Wednesday, 30 March 2011

'Size matters', said the Blue Whale to the Common Shrew

I need to confess that my humour is that of a 12 year old boy. Things that I find funny are so often crude and immature. Fortunately, I don’t like fart jokes or other forms of toilet humour. However, I realize that what I consider funny has no place in a lady’s mind.

You can sometimes get a glimpse of this 12-year old boy trapped in the 35+ year old woman’s body when you hear about some of the movies I enjoy watching.

At work, I happily exchange quotes from Don’t Mess With The Zohan with our young male secretary when nobody else understands, and laugh over and over again. The reason other people don’t understand is because they are mature and sensible. Movies like Don’t Mess With The Zohan are not their idea of fun.

'You must watch Due Date!' the secretary tells me, and I advice him not to miss The Other Guys.

And then, Husband tells me I don’t read enough news. He says I am not interested in what is going on in the world. That is totally untrue! I do and I am. Only yesterday for example, I was excited to learn the fact that the female blue whale is the species with the biggest vagina. Allegedly, it measures between 1.8 and 2.4 meters in length. In comparison, the whole of me is only 1.64 meters, and that is if I stand up straight.

That (pretty cool) fact got me thinking further about stuff. I wondered how well endowed a male blue whale must be. Of course, I had to Google it. Which turned out to be pointless as, of course, impossible to know. The only way to find out would be to measure it whilst the blue whale is… you know, excited. Which I assume nobody but the female blue whale would dare to a) provoke b) investigate. They can only assume that it is around 2.4 meters long.

‘Did you know?’ I followed husband around the kitchen ‘that the smallest penis belongs to a common shrew?’ Husband looked at me with what was almost a sad expression. He must often ask himself what it would be like to have a normal wife.

‘But listen,’ I added, still hoping to impress him with my knowledge. ‘Did you know about the spiny anteater? Well, a spiny anteater has a 4- headed penis. Interestingly, he does not use all four heads at once, but can use a different set of two every time!’

 ‘No, I did not know that.’  Husband said ‘But I suggest you Google Koala and Komodo dragons’. So I, of course, did. Never knew they had two penises each!

But, that is some fascinating stuff! No wonder my respectable in-laws watch endless nature programs on TV.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Happy Novruz, or some very scary Azeri males.

Okay, if you are not Azeri  and are not very familiar with Azeries in general, you will see this photo and think something terrible must have happened. Perhaps, someone important died? Or, maybe, it is a yet another demonstration somewhere in the Middle Eastern part of the world?

 But really, this is not an image from a war zone, but from a very happy event. 

The photos are by Onnik Krikorian, taken in Marneuli, a mainly ethnic Azeri town in Georgia, at the Novruz celebrations this year. And Novruz is a happy holiday, a celebration of the spring. Honest!

I just wondered, looking at these faces, why in some cultures, young men consider it cool to look this moody and angry? Just for a split second, I had this bizarre image of suddenly being dumped into the middle of that crowd of the black leather clad Azeri males. Trust me, that was not a welcome thought. 

And I am lost for words. I guess, I am wondering why those guys look the way they do. Are they really unhappy? Depressed? Poor? Angry? Hungry? With severe learning disabilities? Inbred?

Thankfully, moving down the page, I found more appealing faces, young girls holding the traditional grass on the plate, old men playing music, even occasional smiles... which I decided to share with you as well, just for a balanced view, so to speak. But really, I was simply horrified by the first photo. Too bloody depressing, if you ask me. Especially, for these young girls in the village. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Would you like some ashes? Sorry, wrong

I was having a coffee with a friend the other day and we laughed so hard and so often that if you saw us, you would probably assume we must have been talking about something very happy, or funny, or a bit of both.

But in reality, the things we discussed were really quite sad. We talked about her relative, who is suffering from a very bad form of cancer, and is probably not going to last long. We talked about my dog getting put down. We talked about the concept of death and children, and how they cope with it. Nothing to laugh about, surely, unless you are utterly mad?

