Thursday, October 4, 2012

Early autumn morning

Now that the girls are at two different schools, the school run is a bit more complicated. Thankfully Devil's school runs a bus service, so we stumble out the door before 8:00 to get her to the bus stop on time. Then Boo and I have to choose whether we will continue our journey by bus or train. If its by train, we walk across Barnes Common to the train station.

This morning was crisp and cold, with mist rising off the Common. The spiderwebs were covered in water droplets. It was very quiet as we slopped through the leaves and kicked conkers. A good start to the day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Olympic Hangover

OK, it's long past time to get my political rantings off the top of the docket here. Guess what else has been going on?

I must confess to being completely ignorant of the location of the 2012 Summer Games when we moved over here in 2009. Like most Americans, I pay attention to the Olympics during the two-week period they're in progress and pretty much not at all the rest of the time. And the Paralympics? Forget it. However, living in the host city does make the Olympic/Paralympic experience pretty much inescapable. For the 12 months leading up to 23 July, most of the water cooler gossip re London 2012 focused on what an utter and complete disaster it was going to be. People made plans to leave town (or the country, in the case of one of my American friends), or work from home for the entire duration of the Games. People complained about not getting tickets (quite rightly in alot of cases), and about how the dedicated traffic lanes all over the city were going to make what is, on a good day, a horrific traffic situation into a scene from Lovecraft's darkest nightmares. The Tube was going to be jam packed, the trains wouldn't be able to handle the increased demand, Stratford was going to become a running of the bulls without any outlet.

None of this was particularly encouraging, but even less encouraging were the reports of people spending up to 6 hours in line to get through Customs and Immigration at Heathrow. After hearing this, we decided that our usual summer trip back to the States might be better saved for Christmas, and we hunkered down and prepared for the worst.

In the ticket sweepstakes, we were completely shut out in the initial and secondary rounds of sales. But, lucky corporate hangers-on that we are, Himself's company had some internal options for getting tickets, and LOCOG opened up sales again in the month before the Opening Ceremonies to get rid of unsold tickets. By the start of the Games we had secured tickets to the Women's Road Race on the first weekend, a session of Rowing at Eton Dorney, and a full day up at the Olympic Park for Paralympic swimming and track cycling.

We started off the Olympic experience four days after moving into our new house, by getting to see the Olympic Torch float down the Thames in the Queen's Barge from the end of our new road.

The next day we went to Richmond Park to watch the men speed by on their way back in to the finish of the men's road race, with a few interesting fashion statements to keep us entertained.


On Sunday morning, we got up, looked outside at the beautiful sunshine and promptly set off for Box Hill sans any kind of wet weather gear at all. What is usually a 2+ hour journey to go 26 miles, ended up being a 45 min easy trip to the course. Sadly, by the time we arrived, it was pouring, but we huddled under some trees and managed to both chalk up the course with encouragement for the riders (using locally sourced chalk!), and have a grand time watching the ladies speed by (the rain did stop before the race came through, so all was well).
Tuesday's trip to the rowing threatened precipitation, but managed to hold off until we were headed out. I began seriously considering taking up rowing again, then smacked myself about the head and neck until I was forced to concede that there really is no way I can suddenly find an extra five hours in my day. Sadly... Again, the transportation issues that were direly predicted failed to materialize, so the Brits found themselves with one less thing to shake their heads about.
After all of that, I personally was feeling a bit Olympic-ed out. So we took some time off from actually physically attending any events, and instead glued ourselves to the TV to keep updated. The next week, the girls were in drama camp, so Ironman and I sneaked into Hyde Park on our own to watch the men's triathlon.
Two hours, some amazing racing, and two British medals later, it was time to head home. We watched the rest of the action on TV, and then had a week or so to relax before the next athletic extravaganza.

It was very interesting being in a different country for the Olympics. Maybe it's just because the Games were here, but people were so excited about it. And not just because the British athletes absolutely exceeded any and all expectations in terms of medals - folks were truly excited and happy when anyone did well. And equally unimpressed when the athletes dropped the ball (i.e. some of the badminton players). The Games came up in every conversation I had over the two weeks period. In the States, it's generally assumed that the Americans are going to do well in everything. Track and field (aka athletics if you're here), swimming (OK, Michael Phelps is pretty damn impressive), basketball (maybe not so much anymore), gymnastics (of course!). Maybe Atlanta and LA felt the same to residents during their Games, I don't know. But this was something special.

