Archive for July, 2009

The White Tiger

AravindAdigaLast month I finished reading the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008: The White Tiger by the Mumbai-based writer Aravind Adiga. This is Aravind’s debut novel and it is quite a literary feat, I can tell you.

The protagonist of the novel is the very poor Balram, son of a rickshaw puller, who is taken out of school in order to help support his family. He faces a life of darkness and hard labour crushing coals and wiping tables. However, he manages to get a job as a chauffeur in the big city of Delhi and then goes on to seize his chance to start a new life in Bangalore.

The twist in this tiger’s tail is that we know from the very start that Balram is a murderer – a chatty and very entertaining one too – and the whole novel is written as a series of letters to the Chinese Prime Minister, who is planning a visit to Bangalore, and who, Balram decides, must be told the truth about India.

Balram reveals the corruption underneath the democratic face of India, the bribery, and how the servants of the rich in Delhi are left to rot in dirty basements. The genius of this book is that we feel great sympathy for the murderer Balram, who kills his master and flees to Bangalore to become a successful, rich businessman himself.

“In the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India,” says Balram. “These days there are two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men theWhiteTigerwith Small Bellies.”

A white tiger comes along only once in a generation – a rare creature, like Balram. However, a white tiger that is caught in a cage is not a happy one once he realizes that he is caged. And this is what the novel portrays: a country where roles and castes imprison the people who live there.

I warmly recommend this novel: it is shocking and entertaining (often hilarious) in equal parts. And the voice of our narrator (murderer) is cynical, amoral and – dare I say it? – endearing.


Runes with a view

Slabs of granite

Marking might and the passage of time

Centuries old, gazing blindly over the lake.

Runes

1,000-year-old rune stones

Weather-beaten, enduring.

Will you still be standing in another thousand years?

The guardians of time.

Lake view

Lake view

For a look at other parts of the world, visit That’s My World!


Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

This week, we visited a zoo and safari park here in Sweden – and gasped in wonder at the yaks, antelope, rhinos, dolphins and tigers. And although these animals are not strictly pets, I’m focusing more on the pride part in this post – pride and respect for other living creatures. So, please! Indulge me.

The rhinos looked like immobile rocks as they snoozed in the sun.

Rhinos and other animals

Rhinos and other animals

Yet – there amidst the amazement – I felt a terrible sadness. A sadness at seeing all these animals in enclosures – for our viewing benefit. I couldn’t help but feel that they would be better off in their natural habitat. If their habitat was still there – and if we weren’t driving them to the brink of extinction, that is.

The sad fact is that very few rhinos can survive outside protected areas these days.

My sadness intensified when we came to the tigers’ enclosure. The size of these magnificent creatures took my breath away. It’s only when you are up close (separated by thick glass, of course) that you can see the pure enormity and power of this animals. It seems so terrible to keep them in these enclosures.

Tiger on a statue

Tiger on a statue

Sadly, tigers are also on the brink of extinction and there are only about 4,000 left in the wild. During the past 100 years, they have decreased by 95% and we have already lost three of nine sub-species, and the fourth one is on its way out. The illegal tiger trade – including being used in Chinese medicine – is wiping out these creatures.

So, are zoos and parks like this one doing a good job in preserving endangered species? They are certainly helping in many ways. And yet – I can’t help wishing that we no longer had any need to keep animals in cages.

What do you think?

In the immortal lines of William Blake:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

For a glimpse at more domestic pets – please visit Pet Pride.


Extreme ironing … or not (as the case may be)

It seems I’m not like other mothers.

I don’t shop, cook or … iron!

I gave my niece her newly-washed clothes and she looked at me in shock.

“Don’t you have an iron?” she screamed.

“Yes… somewhere. We use it for the Hamas beads.”

“Don’t you ever use it, like, to iron clothes?” she pleaded

“No. I just use my hands to smooth out the wrinkles.”

Wish that worked on my wrinkles too…

However, it did give me an idea for a show:

EXTREME IRONING – soon on a TV mountain top nowhere near you!

Extreme_ironing_idiot


Just because…

Just because the shoe fits…

Shoes

… That doesn’t mean you have to wear it!

