Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TOO MUCH RELIGION!



I can't help but feel sorry for my poor husband sometimes! I'm convinced too much religion can't be overly good for you! ;-) Brought up by a minister (his mother) and a professor of theology (his father), he'd heard of Golgotha long before he could read and wondered as a small child why his parents' toothpaste was called Golgotha, until he learned to read properly. Brought up by second generation heathens myself, I don't think I ever got round to mistaking Colgate for Golgotha! ;-) (Interestingly, my spell checker is currently underlining Golgotha, but not Colgate - heathen spell checker ;-) !)

It never really leaves you. My friend dropped by on Saturday with loads of lovely cheese and wine. I took a packet of Jacob's Savours from my pantry and we had a lovely old chinwag. The box was still on the coffee room table when Thomas walked past today. He muttered something like 'We must get another pack of those Saviours, they are really nice!' Saviours? 'Oh', he said looking closer - 'they are called 'Savours'? - it must be my upbringing!'

WINDFARM

Whitelee Windfarm by PhylB
Whitelee Windfarm, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I took the three smallest up to Whitelee for the holiday Monday afternoon.

Charlotte teenagely decided she'd rather sit alone watching TV as Thomas was working upstairs anyway and Marcel disappeared to five aside football for the entire day.

Léon and Anna really enjoyed themselves. Amaia fell asleep on the way but was woken by the wind and therefore not best pleased to be out on our trip.

When you stand under these things they make quite a sweeping sound with their blades - it sounds a bit like standing on the runway at Prestwick. I had to laugh at Anna. Every time she walked underneath one she felt it necessary to duck, as if it was really going to chop her head off!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

GREECE

oia by PhylB
oia, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I know I'm getting to be a grumpy old rant (it's genetic - check out my dad's blog!) but is anyone else getting fed up with all this pissing about we're doing with the Greeks?

It is patently obvious that they are never going to be able to pay off their debt so why do we keep playing at lending them the equivalent of about 10p every other week?

I was watching a report on the French evening news a few months back - they were interviewing normal people like you and I in Athens. 70 000 businesses had gone bust or had to close in the previous eight months. Can you imagine if that many businesses went bust in the Scottish central belt in 8 months (the population is about the same)? I remember a man of 50ish who had been running a family lighting shop (as his father had done before him) who had had to go into liquidation. He explained he knew there were no jobs he could get so he would need to go into homeless hostels with his family until he became eligible for a pension more than a decade from now. Much as we all need them to pay their debt, they can't. By taxing them to the point of starvation, making whole towns unemployed and the likes we're going to achieve nothing... except maybe Weimar Germany all over again! It's pointless - so why don't the big powers come up with a grown-up solution rather than attempting to put another sticking plaster on a chasm the size of the grand canyon?

Addendum: It looks like the UK press is finally catching up with the realities of the situation I mentioned the French media were talking about back in June.

Friday, September 16, 2011

PIVOTAL CUPCAKES

Charlotte's cake duvet by PhylB
Charlotte's cake duvet, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Something is happening to my little girl...

Charlotte has been a bit of a tomboy since she could talk. It started at three when she asked for Marcel's old football top. From there she refused (after the first day of primary one) to wear a skirt to school and never ever wore her hair in a ponytail or the likes. She had a football duvet cover and lived in cast-off football strips much to my horror. (In my youth I had been a very girlie child who would have fainted at the thought of tree-climbing and had spent many years painting my nails and playing with make-up).

Even last summer Charlotte was still in camouflage and putting Ferraris on her bedroom wall.

One day in spring I was in ASDA and I noticed they were selling a pink T-shirt with cupcakes on it. Given she hadn't worn anything non-androgynous in seven years, I opted to buy it at a fiver and put it in her drawer in the vain hope her excessive love of cake would invite her to explore her feminine side (before she suggested attending the p7 leaving dance this year in trainers and a pair of jeans).

To my great surprise she took the cupcake t-shirt on holiday and wore it not once but every second day!
Pushing my luck, this week I noticed they had excessively girlie duvet covers on ebay for less than a tenner, again covered in cake. I bought one and left it wrapped on the end of her bed. I didn't dare hope my wee girl would like it. At bed time she came bouncing downstairs excitedly and asked if I would help her put it on her bed so she could go to sleep!

Result!

WHERE HAS BARBAPAPA GONE?


I remember Barbapapa from my childhood. I remember both books and TV shows quite well but it isn't something you come across much these days... I enjoyed them as a kid. I loved the concept of their ability to change shape. It was simple and appealing.

A few years back a friend who lives in Germany sent one of my kids a Barbapapa T-shirt. I thought it was a bit odd that she'd managed to find something so obscure. Then I moved in with Thomas and he bought Léon a ton of Barbapapa books in Danish. Three years ago I noticed in a French supermarket that you could get Barbapapa DVDs. And finally this summer you couldn't move in Italy for cuddly Barbapapas, plastic Barbapapas, posters, school bags, key rings, DVDs, books and everything else. Barbapapa was as omnipresent there as Ben 10 or the likes here.

