Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I made it back in one piece from the meeting I had to go to – I was giving yet another talk but it may well be one of the last ones that I have to give in my current job as I’m not sure I have any more lined up in the next few weeks.

For the last couple of days I have felt as though I have had jetlag, which I can only assume is because the clocks changed at the weekend. I don’t think that has ever happened before though and it does strike me as slightly pathetic to be so worn out from a mere one hour time change, particularly as it should have meant I got an extra hour of sleep.

Yesterday I felt really rough and when I got to the hotel I had a bath to have a bit of a relax and then went for dinner. I was chatting to some people and managed to sound vaguely coherent but after we had finished eating I went to bed because I felt so tired. I did try and watch “Without a Trace” but had to switch it off half way through because I couldn’t stay awake. When I woke up today I felt totally fine and I appear to have reacclimatised to GMT. Odd.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Moving Times

So, my landlady has finally gone. I didn’t actually have the chance to say goodbye to her as I went straight from my sister’s to my parents’ house and by the time I got home she’d set off for Cardiff. She’d left me a really nice note though (where she’d crossed out the word ‘birthday’ from the printed message!). A couple of night’s ago she was reading bits of an article to me about the benefits of having a lodger. Some woman had a lodger who was a trainee masseuse and a hairdresser. I assured my landlady that she would always be grateful that I had never attempted to cut her hair and as for giving her a massage… *shudder*.

I was having a nose on the internet the other day and saw that my landlady has once again reduced the asking price for the house. It is now on the market for £70,000 less than the original price. Wow! She really needs to sell it, but I still wouldn’t pay that much for it – not that I have about half a million pounds to spend on a house.

We had actually made some progress on the heating front in that my landlady had set the central heating to come on, but had set it so low that it was never cold enough to trigger the thermostat. So when I got home last night I turned up the thermostat to feel warm for once. I must remember to turn it back down again when she comes back in a couple of weekends time.

I feel as though I should do some “Friends” type montage of our time sharing the house, things like when a few weeks ago when she was talking to me about when she got measured for a bra. I wasn’t that keen to have the conversation at all but when she ended it by saying “I think we wear the same size bras now, so we’d better not get them muddled up”, I decided that it was time to get out of the conversation and not think too hard about the fact that she really had been inspecting my underwear in quite some detail. Or when I got back last night and she had rearranged my food cupboard and had been in my bedroom to leave some stuff on my bed for me to pass on to the cleaner. Or last week when I was standing in the kitchen eating my breakfast and she asked me to make sure that I emptied the cat’s litter tray every morning and evening (as the cat has somehow been left with me rather than going with her…) and then went into great detail about the cat’s bowel movements. I nodded my head to say I would indeed empty the litter tray - while the little voice in my head said that there was no chance I would be doing that unless absolutely necessary. *moving background song comes to a screeching end* Oh how I won’t miss that…

Instead of celebrating my new found freedom, I am away with work tonight rather than at home trashing the place. Life can conspire against you sometimes. So, I’ll be back blogging on Wednesday when I will be ‘working from home’ as my new computer is being delivered. Excellent.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


The one day I get a chance to have an extra hours sleep for 'free' and I wake up anyway, perhaps aided by my nephew being noisy, as I am at my sister's at the moment.

I went out yesterday morning and I caught the bus home. There was a woman on the bus who was wearing quite a smart suit and was listening to music. Not only was she listening to music, but she was also singing along. Very loudly. Her talent did not extend to making most of the songs recognisable, but I did manage to pick out "Dancing Queen" from her rather dire effort. Mind you she didn't actually seem to know the words, so her very tuneless and loud singing consisted of her singing "You are the dancing Queen" then mumbling a lot then picking out an occasional word that she did remember, so suddenly you'd hear her sing "tambourine" very loudly as well. I'm hoping this is not going to turn into the new noise pollution on public transport.

Then yesterday afternoon, I went over to my sister's, as she was having a few people over to watch a DVD. I took my nephew out for a walk when I got there and left my sister to sort some stuff out. His latest word is obviously "car" because every single car we walked past, including entire rows of parked cars, he would announce that each one was, indeed, a car.

When people turned up later, he started to eat some crisps but hasn't quite perfected the art of chewing, so got a bit stuck in his throat. My sister took him to the kitchen to sort him out, at which point he projectile vomited all over the floor. I went into the kitchen to see if he was ok and he looked really glum and reached out for me to pick him up. That was, of course, a lovely gesture but he was somewhat coated in sick and wasn't smelling too sweet. So I gave him a quick wipe down with a cloth, held my breath a bit and then picked him up and gave him a cuddle. The things you have to do as an aunt.

When I get home later my landlady will either have gone or be in the final stages of packing to move to Cardiff. She is travelling light at the moment because she is just staying in someone's spare room for the first few weeks, but I can feel the urge to do some washing coming on - who would have believed that the thought of doing my washing out of the watchful gaze of an obsessive landlady could be so exciting.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Things seem to be really hectic at the moment and changing in various ways (for the good I hope). I’ll have to try and remember the various things over the next few days, but the news hot off the press is that I seem to have got a new job - and I didn’t even have to apply for it.

Basically, I went over to speak to my head of unit about something yesterday afternoon and she took the opportunity to tell me about a job that is coming up that she would like me to take on. The job I am doing at the moment will come to a natural pause in January and I was sort of wondering what I was going to do then. It was never that I wouldn’t have had a job but that I could have been very bored and sort of scraping around for work. Anyway, I went and spoke to the chap who would be my new boss (but I would still have the same head of unit) and he explained what it would involve and I said that was all fine and so will start that work in January, although I might do a few bits in advance of that. As far as I know, no-one has told my current boss yet though so I had better mention it to him at some point.

I might still apply for a couple of jobs that are coming up that would mean leaving the organisation I work for, because they would be really interesting. It would probably take so long to get through the long application processes for them that it would be well into next year before I knew one way or the other about them anyway so it does no harm to move across to this job.

So I am hoping for some really engaging work, a nice boss, a new challenge and so on. Things are looking up.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Catching up

I was in Bristol all day yesterday, as I had to speak (very briefly) at a conference. That went fine and after I had done that I dashed out and got a banker’s draft which I dropped off at my solicitor’s on my way into work.

