Wednesday, 28 March 2012

In the Meantime...

On our 'sides of origin' at the Prime Meridian

Let’s pretend this little break in broadcast is for a fabulous reason. 
Such as…

After my Life List success of last week, I was recruited to saber open champagne for the rich and famous.

Or I am furiously typing in order to meet a manuscript deadline.

Or maybe I am trapped under a pile of National Geographic magazines which toppled during Mission: Declutter (and typing this on the iPhone I can just reach with a twist tie I found under the pile instead of calling for help.  Priorities).

Perhaps I missed the nausea, bumpy roads and pure exhilaration of East Africa so much we packed it in and jumped a plane never to return (and I am typing this from the internet shed on the side of the road).

Perhaps I finally convinced Pete to run away to the circus again and become a Big Cat Trainer while I run the cookhouse. 

I became so enthralled in Current Events, I effectively created a fort of newspapers from which I can’t escape.

Any of these are perfectly good reasons for the radio silence.  In fact, turn on your radio, maybe I am telling a story on This American Life or Desert Island Discs, depending on your day of the week or side of the Atlantic.

My absence definitely has nothing to do with the recent sunshine and a complete loss of words.  Or that my life is moving along at an even keel and I can only create so much drama out of my mundane domestic routine. 

Now, if you will excuse me, there is a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge which needs my attention. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Desperately Seeking...Smarts

A PhD is a lonely journey. This is the first thing I was told as I interviewed for my spot in my PhD program. It's lonely in that it is just you. Your thoughts, your writing, your research. You will speak to fellow students and discuss with your advisors, but it's all you. Near the end, you become convinced you are the only one going crazy over this thing, that your fellow students are having an easier time of it, that this is the moment everyone discovers you have been faking it for the last few years, etc.

Then you finally finish, come up for air, take a shower and rejoin the world to find that actually everyone else doing a PhD was feeling relatively the same way. While only you could finish your particular PhD and it was a lonely journey, you were not the only one sloughing through and muttering, 'just keep typing, just keep typing, just f**king keep typing.'

Strangely, it doesn't really make you feel any better about the situation, but at least now you have some people to share a drink with and reminisce about the agony.

Somewhat interestingly, I find the role of housewife to be a similar experience. It is a lonely existence and it is easy to believe you are the only one in your situation. Going from student (which was largely performed at home) to housewife doesn't make for the best social life. At first is was a bit of a refreshing break to not have a ton of articles to read or a word limit to hit and I could just get on with finally giving the house a proper clean and maybe indulging in some more complicated cooking/baking (or just learning to cook, a generally useful skill for anyone).

A month later, the house was clean, I mastered a few recipes and realised daytime TV is quite depressing.

As more and more job applications were rejected and I lost the will to continue the seemingly futile process of applying, I also lost the will to keep up with current events, let alone my field. The more my life became about cooking, cleaning and ironing, the less I wanted to know about the world outside that realm. It seems counter intuitive perhaps, but as my life began to seem more and more about simple things and the likelihood that I would re-enter the wide world seemed to shrink, the less I wanted to know about what I was missing.

I hoped ignorance would be bliss.

I can tell you, this mantra did not serve me well.

By ignoring the world around me, I became so uniformed about the world that when I did occasionally venture out in an attempt to be sociable, my former witty conversational banter was reduced to overly excited (I'm talking to real people!!) anecdotes about failed culinary attempts and my theories on the past-times of my neighbours. (FYI, the house two doors down is definitely a half-way house, I think, and my neighbour across the way prefers banana-hammocks to boxers.)

To put it plainly, I felt as though I had lost a bit of my hard-earned smarts. I couldn't share in debates or express an opinion on news stories unless they appeared in the free-morning-newsprint-bundle-masquerading-as-a-newspaper-my-husband-brings-home-every-evening-which-I-eagerly-thumb-through-in-an-attempt-to-be-informed-only-to-inevitably-learn-about-a-chicken-nugget-shaped-like-George-Washington-instead-of-yet-another-crisis-in-the-Middle-East.

With virtual media taking over and newspapers going under everyday there really isn't an excuse to be so uninformed. I could read the news online in between obsessively checking my email and blog reading, but I tend to get distracted by photos of celebrities on red carpets or reviews of yet another costume drama.

