29 July, 2007


We have been playing with the satnav in our car which keeps taking us by strange convoluted routes to places that we don't want to go to, mainly because we keep on programming it for the Plough Lane that is NOT in Wimbledon, or roads that are NOT adjacent to Richmond Park. Anyway, we finally made it to Richmond Park, which I have actually never been to, in the 12 years that we were living in London before our Far Eastern adventures. It is fabulous! I don't know why the newspapers always go on about Hampstead Heath as though it had anything going for it apart from a view and lots of cruising homosexuals, and never say a word about Richmond Park. Yes, I do, it is because all the people who work in the media live in North London.

Anyway, Richmond is fabbo, we will be back there tomorrow and this time we are bringing a picnic and reading matter. Now that my month of leave is over, I see that the August forecast is for unremittingly fine weather. That is just typical. It is enough to make you believe in a god, and not a very nice one at that.

Speaking of God, went to Mary-le-Bow today which is where St Martin in the Fields is currently living while they refurbish its building. Stunning choir, who sadly are on holiday for the whole of August, so I won't be bothering to go back, till they come back. Service much more to my liking.

Extra-terrestial discussions:

Curly: You know, Curlyland is very far from the earth and the moon.
Me: Is it on a completely different planet?
Curly: Yes.
Me: In a completely different solar system?
Curly: Yes.
Me: How did you get here then?
Curly: In a rocket.
Me: And how are you going to get back?
Curly: In my rocket.
Me: And where is your rocket?
Curly: I've forgotten!

25 July, 2007


Mo: It's dinner time, Mum.
Me: What's for dinner?
Mo: It's Salad Whatty.
Me: What?
Mo: Alright, I don't know what it's called.


Had a brace of mackerel for dinner last night:

LSS: What time do you want dinner?
Me: About 7?
LSS: Seven o'clock?
Me: No, seven o'beans.

The kids were discussing bones:

Larry: You can't eat the bones, Curly.
Curly: Why not?
Larry: You just can't.
Me: It's because they might get stuck in your throat and you might choke and die. [Pause]. Why aren't you eating?
Larry: We're scared.

Spent the afternoon at London Zoo - half-price, as I had saved the admission tickets from last year's trip. Otters are favourite with us this year. Had bento box lunch at a Japanese place in Camden Town beforehand - salmon for me, chicken for the kids.

We have bought a new (old) car - Toyota Prius Spirit. Let us hope we have better luck with it than our last two secondhand crappy European cars.

23 July, 2007

Sunday lunch

up to the uncharted wastes north of the river yesterday for lunch with newly-wedded Journalista and her hubby. Trains from Barnes Bridge are only one an hour on Sundays so had to take bus into Hammersmith.

I was ahead of husband and kids as thought I would try the morning service at St James Piccadilly. Church itself is lovely - nice to be able to see the buses going by on Piccadilly on a beautiful sunny morning as we sat inside the church. They had no choir, but they did have a cantor who took the trouble to take the congregation through one of the unfamiliar hymns, before the service kicked off. St James itself, however, is extremely well-meaning upper-middle-class Lord Longford-style liberal, which meant the whole service was jam-packed full of "giving the peace" opportunities - they were hell-bent on getting us to commune with each other. Now I may be only a durn furriner, but is this mania for communication really what one looks for in the Church of England? If I wanted to commune with my fellow Christians, I would have joined a more evangelical church. To take communion you have to proceed to the altar while singing some kind of response in what I take to be an African language, the only word of which I understood was Amen. Frankly, I am not about to chant anything I don't understand - for all I know it could have been an exhortation to devote our souls to Satan and all his little minions.

Anyway, post service, up to Canonbury. Got as far as Highbury and Islington, only to find there were no trains running to Canonbury. No A to Z, so I took a bus going vaguely in the right direction. Does this bus go anywhere near Canonbury station, I asked the bus driver. It goes to Dalston Kingsland, he said. I know, I said, but does it go past Canonbury station. It goes to Dalston Kingsland, he repeated, shutting the door on me, so that I couldn't get off the bus. So I stayed on until I guessed I'd gone far enough, and then made my way on foot to Canonbury, using the handy maps that they post in the bus-shelters. It turned out that Canonbury station was so near to Highbury + Islington, that I could have walked it. I don't know why I would have expected the bus driver to be able to tell me this, or in fact to be able to do anything but repeat "Dalston Kingsland" like an automaton. Somehow I had assumed that if you have to drive the same route everyday, you would start to acquire some knowledge about the route, out of sheer boredom, if nothing else.

Journalista's flat is very nice - high ceilings, those folding shutters that seem to be ubiquitous in North London houses, and gardens with low walls, which makes the canyon between the backs of the houses seem strangely rural. Food was figs with parmesan and rocket, roast pork and apples with excellent roasters and Savoy cabbage (but no gravy - how can this be?), rhubarb crumble, cream and summer fruits. Cider, Pimms and Prosecco for beverages (but not all in the same glass).

