Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Gallery - This picture is on my wall

This is the only picture I have ever taken that I have printed out, put in a frame, and hung on my wall.

I took it on our honeymoon in Positano. I think it looks impossible, like something Escher would have imagined.

I am very proud of it.

This picture is in response to Tara's Gallery, and unusually, I have taken the brief literally this week and actually given you a picture that, in and of itself, I am proud of.  Instead of one of something I am proud of having done, or made, or given birth to...

I bet there are going to be loads of really amazing pictures in the Gallery this week, both literal, and not-so.  Go and have a look!

Friday, 20 August 2010

What's in your kitchen (and what should I have in mine?)

The most expensive thing I've ever bought is a house.

The second most expensive thing I've ever bought, is, you guessed it, the old house.

The third most expensive thing I've ever bought (by a significant distance, I hasten to add) is, I think, about to be a kitchen...

The people were here today. They've got lots of whizz-bangy, exciting, state-of-the-art, hideously expensive ideas.  I've got some too, but not as many as they do.

So, before I look pleadingly at B, sign on the dotted line and head off to seduce the bank manager, I'd love some help:

What's in your kitchen? What's not in your kitchen but you wish it was?  What should I have (and, perhaps more importantly, what should I not have) in mine?


The picture is not my current kitchen (funnily enough)... in fact it's Mary Berry's and is from the Beautiful Kitchens Blog for which thank you.  Needless to say, it's rather larger than mine.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

(Not) the Gallery - Memory

This isn't my Gallery entry. It can't be. There's no picture in it.

Tara set A Memory as the subject for the Gallery this week, and I can't do it.  Because how do you separate your memory of a moment from the photograph you took of it?  How do you choose a photograph that represents a memory, when the very existence of the photograph affects, and indeed, can create, the memory itself?

What's your first memory?  Mine is swimming.  I was about 2 1/2 and I was in  Haverhill Swimming Pool with my Daddy.  I was wearing a green towelling (aah, the 70s!) swimming costume with  a white trim.  That's all I remember, not the chlorine smell, or the noise, or the excitement of the splashing; just the costume and me, and my Daddy.

Only that's not my first memory at all.  I thought it was. I've told people it was.  And then about ten years ago I was looking through my parents' photo albums and there it was. My memory.  It's not a memory of the event. It's a memory of the photograph.*  

There's a book by Penelope Lively called The Photograph in which Glyn, a landscape historian, whose job is to discover the truth of the land through photographs and documents, discovers a photograph which changes utterly his view of his life, and in particular his relationship with his wife.  His memories of years of marriage are utterly undone by that snapshot, that moment in time captured on paper.

The journalist Jane Shilling wrote this in response:
A click, a flash, a whirr, and there we are, captured for ever in a moment of absolute truth: not the approximate truth of memory, which drifts and blurs in the retelling, but a palpable, glossy, 6in by 4in chunk torn from the fabric of passing time and stuck down here, in this album, to remind us, in case we should forget, of who we were, and what we were doing at a certain instant.
So where is the memory in a photograph?  Or is the photograph the memory itself?

There is one other photograph I would have, could have, perhaps should have, if it were not for the fact that it shows the faces of lots of my friends and given I don't put my own face up here, it seems unfair to put up theirs, used this week.

It was taken (not by me, so I shouldn't really use it anyway) at the wedding of my wonderful brother- and sister-in-law, T and K.  T is B's brother, K is one of my very best girlfriends from university.  They met utterly independently of B and me, but it meant that their wedding was a coming together of all of my friends as well as B's lovely family.

The only problem?  I don't really remember it. As my own wedding did, it passed in a blur.  S and A were born by c-section nine days earlier.  The wedding was four hundred miles away.  We had both, pre-scan, been asked to read.  We had said yes.  We wanted to go, we were going to go. We went.

