Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Fairy Car

I promised to show you the car I have the use of and here it is!

It's a good job I don't get embarrassed easily! I certainly need to drive considerately and carefully in this because I won't be anonymous especially in this small community. It's a good job I usually do, because when I'm driving I forget how conspicuous it is.

The owner, my employer calls it the Fairy Car. They have two other vehicles so it's rare that they need it.

I usually just use it on my day off to visit my mother, but sometimes I go into Wells on an errand.

Monday, 22 November 2010

So, What's Positive About This Job?

Quite a lot actually.
Let me list them:

A Car
I have the use of a car. A small economical-to-run one. Mostly mine. May be used occasionally by S, she says, but they have another car and a van. This car deserves a short blog post of it's own - with a picture.

I love the countryside and this bungalow is surrounded by it.
Even in November it's very green around about. I love the green of the grass and the bushes and the tress and narrow lanes and there are still a few flowers out on bushes and plants. The large kitchen and lounge windows frame a view of hills, trees and cottages.

A Proper Fire
In the lounge there is a working fireplace where a living fire burns each evening. As an adult I've never lived in a place with a working fireplace so this is a real treat. Rural areas of Britain are not restricted to burning smokeless fuel so we have real coal. They also burn logs but I haven't seen that yet. I even laid a fire yesterday. It's quite easy.

There are two cats. They are new to the household so are not allowed outside yet to guard against them wandering off before they feel that this is their home. There is a fat older cat called Sally and a 10 month old cat called Milo. Sally loves attention but Milo is not used to being handled so I can only stroke him when he's sleeping. He likes that. They were only introduced to each other in this home but get on quite well. Milo licks Sally and they both curl up together on a pouffe looking out of the floor-length window in the lounge.

I've been invited to give all my ironing to the cleaner that comes once a week! So I did. She's good too, and fast. And jolly. And her name is Sally, which is a little confusing because she's not sure if it's her that's being talked to or the cat.

Wii Fit
They have a Wii Fit and encourage me to use it. In fact part of my job is to exercise with L each day. She is building up stamina. She did a total of 30 minutes yesterday in three blocks. Whilst she was resting I had my turn. I did one hour altogether. I like the sound off but L has difficulty keeping time on the stepping without the 'music'. I'll not talk about the 'music' because this is a positive post. :-) S also likes L to go outside for a walk each day. So far L is only comfortable walking around the garden but it's large and on a slope so it's quite strenuous for her at the moment. She's been sitting in front of a TV in a care home for 4 years so it will take time for her to be comfortable with the outside world and the exercise.

Comfortable Bedroom
I have the best bedroom in the house. It's a double room with fitted triple wardrobes, lots of space surrounding the comfortable double bed. It's warm and dry unlike the master bedroom. I don't know if the sun comes in yet because I've not been in it when the sun is out.

TV Headphones
L doesn't like reading but she enjoys watching the television. M&S don't watch much TV. In fact they got one especially for L when she came. They found after the first few days that the noise of the TV disturbed their concentration on their work. L wanted the TV loud but insists she's not deaf. M solved the problem by getting some wireless headphones for her. So she's happy in her world of soaps and quizzes in the evening watching a silent screen. Am I'm delirious because my mum's loud TV really bothered me.

Filtered Water
There is a large filter jug in the kitchen and one on each bathroom. The shower has a filter on it because apparently the mixture of fluoride and chlorine create a vapour that's detrimental to health. And the shower has a great flow of lovely hot water and it's in the bath so there's plenty of room. The water in the South West of England is lime-scale free so I'm happy with that too.

Fresh Olive Oil
Did you know that olive oil is a fruit juice? This means that it's not oily until it's 6 months old. This couple sell fresh olive oil, in fact M is a connoisseur of it. It's really lovely! and very expensive. £30 a bottle. If they still have oil six months after the harvest they have it made into soap. They also deal in Balsamic vinegar. The real stuff. Not the stuff you get in supermarkets that have been made with chemicals. They sell 10 year, 30 year and even 100 year old balsamic vinegar. The older it is the sweeter it is. Quite opposite to olive oil.

Good Food
I'm writing this on my day off and at this minute they are in the kitchen making the evening meal of steak (especially hung and very expensive), salad and chips cooked in the oven with olive oil.

One Hour From Mum
My mother really needs a housekeeper. Each time I get back from being away the kitchen is piled with many days of washing up. She has difficulty climbing the stairs, let alone bringing heavy shopping up to her first floor flat. She won't acknowledge the need for help but is very happy when I do all the stuff for her. I think she thinks she should be doing it all herself.
Anyway, I'm just one hour's drive away from her and at the moment have two days off each week so I'll be able to use one of those to go visit, clean her kitchen and do her heavy shopping. Good job I have use of a car because it wouldn't be an easy journey on public transport.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Another New Adventure

I was collected by my new employer this morning. I took with me much more possessions than I took to Hong Kong - more books, more yarn, material, a sewing machine and warm winter clothes.

My job is to be a companion to an elderly lady who I'll call L.... in this blog. She has gone to live with her daughter S.... and son-in-law M.... who run a business. They sell aged balsamic vinegar and freshly harvested olive oil. Olive oil is a fruit juice and tastes like it when freshly harvested and pressed. It has been totally spoiled by the time it gets to the supermarkets. I had my job interview whilst they were manning their market stall and had a taste. It was amazing. M.... described what sensations were happening in my mouth as I was tasting the oil, in the manner of a wine tasting. I was hooked but they cost £30 a bottle.

On the way from Taunton to Wookey Hole we stopped in Glastonbury. We parked in the Glastonbury Abbey car park and walked over the road to the Abbey Tea rooms. S.... ordered a Somerset cream tea for her mother and a scone with jam and cream for herself with a skinny latte. I ordered a baked potato with tuna mayonnaise because it was lunchtime. 

