Monday, December 31, 2007

You need to see this

Here's something to delight, amuse and brighten up long winter days. Go over to Cheat Neutral - a site dedicated to helping you because you can't help yourself. I recommend watching the film. It's only 13 minutes long and well worth it.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hugo Awards 2007

I'm hopelessly behind the times here and only just listened to the episode of StarShipSofa that revealed this year's Hugo Award winner (it aired in September...). StarShipSofa is one of my favourite podcasts. Two guys, Tony and Ciaran, talk about science fiction authors in a very amusing and informative manner. The passion really shines through and I have actually learned loads during my listening career. Anyhow, this year's winner for the novel prize is Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End.

I'm excited about that because I've actually read the said book - even before I knew it was nominated, or indeed had won. Admittedly, I haven't read the other books that were nominated, but I think Rainbows End is a fantastic book. The described interaction of technology and humans seems to be a distinct possibility given the pervasiveness of our current web-culture. It is refreshing to have technology that merely is, there, as now, it's still the humans who drive things forward in a good or bad manner according to the needs of the story.

I've always found the Hugo Award winners list a good starting point if I'm ever wondering about some new reading material. Obviously the choice is also limited by what's available in the local library, but if the author has been nominated or has won it's usually a pretty safe bet that at least it'll be readable. I have to admit that I was surprised to see Rainbows End in my local library. I dream of one day living next to a library with a decently stocked sci-fi section, but that day has yet to come.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fun with light

For a satisfying session of creating pictures take one digital camera, one torch, and follow the instructions from WeLikePlay and have fun... It is possible to do this with a candle but the wax flying everywhere isn't really worth the trouble!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Phantom of the Opera

Last night I had a work trip to see the Phantom of the Opera. (I know, I know, sometimes work can be such a drag... ) There was a huge group of us that jumped on the train to Waterloo and then onwards to the theatre just in time for the show to start. We had one incident where a boy refused to get off the train at Waterloo and so got escorted back to his parents, but other than that it was merely a matter of trying not to lose anyone. It is so difficult to count a group of 27!

I was first introduced to the music of the Phantom of the Opera when I was about 8 years old and in Nepal. A woman who was living with us in our flat had the CDs and I was entranced. During my teens I did buy a copy of the music and listened to it but I never saw either the play or the film until yesterday. It was interesting to try to allign the version in my head with the one unfolding in front of my eyes. They were surprisingly different. Not so much in essence as in the nuances. Also, I think the rather more adult themes glibly flew over my head when I was about 8...

It was a bit scary for some of our group, but we also did get renditions of the Phantom all the way back along with a fairly philosophical discussion on whether or not the Phantom is evil. One definition put forward by one of the volunteers was that the Phantom knew the difference between right and wrong which meant that he could be evil. Interesting thought.

On the way back we ended up waiting outside on an open air platform close to midnight for about half an hour for our train to come, which hasn't made my cold any better. In fact I've only just emerged out of bed and I don't know if I'm going to venture outdoors at all today. (Sniffle.) I might just try to find cookie receipies instead, as my Flat is hoping to make several batches for people as gifts.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Decorating trees

I got involved in hurling baubles at a 18 ft Christmas tree today hoping it would result in a beautiful tree. This is an unorthodox approach to decorating that I've never come across - but oh what fun! The tree stands rather majestically in St Matthias and fills the space well, and all things considered that's quite the feat. I spent an inordinate amount of time going up and down the massive ladder helping various little people go up as high as they felt comfortable going and hanging their decoration on a branch. Quite good excersise, and a good moment to teach the under 7s how to climb a ladder - and more importantly: how to get down again - safely. And, all in all, the tree looks good too!

It suddenly feels more Christmas-sy now, especially as we've limited the decorations at the Flat to an advent wreath (with purple candles and a pink candle, which again is new to me) and some fairy lights. Our Flat tree is about 25 cm tall and lacking in decoration as I haven't quite figured out decorations that are small enough for it. There's still a week though.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spontaneous reaction

Last night I trundled over to the Teddington Studios to watch the last episode of the sitcom "Teenage Kicks" being filmed. The first episode hasn't aired yet, nor will it until March 2008, so I don't think many of us in the audience had much of an idea of what was going on. But that didn't really matter and we all were able to provide the "spontaneous reaction" required of us!

What a fascinating experience it is to see a programme being filmed infront of you. It's slightly like a very weird play. The set is layed out - pub on the right, house on the left - the actors take their places and say their lines in character, a director is hovering somewhere. Yet plays don't usually pause after every scene with the cast and crew reverting into their everyday roles, nor is there often a standup comedian MC threading the various bits together with bad jokes and explaining to the uninitiated what is going on.

I remember reading once that the laughter track on most sitcoms was recorded so many years ago that the people we hear laughing on our tv are dead now. Odd thought.

Watching the "Making of" was as interesting, if not more so, than the actual action. Seated in the audience we had the choice of seeing the unfolding plot on screens suspended from the roof at various points over our heads or watch it directly and unmediated. We also got the joy of seeing the scene being acted out again a few times when the first take didn't come up to scrap. That, more than anything, gave me the sense of the effort and work such a production involves. The ability of an actor to go back to a line halfway through the scene and pick up the action/emotion/idea again was fascinating to watch.

Ade Edmondson is the co-author and lead actor in "Teenage Kicks". It's Vyvyan (of the Young Ones) minus the studs and orange hair and all grown up (ish) with two teenagers and living in a under-the-stairs-cupboard! There were still strains of the punk woven in even if very much tamer and mostly in poster or t-shirt references. Who cares! I saw Vyvyan live! Sort of.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's a new me and a new blog...template

I got tired of the old and rather sombre colour scheme and have gone for the lighter option. Lets see how confused I get with it all!

I am also very pleased that my addiction to the internet is now back in full swing after our connection was restored. It's been great catching up on all my favourite sites and finding some new ones as well.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

That could never happen in Finland...

Yesterday morning a man walked into a secondary school in Tuusula, Finland, opened fire, and killed eight people plus himself.

This is a horrific tragedy and my thoughts are very much with the victims' families, the school children, and the community. I'm feeling really shocked by this event and disbelief that it could have happened in Finland. A country where I never went to a school that was fenced in or behind bars, a country I wasn't even aware of having the third highest gun ownership in the world.

There are so many emotions going on in me that I feel like I don't know how to respond. To my knowledge I have never been to Tuusula, but I do feel like my home has been violated, some inexplicable trust broken. And sadness.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I went to a lecture last Monday that was held in The Royal Society and was by Professor James Lovelock. He is somebody I studied while in Uni and I have to admit that it hadn't even occured to me that he might still be alive! So I was suitably excited about going to a (free) lecture by somebody so well known (think: Gaia theory).

He is a good speaker and had lots to say on Climate Change that was new to me or presented in a way I hadn't thought of (I think the speech should be available online). And my brain is so starved at the moment of any stimulation of this sort that I felt very invigorated by it all - even if it was a fairly dismal picture of times to come. Adaptation is the key, according to Lovelock, as we've passed the stage of being able to holt global climate warming.

At any rate I was also interested to see the buildings of The Royal Society, and seeing as my flat mate works there I was able to queue jump and avoid waiting outside in the cold!!

I'm off tonight to the Richmond Theatre which I've been meaning to visit ever since I moved here last February. I got a ticket as a birthday present so I'm finally going... I'll be seeing a modern adaptation of 'Faustus' (so another cheery event this week then!:) and really looking forward to it. The last thing I saw in a theatre was 'Richard III' - in German, so at least this'll be in a language I can understand.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Life without the internet at home

It's hard!!! I now haunt the library, internet cafes, and anywhere else I can, scrounging pitifully for some access to the world wide web... And there is never enough time to do all the things I want/need to. I'm amased by how it affects my life. E.g. as I'm back to being unemployed I've found it extremely frustrating as most of my job searching happens online. Six weeks with no connection is terrible - and Orange are being just as vague and as unhelpful as when we first reported the problem. Aaargh!

"I just waste a lot of time online when at home" or "I don't think I'd miss it much" are NOT helpful remarks when I tell others about our problem. I work from home and it is my main method of connecting with people far away from me and I NEED it...

Okay, rant over.

