Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In which I realise I fell in with a good crowd far too early in life and entirely neglected to properly misspend my youth

So it's been nearly two months, and Electric Picnic is still buzzing round in my head and making me smile every time it pauses at the "thought" doorway. (Electric Picnic is kind of Burning Man in an Irish field, or, as the British political journalist Jon Snow put it, Glastonbury crossed with the Hay Literary Festival.)

I’d had really mixed feelings about going. I mean, I like music, but not necessarily enough to spend time in a field coated in mud listening to it, or sacrificing the opportunity for two nights’ decent, kid-free sleep. Yeah, yeah, I’m whining, it’s true. I just wondered whether this was one of those things, like reading The Catcher in the Rye or watching The Outsiders, that you have to do within a certain time frame or you’re screwed. And an unwanted by-product of an overactive imagination is the ability to run through pretty much every scenario in your (OK, my) mind and see exactly how bad things could become.

It's also because I'm terrible - terrible- at doing things outside of my comfort zone, and my comfort zone is pretty narrow. Give me a pen and paper, or better still, a good book, and I'm sorted. It's anti-social to a degree, but it's always worked for me. I couldn't exactly see how a music festival was going to be my idea of fun. But...part of the thing I'm working on for the next 18 months is to not feel so small and scared at things outside of my absolute preferred option. And I love Dave, and Dave loves music, and sometimes life really is that simple.

And I’m sure, if we'd picked a different event, my worst fears might have been just the starting point. But - and this is a HUGE but - this festival that seemed to have been put together by people listening to little voices in my head. I actually can’t think of a better way of spending two days. For starters, I got to hang out with Dave without (literally) knee-high mini-versions of him in tow asking for ice cream or sliding into the mud or beating the living shit out of each other (and knowing that they were having their own personal version of a festival with their grandparents meant no associated guilt, either).

And then, look! Here's the stuff going on in my head:

Sitting under a tree eating pie and chips, watching a rainbow fade over a manor house whilst listening to Zero 7*

Watching Dave dance and seeing that part of him which these days is buried under the day-to-day of kid-raising and career-having. Watching the man you married letting loose at one of the things he likes to do most is worth any amount of sleeping in a field in Ireland in September. Even if he did offload his bag to me for better dancing.

Dancing like loons to Just Jack at three in the afternoon, perfectly straight and gloriously happy, in the middle of a huge crowd. We’d wandered in to see him on the strength of one song, which can make me cry on a bad (good?) day, and came out beaming those beams that don’t switch off. I am always going to be in love with scruffy, unassuming blokes who can both rhyme and scan, so really it was a foregone conclusion. Makes me happy happy happy.

Watching a little boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, playing tag in the trees dressed in combat trousers and fairy wings.

The waiter at the Burlesque Cafe, dressed for the occasion in fuschia lycra accessorised with a matching boa, who wandered up to us and asked, "Would you like to see some photos of Victorian porn?" Better still, he'd got Jon Snow, the political journalist mentioned above, to sign the copy. OK then.

Hanging out in the spoken word tent whilst Dave was off doing his dance thing somewhere and getting to hear top Northern Irish performance poets Scream Blue Murmur do a cover version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" as sung by the Proclaimers. Entirely nutso and absolutely brilliant.

Soaking in a giant melamine tea cup/hot tub at 10pm on a Saturday night with random Irish "personalities" wandering past and men eating fire 7 feet away.

If I hadn't already resolved to be braver, I'd resolve to be braver. Totally, totally worth it.

*We’ve seen Zero 7 play now in Ireland, Seattle and London, at festivals, bigger gigs, and small venues, and much as we love them at home (hence our persistence), the official pronouncement is that they're still shit live. Sad but true.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm sure I stand still when I'm saying inappropriate things

Everyone needs a friend like Kim. My first real friend in Seattle, and still one of my truest friends even if we've lived in different cities for years now, I knew she was a keeper the day we went wedding dress shopping. I was a bit nervous; I've never really been much good at the uber-girly stuff and the idea of spending a whole day with a virtual stranger (we'd known each other about a month then, maybe) - a beautiful, blonde stranger at that- having to be polite about her bridal choices and pretending to care about her opinion of mine sounded both intimidating and exhausting.

But then Kim started talking to the Keepers of the Gowns, these insanely coiffeured shop-women with spray-on faces and expressions as fake as their tans. "We're looking for two entirely different dresses" she'd start. "I'm getting married on a beach in Mexico and Sarah is getting married in a castle in England, so she needs something that will coordinate with her husband's green tights - he'll be dressed as Robin Hood".

The first time she did it I opened my mouth to correct her (for all I know, maybe that's what she thought the Brits did at weddings - hats for the women, cross-dressing for the men) and caught just the tiniest fraction of a head-shake. The boutiquistas would stop, look, try to rally, stare at us both again, and then direct us hopelessly to the racks of bouffy meringues to search for ourselves. Victory to Kim.

After a while, this got predictable, so Kim upped the game a little. Entering a dressing area which felt more like backstage at the Milan shows (as if I'd know), we were bidden to remove all footwear. Kim didn't miss a beat. "Has that foot fungus cleared up yet, Sarah?" she asked in her most bell-like tones.

