Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fish might fly

I was lying awake last night worrying about a goldfish. Yeah, I know that counting sheep might have been more restful, but yesterday's sleep nemesis was a fish called Nemo.

We're five weeks away from moving country, and chin-deep in lists. Lists about making lists; lists of things we've done; lists of things to do; you name it, we've put it on a list.

The variety of job-choice is endless, ranging from the banal: scrub away all evidence of DestructoToddler from the walls of our Dublin home; to the critical: enrol Jonah in school for September. But am I doing any of these things? Am I buggery. Instead, I'm Googling "transporting fish 250 miles" and calculating how many plastic bags might be necessary to prevent leakage during an eight-hour car ride.

Yeah, yeah, I know: just flush the damn fish already and buy a new one in England. Christ knows, this isn't the first move we've had that involved fish-rehousing. When we left London for Seattle, one of our final duties before the Pickfords van showed up was to lug an industrial dustbin full of appropriately-algaed fish water (and accompanying bin bag of tropical fish) to Oxford Circus. Strangely, we were able to say goodbye to the little floaters without too many tears.

This time, of course, it's not about us. It's about the kids, and more specifically Jonah. Jonah picked out Nemo for his third birthday present. Well, OK, so technically he picked out a different fish, but when that one died after a couple of months, we went back for another one, and this one, he has lived. I guess the first one was the aquatic equivalent of a starter marriage, teaching us to love and nurture this little fishy until death us do part.

Or ....250 miles, followed by death.

Jonah loves this fish. Jonah's closing in on four-and-a-half, so Nemo has been in Jonah's life almost as long as Lucas has; and on some days, it's a close call which one he prefers. He comes down in the morning and chats to Nemo, and when we're away, Jonah phones his BFF, little Finn across the road, with strict instructions on fish care.

And, well, we're about to change most other aspects of Jonah's life, so flushing the fish just doesn't seem reasonable. Moving back to the UK is, in part, a way of knitting the boys more closely to their extended family and showing them the value of roots. It's not exactly practising what I preach if the first casualty of the "closer family" move is one of Jonah's favourite family members, albeit a (virtually) spineless one, is it?

I know, too, that focusing on the fish is just a way of putting my fingers in my ears and ignoring everything else that needs to happen. Denial? Yeah, and?

Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I've got "transporting fish" to Google again....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A whole different kind of Olympics

I don't normally pay much attention to the Winter Olympics, but Vancouver still feels "just up the road" even four years after leaving Seattle, and there's something just so damn wholesome about the Canadians that gets me rooting for them. And seriously, anywhere that has a road called the Sea-to-Sky-Highway is going to do it for me. I mean, c'mon. Why call something the N11, for example when you could be calling it Hillocks-to-Hellholes? (sorry, Ireland. I do love bits of you, but your roads aren't those bits).

I read this post last week and wanted to say: Kristin, don't worry: that pang you describe? That's exactly how Vancouver feels to visitors, even to relatively frequent visitors like me. I dunno how often you'd have to go there before it stopped being one of the coolest places in the world; one of the places I wish I'd been born (I love where I was born; we all know that ad nauseum; but I do have a list of alterna-birthplaces. What? You don't? Weirdo).

I'm having real trouble, though, envisioning Whistler as a place filled with bustling Olympians, all perfectly-honed and highly-toned, because the last time we were there, we were the opposite of either of those things.

Jonah was just under a year old and we'd decided we wanted a family holiday that involved just the three of us. We'd already been across the Atlantic four times with the poor little sod by this point, so somewhere that didn't involve a plane ride was pretty enticing.

So we went to Whistler, and rented a cute little apartment with a flight of toddler-defying stone steps which I'm sure were ideal for rugged boarding types to beat all the crap off their boots, but just signalled DEATH TRAP! to us and PLAYSPACE! to Jonah. Hmmm.

We went in September, pre-snow. The hiking was great, and we figured that we weren't likely to get any snow time anyway, so why make life miserable for ourselves?

Unfortunately, the not-making-life-miserable thing didn't stretch as far as anything sensible like, oh, sleeping. We all know we can make really, really stupid rookie mistakes when we're fresh-out-the-gates parents. So that you don't do as we did, here's my PSA: Do not regard a holiday as the ideal time to sleep-train your child.

I know, I know. But the point was, we didn't know (conflicted, much?). The logic was sound: lots of daytime for napping, lots of gorgeous scenery to take our minds off the pain of not sleeping, return home with child who magically sleeps 14 hours a night and wakes us up with breakfast in bed.

Yeah, about that.

So watching the Olympics, whilst thrilling and all that, is bringing out a Pavlovian reaction in me. Any time someone swoops down a hill, or there's a filler shot of the little town, I think of those sleepless nights and yawn. And somewhere in my subconscious, a baby yells in indignation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sometimes it might be better not said with flowers. Or said at all, really

Since it's Valentine's Day at the end of the week, here are three moments with blooms. Yeah, just don't expect chemical romance. Or any romance, really.

1. Be my (sweaty) Valentine

It's early 1999. I'm in Australia for a conference, sent 10,000 miles for a 2-hour presentation, my remit to be perky and convince people to promote our books better than others. I arrive on Valentine's Day and, since my slot isn't until the next day, I figure I'll go for a run and try and re-ignite the Pollyanna bounce that's won me this gig in the first place. I've been travelling for what feels like a couple of years, so I dig out my running gear and head off into the Hunter Valley. It's gorgeous; February is the height of summer, so the neighbourhood gardens are full of flowers and mad-looking birds dive around. I run a couple of miles out to a boardwalk landing pier and stop to take in the craziness of being out here, in the middle of nowhere, barely a day and a half after commuter-crazy London.

