Sunday, December 31, 2006

Barney Boiler

One day a few months ago, while I was rummaging in the wardrobe, I found a toy rabbit in a plastic bag. I didn't recognise it. I showed it to Mr K-E and he didn't recognise it either. Then he vaguely remembered that someone had given it to him for safe-keeping, and that it was meant as a birthday present for me. (My birthday was six months earlier). He couldn't remember who it was. So whoever you are - thank you. And I hope this teaches you not to rely on Mr K-E to remember things in the future!

The rabbit is quite cute and it is meant to be a hot-water bottle replacement. That is, instead of filling a rubber water bottle with hot water and taking it to bed to keep you snuggly and warm, you can just heat up the rabbit in the microwave and it will do the job. I think the rabbit is filled with wheat grains (or something) that heat up in the microwave.

Anyway, it's quite effective - but there is something not quite right about putting Barney in the microwave.

Are you sure you want me to climb in there? Is it safe?

OK, if you say so.

I'll just make myself comfortable.

It's getting hot in! Let me out!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mr K-E's cooking.

Mr K-E got a "griddling" cookbook for Christmas and today he wanted to try out a recipe for Tandoori chicken breasts. So we dug out our griddle; a square cast-iron job with ridges, designed to sit on top of a gas stove. We haven't used it since 1999 after one disappointing attempt at griddled salmon steaks. The main problem was that the food stuck to the griddle like a bastard and it stank out the whole flat. Cleaning it is also NOT fun.

Anyway, today Mr K-E prepared the 2 (!) marinades and cooked the chicken breasts himself . We ate them wrapped them in flour tortillas with salad and mayo. Delicious. It's a pity we were too ravenous to stop and take a photograph.

(He even did all the washing up - including the food processor. I hope this trend continues.)

Saddam Hussein is dead.

I have just seen on the news that Saddam Hussein has been hanged in Iraq. The BBC showed the scenes leading up to the execution, including the noose being put around his neck. The whole report fills me with sadness. Although there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a complete bastard while he was in power, killing and torturing scores of people, is this really the best solution?

In the words of the Vatican spokesman, Frederico Lombardi:

"A capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness, even if it deals with a person who was guilty of grave crimes...

"The killing of the guilty party is not the way to reconstruct justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is a risk that it will feed a spirit of vendetta and sow new violence.

"In these dark times for the Iraqi people, one can only hope that all responsible parties truly make every effort so that glimmers of reconciliation and peace can be found in such a dramatic situation."

I don't think I can say it any better than that.

Every day we see and hear reports of how the Iraqi people are suffering. I must admit that I don't understand all the religious and political complexities of the Middle East, but I hope that things get better in the new year. And not just for this part of the world, but for Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia....

(I guess the conspiracy lovers will have to come up with a whole new raft of theories - Saddam living in LA with Elvis etc.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Night at the Museum

We went into Leicester Square on the bus to watch Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller. It was packed full of "stars" i.e. Ricky Gervaise, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and some guy called Bill Cobbs. I thought it was Bill Cosby but Mr K-E soon put me right. The cinema was full of kids, who squealed with laughter when the monkey peed on Ben Stiller. Why do all kids (and some adults eg Mr K-E) love bathroom humour?

Overall Review: Fun and entertaining. Good for kids and adults who want an easy laugh. A bit over-sentimental but nothing to make you feel sick. Ben Stiller plays the same role he played in Meet the Parents. Ricky Gervaise repeats his David Brent role from the office, which is presumably for the adults. Robin Williams doesn't do anything new, but thankfully doesn't take over the movie either.
Score: 8 out of 10
Katie-Ella's highlight: Ben Stiller's Ex's new boyfriend who has an array of electronic devices strapped to his belt - phone, blackberry etc. He also appears later with one of those ridiculous mobile phone thingies in his ear.
Mr K-E's highlight: Ben Stiller.

Before the movie we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown. The food was OK, but the waiters were all suspiciously Chinese. Hmmm. Can't remember the name of the restaurant but it was next to See-Woo supermarket.

Then I went to Reiss in Covent Garden and spent ages in there trying on clothes. It seemed everytime I wanted to leave I would see something else...oh...I should just quickly try this on...while I'm here. Patient Mr K-E held on to my coat, handbag and various items of clothing while I shopped. Reiss is nice. Especially when it's on sale.

I need to keep away from the shops. Stop spending money Katie-Ella.

We are steadily eating our way through the chocolates we got for Christmas. We have finished the chocolate coins and reindeer, so now its on to a box of Godiva chocolates from my sister. Yummy. (Mr K-E says he can't face any more chocolate today. What a hard life.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Home Again

It's nice to be home again.

We got home around 4 o'clock, unpacked, had something to eat and fell asleep on the sofa together in a heap. Now we are up and watching Ruby in the Smoke on TV, starring Billie Piper. It is based on the Philip Pullman book. Mr K-E bought me the book a few years ago but I still haven't gotten round to reading it. The TV adaptation is quite good, maybe I should look for the book and read it.

