Thursday, 28 April 2011

Belgo hold 'em

While searching for the loo in the cavernous basement of Belgo last night, I was nearly run over by a large man with Prince William's head. It took me a minute to realize that Belgo Basement Man was merely wearing a Wills mask, not Wills's actual head.

My first thought was that he must be a robber (it is currently easier to find a Kate/Wills mask than a balaclava at the local shops). Belgo isn't a typical target for hold-ups, but then again their mussels are quite delicious and not at all cheap if consumed by the ton. But upon further observation, I was able to confirm that the reason Belgo Basement Man had the face of a prince and the feet of a beer-enthusiast was because he was out on a commoner's stag night with his be-masked mates.

The memorabilia is everywhere, in every flavour under the sun: disco phone commercialsbiscuit tins, mugs, paper dollssick bags. Here are two snapshots from around town yesterday:

The word on one's street.
Royal cardboard.
I do hope that Belgo Basement Man will be able to resume a normal life and locate his bog standard head next week, after all the hoopla is over.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Swimming with poets

I did something unusual last week - unusual for me in this season of life anyway. I went to a poetry reading with my friend Truffle. It took place in an auditorium full of well-behaved adults that was - I am told - built from a single tree.

The evening began with with a journey to King's Cross. I walked out of the underground and found myself swimming in a huge school of hip London fish. In spite of my yocal instincts, I wasn't alarmed, but rather thrilled to be surrounded by such an interesting, busy school of humanity.

Four years ago our little family left London as two and a bump for the cheaper burbs. Back in those boom days, I once heard someone sum it up perfectly on The Now Show by saying that London only remained  affordable to rats and investment bankers. As a pair of twenty-somethings, we were generationally out of luck. But things change, and somehow we swam back.

Well-appointed rat-flat with far-reaching river views.  
From my time here four years ago, I remember charity campaigners outside tube stops. But since I've been away, 'chuggers' (charity muggers) as they are now affectionately known, have spawned like mad - their numbers are now so great that they are encroaching on the habitat of Britain's native red squirrel. King's Cross was awash with them.* 

As I awkwardly dog-paddled my way upstream towards King's Place (the Guardian headquarters), a chugger singled me out and extended the ko finger. I recoiled and did my best to parrot the 'I'm busy ignoring you because I'm an urban sophisticate' face that I saw other people giving him. Then he hollered: 'hey beautiful laaaaaady!'

Now in spite of the fact that he had just said this precise thing to both the nun and the poodle walking ahead of me, I was still quite chuffed (though not enough to stop and get chugged). You see, Ana often says 'fish fingers now', but she rarely says 'hey beautiful lady.'

The reading, featuring Anna Robinson and Ian Sinclair amongst others, was hosted by Poet in the City, a charity that aims to bring poetry to new audiences. The theme - urban life - couldn't have been more perfect. Elaine Feinstein, who read from her 2010 book Cities, said an off-the-cuff remark that really struck a chord with me. She prefaced a poem by explaining how she'd once found herself cornered in a house by two very small children. 'I felt my life was over,' she said slowly, 'but it wasn't'. And then she enumerated some of the things that came later - flights of fancy to Budapest, boozy dinner parties, Ted Hughes, navigating Singapore with broken ankles by wheelchair - a whole life.

Of course her comment wasn't aimed at me - but it felt that way - like she was a poet fairy godmother, who had apparated just to say: 'take heart - this story is still unfolding, and we are in early pages.' And though I may never hope to journey to Bohemia with Bohemians, or Singapore with invalids, I truly related to her in that moment (motherhood is the ultimate creator of common ground). I took heart.

Show me the way to your next London bar. 
Hanging out with a wise international food writer like Truffle has it perks - Truffle directed us to a pair of delicious grown-up fruit shoots at the swank Booking Office Bar, lodged in the newly-opened St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel. There - in spite of some rather kinky elevator music - we were able to relax in peace and talk in complete sentences about grown-up things like er, mothers and daughters.

My chair gave me a good line of site towards the bar, which happened to be housed in the skeleton of the old train station ticket counter. Architectural ghosts of the original structure abounded in the ceiling and the walls of the cavernous room, like dinosaur bones half-unearthed. I couldn't help but recall the words of Tobias Hill, one of the poets, who had repeatedly quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'Cities give us collision.'

Perhaps that's what I've been missing.

