Monday, January 31, 2005


What to do, in the throws of maniacal tidiness, with scores of little notes decorated around the edges with hearts, flowers and birds, lovingly inscribed "I love you, Mummy". Momentarily jolted into uncertainty by their discovery, I invariably let them lie where they were, little reminders of my daughters throughout the house even into the eery quiet of school days.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sim is growing up. He's getting moody, his sleep patterns have radically altered over the last few months, he lacks energy for things he used to be really enthusiastic about.

He was described by a friend some eons ago, as 'an advertisement for boys' (as though they needed advertising!), and he still is most of the time- he's funny, lively, smart, thoughtful, a complete book-worm and manages to get into just the right amount of trouble not to be "Perfect Peter". He loves to tease his sisters, and feigns incompetence when he wants to get out of doing something; he has selective hearing, particularly when someone says "Please put your clothes away".

My son is growing up. I wish I could say that I remember every single detail of his early childhood, from the time we brought him home, needy, small, his head soft and fuzzy, through his first steps, falls, starting at playgroup, beginning to read, think, sympathise; I wish I could remember every detail, but a lot of it is fading fast, too fast to hold on to. I was always too busy to write anything down.

Sometimes, memories return, sparked by something else- these stories delight and amuse all three children. In the retelling, the tales grow in strength- do I amplify them? I don't know, I can't remember. I try to stay truthful, not mawkish or nostalgic.

Yesterday, early morning, I lay in bed awake, and had a sudden yearning for the days when first light meant waking up to a tangle of warm bodies in our bed; you'd be fearful of stretching in case you scratched somebody's face with your toenails. Nowadays, they are more likely to be downstairs making breakfast, bidding for Warhammer on Ebay, or sleeping in the dog's basket (jealous of the dog, me?).

I want to crystallise them, keep them under the age of ten for ever. At the same time, I want them to grow up into decent human beings, and not stay under the age of ten for ever- one of them has already escaped the net. I want to go back to the days when they almost believed that we were fattening them up to eat them at the age of seven; when the tooth fairy had the wits to turn up on the first night of a tooth being placed under the pillow, and didn't have to sulk because she had been loudly proclaimed not to exist; when Father Christmas could creep around just before midnight on Christmas Eve because nobody had thought of staying awake deliberately to catch him red-handed.

My son is growing up, and he is starting to second-guess everything. I can't stop him, but I can still stop him from getting up at 5:30am to play computer games by banning him from leaving his room till 7am. Still. Just about. Plus, there are passwords for the computer and television.

This week's pomes 

Both by Louise Herlin, who apparently used to be a diplomat, but is now retired and a poet.

Le balcon

Pigeon proche si lourd, volumineux
posé au bord du balcon
palpitant sous le plumage

Ils sont étranges de près
-hors de proportion

Peu faits pour l'humain voisinage,
nos mesures pédestres

Ils n'ont cure de nouer connaissance
malgré leurs coups d'oeil obliques

Un pas vers la vitre, il s'envole
s'amenuisant redevient familier
-à distance

A chaque espèce
son espace

Autre square

Sur la piste pour patin à roulettes
Clopin clopant l'octagénaire va
Boitillant courageuse en trois temps:
Un pied puis l'autre et le coup de canne

La piste montueuse est toute à elle
Les enfants le vendredi sont en classe

Par ce temps griz pluvieux, temps de chien
Elle fait son petit tour quotidien
Laissant mourir autour d'elle les feuilles,
Les vieux hêtres se dénuder-
Elle sagement s'exerce à durer

Saturday, January 29, 2005

It's minus 15C (5F) in Montréal and I am nostalgic.

For those among who might have trouble comprehending why I would be nostalgic for minus 15C, I shall explain. Winter in Canada, and across the northern United States is a survival experience. Throughout every winter, there lurks at the back of everyone's mind the possibility that this one might actually be fatal. One is pitted daily against nature in the most obvious possible way: if you fell over drunk in a snowstorm, you could actually die. If your heating broke down in a big freeze, you would be in trouble. Driving is hazardous.

At the same time, minus 15C is the temperature at which everyone recognises and understands that spring will come. It is getting warm. You can go out with uncovered flesh and not have them frozen off.

