Monday, December 27, 2004

I'm off to Cold Comfort Farm for a few days. See you in the New Year, unless my mother manages to crank up her steam typewriter to working speed. Have a lovely countdown to the now commonly accepted Julian calendar turnover, wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Uh-oh. My sister, with her six-month old baby, her husband, and her entire family in law are in Thailand, probably on the coast. The Foreign Office number is perpetually out of action, naturally- they probably only have a couple of mugs manning the office. I'll keep trying.

Anatomy of a Christmas 

Children up at 3am, 3:30am, whispering at 4:30am, I go to sleep near them to quell the disturbance at 4:39am, they finally get and begin consuming foor items (crisps*, mainly) from their stocking at 8am.

Breakfast of panettone and Bucks Fizz; even the children are allowed Fizz, which in Hen's case is tonic water because she doesn't like wine.

Despite firm ruling only to open one present an hour throughout the day, their grandmother encourages them to open all presents from her straight after breakfast as she is off to see her man in Northamptonshire. Sim calculates number of hours left in day vs. number of presents and decides to open one every two and a half hours.

Dear Ma-in-law leaves, I breathe sigh of relief.

Hen and Dill pig out on chocolate, crisps, dried fruit, and cough and splutter their way through opening the rest of their presents by 11am. Dill then lolls around like a 7-year-old teenager, in a cardboard box in which she has carefully laid out her new purple sheepskin, reading her new books.

We can't face any lunch, let alone cooking any, until after 1 pm, so lunch is served at 4pm. Decide to do only one duck, and eat a truly sensible amount of food.

Walk the dog, in the dark of course, since we are turning into troglodyte people, or possibly vampires. Dill complains that this is a "boring Christmas". When asked why, she says that we shouldn't be walking in a damp cold forest in the spooky dark, we should be indoors eating chocolate and playing games.

Sim says that he loves this Christmas. I love this Christmas too. For only the second time ever, it's just the five of us (and the dog). Sim then advises me to have a holiday by myself, because I am tired and cranky and they are "quite naughty".

We go home and eat parsnip crisps and Cringles in front of the first Harry Potter, which is on telly; although Sim used to own a copy before our move from Surrey, it has unaccountably disappeared. Our lovely next door neighbour comes round for a glass of wine and a bit of Christmas pudding, while her autistic son, who doesn't cope well with Christmas, thumps away on the piano.

The children get out the second Harry Potter, which we have on DVD. They finally get to bed at 11pm. It has been "snowing" all evening, yet only a few pellets of hard stuff stay on the ground. It's above freezing temperature, so not much hope for it.

The Boff and I watch the end of the "Manchurian Candidate" and are just about to go to bed when Dill throws up all over the floor space she is occupying tonight- the children have eschewed their own beds since the beginning of their holiday, and sleep in a different place every night.

We finally crash into our own bed at 2am, after scrubbing the floor, the child and the bedding and putting a load of washing in the machine.

*UK crisps= US chips
UK chips= US fries

Friday, December 24, 2004

Does anyone out there remember or have saved that suggested reading list of classics you simply have to have read, that was bandied about in blogland a few months ago?

I'm trying to build a coherent bookshelf for Sim, who has exhausted most of the good children's fiction written, and is starting to shift onto the crappy made for 9-12 stuff- ie Eoin O'Colfer, Garth Nix, even Lemony Snicket, which I find utterly vacuous but I suppose is a good light read. I just need to tempt him away from that stuff with good adult classics, with the obvious proviso that they can't contain themes that are too adult (well I remember beginning at 13 "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monserrat (?), and immediately wishing I hadn't...).

On the shelf so far have gone lots of Douglas Adams, H G Wells, Aldous Huxley, Orwell, Forster, Bronte, Austen, Wyndham, etc... Any more suggestions of works a person should read before the age of 18? I need more American, Canadian and other Anglo-Saxon literature.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

For the last few days, my children have been sitting around in huddles, plotting how to unmask Father Christmas on his big day. Recently, the mood has been culinary.

"We'll make some mince pies, and put some food colouring inside, and then all we'll need to do is check their mouths", was one snippet I caught three days ago.

"Or we could poison the sherry, and then we'll find his body in the morning, and then we'll know", was another suggestion, which I overheard shortly before they dissolved into giggles when they realised I was listening.

