Archive | December, 2012

Say Goodbye to 2012, Say Hello to 2013: A New Year!

31 Dec

Tonight, we say goodbye to a year which for me, has been a bittersweet experience.
I’ve achieved a number of things I had set my sights on, like learning how to swim and ride a bicycle (not at the same time, of course!) had opportunities to make new friends and joined a couple of new social groups. I’ve also had time to reflect on me as a person and my relationship with others. Whether that makes me a good and better person. a subservient doormat or a strong, articulate and assertive individual. It all depends on the rapport I have with others and how they perceive me.
This year, we decided to stay in, and chose not to go out and party or drink copious amounts of alcohol; we chose to keep warm and safe indoors this year to think about what has gone before and what 2013 may have in store for us.

It is also a time to look back on the past 12 months at what’s been happening in my life up until now, within my homelife. community, within the UK and on the global stage. The succsess stories, the losses, the laughter, the tears, the endearing and emotional, the farcical and frightful.
I’m thinking about the Diamond Jubilee, the UK Olympics, and how they made me feel as a born and bred British Asian.
I’m thinking about the media stories on the news, on television and in magazines.
I’m thinking about personal life changing achievements and losses.
I’m thinking about loved ones, my dear and departed, my old and new friends.

I was planning to cook a Caribbean style jerk chicken dinner but we ended up having a bag of chips on the way home after visiting a friend. I had planned to bake a cake but the margarine and eggs are still sitting on the kitchen worktop and the cake will have to wait. I was expecting a knock on the door or the telephone to ring but received several Happy New Year texts instead. I was hoping to have fireworks and sparklers lit in the garden but I had to consider the cats and dogs in the neighbourhood and the sparklers might burn the laminated floor or rug if I light them indoors. So I’m going to light four Chinese Sky Lanterns in memory of our deceased parents.

This year, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to have a lavish affair or not. It doesn’t matter to have made plans for the evening or not. It doesn’t matter to be celebrating out in style or not. It just doesn’t matter…What matters is the fact we have our health, we have our faculties and lives and we have each other and there is love in the home.

So, on this night, reflect on the past year, what you have and don’t have. Remember that people love you no matter where they are and who you are.
It is also a time to aspire, achieve and hold onto dreams, which, if you have a strong belief in yourself and the support of loved ones, that dream might one day become a reality.


The Learned Kat


Hair Time

28 Dec


I’ve started to lose my hair.

My hair which was my pride and joy, used to lie heavy, thick and wavy on my head.

As I showed off my new haircut to my elderly friend the other day, she recalled, how 21 years ago, when I first met her, my hairstyle was combed out with a thick fringe flicked over one eye and slightly curled to the left. She said she’d never seen hair so lustrous on a man before.

I’ve started to lose my hair. My other half commented that at some point soon, I’d have to shave it all off or at least cut it shorter. He said my bald patch is beginning to look more prominent and I’d have to keep it shorn. There’s nothing worse than a man having a hair style or “comb over” to try and disgusise the fact that he’s losing hair he said. He forgets it was a female friend who encouraged him to shave off his thinning hair about 14 years ago. It was a surprise shock at that time when I returned home from work and he looked like a bald egg! Obviously I’ve become accustomed to his look after all these years…

I’ve started to lose my hair.
Like Samson, I believed the strength (of my looks and personality) was in my hair because everyone who met me used to pass positive comments or compliments on the texture, look and style of my hair.
My hair started to grow grey at the temples when I was about 25. I didn’t mind then as it seemed to create a look of distinction and maturity. In my late 30’s, I started to recede. The bald patch started about 5 years ago. It wasn’t so noticeable, I thought, until my nephew took a photo and showed it to me. I dismissed it as a prank photo. Then, my hair started to fall out. I’d wake up in the mornings to find strands all over the pillow, I’d have a shower and hair would come out in clumps. I didn’t comb my hair at all. Just used to run my gelled fingertips through it into a desired look and leave it for the rest of the day. When my hair was thicker and fuller, I would say to the barber or hairdresser I’d want a crew cut just for a change but they would vehemently refuse to cut my hair any shorter than necessary. Now, I’d go to the hair salon and in my anxious state, make enquiries about the state of my hair. They claimed the loss of hair was due to vigorous towel drying or excessive use of the hairdryer and strongly advised I have a crew cut or something similar..!?

