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Perils In The Library

We were in the library.  So far, it was a successful trip.  We’d found the section on aviation – currently the only section we are allowed to visit – and had swapped our book on rescue helicopters for ‘Fantastic Flying Machines’.  It wasn’t that we’d finished the helicopter book (it had densely packed text and not so many photographs) but for some reason one morning H woke up and decided that he no longer wanted to be a rescue helicopter pilot.  Beforehand it was all he could talk about.  We had a plan.

H was going to go to school and work really hard and then go to university and Mummy was going to come along and sit in the university with him (cue internal laughter from Mummy) and then he’d join the air force and learn how to fly a helicopter and then he’d become a rescue helicopter pilot and he would fly the helicopter and Mummy would do the rescuing and Daddy and J would sit in the back eating sandwiches and everyone would get an ENTIRE packet of Jaffa cakes and J would have to eat his sandwiches and Jaffa cakes whilst sitting on the toilet because there probably weren’t going to be enough seats in the helicopter but there would be a toilet because otherwise where would you do a poo?

It was a pretty comprehensive plan.

And then, in the shockingly fickle nature of 3 year olds, one morning I was informed that the rescue helicopter plan was off. I wasn’t devastated.  I didn’t really want to do the rescuing bit.  I’ve never been very good with ropes and winches.  Instead, the future of a real aeroplane pilot awaited and therefore we had to change our library book.

Armed with Fantastic Flying Machines and a picture biography of Charles Lindbergh we headed to the desk.  I told H I’d check the books out and he could go and look at the fish as next to the librarian was a largish tank in which a couple of particularly corpulent goldfish were usually to be found, swimming slowly.


Goldfish One, looking nervous which was, under the circumstances, completely warranted. [Attrib. Kate Bolin]

I was chatting to the librarian when I heard H exclaim “Look Mummy, he’s twirling!”.  I looked over and saw Goldfish One ‘swimming’ on the top of the tank, rotating gently a bit like a rotisserie chicken.  He didn’t look well.  I cast an eye over the tank for Goldfish Two.  He wasn’t floating on the top of the water.  No, he was vertical and was bobbing calmly up and down in the air filter.  He looked decidedly deceased.


Off to join this little chap in the Great Goldfish Bowl Coffee Mug In The Sky [Attrib. torbakhopper]

H was still enjoying watching Goldfish One and it clearly hadn’t occurred to him that the goldfish was doing anything other than having a little rest.  I turned to the librarian and mouthed “I think they’re DEAD”.  Her jaw dropped.  She looked over at the tank.  It dropped even further.  She nodded, slowly.

I grabbed the books and manoeuvred H out of the door.  Just before he left he turned, waved at the goldfish and said “goodbye”.  Yep, I thought, that’s the last time you’re going to see them.  It turned out that the water in the tank had been changed that day.  I don’t know what it had been replaced with, but it turns out that it was decidedly bad for the health, if you’re a goldfish.

Incidentally, strange things happen on the internet when you start looking for photos under the search terms ‘dead goldfish’. I was expecting Mr Brave New World up there.  What I got initially was this:


Very artistic.

 It helps if you know that that is a rather tasty biscuity-cracker type thing from the US called a goldfish.  That kind of shot took time and effort.  I’m not entirely sure it was time well-spent. It’s entitled “Goldfish out of water” and is by kainr in case it’s your kind of thing and you fancy checking it out. They may have other work in the same style. Maybe “Pot and Kettlechip” or “Rich Tea and Toast” or the like.  Maybe it’ll catch on.  Maybe there’s a whole “snack and bad pun” photography genre.  Who knows?  Not me.  In any case, kainr, your work is decidedly better than what turned up next.

Beware.  If you type ‘dead goldfish’ into, you get this:


I can’t see a goldfish.  I’ve looked really hard.  I feel cheated.

This was by someone called 1Iluminati.  He has more work. You can see it here, if you really want to.


For The Love Of Mrs Kitley

There are some people who are obviously inspirational.   Mother Theresa.  Corrie Ten Boom*.  Miranda**.  

They exude charisma and derring do and, well, an inner power that has the capacity to shock and awe.  

And then there are your friends and acquaintances.  These are people with whom you may have grown up, or who marry friends or with whom you work day by day and who seem utterly ordinary, as you may well seem to them.  And then, it may be, that one day you realise that they are far from ordinary; that they are, in fact, so completely extra-ordinary that they take on almost super-human status.

I have a friend like that.  Her name is Mrs Kitley (or Charley, to her friends). 

