Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring is here.

The clocks have gone forward and our hedge is flowering. Spring is here.

I like Saturdays

We like Saturdays.

We had a late lunch at Black Cherry. I had the chicken and chorizo pie. Mr K-E had wild mushroom rissotto. The nice food was necessary to cancel the trauma of my horrible Mexican food last night.

Then we had a wander around our neighbourhood. I was surprised to find a scrapping supply shop, just opened recently. Scrapbooking, card-making etc doesn't interest me at all, but it seems to be really popular in Brunei. I thought it was bit American, and wouldn't really take off in the UK - so I was surprised to find the shop. Hmmm, well, people have all sorts of crazy hobbies I guess. Like blogging, says Mr K-E. Hey!

Coffee and cake at Cafe Nero is becoming a Saturday habit.

Lots of mundane errands to run, but we are home now. Harry Potter is on TV and the new series of Dr Who is on at 7. We have pringles, toffee popcorn and coca-cola. Happy, happy me.

Paris in May, hooray.

We booked our Paris holiday this morning, hooray! I've never been to Paris, partly because I've heard so many negative things about it eg
  • over-rated
  • just like London, only London is better
  • smells of dog-shit everywhere (this from a guy who divides his time between Paris, London and New York)
  • full of beggars
  • full of rude French people
Also, there are lots of other places to visit and Paris is bottom of the list because it's so close, if you see what I mean.

Mr K-E has been a few times and last October he went on a boozy weekend with his colleagues. At that time, I thought right, we are definitely going in 2007.

So this morning, we booked it all on Expedia. 5 days and four nights in Paris on Eurostar, staying in the 4-star Terrass Hotel in Monmartre. I was happy to stay in a 2/3-star cheapo place, but Mr K-E (after his experience in October) said no fucking way. OK, then, 4-star luxury it is.

We also booked a "package" - dinner up the Eiffel tower, night-time river cruise on the Seine and a cabaret at the Moulin Rouge. It costs £105 each, but what the heck.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday night

We have just back from a crap Mexican meal. OK, Mr K-E's steak fajitas were nice (he says) but I went for an El Paso Platter which sounded nice, but was underseasoned and tasteless. The menu said it was a combination platter of lamb, beef, prawns and chicken. Oh great I thought, because I like variety. How disappointing.

Strawberry margaritas are nice though...mmmm...drunken blogging..... :)

On Friday nights Mr K-E normally goes out drinking with his colleagues, so it's quite nice that we have gone out for a meal together for a change. Even if it was a rubbish meal.

Bring on the weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Funny and horrific at the same time. About 65% horrific/35% funny, I think. Quite a good read, but very uncomfortable at some points. It's a twist on all the "child-abuse memoir" books that seem to be everywhere at the moment i.e. Dave Pelzer's A child called it etc. Recommended, but proceed with caution.

In Borders and Books etc, the staff sometimes write little reviews of recommended books and stick them next to the books stacked up. I really like reading these reviews because they are hand-written and slightly messy, like they've been written by real people. You know, a fellow book-lover, not just a critic trying to sound as clever as possible.

Anyway, this book had a little review next to it and it said something like "this book is so funny that I couldn't stop myself laughing out loud on the bus and snorting like a fool..."

It's also being made into a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes and Annette Benning. So I had quite high expectations when I started reading.

*spoilers ahead*

Augusten Burroughs is 13 years old. His father is a distant alcoholic professor and his mother is a mentally ill aspiring poet. She starts to see a therapist, Dr Finch who quickly has an enormous influence on her and Augusten.

After his parents divorce, Augusten starts to spend more and more time with Dr Finch and his dysfunctional family. Until finally, his mother "gives" him to Dr Finch and he is legally adopted into the Finch family.

Dr Finch is completely nuts. He is raising his children to be "emotionally mature" and believes that at 13, people are adults. What this actually means is that the family live in squalor, have inappropriate relationships and just do whatever the hell they want.

