Sunday, 25 December 2011

25

Happy Christmas!

What's in its pocketses?
See all you regular readers (hello Mom!) in the New Year for less frequent posting (thank goodness).

Now go pillage some stockings and eat too many cookies. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

24: Direct bribery

C is for c'mon Santa. 
Day 24.

There is a spectre haunting Europe - the spectre of lumpy coal. 

Today is a day for soul searching and piper paying. A day to be weighed in the scales and found wanting.

We have been sort of good some of the time...more or less. Surely that counts for something?

For everything else there's cookies.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

21: Elves

Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer. 
Advent day 21. We can hardly wait for Christmas. The elves find our impatience amusing, and pull faces behind our backs.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011

19: Give and take

Winning at robots.
Confession time.

We cracked into the boxes shipped over an ocean to our doorstep. We did this on the flimsy pretext that we won't actually be at home on Christmas day.

What AWESOME toys for us the kids. We are lucky to have such a wonderful family (thanks guys).

Speaking of festive surprises, today I rediscovered one of my favourite Christmas carols in a Tesco ad (see video below), featuring cheerful mostly sober people. A slightly odd choice given the style of the song, which I would describe as "drunken obscenity volley".

If you live in Britain and have ever been to a pub, you know this song.

The plot involves that scraggly pair of substance-enthusiasts outside your local Tesco, engaged in a blazing holiday row.

Again, if you live in Britain and have ever left your home even for five minutes, you know this couple.



Typically, they have one remaining tooth between them, and are shouting about something both childish and obscene in voices that can only come from living rough and smoking whiskey.

My other half actually makes a point of saying hello to these star-crossed lovers, always with a smile and eye contact. He does this simply because he's noticed that no one else talks to them.

One Christmas he convinced a rowing Tesco couple to smile and stop punching each other while he took their portrait. Then he gave it to them as a present.

They were genuinely happy for at least five minutes. The woman said she would post it to her daughter, who had gone into care. It was like a Hallmark moment, if Hallmark had a Dickensian urban misery gift card range.

Amazing what a smile can do, with or without teeth.

However I remain terrified of hearing the "Sickbed of Cuchulainn" in the frozen peas aisle.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

18: Papa special

End of the breadcrumb trail. 
Day 18, and we are trying not to devour Papa and Ana's new creation.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011

15: Westward leading

Perfect light. 
Day fifteen and we have not yet found Orientar. Nor do we have any good leads to be honest. However, in the Dory 'just keep swimming' school of thought, we are doggedly following yonder star.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

14: We three kings from space

I, robot of Orientar.
As a kid, I used to spend Christmas Eve in a church pew, desperately wondering where the heck Orientar was.

Which just goes to show how little it takes to confuse the almighty heckfire out of a kid. Or a grown-up for that matter.

Truly I tell you, little changes over time. We just get taller. Some of us.

Maybe the search for Orientar's perfect light is why my itchy feet are still proceeding through time, space, and rainy islands. Maybe that's a bunch of crap I just made up due to Compulsive Typing Disorder (CTD), a ailment for which the prognosis is poor.

Anyway, as any lapsed Lutheran worth her salt can tell you, it's high time to set up the Nativity. And knock it down. And set it back up again. And knock it down.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Etc.

That's just the way we Orientarians roll.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

13: Santa, baby

'Please send spaceship and world domination.' 
Day 13 finds us writing very earnest letters to Santa.

Monday, 12 December 2011

12: Remembering roots

Gardening leave. 
Day 12 was supposed to be something sappy about Santa, but I got distracted by a cool memorial to Thomas Paine near Angel station.

This is the inscription on the front: "These are the times that try mens souls."

Hidden round the back of the stonework is this: "Lay then the axe to the root and teach governments humanity."

This city is full of wonderful snippets of humanity like this.

Not sure what this has to do with Christmas or angels, but now I've got the "John Brown's Body" stuck in my head.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

11: Lamentations

Placebo. 
Day 11. We have lit a candle to St Calpol, patron saint of lurgy-blighted short people.

We are tired of the plague now and St Jude seems occupied elsewhere.

St Calpol, pray for us...pretty please?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

10: Columnist

Straight and narrow. 
Day ten is continuing to make the bad sort of puns that regular readers (hey Mom!) have come to expect of this ragtag editorial team.