Words on Wednesday – inspired by Muddy Boot Dreams


Cyber Bling

On the whole, I’d say that the Swedes are very good at adopting new technologies and mindsets early on. One aspect they seem to have embraced is the open and sharing attitude that the Internet facilitates.

One example of this comes from Tomas Seo, whom I met at a recent TEDxStockholm event. After connecting up via Facebook and Twitter, I was excited to read all about his latest venture… his creative project during the holidays. Yes – he seriously needs his head looking into is keeping himself on creative toes while on holiday! (Can toes be creative? / Ed.)

And not only is he admirable – he is also generous. He is offering to create free logotypes (one to be finished every day for a month) if you tweet him a brief. For example:

twitter_logotypse

Read the rules here and then tweet him a brief if your company needs a logotype! Each logotype must be inspired by a movie or TV series character.

Now, to make this even more interesting, he is putting up screencasts on his site so that you can see his two or three hours’ work designing a logotype compressed into a two-minute video. It’s amazing how much work and thought goes into a logotype.

Naturally, I tweeted him a brief!

My blog is http://www.ladyfi.wordpress.com. Need something quirky and funny. Inspiration character: Dame Edna Everage.

And although he doesn’t really want to design blog headers, he kindly designed me some cyber bling!

lady_fi_final copy

If you watch the video showing his thought and work process, you’ll see that he really has captured the essence of that crazy Dame Edna! (Oh – and the music is good too!)

As to why I chose Dame Edna… well, I think you can all draw your own conclusions!

Humphries-DameEdna

For a look at other parts of the world, visit That’s My World!


Cuddly animals

No – really!  I’m not scared of the dark.

I’m not!

……

…..

…..

……

Cuddly

Oh – before you go, can you leave the light on?

And don’t forget my cuddly toy!

For more cuddly animals, please visit Pet Pride.


A little bit of nothing

Have you heard of the term moblogging? That’s short for mobile blogging.

I’m nothing if not cutting edge! Hard to believe I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Doing a lot of nothing.


Skinny dipping

Last week I was talking about nudity and wondering why it is so very taboo in some countries and considered natural in others.

Surely it is an example of walking a thin line between porn and nature? Between accepting our bodies and denying them? Between embarrassment and confidence?

Storm

Yesterday, I was with my 11-year-old niece who has come over for a two-week stay from England and the anklebiters, up at the little red summer cottages that we are renting.

After a sudden thunderstorm, the evening sun shone gloriously and we decided to take a dip in the evening warmth down at the nearby lake. After a while, a tanned, silver-haired and extremely tall Swede turned up with his young son. He looked surprised to see us, as if hoping to have the tiny beach to themselves.

“Oh, we’re going to go swimming,” he said. “We didn’t bring our swimming clothes, though. I’m going to swim anyway, so I hope no one will be offended,” he said firmly – but with a smile.

“It’s OK. We’ve got friends who often swim  nude at their summer place. And I promise I won’t look!” I said… although in reality I was thinking, “Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” (And no – I didn’t take a picture!)

After_rain

The kids didn’t bat an eyelid and just carried on swimming and playing.

Although it did give my niece pause for thought…

“You could never do that in England. Sweden is so much better!”

It’s wonderful that people can be so natural and not at all self-conscious. It was, all in all, a lovely swim.

So – would something similar be able to take place in your country with so much grace and charm?


Oh, that glorious light

Summer in Sweden means a lot of things: mosquito bites, ticks, wild raspberries, garlands of flowers and, of course, those long heavenly evenings when it never really gets dark.

House_sun

In fact, in the north of Sweden, the sun never goes down below the horizon at all. It is called the Midnight Sun. It is quite an experience to be able to read without lights on at three o’clock in the morning! (Of course, the opposite is also true in the winter when the sun doesn’t peek above the horizon and they live their days in perpetual twilight.)

TreeHere in the Stockholm region, the sun dips below the horizon for two or three hours, and the eerie white light of night turns a little duskier for a few  hours. Then, the sun climbs up into the sky again and the birds start twittering (that’s the birdsong variety not the online one!) at about four o’clock.

