Monday, 30 August 2010

Contemplating Canada

We have recently returned from our first visit to Canada.  You have to understand the Shah’s general aversion to holidays to appreciate quite what a stunning piece of breaking news this constitutes... This post is a bit late, but life has intervened (by which I mean A level results and the ensuing fall out which I have already bored you with), so I'm a bit out of sync.

Anyway, as it happens, the Shah has a great many relatives in Canada and we divided our time between two sets of cousins, one lot based in Toronto and  the others in Montreal.  All of them, without exception, were unbelievably hospitable and went to endless trouble to drive us around, sneak the Shah onto Golf courses he shouldn’t have been playing on, and generally show us a good time.

I think I (well all of us) had lazily assumed that Canada would simply be an extension of the States and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  It has a totally different feel.  It’s relaxed and so much calmer without all the constant gushing and jingoistic oratory so often present south of the border.  This may sound petty, but one of the most refreshing things was that nobody, I mean absolutely no-one commented on our accents.  Given that we didn’t see (or hear) one other English accent while we were there, this was an oddity.  In the States, you hear English pronunciation all the time, but they are still fascinated by it (or at least they pretend to be).  Even hardened New Yorkers have followed us around shops in a truly unsubtle manner, gawping with their mouths open every time we spoke to one another.  It became like having our very own stalkers.  And there’s only so many times you can smile and agree when someone tells you that you “talk real neat” and exhorts you to “like, say something”.

Anyway, we had a completely fab time and saw all the sights:-

Niagara Falls,
To get an idea of the scale, take a look at the tiny people top right...

Did you know you can take a boat ride out to the base of the Falls (so much better from the Canadian side) and get thoroughly drenched and deafened, not to mention awed by the sight and sound of nature’s full force?  Well, you can and it's amazing!

The CN tower.  Impressively and scarily high, complete with a glass floor for the brave to walk on – surprisingly the Shah wouldn’t be persuaded onto it – and with a revolving restaurant atop it.

Took in a baseball game cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays who won because Jose Bautista is some sort of demi god in the world of Baseball.  It was fun to go to but, to be honest, it still reminded me of a grown up game of Rounders.  The best bits were when the players chucked balls, t-shirts, gloves etc into the crowd.  Imagine the squawks from Health & Safety if we tried that here!

And we travelled a bit further afield to Montreal, where we sampled delicious Poutine
Yum Yum!
Unfortunately, although I spent some hours trawling the net, I was unable to come up with a picture that didn’t make Poutine look like someone had yarked their cookies all over a plate.  I promise you it is a lot more delicious than it sounds (a plate of chips covered with gravy and curd cheese) or looks, er like someone has, well, y’know...

On to Quebec City 
(beautiful and charming but irritatingly French) where you can buy all sorts of unusual cadeaux
Dead bear or a nice wolf skin anyone?

and the capital, Ottawa which features a miniature Houses of Parliament accurately modelled on our own.

The Shah and I are firm believers in introducing our children to different cultures and enabling them to experience diverse sights, sounds, flora and fauna.  So it was heartwarming to realise that TD had, indeed, been observing the local wildlife at play in its natural habitat viz this conversation:-
“Hey mum, I saw this really cool bird this morning.  It had, like, a red quiff and blue stuff coming out of its bum...”

Mind you, the Shah and I were no better when we gasped at a black squirrel in a Toronto garden, only to be informed by our bemused hosts that the North American squirrel is, erm, black and they are about as common as our grey squirrels..doh!

Possibly only one small down side was the Canadian love of the slogan t-shirt.  Three of the worst we came across (all being worn by people in the street) were:-

For my next trick I will require a condom and a volunteer”
“You looked better on Facebook”
And the quite gross “well, I’m no Gynaecologist but I’ll take a look...
They make “ I'm with stupid” look positively cerebral.

That small complaint apart, we loved Canada and can’t wait to see more of it.  Although we felt we had travelled around quite a lot, when we looked on a map, we had covered about a quarter of an inch....better start saving now. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Jones' Moans

You must have come across Journalist Liz Jones by now. 

