Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy halloween

In the UK, Halloween is not a big festival, though in the last ten years Trick or Treat has become more popular. There is much debate in this country as to whether this is a good thing or not, whether it is in fact a commercial farce with business cashing in, whether it is just fun in the community, or whether it is obtaining money with menaces. Rather than debate this though, I thought I would post the following which describes the origins of Halloween and wish my US friends a Happy Halloween. The following is summarised from

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. The Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

Celebrations included the building of huge bonfires where animals and crops were burned as sacrifices and the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory andtwo festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st All Saints' Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a Christaian holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows and the night before it, began to be called All-hallows Eve, or halloween.

So there you have it, Halloween is in fact an amalgamation of festivals. Happy Halloween to all of you that celebrate it, who like bobbing for apples, dressing up and getting spooky.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Road

I have been feeling very down lately which, if you knew me, you would realise is very unlike me. Life has taught me to roll with the punches; if you get knocked down you get back up and you keep going. As we all know, nobody ever said life was fair or easy. We know that life is a bumpy road and that sometimes it will be bumpier than other times. I feel that I have had a pretty bumpy time over the last 18 months or so. Each thing that has happened has gradually had an accumulative effect. A recent set of incidents involving a brother have been the last straw. I do not want to go into details but suffice to say that it hurt an awful lot and left me confused and taken aback. After the death of my niece and my divorce among other things, the camel's back found it's limit and now I find myself, well, very down and finding it hard to shake off.

I do feel I have turned a corner recently though. I got fed up with feeling so awful, and I got really bored with crying too much, which is definitely not like me. My head felt like it was full with a big ball of tangled wool and I have been trying to untangle it. So I have rummaged around in my psyche and dug deep and found some resolve. It is not easy, I find that my feelings are easily hurt and that I can be quite defensive at the moment. Getting my act together to do things can be difficult. But I am getting there. Anyone who doesn't know me well would never know anything is wrong, which suits me fine as sometimes you just have to get on with things. Life doesn't stop. The road stretches ahead and all we can do is hope that the road will become smoother. The picture above hangs in my house and at the moment when I look at it I am reminded of this road that we travel. Thanks to those who have been a great support to me recently, who listened and walked a part of this road with me for a time. You know who you are.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sun worshipper

The last weekend in the UK was sunny and although this time of the year there is a distinct chill in the air, Bob the cat was determined to catch whatever rays he could. He bothered me with constant meows, first they resembled gentle requests and then got louder and more indignant until the door was opened. He shot out like a cork from a champagne bottle and busied himself with his rounds, making sure everything was where he had left it. With this important business taken care of he then carefully selected a sunny spot under a large shrub and settled down to absorb just as much sun as he could.

After a while I went outside and he was still there. When I touched his belly, it felt soft and incredibly warm from the sun, and he gently complained as I cast a shadow over him. I took a few photo's of him stretched out contentedly but I really liked the one I have posted above of Bob on the prowl. Sometimes, a cat has just gotta make sure everything is okay before he can stretch out, relax and catch those rays.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Interview with a Bob-Kat

I'm still at a loss for words. Well, actually I'm not as such. there is far too much going on in my head that I am trying to make sense of. I suspect that there is little sense to be made of it all, but that doesn't stop my mind chasing it's imaginary tail, trying to figure it all out. It's been an upsetting and unsettling time for me. This weekend has been awful.

Rather than dwell on these things here I thought I would answer these interview questions I found over at Panthergirls, who is a fellow baked bean hater. There should be a club. Apparently these ten questions are posed to guests on James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio" show. You can check out Panthergirls answers *here*. Here are mine:

What is your favourite word?
That would have to be ‘discombobulate’. Which is how I have been feeling lately among other things.

What is your least favourite word?

It’s not one I would like to put on this blog, I dislike it that much. Otherwise, I don’t much like ‘mucus’. It sounds too much like the stuff it describes. The stuff is pretty awful too.

