Wednesday, 28 February 2007

From Tiny Acorns

I've been blogging for 8 days. Embarrassingly, I am slightly excited that tomorrow is a new month, so I'll have a teeny archive comprising February's posts. I really need to get out more.

However, going out is really rather traumatic at the moment because I seem to be the target of an (amusingly small and pathetic) hate campaign lately. I think a red-haired teenager who frequently hangs about the children's play area (and I mean 'hangs' literally, upside down, from the equipment) is out to get me. Someone has been throwing mud at my front door and windows, and then cackling madly from a distance, possibly in a slightly manic upside-down kind of way.

It might not be him. I'm not completely sure. The road I live in forms a square with a village green in the centre, and after dark the 'kids' loitering around the play area that forms part of that green are largely hidden in shadows as the street lighting is only dotted around the perimeter. For this reason, I can't see who the perpetrator of this heinous crime is. In addition, I feel that opening the front door and standing there in full view while people throw mud at the house would probably not be the most brilliant of my ideas.

So why do I think the surly redhead might be my mud-slinging tormentor?

Well firstly, a few months ago I waded in and broke up a fight in which he was involved. The manner in which he was involved was that of someone who was repeatedly kicking and thumping another boy who was lying on the floor groaning "Stop" in a plaintive voice, and crying pitifully. The boy on the floor was smaller than the red-haired teenager by about a foot in height and three stones in weight. I was on my way back from the Rosie and Jim shop, and as it was the return leg I was of course carrying all the bags and my toddler, and thought my arms may actually drop off at any moment. So when I spied this disturbance of village serenity, I'm afraid my first thought was not for the welfare of any of the parties involved, but for my own poor arms which would now have to bear the weight of all the bags and children for even longer while I went over to tell the red-haired boy to bugger off, and which I feared may actually resemble those of Mr Tickle by the time I eventually got home.

So, arms protesting and toddler making growling noises (he was being a lion; he wasn't trying to join in with the action by pretending to be a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal or anything), I walked over, eyes rolling in annoyance and told the red-haired boy to bugger off. As I approached, he loosened his grip and the smaller boy scrambled to his feet, still crying. I asked him if he was OK, he said he was, and he hobbled off. Red-haired boy then tried to explain how it wasn't actually his fault that small boy had been on the ground receiving numerous blows to the head, because small boy had started it, by throwing...wait for it... a mighty acorn at red-haired boy. Harsh, you may think, but my arms and I did not consider this to be mitigating circumstances, and we told him so. There was no further conversation, as my arms could bear the small talk no longer, and we wended our way home with "I'LL SHOW YOU THE SCRATCH THAT ACORN MADE IF YOU LIKE" ringing in our ears.

Since then, red-haired boy has developed a Look. He uses his Look on me every time he sees me, to show me that he is not scared of me. I Look back at him to show him that I am not intimidated by his Look - did I mention that I am also about a foot shorter and 3 stones lighter than he is as well? Sometimes red-haired boy likes to be tough, and get in my way. He only does this when I am in the car; he'll take a couple of extra seconds getting himself and his football out of the road when I pass by, confident that I can't get out of the car or drive over the grass verge to get him.

If I am on foot, he just gets the hell out of my way.

Aside from these Western style 'this village ain't big enough for the both of us' run-ins with red-haired boy, my reasoning that he is the likely culprit of my muddied front elevation is that it's almost certainly not the small boy I stuck up for in that fight, or the middle-aged couple next door, or the pensioner at the end of the row, or Crazy Teaspoon Lady.

Actually, it might be Crazy Teaspoon Lady. After all, I never did marry her son, even though out star signs matched.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Bitter? Moi? Pas du tout

Today, I am mostly envious of Petite Anglaise.

The English blogger living in Paris has almost replaced JK Rowling at the top of my list of "Women of whom I am most insanely jealous and wish to be", in the style of the popular 1992 film "Single White Female". I have both admired and hugely envied the success of JK for many years now. Is there more perfect a life than spending your days inventing clever and entertaining plots to enchant children and bewitch publishers, while amassing more money than the Queen in the process? Well, perhaps not the Queen. But certainly Brian May.

We all know the fairytale rags-to-riches story of JK Rowling, which is almost as famous as her novels. A struggling single mother with a prodigious writing talent and a gift for storytelling, she wrote much of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone in a cafe because she couldn't afford to heat her flat. It is the fact that there are so many similarities between JK Rowling and myself that leads to my envy, you see. I am a single mother. And I can't afford the heating bills, really. And....well, sadly that's the end of the likeness, which is possibly why she has made about 729345 gazillion pounds from her writing and I haven't. But that is really a mere detail in the grand scheme of things.