Winter is creeping in with the mist in the mornings and I'm back to being unemployed but feeling very busy. The shining sun is going a long way to make everyone happy, which is lovely:)

A friend of mine runs and he recently added a game onto the site that I taught his two little boys to play called 'Toilet Tag'. It is a great game - check out the website - and it's fun to think of it spreading around the world: there's a woman in Hawaii who has already written in to say she loves the game and is using it...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

3:08 am

Despite waking up at that time last night I'm less inclined to think that it was due to jetlag, and more because I had slept 14 hours the previous night. The weirdest thing was that as I awoke I realised that all the people in my dream had been speaking American...

I'm currently listening to "Love Among the Chickens" by P.G. Wodehouse, so I listened to a couple of chapters before going back to sleep again. It's a funny book and the chapters are a good length. My only gripe is with the person reading the story and his insistance of trying to put on an Irish accent for one of the characters and it is truly awful. Also his attempts at a female voice do a great disservice to the heroines in question. But other than that it's great fun.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Time zones suck

I'm exhausted and I'm trying to count how many mosquito bites I have, but I had such a great time! Chicago has a rubbish airport: it's not signposted very well and there is a serious lack of diversions once you go through security (one trolley with some sweets and touristy items), so actually getting onto the plane was rather exciting. I'd been bumped up to World Traveller Plus (BA's next step up from what used to be called Economy Class) which did have slightly more space and funky footrests. Things have changed since I last did any intercontinental flights so these personal tv screens in the back of the chairs was a new experience.

The pre-sunrise sky from the plane was outstanding. The horizon was divided into coloured bands starting with a deep ochre next to the dark earth and going through orange, yellow, green, pale blue, and then back into the dark blue of a night sky. Far more inspiring than actually landing in Heathrow at 6am. I didn't really feel any flicker of excitment at being back until we crossed over Richmond Bridge and I saw the Thames.

Elizabeth and Matt's wedding was so beautiful! We had icecream and cookies at the reception instead of cake, and because I'd been helping out with the wedding preparations for the previous week and a half I actually knew far more people there than I thought would be likely, so that was nice too. Mary, Elizabeth's mother, had organised the making of a wedding quilt and various people had made squares that created a gorgeous quilt. It was such a nice gift!

By 6pm we were at the site of the Twinkle Glo - the after, after party! Held at a family friend's place it was fantastic. They have two ponds. A bigger one with two swans and snapping turtles for boating in, and a slightly smaller one with gigantic catfish (that are fed) for swimming in. I had visited there a few times already dropping stuff off and swimming whenever possible. One time we had just all got in the water when three minutes later there was lightning and so we all had to traipse out again.

Twinkle Glo was very relaxed and people changed into comfortable clothing and ate some more, played volleyball and other games, went boating or swimming, sat around and talked, and toasted marshmallows. We had some fireworks too, and a friend of Elizabeth's organised an impromptu sparkler race to see if a relay race could get a sparkler all the way around the pond before it went out. One team almost made it all the way around! It was fun to watch the race as it was dark enough that all you saw was a blurred glow going fast about shoulder height! All in all, a very special day and I'm so impressed how it managed to be so much fun too for everyone.

I'm trying to stay awake until it's late enough to go to bed! I've done laundry (oh, I've forgotten to take it out of the machine!!), made a pendant for a necklace, unpacked, found out when I'm back in work (not until Friday thankfully), and watered plants. It's still only 9pm...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Settlers of Catan

Has anyone heard of this board game? It's so much fun, and I'm really pleased I've managed to play it twice in the past week! I learned how to play it in Oregon and am pleased I've managed to play it again. I really should find somebody to afflict it upon in London...

Monday, August 27, 2007

The days before the wedding

Elizabeth is at work today and tomorrow, as are other people in this house, so I've had time to recover from a packed weekend. On Saturday we went to the farmers' market to pick flowers for the wedding. It's in Goshen and in a barn-like space and rather cool. It is rather different from the one I'm involved at in Twickenham and it was fun making comparisons. For one there are less Amish farmers selling their goods in Twickenham. We also took a trip to Shipshewana (a tourist trap for people interested about the Amish) to Yoder's Meat & Cheese to pick up food, and have visited lots of people and places. Organising a wedding, even a low-key one, is a lot of work! It is so special to be here and be included in everything. And this way I am meeting lots of people who I'll see again at the wedding and thus know more people on the day.

There is an urban trolley that runs between Elkhart and Goshen. It looks hilarious so I had to ride it... It's a cross between a tram cart and a bus! And again looking lost and speaking with an accent got me to where I wanted to go with remarkably little fuss:) It's nice to support the non-car options and it was cheap - $1 one way (about 50p). Today I went on a bike ride to return a film and to visit the Elkhart Environmental Education Centre again, which was still closed, and I think if I can cycle in America I should be alright in London...

On Saturday I helped move Elizabeth's sister into Goshen College so I got to be nosy and see what the dorms look like, and wander around campus. We even surreptitiously joined in the bbq for students and family members:) However, I didn't feel any immediate urge to go back to being a student and sharing rooms and showers.

Tonight I'm going for dinner with the family I lived with in Oregon so that's going to be really special. It's lovely to be able to reconnect with people from the past.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm here!

I'm here. I may be languishing in the heat and humidity (that I had forgotten all about), but I'm here! I've been promptly assimilated into the family and have picked lots of tomatoes. And this morning Aunt B and I canned 7 quarts of tomatoes! I have never done that before in my life so I was rather more excited about it than she was...

The flight and entry into the USA was remarkably smooth. I watched a fabulous film onboard the aircraft called The Lives of Others. It's a German film and won the Best Foreign Film Oscar, although more importantly it was a story of choices and redemption. And really, really beautiful. In Chicago I had the chance to practice my best British accent/lost foreigner look as I asked for directions. It worked a treat!

Yesterday I helped fill in holes in the woodwork in a newly built house, and today I volunteered at a place that has a food pantry and runs womens' empowerment sessions, so I'm starting to fit right in... Tonight Elizabeth and I went to this very powerful event. It's a Victim Impact Panel where people who have had drunk driving sentances from the court have to go and listen to somebody who has been impacted by drunk driving. This is run by the Centre of Community Justice that Elizabeth works for, and it was difficult to listen to the speaker tell how her daughter was hit by a driver and their life as its changed. I hope the people who attended tonight listened.

The weirdest memories are flooding back as I see things and remember stuff I didn't know I had forgotten. Like the sandwich bags, or how the yogurt is different, or the porches that houses have, and how crazy it is to actually walk anywhere... It's always the little things.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cooked breakfasts and Gap years

This is the second consecutive Saturday that I've woken up for a cooked breakfast by my housemate and, after doing the dishes, settled down for a good few hours to read The Guardian. It started off as a joke: we weren't going to go along on a country walk organised by other friends because we were going to have a champaign breakfast. On reflection we decided that was too good an opportunity to miss so we duely had one. (I think it was also partly to cheer me up after my spectacular failure to make it out of the country.) A morning trip to Tesco's provided a reduced bottle of Cava to go with our fairly traded orange juice, organic eggs, croissants, and coffee...


Suitably attired in my "GROLLIES" garments - Guardian Readers Of Leftist Leanings In Ethnic Skirts, as defined by some soul on 'Have I Got News For You' - I sat down after breakfast to tackle the paper, and as I have the sole occupancy of the flat this morning the bits of the paper are strewn over the living room sofas and coffee table as I moved around between sections and cups of tea.

I'm slowly coming to recognise the seasons of the news paper. We've just come through the A-levels stories and have now moved onto Gap Year advice and suggestions, and its not only in the travel section either. I've come to the sad conclusion that I was woefully unprepared when I embarked out of school and into a 11-month stint as a volunteer over in the States. Not only was I ignorant that it was an excellent opportunity to Broaden My Mind, Spice Up My CV, Gain Valuable Experience, and Grow In Confidence but I think I've also failed to see this as a once-in-a-life-time opportunity before settling into steady employment. Nor did it cure me of volunteering or shake off the vague feeling that you can't get paid for something you like doing and thus treat any offers of paid work with faint suspicion... As it was, I did come away with some names of companies and charities that take volunteers for the next time the urge for a more radical volunteering post grabs my imagination!

I've nothing against Gap years and did benefit enormously from my life-informing experiences. I would hardly be the person I am today without it! (Obviously...:) It is just intereting to see the attempt to encouch the idea in the language of marketing, the need to sell the experience without allowing the experience to enough. Does the experience need to be judged by the arbitrary value of the future? Well, for me at least it was all part of the journey rather than The Journey, my Gap year wasn't an arbitrary blip in my existence:)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"No is ok"

At 7:33 am I got a text message that said "No is ok". I do not know who it is from, or what they were trying to convey. It is intriguing though...

