Sunday, December 30, 2007

Farewell 2007

I know, I am a day early. But tomorrow will be taken up with packing and travelling back to London and preparing for our party. S0 today it is.

The New Year. A chance to look backwards, a chance to look forwards. January, Janus, the keeper of doors and gates, one face looking forwards and the other looking backwards. The symbol of change, from one state to another. January, the first month of the calendar year and the first month of my year. I was born in the middle of a snow storm in the morning of the fifth day of January 1982. My Daddy was the only Daddy to visit his baby; walking boots, a bicycle and a duvet jacket being far more effective than a car at running through deep snow. For me, the New Year and my own new year have always been a time to reflect and plan and this year is no different.

This Christmas was my 26th Christmas. It was the first Christmas M and I have spent together at my parents house; it was the first Christmas since I was at school that both maternal and paternal Grandparents have celebrated with us. It was the first Christmas spent at my own house where both sisters were not present. We split our week off, M and I. 3 days at my parents and then 3 days at his. Life is less busy at his parents. Whilst M played golf yesterday his mother took me shopping and out for lunch. 2007 has been the first year where I have identified my budget and my gaps in my wardrobe and only bought what I needed (with a couple of bargain-ous exceptions which it would have been churlish to resist).

So, 2007 was my quarter century. I started the year entering the new age box 25-34 and felt rather adrift. It was the first time I felt older on my birthday, that the years were drifting away. That I hadn't really achieved what I thought I might have done by 25. And then, suddenly, things started happening. M and I moved to a new house where we have really been able to set up our home together, rather than a mutually convenient roosting place. Where we have enjoyed spending time together and where we have enjoyed entertaining our friends. We went on a trip of a lifetime to Morocco to celebrate our 5th anniversary and I had an interview for a Training Contract before we went and came home to a job offer: I am now a much longed for trainee solicitor and qualify in year and four months. 2007 has also been the year that my writing took off - articles published in several on-line magazines as well as the traditional format North Africa Times - and perhaps my happiest year since I was 17 in 1999. I wonder if it is coincidence that both summers involved prolonged sailing adventures?

The Prime Minister of my formative years (15-25) stood down in 2007 and in his place is his successor, Mr Brown. He will take the politics of my late twenties forward, although how far remains to be seen. The years where I have become interested, informed, with an opinion to air and a willingness to discuss. 2007 has also been a global focussed year for me personally as well, with one sister travelling and the other sister studying in the USA. 2008 looks to be more so, with the travelling sister off again once more, this time to Australia for a year or more.

2008 will be here in 32 hours, give or take 20 minutes. 2007 has been a good year, for me at least, although I am not sad that it is drawing to a close, that the finale is underway and the curtain shall at last soon fall. A life long pessimist, I actually feel rather optimistic about 2008. I know that there will be disappointments (both sisters out of the country and so on) but I feel older, more mature, more in control. I have started to grow into the 25-34 age group and I think am more ready to face the things which it will contain. I am exicited about returning to London, to our friends, even to work. I think I am looking forward to 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quote of the day...

Overheard my Grandmother discussing music with a much younger male member of the family. I could have sworn she said "now, how about those Arthritic Monkeys". She maintains not.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Thanks to James at The Ink for his instructions as to how to take a screen shot of my desktop. Obviously in my version the two people have faces but I think they should remain anonymous.

Apparently this is something of a meme and should be accompanied with some discussion of computer history. My relationship with computers goes back a good long way - as a child we had various mac computers and have had the Internet for as long as I can remember. I was bought my first own laptop when I went to university (an i-mac clam shell in turquoise) which I still use at home now for writing articles and on which I have written every essay and dissertation. It is rather old now (my version of i-tunes will not recognise the old i-pod shuffle that my sister donated to me when she upgraded, it is that old) so I use M's laptop for accessing the Internet.

Working life forced me to get to grips with PCs which were previously uncharted territory. After macs which seem to work so obviously and so straightforwardly, I found it quite a task to become PC literate. Although some things still fox me (screen printing and so on!) I can drive it satisfactorily although I cannot do anything flashy. Blogging has forced me to master some html knowledge (I know I could update to the version which does this for me, but I am afraid I will lose some of my blog). I know I should also back up my blog but I just don't know how to. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bad Taste?

