Month: February 2009

02.28.09 porridge

I am, as previously noted, spoiled rotten. The most obvious way this manifests is my devotion to particular brands of cosmetics, but beyond that, I have no problem spending massive amounts of money on restaurant food.

Though only when it is good. I have a long-running argument with local gastronomes like Satnam about whether or not Midsummer House is, in a word, disgusting. Grapefruit foam with shrimp, anyone? Ick. The presence of a Michelin star or several only guarantees a large bill, not a tasty or even safe dining experience.

I worked at the health department long enough to have a shall-we-say-visceral understanding of the dangers of improper food prep, and I generally do know the approximate cleanliness scores of various establishments wherever I live. Midsummer House, for instance, often comes in lower than the kebab huts or burger joints.

Now Heston Blumenthal has closed his restaurant after forty customers fell ill. Proving my point.

No snail porridge for anyone this week then!


2.27.2009 commons


2.26.2009 poked

Yesterday I was trying to prompt my sleepy teenager to get up and go to school.

Given the need for creative approaches, I poked him and asked Are you my own little budgie?


What is the proper name for a budgie?


What color are you?

-Turquoise and yellow.


2.25.2009 status

In response to my fury over proposed changes in UK immigration policies, a friend suggests that my younger child, as a thin winsome and anachronistic sort of chap, could qualify for residence by pursuing jobs like coal mining, or maybe, chimney sweeping.

The elder offspring, already an “official” adult and therefore much more in need of a job under proposed guidelines, despite not yet finishing her high school education, could pursue a career in “personal services.” Because she is, ya know, smoking hot and all. This of course ignores the inconvenient fact that she is a certified genius, and her time might be much better devoted to a PhD.

When I inquired about my own status he replied If I were Immigration Czar I’d let in everyone with big breasts.

Now that would be an interesting heuristic.

Perhaps all immigration policy should be predicated on aesthetics, changing with each relevant administration, therefore allowing all the different tastes and fetishes to cycle through…..


2.24.2009 values

One of the bad bits of life on a boat is the fact that, although we pay licensing fees equivalent to council tax, we do not have mail service, garbage pickup, or any recycling facilities.

Just now I stomped off muttering about isolationism and did a bit of, uh, vigorous recycling, flinging all of my accumulated glass in the municipal bins.

It is so satisfying to break things.

Then I wandered around the corner store, where the immigrant shopkeepers can routinely be found taking tender care of elderly people and customers undergoing chemotherapy. They always call me dear and genuinely seem to care – about me, the neighborhood, the city.

I am aware that I enjoy certain privileges denied other people based on income, ethnicity, or other factors. The recent fight to get equal rights for all Ghurka soldiers – people who put their lives on the line for this empire, only to be denied equal access to services – underscored the disparity of the system.

Knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better.

One of the few things that binds all immigrants together is the fact that we are displaced. Some of us move for economic opportunities, others are fleeing war and famine, but we have left one life behind in the hopes that we can build another.

To be told that we are not wanted is a harsh rebuke.

My life started by accident and proceeded in a perilous fashion. I grew up in poverty, with cancer, and fought hard just to stay alive. I will always be scarred, literally, by my past.

I’m also the plucky outsider who worked my way through school as a single teenage mother. I played the system – and won. Yet I chose to leave my homeland as a deliberate political protest, seeking a new home in a place that offers health care and basic services to all.

I do not wish to be the poster child of any cause (no matter how worthy). In this particular debate, the fundamental truth is that I am not exceptional – I am just one face amongst many, a person who wishes to live and work and contribute in a society that values the presence of people like me.

Is that desire just a fantasy? Have I wasted years of my life caring about a country that would rather I just go away?

How alarming.


2.23.2009 rage

Since nobody is around to listen to me pontificate, y’all get to witness a flash of my rage!

Recent suggested “improvements” to UK immigration policy have included limiting foreign workers access to the NHS – despite the fact that we have no other recourse to public funds and pay massive taxes. And in the case of us Americans, we are required to pay in both countries, forever and ever.

The NHS policy change is idiotic given current administrative controls. Our health system, while superb compared to the states, is unable to keep track of basic records – let alone maintain tiered billing systems.

Now? The Home Secretary suggested that families may be kept out unless wives (and the word ‘wife’ was invoked rather than ‘spouse’) and other dependents are actively employed. Something like “be a good parent” or “attend school” would not count.

Do you want to know what an immigrant looks like? How about: all of my world-class academic pals, across numerous disciplines. The scientists and economists bringing innovation and energy to a stagnant economy. The health care and social services workers and teachers to replace those this country has proved unable to educate, train, and retain.

