Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I never thought I'd hear from an Irish builder

"I'll have one of them frothy coffee lattes. Make it decaf though"

The legacy of the Celtic Tiger will live on in its navvies, it seems...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another year older? Halle-bloody-lujah

One of Jonah's little pals is about to turn two, so I asked him what we should buy her for a present. 

"Bob the Builder tractors". No surprises there, then, from our resident Bob worshipper. 

The present obviously sparked thoughts of the whole birthday shebang, though. 

"Wait, Mummy. I find birthday card" came the command, yelled over his shoulder as Jonah rocketed from the room at Toddler Force 9. Seconds later, he was back, proudly displaying said "birthday card": a Guardian supplement of Leonard Cohen lyrics. (I particularly like this rendition for Mr. Cohen's fantastic grumpiness - just what Jonah had in mind, presumably). 

It would seem nihilism is all the rage with the toddler set these days... 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe this is why they call it a coffin surfboard

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll be saying it again: The absolutely casual, absolutely integrated approach to religion in Ireland really strikes me after our years in Seattle, which apparently has fewer churches per capita than any other city in the good ol' US of A. 

Today's God-is-everywhere classic is brought to you by the schedulers of Ocean FM, up on the North West coast of Ireland, whose description of their Saturday morning programming runs like this:

Easy listening/obituary notices/surf report

Or, in the style of a tabloid subeditor (my secret dream job):

Beach Boys/beached boys/to the beach, boys!

In this instance, it's mostly the order in which the schedulers chose to detail the show's offerings that has me cocking my head to one side with a "hunh???" Imagine being in that programming meeting - the topics up on a whiteboard whilst everyone argued about which order made the most sense. Quite how they came up with this one is a mystery, but I'm glad they did because it made me laugh out loud, and then it made me think.

Death is especially on my mind this week, much as I wish it wasn't. And as coincidence would have it, the image this programming line-up evokes - a few bars of Good Vibrations, a moment of silence in respect of the dead, then off out to catch a wave - seems as appropriate a tribute to this particular death (of an old friend) than any I could have conjured up on my own.  As the Wilson brothers put it:

I wish we could, mate - I wish we could. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

One of those combinations as clearly wrong and yet indefinably logical as a pickled egg in a packet of crisps

You may think, as so many of us with ageing ovaries and romantic notions of best-friend siblings seem to, that it would be a fantastic idea to have kids close in age; say, 2 or so years between the little lovelies.
And so it will come to pass that just as Little Angel #1 will be mastering the vagaries of potty training, so Little Angel#2 will be (quite literally) flexing his crawling muscles. And you will spend the majority of your waking hours vigorously directing one small child towards the potty and the other small child vigorously away from said potty. The joys know no bounds.

As for the pickled egg: When I was about 17, Sunday evenings were often spent with my BFF Alex, my favourite cousin, and his mates learning to play pool in a little pub in a forest, next to the river (that sounds like some kind of Brothers Grimm tale for teenagers, but you get the gist).

The Designated Snack of the evening was a pickled,hard-boiled-egg presented (I use the word lightly) in a packet of crisps - usually salt-n-vinegar flavour. The sharpness of the crisps perfectly offsets the blandness of the egg, and the beer washes it all down gloriously. Fuck knows how this became any kind of habitual bar snack, but it was tops. And of course now, twenty years on (Christ, we're getting old), on the rare-ish occasions I play pool, I think of Andrew, his gang, and the pickled eggs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Because if someone had done this to me last year, it would have made my day bright like a shiny, shiny star

I was out meandering with the kids last week. We'd just made it up past the first (of seven) castles and second (of Christ only knows how many) churches in the village when a woman hailed us from across the street. We waited, and she approached us with kids that looked much the same ages as Jonah and Lucas, although girl-flavoured. 

It turns out she'd bought the same pushchair as us (the Phil&Teds e-3, pop pickers) and had a question about folding it. Because I am an idiot, I got halfway to demonstrating how to manipulate the damn thing ("and then you twizzle the little knobs and ta-da! the seat hinges and collapses on top of the other seat") when I remembered that I had two small boys occupying said seat(s).  Brightest button in the box award going to me today, for sure. 

Anyway, during the course of the conversation it emerged that this woman and her family moved here 2 days ago from overseas. We said goodbye, I pointed in the vague direction of our house in case she had any future pushchair-related problems and sauntered off with the wee ones towards the greengrocer to irritate the Maeve-Binchy-novel-made-real ladies of the village as we jammed the behemoth that is the Phil&Teds into the ankle-width aisle. 

As we shopped, I was struck with a remembrance of last year, when we moved here from the US. We didn't know a soul, and Jonah and I were both quite quickly in urgent need of company beside each other. It rained the entire sodding summer, putting the kibosh on our "it's easier to move in summer because you get to meet people out and about" plan, and in fact most plans, really. I made an awful lot of horribly bold-feeling overtures to friendly-seeming mothers at library story times, playgrounds, and, yup, outside the greengrocer. 

