Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three years

Today Thomas and I have been married three years... so I guess you could say we are celebrating our wedding anniversary... except as we were discussing this morning in bed, this doesn't really feel like our wedding anniversary!

By the time we finally married, we had already bought a house together and had our first child together. Nothing changed per se after that day. We didn't even get a honeymoon (still saving!) And we had Thomas's sister and parents staying with us so we didn't get a wedding night either! Life went back to normal a few hours after the wedding!

I think maybe celebrating the day we moved in together (26-9-06) would feel more like a wedding anniversary but of course we couldn't get married back then - someone held up my divorce to the bitter end forcing it only to go through on 7-1-09. No names mentioned!

One thing is sure though - whether either of these dates, (or indeed the date we first went out), is our real anniversary, I definitely struck gold this time round. Every minute is a joy and the calm he generates around me despite the adversities life is currently throwing at our family give me an inner strength daily. A lifetime together will be too short by half.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Queen of nonsense

So what has this week seen in the way of engineering and scientific research? (I mean since Wednesday's soup episode.)

Well, for starters she's worked out how to dismantle every remote we have in the TV room, and take out the batteries. Only the actual TV remote has suffered irreversible damage (when she unscrewed and lost the little light at the front of it). I need a very high-up shelf.

I was also rather concerned when I found her standing in front of the TV room bookshelf, her foot on the bottom shelf proclaiming to my father 'this is a ladder' - oh no it bloody isn't!

And today she worked out that despite there being a good 30m (and a double-glazed patio door) between the living room and the place where I park the people carrier, if you steal the car keys from my jacket pocket and press the button that makes the back doors slide open, you can leave the car wide open in the pouring rain to the point where the seat behind the driver is unusable... (it takes about three hours, seemingly)

I guess I have to thank my lucky stars my parents dropped by for a visit and I walked them to their car or I'd never have found out! Otherwise I'd either have got up to a swimming pool on wheels tomorrow, or maybe just a stolen car!

OMG, she just walked by naked, carrying a screw driver! Give me strength (and a play pen with a lid!)

Frozen bubbles

I don't think I can remember such a mild winter in recent history. What did we get? One afternoon of snow? And almost no sub-zero days. It isn't that I'm complaining a lot but I would have liked one freezing day just to try out something my brother pointed me in the direction of on flickr the other month... maybe next year?

Friday, February 24, 2012


I taught English in two high schools in France (in 1987 and 1988). For the first month after my arrival, the kids often looked utterly baffled when I spoke, particularly by my vowels. The teachers often asked me to tape things like the weather forecast or news off the Scottish radio to play to the kids so they would be exposed to accents they were unused to. (Obviously it was pre-Internet - yes I am that old!)

I was watching cbeebies with the kids the other day and it got me to thinking about what I'd show the French kids today on the Internet if I was to go back and teach them again. I think I'd show them Octonauts first because of the large variety of accents you come across in each episode. And for the older kids, approaching their bac, I might even sneak in the odd episode of Rastamouse - just to see the look on their faces! :-)

It's time scouting moved into the 21st century.

Léon has been a Beaver (scout) now for about six weeks. He's a very happy little Beaver. He asked to join because his best friend, and indeed most of his class are also Beavers. He wanted to join to play with them on a Monday night. He has had three weeks of archery lessons, and has also done some arts and crafts and played ball games.

Next Monday he has to make his Beaver promise to be allowed to remain a member and to gain his greatly-desired neckie. The family are meant to attend to see his achieve this milestone. I am completely appalled at the religious form this promise takes.  Nothing is even remotely religious in the games and weekly format of the sessions but they insist that to become a full Beaver he must stand and say 'I promise to do my best. To be kind and helpful. And to love God.' It would be cruel to disallow him the same pleasures as his classmates (many of whom are also little unchristened heathens) but it goes against my normal parenting beliefs to have him promise something we as a family do not adhere to. We are bringing the children up without a god, but with a great sense of morality and respect for others and it seems highly discriminatory in this day and age to ban atheists or children of atheists on grounds of their (lack of) religion. So I'm left advising my child to make a meaningless promise so he can play with his friends. It really doesn't sit well with my life philosophy. I think I might have to send Thomas to attend the 'neckie' ceremony on Monday as he's more used to dealing with 'religious situations' than me. I'm not sure I can stomach it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our new cook

She's so bloody fast, that one, when it comes to cooking!