I sent a quick text to a friend when I was on the way to Bristol to see if she was free to meet up, as she worked a couple of minutes walk from the conference. Fortunately she was free and we went for a drink and a catch up before I headed back to London. I’m really glad we did, even though it meant getting home really late, as it probably would have been months before we had the chance to see each other again. We spent a while chatting about a friend of hers offering to lend her £30,000 as a deposit to buy somewhere to live. Very generous, but I said she needed to find out the terms of the deal and more importantly to consider if their friendship was strong enough to survive it if something went wrong with the arrangement somewhere along the line. Good opportunity though (this is the friend who I was going to buy with originally, so I hope she manages to sort something out).

On the way back I chatted to another friend on the phone who moved up to Yorkshire a while ago. We had a good catch up, despite losing the signal on several occasions and hopefully I will go and visit at some point next year. So it was a really nice evening of catching up with people.

The guard on the train made various announcements including telling people they needed to retain the tickets because “revenue protection barriers” were in operation. In my day, those used to be called “ticket barriers”...

Thursday, October 26, 2006


It seems as though I might finally be getting there on buying my new place. I think I might be able to exchange next week. I just need to do little things like come up with a massive deposit cheque to give to my solicitors.

Things seem to have been dragging on for ages. The vendor seems to keep thinking it’s down to me, I think it’s down to the freeholder and the freeholder seems to think they don’t need to do anything. Anyway, due to some vague decisiveness on my part, it looks like there will be some decent progress shortly and hopefully I’ll have moved in a couple of weeks. Not a moment too soon by the sounds of it, as I overheard my landlady telling someone that she is going to arrange a house share. It’s definitely time to move.

Given that I am about to spend a lot of money, in fact more money than I actually own, on buying somewhere to live, some may raise an eyebrow that I ordered a brand new computer yesterday (and one for my parents too). But that’s the reckless kind of girl that I am. Let me illustrate quite how reckless I am these days. Wait for it… *deep breath*. I ate half an Easter egg last night.

Steady yourself now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Firm Foundations

The other day I noticed that my phone was pretty full of messages so I flicked through them and deleted several. While I was doing that I got to some messages I was sent by a friend with whom I had somewhat of a run in recently.

I am someone who tends to find moments of clarity about things. I can have thoughts whirring around in my head and suddenly I’ll gain some understanding. It isn’t necessarily that it in any way resolves the situation, but just gaining that understanding is something that makes a huge difference to me and I get this sense of ‘peace’ about the situation. I suppose it is important to me to understand what I’m dealing with so that, even if that turns out to be something bad, at least I do then know that. I think that sense of not knowing really gets to me and sort of scares me and so I have to slowly work it through in my mind and find out what is going on. I have had several moments of clarity about this situation and actually feel totally fine about it, but still it’s important to me to work out why things ended up such a mess. If we ignore history we are condemned to repeat it, as they say.

Anyway, I can see that while there was always this sort of ‘tension’ in our friendship, it went into a very sudden decline. Looking at the text messages rather illustrated this and gave me one of those moments of clarity. The thing I realised was that there was no real foundation to our friendship, so when we hit a rough patch there was nowhere to go back to and nothing to draw on in order to ride out the storm.

It is actually really unusual for me to argue with friends and so generally I don’t have to look to those foundations. Instead kind of take them for granted as a natural part of the friendship, but they usually get built up over time anyway. I mean things like understanding, trust, respect, empathy, being supportive and so on. But if you don’t put the foundations in place you potentially end up in situations that mean exactly the opposite marks out the relationship - so instead you *don’t* trust each other, or show understanding or any of those other qualities. Then when things maybe get a bit tough those negative qualities get magnified and you try and look at it objectively, which can be difficult when things are tense, and you end up thinking “But why would I want to do this?? Why would I want to go through this to try and fix something that actually isn’t very edifying??” and you have to ask yourself those more personal questions too, like “When have they ever learned that they could trust me or that I respect them or any of those other things that are fundamental to a proper friendship?” You look at the reality and realise there is nothing to save because the foundations were not put in place from the beginning.

Now there are a lot of reasons for that in this particular situation and I can see how things ended up getting a bit out of hand, but I’m not entirely sure that I know how to prevent that in future situations. Some of the answer I think is probably my natural reserve, which usually means that I do things in a ‘considered’ way (my, how exciting that sounds!). As a separate but connected point, my friend was rather more of a ‘living in the moment’ sort of person and those two things don’t necessarily mix all that well. So we were a bit at odds with each other and were doing things at a different pace. Friendship should be relaxed and enjoyable, it often is far more than that too, but it shouldn’t really be something that involves a lot of argument and disagreement because that isn’t good for anyone. A lot of those things are kind of obvious statements that I could have told you anyway, but it’s getting that understanding about the importance of foundations that has made the difference. If you build something on sand, when the storms come it will be washed away.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


It seems the spammers out there are getting more ingenious, as I recently received the e-mail below. It’s almost touching that a spammer would care about me that much. But I am, of course, highly indignant that he would suggest that I am fat. In certain lights some may think of me as svelte. Actually when I say “certain lights” I mean the pitch dark, but that’s not the point.

Anyway, ‘Mark’ you’re going to have to try harder to charm a girl than this effort. Methinks you should spend less time on the internet and more time actually speaking to people, although if you’re like that in person you will have to learn to duck to avoid people hitting you. But thanks for caring.

Listen, I am not sure whether you got my first email or not. I am sort of concerned. People are making me feel uncomfortable and I don't like being in the middle. Some of the staff are spreading rude jokes behind your back about your weight. I personally have no problem with you being you. Please don't come back at me for informing. I just wish to help if anything.

I thought about mentioning it to a boss but then to have something like this explode is silly and embarassing for everyone involved, including you being the center of attention. If you really want to make somewhat of a difference, I know my cousin and friend both used this and it worked very well for them. They grabbed it off the internet to keep a low profile & stay confidential. This was the site they got it from, if this helps any.

[website details removed]

Again, I don't like people insulting others behind their backs. I am only trying to help. Which I hope I am.

Thanks for at least listening & I hope I am not out of line by writing this. I am only trying to help.


Monday, October 23, 2006


My suit trousers are officially listed as missing. When my landlady’s family descended this weekend, the two suspects who may have purloined said items both said they had checked and didn’t have them – although one of them is blind (as in *actually* blind, that’s not some underhand insult) and so might not be the ideal person to have searching for something.

My landlady made various suggestions, such as that she might have hung them up in my wardrobe. Once again my mind screams “you are not my mother wandering around after me tidying up, why would you be hanging stuff in my wardrobe anyway?!” She did assure me that they couldn’t possibly be in her wardrobe as everything is hung there in colour order and so she could easily tell they weren’t there. She did then show me the contents of her wardrobe and it was indeed all carefully ordered by colour. Surely that isn’t normal??