Making friends as an adult is in no way less cringe-inducing and nerve-wracking than as a teenager, except you don't have the self-handicap of the bad fashion mistakes and the bubble perm. What spurred me on, what was worse than rejection, was the idea of spending the next god-knows-how-many years with no social contact. 

A year on, my  "I am new - please be my friend" neon sign has faded somewhat. Life is liable to be too busy these days rather than too quiet and a few of those cold-call type approaches have morphed, bit by bit, into solid, funny, cool, happy friendships.  Still, somewhere between the bananas and the grapes, it occurred to me way too late that I could have/should have given P&T Woman my number. Being the one always having to make the effort can be an exhausting part of a relocation and, God knows, a relocation is exhausting to begin with. But of course, at this point, she was nowhere in sight (and if she HAD popped out in between the Chiquitas and the White Seedless, I'd have thought she was an absolute nutter and second-guessed the number-giving, doubtless). 

We finished up our various errands (messages, as the Irish call them) and were trundling our way to the local indie coffee shop. Jonah, like the good Seattle-born kid he is, had requested a coffee stop and who am I to deny him? As we rounded the corner towards Mugs, we saw P&T Woman again. So we stopped, and, reminding myself that I was aiming for Friendly Neighbour mode rather than Random Stalker, I suggested that we swap numbers. 

There's no Hollywood ending to this. Neither she nor I called the next day, discovered that we had more in common than if we were identical twins separated at birth, and have spent every moment since exclaiming that we don't know how we got on in life without the other. This is one of those stories that doesn't round off neatly with a "and then they all lived happily ever after". But, y'know, that wasn't really the point anyway. I dunno, so many people have been genuinely, without prompting, just plain nice to us over the last few years (and the last few moves) that I couldn't see any harm in overcoming the Great English Reserve (bloody English, huh) and offering the contact. And it made me happy for a good while, too, so there's that. And that, my friends, will have to be enough. 

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not ready for the poker circuit just yet, then

Jonah: Mummy Mummy, Lucas sad!

Me: Is he, darling?

Jonah (nodding vigorously): Ya. It crying.

Me: Poor Lucas - what's up with him?

Jonah: I hit it. I push it ohh-ver.

Well, I suppose we want him to be honest...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Any minute now, I'll be complaining that the policemen look so young, and then I'll just totter off to Cliche Corner

We went up to Belfast last month to a ball* with Abs and Jamie. Abs and I have known each other pretty much half our lives at this point and reckon the last time we went to a ball together must have been back at college, in 1991**. As we were "admiring" our pouffy taffeta ballgowns and pouffy hair in the photos that Abs, inexplicably, hadn't burned, it occurred to us to ask the babysitter what age she would have been in 1991. 

"Oh, I wasn't born yet"

O-kay then. Next stop, demanding that the neighbour kids turn down that damn music...

* unlike the balls of our past, this one didn't, as our friend Ilona so succinctly put it, involve pints of vodka and random snogging of random blokes in random corners of marquees. 

** I feel obliged somehow to make the point that I haven't exactly been whooping
it up in marquees 
in between, either. 
Just in case you were suddenly imagining me with a rack of gowns. 
Yeah, right.
(what is it about the word "rack" that always makes me want to snigger?
Apparently I am actually a 14-year-old boy...))

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Knickers to it

Hmmm. Now the baby is sleeping "through the night" (as long as your definition of "night" means "until the first glimmer of dawn"), all excuses for avoiding exercise and counting chocolate as a core food group are officially void. Bugger. Continuing my personal quest to ensure that the soundtrack of my life is World's Cheesiest Songs, my current default tune is a line from Paul Simon's "You can call me Al" - 

"Why am I so soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?"

Not that my life is hard, per se - it's just full. But hey.  

Anyway. I was beginning to bore myself with the excuses for not actually doing something about it, but somehow fitting in a run even twice a week just doesn't compute when you're a quarter of a family of four. Partly because I just really like hanging out with the boys, big and little, and am loathe to give up weekend time. And as a chronic insomniac, running in the evenings is pretty much out - it'd be like knocking back a triple espresso at midnight then wondering why I couldn't sleep.

 So I hit upon the idea of getting up at 6am every other morning (Dave and I alternate getting up with the kids and so this would be my "off" morning) and going for a run then. In theory this would make me instantly glamorous, fit, and chirpy. Actually, I suspect I'd need a frontal lobotomy and a total personality transplant to become instantly glamorous, but I probably need those anyway for contemplating sunrise runs. 

In practice, here's how it played out:

Day 1, 6am: Dave and I wake up after a (for us) colossal 8-hour sleep to the gentle chirruping of the boys in their respective bedrooms. Grin, yawn, cuddle. I remember I've left my running gear in Lucas' room and clearly it would be a heinous crime to disturb him. Run foiled.

Day 2, 5:45am: Lucas wakes us up burbling to himself. I leap out of bed and selflessly (hmm) offer to get up with him so that Dave (who has been doing morning wake-ups for 8 months at this stage whilst I did nights) can sleep in. What this actually means for me is that I can snuggle with a dozy baby rather than having to face any exercise, but still feel virtuous about it. Yay. 

