Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bill and Ted's excellent adventure

The boy came home with the nursery mascot - Ted the Teddy Bear just before heading off to Scotland with his dad. Something about this didn't quite sound true to me, but apparently this is a common thing that school's and nurseries do now. Foisting responsibility for some raggedy stuffed animal on some poor parents and then forcing them to keep a journal of the various goings on.

Journal it? Crikey. And then I looked at what other parents had done. Lots of colour pictures. Pages and pages and pages of journal writing - Ted went to Venice. Ted loved the Cathedral of San Marco. Ted. Ted. Ted.

I was just going to print out a few pics on our black and white laser printer and maybe caption it. But the ViL balked. Something in his competitive spirit thought that wasn't good enough. Especially since he'd gone to all the trouble of actually taking the pictures (I was at home in London!)

But instead of doing that, I fired up a Mac app called Comic Life 2 and pulled together a picture comic.

OK, Northern Scotland ain't Venice. But I think this puts the handwritten, glued and taped entries of previous parents to shame. And that's what counts!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Mouse patrol

Mouse, originally uploaded by London looks.

We came home to find a wounded mouse in the corner. (Sometimes our cat doesn't finish the job - lazy!)

I pointed it out to Buddy and he goes wild. "Mommy, don't kill it. Don't kill it, Mommy!..."

OK. I had horrible visions of trying and failing to nurse the dang thing back to health.

"Mommy, don't kill it!" He said "I"m gonna kill it!"

And he did.

I really wasn't sure whether to be icked out or proud.

Friday, June 24, 2011



Four-year-old Buddy and I saw this butterfly - a pretty thing. Orange. We talked about how we liked butterflies and whether I liked them. (I do). And whether I liked caterpillars (I don't, they eat my plants). And metamorphosis.

"Caterpillars turn into butterflies," Buddy said.

I was impressed. "That's right!" I said enthusiastically.

He was quiet for a moment. "And after they turn into butterflies, they turn into chickens. And then elephants," he reported with conviction.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The budding photographer

When Buddy was a baby, he loved to pose for the camera. Now at four, like his mom, he much prefers to be behind the camera. He's always asking me to hold and use the camera. And he's fairly careful with it (although he still has a tendency to get fingerprints on the lens, grrrr)

On a visit to our local hospital (don't panic, it's on the way back from a local playground and there's a nice Marks and Spencers Simply Food there, too) he asked for the camera and decided to take pictures of people waiting outside. Relatives of patients, staff - I presume. I actually think these are pretty good 'street' portraits. I made him ask for permission to take the pictures. He loved it - taking the pictures and interacting with his subjects and so did these women!

St George's Portraits

St George's Portraits

St George's Portraits

St George's Portraits

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Little Lord Fauntleroy

We're off to America soon, land of cheap children's clothing (and cute). So we did a big old clear out of Buddy's closet. I've been putting off buying any new trousers for the boy thinking we could make do, but the poor lad has had several growth spurts so other than a couple of trousers he's been mostly wearing high waters.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

But actually stuffed in the way back, back of the cupboard - and I can't imagine why this outfit wasn't in regular circulation - I found a little blue coverall set that just about fit. This is one of those classic outfits my mother simply cannot resist. Although she should. Not only is the boy guaranteed a drubbing on the rougher playgrounds of South London - but the back opening one piece is really beyond a little lad who needs to get to the toilet on his own.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Still these pictures should be handy for future blackmail. Do I feel guilty? Not in the least, especially after the boy packed the washing machine detergent tray full of dishwasher salt today.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Project potty mouth - help please!

I swear like a sailor. I guess. I don't really know any sailors. Anyway, I use some pretty ripe language. I have for a long time. But in Tennessee there's little tolerance for such filthy communications styles. Perhaps especially from women in mixed company. And in front of children. I'm headed off to Tennessee in just over a week, so I need to clean up my act.

I'm a fairly indiscriminate swearer and I use words that the Federal Communications Commission would frown on. By and large, I'm an HBO level swearer. Lots of Fs but never Cs.

Still, as I'll be around elderly relatives and small children for much of the time time I'm in Tennessee I really need to curb it. I need some kind of behavioural therapy. A rubber band around the wrist. A swear box. Something. Anything.

