29 February, 2008

A Rather Annoying Supermarket

If there's one thing that gets my goat - okay there are lots of things that my goat, but this is one of them - it's the way Waitrose can't just label its products capers, or mustard, or whatever. No, it's got to be "A Spoonful of Capers" or "Go Easy on the Dijon Mustard". What's wrong with them, the blithering idiots? I just want to buy some capers, I don't want to indulge in a little bit of self-congratulatory middle-class bonding with you - you're a supermarket, you're not my friend.

LSS and I had been yodelling in a duet of Waitrose-abuse for some few minutes in this strain when Larry said thoughtfully, "I wonder if everyone else feels like that."

Apparently she thinks this is not a subject worthy of prolonged dissection at the dinner table.

On Wednesday morning I went to the From Russia exhibition at the RA - it was a corporate members session before the show opened to the public at 10am. Unfortunately I had completely forgotten about it, so I got into work as usual at 8, booted up the computer and started to tuck into my porridge and maple syrup. Opened my e-mail and immediately got a reminder about the exhibition. So I had to drop everything and whizz across to Green Park on the Jubilee line. Nice exhibition - great portrait of Anna Akhmatova oozing charisma, and a dazzling Kandinsky. Got back to my desk at 10am and ate my cold porridge, which had set and was now in a condition to be carved with the spoon into fantastical ice-sculptures.

We had a note round today setting the minimum criteria for people we are considering hiring. I won't say what they are, just that, if those are the minimum criteria, I would say 90% of the people in my department don't currently qualify to be working there, including myself, and in fact the former chairman of the organisation. If we are currently hiring people just because they are capable of putting sticking plasters on their knuckles when they get all red and raw from scraping along the ground, it is not because we have very advanced equal opportunities programmes, but because those god-like creatures who meet the minimum criteria are mysteriously not presenting themselves to us as candidates for employment.

19 February, 2008

Tube Etiquette

Speaking of Arabs, I see in the TLS that that bloody idiot Martin Amis is now saying that we shouldn't use Arabic numerals because they were invented by Muslims. But he's not racist, oh no.

Here's a point of tube etiquette: the other day, a young woman was reading a free newspaper on the tube. After a while she finished and was sitting with the paper folded up in her hand. The man sitting opposite leans over and asks, Are you reading that? She looks startled and says, Not right now. He says, Well, can I read it then? She is obviously annoyed but hands it over.

Was he crossing the line? I would say, yes. If she had finished with it, she would have put it down in the accepted place for leaving reading material (the top of the seat behind your head). If she hasn't done that, then she still wants it, and he has no business asking her for it, any more than he would asking me for my Guardian, just because I'm not reading it right at that moment, the personal-space-invading piss-ant.

18 February, 2008


Controversy rages among the Witterers. LSS is impressed that the Arabs invented the concept of zero. I, personally, don't see why that is impressive. What's difficult about being able to see that if you have 5 beans and you take them all away that you have nothing left? Perfectly bleeding obvious, if you ask me. What kind of answer had earlier civilisations been coming up with when asked the question, what is five beans take away five beans, if not zero? It's not so much that the Arabs were brilliant as that the earlier bunch must have been dead thick, it seems to me.

I spent most of Sunday organising our books (driven mad by my inability to find our copy of Alasdair Sawday's Bed and Breakfasts). They are now sorted into: novels, short stories, poetry, drama, biography, history, travel, reference, and everything else. Sub-categories and alphabetical order will have to wait until we have moved into our new house with its wall-to-wall built-in bookshelves.

16 February, 2008

On the Underground

Let's see, what have I been up to?

Well, in reverse order:

Today, tried a different flapjack recipe. This one was more successful, except that the pan I used was a bit too big for the amount of oat-glop. Also, folks, butter the liningpaper, otherwise your flapjacks will stick to the tin! Luckily, none of the Wandsworth Witterers mind having to eat the liningpaper right off the flapjack.

Went by the sorting office to pick up something which had been sent to me with insufficient postage. I was hoping it was the marigold tea I had ordered. In fact, it was a mystery communication from my GP, so I paid the 16p excess postage and the GBP1 handling charge, and took the letter. When I opened it, it turned out to be a leaflet inviting the practice's customers to come to a Q&A session on what we wanted from our local healthcare service. What I want from my local healthcare service is for them not to send me junkmail with insufficient postage on it, so that I waste half an hour of my Saturday and GBP1.16 of my money to take delivery of something I neither need nor want.

Apparently one of the parents at the school runs a B&B that is in Alasdair Sawday's Bed and Breakfasts. Tried in vain to find our copy of Sawday, to find out what he thinks of their pad.

Which segues neatly on to our good news for the week, which is that we have finally found someone to buy our flat, so our own house-purchase is back on! Hopefully (or for the pedants, It is to be hoped that) soon we will be living in a place which is big enough for us to give our books some semblance of order.