Another evening, another Christmas party. This time hosted by friends we made in Morocco. This meant that apart from our friend, obviously, we would know no other of the guests. The invitation suggested that we should come in fancy dress; the theme? 'Bad taste'. I went to a 'bad-taste' themed Christmas party whilst at university once. Wine Soc Christmas Social I believe. I have absolutely no recollection of what I wore. My friends M and T wore matching vests saying 'f***ing common' with bad trousers. I recall a man in a jumpsuit with a baby handcuffed to his arm. Many people took the opportunity to either wear as little as possible or cross-dress. My only other two memories of the night (other than the theme) was surfing on a table during a game of 21s and vomiting into a urinal in the men's loos whilst another friend stood beside me telling all and sundry that "she's not my girlfriend". A good party? Anyway, last night's party was an altogether more sober and much less student-y affair. I decided to wear my most sparkly Christmas-style outfit - sequined shoes, black rah-rah skirt (v.small and courtesy of a sister's wardrobe clear out in the summer whereon I thought at some point there will be an occasion when I need a skirt of the variety that my cousin calls 'one up from a hairband' and at least I will not have to go out and buy one) and a gold and black glittery stripey top with 80's style sleeves (which I already owned having bought it last year for a work party), teamed with my Vegas Ball extra large gold and black earrings and a large black ribbon bow around my waist. I looked like one of Girls Aloud had got lost and somehow found herself at a house party in Battersea. It was a good party; despite us not knowing any of the guests other than the host, she must have told them all about our Moroccan adventure as they all knew our names and occupations. It was rather an odd feeling, notoriety. Several people told me they liked my outfit. One person told me they loved my top. I wondered whether they thought it was a good take on 'bad-taste' or whether they indeed just had bad taste. I attempted to work out which people had dressed up and which just looked like that anyway. It was hard to tell.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And for his next trick...

... he will perform the same one that a friend of his did at a wedding which caused a Bishop to have a heart-attack and be wheeled out of the reception. Last night I went to a friends house for a pre-Christmas meal. One of the other guests is a magician. Over a glass of mulled wine in the kitchen he mentioned the Bishop story and I asked him which trick the friend had done. Actually, he said, the trick was part of his routine and would I like to see it. Of course I said yes. So, after the meal (beautiful shepherds pie, just in case you were wondering) Magician Friend began his routine. He asked me to pick a card and he made it appear from various places. He then asked me to sign it and made it jump around all over the place, including appearing from inside a zipped compartment of his wallet, which was inside his coat pocket. Finally, he got me to hold the entire deck of cards between my hands, extracted my signed card from between my closed hands, showed it to me and then casually remarked that actually, he'd turned all the cards into a block of glass. No really, he had. Would I like to open my hands. With a distinct sense of dread and adrenaline, I opened my hands. No cards but a block of perspex. No wonder the Bishop had a heart-attack. I almost had one myself. Amazing. I was filled with a mix of wonder (apparently I watched the whole routine looking like a small child) and humiliation that I had sat in front of a room full of people and allowed myself to be tricked. Magician Friend gave me my signed six of clubs and I have pinned it to the notice board to remind myself of the day I went out for supper and someone managed to swap a deck of cards for a block of glass within my closed hands under my very nose and I didn't even notice.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Preparations (Part 2)

A fleeting visit to Shropshire this weekend. Returned to London late last night having spent the weekend looking after M's Grannie. His parents are away on the other side of the world visiting relatives so it was decided that buying them a Christmas tree would be a good use of the afternoon and that it would be a nice thing for them to come home to. We got into the car and drove towards Shrewsbury, hoping to come across somewhere selling trees. With surprising ease we found somewhere and helped M's Grannie across the rather uneven ground. If she had started gesturing with her stick I wouldn't have been surprised. We were after one which wouldn't shed it's needles but it was hard to spot them among the motley collection of spruces which were already showing signs of going brown and dry at the bottoms. We sized up a fair few before we settled on the one we bought. The polar opposite to the tree which we chose for our own house - where ours is a deep green fir, bushy and rotund the tree we bought yesterday was a much paler greeny green, tall with dense but sparse branches which will make decorating it much easier. At over 7 foot high it just managed to be persuaded into the car; in situ it looks rather fine, reminiscent somehow of a desert plant.

Friday, December 14, 2007

London - Thursday 13 December

Things which made me smile today and realise that there are decent people around me:

1. The kind receptionist at the doctor's surgery who held an appointment booking for me whilst I ran home to get my passport (to prove who I was) and then who made me a doctor's appointment immediately after the nurse's appointment so that I could be seen as quickly as possible, even though one is supposed to see the nurse first who will then book the follow up doctor's appointment.

