Sunday, 28 February 2010

Are you happy?

Happiness hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her stuck still no turning back
She hid around corners and she hid under beds
She killed it with kisses and from it she fled
With every bubble she sank with her drink
And washed it away down the kitchen sink

(Whatever it all means. The best song at the moment by Florence and the Machine.)

My old friend was in town for the weekend. The glamorous one.

It has been so long, we both have changed a little. In the seven years, she got even more glamorous, and I had a child. We had a fancy dinner, paid by her hard work in Moscow, and stood outside, sharing a cigarette, like we used to, all those years ago. It was nice, except for the taste of nicotine I no longer enjoy. But cigarette breaks are important. They are intimate. They make you talk about stuff that you don’t normally discuss over fancy dinner with truffles and lobsters. She looked at me, I looked at her.

She asked: Are you happy?

Isn’t it the scariest question ever? Even if you are deliriously, stupidly happy, wont you panic for a split second? Why would she ask? Do I appear unhappy? I never ask people if they are happy. It is one of those things.

To me, happiness is never constant. Hard to explain, impossible to catch, so difficult to measure. Yesterday, after shower, I was getting ready for an afternoon with local friends and their kids. My daughter was playing downstairs, and I suddenly heard her sing “giddyup, giddyup!” to her toy horse. And a happy, cosy, warm feeling spread inside me. My happiness is fickle. It cheats on me a lot. How can I feel happy when a day at work was miserable, or I argued with husband? How can I be happy when I think of the people I miss so badly, but who are no longer alive? Can anyone simply answer “ yes,I am”, without thinking of their problems, issues, worries and dilemmas?

I told her yes, I was happy. When not stressed, tired or annoyed about something. Was she happy? I did not ask. Why make her panic?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Happy birthday to you...

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Almost a year old

So my malenkiy blogsky is almost a year old, you know. My baby is growing up.
We shall celebrate in style- on February the 26th. If you wish to make a donation or send lavish gifts please contact me by email and I will send you the address. It will have to be the work one, I guess, as I still (very occasionally) get some mean people sending me weird messages, and would not want them showing up at my doorstep with a little box containing their chopped off penis or something else equally revolting.

One virtual friend of mine suggested that, after 6 months, a lot more traffic would come from Google. My favourite toy- Google analytics- shows a little pie chart, with sources of traffic. It breaks it up into “search engines”, “direct traffic” and “referral sites”. And, even though most of my traffic is still coming from referrals, the search engine one is indeed, picking up.

However. I now realize that the kind of readers who might accidentally stumble upon this blog are not the kind I would wish for. (Like some cool agents offering me book deals or magazine editors begging to write a regular column for them) Because I can see what they were hoping to find when they found me.

I can break the main ones into the following categories:

1) Azeri sex
2) Azeri prostitutes
3) Azeri sexy girls
4) Azeri porn

You see, I foolishly used the word sex in this blog a couple of times, and now I am forever doomed. I never knew that 'Azeri sex' was in such demand. I thought it was the oil.

I also once wrote about huge breasts. So, of course, I often see huge breasts in the search.

But occasionally, I get truly fascinating ones. Like this one:

“Azeries think Americans are stupid”

That is a whole sentence someone typed on Google, hoping to find some proof of Azeries discriminating against Americans.

Someone else searched for “free scary honey holes”- eh?-and someone for “Azeri Elka lesbian in London

And, to summarize, I guess we should look at some basic results:

Total posts: 123
Total good posts: 5
Total agents discovering the blog and offering book deals: 0
Total new friends made- Quite a few, actually.
Total weirdoes- Not too many, to be honest. Expected a lot more.
Total stalkers- None known for sure, but maybe one.
Total magazine columns out of it- One. In MagAZine.
Total articles in other publications- A few, mostly pro bono.

But it has been a fun year. Here is to many more!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Two postings inspired by my dad. Part II- About getting old.

Isn’t it strange what affects you? With me, it often is not the stuff that, theoretically, should affect me. Like the recession or the politicians playing dirty games.

But the little things.

I have been thinking a lot about getting old recently. Maybe, it is because I can sense that scary four zero trying to secretly sneak up on me from behind, whilst I am busy with my daily chores. Maybe, it is because I am now a parent, and that changes one’s perspective on life and mortality. OK, I know 36 is not old. But some days, when I have the time to slow down and focus on my own body, I can hear it complaining.