Kim was the first evidence that life in this new country was going to be OK - that we would be able to settle in and find our tribe, because our tribe did, after all exist. And in the end, it was more than OK, and lovely Kimberly is lovelier than ever.

Last week Kim sent me this quote, Jamie Oliver's description of his mother apparently, with a "remind you of anyone?" alongside it. It made me laugh out loud - and realise that it could be me, or it could be her, but it's probably both of us. And it made me happy:

"(...) hilarious. A hundred-miles-an-hour avalanche of energy. She’s superbright and fairly encyclopedic about stuff, but at the same time she’s a complete liability. She just worries and flusters and runs around the place, saying inappropriate things."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So apparently life's all about childrens' books and the second world war, with a quick visit to the West Wing.

...and it's all because of a woman who writes about Vancouver the way I feel about Seattle. I've been reading Kate's blog for a while now, and her thoughts about her parcelled-up past life in Vancouver always make me nod and think "yeah, that's it".

Anyway, Kate's written a kids' book which has its own website, and she posted this meme which looked like fun and, in fact, is. It's resulted in a glorious night of red wine and YouTube rabbit holes of The Great Escape. Yeah, yeah, I know I have 3 versions of the damn film on the shelf next door, but why would I move from the muppet chair (our favourite chair of all time, made from, as our neighbour pal put it, several skinned muppets).

The meme was about books, and films, and booksandfilms, but as you'll see, for me it was mostly about the war and small children, with a dose of Clinton politics, oddly. Not nearly as miserable as it sounds, honest, and probably a fair representation of what you'd see if you split me open like an oak and counted the rings of interest.

(the bold bits are Kate's original questions, the other stuff, obviously enough, are my answers).

(and yeah, some of the numbers are missing; if an answer didn't spring to mind, I chose not to trust it. It's my version. Bugger off).

1) You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three. It's up to you. What do you choose? Josh from The West Wing, because he’s made history before and he’d be bloody good company.

2) You can escape to the insides of any book. Where do you go, and why?
I’m a chronic insomniac, so it’d be something from my “insomnia shelf” – books familiar enough to soothe me but engaging enough to make me forget whichever pointless woe is keeping me awake. Usually it’s Dan Savage’s The Kid: I read it whilst pregnant with Jonah and it takes me back to that time so quickly. Plus, he reminds me of Seattle and that always calms me down.

3) You can bring one literary character into your current life. Who do you choose, and why?
Mr. Tom from Michelle Magrorian’s classic Goodnight Mr Tom. I can remember the first time I read this book – it startled me beyond belief. Everyone needs a Mr Tom and he’s always reminded me of my “Uncle Bob”, my Dad’s best friend. Despite the fact that John Thaw portrayed him in the film, when I go back to the book, it’s Uncle Bob’s face I see. He died just at the beginning of my pregnancy with Jonah (hmm, unexpected theme here much?) and I’m always sorry that he didn’t know I was pregnant.

4) Primary Colors, by “Anonymous” (really, Joe Klein) is my go-to book. I could read that book fifty-seven times in a row without a break for food or a pee and not be remotely bored. In fact I’ve already done that but it wasn’t fifty-seven times. It was sixty-four.

5) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most enviable? I’m answering this one at a bit of a slant. More, the ones who’ve stuck with me and made me wish I could read them forever (or write like that): Probably Mr Tom (see above) – or the dad in Danny, Champion of the World.

6) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most frightening? I was (am) such a scaredy-cat I’m not sure I’d ever watch something that terrified me. The saddest thing I ever watched as a kid – and which I rewatch, and rewatch, and rewatch – is the forger, played by Donald Pleasance, in The Great Escape, during the moments he realizes he’s going blind and will neither be able to help others to escape nor escape himself (yes, yes, I KNOW he does, but that comes later). I can’t bear the fucking irony of the thing and it deadens my day every time – that and the scene where poor, poor Danny, the claustrophobic “Tunnel King”, loses the plot at the eleventh hour. Shit, that film just makes me weep.

7) Every time I read _________________, I see something in it that I haven’t seen before. I’m only just through the first reading, but I believe my answer here will always, and forever, be David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The fucking thing is a genius of a book.

10) After all these years, the first section of The Collector, by John Fowles still manages to give me the queebs when I think about it in retrospect. SO not the book to read on a Greek beach, folks (I’m telling you this so you never make the same mistake I did) .

11) After all these years, the scene in Flambards (KM Peyton) where Christina and Will get together still manages to give me a thrill.

12) If I could corner the poet Roger McGough here’s what I’d say to them one minute or less about his book (anthology), Poetry Please: Thank you for making poetry for me as a kid, for bringing me into colour and rhyme when I was perfectly ready to think I needed stories to be only prose. Even if it did result in a fuckload of bad verse from me for a while. That's my fault though, not yours.

