22 May 2009

Windows of opportunity opening

This morning Bruce took Hartley to work. I’ve known this for a week – ample opportunity to stay up late and worry about how to fit in every last thing I’ve wanted to do alone for the past four months. I woke at 4.30 and never did get back to sleep, which only contributes to the surreal, dreamlike feeling that being alone gives me now that I’m tied to a whole other person 24 hours a day.

After we parted ways at the end of our street - Bruce heading off to East Finchley Station with our small boy strapped to his front - I turned in the direction of our favourite restaurant, which serves up just about anything for the indecisive, and not too badly for what it costs, to have a solitary breakfast of porridge. Once there, I had sufficient time and space to notice that the service was unbearably slow, the porridge oats mixed in with fruit that was obviously cut up with the same knife used to trim garnish for the savory dishes, and that everybody else had one or more children, none of whom held a candle to my beloved, at least in my eyes.

Then it was back home where, in a state of urgency, I made a hot cup of coffee and contemplated also opening a cold (non-alcoholic) bottle of beer before dismissing this as an indulgence even yours truly couldn’t stomach. I ate a chocolate cupcake standing at the kitchen counter. I ate another cupcake, faster.

And here I sit, watching the sands of time luge madly down the gullet of a modestly sized hour glass and wishing I’d just made a plan and stuck to it. I’ve managed to read half a short story and lie supine on the bed for as long as I could stand to relax, and now I feel the need to move again. I was meant to visit the lido, which is finally open for the season, but the weather has taken a turn for the grey and, although warm, does not inspire outdoor swimming.

I would take photos, but my favourite subjects are being fawned over by men and women I don’t know, and anyway, doing so would probably eat up all my time, as it takes me a dog’s age to get the shot I want and then choose just one (sometimes two) from a spate of about thirty. I would write a proper blog post, but feel that I’m disciplined enough with my daily dishwashing and laundry, nappy changes and long walks around Alexandra Palace. I could put on a record and lounge about the place moodily, but cannot decelerate quickly enough to enjoy the experience, and anyway, it’s too messy for moody lounging.

On Monday Bruce and I are going to see Synecdoche, New York (against our better judgment and that of the reviewers) and then have a quick dinner somewhere local, to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. There are so many little windows of childless opportunity opening up, their fisheyes briefly flashing the world of double-handed typing, hot drinks and messy lunches before wincing shut against the glare of present-day responsibility. I won’t stress out too much about wasting time as long as I know they’re still there.

Well, I’d better head out and find something to do with the last bit of free time I have left. I did know I’d probably come running to the internet to mark the occasion, but it’s time to take it offline now.

19 May 2009

Behind the scenes

This afternoon my friend’s nine-month-old daughter may or may not have swallowed a thumbnail-sized sunglasses detail she may or may not have chewed off the arm of a pair of sunglasses. The point is, the mother was up like a shot, banging her kid’s head against the rug in a frenzied attempt to determine if she was choking, then hanging her upside-down whilst gagging her with a finger to try and bring up the offending ornament as she screamed like a baby that was probably going to shit out a foreign object sometime in the next 24 hours.

Then on the phone to a friend with five children of her own: I mean, what do I do – do I take her to the doctor, get her x-rayed, have them open her up, what? By then the child is breastfeeding calmly and Hartley has stopped crying because he’s back to being the centre of my universe. We’re all waiting for an answer because none of us have been through this before, though we’ve definitely reached an unspoken consensus that probably she is fine, and anyway, the friend’s children have never swallowed anything they’re not supposed to.

This past week has been difficult. There are many things about being a new parent that I simply cannot think about too much or I would spend the bulk of my time crying instead of inventing new games for him to play and trying to remember the words to picture books so that I don’t have to keep turning them away from him to read what they say.

The bond I formed with him in order to survive the experience is the very thing that now makes it impossible to even fathom being away from him for more than an hour at a time. Every first-time mother goes through it I guess, but I don’t trust the world or anyone in it at the moment, not with Hartley, and if I could spend the next eighteen years with him strapped to my front without being crippled by the weight of him, well. Don’t tempt me.