Mr K-E is rooting around in our cupboards looking for "proper" food. The flat is full of Pringles, luxuy chocolates, cake and other assorted Christmas treats. But we have no bread, milk, fruit, vegetables or anything that could make a decent dinner. It looks like a trip to Sainsburys is required. We can't survive on party nibbles until the New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

Mr K-E and his Dad went to PC World in the morning to get a wireless LAN card for his mother. Christmas is not complete for Mr K-E without a trip to PC World. I stayed at home; PC World is a place that I only visit under extreme duress. According to Mr K-E it was packed, and you had to get a ticket to pay for your purchases. A member of staff there siad they it was the busiest day of the year for them - all those people returning/exchanging their Christmas presents.

B (Mr K-E's brother) and his girlfriend L arrived around lunchtime. We had lots of yummy nibbly things for lunch - prawns in breadcrumbs, brie and cranberry parcels, potato rostis, mini yorkshire puddings etc. Mr K-E's mother had made a delicious chocolate torte.

Then we had round two of presents - I received some book tokens and a bottle of champagne. Mr K-E got some dvds: Ong Bak, Warrior King and Pirates of the Carribean 2.

We had a lovely turkey supper and Mr K-E's Dad broke open one of the bottles of claret that he has received for Christmas. Pudding was ice cream or chocolate torte, followed by cheese and crackers. We finished off with port / amaretto / baileys. It all slipped down very easily.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Some old friends of Mr K-E's parents came round for a drink in the morning after church. After they left we opened our presents.

my pile of presents

This year I got
  • Two candle stick holders (I think these will go straight to the charity shop)
  • Seinfeld Season 4
  • lots of books
  • Black nail polish ( very trendy)
  • Stila lipstick palette
  • Body lotions and creams
  • a red belt
  • Star present : Amethyst ring from Mr K-E. It's a huge rock to celebrate Mr K-E's promotion. Very bling.

I love to receive books for Christmas and I can't wait to start on Debretts Girls Guide to Etiquette. (Thanks C) I have had a look through it - its glossy and divided into sections like dealing with seafood and behavior on yachts. I'm sure it will make me more elegant and charming! Ha ha ha ha.

some of my unwrapped presents

Mr K-E got lots of snowboarding stuff and we also got the usual array of chocs.

One of the most successful gifts was a box of clarets for Mr K-E's Dad. We ordered it from Berry Bros, and although it was quite pricey - it was worth it.

I also spoke to my parents, they have had a busy Christmas day in Brunei. They both sounded really tired but happy, which is good.

As there are only four of us here this year for Christmas Day, we had roast duck with stuffing instead of turkey. We had christmas pudding with brandy butter and ice cream with caramel sauce for puddings. Simple yet delicious. Now we are collapsed in front of the TV eating through piles of Turkish Delight, chocolates and roasted chestnuts. Groan, I have to stop eating........

festive table decorations

christmas pudding with brandy butter

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve in the Countryside

I can't believe there is a big rail strike today - Christmas Eve! The bastards. The RMT general secretary Bob Crow has apologised to passengers but at least he is frank i.e. "...the money's not satisfactory to our members...". The airports are still recovering from the mess caused by fog over the last few days, and now a rail strike!

I am at Mr K-E's parent's place in the countryside. This year only Mr K-E and I will be around on Christmas day as his siblings and their partners are busy with work and other family commitments. Today we visited Mr K-E's brother B and his girlfriend L. They have just moved into a new house and will be spending Christmas Day with L's parents. So we will see them on Boxing Day when we will have round two of present opening.

At least I don't have the dilemma of where to spend Christmas Day because my parents are so far away. We always go to Mr K-E's parents. But for other couples I know, this can become a real problem. To keep rush from one house to another means they can't really relax over the Christmas holidays - eating two full Christmas dinners in one day... too much!

As the moment Mr K-E is sorting out his Dad's IT issues and I am relaxing in front of an open fire, eating toblerones and watching midnight mass on TV. It's not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve. I feel a bit sad because I miss my parents who are in Brunei, but hopefully I will have a good chat with them tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mr K-E's Work Christmas Party

One thing about Mr K-E's work - they really know how to organise a Christmas party. They started with breakfast at Smiths of Smithfield. The restaurant is famous for it's meat dishes as it is close to Smithfield market, where meat has been bought and sold for the last 800 years. Smithfield Market is one of the oldest markets in London and the pubs in the area have special licenses to serve alcohol early in the morning. The pubs serve meat market workers who start their shifts early in the morning, so by 7am, they are ready for their pints!

(Mr K-E and his colleagues ate in the downstairs dining room, but the upstairs dining room is decorated to look like a butchers shop. Mr K-E thinks this is cool)

After breakfast, they did their Secret Santa presents in the restaurant. For"Secret Santa", everyone draws a colleague's name secretly and buys a small present for them. It supposed to be for fun, so there is normally a £5 limit. Nobody knows who has bought what for whom, so the presents can be deliberately embarassing but not spiteful (usually). For example, Mr K-E was Secret Santa for someone who has a shaggy mop of hair - Mr K-E bought him some "Extreme Styling Wax" to sort out his hair. Mr K-E received a dinosaur model and a book of facts, "Why don't penguins feet freeze?". Both good presents so he was pleased.

Then they walked to the Tate Modern where they went down the slides for a bit of an adrenaline rush before lunch. The slides are part of a modern art exhibition by Carsten Holler. There has been criticism of them, because some people argue that it is not "Art" and shouldn't be in the Tate Modern. You can read about it here. However, Mr K-E thought they were really fun and he doesn't care if it is Art or not. They went down the 4th floor slide, which is not the tallest but the fastest.

