30 November 2009

Thank you and goodnight

So, last post of November! Part of me thinks a retrospective would be the way to go, but I’m not sure I have the stamina to turn the threads of thirty (30!) posts into a coherent...uh...post hanky.

I will say that posting every day for a month has brought about certain benefits which, apart from giving me the opportunity to flex my writing muscles, I hadn’t considered. For the first time in a long time, I can see a kind of rough continuity in what, up until recently, has seemed like an endless path choked with vines, which I’d been slavishly hacking my way through without any reflection whatsoever.

Since moving to England, and since having my first child, I haven’t had the time or the energy to stop and really look at the shape my life has taken over the past three years. I approached this task knowing full well that I would finish NaBloPoMo, however dubious I felt about the quality of the ensuing content. Now I know that the content wasn't really the point – at least not for me.

More than anything, it’s been refreshing to take a bit of time each day to process all the little trials and tribulations of being a new mother living in London. Knowing that I could come home and unload everything onto my blog also gave me the courage to push myself in ways I might not have otherwise, even if it meant subjecting Hartley to psychotic toddlers, or forcing myself to sit in a sauna with a depressing Austrian film director.

Erm, and a moral? Okay.

This month of posting has taught me that the most important thing of all is to write – not well, not even passably, but to keep putting it into words, whatever it is we see fit to immortalise for ourselves. Because at the end, even if we don’t have an answer that will help us to unlock the mystery of our lives, we will at least have a residue of what it was like to be here.

Okay, thanks for tuning in.

29 November 2009

The penultimate post of November, oooh

Photograph by Julieta Sans

A few years ago, I was at the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition of photographs that were nominated for the Photographic Portrait Prize. I can’t remember the image that actually won, but one photograph that still sticks out in my mind was of two lean, twenty-something brunettes in American Apparel-type clothing, entwined in a hammock, asleep. I think it was titled “New Parents Resting,” which basically says it all.

At the time, I had no inkling that I would soon be a mother, but the image did give me some pretty inaccurate ideas about what it was like to be a new parent. For instance: the napping. That pretty much never happens. Those kids were probably surrounded by both sets of parents, siblings and thirty of their closest friends (one of whom, it seems, had a pretty good eye and a half-decent camera) in order to steal a much needed half hour. Even if four devoted grandparents were in the midst of a rock paper scissors war to determine who got to hold that little bundle of joy next, at some point in the visit, the baby would have needed its mother, loudly.

That comes much sooner and much more often than you’d think.

So yeah, images. I guess the thing about images is that they tend to mean more than they actually convey. Although you can tell a lot about a person from their dress, carriage, environment, etc., you do not know if that person only bought an outfit for the camera, if they spend the bulk of their time trying not to touch their significant other unless someone is around to witness the lie, or even if they emerged from their cardboard box for a day to visit a long-lost great Aunt at her holiday home in Spain.

You can’t trick people for very long with words, however lively and well-crafted, but you can certainly trick people with an image. An image speaks louder than words because it only has one thing to say, and usually it’s none too subtle about the point it’s trying to make.

Ugh, I don’t know if this is right, but it seems right at the moment. I’m certainly not young enough or well-enough-connected in this city to have on-hand caregivers who want nothing more than to occupy Hartley while someone takes flattering portraits of me while I sleep in gym shorts and thigh-high athletic socks. Would that I were.

Luckily Bruce and I have, after ten months, managed to work out a systematic routine that allows us all to eat and live in relative comfort and hygiene. Hartley is still waking up several times a night, and that probably won’t change until he’s no longer breastfed. We were going to leave him with my sister-in-law last night, as a kind of experiment that would allow us to have eight or nine solid hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I’m glad we sussed that it was a bad idea, as this morning, about an hour after I fed Hartley to sleep for the fifth time, he woke up screaming. It was a scream that turned into the most despairing, hitching sobs I’ve ever heard him make. He would not latch on to comfort himself and he cried with such hopelessness that I was frightened he was in some sort of pain. After a while he did calm down and I realised he must have had a nightmare. I don’t think he’s ever had one before. Usually his cries indicate frustration at being awake, and an insistence that I help him get back to sleep.

Anyway, we’re all fine, but I’m exhausted and need to try falling asleep a bit earlier tonight. Usually I put it off because - subconsciously - I realise that the moment I do, Hartley will wake up crying and demanding that I put him to sleep again. It’s fairly irrational, because the longer I put this off, the less sleep I get. But sometimes you’ve just got to play Bejeweled.

28 November 2009

I don't want to sleep alone

Nan sings us a song on her 96th birthday, right after she swears in Gaelic.

27 November 2009

Bad time at the OK Corral

Our son, in a jolly jumper thingie we bought at a consignment store to keep him occupied while we lazed about my parents' unairconditioned condo during two summer weeks in Vancouver.

26 November 2009

Time warp (click to enlarge)

I’d like to think my hosting skills have improved since 1980

We feed the pigeons where I come from

Pleased to have escaped the bowl cut my classmates uniformly suffered

25 November 2009

The sound of two hands clapping

I got sick of looking at my ugly mug up there on my banner, so I exchanged it for a side profile with big hair, and then added some fancy duplicate paneling I ripped from my old digs. You like? You will, when you get here.

This morning I made an executive decision and turned the television off. Hartley is much more likely to engage in play if there is something to distract him from the fact that he is not on my breast or eating dead leaves off the welcome mat, and so I usually pander to his love of brightly coloured moving images set to music that, given enough time, would make your sweet old Nan turn to throttle the nearest fluffy quadruped.

But today I said: enough! In my brain I said that, and Hartley seemed much more invested in the floor from that point onward. We sat together amidst piles of giant Lego pieces, and for a while he held one in each hand, bashing them together rhythmically for the noise and the sensation. Then, for reasons unknown probably even to him, he set the blocks down and started to clap his hands in the same rhythmic fashion: bash bash bash begat clap clap clap, and so it was.

The hand clap is a momentous occasion in a baby’s development, partly because their fists have been permanently clenched for so long, but also because it shows they understand the difference between object and subject; work and play.

I encouraged him to do this a few more times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and once he got the hang of it, he could hardly bring himself to stop. He’d be in the midst of pulling himself up on the sofa when, suddenly, he would have to sit down again in order to free up his hands for a clap. Or he’d be gumming on a teething biscuit and end up flinging it aside as the clapping spirit took hold of him.

Just as when he learned how to mimic using a brush and then tried brushing the side of his head with my iPhone, a DVD case, a shoe, or what have you, he still doesn’t really know what clapping is for. But he’s added this new talent to his roster, and will now do a convoluted series of mouth, arm and hand movements that most outsiders would find perplexing if they didn’t know that he was proud of each and every one of these, so why not do them in succession?

