take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


A few weeks ago

Um, okay... *shrugs*


Oh... *scratches head*

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


"Ahhh.." he sighed, in an amused and self-satisfied tone.
"Fell asleep on the job."

Though the darkness prevented me from seeing the expression on his face, I imagined it to be one of those smug, smarmy smiles.

"Parrrp" he added, shortly afterwards, though I don't think this particular outburst emanated from his mouth.

I frowned at him, rolled over, squeezed my eyes shut and tried to get back to sleep.

Last night was one of those rare nights where sleep evaded me, making me an audience once more to the nocturnal chatter of my resident somniloquist

In the early days of our relationship, having previously been single for *rhhhhrrmmm* years, I found sharing a bed to be detrimental to my slumbers and no, not just because... well, y'know. After a frustratingly restless night, though, I would at least be able to regale him with details of his "emissions" the following morning. Our laughter would override the yawns and bleary eyes.

He always enunciates clearly and in his normal voice - no slurring, muttering or trailing off. In the early days, I wouldn't realise that he was asleep and I would reply to him, usually with a "Wha...?" and a furrowed brow. I have now learned to accept: listen, remember and make a note somewhere for later embarrassment.

And so I present just some of his *ahem* "oeuvre":

"Ahhh, the Romans" (he is a Latin teacher - he loves his job)

"I would do so, but 40 minutes with any attempt at innuendo would clearly make it very unwise"

"It's just madness, it really is. Just madness." *waves arms around* "Give me your glass and I'll put it on the side"

"Give me some money and I'll think about it, right here, right how"

"Arggh!" *sits bolt upright*

For the past year or so, it seemed that his night-time performances were waning. I rarely had any new material with which to bait him in the mornings. I'd assumed that it was because he wasn't doing it any more.

However, having heard his recent outburst, I now believe it is because I am usually too deeply asleep to hear it. Of the two of us, over time I have developed into the better sleeper. My initial "bed-sharing anxiety" meant that I would sleep very lightly, being woken by the slightest thing. This seems to have been replaced with an ability for consistent, log-like slumbers, while poor Big reads, fidgets, tosses and turns and wakes up the next morning feeling less than refreshed.

Me being me (well, who else would I be?), I am strangely envious of his sleep-based gibber. I would love to be regaled with a morning report detailing the amusing pecularities of my previous night's behaviour. Sometimes, I'll probe him if I know he's been awake:

"Did I do anything funny in my sleep?"
"No, you were quiet as a mouse, love."

In sleep as in daily life, I am doomed to be dull.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Book me in 

Book meme. Ach.

This is where I disappoint all you people who think I'm well read and reveal that actually, I don't read very much at all. Not "normal" things anyway. Reading books just doesn't seem to fit into my life very well. If I took a train or a bus to work, I would probably read every day, but I drive or am driven to work. The only time I think to read a book is when I go to bed. But inevitably, as soon as I pick the thing up, I fall asleep. Ask Big - he's the one on "sleep patrol" - ready to nudge me with his elbow as soon as I start nodding off.

I also have a shocking short term memory, so once I've finished a book, even if it's had me gripped from start to finish, I'll forget virtually everything about it.

When it comes to choosing books at a bookshop - I am paralysed by "l'embarras du choix". I usually buy books from charity shops as there are fewer to choose from. I'll just grab one which catches my eye.

But thanks (I think) to Gordon, I shall attempt this nonetheless.

1. One book that changed your life - the hardest question first.

"Le mythe de Sisyphe" by Camus (The myth of Sisyphus). I studied a lot of French humanist philosophy at university and was captivated by Camus and his philosophy of balance, which still informs me today.

2. One book that you've read more than once.

"Les Liaisons dangereuses" by Choderlos de Laclos. This is the first one to come to mind. As preposterous and pretentious as this undoubtedly sounds, I've probably read more French literature than English, mainly because I *had* to read it for my degree. I rarely read books more than once.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island.

An Atlas of the world. I can stare, fascinated, at maps for hours on end.

4. One book that made you laugh.

"Bridget Jones' diary" by Helen Fielding. It made me laugh out loud at the time, whereas the film left me cold, despite the brooding presence of Colin Firth.

5. One book that made you cry.

Apart from my book of Shakespeare's Insults which makes me cry with laughter, the only one I can think of is "Gobbolino, the witch's cat" by Ursula Moray Williams (thanks, Google, though I'd remembered it as Gobbolina!) which made me cry when I was little, though I can't remember why.

