Thursday 29 December 2011
Wednesday 28 December 2011
Sunday 18 December 2011
Friday 16 December 2011
Thursday 15 December 2011
Wednesday 14 December 2011
No, please. Let me. Leave my hat on, that is. Because 'that' time of year has arrived — The Time Of The Eternal Hat.
I've never had an easy relationship with head-gear. Throughout my childhood I managed to avoid them as a rule. Sure, there was my uneasy truce with a dun bobble-hat when I was in the Brownies, and then the airline stewardess look-alike cap I had as a Girl Guide — the things I did for Queen and Country — but overall, I was always aware that generally, hats were not for me.
I'm not sure why that was. Oh, alright, I know exactly why that was. I have a big head and fine hair, a disastrous combination for any aspiring hat-wearer, and one that invariably tends to leaves me either looking like I borrowed my younger sibling's titfer (hat on), or (once I've taken it off) with hair so lank, straight, and flat against my head that I might as well have tipped a vat of cooking oil over myself. Not, I am sure you will agree, desirable outcomes in either case.
But, here I am in Moscow. Where the temperature for, oh, I don't know, five or six months of the year is so inclement that only a fool would venture outside without 'protection.' At times, it gets so cold here that if you are silly enough to set foot on the street without a hat, you will be accosted by well-meaning but more than a little scary babushkas berating you for your idiocy and prophesying doom in the form of cold, pneumonia and imminent death if you don't immediately put the woolly bobble hat your mum knitted for you back on. (Mind you, they make the same pronouncements about drinking beverages with ice in them, so...)
But this s the start of my third winter here, and having spent the previous two in an adequately warm but frankly unstylish wool confection from (name deleted to protect the innocent), I was determined that this year, THIS YEAR, I would find the perfect hat.
Reader, I promise you, I tried. It's not as if Moscow is short on hats. They come in every shape, size and material, and surely there must be at least one within my price range to suit? But therein lies the problem — the "within my price range" disclaimer. Certainly, I saw lots of beautiful hats. Some of them — in the right light and with half-squinted eyes — actually suited me. But amongst the ones I could afford? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. If only I could make like my sons and simply throw whatever happened to be warmest and fit me on top of my head.
Instead, I've ended up with a velour number that looks distressingly like the sort of thing your grandmother would sport on a trip to the dentist and which, whilst it fits, doesn't even keep my ears that warm. To add insult to injury, despite it's being too loose, it still manages by some Moscow static magic to glue my hair to the sides of my head by the time I take it off, leaving me with a daily dilemma: add 40 years to my age and keep my hat on inside like some misplaced Edwardian lady on sabbatical from a BBC drama, or remove the offending item and look instead like a drowned rat?
This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' , on The Moscow Times.
Tuesday 13 December 2011
“I’ve ruined Christmas!” she wailed, never one to underplay the drama in a situation.
“What have you done?” I asked, in a muffly I-answered-the-phone-with-a-
“Derek asked me straight if Father Christmas is real and I told the truth!”*
“Oh dear,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic whilst at the same time keeping half an eye on twitter. “It’s so hard isn’t it? Belle asked me to absolutely promise that I wasn’t the Tooth Fairy this week.”
“What did you do?” my friend asked.
I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. Belle certainly didn’t seem happy with my response.
“Swear on my life Mummy that you’re not the Tooth Fairy,” she said.
“I swear on your life that I have never dressed up as a fairy and taken a tooth from under your pillow.”
Not very convincing.
“I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” she shouted, folding her arms across her chest and turning away from me. “Mummy’s aren’t supposed to break promises. How will I ever trust you again?”
The questions had come on the back of a visit to see Santa in his grotto, a visit which Belle had treated with a good deal of scepticism. “How can that be the real Father Christmas,” she asked, quite reasonably I thought, “when I saw a sign earlier saying he was going to be somewhere else in town this afternoon?” It was a fair point. “Besides,” she added, “I could see the line where his beard was stuck on.”
This bit wasn’t fair at all, as his beard was real, and one of the most impressive Santa beards I have ever seen. She wouldn’t have it though, even when I zoomed right in with the camera and showed her the individual hairs growing out of his chin. (In a photo afterwards, not on the actual man).
They grow up so quickly don’t they? A couple of years ago she was completely taken in by a visit to what was genuinely a teenage girl in a Poundland quality fake beard, and yet now, faced with an elderly man with impressively bushy white facial hair, who almost had me convinced, she’s doing everything she can to pull him apart.
It’s a tricky one, because actually I still really want to believe in Father Christmas myself, and I want to keep the magic of things like the Tooth Fairy alive as long as I possibly can. Pretending that you believe is surely almost as fun, so isn’t it OK to try to keep up the pretence? Or should you be honest with your children, even if perhaps they don’t really want to hear it?
When did your children stop believing?
*Not his real name. Seriously, who would call a kid Derek??
Monday 12 December 2011
- 1.75kg (4lb) cooking apples; peeled, cored and chopped (please note; I have also used eating apples from the garden and it tastes fantastic - even sweeter and tangier if possible)
- 4 medium sized onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 900ml (1 1/2 pints) white (preserving) vinegar
- 450g (1 lb) raisins
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 kg (2 lbs 2 oz) soft brown sugar (I used dark brown muscavado and it gives a gorgeous dark brown colour, but light brown will do too)
- Place the apples, onions, garlic, lemon juice, mustard seeds and 600ml (1 pint) of the vinegar in preserving pan (any large heavy bottomed pan will do).
- Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour until the mixture is soft.
- Add the raisins, ground ginger, salt, sugar and remaining vinegar and simmer, stirring frequently until the chutney is thick. (This bit can take up to 20 minutes or so; don't lose your nerve and go too early, but likewise don't expect it to set or to be much thicker than a loose apple sauce. It will thicken up as it cools).
- Put into sterilised jars*, seal with a waxed paper disk and lid, and label with the date. The yield is approximately 3.2kg (7lbs)
- This is ready to eat as soon as it's cold, but tastes even better a week or so after you've jarred it. Store in a cool dark place. Attack with a spoon when you fancy a sandwich. Or a salad. Or pretty much anything savoury, actually...
Friday 9 December 2011
Wednesday 7 December 2011
Sunday 4 December 2011
Friday 2 December 2011
Wednesday 30 November 2011
Monday 28 November 2011
Sunday 27 November 2011
Thursday 24 November 2011
Wednesday 23 November 2011
Monday 21 November 2011
Sunday 20 November 2011
Friday 18 November 2011
Thursday 17 November 2011
Wednesday 16 November 2011
Tuesday 15 November 2011
This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' on The Moscow Times website
I spent the last four days in London, without my family. This was an interesting experience because not having the children to entertain and wrangle freed my attention sufficiently to notice a few things that I wouldn't normally remark upon. Perhaps it's because I used to be too close to the city — it was my benchmark of "normal" — whereas now, nearly two years after leaving, my expectations and measures of "normal" have changed.
Once upon a time, for example, I would not have been at all surprised by courtesy as a part of everyday life. On this visit, however, I was impressed to see how many people were polite to each other. And I'm not just talking about the service culture being a little more established over there than it is here, no, this is politeness as a two-way street. Not only were cashiers, servers, waiters and suchlike helpful and polite to their customers, but — get this — their customers were polite back!
No grunting, no muttering, no avoidance of eye-contact, no shouting across restaurants waving your hand in the air for service. Instead, people were politely chatting at tills, exchanging pleasantries (invariably about the weather; the British do run true to type on this one), and even smiling at each other.
There could be any number of reasons for this difference in day-to-day life between what I experience here in Moscow and what I saw in London. It could be that I just happened to strike lucky while visiting the latter. Certainly, if you speak to a Londoner, they will say that it is a very unfriendly place to live these days and remark on how standards have dropped. It could be that that people are simply glad to either have a job selling products or the money to spend on them given the economic gloom in the country. Or, it could be that my benchmark for common courtesy has been significantly lowered by my time here.
At the risk of offending a city of 16 million people, I suspect that it is the last of those.
I understand that Moscow is a hard place to live. Money is tight everywhere, the traffic is terrible, the weather is often inhospitable. Families live in close quarters, competition is fierce, you never know what's coming tomorrow. The world is a frightening place, and it's tempting to batten down the hatches and simply conserve the energy it takes to engage socially with another human being at the supermarket, the petrol station, or the cafe, and save it for the fight.
I also know that many people believe there have been great strides in recent years, and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly the goods and services you can access here nowadays are not so different from those "back home." But a decent service culture is only a part of the puzzle and is unlikely to be achieved without some positive feedback from those on the receiving end.
Moscow is a great and exciting city, as I'm constantly telling those who've never visited. But from my limited viewpoint, I would venture to say that life could be so much easier if we were all a little nicer to each other.
It's all very well to expect service with a smile. But you can expect it all you like; you won't see anywhere near as much of it if you aren't prepared to give one in return.
Monday 14 November 2011
Thursday 10 November 2011
Tuesday 8 November 2011
Monday 7 November 2011
Frankly it's the sort of thing which, if I owned any of the appliances they are currently messing about with would give me kittens, but since I don't, I'm just enjoying the show.
The thing is, in my non-Russian speaking bubble, right now I have no idea what's going on. For all I know, the conversation could be as follows:
Young Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Come on guys. I know it's early but we need to get this sorted out."
Workman #1: "That's easy for you to say. You haven't got at dishwasher balancing on your head. What did the stupid cow do to break the washing machine anyway?"
Workman #2: "God knows. These westerners and their crazy wash-every-day ideas. Every one knows you don't need clean clothes every day. No wonder the damn thing's broken "
Silence, broken only by panting and puffing...
Workman #3 (head under the sink): "Would it be out of the question to light up a quick fag, do you think?"
Workman #4: "Better not. You know how arsy they get about that type of thing. Not a decent ashtray in the place as far as I can see. Somebody pass me the monkey wrench?"
Workman #2 "What am I, your servant? Get it yourself, Comrade!"
Workman 4: "Comrade? That's behind us now. I don't need to answer to you, commissar."
Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Hey! Hey! Stop with the political discussions and eyeing up the chocolate biscuits and pass him the monkey wrench for pete's sake. We're all new Russians now. Right. One, two, three, lift..."
Workman #1: "Watch out for the laminate flooring! It's brand new! We didn't take up the perfectly decent parquet for you to scratch Ikea's finest laminate that we replaced it with."
Silence and more wheezing...
Workman 3: "OK. One previously perfect Samsung out - one slightly ropy Ariston alternative in. Give it a wipe down with your handkerchief, comrade, and let's be off."
Workman 2: "Let's see how long it takes the Western Imperialists idiots to break this one with their compulsive washing habits... We do know she doesn't understand us, I take it?"