Sunday, April 29, 2007

Marmaladya in the Sunday Times Style

Meant to post this last week, but what with the new job and all, it completely slipped my mind. Marmaladya was in the Sunday Times Style in an article written by Fleur Britten about women only events. The night at Sketch that she mentions is the Beautiful Brands night that I wrote about here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book Review: On Green Dolphin Street

Worked harder today than I've done for a long time. 8 hours (with an hour off for lunch) with no distractions. No internet, no phone, no people, just me, the file, my brain and a couple of text books. So at lunchtime, I thought I'd go for a walk. I wondered through the heart of legal London and found a quiet corner to sit and finish my book. I have been re-reading On Green Dolphin Street, a Sebastian Faulks novel of 2001.

On Green Dolphin Street is set in the late 1950s and early 60s across 3 continents and 4 cities, following the life of Mary van der Linden and her past, present and future relationships. An English girl, who grew up in Primrose Hill, Mary is the wife of a British Diplomat who has been posted to Washington, America. Faulks seems fascinated by the effects of war on relationships and, to some extent, On Green Dolphin Street is no different. This war is the Cold War, however, that political terror that was the Nixon/Kennedy presidential race, those uncertain times when the American people (for those are the people of this book apart from the British Diplomats) struggled with that specific moment in history when the Eisenhower years of the 1950s were left behind, horrors of the Second World War had yet to fade and heal and the idealism of the future had yet to materialise.

I think, for me, there were two central themes; loss and the way that people cope with it and understanding. Loss of life, both in the literal sense of death (deliberate - soldiers killing one another in times of war - and natural) as well as the metaphorical sense of dispair, of giving up, of breaking down. Loss of the presence of children, family, of a lover, loss of one's own personal freedom to make choices because of others' dependancy being more important. Mary believes that marriage “means that if an impossible choice is to be made” between one’s own life and one’s husband’s “you choose his”. Understanding takes many forms, understanding oneself, one's reasons, one's choices, understanding that you can belong to one person yet by necessity be with another. Understanding that in another lifetime, things might have been different.

Mary faces loss and understanding with both realism and idealisim. She lost her fiancee, her "own, her self" in the Second World War. She believes that aspect of her life to be over. She meets Charlie at a party and falls in love with him and together they have 2 children. Charlie, a Diplomat, is posted to Washington, and Mary, the dutiful wife, accompanies him. It is at a party given by herself and Charlie that Mary meets Frank, a reporter from New York, assigned to cover the presidential race. After a prolonged friendship over several illicit meetings, Mary realises that Frank is “me, my inner self. It’s not just him that I yearn for when I call. It’s myself, my previous life, my next life”. As a reader, I longed for Mary to succumb to their relationship. But life doesn't work like that. One can't just up and leave because one feels like it, not if one is as Mary is. No matter how pure the love, the intensity of the knowledge that you are on this earth to be together, there are promises and duties which have been made which must always come first. Perhaps the truest of people who, no matter what their errors and infidelities, will always put themselves last.

At times, I had the feeling that Frank was who Charlie should have been, who gave Mary what Charlie should have given, behaved as Charlie should have done. Two different versions of a man who went off to fight in the Second World War and returned, changed, one who could cope, one who couldn't.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I was in tears. I was also reminded of another book, The Bridges of Maddison County which also addressed the idea of a chance meeting with the true meaning of 'other half', yet life, previous responsibilites, duties to other, must always come first, yet knowing that you both spend every waking and dreaming moment with the other.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Training Contract

Was up at 7.30 this morning. By 8 I had eaten breakfast, washed my hair and was dressed in a suit and new shirt. Shoes newly polished and armed with a packed lunch, I left the house by 8.30am and started my first commute by tube since we moved to Primrose Hill. Today was the first day of my training contract.

My own office, files to read, notes to draft, law to desperately try and remember from my time at Law School. The first day of my Training Contract. Leaving work 'early' at 5.45pm. This is the way it will be from now on. Travelling to and from work squashed into a human sardine can which is usually known as the tube, wearing suits and shirts to work (and tights) every day regardless of the weather. Using my degree, my postgraduate qualifications and my brain on a hourly rather than occasional basis. It was great, but tiring. I must have read about 10 lever arches of material. Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Florence & Petreto

The cellar at Petreto

The bus was our first taste of Italian hospitality; it certainly wasn't the last. We met Piero outside the Hotel Baglioni at 1.30am. We were supposed to have arrived at 10pm, so we were more than a few hours late, but no matter. Piero borrowed his father's car and picked us up. Despite the late hour, he wanted to show us the view from the Piazzo Di Michaelangelo - and what a view it was. There, spread out before us, was Firenze. A host of beautiful buildings crowed together in the shadow of the Doumo, balanced by the river and the backdrop of mountains. We spent a few moments standing in the quiet, warm, night, amazed by the lack of pollution. And then we got back into the car and drove to Piero's family apartment. An imposing, grand mansion block over looking much of the city. We crowded into the small lift (maximum three persons, who could be fitted in if everyone stood in a line facing the same way) and soon were creeping into the flat and going to bed.

