Archive | January, 2011

Bridging the Gap

28 Jan

Card games are a universal social ritual, which seem to punctuate transitions through life. When we are young children, we learn object recognition by playing Pairs and Snap. At primary school we collect and exchange cards like a currency. In our teens we formulate friendships and pass the time between lessons with Rummy and the delightfully named Sh*thead. When we move into our twenties and thirties, cards become an evening event with poker chips and, in my hubby’s case at least, a glass or two of Johnny Walker.

Then, at some point in later life people learn how to play Bridge. I’m not sure if Bridge is the final rite of passage into retirement, but it would seem so if yesterday’s tournament is anything to go by.

A colleague of mine who I volunteer with was in desperate need of some helpers to assist with an international Bridge tournament, from which a donation was being made to her Girl Guides group. I was happy to go along – both to help out a colleague, as well as having a new experience. The beauty of not working is that you can say “yes” to so many more things, without worrying about how exhausted you are going to be at the end of the day! I was reassured that knowing absolutely nothing about Bridge wouldn’t be a hindrance, so I hopped on the bus to the plush hotel where the event was taking place.

The event was being run by a team of Americans who travel around the world managing different tournaments (and get paid to do this. Clearly these Sexagenarians are onto something here.) Candy was a slim lady from Virginia who probably spends her days off playing badminton and wearing sweaters draped over her shoulders. Jack was a practical, jolly fellow with a moustache who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hardware store, advising people on the best varnish to go for to protect their porch benches in the winter months.

My surreptitious papping of the focused Bridge players in action

Jack talked me through what I needed to do. The game was played by four people, and at the end of each round, the East and West people would move to the next table, whilst the North and South remained seated. I had to ensure that I watched for the movement to know when to collect the scorecards. It was important to be prompt, as I should not risk another game being completed and being left with two scorecards for different rounds. I would know if the scorecards would be complete as they would be face down, with one corner folded back. Clearly Bridge is a game of rituals.

Bridge: the world's most complicated card game. No idea what this is for!

For the first round I felt as if I carried the responsibility of the success of the entire tournament. Heck, maybe these people’s lives! If I didn’t collect those scorecards fast enough the whole event would come crashing down! There would be international outcry! These people may never play Bridge again because of “The Bermuda Incident”! After the first round however I realised that it would be quite impossible to cause a catastrophe and that actually a six year old could manage the scorecard collection adequately. But my initial fear was compounded by how SERIOUSLY people were taking the game. I’d presumed that, like the card games I’d played throughout life, this would primarily be a sociable event. People would chat to the new East and West pairs that joined their table – finding out where they were from, how long they had been playing, comparing lists of ailments – that sort of thing. Given the age of the majority of the players I made the assumption that playing Bridge was almost secondary to the opportunity of meeting new people and companions. But, oh no! This was a competition! As I went along to collect the scorecards there was complete silence on the tables, faces fixed in concentration. If I had to reach across the table to collect the card it would feel like I’d just burped in the middle of a prayer in church.

I suspect that my 60 year old self would only have been this serious had there been a $1,000,000 prize. (Otherwise she’d have opted for Bingo where she could have a chat and a Martini.) But I admired their ability to concentrate on playing a complex card game for almost 4 hours, without constantly checking Facebook on their iPhone or looking at their emails. That’s something that my generation isn’t so good at. I do wonder, when the times comes, will we have the patience to focus on learning Bridge? Or will the rituals of Bridge have been replaced with a quick and easy electronic game we can do whilst watching the TV? Regardless, I now have a newfound respect for Bridge players!

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Mouldy days and Sundays always get me down

27 Jan

Sunday wasn’t a good day. I woke at 7am to find the power was off. In Bermuda that’s not unusual; with all the power cables hanging from poles all it takes is a strong gust of wind and they’re disconnected. Normally the outage is fixed within an hour and your day continues uninterrupted. I fell back to sleep thinking through the things I was going to do when I work up to a fully-functioning house; bake brownies, do some laundry, work online for a bit, and then make a coulis for pudding for our two evening dinner guests.

Unfortunately all of these things require some galvanising, and so I was quite miffed to wake at 9am to find there was still no power. At first I thought it was actually rather good as, with no functioning hairdryer, clearly I had no other option other than to stay in my PJs and read my book. By 1pm however the novelty had completely worn off and I spent the next two hours stomping around with wet hair and a grumpy face.

At 3.15pm, one hour and fifteen minutes before our dinner guests were due to arrive expecting a lovely roasted pork shoulder sizzling in the oven, the power came back on. Rich and I scrambled to the kitchen to peel and chop and boil and bake, competing for kitchen appliances and floor space.

