28 March 2012

A Horse up my Exhaust

It was my neighbour Wendy across the road who first noticed that my car had begun to sprout a tail. 

“I found this in your exhaust pipe,” she said last week, putting into my hand what can only be described as horse hair.  Good, part of me thought.  Something to restring my chuniri bow with.  Bad, the other part thought.  What’s that doing stuck up the car’s intimate tubing?

We speculated for a moment on how it might have got there.  Someone with a surfeit of equine material and nowhere handy to store it.  Someone on their way home from the pub and deciding, right outside my front door, hang it all, time to ditch the toupée.

But that was not the end of it.

On Monday, after the usual weekly coffee ‘n’ verse session with my fellow Octavo poets, Jill ran alongside my car window as I pulled away from her house.  We had been reading and discussing poems about the power of the present moment - and for the present moment there was “something very odd trailing from the exhaust pipe.”  I hopped out of the driver’s seat to remove yet more tresses that had materialised and were waving brazenly in the wind.

Yesterday, Wendy knocked on my front door again.  “It’s back,” she said ominously.  Together we walked round the car and stared at the shaggy exhaust pipe.  I yanked at the curling locks like a magician pulling never-ending handkerchiefs from a pair of comedy trousers.  Out came a long string – fifteen feet, like black wig hair with silver highlights.  Could there be a pensioner squatting in there?

Turning for help, I googled the words fifteen feet of hair-like stuff coming out of my exhaust, and behold, there was my support group.  Cars that had started to feather and frond out of their back appendages were causing consternation all over the place.

It turns out that what my vehicle has been expelling is sound-deadening material.  And because there is a finite quantity, it will, at some point, stop this exhibitionist behaviour.  All will be fine – apart from me breaking the sound barrier each time I get behind the wheel. 

But oh the disappointment that I don’t, in fact, possess a miracle car and now can't run away to the circus.  Maybe, though, it’s time to be philosophical.  Maybe this is a simple message from the heavens: to channel my inner horse.  I’ve searched out a website with information about symbolism, and found Avia Venefica, who looks properly shamanic and can be trusted to know about these things.  She tells us how, according to Native American teachings, the horse’s “wild freedom can be harnessed and used to the benefit of the tribe…acknowledging mutual respect and awareness of responsibility to each other.”  

So now I’m thinking, wait, maybe the car is channelling its inner horse.  Maybe it’s fed up with the occasional pat on the bonnet (or hood, if you’re reading this in North America), tired of being corralled in a suburban parking space, and desperate to kick its heels. 

Surrey Hills, here we come…

Horse lovers: check out this blog about the gentle management of horses in the Alpujarras in Spain: alpeuquus.posterous.com

21 March 2012


Yesterday Rodney Blackmore called me on the phone.  Rodney is a supervisor at Microsoft Technical Support. 

In India.

“Are you the same people who rang me an hour ago?”  I asked.

“No.  That was not us,” he said in a very pronounced Indian accent.

“But that was also Microsoft Technical Support.  You must have a record of having spoken to me an hour ago.”

“No mam, that was not us.”

“Not you?  How many Microsoft Technical Support offices are there in India, then?”

“There are over a hundred,” he answered.

“And all legitimate?”

“Yes, mam, they are licensed by Microsoft.”

"Don't you have a record of having made a phonecall to me an hour ago?”

“No mam. We are ringing to tell you that there is fault with your computer.”

“Yes, that’s what they told me exactly an hour ago.”

“Are you Mrs Griff living in Tommies?”  

( ? !!!*!)  “I might be.”

“Well, mam, all I can tell you is that your computer has problems.  They will interfere with your online shopping and online banking.”

 “Now that sounds really serious.  So what exactly is wrong with my computer?”

“There are errors.  And we can fix these for you.”

“You mean it’s got a virus?”

“Mam, it could get a virus.”

"It’s funny that you say that, because my computer is working fine.”

“Your computer may be working fine at the moment but, mam, it’s going to have problems.”

“In the future?”

“Yes, mam.  That’s why you need technical support now.”

“But I get technical support already.  From two computer experts.  Who happen to live right here in this house, actually.”

“Mam, if you just write in this code, you can check to prove that what we are saying is correct…”

And, if I hadn’t cut Rodney off in his prime, he would probably have directed me to the Windows Event Viewer where I would have been horrified to see what could have looked like a troubling list of errors.  Then he would have painted a dire picture of how these errors were set to devour the workings of my own computer, the computers in my street, this postal district, the Civil Service, Tesco, and the world.  And then he would have extracted a fee for putting it right.

A Guardian article by Charles Arthur, dated two years ago, tells us that such scams from India have been running since at least 2008, probably from call centres originally based in Kolkata where the scammers get our names from phonebooks.  Now in 2012, they must have been drawing their fingers down the names in the “Tommies” part of the telephone directory, as I’ve been targeted several times a week – and that’s just the phonecalls I’ve bothered to answer.

Microsoft, of course, does not cold-call its customers: “We do not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer,” they say in their website.  

I did know that, really.  

In no uncertain terms, I told Rodney never to call me again.  But now I regret our parting of the ways, and the words of anger uttered in haste.  For, after watching on You Tube how some other scam victims have handled the situation, I’ve realised just what fun can be had by stringing along the scammers, if you have a little bit of time at your disposal. 

So Rodney.  Our time together was too short.  Call again.  I’ll have a cup of tea in my hand, and my feet on the desk.  And I may record our conversation.  For training purposes.

One way of dealing with the scam:

The Guardian article: 

Microsoft’s information about computer security:

15 March 2012

Oh My Sisters...