At this point, it's almost a wilful ignorance. I have an unreasonable aversion to online research and news. Although, at the same time, I find the possibilities it offers the previously disenfranchised, incredibly interesting and promising. This reluctance to seek out news and research online is a bit problematic as I doubt Gazetteers, Almanacs or Encyclopedias (spelled correctly in one go, Thank you, Jiminy Cricket) are even printed anymore, but what can I do? I'm stubbornly hypocritical.

On Monday, it will be two years since I submitted that PhD. In another few months it will be two years I have been a housewife.

That's two years of enforced semi-ignorance.

If the mantra is to be believed I should be luxuriating in a bubble bath with champagne and a perma-smile, I'm so blissed out.

I'm sure we are all clear on the fact that this is not the case. In fact, I am feeling decidedly uncomfortable. As painful and distressing as the 'news' usually is, I am more distressed over being unaware of the world around me.

As a self-described free-lance Geographer, it is unacceptable.

So, I have decided to subscribe to a Sunday paper (I welcome suggestions), if for no other reason than I need cocktail chat material. I seem to have mastered most of my kitchen appliances and haven't mucked up a recipe in ages.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Day Out

In an effort to take advantage of our fair city, Pete and I attempt weekly walks. Usually we don't get much further than our sweet little ROYAL BOROUGH. I mean, with the Park and the Queen's Deer and the Royal Observatory and the Old Royal Naval College

The Market and one of the best little microbreweries around, why leave?

But occasionally we do head north of the river. Mostly this takes us to our second favourite place in town.

The Natural History Museum.    Love it.    Best Building in Town.    Dinosaurs!!!

Last time we headed out, we stayed on our side of the river and attempted a little culture.

Sidebar: I consider myself to be an average appreciator of the arts. I'm no historian and I have fairly vanilla tastes, but I can appreciate the far-out stuff. I was a modern dancer once upon a time and participated in some fairly out-there pieces (The object is the subject of the object...) and I have recently emerged from years of reading non-representational (codename for BS) and post-anything and everything theory. I can get into deep meaning but I also have a fairly good BS radar.

We decided to go to the TATE.

And I call BULLSHIT!!!

Maybe I have lost my artistic edge. We were definitely the most un-cool people in attendance, no skinny jeans, chunky (mostly unnecessary) glasses, asymmetrical haircuts in unnatural colours, weather inappropriate jackets and shoes. Kudos to them. Maybe I am just turning into an old fuddy-duddy but most of the art I saw that day was trash and crap. Literally. Piles of dirty laundry, used machine parts, and the cherry on the cake, dried crap on wires.

Our favourite: a video of blowing trash. No moving soundtrack or monologue. Just what appeared to be an iPhone video left on while walking to work. The bag in American Beauty was Gone with the Wind in comparison.

The best part of the day: Pete's commentary. In response to the video, 'Why not do something really meaningful and pick up the trash.' While looking at sheep shit on wires, 'If this is art, my parents are sitting on a gold mine.'

OK. Maybe you had to be there and witness the dry delivery and eyebrow raise.  I was laughing pretty hard.

But the best comment was a little girl trailing behind her dad, 'This isn't nearly as fun as I thought it would be.'  AMEN.

Near the end, I spotted a Monet.  It wasn't his best.  One of the 'practice' water lilies if you ask me, but I dragged Pete back. 

But, like I said, it wasn't his best and the little girl had summed up the experience pretty well. 

I make fun of the cool kids, but that's only because I'm jealous. I enjoyed their art more than the ticketed displays. It wasn't all crap. The sheep shit guy also had a visually interesting red display. I didn't get it, but I liked looking at it.

These inverted stairs were very cool and I enjoyed the visual of these wooden planks.

So how about you all? Are you one of the cool kids? Do you enjoy Modern Art?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Morocco Motoring: Baggage

It's four months since we came back from Morocco and the only bits I shared with you are a few instagram photos and a story about a shower.

It's inexcusable, so today I bring you the packing strategy. This may be the one thing that stresses me out more than any other travel experience. You don't want to be hauling around tons of baggage, but you also want to be prepared. The Girl Scout in me is always worried about not having that one key thing. (I know, 'Always Prepared' is the Boy Scout motto, but I always preferred their handbook to ours. I mean outdoor survival is much more interesting than cutlery position.)

