Friday, 25 September 2015

{SQT} 7 Quick Jude-isms

I apologise in advance for finding these hilarious and thinking they are worth sharing. Please humour the doting mother.


Jude is starting to talk, and creating a happy mixture of French and English at the moment. We may or may not encourage him.

For example, he says "bEEEEze" [please, for those among you who don't speak toddler] in a very commanding voice when he wants us to read a book or give him more raspberries (How many raspberries are enough raspberries I hear you ask? All the raspberries.) but he says "MAT-ze" [merci] to express his thankfulness. 


Banane is betting he will systematically pick the shorter of the two options he has and create his own Frenglish-for-lazies.



He is turning into a right little Englishman nonetheless, as he gets ridiculously excited when Daddy makes "TEA!" and expresses his frustration with a very restrained "oh! dear!"

TEA! Guys! TEA! Over here!


The Frenchness pierces through, though, as he has developed a special brand of complain-y "oh naaaaaaan" to mock his mother. 

I couldn't catch it on camera, so here is the closest approximation.

Oh, naaaaan!


He charges around the house at top speed, doing nothing much other than, you know, charging around.

Such photos only come in blurry setting. Sorry.

He thinks it's the best game ever and you can hear his uproarious laughter zooming away then back.

He also thinks going "au dodo" is the best thing ever.

Strange boy.


Parenting is a tough thing to do, especially under the sharp observing eye of our offspring. 

Why Jude has started telling himself "non Jude! [mumble, mumble, mumble]" I couldn't possibly imagine.

He also knows exactly what he is not supposed to do, and will generally come to check on me shaking his head or saying "no! no! no!" if I am not prompt enough to correct him.

No, no, no.

I can't decide whether this is a parenting fail or a win.


He HATES having his face wiped (which is a problem, since he has also decided that he would rather starve than have us help him, and he is not exactly skillful with his spoon yet). So he does a dramatic "TA -TAAAA -TAAAAAAAA" every time the wipes come out.

I certainly do NOT need to be cleaned up, mother.

And still wriggles his way through it.

We may have started referring to the wipes as "the Tatata".

Or not. Surely we would have a sense of how ridiculous we sound.


Jude is also very interested in his soon-arriving sibling and will point at my bump saying "bébé" every time he gets a chance.

Although he sometimes misses, and locates the baby in my thigh, bottom, the top-button of my jeans, his own bellybutton or Simon's arm.

I don't know if this is a sign of too much Greek mythology, or not enough anatomy lessons.

Thank you for indulging me. Now off to Kelly for takers with substance.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Common Sense is Officially Dead

Dead as a dodo.

So, have you noticed how many of my posts start with "so"? 

I know it's grammatically incorrect (although I like to think I get lots of leeway as a foreigner). I like to pretend I do it because, like Seamus Heaney translating Beowulf, I want to give an impression of oral re-telling. But really it's because much of the blog is a bit non-sequitur, and I feel I must at least nod to the fact that, you know, one post ago, I was talking about something completely different.

Or, like today, because the reason I fell off the internet this week is not really mine to share or comment about, so I'm just pretending, that, erm, let's talk about stuff as if nothing had happened.

Wow, that was a long intro.

With very little to do with what I actually want to talk about.

Common sense. Or the lack thereof.

You see, there is this utterly dull program on television called "Deal or no deal" (if your country does not yet have a form of it on daytime television, count your lucky stars). For me it is the dullest program in the universe because it relies on odds and likelihood and chance.

Now, before I go any further, I must clarify, I am NOT good at maths. It's a foreign language to me. Except that if indeed it were a foreign language, I would stand a chance of one day mastering it. Not so with maths. 
As a result, my position towards maths and statistics, is one of intense suspicion. I don't know anything about these things so I am very wary when people use them.


In the case of "Deal or no deal", the whole premise seems to me relying on a fallacy (although, I may be wrong, because see above, i-math-erate -it's like illiterate, but for maths). 

For those who don't know, the program relies on 20 people, each having a box they don't know the contents of. Half of the contents are good prizes, half of the contents bad prizes. One of the 20 people is chosen to be the contestant, and he essentially bets on the contents of his box, which the "banker" tries to buy off him. The "banker" wants to offer an amount smaller than the contents of the box, whilst the contestant wants to get more money than is really in his box. To help the bartering, the contestant opens other people's boxes.

Are you yawning yet?

So am I.

Now, I remember having a very long argument with a guy who loved this program, whilst I thought it was utterly dull, because, as far as I could see, the odds weren't actually changing at any point. The contestant had a one in two chance of having a joke prize and a one in twenty chance of having the highest prize. Just because he had opened 8 boxes with joke prizes and one with a good prize, didn't change the fact that he had as strong a chance of having a joke prize as a good one.

Just like if someone is expecting her 10th child, after having had 9 boys, her odds are still 50/50 for a boy or a girl.

Now, if I am wrong, feel free to correct me.

My understanding of statistics is hardly something I rely on to feed my self-esteem.

But it made me think of something. The death of common sense.

There used to be a stock character in folk tales and novels, which I would call the "Shrewd Peasant". Someone with very little learning, but enough awareness of the cunning and unworthiness of humanity to undo the greatest minds with simple common sense. I don't think the Shrewd Peasant exists anymore.

No-one's fool.

I think that despite the progress of literacy and math-racy (it's a thing, I tell you, I should know since I fail at it), we are much easier to fool than we used to be.

We trust numbers and statistics because we think we understand them. But really we don't.

We distrust philosophy because we don't understand it, and therefore assume it is not worth knowing.

We still know as little as the Shrewd Peasant, because the world is getting ever more complex, but we are no longer aware of this fact. We are both ignorant, and conceited about our own knowledge and achievement.