I just couldn't stand another day of bread at lunch time or toast so I decided to make some home-made leek and potato soup. I'd fried the onion and leeks, simmered in the leeks and potatoes and the lovely vegetable stock and then just remembered I had some delicious fresh, flat-leaf parsley needing used up in my fridge.

Amaia was helping me stir the soup but it was safe enough, on the back burner with the handle out of reach, so I took the two steps towards the fridge. It was then I saw her in slow motion out of the corner of my eye. She reached out for the half-full Schwartz-type jar of chili flakes and quick as a flash emptied it in its entirety into my soup! I darted back and scooped out at least two full teaspoons but the rest had sunk.

Thomas and I did manage to eat it, just, with a lot of cream and a hanky to catch the drips from our noses but I swear it was borderline... almost like she'd grated two scotch bonnets into it!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ever wondered why insurance costs so much?

We're still having our storm damage fixed (and probably will be till the cows come home) - well the bits the experts believe were caused by the storm as opposed to the bits that sprang leaks on the day of the storm purely coincidentally...

Anyway here's how it works.. (why it takes so long and how it costs so much!) We're insured with a company called Paymentshield (for now). They came with the mortgage and we didn't bother looking further afield, or rather we did but they all cost the same so couldn't be bothered. So when you make a claim with Paymentshield (somewhere down south), they subcontract your claim to another company called Repairnet, who judging by accents are somewhere in the north of England, so they subcontract the roofing and internal repairs to a Central belt company called Donaldsons, and the glazing to a Scottish locksmith called Evander Glazing and Locks. Donaldsons, when you ring them, only deal with subcontracting insurance work to smaller local comapnies so they send out Evana roofers to fix your roof but if you also want them to look at a wall when they are out anyway they stand scratching their heads saying they don't know anyone who deals with walls! Give me strength! Talk about layers!  I think I am paying for a middle man too many in this equation!

Monday, February 20, 2012

When did the world go mad?

We've been dealing with insurance companies since our storm damage the first week of December 2011. They no longer assess then pay you the money to get your repairs done, they now send people out to repair the damage. On paper this stops you fixing it yourself and spending the pay-out on a new carpet or whatever, but the result in our case is madness.

Part of our flat porch roof felt blew off in the storm. The porch roof started to leak. The porch ceiling and porch wall have been destroyed. The insurance company has been out at least three times to look at it, never telling us what they were covering and what they weren't. Finally we got a schedule of repairs stating that the felt would be replaced, the ceiling and wall replaced and redecorated. That seemed to work for us - though we were a bit annoyed at running about with buckets of water for nearly three months.

On Wednesday last week our porch roof was replaced. The internal works have not yet commenced... just as well. This morning we wake up to torrential rain. Of course I have removed the buckets and replaced our coat stand because the external roof has been replaced. I come home from  the school run to our new ornamental hall waterfall. I ring the company our repair had been subcontracted to and tell them that I have an in-porch swimming pool and they call up my records. Oh yes madam, we have a note here that there are three issues with your porch roof - the felt, which is covered as storm damage, the pointing and the loose rough cast above the porch. Neither of these are covered so the new roof won't stop the rain coming in, to stop that you need the other two problems fixed. I point out to them that no one either at their office or my insurance company has ever mentioned the two other issues and given I am not a builder it is fairly logical for me to assume that having a new roof installed is likely to stop my leak. I point out that they could have told me this three months ago so I could have had it fixed then. I even point out they could have given me a quote for it last week when they were sitting on my roof, but nope - they were carrying out to the letter what they'd been told to do. I ask tentatively what the plans are for my internal insurance repairs and they actually, without embarrassment, claim they intend to come and carry those out as soon as possible, without informing me that my roof is not watertight and that the damage would simply recur instantly. That is not of their concern, they say! I am truly gobsmacked at the madness. When did pragmatism and sense exit the country?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More on the cowboys

A few years ago I mentioned the cowboys who had been (invisibly) let loose on our house before we bought it. I thought we'd seen the last of them... I was wrong.