Friday, 9 December 2011

9: Four in the afternoon

All day twilight. 
Day nine is gazing wistfully at warmly lit afternoon/evening windows, and dreaming of soup.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

8: Something old

Pity the faux chinchillas. 
Day eight is wandering down the dusty aisles of a local vintage fair, wondering if people ever really wore that much fake fur.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

7: Snowflake cake

With a light dusting of sugar. 
We are dreaming of snow and deep fried foods on day seven of Advent.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

6: Still at the frost fayre

Butterfly kisses. 
Day six in Advent. Last weekend we met the world's most talented face painter, who I suspect may actually be on the payroll of North Pole Inc. I came home with a winter butterfly.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

2: Make cocoa, not paperwork

First they came for the migrants.
The second Christmas light is St Jude, patron saint of desperate causes.

He is lit in memory of Joaquin Luna, a dreamer, and for the others who exist in shadow and are destroyed by paperwork.

Thanksgiving (when Joaquin died) and Christmas are both fitting days to welcome our fellow humans in from the cold. Especially the huddled masses.

You may be familiar with a story of fiery destruction and pillars of salt from  the quaintly-named local of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you've read the bible (hello Mom!), you'll know that the whole kerfuffle was down to the local custom of treating foreigners like crap. Contrary to popular opinion, it had little to do with the local disco scene.

Even in the good old days of S&G, a lack of hospitality was seen as unforgivably uncivilized - indeed your whole town might go up in smoke if you neglected to share your toys and play well with others.

Maybe that's why the founding paperwork, if you've read it (still there Mom?), is very specific on the point that 'all men are created equal' and 'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights' namely 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'.

Fear not: it's all mulled wine and cookies from here on out.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

1: Advent part deux

To build a fire. 
Regular readers of this blog (hello Mom!) will recall that last year I devoted an inordinate amount of time to a virtual Advent calendar.

I would like to do the same thing this year, albeit on a smaller budget and for more austere times. So I will post one Advent photo every day in December.

Friends: here's an open invitation from my HQ to yours to create and share your own Advent photo calendar. Fill it with a daily picture, a daily thought, total nonsense, whatever.

Here's the first of my Christmas lights - a luminaria from last Christmas Eve.

By the way, you might be interested to find out that 'austere' is actually an old Saxon word that means fewer frills and a lot more crap.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Lost in a virgin forest

What were humans like before the internet (BI)? Can you remember? I didn't think so.

But I can help. You see, I've been conducting cutting-edge, ground-breaking, in-depth analysis on this issue - dropping bombshells and all kinds of bad reportage clichés.

Return to nature. 
My research project was sponsored by my internet service provider. By "sponsored" I mean they went and spent all their pocket money on marketing and had none left in the kitty for engineers.

Bless them - they appear to be perpetual first-timers. And we're all rubbish our first time, right?

So I spent a week - that's right an entire week - with no Octonauts. Not even that fake-pirate one, Kwazii.

My field research indicates that when not wholly occupied with beating up Neanderthals and making mastadon casserole, BI Woman and BI Child partook in the following activities:
  1. Denial. 
  2. Anger.
  3. Bargaining. 
  4. Depression. 
  5. Wandering aimlessly.
  6. Collecting leaves. 
  7. Bickering. 
  8. Discovering a wonderful secret urban gardens. 
  9. Hunting for fairies.
  10. Locating fairies.
  11. Smiling. 
  12. Octonauts? What octonauts? 
  13. Returning in high spirits. 
  14. Drifting into a contented sleep. 
  15. Acceptance.
  16. Waking up with the evil plague. 
  17. Realizing that the entire family has woken up with the evil plague.
  18. Reverting to denial.
Back in from the cold.
I'm pleased to report that service is back up. And the evil plague has passed. The memory of our primitive cousins is fading. 

Thank goodness. 

In sum, life BI was a bit rubbish, but pretty awesome when it worked. Kind of like now. 

I have nothing so kind to say about my research sponsors. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thankfulness pie

Auntie A is one of my longest-serving friends. She is an exemplar of human kindness, which goes a long way to explain why she's remained my friend all these years.

But the greatest of these is pie. 
Auntie A gave me a wonderful book last summer called 14,000 Things to be Happy About. The writer, Barbara Ann Kipfer, as you may have guessed, is American.

