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22 April 2014

The return of the buzzing dots of colour

It was a dull and dreary Tuesday afternoon until the clock hit 4pm. Like the first trickling drops of an impending storm, small smidgens of colour appeared, moving in slow motion, first one, then another; some small, some taller. In a matter of minutes these dots of colour began to blur as they moved faster and faster, boldly darting to and fro, some only just missing head-on collisions. The dots became noisy, emitting high-pitched sounds and mostly moving about in pairs or threes, like particles bonding together.

These dots were not particles of course, but rather school pupils, returning after the long Easter holiday. The school had erupted into a hive of industry after its sleepy break and now saw children busily carting suitcases up flights of stairs, reuniting with friends amid flying hugs, and squealing shrilly as the younger ones competed to be heard over the commotion. Energy levels seemed to be at their peak and staff and pupils alike had regained their sparkle after the relaxing vacation.

Despite this frenzy, the children remained – as can only be expected – prone to the same unfortunate mishaps as usual. An unsuspecting child still dropped a stack of cutlery all over the dining room floor causing an almighty clamour, while another still managed to lose a tennis ball over a wall within fifteen seconds of playing with it.

After a mere hour or two since returning to school, it was as if the children had never left: football goals were haphazardly marked out on the field by a selection of newly-washed jumpers, children wiggled in a most entertaining fashion as they attempted to master the art of ‘rip-sticking’ (which I have learned requires some skill in the area of wiggling), and younger girls galloped about, having transformed themselves into a rare breed of two-legged ponies.

Another thirty minutes later, and the noise had gone. The ponies had gone. The rip-sticks had gone. The children had gone. A lone jumper remained – and a nice one at that…

A Game of Thrones

Croquet is first and foremost a gentleman’s game, played on a dedicated and well-polished lawn, with exclamations of ‘Bravo Tarquin old chap!’ or ‘Spiffing shot Reginald! Fancy another round before we retire for cigars?’

In our garden, croquet is rather less civilised, and certainly wouldn’t be fit for the ladies of the upper classes as they amble round the rose bushes under shade of a parasol. If you happen upon our garden, you are most likely to hear a raucous din of male and female voices, or perhaps glimpse a stray mallet being hurled towards an opposing player (who has probably committed some heinous foul and broken all manner of croquet rules.)

In our garden, croquet means lying face down on the grass, akin to a professional golfer surveying the terrain for possible hazards. Dignity is a luxury for the upper class and has no place in our garden. Our version of croquet entitles one player to annihilate another’s game by sending his or her ball hurtling towards the nearest pheasant in a nearby field. It sees friendships broken beyond repair, grown men battling with heightened testosterone levels, sulks and shock, treachery and betrayal.

Croquet, when played at anything other than professional level is a surprising game. What appears to be a well lined up, certainly unmissable shot, may seconds later cause a hysterical racket, as the player in question has performed a precise and elegant pirouette and unfortunately missed the ball entirely. It is a game that holds grudges and reduces well-mannered individuals to mere shadows of their former selves.  In our family, two thrones are required; one for the ultimate winner, and one for the biggest drama queen. That’s how we play it anyway.

24 October 2012

My own little Hogwarts - part 2

He enters the class in his bedroom slippers, flings a Gandalf-esque wooden staff to the floor with a casual flick of his arm and fixates his eyes on the nervous mass of twenty somethings who sit before him, shifty and uncertain whether they are in the right room.  I am one of those apprehensive twenty something year olds and happen to be sitting closer than I would like to this strange character. Someone stifles a giggle and some very unsubtle nudging spreads around the room like wildfire. Entirely unperturbed by this, the man begins to depict to us a lengthy and meticulous story to account for his tardiness. I remember only an incongruous mention of a time traveling chair, magic staff and a sentence that began ‘When I do the sorting in the Great Hall…’. After that, I didn’t hear anything else.

It seems too perfect for me to have come to Durham. In the short space of time that I have been living here, I have walked the same cobbled paving stones in Durham Cathedral Cloisters as Harry did in Hogwarts, dined in a Great Hall very very much like The Great Hall where Hogwarts students banqueted (although alas without Dumbledore, who sadly passed away in Book 6), have been sworn in to the ‘Castle’ (less affectionately known as University College) and found myself on the receiving end of a lecture in which the professor starts sprouting off about where he keeps the Sorting Hat.  Perhaps you are also thinking that this fits in a little too nicely with my blog theme ‘My own little Hogwarts’.  Maybe you are laughing as I did. Nervously or otherwise.

