findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “children”

Memories or Possessions?

20140707_214456Yesterday my family and I went to Montreux to try and get last-minute tickets for Pharrell Williams. I’m a big jazz fan and I’ve always dreamt of going to the Montreux Jazz Festival (although it is debatable just how much Pharell Williams is a jazz musician). However, my children are obsessed with his ‘Happy’ song and we sing it beautifully with 3 voices in the car (I do the back-up vocals, in case you are wondering about my singing capabilities).

With the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps not the best moment to embark upon such an adventure:

  • 9 and 11 are a bit young to really appreciate a concert with standing room only
  • the concert was late, started even later, my husband had to wake up very early this morning to catch a plane and we had to wake up early for swimming lessons
  • there was a real risk of not getting any tickets; as it is, we got the last four available after queuing for nearly 2 hours
  • the tickets were very expensive
  • we were also planning to soak up the atmosphere at the jazz festival (which has many free events outside), but it was raining on and off all day, which rather spoilt our plans
  • we nearly fainted with heat and exhaustion while waiting for the main act and my kids did not appreciate the opening act (I did though: the perfectly decent rockabilly-grungy Bosco Delrey, albeit with instruments not perfectly tuned to the size of the auditorium, i.e. it was all TOO LOUD)

20140707_214023Yet in the end, we forgot all our tiredness and moaning when the electric Pharrell Williams came on-stage with his fantastic crew and perfectly coordinated light-and-sound spectacular show. [My pictures do not do the show justice at all.] We were so close we could almost touch Pharrell and we boogied along to every song. I lifted up my older son and he waved and made eye-contact with Pharrell – so proud and overjoyed. But it was hard, hot work for their first concert experience and I’m not sure if they felt it was completely worth it.

This sparked a bit of a row between my husband and myself, as we have two very different views of what makes a childhood memorable. Neither of our families had much money when we were growing up, so we were never spoilt, but the priorities were very different for each of us. My husband’s parents spent all their money building a house and decorating it, to have something solid for their children to inherit. They are now the grandparents who always buy far too many presents for our kids: security and material possessions are clearly important to them. Meanwhile, my parents spent all their money on books, education and cultural activities or holidays. I don’t remember having a single present that I could really boast about during my childhood (on the other hand, they rarely turned down my request for a specific book), but my fondest memories are of museums, theatres and family excursions. Eating 13 ice-creams on my first day in Italy, sleeping on a park bench in Seville, getting on the wrong train in Poland and ending up somewhere completely unexpected… crazy things like that.

20140707_140436

In front of Freddie Mercury statue

So I’ve wanted to create memories for my own children, because I feel that’s the only thing that cannot be taken away from us in life. Unfortunately, memories can be both good and bad… and you never quite know beforehand which kind you’re going to get. I’m sure it’s much easier to buy children’s affection with an Xbox or computer games (and yes, affection can be bought – children are quite materialistic after a certain age, and I don’t think it’s just mine). But perhaps I’m being selfish, choosing those things that made me happy in childhood, rather than those things which they prefer.

An ongoing debate. And sense of guilt.

 

The Garden Shed of Passion

germination

Wikipedia.org

Plant pots upended, half-germinated seeds tumble,

in a rush to find an edge, an inkling of solid ground.

Putrid soil tingles after winter’s long repose.

It spills out of gutted bags,

covers fingers, boots and staining

trousers, nails, knotted hair.

The watering can leaks, remembering days

when they preferred it to the hose.

Hot/ cold/ on/ off

I don’t know where are whose limbs.

Bulbs clutched closely in sweaty palms,

cold the shiver and tremble in air so thick

you can cut it in chunky slices

if your knife would just stop shaking.

Crunch of snail-shell, trodden and discarded -

Quick, no time to bend down and recover!

Just tidy those dusty scissors, ravel the twine, drop gloves in slurry piles,

anything to stop the hurrying of time’s wingless spider legs.

Those seedlings need mulching, you know, to turn into flower.

When the fire’s petered out

we remember in the corner

a rusty wheelbarrow.

 

Wheelbarrow on Ebay.

Wheelbarrow on Ebay.

A rather literal interpretation of the ‘seeding’ prompt that Shanyn has given us over at dVerse Poets. I was thinking today of how each of my actions, even more than my words, seeds thoughts and reactions in my own two children. I only hope they turn out to be flowers, not weeds… And from raising children, it seemed only a little jump to the making of children… Not that I ever had a garden shed, you understand…

An Even Better Cat Poem (By My Sons)

My sons were not impressed with the poem I wrote about our cat for dVerse Poets Pub. They suggested (insisted) I should post their ‘Song for Zoe’ instead. They’ve composed it themselves, written the lyrics and regularly perform it as a lullaby for our bemused cat. So here goes: the much better cat poem which perfectly captures her quintessential nature (and it rhymes!).

