Friday, December 21, 2007

Reality check

So US troops have found torture chambers in Iraq. I wonder if the US would be kind enough to let UN officials check its Guantanamo site for torture chambers… or even the CIA headquarters. For all you know, the Pentagon too. What might they find there, do you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lessons learnt early, and suchlike

When you think of your younger self from an adult perspective, things seem so different. Unless you were an absolute angel as a child, you inevitably end up thinking that you could have been a lot nicer. Yeah, on reflection – and not much of it – I could have been a lot nicer. In fact, I was probably the sort of kid whom I'd have loathed had my adult self only met the younger me then. Ah, you know what I mean.


When I look back on the years spent in Dar es Salaam, a few friends from then come to mind. I didn't have many friends, thinking about it – yeah yeah, probably because I was a little creep but also because I preferred books to people. One of the things I remember was playing hopscotch outside our house for hours.

Two of my playmates were Pammi (Paramjit) and Madhuri. Pammi was a skinny Punjabi girl with long, hip-length braids and a permanent giggle. No matter what you said to her, whether you were being nasty or rude or whatever, she'd giggle. I don't remember where she lived but she must have been fairly close by because we played together a lot. (Maybe she came for tuition from my mother - but I honestly dont remember.) I have to say I don't remember meeting her parents ever. Madhuri was the daughter of my veena teacher, a pretty, solemn girl with large, dark, soulful eyes. She was not very good at games (worse than me, which was saying something) but always tried to join in.

I'm ashamed to say that both girls irritated me enormously – one because of the giggle with which she countered my worst remarks, and the other because she'd hang around me, ignoring all instructions to go away because we didn't want to play with her. I don't know why those two continued to play with me, because I was rude to them an awful lot. Only once do I remember Madhuri going off crying because we refused to let her into the game – and although I was relieved, I also felt rather guilty. So when my parents insisted that I go to her house, apologise and bring her back, I was quite happy to do so. I was nice to her for a while thereafter because of residual guilt, but the irritation cycle started up again in time…


There were a few next-door neighbours whom I visited, but the girls were far older than me. I found them intriguing because although their mother was of Tamil descent and the girls had South Indian names, they were totally African in behaviour and spoke Swahili like it was their mother tongue. Well, it was their mother tongue because they were Tanzanian… it's just that I couldn't get my head around the fact that their mother spoke to me in Tamil while they didn't know the language at all. I couldn't imagine how that situation could come about.

Their house was stuffed with furniture and possessions, and I never really figured out just how many daughters the old lady had. The dimly lit house, smelling of strange cooking, seemed to be always filled with people - different ones every time, or so it seemed to me.


The school I went to was run in the afternoon from 1pm at a local secondary school premises. It wasn't very far away so at first I used to walk to school, taking the longer way around. Then I discovered a short cut, a small path that went past some houses inhabited by the locals. For a few days I found it a pleasant, shady route where the odd hen or two would cluck along beside me for a bit, then go away in a flap if I said "shoo". On one of those occasions, however, a gang of teenage Africans surrounded me, demanding money. They were kids from the same school I went to, except that they attended the morning session which was Swahili-medium. They were quite menacing and I was petrified. I didn't have any money so I kept repeating "Amuna hela", which means "No money", while they grabbed my school bag and rummaged through it. On finding that I wasn't lying, they upended my school books on the path and made off with my pencil box, with the warning that I'd better have some money for them the next time I came that way, or they'd beat me up. Naturally enough, I avoided the shortcut like the plague from then!

Not that walking on the main road was always trouble-free. Some teenage boys had other ways of harassing us girls, especially if we were walking alone and there was nobody else around. They would come up behind us and flick our skirt up to expose our underwear, or even try to pull our skirts down, laughing like loons when they were successful. Once, three boys chased me all down the road, turning tail only when some parents, who were dropping of their children at school, appeared on the scene. After that I kept a wary eye out for any local boys, crossing the road to the other side well in advance if I saw any of them, and walking very, very quickly if there was nobody else on the road…

Those early lessons of caution were learnt quickly, and learnt well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nothing quite like it...

That nice, warm shock of pleasure you get when you random-hop your way to a totally unknown blog - and find your food blog linked there? Niiiiiiiiiiice!

At random

Seven reasons to turn down a marriage proposal:

1. The proposal letter begins with “Dear Madam or whomever it may concern”.

2. You know he’s a momma’s boy.

3. The reason you know this is because momma is standing behind you, holding up flash cards as prompts for him.

4. He’s putting together ideas for his first anthology of poetry, to be dedicated to you – but until then he’ll need looking after.

