1st August 2011
Urgh. OK. I’ll confess. The first day of Ramadan has always been a challenge for me and today is no exception. It’s not something that many people will confess too, maybe for fear of being “weak” or somehow “not being a good muslim”, but the shock the body experiences on Day 1 of fasting is quite real. For this blog I’ll describe my day so far…
03:55 Alarm goes off. Time to get up and have some breakfast before sunrise officially begins. This morning I switched from my usual toasted crumpet with Marmite, two cups of tea (milk, no sugar) and a small glass of orange juice. My usual Ramadan breakfast is a bowl of All Bran with milk and two large glasses of orange juice diluted 50:50 with water. Sometimes I’ll have some fruit too, but not today. I want to get well hydrated and have something that will release carbohydrates during the day.
04:15 Time for ablutions and prayer, then back to bed.
06:00 Dog paws me awake and asks to go outside. His tummy is squeaking and groaning like crazy – must have been the aloo gobi last night. He likes most vegetables but broccoli and cauliflower are his favourites.
06:10 Back to bed
06:30 Dog paws me again. By now the squeaking is louder and more contorted so I have to let him outside. Man continues his peaceful sleep…
06:35 Back to bed
07:30 Dog’s tummy sounds like an orchestra tuning up. I let him out AGAIN and decide to have a shower and get dressed.
08:00 I am acutely aware that I am not going to have a lovely cup of tea and decide to distract myself. Firstly I’ll do some laundry and then I’ll hoover the house.
09:30 Right. I’ve finished that so I’ll… tidy out my spice cupboard. In the process I discover that I have two half-empty jars of tarragon, two half-empty jars of turmeric, three part-filled jars of cinnamon sticks, and a few empty jars. I write a list of spices that I need to buy and throw a dozen empty jars in the recycle bin.
10:30 Settle down in front of my PC to answer some YT comments and catch up some of the huge backlog of emails.
11:00 Normally I would have a nice cup of coffee at this point. Hmmmm.
12:00 Decide to go for a short walk into town. I need to go to the bank anyway. Feeling a bit thirsty…
12:30 Spend the next hour or so helping Man draft a letter for his business. I’m starting to feel on the downward slope and Man can see it too.
14:15 Change the bed and have a lie down. I can feel a headache coming on and my blood sugar must be dipping. I fall asleep.
15:30 The doorbell goes. It’s my new lighting system for videos. Normally I would be ultra-excited but I have a throbbing in my head. Nevertheless I unpack my new toys and assemble them. I then spend an hour trying out different configurations of the lights to try and eliminate the glare from my glasses!
17:30 I really ought to write my blog!
It’s now 18:00 and my head feels like it’s about to explode. Hunger is never a problem for me during Ramadan, but during the first few days I really feel the effects of dehydration. My body screams out for liquid and can’t understand why I just ignore it. So it screams louder!
I was going to make Sweet and Sour Chicken tonight but I can’t really focus properly. Instead I’ll raid the freezer and pull out a giant pizza. Only another 3 hours before I can satisfy my thirst!
One of the great blessings I find during Ramadan is that it helps me to remember that there are people in this world who don’t have access to a good food or water supply. We can see them on the TV and we see the distress that they feel, but rarely do we gain an insight into how they are actually feeling. I can almost guarantee that those of you that read this blog have a roof over your head, readily-available food and water, good clothes and footwear, and money in the bank. We are in a minority in this world and we should remember that it is only by the Grace of God that we are where we are, while others do not have even the basic things that we take for granted. Please take time to remember those who are less fortunate than yourself.
8th August 2011
And so I begin my final year as a forty-something. I’ve never been one to dwell on my age. If I was asked how old I am I would have to say that I’m twenty-something with the wisdom of a forty-something. Better that way round than the other way! A big “Thank you” to everyone who has sent me birthday wishes.
After my whining blog of last week I can report that the week got better very quickly. I had a few cramps in my thighs on Tuesday and Wednesday but I suspect it was more to do with not sitting properly in my office chair.
I felt good enough by Thursday to decide to have a day out in Birmingham. Mr B and Ms G suggested we could meet up in the evening and so the plan formed. After an hour and a half drive I parked the car in Small Heath, a suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham. It’s very close to the Birmingham City football ground and I just shook my head in shame as I drove past. How can a team that wins the Football League Cup get relegated from the top division? And to add insult to injury our manager defects to the “other side” to become manager of Aston Villa! Oh the shame, the woe, the gnashing of teeth…
Green Lane Mosque
Small Heath has a high proportion of people from the Asian sub-continent and Africa. The majority of the women wandering along the main shopping street were wearing salwaar kameez or abaya. There were quite a few men who looked as if they had just walked in off the streets of Karachi. The shops themselves reflect the ethnicity of the local population. The supermarkets are filled with exotic vegetables, spices, and more types of beans and lentils than I had ever seen in my life!