This was funny at times, eg when they decide to cut holes in the roof and examine each other's poo. But not so funny when 13 year old Augusten starts a relationship with Neil Bookman, one of Dr Finch's other adopted children. Neil Bookman is 33 years old to Augusten's 13 - and this was one of the ickiest parts of the book. I didn't enjoy reading detailed descriptions of sex between a child and an adult; what was more disturbing is the acceptance of it by Augusten's "parents". His mother is happy about it , and Dr Finch also "approves".

Although the book is written in a light-hearted, anecdotal style, some parts of it are really sad. Augusten is desperate for attention. He loves and hates Neil Bookman in equal measure, threatening to report him to the police but also grateful for the fact someone, anyone cares about him.

Augusten's mother is not so much a bad mother, just very ill. She needs proper psychiatric help, not a charlatan like Dr Finch and his freakshow family.

This book made me think that children need limits, and parents not setting those limits is in itself a kind of abuse. Augusten himself asks - if he is so free to do whatever he wants, why does he feel so trapped?

I'm curious to see how the child abuse is depicted in the movie. The book is very candid, but I wonder how Hollywood will deal with it as the child/adult relationships are very complicated.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Clash of Civilizations

Mr K-E has loaded Civilization onto the laptop ( my favourite blogging medium) and he is hassling me to get off because he wants to play.

I suppose I should feel sorry for him because he had to go all the way to Wales today for a crap meeting....but hmmmm.

Anyway, my life currently revolves around work, work and more work. And is there any point blogging about that? No. Exactly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stress at work.

After blogging about enjoying the pressure at work, I felt a bit bad this morning when I heard that one of my colleagues is taking sick leave because of work-related stress.

His wife rang up this morning to say that he was suffering from stress and wouldn't be coming to work until further notice. Poor guy, I know him really well and I am sure that he is not "trying it on".

J has two young kids under the age of five and has recently moved house, taking on a bigger mortgage. He lives in Oxfordshire and commutes to London everyday. Lately we have all been busy at work, but I guess he must really be feeling the pressure. And I've heard that things were not going so well for him at home, either.

Life's not easy, is it? I hope he gets better soon.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hey I'm famous! (sort of....)

I wrote an article about the project I have just wrapped up, and it's been published in our professional journal! So I'm famous! OK, maybe not. But it's still nice to know that my work has some value. Since I do so much of it.....

Speaking of which, work has been intense lately. It gets to five o'clock and I think - great, I can still put in another 3 hours before my vision starts to blur. The thing is - I love the pressure. I'd rather be pushed to the limits than do a boring 9 to 5. Bring it on, baby!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Making a good impression.

On Friday morning I received an e-mail at work that said something like this:

....XX XX (the company CEO) would like to hold regular breakfast meetings with staff from different operating companies. You have been nominated to attend the first get-together. Please indicate your availability on the following dates.....

It was also copied to the MD of my operating company.

Aaaggghhh. The CEO!!! Breakfast meeting? I have serious mixed feelings about this. I asked my Director if he had put my name forward - but he didn't know anything about it. My name has either been put forward by our company's Financial Director or the UK Operations Manager.

Firstly, I am happy because this means my name is "known" in upper-management circles and that I have been identified as a future leader, mover-shaker, blah blah blah...

On the other hand, I hope I don't make a fool of myself by spraying him with croissant crumbs or spilling coffee over myself. Even worse: I have to sound knowledgeable but not arrogant, friendly but not over-familiar, confident but not boorish. All at 8:30 in the morning. Help.

Mr K-E says just don't eat too much.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wooo Hoooo!

Woooo Hoooo! With help from Mr K-E I have put a counter on my blog! Look there it is, under my disclaimer.

Currently says 0000002. Both times, me...hahaha.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cairo, Egypt : January, 2005

After Luxor, we went to Cairo.

Here's the Nile again, this time from our hotel balcony in Cairo. We stayed at the Sheraton; aaaahhh if only I could always live in 5-star luxury.

