Friday, September 29, 2006

At some point in July 2004, on our whistle stop tour of the NE States, we actually paused for a few days in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lancaster has one of the highest concentrations of Amish people of any area in the US, so much that there are special buggy lanes alongside all the roads, and special buggy parking places in the town centre and at the local Walmart.

It was amusing to watch the horror of young Marie, our French student, as she attempted to force her 15-year old mind around the concept of a truly traditional lifestyle.

I, comparing what I saw with other traditional agricultural comminuties such as the South-Western French one I grew up on the fringes of, found the Amish actually comparatively open in many respects. Granted, they reject wholesale the modern American lifestyle. Granted, they have devised all manner of underhand means of keeping their young people within the fold.

However, they consider novelties and the effect they might have on their communities, and countenance the possibiilty of change. They even sometimes move entire communities many hundreds of miles.

Which brings me back to Devon. England (as opposed to the United Kingdom) is a small country. It takes only about seven hours to drive across its longest vector. We are in many respects a modern country.

Which is why I find the entrenchment of its agricultural communities down here in Devon all the more surprising. The farmers here possess the cunning of farmers everywhere, alert to business possibilities at all times, claiming every bit of subsidy to which they are entitled. They embrace labour-saving change on a case-by-case basis, usually based on its economic potential as a change.

What they do not embrace in any way is any social change. To all intents and purposes, their social life has remained unchanged for generations. They still socialise almost entirely amongst themselves. They do not attend events organised by people to whom they are not in some way related. They do everything in their power to ensure that they are related to as many "old" farming families as possible.

Take our neighbour Ken, for example. He has the sweet good looks of Farmer Hoggett, without the sinister fallout from the actor's previous roles. he is utterly courteous and charming. Yet recently he got drunk at a BBQ, and slurring horribly, declared to one of his newbie neighbours, who also happens to be his tenant, that "he was worth 3 million pounds, but would rather die than sell one square inch to the likes of you!".

A few years ago, some other "grockle" neighbours had a German lad to stay, who occupied much of his time durig his stay at our neighbours' house making sheep's eyes at Ken's daughter as she rode past on her mare. Later, he continued to write to the girl, until her irate parents descended the hill and demanded that our neighbours put an end to the communication. The girl later went on to dutifully marry her second cousin, who had a name that everyone recognised and was happy with.

Our other neighbours combine, in their recent history, drunkness, wife-battering, outright animosity of brooding son towards father, and marriage of said son to his own first cousin, who happens to look exactly like his own mother, and ban on dad seeing his grandchildren. I think that Freud might have a field trip. They don't seem to let go easily.

All of this reminds me of where I grew up, in Lot-et-Garonne, where dark deeds reguallry occurred, to almost universal lack of surprise. People were shot "accidentally", people committed suicide, people died killed by their own lions (long story, probably worthy of its own post).

Sometimes, walking over a hill, with fields and hedges and cattle laid out below, and I surprise myself by feeling how I thought I could never feel i England- joyful- all of humanity is laid out here, and life happens regularly, unsanitised and unabridged. Devon is different, wonderfully different, from the rest of England- Mediterranean almost. People move both more slowly and more deeply here. I'm beginning to feel at home.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I think that Madame Sin may be operating in a different space-time continuum. She doesn't appear to move much. She has two breaks in four hours, taking drags on her disgusting-smelling cigarettes on our outside bench.

Nevertheless, she cleans the entire house, top to bottom, in four hours. Best £24 I could spend in a week.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm doing a test piece for an agency right now, and I've created an..erm...annexe to my office, in the room more usually known as the Spare Bedroom. I'm wonderfully ensconced under my big puffy quilt, fat French-English dictionary at my elbow, laptop on my lap tuned into the internet directly below, and can access all my files in the trusty iMac without leaving my beddesk. Bliss.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thank you, all of you, for all your good wishes. All I can say so far is, "jusqu'ici, tout va bien": so far, so good. The bleeding has ceased, and may have been a one-off had it not been for the mid August, before I knew one. Dr Google is not optimistic about the chances of this one, but he is not factoring in the sheer bloody-mindedness of my children. In fully expect this one to turn out to be a vampire, swimming happily around in a sea of blood. (sorry if too much information)

On which subject, this: I never wanted this site to be a parenting blog, and I hope that most of the time, it is not. Inset it up as an antidote to a large number of things, mostly the lack of personal space in a family of this size and composition. Delightful though I find my children (sometimes), I do not expect anybody but The Boff and me to even like our children, let alone love them, so I try not to inflict them too much on other people. Sometimes they do things which just demand to be blogged, and usually I do, but most of the time I steer clear of whinging about how useless they are picking up their shoes or getting their piano/clarinet practise done. And this one will be no exception.

