Teenage Comeptetiveness

Today we are having a family party at the Dempsey’s. 36 of my Mum and Dad’s nearest and dearest will be showing up this afternoon to share a glass of Xmas cheer and a sausage roll. I have no clue where all these people are going to fit since my Mum and Dad’s house is crammed to the brim already with Rob, myself, Dawn, Dawn’s boyfriend, Adrian, who arrived yesterday (and resulted in much red-wine-drinking, but that is a whole other story), not to mention the dog and most of the furniture and nick nacks that used to fit snuggly in the huge five bedroomed place that they lived in before. It will be an interesting afternoon.

Among the guests will be my cousin Karen, who I have not seen for over six years. When I found out she was coming I experienced a weird reaction that I’ve not had since my early twenties. Karen is the same age as me, give or take a month or so and is visiting Liverpool from France, where she lives with her husband and two kids and runs a bed and breakfast.

When we were younger, Karen was a model. She is tall, has incredibly long legs, beautiful strawberry blond hair and pale blue eyes. She has always been a clothes horse, although she has a personal style to die for and an aloof shyness that, to me, always made her very cool, if a little frustrating to talk to. Oh, and did a I mention that whilst I was getting drunk on watered down lager in the student union in my Doc Martins and second hand leather jackets she was making TV commercials in Tokyo?

My IMMEDIATE reaction when Mum told me that she was coming was, “Yikes, I wonder if I’ll have time to get my hair done?” then my second most immediate reaction was “What? I thought I had grown out of that nonsense?”. I have a great life, a lovely husband and a (kind of) career, what have I got to feel threatened about? But old habits obviously die harder than I thought and somewhere in my ‘grown up’ psyche I am still attached to that shallow little world where beauty and coolness REALLY DO COUNT! Oh bugger, off to the hairdressers with me..

A Morning Visitor

My last Saturday morning in Rabi began with a call around 6.30am from the Camp snake-in-batiment-9-nzaou-161206.jpgBoss warning me that a resident had discovered a snake in his shower. He sounded quite panicked as he told me he was going over there with the Security Chief and a member of the pesiticide-spraying crew to check it out.

Envisioning huge, bright green mambas,I drank my morning coffee and wondered whether it might be fun to go and check it out for myself. I’m not scared of snakes, in fact Rob and I own a Rainbow Python. Well, in truth, Rob owns it, since I make no effort with respect to it’s feeding or maintenance, as I am not keen on the idea of feeding live animals to other live animals in capitivity.

I was a bit shocked when the Camp Boss turned up in our offices half an hour later with the smallest baby snake I have ever seen. I’ve dug up bigger earth worms. I’ve included a picture of it above at the bottom of a water bottle that was being used to carry it about in.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the person making all the fuss about the snake in his shower was a Gabonese guy. It is a strange but true fact that the Gabonese people living in Rabi are more scared of their own natural habitat than most of the ex-pat community. I get more complaints about elephants, mosquitos and now, miniature snakes, from Gabonese guys than I ever do from expats. In fact the only complaints about elephants come from Gabonese people, although what I am supposed to do about elephants in Africa, I don’t know.

At first I thought this was because of a greater understanding and a respect for the wildlife in Africa by it’s own people, but now I’m really not so sure!

Beautiful Photograph

tribute.jpgMy husband, Rob, has an enviable talent for photography and takes photos on a regular basis. That’s one of his photos on the right there, although in this size it doesn’t really do it justice.

He’s won a few Photo Friday challenges which is where the PhotoFriday web site gives a word out on a Friday (for example ‘Feminine’) and then photographers submit a photo they have taken recently which they feel most reflects the meaning of this word. Any visitors to the PhotoFriday site can vote on their favourite photo and, at the end of the week, the person with the most votes wins. He also has his own website, Shifted Exposure, where he posts the photos he feels merit critical scrutiny by other people in the know.

Whilst, I am always impressed by the quality of the shots he takes, there are some that I prefer more than others. The one I’ve included in this blog, above, is one of them (it was taken at Terminal 1 in Toronto Airport). Another one I absolutely love is this one he had taken recently of a pumpkin patch at New Paltz in the US. I was in Rabi at the time but apparently Tim and Rob had driven down there after work one Friday to go climbing the next day. They were too late to find a camp site and so slept in a car park in the van, and then when they got up the next morning, the sight of this field is what greeted them. I think it is one of my all time favourites. It reminds me of the film The Wizard of Oz.

