Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dude, where is my car?

The reasons I think I might be suffering from dementia, which will result in a very sad, lonely old age in a home.

Episode 1. About two plastic folders.

At work, I had a tedious project. I decided to finish it on my working from home day. I thought it would feel great, when my boss gets all sarcy on me and says ‘Oh, had a nice day off, didn’t we? I could shove a finished report right under his nose: There, get this, you evil slave owner!

So, I stuffed all the relevant notes  into an A4 size plastic folder and made a mental note not to forget it.  At the end of the working day, I left the office and got downstairs, walked all the way to the parking lot and only then remembered that I, of course, forgot the folder on my desk. I went back and got it. Having driven home, I left it in the car.

The next morning, I was taking my child to school. I was supposed to take back yet another plastic folder. They used to give us those story sacks, filled with annoying little toys and a book. We were given one every Thursday, to be returned the following Wednesday. Knowing I would forget, I lent it against the front door. However, once in the car, I realized that it was still in the house and had to go back for it. The folder made it to the school, but got left behind in the car. 

I managed to again forget the work folder at home the next morning but, fortunately, remembered before I drove off, and went back for it. I then got to work, and left it in the car. By then, if I could nail it to my chest, I would. 

The school story sack with plastic cows and ducklings remained in the car for at least another week.  If you think I might have exaggerated this story to emphasise the point, you are, sadly, mistaken.

Episode 2. About black leggings.

I have decided, looking at my legs in the mirror, that I needed more leggings.  The Topshop pair I bought a while ago seemed to be a lot better than the other, cheaper version, so I decided to get another one. So, imagine my shock when, while putting a newly purchased pair away in the chest of drawers , I noticed a totally identical pair. I stared at it, and looked at the label. TOPSHOP, it said. Same length, same size. It was as if I was having a bad dream. Because, however hard I tried, I could not recollect buying it. I must have done though, unless it is all an evil ploy by Husband to slowly drive me into insanity by placing various unexpected objects all over the house for me to find. 

Episode 3. Dude, where is my car?

One Saturday morning Husband wanted the car seat out of my car. ‘Where is your car?’ He asked and I got annoyed. I mean, where could it possibly be? Why can’t he look past the end of his nose? 

Sometimes, when some inconsiderate neighbours park in my space, I have to go a few meters down the road. 

But the car was nowhere, not up not down the road that morning. It simply varnished.

'You must remember where you left your car?' Husband pressed on, in a very infuriating fashion. 

I could not. I tried to divert the blame on to him but failed as he quickly pointed out that I was, indeed, the last person to use it the day before. In the end, I had to trace the events of the day before to figure out the location of the abandoned Skoda. I took the child to school, I went for a coffee with some friends, I met with my mother and we walked home...The car was left near the coffee shop. In the 2hrs maximum stay area. Which normally would result in a ticket and a fine, but because God loves demented people and feels sorry for them, I miraculously got away with it. Or, more realistically, because the traffic wardens skived off for the day. 

Now, what I am saying is...maybe I did hold that sad bugger’s hand? Oh, and if I ever held your hand and you think I might have forgotten please do let me know.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Some friendship thoughts inspired by high temperature

A friend in need's a friend indeed,
A friend with weed is better...

(Placebo, Pure Morning)

It feels like it has been an awfully long time. I simply had nothing in my head, to be honest. Been busy feeling sorry for myself. Of course, as soon as the school started, my child brought back a nasty cold.  I thought I managed to avoid catching it, but last night, without any warning, had a high fever and a very sore throat.

For some reason, feeling sorry for myself made me think about this Russian friend of mine who has just returned from another country. Her husband had to remain behind for another month, due to some contractual obligations at work; and she ended up moving back with two children, one of which is still a very young baby. Alone, to sort everything out, while breastfeeding and not sleeping enough.

I felt sorry for her , and wondered what I could do to help. ‘Can I do some shopping for you?’ I asked, since she had no car. ‘Could I bring you a hot dinner one day for a couple of days so you don’t have to cook?’ I felt bad that I lived quite far and had my own commitments. 