Our dining room window has been letting in bucket loads of rain since Bawbag. I assumed given it was hit with the full force, something had been loosened. The insurance company doesn't seem to care that it went from watertight to leaky overnight - if Bawbag didn't shatter it, it doesn't count... grrr. 

I had a look round it and decided that perhaps renewing the sealant round it might help. This morning's perfect sun gave me the chance to get out there and pull off the old sealant. And when I did, what do you think was holding my dining room window in place for the last 5(+) years against the elements? Yes, you guessed it of course - three rolled-up newspapers, an extra large Primark man's T-shirt and an out-sized pair of Y-fronts. I don't know about you, but I am so glad we forked out £400 for the full survey when we were moving in so nothing bad could creep in under the radar!

New glasses

Léon got new glasses on Friday - his eyesight has improved slightly since last year. He was adamant he should have the same glasses as Anna, but in blue - he just loves blue glasses for some reason. Anna's glasses have been driving me mad since we got them because they didn't give her the thinned down lenses and anti-glare coating that Léon has always had on his as standard. Because Léon's need to be thicker, the optician thins them automatically. Because Anna's lenses are slightly thinner to start with, I would have needed to ask to have them thinned - I'll know that next time. So ironically Anna's glasses look thicker than Léon's and that means the result is that my flash bounces horribly off Anna's in photos but is fine in Léon's. If you have specky kids, never ever forget to order the thinned down, anti-glare glass or every photoshoot just becomes a nightmare of retakes. (Roll on Anna's next appointment!)

Yummy food

Thomas brought us back loads of French culinary goodies from his business trip yesterday. It was just like Xmas. We had confit de canard, confiture de coings, confiture de châtaignes, fois gras, tartelettes au chocolat, cassoulet and choucroute garnie in tins, loads of different saucissons secs and lots more. We're currently munching our way through a big bag of Violettes de Toulouse.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Amaia's language

I love Amaia's language. She's a bit sloppy - like she listens to most of a word, then improvises the rest. Hence she calls Léon (Pudge) Putch and a hat is a hap, a boat is a boap and so on. She calls the kids Me, Anna, Putch, Mardel and Baby - Charlotte is just too big to be bothered attempting. She can say it, I've asked her to repeat it, but it's just too much hassle in her opinion!

This week she has added a new word - a hut, as in Mummy I love you, gimme a big hut, or I've fallen over, can I have a hut?

So sweet!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More engineering adventures

As if all the microwaving wasn't bad enough, she's been at it again...

Obsessed with unscrewing lids and bottle tops, I am finally understanding after five kids why the kiddie-proof tops were invented for medicine and bleach - I don't know, maybe the rest of my kids just aren't very curious...

But last week took the biscuit - it started with the dissection of a ball point pen, followed by the dismantling of a pocket torch. I was proudly presented with two batteries, a lightbulb, a spring and three sections of the torch. But a few hours later, we had a real emergency. We had a guest sleeping in our living room who suffers from sleep apnoea and has a rather sophisticated machine to help him breathe at night... or rather he did till Amaia spent an hour alone in his bedroom taking it apart and then presenting us with its every constituent part! Arrrrgh! A good hour was spent by several panicking adults reassembling it without a manual before anyone could go to bed that night!

I need a play pen.

Potty-training theory

I have been thinking a bit about potty training norms recently, how they differ in different countries and how they differ to previous generations.

All of my kids were trained around their 2nd birthday. It never took more than two or three days and subsequent accidents could be counted on one hand.

With Marcel and Charlotte, I had no experience so trained them on their 2nd birthdays then kept them in night nappies perhaps another 2-3 months so they were completely dry by the third month after they turned two. By Léon, we tried taking the nappy off at night time within a week of day time and surprisingly that worked fine. With Anna and Amaia, night nappies were used for two nights after potty-training and again, all went smoothly.