My back and neck did not get so tired before. My face did not need as much attention- creams and serums, tonics and masks- in order to look semi-decent. I used to get up in the mornings, shower in about 5 minutes, throw some clothes on, often not even bother to brush my long hair- and guys still fancied me. These days, when I notice some strangers glance at me in that way, it almost makes me laugh. I want to ask them: 'What are you looking at? Come on! I am an aging mother, always tired and slightly (?) overweight. When you see me awake that most probably means I either have a backache, am sleepy or my nose is blocked- thanks to yet another cold that my child keeps bringing from school.'

And when I think about getting old, I always think of my father. I was quite a few years younger then. It was in a pre-Skype era. When my father would send me hand-written letters by post. I know, right? And one of those letters affected me so greatly, I sat there for a while staring into nothing; and then I went upstairs and hid it in my folder, where I save things that matter. It was not a sad or a serious letter. Nothing too dramatic at a glance. He was talking about his job at the time, at a construction site he was supervising. He was talking about his team’s daily routine and management issues. And he mentioned that the guys often had a game of basketball at lunch breaks. My father used to be very athletic in his younger days. And basketball was one of his favourite games to play.

'It is funny, he said, how you suddenly notice that you are old now. You get the ball and you aim to throw it. Your brain thinks you can do it. It memorized years of practice, and it knows you can get that ball in the basket from this far. It sends the signal to your arms and you throw the ball, only your body fails you. In your head, he said, you remain young, fit and strong. But in reality, you are no longer the person you used to be. So you feel cheated.'

Whenever I stop and look in the mirror, searching for new fine lines, or other scary signs of aging, I think of how well my father explained it. I imagine how he must have felt when he could not play his favourite game as well as before.

PS You might realize, from Part I, that this is the same father who at the age of 64 gave me a half-sister. Who is a lot younger than my own child. If that sounds complicated to you, it's because it is.
To be honest, I would maybe have preferred him to keep playing basketball.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Two postings inspired by my dad. Part I- Survival of the fittest.

Tonight, we are watching the Brit Awards 2010. Can’t believe JLS won the breakthrough act of the year. And Lady Gaga...I just can’t decide, to be honest, whether she is an extremely cool singer or a very annoying transvestite.

I was talking to my father on Sunday. Just decided it has been a long time since I heard his voice. And my father has a beautiful voice. A lot of very young and very pretty girls back in the sixties fell hopelessly for that baritone, accompanied by some impressive guitar skills, over and over again. Who knows? I might have some illegitimate half-sisters or half-brothers scattered all over ex-Soviet Union.

There is however, one official half-sister that I know of, which my father produced at the ripe age of 64.

I felt obliged to ask how she was. She was fine, he said. Growing up and climbing everywhere. She pulls the computer chair to the piano and climbs on it, so that she could get on top of the cupboard.

I expressed my concerns about the two year old climbing on top of pianos and cupboards with glass doors. My father dismissed them by moving on to another topic.

He then stopped briefly, to tell me that the girl was now trying to repair something with his screw driver. Ha-ha, he laughed.

Papa,- I said politely- should she be allowed to play with screw drivers?

Oh, we tell her not to,- he says- but she takes it anyway.

Right,I said, right.

After a few minutes of discussing my dad’s killing smoking habit, we had to stop once again, this time because of a loud cry.

Oh,-my father said very calmly- this was going to happen. She must have got an electric shock. I told her not to stick that screwdriver into electric sockets. See what happens? - He said to the screaming child- I told you not to stick that thing in the socket and you keep doing that!

Dad!- I say loudly- she can die from that?!

Well...- his beautiful voice sounded calm- she will learn now, wont she. Come, he adds happily, speak to your half-sister in London.

I hung up in a stupor. How do Azeri children survive? Without car seats, socket and sharp corner covers, stair gates and door stoppers? Drinking caffeinated tea from the toddler age and breathing in clouds of cigarette smoke... I am not sure how I have ever survived, to be honest. Maybe, I am like a ticking bomb. Maybe, I am quietly rotting inside.

But back in the UK, at work, we studied safeguarding today. Do you remember me telling you how important sustainability was in the UK? Well, forget that one. It is no longer the ‘thing’ to get obsessive about. The thing of today is safeguarding.