And we were there. We read, we sang hymns, we wept just a little (well, I did).  I know all this, because I was told, and because I have seen the pictures, but really, I don't remember much of it at all except for one moment.  We had left the cathedral, we had got to the reception and a hundred of B's relations and family friends all milled around, wanting to congratulate us, to hold the scraps of humanity we had with us, to smile at L who was on top flirty 19-month-old form.  And I wasn't interested in any of them.  I remember - it's about the only thing I do remember - smiling and nodding and walking, as purposefully as I could, through the be-hatted and be-kilted guests to the far corner where my girlfriends, the friends I have known for nearly fifteen years now, were sitting, thrusting a baby into a pair of waiting arms,and plonking myself down and thinking for the first time in nine days: "relax".

And at that moment, "click".  A memory: fixed in time, like a fly in amber.

I'm sure it's not T and K's favourite picture of what was clearly an amazing day.  But it is mine.  Because I remember it.   I'm just sorry I can't show it to you.

*which clearly should have, and could have been another entry for this week, only funnily enough it's not digital, and it's at my parents and I had no way of scanning it in...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Terrible Two

I'm told that twins are harder work than one.  Everyone says so, both in words and silently.  You hear it in the pitying looks you get when you waddle past at 34 weeks pregnant and bigger than most at full term, or the gasps of shock from old ladies who peer in the pram, or the admiring glances when, by some miracle, and for more than ten seconds in a row, both babies are on top cute form.

But, you know what? I never really felt it.

I think the thing about having twins, especially after having a singleton, is that you realise that all you can do is to deal with what life throws at you in the best way you possibly can.  And yes, at times it feels impossibly hard, but it did with L too, and I can't honestly say that the worst moments with L were worse than the worst moments with A and S.

Until now.

Now I get it.  Now, two, at nearly two, are hard.  Harder than one.  Oh, so much harder than one...

We're at that stage.  And the fact that I know it's a stage isn't making it easier.  That stage where the penalty for failure is death.

And I fail.  Regularly, reliably and unremittingly, I fail.  I take off their pyjamas when they want them on. I choose the wrong socks.  I take the banana out of its skin.  I give them macaroni cheese for supper.  I put them in their pushchair.  I get them out of their pushchair.  I give them the wrong toy.  I stop them playing with the door.  I say "no".

So I fail.  And the punishment is swift and relentless.  Screams of pain, of misery, of years of unloved neglect.  Of the unrecoverable sadness that only a well-fed, cossetted, adored 20-month-old can feel when she's been told she can't have a packet of raisins.

And sitting here, both of them asleep upstairs, it's funny.  But oh, when you're living it, when you're jiggling a writhing, caterwauling baby on your hip, as she pushes and fights with rage-fuelled strength, flailing with both arms at your glasses, yanking on your hair, while you desperately try to soothe her, though with no idea what it is that you did wrong, and simultaneously try to ignore the desperate wails from your ankles as the other one screams with fury because she can't take off her shoes, knowing all along that you're failing their big sister, who just wants you to read me a story Mummy please, the funny side seems so very far away.

It's just a stage.  It's born of frustration.  I know it. They can't talk.  They can't say "Not those socks; the blue ones please Mummy", or "Please could you possibly cut up the banana for me in slices no more than half a centimetre thick" so they voice their displeasure, they express their personalities, they show their independence in the only way they can.  All babies do it.  It's part of being nearly two.  I get it. I really do. 

I just wish I'd realised how calm my life was with just the one.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Charity Begins

If you have enough to eat, and a safe place to sleep, and nobody wants to kill you or take you from your family, you are among the most fortunate few of a troubled world, and you should never forget your sheer luck.

I read this last Sunday. Joseph O'Connor said it in the Observer magazine, and, although it's certainly not the first time that's been pointed out to me, and I'm equally sure it won't be the last, it's been niggling at me.

I'm lucky. I'm so, so, lucky.  My whole family is, and most of the people I know.

It's not just O'Connor's words though. It's these pictures:

which Potty Mummy posted a couple of days ago, and the reports that Motherhood and Anarchy posted from the Jheelpur slum in Bangladesh, as well as the fantastic support that Josie, Eva and Sian are giving to Save the Children through the Blogladesh initiative.

And the question is, what am I going to do about it?

And while I realise the dramatic answer would be to say that I'm going to whisk my entire family off somewhere to "make a difference", I am also reminded of Milton: They also serve, who only stand and wait.

