Ten reasons to be thankful

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Last week I celebrated my first ever thanksgiving dinner, where a very good American friend, bought me and a whole bunch of other great people together to share the traditional thanksgiving feast. As a Brit I don’t necessarily understand thanksgiving but it felt great to be embraced by the tradition and taking a bit of time out to pause and relfect on things I’m thankful for didn’t seem a bad idea.


 

1. The milka chocolate advent calendar Tom bought for me for next week and the sparkly picture one that arrived in the post today from mum and dad. I was wondering if I had outgrown advent calendars (at 30 years of age, now is the time to ask myself that question) but clearly Tom and my parents know me better. Although I have never really been convinced by chocolate advent calendars (having once bought one of the really cheap ones) I like milka chocolate so am pretty excited about this one. Only question is can I actually just eat one chocolate a day or will I slice open the back, slide out all the advents in one go and then feign disappointment at every opened door where the ‘manufacturers have failed to put the chocolate in’?

2. Just how good the latest book I’m reading by David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) is. I’m a big fan of the author and didn’t want to buy this book until I knew he had another coming out (so as not to run out of future works to read and feel the sadness of knowing there are no more works out there I can enjoy…), I would have been massively disappointed if it wasn’t as enjoyable as it currently is. However at some 600= pages it is running the risk of being one of those books I can’t put down and forget to clean, sleep or go to work until I’ve finished it.

3. The accidental discovery that Netflix UK is accessible on my laptop, which has a whole new world of time-wasting possibilities to enjoy (and is bound to come in handy when Christmas comes around and I actually have some time).

4. Slipper socks. These keep my feet cosy and warm on a much longer term basis than mere slippers alone. I live in a household that is very geared up to the felicity of it’s two primary residents: Jasper and Buttons, who happen to be cats. Us poor humans are forced to put up with constantly opening and closing the living room door and all the cold draftiness that entails just so that the hairy gods we are allowed to live with can come and go as they please. Slippers are good, but if you are a wriggly squirmy, feet up on chairs, feet down again-kind of person slippers that aren’t moulded to your leg have an irritating habit of getting lost under the sofa, migrating to different rooms and generally conspiring to keep my tootsies cold.

5. Life could always be worse. It could be that one day I wake up and just from one hour to the next a series of horrible, terrifying and complicated events start to emerge over the next 24 hours, where it turns out your friends are conspiring to kill you, your enemies are suddenly on your side and you are trying to navigate complicated relationships with family members. In an alternate universe I could be Jack Bauer so every day I wake up and don’t find myself thinking that this is going to be one of those days is something to be thankful for.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 13.23.506. Reusable rubber duckie drink coolers that work like ice cubes, without diliting all that wonderful alcohol, to cool down my lovely white wine I forgot to put in the fridge.

7. Every day I manage to exist in this world without adding some sort of bruise, scratch, paper-cut, scrape, twisted limb, etc to my constantly evolving collection. Not feeling like the Queen of Clutzes or having to explain to colleagues that I really did walk into the door frame or slam the cupboard door into my forehead all of my own accord, without their suspecting I am a battered woman, usually amounts to a good day.

8. Tea. Enough said.

9. Sticky paper fly strips, electric fly swats, citronella candles, copious amounts of garlic, ninja cats and anything else that prevents annoying flying buggy things from getting in my face or trying to feast on my flesh.

10. The satisfaction on a Sunday evening/Monday morning at 12.37am when I finally finish a work project I’ve spent the last two weeks sacrificing sleep and sanity to work on.

 

 

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Ten reasons to give up and go back to bed

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1. Your cat decided that she would prefer to do her business in the shower than in the cat litter box and consequently you are forced to clean cat poop out of the bath before you have even properly woken up.

2. You drop the razor in the recently cleaned shower and although it doesn’t actually do you any damage it scares the bejebus out of you and shakes you up for the rest of the day wondering how long it would be before your cat discovered you naked in the shower and bleeding from inexplicable razor wounds to the knees and ankles. You would hope your cat would not have returned to do her business once again.