*I should add that they have my sympathy - I have done similarly rubbish jobs where people shout at you all day. It ain't fun. You usually don't find yourself in such a job because you are a natural jerk, but rather because you are broke, which is to say young.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Good eggs and bad seeds

Ana ran into the Easter Bunny last week at the shop. Although she initially was terrified of him - in a rare show of good street smarts - she has since been searching for him around every corner, and in every shop. There is simply no way to explain to a three year old that this bunny was just some guy - specifically a six-foot tall guy in his forties who, of his own free will and for motives unknown, dressed up in a fuzzy bunny costume in order to lurk in the sweets aisle.
Face in the egg.
And so I take advantage of the situation, as any moderately bad parent would. When Ana knackers herself out at the playground and refuses to walk home I say: 'perhaps the Easter Bunny is just around that next corner...shall we go look?' And like magic, she steps right into line and goes looking for him all the way home.

In my defense, the seeds for this fib were sown long ago, and this is merely an example of an apple returning to the tree. As my mum will confirm, 'just around the next corner' is a phrase that has been used in this manner for generations in my family. Perhaps Ana will someday, and after much therapy, forgive me for this Easter Bunny foible.

In the meantime happy Easter to bunny-men and humans alike!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Chariots of snooze

Last weekend, Papa took Ana to cheer on one of our family heroes, the lovely Auntie M, in the London marathon. Through the busy, buzzy heaving throng of activity, they managed to spot her and give wild buggy-chase, shouting 'MAZZA!' Instead of pretending not to know them (a justifiable response to MAZZA! in most cases), she ran over and gave them an elated hug. The hug caught fire (thankfully not literally) in the crowd, until a guy with a megaphone exclaimed 'that's what the London marathon is all about! Go MAZZA!'

Papa says the atmosphere on Sunday was that of infectious positive energy. Ana was overwhelmed and promptly went to sleep mode after MAZZA ran on:

My first thought on seeing this clip, is that it looks like my blog - that is, a dream as the world runs by on my doorstep. I'll wake and put my running shoes on before forever. Till then, I swap poo jokes to keep smiling (thanks to Tara Cain of Sticky Fingers for the Gallery prompt).

In spite of my dark sense of humour* I am increasingly attracted towards positive energy. I believe that empathy is the pinnacle of human evolution, and that collaboration can achieve far more than competition. Which is why my post of the week (thanks to Ella of Notes from Home) comes from the gob of Franklin Delano Roosevelt via Alyson. The quote puts it much more succinctly than I ever could (and speaking of which, Notes from Home and Alyson's Blog are both beacons of positivity that I hugely admire).

All this positive energy nonsense is not to be prescriptive, and it certainly isn't a clunky effort at political statement. It is more of a personal, spiritual goal - one of my guideposts in the dark, rocky cave of life. You know, that one that everybody has to blindly grope through with skinned knees and increasing regret, towards some unspecified end.

But keeping things on the positive - the beautiful sun is just sunning up over my rainy island, and there's a nice cuppa joe here that needs attending to.

*Curly hair and a bleak outlook are two things that I will never shake - I have tried - they are deep in my bones.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Under warranty

Dear reputable manufacturer of quality babies,

I am a loyal customer - I purchased two model CHAOS babies from you in under two years. I am writing to request that you collect my most recent purchase for repair, as I think it may have a defective fuse.

I was alerted to a problem this morning when eating breakfast became impossible due to a sudden lack of bowls. Perhaps foolishly, I then attempted to exit the house with both my models, and was thwarted by an absence of raincoats and shoes.

This afternoon, after a rather soggy morning, I located a stash of bowls, shoes and raincoats in the rubbish bin. Under precisely one ton of soggy coffee grounds. Your model appears to think that I am a total turnip, and claims to have nothing to do with it (and might I just point out at this juncture, that my coffee consumption habits are not the issue here).

As per section C, sub-clause RAP of your warranty, please do collect my model CHAOS baby at your nearest convenience for repair. I understand that sorting out a faulty bin-restraint mechanism may take time, so please don't feel compelled to return my model for say, eighteen years or so.



PS: Please don't try to tell me that by taking my model CHAOS baby out of the box and actually engaging it with the outside world, I have somehow managed to void the warranty.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

You may have noticed that my favourite word - in English or in Spanish - is tomorrow. In the land of my birth, a 'mañana' isn't a literal 'tomorrow', but rather a word for things that will never come, and jobs that will remain undone forever. It is a word for the eternally unattainable - a cupboard reserved for when we get to heaven.

Of course it is silly for me to talk about this with all the gravitas of a college essay - the best thing about mañana is that it's always presented in good humour, with a shrug, a joke, a dose weathered optimism, and even a drink if you're lucky.

So if mañana is the dreams, and tomorrow is the real stuff, then surely the meeting point for these two verbal conceptions of the future is children. Tiring as they are today, the hard work will surely pay off tomorrow, and failing that mañana. 

Below is one of my favourite pictures. It was taken when, just after my eldest daughter was born, my mum journeyed across the world to hold tomorrow in her arms.