I had a blinding realisation halfway through the morning that thinking about going running wasn't actually the same as having gone running.  Genius, that's me. The rest of my life is not actually so hard, but my middle? Still soft.  
However, there's a solution: Support knickers.

Sexy, huh? And do you know just how much of a cliche you feel running into Marks and Sparks after work to buy control knickers before legging it to nursery to collect your two small children? Ooh, that would be a HUGE one. 

The control knickers worked like a Walk of Shame, though - the very sight of them was enough to make me determined to bloody run already lest I have to wear the damn things. So...

Day 3: 5:45am: Lucas awakens. The baby monitor springs into life, as does Dave. I lie in a pleasantly dazed state until BAM, into my head pops the picture of the evil support knickers. Enough! cries my conscience. Alright, alright. I'm getting up, just stop threatening me with those monstrosities. 

So I stumble into my running gear and fall out of the door. And once I'm out, it's fab. Well, the run itself wasn't exactly my finest moment in a pair of trainers. 
I was wheezing like a charlady on 80 a day, 

my boobs were giving me two black eyes, and the whole circuit was an exercise in internal plea bargaining ("run just five more minutes and you can eat all of Jonah's Maltesers for breakfast").

But - and here's the thing, and this is what I remembered from running and what will get me back out the door when the threat of the Support Knickers fades. It was just so cool to be out there in the waking-up day. Barely anyone else about, save a few other early-morning masochists and their dogs. And the run took me past the Martello Tower that serves as a James Joyce museum:

and along the coast. The sun was just rising. The ships were leaving Dublin and heading off to new lands (well, pretty well-known lands, but bear with me).  The day just seemed full of possibility. 

And then I arrived back home and found Dave and the little boys all cosied up on the sofa with their milks and "cuppateas", as Jonah calls it. Gorgeous. So even if it's a heinous idea tomorrow, I'm going to remember the good points and get back out there. Support knickers, I may avoid you yet.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nun better

After secular Seattle, it's funny being in a culture where religion is so all-pervasive. Sometimes, too, it seeps through in ways that crack me up. Like this, on a radio phone-in:

Local Dublin kid, praising a nun for free tuition ("grinds") which got her through her exams:

"Big up Sister Margaret - she's a bleedin' hero"

Somewhere out there there has to be a nun giggling into her habit...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

User error

Just how ridiculous is it that I keep checking my blog for new posts? Um, hello there. It doesn't quite happen like that...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brown paper packages tied up with string

A year ago today, we were packing up our Seattle lives ready to move back to Europe.
Jonah was of course oblivious to the broader implications of leaving behind everything and everyone he'd ever known (melodramatic, moi?). So as far as he was concerned, this was just a fantastic day of mess. Things to crinkle! Things to hide in! Things to roll around in!

I was sorely tempted to join him but figured the removal guys would be less tolerant of a noisy pregnant Brit than they were of a noisy (non-pregnant, clearly) toddler. And hey, Jonah's American by birth, so he's supposed to be noisy.

We had substantially more gear to move back than we'd moved over with four years ago. The toddler, for starters. And wedding rings, deep and lasting friendships, a gaggle (giggle?) of memories...Oh yeah, and a serious coffee house habit. I mean, c'mon! A coffee shop with a "laptop bar"! Hard not to love.

When we'd moved to Seattle, our giddy Londoner-selves hadn't owned enough to fill a sea container, so our stuff had shared space with other traveling randomata. And man, the randomata that some people choose to travel with is staggering. Our bits and pieces got mixed up at customs with some of the other passengers' stuff (presumably when it was opened to make sure none of us was smuggling Class A drugs or small mammals, or possibly one inside the other...anyway...). Who travels with a self-portrait of their own (male) nipples? Not us, although we now possess said photo (mmm, lucky us). We assumed it was a self-portrait from the angle of the shot.

But on the way back? Oh yeah, we were American now. We had consumed. Unsurprisingly, we qualified for a container of our own. Not quite Virginia Woolf, but we loved it just the same. It harboured our worldly goods - each and every lovingly wrapped-and-packed carton. All 235 of them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

That's great, it starts with an earthquake

This time last year, I kept thinking in terms of pop lyrics - easier than actually articulating how it felt to be leaving this place that had seeped so much into our psyches. I couldn't stop warbling the lyrics to "Leaving on a Jet Plane", alternated with "It's the end of the world as we know it". Classy, that's me. Thank the lord I'm not a radio station.

The latter always seemed the more apt in my parting-is-anything-but-sweet-sorrow brain, partly due to seeing REM here at
Bumbershoot in 2003, partly because they, like us, apparently love Marco's Supperclub,and partly for the David Belisle connection to my publishing pals here. Amazing how you can start to think you're Michael Stipe if you try hard enough. 

But in the end, the thing that always made me cry when thinking of leaving Seattle was this daft board book we'd bought for Jonah for the last night there, Good Night America. It's taken almost a year to be able to read it without drifting off into nostalgia and even now the penultimate pages, with the bald eagles nestled (and nested) alongside the white mountain peaks, make me swallow hard.