Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

There are a few Christmas traditions that are very British, some new Spanish ones that we have discovered and some Green/Davies idiosyncrasies that we are passing down to our children...
Something old...
The Christmas tree, which we put up when we feel like but NEVER before December. We have a collection of Christmas decorations from Doha the Uk and some holiday destinations, such as Germany. We have a great wooden tree, a wedding present form the Samys, who had lived in Germany for years and whose house resembled a magical Christmas grotto every year...our house still doesn’t quite measure up, but we have received a fair few Christmas decorations as gifts this year, so we will get there...

Something new....
A few weeks ago, as we were getting ready for school, my seven year old son came into my bathroom naked (he had just woken up and was in the process of getting ready for school; evidently this new was too important to wait for getting dressed). He said “Mum, did you know that in Spain, on the 6th of January, the three kings come with presents too..” Cunning, cunning boy, so now we have the joys of Christmas day presents, my daughter’s birthday on the 28th December and the day of the three Kings on 6th January and more presents...we have to put some shoes on the balcony and the presents will be left my son tells me.
Something Green/Davies...
For some bizarre reason (we’re not competitive honestly...) Steve and I have got into a habit of leaving the ridiculous Christmas hats on after Christmas dinner for as long as possible. The person left with the hat on is the winner. I have no recollection how or why this started, but every year one of us will wear the hat until the other concedes defeat. This year, the tradition was explained to Owain and he wore the hat all day and to bed. When Steve and I woke on Boxing Day, Owain came into the bedroom and said “Have either of you got your hat still on?” When we blearily replied “NO”, he yelled “ Yay, I’m the winner” and so a family tradition is born...
I hope you all enjoyed a very festive time; we had a very large bottle of cava with the neighbours last night and are feeling a little bleary...getting myself ready for Aoife’s birthday tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All I want for Christmas is...

A big leg off a dead pig to hang in my kitchen! Yes it’s preparation for Christmas here in Spain, the supermarkets will all be open the four Sundays of December and the Christmas trees and decorations are out in force. Christmas music is being played and some truly awful things are in the shops, like the fuzzy felt nativity scene we saw, all in luminous greens and yellows! Christmas preparations in Spain have their own unique flavours, with the supermarkets full of traditional dried fruits and marzipan, more turron than you can shake an almond tree stick at (turron is a sweet confection of crushed almonds and loads of sugar all mixed together into some sort of sticky treat – Owain had not tried it before, to the horror of one of his school mates who promptly nagged his mother to purchase some, which he brought in for our deprived boy the next day! The Spanish are very kind in so many respects.) Finally of course, the cured pig legs. I had quite a shock when I entered Carrefour to see a load of pig legs on display, and the cost....about 100 euros for some.
They always look really rustic when Jamie Oliver uses them in his recipes but as a vegetarian, they don’t really appeal to me. I do like the fact that this is not meat in disguise’s not that pink ham nicely sealed in plastic wrap, all sanitised for your sandwiches and not looking at all like it ever came from a pig. No, this is the real, undisguised thing; it looks like it’s come off a pig...and not in the too far distant past either.
We won’t be getting one but Merry Christmas preparations everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to make 16 litres of the purest olive oil.