There is a live webcam of the base of the slides.

(photo of slides)

It was still too early for lunch so they had some drinks in the Anchor to whet their appetites.

Lunch was at the Cantina restaurant in Vinopolis. Vinopolis is a wine museum with wine tasting events. I've been there, but didn't really appreciate it as I am not much of a wine drinker at all. They had a champagne reception at the bar before going through to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the lunch itself was disappointing. Mr K-E's main course consisted one inch-thick slab of turkey breast, 18 brussels sprouts (yuck), one tiny carrot and three chip-shaped pieces of swede. It was really dry with only a few drops of gravy provided. (Mr K-E wishes that he had chosen the pan-fried bass because it looked delicious.)

In the middle of the meal, there was a fire alarm so they had to be evacuated and spent half an hour playing cricket in the street outside. The game stopped when the ball got stuck on the roof of Vinopolis.

They were finally allowed back in and had their desserts - triple chocolate icecream with peach sorbet. Yum.

Then it was back to the Anchor pub for a quick drink before heading to Auberge on Tooley Street where they camped until 11:30 pm. Mr K-E caught the last train home, which was full of other drunk people. One fellow was singing a medley of Queen songs very badly and was taking song requests from the other people in the carriage. Finally burger and chips for Mr K-E from our local takeaway before collapsing into bed with a smile on his face.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Baileys means it's Christmas....'s really cold tonight.

Mr K-E is out at his work Christmas party which started with breakfast and will probably go on all night.

I left work at 4:30 today, finished my work and there's not much point starting anything new as we will be "breaking up" for nearly two weeks tomorrow. So it was down to the pub for Baileys and gossip. I got chatted up twice! Unfortunately, both times by dodgy middle aged men. The first time I was up at the bar on my own and had just bought myself a drink (I was a bit late so everyone had already got theirs) when Bloke A said - Hello, are you alright? Are you here on your own? Eeek. I mumbled something like - I'm meeting friends. They are just over there... and pushed my way through the crowds away from dodgy Bloke A.

Then later on in the evening, I was left alone when S and J went to the toilet and M went to get the next round of drinks. What gentlemen! Before I knew it , a somewhat podgy man with a cigar (!) had sidled up to me and tried to engage me in conversation. No, he was not just being friendly. I was feeling pretty pissed by then, but I still found it excruciating. How do you say "Get real. Fuck off." politely? Luckily he got the hint and made himself scarce just as M returned with the drinks. We had a laugh about it later, and S assured me that I could do much better than cigar man.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Parties

Mr K-E and I have been "ships passing in the night" for the last few days. We have both been very busy with work and christmas parties etc, so we haven't really had a chance to talk to each other since the weekend(!).

I have decided not to leave my job - after thinking about it over the weekend, I decided that I would really prefer to continue in the same kind of work. My bosses were pleased, and from my point of view, it was good for me as I have a pay increase too. I felt a bit bad calling W to tell him that I was turning down his offer.

Last night was my work's Christmas dinner and dance which was held at a hotel in Central London ; the Portman Hotel near Marble Arch. It was great, I spent all night on the dance floor shaking my stuff. There was drunken behavior and scandal.....all the ingredients for a great night out.

The food was nice too, it can be a bit hit-or-miss at these mass catered events. The party ended at 1am and some people were heading on to a club after, but I had work the next day. I got a cab using Zingo - it was the first time I've tried it and it's fantastic. You call Zingo on your mobile phone and they trace your location using your mobile phone. Very MI5. They then connect you directly to the nearest available cab, who (voila!) comes to pick you up. No more staggering around in painful high heels looking out for the orange taxi lights. Hooray.

(The number is 08700 700 700 by the way. I think the cab adds £1.40 for the Zingo service, but frankly that's fine when you are in the middle of London at 2am trying to get home)

Oh, the lovely sight of a London taxi with its light switched on.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Biscuits and Cheeky Girls

This evening we broke into a tin of biscuits that we had received as Christmas presents. I know we should have waited, but I was craving biscuits. I didn't want to buy any because I knew there was a perfectly nice tin at home.

They were delicious. Mmmm, Duchy Originals Organic biscuits, very posh.

Mr K-E has just told me that Lembit Opik, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, has dumped his long time girlfriend Sian Lloyd for one of the Cheeky Girls! That's the end of his political career, ha ha ha. Sian is an ITV weather presenter, but I think she's quite brainy and seemed perfect political spouse material. But the Cheeky Girls??? I wonder which sister he's seeing - they seem like clones to me. Maybe they've got some Eastern European thing going on, Lembit's family are from Estonia and the Cheeky Girls are from Transylvania. Yes, really.

Sian vs. Cheeky Girls : which one do you think would be better at those political conferences?

(Mr K-E says is it buy-one-get-one-free?)

Well, Mr K-E saw it in the Sun, so it might all be bollocks. It looks true - read about it here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Well, I've finally finished Arthur and George. I didn't think it was very good and I can't understand why this book is rated so highly. Some people in my book club thought it was very good, while others couldn't get into it. I was one of those people who couldn't get into it, and spent the first few chapters thinking - when is this book going to get going? It never drew me in, and I never felt any sympathy or happiness for any of the characters - it was like reading a public information pamphlet. The writing style was very "detached" and if this is Julian Barnes's best book yet, well I'm steering well clear of him from now on.

