Saturday, June 24, 2006

Later, much, much later today, it is my intention to tell you a little about the way your milk is produced. Alas, between me and that post stand about 10,000 words. So see you late(r).

Friday, June 23, 2006

Egads, but I wouldn't do this translation for fun. It really is just as well I'm being paid for it, I tell you.

To think some people spend their entire working lives in this field (the field of the translation, I mean, rather than translation itself). You'd have to not want to take a wide view of it. I realise more and more that I need to have a wide view on things. Minutiae, as distinct from details, are just not my thing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can't stop today. After many months in the wilderness, I have a big job, at last. Am having to work dashed hard. Will be glad when it's over (3rd July). Can't get over the death of SoapSlug (see comment from by Dear, Darling Husband under post below). So callous. Will sort him out later.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


It's like a modern remake of the Elves and the Shoemaker: every night at around 2am, the slug that dwelleth in the overflow of the cloakroom sink comes and polishes off any trace of soap accumulated during the day.

I'm thinking of finding him some little friends to teach everything he knows, so that I can market the first self-cleaning sink. D'you reckon it'll work?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I nearly wrote this in French- I've had French simmering in me for some months now.

You might think it would be easy simply to write what I want to write in French, in English. Indeed, I can do that, and this is the proof.

The problem is that being bilingual is not just about speaking two languages. It is not for no reason that we refer to our first language as our "mother tongue". The term carries an enormous emotional load.

"Mother tongue" associates our early childhood experiences with our emotional and intellectual development in those early years. Second language acquisition is more usually deemed to take place in the more objective, intellectual setting of school. Alas, in my case the situation is reversed, due to early childhood circumstances. My childhood language is fact French. English has always been a grown-up language for me.

My problem is that, like the unfortunate Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, we has two personalities. Oh yes.

In English we are calm, mature and rational, a little boring even. In French we are more playful and irresponsible, and we inadvertently remind people of Jane Birkin. Only obviously without that silly cutesy wootsey Anglo-accent.

It is nice to be both, but they both have different needs. Both personalities crave their own environment. And my French pesonality is feeling marooned at the moment, and is desperate to take a holiday from its frumpy Anglo sister. It gets very easily bored, and is finding the general tone around here a little yawn-inducing.

My Anglo personality is not in sharing mood, but my French one is jumping up and down waving its little handie in the air, ready to EXPLODE with repressed excitement. No, really. And since you lot are mostly Anglophones, I'm doing the mature thing and telling it shut up and wait. So please forgive the patchiness.

Monday, June 19, 2006

It's been a while since I was last here, and I and only apologise for that. I have been busy, in mitigation; watering the garden, mostly, and trying to cure a poor sick piggie, along with the usual dash around to children's out of school activities.

Yesterday, we took delivery of the two Spanish boys to whom we are playing host for the next five weeks, which means that we are now in loco parentis to six children. We literally cannot fit any more in.

The car has reached capacity; in fact, if we go out at the weekends, we shall now need to take both cars.

The house has reached capacity. Eight people are now spread around four rooms, as we decided that retaining an empty guest room for shorter-term visitors, such as Persephone or my mother, or possibly the boys' parents, was probably a good idea.

Our capacity for making packed lunches has reached capacity: seven packed lunches is just madness, and I've had to cave into the hell of crisps, since the prospect of trecking repeatedly back to Sainsburys to enable the usual three pieces of fruit in the lunches appalled me. So I decided to replace one piece of fruit with a packet of crisps. My children will be delighted to eat crisps for once, and it won't kill anyone to eat crisps a few times a week for five weeks, will it?

The boys arrived yesterday morning; at the time I was unfortunately sampling the dubious grey water delights of her garden. ( I have to report that Mr Kw's engineering of the the system is a thing of beauty. Now they just need some form of filtering system...)

Alas, her garden appears to be a worse mobile phone vacuum than ours even, despite their closer proximiy to a main road, so the phone failed to ring. So it was therefore that the poor boys were delivered to a house containing only one man and five children, my sister have come with me to do the watering.

Oh, and at some point this week, I had to despatch a guinea pig. It was horrible, and traumatic, but probably more for him that for me. I drowned him, in case anyone was wondering, and for reasons of madness. The unlamented creature had spent the last six months (he was born in May last year) biting any guinea pig that crossed his line of vision. More recently, he had taken to chattering his teeth at any person coming near, even ones bearing food.

