Saturday, June 30, 2007


I'm now not so much faintly green as bloody miserable. It has rained all day, I have one of the most boring texts I've had for ages to translate - over fifteen thousand words of staff regulations, I don't seem to have done anything nice for ages, no one has paid us over the last week, and I haven't had a proper night's sleep for days because DanHerring has been wandering in and out of my bed all night. One of my suppliers had a whinge about the rate I offered him, a rate 20% higher than I'm being paid for the staff regulations (I'm quite conflict-adverse so this was distressing). This evening when we were reading Philip Pullman in bed the boys fought each other until I put myself in the middle, whereupon they promptly both fell asleep while I was reading. As Patrick had pulled a pillow over his head I didn't notice, so I probably read about eight pages aloud to the cat. I have a lovely little crab in the fridge and couldn't be bothered to eat it after that. Last night I tried to make myself a proper supper - by which I mean something the boys won't eat - and burnt the vegetables I was roasting because I was on the phone to someone in a wind tunnel. They're still sitting, crisp and alert, in the oven.

I haven't read anything interesting and stimulating for days either, because I'm either cleaning up the house, working, or reading to the boys, who have taken total possession of my evenings. We haven't even got a flood warning to make life interesting, despite living a couple of hundred yards from the flood plain.

I am trying hard to think of something to cheer me up that doesn't cost money. If I can drag myself through enough staff regulations tomorrow I might go to Belvoir Castle on Monday and spend a few hours exploring the grounds. I've got a season ticket, so that won't cost anything. I like walking in the rain, so of course it will be dry, but dull.

Once, when we had been living for about a year in a god-forsaken Belgian village, I was woken up at about two in the morning by the sound of crashing glass. Then the noise of people exclaiming in the street. The woman in one of the houses opposite had decided to break all her windows. "Elle a eu une crise de nerfs", the neighbours explained cheerfully, as though this was a reasonable response, as indeed seemed self-evident to me by the time I'd been there for four years. I am looking at my windows now and thinking how gloriously transgressive it would feel to heave a brick through them.

Today I worked out how to post photographs on the blog. So here are a couple of pictures of the cats, as promised several months ago. They're photos of Abou at four months and Theo at six weeks; more up to date photos may happen later.

Faintly green

The Herring is in Liguria. He has sent a photo of the densely forested Ligurian hills, the sea a distant glimpse through the haze. Those trees are mostly chestnuts, with elegant striated grey bark. He has had me scurrying around hotel sites in Nervi, hotels with photographs of their traditional antipasti and stories of focaccia cooked on the terrace at breakfast time (nothing calling itself focaccia anywhere else remotely resembles the genuine Ligurian article, glistening with olive oil). When people ask me what part of Italy I like best I give all sorts of answers. I love Siena, I love the Abruzzi. But the truth is that the place that makes me feel truly homesick is Liguria, where I used to spend my summers once upon a time.

I am so jealous I feel slightly sick.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why do mobile phones have to be so damn mobile?

My family never phone me from a sitting position. No, they do it panting up hills on bicycles, or walking briskly down the road in heavy traffic. Yesterday evening the Daughter phoned me from what appeared to be a wind tunnel, and at one point threw her phone across the road in apparent alarm. It's not restful, folks, it makes me all twitchy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Single parent update

So it's been a strange sort of week. I've had both the kids at home with tonsillitis, and though I've been working in between times, I seem to have mostly been lying in bed with them on either side of me, reading Harry Potter 6 aloud. There's been a curious unreality about it, a suspension of everyday life. We've all wandered around in pyjamas, the kids have been feeling too floppy to fight each other, and there's been a complete absence of the usual feelings of stress. I've had a mildish version of their bug myself, and we've all been asleep at ten most nights. In fact, on Thursday night I fell asleep while Patrick was reading, to his outrage (we take it in turns to read aloud, it's very companionable).

The energy with which I was tidying the Herring's room has thus rather got lost. I shall finish it, but I'm feeling pretty lethargic. The work I had this week was all in the form of faxes converted into pdf, and it's a long time since I worked for hours at a time from a paper copy in a mingy small font. Squinting at the text, then returning to the screen, back and forth, set off my sciatica and I now have a permanent low backache. It doesn't make me feel inclined to climb around Roger's office hoiking things onto shelves, or crawling around on the floor picking things up from under his desk.

The week was enlivened by a flying visit from the lovely Daughter, who I picked up from East Midlands airport on Monday afternoon. We talked a lot, and I did not read any Harry Potter, and we had fish and chips - a treat for the expatriate (or ex-patriot, as I recently saw it rendered) on Tuesday for lunch before she caught her train to Oxford. On Wednesday my exam results came out, and I got a distinction, which reduced me to gibbering for an hour or so. My tutor kindly rang to tell me I was his star pupil, and that several people had failed this time, which apparently isn't usual. I was enormously pleased, partly because of all the awful hassles about the unauthorised extension I was given, and partly because this module was by far the most difficult I've done: I nearly abandoned it just before Christmas because it was so conceptually dense. I'm supposed to be reading diligently and thinking about my dissertation proposal, but at the moment I'm reading Harry Potter.