It's a lovely book. I recommend it to anyone suffering from chronic grumpiness syndrome.

It being Thanksgiving and all, I'm going to invoke a time-honoured yankee tradition that causes at least three Britons at American tables to spontaneously combust every year. I mean that part before dinner where everyone around the table is forced to say - earnestly - what they are thankful for.

As a warning, anyone who employs irony or understatement at this juncture will be DEPRIVED OF PIE.

Barbara Ann Cheerfulness Kipfer, being an expert in such matters, may go first. Over to you Barbara:
  • Sunlight streaming through trees 
  • Dilbert
  • The whack of a bat against a baseball
  • A baby's yawn
  • Fiber optics  
Well done Barbara. You may have pie.

Me? I am thankful for love. Family. Friendship. Health.

I am thankful to have this brief moment of wakefulness, like a butterfly in wintertime. I reckon time has transfigured the words of Philip Larkin into truth: "what will survive of us is love."

Now there's your pie, and here's your bucket of water.

Stop cringing and be thankful.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Robot update

All your toys are belong to us. 
The eagle has landed.

Here he is, flanked by the Iron Man (Ana's birthday present).

Regular readers of the Chaos Chronicles (Hello Mom!) will recall that this little guy was designed by Papa and Ana online, and printed by the fine humanitarian geniuses at My Robot Nation.

I suggest you run over there right now and design your own robot. Even, er especially if you are a grown-up.

For those kids six and over, there is another exciting way to get stuck into robot world. Katy Lindemann, herself a robot expert, has introduced me to MakieLab, where Alice Taylor and her team are busily creating "future-smashing, customisable 3D-printed, game enabled" toys.

And apparently they are looking for some extremely lucky young volunteers to try them out...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Robot in the rye

A magical thing happened last week. I walked into a roomful of strangers and gibbered on about kids and robots. Actually, that's not the magical bit - it's just something I do every day.

Ye olde office robot. 
The magical bit is that instead of hissing or throwing vegitables, these strangers responded with warmth, and with wonderful stories of their own - tales about how the internet is a place of kindness and human connection.

TaleTorrent was the inspired brainchild of James Mitchell at BBH Labs, as part of Internet Week Europe. I had the pleasure of meeting a handful of gifted storytellers, like ye olde weblogger Katy Lindemann and the serendipitous Claire Burge.

The evening was simply about sharing for sharing's sake, and it may have been the least cynical thing ever to happen in London.

This week I have been looking after plague-ridden children and hating on deadlines (generally). Additionally, I have been shouting at my ISP for being ye olde rubbish and breaking my internet connection for a week. So instead of writing up a fresh batch of nonsense from scratch, I will share my TaleTorrent robot story here.

Regular readers (hello Mom!) may recognise this episode. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. No actual robots were harmed in the writing up of this incident.

********************************************************

I want to talk about where robots come from.

My Ana is four. She lives in a world of her own in a galaxy far, far away. It is a place far more magical and bonkers than all of Camden and the interwebs mashed together.

Ana only stops by my world when she is hungry, sleepy, or lonely for human conversation. Which is not every day.

Ana is one part chaos. One part destruction. One part rocket fuel.

She is too young to question where babies come from in any detail. As per guidance from Ofsted, that sadly non-virtual government body, it will be at least three months before we need to talk about birds, bees, and the soul-crushing quantities of paperwork that signify adulthood in human terms.

However, Ana is definitely old enough to know where robots come from. They come from the internet.

Obviously.

It was a premature exposure to the The Iron Man that planted the idea in Ana’s head. By The Iron Man, I
mean a 1968 book by Ted Hughes. This is not to be confused with the comic book hero in red and yellow tights – with whom Ana is also well-acquainted.

But if you’ve read The Iron Man, you may recall that there is some ambiguity as to the Iron Man’s origins. He just lands one day – sploosh – in the middle of the sea.

Is he from space? Is he from Russia?

Of course not. Any four year old worth her salt can tell you he’s from the internet.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Geeks and bookworms

The wizard of OS.
You may remember the 5th of November as that time when a Guy got hanged, drawn and quartered by The Man. Happily, little drawing and quartering gets done around here these days.