As it happens, we also have a mutual friend from Baku living in London. Her life is as different from mine or this other girl’s as you can imagine. She is single, likes to go clubbing every Friday night and snowboarding every weekend.

I called her to check if she knew this friend of ours came back to the UK. 

She got excited. ‘Oh, great! She is back! Let’s go drink some vodka!’

‘She is very tired’ I said ‘as she is on her own with two children for a month.’ 

I thought that maybe? this single friend, with no family of her own, would find some time to visit our mutual friend and maybe? also offer her some help.

‘Oh, I see..’ The single friend said. ‘When will we go out to drink some vodka then?’

'Well...' I said 'I don’t think she is quite in the vodka drinking state right now. She has a 4 months old baby and she is still breastfeeding.’

‘Oh. Well, let me know when we can go out then. To drink some vodka ! Ha-ha!’

I gave up.

And why I told you this, you might wonder. Well, no reason, really. I have just been thinking about people, you know? How different we all are, and how we view friendship. Some of us feel guilty they can’t help more, and some of us are just there to party with.  And you know what? Sometimes we love the ones who are only there to party with  more than the ones who are always there to help. Such is human nature.

Back to being sick now.  

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Thing.


Some thing is nesting somewhere inside my bedroom wall.

At first, I thought the noise was probably just coming from upstairs, where my mother was staying at the time. You see, we have an attic conversion, which means nothing can nest in the roof’s eaves or wherever nesting usually occurs. But then again, what would I know about the usual nesting places?

My worst experience back home was probably the rats in the basement of our apartment block. Whenever I came home late in the evening, I would walk into the block and make as much noise as I could; stamping and clapping and, often, would see a rat whooshing past me.

But now, I live in countryside. There is wild life all around me and I am not too familiar with its habits and the noises it makes. In Baku the only noise at night were the road police shouting in their megaphones; and the  car wheels screeching as the drunken youth sped away.

So, when I first heard the crumbling, rustling kind of noise in the wall behind my bed, I thought it was my mother up in the attic, doing something at 5am.

Slightly annoyed, I got up and tip toed upstairs, to ask if there was any particular reason she was trying to wake me up. Poor mother, of course, was soundly asleep.

So, after we established it was not her, we realized it was someone else.

The noise was pretty disturbing and always happened in the very early hours of the morning. It sounded like someone was trying to build (or demolish?) something inside the wall right behind my head.

I applied a process of deduction.

You see, whilst husband, the child and I were away for a few days, my mother reported seeing a baby creature of some bizarre origin she did not recognize. She said it was pretty big, without any wings, but with four legs and a trapeze shaped head.

Mother said it must have fallen from the top of the house somewhere, as it landed straight into the dog’s bed she left in the garden early in the morning. Concerned the dog would eat the creature, she quickly picked up the mat it was on, and threw the trapeze headed baby into the bushes, never to be seen again.

None of it sounded good to me.

You must have a cavity somewhere…’ My boss pointed out.

I was not sure if this question was a good harassment material, but decided to let it drop. It is a tough job market out there at the moment. The wall, I corrected, might have some sort of a cavity. I just can’t imagine where, and how to catch whoever it is constructing something inside it.

'I bet it is a rat!' I said. But the boss, feeling guilty about the cavity comment, assured me that the chances of it being a rat are slim. Rats like to move inside houses in London only because they have no better places to live, he explained patiently. Since you have a nice countryside around you, it probably is not a rat, but a squirrel. Call the council.

I called the council. 'Are you sure it is a squirrel?' they asked. 'Because, if it turns out to be a bird, we can’t get rid of it. Birds are protected.'

No, I was not sure. I was only basing my assumptions on the evidence given by my mother and the noise the creature was making. Then, someone kindly pointed out that it could also be a glis glis.

I never before heard of such a thing, so had to Google it. Incredibly cute. Except for the litter of 11 and being partial to the house wiring. The problem with glis glis is of course is that they are also protected.