So why has Barbapapa taken over Europe but not the UK? Did it die out there and then make a come back, missing us out or has it never left the continent?

It is a shame it hasn't come back here because kids do still love it. My three smallest ones request a Barbapapa book daily in Danish. It is a shame English-speaking kids are missing out on it. It certainly strikes me as much more innocent enjoyment than the Ben 10 type action cartoons we are force-fed from the States.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

TELL ME ABOUT 9/11 MUM

With all the anniversary coverage, Marcel turned to me on Friday and asked me to tell him how we spent 9/11. So I thought for him and my other children, Charlotte in particular, I'd write it down.

Marcel had just turned four, Charlotte was twenty months old. As neither was of school age, we still took the opportunity to holiday out of season to save money. We had been in Argelès-sur-Mer for about two weeks at the time. Most days we drove to different towns but on that day we decided to spend the afternoon in the campsite swimming and reading while the kids played. This photo, taken on 9/11, shows the exact spot where I was playing with my kids when the world changed forever.

In the ten days preceding the attacks, I remember there had been a slight escalation in terrorist attacks in Israel. A bus stop had been bombed killing two or three, a restaurant too, things were blown up in return in Gaza and the surrounding area. I had been reading about it in the French press.

I was reading a book beside the swimming pool after lunch on a perfect day. The campsite was almost exclusively French.  It was fairly busy with families. André was around but not beside me. Maybe he was back at our hut, or at the showers or somewhere - I can't remember. A couple walked by chatting and I caught the word 'attentat' as they spoke in low but animated tones. A few minutes later another crowd of French people were talking in the distance and the word 'attentat' was repeated again. I started to assume there had been another bus bomb in Israel. The third time I heard the word 'attentat' in five minutes, I began to wonder. However serious the terrorism that was taking place in Israel at the time, I found it hard to believe that everyone around the pool would be so interested in it that no one was discussing anything else. I got up, gathered up Marcel and Charlotte who were paddling beside me in the pool and walked towards the bar where there was a smallish wall-mounted TV. As I approached I was struck by two things. The complete and utter silence inside and the volume of customers. I told Marcel and Charlotte to stay outside as I stuck my head in - there were the usual kiddie play things outside the bar - a  seesaw and the likes and we were far from any roads so in no danger.

Nothing could ever have prepared me for what I was walking into. I am quite small, so with standing room only, it was hard to see what was happening. Several hundred people in various states of undress were standing shoulder to shoulder, many with tears silently rolling down their faces. Almost every man and woman in the room had their right hand clutched across their mouth. I suddenly knew this was bigger than a bus bomb. I tried to stand on tiptoe, then I saw it on the screen. I saw New York, I saw smoke coming from both towers against a beautiful blue backdrop. I knew in an instant that this was my JFK moment. I would always be able to replay this in my head no matter how long I lived. Involuntarily, I felt my own right hand grab for my mouth united with all the others. I looked from the screen out of the window to my two babies in what seemed like slow motion and I wondered what had happened to the world in which they would grow up. I cried silently with all the others, going in and out holding my kids tight and crying hard. No one felt they had to hide their distress that day. Everyone cried together - men, women, kids, old and young - all nationalities.

Many people describe 9/11 as a moment of silence followed by a cacophony of mobile phones. I guess it was like that in offices, schools, cities but the one place you don't take your mobile is a swimming pool, so unlike others who experienced it very publicly, I was not alerted to the magnitude of what was happening by the number of phones ringing simultaneously.

I have no idea how long I stood there. It must have been the best part of the afternoon. I bumped into André and had no idea when he arrived there. No one spoke. We didn't speak either. There were gasps when the towers came down. There were screams when people became aware of the 'jumpers' but no one said anything. People touched each other, held each other, hugged strangers in distress but in complete silence. Only the voice of the French news reporter was speaking in the room all day.

We had no TV or radio in our holiday hut so I found myself driving round in circles listening to the car radio news in French all evening and most of the following week. We took turns to watch the bar TV, one staying out with the kids, for the rest of the week. There was a lot of silence, crying and hugging of the kids. They looked bemused but somehow knew not to ask what was wrong with me! We decided, given we had to fly through London later in the week, showing the kids repeated footage of a plane full of tourists being used as a bomb was unwise. The same news was being played over and over but somehow we couldn't not listen. It was still sinking in. Although the kids never actually saw the news, we later realized that despite their tender age, they were listening to the radio in the car as Marcel asked us to explain the odd French word he didn't know. Although they were both predominantly French-speaking at that time, suicide bomber and the likes weren't terms they'd heard at home.

I remember flying home the day America re-opened its airspace. We flew Barcelona London, boarding next to the Delta flight to Atlanta. I have never, before or since, seen security like that day. For every passenger there were two policemen carrying guns as big as rocket launchers. It made your blood run cold. I presume London too must have been on high alert but we got home. Inside the plane was eerily silent too. We flew Barcelona London Prestwick and no one spoke. There was an audible sigh on each landing but nothing else.