Step One
Buy a beautiful house in Spain with a rather bare and dusty garden, the garden has three lovely looking olive trees, as well as three other small trees that bear some sort of small fruit, but you´re not really sure.
Step Two
Completely neglect the garden, as your priority is to get the house sorted for your own comfort and your children. Focus on the house and pool. Occasionally remember to water the trees. Periodically notice that one tree is very large and keeps bashing into the gate as you open and close it to leave the house. Spend large amounts of money on the house.
Step Three
Notice that the olive trees seem to have an abundance of green olives on them. Other than watering them intermittently, ignore them.
Step Four
Do a desultory search on the internet about when to harvest olives as you are utterly clueless. See an article about deep watering the trees. Spend a couple of minutes, with four year old daughter helping, watering the olive trees, feeling a bit guilty.
Step Five
Notice that some black olives are being blown onto path; they look ripe, wonder what to do. Notice that one particular tree is very overladen with weighty olives which are dragging the branches down to the ground…hmmmmmm
Step Six
Have a conversation with friendly neighbours about picking some green olives as they have a recipe for them
Step Seven
Overhear some folks at work talking about taking their olive crop to be pressed. They swapped their weighed olives for oil! Yippee! Immediately ask where olive pressing place is, only to find it is miles from your own home. Thankfully, kind Spanish member of staff offers to take your olives for you if you drop them off at school!
Step Eight
Discuss olive pressing plan with neighbours, agree to meet at weekend to pick olives, neighbours will take green olives for a recipe and remainder will be taking for squashing
Step Nine
Neighbours come over at weekend to help pick. Thankfully they are equipped with plastic for the ground (to catch dropped olives), sticks for beating the tree so that olives fall off, and baskets for collecting.
Spend a good part of 6 hours picking olives, supervising 4 and 7 year old as they beat the olive trees, chatting to Spanish neighbours. Become ridiculously upset each time you accidentally step on an olive and crush all the oil out of it. Become obsessed with getting as many olives off the tree as possible. Realise that the trees have an enormous number of olives on them. Realise that picking olives is thankless. Realise why olive oil is so expensive.
Step ten
Clear up plastic, sort green olives from ripe ones, sweep path. Realise that you have about 80kg of olives in back of car. Discuss with neighbours re-convening on Tuesday as there is one final tree to strip!
Step Eleven
Drive olives into work and drop them off in kind Spanish colleagues car…realise that they are quite heavy! As you drive out of gate, look up at “stripped” olive tree and realise there´s a whole section that four adults and two children have completely missed, it is jam packed full of olives!!
Step Twelve
Meet with neighbours and strip third tree. This is quicker as you are now experts at laying plastic, climbing tree and stripping olives. Also, final tree is smaller! After final tree is stripped, jokingly comment to neighbours about section missed on first tree, at which point, they lay down plastic…strip final section of first tree, which yields about another 15 kg!
Step Twelve
Colleague brings in your olive oil!! 16 litres in exchange for your 80kg, they normally give 15 litres per 100 kg, but apparently your olives are particularly good quality (obviously because of the love and care you have lavished upon them!) And you still have the olives from the third tree and the remnants from the first tree in the back of your car! Give 2 litres to kind Spanish colleague, who says it is too much. Insist that he takes it! Share half of remaining olive oil with neighbours. Plan to give some of your share as Christmas gift. Feel very happy with your first harvest!! Wonder how many more litres you will get from final buckets in the back of your car! Begin to wonder about pruning trees for next year…


Modern Classics – The Handmaid´s Tale by Margaret Atwood

As a feminist, I have a fascination with the similarities between the religions of the world that are so opposed to each other in so many different ways but seem to have so many common elements. One of those elements, inescapable in Atwood´s novel, is the subjugation and persecution of women in the name of religious beliefs.
Over the last 15 years, the veil has moved into the public consciousness as a symbol of female persecution and male dominance. It´s a debate that´s well worth having and one that is alive and well in a number of Muslim countries. It´s a question for another blog whether the veil is any more offensive than the g string or thong, is the morality of covering up any better or worse than the overt sexuality of clothing and advertising in our world?
In Atwood´s novel, the veil is certainly a symbol of the control and power than men have over women´s lives. The genius of Atwood is that she takes existing ideas from current society, like religious extremism in parts of America and some Arab states, and pushes them to the very worst possible case scenario. By doing so, she forces us to turn a mirror upon the religions that would prefer a woman to be subject to the needs and desires of the male. She forces us to think about sexuality and the way that it can be controlled and destroyed by patriarchal control in the name of religion.
Ultimately, Atwood is a great modern feminist and an utterly brilliant modern writer. By setting The Handmaids Tale in a seemingly post apocalyptic future, we see the horrors of dictatorial control over women. We see men as military fascists, herding women and treating them as a lesser breeding tool. The most wonderful and frightening aspect of the novel is that the beliefs within it are alive and well in this century, right here, right now, no need for an apocalyptic disaster to push some on the America right to an even greater desire to control women. The irony is of course that America went to war on terror to give people greater freedom, but that excludes the freedom for women. The other irony is that those on the far right of American society have a great hatred of Muslim cultural traditions and yet the extremists on both sides have very much in common when it comes to female sexuality and power.
It´s a fantastic, exciting read. It does not have to be read as an overt political text and I´m sure Atwood wouldn´t necessarily want it to be. However, many women in the world today are suffering under culturally prohibitive patriarchal mores. Many other women are living in the mythology of the cultural enrichment of breast enhancement and surgery leading to the perfect woman. Many women are repressed by the veil; others are repressed by a culture that values female beauty and submission above all other qualities. It´s a novel worth reading for the exciting story line and Atwood´s visionary writing. It´s also a novel worth reading to reclaim feminism as a battle worth the continuing fight.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Life in Spain – Part Four – Toothache!