Chris leads us in a stretch. Photo by Lenn Patterson

Last Saturday evening, on a yoga weekend in Dorset, I stood with a group of women at a bonfire, a bottle of wine (or two) doing the rounds. After a day containing three sessions of yoga, and a morning walk which had seen some of us escape temporarily over the perimeter fence, we were feeling mellow as we faced each other across the flames.

SH!” came loud ricocheting stage whispers.  “They’re coming out!”  We elbowed  each other in the ribs and looked furtively across the grass to the large portakabin.  From our best efforts earlier to peer in through its drawn blinds, we had fathomed that some kind of mysterious sitting and staring activity had been taking place inside.  Now it was finished.  One by one, five men and a woman came down the steps, avoiding the bonfire and any eye contact with us in order to walk back to their rooms in the main house.

 “It’s that Tantric group.”

No.  They’re here for ‘Love in Awareness’.

And they’re not allowed to speak to anyone.”

I wouldn’t be interested in a man who needed a course in Love in Awareness.  Would you?

And smoke blew into our faces and down our throats.

And Fi launched a Chinese lantern which first threatened to set fire to the Love in Awareness portakabin and then headed menacingly in the direction of the local sewage works. 

And the fire crackled and sparked.

And suddenly a majority around that purifying heat felt the compulsion, as if in some spontaneous Salem witch hunt, to admit they had attended convent schools and were, in fact, lapsed Catholics.

And then came tales of cruel nuns.  Of kind nuns.  Of expulsions from school.

And the confession from Nicky who, as a child, had once come running to her mother saying: “It’s true, Mummy, isn’t it, that if you’re not a Catholic, you’re a Prostitute?

And I wondered how I had for so long managed to live without the blissful earthy company of women. 

It’s not that I lack female friends.  But usually I see them in ones or twos, not in a large gaggle.  The last time I experienced female group ethos was at my women-only college at university.*  Then, however, I was often dispirited that some of my college friends were more interested in beetling off to the library of a Friday night than sashaying forth into the town.   And the sea of female faces over the muesli at breakfast was a tad depressing, and convinced me that I had stumbled unwittingly and unwillingly into nothing less than, well, there's that word again, a convent. The urge to hitch up my skirts and climb over the gates – which, incidentally, were shut and locked at midnight – was huge.

Fi  lends support.  Photo by Lenn Patterson

But sharing sleeping quarters in a mobile home last weekend, nattering over mealtimes, seeking out collectively the recipe for the delicious home-made seed crackers (but generally there’s been too much brown rice, said Katherine) helping each other, confessing our joys and our sorrows, doing lots of giggling - this is what it's all about.

Oh, and the yoga?  That was absolutely brilliant.

Photo by Lenn Patterson

Our yoga teacher for the weekend was Chris.  She was excellent, and you can check out her classes and yoga retreats.  Highly recommended:

A core group of seven of us are devotees of the wonderful Estelle:

A gentle and uplifting documentary on what life actually can be like in a convent  - on Rab in Croatia -  can be found here: 

The Love in Awareness group was, in fact, practising a technique of pure speaking and pure listening, in order to learn to drop the layers and masks that we all present to the world.  It, and other interesting developmental courses, can be found at Osho Leela:

*Why a single-sex college, you may ask.  At the time I attended my alma mater, there was no choice.

8 March 2012

Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops

Last week’s blog was about magic boots.  This week, footwear makes another appearance, but only because Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops was a newspaper headline that caught my eye.

It’s the word und that gives the game away, for this is actually German, and a phrase from a Viennese paper.  And it is the evidence that an awful lot has been happening in the German language since I last looked.

Basically, the world of fashion has embraced English in a caring sharing way.  So there are articles with lots of Tipps telling us how to appear younger through correct hairstyle und anderen Anti-Aging Tricks, or using den richtigen Make-Up.  We can chart die coolsten Outfits of the week.  Of course, dein Look is extremely important when you want to be seen at die besten Hot-Spots or even out Shopping.   

You might think that our generous donation of words to continental Europe has brought us slim pickings by way of return.  You, too, may have been disappointed by the arrival on our doorstep of that rather plain German prefix über (as in übertrendy).  Yet, to its credit, it has been valiantly punching above its weight and is now so überused in most of our British Sunday newspaper supplements that you may have become übersick.

But in fact, we have little to whinge about.  We Anglophones have for centuries been snaffling up words from different corners of the globe, stuffing them up our jumpers and into our bulging pockets, and then strewing them around as if we’d dreamt them up ourselves.

It’s time to redress the balance, and I’m hopeful that German will not ditch its original words to make way for the modish English imports, but keep both.  In this way synonyms arise, giving the option to match words to different contexts.

English speakers have long been basking in the luxury of this kind of choice, especially after King Harold took an arrow in the eye and the Normans waded ashore in 1066, unpacking their version of French in their requisitioned castles.  Rather than supplanting the Anglo-Saxon tongue of the local inhabitants, Norman French grew alongside as the language of the landed gentry.  Thanks to this legacy of duality, we can use words originating either from Anglo-Saxon, which often sound more basic, or words from Norman French, which give a more educated feel.  Depending on exactly what effect we are trying to create, we could say dig.  Or we could say excavate.  We could say lift or elevateFind or encounter.  Wash or launderSpeak or converseStop or terminate.  The list goes on and on (or continues, to use the Norman word).

Languages can be invigorated by their borrowings.  German speakers no doubt enjoy the flexibility provided by English additions running parallel to their traditional words, allowing them to decide between, for example, ladylike instead of damenhaft, or clever instead of raffiniert.

Or Nightlife in High Heels und Flip Flops instead of Nachtleben in hohen Absätzen und Gummilatschen

Nightlife in High Heels und schmützigen Trainers

Post Script
And in the way of these things, I've come across a fun blog called High Heels and Flip Flops.  You can check it out here http://www.highheelsflipflops.com/p/why-high-heels-flip-flops.html