Christian, Ultra-Right Wing Crack-Pots

I think there is a growing sense of unease in the world with the particular brand of Christian, ultra-right wing, capital ‘C’, Conservatism that is becoming more and more pervasive in the US. Yes, that would be the ultra right wing Conservative politics that Bush is aligning himself with. But I suspect, much like myself, because most people outside of the US aren’t subjected to it on a regular basis, we don’t realize just how scary some of the views that are being peddled to an, already terrified, nation can be.

Take, as a perfect example, this article by Jim Rutz about soy food products at this link on the Conservative right wing website ‘World Net Daily’.

Eating too much soy, as it happens, is something that scientists have said may result in an increased risk of cancer in certain circumstances, although many women (including myself) report that it helps with the symptoms caused by a drop in estrogen levels. However, did you know that, by deciding to eat soy, according to the hallowed opinion if Jim Rutz, you are not just making a decision about your health.  No, no, no. You are making a RELIGIOUS and POLITICAL decision which may result in you becoming a SOCIAL AND SEXUAL DEVIANT.

Buy why? Well, according to Mr Rutz (who is neither a scientist, nor an expert on nutrition), soy causes ‘feminizing’ (and given the tone of the article, this is NOT A GOOD THING). In fact, guys, if you eat soy products, he says, it will not only result in a supression of your masculinity, cause your penis to shrink AND make you sexually confused it could, also, horror, of horrors, turn you into a HOMOSEXUAL!!!!!! In fact according to Jim, the rise in homosexuality  (what rise, I thought it had been around since the Roman times?) is actually the result of an increase in the consumption of soy products.

This article is so unbelievably wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. My first reaction was offense at the implication that somehow people who were feminine were sexually confused and weak. But that’s just my perspective. What is truly awful, and unfortunately all to common in these types of articles, is the mixing of real scientific findings with rhetorical religious bull shit (homosexuality is deviant) and all out scare-mongering (see the remark about how giving your baby soy milk can be fatal).

What’s equally disturbing, is this joker, Jim Rutz, has written a book called ‘The Meaning of Life’. The mind boggles.

Elsewhere on this webpage advertisements for the following products also appear:

A book called “Shooting Back – The Right and Duty of Self-Defense” (with a picture of the cross on the front)

A book called “Warning – Canada’s Revolution against faith, family and freedom threatens America” (They can’t possibly mean the Canada where I live?)

and, a T-shirt that displays the words (without a single hint of irony) “Re-defeat Communism”

Be scared. Be very, very, scared……



PB010001I am writing this from a wifi hotspot in terminal F, Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. It’s 8am, I’ll be boarding my flight to Toronto in an hour and a half. I am absolutely exhausted after the journey from Rabi. Stopping briefly in Libreville to take in a couple of celebratory gin and tonics on the way, I have now been travelling for 15 hours. I’ll be landing in Toronto with a bit of luck in about 10 hours.

Aside from the fact that I look (and probably smell) like a street urchin, a marked contrast to all the stylish French travellers swishing around the airport, I LOVE this part of the journey. I am heading in the right direction (i.e. home), it is a beautiful sunny morning in Paris, I am just about to have my first cafe latte in 4 weeks and I have an hour and a half to stare at all the gorgeous designer goodies in the duty free shops. I am way too tight fisted to buy anything (come on, 300 Euro for a pair of sunglasses – I don’t care if they are Gucci!!), but after total isolation from any of the material trappings of the western world, being surrounded by all these fabulous things makes me feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory.

Yippee homeward bound.

Letting the Cat out of the Bag

qube.gifI have now told pretty much everyone I wanted to in person, with the exception of a few people who I won’t see for a while, so I think it is safe to mention my plans here on this blog without upsetting anyone (which I lately am proving to have been given a natural born talent for, but that is a whole other story).

This will be one of my last hitches working in Gabon. I have been here just over a year and it has been one hell of an experience. Apart from the obvious benefits of experiencing a new continent, hearing a new language, getting work experience with a different company, seeing all the exotic animals etc, there have been many other opportunities for personal growth that I am really grateful to have had.