We sat in the window and I observed a man crossing the road. He looked a little flamboyant. He had a chain around his neck with a very large (about 2 inches in length) oval purple stone set with some tiny stones around the edge. It must have been very heavy and was hanging in the middle of his chest. On one of his fingers was a smaller matching stone set in a ring made of a large amount of gold. He was holding a walking cane although it didn't look like he needed it to help him walk. The cane was adorned with a similar stone. Some people followed him across the road and then stood either side of him whilst someone took their photograph. I wondered what he was doing with his fancy dress - maybe an eccentric town guide. He came into the tea room and sat at a table at the far end of the room. 

S.... came back and asked "Did Nicholas Cage come in here?" as she looked around the restaurant. "Oh good" she said, "He owes me a picture." She looked at me and explained "He's one of our customers." 

She took her phone and went to his table. When she had explained who she was and that he had promised that his wife would return to their market stall with a picture of him in return for being given some gourmet salt. He suggested she have a picture of him taken with her on her phone. His wife took the picture. 

Apparently, even though he's American he lives near Glastonbury. 

In between being given instructions on how to do the job "Don't leave any water on the surfaces around the sink. It does my head in." "When you give my mother something to eat don't let her sit alone at the table. Sit with her even if you're not eating." "Don't leave any food around on the table or the floor." "If your sitting doing nothing when I come in don't feel you have to jump up and do something." "These are all the tablets she takes in the morning, noon, afternoon and evening. I'm trying to get her off them but we have to go slowly." - we had very interesting conversations. She taught me about olive oil, olive leaf extract, balsamic vinegar, and that organic vegetables are allowed to have 26 chemicals and still be called organic and it costs thousands of pounds to obtain an organic certificate each year for a product. And I taught her about metabolic type diets; fungus on the feet is caused by an acidic body which is caused by sugar and refined carbs and can be reversed by eliminating them from the diet and taking bicarbonate of soda; high blood pressure, arthritis, constipation and thick blood are a result of dehydration and the reasons why water is the only liquid that hydrates properly and the myths surrounding soya. We discussed addiction, why some people are rich and others not, why mother nature fights back, weight issues and how to improve the feng shui of the bungalow. She watched several videos of Dr Mercola explaining how to take control of your health and she signed up for his newsletter. 

S.... revealed she didn't believe in God or the afterlife yet does believe in spirits. When M.... came home he revealed deep knowledge of philosophy, religion and esoteric stuff. L.... watched the film Geronimo and five quiz/game shows in a row, listening to them through headphones. 

It's going to be an interesting life living here. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Leaving Hong Kong

Last Friday I arrived at Heathrow airport with a single air ticket because the woman who engaged me for the job was buying one because they wanted me to stay a long time. I asked her if I needed a visa and she said no. She's employed several teachers for this family so I thought she knew what she was talking about. 

I check in and am told I either need a return or an ongoing ticket in order to enter the plane. The ticket guy gave me a return ticket for free 'cos I was saying I had no money in my account. (a return is the same price as a single so I think that's how he did it). It's dated 15th November, arriving 16th November. If I had had a say in it, it would have been for a month after arrival.

I'm not really happy in this job. The hours are too long for me. I had nothing in common with the mother or the maid. The maid smokes. She hides whilst smoking and I'm sure she doesn't realise the smell carries. She does it in the toilet or behind the washing on the balcony. The smell makes me feel nauseous and gives me a headache. 

 I left teaching because I didn't like forcing the children to do the work the government dictated they learn, and here I am doing the same thing with a poor 5 year old. All in all I can't see myself doing this for 2 years. 

On Wednesday I got an email on from a person who interviewed me for a job in June. She was advertising for someone to look after her mother when they moved house and could have her to live with them. The job was supposed to start at the end of August. I was due to go to the USA for the summer, coming back on 1st September so I asked to have an interview before I went. I had it sitting behind their market stall in Wells. They import fresh and delicious olive oil. 

She said she was 90% sure she wanted to engage me but had promised interviews to other people next week. However, when I didn't hear from her I thought she's engaged someone else. I did have a little niggling thought that an email might have got lost in cyberspace but I could see the job wouldn't be all plain sailing due to the daughter, the woman I was having an interview with. So I didn't do anything. 

Anyway, it seems she had her phone stolen, lost papers in the house move and had much legal stuff to sort out due to her aunt dying. Her mother only moved in last week and she engaged a temporary help in the meantime. She phoned my mum, who told her I was in Hong Kong for 2 years. She then emailed me to wish me well and ask if we may keep in touch. I emailed back saying I wasn't sure if I could stick the job for 2 weeks let alone two years and had she found someone else to do her job? 

I realised that I had a return ticket for the following weekend so I could go back to England then if I felt it was the right thing to do. She emailed me back to say the job was mine if I wanted it. 

So Thursday afternoon I spend the time in prayer and meditation to ascertain what God's will was on the situation. Should I stay or should I go? I surrendered both situations and became unattached to the outcome. Both had plusses and minuses. I understood that I should ask the father if I could move out, to get away from the smoke and see what he said about the boy having an earlier bedtime. 

So when the father came home on Friday evening I was ready to try and make the job more to my liking. However, he told me that he realised I needed to get a work visa.  He wanted me to give him the piece of paper he had written the details of the pay he'd given me. He wanted to destroy it. He told me I wasn't to do any more work until I got a visa. He said I could stay with them but must keep a low profile. He was very worried about the authorities getting to know I'd worked for him without a visa, in case he lost his licence to trade as a businessman and he said he was sure I didn't want to go to prison. 

