Saturday, September 30, 2006

In which I get repeatedly distracted

It's amazing the number of exceptionally urgent tasks you can find to do if you really want to. Yesterday at 9 am. sharp you would have found me sitting in front of the computer, I had a paper to rewrite and submit. Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen making a second cup of expresso, just to get those sluggish brain cells going. You may have spotted me somewhere in your logs shortly after that because a quick crawl through the blog roll seemed like a good idea.
At some point, an irresistible red leather jacket popped up on the screen and had to be bought. Now it really was time to get back down to work, but not before I had poured half a bottle of déboucheur down a blocked drain, stood around waiting for the deadly chemicals to take effect and rinsed, rinsed, rinsed. Oh, was that the mail I heard dropping through the letterbox ? Look, a special offer : 26 issues of Elle for 20€, I just had to get my cheque book.
My goodness was it that late — time then for a bite to eat. So at midday I was to be found with a plate on my knee and — please don’t ever tell anyone this — daytime BBC Prime on the TV.
I did get back to the grindstone and spent what seemed like a long time finding out whether one should write oriented or orientated (doesn’t matter), how to format the bibliography for this journal, then while checking one of the references I came across the directory of open access journals and spent a while browsing those. Until that is, an e-mail popped into my inbox with an offer for a case of Spanish wine that seemed just too good to miss. By then I had realised that I was having a bad writing day so didn’t feel too guilty about taking this BBC quiz and discovering that I have a male brain (why do I feel quite pleased about this ?) Then there was the video my brother sent me. And oh, surprise, surprise it was time to go and pick the children up from school.
Tomorrow, I’m having that tattoo changed from Peregrinations to Procrastination.

(Photo courtesy of Deborah and Lucy productions. Could it be a sloth?)

Monday, September 25, 2006


I am a glutton. I am incapable of keeping anything I really love in the house without needing to consume it in large quantities, usually in a series of closely-spaced sittings until it’s all gone and can torment my willpower no longer. The concept of enjoying just one small piece is not something I am familiar with; I have to have the whole thing, or at least as much as I can digest in one go. After the guzzling, the inevitable bloated feeling sets in…. and the guilt, oh the guilt.

This terrible weakness is the reason why I have devoured all twenty-seven episodes of the first series of Desperate Housewives in a week. In the early evening I could hear the box of DVDs calling out to me: “Watch us, watch us, you know you want to.” And so I would watch. Sometimes four episodes back-to-back, until my eyes were red and bleary and I quite simply could ingurgitate no more of the goings-on in Wisteria Lane.

The intensive viewing even led to hallucinations — a spotty guy on a bike whizzed past me and for a eeny-teeny moment I was sure it was Zack. I almost raised my hand to wave. Sometimes two binge-viewed series got a little muddled and I ended up wondering if Meredith and her friends couldn’t do something for poor Rex as he lay dying on his hospital bed.

A fellow sufferer recently asked which of the Desperadas I identify with most. Now, I would really love to be able provide a little frisson to this blog and claim that, "actually, I feel very close to Gabriella...." but we all know that I am Lynette. I can only be the harassed mother of very active children, I will never be the nubile Latina in silk pyjamas. Neither will I ever be Bree of the perfect house and silverware, nor the dizzy Susan.

Only I bet that even Lynette wouldn’t be seen dead in a script indulging in junk-TV benders and from now on, that’s it, neither will I. That boxed set of the first series of Lost can call out its siren song all it likes. I’m on a strict diet and will not give in to the lure of a couple of hours of pure, sickly-sweet escapism. I have much more worthy things to do.

Until the cravings set in, that is ...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Un ange passe*

I hate long silences. I’m always the one who blurts out some inane comment just to fill the three microseconds of awkwardness in a conversation.

So, did you know that if you keep a sweet potato for a long time:
a) you shouldn’t try to pick it up, because it will have gone mushy-rotten
b) despite its vile texture the mushiness will exude the heady aroma of something between lychees and parma-violets ?

Right, back to the silence then.

*The French can fill up any awkward gaps in conversation by suggesting that "an angel is passing through", which invariably makes the silence even more uncomfortable.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Schrödinger's no brainer

Is there anything more dismal than a post that starts with "I had a really funny dream last night"? I know I'd zap, so feel free.

In fact, I woke up to P. shaking me and urging me from what seemed like a great distance to "calm down, calm down". It seems I had been shouting out in my sleep. I'd been shouting for a very good reason — a cat-out-of-hell had just ambushed me from a great height and I couldn't get it off my back.

My question is this: a bit of my brain concocted that dream so why didn't it tell the rest of my brain what it was setting up? How did a cat that I created manage to take me by surprise and frighten the sleeping nightlights out of me? I can see only one explanation: one of my brains has decided to go it alone.

(Photo borrowed from a Flickr user but I forgot to note whom, sorry)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A crappy numbers post

94.09€ : The price of a new cable for my Powerbook. I recently jumped up to answer the phone, tripped over the cable, Powerbook went crashing to the floor and the cable was yanked out of the socket. When I plugged it back in, sparks and smoke appeared. At the time I thought I was looking at 15€ or so for a new one. How wrong was that?

23°C: The temperature forecast for tomorrow. So relieved that autumn seems to be rolling in. I'm all for an Indian summer but 34°C in September was just ridiculous.

62€: Amount I spent on a week's shopping this morning. I used to turn my nose up at the hard discount supermarkets, but no more. There's hardly any choice, the packaging is sometimes a bit dodgy, some of the cold meats are a bit, you know, German. But I can whizz round in no time, have no decisions to make, and there's no "coup de bambou" at the checkout. Next week read about our move to a trailer park.

