Sunday, 26 October 2008

Hold On

Hold on to what is good even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is
a long way from here...
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you.
-- Nancy Wood, from Many Winters

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Voting Countdown

I've already cast my absentee vote.....and they better count them this year!

But if you haven't already voted and/or are waiting for 4 November, here are some useful links for ensuring you vote and helping you to come to a well informed decision.

Google Maps

Election Related Videos

Everything about the Debates

Voting Information

It is your duty as an American citizen to vote. We are lucky to live in a place and time where the power rests with the people to make this decision. People before us died for this right and women fought hard to earn this right. People who don't vote can't complain about the outcome.

You are equally responsible for ensuring that you are well informed and make a thoughtful decision. Do not make emotional decisions based on rhetoric and rumours. NB: Barack Obama is neither a Muslim or an Arab. And he is just as much white as he is black. And more importantly, does it matter? Some thought a Catholic couldn't be president and John F Kennedy proved them all wrong!

Read, listen and watch a wide variety of news sources and make sure you understand your voting ballot. If you are submitting a mail in ballot you need to do this within the specified time scales. If you are going to the polls, be prepared to stand in line, perhaps in bad weather. Bring a book and an umbrella. It is a small price to pay for the privilege.

Make sure your children are involved in the process. Now is a very good time for them to gain an appreciation of the history behind how governments operate, how leaders are chosen and why it is so vital that each voice is heard.

Governments are not evil alien machines. They are a gathering of people (like you and me) who have agreed to work on our behalf to ensure that the country we live in works. We pay their wages (taxes) and pay for the programs they implement (more taxes). Make sure you elect the most qualified, smartest person in the room who you would trust with your money to do the job on your behalf.

Apathy will kill democracy and if you think the economic crisis is bad, I would bet that the death of democracy would be worse.

Vote and Make it Count!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Blog Purpose

I had originally intended this blog to be a useful tool to keep my friends and family scattered all over the globe informed about the comings and goings of the Clare-Panton family. And then there was this realisation that by its very nature a blog could be read by and is indeed read by loads of people that I've never met. Not that it bothers me (although the fact that it doesn't bother me does seem to bother lots of people who know me - although I'm not really bothered about that either).

Other than throwing my life out there for all and any to read about, my other blog topics seem rather haphazard and don't really follow any of the blogging rules of thumb that I've read about. Rule Number 1 of blogging success seems to be find a topic and stick to it. That just seems rather dull really.

I have been searching internally for that motivation to keep on blogging as I have watched my visits plummet (must be the fault of the financial crisis) and discover that most of my family rarely reads -who are all those strangers reading?

I have found it. The meaning and purpose behind my blog is to help me remember what has come before today. It seems that my memory is fading. I started to write my annual Christmas letter and much to my frustration I couldn't remember what went on this year. A quick troll through the blog archives and suddenly I am reminded that we have had a very busy year indeed. I was trying to recall if I've read the book Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller or just seen the film. A quick search in my archive revealed that whilst I have read Notes from an Exhibition I have not read Notes on a Scandal. I am buoyed by the hope that at some point in the distant future my children will read these words and find me, the wacky person they happened to call mummy but who was really an obsessive compulsive big hearted neurotic who loved to read and above all else loved them very much.

So whilst this blog doesn't appear to be of much interest to many others I am quite interested by its contents which I suppose is the ultimate test. Although that won't ever pay my mortgage.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

A true story about a young girl being arrested in Iran after the fall of the Shah and held in the infamous Evin prison was never going to be a fun read. And yet I never suspected it to be this captivating either.

I couldn't put the book down despite reading with only one eye open for fear that the next paragraph would bring just more tales of the unthinkable. This was a sort of non-fiction version of The Kite Runner. I know very little about the experiences of every day families living in Iran. I know even less about their experiences under the Shah and during the Iran-Iraq war.

