Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Innocent and Pure. Guess who?

Just a few days before Christmas, I ventured out into central London. Crazy, I know. But I had no choice: as usual, I left it till the last moment. A few days before then, we had heavy snow in our suburbs. I shall discuss the impact of weather conditions on the UK transport network another time. Maybe, in my next post.

But that day was just gorgeous. The snow was everywhere, and the sun was out. Something Russians consider normal is a special pre-Christmas magic for the Brits.

I had to get all the way to Covent Garden, as Husband developed a passion for Carhartt clothes. And of course, we don’t have Carhartt anywhere near us. So I took the tube into London.

Making my way through the over-crowded streets, trying to focus, I suddenly got stopped by a stranger. If you have lived in a big city, you know that being stopped by a stranger on a street is not a good thing. I glanced at the guy, and he appeared pretty normal. That, of course, did not mean anything. He started talking and my first thought was that he was trying to sell me something. I then realized he was not asking for any money. He said something about me walking out of that shop, and how he noticed me because I had a special aura.

Ah,- I thought to myself, -he is not trying to sell anything; he is just crazy and will now stab me with a knife. And nobody will notice what exactly happened, as they all rush about in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy.

But he had no knives in his hands. He just kept telling me something about people and auras. He said most people get born with a clean aura but it grows negative with age, but me...I was innocent and pure, he said. I laughed nervously. He said he was an accountant these days, but eight years ago, he used to practice meditation. And he just saw this amazing aura around me.

OK, now he is going to ask me for some money- I thought, smiling and nodding (trying to look both polite and in a rush to be somewhere), because he needs it to support some aura-cleansing school of his.

But then he just said “Bless you, have a nice Christmas!” and disappeared in the sea of shoppers.

Excited and grateful that he was not going to kill me, I waved and wished him a great Christmas too; and walked off, glancing behind me. Once I was sure he was not following, I realized I had not considered another, more realistic option.

That’s it! - I thought, unzipping my bag to grope inside it- he was a distraction thief. He was bullsh**ting me about auras, whilst his partner was stealing my wallet. But everything was still intact inside the bag.

So I kept walking, smiling. The cynic in me was convinced something just did not go according to the plan. Perhaps, I was holding my bag too close to me, or was not distracted enough. But that little innocent and pure one was asking in a tiny sheepish voice inside my head- But what if? What if he was just a nice guy, who believed in good auras? And what if he just really liked mine? That is not entirely impossible, is it?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

About Islam

OK, first of all, I must apologize: I had no intention of talking about Islam today. I lied. Just noticed that as soon as I mention the word Islam, it brings a lot of traffic to my blog. So I cheated. I know, I know. Not fair. Tough.

Now, back to the real topic. You might be looking at this picture and thinking it was taken in some cosy suburban bistro. Well, the truth is... Net. This hmm...thing is proudly hanging in my kitchen.

I would just like to know. Is it possible to have a partially bad taste? A bad taste in specific stuff?

Because, I would like to think I had a good taste. For instance, in clothes. I am perhaps, a little conservative in my choices, but not dreadful. I remember that one hooker in Baku, who always (after she got married to a rich expat, and viewed herself as a ladyeeee ) dressed in one shade of the same colour. She particularly favoured light blues and pinks. She must have thought it was a sign of elegance and chic. Also, it was simply a very safe choice. If you have bad taste and are worried people would guess as much, it is easier to just go for the same colour, rather than risk matching any other to it.

But back to me, if you don’t mind.

I am pretty sure I am not as sad as that hooker when it comes to my wardrobe selection. Or music. Or furniture. Or jewellery. Many other things, really. But, clearly, not when it comes to things that go on the walls.

I already told you i had once bought some very bad paintings, whilst pregnant in Baku. That time, I blamed pregnant brains for that lack of judgement. But this time... I bought this thing. Nobody influenced me, nobody forced me into it.

How is this possible, I ask you? Honestly, am not a chushka with no taste. But clearly, when it comes to things that go on my house walls, there is some uncontrollable chushka switch in my brain that just operates of its own accord. And now I have this thing on my wall. Husband, of course, hates it. Friends hate it. And I myself can see what they mean. But something just happened to me and I liked it, and bought it. The more I look at it, the more confused I get, because I do not really want to live in a suburban bistro in mid 70s'. I would love my home to be modern, stylish and cool. But I paid for it and announced to the world that I loved it. So I have to live with it. A bit like that expat with his hooker wife. He always knew what she was. He knew what everyone else thought. So, he and I have something in common. We both now have to live with our (embarassing) choices.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A very, very short one

A neighbour stopped by today. The one I dislike. I really dislike him. When we first met, he kept asking how and where I had learned English so well. I thought he sounded incredibly patronising. Husband explained that he is a old teacher. They all sound a bit like that, so I should not take offence. But I remained unconvinced.

Today, he wanted to let me know they would be away for Christmas. So that we would keep an eye on his house. I told him we would also be away, for a few days.

-Why don’t you ask Cathy?- I said, referring to our mutual neighbour.

-Who?- He leaned his head to one side, his lips stretched over his teeth in a fake smile.
- Cathy- I repeated.
-Kat-iya?- He asked, smiling.
- No- I said patiently, feeling like the Indian lady in Little Britain- Ca-thy.

He looked puzzled.

Cathy- I repeated.

Oh, Ca-thy!- he said, screwing his face up a little- I thought you said Kati-ya.

I smiled back.

-It is because you expected me to say Kat-i-a- I said.

He just kept smiling. I really, really dislike him.

Friday, 18 December 2009

100 posts

It is a bit of an anniversary for this blog today. 100 posts. Since it is an important round number, I thought I would write about something nice.

It must be the snow outside or this season’s mood I can’t help but get into, but I am just full of love at the moment. Love for my friends.

Usually, some of them would occasionally do something that might irritate me. Or that I might consider rude, ignorant or selfish. However, nobody annoyed or upset me for a suspiciously long time. (Except for Husband. And the child, of course. Oh, and the dog.) Maybe I am just getting softer and more tolerant with age. Oh, whom am I kidding, it is not going to last.

But, while it does….

My friends.

I know I talked about the importance of friends in my life already. But this Christmas spirit is contagious, even for an atheist. I just am full of this warm and bubbly feeling of gratitude and affection. This time, for my local friends.

My life would be pretty miserable here, in the UK, if not for these pretty ladies. The life of an immigrant can be lonely. Really can. You miss your culture, your family, your ways of doing things, your food, your social life. And yet, I realized a couple of days ago, sitting in a village café with one of my best local friends, that I have actually got some really nice ones, you know. Yes, it took me a while to collect them.


a) Brits are quite hard to get close to, compared to people from some other, more approachable, cultures.

b) I am quite fussy. I don’t like boring people. Even if they are nice. I also really dislike people who make things up, are pretentious or fake.

Yet, I have managed to find some really great local friends. Friends without whom my life would be pretty miserable.

They ask me for lunch on cold rainy days and feed me with tasty things. They pick my child up from school and take her to their place, so I could have a few more hours to run my errands. They baby-sit for me when I want to go out. They listen to me moan. They share morning coffee with me whilst husbands are at work, and they laugh at my jokes. They gossip and they advice on good shops and bargains. Most importantly, I realized that should I ever need help, they will be there for me.

They are the best. Don’t forget that I must shock them often. Despite having assimilated quite well, I am still from a different planet. I must sometimes appear rude, tactless or plain weird. And yet, they accepted me the way I am. I am just a very lucky girl.

PS. Go ahead, click that "borriing" box. See if I care. Warm and bubbly.

Monday, 14 December 2009

What’s the Russian for ‘funny’?

I thought it was time for another guest posting. This time, I would like to introduce a crime writer from Scotland, Bill Kirton. Since I am now toying with the idea that one day I will actually write a book (which might, of course, never materialize, like most of my great ideas) I started reading blogs, written by real writers.

I love the opening paragraph on Bill's website:

This is what male crime writers often look like – upturned collar, the stare across the shoulder, the ‘would-you-trust-this-man-as-far-as-you-could-throw-him’ expression on the face. Well, that’s the way we have to look. The sort of things we do to our characters don’t go with cheesy smiles or concern for other people. Except that they do. Most crime writing’s about people – their fears, frustrations, excesses, their tragedies and needs. And, of course, their motives for doing the unspeakable things they do…...

For some reason, I always think of that photo when I read his blog. And I just love the way Bill writes. There is just something about it.