Talking of things that aren’t normal, I was walking past one of the spare rooms the other day and had to do a bit of a double take as it looked like someone was actually in the bed and staring at me. I looked more closely and then switched the light on and this was what was looking at me:

It seems that this is my landlady’s latest idea of what will sell a house. She has removed personal items from all around the house, such as photos, because apparently they are bad, but a doll staring at you is fine.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


So yesterday was good. I went over to my parents’ to try and sort out their computer (not that I know a lot about computers but I can pull wires out and read some instructions and that sort of thing), but what they really need is a new computer because it runs really slowly. My father was his usual odd self. When I went out with mum later she said that when he was in the kitchen he kept opening the fridge door and looking in it and then just shut the door without taking anything out. Then mum asked him if he was looking for something for lunch and did he want her to get him something and he totally ignored her and didn’t even acknowledge that she had said a word. He is just getting odder by the day.

Anyway, I went out with mum and we met up with my sister for afternoon tea. We went to the Waldorf Hilton in Aldwych, but I wasn’t overly impressed. The staff were really inattentive, not that I wanted them to be constantly coming over and asking if everything was ok, but if you wanted more tea or jam then you had to flag someone down. It was nice enough but I’ve been to places that are much better.

Then we went to the theatre and saw ‘See How They Run’ that was ok, but a bit too much of a ‘farce’ which can get a bit over the top at times. We had got the cheapest tickets but there were lots of empty seats in front of us, so mum sent my sister to go and test out a row further forward and then as that was deemed to be a better view, mum got us to move further forward. I do always feel very naughty if I do things like that and am always convinced that someone will notice and tell us off. Fortunately, we got away with it last night and weren’t escorted from the premises.

When I got home my landlady was out, as she and various members of her family were over at her parents’ house for fireworks. Someone must have asked to come and look at the house because the rug had been removed from my bedroom floor and all my stuff in the bathroom had been moved and she appears to have removed some newspapers from my bedroom. The irritating things about the newspapers is that I hadn’t finished with them and so I’ll have to ask her what she did with them when I see her today. Very irritating. I just think it is very rude for her to decide what I can and cannot keep. It’s none of her business and it’s not like it was a mountain of newspapers, it was maybe four or five papers that I had for various reasons. Hopefully she really is going next weekend...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The hordes descend

The house is being invaded by my landlady’s family this weekend. I think all three of her children, and their other halves, are coming to stay. I guess it’s because my landlady moves to Cardiff next weekend (or at least I think she is moving there next weekend) so it’s their last opportunity to be here in this house because at some point it will be sold – although that looks a long way off at the moment because there is basically no interest of late.

Anyway, one of her son’s was driving back to London last night and filled up his car with petrol. After a bit he realised that he was putting far more petrol in the car than had ever been possible before so he stopped and decided to go into the petrol station to complain (I still haven’t worked out why he would complain about that and think it was the petrol station’s fault). Just as he was about to walk into the petrol station he realised that there was actually petrol all over the ground under his car and actually he’d got a hole in his petrol tank. All the petrol had poured straight out of the car – and he still had to pay for it all regardless. Not a good start to his weekend. I hope that he at least remembered to bring my suit trousers and other items of clothing that he took home with him a few weeks ago. It’s always helpful to know that the clothes fetish is hereditary.

I’m not entirely enamoured by the prospect of all my landlady’s family being about, but fortunately I am meeting up with my mum and sister later and we’re going for afternoon tea and then we might go to the theatre in the evening.

I seem to be spending quite a lot of time with my family of late, which is something I will comment on another time. There are a few other things I have been mulling over in my head which I will try and write down at some point too, but I need to try and get my thoughts together. Anyway it should be a good day today.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Medical science

I went back to the doctor’s last night and picked up a private prescription for the anti-malarials. Just the prescription cost £12. £12! I think the tablets are going to cost getting on for £100 and it cost me £35 for the yellow fever injection, so this is becoming an expensive business and I haven’t even set foot out of the country yet. This holiday had better be worth it.

Talking of things medical, I think there is something very fascinating about the human brain. It must be one of the least understood parts of the human body and yet it controls pretty much everything we do. How things translate from thought to action or speech is amazing. However, because of the brain’s huge role in our ability to do pretty much anything, any damage to our head can have pretty catastrophic consequences.

So I was really interested to read this article (it’s very long), basically some people who have been in a persistent vegetative state for years have regained consciousness and been able to interact with people after being given a sleeping pill. Instead of the pill making them sleep it has made them suddenly regain consciousness and, where the brain damage has not affected their ability to do so, actually able to speak and communicate. They need to continue to take doses of the sleeping tablet in order to maintain proper consciousness, but it must be amazing to have been trapped inside a body that was unable to communicate in any way and suddenly to be able to talk and joke and so on. I just think it’s amazing what is possible and sometimes it is just a complete accident that they find out how to do this, as was the case in this instance. Even so, I am kind of hopeful that I will never need to make use of this medical breakthrough.

At the opposite end of the scale a bloke won damages from a US hospital recently. When he was going through an airport metal detector, he kept setting it off despite having removed all metal items from his pockets and so on. Then his mind wandered back to the operation he’d been through three months before, after which he had suffered severe abdominal pains, which the doctors had told him were normal. He decided to go back to hospital to get this investigated at which point he discovered that they had left a retractor inside him the length of his forearm. That can’t have been good. No wonder I don’t really like going to the doctor’s.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The more things change

So, an update on work. Things can certainly be described as *different*. My boss seems utterly miserable at the moment and he is someone who normally just lets things wash over him. A couple of days ago he said to me “find me a new job will you”. I didn’t take this as a good sign.

I can rather see why he is so unhappy. Over the last few days he has had several phone calls from our old head of unit asking why he hadn’t sent her copies of various letters that he had sent out. Could the answer possibly be that she has retired and is therefore not meant to receive copies of anything let alone letters? She just kept phoning and in the end my boss just had to walk out of the office to go and do some stuff elsewhere so that he didn’t have to speak to her. But she does have his mobile number and has called that few times as well.

When I heard she was going to retire, I said to a couple of people that I thought she was a candidate for a breakdown as she would go from being busy controlling everything at work to not having very much to do – she can’t have had much of a life outside of work because she was always in the office, even at weekends. I am wondering if that is what we are beginning to see, I think she is exhibiting behaviour that shows serious mental instability.

