Come along for the ride!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year - or is it?

As you can see, the date on my old but nevertheless "trusted" watch, was a bit keen to get into the New Year spirit of things when it seems to have made it across the line before the time-telling hands did!

Oh well, what's 45 seconds between friends eh?

Happy New Year to one and all.

I hope yours is a healthy and peaceful one.

"And now …. the end is near …."

I left the “bike” from the title of this blog at home this morning and was making my way into work by public transport; the dreaded tube. It’s New Years Eve so things are pretty quiet – I can handle it!!

During my walk to the station, I was remembering a Christmas Day which, if my memory serves me correctly, must’ve been the Christmas of 1999. I’m pretty sure that was the year because I remember we had celebrated Christmas Eve with M’s Mum in Kensington and I had travelled back to our flat alone that night, with a view to being picked up by someone in my family the following morning (we never had a car back then), to spend Christmas Day with them.

This was before we were married I hasten to add!

To be honest, the exact year is irrelevant; the reason the memory of the actual morning is so clear, is because it started so differently to any other Christmas Day up until then. (Ok, ok, if you discount the Christmas spent in Florida before driving up through Chicago to celebrate New Years in Minnesota, then this was the most different!)

My lift home on that 25th had been, shall we say, considerably delayed and I had some time on my hands. So it was that I found myself going for a jog around Battersea Park on a breathtakingly cold but beautifully clear Christmas morning, alone but for the occasional fellow jogger or dog walker (hey, dogs need to poo you know, even on Christmas morning!!?!).

I had a jog which was twice around the park, went home for a shower, some breakfast and some time to contemplate the day ahead. When I say ‘contemplate’, what I mean is ‘play music loudly’, which I did until I heard a horn beeping from the street below, indicating that my 'lift' had arrived.

Time to go.

Talking of time, it’s moving on and I haven’t actually got to what I want to say yet.

As I remember so clearly the Christmas Day I have just described to you, so I will remember this New Years Eve; or at least, I think I will.

Today is my last day at my current job; I am off for pastures new. And, as excited I am about my new job (I’m going back to working in education), it is with a certain degree of mixed feelings that I leave my current post.

I came to the BBC World Service when Joseph was just 6 months old and it has been a pretty special place to work.

As with any job, it is often the people you work with that makes a job special and, looking back through some of the pictures of our days at work and our evenings spent eating or drinking together, I am reminded just how many good times we have shared. Luckily however, it wasn’t just my colleagues that made working at Bush House so special.

I’m not sure that one should miss an actual building but Bush House itself has been a beautiful place to work. The architecture is described as “typically British” and is packed full of beautiful (not to mention listed) Art Deco features, from the lights and stone floors to the staircases and the many lifts in each of the four buildings (out of five) occupied by the Beeb.

Its locality is great - perched just back from the banks of the river Thames, nestled perfectly in between the Strand and the start of Fleet Street, almost directly at the bottom of Drury Lane; it’s been a veritable gateway to the whole of London.

Inside its huge marble walls, you are working with people (quite literally) from all around the world (gone are the days that stuffy Englishmen in tweed suits and matching ties sat puffing on a pipe while reading the news) and now, wandering through the canteen while deciding what to eat, you could easily hear 10 or 15 languages from one end of the room to the other.

Actually, writing that down reminds me of what a disadvantage it is nowadays to lack the ability to speak another language – something I plan to rectify in the New Year – especially in a place such as the World Service.

I’ve had the chance to sit and listen to plays being recorded. To talk with reporters that most people only see on the television or on their radios – actual heroes of mine - Jeremy Bowen and Justin Webb to name but two.

If I stepped into a lift, I might find myself saying good morning to, and having a brief chat with, Alan Johnson, the BBC journalist who was kidnapped in Gaza back in March of this year and held hostage for 114 days.

Another real life hero.

If you know me at all, you will know that I hate being treated like a fool by anyone, especially by high street stores or companies and nothing got more results than a complaining e-mail sent from my BBC address.

People sat up and took notice, replied with a bit of respect.

Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts is treated badly by snooty staff in a clothes store, only to fall over themselves when she walks in the next day looking well heeled and polished?

Well, shop staff would act quite differently towards me if they caught a glimpse of my BBC staff pass around my neck (supposedly hidden under a collar). I would wonder why they were suddenly being helpful, before realising what had happened. Although we were told to keep our pass out of sight, I have to admit to rather enjoying the change in 'snootys' attitude!