I’ve always been conscious of hair and hairstyles, the power of hair and how it can be used for protection. Hair is a potent and visible feature of the human body. Just look at how it is utilised in fiction such as fairy tales like Rapunzel, or used in so-called witches potions or to more factual, scientific research such as DNA. Or to attract and flirt with someone, or be caressed, played with and styled for different fashion or social statements.

We take hair for granted. I always thought my headful would remain with me forever. But they say a male balding head is a sign of virility. I think that’s just a fallacy. Whoever said it in the first place, just said it to make the balding person feel better about themselves.

Obviously, there are various reasons or contributing factors as to why people start to bald: alopecia, stress, shock, disease, ageing, hormones or hereditary genes to name but a few. My hairloss could be a combination of any of those listed.

I’ve started to lose my hair.
There are some days when I worry about it even more (I know that’s not going to help) and then there are times when I think, if my bald patch extends to such a point that I would not have any option but to shave it all off, it’s not so bad. Some things are meant to be and far worse things can happen. I know I will have to cut it shorter at some point. Right now though, I don’t have the courage nor the confidence to go for the whole buzz/crew cut or the whole shaven head look. Whether or not it will suit me or my personality I don’t know. All I do know is that, for now, fashion dictates the look of today. Right now, my hairstyle which is short and wavy on top and Grade 1 on the sides, is very much on trend. So, I’m happy. And with the way my hair is declining, my old desire or wish to have a crew cut simply because I was so fed up with my thick, luscious, full, wavy hair might happen any day soon.

The Learned Kat

Paul O’Grady – The Devil Rides Out: An Autobiography

25 Dec

I’m not a fan of Paul O’ Grady but I am familiar with his female creation Lily Savage. a drag act inspired by his working class roots. I’d read his highly praised autobiography “At My Mother’s knees and other low joints” out of sheer curiosity and at the time, I was not impressed. I decided to follow it up with this second instalment, my expectation was  that it would prove to be more eventful and provide a strong sense of what motivated Paul to enter showbiz.

Instead, what I read was the story of a young man, coming to terms with his sexuality/sexual orientation, managing to father a child at the age of 18 with a young woman whom he did not even love and anecdotes about his experiences of moving from one menial and despised  job to another, in the hope of earning enough money to go out clubbing or drinking in the many gay bars of London.  There were elements of his story that I could relate to. For example, accepting himself as a gay young man, and falling by default into a caring profession.  But, apart from that, it left me feeling that Paul, for all intents and purposes, came across as a bit of a social parasite. I know it sounds harsh but despite his poverty stricken working class background, he managed somehow to socialise with more wealthy and affluent individuls, many unnecessary details were spent on  describing luxurious homes, hotels, flats and bars with so-called “friends” whom he never saw again after some time for irrelevant reasons and conversations which I thought, quite trivial.

This autobiography made me think that Paul was just another “Scene Queen” who managed to cobble together a drag act without any professional training or acting background and happened to have been, to use a cliche, “in the right place, at the right time”.  What does puzzle me, however, is that it appears convenient that Paul, like his fellow comrades Peter Kay and Alan Carr, are not able to recall the “life-changing” Act or performance which changes their destiny or course of action, which I would consider an important element of their story, yet are able to remember more mundane issues or incidents that don’t seem to hold any bearing on their lives at all.

A simple, easy to read autobiography which touches on gay culture in the 70’s and 80’s but does not offer anything new or unusual. This book never really answers any questions and just appears to be random recollections of life events in order to try and make yet another celebrity seem more appealing or interesting than what they really are.

Maybe I am biased but I would say this is an unimpressive account of Pauls’ young adulthood and is definitely a book just for the fans.

