Saturday, July 30, 2005

It took only six days this time for the engineer to diagnose the wire rubbed virtually in two by a rogue self-seeded sycamore out in the lane.

The good news is, we now know what the problem is, and I was correct in my assertions to Ms Crapola Call-Centre that the problem, appearing as it did with every high wind, was undoubtedly the work of a tree and not a want of brain cells on my part.

The bad news is that it will probably happen again, "maybe in six months", said the engineer cheerfully.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Little Dill was 8 yesterday, and in true Dill style did everything on the same day: she laughed, she cried, got up early and went to bed late, was sick, got rained on, saw a film, got a present that she really wanted but her mother broke a part of it rtying to put it together (I didn't halogen light bulbs were that fragile), went to another kid's birthday party at which the Red Arrows were supposed to appear except it was pissing with rain so hard that they didn't even take off from Exeter airport, had her cake ceremony at 10:30 pm as soon as the cake was cool enough for the candles not to sink, but did not eat any. A birthday of extremes, just like Dill.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mushroom power 

I suppose that I must have been quite a difficult child. Not in a conventional way- I pretty much always did what I was told- but by being dully angry most of the time.

It was unfocussed anger, my parents believing in the great victorian child-rearing adages of Honouring thy Father and Mother (no matter how dishonourable their behaviour) and that Children should be seen and not heard.

Points were sought and scored on both sides- out loud, crushingly triumphantly in the case of my parents, in far more subtle ways in my case. My siblings exercised outright defiance, I was never brave enough.

I remembered today, and rationalised for the first time an incident from my childhood.

We were not allowed dislikes, particularly with regard to food, for my parents were both wartime babies, rationed until their early teens.

When we were very poor, my mother succeeded in poisoning us spectacularly once, following a dawn foray into the woods with a basket and her mushroom book. She swears the resulting breakfast was not poisonous but only non-comestible, which surely will explain the visits from the police, the doctor bearing carbon tablets the size of horse pills, and the three days of sickness.

That one incident, forgotten about mostly on our part after about a week, provided me with a whole childhood's worth of mind control over my mother. I declared, once over the initial illness, that I no longer liked mushrooms.

For evermore, every meal containing mushrooms was a good opportunity for me to renew acquaintance with my mother's guilt, to poke it a little and make it was never quite asleep. I was invariably allowed off the mushrooms, my mother darting quick glances to the ceiling, into the corners, but never really getting annoyed. Never once did she enjoin me to "pull myself together" or to try them again to see if I liked them. The mushroom incident sat between us like a large squat toad.*

Evil? Probably. Did she deserve it? She did to my 7 year-old self, and still at 18. When at last, in my twenties, I began to feel a whole human being again, rather than the stump of one ground down by unreasonable demands, I allowed myself to like mushrooms. I did it for her as much as for convenience, and in truth, I am not sure I ever really disliked them any more than any child does.

But, oh boy, did I love that power.

*no apologies to Philip Larkin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The boy has been given 5 fertile Auracana eggs by our dear hen-dotty neighbour. They lay blue-green eggs, rather large for the size of the birds might I add (ouch!), and are a rather beautiful shade of grey, known as Lavender. The only problem is that the friends who were going to lend us their incubator have now back-pedalled, and none of our hens seems even remotely broody.

Having looked at the price of the incubators in Mole Valley Farmers, our local cooperative agricultural suppliers, we've baulked rather at the expense, since we've just spent 600 quids on a new fridge-freezer, to replace the Jonelle 26-year old model that either warms the lettuce on notch 2 or freezes it on notch 3 (and *whispers* a three figure sum on riding boots and chaps this morning).

"What we need," said Sim calmly, while we still in the shop, "is to buy a broody hen. It'll be a lot cheaper and she'll look after them for us."

So he's just "walked"* the dog over to Friendly Hen-nut to enquire.

*NB: This means that he rides his bicycle, and the dog lopes along at quite a pace, coming back quite tired.


Bleddy bt

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I'm trying to picture this woman, sitting on a hummock in a dappled July forest, surrounded by pieces of paper, writing as feverishly as if it were her last month on this earth. I'm trying to take her seriously, I'm trying to take this translation seriously- after all I'm one of the first to translate it.

