Sunday, 30 January 2011

Love is.....an unexpected pedicure


This is a photo of Pirojki, like the ones I made today. I did not add anything dodgy in them, honest. Just some minced beef and onions, wrapped in puff pastry....


Funnily enough, I talked about a foot massage. So, imagine my shock, when a friend offered to massage my feet today.

We had  friends over for lunch; and I, driven by my bizarre nesting instinct, decided to cook some of the Azeri/Russian dishes for them. I made plov, of course, and some pirojki, and some beetroot salad...the usual suspects. (Or the only ones I know how to make.)

My non-Azeri friends were touched by my effort. Clearly, the lady friend was so touched that she just wanted to do something nice for me in return. Honestly, I did not expect this much appreciation.

She noticed that I did not stop since they arrived. If I was not finishing up the dishes, I was tidying up. If I was not tidying, I was serving something, and so on.

‘Stop!’ She shouted in the break between the main course and the desert. ‘Just sit down and put your feet up! I bet you must be exhausted.’

‘ In fact’ she added,’ I will give you a foot rub. You are pregnant, you must really need a foot massage!’

I laughed, thinking she was joking. But oh, no. She was not. Not only she insisted on giving me a foot massage, she then very quickly progressed to the decision to give me a pedicure. 

You must believe me when I say I fought hard against this. I told her it was embarrassing. I told her it was weird. I told her she was too drunk and did not know what she was doing, and I did not want to take an advantage of her in that state. But, having made her mind up, she was simply unstoppable.

Having grubbed a bowl from the kitchen, she ran upstairs and reappeared with it filled with soapy warm water and a towel. She insisted I told her where I stored my pedicure instruments, and sat me down on a sofa. She even brought me a glass of water, like in a proper salon. As I sat there, feeling awkward,  she rubbed my feet with a scrub and proceeded to give me a proper (and it has to be said, a very good one) pedicure. 

Is this something she always did when she went to someone’s house for a Sunday lunch, I wondered. ‘No!’, she claimed, ‘I have never done this before.’

‘Hmm...’I said. ‘You are suspiciously good at it. I bet you tell this to everybody, like those girls who claim they “have never done this before”, or “ never do it on the first date, honest!”

To me, it was one of the most unusual friendship experiences, it has to be said. I have never had a pedicure done by a friend. OK, maybe once, a long time ago, when I was young and single, and a bunch of us got together for a pedicure party.  But now? In Britain? By a respectable middle-class lady? It was pretty surreal.

Even the children thought it was odd, let alone the husbands, who came back from their after-plov stroll, only to find us engaged in this unusual activity. I am sure they would be no more shocked if they found us naked in bed. 

Don’t take me wrong, I am not complaining. She did explain, that it was only because I was pregnant that she felt like looking after me. ‘If I ever come to your house when you are not pregnant, and I ask to give you a foot massage, then you are allowed to worry!’ she said. 

‘Ah...’ I thought, relaxing and closing my eyes for a minute ‘I guess that does make sense.’


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Golden Teeth, or why she wasn't smiling.

Automated MNU Instructional Voice: [in MNU Humvee] When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet.

(District 9)


I must, indeed, be hormonal. Not only because I am having a fight with HR about one day of leave, which I'd pre-booked before Christmas but then fell ill (and which they would not give me back) but because something upset me today, which took me by surprise.

Very often I get blamed by some active nationalists for being not Azeri enough; or for insulting Azeri girls and the whole nation for that matter. So, imagine my surprise when I, myself, get upset because of someone’s unfortunate joke.Am I getting too sensitive?

This morning, having arrived at work nice and early as usual, I started my (otherwise depressing) working day by having a Starbucks latte and glancing through Facebook updates.

A friend of ours is still working and living in Baku, and has been now for many years. I noticed a nice-looking photo on his page. He has got into photography recently; and his pictures are, indeed, quite good.

He took the photo in a well-known village in Azerbaijan. I quite liked the woman in the photo. She was looking straight into the camera, holding a tiny baby in her arms. To me, she looked like a lot of village women in Azerbaijan do, from what I remember. Someone who looks tired beyond her age, someone who looks an awful lot older than she probably is. I was touched by how much emotion there was in her eyes. The photo made me sad because I thought of the hardships of her life.  She was wearing lots of colourful layers and her hands were big and rough.

What annoyed me was the caption this guy put under the shot.

He said that he took the photo while visiting this village. The woman’s family helped him and his companions when their car broke down. Jokingly referring to the family as the natives, (which, let’s face it, was not particularly nice to start with), he then made a joke about her golden teeth. ‘I tried to get her to smile’, he said, ‘to show all her golden teeth, but she refused to. 

'Such a shame!', he added, 'As she had lots! At least 6 of them!’

After that there were a couple of comments from his friends, an expat in Baku and his Azeri wife. 