Nemat was just 16 years old when she was arrested. She was part of a small minority of Christians descended from Russians who had immigrated to Iran during the Russian revolution never imagining their descendants would be caught up in the Cultural Revolution.

During her imprisonment she is tortured and is forced to marry her interrogator. The relationship she forms with him eventually saves her but it doesn't make what she is forced to endure any easier.

Nemat now lives in Toronto with her family and she refused to speak about her experience for several year until the imprisonment and execution of another made headline news and she felt that by speaking about her experience she could saves others.

The early chapters of the book alternate between the terror of the torture and the events leading up to her arrest. The writing style is factual and not flowery.

My experiences are so far removed from the threats and reality of what Nemat endured it is difficult for me to understand. But I will continue to try. Her story deserves to be told and read and stopped. Recommended at 280 pages!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Pox

Yesterday we discovered that our little angel, Abigail, was infected with the dreaded chicken pox virus. Now before you ask, no, they don't vaccinate against that here in the UK. Get over it! She's got little red spots all over her tummy, chest, neck, ears, head, and a few on her legs. Some of them have crusted over and some are still mysteriously appearing.

I have incredibly vivid memories of my own childhood battle against the dreaded itchy spots which they didn't vaccinate against way back then either. I was in 4th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Pyatt. She had big red hair not unlike Margaret Thatcher. We were studying the culture of the Native American Indians and I had built a beautiful model of a plains settlement complete with tepees, buffaloes and pretend fires scaled down to size. I had worked on this day and night and I was so excited to show it off.

On the appointed day my mother came in to help me get dressed and discovered the tell tale red spots all over my body and promptly tucked me back into bed. My joy at getting to stay at home all day was quickly diminished when I realised I wouldn't get to present the creative fruits of my hard labour. I cried. When I realised I would be out of school for over a week, I cried some more.

My mother spoke to my teacher who assured her and in turn assured me that I would be able to present my project when I went back to school. So I went to bed and tried not to scratch til I bled. For 6 days.

By the time I returned to school with my project proudly held aloft, the teacher had long forgotten her pledge and the students had moved on to studying something else. I received a dismissive instruction to put it on the table in the corner where it sat and gathered dust until the end of term.

Fortunately, my daughter appears to be far less traumatised my her viral experience. It is half term so she was going to be home from school anyway. Her father is watching over her until I can escape from my back to back meetings in the office. Her appetite is suppressed and she has just a very minor elevated temperature. She is bouncing around and seems to be quite happy about her predicament. Whilst she has some itching, she is a very old soul and is displaying very sensible scratching practices like not using her nails and only rubbing. Where ever did she get such sensibilities?

She is such an angel. Although she did announce that her father is much better at putting on the calamine lotion and blowing air on her spots than I am. I've studied his technique and really don't see what I am doing differently. I guess I will just have to live with that inadequacy and consider it an opportunity for growth.

Victory House

Just like in the Harry Potter novels, Sebastian's school is divided into houses: Victory, Revenge, Vindictive and Rodney. Yeah, not sure I get Rodney either but I have it on good authority that the houses are named after battleships. Never heard of Rodney but that's just the way it is.

Sebastian is a member of Victory. Not entirely sure how they decide on which house which pupil gets in but I am fairly certain it is not a magic hat.

Last week the school had an interschool football (soccer) match. This meant that the various years played each other and won games for their house. Since Sebastian is on the C team this may be one of the few times/year he actually gets to play a real match.

The good news is Victory was victorious and took 2nd place. Those darn Revenge pupils took first but that is merely a temporary setback.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Another Harvest Festival

You never know what you got til it's gone.

Lat year I hadn't fully appreciated that children didn't participate in a Harvest Festival after Year 2 so I didn't fully appreciate that it was Sebastian's final performance at the same time as it was Abigail's first. Maybe I should have videod that one. Oh well, that poignant moment is well gone.

