking motorcyclists to remove their helmets. I've always thought this isn't a fashion thing. These people aren't committing a fashion faux pas with their helmets on, it's just that from a security point of view the bank likes to get a good CCTV image of all customers lest they should be robbers. Well veil wearers would presumably fall into the same category but I've never seen a request at a bank or building society entrance requesting veil removal. All of this means that Muslim veil wearers have the perfect ensemble for bank robbing. I bet it's never even crossed their mind. Maybe I should contact the Muslim Council of Great Britain and tell them about my discovery. I wouldn't want them to think that I see I consider Muslim, veil wearing women to be ideal candidates for a life of crime but it is a thought.

But on a more serious note – here's someone else's view:

Why Muslim women should thank Straw

The veil is not a religious obligation — it is a symbol of the subjugation by men of their wives and daughters.

My parents moved here from Kashmir in the 1960s. They brought with them their faith and their traditions. But they also arrived with an understanding that they were starting a new life in a country where Islam was not the main religion.

My mother has always worn traditional Kashmiri clothes — the salwaar kameez, a long tunic worn over trousers, and the chador, which is like a pashmina worn round the neck or over the hair. But no one in my immediate family — here or in Kashmir — covers their face with a nikab (veil). As a child I wore the salwaar kameez at home — and at school a typical English school uniform. My parents never felt that the uniform compromised my faith; the important thing was that I would fit in so that I could take advantage of all the opportunities school offered. I was the hockey team captain and took part in county athletics: how could I have done all of this wearing salwaar kameez, let alone a veil?

My mother has worked all her life and adapted her ways and dress at work. For ten years she operated heavy machinery and could not wear her chador because of the risk of it becoming caught in the machinery. Without making any fuss she removed her scarf at work and put it back on when she clocked out. My mother is still very much a traditional Muslim woman, but having lived in this country for 40 years she has learnt to embrace British culture — for example, she jogs in a tracksuit and swims in a normal swimming costume to help to alleviate her arthritis.

Some Muslims would criticise the way my mother and I dress. They believe that there is only one way to practise Islam and express your beliefs, forgetting that the Muslim faith is interpreted in different ways in different places and that there are distinct cultures and styles of dress in Muslim countries stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. But it is not a requirement of the Koran for women to wear the veil.

The growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of radicalisation. I was disturbed when, after my first year at university in 1988, I discovered to my surprise that some of my fellow students had turned very religious and had taken to wearing the jilbab (a long, flowing gown covering all the body except hands and face), which they had never worn before and which was not the dress code of their mothers. They had joined the college's Islamic Society, which preached that women were not considered proper Muslims unless they adopted such strict dress codes. After that, I never really had anything in common with them.

It is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask. The veil restricts women, it stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: "I do not want to be part of your society."

Some Muslim women say that it is their choice to wear it; I don't agree. Why would any woman living in a tolerant country freely choose to wear such a restrictive garment? What these women are really saying is that they adopt the veil because they believe that they should have less freedom than men, and that if they did not wear the veil men would not be accountable for their uncontrollable urges — so women must cover-up so as not to tempt men. What kind of a message does that send to women?

But a lot of women are not free to choose. Girls as young as three or four are wearing the hijab to school — that is not a freely made choice. Girls under 16 should certainly not have to wear it to school. And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls that are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to universities, they have little choice in who they marry, in many cases they are kept down by the threat of violence.

So for women such as them it was absolutely right for Jack Straw to raise this issue. Nobody should feel threatened by his comments; after all, the debate about veils has been raging in the Islamic community for many years. To argue that non-Muslims have no right to discuss it merely reinforces the idea that Muslims are not part of a wider society. It also suggests, wrongly, that wearing the veil affects only Muslims. Non-Muslims have to deal with women wearing a veil, so why shouldn't their feelings be taken into consideration? I would find it impossible to deal with any veiled woman because it goes so deeply against my own values and basic human instincts. How can you develop any kind of a social relationship with someone who has shut themselves away from the rest of the world?

And if we can't have a debate about the veil without a vocal minority of Muslims crying "Islamophobia", how will we face other issues, such as domestic violence, forced marriages, sexual abuse and child abuse that are rife in the Muslim community? These are not uniquely Muslim problems but, unlike other communities, they are never openly debated. It is children and women who suffer as a result.