He’s also cutting a new tooth, an eye tooth I think, on the upper left side. He’s had two bottom teeth for ages, and now his gummy smile is erupting with small, white welts that suggest the emergence of more teeth. I’m going to miss those little gums an awful lot, but trust that I have even more to look forward to in the coming months.

24 November 2009

Why I wanted to stomp a toddler

Sometimes I feel as though I’m about due to burn out on my profound love and constant concern for the baby, but it never happens. I guess I worry about this now and again because, in all other aspects of my life, I have a poor track record for longevity.

Like I can only do something perfectly and/or responsibly for a certain length of time and then I either have to drop the ball in a major way (like putting off an essay for so long that I nearly No Paper the class) when fear of failure sets in, or my resolve to continue something without obvious rewards just sort of fizzles out after a while.

But parenting, mothering especially I think - and they tell you this again and again, but only because it’s true – is like nothing else you will ever experience. It is almost outside experience, and I’m not sure why that is. I think that a lot of what we do in life (hobbies, school, work, socialising), and how much of it we do, is dependant on ambition - a kind of extra bonus to the givens; the things we do for survival, on the other hand, are nearly invisible in Western culture, and we do these things unthinkingly.

I’m not saying that the mothering instinct is purely one of survival (in as much as you can argue that love and sex are more complicated than the furtherance of the species), but it is so very primal that doing it becomes second nature.

Hartley has a limited vocabulary of words he doesn’t yet understand, but he has a language that’s fairly easy to read if you spend every waking moment at his side, as I do. The way he interacts with me and with his father, the way he anticipates food, his milk, a nap, and the way he experiments with the world – it’s all carried out with the same smiling enthusiasm, and sometimes he can’t help but draw a giddy, shuddering breath inward because he has difficulty containing his excitement.

This doesn’t just warm my heart to the melting point – the existence of that spirit in Hartley is so very crucial, I feel, that sometimes I think I would probably die to defend it. It breaks my heart to watch him do his thing in the world outside our home, where everything is geared to make him feel important and accomplished. You don’t realise how much you come to depend on a child’s certainty about himself until you see that certainty threatened. It takes no more than a toddler misunderstanding his happy noise as he reaches out to clutchy clutchy grab at that child’s trouser. Any unkind gesture his natural goodwill might provoke is bound to perplex and even hurt him.

Today, for instance, we were at an overcrowded play group nearby, where there is no barrier between the walking/talking toddlers and the more vulnerable, less mobile babies. I’ve always hated this about the group, and I must track Hartley very carefully or risk him picking up a toy that’s small enough for him to choke on, or getting himself into a social situation with a bigger child that he can’t handle. Sometimes, like today, I will let him approach a child I don’t know because I feel I am being overly protective when I run up to him and pull him out of potential harm’s way.

I should really trust that instinct more, because one boy, who was very possessive of some toy trucks he was holding onto, actually took a swing with his foot in the vicinity of Hartley’s head, when he’d only reached out to touch the boy’s knee, to pull himself up - I know, because I’ve watched him do this a thousand times to family and friends. I guess the boy didn’t know this, and maybe thought Hartley was after his toys. And I know that Hartley looks like he knows what he’s doing, as he’s quite large and also sentient for his age.

But actually, he’s still small enough to believe that everyone he encounters feels the same conviviality, and that the world is nothing more than a series of opportunities to smile at someone, or to try and stand up.

I grabbed Hartley the instant I saw that boy’s intention, and I looked for an obvious caregiver, though one did not emerge until the end of group – a crotchety looking grandmother, not even a mother – when it seemed pointless to bring up the incident, which both parties had long forgotten anyway.

Later, the song-leader’s child seemed to be bullying Hartley, but again I waited it out to see if he could handle himself. The child was old enough to know, I’d assumed, the limits of fending off a baby, and he was in plain sight of his mother. Regardless, he kept snatching away toys, or blocking Hartley’s attempt to get at other toys, and finally rapped Hartley on the knuckles with a plastic noisemaker.

Hartley cried in that shocked, heartfelt way he has of crying when the world unexpectedly bares its teeth, and I swept him up in my arms and held him for a very long time. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I finally noticed we were still sitting quietly together with the same defeated expression. And then I realised that, actually, I need to work out how to empower him in social situations, even though I don’t feel empowered myself most times.

I’m hoping there’s a book.

23 November 2009

Such uplifting posts

This evening we watched Anatomy of Hell, which even by my standards goes a bit beyond an accessible feminist text. I like a bit of entertainment with my films, but apart from some fairly grotesque scenes depicting menstrual blood and farm implements going where no farm implement should ever go, mostly the characters were compliant puppets mindlessly spouting Catherine Breillat’s extreme views.

What I really want to write about is a clip I saw of The Seventh Continent, which is the first film I watched of Michael Haneke’s after stumbling into Funny Games U.S. at the London Film Festival a few years back. The story, in brief, is about a family who plan to commit suicide, without any real consent from their young daughter, and then go about methodically destroying everything they own before committing the act with (nearly) the same conviction.

It’s as disturbing as it sounds, but Haneke based it on an actual news article he read about a German family who committed suicide after destroying all their possessions. I’m not sure if there was much more to the real story, but Haneke does a good job in envisioning the psychological landscape of these individuals, though he offers no easy answers as to why they are so determined to end their lives.

One of the clips we watched last evening was of the family getting their car washed. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it encapsulates everything that the film is about.

The mother and father sit inert in the front of the vehicle while the child sits behind them, observing their speechless interactions. They inch along through the mechanics of the car wash, their vehicle buffeted by the noisy brushes, their view of the outside world obscured by suds and water.

As they near the end, the wife begins to cry uncontrollably, muffling her sobs with her fist. She reaches behind her and her daughter takes her hand, the husband looking over at her with a mixture of pity and confusion. The mother lets go of the child’s hand as the father tries to console her, to no avail. The heating bar begins to dry the car and they slowly emerge from the garage. The daughter stares mutely ahead, drawing her hands deeper into her lap and clasping them there.

The car wash describes the agonising, relentless forward motion of their lives, which the family (or at least the couple) suffers without motivation or agency. They are insular - at once protected from the senselessness of the world around them and detached from any comfort or joy they could possibly derive therein.

To the wife, the wash represents their inalterable, terrible decision; there is no other way to escape the unacceptable condition of their lives (be it depression or something less accessible, more existential), though this does not prevent her from feeling compassion for herself and her family, and fearing the uncertainty of what they face in committing this act.

Of course, in Haneke’s films, children are the most vulnerable of any character, and in choosing death, the little girl’s parents have in a sense already abandoned her. She tries to offer comfort, to parent her irrational, emotionally indulgent mother, but even this small effort is rejected, and she withdraws again, left with no one to console but herself.