This year we got to watch Abigail in all her glory and she performed very well. She sang all about the magic penny (give it away and you have more) and recited a poem about the role of the farmers (very important person if you want to eat). She stood perfectly and didn't even wave. She even cast me a disapproving glare when I blew her a kiss making it very apparent that such public displays of affection would not be reciprocated when she was on stage and in character.

At the end the chaplain led a very moving prayer about how lucky we are to have food on the table and live in a country where there are no wars being fought in our streets or in our fields. How lucky we are to have access to clean water and state of the art medical care. And how lucky we are to attend some of the best educational institutions in the world.

I'm not sure Abigail understands everything she has to be grateful for. I think she was grateful that she had a mother and father who didn't embarrass her. I was grateful she still has a few more years to perform in a Harvest Festival.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Circus of Sorts

I have amazing memories of going to the old coliseum in Denver, Colorado to see the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey circus as a child. Back then the circus would arrive by train and then parade through the streets of downtown Denver to arrive at the coliseum. I'm sure they don't do that anymore, mostly because they tore down the old coliseum and built a new coliseum for the National Stock Show and Rodeo. And I don't think the circus travels by train anymore. Heck, I'm not sure there are circuses any more. Good Lord, I sound like those people who talk about the times before television and telephones and you still rode your horse into town.

When Sebastian was about 2 we took him to the circus in London. I must have been pregnant with Abigail although to be honest I can't really remember. Now how's that for a memory? I can remember the circus arriving by train 35 some odd years ago but not 5 years ago when I took my first born to his first circus. I must be getting old!

The circus in Denver had 3 rings and a flying trapeze and loads of animals including dancing bears and elephants with gorgeous women with loads of makeup and little clothing riding them. There were tigers jumping through fire ringed hoops and men with long curly bleach blonde hair riding motorcycles on spinning wheels as it all rotated above the ground. And there were clowns. Lots and lots of clowns. I loved the clowns.

I was so looking forward to taking Sebastian to the circus and I was well aware that he was a bit young but that wasn't going to stop me from having a great time. I knew we were in trouble and I was up for a sore disappointment when we walked across the park and I saw the wee little tiny tent. It was one of those "we don't live in the USA anymore Toto" moments.

There were no animals. Apparently there seems to be some sensitivity to animal cruelty over here and putting animals in a circuses is considered cruel and unusual punishment for a crime they didn't commit.

There was only one ring. Which is a little bit good. I was always afraid that three rings meant there was more going on than I could keep track of and I knew I missed things. This way I would catch all the action. The trouble is they could have done with a few more rings just to up the action factor. There was rarely enough action taking place in one ring.

And there were very few clowns. No way near my clown threshold was met. And Sebastian has absolutely no memory of the event. At all. Ask him!

I swore I'd never go to the circus here in England again!

Ah but what do you do when one of Marc's clients generously gives us some complimentary tickets? Well, not being one to kick a gift horse in the mouth we go to the circus. The start time is just an hour after school lets out so we shove food in their faces and change them out of their school uniforms in the car. We drive like maniacs to the circus, get parked and race to the open seating hoping we get a seat closest to the front that we can see round the really tall people that seem to always sit right in front of me and my children.

I think we are early when we enter the tiny tiny tiny tent and there are fewer than 30 people seated and we have no problems getting a front row seat. I have just enough time to run and get popcorn and return to my seat and the circus begins with fewer than 70 people in attendance.

The Cirque Surreal has no animals. And only one clown. No flying trapeze. And I'm not entirely convinced that anyone in the troupe spoke a word of English. It would appear that they are mostly from Eastern Europe with a couple from Asia and one from Africa. Not that it matters but it was indeed a strange evening's entertainment.

There was a very muscular young man juggling. With his head, feet, hands, arms, back up to 8 balls. This was Abigail's favourite bit.

There were two Oriental dancers and the girl was particularly limber. I gasped as she wrapped herself into a perfectly formed circle and was held above her partner's head and then she dropped to hold on to his waist with nothing more than her little toes maintaining her perfect circle.

