Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What does it mean to be British?

Does this mean I can form an orderly queue or complain about the weather? Will we eat nothing but cucumber sandwiches and play croquet on the lawn? Do we get to have high tea with the Queen? (I have actually been asked that question.) On a more sinister side will we become football hooligans, join the BNP, binge drink and get an ASBO? Can you even get an ASBO these days?  You certainly can still join the BNP. I saw them canvassing voters in Market Square only a few weeks ago. What does it mean to be British?

In 1990, when we arrived in London as fresh faced exchange students, Britain seemed to be the magical world we were waiting our whole lives to discover. History went back thousands, not hundreds, of years. So many of the beautiful paintings that we adored and had only seen in books could be found in Britain’s numerous (and largely free) museums. There were hundreds of different plays on every night in London. There was always something to learn. It was amazing to see so many different races and religions living and working together without much fuss. Yes, there were problems, but they were being worked through. It was so different from Louisiana.

I never thought very much about being an American citizen. I suppose something you are born with just seems like a given right whereas something you have to earn means more. I know hundreds of people who would proudly declare, “I’m proud to be an American” which might, if I’m honest, actually be translated as, “I’m proud to be a white, Christian American.” I never felt much national pride growing up. There were so many things that I felt our state and country did wrong  that I often felt ashamed for how we treated people of other races and religions. Louisiana schools were ordered by law to integrate “with all deliberate haste” in 1954 and some parishes (counties) still have not managed to achieve this goal. Because we have had to earn the right to be British I feel that I value it more. I feel a swelling of pride for the country I love, the country that has always felt more like home than home. The country that is now my home.

We arrived at the Old Courthouse in Hatfield and were there with 34 other fellow citizens, including several families, about to embark on this journey. There were many different races and nationalities and styles of dress from saris and headscarves to a kimono to my Quaker hat and apron. But we all had something in common--we all desperately wanted to be a part of this nation. And we had all had to pass a very difficult exam and pay a huge processing fee.  We were given a choice of swearing an oath before God or saying an affirmation. Quakers tend to say an affirmation because otherwise it looks like you are only honest and truthful before God and the rest of the time you are free to lie your head off. We chose the affirmation which read:

I (your name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.

It is to be noted that the letter that was sent to us stated that if you were swearing an oath you could feel free to bring a “Holy Book” of your choosing to swear upon. That really made me smile because I know the Louisiana reaction would be, “A Holy Book? Don’t they mean the Holy Book? There is only one.”

After that it was a bit like a graduation, we had special places to sit and then went up to receive our certificate and shake the hand of the Councillor wearing his huge gold chain. If you were a child then you also got a small teddy bear wearing a woolly jumper bearing the Union Jack. I desperately wanted to be a small child at that moment. Then we had to sign our names in a beautiful calligraphy register of all new citizens.  Lastly we had to stand, in respect, as the national anthem God Save the Queen was played--which is coincidently the same tune as My Country T'is of Thee and let me just say ya’ll stole that from us because we were here first. The grandmotherly lady in her full sari and head scarf next to me, proudly clutching her certificate, could be heard humming along. That is what it means to be British.

I’d like to thank so many of our friends who remembered us on this special day with calls, emails and notes. We thank you for your support. The fact that you remembered that it was today and celebrated with us in spirit (even though you couldn’t be there in person) means the world to us.

And so I sign off for now. Tootle-pip!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Iron Filings in My Nose

Ok, it is a fact that birds have iron filings in their nose. How else could they fly from north to south and not get lost? The iron helps them keep magnetic north so this is why you never see a bird standing around mumbling to itself with a furrowed brow whilst looking a map. I, on the other hand, am not a bird and therefore can get lost, and often do. I get so easily turned around that sometimes it appears I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag with a map, a torch and a compass.

I was on a course today in the next town over. I had to catch the train, and walk for about 20 minutes to a building I had never been to. Herein lies the problem. For other people a vague set of directions like “Go to the Leisure Park, find the underpass and then cross the road when you see Robertson House. Go around the side until you find the Reception desk” fills me with terror. Where do I go when I get off the train? Where is the Leisure Park? What underpass? What does the building look like? Which way do you walk to find reception? And when you go there are all sorts of obstacles that no one mentioned like “Stairs! No one said there would be stairs! Am I meant to go down or keep walking?” Or God forbid a fork in the road! I was working myself up into a lather about this course and then calming myself down with prayer. Thankfully God sent several guardian angels to my rescue.