These kinds of scenes play out again and again, though I’d need to watch it over to draw parallels. Short of writing an essay, I didn’t really know where to put this initial revelation, and then remembered that I needed another post for NaBloPoMo, so here it went. Um, enjoy?

22 November 2009

Cold unknown

I went to a ‘Conversation with Michael Haneke’ this evening, which was actually more like an undergraduate class with guest lecturer, replete with clips and the interviewer’s misguided attempt to construct thoughtful questions from his own personal interpretation.

The theatre was stuffy - not unbearably so, though I did worry at being dead centre and unable to sneak out should temperature become an issue. Which it soon did, as Haneke complained that it was too cold and made a shivering motion that compelled someone to turn the dial to High Noon in Belize.

I was wearing a jumper to disguise the unflattering neckline of my dress (Orla Kiely was on poor form the day she cobbled that atrocity) so I couldn’t very well remove another layer. This resulted in much fidgeting and compulsive glancing down at my phone to see that, yes, time had indeed crept ahead by another minute, surely not many more to go, ah yes, another notch in my minute belt achieved, and if I’m not mistaken, that makes nearly another…yes, another minute, &ct. I didn’t really hear too many more answers which, to be fair, were delivered by Haneke’s translator long after we’d all forgotten the initial question.

Afterwards I had the fastest noodles in history at a nearby Japanese restaurant chain and headed home on the underground, where I saw my first underground rats – tiny, black and running with such fluidity they seemed like nothing more than toy mice on wheels.

So the evening wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped, though having seen what London has to offer the starry eyed film student, I can now appreciate how difficult it must have been for the professors of my small university to try and bring that caliber of culture to our humble front door.

I also couldn’t help but recall how reluctant I used to be about leaving the house to see a film on my own, or to have dinner out in some restaurant by myself, even though I eventually did begin to do these things, having realised that I prefer my own company to most other people’s. I think I might have just been living in the wrong city.

21 November 2009

Indian and a revelation

We decided to take Hartley to Harrods today, to buy him a gift for Christmas. That was stupid.

There were protesters outside with gory signs of animal cruelty, I guess because Harrods sells fur. I wish they’d managed to dissuade at least seventy percent of the oblivious, pushy masses who held us suspended amidst their throng. It made it very difficult for us to linger too long over the Paddington Bears and real-haired rocking horses.

In the end, we decided his gift – all gifts – would be best purchased in the family friendliest shop on earth – the Internet.

That left us with part of an afternoon in town to kill before slinking back to the outskirts, our aspiring middle-class tails between our weary legs. And that is when we struck upon the most ingenious plan of all: Bruce went to see a film at the Odeon in Covent Garden and I took Hartley to my favourite Indian restaurant in the Universe - Mela.

They were very kind to us in Mela, bringing Hartley free mango lassies and tickling him with a Phillips head screw driver (I don’t know) and pinching his cheeks. Hartley left in his wake a trail of naan, pilau rice and his own baby snacks, but the staff remained unfazed, and continued to approach us throughout the meal to make sure he was still smiling away, which he was.

At the end of the meal I tried to pay, but my server said, “Next time,” and gave me a knowing smile and nod. “Pardon?” I said, playing dumb, just to make sure. “It’s on us,” he said and nodded again, this time with no room for argument. It was probably due to the fact that I found a tiny silver slug, which had come loose from one of their cooking pans, in my dish.

I saw it glinting amidst piles of saucy chicken before it became an issue and thought I should draw their attention to it. They probably bought their pans from the same kitchen supply shop, and I didn’t want someone less understanding to find a bolt in their food when all the pans decide to simultaneously self-destruct.

No biggie, and I ate everything just to show them that I wasn’t going to let a little piece of metal get between me and my dinner. I’m sure this is why they didn’t make me pay, but part of me thinks it might have more to do with the fact that Hartley brings the party wherever we go, with that infectious smile and a sleeveful of tricks.

On the bus on the way home, Hartley was having a feed and probably slipped off the breast or something because he totally lost his shit. We cooed and tutted over him and knew that he was just probably very tired. He’d had a long day, and it was already past his bedtime.

It struck me though, that the reason we no longer panic about his occasionally extreme moods isn’t so much because we have more experience, but because we know him now. He’s no longer this tiny, foreign being who can’t be consoled or figured out. We’ll always know – I hope we’ll always know – how to read our boo, because he’s ours.

We’re all three of us in the midst, at all times, of creating this tiny person named Hartley, and I really do think we're exceeding our expectations.

20 November 2009

Miss, I think

This makes up part of an ad campaign for the NHS, which outlines various reasons why you should call or visit your hospital. The ideograms are a bit hit and miss.

19 November 2009

Feeling a bit linky, am I?

Part of me wonders if some of my recent anonymous, IP-addressless readers are tuning in to see if I’ve failed yet at NaBloPoMo, but then I think: how sad.

Probably it’s just the secret police (look, it was only a chocolate bar; I was fourteen!), so I won’t worry too much.

In any case, I will not fail, because I told my brain at the beginning of the month that I must do this thing, and my brain was all Must we? Fine, but there’s something you need to do for me too. Can you please STOP THAT INCESSANT SINGING OF THEME SONGS TO CHILDREN’S TV PROGRAMMES? And I was all Yeah, sorry. I’m working on that.

So last evening I went to Ignite London, which you can read about elsewhere (back there, for instance), and though I’ll admit I was unduly excited to attend, I was not disappointed. One of the slide show presenters did a slam poem about how he got food poisoning from this one doner kebab, and I have never before heard anyone rhyme ‘attack’ with ‘stomach’ before, which is odd, come to think of it. Why not? Regardless, I am so glad he did, even though I was in the midst of eating a plate of chips.

My friend Amy was one of the event planners, and wrote me a little RESERVED sign for my seat, which I lorded over the 170 attendees before spending the next two hours messing about on my iPhone. Well it was a really visual experience, and there was a lot to Tweet about.

Besides, some of the talks were related to technology, social media and distraction, as well as iPhone photography (I best liked the line about how ‘photography is clip art for the digital age’ or something to that effect, as this is exactly the kind of thing I’d been wanting to write for The Januarist but didn’t have the guts to do [some of my closest friends are iPhone-tographers].) so really, I was only doing what was expected of me.

Don't it just?

But yes - the event was brilliant, and the free drinks not too shabby. I really hope they put on another one soon, because I need to see at least two or three more before deciding whether or not I stand a chance up there. I thought I might do a talk on The Numberjacks, which is a programme Hartley really enjoys, and is a source of much contemplation for me as well.

18 November 2009

True Story

17 November 2009

Why don't we save ourselves while we have the chance?

