About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Lastly, on Egypt

It saddens me to read about the troubles they have had since my return. I worry for my friend and her family and for all the lovely people I met while I was there. I hope Egypt finds true peace quickly.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

An Englishwoman's experience of the Egyptians

They are a complicated people.

They can seem an angry and scary people. They look grim as they go about their daily business and, to the English ear, they always sound as though they are arguing and trading insults, especially since they look so dour as well.

Watching them in the traffic, haggling over prices in the shops, even ordering a meal in a restaurant reinforces this impression. One day my friend called me into her bedroom to watch an argument going on in the street below. Some sort of small traffic matter but there was lots of gesticulating going on and I thought they would come to blows. With great glee my friend advised me they were insulting each other's mother's vaginas! They can be very inventive with their insults.

On the other hand, one day found a car blocking traffic from four directions because a kitten had got stuck somewhere underneath the bonnet of the car. The occupants of four cars, including us, were all huddled round the front using the lights from mobile phones, torches or simply down on hands and knees under the vehicle, looking for this poor kitten. Eventually the kitten got bored of this game and shot out and away. Everyone congratulated each other and went happily on their way.

Then there's the matter of modesty. The first time I visited Egypt, almost 30 years ago, I was advised not to look men in the eye, it was immodest. Even today, women have a way of looking, but not looking, at men; more a case of...in their general direction but through them. It's not bad manners, it's modesty. Men will avoid looking at women in the eyes out of respect and to avoid giving offence. Because of this, everyone seems to walk around in their own little world until actually spoken to.

It can be very off-putting to the western female. Where I live, people look each other in the eye, we laugh and joke as we go about our business, talk in queues, don't worry whether we're talking to men or women, just people. Well, more or less...a little flirting makes the world go round and mostly we can tell when it's general friendly interaction or something else.

In the airports it was mostly men until body-searching was needed and women took over. Men would solemnly go about their business and not look you in the eye until something out of the ordinary happened, like when I went the wrong way and looked to be missing out the security machines. I'd be politely directed the right way and when I gave a broad smile and a 'sorry' they couldn't seem to help themselves and respond with a reasuring smile and be very helpful. In other words...'she's English, she can't help it'. Certain allowances would be made without stepping over the line between friendliness and informality.

For my part I tried very hard to fit in, apart from not looking people in the eye I wore trousers, long sleeves and nothing even slightly see-through or with low necklines. Not that I wear outrageous clothing at the best of times but I covered up more than usual for me. I was very hot from time to time but persevered. I wasn't about to wear a headscarf or a veil but the Egyptians are a reasonable people and it was obvious I was making an effort and I felt it was appreciated and accepted.

I heard that some of the passengers on cruise ships into Alexandria have a different outlook. In a way it's understandable because they are in a western environment on board and I suppose the shore excursions seem more like entertainment laid on especially for them rather than a visit to a different culture. The Egyptians view it rather differently. I'm told they are nice and polite because they want the visitors to feel welcome but they are in fact insulted by the inconsiderate expanse of flesh on view.

The long and the short of it, I tried to fit in and they responded by making me very very, very welcome.

I've met my friend's Egyptian husband only half a dozen times over the last 25-30 years and he has been unfailing kind and friendly. His English is rusty and my Arabic is non-existant other than a few words but we communicated well enough. For instance, I'd come into the livng room and sit down with a coffee, or a snack, or a book and he'd give me a mock glower, I'd grin and shrug back at him and he'd smile or laugh at me. Little things. I'd be sitting reading and he'd hand me an orange, and we'd sit watching the TV companionably eating our fruit, or, in the village, he came in with a section of sugar cane from the orchard and taught me how to eat it - carefully with due consideration for teeth! Not a demonstrative man but able to make me feel at home with the little things.

My friend has a lady who comes in to clean, iron, cook and so on. She doesn't have a single word of English but we communicated well enough through smiles and gestures. I was delighted when she handed me a bowl of beans and asked me to help prepare them. I sat and worked on them, happily listening to music and feeling a part of the household. Again, a little thing but one that made me feel good and at home. (Loved her cooking too!)

While in Cairo we visited a cousins and spent a some hours in their home. Afterwards I was told the husband, who spoke English, hoped I wasn't offended by his not having a chance to speak to me in English but he hadn't wanted to bombard me with questions - again, an example of the consideration and sensitivity of the Egyptian people. Sadly, when he came to visit in the village, over the festival, I was out walking with my friend and I missed him. I would have like to tell him I wasn't offended at all and in fact am more than happy sitting, listening and watching even when I can't understand what's being said. People-watching is a favourite occupation of mine.

In the village, people were both more natural and more formal, it's hard to explain. The kids in adult company were shy but not afraid to stare (the kids outside with their peers were the same as kids everywhere with their peers - brash, noisy, inquisitive and competitive), the teenagers and young adults were eager to please but uncomfortable looking at you. The adults were invariably welcoming. Usually they didn't seem to know how to deal with me but the language barrier caused most of that.

One little girl, looking fine in her festival best of shiny hair grips and jumper with a butterfly of the front, couldn't understand that I didn't speak Arabic and simply carried on speaking to me as usual; I shared some of my mandarine with her. Two young male cousins couldn't seem to look at me directly but one of them would rush forward to relieve me of anything that needed carrying. I felt a special affinity for one young lady who seemed to take me under her wing from the moment I arrived. I was witness to the ritual slaughters and she made sure I had good views and so on. One evening we had a visit from my friend's sister-in-law and four children. A son, who is due to do into the army and three daughters who are all in good jobs. All four have been through university and are well-educated and speak English, to varying degrees. It was a wonderful time filled with laughter. Although the mother-in-law didn't speak English and I didn't speak Arabic, the others translated as needed so the conversation flowed and no-one felt left out.

By the way, watching the ritual slaughters wasn't as gruesome as you might think. As I mentioned in a previous post, the animals were well looked after in life and they were slaughtered in the most humane way possible. Yes, there was an air of celebration but not...I don't have the words...not, nasty. It originates with a part of the Koran where Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son to God but God allowed him to replace his son with an animal. The animals slaughtered during the Hajj festival don't go to feed the owners. Oh, a joint might be kept but the rest goes to the poor. The animals are slaughtered, butchered on the spot and the meat is separated into parcels and sent immediately to poor families. I watched as the meat parcels were handed to the young members of the family who were sent off with directions to the families who were to receive the food.

In short, I have a great respect for the Egyptian people and am extremely grateful to all of those who made my trip so special. Including and especially my friend and her family who, frankly, are my family at heart.