In my opinion, taking a module entitled: Harry Potter and the Age of Reason sounds like just about the most wonderful way of spending one’s time at University. This is how the strange character from my lectures fits into the story. He is, in fact, the principal – dare I say only – lecturer of the Harry Potter module, and contrary to popular belief does not talk about ‘sorting’ his pupils, without genuine substantiation. My friend Megan was quite literally ‘sorted’. She wore a robe, filed anxiously past rows of her peers sitting at lengthy wooden tables, and was well and truly sorted - into Slytherin I might add, although in her defence this was an unfortunate hereditary trait rather than a reflection of her charming personality – (her college Father was in Slytherin.) As a self-admitted Hermione (see MOLH Part 1), I would hope to find myself between Harry and Ron at the Gryffindor table. However, since my ‘Postgrad MCR’ status allows me occasional privileges, you might see me peering at you over the top of my half moon spectacles* from High Table sometime in the future.

*Substitute half-moon spectacles with glass of wine.

So once again I find myself making what you might consider to be tenuous links between my life and that of Harry Potter. 

25 October 2011

The Three Ps

I’ve got another car story to tell you. It’s been a while since little Polly Polo has featured in a post and despite the fact that my recently acquired job entitles me to add some stories to the slightly neglected ‘My own little Hogwarts’, I feel a brief interlude is essential. Prepare to laugh; I openly allow you to and perhaps some of my dignity can be restored in writing a jolly entertaining tale.

The time is 6:30 pm; the day is the 21st October and it is my 20th consecutive day of school whereby I am neither student nor teacher yet simultaneously required to be both. I have just driven several hours (the exact quantity is irrespective, I mean only to inform you that I have been driving, in the evening, for some time). I step out of the car and stretch; my Satnav (yet to be Christened although I’m leaning towards ‘Dr Chase’ as he shares a certain sexy Aussy drawl) has acted supremely and I am in fact, where I fully intend to be.

Walking around the side of Polly, I scrutinise the bodywork and the suspicious scratch that stretches the length of the car. “Yes. It’s still there. Definitely not my fault though.” I have a guilty face, I can tell, although I’m not sure why. I certainly didn’t key my car.  Anyway, digressing from the main story. 

I check my parking and am pleasantly surprised at my ‘equidistancing’ so I head towards yet another school building. I have substituted one for another and am visiting none other than my best friend who is also neither teacher nor student but simultaneously both and like me, lives in a junior school boarding house.  We hug and marvel at my parking before hugging again and marvelling at my parking some more as we head inside.  Jo is in her pyjamas; either she has only just got up, or she is planning to stand me up and get a sensationally early night. Possibly, it is option three, in which any student or ex-student can acceptably wear pyjamas no matter the time or the company.  I recognise it straight away as that warmly familiar, generic ‘slobbing attire’.  “Excellent”, I think. “That means we’re having an evening in.”

With tea in hand, we can barely word our way through even the most customary of conversation, (this doesn’t reflect badly on our friendship – we had a long chitchat the evening before on the phone), talking and answering with yawns in something that sounds a lot like ‘Whale’ (ref ‘Finding Nemo’).  I’m not entirely sure who suggests ordering our staple Dominos pizza, but it is the only realistic outcome for the evening and with surprising haste, we ascertain that we need both cash and PETROL (read back and laugh later).

I drive as it is Polly who is thirsty for fuel and besides, I can then show Jo the scratch and tell her how much “It wasn’t me!” En route, our conversation goes something like this.

Georgie: Let’s get money.
Jo: Yes, let’s get money. Good idea. Then we can get pizza. And eat. I’m hungry.
Georgie: I need petrol too. I hate getting petrol. I get confused. I forget if it’s petrol or diesel.
Jo: I know what you mean. I hate it too.
Georgie: But it’s ok. I have this totally fool-proof way of remembering.
Jo: Oh really? That’s useful. Tell me so I can use it too.
Georgie: Well. I say out loud “Polly, Polo, Petrol”. See, it has three P’s.
Jo: Wow! That IS easy.
Georgie: So I never forget.

Now I feel I could leave the story there and leave you to come to your own hurtful conclusions about my ‘Malteaser’ personality traits (for those who don’t know, my Daddy dearest sometimes refers to me as a ‘Malteaser’; I might be brown on the outside, but apparently I’m blond in the middle). However, since I’ve started the story, I’ll go on.