Some Caucasian Brits might find the whole experience rather unnerving, but I found it strangely comforting. It was a bit like being back in Lahore except it wasn’t as warm. And the roads in Small Heath are better than those in Lahore. And there wasn’t the constant noise of car horns. On reflection maybe it was nothing like Lahore… but it does have a mosque. The Green Lane mosque is, or perhaps was, a slightly controversial mosque following an investigation in 2007 by a TV company which found some evidence of religious extremism being promoted in the mosque. I didn’t see the documentary and so I prefer not to comment, but what I will tell you is that the minaret has trees growing out of it! Why doesn’t somebody climb up there and sort them out????
I took the opportunity to stock up on a few spices – as you might imagine I tend to use a lot of spices and I prefer to buy them at Asian stores because they are so much cheaper. Why pay £1.50 for 10 g of cumin powder in Tesco’s when I can buy 200 g of the stuff for £1.89 in the Al-Halal Supermarket on the Coventry Road! I also popped into a nice halal butchers and staggered out with almost 10 kg (20 lb) of chicken and keema. It was a relief to get back to the car and load the meat into the cool-boxes I had brought along with me.
From Small Heath I headed towards Mum’s home, stopping on the way to buy her a bunch of flowers. The drive took me past the crematorium where my father’s ashes lie and I had wanted to call in, but it was late afternoon and the gates to the crematorium were locked. I spent a couple of hours with Mum and then drove to Aston to meet up with Mr B and Ms G for a spot of campanological activity. This took me deep into enemy territory and as I drove past the Aston Villa football ground I boo-ed very loudly. BOOOOOO! BOOOOOOO! Give us our manager back!
After ringing Ms G headed home with her two delightful daughters while Mr B and I headed to Saleem’s, an Indian restaurant deep in Birmingham’s Balti Triangle. I’ve known Mr B since university days and it’s always good to spend time chatting about “stuff”. We share a broad range of common interests from IT to music, and particularly curries! We ate well. I had a prawn balti and a naan described as “medium”. I can only imagine that you could make a tent out of the “large” naan. Mr B’s mushroom balti was quite splendid and bursting with coriander flavour. And it was all so cheap!
We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and headed in separate directions. It was midnight by the time I got home. Man was in bed but Dog was barking and jumping as he always does whenever I come home. I like home.
So the plan today is to go and try and find a plum tree for the garden. After that we’ll come home, maybe plant the tree, and then tonight we are heading into Leominster to one of the Desi restaurants there. We haven’t decided which one yet…
17th August 2011
A new era begins. Monday was my last official working day with DuPont and from now until the end of the month I am using up my remaining vacation entitlement. At least, that’s how the story goes. In reality I’ve done very little for the company since 1st July, but yesterday I logged into the corporate IT system for one last time and then removed all the email programs and access portals from my home PC. I posted my “secure access token” back to Stevenage and today is the first day that I will no longer worry about my “work” email.
The last two and a half months has been a series of little milestones of disconnection with the company. My staff were reassigned to other people, then I handed back my equipment, and now the only real remaining issue is my last paycheck which will arrive at the end of the month. There are two ways you could look at this; either a series of losses, or a series of steps towards freedom. Which way do you think I see this?
One thing that has surprised me during the whole process has been the indifference shown to me by my boss’s boss. I always felt that we had quite a good relationship. For example, when I was planning to move back to the UK she phoned me to ask me if everything was OK and to wish me luck with the move. Since the end of May I’ve had no contact from her, which makes me wonder what my boss has said to her. I can only speculate, but I won’t lose any sleep about it.
I took advantage of some nice weather last week to start reorganising my fruit patch. The way the patch was organised made it difficult to manage the plants properly due to a lack of space. And quite frankly having four blackcurrant bushes is two too many in my book! So I prepared a separate area in the garden and transplanted two of the blackcurrant bushes and one of the gooseberry bushes. I’m watching them carefully at the moment to make sure that they have survived their ordeal. I have most concern for the gooseberry bush because it’s root system made it difficult to dig up. Time will tell.