Is it meant to be encouraging? A gently disappointed friend? A statement of life? Divine intervention?

Oooh, there are so many questions!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Things I've learned...

The "please hold" music of the British Airways is better than the blasting music of the Finnish consulate, the American embassy employs Irish people to answer their phones, getting a visa is a lot quicker than a passport, old (but still in date!!) British passports are non-machine readable and will get me into Canada but not the USA, and if you miss your outgoing flight the airline considers it a no-show and the return flight gets cancelled too...

Quite a lot for a few days really.

I went to Heathrow on the 9th of august - last Thursday - only to be told my current British passport would not get me into the US of A. That is an absolutely devastating thing to be told at the check-in desk. BA have been absolutely wonderful to me, first they booked me a flight for the next day free of charge, and even though I missed that too I've just been on the phone and they've managed to re-book my return flight for me which had been cancelled. Thursday afternoon was spent phoning around consulates, embassys, crying down the phone to my father... A new passport was not to be had for anything, but I did eventually manage to book myself a visa appointment at the US embassy for the following day.

This meant missing my Canadian leg of the journey, which I am still wretchedly disappointed about. I missed my old housemate's wedding open house, and I haven't seen him in six years. And while I thought long and hard about it I felt too uneasy to head out to Canada and hope that I could get a visa from there.

The visit to the visa section of the US embassy was educational. There's a lot of building work going on around the building, which actually worked in my favour as it meant there were large temporary signs up "Visas This Way" that helped me find my way around to the various security points. My bag went through one of those airport type scanning machines and I went through a metal detector. Once I had handed in my offensive alarm clock I made my way past the armed (and scary) policemen and into a huge waiting hall clutching my numbered ticket. The seats were, thankfully, a lot more comfortable than in many other waiting rooms I've been in, and there were huge screens announcing the next number. However, as these did not come in a consecutive order you really did have to pay attention.

Two interviews and three hours later I walked out with my visa request granted and the return of my passport promised in the next 3-5 working days. This afternoon I got a text that the passport will be delivered tomorrow between 8am and 6pm, so that's a relief! So I've sorted out my visa and my return flight, now I just need to figure out how to get to Chicago in the first place...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I packed last night and it came to 10kg!!!

I've got a few more things to add - like my toothbrush - but I don't think that'll make that much of a difference. What a difference it makes travelling in the summer as winter clothes are so much more bulkier and heavier. I can't quite believe it...10kg... :)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A busy few days

M is moved in now and we've cleared away most of the boxes cluttering the hallway. The spare room looks like it always had someone living in it and we have six boxes of creamed coconut and several half-full packets of food in the cupboards... Life is mostly back to normal in that respect.


Yesterday after work finished at 3pm I headed off to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition called Global Cities. I had one of those "aah, this is why I live in London" moments travelling to the museum. When I got to the exhibition I forgot to think about anything and was completely immersed in the fascinating images and films. Two that particularly stand out for me was a piece about edible estates, which explored pulling up "useless" lawns in cities and creating vegetable beds instead, and a piece about Mumbai and the lack of women's public toilets due to cultural reasons and it explored gender and space.

50% of the world's population live in cities and I do find them absolutely fascinating. It's the interactions and possibilities of urban life that we are increasingly faced with which is just going to get more important as time goes on.


Last night I was going to do a dry run and pack my rucksack. I am aiming to travel as light as I possibly can as it will be me carrying my bag everywhere! So, I got my bag down from a high shelf and then instead decided to sew some colourful flowers onto it. Everytime I am faced with a luggage carousel my heart sinks and I imagine scenario after scenario of not recognising my own rucksack and having to wait until the very end because it won't come... I have been meaning to put some unique touches to what is a very average and typical black and green rucksack to make it more distinct, so I am glad I did that last night. Hopefully this will make my bag easy to spot from miles away:)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Less than a week to go

Next Thursday I head off to Heathrow, queue up for ages, and at some point board a plane for Toronto, Ontario. I think this has finally sunk in so I spent this Friday in a flurry rushing around doing things. I started a 'to do' list which I seemed to add to every time I passed it, and added about three things to every one I crossed off! It's a serious undertaking heading off halfway across the world for 25 days. The sudden panic happened when I remembered that this was the only time I was free in the daytime before I leave (I've subsequently got an email that I won't be working on Monday, but that gives me time to tidy up odds and ends:).

Speaking of panicked starts I almost jumped out of bed this morning at 6:50am thinking I was really late for the Farmers' Market in Twickenham and it was only when my sleepy brain caught up that I remembered that it was Friday and I didn't have to be up at stupid o'clock until tomorrow... With my heart beating violently I lay back down and dozed for a bit longer before getting up to finish "Where late the sweet bird sang" by Kate Wilhelm - which I thought was great!

Added to my leaving activities I've been cleaning the flat as M moves in tomorrow and takes up residence in what was the spare room. It'll be nice to have a third flatmate, although between L's trips to Wales, Scotland, and Morocco and mine to Wales and this upcoming one to the North American continent we've barely seen each other all this summer.

Well, I'm off to the pub now for the third day in a row and I'm beginning to feel like I live there...

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Tonight I got myself to the London Wetland Centre for a bat walk, and I'm very glad I did too. It was brilliant. First we had a presentation and then four groups set off to see and hear what we could find. I wangled my way in on the basis that I volunteer at the Centre anyway and I offered to volunteer tonight too. So I found myself shadowing a sheepdog. (This is the person who is not a team leader and rounds up any wayward stragglers...)

I've seen plenty of bats before but I've never been out with a bat detector. Bats are noisy creatures really. The funniest thing was hearing them eat an insect which happened at a good old rate. We saw/heard pipestrelles (common and soprano), noctules, and Dauberton's. Another group also heard some serotine bats. The clouds around us turned a fabulous dusky colour as the sun set but we did see some stars by the time we had turned round to go back. It was such good fun. I think I'm going to invite myself along to some more bat walks soon.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A tale of two interviews

Earlier this week I did an interview for an internship post with a big organisation. The post was to work alongside the education officer two days a week for three months and it's based close enough to Richmond to seem attractive, even without the big name... I almost managed to miss the deadline for applying for it as I hummed and hawed. I didn't get the post so it's hard to analyse it without wondering how much of it is trying to justify to myself that I didn't actually want it in the first place! :)

I went to the interview not knowing what I was going to say, and came out of it knowing I hadn't got it.

I did prepare and had talked myself into wanting the job, but a few days down the line I can't quite make myself believe I thought I was going to get it. During the interview I felt inarticulate and unable to get across what I thought. I also thought that they didn't ask the proper questions. By that I mean questions which made me excited about answering or felt I could answer, which even then made me sure I wasn't going to get the post. There was no opportunity for me to be me. And they kept asking me questions about the Wetlands Centre. Now I really value volunteering there and enjoy it a lot, but out of all the places I've volunteered or worked its the one I've been the least involved in (I show up and do as I'm told, although last Saturday I did get put in front of several young pond-dippers and told to talk...:), either in the delivery or the whole organisation. It was really strange and I feel as if I only got the interview on the basis that I volunteer at the Wetland Centre, which does actually annoy me a lot.

Today after my shift at the pub I caught a bus and showed up at the Crane Park Island Nature Reserve to talk to the woman who runs the place. They've received money and she is looking to employ someone else to help out with the educational side of things and generally get involved. We had an informal chat as she was in the bottom of the shot tower (part of an old gunpowder factory) which is open to the public once a month and then as we walked around the fantastically beautiful island. The chat was interwoven with disruptions from old neighbours and friends, people from the Art Picnic showing off their willow sculptures to us, organising the next work days, talking to the council's ecological officer, and some others in a lovely chaos that was far more informative of what happens at the nature reserve than any talk. I got a chance to talk about what I'm really passionate/excited about without feeling fake and got to hear enough about the vision for this post to make me want it properly. The post will need to be advertised so I haven't even been offered it, but what an absolute difference to the previous interview! I feel enthusiastic even just thinking about it - irrespective if I get the job or not. If I don't I'll volunteer there!

Job-seeking is a funny business.

Offensive music

Last Wednesday I did a day shift at the pub (which is fairly unusual) as there was a function going on upstairs over lunch and they wanted the bar open. What was going to be a fairly dull and predictable shift was made brighter when some of the employees brought along a busker from the high street to play some music on the balcony. The musician was a beautiful - and talented - young woman with a violin who played some really lovely classical music. It was absolutely delightful, not least because it was so unexpected. She played for about half an hour until the food was done and then went off again.