Dill has taken to asking me at inconvenient times, like when I was wrestling the tree into place, was reading a blog, or in the middle of cutting a large blob of sticky bread dough in two: "Mummy, exactly how fast does he travel to reach all the children on the planet in one day?"

Sim has been asking this sort of question since he was five, so I'm quite used to fielding them, but we all know that nobody's fooled. Now we use the blackmail system of belief-enforcement: "Father Christmas only comes to people who believe in him."

I'm on borrowed time, I know. There are just too many inconsistencies, too many High Street Santas, too much conspicuous presetn-buying. We shall have to come up with a new mythology. Either that, or just tell the truth -people like giving each other presents, and it is nice for the children to inject a metaphysical aspect into the proceedings.

So, we don't go around telling the truth to our three-year old cousin, if we wish Father Christmas to stop at our house, do we?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas Schmistmas.

I ignore the existence of Christmas until the week before.

In consequence, and in keeping keeping with previous years, I have not:

1) Obtained the bird for Christmas lunch. We shall spend Christmas lunch en famille, my ma-in-law leaving straight after breakfast to see her man in Northamptonshire. Today, I shall buy two small ducks (deaded, deplumed and gutted), just enough for Christmas lunch for five of us.

2) Bought any presents beyond stocking fillers for the children. They already have quite enough things in their lives, certainly more stuff than they could ever shake a stick at, all their relatives give them presents, and I refuse to add to the stockpile just because.

3) Caved in to the madness that are our local supermarkets, buying enough stuff for a week just to cover that awkward one day when the shops will be shut. Nor have I broken down and sobbed in the store because they'd run out of peanuts. What the hell can that be about?

4) Purchased any Advocaat or any other disgusting kind of product only ever "consumed" by mad Auntie Joyce at Christmas, and subsequently left to languish in the drinks cupboard for the next decade, two glasses short of a full bottle.

5) Bought any form of present for my husband. I shall wait until he wants something. It doesn't have to be Christmas to buy presents, after all.

< aside > Have you noticed that most of my list has the word "bought" or "purchased" at the beginning? < /aside>

6) Sent any Christmas cards to anybody. In keeping with my French roots, I shall send out strictly New Year cards. I have many friends who do not celebrate Christmas, mostly because of their religion, and I don't feel it appropriate to force my non-belief in the God of Clinton on them. Although many thanks to those of you whove been good enough to send them to me. I do like getting them, particularly ones from dotty chickens...

7) Decided to make special Christmas trips to see relatives we never see the rest of the year. We have a few non-Christmas-related trips coming up, mainly because the children and I are on holiday, and the Boff gets a few days' leave, but they are not Christmas-related as such.

8) Bought any Christmas present for the dog "because pets enjoy Christmas too". He can enjoy the extra bits of duck he gets on the day. There. Done.

Is this a Bah-Humbug kind of list? I don't think so. I think it's just a resisting madness kind of list. A very sensible mother from school laughed and commented that "she was more organised than me, although she hadn't thought it possible". Or maybe I'm just deliberately side-stepping the whole thing... There really is no obligation to take part in it.

Sick of the hysteria and clutter? 

Consume less at Christmas:

Wrap less.

Make your own food and drink gifts.

Failing that, buy handmade or recycled.

Make your money work twice by buying ethical or fair trade.

For the person who has everything, do better than give your money to charity. Give a goat to a third-world family in need.

Recycle your unwanted gifts and brighten someone's dayhalfway across the world.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I have seen the light and converted to Firefox. Why didn't I find out about it sooner? I must be really thick, or loyal to a fault. Safari is fast but basic, Internet Explorer for Mac is not worth the minimal disk space it occupies, and Nastyscape...well, the name says it all. Nastyscape had been so annoying for so long that I'd become used to its evil little ways, I suppose. But Firefox...

Friday, December 17, 2004

Everything here moves at its own rhythm.

Like the electricity meter reader who came on Wednesday.

He stood on the front step and waved his ID at me.

"I've come to read the meter", he said.

I blinked.

"But someone came only five weeks ago", I said, motioning him round to the back door.

"Funny you should say that", said he, "I've reading meters in Bigriver for the last two days, and everyone's been saying the same thing."