OK, so you move to a foreign country in the hope of a better life/pay cheque/school/society whatever. Then something happens that makes you wish you were back home – even if only temporarily. Yes, I’ve chipped a back molar. I was eating lovely sugar roasted almonds (Spanish speciality) and a bit of my tooth fell off. Thankfully it’s a small piece so I am not in pain but my imagination has gone into overdrive. Visiting the dentist is awful in the best case scenario (familiar dentist, speaking English, comfy chair!) and now, horror of horrors, I have to go to a new, unfamiliar dentist who may not have a comfy chair. Oh No! The temptation of course is to put the dentist appointment off as long as possible, but that’s not good. I just have to grit my teeth and find a dentist, preferably an English speaking one (although does it really matter when you’re in the chair unable to speak for the sound of the scary drill grinding away at the bones in your mouth?)
I’m not happy...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Patrick Ness – The Chaos Walking Trilogy

Some may quibble about the definition of the book, it could arguably move quite easily from post apocalyptic to sci-fi, primarily because it is based on another planet. The question of how to define or categorise the trilogy could make a lively book club discussion for any of the healthy book clubs out there willing and able to take on a trilogy to read and discuss!! Within the novel there are also elements of a classical hero´s journey, with Todd the protagonist embarking on a series of adventures in search of redemption, survival and peace.
As discussed in depth on other pages of this blog, the trilogy has a number of shared thematic links with other post apocalyptic fiction. The individual´s moral dilemmas in times of conflict, the power of redemptive love and the hope for future generations encompassed in individuals who sometimes make moral misjudgments but at heart seem to be good people!
The original premise of the book is genius and although it wobbles at times over the course of the trilogy, it undeniably forms one of those fantastic mind bending ideas that stick in the creative part of your brain, whirring and tickling away in the recesses of head. You´ll forget the novel for months on end and then just suddenly think “Now that was a really clever idea”.
 The premise is that on the planet where Todd lives, the men can hear each other’s thoughts. There is no privacy, no lying and no polite concealing of reality. All thoughts are shared, whether you want to or not, they are heard by other men.
The opening chapters of first novel “The Knife of never letting go”, begin with Todd trying to escape capture…only it´s difficult to hide from people when they can hear your thoughts! The pace is relentless in the first book and pretty much follows the same pattern in the next two, with Todd running away from his enemies and trying to survive against difficult odds. He picks up a few friends along the way, loses others and makes some enemies too.
The indigenous population of the planet is also an interesting creation, their role develops over the course of the trilogy, finally providing some hope of a solution to the agony of hearing each other’s thoughts for the human inhabitants.
The novel explores gender differences, the guerilla tactics of the ´freedom fighter´ women versus the war obsessed and battle ready army men led by a possibly insane megalomaniac male! Todd provides a counterbalance as a sympathetically drawn, innocent male character. One of the exciting elements of the book is the audience’s wait to see if he will become corrupted by the veniality around him or whether he will retain his innocence and desire for peace and calm imbued through his earlier family life.
The new generation of settlers on to the planet seems to bring a hope of a peaceful resolution in the final novel, but they are quickly embroiled in the political landscape, debating the morality of violent action as the first action on arrival on the planet. For a while it seems that there can be no escape from war. Eventually, however, Todd and his friends do find the redemption that they have been searching for throughout the trilogy. Ness ends the hero´s journey in a classical way, with Todd´s final battle culminating in a sort of ending, an ending for Todd and a hope of some sort of resurrection that may lead to a future elixir of hope for the planet as a whole.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The interesting thing about visions of a dystopian future is the way that they take our modern concerns, trends and scientific developments and take them to their horrific extreme, it´s never (or rarely) a glorious extreme, it always seems to be the horror that fascinates and intrigues the writer and the reader. Is it our fascination with cruel human instincts pushed to their extreme that draws us to this type of literature? Or is it always the hope of redemption that keeps us reading until the final pages?
Suzanne Collins takes the gratuitous voyeurism that has rewarded the show Big Brother with huge success and turned the phenomenon to its most extreme. There´s a part of the human instinct that is both repulsed and fascinated by humans trapped together and forced into a series of unappetising or repugnant acts. The show has spawned many more of its ilk, with television producers flocking like sheep to catch the success of ´reality television´ and make their own profits and professional success and glory from the humiliation of others.
The Hunger Games takes Big Brother to its dystopian extreme. Children from each ´district´ entering a battle to the death against each other, with only the survivor winning the final prize, the glory, the extra food for their ´district´ and their life. In the process, of course, they have become a vicious, bloodthirsty killer, intent only on survival, culling all humanity from their bodies in striving for success. A success that is defined by a sick society.
The novel also touches on our modern fascination with image, plastic surgery and enhancement of our physical attributes, again taken to the extreme. The teenagers in the story very quickly come to realize that their appearance, the editing of the show and the things they say (or are perceived to have said) are often more important than the reality of human relationships and the complexities of moral judgements.
Katniss Everdeen is a wonderful protagonist, strongly supported by the range of fascinating characters within the novel. She is a hunter, a loner, a daughter and perhaps, most importantly, a survivor. In the manner of a modern day and younger Sarah Connor, Katniss will do what she can in order to ensure her survival. By the same token, she cares about her family and others too and this is the saving grace within the dark and depressing landscape that she lives. Katniss seeks redemption and, through her, the reader too hopes for a society that can change for the better.
The trilogy is a fast paced and gripping read. We follow Katniss´ complex journey from survivor of the Hunger Games to a symbol of hope for society against oppression. We encounter evil leaders and complex freedom fighters. From the beginning to the conclusion, Collins never lets the reader rest, with a broad range of physical tests and adventures for Katniss, accompanied by  countless explorations of the moral dilemmas faced by our heroine. There are also conflicts faced by the people around her and we gain an insight into the workings of society and the morality of the huge economic differences between us. Despite being a novel set sometime in a post apocalyptic future, there are parallels that are well worth exploring and considering for the reader.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Modern Classics – Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells

Does it make me sound a bit strange if I say I like post apocalyptic novels? There´s nothing like a good old dystopian vision to keep me turning the pages. So, I am hoping to devote the next few blog entries to my favourite post apocalyptic visionaries (The books are not reviewed in any particular order. However, I am quite pedantic about the fact that Margaret Atwood´s three novels, I sincerely believe, MUST be read in chronological order!)
I´m beginning with Brother in the Land purely because I have just read it. It´s on the syllabus at the school I´ve just moved to work at, so I need to familiarise myself with the text and find ways of making it interesting to young people. It shouldn´t be a difficult task (although, sometimes teaching a text can feel like slowly killing it for both pupils and teacher…saying that I still adore Lord of the Flies, which I´ve taught, with some breaks, for over a decade).
Swindells is unforgiving in his stark portrayal of human nature and the failings of the human race. Echoes of the brutality of survival have travelled onwards and forwards to contemporary post apocalyptic novels such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If you enjoyed The Road, it´s interesting to see what Swindells was doing in this genre so many years ago.
Fears of nuclear holocaust seem to have subsided since my teenage years (when this book was published) and some elements from the very beginning of the book do set it in a particular time and place. Nonetheless, the cruelty of man and the hope in love are timeless themes. They reach a sad and quiet conclusion in the book, “not with a bang but with a whimper”, this is a quality I admire in Swindells, he doesn´t soften the edges for his teenage audience and there is little hope of a happy end. The bitter reality is shared.
The story follows the grim reality of life for Danny, the young protagonist. He meets adulthood and responsibility, moral dilemmas and the reality of horrific death in the early stages of the book. A gradual breakdown follows, both of his society and the people around him. There is some hope in the shape of Branwell´s farm and the community values it encompasses, but it is tentative.
Danny is a likeable young man, trying to do the right thing for himself and his brother. There are elements of a hero´s journey in the novel, with Danny’s quest being for his own survival with some mentors along the way and a brief light of hope and love. The story crackles along at a great pace, with the reader desperate to find some hope of survival. Like Danny, we are perpetually waiting for ´The Authorities´ to come along and make everything alright again. Needless to say, it doesn´t quite happen like that.
It´s a great, quick read. Remember it´s a children´s book, so if you don´t like teenage fiction - avoid - there will be grown up post apocalyptic novels reviewed too. If you´re a teacher, it´s worth a read just for Swindells’ great portrayal of what happens to P.E teachers post apocalypse (it has to be remembered that Swindells trained as a teacher before becoming a writer, so the portrayal must be accurate!)
Post Script: My husband (the pedantic historian) says that the title post apocalyptic novel is an anachronism, or was that an oxymoron…because if it were post apocalyptic, there wouldn't be anyone around as it would have been an apocalypse....he's being a pain in the backside and deliberately so, to provoke a response. I suppose the fascination with post apocalypse is would we be capable of surviving? If we did would we be able to create a better society? Swindells, Atwood, McCarthy and Philip K Dick all explore that theme, with wonderful results. Although the nuclear holocaust scenario may no longer be at the forefront of our everyday concerns, there are still preoccupations with global climate change, War, cloning and its consequences, scientific experimentation, peak oil and the ultimate demise of man. Great civilisations have risen and declined, we have not always learnt the lessons of history. Perhaps the fascination with post apocalyptic novels is to do with wanting to change for the better and wondering if humanity can ever achieve it...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Life in Spain - Part Three - Carpentry

