Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comment se dire: What the f***? en francais?

We were in France last week and oh, the crazy French, ze mek mee laff.

My two favourite hunnh? moments:

  • A pharmacy window display with, as its centerpiece, a bride’s head in a bowl. It was surrounded by tanning products, so I can only assume that she was decapitated for not appearing at the altar the requisite shade of Tango orange. Either that or, this being France, she had committed the fatal flaw of fake beautifying (rather than effortless elegance) and the John the Baptist-esque scene was intended as a dire warning to the remaining residents of the town (and to passing nosy tourists).

  • A box of mouse poison. I suppose, in English, we call this rat poison rather than mouse poison (why? Do we not kill dinky little mice, or does “rat poison” just sound more substantial somehow, in the same way that a rat is undeniably more of a rodent than the mere mouse?).

Anyway, for the joy of this anecdote to work, you also need to know that the French word for mouse is “souris”.

The name of the poison? “Souricide”. Brilliant. The packaging featured a picture of a mouse in its death throes just in case we were in any doubt.

And then a hunnh moment we delivered in reverse on the way back to Dooobleen:

  • A hipster on the plane home engaged in conversation with Lucas (20 months) as we disembarked. I’d seen said hipster in front of us in the queue for the plane. He stood out by dint of travelling alone, notably without the array of small wailing children clinging to all other passengers. He’d been carrying just a small bag, which he checked, and an indeterminate bundle in a black bin bag, which I’d naturally assumed was some kind of bomb.
Lucas was admiring the Quiksilver logo on hipster’s t-shirt (ie, poking at it and burbling) so hipster explained to him that it was a surfing brand and “I’ve got a wetsuit in this bag, actually”. Ah, so not a bomb then – god, my powers of deduction are brilliant.

said I, speaking for Lucas who was clearly not going to have the vocabulary for this particular exchange,
“Lucas has a wetsuit too”

Hipster looked at Lucas with sceptism, then back at me.

“Not a real one though, right?”

“Well, it’s pretty real. It’s a Billabong suit, and it has instructions for how to wash it post-surf”

Hipster surveyed Lucas again, this time with a renewed respect. His brain, you could almost see it hurting from the attempts at processing. I understood. It was a hipster version of Bridie the Baptist.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My own personal pathetic fallacy (better than my own personal Jesus, although less tuneful)

For most of my twenties, I lived in London. I lived pretty much everywhere in London – in eight years I moved eight times – so I got to know it, if not all over, then pretty well. London is busy (genius award coming up, Sarah) and chaotic (genius award confirmed), and I was busy and chaotic, and it suited me perfectly. Life is so fluid in your twenties (at least, my life was so fluid in my twenties) and London was the perfect place for that. It was grimy and noisy and constantly shape-shifting and, yep, so was I for the most part.

By the end of my twenties, though, I was getting a bit sick of the constant motion of the big city. I’d slowed down and my not-so-hidden inner country girl was getting more of a chance to speak. And in came Seattle. OK, OK, so it wasn’t exactly that straightforward, but my point is that just when I was craving nature, along came nature. Big nature. Scarily easy access to far more wild animals than I’d ever like to encounter (cougars in the hills above the city; bears in the university district, for God’s sake). Seattle is, was, forevermore shalt be, a fab place to spend a decent chunk of my thirties. There was cocktail-drinking, sure, but there was also a LOT of the outdoors. Friday night drinking sessions were replaced by Friday nights sailing on Puget Sound, watching the sunset across the Olympics whilst knocking back the odd gin or tonic with some of our favourite Americans.

Anyway, my point. I spent this afternoon in our garden, here by the sea a few miles outside Dublin.
And I am small, and due to a great need for everyone to like me, mostly friendly. So, following the city, my life has moved from random underground bars; it’s moved from the mountains and the lakes. It's moved, quite literally, to our backyard.

The wee ones and I were joined by our regular Tuesday pals – five “ladies”, as Jonah calls us, and eleven under-sixes. The trees were full of blossom, and full of foam rockets being shot into the branches, and not so full of small boys falling off said branches trying to retrieve the rockets. Toddlers were tackling the too-big swing set. Everyone was belting around; there were fights over the pull-along Dalmatian; tears were shed. It was great.

These days a lot of time is spent like yesterday. Hanging out with my pals (and the little boys’ pals) in someone’s garden, or hanging out in our garden. Sure, it’s great from time to time to visit an old life, but right now, this is the right life. And yeah, I know it isn’t as hugely-coincidental as I’ve just made it sound, and I know, too, that people have all these sorts of lives in all these sorts of places. But bugger it. I just liked the pathetic fallacy of it, that's all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trees: Tops

I’ve always loved trees. Well, more accurately I suppose, I’ve always loved woods. Apparently in Japanese, there's a particular symbol for "tree", and the word for "wood" is the same symbol, clustered together several times. I know no Japanese so have no idea if this is true or just entirely made up, but I hope it's true because it just seems eminently cool.

For me, one tree on its own is like a single pea: you assume it must be there by mistake and start casting round for a few more. What I really like about woodland is the whole kit and caboodle.

There's that satisfying crunch underfoot that makes you feel vaguely intrepid. Even in evergreen forests, with fewer actual leaves, there’s always something falling from the trees (pine needles; old bark; chipmunks). That feeling of hiding from the outside world – in a decent forest, you’ll probably be sheltered from the worst (and the best) of the weather. And yeah, the trees themselves aren’t bad. So old! So big! Hmmm, so articulate, Sarah.

We visited a great new wood last month, and have just returned from my favourite forest in the world. It's got me thinking about woods I have loved, or at least, woods that hold memories for me. And sure, a list of favourite forests should *really* be filed under "cures for insomniacs", but hey, I'm one of those too, and if this ends up curing my insomnia too, so much the better.

So: without further verbal faffing, here's the first one:

1. Royal Forest of Dean, summer 1989

Starting with the oldest and best of forests - the one I've always known just as "the forest". This seems a timely one to be choosing, too, since it's A-levels/Leaving Cert time and this whole memory has that edge-of-adulthood, end-of-reason flavour.

I was eighteen, and just finished with A-levels and thus with (high) school forever. I’d grown up on the edges of the forest (pretty much literally, if the copse at the end of the drive counts) and didn’t need distance from it to know how gorgeous it was. Bluebell woods; babbling brooks; tiny little ponds accessed by twisting, made-up lanes and appearing out of nowhere through the oaks.

That last summer before leaving home is, of course, framed with nostalgia and a lot of the more dubious or just-plain-tedious details erased, and what I remember is this: Blazing hot days; picnics by the stream; fashioning hula skirts out of more random debris and just kicking back with that endless feeling of freedom. Bottle upon bottle of The Dreaded Red. The Blues Brothers soundtrack; Squeeze; local bands with such glorious songs as "Sheep on Drugs" ("fair blows my mind"). One particularly brilliant evening of partying in the forest; cookouts; music from the car stereo; lying back on the undergrowth and counting the stars. Driving through the woods at dawn and coming across a stray sheep (not unusual in this land of sheep badgers) , so putting it in the boot to give it a lift to its rightful patch.

Still, and always, my favourite forest; still, and always, one of my favourite eras. If you could wear memories on your jeans like patches, this one would kelly-green and blazing blue for the sky, and on my left knee, where I'd catch sight of it daily and grin a bit.