The Brit suffers from a neighbour who has inflicted severe restrictions on the pub's license by meticulously complaining to the pub and the council (the less charitable among us might point out that he is on the council himself) and did in fact complain to the licensing officer about the half an hour of beautiful music. I'm more sympathetic to his other complaints (even if it does mean sweltering in the function room with the door shut - although the fact that the air conditioning doesn't work isn't helpful) but this particular complaint is a bit hard to take. Now if he could've only complained about the awful karaoke I had to listen to that one time...

Monday, July 23, 2007

The book of the moment

On Friday we went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and then went to The Lion and the Unicorn (a local independent children's bookshop) to join the queue for a midnight opening of the shop and a copy of HP & The Deathly Hallows. It felt like a fitting way to mark the latest and last installment of this particular saga. There were adults and children in various costumes and the shop staff walked the length of the queue offering snacks and a chance to write a spell into a spell book. Once the countdown had rung down the tiny alley way there was a rush forwards and lots of eagerness and excitment in the air.

The next morning I saw various people reading the book at the bus stop or trying to walk and read at the same time. On Saturday I was volunteering at the Wetland centre all day and then I had twenty minutes before having to go to the pub so it was actually 1 am before I had a chance to open my copy of the book and start reading for an hour before falling asleep... Torture in other words!!

It is a real page-turner so I did get it read before heading off to the pub again Sunday afternoon, and the long wait to find out what actually happened in the end is over. Don't worry...I'm not about to spoil it for those who haven't read it yet!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I do mini-breaks too! (kind of...)

Last weekend I had my first Sunday off in a million years so I ran off! I took the 8:03am train to Swansea and went to see what would happen. Due to the Sunday engineering works we went to Temple Mead in Bristol and then the train changed directions, so I entered Wales backwards and just as it was starting to rain...

I had a whirlwind tour interlaced with long stretches of solitude on beaches or the Gower (most my friends have daytime jobs so I entertained myself). Of the four and a half days I was there I managed to eat only one meal by myself, even if I hadn't really planned it like that. I went to so many of my old favourite places as well as some entirely new places like Pennard Castle and the laundrette in Brynmill. I basked in all the sun walking from Mt Pleasant to Bracelet Bay and on the Gower and have returned with first an impressive red patch across my shoulders, which has turned into a nice tan. Even as I was waiting for the train back to london I came across a fabulous exhibition outside the Waterfront Museum called "Earth From the Air" which had amazing pictures, well, of the Earth.

Last time I had been away and come back (Iona) it felt like a lifetime had passed whereas this time round I hardly felt like I had been away. There is so much in the town that I respond too, recognise, have little bits of my life connected with, know the short cuts, and bump into people I know in town even after a six months absence that made me wonder if I had made the right choice to come to London after all. Having moved so much such a strong sense of identity bound up in with a place and its people is a precious thing that I cherish a lot, and so I was very relieved to rediscover it during my brief visit (that could have been so much longer visiting more people and places had I not had the pub to come back to). It all felt like a proper holiday that was adventurous, relaxing, and filled with good food and talks with friends!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ken Livingston wants us to smile more!

This week in the Britannia I was behind the bar upstairs in the function room and had plenty of time to read the paper and do some sudoku (I'm ignoring Jaqui's dicdate of not reading "on duty" - at least when I don't work with her), and there was an article on how Ken wants London's bar and restaurant staff to start smiling more in preparation for the Olympics. He wants the legions who staff these venues to provide more smiles to the tourists who should be flocking in for 2012. Ken Livingston is proposing some accredited training so that employers know they can get employees who smile... I can't really imagine what the training would consist of.

When I shared this article with my co-workers the response invariably was: if they want us to smile more they'll need to pay us a decent amount. Apparently most countries do have accreditation programmes for bar workers, and consequently pay them more too.

Things in the pub are a little weird at the moment anyhow. We think that the pub has been bought by two men, but nobody seems to know anything for certain. If it is true, it means that our two current managers will lose their jobs, and the two of them and the chef who all live onsite will all lose their accomadation too. In theory I don't think my job is on the line at all, but with everything up in the air you can't really be certain.

On the whole though I do think Ken Livingston would approve of me as I do try to smile at all my customers - and at times I can't help it because life in the pub can be very bizarre and surreal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A visit to Heathrow

Yesterday I stretched my arms about 5cm as I helped my brother lug his stuff to Heathrow. He was carrying a huge box that had his bike in it so I was left with the 16.5 kg suitcase that dates before the time humans had invented wheels. We were originally headed for Paddington and the Heathrow Express as the tube has restrictions on taking bikes on certain stretches of the underground, until we realised that that particular stipulation probably didn't concern us as his bike was tucked away in a box. So instead we tried to take up as little room as is possible when you are lugging around a gigantic box and took the Picadilly Line. It was a beautiful sight when we finally got to Heathrow aiport and saw a trolley!

I caught glimpses of the newest security measures as I saw police cars lined up along the road right outside the doors to terminal where the taxis and cars dropping people off used to line the pavement. And there were some police standing around or walking around with their terrifying guns. Posters asking for information about Madeline abounded on anything that was head height. But the basics were still there: uninspiring building, long queues, bored and tired people, indifferent food...

Flying wouldn't be so tedious if it wasn't for the airports.

Ursula K. Le Guin has written a great little book called "Changing Planes' about a technique that someone discovered by accident on how to go and visit other dimensions or planes, and meet other tourists (human and alien) or explore planets. The technique only works with humans when they are extremely bored and uncomfortable: ie when in airports waiting for a thrice delayed flight or when stuck in transit at an airport and with 6 hours before the connection... I think after reading that book anyone who is stuck at an airport would wish they could pass the time in as pleasant a manner as escaping to explore another place, peoples, and customs:)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Working outdoors

On the Monday and Tuesday of this week two of us from Richmond Environment Network, and two wonderful BTCV volunteers, headed off to a primary school to work with their 51 Year 6 (11-12yrs) pupils. We did all mannner of things including: creating a loggery, a path through a scrub land, created an outdoor class room, planted bits and bobs, did loads of weeding, a litter pick, and made 3 birdboxes. A fairly busy two days...

This is a project I had been working on for a few months now so it was really exciting to see it take fruition, if also slightly nerve wracking as we were, in fact, in charge. I did get referred to as an "environmental expert" which is, while inaccurate, rather nice:) REN hasn't led anything quite like this before so there was a lot of improvisation, especially on Monday as we were joined by some curious rainclouds.

I really did enjoy working with people who were (mostly) enthusiatic about what was going on and I learned that children this age seem to adore digging holes! At one point in despration, when my group of six had utterly lost interested in what I was trying to do with them, I sent them off to dig a hole. Once they had done that I told them to fill it up again... It worked and everyone was happy, except perhaps the earthworms which came under great scrutiny from the children who have not quite developed into the squeamish stage. Perhaps if we ever do a similar project we'll just dig and not bother with the rest of the activities?

The pupils had also been to visit the London Wetland Centre and gone to Crane Park Island which is a local nature reserve. One of the boys had complained that there was something in his wellies and on inspection it turned out he had managed to catch a fish in his welly! I hope the children managed to get something out of this project and at least vaguely understood why we were working on creating a wildlife area in their school... Plus I hope they had fun too. I did. Even if I was exhausted each night, I still had fun.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Is Prince Philip an island god?

Legend had it that there was a clutch of villages on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu (South Pacific nation) which - as bizarre as it may seem - worshipped Prince Philip as a god...

Nick Squires of From Our Own Correspondent (BBC) heads out to see if this is true. And lo and behold it is. There is a story of the son of a mountain spirit (with pale skin) who goes across the water to marry a powerful woman... You can't make this stuff up!!

That's a fuzzy me in our garden pretending I'm at a festival... Somehow I don't think I'm going to quite make it to any this year, which is a rather depressing thought as I love festivals of any description. What's there not to like: freedom to wander around and be guaranteed to see interesting things and meet fascinating people, stepping barefoot through the wet morning grass, eating festival food and drinking lots of chai, bracing yourself to visit the little smelly toilet cubicles, finding hippy clothing, listening to lots of good music that you've discovered by accident on your way to a different part of the festival... I bought those poi at Glastonbury in the vain hope I'd actually learn some cool tricks. At least they got a little bit of an airing that sunny day.