 'You know bald alien vole, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'
This fading-light ramble, which will never come to fruition, was inspired by a Gallery prompt from Tara of Sticky Fingers (thanks - my favourite yet).

In related news, yesterday I read a lovely post along these very lines from Bibsey Mama - a vision out over the beautiful, sunny, parental fields of Spanish tomorrow. It put a huge smile on my face, and it is my Post of the Week (thank you Ella of Notes From Home).

In other news, some kind soul has given me a pleasant surprise in the form of a MAD Blog Awards nomination. Although I am frequently referred to as being actually mad, such a nomination is most unheard of around these parts - thank you.

And in other, other news, an influx of complaints from concerned viewers has led the Editorial Standards Quality Control Team here at Chaos HQ to acknowledge the recent trend toward sentimental mushiness, and insist that I resume poo jokes effective immediately.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Nothing but blue sky

The government ministry for rain has gone on tea break. I suspect they took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, as it has been three days since they were last seen. They may have stopped in at the pub, become distracted, and now find themselves in no fit state to return to their desks. Fingers crossed, they will need to sleep it off for several days, in which case the revised rain budget will be delayed by at least a week. This is my hope. An ambitious hope, given their weather track record.

Pulling a sunshine sickie. 
All this sunshine makes me think of two wonderful things from last summer: throwing stones into the sea for hours on end, and consuming unhealthy quantities of clotted cream-slathered scones with strawberry jam.

The lovely Auntie Rara bore witness to both occurrences, and I hear a rumour that she is headed this way with the wonderful Auntie S in a few weeks. If the rumour is correct, I suspect we will be soon re-engaging in these two activities. I will attempt to wait patiently, while they pack.

World championship thrower. 
This is a Flashback Friday post, hosted by the wonderful Cafe Bebe.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Deja poo

From a sociological perspective, the short world is fascinating. You wouldn't suspect it from stock phrases like 'googalibababa', but short people are verbal hawks who are always watching for prey.

My research indicates that a favourite pass-time of short people is the old a 'accidental' profanity game. The scoring goes like this: one point for a flustered mum, two points for an embarrassed babysitter, and ten points for a tut-tutting room of smug observers (whose children will NEVER speak like that).

A prime example is the time (or one of the times) I stubbed my toe, shouted a word that rhymes with  'git', leading Ana to go off like a car alarm 'GIT! GIT! GIT!' thereby making her day.

Ana went through a very active patch of Pediatric Outburst Syndrome. She used to discuss male chickens in the context of clocks, and git in conjunction with torso-cover. She also liked to point out 'HUGE POOS!' usually when there weren't any around. The phrase, as you might expect of such a household as this, was introduced by her mama, spoken in a moment of anger at the neighbourhood's poo-hose cat.

Speaking of huge poos, in my younger and more impressionable days, I was once naive enough to let a naked baby run around the sitting room for several minutes. You see, midwives and health visitors have this joke they like to play on new mothers: they say in very earnest tones, that the best way to avoid nappy rash is to let a baby run around in her birthday suit for brief spells each day. In an infamous incident that has come to be known in this house as 'Poop Slide Gate', I discovered the punchline to this joke.

I left my smiling angel on the carpet of the sitting room and walked to the kitchen for two minutes. When I returned, I smelled the punchline. Then I spotted a big pile of punchline on the carpet. There were cute little baby footprints leading in a trail, like Gretal and her breadcrumbs, all around the living room, up the stairs of our plastic slide (on loan from the toy library), then a swerving streak of punchline all the way down. The baby at the bottom of the slide was covered in punchline, and deep in concentration, body-painting. Needless to say, I am more wary of visiting health advice these days.

Relative peace, in poo terms, returned to this house after Ana potty trained. But Ali is turning into a chatterbox, and has noticed that everyone in this house visits the toilet except for her.* She is very leery of being left out, so she likes to toddle along on toilet visits and, in the manner of a beagle shouting at the moon, unleash an ode to 'pooooooooooooooooo'. And she is starting to take an interest in mispronounced clocks too. Ali, like her sister before her, is getting to be a skilled practitioner of the accidental profanity game.

This post was written for the year's most illustrious event, the Carnival of Poo, hosted by the talented Ella of Notes from Home fame.

*Actually that's a lie: Ali frequently visits the toilet. I know when she has done so, because she kindly leaves evidence of her visit floating duck-like in the toilet bowl: toys, shoes, and hairbrushes, entire civilisations.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Smells like bad music

I moved house last week and mostly survived. However, I managed to miss a chance to time travel over at Kate's, which is most unfortunate. I will express contrition by admitting to ownership of the following five albums in my younger and more impressionable days:

  1. Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'em by MC Hammer of Hammer pants fame. That's right: Hammer time. Hammer pants. Say it ten times with a straight face and you get a cookie. 
  2. Tiffany by er, Tiffany. Nabbed this one from my sister. So I blame her. 
  3. Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens. The soundtrack of my childhood, and still very close to my heart.  
  4. Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins. Good old meat and potatoes adolescent angst.  
  5. Nevermind by Nirvana. Absolves me for Hammer time, I like to think.
In other news, and in spite of my appalling taste in music, the lovely Molly of Mother's Always Right (who is in fact always correct, especially when it comes to libraries) nominated me for a Kreative Blogger award back in the mists of pre-move time. Thank you Molly! 

