Sunday, 26 April 2009

Green Shoots! In My Garden

I do love this time of year, with the blossoming trees, the lime green of newly sprouted leaves. It gives me hope for the rest of the year, which another disappointing summer is likely to ruin. But hey ho.

I'd like to share a tale of one of my first frenemies. She was, I thought, my best friend in high school. That illusion was shattered with one phone call. In the summer of 1975 my world as I knew flew apart quite violently and quickly when my dad informed my mother he had moved out and wanted a divorce. We had been in Wyoming most of the summer clearing out my grandparents' house and preparing my grandpa to move in with my aunt. My grandmother had died the previous May. As so often happens with deaths in the family, it brought out a lot of latent grievances between my mother and her sister and brother. Also, my dad kept not answering the phone (he'd stayed home that summer to "work") when my mother called. And my brother and I were snotty teen-agers.

We drove home as quickly as possible. My mother's ESP was in overdrive, and she wanted to get back to my dad as soon as she could. On our last day we drove about 15 hours in the car, arriving sometime after midnight. I still remember that quiet drive through downtown Tampa before hell let loose. When my mother took in what my dad had said, she ran to the bathroom cupboard, grabbed a bottle of Valium and took as many as she could. She spat most of them out, but swallowed enough to knock her out for quite a few hours. Over the next few days, she attempted suicide again in other ways and threatened my dad and me. I forgive her completely for her actions. I understand why she did it.

In the middle of this turmoil, my erstwhile best friend called and asked what was happening in my world. I told her about the divorce. She said, "I can't talk to you about this," and hung up. And never did talk to me about it. Soon afterward, I started on a downward spiral of drink, drugs and sex that I eventually extracted myself from a few years later.

This frenemy came to mind the other day as I sat in the kitchen of one of my current frenemies. She and I supposedly are training for the Race for Life, but one or the other of us keeps crapping out. I have hardened towards this particular frenemy over the last year as I felt she had been pushing me away exactly when I needed her support. The other day, it was her turn to need my support. She is worried sick about her elderly parents, in particular her mother. She is also very scared that one or both of them may need to go into a home. She burst into tears in her kitchen, and despite my best efforts, I could not help but go to comfort her. I hugged her and found some tissues and dried her tears. I couldn't say things would get better. They rarely do with people in their 80s. I sat and listened, which is all I could do. And I realised that being a frenemy isn't something I can do.

A footnote about the high school frenemy: she grew up to be a psychologist, has gained about 50 pounds, acts like she's on something, has had one divorce and no kids. I hope she's learned something about empathy since we were friends. I can't imagine her telling clients that she can't talk to them when they're going through a tough time.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

When the Dog Bites, When the Deal Dies

When I'm feeling sad... Forget Julie Andrews, I take a Valium.

Jake bit me for the first, and I hope the last time, about a month ago now. I was trying to dry him off after his walk. I stepped backwards, and I may have stepped on his tail or leg. He went for me quite viciously. Luckily, I had my coat on or he would have ripped flesh. Two weeks later he did the same thing to hubby as he was trying to load him into the car.

I've been on the phone to the animal behaviourist, of course. We've stopped taking him in the car temporarily so we can break the negative cycle (and save our clothes and ourselves). But he continues to growl at least twice a day. I'd rather have growling than biting, but I'd rather have none of this at all. We are persevering because we know it would be next to impossible to rehome Jake. And I don't want to put him down.

Our plan to buy a publishing business crashed and burned yesterday. The owner sprang a surprise demand of £70,000 more for the business on Wednesday. I feel he wasn't being forthcoming because he knew for a month that he wanted more for the business but at no point came right out and said so. We also discovered he'd fiddled his books. The last set of accounts we saw had the business in the red by £30,000. Then he sent us his final accounts. Lo and behold, that £30,000 in arrears was gone or rather, "redistributed." How creative! So we were very uncomfortable about all this. Hubby sent an email to one of the employees to finish up a conversation we'd had with her on Wednesday. She forwarded it to the owner, who sent us an email saying this was no way to do business and he never wanted to hear from us again.

So, that's that! You live and learn. And take a Valium (or a quarter of one, in my case) when it gets really bad. Shall I go on about the other bad things in my life?

Nah. I'll leave you with this: I met Fire Byrd for lunch on Thursday and left, as I told her, feeling wrapped up in a warm blanket of friendship. Spread the love, everybody. We all need some.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

It's All in the Accent

Yesterday we saw hubby's brother and wife and two daughters. As the girls walked in the house, they started talking and didn't stop till they left four hours later. In between I was fascinated by their accents -- Leicestershire. Very different to my children's -- almost-but-not-quite Scouse.

Since I moved to this country 17 years ago, I have been amazed by the number of different accents within such a small geographic area. To the untrained ear, an English accent is an English accent, and a Scottish accent is a Scottish accent. And South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders sound like the English. But they don't. And sometimes even the English don't sound like the English. Try talking to a Scouser on the phone sometimes. To me, when I first moved here, they sounded German.

After my ear became more attuned, I was able to pick out Geordies from Glaswegians (though I still struggle to understand both). I could distinguish the differences between a Southern accent and a Northern accent. I could even place where the Northern accent originated (Manchester, Yorkshire, Liverpool, etc.)

All very My Fair Lady. Remember the scene where Rex Harrison moans about why can't the English speak properly? "Aw, gwon," said Eliza Doolittle. But even Londoners have variations in their accents.