(Warning: Spoilers below)

Arthur is Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories and George is George Edalji, a half-Indian half Scottish solicitor. The book is a double autobiography of the two men, set around the series of incidents (the Great Wyrley outrages) which take place around the turn of the 20th century.

George's father is a vicar, who is the target of abusive letters and cruel pranks. For example, an advertisement is placed in the paper saying that the entire contents of the vicarage are on sale for a knock-down price. There are other more sinister pranks involving dead animals and people prowling around their garden at night.

When a sick (in the head) person starts to mutilate animals in the Great Wyrley area, the local bumbling policemen and self-important local authorities turn to George, a very unlikely criminal. He is accused and subsequently convicted of the crimes; although his conviction seems to be based more on local prejudices than actual evidence. He is sentenced to 7 years in prison, but released after 3 years . His life is ruined anyway as he cannot work as a solicitor until his name is actually cleared.

While George has been in prison, his family and friends have been campaigning on his behalf and this continues after he is released from prison. As part of the campaign, George writes to the famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a long cover letter and clippings of the various articles written about his case. Arthur who is in need of a distraction following the death of his wife Touie, takes an interest in his case and starts to "investigate".

Arthur soon comes to the conclusion that the culprits are the Sharp brothers, a pair of local no-good types, although his beliefs (as George thinks privately) are as based on evidence as flimsy as George's own conviction.

Although many eminent people have been campaigning on George's behalf, now that the famous and highly respected Arthur Conan Doyle has taken up the case, ministers are forced to conduct an inquiry and present a report to the Houses of Parliament. The report clears George Edalji, but doesn't recommend that he is compensated for his time in prison. In short - OK, he was innocent but he brought his troubles onto himself by being such a weirdo.

The Incorporated Law Society votes to allow George back in i.e. he can practise as a solicitor again. George lives out the rest of his life quietly with his sister Maud, avoiding publicity from the infamous "Great Wyrley Outrages". He never marries.

Arthur remarries and continues to write Sherlock Holmes stories, while taking an active role in politics and the social issues of the time.

As a result of this case (and other high profile miscarriages of justice) a Criminal Court of Appeal was established.

This isn't a Sherlock Holmes story where everything is neatly tied up at the end. We never really know who was responsible for the mutilations, or why the Edalji family were targeted for such vicious harassment. The two main characters are fleshed out quite well, for example we learn about Arthur's belief in spritualism and how it affected his life and work. But the writing style didn't draw me in, and I always felt like I was reading about two strangers that I didn't really care much about. It's a real slog to read 500 pages about people that you don't care about!

My other main problem is this - Julian Barnes has obviously done a lot of research but it is difficult to tell how much is fact (or at least based on memoirs and written accounts) and how much is his imagination. For a book called Arthur and George, I also expected more interaction between the two characters but they only met 4 times ( I think).

I can't recommend this book - if you are curious, borrow it from the library - but in my opinion: avoid.

Read other reviews here. And here is another account of the George Edalji case.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Out and about

Leaving Mr K-E to his well-deserved hangover, I headed out to Bayswater this morning to meet my Aunt for lunch. We met at the "horse fountain" in Whiteleys before heading to Royal China for dim sum. Whiteleys is a large shopping centre with a cinema located in Bayswater. I like Whiteleys because it brings back lots of happy memories of childhood holidays and my carefree university days. It also has an interesting history - the first department store in Britain, the equivalent of Harrods or Selfridges but now divided into individual shops and restaurant.

The only problem with Bayswater is that it is infested with other Bruneians and you are bound to bump into someone that you would rather avoid. Yep, during lunch I spotted some people we were distantly related to but luckily I think they didn't recognise me, so I didn't have to do the whole "meet and greet" thing. Or maybe they did recognise me, and right now they are texting all our family members back in Brunei telling them how rude and snobby I am.

After lunch (restaurant review: OK but nothing to blog about), we got the 94 bus to Piccadilly Circus and walked around Chinatown and Leicester Square. Mr K-E turned up around 4:30, just before my Aunt had to leave to go to mass.

We decided to see Casino Royal while we were in town.

Review: Daniel Craig is burning hot! Action and fight scenes are good. Plot is imprenetrable, but you don't have to understand the plot to enjoy the movie.
Overall score: 8/10, good.
Mr K-E's highlight: The free-running stunts in the beginning, which are based on parkour moves.
Katie-Ella's highlight: Daniel Craig's incredible body. My tongue was hanging out.

He is actually a bit ugly, but no-one is looking at his face :P


Well, the Director of Finance came up with a package to match the job offer. I said I would think about it over the weekend and let them know next week.

Bad Mr K-E

Mr K-E went out drinking with a friend last night. They were invited to an architect's christmas party. One thing led to another and they ended up in a bar called Cafe Kick in Farringdon drinking caipirinhas. He called me after he left the bar (waking me up) and scaring me by saying "the cars are going really fast and I can't focus on the road". Eeeek. He promised me that he would try and get a taxi - unfortunately it is the weekend before Christmas and every one else was out partying too. So he ended up walking to to Waterloo, and getting an illegal minicab home. Bad bad bad Mr K-E.

