Tag Archives: life

life according to pigeon

just to prove that I don’t only read romance, here’s a passage from Austerlitz by W G Sebald. It filled me with a sudden, sharp melancholy – because,  I think, it is at once recognisable as the experience of being alive, and also foreign in its blind surety of direction:

You can dispatch a pigeon from shipboard in the middle of a snow-storm over the North Sea, and if its strength holds out it will infallibly find its way home. To this day no one knows how these birds, sent off on their journey into so menacing a void, their hearts surely almost breaking with fear in their presentiment of the vast distances they must cover, make straight for their place of origin.

in defence of the romance novel

In my last post I made a throwaway comment about romance novels being a “true and concise account of love in real life”. I want to expand on this a bit, because it’s one of the things that fascinates me about the genre.

I don’t agree with people who defend romance novels by saying that everyone needs some escape from the pain of real life. Ok, I don’t disagree either, but I certainly don’t think that’s all there is to it.

I don’t think the way love is portrayed in romance novels is unrealistic.

See, as a society we’re very sceptical about love. People are squeamish talking about love in a direct, non-ironic, non-sarcastic way. And yet, the longing for love, for being cherished, for being someone’s favourite person in the whole world, is fundamental to most people’s lives.

Only, we have to be cynical about that longing, in case it never happens to us.

Some wonderful academic, whose name I have forgotten, pointed out that the only power transformative enough to overcome the Capulet/Montague feud was love. It’s literature, but it’s not unrealistic. I know that in my life, the most transformative moments, when I have truly faced myself and decided to change (very rare moments, they are!), have all been brought about by love (not the fluffy kind – the kind that requires huge amounts of courage).

Most heroes and heroines of romance novels start out being pretty sceptical about love, same as the rest of us. What they get to experience is the same irrational, terrifying and life-altering love that so many people actually experience in real life. Or long for in such private places that they probably keep it even from themselves.

I think it’s a very narrow view that only the grim, “realistic” portrayal of love in literary fiction is a true depiction of love in real life. That is an experience of love that people have – the struggles, the dealing and compromise of flawed individuals – but certainly not the only one.

I think people are scared of looking stupid if they admit how moments of unencumbered love make them feel – as though they are powerful and beautiful and can do anything. As though being treasured by another human being makes the bewildering experience of being alive worth it.

Day 4: Rock Bottom Has a Bidet

I feel rather like a character from a Jennifer Crusie novel: “Things are bad, she struggles, things get worse, she struggles, things get so bad they seem insurmountable, she struggles.”

Harajuku, on a Sunday, in the relentless sun = not the funnest thing, despite the big clown made of balloons.

Today pushed lots of buttons. Old ones about traveling and being a tourist and not being “exciting” enough to walk down that alleyway and find that bar that serves single origin sake on a full moon. If you know the password.

There were no passwords today, but special k and I had words. Rather a lot of them. We’re both more timid than not, and when neither of us steps up to the plate we get the amorphous holiday we’ve been having so far. So the words weren’t all particularly fun to hear, but we got that sorted out, anyway.

We did end up going down some tiny old alleyways and looking at some pretty odd bars, but it was in Kita-senju late on a Sunday night. Which is pretty hard to describe. The only places left open are the gambling dens and brothels. There was one little shanty filled with piles of books and magazines and one old lady drinking on her own. Another had businessmen singing something into a microphone, which looked like it was going to hit the bar any second.

A man put on his bike breaks too hard and his cat scrambled out of the front basket in disgust.

Oh yes, and I tried a bidet, which was a rude, illicit sort of an experience. They have a special button just for women. Enough said.

If my trip is really following the Crusie formula, I should soon be reaching the Point of No Return, after which everything begins working towards a happy ending, even if it’s not at first apparent.

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

what’s with vampires, anyway? (a naff little rant)

Just finished watching the second season of Being Human, and watched True Blood (s03e04) yesterday. So much blood.

I know vampires are huge right now, blah-di-blah. But what is it about those rivers of blood that makes me feel…


It makes me think of the incredible description by Anne Rice in Interview with a Vampire when Louis drinks from his first human. I really wish I had the quote. Louis describes the way he can feel the heartbeat, the way he swoons inside the human until he almost dies with him.

Maybe that’s the fascination: vampires have intimate knowledge of what’s inside us, beyond DNA. They know, much better than us, what makes us human.

do gangsters get a free pass?

so we’re watching The Sopranos as per usual, and Tony’s just started having another affair. You’re kind of drawn in by the idea of him falling in love, until you remember his wife.

“What a dick!” I say, when this pertinent penny drops.

“Why?” says special k. “He’s the boss.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” I say, pausing just long enough for a nod of affirmation, even though it wasn’t a question, “so why should he?”

“He’s a gangster,” says special k, as though it’s all terribly obvious. “He’s not exactly morally sound.”