I’d just stopped cursing Bermuda’s stupid electrics/hurricane force winds when I discovered this: my little heat bag of beans – the cure for everything from tummy aches to chilly feet – was covered in mould. Bermuda had crept into the bedroom and breathed its dusty, damp breath all over it.

I was more upset than I should have been over a £5 microwaveable tartan bag and as I switched on the dehumidifier with a growl I wondered why. The bag of beans wasn’t expensive. It wasn’t made of particularly fetching material. But, it stood for comfort and cosiness and familiarity. And this silly foreign island, with its ridiculously high humidity levels, had got its thieving paws on it.

Luckily I’d prepared myself that I’d probably have a love/mild dislike relationship with Bermuda in my first year of living here, and accepted this was one of those days where I loved it less. Unlike Rich (wherever he lays his XBOX is his home), it takes me time to settle in a place and feel connected to it. When you leave a home that you’ve made your own, a job you know inside out and a set of good friends to go somewhere new, it’s easy to forget what it was like when you first bought that house, started that job, and met those friends for the first time. So I remind myself of this and then a little bubble of excitement pops as I think of all of the new experiences Rich and I are going to have over the next few years. I also know that, come the summer when we’re snorkelling in the turquoise ocean, or eating wahoo fish by the harbour, I’ll forgive Bermuda for its flaws.

What’s Good About You?

25 Jan

Phew! What a busy week it was last week! This post arrives rather tardy as a result.

I’m now volunteering two days a week at the Centre on Philanthropy. It’s a great organisation which links corporates with not-for-profits and volunteers, and I’m assisting them with some of their initiatives around corporate charitable giving. I’ve also started a Spanish class to improve my rusty memories of verb endings and knowing when to use the imperfect tense. Ironically, I could remember how to say that “the issue of inequality between the sexes is still significant in today’s society” but couldn’t remember the word for “small”. (It’s pequeño) It’s a great back to basics class which clearly I need.

Last week I also had a two day training course on facilitating psycho-educational groups on subjects such as anger management, dealing with divorce and drugs education, for my volunteer work with drugs education charity PRIDE. It was extremely interesting to learn more about working with vulnerable young people, as well as meeting a range of local people working as counsellors or in pastoral care roles in schools.

We spent some time discussing raising young people’s self-esteem, and one delegate observed that children find it easy to answer “what they are good at” but difficult to answer “what’s good about you”. This is all too true. When I first started working with young people from “disadvantaged backgrounds”, I was baffled as to why some would get themselves pregnant. To my friends and me, at that age, the idea was terrifying. But then I realised that it was so terrifying to us because we knew we wanted to go to university and build a career, and getting ourselves pregnant would make that harder to do. For some of the girls I worked with, their attitude was more “well, what else am I going to do?” Despite these experiences in the UK, I still felt a little pang of sadness that, in Bermuda’s tight-knit community, there are so many young people going through life without knowing what is “good about them”.

Then I had an interesting conversation. One of the ladies in my group was too nervous to present our group’s work to the rest of the delegates. She explained that she’d been told in the past that she came across “too Bermudian” when she spoke, and this had knocked her confidence. She’d not spoken in public since.

I was dumbfounded – to speak with your nation’s accent is detrimental? In your own country? I think if I unpacked this prejudice, I’d find that this was really about class and race and other ridiculous notions of discrimination and snobbery. I truly hope that one day this lady realises that one of the things that is good about her is that she is from a country where people still say “good morning ma’am” and treat strangers like neighbours. And I hope that everyone who reads this post can answer the question “what’s good about you?”

Sporting Chance

17 Jan

I’m not sporty. I don’t enjoy playing sport, and I don’t really enjoy watching it either. The only game I’d like to watch live is baseball, and that’s purely so I can wear a freakishly large hand made of foam. My hubby however is very sporty, and has been dying to get involved with a sports team since we moved to Bermuda. This week he started training with the BAA Wanderers and had his first match this weekend.

I’m a pretty rubbish wife when it comes to supporting Rich at matches. I only went to a handful of his uni rugby games, mainly so I could see other friends that were going and we could natter about what had happened in Neighbours that week. It was sheer love that led me to watch his first game on Saturday evening however, as it was very, very cold. I was wrapped up with a thick jumper, big coat, scarf and gloves and still had to hop from foot to foot to keep the circulation going. The Bermudians had the right idea – they drove their cars up to the pitch and sat inside, comfortable and warm in their metal cocoons.