But all this week I’ve had that strange feeling you get in the period between Christmas Day and New years Eve – an uneasy feeling of ……. anti-climax.

You know something is going to happen – you just don’t know what.

Well, like that, but double.

Even sat here today, everyone wondering if we should go for lunch early then out for a few drinks, I feel I should be doing something ….. else. Some more work? Sorting this out, tidying that up, arranging for …. oh, I don’t know!

Maybe I should just shut down my computer and leave. I’ve deleted all the old e-mails I’ve ever received or sent. I’ve cleared out the drive allocated to me on my computer network. I’ve burned to CD all the documents I’ve written, printed and collected over the last 2000 plus days.

Ooh, before I go, I want to clear a couple of things up.

Whenever I've met someone for the first time at a dinner or drinks party, they would always ask what I did and where I worked. I would tell them and they would often straighten up slightly, allow a slight sneer to fall across their face and announce confidently, "oh, I pay your wages then?" before taking a large swig from whatever it was they were drinking.

"Actually, no", I would reply, keeping the smugness from my face as best I could. "As a matter of fact the BBC World Service is funded by a grant-in-aid administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (see here). Your licence fee funds the wider BBC but has nothing whatsoever to do with the World Service. Can I get you a drink?"

Put that in your proverbial pipe and smoke it!

Incidentally, the licence fee you pay includes (but is not limited to) the following:

BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 5 live
BBC Radio 5 live Extra
BBC 6Music
BBC 1Xtra
BBC Asian Network
BBC local radio network

BBC 1 (analogue TV)
BBC 2 (analogue TV)
BBC 3 (digital TV)
BBC 4 (digital TV)

BBC iPlayer

BBC news websites (and internet)

and more ……

Now, please don't tell me that you don't think your licence fee is worth that lot??!?

The other thing I want to say is this;

On the back of everyone’s staff pass in the entire corporation, there are printed the BBC “Values” (you can read them here).

Whatever you think of the BBC and whether you think it is good value for money or not, the absolute core value for the corporation as a whole, is that "the audience is at the heart of everything we do".

And you know what?

Every one of those words is absolutely true.

Goodbye BBC World Service; it's been a special time.

I will remember you fondly.

For more of my Bush House snaps (and those taken nearby) see here. I will add to them as soon as I can!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Blast this Christmas music. It's joyful & triumphant"

Firstly there was Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Then more recently, there was The Grinch.

Both of them started out hating Christmas but before their lives were over (well, before their respective films had finished, certainly), their gloomy outlook on the festive season had been transformed, both realising what they had been missing out on all those years, both determined to put things right.

And although I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it myself, I have to admit that things went far smoother than I thought they would. After all, if frontline British and German soldiers can put aside their differences in the name of Christmas, even for just one day, so can I.

It seemed to do the trick.

Well, if you’re anything like me, you will have eaten far more than your recommended calorific intake and right about now, will be needing to lie down.

G' night.

(See here for some examples of the typically English food and some typically Lebanese food I have managed to consume in the last 24 hours).

Y'can't have one without the other??!?

Yes, I do think my daughter is very clever but even I have to admit to the fact that I think it is highly unlikely that she was responsible for fashioning bath sponges or pieces of potato, or whatever it is they use for printing in murseries, in order to make and print our Christmas card this year.

Regardless of this minor fact, we understand she did all the "stamping" herself; we are very impressed with it.

Thank you Sweet Pea - merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's finally here!!!

Ok, ok, I know.

It's Christmas Eve, the celebrations are starting, corks are popping, food is being eaten, presents are being opened, wrapping paper recycled, naps being taken etc etc.

As you can see below, part of Joseph's classwork was to draw a picture highlighting what this time of year is really about!!!

Just in case you'd forgotten.

Happy Christmas to one and all.

I hope yours is a genuinely happy one!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What do you call a train loaded with toffee?

A chew chew train!

Joseph thought this joke from a cracker was incredibly amusing at a Christmas lunch thrown by his Godfather and family the other day.

Naff jokes, easily torn paper hats and far too much food; the tell tale signs of Christmas.

'Tis the season to be jolly.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

“Schoo-o-o-o-ol’s out, for .... erm ….. winter!”

