Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The holiday thing


Happy Halloween y'all! And to celebrate, because let's face it with this huge bump this is about as much celebrating as I'm going to be doing, here are some appropriately creepy news items:
Our baby is due on the 17th of December, but if she's anything like her father, she'll come three weeks earlier than that. For this reason I'm doing my Christmas shopping early, and have even ordered our tree online which will arrive on the 10th of December - just in case - a phrase that is becoming quite popular in our household. If you are interested in having a real tree delivered to your home, with the option of removal and recycling, check out pinesandneedles. For the record, this is the first time I am using them myself, so I cannot vouch for the service yet.

I love Christmas, but I hate Christmas shopping - only because of the crowds and the chaos. Now that I'm roughly eight months pregnant (34 weeks on Monday), I'm definitely not in the mood to stand in long queues, or get shunted around by women with large handbags, or bashed into by tourists with backpacks. God, I hate backpacks.

Cue internet shopping - what a heaven send. Though, for the record, you cannot order hard copy vouchers from HMV or Virgin online - only e-ones which then get sent directly to the recipient via email. Great if you aren't going to see them over the festive period, not so great if you want to give it to them in an envelope in person. I'm just giving you the heads-up before you, like me, go through the laborious online registration process only to discover the fact.

I imagine my posts on here may become less frequent over the coming month, and may even come to a standstill once the baby arrives, at least for a few weeks. I'd ask one of my friends to be a guest blogger, but if my various attempts at getting them to contribute to other online endeavours are anything to go by, it's probably not a good idea. They're a bunch of lazy bastards. That, or the fact that they actually do what they get paid to do at work, and don't have time to peruse the Daily Mail every hour. Shocking really.

Photo: University students made up to look like zombies take part in a bid to break the world record for the "biggest zombie lurch" in Sydney September 22, 2007. Source

Sunday, October 28, 2007

World's creepiest places to visit


It's Sunday night and I have an especially unpleasant case of backache. I am however aware of the fact that tomorrow will be Monday morning, and if you are anything like me, you will get into the office and hate everyone.

So to ease you into the day, and in reverence to the upcoming Halloween festivities, check out this piece on the world's creepiest places to visit. Forget ye olde pubs and manor houses, think more along the lines of the Paris catacombs and dive sites among WWII wrecks in Micronesia. Interestingly, Roberto and I have actually visited one of them, that being the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.

It's clearly a blatant attempt to encourage you to spend your hard earned cash on some travel, but it's a fun read if you have a taste for the morbid.

Photo: Winchester House, San Jose, California. C/o concierge.com

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday roundup


Photo: Dave's Daily

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The final countdown

I realise I haven't written about my pregnancy on here for a while. "Thank god for that!" some of you are saying. Well, your relief was short-lived, because I think it's high time for a graphic update.

I'm 32 weeks into my pregnancy now. To give you an idea of how much further I have to go, you are told that babies can arrive from the 37-week mark already, but estimated due dates (though only approx 5% of babies are born on these) are at the 40 week mark.

My own lovely Roberto was born at 37 weeks - the only time in his life he's ever been early for anything, but there you go. From when my baby started to move around, or rather, from when I felt her move for the first time, I've had a sense that she's going to come earlyish too, but this is admittedly based on nothing more than intuition.

I've been nesting for most of my pregnancy, but in the last few weeks it's become a lot more intense. Nesting is a sort of instinctual thing, where a woman starts to tidy, clean, shop, drive her partner insane with obsessive compulsive worrying, in preparation for the arrival of her baby. This becomes more frenzied as her due date nears, and in fact a sign that labour is imminent for some women can find them suddenly deciding to paint the nursery at 2am, or iron a stack of clothes in a zealous burst of energy. In my case these things would probably indicate that I had lost my mind entirely - especially the idea of me actually picking up an iron, but apparently it happens.