Many moderate Muslim women in Britain will welcome Mr Straw's comments. This is an opportunity for them to say: "I don't wear the veil but I am a Muslim." If I had been forced to wear a veil I would certainly not be writing this article — I would not have the friends I have, I would not have been able to run a marathon or become an aerobics teacher or set up a business.

This is my message to British Muslim women — if you want your daughters to take advantage of all the opportunities that Britain has to offer, do not encourage them to wear the veil. We must unite against the radical Muslim men who would love women to be hidden, unseen and unheard.

I was able to take advantage of what Britain has got to offer and I hope Mr Straw's comments will help more Muslim women to do the same. But my argument with those Muslims who would only be happy in a Talebanised society, who turn their face against integration, is this: "If you don't like living here and don't want to integrate, then what the hell are you doing here? Why don't you just go and live in an Islamic country?"

Sunday, 15 October 2006


OK, it's that time of year. All Hallows Eve is just around the corner and it's pumpkin time.

Now before I had kids I never carved a pumpkin, but last year, and this, I have. Last year I got in a mess and the result was a bit of a poor effort, but this year the result was much better. So for your edification, I will now share my pumpkin carving secrets with a how to guide (I know that only mums will be reading now, everyone else will be fetching a beer - when was the last time a man carved a pumpkin?).

1. Buy a smallish pumpkin otherwise you'll be up to your naval in pumkin flesh and seeds.
2. Don't think you'll try and make soup with the pumpkin innards - it's a faff, a hassle and it doesn't even taste that good.
3. Don't think that if you roast the pumpkin seeds they'll taste like those health food store little bags of roasted pumpkin seeds - they will taste of corrugated cardboard, at best.
4. Use a sharp knife and aiming it towards the centre of the beast (pumpkin) chop it's top off. You need to aim for the "lid" to be quite big as this will provide you with access for scooping out innards.
5. Using knife, remove some of the flesh on the lid.
6. Get easily removable stuff out of pumpkin.
7. You now need to scrape away at the flesh to reduce the thickness of your remaining pumpkin as it's easier to carve the thinner it is. My big helpful hint here is to use a grapefruit spoon as it's easier to use than a knife but more effective than a regular spoon.
8. Make sure inside the base of the pumpkin is flat enough for a nightlight (using grapefruit spoon).
9. Draw face on one side, fairly high up. Use non permanent pen and make the shapes simple - triangles are fine for eyes, nose and together they can make a jaggedy toothed mouth.
10. Use sharp knife to carefully cut from outside in along the lines you've drawn.
11. Make sure the flesh on the inside isn't obscuring any light from inside.
12. Make up a diluted bleach solution in large enough bucket to hold pumpkin.
13. Put pumpkin and lid in bleach for 5 mins. This should delay the onset of mould. I read this hint last year and am not sure it works but I've done it again this year.
14. Dry pumpkin and illuminate as necessary.

If you are using candles then remember to blow them out - don't leave them unattended. On the subject of fires starting, my friend who works as firefighter says most domestic fires he sees are the result of faulty washing machines, tumble dryers or dishwashers and the like. So don't put these things on just before you go to bed or go out!!

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Aaaarrrgh Flickr

Just been out on a girls night out... Well actually, it was probably fair to say it was a half day and evening out.

But that's not what's winding me up... I found a way to include photos in a blog (see "Flying High" blog) and it was working but now it's not.

If anyone knows how to load photos into a myspace blog, please let me know.
I was using some code I found on
http://www.flickrbadge.theducky.com/..but that site doesn't seem to be working now and neither is the helicopter photo... I could do a link out to my flickr photostream but that's not as neat as displaying photos in a blog...

Now I did see someone's blog who seemed to manage this, if only I could remember who the heck they were out of the millions of people on myspace...
Help anyone.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Grey Berlin

I'm sat in Berlin airport. It's grey and dull outside, and once again, I've made a fundamental error of judgement. Why does this keep happening to me?

