Monday, May 31, 2004

And I'll tell you another thing... 

Why is it that hairdressers have a mind of their own as soon as they get their hands on your hair? I took all three chidren to the hairdresser on Saturday- a specialist children's salon as it happens. The girls seriously needed a trim after the vicious winter and the huge amounts of chlorine in the water- they were pretty straightforward.

Sim, on the other hand had been trying to grow his hair for some months, ostensibly to shock the grannies, needed some more serious structural work done after I ill-advisedly "trimmed" his fringe (bangs) on Friday night. The long and the short of it *snort* - if you'd seen him then you'd know why I'm sniggering, poor boy- was that he ended up looking like Little Lord Fauntleroy who'd been run over by a lawn-mower. Poor lamb- he was just beginning to look bearable again after that awkward stage hair goes through as it grows out- his hair goes curly at the ends and he was looking really sweet in a late 60s/ early 70s sort of way.

Anyway, Mrs Hairdresser showed me a few pictures, most of them looking like one of the Gallagher brothers crossed with Gary Glitter. At my look of alarm, she assured me that he wouldn't end up with a mullet, which was looking a serious possibility at that stage. She assured me she'd do something less extreme, and that I'd like it. My last words to her were: "Not a mullet, please!"

The boy came out with what I think is a bloody mullet. I hate it. He likes it, but I can't bear it a day longer; political correctness prevents me from voicing what and who I think he looks like, but suffice to say that this afternoon, I'm borrowing the clippers from upstairs.

All very moving 

What a palaver! Today, I've mostly been trying to organise shipping back to the UK for our personal effects. It turns out that there are only two seaports allowed to receive stuff susceptible to import and customs duties -which our stuff probably isn't, but it still has to go through the correct channels; those ports are London and Liverpool, neither of them terribly convenient for Exeter. We might have to pay a bribe erm...handling charge to the stevedores in London, plus any random tax that her Maj sees fit to impose on our humble rags.

Anyway, the real fly in the ointment, if it can really be called that given the bloody 17 week epic it took the stuff to get here, is that the whole thing will only take 7-10 days- depending on ice in the St Laurent- it's direct, you see, from Montréal to London. All this means that we can't ship the stuff at the end of June as planned because we won't be there to receive it until the 17th of August. So we've got to sweet-talk someone into letting us plonk 2 cubic metres of stuff (about ten boxes) in their basement or garage for 6 weeks.

The upside is that I think I've fund a firm that shrink-wraps the whole lot onto a pallet, which means that with adequate insruance, I feel we can send the computer and other electronic equipment that way as well (ie our Zone 1 DVD player, and mini hifi). We will also be able to send most of our clothing and camping equipment, so we don't have to worry about excess baggage when we fly back.

Now all I need to do is find boxes, which is no mean feat in a country where everyone moves on July the First; apparently it's an ancient Scottish custom, now happily revived by removals firms, van hire places and anybody with spare boxes, all of which at least treble in price in the week surrounding that day.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Talking about vegetables, I'm surprised I forgot to tell you about Fiddleheads. I don't how widespread in America this practice is, but I must confess that I was a trifle alarmed when my landlady told me they actually ate ferns in Québec. I'd always thought that ferns were quite seriously carcinogenic. Surely, I thought, this must be some quaint custom left over from the sixteenth century, when people reached the end of the winter barely alive, and so desperate for vitamin C that they'd anything even slightly green. Apparently you can get away scot-free from eating ostrich ferns though. Like asparagus, they have a very short growing season, which is just drawing to a close. We tried them a few weeks ago, and I have to say that with lemon juice and butter, they were yummy. Totally counter-intuitive, but yummy.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Now here is an interesting vegetable; I discovered one last Friday in a supermarket in New Hampshire, on our way to Maine. It's a jicama, a Mexican tuber likened to a potato. I'm not sure I agree with the likening beyond the outside aspect. You can eat it raw or cooked. It was surprisingly sweet, crunchy and tasted delicious on its own or with hummus. And I had never before met one. I definitely recommend trying it if you can find one. Dill and Sim loved it, Hen declared it "OK" but a little bitter- but don't listen to her, for she has her father's taste buds.