Next week Bruce and I are celebrating our second-year anniversary and will leave Hartley with someone else while we catch a film and go out for an early dinner. This woman has known Bruce for a very long time, is practically like a second mother to him and has two children of her own. She was the first person outside the family to meet Hartley, having driven us home from hospital after everyone else resigned themselves to the fact that we were probably never getting out. She will make a very good babysitter, and will not call us to come home early at the first sign of trouble.

No, the point is, everyone keeps trying to get me to feed Hartley a breadstick, a baby cookie, you know, whatever. Leave him for an evening, a night, a whole weekend – take a break! These are just suggestions, and what’s the harm in a bit of food? It’s symbolic, see. I not only feel obliged to intercept the offer – sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who would. And I simply cannot follow Hartley around for his entire life fending off the well-meaning gestures of others.

I don’t want a break, or a breadstick, or to reclaim my life. I just want to stop feeling so afraid.

13 May 2009

Hartley: 4 Months Old

I can’t remember who said that a baby isn’t really a person until (s)he learns to laugh, but your mummy must be only half human, as she finds most of the things people say not very funny and spends the bulk of her time with other mummies only pretending to laugh. You, on the other hand, need only go from a fairly placid expression to that maniacal grin of yours and I just can’t help myself - I am ROTFL (you’ll not only know what that means one day but will probably find it rather dated). And I guess on the 20th of April at approximately 1600 hrs you decided to get all personable, because that is when I heard you laugh for the first time.

You are easily bored at home and even though we’d been out for most of the day and I hadn’t once resorted to putting you in front of the television, I was running out of ways to entertain you. I started lifting you over my head in a kind of rhythmic, vertical airplane ride so that I could keep my eye on the Gilmore Girls and suddenly you made a noise that sounded so perfectly like a baby laughing I thought you might be hiding a tiny tape recorder of sound effects in your nappy (thank you for not doing ‘gun going off’ or ‘woman screaming,’ by the way). I brought you down to face level and studied you for a moment before throwing you back into the air, again and again, making you laugh and laughing with you until my arms ached.

Try as I might, I could not for the life of me get you to replicate that sound for daddy, not even after a feed and a lovely nap and me saying, Wait, watch, I think he’s going to do it! while I pumped you into the air for the twentieth time and you sucked your fist at me with mild interest.

Of course since then, we’ve been doing our best to understand just what it is about us you find so amusing. Sometimes I’ll be feeding you and typing an email over your head and for no discernible reason you’ll stop mid-suck to look up at my face and laugh. I find this unbearably sweet and always tickle your chin and kiss the folds of your neck whenever you do this, so possibly you’re just discovering better ways to get our attention – ways that do not involve indignant squawking, which you always resort to if I leave you to amuse yourself while I dry dishes or put away groceries or hang out the washing. I think you are expressing your resentment at having to watch your mummy occupy a traditionalist role within our household. We may need to hire a maid.

You’re growing in so many ways now, and so quickly, that I’d need to completely deconstruct you in order to tease them all out. I won’t attempt this, but I will itemise some things I don’t ever want to forget in case you outgrow them before next month:

  • The way your squawks of indignation turn to excited shrieks as you see me fumbling at my nursing bra. If I reach you before you’re good and ready to pack up your pity party, you’ll make a few more noises of despair, even though my nipple is in your mouth and you’re already contentedly feeding.
  • The way you lace your little fingers together while you eat
  • The way it sometimes takes you a few seconds to calculate whether or not the occasion of having woken from a deep sleep warrants a cry and, once you’ve decided that yes, it does, the way your bottom lip pops out and you let out a staccato waah that sounds more like baah before bringing down the house with your hoarse, boyish wails. Forgive us – we laugh because we love these. We practically stumble over ourselves to make you feel better, although once I rocked you in my arms while daddy filmed you.
  • The way you smile at me whenever I appear in your line of vision. The way you smile extra hard at daddy, now that you realise there are two of us on your team, and that one of us is not afraid to hang you upside-down from his knees.