This last part of the pregnancy also means you are usually quite fat, or in the case of some very fortunate genetically blessed women, at the very least, horizontally distended. I've tried to eat sensibly throughout, and indeed my weight gain is on par with the 'recommended' amount so far, but it still feels, and looks, as though a large chunk of it has gone straight to my backside and thighs. My breasts resemble those pictures you see in National Geographic magazine of African tribal women that have had six children already and eschew the lingerie racket. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes thanks to being permanently knackered, and I'm grouchy not just from being hormonal but because I have fairly chronic back ache.

All in all my pregnancy look is very attractive, or rather, I'd like to think it is to some tiny obscure fetish group out there somewhere - probably in deepest darkest America, the website run by someone called Hank.

Knowing you are going to have your baby in the next few weeks also brings home the fact that you actually have to deliver that baby is some shape or form. Ah, now the fun begins. Everyone, and I mean every person and their donkey (including those that have never had children themselves), has an opinion on what the best way is to bring a baby into the world.

There's the people who advocate the 'totally natural' method, of not using any drugs and letting your body do what it was built to do. Yes, because my body was built to push out what feels like a watermelon causing the place between my vagina and bottom to tear, without any pain relief. Then there's the camp that say to hell with that, I want to choose when my baby is born and want it taken out of me via C-section with the least amount of pain involved. Nice in theory, but lots of abdominal pain and discomfort in the weeks following as this involves cutting through the abdominal tendons. Then there's the in-between camp, the one I fall into, which is that I'd very much like to push my baby out vaginally, but would like some help in the pain stakes via something like an epidural, morphine, crack cocaine, etc.

Regardless of what anyone says, giving birth does involve a lot of pain. Admittedly there are ways and means of coping with it, and some women do so better than others, but it's still pain. I have purchased three birth books, and perused a fair share of others in the book store, and regardless of whether the book is called, 'The instinctive birth book,' or, 'Birthing in water', or, 'The leather sandal wearing candle-burning Tarot guide to birth,' all the pictures therein of women giving birth look as though they are going through pure hell. Guys, imagine passing a kidney stone, or one of those excruciating calf cramps you get in the middle of the night and times that sensation by 1000. And then imagine having to go through that almost perpetually for approximately 14 hours, in some cases more.

And unless you are having an elective C-section, in which case baby is usually taken out a week or two early and you don't actually go into labour, these other methods, even with an epidural, still involve the pain of labour. You see, an epidural can only be administered when labour is confirmed via changes in dilation, which can take some time, and having to endure many hours of contractions before that happens. So if you are thinking you'll just walk in there, as did I, and get a shot and that's that, think again.

We've been going to antenatal classes where they teach you things like how to breathe through contractions, and what positions are best to get baby to descend into a good position for birth. We're told that our bodies do in fact know how to push that baby out on an instinctual level, and that things like fear of pain (silly us!), and holding back, are what slows down and interrupts the natural process. Oh and fear of making a number two on the delivery table is apparently high on a lot of women's paranoid list, not just mine. Well, guys, with all that pushing, it's an understandable concern. And for the record, they say it doesn't happen that often, and if it does it's not a large amount, and no big deal. They discreetly remove the mess and let you get on with the important business of getting that baby out.

So yes, lots and lots of things on my mind right now, which, along with a tendency to forget everything and stand around with a vacant idiotic expression on my face in the middle of supermarkets, means it's not long to go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

TGIF

Very upsetting news about Lucky Dube - just another victim of the pointless violence in South Africa. Will it ever end?

And on the subject of South Africa, there's much talk about the World Cup rugby final between them and England tomorrow night. My South African family members and friends have been appalled at my claim that I'll be happy if either team wins. Personally I don't see the problem - they are both my teams and it's a win win situation for me. There's also something to be said for loyalty to a country that has welcomed you and been home to you for 10 years. So get over it guys! I have a suspicion South Africa are going to be the victors, but I wish both sides well.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Romanian orphans and other news


Photo: Santapaul

Monday, October 15, 2007

Home delivery

The words 'home delivery' sound very nice don't they? Personally they make me think of steaming hot pizzas, Waitrose groceries, and moses baskets delivered to my doorstep, while I get to stay in my pajamas and not worry about my hair. And even for people who do have a shred of dignity when it comes to personal grooming and appearance, 'home delivery' generally implies a convenient worry-free arrangement.