6. One book that you wish you had written.

Oh, something lucrative, like Harry Potter (I have never read a Harry Potter book, fact fans!)

7. One book you wish had never been written.

Any book which preaches hatred, self-hatred or intolerance. Or any other bad things. Peace, man.

8. One book that you are reading at the moment.

At the moment, I am reading "L'Express", a French, weekly news magazine, known as an "hebdomadaire" - incidentally one of my favourite French words which means, simply, "weekly", though it looks like it should mean something quite different to my eyes. Like dromedary. I digress.

Because I have to retake one of my Translation diploma papers in January (it still hurts), I am trying to keep up with what's going on in France, so have got myself six months of subscription. Thank you, Mr Internet - your uses are many and varied. Yes, I could read it online, but somehow reading online doesn't feel like proper reading. Even though I spend hours doing it until my eyes hurt.

The last proper book I finished was "We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver and one I'm still working my way through is "The Power of Babel" by John McWhorter - some of the passages on creoles and patois are hilarious if you're interested in languages, but it can be a bit much for bedtime reading.

9. One book that you've been meaning to read.

"Call of the weird" by Louis Theroux. My friends bought it for me but it is currently sitting sullenly, untouched and unloved, on the coffee table. But Louis, you know I love you, don't you?

10. Five others that you'd like to do this.
I don't tag, baby.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Snot what it seems 

"Ugh! What is that?"

My colleague wrinkled his nose and had a look of pure disgust on his face as he eyed my desk.

I'd been eating grapes. Black grapes. Black, seeded grapes. The nice people don't do seedless varieties, it seems. Lovely and sweet, they are, but with seeds. I'm not good with seeds, pips and stones. Big will happily wolf such things down, but pip anxiety sets in with me - I imagine that they will either break my teeth, choke me or grow a tree in my tummy. Some people are happy to put the seedular item, whole, in their mouth, then retrieve the seed using a combination of tongue, lips and teeth and spit it out. I will not let such a thing even enter my mouth - I either eat around it ( i.e. olives, apples) or remove it before popping it in. With these grapes, I chose the latter option.

I placed a tissue on my desk and pulled each grape open with my fingers, gouging the seeds out onto the tissue before finally eating the grape. A bit of a faff, a little sticky, but the result was worth it.

Despite their dark, purple exterior, the flesh inside the grapes was green, as is the norm, I believe. Each removed seed was surrounded by a slimy, green film and soon, I'd built up quite a collection on the tissue. A tissue, with grape seeds on it, on my desk. Nothing wrong with that, you'd think.

Trouble is, in a situation like this, you need the context. Unless you know the origin of the tissue-based detritus, it can look like something really quite different. Hence, the reaction of my colleague.

I must say, I can see what he meant.

Mind you, since the sanding incident, my nasal passages have never quite been the same...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Can o' worms 

It seems that by writing a post about "How to be a popular blogger", I have inadvertently made my blog more popular (note that I said "more popular", not "popular"), though I realise this is likely to be a short term thing. I have had mentions on a couple of (popular) blogs, both of which have brought in a number of new readers and led to increased traffic.

My referrals show that some readers arrived by googling "most popular blogs" – the beautiful irony that they should end up here is certainly not lost on me.

I'm not sure that we reached any conclusions in the comment box discussion which ensued, other than that there is no magic formula and that I am a bit of a fool for worrying about popularity at all, but a couple of comments in there have opened a whole new can of worms for me which could best be summed up by the words: "comment anxiety".

Now, imagine if you will that you see a sign on a house saying "Friendly gathering – everyone welcome - come on in". At first, you'd think: "How odd? Why would someone open up their life like this and invite anyone in to poke around?" You puzzle over it for a while and notice that more and more houses have such signs - it becomes quite a common phenomenon. One day, curiosity gets the better of you, and you peer into the window of one of them and listen in to the conversations, although are careful not to be seen. You come back time after time to feed your intrigue. You pick up the vibe of the gathering, you find out what makes the host or hostess tick, and you decide that you like what you see. You note that people seem to be having fun in there and, one day, you finally pluck up the courage to go on in.

Imagine now that you've made that effort, you've turned up at the gathering, carefully wiping your feet on the doormat. You've brought a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates for the host or hostess, you go up to them and you say: "Hello, my name is... ".

What if the host or hostess then just ignored you and continued chatting to his or her little clique of friends? You would probably be a wee bit offended.

In likelihood, unless you were made of strong stuff, you would not want to return to that unfriendly place.

