Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Squashed tomato stew

Chaos HQ is currently lobbing tomatoes at unfortunate pedestrians from the window of Truffle's previously immaculate grown-up flat. Which is to say, please check out my gazpacho guest post over at Cinnamon & Truffle!
Cure for the summertime blues. 


But as a warning: don't try to read C&T on an empty stomach. I tried this recently, and now my keyboard looks like a surfboard that's been through shark-infested waters. Although in fairness this may have more to do with mt sharp-toothed pair of short people.

Bon appetit!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Eating sand and punching art

I recently took the girls to the Tate Modern. They were not impressed.

After punching an installation (Ali), I thought it best for us to make hasty exit. I should point out here that no actual damage was done to the museum, or to the kids.

Art imitating chaos, or chaos imitating art?
So we meandered down the riverside, wobbling on cobblestones and struggling over stairs with the Death Star buggy until we happened upon a truly wonderful thing.

The South Bank Centre is celebrating sixty years since the Festival of Britain by littering the riverfront with sand and beach huts. There's an exhibition, a freebie postcard photo booth, and even a giant bulbous purple cow (some sort of performance area).

There are free and paid events going on throughout June and July, and there are unusually helpful people floating around the area to tell you all about it.

So if you are in London over the summer and aren't sure what to do with the kiddies once they tire of smacking modern art, I highly recommend a stop by the South Bank Centre. It's not every day that you see crumbling '50s British seaside reconstituted under the watchful shadows the London Eye and Parliament.

The girls ran wild on the mock beach for hours, filling their ears, noses, throats and pockets with sand. But they didn't stop there - they sailed on a speedy boat to a magical island with a cake and ice cream shop on it, where lucky customers can opt for 'extra sugar please' when ordering.
The SS Extra Sugar Please.
It was a wonderful day, and their imaginations were firing on all cylinders and exploding into space. I was left smiling like an idiot and humming that old Morrissey tune.

I frequently gripe in smart-arse and whinge in hyperbole about ketchup-spatter and sleeplessness. But I'd hate to give the impression that I'm totally oblivious to what I have: big picture happiness constructed of a million petty annoyances. My great burden is my great joy.

I get to spend my days in the close company of my beloved sand-eating art-punchers. I can't think of a greater blessing.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We've been living under a Charlie Brown cloud, jumping puddles and stopping to smell the roses.

Raindrops on rosebuds.

How is your week?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Let an umbrella be your smile

An asset, not a monkey for your back. 
Chaos HQ marched around with umbrellas last Sunday* to kick off Refugee Week, a collaborative effort to highlight the positive contributions of asylum-seekers to Britain.

We brolly-paraded for two reasons. Firstly out of a moral conviction best captured by Pete Postlethwaite in Brassed Off: 'If this lot were seals or whales you'd be up in arms but they're not are they? They're just ordinary, honest human beings and not one of them with an ounce of bloody hope left.'

Secondly, we suspected it might rain. It did.

I recently met a nice lady at the park who reminded me of Britain's historical commitment to sanctuary. We small-talked about children, crap weather and other bog standard things. Then she quietly told me that she was born in Prague and came to Britain at the age of seven via the Kindertransport rescue mission. This humanitarian movement saved thousands of continental Jewish children by resettling them in Britain just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Bridge over troubled water. 

No matter how much I read about such things, to actually meet someone who was part of it was a very moving experience. She wishes, she said, that she could have seen her parents through adult eyes.

The man who kicked off our umbrella march along the Thames captured the mood perfectly when he said: 'We are proud to be British. We are proud to protect refugees. We are proud to be refugees.'

I was reminded of the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Gogol Bordello: 'Rememberremember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants.'
One nation, united under a rain-cloud. 

Right now you can find posters up in the underground that helpfully point out that many British cultural staples - fish and chips, M&S, the Mini, the Milibands (delete as appropriate depending on your political and lifestyle leanings) - come from immigrant stock.