13) The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is How We Lived Then, by Norman Longmate, as raved about in my previous post. Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to – well, it makes me want to do everything, really. Live during the Second World War. Write like that. Live my life in the book without coming out for air.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh, screw it. These are a few of my favourite things

I had a lovely long post planned for today about my anti-gloom plan, Project 40, but then I decided to sulk instead and now it's too late for such a post, to say nothing of me feeling way too stroppy to want to write it. Which is ludicrous since nobody reads this anyway, so clearly I'm just being pointless.

Anyway, amid my myriad faults, the one that drives me the maddest (as opposed to the one/s that drive my nearest & dearest the maddest) is my unquenchable fucking optimism. Occasionally, just occasionally, it would be nice to wallow. But no, every time there is a problem I have to find a bright side. My legs just got stuck in a manhole? Excellent! Now nobody will know how short I really am/my arms will become really strong and sinewy in compensation/I'll meet loads of really interesting people whilst I'm stuck here.

That kind of thing. See? Really sodding annoying.

So, this post is brought to you by Insufferable Pollyanna, who would like to be having a thoroughly entrenched sulk about bugger all right now, but is instead compelled to think about the nice things that have happened over the last couple of days:

(a) Fish and chips by the water's edge last night, with glorious Dave, for date night. A clear October evening, sitting on some random statue (see, the Irish. Statues bloody everywhere) overlooking Dalkey Island, which reputedly has its own King despite being the size of a cow pat. We could hear howling from the island, so presumably the King is dead (Long Live the King!), devoured by wolves, OR practising some howling of his own.

(b) Jonah telling me yesterday, "Look, Mummy! This is how we play Batman in the garden at school" then sticking his coat hood over his head and whizzing around, arms outstretched. How fab is it, exactly, that the very things you (well, I) remember from childhood come back through playground muscle memory? Of course, Jonah is convinced he and his pals invented this, so we are both delighted, albeit for slightly conflicting reasons.

(c) The arrival in the post today of How We Lived Then, one of those books that changed the way I thought about things when I was 14 and has stuck with me ever since. Some people had Star Wars or Duran Duran; I had a brick-sized explanation of the home front in the UK during the second world war. It was as exciting to see the book today as it was when I first found it on the top left-hand bookstack of our local library 20-odd years ago.

And on that note, I'm off to read about turnips for pineapples and pubs in Anderson shelters.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Not so much a chip off the old block as a leaf off the slightly-knackered-but-still-giggling tree

It's hardly a secret, my love for trees. My love for wood. My love for forests. Ah, bugger it - my love for anything to do with those dank, rustly walkways through curvy avenues and secret hidey-holes. I mean, what's not to love?

I know as parents we're supposed to be looking after the big things pertaining to our kids. And sure, we make sure they're fed, and shod, and shooed to bed at a reasonable time (as much for our sakes as for theirs). This year, though, I'm getting to teach them one of my favourite little things, too. They're both properly vertical and belting around this year (last autumn, Lucas was still at the crawl-and-shuffle stage, which whilst cute maybe, isn't all that useful for walking in the woods).

So, any chance we get, the boys and I are seeking out huge piles of fallen leaves and kicking them around with gusto, glee, and grim determination. After a foray into a pavement's worth of fallen lovelies, it occurred to me that Dublin road sweepers were probably cursing us for destroying an afternoon's work with a leaf blower in 3 minutes, so we've taken to the hills.

Killiney Hill, to be precise, where the woods ease out onto cliffs and a view of the sea, and there are sticks to throw for passing dogs, and hot chocolate to be had in the little stone folly next to the statue of Dedalus (never underestimate the predilection of the Irish to throw in a cultural reference - or bronze statue - when you're least expecting it. Last year, the Irish ferries posters were quoting Beckett and Wilde. The comparative concept of Brittany Ferries using, say, Roger McGough and Shakespeare was glorious but totally unrealistic).

It's one of those things they never tell you in What to Expect and those other tomes, but my god, leaf-kicking is WAY better when you're doing it with your wee ones.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The three best bits of advice about relocating anyone ever gave me

  • Accept every invitation for the first six months; you never know where it might lead.

  • You’ll always miss every place you’ve enjoyed living; that doesn't mean the move isn't the right thing to do.

  • You’ll never recreate the other places you’ve lived; everywhere will have some things that are better and some that are worse.

Each of these came from a friend who'd been there, done that, and in each case, these particular pals are people I'd put right up there on my "friends to save from a burning building" list (OK, so I'd save all my friends from a burning building if I could, otherwise why be friends with them? but you know what I mean).

Collectively, the advice has served me pretty well over 5 different countries and fuck knows how many new homes.

I'd probably customise the top one now the kids are involved and accepting-every-invitation is sometimes not logistically not possible. When we moved to Dublin, my new motto was:

"you don't meet people stuck indoors".

So even though the rain threatened to create an extension of the Irish Sea right there under the wheels of the buggy, and even though I was crippled by homesickness and brand-new nostalgia for a life we'd left behind (to say nothing of heavily pregnant and intrinsically inclined to melodrama), Jonah and I went out every single day, smiled when we could, and eventually, it felt like we lived here. That's the condensed version, but you get my point.