Saturday, 31 October 2015

Happy Halloween!

It is Halloween! Or as I like to say it (in my spooky voice) 'All Hallooooooow's Eve!' London is especially spooky tonight. It is shrouded in at thick fog and since I did not pay enough attention in Geography class, I have no idea what science / weather combination-thingy would cause such a phenomenon. But I can say it has been quite a while since I have seen such white and dense fog in my hometown. And makes my familiar streets and parks look creepy as hell.

Today we spent the afternoon and evening watching the Rugby World Cup final (well done New Zealand All Blacks!) with my parents. Mr C deftly explained the finer points of rugby to my father, who exclaimed repeatedly, 'It just looks like chaos to me!' After talking up a storm about every subject known to man (as we usually do with my family) and consuming chicken kiev with rice and a bowl of impossibly large grapes, we embarked on the short drive home and out into the night of spooky fog. Fog has a strange effect. It seems to elongate all the light from the street lamps, the sidewalks look soft and the trees appear fuzzy. The night seems darker, velvet black and more rich and even more frightening. Perfect for Halloween. It did not help that at every bus stop, young people in terrifying costumes and painted in fake blood congregated, drunk and merry, waiting for a bus to take them home. Any costume you can think of, we saw as we drove past. Dead nurses, several werewolves, a couple of suave Draculas and even, what appeared to be, a version of the Disney character Maleficent. They stepped out into traffic, caught in the beams of foggy headlights like terrifying and malevolent local wildlife. One drunk teenager dressed as a dead Power Ranger stumbled across a zebra crossing. 'I hope he gets home safe.' I thought, like the concerned adult that I am. I think my dressing up and getting drunk days may be over.
Our neighbours really went to town with Halloween decorations this year. Traditionally I think Halloween is much more of an American celebration. I seem to remember reading a while ago that Halloween actually has Christian and Celtic roots, but the commercialisation of the holiday is definitely an American trend. When I was a child in the UK, very few people decorated their houses or went trick or treating. But recently us Brits have been embracing the spooky festive traditions and the supermarkets are full of candy to give to local children dressed as ghouls knocking on doors. We drove passed several houses and flats that were decorated in the most elaborate and creepy manner. One house even had a huge spider the size of a large double window on the side of the building. In the dark with the fog, the decorations looked even more real. Both Mr C and I did a double take as we passed by the huge black arachnid decoration. After we got home and scurried past a row of fake skulls hanging across our neighbors' doorway, we made ourselves cups of chamomile tea and settled down to warm up in bed. Unfortunately I was distracted from my warm and comfortable duvet by the local urban fox.

We have a local fox. In fact it is probably more than one, since the fox I saw tonight looks larger than the one I saw a few months ago. Our living room window looks directly out on to the street outside and over a small area of shrubs and bushes that is fenced off. It is land that belongs to the council but is extremely overgrown and no one goes in it or does anything with it. The local cats often go in there, mooch about and sometimes fight over it. In recent years I been observing the local foxes travel through it in the direction of the bins outside our apartment block. They love to investigate our rubbish, tear open our bin bags and drag our garbage all down the street and across the pavements. As annoying as this is, I still cannot get over the thrill of seeing such a beautiful and large wild animal so up close. The foxes never look up at our window, so they never see me starring at them and because this little patch of wilderness is blocked off from the street, people are always walking by in the dark and not looking over the hedge. They have no idea that less than a metre away a massive fox is just behind a fence starring out at them with dark glittering eyes in the shrouded shadows. The only times I have ever seen any humans behind this fence, was when a local council employee came to dump some rubbish in a big wheelie bin and then also when a few years ago, one sunny afternoon, a teenage boy took a teenage girl behind the bins to kiss her repeatedly.

