It’s me (apparently)

While we’re on a roll of offspringing today Firstspawn suddenly lunged for his iPod saying “you must watch this, you must you must, it just so reminds me of you”. And this is what he played.

It is, I ascertained on further questioning, the 20 seconds or so from about 45″ in where the resemblance is most strong. The clenched-hand, tooth-gritted determination to stay calm whilst all about small demonic ninja-creatures determinedly wreak mayhem.

I was completely delighted at this recognition of my almost super-human (obviously nearly simian) efforts to cultivate equanimity. What a long way I’ve come!

When I do snap, which of course I do, I have not yet mastered the eye-popping evisceration techniques of Buddhist Monkey but perhaps, if I try really hard, one day I’ll be able to emit cosmic rays from my third eye and put an end to civilization as we know it.

I don’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed that apparently the level of “cartoon violence” in the two Buddhist Monkey episodes is ok but the rest of the Happy Tree Friends output is, according to our young critic, “just sick”.


Breakfast conversation

Me: You know last night we were having a fascinating conversation about favourite words?

Secondspawn: Yes?

Me: So what’s your favourite word?

Ss: Lava!

Me: Lava? why?

Ss: Because it’s only got four letters and it sounds like it’s got more.

Me: ??

Ss: It’s spelt L-A-A-V, you see, which is only four letters, but it sounds like it’s spelt L-R-A-V-E-R which is seven letters.

Me: … aaah.

Dinner conversation

Secondspawn: Mummy, what’s your favourite word?

Me: Hmmm. Interesting question. I shall have to think about it. And of course my favourite word probably changes all the time


Me: I think it’s “incommensurability” at the moment.

Ss: I know what that means.

Me: You do? what does it mean?

Ss: It means that you can’t hold something in a certain way.

Me: I think you may be right.

Dennis the Pirate socks

For various complicated reasons involving a chip wrapper, a golf umbrella, a bin, a karategi, a bus journey and an action similar to the earlier sock-hoovering incident, I am prevented from spending any money on birthday presents for Firstspawn.

The forthcoming occasion cannot, obviously, go unmarked. So I am currently constructing his worst nightmare, a pair of mother-made socks. They’re being knitted from wool I already had lying about the place thus not incurring any expenditure.

I am, though, making a slight gesture towards his tastes. He likes Dennis the Menace, as exemplified by the character’s red-and-black striped jumper, and he likes skulls and crossbones so I decided to combine the two.

dennis the pirate sock

Fine yarn and fine needles mean 60 stitches to cast on for a child’s sock size allowing enough latitude to adapt a free skull chart off the web to repeat perfectly four times around the sock.

Thus it is that I appear to have sort of kind of designed my first knitting pattern. And it would be easily adapted for larger sizes. Perhaps I shall make myself a pair and with luck my appalling tension over the fairisle section will have improved.

I hope he likes them, at least a little bit. But if he doesn’t he knows where the hoover is kept.

Words fail me

I take a short break from the housework to report the following.

Earlier, in another part of the woods.

Firstspawn: “I can’t hoover my room because it won’t suck up the bits.”
Harassed mother (distractedly): “Maybe it’s full. Have you tried emptying it?”
Fs: “Yes, but it still doesn’t suck properly.”
Hm (concentrating mostly on cooking / cleaning / knitting / washing / helping with homework / blogging / feeding creatures) casts half an eye over hoover, sees it is indeed empty: “But does it still turn on? make a noise?”
Fs: “Oh yes. It makes a noise.”
Hm: “What do you mean, it won’t suck up the bits?”
Fs: “Well all those staples that got spread across the floor. It won’t get them off the carpet.”
Hm: “Ok, I’ll look at it later.”
Fs: “So can I play my wii / DS / go on the computer now?”
Hm (sighing): “I suppose so.”

It is now later. The children are away for the weekend.

I have examined the hoover. The problem was not hard to discern. Lodged at the end of the hose was a sock. An entire black school sock. I removed it and reassembled the machine.

It still didn’t suck. Disassembled it again. And there was another one. An entire navy blue and red striped sock.

So. Rather than expend the energy on actually bending down and picking them up this slack-jawed knuckle-grazing lazy drooling lump had actually hoovered up his socks. Sucked them up. Into the machine. Hoovered up his socks.

*thump* *thump* *thump*

(Sound of head making contact with wall. Repeatedly.)

Sense and suitability

So. You have dry skin. Very dry skin. You are prone to eczema in the winter. You decide to make, of all things, a pair of knitted stockings. Out of wool, that fibre so well known for its not-soothing properties. You have the opportunity to choose something called “4 ply soft” which is, as its name implies, softly fluffsome. But no. You choose something called “4 ply tweed” which is as itchy, scratchy and close to barbed wire as its name might lead you to believe.