The newly-weds were very lovey-dovey. As we told the children afterwards, when you're first married, it's all "dearest heart" and "darling". When you've been married as long as we have, it's "Mr and Mrs Pants", and that's on a good day...

21 July, 2007


On day 1 we were met at airport by the Merde Alors, our erstwhile Socialist French friends and their Filipina helper. Went to a village called Barmes and had citron presses, while the kids had raspberry sorbets (ours) and bubblegum icecream (theirs).

On day 2, we went to the Abbaye de Thoronet, a beautiful austere 12th century Cistercian abbey. Picnicked by the Issole at Cabasse. Bought strawberries from a roadside van, small, sweet - these are the first strawberries I have had since 1982 that actually tasted as strawberries should.

On day 3, we went to Porquerolle on a ferry. Climbed hill to a fort called Repentance and back down again to Notre Dame beach. Astonishingly clear cold-ish water which tempted even Mo in, it was so beautiful. Lots of sailing boats, reviving my long-ago ambitions to learn how to sail.

On day 4, we went to see the Villa Noailles in Hyeres, where various 20s luminaries made films, wrote screenplays, lounged around by the Modernist swimming pool. Nearly lost Crazy French Girl in the mediaeval town.

Back in Barnes yesterday. Raining so hard it makes your head bleed. Going to see Lost in Dulwich today.

19 July, 2007

French transportation

back from France. Strange that 962 should mention Bob Geldof as he was on our Ryanair flight! It was LSS who noticed him first - normally when he says, oh, look, there's [fill in name of celebrity], it turns out to be someone who bears only the most fleeting resemblance to Martin Scorsese, Christopher Walken, et al, but this time, even sceptical me was convinced. He had to hang about waiting at the carousel for his luggage just like everybody else too.

Went to the car rental counter (Sixt - they are useless, avoid them like poison) to find that the automatic "Ford Focus or similar" that we had booked was not available. Instead they gave us a manual BMW, which I had to drive, quaking in my boots, as LSS and manuals do not get along. The next day they exchanged it for a Peugeot 407 coupe. Neither of these could be described as a sober family saloon. Then to add insult to injury they highlighted two pathetic scratches caused by brushing up against Provencal shrubbery and a "stain" (read "biscuit crumbs") on the upholstery and said they would be writing to us to tell us what the repair cost would be. The guy in front of us in the queue got the same treatment. All I can say is if I hear anything more from Sixt, they can forget about my custom in future.

15 July, 2007


Back from the wedding at Llangoed Hall. Flying to France tomorrow. Have we taken on too much?

Met three people at the wedding that I had not seen for 10-20 years and failed to recognise each one of them. They all recognised me, but it was easy for them as I was the only Chinese person at the wedding (and possibly for a radius of 50 miles). It rained on the way down and rained on the way back up, but the wedding day itself (Sat) was lovely and Larry and the other little bridesmaid looked like beautiful flower princesses and had millions of photographs taken. Llangoed Hall was very swish. Unfortunately we were not staying there, but at a guesthouse in Brecon. One can do a lot worse when sourcing accommodation than to simply rule out anything that calls itself a guesthouse. Our experience in the Brecon guesthouse has not made me revise this excellent rule of thumb. It was dispiriting in the extreme, particularly when I realised that for the price I was paying I could have got 4 nights in the 5-star Mandarin Oriental in KL, with lackeys waiting on me hand and foot, instead of the fat sunburnt proprietress of the guesthouse skulking around to make sure that we weren't surreptitiously consuming food and drink in our room and a shower that was only distinguishable from going outside and standing in the rain by being a couple of degrees warmer. Oh, why did we ever leave the Far East?!

We went out on Friday evening to see if we could find anywhere to eat. Thwarted in this modest goal, we eventually settled for takeaway fish and chips. Unfortunately due to aforementioned "no outside food in room" rule, we had to eat it sitting in the cathedral carpark, watching the incessant rain trickling down the windscreen. I can only say that it was a very British holiday experience.

13 July, 2007

8 Autobiographical Facts

Fumie reminds me that I've been tagged. Unfortunately I am very dull and cannot think of 8 interesting autobiographical facts about myself - so here are 8 very dull ones:

1. I am left-handed
2. I have an IQ of 156
3. I share a birthday with the Queen
4. I can touch type
5. I am the great-great-great-great-grand-daughter of Commissioner Lin Zexu who started the first Opium War.
6. I'm C of E
7. I was educated at Malvern and Oxford
8. My Chinese name means "pertaining to reason"

I'm going to defy the gods of exponential increase and not tag on - besides Fumie has already tagged the usual suspects.