Needless to say, in goes the diesel. A total of 6 litres of it. But alas, that’s 6 litres too many for a new little Polo like Polly and even as I snatch the nozzle out, I know the damage is done. My heart sinks. I feel dizzy (and that’s not from the fumes, although they do normally make me feel a bit nauseous). My mouth is dry but I manage to choke out the words to Jo: “Diesel… in petrol… six… diesel… Mum… kill me”.  Jo – ever the cool cucumber. Me – not so much.  I tell her I have to call home although I know it will be the conversation of nightmares, much like the one I had to have in Russia where I ran up a bill of £700 calling England. So much for all those ‘From Russia with Love’ phone calls. I know this one will be worse, although some hope remains in the fact that I haven’t at this point switched the engine on or even put the key into the ignition. Thank goodness. I must have one brain cell in there somewhere.  The phone call is unpleasant. And for some reason, my ears tune in to what Jo is saying in the background: “Send your Mum my love”. Ever the wordsmith.

Together we shuffle our way into the petrol station, giggling inexplicably as people sometimes do in serious situations. The two attendants, currently serving other customers, eye us suspiciously. They must think we are stealing petrol. Or diesel.  I mumble that I’ve put diesel in petrol or petrol in diesel and now it won’t go and glancing outside, he asks if we are parked at pump 10, adding that it has been stationary for some time.  Jo whispers that they definitely thought we were trying to steal petrol. Or diesel. The man doesn’t hear and asks if we have a number to call.  I tell him yes and we leave, hastily.

Sitting self-consciously in the very stationary car at pump 10, we call Aviva breakdown who inform me that I’m not actually included on the breakdown policy; that privilege lies exclusively with my parents. Apparently, that small matter is irrelevant though as the cost of sucking out the offending petrol or diesel is a fairly standard £179, excluding VAT. Also, they would have to tow poor little Polly all the way to ‘Upper Riffington’ (I ask the man to repeat this three times before getting him to spell the words out to me Alpha, Bravo, Charlie style), then fix her up while I wait and then they would expect me to drive myself back. Now Upper Riffington (I can’t say this place without sounding resentful – it’s a great word for taking your fury out on) is apparently 45 minutes from Cheltenham, so once they get to us (in 45 minutes or so), drive to flipping Riffington (in 45 minutes or so), fix the problem (in 45 minutes or so) and I drive myself back (in 45 minutes or so), the nightmare might finally be allowed to end. Also, as an afterthought; is 45 the only number these people know??

I am unhappy with this solution, with the additional insult of having to pay some heinous amount of money, so I call back home and am presented with an alternative from my heroic Uncle who has found a company on Google who will sort out all my problems on the garage forecourt.  Fantastic. Jo and I almost jump for joy. (Jo has meanwhile told me that of course she will come to Flipping Riffington with me and in return she will tell everyone on my wedding day about this amusing little incident.)

With our problems almost solved, Jo drags me into a nearby pub (still in her pyjamas and by now, slightly conscious of being so) and persuades me to substitute Dominos for burgers and chips (or risotto in our case). Although the chap is late in arriving, it works to our advantage as we have time to order and eat our food while Polly waits patiently in the garage. The ‘magic-fixing-hero-car-man’ high-fives me as he leaps out of his van. I like him already. He gets me to steer while he pushes the engine-dead car to the side of the forecourt and then entertains us with stories of becoming a stand up comedian called ‘MFI’ (M*F* Indian). He scares me with prices and watches as my expression turns to horror.  Jo sits in the car accepting fully the abuse she gets about being in pyjamas on a Saturday night but has the sense to ask him to clarify on the costings.  The nice man then gives me a discount, which takes the price down from £290 to £210 – in cash if you please.

He leaves; I still feel sick; Polly doesn’t die when I turn the ignition; we watch some Downtown Abbey and eat Gu and drink some wine.

13 July 2011

Living to be the next 'in-turn'

I don’t like the word ‘Intern’; I’d prefer to call us something along the lines of ‘Company Observers’ or ‘Spectators of Workplaces,’ for that better describes what we do.

We come in, meet the team, receive a desk and sometimes even a phone number and email address by which we are contactable. We drink the company coffee, learn by example and if we’re really lucky, we actually contribute rather than merely examine the colour scheme of the office, or the efficiency of their recycling procedures.

The word ‘Intern’ suggests to me that we ‘in turn’ might… make the coffee, get a byline, be offered a job…? I suppose I should acknowledge the fact ‘intern’ doesn’t in reality stem from the combining of the two above words. Such is life.

As an Intern, you never actually admit to your powerlessness. On speaking to clients or companies over the phone, you confidently lead them into a false sense of security. “My name’s Georgie and I work at the ‘insert your company here’”.