It started when I was telling this friend that, because we don’t believe in heaven, we had to explain to our daughter where the dogs actually go when they die. Since the pet crematorium is up in Cambridge, that was what Husband told my little girl. So, as far as my poor child is concerned, dead pets don’t go to heaven, but end up in this sad place called Cambridge. She took it well, but I do wonder if the fear of Cambridge will emerge in some form at some point in the future; should any of us need to go there for any reason. So, we laughed at that.

We then discussed whether there was any point in keeping the ashes. Last time I visited this friend’s house, she showed me two jars with ashes of her pets, which she, somewhat unexpectedly for me, produced from the kitchen cupboard. I was not quite sure why the pets’ ashes would be stored next to the other, more usual kitchen items, such as coffee. She laughed and said that they did not believe in heaven either, but being quite into the nature and the circle of life concept, (blah-blah) they wanted to return the ashes to the ground, and bury them in the garden. Thus the storing of the jars in the kitchen, as a reminder of the job to be done. I said that, once in Cambridge, the ashes most probably end up in the ground anyway, as I doubt they have an immense storage facility to accommodate all the dead pets from the UK. We thought that was funny, too.

We then moved on to the cancer suffering relative, and my friend said that sadly, the old lady was not going to last. But I told her the story of K.

K was a family friend of my in-laws, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer a very, very long time ago. When the doctors discovered it, they advised that he, sadly, was probably not going to live much longer. Maybe six months to a year, they said.

Since then, every Christmas, K would approach me at the end of the party, stare into my eyes, hold my hand, and tell me that that was probably the last Christmas we would see him. The first time I heard him say that, I got quite emotional. For the next few Christmas parties, however, the imminent dying effect started to wear out.  Nobody could believe how well and how long K lasted, including himself.

And we laughed at this story, too.

Does this mean that my friend is not upset about her older relative suffering in pain with such a horrible disease? To me, it does not. Maybe we just need to be able to laugh at these depressing aspects of life, because that is what keeps us sane and helps us cope.

Friday, 18 March 2011

To celebrate ( or not?) in style.

I still recall my 25th birthday party as one of the best I had. 

My American girlfriend decided to organize a dinner party for me. I was fortunate to be born in summer, and we had my birthday dinner in a lovely restaurant outside Baku, on the terrace overlooking the sea. A belly dancer was shaking her tanned round tummy at my tipsy American boss, the waves were crushing over the black rocks... The long table was full of vodka, beer and food, and I was surrounded by family and friends. Oh, it was a fantastic night. I was incredibly happy. But, at the back of my mind, a concern was slowly building up. 

How much would this feast cost? I had a good job, and prices for a shashlik dinner like this were not high those days. However, there was over thirty of us, drinking and eating non-stop. I was prepared to pay, but to my huge surprise, that was not expected. Everyone chipped in when my friend, the organizer, announced the total in the end. In fact, because it was my birthday, I did not even get to pay for myself. 

That was my first experience of a non-Azeri birthday party. I have to admit, I thought it was quite a result for the birthday girl. Never before would I had expected not to pay for the invited people on my birthday. Not only did I get to celebrate with everyone I wanted to be with on the day; I also received lovely presents and a free dinner. ‘Hmm...I like this western style!’ I thought to myself.

Having moved to the UK, I found that in a lot of cases, people would often do the same. In my years here, I had various birthdays. Some of them were parties in my garden, but most often there were girlie or couples' dinners out. 

However, as a lot of people around me rapidly (not moi, of course, as I am still very, very young!) approaching the big fat round 40, I noticed that these special birthdays are often treated differently.

It is a lot more common to throw a party, often in a hired venue, and invite a large number of friends. Some people clearly treat special birthdays as a small wedding. A friend of mine in New York was having a fancy party on a hired boat and was deeply offended that I did not come. Years later, he still whinges that I missed such an important event. To me, it was a birthday, not his funeral or a wedding. What is a big deal? I am not in the position, frankly speaking, to fly across the ocean for friends’ birthdays just yet, however much I wish I were. 

But, speaking of the special birthday party etiquette, there clearly is a range of ways people choose to celebrate. 

I have been to sit-down dinners paid entirely by the hosts but also dinners where guests pay for themselves; parties with food, parties without food but a few canopies only, parties where you only get a welcome drink and the rest of the night you pay for your own....parties where only wine is paid for, or only a certain amount is put behind the bar, or only for the first hour...there is simply no end to various options people go for.