Now that I've been told off for reading behind the bar (it was only the cookery section of a magazine some customer had left behind because I was that bored - although I refuse to be bored enough to read the Sun), I have to find other ways of keeping myself occupied when it's slow. I even asked if I could do any cleaning, only to be told 'no' because I needed to stand behind the bar just incase anyone came in. However, I have managed to come up with a comon denominator between the two places that I've lived the longest in the UK. Both places I am/have been twenty minutes away from a Wetland Centre... That's a lot of boredom to come up with a fact like that!

Friday, June 08, 2007

A little gem...

This is from The Onion ("America's finest news source"):

Study: 38 Percent Of People Not Actually Entitled To Their Opinion

Aah...I agree. Although perhaps 38% is a little low? :)

[my button for creating a link has vanished so I'm afraid it's back to copy and paste for the article itself...sorry!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Twickenham early in the morning

I've started a job now as a part-time manager of the Twickenham Farmers' Market (and have a badge to prove it) and after doing a training on the job day last Saturday get the responsibility all to myself this coming Saturday. The farmers' market is located in a carpark just off the central street and had roughly 13 stalls of local producers (all within a hundred mile radius of Twickenham). This market is part of the network of London Farmers' Market and seemed extremely popular with the public.

Apart from a flurry of putting signs up and taking them down on either end of my 7am-2pm day my job consists of standing around talking to people and eating lots of good food. I had a fabulous time last week and even met the guy who invented the wind-up radio! One of the producers lives on Eel Pie Island which is on the Thames and does her chocolate cooking in a little shed named 'The Saffron Lounge'. She gave me some of her elderflower cordial she had made herself from elderflower on the island (2 min away from the market) and is thus easily the most local of the local producers present... I'm enjoying being part of this - even if it does mean leaving the house at 6:15am.

Friday, June 01, 2007


This is from the staff newletter/update from the London Wetland Centre:

"Australia is now finished and I have planted some red hot pokers in Africa and they are doing really well. Thanks Penny for the donation. I have also laid turf in South America and have taken away the giant lily pads as they where falling apart... We have placed 3 of our sheep in Iceland for mowing reasons. We have had a problem between the swans and sheep, so there is a divide between them."

[It took me awhile to realise what it was on about: There is a section of ponds that have plants and birds representative of various parts of the world!]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"My manager has gone off with your manager... you know where they are?"

The pub I work in is down a little alley way and opposite a cocktail bar (it's almost as difficult to find as The Park of Mumbles - although it isn't as nice). Last Friday I had to go over across the few cobble stones and enquire in the bar after our respective managers who had gone off for a quick drink. The emergency was that we needed someone to take two platters of food to the dress circle of the theatre around the corner. It all worked out in the end and was a bit of a laugh... Though not knowing the SO BAR's manager's name didn't make it any easier, so I've found that out should the situation arise again!

I met a huge boa constrictor called Lola on Saturday when I was volunteering at the London Wetland Centre. Lola is 7 yrs old and these snakes can live up to 60 years!! She was absolutely mesmerising and I almost forgot about the pond dip I was helping with while I was watching Lola curl around Emma's body. Once I realised what time it was I rushed off guiltily and didn't have time to stroke Lola. Impressive creature that snake.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Restaurant

After a short hiatus the restaurant in our flat was back in action as we tried to fit 10 people around a table in our living room. I was very impressed that we managed to fit everyone around an extended table, even if that meant taking the legs off two tables to get them to fit through the doorway! There was food and drink aplenty proving that you don't need matching cutlery and plates to entertain in Richmond... It's good to be back in action. And use up a slight backlog of vegetables from our organic box!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Community of St Mary the Virgin

Yesterday morning three of us headed off to Wantage to go and visit this convent (one of us to become an associate of CSMV). It is set in Oxfordshire in the beautiful countryside and the buildings themselves were surrounded by lovely greenery and flowers, which had an immediate effect of creating a peaceful atmosphere. Even the traffic on the otherside of the hedge seemed miles away, perhaps because it seemed to belong to an entirely different era than the one we were entering...

Sisters in full habits welcomed us and we also met the two other people becoming associates and their guests. I made a lot of Iona connections both among the guests and the Sisters, which is great because it is always lovely to reminisce about that fair isle. We joined in for sext and then ate a silent lunch with everyone. It is interesting to eat a meal without saying a word although systems have obviously developed for the practical side of things. Most Sisters brought along some reading material and us guests were provided with copies of the National Geographic magazine to read while you waited for everyone to finish. After lunch we all gathered for a cuppa and got a chance to chat with everyone, and before we left to head back to London we took a quick tour and went to see one of the Sister's studio (she is a fabulous sculptor) and admired pieces of her work. There were several gorgeous pieces of art work around the convent and several sculptures created by a previous Mother of the community, including 15 fabulous woodcarvings in a chapel about the stations of the cross. She took 30 years to make them all and by the last one she was almost completely blind (and I'm not sure if she quite managed to finish it before she died). The panels are full of amazing and intricate details and very, very beautiful.

I connected almost instantaneously with the silence of the place, it felt like a profound presence in all that was going on. Even such a brief visit managed to connect to something deeper and there is, for me, a great appeal to a life so meaningfully and consciously led. I'm not romanticizing the life, as I doubt I'm suitable for this sort of community living, but there is no denying there was something special at the convent.

Monday, May 14, 2007


And so the thing that is Eurovision has come and gone again. One of my co-workers in the pub is the biggest fan I've met yet, and so I've been through a huge build up of excitment and then yesterday hours of deconstruction of the event! I went to a Eurovision party - which is the only bearable way to watch it in my opinion. This year was less exciting in Finnish terms as I don't think Hanna Pakarinen was quite as riveting as Lordi last year. And what where all those little snippets about??? Supposedly about Finland I didn't recognise much! (Although I have been on the rollercoaster they showed in one of the snippets, much to the surprise of Lotte as I adamantly refused to get onto anything remotely like that on a recent trip to Alton Towers...)

Most of the people I've heard talking about the event are grumpy about the rise of the eastern European countries in the song contest. If I had a pound for every time there was a complaint about them voting for each other rather than on the merits of the song (what merit??) I'd be a rich woman. I tried to suggest that British people should emigrate more when folk were muttering about the British vote going to Poland due to all the Polish people living and working here, but I don't think I was taken very seriously. There were several unfortunate sentiments on display over this contest, and I can't help but think that a shift away from western-europe-centric viewpoint is actually beginning to reflect something of reality. Europe is more than Britain and I wish people could realise this.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Happy Star Wars Day!

I'm currently reading "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" by Milan Kundera and it has some very interesting things to say about the sheer volume of writing that goes on. Written back in 1978 he seems to foreshadow blogging quite nicely... Kundera does distinguish in his book between the desire to write for oneself or close relations and the desire to write for the public of unknown readers, graphomania being a description of the latter. Writing about blogging seems rather fashionable at the moment and "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" definately brought some of that debate back into my mind.

"Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions:
(1) an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities;
(2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals;
(3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nation's internal life.
...The invention of printing formerly enabled people to understand one another. In the era of universal graphomania, the writing of books has an opposite meaning: everyone surrounded by his own words as by a wall of mirrors, which allows no voice to filter through from the outside."

At any rate I'm really enjoying the book about memories, love, and laughter.

Oh yes, and May the 4th be with you!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

iPod Yoga

I’ve always been fascinated but slightly intimidated by yoga and have yet to work up the courage to go to a “proper” lesson. I know of no good reason for my irrational fear of the situation, unless it is the lithe people that populate festivals and get up at 6 am for an hour long session after going to bed at 4 am and can bend and twist into forms I never knew humans could do and generally look as fit and healthy and as cool as anything. I am not one of those people.

Facing up to ones fears is generally touted as good practice, at least in all the ordinary-person-overcomes-adversity-to-save-the-hampster/world/girlfriend films, so trying out some yoga moves by myself seemed like a good idea and I downloaded a yoga podcast and set to it. One problem that quickly became apparent was the complexity of trying to look at the little monitor to see what the instructor was doing, making sure the earpieces didn’t come out so I could listen to the instructions, and actually carrying out the movement all at the same time. I’m glad nobody saw me do this! Nevertheless it was quite fun, and who knows, maybe one day I will venture into a class. In the meantime I’ll have to figure out a way of doing iPod yoga with leads and all…

The End.

Well that particular story ended with me not able to get through on the phone to anyone but deciding to turn up anyhow – and all was fine. Once I had got to the Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre that is.