Monday, 21 November 2011

More Alexandrian photos

Coo, it worked, here go the rest.

The first one is again of the souk. The second Is the eastern harbour taken from the top of the Cecil Hotel, the other is the Quaitbey Point showing the fort on the site of the old Faros of Alexandria lighthouse.

Alexandrian souk

This is the first time I've tried to upload any images to bear with me, it's not looking right in draft but perhaps it'll come out ok when published. We shall see! If it comes out, it's from a souk. If it doesn't, back to the drawing board.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Village accomodation

The house I stayed in is only 10 or so years old and on three storeys, the largest and most modern in the village. I felt very grand staying here. The large main room on the ground floor is given over to receiving visitors and has cushioned benches round three walls. The first evening saw a collection of men in galabeyas (that may not be how to spell it) sitting round the cushioned benches, smoking and setting the world to rights, discussing local and national matters and of course the upcoming elections, something on everyone's lips it seems. The second floor contained the family rooms but the top floor was all mine! A was given the choice of one of the family bedrooms or one of the two bedrooms opening off a large central room with own shower and toilet and a balcony. How could I resist the top floor with its balcony and views?

The 'back garden' is basically a mango orchard but also has mandarine oranges, avocado pears and sugarcane, as well as flowering shrubs near the building. Sadly, the mango season was over but I was given some sugarcane to eat. You have to have good teeth for this because first you need to rip off the outer bark, then break off a lump of the inner cane and once chewed and sucked dry you spit out the wad. It took me ages to get the knack of stripping the outer bark because I was afraid for my teeth but it was well worth the effort.

When we arrived we found a camel, a sheep and four goats tied up having their meal under the mango trees. Twenty four hours later there were only three goats left, the other goats, the sheep and the camel all having been sacrificed for the festival.

I spent some time sitting under the mango trees myself, sketching and generally relaxing. One afternoon was spent on the balcony on the top floor sketching with my friend's son. I haven't sketched for many years and he was determined I should start again. It was great, I'd forgotten how much I'd enjoyed it and I wasn't as bad as I'd thought I might be after all these years. It's re-kindled my interest and I feel the urge to start properly again. We set a kerosene lamp between us to draw and talked and laughed quietly while we worked. We were level with the tops of the mango trees in the orchard out back and as the sun started setting we could see large dragonflies dancing around the treetops. It was a wonderful way to spend some time.

The kerosene lamp got used in earnest that night because we had a series of power cuts, somthing that is quite common in Egypt. Her son was out with his cousins so she and I sat and talked in the light of the lamp and candles and a torch. Kerosene lamps give a much warmer light than torches so it was very cosy and fun.

An Egyptian village

In England, the average village is a small collection of dwellings, pubs, church, some shops, probably surrounding the village green. They vary of course, but this is basically it and they are surrounded by fields of grains, or vegetables or lying fallow as part of crop rotation. The fields are bound by flowering and fruiting hedges and a variety of trees. Drainage ditches surround the fields to ensure they don’t become waterlogged.

In the Nile delta, the village I stayed in was the same in so far as it was a small collection of dwellings, a couple of very small shops and I think there were two mosques. There were also fields and trees but the fields I saw were rice or alfalfa and the trees were mangoes, bare of fruit at this time of year, palms heavy with dates and the like. Whereas our countryside is noted for its greenery, here everything is covered in dust or sand. While our crops rely mostly on rainfall theirs need water channeled from the Nile, firstly via canals then through sluice gates opening onto irrigation ditches, or from water pumped from artesian wells. Fields and orchards are criss-crossed with irrigation channels consisting of two parallel raised earthworks about knee-high that can be blocked or opened to direct the water as required. It's an ingenious arrangement and one that has probably been used for thousands of years. When my parents were there about 25 years ago there was still the 'scoop-wheel' and donkey method (may father's description, I never saw it) of getting water from the canal to the irrigation channels but times have moved on.

During my parents' visit, most houses were one storey built out of the traditional blocks of Nile mud with dirt floors and tree branches strewn over the roof for insulation against the heat during the day and the cold at night. Since then, laws have been passed forbidding building with Nile mud because it is so incredibly fertile and of better use in agriculture. Gradually the houses are being replaced by brick buildings, still only up to three storeys. Once you get off the main agricultural motorway the roads are unpaved. As they don't get the rainfall we do that makes it necessary to have paved roads, and there are few vehicles in the village, they are all dirt roads. Makes sense to me, why pay for something you don't really need?

I went for a couple of walks with my friend, the first of which took us through fields of mango trees to the canal. Just before the canal was a buffalo grazing accompanied by a stork-like bird whose name I forget. The birds feed on insects that feed off the buffalo and help keep them clear of infestation, as well as other natural pests that can ruin crops - they're known as the 'farmers' friend'. They are also an indicator of good organic land as they avoid land soaked in pesticides.

The sun started setting as we walked alongside the canal on a roundabout route back to the house. The plants and trees may be dusty due to the lack of rain but it all adds to the charm of the place, giving it a sort of smoky feel and softening the landscape. There was a wonderful, warm and peaceful glow to the countryside as we walked back through the door.

The other walk was for the length of the village, along the dirt road, past the two mosques and the variety of houses going up alongside the low Nile-mud houses. We drew quite a crowd of interested children and I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Let's face it, this was not a tourist area and I stuck out like a sore thumb, many of them would never have seen someone like me other than on the television. It was all pretty good-natured and when they got just a little out of hand and too excited, as children do, an adult voice would call out and they'd settle a bit, or my friend would warn them off. If they ever said anything untoward it was never translated for me!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Halal meat

Back in January I published a post about 'Laws for some and not for others' and the arguments about Halal meat brought the subject to my attention. My focus then wasn't really Halal meat but the even-handed application of laws. I didn't have enough information to pronounce on Halal meat, now I have a little more knowledge. The Festival of Eid at the end of Hajj took place during my recent visit to Egypt and animals are sacrificed on the first day.

I'm not going to be drawn into a discussion of whether we should eat meat or not, I'm a meat-eater and this post is based as follows: we eat meat, in order for us to eat meat animals have to be killed, as they have to be killed then they should be killed in the least distressful way possible. I'm not going to suggest there is a distress-free way because I'm not in a position to know that.

In the UK, animals must be stunned before the throat is cut to reduce suffering to the animal. Blood must be drained from the body before the animal dies or the meat is not fit for marketing, in other words - it is not healthy.

In Egypt it is forbidden to eat animals who have not been drained of blood before being killed. Blood is considered halal; forbidden but, stunning is not allowed because it reduces the heart-rate and the blood does not drain fully.

