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This is page 11 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, Page 12, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).

Cucumber dip

It is my turn to cook tonight and at Ploy's request I have bought some smoked salmon and the bits to make a salad; nothing could really be simpler. I have some avocado, beetroot and chopped red onion and capers to make the salad a little more interesting but I decided to make a dip too, just to prove I did more than spread some things around a plate.

Take about half a cucumber, peel it, scoop out the seeds and finely chop it. Add to a bowl with a couple of scoops of sour cream, the juice of half a lemon, some finely chopped chives and dill and a few drops of Tabasco and mix it all together.

Finally decorate with some of the cucumber skin, lemon and a dusting of paprika and refrigerate for a hour or more.

My days are spent 85% on SingMai and 15% on the house renovations and in particular the kitchen. In fact once I made a start on the kitchen Ploy seems to have become more enthused and it was her that finished the painting. Her enthusiasm started when we we spent her birthday looking at kitchen cabinets and fixtures and over the next few months I hope we can the room finished.

SingMai has been steady but we haven't had any new orders this year although a lot of that has been to do with all the work to complete the ones we do have; it has left little time to do any further promoting. We had a little hiccup with a late payment from a German customer, who also deducted sales tax from our invoice. I had never heard of having to charge sales tax on a foreign sale, and therefore didn't, and the company didn't tell me about it, just latterly pointing to an ambiguous clause in the the 20 page contract they made me sign which I assumed, because of its generic nature, was for orders within the country. But we survived that and it has prompted us to start our voodoo doll collection.

The permanent residency seems to have stalled again even though we have got all the police clearance certificates we needed. I can't even get a response to my e-mails from the exorbitantly expensive immigration lawyers. Another doll for the shelf.

Ploy tried starting her driving lessons again; just before she left for Thailand she went for the written exam only to find the certificate she needed to authenticate her Thai driving license was apparently invalid. The official Kitchener multicultural centre that provided it now want more money to provide another one, something Ploy did not accept and now we don't even have that certificate as it has now been lost up some mini-Hitler's arse. So Ploy's driving lessons are on hold. It really is a farce as Ploy can at least negotiate roundabouts, something Canadians - for so long reliant on 4-way junctions and traffic lights - do not seem able to do.

When Ploy got back from Thailand the immigration officer made her report to the office instead of just letting her through even though she has her passport stuffed with visas and work permits. This never happens when she travels with me or if I travel alone, although I do get annoyed with the inane questions about why I am coming to Canada, given that my work permit shows my address to be in that very country. The office just stamped her passport and waved her through but all this treatment is making us feel quite unloved at the moment. That said Ploy also got stopped at the Singapore immigration as she was travelling alone. She only had a couple of hundred Singapore dollars on her and it looked like they were going to refuse her entry. However when she told them she only needed a visa for a couple days, just to visit the police clearance people, and then showed her multiple credit cards, she got the full 30 day visa. There is slightly more justification for that because there is a reasonable traffic of Thai girls coming to 'work' in Singapore and it never happened when Ploy had her immigration card/PR there. There is no excuse for Canada.

Because of that we are thinking of taking a break in Canada when this order is completed to avoid the immigration hassles. It took 2 hours to clear immigration the last time we took the car into the US; they even interviewed us. So we are thinking of a couple of days in Montreal as neither of us have been there. It will be our anniversary later next month so that seems a good time to aim for.

 

Reading the News

I occasionally watch the local news on TV but most of my news stories now come from the Internet; from the BBC website and from the the only UK newspaper I ever bothered to read, The Independent. The Independent, which I believe once used to refuse to print stories about the royal family on the grounds it was not news, together with the BBC, have headlined the recent death of Jade Goody. For those who do not know her, she is one of those people who is famous for being famous, who became noticed because of her appearances on that awful reality TV program, Big Brother. The Independent provides an unusually passionate obituary,

'Goody's achievements were certainly remarkable. She remained in the public eye long past the perceived sell-by date of the average reality TV star. Furthermore, she turned coming fourth on a reality show into a multi million-pound brand-name business taking in books, perfume, exercise videos and memorabilia, her much-publicised malapropisms masking a keen commercial acumen. Her treatment at the hands of the media generated a series of debates on such thorny issues as class, race and education. Some commentators went so far as to liken her to Princess Diana, citing the two women's shared hunger for attention and manipulation of the media.'