It is very easy to do a guest posting on my blog. You either have to get me to admire your writing, or just pay me. Now (as the joke goes) that we know what I am….I give you Bill Kirton.

When Scary asked me to write a guest blog I was flattered. ‘What about?’ I said. ‘Anything you like,’ she said. ‘You used to teach French so maybe something about language and culture. And try to be funny.’ (We’ll ignore the kiss of death of those final five words.)

But she’s right. It’s the obvious thing to write about. The first time I came across Scary was when she wrote a comment on my own blog. She said something about not being a native speaker and my immediate assumption was that she was French. That’ll surprise those of you who know her but it’s a good example of how we perceive not the truth but something which makes sense through our own perceptions. My ‘foreign’ language is French and the top line of a French keyboard reads azertyuiop – so my first thought on seeing the letters ‘azery’ was a French connection. (Even though I live in Aberdeen and there’s been lots of oil-related contacts between Azerbaijan and Aberdeen companies for several years now.)

Anyway, so this blog has to be about language, culture – and it’s got to be funny. So let me get the serious bit out of the way first. I know next to nothing about Azerbaijan or indeed any of the former Soviet countries. My own politics (to the horror of my American friends) are vaguely socialist – but not in the way the Soviets interpreted (distorted) the concept. My socialism is that of Jesus (although I’m an atheist, too) – in other words surely it would be better if we all tried to help and respect each other’s uniqueness and beliefs rather than fighting. OK, serious bit over.

So, can someone writing in Scotland say things which sound funny to an Azerbaijani or a Russian? I mean, if you were all in a theatre and I fell about like Mr Bean, Norman Wisdom or Jim Carrey, that might work – but all I have here are words. So does language-based humour translate?

Because words aren’t just labels, they’re things, truths. We all know that Eskimos have a whole range of terms for snow – they need them. But why do Russians (apparently, and correct me if I’m wrong) have separate expressions for light blue and dark blue, making them not shades of the same thing but two distinct primary colours?

It used to be ‘I think, therefore I am’. Not any more. Our words and accents can give away our social class, religion, intelligence, nationality – all sorts of secrets. Take our lovely host, Scary. She’s open, upfront, witty, funny and honest about all sorts of things but sometimes her words get her into trouble – she writes them with one intention, others read them through different perspectives and form opinions of her that may be miles from the ‘truth’ of who she is. (By the way, she wanted me to say something nice about her – so that’s it.)

OK, so language is a vital part of how we perceive the world and the way we express who we are. It’s about perceptions. But so is humour – it’s about perception.

Arthur Koestler said it depended on what he called ‘bisociation’. Usually, we hear and experience things in a single context and there's no surprise or disorientation involved. But with bisocation, you get a second, totally different context and it’s the suddenness of the contrast between them that triggers the laugh. A cry often heard in the old melodramas was ‘You scoundrel, you deserve to be horsewhipped’. It had a clear, single context. But look at the Groucho Marx version. ‘You scoundrel, I'd horsewhip you if I had a horse’ – two completely different contexts.

So much for language then. What about culture?

If the ‘foreign’ culture has a different set of references, can bisociation work? Well, yes – and to an even greater degree. To begin with, let me give a personal example. First, you need to know (my apologies if you do already) that when the French call to attract attention in a crowd, for example, they tend to yell ‘Coucou’. In English, the equivalent is ‘Cooee’ (pronounced coo-eee). An acquaintance (who should have known better) saw a friend of hers in the distance amongst the crowds outside Notre Dame in Paris and called out ‘Cooee’. The punchline (of this true story) is that the French word for testicles is couilles, pronounced coo-eee. I leave you to form your own scenario of a mostly French crowd reacting to a woman shouting ‘testicles’ in front of a medieval cathedral.

We pretend to resist national stereotypes, but the tired (but persistent) British cliché is that Germans have no sense of humour, Italians cry a lot and pinch women’s bums, and the French have disgusting lavatories. Equally, all Polish people are plumbers and Russians love being thoroughly, catastrophically miserable. (It’s something to do with the Steppes and Tchaikovsky apparently). Pasta in English is chips, French bread isn’t really bread because you can’t slice it, most continentals have got a word for queue but don’t know what it means, and so on. So what are the chances of me being funny with an Azaerbaijani who doesn’t speak English? How can I tell him/her that:

Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe?

Or how can I convey to a Russian with no English the truth of Ogden Nash’s observation that:

A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse,
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.

The effects depend so much on specific words.

But I’ll end with an actual joke and a surprising revelation from a friend who taught Russian. He was talking (pre-Glasnost) with his Russian language assistant. A shortened version of the joke he told her was as follows:

After a business meeting, two men relax with a round of golf. One is a club member, the other his guest. Afterwards, the guest wants a shower but has no towel, so the friend lends him his golf towel. (These towels are very small). The guest hurries into the shower and, still in the cubicle, he hears female voices outside. He’s obviously come into the ladies’ rooms by mistake. He’s in a dilemma. He has to hurry to catch his plane and the women aren’t in a hurry to leave so he’ll have to walk past them. But he only has the small towel. Should he use it to cover his private parts – thereby having the embarrassment of having to actually look the women in the eye as he leaves – or should he cover his face and just run past them? He decides to cover his face and rushes out. The three women are naturally shocked. The first says ‘How disgusting. Well, at least it wasn’t my husband.’ The second says ‘No, you’re right. It wasn’t your husband.’ And the third says ‘He wasn’t even a member of the club.’

But the point of telling you this joke is that the Russian to whom my friend told it had already heard it back home, where the whole context obviously wasn’t a golf club and the punch line was ‘He doesn’t even live in the village’.

So maybe humour can free us. Maybe we share more things than we think. Maybe the curse of nationalism and separateness can be overcome. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, faced with how absurd life is, we could all just enjoy it, and keep laughing at it?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Why I would never move to Singapore

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar
porque no tiene, porque le falta
las dos patitas de atrás.

Back in Baku, I lived on the 5th floor of an old building. Below us, on the 4th floor, there was a mad, but reasonably clean family. However, the family above was filthy. I know that because I often shared lift rides with the woman and her smelly rubbish bins.

For many years we had an ongoing battle with cockroaches. Every time the filthy neighbour would finally spray some anti-cockroach stuff, they ran down the drainpipes- right into our flat.

Fortunately, I have not seen cockroaches in the UK. Not the fat, glossy black type I am talking about. OK, I once noticed a cockroach at work, but it looked tiny and pathetic compared to those in Baku.

During the university years I would spend nights working on a project. I sat in the kitchen, under a bright pull-down lamp, carefully drawing endless lines with black ink on an A1 size board. And, as the night fell, they came out to play on the kitchen floor. I once witnessed something that could have been a cute picture, should the actors have been say, cats. Or dogs. Or any other animals- as long as on no more than four legs. It was a family having a nice time. There was the hugest, fattest and glossiest daddy cockroach, a slightly smaller mommy, and a couple of little baby roaches. Babies played close to the mother, while daddy searched for food.

I could never kill those black cockroaches the way my father did- by stepping on them. They were way too big and made that nasty popping-cracking noise. So I used my own method. Not anyhow more humane, yet effective. I would boil a kettle and just splash the bastards. That night, I murdered the whole happy little family.

The filthy neighbours eventually immigrated, and an Indian family moved in.
Whether they are too hygienic, or their food is just too spicy for Azeri cockroaches, but my mother has been enjoying a cockroach-free life for a few years now. And I have not seen any more of them for years, either here, in the UK, or back home. Yet, wherever I am, I always glance down as I walk into a bathroom at night. You just never know what might be running under your feet when you switch the light on.

On a trip to Singapore, a friend of ours was telling us we should move there for a while. Just think- she said- you could have a housekeeper… your life would be so easy here

Hmmm...- I thought-…tempting, very tempting.

However, at a dinner that night, she told us about cockroaches in Singapore. They sounded terribly similar to my childhood friends. Only bigger. Most importantly, they could FLY. If there is one thing that is worse than a big fat black cockroach, it is a big fat flying cockroach. So, I decided to stay in the UK. As far as nasty insects are concerned, this country is not that bad. At first, I thought British homes were completely creature-free. I was naive, of course.

Because, in British homes, we get spiders.

Allegedly, the huge ones we see in our houses are the male spiders. They normally live outside, but come in the homes by accident- desperately looking for a girlfriend. Boys, eh.