This morning I was awoken up the sound of retching and he came crawling back to the bedroom (literally) groaning. We were going to meet my Aunt for lunch today but in the end I left him in bed with a glass of water and a bucket and went off to Bayswater on my own.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mr K-E likes curry

Mr K-E likes curry. Tonight we had curry at a restaurant called Tandoori Nights, supposedly one of the best in our area. We have only eaten a few times (the last time about 6 years ago) because we are not organised enough to sort out reservations and the place is always packed.

Anyway, we had a treat tonight after my hard day's negotiations. We had chicken pakora, onion bhajis, a green chicken handi thing, sag aloo (spinach & potato) and mushrooms.

(Mr K-E says whatever you order, it always tastes the same anyway. And why do you have to list everything in your blog: it's so boring.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Emotionally drained

I told my director today about the job offer. He didn't sound too surprised and we had a grown-up chat about pay and my future at the company. He made it clear that he didn't want me to leave. I tried to be as professional as possible - well I didn't cry or beg.

Then at 5 I was called in to speak to another director, and again at 6:30 as the word spread. In short, they are not pleased that I am leaving. So tomorrow, the director who deals with the financial stuff is going to make me an offer. They have indicated that they will match the package from the new place, but let's wait and see. The annoying thing is, when I told them about the package offered by my prospective employers; they didn't look surprised and without hesitation said that they could match it. It's nearly 30% more than I'm being paid now!!! Damn, am I underselling myself or what??

All these intense discussions were emotionally draining, as they all wanted to know why I was leaving, what they could do to make me stay, was it all about the money, was I unhappy with work etc etc. And because the director's offices all have glass walls (helps transparency at work, ha ha ha) everyone could see us having these "closed door discussions".

The director I saw at 6:30 is from New York and he got quite worked up. At one point, shouting "tell W to go to hell". W is my prospective new employer. I don't think I will passing on that message.

As I said before, let's wait and see. I'll be so relieved when this is all over.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Let the negotiations begin...

After the team lunch, I felt a bit sorry that I was thinking about leaving. But I received the job offer in writing today. It is a very good offer; more money, promotion, fantastic opportunity etc. I would be silly not to take it seriously. So today I made an appointment with my Director, G, - 1pm tomorrow. He was a bit distracted and didn't ask me what it was all about. I guess he knows it is serious because I have booked a private meeting room. He's going to be pissed off that someone else is trying to recruit me, as we are so busy at the moment. Its quite a specialised field, and not easy to hire staff. The question is, will he offer me more money not to leave?

I am psyching myself up for the meeting tomorrow. Remember - Professional. Firm. Confident.

Team Christmas Lunch

Today we had our team Christmas lunch at Pizza Express. Yes, I know it's boring but we couldn't get in anywhere else this close to Christmas.

We have our company Christmas dinner and dance on the 19th, but traditionally the individual teams have their own separate celebrations. I organised it again this year and made sure that everyone knew that we were all supposed to be paying for our own meals. In reality, the team leader normally pays for drinks or food or both.

This year, P, our team leader paid for everything. Woo hoo. There were 12 of us, and we had 42 Peronis. Considering the fact that a few of us (my self included didn't have any alcohol) - this means that some people must have had 4 or 5 drinks! This in addition to a three course lunch with very generous portions. The bill was over £500. Not bad for 12 people I guess.

I had vegetable crisps, caesar salad, Sloppy Giuseppe pizza, tiramisu and filter coffee, all washed down with orange juice and lemonade. That's a lot of food for a mid-week lunch. The guys on my team all drink triple expressos and are amused by my filter coffee.

Then a few of us headed back to work (it was 3:30 by then), while most of the team - including P, - went straight to the pub.

It's been a good year for our office, we made nearly 10% net profit this year. The company average is 3.4%; so we really deserve our Christmas celebrations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Other people's blogs

Now that I am a blogger (ahem), I have started searching for blogs of people I know. You know, like "googling" but looking for their blogs/friendster/bebo/myspace pages etc.

It's funny when you come across people you know quite well, and there are little fibs or even outright lies on their site. For example, someone I know quite well asserts on friendster that she's not "full-blooded asian". Now, I know her whole family!! And they are all Chinese!! Maybe she thinks its more interesting, ha ha ha.

It's also strange when you come across photos of people you have lost touch with, or people you "kind of" knew but not really. I'm sure you know what I mean. It feels a bit voyeuristic looking at their wedding photos, thinking - ugh, who did your makeup? Cruella deVille? Especially if you have no intention of getting in touch with them and just want to snigger over their bad-taste outfits. And thinking, well I guess you guys had to marry each other because everyone in Brunei knew, and no-one else would have had either of you. Evil, evil me.

Ipswich serial killer

I'm watching the news right now and there is a report about the Ipswich serial killer. This man or woman has killed 5 women (so far....) this month. The first body was found on 2nd December and tonight, 2 more bodies have been found. The women were all prostitutes - vulnerable and easy pickings. The police have advised them to stay off the streets, but apparently most of them are drug addicts and need to feed their habit. I hope they catch this pyscho soon; whatever your moral feelings regarding prostitution, no one deserves to die like this.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Too much MSG

Yesterday we had Eggs Benedict for brunch at Black Cherry, a bar near our flat. We tried to have it Saturday but we got up too late and by the time we got there it was 2:30 in the afternoon. (Black Cherry serves brunch till 1pm.) It is embarassing how difficult it is for me and Mr K-E to get there for 1pm, considering the place is only 10 minutes from our front door. Well, we managed to get there on Sunday and it was yum.