There was a woman, actually a couple women who swung from ropes above the crowd.

I particularly enjoyed the two men on a large steel apparatus suspended above the ground with spinning wheels as they walked around and, in my opinion, nearly fell to the ground far too often for my sensibilities.

Sebastian danced in the aisles to the music and despite only having one clown, he was a good clown and was Sebastian's favourite bit.

No horses, no dancing bears, no elephants, no lions, and far too few clowns but not bad for free.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

I needed a break from thinking and this book was given to me by my friend Jane when she took my to the hospital for my back surgery. And after the intellectual challenge of Midnight's Children I needed a brain vacation. This novel was just what the doctor ordered.

Set in Venice and alternating between now and the middle ages, a woman runs away from a broken marriage to find her ancestor's stories in the winding alleys and canals of Venice. Venice has never been my favourite city for far too many reasons to list here including a rather messy break up of a long term relationship. I've always thought this a wee bit unfair to Venice and have fancied giving it another chance at redemption.

Not sure this book convinced me it was worth a repeat journey. Whilst the story is easy to read it just doesn't hang together and there is a definite false mysterious urgency.

Clearly the author has done loads of research about the art of glassblowing and she evoked lovely images of the intricate process passed down through generations of Murano artisans. But the story is false and the main character, whose name already eludes my memory, makes absolutely no lasting impression of being someone I would want to read about.

Skip it unless you seriously need something to carry down to the beach or to get you through a rather frightening hospital appointment. In those cases, this is a jolly read.

Pages = 365 of very large print and even wider margins.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

I wish I could say exactly what this book was about. I wish I could say that I hated this book because I can't say what it was about. I wish I could have avoided finishing this book when I couldn't figure out what it was about. But being the ever vigilant book group member that I am I pressed onwards and forced myself to read it.

The book was our October book group selection. I've always wanted to read a Rushdie book and I was well aware that his books are not for literary lightweights. So I settled in for a long hard slog. This is a large tome weighing in at well over 600 pages and if I was going to finish this before the next book group I knew I needed to get started.

The problem was that the first 50 pages took me almost a week of nightly reading to get through. I have no idea what those first 50 pages were on about. In fact, I'm not sure what the whole first book (the book is divided into 3 books) was about.

Book 2 captured my attention though and whilst I am sure the subtleties of the book were completely lost on me I was kinda getting to grips with the whole plot (such as it was).

It seems that I was reading a potted history of India since their independence from Colonial Britain. The story is told by Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight on the very day of independence. And this is where it all goes wonderfully weird.

It seems that there are 1001 (precisely) children in India who were also born at that time (or thereabouts) and they all seem to have some magical mystical power.

I wish I could elaborate but I can't. The story wonders and weaves through characters lives and times. The language wonders and weaves through stream of consciousness and absolute nonsense. Book 3 was so confusing I found I had read 20 pages and had no clue about what had happened.

Oddly though, this doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. I just let the words wash over me. I do believe that if I knew more about the history of India I could have perhaps understood the associations of the story much better. If I have interpreted this all correctly the entire story is a rich metaphor of the formation and development of the nation of India, such as it is.

Rushdie must be either completely barking mad or nothing short of genius. OK, possibly a bit of both (or a lot). The language and phrasing of the book will lead you straight to the dictionary and his occasional outburst of stream of consciousness left me cold. C'mon - give me some punctuation!

Book Group Verdict: I am the only book group member to finish the book, again. Some gave up after just 50 pages which is seriously lame. Some gave it a real good go and simply ran out of time. The overall verdict was pretty much in line with my review above.

pgs 647!!!!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Birthday Gift

What a Great Idea!

Not sure this will fly with Abigail but just might send a message to Sebastian! What do you think?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Eton in the Press

Absolutely undoubtably the very best article about Eton ever written! Christopher Hitchens is a genius!