I feel, secretly, that giving money to charity isn't enough, that I should be the Borders' answer to Mother Teresa.  To be doing.  To be putting my body on the line.  Getting my hands dirty.  Going to Bangladesh, like Motherhood and Anarchy did, and Josie, Sian and Eva are.  But I can't.  And the amazing people who can and are doing those things need money to do so.

B and I already give regularly to charity, and we also sponsor three children in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Mali, but somehow, now that none of that is my money, it feels like I am not doing anything, or perhaps just that we can do more.  So I'm going to go back to basics, and I'm going to tithe my own, small,  income.

I'm also going to do (and indeed am doing) something that that British side of my nature thinks is rather inappropriate, (and that, having seen what the Blogladesh initiative is doing, now also feels a bit lame, but still... ) I'm going to blog about it.   Each month I'm going to pick a charity, and I'm going to write about it, in the hope, not that you'll all think I'm wonderfully smug for giving money to charity, but rather that whatever publicity charities can get is valuable, and might be of some help, however small.

So, and with apologies to Save the Children, because the video was actually the first thing that I saw that got me thinking like this, and because it seems to cover the aims of all those who have made me think over the last week, 10% of my last month's income has been sent to Unicef:

"We believe that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress.  UNICEF was created with this purpose in mind – to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.  We believe that we can, together, advance the cause of humanity.
We advocate for measures to give children the best start in life, because proper care at the youngest age forms the strongest foundation for a person’s future."

You can find out how you can support Unicef by clicking here.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A tale of two chickens

I sent B to a large supermarket (yes, that one, you know what I'm talking about but they're not paying me for this post (quelle surprise!) so I'm not giving them any free advertising) the other day to buy a chicken.

He fulfilled the task admirably, coming back with a lovely yellow, corn-fed, happy chicken that had lived its days merrily pecking in the dirt and probably having massages and  manicures for all I know.  The only problem was that he'd bought a chicken for six and I'd forgotten to mention that we were 11.

So I went out to the local supermarket (Haldanes. They're not paying me either, but given there's only one of them, they deserve the advertising) and bought another one.  There wasn't any option: it was chicken or chicken.  I got chicken.

Now, I know B had instinctively bought the super, friendly, happy, chicken, but then that's because that's the sort of thing we can do.  We are lucky enough to have sufficient disposable income to be able to pay just shy of £10 for a chicken because we are also woolly liberal enough to worry about whether our chicken has had a nice life before it gets decapitated and stuck in a hot oven with an onion up its bum.   I appreciate that there are lots of people who don't have the luxury of that choice and to be honest, I think I would have said the difference came more in how you felt about what you were eating than in what you were actually putting in your mouth.

It turns out I was wrong.

Here are the nutritional values of those two chickens: 

Look at the calories.  And the fat content.  And give yourselves no prizes for working out which one is which.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Books of love, loss, longing and economics.

For a girl who whinges, alot, about not having much "me" time. I still seem to be managing to get through quite a few books. I'm not sure when I manage to do any of this reading, and I certainly don't think I'm doing what I said I would, and really properly concentrating on the writing, but I am, mostly enjoying it.

So, since I last posted a book-related post, I have read:

After You'd Gone, by Maggie O'Farrell,
One Day, by David Nicholls,
Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (why do Americans always use their middle initials? Weird).

Erm, something else.  But I'm utterly b*ggered if I can remember what it was. Which should clearly tell me something about either my brain capacity, or the quality of the book.  If I remember (which I will, probably at 3 am) I'll let you know.

Start with the "serious" one:  Freakonomics

I think I've come to Freakonomics too late.  The writers go on, at some length, about challenging "conventional wisdom", but the problem is that so much of what they say seems to me to have been absorbed into the conventional wisdom that I found it had totally lost its power to "shock" and "provoke" (which I know it must have had - the blurb on the back tells me).  It seemed generally accepted to me that an estate agent's margin of profit isn't high enough to encourage him to get you an extra £10,000 for your house, or that baby names start off being perceived as high class (which, being American they refer to by income bracket, but I'm pretty certain over here they'd call it class) before moving down the social spectrum, only to be picked up again fifty or a hundred years later back at the top. I was particularly delighted to learn that apparently people with my surname are really high class.  Which is nice to know, because all three of my girls are called that...