I am still working out what my new head of unit is like, but her ferocious reputation seems to be true and she has been really nasty to my boss. Just before my old head of unit retired she had a blazing row with my new head of unit (in front of two people I work with). By all accounts it was a really awful argument including calling each other names. The atmosphere between them after that was certainly interesting and my old head of unit was told to be out by 4pm on her last day. It looks like there will be fun days ahead. Suffice to say that I think it was a wise decision to start looking for a new job.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

That's almost an armful

Last week I realised that I have to get on with arranging the various vaccinations to go to The Gambia, hence my unsuccessful call to NHS Direct. I went to my doctor’s and filled out the form and phoned back a couple of days later to see what I needed done. When the receptionist looked at the form and then prefaced her advice with “Ooh, I knew it would be a lot and I was right. It’s not only an armful but a legful too”, I wasn’t feeling too positive. Then she ran through the list – hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever, diphtheria, malaria, tetanus and polio. *gulp* As someone who is not keen on going to the doctor’s anyway, to be presented with this long list, knowing that a number of them would involve injections, was not joy to my ears. So somewhat reluctantly I made an appointment for last night.

It was certainly an armful, although fortunately some of the injections were combined, so I didn’t end up like a pin cushion. The nurse was also able to do all the injections in one session so I don’t have to go back and endure yet more. I might suffer flu like symptoms today and I still have to pay out a fortune for a private prescription to get the anti-malarials, so there could still be (financial) pain to come. Better than dying of some awful (and preventable) disease though.

On other matters, yesterday at work someone I work with was lamenting her now complicated love life and said “men are like buses” and the chap I sat next to piped up “You mean you have to pay £1.50 before you can get on?” [insert own joke about Oyster cards here]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Making History

As a slight follow on from yesterday’s post, I was near Westminster station recently and a woman came up to me and said “Can you tell me where Westminster University is?” My brain quickly whirred and I replied that I didn’t think it was near Westminster station, but didn’t know where it was. I think I went into one of those guilt things where someone, unprompted, asks you a question and you feel really bad that you can’t answer it. I asked her what address she was looking for and she said she didn’t have an address and then she kind of looked at me as though I would suddenly be inspired and know where she was looking for. Then my brain started trying to work out how she could find the address and I suggested she went to a bookshop and looked up the address and told her where there was one and she just wandered off.

Later I looked up where the university was and none of it is near Westminster station, so I can only conclude that she didn’t bother to check the details of where the university was and, bizarrely, concluded that if she went to a station that shared the same name she would find it. I think she was going to an open day – I hope she wasn’t planning to study geography. Anyway, following her logic, where would she have gone if she was going to study at Imperial College or Robert Gordon University?? If we are relying on people like that woman, I do worry for our future.

Anyway, from the future to the past, or what will be the past but is in fact meant to be the present. Clear? Good. But perhaps I will explain anyway. Today is a day which is meant to be pretty insignificant, so has been chosen by the History Matters campaign to be the ideal day to give a snapshot of people’s lives. Basically, if you go to this site, you can fill out an account of your day and it will form an archive for future generations so that they can have an idea of what it was like to live right now. It can be a blow by blow account of your day, or you can just say what you’re thinking about today or what you’re wearing or pretty much anything. Basically it can be whatever you want it to be. Anyone can take part, you don’t have to be British or a particular age etc, if you want to make a bit of a mark in history, whoever you are, then here’s your chance.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The kindness of strangers

Last week seems a long time ago now, and whilst on the whole it was fine, there were a couple of things that didn’t go so well and were a bit of a kick in the teeth. At times I question my ability to have a normal relationship (in a friendship sense) with people. They say that 10 people may comment on something about you, nine of which may be highly complimentary and one of them negative – and that one negative comment is what will often stick with you the most and cause the self doubt.

I have quite a lot of friends, although the depth of the relationship is in varying degrees, but I guess the more people you know, the more opportunity there is to have some negative experiences, and last week was one of those times. Here and now is not the place to explain what happened, but instead I’ll comment on some things that happened one day last week that will seem really quite insignificant but made a big difference to me. One morning last week when I got into work I went to make a cup of tea and a woman who I don’t think I have even seen before, let alone know, just started chatting to me and brightened my mood. Then at lunch time I needed to go out and as I was in the lift, a chap who, again, I had never even seen before just struck up a conversation with me and was really friendly and we had a bit of a joke with each other. Then when I was out an old lady stopped me and asked me if I would help her cross the road. I just replied “Do I look like a scout?” and then walked off. Er… actually, rather less interestingly, I didn’t do that, instead I gave her my arm and we crossed the road when it was safe to do so and she just chatted to me briefly while we were doing that. Then on the way home that night, when I got on the tube a chap said to me that he was getting off at the next stop and gave me his seat (I am definitely not one of those people who gets offended by being offered a seat) and he was very friendly and even offered me his newspaper.

I think I just felt really encouraged that I obviously didn’t immediately come across as a totally unapproachable and unfriendly person. Even though all those people were total strangers who I will probably never see again, after I spoke to each person I just felt so grateful at how kind and friendly people can be and I actually felt really positive by the end of the day. From that one day, and from those four people, in a strange way I think I actually learned quite a lot and it just reminded me that, whatever happens, tomorrow is always another day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Size matters

Back, alive, in one piece. It was actually a really good weekend’s work and went well (I hope – but will get some feedback during the week). The hours were really long, I didn’t get to bed until midnight on Friday and then had to be up at 5.30am and I finally had lunch yesterday at 4.30pm, but that was fine (perhaps more so in retrospect though!). I got home really quickly yesterday and was back by 9.30pm, which was a relief because I was so tired that I was about to lapse into a coma.