Charley married my friend Rich.  I sang at their wedding but, as is often the case with wives of male friends, haven’t really ever sat down and chatted to her for very long.  We’ve probably talked in the sense of having a deep and involved conversation once or twice in my life.  When we lived in Israel, however, I would send long-winded (can you believe it?) and immensely details emails home.  it was rare that anyone replied, but Charley did.  She would send me a much more pithy and interesting email back with snapshots of family life.  It was through this correspondence that our friendship grew. 

A couple of years ago, Charley discovered she had bowel cancer.  She is in her early 30s and has two small children.  it’s not something you expect to happen to you, certainly not at that age.  It was a pretty devastating prognosis, but Charley is, it turns out, not the type to take something that is merely life-threatening and deeply unpleasant as a chance to be in a really bad mood and retreat from the world.  Far from it.  

Since she was diagnosed she has had over 30 sessions of chemotherapy.

She has learnt to fly a helicopter.  

She has had major surgery.

She has taught her children to ski.

She has had over 25 hours of radiotherapy.

She has written one of the most entertaining and uplifting blogs you will find on the internet and it’s here.  Enjoy. 

Now, however, things have become serious.  Lord Saatchi is promoting a bill through the House of Lords which will enable doctors to explore innovative methods of treatment at the request of the patient without fear of prosecution.  This is something that Charley is passionate about.  Too many times, it seems, once the limits of conventional medicine have been reached, the shutters come down and the patient is told that there are no more avenues to explore.  For someone like Charley who will do anything it takes to see her daughter start school that’s just not good enough.  Doctors who wish to try something non-conventional should be supported in that choice. 

Charley has been invited to the House of Lords to explain what the bill would mean from a patient’s perspective.  This could be fun. Last week she thought she had an imaginary daughter in Waitrose, thanks to the pills she’s on at the moment.  However she’s pulled it off once, when invited to an initial consultation and put her point forward so well to Lord Saatchi that she’s been invited back to address a wider audience. 

She’ll be great, and she’ll make a fabulous impression I am sure.  What will really help, however, is to have additional widespread public support for the bill.

It’s all on the internet at The Saatchi Bill.  There are detailed explanations of what the bill proposes and, most crucially, there is a link on the site to show your support.  

Please, please, please, for the love of Mrs Kitley, sign up.    



*If you haven’t read ‘The Hiding Place’ about the life of Ms Ten Boom, you have a treat in store.  

**And if you haven’t seen the eponymous sitcom, you have an even bigger treat in store. Actually, read The Hiding Place first and then, when it all gets a bit much, put on an episode of Miranda and marvel at the self-effacing and utterly genius slapstick that allows a plus-size awkward and gauche woman to be the one person on the screen you really, really want to be.  Unless you’re male.  That probably doesn’t apply to you.  Sorry about that. 


Yesterday was a strange old day.  I’d written a post about some of the texts that our security section send to us, inspired by the one I received on Sunday evening:

“Alert: The firing in the town is in celebration of Pakistan’s victory in cricket match.  Staff advised not to stand outside.”

That tickled me.  It was sent at 10pm, just as my husband and I were off to bed so the chances of us going to stand outside were remote.  I particularly liked the little insight into the Pakistani psyche – the sheer joy of winning a cricket match being enough to allow them to forget that projectiles fired into the air do, at some point, have to come down again.  I went to bed smiling inwardly and hoping that all the cricket fans ran out of ammunition very quickly.

So, when I received another text yesterday morning about more shooting, I wasn’t overly concerned.

Then we had a tannoy announcement instructing everyone to stay inside.  Bit by bit, more information came through.  It transpired that there were two suicide bombers in the district courts in the centre of Islamabad, who were backed up by 3 to 4 armed gunmen.  They killed 11 people and then the gunmen disappeared into the city.

The police started to search from house to house and, all the time, we were to stay indoors.  After a couple of hours we started to receive texts allowing movement on some of the roads and, by the time school ended, we were free to travel.

The only other time I’ve been close to something like this was on 7/7 in London when the tube and buses were attacked.  The city closed down completely.  Only emergency service vehicles were on the roads and so, as I walked to the overland train (all the tubes had, of course, been stopped) there was the eerie sight of a row of buses all abandoned by the side of the road. The lack of traffic added an air of quiet and we strolled through a sombre cloud of calm.

Not so in Pakistan.  This is a country which is more used to violence than any should be.  Even The Express Tribune (the online newspaper for Pakistan) has a couple of leading articles on the bombing today but then moves quickly onto the proposed Iran/Pakistan gas pipeline.    The checkpoints on the way to school were free-flowing and the only car I saw being pulled over was belching out black fumes and looked as though it was single-handedly destroying ice caps.