On Saturday, I got a phone call from him to say he was buying a ticket for me to go back to England ASAP as it would take 6 weeks to process. (The website I checked on said it would take 8 weeks.) So I told him that I couldn't be without pay for 6 weeks. I told him that I had been offered another job in England and that I initially going to take it because I wanted to stay in Hong Kong, but as things had changed I would be taking the job so wouldn't be coming back. 

I'm so glad that I have ascertained God's will in the situation because this way around he felt bad about it and not only did he not ask for the original air fare money back but he gave me extra because, I suppose I could have kicked up a fuss! 

My flight was Saturday night 13 hours straight through from Hong Kong to London arriving 4:30 am. 

So having a job for one week broke my previous record of four weeks. This is  not going to look good on my CV. My next employer wrote "I've looked at your CV. Do you want a long term position?" Ah. 

Friday, 5 November 2010

Life in Hong Kong

I think the air is a little polluted as I've not seen a proper clear sky since I've been here. When I first arrived each day started out hazy, but cleared a little as the sun struggled through the haze to shine on all.

The last few days however, it's been hazy the whole day and today it looks like we're living in a rain cloud.

Some people go around the streets wearing breathing masks. This could be because they don't want to breathe the fumes - certainly the road workers and the toll booth operators - but it's possible that the mask wearing person has a head cold.

I think the people here are obsessed with germs. There was a page in the hotel book about them. It told me to use the hand cleaners dotted about the hotel and to put on a mask if I have a cough or cold so as to not spread the germs. Also to always carry a tissue and cough or sneeze into it, throw it away and wash hands. All the taxis have a box of tissues in the front.

There are sterilised plastic sheets over elevator buttons with a notice to say they are cleaned every X hours. Around the malls there are hand cleaning stations with those awful toxic gels. I've not seen anyone use them though.

At the entrance to the boy's school there is a hand cleaning station. Unfortunately lots of little ones slather their hands with it.

No child or adult is allowed into the building without having his/her body temperature taken. A person zaps each forehead as we go past. Every parent is supposed to take and record the temperature of the child in a little book each day.

Tao Tao has been entered for a speaking competition and each entrant has to have their body temperature taken and recorded on a form. There will be spot checks to see if they are correct. Without this signed form the child cannot perform!

There are loads of red and white taxis. None of the drivers speak English so when I went somewhere by myself I had to have my destination written on a sticky note to show the driver. No way could I pronounce and remember the words. It was helpful because the Chinese maid must have an accent that's difficult for them to understand because she asked me to show my paper. I have difficulty understanding her when she's trying to speak Engrish.

The drivers have a mechanism that opens and closes the back doors. It was quite disconcerting the first time I came across it.

Everyone must take off their shoes before entering the homes. Even though they all have easy clean hard floors. The family I'm with are very kind and offer flip flops for their visitors. But maybe they are scared of catching something. The temperature is a little too cold to be comfortable in bare feet on cold floors at the moment anyway.

Eating Out
Even though the people here are very bothered by germs they don't seem to be bothered about eating out. (Although when we were at a restaurant the maid filled the bowls with water, dipped the chopsticks and spoons in and swished them out into another bowl.)

There are more restaurants here than in any place in the USA I've been. They have the pizzas, McDonalds (though not many), and KFC (quite a few of those) and of course all the different Asian types of cooking. Occasionally you can find a place that says it adds no MSG, but most dishes have some sugar in them.

I started to feel quite ill after being in this house for 3 days. So I've arranged with the maid that I cook my own meals. I didn't want to do this because I didn't want to offend her   and she cooks very tasty meals. However, even with her refraining form adding MSG I'm sure it's in the sauces she uses and she definitely sues sugar because I can taste it.

They go out to eat such a lot in the evenings that I've been taking my own food in a plastic box. A restaurant may cater especially for someone who doesn't want MSG but in a food court it's take it or leave it.

The first meal out with the family was in a hotel restaurant with the father the first day (I've not seen him since). The set menu all had MSG so they cooked dishes especially for me. He has remarked on my size several times and tells me I need to keep off the carbs (which is very true, but a bit disconcerting to have him mention it so often) so he ordered me several fish dishes. One was squid but he didn't tell me until I asked. It was lovely. And then a whole large fish (Tao Tao ate the eyes). It was delicious. He told me he was glad of that because it cost more than the whole of the rest of the meal put together!

I'm glad I already knew how to use chopsticks. I felt they were all surreptitiously watching me to see how I managed. I think I shocked them. I'm also getting better at it now too.

I realise that some of my readers may be wondering what the problem with MSG is. Well, first off, I'm sensitive to it. I feel like I have flu the next day - toxic heavy and achy limbs.
Secondly it's an excito-toxin. This means it excites the cells in the brain, which vibrate so fast that some die. I need all the brain cells I can retain.

I'm also sensitive to sugar. It feeds the candida in my gut which then grows in other areas of my body and makes me feel ill. It suppresses the immune system too. So I generally steer clear of that substance.

The Father
He is a business man who wants his son to speak English perfectly, with an English accent, yesterday.

He is bothered that his son doesn't speak proper grammatical sentences. He keeps telling me how I should teach the boy. Correct him when he says it wrong and get him to repeat it correctly. He's told me this several times when he's phoned to see how I'm getting on. Actually it's more like tell me what to do. He wants to see results and will throw loads of money my way when he sees them. He told me, three days into the job, to hurry up and get results. He wants me to do three hours concentrated work with him at the table each day.

Meanwhile the last time his son saw him was when I did last Monday. And he's stayed at home two nights during the week, so his wife doesn't see him much either.

He wanted me to write an educational plan, which I've done but he hasn't seen it yet because he doesn't read emails and there is no printer here. I read some of it to him on the phone but I could tell he wasn't interested.