Somewhere in the world, another, official translator is working on it in parallel.

She was serious, the forest woman. Prodigiously well-informed, not thanks to any modern communications methods, but to old-fashioned letters from Paris and beyond, which brought with them the ominous rumblings of war that did not reach her rural retreat until very near her end.

She knew the end was coming. Yet was there laughter for this woman barely older than I am now? who suspected or knew that her fate was sealed, who wrote with the weary wisdom of one who has lived through this before.

I value laughter over seriousness. This is why nothing is ever finished. I do not value seriousness enough ever to take myself away from my children and their odd, hilarious outbursts, for days at a time, as she did.

Did her childhood ensure that seriousness was a higher priority than laughter? Did she too laugh with her children, or was she, like her own mother, distant and cold with them? If the latter, are sixty years of pride worth a motherless childhood?

I have to resign myself to the fact that I will in all likelihood not ever finish anything, because I can never take anything seriously enough. Is this the only refuge of the weak, or the only resort in an ever-changing world?

And yet if she could finish three books even as they arrived to take her away, what excuse do I have not to finish things?

busy, busy, busy

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Young French Mélisande (not her real name), whom we hoiked around the United States in an ungainly fashion for two months last year, came back yesterday to spend two weeks with us in our English bedlam.

I could not be prouder of her if she were my own child. Not only is she now very nearly fluent in English (a refreshing change from Thomas, who left last week still gabbling in French at every opportunity and not really mastering even basic sentence structure), but she has arranged all by herself to spend the whople of 2006 in Australia, in the middle of her last year of French school- Australian school years atart in January, French ones in September.

I know for a fact that I would not have the common sense or spirit of adventure necessary for this at 16. As I say, I'm inordinately proud of herr.

Monday, July 18, 2005

If you were wondering what happened to me over the weekend, fear not- we were in Dorset, camping in someone's garden while the Boff sang at Lulworth's Coast and Country Festival -sorry, it has nothing to do with bluegrass- it is a choral event held every year to keep the retirees busy, conducted by The Boff's old choirmaster from Berkshire.

The weather was gorgeous, the company excellent, the beach inaccessible and undiscovered despite being in sight of the overcrowded Durdle Door.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Real life 

The dog woke up with a purple face, from sharing his bed with a rotting beetroot.

In last night's leftover spinach and nettle soup a small orange moth floated, drowned.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my children's school?

Take yesterday as an example: We went on the River Walk, a yearly 7-mile event which involves finding a spring on Woodbury Common, following it down to the river Otter, and then following the Otter to Budleigh Salterton, where all the children, and the small pack of hounds that came with us, swam in the sea while the grownups chatted on the beach.

Later, we attended our second "Comedy of Errors" in as many weeks, this one staged on a grander scale, by the Northcott Theatre, than the student production we saw in the Bishop's Palace gardens two weeks ago.

Many schools these days are loathe to organise any outside activity, because some children are so unruly that their safety cannt be guaranteed, which in our litigious climate, means that the death or injury of one silly, disobedient child could cost a school a lot of money.

My children's head teacher takes them out a lot, somteimes on an ad hoc basis; parents sign a permission form for the entire year- including permission to treat the child in any way seen fit should they be injured- the teachers are truly in loco parentis.

He flies in the face of the educational establishment to do this, and finds his position increasingly harder every year, as the powers that be seek to regulate his school into institutional blandness.

Ofsted took a rather unhealthy look at the school in June, and although they liked it, were rather non-plussed by the single rule: No falling out of the trees. Their main beef was that the intelligent teacher carries the curriculum around in his head, rather than in nice neat consultable folders, for which inspection category the school was failed.

Hmmm...No paperwork versus a rich, varied, humourful, in depth range of lessons and activities. I wonder which the children and the parents prefer?

This morning, 7:30 

We lost a worm in the kitchen
We fed the jackdaw smoked salmon
And were painfully pecked in return

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Blessed by name, blessed by nature 

Sim has been dreaming of having a raven for a pet, like Dickon in "The Secret Garden", not only because he loves the blue-black colour scheme, but also because he says they're as intelligent as a "four-year old child"*.

I'd been putting him off for months, saying that he'd need to find a baby one to hand-rear.