I've already tried to stop and every time I utter a profanity I end up swearing at my slip. Resulting in twice as much swearing!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Descending into the Wandle Wasteland... a fun family outing turned into a Cormac McCarthy novel...

It's not my fault that the boy has a crossbow. I never wanted him to have one in the first place. And the crossbow that the Vol-in-Law ordered for Buddy turned out to be far more weapon like than toy like. It's black. It's metal. It can zing the little darts quite far and quite hard. But who am I to overlook a fun toy? So on the first warm day of the year, I took the boy and his cross bow down to the Wandle Wildlife Park - or as it actually is..and abandoned, filled in and overgrown wastewater treatment plant which sits underneath a major powerline pathway: the Wandle Wasteland.




We first fired the crossbow at the Ikea bag we'd concealed it in. But soon the boy tired of that and began shooting a wild. A dart went off into the rough. The boy began down some creepy path and soon found an abandoned supermarket trolley. What heaven for a small boy.

Who would leave such fun behind?

We dragged it out into the open and played around some more. Buddy was desperate to take it home. I resisted my natural inclination to bring home 'found goods' and said no. But I let him climb around on it and we shot at it with the crossbow.

Who would leave such fun behind?

Who would leave such fun behind?

At one point, a middle class man walking through the 'park' happened upon our fun (I think I was aiming at some crows) and seemed quite frightened by our manner. I could see him taking in the 'bulldog' t-shirt - purchased in a moment last year when I was feeling quite hopeful about England's World Cup prospects (i.e. before it began), but now looks more appropriate for an English Defense League rally. I could see him taking in the trolley and assuming we'd taken it from Sainsbury's. And the look of derision as he saw me hand the crossbow to they boy....I did feel a slight inward cringe of shame.

But then a couple of old drunks happened by. I would have said they were homeless, but I suspect they weren't. They did have two mutt like dogs with them, but no possessions. The had the tremor and pallor of long-time abusers. They didn't have all their teeth. They smiled at the boy's trolley antics and asked about the cross-bow. The woman asked me where I was from. The man wanted to see the boy fire the crossbow and cheered enthusiastically and Buddy insisted that the man have a try, too. Turns out he was raised in Indiana and had lived in LA for quite some time. He asked me if I'd ever been to Indiana. "Only driven through," I had to reply.

"Tennessee's a beautiful place," he said. "You just can't beat it in the spring or the fall."

And I had to agree.

Monday, April 04, 2011

School places

I'm a school governor. Until recently, that school was rated as 'satisfactory' and has now been uprated to good. I'm not a particularly good school governor, but I've been doing it for a while and have given up a significant amount of my free time to a local school. I haven't made a major contribution, to be sure, but I have been along for the ride and I hope I've made some small contribution.

Lunch is almost ready
Looks like lots of places.

I put Buddy's name down on the list to go to that school. School governors don't get preferential places, but the school had never been oversubscribed before, so I felt pretty assured of a place. I wasn't thrilled about him going there. He's a smart kid, but he's not a good kid. From having observed classes there, I could see that it maybe didn't serve smart, not-very-good and high-energy boys well. He would have been an ethnic minority in the school - and whatever you may think about that, it can certainly make you more obvious, more vulnerable. Despite the school's improvement, I know they still face a lot of challenges. A school population of high churn. Kids entering every year who don't speak English at all, never mind as a first language. But it wasn't really a bad deal overall. I know the headteacher and deputy head and a lot of the staff. I know they're actually doing a pretty good job. I'm a school governor, so although the boy wouldn't get any special know, they'd look out for him, let me know if there was a problem.

School governors don't get preferential treatment when it comes to school places. And my boy didn't get a place at the school where I'm a governor.

Instead he was offered a place at the worst school within reasonable walking distance. A school which receives low ratings on outcome and on kids perceptions of their own safety. It's next to a housing estate that I know has some significant problems, because my husband sits on the local Safer Neighbourhood Panel. It's a school which, until last year, was in 'special measures'. It's a school that parents sometimes flee from to attend the one where I'm a governor. Sometimes mid-year.

I can't help feel a little cheesed off that I didn't get some good karma for my work, however just about ok it was.