London Wetlands Centre

well, it didn't rain, so we did make it to the London Wetlands Centre. We were coming back from the Waterstones in Piccadilly, so we took the 22 bus down to Putney and walked across the common to the Centre. I know it is a cliche, but this neighbourhood really does have a countryside feel to it. You can imagine that Barnes and Putney are still villages in the country, quite separate from the encroachment of the Big Smoke on the other side of the river.

LSS and Curly had gone home to "have a nap", so it was just me and the big kids. Stopped at the cafe to have late lunch - ham and pea soup for Mo, braised beef for Larry, carrot cake for afters, all very tasty, although the food was salted with an Eastern European hand. The Centre itself is lovely, very beautiful and peaceful for the oldies, and there was an adventure playground with a commando-style zip slide for the kiddies, which they could barely be torn away from. And I'm sure if I knew anything about water-fowl (called generically "ducks" by the kids), it would be a very paradise.

Walked back to Barnes. Passed Sonny's Restaurant on Church Road, which I notice is doing 2-course lunches for GBP15.50. Now how can I get rid of the kids, so LSS and I can treat ourselves to lunch there?

Larry insisted on stopping off at the Coach and Horses for a pint of orange and lemonade. GBP2.70! Iniquitous - harrumph, harrumph. Barman and other customers very chatty. I don't know why people say the English are reserved.

Off to Brecon for the weekend for Journalista's wedding. I wonder if wireless broadband has reached Wales?

12 July, 2007


Went to pick up Larry's bridesmaid's dress from Wimbledon the other day. It is a frothy Midsummer Night's Dream fantasy in lavender raw silk and netting - fabulous. The theatrical reference is apposite as apparently the dressmaker is really a theatrical outfitters - Bridget Armstrong Hats of Wimbledon.

Then we nearly left the dress on the bus and had to run screaming back up the aisle, with Curly standing on the pavement looking reproachful, Larry scurrying about, and all the passengers staring at us as if we were the entertainment laid on for them for the afternoon.

Still haven't made it to the London Wetlands Centre. Have promised Larry we will go this afternoon, unless it rains, in which case we can create our own Wetlands centre by standing in the garden with a bag of mackerel.

11 July, 2007

Persian Cuisine

Walked past a cafe yesterday with a menu in the window headed up: Mary's Sandwiches, with the subheading: Persian Cuisine.

Ah, yes, Darius the Magnificent always liked to start his campaigns with a nice tuna mayonnaise sarnie, while Ataxerxes swore by egg and cress.

Just finished reading a book called Utopian Dreams by Tobias Jones, which I rather enjoyed. But when I read the reviews they were rather snide and sarky. I find this strange, since the reviews of the loopy book by that woman I knew at college were generally favourable, ridiculously so, considering her frothing-at-the-mouth prose-style. This is odd because both books are in the oh-what-is-wrong-with-this-terrible-modern-world genre, but one is written by someone who seems sane and thoughtful, while the other is written by someone who seems to have stuck her finger into the electric socket a few too many times while trying to plug in her laptop. Why such a divergence in responses? Could it be because the former was written by a Christian bloke, while the latter was penned (dribbled) by a goggle-eyed, blonde, big-titted, Wicca worshipper?

08 July, 2007

Sunday Morning

Got up at 4.30 this morning. Mo was already up. He and I are the larks in the family. Sorted out a stack of chores, filled in forms for the kids' schools, gave kids their breakfast (toast for Curly and Mo, leftover minestrone for Larry), put on a load of laundry and sauntered across the road to the 8am Book of Common Prayer service. There were only 6 people there including me and the vicar, but it was nice. I like my thees and thous. And they still say the Kyrie Eleison, which gives me a pleasant sense of continuity with my friends the Byzantines. In Decline and Fall, Constantinople has finally fallen and the last emperor has been identified amidst a pile of the slain by the golden eagles embroidered on his shoes. LSS is out of the bath and now we are going to the London Wetlands Centre.

06 July, 2007

Barnes Bridge Breakdown

We were on the platform at Barnes Bridge the other day when a blonde woman came dashing onto the platform followed by an older bloke, pulling a suitcase. She was having conniptions - "We have to be at Barnes in 3 minutes! We're not going to make it!" Then they disappeared and reappeared on the opposite platform. In the intervening 3 minutes she had gone from conniptions to total discombobulation. Then they disappeared and reappeared again on our platform where she was hyperventilating about how this platform wasn't for the Twickenham train. By this stage the only train she was fit for would be one with a terminus at the loony bin. LSS' theory was that she had forgotten to take her meds that day. Whenever anyone loses it, he kindly ascribes it to insanity, rather than just poor self-control.