When I have mentioned this people are in general surprised. Here in Scotland no one is ever surprised they are dry during the day at two, though it is around the earliest people attempt it here, however reactions in Denmark are always of great surprise. I don't know if their later school start perhaps makes them see their children as younger than we do but I have never met a Dane who thinks two is normal... Two years ago for instance, when we attended Peter's 70th in Copenhagen, Anna had just turned two and was the youngest of all the grandchildren (they ranged to 13 months older than Anna) and the only one who was potty-trained.

Anyway, this is turning into a cultural comment, when I was simply wanting to make an observation about human nature... On surfing through Mumsnet and the likes last night to confirm my gut feeling, I found out that although almost all Brits potty-train before three, many kids are still in night nappies till four or even five. Whole forums are dedicated into how to finally get them out of night nappies, advocating you can't take them off until they are dry through the night for a week and the likes. I wonder, given my own experience, if people are creating their own problems? If you reach quite late into childhood still wetting your nappy, it is your norm, if you have been taken out of night nappies at the end of babyhood, your norm will be staying dry at night. It has worked for me, five times over...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thomas's new Toyota

When Thomas told me he'd asked his parents for a new Toyota for his 40th, I got really quite excited. I was to find myself wholly underwhelmed when it turned up in a box! ;-)

(I never did like sewing).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hereditary coulrophobia?

I blogged six years ago how much I hate clowns. I have never mentioned it before or since. Lots, my beloved daughter, thinks I blog through a hole in my head and never reads anything I write - prides herself in ignoring every ounce of my wisdom in fact... so tonight I nearly fell off my seat...

She spent the afternoon with Olivia and Sara from school. I asked what she had been up to and she moaned she'd watched a film that had frightened her half to death... I asked if it was a horror movie and she spontaneously came out with 'No it was about clowns - I'm terrified of clowns!'

How odd is that? Given I've never mentioned anything to do with clowns, how could Lots have inherited that trait?

Digital TV – Audio description

Léon and Anna have been getting a bit annoyed recently because a voice in the background has started describing everything happening on screen when they are watching Octonauts. I thought it was a new series and they'd simply changed the format until tonight when Peter (my father-in-law) was watching a crime series on ITV3 and someone was doing the same on there. Suddenly the penny dropped... it must be some sort of seriously annoying audio description for the visually impaired that someone has accidentally switched on, on our freeview box!

I thought I'd google it. Bingo!

I am going to be a major hero tomorrow (if I manage to switch it off, that is).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Boxes - the best toys in the world

I wonder why I ever spend any money on lego, PS3 games, colouring books, dolls, pirate boats and so on...

Thomas had some brewing equipment delivered in a large box on Thursday and the three little ones have since abandoned every toy they own to sit in the big box for hours on end.

It has been a space rocket, a pirate ship and the train to Hogwarts! They have installed seating now and decorated it and earlier today I even found Charlotte (12) fighting the little ones off for her place in the driving seat of the train!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thomas's birthday

Thomas shares a birthday with the teacher in charge of Anna's nursery class. On arrival on Wednesday, she announced it was her daddy's birthday. Mrs Richardson asked what age he was turning. Anna looked blank and then replied 'I'm not sure but he had a four and a zero on his train! I'm sure the teacher quite understood what his train was!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The shortcomings of using plastic clogs as slippers

I bought a pair of these as slippers recently. I hate having cold feet but couldn't stand using my summer clogs as the plastic is freezing first thing in the morning. I wanted something that was waterproof even in pouring rain or deep snow so I could take out bins and vegetable waste without constantly changing into shoes. They are absolutely perfect... or so I thought until I decided to give my husband a loving embrace one night! I reached up to put my arms around his neck and nearly set his ears on fire with the static I'd built up shuffling round the house! I have since singed my finger on the screw holding on the light switch cover too! I am beginning to suspect I could become rather unpopular if I don't buy myself a more conventional pair of slippers soon!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Uniform madness

I have to admit when I blogged about uniforms six years ago, I could never have imagined we'd be taking a huge leap back to my own childhood as late as 2012. 