After a few more nights of waking up at 4:30, I told Husband we had no choice but to set up some poisonous trap on the garage roof. Without telling the council, of course. Would not want to get in trouble for murdering the protected animals. Yet, after weeks of disturbed sleep, I was ready to kill whatever it was and eat its babies.

And then, without any warning or culmination, the noise just stopped.

'It hatched' Husband announced thoughtfully.

Last night a different kind of noise, also of a definitely organic nature, broke the peaceful silence outside. It kept repeating for a while as we lay there, wondering what it could be. In the end, we agreed it was possibly an agonizing cow being tortured somewhere in a field nearby. By whatever hatched in our wall.

Oh, I miss the crazy Baku road police.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Shall we go back to my....Lada?

We are watching Clerks tonight. Exciting! I have watched Clerks II possibly 157 times but never saw Clerks. You have got to watch Clerks II- if only for the expression “Interspecies Erotica”.

So here we are again. The summer was officially over (not that we had any) this morning when we had to switch on the central heating.

My mother went back home after a....let’s just say  reasonably lengthy visit. Last week, at the school gate, a local mummy asked me how long my mother stayed this time and was genuinely horrified.

'I would not let my mother stay with me for a week, let alone that long!' She exclaimed. 'I can’t stand anyone in my kitchen! The only person allowed to cook in my kitchen is me!' She said.

I laughed. I love people to cook for me. I will happily allow anyone, whether it is the mother in law or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to cook, bake and wash up in my kitchen as often as they’d like! Not a problem. I am quite generous like that.

I was then thinking -what is wrong with me? You see, it does not annoy me when my mother lives with us for a couple of months. Even having my in-laws staying here does not annoy me. I understand that it should. I mean, husband and I might need occasional privacy. What if we want to lounge around naked all day, or throw a wild swinging party? But no, it never annoys me.

Thinking about it, I was wondering if a big part of my tolerance of the parents in the house comes from the custom of living with them in Baku. Normally we all stayed at home until we married, if not for a while after. Not every young married couple could afford a place of their own, and there were (I doubt there are now?) no mortgages to take.

Back in my Baku years, I only knew one girl who lived separately from her parents and had her own flat; but that was only because she was a divorcee and had her own money, which meant she was not asking anyone, including her parents, how to live her life. However, I have recently heard of quite a few independent unmarried Azeri girls getting their own places, and moving out to live on their own.

Of course, I strongly suspect that a large part of this old custom to live with parents comes from the idea that one should not have sex before marriage. Especially the girls. Living under the same roof as their watchful fathers and ever-suspicious mothers, the girls had to invent clever ways of sneaking about.

I remember one of my cousins, a very traditional Azeri girl, applying make-up in the dark apartment block, in a hurry before her dates; and then quickly removing it all before coming home in the evening. Kind of normal when you are 13. Not really when you are in your mid twenties.

So I am thrilled to hear that things are changing. I mean, good for you, the new generation of Azeri women! A bit sad though that there will be no more heavy petting on park benches as early as six am (personally witnessed while walking the dog on a number of occasions- in good weather only, of course) ; or semi-naked almost-a–virgin behaviour in the back of Ladas in isolated dark alleyways.

In a way, having sex whenever you want in the comfort of your own apartment is almost as boring as wearing make-up without having to hide it from your Muslim dad. Where is the challenge in that? I am not even mentioning how distressing it must be for all those plain clothes policemen whose main source of income were the bribes from young couples they caught canoodling in parks. But overall, a good change, I say. Freedom is coming your way, my young Azeri friends. Just be careful how you use it.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Nope to The Pope!

How is this possible?

Today, on my day off, I was mucking about at home with the telly on in the background, like a proper Azeri. We like having our tellies on, even if we are not watching them.

And of course, the Pope is here. And of course, his arrival took over the news. It is like this country has nothing better to talk about. Great, they thought, we have some old man to fill the airtime! For hours, the BBC covered his visits to the catholic schools in London.

Of course, I have questions! How can I not?