3. You tried to get dressed for work opting for the nice skirt suit you had laid out the night before but, after putting on not one, not two but three pairs of tights that either already had holes or quickly gained some, you concede defeat and wear trousers.

4. Cycling to work, one of your comfortable shoes, that you specifically chose for being easy to ride in, falls off in the middle of the road and your pedal then viciously attacks the back of your ankle and makes it bleed.

pedal attack - bp image

5. On arriving at work you remember that the document you have been furiously working on and took home to work on the previous night, remains lodged in the memory stick… at the back of the laptop…on your desk… at home.

6. You go to make a cup of tea at work and are upset that of the ten boxes of tea in the cupboard, these all turn out to be various herbal offerings including fennel and chamomile but all you want is just a normal cup of tea. You are forced to settle for an unsatisfactory green tea.

7. You manage to knock your unsatisfactory cup of green tea and it spills all over your phone, you are forced to spend some ten minutes frantically drying the device on your scarf as the nearest thing to hand and praying to the gods of technology that the essential device will survive the experience.

8. Your scarf, which was white, is now covered in unsatisfactory green tea and it’s cold in the office and you want to wear it rather than leaving it to soak in the work bathroom’s sink.

9. You realise you absolutely do not have time to attend the interesting work-related but not wholly essential meeting taking place that afternoon that you have been looking forward to for a week.

10. You heat up your homemade leftover-for-a-while soup at lunch to discover that contrary to previously held beliefs, yes, vegetable soup can go off after a week and taste very very bad. You try to eat it anyway.

Ten reasons to hate the sunshine

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1. Mosquitoes

Little flying biting bastards that love the taste of my sweet sweet blood. On the plus side if you take me with you on nice days out in the sunshine I will act as a mosquito magnet and draw them away from everyone else. You’re welcome.

2. Too much flesh

I get it, it’s hot, you want to feel the pleasure of the sun on your bare skin but could you possibly save this for the privacy of your own garden or confine yourself to a beach area where others can at least prepare themselves for this? What I don’t really want is to encounter masses of exposed flab, lobstering itself up to perfection, when I’ve just popped out to buy a bit of milk.

3. Skimpy outfits

It’s too hot to wear your normal wardrobe staples, but the heat always comes when you aren’t expecting it. You might have been meaning to buy a decent pair of shorts for years, as opposed to those ridiculously skimpy cut-offs you made out of an old pair of jeans ten years ago, but you are caught out and have no choice but to parade yourself in your silly outfit and open yourself up to the ridicule of others. By the time you are geared up for a summer shopping trip the heatwave is usually over.

4. Dieting/not-dieting

By the time you want to put on your skimpy summer clothes and bare that flesh you’ve realised that those ice creams that go hand-in-hand with the hot weather really aren’t doing you any favours. It’s also this time you realise that your plan to slim down for summer might be a bit behind schedule. You plan to eat salads to remedy the problem but end up filling up on tortilla chips and hot dogs at BBQs instead.

5. Sweat

Perhaps you did manage to buy some nice summer clothing, maybe you even managed to slim down so that your figure is nicely displayed in a little summer dress, but you haven’t factored on sweat. The make-up you apply before leaving the house usually melts off your face before you can make it to the bus stop and the carefully blow-dried hair has gone from swish-quiff to sweat-drenched-flop in less time than it takes to say ‘I should have worn a hat’.

6. Eczema

Just in case I didn’t look pretty enough with little mozzie bites covering all parts of exposed flesh my eczema likes to join in the skintastic party and happily applies itself to all bodily joints. This is very convenient as it is easy to hide if I curl up in a foetal position. It is less convenient if I try to do anything silly…like…moving.

melting chocolate - bp image7. Chocolate loses it’s magical powers

Normally chocolate provides the solution to everything, it can pick you up when you are flagging at work, it can cheer you up after a bad day and it can even help you bond with intimidating workmates. But in the summer chocolate doesn’t get to melt in your mouth because it has normally melted all over your hands, work, home and cat long before this.

8. Working

Having to work when the weather is nice should be criminal. You want to join the other sun seekers and parade around in tiny shorts and crop tops like everyone else but instead you are forced to put on grown up clothes and look longingly out of the office window from Monday to Friday, knowing full well there is a good chance the nice weather will have buggered off come the weekend.