What turns you on [creatively, spiritually or emotionally]?
Integrity. Which sadly seems to be becoming a scarce commodity in society. I like it in art, entertainment, politics and society. If I sense integrity in something I instantly warm to it.

What turns you off?
Stupid people who cannot have an adult discussion and resort to foul language. There is no reasoning with them and they seem to think that just because someone has a different point of view, they can verbally abuse them.

What sound or noise do you love?
Besides music, I suppose the noise I love is the dawn chorus. It reminds me of my early morning paper round when I was a kid. I used to love watching the world wake up as the sun came up.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Screaming children. The sort that occurs in supermarkets or other public spaces and rips your nerves apart as it’s so loud and shrill.

What is your favourite curse word?
‘Bloody’. Though I don't swear much.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Writer or artist. I would love something where I could create something that other people would enjoy and that I could step back with pride and say “I did that”.

What profession would you not like to do?
Cleaner. I hate cleaning so I really wouldn’t do anyone else’s. Ironically, I do like things to be clean though. Isn’t life cruel?!

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

'Don't panic'.

Hopefully my head will sort itself out soon and normal service will be resumed. Afterall, I still have some Vienna photos to sahre with you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lost for words

I am at a bit of a loss as to what to post about. I am very busy at work right now and tired when I get home. When I stop it's like my mind goes blank. I also seem to be getting nothing done. The faster I peddle the more I stay still. Chores are piling up and I have an essay to research and write. Motivation is lacking however.

So...I thought I would share this photo with you. I took it while I was in Vienna. I saw a few of these lovely colourful stalls selling 'Blumen' while I was there. Each one was like finding natures palette in the middle of a bustling urban scene.

When you can't find the words, say it with flowers.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Convenient Truth

(all photos in this post are not my own)

Today is Blog Action Day. Over 15,000 bloggers from around the web are uniting to help bring the environment to the forefront of people's minds. Every blogger taking part has posted about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic with the aim being to get everyone talking towards a better future. You can view the list of blogs *here*.

So what am I going to post about? I gave this much thought. I considered posting about the Antarctic or about how our oil reserves are rapidly drying up, about carbon emissions, about some little animal somewhere that is about to pop out of existence without most of the world knwoing or caring, or how about the fact that many of us live in a throw-away society, or how about posting about Al Gore? I decided against all of these because quite frankly I'm not an expert in any of these. So, I thought I would write something from me, about how I believe we can all help the environment and why I think it is worth doing. My thoughts about this are very simple:
  • We have one planet with a finite amount of resources available.
  • Whatever we do, modern life means we will have an impact on the planet. It is up to us to minimise this.
  • We can all do something. Even the smallest thing done by everyone can have a massive impact collectively.
  • If we don't act more responsibly now, we may not be able to undo the harm we are causing.

This leaves me with an easy philosophy for anyone who might be interested:
  • Try to re-use what you can or recycle. Think before you bin. Producing new things takes energy and resources.
  • Carbon emissions are a fact of modern life. See what you can do to lessen them though, such as turning the heating down one degree, washing on a cooler cycle, turning the air con down, switching off a light when not in use, putting on a jumper before turning on the heating, insulating your home, insulating your hot water tank, thinking about the type of car you drive and it's mpg etc.
  • If we all turn down our heating by one degree then collectively we save a lot of energy and perhaps even a bit of cash ourselves.
  • I live on an island. If we don't all do something across the world, then I may need armbands and a rubber ring. The pretty photos you see on this post may not exist any more and many more animals and plants will be extinct.
My question is this: Is this really what we want? If the answer is 'no' then do something. I don't need to patronise you (and I hope I haven't) as I know you are all intelligent and caring people. Like the rain drop that jumped from the cloud to earth and ended a drought because the other rain drops followed, each one of us can make a difference. I really do believe it's the small things that can count. This is what I think of as a convenient truth. We can all do it and it really doesn't put us out that much.