Normally in an airport there are a few shops and cafes before you go through to departures, but once you've gone through passport control you enter the world of duty free shopping (except it's not duty free anymore) but there's usually a wider range of shops and cafes because that's where people have to spend more time because of the nature of airports and the way things work.

Well I did what I normally do in an airport. Check out the few shops that are near the check-in desks and buy something small for the kiddiwinks. You know the kind of guilt present I'm talking about, the "mummy's been away for a few days and she's missed you and she's feeling bad etc." present.

Well Hannah gets a Barbie doll - it had to happen sometime. She had a Cinderella Barbie and carriage from my brother's family for her birthday and I'm not entirely sure she gets the whole Barbie concept but she probably will at some point. I'm sure Mattel don't waste millions of marketing dollars on a product with zero relevance to their target market.

Ethan gets a Trabant. I think that's the right spelling for the old Eastern European car with a reputation for breaking down. He definitely understands how the toy car thing works. He plays with them to the point of their destruction which is usually within a week or so of purchase.

I've just realised how much I'm reinforcing gender sterotypes. How terrible. Oh well, if I didn't do it society would.

So after the guilt present buying, and realising that actually there aren't that many shops on the check-in side I decide it's time to move across to departures where I can gorge on shopping. Gorge in a hypothetical sense. I don't tend to buy much, if anything but I do like to look. So I repeat some of the ritual humilation of the security checks that I encoutered in Stansted.

No footwear removed this time but for some reason I had to remove my tiny watch and had a very detailed scan with the metal detector thingy. Well my breasts and calves seemed to beep a little too much for my liking. I thought the breast beeping may have been the result of the underwired bra but I can't explain the calves. I did start to wonder whether the moisturiser I used may have had a metallic componenet, maybe zinc or aluminium, but then I realised I was being silly. I think it may have been proximity to my shoes which have some metal trim.

What an idiot! After going through security I realised I had walked into barren space. There is just a departure gate, one solitary duty free shop and not even any toilets. How outrageous, but what can I do. Once you've gone through security there really isn't any going back. So I'm stuck, with you. Well it was either you or the book and I haven't got much book left so I thought I'd save that for the flight. Plus my last experience of Air Berlin was a delayed flight. I could find myself delayed and arriving home tomorrow which could mean I would have missed my date with you.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Ich bin ein Berliner!

Well I'm sat in the Executive Lounge (get me, I'm going all lah de dah) in the rather posh Marriott in Berlin. I'm on the 10th floor which I think is the top floor and I have an OK view out of the window. If, when I get home, I figure out how to load photos into a blog I might upload a few.

There's a cool building just down the street that has lightbulbs built into its facade and it's showing images, like faces, that stretch the height of the building. You see that's why you need a photo, my description isn't quite good enough.

Anyway, the exec lounge is good for two things: Internet access and free beer. Yes, FREE beer. Woohoo. Well I figure I've earned it.

Did my presentation today. I think it went OK, I never can tell. The subject matter was dry, I had limited material but then I was presenting to a bunch of IT focussed marketing folk. Who knows, it may have been the highlight of their day (doubt it, but you never know).

After a few of the audience have downed a few drinks I'll try and get some honest feedback, although I think people get to vote and feedback at the end of the forum via a questionnaire. I'll probably be presented with a score out of ten and some helpful and constructive verbatim comments. Alternatively they'll just tell me I'm shit. Or more likely they'll give me the data and just not invite me to present again.

I think I might be being a little harsh on myself. Some people gave me instant positive feedback but I never trust people and I tend to think they're just being kind. I'd much rather see a number out of 10, it's more honest, more anonymous.

Berlin, by the way, is quite impressive when compared with my last trip. Last time I was here, late 90's, it was a building site. Well there's still a lot of construction going on but the new buildings/districts are really quite impressive. There's just one small thing I would change - there aren't any pedestrian crossings. It's mad trying to cross the road - you just have to rely on the better nature of drivers and hope they won't run you over.

Am going out with my fellow geeks tonight (need to shower/change, apply slap). Is it fair to call them geeks? I would argue yes, but then that makes me a geek. Am I a geek? Don't all shout at once.

(By the way, German keyboard layouts suck!)

More photos:

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Airport security

Airport security - what a faff. I know it's important, I know it's necessary but I had no idea what I was going to go through today.