Husband likes spiders. Should he come to rescue me from one (or the other way around), he would try to catch it in a glass and set it free. He also thinks my fear of them is pathetic. And these days, after many years and after many, many spiders, I normally cope OK. Especially since I discovered that even the biggest ones do not make any noise when you squash them.

However, there was that one morning I had to wake husband up.

He was not very happy; it was too early and he was deeply asleep. He mentioned how attractive he finds independence in women. How tired and sleepy he was. And many, many other things. As he stumbled into the bathroom, half asleep, he crouched down next to the bath, and stared at the spider. The spider stared back.

Finally, husband spoke.
This is the biggest fucking spider I have seen in my entire life.
- - he admitted thoughtfully. And then tried to wash it down the drain. Like that was going to work. I get paid for planning things to fit into spaces. I knew the spider was way too big. As the water pushed him down, we could see his long hairy legs grab hold of the edges, pulling himself back out- in a fast and furious fashion.

In the end, husband had to butcher the guy with my foot file.

Still, it is winter now, and there are no spiders, flies or wasps in my lovely home. Just a large smelly dog snoring next to me. But that is quite different.

Friday, 4 December 2009

About good looks, Cherie's mouth and Putin's torso

Wow, cool. Steven Seagal has just cut a huge boob open ( on a dead girl) and took a chunk of silicon out.

My mother is concerned about this posting. She is concerned on two levels, both equally important:

a) She is worried I am stepping into politics, and, as some of us know too well, it is not a wise move.
b) She thinks I might appear really stupid. Because saying what I am about to say here is not something smart and serious people would say.

But I think:

a) I am not into politics enough to discuss it on this blog. I would have to feel strongly about it, hope I could change something and be a little less cynical than I really am.
b) So what? I am just messing about.

I told you before I was a shallow person, and that I liked good looking people. I like to surround myself with pretty things. Even my Rottweiler is devilishly handsome.

And I can easily dislike someone based on their looks. And I am sorry, but I feel the same way about politicians. I mean, just look at Putin. How can anyone be liked when he has a face like that? A Russian friend of mine, by the way, tried to convince me he was a sex symbol back in Russia. A sex symbol. That, I guess, explains his apparent confidence behind the naked torso photos we were all unfortunate enough to see in the news.

So I just wanted to show you this photo- for those of you who happen to read this blog but have no clue where and what Azerbaijan is.

This is our first lady.

How about that?

Don’t you think having such a good looking first lady is something to be smug about?
In fact, I would argue that Azeries have one of the best looking first ladies in the world. Never mind Mrs Obama’s arms.

Not only does Azeri first lady look good, she also seems very civilized. She wears short skirts and does it elegantly. Do you realize how cool that is for a Muslim country? Every time I see a picture of her, I think of that scary old man who was trying to lead the country in a completely different, burka-wearing direction. Again, just look at this guy. See what I mean? Appearances matter.

A friend of mine, a bigger patriot and a passionate revolutionary deep inside, was outraged.
Anyone with that much money can look this good!- he spat out.

OK, I said, I appreciate that. But I still think it is pretty cool, considering what we could have ended up with. So, I was proudly showing her photo in Russian Harper's’ Bazaar to my English friends, who for a while had the first lady with a mouth that did not look human. Neither did it look like a mouth. Plain scary, if you ask me.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Thank you for sending me your thank you card.

Tonight, we are watching Public Enemies, with Johny Depp. Oy, mama.

I was clearing my handbag this morning. Occasionally, it just has to be done.
Out came old receipts, spare contact lenses, a few coins, one headless little girl made out of Hama beads ( No, not Hamas. Hama. Those little coloured beads children play with), a few letters from school asking for more donations, a pair of shades….(who I am kidding?) and thank you cards.

Oh, crap.- I thought. Kept carrying them in my bag for weeks now, forgetting to hand them out.

If you come from Azerbaijan, or any other country that is not so obsessed with sending cards, you would probably think what’s that?

A thank you card is a completely useless, money and time wasting middle class thing to do. What you must understand, Brits are crazy about cards. I remember in Baku, I could not wait for my New Year cards to arrive and it was magical. But that was once a year. OK, for my birthday, too. That’s twice. Also, when we were little girls, we just wrote some cute postcards and secretly dropped them in each other’s mail boxes. Fair enough, we were 10.

In the UK, it is a different story. Adults happily play those games. I spent £8 on 16 thank you cards for all the presents my child received for her birthday. After the party, instead of relaxing with a well-deserved glass of wine, I sat there, equipped with a pen and paper, noting down whose name was on the card, as my child tore the wrapping paper off each parcel. So that I would not embarrass myself later, when I thank someone for a toy they had not given. Because, it would not do to simply say “thank you or your generous gift.” No way! That would be cheating.

But this is just what has to be done around here. And it is not just the thank you cards. Brits love their cards- for any occasion. Went to visit someone? Send them a “thank you for the wonderful time” card. Someone died? Must send their family a card. Someone got sacked? No worries, there are ‘sorry you lost your job’ cards available, too.

And Christmas is the worst. Of course, it is a lovely feeling to see a card land on your doormat. There is something special about it. That element of surprise, that moment of guessing who it might be from. I personally love the stamps.

But there is absolutely no fun in getting Christmas cards from your colleagues- all the way from the other end of the open plan office. The cards are cheap and ugly. The writing is hasty. It is obvious that they do not give a crap about you and your well being during the festive season. Sometimes, someone will forget you. And as you give them their card, you know they will return in a few minutes, sheepishly handing one back. Magical. And then you get to gather all your cards, most of them from people who don’t really care about you, and proudly decorate your mantelpiece with them. Now everyone can see you have a huge lot of friends who love you. A bit like Facebook, really.

Azeries don’t do cards. We prefer gifts. I guess it is a sign of a civilized culture when people are satisfied with just cards. Say, it is your friend’s birthday. Back home, there is no way you would show up with a card. Even if it is a fancy handmade one if you paid £3,50 for. Here, in the UK it is totally acceptable.

Husband does not subscribe to the whole card issuing policy. We went to see our friends who relocated to a new area. The Azeri in me bought them a little housewarming gift. The Brit in me- a new home card to go with it.
Husband was not impressed.
-This is just so middle class wannabe!- he exclaimed, as I balanced the card on my lap in the car, writing quick wishes inside. – You will want some fish knives next!

But since when would any sensible woman listen to her husband when it comes to social etiquette? That would just lead her into a world of shame.

However, there is hope. I understand the latest fashionable thing to do is to declare you don’t do Christmas cards this year, and are actually going to donate the money to a charity instead. I love this one. Think about it! Nobody will know. And you can spend that money to buy more presents for people you actually do care about. Result!

Friday, 27 November 2009

They all said it is great so it must be true.

So this Russian friend called me the other day and said she had a spare ticket to go see the Endgame if I wanted to join her.

You see, at this point, a sensible person would ask:

What is the play about?

Instead, I asked:
- Where is it? ( “Covent Garden”- she said. I thought: nice location, good shops, great food all around)
- How much? ( Can’t afford any expensive cultural stuff when Christmas is around the corner. Culture can wait.)
- When? ( babysitting issues)

Once I got the suitable replies to my questions, I simply said yes. I said yes before I looked the Endgame up online. Once I read the description, I sent my friend an email.

- Ni-iiice!- I said to her- Sounds happy!
- It may be quite heavy- she replied- but, apparently, a smooth and rewarding performance.

Smooth and rewarding. I forgot I was dealing with a Russian friend. Russians find depressing stuff rewarding. It is a cultural thing.

But, even for her, it proved too heavy. I was pleased about that. I quite like this friend and was worried she would claim to have enjoyed this nightmare. More importantly, I was worried she would say she understood it. Which would make me look really stupid for not having a clue.

Whoever I have been telling about this horrific experience, exclaimed in one voice- Oh! But that is by Samuel Beckett!
Yes, haven’t you heard? He is in fashion. I also remember seeing 5 very bright yellow stars, and the words "pure delight" underneath. However hard I try to think of a polite way to describe this 1 hr 20 minutes of torture, pure delight would not be my choice. But what do I know? I am:

a) Foreign (always use this excuse, just in case I am actually wrong)
b) Not a theatre expert.
c) Someone who spent years watching enough depressing Soviet stuff, so probably just bored of it all.