The Learned Kat

Life of Pi: 3D version

23 Dec


I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel after a friend recommended it to me  in 2006.  At the time, I thought it was an impressive read and wondered how it would transfer onto celluloid and if there was any producer out there who had the vision to bring it to the big screen.

My prayers were answered when I watched Ang Lee’s film adaptation today in 3D.

The Life of Pi starts at a slow pace with the introduction of a local writer (Rafe Spall) who visits Pi Patel (an older version of Pi played by Irrfan Khan), who has been referred to him by his “honorary uncle”,  believing that Pi’s life story would make a great book. Pi relates an extended tale:

Pi provides a brief history of his birth, his parents and brother in India and his upbringing in their own zoo, which is situated in the towns Botanical Gardens and the origins of his name. The boy is named Piscine Molitor (after a swiiming pool in France) and after being constantly ridiculed and embarrassed by his name, he decides to change his name to Pi after the mathematical symbol. These scenes are told in flashback and are slightly reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire. We are introduced to various animals and the roles they play in Pi’s life. We also find out that Pi has a strong interest in Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, constantly questionning and challenging all that he sees and hears.

As Pi recalls, we see a teenage version (played by unknown Suraj Sharma making his acting debut) and  how he had just started to love a young dancer when his dad announces that they are to move to Canada.  We see events unfold as the family board the ship that sets sail for Canada Anyone familiar with the story would know how it develops, and how Pi manages to survive the sinking of the ship. The scene evokes parallels to James Camerons Titanic, and there is a sense of sadness and pathos.  From that scene, the film had me engrossed and I was transfixed, wanting to know how would Ang Lee manage to direct the experiences of Pi (as told in the book version) from the minute the cargo ship and its passengers were caught in the thunderstorm which sinks to how Pi ends up on a lifeboat with a hyena, orangutan, zebra and a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. The scene is very realistic in that it didn’t look as over the top as Ang Lees previous offering The Hulk, which was very superficial and contrived in places. The hyena kills the zebra and Orangutan and, in his turn, the tiger kills the hyena, which almost depicts survival instincts of the animal world. It leaves Richard Parker and Pi on the lifeboat together. When Pi somehow manages to land on an island full of Meerkats, it  created a glow of warmth inside my stomach. It was touching and comforting at the same time.

The impression of Pi and the Bengal Tiger trying to survive the great journey over the pacific ocean covers a number of themes, which includes how man has to work with nature in order to survive, friendship, seclusion and isolation which brings to mind the saying ” No man Is An Island”. The ocean scenes were amazing a la Avatar, breathtaking and beautiful to behold, Suaraj was slightly wooden at times and in some scenes, he reminded me of Sabu (an actor of Indian origins as seen in The Thief of Baghdad circa 1950’s) But he may be forgiven as this is his landmark debut.

As the story develops, we feel for Pi and the tiger,  drawing on the qualities of man’s inner strengths, his feelings and thoughts about God, nature vs nurture, and his search for home/land. We are drawn to Pi and all that he encounters and endures on his journey. We share his bewildered perception of the world and how he sees the ocean, bold and dangerous.

Overall, the Life of Pi in 3D is a spiritual fable, smooth and simple in it’s storytelling but a fascinating and visual feast!

The Learned Kat

Buying to bake

22 Dec

When I started baking about three years ago, a jar of jam used to be about 90p but now costs £1.25; ready to roll Marzipan was £1.35 but now costs about £4, a 500g margarine tub used to be about 60p but can now cost upto £1.50 in some stores. It was the cheapest dairy product I could buy. But since baking has become de rigeur in the last two years, to purchase the same items, you can now expect to pay out a lot more. I know business experts or analysts would say that it has been inflated in relation to the cost of living or inflation/interest rates but I say, that’s not necessarily true because for a number of years, the items mentioned above remained a consistent and fair price for a number of years. It’s only gone up in price because people are buying more baking products now than ever before. We have more choices, we demand more, avidly watch many baking programmes, we search the internet and in droves request certain products as advertised on the TV or magazine. The best of the bunch is BBC 1 The Great British Bake-Off which has really set the trend for good homebaking. But I digress…

Consumer purchases or fads, I feel, not only is about setting trends, relating to fashion or all things fashionable right now, but also  encourages the High Street Supermarkets to set a price that we are willing to pay no matter what the asking price. There are many of us who  can’t seem to barter for a bargain anymore, and that in itself is quite sad as it takes away the shopping experience once enjoyed in a bygone era here in the UK but postitively encouraged to do so when travelling abroad in developing countries such as Tunisia, Turkey or Egypt.