And I can't help but feel a bit desperate. The school must be within walking distance or easy to reach by public transport. There's a nice looking private school that's not too inconvenient for us. But, of course, it's expensive. But I will pay. It doesn't help that I've just taken voluntary redundancy. Fortunately, we can pay at least for a little while - even in my reduced circumstances. And fortunately, my political principles mean that I don't worry about sending my child to a private school. I would prefer to send him to a state school, even if it's perhaps not the best option. But I won't send him if it's the worst option. I just hope the local private school still has places.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Small town America and the friendly neighborhood hoochie joint


On the way home, I read an article in the free sheet Evening Standard about a new chain of strip/ lap dancing clubs that are aiming for a different, more 'up-market' clientele. The owner, Simon Warr, says he's setting out to be 'classy'. Generally, in my experience, if you have to use the word classy; it's not.

Warr's challenge is to change perceptions about what goes on inside his clubs. "I want people to have a good time. For women to feel they can come with their boyfriends and not be objectified. It's a fun, upbeat, safe environment. It's a highly charged atmosphere, and booze is important to us, but people will feel entertained. We want to sell an overall experience," he says.

Umm, yeah... And although booze is important to me, too - I can't imagine that I would find this particularly entertaining. But what really got me was this...

In America, lapdancing is mainstream. In some small towns, the local club might really be the best place to get a steak and a cocktail. "Often in the US there won't be a local pub. The club almost fulfils that role in some communities," says Warr.

Really? Really? OK, I know I was raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt...But I've never heard of a small town community where folks all head on down to the neighborhood lap dancing joint for a relaxing family evening of steaks, cocktails, nipple tassels and thumpa-thumpa hoochie music. Someone, please, correct me if I'm wrong.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Just get on back to Texas

I was just followed on Twitter by a BBQ joint. That's cool, I like me some BBQ. "Best BBQ East of Texas" it promised. Cool. London could use another BBQ joint, I thought. But let me check this out...just how East is East?

I check the website. Oh, I see - it's as far east as Brentwood, Tennessee (suburb of Nashville, for those not familiar). Nashville is not a town short of BBQ joints the last time I checked. And the key selling points, the authentic Texas-ness of the owner...

Hook 'em Horns! Tending to the smoker, or inside the one-roomed restaurant, you will find one Aubrey Bean, whose credentials as a Texan are unassailable and extensive... He is from Austin, he is a sports-crazy jock, he has a degree in petroleum engineering and he learned to cook barbecue from his granddaddy. He wears a Texas Longhorns cap, and his Suburban (the standard Lone Star vehicle long before it became the preferred ride of Nashville soccer moms) sports the Longhorn logo on the back windows. For crying out loud, to be any more Texan... not just a Texan (not that there's anything wrong with that) but not an SEC fan and a bit derisive of the hard-working mothers of middle Tennessee. Maybe it's some kind of reverse psychology marketing plan. I'll insult them ever so subtly, and they'll be hungry for some extra sides. Of course, it has tempted me to write about them...

But even the notion that a Texan would need to bring BBQ to Tennessee is a just a little bit laughable. Look, I like brisket. It's good. And it's a more than acceptable form of BBQ in the landscape of BBQ; I suppose a balanced BBQ diet can include beef. But it's not like Tennessee doesn't have its own multiple BBQ traditions. Or that BBQ isn't -well, pork. This strikes me a little bit like someone from the South coming to the UK saying "Hey, how 'bout the best fish n' chips on the planet. We know how to cook fish 'cause we're American." Right... But if someone brought genuine catfish and hushpuppies, a different take on deep fried fish and starch, and said "Yeah, we know your fish n' chips is awesome, but this another way of looking at it. It's not better per se; and we know you already know how to fry fish. Try it when you're in the mood for a little bit of change."

But hey, dude - good luck to ya.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Knights of the realm

Buddy is very fond indeed of his Knights and his castle. The Vol-in-Law doesn't like me calling it his dollhouse, but that's what it is. A dollhouse of few comforts and a cast of tooled up fellows with barely concealed rage.

He's behind you...

And the boy often pretends to be a knight or a king. He's a king a lot.

The other night he told me "I'll be the King, and you be a knight. And Daddy be a knight."