Our new house is beautiful. We are very lucky to have been able to buy it. The process was costly and traumatic at times but we're here now, with beautiful views of the mountains and the sea (a great distance away!) One of the many things that appealed to us about the house was the space. Lots of wardrobe space in all the bedrooms for us and the kids to store clothes and toys and other miscellaneous stuff that we have gathered as a family. When we arrived, we realised that the wardrobes are large, with loads of hanging space for clothes, but... no shelving at all.
Thankfully, our helpful Estate Agent (I know it seems like an oxymoron, but in the current economic climate they have to try their best and he really is a very nice man!) has put us in touch with the carpenter who lives next door to the man who built our house. They both live down the road from's all very community based here! The carpenter is called Felix and is lovely, he is also Spanish and does not speak any English. My Spanish is ok, if a bit limited.
The first time Felix came around, he came with our friendly Estate Agent who translated (I said he was a nice man didn't I!) I was at a party (with Owain and lots of other 7 year olds). So husband explained to Felix about the bookshelves we want built upstairs to house our massive collection of books. He then delegated the wardrobes to me, explaining to Felix that he would have to talk to me about the wardrobes...fair enough, I had some plans in my mind about what I wanted where in terms of shelf space.
So Felix came around on Tuesday and I muddled my way through, using the dictionary for words like shelf and drawer which were not parts of my Spanish repertoire previously. Felix was very patient and with hand gestures and post it notes with pictures on, we managed to muddle our way through. He taught me a new word for shelf (it wasn't in the dictionary!). He also grinned at my own cardboard shelving, which I'd muddled out of boxes as a temporary measure when we first arrived. He also found it very entertaining that Steve (husband) had insisted that Felix spoke to me about the wardrobes, delegating that evidently wifely domain, to me!
I'm looking forward to seeing what the shelves in the wardrobes are going to look like...translation and communication, it's a great way of finding humility! I have no idea if my ideas and Felix' ideas about what will eventually happen in the wardrobes have any common ground at all. We can only hope...he certainly looks like a craftsman.
As he left, Felix gave me a great big smile (he's a rugged looking man, he looks like a carpenter who works in the sun a lot, a smile made a huge difference to his face!), he said that he was sure that I would be speaking Spanish within a year. particularly as I am a 'profesora' (teacher). I assured him that I am, ironically enough, an English teacher! He still said that he thinks I will be speaking Spanish soon enough. At least I think that's what he said...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Life in Spain - Part Two

I love the fact that the lady in the dry cleaners calls me 'Guapa'. This means pretty, or beautiful on a good day. I am 41 years old and greying badly and she calls me 'guapa', it's great!