We are now free to move around at will.

I like the freedom.  I am careful and I trust in our security set-up.  What I discovered yesterday, however, was that I am also part of an immensely efficient communication network.

For, when faced with a threat which may prevent our getting to our children at school, nothing – absolutely nothing – beats a group of mothers armed with mobiles.

All intelligence was freely shared and freely given in the interests of The Common Good.

And what is The Common Good?  I hear you ask.

For mothers of Elementary School age children there is only one.

The School Pick Up.


Pretty Flowers For A Monday Morning

In the last week or so, the flowers in Islambad have burst into bloom, lifting the heart and leading to impromptu renditions of The Mikado. They need to be shared. Here you go…

photo 1


And there are more…

Pretty Flowers For A Monday Morning

Altogether now, “Oh the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la.”

photo 2

And lastly…

photo 3

Here Endeth The Flowery Fotos.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Lassi Faire

I’m hiding in my study.  I’ve just retreated, quite quickly, from the kitchen and I’m now skulking at my desk keeping my head down. I have to admit, I’m a little bit scared.

In the kitchen is an old milk carton.  It contains, apparently, a mixture of yogurt and water and, for that extra delicious something, salt. Just before I ran for the hills it was brandished before me by my ayah and the challenge laid down:  “Do you want to try?  My old boss drank this all the time.  He really liked Pakistani food.”

Do you see what she did there?  In rejecting a fermenting, warm drink of watered down salty yoghurt, I’m rejecting her entire cuisine, her culture and, yes indeed, her country.  Could I be any more rude?

I like Pakistani cooking. I especially like my ayah’s Pakistani cooking.  Despite not being hired as a cook, I frequently walk in to delicious smells of radish filled fried chapati (an awful lot nice than they sound. I could eat them all day. I’d be the size of a house, but it would be worth it) or her particular take on dahl.  Yesterday’s delight was pakora (deep-fried batter-coated mixed vegetables).

Occasionally I get stumped.  A couple of days ago she brought in some spinach.  She used some for cooking and then asked what I wanted to do with the rest.  “Saag aloo?”  I said hopefully, bringing back memories of some particularly happy times in Brick Lane soaking up a couple of Cobras with spinach and potato curry.  I was subjected to a frown and a shake of the head.  No.  Apparently for Saag Aloo you need saag.  We had aloo (potatoes) but no saag.  I pointed at the spinach.  “Saag?” I said, and promptly discovered that saag and spinach are not the same thing, despite looking and tasting identical and notwithstanding what it says on Wikipedia.  You live and learn.

However I have decided to draw the line, and that line is between ‘nice cold drinks which refresh and delight’ and ‘warm dairy products containing salt’.  There my courage fails.

Am I a man (generic) or a mouse?

Eek eek.

In Which H Sets His Father A Little Task

Daddy was pretending to be a tiger.


A wild beast full of majesty and grandeur.  And then there’s the tiger.

[Photo attrib. Richard Giles]

He crept up on H, who was deeply involved in playing with his latest piece of plastic tat.  This is an Angry Birds watch which he earned by getting all the stickers on his chart. This week, stickers were awarded for not coming into our room at 5.30am and shouting “I want to play on Mummy’s iPhone” in my ear.  It’s a bit negative, I know, but it had to be done.  And it’s worked.  We now have a little chap who plays quietly in his room until we go in to get him…for the moment.

The watch was on his ‘must have’ list and cost the princely sum of around £2.  I’ve had to mend it twice since I bought it 16 hours ago and it may yet require more super glue, but he’s happy.

He wasn’t happy, however, when Daddy pounced.

A chastened Daddy came into the kitchen where I was washing up and grabbed a tea towel, saying “I’ve been sent in here to save the galaxy”.    It was an impressive plan which was clearly designed to keep Daddy busy for as long as possible.   After a few minutes H appeared at the kitchen door.

“I thought I told you to save the galaxy,” he said, looking at Daddy.

“I am,” Daddy replied, “one dish at a time.”

H left, satisfied.  The drying up was done and, apparently, you can now relax.

The galaxy is safe.

Semi-Naked Men And Me

It’s not often that you stroll out of a airport lounge into a terminal full of semi-naked men.  They weren’t there when I’d gone in, but when I came out they were everywhere.