Friday, 10 October 2008


I rarely dream. Or I rarely remember my dreams which is seriously disappointing. I would love to know what my unconscious mind is doing when I'm not paying attention.

Every 6 months or so I'll have a night of vivid dreaming. I'll wake up and think what the heck what that all about. Which is exactly what happened the other night.

In my first dream I was in Colorado driving a car. I was jet lagged or something because I couldn't pay attention to what I was doing. I nearly ran the red light at Alameda and Sheridan. and then found myself at an unrecognised junction somewhere in south Lakewood and nearly ran a stop sign. Just as I slammed on my brakes I nearly broad sided a little car. I pulled over and proceeded to go looking for the car I almost hit and couldn't find it. But when I returned to my car there was yellow crepe paper (?) between my car and the car I almost hit and the police were there hauling the men out of the car. They were arresting them. I then got a stamp on my driving license that said "my actions caused someone to be arrested". I got fired from my job and then I woke up.

The time was 1:45 am. I scratched my head for a while and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn't so I read until I got sleepy again and turned the bedside lamp off around 2:45.

If I have a second dream on nights like this it is usually a slightly different version of the same dream but this time I was in for a whole new experience.

In my second dream Marc had found me a flat (apartment) closer to a city where I needed to work. It was across a river from a big futuristic metropolis that was a mix between NYC, Denver, and San Francisco. The flat was on a hill overlooking the city, had no windows but did have a terrace. The part of the terrace for my apartment was blocked by a big tree. I could only see the city if I strayed into the neighbours terrace and you weren't allowed to do that. All the other residents were ancient (over 80) and the place smelled. I wasn't allowed to see my children except on the weekends when Marc might come pick me up and take me to our other home somewhere in the country. The children were not allowed to visit me as no children were allowed. I would sit in my flat after I got home from work and cry missing my children so much it hurt.

I woke up at 4:50. I couldn't get back to sleep and finally dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 am and started my day. But these dreams persist in my conscious mind. Do they mean anything? If so, what? Kind of wish my unconscious mind would keep its thoughts to itself.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Kid's in Charge

OK, it would be fair to say that I think, uh, you need a little bit more experience than this 35 year old has when they are getting ready to put you in charge of trillions of taxpayer's (that would be you and me) money.

So, just how many ways can the Bush Administration mess us up? It ain't over til it's over and January 2009 is looking far far away!

And if you think this ain't hurting you, think again! Look around you. Look at your pension fund. Look at you share options. Look.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

School Bags and Helicopters

During the school week on any given day, Sebastian and Abigail have anywhere from 2 bags and 6 school bags to remember to take to school and bring home. These school bags contain the various pieces of kit they need to do their activities at school. These activities include, piano lessons, ballet, pe, judo, violin lessons, swimming, games and just their normal homework bag. They also need to remember to wear every day without exception their blazers and caps/hats. Now you might say these rules are harsh. But these are the rules and part of our contract with the school we have chosen is that we follow their rules.

Obviously, Abigail at 4 (nearly 5) requires a bit of help. I have put a laminated sheet on the refrigerator with little pictures of the activities and she does pretty well in the morning checking it and will invariably go running for her hat if she has forgotten it before running out the door. but of course she has 1/4 of the kit to remember.

Sebastian is another story altogether and he's been doing this for much much longer.

Monday as I was standing at the school gates I was approached by a mother/nanny who handed me one of a pair of Sebastian's football shin pads. Luckily, this one had his name written in big bold permanent marker all over it, a hard learnt lesson after 2 previous pairs of shin pads went missing during last school year. I spotted Sebastian sauntering back from the playing fields urged on by two of his football coaches. Seb was wearing his brand new (literally 4 weeks old) school shoes. He had obviously been wearing said shoes to play football in. It was a wet rainy muddy day on the football pitch and the shoes were soaked through.