Having moved into our new home four months ago however, these words now have a distinctly different ring to them. My experience is genuinely a 50/50 one in terms of satisfaction. Some of the time things go according to plan - you get called one hour before the chaps are due to arrive so you know to be home, and the people who deliver your things are genuinely helpful and upbeat. That other 50 percent however, involves being house bound during that five-hour delivery slot (afraid to even take a nap in case you miss the doorbell), and blood pressure escalating arguments with obtuse delivery men.

Today was another negative case in point. We ordered a chest of drawers from Heals. Upon ordering it, we were very specific about the fact that it had to be carted up to the third floor of our house, and which as it didn't formerly belong to Barbara Cartland, doesn't contain a lift. Personally I haven't encountered that many houses with lifts in them, but perhaps I'm moving in the wrong social circles.

So we waited the requisite week and a half, and this morning two friendly enough chaps arrived, friendly that is until I reminded them that the drawers had to be carried up to the third floor.

"Third floor? Oh no my dear, we only do up to the second floor. We are an external contracting company and it's not in our contract to do third floors. Health and safety you see."

I fished around for the order receipt and pointed to the printed details which specifically state: "Deliver to third floor." The chap merely shook his head and said, "Well they'd have to get a special company to do that for you, that's not us. We can carry it up to the second flood and leave it there for them, but we can't do the third floor."

At this point my blood began to boil, only because this scenario is by now so very familiar to me. I cannot count the amount of times I've stood on our doorstep in my slippers, my increasingly pregnant belly heaving with frustration, arguing with delivery people who turn up to our house claiming no knowledge of what has been arranged with the shops we purchased our goods from. Do these people not communicate with each other?

I called the shop and explained the situation and got told, very politely and sympathetically I might add, that they indeed have a contract with these chaps which states no delivery past the second floor, and that the sales girl who did the transaction should have pointed this out to us.

"Well," I said, "You also happen to have a contact with us, which is in the form of this order and the specifications that we need delivery to the third floor. It's here in black and white - proof that you were informed of it at time of purchase, and ahead of delivery. Had I known you had this policy I would not have made the purchase."

All this waiting around for delivery people over the last few months means I've had a lot of time to watch TV, specifically legal and crime shows. These have given me the confidence to use such words as, 'Black and white,' and 'you were informed at the time of purchase,' with a fairly convincing air.

She said she needed to speak to the dispatch company and would call me back in two minutes, and that the (increasingly irritated) two chaps standing outside my doorstep needed to hang on a tick. To her credit she did call me back in two minutes and asked to speak to said irritated delivery chaps. A brief exchange ensued and the phone was passed back to me. And was that a satisfied, 'I told you so!' look on his face as he did so?

Miss polite told me that having chatted with them she had established that they were indeed unable to take up the drawers to the third floor. "It's a weight thing you see, they are physically incapable of doing so." I had to bite my lip. Clearly they were physically capable of taking it up to the second floor, but some strange delivery man equivalent of kryptonite must kick in at the base of the third set of stairs, rendering them incapable to continue. I also had a strong desire to suggest that they could actually remove the drawers and take those up separately thereby dramatically reducing the weight of the whole, but it was clear the dye had been set.

I was told to wave the chaps off, who merrily left along with our chest of drawers, and that a special 4-man delivery team would be in contact with me to redeliver. "Today, if not then tomorrow," she politely assured me. That is they will contact me today if not tomorrow, not deliver. God only knows when that will happen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

So is it or isn't it safe to drink while pregnant?

According to the Daily Mail:

Pregnant women can drink a small glass of wine every day safely, according to new official guidance. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence reignited the debate over consuming alcohol while pregnant by saying that drinking no more than 1.5 units does not harm unborn babies. Its official advice contradicts the Department of Health, which this year told pregnant women not to drink at all. Continue reading.

