Wednesday, 28 December 2016

"Yes, Minister" speak - a sign of the times

Humphrey, Jim and Bernard from Yes Minister, image from
the BBC.

My husband has introduced me to a lot of classic British comedy. We're currently on Yes, Prime Minister and there were a handful of episodes I loved from its predecessor, Yes Minister. Old shows, like this one from 30 + years ago speak so much of those times, an England I never knew personally. The episodes are just so hilarious and it's quite eerie how similar the situations are to our times. I love it when Hacker starts learning how to play the game, and I think what’s lovable about him is he’s lashing back in a way that doesn’t come across as calculating. Because, poor him, he’s always underestimated as he is The Minister (or because he went to LSE instead of Cambridge).

The following quotes are lifted from Yes, Minister via

From The Writing on the Wall, Series 1, Episode 5
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?
James Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.
James Hacker: Surely we're all committed to the European ideal.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Really, Minister.
James Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact. The more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up. The more futile and impotent it becomes.
James Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes. We call it diplomacy, Minister.

From The Skeleton in the Cupboard, Series 3 Episode 3
The Sir Humphrey Appleby: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
James Hacker: I beg your pardon?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: It was... I.

From The Bed of Nails, Series 3 Episode 5
Bernard Woolley: If you had looked a Trojan horse in the mouth, Minister, you'd have found Greeks inside. Well the point is, it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan horse at all, it was a Greek horse. Hence the tag "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", which you'll recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". Or doubtless you would have recalled had you not attended the LSE.
James Hacker: Greek tags are all very well, but can we stick to the point?
Bernard Woolley: Sorry, Greek tags?
James Hacker: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". I suppose the EEC equivalent would be, "Beware Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus"!
Bernard Woolley: No, the point is, Minister, just as the Trojan horse was Greek, what you call a Greek tag is, in fact, Latin. It's obvious, really: The Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one can use such a participle, and it's clearly Latin not because "Timeo" ends in "o", as the Greek first person also ends in "o". No, there is a Greek word "Timao" meaning "I honour", but the "os" ending is a nominative singular termination of a second declension in Greek and an accusative plural in Latin, though actually Danaos is not only the Greek for Greek, it's also the Latin for Greek.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Richard Adams, 1920 - 2016

The Gaslight House Richard Adams Watership Down The Girl in a Swing
Meeting Richard Adams two years ago, when he signed new
editions of his classic books "Watership Down" and "Shardik."
The Girl in a Swing was the last book I read just before moving to Europe, and I savoured each page as though in a trance, delirious. It was beautiful, haunting, and it was probably author Richard Adams' way of going "dark," this tale for grownups, a Watership Down intensified.

Almost a decade later, I read that he was doing a rare appearance at a bookstore in Winchester. We just arrived from a three-week trip to the US and I was in my first trimester with H and had a lot of things going on. But this opportunity to meet Adams, then 94, was one I didn't want to miss. I remember looking at him and his wife during the signing and felt how lucky they were that they grew old together. Old age, I thought, is something that some people fear, especially if they do not have anyone else to share it with. Read more about that experience of meeting him here.

The Gaslight House Richard Adams Watership Down The Girl in a Swingn
Richard Adams signing books, with Mike and M in the
BBC South Today filmed that afternoon and when I finally saw the clip, I was so chuffed that most of the footages had me and my family in them. What a way to remember that meeting. I checked the video and it's still up over here.

Not too long ago, I signed up for any news about Richard Adams on google alerts. Early this year, I was excited when I read the news that he planned to release his first picture book for five-year-olds. What good timing, I thought, having a daughter who was five until last October. I would sometimes go on to google to find out if the book had been released but there wasn't any update on it. The book, The Egg-box Dragon, was said to be the author's last published work.

I'm glad I had met him. But I still regret not rereading The Girl in a Swing sooner as I wanted to write him a letter about it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Adams

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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Christmas!

Today was the last day of classes for M this year and I might not have time to post this! Below is M, age six, singing "Sing a Rainbow."

The Gaslight House children with colds
teary-eyed, red noses, children with colds. And amazing how you see them changing, from the first couple of eyelashes appearing a few days after birth, to now when one of them is very feisty, the other always stroppy...
The Gaslight House, capes, red riding hood
Riding Hood (walks through the graveyard during school runs, easier when we don't have a pushchair).