Again, you live and breathe as though you were a tax paying, benefits accruing, hard-working, company employee. It doesn’t matter that, in fact, the only thing you share with your ‘colleagues’ is the fact that you buy your lunch at Waitrose; they use their neat salary, you use your £5 lunch allowance, keen to maintain appearances of grandeur and secretly determined to spend every penny of your essentially free lunch.

When you do get a byline, it stares back at you from the page, as incredulous as to how it got there as you are. No matter, it is there for the world (or in some cases a slightly smaller percentile) to see, absorb and ultimately judge. It’s slightly like hanging your undies on the washing line on the day your brother invites all his friends over for a beer and BBQ.

Building up a portfolio of work is, I think, the same as compiling a photo album. It’s self-absorbing, ego-boosting (like having a great tan line in that photo) and it is that all important proof that you have not simply wiled away the summer watching re-runs of Dawson’s Creek and Hollyoaks. It’s something to look back on in years to come and show the family. “Here’s what I did that summer after I graduated,” says an older, and more wrinkled you flicking through pages of neat prose and copy. Hours and hours and hundreds more hours of unpaid work. “That’s great Granny. Can I go on my skateboard now?” Perhaps not quite the reaction you were after.

27 May 2011

Rediscovering Ecuador

One of the volcanoes surrounding Quito

I would go back to Ecuador in a flash. Peru may have the legendary landmarks, and Chile the better wine, but Ecuador has an infinite variety of appealing, otherworldly qualities. Straddling the Equator and set in a true Tigua artist dreamscape with snowy volcanoes all around, much of the country is situated at 9,200 feet above sea level where the air is ethereal and delicate.

       I once went on a micro-mission to the top of the Pichincha volcano in Quito. At the summit I was rewarded with a charming little café that had vast, panoramic views of the city.  Oxygen came ready-flavoured in intriguing potion bottles, capitalising on the exoticism of oxygen deprivation in an amusing and imaginative way.  

       It is my father’s family that has connections with Ecuador.  My godfather fell in love with the country, married an Ecuadorian and had a daughter who subsequently became my goddaughter. As a language student, and looking to polish my Spanish, I had left London in search of the true Ecuadorian experience. 

Kids watching a parade in Pomasqui
Pomasqui, the rural town outside of Quito where I was to spend the next two months with my relatives, was far enough from the city for the surroundings to change dramatically. It was beautiful, with gently undulating mountains and crystal blue skies, but it was dirt poor with a marked lack of picture-postcard charm. Our jeep – cerulean blue, rusting and with dents like a golf ball – seemed to suit Pomasqui better than it did Quito.  For one thing, it was the only type of vehicle that could tackle the terrain, which consisted of 1:4 gradient hairpin bends that made the engine groan and sometimes stall, dust clouds, loose rocks, stray dogs and quantities of sand. Only the men were capable of driving it, although most had no form of license.  The buildings were basic, made from crude bricks and clay, with stairs on the exterior and furniture only of the utmost necessity.
In the months that I spent with my Ecuadorian relatives, I discovered that rural communities have a culture of their own. It is not a frivolous or glamorous one, but it is one that has a deep-rooted and enriching personality, embodied through its inhabitants.  It dawned on me that, unlike so many festivities that have been beautified to satisfy the insatiable travellers amongst us, the customs and traditions in rural areas exist solely for the pleasure of the local families.  Bull fighting is a longstanding and popular activity but few people will have ever encountered the exciting local variations and shocking customs that would make British Health and Safety shudder.