Watching the foxes at night is magical. You rarely ever see a fox in London during the day. I have seen foxes in daylight only twice in 28 years and then it was from a long distance away (one fox was trotting beside some train tracks and the other time, I was in a car in traffic and the fox appeared in the upstairs window of an abandoned building beside the road). Urban foxes seem so large, but they move so lightly and quickly. They make very little sound as they trot through the streets. They don't seem to frightened of us, just a little wary. The bigger ones have thick coats and long bushy tails. The younger ones look lean and hungry and skittish. They live in the same city as us, all around us, but they are like pale orange ghosts that we only glimpse at briefly during the night. My lovely local fox felt like more like the real spirit of Halloween than a hundred Draculas or skeletons.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Mid-Week Video: Monthly Bleeding is a Luxury

It is that time again! Time for the Mid-Week Video. This week it is MP Stella Creasy (British Labour Co-operative politician who has been Member of Parliament for the London constituency of Walthamstow since 2010) speaking out against Tampons and sanitary towels being classed as 'luxury' items and so are not applicable to a zero tax rating. 

Because of course, bleeding each month is a luxury for every woman and we enjoy spending our hard-earned cash (which can be less than the hard-earned cash of our male colleagues according to gender pay gap statistics in the UK) on material to staunch the flow. And talking about this is confusing for everyone. Because periods and menstruation are an embarrassing and dirty subject that all women should keep quiet about. We should all talk about our boobs instead, Boobs never offended anyone. They used to be displayed on Page 3 of one our national newspapers for a better part of 30 years. Boobs are fine. Unless they are being used to feed babies in public places. Then they must be put away. 

Enough sarcasm for one day? Watch the video and let me know what YOU think.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Mid-Week Video: The Future is Now!

So today is the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled Back to the Future (in the second movie of the franchise)! To mark the occasion, Doc Brown delivered this sweet little motivational video. The future is what you make it folks, the crazy-haired Doc is right!

Tonight, Mr C and I traveled back in time (probably to the 1950s or 60s) by having a very retro dinner of Fish Pie and Peas and Jelly and Custard for desert.

Happy Mid-Week everyone!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Weekend of Japanese and Judaism

My name in Japanese...
It is a lazy Sunday evening, I am listening to Classic FM and drinking peppermint tea. My neighbor has just set off some fireworks and giddy like children, Mr C and I ran to window to watch them bloom brightly high up in the night sky. It has been an eventful weekend. Today we went to the Language Show at the Kensington Olympia exhibition hall. We were both curious to see if we might want to study another language some time soon. There were hundreds of stalls of people advertising language courses, centres, teaching materials and language learning apps and programmes. There was a talk from interpreters from the EU Parliament and EU Commission, which was very interesting and I learned how to write my name in Japanese. I bought a small ink stamp that said 'Wunderbar!' and portrayed a tiny man jumping for joy in lederhosen. I think it is meant for German language teachers but I fully intend to use it everywhere: on letters, on envelopes, in notebooks and on wrapping paper at Christmas. Because everything should 'Wunderbar' if possible.

At around 2pm, after consuming a turkey and brie sandwich, Mr C and I headed over to the seminar section to sit in a taster Japanese language lesson. There is only so much Japanese you can learn in 40 minutes, but we thought we would give it a try. The lesson was taught by a middle-aged Japanese woman who did not exactly have a firm grasp on the English language herself. She also shouted into a microphone while standing approximately 2 metres away from us. It was 15 minutes of sitting in the path of a incredibly loud hurricane of Japanese vocabulary and grammar. The audience began to find her more amusing than instructive and there were quite a few giggles across the rows of seats as everyone tried to vainly express themselves in basic Japanese. After 20 minutes or so, Mr C leaned across and whispered in my ear, 'I only have so much time left on this planet and I can't waste any more of it in this session. Can we go?' We slunk away out of the room and went to hang out by a stall promoting the German language.

