Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Food for the brain

Belated Happy New Year to everyone.

We still haven't cut the vasilopita in our house, so we ourselves are slightly delayed in our own celebration of the change in the year. We were rather busy (over-)enjoying ourselves during the festive period.

A very educational meal at a Pret-a-manger outlet near Hyde Park: The choices were made by myself, so that the family could experience 'alternative' food. Crisps need not be potatoes; I also introduced them to the idea of 'corporate responsibility' towards a society (stuff I know about, 'cos I proofread Master's students' theses about them). Total cost for 4 hot drinks, 4 wraps/sandwiches and two packs of crisps: 24.50 pounds.

On reflection, my decision to the take the family to London during this time was the best decision I ever made in my life. It was based on a number of factors, mainly that of creating one's own happiness, which I feel need to be written down for the record, so that those who read this in the future (hopefully, my son and daughter) will remember how and why their mother made the (extravagant-sounding) decision to take the family on a (second) holiday abroad.

My favorite fresh market is the Lewisham street market - it is very cheap (most stuff is sold in bowls, all for just 1 pound), and this Christmas, I got to try brussel sprouts, kale, parsnips, swedes and turnips, some of which I added to a roast with a chicken (3.50 pounds).

The most important reason for my rather last-minute New Year's plans was to show my children (primarily) that life is dull, boring, sad, etc only if you allow it to be. As I said in my last post for 2014, Life doesn't always go as planned... You may or may not be the perpetrator of all your own misery, but you can usually be the creator of all your own happiness. But nothing will happen if you don't plan it to take place, which may mean that you have to act in an original way, perhaps appearing unpredictable among your friends and family. In most cases, you can envisage the consequences of most of your actions: if they seem dull, boring, sad, etc, then try to change your actions and behaviour before the consequences become history.

Battersea Pie company in Covent Garden, New Year's Eve - I grew up in New Zealand savouring the taste of steak and kidney pie and Cornish pasty. Total cost: 20 pounds (with a cup of tea). 

Despite the pervading belief in the west that Christmas is now far removed from its religious context, it is still one of the biggest events of the year. (In Greece, Easter is far more important than Christmas.) But Christmas is actually a very quiet time in Crete. Some small events take place for Christmas, but they do not penetrate society in the same way that Christmas events do in western countries. Hence, Christmas/New Year's time is not really very exciting in Hania.

The best souvlaki we have ever tasted is found in Camden market. Souvlaki Superstars import all their meat and pita from Greece. They have been there for two years, but they are unsure of their future now that the Camden markets have been sold to developers - this part of the market will be the first to go. It's a difficult time for them, as they moved on from their own country only to be moved on in their new one. 3.50 per large souvlaki, much larger than the ones we normally eat in Hania.

Staying in Hania for the New Year almost ripped my heart out this year. I can't fool my kids anymore during these festive periods. Gone are the times when I'd take them into the town and say "Look! The Christmas tree! And the boat! And here's Santa!" They don't fall for that any longer. The town is gaudily tinsel-clad, the events that take place in the town are usually geared towards young children, our friends are very predictable in their habits, the food always consists of standard Cretan menu items (unless I am the host for the day, but I knew I couldn't have this happen this year for various reasons: one friend has developed a fear of driving, while the other always prefers the ancestral village home in the mountains), and in short, a certain misery pervades, often caused by cold weather and a belief that life is bad. Among people who own their own home, don't have debts, have a job, eat high quality food and can afford to educate their kids, I'd say that these folks really have no understanding of true misery. This year, I had to get out of here, even if it meant on my own.
The cheapest time to enjoy Christmas pudding is ... after Christmas, when it's discounted by 50% at the supermarket! Sticky toffee apple pudding, with clotted cream and last season's foraged blackberries. Total cost: 7 pounds.

Giving my children a wider experience of the world has always been a priority. This is how they will become well educated. Greek schools do not give many opportunities for mental stimulation.  My children are not born geniuses, but their school grades are very good. This has something to do with the Greek education system. It's ... predictable (it is all based on set textbooks). I use my knowledge of this predictability, and steer my children's learning around being prepared not just for the lessons they are learning, but the lessons that will come. Hence their good grades. They do not have preparatory classes, extra lessons, outside help, gadgets, or whatever else it takes to give them the upper edge - they just have better planning skills, and a wider experience of the world. It is difficult to find suitable rewards for this: good planning skills are rarely rewarded in Greece, primarily because they are not found in a text book. There is so much junk that we can buy for kids, most of which will be used once or twice, before it takes refuge in a dark corner, and will not come back into use for a while. A stimulating holiday with many new experiences will forever remain etched in their minds.
Best meal out ever: fish and chips in Brighton. My kids learnt a lot of things about British food during this wonderful experience. Total cost of meal: 37.50 pounds. 
Above all, we have gracious hosts in London. They like our independence when we stay with them. so that they can do their own thing while we come and go, doing our own thing and meeting back at their place for a meal. This year we prepared communal meals nearly every day with them. (Eating out in London can be ridiculously expensive.) The nicest thing that they said to me this time was: "It's really good that you can always find something new to do while you are here and you are never bored." I take it that this means that we can come back again, with our gifts of freshly pressed olive oil and home cooking. Without this free accommodation, I probably would not have the opportunity to visit a very different world to my own - but I'm sure I would still be finding ways to make my own and my family's life happier.

Bonus photos: As a teacher, I couldn't help posing brain teasers to my son who wanted to visit the public library in Lewisham. So I asked him questions like 'What might Gay and Lesbian contain?', 'Why might the book Gay Life and Culture be located in the Politics section instead of Gay and Lesbian?', 'What about Sex Life? Why is that in the 'Psychology' section?'
I think I'm a good teacher for teaching people about alternative views, perhaps because I'm a little alternative myself, despite my conservative background. You can't get this sort of social education in Hania, 'cos there's no reference starting point for it to begin with. Ignorance causes the biggest problems in society, which is the basis of western-style humour, as we have seen throughout this year's holiday period.

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