We just finished watching The Age of Stupid, which does what few provocative documentaries about climate change have managed (I’m thinking of Al Gore and the slow boiling frog, which is about all I can recall from that film): broadcast from an imagined future earth, the culmination of our (impending) self-lead demise is made plain through a convincing splice of actual archival footage that brings the evidence together in a continuity never before afforded us. The film's tagline cuts right to the chase: "Why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?"

Michael Moore has a talent for assessing some of our biggest denials about a controversial issue and then methodically severing our most beloved strongholds on fatal ignorance in short order. Although he is often criticized for taking liberties with the truth in order to better serve his own agenda, this doesn’t make that agenda false, any more than unfulfilled promises make a member of the elected a poor politician (maybe not the best example).

This film, amazingly, is not another Michael Moore initiative as I'd first believed, but one that was written and directed by British born Franny Armstrong. So before the (anti-?)conspiracy theorists get all bent out of shape, they should probably know that there is more than one good storyteller who is fighting for humankind's wellbeing.

I don’t necessarily believe that things are as black and white as Armstrong portrays them, though I have a strong feeling that unless we cut emissions to practically nothing, and quickly, we are pretty well doomed to whatever fate a planet suffers when it runs out of the stuff that makes its inhabitants live (we can see microcosms of this occurring the world over right now – no need to wait for some ambiguous Armageddon).

So tonight I am powering off this computer, the television, and the fan we leave on in the bedroom that drowns out Bruce’s snoring and simultaneously keeps Hartley from waking to every little sound and me from dreaming that I am asleep in a crypt (it is that dark, silent and airless in our bedroom without the fan). I am going to brave the wrath of our neighbours when we invariably get our recycling all backwards (I geddit, no plastic fruit punnets or cereal boxes) and I am going to look into ways of sustainable living that we can achieve now (cutting travel, turning off lights) and ones we will need to work towards in the future (compost toilets, solar panels).

Bruce thinks I’m on another tangent that’s due to fizzle out by morning, but I am deadly serious. The idea of Hartley suffering some future, sickly world that I didn’t lift a finger to try and save, or that his children might not even live to see any world whatsoever, makes my heart shrink into a tiny, wrinkled pea of grief.

I haven’t had a chance to look at the website yet, but apparently www.notstupid.org has some practical tips for turning things around, should enough of us feel moved to rise to the challenge. You can wait for someone else to take initiative and do it for you, but unfortunately there are probably more of you out there than you think.

16 November 2009

A crack up at the egg aisle

Some might come across a senseless scene of yolky devastation such as this, shake their heads and think, “Tsk, such a shame.”

Not me though. I think: How touching is that?

That a group of regular eggs, so much like the ones you had for breakfast – these eggs that could have ended up in a happy omelet with some cheese and ham, or flown across an autumn picnic in the trembling mouth of a spoon during the Egg and Spoon race – these fairly healthy looking eggs gave their lives for something larger than themselves. They gave their lives so that we may know that it’s Christmas time.

Obvious Christmas tree formation

Or perhaps they were staging a protest against the ugly holiday spangles that hung like Goth extensions in the windows at Sainsbury’s. It’s still a bit early for tinsel, in my opinion.

I mean, it’s hard to say. Who knows what lies in the hearts of eggs? Besides unfertilized chicken fetuses?

15 November 2009

Still wouldst thou sing

I used to be pretty precious about film credits, as in my bum would not leave my seat until the very last name reverse-abseiled over the top of the screen. Nowadays nothing can keep me in the theatre beyond the plot, not even amusing outtakes or charming vignettes of our beloved characters.

Last night I went to see Bright Star at the cinema up the road, and apart from it being a very quiet, somber sort of narrative with few opportunities to unwrap your Oreos or fiddle with your strawberry pencils (not a euphemism, but go ahead and enjoy that), it is the credits that constitute the true test of a film lover’s endurance. After the final scene, the roll call began its dutiful climb skywards and the theatre was just bustling to life when, suddenly, the voice of the actor playing Keats started to read out “Ode to a Nightingale.”

The weary rustle of coat gathering rippled to a halt.

Nobody was going to be the sort who would walk out on a poetry reading just to save themselves an extra five minutes, and so we sat respectfully, silently, as the ghost of Keats read out line after haunting line. The poem lasted the length of the credits, which is a long time for a stuffy theatre full of strangers to sit in mutual reverence of a disembodied voice.

I’m not overly familiar with the poem, but by the time Whishaw read out “Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades” most of us felt pretty confident that we’d be queuing for the toilet stalls within moments. The reading did end fairly soon after this, but not for another stanza or so. As the screen blipped into darkness, nobody dared move from their seat – it wasn’t a spell, so much as a reluctance to break the spell, should one be in the midst of occurring for somebody else.

And then I grabbed my stuff and made for the door. It totally wigged me out.

14 November 2009

Into the eye

It’s one hour before Hartley goes to bed and then this domestic inmate is going out for an evening, on a date, with herself. Earlier, while Bruce and Hartley were in the West End reading comics, I did a quick blitz of the flat, opening the window for a bit of air. It’s mighty gusty out there but it looks worse than it is. As the boys returned home, I left to grab my first gingerbread latte of the season, and to purchase some reasonably priced junk food for the cinema later. The citizens of Muswell Hill were in a tizz, stockpiling fresh produce like the end of the world was nigh and nobody seemed to have a handle on what they were doing, including the frazzled baristas who made my latte.

On my way home, I shed the gloves and woolen beret (my only extravagance from our trip to Paris, bought in a shop at the train station like a true tourist) as it was windy but not at all cold. Throw a bit of rain or snow into the equation and you’d have something to worry about definitely, but there’s something exciting about venturing out into dramatic weather that’s all bark and no bite. That said, I do plan to steer clear of any dodgy looking fixtures, as on my way to the shops I noticed an entire doorway lying flat across the path amidst portions of the brick wall to which it was once attached. That doorway always did look a little sorry for itself, though, and maybe this is just the kick in the pants that agent or landlord needs to fix it properly for those poor tenants.

Initially I was going to grab some dinner and a drink at the pub around the corner (the restaurant there boasts some of the best Thai Food in North London) and maybe read a bit of my new book, but the film I’m seeing starts earlier than I thought, so it looks like I’ll be having steak or maybe coq au vin at the establishment directly opposite the cinema. You could do worse on a stormy night in London, I guess.

13 November 2009

True milk

I’ve had enough online experience to know that in the grand scheme of things, nobody is going to bother reading a post on a Friday. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, afternoon or evening – people are too busy planning their brief weekly escapes to pay much notice to trifles, especially those of the online persuasion (hopefully, for their sake). But NaBloPoMo waits for no weekend.

