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.

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

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sticky confession

I am addicted to making jam. Unlike everything else I've written here, this is actually true.

Every summer I swear up and down to my loved ones that I will quit. But at some point every year they come home to find me covered in jam spatter and knee-deep in sterilised glass.

I only embarked on a jam habit in the first place to avoid wasting fruit in the backyard. As any sufficiently lapsed Lutheran will tell you: wasting food is nearly as repugnant as speaking earnestly.

I nearly made good on my promise this year. A move from the suburbs to a gardenless urban flat seemed like the cure.

But an innocent bystander foiled my plan to quit by  introducing me to a damson plum tree in a park around the corner.
Sugar coating. 

I kept an eye on the tree. The damsons were getting perilously ripe. I was beginning to speak earnestly. Something had to be done.

And so it happened again: August found me hovering contentedly over a molten vat of damson jam that smelled and looked like heaven.

When I confess my jamming habit to others they generally ask me if I am their great-grandmother or if I live in 1954. Jam just ain't cool.

But I reckon a jamming habit is actually a little transgressive - stop laughing and walk with me for a minute.

Jam begins with a load of wholesome fruit that you could take home to your mother. But then you drown the fruit in a quantity of sugar so vast it can be seen from space. Truly, it is an amount of sugar is so profound that the jamming pan instantly develops type 2 diabetes on contact.

Jam is the art of consuming unholy amounts of sugar. The fruit is merely a Trojan horse for the sugar. Watching sausages get made may not put you off eating sausage, but watching jam get made should put you off eating anything for the rest of your life.

One of the funnier things about becoming a mother is that everyone suddenly thinks you are some kind of dribbling moron with pencils stuck in your nostrils going 'wibble'. Or at least my research indicates this to be true, as evidenced by the bombardment of uninvited parenting advice I've received over the past five years.

Food is a popular genre for uninvited advice. I've had everyone from the midwife to the bus driver tell me how to eat and what to feed my children. So I fight back by sticking pencils in my nostrils, wibbling loudly, and eating what I want. Most of the time what I want is jam. So there. Wibble.

I do understand that most transgressive behaviour is more exciting than this. But I am very addicted to sugar and rather short on ideas.

That said, making jam is a total pain in the neck and a complete mess. Much as I love it, I really hate it too.

Maybe next year will be my lucky year. Maybe next year I'll quit for good. So if you happen to know of an excellent fruit tree going to waste, please do don't invoke my inner Lutheran by telling me about it.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are making tea, not war, with street art.
Next week we will move on to more serious matters.