Saturday, 28 August 2010


Despite it not being a normal timing pause for grieving, we decided that, as this past weekend was the last completely free weekend until 9 October (and even then, we have a theatre excursion), we would have an outing -- or several -- to look for a kitty who needs a home. [Note: 9 October is exactly 1 month before the tea-leafed arrival of Squeak. Introducing a rescued creature into a home with a mere 4 weeks to 'settle', and followed by And Now For Something Completely Different seems a bit mean and thoughtless if it can be avoided.]

My attempt at being pragmatic allowed my planning skills to overshadow lingering sadness, which admittedly was (mostly) beyond the constant-reminders-of-Angus-leading-to-weeping stage by last Friday. The tinternet 'tis a v. good thing for coordinating spontaneous ventures such as this, to include the entire county of Norfolk -- although Eamonn had already had a bit of a peruse around and so She started with some Excellent Pointers in the right direction.

The RSPCA, the Cat's Protection League, and several animal sanctuaries. Looked at photo albums. Read bios (where available). Make initial choices for potential good matches (e.g., prefer no long hair; prefer no kittens; should not have been abused by children in previous habitat; etc.). Planned route. Called for appointments. Printed maps. Created agenda.

Cosmic; and Chilli & Pepper; Harley; Liquorice & Cappucino; India & Gem; and Jack were some of the named ones that we started with. We visited them and from that group (and a few others who just also needed to be petted), Chilli and Pepper, and India and Gem were our two (double) initial choices... Chilli and Pepper are a 1-year-old brother and sister pair, who are absolutely sweet and shiny and purry; Pepper also was born with only one eye -- making him a Pirate (!). India and Gem are 4-year-old sisters, who have only recently been neutered, and who are respectively shy and sassy. Personality is a must.

Our aim was NOT to try to replace Angus with another black (or partially black) cat. However, as I may have mentioned before: black and black&white cats are just 'not in fashion' now. Hence the reason that so many of them end up in shelters, according to our previous vet. I think this is utterly atrocious. 'Not in fashion', indeed. People with that mentality ought to be neutered AND banned.

A couple of years ago, Richard and Clem took us along to a charity event at a cat sanctuary at Beeston Regis, on the North Norfolk coast. This place was actually my first thought of a must-go-to place, as it had seemed at the time such a caring environment with great support of volunteers who help with socialising the cats, helping those who need it to psychologically heal, and caring for those who are simply unhomeable. It is a no-kill shelter.

We didn't know the full story, though.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a protective gatekeeper lady who took us inside the main house, because 'Everybody has to meet Ms. Rees before you can go look at the cats.' We went into the kitchen, where Ms. Rees was sat next to the Aga with a cat on her lap, cats in various baskets around the kitchen and on chairs. At one point my conversational attention was distracted by the top of the cabinet next to the ceiling stretching its little kitty toes over the edge. These are part of the cats which are unhomeable.

Ms. Rees doesn't move very much, and she can no longer go out to the cattery with visitors, because she is recovering from paralysis as a result of a broken neck. Her neck was broken by a male personage who runs a scam on the North Norfolk coast -- maybe in Aylsham. His chapter in her tragic story began when some kind soul found a cat roaming around, very hungry, thin, scruffy and in danger of being run over. The cat was brought to her, and she recognised it as a Bengal -- quite valuable. Ads were posted in the newspaper and notices given on the radio.

After several weeks, no one had come forward. So preparing the cat for re-homing began. This involves vaccination, neutering, de-fleaing, worming -- basically providing basic care for the well-being of the animal. Shortly after this, a man called her one day claiming, ' You've got my cat.' To which she replied, 'Well, actually I have about 60 cats, so perhaps you might tell me which one you think is yours?' His cocky reply that it was a Bengal... 'not that [she] would know anything about that' and her response that she did in fact have a Bengal (and knew very well what it was) and that he should come out and see if it was his.

His arrival and discovery of his cat in healthy condition (although missing some bits) resulted in his utter rage that she had 'cut the balls off' what was purportedly his 'stud cat.' He threw things maniacally around the cattery and at her and raged off saying that she would pay him the £5000 for his ruined cat, and more. 'More' being quite threatening.

Legal battles ensued -- but to no effect to his benefit.

However, in 2004, after the incident had for all intents and purposes run its course, she was attacked one early morning in her flower garden, shot with a stun gun, her neck broken, and a 70-ish lady was left for dead. She was completely paralysed and lay there for 2 hours until volunteers arrived to the cattery and she was able to be airlifted out.

After 6 months in hospital, the police had still not even visited the suspected culprit. Only at the insistence of her son was he 'visited' and he (of course) said, 'No. I didn't do that.' And the capable police left. The police refused to pursue it any further, claiming that since she had had her back to the attacker, her evidence was not credible.

She is no longer paralysed, but she has such a diminished quality of life now, even though she continues to run the charity that she has run for more than 20 years. She built the cattery as it now is with her own hands, however it is now a struggle for her to even go outside to see the animals she is helping.

Not for this reason -- I just wanted to share the brief story of the atrocity of one evil man and a corrupt culture which allows him to roam free and re-perpetrate (which apparently he does when people 'rescue' his set-up animals) and juxtapose that with the kindness and gentleness that people like Ms. Rees and her loyal helpers have to give -- but not for this reason at all, did we proceed to the Cat House (titter). Well, actually, we were 'Approved' to go to the Cat House.

And we met Jasmine and Patches and Lucky and Russett and LeAnn (she is very saucy) and Tiffany and Tessa and Blackey and the kittens and everyone.

And then we were led through this separate door (which looked like the entrance to a store room) off the main Cat Room. But no. This was no store room. This was the entrance to Inky's Annexe.