Anyway, if you would ask me what the play was actually about, I would just have to admit that I have no idea. As far as I understood something nasty had happened to the world outside. There was nobody and nothing else out there, but that poor bloke with no eyes, who also happened to be paralyzed from the waist down. And his servant, who was the only one who could walk. However, his legs did not bend. (For some bizarre reason the public found that fact terribly amusing.)

They both seem to hate each other with passion, but of course, they are stuck together. No, they were not married, as far as I could tell.

You are probably thinking: So? Is that it? Ah, well.... Not quite. In the corner of the stage there were two large garbage bins. You know the kind, the outside bins with lids and black plastic bags inside.

So it turns out the bins contained the elderly parents. Who had no legs at all. The father kept asking for a treat, like an old dog and the mother suddenly died in the middle of the play. Clov, the servant on unbendable legs, walked up, looked inside the bin, confirmed she was pretty dead, and tied the plastic bag before placing the lid back on the bin.

I won’t bore you too much. If you are curious enough and have time to kill at work, you can read it here.

I can not remember anything else happening, besides a lot of shouting and some painfully long speeches by the blind guy.

There you go.

I am not just telling you this to amuse you. I think it is my duty to warn you to not see this play if you happen to have an intellectual Russian friend who might offer you some tickets. 5 stars! Only 75 performances in London! Hurry! Do not miss this “pure delight”, just in time for Christmas, when you might,accidentally-despite everything else screwed up in this world-be getting into the festive spirit.

I can not think of anything more painful I had attended in my entire life, except for the concert of Herbie Hancock a few years ago. I am not a huge fan of Jazz anyway, despite being Azeri. Azeries love Jazz. We even produced some famous Jazz musicians, like Aziza Mustafa-zadeh, should you be interested to know (no idea why you would be, but just in case) But normally, I love any live music. It takes a lot to make me get up and leave, and sit outside, waiting for the others. It felt like someone got inside my head and was methodically sawing my brain into tiny bleeding pieces.

As husband and the others emerged, I was convinced they all thought I had no taste and no understanding of beautiful music.

- I am so sorry- I said- I could not stand it any longer, I was going to die.
And everybody laughed and admitted they did not get it either. Sometimes, you see, someone has to say it first. Even if all the critics in the world think otherwise.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Just another manic Monday

I don’t normally work on Mondays. In theory, Mondays should be my nice and lazy days.

I could now do this woman’s thing. I could just present my Monday to you in the following way:

Oh, I work part-time, you know… It is great. I don’t work on Mondays. I have nothing to do, as my child started school so I have a morning off….and then, in the afternoon, a group of ladies get together for a coffee.
We sit there and chat, drinking tea and eating cookies, whilst our children play in the other room of the house.

However, there is a lot that happens in between those lines. Let’s just break that short paragraph down a little- to get a proper picture.

It has to start at 3am the night before, when my 4 year old wakes up screaming because she is afraid of crocodiles. At 6am husband’s alarm goes off- he has to leave for work. He spends ages searching for a tie in the dark. I manage to fall asleep again, but wake up too late. The school starts in less than 45 minutes. I wake the sleepy child and dress her for school. The dog is inpatient. He needs his drink and breakfast. I tell him to just wait a bloody second.

I then take him in the garden and chuck some dry food in his dish. The dish has rainwater in it. I throw the food away and re-fill the dish. I finally put the kettle on and return to the back door to shout at him to stop looking at me and go for a wee.

I get the child’s breakfast ready and pour myself a cup of coffee. We sit down at the table. But the dog has now finished his business, and is barking loudly and repeatedly demanding to be let back inside. His feet are wet and have to be wiped. He still leaves wet marks on my floor.

We finish getting ready, I squeeze the child in the car. School run is done. Now I am back in the house and I have some house jobs to do. Starting with my favourite- recycling.

I find a way to avoid the rain, and bring the boxes up to the garage door. I push the button and the door goes up. Husband never told me there was a problem with the door. The door is now stuck, and would not go up or down. I panic, as husband is working away and I can not leave the house with a huge gap for thieves to clime into. I work hard at pushing the door as hard as I can so it slides back into the groove. It does not. I struggle for a while, sweating and swearing at husband. The door finally works. I spend the next 30 minutes sorting out the recycling. With husband’s heavy boots on, I smash the coke cans into flat little circles- so more of them could fit in the recycling boxes.

As I am doing that, I can not help but think of this mummy friend of mine. In fact, I think of her every time I am doing something around my suburban house that I had never in my (previous, Azeri) life imagined I would have to do.

Let’s call her Elaine. Because, it is a pretty and lady-like name and it goes well with her perfection. Because everything about Elaine is beautiful. Her teeth are perfect and her eyes always sparkle. She lives in a stunning house in the middle of a beautiful field. As you drive up to it, you must slow down not to run over a bunny or a pheasant.

Last summer she had a table in the middle of the garden, covered with a crispy white tablecloth. In the middle of the table stood a little vase with peonies. The scene reminded me of a wedding I had once attended in Tuscany.

So, as I struggled with my garage door, and then stamped on coke cans, I kept getting that mental image of the white tablecloth and peonies in the garden. And I kept wondering if Elaine ever does similar jobs around her beautiful house. I can not imagine her perfectly manicured hands tearing cupboard boxes apart or smashing the garage door. Perhaps, she has a handsome handyman who does it for her. Maybe he walks in the kitchen in his vest and tight jeans, wiping sweat off his tanned forehead and asks her politely- Anything else today, madam?

I finish recycling, and take a bottle of engine oil out of my cupboard. My poor old Skoda is not well. She has been asking for some more oil and I had to check if she had indeed, ran out, or is hallucinating again, due to the old age.

As I stand there in the drizzly rain, wearing my raincoat and husband’s boots, my hands covered in engine oil, I yet again think of Elaine and her tablecloth.

I finally finish the messy jobs, and can now take a shower and use some of that scrub a friend gave me in NY. It says “with coriander for happiness and ginger for energy” on the lid. I could do with a bit of both. I scrub the engine oil off me, and come out refreshed. I then notice a huge amount of dog hair on the floor. I glance at my watch- I can surely squeeze it in- and do a quick vacuuming. I get dressed and remember I have not bought all the ingredients for the dinner yet. I ran out and rush to the shop on my way to school.

We return and I make lunch. I look at my watch again. It is now 1:30. By 2:30pm we should be out of the door and on our way to a friend’s house for a relaxing time that I desperately need. I still am to check my blog and emails, and finish Q&A column for magAZine. I promised my editor to have it done by Tuesday. I write quickly, interrupted by my mother trying to speak to me on Skype and child asking for a hug. The dog is sitting at the back door, making quiet but obvious rumbling throat sounds- he would like to go out again.

I finish the column and spell-check it quickly, before sending it off.

I glance at my watch. Half an hour left. I need to make myself presentable now. I get the nail set out. I am an Azeri woman after all. I must look glamorous when I go out. And I would hate for people to guess, looking at my nails, what I had been up to all morning.

There. We are out of the door by 2:30 and I feel good about myself. My nails are glossy, my hair is washed and I am wearing a short denim skirt. I sing along to my radio as the Skoda’s engine struggles up the hill. Another day, another little victory over suburban chores.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Who needs reindeer if you can have a hot chick instead?

My MagAzine editor is getting demanding. She is now suggesting some topics for the next issue. Like a little girl pretending to be a princess, I pretend I am a columnist. I get deadlines! And topics! And word limits! And the next issue, of course, is due in December. So...Here is your special, unedited version!

It is that time of the year again. Season to be merry. Christmas is around the corner. And it comes early to the UK. Every street will light up with thousands of pretty lights; and only in two weeks, on Friday night, everybody in our little commuter village will walk out to a late night Christmas shopping. We will drink mulled wine and sit outside, munching on roast pork sandwiches and mince pies. My child will join a queue of other kids lined up to speak to Father Christmas himself (he tends to set his grotto up in our local hardware store)

Since I relocated to the UK, people often ask me whether we celebrate Christmas back in Azerbaijan. I usually explain that it is a Muslim country so no, we do not. We have other cool holidays though, during which we sacrifice some sheep and feed poor people. But, having been part of the Soviet Union (read: the Big Brother Russia) for 70 years, we still celebrate the New Year.

But in a very fascinating way.

First of all, there, of course, is what Azeries would call a Shahta Baba, or, to use his original, Russian name- Ded Moroz. If you expect it to mean the same as Father Christmas, then you are wrong: Soviet holidays could not have any religious bearing. We, therefore, created our own, Soviet version. So, Ded Moroz literally means a Grandfather Frost.