"I wake you up at 8 and a half" said Piero.

And so the next morning we ate breakfast, hot milky coffee, chocolate biscuits and biscotti and then M and Piero went off to sort out a car. Once the car was sorted, we were off. First stop, Peiro's father's vineyard Petreto. Each vineyard is organised differently and produces different wines. Petreto make both red and white wine, but also make a sweet desert wine, rather like a sauterne and rather unusual in this part of Italy. I think it is delicious. After a tour of the cellars we tasted several bottled wines, choosing one to take with us to the restaurant for lunch. We walked to the restaurant attached to the vineyard by walking along the track between the vines and then through an orchard. I hung back, letting M and Piero walk on ahead, deep in wine discussion. The Tuscan landscape is so very beautiful, much more so than I had imagined.

Monday, April 16, 2007

To Tuscany

I sit at my computer, peacefully, in the quiet of the late 'summer' English afternoon, for despite the calendar reading April, this weather feels more akin to June, and think back to the weekend. This is the first chance to reflect today, a day which started at 6am BST. We were stirred by first one alarm, then another, followed by Pierro knocking on our door. We awakened and I stumbled into the kitchen, to drink esspresso and eat biscotti and chocolate pannetonne. It was a mad scramble to pack, to load the car, to decipher and negotiate the road signs and customs of the drivers of Firenze and to make it to the aeroporta at Pisa in time for the flight. Then the small matter of parking the duck egg blue Fiat Punto in the tiniest of bijou spaces in the carpark and say a quick prayer that the 6 bottles of wine packed into the suitcase would not break en route (nor be denied check-in if the bag were too heavy) before boarding the flight. And then home to Gatwick, to London and to work this afternoon. One long rush but one amazing weekend.

A weekend which begun on Thursday afternoon. We met, like lovers, at the entrance to the Gatwick Express. Only given away by the fact that I was late and we had only one suitcase, which had to be re-packed on the train. It started so promisingly, we were on time to the airport, check in was smooth. We drank tea watching the other planes depart for foreign climes in the pink-orange glow of the hazy afternoon before leisurely making our way to the departure gate.

Where we sat. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, they let us onto the plane. Exit seats; lots of leg room. I fastened my seatbelt and waited for the engines to start. Waited and waited.

"This is the Captain speaking... we are currently having issues with air traffic control in France."

"It seems that the French have gone on strike. With no notice. French airspace is closed. We are working to try and find a slot (for takeoff)"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to announce that we have been given a slot at 10pm. I have turned off the seat belt sign so please feel free to walk around the aircraft and use mobile telephone equipment".

So we sat there for 2 and half hours on the stand, more than the length of the flight, finally arriving in Pisa at midnight. We had arranged to hire a car, but for reasons far to dull to elaborate, but involve obstructive Europeans, we eventually opted to get a bus to Florence.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Orange Broadband

I was standing in front of the sunglasses stand in a shop on Oxford Street this evening, trying to decide which ones looked the least bad when my phone rang. Juggling bag and several pairs of spare sunglasses, I tried to answer the it. Boop boop doo-oop it went in the bottom of my bag, the sound of the CTU (24) taunting me as I tried not to drop everything on the floor.

"Hello". Nothing. 1 missed call. Caller 'anonymous'. Answer machine message. I call the voicemail out of courtesy rather than interest. May as well, I suppose it could be someone interesting.

"This is a message for Rachel. This is X calling from the BBC... I wonder if you could return my call. My number is 020 8...".

So I did, crouching on the floor to write down the number, hiding behind the cheap jewellery in an effort to distance myself from the exitable children shopping in their Easter holidays. A lady from BBC Watchdog answers and tells me she is ringing in response to my e mail regarding Orange Broadband. She was interested in my experience and wanted to ask me a few questions regarding my view of their customer service, specifically how long I have been kept waiting on their phone system. So I told her of my 20 minute wait, only to be told that I need to call a different number, which routes back through to the first option, of no issue being solved adequately, how I was told to look at their website for further help (when the issue I had was that I couldn't access the internet in the first place) and so on.

We discussed the issues for a few minutes and then she asked if I would help them by filming a short interview for the programme next Wednesday.

"Of course, no problem" I replied, knowing somehow that it would be this weekend and I would be away. "When?"

"This Saturday". So, regrettably, I had to decline.