And now Catherine Sanderson, another single mother and the author of the well-known and extremely popular Petite Anglaise blog, has stirred my green-eyed monster. Catherine was unceremoniously sacked from her PA job in the Paris offices of the private client accountants Dixon Wilson last year because they objected to her blog, and is now working on a two-book deal for Penguin, said to be worth half a million pounds. Her blog was the inspiration for this one, after I stumbled across Petite Anglaise from a link in the Daily Telegraph (which I don't habitually read, I hasten to add, although I don't recall why I was perusing their website on that occasion) about a week ago. Petite Anglaise is elegant, mature and interesting, so quite obviously I haven't yet successfully emulated it.

So here is another woman with whom I have much in common, yet whose success eludes me. We are both of an age, both single mothers to young children....both, um.... Hm. Well ok, the Trent and Mersey canal isn't quite the equal of the romantic Seine, and she has a daughter and I have a son, and my writing isn't really a patch on hers, and... Wait a moment; there's a common theme coming through here, in that both women I have discussed are far superior to me in terms of their writing ability and natural talent. But then let's be sensible; you can't draw a safe conclusion from only two examples, can you? So that's probably irrelevant. And of course, I am ignoring the enormous amount of stress that her sacking and subsequent 'outing' must have caused Catherine, because that is what unreasonable, bitter people like myself do.

Despite my irritation that I too am not earning millions of pounds from scribbling a few words here and there when I have a moment spare from living a fascinating life in the French capital (because we all know that writing a book is THAT easy, obviously) I must admit to taking a certain feeling of pride and inspiration from reading about Catherine Sanderson, as I always have from JK Rowling. These women do much to dispel the dismal stereotype of the single mother, and for that, I truly thank them.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Ode to Daniel

Daniel oh Daniel, you're a wonderful Bond,
It made no odds to me that you're short and you're blond.
It was worth every penny of the cinema fee,
When like Ursula Andress you rose from the sea.
Le Chiffre wept blood, but you weren't impressed,
You weren't even stopped by a cardiac arrest.
You were bruised, smacked and battered, and beat til you bled,
But you never said “Sod it, I'm off back to bed",
You went back to the table for your government's sake,
(Just exactly how many spare shirts did you take?!)
Your balls you got whipped when with villains you tarried,
Montenegro looks nice - let's go there to get married.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Large Letters and The Big Issue

Today, I decided that it is probably time to make more effort with my appearance. I decided this because a man selling The Big Issue looked down at me for being even scruffier than he was.

I had my back to him, and on hearing him speak to me I looked around and said "No thank you, I haven't any change". He looked me up and down, clearly concluding that I was not the sort of person to ever "have any change", then tilted his head to once side and said "Sorry, darlink", in a manner which made me think he wasn't apologising for asking me to buy a copy of his magazine but for the whole miserable life I must lead to be standing in the rain outside the town Post Office with wild hair, no make up and wearing old clothes.

It is the village Post Office's fault that I was even standing there in the first place. I'd been to this tiny Post Office, which is situated inside the Rosie and Jim shop, to post some things that may or may not have been parcels, depending on if they were Large Letters or not. Now that the Royal Mail has made it absolutely too confusing for me to have the first idea how much the postage is for anything, I needed the assistance of the Post Office Lady. The village Post Office is open until 1pm, or so I thought, so at 12.30 I arrived to send my parcel/Large Letter items (after giving them peace of mind by solving their identity crises).

"Won't go until tomorrow now", Post Office Lady says as I approach the counter.

I frown in confusion, and ask why.

"Postman's been" she explains.

"What, already? I assumed he picked them up after 1pm, since that's when you close."

"He comes when he likes. Between 11 and 1. Usually. Then it won't go until the next day."

"So he comes at 11 some days, even though you're open until 1pm?" I ask her.

"Sometimes we close at 4.30", she says. "Depends."

"Oh, what days are you open until 4.30?" I ask, stupidly.

"Depends", she repeats, as if that were a full explanation.

"So...if you're open until 4.30, surely the postman must pick up the post again after this time of day?" I ask.

"No", she says wearily, as if to an annoying child "Because we're not here because we shut at 4.30."

"Well what time does he collect then?" I ask, in frustration.

"About 5" she says.

Thus, despite my best intentions and attempts to patronise my local sub Post Office, I decided to just take my parcel/Large Letter items into town and post them there.