Befriending a local is the best way to find out about excitements like these and thanks to my familial connections, I was duly invited on two occasions.  The setting was a dusty paddock on a hillside, encircled by jeeps and trucks on which sat entire families.  Multitudes of passionate villagers shrouded every inch of the surrounding vicinity, piled high on or peering under wooden fences and standing on cars. Hordes of men, some as young as ten or eleven lingered and cavorted around the crude ring, tantalising the bull mercilessly, leaping up wire fences or rolling under cars when it turned to attack. My goddaughter Isabella turned to me when her uncle leaped into the ring and said ‘No quiero que le mate a Julio’ – I don’t want it to kill Julio.  I shivered and thought the same thing.  
Pomasqui bullfighting
 Julio and I first met when we were just nine years old. We were at a wedding and dressed in matching little green outfits, he was pageboy, I was bridesmaid.  There was a pleasing symmetry in the fact that, over a decade later, we were re-introduced in Ecuador at another wedding. A local tradition is to play games involving the bride and groom and all the young single men and women in the room. As one of the singles, I was prodded forward to the front with some other anxious girls while Julio begrudgingly joined the boys.  The game, from what I understood at the time, involved naming items in a category with the intention of finding one boy and one girl who chose the same item as the married couple. These two poor souls would be singled out – pun intended – and after the ceremonial removing of the garter from the leg of the bride, the groom handed it to the single man to put on the outstretched leg of the single lady. There was some embarrassment, but more than anything, there was lots of laughter, as is customary with so many Ecuadorian traditions.
Ecuador is a country that in many ways has it all; mountains, islands, rainforests and an extensive coastline with industrious fishing villages, popular retreats, serene beaches, prize surfing breaks and bustling ports.  I fell in love with Montañita – a lively coastal town, full of local families and tourists alike, seafood restaurants, clothes stalls and a plethora of kitsch souvenir stands.   Nevertheless, what appealed to me most was the sense of culture that erupted as the evening drew in.  Children were in abundance and yet the atmosphere wasn’t raucous or tiresome; you’d see them bunched together in the trailer of a jeep, or munching happily on meaty kebabs from street vendors; little girls squirming in the evening heat as they had their hair braided; tanned youths darting in and around traffic with a deflated football. A fusion of latino music followed us down the coastline, sometimes harmoniously in sync with neighbouring venues, other times not, but always demonstrating the wonderful flavour of the region.

Antonio - our guide around the Otavalo countryside
I had it on good authority that for an entirely different perspective of Ecuador, I should visit the Imbabura province, home to one of the Indigenous communities that live about two hours north of Quito and famous for its fabulous Otavalo crafts market.  With some friends I’d made locally and an escort trio of a father and his two sons, our party skirted the market and embarked upon a six-hour horseback trek into the surrounding bush. We clambered up steep rocky outcrops at 45 degree angles and galloped down into the depths of valleys.  But the steeds were sure-footed, robust creatures and had their noses pointed in the right direction.  Our guide Antonio’s two sons weren’t much older than eight and ten but they rode bareback as if it was the most natural thing in the world. They belonged in that environment, as wild as the horses and uninhibited in issuing commands.  Their father – strong, silent and impressive in his presence – wore a leather jacket and a white panama hat; he seemed to blend into the surroundings.  We rested under the enchanting arbol de la vida – the tree of life – gazing in awe at the valleys below and feeling at peace with the solitude of the outdoors.
After the immensity of the countryside, it was refreshing to spend a bit of time in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, known throughout the country for its revitalising juxtaposition of the old and the new.  Quito Antiguo – the old town – features a melange of Colonial and Gothic architecture with mazes of winding cobbled streets that both dazzled and confused my untrained eye.  Smiling pproprietors in doorways offered me hot cocktails of Vino Hervido – an infusion that translates as Boiled Wine and which inexplicably tastes of feet, Chicha – a brew from fermented maize produced by the process of chewing the corn and spitting it back into the concoction, or Canelazo – made from a selection of more agreeable ingredients and a little sugar cane alcohol to help it down.  Tunes I vaguely recognised from the guitarra clásica drifted out of nearby restaurants where pensive diners smoked cigarillos on balconies, surveying the alleys from above. At night, the atmosphere would intensify; aged, stony plazas charmed us to concerts al fresco as everyone relaxed from the flurry of the day, drifting into a metaphorical and literal Adagio. By day, the plazas would transform into a hubbub of entrepreneurial duelling with the young seizing their first money-making opportunities with nothing more than a rag and some shoe polish.  
Quito Antiguo

In stark contrast, Quito Nuevo is the heart of all things youthful, fresh, and forward-thinking.  Here people opt for speed over leisure and La Ecovía is your 25 cents’ worth of discomfort.  Translating roughly as the Eco-Route, ‘La Ecovia’ is essentially a bus that runs off electricity produced through overhead wires and is a regular and reliable alternative to driving.  Overcrowded and with an ever-present risk of pickpockets, it is both a nightmare and a saving grace for travellers.  In a short space of time you can reach any number of large shopping centres, full of contemporary retailers, cafes and ‘Gadgeteers’ who delight in promoting the latest handset, sim deal or laptop.  Throngs of nattering teens converge in the cool interiors, tapping away on their cell phones.

Back in Pomasqui however, life is simpler; less hectic; more rustic.  I’ll never forget meandering my way up the hill to visit the Grandmother; high-fiving the tiny dark-haired children that played in the road with the dogs; nodding at the old man who swept his yard every morning.  Their lives were without luxury but they were content to make do with what they had.  It was humbling to watch.