Granddad Frost’s life is a lot more exciting than that of his Christian relative, because he is not as lonely. Instead of reindeer, he actually has a pretty young girl of Slovakian looks, with long plaited blond hair. The girl is called Snegurochka, which means a Snow Girl. Snegurochka, we were told, is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter. She is normally the most popular character at any New Year party. The New Year parties for children are called Yolkas (or the Christmas tree party) and are a must- attends for every child in the post-Soviet country like Azerbaijan.

And of course, we have a Christmas tree, which also gets decorated in the same way.

I view the whole New Year thing as a fascinating example of how old habits can linger for years and generations to come. Having become an independent country, Azerbaijan tried to get rid of the “Noviy God”.

Understandably, there is no place for a suspiciously Christmassy looking geezer and his hot granddaughter in a Muslim country. So, instead, we started celebrating the Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanians of the World. ( See comments for correction and details if interested)

So, we got a day off on the 31st of December, but officially, we were not celebrating the New Year. In the meantime, every TV channel and every shop sported Yenni Yelleniz Muberek (Happy New Year) signs and pictures of Christmas trees.

So are we openly celebrating the New Year or is it our dirty secret?

I say yes, we do celebrate it. And it is a very special time for Azeries.

We get together with our families and loved ones. We normally stay at home, and only go out to parties after 12. We roast a chicken and prepare a Russian salad and lots of cakes. Everybody calls everybody, and the phone lines are going crazy.
I love the New Year back home.

Here, in the UK it is actually not a big deal. The young people will often get together for a party; perhaps, chuck a few fireworks up in the air and share a sip of champagne. But the rest of us just stay at home, watching the incredibly boring TV show, during which Sir Paul McCartney struggles to prove he has still got it.

I always try though, to not allow this special time of the year to pass unnoticed.
So I celebrate it twice: the first time at 8pm, which is my Azeri New Year. I call my parents and relatives, and have some champagne. I always look forward to that 8pm moment, as I never know which old friend might suddenly surprise me with a phone call from somewhere far, far away. From my childhood, which smells of our old flat with TV on in the background, chicken roasting in the oven, tangerines and the Russian salad.

It is a happy time, after all, if always a bit nostalgic for me. So, whatever you celebrate, have a good one this year. Happy Solidarity of Azerbaijanians day!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Birthday Cake and other disasters

Tonight, husband is watching Coyote Ugly. He is very excited. Thinks a bar like this in our area would be a fantastic idea. I am just thinking: I never knew Tara Banks looked so hot long, long time ago?

Oh, mother in law of mine.

I feel pretty ungrateful right now, to be honest. My mother in law is nice. She is helpful, and is very good at things I am not good at. Such as cleaning, cooking and playing educational games with my daughter. So I was, of course, very grateful when she came down all the way from North Wales (and that’s far if you don’t know.. It takes the same time in a car that it would on a plane to Baku) for my child’s birthday party.

After usual stressing out and planning every little detail, it all sort of worked fine. I have to say sort of, because there was some ghost child I did not account for. However many times I counted all the children coming to my house, I ended up getting 11. I had two Excel sheets with all the names written down. Twice: one at work, and one at home. Both had 11 children on them. In the end, there were 12.

But other than that, it all went pretty well.

Except for…the birthday cake.

The etiquette around here is to buy a pretty, often tasteless, cake with thick icing and themed decoration of your child’s choice. The cake gets brought out at the end of the party, with the usual singing and blowing off the candles, but the kids do not actually eat the cake right there and then. A hostess would cut it into chunks, wrap in tissues and place it in party bags to take home with them.

In my usual obsessive manner, I had spent days searching for the perfect cake. Considering my daughter is a girl and has turned 4, it had to be pink and ideally fairy or princess themed.

The fairy one from Tesco seemed too small to me. Waitrose did not have any pink ones. M&S one was too big. In the end, I found one that was just right.

Do you want me to cut the cake up? - asked my mother in law at the end of the party. Gratefully, I agreed. When I returned in 10 minutes, I noticed something that to an Azeri host would mean a disaster.

My mother in law was struggling to squeeze a large portion (more than a half) of the cake into a metal tin. She had that much left, after cutting off 11 pieces.

There they were, right in front of me. Wrapped in pretty tissues, shaped like little flat squares: a size of a business card holder.

The Azeri hostess inside me was mortified. If I ever did anything like that back home, other moms would bitch about me for months after. Here, things might be slightly more merciful. I am sure everybody noticed just how stingy my portions of the cake were. British mothers are polite, but not blind. However, manners would (hopefully) stop them from discussing it in the open.

I knew not to say anything to my mother in law. Should I have questioned the size of pieces at that stage, I would have looked like a very ungrateful daughter in law. She was trying to help. And what do I do? Complain. So I did not say anything.

But I just wanted to know why. There must be some logical reason behind this. Nobody really wants half of a birthday cake left.

So, I resisted for 24 hrs, and then I said something anyway. Because that is just me, unfortunately. I get something boiling inside me, and have to get it out in the open.

I told her I was surprised to see how much cake was left. She of course, got defensive, and explained that, by the time we had a piece each, and sent two pieces to the cousins in North Wales….......

Of course! The cousins! So that is it, I thought to myself, simmering down.

She just wanted her other granddaughters, even though they are well past the pink icing age, to get a piece. And that, of course, never crossed my mind. I would imagine at the age of 14, pink icing is not something they think about.

Nevertheless, I felt guilty, and, at the same time, annoyed. Because, the problem is, I don’t do hints or hidden agendas very well. In my head, things are easy. If you want a piece of cake for someone else, you ask.

I would gladly rid of that tasteless cake anyway. It is not like it is my mother’s Napoleon.

But whether it is a British thing, or just my mother in law’s thing, she would unfortunately, never chose that simple route. Instead, she would keep her real motif a secret, and have some elegantly planned secret plot.

And I am still learning the intricacies of communication when it comes to different cultures. And mothers in law.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The baldy , the fart and the douchebags

Tonight we are watching Lord of the Rings. Again.
Oh, Aragorn..- I groaned passionately.
Ara-porn!- said Husband.

You know you are old when you attend a rock concert and tell the youth to sit down and be quiet.

First of all, I am really surprised that in this H&S obsessed country they could ever get away with seats so high up, on what is practically a vertical slope, without any harnesses. I never feel comfortable somewhere like that, and the O2 centre was simply terrifying.

Sitting all the way up, I kept thinking just how easily someone could stumble and fall down. How far would they fall? I wondered whether the heads of people below would stop them from falling somewhere at Row G, or would the force of the fall send them all the way down, on top of the crazed crowd. And also, would anyone notice? Or would they just pick the body up and send it crowd surfing?

Muse are the best. Visually stunning and impressively loud.

We were looking forward to this concert for ages. Not only because we both love Muse. There is more to that. For someone like us, cool people trapped in the UK suburb, it is an important statement. A solid proof to each other that we still have it. And to me, an Azeri who lived most of her life attending government concerts in the Palace of Lenin (now, of course, Aliev) this is as cool as it gets.

But…..there is always a but.

I guess it was naïve of me to expect everyone who loves Muse to be cool. I looked around, feeling the energy coming from the crowd. We were all part of one big club, a gang of Muse fans. We all have a great taste in music, and therefore, have a lot in common, right? Don’t be ridiculous.

First of all, I appreciate that it must be very tempting to fart somewhere like the O2 arena.
The music is loud so nobody will hear anything. And as for the smell, well there are so many people around, surely nobody will know who it really was. But come on, people! That is just bad manners! How can you, a Muse fan, be such a disgusting pig?

Secondly, to the guy in the front, who just had to be that tall, of course, and be positioned right in my line of sight. I understand it must have been crucial to demonstrate to your girlfriend just how cool and rock and roll you were, by standing up throughout the show and jerking in all possible directions. It is just that the sight of your shiny bold head bouncing up and down was not something I paid over £40 to see. If not for you and your bold head, I would have enjoyed the show from my seat, without having to stand up. Even having stood up, I struggled to see the stage properly, because I am, alas, a short arse.

But the worst were the two douchebags behind us. I am using the word douchebag because:

a) I have only recently discovered it and think it is great.
b) It is an American word and not really used in the UK, so it does not sound as offensive to my British ear.
c) I really want to use another, very British, word here, but…It would not be appropriate. Even though I think that it is more appropriate. If you know what I mean.