I remember blue sky affecting me for a long time afterwards. From my office window I had a beautiful view of the Campsies and the flight path into Glasgow. I couldn't watch planes flying low against a blue sky without bursting into tears and thinking about my kids' future. Sabine, who I shared an office with at the time also had young children and we'd often find ourselves in tears, hugging, worrying silently about their future.

I guess the ten years haven't brought any distance, I still find it hard to watch. I still relive it as if it was new. I feel there is an invisible barrier in my head sometimes between my children - the pre-9/11 two and the post-9/11 three. Two were brought into a more innocent world but were so young they will never know it, three were brought into this new, tarnished world and there is nothing I can do to change that except teach them to love.

On 9/11 one thing I did do instantly was to resolve to go to New York. I had always wanted to go but after 9/11 I felt I had to go. When I left André five years later the first thing I did was to fly alone, with my baby (Léon) to New York to spend some time healing the wounds of my marriage, and finding myself again amongst the debris. I blogged the whole trip in various postings at the time. It was my Shirley Valentine moment. New York helped me so much. It will always feel like a home from home to me.

Friday, September 09, 2011

MONEY LENDING PART 2

It has just come to me in a flash!

There are hundreds of pensioners and people who've paid their mortgages sitting out there getting no interest on their savings. There are hundreds of self-employed people with perfect mortgage payment history unable to get a  loan.

I was aghast as always yesterday when I read the line on my mortgage statement that the £12000 I paid last year had brought my mortgage down £2900...

How do you go about setting up a bank where pensioners lend to self-employed people who prove they are unlikely to default?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

MONEY LENDING

As this recession enters its fifth year I can't help but think that the way money is lent in this country needs to be altered drastically.

Take today for example. The two year fixed rate on the mortgage which we have had since 2007 was coming to an end, so I needed to either accept to move onto the SVR or renegotiate another fixed or tracker deal. If I go onto any of the compare mortgage sites, I can see many more lucrative deals than those the Bank of Scotland is offering me at the moment. Given neither of us has as supposedly secure an income now as when we took out our mortgage, paying less a month would make us more, not less, likely to be able to meet our payments and therefore less likely to lose our house. Our current lender will offer us a new deal but we are unable to move to any of these good deals with the other banks because no new mortgage lender will accept us being self-employed. Given how many middle management people I know who have been made redundant in the last few years, many people must be stuck unable to move either to a cheaper mortgage deal or to a cheaper house if necessary because changing mortgage isn't possible. You have to stick with a high rate at the very time you most need to make savings where you can. Despite having many years proof you have been meeting your mortgage payments (even after becoming self-employed), you can no longer self-certify or even use your current mortgage history as proof that you are able to pay so you sit unable to move while someone who will be made redundant next month is happily offered better rates than you. It is maddening to know I am wasting £100 a month because Bank of Scotland trusts us after nearly three years self-employment but we can't change to a competitor by showing them those three years of mortgage payments.

I am also still amazed they are happily lending 25 year loans on the basis of anyone's current salary, because let me tell you, just because you are employed today doesn't mean you can't be redundant in six months time - in fact I worked for Newscorp so having a job today sometimes means you can be redundant before Sunday! I would go as far as to say that I have more visibility now than I ever had as an employee and I know for sure I will not be made redundant any time soon (unless Thomas decides to fire me, which might not be in his best interest!)

Other loans too strike me as needing a rethink. I know of several people who had fairly successful businesses or positions in the boom. They bought expensive luxury cars at say £30K taking out huge loans. Why wouldn't they when they had had great incomes? Suddenly they lose their job or business and end up trying to set up their own businesses to make ends meet - those kinds of people can't exactly meet their mortgage and car loan on unemployment benefit, can they? Heavily burdened by their huge car loan, they long to offload the jeep or BMW, to trade it in for say a £6K used family saloon so they can still try to work, commute, run their fledgling business. Because they can't prove their self-employed income, no one will lend them £6K so they are stuck trying to pay their £30K car. I know lending £6K to someone who can't prove their income doesn't make sense but not allowing people to swap loans they can no longer afford for ones they could easily meet is crippling families who are doing everything they can to struggle through these difficult times.

Friday, September 02, 2011

GROWN-UP AMAIA

Amaia by PhylB
Amaia, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Amaia is starting to observe the more grown-up people around her and has a very definite opinion about how she wants to behave and be treated. Bibs are definitely a no-no. Grown-ups don't wear bibs. The cup with a lid has also been discarded in favour of a big-girl glass. But yesterday lunch took the biscuit. We gave her a plate of garlic lentil soup and a spoon. After the soup we were having a second course so a plate, knife and fork were also at her place. Appalled that she should be handed a spoon, which she considers a baby implement, she threw it to one side in disgust and proceeded to eat the entire bowl of soup using a fork!