This sounded like a lot of standing around in mud in heavy armor in inclement weather and possibly some kind of physical danger. "I don't want to be a knight. Perhaps I could be a special advisor. Can I be a special advisor?"

"Of course, you can," he said. "You be a special advisor, after you a knight."

knight at rest

Saturday, February 05, 2011

What's wrong with a little muscular liberalism?

Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.

Freedom is in peril

Let's forget, for a moment, the issue of Islamic extremism. If we can. There's a nuanced spectrum of people who mix anti-Westernism and/or self-loathing with standing against origin-based hate and people who support the liberal principles of Western democracy who rub shoulders with haters. There's a lot of ugliness in the Venn diagram of principled stands.

But I welcome Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on standing up for liberal values - at the very least here, at home where we live - and abroad, when we can.

I applaud his hierarchy of principles, though I might shuffle the cards a little, and his means test of liberalism.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

I recognise that many people I know don't believe in liberal democracy. But I do. Strongly. That liberalism starts first and foremost with freedom of speech. That's not speech without consequences or rebuttal, but it is speech without fear of losing one's liberty or property.

My freedom of speech does not end at the thin margin of your tender feelings. Nor yours, mine. So I support the right of people to say what, in my view, is pretty reprehensible on all kinds of matters. But freedom of speech is simply freedom, it's not a claim right of support from public funds or for ministerial support by sharing a platform.

And if we draw the line anywhere, in terms of supporting groups that are supposed to be good, we ought to draw at those who want to speak out against speaking out. Those who don't support rule of democratically determined liberal law. If that means not supporting with money or standing alongside those who don't support liberal democracy, then good.

If we want to have a tolerant society, if we want to have a society where different cultures can rub along then there are principles of liberalism which must be applied across the board. This means no platform and no public pounds to organisations whose views are the antithesis of liberal democracy - even if some believe there may be some expendiency in doing so.

I think it's unfortunate that many are focusing on just the wrong things in this speech. Implying Cameron is a racist, etc. I wish if they would attack him - they would do so honestly by attacking the principles on which he's standing - free speech, tolerance without acquiescence and making a stand against tolerating hateful things like misogyny and the most basic denial of rights to homosexuals and systems of law which enshrine inequality.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Maternal fears borne out

I was randomly looking through my old posts when I found this one on my pre-natal fears that Buddy would have no sense of humor. My husband scoffed at my fears. But now we're coming to grips with the fact that the boy may well have inherited the no-humor gene from his father's side of the family.

When he was a baby, I longed to hear him laugh. He didn't. He wasn't a laugher. He laughs now. But mostly at slapstick. He laughs when someone else gets hurt. He laughs when we punch him. No seriously, the boy begs to be hit. He loves rough-housing. I avoid it as much as I can, 'cause it creeps me out. But he never laughs so loud or so gaily as when things have got out of hand. The only time I've ever heard him genuinely laugh at tv was at Tom and Jerry.

He sometimes laugh when we laugh. But it's a forced laugh. Ha, ha, ha. A laugh akin to the praising of the fine hues in a painting by the color blind.

He's missing some teeth, too. They just never came in. But that can be fixed with money. A lack of a rich, complex sense of humor can't.

I'm hoping that as his language skills become more sophisticated his sense of humor will develop, too. But I'm lowering my expectations.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Gone for a soldier

I took the boy up to The Mall on Sunday to watch the annual march of civil war re-enactors. No, not the civil war that I grew up with, but that older one - Cavaliers v. Roundheads. I've been living in London for over a decade - but I'd never heard of this gathering (fourth Sunday of every January) which commemorates the execution of King Charles and the brief establishment of republican government in England. I couldn't tell if they were celebrating or commiserating (though some of them were laying a wreath) - but since I suppose there were some for both camps, they'd chosen to draw a veil over the old rivalries.

Buddy loves his knights, so I assumed he'd like some of these 17th century blokes who stand somewhere in between knights of old and modern soldiers in terms of uniforms. And since I'd been away for work for a couple of days, I thought I'd take him into town for a bit of treat.

When we arrived at Green Park station, it seemed a little more crowded than I'd anticipated and as we walked through the park I could see hordes of people around Buckingham Palace. Turns out it was changing of the guard time (I didn't even know they did it in the winter, but they do - every other day instead of daily in the warmer months). We hit The Mall just in time to see the guards arriving in all good pomp and playing a suitably militaristic tune.