My mate Clare from work is completely sympathetic to my fears and made me a 10 page set of instructions with pictures from Google Earth to show me which way to go. It included funny captions and was a huge lifesaver. I have studied it religiously for a week. She is my first angel. The second angel appeared this morning in the drizzle that is England as I was standing in the car park trying to read my map and furrowing my brow and mumbling to myself. This kind and generous woman looked at me and said, “Are you a teacher?” and when I replied “Teaching assistant” she asked if I was going to Robertson house on a course. Yes I was. And so God bless this woman, she walked with me as she was on their way there as well. She was head of maths at a school in Royston and like me had come early. She made me still read the map and she talked me through all the places we were going such as “Turn here by the cinema and we are going towards those stairs.”  I was completely at ease and able to follow where we were going. It was like having Clare’s voice in my head. When we got there she helped me find my room. I was super early having given myself an hour to get lost but luckily I had brought a book so I went to the cafĂ© and had a drink and read my book and then went on my course which was highly informative and interesting.

At the end I managed to find my way back to the station with ease and feel certain I could do it again alone if I needed to. I was so relieved that people—one friend and one stranger—reached out to me in my time of need. Goodness does exist. May it spring from me as much as it did from them. Amen.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Spidergrrl vs. The Giant Fibroid

It was on this day, one year ago, that I had my hysterectomy. It was a strange time. I was in an enormous amount of pain due to the fact that I had fibroids that weighed 5lbs that were displacing all my internal organs.  My stomach was up between my ribs making eating really uncomfortable. My bladder was “flat as a pancake” according to the surgeon. This would explain why it felt like I was pissing glass. I was frightened that I was dying, frightened that I was going to die on the operating table, frightened that if they did not give me another dose of liquid morphine I would have to kill someone. It was a scary experience being in hospital, being away from Spiderman. Unless you go private you are on a ward with other people and your bed just has a curtain around it for privacy and there are visiting hours in the afternoon. The only model I have known is the US model where everyone has a private room and people can stay all day and all night if they want. I’m not sure that is necessarily a good idea, but you can do it. I was worried about being vegan--would they force me to eat things I did not want?

I need not have worried. I received excellent care. The food was specially made for me. In the beginning it was jacket potato with cowboy beans every meal until they figured out some other ideas. By the end I had a delicious vegetable curry over rice. Spiderman excelled himself coming by bus to see me every afternoon for the 7 days I was in hospital. He was such a huge support always bringing me nibbles or a MAD magazine to cheer me up.

When I got home it took me 8 weeks to recover and get back enough strength to go back to work. I had been off work 2 weeks before the surgery and so I missed a total of 10 weeks of school. It was amazing how much children had grown in the 2.5 months I had been away. Spiderman was the best nurse ever, keeping house, cooking the meals, doing the shopping, bringing me treats. I was as weak as a kitten for many weeks after. He had to help me have a bath for at least a month because I couldn’t raise my hands to rinse my hair. Now that is devotion.

It was a strange time because despite the fatigue and pain in my huge oblong scar, I felt enormously better. All that weight had been lifted from my abdomen. I could breathe, eat and pee again without being in agony. My skin no longer looked green. It was strange at first to not have periods--I thought I would miss them-but I don’t. What I do miss is using the washable cloth pads I sewed myself. I liked have an eco period. But now I can devote my eco time to other causes.

A year on and I would say I feel perfectly normal. Spiderman says I was never normal so this feeling will pass. But you know what I mean. I am back at pilates and now can do so many things that I physically wasn’t capable of pre-hysterectomy due to the monstrous hard growth of tumours in my distended abdomen. I am back to kick boxing and I feel great. No pulling or pinching on my scar. I can lift and carry with no pain. Only once or twice in the last month have I felt a twinge in the scar and it was only for a moment.

I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful for the Amazing Spiderman. I am thankful for the surgery that saved my life and the scar that bears witness to that fact. I give thanks.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Spiders Prompt Itsy- Bitsy Mazda Recall

This story is courtesy of Yahoo News:

Is this the strangest car recall ever? Mazda has been forced to recall 65,000 of its saloon cars in the U.S., Canada and Mexico after spiders were discovered nesting in their fuel pipes. Nobody can explain why the spiders have chosen the Mazda6 but there have been enough incidents to prompt a wide scale recall. What’s even more unusual is that the spiders have only appeared in cars with four cylinder engines. 