He turns to leave.

"I suppose the church is always locked?", he asks. "Only I've been asked to read the meter in there."

Blink. (I was having a verbose day, clearly)

"But it's been disused for three years", I tell him.

"Oh", says he. "That would explain it."

He went, and I was left wondering where he has been for the last three years, whose orders he was following, and whether the different bits of the electricity company ever speak to each other. Mostly, I wonder why the hell the man did not pick up the phone and ring in after the first morning of being told someone only just came.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

These little distractions 

First day of the school holidays for us.

I walk into the kitchen at 11:30am amd discover my youngest armed with the kitchen scissors, about to cut clean away a large hank of hair, from which hangs an incongruous bottle brush.

After I'd managed to talk her into just putting the scissors and backing away from them, persuade her out of the corner where she was facing the wall, hiding the offending item, and onto the sofa where I teased the mass of hair apart, she told me what had happened.

In between manic giggles at the absurdity of the situation, and tears of shame, she explained that she'd found the bottle brush in the biscuit cutter drawer (doesn't every household have one?), and thought that it looked remarkably like one of Granny's hair rollers. Which just happened to be in the biscuit cutter drawer.

The problem was that she rolled in several different directions. A good half an hour and a fair amount of detangler later, she got away with only a few broken hairs. And people wonder why I'm panicking about my university work...

For anybody wanting a cheap laugh at the expense of the British press, they could do worse than to read the Bad Science Awards.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Things to do today:
walk dog
chop wood
finish de Gaulle translation (Ha!)
go shopping for bottles of wine for teachers
fetch children half an hour earlier than usual as is last day of term
make mince pies for tonight
attend school play tonight (Dill to be Mrs Cratchet)

Things to do over Christmas break:
Visit dying Great Aunt in Portsmouth
Order goose for Christmas lunch
Buy Fizzy for Bucks Fizz Christmas day breakfast
Buy Panettone for same
Paint new bookshelves in study (sand, prime etc first)
Rework one portfolio translation from this term for marking
Translate children's story for start of next term
Finish Methodology assignment for handing in on January 10th
Go to France to see parents, siblings etc
Cross back to Hampshire to see friends.
Children to go back to school January 11th.
Start teaching possibly on 11th January if pregnant teacher laid off over Christmas.

I really don't have time to do all of these things.

I know this is really petty, but why oh why does Microsoft have an "English dictionary" option if it is just going to insist you use American words anyway? If I want to spell 'recognise' with an 's' and not a 'z', I do not want to be reminded all the time that it is WRONG with that stupid zigzag line. I will NOT give in, however much you want to force your weird spelling on me, you stupid bit of software. Yes, I really do want to spell it 'recognise'. Yes, I am English. No, I do not want to spell-lite. Now BACK OFF!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Went for interview today. Not sure German teacher very impressed by my level of German when put on the spot. Will await outcome.

Monday, December 13, 2004

A very splurdgy day, I know. Rang Purple Sister #3 earlier, who lives in Sussex with two toddlers.

She slipped down some stairs on Friday evening, and her ankle was bruised, swollen and had woken her up several times in the night on Saturday. After a conversation with the Boff about his ankle fracture of this winter, we managed to convince her to take herself and her ankle off to the casualty department of her nearest hospital on Sunday, which she was rather loathe to do in case she discovered that she'd have to wear plaster for a few weeks (imagine pushing the double buggy with the hindrance of crutches).

I rang her earlier then, to find out that the triage nurse and another nurse at the hospital had basically refused to allow her to be treated, having decided without the help of an X-Ray that there was nothing wrong with the ankle -despite the bruising, swelling and considerable pain.

She's going to have another bash at accessing the National Health Service tomorrow, by attempting the incredible feat of booking an appointment with her GP. It's good to know we pay our taxes to worthwhile causes. Like funding an expensive army.

Occasionally I have wobblies about the Internet, principally on the basis that it gives people who until the early 1990s would have been shunned by their entire neighbourhood, the type of person you'd rather cross the road than say hello to, a forum for exchanging their distasteful views with each other and create a community of sorts.

Today in one of those sites there on the left, I read that the author, a gifted writer whose site has given hope and amusement in equal measures to many, who is quite unwell at present, and has a close relative in intensive care, has been set upon by one such online forum. Some members of that (pretty vitriolic) forum have even ventured into her comments to spread their message, and justify their opinions in person.