2. The teenager with the bright red and black hair, black sunglasses, harsh expression and punky clothes, who, when an old lady used her knee as a handrest on the bus to stop herself falling over whilst trying to get to the seat, smiled sweetly, extended her hand and helped the old lady into the seat. And then helped her up when the old lady reached her stop.

3. The taxi driver who kept up a constant stream of chatter and told me that he was Joe Cole's grandfather and who insisted on driving us to the end of our road despite the fact that we had run out of money to pay the bill, saying that he would rather we got home than he made an extra £2.

Things which made me fear for the well-being of Londoners.

1. When buying a sandwich for my boss at her chosen sandwich shop watching the girl behind the counter blowing her nose, apologising and then proceeding to make the sandwich without washing her hands or putting on any gloves and then taking the money and moving onto the next sandwich. The transaction happened so fast that I was unable to comment before I had been given the sandwich and she was serving the next person.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Preparations

We bought our Christmas tree yesterday, from a Christmas Tree 'forest' near Highbury. We went there on the off-chance, the tail end of a busy 24 hours. We had a meal with friends on Saturday night, complete with crackers and silly hats. B made the roast, M provided the wine and I brought some home made mince pies (mince meat and all). We drank wine and talked and played poker and ended up sitting round drinking vodka and coke from pint glasses and watching the Hatton fight. About 7 hours later I ate 'breakfast' in the Hummingbird Bakery in South Kensington before going to the Golden Age of Couture exhibition at the V&A. After meeting M after he finished work we passed the Christmas trees on the way home and went in. We wandered up and down the rows of trees wondering which one was the one for us. A teeny tiny one? Not much value for money. An enormous one for our enormously high ceilings? No, too heavy for M to carry home. We ummed and ahhed over sizes, varieties, stands and the overall costs. Should we have the one that looked rejected. Should we have a living one? In the end we chose a medium sized one with bushy branches which M was able to carry home with (relative) ease. We managed to screw the base on and clear a space by the end of the sofa and I even managed to plug the lights in before the tree was in situ. Once the lights were on and the 5 decorations which we own were hanging on the tree I felt positively Christmassy and even heated up some mulled wine.

Tonight I plan to make some more decorations for the tree by drying slices of orange and hanging them with red ribbon. I will be doing this just as soon as I have bought a punch bag.

Friday, December 07, 2007

First and Second laws of Thermodynamics...

... according to Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. This never fails to make me laugh.

"Snow says that nobody can consider themselves educated who doesn't know at least the basic language of Science. I mean, things like Sir Edward Boyle's Law, for example: the greater the external pressure, the greater the volume of hot air. Or the Second Law of Thermodynamics - this is very important. I was somewhat shocked the other day to discover that my partner not only doesn't know the Second Law, he doesn't even know the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Going back to first principles, very briefly, thermodynamics is of course derived from two Greek words: thermos, meaning hot, if you don't drop it, and dinamiks, meaning dynamic, work; and thermodynamics is simply the science of heat and work and the relationships between the two, as laid down in the Laws of Thermodynamics, which may be expressed in the following simple terms...

After me...

The First Law of Thermodymamics:
Heat is work and work is heat
Heat is work and work is heat
Very good!

The Second Law of Thermodymamics:
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body
(scat music starts)
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body
Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
You can try it if you like but you far better notter
You can try it if you like but you far better notter
'Cos the cold in the cooler with get hotter as a ruler
'Cos the cold in the cooler with get hotter as a ruler
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler

First Law:
Heat is work and work is heat and work is heat and heat is work
Heat will pass by conduction
Heat will pass by conduction
Heat will pass by convection
Heat will pass by convection
Heat will pass by radiation
Heat will pass by radiation
And that's a physical law
Heat is work and work's a curse
And all the heat in the Universe
Is gonna cooool down 'cos it can't increase
Then there'll be no more work and there'll be perfect peace
Yeah - that's entropy, man!

And all because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which lays down:
That you can't pass heat from the cooler to the hotter
Try it if you like but you far better notter
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler
Oh, you can't pass heat from the cooler to the hotter
You can try it if you like but you'll only look a fooler
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler
That's a physical Law!

Oh, I'm hot!
Hot? That's because you've been working!

