Monday, 15 December 2008

Oh yes we have

To the pantomime on Saturday: a family outing thanks to Grandma Pam (thank you, Grandma Pam!). We were surprised to see the place not at all packed (it was Jack and the Beanstalk at the Arts Theatre): it was a bit lame in places, but really not bad at all. Their only mistake, I thought, was always to aim for comedy and forget that a story needs drama. The scene in the ogre's castle went for nothing, because it just wasn't scary.

Anyway, we had ice-creams in the interval and everything. When we were packing up to leave, Sasha started crawling around, collecting the empty tubs together and picking up the spoons. When I picked up the child to go, there was a bit of scene that ended with a huge wail of "But Mummy, I want to TIDY UP!"

Truly, we have created a monster.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

A paean

Over at La Maison Verte in September, I had a slightly silly dinner conversation with Robert Hollingworth. I'd been listening to Emma Kirkby on an old tape of Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen and got talking to Berty (ooh, do go and have another look at his site - I've made all the improvements that were suggested, and would love to know what you think) about her, and what it is about her voice that makes it so distinctive. She is one of the only classical singers I can reliably identify, and I love the clarity of her tone, and the way you can always hear the sweetness of her personality coming through. I saw her give a masterclass at Clare College once, and she was, I thought, terribly nice. Not in a soppy way: an essential sweetness of nature. Just as you'd expect from her voice.

Anyway, I got at cross purposes with Robert while trying to ask him the same question (which Berty, unless I've forgotten his answer because I was pissed, didn't have a very definite answer to), because he thought I was talking about Clare Wilkinson. Which was pretty logical, because he knows that A and I (do I need to carry on calling him A? I'm not going to get internationally syndicated at this stage, am I?) are huge fans.

So. Hands up if you don't know who Clare Wilkinson is. Okay. She is a mezzo-soprano. We first encountered her in I Fagiolini - I think I saw her first in The Birds, and then the first time we saw The Full Monteverdi we were sat, thrillingly, next to her. She also sings with the Dunedin Consort, and with Alamire, and probably with other groups I'm too slow to know about yet.

There is something really arresting about her stage presence, and there is something truly fabulous about her singing. I think the essence is that she has wonderful technique coupled with cast-iron musicianship (a funny word, that: do we use it simply to mean good taste?).

Anyway. She's got a huge range, and all of it sounds gorgeous, and you can't hear the joins. She's got amazing breath control, but she never sings through lines in that very Cambridge way that shouts 'Listen to me not taking a breath!'. She doesn't over-enunciate, but somehow her diction is crystal clear. Her tone is beautiful, but she never seems to wallow in it - and it's not bland; it has texture, and it's totally distinctive: she's always identifiable. Which is what made me realise that actually I love her voice for many of the same reasons that I love Kirkby's: I can always identify it, and I feel that it conveys what she's like.

I guess it's partly that all the stuff I've said tells you that her ego is always sublimated to the music. But there's also something really tangible about the sweetness of her tone. Is there a better word? Sweetness sounds cloying, and she isn't a bit.

Being able to hear the person, and the personality, is definitely a personal preference of mine: it's why I generally prefer amateur voices to professional ones. I've always loathed that really 'trained' classical sound with the mouth full of plums. The archetype of this, for me, is a recording I've got of the Faure Requiem with Janet Baker singing the 'Pie Jesu'. The vowels are all so rounded and dark she sounds as though she's about to throw up. Horrible.

Another thing about Clare is that her face expresses the emotions of the music, not the difficulty of the singing. I don't think your face should tell the audience that singing is hard - those sopranos who sing with their eyebrows permanently raised make me feel tired.

Anyway, enough of me wurbling away: go and listen to Clare (go to her website and click on Listen), and come back and tell me whether what I've said makes any sense at all. Actually, I think most of the singers in I Fagiolini are pretty special, and the group itself is quite remarkable, but Clare really does stand out.

This posting has been sitting about for a long time: I made the mistake of writing it in my head but not getting it onto paper (you know what I mean) soon enough. Then A read it and didn't really like it. My theory is that this is because it's unusual to write unreserved praise for anything, especially a person. Being English, we are embarrassed by the very notion. But I also think that one tends to assume that anyone who's really good, and reasonably well known, knows that they are and gets told so frequently, and in fact that's not the case at all.

