Sunday, April 24, 2005

Seder statistics

Adults present: 11
Children present: 6
Number of separate renditions of Mah Nishtana: 7
Number of answers given to the Four Questions: 0
Afikomens hidden: 4
Afikomens found: 3
Total number of cups of wine drunk: 68
Cups of wine spilled: 2
Table cloths ruined: 1
Children bursting into tears for no reason: 2
Adults bursting into tears for no reason: 1
Children falling asleep before the end of the seder and missing the songs: 3
Adults commenting on how nice it is not to have to make two seders: 9
Adults asking why we don't have egg in salt water more often because it's so delicious: 3
Successful trips to toilet since eating own body weight in matza: 0
Days of festival over: 1
Days to go before end of festival: 6

Happy Pesach one and all....

Thursday, April 21, 2005

On my travels again

I haven't been blogging for a week. No excuse. Other than a string of hectic social engagements. And a date. Kind of. I hope you've not missed me too much.

So in all the excitement I forgot to tell you that I'm on my travels again. I have arrived in Jerusalem today for Pesach/Passover (delete as appropriate). For one reason or another I've avoided the large family Seder for the past few years. But this year we are doing the full paschal shabang, en famille. At the last count, there will be 11 adults and 9 children. That's a helluva lot of cinamon balls.

For those who don't know, Pesach is a 7/8 day spring festival. I say 7/8 because it lasts 7 days in Israel and 8 outside of Israel. I'd love to explain this discrepancy but I can't. Mainly because the reason is illogical and rather convoluted and involves smoke signals and donkeys. And if I went into all that you'd think I was mad. No, much better to concentrate on the festival itself. That makes perfect sense. Basically, we stop eating bread, or any other grain-based product, for the length of the festival.

Actually, it's not so much grain that is forbidden as leaven. I'm not 100% sure what leaven is. It sounds like a Jewish-Gay nightclub. Leaven is one of those English words that Jewish kids are taught to use from a young age but which nobody else ever says. Like 'hearty'. You can't wish someone Mazal Tov - you have to wish someone a 'hearty' mazal tov. But have you ever heard anybody wish you a hearty happy birthday? Another favourite is concubine. We are all taught in Cheder that Hagar was Abraham's concubine. (Are Social Services aware that 8 year olds across north-west London are being taught about concubines?) But nobody else uses this word. It gets to the stage when you begin to think we are talking a different language altogether. Maybe we are. I was convinced for years that 'aggravation' was actually a yiddish word.

Anyway, I digress. Basically, we can't eat leavened grain. This means that only supervised and authorised products can be consumed. Everything has to be bought new, in advance. And the old stuff has to be slung out. So the kitchen cupboards are stripped bare and restocked. But not just restocked with the basics. Every conceivable edible item on the planet (as long as it doesn't contain grain) is squeezed into the last nook and cranny of the house. Every possibility has to be catered for. You can't run the risk of running out of a vital foodstuff during the festival. Can you imaging the calamity if you woke up on day 4 and realised you'd run out of chocolate spread? So my sister's flat (where I am staying for the festival) is full to bursting with packets of food of every shape, size and description. As I write, there are four boxes of ground almonds on the floor next to me, two tins of coconut macarroons on the desk and my bed has 12 (yes 12) jars of pickled cucumbers underneath it. And that's just the back bedroom. I will spare you the horror of the kitchen.

And I simply daren't tell you about the gastrointestinal horror that is seven days matza consumption. Think Immodium. Double it. And then double it again.

But, bonkers though it may be, it is lovely to be here, with my family, for the full 7/8 days. You just can't beat Mum's coconut pyramids to whisk you back to Passovers past. One bite and you are hurled back to the mid-80's in a haze of paschal nostalgia.

If you are celebrating passover - have a good one and go easy on those tea-matzas. If you're not, remind me to explain that thing about the donkey and the smoke signal.

Chag Sameach to one and all...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dilemma of the week

Have you read The Dice Man? It's excellent. In a nutshell, the author, one Luke Rhinehart, decides that he's made such a cock-up of his life so far that he's not going to trust his own judgement on any future decisions. Instead, he decides to be guided purely by the luck of the dice. And so begins his journey. He gives himself six options (give up job, buy plane ticket to Peru, beat up girlfriend, etc) and throws the dice. He promises to be guided by the luck of the dice and accepts whatever the dice choose. Whatever number the dice land on, that's the course of action he takes.