I found myself in the small village of Sutton Courtney with no clue where to go next and a lot of village people who had no idea where the Centre was. In the end I just went into a local primary school to ask for directions as I figured they would have visited the place. I was right and got to the training on time too, which was a miracle in its own right. It is a great centre even if the view is dominated by the large chimney stacks of the nearby power station, and I enjoyed making a kite out of a plastic bag. This is owned by the same guys, The Wildlife Trust, that owns the Centre of the Earth in Birmingham I went to not that long ago and they are both cool places to visit.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

This is ridiculous...'s quarter to eleven (pm) and I'm figuring out how to get from Richmond to Didcot, of all places. There's a training day happening in Sutton Courtney tomorrow which I'd like to go to but I don't know if I'm actually booked to go on it as I only sent off my application form on Thursday. I tried calling on Friday but could get no answer.

So this is my solution: go to Didcot anyway and call while I'm on my way. If I'm on the course I'll carry on to Sutton Courtney. If I'm not I'll go walking on the Ridgeway. The weather forecast for tomorrow is sunny and 20C - so I'm not entirely sure which I'd actually prefer... What a situation to be in though!! At any rate, I'm hoping this will teach me never to leave booking until the last minute, and also to approach these situations without worrying too much about what I can't help or do anything about. In fact it is rather exciting to set off without know what will happen!

Well, apart from for pre-7 am start that is.

¿Que van a tomar?

Thursday evening I did my first ever shift in a pub (called Britannia) and forayed into the world of pouring pints, selling crisps, and g&t's. Most of it was straight forward enough and I can only hope that it is a matter of practise in getting a "right head" on the beer rather than any ineptitude on my part. At one point of the evening I completely failed to open a bottle of wine and had to go to the manager to ask him to do it...but I have been asked to come back and do four shifts next week so I guess they don't think I'm utterly useless.

It is a relief to have some work to do. I am very glad to be able to sign off from the benefits and the horrible experience of having to go to a jobcentre every fortnight. I was looking for part-timework so that I can continue volunteering with Richmond Environment Network and I reckon I have more in common in selling beer than in selling dresses that cost £150, which seemed to be the other option! As it was, one of the first people I met runs a youth club and wanted my advice for running a playscheme in the summer and said there might be work in it for me too. I doubt I would've met her in a posh clothes shop.

I have no idea what to expect from this job in the long run, but for now I'm glad to be doing something. At any rate it can't be worse than working in that bakery so I think I'll survive!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"We tune because we care"

Last Sunday my parents and I were invited to an impromtu concert in a garden in North London. We and some 13 others were entertained by Tim and Jared who took it in turnes to play the guitar and sing songs to us. The wine, nibbles, and - most importantly - the music kept us going for almost three hours and long past the sun had set. I am full of admiration for anyone who can help create that magical connection with music between everyone present. Though I do think somebody should come up with some more cheerful folk songs, you know, ones that aren't about death, loss, or piracy on the high seas. It was a brilliant evening and made me wish, once again, that I could play the guitar, feel confident about playing infront of others, and have the memory to have three hours worth of songs stored in my head.

I heard lots of new music that evening. I love the poignant lyrics and the poetry in them, which, afterall, is rather rare. Two of my favourites were Lies by Stan Roger and Tecumseh Valley by Towes Van Zandt. And of course, the last song which Tim introduced as a happy song (but with death and destruction in it)... I wouldn't describe it as a happy song myself, but it had hope in it. It was about an 11 year old Palestinian boy who was killed by the Israeli army and his father saying that the peace needs to start somewhere and it was going to start here with no one retaliating against the Israelis. Heart-breakingly sad. But with hope in it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Beginning of summer

What do butterflies, James Bond, goths, Wicked Witch of the West, and Cleopatra have in common? That's right: a fancy dress party! It's great fun having an excuse to dress up and invite people around. It reminds me of the fancy dress party we had on Iona where the resources are far more limited. Nonetheless people managed some surprising costumes (the Iona ferry and a scrabble board) showing great ingenuity.

This summery spell has seen a great influx of people to Richmond and therefore this household (plus guests) has resorted to sitting out in our huge garden on a colourful blanket and sipping wine. It's a quiet spot to retreat to when the crowds along the river or in Richmond Green get overwhelming, and last evening as dusk decended I realised we have several bats that frequent our garden and swoop around catching insects. This is not the first time I've lived in a place which has a distinct summer life that is different to it's winter existence, in fact many of my summers seem to have involved dodging tourists... However, as I have yet to find the little back alley local haunts I'll have to hold of the faint smugness for a while longer.

Bbq-season here we come...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Singing in St Paul's Cathedral

For the culmination of Holy Week I went to four services - four eucharist services - in under 24 hours (which has got to be a personal best!)... The last one I went to was a Taize Eucharist service in St Paul's Cathedral. Lotte and I went there as a response to a plea of help from the coordinators of the Iona-style Wee Sing in London, as they had been asked to do the music. So roughly 25 of us turned up, had a quick practise of the Taize chants and songs (literally going through everything once and rather quickly), and then we got to sing infront of the hundreds of people who had come to the service! I also made it more complicated myself by choosing to sing alto. I enjoy that, but I'm not an expert at sight reading music and we did not practise the alto parts at all and some of the songs we sung I had never come across either! I wasn't the only one in the same situation...

A classic case of glibly agreeing to something without really thinking the matter through.

However, the concentrated effort I put into sing my parts helped me forget to be nervous infront of the biggest crowd I've ever sung before, and I ended up enjoying the whole experience. The Catherdral is really beautiful and the acoustic made our improtu choir sound pretty good too. I'm even considering going along to the next Wee Sing - thankfully it's not any sort of a performance! Afterwards the presiding vicar, Laura, invited us to her flat for wine and nibbles so we got to have a look inside the Amen Courts too. Singing in St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday has got to be one of the most improbable things I've done recently. Luckily I enjoyed it!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Of Dr Who and stuff

Well, the Dr Who season has kicked off again. I was lucky enough to have fellow enthusiasts from Swansea visiting me so we all sat down to marvel at the Doctor's new assistant, Martha Jones, and the fact that a chunck of it was filmed in the library of Swansea University. Obviously they disguised the place a little, but if you have spent three years of your life in a building (or that's what it feels like) you are bound to recognise it! Anyhow it was very exciting spotting one's old haunts on telly...

For reasons unknown John Travolta is lurking downstairs by our bins. Okay, so it is a cardboard cut out of him and some fellow actors, but it is not the sort of thing I expect when taking the rubbish out. I often catch him in the corner of my eye when going indoors, and at night that can be a little alarming. At least he's not as noisy as the fox who have their den in our back garden.

Hilton Maldives will be opening the very first all-glass underwater restaurant in the world on the 15th of April (isn't it amazing what one learns from the internet?) and soon diners will be able to watch what they eat swim by... Doesn't that sound amasing? I can't wait for this to become available to us mere peasants. Although I don't know how much we'd actually see in the Thames. Perhaps Scotland would have the advantage over us seeing as they have some stunningly clear and gorgeous waters. Sounds like the drier option to diving, at any rate, with no risk of the bends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Denis Darzacq

These are some of the images that Denis Darzacq created inspired by/as a response to the riots in France in 2005. He describes wanting "to capture an entire generation in freefall with no one to catch them". So he went out to the suburbs of Paris for these shots. Amazing, aren't they? To me they speak about youth in many ways. Who does catch people when they are about to smash into the pavement?

Monday, March 26, 2007

In praise of blagging - how to Be Important

I got a taste of what it feels like to be Important this weekend... My friend Helen (a film maker and part of Undercurrents) was up this weekend from Swansea as one of her latest films is showing this Tuesday at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. However seeing as she couldn't get away on Tuesday she came to a reception/networking opportunity for Short Film Makers (some of whom were quite tall...erhm...sorry Fisch) on Saturday to get a feel/buzz of the festival.

I got to go along to something that frankly I thought only existed in books: the professional networking party. The festival organisers provided the alcohol in the Green Room and everyone else talked. I met someone who does films for Channel 4, a woman whose pictures are regularly exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, first time film makers who shot their piece on a mother's holiday camera and edited the film on iMovie and got into the festival (there is hope for us all!), a very funny stand up comedien(ne?), one of the festival programmers, and loads more film makers... So I was horrendously out of place, but everything was fabulously interesting. An insight into such a different world. And to top it all off we managed to talk ourselves into having a car drive us all the way from South Bank to Richmond - I think I said "I can't believe this..." a few times.

