Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Monday, May 28, 2007

The black spot

Yesterday a valued ex-colleague was found cold in her bed at 51 years of age. Apart from mild hypertension, she'd been in good health, fit and slim, and looked 15 years younger than her chronological age. She'd had indigestion that night and slept in the spare room to save disturbing her partner. She leaves behind her a devoted and devastated latter-day, true-love husband and two daughters in their early 20s, who relied and depended on her as the nucleus of a close blended family. I worked alongside her for 15 years, and we were smoke-break chums for 10 of these until she had to give up for her blood pressure. She never again smoked in the daytime, but would put away a packet of 10 Silk Cut casually in an evening over a few glasses of white wine when circumstance permitted.

On the way to work I was thinking over the news of her death, and decided it must've been a false alarm. She was just sleeping heavily or had a brief faint, and had come to with pink cheeks and sparkling eyes a few minutes later. But no- she's really, unbelievably gone. Goodbye.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Slow time

Work intrudes into reading and botanical time. The weather god smited our planned walk with early rain, but s/he held off long enough to allow a Braidburn daunder with Reekie the Wonderdog and H.-etc. at lunchtime. It was green wellie weather. The rhodies are still flowering along with the last of the wild garlic. The wellies are high enough to allow for fording the Braidburn at its widest and shallowest point and the wee wan found some blonde stripey snails usually restricted to high heathland hill.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A lovely week in Engerland, even if they do talk funny down there. There's my godson the Miracle Baby, cats of acquaintance, funfairs and different, lighter-coloured slugs ands snails than my locals. I managed to fry my shoulders in just two hours of morning sun in a south-facing garden, and have suffered badly for it all week.

Poor D., mother of Miracle Baby, had undergone jaw implant surgery two days before I arrived to find her sporting chipmunk swollen cheeks, two black eyes and nasty black rows of stitches from her gumline right down her palate. She'd been expecting the equivalent of a few fillings but it turned out to be Driller Killer, as successively larger Black & Decker drills were employed on her to excavate space in the upper mandible for the pig collagen and cow bone inserted to hold later new teeth-alikes. All on the NHS (free within a year of maternity) as long as you don't mind dental surgeon students inflicting on you dulled but substantial pain. Nothing but ice cream and yoghurt for 5 days afterwards while your slashed mucosae heal. They couldn't believe how much D. tolerated (3.5 hours), but she is Scottish.

This is a true story

The taxi driver for the 10 min ride to the train in Colchester is playing in the cab inspirational spoken-word from a Brooklyn-accented man. As we set off-

Driver: Is the recording bothering you?
Me: No, but it doesn't have much effect. I don't believe in God.
Driver: That's a good start. Would you like to talk instead?
Me: OK. God is dead.
Driver: Maybe. All you need to do is meditate, no belief necessary. That speaker is one who hasn't had a direct teacher and is self-taught.
Me: I thought you needed a teacher with a traceable lineage back to the buddha?
Driver: Not necessarily. There are many ways, and it's different for different people.

They draw up to the station
Me: It's hard to leave things behind, and I don't know how to think of nothing.
Driver: It takes practice.
Driver draws a slim black quarto from under the seat well; Gibran's The Prophet.
Driver: I'd like you to read this on the train.
Me: What's your name?
Driver: That's easy. My name is John Doe. Why not read the book on the train.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Road Trip II

Our road trip was afflicted by bad weather and common cold infections in both R. and me, but these didn't detract from the adventure. R. had booked us a room by phone in Alnwick with a rather flirtatious B&B owner, who I shall call Lionel. We had been assured that we were booked in his best room, and his pride in it was evident on arrival as he showed off its white leather armchair, a cheap repro Louis Quinze wardrobe highlighted in gold paint, cream carpets and electric gilt candelabra. He sat provocatively on the bed as he welcomed us, made a formulaic joke that the shower switch was to activate a video of our action in his room, then handed over an A4 sheet of house rules, including a room inventory labelled as a 'Room Itinerary'. The fragrance offered in the en-suite was 'Burberry Brit'.

It was a non-smoker, but after a good dinner in town over a robust bottle of red I was compelled to smoke too much and not all tobacco during 'Eurovision' in our jammies back at the B&B. In accordance with house rules I was taking myself out to the front area on the street for smoke breaks, but Lionel hadn't closed the curtains while he entertained a lady guest downstairs, and I couldn't help but spy. To all appearances she was the less willing wincher on the sofa, for the body language was of her at her end of the sofa with Lionel all over her from his side. He was not tall, but has a large personality and tight jeans.

Perhaps the best of the many laughs we got from staying at Lionel's were his comments on other guests. A previous entry in his guestbook noted that the B&B was clean but that Lionel was 'a fusspot' (which is quite an idiomatic term). His explanation for this was that the signatory was an older Italian lady who had lusted after him, but she was 'at least 45' and 'no picture'. In just 12 hours, Lionel provided us with enough entertainment to justify the B&B price.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Road trip

It has been my pleasure to undertake several past road trips with R., and we did another Thelma & Louise (without the film's ending) this weekend. There is nothing so fine as to take off without a clear route or itinerary and follow our noses as the mood takes us, valuing the journey as much or more than the destination.