The Gaslight House pink ride on train, loft bedroom, attic
Boy on a pink ride on train (M's bedroom).

The Gaslight House woolly socks, pyjamas, Christmas tree, dolls house, cottage life
woolly socks, pyjama days, cottage life

The Gaslight House playtime with toddler, little boy
He and I, this is what we do all day :-D

The Gaslight House playtime with toddler, little boy

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A School Art Exhibition with Mini Master Works

The Gaslight House Colourful Trees painting by M, age 6
The print of M's original artwork that she called "Colourful Trees"
Copyright 2016.
On the first week of December, M's school held an art exhibit featuring the works of all students from all year levels. Each work was a print of the child's original work of art (and I joked that the orginals are now probably being exhibited in Japan). A group called Mini Master Works organised the said event in which families of the artists were able to buy the works on display.

The school and the other people involved did a lot of planning and preparation that culminated in this. First, a photographer came in to give the children photography tips. Then on November 1st, the whole school went on a field trip, each of the different year levels going to different mystery destinations (which also meant the kids didn't stay up late during Halloween). The children had their cameras (or ones lent by the school) to document the trip and choose their best photos for a competition judged by the photographer guest. A week later, a prestigious National Trust artist came in to teach the children how to transform their photographs into paintings.

The school hall was transformed into an art gallery, and I would say all the pieces were impressive and made each child very proud of their work.

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Monday, 19 December 2016

Jumper has been reduced to water bottle cover (DiY)

The Gaslight House water bottle covers fine merino jumperOr promoted, depending on how you put it.

The Gaslight House water bottle covers fine merino jumper
When my husband is away, I of course need something else to cuddle, and a hot water bottle isn't right up there during cold winter nights but it could do.
On those rare occasions when he took it upon himself to put the clothes in the dryer, he just dumped in everything without sorting and included this fine merino cropped jumper of mine that shrank (to be fair, I did that to one of his jumpers once).

I don't think I have a picture of myself wearing this jumper, but let's "immortalise" it this way.

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Friday, 16 December 2016

The Law That Commands Everything To Go Wrong

The Gaslight House Bull Boxer shoes Esprit socks
On days like this, I just vote to wear something colourful.
The last few days were like those days.

I guess it's a busy time for everyone as well, and they become a catalyst to your day going wrong. Like a toy shop sending you the wrong item, from Italy, and it's supposed to be a Christmas present. Or you weren't home to receive a parcel that is a present for your husband and he received it, the box indicating what's inside, even after you asked the seller to be discreet. Or your daughter tripping over on the way to school in the morning, another sore knee, just before busy after-school clubs in judo and Rainbows. And so on.
The Gaslight House Guinness surger Bailey's Irish drinks
Or at night, cuddles and Guinness (thank you, surger)
and Bailey's in their proper glasses in bed whilst
watching a film.

You just want to go to sleep, worried that another unlucky thing will make it through your day.

But then I think to myself, are these my worries, seriously?

And I just say, thank you, thank you, for repairable worries. Please stay that way.

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Saturday, 10 December 2016

Children's books on youtube: Blueberry Girl

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman signed book badger
In August 2013, I finally met the elusive Neil Gaiman. I say "elusive" because the first time he visited the Philippines in 2005, I was busy preparing for my trip to Norway that I couldn't go. He went on to visit my home country a few more times and I wasn't there. My account of that first meeting, in Oxford, and the pictures shown here first appeared on Fine Books and Collections in 2013. It was a magical night and I don't want to sound repetitive so I'll just post a link to the article here.

Neil Gaiman book-signing in Oxford, 2013

I asked him to sign some books, including my daughter's hardback edition of Blueberry Girl. He talked about so many things that night, including The Wind in the Willows and, as our family is also a huge fan of the book, I requested that he doodle a badger for my little girl.

Gaiman wrote Blueberry Girl for his goddaughter Tash, daughter of his friend Tori Amos. We love his reading of it in a video posted on youtube. The animation is amazing and every time I turn the pages of our copy, I have this fervent wish that the pages would come alive like in this video.

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Friday, 9 December 2016

Goodbye, Western Union

Years ago, an unpleasant online banking experience got me looking for another means to transfer funds abroad. I started using Western Union just because it's well-known and what my family back in the Philippines is more familiar with. But I find that Western Union's service has become bad these recent years. The letter below is the latest, and hopefully the last, I wrote to them.