This is just one example of a myriad of conflicting information you are given as a pregnant woman, and the list is a very very long one. I've been told not to eat shellfish, then I saw a health pamphlet saying I can as long as it's cooked. Then someone told me not to eat peanuts, but another study said it was good to eat them so your unborn child doesn't develop nut allergies. Then there's the whole thing about not sleeping on your back, and yet another study saying actually it's OK to.

Confused? Welcome to my world.

I had very bad morning sickness - 10 weeks of projectile vomiting, and a myriad of foods that I couldn't stand the smell or taste of. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, alcohol was one of them. Since then I've just stayed away from it because I haven't really had an overwhelming desire for it, and if I had had one, chances are I would have stayed away from it anyway.

You see, I fall into the category of pregnant woman that is quite simply known as: paranoid. There are probably a host of things that are completely fine to eat or drink, but if I hear just one possible negative thing about them, I avoid. My, perhaps misguided, thinking on this is that it's 9-10 months of my life to do without these things and give the life I'm carrying the best possible chance. If it turns out there was no reason to worry, then fine, but if the risks are proved valid, I'm covered.

Saying all of this, things like damaged sperm, or genetics can lead to problems that have nothing at all to do with what you eat or do during pregnancy. And in some cases you can do absolutely everything by the book and still have complications. It's certainly not an exact science, and you can only do so much and hope for the best.

Click here for a humorous and informative article that details the constant conflicting bits of information women are given during pregnancy, and which explores the validity of some of those 'stay away from!' claims.

Photo and source: Daily Mail

Wednesday news roundup

Where Victoria Beckham gets her inspiration from

The Daily Mail have come up with a funny collection of side-by-side Posh and cartoon character pictures. Check out the full collection here.

Photo: Daily Mail

Burro

This is a photo I took of my sister's dog, Burro (aka Swifty) on my recent trip to South Africa. I was focusing on her roses when he suddenly popped into the flower bed. As I said his name he looked up for a split second, and I was able to take this picture. I tried getting another one with him in focus and the flower blurred in the forefront, but the opportunity never arose again.

I'm quite pleased with the result - I love his expression, and the fresh vibrant colours. This is the raw image as I shot it, and it has not been retouched (colour or otherwise) nor has it been cropped.

Camera:
Canon IXUS 40.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Coming of age

"The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress."
While in South Africa I attended a lunch at a friend of my sister's house. The dominant topic of conversation featured how wild the kids of today are. How they are sexualised at such young ages, drinking, taking drugs, and basically out of hand.

Aside from myself, everyone had kids, so I didn't really feel qualified to expound any opinions on the subject. To my credit, an earlier comment that I found it strange that Madeline McCann's mother refused to answer certain questions by Portuguese police, issued an outraged response from one diner. He emotionally retorted that until I was being held by police with a gun in my mouth and my arms pinned behind me, I had no right to voice any opinions on police interrogation. My response that I doubted Madeline McCann's mother had a gun in her mouth at the time of questioning and almost certainly had her lawyer present made no difference. The diner in question clearly had some traumatic past issues with the police, and the tone for the rest of the afternoon was set: No personal experience, no comment please. Thank you very much.

The quotation I opened this post with was, believe it or not, written in 1274 A.D, by a grumpy old priest called Peter the Hermit. It reveals that in terms of people complaining about the youth of today being forward and decadent, very little has changed. We can go back even further than that to Plato, and this was 2,500 years ago, who lamented, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

I don't know what the youth were getting up to back in the days of Plato and Peter the Hermit. One can only imagine it involved some romping in haystacks, drinking of cider, cow tipping, and arguments with parents about the world actually being round. But what is clear however, is that the need for children and teenagers to rebel, express themselves, and experiment - directly related no doubt to the onset of puberty - has in fact changed very little if at all.