Let me ask you. If there was some other- any other!- person who knew his friends were raping small boys, but never reported the fact to the police... (He might have thought those friends could be cured through counselling or heavy praying.) What do you think would happen to this guy when the police found out he knew?

The man is an accessory after the fact- however you look at it. The guy helped to conceal what some of his colleagues did, worrying more about the reputation of the organization than about the abused children.

What kind of the God representative (isn't it what he claims to be?) thinks it is OK to do so? Is there, can there be any excuse for this?

That really is my question.

But, I also wanted to ask a very happy looking black woman singing a beautiful song for the Pope: Have you not heard what one of the Pope’s cardinals said? That landing in London felt like landing in some third-world country? You do realize that he is referring to the multi-cultural, multi-racial face of the city, right? Do you honestly not think the guy was being openly racist? How can you be happy to stand there and sing enthusiastically to the man who thinks condoms do not help AIDS but make the problem worse? How can you sing a song to a man who would deny you an abortion even if you were brutally raped?

We have an Italian guy at work, our admin assistant.

'Tell me', I asked the other day, 'Are you Catholic?'

'What do you think?' He said, laughing. He always laughs at whatever I say. Must be my accent.

'Well', I said 'I don’t want to assume anything. Yes, you might be from Italy, but I am from Azerbaijan. Majority of Azeries are Muslims, but I am not. So I am asking you a simple question. Are you or are you not?'

'Why?' he wanted to know.

'Well..' I said, pointing to an article in Metro on my desk 'I just wanted to know how it made you feel reading about it all in the news? Do you feel upset by it all?'

'You know', he replied 'I have more important things in life to worry about than the Pope!'

Fair enough, I thought. I just wanted to know-
How is this even possible? All of it, really.

The admin assistant just shrugged his shoulders and went back to work.

I won’t be attending the Protest the Pope marches. I am not a marching type. But I am glad some people are.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Hello from Zemfira!

A little while ago I received a comment on this blog from an Italian fellow asking how to tell if the emails he was getting from an Azeri girl were a scam.

I already told you before about a supposedly Azeri girl who emailed a friend of mine.

Well, as some of you correctly pointed out, the village Zemfira the girlfriend claimed to be living in is actually currently occupied by Armenia.

So, having been blamed and shamed for not knowing the basic facts on occupation of the Azeri land, I decided to question our friend Zemfira, to see if she would respond.

'Hey' there, gorgeous' I replied, pretending to be her dream ( never seen or met before) boyfriend. 'I heard that your village is now Armenian and not Azeri anymore- is that true?'

I got a response quite quickly, but of course, there was no mention of the village. Instead, the girl focused on herself.  Here it is for you to enjoy fully. I have highlighted the best bits for you.

Hello! Again, I'm glad to run an internet cafe and wish you good day. 

How's the weather with you? And how is your mood today? I want you to
tell me more about it. I am so happy now to come here and watch your
response. But I beg you, please write me long letters, and often send
your photos. Since I'm also trying to write to you more detail about
everything. And I want to know you better. And I do not care, factors
such as age, color, religion, political views ...... you understand
me? " Yet if I had a phone, then I would have called you immediately.
But I do not have a phone in my house, so I feel so sorry for this. I
can still hear your voice. But I think that soon I will be able to
call you. My parents house has a telephone. But I do not want him to
go now. You understand me ?????????? Thus, it is important now: soon I
will be to ask your phone number to call. But until then I can not.

