Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The most hysterical part of this tongue-in-cheek memoir of extreme parenting is when Amy Chua discovers the existence of Dog IQ rankings. Amy feels 'nauseated' when she discovers family pet Coco, a cute Samoyed, who attends Doggy Kindergarten classes - ranks only 33rd for breed intelligence ...
Amy refuses to believe Coco might just be an average dog - not fit to be part of a dog sniffing team - so she scours the internet till she finds some research which states 'the Samoyed surpasses other breeds in determination, focus and endurance...'
She writes: 'My spirits soared. For me, this was the perfect combination of qualities. If the only issue was a stubborn, disobedient streak, that was nothing I couldn't handle.'
A couple of nights later she's having yet another row with husband Jed who thinks she's pushing their two daughters too hard - the Chinese parenting method insists on hours of music each day, no sleepovers, no playdates, no TV, straight A grades - the house is full of tension, there is no breathing space...
And Amy flashes back at him: "What dreams do you have for Sophia or for Lulu? Do you ever think about that? What are you dreams for Coco?"

Monday, December 26, 2011


This was the moment when Before
turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only a dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

U.A. Fanthorpe

Peace On Earth

Who could ever have guessed that Monopoly - a game of ruthless property grabbing - would bring peace to the Tinsley household at Christmas? Once Nick established the ground rules (backstab and cheat all you like but no biting or kicking your siblings) the children played without rowing for hours - while I peeled Brussel Sprouts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Since when did badminton become a risk sport? When I returned from the grocery shopping the kids were playing together; three of the four had riding hats on and the fourth had a sulky expression.
"What happened?"
They spoke up in unison. They said: "Florence attacks us when she misses the shuttlecock."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Charlotte's Web

It doesn't surprise me that Charlotte's Web is almost 60 years old. A children's book that deals with the dark side of farming wouldn't get past most editors now-a-days. We live in an urban world now - there are a dozen degrees of separation between fluffy farm animals and prepackaged meat.
And yet this story of a runt who is rescued from slaughter by a bloodthirsty spider who weaves 'some pig' in her web to save him - then dies after hatching her egg sac -is a literary classic. It has sold 45 million copies and been translated into 23 languages.
How reassuring to realise that innocent children can unquestioningly accept the life cycle of birth, reproduction and death - it's adults who have problems with it

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Apple and the Tree

Tonight was the School Winter Concert - it's always fab and so terrifically popular the parents of performers are allowed two tickets only.
No tickets came home with Beatrice (our singer) so I went into the school to investigate.
The choir mistress handed me a large biscuit tin. "All the consent forms are in there. Kids who brought back consent forms got tickets."
Well, in truth I couldn't remember if I'd signed a consent form or not. I have forms stuck under my nose every day - "Sign that Mummy" - and I sign.
Humbly I said: "Please may I sign a form now?"
She shook her head. "Too late. All the tickets have been allocated."
I tried not bluster. I said: "It doesn't matter if I don't have a seat. Please may I stand at the back?"
"Security have been told to turn away those who don't have a ticket."
The picture became a bit clearer. "You expect me to drop Beatrice off, then sit in the car and wait for her?"
After school I searched Beatrice's schoolbag. The consent form was there. She'd forgotten to hand it in.
I said: "Luvvie, there's no place in the school choir for the vague!"
She looked confused. She said: "I thought the choir was for singing?"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Randy Old Man

Sahara's at least 21 - in horse years that makes him a very old man. He suffers the aches and pains of old age: his back legs are stiff, he can't bend his neck to the left without groaning, he needs built up shoes to keep standing.
For a month we've been gently stretching and flexing - already he's working a beautiful outline; he floats over the ground at a trot...
Last night, for a brief crazy moment, he forgot he was an old man - he fancied a night with the girls. He jumped the post and rails fence that separates the geldings' paddock from the mares...
Perhaps I should say that he tried to jump it...
This morning the grooms found him straddled - hindlegs with the geldings, forelegs with the mares, and his abdomen horribly bruised where the pole had cut into it till he was rescued.
"Silly old fellow," I told him.
He rubbed his head ruefully against me. He knows he's been rather silly. But there's a gleam in his eye which suggests that he might just try it again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Middle Age Spread #2

For seventeen years since we met, Nick has lusted after my body - my shoulders, my legs, my symmetrical eyebrows -
"You're such a builder," I told him. "Why can't you love me for my beautiful mind?"
Be careful of what you wish for....
Since the onset of middle age spread (and it's NOT my imagination) I have noticed a subtle shift in the content of Nick's compliments. Finally he has started to love me for my mind.
And I don't mind telling you I don't like it at all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Sara Crewe Moment