Oh, Beatles - nothing!
That's the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics!"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

WI Ball

Ok, am officially exhausted. The ball is over for another year and hopefully I might be able to make it through the entire night without dreaming in lists and waking up wondering what I had forgotten to do.

I think it was a success. Certainly on the part of the organisers and the smooth running side of things the night evolved without too many noticable disasters. I didn't get much chance to relax but I did enjoy the night and I have been told by many people how much they enjoyed it. We are still going through our final takings and paying all of our bills but it looks like we made some money for the charity as well as covering our costs. A good job all round I feel.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Teddy Bear Scandal

I can't help but feel that Helena Frith Powell has misjudged this incident somewhat. She starts by referring to Ms Gibbons as "a rather nice lady"; a nice sentiment but given the likelihood of Ms Frith Powell knowing this as a fact, it is perhaps biased. I hope it is true but it is an example of bad reporting. She then compares the issue of the teddy bear's name to Winnie-the-Pooh or Paddington. A rather insensitive comparison to my mind, regardless of the outcome and reaction, we are still discussing religious beliefs. This is not about teddy bear names – it is about perceived intolerance for another religion and ensuing political debate.

There is perhaps a case to be made regarding the right to name your bear what you wish but it should, in my opinion, be saved for another occasion. As for her husband Rupert naming his 45 year old but yet un-named bear Muhammad then that is up to him, but perhaps not something the world needs to know about on her blog which also accompanies serious writing for a variety of daily and weekly newspapers.

The issue here is that Muslims do not allow the name of their prophet Muhammad to be given to inanimate objects or represented in any fashion (hence the outcry over the cartoons and the current outcry over the name of this bear). Part of the Koran is taken by Muslims to mean that Allah cannot be captured in an image by human hand and to attempt such a thing is seen as an insult to Allah. The same belief is applied to the Prophet Muhammad. Children, however, are allowed to be named after Muhammad.

It appears that an English teacher in charge of a class of 7 year olds in Sudan allowed the class teddy bear to be called Muhammad. In this instance it has been argued that she allowed the children to vote on a name; children being children named the bear after themselves, of which Muhammad was clearly a popular name and the bear was henceforth referred to by the moniker 'Muhammad'. How the police and government came to be involved is a little unclear, especially it is said that neither the children nor their parents found the name insulting, although it has been reported that it was the school secretary who chose, instead of taking Ms Gibbons aside and saying something along the lines of "I know you might not be aware of this but wouldn't it be better to re-name the bear as that name can cause offence" decided to report Ms Gibbons to the police.

She has, as I'm sure you're aware, been sentenced to 15 days in prison and immediate deportation from Sudan on her release. Some say that she has been treated lightly (given that the other options ranged from a flogging to 6 months in prison); others are appalled at her treatment. There are currently riots and demonstrations in Sudan calling for Ms Gibbons to be, amongst many punishments, shot by firing squad. All over a (presumed) innocent lapse in judgement in a foreign country.

Now, as a Christian, I am happy with images and inanimate objects being given the name 'Jesus' even if it is usually a temporary measure – i.e . the doll or baby who stands in for the baby Jesus in a nativity play. Just as long as the intention is good and not insulting I do not mind. If someone called their stuff toy devil 'Jesus' as a offensive gesture I might be concerned but I would still hope that the person was misguided and would like to think that as a Christian it is more important to practise forgiveness than it is to dole out punishments. As for imprisoning someone, flogging someone or calling for their execution – those are reactions which befit an actual crime. Ignorance of the law is not an accepted defence but I do think in cases such as this one there does need to be some sort of proven intent. I think Ms Gibbons could perhaps of been more culturally and socially aware but I do not think that she should be punished by imprisonment over what boils down to a cultural misunderstanding. Actually, I don't agree with flogging, execution or corporal punishment in general but I do accept that, rightly or wrongly to my mind, there are countries where these punishments are accepted by society for serious crimes and the people of the society are aware that if they commit a crime then they may be punished in such a fashion. I just don't think that the an offence where no-one else has suffered (and no-one else could even potentially suffer) is a serious crime.

So why have the Sudanese reacted with such virulence to such an incident. I don't think it is simply, as I have read on the BBC forums and other places, that Islam is an old-fashioned style religion where simple misdemeanors are potentially punished by what British citizens would deem barbaric. There is more to it than that I am sure. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this has little do with theology and far more to do with politics.