5. He says his two wives have been asking him to bring in a third person to make up a bridge team.

6. He’s a commune Elder and you’re 14.

7. You’re already married (unfortunately or otherwise).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A pleasure beyond measure - but why?

I like chocolate. I’m choosy about the chocolate I eat – I don’t go for the supermarket brands like Cadbury’s whose sugar content is higher than the cacao content. Even from the pricier European brands, I only like those with nuts in, and preferably whole hazelnuts (Ritters’ Sport being my all-time favourite for the highest ratio of whole hazelnuts to chocolate). Otherwise I tend to prefer dark chocolate that is not as cloyingly sweet as the regular or milk versions.

However, I’m certainly not crazy about any chocolate to the point of addiction. One or two squares (or individual sweets) at a time usually satisfies any small urge I might have. If I buy a bar of chocolate, I don’t feel the compulsion to eat it all rightaway – or even open it, sometimes for weeks. (However, if Pete sees chocolate – any chocolate...!)

But why is chocolate mostly always associated with women? I know plenty of men who love chocolate just as much as any women, my husband being a prime example. So why is it that all the TV adverts for chocolate feature women in the eating role? I havent seen any ads where the man bundles a girlfriend out of his house, locks the door, whisks out a hidden bar of chocolate, settles comfily on the sofa and then proceeds to break off and masticate a piece of chocolate with all the facial expressions to indicate a pleasure beyond measure. Is chocolate better than sex only for women? Sure, women have more hormones than men - but don’t men have any hormones at all that can be soothed or improved by chocolate? Ideas, anybody?

Monday, December 17, 2007

"At-trash-ion" - the pull of supermarket rags

As anybody who knows me might know, I’m a voracious reader. I’m usually willing to try mostly any genre or any author, especially if it’s for the first time. I’d like to say that I’m a thoroughbred intellectual when it comes to my reading matter… but I’d be lying if I said that. And, like George Washington before me, I cannot tell a lie. What I can say is that what I read is directly related to what is available to read. If it’s a classic novel, then I’m as intellectually literary (or literarily intellectual, take your pick) as anybody could wish for. If I’m stuck anywhere bookless (a fairly unusual state of affairs), then I read whatever is at hand. If it’s a trashy magazine, so be it. If there’s not even a trashy magazine handy, then I read whatever’s available – a poster, old grocery lists (found in my bag), the statutory warning on a discarded cigarette pack, someone else’s newspaper, the bus timetable, leaflet handouts, basically any scrap of paper that has any writing on it. If I'm really pushed, I will even read a self-help book by a self-help guru. That’s how desperate a reader I can be.

However, I have a confession to make… trashy magazines are strangely compelling. When I was younger I went through a phase when I read all the film and women’s magazines going at the time (in India)… Star Dust, Filmfare, Star & Style, G magazine, even Women’s Era - although I hated every story and article in every issue of that particular magazine. (To think there was a time when I actually believed everything written by Devyani Chaubal about the film stars… but that’s neither here nor there - although if anyone knows what’s happened to that nasty old woman, please do let me know.)

The thing is, when I grew up a bit more and acquired some sophistication (so I believed), I shunned those magazines like they delivered the plague rather than unsubstantiated gossip every month. Trashy magazines were for people who declared “Oh I cant read a book, they’re so boring, I only read magazines”. I felt intellectually and morally superior at having grown up and moved on to classics and literature. I don’t mean that I wouldn’t have read those same magazines in a book emergency - but I wouldn’t have actively gone out and bought one of them. And I certainly wouldn’t have admitted to reading them! Little did I imagine then that those trashy magazines would make a triumphant comeback into my life a few years down the line…

Thaaat’s right. I read all of the supermarket rags now, and I'm only moderately ashamed of admitting it. I read the “true” confessions and “shocking” real life stories with catchy headlines like “My husband ran off with my mother”, “How I spent £5 million and became bankrupt”, “I spent £30,000 on surgery to look like Posh Spice”, “My gambling habit lost me my house, husband and children but I’m still going to Vegas”. I’m au courant with all the excitingly trashy behaviour exhibited by the Great Unwashed and recorded in painstaking reams of print in dozens of colourful magazines. So it’s not my finest hour, intellectually speaking. So what if there's a sea of good books to read and I choose the reandom rubbish that is washed up on shore? At least now I know what the ladies in my office are talking about. Y’want to know what Kerry Katona said about Katie Price in her latest column? Ask me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Returned without thanks

This is how to screw up a child.