Very sorry for me. I still know how to use my e-mail. Receiving a
letter from you and send back. So, I just want to ask you that we do
not hurry with anything. I want to have pleasure with the letters. In
our country we say: haste makes waste. I very much stick to those
words. As our acquaintance still at an early stage now. And I would
not want to rush things. I want to recognize you from all sides more
each time. That is, I want to ask any questions you, and also receive
honest answers. And also you can say whatever you want. I want to say
that I am looking for a serious relationship. Because here, in
Azerbaijan, I can not get it. My father had 2 times I tried to look
for her husband. But I told my father always - I do not want you to be
searching for my husband. I do not want to live without love, because
it is wrong. And so I have a conflict with my parents. I live on them
separately and do not want to go back to their house. I respect my
parents, but I will not tolerate the fact that they crawl into my
life. You also understand that? Have you ever been so?? I would like
to change my life and live in a country where there is no vulgar law.
Where life and marriage - free. So no one forced a woman to marry by
force. I can not now, and they even think about it. I'll tell you that
I have a sister. Who lives in Armenia now. There are also some
unpleasant tradition - and she married a man not for love. And now it
is difficult to live, but it should. It's there as a slave with him,
and constantly at home, and makes all the hard work. And do not even
have free time - it's terrible! I am afraid to even think about it.
This is my only sister and I would have wished her a better life. But
she wanted to stay with her parents, and so it happened! And I'm here,
I live alone and would like to change everything. I work almost every
day, except Sundays - and then come home. In his spare time (my hobby)
- I love to cook to eat and do cleanup. This is also my various
And I love to imagine and compose herself. Actually, I love
myself all tried in this life. And it used to do everything herself! I
love talking to people on various topics and I can not just sit at
home. For example, I like it when the house my bed filled with
perfect, the floors are always clean and always fresh air. My house
faces the flowers, and I love it. Clean air is just they give! Tell me
please, you like to clean? I - very. And now I introduce myself to you
better, and I want it also continued. So you tried to write me every
day and never forget about me. I think that then we can talk about
more important things? How do you think? Also in my spare time I
listen to pop and dance music. But also, there are also Azeri music,
and they have a quiet melody. Under that you can smartly dance. Can
you dance? In our country there is a national national dance. Called
"LEZGINKA". Have you ever heard of this? Still, I was pleased to write
you this letter, and yet it would be nicer - to receive from you
tomorrow nice and interesting answer. I would like to know what you're
specifically looking for and what kind of girl? I will also try to
describe myself. I will miss your letter ... Zemfira!!!

She also sent quite a genuine looking photo- don’t you think? I assume that is an outdoor toilet behind her, but it could also be the internet cafe.

I have to admit, I was quite impressed by the sheer effort put into this scam. Clearly, whoever wrote the emails spent a long time composing them. They took photos and prepared everything in advance. And then they just keep sending them out, I assume, to a lot of naive western blokes, like our Italian friend.

I wish I had the time to lead this to the end, i.e. to the moment when she openly asked me to send her money for her ticket over, or something else along those lines.

But I just got bored..

Finally, to my Italian reader who had a similar email romance... I hope you read this, and I hope you have not sent your Azeri girl money for that ticket!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A hand in the dark

So, back to the original weird American.

As I said, it is not really about how weird or not he is as a person. Some people act weird when placed in a weird situation. And the situation was, indeed, odd.

Imagine two young, reasonably attractive (so I say so myself) single girls. One Azeri and one American. On their way to Moscow, for a little city break.

Now, imagine my shock when my friend suddenly announced (pretty much last minute) that a colleague of hers was joining us. A male colleague.

Not only did he join us, he also shared the room with us. I repeat that again: the three of us. In one room.

There are a few important details worth mentioning.

My friend was not dating that guy. I never realized they were such close friends, to share a trip together, let alone a hotel room. To me, that was a slightly strange thing to do. I would not normally offer to share a room with a guy unless I had some ulterior motives. My friend really did not have any ulterior thoughts about this guy. Just friendship.

But, I thought, those guys are Americans. Who knows? Maybe it is the norm in their country to be that friendly?

That happened about 12 years ago. Naturally, I have forgotten mostly everything about that trip. I can only remember that I was constantly annoyed with this guy. He sort of cramped our style. I just remember him not being much fun.

But he was a nice guy. And having returned to Baku determined to never speak to him again, I soon changed my mind. We had been on a trip together. That gives people a special bond, you know? You get to know each other pretty well in one week of living in one small hotel room.