The Boy
His English is good and he expresses himself like any other 5 year old English speaking boy - which doesn't always include grammatical sentences, especially when he's speaking fast talking about something exciting to him. His father is concerned that he is reluctant to speak English but I've not found that. Maybe he is reluctant to speak to his father because he doesn't know him very well, or that he knows his father speaks Mandarin, so why speak English to him?

He doesn't like to practice the piano. He's supposed to do it for an hour each day. This is the time when there is a lot of shouting from the mother and, when she's not there, the maid. Yesterday the maid wanted to extend the time by 20 minutes because he had been messing about away from the piano. I strongly suggested that he should finish at the agreed time of 8 pm. He did, well nearly. She went over to him at 8 and asked him to play two more pieces.

She told me she thinks he's not doing so well because he used to practice for two hours when they lived in China(!) I said no wonder he doesn't want to practice. He's only 5 years old! Two lots of half hour practices is plenty in my opinion. (Actually if he doesn't want to do it then I advocate him not doing it at all but that's far too radical even to utter.)

When he wakes up he is straight to his desk to practice Chinese writing, with mum hovering over him. His time is scheduled from then on until bedtime at 10 pm. Not surprisingly he is a very angry boy. So I give him as much choice as I can, whilst understanding that he doesn't want to do anything. It seems he has about 30 mins of free play before he goes to school. Fortunately school is run on a learning by play program but it's still directed. He goes to a private school and each class has an English and a Cantonese teacher who team teach. His class also has a Mandarin teacher 3 days a week.

No wonder the Chinese are still under communism. Free thought and action have been squashed out of them from childhood.

The Other English Teacher
The boy goes to another English teacher for one hour each week. This man is from Hong Kong but went to Oxford University. The father respects him because he has been to a few of his lectures. He works at the university here. They often have an evening meal together.

When the boy went for his lesson this week he didn't get one. Instead the teacher spent the whole time talking with me. The first thing he said to me was that our job was to shield the boy from the pressure his father wants to put upon him to succeed. to make things fun for him. To not sit for three hours at a time doing concentrated work.

I showed him the educational plan and talked about the boy's need for more sleep and water and less sugar. He agreed to talk with the father about it all including that less is more, and that he would learn perfectly well by doing games etc in short bursts.

It was lovely to talk to a sane Chinese person. He also obviously doesn't want his hour cut because he told me he was a balance to my teaching because he has the Chinese background and can talk to the mother. He in fact did talk to her about the sleep, water and sugar, but she said she has no sway at home. No wonder she shouts at the boy when she's feeling so invalidated herself.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Royal Ascot in Hong Kong

The father told me that he had persuaded the maid to move into the small room so I could move into her old room. Actually it looks more like a cupboard, with no windows and I'm sure she won't be able to stretch her legs. 

So he came to get me from the hotel. His apartment block has a luxurious entrance and is called Royal Ascot. 

This is because it overlooks the Hong Kong Jockey Club and (a very small by British standards) race course.
The flat is on the umpteenth floor. There seems to be a constant roar of traffic in Hong Kong and especially here, with many roads which are surprisingly not congested considering the amount of people living here.

Tai Chi and the Roar of the Traffic

This morning I woke up to the sound of pleasant Chinese music being played over a PA system outside. I looked out and in the courtyard below there was a group of people doing Tai-Chi. Then more groups gathered in different spaces between buildings and trees. It was quite beautiful to watch. I'm sorry I didn't think to take a photo of the Tai Chi, but this was taken on Sunday. 

The roar of the traffic increased so much that I could eventually only hear the music faintly. 

Yesterday at midday there was a group of children, all wearing red T-shits and black trousers, having a class of some sort in the courtyard. It looked like exercises to do some martial art. They did a lot of lining up in single file while they took turns in doing an exercise in front of the instructor. They did things like swinging a leg high and in front of the body whilst walking. 

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Wandering About Again

I came back to England on 1st September and am starting a job on 1st November. I've never been out of work so long before. I did wonder if I was looking for the right work (housekeeper/nanny/carer jobs), so I applied to become a bus driver. I know I would enjoy the public service, meeting people and being cheery to brighten their day. However, before they could reply, i got a job as a nanny/tutor in Hong Kong. 

I didn't apply for it and it seemed that I was the only candidate. My profile was on several nanny-type sites so they found me from that. They wanted a mature person, believing maturity goes hand in hand with reliability. 

I had actually applied for a nanny job in Hong Kong a few weeks ago with a British Expat family. It took me a while to decide to do it because living in China does not appeal to me, especially a part that's hot and humid. That advert appeared in a week with few to apply for so I took the plunge. But they obviously found someone else. 

I have had several interviews on the phone and in person and even a trial, but none of them worked out. The trial was in the town of Aylesbury where I spent most of my childhood. It ended after 4 days when the new widower was persuaded to  go stay with his sister-in-law, which meant there was no job available. 

When the person from Hong Kong sent me an email it went into my spam folder and I found it two days later because I check it regularly before I empty it. And no, it wasn't one of those "You're Hired" spam emails! :-) I replied and was asked how much I wanted to earn. I checked out how much people were being paid for the job in Hong Kong. It seemed that the family were Chinese and I noticed the going rate was very small. I quoted a figure that was 5 times that rate, but the minimum I could survive on and pay my debts. 

She wanted to speak to me on the phone, I thought they must be one of the rich Chinese. She came back with an offer of double the amount I had quoted, saying it was what they usually paid. I wondered why she asked me. 

I suggested we use Skype because I wanted to see her. It was then that she revealed she was acting on behalf of a friend. She only mentioned the father, who was on a business trip, and the boy who is 5 years old and at kindergarten and speaks English but they want him to improve, so I assumed she was the girlfriend. I asked if he saw his mother and she revealed that the mother does not speak English and I would be working with the boy and so I had not much need to communicate with her. I ascertained the mother lived with the family, so I must remember that it's a different culture. 