I arrived with just over an hour and a half before departure which I thought was fair. I checked in (no queue) and grabbed some lunch. (I'm so excited Stansted has a Pret. )

I mooched around a few shops and decided to head to departures. The queue was impressive. When I say queue, I mean queues, plural.

So, as I'm approaching the gateway to the scanner stuff, I realise I have a perfume atomiser in my bag (idiot!). So I own up to the lady guarding the gateway and she pours the expensive perfume away. At least it wasn't a full bottle.

At this point I'm still in a queue and realise all electrical items need to be taken out of my bag. So I extract laptop, mp3 player and phone (I forget the camera - idiot again). And put that on the conveyor belt thing with my bag. I'm told to remove my jacket (which is really lightweight - not in the slightest bit bulky). I go through the person scanner and it beeps (that never happens to me) and then I get told to remove my boots.

Imagine the scene. Now I don't know what you wear under boots but, usually, with trousers/jeans (in this case 3/4 jeans), I wear ankle socks, in this case black. So I am going through security looking like a right numpty. 3/4 jeans with tall boots looks OK. 3/4 boots with ankle socks looks stupid. Then I start to get my belongings back so I'm carrying jacket, boots, laptop, phone, mp3 player and then they bring my laptop bag over because there might be a problem. I'm thinking camera - idiot. Actually they're not worried about the camera, although they use a cotton swab on it and put it in the explosives sniffer machine. Their concern is the same perfume atomiser that is now empty. Now he has me in his sights though there's a good excuse to rifle through all of my belongings. He throws away a mascara - clearly that's a hazard. He checks out lipstick, lip salve, etc. etc. At least my bag contents weren't too embarrassing. The worst thing from my perspective is having to take boots off and looking stupid as a result.

The very worst thing though is that I know the process will be repeated for the return journey on Fri.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Testing Organisational Skills

I'm going to Berlin tomorrow for work. I'll be working on days that I don't normally work and you won't believe how complex the planning has had to be to make this possible.

On Thursday Dave will be getting to work late. His parents will be coming over to "babysit" although I think I can safely say my children aren't babies anymore. I figure if a child tells you they're not a baby, then they're probably not.

Everyone will trot down to Tumble Tots so Ethan can get his Thusday morning workout. Is it pathetic that I pay for my 2 year old to attempt an assault course every Thursday morning?
Once T Tots is finished everyone will dash back home for lunch and Hannah will then be rushed off to school. I've warned the in-laws that this turnaround is tight (although I do an additional child pick-up that they won't be doing - note to self must remind other child's mum I won't be there this week).

Then Ethan gets taken home for a nap. Once he's woken up Hannah will need collecting from school. Again, my in-laws have it relatively easy as I normally dash down to the local leisure centre to take Hannah trampolining, but it's "off" this week. So all they need to worry about is feeding time and then Dave will be home to help with bath and bedtime routines.

On Friday it's a little easier because I have been able to find nursery places for both kiddiwinks. So my in-laws will be helping with the lunchtime transfer and the after school and after nursery pick ups. I think Dave will be asking them to hang around into the evening so Dave can visit the physiotherapist. Normally I'd be there to make sure the children don't escape the house and run riot on the streets but I'll be in an airport and on a plane.

In theory, I'll arrive back home at about 10:00pm tired and exhausted and without having to worry about a thing. I wonder if that will be the reality.

Monday, 9 October 2006


Feedback can be a good thing.

A while ago Tracey told me my hair was boring. It took me a while but I did something about it. OK I actually think it's still quite boring but it might be a tad less boring than it was. And Tracey hasn't said anything since.

I don't want you to think ill of Tracey. I would much rather someone was honest with me and told me what they thought rather than just being polite. Tracey wasn't telling me something I didn't know, but, without realising it, she spurred me into action.

Someone's noted that my more recent blogs seem a little rushed. I know they're right and I'm sorry. You deserve more. And maybe if I find I'm sat at a keyboard and it's 11:30 at night, and my batteries are running on empty, I'll turn the PC off and leave you in peace rather than type some useless drivel that won't entertain you for a second.