But then, of course, for every way someone chooses to celebrate their special birthday, there will always be different opinions of what is okay to do. 

At a party recently, a local friend whispered to me that she was shocked there was ‘no proper food’ and not even a welcome glass of champagne.

‘A bit cheeky’, she added, ‘isn’t it?’ 

I, personally, was not so sure. 

You see, a few years ago I went back to Baku to celebrate my 30th. That time, on my British salary, I was in the position to throw a proper party. I invited around 30 people, paid for all the food and alcohol and had a fantastic time...all for about $250. In fact, I was more than happy to pay the requested $400, but my Turkish brother in law stepped in with a bit of skillful negotiation.

Of course, in a situation like that, it is oh, so easy! to be generous. 

If it only cost $250 for 30 people, why not invite everyone and pay for them? 

However, to do something like this in or around London, in a semi-decent place, let alone a posh restaurant, would cost you an absolute fortune. Let’s face it, not many people can afford this option.

Now, of course, you have a choice. You can choose not to have any party at all rather than make people pay. But, in the country where average houses are too small, outside is too wet and miserable, and restaurants will skin you alive, would any celebrations ever take place?

But, guess what? People discuss and judge- just like they always would, anywhere in the world. Someone thinks asking to bring a bottle to a party is cheeky. Someone thinks inviting people to go out and pay isn’t right. Someone thinks a host should provide food and drinks...and so on. And, as I chat to friends from various backgrounds, there is simply no general consensus on the subject. 

Everyone views things, as we say, so svoey kolokolni, which translates as (don’t ask me why?) from their own bell tower. Those who can afford judge those who can’t. Those who can’t afford judge the ones who could but choose not to. There simply is no right or wrong answer, I guess, no matter what country or cultural background one comes from. Well aware of my Azeri habits, I personally tend not to expect much from a birthday invitation in this country, however special it might be. This way, I always leave myself some space to be pleasantly surprised.                                                         

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Yes, I know I am pregnant!

There are a lot of annoying aspects of pregnancy. Besides getting huge and heavy, tired and with constant indigestion, there are other, sometimes innocent at the first glance, sources of irritation sneaking up on you on the daily basis.

For example. I hear some pregnant women complain that the most annoying thing that happens to them during this wonderful time, is when strangers feel it is perfectly acceptable to touch their belly, just because there is a foetus in it. 

Fortunately for me (and for those strangers, too) I manage to avoid uninvited groping. However, every single person I bump into, and that includes the village shop owners and assistants, mothers at school and pretty much everyone at work; suddenly decided that the only possible topic of conversation with me is my pregnancy.

Not only that, on its own, is incredibly boring and frustrating ( as I still am interested in other things in life) but also, it is shocking just how limited their imagination is, when it comes to the questions they can think of asking. It basically follows the same pattern:

1)      Oh, you are getting big, aren’t you? ( I sigh, smile and nod)
2)      When are you due again? ( I grind my teeth and tell them- for the 100th time by now)
3)      A slight variation from the above:  ‘How many weeks are you now?’
4)      Oh, not long left now, is it? (No, I guess the answer is no, not long. That is very true.)
5)      Oh, May! That is a lovely time to have a baby, isn’t it? (I guess so. Can you not tell from my  expression how bored I am?)
6)      Have you got a name yet? (I want to die.)

It rarely goes beyond the standard set. The only other question, which is often asked with a compassionate facial expression, is whether I am feeling okay.  I am pregnant, I am not on the deathbed!

At first, you feel people are sweet to notice. After a few weeks of answering the same questions, over and over again, your smile becomes a lot less genuine, and you try to escape as soon as you can. By the time you are in your week 30, your thoughts drift towards various forms of homicide, all gruesome.

So, I thought of the perfect business idea.  I want to design T-shirts with a little slot where weeks could be replaced as your pregnancy progresses. It would have something like ‘Yes, I am getting huge, thank you!’ on the top, the big Due Date in Bold underneath, and maybe something (a lot) less polite on the back.  And maybe then? all these people will talk about something else. Like the weather.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A good experience, for a change.

I am loving the NHS at the moment.   