Undercurrents are soon launching a peer-to-peer TV channel over the internet and so Helen and I took the opportunity to interview some of the women film makers for the women's channel Broad Horizons. Interviewing people is such interesting work as people have such interesting things to say. I love asking about something a person is passionate about and then listen. I found it really inspiring to listen to these women. It is nice to have something to do at a party...and there's nothing like casually holding a fluffy microphone and a camera to feel like you might be blending in.

The next day I somehow got signed up as a delegate. Now I own a bit of plastic with my picture on it and it says: FILM MAKER on it! It's completely undeserved as I did nothing in Helen's film, but it does get me into all the screenings at the festival for free plus some various other perks. So I shall go and be an Undercurrents presence on Tuesday for Helen and hope that no one will ask me any questions about being a film maker. The film world is not one inhabited by a majority of people, but it is an interesting one I was glad to dip into for a moment.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A little snow/rain never stopped BTCV before...

My heart sank a little yesterday morning when I saw that there was white stuff falling from the sky because the previous day I had volunteered to go out with this conservation group for a day of work. I phoned in to check if they were still planning on going ('yes'), and then pulled on many, many layers and set of to the woods named Leg 'o Mutton...

I ended up having a great day! Despite the dubious sounding name of the place (I have no idea why it's called that!) it's a pretty little nature reserve with a lot of birds. We saw one white swan, gleaming in all the grey, sat on its nest in the water. It never quite cleared up but the it did stop snow/raining and we were busy enough working to keep warm. We spent the day dead fencing or creating a fence along the path to help keep dogs away from the sensitive nesting area. It was a lot of weaving of long branches along some stakes and eight of us working managed a good long stretch despite not quite finishing what we aimed for.

I valued spending a day outside (about five 1/2 hours) doing physical work as it is a change. Although I can tell it is rare thing as my body is slightly aching! I only got one blister which I think is good going... After years of volunteering in youth work projects I'm finally getting around to volunteering for environmental/conservation projects. It's such a catch-22 situation: you need the experience to get work but can't get the experience because you need to work! One woman I was working alongside has given up her fulltime work as a lawyer to do a 6 months/4 days a week volunteer position with the organisation.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Elizabeth, my State-side friend who is visiting for the weekend, and I have just come back from experiencing the musical Wicked. It's about the "wicked" Witch of the West and tells the story from her point of view - it is amazing! The production, the fabulous costumes and remarkable shoes, the singing are all brilliant! What a memorable night! And it's rather appropriate to see a musical about a green person on St Patrick's Day, isn't it? The Apollo Theatre is very grand and thre was a very impressive mechanical dragon's head that moved and it's eyes lit up at moments although I'm not quite sure of it's overall contribution to furthering the story...

My feet are ready to go to bed after miles of streets and art galleries and charity shops and trying to find this place that I once went passed that looked like it had good food. Needless to say we didn't find that restaurant. The art that is around this town is amasing (in fact, a lot of the paintings look exactly like the postcards I've sent in my previous life) and I've been re-inspired to go exploring.

Most of all it has been a delight to meet a friend I haven't seen for four and a half years and pick up the conversation as if we only said goodbye last week. Wicked indeed.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Visiting a mosque

Yesterday I went to visit a mosque in Kingston with a bunch of other people. We were given a tour of the mosque by Rashid, met Yusuf Islam's (ie Cat Stevens) father-in-law - the president of the mosque, had an impromptu lecture from the Imam (who first came to Kingston from Morocco as an acrobat for the circus!), were fed lunch, and then joined in with their Friday prayers.

It has been a few years since I have been to a mosque and last time I went I didn't have much opportunity to meet the people worshiping there. In Kingston everyone was very friendly and welcoming and I found it all interesting. There was a man in the group who posed a few cringe-worthy questions but otherwise we were also on our best behaviour! Obviously for the prayers I went upstairs with the other women. We listened to what was going on via some tinny loudspeakers (ideal for the sung parts, but not so much for the spoken sermon/teaching bit) while we sat facing Mecca.

The women's hall had Qur'ans but also prayer beads and some spare long kaftan like garments for women to borrow. There were also signs telling us we should not talk during one part of the 'service'... Some things seem to be ubiquitous regardless of place of worship: namely asking people to give money and the notices! I felt quite comfortable being in the women's hall as there is definately something very interesting in being in a women's only space, which is not something I have done very much of in the religious context so I was quite up for the experience.

My favourite part was upstairs watching a small girl (4-5 yrs) interact with her mother. Her mother was praying but while she was bowing and prostrating her daughter clambered all over her and while she stood up the little girl squirmed through her legs. It says a lot when your religious experience is large enough to include a small child using you as a climbing frame... The beautiful part was the complete acceptance of the situation by everyone there.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The latest FUN thing...

Freecycle is amazing - and addictive! It's a brilliant group that pass things around for free. Anything really from beds and garden sheds to toys and a frying pan. The Richmond group is very active with items posted in the morning gone by the afternoon and this does add an extra edge to the proceedings. So far I was too slow on asking for some mosaics and grouting and Lotte vetoed my suggestion of giving the gardenshed a home here...but I live in hope that something exciting is waiting for me in the next message I open. Lotte and I are also planning on giving anybody who donates us stuff flapjacks, so I'm fully expecting once word of this gets around we will be the first people everyone thinks of when they wish to get rid of an item.

Jen, from Swampea, came to visit me last weekend which was brilliant. We saw an amazing photographic exhibition in the Natural Science Museum. We also found a couple of artists who deal with a mistaken case of SARS (turns out to be PMS), observe some veggie monsters and penguins loose in London, and generally have a lot of rabbits bounding everywhere. It's quirky and there are plenty of delightful details in the panoramic views. [Go to for your viewing pleasure.]

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happy Welsh Day!

Cheers to leeks and daffodils! Happy St David's Day everyone:)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sky High

My flatmate Lotte is going to do a skydive for charity - The Big Issue - on the 3rd of March ( Somehow jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet is not something I've ever contemplated doing, but I'm happy to cheer her on!

Having a job interview the day before the college breaks for half-term has meant that I need to wait until next week before hearing anything from them which is slightly frustrating. On the other hand I've started volunteering for the Richmond Environment Network. I volunteered expecting to help out in the office and do little things like that, but actually I've been given the opportunity to start (almost from scratch) working on the children and youth side, i.e. develop and support work going on in the ENTIRE borough. So, I'm going to have to pretend I know what I'm doing. Should be fun!

Our washing machine is refusing to open the door so there's a whole load stuck inside at least until tomorrow. Oh well, it's been a good excuse to borrow a towel off our neighbour (a new experience for sure).

UPDATE - Nobody can come to fix it until Monday 11am so the wet laundry will be in the machine all weekend!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Science of Sleep

Last night Lotte and I got our exercise London-style by rushing from the tube station and trying to find the Barbican Centre in the ten minutes we had before our film was due to start. As both of us had forgotten to bring along the London A-Z we had to do a fair amount of detective work too to find out which way to go. The Barbican Centre - once we had found it - was a maze of empty corridors and enclaves. It was a rather eerie place, especially when we emerged from the film (which is about Stephane mixing dream and reality).

'The Science of Sleep' is a beautiful film. I'm a big fan of Gael Garcia Bernal and enjoyed Michel Gondry's last film: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I did have high expectations and thankfully I was not let down. It is a beguiling fantasy in a merry fluid mixture of French, English, and Spanish and shot beautifully. Besides, how can you not like a film with a one second time-machine?!

We wandered around Soho for awhile later on. What a fascinating hive of bustle and activity with rickshaws attempting to pick up passengers, lots of people walking around (a relief after the quiet and sterile finance quarters), loads of restaurants (we had a lovely Thai curry), and the China Town all decorated up for Chinese New Year.

On our way back, just outside the station we wanted, the train stopped due "to a slight fire outside the signalman's cabin" which damaged the cables a bit. A surreal end to the journey, but thankfully somebody managed to override the system and we did not end up spending the night on the uncomfortable seats. On "alighting" the train we saw no sigh of fire anywhere although I did spot a rat rustling around the tracks.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

Monday, February 12, 2007


Recently I've taken it upon myself to drastically reduce the amount of my physical possessions. In part this has corresponded with a HUGE increase in technology. I have now joined the classes with white wires hanging out of their ears and am an iPod owner, and my gorgeous friends moving back to Australia (= free place to stay when I get over there!) gave me a dinky little iBook. Somehow I don't think the value of my possessions in under £20 anymore. It is a strange transition, but it is oddly enough helping me cut back in my habit of stockpiling stuff so it surely can't be all bad.