But because of all these different accents and variations in how some words are pronounced, I don't always understand what's being said. Many people think I have a hearing problem, which I probably do. But a lot of it, I'm sure, is because I still have to concentrate on what's being said just as I did during my first encounter with a Glaswegian. I'd asked for directions on a visit there and understood only two words -- "Turrrrrnnn rrreet." I had to learn what my mother-in-law meant when she said bewk, lewk, and cewk.

I have trouble with Irish accents as well, but for different reasons. Northern Irish accents sound somewhat Welsh or Scottish to me sometimes. Southern Irish, depending on the origin, can sound American. Oh yes, I have embarrassed myself by asking an Irishman if he was American. And I have been asked if I'm Irish or Scottish. By the English.

Accents matter a lot in the UK. People make assumptions about you based on your accent -- whether you're intelligent or stupid or rich or poor or honest or dishonest. This happens in the U.S. and elsewhere too, I'm sure (I'm thinking about In the Heat of the Night).

Apparently, even dogs in the UK growl in regional accents. Now that's taking things a bit too far.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Tongue-tied by Macrame

It's happened again. Just when I think I have mastered all the quirks of the British English language and its various odd pronunciations, one reaches out to bite me on the ass.

The culprit this time is the innocuous word macrame. Remember macrame? It was all the rage in the 70s. For some reason the other night I felt the need to speak its name -- MAC-ra-may. My companions hooted with laughter. Apparently not MAC-ra-may, but ma-CRA-may. I don't know which pronunciation is actually correct. I don't care. In my country, the way I said it is right. Sorry, my home country, the land of my birth. In my adopted country, apparently the second way is correct, and humiliating those who say it wrong is socially acceptable.

This has happened to me before, many times. The first word was oregano. My future mother-in-law peered at me over her glasses when I said o-REG-a-no. Politely, she corrected me -- or-i-GAN-o. I already knew about the to-may-to/to-mah-to debate (we Americans preserved the Elizabethan pronunciation apparently). I knew about lu-ten-ant/lef-tenant. I discovered Van Go/Van Goff, ga-RAJH/gar-ridge, and jag-wahr/jag-u-arh.

The British have a way of taking foreign words and making them their own, with their own pronunciations. Take poor Jose Mourinho. In his home country, and probably the rest of the world, he is HO-say. Here in Britain, he is Josie (as in Josie and the Pussycats). When I order Mexican food with my friends, I have hal-i-pen-yo peppers while they have jal-i-pe-no peppers.

I don't know if the Brits should be criticised for pronouncing foreign words their own way. Every language contains bastardized forms of words from another language. Even French. But I do think that some Brits show their ignorance of other cultures by making fun of those who pronounce words differently. Not that ignorance is something only the Brits have. They just are more pronounced in how they show it.

Friday, 3 April 2009

And You May Ask Yourself, Well, How Did I Get Here?

That's a question I've asked myself a lot since I was a teen-ager. Sometimes I ask myself, How the hell did I get here? Like when suddenly I find myself at home and having no memory of driving myself there. Other times it's a why question. Why am I here?

I've been taking a philosophy taster course these last six weeks at my daughter's school. I think the seven of us who attend have basic philosophical questions about the meaning of life (which Monty Python answers somewhat) and the origin of life. Of course, we're all in middle youth, so we've come to a few conclusions already. The neurologist thinks along the lines of Richard Dawkins, though he claims not to like him. The grandfather is more traditional in his views. I'm an "intelligent design" sort of person. I think atheists take the easy route and agnostics are just fence-sitters. It's easy to say there is no god. It's easy to say religion is the root of all evil. But contemplating the creation of the universe, what caused those factors to happen at that time, is more difficult.

I suppose going to parochial schools spurred on my curiosity about religion, or more specifically humankind's need for religion. The neurologist in our class suggests humans are hardwired to need religion or to believe in God. Then what happened to atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Madelyn Murray O'Hair? Are they anomalies? Are they faulty somehow? How did we come to be hardwired in such a way? And why would we become hardwired in such a way? Some scientists suggest that those who believe in God are not as intelligent as those who don't. Hmmmm. Who created intelligence tests in the first place? Scientists. Could it be they created them in their image, so therefore anyone who thinks differently won't score as well?

Then again, there are those who hide their ignorance behind their religion. Is ignorance bliss? Or is it stupidity? So many questions.

I've been taking another class as well: How to start your own business. This, too, has opened up my mind and provoked me to think in a different way and to ask myself the questions, Where will I be and How will I get there?

Our attempt to buy a publishing business is not going as well as planned. The owner is throwing a few spanners in the works, to use a British phrase, which we hope can be sorted out. But we've had to face the possibility that we may need to walk away. And then what? Hubby has been out of work for a year now. He has applied for several jobs. He has narrowly missed out on many of them. I can't begin to describe the roller coaster ride that has been the last year.

But the second course has given me food for thought. It's given me confidence that we could go out there and make our own way in the working world. The course was run by a marketing guy, so of course the emphasis was heavily on marketing. And you know what? I think I could do it. Market myself, that is. I do it every day in fact. We all do as we stand in front of the mirror getting dressed for the day. We are preparing ourselves to send out a message to the world: this is who I am.

The philosophy course has helped me answer the next question: this is how I think I got here.