My daughters send me out robot-hunting in London on a regular basis. I found two good ones for them this week. Firstly, the Tin Woodman's cyber cousin (see left) in the basement of Fluent Studios, a usability lab in Clerkenwell.

The second robot really took the cake: a camera-mounted Octocopter that a guy built in his garage. This was surely the coolest way that anybody arrived to Mozilla's November 5th festival on Media, Freedom, and the Web, at Ravensbourne  in Greenwich.

Mozilla, of Design Jam and Firefox fame, has now decided to hack the news. Yes, THE NEWS. Which is why the festival featured a data journalism sprint, a Popcorn hyper-video documentary, and a talk by Frontline SMS on using text to spread the news.

Being in the midst of so many wickedly clever people felt invigorating and humbling. It reminded me of a line from my favourite children's book, where a tiny snail gazes at a huge whale and says: "I feel so small."

All your news are belong to us.
But from the hacks/hackers hangout upstairs, to the kids web playground downstairs, these 600 bright people from all over media and the interwebs were focused on that most ancient of human things: storytelling. 

In the future, who will tell the stories? And...how?

I'm a huge fan of story-centred systems as the latest Mozilla add-on. From my dorky obsession with the Federal Writers' Project, to my Ray Bradbury fixation, I think I can reasonably claim to be a story-centric human.

Mozilla's focus on getting kids excited about technology is pretty cool. I can't wait to take my kids to this sort of thing when they are a little older than 2 and 4 and less prone to actually chewing on the interwebs.

Douglas Adams once said: "Anything invented before your 15th birthday is the order of nature." David Rowan of Wired offered a good example of this at Internet Europe Week on Tuesday. To today's child, he said, a typewriter is "a laptop that prints as it goes along and doesn't need electricity."

Sometimes geeks and bookworms look down their noses at each other. Mozilla's festival last Saturday wasn't one of those occasions - in fact the geeks and the bookworms were actually the same people.

Baby hackasaurus. 
Last Saturday the sun sank early as per winter opening hours. The bright lights of Ravensbourne danced in the cold Thames alongside the megalith skyscrapers of Dog Island. 

A smell of gunpowder leached out into the air from the darker corners of England, like ozone before a thunderstorm. Across the island, bonfire logs succumbed to their fate, uncomplaining, as they have done since pagan times (Guy Fawkes was not hanged for inventing bonfires). 

Down the river at St Paul's, a gathering tide of discontentment stood on the temple steps and stared at the city through Guy Fawkes's dead eyes. Like a scene from another of my favourite stories.

Friday, 4 November 2011

With all due respect

Generations are different from each other.

Thank goodness for that.

I suffered the deprivations of The Oregon Trail as a child. My children by contrast are touchscreen apps.

People from different generations can teach each other things, even daughters and mothers.

Last week I put on a Mary Poppins DVD in a moment of exasperation - the younger generation was literally climbing the walls. Ali settled down and watched. But Ana took on a mischievous look and slunk away to the kitchen with the DVD case.

The kitchen is the only room in the house with a slippery floor. But I didn't realize what Ana was up to until she went flying past my head like a ninja, landing with both feet squarely on the DVD case. She shot across the floor shouting "This is my Mary Poppins skaaaaateboard!"

I had never before in my life connected Mary Poppins and skateboards. Never. Short people are clinically creative. The stuff they can teach you is endless.

After a lengthy skating session, I went to check on Ali. I found her studying this wonderful scene with her serious face on.



I watched, transfixed, shocked to learn that even Mr Banks is the 99%.

This scene neatly captures the dignity OccupyLSX and their supporters. Perhaps they can use Mr Banks's riposte if the money changers ever make good on their eviction threat.

I stopped by the temple steps today. I saw a piano in one of the tents. And a woman shouting 'Shut up and go away, you idiot!' to anyone who would listen, inanimate objects included. I saw about two billion camera crews grinding out the news from anoraks, slightly bonkers posters, student debt, and broken dreams.

Hooverville. 
But the thing I remember most is an impromptu argument I witnessed between a younger man and older man.

He could not, the younger man said, afford a home for his family.

Then work harder, said the older man.

No point.

Why not?

Should he, said the younger man, work like a dog all the days of his life he would never afford a home.

People from different generations can teach each other things. Even sons and fathers.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Candy and strangeness

Never trust a grown-up.