The boy was enthralled.

Watching the guards

And although he enjoyed it when one of the re-enactors showed him how a match lock worked, he wasn't as excited by the civil war stuff as I thought he might be.

Learning how to fire a match lock

We followed the march all the way down to Horse Guards Parade, but he lost interest as they milled around before ostensibly forming a square. (Inadvertently, and despite the steward's advice we managed to line up between opposing armies).

Form up

But he got excited again when he dashed into the museum of the household cavalry. I refused to pay for entry, as I've already had more than a lifetime's share of regimental museums touring around with his father and I wouldn't have wanted the Vol-in-Law to miss out on the opportunity. I had to literally drag him away from the displays.

He was intrigued by those standing guard as well, though he didn't want to pose with the sentry as many tourists do.

Household cavalry

I couldn't quite understand why he was so interested a couple of bored squaddies, when there was a whole history parade going on outside with many of the members of the civil war society ready - eager even - to be nice and explain stuff.

But then I thought - even a three year old can tell the difference between a serving soldier and some middle aged, slightly nerdy, history buffs. And those household cavalry types are pretty intriguing. We saw some at the Wimbledon stables open day a few months ago - and those tall young fellows with their polished breastplates, snug uniforms and their thigh-high shiny boots...the boy could hardly tear his eyes away and to be honest, I had trouble looking elsewhere, too. Those uniforms were designed to make the girls swoon and the boys sign up.

Household Cavalry Helmet

And it looks like they've found a potential recruit.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I heard the call of Cthulu or how I cooked me up a mess of squid

Growing up listening to national public radio there was sometimes a spoof spot with a furrin type chef with some kind of Adriatic accent who would answer your questions about cookery and entertaining. And no matter what the question, the answer was always squid.

Q: I'm hosting a children's party for 10 five-year-olds, what do you suggest serving?
A: eh-squid, keeds love-a the eh-squid


I do love squid. I'm not a huge fan of deep-fried or breaded calamari, but I'm often in the mood for squid. Partly, if I'm honest, for the shock value. And the more closely it resembles the original animal, the better.

But I've never prepped it from scratch. I've bought some processed squid from Portugese delis over the year (you can get frozen stuffed squid!) and I've been known to use tinned octopus on pizza. In fact, I've never once taken any animal from corpse to plate. Unless you count shrimp from the Gulf, which I don't.

But this week I saw a show with Jamie Oliver -- Suppers to Save Our Seas as part of the Fish Fight series about choosing more sustainable fish resources. One of his top 10 alternative fish choices was squid. He started with the cleaned body, did some scoring, added some lime juice, popped it on the grill - and blammo - easy squid. Out loud I said "Hey, maybe we should get some squid."

Buddy latched onto this instantly. "Squid! Squid! Squid!" he said. For a boy who won't eat anything unless it's breaded, I took this as a hopeful sign that maybe we could expand his palate. I mentioned the squid idea to the Vol-in-Law and he was almost equally enthusiastic. But I know he does actually eat squid.

So over the week there have been casual mentions of the squid thing and last night the boy asked if we were having squid for dinner. Wow! So I promised we'd go shopping for squid today. And he reminded me when I picked him up for nursery. And we did..

At the grocery store, they only had the one squid. A giant looking thing, that I'm pretty sure took down the Nautilus. I was starting to chicken out on the squid idea.

"Do you really want a squid?" I said.
"Yes, yes, yes!! Squid!"

So...look away now if you're on the squeamish side.

squid unwrapped
Squid unwrapped

call of cthulu
I looked up instructions on squid butchery. Each step was described as easy. It wasn't. But honestly, it probably was easier than cleaning a regular fish. It's just that when I pulled and twisted the head, the guts didn't automatically all come out. Extra knife work was required.

And there were other surprises, too. For example, never did I dream that I'd overhear a conversation from our bedroom that went like this:

Daddy, look at this!
Is that from the squid?

squid bone
There was an awesome bit of cartilage - looked like a bit of clear plastic. The boy was intrigued.