The first incident happened in October 2009 when a Mazda6 was brought to a dealer with a fuel leak. A spider had spun a web in a fuel tank vent pipe, which created a vacuum in the tank, eventually cracking it. There have been 19 further episodes since then, not restricted to any region, prompting the recall. Mazda will check each car for evidence of spiders or webs and fit a part to prevent spiders from entering any pipes around the fuel tank.

Speaking to AFP news agency a Mazda spokesperson said: “There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why he’s chosen the Mazda6.”

There’s a chance that a leaking fuel pipe could cause a fire, though none have been reported so far. No cars in the UK have been affected.

Spiderman showed me this article and I knew I had to share it on my blog. This is just a testament to the ingenuity of our arachnid friends as well as their weird and funny ways. All 6 of our tarantulas have distinct personality trait. Some keep a neat tank, others like to fill theirs with webbing and make it look all messy. Some like to drink from a water dish, others like to tip their water out and sit in the empty dish. Some like to climb walls, others stay on the ground. One likes to hang upside down from the metal grill at the top of the tank that lets in air, another likes to try to lift her lid. We’ve put a stop to her antics by weighting her lid down with a book. Another has dug a hole to sit in and used webbing to make her plastic tree lay flat instead of sticking up. Why do they do it? Who knows. But it is interesting to watch.

We both thought it was interesting that the articles said “There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why HE’s chosen the Mazda6.”  (emphasis mine) Because from what we know of spiders it is more likely a SHE making all the webbing. Female spiders are industrious, spinning webs and all that jazz whereas male spiders once they reach sexual maturity can’t be bothered and just move into an old web abandoned by a female as they plan their next move to trying to get off with some female they’ve just met. This could possibly be because once they become sexually mature they only live a year or 2 so they need to spend all their time looking for a shag and trying not to be eaten. Females, however can live much longer--possibly up to 20 years for some species of tarantula if well cared for.

This is why as carers we hope for females as we’ll get to keep them longer. We are SURE that Lily Rose and Blanche Dubois are female as we know their age because we got them from a friend who raised them from spiderlings. Tibia and Rosetti  are close to or perhaps slightly past the age of sexual maturity and so far APPEAR to be female. Lastly we have 2 that are still much too young to tell. So Pirouette and Pippi may be in for a rude awakening after a moult when they turn out to have palps like boxing gloves to store their sperm and tibial hooks for holding back the female’s legs to keep her from eating him during sex. Time will tell.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Pippilotta Comestibles Windowshade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking

Whew! That’s a mouthful! No wonder she just goes by the name of Pippi!

Here I am dressed up as Pippi with my pet monkey Mr Nilsson for World Book Day. We are meant to dress as our favourite book character and she is certainly one of my favourites. I loved the book as a child and the idea of her living on her own in her mad mismatched homemade clothes with a pet monkey and a horse and cleaning the floor by skating with scrub brushes on her feet or playing tag with the police or going to school to learn her plutification tables. I loved it so much I decided to read the book to my class one year. I didn’t preview it--there was no need, right? This was Pippi--a children’s classic we are talking about. Well I got to the last chapter and they are all up in the attic playing pirate and Tommy finds a real gun and asks Pippi if he can have it--and my whole class did a collective GASP! There was a lot of gun violence in their lives and after a year of preaching that joining a gang and owning a gun was not the answer (these were 2nd graders! But many of the more street savvy ones were already being recruited) I could not in good conscience continue on to read the fact the Pippi says yes and he shoots a real gun. I swear I don’t belief in censorship----I am married to a librarian--but the words stuck in my throat and I changed the words to have Pippi say, “No Tommy. Guns aren’t safe for children to play with” and then carried on like it had never happened.

I am pleased to say that Astrid Lindgren (or at least modern publishers) has caught up with my way of thinking. In the most recent version I have--delightfully illustrated by Lauren Child--the lines are changed to have Pippi say,

“Never let children handle guns,” said Pippi picking up a pistol in each hand. “Or else an accident might easily happen,” she said firing both pistols at once. “What a loud bang that was!” she said looking up at the ceiling. They could see two bullet holes.
Today was great! It is interesting that our new student from Latvia also came as “Pippi Langstrum” and there were 2 other Pippis as well –so we all had a photo together! Hooray and happy reading!