Thursday, 21 August 2014

Greetings from Vancouver

I have been in Vancouver for two and a half weeks now. Weather is good- rarely cold. Too sunny sometimes. 

Food portion is too BIG! My plan of losing weight failed big time.

I havent been blogging for awhile because I thought this blogger app was not working anymore and also I have been busy with work. 

I found a job I loved so much that it feels amazing. Salary is good too ;)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Sómastaðir, in Reyðarfjörður

You might recognize this house if you've been reading Iceland Eyes for a while. It's the one my great-grandfather, Hans Beck, built, and where my grandmother (one of his 23 children) was born (click on the link to read more about its history).

I  last wrote about in 2006 when it was still in disrepair, but now I'm happy to say it's been renovated to an amazingly fine degree by the National Museum of Iceland Historic Buildings Collection with funding from Alcoa, the aluminum company that has erected a smelter literally just across the street from the house, on a long thin plot of land that dips down from the road into the fjord below. Thankfully, the smelter is mostly hidden by the sloping landscape, and if you stand with your back to it you can almost imagine you're back in 1913 when my amma, Ásta Beck, was born.

And once again, one of the reasons I love blogging is that I just discovered this American Forests site detailing a reforestation project for the hillside behind the house, on Sómastaðafjall!

It was my mother, Ásthildur Brynjófsdóttir Roff's, birthday present to herself to go back to Reyðarfjörður with my father, my children and me and see what's been done with the old place. Though she was also born in the area, it was in the town proper, in an old corrugated-iron clad timber house named Tunga. We went there, and also in to Eskifjörður, and to the old Helgustaðir spar-stone mine which the SEEDS volunteer project worked on in 2009. They did a wonderful job of making the area visitor-friendly. Definitely visit their link to learn about spar-stone, or transparent calcite, which is littered all about the hillside mine area. And if you've seen the History Channel's Vikings series, you'll recall Ragnar using it the second episode to navigate to England!

We had a wonderful visit out east, and I HIGHLY recommend the region to travelers. It's one of the oldest settled areas in the country, with the second oldest geology. The people are kind, the landscape stunning, and the weather generally much better (or at least more specific) than in the south and west. It took me ten hours to drive home from Egilstaðir to Reykajvik in one shot, which I had to do, though I would of course recommend stopping and staying as much as possible along the way :+)

Friday, 8 August 2014


A gorgeous flower that bloomed at the edge of a gravel driveway on Skólvörðurstígur

Happy birthday to Iceland Eyes! 

Not only is this my 696th post, Iceland Eyes is now starting its 10th year of existence! As a matter of fact I just realized that my first-ever post was on August 8th, 2004, exactly a decade ago today! 

Once again I need to thank you all for cheering me on these years. If you've been following along, you'll know how much has changed in that time, both personally and blog-wise. And I would have given up many times if I hadn't gotten the encouragement you've given so readily, so

þúsund þakkir, kæri vinir !

A Eulogy for Oscar

My Oscar

Oscar was my world.  He came into my life during a really difficult time for me, on 5 August 2003.   When I got him, he was a frightened, timid 11 month old rough collie who had been returned to his breeder by someone who had initially wanted him, but then treated him poorly as a puppy.  It was great the breeder was willing to take him back, but because he wasn't a cute little pup anymore, he was probably due to live out his life in a kennel and a run, possibly as a stud dog, but definitely not as a family pet.  I had wanted to leave London and my soulless job in the City.  I wanted a dog so badly.  I bought the cottage where we both lived on his first birthday.  He is intimately connected with this place and my new life in Suffolk.  It is our home together.   He left my life on 5 August 2014.  We were both in a very different place thanks to the time we had together.

There is something very ancient and deep in the bond between a person and their dog.  It goes back thousands of years to when the first wolves became domesticated.  It's really quite hard to explain the depth of it to someone who hasn't had a dog.  When you live on your own, your dog becomes your soul mate.  Every evening when I was on Twitter, reading a book, or watching a movie, Oscar would be next to me on the sofa, getting a neck message or behind his ears rubbed.  I loved him so much.  He gave me endless, devoted, unconditional love back.  He was the ultimate healing presence for me.