Winter in England is rarely a survival experience, unless you count clueless idiots driving at 45 miles per hour through school zones. Mostly, it is an annoyance. Oh look, frost on the windscreen today- lose ten minutes. Oh look, it's been raining all night and the road is really muddy. Oh dear, frozen puddles- we could slide off the road... Oh man, a slow milk-float- how irritating. It all sounds rather feeble compared to

Cold so extreme you could lose your nose and ears in under an hour to frostbite.
Visibility down to three feet in a blizzard.
One metre of snow in one snowstorm.
Cold so intense it hurts to breathe.

We came out of winter last year already nostalgic for the experience, turning the corner at minus 15C, and feeling glad to be alive. Frankly I'd gladly trade in English winter for Canadian ones for a few years.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The teaching is fine, of course. The children are delightful, polite and motivated, if a little chatty at times. The timetable is manageable- I have a scant four classes, and for the first time in 18 months I'm getting back into a work rhythm that satifies me. They're taught in 40 minute sessions, so this morning for example, I taught two lessons, went to the supermarket, and was back home by 11:30am. And now the dog is glaring at me, and the garden is calling. See you later.

We had an interesting discussion at university yesterday, in our small group of three students plus the lecturer, about how we all came to be bilingual. The other three, it turns out, have a fair amount French blood coursing through their veins- fully French, or half and half. I am the person in that group with the least French blood, at a mere 1/8th. Yet I really think that I am the most bilingual of the four of us.

I can count, say my alphabet, and do all the things you're supposed only to be able comfortably to do in your mother tongue, in both languages. Furthermore, I'm the only one of the four who could pass, in terms of accent, for English in England and French in France.

People sometimes ask whether I write at the same level in French as in English, to try to determine how deep my bilinguality runs. Truthfully, I'd have to say that English is my mother tongue, and that I have known English for six years longer than French. I read in English for three years before I started learning French. Yet I only started physically writing when I went to France at the age of six; later, all my teenage scrawlings came out in French.

In recent years, marooned deep here in monolingualism, although always with a few French friends for conversation, my full bilingualism had lapsed somewhat. I even stopped thinking in French, and I can't remember the last time I dreamed in French.

For the last few months, I've felt the French growing stronger again, stirring. Things in French begging to be written down are even popping into my head spontaneously. That paragraph the other day is a case in point. It didn't want to be written in English.

An online friend with psychology training surmises that my brain uses one language for one type of emotion, and the other for another type. And I think to a certain extent that that is true. I even find myself being different depending on whether I'm in England or in France, and depending on company. I'm always a lot more playful and spontaneous in French, more measured and reasonable in English. It may stem from expectations made of me as a child: English, and a particular set of constraints, at home, French at school, with its own demands.

Sometimes, often in fact, I find myself yearning for France. Not just for a boozy holiday in my case, though- more for a holiday for my rational self. Sometimes she's a real bore.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

And a joke, since I've had busy day 

Two parrots sit side by side on a perch.
One parrot turns to the other, sniffs and says:
"Ew, something's fishy."

How long did it take you to get? (I have a theory that some people might find it harder than others). The university tutor who told me the joke in the first place said it took him ages.

For Daisy 

The full French text of that poem just down there:

A mon père

J'aurais voulu pour toi une chapelle ardente
Après mille couloirs où brulent mille torches
Et mille épées brandies par des soldats vaincus
Ceux qui sont familiers des larmes et des aubes.

Là tu serais couché dans ton image extrême
Entouré de miroirs afin que mille fois
Mon regard simulant la puissance des dieux
Se repose sur toi infiniment créé.

J'aurais voulu aussi un deuil plus éclatant
Sur nos maisons des vents de granit et de cendre
Et sur le port un ciel serré de voiles noires
Avec de grands oiseaux mourant de te voir mort.

Puis un troisième jour aux ailes de colombe
Voir le monde lavé de ma désespérance
Et sans craindre pour l'abjecte solitude
Ton absence soudain transformée en savoir.