The news even made it to Canada and even the UK prime minister felt he had to comment, 'Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "deeply saddened" by the news and described Goody as "a courageous woman both in life and death"."The whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children. "She will be remembered fondly by all who knew her and her family can be extremely proud of the work she has done to raise awareness of cervical cancer, which will benefit thousands of women across the UK.'

So once again a non-entity has been catapulted to 'stardom' by a UK populace who slavishly devour such things as a substitute for their own sad lives; the 'that could be me' syndrome, as if you would want to be that. But then I read this article, also from the Independent, which I initially thought would be an amusing endorsement of my own prejudices.

'In her short life, Jade showed how as Britain has spiralled into one of the most unequal and immobile societies on earth, we have begun to openly jeer and sneer at the people trapped at the bottom. We gleefully seized on her as "proof" that the people rotting on abandoned estates were not there because of the grim accident of birth, but because they were stupid and ugly and bigoted. And all we proved – with unwitting irony – was our own stupidity and ugliness and bigotry.'

The article made me think and for an instance, maybe a little longer. made me review my opinion of her. It is true that my father didn't sit in my bedroom shooting heroin into his veins, not that I noticed anyway. And I didn't have to take care of my mother day in and day out thereby skipping school. And then there is all that awareness of cervical cancer that she has generated.

'Even as she rots, we still want to see Jade Goody as a "chav" imbecile, subconsciously reassuring us that our own higher place in the class pyramid is earned by our intellect and sensitivity and anti-racism, rather than by the fluke of birth.'

But you can never read enough news to get a balanced view. So this article, which directly references the previous one squashes my doubts.

'Earlier this week in The Independent Johann Hari implied that to find Jade an unacceptable role model betrayed snobbery and a lack of humanity. Well, I disagree.'

Just adding some facts helps; yes she died of cancer but she had already had pre-cancerous cells removed at 16 and despite that wake up call then didn't respond to a hospital letter warning her of abnormal tests. My father died of cancer but didn't get a wake up call. He also didn't get to see a specialist until the cancer had spread too far and his case was not spread across the newspapers despite my mother's long and detailed letter of complaint to the hospital. Yes she had a tough upbringing, but so do lots of others.

'But can we move on and consider other, equally distressing deaths – people born with challenges in life which certainly matched those of Jade.'

Her death, and the public reaction to it, is a reflection of the blurring between peoples' real lives and those portrayed in TV. Yes her death is a shame, but only to her two sons and possibly the father who hardly seems the model citizen. The circumstances of her life may have been a fluke of birth but once born it doesn't mean you can't do anything about it. The public outpouring of grief, the reaction of politicians and the reaction of the media bear worrying similarities to the death of Princess Diana, who through a fluke of birth became an ill educated and expensive adornment to UK tax payers and whose death was a shame, but only to her two sons.

I do not need to be made to feel guilty over my indifference to her death. I did not know her personally and my only judgement of her can come from how she projects herself. And she projected herself as an ill educated bigotted person, and despite all the PR people swooning over her that remained to the end. With all the millions she earned at no point did she decide to promote public awareness of getting an education and she only promoted awareness of her cancer once she had been diagnosed terminally ill.

But it is not about her, it is about a society that cannot differentiate between their own lives and those of 'celebrities'. And these people are not celebrities because they have any talent, it is almost the opposite. But to despise that situation and not recognise someones 'remarkable talent' you immediately lay yourself open to being insensitive or bigotted or stupid.

So be it.

There's another one

One of the nice things about living in Canada is it a very neutral country, not literally as with Switzerland, but it generally does not go out of its way to cause offense, and despite the trade reliance and proximity it is very different to the US.