Went to Indian wedding in Edgware. It is strange that the stations at the two extreme ends of the Northern Line have such nearly-apocalyptic names: Edgware and Morden. If this were a sword and sorcery fantasy type world, they would be called Edge City and Mordor. But since this is England, their potential drama has been toned down into bleak suburban red brickiness. The bride was a really pretty girl from Moscow that the groom met in a chatroom. Her father looked a little bit like an unemployed hitman. I hope that is not what he really is.

On the train back, I tried to persuade Larry that it would be a really interesting thing to do to visit one London Underground station a week (and actually get out and explore the neighbourhood at each one) until they were all done. It would only take 6 years or so, I reckon. She turned me down flat. When I stuck out my lower lip and looked as if I were about to cry, she did seem about to relent. Even though she knew I was only joking, she is such a softy, she can't bear to see people looking sad. Except Curly. Curly's woe she can take with total equanimity.

On Friday Mo missed the appointment with the NHS ADHD specialist that we have been waiting for for 8 months. I am so pissed off I cannot begin to express it. And now she is off gallivanting around for a month, so there is no chance that he can get in to see her till April at the very earliest.

While Mo was missing his appointment, I was down at BUPA getting a checkup. They stuck loads of things to me and made me get on a bike and keep the speed at 60 (60 whats?) while sticking my left arm out periodically and holding my nose with my right arm (because the nose clip kept flying off - hey, I don't have a great beaky gweilo hooter, alright?). Frankly I think I should have got extra credit for coordination and balance in these circumstances. I got tested for blood, heart, kidney, lungs, liver, sight, hearing function, and at the end of all this, he said everything was perfect and within range and I was the first person that week (it was Friday) that he could say that of. So my takeaway from all that was: (i) maybe it's your washing powder that's making you itch; (ii) take glucosamin and chondroitin for your twisted knee; (iii) do more aerobic exercise and resistance training and eat more oily fish, to increase your levels of good cholesterol and improve your muscle to fat ratio and therefore reduce your chances of having a heart attack within the next 10 years to 1% from 2%. I have (i) requested LSS to switch back to Persil from Bold; (ii) bought some G & C capsules from Waitrose; (iii) signed up for circuit training session next Monday at the gym; (iv) looked at a tin of sardines thoughtfully.

The boys at work were discussing the case of a mystery man on our floor who periodically goes into a cubicle in the Gents and can be heard taking spools and spools of loo paper from the roll, accompanied by noises that make it sound, in the words of the new guy on our desk, as if he is "stretching". All this loo paper eventually gets put down the loo which blocks it and puts it out of commission for the day. What can he possibly be doing in there? No one dares to ask.

On Tuesday managed to bag one Standing ticket for La Traviata at the ROH, for the very last performance. Apart from the fact that I was standing, it was a really good "seat" (or "stand"), nearer the stage than I have ever been at the ROH. Enjoyed the opera, particularly the way Verdi has just dispensed with all the boring in-between-explaining crap and basically just concentrated on the four scenes he is interested in. However, I must say, when Violetta or whatever her name is declares at the end, I'm going to live, and then promptly drops dead, he takes dramatic compression a little too far.

The mentoring was really interesting. I got a really sweet mentee who, amazingly, professes an interest in banking as a career. I did not disillusion her. I asked her why she wanted to work for a bank. She said that her aunt worked for Barclays and also she wanted to work in an office because she thought it was a classy kind of a job. Recalling that one of my developmental goals from the last management thing inflicted on us was to Encourage Visionary Thinking (gag, gag), I asked her if she didn't want to explore other areas, like possibly maybe drama (as this was one of the GCSE subjects she said she was enjoying). How pleased her mother would be, I thought, if she could hear her daughter's mentor suggesting that instead of going for a good steady job in a bank she could consider trying to make it as an actress. Hope no-one realises that, as usual, I am doing everything sideways on from everyone else and tries to get me thrown off the mentoring programme...

11 February, 2008


What a lovely weekend! Spring is here. At Larry’s insistence, we went for a picnic on Sunday. Wanted to go to Polesden Lacey, but ended up at the Wetland Centre in Barnes because LSS wanted to get back in time to watch the rugby. “I LOVE picnics!” declares Larry, balancing on a boulder on one foot, with her mouth full of pate and raspberries. I love picnics too because all my self-imposed rules are broken for picnics – I buy expensive out-of-season stuff that is air-freighted from faraway countries, as well as not-good-for-you stuff, like millionaire’s shortbread, and you can eat it in any order you like, not all the boring virtuous stuff first and then the treats later, because they’re all treats.

In the afternoon baked scones, at Curly’s request. This is the first time I have made them in years and my God were they good! Well done Delia Smith. We ate them still warm from the oven, with damson jam from the last church fete and whipped cream left over from Larry’s birthday party. They were incredibly light – it was like eating warm sweet rich air. For some reason we don’t have any regular table salt, just some fancy-schmancy sea salt flakes, so I had to use those in the scones, and actually it worked well. Every now and then you would get a little salt explosion in your mouth, to add some intensity to the creamy airiness.

