Monday, 30 April 2007


I ran five miles yesterday. Coo, it didn't half hurt. At least I could walk home afterwards: today I'm mostly shuffling. It was the annual Sawston Fun Run, a very jolly village event: someone's designed a course that winds round all the streets -- so you get to know the village -- and everyone comes out to cheer -- so you see all the people you know. Every year I swear I'll do some training, and every year the only training I've done is the previous year's Fun Run. Oh well. The only sour note this year was that the police had refused to police the roads, so some consultants had to be paid several thousand pounds to do it instead. Which doesn't really reflect terribly well on the police, or the consultants, or the sort of society where it seems to be almost a crime to prevent cars going anywhere. Pedestrianise the high street, I say -- get rid of the buggers!

Mysterious Voice of Doom Chainsaw Person turned out to be a friend who does a lot of woodworking with other scary tools. He has certainly put the fear of god into me: I haven't yet got the beast out of its box. Shudder. It has huge pointy teeth.

Re-read The Eyre Affair for our book groups -- A's choice. It was fun, if a little inconsequential. But a lovely book for book-lovers. (I remember going dowstairs to read a friend the bit about the audience-participation Richard III, and she loved it.) Or so I thought: in fact, a few people didn't like it at all, and for the first time ever I was one of the highest markers; I gave it 7.5 out of 10. It's hard to remember what else I've been reading. A little bit of trash: I cruised by the skips for recycling magazines behind our local supermarket, and liberated a few copies of Sunday magazines, plus two In Styles and a Tatler. At least one friend thinks this is truly eccentric behaviour; but it seems to me that if nothing else, it's much more in the spirit of true recycling than sending the things to be pulped after a single reading. Presumably the law against reselling magazines exists purely to bolster publishers' profits?

Also went delving at the jumble sale -- there's one almost every week here. Possibly the only event that lets you entertain a four-year-old and a six-year-old for a total cost of 20p. Well, pretty much the only place where you can buy something worth having for tenpence. Though of course C has an unerring ability to find the single most revolting object on the toy stall and come home with that. We've had a feather and sequin-encrusted mobile phone holder; we've had a very large and very nasty My Little Pony, in pink. This time round I found some gorgeous bean-filled dolls with lovely hair and cute expressions, then sorted through everything to find a few clothes for them. "Are they a collector's item?" the stallholder asked. Good grief, can't you buy anything just because you like it? I just think dolls are fun for kids to play with, and I like anything that isn't bloody Barbie, the gormless overglanded dork. Oh, and there was one with dark skin, and one was a boy. It's pretty damning that otherwise the only male dolls you can buy are muscle-garlanded actionmen, some of which come with their weapons welded to their hands (and no willies -- it's all Terribly Significant, really).

Sasha is still experimenting with sounds: the results make me laugh surprisingly often. I think I underestimated the entertainment value of children.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Mystery caller

Oooh, a comment -- and from an anonymous caller. (See below.) How very odd. Surely somebody with strong opinions about chainsaw use hasn't just stumbled upon my humble blog by chance? What could you have been looking for to end up here? Or is it a shy friend? Come along, say hello!

Well, as my dear wacky ex-neighbour said recently, we are after all WORLD FAMOUS now we're out in the blogosphere. Except that of course everyone else is world famous too.

We're just back from a gorgeous weekend in Aldeburgh. Highlights of conversations included a rumination of A's during which he concluded that I was not, in fact, a control freak; I just look as though I might be. Is it pathetic of me to be extremely flattered by this compliment? Actually, my favourite thing about A (oh no, hang on -- my favourite PG-rated thing about A) is that he takes the piss out of me in exactly the way I take the piss out of myself. Perhaps it's all to do with having a very similar sense of humour. Although I watched the end of an episode of Ricky Gervais's Extras the other evening and realised that that's where we part company. That continual cringing that that kind of writing elicits from the viewer doesn't denote comedy, for me -- I find it too uncomfortable. And actually, I find it rather monotonous too: it seems to me it's the same joke made over and over again. In different colours, perhaps; but essentially the same joke.

Monday, 16 April 2007


The only downside to all this fun: Sasha hasn't realised that eating solids means you're supposed to breastfeed less. I could be spending all day mashing bananas and pushing root vegetables through sieves, and still get sucked dry every two hours. Sigh.

Oh what fun to be in England

My mum has bought me a chainsaw for my birthday. I am quite excited about this, and keep thinking of things I might chop up. Rrrrrrrrr! I suppose it's not the kind of tool one should just rampage around the garden with, looking for stuff to dismember... I shall start with our three years' worth of dead Christmas trees. Last year's one doesn't seem to have lost a single needle. I hate to think what they did to it.