On the way home we accidentally took the wrong train and ended up on the fast train to East Croydon (which is a few miles out of our way). My husband Mr C practically had a stroke from the frustration of watching our home station whizz by in a blur as the train sped on. I just sat back and tried to enjoy our little detour. It could have been worse. A recent news item about two elderly friends caught my eye. They accidentally caught the wrong train after a day out in London and ended up on the fast train all the way to York in the North of England! At least we did not end up going that far out of our way.
On the way back into town from East Croydon (we had to travel all the way back to Clapham to catch a train out again to our station - so we essentially passed our home on the train twice without being able to get off the train), we had to change carriages as the train was extra long and the platform at our station was short. So as we stumbled about the carriages trying to make our way down the train, the carriage jerked suddenly and I ended up falling on top of a seated passenger. She was gracious about it, but embarrassingly, I pretty much landed right her lap. Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home despite having only traveled around 5 miles. That is London for you; short distances made longer than they really should be....

Earlier in the weekend Mr C and I attended his step-sister's Bat Mizvah. I have actually been to a Bat Mizvah before. Last year in fact. I attended his other step-sister, Gabby's Bat Mizvah. This year, it was Misha's turn. She has just turned 13 and is all tall, graceful and shy. I remember her as a cute 7 year old, so it was quite emotional watching her sing from the Torah in front of the whole congregation of the local Synagogue. She sang beautifully and was very poised. It was a long service as it contained two Bat Mizvah's, a blessing for a new baby and a celebration of a man turning 70. I am not Jewish, but I did enjoy the morning. It is nice to see a community come together and all the traditions they share. Having a little bit more knowledge of Judaism this time around (last year I was totally nervous and clueless) made the experience a lot more fun and interesting. The community seems very close, harmonious and friendly during the Shabbat service. Although there was some excitable gossiping that went on after the service as everyone took part in the Kiddish and a little bit of tension among some of the families. I suppose that the all communities have their friendships, families, squabbles and tensions.

It left me wondering, what community could I belong to? What community would I ever bring any children into?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Taking Stock In September / October

Phew! It has been a busy couple of weeks! I finally have found a little time to write. I did lots of work from home and my finances this morning, I did two loads of laundry, wrote two postcards to friends, signed a new tenancy agreement (so I can rent in the same property for another year), looked through the photos taken on a recent holiday to Cambridge in the UK, read two chapters of my bookclub book, drank two cups of coffee, did a grocery shop and flossed my teeth. Thanks to my husband Mr C cooking dinner (he is currently checking on jacket potatoes roasting in the oven) I can take a little time to focus a bit on my creative writing hobby.I can now let my fingers fly across the keyboard. Fly little fingers! Fly!

Except now my mind is..well...a little blank...I have been trying to write short stories lately. Maybe the occasional poem. The problem is I actually have a lot of writing projects on the go at the moment (I blog for two organisations as a volunteer and I am currently engaged in writing up summaries of two oral history projects that I interviewed people for. Plus I have my two 'fun' extracurricular blogs to update!). I also normally spend so much time rushing around, that when I stop and sit still to do some creative writing, I find myself sleepy or blank. So I have been trying to slow it down and notice my surroundings more. I walk slower in the Tube (against the rush of commuters clamoring to get past and in front of me) and try to concentrate on one thing at a time both at work and at home. It is difficult in this day and age of constant interruptions and distractions. Emails, text messages, phone calls, events to go to, people to see, chores to be done, places to be. I have plenty of ideas for stories, I just can't seem to find the time and when I do, I can't concentrate. But the urge to write is strong and ignoring it only makes me miserable and frustrated.This afternoon I finally got the chance to do some short story writing and managed to put a few paragraphs down on paper. It is just a start, but who knows where it will take me!

Anyway, I said the last two weeks have been busy, but it was not all chores! So I decided to take stock...(I got this excellent idea of compiling my random life into digestible chunks by reading the excellent crafty blog Meet Me at Mikes):

Making: A huge knitted blanket. For winter. Although at the moment it is just three large woolen rectangles (one cream, one navy blue and one banana yellow). I better get a move on since it is now October and our flat has suddenly just got colder. Ned Stark would definitely have something to say about this...

Cooking: I made chocolate Fridge Cake using a recipe from Waitrose. I added fudge, just because obviously dark chocolate, golden syrup and honeycomb is not sugary enough. I fed it to my husband, best friend Natalie and my parents. That's me, spreading around the love and risk of diabetes.