My favourite part of A Little Princess is when Sara Crewe, stripped of her fabulous riches and made to work as a servant, meets a street urchin less well off than herself. And even though Sara is hungry she gives her a roll of warm bread to eat.
At Pony Club last week Octavia and Alice fell off when their bold ponies bolted. This week only Octavia turned up in time for their lesson. I gave her a very safe pony - to help her regain her confidence. When Alice finally arrived, only Coco, the bolter was left to ride.
Octavia spoke up and said: "Give Alice my pony. She's more frightened than me. I'm frightened too but I will ride Coco."
When Coco bolted this week, the little Princess kept her seat.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Groundhog Day

Teaching pony club was always a challenge but now it's an impossible challenge. Because tonight I realised I'm repeating myself and that's always fatal with me. Tonight I looked at the nervous wee faces of the children, and the expectant faces of their parents and the stoic faces of the ponies and I thought "Groundhog Day Help!!"
Last year when I started to teach there were also nervous wee children and expectant parents and stoic ponies, but then I was fresh to the challenge. I encouraged the children, impressed the parents, and loved and petted the ponies.
But I'm not able to do it again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sleep Paralysis

Last night as I slept, a tall heavy man, dressed in black, with a knife in his hand pulled open the windows and entered our bedroom. He stood silhouetted against the street light. I needed to scream - because I was frightened and I wanted to frighten him off. But my screams were caught in my throat. I tried and tried to make noise and eventually I woke myself up. And realised it was a dream.
It is said (and I quote)'Sleep Paralysis is possibly a hereditary disorder in which one experiences very frightening seconds or minutes of total body paralysis with little respiration and eye movements. The victim in this state feels awake, but cannot move or speak. In addition to the immobility, common symptoms include feeling choked or suffocated, hearing strange noises like footsteps and voices, seeing beings or dark shadows, and feeling an existance of someone in the room. Although these symptoms often direct the victims to believe in ghosts, mistransmission of neural signals in the brain causes Sleep Paralysis. When a person sleeps, his brain sends signals to inhibit any muscle contraction. If he comes into consciousness before the brain sends signals to activate muscle contraction, he cannot move his body, and consequently, become "paralyzed".
It is said drinking wine before bed doesn't help. It's worse when you're tired and stressed.
It is said sleep paralysis can't kill you.
That's good to know.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

There Was A Little Girl

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

I know this little girl. She lives in my house. Sweetest child in the world on her good days, but anaemic and easily tired and by the end of the school week, she's a venomous demon. Picks fights with her brother and sisters. Would argue a black cow was white. Yet though she tries everyone's patience I can't say I've ever been tempted to resort to the poem's conclusion:

Her mother...
she did spank her most emphatic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Doesn't Kill You #2

It's only the third week of pony club but tonight my absolute beginners were given an impossible challenge. The quiet kind horses they've been learning to trot were requisitioned for private lessons, leaving us the wily, experienced ponies.
I tried my best to explain that when it comes to horses small never means docile: ponies have mouths like iron bars: if you pull to stop, they will pull against you; tug of war with 200Kg.
The girls repeated walk halt transitions using their body weight and closing their thighs -
Then I let them loose on the obstacle course - paths to steer into, cones to bend round, three trotting poles in the middle...
Two feral cats growled in the dark - two ponies bolted bucking wildly - two girls held on for as long as they could -
Then green with fright, but with admirable pluck, they remouted and resumed the course.
Afterwards, they congratulated themselves: "Anne says we stayed on for almost as long as professional riders."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Parent Policy

My kids are in Swim Squad at school. We pay a fee for this privilege. We drive them to 6am sessions, and pick them up after training.
Today I tried to spend five minutes poolside admiring Rex and Bea before going on to a parent teacher meeting.
I was asked to leave the pool.
I was told: "We have a No Parent Policy at all our training sessions; in the past we have found parents have interrupted coaches during sessions and disrupted the training for all swimmers. Their focus quite rightly should be on the children and they should be able to coach without interference from the sidelines."
After I got over feeling hurt and insulted - I began to wonder if I should adopt the same brutal attitude to the pony club mums who stand paddock side shouting superfluous instructions during my teaching sessions? It would certainly make my life easier.
But then I realised the loser is not the mum but the kid. Kids love to see their mums watching - my two were trilled by my five second appearance - just enough time to wave to them - when I picked them up Bea asked: "Did you see I'm diving much better?" and Rex said: "Do you see I was the fastest in my lane?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Middle Age Spread