A very useful reminder to counter the constant printed downpour of negativity on the subject of immigration.

The kingdom belongs to such as these. 
So be proud this week and every week to support refugees - as British a thing as understated tea and royal bunting.**

Show your support even if you're little - like my pair of short migrants, who slept through the event in spite of a very boisterous drum core. And be welcoming even if your fellow humans are a little different from you.

Consider it theoretical karma in case you ever have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

We are all foreigners, somewhere.

*You can find great photo coverage of the event here.
**Actually, what on earth is bunting?

Monday, 20 June 2011

The news from Arroyo Wobegon

This week I'm broadcasting the news from Arroyo Wobegon out on the open llano of the mind. Which is to say in plain old non-silly English: I have a guest post up at OneArmGirl HQ - please check it out!

Riveting. 
OneArmGirl, aside from being one of my longest serving (and suffering) friends, is an expert horsenasticist who was born with one arm and the gift of a golden writing voice. She once improved editorial standards around Chaos HQ tenfold by guest posting about her wonderful dragon boy, Eli.

Please do have a good wander round her excellent blog. It will put a spring in your step and convince you to see the detail in things you never noticed before.

You may even get lucky and pick up a good hippie vibe from the virtual land of enchantment to power you through the week. A particularly timely thing if you live in Blighty like I do, where the weather is forecast to be total unmitigated rubbish for the foreseeable future.

Typical.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

This week at Chaos HQ...

...we are thinking about papas: those wonderful guys who make the world go round and carry us home when we fall over exhausted.
You'll never walk alone. 
They do this and a hundred other things without Entonox, an epidural, or a decent night's rest. They ask for nothing in return, and they never stop.

But we notice. And even if we are sometimes too tired to remark upon it, our heart's are filled with joy and gratitude.

Thanks Papa Bear, we love you.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Maternal regression

I am regressing.

As I mentioned last week, my first job was as a dishwasher in a busy cafe, where I discovered that the removal of melted cheese and chili (known locally as 'superglue') is darned-near impossible. My boss was an overburdened cook, occupied with a minimum of five swearingly-annoying tasks at any given moment. Consequently she could get a bit gruff, and in her gruffer moments she made me think of Pong from The Ascent of Rum Doodle, that rarest of literary treats: a slapstick comedy about mountain climbing.

Eventually I grew up (somewhat), went to university, got married, and got a job that didn't involve washing dishes. Yet the specter of Pong never ceased to loom large over my destiny. The arrival of two short people has brought me full circle back to my cheese-plate days.
Pong II at work. 
According to our local Babish dialect, 'mama' is a polite word for 'hoover'. The gremlin formerly known as my sweet darling baby is a very industrious messmaker. Also in her dialect, 'toast' means 'projectile' and 'good morning' means 'Chaos shall reign forever, and ever, amen'.

Sadly, I simply cannot mama-hoover at the rate that she upends the world. My local branch of the Grumpy Persons Brigade (or 'the villagers' as a friend of mine very charitably calls them) cannot understand how challenging it is to keep up with a dedicated entropist, and they often look on with derision as we entropise our way through public places.

I have it on good authority that some time in the next eighteen years or so this sort of behaviour will stop. Someday Pong II will hang up her mess-saddle and then calmly inform me that I am embarrassing and could I please go away now. Someday I may even return to a job that does not involve Pong-imitators or molten cheese in any form.

Till then, zen mind. Beginner's mind. Dishwasher's mind.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The unexamined life

A very long time ago, around when organisms first crawled from primordial soup towards certain violence and bitter disappointment (not intended as a birthing euphemism), the eternally-wise Alyson tagged me in a game of 20ish questions as per the GuardianHere, many evolutionary stages later, follow my answers to the questionnaire, abridged to save on reader eye strain.