He said 'Wow, she’s hot!' 

His wife added OMG!!!! LOL!' 

Not sure it was that funny.

Maybe, I should have said nothing. But I am hormonal, you know? I can't help it, ask the HR girl. 

For some reason this discussion reminded me of District 9 I recently watched. When Wikus Van De Merwe handed an alien reproductive apparatus to his co-worker and said ‘Here, you can take that, you want to keep that, as a souvenir of your first abortion, ay.’  And they were laughing.

‘So, let me put this straight…’ I commented. ‘Some total strangers help you out with your broken car and, in return, you take the piss out of the woman's golden teeth. I wonder why she did not feel like smiling?’

It was a beautiful photograph. And maybe, because I live so far away now, this village woman and her face looked beautiful to me. I, myself, am not a big fan of golden teeth; but neither would I laugh at someone like her. My friend was very fortunate in his life. He could have been born somewhere he had no easy exit from, no options of how to grow up or what to study, no choices of whom to marry, no rights and, of course, no concept of dental hygiene.  In a separate Facebook posting, this very same friend was upset at the way a rare wild animal was treated in a pet shop in Baku. I smiled to myself. How typical of us all!  I thought. How often do we feel sorry for animals, while being completely incapable of feeling sorry for people.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Mating slugs, sunflower seeds and other modern art



The reason we live where we do is because we had to come up with a sensible compromise.

If we were to move somewhere Husband liked, we would end up in an empty place, surrounded by fields and forests, possibly near the sea but with no neighbours around. That would be too scary for Scary.  Scary needs neighbours. Even if statistically there is more crime in the cities than countryside, Scary still feels safer when she can see lights in windows, and occasionally spot humans passing by. So, our little commuter village gives our family a healthy balance. On one hand, we are in a beautiful countryside, on the other- there are local cafes and shops and people all around. Most importantly, there is an underground station and London within 30 minutes. 

So, the question is: why are we not using this proximity to London (which we are paying through the nose for) more often?

Today, I felt the need for some cultural food. Come on, I told Husband. Let’s go to a museum. Also, the child desperately wanted to see Big Ben for a while now. 

And so we went. I chose Tate Modern because I remember it having vast spaces, a huge sculpture of a spider in the main hall and lots of various bizarre things that not only we, but also our child might find amusing.

We were a bit disappointed when instead of the spider we saw an enormous floor space covered  by 100 million sunflower seeds.  Made out of porcelain, individually hand crafted ( probably by some poor Chinese folk) to make this one clever guy famous. I could not help but admire his talent. To come up with an idea of 100 million seeds would have never occurred to someone like me. I would question why any gallery in the world would consider this art. But hey, if someone else could become famous by exhibiting her unmade bed as a piece of art, so can this guy with his porcelain seeds.

To be honest, it might have worked for me if we were allowed to walk on this crunchy field. If we could touch them, and possibly nick a few.  I am still not convinced, but hey....I am prepared to imagine it would have been somewhat more impressive. However! We are in the UK, don’t forget. 

Someone decided it was not a good Health & Safety practice. What if there is too much dust and someone allergic might react to it? That would be terrible! So, to be safe, the gallery guys decided to stop us walking on the seeds. And now, it really is nothing but a big empty space with a thick layer of something that looks like concrete from a distance and like a lot of seeds at a closer look. Great.

You see, if it were a normal country, I would expect the management of the gallery to put up a little notice next to the installation. To let the visitors know that because there are 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, there might be some dust in the air as you walk on them. So, if you are a bit allergic, you might perhaps wish to stay away. It is up to you, really. Your personal choice. But no. Not in the UK.

Besides the 100 million seeds there were some other wonderful examples of modern art. Husband laughed and asked me if all those people, who were gazing at some of the weirdest pieces were getting them; or were only pretending because that was what cool arty people were meant to get? 

There was a very large installation of turds. Of course, they were not officially called turds. They had a more sophisticated name for them. Primordial creatures. But trust me. I have a large dog and a child. I know a turd when I see one.

There was a dark room where you could sit down and watch a video of mating slugs. (Actually, they were having a threesome. Never knew slugs were that naughty.) 

There was a collection of the aluminium kitchenware, connected by wire on a circuit, lighting up one at a time, while making a funny noise...to symbolize that home was not always a place of safety. Of course, pretentious descriptions were the best part of the installations. 

I could of course, go on. But also, to be fair, there were some very beautiful things. Things I still did not get but loved anyway. Like this one piece by Dorothea Tanning

And I am sure I would have enjoyed more time at the gallery, if not for the fire alarm. Such is my luck. One day I choose to be cultural and make an effort, and get kicked out after an hour! 

Luckily, London is also good not just for cultural, but also real food. The Dim Sum at Royal China. The best Dim Sum in London. Highly recommend. 

