Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The foot of our stairs

There was a phrase popular when I was at school: 'Steps back in amazement' indicating one's surprise at something. My favourite, however, has always been 'well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs', meaning the same thing. It is with these phrases in mind that I contemplate the emergence of ebooks.

For someone who loves books with the fervency usually reserved for lovers, chocolate or small children, I am surprised at how much I love ebooks. I have always loved walking into a book store and savouring the aroma of new paper; better still, the musty smell found only in those sanctuaries of ancient books, the second hand bookstore. But yesterday I walked into Borders and didn't pick up a single book. My daughter enquires incredulously, 'aren't you buying anything?' and I can only reply, 'I don't need to, I have Kindle on my ipad'. It's as if I have visited one of those Victorian spas and 'taken the waters'. 'I am cured' I want to shout, I am now immune to the wiles of Borders, Magrudys, Waterstones.

One of the chief attractions, of course, is the price. I recently bought the paper copy of the booker prize winner, The Finkler Question and it cost about 80 aed (15GBP); the ebook is 3.49GBP on amazon! Furthermore, there is the seduction of being able to  'have it now'. Anyone reading this will know that I am not the most patient of people, so waiting three weeks for Amazon to post a book out to me leaves me wandering the house in my dressing gown, growling at anyone who comes near me and repeatedly re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole in an effort to remain calm.

So, I thank you wholeheartedly, Father Christmas, for introducing this ameliorative to an addict. I may now hold my head a little higher in polite society, safe in the knowledge that I am cured of my addiction to the paperback.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A helping Hand for Menfolk

I thought it would only to be fair to give the husbands/boyfriends a helping hand this Christmas and demystify some of the urban myths when it comes to buying a Christmas gift for a wife or girlfriend. So, in the true spirit of the season, here are a few helpful hints.

1. Lingerie, for which YOU will receive the benefit, is not a Christmas present
2. Never, never, ask your mother to advise on a Christmas present for your wife/girlfriend
3.  For your own personal safety, never buy household equipment as a gift (especially knives if you were thinking of fathering any children)
4. Gift vouchers, chocolates and perfume say 'I couldn't be bothered to think of anything else' so don't go there
5. A woman likes to choose her own clothes (remember at all times, that your taste in clothes is flawed and your opinion, uncalled for)
6. DVDs of action films that YOU want to watch are not Christmas presents
7. Weekends away which include a round of golf, tickets to the local football match or an exotic holiday that just happens to coincide with the location of the World Cup, are not suitable.
8.No, your wife/girlfriend does not want a copy of the Kama Sutra (because this suggests that either she, or indeed you, need instructions)
9.Don't listen to the three wise men: Gold is Ok so long as it is accompanied by number 10: Frankinsence is perfume (see 4 above) and Myrr is used in mouth wash (nice!)
10. And one final hint: they don't say DIAMONDS are a girl's best friend for nothing!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Art of Grandparenting

Grandparents (affectionately referred to as 'the Elderlies') have a tendency to believe that grandchildren are always 8 years old and never grow any older. This leads to the belief that zoos, pantomines and trips to feed the ducks will always fascinate. Hmm. The unfortunate thing for the Elderlies is that reality hits them hard when the grandchildren come to stay and what arrives is a surly, uncommunicative, teenage angst ridden individual with odd clothes and an even odder manner.

So, when we pitched up at the grandparents for a long stay this summer, I thought it best to prepare them in advance with a 'few rules to live by' when dealing with the older grandchild.