My time in Ecuador taught me a number of things.  I learnt about priorities, that money isn’t everything; it never will be because there will always be people who exist and prosper without it. I learnt that family life, while not without its hardships, gives Ecuador so much of its culture.  Most of the values and customs I encountered stem from that unity. And I learnt that you should set your sights higher and further in order to truly scratch the surface of this country.  Guidebooks will direct you to the country’s most glossy and impressive locations, but so much remains beyond that, best to be discovered yourself. Whether it’s enjoying a moment of sheer culture-guzzling indulgence, like paying for fruity oxygen, or a chance encounter with a local who has a wonderful story to tell – these will be your timeless souvenirs.

23 May 2011

House Cast

I have decided at long last to upload something for you folks. Some of you will have seen these already but  I hope you enjoy them all the same. I sold the three together as a set and miss them, especially Chase (Jesse Spencer) which was my favourite. They were all drawn with HB and 2B pencils with 6B for definition.

5 April 2011

"Stoop and let it pass, the storm shall have its way"

An image very much like the ones we used to see
I’ve always been a fan of the wind and the rain – provided I am inside.  Actually, that isn’t strictly true.  There are times when yes, I feel blissful, snuggling up in my enormous white marshmallow duvet whilst listening to the angry hammering of the rain only metres away, but more often than not, I find myself frowning, critical and just a little bit unimpressed by the one thing we believe England does so well.  The thing is, there’s rain and there’s rain, and then there’s more rain.  It’s not like we lack variety here in the UK; it can be drizzling, spitting, pouring, horizontal, vertical, fat, heavy and light – often all at the same time.  But there are some places in the world that just do rain better.

Take America for example and Alabama more specifically.  It is considered to be a ‘humid subtropical’ state, situated if I remember rightly, in the strip known as ‘Tornado Alley’ or ‘Dixie Alley’.  For a very long time Alabama and Kansas ranked highest for the number of EF5 tornados, which are the most powerful of their kind.  When a storm brewed in Alabama, you brewed with it as the humidity sucked all the moisture and motion from the air like an almighty gob, and held it in a drawn out state of tension.  Bill or Jake or whoever’s shift it was on the weather channel would gesture towards the advancing storm as though the large red quivering mass lurking over the state needed any introduction or clarification.  When you knew a storm was approaching and when you realised it was a tornado not simply a downpour, you made to get inside, or you found a cellar. Pronto.

The first tornado I experienced was during the night.  Aged around 11 and 10, my sister and I had gone for a sleepover at another British family’s house; the adults – post dinner party – were seeing the muggy evening through with iced drinks and the patio doors that lay limply open offered no enticing air as a form of relief.  We slept restlessly as was so often the case in mid summer and the first thing us children knew about the approaching storm was a wake up call where we were told to bring out pillows out into the corridor.  There was a siren that could be heard all around town and the Dads were kneeling in front of the cupboards, removing stacks of board games and putting them to one side so that we could sit in the covered space and be away from all windows and glass.  In the background the weather channel was streaming a message about tornado warnings that seemed to be on a loop and Montgomery was entirely shadowed by a red cloud.  All efforts were being made to remove any anxiety from the situation and we sat playing Monopoly and sipping on overly sweet Minute Maid lemonade.  

I don’t claim to have been untroubled by the whole experience; in fact, I remember bursting into tears when I realized what was happening.  The Dads – crazy Englishmen that they were, spent much of the night standing just outside the back door, whisky in hand and surveying the landscape for whatever beast could be coming.  But we were lucky that the tornado decided upon another path and narrowly missed our road by a mile, taking roofs of several churches and homes and pulling over trees as it tore past.  

The next tornado that I remember was after a pool party at our Canadian friends’ house.  We had been miffed when ordered out of the pool mid way through a game of Categories and so we trudged into the house, carelessly and deliberately dripping plenty of water onto the carpets en route to get changed.  On this occasion we were forced to see the night through, held captives by the storm that raged outside.  Rain plummeted to the ground, ricocheting off the tarmac like jumping jacks and forming a river of surface water that gushed into the storm drains.  The siren wailed reliably and my Dad and sister parked themselves on the garage floor, watching how the sky melted into an eerie green that would suddenly rip into fragments as the lightening forked all across the sky.  As the younger sibling and also a girl (the Canadians were all boys so were clearly a lot braver than I was), it took me a little while to pluck up courage to go and watch the storm that was quite simply magnificent in its ferocity.  I’d spent much of the evening lying on the sofa with a duvet over my head, absolutely petrified by the deafening crashes of thunder. 