Inky is a funny cat, who does not approve of other cats. He has his own apartment, where he has lived for 2 years (and he is only 3 or 4 years old), complete with habitat room (with all amenities, such as bed, box and heater) and comfortable porch room overlooking both the garden and the Cat Room. Inky folds his tail over his back like he is a squirrel. He is quite talkative, very friendly, and I think he will be a cuddler. He allowed the Visiting Hoomins (well, the Lady Hoomin) to pick him up and hold him until her arms were tired and it was time to go. Inky is obviously black.

We had a good discussion on the way home, and were pretty much unanimous that Inky was Zee One. Chilli  Pepper were a very, very close second, but doubling all costs seemed a bit unwise.

But it really would have been fun to have a pirate cat...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Tale of a Kitty

One week ago at this time was the last time I saw our beloved Angus alive.

He jingled jauntily (with his little bell collar) out the back door after his early morning cuddle and his kitty-breakfast with Radio 4. I cannot remember if we had some sneaky kitty meelks or not (his papa did not approve of normal Hoomin meelks for the kitty, but Angus was just not a big fan of Whiskas feline milk products).

That evening, the only part I saw of his lovely shiny fur again was the top of his head which Eamonn allowed me to see from the pulled back towels in which our kindly neighbor had wrapped him. Eamonn prepared him for burial in Angus's favourite Virgin Atlantic blanket, which always went with him to Pennyback Cat Lodge -- where he spent his kitty holidays during any long-term Human Excursions from home. We buried him in the back garden next to the hydrangea.

This past week, I have been intensely consumed and utterly bereft and mournful in a ceaseless paroxysm of repetitive and self-absorbed grief. Yes, I am aware that he was a cat. Yes, I have felt quite selfish in my grief. But I have also been completely helpless to the wishful images of him popping through the front hedge to talkatively welcome us home from work; or stopping just inside the dining room door for a quick stretch on the rug (and a pat); or his companionable presence in the bathroom (with a little scratch on the jute rug and followed by a nose up in the air for a kiss); or his overt preference for the Right Shoulder Hang (rather than the Left) and the ages he would just allow me to carry him about like a human infant.

The thing I miss the most of all, though, is the daily 5.30a.m. purr and headbutt-to-the-sleeping-human's-chin session, which always ended with him curling up in my armpit and lying his head onto my shoulder for one more little doze. Even though some people may think he was only a dumb animal (as in, 'without human speech'), his absence has left a great gaping hole in our family. And I am so sad that Squeak will not know who it was purring through my tummy to him all these months; I am irrevocably convinced that Angus knew someone is in there. He would have been a magnificent kitty with a baby.

Today, though, I feel finally ready to heal. And my persistent belief in fate is edging very slowly back into the room in my head and bringing rational thought and emotion. This will be much more pleasant indeed for Eamonn, who has had rounded many corners this week to discover his wife weeping.

The tale of this kitty began on Christmas Day 2008, five days after our wedding in Louisiana. Eamonn spotted him down the alley on Magpie Road as we walked past on the way home -- so, naturally I had to go and pet the creature with the fur. He was quite thin and gangly and collarless. He came to our back door later, and we had some more pat-the-kitty time -- outside, of course.

For days, he kept coming back to our door, despite a lack of food offerings. It was really extremely cold during January, and he was so scruffy and weedy (not a fortuitous combination for someone who is trying to keep Amrie from giving in to strong feelings for animal welfare). The night that it snowed, Eamonn relented and said Kitteh could come in... BUT ONLY for the one night and he would go STRAIGHT OUT at dawn -- the crack of.

Eamonn claims that he was the First One to give him food  -- some smoked salmon scraps left over from breakfast one Sunday (gruff exterior, indeed). Kitteh had become a regular visitor for about 2 weeks.

We asked some of the neighbours if  they knew where he came from.

We looked for signs of 'Lost Cat', but I was too righteously judgemental (and cowardly) of animal husbandry in our neighbourhood to put any 'Found Cat' signs up of my own.

We put a collar on him, in the opinion that if he belonged to someone, they would perhaps say, 'Oi! Who has put this collar on my animal (which I do not care for properly)?' and perhaps reclaim him as their own. This did not happen.

Kitty pretty much made himself at home at 112 Magpie Road from this time onward (including inside), and he was always allowed inside for bitterly cold nights (the bathroom doorway was a good lying spot as the heating pipes were under the floor). Particularly useful for maintaining body heat is the Leg Stretch with Toe Separation (as demonstrated).

Observant readers may also recall that Meester initially was interested in zee feesh, but fish really are kind of boring, and when you can't actually poke them, they are no longer in the danger zone and survived quite safely and happily through the initial Kitteh Months on Magpie and the move to La Village. Besides, there were more fascinating creatures to hunt here -- things with fur and feathers and tiny tails and beaks and squeaks.

Angus loved People and loved visitors (and even tolerated grasping and waddling small people), always making them feel at home and helping to warm (a small portion of) their freshly laundered and made-up bed. This is his most uninhibited welcome to his last holiday houseguest, Hiroko...

Apparently, he was run over on The Common (where it is impossible to go more than 20 mph -- oh. the irony.) and was found right afterwards by a kind soul who came round to the Main Road since she knew that one of our houses had a black cat. Our neighbour was home and went to collect him in a basket. At least Gillian spared him the indignity of lying in the sun all day.

The heartless, soulless person who hit him didn't even stop.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


This week is a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

52 of the surviving 'Little Ships' are part of a ceremonial cruise to remember the volunteers and their boats who evacuated British and French troops from France in 1940, during the German invasion of France. In 9 days, more than 330,000 soldiers were ferried by pleasure boats, fishing boats, merchant marine ships and Royal Navy Lifeboats from the shore to waiting ships in deeper water. It had originally been thought that only 20,000 could be rescued.

There is just no comparison between the whiny culture of today and the bravery of most generations of the entirety of history. It makes one quite ashamed.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


So, today I got to hear Squeak's heartbeat for the first time!

