Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

Will the Real Jordan Please Stand Up?

Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, (English and...
Image via Wikipedia

Half-listening to the radio in my car the other day, I picked up the start of a news story: “Jordan is calling for the repatriation of ancient manuscripts from Israel…”

Gosh, I thought, maybe she’s trying to reinvent herself as an intellectual in the wake of her second divorce.  Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing she’s usually up to.  I thought she preferred cavorting in Ibiza night clubs, if we’re to believe the tabloid newspapers.

I’d driven another mile before I realised that John Humphrys was not talking about the infamous Katie Price, aka glamour model Jordan, but the Middle Eastern nation.

It’s not the first time I’ve been confused by a country’s name.  Years ago, at a dinner party, the whole table was held in thrall by the hostess’s account of domestic habits in Iceland.  It was only when someone piped up “I didn’t know you’d been there for your holidays” that it emerged she’d actually been talking about Iceland, the popular frozen food chainstore. I’d been wondering how she knew so much about foreign shopping bags.

There’s something rather appealing about hijacking a country’s name for other purposes.  I’m usually a traditionalist with babies’ names – I did after all choose Laura for my own daughter – but I rather like the growing trend for calling children after countries. India and China suggest elegant, dainty girls, while states’ names like Georgia and Alberta summon up a more robust, outdoorsy type.  Nations terminating in a consonant sound more masculine.  Israel, of course, and Chad have long been used as boys’ names, but Egypt and Sudan would be equally rugged. How refreshing it would be to see a little America and Libya holding hands in the playground, or Laos and Denmark playing tag. Report some of these events on the news and we could all believe that we’re living in a new, more peaceful age, at least for a pleasant, fleeting moment.

Posted in Family

Not So Tricky

Image via Wikipedia

Hallowe’en in our village seems to have had an identity crisis this year, disguising itself as the season of goodwill.  By the time we return from my small daughter’s first venture into trick-or-treating, we are overwhelmed by our neighbours’ generosity.  Laura is positively radiant – and not just because of the fluorescent nail polish applied earlier by her best friend’s mum.

“I just LOVE trick-or-treating!” she breathes ecstatically as we trek round the village.

We bump into most of her schoolfriends en route, plus quite a few teenagers, all impressively attired.  Not for our village the media stereotype of  big kids in half-hearted costumes harassing old ladies.  A group of teenage witches welcomes my little black cat to tag along with them at a couple of houses.  Some big boys in ambitious costumes, one apparently a wild animal in a tardis-like cage, politely offer her a biscuit.  The packet had just been cheerfully dispensed by a man whose greeting  was “Sorry, I’ve run out of sweets and I’ve run out of money, but here, have these cookies instead”.

Many adults have gone to as much trouble as the children to get into a spooky mood. They’ve festooned their houses with paper bats and ghosts, they  answer the door in costume and character.  One kind couple has made up goody bags of assorted chews that includes a set of plastic vampire teeth.  “I’ve always wanted one of those!” my daughter squeals with delight.  She’ll need new teeth if she’s going to eat her way through tonight’s haul.

Another lady has set up a grisly pick-and-mix in her front porch, chocolate eyeballs and bloody jelly fingers dispensed from dishes proffered by severed hands.

“She’s so kind,” my daughter remarks, slipping her hand into mine as we walk on down the lane.  “Someone really ought to give her  special treat too.”

At the next stop, we’re invited in for some jokes, a chocolate biscuit and an interesting lesson on the Celtic origins of the Hallowe’en tradition.  The adults are clearly having as much fun as the kids.

We head back towards home, looking out for lit pumpkins, the accepted indicator of a household that welcomes trick-or-treaters.  We pass by the home of one of the oldest ladies in the village.

“She hasn’t got a pumpkin, but do you think we should call on her anyway? She’s a very kind lady and always smiles and waves to us.”

Laura’s clearly convinced that Hallowe’en is all about generosity of spirit.  I shake my head.  “No pumpkin, no visit,” I remind her.

But what pumpkins we have seen!  Hours of carving must have gone into many of those on display.  Their fine fretwork depicted cheery toothy grins with varying degrees of menace, witches on broomsticks, moon-lit landscapes, angry cats arch-backed with vertical fur.  How many more ended up as soup following a slip of the knife in these artists’ quests for perfection?

Our own pumpkin, less elaborately carved, gave me a fright the night before.  Having nurtured it to a vast size in the garden all summer, we placed it proudly on the front wall in readiness at dusk, only to find it had vanished by the time night fell.  I was devastated.  How could someone stoop so low as to steal a pumpkin the night before Hallowe’en?  What sort of person does that?  Someone warming up to pinch our Christmas tree a few weeks later?

My outraged SOS on Facebook triggered a sympathetic search. By mid-morning a kind neighbour has discovered it on his front drive.  It’s too far for it to have rolled, so how on earth did it get there?  Why did the pumpkin cross the road?  I can’t help but wonder.  Well, I suppose this ancient festival has had the last laugh.  For all the outpouring of generosity in our village, Hallowe’en has still kept a trick up its flowing black sleeve.

Posted in Personal life, Travel

Our Global Village

You’d think that the novelty of the internet would have worn off by now.  But every so often, tapping away at my laptop, I’m bowled over at this power we have to be in touch with the rest of the world.