I have finished now. You can take my soap box away and I promise to be quiet for a bit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's Absolute

I. Am. Divorced. Le Divorced. The 'Decree Absolute' has been granted so now I have a new box to tick on forms. I am no longer 'married', nor 'separated' but 'divorced'. I have been trying the label out in my head: 'Dee-vor-cee', but at the moment it doesn't seem to fit me very well. I think I prefer 'unmarried' as that is what I am again. I must say that I hate the boxes on forms. To me, you are either married or you aren't. I realise that legally, such things have great import for legal rights to assets and such, but the boxes are more insidious than that. They force us into social subsets which say nothing about who we really are.

Mind you, I have always rebelled against being put into a box, no matter what the label. I am unique. Just like you. No box required; I have a name. There are all sorts of popular assumptions that come with the label 'divorcee' that I don't like, 'damaged goods' being one of the worst and 'failure at relationships' being another. Not upheld by everyone, but still out there. My marriage did fail, but those reasons are complex, myriad and personal. To assume anything about who I am, or how good I am at relationships is a weak extrapolation. It takes two people to make a relationship work.

Ending my marriage has been a long and painful road so there is no celebration. Granted, it could have been much nastier but we both decided to behave like civilised adults and handle the divorce ourselves. So despite some bumpy bits we got through it. It is simply the close of another chapter in my life and all that I feel is relief that it is over so that I can get on with my life without this hanging over me. He is moving on. Good luck to him. I hope he will be happy. I am moving on. I hope I will be happy too. A new chapter has begun. Apr├Ęs le divorce!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Beautiful View

As promised, here are some more photos from my time in Vienna. These ones are all of the Belvedere Palace which is outside the Inner Stadt but is still well within walking distance, being just south-east of the city centre. This palace was built by Prince Eugen of Savoy who played a major role in defending Vienna and the surrounding lands from the Ottomans. He had victories in the Turkish Wars at the Relief of Vienna and at the Battle of Zenta. Napoleon quoted him as one of the seven generals whose campaigns were worthy of study in a tribute to his military skill. He is an extremely significant person in Austrian history and a monument to him is situated in the Heldenplatz.

'Belvedere' means 'Beautiful view' in Italian and indeed, the palace enjoys a stunning view over the city being on elevated ground. The palace gardens are extensive. They are enclosed by clipped hedging and were laid out in the formal French manner with gravelled walks and a number of fountains, together with a large pond in front of the Upper Belvedere. To the rear, there are stairs and cascades peopled by nymphs and goddesses that link the upper and lower parterres which survive from the original garden, but the patterned bedding was grassed over and is currently being restored. Despite this, the gardens were a pleasure to stroll around despite the blazing sun which threatened to scorch me, it was so hot!

The photo above is of the Lower Belvedere, which was built, not as a palace but as a garden villa, with an orangerie and paintings gallery, with suitable living quarters and was completed in 1716. The photo below is of one of the rooms inside which were all highly decorative and quite stunning. Unfortunately, most of the Lower Belvedere was closed to the public for restorative work but the parts I was able to see were magnificent including a wonderful gilded and mirrored room which used to be Prince Eugen's bedroom.

In 1720-1723, the Upper Belvedere, in the photo below, was built. It was originally intended to provide a suitable end to the main garden axis but it was soon enlarged to become the main summer residence of the Prince. Today, it houses a collection of paintings including many by Klimt with pride of place being given to 'The Kiss'. The central Marmorsaal was the site of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty, that formed modern Austria in 1955.

I spent an enjoyable few hours here, and simply had to sample the Belvedere Torte that was a specialty of the cafe there. I am happy to report that it was suitably rich, chocolatey and had a thin layer of moist marzipan covering it. I would be interested to see what the Belvedere is like once the gardens and Lower Palace have been restored so I guess I will just have to go back sometime. Life can be sooooo hard sometimes!