People in the ‘highly skilled’ category are generally required to prove that nobody else can do their job. They also need a corporate or similar sponsor. Yet they won’t be allowed to bring their families unless they can meet some arbitrary other standard? Oh?

How exactly are children, for instance, supposed to prove they contribute? My kids routinely score in the top 1% of scholastic aptitude and achievement. Does that count for, or against? If current trends hold, they will be resented for taking up the spot in the school system that some imaginary British child might have taken.

If my kids were more ordinary, earning (as most British children do) mediocre grades, would they be denied entry?

Or how about me. I’m highly educated, but self-employed. What are my contributions worth?

Clearly, not enough.


I could have moved anywhere in the world, and the same is true of all my professional friends. If the UK wants to introduce flagrantly stupid new rules, know what? We will leave.


2.22.2009 caring

One day I was hanging around a BBC studio waiting to do interviews and I started chatting with two fellows known as the Hairy Bikers.

One of them asked what my book was about and I replied Cancer, poverty, and violence! — then started to giggle. They laughed uproariously, then we proceeded to have a jolly chat about all manner of topics.

Our publicists looked queasy (for good reason, since I continued to snicker my way through all the interviews). At the time I had no idea why one of the bikers in particular was not fazed at all by my caustic humor, but this might explain it:

Which parent do you think you can cope better with? – Dave Myers on the experience of caring for two disabled parents.


2.18.2009 listening

When we’re not listening to P.G. Wodehouse (mebbe 10% of any given day) I have been playing Schoolhouse Rock like a demented pusher.

RIP, Blossom Dearie.

However, since I have the box set, this means the lists include the tribute songs.

Most of them are okay, but whenever the Lemonheads cover of My Hero, Zero comes on my kid shudders and quietly clicks to the next song.

He really does have exquisitely good taste.


2.17.2009 ick

It is some variety of school vacation hereabouts but I failed to book tickets for, um, anything, so we’re listening to P.G. Wodehouse and catching up on the news…. or rather the “allegedly more upscale stories reported by papers other than the fabulous Daily Mail.”

This is the best so far have been about <i>exciting new crisp flavors.</i>

Don’t believe anyone could possibly market “Cajun Squirrel” as a food item? Well, Walkers did.

For an extra special treat, try the ‘flavour facts’ option on the website and watch one of the most famous chefs in the UK act like he actually cares.

WTF is up with Heston Blumenthal anyway? Snail porridge? I don’t get it. Ick.

Anyway, the only person I’ve met who has actually tried any of these crisps was very enthusiastic. Five minutes later we were comparing brain injuries – my skull has been fractured three times, but he has a very impressive scar after undergoing a form of trepanation to fix a massive bleed following, uh, moshing.

Clearly, nobody won that particular credibility contest.

Though I would never eat squirrel flavored anything.


2.16.2009 polite

The pain in my neck was so intense I was nauseous, dizzy, and my jaw kept locking up with the stress.

One afternoon I also received some bad news from my hometown, and although I was not much interested in talking Byron cornered me and wanted to chat. After making my dismal mood clear I tried to quietly excuse myself, but my charming companion embarked on a rant about….. his fear of male pattern hair loss.

For this particular person the concern is purely imaginary – he has as much hair as he ever did in youth, and all sets of grandparents and parents demonstrably kept their hair until death.

Beyond that, this is one of those “normal” problems I have little patience with, given my history. I defy anyone to wake up following cancer treatment at age thirteen with chunks of hair coming out in big handfuls to grow up at all let alone arrive in middle age with all their empathy and tolerance intact.

I did my best to reassure and then joke my way out of the conversation but he just kept getting more and more wound up, even after I pointed out that I was a wee bit too distraught to be a happy little helper.

When he continued I put up a finger and said So, are you persisting because you are trying to distract me, or because you are self-centerered and vain?

He paused then replied Uh, the latter, I guess. 


2.13.2009 polite

Yesterday morning I bravely ventured forth to have a massage, hugely disturbed by the thought of strangers touching my neck.

I had forgotten to worry about the fact that I live in a small town, so the odds that it would be a stranger hovered somewhere around zero. In fact, the first thing the therapist said was You’re Karen’s friend, right?

Uh, yeah.

Then we sat down for the obligatory intake questions, including Do you have any health problems?

I opened my eyes very wide and said No.

Why did I do that?

Who knows. Clearly pathological behavior, but hey! I’m allowed the occasional twitch!

Especially since she would figure it out shortly, as she then proceeded to do deep tissue massage of my torso, home to three hundred plus biopsy scars, and neck, sliced halfway round to hack out massive malignant tumors.

This very nice and professional woman hesitated when she caught her first glimpse of the scars, and nearly stopped when her fingers encountered the large supposedly “benign” thing growing in the right side of my neck.

