Friday, 26 February 2010

What's in a name?

This is a picture of Goodluck Jonathan: acting president of Nigeria (despite this happening). I don't envy his job: Nigeria is a difficult country. Colleagues in Zambia once told me that it was the place to disappear, as there were so many people and so little control over identity cards or passports or whatever. I suspect my skin colour would not permit such easy disappearance, but that comment has always tainted my view of Nigeria.

So - good luck to Goodluck!

It amuses me that he should have such an appropriate name. Here in the UK we laugh at celebrities who choose peculiar names for their children. Fifi Trixibelle? Brooklyn? Sunday (when born on a Monday)? All curious names, and likely to affect the children as they grow up.

My two have very solid, familiar names. You could even say they were dull, but we chose them because we like them. My son got the male equivalent of my late mother's name as a middle name, but otherwise there is no particular family connection. Nor were they particularly chosen for their meaning.

But in Africa, names seem much more blatant. They are a statement of the parents' standing or hopes or aspirations. When in Zambia, we had a maid called Precious, but my favourite name was Fineness. I knew a couple of these, and it always made me smile if only because it is such poor English. Yet you can see what their parents were thinking when they were born. We knew a man called Hope and others had names in the local languages that meant 'pretty' or 'man of the field' or 'artistic'.

In Ghana, children are named according to their position in the family (first child, second child, etc.) and which day of the week they are born on. So Kofi Annan is Friday Fourth-child. There was quite a large Ghanaian contingency in our church in London and so I knew a few Tuesdays and Thursdays!

But the name that has always amused me most is that of a young girl I once knew in Hong Kong. She felt she should not use her Chinese name but adopt a Western name. This practice was also common in Africa: somehow our (dull!) western names are viewed as more appropriate or more likely to get further on in life. It is an aside, but what a shame that we can't accept their names and cultures into ours so easily. Anyway - what amused me was the name she chose, as it seemed so inappropriate for a lively 18 year old.


Names come around and go around. What has influenced you in your choice of name?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Platform 0

It is slightly Harry Potter-esque that Stockport railway station has a Platform 0. It also has a Hat Museum, which I will investigate one day, but the peculiar platform numbering has always intrigued us. The children were delighted when they discovered their train was leaving from it.

Of course, it is not significantly different from platforms 1-4. Presumably it was a later addition and they chose to number it 0 rather than re-number all the platforms. They renumbered the platforms at York railway station many years ago, but mentally all my trains to London go from platform 8, not 3, so perhaps Stockport's approach was right.

The journey down to Peterborough was unpleasant. The first train, to Doncaster, was packed to the rafters. Indeed: we had to climb over suitcases just to get into the carriage. There were no such thing as booked seats, to my dismay. A kind old gentleman let me sit down, with my daughter sat on his wife's lap. She told me the story of their weekend travels, which revolved around a cancelled plane and really were far worse than my predicament. My son sat on the floor at the end of the carriage, hidden by a pile of suitcases but too engrossed with his DS to notice.

Thank goodness my children are that stage older. Had I been travelling with them three, four, even worse five years ago, this would have been unbearable. I still believe the service was appalling. As I had booked seats I expected a reasonably comfortable journey... well, at least for the first leg.

The second leg (Doncaster to Peterborough) I was dreading. For reasons that Trainline have yet to elucidate they felt that booking seats for that section was 'not required'. Not required? 45 minutes on the train with two young children? At lunchtime? I think, Mr Automated Computer, that you have no idea what you are doing.

Fortunately, I found two seats together for the children and I sat in front of them, next to a poor guy who was desperately trying to appear cool to the four student girls on the table opposite. They were quite entertaining. I tried to decide which of the four I was, when a student. Certainly not the girl who thought the can of coke she bought from the trolley buffet would be unhygienic and so poured the contents into her previous can in order to drink it. Possibly I'd have been the girl next to her, whose mother was a nurse and therefore had an antiseptic wipe in her bag (which girl no 1 didn't use on the can) but I was never that pretty nor that made-up. The other two girls were quieter, and I suspect I was like the plain one near the window: I certainly didn't (and don't) have the figure of the closest girl.

The journey back was a lot less entertaining, but with no children and no luggage I was free to simply engross myself in my book. Three hours of peace and uninterrupted time to myself: honestly, it was worth enduring the first half of the day for that alone.

picture copyright david99b

Monday, 15 February 2010

So who got the Valentine?

Who got the Valentine's Card in our house?

Was it me?

No, although my lovely husband cooked me a splendid dinner. I spent the day ferrying my children to their grandparents (a three hour train journey each way). I read a lot of my book...

Was it my husband?

No, I'm pretty hopeless and unromantic. But I did buy him some jelly babies (two of which he presented to me in a curtain ring when he proposed all those years ago, so maybe I have a hint of romance in my bones.)

Was it my seven-year-old daughter?

No. The most beautiful girl on the planet but really, really too young.

Was it my nine-year-old son?


Some girl spent a lot of time preparing this beautiful card, covered in hearts, some cut out of tissue and coloured paper. Was it the girl I saw running away from his friend's house, having put a red envelope through the letterbox? Was it a girl from his birthday party? Worse - was it the sister of a girl from the birthday party winding them both up?

He doesn't know, so I guess I'll never know. He also doesn't seem too bothered. In contrast, I'm on edge! I can't believe he's old enough for receiving Valentine's cards, and I'm quite sure I'm not ready for any emotional complications.

Thank goodness we'd had that little chat about concubines...