It was pretty darn cool to see the heartbeat at the 11-week scan (like a prettily fluttering fish fin in the middle), but hearing the whoosh-WHOOSH leads me to wonder if I need one of those little dopplar things. I could become kind of a Sneaky Spy Mother before Squeak even enters the world (could anyone be eating paste in there?). Squeak was moving around quite a bit, indicated by the midwife's inability to keep track of the heartbeat in one place. To me, this indicates future weariness on my part. My mama and daddy threatened me with a hyper-active child when I was young; foolishly, this threat failed to calm me down then. Payback's warranted, I suppose. :)

During the appointment, I met two more of the midwives in the community team who are looking after me (there are 6 in all). They were absolutely fabulous and, even though my list of questions was a little long, we got on like a house on fire. In the past week (since hysterical giggling began over my 'Elderly' status), a complete change of opinion has swung. Originally, my thought was to definitely plan for a hospital birth since I am fully aware that I am old. However, after talking to a useful panel of people from knitting, yoga, work, and Ms. Teresa... I think it might not be unreasonable to attempt a home birth.

For any US readers I have at this point, the maternity culture here is quite different (AND has a more favourable infant mortality rate than the US, before anybody gets too uppity). It is not an obstetrician culture but a midwife culture. One may never see an obstetrician at all -- unless there are complications. When one attends pre-natal appointments, one meets with a midwife, and the midwives one meets over the course of the pregnancy are likely to be helping at your birth, which is quite nice. There are two types of midwives (I think): community midwives and hospital midwives. Community midwives are in teams attached to medical practices and will be sent out in teams of two to home births. Hospital midwives are (quite obviously) the midwives who work at the hospital and deliver whoever is there. One might be able to have one of one's community midwives at the hospital, but it is not guaranteed.

At a home birth, there are two professionals constantly monitoring the birth and who are probably going to more likely honour wishes in a birthing plan. If at any point, the mother feels uncomfortable staying home or the midwives note something concerning, then the whole thing moves to the hospital. We are about 10 minutes from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. It all seems pretty unintimidating. The only logistical kinks that could send me to the hospital are: 1) someone else goes into labour and gets the shift team before me or 2) there is no incoming cover if the shift ends before Squeak emerges. My 'head midwife' thinks that I seem perfectly normal (little does she know at this early stage) and that my  'elderly' condition is also laughable -- her confidence was the final seal of approval.

I think the most interesting thing about my mental state is that my absolutely concrete terror of birth, which for some reason has always been in my consciousness, has absolutely and concretely disappeared. It was not lurking about when my condition was determined not to be an exotic illness, so it has to have wandered off at some point during the first month. What an oustanding blessing is that?!

Today was also my second week at pregnancy yoga. I am the earliest phase person there (at only 16.5 weeks), but my OCD nature makes me happy to be starting early. Having never done yoga before, my brain had no idea what to expect last week, but it is really good and They say that the techniques learned can be helpful during phase one and phase two of parturition. There is no worship of foreign entities. There is a lot of breath control, which is good as mine is currently weak to non-existent, and lots of stretching, which I love. My knees are very bony.

This week, we did the Camel Walk around the room (to move the pelvis backwards and forwards for flexibility) -- and I must admit to almost breaking out in a fit of giggles at the thought of someone peering through the door to see variously pregnant women in leggings stalking around the room like a Monty Python sketch. Giggling, though, does nothing for one's balance (especially mine) and so this was quickly quelled before a trauma occurred.

Now I must rest.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Elderly Primigravida

This is my classification.

Revealed to me at knitting this week, we have all had a good giggle about it.

It means 'a woman older than 35 years who is pregnant for the first time'. One good thing of being an Elderly is that one theoretically gets more attention and monitoring. After all, if I weren't Elderly, we wouldn't have been able to have a scan of Squeak a month ago! Apparently, (after talking with Ms. Teresa) one is classified as 'elderly' in the US if one is much over 30 years.

Note: I shall expect due respect in deference to my elderly status, despite the elegant henna currently hiding my grey hair.

Now, my creaky self needs some sleep.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Two Babies and a Pirate

Right. So, this may be my bestest excuse for blogging laxity ever.

It has been mentioned (and honestly self-recriminated) that we all are tired of reading about squash blossom quesadillas. Well, the extreme mental exhaustion that fell over me during the Mexico marathon was not the unfortunate result of food-borne parasitic infestation, as we have discovered. And the abdominal muscle pulling feeling was not the positive side-effect of my cleverly-devised triceps brachii exercise of hanging upside down and half-off the end of the Hampton Inn bed (whilst watching a compilation of NCISCSI and Law & Order... of course) and hoisting my table display stands to a right angle to my torso. And the comatose state that tended to settle on me within 12 seconds of becoming seated or prone was not related to either the tsetse fly or to jet lag (yes, they say that the tsetse fly only lives in Africa, but flies are sneaky).

No -- this lethargy (and accompanying psuedo-exercise symptoms -- it was pretty amazing that the muscles were still tired a week after the last hanging-upside-down event) has been discovered to be the result of the presence of Squeak. 'Squeak' is the temporary classification I have given to the very small sentient soul who is currently resident behind the non-toned muscles of my tummy (It just is too horrible a nomenclature).

[Admittedly, the title of this entry does indicate the presence of more than just one Squeak, although this is not true. There is a long story: Lady Lindsey was unable to locate any non-sicky-sweet or non-ethnically-congratulatory cards, so she instead sent one congratulating us on our Triplets -- E only had a momentary swing towards coronary failure, I believe. Then the newest honorary Cousin, claimed to see definitely 5 legs in the ultrasound, leading to the query: 'So what's up with that? Two babies and a pirate???' And this has stuck. We are shopping for a parrot as I type.]