The crunch came on Tuesday evening when he took a quick deep chunk out of my hand as I was moving the outdoor run (bled for twenty minutes, it did). We decided that we couldn't carry on like that. No-one could go anywhere near him- I couldn't even pick him up to clean out his cage. There was only one solution really. So I did it. And I have to say that it was a horrible relief when it was done.

The other pigs' back are all on the mend now (they were covered in bites, and I mean covered: 2 or 3 per square centimetre). The only pig that worries me now is the one I'm trying to cure- he has developed an infection in his foot following a particularly nasty bite, and it seems that he might be blind in one eye thanks to another bite. Unfortunately it is unwise to give guinea pigs antibiotics as they tend to react badly and die anyway, so I am treating him with herbs and bathing. He is a strong healthy pig normally, so we're all hoping he will make it.

And a creature robbed the grave of the nsty one last night, so he ended as somebody's dinner. Not sure if that is divine retribution for a biter.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And in other news... 

I have lost my voice again (why do the children have to be so unsympathetic?).

We have a guinea pig on the run who is refusing to go back to his hutch.

I have had to jail two chickens for pecking other chicken's bottoms. (vicious creatures, chickens)

I made two very large vats of elderflower cordial yesterday. More evidence of the Nanny State* came to light when I attempted to buy citric acid for said cordial at the chemists'. Apparently you can only buy three packets at a time because some idiots choose to mainline it. There are some weird people out there, I tell you. And not just those of who clamber about in prickly hedges to reach the best flowers.

Sim and Hen started a sailing course after school yesterday afternoon. They are, of course, now total experts at seamanship. Boastful, my children,? Noooo...

*Hier in England can man only buy paracetamol (you know, the common over the counter pain relief, called acetosomething in the States) in packets of 16 tablets. As though someone who really wanted to kill themselves couldn't conceive of going into two or three different shops and buying a packet in each.

I had a nightmare last night: I dreamt that The Boff's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was extremely upset in my dream, as though I'd lost my own mother. I do love the old stick, even if she is impossible to live with. As the Boff says, she typifies how it is possible to love someone, but not like them very much.

I realise that I have not mentioned that Ma-in-Law and her chap have joined a recently booming social group: older people living in sin (two hours drive away). They have a large house (to accommodate two houses worth of furniture, some very different hobbies and two people used to living their own way for a long time), and a very large garden. And they seem very happy.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

It makes me maaaad! 

So taking advantage of our third glorious weekend of sunshine in a row (you never quite believe it's going to last here, and tend to try to do as many outdoor jobs as possible in the garden when it is sunny), we hotfooted down to Bigbury to the beach.

It's not the closest beach to us, being about an hour's drive away, but it is lovely, and has everything you might want in a beach: sand, rocks to shelter behind for changing and wind break purposes, rock pools, warmish sea, and "green" café that sources all its foodstuffs within a 25 mile radius.

It also reminds me continually of the 1920s for some reason, as though one were on the set of an Agatha Christie adaptation. In fact the hotel on the island in the foreground of this link looks exactly like a murder scene, if you ask me.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, it was somewhat marred by Nanny State, this time in the shape of the life guards employed by the local council, one presumes, whose remit seems to include quashing all the fun out a day at the seaside.

We watched aghast as people were ordered from the sea for, shock horror!, body-boarding outside the twenty metre stretch the lifeguards had decreed to be the swimming zone.

Later, as the boys and I, armed with a fishing net, paddled (up to our ankles!) and investigated the rock pools around the perimeter of Burgh Island, (the girls preferred on that occasion to order their father to turn them into mermaids in the warm sand), some watery Pamela Anderson wannabe paddled up to the edge on her surf board and to check we hadn't been swimming (*Hmm, let's see: we're all wearing dry t-shirts over our swimming costumes, what do you think?*)

Only in Britain would people allow themsleves to be treated like this, as though we were not able to make up our own minds about the level of risk we want to take in life. It really is no wonder that our nation's children grow up either utterly risk-averse, or so reckless that disaster ensues.

Despite North America's reputation, I found the attitude to risk in the States and in Canada very refreshing: armed with the enormous, written sometimes nauseatingly small, number of warnings about the risk, you are allowed to use your own judgement about whether you are willing to run it. If you have a mishap after all their warnings, it's your own damn fault.