Sometimes, I am simply amazed at how well the system works, considering that it is free, over-worked, under-staffed and abused on regular basis.

The other day, I had a moment of pregnancy paranoia. We, pregnant women, get those often.

The baby was not moving. I spent the day listening and thinking about it, and then decided to try calling the special delivery suite number I was told to ring should I be concerned. To be honest, I expected them to tell me to relax and not worry, or perhaps ask more questions. Instead, the lady exclaimed in a cheerful loud voice a lot of midwives seem to have ‘Oh, if you are at all concerned, just pop over, luv!’

Driving to the hospital, I expected a long and unpleasant day. ‘I bet there are queues of pregnant women sitting there for hours’, I thought. But as I walked in, another friendly face greeted me and happily nodded to the examination table. In a few minutes I was strapped to a monitor, checked quite thoroughly, and told the baby was just fine. ‘However...’She added, having looked through my notes, ‘last time you had your blood checked, the results showed that your sugar levels are slightly higher than we’d like them to be.’
‘So, she added sheepishly, as if about to ask me out on a date, ‘Would you mind coming for a glucose tolerance test? We would just like to double-check in case you are getting gestational diabetes...’

Would I mind? Of course I didn’t mind. I was just happy she looked in my notes, paid attention and noticed something might be wrong.

She explained, in an apologetic manner, that unfortunately, the process was ‘very tedious’ and would require me to starve for 12 hrs and then spend over 2 hrs in the hospital with them, giving blood, drinking the gross glucose solution and then giving more blood.

At the end, she said, they would give me a sandwich.

I was laughing, telling my friend about it. Imagine, I said, they are not only asking me if I would be okay doing it and apologizing that it would inconvenience me, but also offering me free food!
My friend was not too impressed. The thought of an NHS sandwich made her gag. ‘Yew! Yuck!’ She added. But let me tell you. When you are pregnant and had no food from the night before until 12pm the following day, you probably see things in a very different light. Also, to me,  the whole experience just proved once more that despite obvious problems with the system, the NHS is often simply amazing. Perhaps, it was my hormones again, but I was incredibly touched when a young student nurse kneeled next to my chair, asking me to kindly choose my sandwich. And there was a proper menu! And there was a huge choice! And, to be honest, the sandwich was really quite tasty. In the two hours I sat in their room, reading a book, the nurses chatted with me, made jokes, asked if I needed more water and if I was not too cold or hot.

And in another, separate recent incident (and I realize I sound like an old bag full of problems, but hey...such is my life) my annoying vertigo returned, and the GP prescribed some medication, assuring me it was safe in pregnancy. However, Google is your worst enemy, and after looking it up, I was not too confident.
So I called the 24-hr NHS helpline. Again, remember, it is a free service. All those people sit there for not that much money, in the evenings, listening to a lot of (often nuisance) questions. And I was prepared to be told it was not important enough or urgent enough, or to just listen to my GP and F off, to be honest. But, the woman on the phone listened very carefully, and asked if it was okay if a pharmacist called me back in an hour. To my surprise, he did call me back. He reassured me the drug was okay and spent some time on the phone checking my details and what doze I was prescribed. And, what left me completely gobsmacked in the end, was the additional phone call from some other polite woman I got in the morning. She just wanted to double-check that someone did come back to me and whether they resolved my issue, as promised. 

Come on now. Where else, I ask you, would you get this sort of attention for free?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Russian Chastushki in English?

Someone sent me these the other day, and I thought (partially because I am hopelessly bored at work, and partially because it would be just wrong not to) that I should share them with you. If you think there must be some powerful hidden message between the lines, then you are of course, mistaken.

Russian Chastushki, just like Russian jokes, are not always easy to translate or understand. Just relax and enjoy.

How would Russian Chastushki sound in English:

Рыбка плавает в томате,

Ей в томате хорошо,

Только я, едрена матерь,

Места в жизни не нашел.

Fish in thick tomato sauce

Swims in happy comatose,

Only me, pathetic wimp,

Have no fucking place to swim.

По реке плывет топор из села Чугуева,

Ну и пусть себе плывет железяка х*ева...

Down the river drifts an axe from the town of Byron,

Let it float by itself- fucking piece of iron!!!