So, with either method, the animal's throat is cut and it dies of exsanguination to ensure the meat is as free of blood as possible. So the question is whether the animal should be stunned before the throat is cut...or not.

There are several ways of stunning animals and many arguments for and against the different methods, however, they seem to involve some form of technology, electrical-stunnung or stun-gun or gassing. Historically these would not have been available to the Egyptians. Neither would they have been available in the UK and it seems the stunning laws are relatively new, since fact only since the early 1900's.

As well as being the only available way of slaughtering there was also the health implications of un-bled meat. Increased amounts of blood present in meat increase the rate of decay, rendering the mean inedible. In the UK, with our climate, it is not such a problem, in Egypt it is much more of a problem.

So, we have a milder climate meaning less of an imperative to drain meat fully and an earlier introduction to modern stunning methods. We have the luxury of passing the laws that are now in place.

In Egypt there is still a wide-spread lack of effective refridgeration and less access to modern stunning methods. Therefore the live ex-sanguination of animals for meat makes sense.

From what I've seen they take no pleasure from the killing itself and each animal is treated with as much respect and consideration as possible. In the village, which is the only place for me to have observed this, they care for the animals greatly and they are well-looked after. When they are taken for slaughter it is done with the least distress to the animal as possible, the end is brought about quickly by a skilled man with a very sharp knife. I'm told the sudden loss of blood from the brain causes unconsciouness almost immediately.

I know there are also religious arguments for and against halal meat but it's not for me to comment on others' religious beliefs, I prefer to stick to the practical aspects.

All things considered, I have no qualm about eating halal meat in Egypt because it is acceptable within the society. As a meat-eater I believe it would be hypocritical of me to think otherwise. In the UK? Well, as we do not have a refridgeration problem and we have the technology, and as a matter of personal preference, I would like to know any animal I was eating had been stunned first.

As for whether we should allow the Halal method of slaughtering in the UK...the law remains and if it is a good law it should be followed by all, if it is not it should be repealed. No change there!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Egyptian traffic

We arrived back in Alexandria yesterday and I've just got to get this out of my system. The traffic is terrifying! It was 'interesting' around Alexandria but I rather thought the equivalent of the motorways would be better if only because everyone was going in the same direction. How naive can one person be?

In the UK you can only overtake on the outside, you keep to the inside lane unless overtaking, you indicate when changing lanes, you keep a sensible distance from the person in front (well...that's the theory) and non-motorised vehicles up to a minimum horsepower are not allowed. So first - forget all that!

Picture a wide road, with or without lane markings; add the usual vehicles plus open back trucks with one or two buffalo, sheep or goats tied down in the back accompanied by one or two men sitting on the side or perched on the bumper hanging onto the tailgate while going at 60-odd miles per hour, or full of men, women and children packed tight, or sacks of something-or-other or furniture with small boys perched on top; not to forget the donkeys and carts, tock-tocks and motorcycles with ladies riding pillion side saddle. I even saw one scooter with the lady passenger riding side-saddle holding a baby and another with the crash-helmet proudly tied in place-of-honour on top of the luggage rack by a bare-headed rider. Oh, and a tock-tock is a three-wheeler with the driver in the center at the front and a bench behind for two people huddled close.

Now you've taken notice of them - ignore them, overtake whatever side you like, don't bother indicating because they'll only speed up to stop you getting in front of them, hoot the horn regularly to make sure they know you're there and get out of your way, hoot especially loudly at the pedestrians crossing the road and the lorry that's broken down in the middle lane where the driver is tinkering under the bonnet. Oh and beware of traffic trying to cross the central reservation, both at recognised and unrecognised turning points while at the same time swerving to avoid potholes.

I quickly developed a survival stragegy - I admired the scenery out the side window or shut my eyes. I was just thankful I was with a good driver and stood the best chance available of coming out of it all in one piece.

All things being relative, it was a 'good' drive up to Cairo and then we hit dreadful jams on the ring road, not a good thing in the heat. We didn't go into central Cairo but headed round it to a satellite town/city called El Rehab where we stayed overnight before taking the agricultural road to the village. Coming back there were no hold ups and no livestock-bearing trucks but it was just as scary. The agricultural road was the worst but once we hit the desert road from Cairo to Alexandria it wasn't so bad - or maybe I was becoming acclimatised.

Learning to drive in the UK is more of a handicap than a help for driving here but, to put things in perspective, I've only seen one minor bash here whereas the BBC world news the last few days has been full of the 37-vehicle fatal pile-up on the M5 in England...so who's got the right of it then, eh?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Moving on...

We're leaving Alexandria in a few minutes to drive to Cairo, stopping overnight then on to my friend's husband's village for Hajj. I'm looking forward to the experience of the village and seeing what happens during Hajj. I doubt there'll be internet access so see you again when we get back.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A puzzle

Every so often, most likely on a taxi, I see a baby's shoe dangling from the rear bumper, I'm told this is to ward off the evil-eye. I've been looking this up because when the 'evil eye' is mentioned these days it tends to conjure up visions of wizards and witches and cauldrons and that didn't seem to fit the context. My undertanding from what I've found so far is that it's really to do with the harm you can do to yourself and others by being jealous. You look at something you like too long and hard and it adversely affects what you do and how you act and so impacts on others as well. I haven't found out where a baby's shoe comes into it.

If anyone can correct my understanding or explain the shoe...please let me know!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Local market

I'm remembering something from an earlier post, i.e. not to make the mistake of trusting first impressions.

I went to the local market with my friend this morning. Not a market as I'm used to it, a few stalls with smiling holders and people chatting in the queue while they wait to be served or laughing as they go about getting their fruit and vegetables. Here everyone seemed to consider it serious business and no smiles to be seen anywhere although I'm told I was mis-reading it. I'm more than willing to believe that since virtually all the Egyptians I've met have been the most charming and friendly of people with easy smiles and good-humoured but I can see why Westerners might find it daunting.

It was held in a narrow badly maintained road with stalls set up along both sides - fruit, vegetable, fish, and I didn't make the mistake of thinking the rabbits were for pets. I wondered if the fish was fresh and then noticed the heaps were just covered with water and moving - definitely fresh! So many vegetables and fruits I'd never seen before, and the size of the cabbages, huge. I kept well away from the feral cats roaming around, it's one thing to be scratched by a pet that never goes out the house but quite another thing to be scratched by a wild cat in the streets. I've had my rabies jabs but they're only a stop gap until you can get to proper treatment and even so, there's no guarantee you'd survive. It was fascinating and I'll take a better look if we go again while I'm here so I can 'adjust my thinking' properly about the poeple.