I love the fact that when you meet a person for the first time they say 'Encantada', which is pleased to meet you but sounds far more beautiful. Why don't we say this as standard anymore when we meet someone new. We may do sometimes but it's not a standard thing...I was so excited today when I rang a Spanish lady to confirm Owain's attendance at a birthday party and when I introduced myself she said the magic 'Encantada'. Lovely! she barely knows me but she's pleased to meet me!

I love the fact that my son has invites to two birthday parties this weekend. One is tonight, starts at 6p.m. and ends at 9p.m, yes 9p.m.!! Having confirmed our attendance, I am aware of the fact that the parents will all be Spanish. My limited language skills are going to be tested!! At least I can say 'Encantada' when I meet people for the first time!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life in Spain - Part One

So, moving to a different country can be quite an exciting adventure...but the reality is a bit more complex than that, with anger, joy, impatience, frustration, incompetence and hilarity all part of the equation. I have lived in Spain as a single woman (holiday representative - those who know me well will understand that I had the patience of an angel and therefore, I was really good at that job! Despite my shortcomings I managed to do two summer seasons in Mallorca and a winter in Benidorm!) I went to Qatar as a teacher and a married woman and stayed so long I became a mother (twice). We returned to the Uk for a while and now I am in Spain. Are we nomads? restless travellers or just a family making the most of the adventures available to us and avoiding the traditions of a settled life surrounded by family and ald friends?

The moving experience changes dramatically when you're part of a family as opposed to being on your own. For a start there's considerably more luggage to unpack and find storage space for. There's two little mouths that need feeding as well as two big ones, inevitable there are arguments and injuries (and that's just mum and dad). There are four people to cater for, keep clean and happy and clothed. There are four opinions to co-ordinate (including one very strong minded four year old daughter and an equally stubborn mother!)

There are also the joys of a new culture, a different climate, a new language, new neighbours and colleagues. A new home with all its benefits and disadvantages and a new job!

I am still unpacking boxes and probably will be for some months to come. We don't have enough shelf space for all of our books, so we are waiting and hoping to get some shelves built. I am seriously considering purchasing a kindle so that I can download books as opposed to keeping them on the shelf. Yes, books do look lovely and you can go back to them, but one of the disadvantages of living abroad is the expense of purchasing books so I'm convinced the kindle is the way to go.

Life so far in Spain has been a combination of joys and a few minor niggles. Our neighbours are a lovely Spanish couple who have been very friendly to us and the children. They keep up a running dialogue (in Spanish) with the children and quite often I'm sure Owain and Aoife have absolutely no idea what's going on, but they can see the body language is positive and haer the tone of voice is kind and so they're happy. Also, they have been given chocolate and some toys to play with so their impressions are positive!! I sometimes go out to translate and thanksully, after the initial complete confusion, either the neighbour is speaking to me a bit more slowly, or my limited Spanish is all coming back to me through immersion!

I was lucky enough to be invited out to a hen party on Saturday night in Alicante city centre. This served as a great reminder of the things I find fascinating about Spanish culture. We arrived at the city centre to find the restaurant at 9 p.m. (which is not that long before my usual bed time). Alicante was heaving, absolutely full of people out having fun on a Saturday night. Nothing surprising about that, you may think, it's a city centre on a Saturday night for goodness sake. The surprising thing was that the city centre was full of people of all ages, not just bright young things on a night out on the town (or on a hen night), but middle aged couples strolling in their finery, families with children eating at outdoor restaurants. I saw two old ladies looking gloriously elegant as they promenaded arm in arm. Of course it was warm, which always lends itself to s feeling of calm. People were relaxed in very few layers of clothing, drinking at tables outside.

The range of ages made an immense difference to the feeling of the city, lending it a far more friendly, safe and family based ambience.

The hen night was fun, there were the usual penis themes objects (including a rather frightening anatomically accurate chocolate penis). Lots of raucous women laughing and having fun, plenty of good food and wine, some lovely soft sentiments about love and marriage. Altogether a great night out. At one atge I thought we were going tohave the benefit of not only one but a troupe of fit young men as strippers, thankfully it was a stag do just coming in to say hello. a raucous spanish song was sung by the stag and his party, I have no idea of the lyrics but I'm sure they were suitably smutty!