The two douchebags were having verbal diarrhea. Not only they went on and on throughout the whole concert, they also talked stupid, irritating crap. If the song was slow and beautiful, they talked loudly over it. If it was something like Time is Running out, they screamed the words along- so loudly that I could not, however hard I tried, hear the voice of the actual singer. I even tried to lean forward, as far as the narrow row and vertical seat arrangement allowed, to get my ears as far away from the singing douchebags as possible.

Husband got annoyed. And trust me, a sight of the annoyed husband is not pretty. He turned to the douchebags and asked them- very politely! - to “please do us a favour and give us a break in the running commentary”.

As for me, I just thought: You know what? Perhaps, we just have to admit it: we are too old for rock concerts. Perhaps we could from now on focus on small venues, instead of huge arenas, where douchbags can get away with spoiling the atmosphere with their shouting, farting and other antisocial behaviour.

But….there is always a but. Muse are the greatest. The best. If you have not heard them yet, be grateful to me for introducing them into your life. Go quick and get yourself their albums. All of them.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Deuce Bigalow: an Azeri Gigolo

“An attractive and tall young man of European appearance, 25 yrs old is looking for a lady 35-55 with accommodation for serious relationship…”

“A 27 yr old man, brown eyes and light brown hair, attractive and well-natured, is looking for a Jewish lady, age not relevant, for serious relationship and marriage...”

These are just a couple of local newspaper ads that my mother read to me as we chatted on Skype yesterday.

There is so much said about women in Azerbaijan these days. By women themselves. Because we, women, like to complain a lot.

But what about poor Azeri men?

Just like in any other traditional and- don’t forget! - Muslim society, there is a lot of pressure on Azeri males. In old Soviet days, things were easier. Men had jobs they got via relatives and connections. They made money via salaries and bribes. They married good Azeri girls their mothers approved of, and kept mistresses on the side, often of other nationalities. They sat around eating plov, getting fat and enjoying life. But nowadays, things are changing. Women in Azerbaijan are rapidly becoming more independent. It is arguably easier for a pretty young girl who can speak some English to get a reasonably well-paid job in an office than it would be for a nice boy with the same set of skills. Azeri women started getting jobs in foreign companies, dating foreigners and immigrating abroad. So it is not surprising, that some young Azeri males sat around, smoking their cigarettes and sipping chay when it occurred to them that maybe, they ought to do something about that unfair situation. Maybe they don’t have to just marry some girls their parents find for them, and then take care of them all their lives. Perhaps, they themselves deserve to be taken care of.

And some smart Azeri guys started to look around. And I bet they were pleasantly surprised. As long as they were prepared to overcome their inherent fear and commit, the opportunities were unlimited, depending on what their goals might be. It could be somewhere to live- just like one of the above ads clearly states, or it could be a woman with a foreign passport who could take him abroad. Gone are the old times, when wives were just good enough for making plov and babies. In this increasingly westernised society that Azerbaijan is becoming, women have more potential as wives and partners than they have ever had.

And so here comes a predictable shift in Azeri male mentality, something I get a whiff of across the borders, all the way from the UK. The new generation Azeri guys are not simply looking for good Azeri girls any more. Frankly, can't afford to. They are looking for independent, successful women- local or foreign. Women with a ticket for a better life. Women who can do one of the following, if not all of it:

a) provide him with a nice flat to live in;
b) help him immigrate;
c) work hard at her job (and at home) while he can just marry her, knock her up and then kick back and relax.

In fact, I can sense a good business opportunity here: Azeri male services for lonely women abroad. Don’t laugh! Azeri men have a lot to offer. They are incredibly horny and enthusiastic. They don’t normally drink too much. They are dark and dangerous looking, but really are quite tame. They love white girls, blonds in particular, and normally don’t mind if you are a bit overweight. They usually want and love children.

So here is my brilliant idea: azerihusbandshop.com.

Single for too long? Tired of wasting your time on western men who are too demanding and scared of commitment? Clock is ticking and ovaries are screaming for a baby? Look no further! Come to azerihusbandshop.com and we will set you up with a young, fit, and full of enthusiasm Azeri male. No hidden costs, except for one- an illusion of true love. But that is not such a high price to pay, is it?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A sneaky preview

Hey, check it out. This is the new Scary Azeri culture clash Q&A column in the MagAZine I was telling you about, due out in November.

I was going to wait till the magazine is out to put it up on the blog, but the editor said it was OK.

She said we were not exclusive.

In other circumstances, that would be hurtful. But in this one, it just means I can share a sneaky preview with you and see what you think.

Be kind, because:

a) It is nice to be a kind person.
b) It is my first ever attempt so I will get better as I practice. (I think?)

Hope you can read it, if you click on the picture it should enlarge. And thank you to those who sent me the very first scary questions! Much, much appreciated!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Scary mummy business

I have offended someone else- again! I hate when this happens.

This is the world I live in nowadays. The delicate and intricate world of a mother in an English suburb. A world full of rules and etiquette. Things to be done in a certain way, words to be organized in particular sequences with subtle meanings and nuances.

Having had a week away from my usual motherly chores, I jumped off that plane and landed deep into something I always found stressful- organizing my daughter’s birthday party.

How can something so pleasant (theoretically) end up causing me so much headache?

I have to admit, I acted a bit Azeri last year and went overboard to throw the biggest party I could (not really) afford. In the end, I felt cheated. Most of my friends, some with a lot more money and therefore nothing to prove, settled for shared parties, no parties at all or something very modest. I of course, had to have an entertainer, 25 kids and hot food for adults.

But as I said before, I try to learn from my mistakes. So, this year, when my daughter asked if she could have a small 'girls only' tea party at home, I thought that might be quite nice.

I typed a list of her girlfriends, and imagined a very civilized picture in my head: the games they could play, the food I would prepare and decorations I would hang around my house. A pleasant day, surrounded by a few mothers drinking a glass of chilled wine, whilst my daughter and her good friends played nicely. But then I remembered about siblings.

I inserted column C in my excel spreadsheet. And my head span.

This little friend had an older brother. This one had two. This one had a tiny baby, still attached to a breast. This one has a toddler brother who is into opening kitchen drawers and taking everything out. Surely, I thought to myself, if I word the invitation carefully, people will understand. They would maybe appreciate that I am doing it low key this year. That I am dong it at home. But what if they don’t? I might end up with not 10 but in fact, over 20 children in my modestly sized suburban home.

So I panicked. But then, having thought about it, I thought: hold on a minute!

The girls are 4. OK, that is not quite the teenage years yet, when they would sneakily smoke a fag and snog boys in bushes around the corner; but they are surely big enough for some mothers to happily drop them off. Other mothers might in fact, prefer to leave their toddlers or babies at home with a nanny, so that they could spend some quality time with their older daughter....

So, all that was left was to ask nicely. 'OK-I thought- 'I can do that!'
Not so easy, but possible. A bit like those people who put ‘No children, please’ on their wedding invitation. And all the breeders hate their guts. But hey, it is their wedding, and their right to request the party they want should be respected by their friends and family. That is just what I think.

‘Just put: “Sorry, no siblings” on the invites?’-suggested my mother in law. I agonized over that. No. Could not do it. Too rude, I thought. I would email my closest mummy friends first, explain the situation and see what happens.

And everybody was OK with it. Or maybe, some were OK and some pretended quite well.

Except for just one friend. I guess, out of 10 it is not a bad result. But it still hurts. Things that got mentioned included parenting styles, cultural differences, private vs public school etiquette and so on. Ouch, ouch and ouch again. Right into my solar plexus.

So, NO- she said and it felt like she slapped me across the face with a cold fish- I won’t be able to come, I am sorry.

Did I see this coming? No. Did I expect this particular friend to over-react like this? Not in a million years. But I never do.

So there we go. Something that I thought was a good idea is now turning into a painful experience.

At another child’s birthday party yesterday, as everyone was getting ready to leave, I noticed my daughter chatting to the entertainer.

- What were you saying to Auntie Julie? – I asked her in the car.
- I invited her to my birthday party!- she replied excitedly.

Next year I am going back to the big hall option. And inviting everyone who is still friends with me.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Best friend's wedding

So, this is it. The end of an era. The very last one of my male friends finally got married. Et tu, brute.

He said I looked bored at the wedding. I was not bored. I was thoughtful. It felt like something was ending. Something or someone was being taken away from me, forever.