The following morning, when the sirens had ceased, and the air had cooled, we drove home; the sun, already risen hours earlier cast its revealing light on the evidence of the night before.  Lightening had struck and re-struck the same poor telegraph pole opposite the house and it was now suspended only by the wires which ironically it was meant to support.  Everything looked and felt damp and there was a refreshing coolness that brushed through the air.  Best of all there was that incredible, deep scent of wet tarmac that so often is the very redeeming feature of rain. 

1 April 2011

It's been a funny day

It's been a funny old day today.

Fridays normally make me happy; it's dress down day at work and we generally finish a good 45 minutes earlier than usual and bring out the beverages for a cheeky 25 minute social pre-weekend gathering.   It's a time to breath a sigh, sip a wine and for me... be embarrassed by whatever remark my two bosses decide to launch my now-suspecting way. (For anyone that doesn't know me, I have a tendency to blush whenever the attention is on me, not because I'm embarrassed but because...well actually, I don't know why, I used to be great in the centre of attention, I wanted to be the next Judi Dench and really could act and sing and be on stage and do it well. But since leaving school, it's as though my inner actress has simply resigned; if I get too much attention, I feel myself turn that merry old shade of lobster red and I simply cannot shake it. I wish I could, I think it's psychological. It happened once, and now it just happens sporadically and generally at the most inopportune of moments, like meeting a cute guy, or being asked a question in front of the office at work. Sigh.) Anyway, digressing. I really am not shy. I can talk for England, or write for England perhaps you are thinking, (the amount I ramble on about absolutely nothing interesting). 

So back to today. I sort of found myself a little bit in limbo. Having worked 'where I am' for almost 5 and a half months, I was reminded today of the refuge I had take in temporary work, almost to the extent that I believed it would never end. My boss suddenly called across the office, 'Georgie, is this your last day today?' and the lead 'whatever' that runs inside of me plummeted to the depth of my toes and I suddenly feared I would once again be unemployed and 'looking for work' (as that is officially recognised as a state of being now).  I have possibly another week at work where I am, perhaps two if I'm lucky, but then I return to that well trodden path of job-seeking and 'decision-with-consequences' making - neither of which I am much looking forward to.

A handful of us went for a drink after work and having spent copious months with a minimal-at-best social life, it was a relief to just have a drink and be driven through town with the windows down and a vocal appreciation for a Bon Jovi CD resounding through the air.  

Once home, it seemed as though my Dad had brought half the army combat gear back with him from work before he heads off to 'wayward places' - (he is RAF, but his kit suggests otherwise.) I even had the especially surreal experience of trying on a bullet proof camo vest, gas mask, hard hat (for want of a better definition) and trekking boots. The bullet proof vest as you might imagine was full of solid panels that felt like concrete but is actually far lighter than those used by the mil in Afghanistan, etc. I immediately felt strange wearing such an essential piece of gear that's sole purpose is to prevent death, but also comforted by its substantial thickness.  The gas mask reminded me a tad of scooba diving and that sensation of breathing into a snorkel that I never really liked and could never adjust to. I didn't keep that particular piece of paraphernalia on for very long. 

Another weird element to my 'unusual' Friday was the conversation we had in the evening; reminiscing on our earliest memories, whether they be fabricated through photos or legitimate visual recollections.  Mine was when I was two and a half, dressed in a red snow suit and sitting on a rocking horse in a German hospital, with my Mum, sister and Godmother while I was suffering from Croup. The rest is sketchy. My Dad remembered being waste-high to a snow drift but wasn't sure whether it was only photos that had induced such a clear and defined memory. It's odd how you can remember something so vividly only to find out that you have remembered it entirely wrong or with little sparks of creativity along the way. A study in the last decade or so gathered a group of adults and showed them a series of photos from their life.  One photo had been fabricated to show a hot air balloon ride that never actually took place and almost every single one of the participants built a believable and nostalgic story surrounding the non-event.  I wonder how often we see photos of ourselves as youngsters and engineer a whole memory solely from that one visual aid. Manipulation at its best??

Now I know many of you might be disappointed by this blog and its lack of wit or humour, but I've been feeling uncreative for a while and tonight I just wanted to write something contemporary rather than try to delve into the past and recreate some exciting or fascinating event from a period of my life. I hope you trust me when I say there is plenty more to come of 'My own little Hogwarts' and 'The Alabama Chronicles' (amongst others) and I hope you'll all continue to read and comment on any of my blogs that you like.