This site is still about me, me, me, and I'm not sure if I should apologise about that or feel glad. All this to say that I will not begin to post daily updates about the state of my pregnancy, unless things go very wrong and I am feeling sad. So if you are squeamish about such things (and who in their normal mind wouldn't be?), do not fear that you will inadvertently acquire too much information. You may safely assume that no news is good news. If this goes ahead, the rough due date is end of April, at which time I will of course give you an update.

In the meantime, there should be loads of other stuff to talk about, such as my very weird hostility towards my mother, even 20 years after leaving home. You'd think it would be resolved by now...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Boff is back. He is jet-lagged, so we are using the marital bed in shifts- I go to sleep, as has been usual for the last fw weeks, at around 8pm, he crashes in* at around 2am, living as he is in a time zone some five hours adrift from mine, and I wake up for an hour or so at around 3:16am (sometimes 3:18, but what are two minutes between me and my bedside alarm clock radio?) It rather reminds me of being a teenager again, except that my bugtime then was 4:38am.

Anyway, I have to report on my little MacBook, which is adorable, and is so reactive! It speaks to the iMac, they swap files in a really modern and cooperative way without the need for a lead, and best of all, thanks to our new wireless router, I can use it outside! In the garden! And in the main sitting-room! Sitting on the sofa! Although I did try to blog from bed last night, but the walls are too thick for the signal to reach from the study. Or maybe the sweet little thing just disapproved of my trying to *work* from bed.

It has an integrated webcam which is excellent because it means that, thanks to the up to date operating system (our iMac's OS is too ancient, at three years old, to support Skype, alas...), I can use Skype to phone my siblings in Thailand and the US, and we can actually see each other. Not that I've tried that yet, since she is in the UK at present, which given the current situation in Thailand, is just as well.

We've managed to access Google Earth (which we downloaded wirelessly, yipee) for the first time, but were disappointed to discover that our house is horribly out of focus. Those of you who know of my addiction to aerial photography might have some inkling of the blow this represents. Still, there are some rather gorgeous photos of various tourist places round the world, in gloriously sharp detail, which go some way to compensate.

Anyway, besides the fact that he brought back a lovely new family member, it is good to have the Boff back, even if he does sometimes crash around. It was a bit of a funny week all round.

*OK, maybe he doesn't crash in, but he does do some of that annoying rearranging of the marital puffy quilt that I have been trying to wean him off for the last, oh, 15 years. He used to virtually beat the whole damned thing carpet-style with me under it, letting in all the cold air in the room, so I suppose I should be grateful it's only a small shake these days.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I have not been honest with you, dear readers. Since the beginning, I mean. I know that we none of us share everything about our lives in theses places, but I have a concealed a major part of mine. Some of you know what it is, some may have guessed, and some may come from sites that make it pretty obvious.

I nearly sat down three weeks ago to write this, but I didn't feel quite right about it. It was still too private, too raw, and mostly I didn't know myself what to feel about it.

So I suppose I owe it to you all to go back to the beginning. Maybe to three years ago, when this journey began; or maybe five years ago, when it was decided upon for sure; maybe fourteen years ago, when it was still a dream.

Three weeks ago, I nearly wrote this: that I did not want this little one's life to go unnoticed like all the others. That since it had made it to six weeks, I owed it at least a mention here, unlike all the ones that left sooner. I didn't feel able to do that. I just knew that this too would fail.

But as the weeks have passed, and the sickness and tiredness and lethargy have forced me to spend days curled up on the sofa sucking ice lollies and watching French films, I've had to face facts: this one is not leaving, however ambiguous I may suddenly feel about it.

I have to confess that my overriding emotion since that first positive test five weeks ago, after the initial elation, has been terror. Of the "Oh fuck, what have we done?" and "Are we bloody nuts?" variety. And the prospect of two more years of sleepless nights, nappies, being needed constantly. It's almost worse once you know what's in store.

Three years ago, a month before leaving for Canada, the Boff and I discontinued contraception, followign up our original decision to have four children. We had never had any trouble with producing babies before, and had no reason to suppose that we would not return from Canada with a little Canadian citizen in a lumberjack shirt and moccassins.

That was then. Looking back with the cold hard laugh of bitter hindsight, I wonder how I could have ignored the obvious fact that I was seven years older than the last time we'd done this. Not exactly over the hill at 35, but certainly at the summit of the sliding slope to very reduced fertility.

So we tried. And my body kept failing me. That's what it felt like: a betrayal. All my life, my fertility had been a threat; the first three were conceived pretty much accidentally. Now that we had made a considered decision to do this, Mother Nature thumbed her nose at us.

I have been pregnant more months than not over the last three years. Every time the pregnancies failed at around the time my period was due. Every month I spent the first half of the month in hope, and the second half in nausea, stomach pains and "ofuck what have we dones".