This is my attempt at an analogy of how I see *my* (and the emphasis is important here) comment box. By creating my virtual home on the internet and posting my thoughts here for all to read and comment upon, I see it as a little gathering to which everyone is invited; an open-house. If you have taken the time to read my thoughts, formulate your own and put finger to keyboard to contribute to the "debate" ( i.e. you have brought "wine and chocolates" to the gathering), then frankly, I think it would be rude of me not to acknowledge your existence.

Which is why my personal commenting policy has evolved over time so that when I see a comment from someone whom I don't recognise, I will at the very least say "Hello".

This is all entirely dependent on how you see your comment box. I see mine like a friendly conversation around a dinner table: intimate and relaxed. In real life, we would have the benefit of glances, gestures, nods and smiles to ensure that people's contributions are being taken in. We do not have this benefit in a comment box, which is why I make the effort to ensure that newcomers are acknowledged in writing. That is my virtual smile, if you like. Because of the nature of my blog - a small gathering of mostly like-minded people - it is easy to recognise newcomers.

I realise, of course, that whilst my approach works very well for my blog, it cannot and should not always apply.

For the more humorous, witty, entertaining blogs, the comment box may be seen more as a free-for-all at a comedy club, where subsequent performers will step up on stage and add to the "show". Some will have a compère on after a few acts but not always, and they will not want to disrupt the flow by welcoming each new performer onto the stage.

Some blogs are reminiscent of an art gallery. Many people go along to admire, but the "artist" is distant and may not engage with you, the visitor, at all. However, you appreciate the art, so you return.

I would liken the comment boxes of some of the very big blogs to bustling bars in a city, heaving with cosmopolitan people who may be organised in groups, chatting amongst themselves or shouting across the bar to make themselves heard. The atmosphere may be intimidating at first if you are not used to it. The bar owner is unlikely to be able to talk to all of the people who enter the bar due to sheer numbers, but may recognise some regulars and build a rapport with them.

So when you ask me to write a post on commenting etiquette, through thinking about it and writing this, I now realise that it is actually an impossible task. It is a "local" phenomenon - i.e. entirely dependent on the nature of the individual blog and its audience. All I can give you is *my* policy which applies to *my* blog. It has evolved over time as the blog itself has evolved and it may of course change in the future.

As we travel around Blogland, we may find other commenting cultures which differ from our own. It can be hurtful if you are not treated on someone else's blog as you would treat someone on your blog. But we must remember that our policy does not apply to all. And if there's a golden rule I've learned of late, it would be that we should certainly not take these things personally.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I finish my run at the supermarket and use a bench outside to do my stretches. I always receive a few funny looks when I do this, but overall I think the health of my muscles is probably more important that any remaining street credibility I may possess.

Slowly, as I stretch, my body recovers from the 5 miles of pavement pounding. My breathing returns to normal, my hitherto purple face regains its more usual pallour, the sweating, after a brief surge immediately after stopping the run, calms down to something approaching normality. I unleash my hair from its ponytail, tip my head upside down and comb my fingers through it, somewhat painfully when I catch the tangles, until I feel presentable enough to enter the supermarket.

My "emergency" fiver, which used to remain in my running pack for months on end, gets spent on a few supplies - a loaf of bread, milk, more water (I will usually have drunk all of the 500ml from my ergonomic running bottle) and my post-running treat: freshly squeezed orange juice.

Armed with my bag of goodies, I make my way across the bridge over the weir and through the park. I notice the mallards, lined up on the log in the water, preening themselves*. I smile at the sight of their bright orange feet. I continue my walk alongside the river and then divert to the path by the cornfield. It wouldn't have been difficult to scale the small wall, do battle with some stinging nettles and grab a few ears of corn on my way past, but I decide against it on moral grounds.

I emerge onto the path beside the allotments, where a small, tabby cat watches my approach with interest. I crouch down in front of him and he rolls excitedly on the ground. He weaves around my legs enthusiastically for several minutes, smarming his head on my feet whilst I try (and fail) to get a decent picture of him with my mobile phone (see above for evidence). Eventually, my hunger wins over and I leave the cat to it. He recovers from the abandonment remarkably quickly, acting all nonchalant and seeming to feign a sudden interest in something on the ground no doubt requiring his immediate attention.

I arrive home, prepare my "luxury" weekend breakfast of juice, toast and tea (during the week, I stick to muesli - or should I say, it sticks to me - specifically between my teeth) and finally relax on the sofa. This is the little Saturday morning ritual I've developed over the past few weeks.

