Thursday, 29 November 2007
It's been great 'meeting' so many people while I've been doing this - thanks for reading, and for your very welcome comments.
Monday, 26 November 2007
Friday, 23 November 2007
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
And to those of you over there who are getting turkey and time off, have a wonderful day.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
On her first day she spots a boy who spends the whole of his break time standing around on his own, and not running and playing around with his classmates. She asks him if he's all right, and he says that he's fine.
The next time she sees him, he's standing on his own again. She goes up to him and says, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," he replies.
She's a little concerned, but he obviously isn't ready to talk yet, so she leaves him alone.
The next day, there he is again - standing all on his own, while all the other children run around together. She walks up to him, crouches down to his eye level, and gazing deep into his eyes, she asks, "What's the matter? Won't the other children play with you?"
"Look, I told you, I'm fine," he replies.
"So why aren't you running around and playing with all the other children?"
"Because I'm the GOALKEEPER!!!"
So the halogen spotlights are going, and so are the energy-saving lightbulbs - and I'll be back to switching on a single light and actually being able to see.
The government also makes much of the virtues of people who buy a new car every two or three years and choose vehicles with low emissions. I've never bought a new car in my life, and probably never will - that may mean I never have the latest, greenest model, but it also means I'll be reusing someone else's cast-off, and no factories will be belching out pollutants or using up precious resources to make a car just for little old me.
Our increasingly authoritarian government persists in trying to promote a single way of life, a single form of consumerism, and a single type of 'green' product - but on what evidence? Consumerism is wasteful, whether I'm buying a brand-new 4x4 gas guzzler or a brand-new Toyota Prius. Now they're talking about increasing rates of taxation on cars which are too old to have advertised emissions rates from the manufacturers.
How about encouraging people to make do and mend, rather than encouraging them to spend more and more in pursuit of the greenest possible technologies? Surely that would help keep rubbish out of landfills, reduce pollution from factories and from transporting raw materials and finished goods, and give repair and maintenance jobs to skilled labourers in all areas.
And how about encouraging people to use the most appropriate technology for the job at hand, rather than plugging a one-size-fits-all approach? I might well be content to sit in semi-darkness if all I ever do is vegetate in front of the television/Playstation/X-box, but reading, knitting, sewing and other activities actually require a certain level of light.
This weekend, I'll be buying a supply of good old-fashioned 60W lightbulbs - quickly, before they get banned. Let there be light, I say - and I don't think I'm the first to say that...
Sunday, 18 November 2007
When I was 14, and my sisters were 5 and 7, my father was hosting a major work event. Some of the visitors who came for this event stayed at our house, and while I was washing some dishes in the kitchen the wife of one of the visitors wandered in and started to chat.
"Let me get this straight," she began. "There are five children in the family, aren't there?"
"No, six," I replied.
She then listed the names of all five of my brothers and sisters, and asked who she had forgotten.
"Well, me," I answered.
"Oh, really?" she shrieked. "I thought you were the nanny."
When mothers who have just one or two children hear about a family with several, they frequently say things like, "I don't know how they do it", "But it's so much work", "I've got my hands full with just two", etc.
Sure, there's a lot more laundry, you have to cook larger quantities, and there's a lot of juggling to get different people to their different activities on time. But what they don't take into account is that a mother with a toddler and a baby can't leave them alone for five minutes without worrying about what might be happening. Just to give you a few examples of situations I've come across, the toddler might have glued the baby's eyes shut with her Bob the Builder stickers, drawn with markers all over the baby's face, managed to drag the baby up onto the sofa (by one arm) to give her a cuddle and then left her on the edge of the sofa ready to fall off... You get the picture.
But if you have a baby, a toddler and a couple of older children, you can actually turn your back for five minutes. A couple of times in the last week or so I've been able to observe older siblings looking after their younger siblings while their parents were occupied elsewhere, and I love to see the interaction between them.
Of course, it doesn't always work. My littlest sister was Not Good about going to bed. On one occasion when she was about a year old, my parents had gone out to a work function, leaving my older brother, then aged about 14, and me in charge of the little ones.
Halfway through the evening, my brother picked up my screaming sister, left me looking after the other little ones, and marched down the road to where the function was in full swing. My father's colleagues gaped as my brother appeared in the dining room, walked up to my mother and dumped my sister in her lap, saying, "I believe this is yours", before turning on his heel and marching out again.
