Monday, 30 July 2007

Mummy, Interrupted

The Girl reached another milestone yesterday: she woke up calling me 'Mum' and continued all day. It makes her sound about fifteen. This may not seem like a big deal - it's not as if she's got to the stage of calling me 'You-bitch-I-hate-you-I-hate-you-I-didn't-ask-to-be-born-anyway', but I'm used to the cuter Mama or Mummy and it seems so sudden. After the twentieth-or-so 'Mum' I politely enquired about the change, and she said: "Mummy starts with Mum" and gave me that same "Don't you know anything?" look.

Meanwhile, her obsession with how old people are and what they're allowed to do in relation to her continues to interrupt the reading of stories, singing of nursery rhymes, and . . . well everything.

Me: Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the-
Her: How old is Polly?
Me: Umm, not sure, why?
Her: She's using the kettle. She must be bigger than me.
Me: Yes, she is. [continues singing] Polly put the-
Her: How old then?
Me: Umm, thirteen.
Her: No she's not. [Gets book illustrating the rhyme] Look, she's young. She looks about three and a half.
Me: Well she can't be, or she wouldn't be using the kettle and drinking tea.
Her: It's peppermint tea, so it's okay.
Me: Right. Do you want me to sing the rest of the song?
Her: No thanks. I'm doing a puzzle now.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, 27 July 2007

Hope, Thy Name Is Primo

Last night I heard the wonderful news that my friends' shy, endearing and not-very-streetwise cat, Primo, has been found after being missing for seven weeks.

In all that time, although it seemed hopeless to the rest of us hardened cynics, my friends never gave up. The amount of missing cat posters they stuck around the neighbourhood probably borders on illegal. They had hoax calls, and genuine calls, and identified cats (some quite rigid) that were not theirs, and still they went out of an evening with Primo's milk dish, bashing it in the hope that he'd come out from wherever he was hiding . . . and last night, from underneath a car, crept a much thinner but instantly recognisable Primo. SEVEN WEEKS!

I'd like to say congratulations to my friends. And then I'd like us all to say a small, final prayer for something of mine that has been missing for almost as long: my shy, endearing and not-very-streetwise novel has been held hostage by some literary agents. I've done everything I can: checked my email every thirty seconds, kept the phones close by, pounced on the poor postman and tipped his bag upside down looking for a sign, just one bloody sign of where my long-lost novel might be.

Come home, Novel - but bring a contract with you, okay?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, 23 July 2007

Chip off the Old Block

Clearly inspired by her mother (happy to have inspired something other than prima donna outbursts), The Girl has produced this masterpiece:

Snow White and the Nine Comparatively Large Dwarves
(they look a bit scary but don't worry, they're 'armless)

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

It's a Small World, After All

Our umm'ing and ahh'ing about moving to Oz has reached a conclusion. He says: 'Umm, we'll go after Christmas.' I say: 'Ahh, you can tell my mother then.'

It seems only fair that we give it a try (if I grit my teeth any harder my jaw will snap). He didn't mean to live over here for more than a year - well, that'll teach him to make eyes at English girls - and recently he's started to eat Marmite without pulling a face, so he feels it's time to get back to his roots. Mate. More importantly, his side of the family have mythical status for The Girl (they are the Senders of Gifts and the Blurry Faces on the IMac), and have never even met The Boy.

Meanwhile, The Girl is growing curious about the size of the world, though I feel we've scuppered her understanding by taking her on the 'It's a Small World' ride at EuroDisney. 'Are we still in England?' she says, on the way to nursery. 'Yes, nursery is in England,' I reply. 'But we live in London,' she tells me. I explain about London being part of England - she'd assumed London was just our street - and throw in a comment about how big everything is, which by the look on her face confuses the situation and deepens her suspicion that I, in fact, know nothing. Then I mention Oz, and the mythical grandparents and so we get side-tracked talking about how daddies have mummies and daddies, too, and about how nice it will be to see them again. And after all that we arrive at nursery and she says: 'Are we still in England now?'