My main fear when watching any kind of sports match is this: that the ball will come flying over the fence and all eyes will be on me, as I am expected to run after it and throw it back, or even worse, catch it. I always imagine that this happens in slow motion – me reaching for the ball, everyone turning their heads, their mouths slowly opening, aghast, as the ball sails past me and hits a car, causing the alarm to go off and possibly breaking the windscreen as well. Clearly I would need a prepared selection of excuses not to be able to get the ball – fixing an intricate problem with my camera, talking on the phone on an urgent call, some sort of problem with my leg, etc.

As Rich was the newbie, he didn’t start the game but instead was asked to be a linesman. He did this with his usual boundless enthusiasm but I knew he was itching to get on the pitch and kick the ball rather than watch it. At half time, the squad gathered at the far side of the turf. I squinted, trying to see if Rich’s jacket was coming off and he was getting ready to limber up. The team started to move and…the jacket stayed on. He turned away and forlornly walked up the pitch, linesman’s flag hanging limply down at his side. A little wave washed over my heart as I could see his disappointment, staying outside of the spray-painted white line that kept him from where he really wanted to be.

During the second half I discovered the Weekend Wing Shack and played Jenga with an overloaded tray of fries. As I concentrated on moving one precariously balanced chip I looked up to see that – Rich was on the pitch! Within the white lines, not outside of them! I was so happy for him and my eyes pricked with pride when he set up a lovely goal and then scored another.

Towards the end of the game I bumped into one of our neighbours – Keisha. As we were talking I realised that tonight I had “bumped into” two people I knew. It was the first time in a long time that I’d bumped into someone, because I hadn’t known enough people here to bump into. I felt a little glow as I realised that I was feeling even more settled on this small island.

As Keisha and I chatted the ball sailed across the pitch towards us – and kept going, over the fence and just past my feet. Before I’d even thought about grabbing my “injured” leg Keisha had casually sauntered over and hurled the ball back over the fence. I think I’ll have to invite her to come with me to the next game!

Guilt

13 Jan

My weekday activities are often governed by guilt. Whilst I have no qualms about sitting around reading a novel, or watching hours of old Sex and the City episodes at the weekend, I don’t feel I can do the same Monday – Friday. Why? Because my husband is at work, and so it doesn’t seem fair/right/ethical/<<insert own ridiculous notion here>> that I’m doing fun things. Instead I insist that if I’m at home I should be cleaning the oven or tidying up cupboards that don’t really need tidying! If I think about picking up a book after lunch I’m consumed with worry that I’m being too self-indulgent and instead should risk minor indigestion by jumping up to empty the just-finished dishwasher.

I suspect this is a female thing. I’m quite sure that if hubby was a househusband he would happily play the Xbox and spend most of the day watching Fox Sports, just rousing himself to get the dinner on. That’s not a criticism of him; if anything, it’s quite admirable that he can be master of his own time without some nagging little voice in his head saying that he should really be fixing something or taking the rubbish out right now.

Essentially I’m still unused to not having a job. Prior to moving here, I thought the only time in my life that I wouldn’t be working would be when I have children (which is easily two full time jobs) or if some horrible illness prevented me from doing so. It would be different if I were a superb housewife – a gifted cook that spent hours making fabulous suppers, or a keen gardener that created stunning flowerbeds (and also had a garden to do this in!). But, the fact is I’m more talented in the office and so often when my husband comes home, if I haven’t been out volunteering, I wonder what achievements I have to show for my day other than getting an average dinner in the oven in a sparkly clean kitchen!

Ironically, I know that when I do start work, I will yearn for the days when I could do whatever I liked during the week – and wonder why I didn’t. So one of my new year’s resolutions is going to have to be this: to stop being my own worst enemy! I also want to start working my way through one of my Christmas presents – The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Although I cannot guarantee that baking things made of sugar and chocolate will fix the issue of not having anything to show for my day – unless you count the leftover crumbs on the plate… 🙂

Lopsided Hamster Disco

11 Jan

Last week my left cheek decided to swell up, leaving me looking like a lopsided hamster. After a few days of carting around my enlarged face, and increasing amounts of pain, Rich decided I really needed to go to the doctors.

It was a little strange having to give debit card details when checking in with the receptionist (there’s only private healthcare here in Bermuda) but otherwise it was a normal surgery set up, with heavy duty lino, a selection of celebrity magazines circa 2008 and old chairs that looked like they’d been loaned from the community hall.

However, when I went in to see the doctor it was a little different. My experience of doctor’s surgeries in the UK is that they are quite a sombre affair, with not much in the way of entertainment (perhaps buskers are missing a trick here, as there’s quite a captive audience in a doctor’s waiting room). I suppose the more avant-garde surgeries may risk breaking rank by playing Classical Chillout or Dido’s Greatest Hits on the Pan Pipes. What they probably wouldn’t be playing though are disco classics such as Knock on Wood, and Da Doo Ron Ron Ron.

