Category Archives: Personal

Revised Final Statement – Reader Feedback Please!

I recently changed mobile phone networks, from T-Mobile to Vodafone. Nothing to do with T-Mobile’s service or anything – just that Martin was moving to Vodafone (as part of getting a company phone from his new employers), and it’s cheaper for us both to be on the same network.

Now, Martin’s move was easy. He simply stopped using the old phone, cancelled one contract and signed another. But I wanted to port my number, because it’s fairly memorable, and I don’t want to have to tell everyone that it’s changed.

So I got a “Final Statement” from T-Mobile a little while ago, and the amount on it was automatically debited from my bank account. All well and good.

But today I get a letter from T-Mobile, with a “Revised final statement”. Apparently they charged me £12.80, but the last bill was £11.41. The front page contains the following text (all text formatting original and not my fault):

Revised final statement    cr £1.39


Call charges £0.00
Subtotal £0.00
Credit amount cr £1.39 <- from last bill
Total we will carry forward    cr £1.39 to your next bill

This is your revised final bill. If you do not pay by Direct Debit, please pay any outstanding amount as soon as possible.

So, since I pay by direct debit, if I owe money, they’ll take it from my account. But if I am owed money, they’ll carry it foward to my next bill. Except that was my final bill. Ah, bureaurocracy!

Gentle readers, I want your input. Do I:

  1. Ring them up and request that it be deposited in my account, or
  2. Leave it, or
  3. Something else (you suggest what)

If this is on the up and up, neither option profits anyone.

If I ring them, I have to do it on their “local rate number” and thread my way through their hold queue. Assuming I can get to a real person, I’ll be out the time and phone bill money. Meanwhile, they’ll be paying the person on the other end of the phone, plus bank transfer charges. What do you want to bet that exceeds £1.39?

If I leave it, they get £1.39 of my money, plus any interest it may earn over time, as a free gift. If it’s a snafu, then they’ll quickly spend more than £1.39 keeping me on the books and printing and posting monthly statements saying I have this credit.

On the other hand, maybe it’s more sinister. £1.39 may not look like much, but if they’re doing this systematically, and if they then don’t send any more bills out to customers they do it to, it could add up. Is this the trailing thread of a massive fraud?

Email me or leave me comments…tell me what I should do! I’ll report any results on this blog as they happen.

One Flu over the Rooster’s Nest

So I woke up yesterday morning feeling a bit warm. Pleasantly warm, like my old “heat vampire” days when I used to snuggle under the duvet until I was red-hot. And I was feeling a bit sore, (I thought) because I had been putting shelves up in our new shed the day before. I was maybe a bit tired, but you can’t really tell that until you’re up, and of course I often wake with a headache.

It wasn’t until Alex touched me and said “Ow!” that I realised that I was maybe a bit on the excessively warm side. And it wasn’t until I got up and started shivering uncontrollably that I realised that I was sick.

Great, I thought. Just great.. Martin’s been doing so much for me and for the household since Fiona was born. So when I’m finally getting over all the various aftereffects of the birth, from hospitalisation to anaemia to the baby blues, I suddenly fall ill.

My in-laws were over to see Fi and Alex. I came downstairs for their visit, but I can’t swear to the coherence of my conversation. Apart from that, I spent the day in fevered reverie, drifting in and out of sleep. Martin did everything, from hoovering to cooking a magnificent Sunday roast to keeping Alex going, while I lay upstairs in some alternate universe.

Fortunately, the symptoms only lasted a day or so. I’m still feeing pretty weak, and Fi seems to have caught some snuffliness from me, but it seems to have been a brief illness. Dramatic, but brief.

Now can I get back to feeling normal?

On walking with a cane

I’ve been using a walking stick for just under three months now. It’s a silver(tone) handled, black wood cane, almost classy enough to be an affectation. Martin and Alex gave it to me, when my attempts to buy one off of ebay were failing.

I knew that to get a stick would be to join a subculture I hadn’t been a member of before. I’ll call us the Tripods.