Yesterday, we had an estate agent over to give us a valuation. He was a typical sort: over-tanned, bejewelled, so-pleased-to-meet-us-what-a-lovely-home. He was dripping with smarm; I had to leave the room at one point (I have a very low smarm threshold). On his way out he stopped to grin inanely at The Girl and seemed reluctant to leave until she had smiled back. Which she didn't. She seemed to want to say: 'I'll see your grin and raise you a really filthy look.'

But afterwards she said to her father: 'Was that man your daddy?' 'My god, no!' he replied. She explained: 'Oh, well he was wearing brown. All daddies wear brown.' She seemed pretty relieved. It was another nail in the Oz coffin for me.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

One For the Kids*

News reaches me that these fairytale retellings are doing well, with Three Billy Goats and a Gruff Troll in the lead (which is my favourite, as it happens! The song is particularly catchy. It's possible we dance around to it in this house a fair bit.). Later this year: The Princess and the Frozen Pea and Three Little Pigs and a Pinny**

**titles subject to change...aren't they always?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Quirky? Moi?

How does that famous saying go? Everything comes to those who wait around on the sofa a lot, propping up a feeding baby with one arm while holding a Dr Seuss book with the other. Or something. This week the work came to me: Parragon would like me to write a picture book for them. They thought of me because they want something with "lots of humour" and possibly "a bit quirky". I'm quirky! I do humour! Someone else other than me thinks so and wants to pay me for it!

Ah, happy days.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, 13 July 2007

Crap Mop

Today, the part of the dopey middle-class twit will be played by Me, while the part of Monica, the fairly stern Polish cleaner, will be played by Herself.

Act 1

Me: So, here's the cupboard with everything in it. This stuff is for the floor.
Herself: (looks at floor, looks at Me as if to say - Then why have you never used it?)
Me: These dusters are for . . .
Herself: I know these.
Me: OK! Great. And this is . . .
Herself: (flapping me away) Is ok, ok, I do now.
Me: OK! Great.

Act 2

Me: Thanks, everything looks really good.
Herself: You buy Viakal.
Me: Viakal? I've heard of that. What's that for?
Herself: Buy Viakal.
Me: OK!
Herself: Buy mop. This mop no good. Crap mop.
Me: (guiltily) Oh, sorry, really? OK, I'll get a new one.
Herself: Vileda.
Me: Right. OK then. Vileda and Viakal. Thanks.

(Herself leaves. Me dashes to sink and sighs at how shiny it is, and then writes a huge note for the fridge: BUY VILEDA AND VIAKAL!!)

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Hausfrau Avoidance

This week it's not so much the pram in the hallway causing me strife but the hoover in the hallway . . . or Hoover, or vacuum cleaner, or that thing that's supposed to suck up the bits and dust only mine hardly ever does because I'm too lazy to change the bag so I just leave it plugged in and go off to do something else and there it stays for three or four days until I can't remember what it's like not to have to step over it every time I leave the room. It becomes like a faithful dog. So I put it away in the really awkward cupboard (where faithful dogs go, obviously), and then I look at the rug and sigh at the trodden-in raisins and the odd grain of rice from last week's takeaway and briefly contemplate getting it out again.

But recently I've discovered two reasons to stop avoiding the housework: one good, one bad. And I've been at it quite a lot.

When the flat is tidy (in a rumpled kind of way) I'm like Mary-bleedin'-Poppins with the children. Earlier this week we had an especially good day - made-up songs, interesting wildlife spotted on a long walk (fortunately ladybirds and slugs count as interesting when you are three), biscuit-making (with pink icing) and pumpkin-seed-planting. It was textbook. A spoonful of sugar? Not 'arf. But as the week went by and the flat went from gently rumpled to definitely disheveled to A Right State, I started to act more like Cruella de Ville* (only without the cool hair, and wearing not a fur coat but carrot-puree-stained jeans). Even though I hate housework, I also hate living in a tip. It makes me itchy (not literally - we're not at vermin level yet).

Housework might be a displacement activity for the novel I'm supposed to be rewriting. (I always intended the novel to be the displacement activity for the housework!)