Drinking: Lots of coffee! Starbucks has started serving their Pumpkin Spiced Latte again.  My Scully mug is what I drink coffee out of when I am home. I combine Scifi coffee drinking with reading about Scandinavia...perfect combination!

Writing: Not much unfortunately (except lots and lots of lists of things I need to do), but I did write a post about the X Files revival... - because, it is some of the biggest news to happen to the world of Scifi since..well..ever!

Reading: Jerusalem by Guy Delisle for my bookclub. It is a graphic travelogue of one man's experience of the Middle East. After our bookclub meeting on Monday, we decided on the next book which is Gut by Giulia Enders, so I will start reading that shortly. Horrifyingly I found my old University diary, so I have been reading a bit of that too.

Eating: This month has been a pretty amazing one for food so far. I had dinner with my father in a very nice restaurant called Joe Allen's and while spending a few days in Cambridge, my husband and I ate in a restaurant called Cocum. it served Keralan cuisine which was delicious. I have also treated myself twice to sandwiches from my favourite lunch place near work. The cafe is called Lincolns and is run by a small South American family. They have a huge sandwich toaster. They basically toast everything they make and are evidence to the fact that all sandwiches taste better toasted. In fact, everything probably tastes better toasted.

Wanting: One of these amazing lamps

Looking: Last week at two women on the Tube who happened to be wearing the same jacket and accidentally ended up sitting next to each other. Amusingly both of them were horrified that they matched and moved seats! Also earlier this month I watched 10 young men dressed as Saint George wander down the road off to watch the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham. It pays to keep your eyes pealed in London. You never know what you might see.

Playing: At being an oral historian! I have started interviewing everyone everywhere! I interviewed a security guard the other day, a sales assistant in Sainsbury's and two weeks ago I struck up a conversation with a train guard at Clapham Junction. He noticed my new jacket which I bought at the Africa Utopia festival at the Southbank. It was made by an Anglo-African company in Camden. It very nicely clashes withe everything else I own and almost any pattern on any seat on UK public transport. The Clapham train guard was from Africa and he recognised the fabric pattern, we got talking and he ended up telling me about the 50 trains of commuters that he deals with each day. He also told me the worst job he ever had was being a train guard at Wandsworth Common because it was such a quiet station and so colossally boring. He then yelled at the man standing next to me to get behind the yellow line on the platform.

Clashing on the Victoria Line
Deciding: To take more holidays and mini breaks more often. I often work until I am exhausted and stressed and so spend most of my well-earned holiday sleeping.

Wishing: I could visit this museum in Lyon!

Enjoying: Petting local cats. A particularly soft and fluffy youngster lives near my parents and she trots up for some adoration whenever she sees me.

Waiting: For Arne Dahl to return for a 2nd series on the BBC.

Swedish Crime Fighters looking prepared
Liking: Eating lunch with my friend Natalie at Whitecross Market. I had a huge pulled pork wrap and then wandered around the Barbican.

Down this street is a whole host of food stalls...

Wondering: Why a guy, trying to get spare change from passer-bys, continues to create tiny boats out of sand and plastic flowers on the pavement near Waterloo Station, during rush hour, when no one ever gives him any money.

And how this Weather Reporter managed to pronounce this Welsh place name:

You gotta love the Welsh and their names.....

Loving: The fact that last weekend I could stand outside on my balcony and watch a children's science-themed birthday party on the street below. They were learning how to make rockets and their noise was delightful. I recorded a small sample. Recording noises is now my new hobby.

Pondering: Am I losing my hair? It does feel thinner. And strands of it does come out on my hairbrush...would I look okay if I was bald? I do have a bowler hat with cat ears on it, so I might be okay...

Considering: Going to the London Feminism Conference this month....

Buying: My new Zatchel. It is bright orange and came from a charity shop.

So bright you can see it from outer space
Watching: Munich (a very good, but very sad film), The X Files (of course!) and I Wish (Japanese Film, that was really lovely and sweet and made me homesick for Japan).