Friday, 12 February 2010

Concubines for a nine-year old?

Sometimes, studying the bible with our children is not straightforward.

"It's Daniel 5. 1-9." My son has a daily study book that we are following. It is great, as it explains things simply with additional cartoons and puzzles.

While I find the reading he wriggles into position. He is perched on the edge of my daughter's high-bed, legs sticking out over the stepladder and quite likely to fall off. She is at the pillow end, looking over my shoulder as I read. It has taken a while to get into this precarious position, as I adjudicated over a fight about who has the study book and who has the bible.

Still, it is a great story: the writing on the wall, as the king at his great banquet sees a hand moving but no-one is able to interpret what it has written. Tomorrow night Daniel comes to the rescue, like Superman, though it wasn't a great message to have to tell the king. I start reading.

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. Will you please stop fidgeting?"

"I'm not!" my daughter complains.

"Yes you are."

"No I'm not!"

Anything to end this pantomime! "Will you please just sit still and concentrate?"

"Okay," she says reluctantly.

I return to the reading, recapping from the beginning.

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine - You said you would sit still!"

"I am."

"What was the name of the king?" I ask slyly.

"Erm..." she squirms. "King ... er... King B..."

I spot her looking through my fingers. All credit to her: Belshazzar is hardly an easy name for a seven-year-old to say.

"Right. Come on. Listen properly this time."

A rather grumpy assent from the little girl.

"Okay, where were we? While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them."

"Mu-um?" This time my son interrupts. We've only reached the end of verse 2 and not yet got to the interesting and slightly spooky bit of the writing on the wall.


"What are concubines?"

Quotes from The Bible, NIV.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Paths are never straight

We are planning a major refurbishment of our house, due to start in March.

The paths are about the only thing that are straight and are not (presently) causing problems. At the moment I am only worried about:
(a) finding somewhere to live whilst work is going on; and
(b) finding somewhere to store an extra three rooms worth of stuff for the duration; and
(c) working out how to reduce the anticipated tender price by a sum that is enough to buy an entirely new house elsewhere in the country.

The drains don't run straight. They are wonky, old, leaking and need to be repaired. Another cost to add to the refurb...

Next week the tenders come in, and then I go through them with as much hard-heartedness as I can muster to reduce the costs. Having had this great vision for the house (a sad, aged place at the moment) it is difficult to let go of the dream 'just because of money'. But, of course, there are always compromises and I refuse to be ridiculously in debt just because of our wonderful aspirations.

What saddens me most is that it is the 'green' things that are likely to be dropped. The render won't be insulating render, just ordinary stuff. The windows will only be replaced if falling apart, so we will continue to lose bucketloads of heat through the poor glazing. The plan for an air-source heat pump, which will save us money on bills in the long term, will be abandoned for an ordinary gas condensing boiler.

Instead of all these glorious, eco-friendly things, we will replace aged drains and the roof.

It is such a shame that it costs so much to be green. As the world gradually accepts how much damage we are doing to ourselves, what a shame that simple remedies are mind-bogglingly expensive. Our government (and opposition) all speak the green talk, but there is scant support for projects like ours that would actually be helping their carbon targets. At some point they will have to support the renovation and upgrade of our aging housing stock. Campaign groups like the Great British Refurb Campaign are battling to get more support. Sadly, I fear it is too late for us.

Meanwhile, please forgive me if there is a bit of blogger silence as I resolve all the housing issues. I plan to keep you updated with pictures of progress when we finally get going. Keep your fingers crossed for no more unexpected surprises.... really, I'd like a straight path - please?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

What is more important: the job or the morals?

Yesterday my husband and I had an argument about football.

This is, I am glad to say, a rarity - principally because neither of us likes football. And neither of us argue much. (Well, he doesn't. I rant and rave and fling my arms around and shout the house down ... and then recognise he's right and retreat into a corner.)

Anyway, our discussion was about the topic of the moment: should John Terry retain his role as captain?

I don't care. I believe his private life is that: private. If he has affairs with every woman in town, but can still play football, then he should retain his job. In an office situation, would he lose his job because he had an extramarital affair? I doubt it.

My husband argues that he has to retain the respect of the players, of his team and, in his particular job, his country. Perhaps he doesn't have that any more.

Reflecting on it, I think we are both right. I think that even in an office, having a fling with your colleague's ex would put a lot of strain and tension on the staff. Whilst you may not be sacked, you may think it time to look for a job elsewhere. Of course, in football that is more difficult. It's not as though he can take on the captaincy of another country!

But the higher you rise, the further you can fall.

I am reading Wolf Hall at the moment: the Booker Prize winner by Hilary Mantel about Thomas Cromwell. Cardinal Wolsey has fallen from grace: his powers have been taken away from him as King Henry VIII seeks some way to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey is ruined because of this; and I know that, in the end, Cromwell will also be brought low. Again and again through history we see the mighty come unstuck, unravelled, undone ... brought down to earth for misdemeanours that may, or may not, be their fault.

Why Terry had his fling I will never know. I am delighted that we still live in a society that has some morals and that views his behaviour as fundamentally wrong. The furore surrounding his affair is a salutary reminder that no-one is above reproach nor incapable of sin ... and that respect is earned by considerably more than just your skill at the job.


On a much more cheery note, take a look at the British Mummy Blogger's Carnival. It is now live on Insomniac Mummy's blog. There are many excellent posts to have a look at, including me - right at the end of the main course, just before you start desserts...

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