I believe that throughout history women have suffered for this and that thing (amongst them beauty) but voluntarily to construct, at great expense of time and effort, what amounts to a nether garment of ground glass seems a bizarre thing to do. But in life, as they say, one must take the rough with the smooth. It makes little sense, but is a suitable project (on the theme of “pairs”) to knit while listening to Emma.

stocking top

I have made a start on sorting out the drifts of detritus with which the house is infested. Sorting out and culling the vast numbers of books, videos and cds for a start. Ruthlessly. In this process I came across handfuls of photographs from various lengths of time ago and distances away. Some I’m keeping in order to embarrass the children at a future date but many I’m chucking. However the ruthlessness faltered on discovering the ancient school exercise book, carefully covered in plastic, containing a detailed history of my first ever dog, Vicky.


The home-made height and weight chart is reminiscent of those one is obliged to keep for babies but I recall enormous levels of anxiety about the health, nutritional status and well-being of my new puppy and not batting an eyelid over those of either of the babies. Maybe the one had prepared me for the other. Certainly for the first few days of puppy care I went to bed in fear and terror that she’d die in the night, probably as the result of some mistake on my part.

It is extraordinary the overwhelming rush of physical sensation that picture provoked. I recalled, instantly and vividly, the exact feel of hugging Vicky while she sat in that attitude, the dimensions of her neck and the texture of her fur. The “rough” in rough collie (in contrast to the smooth collie) refers mostly to the abundance rather than texture of the fur. And indeed compared to Maizy’s her fur was smooth indeed, long overcoat over a dense undercoat of softest fleece. I loved to bury my face in her ruff. I loved brushing her from the tips of her ears to the tip of her tail. Which was fortunate really since the breed requires regular and thorough grooming. I remember lying on the grass on my stomach in the summer reading a book and the heft of her as she lay on the backs of my legs, the press of her as she lay next to me with her nose against my arm. Hers was the only physical contact I had and all the sweeter for it.

I love to watch the children building up their own sense-memories with the cat and the dog. Both boys were, for a long time, much more keen on doing so with the cat. Who can blame them. The appeal is obvious. Quiet, phlegmatic, soft as angora and manufacturer of delightful sounds of cuteness. Maizy, on the other hand, is a hyperactive small yappy-type dog of uncertain temper and, least forgivable of all, coated in fur akin to coconut matting.

However my wise words about beauty being more than fur deep appear to be bearing fruit and both Mario and Maizy are now appreciated for more than merely their surface charms. “One has,” I intone sagely and no doubt in a highly irritating fashion, “to make the best of both the rough and the smooth”. I point out the extraordinary utility of rough shaggy fur for a dog in an uncertain climate in which rain and cold predominate. And how this means she doesn’t have to wear a wussy knitted coat when out and about. Unless at some future date I choose to make one and force her to wear it for reasons entirely unconnected with protection from the elements.

Hmm. I wonder. Perhaps there is a way in which a pair of extra-long scratchy socks might be adapted… but no. I have a cunning plan with respect to the stockings-of-sandpaper. I have various pairs of sheer, brightly-coloured and, most important of all, smooth tights which I can wear beneath the unsuitably textured accessories and thus both protect the over-delicate skin and provide added visual interest as the under-colour will show through the (deliberate) holes in the pattern of the stockings. And I shall hold them up with a ribbon in a suitably toning/clashing shade. Always assuming, of course, that I actually finish them.


“This reminds me…” we chorused, and then of course both lost words in simultaneous laughter.

“Every time I’m in woods at dusk I think about that time” said R as she drove through the trees as the light disappeared leaving only eery black forms.

“What time?” piped up the elephant’s firstspawn of ‘satiable curtiosity from the back of the car.

It was when R and I had walked and hitched the hairpin-bended road up Zomba plateau to the Ku Chawe Inn, discovered we couldn’t even afford a coke, ambled around and admired the view for a bit and then waited for a lift down. And waited. And waited. And realised, very belatedly, that there weren’t any vehicles and it was going to be dark very very soon. So we set off on foot and, since the light was failing fast, took the short cut known as the Potato Path which runs precipitously steeply directly down the side of the plateau.

So you get the general picture. No idea where we were going, no torch, dark, cold, treacherous near-vertical near-invisible path disappearing into the unknown. We hurtled down in short bursts of headlong uncontrolled descent between tree trunks, having deliberately to crash from one to the next to have any chance of staying on our feet. The next day we were battered and I, certainly, could hardly walk.

“I bet you didn’t know,” I said to firstspawn, “that R and I gallivanted around in Africa together.”

“No” he said, in an ominous tone. “There are many, many things I don’t know about you. I want to know all of them. Now. Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

I declined on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. And it was probably something best shared after he’s passed the age of criminal irresponsibility and parent-grey-hair-inducing behaviour. However it would be good, I think, for R and I to sit together and go through our photographs and memories of that time. It’s been twenty years now and we’ve never done it. R, for instance, had forgotten about new year.

We were camping outside Malindi at the time. R remembered very well the time a giant millipede wandered through the tent and over our sleeping forms in the night. But not lying in the dark listening to the extremely British voice of the BBC World Service news reader wishing a happy new year to all listeners in a catalogue of different countries each hour as the turning world meant their time zone moved through the significant moment.