When I got back, my landlady said hello and then launched into how her day had gone, in particular that she’d had a bra fitting and then ran me through the various different bra sizes she’d had over the years and then told me what size her bras are now and various other details that it is safe to say was far too much information. It seems that not only is she interested in *my* underwear but now wants me to be interested in hers. *shakes head in despair*

I have a nice day ahead. I am going over to my parents’ for lunch. Mum is cooking beef goulash, which is my favourite meal, so I’m really looking forward to it. My sister and nephew are also going to be there which is great as I haven’t seen them for a few weeks and I’m looking forward to catching up. So despite working the most phenomenal hours, it has actually been a really good weekend so far and there are lots of nice things still to come. Excellent.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

NHS Indirect

Oh dear… just as my landlady thought she was sorted on selling the house it turns out that it’s not going ahead. There seem to be two reasons, first that the woman seems to have put in an offer on another house as well and second that when she looked at her finances she realised she couldn’t afford the house anyway. Back to square one on that then. It seems I will be back to my landlady going through my underwear again before I know it. Actually her latest thing seems to be rearranging the freezer. I have two drawers in the freezer which are solely for my use and a couple of days ago I realised that she had gone through my drawers and rearranged them all. Her organisational skills know no bounds – but she does seem to be aware that she is a bit over the top about things as a couple of times recently she has described herself as obsessive. Interesting…

I phoned NHS Direct a couple of days ago to get some information on what vaccinations I will need to go to The Gambia. What a bureaucratic hassle that service is. I don’t think I would phone them about anything ever again. I hope they have a different system if you’re seriously ill because you’d be dead by the time they got to dealing with your condition if my experience was anything to go by. NHS Direct? I think not. NHS by the most convoluted route possible, maybe.

Basically, you phone and have to give them various details. They asked for the address of where I was phoning from and, as I was at work, I didn’t really think that was any of their business. They said that they needed to know in case they had to send an ambulance and I pointed out that I thought it was unlikely I would need that for some vaccinations. Anyway, once you’ve finally gone through all the bureaucratic questions, you can’t then just get some advice instead they then have to get someone to phone you back. I can understand that they want to make sure they give you the right advice and so on, but it all seems a bit extreme. When they phoned back the call went through to my voicemail and they left a message saying that if I still wanted advice to phone the main number again. So I called back and was told that all they could do was log the call again and they would get someone to call me as they don’t transfer people through to someone who can give advice. I just said to the woman that this seemed totally pointless and was way too much hassle and I would just phone my doctor directly. The woman said that they’d probably refer me back to NHS Direct. As it turned out my doctor’s surgery was helpful and asked me to go in and fill out a form and then they’d tell me what all the vaccinations were when they’d looked at my medical records. Why didn’t I just phone them in the first place?

When I hit my head a couple of months back a friend suggested I get some advice from NHS Direct and I am so glad that I didn’t phone them because it would have made me want to strike my head repeatedly in exasperation. Maybe they have people doing that a lot and that’s why they have to make sure they know where to send the ambulance.

Anyway, I am away with work for the next couple of days and will be home really late on Saturday night at which time I’ll see what exciting tales I have to tell.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

State of War

“There’s no condition one adjusts to so quickly as a state of war”

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones

I haven’t had a good relationship with my father since I was about twelve years old. He’s always been quite an angry man and when things weren’t going well he would take it out on his family. A couple of years ago my sister said that she thought a lot of his bad temper was because he was always worried about being able to afford to pay the mortgage and so on and he would take his stress out on us. Well that and him not being able to turn down a drink – not that he normally waited to be offered one.

Anyway, one day when I was about twelve my father and I’d had some big argument and he’d been his usual malicious and violent self and I ended up getting away from him by going to my room. He came into my room afterwards and apologised, but I just turned away from him and said that I wouldn’t accept his apology because I didn’t believe him - I knew that he’d do it all again when the mood took him. I sometimes wonder if things would have been different if I had been willing to accept his apology but it’s too late for that now. That realisation of an apology not making up for all the things that he said and did permanently changed my attitude towards my father. I realised that I had no way of predicting the next time he would lose his temper or how long his moods would last, yes there were times in the interim when he was alright, but there was no way for me to be able to maintain that. I wanted some sort of certainty, some way to know what things would be like when my father came home from work. I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision to do it, but somewhere along the way I realised that in terms of my father’s mood the only certainty was that he would often be in a bad temper, so maintaining an acrimonious relationship, whilst obviously not ideal, brought certainty and predictability. So a state of war began. One from which we never really returned.

It seems perverse that at times it is easier to maintain a bad relationship than to deal with the problem. I suppose I was young and didn’t really know what else to do. I wasn’t the one who should have been the adult in it, taking the lead in sorting it out, admitting that there were problems and finding ways to fix them in an honest way. But that would have meant some self-awareness, a willingness to admit fault and sometimes it’s easier to look for the answers in the bottom of a glass than to face things. I think in the end you lose your respect for someone who is so unwilling to look at themselves and admit that they may have some faults.

I suppose in my own way I learned that it’s easier to be angry and to be acrimonious than to deal with what is really there. Sometimes maybe it isn’t fixable anyway. I’m not sure that even with the best will in the world that my father would ever be someone that I would want to spend time with. Fortunately I don’t think I know anyone else who is so unaware or self absorbed as my father.

I sometimes think I will look back in years to come and regret that we never managed to sort things out, but I think what I wish I had is the concept I have of a (good) father rather than wanting to fix the reality with the one that I do have.

Instead I suppose I have learned that it is better to make peace with people as early as you can. It can be so much easier to fight and to hold a grudge, but sometimes you leave it too long to fix it. Sometimes war becomes the norm and you end up destroying all the reasons to be at peace. It’s not about admitting fault that is not your own, but to take responsibility, to see genuine faults and be willing to try and fix them. Sometimes it takes a while to find that will, there can a lot of hurts and many things to forgive along the way but I suppose if you care about someone then ultimately you get there.

Being at war takes energy and resources, things that it always seems strange that I would expend on my father, so maybe one day I will call a truce, for my own sake even if not for his.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Theory of War

There’s a book that I really like called “Theory of War” by Joan Brady. In fact it is one of my favourite books. It never really made it into the mainstream, despite it having won the Whitbread Prize a few years ago. In fact, as far as I know, the book has now been deleted so I think it is only possible to pick up second hand copies.

A while back I lent my copy to A and circumstances now mean that it is probably unrecoverable. It was the only thing A has of mine that bothered me, because I thought it would be difficult to get another copy. Anyway, I like to keep an eye out in case someone is foolish enough to give away their copy. So on Saturday I had a quick browse in the local Oxfam bookshop and there it was! For a mere £1.99, I bought another copy and in fact it was exactly the same edition as I’d had previously. I even mentioned to the woman at the till how pleased I was to get another copy. She seemed totally disinterested. People can be such Philistines.