East Renfrewshire Council decided it needed new policies on school uniforms about a year ago, claiming kids weren't smart enough. When I look at my two above, they look smart enough to me - certainly as smart as I'd expect any 4 and 10 year old (when this photo was taken) to be. I assumed, stupidly, that what the council was intending was to have high school pupils pay more attention to standards. Girls' skirts had been becoming obscenely short, jackets with expensive logos had started creeping in to replace blazers. I was not against them disallowing skirts short enough to reveal underwear before Lots starts high school in the summer.

A year long consultation took place, but ultimately it became obvious that although parents and kids could state a preference, head teachers would have the final say and their suggestions would be backed by the council assuming they weren't seen to be excessively eccentric.

First I saw St Cadoc's primary's new legislation when it came out at Xmas. P1-3 would keep the comfortable and functional polo shirts and sweat shirts, p4-7 would be forced back into the 1970s style white shirt and boring tie. School jackets would become obligatory, despite the expense, given the kids all have non-school jackets too for weekend wear. I was appalled and braced myself for similar, but certainly not for worse. Kirkhill dragged its feet till last Friday when the full horror of the new plan was dropped on us like an H-bomb. The polo shirts and sweatshirts would be banned from August for all years. Kids as young as 4 would be forced to sit all day in uncomfortable shirts, ties, and grey everything else - but not just grey - it has to be the correct mid-grey shade, even dark grey is a criminal offence! The cheerful sea of blue that has greeted me every morning for the past ten years is being replaced by a gloomy grey to match the Scottish climate in all its horror. The bag of 40 odd (£10) sweatshirts in my loft is simply meant to be tossed out in favour of me forking out money I don't currently have to add to the sea of grey. The sweatshirts tumble dry time and time again as they are durable. Léon's one grey jumper turned into a limp rag after its third wash. A quick canvassing of opinion at the school gate on Monday morning found not a single parent who was happy with the new uniform. 

When every other council is moving towards comfortable and functional, why on earth are we heading backwards at such a rate? Of course, the school sees itself as somewhat better than your average school - its results confirm that but getting above its station prescribing private-school-type uniforms isn't fooling anyone. This is a good school, but a state school so people may very well struggle to buy the newly compulsory school winter jacket, school spring/autumn jacket in both waterproof and fleece materials. Because of the climate, I can't see any of the three I can leave out. School tracksuit tops are also now compulsory and you can even add on a non-compulsory blazer if you have not yet gone bankrupt! (That'll be likely!) I have checked East Ren's clothing grant for poorer families. At £50 those families will not be able to buy anything else once they have forked out for the compulsory jackets. I know Newton Mearns isn't normally associated with poverty but who lives here? Middle management - the very people who have been losing their jobs in this recession and who are struggling to pay the overpriced mortgages they took out to get into these very schools! When middle management and directors are made redundant, they don't simply walk into a new job the following month. 

At the school gate people said they were feeling particularly sorry for me with five kids - given the number of hours of ironing real shirts entails! (Poloshirts can be worn from the tumble drier). I know non-iron shirts exist these days but they are much more expensive - especially in a year I have to replace every item on the uniform list (unlike in normal years where most things have simply been passed down). I hadn't even taken that gripe on board given Marcel has done his own ironing since starting high school. It's a definite added burden. I won't be asking Anna, at four, to do her own ironing, will I?

I may be strange and unusual but I have no desire to advertise my kids' school on weekends so object to having to buy school jackets for during the week and separate ones for weekends. Until now my kids have happily gone to school in their pink or green anoraks, or ski jackets and left them on a peg at the entrance. Apparently this makes them too messy-looking on school trips off the premises - they go on at least two trips a year... sometimes even as far as the local shops! Is this worth my expense? No! Try to ask your 10 year old to wear a uniform jacket when she's out on weekends in the park with her friends. She's no more likely to wear the jacket that she associates with school than the tie! Thanks Kirkhill for doubling all my expenses (for each of my kids!)