A grown-up is just the sort of person who will come bounding home from the shop with four pumpkins, grinning like a loon.

Smashing pumkins. 
A grown-up may then neglect her responsibilities and devote an entire afternoon to carving giant robot jack-o-lanterns with you.

A grown-up might put on Thriller and dance all over the sofa in a most un-grown-up-like fashion.

Any grown-up worth her salt will then cut holes in an old white bed-sheet so that you can run around the house like Casper, clocking the walls with your forehead because you've got the eye-holes on backwards.

A grown will bring you a cobwebby Halloween witch hat. And when the excitement reaches fever pitch, a grown-up will take you by the hand and lead you out into the gathering Halloween darkness.

For candy.Your one true love in this life. Your first thought upon waking, and your last thought before sleep.

Not a turnip. 
A high quality grown-up will make sure you get plenty of candy. She will then take you home and attempt to thrust your now candy-explosives-fueled self into pajamas. This act will look like a clown trying to squeeze a rabid lion into a jam jar. Sometimes your grown-up is a turnip.

You will break free from your now slightly twitchy grown-up and  run to kiss your  magical giant robot jack-o-lanterns goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the robot bugs bite.

Pacified and straight-jacketed at last, your certified grown-up will hold you tight and sing you a song. She will tell you how much she loves you and plant kisses on each cheek. You will fall into a contented slumber, the memory of kisses warm and velvety on your cheeks, like melting butter over Saturday pancakes.

Fly my pretties!
At this point your formerly grade AAA rated grown-up will softly close the door and tip-toe to the kitchen. Here she will proceed to skin all four of your lovely giant robot jack-o-lanterns and turn them into soup.

This is why you should never trust a grown-up. In spite of the fact that soup is delicious.

As your grown-up stirs a molten vat of giant robot carcasses, she will hum 'Thriller' contentedly to herself. She will think silly thoughts in the quiet of her cozy post-bedtime world. Thoughts like: 'First of all, it was October, a rare month for girls...'

You will eat the soup for lunch tomorrow and never suspect a thing. Which is another reason.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Space-Being and the Iron Man

Chaos HQ is currently preoccupied with giants and robots. There are more of these creatures about urban world than you might expect. So we scour the city for them.

Giants and robots generally don't camouflage well. But grown-ups are usually too busy to notice them.

Ana's fascination with robots goes back a long time. She has been constructing robots from foil and empty boxes for months.

But her fascination with giants is newer. It began last week when a nice man showed up to install fire-proofing stuff around our door-frame at the behest of the local residents' association.

"Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, and that."
 Her eyes grew wide as the man explained his task.

Then she exclaimed: "It's not for fire, it's to keep out the giant robots!"

You see, Ana may be four but she is no turnip.

And of course the nice man did nothing to dissuade her of this notion. Nor did I. In fact we both did our utmost to egg her on.

Since that fateful moment she has become like the neighbourhood watch, only cuter. She is a curtain-twitcher at home, and remains vigilant when out in the big world. She sees robots from her bedroom window on a regular basis, and has an eagle eye for spotting them all over London.

Occasionally we hit the jackpot and locate an awesome giant robot like this one, thus killing two electronic birds with one virtual stone.

This guy happens to live at the British Library, where a continual stream of deep-in-thought people flows by him, unblinking, unnoticing.

Amazing how the human eye can miss the giant in the room. Which makes me thank my lucky stars for doorway fire-proofing stuff. Were it not for that, I might now have a household giant metal man infestation on my hands.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Shortaphysics

Yesterday Ali toddled off and the house went suddenly quiet. Not a great thing, considering that "quiet" and "toddler" go together like "bucket of petrol" and "lit match". So I went to find Ali and prepared myself to douse at least one fire.

I found her sitting zen-like on my bed, reading The Prophet with a look of deep concentration and wisdom on her little face.

A good friend gave Papa and I a copy of this book when we got hitched. It's grown into one of my favourite books over the years. So it filled me with pride to see her reading it, if upside-down.
Philosophising. 

I love Ali's look of wise concentration. It is not a look that you generally see on two year old kids' faces. It is the sort of look that inevitably makes grown-ups laugh, because seriousness in children is pretty adorable (much to the chagrin of serious children).

It is because of Ali's trademark expression that I tell anyone who will listen that she is going to be a metaphysicist when she grows up.

