Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Life on Mars - The BBC Version

Life on Mars
I started a new blog on my telly addiction as I seemed to be posting so much on that topic.

Now I'm not really sure whether that's a good idea so I'd be pleased if you have any comments about this. Is it easier to just follow one blog or do people prefer to have the choice of optIng in or out of blogs geared to specific topics?


Well the first posting is here on my Telly Addict blog and it's on Life on Mars-the BBC version. So if you're interested please pay it a visit you'll be very welcome.

Picture above is a screen dump from Life on Mars website.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Holidays!

Well I’ve just got back from 2 weeks holiday in Rhodes and never mind trying to recover from an overnight flight and settling back into the old routine, I’m trying to adjust to a different climate altogether. Talk about global warming, well it’s not happening here in England, I’m freezing.

I haven’t touched a computer for over 2 weeks and I got back to find that my incoming emails have been rejected due to my email box being full. Guess what? Tiscali didn’t notify me about this until it was about to start rejecting my emails and that was after I had gone on holiday. So apologies to anyone who has contacted me and got their email sent back to them. Now I’m still trying to figure out why the email box was full when I’d deleted all my old emails from Outlook before I went away. I suspect that I also have to delete them again from my Tiscali email account. Well I’ve done that and the account is OK now. What a pain!

Well on with the show as they say. I’ve had a fantastic holiday and as usual done very little other than eat, drink, swim, play with my grandchildren and read. I’m not the greatest tourist in the world I’ve been to Rhodes five times now and I’ve seen very little of it. I do love Rhodes Town though, the old one and I always go there and have a wander around the back streets on Sundays after I’ve been to church. I’ll do a posting of that, maybe next week.

Old Rhodes Town

In the meantime I’ll describe one of the books I read. I’m not a prolific reader, I never seem to have time but when I’m on holiday I usually manage to read about five or six books.

The Island by Victoria Hislop was the one I enjoyed most, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in ages.The novel begins in present day London where Alexis is about to go on holiday and to decide on major changes to her life. She’s going to Plaka in Crete, the place where her mother, Sofia, grew up. Her mother refuses to speak about her past but she gives Alexis a letter to give to an old friend, Fortina who will tell her the story.

As she questions her mother’s friend, Alexis uncovers the family secrets and her mother's, her grandmother's, and her great-grandmother's past and their connection with Spinaloga.
This island of Spinalonga was Greece's main leper colony from 1903 to 1957 and the book paints an intimate picture of what life was like for the lepers living on the island. It’s a compelling and moving story with vividly drawn characters and the wonderful setting of Crete which she describes in beautiful detail.

The book portrays people’s fears and prejudices about leprosy and the hardships of life for those who were stigmatised and banished to Spinalonga. It’s an eye opener and raises awareness about the disease. Although today the disease is totally curable, over 600,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy every year. So if you’re like me and don’t know much about leprosy or how you can help, you can visit the LEPRA website
to find out more.

I had a couple of reservations about some aspects of the story but on the whole I found it a fascinating book, interesting and well researched and although leprosy is at the centre of the story it’s not all gloom! It’s a heart warming and charming read which I really enjoyed. Even better was the fact it was a bargain, I found it in the Poundland shop!

The book made me want to go back to Crete one day and visit Spinalonga to see for myself the setting for the book.

In the meantime here’s an interesting video clip of the haunting setting for the book.



Sunday, 7 June 2009

Airports - Don't you just love them!

We got back from two weeks holiday in Rhodes a few days ago and I'm still feeling totally disoriented and wondering why.

We've been there a few times before, have had night flights a couple of times too and on the plus side we weren't delayed this year, I don't have to go to work now but I'm still absolutely shattered and can't get back into any sort of routine. Maybe it seems worse because of how much longer you have to spend in the airport due to security measures, however I'm sure it's partly due to the poor state of Rhodes airport, even though it's a new extension.