Cairo traffic is scary. There are no crossings and drivers ignore the traffic lights. The drivers don't make any allowance for pedestrians, they don't slow down at all.

You can't go to Cairo without visiting the pyramids! We went into the Great Pyramid; an incredible feat of engineering. We visited quite early in the morning so we were the only people inside as we climbed up in the Great Chamber.... creepy and not for people who can't handle confined spaces.

Ever wonder what the back of the Sphinx looks like?

We also visited lots of beautiful mosques and other historic buildings with amazing architecture. One place we visited was the Citadel, where we saw Cairo all laid out. It's a very "packed-in" city as you can see.

It's a prime spot for spotting invaders, which is why Salah-al-Din
(the great Saladin of my history lessons) fortified the area to protect it from Crusaders.

One of the gates of the medieval city, located in Khan-al-Khalili market. You can spend all day walking around looking at the stuff in the bazaars, but there is a lot of hassle as you are walking around.

One of the mosques we visited. Strictly speaking, there is no entrance fee to visit the mosques - although you will be required to make a "donation".

Also, please make sure you are dressed appropriately. Have some respect, it is a holy place after all. I wore jeans and a long sleeved hooded jacket; very handy as I could just pull the hood over my head whenever we wanted to visit the mosques.

So, if you are thinking of a holiday where you can do lots of exploring and walking around - consider Egypt! We felt 100% safe (although watch out for traffic) - just be a bit streetwise OK, no one does you a favour for nothing.

We also saw belly dancing and roamed around the streets of modern Cairo. It was just before Eid-al-Adha, so the streets were full of people busy doing their shopping and getting ready for the festival.

Just do your research first, there are lots of quirks eg getting taxis. Do not get into a taxi and say how much to Giza? You should know beforehand. A local would just get in, knowing what the price will be at the end. For tourists; get in, say Giza, 10 Egyptian pounds. And the taxi driver might grumble, but if it is a fair price he will take you there. The trick is knowing what a "fair price" is - luckily the Lonely Plant has a guide to fair prices.

Also note it is normal for taxis pick up other passengers on the way, so don't be alarmed if someone suddenly gets into "your" taxi!

Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the Coptic Churches. Did you know that Egypt was the first Christian country in the world?(Islam was brought to Egypt in AD640 by Arab invaders.) So there are lovely historical Christian sites and churches to visit in Cairo, although sadly we didn't have time.

So it's not just about the Pyramids and pharoahs - there's medieval Egypt, Christian Egypt, Muslim Egypt and last but not least, modern Egypt. Well worth a trip.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Luxor, Egypt : January 2005

I was looking at our photos of Egypt yesterday and remembering what a lovely time we had. We spent 5 days in Luxor before flying to Cairo.

There's lots to see, but a serious downside : Luxor must be the hassle capital of the world. The moment you step out of your hotel, you are subjected to scams, people constantly trying to sell you crap at inflated prices and outright lies.

It never ends, and you can't escape. People follow you across the road, trying to get you to visit their papyrus museum( rip-off shop) - it's very tiring and in the end you just want to scream FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! But you don't, of course.

The Hilton where we stayed. You can see the Nile and the Valley of the Kings on the far bank.

An Egyptian guy took us to a "local" cattle market before trying to scam us. These guys were messing around for the camera. They had the weirdest sheep I have ever seen. (That brown thing is a sheep, apparently.)

The streets of Luxor.

At Karnak Temple.

Ramses II. I think you have be there to appreciate the size of him.

Doesn't this village look like something from the Bible?

(near the Valley of the Kings)

Queen Hatshepsut's temple. 3500 years old, and still looks great.

We also had an evening sail in a felucca. I couldn't get over the fact that I was sailing on the Nile. Woo hoo :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nile Sunset

Two years ago Mr K-E and I went on holiday to Egypt. We had a lovely time and saw all the sights : the pyramids, the temples at Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, crazy Cairo traffic and bazaars, fabulous mosques....