We nearly missed it entirely this year, we were having such a good time. Someone sensible, me I think, suggested we turn on the radio. Tuned to some random station, we were treated to a rather surreal minute or so of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture up to the top of the hour before hearing the first of the bongs and drowning out the rest with our party poppers and carousing.

(Back from balmy-weathered, friend-filled, beach-based, internet-free new year in Wales


I hope everyone had a joyful and celebratory time.)

A short hiatus – the explanation

Several things have kept me from the keyboard, most notably an accident with a cup of coffee which rendered the space-bar inoperative – despite the geeky plastic cover lies beneath in order to prevent just such eventualities.

Both the coffee and the spillage were a result of its being the school holidays. For had it not been secondspawn would not have been in the house to prepare the beverage, nor on hand to cast it sideways over the desk. And since this action occurred during the bestowing of an exuberant hug I didn’t even sigh as I mopped up and placed the keyboard upside down to drain. Three days it lay prone before recovering full functionality.

There has been the sorting out of the affairs of the late van. It (she, Duchess) has now passed on to the gateway of her new life. All our camping equipment is in piles occupying the entire sitting room awaiting removal to the attic probably in the new year.

I have finally had the chasm in my tooth filled, a process which was both quick and utterly painless. What on earth my phobia about dentists is about I know not. Perhaps issues of control and helplessness. However the pain, which had spread to occupy the whole of the left side of my head, did not diminish and was preventing sleep. A friend said “sounds like my mother’s neuralgia”. I went to the web. I phoned the doctor. This intermittent affliction which I’ve had for years now and calling sinusitis, and which is getting increasingly painful, might  be trigeminal neuralgia (TN). I have an interim prescription of powerful painkillers available should the need to take them arise and will actually see the said doctor in the new year.

Meanwhile one wise in the ways of the subcutaneous suggests it might not be TN at all but rather the result of trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid muscle. The latter is much more common and easier to deal with. I’m doing the recommended stretch and haven’t had a recurrence so far. Isn’t the internet wonderful?

And lastly, but firstmost in importance, I’ve been becoming a professional photographer. In that a dear and wonderful friend needed portraits for their professional activities. This involved a rapid attempt to read up on portrait photography, a couple of photoshoots, much nervousness on my part and a *huge* amount of learning. Which has been fantastic.

The process reminded me very much of my first recorded interview. The nerves, the sense of feeling ones way inside a black velvet sack, the overabundance of material, the inordinate lengths of time required, the self-doubt, the knowledge that it could all be sooo much better. However I also have that recording learning experience to look back on from which I know that practice and persistence make a huge amount of difference and that engagement and enjoyment are key. There are a couple of the resulting photographs that I’m really really pleased with.

My child the sub-chicken creature

I have just discovered that secondspawn has access to less outdoor space than a free range chicken. And despite being of slightly less than average stature his is considerably bigger than any form of poultry. (Unless an ostrich counts as poultry, but even if it is I am going to ignore it for the purposes of my argument.)

I always knew that the school – huge, built in a different era – had a seriously inadequate outdoor space. Now it transpires that not only is there not a single blade of grass but also there is a ratio of a mere 1m² of bald featureless tarmac per pupil. The playground is so small that the school can’t have playtime together so the classes operate what is called “timetabled play” where different years use the space at different times.

Contrast this with the UK Government standards for free range poultry:

In addition, the birds have had during at least half their lifetime continuous daytime access to open-air runs, comprising an area mainly covered by vegetation, of not less than:

* 1m² per chicken or guinea fowl (in the case of guinea fowls, open-air runs may be replaced by a perchery having a floor space of at least that of the house and a height of at least 2m, with perches of at least 10 cm length available per bird in total (house and perchery)).
* 2m² per duck
* 4m² per turkey or goose

Apparently the school playground provides less than half the area of the current government guidelines on minimum outdoor space for children, although I can’t find those guidelines to link to.

I know all this because I’ve been helping a dynamic (and gorgeous) friend finesse our children’s school’s entry in a dream playground competition.

It’s a huge school, it’s an inner-city school, it’s a poor school and a very high proportion of the pupils is made up of refugees living in temporary accommodation.

Winning the competition wouldn’t make the playground bigger but it could make it far, far more stimulating and better-used. I really think the children deserve to win.

I also really think it is the job of the government to ensure that the schools it provides conform to its own minimum standards rather than relying on the charity of “lady bountiful” banks. But that’s another story.

The second frost of autumn

Frost was thick on the windscreen and windows this morning. Scraping with the schoolbag left only swooping slits of visibility unaffected by the swish of the wipers. There is, of course, no form of heating in the van.

We crawled cautiously, semi-sighted, across junctions and around corners until, on the slope by the park, we turned head on toward the sun. That first lick of low light was enough to temper the ice which now slid softly sideways under the rhythm of the blades.

“Look!” exclaimed secondspawn, “I’ve never seen the windscreen so clear. It’s like it’s not there at all.”