The lady Sal, has engaged all the 'Au Pairs' (as she called them) that they'd had.

The boy didn't have anyone to look after him a the moment and so she wanted me to come as soon as possible. So we spoke on the Wednesday, bought the plane ticket for Friday, and packed on Thursday. (I've now found out that wasn't true because the mother doesn't work.)

The cheapest flight was with Emirates. I found it was the cheapest on a site that found cheap flights. However there was so much to-ing and fro-ing with Sal, that the 6 available seats disappeared from the site. So, suspecting that Emirates would have more seats I went to their site and found the same seat over £300 cheaper! So the lesson is.... when you find a cheap flight, go to the flight company's site and you may find it even cheaper. 

I'm not a fan of Arabs, and Arabic things, (and I've come across a few, having worked in Kuwait for two years), but I've always been very impressed with Emirates airline company. They have lovely and useful touches like giving everyone a menu, so you know what the choice is (and what the other things are on your plate).  And the food is good too. The flight attendants are lovely form all over the world with an amazing array of languages between them, and the in-flight entertainment is very comprehensive. They even have sockets and USB ports in economy class in the newer planes. 

That was written whilst I was on the journey and now I'm rested and have internet I can post it here. Now I've arrived I'll add a bit more. 

My employer has put me up at a hotel for two nights. He doesn't have room in his flat for me unless I share with his maid (who's been with him for 10 years. Her husband is the family diver, but for some reason is still in China.)

He's found that an apartment for me would not work until he knows I'm going to stay because of the long lease expected. So he suggested he rents a room for me with a family. Because it's cheaper to do this and it's not as nice, he's going to give me an extra 2000 Hong Kong Dollars (£160) each month. He then joked that if the family weren't nice he would give me an extra 3000 HKD. But if I wasn't happy he would rather find a new family for me than have to find another nanny. 

He looks about mid 40s to 50, which seems old to have a 5 year old child and is quite formal. He has about 1000 employees and prides himself on being fair with them all. He gave me 5000 HKD to start me off and will pay me weekly until I get myself settled and can have the money monthly. When he gave me the cash, he shook my hand and said "Welcome to the family". 

He does seem fair but also wants to see results. His son is not speaking English like he thinks he should. The last nanny left because her daughter had a bone marrow transplant. I told him my children were both healthy. ;-) I asked him if the child goes to play with friends and he said he doesn't have friends - and not allowed them until he speaks English better! I'm going to see if I can find some English boys for him. So he can play and speak English at the same time. Playing with a 54 year old woman all the time is no substitute. I'm also going to suggest he teaches another child English. That will motivate him to speak English. 

The hotel room was very musty and the windows were locked. So I phoned down to ask for them to be unlocked and was told for security reasons they can't be unlocked. I'm on the 10th floor! I told her the room was musty and needed a change of air. She suggested a housekeeper come and spray but I declined. She asked a manager and someone came to open then but will shut them tomorrow. Now the windows are open it's very noisy because there is a restaurant downstairs with an outside bit. ;-)

Temperature outside is slightly cool in the evening if wearing shirt sleeves. Fine with a jumper on. 

The journey was smooth apart from at Heathrow where I was told that because I didn't have a visa or a return ticket I couldn't board the plane. I was told to go get a return or a follow on ticket. The sweet guy at the ticket desk gave me a return ticket for no cost. I'm sure a return is the same price as a one way so that's how he did it. He did it for a two weeks trip. Sal was buying me a one way ticket and when I took over (because she couldn't pay for my ticket from a Hong Kong credit card) I just carried on with that. 

Been out today in the shopping mall adjoining the hotel and in the garden at the back. First impression is I like the place and everyone I've met has been lovely. 

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Childhood Memories

Elderberry tree at the bottom of the garden,
Climbing and falling into the nettles,
Surreptitious foray into the orchard beyond,
Bitter, unripe apples,
A just punishment for stealing.

The den under the old plum tree,
Shared with slugs and spiders,
Made cosy with dolls blankets,
Dashing to the back porch in the thunderstorm,
Dashing back again for the sheer exhilaration of it. 

Sitting on the coal bunker in the sun,
Setting fire to a leaf with a magnifying glass,
Shelling broad beans covered in black fly,
Ping into the colander, 
Silky pod
A bed for fairies.

Sitting on the swing
In a triangle patch of lawn
Half hidden from the house,
The scent of orange blossom
In the dusk.
Blessed solitude

Circus on the lawn,
A tightrope plank on boxes, 
Clowning around
Falling in the clover patch,
White horses galloping. 
Such fun

Mowing the lawn,
Hot day,
Push, pull, push, pull,
Hard work,
Tall stems bounce back.

Walking through the red flower tunnel
of runner beans,
Picking the young ones,
The fresh ones
Before they get stringy.

Shops amongst the bushes,
Selling seeds,
Selling leaves of different shapes and sizes,
Selling daisies,
'Silver pennies' for money.
No customers

Mud Pies on the path,
Seaside buckets for water,
The eve of a seaside holiday,
Dirty clothes.
Angry Mum

The greenhouse,
Pungent smell of tomatoes, 
Warm on a cool day,
Playing in the warm, fine earth,
Sieving it finer.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Reflecting on the Past - School and Hospitals

Going Home from School

When I was six my mum stopped collecting me from school. She had to push my younger sister in the pushchair on the two miles round trip. So she stopped doing it. My brother walked with me to school each day and when it was fine weather I walked home on my own. But when It was rainy I had to wait across the road in the junior's cloakroom for my brother for half an hour. My mum wouldn't let me go on the bus on my own. I sat on a bench, pushing the coats back to give me room. It was dark and gloomy because of the rain. I never had anything to occupy me apart from my thoughts. 