I feel in banning the uniform long associated with the school, the head has ripped the heart out of Kirkhill. It is a hugely negative, backwards step. I feel painfully sad to think of my kids being forced to sit unnecessarily in uncomfortable, non-durable, depressing grey uniforms, with boring ties like little 4 year old executives when it was such a happy and carefree place till now. I am appalled at the endless list of jackets I am meant to buy while still burdened by the recession. I'm not sure why they think any of this is necessary in this day and age. Learning should be happy and fun not boring and stilted.  After all it is the quality of the teaching that matters most... It isn't the uniform that makes them learn better. I am married to a Danish guy who managed to do post graduate studies right up till his thirtieth birthday. He is one of the best educated, most intelligent people I know. And he managed this despite having spent his entire childhood wearing jeans and a t-shirt at a non-uniform school - shock, horror!

I am also not sure what has happened about the real issue that started all this? The high school doesn't seem to be suggesting new uniform policies! How ironic!

It's probably pointless but as always I will email off an official complaint to the head, cced to the council and Ken Macintosh! Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I find it hard to believe. For the first time since 2005, no one in my house is in nappies.

It seems odd to think Amaia is big enough for 'big girl pants' already. And yet Anna was exactly the same age when she was potty-trained (2 years and 3 weeks). Because Amaia had been born that week, Anna seemed huge and capable, but Amaia just seems like a tiny baby compared to all the other family members who are so much bigger. I guess that's what happens when you are dealing with the baby of the family.

But she is ready all the same. We started last Monday, and went through eight pairs of pants while she looked at us in surprise. On Tuesday she had one accident, by Wednesday she was going through the night without a nappy too. The only other accident we've had all week was when she climbed into the spare high chair (that she refuses to use because she uses an adult seat at the table, but condescends to use when mum and dad visit because we only have eight dining room chairs), strapped herself in and then couldn't work out how to undo the seatbelt when she needed to! This morning she even had a lie in so managed a whole 14 hours between last night's last pee and this morning's first.

Interestingly, like Anna she has dropped the idea of the potty almost immediately and gone for the toilet instead. I think when you live with so many children who use a real toilet, the potty seems somehow babyish to you, in a way that particularly Marcel and Charlotte wouldn't have found back in their day.

So I really am going to have to accept my baby is starting to grow up.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A cold front

I was just watching the French news. It is fascinating to see snow on the beaches of the Mediterranean. So I went of a quick tour of Europe, checking out el País and Corriera della sera for snow news. After reading what they had to say, I'm not sure I'll be moaning if it's -5 again tomorrow morning! Finally I checked the BBC as we don't tend to notice here when half of Europe is freezing to death, but even they've picked up on it for once. Would you just look at Romania!!!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Voice recognition technology

I was sure I blogged this back at the time, but it seems I didn't!


What do you do with a baby engineer?

Amaia is a taxing child. I don't mean she has tantrums, refuses to eat or sleep or the likes. Quite the contrary - she's a delight. She's affectionate, easy-going, happy, and full of fun, but she's an engineer at heart and that is getting her into worse and worse scrapes.

When she was little, she'd empty a packet of wipes, or unravel a toilet roll to see how it worked. She graduated onto removing DVDs from their boxes and taking ballpoint pens to pieces. She unscrews lightbulbs when she can reach them (bedside lamps, and the likes). She likes to cook, so tries to push chairs against the cooker to stir things and has worked out how to set the timer on the cooker. Leaving the room while you are cooking is now impossible.

Of course, she can spend hours with age 3+ lego, building things, which is harmless. But today she moved up to a new level...