Tu serais, protégé par douze légions d'anges,
Revenu en amont des sources du Jourdain
Où le berger gardant son paisible troupeau
Compte indistinctement les morts et les étoiles.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My translation of the poem we've been set this week. Whad'ya think, my friends in the computer?

To my father (Geneviève Bon)

I would have wanted for you a funeral palace,
At the end of a thousand passages bright with a thousand flames,
And a thousand swords held high by defeated soldiers
They who know of tears and new beginnings.

There you would lie in your final image
Surrounded by mirrors so that a thousand times over
My gaze, feigning the might of the gods
Should rest upon you infinitely repeated.

I would have wanted too a more resplendent mourning
The winds pouring grey stone and ashes upon our houses
And down in the port a sky serried with black sails
And enormous birds, dying from seeing you dead.

And then on a third, dove-winged, day
To see the world washed clean of my despair
No longer fearing for you the abyss of solitude
Your leaving suddenly transcended into knowing.

You would, protected by a dozen legions of angels,
Be brought above where the Jordan springs
Where the shepherd guarding his peaceful flock
Counts indiscriminately the dead and the stars.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Regarde-moi bien, jeune mère, et sache que mon sort t'attend aussi: une folie douce de la onzième année, l'année où te rends compte que ton enfant grandirait très bien sans toi. L'année où tu te rends compte que toutes les expériences qui en valent la peine, tu les as déjà vecues. Que tout le reste n'est que fade et insipide en comparaison.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Tomorrow morning, I start work at my part-time teaching job. The lady I'm replacing for a few months has been suddenly signed off early, because she's getting very tired, and there's a very good reason she has to keep her twins in as long as possible.

The school is lovely, the children will be fine and mostly beautifully well behaved, yet still I quake. Too many memories of teaching practice and first job militating against an easy night's sleep tonight.

"Blue and Green should never be seen" 

First, there was the argument about the walls.

"Green", said the boys.

"Blue", said we girls.

So, mindful of standard televisual advice on how to maximise one's living space, we painted the walls a discreet shade of green, and the door and window frames a beautiful but equally discreet shade of blue. In many lights, you cannot even tell that the room is painted two colours. Not because they are so pale that they look the same, but because they are the same tone (is that the right word?) but different colours.

Next came the plates, to replace our sorry collection of cracked and chipped items -it's a form of identification, like Chip and Pin: we always know which are ours at school events.

"Green", said the boys.

"Blue", said we girls.

So we shall get some of both, just to be consistent, or indecisive, or something. At a fraction of the cost of the real thing, (large English supermarket chain) T6sco do lovely mock-Denby workaday dinnerware, made in China, in both blue and green. At last, something we can all agree on.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Moan, moan, moan.. That's all I ever seem to do these days. And mis-typing that same word three times, rather puts me in mind of a story from long, long, ago, back in the days when I was still child-free (but only just).

I'd given up work at 37 weeks of pregnancy (40 weeks being the average length of human gestation, for those of you blissfully unaware of such details), as commuting for an hour and a half, standing both ways was rather tiring me (my god! if only I'd known how much more tiring things would get, I'd have stayed at work for the extra few weeks)...

Anyway, where was I?

Ah, yes. Anyway, I was zonked, and having given up work, I was looking forward to naps in the daytime, and reading my babycare manuals.

I hadn't counted on Mrs Overall, an elderly and repulsive neighbour with exceptionally poor personal hygiene for one brought up in the "cleanliness is next to godliness" era. Mrs Overall lived across the street from our sweet little corner plot house, on the street on which our rear garden backed. She thus has a grandstand view from her upstairs windows, straight over our privet hedge, and could see me whenever I set foot outside with my lunch.

She would decide that I obviously needed company, and crossing the street, would let herself in through our back gate -unfortunately it had no bolt-, and bend my ear for anything up to two and half hours with tales of her own obstetric and post-partum miseries and woes.

Some weeks later (my son being two weeks late making his appearance), after I'd thoroughly tired of her unsolicited and poisonous advice, including expressly being told not have naps, I asked The Boff to install a bolt on the gate, ate my lunch in peace for a change. I learned to love my neighbours directly across the street, the dear and equally elderly Hurdy-Gurdies.