It is disappointing therefore to find that the Science Minister appears to be a closest Creationist. Funny how these people keep popping up in the very positions where they they can have the most negative influence, one could almost think aliens are at work here.

As Janet Rossant said, 'Clearly — since evolution is fundamental to modern biological and medical research — if we're looking to move these areas forward, we need to be absolutely clear that from the very top down, people who are involved in running science in this country understand the process of science and scientific theories and facts today'.

As this man holds the purse strings for scientific research in Canada it does seem strange he is not more qualified in the sciences, being a former chiropractor would not appear to make him qualified to decide on funding for stem cell research for example. Whilst some are taking a more conciliatory stance, 'While I believe that politicians should never act contrary to their consciences, when acting in a public — not personal — role, they may need to take decisions that they would not take in a personal context', why put anyone in a position where they are making decisions contrary to their personal beliefs. It does make you wonder how a Science Minister is chosen. No background in science research, believes the world was created by a mythical figure just ten thousand years ago, believes we were created as men and did not evolve, Perfect! You have the job.

Even worse, the same man has also indicated that the the government is going the way of Thatcher and only funding research that has a commercial spin-off, 'In these comments he seems to be articulating an approach to research that is extremely damaging to our research community, and that is the notion that if we can't sell it, it isn't worth doing'. Just look to the UK to see where that will lead you.

If Obama can pass a tax law to get back those millions being handed out as bonuses to AIG managers why cannot Canada pass a law that allows the extermination of all Creationists, especially closet ones. Clearly these people do not have all their marbles and it is best to put them out of their misery. We can't fund the research into their rehabilitation so they just have to be put down, sorry about that, no commercial kickback from keeping you alive I'm afraid.

'It should be obvious … that discovery-based research has been the bedrock of all applied sciences," he said, adding that diverting money away from such research toward targeted industrial research is wrong-headed and will seriously damage the Canadian economy'.

 

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The Pope

The Pope is in Africa this week and predictably he is again refusing to endorse the use of condoms to prevent the spread of aids, preferring instead to rely on a 'spiritual and human awakening' and 'friendship for those who suffer'. Now I do take his point that abstinence would of course do the same job as the condom - or do it 0.1% better - but it isn't nearly as much fun, especially as I guess masturbation is not an option either. Assuming he isn't suggesting that he would personally give every African who agreed to refrain cunnilingus or fellatio by way of compensation it is disappointing that he doesn't acknowledge human frailties and desires and actually allow these people the use of one proven method of reducing the incidence of the disease.

Of course the answer, again, is for the same people to give him the finger, renounce Christianity and get on with what they clearly do best. But I guess that won't happen as almost every aid agency has Christian credentials and there are probably more missionaries than gazelles out there. As the Pope said, 'In the context of globalisation with which we are all familiar, the church takes a particular interest in those who are most deprived'. Of course it does, these are the very people that are clutching at life and will accept any chink of light there is on offer. The Church has never missed the opportunity to exploit the uneducated or the weaker members of society.

Amusingly the Pope also warned against, 'growing influence of superstitious forms of religion'. Hmm, now what exactly is not superstitious about the blind belief that everything we can see, hear or feel and everything else that we can't was created by a big bearded person on a cloud. If the latter is based on reason and knowledge then it makes the really superstitious religions seem strangely attractive. How more bizarre can they be?

Choosing how to Die

My father died at home, in the front room of my parents' small apartment. I watched him draw his last breath. There were no doctors or nurses, my mother chose to take care of him herself, unwisely in my view. I had already watched my first wife's brother die of cancer and I knew even my strong mother would not be able to cope. Yes she would change his colostomy bag, and wet his lips, and sit and talk with him, but she did not have the means to control his pain save for upping the dosage on the morphine pump, and the GP was also completely out of her depth. My father died in relative peace, but the days leading up to his death were fraught affairs for all of us.