You may recall that something dreadful happened to our camera back in April while our friends were visiting. Since the third week in April, it has been languishing in a Toshiba-approved repair shop in Toronto, despite the 2-3 week repair time quoted us by Future Shop. I may not have mentioned that we have compatibility problems between the camera and our Mac, which we have been unable to date to sort out. The camera being in fior repairs at a Toshiba centre seemed like a good opportunity to have it sorted out once and for all.

Usually I find the key to good complaining is a good copy-in list: ideally this will include the boss of the person who is obstructing me, the bosses boss, and the CEO of the company concerned (I once managed to make a dangerous contract lorry driver lose his job by appropriate complaining, but that's another matter). Unfortunately, in this case I found it very difficult to get at the right people, so I sent this instead:

-----Original Message-----
From: E R [mailto:xxxx.xxxx@gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 10:03 AM
To: xxxx@bestbuycanada.ca; xxxx.xxxx@ec.gc.ca
Subject: our Toshiba PDR M700

Dear L,
Thank you very much for helping us with this-as I said over the phone,
we have no satisfactory answer from Toshiba about this since we bought
the camera, and hope that you may have more luck than us. As
requested, here are the details of the problem with our Toshiba
camera, which the Toshiba agent should investigate.

We have an iMac M8935, running the OS X operating system. Although
the information for the camera claims that it will work with OS 9.0 or
later, we have never been able to get the camera and computer to
recognise each others' existence. Because of this, we have been
unable to download any photos from it, and have had to use our son's
cheap Jenoptic as a card reader. We consider this unacceptable in a
camera of the calibre of this Toshiba.

It is not as unacceptable, however, as the extremely unsatisfactory
responses we have received during our efforts to contact Toshiba about
the matter. My husband emailed them several times using addresses
listed in their website. On one occasion, he was told that support
was only offered to North American customers: the person who took
receipt of his email clearly had not even read the email, which stated
clearly that we are living in Canada. Instead, they relied for their
judgment on my husband's yahoo.co.uk email address- extremely
unprofessional by anybody's standards! Several other attempts at
resolving the problem have ended in a dead-end so to speak. I would
mention in passing that for the Toshiba agent to take four weeks to
identify the problem and contact us about it is also poor service-
surely they could have worked out what was wrong with it within days
of receipt, not weeks?

The post sales service offered by Future Shop was more satisfactory
but equally ineffective: after testing the camera in-store, they
agreed that the first camera was not speaking to their iMac, and gave
us a new one. This did not solve the problem, since the second one
had the same trouble, but is at least proof of goodwill, utterly
absent in our dealings with Toshiba support.

I trust that, now that Toshiba actually have the camera in their care,
they will see to it that this problem is sorted, and that we are
restored a camera which does what it says on the box. It should, when
it returns to us, not only be mended, but also comply with the claims
of Toshiba regarding Mac compatibility.

I would be very grateful if you would forward this email to a customer
service person at Toshiba with any degree of authority, since we are
extremely displeased with their service and feel they need to know
about it. I look forward to receiving an explanation of the poor
service from a Toshiba customer service manager.

Thank you again for your help in this matter. We will welcome the
camera back in the briefest delay since we shortly leave Montréal; you
mentioned two weeks or less- we expect to see it back by Tuesday 8th
June at the latest.

Yours sincerely
xxxx xxxx
xxxx xxxx

Hi E,

I have spoken with the repair center and have also forwarded your email onto
them. The technician will look at this first thing in the morning. If there
are any problems then they will get back to me.

I have told them that you require the unit back by June 1st. I have also
emailed the store to make them aware that we are expecting the unit to be
directly shipped back to the store.

If you have any queries then please do not hesitate to get back to me.



xxxx xxxx
BestBuy Canada
T: 604-xxx-xxxx
F: 604-xxx-xxxx

Yesterday, a mere 23 hours later, I found a message on my answer phone, from L, saying that the camera had been replaced and thoroughly tested, and would be ready for pickup at Future Shop near us by this Friday at the latest. Now that's what I call a result. Shame about the CND246.10. Any clues on how to avoid that, BW?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

It's all in the spin, you see 

I reckon there's always a reason to find the silver lining in anything, so here my report about our camping trip:

-We thoroughly tested our all-weather tent, by subjecting it to a 36-hour downpour and three nights of thunder storms. It passed, with only a few minor leaks in the antechamber.

-Until you've seen mosquitos the size of bees, you wouldn't necesarily notice the intricate and beautiful pattern of stripes on their abdomens.