We’ve been back a day, and already I feel much better about things here. I guess you don’t have to have a wildly fabulous time on holiday in order to approach your real life with renewed strength. I am definitely much more appreciative of how calmly efficient everyone is here, respectful of boundaries and even appearances. Sometimes looks do matter, and I know I’ve never seen a terrible collage of piss, shit and vomit on a street corner outside Kings Cross, never mind a major disembarking point like Gare Du Nord.

In the spirit of civility, I did not meet the mummy group in the pub this afternoon, and instead spent the day reestablishing order within the flat. Hartley was keen to get started so I let him unpack our suitcase, right after I let him eat the top off an empty raisin packet, because I can’t watch him every second of the day. I usually let a few seconds slip by, and it only takes one to eat something you shouldn’t.

Speaking of, I can hear young sir calling out for his midnight snack as I type this, so I’d better finish up.

12 November 2009

You may want to give this one a miss

Maybe it is because I’m tired and have never had a life threatening illness, but I’m going to go ahead and make the comparison between cancer and babies. Yes I am, because I don’t have the wherewithal to come up with a better, more sensitive analogy, and also because I sort of think I’m right in this instance.

We took this trip to Paris thinking that it would be a nice change of scenery for Hartley (which it was) and thus a relaxing time for us (which it was not). And see, I always forget the golden rule of parenting: wherever you go, there they are – screaming to be taken out of their push chairs in rush hour traffic on a rammed bus, or punching you in the tit in the middle of the night, just for fun. Like cancer, right?


So you may think that a trip to another country would be just the thing, but you would be wrong. Mightily, stark-raving-madly WRONG. Because having a baby basically takes a stressful situation and ramps it up to DEFCON 1, such as when we decided it might be fun to walk to the Eiffel Tower from where we were staying, which is nowhere near the Eiffel Tower. And on our way back, in our fifth hour, as we hobbled a fair distance further because we couldn’t find the right bus stop, a long, plaintive sound suddenly emanated from Hartley that was the infant equivalent of Oh you’ve GOT to be shitting me, and that is when he had a complete meltdown - one that could not be overturned by raisins or sips from my water bottle - and so we had to carry him for another ten city blocks until our feet turned blue and fell off and we died.

And anyway, even if you’re not into suicidal levels of pedestrian sight-seeing, holidays are not really holidays if you’ve brought along a baby. Babies boil down all experience to the same few elements: feeding, playing, napping, nappy change, bedtime. You could be on a spaceship to Mars, but if that kid has done a number two, you are not going to be counting Saturn’s rings from the observation room at that moment but, rather, hoping like hell that you remembered to pack the powder-scented nappy sacks.

I can only imagine that cancer has the same effect on holiday – if it’s really terribly serious, and you are suffering day and night, it doesn’t make a lick of difference if you’ve got the penthouse suite on Paradise Island, you are still living in your own personal bubble of cancer hell. Though obviously having a baby is nothing like having cancer, and might even be the opposite. Both have their stresses, though, and that is why. That is why I am going to shut up my typing fingers and stop this ridiculous post. We’re back in England, and I’ve never felt more at home.

11 November 2009

Hartley: Ten Months


Hartley Bear

Right this minute you are sitting up on the bed, fingering and biting your jumper instead of sleeping. I think you must know that you are toeing the line because at least you're not trying to leap off the bed, and actually, you are falling asleep in an upright position, so I guess your batteries have a small amount of juice in them yet.

Which is more than I can say for this phone, which is the only thing I have with me for posting online. We're in Paris on a much needed holiday from England, and somehow we took for granted that they'd have everything we needed for you already at the flat. I mean, it's Paris. It's just a French-speaking London, right? Except no. This apartment, this entire city, couldn't be any less accommodating to babies if tried, and sometimes it seems to give that a go too. If we have to carry you down the several steps leading to the metro and we leave plenty of room for someone else to get past us, that someone else will find a way to get stuck behind us so that they can tutt and sigh and make rude remarks about us under their breath. But they live in the country of good cheese so you have to be lenient.

This hasn't been the easiest month of your life, I have to say. It seems like your cold heads off to the cold library every week where it renews that same book about a runny nose and high temperature, which this last time around you had for four days. FOUR DAYS. That's like six months in baby years! And we took you to the emergency clinic for your tracheotemy or vasectamy or whatever would make that permanent bogey on your top lip disappear long enough for you to eat and breathe properly in your sleep. It seemed you woke with every stiffled breath, which meant bad sleeps for mummy, and also daddy while we've been sharing a bed here.

The only way we could convince you to drink your horrible banana-tasting antibiotics (which I think were given to us to make us go away, though we've started you on them now and have to finish the course) was to pour it into a shot glass and pretend like it was liquid gold. Then, even this stopped working, and currently you're taking it in the lid of a cola bottle. If you insist on a thimble by tomorrow, I'll thank my lucky stars there's only four more days of this.

I don't have much time, as we plan to watch a French film we bought earlier, as well as scarf down a wheel of Brie with the rest of those madeleines, so let me just say that in spite of how hard being sick was for you, you have been lovely and brave, and are growing in ways that take my breath away. You participate in our jokes now, and have begun to imitate small gestures, such as the one we call 'fish' and the one where you tickle your bottom lip and make a burbling sound. Your mamama and dadadas have become more pointed, and it's becoming increasingly evident that you are your own person now - one who likes to stand on the back bumper of your walker or shout at us when we do the hoovering or sit up on your own gumming baguette in a restaurant.

We love you madly, mon cherie. Don't ever change.

10 November 2009

Not every fountain is a wishing well

We went to the Louvre and it was . . . closed.

We walked to the Eiffel Tower and it was . . . far.

Hartley will only take his antibiotics in a shot glass. No comment.

I am trying to add an image to this post, though I'm not sure if I'll succeed. It was taken at the Muse de Louvre during those blissful minutes before we discovered our mistake.

It's been a long day, and I just want to drink a glass of wine and think about nothing, so you'll have to imagine a grand day with us in it.

09 November 2009

Present and accounted for

In spite of engine failure and a sick infant, the three of us made it to Paris, and as I write this on a notepad with a failing felt-tip pen in the near dark of the television, Bruce is trying to tire out Hartley, who for the last two hours has been proclaiming his enthusiasm for the new surroundings, and for the recent absence of a crippling fever which has plagued him for more than three days. It doesn't help that we're an hour ahead here, but it's approaching ten o'clock at night and he's still sitting up in bed like a cheeky sentinal, blowing raspberries and shouting at me from across the room (it's an open-concept apartment superficially divided by a skeletal wood shelving unit.)

I'm drinking Cotes de Bourg (or perhaps that's just the region - whatever, the stuff is red and dry and lovely) and eating emmental croustilles (they really like their emmental in this country), pre-writing this post so as not to waste a precious drop of my iPhone's dwindling power, as we don't yet have a converter. But we are having a marvelous time. Or at least I think we are. It is the British way to leave on holiday and then spend the entire time pointing out how much better England is and wanting the holiday to be over so that one can return home.