Life in pink

I went to see Piaf at the Vaudeville Theatre (transferred from the Donmar (btw did you know that the 'Mar' bit is from Margot Fonteyn, who started the place with someone whose name I can't remember (but they contributed the 'Don')?)) last night. Just as all the reviews had said, the play itself was a bit flaky but Elena Rogers was amazing - and in what seemed rather a Piaf-like way, too: that tiny, fragile frame, emitting a HUGE noise. But I wonder why writers find it so hard to tell Paif's story? Perhaps there's just too much to tell? The film - La Vie En Rose - was really incoherent: I do hate narratives that mess with the chronology purely for the sake of novelty.

I'm thinking a lot about story-telling as I've a third of the way through Russell T Davies' The Writer's Tale - a splendid book. I've been thinking about how gut-wrenching the end of series four was, with Donna Noble saving the world then having to have her memory wiped. I love the way Davies portrayed that as what it really was: a kind of death, real and tragic. One of the mailing lists I'm on had a discussion a while back about what a swizz the '... and it was all a dream' ending is, or even worse the 'and they forgot everything that had happened'. There's a John Masefield that does it, and I know it made my heart sink when I read it. We couldn't remember whether Dan and Una forget everything at the end of Rewards and Fairies. But what's the point of those two whole books, if they do? Oh, and the chap at the end of Silver on the Tree who asks someone else to decide whether he'll remember that his wife was on the dark side, and the supposedly wise old person decides to wipe his mind. Gah!

It made me think: is there anything in my past that's so awful that I'd want to erase it? (Now we've moved on to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - and wasn't that just absolutely the greatest movie title ever? And I love the sci-fi fan who commented that it could well have been called We can forget it for you retail (you'd have to be reasonably geeky to get the reference, I think - can I do a quick straw poll of all the, er, two or three people reading this (hello Mum!) and ask if you do?)) Anyway, I digress. I couldn't think of anything. The events that haunt me aren't the big emotional moments - I wouldn't lose a second of those, however much they hurt at the time - but the small snarly moments of acute social embarrassment, when I said something really tactless. Embarrassment is such a strong emotion, I think - you really feel it physically, in the pit of your stomach. The memories are so tangible: they take decades to fade. But even so, I'd keep them. I want to be reminded not to say something quite that stupid ever again.

(Anyone spot a running theme of nested parentheses in this posting? What's that all about? (Just my butterfly mind, I suppose))

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sublime and ridiculous

We spent the day working on Britten's Sacred and Profane. Boy, they were hard: after five or six hours' work, we'd got three out of the eight to the stage where we could risk singing them in public. What I find with Britten is that it just doesn't stick, and I don't know whether it's him or me. I think it's mostly that my taste is for a melodic line, and I'm not very harmonically sophisticated, so all that dissonance that you're supposed to understand and turn into consonance just doesn't quite work for me.

At least all five of us seemed to be in the same boat. But it was a frustrating day. If terribly character building.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Thank goodness for the Guardian

There's been some very intelligent writing in the Guardian (as always) about the death of Baby P. I'm not going to write about the details at all, since like many parents I've found that having a child yourself makes it physically painful to think about cases like this. The point the Guardian made was that villifying the social workers involved saves the media the real horror, which is thinking about parents and guardians who kill.

It's actually not that difficult to imagine how horribly difficult a social worker's task might be in terms of visiting these families, working out what's really happening, and knowing when to make a call on it. What is almost impossible to imagine is the mind of someone who is able to damage a child so tiny, or to watch while someone else does. And when it's their own child? My brain simply crashes into the barriers: I don't know how to contemplate the idea. At the deepest level, this is simply, bleakly, literally, inhuman. And this is why we look for the easier targets and the simpler explanations: what lies beneath is too obscene to contemplate.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Polka dots?

Cigarettes are blinking in the dark
and making polka dots around the baseball park...

Lovely, isn't it? It sounds like Joni Mitchell, but it's not at *all*. Any of you clever people recognise it? (I know it, but I was surprised it couldn't be googled.)