You are probably thinking what does this 'safe-guard-ing' have to do with the price of fish? Well, it made me think about protecting children, about neglect as a form of abuse, about worrying too much and not worrying enough..…..about lots of things.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Neighbourhood watch

A friend came to pick me up last night. We were on our way to a school mummies’ night out. As we got into the warmth of her car, my friend pointed out of the window: “Look, - she said- can you see? There are some people peeping in the window of your neighbours’ house.”

It was dark and empty outside, and the hooded figures lurking at the neighbours’ windows did look rather disturbing. “I don’t like that”, I told my friend. “No-she said-I don’t like that either. What should we do?”

After sitting there for a few minutes watching the hooded figures, who by then noticed us too and were staring back, we decided to be brave and walk to the house to warn the owners. Of course, not before a friend of husband showed up at our house. Which meant I had someone to cover my back should the guys start shooting.

"You watch me!"- I told them, marching across the road, my friend running after me. In the end, our neighbourhood watch proved useless: a young girl opened the door, smiling- “That’s okay- she said- It was my brother and his friend”.

As we drove off, laughing, I was thinking of all the usual stuff I hear so often about the "western neighbours". How you cannot borrow salt from them, never know their names or say hello. How you cannot rely on their help, should something go wrong.

In Baku, my mother’s flat has been ours for a very long time. I still think fondly of the gray stone steps, high flights of stairs and the strong stench of urine.
After the second floor, things improved. On the third floor, a new family painted their section of the landing pale pink. On the fourth floor, a rich neighbour installed the mightiest ever security door, with lots of bolts and keyholes. On the fifth floor, we shared the landing with Mubik and his family. Mubik’s official name sounds a lot more impressive- Mubariz. However, to us he will always be simply Mubik.

We go a long way back, Mubik and us. When I was little, Mubik, then single and with more hair, shared the flat with his elderly parents. His father, a violin player, was a very quiet man. He had very thick lens glasses. I liked listening to the sounds of him practicing his violin through the stone walls. One evening, as my father and I were happily stuffing our faces with pelmeni, we heard a scream on our landing. A kind of scream that fills your heart with little sharp icicles. In Baku, when neighbours scream, we rush straight out- some people to help, some to watch. My mother told us to stay put and keep eating our dinner. She ran outside. It was Mubik’s mother. She kept gesturing towards the flat, grabbing my mother’s arm and pulling her along.

“Come, come quick!”- she kept repeating in Azeri.

It turned out that Mubik’s father, the violin player, hung himself. He and his blue tongue were hanging in the bathroom, to my mother’s horror. “Cut him off, cut him off! “his wife screamed and my mother obeyed. She cut off the rope and helped to drag the lifeless body into the room, call the police and hang out for whatever else was involved.

Many years passed since then. Mubik got married, lost a lot of hair and had a child, but our relationship is still close. To me, now foreign in so many ways, it seems a bit too close. Every time I fly back, I know that we will barely have time to catch up on our morning sleep after a night flight, when the doorbell will ring. Mubik will be standing in the doorway, an accusing look on his chabby face. However hard might my mother try to keep my arrival in secrecy, Mubik will know. He will demand my time and attention, and expect presents. He will ask me if my house is huge and my husband is rich. He will hope I use my old contacts and find him a new job. Baku neighbours are unique.

An English friend of mine and I were discussing this uniqueness of neighbourhood environment back in Baku, which can often be a nuisance, but can also be quite helpful. "I wonder- my friend suggested- if there are not as many kidnapped kids in Baku because someone is always watching?"

So yes, neighbours are,indeed, a lot more curious, watchful and often irritating back home. But I cannot agree that there is no concept of neighbourhood in the UK.

I guess it entirely depends on the area. I can borrow salt in our neighbourhood, trust me. I have asked for flour, eggs and other cooking ingredients from next door, and I know she would do the same. I was also told to “stop bloody asking and just cut some off”, should I need more rosemary from their front garden. Another neighbour knocked on my door when she saw a traffic warden issuing me with a parking ticket. It was my neighbours who brought us some champagne to celebrate our moving in. And last night, it was me and my local friend who were not prepared to just drive off to our drinks party and let some suspicious youngsters peep through ( OK, their own, but we had to check, right?) windows. So I can safely say that we are good over here. People still care. They might not cut the rope off if I ever decide to hang myself, but they would at least call the police.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Brokeback Mountain is no Elbrus.