One of my favorite Olympic story: Gemma Gibbons, who won a silver medal in Judo, scraped onto the Olympic team by the skin of her teeth. I believe she only made it to the Games because the host city can pull some strings. She was ranked 42 in the world, and she ended up with a silver medal. Anyone who says there isn't a home crowd advantage is nuts (and wasn't in Hyde Park watching the Brownlee brothers destroy their competition).

Before the last two weeks, I'd never seen a Paralympic event on TV. I'm pretty sure I wasn't aware that they occured right after the Olympic Games finished before last year, when I raised some money for ParalympicGB by riding my bike across the country. We went up to the Olympic Park on the first day of the Paralympic Games and saw a session of swimming and then some track cycling. What an incredibly humbling experience - there's nothing like watching someone with one arm and no legs swim 100 meters faster then you do on a good day to get ride of your First World Problem griping. It was absolutely amazing to see how different swimmers with different disabilities adapted the various swimming strokes. Some of the adaptations were pretty clunky and ungraceful, but holy shit could they get down the pool.

And then we went to the Velodrome. First off: the building is shaped like a Pringle, with the same arching swoop to the roof. Second of all: you have to enter through what is basically an airlock, and you can't go in if there's a race on because the change in air currents might affect the riders. The more you know, right?
We saw the men's 1K time trial, a bunch of pursuit races and then, the crowning glory of my day: the bronze and gold medal races for the women's 3K pursuit.

So, there's this British woman who's kind of good at Paralympic track cycling. And Paralympic road racing. And Paralympic swimming. And able-bodied track racing - she almost made the women's team pursuit for the Olympic Games this year. Last year, I managed to stay with Sarah Storey for a whole 5 minutes during RAB, mostly because she blew past me in her World Champion jersey and then got stuck at a stop light. But on this particular day, I got to see her win the first of what would end up being 4 gold medals during this Paralympic Games.

That was it for us on the London 2012 events, although I did watch a bunch more swimming, some wheelchair basketball and some athleticson the telly. The whole almost month long extravaganza was truly a once in a lifetime experience. And, now that things are over, Londoners can go back to complaining when "the trains don't run as well as they did during the Olympics."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You didn't just say what I think you just said, did you?

I've been laying out a post on the London Olympic Hangover and the last of the summer holidays (including the first real summer weather), but yesterday I was hit upside the head by something that still has me shaking with anger. And disbelief. And rage. See, I've spent much of the past three years paying almost no attention (insofar as it is possible) to both American politics and, more importantly American politicians. I lived through the previous Presidential campaign in Southeast Texas, and as someone of fairly liberal leanings, that experience gave me a Pavlovian response that includes RUN AWAY!!!!! from most political coverage and "discourse". In that time, various scandals and missteps have trickled across my radar, but I've managed mostly to ignore them. But not this time.

As you are probably aware, Missouri Republican Senatorial candidate (and current Congressman) Todd Akin busted open a big, ole' barrel of rotten apples by enlightening us all in an interview on Fox News with his views on whether or not abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He stated, in a discussion of wether or not abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, that it was his understanding that it's rare for women to get pregnant after "legitimate" rape. He said "The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” (Video clip here).

Imma gonna pause here for a moment to let you get a full grasp on Congressman Akin's stunning grasp of physiology (implications of his statement to follow): The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down. Ok, I am not a biologist a motherf---ing biologist, so I'd like to break down this issue with some evidence from the literature.

Instances in the literature in which women can control their fertility through willpower alone:
1) Vonda McIntyre's excellent post-apocalyptic science fiction novel "Dreamsnake" (men have this superpower too, to be fair).
2) ...