I’m not a typical member of the tribe. I’m 33, and have been in good health all my life. If this pregnancy hadn’t triggered sacroliliac joint dysfuction (translation: my hip joints don’t work), I wouldn’t expect to need a walking aid for a good 40 years. And I plan to put the cane in the umbrella stand as soon as the baby’s born. So I’m an anticipatory Tripod, a temporary Tripod.

So do you get a seat on the bus now that you walk with a stick?

Heck, no. Are you kidding? Even with a bulging belly and a walking stick, I’ve had exactly one person offer me a seat on a crowded bus.

But at least you can sit in the “elderly and disabled” seats?

Only if I club the young, fit and surly types who can’t be arsed to walk one meter further back into the bus first.

But surely the fellow-feeling among the Tripods counts for something? You always see them chatting away on the bus, friendly as anything. Doesn’t the cane act as a ticket in?

Perhaps I’m too young, or too perceptibly an interloper. Maybe my cane is too classy. But I suspect that the fellow-feeling we see among the elderly on the bus, even among strangers, is more generational than based on ability.

Do you use your cane all the time, or only when you’re in pain?

Well, things usually start hurting halfway through an expedition or partway through a day. I have to bring the stick along from the start, so it’s there when I need it. And actually, I’ve found that using it from the start means that the pain takes longer to settle in. I wonder how many other Tripods are using their sticks prophylactically, or simply waiting for the pain to start.

So how is it walking with a stick? Does it slow you down?

The mechanics of walking with a stick turn out to be more complicated than I thought. You have to synchronise it with one leg or the other. If neither hurts, then you can alternate which leg you rest. And you can either go “crosswise”, holding the stick in the hand opposite the leg you’re helping out, or you can “lurch” with the stick right next to the assisted side. I’m always conscious of the eyes of fellow Tripods on me as I make my clumsy way, alternating between supported legs and arm synchronisation styles.

The one thing about a walking stick is that it doesn’t slow you down. Quite the opposite. I can get going really fast by using it almost like an oar, pushing me along the pavements. Bipeds beware!

What’s the hardest part of walking with a cane?

Walking with a cane, an umbrella, a toddler with an umbrella, and a handbag slipping off your shoulder. I wanted to be an octopus that day as well as a Tripod.

What did you do?

I got very wet.

So will you miss it?

Yes, in a funny sort of way. No matter how much people ignored it overtly, they saw the stick as a sign of weakness. Some of the barbarians in our neighbourhood made off comments, it’s true. But most of us, no matter how unwilling to show it in public, are protective of the frail. It comes out in hundred tiny things: a door held open even after I had my hand on it, a little extra space in a crowded shop, an extra small smile on a shop assistant even in the pre-Christmas shopping.

And there was never more of anything than I could shake a stick at. I have the stick to prove it.

Up or down?

I was waiting for the lift on the ground floor of Jenners, one of Edinburgh’s oldest department stores. With me were four little old ladies, all with white hair in that “set and styled” look that seems to be the fashion in the over-70 demographic. The “up” button was already lit, and one lady was pressing the “down” button over and over again while talking about lift journeys. She, apparently, wanted to go to the third floor.

So why the down button? She explained as she stabbed away.

“Most folks think you’re supposed to tell the lift where you want to go. But that’s daft, you see, because the lift doesn’t know how to take you there. It’ll be on the third floor – like this one – and know you want to go up. But it doesn’t know that it has to go down to fetch you first. How could it? It’s like driving a car – you tell the lift where you want it to go. We’re on the ground floor, and it’s on the third floor. So we want it to come down to fetch us. We’ll tell it which floors to go to when we get on. Like a car,” she nodded again, clinching the argument.

Listening to her, I experienced a sudden, seismic burst of cognitive dissonance. I suddenly doubted whether I had been using lifts correctly all my life. How did I know how to use a lift? My parents taught me, and I’d watched colleagues and strangers. In essence, lift usage is an oral tradition, and like many oral traditions, may be wrong. Maybe this woman was right? Who was to know?