A Thre'pny Bit

We always carried a thre'pny bit each for bus fare in case we needed it. A thre'pny bit was a small, octagon shaped yellowish thick coin. It felt heavy and satisfying in the hand. We were always given a thre'pny bit each for the church collection plate. It was the value of three pennies. A penny, in those days, before the decimalization of the British currency, was a large brown thin coin. A sixpenny bit was the same size as a thre'pny but very thin and silver. 

Outside Toilets

The infant toilet block was a scary place. In the shade of the ewe trees, corrugated asbestos for walls that started at knee height and ended with a gap before the roof. No windows or electric light. Smelly and cold. A big girl, a member of the large, poor and smelly Churchill family, locked me in a cubicle one time during playtime. She must have been standing on the other side of the door. I never really wanted to go there, especially to move my bowels. They were called 'outside toilets' because they were not in a building. Across the road the juniors had toilets that were inside a building. Accessed only from the playground and no heating, but what luxury!

Moving Bowels - or Not

When I had a chronic constipation problem at age 6 I asked to go to the toilet during lessons and when I was a long time the teacher sent someone out to check if I was OK. How embarrasssing! Walking home, I would get tremendous pains in my abdomen that I would have to stop walking until the pain passed. Sometimes I would pass some faeces on the way. This was very embarrassing and I would go home and wash my knickers. I would sit on the toilet for ages in such pain, passing nothing. I'm not sure how my mum found out. It could have been because of the soiled knickers or maybe the teacher told her or maybe that I was taking up so much time in the bathroom. My mum went on about how stoical I was. Well, I think it was more to do with embarrassment than being stoical. 

My mum took me to the doctor who decided I needed an operation to widen my back passage. He showed me a long clear perspex tapered stick that he said would be placed in my anus and pushed in to widen it! But I wouldn't feel anything because I would be asleep. 

There was no talk about diet at all. Dietary fibre had probably no been discovered. Nor was the fact that a wheat and gluten intolerance could have been the cause. 

Hospital in 1960

So it was off to the hospital for me just before Christmas. Parents were not allowed to stay with their children then, so I was left on my own. I arrived the day before my operation and that night I don't remember sleeping at all. I was told I must have slept, but I do remember the ward was a busy place all night and I don't remember waking up. The nurses opened the curtains in the morning and a lady came along pushing a trolly giving each child their breakfast in their bed. She passed the end of my bed without stopping or acknowledging my presence. Well, I was very hungry and I started to cry. She came back and told me that I was being silly. Didn't I remember that I was to have an operation that morning, and so was not allowed to have breakfast? There was a sign on the end of my bed to tell her so. Well, of course I knew about the operation, but the missed breakfast part had passed me by, and I couldn't see the sign on the end of my bed!  

There was a girl in the ward with a broken limb. She told me she often broke something because she liked being in hospital. I thought this was very odd. Now I think it was likely that the hospital felt a safer place to her than her possibly abusive home. 

Visiting - or Not

I remember there was a visiting time when I had no visitors. It was horrible. I watched all the other children being fussed over by their families. A nurse came and talked to me for a bit but it didn't really help. My mother swears that she came every visiting time. I decided then that I would not let that happen to anyone I knew. 

When I was an adult my elderly neighbour who I regularly visited, went into hospital. She had a sister and a nephew who lived quite a few miles away and they didn't plan on visiting much. So I found out when they were going and filled in the gaps. My lovely husband usually came with me even though it was really quite hard with both of us working every day. She was there over Christmas and on that day there were no set visiting times so we all ended up being at her bedside together. 

Hospital in 1980

It seems very odd today that children with broken limbs would be staying in a hospital ward. Also that anyone who was not ill would be taking up a hospital bed just to make sure they don't eat before an operation. They were still doing that when I was 24 and had all my impacted wisdom teeth out. 

My husband took me to hospital to check in. I was very anxious and felt like I was being incarcerated. I was required to undress and get into bed at 4pm! I balked at this and said I wanted to go for a walk in the grounds. I went even though the nurse was reluctant to let me, for she thought I might not come back. It was a horrible night. A fit and healthy young woman listening to ailing women calling for bed pans to no avail, and then calling out that it was too late. This was so distressing that I got up and helped an old lady to the toilet. A nurse appeared and scolded me severely because I wasn't insured should the lady fall. 

After the operation my mouth felt so dry that I called for water. The nurse (who was the mother of one of my pupils at school!) was very kind and washed my mouth with wet cotton wool. She apologised that I couldn't drink because the anaesthetic might cause me to throw up. 

That evening, my head of department at school, came to visit her mother who was in the bed opposite me. 

I was perfectly healthy when I went into hospital but felt very ill when I left. My temperature and vital signs must have been OK but I felt like I had flu. I realised later that I was having a reaction to the anaesthetic! My whole body hurt and felt very heavy. 

Years later, when I told someone that I wouldn't be able to do something after my dental appointment because I always felt ill afterwards, I found out that I had a reaction to the adrenaline in the anaesthetic (as well as wheat and gluten). 

Friday, 2 July 2010

Just Keep Swimming

After the evening when the pool was as hot as a hot bath, and not really conducive to swimming, especially after a meal, the weather has been cloudy with rain for a few days. I've managed to swim in-between the rainy periods and each time, the pool has been cooler.

In fact today it got down to a temperature where it took me a little getting used to before I immersed myself this morning! It's still not as cold as the heated indoor pools in Britain though. The water and air temperature is so cold in those places that it puts many adults off going swimming, which is very short sighted of the management in my opinion.