A glance up from my desk reminds me that I’m still in Hawkesbury Upton.  Familiar horses trot past my window; neighbours flit up France Lane to the shop.  Exotic, it ain’t.

star trek
Image by Combined Media via Flickr

But, look back at my screen, and I can be anywhere in the world.  It’s like having my own personal teleporter: beam me up, Scottie, I think I’ll take a trip to Seattle.

A message has pinged in to my email box from an old school friend who lives there.   As our village heads towards bedtime, she’s just settling down for her lunch.  By the power of Facebook, we bounce one-liners off each other as easily as if we were in the same room.  We’re as closely in touch as when we were children, talking to each other in the garden through tin cans linked together with string.  Except, on the internet, the message comes through more clearly.

Clicking on my website traffic report, I find visitors from three different continents.  From Korea to Kansas, from Dubai to Dubrovnik, people have been checking me out, even though I don’t know a soul in Seoul.

The news I pick up through this route is not the stuff that national headlines are made of.    Food, drink, weather, hatches and matches are the most frequent topics of the posts by my Facebook friends.

But the sense of a unified, peaceable community, reaching way beyond our own Hawkesbury Upton, is overwhelming and enormously heartening.

There’s still nowhere else I’d rather live, of course.  But it still feels good to extend the  village boundaries across the ether now and again.

(This post was originally published in the August edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Introducing My Edible Friend

I have a new friend living in my house. Herman is undemanding company and an inexpensive guest. His appetite is small: I have to feed him only once every few days, and in between times he sits quietly in a corner, minding his own business, underneath a tea-towel. Then in about a week he will reward my hospitality by letting me eat him.

No, I haven’t turned cannibal. It’s just that Herman is actually the starting point for a cake. Like the old-fashioned ginger beer plant, he is a yeast-based mixture that you top up occasionally with nutrients (sugar, milk, flour) to keep the ferment going. Meanwhile the mixture quietly bubbles and thickens, an innocuous quicksand. Little by little, it grows to the point where you have little no option, unless you are exceptionally greedy, but to subdivide it and pass a few portions on to friends, not forgetting to include a sheet of instructions as to how to care for him. The instructions I received included a request to talk to Herman. What’s the best subject for a discussion with a cake mix? For once, the price of eggs does not seem a clichéd topic of conversation.

My own personal Herman was given to me by a kind colleague a few days ago, and next week I will be passing his offspring on to my friends and family. Giving Herman his evening stir-up tonight, I wondered about his pedigree. How far has he travelled since the very first Herman mixture was produced? Are there grains of flour within his depths that come from the other end of the country or is he a true Gloucestershire lad? Has he metamorphosed like Doctor Who, leaving only a homeopathic trace of the first ingredients within his murky depths? Or is he a thoroughbred, original genes still largely intact? Looking to his future, where might my Herman’s descendants end up? With a bit of forethought and planning, we could engineer a Herman for every home in the country, infiltrating the homes of the rich and famous, even putting a Herman on the Queen’s breakfast table. If you’d like your own personal Herman, well, you know where to come.

Posted in Family, Travel

It’s Not Them, It’s Me

On a cold, damp morning, I’m waiting for the London train to whisk me off for a fab day out with my three best friends, who I’ve known for longer than any of us care to admit.  (Can we really be old enough to have known anyone that long, even our mothers?)

Warming my hands on my paper cup of coffee, I idly wonder why I now seem to have so many more friends than when I was working full time.  For the first time ever, my daughter’s playdates are outnumbered by my own.

And my friends have been turning up like buses, never just one at a time. In the last few weeks I’ve had emails from former colleagues spanning the last three decades.  School friends from even further back have got in touch, though they now live as far afield as Michigan and Malawi.  I’ve spent more quality time with friends closer to home too. The friendships of a lifetime are snowballing.

What’s going on?  Has there been a collision in the space-time continuum, compressing my life, like a scrapped car, into a tiny cube?  Have I won the lottery, been made a Dame, discovered the secret of eternal youth, mastered alchemy?  I’m not aware of any recent achievement that might have boosted my popularity.
Standing on the chilly station platform, I resort to a tactic that helped at work whenever I found myself wondering why everyone except me was wrong/grumpy/stupid.  I was like the proud mother in the old adage, watching the parade:  “My boy is so clever, he’s the only one marching in step”.  A little self-examination would always reveal that the fault lay entirely with me.  Once I’d spotted the problem, getting back into the beat was easy.

I decide the same rule applies to friendship.  If you’re feeling friendless, don’t assume others are unfriendly: you may just be sending out the wrong vibes.  Trudge through life with eyes downcast, mind on your problems, and you don’t even notice those who want to be your friend.  Look up and reach out, and your world will be transformed.

It’s never been easier than in our internet age to rebuild old bonds, catch up with old friends or find new ones.  Despatch a few emails, get texting, pick up the phone – it’s easy to invest in your preferred currency of social engagement.  As my train pulls in, I realise that I have been doing this on a grand scale since leaving my job last month.  Boy, has it paid dividends.  I’ve even had to buy a bigger diary.
As I hop aboard the train, I  think to myself, not for the first time, that if you want to win the lottery, it really does help if you buy a ticket.