While we in Luxor we stayed at the Hilton, which was on the banks of the Nile.

Mr K-E took this photo from the hotel gardens. He says - notice the birds flying off to roost.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Future Queen of England?

There was an article in the Observer yesterday about Kate Middleton, Prince William's girlfriend and probably a future Queen of England. She's only 25, but by God, does she dress like she's 55.

(Picture is from here)

I know she has to appear respectable and all that, but talk about lamb dressed as mutton. The article quotes a fashion editor who says that "she has the biggest collection of Longchamp I've ever seen".

Really? I thought Longchamp was a really boring stuffy brand. But maybe... it's going to be the next Mulberry.... This could be my chance to be chic before everyone else!

So I had look at the Longchamp website. Hmmm. Not good. Even my mother wouldn't be seen carrying these handbags.

(Sorry, I couldn't get any pictures but have a look for yourself. They cost around £400 each apparently.)

I prefer Prince Harry's girlfriend Chelsy Davy, or Chav-sy Davy as some people call her. She's pretty trashy but at least she's interesting to look at.

(Picture is from here)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mr K-E's Fajitas

I wasn't feeling well so Mr K-E made his own dinner.

He made himself beef fajitas.

Mr K-E is very particular when it comes to fatty meat. He trims off every bit of fat he can see.

The prepared ingredients. Chopped onion and garlic, sliced red peppers and sirloin steak in strips.

He fried it all up, and stirred in some Knorr Fajita Mix.

The best way to heat up tortillas is straight on the gas burner. Be careful not to burn your fingers.

Add grated cheese, sour cream, a dash of tabasco - wrap up and eat.

Trying not to throw food away.

I heard on the radio today that the UK is the most wasteful nation in the world when it comes to food, with the average household throwing away 30% of all the food purchased. It sounds pretty awful doesn't it - but sadly, from my own experience, I can well believe it.

From the news reports, the main causes seem to be bad meal planning, picky eaters and people simply buying too much food. I try not to throw food away, but unfortunately, I do it quite regularly. For example, it's quite usual for me to throw half-loaves of bread away because they have gone mouldy in the cupboard.

The other bad thing we do is buy lots of fruit and veg because we think we should be more healthy but not actually eat them. Then every month or so, I have to clear out furry vegetables lurking at the back of the fridge. I'm ashamed to say that today we threw away half a punnet of strawberries, a pack of chillies, a pack of tortilla wraps, some mouldy peppers and a bag of oranges. :(

The supermarkets love this, of course, because they make more money this way. We are encouraged to treat food like every other item; like clothes that we wear once or shoes that we don't really need.

In our local Sainsburys I am always amazed by how much food people are buying - huge deep trolleys piled high with food. People in England don't have big families OK, and this is probably their weekly (or at a push, fortnightly) shop. It all makes sense that 30% of that food is being thrown away.

So, looking in our fridge I thought I would make an effort to use up items that we would otherwise have to throw away (in the future). We had a lot of cheese, 6 pints of milk(!), a tub of creme fraiche and half a block of ham. OK, ham and cheese pasta bake!

I cubed the ham and fried it with some chopped onions and garlic. Then I made a cheese sauce using the classic bechamel sauce as a base, and just adding grated cheese and mustard (one of my favourite ingredients).

I mixed the sauce, the fried ham mixture and a tub of creme fraiche with some half-cooked pasta. Then sprinkled the top with breadcrumbs and more grated cheese, before baking in the oven for about half an hour.

(You don't really need to add creme fraiche, but I was just using up ingredients)

It made a huge amount - I'll have to bring it in for lunch this week. Killing two birds with one stone, I like it!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Grocery shopping K-E stylie

We first started buying our groceries online when we didn't have a car and it was hassle getting our shopping back to the flat. Although we have a car now, we still do the bulk of our shopping on-line.

Our local Sainsburys is quite big, but at the weekends (esp Saturday mornings) it is packed and you spend half your time manouevring around other peple's trolleys. Also I can think of better things to do at the weekends than push a trolley around a supermarket.