This morning it was difficult to get the insects and other debris out of the pool because it was distributed within the water, and not just on the surface or on the bottom. I don't do anything with the bottom stuff, but don't care to ingest insects or get them stuck in my hair. I thought this was due to the wind creating little waves, but no. It'd been cleaned! A guy who came to empty the rubbish bin (sorry - trash can) told me. I hadn't noticed, because there was still dark stuff on the bottom at the corners, but looking closely I saw the amount was less. That would explain the amount of stuff floating in the body of the water.

Yesterday we had a power cut (sorry - outage) just after 6pm. I went swimming at about 7pm and met a swearing, beer drinking, smoking guy, who decided to sit on the pool side while his dachshund ran around the edge. His intruder alarm was making a continuous din and he couldn't find the instructions to cut it off. His dog was going crazy and he was too hot.

I'm shy about showing my body in public and am so grateful that so far I've not met a soul at the pool all the time I've been going (apart from the ground maintenance guys flitting about doing their work.) So I was a little perturbed when he sat down with his cooler of beers and started talking to another guy who stopped by. I just kept swimming (like Dory). I lost count of my laps but it was probably over 40 and I got tired and had to get out. Fortunately he was on the phone at the time so he took no notice of me.

Well, today I thought I could probably do 50 laps and I did! Now, I told you that the length of this lap pool was probably longer than a normal width, but I've changed my mind. I now think it's more like a width.

Instead of counting my laps I've started dedicating each lap to a person. So now I just count up the number of people I prayed for and this is better than losing count. I wasn't sure I would remember all 50 people when I was in the pool so I made a list and kept it at one end to refer to. It worked very well. I do a violet fire mantra for each person. You can learn more about the violet fire here.

I gave myself a goal of doing 60 laps by 9th July, (which is when we're moving to another apartment) but I had my doubts that I would achieve it. Now I think I might exceed it. I have plenty more people I can add to the list, so that won't be a problem.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Looking Up

I've started swimming twice a day now.

I went at 3 pm the other day, and was outside for 30 minutes and got sunburned! So I won't be doing that again. It was cooler than normal for 3 o'clock due to the rain in the morning, but still the concrete was too hot for bare feet.

At 8 o'clock in the morning the temperature is the same as a hot summer day in Britain. Very pleasant, but the concrete is too hot for feet. I now put on sunscreen. I got a natural one from because the skin always absorbs whatever is put onto it, so in my opinion, if it's not safe to eat, then it's not safe to use on my skin. The sun is shining onto the pool and the sky is blue, the trees are green and the water is warm, but not hot.

At 7 o'clock in the evening, the pool is in shade, the concrete is just about OK to stand on in bare feet, and the water is warmer than the morning. So that is when I'm having my second swim of the day.

The pool is a perfect depth for me. It goes from 4 foot to 4 and-a-half-feet, so wherever I am I can easily stand. Although I can swim I do get a little nervous when I'm out of my depth. The pool is 2 lanes wide and the length is longer than a normal width, but shorter than a normal length.

I did 20 laps this evening then I floated on my back to relax and enjoy the view. A tiny white aeroplane went in one direction, whilst birds flew in al the other directions. Dragon flies also came into view and something that I haven't identified yet. It's either a large insect or a tiny bird. It goes too fast for me to see it properly. I'm hoping it's a humming bird. All this is framed in a beautiful blue sky by the green leaves of silver birch trees that are tinged with gold as they catch the last of the sun.

And then I became aware, as I gazed at the blue, of being able to see the water on my cornea. The water did not look very clean, or maybe it was the chemicals in it. If you've ever seen a puddle that had some oil in it you'll have noticed that the oil is formed into shapes on the surface. The water on my corneas looked a little like that with several shapes in my vision that didn't move much. As I gazed I also saw many tiny dots with tails darting everywhere. The dots were transparent and they only seemed to be visible because the light as shining off them. They looked like they might be microscopic organisms in the water that were constantly moving. I wasn't a particularly pleasant thought, that they were swimming around on the surface of my eyes but at the same time it was really fascinating.

So next time you're swimming, lie on your back and see what you can see.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


During my first week at Thurloxton Manor the weather was quite hot and the owners invited me to swim in the outdoor pool they have at the bottom of the garden. The thought was infinitely more lovely than the deed, due to temperature of the water. It took me a very long time to immerse myself, and I couldn't swim for long because my feet went numb. I'm told the water gets hot by August if there's been a warm summer.

By contrast I went swimming yesterday in Louisiana. The pool water was as warm as a pleasant bath. I'm planning on going every day. However It's raining today, and I learned from living in North Carolina, that it's dangerous to swim outdoors in the rain in case a lightning bolt hit the water and electrocutes you. I swam in the rain in an outside pool in Britain when I was a child. It was fun. British rain is rarely accompanied by thunder and lightning - only if it's been particularly hot weather.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


[I've changed the title of this post from "Being Let Go" to "Redundancy", because I'm told the former phrase means being fired. As far as I recall, I've never been made redundant before, and hadn't matched the word in my head to the event.]

My job started out part time. My main shifts were Saturday and Sunday 8am - 4pm, then 6pm -8pm. But I also did 3:15 - 4pm and 6pm - 8pm on Mondayd and Fridays. the first 12 hours of each week was unpaid because it was to cover my board and lodging. This did not work out to be enough money for me, so the owner, Charis, gave me all the ironing for the holiday cottages. She had hoped I would be able to do this ironing within the hours i was already working, but her mother Grace, was taking up an increasing amount of time so this was just not possible. i was then given the responsibility for helping Grace to bed each evening so the person who did the supper shift could concentrate on that. This ended up with me working 7 days a week but on some days it was just for one hour. Then Charis wanted me to do the extra ironing from 4-6pm so there was someone on hand to help Grace with the toilet if she needed it.