That said, it was interesting - who knew that "incentivising" the girls to tidy up with promises of telly, or "negatively incentivising" them to eat their main course with threats of no pudding was "economics"? - and definitely worth the read if you haven' t already.  If only so you can feel clever when you drag out the same old tired threats...

It also gave me a bit of a break from my previous read, Maggie O'Farrell's After You'd Gone which Iota had recommended to me, for when I was feeling strong.  I'm not going to talk about this at length other than to say that I clearly wasn't feeling strong enough as it put my heart, lungs and tear ducts through a mangle, twice.  It's wonderful and amazing and not by any stretch of the imagination an easy read, despite being very easy to read.  I'd previously read Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which is equally affecting. Don't read either of them if you have a new baby or are feeling in any way over-wrought, over-stressed or over-emotional.  If you're in a good place, buy them both, now.  Get hankies too.  These are books that will stay with you forever.  I couldn't have forgotten this one.

Trish then sent me One Day by David Nicholls.  I was looking forward to this as I'd enjoyed Starter for Ten and was in the mood for a bit of light relief (the mystery fourth book was also a tear-jerker, although, as I say, I have no idea what it was called).  The problem? This one made me cry too, and not necessarily where it was meant to.  Nicholls is exceptional on the pain of unrequited love, on the difficulty of looking at someone whose face is your world and listening to them chat away about someone else, or indeed anything else.  He took me right back to that yearning, that need to say the unsayable.  Oh, and then he made me cry.  It's a goody though.  Just not the cheering-up-vehicle I was hoping for.

And now? I'm being bitterly disappointed and throroughly irritated by the new Audrey Niffenegger.  More to follow...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Last time

The last time was last week.  I know that much.

The thing is though, I don't know when last week.  I wasn't watching. It happened, it passed and it'll never happen again.

It's not a big deal.  Really it isn't.  It's only that we've stopped lifting L for a wee before we go to bed. She is officially dry at night.  Another step on the road to independence.

And I'm proud of that, and of her.  But (and I never thought I'd miss anything about potty training), I sort of miss the lift.  The sleepy sausage snuggling into me, barely waking.  The relaxed heft of her in my arms.

But what's actually getting to me is that I didn't notice the last time.  It's odd, isn't it, this parenting malarkey? They grow up without you noticing.  There have been lots of last times, some good, some not so: the last breast feed, the last night feed, the last time in the baby bath, the last nappy, the last bowl of mush...

And it bothers me that they seem to happen without you noticing.  I love watching my girls grow up, but I also loved having them small and dependent, and as each milestone is reached I want to mark it. To put a flag in the moment of change.  To take a snapshot, mental or otherwise, so that I will notice and remember that this was the day I picked her up for the last time, or this was the day she stopped having a bedtime story, or this was the day she decided she could sleep without her "Friend".

There's a moment in (low-brow reference alert) Mamma Mia where Meryl Streep's character sits, on the morning of her daughter's wedding, looking at her childhood bedroom and sings "She keeps on growing, slipping through my fingers all the time".  It made me cry, the first time I saw it, and I still can't listen to it, or indeed, it appears, type it out, without that pernicious lump forming in my throat.

Because that's it, isn't it? Each step they take, each milestone they reach, each moment I miss is another marker on the path away from me. A path that I set them on, and that I am doing everything I can to make sure they follow.  But it still feels like they're slipping away, taking the moments themselves with them.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Gallery - Playtime

How bad is my timing?

I published a post yesterday with some (not particularly fantastic) pictures I love of S and A playing together, co-operating and sharing as I hope they will throughout their lives.

And then I thought "Oh, it's the Gallery tomorrow. I wonder what it is?  I'd better get my post ready."

And of course it's Playtime.  So I could just head back to that post, or tweak it and republish it, or something, but that feels like a cop-out (although do go and have a look, the pictures are lovely - or I think so, but then I'm their mother) so I'm not going to do that.