I didn’t really notice at first. I was a bit distracted as I was off to catch an aeroplane which had been delayed by 4 hours and I was keen to put the (lack of) delights of Islamabad airport behind me as quickly as possible. 

Then I saw the chap coming up the escalator.  He was elderly.  He had a white towel around his waist and a white scarf draped over his shoulder and that seemed to be that. 

It was a little startling, I don’t mind telling you.  Then I looked up.  The room was full of men wearing the towel/scarf combo.  You don’t find that at Stansted. 

Using my unparalleled deductive skills I sensed that this might have something to do with the Hajj (the ‘once in a lifetime’ pilgrimage to Mecca which is one of the 5 pillars of Islam). If the room full of half-dressed chaps didn’t help, the label that had been put on my hand luggage at check-in was something of a clue…


But I’m going to Birmingham!

Apparently the dress code is ‘two white sheets, both unstitched’.

That was what we called a toga party at university. 

You Can Stop Digging At Any Time….

“Could you move your big bottom please,” said H.

He saw the expression on my face.  It wasn’t happy.

“I didn’t say ‘fat’,” he added anxiously.

“I know you don’t like the word fat.  That’s why I said ‘big’.  I mean ‘big’, not ‘fat’.   You know, ‘big’.  Like…Daddy Pig’s tummy.  That sort of big.  Not fat.  I wouldn’t say ‘fat’.”


There we have it, the slim and sylph-like Daddy Pig.  

I’ve just seen an advertisement for spinning classes.

I’m going to sign up.

Another Gem From Pakistani Radio

It was a phone-in show. The topic was “What You Should Never Say To A New Mum”.   I’d missed some, but our host kindly did a recap of the best.

“You can say goodbye to having a social life” was predictable.

“He’s quite an ugly baby, isn’t he” felt a bit harsh, given that the majority of new born babies look like a bulldog chewing a wasp (except mine, of course.  Mine were stunningly attractive from day one, and I’m completely objective about that).

Then it came.  Someone actually rang in to say that they’d said this to a new mother.  Only in Pakistan.

And the offending phrase?

“You must have eaten a lot of dark chocolate when you were pregnant.”

I don’t think they were talking about iron levels.


Being A Woman In Pakistan

As a western woman in Islamabad, I am free.  I can drive my car;  wear whatever I want within reason (knees and shoulders covered and a scarf artistically draped will do the job pretty much anywhere); and shop anywhere I like by myself.   I am lucky.

It is not the same outside of the city, however.   The north of Pakistan, for example, is very beautiful.  My friend is hoping to go and live there, but it’s not going to be easy.  Even dressed in the most conservative manner she will be unable to go shopping without a male chaperone.  Bizarrely, however, a child will do, even one as young as 5.  Fortunately she has a little boy and so will be able to visit the shops.

I asked how ‘normal’ Pakistanis managed.  Apparently the thing to do is to sit in your car and get your driver to go out to the shops for you, avoiding the need to interact with strange males yourself.

I am a fan of the blogs on The Express Tribune website.  They offer a fascinating insight into what educated Pakistanis are thinking, both conservative and liberal.  At the turn of the year I was treated to a run down of 13 things I should not do for my husband, such as be offended when he criticises my cooking (headed “It’s Not Personal, You Just Don’t Cook Well)  and 14 things I should do.  These included such gems as ‘Being his eye-candy’ and not moaning when he comes in from work, but smiling and pretending all is well even when it isn’t.

It’s easy to knock lists like this just because they read like a manual from the 19th century.  Some of the points are good ones.  I, too, agree that you should make an effort with your husband’s family. It’s good for him, good for your children and, if you have wonderful in-laws like mine, good for you too.  However there was, in both lists, a complete lack of expectation that he would reciprocate. Marriage isn’t seen as team work, which is how my husband and I like to think of it, but exists solely for the pleasure and convenience of the husband.

And yet these lists are a world away from the harsher reality for many Pakistani women.  In today’s paper alone there was a little article containing three separate short paragraphs.  The first paragraph dealt with a Mr Asif who, on Monday, suspected his wife of loose morals so he strangled her and threw her body off the roof of his house.

In the second paragraph Mr Hassan killed his wife and hanged her body from a tree to make it look like suicide.  Her uncle, who was coming to visit her, found him in the act.  The uncle also reported that Hassan had often beaten his wife and been abusive towards her.

In the third paragraph a man asked his niece to marry his son (her cousin).  She refused.  He and some friends went to visit her and, finding her alone, shot her dead.

To repeat, none of these stories warranted more than a short paragraph in a side article.

As I said, I am a western woman and I am lucky.

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