Sunday, June 20, 2010

Queue here for the pink bricks

We spent today at LegoLand. It was Fathers' Day, and it seemed like an apt place to spend it, with one Lego-crazed boy and two Lego-crazed wannabees (when they can just figure out how to put it all together...). It was a great day, and we had a blast, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Before we got there, I'd taken the concept of LegoLand pretty literally. I thought it was going to be a centre of tiny (and not so tiny) Lego models, and maybe a few places where you got to put together your own pale imitations instead. But no...LegoLand, as anyone who actually bothers to read about where they're going before they go would have known, is essentially a mini theme park. There's Lego galore, bien sur; but there are also log flumes and pirate ships and dinosaur rides and Vikings and diggers and car tracks and....

....and absolutely nothing that seems aimed towards girls. I'm not advocating gender-based play; to be honest, having grown up in a two-daughter household with toy garages and Scalectrix, and having bought our boys a toy kitchen for Christmas two years ago, I actually think it doesn't really occur to me. But you see the evidence around enough to know that gender-based play does exist: that for every Captain Hook walking the plank there must be a mermaid combing her hair; for every bumper car there's a hospital with a nurse in attendance; for every dinosaur there's a...a what? Betty Flintstone? Buggered if I know.

Anyway, it just struck me as curious. The conclusion we came to was that Lego's self-selecting; whether meaning to or not, it appeals more to boys, thus the activities were centered around more typical 'boy' interests, too. I've got no idea whether this is actually true or not, but it was weird to be presented with such a strong gender-based theme park. Who knew those even existed? Or are theme parks, by their very nature, more 'male'? And no, I'm not bringing Dollywood into this.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And, of course, there's Camus...

I was all set to write about Martin Amis tonight, but the footie's on in the background, and my mind keeps filling with that instead.

I could give a damn about formations and the offside rule and all that technical nonsense; but I've always loved football for that huge sense of people joining together and willing something to happen. I suppose it's not the game itself I love - if you could get the same effect from a tiddlywinks championship, I'd be all over that instead, I'm sure - but the way it connects people's brains. And of course, in my brain, it makes me think of writers. Two in particular.

The first is, of course, Nick Hornby. I devoured Fever Pitch when it first came out and in those early days, before the onslaught of earnest contemporary male writers, the book was astonishing for showing you the world through the prism of the fanatic. As a non-fanatic with a great love of communication and my mates, there's a segment near the beginning that I remember any time there's a major match on. Arsenal have won some significant championship (she says vaguely; half our books are in storage at the mo and I'm pretty sure Fever Pitch is not one of the chosen few hundred currently on the shelves). Hornby describes coming home and his answer phone (this being pre-mobiles) is flashing like a streaker at a cricket match, full of messages from ex-girlfriends and distant relatives and his Mum; all these people who saw the result at the end of the news and were moved to call the biggest fan they knew.

I *love* that sport can bring connection like that. And Hornby, of course, put it beautifully; which is why the book went on to be such a huge success.


The second is Roddy Doyle, who wrote an essay about Ireland's participation in the 1990 World Cup for an anthology, The Beautiful Game. The whole thing is lovely, but then near the end, he's describing David O'Leary taking a penalty kick:

'We had to score our last one....David O'Leary, a great player and a nice man...No one spoke. He placed the ball. It took him ages...the ball hit the net in a way that was gorgeous...I cried.'

Doyle goes on to ponder, wistfully, that there's nothing in his profession that captures that same emotion. Apparently O'Leary's wife, at home in Ireland, had been unable to watch her husband's penalty, so she'd gone out into the garden and their son had come running out to tell her the result. I'm paraphrasing here, but Doyle's point is, imagine that happening at the end of a novel:

'Ma, Ma! Da's after finishing the book!'

Friday, June 4, 2010

Say what?

Nearly three months have passed since we set sail* from the Emerald Isle; enough time to start to figure out what we've exported from our three years there. I've written before about wanting to hold onto our American positivity; with Ireland, what seems to have lasted is the language. Jonah, the only one of us to have ever truly passed as a native (despite his brother being the actual born-and-bred Gael), is starting to lose his Dub accent, which is both a shame and also a relief; it means he's hanging out with new buddies and absorbing their accents. A shame to be losing the accent, but a relief that he's not all alone in a corner of the classroom mourning his lost pals of the West.

Still, although an Irish accent isn't part of our family any more, it seems that certain words have crept in and are here to stay. I took the kids to buy new school shoes and runners last week; despite our best efforts, it's impossible to call the damn things 'trainers' when 'runners' is by far a more appropriate term for the footwear of a small boy.

Earlier this week, I had cause to teach Jonah when to use 'lashing' and when to use 'drizzling'; a distinction that made me giggle, because of course you'd need to know the word for a bloody great downpour in Ireland and a polite sniffle of rain in England. We're still inclined, as a family, to ask, 'Will I bring (the boys with me to the shop)?' rather than 'shall I take (the boys with me to the shop)?' Incremental differences, but they make me smile when I hear them. We seem to have slotted back into life in England with relatively few seams showing; but if you listen closely, the time overseas is there, embedded in our lexicon. Grand, so.

*oh, OK, it was RyanAir, but who the hell wants them in an opening sentence?