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Oh book club, where art thou?

A little while ago I decided I wanted to join a book club.

No I am not a blue cardigan wearing bespectacled member of the 80 plus age group. I am a regular-ish young girl and I like reading and then talking about books I’ve read in a semi-intelligent way involving food and lots of drinks. I had this image of myself surrounded by young trendy urbanites in a darkened pub with dog-eared copies of our books around us with splashes of martini rosso upon them, saying things like ‘This book marks the zeitgeist of today without being too conformist’. Failing that it would at least mean that when I finish a book and go ‘huh?’ I’d have other people to ‘huh’ with too.

So I set about trying to find a book club. Like pretty much everything these days, whether it’s dates, shoes or part-owning a farm animal, I thought this would be easily achieved through the internet. It appears I was wrong. After googling ‘Book club North London’ to no avail, I tried ‘Book clubs London’ or ‘how to join a book club’ and I found lots of suggestions of how to form one but no real existing ones.

Finally I found one with a list of book clubs in London – aha, I had hit the jackpot I thought. After skimming through the options – ‘Afro-carribean under 40 book club’, ‘Young, gay and Jewish book club’, ‘Lives under the Brent Cross bypass next to the kebab shop and outside the post box book club’, I found one I thought would be fairly welcoming to me. I banged off a suitably witty and bookish, affable email expressing my interest to join said book club and asking when the next meeting would be. Two weeks later. No reply.

Hmm, I thought. This book club lark is harder than I thought. So I moved on to option number two, which had sounded like the book club equivalent of Club Med – 18-31 book club, discuss books and then cop off with the fittie next to you afterwards. Could be kinda fun? One email to them – one email back from them saying they were full. Full?? Since when have book clubs become the equivalent of Movida? It’s a book club for crying out loud, I thought they’d be gnawing my arm off with delight that I’ve deigned them with my presence and haven’t yet integrated into the Kindle-clutching android masses. But no – apparently book clubs are harder to get into than Juilliard.

In desperation I tried one more and received a mass, generic reply that they clearly send to all prospective book club suitors saying their next meeting was in three months time and they’d add me to the waiting list.

I give up. There’s gotta be an easier way to do this. I’d set one up in my area but as I’m currently residing in a sleepy commuter town I probably would need to give up my rose-tinted vision of enlightening chats about Sartre’s sub texts and settle for dissecting the latest Catherine Cookson over some digestives. Then again maybe that’s the kind of presumptions and snobbery that has led to iron-fenced book clubs where members thumb their noses and make new would-be members go through bum-paddlings and periodic electric shocks while having to recite the first chapter of Dickens ‘Little Dorrit’ .

If anyone has a book club that I can join, can I please, please join? I promise I’ll be good, make cakes and not put forward Kerry Katona’s autobiography as a suggestion (Katie Price’s is clearly better). Otherwise I’ll have to just set one up myself and invite all my fellow rejects from the exclusive School of Book Clubs. 

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Happy International Women’s Day

What is it about women’s relationship with women? Men just don’t have it. The way women are with women has always seemed more organic, infused in the blood and probably yes, more maternal or sisterly. There were times when I was with a man and aching to be with my female friends instead. While, to be fair, that was more of a reflection on the quality of the man that I was with, it also showed who I was myself more with.

Why don’t they have an International Men’s Day? ‘Because every day is international men’s day’ would be the standard answer but also because think of what the celebrations would involve. Now you know I am never one to generalise but I’m imagining troops of chunky legged, flushed men holding their drinks to the sky and giving each other hearty hugs with furtive gropes for some. So boys, let’s look at the women instead and – for a change – not through the gaze of a camera or the hazy pages of a magazine but what’s here and now.

We can look at all the inspiring women they are, and it’s great that there are so many – some of whom were listed in The Guardian today. But in doing that it’s easy to forget ourselves. The women who are political activists, controversial pop stars or CEOs of large companies are, without a doubt, to be congratulated for what they’re doing for other people. But we are all on an equal plane with them. While we are doing the dishes, working hard, managing our money, going on through painful times, we need to remember that.

When you think of an inspiring woman, it is so tempting to think  ‘I COULD be one of them if I worked hard/met the right people/was more dedicated’. It’s easy to forget the alarmingly real truth. That is the beauty of it. You are now. It’s done, it just is.

Travelling in India for the last few months, there were times when it was tough to be a woman. Particularly when I was travelling alone, as Indian women don’t tend to do that.  I got quizzical stares and sometimes malevolent ones. Once, when I was with another British Indian friend, we had to block our hotel door with furniture as we were the only women in the whole hotel and had been getting weird phone calls and glares.

It was clear that while women in the cities there enjoy the modernity we do of  sipping lattes and chatting to boyfriends on their mobile phones, there were still deep-seated ideas of how a woman should behave that are the foundation and won’t shake. Then again, that’s not unique to India.

At the end of my trip I had to be a lot stronger, and strangely I think that would have been very different if I had been a western women visiting India. As a Non Resident Indian (NRI) woman in India, I had to face my own inner critic about things I had been ignorant about and learn so much about how things would be for me if I had grown up in my native country – the good and the bad.