What I can't understand is what she was actually trying to do. She seemed to need to get to Barnes, Twickenham and Reading, and appeared to be going on holiday, but if Reading was her final destination, why didn't she just get a train from Barnes Bridge to Clapham Junction and then take a train to Reading from there? And why go into such conniptions? Even if she missed her train, trains to Reading are hardly as rare as a sunny day during Wimbledon fortnight. And who goes on holiday to Reading anyway? Many mysteries...

Bought a kettle from Peter Jones today (apparently French people never feel the need to boil water), a prepaid sim card from T-mobile, and a lovely big stack of books from Waterstones. Ate cheese omelette and chips, tomato and red onion salad, sticky toffee pudding and ice cream at the Stockpot, washed down with a glass of something-Abruzzo and sparkling mineral water.

Greenwich Mean Time

At the request of the quaint yokels from the country that invented Greenwich Mean Time, I have reset my blog clock to GMT +0.00.

As you can tell from the time of this post, it is not so easy to re-set one's body clock.

05 July, 2007

Blonde Divorcee

At Larry's new school today, we were being shown round with a blonde very made-up woman. She divulged to LSS that she was moving her daughter into Y6 at the school because she (the blonde, not the daughter) was getting divorced and so the daughter could no longer stay at her private school. She was obviously dying to spill her guts on the subject(and LSS was dying to hear it) but sadly, no time.

I accidentally dissed the same woman later on, because she turned up at the Admin Offices just as the admissions secretary had finished giving me her whole spiel on things administrative for next term. Oh, I said, you'll have to say the same thing all over again now. Oh, sorry, says the blonde divorcee, I'm a bit late, obviously thinking that I was getting at her.

That is the difference between LSS and me: something about him makes total strangers tell him their life stories. Something about me makes total strangers think that I am judging them and finding them wanting. This is so unfair. LSS is actually much more judgmental than me, whereas I tend to have no opinion at all on most people that I meet.

Eggs, chips and beans

My favourite caff, Tony's, on Northcote Road, has suddenly doubled all its prices, because their landlord has suddenly doubled his price. I don't care. I'm just as happy to pay GBP4 for a plate of perfectly cooked egg, chips and beans, and super-strong sweet milky builders' tea, as I am for any of the other fancy-schmancy breakfast comestibles you can find on Northcote Road, in fact, more so. If the French know so much about food, how can they find croissants and coffee an acceptable alternative to the full English, eh?

All 3 kids have got places in schools, with Curly also on waiting list for our preferred. We have managed to jump the queue to the top of the list, by virtue of my faithful attendance at SJC for the past 3 years - ha ha! All that praying finally pays off.

Bought a book called Watching the English, by Kate Fox. She says that the English talk about the weather, not because they find the weather inherently interesting, but as an ice-breaker. I have found another ice-breaker, which is simply to read her book in public. Complete strangers come up and try to engage you in conversation about their favourite bits.

We are looking at cars. LSS wants a Volvo S60 as he says Kate Fox says it will make us officially upper middle-class.

04 July, 2007


Opened the Grauniad today to find that Gottfried von Bismarck had been found dead in London with traces of illicit substances etc. I was in a play with Gottfried nearly a quarter of a century ago at university - Durrenmatt's The Lesson, if memory serves. He really was one of the gilded youth, famous name, Christ Church, drugs, etc. Oh well. In the gnomic words of a Japanese teeshirt I once saw: Too fast to die, too young to happy. Rest in peace, Gottfried.

Back in Barnes

Well, here we are in Merrie England. I got caught in a positively HK-style downpour yesterday waiting for the 337 to Barnes at Clapham Junction (only cold, as well as wet) and now I have a cold. We are living in the house of a French couple, which is very petite but has everything you need, and which some judicious snooping in local estate agents' windows has established must cost in the neighbourhood of GBBP750k.

Spent most of yesterday trying to finalise plans for the kids' schools. I think we are going to end up in Earlsfield. Also trying to understand how the Oyster card works: from an Indian lady at a newsagents off the A3 - "well, you can get pay as you go, or you can get a weekly travelcard, but if you are in zone 3, you only need to get zones 1 and 2, but only for the bus, not for the tube and the mainline." Well, that's all very clear then. Come back, Octopus card!

I do not know this part of London at all, but it all seems very green and leafy. We go around muttering, Oooh, very bijou, and marvelling at the house prices. Currently also very muddy. I was taking a shortcut along the railway line yesterday while doing the Standard killer sudoku, to take mind off my coldness and misery, when I came across a huge unpassable puddle. An American who was walking his dog behind me strode smugly through it in his big rubber boots, and looked back to say, "You'll have to take your shoes off!" I looked at the puddle. I looked at my feet. Impasse. Then I gave up, retraced my steps - which I hate to do (my motto is: Never retreat) - and took the long way round over the level crossing.