Shortly after discovering Squeak, several things became (and continue to become) clear(er):

  • initial distaste for wine was not due to an ulcer;
  • muscle tiredness is not always the result of feeble and ludicrous 'exercise' attempts;
  • even a being the size of a butterbean is capable of reducing bladder capacity to quite a significant degree;
  • the necessity to politely request that E take his beer to other side of room was not due to petulance, but to a psychotically heightened sense of smell (and accompanying nausea);
  • constant nausea is just as bad, or worse, than being physically ill;
  • Mamas know things when they are not necessarily supposed to, but they are polite and don't mention them when there are strangers around (mostly).

At this point, Squeak is at 13 weeks of development (but THEY claim it is the 15th week of Pregnancy). I am unsure if Squeak is 4.5 inches long and kicking or 'the size of a peach' (apparently peaches don't kick). Some more research must be done now that overseas work Travel is over for a significant while (and my biology textbooks are in storage in Louisiana), but it is so confusing -- e.g., exactly what kind of peach is this? Is this an early-season peach the size and texture of a baseball or is it a gorgeous, juicy gigantic Georgia peach the size of a grapefruit? And if a grapefruit, then the size of a Bruner orchard grapefruit or a piddly little Texas one? SOOOOOO many questions.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Adventures & Quesadillas

In the optimistic hope that my madre's tale of someone who suffered with an ailment for decades, which was finally discovered to have originated as one of the perils of foreign travel, I have eaten the looooveliest quesadilla con flora de [squashes] -- I think. Admittedly, when she asked, 'Flora, o spanishspanishspanish?', I was under the confused impression that she was asking me if my preference was flour, corn, or some new and exotic type of tortilla.
Proposition: One should always respond, 'Si!' when one is asked if one would like queso; so let it be written -- so let it be done.

My plan (unless some sort of gastrointestinal attack renders this idea a no-go) is to return tomorrow to the Belles Artes museum corner and try a different quesadilla with my superb travel companion, Jessica, who is as willing as your correspondent to toddle off in search of adventure and independent bravery (as a duo, actually, so it really isn't perzactly independent in the strictest sense of the word). Yesterday (after our Thursday breakfast of huevos revueltos and enchiladas), we ventured forth on a day of school visits, with my high-hopes plan to explore the Metro by riding all the way to the end of the Blue Line to Cuatro Caminos and take a taxi to the first visit.

On exiting the station, instead of the taxi rank Herself was expecting, we instead walked into a crossed hybrid of a cattle-market/bus-depot/tent-city-of-cheap-tat/Save-the-Children-commercial. I am pretty sure that people were sweeping crap in the street. After walking bravely past the arcade of video games with the shady caballero and not determining where in the name of Heaven a safe taxi might be, we then determined that we didn't know how to use our mobile phones to dial in-country. After looking quite shady ourselves while loitering on the corner next to the bus depot gas station, we made the joint command decision to flag a taxi -- the logic being that it had pink-and-white checker-board stripe on it. [We were also smart and demanded to see his identification.] He turned out to be quite the nicest taxi driver!

The counselor at our second visit dropped her jaw and said, 'Oh. My. God.' (in the best 90210 voice possible)  and faintly curled her lip when we asked for directions to the closest Metro station. And sent us for a posh patio-balcony lunch in Polanco at La Valentina.

Where we had our primeras margaritas. (and almost got stuck in an elevator by the consierge)

Our orders included taquitos, and panuchos yucatecos (kind of like chalupas), and tacos de chilorio sinaloense, and something else... (not on the online menu). Yesterday, I was reticent,  BUT escamole seems like it might need to be tried... pause, pause, pause.

Because of our fortitude, we chose to aim for the same Metro station to prove ourselves, walking through Polanco (which is quite comfortable-feeling and more than likely safer than much of the rest of the city) and then through a ginormous park. In this park live the bravest squirrels every, who are (as Jessica says) actually a little creepy in their super-intelligent expressions and mental telepathy of 'Feed ME!'

Their genetic make-up seems to be a hodge-podge of red and grey squirrel, and they are kind of not pretty. But they are so terribly cute and cheeky! They must be so because people feed them and local people do seem quite taken with them. I did not look at all out of place doing my 'Let's-Talk-to-Los-Animales' voice -- it is all part of my effort to be a successful flaneuse.

Possibly because there are museums in the park including the Museum of Modern Art, there are also quite a few interesting sculptures. Since my current book is Wicked, I shall call this 'Oz'.

And this one is Wuthering Heights in my world -- for no particular reason, just a feeling -- or maybe the voices in my head.

Upon reaching a large road bisecting the park, we proceeded to cross an 8 lane super-road. There was a median in the middle where we could wait for a break in opposite direction traffic. After having a suspicious park guard not let us through a locked gate and fail to understand the directions that he and a chillaxing taxi driver attempted, the taxi driver finally zipped us dangerously around the freeway below to the second shady Metro stop of the day.

One thing that is interesting about the Metro is that at some (note the use of 'some') stops, there may be a 10-ft tall sign indicating the near presence of transport. However, when one approaches this beacon of hope, one quickly finds that this tall edifice is actually nowhere near the entrance. In best flaneur-style, one must attempt to look like one merely needs to pause and consult one's mobile phone, whilst glancing around casually and with a bored aspect to figure out where people are disappearing into an unmarked hole in the ground. This is occasionally in the middle of a combination area similar to the description of Cuatro Caminos, above. And so one heads into the tent city of smells (some delicious, some disgusting, and some possibly dangerous) or, for example in El Zocalo, a completely unmarked hole set of stairs heading from sidewalk-level into the depths.

Once on the Metro, one should not expect there to be silence in a London Underground sort of way. If it were not sad, it could be slightly vexing -- there is a constant stream of noise: women and children walking through screaming, 'Chicle! Dos pesos!'; a blind old man tooting a harmonica and using his change cup to keep rhythm; a young blind woman with a sound system and microphone, singing, and with a 3-year-old child following her and holding on to her belt loop; the long-haired political activist shoving papers into people's faces and yelling about La Republica de Mexico.