She is more ubiquitous than a WAG or a reality TV contestant – never out of the papers or magazines and all because she has made a (presumably lucrative) career out of whingeing. First off she moaned about her husband – someone who was considerably younger than her and sounded like a total nightmare – selfish to a fault, obsessed with Yoga, messing up her beautiful-sounding Georgian townhouse and not loving her pets enough.  All this was quite entertaining for a while and I imagined that she was either making most of it up or exaggerating wildly – and maybe she was, maybe she wasn't; who knows?

Anyway, after a while, she divorced the husband, ditched the Islington house and buggered off to the country to live in bucolic isolation on a farm on Exmoor.  This was when I started to feel really sympathetic to her plight.

She spewed out endless column inches about her ghastly, draughty house, the leaks in the roof, the lack of heating, the cobwebs, the dust.  She droned on about her fast-dwindling cash reserves because she does feckin’ stupid things like feed her cats on organic prawns.  She claimed that her neighbours all hated her for being an incomer and wittered on in a self-aggrandising fashion about how much employment she had brought to local people in her use of (amongst others) an holistic Vet (WTF?)

She griped about the winter and the weather generally and not being able to get out and about in her BMW (poor love).  She told how she spent most of her time in bed because she couldn’t afford to heat her dump of a white-elephant home.

And then she decided to sell up.   And her house appeared on the internet.

Take a look.  Your heart will bleed for her.  

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Uni-quely stressful

There’s been so much going on in the past week or so that I haven’t found time to write about anything and the event that consumed us all to a huge degree was, of course, the dreaded A level results.

TS wants to do a History & Politics degree.  He had an offer from Southampton Uni which was AAB – grades that were well within his capability.  He took (unsurprisingly) History, Politics and Economics for A level.  When the results came through, he had AAC – A’s in both History and Politics (the Pol mark being a shade off an A*) and the C was in Economics.  He was a bit taken aback but, as it turns out, everyone who took Economics at his school had (in his words) “a bit of a shocker” with some people getting U’s and even the star of the show, who had sailed through with straight A’s up until now, only managing to achieve a B.

He waited for something to come through on UCAS from the Uni but soon enough the suspense was too much and he rang the Humanities Department.  They were very sorry but they wouldn’t give him the place on those grades – disappointing but not entirely unexpected.  “However,” said the woman on the end of the phone, “don't worry – the School of Social Sciences is really interested in taking you.”  Music to our ears!  So we waited.  And waited.  Eventually, unable to bear it any longer, he rang the School of Social Sciences.  “Don’t worry,” they said soothingly (huh), “we’re really busy allocating places and we have loads of people to ring.  We’ll get back to you before the end of the day.”

The end of the day came and went but the phone call never materialised.  “Never mind,” we reasoned, “we’ll start ringing at 8.30 tomorrow when the lines open.”

So he did.  Over and over – making sure they had his name and all relevant numbers.  He was told he had to speak to the Admissions Tutor who wasn’t in yet.  11a.m. came and went and said Tutor still hadn’t rocked up to work – on the day following A level results??  How disinterested can you be?

Eventually, at around midday, TS managed to make contact with this guy.  “Oh yeah, we’ve allocated all the places,” was his offhand response, “sorry – we never got round to ringing you.”

Well, thanks a ****ing bunch!  TS was gutted – and rightly so.  It’s one thing not making the grades you required, but it’s quite another to be mislead on such a grand scale.  To add insult to injury, Southampton didn’t “get round” to releasing his UCAS application for another 6 hours either, so he couldn’t obtain confirmation of his insurance offer although that has now, thankfully, come through.

I realise that I am in full Outraged Mother mode and that TS is just a name on a sheet of paper to them – why would they care?  But he is an 18 year old kid, about to embark on three of the most important years of his life, when he will be living away from home for the first time, coping with loads of new stresses and experiences and this sort of arrogant thoughtlessness starts him off on the wrong foot.