What had she done, you ask, to incur such attention?

She had a baby. Not just any baby, but a very much wanted, hoped for and loved baby. It took her four years to get the baby, and when he finally came, he came early and is slightly sick.

Julie is tough and will be fine, I think. The debate going on in her comments is rather charged on both sides, since Julie's friends are naturally sticking up for her. I do have a problem with the debate in question though, which too often degenerates into a battle between the bechilded and the childfree.

I'm rather more inclined to think that it is in fact a debate between people with a nurturing instinct, and those without. There are people without children, with a nurturing instinct, and people with children, sadly without such an instinct (mostly sad for the children).

Many of the most nurturing people in the world do not have children. They are generally not to be found expending vitriol on child-hater forums, because they are far too busy having a life. Which leaves the child-hater forum bods in a rather smaller proportion of the population than they thought they were.

They clearly haven't adopted the children they think "breeders" should adopt, or they'd be disinclined to use such forums. And just as well really.

Nor it seems, do they have the care of an elderly relative or partner. How could you look after one person, and at the same time actively hate a whole section of the population, and spend time interacting with other people about how much you hate those people? I suppose the Kray twins loved their old Mum, but as far as I'm aware, they did not spend time publicising their violent outbursts (maybe a few handbills on telegraph poles?).

I'm inclined to feel rather sorry for these people- they seem so much at odds with their world. Everything annoys them, and they clearly are not busy enough to expend their energies in any other way than writing messages of hate on the worldwide web. I'd actually be able to pity them if they didn't give themselves such bad press.

Autumn Fairy 

Had an ambulatory mini-blogmeet of two with Kitchen Witch yesterday, during which she and her 'im indoors, who is a serious dog lover, agreed to become Goofy's dogparents, and to ferry him off to the moors for occasional walkies.

Goofy's level of fitness has dramatically improved you see, and he really needs walking (ie three miles, five of your Roman kilometres) more than once a day now. The problem for me is that I don't have the time to take him for two x 3 mile walks every day- it takes an hour a walk, and that's actually enough exercise even for me.

I was very upset last week though, when I discovered that according to the vet's scales, Goofy has actually gained 2.5kg since we picked him at the beginning of September. The dog is fitness persondogified these days, for pete's sake! I just don't understand how he can possibly have got heavier. I reckon the vet knelt on him while he was reading the scales. You can actually tell that he's a boy dog now that his tummy has become lean and toned. I'm quite certain that if he were a person, he'd have the start of a six-pack. So why is he heavier? I despair.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I must write this one down before I forget.

Dill said this out of the blue in the car on the way to school yesterday:

"Mummy, it's a good thing Jesus was born in a stable and not in a flat*. A flat wouldn't look anything like as good on Christmas cards."

*Flat= English apartment

Regular readers of old may remember my ongoing saga with East Devon Council (hereafter to be referred to as EDC, unless I feel like writing it in full) about a recycling box. We have fortnightly kerbside recycling collection here (fatal- I always forget which week we're in), and I asked for the green box you need three days after we got back to Britain, on August the 20th.

After many telephone calls to the Waste Management people at the council, during the course of which I was actively discouraged by staff from going to the East Devon dump to recycle, and counselled instead to use West Devon or Exeter (anybody else smell a rat?), I finally spoke to the Waste Manager at EDC. After a twenty minute surreal conversation with her, during which I unaccountably agreed with her that of course her services were crap if all the old people in Sidmouth were prepared to go to prison rather than pay more council tax, and let pass virtually unhindered the proposition that the relevant box delivery staff were off sick with stress (eh? delivering green kerbside boxes, stressful? You're 'avin a laff!), she finally promised to have a box with my by Christmas.

You can therefore imagine my delight when I returned from riding at 1pm today to find that I am the proud new custodian of a green recycling box. And it only took six phone calls, some serious self-abasement (ie not shrieking in derision at Mrs Waste Management's excuses) and 14 weeks, to obtain it. You always value more the things that are difficult to get.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Isn't t'Internet marvellous? I've recently "found" two relatives who are so distantly related to me they're barely related at all, but it's still nice to know: fourth cousin Angela on my mother's side, and fifth cousin Angela on my father's side.