I still have more photos of Vienna to share so there is more to come.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Operation Christmas Child

It's only just October but already the shops are full of Christmas things. I was at the supermarket and turned into an aisle brimming with Christmas puddings, Christmas cakes, mince pies, and assorted other Christmas goodies. At a department store, I recently walked through the door to be visually assaulted by a fully decorated tree as well as Christmas cards, decorations and other Christmas paraphenalia. Thank goodness they're not bombarding my ears with Christmas carols or pop songs just yet. I used to work in a shop as a teenager and I have never quite gotten over the endless renditions of Wham's 'Last Christmas' or Elton John's 'Step into Christmas' being played over and over... to this day, simply hearing the introduction can start me twitching.

It doesn't stop there though. Oh no. At home I am bombarded with Christmas catalogues, helpfully reminding me of the last date to order and presenting me with all manner of goodies, including some dreadfully tacky and awful items, some of which I wonder who would buy them?! Christmas it would appear, is a time for shopping and for spending hard earned cash on things no-one really wants. Is this what it has become?

Not for me. I love Christmas, I always have done. I love my brightly lit and decorated tree. I love receiving gifts. I love the anticipation that a brightly wrapped box can bring and from knowing that someone has thought of me. I love giving presents just as much though, in fact perhaps more so. Nothing quite beats the warm feeling you get from watching someone unwrap a gift they love.

I came across some presents I had bought and put away for my niece the other day. I wasn't expecting it. I was innocently going through some things and there they were waiting for a birthday that would never come. It made me incredibly sad. I had bought her a little pink handbag and a necklace together with some hair accessories. I didn't know what to do with them. Giving them to a charity shop didn't seem quite right. They had been meant for Jessica. It might sound silly but I wanted them to be appreciated. That was when I thought of 'Operation Christmas Child'.

Operation Christmas Child is an initiative run by the Charity 'Samaritan's Purse'. This is what the web site says: "This annual project enables caring individuals, families, schools, churches, businesses, and other organisations to fill ordinary shoe boxes with small toys, school supplies, sweets, and other gifts for needy children around the world. Operation Christmas Child sends a message of hope to children in need around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes."

It was perfect. I immediately knew that the presents I had bought for Jessica, would make a needy child very happy and that the gift would be truly appreciated. I have filled my shoebox with 'treasure' and wrapped it in bright paper. I have made mine for a girl aged between 10-14 which is the same age group as Jess. I have included: small doll, pencil case and stationary, notebooks, sweets, bouncy balls, necklace, small handbag, hair accessories, hair brush, gloves, scarf, flannel, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. The fact that I can do this for someone has made me very happy and seems a very fitting way to honour my niece.

If you would like to help by doing your own shoebox then you can read more *here*. The charity operates internationally so you should be able to find a collection point near you. Christmas is indeed a time for giving.

I will be posting more photographs of Vienna soon...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Anyone for Torte?

Don't they look scrumptious? See how the cream is perfectly piped and delicately dusted with chocolate powder? Or how about the neat layers of chocolate truffle cream folded over thin slices of light chocolate sponge piled high. Or there at the back, the light and fluffy strawberry cream mousse torte with the chocolate base, garnished with a real, juicy strawberry. Or is the rich dark wedge of chocolate torte dusted with poppy seeds more to your liking? Or how about the torte of Viennese tortes? The Sachertorte? A decadently rich, moist and dense (you guessed it) chocolate sponge with a thin layer of apricot jam and then covered in a rich chocolate icing layer and served with unsweetened whipped cream. This cake is so rich a small slice IS a meal in itself.

This is the sight that greeted me in every Viennese cafe. A chilled cabinets full of colourful treasure and as I was on holiday, it was of course all calorie free! Bliss! I quickly became enamoured with the tortes of Vienna. Every afternoon we would stop at a small cafe that took our fancy and take torte and coffee. The only hard part was choosing which one!

The photo above is of the Sacher Hotel Cafe, home to the original Sachertorte where it originated. It was a little more expensive but the Sachertorte was sublime. It was invented by Franze Sacher in 1832 and is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties. The trademark for the "Original Sachertorte" was registered by the Hotel Sacher, which was built in 1876 by the son of Franz Sacher and the recipe is a well-kept secret to this day. If you ever go to Vienna, make sure you go here and sample the Sacher torte which is truly a taste of Vienna.