But who knows where the wind will take her little feet? I can only dream that she outruns me by a million miles.

Which brings me to my favourite passage in the The Prophet.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 
Poor Ali is recovering from a bug. She doesn't  get along well with bugs. We've neither of us slept a lot this week, and this passage has been ticking across my interrupted dreams like subtitles.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Next time won't you snore with me

Do you have trouble sleeping? I can help.

I've just been interviewed by the alphabet. Yes, the alphabet. This is not the sort of thing that happens to me every day. So I'm feeling like a bit of a smug jerk right now.

The interview was arranged by the lovely lionness Frankie Parker and the talented meerkat Christine. Since my life is considerably less exciting than theirs, if you read to the end of the transcript, you'll be snoring like a baby in no time flat.

Warming up for Zzzz...
ANORAK: Do you have a sad side? 
Yes, I make jam. No, I'm not your grandmother.  

BODY: What physical attribute would you most like to change? 
I'd shave my head to save on the hassle of brushing. But then I'd look silly. Er, sillier. 

CELEBRITY: Which one would you most like to date and why? 
Roger Rabbit. He makes me laugh. 

DEBUT: What made you start blogging? 
The voices in my head won the war against common sense. 

ERROR: What's your biggest regret?
I regret all those cakes in shop windows that I walked straight on by without stopping. 

FUNNY: Who makes you laugh?
Roger Rabbit, see exhibit C. 

GRAND: If we gave you one how would you spend it?
I could buy a lot of cake with a grand. It would be worth it. 

Saturday, 8 October 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are boldly going where no short person has gone before: the interdisciplinary world of alien mechanical engineering. Luckily we are aided by Q Pootle 5 and a trusty tin of cat food.
Earth to Moon Unit: Do you read me?
Isil, the talented virtual pen behind Smiling Like Sunshine, is highlighting Children's Book Week over on her home planet. There you can discover short person books on alien mechanical engineering and everything else under whichever sun you happen to live by.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Rolling

My favourite people come in two flavours: the ones I miss because I moved, and the ones I miss because they moved.

A&E Mum belongs to the latter, although I moved away from Metroland shortly after she did. We became friends by giggling, passing notes, and otherwise behaving poorly in ante-natal class while heavily pregnant.

In particular we bonded over a surreal labour induction presentation, which rather unusually was demonstrated on a man. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't a successful induction. It escalated into a full-blown cesarean demo, which was also an appalling failure both in medical and demo terms.

I'm pretty sure fake male inductions are a felony in Alabama. But the man in question is now leading a fairly normal life under a new identity.

Innocent when you dream. 
Nothing since, not even childbirth, has been half as scary or bonkers as ante-natal class. So in a strange way it really did prepare A&E Mum and I for having children by increasing our surrealism threshold.

A&E Mum has just reminded me of our early days in suburban babyland, cloistered off from the grown-up world. We ate cake and discussed weaning while our babies scrounged for muddy worms and damsons in the back garden.

This memory has left me alternately giggling and weeping into my Hovis. You see, I suffer from a crippling case of postpartum sentimentality.

Moving on is part of growing up. But I regret that I don't get to watch the A&E family grow up alongside my kids.

There was something wonderfully innocent about our days in deepest, darkest Metroland. It was not so much the babies, but rather us mamas and papas who were innocent. We thought weaning was complicated.

I suspect eventually my children will grow into movers and inherit my burden: they will miss the people they love.

Two years ago I read a piece on being and foreignness that really sums it up: 'It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility.'

To a mover, places cease to exist in geography and instead become points in time. For instance, New Mexico is my childhood. California is my youth. Metroland is when I had my babies.

For that I forgive Metroland its various other faults.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are investigating alternative forms of transport. Our research mostly consists of watching E.T. and Star Wars.
She's got it where it counts kid.  
Thanks to the lovely Auntie S, we now have a fabulous Millennium Falcon operations manual to hand.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Motown no more

This morning I drank five cups of coffee and sold my baby.

Reversing. 
By baby, I mean car.

And I feel fine.

I was licensed at 15. In my homeland there are more cacti than people, and with no public transport to speak of you would literally starve without a car.