And then there are the CD-mix guys -- these are guys (and blind women) who have strapped a speaker as big as their torso onto their tummies and who walk through trains incessantly selling various mix CDs. The CD player attached to the speaker is used to skip through snippets of the songs approximately 4.7 seconds in length. Sound level is at 11.8. When the alarm screams that the doors might be able to think about maybe shutting (this lasts for about 11 of the longest seconds ever), opera might start shrilling from one end of the car, and simultaneously Los Gran Cantandores de los 60's, 70's and 80's begin with some Depeche Mode followed by Juice Newton and Queen of Hearts. Some mixes have absolutely no rhyme or reason at all.

Jessica was unamused. [the red shirt is on the arm of a Speaker Guy]

To recover our sanity, and since we were not really thinking that dinner was necessary, we ventured to the Pasteleria across the street.

This is a fabulous cultural activity; such inter-cultural engagement and educative exercise is to be strongly encouraged by International Officers. It was also dangerous.

A Pasteleria is a cake shop. When one approaches the cake shop, one walks past the armed guard... and then one is meant to locate the large stack of pans (to L) and the bakery tongs. One carries one's tray through the shop, pincering far more cakes, cookies, jelly pastries, empanadas and bread products than one would ever consider for an evening's consumption in a normal situation. And then one tootles around the corner for a litre of milk (again, past an armed guard) and returns with one's stash to one's hotel room. Oh, the exotic life on the road!

So many cakes, so little time. And more are made every day! Hoorah!

In other news, my mind is relieved by the information today (from our lovely agent) that we are 2000m (or 6000 feet) above sea level. This would be the logical reason that I so quickly become similar to an emphesemic bovine creature when walking or climbing stairs. The feeling of bubbles in the brain could also be from this.

Note: I am also terribly amused by commercials with talking toothbrushes. Especially when said toothbrushes are Spanish speakers.

...and so on to the weekend of two 8-hour exhibitions.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Don't Drink the Water

Cold milk is hard to come by in Mexico. I had forgotten this. It is mostly ultra-pasteurised and therefore, superb in long-term shelf storage; but not so superb to the taste buds of an obsessive and spoiled lactophiliac.

However, (in good American culturo-centric style) I have determined that Circle K does have cold milk -- albeit in the ultra-pasteurised boxes-- in the refrigerated section. To congratulate myself, some chocolate biscuits seemed called for as well.

My primary personal accomplishment of today is that I have a) ridden the MetroBus and b) ridden two lines of the subway and c) have navigated successfully and non-pickpocketed back to my hotel. A yarn shop was also located, but that is by-the-by. .

Moving along...

For those readers not avidly following social networking blurbs of personal information about the writer, my week began at 5.30am Monday morning with a 4 hour drive through insane snowfall from Norwich to Heathrow Terminal 5. It is kind of the bees knees. Since I was not flying to the US, I was allowed to have both a carry-on bag and a purse/laptop bag; this made me happy in my own Migrant Fruit-Picker sort of way.

British Airways, in contrast to its shiny terminal with the tallest elevator in Britain or some such nonsense (but without free wireless -- cheap jackasses) is not exactly the bees knees. It almost seemed like our plane had been retired from NorthWorst airlines as no longer rubbish enough. It looked normal, but was rather tatty on the inside. The crew, though, were absolutely lovely.

However, I had a lovely Mexican lady next to me, who lives in London and was married to an Italian and who has 5 daughters from Malaysia to Arizona to Mexico to London and who (in the most precious way) would insist on trying to chat when the movie was getting good. She had made mosquito picnic covers and decorated them with crocheted flowers for her daughters. She was fascinated that I was knitting.

The last time I was in Mexico was 1993. I don't believe customs was as much of a goat-roap then as it is now. After collecting luggage, one must stand in a queue about a mile long (much, much longer than immigration). Upon reaching the front of the queue, all bags and coats are x-rayed... THEN, you have to press a button and if you are unlucky enough to have the glow-box turn red, a man must dig through your stuff with some very dodgy gloves of uncertain hygiene (thank heavens for Zip-loc packing this trip). Well, I do declare, I was not picking up and placing that luggage onto that table for him. If he wanted to look at it, he could jolly well wrestle it up there; I also asked him to return all pieces to the floor for me. Unless customs is going to welcome me with a margarita without salt, 20 hours of travelling does not make me want to unnecessarily hoist luggage around. This whole process was an incredible example of ineffective bureaucracy in motion.

Immediately upon clambering into the Mexican-blanketed interior of the most unfriendly taxi in the world (it was a pre-paid airport taxi seguro -- don't worry, madre y esposo), I was transported back to the chaos of Mexican driving. I am undecided about whether it is better to wear a seatbelt or not, as it might prevent one from escaping.

These are primary Mexican traffic principles to remember:
  1. There are lanes; but there are really no lanes at all. In some places, there really are no painted lanes, just a 6-lane-wide area of milling, honking, polluting kerfuffle.
  2. There are directional indicators; but these really don't signify anything.
  3. There is a horn; and you use it a lot.
  4. There are traffic lights; but these are merely vague indications of a suggestion of behaviour that one might want to follow. For example, there are policemen who stand in the middle of intersections and when the light turns yellow, they blow their whistles and beckon cars to continue driving; when the light changes to red, they blow harder and faster and faster and wave frantically to KEEP DRIVING!!!! *toot! toot! TOOT!*
  5. It is perfectly acceptable to block an entire intersection.
  6. Pedestrians in the street are perfectly normal; I have already felt the need as well.
  7. It is perfectly acceptable to talk constantly on one's cell phone.
  8. On the positive side, there is not a lot of visible road rage... that I have seen. Of course, that could be because everyone knows that everyone else could have guns. There are gun-toting caballeros (and cops) everywhere. Even the rent-a-cops have guns where they are guarding the bakery -- must be some crazy desperados robbing bakeries.
  9. None of the above rules apply to bicycles or to motorcycles.