For years I have been a thin girl - size 10 in most my clothes - and I just keep on wearing them season after season even though they're washed out and threadbare and faded - they fit and I like them and that's all matters....
Until the middle of August, 10 weeks ago, when I tried to fasten a faithful pair of jeans and they refused to meet at my waist.
I wasn't particularly worried - I was in Ireland and I was eating potatoes every day. And everyone knows if you eat lots of potatoes you start to look like a potato. I was confident when I returned to Bahrain, the weight was simply melt off.
Except it hasn't. My clothes still don't fit - inspite of pilates and riding, organic brown rice and teetotalism.
I never thought Middle Age Spread would arrive over night without fanfare or warning. I expected a slow creep of weight gain. And not for another ten years at least.
I'm emotionally attached to my faded, funky clothes -I don't want to replace them with elasticated waist bands and foundation garments and big knickers...
The bottom line is: I don't want to grow older.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salmaniya Hospital

I woke up with a hole in my retina, and sparkling floaters and blurred bits in my eye. I walked to Salmaniya Hospital - I was unfit to drive with my eye.
For six months Salmaniya Hospital has had controversial press coverage - medical staff were arrested and detained during the civil unrest in the Spring. I was a little bit worried the soldiers on the gate would think I was some sort of snooping reporter - come to hunt out a sensationalist story for one of the Great British papers - but I was ignored walking through. I wandered past Oncology and Kidneys and Maternity - I didn't know where I was going -
Finally I picked up the courage to ask a guard for directions. He pointed out where I should go. He advised me to jump the queue at Reception.
The Emergency Eye Clinic was busy and bustling. The staff were thorough, efficient and kind. I sat on a hard chair and waited my turn. Just like any other hospital, really.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Modern Classics

Can I recommend yesterday's Observer supplement: Reading With Kids Ages 8+?
The reason I know that the book list is good is that I have four non-reading kids - physical kids not cerebral - yet they've picked up and voluntarily read for themselves most of the books that are showcased.
Including Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events which they read with such relish I became alarmed! Why did my kids want to read gothic horror - with mutilated parents and a grotesquely evil uncle - are their lives too secure? uninspiring?
Then I realised that my favourite novel from childhood - A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is almost the very same story - a cherished child whose comfortable lifestyle is cruelly removed by the death of a beloved parent - thrusting her into a brutal world - where despite her much reduced circumstances she manages to retain her integrity and kindness ...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Painfree Parenting

Eleven years ago today I went to the hospital for an induction.
The booking-in midwife examined me. She said: "You're already 6cm dilated."
"Without pain? Is that possible?" I asked her.
She suggested I take a walk. I walked up and down (and down and up) while Nick read the paper. At lunchtime the consultant came to break my waters.
She said: "You're 9cm dilated."
"Without pain? Is that possible?" I asked her.
Today Rex was 11. He wanted a party.
"Without pain? Is that possible?" I asked him.
He invited 14 footballer friends. They arrived in their runners with sunblock. Nick was the referee with a whistle. I took a video of them. They ran up and down the village pitch for an hour. When the game finished they drank only water. They were too hot and exhausted to eat. I put the video up on the TV. They watched the game highlights and chatted. They said: "Great party! Thanks for inviting me," when it was time to go home

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flogging A Dead horse

There's a rule at the stable I ride at - if you want to queue-jump the livery waiting list you've got to allow your horse to be used in lessons.
"How many lessons?" I asked.
"Two lessons, three times a week. He'll be used for beginners - he's such a good horse..."
6 lessons with 6 beginners - pulling his mouth and and kicking his sides and sitting like bags of potatoes...
"I'll think about it," I said.
I started to make out a list: Those who wish to ride my horse:
a. will not jump him
b. no whips or spurs
3. must weigh less than 60kg
Then I thought of Black Beauty - valiant and noble and good. And treated so harshy by insensitive jockeys towards the end of his life.
I went back to the stables. I said: 'I'm sorry. The answer is No. "