On my way back to the hotel, a young-ish guy is hanging over one of the garden gates. When he sees me slogging sweatily past, he waves for me to stop. Because I am genetically predisposed to (a) talk to anyone and (b) always trust strangers (I know, I know), I stop. He hands me a beautiful pink rose, cut from the garden.

"I saw you go past" he says, channeling Jason Donovan rather than Heath Ledger, more's the pity, "and just wanted to say Happy Valentine's Day".


2. I wouldn't touch her with yours, pal

It's New Year's Eve 1996 (?). I'm in Paris with the boys, visiting our pal Ol, he of the boundary-less phone calls. We end up in some very un-chic divey bar; sawdust on the floor, cheesy music, the works. It's minus WhatNow?! outside and we're all together again for a few days, so we don't care.
A few minutes after midnight, one of those rose-sellers arrives in the bar. I'm huddled in a corner with Ol, putting the world to rights as we were wont to do. The flower guy comes over and waves a rose in my general direction. Ol and I wave back at him, in dismissal, but he's persistent.
"A rose for the beautiful lady?" he asks, in French.

Quick pause for an editorial note here: Ol's bilingual, and though it's not like we speak French together, I was studying it for the first four years we knew each other, so he knows I'll understand him.

Oli looks at the guy, then at me. Then he leans towards the flower seller and said, gesticulating in disgust,

"Look at her! Honestly - would you buy her a rose? C'mon, mate, don't be crazy. I'm not wasting my money like that"

I'm not in the slightest bit upset - this is our MO, and Ol knew that he'd get plenty of grief from me in return. The poor flower seller, though, had no idea what to do. Panicking, he thrusts an armful of roses at me, and with a muttered - "Here - happy New Year" - flees into the night.


3. Heaven knows I'm miserable now

I'm 19, and in my second term at college. I come back to the room after a long day of trying not to feel sorry for myself (nothing wrong beyond the usual late-teenage angst which seems so insurmountable at the time) and trip into the hugest pile of flowers I've ever seen, before or since. And by pile, I mean pile. There are close on 30 bunches of blooms, of all sorts - roses, irises, carnations, early daffodils (always the worst when you're homesick for the green, green grass of home).

Each room door in halls has a pinboard on it, where you leave a piece of paper for your mates to write notes on should they happen round in your absence (oh, the random rituals we had before the joys of texting). I clear a path through the Amsterdam Flower Gardens that now consitutes my hallway and read the message scrawled on the board. It's from Theo, one of my best mates and sort of substitute brother (not that I've ever had a brother, but if I did, I imagine our relationship to be like mine and Theo's; lots of fighting and utter reliance).

I went to the market at the end of the day and told the flower guy he'd never seen anyone as pathetic and sad as you, so he gave me all these for a fiver. Hope these make your Thursday better. Theeee "

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bet Blanche Dubois would've done the same if she'd been stuck at High St. Ken...

I'm 26, just finishing a late night's work in London. I set the office alarm, slam the door, walk the 10 minutes to the tube station...and realise I've left my wallet, my house keys, my tube pass and my reason at my desk. No way back into the office tonight, and this being the pre-mobilithic era, no cell phone to call for help. Home is 6 miles away.

I do what I always do - I find someone to talk to about the situation. It's the compulsive habit formed by a small-town upbringing and, not for the first time, I'm glad of it. I look as small and pathetic as I can (yeah, yeah, not difficult even under the best of circumstances) and approach the station guard (is that what they're called? The men in the luminous jackets who hang out at the Tube snarling at tourists).

At first, the conversation goes as you would expect:

"I don't have my ticket"

"Buy a new one"

"I don't have my wallet"

"How are you going to get home, then?"

but then something changes. Maybe the station guard thinks I'm actually going to cry on him. I'm shaking, sure, but that's because I'd last eaten at midday and now it was 9:30 at night.File under: jobs I'm dead glad I no longer do. Also: stupidity of youth.

"Perhaps you could let me through without a ticket, just this once?" I ask in my nicest poor-idiotic-overwhelmed-no-threat-to-anyone guise.

The station guard ponders it. My heart lifts, and I start mentally calculating whether my housemate will have left me supper in the oven (for though I was ridiculous at 26, I had the kindest roommate ever. He'd probably still leave my dinner in the oven now if he thought I needed it).

"That wouldn't work" the guard says, breaking into my reverie of what said oven-waiting supper might possibly be (shepherd's pie, probably. We ate a lot of shepherd's pie in those days. Young, fetterless, and living in London: staying in and cooking shepherd's pie. We knew how to live. Um...).

My lip quivers, perhaps.

"There are automatic gates at Wimbledon" he reminds me. Clearly whilst I've been dreaming of lamb mince and carrots, the guard has been running through his mental rolodex of exit apparatus on the District Line. And I thought I had an exciting life.

Then he does something that I imagine would have got him fired had his bosses noticed, London Underground not being known for their bendiness of either trains nor rules: he reaches into his pocket and hands me the exact change for the tube fare.

"Here," he says. "You look like you need to get home before you fall over".

The next morning, flush with cash lent to me by my long-suffering-but-still-saintly housemate, I seek out the guard on my way into the office and press the loaned money back into his hand. He refuses it. "Buy yourself something nice for breakfast" he says.

So every time it snows I think of Kurt Cobain; and every time I eat a raisin Danish, I think of the tube station at High Street Kensington.