Thursday, August 31, 2006

Balance in our lives, that's what we all need to be happy, well rounded people.
Recently I read that to achieve that, one should have three boxes in one's life - a spiritual box, a physical box and an intellectual box. Every day one should put something into each box. Today I have put something into two of the three boxes - can I find something spiritual to put into the box before I go to bed ?

Several people had recommended Nadeem Aslam's latest book Maps for Lost Lovers to me and I finally got hold of a copy from the library and have just finished reading it. It is an engrossing but not always easy read, and apparently it took Aslam 11 years to write it.

In an unnamed town in England Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumours abound in the close-knit Pakistani community, and then on a snow-covered January morning Chanda's brothers are arrested for their murder. Maps for Lost Lovers tells the story of the next twelve months. What follows is an unravelling of all that is sacred to Jugnu's brother and sister-in-law, Shamas and Kaukab. As the seasons pass Kaukab tries desperately to maintain her Islamic piety as she struggles to come to terms with the double murder and its corrosive effect on her family.
At first I found it quite difficult to get into the book, but as I perservered I became completely immersed in the lives of people who are living in a cultural cocoon, resolutely keeping British society at bay. They persist in regarding themselves as exiles even though they have come voluntarily as immigrants to the UK - and not just as individuals but in whole communities. In so doing they bring with them habits, manners, and ancestral feuds from their villages in Pakistan, together with outrageous "laws" which they enact in the name of Islam, vindictively maligning one another over perceived transgressions.
Aslam writes in heavily lyrical prose, which at times comes across as over-blown, but is reminiscent of the classical Urdu poetry, chunks of which are quoted throughout the book.
Within this book is a lightly-veiled anti-clerical polemic and it is surprising that the fundamentalist Muslim lobby in this country has not taken exception to his writing as they did to that of Rushdie.
Reading this as a white British woman, I felt depressed at the huge gulf between "us" and "them", angry about the deeply ingrained attitudes to women that the Pakistani communities have, and fearful for what this bodes for us all in the west in what are becoming troubled times.

Do you know what this is ? It is a Hummer H2 aka a Hum Vee, and this afternoon I had what air traffic control would call 'a near miss' with one of these monsters. I was innocently driving along in north London when suddenly this huge, black beast overtook me on the inside, and then slammed on its brakes, giving me palpitations. And guess what it was being driven by a young blonde woman, with lots of gold jewellery, heavy suntan, and Jackie O sunglasses - a WAG or clone of a WAG. The brain of anyone who owns and drives one of these monsters in London is in inverse proportion to the size of their vehicle (I refuse to call it a car).

This vehicle was specifically designed for the US Army back in 1979, they asked the designers to come up with a "High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle", and as you can see the designers met their brief and did exactly that, and you can see how it got it's name.

If one were on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan or the Congo I realise that this would be a very useful and practical set of wheels to have - but here in London it is an affront to decency, global warming and my nerves. Nobody should be allowed to have these in normal urban and suburban areas, they are not necessary and they are not nice.
What on earth will be the next motor fashion statement ? A Sherman tank?

What did you have for breakfast ? I tend to eat the same two pieces of toast and a mug of coffee that has been my habit for years, but every so often it is great to make a change and Granola is one of the best things for breakfast as you can mix it with milk, or yoghurt or fresh fruit as you prefer. I only started making my own Granola a year or two back and my recipe evolved through various trials. It is really easy to make and keeps well in an airtight container.

My Nutty Granola

500gms jumbo oat flakes

1.5 cups flaked coconut

1 cup wheat germ

¾cup sunflower seeds

3 cups mixed nuts (chop the larger ones) Almonds, pecans/walnuts, hazelnuts

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup honey

½ cup water

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup sunflower oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup raisins or sultanas

1 cup chopped dried apricots

In a large bowl combine the first six ingredients and stir well to mix.

Combine honey, oil, water, vanilla, brown sugar and salt in a large jug. Mix well together and pour over the oat mixture. Stir well until everything is well coated.

Heat oven to 180°C

Spread the mix evenly in a very large, lightly oiled, shallow roasting pan; bake for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes so it all browns evenly taking care it does not burn. The mix will not be crisp when first removed from the oven, let it cool and then stir in the raisins and apricots.

Store in an air-tight container (1-1½ months)


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