Friday, 24 October 2008


Oh, I am so sick of seeing moronic things like this:

By registering on Brand Republic, Haymarket Publishing will automatically provide you with information relating to Brand Republic and other related Haymarket products and services via email, direct mail or telephone.
[ ] Please tick here if you would like to receive carefully screened work-related emails from third parties.
[ ] Please tick here if you do not want to receive relevant work-related direct mail from carefully selected third parties.

Just who thinks this is a clever way of doing things? The blethering bloody idiots. I've had clients argue about this kind of thing in the past because under the Data Protection Act there are now things you have to have an opt-in for, but still some things you only need an opt-out for. But what kind of twerp thinks it makes sense to mix the two together? It's stupid, and it's sad - what it invariably says to me is that anyone who's that desperate to send me spam doesn't have anything worthwhile to tell me, and anyone whose thinking is that muddled wouldn't be able to string a coherent sentence together even if they had. Oh, and they don't care about usability. I cross them off my Christmas card list. Hah!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Way to go, girls

I was reading a copy of Cosmopolitan that I retrieved from a skip - I don't acquire women's magazines any other way, these days - and they had a little reader survey. Apparently, 58% of Cosmo readers said they would marry a millionaire whether they loved him or not.

Disgust doesn't even begin to cover my reaction to this. My first thought is that feminism in any meaningful form seems to be dead. My next is that any guy with serious money shouldn't even consider marriage, given that it seems to be inevitable that he'll be stalked by gold-diggers. Presumably the idea in their flimsy little minds is that they'll put up with it for a bit and then screw him in the divorce settlement. Frankly, if that's the way it's going to work, he might as well pay for a sex on a formal basis with real professionals and know exactly where he stands. Given what divorce settlements are like these days, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the hourly rate worked out a lot more competitive that way too.

But urgh. Doesn't it make you feel queasy? And this from a magazine that used to advocate feminism? Not in its most meaningful form, sure - but at least it made an attempt to marry an idea of equality with its capitalist agenda (Be the boss but still wear lipstick!). Now it's just another glossy hymn to self-obsession. Gack.

Friday, 3 October 2008


(A has just emailed me to say that I had a breach of blog anonymity and inadvertently named him - I don't know: is it actually worth being secretive? I have a feeling I decided on it when I was in that frame of mind that assumes that all blogs get picked up for international syndication and then turned into best-selling novels. (This alternates with days when you know that only your Mum reads it.)

I think it was also that I could write about A's children, without their being identifiable (hmm - and does anyone but me use possessives with the gerund any more? Does anyone know what the question means? I'll bet more than one of my gentle readers does, actually).)

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Total miscellanea

Lawks, I feel as though I haven't stopped scudding around for a fortnight. I really, really have to write about our fabulous musical week at La Maison Verte, but I've got behind myself. To the Globe last night for A Midsummer Night's Dream - I was sorry to miss Timon of Athens, but we couldn't find a babysitter so A went alone - and found it surprisingly pertinent. Dream was great fun, though boy it's long - a solid three hours. As ever with Shakespeare, packed with quotations. "In maiden meditation, fancy-free" I'm sure is quoted in Alcott somewhere. Now I'll have to reread everything. Oooh.

I've been reading a shortened version of Pepys's Diary, and loving it. He's only 28 at the point I've got to, but so thoughtful and entertaining. I really need the unabridged version, with footnotes, though - the editor of this one rather charmingly says that they decided to have fewer notes so as to have 'more Pepys'. The mixture of history - at the pace it actually happens, not the speeded-up version of history books - and domesticity and trivia is uttterly beguiling. And everyone is so cultured: always popping down to the pub to sing part-songs, or staying up late playing the lute. I suppose that's because nobody below a certain level of income is involved. It's obvious what a tough time the servants have: the amount of physical punishment they get is notable.

I'm pleased I read Tomalin's wonderful biography first, to get an overview. I'll have the fun of reading it again afterwards, too!