Saturday, September 24, 2011


When Nick's sister started at convent grammar school thirty five years ago her parents were given the most incredibly useful advice from the Mother Superior- START BUYING A BROADSHEET NEWSPAPER AND ENCOURAGE YOUR DAUGHTER TO READ IT.
Not just for the Home and World News. Or the reviews of theatre and books. Not just for Business and Travel, Science, Technology and Nature.
But for the extensive, fantastic vocabulary...
Today Maud and I read together a World News story about Israeli diplomats airlifted out of Cairo after protests outside their embassy escalated into violence:
We struggled with 'diplomatic abyss', 'speaking on condition of anonymity', 'besieged building' and 'international obligations'. Then Maud remarked: "It's going to take me at least a week to read one newspaper, Mummy."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Lord is my Shepherd

Maud (11) suffers from obsessional separation anxiety. She worries constantly that Nick or myself will be killed in a car or an aircraft - leaving her to cope alone with her Type 1 diabetes which has her walking a knife edge between life and death every day.She copes with her anxieties by comfort eating - which is probably the most dangerous thing a diabetic can do... (Diabetics who cannot control what they eat go blind and have feet amputated.)
I believe in seeking professional advice.
I sought audience with our minister.
I explained Maud's dilemma.
I asked him for help.
I hoped he might offer to speak with Maud.
Instead he referred me to Psalm 23 which starts: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
I went home to the children. I said: "The reverend says if the Lord was my shepherd, I wouldn't worry so much about Maud..."
There was silence.
Then Bea said: "How can the Lord be your shepherd, Mummy? You are not a sheep."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dyslexia Does Not Mean Stupid

My son Rex is a bright little boy - articulate, intelligent, and a born leader. He also suffers from mild dyslexia and receives learning support at his school in Bahrain.
Should we have to move back to live in Northern Ireland I'd like Rex to go to the grammar school I went to. To get into the school requires the passing of an entrance test. The school has many pages on its website devoted to the admissions procedure - and the 'access arrangements' which ensure a child with mild dyslexia (like Rex) are given 25% extra time in the test - the same as he would expect to receive if sitting state exams such as GCSE or A Level.
The school (naturally) requires an Educational Psycologist's report stating that Rex is dyslexic before they can give him the 25% extra time.
The school has made it clear the assessment done on Rex in Bahrain is not enough to convince them my son is genuinely dyslexic. However, mysteriously, they have also said Rex cannot be assessed by an Educational Psychologist in NI just so he can sit the transfer test. (Why?)
I phoned Education Board to seek their advice. The woman I spoke to suggested that if Rex was dyslexic he was probably too stupid to go to grammar school.
Induge me with this list of Famous People with Dyslexia
Mohammad Ali, Hans Christian Anderson, Beethoven, Alexander Graham Bell, Orlando Bloom, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sir Richard Branson, Erin Brockovich, George H.W. Bush,
Julius Caesar, Prince Charles, Cher, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Tom Cruise
Charles Darwin, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Michael Faraday, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Zsa Zsa Gabor,
Galileo, Danny Glover, Vincent Van Gogh, Whoopi Goldberg, John Grisham, Woody Harrelson, Steven Hawkings, Tommy Hilfiger, Dustin Hoffman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Magic Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Keira Knightley, John Lennon, Jay Leno, Carl Lewis, Steve McQueen, Michelangelo, Mozart, Jack Nicholson, Louis Pasteur
General George Patton, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Allen Poe, Nelson Rockefeller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rodin, George C. Scott, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Stewart, Quentin Tarantino, Thomas Thoreau, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci, Robin Williams, Woodrow Wilson, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright and William Butler Yeats.
The only other thing these people have in common is that none of them has ever been educated in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Diabetes Math

Maud (11) has been learning how to manage her diabetes - the Northern Ireland way.
First we assume everything Maud eats comes out of a packet. She weighs the food she wants to eat. She reads the nutritional information on the side of the packaging to find out how many grams of CHO are in 100g of the foodstuff - then she calculates how many grams of CHO are in the bowl on the scales. (CHO is an abbreviation for carbohydrate)
Then using her ICR (Insulin Carbohydrate Ratio) she calculates how many units of insulin she needs to digest the CHO.
She checks her blood sugar (BS) by pricking her finger and feeding the blood into her blood sugar meter.
If her reading is higher than the recommended range she must calculate how much insulin she needs to bring it down - using her personalised ICF (Insulin Correction Factor).
She adds both insulin requirements together and shoots up before eating.
Good job Maud is good at maths.
Compare this to the Middle East way:
When Maud was diagnosed she was told: "You have type 1 diabetes. You will be given two injections a day. You will eat a low fat diet. You will eat organic wholewheat pasta and rice. You will not eat sweets or processed food."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Slieve Gallion