Or I'm sort of not.  Here's another one of the pictures anyway, just for the fun of it:

Isn't that amazing? They're 19 months old, and they're sharing, co-operating, playing together.  I think that's a twin thing, because I'm pretty certain that L wouldn't have played with another child like that at that age.  But, twins or no, that is what I want for all three of them, as they grow up as sisters: to have someone to play with, to share childhood- and, in due course, grown up-experiences with.  And when they fight, as they increasingly are doing (there's another post in there I suspect), I just have to sit back and remind myself that they can be like this too...

So anyway, given that that isn't my Gallery entry for this week, here's one of L too because otherwise she doesn't feature at all, and she does, after all, do her fair share of the playing in this house: 

She doesn't look like she's playing, but she is and I love that.  It forces me to remember that even when they are lolling on our tummies on a Northumberland beach, squishing sand between their fingers, they are still playing, and that although I beat myself up about not playing with them enough; about not cutting up enough bits of sticky back plastic, or making up enough stories, or using enough jumpers for enough goalposts, sitting with my children and watching the sand form little piles between their toes is playing too, and, in its own way, just as valuable.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Twenty minutes of co-operation (featuring a review)

One of the things I'm really enjoying about S and A at the moment is watching them interract.  It's not always good interraction: the journey to my parents' last week (while, please note, they should, in any event, have been asleep) was spent with one of them putting her hand on the other's car seat, and the other going ballistic at the encroachment on her territory.  A brief bout of arm wrestling would ensue, before the roles were reversed. 

Would have been funny if it hadn't been so noisy.  Actually, scratch that, it was funny...  Today's behaviour, on the other hand, was less so...

But, for better or worse, they're very into doing things together at the moment, and, mostly, it's lovely to see.

I was watching them, the other day, with a Stacking Tree which I had been sent by Hello Baby Direct.  Now, I didn't know this website before, and there are bits of it (well one bit of it) that I think is awful.  It describes itself as "the website for parents who care", which is the sort of thing that is absolutely guaranteed to make me angry.  It implies that if you don't buy things from their website, then you don't care, and quite frankly parents are given enough to beat themselves up about already without online toy shops getting in on the action.  It's exactly the same when you're expecting a baby ("well, you could get the cheaper car seat (which, please note, meets all safety standards), but, really, for the baby's sake..." (sub-text: "if you really loved your baby...").

So, had I happened upon the website, I'd have sworn at the computer and clicked away.  As it is, they sent me something nice, so I had to have a proper look, and I'm glad I did, because not only have they got some really nice stuff, but they actually realise that parents care about more than just their own child.  So they give you the background on the manufacturers and processes that go into the making of the toys, so that you can make decisions based on that too.

Anyway, back to the toy and the babies.

They showed each other what to do:


They took it in turns:


And they cheered and clapped each other when they (jointly) got it right:

And, most importantly, they spent a good twenty minutes playing together without so much as a push or a whinge.

So thank you Hello Baby, and thank you Stacking Tree.  You made my month.  I'll be getting it out again tomorrow after the day I've had....

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Digitally re:Masterpieces - Sunflowers

I said this one was going to be tricky, and I was right. 

It's the first of the month, so it's time for a brilliant (ahem) reworking in digital photography of a masterpiece, and this month I've set myself Sunflowers.  And to be honest, I'm not very happy with it.

Vincent Van Gogh came up with this:

Can't be that difficult to recreate that, can it? It's just a bunch of flowers.  All I've got to do is stick them in a jug and away we go...

Or not.  Because to recreate it, you've got to actually look at it.  And when you look at it you realise it's much more than a bunch of flowers in a jug.  What's happening to those flowers?  What's going on with those ones that look like those things you put in your hair to make an airhostessy sort of bun?  How do you get a sunflower to do that?

I think I'd always assumed they were seed heads.  And maybe they are.  But whatever it is they are, you don't get to it by leaving a bunch of Lidl sunflowers without water for a week.  All you end up with then is dead sunflowers.

So I'm afraid I've ended up, appropriately enough, with Plan B.

Sunflower (Potted) (2010)

Here's hoping the rest of you come up with something better.... Linky below!

Oh, and next month, I'm leaving the National Gallery, and heading west to the Tate, and doing this, because it makes me feel all teenagery and romantic...

Oh, and that picture's from wikipedia, but the original (or one of them, because there are lots) is in the National Gallery.