We were taken to Rhodes airport three hours before the flight was due to be called. Now that's not a problem here, our local airport is OK. It's not exactly Heathrow but it's easy to while away the time in the various cafes, pubs and range of shops before you are called to the embarkation gate. When you are called, you are only in the gate area for a short time, the seats are not that bad and the loos are good. However in Rhodes it's a different story altogether.

This year we stood for well over an hour and a half in the check in line. What a shambles! Not an easy thing standing for that long at 1.30 in the morning for anyone, never mind the elderly, disabled and children. There were only four metal seats in the whole of that check in area.

One thing that kept us occupied whilst we awaited was wondering whether the woman who literally rolled onto the airport transfer bus would be allowed to board. She was more than half cut and her husband looked a bit the worse for wear too! She wandered around the airport with a large bottle of water looking for goodness knows what and couldn't walk in a straight line. The tour company staff were trying to keep an eye on her but were convinced she wouldn't be allowed to board. People in the queue were all saying they would refuse to sit beside them on the plane, have to say I was a bit worried about that.

Due to how long the Rhodes airport staff took to check us in, she managed to look sober and they did let her through. Well they wouldn't want her left in the airport would they! When we got to the gate we then observed a tug o' war between the pair of them over her handbag, not sure why but eventually he left her and she sat down with her water bottle. Luckily they were very quiet and caused no more trouble. She probably went to sleep, I never saw either of them again even at the other end. Maybe she's still sitting there.

After you check in you have to go straight to the departure gate, well there's is nothing else to do. Also despite the airport being greatly enlarged, they still only have two small duty free shops, one pathetic cafe and half a dozen appalling loos that I've never seen clean or all working so imagine the queues! The worst thing however is the seating, there isn't enough and people have to sit on the floor. However the seats themselves are disgusting, uncomfortable metal ones that after five minutes you need to get up and walk about to keep your circulation going.

Nice way to spend a night!

Now I'm sure this airport is bigger than ours in Newcastle, so why can't they provide similar facilities? You feel like they are treating you like goods on a factory line, just processing you through dumping you at the departure gate with no consideration for your level of comfort. It also seems like they're missing a trick on the income side too with having few opportunities to while away the time with retail therapy.

I've made my mind up that I'm still going to go to Rhodes, let's face it most airports in the Greek Islands are worse than here. But this is the last time I'll take an overnight flight, no matter how reasonably priced the holiday is!

Never mind it was a lovely holiday and I'll post some photos later.
Now I must try to catch up on looking at people's blogs, I'm way behind and wondering how everyone is.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

To see oursel's as others see us!

Well the full Robert Burns Quotation is:

“Oh wad some power the giftie gie us,
To see oursel's as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion”

Well it's no bad thing, trying to understand how other nationalities view you and I do like a laugh, so I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island, again! Well here's someone who certainly can let us Brits see ourselves as an American sees us.


He’s one of the best authors I’ve come across at making me laugh. The other was David Niven!

The first time I came across Bill Bryson was when I told a colleague I was going on holiday to Malta. The next day she handed me a copy of Bill Bryson’s book, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. Now I know that although she had travelled to lots of countries, but for some reason she had never fancied the idea of going to Malta. She shuddered when I told her I was going. So maybe she thought I would need some cheering up. Now I had always wanted to go to see the island that withstood so much of a battering from the Germans during WW11 that the George Cross was awarded to its people in 1942 for their heroism. My dad had been there too during the war when he was in the Royal Navy and he loved it.

After we landed at Luqa airport we stood for quite a long time in the queue at passport control. It appeared that the people working there had just suddenly downed tools and left. At least three planes had come in, German passengers were in front of us and Italians behind us. Still nobody deigned to come and look at our passports. After about 10 minutes I decided to get the book out and start reading to pass the time away.

