Monday, 30 May 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: The Queen of the Tambourine, by Jane Gardam

Strange, sad, moving. Brilliant. Gardam shows how thin (blink and you miss it) is the line between sanity and madness, and between madness and imagination. And it's wickedly funny.

I love Gardam's writing. It's vivid and precise. Here are just a couple of my favourite quotes.

Round the edge of the world something looked at me. A very distant, scarce-remembered relation - happiness. Like frightened, struggling Anne, happiness had slipped my mind since I had been persuaded that the world is composed entirely of super-women now...

The boy was reading steadily, page after page of a comic, and as he read, his feet in red and grey woollen socks kicked and swung, kicked and swung. When children stop swinging their legs they're grown up.

She's pretty Feminist you know - she doesn't believe in doing things by herself.

And a couple of mini-quotes which I find particularly evocative.

... a complex still-life of empty glasses.

...he gave a skimmed-milk smile...

Friday, 27 May 2011

A Family Portrait

Matilda's first masterpiece.
From left to right: little mummy, little mummy, big mummy, Owen, daddy and Matilda. Note her bold rendering of our family's blue eyes. Daddy appears to have a thyroid problem.

I know what you're thinking. Contact the Tate Britain, MOMA, the Pompidou Centre. Immediately. But I hate all that parental hothousing. I shall let her artistic talents blossom in their own sweet time.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cruisin' for Mamas

I started to write this post yesterday but only managed to finish it today. Please refer to previous post regarding abject failure to do a million different things at once.

Excuse my terrible attempt at street language. I'm not even sure that means anything. But the title of my post is in reference to my slightly obsessive stalking of any potential mummy friends at the park. Owen has been most useful of late. Not only is he cute, smiley and hungry for love and attention from anything with a pulse but as he marches out clutching onto my finger he is easily steered in the direction of any mummies that have caught my eye. And conversation ensues.

If I may be so picky and judgemental, I feel I have gradually been moving up the suitability scale with my selections. Today I feel like I soared. I met Gaelle. Our paths had crossed as we entered the park. She had a cool hat. She registered on the radar. Owen and I went and plonked ourselves down on the grass to do some walking practice (he took his first steps on Saturday, which really deserved a post. Poor O, life can be unfair when you arrive second). The nice lady with the cool hat came and sat near us on her rug with her baby girl. O and I did some loops, gradually closing in until, target in range, locked on, O turned his charm on the nice lady who started to smile back at him. And conversation ensued. She asked me O's name. When I told her she asked if he had a sister called Matilda. Her reputation precedes her. Turns out we share the same boulangère, Mimi. Gaelle is a freelance designer, seems to have friends in Béziers who are musicians and artists (who live in my quartier apparently, where???) and is really very lovely. We had a good old chat. Our mini-beasts batted each other about in that curious yet casually agressive way that small babies have of exploring the world and all it contains. Matilda, taking advantage of my inattention, got herself sopping wet playing in the fountain. We all left the park together and said we hoped we would meet again soon.

That might be the last time I see her (I've never seen her before) but one nice afternoon in the park and a connection made, however briefly, is always a RTBC.

And for those of you who only "read" the blog to catch a glimpse of the mini-beasts here they are playing in my bookshelves. I also captured O's first solo ascent onto our bed. I stopped the cameras rolling just before Matilda got him in a headlock.

Mad, bad and not worth getting to know

I wrote this post on Tuesday, published it briefly and then decided against it. On the advice of fellow blogger, ex-London highlifer and stay at home mum Anna, who assures me that all I say is true, here it is again.

WARNING: There now follows a whiny, self-indulgent post.

I'm not feeling great. Maybe it's the hangover from our wonderful time in Blighty, maybe it's the hot weather which has arrived with a vengeance (I hate hot weather), maybe it's because my mini-beasts are with the grandspoilers so I have too much time to think. At the moment I wake early in the morning, when the sun rises, and I lie in bed, thinking, and thinking, and making myself sad. There is no new problem, there is no looming catastrophe, but I am still battling with feelings of worthlessness as a stay at home mum and feelings of blind panic about what to do following post-stayathomemumness.