1. The grandchild, hereafter known as 'the evil one', communicates only through the interpreter (the mother).
2. Under no circumstances should you try to communicate with the evil one in the morning. The evil one doesn't do mornings.
3. Any communication with the evil one will illicit a response of 'uh' or if you are lucky: 'whatever'. This does not represent any failing on your part, nor indicate a lack of affection toward you.
4. Anything that you suggest doing, eating or wearing will be ignored or will illicit a response of 'no way'. Best to keep your ideas to yourself.
5. You should remember at all times that you know nothing: never have and never will.
6. Watching television all day long is normal behaviour for the evil one. Any attempt to break said routine will result in heavy sighing, stamping of feet and a retreat to the evil one's lair: the bedroom.
7. The evil one has selected hearing (if the grandchild is male then this extends into adulthood). All instructions or important information must be conveyed several times, preferably in writing.
8. An Ipod, attached to the ears by earphones at all times, is standard attire for the evil one.
9. Common vocabulary used by the evil one is translated as follows: Random (this means 'startling'), standard (again, an expression of surprise), Whatever (this reponse is used for pretty much everything), awesome ( an adjective describing anything good, this will, of course, never be used in reference to the elderlies, the mother, or any other member of the immediate family).
10. And lastly for your own personal safety, or to make sure that you don't wake tomorrow morning with your eyebrows shaved off, the evil one goes to bed when she/he decides, not when you decide.

Following these simple rules will enable you to continue to enjoy the company of your grandchild. Have fun!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


This is the time of year when many people leave the UAE, either to visit their home Country, or for good. Repatriation is an issue for many, bearing in mind that the lifestyle here is vastly different from the one we have been used to living in our home Country. Here in the UAE for example, it is commonplace to work extremely long hours or to be available to your employer over the weekend. But this hard work is rewarded with benefits like employing live in servants, having the money to indulge your hobbies like scuba diving, flying or eating out in very expensive restaurants. There is of course, constant debate here about people who take the lifestyle too seriously, gaining delusions of grandeur which need to be shaken off before repatriating and returning to former lifestyles.

In this vein, I propose a repatriation course for those returning to their home Country, who wish to be prepared. Modules will include but will not be restricted to the following:

1. Supermarket shopping, covering:
  • What is a supermarket and how to shop
  • Parking in an empty parking space that is a short distance away, instead of hovering for 20 minutes, blocking the traffic, until the person parked nearest the door leaves
  • Packing your own shopping and loading it into your car yourself
  • Locating the 'pork section' amongst the normal aisles
  • Putting shopping into cupboards at home
2. Home Duties, covering:
  • Identification of household equipment and its uses
  • Vacuuming, polishing and washing - why bother?
  • The iron and ironing board - what are they used for?
  • How to converse with your own children
  • How to walk your own dog
3. Courtesy and how to use it, covering:
  • Please and thank you - what do they mean?
  • why all people in your home Country are treated equally
  • Queuing
  • And (if returning to the UK) advanced queuing
4. Driving (this is a compulsory module for men but optional for women):
  • the rude hand gesture and how to use it to enhance the driving experience
  • Indicators and what they are used for
  • Roundabouts - WTF?
  • Actually stopping at a junction
  • Changing lanes without causing the death of other drivers
  • Why driving on two wheels on a motorway is illegal
The course is in the preparatory stages and any suggestions for additional modules are welcomed.

Monday, 13 December 2010

All this talk of ennui...

All this talk of ennui had me thinking that I need to read more. I read, but the effort tends to be sporadic. I can read a book in an afternoon and then not read anything for three weeks. I should also broaden my horizons...read more textbooks instead of picking up that latest Ruth Rendell and proclaiming after half and hour that I am bored with formulaic literature. So, I have decided to set myself a challenge. 52 weeks in a year: 52 books. All books will count - from the pile of six study skills textbooks on my desk to the beautifully bound classics on my arabian bookshelf at home.

So here we go, join me if you wish. This week's book is Teaching Study Skills and Supporting Learning by the lovely Stella Cottrell. Onwards and upwards...

Sunday, 12 December 2010


One of the most memorable novels from my English degree was Madame Bovary by Flaubert. It follows the exploits (and tragedy) of a woman educated above her status and condemned to a life of boredom and ennui, married to a country doctor. Flaubert's writing style sticks in the mind because he suffuses the novel with the ennui and claustrophobia felt by Emma Bovary. Many late Victorian novels and short stories deal with the issue of ennui: a cloying and choking kind of boredom that envelopes its victim in desperation and despair. Virginia Woolf, when being treated for depression, gave her doctor a copy of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in an effort to point out that more isolation and boredom was not the path to enlightenment in the treatment of depression. The Victorian woman's predicament was lack of opportunity; the prohibition from the working world. But sitting here at my desk at work, I have to ask myself whether the Victorian woman really holds the monopoly on ennui, or whether it is felt equally by the modern woman of the 21st century?