Now I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for with this book. I just packed it in my hand luggage without looking at it. As I read it I realised this was just my kind of humour. I tried to hold my laugh in, smirking, grinning and gritting my teeth, but eventually I couldn’t hold it in and laughed out loud. If you’ve never done this whilst reading a book in a public place, I can tell you it’s very embarrassing. You feel like you’re a bit of a looney, well you can’t exactly share the joke. I was embarrassed and looked up to see if anyone was looking, apart from my husband who had given up on me. Well a German lady was looking and as my eyes caught hers, she smiled and gave me the thumbs up. At least she didn’t think I was a fruit and nutcase. From then on I've been hooked on Bill Bryson's writing!

So back to Notes from a Small Island (Great Britain for anyone who hasn’t read it). He has a good understanding of Britain and the British, probably better than most British people! However, what I don’t understand about Bill Bryson is how he can look at all our faults here in Britain and find them endearing. Amazing!

I love the record of his nostalgia trip around Britain in 1995, before he returned to live in the USA which is recorded in his book Notes From a Small Island. Things have changed a bit since 1995 but I hope not too much.It’s interesting to see ourselves as others see us and Bill Bryson certainly has the gift of getting you to see how other people see you. When he’s writing about it, it’s more than interesting, it’s thought provoking and often hilarious.

Our Attitude to Pleasure

One of our peculiar quirks he notes is our attitude to pleasure:

"I used to be puzzled by the British attitude to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies – “well, it makes a change”, “mustn’t grumble”, “ you could do worse”, “it’s not much, but it’s cheap and cheerful”, “it was quite nice really” – but gradually I came round to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier.

I remember finding myself sitting in damp clothes in a cold café on a dreary seaside promenade and being presented with a cup of tea and a teacake and going “Oooh lovely!”, and I knew then that the process had started. Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities – asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks at Marks and Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only needed one – as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer."

He’s right you know, we are so easily pleased by the little things here in Britain. It’s probably a throw back to the war years. Those of us who remember sweetie rationing after the war still can’t believe that we can buy unlimited supplies of chocolate. Me, I can’t believe my luck when I get a decent cup of coffee in cafes now, something you take for granted in places like Spain. Even the greasiest spoon café serves fabulous coffee.

Communist Britain?

Another thing I found fascinating was Bill Bryson’s thoughts about what Britain would have been like under Communism.

It has long seemed to me unfortunate – and I’m taking the global view here – that such an important experiment in social organisation was left to the Russians when the British would have managed it so much better. All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British. For a start, they like going without. They are great at pulling together, particularly in the face of adversity, for a perceived common good. They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the impositioning of rationing, bland diets and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods, as anyone who has ever looked for bread at a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon will know.


They are comfortable with faceless bureaucracies and, as Mrs Thatcher proved, tolerant of dictatorships. They will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or the delivery of a household appliance. They have a natural gift for making jokes about authority without seriously challenging it, and they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and the powerful brought low. Most of those above twenty five already dress like Eastern Germans. The conditions, in a word, are right.

Please understand, I’m not saying that Britain would have been a happier, better place under Communism, merely that the British would have done it properly. They would have taken it in their stride, with good heart, and without excessive cheating. In point of fact, until about 1970 it wouldn’t have made the slightest discernible difference to most people’s lives, and might at least have spared us Robert Maxwell."

Oh how right you are Bill. We did put up with Mrs Thatcher for far too long, now I have no idea why we did that. Why didn’t we stand and shout outside 10 Downing Street “You’re a monster! You’re selling off all the country's assets to your rich cronies” She really was a monster, but we don’t do that kind of thing. We save the whales, march to stop new airport runways being built and stop children being smacked. What wimps.

However I think things are changing here, the media has got hold of what’s become the latest political scandal about the expenses MPs are claiming. Things such as swimming pools, chandeliers and cleaners for their second homes when the rest of us are struggling to hang onto our first ones. People are really incensed by it and yes it’s a disgrace, but it’s not illegal, well not all of the claims, but it is immoral in the current climate. Day after day it goes on and it’s become the main topic of virtually every TV news and discussion programme. The media are feasting on it! So come on Gordon! Just get your act together, reform the expenses and haul those greedy MPs into line before we all die of boredom!