It's a wonderfully scary and very entertaining read. But I mention it here because I am wondering whether or not a similar course of action might be suitable for me. I have spent the last week trying to make a decision about something but am very wary to trust my own judgement.

Let me explain. As has now become clear to all readers of this blog, I have not had the most successful track record in dating men. In fact, it's been nothing short of a shambolic fiasco. The ones I like don't call. The ones I don’t, do. The ones I really like are already married. The ones I marry, well, you get the point. The truth is that, when it comes to dating man, I have an uncanny knack of choosing wrong. I simply cannot be trusted to make the right choice. My judgement has been relied upon in the past, and has been found wanting.

Now, I'm not saying that Luke Rhinehart's method would be any more suitable. Juggling six potential options is far too terrifying a thought to realistically consider. So, throwing the dice is not an option. (Which is just as well. Despite owning heaps of board games and backgammon sets, I can never find a dice when I need one. Every time we play Monopoly, Scrappino and I have to trawl through every box of Cleudo, Buckaneer and Yahtzee just to find the bloody thing. And yet, when I'm getting dressed in a hurry and putting my shoes on while running out the front door, there's always a fecking dice in the bottom of my shoe that digs into my foot all the way to station.)

No, I am going to have to settle for a more simple yes/no situation. A straightforward "do I" or "don't I". And here's where you come in. After fielding advice from friends and acquaintances over the past week - and after receiving some unsolicited advice on the matter too - I have decided to open the field to readers of this blog. What I need is a bit of audience participation.

So, here is the dilemma. The question that I have been struggling with all week and which I cannot trust myself to answer on my own.

Do I email the nice lawyer that I met at the wedding in Texas? (If you don't know who I'm talking about, what were you up to when I wrote this?) MS advises yes. CK says absolutely not. The situation is as follows: we met at the wedding. I made him laugh out loud. He convinced me to dance in public. So a good start all round. Before he left, he took my number (mobile, naturally,) and said we'd "hook up" in London. (Don't let the awful Americanism sway your vote, he was only American-ish.)

Well, I've now been back in the UK for two weeks and still no call. No txt. Nothing. What's a girl to do? No, really, that's not a rhetorical question. What am I to do? To put it bluntly, do I email this guy or not??

By way of background I should point out that he didn't actually give me his email address. But I Googled him on my first day back and within minutes I'd located his work email. So it wouldn't be too difficult to send him a quick "Let's hook up" message. But, as with every decision, there are pros and cons. These can be clearly outlined in the following table. Obsessive? Moi?

[For some reason, unknown to me, you have to scroll down a bit for the table. Don't ask me why. I'm new to this web thing. But my HTML man is on the case and normal formatting will be restored as soon as....]

Sending an email would be a pro-active thing to do and would show that I am an independent, confidant woman who is genuinely keen on meeting him againHe didn't give me his email address so he'll know that I Googled him to find it. This will make me look pushy and desperate. And borders on stalking.
His email was listed on a public access website so it can't be a private one restricted for personal use.The message will be read by his secretary, his PA, his trainees and a myriad other minions. But possibly not by him.
Maybe he lost my phone number and would be delighted to receive a message from me.Who am I kidding?
Nothing ventured nothing gainedNo (wo)man no cry
I have absolutely nothing to loseExcept self-esteem, dignity and pride.
I would actually be doing something, other than wallowing in self-obsessed what-ifs and maybes.Self-obsession is not all bad. And what-ifs and maybes beat out-and-out rejection every time.

So there we have it. One decision. Six compelling arguments for and against. Enough to throw a dice and let lady luck decide. If I could only find one. (Where the hell is that box of Sorry?)

Friday, April 08, 2005


I took Scrappino to the library yesterday. Scrappino is a voracious reader. He is always reading; fiction, non-fiction, comics, anything. You rarely find him without his nose in a book. And I’m not referring to The Hungry Caterpillar or Where the Wild Things Are. I’m talking proper paperbacks. [Would it be obscenely “my son the doctor” of me to add that, at his recent open night at school, his teacher told me that she had assessed his reading ability and found that he has the reading age of 12?]