Strangely enough, the National Library of Medicine's database ( does not return  any results relevant to this discussion when using the search terms "fertility control" or "reduced fertility after rape". "Rate of pregnancy after rape" returns a number of papers, including one by Holmes et al (1996, Am J Obstet Gynecol 175(2): 320) indicating that, at least in the middle 90s, the national rape-related pregnancy rate was 5.0%, leading to 32,101 pregnancies resulting from rape each year. I would argue that the actual numbers are higher, given that rape is an underreported crime. A much more recent study (Bartels et al, 2010, Confl Health 4: 9) found that among women subjected to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, those subjected to sexual slavery were more likely to get pregnant then those who were gang raped. I suppose Congressman Akin would argue then that sexual slavery isn't rape? Or maybe he doesn't worry too much about women in the developing world...

I spent most of yesterday afternoon on the couch in the throes of flu and stewing over this latest atom bomb from the American political right wing. Here are some of the implications that worry me:

1) The idea of "legitimate" rape. Congressman Akin has amended his words to say that by legitimate he meant "forcible" rape. Ummmm, ok. Does that mean it's only rape if you're held down with a knife at your throat? If you get the crap beaten out of you in the process? If there are more of them then there are of you? What if it's your date? Or a friend? Or your husband? Or perhaps Congressman Akin would like to argue that wives can not be raped by their husbands? (And I think he would.

2) OK, so let's say you are raped. And you go to the cops and you do all the right things while trying to keep yourself from completely going to pieces. And you start to move past it. Then you find out you're Congressman Akin's worldview, your rape case goes straight to hell because you must have enjoyed it. If you really were raped, you wouldn't have gotten pregnant, right?

3) I'm sorry Congressman Akin, but do you have a uterus? What's that? I can't hear you?....wait a minute, wait a, you say? Well I've got one. So do lots of my friends. So do my two daughters. YOU DO NOT GET TO DECIDE WHAT MY CHILDREN, OR ANY OTHER WOMAN ON THIS PLANET, MUCH LESS IN MY COUNTRY, CAN DO WITH THEIR OWN BODIES!

It's bad enough that Congressman Akin thinks this way. There are plenty of people who think this way. What makes it totally unacceptable is that he thinks it's appropriate to say these things out loud,  on television, in support of a campaign to get him elected to any political office, much less the Senate of the United States of America. Because from where I sit, this is advocating abrogation of the human rights of 50.8% of the population of our country, according to the most recent census. Is this what it means to be part of the Republican party in 2012? I don't care how far and how fast the GOP backpedal from this guy, and how much they urge him to step down from the race (which he's not doing, by the by), this man stood up as a Republican candidate, backed by his party, and as a member of the House Science and Technology Committee (what the everloving fuck? Part of me died with that little nugget of information), and demonstrated that he has neither the basic understanding of biology nor the miniscule amount of political self-preservation not to stand up and tell the world, in not so many words, that women can't be trusted with control over their own bodies because, well, they just can't. Except when they're being "legitimately and/or forcibly raped", because then they magically don't get pregnant.

I really am afraid that this is just symptomatic of a broader problem, an erosion of the basic human rights of women that the Republican Party,  or perhaps the more extreme factions of the party (including the brand-spanking new Presidential Vice Presidential candidate), are bent on pushing forward into legislation. At least that's what they're saying in front of the cameras and the journalists and the rallies. If you are a woman, we know what's best for you. If you are a woman, you can't be trusted with decisions about your own body. And you can't be trusted for the simple reason that hey, you were born with two X chromosomes instead of one of these cool Y ones. Seriously? I wish I could say you must be kidding me, but I really, really can't any more.

So, if you are a real, live registered American voter and you:
a) have a vagina and/or uterus,
b) at one time had a vagina and/or uterus, or
c) love/like/admire/adore/respect/parent/appreciate/associate with/work with someone in possession of a vagina and/or uterus, please ask yourself the following question:

Is this kind of statement what you want your duly elected officials to be promoting? And using as the basis for legislation?


PS - If you are so inclined, anyone who is a US citizen can donate to Mr. Akin's opponent in this race, incumbent senator Claire McCaskill - sadly, it looks like she could use all the help she can get.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reason 952 to love the British media

I was waiting for my coffee this morning, and had the opportunity to peruse a copy of the Times. Some helpful soul had left it open to the Sports section, and a full two page spread about Andy Murray at Wimbledon. By the time my cappuccino was ready, I had guffawed out loud multiple times. Said article referenced:
  1. Jean-Paul Sartre and Huis Clos
  2. Waiting for Godot
  3. Steely Dan
W. T. F????? This almost makes up for the irritating extra syllable they add to perfectly good words like "oriented" and "commented".