One day, I happened to mention Mrs Overall in passing during a conversation with Mrs H-G. "And do you know what her first name is?", she asked me with a twinkle in her eye. I said no- I really only knew her as Mrs Overall, although she called me by my first name.

"Mona", replied Mrs Hurdy-Gurdy.


Get a cleaner and gardener anyway, and just make sure money is there for them.
Walk dog first thing by getting organised,
Every evening, cook for next day. It makes a big difference to our early evenings.
Easily, get organised so that things are done ahead of time.
Break the habits of a lifetime, without too much trouble.

Do I want to?


Get a weekly gardener and cleaner (both to do the big things) if could be sure of my income for the next year.
Be content to stay at home with children, tending house and garden. If I were a different person.
Stop buying stuff from the Boden sale if it weren't so nice to wear.
Stop wasting time if I convinced myself I would not run out of things to do.
Stop eating chocolate in the evenings if I were sure it would make a difference to my trouser size.


Start MA work earlier in the week
Wake up earlier in the morning
Walk dog first thing
Sort garden out before spring
Stop researching family tree instead of the above
Be kind to my children even when I'm busy, preoccupied or feeling unwell.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Wow! Al! Thank you! What a lovely (almost-)surprise birthday present. For once, I'm speechless.

I was astonished to hear on the radio this morning that the average person visits their GP five times a year.

Given that in this family, we have seen our GP, between the five us, probably three times in the last five years, when on average we should have seen her 125 times, (ie 122 times fewer than the average family of the same size), there must be some people who camp out there.

Obviously, people who are sick need to see the doctor, and someone who is chronically sick would need to see the doctor more frequently than average, and more regularly, but why do so few of the people in the waiting-room ever seem particularly sick?

I was also amazed to hear that the average consultation length has gone up to 9 minutes. This goes completely against our very disappointing experiences of being ushered in at full speed, asked what the problem is, and prescribed antibiotics within three minutes of setting foot in the consulting room, no matter what the problem, before being ushered out again at 4.5 minutes on the dot, to allow the GP to update his or her database before the next patient. Is it any wonder we avoid the GP?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Quick! I need help! Does anyone know the English expression or proverb that means 'once does not make it a habit', or something along the lines of 'let's just overlook this one occasion'. Thanks!

Woke up late this morning in the middle of a dream about Japan (no idea why- never been there)
Shouted at mother-in-law for ganging up on Sim. I pointed out to her, in the heat of the moment, that if I was shouting at my son for being irritatingly slow ehen we're running late, the last fecking thing we needed was her putting the boot in as well. It was when she called me a 'nutter' (never a wise thing to say to a Very Cross Person), that I really flipped. She went very quiet for about three minutes, and was then utter sweetness and light.
Saw everybody off.
Started work *cough*
Took dog for a walk.
Got back to find solar tubes overlord pootling about the village looking for my house.
Stupid guy has no step ladder with him to access the loft
Spend 40 minutes searching for step ladder, all over house, workshop and garage and sundry outbuildings
Give up
Phone The Boff, who is away from desk but rings back fifteen minutes later
Locate step ladder behind door in workshop (of course, how silly of me)
Still furious, even more so when I discover the dog wiping his filthy undercarriage all over a collection of clean children's bedding.
Blog, in a temper.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pinched from Billy 

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

I don't usually post these, but I'm bored trying to complete my extended translation and this blog needs some colour anyway.

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convincing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?

Hehe. Two of my professional occupations in there. Maybe I have chosen the right job(s) after all... ;)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I have just spent a birthday weekend in the company of a bunch of people I've known for half a lifetime. At such gatherings we relax quickly and easily into our tried and tested habits, discoursing amiably on wide range of topics without ever annoying each other seriously, reminisce about what was essentially our transition into adulthood and arguably one of the most formative periods of our lives.

I can honestly say I can not remember any discussions ever degenerating into nasty arguments. We respect each others' points of view, tend to think before opening our mouths (everyone except me, that is), accept each other totally and unreservedly, and hear each other out. We stick up for each other. The group as a whole has a wonderful, sarcastic sense of humour. We feel, I suppose, comfortable with each other, like siblings but without the rivalry.