My long-suffering family taught me to drive in a church parking lot. Being a hypersensitive type from birth, I remember finding the sensation of creeping along at one mile an hour in a huge steel death-trap to be mortifying.

Mr M. didn't help. The man had been teaching drivers' ed. for approximately two hundred years by the time I joined his class. He liked to show footage of lungs and spleens splayed on the pavement, rewinding to watch his favourite bits over again.

But I swallowed my nerves and flew the parking lot. I drove to high school and to assorted teenager mischief venues. I saw scary things out on the open road, had a wreck of my own, but kept my spleen.

I hit 18 and drove out to Los Angeles, a thousand miles. I drove over mountains and alongside the Pacific; through weird old desert towns that time forgot, and past crap gambling towns that time really should write off.

Wheels became freedom and the world opening up. I almost forgot about Mr M. and spleens.

Are we there yet?
A decade later I had to start from scratch in the UK, land of the world's most evil driving exam. After many cups of coffee and lots of complaining, I passed. This left me at the mercy of that great parental aggravation device: car seats.

There are more speed cameras on British roads than sheep and people combined.* There are at least three governmental agencies tasked with regulating the roads. Yet there remain more pot holes on these roads than specks of sand on a beach or stars in the night sky. As somebody who owned the 'hazard perception' part of the UK driving exam, I feel entitled to point this out.

Tarmac neglect aside, it was a car seat incident involving projectile vomit finally convinced me that no amount of coffee will make me enjoy WTF roundabouts. Maximizing coffee consumption will merely increase the need for pit stops.

And so it is with greatest affection for my family that I must confess: I still love route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, but I have given up the driving habit for now. It was that or jam.

But thanks for those days in the church parking lot. For thrusting me from the nest and teaching me to fly on properly balanced and rotated tires. For making me steer straight and reminding me to always leave enough petrol in the tank to fly home.

Everything returns to the nest in the end.

*This might be a slight exaggeration. But only very slight.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Jubilee Line over Jordan

A person has gone under the train at Euston.

This is part of urban life. Sometimes delays are due to signal failure. Occasionally it's a person ending. There are about fifty a year.

The announcement is made at every station for the benefit of passengers who have just boarded to explain the snail's progress we are making down the track.

Most people take on a look of sympathy and mild horror. Then after a few minutes of waiting, sadness is swallowed up in impatience.

Shadows of this life. 
A pair of women across from me talk about retiring to Spain. One says the the kitchen re-modelling is taking longer than she would have hoped. You can get used to the food, says the other.

A cowardly part of me wishes that I could do this too: forget about death given enough vitamin D and ease.

A person has gone under the train at Euston: that  concrete tomb in perpetual motion. Where young people have arrived for decades seeking fortune and ruin in the smoke. Steel track and the dust of dreams trod on lightly by blackened mice.

I wish the train driver would name him.

In 2007 a little boy called Peter Connelly was beaten to death by his stepfather. The newspapers didn't name Peter for 'legal reasons'. Peter became known simply as 'Baby P'. This really bothered me because all that remains of the dead are their names. It seems sacrilegious not to name them.

The sound of a name doesn't matter much, be it Harper Seven or Bog Standard Pete. A name matters because it is the first thing you are given, and the last thing you'll ever have.

A person has gone under the train at Euston. My train driver doesn't know his name. Neither does the poor guy who hit him.

I'm guessing he was a he. Perhaps he was a she. Maybe it was an accident. Who knows? Either way, I wish I had the name.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

Both Ana and I are dragging our feet to school. Ali and I are skipping off to the zoo while we can.

Heather has just reminded me how lucky I am. My family is looked after by angels.

Two of them delivered my babies. Several saved my youngest from newborn illness and again from Calpol enthusiasm. A nervous trainee-angel looked after my eldest when she decided to go foraging for woody nightshade.

And the snail said: 'I feel so small.'


They were always just there when we needed them. Which is why I love the NHS.

My homeland is abundant in angels, but access is expensive and inequitable. Many other places are not even that lucky.

Everyone should have the NHS. All kids should be looked after by angels. Don't you think?

Back to chasing pixies and fending off nightshade attack.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are surrounded by an abundance of warmth and food. I'd blag on about abundance more, but it's two months till Thanksgiving and the global economy continues to be in the toilet.