Running is not, I'll admit, my favourite thing. But one rather unexpected benefit, alongside the health and fitness, is that after running, you gain an appreciation for some of the most simple things. Water, slightly but not overly chilled, is coveted. Orange juice, even the cheap stuff, tastes like nectar from the gods. A warm shower feels blissfully invigorating and, after a longer run, a hot bath is just heavenly. Lingering on a sofa with a cup of tea feels justified, as does an afternoon nap, my head on Big's lap.

I will never be particularly good, I will never be particularly fast. But it works, for me.


Friday, September 08, 2006


Procrastination (and the subsequent guilt and frustration which ensues) is one of my default behaviours. So it was a surprise to myself that, in recent weeks, I have managed to break the cycle and actually do some things.

Of course, there are some stubborn items which have been on the to-do list for years, like: "start swimming on a regular basis". So far, I have got as far as buying a swimsuit with legs (stripping down in public to a standard swimsuit (let alone a bikini) is something I just can't do right now - you know my issues) and have ascertained that, for a smaller fee than that charged by the municipal pool, I may use the facility at Big's school which only requires stumbling across the road. Until I broach the water, of course, this item will have to remain unticked for now.

Some of the things I have managed to do, though, are:

But did they really have to bring us bl**dy beetroot in our first box?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Radio ga - gah! 

Every time I sat at the computer, it would tantalise me. In the corner of my eye, I would see it glinting, inviting me in. I imagined how it could transform my existence. I could do it at the dining table, in the kitchen, on the sofa, in bed or in the garden. I chuckled to myself: I could even do it on the toilet. It would free me from the shackles which currently held me stuck in my rut, immobile and stifled.

I dreamed of how it would fit with my proposed new career. Sitting at the large, solid birch table, surrounded by dictionaries and reference books, music playing in the background and a steaming cup of tea to keep me company, I would write my translations. During the school holidays, Big would be home too: reading, watching the cricket and bringing me fruit smoothies for lunch when he wasn't tending to the kitchen garden. We would break to play tennis, go for a walk or on day trips - my time would finally be my own to share flexibly between the activities I needed to do and those that I wanted to do.

It promised so much, did the little pop up window in my system tray:

"Wireless network detected
One or more wireless networks are in range of this computer. To see the list and connect, click this message."*

Of course, I did not use the unsecured wireless network, kindly but probably unknowingly provided by my neighbours (the same neighbours who have kindly and knowingly provide us with apples these last few weeks), but took myself off to PC World with my dream in mind and my Maestro card at the ready.

The first wireless router was easily installed, I'll admit, and would provide reliable interwebbing from a variety of locations around the house and garden. But, like a puppy dog, it did not take kindly to being ignored. If you left it for a couple of hours and returned, whilst still claiming to be connected, it would resolutely refuse to navigate to any sites. The only solution was to provide regular, physical interaction - namely, hard-rebooting at least once a day. Hardly "always on wireless broadband connectivity". I researched the router on the internet and found many a thread dedicated to solving its many and varied psychological problems. I followed the advice but to no avail - it remained as needy as ever.

It was no good - it would have to return from whence it came, to the Battersea dogs home that is PC World's customer service department.

I chose a different model next time which seemed to offer the same functionality, but fell at the first hurdle. The setup CD failed to set anything up. No apologies, no explanations, just "Setup failed". I had to infiltrate the web admin page and fiddle - I'm not averse to fiddling, after all. It *seemed* to work, when the laptop was about a foot from the access point. I grabbed the laptop with glee and set up camp on the sofa for my surfing session.

But... ah. *click* hmmm. *hover* How slow? *click* What? *refresh* What's the matter? *refresh* Ah, yes, it does work after all. *click* Oh.

No. Call me Miss Picky, but I will not pay £70 for a wireless router which only offers a reliable connection when the patch cable is plugged in. That's not wireless, darlings. Luckily, the man at PC World returns department agreed and my £70 was duly refunded.

Until I've done some proper research, I will be found cramped under the stairs, patched in to the old, reliable (wired) router, my wi-fi life still but a dream...

*this was supposed to be a little picture of the pop-up which comes up in the system tray. But for some reason, my BloggerBot is having a hissy fit and won't let me post pics at the moment... gah again!

Friday, September 01, 2006

How to be a "popular" blogger... possibly 

What makes a blog popular? Why do some blogs "enjoy" hundreds, even thousands, of hits per day, whilst others (like me, of course) languish at the bottom of the heap: a non-entity with a mere trickle of loyal visitors?