I could go on and on, but I don’t think I can convince you to nap for much longer, and anyway, I hope that you’ll keep doing these things that are unique to you, and that I won’t have to resort to writing them down so as not to forget them, at least for a little while.

In the meantime, please know that your smile and your laughter mean more to me than anything, because sometimes it hits home that you are doing these things for me and then I feel sorry that you got stuck with such a silly, frightened, self-conscious mother who has to push through all her insecurities just to get you out of the house and around to all the people who want to see and play with you.

But it’s hard to stay anxious when the most beautiful little boy in the entire world is beaming at you with his whole face, and then you know that you musn’t be doing too badly.

Happy fourth month, little smiler. I love you hugely.

Just trying something out

Do you know how hard it is to find an embedded player that will play stuff on your website for free? When you have a four-month-old boy on your hands?

More on that later, when we've gotten over our respective illnesses and I've found a bit of time to be serious.

In the meantime, please have a listen:

11 May 2009

Recipe #1 – Snoopy Sno-Cones

Snoopy Sno-Cone flavoured syrup

You’ll need a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine for this recipe. Dig out your old SSCM from storage or, if you led an impoverished childhood or live in some backwoods place like Europe, buy one off eBay.

Make sure you clean all the parts with warm, soapy water, because whether or not you have a second hand SSCM, you don’t want manky old 1980s dust in your sno-cone, now do you? No you do not. I’ll see you back here in a few.


Remove the rooftop (aka Snoopy) from the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. Why is Snoopy wearing a red hat that looks vaguely like the product? I don’t know. What does a Charles Schultz character have to do with an ice treat anyway? We could stand around debating the philosophical nature of capitalism and the exploitation of childhood nostalgia all day long, but the point is, your ice is melting, so try and keep up.

Put your ice cubes down the chimney (I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry – he never sleeps there) and drive that Snoopy roof home. This is what you’ll use to keep the ice in place while you hold the dog house with your feet in order to get a purchase on that flimsy plastic crank. Now get cranking! Do you remember that part in Edward Scissorhands where he is making an ice sculpture on the lawn of Winona Ryder’s parents’ house for their Christmas party and his scissor hands are flying around the block of ice at such a rate that the ice chips are spinning off it in big clouds like snow and Winona is dancing around in the blizzard of ice chips in slow motion like a ballerina princess? Yeah – SO RETARDED. Am I right?

Anyway, where were we. Oh yes – cranking the ice. So keep cranking out that ice until Snoopy’s butt hits the roof of his house and the crank turns effortlessly in your hand. If you’re lucky enough to have managed not to lose the plastic shovel, try your best to scoop that shit out into a cup, otherwise just use a spoon. It’s less authentic but we’re not five anymore (oh, unless you are five, in which case: hey little guy! Does your mummy know you’re online? Well you’d better ask her to help you ‘cause I sure as shit can’t afford the legal fees if you go grinding your knuckles off or choke on an ice cube or something) and, anyway, the end result is the same.

So now that you’ve got your tiny, hard won cup of ice chips, it’s time to squeeze out the syrup from your snowman, who obviously buys his hats from the same crap store as Snoopy – maybe they were two for a dollar. Oh hey look, it’s Woodstock! Painted on like some cheap afterthought! Just for a change, hey Woody? Well, it was always about the dog, so don’t look too surprised. At least they painted you twice, though I see by your exclusive lack of sno-cone that you still haven’t managed to assert yourself. This is why you’ll never amount to anything more than a sidekick, even if you went on American Cartoon Character Idol and met Ryan Seacrest in person. Your journey ends here my yellow-feathered friend, so why don’t you just dry your tears and sing us out, yeah?

You know that shovel doubles as a spoon, don’t you? Oh man, what a saddo you were. Well, enjoy. Don’t eat the yellow sno.