Dear Western Union,

I received a letter by post from you dated November 8 2016 regarding transaction with tracking no. _____. I sent £300 and the transfer fee was £9.90.

You wrote:

“Due to system issues, your money transfer may not have been available for pickup on the day it was expected. As a result, we are refunding the fee Western Union charged you to send the transfer with the Refund Tracking Number _____. You may pick up your refund at any Western Union agent location in your area.”

I checked the locations and I found Dees Newsagents in Yateley, Hampshire. I specifically checked the opening hours, after all it is a Sunday when most shops are closed. They are open from 7am to 12:30pm.

There was a man behind the counter when I came in. He looked at the Western Union letter and clearly he didn’t know what he was doing as he thought he would have to give me £300 and he didn’t “have that with him.” I told him, no it’s only £9.90, a refund for the transfer fee. He got hold of his laptop and suddenly changed his mind, “we’re closed today,” explaining something like, the store is open till 12.30 but Western Union isn’t and he “wouldn’t be able to access the website”???!. Trying to maintain my composure, I said could you just refund me now and just enter it in the system later. He said, “it doesn’t work that way, see we need your ID.” “I have my ID,” I told him. Still he refused and just tried every single way to say “no.”

Western Union, are these your agents, really?

There’s another agent that is three miles away. I didn’t bother anymore as I didn’t want any more disappointment on a lovely Sunday, not to mention a waste of petrol/gas money.

My take on this is if Western Union truly regretted the customer’s inconvenience (and if it really wanted to give a refund), it will do so in the manner that is most convenient – I’ve never been to an agent before, I always sent the funds through my bank online so I expected that the refund would also be through my bank online. To be honest, I didn’t even expect this refund and was prepared to let go of the incident. Receiving the letter meant I’d have to do another business with Western Union and I knew it wasn’t going to be straightforward and I’d just feel annoyed and frustrated.

If you can’t refund me through online banking, I have paypal, dear Western Union, and it’s ____. Otherwise, just forget it.

Thank you.

They replied and whilst I understand that I wanted to claim the refund nearly a month after it had been generated, still, the agent's excuse about not being able to access the website on a Sunday was poppycock. Also, they didn't address my request about refunding online in the letter below. To chase £9.90, capped with the headache it will bring, is not worth it, thank you.

Dear Ms. Catherine Walder,

Please note that we have concluded our investigation of your Complaint. Thank you for your patience while we carried out our investigation.

Our records indicate that on October 23, 2016, you sent a transaction to _____; however, the transaction was not made available on the expected date due to a system issue that has been identified and fixed. As a result, Western Union has refunded the fee that you were charged at the time of the send. The refund was issued under ____ in the amount of GBR 9.90. You may receive the funds at any Western Union location in the United Kingdom. Please also be advised that the refund was issued on November 08, 2016; therefore, the agent may need to contact Agent Support to renew the transaction.

Having considered the matters raised in your Complaint and the evidence available, Western Union acknowledges that you experienced poor customer service in this instance. We would like to apologize to you for not meeting the high level of service that we try to provide to our valued customers. In recognition of matters raised in your Complaint, Western Union has refunded the fee charged at the time of the send.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of our investigation, you may refer your Complaint to the Statutory Body with responsibility for investigating Complaints made against Financial Institutions;

The Financial Ombudsman Service,
Exchange Tower,
London E14 9SR
United Kingdom

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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Children's books on youtube: Don't let the pigeon drive the bus

Our friends' children loved Don't let the pigeon drive the bus by Mo Willems  and so we looked it up in the library (and in the end I had to get our own copy 'cause it's short, sweet and hilarious). I haven't read it to M in years as I found it nicer to read to younger children saying "Noooo!" to the pigeon's requests of driving the bus. I went back to the story recently because of my younger child. I remember seeing an animation on youtube some years back and found the same video uploaded fairly recently by one Rebekah Cohen, so hopefully they're not being taken down. Credits to Bernie Van Tilburg for voices and animation. Personally, I think this animation captures the feelings of the pigeon :)