So,12 years later, I found him on Facebook. We quickly added each other as friends and said hello a few times. And then, one night, sitting here, blogging as usual, I received a chat message from the guy. He brought up our trip to Moscow and was remembering things I could not remember even if you paid me.

‘Remember that night I shouted at you? I still feel terrible about that’ he said.
‘You shouted at me?’ I was getting somewhat confused by then.

‘Seriously?’ I asked ‘You shouted at me and got away with it?’

‘No!’ He added ‘Oh, no.... I did not get away with it. You did not hold my hand again after that.’

This was where I stopped blogging and focused on the chat. Hold his hand?

When, how, in which parallel universe, could I have possibly held his hand?

‘Yes’ he insisted. ‘You initiated it.’

He proceeded to explain that one night, when the three of us went to sleep, I reached out and took his hand.

‘No, no, no!’ I said. ‘I really could not have done that!’

What I really tried to avoid telling him was that I found him terribly irritating back then. And if I am not attracted to a man and find him terribly irritating, the chances of me holding any part of him are very slim!

He told me not to worry as it was a friendly gesture. Nothing intimate, nothing sexual. I just held his hand in the dark.

You know this feeling, when someone tells you something so creepy, so weird that you think the only way this could be explained is if one of you was mentally ill?

I tried to probe him for some more details. Was he sure it was me and not my American friend? Americans can be sentimental. Perhaps, in the middle of the night, in wild Russia, missing her cats, my friend felt lonely and afraid. Perhaps, she reached out and held his hand? Because I honestly did not.

But he would not explain any more. I would ask him a leading question and he would answer by asking something else. Like about Christine.

‘By the way, do you remember Christine in Baku? ‘ He asked.

‘No, why? ‘ I panicked ‘Did I hold her hand, too?’

‘No’ he said. ‘Just curious.’

At that point, I realized that not only I was pretty sure I never did hold his hand, I now remembered precisely why I could have never done.

At least, I thought, logging off from the chat, I should be grateful that, in his delusional world, holding hands was the only thing he imagined us doing. It really is kind of disturbing what some people believe happened when it actually did not. Besides, it would have been creepy enough if it did happen, and he still remembered after 12(!!!) years. Let alone when it never did.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

One weird American. Oh, yes. Part I

Actually, this is where I paused for a second, and realized, that before I tell you a funny story about one weird American guy I met, I have to tell you this one. Because I remembered that the guy I was originally going to tell you about was not the only weird American I have met. He was not really weird either. It is more like the situation which was weird. But I will let you be the judges of that. Next time.

Also, I am not trying to stereotype here. Net, net, net! I adore Americans. I love those accents.

But I have just realized that these are two little stories, not one.

Once, a long, long time ago- and I have to emphasise this, as I am a respectable married woman- when I was very young and very single, I met this American guy from an NGO in Baku. I had two worlds I used to live in. One was my job, with people who made decent money and liked to party accordingly. And another one was the NGO crowd. They wore baggy t-shirts and strappy sandals and counted socks. The sock counters. That, by the way, is entirely my expression. I created it, and I take a full credit for it, since it is priceless.
My American girlfriend, whom I mentioned before on this blog, was working for one of those NGO’s and I always probed her about what it was that they actually did there. To me, an outsider, it looked like they had a huge number of coloured socks and wooden boxes, hand crafted by the refugees all over the country, which they counted and re-counted and then sold at charity events. That is how I started calling her, and her colleagues the sock counters. The sock counters were my other bunch, the one I hung out with in the time free from the oil company people.

Back to the point though.

Once, on a trip to a little Azeri village I would have never have gone to, if not dragged by the sock counters for a sock counting event of some description, I met a handsome young (American) guy. Everything was very handsome about him, except one thing. He was chewing tobacco.

I was a smoker then, so I told myself, as I watched him in a dimmed summer light, holding a beer can in one hand and an empty Coke bottle in another, that there was not really anything that different between someone who smoked Marlboro lights and someone chewing tobacco. Right?

Well, the coke bottle was not entirely empty. The reason he was holding on to it all night while drinking and chatting to everybody was that he kept spitting the chewed up tobacco inside it.