I have remembered what it feels like to be an individual and not just one half of a couple. The solitude has given me time to explore the things that I have always enjoyed but somehow forgot in the daily hustle of the 9-5 world I occupied before. I have learnt how (or at least tried) to cope with difficult characters when I haven’t just been able to walk away. I have worked through how to be happy with my own values and at the same time be accepting of other peoples’ (try it, it’s harder than you think) and I have been made incredibly thankful for the life I have at home – there is nothing like going away to make you appreciate what you have. So all in all I am ecstatic to have had the chance to work out here.

HOWEVER. My leave in Burlington after each working rotation has given me plenty of time to realise how much I love and miss my house, my friends, the sports I do, not to mention my husband. So I have been giving some serious thought to what I can do that will allow me some degree of flexibility (such as I have on my 28 days leave at the moment) but which will also provide us with enough income to maintain a similar life style to the one we have now. The only solution I could think of was to work for myself.

Enter, to huge fanfares and much celebration, the concept of Qube Communications. Qube is Rob’s and my baby. Essentially myself and two other women, are going to be offering outbound (and inbound, eventually) business to business calling and telemarketing services. So, we will be a high end call centre for business products or services that take a bit more than someone reading from a script to describe. If a company wants to fill it’s sales lead pipeline, execute a lead generation campaign, or get it’s sales people appointments with new potential customers, we are aiming to be the telephone foot soldiers for their first line of attack. Check out our website.

I also now have a business blog. I decided to develop a business blog to share some of the information that I have been reading about with other people that might be interested. Both Rob and I have been doing a lot of research on entrepreneurship, bootstrapping, and small business ownership and I have always read a lot about telemarketing and cold calling since I worked at Robert Half. I am very proud of both sights. Rob has done all the web development and we have put the content together entirely by ourselves.

So, I return to Canada on Wednesday 1st November and then I’m back in Gabon for a final 3 weeks before flying to the UK for 10 days over Xmas, then, after that, it is all systems Qube.

I am terrified of failing, terrified of losing my shirt (or worse, our house), my credibility, my self confidence. But this is something that I have always wanted to do, and the early feedback we have received so far has been positive. Being terrified of something has never stopped me before and I have made an arse of myself enough times to know how to deal with that too if it happens.

So keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you know anyone in the market for some high end lead generating services…send ’em my way!!

Farewell to Ivy Cottage

Today, my parents move from our family home, Ivy Cottage, in the little village of Lymm, to their new house in another little village, called Caldy, on the Wirral. I think the downsizing exercise that preceded the move was a bit traumatic given the Byzantine nature of my Dad’s shed and the fact that they’ve been at Ivy Cottage for almost 20 years now.

Mum and Dad first bought Ivy Cottage when I was 16. When the six of us moved in (parents, Dawn, Nanna, dog and I) it was a tiny 200 year-old cottage in an apple orchard with a falling down barn next to it. The stories resulting from the renovations and extension that followed could be the subject of a book. Anyone who hung around the house for any length of time was enlisted. My sister’s boyfriend dug part of the foundations, my Grandfather did the bricklaying, my Mum did all the painting and my Dad would come home after working a full day and immediately start work on the house. My Nanna had to live in a caravan parked by the side of the house whilst the building work took place and I distinctly remember a Xmas morning when we came down to find that we didn’t have a kitchen wall, just a big sheet of plastic hanging between us and the milkman.

Living there between the ages of 16 and 18 almost drove me (and, doubtless, my parents) crazy. The bus service to the nearest town only ran once every two hours (and then only if there was a ‘Z’ in the month) and the local pub was full of farmers for whom the introduction of a new draft beer was the highlight of their year. I remember a lot of teenage hissy fits. But when I got older and left home, it was a great place to go back to. Throughout my late teens, twenties and even into my thirties, I’d retreat to Ivy Cottage when I had that ‘stop the world, I want to get off’ feeling. I would eat and sleep properly and ‘put my head back on’ (as my Dad would call it) and then they’d send me off into the world again.

Now Mum and Dad have sold up and have moved closer to where their roots are. The Wirral is only a stone’s throw from Liverpool, where they both originally hail from (get my Dad drunk and he’ll sing his Liverpool Collegiate school song for you). They’ll be close to my Aunties, Uncles, Cousins and Grandparents. I am told Caldy is where all the footballers live and even Paul McCartney has a home there. I’ve seen a picture of the view of the sea from their house and it looks lovely. Rob and I are going there at Xmas and I can’t wait.