This morning, as I let the dog out for his morning ablutions, he became intently interested in something far down the garden, belted off at top speed and began chasing something that flapped around in an ungainly fashion.

He was not biting it, merely worrying it- I'm quite convinced that he'd have no idea what to do with a real live bird if he caught one.

I ran down the garden after him, and caught the unfortunate creature, which had taken refuge in some undergrowth.

Having carried it indoors and done a little internet research, we established that it was not a raven or a crow, but a jackdaw.

It is obvious that it cannot fly- it is not yet clear why. It can hop and flit a step or two, which leads me to believe that it is a juvenile bird.

It has beautiful grey eyes, and a grey hood of feathers. Its beak is very sharp, and doesn't yet understand that we won't let go when it pecks, so it keeps trying.

It has not managed to draw blood -thankfully, since, according to Wikipedia, part of its diet consists of "human scraps". I think this may mean "scraps of human" and am thinking of renting Hitch's classic "The Birds".

"I shall call it "Seren" if it's a girl, or "Dippity" if it's a boy", announces Sim.

*Surely this can't really mean he wants a four-year old child as a pet. Can it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Thomas, French language student and 14 year-old whirlwind, leaves tomorrow. I think I shall miss him, despite his unfortunate, culturally implanted misogyny and conviction that he is always right.

It's been a long time since anyone challenged my use of the word "duck" as an adequate translation for "canard"- I'm sure it's good for me.

He did build me some wooden edges for my rear vegetable patch, has chopped goodness only knows how much wood, and run the dog around the garden in 30C of heat.

He has also in this time progressed from not understanding a blinking word, to making simple sentences, so it has been a two-way process and not just about him building stuff for me.


One of my pumpkin plants appears to be growing about 6 inches a day- if I sat there for a few minutes, I should be able to see it grow.

Tin-pot theory of the week #2 

Evangelism causes fundamentalism.

To be developed later...

Monday, July 11, 2005

I've recently discovered the point of my 'useless' pets: the guinea pigs are doing an exceedingly good job of mowing inaccessible patches of grass, as well as fertilising said patches; the dog...well, let's just say that we have virtually no flies in the house this summer, despite our proximity to a dairy farm.

Now, for a purpose for alpacas, preferably before we spend a fortune on some.*

*Note: Sadly, this is unlikely to happen for some time yet, mainly because discussions with Ed the Farmer are as yet unresolved- of which more anon, as things are happening below the surface in our little piece of England, and I don't mean disused mine shafts collapsing.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

July birthdays 

We spent today -Sim's 12th birthday- lying around at the top of a hill, in a field edged with tents. Below and all around, East Devon lay basking in truly summer sunshine. We both hung over and tired, with the smell of woodsmoke and roasting hog in our nostrils, the friend's 40th birthday band still ringing in our delicate ears.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

No, there is no excuse. I've dried up.

This country has always had the efffect of sapping everything out of me. I can't think of anything to say, let alone devote energy to clearing my house of its superfluous junk.

I'm sorry, but there it is. I've always had weird ups and downs, but this down has lasted more than a few months now. I have too many things to do and I don't seem to be able to put any kind of order or priority into them at the moment.

This house is a shite-tip, with piles of unnecessary stuff in it. I need to put the entire contents of the house out on the lawn, and only allow back the things that can claim real usefulness, but for that I need a run of dry daysm which the sky has seemed unwilling to provide since I gave up work.

The car is a perpetual headache- gone today, hopefully for real this time, to be mended.

Everything we want to use to renovate our house is either crap or massively over-priced, or both. The only way we can afford to do what we want is for me to be working full-time, which frankly is time I'd rather spend helping my children grow into adults.

Tradespersons just take the piss- most of them cannot even be bothered to come out when you call them, not even to quote for a big job. Heyho our education system, and its wisdom of convincing everyone to go to university.

On a positive note, it is still lovely here, despite the continuing uncertainty about the fate of the church at the bottom of the garden. The children are far more laid-back and happy, but I worry that Sim should be in secondary school already, and about the effect of his education of keeping the same teacher for every subject until he's 13.

In short, I'm a nervous wreck at the moment, and not fit to know.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Three years 

Monday, July 04, 2005

4th July, 2004; Keene, NY 

Sunday, July 03, 2005

We thought we'd organised our last but one day in California.

