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.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Making a complaint

So my tutor got back to me on Friday, in a mail encouragingly beginning 'hello, everyone'. Everyone! It turns out that he gave extensions he wasn't authorised to give to several of us, and the Course Chair has said that the only way out is for us all to make a formal complaint.

This is slightly distressing, because Tutor has actually been incredibly helpful, and I might - probably would - have ditched this course before Christmas if he hadn't been so supportive. But there doesn't seem to be an alternative. I have asked him to pass my email address onto the other people affected, so we can coordinate our approach. I could do without the hassle, but at least it means there's a good chance that this can be put right.

I spent part of the day doing a series of searches on 'Belgian Studies'. After five years in a Belgian village near nowhere in particular, with petty-minded parochial neighbours, I don't particularly want to spend the rest of my life specialising in things Belgian. By the time I left Belgium I was quite close to a total crack-up, and only the fact that the other half got there first prevented me from descending into gibbering idiocy. But it has to be acknowledged that I have the wherewithal to make a contribution to cultural studies in Belgium. I know the country quite well, after living there for ten years; and I read Dutch with almost as much facility as I read French. In fact, I make the greater part of my living from translating out of Dutch. I translate sociological and cultural texts - conference papers and abstracts - for a major Dutch -speaking Belgian university. So I am, or will be, in a position to tackle this wayward, fragmented society as a research subject. So I searched on 'Belgian Studies'.

Now, departments of Belgian Studies do exist. Specifically, they exist in the US, one or two UK Unis, and - intriguingly - Romania. In every case they are sub-divisions of French departments. Qui dit Belgique dit France, it appears. And there are places where Flemish culture is studied. Without exception, Dutch (or Flemish, if you prefer)- speaking parts of Belgium are studied along with the Netherlands. Nowhere appears to tackle Belgium as a whole. This is understandable, partly because it is a very fractured country, and partly because very few anglophones can work with Dutch and French. It does not - so far - appear that anyone outside the country has made a comparative study of the ways in which history, literature and art were used to construct a specifically 'Belgian' identity during the years surrounding the founding of the state in the early 1830s. Or, for example, of the ways in which visual materials have been used differentially by sister political parties on either side of the language divide in their election material (there are no 'Belgian' political parties. But a party will work together with its cognate in parliament - cf. the two Green parties, the francophone 'Ecolo' and the Dutch-speaking 'Agelev').

So this appears to be an under-researched area. Bugger.

The nazi in the off licence

Yesterday evening I went into the off licence at about a quarter past nine and stopped on the threshold with some shock. It was crammed with braying young men, exuding alcohol fumes and wearing a variety of WWII army uniforms and in the centre there was a chap wearing jackboots and a swastika.

I didn't say anything - one small middle aged woman, not feeling very well, was not about to start a confrontation with half a dozen enormous lads who probably play rugby - but my feelings must have been all over my face, because another of them, not uniformed but wearing stained formal dinner dress, said 'We won the war, bitch'.

There was a good deal of kerfuffle because the card they were using was refused and it took them some time to make alternative arrangements, and there were loud jokes about 'revision parties' and how much longer it would take 'the girls' to get ready, and I just kept staring at this strapping great lad in his Nazi uniform in appalled wonder.

Then I remembered an older teacher at school's comment when one of the class, reading aloud, mispronounced the word 'nazi'. Everyone laughed, and she said 'This kind of thing makes me very happy, because it tells me that a generation is growing up untouched by this awful part of our history'. I could see her point, but I'm not convinced. Across Europe, we're trying to extirpate the celtic cross from football grounds. It does have a contemporary meaning; it's not something lost in the mists of history.. I wanted to know what this lad thought he was doing, why he'd made the choice,and whether he understood what his uniform represented. I wondered too why the other lad had reacted so aggressively to my facial expression, and how exactly 'winning the war' made it OK. They were plainly drunk, but presumably there was some point when the choice was made when they weren't drunk. And drunkenness is not really an excuse, ever. By that I mean that people may do things when drunk that they wouldn't do sober, but alcohol, removing inhibitions, reveals what's underneath. And what was underneath in the case of some,at least, of these privileged young men was loutish - ignorant, discourteous and loutish.