Here in the Open Prison, as the husband of a good friend calls it, we are not allowed to use our own judgement. Nanny knows best in every possible area of our lives. All we are allowed to do is go to work, bring up our children in the way prescribed by the state, and die of old age, although obviously not too many years after retiring, because we wouldn't want to cost The Taxpayer anything, now, would we?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sim, yesterday afternoon on the way home from school, decides to conduct an experiment: he will smile widely and wave at every person we cross during the 15 minute trip home, and see if they respond. This he proceeds to do, oblivious to Trumpkin's embarrassment and insistent questioning why he is doing it. Luckily for Sim's experiment, the girls had gone to badminton with Sir, or they would have stopped him for sure.

Verdict: about 2 out of three people responded, smiling and waving back. Drivers were more likely to respond than walkers or gardeners. One result had to be discounted as it was someone we knew.

I wonder if Devon is unusually friendly? Down here, if you pull in to allow a car to pass, which happens often on the narrow lanes, and even in Exeter itself, you greet each other, by way of thanks and acknowledgement.

Newcomers and holidaymakers tend to do the full hand wave, people who've been around a while raise their entire hand from the steering wheel, and the old lags who've been here five generations at least raise just their forefinger.

The raised forefinger thing is not something that just anyone can carry off convincingly. It has to be casual, which is hard to achieve with seven generations of hard farming stock staring at you from the top of a combine harvester or hay turner. You get nervous and feel like an intruder into their yearly routine.

Mostly though the true locals are very friendly: this is exemplified in this continuing tradition of gesture from behind the wheel. I think I like it here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

And now nothing more that Devon LEA* does will ever surprise me. We received a letter this morning regarding Hen, informing us that she had been allocated a place at The King's (Grammar) School in Ottery St Mary, since we had the nerve to turn down Crumphole Community College for her.

King's has the reputation of being extremely difficult to get into- people move into the catchment area just to be near it, and even then don't get in. People we know began engineeirng their child's passage into the place when they were 7. We live ten miles away from the blasted establishment yet we have now been offered a place. Explain that if you can...

Could it be that perchance Devon does not want the smart kids to trickle away into the private system? D'you think?

Well, sorry, Devon, but when you've agreed to cough up £2700 for the first term's fees at City Day School, it does kinda make you think twice about pulling your child out on a whim.

*NB for non UK readers. England's schools are run by each county. The are called Local Education Authorities, and are similar to school boards in repsect of their supposed brief. They are however hotbeds of politicking, social engineering and monumental money wastage, performing as they do, the job the schools could do, but far less efficiently and with more bribes and dodgy contract allocation.
Some schools are allowed off being bossed around by LEAs. These are the good schools, the toady schools, that do everything the government wants them to, and more, without being asked.
Some schools, despite constant and intrusive LEA involvement, are still sh1te. You have to wonder how well LEAs would do if inspected. Do they meet all their targets? Are they full of hot air?

Another baking hot day announced, and I admit that we are having to water the garden. Luckily there is no hosepipe ban down here, where it rains 360 day of the year, but as
a) we are not metered
b) we have the highest water charges in the country and
c) South West Water have just announced the most ridiculously enormous profits ever,

I do not feel guilty about watering, even during this relative drought (in Devon, that means a week without drizzle- damn that Gulf Stream. In fact Sim prays every day to every non-deity he can, being the rational atheistic scientist that he is, for the Gulf Stream to dive straight under the North Atlantic current or whatever it's called, so that we too may experience Newfoundland weather. I'd be happy with New England, myself. I could do without ice floes in June)

Anyway, the combination of very late-staring spring and this little summer we're having now means that this year's the seedlings are nowhere near ready to set out with their little read and white spotted hankies to seek thier fortunes yet. They're still grubbing around for a little purchase on the soil.

Which reminds me that I must get in some compost, ours having been all used up over the last two years loosening this heavy wet clay- I shall call Otter Rotters later- they deliver it by the ton (or is it by the tonne?) for £15 a ton + £15 per hour for loading and delivery. Two tons/ tonnes please, my good people! Soil improvement and mulch this way, thank you.

Sorry, a stream of consciousness. With punctuation. 

When I was a teenager, I was appallingly intellectual. No concept was too small to be pointlessly taken apart and rebuilt in a different combination. Ideas bounced about my head. I felt alive, but also stressed and unhappy.