But. I thought... well, you know. The guy is cute. And a sock-counter, which, I guess, is a nice, noble occupation.

He was not based in Baku, which complicated things and, at first, we spent hours just talking on the phone. He had a beautiful accent. Finally he had a break from the sock counting duties, and came to Baku for a day. He asked me out and everything went really well.

I am not going to bother describing the events one by one. You have been on dates, you know what happens. I liked him. More importantly, I fancied him. And I don’t easily fancy people. But here is the thing. When we finally got very up close and personal, he would not go any further. I had never before had that situation in life, and was not sure what the hell was going on. I mean, what was his problem?

Such was my luck, that when I met someone I fancied, he was...well, restraining himself. Why, I wanted to know? I mean, come on! I had to step over the whole chewingtobaccospittingitintoacokebottle element for you, dude! Surely, you were attracted to me enough to be with me up to that moment. What else did you want to do with me, once alone? Count socks?

It turned out, he was saving himself. He was religious, you see, (I have always had bad experience when it came to religion) and wanted to be able to tell his future wife who he had been with without "feeling embarrassed about it", he said. Hold on a second, I thought. Embarrassed?

What, may I ask, was embarrassing about me? That I was Azeri? That he was not in a serious enough relationship with me? That he was never intending to be in any relationship with me?

I did not wait to find out. Next time he was in town and called me as if nothing happened, I told him I was busy going out on a proper date. And guess what, I really was. With my future husband.

Monday, 6 September 2010


Years ago, my father was on his way back to Baku from a small town in Russia, where he had spent a year working on a contract. He had made some money and was bringing it back home. In Moscow, where he had a few hours to kill between the flights, he met a zemlyak. A compatriot. My father was very excited to spend a few hours with someone from Baku. What a great coincidence, right?

When he woke up, he did not know where he was. His briefcase and the suitcase were stolen and all that zemlyak (sympathetically) left him with were the passport and the ticket. Also, whatever zemlyak had added into my father’s beer that day poisoned him for weeks.

So you are thinking what a stupid man! Why would he trust someone he does not know? Well, because people tend to relax when they meet their fellow countrymen abroad.

I don’t have that problem.

When I took mother to Paris for a long weekend a few years ago, we sat down for a coffee when two women joined our table. They overheard us speak Russian and assumed they were welcome to sit with us. They were chatty and friendly, but on my way to the bathroom I told my mum in my broken Azeri to watch my handbag. They were also getting ready to leave without paying their bill. I stopped the waiter and told him they were not really with us. Mother was impressed. ‘How did you know?’ She said.

Well, to start with, I don’t assume people are my friends just because they happen to speak the same language in a foreign country. Besides,those two women were rough. Everything about them was asking for them to be locked in prison. Also, they wanted to know if my English husband was beating me up, or forced me to sleep with other people. That sort of gave them away as extraterrestrials.

However, I noticed that people abroad often turn to their fellow countrymen for friendship and advice. I was fascinated when I visited a friend recently. She lives in London but everybody around her is from Russia, Ukraine, or some other Russian speaking country. Her nanny is Russian, her cleaner is Russian, even someone her cleaner recommended to fix something in her flat is Russian. I thought it was...well, just different. Why does she feel the need to surround herself with fellow countrymen? I wondered if she felt they would give her a better deal or a better service? Did she trust them more than the locals or other foreigners?

Because, I don’t think she should.

A lot of zemlyaks we meet here, in London, are really quite dodgy. Also, there is this element of being from different planets. Like those two women in Paris. Some of us had it easy. We either had met someone, fell in love and happened to relocate, or just got relocated by our employer. We assimilated easily and got normal jobs and mortgages, just like thousands of other people. But some had it tough. They are, so to speak, proper immigrants. They lied and stole and burned bridges to escape their reality. They have hard lives and get forced into prostitution by their husbands they had met on the Internet. They are out there fighting for survival, with their teeth and claws. And the last thing they are thinking is that you are their best friend just because you happen to be their zemlyak. Just because we speak the same language does not make us all the same. In fact, looking at people my friend surrounded herself with, I could not help but think that we could not be further apart.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Introducing the Arrogant Atheist T-shirts

Apologies to those of you who might not appreciate this...But I had to share. Because I thought these were great. Personally, can't decide between this one...

and this one.....