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Things that make you go bwahahahahahahaha!

In critical, breaking news:

I just....I don't....I mean....wut?

Also: I may have just peed myself a little bit, what with the hysterical laughing. And the bitter, bitter irony of it all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The bad

So our trip to India was not all sunshine and bougainvillea and jellabies. To be fair, a large portion of the stress was entirely our own faults, and it all worked out ok in the end, but the run up to the trip was one huge 14 day bundle of cluster f***.

Here's what happened: a little bit more then two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, we discovered that we needed visas (bad news item #1). Now, anyone with an ounce of brain power who didn't live in the EU would have thought of this long ago, but we've gotten so used to being able to jet off to foreign lands without a care in the world, that it never even occurred to us that India would be any different. Ummm...

Good news item #1: as UK residents of more then two years, the average processing time for Indian visas was 2-3 days. Hooray!

Bad news item #2: The list of documents that fulfill the requirements for proving UK residency were very small, and my name wasn't on any of them. So I copied my mobile phone bill, my marriage license and the gas bill and head off to the visa processing center, hoping for the best. I was disappointed. And I sat there for more then two hours in line waiting to be helped.

Bad news item #3: When I finally got up to the counter, I discovered that none of the documents will work to prove residence for me. Not even the marriage license. More importantly, Boo had less then 180 days validity left on her passport (166 days to be exact), so they can't even put her name into the system. And also, since I've put Himself's profession down as "Researcher", I have to provide a certified letter from his place of business swearing left, right and center that he will not do any "Research" while in the country. I collect everything and leave in an absolute panic. Tears ensue on the train home.

The rest of the weekend was spent alternately wanting to throw up and wallowing in despair. I had visions of Himself and Dev going alone, while Boo and I wallowed in misery at home. It wasn't pretty. However...a little birdie (aka one of the other parents from school) told me about how this one time? She got a same-day emergency passport for her son. Hmmmm...

Monday morning I called the US Embassy. And then waited anxiously until 2:00 pm when I could actually talk to a human being. In the meantime I sent them several semi-hysterical emails - "I know emergency appointments are for life-or-death situations and this certainly doesn't qualify, but..." When I finally talked to a real live person, however, it was fairly straightforward. I explained our dilemma. She said "No problem. Can you be here at 8:30 tomorrow morning with all the paperwork?" We had all the paperwork already, but we had to take Elder Sister to school. " about 9:00?" "OK. Just be here as soon as you can and we'll get you a one year emergency passport." This is probably the only time I have ever thought "God Bless the US government!" (Good news #2)

After our whirlwind trip to the Embassy, I headed back over to the Visa Processing Centre, and barged up to the woman who had helped me previously, declining to sit and wait for 2+ hours (she told me I could, otherwise I never would have dared!). All the paperwork gets processed smoothly (Himself became a "businessman" and I became "unemployed"), but then we entered Bizarro world. Or the Twilight Zone. Or some strange universe in which the Powers-that-be try really hard to see what it will take to get Porpoise to lose her shit in a very, very public way.

This lovely young woman, who had told me four days before that even though I couldn't prove residency my visa should be processed within 5-7 days (which would have been fine), now turned to me and said "I'm very sorry, but the High Commission has just informed us this morning that the turnaround time on non-resident visas is now 14 working days."

I felt a bit like a bomb had just gone off - there was ringing in my ears, the world wobbled around the edges, I needed to have a little lie down. And then I let go. I pushed all the papers towards her and said "Take them anyway. I'll just wait and see what happens." Paperwork submitted, fees paid, I wandered back home and had several large drinks.

True to form, visas for the rest of the family took two days. On the day before we were to leave, I got pushy and called the Indian High Commission to find out what had happened. The result? "Your visa has been approved and processed, and you should be able to pick it up tomorrow." Should being the operative word.

I got my visa at 2:00 pm the day we were getting on the plane to go to Delhi. Nothing like cutting it close!

There is more bad on the travel end, involving traffic, snow and almost missing the plane, but you know what? I think the visa story is enough.