If this couple have had her for 7 years, from when she was just 4 months old, where would "culture shock" come in? Whose culture shock? The girl's, or theirs? And once again, what sort of culture shock appears after 7 years? Did they suddenly realise that Jade was Korean * shock* and not Dutch? Was the girl made to realise that she was different, or did she realise it herself? Did she feel wanted or was she discriminated against, compared to her non-blood-related siblings?

And now look, she doesn't speak what should have been her natural mother tongue – Korean. She DOES speak English and Cantonese, but she's neither English nor Chinese. Evidently she's also not Dutch. Where would she fit in? With what sort of family, of what ethnic origin? And for that matter, in what country?

Obviously I don't know if she was a difficult child… but I cant help feeling that any child who's been with a family practically from birth would have learned to live like that family, acquire that family's tastes in food, speech, habits and so on. It's nurture, not nature, that's paramount in the early years of childhood. Who knows, perhaps Jade might have been better off unadopted, and unconfused, in her native Korea.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wrong conclusion

“The planned increase in jail capacity is a disastrous admission by Labour that it expects its social programmes to fail”

I disagree. The prisons are supposedly overcrowded NOW, so the new prisons planned will hopefully redistribute those who are already in, and keep them in. That way, perhaps, violent muggers, murderers and rapists wont be let out early for reasons of “no space in the prisons”.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I have a question...

But first, the background:

Company A does some work on Person B’s house, helping oversee the construction of an extension. The plans for the extension were drawn up by a now former employee of Company A and overseen by an external contractor, so Company A does not, strictly speaking, have anything to do with the construction itself. A few months after the extension is complete, a persistent and serious leak appears in the roof, the cause of which cannot be determined.

Despite many tests and inspections by Company A, and various exploratory repair works, water continues to get in. Person B has trouble finding a buyer for the house because of the leak. However, a specialist manages to finally sort out the leak and presents Person B a bill for a few thousand pounds for the work. Person B insists to Company A that the original plan drawn up by its former employee must have had a flaw, thereby allowing the leak to happen, and therefore the bill for the repair work should be paid by Company A.

Company A , however, insists that it cannot be proven that the plan was flawed, since the fault could not be satisfactorily determined. Also, the company was not directly involved in the construction or in overseeing it, so it was not liable for the repair bill.

However, Person B is adamant that Company A should pay the costs, and threatens to go to Court over it.

Finally Company A meets with Person B and the external contractor to try and negotiate a settlement. Which, eventually, ends in Company A agreeing to not charge Person B for the time spent on various inspections of the leak over the years, and also pay the entire cost of repair works.

A letter is then drawn up to confirm this settlement. The wording is “This offer is made without prejudice and without any admission of liability on the part of Company A”.

My question is: When Company A is willing to pay Person B a few thousand pounds AND waive its fees (amounting to at least a few hundred pounds), isn’t that already an admission of liability or guilt? I mean, why else would a business part with a large amount of money, if not to forestall having to spend an even larger amount of money after losing its case in Court. Is it possible in law that although Company A is obviously admitting liability by paying up, it isnt seen as liable because it says it is not admitting liability? How bloody childish an argument that is! It's like saying to someone: "Ok, since you're threatening me with court action, I'll give back your money, but I am not admitting that I took it or was in any way guilty."

Could any legal person who happens to come across this post please leave a clarification? I would be MOST grateful!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Why so much venom?

I didnt realise there were people who wrote festering, tasteless, unfunny blogs like this until very recently. To target bloggers in that venomous way is bad enough... but to make an innocent child the target of obscenity, is, as the two anonymous and cowardly writers like to say about other folks, PUKEWORTHY.

I hate news like this, where murderers have “rights” that are forever denied to their victims. A prison sentence only partially redresses the crime that was committed, especially if the crime was murder. The dead don’t get any rights at all, least of all the one where they are meant to live until they die a natural death. Where does a killer get off demanding any rights?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

They might go to the USA, they might go to the UK, they might settle anywhere in the Western world, study the hardest, be the most expensively and extensively educated, earn in the millions, and live as modern a lifestyle as anybody in the West… but in the end, they don’t change at all. Nothing changes. Attitudes remain as anti-female as that of anyone from the poorest, uneducated, illiterate and blindly superstitious masses that never knew a world outside their village, never mind their country. When will they learn to love their daughters? It is all more depressing than words can ever convey.