Some brilliant things have given me RTBCs recently. Matilda is enrolled in the local école maternelle, which is handily situated at the end of the road. She's very excited. Owen has taken his first steps. He's very excited. I have another student who wants to learn to speak English like what I do. I'm... not so excited. May I make it clear once and for all, to anyone who cares, teaching English as a foreign language is not my life's passion.

With Matilda's enrolment in school have come the questions. So, you'll be going back to work then? Erm, no. Owen isn't one yet and this stay at home mumness is a two children deal. I sense, perhaps erroneously, that behind this question is a judgement. Damn well get back to work you lazy bugger. But I don't feel like a lazy bugger. I feel like I do a hell of a lot. Same as other women do, plus they work though, right? That's, again perhaps erroneously, what I sense from people here. As my belle soeur honestly pointed out, staying at home with your kids is not well viewed in France. I also often hear, Oh I couldn't do it, I'd go mad ... I need to see other adults... to get out of the house... to be stimulated. As if I'm some kind of halfwit, and so are my children, and we sit around in the house all day, one and a half wits between us, randomly throwing things at each other. We sometimes do that. But not all the time.

So I'm either mad to stay at home with my kids, or bad for avoiding the workplace, and frequently I feel that in my current state I am not worth getting to know. My world is small. And not very interesting to anyone but me. I do believe this will change but that doesn't help me shake my suspicion that my topics of conversation (bar the inevitable mini-beast related miscellany) have shrivelled up and died. When I had just one mini-beast in tow, I could do other things beside mini-beast taming. But with two, at their current ages, I consider it the height of personal achievement if I manage to make a cuppa at some point during the day.

Even blogging is starting to prove a source of discomfort. I still have the self-destructive habit of checking out other mum blogs, all about mums doing amazing and beautiful things and being amazing and beautiful people, and having hard times, but still being amazing and beautiful through the hard times. I'm not having an especially hard time, I've had to face no great trials, and I'm neither amazing nor beautiful. I'm just grumpy about life right now. Can I be allowed to be a grumpy, for what many would consider to be piffling reasons? I can't do a million different things at once, and be a beautiful and amazing mother, and an inspirational person. Some people can. And can write about it. Beautifully and amazingly. I'm jealous. And perhaps a little incredulous. I'm just grubby little me. Grubbing along, with my teeny peaks and my tiny troughs. And my two super duper mini-grubs. And my Fanf.

Things could be worse.

AFTERWORD: Anna shared with me her response whenever anyone asks her if she's going back to work: "I just turn up my nose and say I would never work for anyone else now". I like that a lot. I intend to steal it.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Happy Birthday Nana Wendy

A yummy lunch out in the sunshine to celebrate Nana Wendy's birthday.

In other news, Matilda took great delight in an impromptu mopping of the floor. I swear, the kid went and fetched the mop herself. She likes cleaning. Please, please, let the Canteau domestic gene (as opposed to the Pilbeam "looks clean" gene) stay alive and well in her as she grows older.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

RTBC Two Old Faithfuls: books and lovely things in the post

A parcel arrived in the post from the lustrous MiK.
For Matilda.

And for me.

I don't know how my friends do it but, collectively, they always seem to know when the thoughtful gesture is needed. Having spent the last couple of days agonizing over the stupidity of the plane ticket debacle and wondering how I might tighten our family belt without cutting off circulation, or sanity, the books came as a most apposite gift from the Goddess MiK. Because books are an item of expenditure that is not really up for budgeting. So I am looking forward to reading and savouring Wells, in the most leisurely fashion I can muster. And hoping that he might give me some idea as to how I might go back in time and erase my heartbreaking blunder of staggering ineptitude. Or make myself invisible so that I can indulge in a spot of judicious pilfering.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

All hail

This (as I was informed this morning) is King Matilda. Self-appointed. Or chosen by God. Her (His?) Majesty wasn't clear. The "crown", which so fetchingly adorns the royal head, is a necklace of buttons. Purple buttons, of course.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Blighty: The best bits, the memorable bits

I began writing this post in my head on the plane but it sounded a bit like something a precocious five-year old would come up with, "What I did on my holidays". Instead of boring you (and me) with a blow by blow account of our adventures I shall simply give you a list of the best bits. I do like a good list. So, here goes.