And I may need another little lie down now...

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Good

The first time I flew to New Delhi, I remember taxiing in to the terminal with rain pouring down so hard that I couldn't see out of the window. It was the end of the monsoon season, and we arrived in the midst of the last, really big rain of the season. The rest of my memories are quite fragmented (not surprising given the intervening 37 years, right?) but are present in pictures - the bamboo walls of the playhouse in our back garden, the lizards that climbed up the walls of my bedroom, tiny gas lights lining the wall around our house on Diwali. And there were the less pleasant memories - being in a car surrounded by lepers at a stop light, dust and dirt and people living in squalor on the side of the road,

My expectations for returning were pretty open ended, given that I didn't have many memories of living there. I was amazed at how big Delhi is - maybe it was that way in 1979 as well - but it is a massive, heaving, roiling pile of a city. There is a sense of rampant growth in every direction (which could be both good and bad), and an overwhelming enthusiasm for more, more, more! This was evident both in the never-ending construction that seemed to be everywhere, and in the seemingly indefatigable pressure from various peddlers of goods, ranging from cheap toys to postcards to random knicknacks of every variety.

But what did we actually do? After discovering our neighbors just down the road,
we went sightseeing. One of the amazing things that has changed is the vast work that has been done in restoring and renovating the endless ancient architectural sites. The first one we visited was the Red Fort in Old Delhi.
(note: the good quality pictures were taken by Himself, the crappy ones are from my mobile)
We had a lovely time just wandering around the Red Fort - I remember seeing it as a child, but not anything about the inside.
Boo was appropriately attired, of course...

After wandering around for a while, the girls and their grandparents went off back to the hostel for a rest, while Himself, my brother and I went off with one of our hosts to the depths of Chandni Chowk and had a fabulous time wandering through the old markets, bravely trying the local foods. We would never have been so brave if we hadn't been with a local, but she directed us to some of the most exquisite food I've ever had - samosas and jellabies fresh out of the pot (of ghee!), sweet biscuits that were sort of like shortbread cooked over open coals, creamy lassi served in earthenware cups, dal halwa with almonds... It was Sunday, so the market was relatively uncrowded and we could look around more or less at leisure.

After eating ourselves into a stupor, we headed back to Humayun's Tomb, where there is a huge amount of restoration ongoing, using the original techniques.
So to replace a jaali (stone screen)* that has been broken,
they have stoneworkers cutting a new one using the same techniques and tools used back in the 16th century. I found this to be more spectacular then the Taj - the contrast between the red and white stone is unbelievable, and it's surrounded by grounds that contain numerous other burial sites and memorials. We wandered around, with the place mostly to ourselves - it was so peaceful and quiet. Just lovely.

The following day, we headed south to Agra. And once there, we went to the obvious place,
by somewhat less-obvious means.
Boo was in heaven!

The Taj was, well, about what you'd expect (and as I remembered): very crowded, and overwhelming in a "Oh, so that's what it really looks like" kind of way. It's familiar since there are pictures of it all over the place, but none of the pictures can quite convey the enormity of it all.

The next morning, we headed off bright and early to see the Agra Fort, which I think was my favorite place of the entire trip. Hang on for a multitude of pictures...
Yes, I took a lot of detail pictures. The things they did with stone are so extraordinary, and that's well before you get to the inlaid stuff!

From Agra, we piled back into the car and headed west to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. It's also known as the Pink City, not (as I had thought) because the sandstone used for building was pink, but because they painted all the buildings pink for Prince Albert's visit in 1876. Highlights of Jaipur included the Jantar Mantar, an ancient astronomical observatory that's been beautifully restored,

Jantar Mantar

and the Hawa Mahal,
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
We also spent a wonderful evening at Chokhi Dhani, which is a reconstructed Rajasthani village, complete with craftspeople, dancers, puppet shows, elephant and camel rides, a maze, a fortune telling parrot, and traditional food served en masse on plates made from palm leaves. The girls were stellar about trying the food (Dev in particular, which is quite a good job for her!), although Boo made do mostly with plain white rice. However, when the jellabies came around (by the kilo!), she went into ecstatic reverie, which could only be assuaged by lying down with her head in one lap and her feet in the other. I was on the other end of the table from her, but every so often a little hand would rise up dramatically over the side of the table and swoop down for more sweets. Absolute bliss!