The brother in law I mentioned died in a hospice. I had the advantage of being more distanced and could be more supportive to his family, running errands and keeping the children as busy as I could. Compared to the hospital where he was first taken, the hospice was peaceful and kind, save for the death rattles of the other patients. He died with his wife by his side suitable dosed up to avoid any pain.

My mother collapsed into a coma one year after my father. She had made it quite clear that, for her, her life was done once my father had died. I was OK, I lived away from home, had a good job and appeared happily married, (although it seems my mother may have spotted some some things that even I hadn't become aware of yet - as they do). She needed her third open heart surgery to survive another ten years. I have a strong suspicion that she stopped taking her Warfarin thereby expediting her death. She died that night in hospital having entrusted me and her sister with a letter to ensure the hospital did nothing to try to revive her and to just let her die in peace.

It was this article that made me think of such morbid things; how would I like to die. I don't like the idea of a sudden death, 'being run over, aged 73, at dawn by a red sports car while coming home from an all-night party; or being discovered, aged 101, by a mistress, in bed with her daughter, and cut to little pieces by the former'. I think I would like to die alone, probably at home, sitting on the sofa, witha bottle or two or three of a chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, some Danish Blue cheese and bread - I know they don't really go but I am dying, I can choose what I like - listening to either Debussy's Preludes Book 1, Shostakovich's Symphony number 5 or 10 or Jussi Bjorling's Nessun Dorma. (If you think it inappropriate I should play 'None shall sleep' before my own death, at my mother's funeral I played out her coffin to the aria 'Di Quella Pira l' orrendo foco' - the flames of that terrible pyre; she was being cremated). Or if I wasn't so bothered about someone finding me and I didn't want to remembered as such a pretentious git, maybe Steve Vai's For the Love of God.

Two things about the latter, I would have to know I was going to die of course and to time it just so it would presumably be assisted, something I cannot envisage doing, (you don't find many athiests commiting suicide). Otherwise it would presumably be a terminal illness and this would just be a a nightly event just in case, (after a few nights of that blue cheese I would probably die anyway of fart inhalation). But then in spite of all the planning I would probably trip over my portable drip whilst shopping in the supermarket and fall into the freezer with the butter basted turkeys to be found by some acneed fifteen year old Saturday worker, (like the Eskimo who has trouble with his car, "I think you've blown a seal' says the mechanic, 'No it's just frost on my moustache').

And then it presumes Ploy has already died. Now that is something I have thought of, (in the nicest and most altruistic sense), and I think it best for all concerned if Ploy was to die before me. I do worry how Ploy would cope if was to die first. Not that she wouldn't cope and she would have the house paid off, but she would be so terribly alone. The difference is if she was to die first, is that I still have goals. I am sure that novel will still be waiting to be written and even working for SingMai, assuming it is still around, keeps me from being so alone; perhaps if I have enough time, a few pointed letters to the some of the morons that crossed my path. Ploy does not have these diversions, I am not everything in her life, but I think she would almost certainly want to go back to Thailand where at least she has her daughter. But I know from this last extended visit, she finds it a very solitary life without me. 'I am lonely' she told me once during our calls, and it really drained me to hear her say it, such was the feeling behind it.

It is good to have a plan.

'And suddenly death doesn't seem a cold, hostile and terrifying thing, but a kind of dark mirror that reflects your years of life and your identity back at you – that simultaneously finishes you off and makes you whole at last.'

Before and After

I have been tidying up a few things around the house before Ploy returns and I have been thinking what the house was like eighteen months ago when we bought it, so I have put a few before and after photos up here. Photos don't capture the smell and the stickiness of the walls and floors of course but they do give some idea, and save for some of the electric work, everything is done by our own fair hands.

The basement room that is now the SingMai workshop. Before, and after.

  The front bedroom, before and after.


The dining room, before and after.


The basement family room, before, during and after.



The office, before, during and after.

The front entrance before and after.

 

The living room, before and after.


In one week's time Ploy will start her 22 hour trip home from Bangkok to Toronto via Hong Kong. She will have been away for eleven weeks and I really miss her.