I've also noticed that I tackle housework alarmingly similar to the way I deal with rewrites. I enter a room (chapter), chuck a few things, move a few things, push a few things under the bed, have a satisfied glance around and tell myself I've done a grand job, and duck out shutting the door behind me. Only deep down I know there's a layer of dust on the skirting-board, and a mug of old tea on the mantelpiece, and the character's motivation is still a bit oblique and that metaphor a tad over-written.

I need more and better housework, but I also need more time for the rewrite; I can't have both. I've got to take the flat/novel to pieces, deep clean them and put them back together.

The answer?

Well, she's Polish and charges £8 per hour. Now I have no excuse . . . Only, guess what I did today in preparation for my new cleaner starting tomorrow? Reader, I cleaned.

I have turned into a dreadful caricature.

*Thanks to Ross for his photoshop skills!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, 9 July 2007


I have identified in myself a new shortcoming. Tuppunawareness is the inability to select the correct-sized Tupperware for a particular purpose. It's a little-known but hideously embarrassing disease, with far-reaching side-effects that include:

1. Having to witness the smug look on your partner's face as he watches you pour a small amount of soup into a Tupperware that would comfortably serve as a paddling pool.
2. Needing to rearrange your entire fridge in order to accommodate a plastic box that mostly contains air.
3. The thud of disappointment as you realise that you have far less than you thought you had.

On the other hand, maybe it's not lack of spatial awareness, but optimism. Writers' Optimism - now there's another condition I suffer from. More anon . . .

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Opposite of Sleep

I asked The Girl to choose a bedtime story. ‘The Noddy book!*’ she said. ‘If you like, but it’s not really a story, it’s just about opposites,’ I pointed out (doing a piss-poor job of concealing my desire to read Mrs McTats and her Houseful of Cats). ‘I know what it’s about, Mummy, I want to do opposites.’ Five minutes of the day left and her little cogs are turning until the very last. Sheesh.

We had hot / cold, up / down, in / out, and then: ‘Noddy is young. Like you,’ I said. ‘And Big Ears is?’ ‘Old! Like you, Mummy!’ she said, so proud that she was getting them all right that I hadn’t the heart to explain that thirty-two isn’t actually that old and these are laughter lines and anyway I’ll look a lot younger and fresher when I’ve have more than three consecutive hours of sleep. So I smiled, sweetly.

She reeled off some more opposites, though as I was holding a silent grudge I was only half-listening, but when I came round she had taken the concept to a new realm – and when I say realm, I mean a borderless land of pointing out that every object, action or feeling in the world has an opposite.

There she stood in her over-sized Cinderella pyjamas. ‘The opposite of shopping is . . . no food! The opposite of wardrobe is . . . clothes on the floor. The opposite of my drink is . . . a cup with nothing in it.’ And so on, and on, and on . . . So I flicked to page fifteen of Annoying Parental Wit and said, ‘And what’s the opposite of awake?’ ‘Asleep!’ she trilled. ‘Right, and that’s what you should be right now.’ It was another twenty minutes, including a heart-warming off-the-cuff story about the beetle she’d found in a raspberry that day, before she got the hint and closed her eyes. Watching her, I wondered what thoughts rippled through her mind as she finally wound down.

If there’s one opposite that’s crucial for anyone trying to fit writing in between other, more dominating things, it’s on / off. Off is the one giving me trouble. My writing time is now confined to evenings; some nights I write until I can barely hold my head up, and then crawl into bed and siiiiigh at the chill of the pillow and the comfort of the dark and the sleepy little breaths I can hear alongside me (that’s The Boy – the breathing on my other side tends to register on the Richter Scale, for which he receives regular kicks in the shin). But even though everything is in place for sleep, and I’m so tired my eyes are stinging, and I know The Boy is going to wake me up in an hour or two, I’m thinking – wilfully thinking about the work-in-progress, or the imagined rejection I’ll receive in the morning, or the imagined contract I won’t receive in the morning, or . . . I could go on, and on, and on, and the writing thoughts are regularly interspersed with: did I lock the back door? what time is my dentist appointment next Wednesday?

I need an off-switch.

Like daughter, like mother.