He was my companion through 11 years.  He came to work with me every day.  We travelled Europe on our own together, doing his favourite thing, camping.  He notched up 16 countries from Denmark in the north, down to Spain in the south.  He just loved being in the fresh air, the endless walks, and sleeping pressed right up to me at night.  Every day for those 11 years that I was with him, I greeted him with a good morning and he howled and cried back.  Every night I tucked him up in his basket and he was the last one I spoke to with a "Nighty night, Oscar.  You sleep well, Daddy will see you in the morning."

Oscar was there, observing matters from the back of car in his little collie way, the day I met Ste in May 2012.   Ste cautiously got the paws up, and despite the odd show of jealousy (Ste claims the end of his nose was involved, but Oscar refuted that strongly) the three of us rapidly became a trio.  Oscar, Ste and I walked the Manchester Moors, through the New Forest, and along the Suffolk and Norfolk beaches.  Oscar always slept downstairs in my cottage, but our weekend trips to visit Ste in Manchester meant we were fair game for being joined for a sneaky collie cuddle in bed.  He was particularly fond of being little spooned by Ste.  The best Christmas of my life to date was December 2012, which the three of us of spent together in Suffolk.  We went the whole hog with a real tree, German style, a holly wreath, baking and fresh salmon (of course) for Oscar.  It was truly magical.

On 5 August 2013, the tenth year anniversary of Oscar and my being together, a car overtaking on a hill and a bend, drove head-on into us on my side of the road on the A140.  It was such a violent impact, it wrote off my three week old Mercedes, and I'm still having treatment for injury to my back and leg, a year after the collision.  Oscar was in the back, safely behind his dog guard, but he was still thrown forward with horrible force.  He started having trouble with walking, and in February this year had a complete muscular break down.  I thought I was going to lose him.  We started an intensive programme of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy, as well as drug treatment for the arthritis that had been exacerbated by the crash.  My Mutti was heavily involved in this, as I had to be abroad a lot with work this year.  Each time he came home from a stay with his beloved "Granny", the results of her nursing were clear for me to see.  A miracle happened: Oscar came back.  In February he had not wanted to go outside at all, he had been hobbling rather than just limping, and when he did go out he hadn't been sniffing anything or raising his head.  Little by little he found his love of life again and became stronger and stronger.  He wore a thick back paw support for walks, but by April he was happily exercising a good hour a day.  He did this right up until the day before he died.

At the end of July Ste, Oscar and I spent a week camping in the mountains in the South of France.  Oscar would have been twelve next month, so it was the perfect holiday for an almost 84 year old (in human terms).  He watched the birdies, the people, and dogs going by from the comfort of his super comfy basket, had a couple of walks along the river every day, and slept under the canvas with his daddies.  Every day at 5 o'clock he was willing us to get up, and start the next day of his collieday.  He did ever so well with the 15 hour car drive (including lots of breaks to stretch his paws): there wasn't a squeak out of him at all.  He was the easiest going dog imaginable.  He was so incredibly happy throughout that holiday.

Last Sunday, less than a week after our return from France, we had two lovely walks in the woods and were lying in the sun together in the garden enjoying the warm weather.  In the evening he brought up his dinner.  During the night he was sick several more times, bringing up bile.  I slept next to him on the floor downstairs.  At 8am on Monday he couldn't get up.  He tried and I caught him just before he fell over on his side.  I took him straight to the vet, where they did blood and neurological tests.  They ruled out poisoning, a stroke and problems with his back.  His reflexes were all still working, but he just couldn't get up.  His heart was racing incredibly fast and he was panting heavily.  He was put on a drip and given strong pain killers.  24 hours later, his condition had worsened.  He just about acknowledged me, and there was still no movement.  I had two vets look at him, and we consulted an expert at one of the country's leading animal treatment specialists.   They all said there was no hope.  It was almost certainly a tumour of some kind.  At 10am on Tuesday 5 August he was put to sleep.  Two days before we'd been sunbathing together.  One of my hands was under his little furry head, the other holding his beautiful white front paw.  It was so surprisingly peaceful.  He died 11 years, to the day, that I had collected him from the breeder.