Another fun day out in Northern Ireland and this time we're climbing Slieve Gallion. Such a lovely walk past foxgloves, ferns and fir trees in Iniscarn Forest Park, turn right at the pylons and climb, until we reach the heather on top. Hurrah!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nick does not travel well with our children. When they were babies and we lived in Botswana he:
a. cried on a flight
b. paid my parents to fly in his place
c. took valium before flying
Now the children are older and the flight from Bahrain isn't overly long and I always fly at least one direction without him - but I still do expect him to fly with us sometimes
This morning he phoned from Bahrain to say:
"I'm in the travel agent. I'm booking my trip to Ireland. Unfortunatley we won't be able to fly back together. There are no seats left on your Saturday flight. I'm going to have to fly back on Sunday..."
Was he taking the mick? (as we say here in Ireland)
I said: "I have a better idea. Let's swap the names on our tickets. You fly on Saturday with the children and I'll take the Sunday flight..."
Suddenly it wasn't a problem to change all of our flights to Sunday.
One big happy family. Flying back to Bahrain together...
Can't wait!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Strand

Northern Ireland is not really known as a holiday destination - unless you are interested in tribal conflict (or big ships that sink).
A pity for Northern Ireland HAS SO MUCH TO OFFER!
First blink of sun - we went to the sea side. The Strand at Portstewart is National Trust but don't forget to pack a windbreak, and a hammer to knock the poles into the sand.

If sunbathing isn't your thing, may I suggest sandhill jumping - performed here quite magnificently by Maud...

And of course no trip would be complete without a dip in the north Atlantic. Be warned though - it's icy cold. If you're brave enough to go in you'll have it all to yourself...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Music Lessons

Rex is keen to take up an instrument - so we went to see Mr H, who teaches brass at the school.
"Brass chooses the boy!" he told me.
I looked at cases for tuba and French Horn, and crossed my fingers that they wouldn't choose Rex or I was going to have to buy a bigger car to carry the instrument round...
My prayers were answered. He came home from his try-out at brass and announced: "The trumpet picked me!"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Anna Sui

I've been shopping again at the big discount sale - where have you been all my life, Anna Sui? Finally I've found a designer who understands flat chested women who do not have curves but good legs...
So I bought three Anna Sui dresses - the one in the photo above and two others - and the sale does not end till tonight - perhaps I'll go back for a fourth...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

odd molly

That's not me in the photo - that's a model modelling the dress I bought today in a secret sale...
We were driving past the Exhibition Centre en route to the supermarket to buy bread -the large billboard outside was in Arabic - the only thing we could read was '90%'
"It looks like a sale!" I said, excited.
"But why is the the writing in Arabic?" asked Maud.
We decided that probably it was sale of designer abayas - or jewelled cufflinks for thobes - something that wouldn't appeal to the average Western shopper...
I said: "Even so....90% off is not to be sniffed at..."
We turned the car at the lights and drove back to the Exhibition Centre - to discover the sale was a clearout of the most expensive, most exclusive boutique in Bahrain - Seventh Heaven which stocks just about every fabulous brand in the world...
I'm sure I don't have to tell you I spent all my money and time at the sale and there will not be toast for breakfast tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

I was in Cosmetic Surgery this morning buying a tube of face cream - (mesoestetic hydra-vital factor K) - and having the usual fun chat with the surgeon -
He says: "Botox would fix those frown lines on your forehead"
I say: "No thanks"
He says: "I would recommend filler in your top lip."
"No thanks"
"Non-surgical lifting and tightening?"
"No thank you, I'm here only for the face cream"
Then the telephone rings. The nurse answers. I try not to eavesdrop but the woman's voice is hysterical and after a few terse questions and answers:
Nurse: "Of course its not permanent, Madam."
Woman: "How do you know it's not permanent?"
Nurse: " It cost only BD150. It will not be permanent at that price."
The hysterical woman had been for some filler in her lips but had decided it wasn't enough - it was too natural looking - and had gone somewhere else for a 'top up' and now had lips like....