Hoping: For more time to write. And perhaps the ability to someday do without 8 hours sleep, so I have more time to write when the world is quiet.

Marvelling: At the music students at the Barbican intensively practicing their various different instruments in their practice rooms and mushrooms growing out of paving stones near my parents' flat.

Cringing: About having spinach in my front teeth from a batch of homemade pesto. It was in between my two front teeth all day long and no one said anything.

Needing: To start actually mediating for peace of mind and exercising for a better fitness level.

Questioning: Why on earth can the US not impose some stricter gun control laws! After the most recent shooting Oregon, even the shooter's father was arguing for more gun control! An interesting article on school shootings in the US was published recently in the New Yorker.

Meeting: My new work colleague and taking an instant liking to her and wanting to be her friend, Also meeting a whole chapter of the new Women's Equality Party in a pub in South London.

Smelling: Not much, I have a rotten cold.

Wearing: Alternating my new badges: (all made by this lovely lady -

Autumn Girl badge
Magical Coffee badge
Mulder and Scully badges
Following: Very British Problems ( - favourite problem this week (now that supermarkets have started charging 5p per plastic bag in the UK):

Realising you've got about fifty grand's worth of plastic bags under your kitchen sink.

Noticing: How beautiful London is in the evening (around dusk) from the top of a double decker bus on Waterloo Bridge.

Knowing: My neighbor is sick. Because I can hear her hacking cough every evening in the flat below. Surprisingly her boyfriend does not stop smoking because I can smell that too....

Thinking: Lots of things. Far too many thoughts. I have a very busy brain that is far too overactive. But here are just a few thoughts that were quite prominent in my mind recently...
  • How much I dislike Theresa May and her anti-immigration speech during the Conservative Party Conference (especially liked this article about it).
  • How Cambridge University (as lovely as it looked in the Autumn sunshine) is really just one giant educational club that excludes everyone who does not belong to it...and that then echoes afterwards in to the workplace...and it has been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years
  • How ridiculous and prevalent social media has become in our world and everyday life when 'de-friending' someone on Facebook could have been considered workplace bullying. Luckily a tribunal in Australia ruled that such an action was not workplace bullying in itself...

Admiring: King's College Chapel and its wonderful choir of choir boys during Evensong.

A Ceiling to remember...
Sorting: There is so much sorting to be done (where to live, what career to have, what story to write, what to do with all my craft materials, how to organise my time), that I am not sure it is even worth mentioning all the sorting in any detail, unless the detail has been sorted beforehand....deep sigh...

Surfing: The Net, when I should be doing better things. How else would I find Cats in Kimonos? (the cats look mightily unimpressed)

Getting: Totally behind on housework. The crappy slime green 70s carpet in my rented flat is covered in lint and needs to be vacuumed.

Bookmarking: Feminist Disney and this woman's excellent art blog on tumblr

Coveting: My husband's good circulation. He is always warm. I just get colder and colder in the winter...especially my feet...

Making the most of the warmth of the other person who occupies your bed
Disliking: Having a cold. Cough, Splutter, Sneeze.

Opening: A bag of sweet potato chips and then almost eating the entire bag in one sitting. Ugh.

Giggling: There is always time for a good giggle. Things that have made me giggle recently are:
  • My husband being loved up by a sausage dog in the park while doing some press-ups. Apparently the tiny dog came up and started enthusiastically nuzzling his ear.
  • Brian Blessed delivering a baby. In the 1960s. In Richmond Park. Probably the most frightening birth story ever. But give the man an 'A' for effort and enthusiasm.
  • My boss sending me this photo of her kitten sleeping in the most awkward sleep position:

The 'draping myself over a cliff' sleep position
Feeling: Tired.Very tired. As usual. Better get that 8 hours sleep!

Snacking: On Avocado Hummus. Absolutely amazing. God bless the Chickpea and it's friend the shapely Avocado...