We have all gone in massively different directions, both personally and professionally, but we are still able to pick up a conversation pretty much where we left it the last time we saw the other person- sometimes several years later.

It's a tough act to join, and I often wonder how those partners who were not on the scene (although quite a few of us are married to each other) until after university cope with joining what must appear to be a pretty hermetically sealed group. We must seem a pretty odd and possibly, scary, rabble, for which I don't think we can really apologise- it's just the way we are.

I don't see any of these people often enough, and I find that sad.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

On completing another year on this planet 

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday., Last year, my thrity-sixth, I managed to convince myuself I was still in my mid-Thirties, but there really is no getting away from the fact that this time, I really have arrived in my late thirties. Given that I feel pretty much in the pink of health, and really very little different from how I did when I was twenty (in fact a lot healthier in many respects), I feel extraordinarily lucky.

If you cast your eyes down to the picture in the previous post for a moment, you will see that my great grandfather and great grandmother, both aged about 34 in that picture, both look like modern-day fifty-year olds. I look a lot younger than they did at the same age, I'm pleased to report.

Looking a lot younger than your true age has both advantages and disadvantages: in this youth-obsessed wrold, people tend to take you more seriously if you don't look a day over twenty-five. On the other side of the coin, people don't tend to take you as seriously if they think you are young. MAybe people just don't take others seriously.

Take our parents, more specifically my father and the Boff's mother: will a time ever come when they will stop treating us like irresposinsible teenagers, and stop trying to direct our child-rearing, guide our purchases and influence our career choices? Will they ever actually acknowledge that we are more than capable of functioning wthout their input? I'd like to think that forty might be the age at which they suddenly realise that we are fully-fledged adults, but I'm beginning to worry that this might not be the case... I think they treat us like adults when it suits them, and like children when they get a bee in their bonnet about something.

Maybe it's just time to stop listening to our crumblies.

And in the spirit of a new birthday, I'm seriously considering stopping being 'e' and becoming 'true first name', online. I'm also considering releasing my face to the World Wide Web. I hardly ever talk of The Boff's work anyway, and certainly not by name, so that reason hardly seems valid any longer. We shall see...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I find genes fascinating. Not just in the family tree sense, but also in biologocal sense. Take eye colour. They tell you in biology at school that dark eyes and hair are dominant, meaning that if you have a dark-eyed parent, you are more than likely to inherit dark eyes -somebody correct me here if I'm wrong, but the probability of dark eyes if you have one dark-eyed parent is a lot higher than 50/50, isn't it?

Unless your dark-eyed person has a light-eyed parent, that is. My father for example is descended from a parent with very dark eyes*, and one with steely grey eyes. He has dark brown eyes. My mother has blue eyes and blonde hair, of the type you achieve only through centuries of inbreeding (they did all stay remarkably close to the same few villages).

Of my parents' five children, four have blue eyes or some variant (green, blue-grey, grey all being variants of blue as far as I'm aware). Only one has dark eyes. All of those of us with children have spouses with light eyes. All eight of my parents' grandchildren have blue eyes, with no in-betweens. All luminous blue eyes, in which there lurks no trace of my father's dark brown legacy.

I rather think that my family flies in the face of established scientific knowledge about eye colour, and although I'm equally prepared to accept that the great gene pool threw out the less likely option four times out of five, it does seem unlikely, both mathematically and rationally. So is science wrong on this one? Are there factors other than straightforward heredity at work in eye colour? Who knows...

To illustrate the point, here is a photo of my great grandparents with three of their children- they are all very dark, and that was only four generations back from my children and their cousins.

My great grandfather holds my grandfather on his lap. My poor great grandmother just looks exhausted.

*And he is so like his father that I'm not prepared to countenance the possibility of a dalliance on his mother's part.

random stuff 

Falala, the sun is shining and all is right with the world. The solar-powered hot water system is up to 36C. It feels like spring, and birdies are tweeting and gobbling up seeds on the bird feeder.

I want to get out there and do some gardening, but it is Thursday unfortunately, so I need to go to university, where I shall ask for an extension on my extended translation, which I sadly have not finished. At least I finished the method paper in time.