From Bedfordshire with love. 
We are currently munching on these green beauties courtesy or our favourite chili farm. And we are scheming up delicious plans for some lovely NoCal reds from Truffle.

All this, and we are still feasting on chilies sent by my lovely mama, who turns sixty this month.

I am roasting the Bedfordshire greens under the broiler. Skinned and bagged, they will live happily in the freezer for the next year, crucially getting Chaos HQ through the dark winter months via the trusty medium of enchiladas.

Doctors in Britain don't tend to prescribe capsaicin for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I just find sad. So in the wacky homeopathic self remedy department, I've taken to blathering on about the heavenly qualities of chili at all times and to anyone who will listen. It's my own clumsy, gluttonous form of The Secret. Judging by this week's catch, my strategy has born fruit.

September sees fiestas in Santa Fe and a chili harvest in Hatch. Home is on my mind.

You can't easily get there from here. But the worrying black cloud of chili smoke wafting in my kitchen makes me feel closer to there. I can almost taste the fry bread and feel my hips magically balloon with each imaginary bite. And if I cock my head towards Camden, I can just about hear Zozobra groaning tiredly as a troupe of camp fire dancers yap at his toes for the umpteenth time.  

Of the twelve months to be there, this is the one. It is hard to beat calabacitas and yellow aspen leaves - covered in an early dusting of snow if you're lucky - under a harvest moon.

Happy birthday Mama.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Strolling off into the sunset

My beloved companion has passed on. We rode a long bumpy trail together over hazardous terrain, but I'll have to learn to carry on alone now.

I am speaking of course about the Sweet New Ride, my faithful double buggy. She popped her clogs and has been consigned to the great stroller pasture in the sky.

The Sweet New Ride was gifted to me by a nice lady who'd had it gifted to her. By the time the Sweet New Ride arrived at Chaos HQ, she was probably about two thousand buggy years old. The Sweet New Ride likely carted dinosaur babies around early in her career. She may have witnessed the dawn of the universe, which would explain her infinite wisdom and thoughtfulness - unusual attributes in a buggy.

When the Sweet New Ride first came home, Ana approached her with the sort of scepticism normally reserved for new siblings. So I dug deep into my route 66 lingo and enthusiastically proclaimed her to be our 'sweet new ride'! The name stuck like Gorilla Glue, and from that moment my girls and the Sweet New Ride were inseparable.

All strollers go to heaven. 
I came to rely upon the Sweet New Ride through thick and thin, and over turf that she was never designed to handle.

The hills got harder as Ana grew taller, but in the silver linings department: my stubborn remaining baby fat melted magically away.

I admit with shame that I've maligned the Sweet New Ride on many occasions, mostly halfway up hills.

I used to call her a flotilla. A short person convoy. A death star. A stoopid b*stard. I should state for the record that the Sweet New Ride was (almost) never actually at fault in these situations. Motherhood is challenging turf, and it brings out the foul sailor-mouth in anyone.

Ana has outgrown her buggy days. It's time for her to walk without wheels. I can see that very clearly now that my own crutch has been removed.

Perhaps that's what fate was trying to say when the Sweet New Ride met her unfortunate end - when the rear wheel cracked off with such force that we careened into a brick wall and had to limp home. I remain unconvinced that everything happens for a reason, but when something goes hurtling into a brick wall, there's definitely a reason.

You can't bury a buggy in the backyard like you would do a hamster. Buggies, even sweet ones, don't biodegrade. Such an act would royally freak out the neighbours, who are still feeling a bit queasy about our transatlantic and reproductive tendencies. Anyway this is London, a place where the bathroom tends to double as the kitchen/bedroom/lounge/hallway, and there ain't no backyard.

So we buried her at sea in the city, which is to say we tossed her onto a big pile of junk at the tip. Since we couldn't actually light the pyre without getting arrested, we made do by standing around and solemnly humming the Star Wars theme tune. Ali found it so moving that she developed severe motion sickness and puked all the way home in the car. Which makes me think we may need to offload another set of wheels too.

Projectile vomit aside, there was a great sense of unburdening about depositing our broken wings at the dump. After administrative staffers and aunties, some of the wisest people I've ever met work at the tip. I've come around to the view that freeing people from broken worldly possessions is a spiritual job. But that's another post for another day.

For now: farewell my friend. May the road rise up to meet you.

Friday, 9 September 2011