The concept of people being 'children' until they reach the age of 17 or 18 is also a relatively new one. In 1371 the average age at marriage for women was 16, and during most of the last few 100 years or so, as soon as you finished basic education (around the age of 13), you were employed into the workforce and treated as an adult. In fact this still happens in many countries today. Also, the age of consent in some countries, such as Spain, is still as young as 13. Although some people may find this horrifying, it's clearly an honest and practical reaction to what's going on, what has been going on for hundreds of years, and what will continue to go on despite any moral indignation.

My parents never had the 'how babies are made' talk with me, and it was thanks to a friend called Paige that I first learnt about sex. I was eight-years-old, and she told me a very lame joke that I didn't understand - the subsequent explanation (crude and minus any finer nuances) mapped out what this 'sex' business was all about. I was not terribly impressed; it sounded strange, illogical, and disgusting. I looked around at the soiled, snotty-nosed, dishevelled boys in my class and shivered. 'Not me, never, no ways!' I solemnly promised myself.

Saying that, from the time I was five and in my first year of school, kissing games were already a popular form of entertainment on the playground, and similarly at children's parties. By the time I was 11, a big thing at a party was to go to a discreet part of the garden and stand around in couples 'kissing.' Already then boys were rated on how well they French kissed. I imagine it was badly, but as long as it involved tongue (something I secretly found quite revolting but did anyway), it was deemed worthy.

By the time I was 12, a boy smuggled a little cold drink bottle with some wine in to a party. Some of the other boys, and one or two of the braver girls, were sampling a smoldering cigarette butt (that a parent had left on the grass) behind the garage. The kissing games continued and there was some rolling around involved, but it wasn't particularly sexual at this point.

By the time I was 13, girls I knew were going to second base - which meant allowing boys to not only kiss them, but reach under their clothes for some intimate touching. By 14 and 15 some of them were having full on intercourse with older boyfriends. This was in the 1980's.

My mother's idea of the safe sex discussion was short, to the point, and aimed at instilling the fear of death into my sisters and I. "Do not have sex. Do not even let a penis near you. You will fall pregnant, have a child, and your life will be over. Forget finishing high school, attending university, or having a career."

There was no mention of condoms.

Later as I got to mid teenagedom this changed to, "If you plan on fooling around, come and talk to me and I'll put you on the pill." I had absolutely zero intention of having any discussions with my mother about fooling around, and no one was putting me on anything. My personal life was just that, personal, and to avoid it deviating from this preferred sate, I stayed the hell away from penises as a general rule. Well, at least until I reached university that is.

As for drinking, that was going on from when I was 13 already. A friend, or a friend of a friend, would smuggle a two-litre bottle of coke into a school dance or party, which contained a fair amount of cheap rum in it. Someone would inevitably overindulge and develop a form of alcohol poisoning (you could set your clock by it), their parents would be called to collect them, and they'd be grounded for a month or two.

In terms of smoking, there were plenty of places to find to go and have a cheeky cigarette, and almost all of us did it. Drugs weren't really a part of my group until we reached 16 or so, and then it was a bit of really bad quality weed that someone had bought off the local teenage druggie. My exposure to the full drug scene only happened when I entered university at the age of 17.

A dinner I attended with girlfriends a year or two ago illustrated a remarkable amount of similarities in terms of these coming of age experiences, which appeared to extend across countries, socio-economic backgrounds, and between villages and cities. Some girls had had sexual encounters with an older child at the age of nine already, and similarly alcohol entered some people's lives much earlier than it had mine. But when it came down to it we all agreed on the same thing: As soon as puberty strikes and even a bit before that, hormones start to dictate much of our actions and impulses.

I imagine conversations with parents and grandparents, if they are willing, may well reveal equal similarities, if not some surprising ones. My father-in-law bought his first packet of cigarettes at seven for example, my aunt tells of kissing games with girls at the convent back in the 50's, and my great grandmother was working, dressing, and being treated very much as an adult at the age of 13 back in the early 1900's.