I also practised making flapjacks, as I have signed up to produce some for a church jamboree at the end of February. These were not so successful, so if anyone has a good flapjack recipe, please let me know!

I’m copying the Guardian columnists and saying what I’m up to this week:

This afternoon I’m going to be doing a mentoring session at Royal Docks school – scary. I cannot imagine what I could possibly have to say that might add any value to your average inner city teenager’s life.

In the evening, it’s Messiah practice with the Southwest London Choral Soc.

The rest of the week is a featureless desert – although Mo is on half-term which means I don’t have to supervise his homework in the evening – so maybe I will finally get down to the RFH to catch some of the Messiaen From the Canyons to the Stars season.

And then on Saturday we’re going to an Indian wedding somewhere up in the wilds of north London. Goody, Indian food.

09 February, 2008

I kiasu, you very kiasu

Went to Kiasu on Queensway with the ProtoSpy and Rambo the Architect for CNY lunch. Reminded me of the happy time 20 years ago when Smiggle and Donald used to live on Queensborough Terrace and we used to hang out in Bayswater all the time, having fabulous impromptu meals catered for us by the Don.

Verdict on Kiasu - good for starters. We had yu sang, top hats, satay, otak-otak, oyster omelette, roti paratha, and some other stuff I don't know the name of. Excellent. The mains were kway teow, laksa, nasi lemak and mee siam - ok, but nothing like home.

Afterwards, to the Princess Di playground in Kensington Gardens. Entry is through a gate that you have to be buzzed through. Sis and I were ahead with the kids; when LSS and Rambo tried to get in, they were stopped by the Paedo Patrol, and had to plead pathetically (alliteration) for entry!

Had Top Gear style race to see who could get back to Balham first - Curly, Mo and I went via Circle/District and mainline from Victoria; LSS and Larry went by Central/Victoria/Northern Lines. They beat us by miles - the District and Circle at the weekend is hopeless. No Circle line trains, so had to go to Earls Court. Train went through the whole stopping in between stops, stopping too long at stops, doors shutting, then opening again, then shutting again routine - all orchestrated to the moos and groans from crowds of idiot 20-something Kiwis on their annual Circle Line pub crawl.

Curly is much exercised by spelling at the moment. She was speculating today on the difference the placement of the "r" makes in the words "from" and "form", the little Saussurean pom-pom head.

I am insanely itchy all the time. Is the dreaded dust mite allergy catching? Going to the doctor at 0710 on Monday for an expert opinion. In the meantime dozing myself with evening primrose oil, zinc and vitamin B, which some quack on the internet says helps to alleviate the itching.

LSS is coordinating the organisation of the school summer fair, which is Olympic themed. Unfortunately the British Olympic Committee takes a different view - apparently they own the Olympics and everything to do with it and they will sue the ass of anyone who says it isn't so. I suggested (with my Wire goggles on) that they should change the theme to: Drug Dealers in the 'Hood. Instead of stalls to run, they could have corners to control. Instead of a coconut shy, they could have games of Steal the Stash. The esteemed Coordinator rejected my idea out of hand. He's very conventional.


Went to see the Age of Enchantment at the Dulwich Picture Gallery - illustrations from Beardsley, Dulac, Rackham etc. Some fabulous Dulacs in dreamy blue and of course the stunning depraved Beardsley line. Also enchanted by Dulwich Village, not least because of Dulwich College, alma mater of PG Wodehouse.

Was planning to go to listen to Beethoven violin sonatas at Wigmore Hall on Friday but somehow got sidetracked by the Roaming Sub into sucking down a couple of bottles of wine garnished with squid down at that fish place in Borough Market.

Larry's birthday last Sunday - she got a PAYG mobile phone - Sony - forty quid. Party guest's comment: Now I'm the only one in the class who hasn't got a mobile phone! Kids nowadays, eh? When I was 9, I was playing five stones with homemade bean bags filled with rice.

07 February, 2008

The Roving Reader

Some chap in the Guardian was complaining about how no one ever reads books on the tube any more, because they just read the free rags they give away at stations instead, which are indeed rags and which I stopped reading because the picture they conveyed of the crappiness of contemporary life was too depressing.

So anyway, I've been looking at what people are reading on the tube apart from Metro and London Lite etc etc, and here is a sample so far:

The Ghost - Robert Harris
Jamaica - Malcolm somebody or other
Pies and Prejudice - Stuart Maconie
The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Swahili for the Brokenhearted - Peter Moore
some Jodi Picoult book that I couldn't see the title of
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
What is the What - Dave Eggers
The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger

There were loads more but I couldn't make out the titles. Maybe it's time I started wearing my glasses all the time, not just when I'm trying to see the train times on the Waterloo departures board.