-We got a very friendly welcome from these curious little beasts as soon as we drove into the camp-site. So keen were they to make our acquaintance that they tried to beat their way through our windscreen before we'd stopped the engine.

-Camp-grounds sited near the biggest malarial swamp in North America, also known as a "salt marsh", are rather beautiful in a rugged sort of way.

-It's always good when your daughters, one of whom feels the cold, and the other of whom is always hot, totally disregard your packing instructions and bring exactly what they want. At least they may wear each other's clothes without looking too silly.

-Bacon, undercooked because you've run out of gas half-way through cooking breakfast, is actually not poisonous, plus you get some entertainment from watching your son gag on it.

Having said all this, we still really enjoyed our trip to the sea. Really.


Many people associate Soho with sex, sleazy bars and girlz girlz girlz. This may be because they have never seen Soho in its worldly, honest-to-goodness daylight hours.

Back in the early nineties, the Soho that I knew was a mish-mash of cultures, from Indian silks shops to specialist shoe shops, through streets thronging with market stalls displaying "cuc's- 2 for 50p", market traders with poor teeth but good voices peddling their wares before the end of the trading day, past Italian delis, and if I strayed too far of a lunchtime, up Carnaby Street and back out into the sensible, respectable back end of Regent Street, to the book shop whose name I can't remember, and into the back of Liberty's to gawk at the tana lawns. In the daylight hours, the sex shops that make Soho famous were unobtrusive behind the glamour, the freshness of cosmopolitan London.

I was working just off Oxford Street at a job I hated, with a boss I loathed, for an organisation whose very ethics were severely questionable to me. Soho at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, just a short hop across Oxford Street, represented escape from the stifling air-conditioned atmosphere of that oppressive office block. The whole world met in its streets, while the rakes and roués, bon-viveurs and bon-mot producers, were still sleeping off the previous night's intake. Their life seemed glamorous compared to my humdrum job.

Soho at lunchtime to me was everything that was good about London, a vibrant colourful mix against which other areas lacked depth. Although I was mighty glad to be given the boot after a year in that job, I missed my daily walk through Soho for a long time.

Thanks to party-organiser extraordinaire Dave of Clear Blue Skies, we have this amusement for our delectation.
This is part of a chain of posts linked together by word association. The previous link in the chain was here. If you want to write another link here's what to do: Find a word, phrase or theme from this post to inspire your own and go and write it. It's that simple. Try not to write something that's similar to this post. That way the subject of the posts along the chain will vary. E.g. if I write about going to the doctor's, then don't talk about the last time you were ill, instead describe how you used to play Doctors and Nurses with the girl next door. Get the idea? Your post can be in any style you want. Copy this paragraph and tack it onto the end of your post, updating the link to point here, then leave a comment here that points to your new post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I see the sea... 

Mummy, I love the beach! shouted Dill, running around me in circles.

The children wheeled and looped along the huge strand, keening like gulls. They clambered on rocks, stuffing their pockets with treasures, built sandcastles and sand dens, collected mussels and whelks, which we ate later, cooked over our camping stove, sheltering from the cold against the rocky breakwater. We gazed out to sea, comforted by the thought that Devon was a mere 3000 miles out that way.

So, was it worth the six hour drive? I asked the children.
Yes! they replied emphatically.

I realised then that they are island children. They take the sea for granted, yet at the same time they feel immense joy at it. Their enthusiasm about beaches is boundless. We are all veterans of the Channel crossings involved in any trip to either of my parents, and of trips to Ireland. Any flight to anywhere from our small island involves a flight over sea. The sea is never more than two hours away anywhere.

As a Britisher, the sea is so inextricably part of my psyche that I don't think twice about it. It's just there. I cannot conceive of never having seen the sea, although it terrifies me- if I were religious, I would cling to my St Christopher's medallion like a 15th Century nun throughout crossings. As it is, I usually end up clinging to my 21st century sick-bag like a well-brought up football fan. But I digress.

The point is, that I know that there are people on my blogroll who live about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get on earth. I wonder how they manage. How do you cope with the two-day drive between you and that vast infinite? Maybe your infinite is something else: maybe corn fields- equally unfathomable, but somehow less mysterious and dangerous. Maybe inland peoples do not feel the same need to gaze at a vast expanse, and dream.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Toodle-oo, people. We're off to to eat lobster by the sea in Maine for four days. Unfortunately, it's going to pee with rain and we're road-testing our new tent in preparation for this summer. Fortunately the tent has a full fly-sheet, because we were thinking ahead to camping in Britain when we bought it.

