Monday, 2 March 2015

Unblocking Grumpiness

Aargh Monday!  I really didn't want to get up at 6am half an hour in advance of Louis.  Until yesterday I was able to postpone rising to get the van toasty warm for him .  My compact fan heater had a remote control that meant that it could be operated from my bed space where I could remain in the land of Snuggledom .  Alas! It's defunct and just blowing out cold air.   So, we're reliant on the gas central heating which has to be switched on manually until I can get a replacement.    It's not the best start to the working week!

Let's rid myself of this grumpy mindset by seeking some inspirational words.  The Tiny Buddha is a good place to start.  This quote from the Dalai Lama has brought a smile back to my face.

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Now If I See Another Vol Au Vent......

Photo; Rainer Zenz
The measure of a good party has changed substantially over the years.   When I was little it was graded on the quality of the party bag, the little collection of goodies handed over after the end of all that game playing nonsense. A balloon and a piece of raspberry sponge just wasn't acceptable.   Later on in adolescence and young adulthood, availability of alcohol and whether there'd been an opportunity to engage in snogging  came  into the equation. Nowadays my requirements are much simpler and is based on a) whether I can have a good dance and/or b) a right old natter with interesting and funny people who might be aged from eight to eighty.

Last night's party for e-Laura's 50th was a wonderful chatty kind of gathering which resumed again this morning with breakfast at a local hotel.  Top marks go to her mum who produced a pot containing gall stones recently removed from her husband's abdomen just after I've finished my bacon and egg.  Mrs O, for this sheer audacity  that even surpasses the surprises that I throw myself, I salute you!

A wombling wander didn't come into the equation as planned.  We'll have to save that for our next visit because I happened to utter the words that any stressed host loves to hear.  'Can I help?' Well, that  certainly opened the floodgates.  For the next three hours my time was taken up masterminding the heating of nine hundred canapes in an oven that wouldn't stay at temperature and manhandling them into  1970s hostess trolleys bought for the purpose from Ebay for the princely sum of a fiver. Not sure how I pulled off what was seen as a minor miracle.  I'll save the bragging  for a few days though  until I'm sure that I haven't caused a massive salmonella outbreak.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Wombling Free

Here's a picture I took at Teignmouth last week that gives a clue to where we're heading today, the sixth weekend in a row that I've been away from Klaus the Knaus. Things quieten down considerably from next week onwards - unless someone has other plans and tempts me to do something else that's exciting.  I'll probably be game.  It pays to be a flexible friend.

We're off to Wimbledon for a party, a 50th just a few weeks in advance of my own celebration of miraculously surviving for half a century in spite of being one of the most accident prone human beings on the planet.  For a few years I lost touch with e-Laura, the birthday girl, an old schoolfriend. Happily we're now reunited thanks to Facebook and have met up a few times. To now, it's always been without Louis so I'm quite excited about showing off my product of degenerate single motherhood.

I thought we could head off early to check out the most famous haunt of the Wombles and see if we can spot one.  Wiki tells me that they are a global species and do not necessarily restrict themself to South West London.  Keep your eyes peeled! I was chuffed to discover that there's a Cousin Yellowstone.  I'll look out for him among those grizzlies later in the year.  'Are they those knitted things that live on the moon?' Louis asked after I'd mentioned that they had pointy noses and liked recycling.  He begged for mercy as I tunelessly sang their theme song to provide another prompt.  No, he's never heard of them.  Seemingly this is something else that I've missed from my parenting agenda.  It needs to be put right!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Crime and Punishment

Up this morning bleary eyed from reading into the wee small hours after an extremely busy day.  Not the novel written by someone with a difficult to pronounce Slavic name beginning with 'D' as today's title might suggest. All my life I've steered away from Russian literature for no other reason than the books seem to be unfeasibly fat and written in the smallest print known to man.  No, over the last few weeks I've been reading   Injustice and now have been alerted by the library that I can't renew the book any more times.  If  I don't give it back on Saturday they'll start fining me and that will never do.  As accounts of law cases are not my usual reading it's been hard going but so worthwhile.

Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who's a far cry from the fat cat variety, is a  hero of mine.  He and his charity Reprieve represent people around the world who've been convicted of capital crime for peanuts when compared to the fees of those corporate types. I heard him speak a couple of years ago when he told the story of Kris Maharaj, the subject of this book.  He's been in a US prison since 1987 for a double murder in spite of substantial evidence  that suggests that he did not commit the crime.  Although Kris is no longer on Death Row attempts to overturn his conviction have to date been unsuccessful seemingly because of the Kafka-esque nature of the US justice system.

I've always been against the death penalty on the basis that I don't hold with that eye for an eye stuff. Two wrongs can't possibly make a right.  I've also felt that  that it would be so wrong if just one person was mistakenly executed.  This book demonstrates that as the US justice system stands it is likely that many go to their death legally under-represented in a system that is mightily stacked against them if they're charged with a capital offence.  It seems that if you're poor and uneducated you haven't got a cat in hell's chance of getting off especially when those who sit on the  jury in capital cases have to be in favour of the death penalty .    It's a fascinating read that has made me  cry at times.

After finishing this tale I have two things to say to the American people.  We all want people who've commit crimes to be sent down. I'm pretty sure that's a given.  But it has to be the right person who's convicted.   And when I punish my child for naughtiness I do it with sadness.  To inflict pain on another, even when it's justified in terms of retribution isn't a cause of celebration and glee.  I finish with a quote from the book from the Sixth Century BC philosopher Anacharsis.  Sadly it still applies in the 21st century.