As per the terms of the award, I am foisting my autograph on everyone I meet - they are mostly being polite about this - and have just compiled a list of factoids about me: 
  1. I blame the Hammer time episode on a corruptive primary school friend, who really ought to have known better. 
  2. I am not currently listening to MC Hammer. 
  3. I don't actually wear Hammer pants, nor have I ever done so, although I did once wear moon boots. 
  4. Any residual psychological damage from owning Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'em is being dealt with by a trained professional seal in regular therapy sessions. 
  5. My lawyer will pursue legal action against anyone who tries to infer that I still listen to Hammer tunes, or indeed wear Hammer pants. 
  6. I played the trumpet in high school. 
  7. And the bass drum. 
  8. And twirled a flag in the flag corps. 
  9. Of a marching band. 
  10. But not all at once. Even I can't touch that. 
As per term two, here is a list of some wonderful bloggers I highly recommend: 
All - thanks for sharing your work - it is such fun to read your blogs. Please pass the award on if, when, and how you see fit. As per the legalese, remember that use of this award is entirely at your own risk. The award should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times. And if you experience dizziness or nausea, you should consult your doctor immediately, or alternately take a break from thinking so darn much about the award. 

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Lonesome, quarrelsome heroes

Out on the bleak rainy road recently, I saw a bright orange lorry emblazoned with: 'Iceland: because mums are heroes'.

For my brethren on the mañana side of the Atlantic: 'Iceland' in this instance means Britain's premier budget frozen foods shop, not that other rainy island. You can buy a hundred differently-packaged bags of fish fingers at Iceland the store, and a lifetime's worth of ketchup.

I had a few questions to ask of this lorry. Like: Was Boudica a big fan of frozen chips? Does the purchase of bulk freezer peas transform a mum into a some kind of Odysseus, tied to the mast of a death-star buggy, braving the siren call of fresher foods? Are mini-vans as sexy as bat-mobiles? Have us mums really got as little fashion sense as Wonder Woman?

But the lorry drove on before I could get any answers. I tend to have this effect on slogans that I try to interrogate.

The apparition of this motto in my morning left me thinking of that scene in The Princess Bride, where the dashing hero Wesley is captured by Prince Humperdinck and strapped to a super-duper-evil torture machine in the dungeon pit of despair. As the film makes abundantly clear, the super-duper-evil machine process is quite painful and screamy, and it extracts years off Wesley's life in the blink of an eye. He leaves the dungeon a broken, aged, near-dead sort of hero.

The super-duper-evil machine process definitely has some similarities to this parenting gig. Kids will give you a backache in place of a social life. They are the world's most effective antidote to youthfulness in adults. Of course, they also infuse life with a deep, abiding sense of purpose - something you normally can't purchase on the frozen foods aisle.

So if I was a Motto Creator instead of a Soup Developer, I'd suggest this revised wording for the orange lorries, to better reflect the general experience:
Bog Standard Woman be warned!: children will turn YOU into that frazzled woman at Iceland at 3 in the afternoon: bad posture, no obvious hairstyle, shockingly ugly footware, ketchup-spattered ex-maternity shirt, gripping a trolly with white knuckles, yelling childishly at a rabid pack of short people to STOP BEING SO FLIPPING CHILDISH. 
Because yes indeed - mums CAN be heroes. But madness is compulsory. And fish finger procurement is highly likely. 
However, take heart Bog Standard Woman: a mama is a sort of whisky priest - she soldiers on through the Icelandic jungle, hounded by short creatures on all sides. Aisle after frozen aisle, no spending money left in her holey pockets (it has all gone on battery-operated bubble-blowers and other awful plastic tat). All she has left is a grain of hope, a truckload of caffeine, and a nearly-spent flask of brandy if she's lucky. Seriously uncool, flawed, duty bound to her calling, even to the death. 
A grumpy, exhausted and very well-disguised hero.    
So here's a Mothering Sunday toast to dishevelled heroes with maternal battle scars - join me in raising a chipped sippy cup to tough days gone and a brighter, taller future. I hope to heaven that I may one day wear an obvious hairstyle, discover good posture, and a luxuriate in a calm demeanour. For now, I simply want the day off. I plan to spend it napping, heroically.