We still wanted to walk up to a viewpoint named The Pinnacles, about three miles, up a closed road (ie no car access) away from the conference centre at Lake Arrowhead.

Taking advantage of the jet lag, which was still waking us up faithfully at 4am for lunch, we resolved to rise at 5, and set off for the two hours round-trip shortly thereafter, armed only with our cameras and half a litre of water each, returning just in time for breakfast at 8am.

We never actually got there, and I'm mighty thankful that some profiteer decided to turn Lake Arrowhead from the deserted and arid hillside it might have been to a popular holiday destination, because we were never far from habitation as we strayed off in the wrong direction into snake-infested grassland, with only minimal rehydration to hand.

After our accidental diversion into someone's back yard, we had to set off back towards breakfast without reaching the Pinnacles, which once again appeared tantalising close the further away from them we walked.

We'd arranged to take my little brother for supper that evening, back near his house in Agoura Hills. We confirmed this at lunchtime, shortly before setting off towards Plam Springs for some retail therapy in the blistering heat of the the Desert Hills Outlet Center (believe me, it's well named- there are hills, a desert, and plenty of shops).

We descended back to the valley floor by the long route, our air conditioned car cushioning us as the outside temperature climbed from 23C to 37C the further downhill we drove.

As we drew near the shopping centre, around 3pm, we marvelled at how little traffic there was on the other side of the freeway, in the direction of LA.

Shortly before the outlet centre, we found out why. Some Palm Springs cops, bored with the old people being too law abiding, had decided to get themselves onto "Is This America's Worst Police Driving?" by chasing at very high speed, and then shooting at, some demented guy in a truck.

Luckily for the guy, they didn't kill him. Unluckily for the ten miles of traffic jam behind them, they decided that they needed plenty of evidence in case he did croak, and relatives sued. What better solution than to shut the freeway completely for eight hours while they measured, paced and photographed?

We waited to see if the jam would clear. You see, we really had no alternative route into LA at that point- there really are no other roads, since the freeway runs down a valley floor, hemmed in on either side by vertical and rocky mountains.

By 6pm, it was becoming clear that we would not make our dinner arrangement with my brother- we were supposed to be there at 8. So we rang and left a voicemail on his mobile.

At 7:30, having dined on sushi in the food court, and the traffic still stationary outside the mall, we decided to take the (very) long way round- ie drive to Palm Springs, and take the road that skirts the San Bernardino hills to the north. This road clips the Joshua Tree National Park, where eight years previously, we'd nervously taken our two toddlers to introduce them to Joshua trees, at the end of a baking April day. I say "nervously" because the place is seething with rattle snakes, so we stepped very gingerly around every rock.

There were indeed ten miles of stationary cars on the freeway, and we felt very sorry for the occupants. There were people standing talking to other people between their cars. Children played on the tarmac. Everybody looked hot and bothered, abd I hoped that they had packed enough to drink, for the temperature was still over 35C as the sun set.

The sunset was beautiful, and we drove happily- or rather The Boff drove because we hadn't wanted to pay the extra $7 per day to have me as an extra named driver. The Boff does not do lack of sleep very well, particularly when it is compounded by an eight hour jet lag, and he was very nearly falling asleep at the wheel by the time we reached my brother's house at gone 11pm.

My brother looked relieved to see us. He'd waited until it was 7am in England to ring my mother and announce that we were missing, presumed lost. He had not received our voicemail, and it transpired the next day that his phone had thoughtfully delivered it straight to his inbox without telling him about it.

After reassuring my mother, who'd been gnawing her fingers to the bone for about half an hour, we all went to sleep, and slept the sleep of the just until 5:30am.

I ask you: what is the point of planning, when events can conspire against you like this?

Friday, July 01, 2005

No sooner am I released into the community, free at last after six hard months at the chalkface, than I am assailed suddenly by a deep-seated desire to wander through a street market somewhere in southern France, at about eleven o'clock in the morning, breathing air laden with the smell of peaches and cigarette smoke, clutching a bag of pink-blushed apricots and a loaf of heavy bread from which I take bites in turn, and conversing amiably with seventy-year old men about how low the water levels are this year.

Enough day-dreaming. I have a dissertation to write. France in July will have to wait.

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