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Somewhere there waiteth in this world of ours
for one lone soul, another lonely soul -
Each chasing each through all the weary hours,
And meeting strangely at one sudden goal;
Then blend they - like green leaves with golden flowers,
Into one beautiful and perfect whole -
And life's long night is ended, and the way
Lies open onward to eternal day
Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Thirteen

Thirteen years ago it was just him and me - and it really was just him and me - getting married in spite of the doom-sayers: "You can't marry him, he's a Catholic." "You can't marry him, he's divorced." "You can marry him, he's too old for you."
Just as well I trust my own judgement.
Thirteen years and all of them happy.
As Beatrice said this morning: "Happy Adversity Mummy and Daddy"

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mother Knows Best

Maud, 11, had a dressage lesson while I schooled Waif in the paddock. Afterwards, we cooled off together.
She said, "I'm learning how to 'shoulder-in'. I'm finding it rather difficult..."
I gathered up Waif's reins and gave her a quick demonstration. I told her: "It's all to do with weight distribution..."
She was opened mouthed with admiration.
"He did it for you!" she said. "The first time you asked him, he did it!"
I had to laugh at her innocence for eleven thinks it knows everything these days and eleven's mother is just an old dear, useful only for driving eleven to riding lessons...
I said: "No need to look so shocked, darling..."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wish Me Luck

I'm jumping Waif tomorrow. Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Law of Supply and Demand

My favourite food is mashed potato and butter - so when our local supermarket announced it was selling potatoes for 100fils (16p) a kilo - for one day only - hurry hurry - I engaged my sharp elbows and sales shopping skills in the rugby scrum round the potatoes. On the way to the checkout I chucked into my basket a pound of salted butter. To discover the supermarket had cleverly predicted a run on the butter today and had shamelessly doubled its price.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Nick and I went down the Suq to collect my birthday present earrings - sapphires set in white gold - I picked the sapphires myself and Mr Lucky Gems set them - It was lunch hour and we followed the crowd into a Filipino cafe - a modest establishment jollied up with Christmas lights; the waitresses didn't speak English, the menu was in Tagalo and all dishes were served with a huge mound of steaming sticky rice.
"I never realised Filipino food was so popular in Bahrain," said Nick.
But it wasn't the Filipino food which was proving such a big hit with the customers -it was the wide screeen TV at the back of the room showing a Filipino game show with beautiful girls in bikinis. When the game show regretfully ended and a fully dressed soap opera came on the cafe quickly emptied.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Bookseller of Kabul

And I thought the culture I grew up in was awful... Rural Ulster in the Seventies was a male dominated society - it overflowed with misogynist bullies - swanking around in dark suits, holier than thou - one of our warlords was once quoted as saying, with a pious expression on his fat, well fed face: "the problem with women is that they don't know to stop talking when a man starts."
Thanks God then for my own lovely father - the most gentle of men - who has never once raised his voice to me, or told me how to behave. Or what to wear. Or who to marry.
Even now, he lends me his car when I need it, he babysits when I want to go out, he compliments my cooking and when I make mistakes he always blames everyone else.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

Oliver Goldsmith (1766)

The Painted Veil

The book should come with a Health Warning attached - BEWARE IT'S NOT LIKE THE FILM -if you thought the film was sad...
Silly vain Kitty marries stiff, formal Walter because he asked her and she was desperate. Walter takes her back to Hong Kong where he works and within three months she's committing adultery with slimy Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial governor. When Walter discovers their affair he gives Kitty two choices - he will divorce her quietly if Charles Townsend agrees to marry her, or she can come upcountry with him, into a cholera epidemic with the very good chance it will kill her.
Of course slimy Charles will not marry her - it would ruin his career and his reputation - so Kitty, with no other choice travels upcountry with Walter. Into the jaws of death.
And here's where the book and the film diverge.
In the film Kitty and Walter are reconciled; Walter even accepts that she's probably pregnant with Charles Townsend's baby. And when he dies with cholera, she's distraught and by his side.
In the book they are not reconciled - Walter dies, face to the wall, quoting the last line of Goldsmith's An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog - 'the dog it was that died.'

Monday, May 23, 2011

Black Swan

I once read an intriguing piece about how to write a bestseller - and the gist of the feature was this - to write a bestseller one must open an artery and let the life blood spill out - the reader will feel the emotion and respond it. And it doesn't matter what genre you choose - John Grisham's first novel A Time To Kill was written after he witnessed the horrowing testimony of a 10 year old girl who'd been raped -
Having watched Black Swan on the edge of my seat I think it's true to say it doesn't matter what creative discipline you choose - novel writing, ballet or the movies - to create a bestseller one must open an artery and let the life blood spill out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Essay on Criticism

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Alexander Pope
This extract from An Essay on Criticism - pinned to the door of the tack room since Tuesday- has caused anarchy at the stables. Already it's been ripped from its thumb tacks, screwed up in a ball and dumped into the trash. Then salvaged and carefully smoothed and repinned to the door of the tack room. I'm rather amused that a literary work can ignite such a violent reaction - the pen is indeed mightier than the sword!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Slumdog Millionaire