Still, we did look out for each other. And we still do. Guess who's been on Skype again today...
Every so often in the last ten or fifteen years, I've wandered around an electrical shop with a sense of awe, seeing equipment which I first encountered on Tomorrow's World, and which is now not only available for the public to buy, but is within my price range.
I was recently looking at a book which my sister bought for my father. It was a collection of letters home written by a young woman who had emigrated to South Africa in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One letter to her mother in particular leapt out and illustrated the reality of emigration in those days. It was dated 16 March, and it began, "I received your letter of 4 October four days ago, and was very sad to read of Father's death..." If the response took as long to reach its destination, a single exchange of letters would have taken almost a year.
It's easy to forget how lucky we are to live in this age of instant communication. When I was growing up and my father was serving in the Middle East, an exchange of letters would take about three or four weeks. Even that would be inconceivable to a child growing up today. Over the last five years or so, I've seen photos of each of my nephews and nieces on the day they were born. Last night, my sister e-mailed the picture from her first scan around the family, and in South Africa, America and England, we all admired this little person.
Emigration today doesn't mean losing touch with the family, and although it's sometimes hard to live in this global village and have to rely on electronic communications, how much easier those electronic communications make it to keep in touch.
Tonight, my mind has been blown by another Tomorrow's World moment. I downloaded Skype and spoke to my brother in the US. I don't have a webcam at the moment, but he does - and I was able to see him, my sister-in-law and all seven of their children, and watch them having their tea. I feel so close to them tonight, and I'm so grateful to live in an age where this sort of thing is possible. I'll be back at PC World tomorrow, buying a webcam so they can see me too.
Friday, 16 November 2007
The following year, my sister had her first child, and the Christmas pudding suit was sent back to England for my niece to wear on her first Christmas Day.
In 2005, my brother and sister-in-law in South Africa had their first child, and the Christmas pudding suit was sent to South Africa and worn (briefly, because of the hot summer weather) on Christmas Day by my nephew.
In 2006, there were two babies - one in the US and one in the UK - but the American baby was too big for the outfit by Christmas, so it was worn on Christmas Day by my sister's second child.
When New Man and I went to South Africa last month, we took the outfit with us, and it will be worn by my brother and sister-in-law's second son this Christmas.
There was a certain amount of discussion about this well-travelled and well-worn little suit, and we wondered if it would continue to get such good wear in future. 2008 is a little early for New Man and me, but we're hoping very much that we'll be claiming the suit in 2009.
Well, my sister announced recently that she will be the one to claim the suit for 2008. One of the difficulties we had with selecting a date for our wedding was that she thought her due date was about 15 June, and we had hoped to get married in June.
Today she had her first scan - and guess what? Her due date is now 31 May - the day New Man and I have booked for our wedding. 90% of babies aren't born on their actual due dates, so we're not changing the date again.
But I'm now torn between wanting my sister to be able to attend my wedding and thinking that it would actually be really quite fun if the best man were able to announce the arrival of the latest little family member at our wedding reception...
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The whole point about faith is that you believe something even though you have no proof. I don't BELIEVE IN the cup of tea on the table beside me - I have objective proof that it's there, and I would be stupid to deny its existence, as would anyone else who was in the room with me.
You, on the other hand, have no way of knowing whether I have a cup of tea beside me or not. It would be reasonable for you to assert whether or not you believe that I have a cup of tea here. You could then share your belief with another person, and they could also choose whether or not to believe you.
There is an objective reality there, but you would have no proof that your belief was true. In fact, you could be wrong about it and never know - perhaps there is no cup on the table beside me, or even no table, or perhaps there is a cup, but it contains coffee rather than tea.
I could be wrong in my belief that there is a God - I have no way of objectively proving that I'm right. If I did, that would be knowledge and not belief. As it is, I KNOW what the Church teaches, and I BELIEVE it to be true. I can't prove it to you, and any attempt to prove it would contain the sort of false logic you see in my arithmetical example.
The fact that you wouldn't be able to prove to a third party whether or not I have a cup of tea on the table beside me (because you can't see me, don't know who I am, don't know where I live, and so have no way of objectively verifying my assertion) doesn't alter the fundamental and objective truth. Either there is a cup of tea here or there isn't.