We've started solids. I'd been dithering over reference books, poring over weaning spoons, delving into Annabel Karmel's extensive oeuvre, and generally procrastinating, and then we went to a friend's house. Her baby is three months older than Sasha, which is really useful, as she's enough ahead of me to know the stuff but not so far that she's already forgotten it and moved on to the next thing. She had a vegetable soup that both of them were having for lunch, so we tried it out on Sash, who pretty much grabbed the spoon out of my hand to shovel the stuff in. We then had pear for tea, and a bit of baby rice, and have since tried potato, and some plums from the garden, frozen last year. And I'm sitting here covered on mashed banana. The two fun parts are: squirting your breast milk into the bowl to mix with the baby rice (much more fun than using a pump), and then shovelling it into the infant, who hasn't yet learned to swallow.

Sasha gets more appealing by the minute. I am besotted with my baby. But I think this is very much because, as babies go, ours seems especially charming: good-tempered, cute-looking, smily and gurgly and generally fun. And they definitely get more appealing as they get older and therefore more interesting. I really don't think anyone should agonise over not having an instant bond when they're born. I certainly didn't. I was glad to have produced something, but after nine months of building it and five hours of labour, I was just glad it had come out: I'd have been perfectly happy with a litter of kittens. But I didn't feel my life had changed, and I didn't feel a surge of affection. Mild interest, combined with slight shock at how *very* ugly the baby was.

It's been quite hard to write much in the last couple of months. Stuff has happened, but I just haven't felt the urge. I seem to have been mildly depressed -- or perhaps I'm still feeling the shock of the after-birth euphoria wearing off. I was high as a kite for about a month, so coming back to 'normal' feels very flat indeed. And a side-effect of euphoria is that it makes me creative: I'm full of ideas and plans and stories, and digress all the time because the thoughts just pile up and spill out. I think a counsellor has identified exactly this problem in the past: because you've had the highs, normality doesn't feel neutral: it actually feels a bit of a low (until you have a real low and remember just how low those are). I don't even have anything approaching 'real', clinical depression: mine's based on circumstance (and I usually feel down because I'm bored at work). In many ways it feels quite valuable to get an insight into a condition that for some people is completely incapacitating.

A gorgeous week with A's kids last week (should I stop using aliases? It seems a bit silly. It was based on the premise that this was in the public domain, but seems a bit unnecessary when only my mum reads it.). There's nothing like an English spring, which absolutely requires to be preceded by the sort of English winter that makes you feel it'll never be warm again. Glorious. That reminds me of how much I loved Margaret Forster's biography of Elizabeth Barratt Browning. Which presumably inspired Lady's Maid -- a wonderful, radical book about Barratt Browning's maid: do read it. I've finished lots of Claire Tomalin's biographies, now, too: Dora Jordan, Nelly Ternan, and Jane Austen, which I acquired after getting the Pepys one and living it to bits. It's such a a good way to learn history, getting thrown into the context of someone's daily life. In my 'O' level history lessons, all we did was copy down what the teacher wrote on the blackboard. Re-reading The Eyre Affair this week, for our local book group. It's great fun but doesn't thrill me with its novelty so much on a secodn read, which I suppose is inevitable.

Oh, I also read Francis Spufford's The child that books built, which I've been waiting to pick up secondhand for ages. I got very excited when he name-checked Diana Wynne Jones (and acknowledged her genius) early on, but he never actually referred to any of her books except indirectly. There was good stuff about the Narnia books, but not enough about any others. I suppose I really wanted it to be about the books that built the child.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

How kind of you to let me come

We've started to get woken up in the mornings by the child doing elocution practice. This is in fact quite charming, consisting of long-drawn-out diphthongs followed by cheeky smiles. But Sash also makes a nappy-filling sound which is very similar, consisting of a sort of roaring grunt, and I think has realised that this could also be integrated into the conversation. Which means I can't tell whether a nappy is being filled or not. It's also a little disturbing to wake up to growling. (My reply to all this, by the way, is to enunciate "How now, brown cow" at appropriate moments.)

Glorious, glorious weather: there's nothing quite like an English spring, eh? Especially -- or perhaps only -- when it follows an English autumn and winter. The forsythia is blazing and the buds are bursting forth. And we still haven't sent out our thank-you cards. They have become a great, looming, invisible elephant in my life: always at the back of my mind as something that needs to be done. I can't even think 'We must send them soon or it will be Silly". It's already silly.

We had to read A Short Histoy of Tractors in Ukranian for our book group. I really dislike novels that are named as though they're non-fiction: there's just something bollocksy about it. (The only other example I can think of is The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, or something similar.) Didn't like it much at all - how did it get such glowing reviews? It seemed terribly mediocre: predictable plot, stereotyped characters, hackneyed ethnic 'charm'. Ho very hum.I return to my endless rereads of Noel Streatfeild. (I still remember the shock when I realised how her name was spelt - I must have spent a decde assuming it was Streatfield. Half her books on eBay still have the wrong version.) Looking forward to getting Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built (now that's a lovely title) through from eBay: it's so rare to see anything interesting written about children's books, unless they're new publications. Apart from sodding Harry Potter, of course, but who wants to read about that?