In conclusion I don't believe that children or teenagers are behaving in a way that is more mature or wayward than they have at any other point in history. It's not so much an issue of decadent times as it appears to be an evolutionary inevitability that is tied directly into physical maturation. Certainly the means with which experimentation takes place, largely owing to availability and access, may have changed. But whether it's cider or Smirnoff Mules, LSD or Ecstasy, a role in the hay or in the SUV, it's all part and parcel of that same strange, confusing, exciting journey of discovery into adulthood we must all undertake.

Friday, October 05, 2007

No more Britney! plea and other news

I don't know about anyone else, but I am well and truly fed up with Britney Spears updates every five seconds. For god's sakes, there's like 80 gazillions posts on Dlisted, Perez Hilton and every other celeb gossip site about how she's spiralling out of control, crying in her car, feuding with her mom, needs help etc. And then it's in my weekly mags as well.

I agree, the woman does need help, we all know that. Also, if she doesn't want to be harassed by the paps so much she should probably try staying at home and getting Starbucks to deliver. But I have a sneaking suspicion the whole love/hate publicity thing she has going with the media is also part of her disease - classic narcissistic behaviour.

Personally I take no pleasure nor interest in seeing someone with so much talent systematically and publicly destroy themselves. It's like the bloody Colosseum all over again, and uncomfortably redolent of the last few months of Anna Nicole Smith's life. Enough already.

In other news:
Photo c/o Perez

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

X Factor Update

Having missed the X Factor for a while now, I've been catching up c/o You Tube. Here are some of my favourite moments.


Kelly & her dad


The funeral singing twins and their 'wigs'


The incredible confidence (and cockiness) of Matthew

The Seven Year Itch and other news


Photo c/o: gallerym.com

Another day another Nigerian advance fee fraud email

If you plan on flying to South Africa, please heed the following warning:
You need to have one blank page (as in no stamps at all from any other country, including previous South African immigration ones) in your passport. If you also require a visa, you need two blank facing pages in your passport. Bizarre, idiotic, antiquated? Certainly. However, if you do not wish to be turned back after a +- 11 hour flight (from the UK at any rate), then heed my warning. These people will feel little pity for you in all your dry-mouthed, bad haired, exhausted glory, and will send you back from whence you came, without a second thought. Read more about it here.

This happened to my lovely Roberto on Saturday night. Fortunately for him (if you can call the inconvenient consequences that followed fortunate), his lack of blank page was caught by security officials just before he boarded the plane at Heathrow, and he was told he could not travel. Bang went three days of meetings in Johannesburg, a few days of R&R with his heavily pregnant wife - that being me btw - and catching up with family. Why this blank page requirement bollocks was not flagged via his travel agent when the ticket was booked remains a mystery, but now I'm passing the info on to you - so be warned.

As a result I caught the next available flight back to the UK, and so I'm back in sunless London five days earlier than planned. There was something strangely reassuring about landing this morning in the familiar overcast, cold, and wet weather. After all, it wouldn't be London if it were sunny and people looked happy and were riding around in convertibles now would it?

I'm 29 weeks pregnant now. I resemble a zeppelin, only imagine a lot less grace in terms of manoeuvrability. A lot less. There's a part of me, the firmly instilled paranoid part, that's a bit relieved to be back within walking distance from the hospital and my consultant. I had quite severe unlocalised pains in my abdomen during one shopping trip on holiday, and though it proved not to be anything to worry about, it still gave me quite a fright. Just 11 weeks to go if this little one comes in the 40th week, and the pregnancy websites advise packing the hospital bag at this point already - just in case. So perhaps I'm not that paranoid after all.

As per the title of this post, I got back to yet another Nigerian advance fee fraud email. It never fails to astound me just how many dead fathers, uncles, business partners, and brothers in possession of vast fortunes, that need liberating from someone like me, there are. Likewise I appear to be a popular candidate for frequent penis enlargement technology notices. Lucky me.

There's a lot going on in the land of the beautiful and the damned - i.e. the idiots that are born with a genetic makeup that more often than not constitutes enviable physical characteristics, in some cases genuine talent, and sadly little intelligence. Ergo, I'll update on here in a bit with some celeb news links.