1. There was a feast of the best British cuisine has to offer, including of course the cream tea and fish and chips. But the best of the best were the pancakes and caramelised apples (embarrassed cough... under the breath mutter... French recipe) that Uncle Dan* made for us. That said, for all the great food that Britain has to offer, I seemed to spend most of the week eating Milky Bars with Matilda. No bad thing.

*Rightly or wrongly, since the arrival of the mini-beasts, all my family are now defined by their relationship to my kids.

2. Animals galore, including giraffes, rhinos, dinosaurs and the full compliment of British farm animals, including the now standard llamas. When we arrived at Cotswold Wildlife Park we made the mistake of going to see the penguins first. And thought that Matilda would never leave.

3. Playgrounds galore. Usually Fanf is a most genial fellow but he does get a tad umpty when I suggest that certain things are better in Britain. So sorry Fanf but the playgrounds in Britain are much better than the ones in France. A kid could actually get hurt. There were zip wires, swings that went so high even Uncle Dan and I got a little bit frightened when we tried them out and a number of things for which I have no name.

4. For all the animal and playground shenanigans, what excited Matilda the most was planes. Sitting on the plane on the way over she kept telling me, "Matilda like plane. Matilda very excited". Once we arrived in Blighty there was further excitement whenever a plane flew over. When asked what she'd done during the day, any day, she said she'd been on a plane. Since we've been home she has one recurring question, "We going on a plane again soon?" No. For one simple reason. We can't afford it. Because I am a fool of stellar proportions. I thought I'd booked tickets back for Sunday. Turns out it was Monday. Turns out Ryanair charge you all your body parts, those of your children, of your unborn children, and of any grandchildren, to book a ticket on the day of travel. I joke now. I was in hysterics at the airport.

5. Only slightly less rabid than plane fever was tractor fever.

6. Matilda's cute new haircut from Auntie Kelly.

7. I took the mini-beasts to my favourite tea shop in Oxford. Perhaps my favourite tea shop in the world, The Nosebag. I used to love lingering at their bare wooden tables with tea, a gigantic piece of their yummy homemade cake and a good book. As I walked in I was greeted by the familiar hallowed hush of the afternoon. People either reading or politely murmuring. I reflected upon this as the mini-beasts knocked things over, smeared things about, were irrepressibly rowdy. Matilda didn't like the caramel shortbread I ordered for her so I had to eat that and the chocolate fudge brownie (with humongous chunks of real fudge) all by myself. It's good having kids.

8. Seeing my brother with the mini-beasts. He one cool Mad Unc D.

p.s. I would like to state for the record, my record, that the mini-beasts were brilliant. I was so proud of them. They took to all the new and exciting things we threw at them with aplomb.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Motherland awaits

We topped up on Frenchness (and fat, and sugar...) this morning with a breakfast of Fanf's crêpes. We packed our bags. We gave Fanf enough hugs to last him the week. We're ready. We're off. Oh no, we forgot doudou. Got doudou. Now we're off.

Matilda is...

... sad to be leaving papa.

... rigid with nervous excitement.

... super happy to be going to visit Uncle Dan and Auntie Kelly.

See you on the other side.

Blighty here we come!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson

Contrived. Ridiculous. Hackneyed. And I could feel her grinding away to be funny. I don't want to see someone trying to be funny. I just want to laugh.

The critics loved it. Maybe I am an idiot.

The one thing I did like was the poem by Emily Dickinson at the end. So I shall quote that rather than wasting time on Atkinson's "Get me, and my witty and unusual turn of phrase" prose.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of Me.