I think I can often tell my mood by how interested I am in books. When I go to the library sometimes I will look at the books and feel totally uninspired and just think there is nothing that interests me, but other times I will think there are so many books I want to read that I have to stop myself from trying to borrow them all. It can show a range of moods on my part though, sometimes I want to be ‘safe’ and settle for authors I am already familiar with. Other times I want to read books I have never heard of and see what new books there are to discover. I can also often tell how insular I am feeling - sometimes I just want to be able to find books that are totally absorbing and are sort of comfort books.

I have no idea what ‘Theory of War’ says about me because it is a very dark book and is basically about vengeance, but every time I have read it, it has left me rather speechless at the end. Anyway, it has now been returned to its rightful place on my bookshelf. *contented sigh*

Monday, October 09, 2006

Move along now

Yesterday morning my landlady told me that she has accepted an offer on the house. She definitely didn’t get the asking price but she obviously wasn’t willing to tell me quite what the offer was. She has to sign some documents to say she is in a position to sell the house and that means that I also have to sign the document to say that I agree to her selling *evil laugh*. Anyway, she then said to me “How soon would you be able to move out? Can you move back in with your parents?” When the look of horror went from my face I said “Well, I’m going to be moving very soon anyway, but I’m not going to be moving back in with my parents, even if my purchase hasn’t gone through in time”. Then she said “Of course, it would be handy if you could be here right until the house is sold” Right, so basically she wants me to move out as soon as it suits her, but to stay there for as long she needs me to be about. Sounds fair to me...

I went back over to my parents’ house for lunch yesterday. My father was his usual irritating self and mum and I had been talking on Saturday about how odd he is these days. He has always been really hard work but over the last few years has just got more and more strange. You can be doing something in the kitchen and he will just stand there and stare at you doing it. He could stand there for 10 minutes and watch what you’re doing, not in an interested way, I just can’t quite describe what it’s like, and he just sort of gets fixated by watching what is going on, even if you’re just loading the dish washer – but it would never cross his mind to offer to help. He just stands there and stares. Very weird behaviour.

When I went over yesterday, mum asked me to dig a hole in the back garden. We looked at each other conspiratorially “For a shallow grave?” I asked quietly. “No, no” mum replied, laughing nervously “I need to replant a yucca.” She paused, giving me a knowing look “It’s got a lot of roots. It will have to be a very large hole.” “Of course” I replied and went off to dig a large hole. For a plant. *cough* There’s nothing to see here. Move along now. Move along.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Yesterday was a good day as it turned out. It was originally a day that had no plans beyond going out on my seemingly never ending quest to get some new work trousers. I phoned my mum to find out when she would be about so I could drop something over for her. I ended up going over to my parents’ house and eating a quick bit of lunch before mum dropped me off so I could do my shopping. When I got out the car mum gave me a hug and a kiss and told me how nice it was to see me, which was really sweet of her.

I was just going to wander round for a bit and then meet up with mum again when she had done the various things she was doing. I went to M&S and was on the up escalator when I saw someone I used to go to school with on the down escalator. She wasn’t anyone I knew really well and I hesitated just too long to say hello and the moment had, literally, passed. A few minutes later when I went back downstairs I saw her again and I went over and said hello. I look decidedly different to when I was at school – slimmer and so on - so it took a few moments for her to realise who I was but then we started to have a chat. She was there with her 17 month old son and while we were talking we ended up walking over to a local park, so that her son could play on the swings.

We just had a stroll and a chat. She seemed to be enjoying being a mum but her partner works really long hours so she was finding it quite hard to bring up a child, to all intents and purposes, on her own – and looking after her own mum who is disabled, so we talked about that a bit and had a general catch-up. I once again showed my weird super power thing with children as my friend commented on how much her son seemed to like me. He kept reaching up to hold my hand and got me to pick him up a couple of times. He was very cute and we spent quite a lot of time looking at the animals in the enclosure they had there. The animals seemed to consist of two foxes, an owl, a couple of squirrels and some ducks, so it wasn’t really “Wildlife on One” but they seemed to fascinate him anyway. Although he did actually seem more interested in the woman who was cleaning the cages and seemed to focus more on her than any of the animals. When he’s older, he’s either going to have a real eye for the ladies or have a fantastically clean house.

I hadn’t seen my friend for years, we left school 13 years ago and we may have said hello to each other at the school reunion a few years back but nothing more than that, but we ended up having a really nice wander in the park and a bit of a catch up. It was a really pleasant afternoon.

Then I went off, did a quick bit of shopping and met up with mum before going back to my parents’ for dinner. I seemed to spend most of the evening trying to sort out getting their computer upgraded to broadband. Their connection is so slow that it took ages, but hopefully it will be sorted soon.

When I got back to my house, my landlady’s son and his girlfriend, B, were over. B was sitting on the sofa under a duvet because she was so cold, but we’re still not allowed the heating on. The other night my landlady told me in an incredulous tone that she’d had to put the heating on (it happened to be an evening when I wasn’t actually home). I resisted the urge to reply “The heating on?! In October! They’ll be allowing women to vote next!”

Saturday, October 07, 2006


So my head of unit retired yesterday. There was a bit of a ‘do’ after work yesterday, so we all went along to that and said a fond farewell. As it turned out, it wasn’t a final farewell for me because my now ex-head of unit paged me this morning to get me to find something for her. Let’s hope that’s the end of it.

Coming back from Russia meant finding out what my landlady had done in my absence. My, she had been busy. This time she exceeded her previous form by removing various clothes from my room and washing them. Her fetish seems to know no bounds. If I’m not there to do my own washing then she goes and ferrets it out. So I came home to a whole load of clothes washed and ironed sitting on my bed. She also removed all the books from next to my bed and did her usual tasks of hiding all my stuff in the bathroom, removing the rug from my bedroom floor and hiding my duvet under a bedspread. So I took great pleasure in returning everything to its rightful place and my room is now as much of a state as before I left.

A couple of people have been round to view the house this week, one of them for a second viewing, but no-one seems to have put an offer in. A few weeks ago some people came round to see the house and I overheard my landlady saying to them that I was just staying there for a bit and if necessary would move back in with my parents. This was news to me. I realise she was just saying it to make sure they didn’t think it could be an issue, but it really riled me. I was very unimpressed that she would speak on my behalf, and say something that was actually totally untrue. I cannot think of any circumstance in which I would move back in with my parents – and I think they might be quite surprised too! It seems my landlady isn’t moving as soon as I had thought but hopefully things are progressing on me moving and I’ll be gone reasonably soon.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Working for a living

I read an article in The Guardian a while ago which I thought was quite telling. It said:

“Happiness combines pleasure, meaning and excellence – a satisfying job, for example, is one you consider enjoyable, important and suited to your skills. If that doesn’t describe yours, work out what factors are missing and find leisure activities that tick those boxes”

Recently I was talking to a friend about the article and she asked me which of those three elements did I feel was missing from my job. I thought about it and then replied “Actually, all three”. That was certainly pause for thought.