Was Bermuda trialling a new kind of music therapy? (Shimmy off those Shingles! Conga away your back pain!) Or perhaps it was a test to see how ill patients actually are? I couldn’t even manage a toe tap, let alone throw down my handbag and start dancing round it, which meant I was very, very poorly indeed.

As the doctor began his consultation, I half expected a trio of sequin-dipped ladies with big hair to appear and sing along in between his questions:

Is the pain in your cheek or along your jaw?
(Da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron)
Would you say it’s intermittent or is it constantly sore?
(Da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron)

Sadly there wasn’t even a glitter ball.

After paying the $100 bill for my 10 minutes with Dr Disco I picked up my antibiotics and wallowed in self-pity on the sofa, until the pain decided to get so unbearable that a phone call with the surgery advised us to go to the Emergency Room.

As we trudged up to the hospital entrance I felt rather embarrassed at having to go to the Emergency department with just a painful puffy cheek, rather than a semi-detached limb or a bloody rag tied around my head like they have every week in Casualty. Thankfully Casualty doesn’t actually resemble real life, as everyone else in the waiting area looked quite normal as well.

The hospital doctor diagnosed me with cellulitis. An image of my cheek circled in a future edition of Heat magazine shot through my mind, before the doc explained this was not the same as cellulite, but instead an infection in the tissue in my cheek. This explained why I wanted to rip the left side of my face off, as the infection had spread and, quite frankly, was a mean one. I had an injection to help with the pain which was wonderful and I was ready to spend the weekend skipping and singing until it wore off at 2.30am and I cried at the injustice of it all.

I’m pleased to say though that by Monday night the pain was now becoming just a dull one. Dr Disco even rang to see how I was feeling! Now that’s what I call music a healthcare service!

Conquering the Cockroach

6 Jan

There is a creature that is feared throughout the world. It has existed since time began (ish) and can survive nuclear attacks. It can live without food or water for months, and a week without its head. If you think about crushing it, it will simply spray its eggs so it can begin all over again (in thousands).

There’s always a downside to living in sunny climes, and this creature would definitely be one of them. We’d been living in our temporary apartment for almost a month when we returned home one evening to find an enormous black cockroach exploring a corner of the kitchen ceiling. We didn’t have anything to spray the blighter with so I took the next best action – ran and hid around the corner whilst hubby was left to scoop it up in a paper cup.

When I stop and think about it, it’s not a hugely rational fear. They cannot bite or sting, and although they can carry bacteria, generally this can be fixed with some bleach spray and a mop. But the Bermudian ones can fly (quite unbelievable given their size), and I’ve never been a huge fan of flying insects after a bee got stuck in my hair age 7. In fact, even as I write this, part of my brain tortures me with thoughts that they could be scuttling around behind my back, perhaps reading this over my shoulder and chucking to themselves at their power over a comparatively big human creature in some sort of pantomime-esque charade (“we’re behind you!” they chorus! Please, please say “Oh no they’re not”!)

The fact is, these creatures are here to stay and I need to come to terms with that. So for some self-induced therapy, I’ve created a five step programme to Conquer The Cockroach:

If only the Bermudian cockroaches were as entertaining as Joey, Dee Dee and Marky

1. Being by watching some episodes of the cartoon Oggy and the Cockroaches. Imagine that the real life cockroaches are as entertaining as Oggy’s companions: Joey, Dee Dee and Marky. After all, can creatures named after The Ramones really be that bad?
2. If a cockroach ventures in, attempt to form a bond – perhaps ask him how his day was. If he hisses in reply, repeat step 1.
3. Consider the cockroach an inspirational role model – adaptable, tenacious, hard-working and a great team player – sharing its find of crumbs/food leftovers with his many, many friends. Imagine what you could learn from such a creature!
4. Do not google “Bermuda cockroaches” in a bit to identify their weaknesses and subsequently outwit the critters. Instead what you will find is stories punctuated by multiple exclamation marks about people who have woken up to find one on their pillow!!!! Or about someone’s uncle’s brother’s friend’s colleague who was hit in the eye by one whilst driving his scooter and became temporarily blind!!!!
5. When pondering how to get rid of a visiting cockroach consider removing it from the home humanely. There, you considered it and are now a stronger person! Now get hold of that insect spray and drown it in toxic fumes.

I apologise to anyone reading who feels we should embrace all of God’s creatures. You are a better person than I – but I’m working on it!