The lift came, and the “down” arrow went dark. The “up” arrow was still lit, but we all got on. I would have stayed back, suspecting it was en route to the lower ground floor, but I didn’t want to offend the woman by doubting her thesis with my actions. (Or was I simply insecure, unsure the lift would stop at the ground floor again on its way back up? The cognitive dissonance was pretty strong.)

We both got off at the third floor, and I left her energetically explaining something to a saleswoman. I went on my way, still a little dazed.

Even after leaving Jenners, I couldn’t quite shake the underlying doubt. Had I been using lifts wrong all this time? I mentioned it to my father, who provided the clinching evidence. Most lifts have only one button at the extreme ends of their runs. If you’re on the bottom floor of a building, the only lift control instruction you can give is up, please. If the lady was right, then you could never summon the lift to the ground floor, because you could never give it the instruction to go down.

I should be convinced. I should be sure. But last night, in the middle of the night, I woke up certain that I lived in a world where lifts were like cars, and we were all doing it wrong.

Too Roman by Half

A colleague and I were talking about the forthcoming film Troy the other day. I said something like, “Well, I always sided with the Trojans against the Greeks, but then I’m too Roman by half.”

The first part, certainly, is true. I have always sided with the Trojans. Not Paris, who was an idiot. (Top tip: if you have to choose from among three goddesses, you will have one powerful friend and two powerful enemies. 2 > 1. You will be sorry. Make applesauce, or throw yourself on the mercy of Zeus, or jump off a cliff.) But the story of Hector, and the image of his body being dragged round the walls of Troy, won my sympathy more than Achilles’ spoilt brat behaviour ever did.

But the second part is true as well. I am too Roman by half. Admittedly, I’m not Roman enough to mind having my own first name (Roman girls didn’t), and I’m glad my paterfamilias didn’t have the power of life or death over me (not that Dad would have done anything awful). But as time goes by, I find myself succumbing to Roman-style superstition.

The Romans believed that there were “auspicious” times and “inauspicious” times. Indeed, the superstitious Roman matron (or man – this one spanned both genders) was as much of a stereotype as the boasting soldier or the virtuous girl of good family barely saved from prostitution. Juvenal, in his Satire 6, spends a good 40 lines on the subject of superstitious women. (He was always much gentler on his own sex.)

This is not limited to Romans, of course – the main character with Asperger’s in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time judges the auspiciousness of the day by the number of red cars he sees on his way to school. And millions of people read, and even make decisions based on their horoscopes. But it feels very Roman in me.

I’ve always had the feeling that there are “good days” and “bad days”. Over the last five years, as I’ve learned to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve been wryly conscious of the fact that my perceptions are as much a part of this as my luck itself. But after a few weeks like I’ve just had, something in me does wonder if the auspices are against me.

In addition to the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, there have been several major irritants lately:

  • The carpet thing
  • My work situation, which is crap, but which I don’t want to discuss in public since it’s still going on.
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
  • Being messed about with by an ebay vendor about a cane for the above. Again, still ongoing, so not the time to discuss.
  • Attempting to buy a particular sofa bed in IKEA, only to find that our penny-ante Edinburgh shop doesn’t stock it. I could have hoicked all the way out to the Glasgow one, but we were going to get it shipped, and shipping from Glasgow is much, much costlier than shipping the few miles from the Edinburgh branch. There goes my carefully composed room design…

All in all, bad luck seems to plague me right now. You’ll note, as well, that three of the five items listed there have been my attempts to spend money. Dealing with British vendors of any sort is often a trial – they usually assume that you, and your time, are of no value whatsoever, and that you’re happy to stay in the house all day waiting for deliveries that never come, or to pay through the nose for shoddy work and outright rudeness. (This is not universal, by the way – Hewit’s, my local bookbinding supplier, for instance, is a pleasure to deal with. Which is why I have too much leather under my bed, but that’s another story.) This disappointment with major purchases is leading to another great Roman virtue: frugality, since I can’t seem to spend my money anywhere.