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Monday, 5 December 2016

A Certificate for Completing Last Week's School Runs

My six-year-old woke me today with a Certificate for Completing Last week's School Runs. Mike was away in Stuttgart the week before last and he probably did a couple of school runs. Last week, he was in London and he was exempted from all school runs. The certificate reads, "Mummy did do all the school runs this week. And she werks hard for me and makes lemen and honey to make me beter. All about Mummy." I like her attempt at joined up writing, and the cute way she writes "e"s for her "o"s. It touched me that she remembered the lemons and honey which I made two times a day to soothe her coughing. I don't remember writing notes to my mother when I was little, I who've always loved writing, but my daughter writes us all love notes any chance she gets. It's just the way she is.
Walder certificate for completing weekly school run
M's certificate for me (independent writing)

Whilst I understand why most mums enjoy school runs (anything for a cup of coffee and a natter), I find it very taxing to the point that I always look for an excuse not to do it. But that's not the reality of life. It seems that school runs are part of my responsibility being a stay-at-home mum. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining or anything and sometimes the rush is partly my fault as I myself also take ages to prepare. What I could do is just to have better planning to prepare myself, urge M to have her breakfast and change without a lot of shouting and finally, also get the toddler ready.

Walder walking to school Scandinavian style University of Oslo Norway
And here I am in the school walks that I loved - as a
graduate student at the University of Oslo in
Norway a decade ago.
Do I deserve this certificate? Absolutely haha. I took the kids to the longer route most of the time, in minus temperatures, not on the busy main road with all the footpaths covered in piles of leaves that make it difficult to push the buggy. On one day last week, I also dragged poor H to town to get the rest of a prescription from Boots, only to be told that it hasn't arrived yet. In addition to this, M has judo and Rainbows (girl guides) on Tuesdays. Her schedule is such that she goes straight to judo from class. I get her tea ready and together with her brother, pick her up at 16.10. Rainbows is held at 17.00 at the pastoral centre just behind her school (either past the churchyard or the footpath). When we started doing this in September, it was all right for her and her brother to have a little picnic at the graveyard. Now it has gotten cold and dark and tea is moved to the bench outside the pastoral centre, with lantern and all.

Me and my dislike for random walks without an intended destination. Has my weekly target been reached? Ticked.

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Friday, 2 December 2016

The Puddleman, The Rainbow Machine and our reading habits

Hunt's The Rainbow Machine (left) and Briggs' The Puddleman
Perhaps it's my fascination for legends - and there's an abundance of them in Philippine folklore - that gets me drawn to children's stories that theorise where things come from. A couple of years ago, we borrowed The Puddleman by Raymond Briggs from the town library. The story is about a boy who encounters the man who puts in puddles. It's just so funny and witty and charming that I bought our own copy. Last month my daughter brought home Roderick Hunt's The Rainbow Machine, which she likened to her very own rainbow projector toy. The book is part of Oxford Reading Tree stories (level 8). Right away I felt the similarity between the two stories though I believe The Puddleman is a more recent book and directed to older readers.

We removed the second shelf or he might
climb on it, still, he found something else
to do: he now empties the shelf and then
sits on it, already a big reader at 18 months.
The town library is a 20-minute walk from our house and it's one of those exercises that I like with an intended destination (if I went out for a walk, I'd rather that we walked somewhere). We haven't been there for ages, only because M has got enough books in her own library. Also, when I go there, I need a pushchair to cart the books we borrow as we usually go up to the limit for one person and borrow 20, most of them hardbound.

In September 2015, M started school (Reception) six weeks before her 5th birthday and when their teacher said all children would be reading by the end of October, I thought, no way that would happen. But the teachers were fantastic -- the Reception Class was rated "Outstanding" by Ofsted the previous year, assuring our children the best start in school. I believe it was the only one that got that rating for that level in the borough. True enough, M got her first set of reading books first week of November and she easily moved up levels after that. We've always read books to her that were quite advanced for her age, but a consequence of that is she requires our speed and she prefers being read to. She would read the easy books to her brother (and he himself is now getting into reading this early, see right photo) but I have yet to see her reading the more advanced books on her own. I'm being patient as I myself didn't read a lot as a child, not even children's books. I started devouring books only when I was 16 and nothing would stop me then. I know M's time will come.