Earlier, Bruce applauded my stellar bilingualism at a cafe in the train station shortly after we disembarked, and seemed really impressed, until I reminded him that the croque Monsieur and pain au chocolat are already in French.

Anyway, I'm still here. Proving I can kick it old skool. I mean, pen and paper - what's that all about, hey? Wish you were here, etc.

08 November 2009

C'est la vie en rose

Hartley’s fever broke at around two this morning and Bruce and I did a sleepy high-five in the dark before settling back into a fitful sleep. At about four, Hartley woke again, this time in tears. His little head began another slow burn, and by eight o’clock, his fever was back in full force. We called the NHS help line, and the person on the other end of the phone said some vague things about Swine Flu before referring us to an emergency clinic in Crouch End.

We bundled up our little boo and rushed him down there, only to find that the doctor seemed relatively unconcerned, even after he misunderstood that his fever had only come on in the last few days and not weeks as he’d imagined. We’ve had a trip to Paris planned for ages, and as it’s coming up tomorrow, we were certain we’d have to cancel. But the doctor wrote us up a prescription for antibiotics just in case we needed a Plan B, and told us to have a nice time.

So the rest of the day has passed in a flurry of activity - not only in preparing to leave for Paris, but in getting my application together for my leave to remain, as my visa runs out soon and we have to pop it in the mail the day after we get back. In addition to proof of having passed my Life in the UK test* and upward of eight hundred pounds, we also need to provide several documents demonstrating that we’ve been cohabitating for the last two years. One would think a marriage certificate would suffice, but one would be sorely misguided in that thinking.

If you’re well acquainted with the pair of us in real life, you will know what our organisational skills are like. They are like someone carefully filed every single letter, bill, receipt or notification in a well-ordered cabinet, in a well-ordered study, and then lobbed a Moltov cockatil into the midst of all that order. And then rubbed their hands together and said, Okay, now where did I put that Council Tax bill from 2006? I tell you, trying to gather the supporting documentation whilst force-feeding our screaming, choking infant his thrice-daily antibiotics has been fun. Great fun.

But although we are closer to fleeing the country in distress than setting out on a great adventure at this point, I have high hopes that tomorrow Hartley’s fever will have disappeared, and that we’ll be able to pull off this packing/leaving the house stint within the first few hours of waking. Or at least I’m folding dresses, t-shirts and baby blankets like that’s what I think. Going through the motions of belief is half the battle.

If anyone reading has ever done Paris on a budget and with an infant, your ideas on some baby-friendly sights and activities would be greatly appreciated. We haven’t exactly had time to do our research.

A tout a l’heur!

*I think I could probably wring a whole new post out of that experience, and will probably try at some point this month.

07 November 2009

Prisencolinensinainciusol and Paracetamol

I’m leaving in less than an hour to meet my friend Jennifer, for an evening of comedy in a beautiful venue called Union Chapel in Islington. It really is a chapel, and it’s leant itself to a number of fringe activities, such as waiting for Daniel Johnston to lose the plot after Adem played a really tiny keyboard and, I hear, a screening of the original Friday the 13th movie with free whisky (Personally, I can’t think of which is worse, but maybe one makes the other bearable).

Bruce is out supporting his football team in Tottenham but his mother will be over in a little while to take care of Hartley during the overlap. Our poor wee boo has been doped up on Calpol for the past twenty-four hours, and although it hasn’t done anything to assuage his fever, it does make him feel well enough to trawl for exposed wires to chew on (they are well hidden, but not well enough – it’s okay, I’m keeping an eye out). He’s a bit fragile, so his minor entanglements with the legs of chairs are upsetting him more than they usually do. I wish he would rest, but you can’t really reason with a medicated infant with get up and go.

Anyway, I anticipate coming home to a circus of flu, snot and tears, which means I’d better whip up a post for today before I leave.

This is it, folks!

This, and a video I posted on my Facebook last week. Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth watching another twenty times, in my humble opinion. If we all learn the dance moves from our respective homes, maybe one day we can get together and, you know, recreate it.

06 November 2009

Bubbles: like mother like son

I have slug trails of baby snot on my top, dark circles under my eyes and I’ve lost the will to watch America’s Next Top Model, which frightens me the most.

It’s been one of those weeks, and Hartley’s cold-turned-cough-turned-fever was brought to us by the makers of insomnia and too many nights out with my good friend Beer and his loopy gal Red Wine.

I nearly killed myself by drinking a full bottle of wine over the course of three hours at a cocktail bar last Friday, and ‘never again’ turned into ‘maybe just four’ when I had the good fortune to spend a fabulous night out with the lovely Making Strange this past evening. We ate our weight in ribs caked in Frank’s Red and I doused the fire with two Coronas, a Peroni and a San Miguel.

Sadly, liberal amounts of fizzy pink alcohol circulated at a baby’s first birthday party this afternoon, with most of the mothers justifying a second and third glass by way of the ‘it’s only 4%’ clause. Live and learn, and live and learn again.

Needless to say, I’m in no state to brood over a proper post this evening, so instead I give you a video of my son enjoying bubbles more than anyone with a temperature above 37 degrees has any right to. Please enjoy!

05 November 2009

In the morning

In the morning, I make myself three slices of toast and a cup of coffee. I make Hartley one slice of toast with a very thin spread of margarine, cut into small pieces.

I sit at the computer having my breakfast, and I pass Hartley a little piece of toast, repeating the mantra A slice of toast is a good breakfast for a boo. This is something Bruce said once, to make me feel better about the fact that Hartley will only eat toast or fromage frais in the morning. I say the mantra aloud as I hand him each bit of toast, and he looks up at me from his Bumbo and smiles, making clutchy clutchy motions with his hand.

Sometimes he takes the toast and turns back to watch television, which is on to distract him from the fact that his only task right now is to eat his toast. Toast isn’t much of a challenge for a ten-month-old. Having a conversation with him doesn’t work, because eventually it dawns on him that he’s eating toast and then he gets upset.

Sometimes he makes the clutchy clutchy hand motion but then slaps the toast out of my fingers. If I feel he’s going to do this, I lightly hold his wrist and sometimes he will let me place the toast in his palm. If he’s serious about wanting to slap the toast away, he won’t let me hold his wrist, and will flap his entire arm at my fingers until the toast piece falls to the floor. Then I know that breakfast is over.

When his favourite programme came on this morning, he did what he does every time the programme comes on: he swivels his head to locate me in the room and then gives me a cheeky grin as if to say, Look, it’s our favourite programme! Then he turns to watch the intro, which is the best part of any show in his opinion.