Much more of it, though, and I’ll be tempted to follow yet another fine Roman custom, the proscription, where you write out a list of all your enemies and post it as a suggestion for the mobs…

Ouchy Head

Well, if Martin’s recent sufferings weren’t enough, I appear to have developed the capacity for migraines. Imagine my delight.

It is apparently not uncommon for women’s migraine status to change in pregnancy – sufferers may experience some relief, and non-sufferers may start getting them. This ties into the theories that migraines are hormonally based.

I don’t know if the two killer headaches I’ve experienced in the last month are true migraines. In both cases, my head was throbbing so badly it felt like it would explode, particularly behind the eyes. Any light caused stabbing pains in my eyes and temples, adding to the pain even more. Eventually, it hurt so much that I got nauseated, sometimes uncontrollably.

Yesterday’s headache was preceded by an unpleasant series of sensations as well. I went up into town at lunchtime, and while on my way back, I began to feel somewhat faint. (Since I have low blood pressure, I am familiar with the symptoms that lead up to fainting, though I have only once passed out. Specifically, I sometimes experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, sweating palms, nausea and a trailing off of extreme weakness. Yesterday I had three of the five, but managed to avoid the nausea and sweating palms by sitting down for a few minutes.) Then I got back to the office, and began to feel an incipient headache.

That feeling of faintness matches some of the symptoms of an aura, such as often precedes a “proper” migraine. Not being a doctor, I don’t know if my guess that this was an aura before a migraine is accurate (though as far as I can tell, the medical profession sometimes uses “migraine” to mean “bad headache we can’t otherwise explain”. It’s been the default diagnosis for Martin a couple of times.)

My head hurt all evening, meaning my poor Martin had to put Alex to bed. (I couldn’t bathe him, because the bathroom light was too bright. I took my shower later by candlelight.) I was better in the morning, but still too light-sensitive to take Alex to nursery; Martin had to do that too. Work was right out of the question.

Finally, about 24 hours after the first faintness, I’m feeling better. The light sensitivity has gone, the headache has vanished, and apart from a dragging tiredness, I’m back to normal.

The bad news is that, being pregnant, I dare not take painkillers. The worse news is that some pregnancy-onset tendencies to migraine don’t go away after the birth…

The good news is that Martin is wonderful. Thank you, Bun.

The Quickening

Hooray! The quickening!

Say “Quickening” to a science fiction fan and they’ll cringe. It’s one of the worst, tackiest films ever, a disgrace to the otherwise excellent Highlander series. So why am I so pleased about it?

In pregnancy terms, “quickening” refers to the moment when the mother can first feel the baby move. It tends to occur between 18 and 22 weeks for first pregnancies, and somewhat sooner in later ones (I’m at 16 1/2 weeks). There are two main theories why second pregnancies quicken earlier. Either the mother knows what she’s trying to feel for, or the uterus is more stretched and conducts the kicks better. I tend to believe the latter theory – neither Alex nor Chenoweth* has felt like anything other than something inside kicking out. (Note to self: time to watch Alien again.)

For many women, the quickening happens a week or two before the kicks are externally perceptible. This hasn’t been the case for me. Martin felt the third Alex kick I did, and I can already feel Chenoweth from the outside as well. (Haven’t yet timed it for Martin to feel. Probably over the next day or two.) This probably means I’ve missed the earlier movements in both cases, but I don’t really care.

In the days before ultrasounds, or even pregnancy tests, pregnancies weren’t announced until the baby was felt to move. Originally, it was thought to be the time the baby first moved, rather than first time it was perceptible. The quickening was the moment when everyone knew that a pregnancy was viable. If the pregnancy was a politcally important one, it was cause for public celebration. Look what happened when Jane Seymour felt a few kicks one day.

On 27 May 1537, Trinity Sunday, there was a Te Deum sung in St Paul’s cathedral for joy at the queen’s quickening of her child, my lord chancellor, lord privy seal and various other lords and bishops being then present; the mayor and aldermen with the best guilds of the city being there in their liveries, all giving laud and praise to God for joy about it.