We were both feeling v lazy so we ordered a takeaway for dinner from our local Chinese restaurant. I won't name it here, for reasons which will soon become clear. We had squid in salt and chili, sweet and sour prawns, egg fried rice, singapore fried rice noodles (or bee hoon) and prawn crackers.

Delicious and good value, as there was more than enough food.

However, we then suffered all night with MSG-itis i.e. a raging thirst, tossing and turning all night in bed. Not good.

I don't know why some Chinese restaurants use so much MSG (monosodium glutamate) in their food. A little is OK; too much and you feel like you've just eaten a packet of salt. The problem is worst in the over-the-counter type takeaways, where they tend to use cheaper ingredients to control their prices. That's why I prefer going to restaurants, where the prices are higher but the food also tends to be better. But ugh, it seems my local restaurant in not immune. From now on, I'm sticking to the restaurants in Chinatown.

I have always been sceptical of people who say they don't eat in Chinese restaurants because they are allergic to MSG - after all, it is not only naturally occuring but also found in most prepared foods. Don't they eat crisps? Don't eat parmesan? Don't eat parma ham? Don't use stock cubes? Is it a thinly veiled criticism of the Chinese catering industry, and by extension, Chinese people? (OK, I can be prickly, I know that.)

This morning though, I'm feeling a bit more sympathetic. Maybe (like me last night), they've just been eating in the wrong restaurants.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Brunei Bloggers: Don't give up

A newspaper in Brunei has published an article about Brunei Bloggers, intimating that they could be sued for libel or worse. In other countries, this might come across as a fairly neutral piece on the risks of defamation or making libellous statements online.

However, the Brunei media is tightly controlled - this from the BBC website:

Brunei's media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters. Media rights body Reporters Without Borders says news outlets carry "virtually no criticism of the government".

A press law provides prison terms of up to three years for reporting "false news".

The only local broadcast media are operated by the government-controlled Radio Television Brunei. Foreign TV is available via cable. Access to the internet is said to be unrestricted.

So blogging is just about the only way that the people living in Brunei can express themselves freely and comment on their daily lives. To tell the truth, there are very few blogs that actually make any social or political comment - and any criticism of government policy is always carefully worded and studiously "detached" i.e. no personal attacks or accusations. Here are some of the more interesting blogs:

Our Local Style
The Daily Brunei Resources
Life in Lumut

And here is the Borneo Bulletin article (with thanks to Our Local Style)

Frankly, the Borneo Bulletin is one (short) step up from a free "community" newspaper covering items like supermarket openings, hotel room special offers and stock speeches given by government officials. You won't find any hard-hitting editorials or controversial news here. However, this article has lead to some discussion in the blogger community and who can blame them if they are getting twitchy?

To be fair to the local media though, Brunei's "State of Emergency" laws have never been repealed since they were enforced in the 60s to quash a rebellion against the royal family. This means you can be held in prison without charge indefinitely. Just think about that - you can be put into prison for the rest of your life, and no reason has to be provided. Ever.

(There is a law about reporting false news, but hey, that's just a side dish compared to the "held indefinitely" main course that you have to swallow)

Under those circumstances, I can imagine that I'd be pretty circumspect too if my name had to appear above an article in the local paper.

But my main point is not about the laws of Brunei Darussalam, but the insinuating tone of the Borneo Bulletin article. Note that no "experts" are actually named; "authoritative sources" - come on. You would think that professional journalists would welcome other forms of written comment. Is the writer of the article the mouthpiece of a higher authority? Or simply feeling threatened?

So Brunei Bloggers, don't give up. You're all doing great work.

Just so I don't give the wrong impression about Brunei Darussalam. It's not like Zimbabwe or Afghanistan where chaos reigns, people are routinely rounded up and disappear, hooded quasi-government militiamen wait round every corner....... It is a safe, peaceful, prosperous country. But, it is the sort of place where children are warned by their parents not to repeat in school anything they may hear their parents discussing at home. It is clear that Brunei's prosperity has been largely due to it's political stability - and I'm not an expert in political systems, so I'm not even going to go there. After all, who would prefer to live in the "Democratic" Republic of Congo?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Good news.

Mr K-E had his annual review today and the news was good. He got a larger bonus than expected and he has been promoted. Clever Mr K-E! My lovely husband works so hard, he really deserves this.

Anyway, he has been celebrating all afternoon in the pub. When I rang him on his mobile just before five, it went like this...

Me: Hey, are you still in the pub? Didn't you go back to work after lunch?
Mr K-E: Uh, what time is it now?
Me: It's five to five.
Mr K-E: Oh shit. Well, it's a bit late now.
Me: So are you going to stay in the pub all night too? (joking)
Mr K-E: Yes. (not joking)

Don't you just hate it when this happens .......

Laura Bush turned up at a swanky white house reception in a US$8,500 Oscar de la Renta dress.