Zoe can be fierce and Zoe can be scary,

Zoe can be cute and Zoe is so hairy.

Zoe can be fussy and Zoe can be strong.

Zoe can be greedy and this is Zoe’s song.

Children’s Idols and Cultural Differences

Stromae

Stromae

Last week I heard on the radio about a survey commissioned by Le Journal de Mickey in France, to find out the top celebrities or idols for 7-14 year olds. Unsurprisingly, Stromae came out top. He is certainly No. 1 in our house – and a hugely talented singer/songwriter, although his brand of disenchanted, cynical rebellion would suit an older age-group (in my opinion, but I’m just an old-fashioned Mum, right?).

Shy'm

Shy’m

Also in the top 5: actor/comedian Kev Adams, DJ/rapper Maitre Gims, actor Omar Sy and actor/opera-singer Loup-Denis Elion.  The top 10 also included judo champion Teddy Riner and (for girls especially) actress Audrey Lamy and singers Tal and Shy’m. Hollande and Sarkozy were fighting it out amongst themselves down in the dregs for the 50th place.

Loup-Denis Elion

Loup-Denis Elion

You won’t have heard of any of the favourite celebrities (except perhaps Omar Sy, who appeared in the feel-good film ‘The Intouchables’) unless you live in France and regularly watch TV or read the tabloids. So why am I telling you this? Is it an opportunity to bemoan that children seem to be attracted to the stars of entertainment? That they seem attracted to ‘easy fame’?

OmarSy

Omar Sy

Well, actually, no. Because the children’s choice is probably better than an adult version might be. There are no reality TV stars there, famous for little else than provoking scandal and appearing at every opening. There are no teenage boy or girl bands, who are created and controlled by money-hungry adults. These are all people who are working hard in their chosen field and achieving success after many years of practice. Sure, there could be more women on this list – but the women who are there are not just pretty faces or wives/girlfriends of other famous people.

MaitreGims

MaitreGims

What struck me most about the list, however, was that there were hardly any white people on it. Most of these idols are at least partly black, North African, Jewish… And that’s refreshing. You could argue that this is because most ‘ethnic groups’ (a term which sets my teeth on edge, since we are all ethnic in some way) go into the entertainment industry. However, dare I hope that this means that the younger generation are more ‘colour-blind’ than us older ones? And I also wonder what a list like this would look like in other countries: UK, US, Greece? Anyone know?

Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation

AftermathThere seem to be an awful lot of books out there with ‘Aftermath’ in their titles, but I am referring to the one by Rachel Cusk, published in 2012 to a howl of indignation from many readers and critics. In it she talks with unadorned consternation and painful honesty about the breakdown of her marriage and its consequences. And she talks about it at length. Every passing mood is recorded – too much for some tastes, but it may help many women who are struggling to come to terms with separation. I am not usually much of a fan of memoir-writing (certainly not of ‘misery memoirs’) and yet I rather liked this one.

Of course it is self-centred and self-absorbed, but is it ‘infuriating and narcissistic’? Of course it represents a small sliver of life: the story of a rather privileged, well-educated woman who can come across as elitist. She does not have to go out and work night shifts as a single mother to support her children. She does not have to take her ex-husband to court for neglecting to pay child support. (On the contrary, he is the one demanding support from her, since he sacrificed his career to help raise the children. The bitterness is palpable in this section of the book and shows the battle of the sexes is still alive and well.) But does that make her pain any less valid, her struggles any more risible?

Cusk has been accused of blatant exhibitionism, but there is little detail here about what caused the collapse of the marriage. Instead, we find here a dissection of mind, heart and soul, sometimes a little fuzzy and self-justifying, but very often with scalpel-like precision. There are some interesting extended metaphors strewn throughout the book: comparisons with Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; the failure of a cake she bakes for her mother’s birthday (‘the difference between what I could conceive of and what I could actually do’);  a bloody tooth extraction on the day the husband moves his possessions out of the house. These are the ‘distancing’ moments, when fiction is weaved into the fabric of the memoir, and when I feel the author is writing her best work.

There is collateral damage; the fine mesh of life is torn. He has caused unnecessary pain, and trauma to the other teeth.