I'll just leave you with this snippet from one of my favourite books of all time, Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de St Exupéry. Any translation problems are my fault.

The next planet was inhabited by a drinker. This visit was a very short, but it plunged the little prince into great melancholy.

-What are you doing? he asked the drinker, who was sitting in front of a collection of empty bottles and full bottles.
-I'm drinking, answered the drinker, in a lugubrious tone.
-Why are you drinking? asked the little prince.
-To forget, answered the drinker.
-To forget what? enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
-To forget that I am ashamed, confessed the drinker, bowing his head.
-Ashamed of what? demanded the little prince, who wanted to save him.
-Ashamed of drinking! finished the drinker, who then fell completely silent.

The little prince left, confused.

Grown-ups are really very odd, he mused, as he journeyed on.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

What a truly substandard rag The Daily Mail is. Following a link at Green Fairy, I ended up at this gem of a piece. So women work 34 hours a week on average, men work 44 hours a week on average, which means that "Women work longer hours than men". I may be rubbish at maths, but I don't think so.

She creeps painfully, slowly, across the smooth floor of the shopping centre, wheeling her walker ahead of her. She is tiny. Her back has collapsed into an unrelenting question mark, her head snapped up at right angles to her spine to enable her to see where she is going. Periodically, weary of keeping her neck at such an agonising angle, she bows it and walks blind. It does not matter, at the speed she is moving. I ponder what accident, what series of small illnesses, what gradual degeneration of her frame, what major trauma can have caused her body to betray her to this extent. Can she, as a young and vibrant woman back in the Forties, have conceived of drawing close to the end in such a fashion?

They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger. It must follow that our lives are doomed to be a struggle no matter how hard we try to make them comfortable. In former, less prosperous times than ours, our lives would have adequately set us up for our old age; life was altogether harder, old age shorter.

At home in Devon, I have a picture of my grandmother. It was taken in the Twenties. She sits on a stile, wearing a puff-sleeved white blouse and a dark pinafore, her eyes staring defiantly out at the photographer, contradicting the demureness of her dress. I know that her eyes are grey, that they pierce her interlocutors' with a steely glint as she delves for hidden meanings and attempts to read between spoken lines. Seventy years later, those eyes are still grey, but benign now, and uncomprehending. They no longer attempt even to decipher the first meaning. They are soft and gentle eyes, the eyes of a woman who has stopped fighting.

Does this decline set in when we stop fighting? Or does the fight gradually wear us down until we can fight no longer? What truly carries us off in the end- the desire to stop fighting or the fact of having stopped?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The curious swear word dichotomy 

This post started off as a discussion over at Billy's of the merits of "The curious incident of the dog in the night", which having read for the first time the other day, I thought that young Sim might like. I consider it to be a very valuable resource for him to understand how differently people think, which in turn is a crucial part of his stage of development. I talked to him about the swear words in the book, when the boy reports other people's speech, and asked him if he minded. My son is quite a prude about swear words, and objects to me saying words like "bugger". However, he lives in the real world, and hears swearing of this nature all the time.

Having read the reactions to my admission that Sim was now reading the book in question, I realised that many people did not feel the same way as I did about so called "rude" words.

The thing about the swear words in this book is that they are totally in context. The autistic child is reporting other people's emotional outbursts verbatim, although they are not words he has any need for, or any real understanding of. My son, who is nearly 11, is hardly immune to language he hears around him, although he does not swear himself, it is the kind of language you hear in any high street. Anyway, "fuck" and "cunt" are two very ancient and descriptive words, and as with all words, have their place. That does not mean that they are to be reserved for adult indiscriminate use, which I consider to be hypocrisy of highest order.

My children have access to the full range of words that they know, as long, and this is always the proviso, that they are used appropriately. They do not swear because they have no need to swear- they have access to a vast range of words with which to express their emotions. I consider inappropriate use of words to be a far worse crime than using some perfectly good, if profane words, in context.

By saying all this, I am probably revealing far too much of my off-beat parenting. So take me away.