Last night's walk along the Corniche (we went back hours after our meal) was not quite such a success. Neither my friend nor I felt like risking a dash across the traffic to walk alongside the sea so we stayed where we were. It was heaving and unbelievably noisy with the traffic and people close-up. I think I've become acclimatised to the quiet of the British countryside now and not in the least bit comfortable in crowds.

After our walk we wandered into the Cecil Hotel to use the facilities and have a nose around. It's lovely with what I've heard called 'shabby-chic' decor and furnishings. There are two lifts in the lobby with open shafts, polished wood cars and metal grills. I've only heard of Gerald Durrell but my friend tells the hotel was featured in a work called The Alexandria Quartet by his more famous brother, Lawrence Durrell. I bow to her greater knowledge of all things literary. We're likely to be going there for a meal next week so I'll look forward to that.

Before I sign off for now I'd better set the record straight. It has been pointed out to me that I'm not staying in a house, I'm staying in a fourth floor flat. Okay, okay, it's a flat. It's a very large, airy flat and beautifully appointed in mixed Egyptian and European styles, nicely reflecting the household. I'm off now for a little read with the window wide open to catch the breeze (but not the flies - the windows are netted against them) while nibbling some fresh dates.


Monday, 31 October 2011

Settling in

I'm sitting here listening to the call to prayer from the four mosques close by. I've heard some people complain about it after they've visited Muslim countries, not for religious reasons, just that they find it strange or intrusive but I like it. It's part of the country and I find it soothing. I'm sure I'd feel differently if I heard it every day several times a day in Malmesbury or while I'm trying to get a night's sleep ready for work, but here...it fits, like the church bells on a Sunday in England. It's somehow comforting.

Apart from the heat, and I'm not a lover of heat which is why I came at this time of the year, the other main differences are also sounds. I'm used to birdsong and while there a certain amount of traffic it's mostly engine noise. Here's there's a constant background of raised voices and car horns day and night. Drivers sound their horns all the time. Drivers, and pedestrians, here are without fear and totally insane from an English point of view. They could save themselves a fortune in paint by simply not using lane markings, nobody pays any attention to them. There don't appear to be any rules other than 'survive'. Overtake anywhere you like, however you like, pull in front of fast-moving traffic without notice, take a stroll across a six-lane carriageway through speeding cars, taxis and mini-buses. I have a tremendous respect fom my friends and am quite content to leave all the driving to them. Under no circumstances is this coward going anywhere near the driver's seat!

Yesterday we drove down the Corniche to a restaurant for lunch and ate a wonderful Lebanese meal of mixed dishes where we all helped ourselves to whatever took our fancy instead of having a dish a-piece. Our table overlooked the sea with the windows open to the sea breeze.

The only little difficulty in my life just now is my friends' cat, but we all need a challenge in our lives. She's beautiful and adorable but being born feral is also highly territorial. Various grown male cousins and handymen go in fear of her, even to sitting with their feet up on the chairs or perching on shelving to avoid unseemly bloodshed. My friend's son found her in a gutter as a still-blind kitten, brought her home and hand-raised her. She was a week old last time I was here and I helped feed and cuddle her. I still think she's gorgeous but she doesn't return the feeling, especially with relation to my feet. I've given up going barefoot or in light slippers round the house, resorting to the outdoor shoes I arrived in. She's sporting enough to spit and hiss a warning, and I've learned to peer round corners before proceeding and stop dead when I hear the hiss to pinpoint her position before working out an alternate route.

She's a whole lot faster than me, and her claws are a whole lot sharper so she's won most of our confrontations to date. She's drawn blood three times now but I had a small triumph this morning when I spotted her and managed to get my foot out the way just in time and she missed. Hah! Chalk one up for the two-footed contestant.

Well, it looks as though this blog might turn into a travelogue for a couple of weeks. Saves on stamps!

Egypt or bust

A short while ago I booked a trip to Egypt at considerable expense and the following day there was civil unrest. Pardon my selfish outlook on things but I did wonder if I'd left it a day I might have got cheaper seats. Then there were violent protests in Cairo during the first weeks of October. Not to be outdone, one of Iceland's volcanoes decided to stir giving concerns about more flight disruptions.

Finally everything went quiet and came the day...

The plane was an hour late leaving Heathrow on Saturday but only quarter hour late getting to Cairo. There were surprisingly few people around and as I more-or-less know the ropes by now I sailed through Visa application (after going to three wrong windows), passport control and security. It was all very leisurely and finally I was on the plane for Alexandria in good time with very little waiting around.

I completely forgot to text my friends when I landed and, long story short, confusion reigned for a short while before we found each other.

When I was last here eighteen months ago Mount Unpronounceable erupted in Iceland and I was looking forward to an enforced extended stay. Sadly, flights resumed by the time I was due to come back - message to Katla...feel free, I'm here! Wrong attitude boss, I know, but hey - work or play? Hmm...no contest!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Government Bureaucracy

I received this on a circulating email thingie that's doing the rounds...it made me giggle so I thought I'd share it. It's just such a shame that it's likely true.

"All you Need to Know about Government Bureaucracy:

Pythagoras’ theorem: ...........................................24 words.

Lord's prayer:..................................................... 66 words.

Archimedes' Principle: ........................................... 67 words.

10 Commandments: ............................................ 179 words.

Gettysburg address: ............................................ 286 words.

US Declaration of Independence : .................... 1,300 words.

US Constitution with all 27 Amendments: .......... 7,818 words.

EU regulations on the sale of cabbage:....... 26,911 words.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Proper organisation

I've just finished watching a television documentary about the exploitation of foreign children in the UK. They are brought to Britain and used to beg in London and other large towns. In addition, their families claim benefits fraudulently and send the money back home where they have large, well-appointed houses and big, modern cars.

I wasn't very impressed with the documentary itself as it seemed contrived in a lot of places but I accept that the situation exists. I've seen the beggars myself, with children obviously being directed and controlled by adults. I don't find it too much of a leap to believe that the same people indulge in benefit fraud as well.

These days I'm not often in a position of being begged for money, living in a small community, but on those occasions when I have been approached I've been torn. I'm quite sure there are some people who are genuine and I don't like to think I'd turn my back. On the other hand, I'm well aware there are con-artists around and I don't want to be conned. I wish I was a better judge of people to be sure I'd be making the right decision in giving or with-holding money.