I was looking at him walking down the isle, thinking of the good old days back in Baku.

I did not really like him at first. He was one of the very few young and single expats in Baku those days and, to paraphrase the Big Pink, girls fell like dominos.

And boy, did they fall. Not just the local girls, who salivated at the very thought of catching someone like him. Expat women, bored and surrounded by either Azeri (whom they just had no idea how to handle) or expat males (whose eyes were only focused on the exotic and easily approachable local girls) were more than happy to flirt with him too. So, I thought he must be just too full of himself. On top of that, he managed to go out with two of my close expat girlfriends. Thus, I have no idea how, years later, we remained such good friends. Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that, through years of listening to my girlfriends moan about him, I felt like I knew him inside out.

There is something about male friends that we girls love. Yes, gay male friends are cool, but it is quite possible to be just friends with a straight guy, if you remember this old and obvious rule: do not sleep with him. If neither of you is physically pining for each other, the friendship can be good fun.

Of course, most of male friends normally fall under one of the following categories:

1) Someone you had gone out with before, and somehow miraculously, remained friends since then.
2) Someone who secretly fancies you, but knows he has no chance. So he is hoping that if he sticks around, you might get either too drunk or too desperate one day, and he will get lucky. At least once.
3) Someone you fancy but can not confess as you are either too ugly or too shy.

So when you are friends with a straight guy, but without any of the above factors, it is probably somewhat unusual. So, I guess I should have been more understanding when he worried about his bride’s feelings at the wedding. He felt he could not talk to me for too long as ‘she might get upset’. He felt he could not sit next to me as ‘she might get jealous’...

For years, I never thought our friendship might be questioned. When he showed up in the middle of nowhere in North Wales for my wedding, and gave me a big bear hug in front of everybody, I never even considered that might look wrong. It never crossed my mind that Husband might have some concerns about this friendship.

And now, for the first time, I was confused.

I was worried his new wife would not like me. I was concerned she would not trust me. I was afraid my long term friendship with this old friend would now end-because she would not approve.

So I got annoyed. Being a woman, she should have a gut instinct that nothing is going on! - I thought to myself. She should not get so paranoid and possessive from day one. What is wrong with her?? My poor friend, who is he getting married to?

But then, watching her smile at him and reach for his hand every time someone made an emotional speech, I saw how happy they looked. And I let him go. For long years, he was my single male friend. Someone to share a dirty joke with, gossip, laugh and (OK, maybe!) flirt a little. But now, things will never be the same. He is no longer just him, but a part of them, and if I want to continue to be his good friend, I must accept her. And hope that she will accept me too.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

New York state of mind.

Guess what, people? Scary is going to New York! Yes! Today!

Well, technically speaking, I am only going to spend a few hours in New York; just enough to significantly damage my credit card. The rest of it is taking place in Montauk. (Stalkers, make a note: about 3 hours away. Hamptons.)

And, very typically, so far:

1) I have no idea how I am getting there. The only train from NY to Montauk that departs on the day I need to get there has a (very familiar to any British person) ‘replacement bus service’ somewhere on route. In a twisted way, those words made me feel at home.

2) Not sure what I am wearing yet. Because I am:

a) Stupid- because I left it too late assuming due to the gruelling exercise routine I have been on, I must be slimmer than I was…..Nope.

b) Fat -because I can barely squeeze in the pretty dress that is hanging in my wardrobe. A kind of dress that in this country can only be worn to a wedding. Not like back in Baku. If I had that dress in Baku it would get worn a lot. Because, in Baku I had plenty of occasions to dress up for. A British Society Ball. A New Year Ball. A Scottish Ball. An Irish Ball. Etc, etc. In the UK, however, unless you belong to the Royal family or work somewhere very posh and trendy, you don’t really have anywhere to dress up for. This dress is now going to hang in my wardrobe for an unforeseen future.

3) Husband, who works flexibly, is working on the day I fly out and on the day I return. Which means no lift and some additional stress of arranging childcare.

4) It is forecasted to rain all weekend. It will rain at the terrace where we are supposed to be having drinks. It will also rain on the beach where they planned a bonfire after-party. I thought I was leaving the UK behind me for a week. The rain, the replacement bus services…. Looks like I am taking it all with me.

So really, I have been thinking…If I were a believer, I would imagine that Mr God is trying to send me a message. He is looking down at me, shaking his head and saying to his mates up there, in heaven: ‘Honestly, what else could I do? I have sent her, like 10 clues and she is still not listening! It is entirely her fault!

Wish me luck.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Why I hate today.

Then love, love will tear us apart, again…
Joy Division, “Love will tear us apart”.

Today is not a nice day. And even a haircut has not cheered me up. I took my mother or ‘baba’, back to the airport today.

My friends laugh and tell me I am depressed because I will miss all the help around the house. They have no clue. They are lucky, because majority of them have not experienced a separation for months at a time.

I hate today because of tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning, when we wake up, my daughter is not going to run upstairs, in the attic conversion baba occupies when she visits, to get her portion of cuddles and laughter. She will probably forget she said goodbye the night before, as children do, and shout to baba to hurry up, only to get reminded that she is no longer upstairs, but quite far away now.

When we go downstairs to have some breakfast, nobody is going to have a little chat with me, while putting the kettle on.

I put going upstairs off, for as long as I can.

I walk in, and pick up something she might have accidentally forgotten, like an old magazine or a towel. The bed is stripped off the bedding that baba always remembers to wash and hang the day she leaves. I tidy everything away, and just linger at the window, looking out and thinking about stuff. Windows in that room have the best view, being that high up, and I enjoy looking down at all those pretty houses, the odd roof angles and chimneys, half hidden by mature trees. And I have to remind myself, as tears swell up in my eyes, that I am being unforgivably silly. That she has only gone back home until she can visit again. Most importantly, that she is not gone forever.

There is this old Russian pop song, that actually has quite meaningful words in it. It claims that every parting is like a little death.

And that’s what I hate about days like today. They make me think, however hard I try to bury those thoughts deep inside my mind, that one day it will indeed, be forever. And this is how it will feel. Just an empty room.

Yes, just like this, only a million, billion times worse, because then you know that they really aren't coming back. And you feel lost. Only some short time ago you sat right there, next to them, could touch them, could talk to them, could ask them about something mundane you have forgotten, like an old recipe. And then, all of a sudden, they are gone, and the room is empty, and you can never ask them a question again.

And that is why I hate today.

But tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow, when I get up, husband will take the dog to the forest, and I will not shout up the attic for baba to hurry up and come downstairs so we could have our usual chat and a coffee.

Instead, I will pick up the phone, so I could make sure she is back safe and sound, in the known comfort of her old flat, surrounded by her own things, with my cousin there to share tasty goodies sent by me from England.

I will hear their cheerful voices, and everything will just click right back to normal. And my usual life will resume. Until next time. Inshallah, as they’d say back home.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A pretty tray for my cupcakes.

I now understand where the word freelancing comes from. It is because you often write for free. Right?

But hey, it is nice when someone wants you to contribute. We all like to feel wanted. And it is nice to contribute to something you actually think is a good project. Like this new site that has just been launched in Baku: Women's Forum.

So here it is, do check it out: A pretty tray for my cupcakes.

Tell me what you think. You have not been talking to me recently. I reckon, it is my friend's evil eye. She said: "You are so lucky! People run blogs for years and get no comments, and you get loads!!"

And, of course! she jinxed it. You have all shut up as soon as she said that. Which proves that Azeris are right, and evil eye does exist... Or, that I am not writing anything you want to comment on....Hmm...No, it definitely is the evil eye's fault.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Polly, put the kettle on...

Tonight, Husband was watching Babylon A.D. with Vin Diesel. As he pointed out afterwards, the only good thing about that movie is that it was free.

There is no point living in denial: autumn is here. It is getting cold and gorgeous outside, leaves turning golden and auburn. Perfect time for a good cuppa, as the English would say.

Tea is quite important for both Azeries and the English. For both nations, drinking tea is a significant tradition.

On my mother’s first trip to the UK, we were visiting my then future in-laws.
After a few days, mother decided it was time to stop acting like a guest, and make tea for us all. She went to the kitchen and put the kettle on.

Fortunately, I caught her just in time. In a proper Azeri style, she made chay with zavarka.