I also read a biography of Jaqueline Kennedy, as fallout from a brief obsession with the JFK assasination: I remembered one evening that I'd meant to look up the Zapruder video on YouTube as I hadn't ever seen it. About five hours later I looked emerged from the internet, pallid and slightly paranoid. Actually, Wikipedia, the wonderful thing, had a perfectly cogent analysis of the best current thinking. Anyway, Jackie. Gosh, she was a boring woman. There's a photo of her as a stunningly arrogant six-year-old, then as an airily arrogant teenager. Then she marries JFK - for the money and prestige, it seems (they didn't seem to talk to each other much) - finds her vocation and becomes a calmly arrogant clothes horse. Then she marries Onassis for money. What's to like? The biographer obviously loved her, but even so couldn't come up with any reason anyone else should. I dipped in and out and then put it on the Oxfam pile.

I was going to say something about Berty, so I could put in a link to his site, which I built recently using iWeb (free Mac software, pretty results but I suspect rubbish with screen readers as the code must be a dog's breakfast, and you can't reliably increase the font size, which is pants). If anyone knows of something better - maybe a simple CMS system - do let me know: the Fagiolini site is in desperate need of an overhaul, but neither A nor I is any good at building websites, dammit. Have a look at Berty's site and tell me what you think - it needs more visitors as it's not showing up on Google yet.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

I should be so lucky

I had an unexpected Sash-free evening in London last week, and discovered that 'Merry Wives' was on at the Globe, and had got a rave review in the Guardian. I checked the Globe's website the evening before, and there were at least seven tickets left for the yard (that's where you stand, in the middle: it only costs a fiver and gives a real taste of what it would have been like to be a groundling, I think - it's certainly a unique experience). Next morning I was at work and forgot to phone the damn box office until 1130. They had no tickets left except five for the Yard, which someone on the website was dithering over - call back in 20 minutes, they said. I thought it couldn't take that long, so I called back in five. Sorry, sold out, they said. What about the website, I said - any that anyone's dithering over? Ooh yes, they said. Two left. So I got the last-but-one ticket in the whole theatre. Remarkable luck.

Later that day, a old work colleague of mine came into the office. She had a baby about a year after I did. She had a tough pregnancy: swollen ankles from month one, that kind of thing. And she had terrible problems with her hips - has been in and out of hospital ever since. The kind of thing that's so gruesome you forget the details, deliberately. She was still limping six months later. And she must be at least ten years younger than I am. How on earth did I get off so easily?

So I'm lucky in the big things, and lucky in the small things. It freaks me out rather, if I think about it at all.

'The Merry Wives of Windsor' was really good, too. Aaaargh.

It was quite broad, but never descended into caricature, so when Ford found redemption, it was not only believable but very affecting. Well, I cried, anyway - as usual. One of the things I like most about A, you know - I do call him A, don't I? - is that he cries as often as I do. The scene in the Archers between Ed and Emma had us both wiping tears away afterwards. I don't really feel apologetic about it as I can't see any way in which it's a bad thing - it would be more worrying not to be affected by art, if I may call it that. The Archers is very well written these days.

I've just spent a lovely day with a woman who would be my sister-in-law, if I was married to A and she was married to his brother, and neither of us is. Should I eschew the labels that reflect such tired conventions, or adopt them, as another kind of rebellion? Answers on a postcard would only work if you had very small handwriting.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Proud mother

I'd forgotten to say that Sasha is now beginning to put words together, which is fascinating to hear. The sibs have been keen to teach Sash the word 'bum', causing much giggling in the back of the car. Then last week the child farted, looked at me, and said "Noise. Bum." What a prodigy. I thought that was quite conceptually sophisticated, but I may have suddenly morphed into Competitive Parent.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


Much kudos to Russell T for resolving his cliffhanger in the first twenty seconds of the next episode. That man has style. The conclusion was a real stonker - A and I were both in tears as the doctor left an uncomprehending Donna behind. It all reminded me of a recent mailing list discussion -- probably on the Diana Wynne Jones list, which is by far the nicest list I've ever been on, consisting soley of intelligent, witty, people writing beautifully about relevant subjects and being nice to each other - on the nastiness of the device whereby everyone's memory is wiped at the end of the adventure. The consensus was that it renders the whole story pointless if the characters remember nothing, and it thereby insults the emotional investment you've made as a reader. We didn't agree with that chap in Susan Cooper's The Silver Tree who (SPOILER SPACE) has his memory wiped for him as an act of kindness, either. Anyway, I thought Russell T very adequately demonstrated why it's such a bad thing: the death of the character, in fact.