How do you get to sleep? The answer is: with difficulty.

When I first came to Sweden 12 years, it was summer and light. All the time. My body wasn’t used to all this glorious around-the-clock light and I couldn’t sleep for more than three hours every night. This went on for what felt like months, but was probably only a couple of weeks.

I steadily got more and more tired.

Then, one evening, I collapsed on the bed at 6 pm and slept the whole night long.

After that experience, I was cured.

The jetty near our house on a summer's evening

The jetty near our house on a summer's evening

For more insights into the different parts of the world, check out: That’s My World!


Setting the record straight…

Some people call us dumb animals.

It’s time to tell the truth.

…..

…..

…..

Smart_dog

Do these glasses make me look too geeky?

For more pet pictures, go visit: Pet Pride


Wacky word problems

FunandgamesThe hilarious Jenners was inspired to create a game after seeing this math problem:

Each basket held 16 watermelons. Dan collected 1/2 of a basket. Kim collected 2/3 of a basket. Who collected more apples? Show how you know.

It is kind of wacky, right?

Her challenge was for us to come up with more impossible problems. And as maths was one of my weaker subjects at school, not dissimilar to my ankles, I thought I’d give it a go!

1. Too many cooks

If the anklebiters are inventing their own recipes at home and use 3 dl of strong white flour, and then Sir Pe comes in and adds another 2 dl of wholemeal flour, and then the dog runs off with 3/4 of this amount, how long will it take for Lady Fi to start burning the food?

2. The Road Trip problem

If you are going on a road trip in a small, overheated car with lots of overexcited kids and drive the first 100 km at 100 km per hour and the next 700 km at 50 km per hour due to constant toilet stops, who will start screaming ‘Are we there yet’ first?

3. Fruit Salad

If you start chopping up two melons, and Trevor slices three bananas while Maggie dices the pineapple, how long will it take for you to digest the fruit salad?

4. Boredom

If you have to sit through two double Latin lessons every week for five years, how long before you lose faith in humanity?

And, of course, no math challenge would be complete without these two classic problems circulating on the Internet:

5. Where is Wally?

Where is x6. Will someone please move that elephant out of the way!

Elephant_problem

And finally…

Isoceles_cat


If you don’t like the smell of burning, then stay out of the kitchen…

Kelli is planning the menu for when her daughter comes over to visit her at the end of the week. So, naturally, being the cook I am …

Pause here while you all roll around guffawing and pooh-poohing…

… I decided to help her by dedicating this recipe to her!

OK – you can stop laughing now.

Fluffy Banana Pancakes

First off, it’s important to know that you are aiming to make something that vaguely resembles this:

Pancakes

Ready? (I can still hear some giggling there in the back row!)

Sift 100 g of white flour and 40 g of whole wheat flour, together with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, into a big bowl.

Add about 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. (The recipe calls for 2 tbs. but I don’t like my pancakes to be too sweet!) Dig Make a hole in the flour mixture.

Put 175 ml (that’s 1.75 dl) milk into another container and then stir an egg into the milk. Now pour this egg-milk mixture into that hole in the flour mixture. Admire the swirls.

Then use a wooden spoon to mix the mixture until it is smooth and not too lumpy.

At this point, the whole mixture looks something like this:

Mixture

Wet mixture

Don’t despair if it looks like a lifeless lumpy mixture of sawdust or something the cat dragged in. Remember – it’s the taste that counts!

Cover the offending mixture and let it rest for half an hour. That’s 30 minutes.

Whip off the cloth – does it look any better? No, not really! Never mind…

Now mash two ripe bananas (you’ll need to peel them first as the skin is a bit crunchy and sticks in your teeth), and then mix them into that wet sawdust mixture of yours.

In the meantime, your frying/pancake pan should be nice and warm. I use a non-stick as I don’t like to add butter/oil for every pancake. I just put a bit of butter in the pan for the first one, and then I find I don’t need it anymore.

OK – so now I use a ladle or small cup or something and put two ladlefuls into the pan (to make two pancakes). Remember you are making largish fat pancakes, not small, skinny French ones with a penchant for Prada handbags.