I forgot to take pictures of the cleaned, skinned squid tube - but here's the final product. And it was tasty.

Squid's up
Squid sauteed in olive oil with peppers and garlic. Fresh parsley. Served over linguine.

Squid on a plate

But you know what? The boy only nibbled a tiny corner from a bit of squid and then only because we made him.

Keeds love-a the eh-squid? Not around here they don't

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The wrong kind of BBQ

pit bbq and diversification

I work in a building that sees a steady stream of politicians. And the great thing about politicos is that they're never backwards about coming forwards. So a single word exchanged in the ladies' led to "Oh, is that an American accent? Where are you from?"


"Staying long?"

"Been here 15 years so far."

"Ah, the thing I remember about Tennessee are the BBQd ribs with all that lovely sauce."

Instant reaction: bristle. Was just about to explain that that I'm from Middle (or when I'm thinking about it differently East) Tennessee and our BBQ is usually pulled pork. And ribs are really associated more with the West Tennessee BBQ tradition, when I heard the door close on her way out.

Just as well, really - wasn't sure if she was ready to hear about the socio-bbq map of the Southern US and prairie states.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reaffirming the patriarchy

Last night I took the boy swimming, so we were a little late home. The Vol-in-Law was still in the salt mine of paper marking, so I turned on the tv and told Buddy that I was going to start making dinner.

"No!" he told me sternly. "Only Daddy tells you to make dinner."


"Buddy, I can autonomously choose to..." my voice trailed away and silently finished with "make dinner for the menfolk."

It's true that kids say the durndest things, but where do they get this stuff? It's not like he doesn't come from a long and distinguished line of working women. From a "pop star" of the turn of the century to small business owners and factory workers and artists, his female progenitors have been hard workers and money makers - and I'm not even sure I've got enough fingers to count the degrees and certificates held by his grandmothers.

How do you even counter this stuff? Am I destined to have that resigned look that you often see in women who live in a household of men? I don't want to spend the rest of my life living in a frat house.

And that's not all. One of things he'll say regularly is "I got a penis. Daddy got a penis. You not got a penis. Ha, ha, ha." Bloody hell. Did Freud ever describe penis hubris?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fireman Sam can't save the day this time

Fan Fiction is a great tradition of the Net. Taking well known series from television or film and writing additional stories in line with the characters and setting. I've never done any fan fiction before, but the Vol-in-Law and I have always speculated on the back stories of the characters in Fireman Sam - a cartoon set in the Welsh Valleys in the tiny village of Pontypandy. It features the eponymous Fireman Sam, naughty (and fatherless) Norman Price, his mother Dilys and their extended families and co-workers. There's other Fireman Sam fan fiction on the net, but this story sees our characters imagined 10 years on.
Fireman Sam and Norman packet


Dylis sat in the courtroom with silent tears running down her face. She’d always feared it would come to this, but had hoped that her love for her boy would see him right in the end. Norman’s bright red hair had always been her secret pride, a legacy from his father, but now it hung lanky and dull over his face. The boy who, for whatever his faults, had always been full of the spark of life, a fire in his eyes, now stood defeated in the dock waiting to be taken down. Mummy’s little treasure, as she’d called him, didn’t look much of a prize now.

The solicitor hurried past on her way out. She had told Dylis to expect a custodial sentence, but Dyllis had let her hope triumph over sense. He wasn’t a youthful offender anymore, at 19 he’d be treated as an adult.

No one took much notice of Dylis in the long bus ride from the Crown Court in Swansea to the village of Pontypandy. She was just another old woman, clutching a plastic bag, bundled up in an old raincoat to keep out the rain of the valleys. She stared out the rain speckled windows as the bus strained against the steep hill roads.

A string of minor infractions, small fires set here and there, escalating to more serious events over the years had left him with a criminal record. His father may not have ever acknowledged Norman, but he had intervened on his behalf countless times. He’d put out countless fires for his son, literal and metaphorical. He had fixed his mistakes, covered for him, and tried to make things right. But maybe if he could have taken a stronger role, a guiding hand for the boy as Norman had been growing up things would have been different.