I swear I've talked to Roger more in the last fortnight than I have in months. He phones several times a day, often while riding, so I get the wind in my hair effect, and the roaring whoosh of passing heavy goods vehicles. He's suffered a lot from unkind winds and is predictably a bit behind schedule, but he's in Switzerland tonight. We have to hope he'll be able to get out: when parcelling up a load of used maps to post them home (less weight to lug around) he inadvertently included his passport. He also appears to have abandoned a plastic bag full of dirty clothes somewhere. Still, he's sleeping at Sainte Croix, 'le balcon du Jura', with the Jura mountains at his back and a mostly down-hill run to Lake Geneva and Vevey for tomorrow. Then it's the Gran San Bernardo and into Italy. He was planning to do some washing when he reached Vevey, where he'll be staying with a friend, but I suppose that won't be necessary now.

There are some downsides to single parenthood. Coping with sick children when you ache all over yourself, which was the case on Thursday, is not great. But on the whole it seems remarkably less stressful than nagging someone else to share it. I don't want to say much about Henry's imminent departure for Barça, except that he should probably have gone last year, and a thirty year old striker with persistent injuries and a bad attitude is not much of a loss, in practical terms. Psychologically it's a terrible blow though, and I fear that Wenger and Cesc will go now. Rumours that the board has turned down Kroenke's offer for several million for transfers are also worrying - no, not worrying, infuriating. It's all very distressing and I'm in denial (sticks fingers in ears, sings loudly).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

And again...

The rather decent phone that vanished a year ago from my bedroom desk - and has long been replaced - just appeared in the kitchen.

I can only assume that it, too, was lurking at some newly excavated level of the Herring's office. Does this mean my prescription sunglasses are also about to emerge?


So I've lost my glasses. I need them to drive and to watch TV, and it's a really pain putting in your contact lenses just to go to the shops. (I need to wear reading glasses with them if I want to read sell-by dates and the like). I lose my glasses fairly regularly; I suspect young Dan.

In the cupboard full of tangled wires in the Herring's office, though, I yesterday found the black plastic carrying case which originally housed my father's instant photo Kodak - the technology that lost out to polaroid, which is no surprise because the thing was the size of a portable television. It, too, was full of tangled wires. Tsja, I thought, pulling them out to disentangle them (I have so far tidied and taped up thirty eight different power leads). And underneath the wires I found - no, not these missing glasses, but the previous pair, the ones I lost last autumn. I liked them a lot, too, and they were quite unharmed. It was like finding two hundred quid stuffed down the back of the sofa, only better, because I don't have the hassle of choosing new ones. Yay!

I haven't found the camera yet.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Last night it rained. It rained so loudly that I could imagine I was sleeping in a tent. Every time Dan, who was in one of his bed-migrating moods, climbed in or out of my bed, I woke briefly and could still hear it, and when we staggered blearily downstairs shortly after eight, rain was still falling in an exhausted, drizzly sort of way. Patrick claimed to be tired from his trip to Wales, and angled to be kept at home; Dan was grizzly and refused to eat his breakfast. I was so distracted by having to strong-arm Pats that I missed what should have been obvious, and it wasn't half past nine when I got the phone call from school telling me that Dan was ill, and could I collect him?

It wasn't a disaster, because I didn't have much work, so I fed him some Calpol, translated a short press release for the UCI (What Pat McQuaid did on his hols in Venezuela) to the sound of Wonder Pets and Dora-Dora-Dora the Explorer, paid the gas bill, wrote a polite letter to DVLA pointing out that we had already paid the £80 fine for omitting to tax the car while it was stranded in a Trento garage last March, so please would they not prosecute us for it, failed to resist being drawn into an online discussion about Karl Popper and falsificationism, made a number of drinks and snacks at Dan's request, cleared them away when it became apparent he wasn't going to eat or drink them, and fed him some more Calpol. Then the cleaner turned up, most unexpectedly. It wasn't her day, but she didn't come yesterday when I was expecting her, and she has been dramatically late on the other two days this week. I am not sure how long this relationship is going to last, but I'm crap at being an employer, and both my employees take the most shameless advantage of it.

So I took the opportunity to stroll out to post my letter. By now it was humid but sunny, the sky clear without the slightest haziness. I was actually too hot. When I got back, self and cleaner exchanged words about how nice the day had turned out, after all that rain. All three cats were outside rolling around, waving their paws in the air smugly. I decided to spend a bit of time on Roger's office - which is really coming on quite well, you can see most of the carpet now. And suddenly the sky turned black. It didn't rain. Rain is discrete droplets of water. This was water descending in sheets, like when you adjust the shower head so you can blast the dirt off the sides of the bath after the children have been in it. Whoa, I thought, that's really quite cool. But after ten, fifteen, twenty minutes it was still doing it. There was no wind; the water simply came straight down, like a waterfall. By four o'clock it was as dark as December. Then there were two flashes of lightening, three seconds apart, and thunder so loud that Dan (who isn't normally afraid of thunder) came running crying out of the playroom to bury his face in my lap. And it went on and on, for an hour. What was Patrick, home from school, doing during this? He was playing on his computer, oblivious.