I discovered today that I have written 500 posts on this blog and since Spetember 2003, something over 97,000 words, and that I average 13 posts a week, despite several lapses. What a load of tripe, eh?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

It's really strange how memories can attack you when you're least expecting it. Yesterday during my Pilates class, I was in the middle of a difficult pose, balancing on my side using just my feet and one elbow, making a triangle with the floor, when suddenly a whole French potager flashed into my mind, complete with granny in blue overall, flowering artichokes and mimosa -and yes, of course I know they don't flower at the same time- and I lost concentration and fell. Thank a lot, mind. My waist was enjoying that pose.

Flowering poplars just before the rain.
The damp dustiness coming off the pavement at the start of a summer thunder storm.
Babies' heads.
Cows stabled on straw.
Freshly mown grass.
Lily of the valley.
Buttered toast.
Orange flowers.
Sheeps' backs.
Mountain air.
New leather shoes.
Vanilla pod.
Damp vegetable patch earth.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Seeing other people's webcams has put me in mind of having my own- I just need to know whether you can set them up to keep the snaps they take, so that they may be written to a CD-rom, like ordinary photos. The reason I ask this is that I want to create a vegetable garden from scratch this autumn, from an old cow pasture at our new house; I thought it might be a good way to document the transformation, both for my benefit and for anybody else out in the WWW who is interested in that sort of thing. Until the lease on the field is sorted, it could be cow-watch- the cows there are very photogenic. Whad'ya think? We will have broadband (hehe).

If anything could better illustrate for me the extensive campaign of misinformation and disinformation surrounding the "Allied" operations in Iraq, this does a pretty good job. This article comes from the website of Jo Wilding, a British woman on a mission to bring laughter to Iraqi children through her circus. Her insights into what is really happening in Iraq are fresh, relatively detached, and thought-provoking.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Baby Wizard at 6 weeks 

Just had to share this pic of my latest nephew with you...

I'm quite a clingy, (over?)protective mother, but I do realise that my children have to grow up some day. Last Thursday, young Sim arranged to go for a sleepover to a friend's house. So far, so banal. The only hitch from my point of view is that the friend, barely eleven years old, walks the mile home from school alone, across two major streets. Sim was going to walk to this boy's house, across a Major Bloody Street!! He's never really gone a long way without me or another (more) competent adult before, but I had to let him do it- it was time.

He packed his things into his school bag yesterday morning, removing some of the school things he wouldn't need that day to make room- things he's been carrying around for several months so as not to forget them when he does need them- and went off to school.

I spent yesterday evening in a state of high anxiety- What if he's been kidnapped? What if Sam, the friend, crosses the road stupidly but doesn't get run over, and Sim got used to crossing the road at stupid places and got run over at a later date because of being too complacent because he doesn't believe me about roads, and it'll all be my fault because I didn't teach him properly in the first place, and he believed his eleven-year old friend about how to cross more than he believed me? What if he got run over by a bus today? What if he didn't get there and Sam's mother had forgotten he was coming and so didn't call? and so on and so on- The Boff reasoned calmly that by nine o'clock at night we should certainly have heard if anything untoward had happened.

Really, I am very proud of my son. We are working together to overcome his fear of taking the bus to get to judo practice, me getting on a stop before and getting off a stop after, he sitting down next to me in stony silence while we were on the bus. He still needs more work on that, but I'm aware that the sands of time are running fast, to coin a cliche, except I can actually feel every grain falling on my head, and I'm fighting them, oh yes!

I realise that sooner or later I'm going to have to bow to the inevitable: my son (and my daughters, but they're younger) will grow up and will not need me much any more. And that soon, the only channel I'll have for communicating with my grown-up children will be to lapse back into a primitive parent-child behaviour pattern, such as the one exhibited by young Ray's parents, in which nobody gets hurt, and everyone gets fed, and slightly irritated. And it's beginning to hurt a little, yet makes me proud at the same time.

A Ms. Jessielace Pantyhos has mostly been trying to sell me adult DVDs today via email. It's a crying shame Yahoo doesn't have a filter for utterly ridiculous names- that would cut out a lot of spam.

Friday, May 14, 2004

When they said spring here lasted only a couple of weeks, they weren't kidding. It's 28C today, up to 34C with the humidity factor. That's a 40C increase in six weeks.