You may wish to whip out this affidavit the next time you can't sleep. Or if you ever suspect that your own life is very boring, a quick glance back here should convince you of your rock star powers

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I'd like to say Jessica Rabbit, but I suspect it would be Gene Wilder.

What is your favourite smell?
Earth after a thunderstorm.

Where would you like to live?
In a Taos adobe with a chilli patch.

What is your favourite book?
Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wake up time

It's half term and Chaos HQ has been riding the tube like a trio of hobos on the rails. We've been the scourge of the freebie museum circuit, the aquarium and the zoo.

Ana and I passed a busker on the way out of the underground yesterday. He was a beat-up broken sort of folk singer with a golden set of pipes. Ana, music lover and pirate, put some treasure in his cap and we carried on.
Rock me, baby.

On the way home we saw a different busker in exactly the same spot. Although he was similarly broken-looking, he sang from a different songbook, namely the one containing 'Always Look On the Bright Side of Life'. He sang it with the sort of earnest feeling that Monty Python never quite pulled off.

It was the middle of the day and the commuter crowd had dispersed, leaving him to sing to no one but himself and the footstep-modulated sunshine streaming in from the street above. I was struck by the stark loneliness of the image - a man in an empty rabbit run singing to the ether.

This town is silly with good musicians. They play in the street and sing to the underground as the human school swarms in and out on the working tide, unnoticing. They sing with persistence in the face of persistent ignoring.

My other half was born with the gift of music. He picked up a guitar somewhere in his youth and never put it down. And he's always been a singer. Over the years he has cultivated an eclectic arsenal of folk, gospel, blues, ranchera, and rock tunes. Like Steve Zissou, the girls and I (and sometimes Neffe too) live with a guitar-strummer in every scene, and our family life has a rolling soundtrack. We are hugely blessed in this regard, although I suppose we've become accustomed to it in the manner that you can become accustomed to any amazing thing that you experience every day.

Short folk. 
Music has been an important part of the girls' lives since they were days old. It quickly became Papa's means of quieting them when they were deep in the throws of pediatric demon possession. At one point just after Ana was born, the only thing that comforted her was Papa singing 'Silent Night' on eternal repeat. 

The job of household master musician is a lonely one. Papa plays on when his kids are trying to chew the guitar strings off. There is no profit and no reward. They usually don't even remember to clap. Often they wander off in the middle of a particularly lovely rendition of 'Life in a Northern Town' to smack their heads on toys in the other room. I've frequently seen grown-ups respond in a similar manner to beautiful music - it just seems to be a folk musician's lot in life. 


I wasn't born with the musical gift. I can do a very accurate impression of a rusty hinge warbling. I don't demonstrate this skill at parties anymore, because there's no better way to ruin a festive atmosphere than to burst an eardrum.

I've noticed something about the lonely musicians in my house and on the underground: they achieve total focus, and they really wail. My research indicates that their real trick* is to hit song hard and not give a toss about who's listening. A trick I've never managed to pull off in life, but I hope my girls will. Because with confidence like that, you could do just about anything.

Baby blues. 
Occasionally I manage to escape my captors for five minutes and find a keyboard (qwerty) that hasn't been slathered in ketchup. Sometimes scribbling is great fun, but other times it feels like a chore. I begin to wonder if I should instead concentrate my limited spare energy on more useful stuff, like cultivating an intentional hairstyle and paying the gas bill.

At one point last week I found myself staring blankly at the monitor, drifting off on a really boring daydream about soup (vegetable - the boringest of soups). I looked down and realised that my trousers were covered in a colourful Jackson Pollock of kid-food detritus. Then I looked up and found Ana standing stock still at my elbow. Her face made it clear that she was about to drop wisdom.

'Mama,' she said, 'wake up.'

A thought I've been mulling over a lot this week, as I listen to one of my favourite songs.

*I don't mean the trick to paying the gas bill. There are better tricks for that, and I am a lousy expert in that department. What I mean some sort of fuzzy hippie notion about finding equilibrium and joy.