(Makes: 1 big sno-cone or 5 Woodstock-sized cones)

10 May 2009

Simon's advocate

I don’t understand it when people complain about the lauding of Susan Boyle’s great voice. You’re damned if you do in this knee-jerk reactionary world, and it’s a bit naive to blame the superficial nature of eyeballs. Television gives the counterculture what it wants (ugly people doing well in the media) and that demographic turns around and reinforces the very thing it’s fighting by insisting that ugly people only get recognition for being talented because . . . they’re ugly. Pardon me, but didn’t you just finish saying that the media is obsessed with good looking people who possess good looking voices? So what’s the problem here?

One thing North Americans don’t realise about the British (if I may) is that supporting the underdog is not only encouraged – it’s deeply embedded in the culture. They appreciate talent in whatever form it takes, and don’t get me wrong – if there’s an opportunity to see a pretty girl get her kit off, they’re all for it. But if it comes too easily to someone (and what comes more easily to a good looking person than good looks?) then they don’t want to know. Plainly put, the British public, like virtually anyone, takes notice of glamour, but when it comes to showing support, they will always back the underdog.

Quite apart from this, don’t for a second imagine that such support occurs inside a vacuum – most of us are smart enough to recognise when we are being manipulated, and many of us allow for this manipulation to take place willingly. How many of you have ever bought shampoo, a lip gloss or a nice pair of shoes? Anyone highlight a zit with a daub of poo or leave the house wearing their grandfather’s stinky sweater vest recently? Not even to make a point.

To be subversive is to first self-consciously allude to the rule to which you are making an exception. You cannot stand up for the ugly guy unless you own up to the fact that as a society, we allow ourselves to be had by the cult of beauty over and over again. The reason nobody is surprised when a beautiful person shows great talent is because the correlation is constantly crammed down our throats. Beauty is often just the icing on the cake – any cake – and it’s a dessert we’re more than a little sick of tasting, even if we can’t help ourselves at times.

We see that notion turned on its head to the extreme (and who can say that oddball Ms Boyle isn’t sitting on the opposite side of the spectrum from someone like Katy Perry?) and we can’t help but stand up and cheer. Even Susan Boyle recognises this. Why on earth do you think she came on the show? Paul Potts already blazed this trail back in 2007 and it’s opened the doors to celebrity for the less-than-sightly in Great Britain ever since. It’s the Paul Pottses, Susan Boyles and – most recently – Greg Pritchards of the world that bring us back down to earth and remind us that raw talent, which we perhaps more blindly admire, simply does not discriminate.

09 May 2009

While you were sleeping

It seems my infant son is only happy to sleep if I am lying sleeplessly next to him. That’s fine, I tell him, I wasn’t using that last bit of sanity anyway.

I tell him this in my head, because if I said it out loud he would wake up and I wouldn’t be able to create these useless 4.00 AM comics.

This one is for friends and family back home.

07 May 2009

Keeping my day job

Yesterday was Bruce’s birthday, and in spite of a cold shared between the three of us (and a few sleepless nights due to some nasty infant teething issues), we managed to make it out of the house and into the city to meet up with all our friends for a really lovely time at one of our favourite restaurants. I haven’t been in the company of childless adults for quite a while, so the fact that I ended the evening wearing a napkin on my head can probably be chalked up to that, or to the 1.5 units of alcohol I drank once the little man had fallen asleep. Or maybe I’m just turning into my father.

Against all odds, Hartley is still enjoying his afternoon nap without my distinguished presence, so I’m taking this opportunity to do a few small things that take very little time (in case he wakes up) and which I’ve been putting off (because they are nearly impossible to accomplish when he is awake). This is item number two (item number one was to sit back on the sofa and, reclining thusly, eat an apple), so hello there! I should really revert back to the lazy, list-making way of generating blog posts until I’m a bit more freed up, but it all flies out of my head the instant I put fingers to keys (see what I did there? Huh? Huh? Mhmm.).

Ah, there he goes. Well, here’s a comic I made that will probably only make sense to one of you. You can make your own comics too, just follow this link here!