Poor Missy – I collected her from nursery and she did not look well, apparently having burst into tears for no reason, moments before I arrived.

Home, take temperature, rush for medicine and spoon, strip to underwear (Annabel, not me) to cool down and leave to doze on sofa. She wasn’t herself at all. So much so in fact, that I stayed home with her the next day, keeping her off school. I could tell she really was feeling poorly as it was the day of her end of term Christmas party and she would be missing it by staying home.

Anyway, stay at home she did and we just slobbed on the sofa watching films while I made her soup and drinks throughout the day.

That evening she was back to herself so this morning, back into school she went, albeit briefly (the nursery broke up at 11am) and we had 3 hours to waste before Joseph’s class also came screaming out of the school gate for the Christmas break.

As a surprise, I had loaded her new(ish) bike into the boot of the car and I took her over to the common for a short ride. The look on her little face was worth the effort as I lifted her down from the car and she stood looking at her bicycle.

"Are we gonna ride my bike Dad?" she enquired, still not sure as to why we were at the common.

"You betcha, my love", I replied, beaming probably a little more than she was. It was only a short ride as it was cold (and lunchtime) so we packed up and went home.

As always, it was during something fairly ordinary that made me realise how little one-on-one time I spend with Missy. Sitting having soup, talking about not much in particular and laughing together, reminded me once again.

And although being reminded makes me a little bit sad, we always have a smashing time when we do get the opportunity.

It was way back in May 2006 (see
here) that I first referred to Annabel as Foghorn Leghorn.

How things have changed.

My nickname for her now is Sweet Pea, admittedly a much kinder pet name. Not after Popeye’s offspring but after the flower. The flower’s a pretty little thing too.

Tonight we printed out a picture of a sweet pea and stuck it on her wall to remind her when she sees it that she is:

a) my sweet pea and

b) as pretty as one.

Sweet dreams Missy

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

“Consonant please Carol”

Well, today marks the official countdown to the end of my contract at my current job.

Admittedly, 16 days left to go isn’t exactly marking the official end, nor is it very romantic sounding – “16 days remaining” – but what is happening is that we have been provided with a rather tidy little sum of money in order to throw a little “end of the digital archiving project” party.

500 “tidy little sums” to be precise – no mean feat when all we normally hear at work is “can’t have this, can’t have that, it’s too expensive etc” and so on.

Anyway, we opted to go back to a cracking little Italian restaurant that we had frequented a couple of years back for our Christmas “do” due to it offering authentic Italian fare (I do love an authentic pizza), a not too shabby wine list and the staff are friendly and neither overly fussy nor rude.

The (incredibly lazy) project manager gave us the following morning off which was handy because the barman at the restaurant makes a mean frozen Margarita!

La Porchetta on Boswell St, London WC1.

Molte bene.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My son's froot salad

Last week, Joseph's class were told to write a plan for their ideal fruit salad. They would then have to shop for the ingredients and make the salad before bringing their creations into school for everyone to sample and comment upon.

If you are in any way familiar with what I write here, you will know that fruit is possibly one of Joseph's favourite things in the entire universe, so this was an exercise that was met with genuine enthusiasm. Of course, stroberees .... I mean ... strawberries, aren't all that easy to come by at this point of the year. Well, not any decent one's at any rate and Joseph is a bit of a fruit aficionado.

Anyhow, this was his plan for his salad and, as always, his work was marked on effort not on how accurate his spelling was (I love this approach - the spelling tests come at the end of each week in case you're wondering) and as you can see, his was a "good plan".

His classmates particularly enjoyed the sharon fruit but apparently the salad most enjoyed by all had "chewy fruit salad" in it. Surely they don't mean chewy fruit salad as in the pick 'n' mix type fruit salad??

No wonder they loved it!!

(click to enlarge)

p.s. "goos" is juice. I'll let you work out the rest.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan

“Educating our children is not just about imposing a body of knowledge on them. Rather, it involves preparing children from the early years for the world in which they will come of age. It means instilling a love for lifelong learning, creativity, self-expression and an appreciation for diversity.”

A Royal who is beautiful, caring and smart?


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Billie Jean .... she's not my lover ..."

I have been trying (and failing) to convince Joseph that weekday mornings are for getting up, getting dressed and getting out of the front door for them to go to school and for me to go to work.

Annabel is not much trouble at all, primarily because she doesn’t wake up until you go in, open her blinds, turn on the lights, remove her covers before finally nudging her until she stirs.