Zavarka is basically a very strong brew, which is made in a small tea pot. The pot is then placed on a heat diffuser, over a small fire, and left to sit there for a few minutes. When ready, zavarka gets diluted in individual cups by freshly boiled water. Which works fantastically well if you take your tea black.

However, adding milk on top of the already diluted tea creates a repulsive looking milky-grey watery solution. I quickly poured it all out.

But I have to say, I do miss Azeri chay.

First of all, whenever I visit someone in the UK, they forget that I take my tea black and serve it white anyway. It is a very unnatural thing for the Brits to not add milk in tea. I then appear all fussy and weird when I explain that there is no way I could drink that. I feel rude, but have to ask for them to make me another cup.

I blame my childhood. My grandmother had Tatar roots, and believed in the ancient powers of tatar-chay. Every time I had a bit of cold, she insisted I drunk up that disgusting mixture of a strong tea, full fat milk, chopped bread and some butter. Served in a large bowl, like a soup.

But it is not the milk that is my problem. Tea here is just boring. Take a tea bag, put it in a cup, add water. Where is the skill and thrill in that? Even the new trendy brands, like teapigs, are just not the same. Nobody, even my in-laws, bother with proper tea leaves anymore.

So, imagine how much I look forward to visiting my Azeri friends, who are just so good at brewing that special, gorgeous Azeri chay. (Using Indian or Iranian tea leaves, of course.)

I watch them working their magic over a little pot, mixing in not only different types of leaves but also spices, black peppercorns, thyme and whatever else only they seem to know about. (Every single chay-maker I know has his own special little chay secret.)

I, on the other hand, having got lazy using Twinings tea bags every day, am just left to silently admire their talents.

My mother is going back home soon, so I asked my dad if there was anything specific he would like me to send with her.

-Oh, -he said- I would love some ‘proper’ tea please! Some real Assam and Ceylon from England!

I guess, tea is always greener on the other side.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Still a f**** Skoda.

To: Scary's followers and whoever stumbled upon my blog today
From: Scary Azeri
Subject: Too funny not to forward.

Treat this like an email. Or one of my in-between postings posting.

I know most of you have probably seen these, but someone sent them to me in response to the last few topics here. I thought they were too funny not to share.

PS You can click on individual pictures to enlarge and read the words.

Monday, 5 October 2009

One is an accident, four is an epidemic?

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really f***d it up this time
Didn't I, my dear?

Little Lion Man (Mumford And Sons)- my song of the week.

We were at a local housewarming party last Saturday night. I was mingling, as you do, you know, and saw this one mommy I knew. A lovely lady. The usual type. Nice, blond. Two small children. I came over and chatted to her for a little while. Normally, if there is any gossip worth knowing, I would know. So, imagine my shock when having asked her where her other half was, I heard a casual, but not at all expected:
‘Oh, he has left.’

Excuse me?

Left? What do you mean ’left’?

‘Oh,- she said. –‘He had been cheating on me whilst I was pregnant with the second baby. I confronted him a few times and he denied it…and then he just turned around and left.’

Oh, my goodness. Poor woman. How terribly scandalous for this posh little commuter village!

To be honest, I was shocked. Back home, I worked for an oil company, and witnessed a lot of that kind of stuff going on. You know. Expats coming on assignments. Young, pretty girls-very friendly. Boring suburban lives (and wives) back home, somewhere in the galaxy far, far away…. The excitement of young exotic sex hits the brain: BAM! Crisis.

But hold on a minute! That is over there. But here? In this lovely suburb, where husbands are so well-trained and obedient? Where they are expected to get up at 7, commute to the city to make money to pay for these ludicrously expensive houses? To return at 6:30pm, bathe the kids and eat their lasagna? Mow the lawn, wash the car and spend the rest of their weekend on ‘quality family time’ with kids… In this well-planned scheme, how on Earth would something like that be possible?

But I guess, the reality is…: s**t happens everywhere.

And I often get this scary feeling, that most of the wives around here are just a little too relaxed.They don’t seem to ever suspect something like that might happen. OK it might, but to someone else. In movies. In other countries. In council houses. But not to them. They got married, chucked away their careers, heels and naughty knickers, had children. They feel it is all sorted now. Forever.

But occasionally, someone rebels. Because most of men, deep inside, hate to grow up.
They don’t want to face the responsibilities. They get bored. They want to see lacy underwear and suspenders. To drive a Porsche, while listening to some cool rock music. But all they are allowed to listen to at home is Travis. And the closest to a Porsche they can have is Porsche Cayenne — a pathetic alternative created for suburban husbands.

And they panic. They feel they have not lived enough. They don’t want to grow old and wear sleepers.

So I guess, I can understand. It is scary how well I can understand.

But I am still sad for that local mommy. Because it is not her fault.

As I said, s**t happens. Sadly, more often than some of us want to think.

Yesterday, talking to another friend in a park, I found out three of her friends experienced the same problem. 'One is an accident', she said. 'Four is an epidemic!'

I guess, it is time to start paying more attention to our husbands….Yeah, right. Who am I kidding?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

BMW? Must be a knob.

I love Paris. ‘Every moment of the year’, as the song goes.

During my last visit, I was sitting in an outdoors café, sipping my coffee and watching busy streets around me, when I suddenly thought of something that was so different about Paris. Different both from the UK and back home. Different in a very subtle, elegant and, well- French way.

OK, I know what you are thinking-the women are slimmer and dressed better….
But no, not that…It was the cars. Most of them were tiny. Cute. Quirky. Almost humorous. Very French, somehow.

I wonder, I thought to myself, how come the way people view cars in France is so different from the UK? How come the French are so genuinely cool, that they do not care at all about their cars? By seemingly making no statement with what cars they drive, the French are making a statement.

Look at us!- they say- We are way too cool to worry what cars we drive.
Pffft! It is just a car, non?

You see, I would like to think I am a bit French when it comes to me driving my good old Skoda. I would like others to think I am so Frenchiously cool that I don’t care how uncool it is. But, the reality is that I am not French. I can fake as much as I'd like, but anyone who knows anything about Azeries, will see right through me and understand that it is not because I am genuinely cool that I drive an uncool car. But because I can not afford an Aston Martin- my ultimate dream mobile.

Just like the Parisians are so obviously cool without needing an expensive car to demonstrate it, Azeries are the exact opposite. Baku these days is filled with ridiculously huge, black or white 4-wheel drives. Hummers, Range Rovers- the whole lot. Driving along roads that still belong to the 3rd world country.

Of course, it is not just about showing off. Driving a big and reliable car back home has some practical reasons. You get more respect from other, often rude, drivers, and more respect from the police. You have a better chance of survival- should some drunken rich youth (whose father paid for his driving license), smash right into you. And your backside is well cushioned against those bumpy roads.

But the longer I live in the UK, the more I realize that very similar principles apply here. It might not be as obvious. The English are experts when it comes to subtlety. But cars matter.

Back home, I never thought of cars as image makers. But here, you don’t just buy a car. You announce who you are.

Say, you bought a Volvo. It is not cheap, but not flashy. It is safe. It is reliable. It is suburban. You would not drive a Volvo if you were young, trendy and cool now, would you? So you are sending a clear message here: I live in suburbs, I have two children, a nice house, a Labrador and a good, respectable job. Nice to meet you, I am Mr. Boring Middle Class.

If you drive a BMW, you are assumed to be a knob.

Second-hand Mercedes-Benz salon is normally driven by foreigners.
Range Rover Sport is WAG. (I quite fancy one though.)
Bentley Continental –Footballer.
Audi TT- Hairdresser.

And unless your job is either a rapper or a pimp, people would assume you are just too flashy if you drive a Hummer in this country. And flashy is not cool. You are, therefore, also assumed to be a knob.

And people treat you accordingly.

A friend of mine in a Range Rover Sport often complains people are mean to her. And I always notice how hurriedly little cars flatten themselves into the hedges as my husband pushes down the narrow lane in his Pick Up truck.

The other day I was furious about one stupid driver who almost caused us to crash. I was in the correct lane, and he was on my left. We were at a roundabout, and I was going straight ahead. All of a sudden, this Merc cut right across of me. He suddenly remembered he had to turn right, so he did. Without any hesitation or concern. As if I was not there.

-What car was he driving? - A friend asked.
- A Merc! - I announced with disgust.
-What do you expect then? - She laughed. - You are driving a Skoda! You can not expect him to pay any respect to you!? You drive a crap car- you get out of the way and let the big boys pass!

Hmm, I thought to myself. Must get a Range Rover.