I reckon I should get both and wear them around the village. The first one is going to get me a lot of local friends.

Husband wants a BBQ apron.

Oh, and if anyone wants to get them, here is the link!

Back with a proper posting soon. Promise. Just been busy and tired, and a bit more tired and chut-chut more busy....

But tomorrow is a special day. The BIG school starts. As a very good mother I am thrilled. Because I will now have no child until 3:15pm! That is a whole day of freedom! Before, I had a choice: I could either have a coffee with a friend or do some shopping, or go to the gym. Now, I can actually go to the gym and have a coffee. See what I mean? Total freedom.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

A Foot Massage Parlour

Vincent: Have you ever given a foot massage?
Jules: [scoffs] Don't be tellin' me about foot massages. I'm the foot fuckin' master.
Vincent: Given a lot of 'em?
Jules: Shit yeah. I got my technique down and everything, I don't be ticklin' or nothin'.
Vincent: Would you give a guy a foot massage?
[Jules gives Vincent a long look, realizing he's been set up]
Jules: Fuck you.
Vincent: You give them a lot?
Jules: Fuck you.
Vincent: You know, I'm getting kinda tired. I could use a foot massage myself.
Jules: Man, you best back off, I'm gittin' a little pissed here.
(Pulp Fiction)

I was watching The Libertines reunited on telly the other night and noticed something that I thought was super cute. Carl grabbed Pete around the neck and sort of hugged him in this friendly-brotherly fashion. This act caught my attention because it was so natural, so emotional and somehow very… not British.

If I happen to sit next to my mother on the sofa, she would often rub my feet or back. (This is one of the reasons I keep her here for ages whenever she visits)
Husband says it is like sitting in a massage parlour. He thinks it is very bizarre that my mother happily massages my feet or hugs me so often. ‘Constantly gropes you’, he corrects. Whatever!

You see, English people do not usually cuddle or kiss, or hug each other, unless it leads to sex.

And, thinking of that, I suddenly realized that, having been married for quite a long time, I have never really seen my mother in law hug Husband. Yes, she would give him a kiss hello, or a kiss goodbye, a happy birthday or a Merry Christmas one. But not just a hug. And, I would like to point out, that husband is very close to his mother. But not so close that she would massage his feet, which I have to admit, I would find somewhat disturbing.

OK, I get the foot massage aspect. But what about a hug?

‘I am middle-aged! We grow out of that!’ Husband said. Why should anyone have to ever grow out of being hugged by their parent?

It never occurred to me before how weird our touchy-feely attitude must appear to the Brits. My mother and I might walk arm in arm or hold hands in public. I wonder if we look like a slightly odd lesbian couple. But it is not only Azeris who like to hug a lot. My American girlfriend is very different from any of my British friends. She would snuggle up to me or happily walk arm in arm. In fact, I remember sitting on the old sofa in her Baku apartment, rubbing each other’s feet, drinking Bailey’s and watching Friends.

I can’t even imagine what reaction I would get from my British girlfriends if I suddenly reached over and started rubbing their feet, or decide to snuggle up to them on a couch. (Not that I have any urge to do so). I bet it would paralyze them with fear. And, having lived in the UK for ten years, I forget what it is like outside the British norms. Having my mother visit, or going to NY to stay with my American girlfriend shifts something in my head and forces me to reprogram. And yet, living here has clearly had some impact on how I view personal space. Whenever I go back home, I get alarmed when people stand too close to me in shops, reaching over and pushing forward. I find it strange when my cousin tries to hook her arm through mine while taking a stroll in a park. And I definitely don’t want to massage anyone’s feet, unless....well, unless they belong to my little girl.