Which reminds me of something else I’ve thought a bit about:

Does love depend on morality? By which I mean, if the person you love – let’s say your spouse – came home and told you they’d committed a murder, would you still feel ok about loving them? Does the feeling depend on believing in the moral integrity of the person you love? And if so, is it really love?

And to finish the quiz, does Tony like his orange juice

a) with pulp,

b) without pulp

c) with some pulp

sibling rivalry

aren’t siblings weird?

There are these people you don’t necessarily have anything in common with, or even know, beyond the fact that your bodies are made of the same stuff.

But what a difference that makes. A tiny physical difference we can’t even see and it may as well be loyalty and love (if not always like) making up the fabric of our being and winding from my bones to theirs, effortlessly. There is an unquestionable alliance, the I Am On Your Team No Matter What.

This is a long-winded way of saying: my family are in town. My two brothers and sister.

Now I am Third Child, and today I don’t really mind. Today being third means I’m not responsible for anyone else, but I am allowed, by having no responsibility, to do everything I can to make them happy and to entertain and encourage them. I get to be court jester.

It also makes me smile to sit here with my two brothers, my father and my husband watching the World Cup final.

(We’re in the half-time ad-break, talking about the awfulness of a fourth Shrek movie, and the brilliance of the Hubble Telescope footage they’ll be showing in 3D at the Imax in October.)

day three: because I said so

I tend to get trumped by kid-logic, which doesn’t always make it easy to assert control. I had two moments of success today that make me think I’m getting the hang of the whole “I’m bigger than you therefore you do as I say” thing.

1. Ella sees it as a matter of personal pride and an important gesture of autonomy to snatch her hand from mine before we’ve reached the other side of the road (any road). She did it today and I gave her a talking to which, as per usual, she interrupted with her own account of things:

“Well anyway, Mum and Dad don’t hold our hands when we cross these roads. This isn’t even a road!”

The road in question wasn’t really so much of a road, it’s true, it was more of a carpark entranceway. This is where I normally get stumped. I think: You know, she’s right, it’s not really a road. I guess it’s not worth fighting over. I don’t want to have to come up with some hard and fast rule about ALL roads big and small when it doesn’t really make sense…

But this time I got it. I said: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a road or not. When I say you hold my hand, you hold my hand.”

Anna 1: Ella 0

2. Benji didn’t get much sleep last night. He had his first sleepover at a friend’s, and apparently they were talking till midnight. Good times.

After he was returned to me he was repeating everything Ella and I said, as kids do. Fair enough. I told him to stop, he did. Then he goaded Ella into copy-catting him so that he could whinge about it to me. I dealt with that. Then he started up the copying again and this time I’d had enough so I told him to stop and he didn’t and then I looked at him and said: “DON’T!” and I really meant it.

Not to be cowed without a fight, Benji said “No, you have to tell me what you’ll do if I don’t stop. I won’t stop until you tell me.”

Is this kid good at manipulation, or what? He knows exactly what the adult says next, he knows the script, so he pre-empts you and pulls the rug out from under you by doing it.

This is where I would normally fall down. I would bluster about and threaten him with something, knowing the whole while it made no difference at all.

This time, I looked at him and said: “There aren’t any consequences. You’re going to stop, because I say so.”

Anna 1: Benji 0.

Now my three days of child-minding are done, and nothing makes a grown-up house feel more luxurious than the silence the little skwawkers leave in their wake.

day two: silence is golden

My mum (hi Chez!) is a priest. During her annual family camp there’s this wonderful hour in the middle of the day called Golden Silence, when all the kids bunk down and the adults get a rest.

What my sister-in-law Kemi very cleverly did was keep Golden Silence going after the camp ended this year. So when Ella sleeps in the middle of the day, Benji knows he has to be quiet.

Ah, peace.

This morning we went to the zoo, which was mostly fun. Lions roared, elephants chucked dirt at each other and one little peccary ran about like mad for no apparent reason.

Then there were the fun moments of me saying “This way kids! I’m reading the map, and it definitely says Baboons this way!”

And them running off the other way saying “Two against one, you have to come!”

Then me looking at the map again and realising, of all dreadful things, that they were right, so I didn’t even get the satisfaction of bending them to my grown-up will.

By the time we arrived home I was fresh out of patience. Patience was not so present today.

And then, blessed be all things quiet, Golden Silence arrived.

Ella went to bed with my stuffed mouse, Boo, after tears of protest, because she really didn’t need a sleep at all. Benji wallowed on the couch for a while till my repetitive tapping at the keyboard sent him off too, his cheek pressed into the cushion, sprawled flat on his belly like a baby furry thing.

(Do any baby furry things sleep on their belly? Probably not. Sloppy metaphor. It’s late again.)

I worked for two-and-a-half hours, and by the time they woke up I’d worked enough spit back into my mouth for the next round of questions.

[A quick post-script: If you can, check out Cheryl’s response to the previous post. She’s got some really good things to say, especially for those of us staring imminent parenthood in the face.]