Я лежала с Коленькой совершенно голенькой,

Потому что для красы я сняла с себя трусы.

I was sleeping with my honey absolutely naked;

I have taken off my panties just to make a statement.

С неба звездочка упала

Прямо милому в штаны,

Пусть горит там, что попало,

Лишь бы не было войны.

Starlet's fallen from the heavens right into my boyfriend's briefs,

I don't mind his roasted penis if it helps us live in peace

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Happy International Women's Day!

To all my cool, sexy, sophisticated, beautiful and very intelligent female readers!

Happy International Women's Day!

Oh, and if you, for some bizarre reason, do not find my incredibly sexy Azeri male appealing enough, here is a slightly different type for you...Daniel Craig dressed as a woman to highlight the inequality of women around the world. 

Hmm....Is it wrong that I still find him attractive, even dressed as a woman? Blame the hormones.

Enjoy and hope you don't do any housework, cook any dolma or get too annoyed by your husbands today!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

C'est la vie, or shit happens.

I was not going to blog about this. But every time I think of writing something else, it just comes back to me, and I thought I probably should blog it out of my system.

Some of you might remember how hard I found making the decision about having my old dog put to sleep
 It was almost impossible to even think about it. But time passed, and he got worse. And then a bit worse. And then he refused food for a few days, except for one slice of the Russian sausage. And anything that got consumed was quickly thrown back up again. He could not get up and did not want to go for walks. 

And I realized that perhaps, it was, indeed, cruel  and selfish to keep him alive and watch him struggle.

Realization and making the decision is one thing, but actually going through something like this is completely different.  No matter how convinced I was in the end that it was the right thing to do... I still felt guilty. In hindsight, I think that the whole helping someone die is either something you strongly believe in, or not. My brain is telling me it was the best way for him to go, but my heart will probably always struggle to accept it easily. 

In preparation for this horrible event, I looked for advice online, from thousands of other dog owners who had to go through the same experience. I came across some useful suggestions on how to cope with this sad moment. ‘Go to church and pray’. Er... maybe not for me.  ‘Get another puppy before your old dog dies’ No way! Despite of all the affection I had for my old pet, I am actually pretty much done with having a dog. For a very, very long time.

It is funny though, how things that I thought I would enjoy once there is no dog in the house are the ones that now make me sad.  Like the empty garden and the clean grass, nobody to rush back home to when we are out for the day, and the lack of paw prints on the wooden floors. The lack of noise. The lack of smells. The lack of a huge furry animal lying in the way when I try to open the dishwasher. These are the things I found the hardest. And the dreams about changing my mind. In those dreams he is a lot healthier and happier than he was, and I panic and think oh, no he is totally fine, what am I doing??? And then I wake up and remind myself that he was, of course, very ill.

And then, looking for someone to discuss this with, I turned to an old friend. I chose her because of many factors.  She knows me well, for a very long time, and she is crazy about dogs.  It is important to try not to discuss this situation with people who have never owned or liked animals. They will think you are mad, and very, very funny. Hilarious, in fact. Your sadness would cause endless amusement. So no, I could not discuss it it with people I was not sure would understand. But this friend, I thought, definitely would.

And, of course, she did. Only, she said something I would have never expected a good friend to say. I confessed to her, in an email, that I felt bad I could not bring myself to go to the vets.  Poor husband had to do it. She replied that she would have been there till the end.

Of course, she added, she could not judge me, as she did not really know if she would manage to go. But she still thought I should have gone.

I am not going to go into details of how angry and upset that comment made me feel. How I tried, pointlessly, to explain to her, that sometimes, the truth is not what one needs from a close friend. She said I probably felt guilty for not going, and that was why her comment stung so much. But of course I felt guilty! I felt guilty for not going, for being so weak, I felt guilty for ever telling him off, for not walking him often enough, for not talking to him enough, for a lot of things I should or should not have done. Isn’t it what happens when someone you love dies, whether human or animal? 

So, there I was. Could not rely on religion to convince myself that my dog is running happily in heaven, waiting for me to join him one day. Could not be comforted by going to a church or getting another puppy...And guess what? As it turned out, could not even get support from the one close friend I thought would be there for me.  C'est la vie, eh. Shit happens.