This morning our Sainsburys shopping arrived.

I used to get annoyed because they use so many carrier bags (a pack of butter in a bag by itself!) but now the delivery driver will collect bags for recycling so it's a bit better.


Yes, we eat too many ready meals :)

I don't usually buy meat from the supermarket as we have is a good free-range butcher nearby. We also tend to buy vegetables weekly, so they are fresher.

Mr K-E is still trying to kick his coke habit.

Assorted bread products.

I had a weak moment when I was ordering the shopping...

We don't normally order crisps, honest.

We get our other household goods at the same time.

This delivery cost £108 (including £5 delivery charge). Yup, life in London is expensive.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Poetry that makes me smile.

You know you are busy when it gets to Thursday and instead of thinking - great, two days to the weekend, you think - oh crap, why isn't there another day in the week?

Haven't done anything blog-worthy so I thought I'd share one of my favourite poems with you:

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker

(Ogden Nash)

No silly emo teenage poems about "being alone in a crowd/misunderstood genius/streaming petals in the wind" etc for me. Well, I guess we've all been through that the-world-is-against-me stage, but it wears off by the late teens I think. I cringe when I think of my teenage "journal", complete with deep thoughts about love and Erasure song lyrics. ('m really showing my age now, hahaha, Erasure!)

Ogden Nash is great - here's another one of this poems and Mr K-E's favourite:

The Wombat

The wombat lives across the seas,
Among the far Antipodes.
He may exist on nuts and berries,
Or then again, on missionaries;
His distant habitat precludes
conclusive knowledge of his moods.
But I would not engage the wombat
In any form of mortal combat.

He has written lots of long poems too, but obviously I can't type them all out and besides you have to choose your own favourites. Look them up here and here.

I can't resist another one:

Common Sense

Why did the Lord give us agility
If not to evade responsibility?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Excellent language and the narrator's "voice" really draws you in, but any interest is killed off by the boring plot. Nothing happens for vast stretches of this book. Zzzzz.

I finally got the end of this book, and it wasn't easy. Matthew Pearl has taught literature at Harvard and Emerson College, and it shows. I found myself re-reading phrases or paragraphs, simply because I really enjoyed the "voice" of the narrator. It's just a pity that his plotting is not as good as his use of language.

Quentin Clark is a handsome, wealthy, young attorney living in Baltimore in the 1850s. He has a stereotypical faithful best friend, a lovely-yet-chaste fiancee and he lives in a big house inherited from his loving parents. So far, so vanilla. Quentin is also a bit of an Edgar Allen Poe fan and starts corresponding with the poet, in the hope of one day meeting his much-admired hero.

However, in respectable society Poe is considered a bit of a dodgy poet/writer, penniless and an embarassment to his relatives. So when he turns up dead in mysterious circumstances, the newspapers of the day tut-tut and say I told you so.

Our narrator Quentin witnesses Poe's funeral (although he does not realise who it is at the time) and this triggers an obsession into finding out what actually happened during Poe's last days. Quentin, outraged by the insulting obituaries printed in the newpapers and other journals, is determined to clear Poe's good name. He soon becomes obsessed with the idea that Poe's character Dupin (a kind of French Sherlock Holmes) is based on a real person. And who else is better to solve the mystery of Poe's last days than the great Dupin himself?

OK, that's main thrust of the book. There are complications along the way - for example Quentin comes to the conclusion that the logician Auguste Duponte is the real Dupin, but another man, the flashy Baron Dupin, comes forward to claim that he, in fact, is Poe's fictional Dupin.

One of my problems with this book is that the plot is not that interesting. Is it Duponte or Baron Dupin, who cares? And since their detective work consists of reading newspapers and speaking to a succession of stuffy relatives and politicians, it was hardly exciting stuff. The most interesting character is Bonjour, Baron Dupin's murderous wife; Quentin himself comes across as being rather weak and easily led. In his obsession, Quentin neglects the other aspects of his life eg he abandons his job, neglects his family's investments and seems to forget about his fiancee. Frankly, I thought he needed a good kick up the backside.