I hope he realises just how proud of him we are – he has achieved fantastic results and I really hope he is proud of himself – hard to tell with teenage boys – despite the disappointment of Southampton’s attitude.  As a close friend remarked, their behaviour says a lot about the department and it is probably a good thing ultimately that he won’t be going there.

He is fairly disgruntled about having to settle for his insurance choice, having gone off the idea in the interim between accepting it and the actual results day.  Another side effect of Southampton’s delay was that anything half decent on Clearing had been snapped up by the time Southampton released him too.

I have tried to persuade him that everything happens for a reason – funny how many people have said the same when they’ve heard to story.  For example, the Shah was supposed to do Opthalmics but (without boring you with the details) landed up instead at a Uni in Wales on a degree course which included a year out working in Industry.  Had he not had that year, he wouldn’t have come for interview at the company I was working at and I wouldn’t have run upstairs to my boss at the time and told her that she must take “the pretty Indian one”.

And the rest is History.  And Politics....

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Laughing Boots

As I mentioned in the previous post, we were moving furniture madly before departing for our two weeks in Canada - more of which later.  Moving our bed was a revelation.  Firstly it revealed how long it has been since the hoover reached more than six inches underneath it and secondly it revealed that the Shah's hoarding habit has not abated one bit, despite my incessant nagging.  

A truly skanky, dusty old pair of boots emerged, sans laces, which had clearly not been worn for aeons. 

I made a grab for them but the Shah was quicker.  He snatched them from my grasp and clutched them theatrically to his chest.  "You're not throwing these away!" he cried with great drama.  "Don't be ridiculous," I snapped, "they're wrecked - let me have them and I'll put them in the bin right now."

"Nooooooooo," howled the Shah.  "Not these!  These are my Laughing Boots!"
"FFS!"  I bit back.  "What the hell are Laughing Boots?"

And then he showed me...

Monday, 2 August 2010

9 things not to do before you go on holiday

  1. Do not book a transatlantic flight for your family a mere 24 hours after your teenage son returns from a lads' holiday in Ayia Napa.  This is a bad idea on many levels:-
    1. He will be in a state that necessitates carrying his liver on as hand luggage
    2. It will be impossible to wash and dry all his kit before holiday number 2, due to the vagaries of the British weather
    3. He will whine unbearably and blame all ills on you on the basis that a mother's place is in the wrong.
  2. Do not question your son on the finer details of his holiday.  You don't want to know.
  3.  Do not ignore your pets before going away, thus only noticing a large sore on your cat's back one day before you fly.  Sod's law dictates that:-
    1. There will be no emergency appointments available at the Vet
    2. When you eventually procure an appointment by grovelling, pleading and whining, the cat in question (Jim, if you're interested.  No, I didn't think so) takes one look at the cat carrier and legs it over a six foot fence sharpish, not reappearing for a good 10 hours.
    3. When you eventually get said cat to said Vet, it shows its gratitude by trying to attack the Vet, howling and hissing and, eventually, biting you twice.  Hard.
  4. Do not read scaremongering newpaper articles immediately after your cat bites you.  The one I chanced upon (naturally) involved a man whose cat bite caused septicaemia and almost killed him.
  5. Do not buy an insurance policy that specifically excludes cover for cat bites.
  6. Do not book a decorator to come in while you are away.  This will cause you to be up until 2am the night before you travel, trying to move furniture quietly out of respect for the neighbours and their baby, while you and your husband hiss at each other in a foul temper.
  7. Do not allow your husband to insist that you all get up at 5.30am to "beat the rush hour" and arrive at the airport at 7am for a midday flight.  This will cause the wrath of your children to land upon your head - see previous remarks about a mother's place.
  8. If you see your husband packing up last night's left over pizza, do not assume he is consigning it to the bin.  When he produces it "for a snack" shortly after take off, do not admit that you are in any way connected to him.
  9. Do not read the final chapters of Jojo  Moyes' The Last Letter from Your Lover on the flight or in any public place.  The ensuing uncontrollable blubbing will mark you out as a "spaz" (children) "weirdo" (husband) or just a liability and possibly a vague threat (airline staff).