Overall, what a great day! It reminded me why I always wanted to stay close enough to this amazing city. Just a few hours in it gave me an opportunity to soak in its spirit, the timeless beauty of its architecture, the smell of the river and the busy crowds of all nationalities and styles you can possibly think of. And I thought 'Oh, I am still in love with you, London.  You are a bit crazy with your turd sculptures and dirty pigeons but my heart will always be yours.'


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sheep shagging and other strange jokes.

 I was actually going to do a sketch to go with this posting but then thought better of it.

The other night, my friend and I were discussing quite a sick Russian joke someone sent us by email. 

It was one of those jokes we, ex-Soviets, get all the time. Most of them are simply untranslatable into English. Even when we get the meaning across, most of the westerners just give us a blank look back, with a polite and confused smile.  Russian jokes are very strange, indeed. Some of them are simply not that funny, and some are plain weird, but mostly all are offensive- one way or another.

This particular joke was about a Georgian man, who had raped a boy and was standing in front of a Georgian judge.  The judge asked him why he'd abused the boy, and the Georgian man proceeded to explain (in a heavily accented Russian. Most of the jokes in that particular email revolved around Georgian accent.) that the boy was blond, with beautiful blue eyes, straight long legs... 

‘Enough!’ The judge exclaimed. ‘This case is closed! It was obviously the boy’s fault! ‘

So, talking about the joke, and how sick it really was, my friend and I somehow moved on to discussing why certain nationalities back home were more famous for, let’s say, unusual sex tendencies, than the others. 

My friend believed it should have been an Azeri guy in that joke, and not a Georgian after all. She thought that Azeri males were more known for liking young boys, than the Georgians. She explained that she believed it to be due to the influence of the Muslim culture. Horny young guys wanted to get laid, but had nowhere to go- since all the girls were supposed to stay innocent and pure until they were married. A very complicated situation, indeed.

Despite seeing some logic in her explanation, I was not convinced that was the only reason behind those sort of speculations. I am sure, if my memory does not fail me, that both Azeri and Georgian men were mocked for fancying young boys in those old Soviet anecdotes. Georgian men are mostly Christian...So why specifically them? 

Also, what about this country? What about the Welsh men being  famous for, pardon my French, sheep shagging?

Why is that? Where, I wonder, is this national hmm...characteristic coming from? Because, surely, Welsh girls do not have the same Muslim-culture-keeping-your-virginity- for-your-husband problem. So why sheep? Are there meant to be more sheep in Wales than available women? Are the welsh women supposed to be less attractive than the sheep? 

I felt compelled to ask husband, especially considering that, despite being English, he spent most of his childhood living in Wales. The discussion moved on to us trying to figure out whether sheep shagging should be legal or illegal. Is it an abuse of an animal? Does it make any difference if the sheep is owned by you, or someone else? Most importantly, what if the sheep consents?

'I guess...' said husband, ' If a sheep could express its willingness, they would not have to do it on the edge of a cliff.'
I looked at him questioningly, and he happily explained that you do it on the edge of the cliff so the sheep pushes back. 

Hmm....Clearly, a childhood spent in Wales had some very disturbing impact, if you ask me. And yes, a proper lady would have probably left the room at that point. As for me, I thought it was pretty funny.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A hormonal rant, or Scary Mummy business, Part II


OK, I know I talked about children’s birthday parties before. But you must understand! Birthday parties are huge around here. They play an important role in our social life, and cost an absolute fortune. So, please forgive me this rant.

A good friend invited my child to her daughter’s birthday party. That on its own was quite nice. But then I noticed, to my horror, that the party is a shared one. Between five children!

Here I have to add, that shared parties have been annoying me for an awfully long time. I tried to explain to a family friend what it was that actually winds me up about them, but failed.

 “But it is great! What is your problem? You would have had to go to all those parties anyway? This way you save time!”

Urm....no.  You see, it is not quite that straightforward. 

Last time my daughter got invited to a party shared by three kids; it suddenly occurred to me that, even if I get over my azeriness and buy very cheap presents (which I absolutely hate doing by the way), it is still going to cost me more than I can afford. There are 30 children in my child’s class. Besides the school, we also have quite a few other friends we see socially. By the time we go through all their birthdays, I spend an absolute fortune. The reason my friend’s logic was flawed, is that she assumed that if all those children had individual parties, we would still attend them all. That of course, is not the case

Very often, only one child out of 3 or 4 (or...10? not sure where the limit is anymore...) sharing a birthday party is a close friend of my child. Someone we would invite to our party, someone we spend a lot of time socializing with, and someone I would buy a decent present for. When someone like that shares a party with other children (whose parties, let's be honest, we would probably not get asked to attend and/or not bother going to), I face a problem.  Honestly, I simply can’t afford buying gifts for all those other kids. Neither can my child miss a birthday of a close friend. 