We left fairly early (by Spanish standards) at about 1 a.m.) The streets were still busy, still calm. the demographic was evidently younger but there were still a range of ages out and about, enjoying the heat. We didn't see any vomiting or fighting in the streets. maybe it was just the part of the city we were in. Perhaps it was the more salubrious area...who knows? I'm attributing the calm and wonder of  a lovely evening out to the things that the Spanish do right in their culture.....and the great climate which makes it all possible. It's a complex set of ingredients that works. I'm just hoping that I can get out there and enjoy it again soon, perhaps with the children!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

My good friend Annie sent me a link to an article in the Guardian by Jonathan Safran Foer all about his relationship with meat. I enjoyed it so I bought the book. I have read Safran Foer's other books and had decided to suspend my judgement. What I mean by that is that I had not particularly enjoyed his novels but could see that he was being adventurous with his writing and trying different things out (writing this now I am tempted to go back and re-read him to see if my impressions are different this time around). Anyway, this book is non-fiction, so delving into different realms of writing.

I have been more or less vegetarian for 25 years. I stopped eating sausages and burgers first because I can be a control freak and didn't like the idea of eating meat when I didn't know the exact contents (including such delights as eyelids and other bits of meat the butcher want to get rid of in a more acceptable package). Then I stopped eating chickens because of the antibiotics and other drugs pumped into birds at factory farms. Eventually I evolved into a vegetarian. I became a pescatarian after a few years, mainly prompted by a move to the Middle East and a marriage to a tolerant carnivore who likes to cook.

So, if you are already a vegetarian, this book will probably confirm that you are doing the right thing...if you are a commited carnivore, you will probably hate it. Apparently Gordon Ramsey recently claimed that he would be horrified if his children opted to become vegetarian. However, this book underpins the dreadful reality of providing cheap meat for a nation of people and the consequences.

It is a book about animal cruelty but it is also a far wider reaching book about pollution and sustainable farming. It's about antibiotics and health and the consequences that we are yet to face up to. It is interesting to note the figures if the populations of China and Indian begin to eat as much meat as America and Britain do now. We just cannot sustain it, unless we are prepared to ignore the pollution and the health risks and the genetic inheritance that is fast disappearing. You may not enjoy the book, but it is certainly thought provoking. Gordon Ramsey should read it!

The book should also make us proud of British food writers and chefs who are drawing our attention to the benefits of animals who are reared as nature intended. These chefs, journalists and writers are carefully and compassionately showing that in Britain, there are some farmers who still raise their chickens and cows with care. there is a growing trend towards finding out where your meat has been raised before eating it. Safran Foer's book should certainly contribute towards a movement where people either think more carefully about where their meat comes from, or become vegetarian. Alternatively, we can just carry on oblivious and see what happens to the world...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The technophobe is on her way...welcome to the 21st Century.

Ha, I'm here and so pleased with myself it's untrue. Isn't it sad to be so pleased with new technology! Anyway, reasons for blogging? To share with anyone who wants to read and listen to my thoughts on books and reading as I can never find a satisfactory, honest and brilliant review spot for new and old books I may want to read, so I'm starting my own for other readers who may be interested. Also, I'm fed up of the limited space I have on facebook to share my thoughts with family and friends, so I think I'm going to send them here instead.

On the books front. very much looking forward to the new Magnus Mills book which is due soon. having just moved to a new house in Spain without adequate shelving for all our books, we have many boxes waiting to be unpacked. In typical Siany style, I read the books that I brought with me super fast, so have been randomly unpacking boxes to find old favourites to keep me going. one such old favourite was Magnus Mills' "Three to see the King" and I love that book. I've read it three, possibly four times now and each time I think that the man is a genius. Some argue that he lost his form with his more recent releases. but I would hold my own with anyone who challenged the greatness of his first three books. I am now desperately rooting through boxes to find "All Quiet on the Orient Express", another favourite.

So what do I like about Magnus Mills? I love the seeming simplicity of style which creates a great sophistication in character and allows the reader their own journey of implication and allegorical relationship with the text. Who is the king? Who are the three? Where is the religious link? The book is a great commentary on relationships, the power of individuals and the strength of the mob! I'm usually a plot based person and some could argue that not much happens, but sometimes that's the point of a Magnus Mills book, it's about the simple things in life and how they happen and about the emptiness that can be all around us and the rituals and habits that we have in our everyday life.