The problem is (and I recognise that it’s a lovely problem to have, but still, the problem is) that Scrappino is invariably drawn, as if by some unseen force, to books that are part of a series, rather than stand alone books. His first love was the Horrible Histories series. They are a terrific set of books, written for children, each one dealing with a different era of British History. The gimmick is that the author concentrates on the nasty, gory parts of history. So you find titles such as The Slimy Stuarts or The Vile Victorians. And although the idea might have begun as a gimmick, the outcome is that Scrappino has an incredible knowledge of history. (I don’t mind admitting it, it’s much better than mine.) But if you start a series with The Scary Stone Age and work your way up to The Blitzed Brits you end up with a lot of books. At the last count, there were 22 in the series. And the author is still going strong.

So my initial purchase of one book (rrp. £4.99) has escalated beyond all expectations. One book led to another, and then a third and a fourth. And so on. A fiver a time, over twenty books in the series. You do the math.

And it’s not just non-fiction that plays this trick on unsuspecting parents. Fiction is just as wily – if not more so. Scrappino’s favourite set of fiction titles is the Roman Mysteries series. They tell the story of four children living in Ancient Rome who solve mysteries. A bit like the Famous Five, only with togas and no lashings of ginger beer. There is a dog though. I bought him the first book in the series without realising that it was the first of 15. Only 8 have been written so far, which at least gives me time to save up. But still, 15 fivers works out at a fair old outlay. And there’s no guarantee that the author will stop at 15. Would you, at £4.99 a pop?

Without fail, Scrappino manages to find books that inevitably lead to others in a set. While his classmates collect football stickers, and badger their mums for new packets of Panini stickers each time they go to the supermarket, Scrappino is on the lookout for titles he’s not read in whatever series of books is the current favourite. I have tried to steer him to stand-alone one-off titles. But with little success. At a recent trip to Smiths, he chose a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. As I was paying, I decided not to tell him that the book is the first in a series of six. But a child with a reading age of 12 is quite capable of reading the “Other books by CS Lewis” page, and so he is now badgering me for the next five.

I suppose the fact that CS Lewis is no longer alive to charge me a fiver for new paperbacks is some comfort. But a dead author is not necessarily a guarantee that the required outlay will be small. I dread the day that Scrappino discovers Enid Blyton (45 Famous Five books and 37 Secret Sevens). Luckily, once you’ve read one Famous Five, you really have read them all. But it takes at least four books before you realise that fully.

The upshot of all this reading is that Scrappino is the proud owner of a lot of paperbacks. Unlike most adults, myself included, who read a book once and then never look at it again, he does make the most of every title. He will read, re-read and then re-re-read every one. Often, if I’m reading out loud to him at bedtime, I will catch him reciting the words under his breath, without looking at the page. He’s got it down pat, off by heart. So he does at least make the most of every purchase.

But, be that as it may, I have decided that enough is enough. I explained to Scrappino this week that we just can’t keep buying every title in a series of 20. We are going to have to economise. And so I suggested a trip to the library.

I haven’t taken Scrappino to the library for years. I used to take him to the library when he was much younger, for “Song Circle with Debbie”. But I soon gave it up. It was full of unbearably pushy mums, who would interpret a slight jiggle when the music started as a sure indication that their baby was ‘very musical’. The kind of mum who treats parenting as a competitive sport. “Is Scrappino walking yet? Our Jonny was walking at 3 months and talking at 10 months. Our Minnie is taking her 11plus next week and she’s only 5”. You know the kind of parent. [The kind that boasts about their 7-year old’s reading age, perhaps??]