Amazingly she still didn't get everything done she wanted to, the banks there seem to have gone into rigor mortis and it is impossible to get any decision out of them. Ploy was trying to sort out the finances on her house which, it's turned out, were not as I had presumed. But she has unpacked all our Singapore furniture albeit she is now not shipping back our CDs and books because of the cost of shipping, (do I really have 17 large boxes of books), and the unknown amount of import duty. She has had the house sprayed to prevent insects and done some other repairs and she has fallen out with her friends.

I have shipped all but one order for SingMai, and that is now very close to being finished, still have not been paid by my German customer who are not even replying to my e-mails now and their accounts department hides behind a PO box, have done quite a lot on the house and finally have a detailed plan for the kitchen but the money situation means I can't go any further for now. And I have that book contract and the possibility of selling some hardware on the back of it. And we are just waiting for all the police reports to come in and we should have our permanent residency in the first half of this year.

So when she gets back it will be a bit of watershed. I will have to start looking for more orders and Ploy will probably have to look for a new job as it seems very unlikely her old one will still be open given the state of the car part manufacturers in this area. But the important thing is we will be together as together we are more than the sum of the parts and anything seems possible.

It will also be nice to have Ploy cook some Thai food as alone I tend to keep to the Western style menu. I need to shake my bum out of its complacency.

The Thatcher legacy

My father told me, at last we have a prime minister who will stand up to the unions, bring cohesion to Britain's society and, he added, she is a chemist, so she will take care of the scientists and engineers in this country.

Well, she did stand up to the unions and certainly they held a disproportionate amount of power at that time, going on strike on what seemed like a whimsy and causing serious damage to industry. But rather than loosen their grip she cut off their hands and then, by opening up the markets to unfettered competition from abroad, she brought down what was left of the remaining industry, shipbuilding, cars, steel, coal; you name it. These industries were in decline anyway but she was wrong to think a country could exist purely as a service industry and the legacy of that it how hard Britain is being hit now with its over-reliance on the financial markets.

These retrospective opinions on her time in power obviously benefit from hindsight. She certainly did nothing for engineers or scientists, indeed she starved universities of funding bringing in the bizarre concept of only researching that which has tangible benefits, and having had the benefit of a free university education herself, set about making sure others would not have that perk.

Aside from her affect on science and industry she transformed Britain's social structure. Greed became acceptable under Thatcher; this was the time of the yuppies.

'She was wrong to say and believe that “there is no such thing as society”, undermining the essential bond that connects a humane society – shared responsibility for one another. She began the coarsening and degrading of local and national community.'

'Her view of human nature and of people was that that they were aggressive and competitive and only interested in themselves. She took it for granted that people were not altruistic, which has brought us to where we are today – a consumer society obsessed with celebrity. We are only now reopening the way we think and talk about ourselves in light of the bankruptcy of consumer capitalism.'

It would be wrong to attribute all the social ills of Britain on one woman. I certainly agree that people are not necessarily altruistic by nature, that is why I believe democracy is flawed. But for every yuppie there was someone else giving money to charity, or voluntarily helping in a soup kitchen. It is a delicate balance, helping the poor and needy is surely the one sign of a true society, but in Britain there are too many who take advantage of this, including our neighbours in Southampton.

No one is more cynical of the human race than me or less forgiving of the homeless that I see on the streets here in Kitchener or abroad. But if we just withdraw all help and compassion and let everyone fend for themselves society will eventually be like something from Mad Max. If you encourage the worst behaviour of people it is likely you will see just that. And this is what Thatcher did, she paraded the young rich as some sort of model to aspire to whilst at the same time condemning the poor for being work shy, (yet destroying the very industries where they might work and the unions which offered them some protection). In so doing she divided Britain and left society there fragmented and selfish. That is her legacy, my father was wrong.

'She was wrong to demonise Arthur Scargill and the rest of the miners and to create the idea that the working classes were the enemy within.'

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