I did this, and just as I was leaving the Post Office, the menu in the window of the new restaurant next door caught my eye, and I wandered over to see how it looked. It was at this point that the Big Issue man spoke to me, and then looked at me knowingly, as if he too had pressed his nose against a restaurant window, pretending to find it difficult to read the too small print on the menu, while really just gazing in awe and envy at the victual-laden plates of the diners.

Next time I need to go into the village, I'll brush my hair first. Oh and in case you were wondering - two of them were Large Letters and the third was a parcel.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Onions and Cabbages

This week, my toddler is mostly obsessed with cleaning his teeth and onions.

The two aren't related. It's not the eating of onions he's interested in, it's the purchasing of them. He only wants to eat raisins, Rice Krispies and peas.

Last week, we went to the local shops for local people in a nearby town. After we'd visited the friendly butcher (that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think it only applies if you're a pig) and the bakery, it was a fair walk for a barely two year old to walk to the grocer's shop. He managed it, his only complaint being that there were really fewer puddles than he would've liked.

When we got to the grocer's shop (which is also the pet shop), the lady behind the counter was serving someone else. This mainly involved finishing the transaction by manipulatively withholding the customer's change (tantalisingly held over the customer's open hand, but with fist firmly closed) until she had finished what she wanted to say.

"Oh yes, he's got weeks left. WEEKS. That's all. I thought you knew, I did!" she exclaimed dramatically.

The customer squirmed slightly.

"Yes, it was Mick what told me. I saw him a few weeks ago, you know, he came in here for two pound of carrots and he was fine. FINE! I just hope he's not a cabbage, like. I said to our Tommy, I just hope he's not a cabbage, didn't I Tommy?"

A tall man in the corner nodded gravely.

The customer looked still more uneasy, as if she were perhaps wondering whether her change was really worth it after all.

"It's a shame, it is. Real shame. Such a shame." opined the lady behind the counter.

The man nodded in agreement again.

"Awful, isn't it?" she asked her customer.

"I'm sorry," said the customer, slightly tremulously and with a certain amount of dread, "But I'm afraid I still don't know who you mean."

The lady behind the counter, clearly disappointed by the lack of dedication to local knowledge displayed by her customer, finally let the change drop from her iron grip and allowed her prey to walk free to continue her shopping unhindered by tales from Death Row.

Meanwhile, my toddler had chosen our produce. As many onions as he could hold.

The lady behind the counter eyed him speculatively and asked "Is that a boy or a girl?"

"A boy." I replied, wondering why there was any confusion and why it mattered anyway.

"I see. Well don't let him touch the tomatoes then." she warned mysteriously, before weighing and bagging up our onions, and other items that I'd managed to sneak in on the pretext that the onions needed some friends for the drive home.

The rest of the transaction was completed in silence. I clearly didn't look as if I knew the Man With Weeks To Live. Not that that was an essential attribute, it seemed.

When we left the shop to walk back to the car, my toddler decided he was tired and needed to be carried, now that I had the maximum number of shopping bags to carry as well. I wondered why I never have the intelligence to bring the pushchair, even though this happens every single time.

When we reached the car, I realised what I'd forgotten to buy at the grocer's.

A cabbage.

Somehow, I wasn't really very upset about it.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

London Bridge and the Virgin

"Songs!" demands my toddler as I get into the car.

Since his second birthday earlier this month, I can't get away with putting the radio on or playing 'Enjoy the Silence' over and over with nostalgic pleasure whilst driving any more.

Now he has his own CD. His music collection has been started with a CD of nursery rhymes sung by some really quite annoying American children. To be fair, they are probably perfectly pleasant children, but their singing is as grating as the Ronan Keating cover of 'Fairytale of New York'. And to me, that is very grating indeed.

Perhaps it is the repetitiveness. I don't object to that as a concept - just ask Depeche Mode - but only for Good things in life. This CD is not a Good thing. Perhaps though, it is the incongruity of very American children singing very British nursery songs. 'Oranges and Lemons' and 'London Bridge is Falling Down' just sound wrong when sung with strong American accents.

However, because I am a geek, those thoughts made me wonder about the origins of some of the nursery rhymes to which I am currently so frequently and tragically exposed. I remember bits of trivia about them when I was growing up, which have been half forgotten in the intervening years between listening and reciting these songs myself and learning them all over again for my own child. There are quite a lot of those years, so quite a lot of forgetting has taken place. For this reason, I love Wikipedia.