But needs must, and so off we went yesterday to the library. As it’s been a while since we were last there, I stopped before we walked in and reminded Scrappino how libraries operate. “First off” I said, “you have to be really quiet. Don’t run around, don’t shout, whisper, and try not to drop anything”. I opened the library door, took one step inside and was hit by a loud wailing. Song Circle was just finishing and the place was overrun with very musical toddlers. The children’s section of the library was full of screaming kids demanding juice, boisterous toddlers trying to snatch tambourines out of Debbie’s hands as she packed everything away, watching the clock and no doubt cursing under her breath. And, inevitably, there were the children desperate for the toilet. (There are always children desperate for the toilet.) For reasons best known to Barnet Council, there is no toilet in our local library. Well, there is, but it is for staff use only. So this huge library, with a massive kids section offering daily children’s activities, has no kids loo. Round the side of the building there are always frantic middle-class mums, letting their kids wee against the wall, hoping that their neighbours don’t see them. They smile weakly to each other and mumble, “oh well, only natural, perfectly natural” and dream of the days before they had kids when an afternoon on the Broadway involved buying shoes and drinking coffee rather than allowing over-tired two-year-olds to pish in the street.

At the desk, I asked the assistant if we could borrow a book. She asked me for my library card which I duly handed over.
“It’s out of date. You’ll have to get a new one”.
“You’ll need three lots of ID.”
“Three lots of ID? But you know who I am. You issued that card to me. Two years ago”
“But it’s out of date. You’ll have to get a new one”
“Yes, I’m happy to get a new one. But I don’t see why I need ID. You know who I am. You gave me that card”.
“But it’s out of date”
I can’t be bothered to argue.
“Okay, forget the card. Can we sit in the library and read the books here?”

Once the throngs of toddlers had dispersed, Scrappino and I had a bit of space to take a look around. He inspected the books on one wall while I looked at the other. I found fiction first and then spotted The Roman Mysteries. “They’re over here” I said. And then, like the voice of God out of nowhere, came a huge rumbling. “SSSSHHHHH!!!!!”. In the corner, sat the most officious librarian you’ve ever met. “Please keep the noise down. This is a library”. I looked over at the door where, at that very moment, a mother was changing the nappy of a screeching 1-year-old, but I resisted the urge to point out the obvious.

Scrappino picked up the book I’d spotted and sat down to read it.
“You can’t sit there. That’s the Information Technology Suite. It’s reserved for pupils doing GCSE revision. You’ll have to sit somewhere else”. The information technology suite was a large table with four computers on it and four empty chairs round it.
“But there’s nowhere else to sit” I replied.
“He’ll have to sit over there” and she pointed to the toddlers play area.
“What, in the fire engine??”

Scrappino did his best, but it isn’t easy trying to concentrate on a book when you’re squashed into a red box, designed to look like a fire engine, with your legs hanging over the doors and your head cocked to one side because of the wooden ladder. “Tell you what,” I said “let’s go into the adults area.”

If Scrappino had expected a more relaxed reading environment in the adult’s library, he was disappointed. We found chairs that didn’t require the skills of a yoga expert to sit in. But it was the noisiest library I’d ever visited. It had that quiet noise – where you can hear every radiator hum, every light bulb buzz, every chair creak. And noisiest of all, were the librarians themselves. Despite the kids’ librarian’s shushing, I could hear all her colleagues chattering in the corner, with that half whisper half shout sort of voice.
“What time are you on til Jean?”
“I’m on late today. You?”
“Off at five. Do you want a cup of tea before I go?”

Scrappino asked me, “I thought you said you can’t talk in a library”. Both librarians turned to us and “SSSSHHHH!!!” at Scrappino.

And it wasn’t just the staff making a noise. After we’d been sitting down for ten minutes or so, Jean started pushing the library trolley round our chairs as she re-stacked the shelves. Is there a carpentry business that specialises in wooden library trolleys. They must attach special wheels that screech as they move along the carpet, or make a loud click with every turn. And Jean was not happy just placing the books on the shelves. She had to throw them down with a thud each time. And yet when Scrappino sneezed she glared at us and pointed to the Quiet Please notice.