Oscar had his "Lassie" movie star looks until the day he died.  He had just the slightest white round his muzzle and eyes.  Apart from his poor paw, he was the picture of health, with the most stunning shiny coat.  I'm so grateful he never suffered blindness, deafness, incontinence, teeth problems or any of the other issues old dogs have.  He was such a gentle boy throughout his life.   He was so zen and calm, and looked he spent hours in his basket meditating.  I used to joke he was a Buddhist monk in a former life.  He would get really upset if I killed flies in the house and hated squeaky toys: I think he thought we were hurting them when they squeaked.  I can count on one hand the times I remember telling him off during his entire life.  His departure was so typically Oscar: gentle, quiet, and without fuss.

I've so much to be grateful for: we had 11 years packed full of love and happiness, a dream collie holiday a week before his death, and a swift and painless end, aged just shy of 12.  I don't think any dog, or dog owner, could ask for more than that.  Yet my heart wants to break.  The complete uncontrollable grief I'm feeling is like nothing I've experienced before.  He was my everything: a friend, a son, a brother, a companion.  He wasn't a family pet: he was my family.  He has been with me, through everything, for over a quarter of my life.  Ste and I had already put our name down with  a breeder in Leicestershire to get a puppy collie companion for Oscar in November.  He won't be a replacement for Oscar: nothing could be.  Oscar won't be meeting him and won't be helping bring him up after all.  I like to think that Oscar knew that his time was up, would be happy to know I won't be on my own, and that I'll have a collie by my side again.  The next few months without a dog will be so hard.  I can't even contemplate the void I feel right now without him.

Just before he died I thanked him for everything.  I want to thank him again, to the world, with this little piece.  I loved you so much, Oscar.  You were the most beautiful, softest, best behaved, loving dog in the world.  Nothing can ever take away from the time we had together and I'm just so grateful to have had you in my life.  I'll remember you until my dying day.  Rest in peace my beautiful boy.

Oscar "Tameila After Dark" Ede

* 23 September 2002  5 August 2014

"He might only be there for part of your life, but for him you are his whole life"


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tesco's Racist Sign

This store is working with police/other retailers to identify thieves."  

In Polish.  How classy.  This lovely sign has pride of place in my local Tesco store at Diss in Norfolk.  I consider it to be completely racist*

Let's talk this through.  It's not unusual to have information signs up in different languages where there's a large foreign speaking minority who will see them.  When you catch the ferry to Calais there are safety signs up in English, French, German, Dutch and Polish.  It's the whole reason the international system of road signs was designed: so that essential information doesn't have to be translated into multiple languages.  If you can't use a symbol though, I've absolutely no problem with this: it's unquestionably sensible.

Let's see whether Tesco thinks it's a good idea to provide essential information for the convenience of its Polish customers.  There are signs up for "Parent Parking", "Reycling", "Customer Service" and "Toilets" in and around the Diss store.  All of them are in English.  Not one of them is translated into anything.  There are all the special offers, the "Every Little Counts" advertising slogan - all of it in English.  There are even signs setting out rules, such as saying you can only park for 2 hours there - but they're only in English too.  Nope, the only sign they've bothered to put into Polish is the "WE'RE WATCHING YOU" one. 

Tesco Diss.  You're welcome, if you're not Polish

Tesco Twitter Intervenes

Is there a corresponding DO NOT STEAL sign in English? Yes, there is.  It's to one side and I had to look for it.  It was the Polish one that caught my eye.  It's right in your face where you walk in.  I tweeted Tesco about the issue on 19 July.  They said they understood why I thought it was wrong and said they'd speak to the branch manager.  Just to be clear, I've no problem with a sign in English.  Every other sign in the store is in English and it is the language of this country.  I doesn't single any particular national group out as being potential thieves.

The net result of this intervention is that a Latvian sign has now appeared too.  If you're in any doubt which nationalities are being singled out as being potential criminals, they've neatly written the language on the back so we're all aware.  How thoughtful.  Lovely handwriting too.

What's more - it gets better - since my complaint they've added a SECOND "We're watching you" sign in Polish and it's double size.  It has absolute pride of place in the store: it's impossible to enter without seeing it.  Look here on the central door that closes and opens.  The single English one is to its right on the fixed panel on the side.

Why is this so offensive? Well clearly two nationalities are being singled out as being suspected of potential criminal activity.  They are being greeted in a sign in their own language (a rarity in this country) that tells them they're being watched.  Polish families with children entering might be delighted to see their own language, only to realise they're being told that Tesco regards them as potential thieves.  Welcome to Britain.  Welcome to Tesco.