Helping: To write summaries for over 40 hours of recordings for an Oral History Archive for a London university. An Epic amount to do! WHEN will I FIND the TIME?! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Planning: On taking the train more, rather than the Underground. On the train I can look out of the window and feel exactly like this:

I am on an adventure!
Hearing: The Friday Night Comedy Podcast from the BBC (The News Quiz) - literally the most funny radio programme on the radio at the moment. For their take on new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn listen here. I listen to it every Friday on my iPhone without fail and sometimes I even listen to it again on my way to work on Monday morning to make myself feel more cheerful about the start of another working week.

Listening: To Youth by Daughter. Lovely little tune.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Laughing at Restrictive Attitudes to Women's Reproductive Choices

So there is a little bit of a problem across the pond with birth control. Well actually more specifically the organisation, Planned Parenthood in the USA. President Cecile Richards had to defend the organisation in front of members of Congress this week. Following this news story and reading about what appears to be the 'one step forward, two steps back' progress of gender equality in American health care, is something of a hobby of mine, I have always been interested in women's' rights and in recent years I have spent more time reading up on the state of gender equality in countries across the world. Here's a hint: it is pretty crap. And unequal.

There are several differences between the UK and the USA when it comes to birth control. The biggest one being, in the UK you can get most forms of birth control prescribed from your doctor for free. In fact when I was in secondary school, a nurse at my local GP surgery offered me a handful of condoms from what looked like a bread basket in her office, despite my insistence that I did not have a boyfriend and I was not interested in procuring one any time soon. I am sure there are a fair amount of people in the US who would shudder at this idea. In the USA, your access to birth control differs depending in which state you live in, how much money you have, what your health insurance says and sometimes even your workplace health care policy. In fact in 2014, the Supreme Court decided that for-profit corporations may offer insurance plans to female employees that do not cover contraception, by the rationale that the owners may hold that certain contraceptives violate their religious beliefs. So in other words if your boss thinks that you having sex for fun is against god's plan, then you probably won't be able to get the pill for free through your employee health insurance.

I find this insane. Obviously this is just my own opinion and as usual, you can take it or leave it, but I believe that women being able to control their own bodies, especially their own fertility is fundamental to securing great gender equality...everywhere. When a woman can control when and how she wants to have a baby, a whole bunch of new opportunities open up to her. She can choose to work, she can choose to travel, she can choose her own sexual partners and she can also choose never to have children if she so wishes. And if you don't care so much about doing what is morally right for women's freedom, why not use the financial argument...the added bonus that contraceptive use saves almost 19 billion US dollars in direct medical costs in America each year.

I have always found that when you want to express how truly ridiculous something is, the best way is to mock it. You can shout, you can argue, you can fume (and I do indeed to all three sometimes) but you can often get your point across much more effectively by exposing the flaws in a system by using comedy. Sharp comedy. Dark comedy, but a mocking form of criticism all the same. Earlier this week a feminist friend of mine sent me the below video:

You can click on the link above which will take you to the Buzzfeed site where you can watch the video. Go on! It is only a few minutes and has a cracking ending.

I love this video for so many reasons. It has Amy Schumer in it, who is a very successful female comedian in an industry where it is hard for women to succeed. It shows how women's health is often in the hands of men who have little or no experience or knowledge of such issues. It pokes fun at the idea that having sex for fun should not be something that women deserve or want. And it makes a tiny reference to how stupid America's gun laws are. Letting women control their own reproduction? No, that would be a step too far! Letting children play with hand guns? No problem! Fire away!

Many people in America have criticised this video claiming that it is not hard for them to secure birth control, but the point is, it is not the same for everyone throughout the country and whether or not you can get the pill free or you have to pay money towards a subscription, the video is a comedic social commentary on people’s restrictive attitudes toward women’s reproductive choices, including birth control. And on that note, I want to draw your attention to the below photo:

1917, almost a hundred years ago....
This photo is of Margaret Sanger, a prominent birth control activist, leaving a courthouse in New York in 1917. Margaret Sanger was an American birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse. Sanger popularised the term 'birth control' and opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in 1916. That was almost a hundred years ago. Are we really STILL going to have to argue for this reproductive right? Are we STILL having THIS conversation?