Laws are like spiders webs.  They will catch the weak and the poor, but would be torn to pieces by the rich and powerful.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Mr Hall's Balls

No luck in finding hidden treasure to sell on in the charity shops of Totnes yesterday lunchtime to boost my Five Pound Challenge profits. Bah! Maybe it was because I was accompanied by Mr Metrosexual who was putting me off.  As a result of all that hill walking my tummy felt as empty as my shopping bag. Time for a little consolatory snack!

Totnes has a plethora of little shops and a lovely market on a Friday. There's rich pickings to create a reasonable priced lunch that knocks the spots off a limp supermarket sandwich.....or Scotch egg.

In fact I didn't even realise that I liked Scotch eggs until I tried the offering from Hall's, a butcher on Fore Street that's so traditional it doesn't have a website.  These are lush.  Beautifully seasoned beasties made out of good quality ingredients.  There's no designer food price tag here either, as this little sphere shaped feast set me back just a quid.   Some days they're even more sublime than others. They're freshly made on the premises and are sold warm.  Yum!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Frock and a Fruit Bowl

Confession time again!  There has been a little off-piste spending here, some T-shirts to replace some tatty ones.  I can't be looking scruffy can I? After all I have the reputation of van dwelling sophisticate to keep!  For some time now I've also been looking for some lacy frou-frou garments to complete the layering look that I favour.  Asda had just the thing for a tenner and like a shopaholic I bought three in different colours.

A fruit bowl has been on my legitimate shopping list for a couple of months now.  I'm bereft of one after putting most of my pretty ceramics in storage.  But I'm fed up with having nowhere to put my apples and oranges so I've been on the lookout for something to enhance the interior decor of the motorhome.  In vain I've been scouring charity shops assisted by helpful sales assistants who, bless 'em, have foraged in their store rooms and then presented me with some of the ugliest offerings known to man.  Finally, finally I found this in Voyage, a fairtrade shop in Teignmouth, a clever and useful bowl made out of metal door locks.   It's just the thing that makes me yearn for my soldering gear so that I can have a go myself.  Also it's virtually unbreakable, a good thing when you have two of the clumsiest people in the world living in a confined space.

Although my fashion photography skills don't do it justice, here's my birthday dress that I mentioned the other day, a charity shop buy for a fiver.  My friends persuaded me that purple was my colour and anyway it wasn't really purple rather than a shade of blue, a colour that features large in my wardrobe. It's just the shape of frock that I wear all the time and I love the black lace overlay.  It won't be something that I wear once but will do for special occasions into the future.  Louis has given his approval and pronounced it pretty so it's passed the first hurdle.

Monday lunchtime saw me in the charity shops of Ivybridge trying frantically to get a headstart on the Five Pound Challenge.   Alas most of the things that caught my eye were outside budget or cannily priced. There was a gorgeous tan leather bag for four pounds, big enough to hold a file, that held promise.  Alas, the student nurse who was with me spotted it first, just the thing that she'd been looking for. It would not have done to throw her to the floor and wrestle it from her.  I am caring health professional after all trying to promote the idea of compassion in a newbie and  not Mick McManus.  So no potential profit but dignity preserved.  I'll see what bargains Totnes can offer at lunchtime today instead.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Dilemmas for a Grey Girl in a Grey World

Today's Bank of Piggy post comes from Pike Place Market in Seattle, a place that I'm really excited that I'm going to be introducing to Louis. It's a wonderful vibrant place that has stalls groaning with beautiful fresh produce and crafts and wonderful little cafes. I've had fish and chips there that match the best I've eaten in Britain. To add a bit of drama the fishmongers put on a bit of a show whilst selling their wares, throwing around the fish that they sell with a bit of funny banter thrown in whilst they do so.  Heck, it keeps those tourists like me happy!  I've also just found out that, in amongst the shopping areas, there's low income housing with community space. The money popped into Rachel, for this is what this apparently famous pig is caused, goes towards funding some of the social ventures that go on in this shared space.

Believe it or not this is not a travel post.  I've diverged for a good long paragraph.  No this one is about First Direct, part of the HSBC group, whose alleged tax dodging shenanigans are a far cry from the ethically based venture that I've just spoken about.  Now I've banked with this company for years.  Should I stay or should I go in a pique of protest about this poor behaviour? My dilemma is that they've given me excellent customer service and I'm not alone in my experience.  Consistently they top customer service ratings charts.   There's no waiting about for hours for poorly trained people to answer my calls.  Their friendly, knowledgeable staff are there in a flash and its rare that I'm moved between departments.  In all the years there's been one cock up and it  was sorted out immediately.

I written before about the dilemmas posed by personal dealings with big multi-nationals.   In this ever shrinking world we have little choice about doing so and indeed often actively favour the big guys. What I'm trying to work out in my head is whether HSBC has really gone too far this time. Then I'll feel obliged to take my custom elsewhere.  There's an inner reluctance to do so though. I see the potential for enormous amounts of stress if my telephone experience is poor and there's loads of hassle involved with transferring accounts.  And after all that there's no guarantee that underneath it all, my newly appointed bankers, even those who profess to be ethical, will be behaving themselves!