We only let him watch baby telly, and only when we’re trying to eat breakfast or accomplish a task he’s not allowed to take part in, like a shower or cooking. The kitchen is very small, and he always wants to play with the rubbish bin.

Mornings with the baby are some of the loveliest mornings I’ve known.

04 November 2009


Hoof, why did I sign up for this again? Okay, something else. Tonight it’s the Proust Questionnaire.

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
No pain, no yearning, and to exist without the weight or burden of self.

2.What is your greatest fear? 
Dying, and the eternity of nothingness that follows.

3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Smugness. Or immodesty. I don’t know, some combination of the two. Smudesty.

5.Which living person do you most admire?
My son.

6.What is your greatest extravagance?
The time I spend online.

7.What is your current state of mind?
It’s standing on the edge of a high diving board that is suspended above an empty pool.

8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Beauty, obviously. Nobody has to work at beauty, so why do we reward those who have it? Ptooee.

9.On what occasion do you lie?
When I want to spare someone’s feelings. I think that’s important to do. There’s nothing virtuous about crushing someone.

10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My eyes. They look hound-doggish when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

11.Which living person do you most despise?
I’d rather not say.

12.What is the quality you most like in a man?

13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?

14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I quite like [insert likeable thing here].

15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Bruce. Or Hartley. Brucely. Hartluce.

16.When and where were you happiest?
I don’t remember.

17.Which talent would you most like to have?
Musicality, or paintingness.

18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would feel less awkward about talking to people.

19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Changing my life from what it used to be.

20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I’d want to come back as myself. I can’t imagine being anyone or anything else. That would be frightening.

21.Where would you most like to live?
France, or some non-existent place in Italy.

22.What is your most treasured possession?
A small box of memorabilia from childhood.

23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 
Being in a very bad situation you know you're not going to change. That’s different from the lowest depth of grief, obviously.

24.What is your favorite occupation?
I haven’t found it yet, but I imagine it would be writing. It’s the only thing I actually put effort into without feeling like I’ve lost something.

25.What is your most marked characteristic?
I wish I knew.

26.What do you most value in your friends?
Mutual respect, and the sense that I can speak to them in confidence and vice versa.

27.Who are your favorite writers?
This changes with the books I’m reading because I admire a lot of writers. Right now it’s Wells Tower. I used to really like Murakami, but then I realised everyone else in the world does too, which makes me question his value. I know that’s silly, but the best writers make you feel as though they are writing only for you.

28.Who is your hero of fiction?
Fictional hero? Or writer of fiction? If it’s the former, then I’m not sure. I don’t think writers are heroic. It’s easy to sit alone in a room and make things up. It’s much more courageous to try and see things the way they really are, and feel helpless in the face of that.

29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’m ignorant of most historical figures. I’ve been told that I resemble a Joan of Arc figure, and I remember feeling like a persecuted crusader when I was in a mental institute, so maybe her.

30.Who are your heroes in real life?
The professors at the university where I did my film degree. They are some of the most dedicated and interesting people I’ve ever met.

31.What are your favorite names?
I admire simple names, like Sam, but I’m always choosing silly names like Jupiter. If I have another son, I think I’d like to name him Casper.

32.What is it that you most dislike?
The feeling of impermanence, or that life could end at any moment so you can never really relax.

33.What is your greatest regret?
That I fell out of touch with a wonderful friend who died in an accident a few years later. I wish I’d told her how much she meant to me, but I was young.

34.How would you like to die?
I’ve thought about this, and I still don’t know. I think it would be horrific to die before you have the chance to say goodbye to your people and to yourself. But I think it would be horrific to contemplate eternity as imminent also. I think I would like to know that it was going to happen and then drift away surrounded by people I felt good being around.

35.What is your motto?
I don’t have a motto. Mottos are for people who think in absolutes. Maybe that’s my motto.

03 November 2009

What is more interesting than child abuse? Herein lies the answer, maybe.

Ha ha. It only occurred to me today that I can’t even rest on my laurels of yesterday’s post, as I’m meant to be doing this every day. When did I last have enough time or gumption to write a post about myself every single day? Somewhere in the vicinity of 2004, I suspect. My navel seams to have closed up over the past few years, and I find myself - or even the way my brain works – less and less interesting as time goes on. I don’t even look at daily events as potential story fodder anymore, as I find most things can be adequately summarised in a 140 character tweet, or my Facebook status.

I thought I was going to have to elaborate on how my good feeling about this little play group I attend nearby went rapidly downhill after I watched the leader snatch a toy piano away from a baby not much older than Hartley while she was trying to make an announcement, even though she’d just finished handing out instruments to the children in preparation for our sing-along, and then didn’t even give it back to him once the music had begun (though some kindhearted mother pointed out to her that the reason he was screaming through snot and tears was probably due to this fact). The good feelings dissipated further after I watched her absentmindedly push what I am hoping was her own child into a pretend sleeping position for "Hop Little Bunnies," which resulted in said child hitting her head on the hard vinyl floor.

But then something much more interesting took place after class, on our walk home. It was Morag who noticed that someone had left their laptop case leaning against a tree. I’d registered the laptop but immediately dismissed it as unimportant, I guess because I envisioned someone emerging from one of the nearby houses to collect it. But then I remembered that we live in London, and you can’t drop a wallet with any hope of ever seeing it again if you don’t notice straight away. We deliberated about what to do, and had to concede that its owner wasn’t coming back and so began searching it for contact details.

I found a plastic folder of personal effects, which I felt uncomfortable about going through because at that point I thought there was still a chance the owner would return and find me snooping through their official documents. The documents contained an address, but it wasn’t a UK address. I opened a note that had been handwritten in blue ink on a piece of graph paper, which was tucked away in a pocket. The letter was folded in three, its face addressed to “Mum and Dad” in a childlike script. Inside was an apologetic, self-deprecating missive with a tone of finality so pointed it became immediately apparent that it was a suicide note.

“Um, this is a suicide note!” I said to Morag, who was in the midst of outlining a plan of attack. Her eyes widened as I handed her the piece of paper, and she scanned the letter quickly before noting, with some relief, that it was dated from two years ago. We finally decided to take the laptop to the police station, because whether or not there was any significance in it being left behind, we couldn’t just let some random kid come along and pinch it. We scrawled a quick note to this effect on the blank inside of a prescription packet and tacked it to the tree where we’d found the laptop, reasoning that if they returned to that spot, they’d probably see the note.

The police station isn’t far from where I live, though it’s small and keeps to erratic hours, so it was closed by the time we got there. We stood outside in the dark debating on whether or not one of us should take it home and bring it back in the morning. There really didn’t seem to be any other option, so I hooked the laptop case around the handle of Hartley’s pushchair and we headed off back in the direction of home, and the shops.