I simply cannot resist.

I know I should not. I know it is mean. Also, who am I to judge?

But I physically cannot resist.

Today, at work, as you do, I finally had a moment to glance through the much talked about Artush and Zaur.

Before attempting to secretly print it out and risk getting sacked, I thought: 'Let’s just glance through and see if it is worth it?'

I read a few pages, and came to the scene of the two young lovers meeting -again. According to the author, they had been playing some very naughty games back in childhood. I am trying not to think what the author meant by “childhood”- not to get disturbing images in my already disturbed enough head. Neither of them, years after, was sure the other one would recognize him. That also seemed a bit strange to me. However old, fat or bald my ex lovers might be right now, I would hope I can still recognize them, should we ever accidentally meet again. That, of course, might have something to do with the fact that in my childhood, the naughtiest thing I had done was probably nick someone’s newspaper from an open mail box. Homosexual or, in fact, any-sexual love was not on my mind in my childhood days. But OK. Never mind that bit. More importantly, the author mentioned, fondly, that the lovers’ “keys” were much smaller back in those days. Right, moving on....

The scene of the main characters meeting again was kind of good. The passionate glances across the room, the tension, the agreement to meet back at the hotel.... I was curious and kept reading. Until I got to the actual sex scenes.

Brokeback Mountain can take a back seat. Move over and make space for a properly revealing gay love scene.

I personally have no problems with love scenes, gay or straight. Far from it! However, I could not fight the feeling that I was reading cheap porn. And no attempts to bring in the ideas of Armenian-Azeri peace; or the tragedy of the Bakuvians who no longer simmer in one big gay multicultural pot could distract me. Sorry. Porn.

But most importantly, what I thought was the funniest part is that the author clearly attempted for the love scene NOT to sound pornographic. He avoided the word penis, clearly assuming that if he replaced it with metaphors like a key or the mountain of Elbrus, it would make things a lot more....more...what? Romantic? Sexy? Erotic?

And no, I am not going to spare you the details. This bit was my favourite, and I am dying, absolutely dying here to share it with you.

I shall attempt a translation. Please remember! This is not my choice of words.

Yesterday, as soon as he saw the open peach of the loved one, he got overwhelmed and cried. Hot tears fell upon his ready for an attack dagger. And Artush sunk the dagger, wet from tears, up to its handle in Zaur’s sheath. And now he was upset: “Oh why did I not use Vaseline, or at least, cream? Why be so rough? Yes, tears are sacred (eh? ) but cannot replace the cream! No, they cannot! “

I know this book was a brave move somewhere like Azerbaijan. I know it is controversial and therefore, must be appreciated. Maybe? the author tried to use the old One Thousand and One Nights style language to add an Eastern touch to his novel- a good way to make it more exotic. Maybe, I am just a girl and my understanding of what is erotic is totally different.

All I remember from reading this book are the daggers, teeny-weeny keys, the Elbrus mountain ready to erupt and... peaches. Which, sadly, used to be one of my favourite fruits. Until now.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Two very raw chickens

My mother was fuming today.

She was throwing a dinner party for her girlfriends.

Having spent years between the two countries, my mother wanted to impress her friends with a simple, yet elegant meal-English style. Some light salad to start with, followed by a shoulder of lamb with vegetables. A lemon meringue pie to finish. And some G&T to wash it all down with. Lovely.

“And they.... she said- they just insult me like that!”

So what could those pleasant ladies do that upset my mother so badly?

“They brought me chickens”- she said. The skype connection can play up at times, so I had to ask her to repeat. They brought her chickens. Two raw chickens.

I love it when people do something so bizarre. Something so unexplainably bizarre that it does not fit in any category of the weird human behaviour that I have ever heard of.

Why would anyone come to a dinner party and bring two raw chickens? My mother reckons it is because the woman wanted to humiliate her. To be honest, I tried but could not think of any explanation to assure her that it was meant as a good gesture. Thank you for inviting me to your dinner party. Here is some raw poultry for you. Just in case you had no money to buy any meat for tonight. Or, perhaps tomorrow, when you have nothing to eat (because you had spent all your money cooking this nice meal for us) you could make yourself a chicken soup. I guess, that makes sense. If you are crazy.