From this source, I have learned that the first reference to the rhyme of London Bridge is thought to have been in a play 1659, but that it may be much more ancient. In the eleventh century, London Bridge was burned down by King Ethelred and his Norwegian ally Olaf Haraldsson in a bid to divide the invading forces of the Danish king Svein Haraldsson, apparently. Extracts of a lay by a Norse poet, Ottar Svarte, include the following:

London Bridge is broken down. --
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing --
Odin makes our Olaf win!

You can see the resemblance obviously, except I like this one more. It's got a bit more oomph, hasn't it?

Wikipedia goes on to tell me that the popular version of the children's song probably originates from 1269 however, when Henry III granted the tolling right to Queen Eleanor of Provence. She is the "fair lady" who notably failed to spend the resulting funds on actually maintaining the structure of the bridge.

The most interesting thing Wikipedia taught me today though is that although the most likely reference to the 'fair lady' is Queen Eleanor, it has also been suggested that it is a reference to "an old practice of burying a dead virgin in the foundations of the bridge to ensure its strength through magical means". really do learn a new thing every day.

Don't Panic!

It's the Trent and Mersey.

In case you were having trouble concentrating on anything else for worrying about this lack of detail, the canal is the Trent and Mersey.

And just in case you need to know more, the lowdown on said canal:

The idea of a canal connection from the Mersey to the Trent ("The Grand Trunk") came from canal engineer James Brindley.
It was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766 and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood in July that year at Middleport.
Less than eleven years later, the whole canal, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels, was open, with the company headquarters in Stone.
It was opened 1777 to link the River Trent at Derwent Mouth (in Derbyshire) to the River Mersey.

And now it lurks beside the Rosie and Jim shop.

The Rosie and Jim shop has a cafe over the top, and some friends, my toddler and I were eating breakfast there one Saturday morning. The local radio was playing in the background, and amid conversation about why toddlers will only eat toast that they have previously thrown on the floor, we heard the name of the village on the news bulletin. The story was one of a canal boat that had caught fire the previous night. Four fire engines had attended and it had taken them several hours to quench the inferno. As we attempted to solve the puzzle of where this incident could possibly have taken place, since we were sitting next to the canal at that moment, and had all been at my house and heard no sirens, disturbances or anything else untoward the night before, my toddler pointed at something through the window and said "Quack".

We all looked at the duck, who was nonchalantly partaking in a morning swim. And then we looked at the black and twisted burned out shell of the canal boat that he was swimming past, yards from where we were sitting, and uttered a collective "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh".

So to any readers of this blog who may exist, if you were hoping for keen and insightful observations, perhaps you should steel yourself for the possibility of disappointment.

Day 1 and the Canal is a Mystery

It's difficult to know what to write on the first post.

There is pressure to demonstrate extreme wit and a delectable writing style, not to mention the illustration of a full and rich life just crammed with amusing and interesting incidents and conversations.

I think I will rebelliously shrug off such expectations, and pretend that although I clearly possess all of the above, I am choosing, yes choosing, not to show them off.

The fact that I am a single mother living in a tiny village, who does really nothing much these days in terms of conversations, and definitely isn't present at the scene of any interesting incidents any more, is by and by. No-one need know that.

The village is in the North West, and a canal flows (well...not really 'flows' so much as lurks) through it. I forget which one, which is rather remiss of me since I very nearly live in it. I'll Google it later. Or I could go to the shop and buy a postcard of it.

It's a unique little shop. They sell biscuits, and Rosie and Jim dolls. More shelf space is given to cat food than to people food. The colours of the plastic bottle tops to denote skimmed, semi-skimmed and full cream milk are all different to the usual code of red, green and blue respectively, which are found in every other shop. They sell sweets and horseshoes. They sell bread and books about the canal.

The unfortunate thing about the Canal Village is the M6. It's too close, and by that I mean that everyone in this village almost lives on the hard shoulder. It roars when the wind blows.

The pink church and the local pub being named the Romping Donkey make up for it though.

It is a village of eccentricities, which is exactly how a village should be. When I moved in, before I was a mother, a woman popped round to ask me my star sign to see if I was compatible with her son. She beamed with approval when I, too surprised to resist, divulged it to be Capricorn. She gave me some information regarding his eligibility, then left me a teaspoon so that I could make cups of tea while I moved in. That teaspoon was invaluable, once I'd acquired a kettle, some cups and the teabags.

I must admit though, that despite her kind intentions, I hid from her after that day, for quite a long time.

I shall return shortly with canal information.