Thing is, in the UK there's really no reason to have to beg, the social security system provides basic living conditions, to it's illegal. However, benefits are open to too many people who should not be entitled. Because of the open borders policy of the EU money bleeds out of this country, supporting people who have not should not really be benefiting. In order for a benefits system to be fair it needs to be uniform but each country has its own values and methods. For example, the levels of benefits received in the UK may cover only the basics here but is a more than comfortable income elsewhere. This makes it worthwhile coming here, claiming and sending money home - so money is bleeding out of this country.

I think the EU is a fair idea in principle but it has progressed far, too fast and in wrong directions. It's not going to work while we are all so different from each other, with different values and needs. Surely we can trade easily without having to disappear into one big melting pot, surely it's possible for us to say who we will and won't allow into out countries, surely it's possible for us to retain the differences that make us all so interesting? I think we need to retain our national borders, laws, economic independence. There are so many of us in Europe, with so many differences, that trying for a central administration is pie-in-the-sky - it's unwieldy.

Wouldn't it be easier to tackle the begging and benefit fraud problems with smaller boundaries? Bigger isn't always better.

Reading this post back to myself I can see it's a bit woolly, not at all well thought out but I'm having trouble articulating my concerns here. I just felt the need throw my thoughts into the online mix in the hope that it might be seen and taken into account...somewhere, somehow.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Proposed public sector strikes

It seems the major unions for public workers are balloting for a strike in protest at the proposals to make members contribute more, for longer to receive less. They say it's not fair.

They're right, it isn't fair

It isn't fair that people should take paid employment on the expectation of certain benefits as part of their remuneration package only to have those benefits reduced. That wasn't the contract they took on. It isn't fair that they should be expected to work longer hours, more years and receive less than they were promised. No argument from me.

It's also not fair that the rest of us should pay more than we can afford in taxes so they can keep their retirement benefits. We, who have seen our incomes fall in value and our own retirement plans in disarray with no recourse. That is exactly what the unions seem to think we should do. We are all looking towards a tough retirement, if we can even afford to retire; that we should be expected to fund public workers for them to keep what we are losing is unacceptable.

I haven't heard one person say a word of support for the proposed strikes. They are not going to be well-received at all.

Public workers are in a prime position to help the country. Instead of creating more misery and discord they could be looking at ways to reduce public spending from within. If they can do that then surely they can reasonably expect support for keeping their benefits from the money saved? They must be able to see places that can be improved, make suggestions for saving money; couldn't the unions use their power to highlight and enforce those suggestions? Come on folks, think of your family and friends who would have to pay more taxes to cover your retirement, think of how miserable a retirement they may have and put your energies into streamlining public services. Please!

Things aren't always fair but sometimes they are necessary.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Well...I never thought...

...I'd see the day when I'd be commenting on television programmes!

Torchwood! I can't believe what they've done! Sold it to the Americans! Normally I'd applaud this; M.A.S.H. (gotta be top of every dicerning person's list), Cheers!, Taken, their list of triumphs is unending. But O.M.G. as the youngsters would say...what are were they thinking of when they took over Torchwood?

I don't think there are enough exclamation marks left in the world to express how I feel!!!!!!

They've turned a fast-paced, riveting program into a tedious melodrama. (Exclamation mark (for 'dramatic effect!')!


Sunday, 4 September 2011

25 things about me?

Someone suggested I post 25 things he may not know about me. I'm outside my comfort zone but here goes...

1. I'm a dunce with computers and technology in general

2. I'm dangerous around electrics - not long out of school, only a few months into my first job (bank clerk - but please don't hold that against me) I was shown how to open the security window by pressing a button. The lady demonstrated, I copied, big blue flash, cloud of smoke, loud bang and I'd fused the security windows, security doors, in fact the whole bloomin' security system!

3. I like to travel - France, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Norway, Jordan, Egypt, Canada, Alaska and through various European to Venice on the Orient Express

4. Love my country, both people and land so despite loving to travel I can't see myself living anywhere else

5. My friends are all very different from each other and they are all good people

6. I'm a bookworm, mostly sci-fi and light classics starting with John Wyndham and Jane Austen in junior school (for those not in the know - ages 6 to 11)

7. Favourite authors just now are Terry Pratchett, Dean Koontz and Jane Austen (D'Arcy rools ok!)

8. Prone to opening my mouth and making a fool of myself. I actually think this can be a good thing, it can make people laugh and lighten an atmosphere, and it can also jog better ideas in other people when brain-storming at work

9. I don't have a memory so much as a forgettery

10. I think that's more than enough about me. Two and half months travelling alone through Alaska and Western Canada may have made me more outgoing but I've a long way to go yet

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Best and the Worst of British

I'm on holiday at the moment and spent today visiting Bath with a friend. We went round the Roman Baths and had lunch in the Pump Rooms. Lunch in the Pump Rooms is a civilised affair in elegant surroundings with waiters in smart waistcoats and long starched white aprons, a pianist playing on a dais at one end of the huge room. A pot of English Breakfast tea with a light lunch there is the Best of British.

The Worst of British is the riots around the country. It's unbelievable that this could be happening in Britain, let alone in Croydon, a place I'd spend shopping in my youth. Demonstrations - yes, protests - yes but this level of thuggery, looting and violent mayhem - no! I know, intellectually, we're no different to other people but somehow I've always felt this wouldn't happen here. I don't know why this should be because I worked in London at the height of the IRA threat when bombs were going off. I've heard about the riots we've had over the centuries during times of social unrest and injustice but I don't relly believe there's anything in this society that warrants the level of violence we're seeing. Self-defeating if it is truly a reaction against the economic downturn because it's destroying businesses, livelihoods and homes. It's going to cost a fortune to rebuild. If the cause is truly in protest at the original shooting and trying to bring it to the attention of the public then also self-defeating because no-one is really thinking about it now, all news reports are focussed on the violence.

No, it's a sad reflection of how far we've fallen in standards in this country. Standards of decency and consideration for others; fair play and family cohesion. Parents should be keeping their children home yet I suspect some are out helping with the looting. Those who aren't looting are out there treating it as a spectator sport, getting in the way of the police, making it harder for them to know who are the troublemakers and easier for the troublemakers to melt into the crowds.

Talking about this over breakfast this morning we variously decided to heck with their 'yuman rights'; use teargas, use water cannons - and one suggestion I particularly liked - use a special dye in the watercanons so they are marked for all society to see and know they are looters and thugs. If spectators are also marked - tough, they shouldn't be there goggling and getting in the way - it's irresponsible.

This morning I was ashamed to be British, this evening things have come back into perspective a little and I can see again the good that balances the bad but this is a black episode in our history.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Chasing the money

The subject of countries' debts came up over coffee at work today and it seems I'm not the only one who thought the US held all the markers. Only one guy didn't and he reckoned the US owed massive sums to China. That seems to be backed up by the internet - not a source I tend to rely on but quick and easy to use for idle curiosity. After the US it becomes more confusing with differing views as to whether China has debts of its own but on balance I'd say it probably does. But then who does China owe money to?