On the way back to Delhi the next day, we stopped at the Amer (Amber) Fort, which is set in an area that reminds me of the Great Wall.
Amer Fort
Amer Fort
The fort itself is hard to describe - it is a massive conglomeration of buildings with lots of narrow passages leading from one place to the other. A fantastic place (as most of these were) to wander with the girls, who were in absolute heaven.
There were (lots more!) carved stone screens, and some very brave parrots/cockatoos that the girls watched for a long time...

From Amer, we headed back to Delhi, well touristed. Or last day was a whirlwind of shopping (pottery! textiles! more textiles! ALL THE TEXTILES!) and packing and enjoying the last bits of time with my parents, who had to leave well before dawn the next day. And then it was slowly getting ourselves sorted out and to the airport and onto the plane, full of new sights and sounds and smells.

Up next: The Bad (none of which was very much so, and most of which was self-induced)

* I must admit that the majority of my pictures are photos of stone screens - for whatever reason, I found them absolutely fascinating!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


In 1979, when I was seven years old, my family moved to New Delhi for a year. Or, in the case of my mom, my brother and I, 6 months. A couple of weeks ago, I went back with my parents and brother (along with my husband, my almost-5 and almost-7 year olds) for the half-term holiday.

It was mind-blowing. I'm still working on digesting my thoughts, and sorting through the piles of pictures, but I have three blog posts brewing with the details. I'm hoping to get them up over the next week or so, so stay tuned.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A sea change

This morning, in our ongoing (seemingly never-ending) process of finding a school for Dev for next fall, she and I went off to an assessment for a very good, quite selective and academically rigorous school. My feelings about the process of "assessing" (aka giving exams to) kids who are 6 and 7 years old is a post in and of itself, but that is how it works in these here parts.

We arrived at this very imposing place, went in to the main hall, and sat down to wait. They had split the kids into 8 different groups for the exams, and Dev quickly realized that none of the other three kids from her class were in her group. This was only mildly disturbing until she was called to go off with this group of people she didn't know.

"Mummy, I don't want to leave you."

That cracking sound was my heart breaking into itty bitty pieces. I was torn between extreme and unending sympathy, and the guilty heartfelt prayer of Please-God-don't-let-her-break-down-here-in-front-of-all-these-people. Dev has always had a tough time with going off in to new situations, particularly when she hasn't had a chance to sit on the sidelines and examine things for a good while. She will join in, but she does it on her own schedule and in her own terms. This happily going off into a brand new environment is just not her thing (for example, getting her to go to skiing lessons for the first few days last winter involved lots of chocolate and the added responsibility of Looking After Her Little Sister (who was completely unconcerned by wandering off with new people). After a couple of days, she was fine, but the first few were a struggle).

So I told her it was going to be ok, and walked outside with her while they all got into a line and walked off. The look on her face was pure fear and misery, but off she went - with many a backward look. So, so, so brave. I stood there waving madly every time she turned around, and trying not to let my eyes overflow completely. I was so proud of her, and so, so hoping that everything went well.

Fast forward to three hours later: I've arrived back at the school 25 minutes early to pick her up, just to be sure I'm waiting when she arrives. At ten to noon her group comes back, and she bounds up to me, a huge smile on her face. She'd had a wonderful time, aided in part by the jam donuts and biscuits that they had for a snack, and was full of enthusiasm. I gave her a big hug and told her how incredibly proud of her I was, what a hard thing she had done, and how amazing she is.

But the most unbelievable thing? My almost-seven year old decided that, since none of her school friends were with her, she would make a new friend. She walked up to another girl, and said "Can we be friends?" The girl said "Yes" and off they went. Color me gobsmacked - I never would have had the confidence to do that. Her new friend came and sat by us while we waited for her mum, and they had a great time giggling together.

Dev is very enthusiastic about the school (which is problematic due to its location, but that's an issue for another day). And she's done something that was really difficult for her to do, and come out the other side in better then one piece. Bravo!

ETA: Stellar Child has been invited back for an interview. Bravo again!