Aftermath2What I found most touching were the descriptions of the effect the divorce had on her daughters. The author is constantly worried about how the separation and her own mood-swings will affect her children – it does, and it is described in a most sensitive way. It’s at these moments when Cusk becomes most alive: a mother ferocious with love, sad at the pain she has inflicted on her offspring, and nursing that eternal feeling of maternal guilt.

Conclusion: Not an easy read, but certainly a contrast to the grim crime fiction characteristic of my month of February.

Mother Love

Can’t take my eyes off you

compact form

rubicund cheeks

biggest mischief-eyes

your bounce in every step.

From the spectators’ gallery at the gym

I pour all my love my admiration

I’d even adore, if that weren’t so embarrassing…

But only at a distance…

As long as you don’t speak, never whine,

when your mouth does not form into stubborn slit

as long as no grumble rumbles in our umbilical cord

as long as you stay unmarred and perfect.

Inspired by gym galas, Yummy Mummys and scruffy ones like me…

Linked to the Open Link Night fun over at dVerse Poets, where we are discussing passion over form this week. Well, my son is passionate about his trampolining, but his form… Still, in my eyes, he is the best competitor out there!

Two Books with a Great Sense of Place

REdRoadToday I’m comparing and contrasting two books I’ve recently read, which both have a wonderful sense of local atmosphere.

The first is ‘The Red Road’ by Denise Mina, out in paperback on Feb. 13th, 2014.

Author Denise Mina has an instantly recognisable voice in crime fiction: compassionate yet completely unsentimental. She is the mistress of portraying the lost souls of urban poverty and the tough choices they have to make. Rough areas, with buildings ripe for demolition (the Red Road flats in Glasgow are real and are indeed being gradually demolished), decaying morals, corruption at all levels, contrast between rich and poor, the educated and the deprived. This book falls most certainly within the Tartan noir category. It talks about recent history but observed through two different time frames: the night of Diana’s death (because everyone can remember where they were on that night) and the present day. Mina excels at social commentary without preaching, simply by letting her characters talk. And what well-rounded, plausible characters they are, most of them facing heart-breaking dilemmas. I’ve not read previous books in the Alex Morrow series (although I have read other Denise Mina books), but that did not diminish at all my reading experience.

‘The Outcast Dead’ by Elly Griffiths falls more towards the cosy end of the crime fiction spectrum, although it too deals with the harrowing subject of lost or mistreated children. Griffiths’ local area are the flat, isolated Norfolk broads, very rural, traversed by hidden causeways and visited by regular sinister fogs.

OutcastDead Yet the author introduces us to an ostensibly comfortable and comforting community: middle-class, well-educated population, church towers instead of tower blocks, village pubs instead of orphanages. There is a historical dimension here (of course there would be with a forensic anthropologist as the main protagonist) – even slight tinges of the supernatural – but we are operating squarely within a single time frame. I had read the first book in the Ruth Galloway series, but none since, so it did feel a little as though I had not seen a friend for many years and had too much to catch up on. Ruth, however, remains a lovable, no-nonsense every woman heroine (despite her complicated family dynamic).

There are some similarities between these two books, although they probably do address two quite distinct crime fiction audiences (unless you are a greedy omnivorous reader like myself). Families do not necessarily provide a safe haven, and children are all too often the victims: kidnapped, manipulated, possibly killed by the people in whose care they’ve been placed. Outcasts in both cases. And of course both writers are masterful at giving us enough of the local atmosphere to really drive the story forward: the descriptions are always economic, never overdone, with gradual layering of details.

One quibble I do have: given that the books are so different, why are the covers rather similar in colour, lettering and silhouetted imagery? It seems to be a current trend in crime fiction – similar ones have arrived in my post box for the past year or so, from different publishers and for different authors, ranging from Fred Vargas to Alison Bruce. I actually quite like the moodiness and blue is my favourite colour… but diversity is the mother of originality!

Revisiting Childhood Favourites

Earlier this week I was looking for light and undemanding airplane reading matter. I  can never sleep on long-haul flights, so I need to keep myself occupied without taxing the little grey cells too much. I chose ‘Das fliegende Klassenzimmer’ by Erich Kästner. It is less well known than his delightful ‘Emil and the Detectives’, and perhaps not quite as exciting (there are no gangsters or chases through city streets, although there are a few fights and and a nearly tragic accident). It is a school story, in essence. However, it has the trademark Kästner humour and his clear understanding of what it means to be an imaginative child trying to be good, but not always quite succeeding.