Now, I’m not going to book St Paul’s, or even St John Vianney’s over the hill, but I am very pleased. Of course, we knew Chen was viable and moving after the scan (it was doing barrel rolls onscreen). But the quickening is still emotionally important. It’s the first time a baby becomes real, the first time I feel like there’s actually someone there. It’s also the beginning of the best thing about pregnancy for me: the feeling of closeness with the baby. In the years since Alex was born, I have often missed the slow, seismic roll of baby in the tummy, the feeling that he was right there with me all the time. That’s when I fell in love with him, and now I get to fall in love with his sibling.

Welcome, Chenoweth.

* We’re referring to the baby as Chenoweth, which is the planned middle name regardless of gender. It was my paternal grandfather’s mother’s maiden name, and I have always loved it. It’s Welsh in origin.

10 Years

A decade ago yesterday, I woke up in my parents’ house. It was my last morning as a Foley.

The house was full of college-aged guests, too impecunious to stay elsewhere. Then there was the family: two parents, two small children, and me (Mick lived elsewhere by then). And guests and relatives were wandering in and out from time to time. It was a zoo, but a delightful zoo, with someone unexpected in every room.

I laid out my beautiful wedding dress, handmade of silk by my mother, and the shoes I’d chosen to go with it. Then I realised that I didn’t have tights! A quick drive to Payless solved that, though all they had were “control top” tights. I shrugged and figured they would make me look even better in the dress.

By the time I came home, everyone was getting ready. I managed to get some mirror time, just enough to brush my hair and put a little makeup on. I never wear much, and that day was no exception. I took the least time to get ready of anyone in that house, with plenty of time to help Kathleen with her hair.

I remember very little after driving to the church in the van. Martin and I had memorised our lines, and were word-perfect through the ceremony, but I don’t recall much of it. We drove to the reception in Jeeps, with white streamers tied to the roll bars. We ate, drank, and were merry, but again, I remember very little of it.

I was just too happy.

I’m still happy now, a decade later. Not in the same euphoric, memory-destroying way, of course, or they’d have to lock me up as a danger to myself and others. But my marriage to Martin has been even better than the wedding.

There have been bad times, of course, and no doubt there will be again. But the greatest joy of our marriage is that we can overcome adversity better as a couple (even adversity within the couple) better than we could individually.

It is far from time to rest on our laurels – with a toddler running rampant and a baby on the way, we certainly have some challenging times ahead. But we have made a good start.

I love you, Martin, even more than I did on the day I cannot remember.

Virtual Identity

A few weeks ago, Martin was musing on what these blogs are, really, and why we maintain them. He, like the blogger who prompted his article, used a number of real-world analogies to make his points.

I’m not so sure how far analogies can take me in describing why I do what I do on the web. (Come to that, I’m not sure I know why I do all that I do on the web.)

First things first, though.

Who are you on the Web, Abi?

My main Net identities are:

Naturally, I have several “spoof” and temporary identities about as well, which I would rather were not linked to my “core” identity. Nor am I alone in this. I suspect that the vast majority of E2 users, for instance, have secondary accounts for various reasons. But these are the ones that I identify as “myself”.

These identities are not all linked up (or weren’t, until I posted this!), but together, they present a multi-faceted image that I am willing to make available to absolute strangers, friends, and family.

Why do you spend all this time on these identities?

For a long time, I didn’t have a web presence. I didn’t feel that I had anything that important to say. Further reading convinced me, however, that most of the other people on the web don’t either. One of my teachers at Napier advised me make a site of all the things I would want to find on the web (and I have, both in my factual work on E2 and in the Bookweb).

This blog came about partly by imitation (because Martin had one), and partly to communicate with my family in California. But its usage has evolved. It’s now part of my “shop window” on the world, an expression of who I am right now and what I’m thinking.

But (to ask a basic writer’s question), who is my audience? Martin and I have received a number of comments and emails lately that have clarified this for me.