My head hurts!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Where did all the money go?

I'm back on my soapbox. Something I can't ignore - the world economy! I'm sticking my neck out here. There were four divisions for maths in my school I was in the lowest until they decided to create a fifth, lower, division for just me and one other girl, so I'm really talking about something I'm not really qualified to talk about and don't understand. So when has that ever stopped me I hear a few voices say! So here goes, and can someone please set me right?

The UK has massive loans that cost us vast sums of money in interest. Greece is in financial crisis, Spain and Italy are not far behind. It seems every country has borrowing and they are all in trouble to some extent or another.

I've always rather assumed the US held most of the markers; a big, powerful country, but it seems not. Looking at the news tonight I find the US is also on the verge of not being able to cover it's debts.

So where has all the money gone? If the biggest, richest and most powerful of us is in trouble then it seems to me there must a round robin of money.

It's rather disconcerting to say the least. Personally I can't see the sense in borrowing money simply because governments don't want to be seen to raise taxes. How does it help? After all, it's got to be repaid at some stage and in the meantime even more money has to be found to paid the interest which makes the situation even worse.

Lets assume I'm right and we do have a round robin of money. If Peter owes Paul £10, Paul owes Patrick £15 and Patrick owes Peter £20 why not just cancel some of the debts out? Peter, Paul and Patrick all waive the requirement for £10 of the debts due them. This would mean Peter owes nothing, Paul owes £5 and Patrick owes £10. Peter's free and clear and Paul and Patrick have their interest repayments reduced.

Wouldn't it be in everybody's interests? Some would get their money back and others would reduce their borrowing and hence their repayments?

All corrections and explanations will be gratefully received.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

Here we are, a couple of days away from The Wedding. We're all on overload from the media coverage, in depth speculation on all aspects of the wedding, endless forecasts on what the dress will look like, what colour the bridesmaids will be wearing and so on and so forth. It's irritating because instead of adding to the enjoyment it actually makes us weary of the whole business.

Sadly, that is normal these days, everything is analysed to death. What is actually distasteful is the number of people who seem to want to deliberately ruin the day in one way or another. Those who are planning to protest and cause trouble for something perhaps only they feel strongly about. Those who object to the cost to the public without considering the earnings from souvenir sales and tourism. They see nothing wrong in spoiling the day for everyone else and completely forget it's a wedding. A marriage between two people. How would they feel if their wedding was disrupted by strangers for their own purposes?

Then there are those who cynically dismiss the whole business as a way to placate the masses in difficult times. So what if it's being used to give us a 'feel-good' factor! These ARE tough and disturbing times, what does it matter if we use the occasion to have some fun?

Our family is hosting a 'Wedding Breakfast' buffet on Friday evening. Family, friends, all getting together to enjoy each other's company and have a good time. The house, the table, decorated up in red, white and blue. Bunting, balloons, the whole kit and kaboodle. We will carry the brunt of the catering but everyone is bringing something to the table, sharing the work. Shamelessly over the top celebrations and patriotism. We'll be a mixture of royalists and those who can take or leave the whole business but even the most indifferent is welcoming the excuse for a gathering and a chance to celebrate and to know that all round the country are others are doing the same, as a nation.

It would be nice if the cynics, just for once, could let it go and allow the rest of us to enjoy ourselves in peace. Wouldn't it be nice if the give and take, tolerance and co-operative attitude being brought to parties around the country could be extended beyond just the one day, could spread to everyone on this island?

Fairytale wedding or am I just away with the fairies? Don't know, don't care, I'm just holding out for a Happy Ever After for us all.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Strange times


It's one of those nights; it's 11:15, the rest of the family's in bed but I simply can't sleep. One morning I'll wake up, read the newpaper and I'll be off on my soapbox again but looking at my last few posts, I've been rather...self-centered?... for a while. It won't last! Something will rile me and I won't be satisfied until I've aired my views. In the meantime, tonight, I'm feeling mellow. "I'm chillin'!". I stepped out the back door and the night is warm, more so than would normally be expected for spring.

I wandered around the back of the bungalow in the dark, surrounded by the smell of the wisteria growing up the back wall; a plane droning overhead until it disappeared over the horizon and the quiet of the night took over. Not even a fox calling, no bats overhead, no sound of car engines in the distance. The night was perfect. I recognised the Plough constellation but couldn't identify the North star, perhaps hidden by a cloud. The rest of the stars are a mystery to me but there they were anyway, shining clear and bright. I stood there for a while just enjoying the moment, a moment in time that maybe I'll remember in years to come, like some nights from the past that come to me clear as a bell when I least expect it, to enjoy all over again.

Maybe tomorrow life will resume as normal, but tonight...


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The sweet smell of spring

I was gardening this evening amidst the glorious smell of spring. The heady smell of lilac, delicate bluebells, sweet lily-of-the-valley and...phwoar...the pong of rape wafting off the fields!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Peace and quiet

So here I am, it's late. I should be getting ready for bed but words are going round and round inside my head. Life has been hectic and rather stressful recently but today there's been a lull and I've had time to actually think instead of just reacting.

Today has been a good day. As I walked out the front door I could smell spring...that particular, sweet smell of growing things I enjoy every year. Either it goes away as the year progresses or my nose just gets used to it, so I stood there breathing deeply and making the most of it. We live down a country lane with a stand of trees opposite the bungalow, fields one side of the road, some houses down the other side with fields behind. The birds were finishing off the dawn chorus and a woodpecker was tapping away in one of the taller trees.

As I drove the five miles to work there was a slight ground mist with blue skies overhead and a green haze on the trees as the leaves were making their appearance. From time to time throughout the year I stop in one of the laybys and admire the scenery; the freshness of spring, the mellowness of summer, the crispness of autumn and the snowy stretches of winter. Today was not one of those days, I would have been late for work so I drove on through the winding roads to Tetbury.

The first sign of Tetbury is the sight of the church spire over the trees and a drop down to the river before crossing the little bridge and moving up into the town. Usually I manage to park on The Green at the top of the hill but today I had to drive round looking for a parking space. I think of this as the 'Tetbury Two-step' as the early morning arrivals vie for spaces.