How many of us still feel this all encompassing boredom but put it down, not to lack of opportunity, but to the very nature of the choices now forced upon women as a result of modernity? How many women get up in the morning, get the kids up, drop them off at school or the childminders, go to work and do everything in the reverse order on the way home, fitting in a couple of after school activities on the way? Unlike our Victorian counterparts, we have the opportunity to work but nevertheless, cannot escape the ennui of the habitual routines of everyday living in the 21st century. It is the choices we have to make that become the harbringers of our ennui. Our boredom is entrenched in the work we do, not the lack of it.

So, when you're rushing about with the kids or working hard at that boring job, spare a thought for the Victorian lady of leisure and sigh a little in the knowledge that nothing ever really changes.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sod's Law

So, I'm writing this having had only 4 hours sleep. Why? Was I partying the night away? No. Do I have young children to keep me awake? No. Have I spent the night in a passionate embrace? Don't be ridiculous, I'm married, remember? No, I have been kept awake by Sod's law (or is it Murphy's Law?).

Just as I was drifting into oblivion at about 11.45pm, there is an almighty crash from downstairs. Why is it that sounds are intensified in the middle of the night? I thought the SAS had arrived, crashing through the patio doors! My husband of course, is on a business trip, so I wait five minutes until the terror freezing my every muscle has worn off and I stalk gingerly down the stairs. I discover that the huge picture frame hung over the dresser in the dining room decided to make a bid for freedom, launch itself at all of the china ornaments on the top of the dresser and land, ceremoniously, on the hard tiled floor in a cacophony of smashing and crashing. I manage to locate the dustpan and brush and collect the shattered pieces of handpainted biscuit jars, vases and what not, collected from numerous trips with the children to cafe ceramique, and decide that in view of the fact that I have to get up and go to work in about 5 hours, this is best left until the morning to be dealt with.

What is it with night time occurences of this kind? What, the picture couldn't fall off the wall at 7pm when I'm sitting watching the TV? Oh no, these things only take place in the dead of night when the fuck-up fairy is at her most mischevious. So, the event is right up there with the phone ringing just as you step into the bath, and getting home from the supermarket (that you have rushed to after a long day at work) to find that you have forgotten the item that you actually went in for, but now have a newly advertised brand of shampoo, two bars of chocolate (well one is NEVER enough), a novel you don't have time to read and several items that you already have in the cupboard but bought them 'just in case'.

So, here's to Murphy. Next person who sees him would you give him a slap from me!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Darkness Falling

The darkness is here. He's usually here at this time of year. And he is swiftly followed by his friend insomnia. You'd think that by the age of 40 I could see them both coming; that I would smell it in the air and move out of their way. They sit on the end of my bed at night, chatting triumphantly. You can feel the extent of their ingenuity when you wake up and realise you have been crying in your sleep.

The festive season is always accompanied by the darkness. This prompts a flurry of emails, phone calls and letters home to try and purge it, but it is to no avail. Accept, wait it out: that's all there is to be done. By January, the holiday will see them both off. Time out you see.

The trigger of course was fear: the invitation I sent to them both. I shouldn't go delving around in the past. I was looking for something and I read my journal. And there it was: something I had forgotten (Freud would say repressed, of course) a forgotten illness which, with hindsight, I can say was a MS episode. At the time of course, it was just a baffling few days of numbness. But only now does the significance of that event reveal itself. It means that the episode that put me in hospital last year was by no means the first episode, or even the second, but the third. It's as if the MS was testing itself out; practicing for the battle ahead.

So you see, it's a bit like building a snowman (an apt metaphor at the moment). You begin with something small, a minor annoyance, and then you add a little more, and you build and build until it's bigger than you.

People often describe me as a confident person; independent. So why is it that I'm certain that the drakness could be chased away by a hug from my dad. The irony would make me laugh, if I wasn't feeling quite so dark.