Whilst going to Russia was good in itself, I think part of the appeal was that I was able to escape work for several days – and on my return the cloud descended at the thought of going back to work. I have to conclude this isn’t good.

There is a vague sign of hope that things might change in that my head of unit leaves today, but my new head of unit has already started and we have already seen some of what she id like and it isn’t looking good. Morale in the team has sunk right down again. One person had an interview for a new job yesterday, another is trying to find out if he can transfer out, a third told me he is thinking about leaving and a fourth found out he has got the job he applied for recently. That just gives a brief snapshot of how discontent people are. I have spoken to a couple of them to try and reassure them a bit, but to be honest they are hollow words. I am trying to convince them to stay somewhere that I myself plan to leave.

On Wednesday I was sitting at my desk and suddenly though “I can’t do this any more”, by which I mean that not only do I find it untenable to continue working in my current unit, but actually I realise that I feel the same about carrying on working for the organisation at all. The pressure seems to be on all over the place and I think you reach a point where you decide it isn’t worth it any more. It is actually quite a momentous decision for me to decide that the best option is to leave the entire organisation. I have always been very loyal to it, but I think the working environment is so unpleasant that I don’t want to be there.

So my latest task is to find a new job, preferably somewhere that they value their staff and treat them with a bit of respect. At last I start some tentative steps to see if I can tunnel my way out. Let’s hope there is some light at the end of it - and it’s not the headlights of an oncoming truck.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Body check

The next day was time to make the really long journey back to Moscow. When we got to the airport, some people started drinking again which given it was only about 10am, this was probably not the wisest decision. However, even those who didn’t top up their alcohol content at the airport rather reeked of alcohol. As we flew back the plane had a general stench of vodka emanating from many people’s pores. Being the only female on the plane it was also helpful to learn some bladder control as people’s aim when they went to the toilet was not as I might have hoped.

When we finally finished the long journey back to Moscow we went out for dinner at an Uzbek restaurant, and despite it not being one where they served the same food we normally ate, there was still vast amounts of food. We were pretty tired after that and headed back to the hotel earlier than most evenings.

The next day was in many ways the best of the trip, although I won’t explain why here – but it was the day of bruises and shoulder ache. We were shown around parts of Moscow and given a tour of a museum - which was a mixture of honesty and propaganda about the Russians’ role in World War II. If the guide was to be believed, the Russians almost single-handedly defeated the Nazis (we will quietly pass over them coming into the war late because they made a pact with Hitler to carve up Poland between them). We then continued on our tour of the region and ended up having another massive dinner in the evening. The people had put on lots of entertainment and the dancers and singers were really talented. There was Cossack dancing and lots of songs and so on. Really impressive.

This was also one of those evenings where I was happily sitting there and the chap I was there with was translating the latest toast when he suddenly looked at me and said “There saying that you’re now going to give a toast.” My heart sank and my mind had to do a quick bit of work to come up with something coherent. Fortunately because of needing to be translated I could say half as much because it took double the time to convey the message. Relieved, I sat down and was glad that was over for the evening. At that point a gentleman came up to me and asked me to dance and I couldn’t really decline, so I tried to follow his lead and not trip over his feet – or my own for that matter. People did clap at the end but that was probably at the chap’s bravery rather than my somewhat ropey technique. At the end of the song I returned to my seat and a few minutes later someone else asked me to dance and, again, he was a very good dancer and managed to make me look vaguely competent. When that dance was over I returned to my seat (after saying a slightly stumbling thank you in Russian) and felt as though I had done my duty. The next thing I knew yet another person asked me to dance – this really is no indication of talent on my part, I was one of only two females there – and this was the chap I had danced with a couple of nights before. He really was a very, very good dancer and danced so fast and spun me round so many times that I was dizzy by the time we finished and was surprised that I didn’t fall over. I did actually enjoy it, but was relieved to get back to my seat so that my head stopped spinning. It was a very memorable evening though and makes me smile just to think about it. Not that it has inspired me to hone my dancing technique.

The next day we were taken to a town some distance from Moscow to see a Russian Orthodox monastery. It was really interesting, but there was something kind of creepy about it as well. Lots of people were there as it was made up of various chapels that were used by members of the public. The Russian Orthodox church in some ways keeps things very simple in that the chapels were very bare (not even any seats) and they are very dark, but then there are lots of icons on the wall and people queuing to offer prayers and so on, which made it all very busy. I have no issue with religion and think it can be a really important thing and kind of freeing at times, but I found it really repressive in some ways.

Religion was banned under communism but has had a great revival in Russia since communism fell, but it just struck me that they had chosen a different kind of repression instead. Maybe I just didn’t understand the significance of it to them, and certainly someone I was talking to about it was really enthusiastic about the Orthodox Church - and from his description I could see why. But one of the things that went through my mind while I was there was that the church in the past was known as a place of sanctuary, a place where you could be safe from the threats of the world, a place where people could literally find refuge because pursuers wouldn’t cross the threshold to harm them – but somehow that isn’t what I saw in the orthodox church. Instead it just seemed to be about ritual and darkness.

Anyway, after that we went for yet another large lunch which included more toasts and a chap very loudly playing a trumpet as the musical accompaniment. We then had a quick tour of Moscow, went back to Red Square - in daylight hours this time - and then it was time for dinner. Oh how our hearts sank at the thought of more food.

Everyone seemed to have reached saturation point with both the thought of eating and with toasting everything under the sun. However, we gave it a go. There was, once again, some entertainment laid on, which this time were cabaret type singers. I think they were singing fairly up to date Russian songs, but that basically meant the sort of things we would have listened to in the 1960s and 1970s. The chap from work wasn’t there to translate for me at one point but when he came back someone said to him that the song that was being sung was for me. So I asked him to translate and apparently the song was about my “beautiful and clever eyes”, which obviously was entirely accurate. But then… the chap who was singing came up to me mid-song and got me to dance with him. Let me tell you, his eyes were not so beautiful or clever. In fact there was something kind of scary about him. I politely danced with him, but was very glad when I got to sit down because he freaked me out a bit.