By a quarter past five, it was merely raining hard. I had to go to collect a prescription from the surgery on the other side of Bridgford, so I bundled Dan into waterproofs, and he helped himself to an umbrella, and we dashed out to the car (the driveway was three inches deep in water, but that's normal, it doesn't drain properly). The road was fine, but when we turned the corner we suddenly found ourselves driving through a good six inches of water even on the crown of the road. When we reached the A52 it was clear, and I thought we'd seen the last of it, but the centre of Bridgford was much, much worse - not much short of a foot. We joined the cars that were crawling tentatively along the centre of the road, the waters churning and foaming around us.

I am such a child about weather. There was something glorious about West Bridgford suddenly turning into an overcast Venice, and the Subaru in my imagination a vaporetto. Dan cheered up no end, too. Arriving at the doctor's, we waded from the car the the steps. "Well, you're brave," said the receptionist. See, extreme weather even turns doctors' receptionists into human beings. Of course, we weren't brave. Dan was just enjoying himself and I - well, I was enjoying it too, but 'brave' would have been deciding to manage without my anti-panic anti-insomnia medication.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quiet times

It's very silent here. I'm all alone. Even the cleaner has failed to turn up, oddly. Our accounts and job tracking program has broken, possibly because it twigged that its minder was away. The house still looks as if we've been burgled, but I've translated six thousand words.

DanHerring got into bed last night and said, 'Harry', very firmly. He's been listening in on Patrick's bedtime story lately (as well as demanding his own), so I had to read him a chapter of The Half Blood Prince, which sent him to sleep. Of course I shall have to read it again when Pats gets back from Wales.

Meanwhile the Herring is in London, and not doing too badly. Feeling oddly loose-endish, though there's a vast amount of translation and tidying to do - it doesn't inspire enthusiasm. Ah well. back to the grindstone.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Le grand départ

So I managed to get myself locked out of my own blog, and only managed to revive it because the other half decided to give me write privileges on his charity-ride- from-Trent-to-Tiber blog. This is so that I can update his exploits from his texts if he can't get to a computer. That sounds very unlikely, but a friend recently found there were no computers in Cornwall while doing something similar, so it may well be that there remain little patches - probably highly picturesque patches - of France and Italy untouched by broadband.

A good friend turned up in the Market Square to see Roger off, and to take the very nice picture you can see on his blog. By then I'd begun to believe he would never go; he'd been running around the house in gibbering panic mode for about 48 hours by then, asking me about the location of missing items items he'd already packed. As we hung about chatting by the lions, a woman appeared with a large bag of white sliced bread, which she proceeded to feed to a small gaggle of pigeons. Now, I don't go a bundle on urban pigeons. They're OK in the woods, but frankly diseased birds crapping masonry-erodingly all over the town centre, trying to trip me up and flapping in my face I can really do without. Nor can I believe that a diet of white sliced bread does much for their general welfare. The city has recently succeeded in de-pigeoning the area at some expense, so we all muttered a bit and Patrick got on his bike swooped among them, scattering them, and we all laughed, scandalising the woman feeding them, who started to yell abuse at us. We ignored her, and discussed the relative merits of hawks and handsaws. Or shotguns.

After the official departure we all went home, to dump the trailor-bike and me and Daniel there; but Roger hared off to the computer and I had an awful feeling that he was going to spend a couple more hours faffing. Was he ever going to go, or was I going to spend the rest of my life living with a manic cyclist for ever on the verge of riding off? Eventually they left, Dan and I drove down to Melton to meet them for lunch, and then we hoisted Pats' bike onto the top of my car and we three drove home, leaving Roger to set off - finalfuckingmente - in earnest at last.

We came back to a house that frankly looks as if it's been burgled. The contents of cupboards, ransacked for mysteriously essential objects, are spilled everywhere. Every room contains its own pile of empty boxes and polystyrene wrappings from the dozens of separate spare parts bought to rebuild the computers last week. It will get sorted, though not tonight and probably not until I've delivered the 9000 words or so I have to translate by Wednesday. The afternoon was spent packing Pats' stuff for his school trip. It will only be me and Dan here for the rest of the week, which will feel pretty odd. Now I have to remove both boys from my bed, where they fell asleep after a chapter of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

When Roger is away he leaves a curious silence in the house. He isn't especially noisy, though he does tend to leave music playing in his office all day and all night. It's subtler than that. A buzz of intelligence and psychic oddness emanates from his room and fills the house. It's going to be a strange three weeks.