On this adventure we headed south to Northumberland, indulging on our way a mutual love for food, stately homes, ambitious gardens, window-shopping, second-hand book shopping, bird-watching, plant identification, invertebrate encounters and ancient monuments. The intermittent rain, the aristocracy's blinkered views and bad taste, our eccentric B&B host, Eurovision and local accents only added to the experience. I suspect Mein Host's behaviour and ours at the B&B deserve a post all of their own, but this will have to wait for now.


Friday, May 11, 2007


So consumed with part-time workfulness, I'm running dry to talk about anything but my favourite subject- me, me, me- and even that's running parchful.

Normally quite rational, I've allowed myself to become lacrimose and then vituperative in trying just to understand the interplay of exchanges between the three national benefit agencies in one week.
a) The DWP sends me 17 letters in one week to cover mortgage interest relief, working tax credit and child tax credits and other benefits for taking on parttime (20 hrs per week) which they classify as fulltime.
b) For Inland Revenue, there's going on a redistribution of wealth as I try to do the right thing and acknowledge the kiddos' Dad 50% equity in their care and benefits. When they were born, legally were they mine because I gave birth. Now I may have committed fraud because I obeyed current claiming rules in 1996 and negotiated 50/50 custody rules. I can't keep up, even though I try. Another 17 letters all with conflicting provisional or full entitlements for this or that amount or sum, the derivation of which from an unseen Excel spreadsheet couldn't be more opaque.
c) The third agency is the Council, which takes charge of housing costs and council tax. On returning to workfulness, I gave a full and frank account of changes in circumstance to DWP and HM Inland Revenue last month but forgot about the Cooncil, thinking the agencies would have cross information. Apparently this impression was partly true because the Cooncil's on my tail, but the irregularity register is used only to detect fraud and not smooth flowpaths that the DWP fail to provide. Now I'm in deep shit because I forgot to inform the Council Tax of workfulness last month, thinking erroneously that the interlinked agencies would do this for me, and will paying through the nose for my sin. An ex- couple who just want to get parentalism sorted eeksie peeksie as agreed between parents is necessarily a suspect criminal and a fraudster conspiracy. Thank YWHW the kiddos don't see it the same way as some families, with a combative win/lose, all or nothing framework.

Hopefully, the three agencies are more interested in the change from an assumption of a female gender to the primary parent, and a new acceptance that joint parents can be 50/50. Hopefully they'll redistribute entitlements and responsibilities accordingly.


Sunday, May 06, 2007


This last fortnight, mainly I have been reading Karen Armstrong's 'The Great Transformation' on the philosophy and religion of major pre-Christian civilisations, and Moazzam Begg's 'Enemy Combatant' about four years of US detention in Begum and Guantanamo without trial.

Armstrong has taken on an enormous task- to objectively compare and contrast the roots of Judaic, Islamic, Buddhist, Shinto and Hindu traditions and their divergence, century by BC century. I'm interested and informed, and still worried. In my dumbed down interpretation, she is seeking and explicating some kind of ascending evolutionary human nature in what's termed the Axial Age or stage, when religion and spirituality gained a capacity for self-reflection and selflessness in different forms. I have to think on this further, and imagine what a beetle or a fluke would make of it.

Due to workfulness and a gift voucher from my dear Dad, I am happily swimming in books. Not only Hotboy's RaBlissBook but also Challinor's Beelzebub and a collection of recent bioscience. The first I've dug into is Carl Zimmer's 'Parasite Rex', which shows off some of the elegance and ingenuity of this prevalent lifestyle.


Dream Diary

What a nasty night, full of three bad dreams after each of which I woke in a lather of sweat. I'm not sure whether to blame the perimenopauses, forgetting the pills or going to bed sober. In the last dream I was back at a campus University*, carrying excessive baggage* and losing my way* to my room. This has just brought back the similar dream from last week, when I was struggling to make my way to a demo* carrying a live, snapping and unmanageable crocodile under my arm, whom passers-by wished to pet. It may have been an alligator- I wasn't awake enough to apply the 'alligator broad crocodile diminished' muzzle rule to the beast in question.

* Recurrent dream themes


Friday, May 04, 2007


Electronic vote scanning has cocked up the counting, with up to 7% of votes spoiled. Aberdeen has suspended counting because of the proportion of voting papers rejected by the scanner.

Surely an error detected anywhere in the voting and counting system is proof that the whole is suspect. Bring out the grannies, sit them at a table and feed them small aliquots of sherry all night while they count votes the old way, where there can be no systematic errors. In fact, suspend the whole voting debacle. Just have the grannies in place of a parliament.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Scottish Election 2007

The Scottish elections are coming up, and I who can't vote am fascinated. Being neither a British subject nor an EU citizen, I am ineligible and technically an alien on the voting register. This did not stop me participating in a telephone poll on my voting intention last week.

Partly this is because R. has already promised me her vote. She is an eligible EU citizen who canvassed and followed my voting preference last time, on the grounds that I was better informed, longer resident and more righteous to vote than her, as a more recent emigrant. Apparently she followed my wishes, far from her natural political centre of gravity.

If R. follows my directive again, we'll cast a tactical vote in the constituency election for whoever's second to Nigel Griffiths (Lab); probably the LibDem in South Edinburgh. The regional vote will be for the Greens, since the Sheridan debacle has so sadly divided the socialists into splitter camps. The argument that voting is a waste of time has some value, but spare a thought for those that might but can't.