I used to love school stories as a child, especially boarding schools. Being an only child, perhaps I craved that constant companionship, the midnight conspiracies, the leisure activities that were just not possible to do with friends during school hours. Mallory Towers, St. Clares and the Chalet School were very real to me, as were the stage schools described in ‘Ballet Shoes’ or the Sadlers Wells ballet series written by Lorna Hill. But I also had the other typical girl’s obsession with horses: Ruby Ferguson’s Jill and her ponies books were my constant companions. Sadly, they seem to be hard to find or out of print nowadays.

One of the pleasures of having children is rediscovering old reading favourites and discussing them with a new generation. Of course, they don’t always have the same reaction — and not just because they are boys and therefore less interested in ballet or pony stories! My kids loved the whole series around ‘Five Children and It’ (especially ‘The Story of the Amulet’), but were left cold by ‘Swallows and Amazons’. ‘Treasure Island’ did not really rock their boat, while ‘The Hobbit’ did. They never really clicked with the Famous Five or Secret Seven, and I am still trying to get them to give Leon Garfield or Joan Aiken a chance.

My most fun rediscoveries, which the boys enjoyed just as much as me, have been: Paddington Bear, the Moomins, Asterix, Tintin and of course the above-mentioned Emil and his adventures in the big, bad city of Berlin.

What books did you love as a child? Have you reread them since and what do you think of them now? And how have your children reacted to your own childhood favourites?

Still: Time and Distractions

There was a reason I named my blog ‘Finding Time to Write’.  18 months on, and this is still the greatest challenge for me.

I am ashamed that this should be the case. ‘First World’, ‘middle class problem’ and ‘mountain out of a molehill’ are expressions that come to mind whenever I want to write about this, even in the privacy of my diary. I feel humbled by stories of true courage in the face of adversity, such as Amy Good’s account of writing with aphasia  or a poet’s moving account of writing while caring for her invalid husband. I haven’t quite figured out why I can spend hours genuinely sympathising with friends who struggle to balance career, family and creativity, but am so bitterly unforgiving with myself when I dare to voice the same concerns. With others it’s justified and I take their arguments at face value. With me, it’s petty little excuses.

I chide Ice Queen Me for requiring so much space (both physical and mental) to write.  I try to reason with Ritualistic Me that a notebook, a pen and a corner of a table should be all that is required for my writing happiness.  I quarrel with Harridan Mum that absolute silence is not enforceable, practical or necessary for inspiration. And I do daily grim, wordless battle with Ms. Procrastinator, serving her a steady diet of frogs to swallow first thing every morning, before challenging her to a sword-fight.

Yet the numbers speak for themselves.

August: month of no children, family, work or social obligations.

Second draft of novel completed, 21 blog posts posted, 27 books read, 12 book reviews completed, 12 new poems written, 2 poems edited and submitted to competition.

Children came back 10 days ago.

treehouse1

Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica.

Since then, I have done zero writing or editing on my novel, 0 poems written, 2 blog posts (both cheats: one a poem I had written earlier, the other a simple list of reading), and 1 book review which I had half-written previously.  And I finished one book (which I had started before their arrival).

I’ve started reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks journals and so much of what she says resonates with me:

Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all of these people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.

It is almost frightening how content I was with the lonely life, how quickly I adapted to a day shaped around my writing, how nothing else seemed to matter. Yet, of course, now, when I clasp those bony knees and scraped elbows, making a bundle of them in my arms, trying to fit them still within my protective embrace… I know that something else does matter.  I don’t know if being a mother has changed me as a writer or improved my writing in any way. I fear not. It’s not just the spectre of time that is haunting me now, but also the Ghost of Courage Past. I seem less willing to venture out on that limb, with no thought of return. I need to find my way back. To them, my beloved millstones. Tell myself that old lie, which sometimes fails to comfort: that there is still plenty of time to progress, learn my craft, write and publish.

So perhaps I could have been a writer without being a mother, but I do know that I could not have been a mother without being a mother. Or without being a writer.

Signs You May be Turning French…

You know your children are turning French when…

… they know more swear/slang words in French than they do in English.

… every sentence is prefaced by the exclamation ‘La vache!’ (and no, they weren’t referring to the Montbeliard cows producing Comté cheese, who were grazing peacefully on every field we passed during our holidays).

… they demand ‘explications’ for every single command you issue.

… older son is writing an encyclopedia because he likes to pontificate about things and he has heard of Diderot.

… younger son builds Eiffel Towers with rulers, protractors, pens and rubbers (in earlier years, it used to be the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth).

… they have opinions on the policies of François Hollande and compare him with Sarkozy

Maybe it’s time to head home soon?

Then again, on a sunny day like this…Image

 

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