My boss told me that when I hand him 9 months worth of expenses in one go, he doesn't appreciate it. Again, I probably knew that. The difference here is that I am who I am and I find it difficult to get motivated to do my expenses, so my behaviour probably won't change as a result of his input. If he thinks he's hard done by he should talk to my husband.

I leave my filing at home for about 2 years. It's at that point that Dave boils over and offers to do it for me. We're getting close to the 2 year point soon and he has been hinting...

Sunday, 8 October 2006

What's the point?

What's the point of tidying kids toys? They'll mix them up again as soon as your back is turned.

What's the point in clearing leaves in autumn? Before the day is out more leaves will fall.

What's the point in doing a jigsaw puzzle? No really, what's the point? You do it, then put it back in the box. There's no evidence you've even opened the box.

What's the point in dusting frequently? Isn't it more efficient to wait until a good thick layer has built up and then do one dust, rather than lots?

What's the point of smoking a cigarette? OK, could annoy a few people here, but if you plan on killing yourself, there really are more direct methods the achieve the same goal but without costing the NHS a fortune.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Flying High

Today we went to Redhill Aerodrome... My father-in-law had a trip in a helicopter booked and the conditions couldn't have been more perfect... It had chucked it down with rain yesterday but today was a wonderfully clear blue sky with at least 10 mile visibility.

The pilot came out and was rounding up passengers when I joked that if he had any spare places we had a couple of little ones (the children) who'd love to go up.

A couple of minutes later he came over and said he did have a spare seat, would anyone like to go?.. So we nominated my mother-in-law and she got to ride for free.

So advice if you book the same is book just one flight and then make it clear you're available should there be spare seats and you never know, you may get to fly for free.

Friday, 6 October 2006


Mel reckons I have the right look when I'm doing pole dancing, a sort of "I'm only doing it for the money" look she said, a look that would show disdain for any men in the audience.Not that there were any men in the audience, or ever have been come to that. In fact last night there were just 5 women in an aerobics studio, no spectators.

Anyway I had to let her know that this wasn't a look I worked on or was aiming for, it was just that I was concentrating on not forgetting the routine and how to do the tricks and, at some point, I was trying not to laugh.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, we may not be doing the advanced class for a while as Sara, our instructor is having some time off, to have a boob job!!

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Slippery pole

Last pole dancing class tonight. At the end of every course Sara, our instructor, encourages us to wear a little bit less, put on some heels and bring a video camera.

Well I couldn't wear much less than I normally do for the class as lots of exposed skin is helpful with some of the tricks. I normally wear boots with heels anyway too because boots help when you're climbing the pole and the heel is supposed to help somehow, but I can't remember why.

As for the camera, well at the end of the Beginner's class I took a video camera and videoed the routine. I've lost the resulting DVD so this time I just took the digital camera.

So the plan was that we'd practise the individal moves, have a run through of the routine to iron out glitches and then do a final videoed run through.

I was doing really well today. We learned a new move - the balance, sort of sitting on the pole without using hands/arms. I managed to get upside-down at least 4 times, did many of the tricks much better than I have done before and it was all coming together for the run through.

And then we did the videoed routine. And I was so, so, so, fed up. We had all been working hard, and the pole was too hot and slippery. I couldn't get a grip almost from the very start of the routine. There were so many moves that I couldn't do and it wasn't because I was too tired or I didn't know how to do the trick it was simply because the pole was too slippery. If we'd done the video at the beginning of the session it would have been fine. So disappointing.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Small pleasures

I had a happy day today. Everything was good. There wasn't anything special about today but for some reason I was cheerful all day.

Do you ever get days when you just can't stop smiling?

The sun was shining and the sky was blue. I enjoyed reading my book on the tube. Work was fun, I know, even work was fun. Every small part of the day was enjoyable.

And I didn't take drugs, or do anything to improve my natural mood.

Now you could be thinking that I'm normally a miserable cow and you might be right but I don't think so. But days would normally have their ups and downs and today didn't. And I don't know why. Maybe you could send your suggestions on a postcard to...

Tuesday, 3 October 2006


RTA - or road traffic accident to you and me.

This morning on the way to work I saw a car hit a motorcyclist. The rider came off the bike and the bike skidded on its side.