Now, that could just be a statistical anomaly, but I could easily extrapolate from that all my distant relations are called Angela. Or that all genealogists are called Angela, which I already know to be untrue because of Commenter Ruth, second Cousin Michael and Aunt Betty.

If anybody out there knows anything about Jacob Bushnell, at first millwright and later engineer of Portsea, born around 1780, I'd be extremely grateful. Both fifth cousin Angela and I have ground to a halt on him, because he disappears for most of the 19th century, the pesky man. Also any information about the Royal Clarence Yard in Portsea would be very welcome. (I'm just abusing Google here, but I would love to hear from you if you do know anything about these things).

I'm sure it can't be right that I can taste shampoo all the time.

I should mention that most shampoos bring me up in a rash, and the one I'm using at the moment is no exception. Is it possible that I'm storing up the nasties that bother my scalp somewhere, and that's why I can taste a chemical taste?

There was a lemon tree once, on the way to school, in a country with seasons: the summers warm, the autumns damp but bright, winters keen, and springs bursting with blossoms and rain and sunshine. It stood in the yard of a buff house in a nondescript town. Proud and tall, displaying its fruit until December. In those days I was proud and fierce and sure of things and independent. Every day was new and fresh, crisp lines.

The seasons now are uncertain, the light muddy. Shades of grey have crept in, the yellow has gone. The glossy leaves are on doomed perennial shrubs left by a sad grey lady. Everything is inherited and everything is new. All the lines are rounded, softened, the certainty gone.

Is it adulthood or just the wrong country?

Friday, December 03, 2004

There is a little bird who always comes and pecks insistently on the window whenever the bird feeder runs out of seeds. D'you think it's trying to tell me something?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Until you start to see a place in shades of grey, instead of black and white, you are just a tourist.

Uh-oh. I can actually do the job I've been proposed. It's only 14 40-minute periods a week, and they've arranged for it not to be on my MA day. And I'd have Wednesdays free. And the German is baby German, which I can also do. I've a nasty feeling I'm going to end up back in school... And I really wouldn't mind, y'know.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A puzzle 

Can anybody explain to me how it can be that if I attach two documents to an email, one a word document three pages long with copious footnotes and formatted headings, the other a one-page unadorned word document, the shorter document ends up being 61Kb, while the longer one is 48Kb? It makes no sense to me.

Now, I don't normally take a violent and instant dislike to anyone, particularly not a person doing work in the house, but this guy is a complete bloody moron. How many times does one grown-up have to be asked politely to shut the front door as he goes in and out, ffs? I'm up and down like a sodding jack-in-the-box, every time I feel the telltale creeping cold reach me in my lair. I'm trying to work, for flaming hell's teeth sake, man. Just.shut.the.fucking.door.after.you, will you? If it's not too much to ask.

You just can't get the staff 

Two weeks ago, our solar tubes were placed in their final position on the roof, but still needed to be plumbed in to the heating system. Theblokes who came to do that job gave the distinct impression of being white collar people recycled into thinking manual jobs- they didn't quite have smooth, lily-white hands, but they had a certain self-effacing and hesitant quality about them which I find quite irritating in people who are supposed to know what they're doing.

It was just as well, however, that they didn't send the bloke who has now come to plumb in the system first, or I may very well have been reconsidering getting the solar tubes in the first place. Manifestly, they put their more sociable employees in the more public positions in the company, and work their way down a sliding scale of social skills.

This plumbing guy is just plain weird. Apart from the fact he backed his van into the ditch as he was leaving yesterday, completely blocking the lane on the only day of the week when I actually have to be at school on time to pick up the children, and on the only Tuesday so far that I've actually been ready to leave the house on time, and then left me to sort it out (I got our neighbour Julian to come and tow him out with the Land Rover)- quite apart from all that, there is something distinctly odd about him.

My sister, who is visiting for a couple of days, swears that when I went out earlier, he knocked on her door (she is sleeping in the study, just near the front door), and when she opened, he told her was just going out, and was fumbling with the door chain (WTF? He must have put it across the door). I crossed him on his way out of the drive (forwards today), and he said: "I'm just going to get some two-by-four, I'll be about an hour". An hour, for some two-by-four? What do you think?

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