We soldiered on for about twenty minutes. Scrappino had read a quarter of his book and I had wandered up and down the aisles, looking at all the Catherine Cooksons and Maeve Bincheys. Then suddenly the doors open and it’s like the AGM of the local WI. Fifteen or so old women arrive with a young man and make their way towards us. I once saw a David Attenborough documentary where he placed a camera in the way of a herd of stampeding elephants and just let it roll. The footage was terrifying. And not unlike 15 elderly women charging towards you carrying ring binders, reading glasses and pencil cases. Jean rushed up to Scrappino and me and told us that we would have to leave. Our chairs were now needed by the old dears who were enrolled in a ‘Computers for the Retired’ course. I stood and watched in horror and disbelief. The modern keyboard was not designed to accommodate the arthritic hand. And there is little more pitiful than the sight of an eighty year old lady staring at the computer screen, first at a distance then close up, first with her glasses on and then without, and asking her neighbour, “Is that the cursor or is there a mark on the screen?”. And then wiping the screen clean with the wet corner of her hanky.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh. It is amazing to learn a new skill later in life. And the t-shirt that their instructor was wearing “Learning for Life” with the byline underneath “studying shouldn’t stop at sixteen” is certainly noble. But as Scrappino couldn’t get a chair anywhere in the library because of teenagers surfing in chat rooms and OAP’s looking for lost cursors I did wonder whether he might have to wait til he was sixteen to begin learning.

So we came home empty handed. I’ll be back to Smiths in the morning. It may be pricy, but I don’t need three forms of ID, they won’t make Scrappino sit in box and they won’t look at us like we’re evil if we sneeze. It’s a shame, but doing things the cheap way isn’t worth the effort.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Y'all wanna know about the wedding?

Since posting my last entry I’ve received 7 emails from concerned friends (for ‘concerned’, read ‘nosy’) who have asked me why I’ve not written anything further about the wedding. Am I sunning myself on the luxury yacht of an oil tycoon? Have I been buying white cowboy boots and matching white Stetson for a Texan wedding of my own?

Sadly, no. The dull but truthful reason is that, despite being away for just four days, I appear to have returned to three weeks worth of emails and I’ve been frantically trying to catch up. It’s a good job I didn’t go away for five days. But the emails have now been returned or deleted and so I’m able to get back to the matter in hand.

First things first. I did not meet an oil tycoon. Although, and I didn’t know this until I was put straight by a very nice cousin of the bride, they’re not called ‘oil tycoons’. They are ‘oil men’. An ‘oil man’ needs no other description other than ‘oil’. If a man is in oil, it goes without saying that he’s a tycoon. ‘Oil’ says it all. But whatever the correct term, I did not meet an ‘oil man’. In fact, I hardly saw a Stetson hat, checked shirt or rope tie the whole time I was there.

The nearest I got to catching a millionaire was dancing with a very nice New York lawyer – now based in London (I checked, of course) - who’s a friend of the groom. We talked about our careers (he has a great one), our homes in London (his is in a very exclusive part of town) and our divorces (at last, something I can compete with on a level playing field). Unfortunately, he had to leave the wedding early as he was rushing back to the UK for a very important meeting with some very important clients. I commiserated him on having to spend 9 hours sitting upright on a plane before his meeting. He looked at me like I was an idiot and replied, simply, ‘I fly flat’. That’s code. It’s like saying ‘I drive a Mercedes’ or ‘I wear Gucci’. I felt stupid. And poor. But put a brave face on it and told him ‘I fly fetal’. He laughed and took my phone number.

I should point out now, before I receive another 7 emails demanding further information, that, at the time of posting, he has not called me. Maybe he’s lost my number? Or his voice? Or just his mind. (Well, he may have a nice flat and a good job, but I’m funny and intelligent and good looking, so who’s the fool?)

But I still haven’t told you about the wedding itself. Well, I’ve now been to 36 weddings in my life, one of which was my own. And I have to say (apologies to all readers whose weddings I have attended) that they are all pretty much the same. The bride smiles all day and looks fabulous. The groom starts off looking nervous, then relieved and then, finally, elated. The parents look stunned and the assembled married guests avoid the temptation to tell the happy couple that the novelty soon wears off and before long they’ll be bickering like the Duckworths and arguing about whose turn it is to load the dishwasher.

So I will avoid the temptation to bore you with every wedding detail. You’ve been to a wedding before. It was a bit like that. But I should tell you what is wasn’t. It wasn’t loud and brash TEXAN or in-yer-face JEWISH. It wasn’t over the top Alexis Carrington meets Maureen Lipman, despite my expectations to the contrary. The Texan guests were friendly and funny and welcoming. The English were made to feel at home and part of the Houston family. One couple invited me to spend the summer in their home in San Antonio. Another offered to arrange funding for me for a course in New York that I’ve wanted to study for years. And a very nice lawyer from London took my phone number. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.