As I am staying in one of my beloved Hilton properties (because they award points and miles), my room is more than adequate and I got some Oreos and 2 bottles of water as a welcome (being a Gold member, you see. Oh.... if I could only get to Platinum like B!). I was quite over-excited about the prospect of Tuesday's breakfast, although this turned out to be excessively optimistic... although OK. Today, my day started with soggy flautas instead of the strange (and yet foggily familar) tortilla duo with cheese and sliced ham -- other daily options are huevos revueltos (this means 'scrambled' eggs but it just makes me think 'revolting'), refried beans (what an ideal way to start off a work day!), and salsa (possibly the tastiest thing there). I am happy to report that the fruit does not have the 'Hampton Inn' fruit taste of US properties (my theory is similar to my earlier-described theories of Subway alien mind control). For breakfast area entertainment, I managed to pour almost an entire jug of milk all over myself and my work attire. This was exciting.

After attempts to recover a scholarship programme with the Consejo Nacional de Sciencia and Tecnologica (I don't thrive in conflict situations, but there seems to be room for progress and everyone was very lovely), my diverting afternoon exercise was to navigate self to yarn shop -- Lanona Botona -- locate reasonable dining establishment (other than Hooters or Starbucks), and navigate self back home with public transportation. All three goals were met, and a section of the city - San Angel - was discovered, which is quite different from the unique and tragic chaos that is the city centre.

There are some lovely buildings in the centre, and at night the National Cathedral and National Palace are dramatic and pretty in their twilight silhouettes. The day is obviously more chaotic than evening for traffic, the dirt and drudgery are glaringly visible, and there is an opportunity for an absolute hey-day for British Health and Safety at every step. At least the Templo Mayor (to R) is fenced off, although the rickety elevated walkways through it look quite primitive. Since Mexico isn't necessarily the safest place, I have been quite reticent to take loads of photos since I already stand apart being a gringa and rather tall; there is no reason to ask to be bothered or thieved. Once acclimation and language memory has progressed a little more, more photos will be forthcoming.

Mostly there are people going about their business, although this business is rather varied than one might expect. Like Thailand (yes, a blog is still due for that), there are street vendors selling everything from juices or sliced fruit in plastic bags to illegal videos and music to normal mew agents. There are also random things like an old lady with a tiny side table plonked in the middle of the pavement with a selection of 5 pairs of knitted slippers (5 total, not 5 styles); a  griddle and open fire surrounded by plastic patio chairs, again in the middle of the sidewalk, where someone is cooking meat and peppers; there is this army of organ-grinders throughout the Centro -- and yes, they wear uniforms with military-style hats.

The streets, in the centre at least, are a constant din of intruding and manic noise. Normal city street sounds (remember our horn rule) do not seem to be enough and are enhanced by a speaker system in nearly every shop front. These speakers may be blaring music of various genres, or a pre-recorded enticement into the shop on continual loop, OR the personalised microphone sales babble of a large girl in rather less pink spandex than is prudent. There are also people playing flutes and such like -- and the Organ-Grinder Army, of course.

Seguridad privada (aka, rent-a-cop) seems de rigour whether the shop is selling sewing machines, bathtubs, fabric, yarn, or toys. This is kind of depressing. With regard to locating specific types of items (outside of up-scale territory), shops seem to be arranged in some sort of pre-destined order. For example, for plumbing and bathroom decorating needs, you would walk along Ayuntamiento between Lopez and Dolores. For electronic products (including hawkers standing along the pavement with 3-ring binders of sheets of computer programmes available), one walks up Lazaro Cardenas between Rep. de Salvador and Rep. de Uruguay. Fabrics and such are located to the east and south of the National Cathedral.

Shops are most certainly basic. Traditional size seems to be equivalent to a mid-sized bathroom (see image to R, behind street sweeper trolley) and pretty much you just buy some stuff and randomly arrange it inside. Cheetos, some picture frames, and a selection of toilets would probably be a sensible outlet. There are three plumbers sitting on a curb on Rep. de Salvador with a little cardboard sign advertising their availability.

As in Bangkok, much of life seems to be oriented around mere survival.

However, a notable exception to 'regular' shop size (and there are more exceptions as well; this is just my current amusement) are pastellerias -- or bakeries. In this shining window and display, we can see a vision worthy of the Harrod's Food Hall. It is all very Eloise. And it is the oddest thing to find something so glamorous right around the corner from beggars and toilets and shower displays on the pavement.

On a different aside, it might be worth noting that 'Do Not Disturb' signs no significa nada en el Hampton Inn Centro Historico. Generally, there is no need for me to have my room serviced daily, and so to prevent unnecessary work for lovely housekeepers, my sign goes out most days. On my return from constitutional stroll yesterday afternoon, I discovered Bear in prime princely location on bed and room completely tidied -- down to my hairbrush being cleaned out.... (?)  :)

In an effort to present self a little neater today to the housekeeper I fully knew would come in, my toiletries were carefully tidied this morning. Round items were stacked, miscellaneous items were stowed in plastic bag. However, this was apparently lacking in skill, and required additional straightening (as demonstrated to L).

It should also be noted that absolutely no yarn was purchased in brief excursionary and navigatory exercise today. Lanona Botona (unlike others in the centre) allows smooshing. Centre shops (perhaps in reason related to seguridad privada) have all yarn behind counters and/or in locked glass display cabinets.

Shop is located in a charming part of the city, with cobbled streets and tumbling bougainvillea emerging from walled residences.

A return for morning knitting group may be necessary whilst awaiting flight home in two Monday's time.... 

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

An Outing

On Sunday, we took an educational outing with the Friends of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust.