9. Sunburn

We all like to amuse ourselves sniggering at foolish tourists caught out in the sun and happily wandering around seemingly oblivious to the fact they have turned a beautiful shade of race-car red. Some of us are pretty good at applying suntan lotion but might miss a spot or forget to reapply after a couple of hours and are unfairly punished with burnt tomato skin. And then laughed at by others. This just isn’t fair.

10. Judgement for drinking tea

Tea maintains its potency as remedy for all the world’s ills and general pick-me-up even in the heat but when the sun is blazing you are forced to respond to so many comments about why you are drinking tea on a hot day it’s enough to make you want to hurl your cup of boiling water at these naysayers as you try to convince people that tea is still bloody amazing, whatever the weather!

Ten Reasons ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ was better than the actual eclipse

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In case you were in any doubt I am comparing Bonnie Tyler’s song to the recent astronomical phenomenon in Europe, which was, at least in Geneva, massively disappointing where cloud cover obscured anything that might have been vaguely interesting.

1.Durability.  The single was released in 1983 and it’s still widely known today 30+ years later, whereas the eclipse only lasted a few minutes.

2. A Solar eclipse blocks out the sun’s heat and light, on the contrary Bonnie’s song brings warmth and light into the hearts and lives of so many.

3. Bonnie’s song features the memorable, if somewhat bizarre, lyrics ‘turnaround bright eyes’, which implores bright eyes to turn around so she can look at the brightness, but you can’t look at the brightness of the eclipse without risking sight damage. Although judging by those in the music video their bright eyes might in fact result in or be the result of sight damage.

4. Bonnie is something that Welsh people can be proud of and unite around that is more impressive to non nationals than leeks and daffodils and less reputationally damaging than sheep. The eclipse doesn’t really belong to any one group to get all teary eyed and emotional about.

5. You don’t have to wait decades to listen to Bonnie Tyler, you can play that single whenever you want whereas the UK seems to be averaging an eclipse every 12-15 years (last one 1999, now 2015, next one 2026). Please note I take no responsibility for any legal action that might ensue if this blog post inspires you to play the song on repeat at 3am and your neighbours decide to sue.

6. ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ has sold over 9 million copies, which probably amounts to more money than people selling eclipse glasses made.

7. The single probably inspired loads of girls, and boys too (no gender sterostyping here thank you very much), to pursue dreams of singing their little hearts out. If the eclipse inspired anyone it’s to eat so much they become rotund enough to create eclipses for people on a daily basis by eclipsing their view at the bus stop or wherever. This is probably a less healthy aspiration than wanting to be a famous singer.

8. According to Wikipedia, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ was meant to be a Vampire love song and everyone knows that vampires are cool (literally, because of the whole dead thing, and figuratively, because I’m old enough that I still think cool is a cool word to use). So the song is Vampire friendly, which is non judgmental and inclusive. But the eclipse wasn’t vampire friendly because it wasn’t a total eclipse so it’s not like vampires could even come out and have a look at it if they’d wanted to (unless we are talking sparkly Twilight vampires, but we aren’t because that’s just silly).

9. You can bond with friends by loudly shrieking the song lyrics at one another, you can’t bond with friends as a result of the eclipse because either the eclipse wasn’t rubbish but you couldn’t see them or it was such a non-event you weren’t sure it was really happening and there was no moment to inspire communal karaoke.

10. And finally, my absolute trump card which is worth all the preceding nine reasons put together, and really the only reason I started this ridiculous list, is that Total Eclipse of the Heart wins hands done because it’s whimsical music video inspired the truly fantastic literal version of the video. If you haven’t seen it already check it out and prepare to snort out your tea with amusement.

 

Chaos on Ice

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Last week I had decided that much as I’d like to be able to jump, twirl and triple toe-loop (whatever that actually is) on the ice it would probably be sensible to try and master the basics first. Like being able to stop without having to a) crash into the barrier or b) wait almost an entire circuit and hope to slow down naturally by the exit. So, in preparation for my skate this week I watched a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating how to come to a timely standstill. When on more stable ground, for example whilst waiting for the kettle to boil for one of my ten cups of tea of the day, I would take the opportunity to practice the footwork I’d seen in the videos.