Baking is a pleasure for rich or poor, not a measure of whether I can afford to buy the ingredients or not.


The Learned Kat


A Shopping Nightmare

22 Dec

So, the world didn’t end yesterday at 11.11am as predicted by The Mayans but the way people were shopping in Aldi today, you would think that we were heading for Armageddon. It was packed with customers since it opened early this morning and the queues reached right down the aisles. There was hardly any room to navigate a walk through or to pick up items off the shelves. It was chaotic and I don’t know how the staff managed to keep the tills ringing constantly. It was as if they were on automatic pilot. Non-stop shopping, buying, ringing, stacking and re-stacking the shelves as the items dispersed within minutes of being placed in the trays or shelves.

Just because it’s Christmas, why do we, as Consumers, feel the need to buy so much just for one day? I also notice how prices in some stores seem to creep up a bit and then marked out as if we are buying a bargain? The truth is, we’re not. It’s just all  a marketing ploy. The reality being that we also know this now, what with the amount of consumer programmes on the television and advice given in magazines or newspapers, yet we still carry on and accept the prices as if we have no choice in the matter.

That’s why Christmas shopping appears to be such a “nightmare” at times. A savvy shopper would pace themselves in the run up to Christmas possibly be prepared to haggle and save, and stock up on food items or presents well in advance. But the majority of us would rush out and buy at the last minute as if it was the end of the world and then when we get home look at all the food and other items and ask ourselves, “Did we really need to buy all this?” or  “Are we going to have a feast/feeding frenzy or start our new diet?”and even a “What a waste!” perhaps.

But therein lies the crux. Towards the end of the year, the media and Supermarkets set the frenzy with the Countdown and people in general, get caught up in it, so choose to prepare for Christmas and New Year in a way which only means that they shop, eat. party and celebrate like there is no tomorrow.

However, I have to think that, although the Mayans did not get it right yesterday, maybe for some people, when they go to sleep tonight, there will be no tomorrow and for others it would be the end of their world. And no amount of frantic shopping will bring that back.

The Learned Kat

Headstone for Loved Ones

21 Dec


Why are there always bleak weather conditions when you visit a cemetery? Visiting the dead brings its own territory and climate it seems…Never on a warm, sunny day does the visitor attend…possibly too busy visiting the living.

Today, I visited my parents at the cemetery. I often see them when I am feeling low or when I just need to feel that they are with me, offering their eternal support and reassurances. I’d like to think that they are still guiding me through life’s journeys and detours. I feel lost without them and wish they are still here. It’s hard to fathom how or what I feel sometimes. This was one of those days.

Both my parents are buried in a plot without a headstone. I was informed by members of my family the reason for this was: “we are waiting for the land to settle before a headstone is to be erected”. It’s been several years now and I’m still waiting. At the time, I said I didn’t want to see my parents go without as, in the future, I might forget where they were buried or I might stand at the wrong graveside.

Funnily enough, that day was today. As we traipsed through the squelchy , muddy grounds, I became slightly disorientated and placed a wreath at what I thought was my mothers’ grave. How wrong I was! It was only when I happened to glance across the neighbouring plot that I realised I had made a terrible error of judgement!  I was appalled and disgusted at myself. How could I not know!???

I felt guilty, ashamed and embarrassed.

My parents haven’t been  away from me that long, but I appear to have forgotten them already. I have lost them once, I don’t want to lose them again. So, for the sake of a headstone, a symbol, landmark or reminder, I’d like to see my parents burial place have a significant sign of dignity and respect. Without which, it will just become a mere plot of unidentified bodies and  over grown or neglected land.

The Learned Kat