There was also a magician there who seemed to want to use me as his assistant at one point, which seemed to involve him putting his hand up my jumper and making a handkerchief disappear. That’s right… a complete stranger put his hand up my jumper in full view of everyone - surely there is something wrong with such behaviour. As the chap I was with wisely commented afterwards “You’d better check you’ve still got two under there” (all was accounted for and correct by the way).

We finally went back to the hotel and collapsed and then the next day we just wandered round the local area and killed some time until we got whisked off for another massive lunch before heading to the airport to come home.

So Russia was good, the people were hospitable, I saw some amazing sights, had some moving experiences, danced with various strangers, was sung to and had someone put their hand up my top. Sounds like a typical Saturday night to me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sent to Siberia

So we set off for Siberia. “It will take between 3 and 4 hours to fly there”, they said. Seven hours later, after a brief stop off in The Urals, we arrived in Siberia. This time the casino wasn’t in the hotel, instead it was right next door. Because we arrived so much later than planned we had dinner at about 10.30pm and went to bed. We were also introduced to our translator. Not that we really needed a translator because the person I had gone with could speak really good Russian, but it was good to give him a bit of a break from constantly translating for me. Our translator was an 18 year old university student and her English was really good, although she didn’t think so. Anyway, after dinner we had finished eating we all retired for the night, I went to bed and a lot of other people went to the bar to top up on the copious amounts of alcohol they had already consumed over the previous day or so.

The next day we finally headed off to do some work, not that there weren’t various work related things prior to that but this was the ‘formal’ part. So putting on my walking boots, walking trousers and waterproof trousers seemed a bit out of kilter, but it was what we had been advised to do, so off we went. After another long journey, this time by coach, we arrived at out destination. Incidentally, if you have ever had a car stolen that has totally disappeared without trace, I may have spotted it in Siberia because there were lots of right hand drive cars there, which no-one seemed to be able to explain why that was the case when I asked them about it.

We had a massive lunch that day, including lots of vodka (not that I had any) and many toasts. There were also various gifts given out and, whilst I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, being given a large wooden bear wasn’t entirely practical. I had to go and collect this from someone very official looking, whilst I by contrast was looking rather more unkempt wearing my mucky walking trousers. By the time lunch was over, it was time to head back to the hotel.

They gave us a brief tour of the local area on the way back. Siberia was actually quite beautiful. Lots of greenery and nice views. We were in quite a populated area and there was a reasonable bit of culture if you wanted to go to the theatre and so on. Mind you, as they exiled lots of people who were of an artistic persuasion maybe that isn’t much of a surprise. It also wasn’t particularly cold there. It does get very cold as winter draws in but it was in the low to mid teens temperature wise while we were there. In fact it feels colder where I live at the moment because my landlady doesn’t seem to think there is any need to put the heating on at the moment. Maybe she thinks I am used to living in extreme conditions.

Anyway, dinner was served about an hour after we got back. Another big meal… They seem to have so many courses. Usually there was lots of meat and salads on the table and we started with that. Then they brought out soup, then a main dish – but everything was in such large quantities and if you didn’t have enough food on your plate, the waiting staff would put extra items on there, to ensure you didn’t fade away.

It was that evening that some chap got me to dance. Dancing isn’t really my thing, but he was very proficient, so I just followed his lead and tried not to look completely inept. As I was the only woman there, it did mean I got more attention – whether some of the toasts, or being asked to dance or people singing to me... I’m not generally keen on being the centre of attention but it seemed impolite to make a fuss, so I just tried to take it all in my stride.

Then it was time for bed and to prepare for the long return journey back to Moscow the next day.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Culture shock

Home again at last. Russia was great, they were very hospitable and they treated us really well, but it felt like it was time to leave by the time we headed home. There was *so* much food, with *so* many courses and *so* many toasts - I almost had to resort to Miss World type toasts to world peace and the end of poverty.

I will write more over the next few days, and there are many tales to tell, although some of them won’t be appearing here – such as the reason why I have a massive black bruise on my leg and had a really aching shoulder, but it certainly got the adrenaline pumping and was well worth the injuries.

I’ll also post some photos at some point, although most of mine are on 35mm film, as I haven’t made it into the 21st century on such things, but I will try and post a couple that are on my phone and will get some from the chap I went with from work.

We started off our trip in Moscow and someone met us off the flight and drove us to our hotel. When I say hotel, casino and bordello might be a better description! It was actually a very nice hotel but gambling is a big thing in Russia since communism came to an end and so lots of hotels have loads of gaming tables and one armed bandits and so on. To even get into the hotel we had to go through metal detectors and have our bags scanned, and there were lots of mafia type people about, but they didn’t seem to be interested in us very much. This was possibly because they were distracted by the strippers in the bar and the large number of prostitutes who were constantly there in the hotel – managed by the hotel in fact, who took a nice healthy cut of the charges. I’m not making this hotel sound great am I? Believe me, it was an interesting experience and rather decadent in its own way.

Anyway, once we’d checked in we were taken out to an Azerbaijani restaurant for dinner, and the food was really nice, even the goat we were given to eat. This was my first introduction to the huge number of toasts that were to become the theme of the time away. As it turned out, not drinking vodka was fine. That evening I was given some strange drink that tasted a bit like a mint/ aniseed mouthwash but was actually quite nice in its own peculiar way. The first toast was by the chap who had taken us to the restaurant and it was to me, as it was my first time in Russia and he wanted me to have amazing memories of the country. He therefore wanted me to have an amazing first evening there as that would be what I would remember about the country and would make me want to come back.

Well, heading off to Red Square after the meal was a really great introduction to Russia. All lit up in the dark, it was quite some sight and there was the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Tomb. Those images that are sort of iconic and are instantly recognisable images of Russia. Amazing! It was a really fantastic start to being in Russia and set us up for the days ahead. We went back to the hotel exhausted, preparing ourselves to go to Siberia and ready for a good night’s sleep having eaten really well. The chap we were with made some joke with someone he knew that we hadn’t been able to have any dinner and the other chap shot of to sort us out a meal. We had no choice but to sit down to another massive meal, as it would have made our guide lose face for us to refuse to eat this. So we were presented with yet more food, all freshly prepared, including rabbit steaks. We tried our hardest to eat a bit of everything (even the stuff in aspic – ick!) and I think we did pretty well at showing willing. After a while we felt we could bow out gracefully and finally go to bed. Having eaten two massive dinners. Siberia was looking more appealing by the moment.