Unfortunately, so did three other women.........ha ha ha ha . Nice to know that spending thousands won't guarantee that you have an exclusive dress. Laura Bush changed her dress, by the way, to "take the pressure off the other women".

Quite a nice dress, I guess it's suitable for a woman of her age and the time of the year. I think it looks a like a "baju kebaya" i.e..a traditional Malay dress worn in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. Maybe Oscar has been spending some time in SE Asia.

(This is the Singapore Airline's Air Stewardess's uniform, which is an example of a baju kebaya)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I need negotiating skills

I got a call today about the new job. It's an okay offer - more than I'm getting now but not a "jump-up-and-down-singing-hallelujah" offer. Anyway, it's complicated because the person offering me the job (let's call him W) is an ex-colleague of mine and we were on very friendy terms, which is why he is quite keen for us to work together again. But on the other hand, negotiating a pay package is quite delicate and friendliness really doesn't come into it.

I noticed that after I asked for a written offer, W started to get a bit uppity, saying "Well, let me know if you are really interested and then I'll send you a written offer because there's no point wasting your time ....". Meaning, of course, that there was no point wasting his time. So I said yes, send me a written offer. It doesn't mean that I have to accept it. Frankly, I'm not going to make any decisions without seeing the offer on paper - and then we can start negotiating.

However, now the doubts are creeping in. Did I say "yes" too quickly? Well OK, I didn't actually commit to anything; and besides we both know that my present employer will probably try to match the offer, or even top it. And I would be stupid not to try to get more money out of this.

Thinking about all this manouevring makes me nervous. I hate this stuff. Good job I'm not some kind of high level diplomat trying to broker trade agreements between countries, or God forbid, nuclear disarmament treaties. I'll have to practise my "show no feelings/give nothing away" face in the mirror this weekend.

Shop till you drop

After work I met my sister-in-law, C, at Borders near Oxford Circus for the Liberty "Christmas Fantasy" event. She has a Liberty store card, so she gets invited to these events where we can get 20% discount. I haven't been into Liberty for ages, so it was nice to shop in the swish surroundings. Its a lovely building and tonight it was completely packed full of shoppers.

The event started at seven, so we had dinner beforehand at a Korean restaurant, RAN. The food was OK, we had the Korean grill where the food is cooked at the table (similar to our Mongolian barbeque in Brunei).

Then, suitably re-charged, we tackled all five floors of beautiful but expensive luxury goods. Yes, we spent lots of money - but hey it was all 20% off. Except "beauty" which was only 10% off. Grrr. I like Liberty because its full of unusual items that you can't find in other department stores. Almost everything you buy is wrapped in their trademark orange tissue paper, and they put it in these purple gift boxes for you.

My favourite thing tonight - A Stila lipstick palette which C bought as a present to me.

(It doesn't look that great in the picture, but trust me it's gorgeous)

Other shopping successes included a box of soaps for Mr-K-E's mother. 4 soaps for £18!!! Extortionate I know, but the packaging is fabulous. I'm such a sucker for these things. Also bought some chocolate for Mr K-E's dad.

And I finally bought C a present for her birthday (which was in September) - at £95 , 20% off equals £76. Happy Belated Birthday from me and Mr K-E!

I know I'm going to regret this reckless spending tomorrow, but for now, woo-hoo! I love shopping!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Ashes

No news about the job. Hhmmm. Maybe I'm too expensive. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I work in a male-dominated industry and today all the men were talking about the cricket, or more accurately how rubbish the England cricket team are. The Australians were trying not to look too smug but you could detect the tell-tale smirk. Someone explained it to me thus, "If it were football, it's like being seven-nil up at half time and then coming back to lose seven-eight".

Anyway, I still don't get cricket. I have had the rules explained to me about 30 times but I still can't remember them. If you are really interested, here is a link explaining all the rules. Too complicated for me. (Don't tell me its like baseball or rounders, I don't understand how they work either)

It seems to me that cricket is an excuse to stay out in the sun all day and drink lots of beer. I mean, come on, most of time the game ends in a draw and you can never tell who is winning until the end. (Not strictly true, if one team completely "collapses" like England did today)

Cricket is in the news because The Ashes is on in Australia. The Ashes is a test cricket series, with Australia and England playing 5 test matches. It is held (roughly) every two years, alternating between England and Australia. A "test" cricket match is played between two teams over 5 days, with about 6 hours of play per day. And that is just about all I know about cricket.

"The Ashes" is an interesting name for a sporting event, don't you think? When the Australian cricket team beat England in England for the first time in 1882, The Sporting Times printed a spoof obituary:

"In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29th AUGUST, 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P.
N.B. — The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

The media (yes, they had "media" back then!) seized this, and the next tour of the England cricket team to Australia was dubbed "the quest to regain The Ashes of English cricket".

The Ashes are represented by an urn, which as the story goes, was presented to the Hon Ivo Bligh, captain of the England cricket team during the 1882-1883 tour, by a group of women. The urn is said to contain the ashes of a cricket bail, but there is some discussion about this - you can read more here. (The bails are the cross-pieces which sit on top of the stumps)

What this really means is - lots of men checking the BBC Sport website all day to see how England is doing. If England do well, all the newspapers will be full of glowing reports, ministers will make speeches about sport in schools, the Olympics are bound to be a success, house prices will rise, the angle of the Earth will change so that England gets more sunshine.......OK OK I'm exaggerating. But the converse is true too. If England gets trashed, then this country "has gone down the toilet, the NHS is on its last legs and my god, the situation with immigration is completely out of control." So for the sake of racial harmony and peace across middle class dining tables everywhere, good luck England!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

New job?