Aside from word of mouth or the internet, the town library and the school are our best sources of finding great children's books. I tend to buy copies of books that we borrowed that I really like, probably not ones that my daughter would choose for herself right now, however, she also gets to buy books that she likes if she asks because, who could say no to books?
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Monday, 28 November 2016

Roald Dahl’s Great Missenden

If you can't find me here, there's a chance I might be writing at Fine Books and Collections, a fantastic magazine that I discovered half a decade ago, always a great inspiration and resource not only of books, but of literary travels as well. Early last month, I wrote about James Joyce's "Years of Bloom" in Trieste, Italy, one of the places we travelled to during the summer.

Last week, I wrote about Roald Dahl's Great Missenden, which we first visited in 2011 when we were only three in the family. F B and C Editor Rebecca Rego Barry published this post to coincide with Dahl's 26th death anniversary.

Walder, Roald Dahl's Great Missenden, Danny the Champion of the World
"In Roald Dahl’s writing nook that’s preserved behind glass, we find ucky-mucky and strange things similar to what our grandparents might have possessed. There is what appears to be a cannonball that is in fact made from hundreds of silver foil chocolate wrappers, presumably Cadbury Dairy Milk, which he ate every day while working in London.
                                                                                                                                                                       No doubt Dahl loved his chocolate, and he devoted a chapter to it in The Roald Dahl Cookbook. In it he charted a ‘history of chocolate,’ seven glorious years that started from Crunchie in 1930 to Kit Kat in 1937 (as someone with Norwegian parentage, it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on Kit Kat vs. Kvikk Lunsj). I overheard a young boy looking for “Dahl’s bone” and that would indeed sound gruesome if you didn’t know he meant a piece of Dahl’s femur bone, removed during one of his hip replacement operations, now a paperweight. Dahl also had a glass bottle containing shavings from his spine, from several operations on his back to ease wartime injury problems. These objects were once housed in Dahl’s writing hut at the bottom of his garden in Great Missenden. They were in the inner part of the hut where Dahl wrote his books, which was transferred to the nearby Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre a few years ago."
Continue reading here.

We might do this every five years but seeing how they grow up so quickly might make me cry each time.

Walder, Roald Dahl's Great Missenden, replica writing chair
Sat in a replica of Roald Dahl's writing chair, of course I wore my pyjamas!
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Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Fairy Garden

Walder The Gaslight House A fairy garden
A fairy garden or meadow? Trimmed it a little bit (bottom right photo), hope it doesn't get angry.

Mike travels so much for work and ever the doting husband and father, he has to bring home presents for us, it's just his nature. Cheeky little M now expects something whenever the dad is back from a trip. So cheeky is she that even if it's obvious I'm her favourite and would cuddle me first before her dad, whenever he is away, M would always say she misses her daddy and wishes he was home. I would tell her then that she was only looking forward to a present. I, the ever practical one, took note of her wants and suggested to Mike that if I get them on the internet in advance, we could pretend that they were presents back from her daddy's trips. That way, we are very sure we are getting her something from her wish list and not just some random present that would just be forgotten the next day, although that’s mostly the case about her stuff (sorry M if you will read this in the future, but you know we love you any which way we show it).

This fairy garden (in photo) was one of those presents we pretended Mike got from Bulgaria or Serbia or France, see I couldn't even remember now as he was away a lot recently. It took months before we got to assemble and plant it, specifically on Halloween, as you would see it beside our carved pumpkin, courtesy of Mike. As it is an indoor garden we thought it would be all right planting it towards the end of autumn. Well, I didn't believe it would grow, to be honest, as I don't remember ever successfully growing anything from seeds. But we started seeing the grass only after a week. It is really sweet.

Less than two weeks after we planted it, the whole garden was a meadow and I decided to trim it a little bit, insisting to M that her lazy fairy wouldn't mow the lawn (bottom right photo) and just hoped that it wouldn't get angry and stop growing. I've trimmed it two more times since and so far it's still growing.

Included in the box were a fairy garden bowl, fairy and mouse figurines, oyster shell, sparkly cottage, clothes line with posts and pegs (I replaced them with the coloured ones I've got), carpet for the cottage, grass seed, coloured gravel, mushroom, flowers and dust (again I've added some more of these stars and moon from my own supply). The kit has some negative reviews online, mostly due to the fact that there were a lot of items broken or missing. I guess we were lucky to have got a fairly good kit.

We bought our own compost and every day when we check, it is a bit dry so we try to remember to keep it moist. So far the garden is doing fine and our little girl is happy. If you plan to get one, do so and enjoy it, and don't be afraid to give it a drink!

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