I was incredulous and asked Sebastian where his football boots were. He didn't know. I asked him where his trainers (tennis shoes) were. He didn't know. I pointed out that his new school shoes were ruined. He shrugged his shoulders and said we could get him a new pair.

I had a meltdown. Two very important lessons we as parents MUST teach our children is the value of money and respect for property. But how? Well, I'll tell you: I emptied his room of all of his property and informed him I was selling it on eBay to try to buy him some new shoes (3 pairs at this point). Of course I don't think I couldn't buy myself a beer with the proceeds were I to do such a thing but I think he might be getting the idea.

So what does all this have to do with helicopters? I've read several articles recently about the new epidemic of helicopter parenting and I am shocked. The stories I read detail how parents go on job interviews with their 20 something grown children or negotiate their salaries and benefits packages. Parents are even calling in sick to work for their adult-children. But the worst story I've heard is where a father called up his daughter's future manager to explain that his precious little girl "was particularly sensitive and would require an harmonious environment to work in". Are they having a laugh?

Children must learn to take care of themselves, be able to learn from setbacks and address their own disappointments in life. In short children must learn to cope with the consequences of their actions. This will ensure that they are capable decision makers and responsible contributing members of society when they are adults (and their parents are no longer around to make their decisions for them).

So, just how much should I interfere to ensure that Abigail and Sebastian are well prepared for their school day? I firmly believe that parents should include independence and self sufficiency in their critical success factors for child rearing. Should I let Sebastian incur minus points (which could eventually lead to detention/expulsion) for losing his football boots and trainers or failing to wear his cap? Should I take away his savings (and any future earnings for the next 2 years) to replace the lost items? Should I pull him out of those elective activities which could possibly hamper his future prospects?

Of course my natural impulse is to make sure he's got everything with him when he leaves in the morning and when he comes home in the evening. But then I'm just a helicopter.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Saturday Visitors

I've noticed some rather strange behaviour from my reader community. It seems Thursday is the day that everyone and their brother, sister, mother-in-law, second cousin twice removed reads my blog. Why? Are my blog posts better on Thursdays? I don't think so. I went through the Thursday posts and they are pretty much of the same dull variety as the rest of the week.

Saturday readership on the other hand plummets to an almost non existent low. Why? I thought initially because people don't read on the weekends. But that didn't hold true when further analysis revealed that Sundays are my second highest readership (after Thursdays). Is it because everyone is way too busy on Saturdays and Sundays are a bit more relaxed leaving them some leisure time? To read my blog? Don't you have anything better to do with a Sunday?

My blog visits have never recovered from my February vacation went I just ran out of things to say. Partly because I don't think I've recovered fully. I've increased the frequency of my posts recently but due to increased demands on my time from just about everyone and everything in my life over the last 9 months or so I find blogging unfortunately falls to the bottom of the heap.

When do you read my blog? And why?

Monday, 6 October 2008

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I read this quickly during a recent attack of insomnia and rather than put me to sleep (like some of my other recent literary pursuits) I was captivated and couldn't put the thing down.

The premise is that the Queen (Elizabeth, the one that lives in that big castle I can see from my bedroom window) wonders into a mobile library parked outside Buckingham Palace whilst chasing down her beloved dogs who seem to have done a runner. She is driven (out of duty one would suppose) to borrow a book, as one does when one goes to a library. It appears that the author believes that the Queen has never read a book in her life.

She is quickly transfixed and transformed by the extraordinary journey that reading takes one on.

I cannot even begin to give the ending away. It is well and truly a shocker. I found myself giggling through the entire book and thought it was incredibly clever. I've never read The History Boys also by Alan Bennett particularly after watching the wreck of a film. I might just have to give it a go after the magic of this wee little story.

NOTE: It is truly wee, only 121 pages of large print. Shouldn't take more than an hour or 2.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Bert & Ernie

I don't remember B&E ever being this cool when I was a kid.