The person who had the job before me had only ever lived in an orphanage and then other people's homes whilst looking after them. So when her friend got her her own house, from the Housing Association, she was very anxious about having the responsibility for everything including the bills. At the age of 62 it was all too much change for her. So she came back to visit and told Charis all this. Charis felt an obligation to help her and decided to have a reorganisation of the staffing. She had been losing money on this part of her business and her mother needed more care so she decided the person doing the live-in job was to just work 4 hours on Monday and Friday, and 2 hours each of the other days, whilst her mother was still alive. She knew I would not want to do that as I needed to earn more money than that. Especially as the first 12 hours worked were to pay for the board and lodging. So, there i was out of a job again. Charis was very keen to give me a good reference so that was OK. I was surprised, but understood her reasoning.

So it was packing up, back to my mother's and looking for another job.

Then my daughter Helen, on hearing I was free gain so soon, invited me over to the USA to live with her for a while to look after my granddaughter.

Looking After Grace

The owner's mother, Grace is dying, although I'm not sure she knows it. I was there one month and I noticed a great deterioration in her ability to care for herself. When I first arrived she managed to get herself to her toilet with only a little difficulty. Then she started needing help getting there, then she needed help with her hygiene, then she could only use the commode if it was near her, then she couldn't get onto to the commode by herself, and then I left, so I wasn't involved in the next step.

It became my job to help her get ready for bed each night. This was a pleasure because she was such a gracious lady. She went to a private school as a girl and had participated in many sports. She had married a clergyman who was a Greek scholar and had lectured at a theology college. Even though she was now living in her daughter's house, she had brought some of her furniture with her. They were all beautiful and unusual pieces, probably antiques. Her clothes were equally elegant and of good quality. She wore mainly pink and purple shades but her daughter said she did not like pink. She told me she called the colur she wore, mauve.

She didn't like losing her mobility and was often in much pain. She often said, "Getting old is no joke."She was bleeding within her digestive tract and so in the morning there was often a lot to clear up. She would apologise for creating so much work, but I really did not mind doing it and i would tell her so. But I remembered that people like their feelings acknowledged, so I told her that I understood she felt uncomfortable.

Thurloxton Manor

I wrote a blog post on the first day of my new job in May but for some reason i didn't post it. so here it is now.

My first morning in my new place - I bring the curtain rail down as I open the curtains. My room is a little dark because there is a clump of trees outside my window. It's lovely to see the green. The old, rambling manor house is surrounded by green. The house has been extended throughout the years and so has a higgledy piggledy arrangement of rooms.

The owners live in the main wing, with high ceilings and majestic stairs. The other residents, three old ladies and myself live in the other wing, the one with all the extended bits, quaint narrow stairs and a sloping landing floor. There is a step up to my room and a step down to my en suite bathroom which has a sloping low ceiling and therefore no shower, only a bath. One old lady lives upstairs and she uses the stair lift.

(I found out later that the part I was living in was in fact the original building and as the owner or owners became more wealthy, they built the imposing manor house part. And then someone added quaint bits onto the original old part. I the vestibule of my part of the building there is a bread oven built into the wall. This was no doubt the main living room when originally built.)

I appreciate when the lady on my floor, and the one under my room are watching the same TV program. I also appreciate that they go to bed at around 8 pm so I can have a quite evening,

There is a beautiful dog here called Hugo. He has a very gent;e personality which belies the fact that he will kill and present birds and small mammals. He has a person come in each week groom him, which is more than the ladies get. their hairdresser comes once a fortnight.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Power of Feelings

Here is a video that is well worth watching.

Gregg Braden, in his illustrated interview 'Miracles of Healing', gives evidence of how our feelings can change our physical bodies and the world around us.

He says "We must feel the feeling as if the prayer has already been answered, and in that feeling, we are speaking to the forces of creation, allowing the world to respond to us." "The words aren't the prayer - it's the feeling behind the prayer that gets the results." If we pray for peace we can feel as if we are participating in that peace. "As we feel the peace in our world or the healing in the bodies of our loved ones, we are actually empowering the field of energy (or God) to mirror that back to us in a way that will bring those changes about in our lives and in our world."

He goes on to give evidence of healing and peace brought about by the collective feeling, believing or knowing of the immaculate concept.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Shannon the Cat

Before I leave this house I must post about the cats here. Well actually they are kittens.

They are posh kittens in that they have certificates of pedigree and cost a lot of money. Because of their cost they aren't allowed outside in case someone steals them. The cats didn't know they were missing anything and never attempted to go outside, until they were taken away on a fishing trip. I don't think they actually participated in any fishing, they just went with the family to save the hassle and expense of boarding them in a cattery. They didn't appear to enjoy the journey. I know this because they were difficult to extract from under the car seats when they got home. But now, they know there is something interesting outside the front door they sometimes make a dash for it if they see it open.

I must say that only one cat has a full pedigree, the ugly one. She really is ugly. She has a face that has a permanent scowl on it. She looks very bad tempered. Fortunately she doesn't seem to actually have a bad temper. She, along with the other cat, a male called Peewee, who has only a partial pedigree, get hauled around all over the house, used as toys and get cuddled and squeezed to within an inch of their life. They are both remarkably docile with the amount of unintentional mistreatment they get, and only occasionally strike back with a scratch. I think this was the thinking behind spending so much money. The family has had several pets but some have not been suitable.

As soon as I saw the cat Marshmallow she reminded me of a girl who went to a school I taught at. Her name is Shannon. I looked at a picture I have of her the other day and was disappointed to see the picture looked nothing like the cat. She had smiled for the camera so wasn't wearing her habitual expression.