I've been wasting time online. I can't remember how, but I've stumbled on a lovely blog that dissects some of the very silly comic strips in US papers. Partly I just love his writing style; but the fascination is also in the sheer weirdness of the strips themselves. The blog is Comics Curmudgeon; to see the strips, you can build your own page at the Houston Chronicle's site. From Comics Curmudgeon, I found myself at Judge a book by its cover, a collection of truly dreadful cover art including my all-time favourite cock-up. From there I ended up wasting most of a day at Photoshop disasters: hynotically awful.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The stolen earth - and Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen

Oh no! Please don't let David Tennant regenerate... Russell, you bastard... I thought he'd signed up for three specials, anyway - and he's taking a year off to play Hamlet, so he doesn't need to regenerate. Aaargh.

We've been glued to iPlayer again. So cool. Thank you, kindly BBC.

Still recuperating from the music festival. It all went pretty well. Bit of a thin audience for our young artists on the Friday, and Saturday, which was meant to be our jazz picnic, was the one gloomy day this month so we had to picnic inside, but Sunday was all we could have wanted, apart from my mother tripping over the pushchair halfway through my big solo, which made Sasha shriek in sympathy - which made me wonder if I was an unnatural mother, trilling away on my semiquavers while my poor child was carried out screaming "Mummmeee! Mummmmeee!" But then lots of people were around to comfort the poor lamb, whereas only I could sing the cantata. In the event, it was my mum who needed the most care, having taken all the skin off her elbow and gathered some impressive bruises, stone floors being essentially unforgiving.

Gosh, I am tired. I'm going to bid you all goodnight and toddle off to bed. Remind me to tell you about New York some time.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Nothing important

Gosh, my mobile phone has returned to life. Sasha had it in the bath, and by the time I got to it it had been thoroughly dunked and was vibrating away in a panic. I took it to bits and left it out in the sun for a day (this was during the last heatwave). The screen dried out quite remarkably - you could see the water inside disappearing - and it ended up looking normal, but when I powered it up none of the buttons worked. I left it to live in the airing cupboard, and it's been there for a month or two. Turned it on again just for the hell of it, and ta-da! It lives!

In a way, it's a pity, as I hated the operating system so much I was quite glad to see the back of it. But of course as soon as I tried other phones I hated them more. And Windows Mobile - what can you say except Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh?

Did you know that the motto for the Boys' Brigade is 'Sure and Steadfast', but the motto for the Girls' Brigade (proud owners of one of the most hideous logos you will ever see) is 'Seek Serve & Follow'? The aims for the two sexes are polarised too. Remarkable.

I've been quiet since we came back from New York. Partly because there's been so much to do, with the music festival and work and The Voice (Cambridge NCT magazine) and all, and partly because I meant to write up New York before doing anything else, which was of course hopeless. But also because I've discovered iPlayer. And Doctor Who. It's so perfect for those who don't own televisions: your favourite programmes and no licence fee to pay! I started with the usual crush on David Tennant - sooo cute, and the lovely Scottish accent when he's off duty adds a frisson - but have transferred my affections to Russell T Davies (yes, I'm aware of the very obvious drawback here), who is of course the brains behind the revival but is also lots and lots of fun. A Welsh Joss Whedon. He shoots to the top of our dream dinner-party guest list, possibly even ousting Stephen Fry, who (whom?) I seriously believe to be vastly over-rated.

All this time and I don't have *anything* momentous to say?

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The gesture of love

So, here's a question for you: which product has the tagline 'the gesture of love you can trust'? So many, many answers. But I'll bet any amount you won't guess.

I've been writing this dratted blog in my head for some time but not actually getting as far as typing it. Life has been hectic: lots of work on, switching days and pitching for new business, and the Cambridge NCT magazine to lay out again. Fifty-six pages, which takes a fair amount of time. It's quite fun, but I'm beginning to wonder...