There's some attempt to make the story more interesting by throwing in some suspicious French villains, a side-plot regarding the American Bonapartes and their attempts to claim rights of succession in France. I thought this was the weakest part of the book actually.

My other problem is that no-one really knows what happened to E.A. Poe, so it's mostly conjecture anyway. When I'm reading books like this, in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking - did that really happen, or did that the Author filling in the blanks? And it's never satisfying when you get to the end because unless you are a time-traveller or someone unearths some long-forgotten testimony, we will never know. OK, OK, I should know what to expect from a book like this, but damn, it seems I never learn.

According to the historical note at the end of the book, Edgar Allen Poe's death is one of the great gaps in literary history and there are original discoveries worked into the book that have never been published before. Whatever. I'm just glad it's over.

(Read more reviews here)

I'm reading Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors next. I haven't watched the movie, but the book is supposed to be good.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Run if you see Arnie.

British Skynet satellite launched

The British military's Skynet 5A satellite has been launched into space from Kourou in French Guiana.

The spacecraft is part of a £3.2bn system that will deliver secure, high-bandwidth communications for UK and allied forces.

Holy cow! Look what I read on the BBC website!

Skynet? As every movie fan knows, SKYNET is the military computer system that becomes self-aware and leads to the nuclear holocaust in the Teminator movies. Anyone who isn't a movie fan can read about it here.

But... but... there is actually a military satellite system called SKYNET? OMG! I had better start stockpiling tinned food and Evian now.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Lunch : Pleasant Pheasant

It's been a gluttonous weekend. Thai food on Friday night, giant burgers on Saturday and traditional (i.e. big) Sunday lunch today.

I started off early this morning with some of the ham that Mr K-E brought back from his snow boarding trip. Oh, it just melts in the mouth....

It's been a while since we have had a roast dinner, so today I thought I would perform the "good wife" routine and cook Sunday lunch. Yes, pheasant! Hahaha, I am a "good wife"! (Mr K-E's parents brought us a pheasant when they visited two weeks ago. They live in the countryside and often get given pheasants by their hunting-shooting friends.)

It's terrible how spoilt we are by supermarket culture. The pheasant had been plucked, hung and cleaned, but I was quite disgusted because it still had a few feathers on it and it was "bleeding". I remember my Mum killing chickens at the back of our house - I think if I had to kill and clean a chicken myself, I would quickly turn vegetarian.

I had to ask Mr K-E to singe off the long hairs that still remained on the bird.

I have eaten pheasant before but I have never cooked it myself so I looked online for some tips first. Apparently you need to add lots of butter or other fat to the pheasant to keep it moist during roasting as it doesn't have a lot of fat itself. So I pushed knobs of butter underneath the skin which seemed to do the trick.

When I cook roast chicken, I normally stuff the cavity with lemon wedges, onions and bruised garlic cloves; I thought it would work well with pheasant too. Then we just placed the bird onto a roasting pan surrounded by potatoes (semi-cooked already), carrots, onions and mushrooms. Add lots of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and then into the oven for 60-70 minutes.

While that was going on, I made gravy with the pheasant's heart and liver. I fried a chopped onion in butter, and added the heart and liver (also chopped up). Add some flour to thicken, plus chicken stock, a bay leaf, some lemon juice, salt and pepper plus a little bit of sugar. When the pheasant was cooked I also added the pan juices to make the gravy extra yummy. Mr K-E doesn't like "bits" in his gravy, so I strained it. Home-made gravy is delicious.

Ta da- Traditional Sunday lunch. Mr K-E says that my roast dinners are the best, better than anyone else's. Awww, thanks honey.

I still had room to squeeze in some ice cream with caramel sauce.

Then to complete the great tradition of Sunday lunch, we are now collapsed on the sofa watching Sunday evening TV.