Happy April Fools for anyone who suffered the wrath of such a day. (I believed Facebook was being shut down. Shame on you Sam and Amy.) Besos a todos.

21 March 2011

Nyakatakura Orphan Girl

This is a painting I did a few years ago of an orphan girl at Nyakatakura School in Uganda.  She was the youngest and shyest in the group but was happy to just sit surveying everyone else. All the children wore these pink dresses and despite the Equatorial heat, they all had little pink Macs.  I used watercolours to paint this picture once I got back to England, although my inexperience with the medium meant that they came out at a consistency somewhere between watercolours and acrylics! I'm quite happy with the outcome and attempted another in the same style, but unfortunately used the wrong paper so it didn't quite match this one. 

Check out more of my artwork at

20 March 2011

The Highway Code

'Little Dog Syndrome'
I watched an advertisement the other day that I laughed at.  At first I wasn't sure what angle they were going for as people zipped along pavements with furious expressions, sending passers-by hurtling in random directions and narrowly avoiding collisions. They revved and snarled and seemed truly incensed about life and their surroundings.  The tag line was something like 'You wouldn't act this way on the pavement so don't act this way in a car' and I actually cackled.  I sat there thinking, 'That is so totally OTT, people just DON'T act like that when they are driving'.  I thought it was just another far fetched ploy by the advertising companies to make a little money with an analogy that didn't quite fit.  Today however, I regret I was proved wrong.  

Today I took my first long distance drive. (All you Americans out there will mock my definition of long distance but regardless, it was the furthest I've yet gone solo by car.)  I drove from Barnard Castle in County Durham to Newark in Lincolnshire, a drive that takes around 2 and a quarter hours.  Straightforward, direct and for the most part relatively pleasant, this journey should have been a doddle.  All I had to do was drive through town, join the A66 for 10 miles to the Scotch Corner roundabout and then A1 South all the way to Newark. To be honest I don't think I did too badly.  After crawling along behind a 'monster'* tractor in an uphill struggle towards the A66, (all the while worrying that either he or I would have engine failure and start sliding downhill,) the 10 mile stretch towards Scotch Corner was a delightful stream of ups and downs as the dual carriageway rolled gracefully along with the hills.  

*'monster' - wheels the width of my car and twice the height that would no doubt squash me and my little Polo into the tarmac... never to be seen again.  

At Scotch Corner (I for some reason always picture a Scotch Egg when I hear this place mentioned...) I completely disregarded both intuition and parents' advice telling me to position myself in the right hand lane and swerved across into the left hand lane. It was one of those moments where you wonder whether your brain and hands belong to two entirely different human beings as there appears to be no obvious connection.  I knew I should be in the right lane but my hands weren't having any of it.  Somehow I managed to scrape little Polly Polo across at the last minute, screaming at me for trying to accelerate away hard in first gear and not at all thanking me for it afterwards.  

Once onto the A1, I cruised along for a little while at a safe 73mph singing along to oldies like American Pie and Build me up Buttercup when all of a sudden I felt a whoosh of air as another monster vehicle practically took the side of my car off.  It was a big silver beast and was gone before I got a good glimpse of who was driving such a pretentiously enormous car.  A presumed case of 'Little Man Syndrome'.  I grumbled and edged across into the left hand lane for safety.  Natasha Bedingfield 'I Bruise Easily' came on and I giggled at the irony.  "I bruise easily, so be gentle when you handle me." 

I began to understand what my driving instructor used to say about how you can very quickly be dragged into a torrent of fast moving traffic when on the motorway.  It reminded me of the swimming pool at Center Parks where the rapids take you around on a little course and everyone moves at a different speed.  If you don't want to be smashed about you have to 'go with the flow' and weave in and out of people, all the while feeling slightly out of control of your own body. On a motorway, if you want to avoid being stuck behind a lorry you have to pick your moment carefully in which to fuse with the deluge of cars next to you.  Once you have accomplished that tricky manouever, the ominous black SUV is starting to threaten annihilation from behind so you brake and get sucked back across into the slower *and safer* moving traffic once again. And such is life on a motorway. Forever speeding up, slowing down, speeding back up again. Hardly economical really.  

At one point I almost ended up on the M1 but spotted the tell-tale sign at the last minute that told me to re-align with the right stream of traffic.  Lucky me.  I feel like I did an OK job; Polly was in one piece by the end of it, I played a continuous stream of sing-along songs to keep my cool and I arrived at the correct destination without even having glanced at a SatNav (which is more than I can say for a lot of people...)

Photo from this link