This was the first of newly planned Quarterly Church Visits and was to St. Peter Parmentergate, the current structure which dates from c. 1475. It is the largest and most impressive of the remaining medieval churches off King Street, and was the last to be decommissioned, in 1981

Parmentergate refers to its location close to the city gate leading to the Street of Parmenters (or leather- and parchment-workers). King Street was the main route into and through the city, leading on to Tombland and from there across Fye Bridge and up Magdalen Street. Between the gate and Tombland, there were at one time at least 12 churches along this main thoroughfare, or right off it -- including St. John the Evangelist (no longer in existence), another St. Clement (no longer in existence), St. Francis (no longer in existence), St. Etheldreda, St. Julian, St. Peter Southgate (ruin), St. Bartholomew (ruin), St Michael at Thorn (bombed 1942, then demolished by city), St. John Timberhill (now the parish church), St. John de Sepulchre (now the Russian Orthodox Church), and All Saints Westlegate (now a community centre).

It is uncertain if any of the church fabric is Anglo-Saxon, but as it is in the Saxon section of the city, it is entirely possible. St. Peter Parmentergate now houses the Norwich Academy of Martial Arts. It is perfectly allowable to furrow one's brow, but at least the building is used and is treated with respect.

Our group of about 20 met in drizzle, but forged forward with our intrepid leader, Nick Groves -- one of the, if not the, most knowledgeable scholars of Norwich Churches. Despite the attempted assistance of a free-range harmonica-player wearing a turquoise blanket on his head like the Virgin Mary, we learnt rather a lot.

Although the church is not as ornate as others in the city, it shows a high level of quality in the build. There is little decoration, e.g., no cusps in the tops of the windows, some of which have Norman arches. However, the flints are knapped, and much of the outside is galletted.

There were originally 4 doors into the church, as well as an entry through the two-storey vestry (an unusual architectural feature). The north door has been blocked up, but it would more than likely have been the entry way used by a college of priests who lived in a community just to the north of the church. Formerly an independent group of friars, they were suppressed and re-formed as a college of priests in the 13th century. Of the 24 medieval choir stalls created for this college, 14 are still extant. Both they and the reproductions are indistinguishable from each other to the unskilled eye. The blurred lower character on this is interesting and not on all the arches -- it looks like a cross between a lion and a Mexican sun image... with its tongue sticking out.

Periodically on the outside of many medieval constructions, one can see evidence of scaffolding. On SPP, individual flints are surrounded by a square of bricks or other stone. These are the potlog holes. Some medieval builders simply cut off the logs and left them in permanently-preserved and petrified place, but a little extra care (and cost) was taken here -- the logs were hollowed out, a knapped flint inserted, and a surround put in place. There are two potlog holes in this picture.

Detail at the top of the west door is actually a probably-Victorian reproduction, but it is accurate to its original style and decoration. Four shields above the door symbolise the primary donors who contributed to the original construction: the Broom family, the Albany family, the Clifton family, and (so Eamonn suggested) the Harveys (also at St. Clement Fye Bridge). St. Peter stands within the right spandrel and the left spandrel contains a figure with a rosary and a shield with 3 hedgehogs. The hedgehogs are a mystery. On churches dedicated to St. Peter, it is not uncommon to see an inverted cross somewhere since that represents Peter's manner of execution, but there are none on SPP; an occasional conspiracy theory is that this is a symbol of witchcraft

The west door, similar to the north door (above) also shows evidence of the raising of the graveyard from the Black Plague. Between 25 March 1666 and 24 March 1667, 390 people were buried in SPP's churchyard. 266 of these were buried between July and September, with 113 during the first three weeks of August.

A lofty and, again, plain interior is presided over by a magnificent reredos, although this is overpowered by a shockingly incongruous Victorian window.

Successful photos of the reredos are interrupted by the presence of a boxing ring. I am slightly concerned about a flailing body going into the artwork, but... this worry seems to be unique to my feeble and conservationally-unskilled mind.

At the center above the image of The Last Supper, are the crossed keys of St. Peter, and four shields along the same level represent the other churches which had been incorporated into the parish by the 19th century, when the reredos was installed and the medieval church was 'improved' by the Victorians. As Nick says their modus operandi was to 'restore' churches to how they were in the Middle Ages -- Victorian opinion being if churches had not looked like that, then they damn well should have. *titter at the victorians*

The highlight of the interior is considered to be the tomb of Richard and Elizabeth (nee, Hobart [alt. spelling,  Hubbard]) Berney. An interesting description of the tomb is listed at this link under St. Peter Per Mountergate (completely incorrect spelling). The tomb is enclosed in a plywood box, and is not terribly easy to view from angles other than the door next to Richard and Elizabeth's pillows on their 4-poster bed.

Elizabeth's father commissioned the tomb in 1623 after her death, and it has on its top an impressive array of acceptable post-Reformation images: Faith, Hope, Charity and Time. Images of saints were not allowed after Henry VIII's vandals chiseled out most remnants of pre-divorce art across the country. The theological Virtues could apparently still be personified with no suspicions of idolatry, despite their being freely used in earlier papist art. (It is important to note that the other traditional 7 virtues, the Cardinal Virtues, can have vice in their extremes.)

Hope (L, above) is pictured with an anchor.

Faith (R) holds a book, possibly Holy Writ.

Charity is surrounded by children.

The three Virtues are surmounted by winged Time, holding the scythe of Death and standing above an hourglass.

Another interesting sight/site is right down the street from SPP, next door to Dragon Hall.

We noticed it on our walk down King Street, and I always thought it was a part of Dragon Hall, only ever having seen it at night. And the fact that it is boarded up completely escaped my notice before. The criss-cross brickwork shows that it was constructed by a wealthy individual or family.

The unfortunate installation of the atrocious ground-floor shop front was perpetrated in the 1960s.

This was the Boleyn House. As in the family of Anne. It's current state is a travesty.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Yes, I know it is not Tuesday Morning.