Work was pretty routine but lunchtime found me in one of the local cafes. The first time this year that the weather's been warm enough to sit out. There's just a door opening from the main street, no shop frontage, but you follow the corridor through to the back, past the small indoor seating area and out into a pretty walled garden. It's set on three levels with a small trickling waterfall and enough space for half a dozen tables. I sat under the magnolia tree that was in full bloom and enjoyed the occasional shower of petals as they were dislodged by a light breeze. The tourist season is just starting so there was a family from the Yorkshire Dales at one table and a Japanese lady writing in a notebook and sketching the garden at another, otherwise all was quiet and peaceful.

When I got home I managed to get a couple of hours in the vegetable garden and my new greenhouse. I planted some lavender alongside the fence to attract bees and other insects to my veggies and got in a few rows of carrot seeds, onion sets and some salad leaves.

I'm all for having a gay, abandoned time from time to time but sometimes it's nice to take life at a slower pace. I appreciate the fun all the more for the times in between.

...I started this last week and only just remembered it. I'd forgotten what a lovely day I'd had so it was nice to remind myself.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

National Health Service - the good and the bad

So...the NHS! We've just had some close encounters with the health service and while we've nothing but praise for the people we're less than impressed with the organisation.

My brother and father fell sick at the same time and initially it seemed to be the same cause but turned out to be completely different. Over the course of four days I consulted two pharmacists, the NHS Helpline, the Out-of-Hours GP service, our own GP, called an ambulance out to Dad four times and I drove my brother to hospital for a diagnosis. Every individual was brilliant.

The problems came not with the individuals but with the system. It all started on a Friday, early evening and this is not a good time to be ill. The surgeries are closed for the weekend so you can't access your own GP. The population are heading out on the town and hospitals become inundated with drunks and fight injuries. Add the fact that there are some nasty bugs doing the rounds causing hospitalisation for the elderly and the very young and you have a service that is pushed to breaking point.

In order to get to someone who can actually give you an informed opinion on both the NHS Helpline and the Out-of-Hours GP service you have to go through several layers of staff. An operator who logs the call with the level of urgency and arranges for a nurse to ring you back. The nurse rings back and 'triage's' the call and arranges for a doctor to call back.

There are so many ambulance call-outs that what would normally be considered an emergency is put on the back-burner in favour of life-threatening situations. I agree with the reasoning but reason sort of goes out of the window when you are watching someone in enormous pain and deep distress. The shortest response time was fifteen minutes and the longest was two and a half hours. Each wait felt like an eternity.

On the last call-out my father was taken into hospital, something the ambulancemen had been reluctant to do for several reasons. They were good reasons but eventually we all had to accept the inevitable as it was obviously safer for him to be in hospital than at home.

Once in hospital they moved relatively quickly with tests but once he was out of isolation and into a main ward the organisation broke down.

It was hard to get information. We were told only X, Y or Z person could discuss his case. X,Y or Z weren't around during visiting times so we were told to phone in. When we phoned in we were told they weren't allowed to discuss cases on the phone!

Notes got lost between the admissions ward and where he ended up so his homecoming was delayed, not only bad for him but they were desperate for beds. Some wards were closed due to illness, no-one allowed in or out, so patients were spread between other wards. Dad was the fifth bed in a four-bed ward, pushed up against the back wall. There is very little time for the staff to attend to a patient's personal needs.

The usual options of a convalescent place in a local care home or a team or carers on the NHS coming to the house instead simply wasn't possible. No beds available, not enough carers to go round. In order for him to come home we wanted to set up a 'lifeline' system whereby he could press a button on a wrist band if he couldn't get us to hear him for any reason. Also, we needed to arrange for personal care-workers to come in daily and we could have moved on all this a lot sooner had we been able to speak to someone properly.

We managed to get him home on Friday on the basis we were making arrangements for home care. We've arranged for a carer to come from a private firm each morning to help him get up - they are also pushed because the NHS is already using them for overflow work! A 'lifeline' is being installed tomorrow so in the meantime the family are working in shifts to ensure he is never alone and my brother is sleeping on a mattress in his room at night.

We're lucky, between us we're able to afford a private carer for an hour each day, at least in the short term. So many people can't and would have to wait until a place became available on the NHS. In fact, we received a letter today from a friend apologising for not sending a Christmas card. He'd had knee replacement surgery but had to wait in hospital for eight weeks because of a shortage of Support staff - he had no family to help. No wonder hospital beds are few and far between.

We'e a lot to be thankful for with the NHS, I'm not trying to say we don't, but it's a long way from perfect and going downhill all the time. The public don't help either, perhaps the drunks and fighters should have to pay for treatment - they might have to curtail their excesses to the benefit of all! We all pay into the NHS and few can afford private health insurance, those who get insurance as part of their job are very lucky.

I've posted some of my views on the NHS before in this blog and I shall no doubt do so again in the future, as well as posting my comments on the government website. I shall continue to do so but it's very frustrating. It seems that every time there's cause for hope, within a few months something happens to make it worse or show we've been taken for a ride again.

To finish on a positive note, Dad's GP called while I was typing this post. We hadn't asked for a visit, he just wanted to check on Dad himself having received the discharge notice from the hospital. As I said, the individuals in the health service are wonderful.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Proposed benefit payment for prisoners

Well now, according to the papers today there are suggestions that prisoners should receive benefits. Ahem, benefits are meant to ensure no-one is homeless and starving. Prisoners don't have expenses. They are provided with bed, board and health services. They also get entertainment, clothing and education - if they want it. What, exactly, do they need further income for?

It seems it's to do with the Human Rights Act. Here we go again! Surely, by breaking the law, they have forfeited all rights apart from the humanitarian rights to be fed, watered, housed and not physically or mentally abused in any way? Anything more than this should be considered a bonus, not a right, and only if the law-abiding population paying for their incarceration can afford more...and that's a big 'if' these days.

No, I say squash this proposal right away.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Tahrir Square

Relief! My friend arrived back in Cairo on Friday to the news that Mubarak had stepped down. Her son had been in Tahrir Square that day and reported the most incredible atmosphere. He took her to the square today to experience it for herself and I've received a photograph of her in front of an army tank. I've learned that her son had patrolled with his cousins, defending homes, water pumps and electricity supplies, at one stage they had to chase off an escaped prisoner. I'm immensely proud of him but I'm very glad he did't let me know at the time, I'd have worried even more than I did.

The work now is to re-establish normal life and the Egyptian people have taken the first practical step of cleaning and repairing Tahrir Square. Next comes the cleaning and repairing of their society and I wish them every success in their work.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


I’ve been watching the Egyptian situation with a personal interest. I was in Alexandria for 10 days last spring, staying with an old school friend and her Egyptian husband and son. My friend flew back to the UK for a brief, long-planned visit with her parents the day before Cairo airport closed. Had she known events would escalate as they have she would have stayed there. She’s now worried about whether she will be able to return as planned.