I suppose for me, my identity has always been spliced – British or Indian. The two combine in a twisted DNA helix of who I am and yet they are separate. Whether that gives me a stronger solidarity in my identity as a woman, I don’t know but it is something I am happily proud to be a woman today.

So today is about all of us and celebrating not just our achievements but, so much more importantly, who we are and who we have become.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Back and bestomached

Oh irony, why must you always come and trump me with your skulky, stealthy three steps ahead of me. I am back and have suffered from severe stomach upset, I hate the phrase ‘delhi belly’, despite using it earlier, and I laughed at those who claimed it was inevitable to get it from India and yet here I am clutching my belly and whimpering into my kurta top. Yes, I am officially trumped, smart-arsed, whipped, befooled, you name it, my stomach couldn’t handle it. Actually I blame it on the flight food, who serves a chicken drumstick with nan bread on a long haul flight anyway?

Aside from jennifer’s issues, I feel alright being back in England, although that could be mainly because I haven’t actually left my house in the last week and therefore have remained in a protected cocoon ignoring the disasterous state of affairs in Britain and my neighbourhood (I noticed a new traffic light cross section on  the road down from mine, how can things change so drastically and catastrophically in three months). Home comforts have been nice, particularly as my last few days in India were mainly spent on night buses, one of which was a particular sadist’s delight as it was the most freezing bus I had ever been on in my life – the window wouldn’t close properly but I swear they had the AC on for some unbeknown ridiculous reason – while I wiped icicles off my nose, I also contended with an iron bar above my bunk which screwed unloose everytime we went over a bump – and seeing as there was nothing but bumps for 17 hours, I spent the entire journey in catatonic state of frozenness, bumping up and down and periodically being pummelled by an iron bar. Guantanamo Bay please don’t take note.

My trip on the whole however was really something I am proud of, that I achieved this on my own – something I had dreamt of doing for so long – and while it certainly wasn’t easy, it was one of the most rewarding, most meaningful things I’ve ever done. When my stomach returns to a normal state of equilibrium, I will continue in the same vein of adventure and leave my front door soon to buy some milk.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Tale of a British Indian in India

I realise this update is tragically overdue but here I am in India, pottling around, avoiding delhi belly (haha, my smugness defeats you all), enjoying the views and communing with tigers – ok I made that last one up.

Due to some restrictions on time, as I am working on something else at the moment,  here is a five point summary of my trip so far:

– India is beautiful. You probably already knew that. I think I knew it too but the reminder has been welcome.

– Indian KFC is vastly superior to any other KFC in the world. This is an undisputed fact. Actually if I could marry that zinger burger I ate, I would now be a happy mrs zinger, reproducing succulent, crunchy, delicious fries into my chicken-batter layered nest.

– Walking around with a serene smile, a la Julia Roberts in ‘Eat Pray Love’ will usually get you into trouble like a policeman thinking you’re high, someone trying to sell you a hemp bag with hindi writing on it, a bushy moustached, age-challenged  man thinking it’s a come-on or falling into a pot hole. Far better to walk around with a squinty-eyed frown.

– I still can’t wear a sari but I am one baby step closer. I have also been exposed to the invention of air-conditioned saris, which seem to be a miraculous invention.

– Try as you can, it is very difficult to warm to a cockroach. I tried to come to terms with the one in my room by naming it Tom and giving it a background – it had run away from home and was misunderstood but had a heart – but in the end I still wanted to stamp on it and kill cos it was squishy and horrible.

Details about my work and of course more gems of wisdom are to come.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Let’s take a moment to remember The Simpsons

I realised that I complain a lot on this blog (I mean, let’s face it, it’s much more interesting to read someone bitching than to read someone gushing. Or is that just me?)

So as it’s Friday, life is beautiful and I want to maintain the equilibrium of this little world of explosive chutney, here are some of the best Simpsons quotes that make my top five:

  • Homer, watching Hail to the Chimp at the drive-thru cinema, before comitting Moe’s insurance fraud. “That’s because you didn’t hail to the chimp”.
  • Burns: “Are they booing me Smithers?” Smithers: “No, they’re saying “Boo-urns, Boo-urns”
  • Hans Moleman: “I was saying ‘Boo-urns'”
  • Homer, Marge, Bart and Maggie: “You don’t win friends with salad”
  • Mayor Quimby: “I stand by my racial slur.”
 
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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The trauma of tea time

As I near the end of my cup of tea, I look up from my computer and gaze furtively at the small office kitchen.

I want another one.

But how, oh HOW, can I go and make it and avoid anyone else so that I don’t have to make god-awful small talk? You know the kind that nobody wants to do because the only thing worse than that is the clangering silence of clinking teaspoons and nothing to say.

I think my fear of tea/coffee-time small talk has grown, irrationally some might say, to a significant level. It isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve made absolutely no effort to get to know my work colleagues.