But that was never going to happen. She would still remember his shocked expression when she’d told him that the single night they’d shared had had repercussions. She felt foolish for letting him talk her into keeping it a secret for all these years. Maybe if she’d made him face up to his responsibilities then, things would have turned out differently. She could see now that he would never have made the offer of marriage that she’d hoped for, but he could have acknowledged the boy, surely. But she’d wanted to keep him sweet, to see how reasonable she could be and perhaps he’d see, one day, that they could have something more. Most of all, she feared that he’d leave Pontypandy for some bigger place.

Dylis knew she’d been no beauty even in those days. What few charms she’d been born with had faded away as she cared for her mother in her final years in that little flat above the shop while she’d kept that going, too. When her mother had finally slipped away, Dylis began to think of finding a new life for herself. But then there had been Norman on his way.

Norman’s father had been young, much younger than she. He’d just returned from Cardiff and there had been rumours of a failed romance. Apparently she had been some dark eyed beauty who had left for London, a boy from the valleys, no matter how handsome, had not been enough for her. In those long summer days after he’d returned and her mother had died, Dylis had been in the habits of taking long walks in the hills - grieving and planning what she might do next.

She’d found him on his own in an old stone and wood cabin, near the mountain rescue station. He was already a little drunk and had offered her a can of cider she’d remembered selling to him. They drank and chatted quietly as he’d tended the fire in the little hearth. After a little more cider, they’d begun to laugh together - laugh at their own misfortunes. She told him how she wanted to leave the valley, but didn’t know how. He told her about the girl who’d broken his heart. A moment of kindness, as she’d reached out to brush her fingers over his bright red hair, turned quickly to a moment of madness. He’d reached for her then tumbling her down against the old mattress. She’d accepted his fumbled embraces with fervour. She’d let herself hope it might be the beginning of her new life. But his pained apologies the next day had extinguished that spark.

That old cabin had long since burned down. No one had proof, but they’d all suspected Norman. Dylis had always wondered if it had been his father who’d struck the match. He’d been able to get to the scene fast enough.

Her steps from the bus stop to the shop were slow and heavy. Her brother had been minding it for her while she was at court, and he was eager enough to get away from it now. Those villagers who still came in to the shop eyed the Price family with silent pity. “Poor Dilys,” she could almost hear them say “left to raise that handful of a boy on her own with no man at her side.”

The bell on the shop door jangled, and she looked up. He was still handsome, though his red hair had faded a little with age and was now streaked with silver. He was still tall and firm of frame, and the uniform of fire chief suited him. His face with etched with worry. He had always cared for Norman in his own way.

“He’s been sent down for three years. My little treasure in prison.” she sobbed.

“I gave a good report for the sentencing recommendation. He’s a good boy at heart,” he told her.

She stared at him, her accusation plain to read in her eyes.

“Great Fires of London,” he swore. “I did what I could, Dilys.”

“Did you? Even though I never told him you were his father, he always felt close to you. Always wanted to be like you, a fireman. He just wanted your attention. Even what he did this time, burning down the fire station was just to be closer to Fireman Sam.”

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Putting democracy in the cross hairs

I roused from a late afternoon rest to see Twitter declaring the Rep Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona had been assassinated. Then I saw that maybe she wasn't dead. But quite a few other people were. Tragic. Absolutely tragic on so many levels. It need almost go without saying that murder is horrible. And mass murder is vile. But there's something particularly tragic about the slaying of people who were participating in our democracy - as representatives, as aides, as supporters and I dare say as dissenters. Without a doubt among those killed and injured will be someone who disagreed with the politics of Representative Giffords and was there to let her know. To spray bullets on such a gathering is an attack on orderly, peaceful representative democracy. To kill the chance of ordinary people getting close to their representatives. I hope that everyone injured in today's shooting recovers quickly.

But what I also saw on Twitter was quick condemnation of Sarah Palin and rhetoric which borrows heavily from text of Guns n' Ammo. Yep, Ms Palin is certainly one to rouse emotions. I'm not a fan of her approach generally and I disagree with her on pretty much every political stand she takes. But she didn't pull the trigger. Yes, apparently she put Rep Giffords in the cross hairs on her website. In retrospect, it seems more than inappropriate. But a target seat is still a target seat. Everyone uses language like that. Everyone talks about picking off vulnerable opponents and some talk of political hit lists. I don't know how common cross-hairs are for political maps, but I wouldn't be surprised to see flames and bulls-eyes. Maybe we need a slightly different discourse. And we mustn't tolerate anything which goes further than this.