Congratulations to screen writer Simon Beaufoy for transforming an OK Indian novel into an excellent international movie. Mr Beaufoy - if you ever decide to transform an OK Irish novel into an excellent international movie I have seven to chose from...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fake Tan

I'm going to the Rugby Club Ball and I'm wearing a halterneck dress which exposes the most of my back and plunges right down to my navel. But I have a Farmer's Tan - arms, neck and chest are burnt brown, the rest is freckled and pale. In an effort to balance the colour I bought a bottle of fake and asked Nick to to administer light sweeping strokes across the pale curve of my back. I demonstrated on my calves, thighs and tummy. I gently suggested a couple of times as he kneaded and pressed and vigorously rubbed : "Maybe I lighter touch, darling?"
Afterwards I inspected his handiwork - I almost exploded with horror - it was blotchy and streaked and utterly awful. I could make out his fingers in one place. And on my shoulder was a huge gloopy blob. I looked (and still look) like an oompah loompah.
He was defiant. He said: "I think there's something wrong with your back."
There is most certainly something wrong with my back - which is why I will be standing with it pressed to a wall at the Rugby Club Ball.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ode to Pony Club Mothers

They're at it again, the Pony Club mums, telling me how to teach... Last night their kids rode off around the arena - a gentle stretching walk - after a lap I was planning to check the girth and the length of their leathers.
PC Mum pipes up: "Excuse me! Excuse me! Annabel's stirrups are not the same length."
"Yes I can see that," I said. "I'll adjust them when she rides back to me."
"But what if she falls off before that because her stirrups aren't the same length?" (The implication being that the fall will be my fault, the result of my negligence...)
Usually I try to be kind. And to reassure the pony club mums that their children are in safe hands. But last night I couldn't be bothered. I said: "If Annabel's not fit to sit on the pony she shouldn't be in this class. She should be on a lead rein."
Today I've decided to fight fire with fire. The following extract from An Essay on Criticism (1703) is to be pinned on the door to the tack room:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Alexander Pope

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Diplomatic Baggage

I absolutely loved this book. Not only was it the perfect antidote to the post modern whingeing of The Slap but I utterly identified with plucky Brit Brigid who married a man with itchy feet and spent decades trailing the world in his wake. So there's two of us - that's good to know...
What's particularly good is that Brigid pulls no punches about what is naively perceived by non-ex-pats to be a glamorous lifestyle for apart from the sunshine and staff a trailing spouse's lifestyle is very much the same as it would be back home - except she's a foreigner in an often hostile land, with absolutely no backup - no family members to help her out, no Welfare State to support her, and Hubby's at work at least six days a week.
It's the trailing spouse who finds a house she can bear to live in. And places in schools for the children. And a bottled water supplier. And a car. And staff she trusts and likes. And a few like minded friends.
And by the time she's managed all that it's time to move on to the next place.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Slap

Please don't tell me this is an accurate representation of contemporary Australian society - really - are all Australian men aggressive, boorish and unfaithful with a Madonna / Whore complex? Are all Australian women submissively tolerant of their aggressive, boorish, unfaithful husbands? Are all Australian teenagers taking drugs and sleeping around? Does everyone swear all the time? I have faithfully read through the 500 pages and been unable to find one person I could identify with - not even one I could sympathise with -
So, what's it all about?
Obnoxious aggressive small boy gets a slap at a party from an aggressive wife- beating man. Passive aggressive earth mother of the small boy refuses to accept his apology - she reports him to the police and those at the party who witnessed the slap are forced to take sides on the issue - which they cheerfully do because everyone at this particular party is tediously opinionated with one- dimensional opinions...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mid Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year

Seamus Heaney

Monday, May 2, 2011

Unscheduled Landing

Things rarely go to plan when we fly and this trip was not an exception. Cross winds in Abu Dhabi (AUH) prevented the aircraft from landing, we were diverted to Sharjah where we sat on the runway for a couple of hours till the AUH airport opened again. (And even then I noticed we landed on a runway with sandbanks up each side). A safe landing is not to be sniffed at but we'd missed our connection to Bahrain.
Etihad ground staff couldn't have been nicer - they arranged for the children and me to spend the day in a hotel until a later flight. I must say my heart sank for I spent allot of time in Gulf State hotels when I was an airstewardess and most were spectacularly uncomfortable with scratchy hard sheets and cardboard box pillows, limp salads and fatty meat in the restaurants. So with low expectations I allowed them to take us to Park Inn Hotel on Yas Island...
And oh my goodness - I was so impressed! The sheets were 300 thread count cotton, the pillows were soft and the buffet at lunch was delicious... The children were hugely impressed.
"Let's stay a bit longer!" they pleaded. "We never get a holiday..."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mutton Dressed As...