Of course, besides me getting bankrupt on the presents, there is this other feeling... The feeling I can’t quite explain. You see, if you go into a lot of effort trying to arrange a decent party for your own child, you simply can’t help but feel a bit cheated when everybody else does not suffer as much! It is so terribly unfair! You can’t help but wonder if you are the only idiot in the village, as we say in Russian, tearing your arse apart. (Yes, Russian is a rich and beautiful language.) It is not like I have a lot more free time, energy or money. How come everyone else is being so bloody smart, but not me? Well, my friends. That ,I guess, is the question I should be asking.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

About cold sores, worms and head lice.

Oh no. 

I have absolutely nothing to write about. It is a disaster. Because, that means that one of the following is the case:
  • That my brain is completely eaten by hormones and I just lost any ability to think creatively; or simply to think, full stop.
  • I have nothing going on in my life, not even anything I could whinge or bitch about.
  • I am too lazy, too fat and too tired; and it will only get worse when the baby is actually born.
But, in reality, things have been going on. Things have been very busy in fact, all together and all on top of each other. Christmas, New Year, beginning of the school...too much and too fast. I cant believe that I will be going for my 20 week scan tomorrow. 20 weeks! That is over half way through being an old, sore -breasted fat whale.

So really, nothing to talk about. But I want to talk. You know me. It is like a disease. So, today, I decided to complain about disgusting things that happened recently. You see, being pregnant makes me a lot more sensitive to them than ever before. I find things that are not really that disgusting simply revolting right now. Ideally, I would want to spend my pregnancy in a sterile environment, surrounded by crisp white linen and fresh flowers, drinking organic juice and eating beautifully prepared healthy meals. But my real life is not like that. 

Right now, I am sitting on my sofa wearing what was advertised as an invisible cold sore patch over my lip. 

Of course, it is not invisible. A mummy friend commented this morning that she thought i had toothpaste left on my lip. I was not sure what would be less embarrassing, to have people think I would walk out of the house with toothpaste (or whatever else they might think i had on my lips, depending on their imagination) or a cold sore patch. To be honest, I am not very familiar with cold sores. I never used to get them until just once, a couple of years ago, all of a sudden. Husband wanted to know if I had been snogging men with herpes. But I really had not. The reality is, a lot of people may carry the virus in their system for years, until one day it can just come out.  However, it is still embarrassing, and the patch looks pretty bizarre. Every time I speak to someone I can see their eyes shifting quickly towards it. I assumed people knew about these patches (as opposed to the cream), but as it turns out, that might not be the case. They are just stealing glances, trying to figure out what it is that is stuck to my lip. Almost invisible, but not quite. Almost like a toothpaste but more like a cellophane. Honestly, I am not even sure it is a cold sore but thought it felt peculiar and wanted to catch it at the earliest stage possible. No idea how long  I need to sport this ugly patch to be sure all is clear.

And then, as I drove home from a miserable first day back at work yesterday, my phone rang. It was the friend whose house we went to for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Just wanted to warn me that one of the other children staying over that night had head lice.

My whole body started itching. Back in Baku, at school, I remember the dreaded visits of a nurse who would walk through every isle, checking every head. And boy, did we worry! How terribly embarrassing would it be if the nurse plucked you out of the class and took you away as the source? 

It surprised me to learn that in the UK, it is not the poor neglected children with dirty unwashed hair that are supposed to attract head lice but, actually, the clean ones. Head lice love freshly washed hair.  Not only it is not as embarrassing but also quite common in younger children; and considered almost a norm for your child to pick them up as some point of their early school years. 

That, however, was of little comfort as I spent the evening examining my daughter’s hair.  Fortunately, she seems to be clean. I might want to check myself though, as I keep scratching my head. 

Finally, I am not too keen on cats at the moment. I have always been a dog person anyway, but was deluding myself into believing that I loved all animals. However, over this holiday period, I witnessed something that made me a bit unsure. I saw a cat jump off the sofa leaving a worm behind. Out of its arse, right there on the sofa’s arm. Of course, cat lovers will defend their pets now, saying that dogs (as well as humans) can get worms, too. Well, yes. But, as I sat there eating my desert, I thought that the main problem I had with cats and worms coming out of their backsides was that cats go everywhere. They go on kitchen counters, where food is being prepared. If you turn away for a minute, they would probably lick or nibble on your food (or squirt some worms on it). They walk on sofas where you happen to place your cardigan or a child’s toy. Leaving worms and fleas behind. 

So there you go. There has been a lot going on in my life recently. Parties, nice food and presents. But, behind the scene, there are cold sores, worms and possibly crawling head lice at some point soon. Don’t even start me on my incontinent Rottweiler.