What's next - "DO NOT STEAL" signs in Romani to fulfill another nasty, negative racial stereotype?

Local Poles

Perhaps Tesco has a major problem with this demographic locally.  I seriously doubted it, even before I had a delve into the official statistics.

The last census revealed just 1.1% of the population of the whole of the East of England region was born in Poland.   Lithuania registers at 0.3% of the population and Latvia is so small as to not even make the top 15 table.   Together there are more people born in Germany and the US in the region than there are Poles.  In addition, the bigger Polish speaking communities are not in this part of Suffolk/Norfolk, but up in places closer to the Lincolnshire border.  The only Poles I've personally ever come across in this area are the phenomenally hard-working local hand car wash guys, who have put up a large England flag to try to fit in.

What we do have locally is another fellow EU community: the Portuguese of Thetford.  Wikipedia comments : "During the late 1990s, a slow trickle of Portuguese immigrants started to arrive in the town of Thetford, East Anglia.  By 2004, the media were suggesting that there may be as many as 6,000 Portuguese-speakers in the Thetford area, where there are many Portuguese cafés, restaurants, delicatessens, etc.  This figure would represent around 30% of the local population." 

I note there is no "WE ARE WATCHING YOU" sign in Portuguese in the store, if this is all simply about providing information signs for second-language speakers.

Might there be justification?

However, what if the miniscule Polish and Latvian communities are however single-handed and disproportionately responsible for a outbreak of shoplifting in this area?

Well, let's look at the national crime statistics for the area.  It seems that the East of England has one of the lowest regional crime rates in the entire country.   Life expectancy is among the highest in the UK and regional unemployment is one of the lowest.  My local village newsletter recorded a total of four crimes dealt with by the police in the whole of the last month.  FOUR.  It's not exactly the Bronx round here.

Okay, I don't live in the metropolis of Diss (5000 inhabitants!) so let's see their exact local crime figures based on Tesco's postcode.  Here we have it - a total of 82 crimes reported in May 2014.   One third were anti-social crimes (31.7%) and one fifth (20.7%) were domestic burglaries.  Shoplifting made up 3.6% of the total for last month: a grand total of 3 reported instances of it.  Bear in mind there are three supermarkets close to one another that total is split between: Tesco, Coop/Somerfield and Morrisons.

So we have 3 reports of shoplifting a month, typically, split across three Diss supermarkets (offenders' nationalities unknown), and Tesco responds with these in your face signs that give the impression there is a petty crime spree caused by two specific nationalities: the Poles and the Latvians.  It is utterly disproportionate, misleading, offensive, unclassy and I'm afraid, just plain nasty.

Moreover, even if there were a major problem with shoplifting that was borne out by figures, and these criminals were proven to belong to one or two national groups, it still absolutely wouldn't be appropriate to single them out in this way.  Hire more security staff, but do not label all the other members of the group as potential criminals to the world at large in this way.   It's the equivalent of saying that because you've had a problem with certain individuals, you're okay labelling every one of them by shoving up the "no Irish, no Blacks, no Dogs" signs of yesteryear.  Several, or even many members of a particular societal group might objectively give you problems, but in 2014 it is just not acceptable to go on to label all members of that group with a highly negative label because of this.  There's a simple name for it: racism.

And here we all are wondering how UKIP manages to persuade people the country is sinking under the weight of criminal East European immigrants.  I'm a lawyer who bothered to check up on what the actual local statistics are.  I wonder how many other people will just see the sign and just assume there must be a Polish crime wave locally because the sign is there.  It's inflammatory and perpetuates a slur against a national group (actually, two national groups in this case).  It's racial stereotyping, it breeds prejudice, and it's inherently wrong.

Shame on Tesco

Shame on you Tesco Diss.  Shame on you Tesco nationally for not stopping this.

Aside from the moral position, you've also not thought for a moment how this will offend and piss of not just law abiding Polish and Latvian customers but everyone else too.  This is idiotically avoidable bad PR that your business should be seeking to avoid.  Instead, after a complaint, you've decided to make the situation worse.

* A couple of people have questioned whether it's possible to be "racist" towards Poles.  Simple answer, yes.  At the highest level, national origins are expressly covered in the 1966 United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  In terms of UK legislation, the definition of a racial group is "A group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins." If you want an example of the legislation applying in an anti-Polish case of May 2014, please see here.