Friday, 6 May 2011

La dame dragonne

I hate rude and unhelpful people. I'll admit being rude and unhelpful is not up there with such crimes against humanity as genocide or child pornography, but when it's so easy to be polite and helpful (even my 2 year old can do it) why not?

I went to the post office this morning to send a first birthday present to a certain special little someone. Going to the post office is never a joy. Today it was a trauma. I took my ticket without which no one will even look at you at la Poste and went to join the queue. When the person in front of me had finished I checked the number on the board. 611. My ticket was 612 but as there was no one else rushing to the counter I took my parcel and moved forwards. It happens, right? You take a ticket, you can't be bothered to wait, you leave. La dame dragonne behind the desk looked witheringly at my ticket. Is that 611? she asked, pointlessly, as she could see it wasn't. Look at the number board why don't you! she barked. Cowed, I retreated. And waited patiently. As did she.

A couple of moments later a woman sauntered in waving ticket 611 and took up her place at the counter. I waited some more. Not so patiently. When it came to my turn the lady resumed her withering look and informed me that to send a parcel I had to use the machine. Why she couldn't have told me this when I first advanced clutching my parcel I'm not sure. As there was no one behind me in the queue and there was already a queue at the machine I asked if it would not be possible for me to send it, with her gracious help, at the counter. No. It had to be the machine. The staff of La Poste have apparently stopped dealing with the post.

When I got to the machine I realised you needed change. I didn't have any. I returned to the woman at the desk, who was sat doing bugger all and asked again if it would not be possible for her to deal with my parcel. No. The staff of La Poste have definitely stopped dealing with the post. She told me there was another machine where I could get change from notes and that I should use that. I asked her where the notice was informing their clientele that the staff of La Poste could no longer be bothered to shift their lazy arses (I might have phrased it a bit differently in French). She simply repeated to me that the staff of La Poste no longer deal with the post. In the interests of not scaring little O (who is a sensitive flower and tends to start wailing when mummy "gets upset") I went, changed my note in the machine, weighed my parcel and printed out my stamp.

Before leaving, I returned to la dame dragonne, who was still smugly occupied doing bugger all, and told her that generally in life I prefer to do business with a human being rather than a machine but that in her case I was more than willing to make an exception.

I then exited the building to post my parcel only to find that La Poste, in their infinite wisdom, had blocked up the post box outside.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

New tricks

Poor little O. As his sister careers about, her acrobatics both physical and verbal getting dizzier by the day, poor little O sometimes gets a bit forgotten. Learning to walk might not look as impressive as shinning down the fireman's pole at the playground (and it was pretty impressive) but Owen is not only learning to walk but picking up a few other new tricks as well. He plays peekaboo, he waves, he has "who can scream loudest" contests with his sister (we're not so encouraging of that particular trick), he does kisses and he can find daddy or Matilda when instructed in the manner of a deliriously happy truffle hunting hound, but with more drool. To give you an idea of just a couple of Owen's latest achievements, here's a little clip I made earlier.

Tonight's video is dedicated to Jen and Margot. O and I hope you enjoy it :)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Old friends, new friends

I'm sorry, I've been a little absent from hyperspace. I don't imagine anyone has been gnashing their teeth with grief but just in case, I apologise. I have been absent because we have been enjoying our run of guests and one of my blogging rules is: no blogging while there are real people around whose company I can enjoy. And I have been. So very very much. I remember how happy it makes me seeing other people, seeing friends. Everything is more relaxed somehow. This weekend we were visited by Tomtom and Steph and their little girl, Camille, who is three weeks older than Matilda. We had so much fun doing not a lot. Camille and Matilda tootled around after each other, insisting on doing everything the same. Camille is adorable. I adore her. She's hilarious. She and Matilda got on like a house on fire. Not literally (thank goodness). They played this rather sweet but incomprehensible game which, as far as we could tell, involved them running like loonies towards each other, running past each other, stopping, turning round, giving each other a big hug, then running off again. Owen tried to keep up, making a grab as little limbs flew past.