It’s quite important not to start surfing on your phone, chat on Facebook or wander off in search of something more interesting to do. Because unwatched pancakes burn. So do watched ones as a matter of fact!

Anyway, keep peeking until you see that the underside is brown. Flip the pancake and brown the other side. You know the drill! When they are golden brown, or deeply tanned, they are ready to eat!

Toppings – whatever takes your fancy! Anklebiter #1 takes frozen berries – or fresh ones – and mashes them into a lovely fruit sauce. Anklebiter #2 likes cinnamon mixed with sugar, and I like the fruit sauce with some Turkish yoghurt. Sir Pe is lucky to get the leftovers… He likes lemon juice and sugar.

We made these pancakes a few days ago in order to get some photos for Kelli. When Anklebiter #1 saw them, she burst out, “Quick! Take some photos to put on your blog and show everyone that they are not burnt!”

How sweet! (You can see that our definition of ‘not burnt’ is probably quite different to your own…)

Not quite burnt - delicious - banana pancakes!

Not quite burnt - delicious - banana pancakes!

Hope you and Jess enjoy them!

By the way, we always make DOUBLE quantities of this recipe as they are just so more-ish!


Scott, Webs and Banknotes

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)

Web

As I walked out one misty morning, I saw a whole field of cobwebs glittering in the sun – caught there on the wire netting of the football field!

Naturally, the quotation above came to mind as it if so familiar.

And true.

Do you know why Sir Walter Scott appears on Scottish banknotes?
Because back in 1826, the UK Parliament threatened to get rid of any notes under the value of £5, provoking an outrage in Scotland. Using the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther (quite a mouthful!), Scott penned a series of letters explaining why Scottish banks should retain the right to issue their own banknotes. There was such a strong reaction to these letters that the government was forced to allow Scottish banks to print their own £1 notes.

So, in order to commemorate Scott’s efforts, he still appears on banknotes issued by the Bank of Scotland to this very day.

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It might also be wise, however, to remember this:

“In the spiderweb of facts, many a truth is strangled.”

- Paul Edridge

Words on Wednesday (but probably a lot shorter than this one) – inspired by Muddy Boot Dreams


Nudity

Take four young men and some crispbread.

Put them on national TV in Sweden has got talent.

With no clothes on.

Result? Hilarity!

This video is making the rounds on the Internet at the moment, especially in the USA, where I gather such nudity wouldn’t be allowed. Here it was a brief moment of laughter for everyone watching – and that was mainly families with kids. As most Swedes are very open and at ease with their bodies, this was considered nothing unusual.

We did laugh, though, until we had tears rolling down our cheeks!

For more (clothed) insights into the different parts of the world, check out: That’s My World!


Love is a snake

When I was a kid, I lived in a suburb of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Round about the tender age of 8, I found my first crush in the form of Scott Fienup. An all-American freckled kid who introduced me to the delights of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And snakes.

Argentine_Boa

Boa Constrictor

Love took the form of brightly-coloured Chopper bikes and cuddling Scott’s pet snake: a boa constrictor. (Snakes are dry and warm to the touch, contrary to the belief that they are cold.)

Isn’t puppy snake love just grand?

(And because I didn’t have a camera when I was 8, I took this image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Visit Bozo over at Pet Pride for snakes and other pets!


Is she trying to tell me something?

I had one of those annoying summer colds at the weekend.

It all started off with me sneezing. Big time. (The only time I really sneeze is in May during the birch pollen season.)

big_sneeze

“Oh no, mama!” shrieked my son in horror. “I hope you’re not getting allergic to children!”

My daughter piped up joyfully:

“Maybe you’re getting allergic to your computer!”


Wednesday Words (OK – it’s Thursday, but who’s counting? Oh – you are!)

Sue and Liam came home one day after a party. They spread joy and smiles and the kids played with them for ages.

After a while, they started feeling deflated, as if the air was going out of them, so they rested gently on a chair. When you came into the room, you couldn’t help but smile when you saw them. Finally, they were nothing but empty plastic bags.

We bid them a fond farewell. RIP Sue and Liam!

Balloons

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Henry James

Inspired by Muddy Boot Dreams


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