Joseph however, invariably is the first to wake and gets out of bed to play quietly in his room until we awake. The problem with this though is that by the time I get out of bed, he is in the middle of whatever it is he is playing with and doesn’t want to stop in order to get washed and dressed.

And so we have - what is fast turning into – the daily explanation/moan about the morning being a time for getting on with it and not play time. In response to this, Joseph has been having a mini-hissy fit which consists of him doing a kind of break-dance, where he stamps his feet and flaps his arms about. The thing is, when he does it, he closely resembles Michael Jackson dancing, arms hitting his own shoulders, legs, privates etc and it is really funny.

The (lucky) knock on effect of this is that although I have just moaned at him to get dressed, his little dance routine makes me laugh out loud, which in turn makes him laugh and sometimes, sometimes it defuses the situation perfectly.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked me the other day after one such incident. I explained about the similarity of his dance moves to Mr Jacksons and said that I would show him on the internet what I meant.

This I duly did and he laughed along, seeing the comparisons I was making with his own “freaking out” dance each morning. One click led to another and before you know it, we are watching the Moonwalk and I turn to look at Joseph, just catching his eyes widening at the spectacle.

Before he has too much of a chance to react, I quickly type in my first memory of the moonwalk.

It is early in the year 1982 and my brother and I have just watched, completely gobsmacked, as some dude (who turns out to be Jeffrey Daniel) on Top of the Pops, has done this amazing backward walk across a dance floor and it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen (watch it here). The fact that no-one in the TOTP audience screamed their heads off at the move was equally astonishing.

My brother and I spent the rest of the evening in our parents hallway, wearing socks for maximum glide across the carpet, before we achieved what would qualify as a pretty acceptable backward walk, which eventually turned out to be called the Moonwalk.

(I’ll pick up on this event in a later post).

For now (and back in the present), Joseph turns to me, clearly amazed. “How does he do that?” He asks, laughing. “How does he do it Dad?”

“Come on”, I say. “I’ll show you”.

We go into his room (laminate floor – perfect!!), I kick off my shoes and go to the end of the room. I glance over and see him staring intently at my feet, watching to see if his Dad really can do the magic walk.

After many years of not having done it, plus the fact that my ankle has been buggered for several months now, I attempt “the walk”.

I was watching my own feet as I did it and, although my ankle screamed out half way through, I thought it was not too shabby.

I looked up at Joseph to see what he thought and laughed at what I saw.

He was still watching my feet intently as I glanced over but then looked up at me with an expression that said, “Well? Are you going to do it or not?”.

He had a point.

I pathetically mentioned that my ankle hurt before having another try which was quite obviously better as he let out a loud whoop of delight.

Which was more than Jeffrey Daniels got in 1982, right?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Van Gogh, Chatwin, Hemingway, Matisse ……… me.

*inhales deeply*

Aaah yes, it is another cold, beautiful but otherwise, seemingly insignificant day outside.

Not so.

Being the hopelessly indecisive creature that I am, it often takes me longer than your average person to settle on a purchase of something important, especially when that purchase holds long term repercussions for you in the palm of its shaky little hand.

About 6 years ago, I discovered the Moleskine diary as a way of keeping my day to day needs and appointments written down for when my empty head got the better of me. Then, about 3 years ago I (stupidly) thought I would try a different format.

Hmm …. I think I’ll give a Filofax a try.

Our survey said?

Uh-uhhh …

It didn’t work out, all those ring binders to cope with, writing like a 3 year old (sorry Missy), but after the cost of new Filofax and inserts, I stuck with it.

In diary owning terms, it was a long year.

Next up?

Back to Moleskine but this time (although staying with the same size), I got a 'day per page' to have more room to write.

Our survey said?

Uh-uhhh …

That didn’t work out either.

Yes, I had more room to write which was helpful but not being able to see the rest of the week was a complete no-no. Of course, by the time you realise it isn’t working, it’s May and you kind of think that, after the cost of the diary etc etc, maybe you should stick with it.

Another long year.

And so, as you may have guessed, today I finally took the plunge. My choices were simple;

1. Do I stick with Moleskine and

2. Do I go with pocket size or larger?

It wasn’t easy (I started looking in October for goodness sake!), but today I strolled confidently into the bookshop, gave the larger diary one final cursory glance before gently gathering up the small, black, hard backed diary that would be my companion for the next 365+ days.