And either there is a God or there isn't. I believe there is. Drac believes there isn't. Only one of us can be right. And neither of us can genuinely prove it one way or the other. The absence of a rock solid proof that is accessible to both of us does not disprove the existence of God.
This is where we're getting married.
And this is where we're having our reception.And this is how excited I am about finally having it booked.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Do tags expire if you don't do them within a certain timeframe?
OK, well, I suppose....
Why IS it so hard to admit that there are things you like about yourself? Isn't false modesty just a form of pride anyway? Well, here goes:
1. Babies and small children seem to like me - not just my nephews and nieces, but friends' children too. I get a big kick out of being able to get a crying baby to sleep (New Man overheard my brother telling my sister-in-law, "Good Lord, my sister's a baby whisperer"), get a difficult toddler to eat, or be asked to join in the wonderfully involved imaginative play of a pre-schooler.
2. If someone I love needs help, I'll drop everything to be with them and do what needs to be done. Some of the things I've done have been quite big, sometimes it's as simple as entertaining my nieces while my sister has a nap, but it's always appreciated, and I'm lucky enough to have a number of people I know would do the same for me.
3. I never put work before friends and family. This does sometimes mean I have to put work before sleep or 'me' time, but that's OK - work puts food on the table, but friends and family feed my spirit.
4. I'm not obsessed with how I look. Or with how other people look. To me, everyone I love is beautiful.
5. I'm able to appreciate the beauty around me. If I'm travelling through beautiful countryside, I'll stop - or at the very least slow down - and enjoy the view, and try to remember to thank God for that moment.
6. I know the difference between luxuries and necessities. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy having luxuries, but I appreciate that having them is a privilege, and that I could live without them. I can still get a thrill of pleasure from putting my laundry in the washing machine or turning on a tap and having hot water come out of it.
7. If I say I'm going to do something, I don't give up until I've done it. As evidence, I present to you this post, which I said I'd do about three or four weeks ago.
Actually, this is quite a fun meme to do - it's nice to blow one's own trumpet every once in a while. I tag anyone who feels the need for a little ego massage - and please do let me know in the comment box when you've done it, so I can come and read about what a great person you are and then agree with you. :¬)
Monday, 12 November 2007
I phoned "Bob's Building Yard" (less than 20 miles from my home) at about 4:00 this afternoon, and when my niece answered the phone, I asked her, "What have you been doing today?"
There was a short pause, and then she said, "Well, actually, today hasn't finished yet at my house."
I just found this little mathematical trick which shows that 'proof' is not necessarily infallible - I'm not a mathematician, but it all makes sense to me.
Theorem : 2 + 2 = 3
Suppose: a + b = c
This can also be written as: 4a - 3a + 4b - 3b = 4c - 3c
After reorganising: 4a + 4b - 4c = 3a + 3b - 3c
Take the constants out of the brackets: 4 * (a+b-c) = 3 * (a+b-c)
Remove the same term left and right: 4 = 3
Therefore, if 2 + 2 = 4, then 2 + 2 = 3
The point is that once you have a hypothesis, it's very easy to 'prove' it one way or another. But God doesn't ask us to believe because we have proof - He asks us to believe because we have faith.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
We are the Dead. Short days ago
Saturday, 10 November 2007
It being Saturday morning, several of the numbers rang unanswered, but eventually my father found the right number and managed to speak to the priest he had been looking for.
Shortly afterwards, the phone rang at my parents' house. My father picked it up, and nearly fell off his chair when he heard a deep, gruff Yorkshire voice on the other end, saying:
"Hello, this is Our Lady of Lourdes. Were you trying to contact me?"
Or received a response to something you had said or written which indicated that the responder has clearly not taken in a word you said?
Or had someone tell you something as if it was new information, when you had told them the exact same thing some time earlier?
Or found out that something you thought had been agreed several weeks ago is actually still up in the air, because the other person didn't realise it had been agreed?
Or had someone repeat to you dozens of times that Option B is the best solution after you have made it clear that Option B is out of the question due to factors outside your control and you're trying to decide between Options A and C?
Or had someone demanding to know why you're aren't available at a time when you've already told them three times that you're going to be busy doing something else?
All of these things have happened to me this week, and I've found it quite frustrating.
Listening - it appears to be a dying art.