This week is school holidays in Geneva so I was a bit concerned that the rink would be overrun with kids. It’s not that I’m violently opposed to children or even peacefully resistant to them it’s just that I like skating best when I have a bit of space to do my own thing, so that I can practice stopping and starting and turning without worrying that I’m going to collide with someone.

But my trepidations about too many children on the ice initially seemed unfounded, when I turned up there were only a handful of people already skating and although there were maybe more family groups than usual, the holidays didn’t seem to be having much of an impact on numbers. I did a few warm-up laps and then set about trying to practice stopping. What had seemed easy in the kitchen was a lot harder to master on the ice but I noticed some improvement after twenty minutes or so of putting in the practice.

The decision to work on my stopping abilities proved fortuitous as just as I was thinking I’d put in enough training for the day and should just enjoy my last ten minutes or so whizzing and slaloming about the rink, suddenly all the kids in Geneva turned up.

Kids entering the ice - bp imageAt first I noticed a line of bobble hatted heads snaking their way towards the rink entrance and then a steady stream of children of about seven or eight tumbled onto the ice and bedlam ensued. Bunched up at the one entry point they jostled and stumbled their way on and then fanned out in a widening arc of absolute madness.

If there aren’t many people on the ice you can do what you like and skate in any direction but if it’s a little bit busy everyone is meant to go in an anti-clockwise direction to minimise risk of injury. However, the guys supervising that session didn’t even bother to try and enforce this rule; sensibly concluding no doubt that trying to direct that many people would be like herding cats.

So when I said all the kids in Geneva that may have been a tiny exaggeration but there were about 200 hundred of them slipping and sliding in every direction as the rink transformed into an obstacle course. (Thus providing an excellent opportunity to practice my turning skills and new-found ability to stop.)

It’s hard to convey exactly what the effect of this sudden influx of little humans was like but I’ll try. Imagine that you were pleasantly enjoying the calm environment of an art gallery, or shopping or any activity you like where you are on your feet in an enclosed space and suddenly 200 cats in roller skates all emerge through the front door.

These little furry balls of insanity are suddenly everywhere and loudly caterwauling their surprise at the unfamiliar setting they have suddenly found themselves in. They are not moving in a coordinated fashion, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to why they would go in a certain direction, some of them move tentatively because of the little shoes with wheels someone has taken the time to attach to their feet, some more eager to get away than others and with slightly better balance manage to speed along pretty quickly, they fall over themselves and others frequently.

You might think well I was here first and I can still enjoy my art/shopping/whatever if I just move at a sedate person and take care not to step on all the little creatures. After a brief time you will reasonably conclude it is slightly less fun and slightly more dangerous than before and think maybe you will just leave. However, as you try to make your way to the exit you discover you can’t actually get out because these critters with wheels are still bursting through the opening. You will be forced to pretend you didn’t actually want to leave just yet anyway and take a few more turns about the building until you can spot enough of a gap to force your way through.

I was glad that the kids didn’t arrive until towards the end of my session so that rather than being frustrated by the inconvenience I could actually take a detached view of the scene and enjoy the sensation of that sudden and unexpected transition from carefree skating to hopscotching over living hurdles. I thought that this could make a really lovely painting: rosy-cheeked, lively children in brightly-coloured padded winter wear, making their arms and legs stick out at unnatural angles, enjoying themselves on the ice. A real artist could capture the vibrancy and chaos of the scene, but you’ll have to make do with my computer art.

An appetite to appreciate anomalies

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I read with interest the news story of the three young students (two Dutch and one British) who on finding themselves stranded in Turkey for eight days, survived by eating insects. I thought the piece was interesting not for the regaling of the student’s survival plight but that the headline focus on insect-eating implied this was the real shocker of the incident.