These are questions which both intrigue and depress me on a regular basis. Without wishing to put anyone down or big anyone up, it is not always clear to see why some blogs have become "must haves" on blogrolls throughout the world whilst others remain in blogscurity. The chasm between these two extremes cannot always be explained away by better writing, more interesting characters or stories.

There are some features, however, which seem to help. I have been reading, writing and covetously staring at blogs for three years now, so I feel my ideas are reasonably well informed. However, these points should by no means be construed as advice to bloggers - besides, who am I to be giving advice? What I am talking about is not what makes a good blog - that is quite another debate and subject to opinion - but what seems to make a popular, widely-read, "successful" weblog, according to my observations. This is not a sour-grapes, self-bashing escapade, it is a genuine desire to understand the sphere known as blog.


The rule seems to be, at least at first: keep it narrow. If your blog has a definite "theme", particularly an intriguing or "romantic" one (e.g. the trials and tribulations of being an ex-pat, a high-class call girl, an ex-Oxbridge lap-dancer, a sex addict or someone who got sacked for blogging), an ever-popular pursuit ( e.g. celebrity bashing) or a highly original, interactive idea (like postsecret, another idea I wish I'd thought of...), you can hook in the readers. Eventually, you might explore the other facets of your existence, but by then, you will have established a large readership for whom you can do no wrong.


Some popular blogs rely on consistency of content, others rely on consistency of style. One perenially popular British blogger starts all his posts with a short statement in the present tense, usually related to an extremely mundane occurrence: "We go to the bank!!!". (Can you see who it is yet?) The style is always the same: quintessentially British in terms of its wit, gentle jibes, deadpan delivery and understatement. But, like with so many forms of entertainment, we seem to like formula. We want to know what we're getting and will continue to come back for more if we are satisfied.

Each post is an "article" in its own right

A popular blog is usually one where a new reader can just pop in and read the most recent post and feel that, though part of a bigger picture (or archive), what they've just read can exist on its own, as an "article" (like a column in a magazine). They will want to read more because they are intrigued by the character, the writing or the subject, but each post "satisfies" them in some way. It has a beginning and an end. It takes them on a little journey and brings them home again. If there are too many references to previous events which are crucial to understanding the current post (either in the form of clickable links to previous posts, veiled references or assumed knowledge on the part of the reader), the reader may feel frustrated or alienated and might not bother coming back.

Posts are neither too short, nor too long

It's difficult to specify exactly what too short or too long is. If the writing or subject matter is good, the length of post is largely immaterial. But, like the previous point, the reader should feel satisfied. They should want to read the post from beginning to the end (without checking their watch) and feel some sense of resolution.


A more successful blog will usually limit the scope of each post to one event or subject. The event or subject may, of course, give rise to the discussion of other related events or subjects, but it all comes back to satisfaction: the reader wants to follow you on your journey and the easier you make it for them, the better. Inexplicable diversions and tangents can frustrate.


Photos, artwork and diagrams can give a blog an edge - if not a raison d'être - especially if they are used appropriately and with moderation. A post consisting of a batch of holiday snaps which causes the page to load tiresomely slowly, however, will probably not do the job. Better to have one "representative" (usually arty) photo, with a link to others if people are keen to see more.

Being noticed

This can be pure luck (a blogger with a wide audience or a newspaper columnist just happens to notice you) or carefully calculated (scatter your (preferably intriguing or witty) comments with gay abandon around Blogland - particularly on established, popular blogs, join all manner of webrings and blog groups etc). But what is clear is that if you get name-checked in the "mainstream" media, you'll probably be guaranteed a huge and enduring boost to your readership.

Keep it regular

Most readers will not take kindly to sporadic posts; they want regular doses. Of course, the more loyal readers will tolerate the odd hiatus here and there (most of my readers have returned after my most recent hissy fit), but others will, understandably, fall by the wayside.

Of course, there are blogs which follow these rules and still remain unknown, unloved and unacknowledged, whilst there are doubtless some extremely popular blogs which fly in the face of this would-be advice and have managed, sometimes mysteriously, to be vastly popular anyway.

All of this is of course largely immaterial if you are what I'd call a sensible blogger. Blogging (like life, I guess) is not and should not be a competition, but in certain circles it has become more and more so over the last couple of years. Some of us feel that we need to try and compete, whereas others are quite happy to do our own thing. As mentioned on probably too many occasions, whilst I would like to belong to the latter category, sometimes I can't help but slip into the former. And, given my lowly status in the Blogosphere, it's probably not good for me...