The great wall 

One post saved to draft, that I've been wanting to write for months. It doesn't make the situation any better, but it helps to get these things out in the open. I may very well never post it publically though- letting personal stuff out is like letting a genie out of a bottle: you can never unsay it. Maybe at last my block will lift, and I'll be able to see again through the hormonal haze that I've become.
All I'll say, in case any of you are worried, is that it is not about any existing person, and that we're all fine really.

Help sought 

Less than two months to go until we pack up the few of our possessions that litter this flat, put them in cardboard boxes and entrust them to the untender cares of a shipping agent, before driving off for seven weeks of holiday. What! I hear you cry. Surely not more holiday? Haven't you just had a year-long holiday?

Well, erm...yes, but not technically.

So we shall be taking a very long technical holiday from the beginning of July to the 17th of August. And to spice up a little what could be a very tedious load of days' driving, I thought about possibly having a holiday theme. And it occurred to me that a literary theme would be as good as any other.

I would very much welcome suggestions of Canadian and American novels either set in the Eastern states or the Canadian Maritimes, or written by novelists from those areas. Distance is not much of an object given the time frame we have, but accessibility to children will be. The novels do not have to be childrens' novels, but ideally, since we will probably read them as bedtime stories, nothing too adult please- ie no sex or gratuitous violence.

Little Women (Massachusetts), Anne of Green Gables (Prince Edward Island) both leap out straight away; both set in definite places, both child-friendly (let's face it, they're both childrens' books). Do you have any dead good novel that you'd like to recommend? You'd be a real help if you had. Ta ever so.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Crisis of confidence trimestre 

Am seriously thinking of renaming this blog "The Shite Site".

Here's the piccie for the banner:

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

At last, the boy has a mainstream hobby. Not like thinking up prototype water-powered cars or plotting to overthrow the world's dictators, or working out how to evade homework. He is collecting coins, limited edition quarters to be precise; in 2000, they stamped several sets, namely: the months of the year, the provinces (always hard to find), the qualities that built this country and various sundry memorial coins.
In an effort to support this vaguely mainstream interest, (yes of course I support the other kind as well) I have this week become Nightmare Customer woman, asking for two dollars' worth of quarters -yes *special* ones preferably, please- wherever I think I'll get away with it. Yesterday a girl in a coffee-grinding shop looked through her entire till for (seven, including 4 he aleready had), and today the good but uncomprehending lady in the bagel shop found me two including Alberta and November. Woohoo! One happy boy.

Drowning in rubbish 

I recently managed to reduce the amount of spam coming to my personal inbox, using a few filters which send unwanted crap straight inot trash. Using the words "penis", "meds", "medz", "small" and any missive using my first name in the subject line, has seen my junk plummet from 15 a day to 3 a day. I was feeling quietly smug about this until I realised that they are now sending them with junk subject lines, just a full stop, or even in Russian ("Ve vill just send this in Russian, and hopefulli it vill reech somevun who can reed Russian"). Now what do I do?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Desert islands 

I suddenly remembered an old school friend this weekend, and in one of those blinding flashes of old memory you didn't know you had, understood quite a lot more about her than I ever thought I knew.

I grew up in a broadly secular Catholic country- by which I mean that although the vast majority of people were non-beleivers, the people who were religious tended to be very religious. When I was 11, I left my village primary school, and went to a secondary some 30 km away from my house. I knew nobody at this new school. In my first week there, I made friends with a clever vivacious girl who seemed to know nobody either. We remained best friends until three years later, when my parents moved our whole family five hundred kilometres north.

Martine and I were nerds. We were the brightest children in the brightest class in our year. After approximately six German lessons, we preferred to converse in German with each other, just because it was there and we could. We dreamed of going on holiday to a chalet in the Black Forest. In our second year, we were introduced to Latin, and proceeded to speak to each other in Latin as well.

I stayed overnight at her house a few times, since she actually lived in the town where we went to school. Her family could not have been more of a contrast to mine. I was the eldest of five noisy bigmouths. She lived quietly alone with her mother. I knew that her grandparents lived nearby because we had been to their house for goûter after school.

The most surprising thing about her house was its position. It was a small four room house, of a design very typical to that area of France. Outside the house stood some kind of a tall tree. It was surrounded by a small garden. A very ordinary 19th century house, reached by a dirt track, with new suburban houses visible from the garden. But it was on its own, sandwiched between four gigantic fields. Thinking back about it, it looked like a desert island, marooned from the rest of society in a sea of maize.