Along the way, we ran into two female police officers, who agreed to take the laptop from us with our details. They asked us what was in the bag and we itemised everything whilst they went through it all. Morag mentioned the suicide note, which seemed to baffle them, though they glossed over this bit of information in their report. The officer I spoke to said they would contact me if the bag was retrieved by its owner. Bruce says this is because the owner might want to give me a small reward. I think that’s an odd thing to volunteer, but we’ll see I guess.

Mostly I wonder about the note, and about the person who wrote it. Our search revealed that the owner of the laptop is in his or her seventies, which would put the writer of the note in his or her thirties, at best. If a child writes a suicide note to their parents and that child is very young, there is a chance the note is a cry for help. If the child is more of an adult, on the other hand, there is a very good chance that such a note indicates intent.

It’s difficult to know for certain, and so the question I’m left with is this: would a parent keep their child’s suicide note from two years ago if the note writer hadn't succeeded? Would they keep the note if the note writer had succeeded? I don’t want to put myself in the shoes of whoever lost that laptop, even if it means clearing up a mystery. And who am I to reduce the tragedy - large or small - of a complete stranger to a mere curiosity?

It is rather curious, though.

02 November 2009

Much ado about blogging, and pasta

Let me sully this post by first speaking about my writing here, and elsewhere. I think reflexivity is pretty pertinent to a month-long yard sale of musty, randomly priced ideas I’ve had to drag out from storage because I have nothing of real value to say. Everything I write is off-the-cuff, from conception to execution, and I only sit down to write when I feel confident that my mojo (or in this case blomo) is in good working order.

This is why I have a partially written piece that gives me the evils every time I maximize its worthless bulk to see if I can perform some kind of emergency surgery to get it at least looking like something I could post on a collaborative site made up of fearless, prolific bloggers. But that’s the irony of my situation: the words I conjure are either living or dead, and the dead ones are usually too far gone for the defibrillators.

So you may be in for a fairly ghastly house of spooks, gimps and amputees this month, and I can’t even pretend it’s a lead-up to Halloween. What I can do is try to keep this as close to its original intent as possible: an online log of day-to-day events as they occur, at least for the month of November. I might even be able to convince you that I do more here than shovel gruel into the mouth of a nine-month-old boy and then scoop out the results hours later. Slightly more, then.

Today, for instance, I tried to do what I do every day, which is to make a sort of minor celebration of life using whatever positive feelings and tangible materials I have at my disposal and fashioning them into some kind of ticker-tape, bunting-choked fanfare that will propel me out the door and into the world, where we all live and pretend that nobody else lives as well or as colourfully as we do. That last part is something I don’t do anymore, actually. I’ve let too many minor characters act out their stories on my stage over the years, and wouldn’t know how to play the leading lady to a flea at this point.

Regardless, I know that I have to raise a wee one, and wee ones naturally feel they are at the centre of everything, with passersby cheering them on from open windows and city sidewalks. This is why they smile so damn much, and why they have no qualms about screaming at you in public if you’ve deprived them of a teething biscuit for longer than five minutes on a bus journey to the nearest play group. This is a delusion you want to nurture, because it takes a buttload of confidence to make your way in this world without letting some bullish, snub-nosed kid grind your feelings beneath his heel because you wouldn’t let him push you off a swing.

We do not push people off swings, we two, no. We stand idly by and grin madly at the fun those kids are having until someone’s father notices us and sheepishly pries his sprog from the chain-linked ropes so that we can have a turn ourselves. It’s chilly, and his breath is hitching with laughter as I push him gently away from me and he comes drifting back into my hands, and I remember that although this doesn’t come naturally to me, the stuff of memory is born from playground antics with your mother or your sister or whoever is in charge of your experiences, and I want him to have as many happy memories of his childhood as I can reasonably provide.

I remember how some baby book or website or newsletter told me that it was my job to make sure that Hartley transitioned from helpless infant to confident baby - to “turn him on to life,” they said. And I wondered how I could do this after allowing him to lie naked under a florescent lamp for three days, screaming for hours on end, because he had a touch of jaundice and that’s what the hospital wanted. He went from being the only baby on the ward who never cried or complained, to an inconsolable, blubbering mess who hated everything to do with being alive. I really felt like that was my fault.

But I needn’t have worried, as this kid is turned on full bright. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t screech with delight over his evening bath, or his lunch, or some silly expression on my face.

So anyway, we had a bit of a swing, and then I took him down the slide a few times, and we headed back home, where he played happily alone in the living room while I made dinner for myself. Whenever Bruce is out for the evening, I try to take the opportunity to eat something he would never in a million years concede to trying. That’s anything that includes vegetable pieces, by the way. Earlier today I’d picked up fresh ingredients for a vegetarian bolognaise (I use Quorn mince, because it makes an awful lot, and because I’m the only one eating it so I have to consider its longevity in the fridge), and I chopped and seasoned and threw it all together in a pot to simmer for an hour.

My pasta sauce is pretty much like my writing – I mainly rely on common sense to roll it out, and if I throw in a little more cooking wine and a little less oregano than last time, it usually still turns out okay.

I had to let Hartley play with a plate of cold noodles, since he’d already had his dinner and wasn’t in any mood to let me eat mine without his participation. Then I gave him a lovely warm bath and a good feed before putting him down, and now he’s sleeping soundly in the next room, which is how I managed to find the time to bash this out. Usually, I lie with him until he’s fully asleep and then transfer him to the cot before tiptoeing out again. While he drifts, I surf the internet on my iPhone, which is mainly how I get around online these days. I steal a moment here and there when I’m out with the baby, or while he’s napping, or sitting in his Bumbo eating toast.

As the cold weather sets in, I become more interested in stories about recipes and cooking, and Erqsome never lets me down on this front. She remains the biggest culinary/crafting genius I’ve ever met, and she can turn a pretty mean phrase as well, which consequently leaves me feeling hungry and full, all at the same time. I know I don’t usually praise other bloggers here (most of them are pretty good at bigging themselves up on their own blogs), but you’d be surprised by what this girl can do with cabbage. She’s my inspiration in most things, and I still refuse to molest that lovely hank of wool she gave me for my birthday this past year. At least until I can work out what I’m doing.

01 November 2009


I signed up to write a blog post every day for the whole of November, I guess because I don't have enough on my plate.

Actually, I have about a million things to do, most of which need doing in the next ten minutes. But the online writing thing has fallen to the wayside since motherhood, and this makes me sad in moments when I can actually get a handle on how I'm feeling and why, so I thought: why not? I'll leave National Beat Yourself Up for Not Knowing the First Thing About Writing a Novel Month for those with more ambition and less infant in their lives.

So here's my first post. You can find quality posts such as this one right here, every day for the next thirty days. Or is it thirty-one?