  • One of Martin’s high school friends Googled her name and found a reference to herself in Martin’s blog. This led her to get in touch, as part of the re-consolidation of that set of friends from his youth.
  • I got a comment on my blog from someone whom I have never met, who Googled his way onto the Bookweb and followed the trail here. Reading my blog convinced him that I might be worth chatting to, and we exchange the occasional email now as a result.
  • Another email was from someone I knew at St Andrews, who found the site (don’t know how) and sent me a “remember me?” email. Again, contact is being re-established.

Enough verbage. Who is your audience?

My audience is those people on the web who were, are, or might become, friends. As friendship extends into the virtual realm, so will the art of meeting people. My web presence is a shop window, an entry in a Personals column, an extended hand.


So if you think you might want to know me further, click on the rooster at the top of the page and send me an email. Alternatively, add a comment here.

Because it’s a big, scary world out there, I’m not going to fall all over myself to be friends with everyone who drops me a line. I’ve made my pitch, described myself. But friendship is a two-way street. Tell me about yourself, make me care.

And in the spirit of Martin’s friend getting back in touch, I’m going to list a few people I would love to hear from again, even just a brief note. This page is indexed by Google, so if they search on their names they’ll find themselves here. If this is you, click on the rooster at the top of the page and get in touch. Tell me what you’ve been doing!

From Piedmont High School:

  • Liza Groen
  • Lisa Wright
  • Alta Swinford
  • Paul Casey

From Skyline High School:

  • Jason Camara

From Richmond High School:

  • Jetsun Eddy (Or are you spelling it Jetsün Eddy?)

From UC Berkeley:

  • David Corcoran
  • David Beckerman
  • Eleanor (El) Casella
  • Charlton Horne
  • Keith Gordon

From St Andrews:

  • Andrea Kagan
  • William Grant

On Craftsmanship

I went through a pretty bad patch at work last month. I was feeling annoyed at the people I work with, stressed out by a developing problem that I couldn’t seem to solve, and frustrated with myself for getting into the situation at all. I was even having work stress dreams (coming into the office naked from the waist up, that sort of thing).

A lot of this was based on fear. I am performing a role pioneered by someone with vastly more experience and knowledge than I have. Even after a year, I am still scrambling to catch up, learning on the fly. But I feel like by now I should know everything I need to do my job. This made it hard to ask questions, and consequently made me defensive and unadventurous. I found myself backing away from challenges because I was afraid they’d turn into cans of worms, that people would ask me things I couldn’t answer. Easier to say no than to find a way to say yes.

But I was rereading A Degree of Mastery, one of my bookbinding books. The author, Annie Tremmel Wilcox, writes about the time that she was an apprentice bookbinder. She spends a lot of time thinking about the idea of craftsmanship, particularly as embodied by the master bookbinder she is studying with. And, reading that, I understood my real problem. The lack of knowledge, the feeling of looming intimidation, was only a symptom.

I had stopped approaching my job as a craftsman. I was no longer taking pride in the innate quality of the work I was doing, but had got tied up in the politics of it all. It’s easy to do in my role, where there is a lot of political give and take.

To a politician, the quality of your work is one of many negotiable items. You take shortcuts to do favours, until taking the time to do something right is seen as an imposition. A craftsman abhors this approach, and would rather do something less fancy but do it right than do more in some half-assed way.

As a craftsman, with the priority on the quality of my work, I find the barriers to asking for help have diminished. If the quality of my work is my primary concern, then the desire to save face by not appearing ignorant cannot be. That’s the primary concern of a polician.

Going into work is a lot easier now. I even keep a bone folder on my keyboard (above the F keys). It’s sort of a personal emblem of craftsmanship.

                              – o0o –

Grammar notes: Although I am a woman, I use the terms “craftsman” and “craftsmanship”. My alternatives appear to be “crafter” / “craftership” and “craftswoman” / “craftswomanship”. Now, “crafter” sounds like “crofter” to me, and I have nothing whatever to do with sheep. And while “craftswoman” is fine, “craftswomanship” is just too awkward. (Don’t even get me started on “craftspersonship”…) Besides, I am confident enough in my femininity to be able to use a masculine term about myself.