The times I stayed the night, Martine left me her bed and went to sleep in her mother's. Being the polite child that I was, I protested, but she assured me that she usually slept in her mother's bed anyway. There were other odd things. Her mother seemed depressed and often in the edge of tears. She seemed humble all the time. When she came to pick us up from her parents, they barely spoke to each other. Martine seemed very protective of her mother.

Recently, I worked it out: Martine was illegitimate, and her mother were being made to pay the price by her very religious parents. Willing though they were to see their granddaughter, they were not prepared to forgive their daughter for the shame she had brought on them. Her physical isolation, stranded with her young daughter on a double-bed raft in the midst of a sea of corn, away from right-thinking suburban humanity, was the right price to pay. Martine's mother, brought up in a strong Catholic ethos, did not disagree, but quietly wreaked her revenge on the world by producing a confident, intelligent, compassionate child who would be able to stand up to people like her parents.

Every Monday morning, an Italian grandfather drops his eight or nine-year old grandson off at my chilrens' school. He speaks Italian to the boy, the boy answers in English. The man kisses the boy at least five times, hugs him at least three, and today he delved into his pocket, fished out some coins and sent the boy off with some money as well. The boy, a calm, quiet-looking child, is not in the least embarrassed by this public display of affection. He is totally focussed on his grandfather, rather than the other children. I stand at the school fence, virtually in tears, and wonder why we can't all be a little more Italian.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Cocktail hour started up again last night. This very civilised custom instigated by our landlords, who live upstairs, involves the adults getting ratted in the garden on wine and crisps, while the children run wild and unfed eating crisps and cheese until late, and we are all forced in to the house by the cold. I can't imagine why the conversation last night turned to The Ice Storm of 1998. Could it have been the frigid temperatures -down to minus 1 overnight?

Friday, May 07, 2004

We are wicked parents. We kept our children up last night, on a school night, to watch "Castaway", just because I bought the DVD cheaply and we felt like keeping them up inappropriately late, so there- we're already in holiday mode, you can tell. Sadly there are still six weeks of school left. The rating on the video was confusing- 13+ on the box, but G on the plastic sleeve.

Needless to say, they were distressed.

Not, as you might imagine, by our hero gashing his leg on coral and leaking copious amounts of precius blood into the waves. (Ew, that looks painful!- Hen)
Not by the aeroplane going down in horrible graphic detail (Ooh look, Dill, that might happen to our 'plane when we go back to England- Sim)
Not by the appalling, scary porkiness of Tom Hanks throughout the first third of the film (D'you think he had to gain all that weight before the film?- Hen)
Not by the existential angst of being the only live humanoid in several thousand square miles of ocean (Ism't there anyone else living on that desert island, then?- Dill)
Not the sight of our hero as a neo-Neandertal crouching behind rocks looking like a third-century hermit with face fuzz (Gosh, you can tell he's been there a while, just look at that beard! Hen)

None of these. The scene which stopped two of the three children from sleeping as they sobbed and tossed and turned, was the loss of Wilson. Can the film censors have ever thought that the scene of a painted burst football happily floating off to further adventures be so traumatic as to warrant a 13 certificate? I doubt it. Bastards.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Game of the moment: 3D noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe)


Dill usually starts the game. It's a handy way for her to explore potential horrors and fears. The game usually starts very gently, often towards the end of dinner. Last night it was between main course and pudding.
Mummy, which do you prefer: counting to a million or dying?
Er, counting to a million, Dill.
I knew it!
she screeches triumphantly.
I seize the moment to turn the game into a quick learning opportunity.
Dill, which do you prefer, counting to infinity or dying?
Counting to infinity, of course, Mummy.