The major problem I can forsee is not understanding what the computer is saying to me or a paralysing fear of breaking it... However our new neighbour works for Dell, and the vicar's husband describes himself as a "techno-hippy" so there's bound to be help around - for a suitable bribe.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cold and wintry February - finally!

It's pretty darn cold outside, at least by our English standards, but so completely gorgeous I'll forgive it! Just the right weather for slipping into little shops to warm up for a couple of minutes before braving the outdoors again. I love this weather! The Pearl Month of the year... [That's a transliteration of the Finnish for February.]

I registered with the doctors surgery this morning and ought to get back to fill a whole stack of forms littered around my bedroom floor - there are just so many of them! Benefit forms, College forms, CRB checks the lot. I haven't been very diligent though and so my form filling sessions are spread inbetween Dorris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook' and 'The Time Traveller's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger. Writing down details of myself over and over again are a certain way of filling this form of my existence here, defining it and drawing lines around me... (Not sure I like that particular outline of the form I'm filling out hence all these books.)

I've started a Spanish course too; and again it's one of my get out of jail free cards...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Richmond, London

Where to start? I packed all my belongings into three bags and a suitcase and on Friday headed for London after a week or more of going round pubs, people's places, Red Cafe, and generally saying goodbye to all the wonderful and fabulous people I've met in Swansea. Bleary eyed (after a farewell party at the house) I stepped onto the 8:15am bus and headed towards Victoria bus station. Upon arrival I started to curse my inability to pack lighter and dragged my stuff across to Victoria station. But I took one look at the stairs leading down to the tube and bailed. I had to sens an SOS text to Lotte to come and rescue me - which she dutifully did. So not exactly the independent start to a life in London that I had imagined, but at least I'm here.

The weekend has been packed with meeting people, our mutual friends from Iona as well as some of Lotte's friends, trying to unpack and decorate my room, walk around Richmond and try to make some sense of this place and the fact that I'm here... We live a minute away from the river, ten seconds away from the bus station, a minute away from the food shop/High Street. Everything is right here!! The first thing I did on Saturday was to get a library card and I've already got an Oyster Card, so once I've bought myself a London A-Z I will feel a lot more at home.

Our flat is huge, white and magnolia (very much the non-offensive option isn't it) with a Lotte-influenced red-orange colour scheme, gorgeous, has a back garden that we share with the other two apartments in the house but it's huge, and we have a strong feeling of disbelief that now we are the adults in the house which seems unreal. The garden has seven bird feeders which are strung very high up in the trees. Prosaicly I did find a stepladder in the garden, which dashed my initial theory that there must be giants living in the upstairs flat, but we have regular visitors of green parakeets that amase and amuse me and liven up the garden.

I'm still trying to take everything in which means that everything is quite a mess in my head, experiences and sights floating around in no logical sense, but I'm hopeful it will settle down soon. I am so excited about this all!

This is a very euphoric, bouncy post. I'm sure in due course I'll come down to a sober judgement of the frivolty of the rich, how having been into five charity shops and seen their prices that I really am going to need a job soon or whatever, but for now I'm enjoying it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Twirling, whirling...

On Sunday we had a house-outing to see the whirling derishes of Damascus. They performed with the Al-Kindi Ensamble and the Sheikh Hamza Shakkur and performed Sufi liturgy of the Ummayad Mosque of Damascus. What an experience! I've never seen anything like that live before and they had the whole of the Taliesin art centre transfixed with the music and the whirling. The men in their dresses looked rather interesting until they started to twirl and then it all look increadibly natural - if you can say that about four men twirling around on a stage. (Actually, I kept expecting the one guy in particular to curtsey as he walked back to his chair.) The ensamble were playing classical Arab music from the 9th Century upwards and it was very intricate and fascinating to listen to and to watch.

I have no idea how the men managed to do so much whirling and not a) fall over or b) be sick. My head felt a bit giddy just watching them. And when we got home I felt inspired to do a few twirls but was dizzy within a few turns. It's great to see stuff like this in Swansea!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lily's Friday Challenge

Lily, my intrepid friend, has just eaten eight pickled eggs for a bet. I watched her munch through these eggs, that a collegue of hers had pickled (probably for her), for over an hour. It was entertaining, although a bit painful too. She has a habit of laying on bets for all imaginable crazy things. And has so far come through most of them honourably. Google later provided a slight dampner on her glory by telling us that the record for eating pickled eggs (and yes, there is such a thing) is 19 pickled eggs in five minutes; but we are still proud of her even while we shake our heads in disbelief.

A previous food related bet saw her eating half a kilo of pickled onions, and she has agreed to attempt to eat two kilos of bean sprouts next Friday as long as they are not pickled.

That woman has a stomach of steel.
We have a new housemate, Jen, another waif rescued from a homeless fate, and a very welcomed addition to the house. And the dog is still with us as Ian's mother is stranded in Ireland - the ferries are not running in the force 10 gales it would seem... Dog and I have been exploring around the Tawe river and Kilvey Hill both which are new territory for me. I still find the view from top of the hill quite disconcerting as the Swansea that I can see from there is just so different and it is disorienting to not recognise the town I've lived in over the past four years.

I've found a big box and packed it and it's sitting ready to be sent to Finland. Unfortunately there still seems to be an awful lot of possession left in my room even after three trips to charity shops...

13th of July is when the next Harry Potter film comes out (HP and the Order of the Phoenix), and I've surprised myself by getting quite excited about that:) The room of Dolores Umbridge looks suitably revolting with the rows of kittens on plates hung on the wall! JK Rowling has announced the title of the next and last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so does that mean that we might get our hands on the book sometime this year? Is Severus Snape friend or foe...

Being on campus at Uni I've bought the paper for 25p. Bargain!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Chronicles of Swansea

The last update from my friend Abi is that she is (or was on New Year's Day) in Antigua lying on a beach watching hummingbirds. She left Swansea last October as a crew member on a small boat. Last I heard she was headed to Cape Verde with six Italians who might go over to Brazil if they felt like it - but now she's in the Caribbean... Well, she was aiming for Mexico so I guess it's in the right direction for her. She is such an inspiration, and I loved living with her for the six months that I did.

Harking back to that time I've also been nostalgic over our tea-habits. We had no teapot but there was always a saucepan full of tea on the table. It was usually green tea that Fred would drink by the pint glass, but also chai, nettles from the back garden, Greek mountain tea, and various other concoctions. At one point we did a inventory and between us we had 26 different types of tea, and we kept adding to it... Currently I am growing rather fond of the yellow teapot I have access to, but I will always keep a spot in my heart for brewing tea in a saucepan and drinking it out of jam jars - as all the mugs were being held hostage in Helen's room...

Ian's mother is going away for a while so we are going to be looking after her dog for the weekend. The rain has let up for a second too so I'm sure we'll get a few nice walks in. Our friend has been staying for the past two days but I think he's not too keen on the idea of a dog and is moving to another friend's place:) His loss, dogs are great!

My time is filled by trying to get rid of four years worth of stuff as a prelude to packing, filling out job applications and hunting for more, trying to figure out a cheap way of sending stuff back to Finland as there are several books I cannot bare the thought of parting with permanently, reading other books from the library, going to see people, and all the other wonderful things that go along with being gloriously unemployed.

I stopped off during lunch break in the AqWa office at Swansea uni as Lily and Shaun are both doing PhDs there. I found out from the disappointed Lily that the tickets to the Eurovision song contest in Finland are sold out already! I also heard a review on apples, heard several bad jokes, and we watched a (dead) whale on a beach being blown up as well as the first two instalments of R. Kelly's soap opera rap thing on YouTube. Entertaining, and R. Kelly may well be a minor genius, but they're never going to convince me that they do any work. And here I was thinking a PhD is a serious business!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Very short stories

Hemingway once wrote a very brief story in just six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." and is said to have called it his best work.

The magazine Wired invited a whole bunch of sci-fi writers to write their concise masterpieces of six words and I've happily happened to stumble across them. Here are a few:

Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
-William Shatner

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings.
- Gregory Maguire

Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth.
- Vernor Vinge

We kissed. She melted. Mop please!
- James Patrick Kelly

The baby's blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.
- David Brin

And I've got one of my own although I am not a writer of masterpieces or of anything else either:

Why expect anything to be simple?
- me

Monday, January 01, 2007

To quote a friend:

Wishing You 12 months of happiness, 52 weeks of fun, 365 days of laughter, 8760 hours of blessings, 525600 minutes of joy, 315536000 seconds of peace and justice! Happy New Year!