We have a new printer, so no more dashing into The Boff's place of employment every time I want to print out my work.

I have to find a birthday present before tomorrow, but I suspect I may not be able to buy the requested wet suit (for swimming in the sea, which scares me witless, and is why I'm putting off buying it) by this evening. I might have to take him with me to choose it next week...

We have decided to leave my mother at the mercy of our children and go to California for a week in June. The Boff has a conference to speak at on a few of the days, but I shall lounge around in the Californian sunshine and possibly shop for an iBook with which to write my dissertation this summer. Gulp. It will only be the second time ever that we've had a holiday without the children. The last was 5 years ago.

I'd better get some lunch and shuffle to university to hand over the not-inconsiderable fees for this term, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

excuses, excuses... 

What a day... If you've ever had one of those days technology seems to fail you repeatedly, then you'll understand what a day I had.

A lot of of our gadgets seem to be going wrong at the moment. I think I may speculate, without a trace of irony, that it is the extreme damp of Devon causing most of it. Apart from my mobile telephone running out of power precisely at the only time this week I've actually needed it -that was just bad planning.

I feel perfectly in my rights however to blame on the damp the way the two front wheel of the family charabanc became immersed in mud up to the wheel thingies (you know- those things that clip onto the wheel to make it look pretty; can't think for the life of me what the word is in English at the moment) this morning when I took the dog for a walk in the forest. The lack of mobile juice I cannot in any way blame on atmospheric conditions. The wet 2 mile walk home to the nearest phone was nice. Lucky I had my wellies in the back of the car, eh?

I may be able to blame on damp the malfunction of my modem, which kept me away from the Internet for most of the day. How was I supposed to know there was a 'reset' button on the back that would cure the lack of internet?

I might even be able to blame on damp, cold or some other external factor the breakdown of our boiler while we were away over Christmas, which meant us returning on the 4th of January to a cold DAMP house; the plumber we called fiddled with the damned thing for three hours before finally turning a tiny screw on the gas valve, and hey presto! it worked again. Hardly any work for the plumber, but a nice fat bill to follow.

I have no means of explaining how my children came to miss their first day back at school. We were enjoying being at home so much, we just forgot the date, I suppose. It's hard to get back to routine after almost a month of normality.

Maybe we're just jinxed this week. I hope it's not setting the pattern for 2005- it could be a looong year otherwise.

Monday, January 10, 2005

I feel like a washed-out 90-year old great grandmother. Since when did staying up most of the night become life-threatening? I'll just shuffle off then.

Well, this is novel. For the first time in 14 years, I'm pulling an all nighter to get something finished, having discovered, at 7:30pm this evening, thanks to a rather panicky phone call from a fellow student, that there was rather more to do for tomorrow 16:00 than I'd appreciated- the piece I thought I had to do for Thursday, is, in fact, for tomorrow.

On which note, since panicky fellow student is part-time, I can't think what would possess anyone to do this course part-time- Exeter's idea of part-time means taking the individual modules full-time, but spread over two years; ie- take one module, have huge year-long gap, take next module, do dissertation. Not very inspired as far as planning goes. Plus you don't get your MA until August 2006.

That, however, is not my concern tonight, since I am doing the thing full-time. I am meant to be doing 40 hours a week (ha!), which is certainly more time than I have available. I usually spend 20-23 hours a week on it, and so do my colleagues. I can't imagine how retentive I'd have to be to spend 40 hours on what I do at the moment. I'd probably produce better stuff though.

Ho-hum. I can feel the coffee kicking in. Better exploit this working opportunity.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Just for information 

There is a currant of opinion flying around that grapes and raisins are acutely toxic to dogs. A small amount of web-based research reveals this to be quite a wide-spread observation, from vets as well as owners. I know quite a few people who give their dogs grapes as treats (I've even given my dog grapes on occasion), and was quite surprised by this, but it does seem that we should all stop doing it now.

You know, I suspect that this transition back to life in Blighty is not going as smoothly as I'd anticipated back in July, when "going home" was topmost on all our minds. Witness the daily "trips" to the Montreal webcam, and the visceral longing for clear sky, snow, and crisp, clean, cold air.