So I stood up, bought my sunglasses and was soon back on Oxford Street, dodging tourists, children and people going about their shopping, rueing the fact that I had just turned down a chance to air my views of Orange Broadband to the nation (or those that view BBC 2 next Wednesday evening) in favour of a trip to Florence...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


My apologies for the sporadic blogging. You may remember that I was experiencing some difficulties with the internet, or more specifically, that Orange Broadband was not compatible with Microsoft Vista (which came with our new computer to replace the one that was stolen during our break in). Well, that particular issue has been rectified. The 'helpful' Orange lady who imparted the news of incompatability also suggested that I

"consulted the Orange website for further assistance"

to which I responded, naturally, that since I was unable to access the internet, my chances of finding the Orange website at all, let alone finding it helpful, were slim to none. Still, she had a point, as when I was able to use another computer to view said website, it suggested pushing the button marked '1' on the router. This I did, and the internet has been working ever since.

Until yesterday. When we encountered our second problem with Vista. The computer came with a one month anti-bacterial (viral, whatever) cover. When it expired we were due to activate our CD entitled 'vaccinations 2007', or whatever it was. Which we attempted to do last night, only to discover that despite it being the 2007 version, it is not compatible with Vista. So no internet until we can protect the poor little thing from all of those diseases and viruses that computers suffer from so easily. I am not good with PCs it would seem. Thankfully, M's Mum (and Dad) are good with computers and in charge of the whole process really, so it will be sorted soon. If only all customer support was like them the country would be amazing.

In more interesting news, or perhaps not, depending on your situation, I am back in London and back at work. Spent the weekend hill walking in the Yorkshire Dales and helping on my Aunt and Uncle's farm. On Saturday we climbed Ingleborough in glorious sunshine and on Sunday some low level walks near the farm. Caught up with family and discovered that I am too old to stay out all night dancing with my sister. Train back to London yesterday and back to my second to last week at work. All three days of it. We're off to Florence on Friday and I haven't even unpacked my suitcase from last weekend yet. So many things to do, so little time. So I had best be off to do some washing and re-packing.

Ingleborough - 2,373 feet (we climbed up the steep left hand side from the limestone pavements)

(Rachel said that she was a techno-muppet - I like the phrase and as far as PCs are concerned, me too. Thank goodness for M's parents)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Blogging and Bloggers

A few months ago, a number of anonymous commenters left some unpleasant comments for me on my blog. While they were marginally annoying, I felt that a blog in the 'public domain' was just that, and everyone was entitled to their opinion (supposing that there was anyone actually reading). So I left them, pointing out that my policy was only to delete defamatory or racist comments or ones that deliberatly insulted someone other than myself. Being called a Primrose Hill Princess and that I should try working harder and shopping less is, whilst unpleasant on a daily basis, nothing to get stressed about.

I did delete one comment though, from someone refering to 'FJL'. This commenter suggested that I should have a look at a certain blog, which I did. I was horrified to find an enormous rant about someone I consider to be a blogger friend. I have never met either my blogger friend or the commenter on my blog, but I know who I trust. I e-mailed Rachel, who explained the situation and told me that the matter was with the police.

So I was pleased therefore to read this post on Rachel's blog. FJL has been found guilty of harrassment. She didn't attend court but was found guilty in her absence. Sentencing is awaited. Having broken bail terms (so I believe) there is a warrant issued for her and she could potentially be facing 5 years in prison. A stark warning, it would seem, to people who consider the internet (and blogging in particular) to be above or around the law. It isn't.

My heart goes out to Rachel and the issues she has faced, but I am also pleased that she has come through with grace and dignity and still able to look forward to her new, married, future.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Occasionally, one overhears something about themselves which is unflattering. It is an odd thing, to hear oneself being described. When it is complimentary, it is strangely pleasing; when it is not, it is the rabbit in the headlights situation, unbearable to hear but unable to tear oneself away. The need to step into the conversation and say, actually, no it wasn't like that really, there was more to the situation than that, is overwhelming but it is also rather humiliating to hear ones behaviour disected and so one doesn't step in, doesn't provide the other side of the story or any defence, rather stand, sit, lie in silence thinking how huge the difference is between two peoples view of the same situation.

Occasionally, one views a situation from an odd perspective. It is as if one is watching the situation from afar, through the wrong end of a telescope. Viewing something happening and knowing that one is powerless to change the outcome. To see oneself as someone else might, rude, diffident, dismissive, exclusive, but feeling unable to change the course. Hard to take, hard to change, and like a coward, one from which one retreats, runs, hides.

Occasionally, one is able to sit down and look back at recent events as if they are watching it on a screen, from a distance. To write and reflect and realise that things need to be addressed, to be changed, to be rectified. It is so very easy to do that, but so very hard to actually make the changes. Saying sorry isn't the hardest part; saying sorry and changing behaviour is the hardest part.

Occasionally, one can be so self-absorbed that they make a situation all about them. It isn't.