Until August. Remember when Hen broke her arm? Well, guess who was in the X-Ray room with her on three seperate occasions, supposedly having her "period", but really gestating a two-week enmbryo? That's right, it was me.

When we left the hospital after that three day stay (in the peadiatric ward! With all sorts of horrible illnesses! Floating around!!), I had a horrible headache- which I naturally treated with ibuprofen (drug of choice for pregnant women. not)- from the glary lights and general stuffiness of the place. Or maybe not, as became apparent on the next day when the "period" stopped abruptly and I started to feel distinctly pregnant.


and breathe

Two pregnancy tests at two day intervals- both Very positive. But that's OK- we've been here before, and they've always failed before, and so shall this one, and we'll be back to hoping and trying.

Except it didn't.

And everything started smelling terrible, and bed seemed like rather a nice place even at 5 in the afternoon.

And three weeks later, on Sunday evening to be exact, the unsurprising bleeding. Just to show how hardened I am. I was expecting it, see- it can't hurt me.

Until the next morning when tears uncharacteristically forced their way over my lower lids and I actually cried in the doctor's surgery, which happens...exceedingly rarely, for want of a metaphor.

So I spent yesterday, between dropping the children off and mid-afternoon, in the hospital in Exeter, expecting to be told that this one is also a goner, although a late dier, and it's going to drop out of me in a bloodbath any day, and just to be ready to catch it.

Only it's still alive, little heart blinking fiercely on the ultrasound, swimming and flipping gently. Its sac is surrounded by a sea of haemoglobin, probably mine, so it is very far from out of the woods yet, and I still don't know whether to hold onto it. I think maybe I preferred the unambiguousness of the first three. Life seemed a lot simpler then.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Boff left us yesterday morning for a week. He's in New York, taking in the sights, hopefully shopping for a Macbook for me, and pausing only to address a workshop.

After we'd celebrated, the children and I, by spending the whole of Saturday messing about in boats with my sister Persephone, Trumpkin and Dwarflet and some friends from the children's school, the house is starting to seem rather empty now. And god help me, I need to do the school runs alone all week.

I will never again disparage the amount my husband does in the house- the mere thought of being up at 6:45am to get Sim and Hen to the bus stop in Wideriver for 7:45 makes me feel quite nauseous. We've been spoiled for the last two years in our children's school- 9:30 starts are just so convenient.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The fun never ceases here at Purple Towers, I tell ya. Our landlords from Montreal, now personal friends of ours, both work at Dawson College. Luckily they are fine, but D walked out that cafeteria just moments before it all started, and one of his golf team mates was shot in the head.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sim spent breakfast of his fourth day of senior school weeping gently into his rice pops. All lines of questioning ended in failure, so he left for school on the bus looking considerably glummer than he has looked in ages.

Hen quizzed him at my behest during the bus trip to school, but all he would say was that the school lunches were horrible and made him feel sick, and that was why he was crying.

Yesterday evening, he spent supper toying with half a bowl of tomato soup (made with fresh tomatoes straight from the garden that morning, yum- we have a glut, which is a miracle for this cold and damp country), and wept when cottage pie was suggested, preferring to take himself off to bed at 8pm.

After a good night's sleep, he seemed a little better this morning, but is still not right. The most frustrating thing about my son is that although he will converse amiably on a wide range of intellectual topics, he is utterly unable to express his emotions. I don't know whether this is a boy thing, a Boff's-son thing, or a Sim-only thing.

He has never been able to explain what was wrong until many months later: the time he was being picked on by a bunch of thuggish boys at a previous school for example, or a particular teacher's discpinne methods.

It might be caused by the unnaturally and unaccustomed early starts (up at 7, out of the door by 7:45am) causing a momentary access of tiredness. It might be an existential crisis, induced by the realisation that he is growing up. It might be the start of puberty, which so far has not made its presence felt. My hunch is that senior school is a bit of a shock to a naturally indolent but bright boy. He claims not, and I am keeping an open mind.

Friday, September 08, 2006

So what do you reckon? 

Rhode Island Reds, those two top ones, or not?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dialogue de sourds 

Hen, rooting arouund in the dry goods cupboard, and reading from a packet of white beads: Ooh, Mummy, what's this...Tap-eye-occa?

Me: That? It's pronounced tap-ee-oh-cah.

Hen: Yes, but what is it?

Me: It's horrible stuff- frog spawn. Have I never made any for you? You boil it up with milk and sugar and serve it for pudding.

Hen: Ooh, I love frogspawn! Does't it come in those little tins, like tomato sauce?

Me: Don't you mean Caviar? Have you ever had caviar?

Hen (indignant): No! And I wouldn't want to either!


Hen: Isn't caviar that stuff people grow in their attics?

Me: *snort* I think that's "cannabis", Hen.

Hen: Still, could you make me some frog spawn, please?

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