One thing I’ve never been afraid of is trying new foods. I remember my parents being impressed enough to tell all their friends (one of whom’s children had spent several years only eating baked beans, smash and chocolate mousse) that I had eaten squid kebab whilst on a family holiday, when I must have been about eleven or twelve. To me it wasn’t that big a deal but after that I probably reveled in and strove to live up to my reputation as a gastronomic dare-devil.

Like most people I do judge edibles on how they look and allow appearances to affect what I think of certain questionable foodstuffs, but preconceptions wont stop me from trying these. So I’ve never really understood why people are squeamish about eating certain things.

Capture d’écran 2015-01-22 à 16.45.30When I was in Cambodia in the summer of 2013 (gosh, that sounds so much longer ago now that it’s 2015), the guidebook I read in advance informed me that fried tarantulas were a common snack and that insects were often on the menu. The though of eating creepy-crawlies was definitely a bit weird, and still is, but I’m not really sure why.

Yes, they are a bit gross to look at with sticky-out eyes, feelers and too many legs but prawns are just as disgusting and have you ever really looked as a mussel as you are eating it? Yet these sea-insects, if you will, are eaten by many who would be horrified by the thought of eating crispy noodles with red tree ants or a nice bowl of fried crickets.

Eating bugs is definitively a cultural thing and I suppose that because, unlike prawns and mussels, they are so readily available in the dirt around us this makes them less desirable in the way that caviar is probably valued more for its seeming rarity. Eating insects is also often associated with poverty and starvation and that might be where part of our preconceived distaste comes from.

Generally my food-philosophy is to try anything once and I wouldn’t automatically turn my nose up at any local cuisine whether that’s frog’s legs in France, black pudding (congealed pig’s blood) in England, paella with prawns and mussels in Spain, fried tarantulas and snake in Cambodia, Chicken’s feet in China or a Matcha Green Tea Latte in Geneva.

I’m not committing to liking these things but I’m definitely willing to have a go. Actually all of those items above I have tried (although not necessarily in stated country) and the only thing I thought truly vile was the Green Tea Latte I ordered this week but even that I still managed to slurp down, albeit shuddering with every mouthful. I wont order that one again.

Capture d’écran 2015-01-23 à 16.28.57I’m often motivated to try new things by the fear of missing out on great opportunities if I shut myself off to these. And from experience I know that whilst every activity is not necessarily for me there have been things I’ve tried without enthusiasm that have positively astonished me. If I’m honest I find snorkeling too scary to actually appreciate. But volunteering to run sessions of a legal programme for teenagers, that I thought I would struggle with, I really enjoyed.

In the same way I wouldn’t want to miss out on cultural culinary opportunities that might amaze me. I like green tea but thought the green tea latte revolting. I am pathetic around living specimens but found fried arachnid legs rather tasty.

I love travelling, and hope to do a lot more of this, but what I really enjoy is attempting to get under the skin of a different culture to find out what makes people from that part of the world  tick and to think about how they live the lives they do. I know you can’t generalize whole people from brief visits to a place but you can at least try to get an understanding of certain similarities these people may share.

When I went to Thailand about a decade ago I saw fried locusts for sale in busy tourist areas but declined to try them, partly because I was less brave than I am now but mostly because I wasn’t convinced that this was something real Thai people ate. I thought the eating of locusts might have just been a touristy gimmick with locals snickering from alleyways at the foolish farang.

However in Cambodia, at a local party celebrating the official opening of one of our favourite hostels/bars, we were enjoying the cheaper-than-water-beer when out came steaming dishes of crispy once-jumping hexapods. As the Cambodians there started tucking in I recognized the legitimacy of the dish and knew I would have to participate. The locals watched us expats with interest to see how we would respond to the unfamiliar platter and their curiosity was amply rewarded by the looks on our faces as we braved the many-legged snacks. But actually, once we got over the strangeness of eating a food so foreign to us, we enjoyed these little critters, which a friend accurately described as meaty crisps.

I wonder if those stranded students came to like their bug-based diet, once they allowed hunger to overcome initial misgivings? More likely their having to eat insects as necessity impaired their ability to truly appreciate these. I hope their ordeal will not indefinitely put these young adventurers off from future expeditions and perhaps they will even have the occasion to sample some intriguing local cuisines prepared in more favourable circumstances.