Now what would you do, if that happened in front of you? Well I stopped and went over to offer help. Admittedly I couldn't offer much help.

I've only done a first aid course that covered emergency first aid for children. I'm pretty sure that resuscitation for a baby using just 2 fingers to get the heart going wouldn't work on a 6 foot plus motorcyclist.

Plus I'd left my mobile phone at work so when I asked "do you need an ambulance?" my offer of help would have meant I'd have needed to run to the ambulance station (not too far away) or flag down another motorist.

My point is that I tried. I stopped and so did a lovely white van man. Every other bugger was just too interested in driving around the incident without it delaying their commute.

Anyway, the nice motorcyclist didn't need an ambulance and the little old lady that had knocked him off his bike went to call the police. While she was away I offered injured biker my details if he needed a witness.

Anyway, what's wrong with all of the muppets on the road who just couldn't be bothered? I really see how people can be attacked in public and get no help from the general public. It's sick and it's sad.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Weekend away anyone?

We've just had a quick weekend trip to Devon. Let's just see how many things went wrong.

We left before the rush hour at 3:30. WRONG!!! It took us almost 2 hours to clear the M25.

This wasn't our only bad traffic encounter as somewhere on the A303 we ended up behind some fairground trailer travelling at 20mph.

So we'd hoped to arrive before 8:00 and actually arrived before 9:00 with crotchety kiddiwinks that matched their parents.

Our trips to Devon are planned with timings to ensure we get to see everyone in the short amount of time we have available.

It started well with us arriving at about 10:30 at my Dad's and things were still looking good when we made it to the pub for lunch at 12:00. Things started going wrong when we were still in the pub at 1:30. We had to leave at 1:30 to get to Dave's Granny by 2:30. We just wouldn't have the time to take Dad back to his place and still be beyond Okehampton in the time available. We asked my brother to help out and he very kindly took dad back for us.

So we were just approaching Okehampton and we got a call from Ian "Ann, do you have Dad's door keys?". Well strictly speaking I didn't have them, but I knew they were in Dave's pocket and he was driving our car.

Luckily Ian had managed to break into Dad's house, but we didn't realise, until we caught up with him later, was that he'd had to spend an hour and a half breaking and entering and manouvring Dad round the back of his house while Shona and the kiddiwinks waited in the car.

The only inconvenience for us was that we had to drop past Dad's to return his front door keys on our way back that evening.

So we managed to get to Dave's Granny when we'd said we would. The children behaved impeccably but I think I may have damaged my good character. I had an allergic reaction to the dogs. I was sneezing, coughing, had a tickly throat and my eyes were itchy as hell. I clearly wasn't well and had to confess the cause was the canines. We all know that the last thing you do to a dog lover, is accuse their dog of causing any discomfort or inconvenience. I'll just have to pack Benadryl next time.

So that was the end of the trauma for that day.

Remember the Exorcist style tummy bug Ethan had? Well the next day, I was feeling sick, disoriented and weak. Still we'd promised Dad we'd go and take him out to see the children playing in a park so we started to get ready to go over to him. And the heavens opened and we had thunder and lightening, torrential downpours and we were loading the children into the car in monsoon conditions. All this time I'm wondering whether we can still go to the park.

We decide on a cafe instead and ice cream and/or coffee all round, except for me because I'm feeling poorly, makes everyone feel better.

We then zip back to Ian's for lunch. I decide I'm good for nothing and behave appallingly by retiring to bed and avoiding lunch.

So having seen very little of Ian and his family we pack up and get into the car for the return trip to Essex.

We are doing well until we hit the M5/M4 queues which we should have expected. And then later we hit the completely unpredictable M4 queues near Membury. And whilst I'm sickened by the realisation that the queues were caused, in our direction, by rubber necking, I have to admit to taking a peek. I can justify it on the grounds that Ethan is obsessed by Emergency Service vehicles and it was even more exciting for him because in addition to the 4 fire appliances, 2 ambulances and 4 police vehicles there was a helicopter (air ambulance). OK, so maybe I had more than a peek but I maintain that natural curiosity is part of human nature and at least I wasn't driving.

The journey is a bit of a blur as I was drifting in and out of consciousness.

So, anyone fancy a weekend away?