Then, at 17, I had a sort of mini-breakdown, a time of peering into a howling abyss. My life at the time was not much fun, either at home, or more importantly for me, since it had been an emotional crutch since the age of 6, at school.

I recovered fairly quickly from the freakout thingie, went on to my baccalaureat, left home without a backward glance, and did what I had to to get into the unversity of my choice. Mainly this involved being myself, which was a highly comeptent mannequin wqith a large vocabulary and a quick wit.

All the while, and even as I joined The Establishment for the first time in my life (long-time readers may remember the somewhat unconventional childhood I have attmepted to describe), under the surface bubbled a seditious notion: that most intellectuals are really stoundingly pretentious people who use fancy words to say things which might, had they an ounce of wit, be more easily said simply. Oh the arrogance of youth.

I was reading law at university, which only fuelled distrust of the establishment. The thought of making a very good living from charging people a fortune to interpret things that should be said in a hundredth the number of words filled me with horror. It seemed to me to be a gigantic con, a backslapping over-educated fraternity in which it was deemed acceptable to profit from others' misfortune and ignorance. I simply could not face spending my life with the sorts of people who read law with me.*

I actively decided, after my mini-thingie, that the only way forwards for me was to simplify, to pare down to the bare bones of everything, to find the essential in everything I did.

It suddenly struck me at 21 that there was really no point to life. This realisation was not nihilistic in any way, merely a fact. The only point to my life seemed to me to be to pass on what I knew to others.

At 21, I felt that children were the answer to the malaise which had overshadowed my childhood and teens. Whilst I did not actively set out to have children, this position did, I think, colour my attitude to a career. I never went the extra mile, and this attidue, coupled with my father's hand-me-down desinvolture about the world, makes me appear fickle to employers, I believe.

I am very competent at everything I do- I can say that without a shadow of doubt or false modesty, because I never do anything that I am not good at- occupational hazard of being the eldest of my parents' children, I suppose- I am an overachiever. Only now, with maturity, am I able to accept the things I cannot do, and be serene in the knowledge that I can't do everything (*list too long to even begin on, but encompasses anything that requires physical coordination, organising bits of paper, being put upon for any length of time, tolerating middle aged cashiers in supermarkets** for starters)

When I graduated, I did jobs, while all around embarked on careers. My father desperately tried to send me off in his chosen direction (snort of well-groomed racehorse). I dug my heels in. After university and despite the inevitable anticlimax (What? You mean the world doesn't owe me a job?), I muddled through. All my friends seemed set on glittering paths to riches and recognition in their chosen fields.

All I really, really wanted was a little boy, and a little girl***. For starters.

So I was elated from the first instant I found out I was pregnant at 24. It was an accident, but frankly we were grown-ups, and we knew where to get contraception.

My father told me in no uncertain terms that I'd really blown it. He refused to even see me for two years, and when he did renew contact, he was as hypercritical and dismissive of my son as he had been of his own children. His children only in as much as they reflect him in good light.


For the last thirteen years, I have been so happy, suspended in the bubble of my nuclear family. I have had the amazing luck of not having to work, of seeing my children grow up, of being able to have deep philosophical conversations with them, unassailed by bells and deadlines.

In the last years, I have worked however; for two years I taught in a large comprehensive school. I love teaching, and am not bad at it (no coyness there- I am good at the teaching lark, but find the paperwork an overwhelming nightmare- so mitigated overall). I threw myself into my teaching, bringing chaos to the family in the process. I worked through weekends, from 5am to 5pm every day- all in all, 65 hour weeks for £20,000 per year.

Teaching suits my ethics: it's public service, it's fast-moving and varied; I love it, but I simply can't do the hours. The mere fact that I sometimes, through tiredness, forgot what day of the week it was and failed to pick up Dill from school told me that job+family was too much for me.

So I'm left in a quandary. The job that I love is one I can't really go back to until the children are old enough to be more self-sufficient, other jobs available to someone utterly unversed in commerce are menial and poorly paid, especially around here. I appear to be over-qualified for most occupations, yet woefully underqualified for my level of ability and age.

I need to rejoin the work market for financial reasons, alas, but I want to be able to put in a modicum**** of appearance and action on the domestic front. I do not want to join the brigade of baggy-eyed women rushing from one place to another, exhausted and ill, snapping because one arrangement falls through and there is no slack built into their lives. No plan B.

I don't want to do this, not because I think what they do is objectionable, but because I know that I would be dead or seriously ill in three years if I did. I am simply not strong enough to do it.