To celebrate today's royal wedding I dressed up in my frock and pranced around the garden. Dress fits fine from the neck down... Granny took this photo of myself and the children.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Queen Camilla

I have another literary suggestion for this royal wedding week - by my favourite author Sue Townsend. Sue's rather fond of Camilla who comes across awfully well in this hilarious sequel to The Queen and I - a Republican government has abolished the monarchy and for 13 years the ex-Royal family have been electronically tagged and imprisoned a sink estate with 'the criminal, the antisocial, the inadequate, the feckless, the agitators, the disgraced professionals, the stupid, the drug addicted and the morbidly obese...'

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Your Royal Hostage

May I suggest Your Royal Hostage as a literary antidote to the upcoming royal wedding - since they seem to have so little story of their own...
English rose Princess Amy is engaged to marry - it's the wedding of the year - and Jemima Shore, a reporter, has been asked to anchor the American television coverage. But it's not just nostalgic Americans who are interested in the royal wedding - an animal rights activist group is conspiring to make an extravagant gesture during the televised coverage...

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Soul Selects her own Society

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nick's Back!

It's always difficult when Nick comes back after a separation. To remember to be 'we' again instead of a solitary 'I' - the children don't count for I think of them as extensions to myself - they did live inside me for nine months...
So I'm still making tea (for one) in a cup instead of tea (for two) in the teapot. And twice today I reached for the phone, to call him in Bahrain, then said: "Oh my goodness, you're here! I keep forgetting."
Marriage is a state - of mind - and fortunately he's used to me now - he says I'm always like this -
He knows in a couple of days I'll reach out in my sleep and snuggle into his back and ask him: "Will you make tea or will I?"

Friday, April 8, 2011


My darling uncle Edward has died and last night I went to the wake. His son Patrick came over to chat.
"Are you still riding horses?" he asked me.
"Are you still racing motorbikes?"
We've always been very good friends even though I'm terrified of bikes and he hates horses with a passion.
He said: "Do you remember the last time I rode your horse?"
He'd been riding with me along the edge of a field spread with the slurry - something flew up out of the hedge, the mare spooked, Patrick fell off, his foot got caught in the stirrup, the mare took off across the field and Patrick was dragged through the slurry.
I said: "That was 20 years ago! Or maybe 30 years ago!"
His eyes twinkled. He almost smiled. Forgot for a brief moment his grief. He said: "I was washing slurry out of my ears for a week."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Women

Remind me again how Marmee managed when Amy and Jo were at each other's throats? I have an Amy and Jo who delight in upsetting each other. Last night Jo ate Amy's cup cake in retaliation she tells me for Amy defacing the Easter greetings card she was making for Granny. And this morning there was another eruption - a tug of war over the head of a hairbrush.
Before long Amy will be throwing Jo's novel into a fire...
And what will poor Marmee do then?
My own mother says to ignore them. She says if I try to referee they will gang up against me and turn on me. She says it's a lose lose situtation.
Which is why she always ran away screaming when my three sisters and me fought with each other when we were growing up.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Divine Intervention

I always wondered what it would take for my husband to suffer from feelings of possessiveness. We don't really have that sort of relationship which probably just as well since we spend so much time apart...
It's been a fortnight since the children and I left him behind in Bahrain. "I don't really miss you," I told him by phone, "Everyone's being so kind..."
The bachelor farmer down the road had welcomed me back with a bunch of flowers. The man from the garden centre gave me a camellia bush when I went to buy apple trees. Male friends from school have been stopping their tractors to chat - one brought me duck eggs, one offered to plant the apple trees ...
All this Nick accepted without comment. As I say, he's not the jealous type.
Until last night when I remarked : "The minister winked at me in church..."
There was a brief pause, then he said: "I've been thinking I might fly home next week to see you. You've been on your own long enough."

Friday, March 25, 2011


Years ago when I was at school my sister's friend's sister was pony mad. She was only a little girl - at least ten years younger than me and too young to have a pony of her own so I used to lead her around on my pony when she called out to the house. I think I might even have taught her how to rise to the trot.
Now Ruby is a solicitor with three horses of her own, and a stable block and an arena. And last night at pilates she said to my sister: "Anne is welcome to come ride my horses any time she wants."