The main issue for us in packing revolved around weight. Not because we were carrying our baggage on our backs but because we planned to shop. A lot. This trip was about exploring Morocco, but we also planned to finish the Christmas shopping. Whether our families liked it or not, they were getting Moroccan textiles under the tree.

Two weeks, one backpack. Shouldn't be an issue but there are always circumstances to consider. We would probably be sweating. A lot. The days would be hot, the nights cold. Also, as a woman travelling in a Muslim country, there was a very good possibility I would have to be covered the majority of the time. I did. Additionally, we were spending one night camping in the Sahara which meant dragging a sleeping bag along (taking up valuable space). We compromised here. Pete took a sleeping bag in his bigger backpack and I packed two thin wool Masai blankets (from our last trip to Africa) in my smaller backpack. I find it unfair that based on my height I have a smaller bag but such is the math of hiking backpacks.

When packing, I start with a list, pare the list down, then add things at the last minute, usually in a panic and they never get used. I resisted that temptation this time, a little, but it meant I forgot to pack tissues, headphones and wetwipes. These things may not seem critical, but I was operating under the assumption that toilet facilities would be less than hygienic and there was a good possibility we would get some kind of belly bug. (They were. We did. Twice each.) I had the meds for 'traveller's sickness' but I forgot the materials.

I did, however, remember to pack four packages of ginger snap cookies. These ended up being the most important item in my bag. These and my two sarongs.

Luckily, style wasn't a huge concern for this particular trip which made packing easier. However, I also knew we would be taking a lot of photos and, vainly, I didn't want to look too haphazard in the photographic evidence.

Here is what I eventually packed after a week of adding and editing:

linen trousers
zip-off trousers
lightweight hiking trousers
yoga/running pants
lightweight knee-length skirt
3 light tanktops
3 linen shirts
2 t-shirts
2 icebreaker tanks
long-sleeve shirt
icebreaker sweater
2 lightweight cotton sarongs**
bathing suit
2 pairs socks
winter hat
yoga mits*
3 bras
7 knickers
notebook and pens
2 books
camera (cord/charger/adapter)
small backpack
day bag
ginger snaps
basic toiletries (no matter how basic, it still seems a ton)
travel towel
laundry soap

* I never used the trainers. I never used the yoga mits. Of course I didn't. In all the times I have packed them, I have only used them once. The two icebreaker tanks were a bit fancier and so let me dress up but I could have done without them.

** The sarongs may be the most important and useful things I packed (after the ginger snaps). They serve as excellent head and shoulder covering but also work as a scarf, towel, sling, tissue, smell-blocker, window shade, belt, sleeping mask, bag, skirt, shirt, etc.

On the way home I added:

3 pairs of shoes
1 pair of boots
3 carpets (another 3 in Pete's bag)
4 necklaces
4 sets of mini tagines


And still came in under airline weight restrictions. Nice.

Friday, 2 March 2012


Last Friday, as I contemplated getting out of bed, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. Our Uncle in Croatia was in hospital again (not too unusual) and wasn't doing well (unusual). In the next 20 minutes a lot happened. I texted Pete, he called back, he called his mum, he called me. Our Uncle had passed.

Within a few hours we found ourselves in Heathrow departure lounge waiting to board the last flight to Croatia. Monday night we were back home on our couch. We are still processing this loss. He was the first member of Pete's family I met. He approved me for the rest of the family. I never really understood a word he said (I don't speak Croatian) but his eyes and laugh spoke volumes.

That Friday morning I planned to write about the things we do for our spouse in support of their beliefs or culture. I was thinking more along the lines of giving up meat on Fridays during Lent or sporting a clown nose on Halloween, but the universe served up a slightly bigger task.

Friday, my role as housewife became crucial to our last minute trip to Croatia. Within moments of that last call, I was bouncing around the house like a pinball. My brain was flooded. While trying to process what had just happened, I was also attempting a packing list. While Pete organised our tickets and renewed our travel insurance (the last time we went to Croatia for a weekend, we were there for a week due to an unnamed volcano) I packed our bags and prepared the house for our departure.

Needless to say, it was an intense weekend all around.

I still want to talk about supporting our spouse but it is a little too raw still. We are moving back and forth between supporting each other this week. We each need to grieve, and sometimes the grief overwhelms us, but we also needed to get through the airport, to make dinner, to go back to work.