The Samaritans offer confidential emotional support 24 hours a day by phone, e-mail, letter or face-to-face, to anyone experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Their website includes the following quote from a caller:
"There's very few places you can go to in the world where you can pick up a telephone and another human being, no matter why they're doing it, will listen to you unconditionally. If you want to pour out in a phonecall, they will listen for hours."
Chad Varah's son explained how his father saw the work of the Samaritans:
"My father described this befriending of the suicidal thus: There are in this world, in every country, people who seem to be 'ordinary', but who, when meeting a suicidal person, turn out to be extraordinary.
"They can usually save lives. How? They give the sad person their total attention. They completely forget themselves. They listen... and listen... and listen, without interrupting.
"If asked for advice, they say: 'You're the only person who can advise you well - what do you think you should do?' They have no message. They do not preach. They have nothing to sell.
"We call them 'Samaritans'."
More details here.
What a fantastic legacy this man has left. May he rest in peace - and may we all learn from him to judge a little less and listen a little more.
Friday, 9 November 2007
My sister rushed into the children's bedroom, to find the baby sitting up in her cot screaming, while from the other bed came a little voice, "Will you please be quiet - you might disturb me."
Thursday, 8 November 2007
Some weeks after he arrived, he had an occasion to take the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change.
As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, "You'd better give the quarter back - it would be wrong to keep it."
Then he thought, "Oh, forget it - it's only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Accept it as a gift from God and keep quiet."
When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, "Here, you gave me too much change."
The driver, with a smile, replied, "Aren't you the new preacher in town? I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you at church on Sunday."
When the preacher stepped off the bus, he grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, "Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter."
Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. Always be on guard and remember that you carry the name of Christ on your shoulders when you call yourself "Christian".
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
One of the things they do at this gym is to weigh and measure you once a month and produce a graph for you of how you're doing. In the first month, I exercised for a week and a half, spent half a week babysitting and getting ready for my holiday, then ate red meat and cheesecake and drank Castle lager for two weeks, almost without stopping. So when I had my first weigh-in yesterday, I was not displeased to find that I had lost a whole pound.
At this rate, I should reach my target weight by about March 2012. Fortunately, though, I haven't yet managed to persuade my boss to give me two weeks' holiday every month, so I'm hoping the rate of weight loss may pick up a bit this month. One of the side effects of exercise for me is that after exercise, I can't bear to eat anything that might undo the good I've just done, so I've just eaten a very nice salad with king prawns.
Of course, I did say after exercise I can't bear to eat anything unhealthy. We won't mention what happens before exercise. I mean, it was my colleague's birthday, and it would have been rude to refuse those cream cakes.
Yes, that was plural. It was another colleague's last day in the office before he went off to get married. Well, having accepted the cake to celebrate the birthday, it would have been even ruder to refuse the cake to celebrate the wedding.
OK, maybe March 2012 is a realistic date for reaching my target weight, then. I don't care. I feel gooooood. They should bottle endorphins and sell them as a cure for depression...
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
I wonder how many double glazing salesmen and market researchers have hung up in confusion on hearing the little voice on the other end of the line announce confidently, "Hello, Bob's Building Yard."
Monday, 5 November 2007
As I looked down into the first couple of crocodile pits, I said to New Man, "You know, I'd be a lot more impressed if they just had the live crocodiles here and didn't try to pad them out with lots of stuffed dead ones." Then the "stuffed dead ones" started to move, and I was suddenly very impressed! Notice the weaver bird nests in the tree here above the crocodiles.
After we had seen the crocodiles, we were a bit peckish, so went off to find the restaurant. One of the items on the menu was called 'Fear Factor' - you could allegedly go into one of the crocodile enclosures and sit at a table amongst all the crocs while eating a crocodile kebab. I don't know if they would really allow tourists to do that - we wimped out and just ordered the crocodile steak. It was reasonably tasty- a bit like chicken, but chewier.
The park also had tortoises...
... rock python ...
... green mamba ...
... and snouted cobra.
But the most fearsome hunting animal of all was back at my brother's house...
Sunday, 4 November 2007
One of the first trips out that we had was to a park called Phezulu. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but had a great view over the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is a traditional Zulu area. One of the attractions at this park was a visit to a mock-up of a Zulu village, where various aspects of Zulu culture were explained to us, culminating in the performance of a dance which showed the courtship and marriage of a young couple.