The only time over the last year when being in Montreal has not seemed like a good thing was in March/ April, when everything was budding and blooming here in England, and spring, which it is about six months of the year here (the rest is made up of autumn) is actually a lot more pleasant than in Canada. For every other part of the year, Canada wins hands down.

England still wins on age. Friendliness and acceptance of newcomers in Devon seems on a par with Canada, although I did find myself the other day following a woman down the High Street of our nearest small town, whose car bore the sticker "I'm from here, I'm not a grockle!", so there's clearly an undercurrent of xenophobia...

I find that one of the best ways of fitting in here is to wash one's car only once every three months, and not to be too fussy about how many bumps and scrapes it incurs. People comment that our family charabanc looks like a "true country car". Which is nice. If only there were snow and a bit of cold, life here could be wonderful...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

I am harking back wistfully at the moment, to a time when I could spend longer than a few minutes on any one task. As a teenager, I frequently did the same thing for hours on end, be it reading, walking, brewing poisons and potions, arguing with my mother, planting things.

The most annoying aspect of parenthood that I've discovered, is the way it grinds away at your staying power, reducing your concentration span to the same length as that of an average three-month old, precluding any undertaking more serious than organising feeding time at the zoo. If my children could just be switched off at (my) will for a few hours a day, they would seem utterly delightful. I understand the lure of the 24-hour a day nanny.

The problem is not that they disturb you all the time, but you live so much with the threat of disturbance, that you become incapable of forcing your brain into an adequate state of concentration. Hence me being here right now instead of working on my bibliography, which is just behind this window, and to where I shall flutter in a few moments, probably for a few moments. And so it goes on.

Item 1a: One bibliography, assessment for an entire module and worth 20 credits out of 160, to finish and hand in on Monday morning first thing.

Item 1b: One translation to rework for Thursday the 13th.

Item 2: Three noisy and quarrelsome children, not back at school until Tuesday the 11th.

Item 3: One bloody *(&?*&%%ing irritating mother-in-law, who insists on filling my house with people she's invited, and lining up more visitors precisely for this weekend.

Item 4: One prodigal brother visiting.

Item 5: My inability to do anything until the very.last.minute.

Item 6: Procrastination: enticing kitchen cabinets needing painting, curtains to take apart and resew, wood to chop, even tidying and cleaning, for Pete's sake!

Item 7: Vague hysteria and panic setting in.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Commenter Ruth, who also happens to be a dear friend, is raising funds for ActionAid's Tsunami Appeal, by cutting 84 pounds off her weight before the 26th December 2005. By her own admission she is not brilliant as sticking to diets, so this is a huge commitment for her.

She has started up a blog to chart her progress, so if you fancy popping over (Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, pop over NOW!) and sponsoring her, click this way.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I can't throw out letters. Never have been able to. This week, as I sift through boxes of past ephemera -theatre programmes, exhibition booklets from a lifetime ago, old exercise books, and mostly, letters- I find myself still incapable of disposing of any personal correspondence.

I have shoeboxes full of letters from people who are still dear, from people once dear but now distant memories, from people whose names I no longer even recognise, yet I still keep them all: narcissism- see, somebody loves me? Vanity- I once had correspondents? Nostalgia- can't throw out someone's emotions, even long forgotten? Probably all of those. I can't bring myself to dispose of them.

All except one. I found myself shoving one letter in an exasperated fashion into the binbag yesterday evening. A letter full of blandness and inconsequential detail. A letter without distinguishing features, such as one might write to a neighbour now moved away. It irritated me beyond measure, the only possible solution was eradication.

It was a ten-year old letter from my mother.

As I pushed it into the bag, not roughly but decisively, not crumpled or torn (no anger there really), I had a sudden access of guilt. What if? What if she died tonight, and I've already burnt the letter, and I find no other letters from her anywhere? What then? Nothing to remember her by.

But then, I reasoned, would I want to remember her by that smooth spherical letter, or would I rather dredge my memory for times when she had actually related to me in a normal way? I favoured the dredging. The letter stayed discarded, where it could disappoint no longer.

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