Her husband and son had driven from Alexandria to Cairo, skirting the problem areas, to take her to the airport on their way to her husband’s village outside Cairo where they have a house and numerous relatives. The internet has been down, even if they had had access in the village, and SMS messaging has been virtually non-existant. I’ve managed to speak to both her husband and son over the last few days on the mobile phone and they assure me they are safe and well but here we have all been worrying about what will happen next. Now, tonight, I watch the mounting violence on the news with horror.

The point is, for me, we learn about this sort of thing in the news all the time; somewhere in the world someone is living in fear of their life. We watch events unfold and decry the waste of life, the devastating effects on society; feel for the people involved and hope that everything works out in the end. Then something happens in a place we’ve been to and to people we know and care about. The shock, fear, sympathy we thought we’ve felt in the past pales beside the horror of realising it’s now personal.

I first went to Egypt 30 odd years ago when my friend first married, then again last year. Everyone I met on both occasions was kind, interested, proud of their country and eager to make sure I felt welcome. Egypt changed a lot in the 30 years between my visits, more western-style shops and malls, fewer markets for example – better toilets! What hadn’t changed was the good-hearted interest towards a visitor.

I shudder now to think of the good people I met, in the midst of all this terror. I hope to go back to Egypt later this year and I hope this trouble will be behind them. Do I care about the Egyptian people as a whole? Yes, but I confess to a greater concern for those individuals I know, and pray they are all there and safe when I return.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Laws for some but not for others

I overheard a heated discussion recently about Halal meat and how it is allowed in the UK despite contravening laws regarding the slaughter of animals.

The core of the discussion was whether Halal meat was humane or not. It seems (according the the protagonists) the law states animals must be humanely stunned before they are bled to death. Halal meat must come from animals that are not stunned before they are bled to death. Well, I don't know enough about slaughtering to have a definite view on the subject of Halal meat other than to acknowledge we need meat therefore animals have to be slaughtered and they should be slaughtered in a way to cause least distress. Also, I don't know enough about the law to know if the situation is as stated although I do know it is widely believed, rightly or wrongly. However, I do have definite views about the fairness and compliance of laws. In this example...

If the law is a good law and it is inhumane to kill an animal without stunning it first then it should apply to everyone. The fact that Halal meat is a religious requirement wouldn't make it any less inhumane. On the other hand, if it a bad law and stunning is no more humane than the Halal method, then the law needs to be repealed as pointless and not fit for purpose. However, having a law for humane reasons and allowing some people to be exempt is unfair, divisive and morally wrong.

It's about time those in a position to do so, and with the knowledge to make a balanced judgement should find out the true situation once and for all. Then either repeal the law or enforce it for everyone depending on the outcome. Breaking the law, whatever the law and whatever the reasons, is not acceptable. Bad laws need to be ended; good laws need to be enforced - FOR ALL.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Accident prone?...who?...me?

2010 was a record year for me. I’ve always been accident prone. I started a long history of being accident prone at a very young age when my mother heard a scream from the garden and rushed out to find me hanging by my knicker elastic from the apple tree – they really knew how to make knicker elastic in those days!

Since then I’ve gained two scars on my brow line by running into a worktop as a toddler, and standing on a chair to reach the doorknob to open a door – the door opened inwards!; ridden my bike into hedges, roller-skated into walls and fallen off horses; fused the whole security system at my first job at the push of a button; broken my kneecap by getting my right foot caught behind my left foot walking up the garden path; and so it went on. My first real boyfriend, on hearing I couldn’t go to the party that weekend, immediately asked ‘what have you done now?’ – we’d only been going out for a month!

Last year however, was a record-breaker for falls. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ill, there’s no medical problem - I've been checked out and it's official, I’m just accident prone, careless, daft! Ok, two were a little odd but nothing to worry about, the rest were just down to stupidity.

The first was at the beginning of the year, one of the odd ones. I’d been looking for something on a top shelf at work, turned round and my legs just gave way, I slumped onto my knees then onto all fours and felt pretty stupid grovelling on the floor in the middle of the office.

The second was in April. I went to Alexandria, Egypt to stay with friends and slipped on a wet floor in the middle of a busy market landing flat on my back. So humiliating in a foreign country but especially in one that puts a premium on modesty and decorum for women – thank God I was wearing trousers.

The third came within a week of getting back from Egypt. I’d got on the scales, always a nerve-wracking experience, and tripped up the step in the bathroom putting them back in place. I fell on the scales gouging one corner into my shin (I still have the mark), banged my head on the sink and ricked my neck, whacked my arm and shoulder on the bidet and badly skinned a knee.

The fourth was the second odd one. I felt even more stupid as I came down the steps from the bank and sank on all fours in the high street for no reason. I must have looked drunk because no-one stopped to help me.

The fifth was a comedy routine. I was helping a friend with her raised vegetable beds. I tripped on a board, staggered off-balance over the bed, down the other side, tripped again on the next raised area and landed spread-eagled, face down in well-manured soil.

The sixth was again at work. As I got up from my desk one foot caught the drawer, pulling it open, that blocked the other foot and momentum sent me headfirst over the drawer, bashing my head and twisting my neck on a rail on my way down to a shelf where I wrenched by shoulder before ending up on the floor in the middle of the office – again!

The seventh was in the week leading up to Christmas. Following more than one mishap in the bathroom we decided to remove the step and replace the suite. The old bath had been removed and was in the drive, part-filled with rubble and a hefty topping of snow waiting for the job to be finished and a skip to be hired. I was clearing the snow off the roof of my car with a broom, forgot the bath was there, knocked into it and landed face-down in the bath bruising shins and arms, and again jerking my back and neck.

So that was 2010. Seven falls in 12 months. Thank goodness that year was over, 2011 has started and is bound to be a better one. Hah!

On New Year’s day I backed away from the sink to allow my brother room to drain the boiling water from some vegetables. Caught the back of my legs on the dishwasher door that I’d carelessly left open, fell backwards over the door smashing my legs and lower back on the door and landing on my shoulders and head on the concrete floor with an almighty crack– at least, it sounded like an almighty crack from the inside! So there I was, stunned, one leg still propped up on the dishwasher waiting for the pain to subside. My brother said he didn’t mean to be callous or anything but he’d got these boiling pans and dinner to deal with but if I wanted some help getting up, let him know – which made my father hide his face to keep from showing he was laughing when he heard! Bless them both!

So now I’m looking for a clothes designer who specialises in bubble wrap and cotton wool…