She did not at any point ask me what the heck she was looking at.

British people are so polite! Or…. something.

Other than the strange suspension of narrative integrity, the experience was good. My neck feels much better now.

Though I miss Ana Helena’s wit and brutality, blasting Scopotones or punk music or the Velvet Underground and saying feel the pain or you will never get better as she pounded away, somehow in the madness restoring the function of my right arm, and my sense of smell, lost more than a decade earlier.

Or to state it a different way: I want to go home.


2.12.2009 procedure

Somewhere on the train journey from London to Cambridge I managed to throw out my neck.

It has been suggested that the pain is psychosomatic and derived from my hatred of this city, but I’m not buying that nonsense.

Unfortunately for me, pain is a purely physiological experience. If it hurts, something is broken.

Hot baths, ice packs, stretching, and tentative prodding have not helped at all so I will almost certainly need to visit some kind of professional to get it fixed.

I loathe, detest, and abhor strangers touching me. Especially my face or neck.

Though the prospect of a medical procedure is certainly better than sitting around contemplating the memories the pain brings up.

Like spending the majority of the fifth and sixth grades in a neck brace and arm sling.

Yes, like Joan Cusack aka Geek Girl # 1 in Sixteen Candles….. my early adolescence was no fun at all.


2.10.2009 flood

The river flooded and I forgot to put my gangplank out!


2.2.2009 barter

Like I’ve mentioned before (though I suspect nobody believes it) my life functions largely at the mercy of a rickety barter system. This week, that has meant that I’m reading research statements in exchange for some tech work.

To call the task tedious would be the understatement of the decade. Though I do get to issue dire warnings against excessive use of e.g. and similar poor grammar choices!


2.1.2009 resources

I’ve continued to ponder where to spend my precious few weeks in the states, while evaluating salacious stories that have been trickling in.

What a conundrum; I really can’t decide who to visit. Several people I would have once thought fun have turned their attention to sabotaging marriages (their own or others). Why, I do not know, though I suppose it might be a developmental plateau of some sort. Like turning five, or thirteen.

These antics baffle me on a fundamental level, though I’ve been rifling through my mental files and cross-referencing with old stories in an effort to understand.

For instance: once, years ago, I was casually chatting with one of my rock star friends at some bar and his girlfriend turned up and was so visibly enraged I thought she was going to leap across the table and attack me.

What was I talking to her partner about? Grotesque abdominal surgeries. Even a backwards person like yours truly can assert that does not count as flirting. No matter how much cleavage I had on display.

Though I just shrugged and wandered off – thinking weird, but whatever. I wouldn’t have even remembered the incident except, within the next twenty-four hours, she tried to seduce my husband.

I was puzzled, and that has remained my dominant reaction to similar situations. Why are some people so possessive, if they also engage in poaching? If you are capable of having one thought (this person is my possession) then how is the other (I will now steal the possession of another person) tenable?

I don’t understand either belief, let alone how people maintain both at once. I have many faults, but I am not a hypocrite.

It would take several more years before I went on the Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks with Ana Erotica, who announced the explicit operating principle Straight Girls Have No Solidarity.

Oh. Really? I never knew.

While it would be foolish to make generalizations about such a large slice of humanity, this was an illuminating instruction – it had seriously never occurred to me that anyone would think like that.

When I was seventeen I was quite shocked to find my best friend (since kindergarten) making out with my boyfriend in the laundry room. Not because I felt betrayed by him, oh no. What I failed to grasp then or ever was why she made that choice.

I still don’t really understand why she would have picked a few seconds of reckless affection in a dank basement over the entire lifetime of experience we had enjoyed. Even if he was one of maybe two heterosexual males in our scene.

Wandering along behind Ana Erotica as she rampaged across the Hill that week I watched with amazement as she racked up conquests and made enemies. Along the way I took lots of notes and made several enduring friendships with people she rejected as Not Dirty Enough. Heck, I even seem to be stuck forever dealing with the truly heinous boys who caused all the trouble that inspired the campaign – and I dislike them both.

You have to remember that the majority of my early social life was conducted amongst activists and children, two social groups notorious for highly calibrated ethics. Like them, I am a purist, completely loyal to first principles even at my most wicked.

It was clear to me at a very young age that antics like fucking your way through the housemates and/or their loved ones made it very difficult to split up the monthly phone bill. This lesson can be extrapolated to fit almost any other scenario where you might need to choose between having a family, community, job, or …. a quickie.

I know lots of people who competently practice non-monogamy. That is not what I am talking about – there is a big gap between consensual ‘open’ relationships and the active, deliberate destruction of emotional and practical resources some of my friends are engaging in at the moment.

I may be hedonistic, but I understand and respect boundaries. This is, I think, a reasonable way to view the world.