I think 2009 is gonna be a good year!!

I can feel it!!

I scanned my new "friend" (still in its protective wrapper), for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, December 08, 2008

“Everybody screamed, when I kissed the teacher ….”

You know, strange things happen whenever we get together with our Wilton based chums at their home in.....…. um ….... Wilton.

I always go to bed on Saturday night feeling full of good cheer, smiling slightly stupidly and usually fall asleep without any trouble at all.

The weird bit is that more often than not, I wake up feeling fairly dreadful, with a thumping headache and a slightly wishy-washy stomach.

I have a feeling they don’t cook our evening meals properly which I try to rectify by drenching whatever it is that’s in my stomach with lashings of red wine but, for whatever reason, Sunday morning can be a bit of a write-off; it’s uncanny.

Oh well, maybe next time!

Irrespective of our friend’s dodgy cooking, we always jump at the opportunity to spend time at their home in picturesque Wiltshire, 15 minutes from Stonehenge. Once again, this time around we made the clever decision to drive down Friday evening thus awaking refreshed and ready for action first thing on Saturday morning.

Our weekend included the following (in varying amounts);

Guinness & port, home made soup, cooked breakfasts in baps, Christmas Tea, charity shop finds, village fair at community centre (where I very controversially did not win the hamper raffle – I’m sure she must’ve noted my telephone number down incorrectly), my first ever Gin Martini, a full Christmas dinner, red wine, port, lots of good music, a long but cold walk on a glorious Sunday morning followed by bubble & squeak, a trouble free drive home and all in bed by 10.30pm, bloody exhausted but pleased to have gotten out of the capital, albeit for one short weekend.

And you know what?

We didn’t have to do any washing up!!


Check out them apples!!!

Thanks guys - it was a lot of fun.

As always.

(For more pictures of our weekend, see here)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The difference a day makes.

I always feel slightly sheepish mentioning that England is in the middle of a severe weather warning. I receive comments from (and follow the blogs of) people living in places such as the Turks & Caicos Islands, from Texas and from Washington DC, all of which really know what severe weather is all about.

Anyway, severe or not, there are a couple of types of weather that are guaranteed to keep the cover on my bike and force me onto that most loathed of modes of transport, the London Underground.

As I peeked behind the window blinds at 6.15am, I see a pitch black morning with lots of rain flying sideways down the street and debris flying after it.


The underground it is.

So I grab my book, pull my collar up and head for the station. As soon as I get on the tube I remember why I hate using it so much. We are packed in like sardines and still more and more people try to squeeze on. Someone sneezes somewhere and I cover my face, looking to see if everyone does the same (no-one does).

Just when I think it can’t be worse, I hear someone throwing up – ON the train! Faces wrinkle in disgust, the smell fills the carriage and I get off at the next stop and wait for the next train.

I hate the tube!

Train comes in, I get on and this time I get a seat. On to the next stop and people fill the carriage once more but I keep my face buried in my book. I am aware that a woman is standing right in front of me but still I keep looking into my book. The guards voice announces mine is the next stop and I prepare to stand. As I do, I get a proper look at the woman in front of me.

The heavily, heavily pregnant woman.

I stutter an apology and try to explain that I didn’t see her, which she gracefully accepts but hurries to sit down as I leave.

What did I say about not getting any worse?

I hate the tube!

Me and my shadow yesterday morning!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wahid falafel min fadlak

No particular news today, no big story to tell, just a few pictures of a place I found the other day on my lunchtime amble around town that has turned out to be an absolute gem.

If you like falafel wraps, then head to Sara’s Supermarket at the north end of Leather Lane (famous for the little market there). They are freshly made, the chopped salad is wonderful and the proprietor is friendly and humble.

Actually, having said that, I think he is fully aware that his falafel’s are something special.

It’s probably a good thing that I only discovered them recently as fried falafel are not the ideal daily lunch but I intend to eat as many of them between now and the end of the year as the holes on my belt will allow.

Shukran habibi.

Thank you.

The main ingredient.

The salad.

Squashing the falafel down into the salad.

Yoghurt dressing and optional chilli sauce.

Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and mint. I accept that it looks a bit fussy now but trust me, every one of those flavours comes through.

Try them and let me know what you thought.

I reckon you'll thank me.