I was tidying the dining room table after breakfast when I heard the microwave beep. The microwave is on a high shelf out of her reach. I have been working a lot this last week and am a bit tired so I questioned whether I had actually stuck something in it to defrost. I came through and found no one. I opened it and it was empty. It must have been my imagination. I was alone, so it couldn't have been Thomas. I went to the loo. I heard it beep again. I returned to find Amaia had moved a dining room chair to in front of it and was playing with the 'quick start' button. I shouted at her, explaining that the microwave wasn't a toy and she would break it if she turned it on empty. I forgot this was my takes-everything-literally child. Half an hour later, despite my having moved the chair away and shut the kitchen door, it beeped a third time. I stormed through. The chair was back, the Bopster was standing proudly on it and looking pleased. To stop it beeping, you need to pull the door open. I pulled it open to reveal two pots of petit filou, both open, each containing a plastic (phew!) spoon, steaming happily on the inside. She'd manoeuvred the chair to the fridge for the yogurts, then over to the microwave, having opened them herself! She really was quite put out when she was told off for a second time, but so far she hasn't dared try again.

(I'm glad we don't own a cat!)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Scandinavians in Fife?

I came across this photo from 2007 the other day. It started me wondering how large the ex-pat Scandinavian population of Fife might be. Thomas is just way too tall for some of the houses over there and he's only average in Denmark. I've still not got over the day I was on the Copenhagen tube at rush hour. There were no seats so I squeezed in and in front of the whole crowded train reached up to realize I actually couldn't grab the hand straps hanging from the roof, not even on my tiptoes... it was so humiliating!

Foot binding

While we're on the subject of Wild Swans...

When Jung Chang is talking about her grandmother, in the early chapters of the book, she goes into some detail about Chinese foot binding. Of course, I was well aware of the practice but I hadn't read about it in the depth she goes into before. I found the psychology of it fascinating. Women were made to believe they had to be forcibly disabled to attract men of the right social background, men forced into believing women who had not been mutilated were somehow less desirable. Over time, poorer and poorer families subscribed to the idea as a way to social mobility until a point where more than half the female population had been disabled by their own parents from early infancy.I somewhat condescendingly looked at the whole idea as something that could never have happened here, until...

Last week Lots was watching Big Brother, as I mentioned. Two (almost) children - I believe they were around 20 or 21 were discussing how breast augmentation was becoming the norm in the US. They believed men just wouldn't be attracted to a twenty-something without synthetic, potentially leaky, possibly carcinogenic, silicon implants. They were expected to return time and time again, to go through unnecessary cosmetic surgery to satisfy a fad of society.

I'm 43. I've never had an operation in my life. I've never had an anaesthetic. Why are we letting society go towards making cosmetic surgery an expected norm? It isn't disabling women en masse - yet - but it is sheer madness. The parallel isn't so far fetched that I can be made to feel in any way comfortable about it. It's time normality reclaimed the world, before my little girls grow up and become adults.

Wild Swans

I recently read Wild Swans after it was recommended to me by my husband.

Published by HarperCollins in the early nineties, all employees had been given a copy at the time, and I had somehow got it into my head - perhaps the thickness or the pastel green cover, that it was an ephemeral work of romantic fiction. Working for Collins for nearly two decades (and still freelancing for them today) means I have so many books that the odd one can escape my radar, hidden in a pile from time to time.

Thomas recommended it to me as a fascinating take on almost a century of political history in China, but I found it absolutely mind-blowing from a psychological point of view. The society it described to me, and the way of thinking for the whole of the last century was so alien to me, it might as well have been an episode of Star Trek. I couldn't put it down, though poor Thomas had to put up with gasps, expletives and a lot of head-shaking in bed every night as I trudged through. I'm sure it shows how any human can react under the thumb of an authoritarian regime but as a free human being, I spent a lot of time shouting at the book in frustration!

I suppose, given the children of Jung Chang's generation are running the planet currently, it would be useful for us all to gain some insight into China, through this insider's account.

OMG!!!! A seven-seater chuggy!!!!!?

I just can't believe what I'm reading?! I just have to have one of these as my second car! That's it - Thomas's Micra is for the bin! I don't care what they cost, or how tough things are in this recession - nothing else matters. I neeeeeed one... in fact - it's my birthday on Saturday - so club together everyone - now!!! (Otherwise I'll be forced to sulk until 2020!)