But this past Wednesday, I had a rather surreal string of thought:

  1. Three Tuesdays ago, I was asked to go to Bangkok on the Thursday for an ill colleague.
  2. Two Tuesdays ago, Emirates was zooming me back from Bangkok.
  3. This past Tuesday, National Express (this term is used loosely) East Anglia was dawdling me back from 3 1/2 days in London (only 2 for work).
  4. And next Tuesday, I will be sweating in Mexico City (or Mexico Kitty, for those who might like to participate in global feline-related humour).
  5. Then, the Tuesday following will be in Monterrey (Mexico) -- could we get away with Miaownterrey?.
  6. Returning to the Sceptred Isle the Tuesday after that.
  7. [One whole week home]
  8. And everyone knows what fun Tuesdays are in Dallas-Ft. Worth for the week after that.
  9. And then back home for at least 3 Tuesdays!

(must go finish The Pack. 5.30am taxi and feel need to prevent flapping, frantic behaviour throughout entire day since also attending lecture and hope to see snowdrops at Old Keswick Hall.)

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Entre chien et loup

'Entre chien et loup' is a French phrase signifying the period of time between dusk and dark, when dogs and wolves are difficult to distinguish.

It also spawned the title of the most recently released English translation of Irene Nemirovsky -- The Dogs and the Wolves (originally published in 1940, presumably just before it became illegal for Jews to be employed in France). Sandra Smith, the translator, spoke on Friday night at the Forum in Norwich, which coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and also slightly with the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Berkinau (27 January) -- where Nemirovsky died on 17 August 1942. One month and 4 days after her arrest.

Only since living on this side of the Atlantic, has my selective isolationist brain absorbed that there was war (outside the story-telling world of textbook knowledge) prior to Pearl Harbor. The hardship that Europe underwent has become much more real; words cannot really describe.

Suite Francaise was, I believe, the first of her work to be translated into English and is only a portion of what was to have been a book of 5 parts. It was untouched for decades since one of her daughters thought the manuscript was her diary and left it in the suitcase with which the children had been sent away into hiding. It is a contemporary view of life in occupied France, and in her optimism, she planned to describe through to the end of the war.

It is an impressive and incredibly brave book; my copy can be borrowed from Judith.

My next reading assignments to myself (in addition to various Spanish vocabulary lists for my Tuesday night class) are my Friday purchases: The Dogs and the Wolves, Fire in the Blood, and the new biography of The Life of Irene Nemirovsky, which is not released until 1 March (quite excited re: advanced reading). And I will also be venturing into an attempt to read a shorter Nemirovsky in French, as Ms. Smith recommended to me. Busy, busy, busy (a la Oma)!

Keeping busy hopefully delays the onset of dusk and the impact that has on one's awareness.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Worm. Charming.

And in today's lesson, boys and girls, we shall all be introduced to the phenomenon called Worm Charming.

Of course, we are all well-aware that the study of worms is known as Oligochaetology (oh-lee-go-kett-ah-luh-gee); but then there are people who do more than study. Some get quite involved... since 1980.

They have an International Committee.

It is called the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes (IFCWAP, for short).

Their 18 rules have been translated. Into 30 languages, including Tibetan.

There are 4 primary techniques: twanging, twickling, tweaking, and twacking.

Twanging is simply inserting a garden fork into the ground and 'waggling' it back and forth; twickling involves a rotation of said garden fork; tweaking uses a long-handled fork; and finally (my favourite) twacking, in which the charmer strikes the ground with the fork and uses the handle as a sort of tuning fork.

This (w)hole (titter) phenomenon was started by a headmaster from Cheshire and the first world record was held by a miracle-worker named Mr. Shufflebotham (titter, titter). However, it is no longer Mr. Shufflebotham who holds the world record for being Mr. Charming... a 10-year old upstart seems to have snatched it from his talented fork in 2009.

.Thousands of people attend their annual international competition. Peut-etre une plan pour certaine de les gens qui journey across L'Atlantique cette summer? Je pense que oui.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Just Another Day at the Office...

It is a nice compliment, or consolation, to yesterday's impression of Une Pincushion to a) have managed to dress nicely for work and b) to be reminded that The Prince is visiting when you get there. Prince Charles, that is.

He is the patron of the School of Environmental Sciences. So he was visiting, possibly to see what was the cause of all the CRU email-hacking row and scandal (which managed to get UEA in the news even in lil' ole' Bossier City). I would venture to propose that it might be the fact that ineptitude and the hiring of unskilled monkeys seems the order of the day in IT, but... who knows for certain? Surely the fact that hired consultants were able to hack into the system was completely an aberration.

Being pro-Royalist (in a most un-Colonial manner), it seemed like a necessary excursion from the office to toddle the 25 yards around the corner to stand in the freezing cold behind a barricade made of plastic chain. My amazement at all of this (besides slight giddiness at having my first royal-spotting) was the perceived lightness of security. Yes, there were some Springer Spaniels wriggling over parts of campus today (I want one... hint, hint) and there were also a few police walking around with mirrors, looking under buildings, but...

Having been fortunate enough to observe President Clinton's visit to Barksdale from the vantage point of the air traffic control tower and to attend a Presidential debate in 2004, it was shocking that people could just wander up randomly -- half the wanderers not even knowing why they couldn't walk that way to their lectures. I cautiously went back to the office and put my handbag back since I was sure there would be bag searches. There was no frisking. There was no guard-type bloke observing to see if you looked shifty.

Nope. Nada. Walk on in; stand right there; baby, let your hair hang down (it is best anyway, as this warms the ears).

The cool bit of this was that I was literally one person away from him as he walked past, and he was honestly gentle, soft-spoken, and observant and thoughtful in his questions of people. Not at all up his own backside. I rather liked him and shall purchase Duchy Originals when I can afford them. :)

This was all quite lovely in a civilised (and yet, cold) sort of way, but the tragedy of it is that we do not live in a civlised world. Not at all. If it were my event to organise, I would have gone mildly deranged with a week of orchestrated security checks; there would have been a lock-down of campus; and bag searches.  

But then, he is not really my Prince yet -- dual-citizenship being a few years and a few thousand £s down the trundling road... *sigh*