I doubt very much that it will upset me to spend Xmas in a new place. Ivy Cottage has some good memories, but the reason it was such a great place to go back to is the fact that my parents were there and that won’t change.  Besides so far in my life I have never actually met a footballers wife…


Whilst I was browsing one of my favourite blogs, Creating Passionate Users, I came across a link to NaNoWriMo. What is that?? Well, it stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’, when aspiring authors all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days starting on 1st November. Why? Here I quote directly from the website:

“The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.  

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”

Anyone can sign up, it costs nothing, and if your creation passes muster (i.e. you submit it before midnight on November 30th via their website and their robotic counters confirm that it is 50,000 words or more) then you get an honourable mention on their website and the satisfaction of knowing you did it!

The competition has been running for eight years and started with a small (21) group of 20 somethings in San Francisco (where else?) who just did it for the hell of it (and because they thought if they could claim to be writers they might get dates more often). In 2005 they had 59,000 entrants. Although entry is free, there is a place on their website to make donations and a web based store where you can purchase associated stuff (mugs, T-shirts etc), the proceeds of which will be donated to an elementary school in Vietnam to help child literacy.

There are literally hundreds of local support groups all over North America, the New World, Africa, Europe and Asia. They even have a group in Hamilton they meet, have pre-launch parties, support groups and then post NaNoWriMo celebrations together.

I think it’s a wonderful idea and, working out that over 30 days you would only have to write just under 1700 words a day (this blog is 2000 words already), I almost jumped on it. But then I thought about it a bit and realised I’d be travelling until 1st November from Gabon, leaving again from Canada for Africa on 26th November, and between those two dates plan to spend as much time with my family and friends as I possibly can. These conditions are not conducive to novel writing. Maybe next year..this travelling lark is starting to get in the way of my life!!

Zen Master Prouse

monk.jpgWell, not quite..but in the last couple of months I (and Rob, for that matter) have been reading, listening to podcasts, and attending ‘classes’ about Zen Buddhism. Hence the recent vegetarian decision and the effort on my part to cut out excessive drinking. I see this as a natural development from me getting into yoga, which I still practise every day, although the two are not necessarily about the same thing, as it is possible to take yoga at a purely physiological level.

Where spirituality of any kind is concerned (even something as seemingly benevolent and non-western as, Buddhism) I am very, very, sceptical. This is based on my experience that some of the most bigoted and judgemental people I have ever met have been from an organised religion that touts itself as being for the good of mankind, demands blind devotion and takes on the role of judge and jury based on an interpretation of a text written a gizillion years ago, of which there are at least 100 other interpretations all claiming to be ‘the one true one’.

However, based on my experience so far, I have to say, I really am all for Zen..

There are lots of different schools of Zen and I couldn’t tell one from the other at the moment. What I do know is that any school recommends two fundamental things. The first is that you question everything you are told so that you fully understand for yourself, your own relationship to the world – what a healthy suggestion…

The second major tenet is that you meditate on a regular basis. So I thought I’d try this as a starter. With the help of classes from a lovely nun (who follows the Vietnemese Zen tradition) at the Blue Heron Zen Center in Hamilton, I have been ‘learning’ to meditate.

Sister Tinh Quanq, who is about as downhome Canadian as they come (I don’t know what her Western name is but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was ‘Jane’) gives classes once a week and when I am in Gabon, Rob records them and sends them to me as MP3’s.

The effects of meditation are subtle, and at the same time, radical. I am typically one of those people who find it difficult to control my thoughts (hence the title of this blog) and I am often at the whim of my own mental state and emotions. Meditating has given me a degree of control and calmness that I have never had before and I LOVE it!!

I haven’t become a smug, self-satisified, karma kid just yet, quoting from the sutras and blathering on about enlightenment. I doubt very much that the people around me have noticed any change at all (then again, the only thing they would notice is if  walked into work naked) but I have changed in small ways and I intend to continue to do so. It takes discipline to get out of bed every morning and meditate, especially when you start work at 6.30am every day, but it has been worth the effort and I wanted to blog about it because I think it is another big change in my life for the better.

Holy Dog’s Bum

I couldn’t resist it – check out the link below. I wonder if they’ll sell it on eBay?

Jesus image found in dogs butt