A friend emailed to ask if I was going to review the BBC Ballet Shoes. Which was rather flattering, as is the fact that someone actually reads this stuff! There's glory for you. We're both Streatfeild fans - and Jill, I still have your copy of Saplings... I missed the broadcast but saw it all on iPlayer, which had launched shortly before. I also found an article by the person who'd written the adaptation, in which she avowed that she'd adored the book as a child and had been determined to secure the job so as not to change a thing and prevent anyone else changing it.

Given all that protestation, it was a bit of a shock to find Garnie apparently dying of TB and falling for a dashing Mr Simpson -- Mrs Simpson having been done away with. But then Mrs Simpson always gets written out, not having enough lines to make the actress worth the money.

The real problems, I thought, were actually the ones you get through knowing a book too well (and not being properly edited). Things didn't get properly explained: why is Sylvia called Garnie half the time, and what does GUM mean (I don't think he was ever referred to as Great Uncle Matthew)? (And by the way, does anyone believe that Richard Griffiths would be capable of walking any distance to find a fossil? He seems barely mobile these days.) On the larger scale, though, because the focus was on incident not on daily life, there was so sense of the Fossils actually practising: in the book, it's the relentless grind of their daily lives that's emphasised. 'The Fossils became some of the busiest children in London.' They work.

On the other hand, there was also the odd lapse of comprehension. I'm with everyone who thought Victoria Wood's wig was just ghastly, but part of the reason was that it was so unsuitable for the character. Nana is nothing if not pragmatic. Is she really going to have a hairstyle that requires her to thread clips all the way through the stuff every night, and then spend all day flicking the ends out of her eyes? I don't think so. The smart outfits seemed all wrong, too, especially those high-heeled lace-ups. Remember Pauline asking,
' "Have you pretty feet, Nana?" She looked down at Nana's square-toed black shoes which she always wore.' Nana is not glamorous.

The bit that made me really squawk, though, was Petrova washing Mr Simpson's car in her Mustard-seed costume. Remember the hoo-hah when Pauline gets above herself acting Alice in Wonderland? What precipitates the showdown is Pauline going off-stage without her wrap. The wrap is an overall that you wear so that your stage costume is protected every moment you're not on stage in it. My goodness, you wouldn't be allowed to go outdoors in it, let alone picking up an oily rag and polishing a car bonnet. That was a very odd lapse.

The biggest blank, I think, was that I didn't get any sense of the dedication of the girls: Pauline's vocation for acting, or Posy's virtuosity. Petrova's boredom and frustration they could do, but they really missed the commitment, the work, the gaining of professionalism: which is what made, and continues to make, the book special. It's not about daydreams and fantasies: it's about hard graft. All the Angelina Ballerina drivel that's about now entirely ignores the fact that nobody, nobody attains proficiency in this kind of thing without a lot of bloody hard work.

And finally.... bet you didn't guess. The picture showed someone in bed with a cat. The ad was for Frontline, which is a catflea repellent that's semi-permanent: you dot liquid of the back of the cat's neck. But the gesture of love you can trust? I can't think of any explanation except real, deranged weirdness.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Bath time

I've been spending every waking sunny hour in the garden, digging up nettles before they get going -- most years they're eight feet high before you can blink. We've managed to clear two squares of (potential) vegetable patch and our prospective asparagus bed, so that's rather fine. The sun has now gone in again, so I'm working on the Cambridge NCT magazine -- fifty pages every quarter, which I design in Quark XPress. It's been fun up till now, but just today feels a bit of a slog.

Anyway, I've been meaning for ages to write about our weekend in Bath, back in January. We booked the train tickets and the hotel online. Both sites gave confirmation screens; neither actually put through the purchase. Rotten usability. Luckily I was suspicious that hadn't emailed me, so I phoned them. And fortuitously, the hotel had a small room that was obviously kept for emergencies, so we weren't thrown onto the streets.

We had a few interesting meals. First was lunch in the Hole in the Wall, which according to A has been around for ever. This was pretty good but not stunning. the service was odd: it seemed to be communal, with everyone in charge of everything, which in practice meant nobody noticed if you'd been sitting with the menu for twenty minutes. In contrast, the Olive Tree had a rigid hierarchy, with one person in charge of lots of powerless minions, some of whom didn't speak English. She was rushed off her feet, so the end effect was much the same. Fabulous food, though, even the trad Sunday roast -- and it's unusual to get a special Sunday lunch menu.