27: The number of epidsodes in the second series of Grey's Anatomy. I thought there were only 12 so stopped there months back (but did think it was a somewhat abrupt ending). Over the past three evenings I've been catching up on the increasingly preposterous medical training of Meredith and friends. To be honest, even the romance is leaning towards the preposterous -
Finn: My mother's dead. She got cancer when I was ten and she suffered for a really long time and then she died. And my father never recovered. Its kind of like he died with her, except that his body's above ground and permanently placed in front of a TV with a bottle of scotch in his lap. And the last woman I slept with was my wife, but she died too. It was a car crash so it was quick. She didn't suffer, which I appreciated. Don't worry, I'm thinking that my luck is beginning to change, because I met you. And you like dogs, and you enjoy pony births, and have the ability to save lives. I never said I wasn't scary and damaged too. [She kisses him]
2: Number of times I've watched this video tonight. I'm loving Piers Faccini. (Think Jack Johnson and Ben Harper rolled together with a hint of an Italian accent)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Song and Dance

Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was 6 months old ....... or some other ridiculously young age. And that is why this week it is enormously important that I sign my children up for as many potentially lucrative out-of-school activities as possible. They've got a lot of catching up to do if they are ever to introduce their Papa and me to the life of wealth cascading UP the generations after which we hanker.

So for Z it is to be multisport on a Wednesday afternoon. We're spreading the net wide. I might even get some exercise out of this because it's going to involve me haring across town to ferry him from one place to another between 12H30 and 13H. Which is just as well because I'm certainly not going to have time for any other sporting activities.

However, our budding musical genius has opted out of the musical awareness class he did last year. To be honest I didn't put up too much resistance since the times this year meant that bathtime and dinner would have had to be crammed into a no-doubt fraught half hour. Besides, they like a rough diamond on Star Academy don't they?

For E. it is to be dance on a Tuesday evening. Since it turns out that the troublesome tooth has to be extracted soon, I've put the modelling career on hold. So dance, baby, dance.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Days

Z started primary school last week. What we called Primary 1 is called CP here meaning Cours Préparatoire although what it’s preparatory for I’m not quite sure. It’s clear that his school experience is going to be very different from mine which I can just about remember despite the oceans and oceans of water that have flowed under the bridge since then.

Take his satchel for example, it’s a swanky, colourful, contraption with plastic clips, multiple pockets, skateboarding logos and even a key-ring. Mine was a brown leather satchel, full stop.

Despite living in the sunniest place in Britain, I also don’t remember ever going to school in shorts and a t-shirt which is all Z has worn so far.

Then there are all the friends: a swarm of best and bestish friends he has messed around with since they arrived in nursery together. When I went to school I knew not a single soul on the entire island I had just arrived on, never mind in the mixed class of 5 to 8 year-olds I was about to join. I had certainly never been to nursery — did they even exist in the sixties ? No, I came fresh from five cosy years at home with my Mummy in a pinny, watching Camberwick Green.

However, what actually goes on inside the classroom here seems closer to pre-war pedagogy than anything I ever experienced. The children sit in rows looking towards the maître or the maîtresse at the front. Today I had to buy a little slate on which Z, like all his classmates, will chalk the answers to the teacher’s questions before they all hold them up for inspection. Even in the Inner Hebrides, where incidentally all the other kids seemed to be related to each other in some way, we did some of that new-fangled group work.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Friday, September 01, 2006


A friend tells me that he reads much less during the summer than at other times of the year because he does so many other interesting things when the weather is good. I don't, and the past few weeks has been a veritable readingfest for me.

I've been bored by Anita Shreve's lacklustre A Wedding in December , and unconvinced by Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players although the twist at the end is moderately clever.
I enjoyed Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian but in retrospect I think its humour would probably lend itself better to a film than a novel.

My interest in Robert Louis Stevenson has been rekindled by Claire Harman's biography, despite her lack of sympathy for the women in his life. I'm currently reading The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst and surprised by just how fascinating the history of the Scottish lighthouses is and just how enterprising RLS's forebearers were.

Like everyone else I know, I've been absolutely bowled over by The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Although I read this book way back at the beginning of July, and although I did think a couple of the plot devices were a little clunky, I'm still having flashbacks to scenes steeped in the atmosphere in Kabul in the '50s. I also read and enjoyed, but in a different way, The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad who lived in the city while it was ruled by the Taliban with the eponymous bookshop owner's family. If you're a woman it certainly makes you glad that you were anywhere but there then.

I finally managed to finish The Child that Books Built having laid it down a few months back and decided it was well worth picking up again as the second half seemed to me to be more engaging than the first. I especially enjoyed the chapter on learning to read, perhaps because Z is just begining to decipher certain words and it's good to be reminded of those eureka! moments from one's own childhood.

A childhood much more alien to my own is described in great technichemical detail in Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood which I have to admit I found so inpenetrable at one point that I guiltlessly skipped over whole paragraphs. (Primo Levi's The Periodic Table was better at making this non-scientist feel she'd understood at least some of the excitement felt by chemists for elements.)

What else? I liked the light and airy style of The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde but it was a pretty flismy whoddunit. Victoria Hislop's The Island is a wonderful account of the last years of life on the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony off the coast of Crete. It's just a pity that the writing is so desperately plodding and the interesting bit at the heart of the novel is framed in such a silly subchicklit plot. Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down was funny, really funny, but I'm sure I'll have forgotten all about it by this time next week.

All in all, a good summer for books. So, no I didn't get round to Bordeaux Housewives. Pfff a book about expat Brits in South-West France. Please someone confirm that it is as bad as I think it is because otherwise, I'm going to regret reading not writing over the summer and spend the next few weeks wailing "I should have written that!"


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...