For my birthday last week Man bought me a plum tree (I like plums!) and a blueberry bush (I adore blueberries!) and these were planted too. My strategy is to have a variety of fruits in the garden in quantities that are manageable. I have lots of raspberries, for example, but I can’t get at them because of the way that the fruit patch has been laid out. I’ll rectify this in the autumn ready for next year.
New fruit patch
My “chilli farm” in the greenhouse is coming along nicely and I should have a good crop of chillis quite soon! I need to make more chilli pickle… And I have a lot of capsicum peppers that I need to do something with. I’m thinking I should make a nice capsicum pickle with them. And I’ll use all the tomatoes to make a base curry sauce. I can see that my store cupboard is going to be full very soon!
The chilli farm
I’m getting into a nice routine now for Ramadan. I’m getting up around 04:15 for breakfast and Fajr before heading back to bed. My body has adjusted to the new routine with regard to food and drink and I find that when I come to break the fast I’m not nearly as thirsty as during the first week. I’m also making sure that dinner is ready by the time the sun sets (around 20:30). I’ve paid my zakat and I’m keeping up with daily reading of the Qur’an. Even if I don’t read the Qur’an at any other time of the year, I do make sure I read it during Ramadan. For those that don’t know, a Qur’an has markers in it which divides it into 30 roughly-equal parts. This makes it easy to know how much to read on a given day and it usually equates to about half an hour of reading.
Oh, and I’ve lost over 2 kilos so far. No snacking during the day!
Right, I have some capsicums to deal with!
27th August 2011
Last weekend Man and I headed north to visit his parents. It was the occasion of their diamond wedding anniversary and was a very sombre affair compared with events 10 years ago. My mother-in-law is frail, suffers from dementia and receives constant nursing care in a nursing home. My father-in-law is still very fit and active and continues to live at home alone. There was no celebration and only a handful of cards from most of the family members. My stepson was actually in the area at the weekend to watch a local football match but did not think to call in on his grandparents. In contrast my stepdaughter invited my father-in-law, Man and I for dinner.
Seeing my mother-in-law slouched in a chair, barely able to move and not really understanding what was going on around her strengthens my belief that the most precious thing you can possess is good health. Make the most of life while you have it.
Yesterday was an exciting day in the World of Titli. At 9 am yesterday morning two men called Jimmy and James arrived in a very large van to come and fit solar panels on our roof. The plan was to fit 17 panels in a simple configuration but as soon as Jimmy the Roofer saw the scene he declared there was no way he could fit all the panels in the space available. James the Electrician made a few phone calls to the office – it seems the guy who had done the original survey, Joey the Rep, had got his measurements wrong!
Two hours later after many discussions it was agreed that 14 panels would be fitted to the roof and work began. Work then stopped about 30 minutes later thanks to a heavy rain shower which lasted about another half an hour.
James and Jimmy were very apologetic for the situation and the late start, but I kept telling them that I understood it wasn’t their fault. Once the rain had eased Jimmy was back on the roof crawling over it like Spiderman. James got on with the job of installing all the wiring.
First the brackets...
It was late afternoon by the time that Jimmy had finished punching holes in the roof and fitting brackets. This was no easy task because the roof tiles are made of slate and quite slippery when wet. They didn’t stop for lunch, preferring instead to press on and complete the job.
Then the rails...
The first panels started going on the roof just before 7 pm. I was getting concerned that they would run out of daylight, but Jimmy assured me that they would finish the job whatever it took. Each panel took about 10 minutes to fit and as the light faded the torches came out. Just after 10pm they declared their work was complete and began tidying up. They left shortly before 11pm for a two hour drive back home.
Then the panels.
Two things struck me about the whole experience. Firstly, these guys clearly took a pride in their work. James ran all the wiring in a very neat manner, while Jimmy placed the panels EXACTLY where he wanted them. Even an error of 5mm was not acceptable to him – it had to be just right. They cleaned up all their mess and even took all their rubbish away with them. They could have stopped when it got dark but they came prepared for a late finish and continued working. In the UK at the moment there are so many programmes on TV about rogue traders and cowboy builders that it was so refreshing to see two guys who were the complete opposite of that.
An elephant on my roof?
Two dedicated guys
I said there were two things that struck me. The guys turned up early for the job, didn’t stop for lunch and continued working until 10 pm at night. Somehow I can’t imagine ever seeing that happen in France!
Next week I have another trip to Geneva to pick up the car that I left there when we moved here last October. I’ll be driving across France to catch a ferry and, God willing, I’ll be back home within 3 days. Next week – Titli, the Road Movie!