Yes, we do stand in queues for hours and expect others to do the same. Well why shouldn’t they if we have to. You’ve probably heard the moaning and whinging when you go on holiday and the Germans or Russians try to jump the queue. Mind you the road rage phenomenon has reared its ugly head since this book was written, so maybe we are changing, a little. For the worse!

Another thing I’m not so sure about is the dressing like East Germans bit, but then again I don’t know what East Germans dressed like in 1995. It might have been like those horrendous shell suits that people of all ages, shapes and sizes went mad for here in the ‘nineties. Gross! However I bet it was nothing like the apparel of a couple of fifty plus year olds I saw the other day. They were tattooed and hairy, wearing leather biking gear; Bill didn’t visit Washington, the English one) so maybe we’re the exception to the rule.


I've been wittering on here for ages so think I’d better start drawing this to a conclusion and what better topic to finish on than the weather. The favourite topic of conversation of the British.

Our attitude to it bewilders Bill! Apparently he carries a weather forecast clipping taken from The Western Daily Mail:


"Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.”

As he comments;

“There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection.” (I assume he means British, rather than just English).

“To an outsider the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it at all. All those phenomena that elsewhere give nature an edge of excitement, unpredictability and danger – tornadoes, monsoons, raging blizzards, run-for-your-life hailstorms – are almost wholly unknown in the British Isles, and this is fine by me. I like wearing the same type of clothing every day of the year. I appreciate not needing air conditioning and mesh screens on the windows to keep out the kind of insects and flying animals that drain your blood or eat away your face while you are sleeping.

I like knowing that so long as I do not go walking up Ben Nevis in carpet slippers in February I will almost certainly never perish from the elements in this soft and gentle country.”

Well I have to say that’s an admirable expression of satisfaction with our weather system here. Not sure the rest of us feel the same though. We seem to like complaining about it despite the fact that most of us have lived with it all our lives.

Why aren’t we conditioned to it? Why do we complain about snow showers in April and May when it happens most years? One thing I really don’t understand is that we complain about our poor summers and yet they are the norm. However if we do get happen to get a hot one and yes it does happen, occasionally, people go mad complaining about the heat and the lack of rain. Come on, get a grip, you either want hot weather or you don’t.


When it comes to the weather I have to admit that we British are prone to hyperbole and Bill Bryson notes this:

“… As I sat eating my breakfast in the dining room of The Old England Hotel in Bowness - on -Windemere, two days after leaving Morecambe, I was reading an article in The Times about an unseasonable snowstorm - a “blizzard”, The Times called it-that had gripped parts of East Anglia. According to The Times report, the storm had covered parts of the region with “more than two inches of snow” and created “drifts of up to six inches high. In response to this, I did something I had never done before: I pulled out my notebook and drafted a letter to the editor in which I pointed out, in a kindly helpful way, that two inches of snow cannot possibly constitute a blizzard and that six inches of snow is not a drift. A blizzard I explained, is when you can’t get your door open. Drifts are things that make you lose your car ‘til spring.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed these extracts from Notes From A Small Island whether you’ve read the book or not. There are lots of topics I haven't covered like our attitude to our heritage, his feelings about Oxford, our Ordinance Survey maps and British buildings he would like to blow up.
I can't resist going back to it and re reading some extremely funny bits, he makes me laugh out loud and really cheers me up. If you want to find out more about Bill Bryson take a look at the official website.

I will add that, thank goodness for us, Bill Bryson eventually came back to England to live. He became Chancellor of Durham University and is now part of the campaign to protect rural England.
Good lad Bill! Keep up the good work.
Oh yes, we had a great holiday in Malta and one day I'll go back there.

Sirmione

I do love Lake Garda and Sirmione in particular is a lovely old place. Just got back from a tour staying at the pink hotel on the right...