*Incredulous sniggers from Sim and Hen*
Dill, they chorus, it's the same thing! Counting to infinity would take you to the rest of your life anyway. You'll be counting till you die.
She considers for a moment the implications.
Mummy, which do you prefer? Counting to infinity or not having a family?
Tricky. Just what am I being dragged into?
-Well, that rather depends on whether you're talking about losing my family or never having had one in the first place.
-Not having had one in the first place.
-In that case, I choose not having the family.
-I knew it,
she crows.
Then Hen and Sim join the game, and quickly subvert it. Even their steps further are only outward manifestations of their more mature and real fears. The questions come fast and furious. Usually they have only one possible sensible answer. The children just want confirmation of what they already believe.
-Mummy, says Hen anxiously, which do you prefer, dying in a car crash or not having your family?
-Which do you prefer, dying and dying or counting to infinity and not having a family,
asks Dill, combining two previous concepts.
-Dying in a car crash or being dropped into a vat of molten lava? asks Sim.
-That's easy, says Dill, I choose dying in a car crash, and then I'd drive really carefully!
-Mummy, asks Sim wickedly, which do you prefer, being encased in a huge block of ice or being dropped into molten lava?
-Wait a minute,
I say, you're going to be asking me to choose "euthanasia or the nursing home" home in a minute. I know your game.
They all collapse in a fit of hysteria for a short while.
Between giggles, Hen makes her move.
Mummy, which do you prefer: for me to die or for Sim to die?
hoots Dill, who would you rather died, Me, Hen or Sim?
I claim the Fifth Amendment this time, even though this is Canada and I am a British citizen. The game peters out in few more minutes.

Don't you just love ten-year-olds? 

Sim, towards the end of dinner, gesturing with the very thin chicken bone on his plate:
-Mummy, what do cannnibals pick their teeth with?
-I really don't know, Sim. Are there any bones in the human body thin enough?
-They could file down this bone here.
He shows one of the tendons on top of his foot.
-Mummy, where do cannibals live?
-They're mostly concentrated in Devon, near Exeter
I tell him. They like to eat muscly eleven-year old boys best of all.
-That's all right then,
he says, I'm all flabby because of having to eat vegetables all the time. They won't eat me. No, really Mummy, where do they really live?

Monday, May 03, 2004

I'm beginning to think that Canada is getting to me. When was the last time I made a sarcastic and innappropriate comment about anything? Pass. When did I last think my way to the end of an issue which interested me? Pass. When did I last swap quips with anybody in the street? Pass. When did I last discuss politics with anyone at all? Pass. When did I last become utterly ballistic about anything? Pass.

The advantage and disadvantage of Canada, you see, is that it's so damn nice. People are pleasant and courteous to each other in the main, the streets are safe. This is a country where you can do and be pretty much what you want as long as you don't tread on anyone else's feet. The flipside of this is that you can't say anything even mildly controversial at all without a sharp but quiet intake of breath and raised eyebrows from your interlocutor. I can feel my capacity for cynicism ebbing out of me like life blood. I've got to get out of this place and find something to moan about, and soon, beacuse this is just sucking my brains out.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

My blinding light bulb moment of the day 

Whether the problem be one of momentum, indecision, lack of confidence, of understanding, of intuition; seemingly unsurmountable and insoluble; of your own making, foisted on you by others or the result of apathy; there are few problems that do not look a lot better after a shower at just the right temperature and a good night's sleep.

Why does it always take me 'till 11pm to work this out?

PS: If you have access to a freshly dug vegetable patch, and are horticulturally inclined, I find sinking your hands into warm garden soil and planting things can work too.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Another perfect summer yesterday. Temperatures in the afternoon nudged 28C. The children had a day off school- a teacher training day - so the Boff took the day off and we went for a walk on a mountain about 30 miles away frfom Montreal. The interesting thing about the geography of this area is that 10,000 years ago it was a shallow sea, with islands poking out of it. Nowadays, Montréal is set into a perfectly flat plain with hills poking out of at regular intervals. Mount Royal itself is one of these islands, but there are others within easy reach of the city.

Yesterday, we went to one of the mountains that had so far eluded us: Mont St Hilaire, near St Hyacinthe. The last time we attempted it, we arrived mid-afternoon to find that the rain was of the horizontal freezing variety and all three children had gone to sleep in the back of the car. This time, we got within a mile of the entrance gate before discovering that they were digging up the road and had shut the way up for three months. We had to drive all the way around the base of the mountain to get into the park. Fate? We thought so. It was too much like a coincidence. We decided that if we didn't get on this time, it was because we weren't meant to, and we'd give up trying.

In the end, we needn't have worried. The weather this time was perfect, the alternative road into the park was open despite the signs, and we went for a lovely walk to the top of one of the peaks. The children punctuated their walk by cooling their feet and heads in the streams we crossed every few hundred metres. Visibility from the top was limitless. The slightly odd thing was walking in a leafless forest in summer heat. We saw a great many woodpeckers, however, which we would probably have missed had the forest been leafy.

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