Monday, May 07, 2007

FA Cup Finals and Pointless Husbands

The FA Cup Final yesterday: well, the ladies', anyway. It was great fun, though Charlton startled us all by scoring before our girls had properly got out of the dressing room, in their heads at least. There was a lot of jumping up and down and shouting, and we won 4-1. The match had its moments, but there was a lot of random passing around the midfield. The Charlton goalie faffed and panicked a lot and was about four feet tall. There were nearly 25000 people there - I've seen the place emptier at a league match - and I wouldn't say the standard was any lower than it usually is at the City Ground.

I remember how I felt when we watched Arsenal beat ManU inCardiff in 2005 and this ... well, it just didn't feel the same. PatrickHerring vividly remembers being hugged almost to death by a screaming female relative on either side of him when Vieira sent his pen into the net that afternoon. Partly it was the lack of tension today; we knew we'd lost, that day in Cardiff, from about twenty minutes in. And partly it just didn't matter in the same way. Sad but true.

My tutor mailed me to say he'd found my answer phone message when he got back from holiday. He went away on holiday when he received my essay too. I love him to bits; maybe it's just jealousy when I say he seems to have an awful lot of holidays. He says he's 'looking into it' but disturbingly, he asked me whether I'd cleared my extension with something called 'regional learning support'. Now, I've never heard of them, and no one has ever suggested to me that I should clear an extension granted by a tutor with them, so I'm slightly anxious that he's covering his back.

So I celebrated this possibility by tactlessly asking the other half, with whom I'm supposed to be running a business, what he had done today, apart from a bit of shopping. All sorts of bits and pieces, he said. What bits and pieces? He read the mail, apparently, and did 'all sorts' of other bits to our accounts program. Did he translate anything? No. Did he do some work on last year's accounts? No. Or any other of the admin I haven't got time to do because I'm translating all the time? At this point he began to snarl. I don't know anyone who would put up with his work rate in either an employee or a partner, but I'm also supposed not to mention it. He said I was perfectly welcome to do as little work as he did, if I liked. So, er, where would our income come from. He shrugged.

I love this man dearly. My children also love him dearly, especially the youngest, who won't go to bed unless his daddy puts him there. I wanted to slap his face, hard. I imagined my hand prints on his cheeks. I am not a violent person. My palms itched. I went away and poured a glass of wine. I came upstairs and vented my rage on this blog.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So this evening I was rummaging about and I discovered my blog, which has been dormant for six months and which I thought didn't exist any more. And to my astonishment, I saw that a few people had read it. And because it's 2.15 in the morning and I'm vaguely fed up, I thought I'd reactivate it.

It is a bank holiday weekend, and I'd cleared my work diary for the visit of my much loved cousin, who is kind of my only sibling, if that makes sense, but he was exhausted after a business trip to a number of gallery curators' conferences in central Europe and decided not to come. This enabled my bank holiday weekend, much anticipated, to descend into extreme shitness without hindrance.

And it kicked off with the delayed return of my last assessed essay (4K words, 70% of the non-examined component) for my current module in my MA Cultural Studies with the OU. It was very pleasing to be given a mark of 87%, and to be told that my ability 'to critically engage with the subject' was outstanding. It was less pleasing to note that there was a thick felt-tip line through my mark, beside a stamp which said 'Assignment submitted late. Score not accepted for assessment purposes'. I had my tutor's permission for the late submission; and, if this score is disregarded, it's mathematically impossible to pass the module. The idea that I may have achieved the necessary marks for a distinction on this module, but will be failed on it, has reduced me to a state of gibbering hysteria. I phoned my tutor but he's not at home; he's probably having a bank holiday weekend away, beato lui. Tsja.

The day kind of descended from there. So now I'm drinking a rather good Mirabelle and not sleeping.

In other news, our oriental black kitten Abou was joined by his red cousin Theo in November, and they are now inseparable. When I work out how to do it, I'll put up a picture. And tomorrow we play Chelsea (did I ever mention I'm an Arsenal fan?) which is stressy, and on Monday I'm going en famille to watch Arsenal Ladies play Charlton in the final leg of their quadruple attempt at the City Ground, which is ten minutes' walk away. It will be nice, at least, to go to the City Ground in my own colours. Patrick and I are already arguing about which of us will be wearing the 2005 Cup Final flag. I think I'm going to lose.