So I stare Menial Job in the face. My plan to find the essence back-fired. I am left, fifteen years on, with a depleted vocabulary and brain power, and fifteen years behind everyone else. And I'm starting to feel old and tired.

I thought I'd still be there when I got back from my extended honeymoon period with my children. I know with hindsight that they really do change you for ever. There is no going back. I am not the person I was at 25, god no. And that is the worst part of it.

I am my children's mother, and no longer an unfocussed, unhappy teenager. I am now an unfocussed, content middle-aged woman. And that sounds so homely and soft-bellied that I want to pelt it with milk bottles and pappy bread and aprons and tell it bugger off into the sunset. I do not want to be my mother, dammit! I want to achieve something as well as my children (in the sense of "additionally to").

The Boff has papers published, and speaks at international conferences, and is googlable. I am glad for him, and happy that he loves what he does, and not competitive, but I want(ed) that as well, for me. I don't want to be someone's sidekick, the crew. I want to be up there on the stage.*****

That's all, thank you. Goodnight.

*Many of my best friends are lawyers, all of them are lovely, but they are all a bunch of money-grabbing vultures; they just don't realise it because they don't socialise with the poor.
**I heartily apologise to you if you a middle-aged cashier who knows how to open her till, can actually separate those stupid plastic bags, do not make unnecessary conversation with the person in front of me when I am in a hurry and standing at the "10 items or fewer" till, and can actually count change properly.
***Is this the love that dare not speak its name?
**** This includes growing veg and making bread and jam
***** She wants the moon on a stick, this one (ed.)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Recipe for a Bank Holiday weekend:
Take four children, one large soppy dog, and six guinea pigs.
Pack all up snugly into one crate of a car, securing with bedding and good books. Drive for five hours to tiny house on different part of southern coast where sister and fifth child await decorating assistance for the weekend. (nb for you outlandish types: yes, it is actually possible to drive for five hours straight in this country without falling over the edge on the other side. Just.)
Eat fish and chips on freezing seafront, dive-bombed by seagulls. Feel nostalgic for Devon seafront where feeding the gulls is an offence, and they have relearnt to trawl around sewage outlets like self-respecting gulls.
Paint for several hours after children have been distributed between the two small rooms for the night.
Sleep fitfully, assailed by paint fumes and sirens. Feel nostalgic for Devon and calm.
Paint and tidy throughout following day, pausing only to sort out skirmishes breaking out among children in the pocket handkerchief sized garden.
Feel vaguely nostalgic for acre and a half of relative serenity back in Devon.
On last day, tidy up. Plant pots up with daisies and sort out pocket handkerchief, musing that a real difference can be made in less than an hour. Feel less nostalgic for acre and half of relative chaos back in Devon.
Decide to leave all eleven guinea pigs with sister for the week, as trip to the excellent Weald and Downland Museum has been promised to the children, and the weather is looking decidedly warm. Do not want to return, after lovely day out, to boil-in-the-car guinea pigs.
Drive back to Devon via Wiltshire, which route takes us right past front door of most excellent university friends. Have to stop for cup of tea. Luckily they are off to Rome at 3am following day, so are disinclined to enjoy our company for longer than twnety minutes anyway.
Arrive in Wiltshire, to where Ma-in-law has repaired with Happy Chappy the boyfriend (can you actually call a gentleman friend in his sixties a "boy"friend? Must think of more suitable moniker).
Decide to stay night as are rather tired, Trumpkin having lapsed straight back into bad sleeping habits the minute he returned to his mama (as in waking up between 4:45 and 5:30 am and shouting the house down.Every.Effing.Day) so not much sleep between Sunday and Wednesday.
Return home on Wednesday midday to realise that four days away were perhaps a little too many, as the substantial food stores left for chickens and remaining guinea pigs appeared to have given out the previous day. Rush about ministering, feeling exceedingly guilty.
Thirteen eggs only in coop (9 hens at the moment, four days' worth, so around 4 eggs a day). Either egg eater in flock, or else quite a few post-menopausal *retired* ladies. In two minds about whether to retire them further, to the pot. Little chicks enormous despite being underfed for 24 hours.
Enjoy rest of day as nuclear family (has not happened for more than a day or two since June 2003)- you know, refining uranium and plutonium etc. At least that's what children claim about my cooking. Serve without pomp or circumstance.

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