In an attempt to reassure her,I reminded my mother of some of my Azeri friends here, in the UK, who would often show up at my house with bags of food. And then get busy in my kitchen chopping up some tomatoes and herbs and brewing tea. At first, I was not sure how to take that. I could, of course, view it as a lack of trust. They know that there is no hope to eat anything tasty at my place, so they had to bring their own food. But I learned to appreciate my friends’ offerings. They bring stuff from Russian and Turkish shops. Tea leaves and flat bread, special Russian style gherkins and herrings...stuff I miss and cannot easily get. And, knowing them, I know it is not meant as an insult.

But there is, indeed, something about the way some people can put you down.

The other day, my child was invited to a birthday party by someone in her class. I did not really know the mother or the girl, but my child was keen to go and I phoned back for directions.

“I live three houses down from the pub”.- the mother told me in a pleasant tone.

I knew the pub. On the right hand side there were tiny, or if you are an estate agent, cosy cottages. On the left hand side, however, there was this one magnificent house. The one I always referred to as “the dream one”. I asked if their house was three houses towards the tool shop. Which would mean one of those cosy cottages. And this is the moment when some other woman would have allowed herself a little superior laugh. But not this one. She did not laugh. Neither did she say:
"Oh, no, my dear. It is that F- off big house you all drive past and wish you had".

No, she did not mention any of that. She simply said it was in the other direction.
It is a yellow house”- she said.

Yellow. That is what I call a proper lady. I bet she would never show up at somebody’s house with a raw chicken or two. You see, if she were this one Azeri friend I used to have, she would have said something that would make me realize straight away just how expensive and big that house was. The friend who once asked me if she, her visiting brother, the brother’s child and her husband could visit me on a Tuesday night. I used to work full time at a new job then and would get pretty tired by the time I made it home, to suburbs, from the city. I told her that of course, they could. But since it was a Tuesday night and I was tired, I could only offer something simple for a meal. Not the Azeri style feast.

"Oh.- she said- Oh....Can you not cook a proper meal?"

I will buy the ingredients”- she said.

So yes, she was the kind of friend who would have, indeed, shown up with some raw poultry. You might have noticed I said a friend I used to have. I am getting old these days and realizing that I don’t actually have to be friends with people who bring raw chickens to my dinner parties. I can afford to let them go.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Part III is out now..

In case you missed is the end of the story...

(Unless you tried to miss it...)

I noticed a couple of typos, but I guess it happens.

Monday, 1 February 2010

No porn, please, mother of mine!

So guess what. Behold! Elated by some friendly and encouraging comments from the very first short story, I have decided to try another one. I know, some of you probably think “Oh, God please no, no!!”.....But some might enjoy it, right? I mean, thousands of people enjoy Dan Brown? And what about Twilight? I secretly read them all. Under the cover, when nobody was watching.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you what happens when you try to involve your family in the development of the plot. The very first person, of course, was my mother. She has always taken the keenest interest in anything I ever put on paper (or rather, a computer screen).

I told her I was writing this sex scene.... (Oh, yes, my friends. There is a sex scene in this one) and I wanted to demonstrate certain sides of the main character’s personality, without getting too explicit.
I don’t want it to turn into soft porn.” -I told her.

The next morning, during our regular webcam chat, my mother announced, excitedly, that she thought of a perfect scenario. Just perfect, she said. And then she proceeded to tell me what she had in mind.

Mother of mine! - I exclaimed in shock- What part of "no porn" did you not understand?

Honestly. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say.

I later decided to get my (visiting) father-in-law to read the first draft.

“His personality is not developed properly...- he told me afterwards. - He needs to do something know, dramatic to draw the reader’s attention to himself.”

-Maybe, you need to get him to do something really nasty? - He suggested helpfully- Something that would make us realize how weird he is?

-But he is not weird!?- I said, laughing- He might not be very nice but is a pretty regular kind of guy.

Don’t you always think that older people, especially your older people, have respectable and innocent thoughts in their heads? But no. My mother seems to want me to write porn, and my father in law is clearly hoping for a rape at the very least, and maybe even a murder. Not necessarily in that order.

In the end, I decided it was me who had to work on it, alone. Well, not entirely alone. But with my character, perhaps not a very nice guy, but not a murderer or a porn star. But yet, alive in my head, talking and walking, going for an early morning run....It is quite fun.

Oh, and while we are on the short story subject, here is the Part II of the first story in Women's Forum.