*the new, sanitised kind

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, 6 July 2007

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Ear Whacks

(Look away now if you hate it when parents tell you about the Really Funny Things their children say . . . )

The Girl: Mummy, I have a whack in my ear.
Me: A what?
The Girl: A whack.
Me: (checking her frantically for signs of a beating) Did someone hit you? 
The Girl: (looking at me as if I'm crazy) NO! A WHACK!
Me: Ohhh, you mean wax.
The Girl: Yes but there's only one. One whack, see? (produces one tiny yellow ball of wax)

One whack, many wax.

Tomorrow: how the concept of Opposites has started to dominate our lives . . . 

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Cyril, meet Josh

What with being rushed off my feet (and sometimes rushed off my backside, what with all the sitting around lactating I find myself doing - which would be the perfect opportunity to write a novel one-handed were it not for small but perfectly formed three-year-old hanging off my neck) and not having enough time to research Our Cyril, I'm very grateful to a clued-up writer-friend who informs me that Connolly's book, Enemies of Promise, from which the 'pram in the hallway' quote comes, is: 'a piss-poor exercise in excuse-making'. 

(Anyone who writes a sentence that long cannot possibly put a claim in for time poverty.)

Did Cyril think that having children simply left no time for writing? It can't be an accident that several female writers I know (using the term 'know' about as loosely as my old maternity knickers) didn't really get started until they'd had their first child. The same is true for me. I spent my twenties intending to be a writer - a process that involved drinking a lot, smoking a lot, and talking a lot (of hooey). But it wasn't until I found myself with a baby instead of time on my hands that I wrote anything whole and (hopefully) credible. 

What we do is cling tightly to the tiny spaces between changing nappies, rocking to sleep and pureeing papaya. We're already sacrificing sleep and socialising, so what's a bit less sleep, what's a bit less socialising when the prize is Doing What You Always Wanted To Do But Never Quite . . . Found The Time?

During the writing of this post, I've been interrupted three times by The Boy, who may or may not be teething / have eaten too much yoghurt / be suffering from night terrors about me singing Incey Wincey a little too vociferously this afternoon. Would the post be better without the interruptions? Possibly. But without The Interrupter, it wouldn't exist in the first place.

US humourist Josh Billings said: 'Time is like money; the less we have of it to spare the further we make it go.' 

I'm with Josh.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Cyril Says...

The writer Cyril Connolly once claimed that 'there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway'. He could have meant a number of things:

1. Pregnancy makes us stupid.

2. We don't have a minute to spare because we're too busy doing fingerpuppet shows and creating nutritious meals from scratch while making sure there are no sharp or small objects within easy reach.

3. Long-term sleep deprivation renders us incapable of anything more complicated than watching CBeebies.

He could have meant a number of other, cleverer things but (a) I'm not (cleverer) and (b) I don't have time to find out who Cyril is or what exactly he meant and (c) I'm so tired I'm starting to dribble. 

So let's get the first one out of the way. Does pregnancy make us stupid? A recent study (a real one, in a university, with proper scientists) revealed that brainpower actually increases during pregnancy. Neuroscientists found that pregnant mice, rats and (rather more significantly unless we're talking about mouse art) humans experienced greater mental acuity while the bun was in the oven and when the bun was baked, put in a pre-washed babygro and plonked in front of a Baby Einstein DVD. The mice and rats had more energy, were more curious, ran mazes more quickly and retained detailed information for longer. Let me think, was I like that with either pregnancy? More energy . . . well, I somehow found the strength to give birth on my living-room floor without so much as a paracetamol (which apparently takes as much energy as running a marathon, though I have to say I'm still waiting for my medal . . . and waiting . . . ). More curious . . . yep, I was curious as to why the hell I thought I could handle two of them when one of them was already running rings around me. Ran mazes more quickly . . . do the narrow aisles in Mothercare count? Retained somethingorother . . . yep, probably.

The neuroscientists therefore found that, no, I have not been rendered so stupid by two pregnancies that I may not pursue my dream of becoming a published author. So far, Phil n Teds in the Hallway: 1, Cyril: 0.

And so to bed . . . 

Stumble Upon Toolbar