In this photo, the man is trying to woo the woman, who is disdainfully responding that he's not all that special and asking if he has the eleven cows for her bride-price. The edge of the performing area is a sheer drop into the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
Another of our trips was into Pietermaritzburg, which, although smaller than Durban, is actually the provincial capital. It's an attractive smallish town, with a lot of old colonial buildings displaying the typical cast-iron lacework known familiarly as broekie lace (literally "pantie lace") which was very popular here in late Victorian times.
This is the old courthouse, outside which to the left you can just see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
Here's a closer view of the statue - it was erected on the centenary of the occasion when Gandhi was thrown out of the first class compartment of a train in Pietermaritzburg because it was reserved for whites only. Gandhi described this incident as the starting point of his "active non-violence".
This is a memorial to the British soldiers who fell in battle against the Zulus in 1879. There was also a memorial to the British soldiers who fell in the Boer War - you can definitely tell this was a British colonial town.
This next picture is of the town hall, and is notable for two reasons. First, this is the largest red-brick building in the southern hemisphere. Second, both the national flag of South Africa and the springbok flag of South African rugby are flying from the town hall - this was taken a week after South Africa won the World Cup. I won't go into the politics, but rugby is traditionally a white sport, and it's practically unheard of for a local government which is dominated by the ANC to fly the springbok flag.
This quaint little tin-roofed building is the old Cathedral of the Holy Nativity, which I think has now been upgraded and extended (we saw the complex from front and back, but didn't have time to actually go in).
This is just a random street in Pietermaritzburg. I took it because it gave quite a good view of the purple blossomed jacaranda trees, which were everywhere and which I loved. They are not a native South African plant, though, which means no more can be planted. Fortunately, the ones which already exist are permitted to stay - there is another category of 'invasive alien' plants, which must be rooted up as soon as they are found.
Since this was New Man's first visit to South Africa, my brother and sister-in-law also took the opportunity to take us for a day trip to the place where they got married - a hotel in the Drakensburg Mountains. This is the view over the terrace - if you look at the mountains in the distance, the one in the middle is called the Bell, and the one immediately to its right is Cathedral Peak.
This is the little chapel at the hotel. When you go inside, the entire wall behind the altar is made of glass, so you really feel as though you're in the mountains. I saw on a wedding website the other day that this was listed as one of the top 10 most romantic wedding chapels in the world.
You'll see from the top of this next picture that I actually took it through the windscreen of a car. We were climbing down into a little river valley in the mountains, and passing small groups of schoolchildren on their way home from school. Over on the far slope, you can see a small group of Zulu homes. The Drakensburg Mountains are also very much Zulu country around here.
From there it was a short drive to Spion Kop, the site of a major battle in the Anglo-Boer War. Although the British eventually won the war, they suffered a significant defeat at this battle. Hundreds of soldiers were buried in the trenches where they fell, and there are several memorials to the fallen soldiers around the top of the hill.
The Liverpool FC football ground at Anfield is known as the Spion Kop (usually shortened to the Kop), after this hill.
Our final day out was into the centre of Durban. This is a picture of the very impressive war memorial, with the town hall in the background.
Saturday, 3 November 2007
When I first knew her, she was not a happy person, though she was always very kind to me. She drank too much, and had a knack for attracting unsuitable boyfriends - in typical English fashion, we usually used to chat on the doorstep, and the first time she actually came into my flat was in the middle of one night, when I gave her a packet of frozen peas to put on her broken nose after her latest man had been knocking her around.
Over ten years, I saw her getting her life together. She has a son and daughter about my age, and we shared all the news about our respective families - she remembers the names of all my many nephews and nieces. She stopped drinking, and as her self-respect increased, the violent boyfriends melted away. After her mother died a couple of years ago, she was able to move to a better area, closer to her daughter, and when I speak to her these days she sounds very contented.
I would often bump into her on my way to Mass, and she asked me a number of questions over the years about my beliefs. She was baptised in the Church of England, and about three or four years ago she started going to church. Since she moved, I knew she wasn't as happy with her local Anglican church, and was still searching for her spiritual home.
The message she left me while I was on holiday was: "You'll be pleased to know I'm taking the journey of faith to become a Roman Catholic."
I am - I'm chuffed to bits!