I have leave to use up before Christmas so I had another day off today. I went into town because I had to see someone about a job offer. It went well, and they just need to make me an offer now. Well, they approached me, so from my point of view, its a case of "show me the money". I'm trying not to stress over it, can you tell?

Anyway, after that I had lunch in Chinatown. After barbequed pork and crispy belly pork on rice, I felt pretty "porked out" so I wandered around Soho and ended up in Covent Garden where I bought more Christmas presents. Here are some below:

For Mr K-E's sister

For Mr K-E's brother's girlfriend

For my Aunt

Also for my Aunt

Not very imaginative presents, I know. I'm saving the helicopter for next year.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Today Mr K-E and I spent the afternoon on the sofa watching Sunday afternoon TV. We didn't get to watch X-Factor last night so we cheered when The Macdonald Brothers were booted out. Those guys were rubbish. They were like a joke that Scotland was inflicting on the rest of the country. This week they were finally voted out despite tartan-waving antics and Louis Walsh desperately decribing them as the "nicest guys ever".

We want Leona to win because she's fab.

I also looked through all the stuff on my laptop and found some photos that Mr K-E had taken during our holiday in Rome a few weeks ago. Despite my whinging during the holiday ( many photos do you need anyway? can we go now?....) , I must admit that he's taken some cracking shots.

Il Vittoriano

A random street in Rome

One of the statues on Ponte Sant Angelo

If you have never been to Rome, go. It's really lovely and there is so much to see. I'm not an "arty" person, but it's impossible not to be amazed by the beautiful works of art and architecture in the Eternal City. And it's not just in museums or art galleries, but in all the little corners and back streets. The food is delicious and for an ice-cream lover like Mr K-E, the hardest thing was choosing which flavours to have.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas shopping

This morning Mr K-E and I went into town for some Christmas shopping.

We bought

  1. a snowboarding jacket for Mr K-E who is going snowboarding in Chamonix, France
  2. books for me
  3. a belt for me
  4. a jumper for Mr K-E
  5. plants for Mr K-E's mother
  6. plants for Mr-K-E's Auntie
  7. fluffy pink socks for Mr K-E's sister
  8. polka dot pajamas for Mr K-E's brother's girlfriend
  9. liqueur chocolates for Mr K-E's father
  10. christmas cards
  11. wrapping paper and gift tags
  12. sellotape

(Mr K-E says that no one is interested in reading this crap. Well, gee honey, thanks for your support.)

We were out in town all frigging day and we were absolutely knackered at the end of it. At least we made some progress on the present-buying front, although we still have more to do. The small "fun" presents are easy; it's the "main" present thats the killer.

For lunch we had nice food in Wagamama mmm chicken katsu curry.

The crowds were vicious as expected. I don't think I can face another Saturday in town before Christmas. It's going to be another Amazon christmas in the K-E household.

Prince Jefri and Brunei

There was article about Brunei's Prince Jefri in the Telegraph yesterday. Prince Jefri is the current Sultan's youngest brother.
(Prince Jefri is on the left, the other guy is the HM Sultan of Brunei)

Prince Jefri used to be Brunei's Minister of Finance before it all went wrong in the late 90s. In short, he had grand (but ultimately unrealistic) plans for Brunei's development through a company he set up called Amedeo. Unfortunately, as the world now knows, he didn't seem to have the business sense to make sure the projects were "best-value", so to speak. He was taken for a ride by con-men who charged $2,000 for $2 lightbulbs. This coupled with over-ambitious ideas and bad taste, led a period in Brunei's history that shall be known as the "cloud-cuckooland phase", when expatriates from all over the world feasted on Brunei's expense account. To be fair, a few Bruneians made a lot of money too and we got a nice free amusement park as well as a fine hotel.

At the time, most people were swept along with it - hey, everyone who came to Brunei at the time thought - My God, this country is swimming in money! And let's face it, who doesn't like to be rich? (Or at least have all their neighbours think that they are rich....) No one likes it when the bill from the credit card company arrives.
Slowly, inevitably, the cracks started to appear and one day, it seemed that the people who were really in charge woke up. Like, uh, where have you been for the last five years?? All the projects came to standstill and there was talk of misappropriation of funds, scandalous behaviour, house arrest, international lawsuits etc etc. The word on the street was that Brunei's coffers were empty.
So yes, Prince Jefri has been a very bad boy. But when he says he is being made into a scapegoat, there is an element of truth there. I mean, Brunei is a smaaall country ....... everybody knows everyone else's business. It's not as if you could miss the great big amusement park, hotel, marina and various assorted palaces he was building all over the place.

Its a shame the dream ended in a nightmare. Obviously the unbridled spending had to come to an end, but at least he had a -I don't know - a vision, a plan, a dream of what Brunei could be. Or maybe he was just a megalomaniac who had more money than sense. Small fish like me will never know the truth.

All I know is, whenever I see pictures of Dubai's amazing development on TV, (a country that doesn't even have any oil, aarrggghhhh!), I always think of Brunei. Sigh.