For dinner, we'd tried the trendy new Marlborough Arms but couldn't get in, though they were very nice about this: none of the nuances of tone that some people can get into the question "Have you booked?". So we ended up at Bistro Papillon, which was delightful. Very French, so the food was robustly lovely, the wine was excellent and the staff were completely charming: everyone with complete autonomy to be nice to you -- and they were really sweet to Sasha. I meant to write a glowing review of the food there but by now only have the haziest memories.

Oh -- and take no notice of the woman in Tourist Information who thinks it's only seven miles along the towpath to the next village. She is sooo wrong. We walked for hours, and it was lovely but eventually dark and cold. Still, we got that immensely smug feeling particular to an English climate that we'd made the most of a sunny day and didn't have to mind the next day being vile.

Monday, 11 February 2008

True love

"Lawyers haven't been this popular since

Robespierre slaughtered half of France."

Oh my: I love Joni Mitchell.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

What a nice chap!

He handed Sasha back to me on the train back from London tonight as the infant was zapping off through the carriage. Then he got off at Whittlesford,and offered to help me carry the pushchair over the bridge -- I'd already picked it up and started, so I said I was fine and explained how it's sometimes harder with two people (the baby tends to get tipped out, which is really A Bad Thing). Then I set off for Sawston and about five minutes later he passed me in his car and pulled in to see if I wanted a lift. He said something like "I feel so sorry for you!" so I had to explain that my partner had offered me a lift but I'd turned him down, because I wanted to walk. It was a beautiful night, with lots of stars visible, and Sasha needed to wind down after a busy day in London anyway. But it did seem a little sad that someone couldn't quite believe that I'd want to walk a couple of miles on a nice night. And, conversely, very cheering that people are so helpful and concerned. Having a baby definitely lets you see some of the best of human nature.

One small step for a baby...

... was made in front of witnesses yesterday. Turned out all the child needed as an incentive was a room full of people: five mothers and babies at my NCT morning, all applauding. Later that day we walked and kicked a Laphraoig tin (that's the tin the bottle comes in) around the room.

Any ideas for creative uses of a Laphraoig tin once the infant tires of it? Have used them in the past to store knitting needles (but that was a short phase as I don't like activities that prevent me reading) and bicycle spokes (but I never break them, so it was pointless). They seem so potentially useful, but perhaps it's entirely illusory.

The pushchair, which I've been Facebooking about (oh the strain of a multimedia existence) is a triumph. I got it on eBay. It's a very functional thing indeed: an American three-wheeler that's about ten years old: a chassis, three wheels and a canvas sling to put the baby in. I've made a cosytoes (I think this really is a word, you know - it's the name of the thing that keeps the baby warm) out of the raincover, which was missing its frame, and a baby sleeping bag; and a luggage carrier out of an old metal supermarket basket strapped on with some bits from an old rucksack. Lots of fun. And it works!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Flat-out baby

We tried an experiment yesterday and got Sasha to bed at 6pm. We'd all gone swimming -- the big kids too -- and everyone was usefully worn out. Sash had a bottle and went to sleep in the car, and was then carefully conveyed to the cot when we got back. Didn't seem to wake up any earlier than usual. We got up at nine, had a bath and played for an hour or so, then had breakfast. Sasha then downed two whole Weetabixes in the time it's taken me to eat a piece of toast, but has now konked out, snoring with head on table. Hmm, interesting.

A has been requesting a new blog entry as he's got me on his home page -- awww -- which means he gets the Ken Dodd song on the brain every morning [after seeing the title, which was 'the greatest gift that I possess']. As is the usual way of things, as soon as I'd posted about being so happy, I got onto a downward slide; partly Christmas, I think: it always seems to be an anti-climax. Perhaps it's because you remember the excitement from childhood, and can never match it as an adult? Oh well. I seem to be better now. Anyway, I was reflecting that 'If you're happy and you know it isn't such a daft summary after all, since knowing you're happy is the essence of the thing: it's all about definitions after all.

The sun is shining and the baby is asleep: I'm going to go and dig up nettles. Huzzah!