I’m a temp, you see, and as all temps know, when the sword of damocles is always over your soon-to-be-terminated contract, it’s not really necessary to settle in and enjoy the setting. But I spent eight months in a state of about-to-leave and as a result am now in a limbo place where I haven’t bothered to get to know anyone and yet I’ve seen them everyday for a loooong time. It means I know absolutely dick jack about any of them and yet I should – so I have to grabble with whatever loose fragments of civilised conversation are floating around in my head.

In a head that is usually wondering what the best topping on cheese on toast is or who I would choose to win in a fight between Charlie Brown and that demon baby in Blair Witch 2 : Book of Shadows, civilisation is a bit hard to come by. What comes out is usually something awful that makes me sound like I spend my spare time disembowling homeless people in alleyways like ‘This spoon is really brown isn’t it’ or ‘So you’re drinking coffee then?’

That’s aside from the awful ‘tea/coffee dance’ where you’re both making your drinks side by side but using the same utensils and milk so there’s a lot of  ‘Oh sorry, let me just reach past you and get that’ and nervous laughs that accompany the ‘Shall I leave the milk out for you’ . You can just imagine if somebody who had grown up in a cave or had just emerged from a Chilean mine they would presume that our principal way of communicating was by tinkling tea spoons furiously, making ‘mpfhh’  noises and looking down.

If you are one of those socially adjusted people who has no problem whatsoever with tea time chit chat then I applaud you but I don’t want to talk to you. You are who I will spend half an hour avoiding, only to go and make my tea and find that you are there and have already started clinking and talking about how you used to like soy milk but now don’t mind drinking normal milk but occasionally still drink soy milk but only if you’re in the mood and how many calories are in soy milk anyway. God help us.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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I can’t wait to tell people about this blog post after I’ve written it

When I heard somebody on the bus the other day say: “I went to Wimbledon this year. Just to say I’ve done it, you know,” I couldn’t help but cringe a bit inside. It’s an old but sad notion that we do things not for the pleasure of doing them but to have something to brag about afterwards.

But we do that don’t we, it’s like those people we see out at parties who are posing for photos, grinning and sticking fingers up and I can literally see the thought bubble appear above their heads – “This photo will look great as my profile picture on Facebook” – Therefore the continuing pleasure of this night (which is often an even greater pleasure than the night itself) will be showing and telling people about it.

I know I’m in no position to preach – I probably do take too much relish in telling people I’ve taken part in a skydive (ooh get me). After a night out, part of my hungover hunched-over self is enjoying the drama of  sordid tales of lost phones, encounters with strangers called Jethro and dancing down the streets without shoes on to the tunes of a Ukrainian-born reggae band. (I definitely haven’t had a night out like that but it sounds great doesn’t it)

What really got me thinking recently was that, however well-meaning it may be, how can we seperate the experience from the narrative? Or the real question, I suppose, how can we avoid the pitfalls in ascribing our self-worth to the tales we come up with?

This particularly came to mind when I was reading about people’s travels. More and more people are paying insane amounts of money to volunteer abroad. But the people they are helping would probably kill to have that amount of money they paid to be there helping them. I know essentially these volunteers are paying for the security net of support when they’re out there etc but the whole idea is just so flawed to me. Essentially because it makes it more like a well-meaning holiday, rather than an act of making a genuine difference.

I’m careful how I phrase this because I know lots of people who do this are very hard-working, generous volunteers who simply don’t know how else to go abroad and help people the way they want to, without paying an organisation to help them.

What happened to exchanges – let’s bring those back. Seeing as there are thousands of Africans, Indians and other nationalities who would give their right arm to come to England, and British people who have had enough of the cynicism and weather and want to make a difference abroad. It makes the most sense to me, rather than the equivalent of an entire village’s annual income being spent on one person’s trip to Rwanda to help build a mud well.

Which brings me to my main point – the reasons we want to do what we do. Do we genuinely want to help people or do we want to have another experience to add to our growing and impressive list? I watched a brilliant film called Machan last weekend about a group of Sri Lankan men so desperate to come to live in Europe that they invent a handball team, not even knowing what the word handball means. Lots of westerners dream of going to Sri Lanka, it is a land full of beauty, Sri Lankans dream of coming to Europe, it is a land full of money.

I suppose we are lucky that we are allowed the indulgence of travelling to make ourselves feel good when many people we’ll meet in those countries want to travel to lead a solid life – the lives that we are leading here already and probably taking for granted.

This whole idea is probably not far away from the ‘Is there a selfless good deed?’ question. There is no easy answer and there is probably no shame in admitting that both factors – helping people and having a great experience – play a role in volunteering abroad. I think what we can reject though is the easy compartmentalisation of ideas. I have volunteered abroad therefore I am good. You are working in England therefore you are bad. I have met children in India therefore I am a better person. It’s far too messy for that and anyone who thinks spending 10 months in Bhutan makes them a better person than their peers is a lost individual.

This has all made me rethink my plans for when I go to India (yes, after all that ranting, I am actually volunteering abroad myself). I haven’t paid anyone to do this and am not even sure what I’m doing yet. But whatever it is, I will not be fitting it into any agenda of mine and I think the further removed it is, the more distanced I am from my own smug self and it’s ideas of what I want, the more I will actually be able to learn and find out more – which I will not be then posting on Facebook as a status update.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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