It takes a nut job to actually carry even extreme rhetoric to action. But sadly there's no lack of people who are willing to step up to the plate. From the recent assassination in Pakistan, to the stabbing of Stephen Timms. Call for violent action loud enough and often enough, even in the guise of metaphor, and someone will hear the call.

For sure, politics is a rough sport. And I wouldn't for a second wish to curtail freedom of speech. But surely we can all do more to counter aggressive, violent speech. To shun it. To repudiate it. To not tolerate or cosset it. No matter whom it's targeted against, as it lowers the tone for all of us. And that includes harsh responses, labelling Sarah Palin a murderer and demanding retribution.

And a similar post from a local politician I've met.

Bad haircut

Bad haircut, originally uploaded by London looks.

I know a lot of people give their small children home haircuts. Especially for boys. It's not supposed to be hard.

I have a long history of giving very bad haircuts. Disastrous haircuts. Too short. Uneven. Reminiscent of mange. Most of these unhappy experiments have had my brother as the victim. Once my husband. No one else has been so foolish to come near me when I'm wielding scissors.

When I was pregnant, I made the Vol-in-Law promise that he would never ever let me near my own child's head with shears. It was for the best really, I said.

Buddy was a bald baby and didn't have a lot of hair for a very long time, so it was easy for me to keep my resolution and my husband to keep his promise. The boy's first several haircuts were given by a relative and a brilliant Polish hairdresser who seems to have now moved on from giving haircuts to children.

Last summer, I had a go. We have a hair-clipping set that my brother had left here. And I didn't do a bad job. I didn't do a good job, but it wasn't shameful. Buddy sits quietly enough if you worked quickly.

This past week though, I tried again. And I'm afraid I returned to old form. A very bad haircut indeed.

I think we're going to need professional help.

Update: Hair Repair

After posting this, the Vol-in-Law took Buddy down to the barber's for a little repair job.

"Get your coat on, you're going to get your hair cut, Buddy."

"Where are we going?"

"To the barber shop. A man's going to cut your hair."

"What man?"

"The barber, he's a like a hair doctor. He's going to fix your hair."

"Mommy's not going to cut my hair?"

"No, she's more like the hair butcher."

He came back a little while later like this:

Fresh from the barber's

With gel in his hair. (I'm not too crazy about that) and informing us that only men could cut his hair. He thought a moment before adding. "But not Daddy."

Sunday, January 02, 2011

This woman's work

Scene of the crime, originally uploaded by London looks.

The Vol-in-Law is a squeamish sort of chap. He puts it down to being raised vegetarian. Whatever. Anyway his squeamishness means that corpse removal duty falls to me. And this is a regular job. Our cat Fancy has a respectable kill rate.

Fortunately for me, she leaves beautiful corpses. Or at least intact ones anyway, with maybe just a nibble or two from the tail. I don't really mind picking up these dead critters with a plastic bag and disposing of them. I'm not really freaked out by mice.

But we all have our limits. I mean RATS do freak me out. I screamed like a little kid when I walked out of our back door one day and saw a rat. I'm shuddering in remembrance.

I haven't seen a rat in a long time (thankfully!). But yesterday's New Year's gift of a dead mouse was enormous. It was really big. It was the size of a hamster. And as far as I'm concerned, hamster is just a little too close to rat. But I womanned up and dealt with it.

Buddy, isn't so squeamish. "I like it when Fancy kills a mouse," he said yesterday. But he did call his dad to deal with the thing.

"You need to call your mom," he said. "Mouse disposal is woman's work."

Buddy at three and a half is starting to be aware of gender distinctions and the difference between girls and boys. He questioned his father over what women did (rodent removal) and what did boys and men do? What sort of animal did males deal with?

"Your mother deals with the small animals. But if we see any wolves, it will be our job to get rid of it."

Yes. I can see that. Wolves roaming the streets of London. Not this century. (Though I note that he said nothing of foxes which are a regularly seen beastie.)

But the boy was excited and started planning his toolkit. "We need knives and hammers and swords!" he exclaimed.