Here's another proof of the death of common sense. One of my favourite bloggers (Hi Kendra!) shared an article about how parents of four or more children are apparently the happiest. Immediately, someone commented about how so many children would use up the dwindling resources of our planet, and steal them from other countries.

The lady who posted the comment wasn't ill-intentioned, she was just eschewing common sense for the sake of a grand idea.

In her mind, more children = more food consumed = less food for people who already don't have food. It sounds logical.

It really isn't.

Because common sense.

Now, I propose a new easy-to-use maxim for people who want more common sense in their lives (and we all could do with a dose of it - yes, especially me):


What Would Shrewd Peasant Do?

WWSPD, if someone came to him saying "People don't have enough food in Africa, you must therefore not have more than one child or accept the starvation of Africans on your conscience"?

Or more to the point, What Would Shrewd Peasant Say? 

I think he would say something along the lines of "If I have one, instead of, say, four, children, how will the food of my hypothetically de-created children go to the starving Africans? Am I to send it over there, working hard for them instead? How will the food get to them? Am I to also travel over there to give it?"

Or maybe, "If I only have one child, will s/he be able to take care of both me and my wife? And my parents? And her parents? All on his/her own?"

Or perhaps he will recall the giant pile of decaying food he saw in a landfill near his house, tons upon tons of vegetable, rice, pasta, meat, and point out that the landfill looked more immoral than welcoming 6 babies into the world.

Maybe he would look at the fruit of such engineering of demography, mention China, or eugenics (eugenicists were nothing if not well-intentioned, for the greater good of "Society", you know).

We may even be in luck , and have a Shrewd Peasant with a long memory, who will point out that he heard all of that before, there was that Malthus guy in the eighteenth century, who calculated with Scientific Methods that unless people stopped having more than two children, they would starve to death in the following generation. He will then point out that he feels quite alive, for someone who should have starved to death 200 years ago.

More likely though, the SP would be cleverer than I am, put on a stupid face so the arguing do-gooder dismisses him as a no-account ignorant fool, and leave him to raise his children in peace.

That would be truly wise.

I hope to get there one day.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The World According to Patapon

Today, the washing machine:

Things that belong in the washing machine, according to Patapon:

- the yellow car
- the blue tupperware lid
- Thomas the Tank Engine
- All of Maman's shopping bags
- the blue tupperware lid
- the green tupperware lid
- all the tupperware
- the sippy cup
- maybe not the sippy cup
- ok, the sippy cup

- the yellow cube
- the black cube
- the purple boat
- the fire engine
- the bath-mat
- one red shoe
- Patapon

- alright, not the sippy cup

Things that never ever ever ever should never ever be put in the washing machine according to Patapon:

- Winnie-the-Pooh

Now you know.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

In Defense of Impulse Charity

So, these horrible pictures happened. And the world woke up to the fact that we are, indeed, talking about human beings and not "swarms of refugees" as the Daily Mail would have it.

And now everybody is falling over themselves to try and help.

Well, not quite everybody.

There are those who still insist that, no, it's not our responsibility, and I've already said what I thought about such a position.

And there are those who point out that such types of emotive charitable responses are not ideal, that charity really should be better thought-through than just reacting to a picture and then sending money to whichever big name crosses your mind or news-feed first, without checking whether such charities do indeed use the money on helping (rather than on bureaucratic costs), whether the plans of these charities are thought-through enough to actually fit the needs and wants of the people they purport to help.

And of course this second point is a valid one. 

When I was 8 or 9, there was a big push about the crisis in Somalia, and our school organised a big collection of packets of rice. We all dutifully filled big brown bags full of packets of rice, and felt great about having done something to help the children we saw on television.

Of course, it didn't turn out like that, as I found out years later. In fact, most of the product was confiscated by the government there, and distributed only to their partisans. Also, even for those who did get our packets of rice, procuring water to drink was hard enough, cooking up some rice was not even on the list.

So yes, our big push that made us feel so great, was all for nothing. In fact, there is every chance it actually made the situation worse.

Should we have not bothered then?

People have got strategies set in place these days to try and avoid such situations. Sites such as GiveWell assess the efficiency of various charities to help us make sure our money gives the most help possible to people who actually need it. And that is fantastic.

However, most major charities, the ones who have the resources to organise appeals and draw the attention of the average Joe, fail miserably to meet these websites' criteria. So, sometimes, there isn't actually a charity you can give to, who will address the particular crisis you were moved by.

I ask it again, should we not bother then?

Should we save our money for the most ideal, the most definitely efficient charities, regardless of the news?

Should we resist a natural movement of pity, on the grounds that we will probably be made fools of in the process?

Well, in my town, that is clearly the council's opinion, since they have put up posters everywhere, reminding people not to give money to beggars, because such a percentage of them are addicts you are enabling, such a percentage of them are organised in rapacious gangs. Give instead to charities, the poster says.

And of course, the logic is sound.

But in effect, if I don't give something to beggar by the steps of the cathedral, intent instead on going home and looking up a good charity that may help him, by the time I make it to my computer, I am reminded of how tight our budget actually is, how these charities will want monthly payments set up rather than take my change, monthly payments I can't be sure to afford every month. Or life will have happened in the meantime, and I will never get round to it.

So I will be left, pound in hand, having done exactly nothing. 

Now THAT is less than ideal. 

It MAY mean that the beggar will not buy his next beer, or his next shoot. But if that was his intention to start with, then he will probably find another way to do it. And what if it wasn't his intention? What if I deprived him of a meal under the guise of responsible giving?

So, my point?

I think it is good we are moved to action by horrible images. And it is better to shower starving human beings with baby-carriers than to do nothing, and give them the clear message that we don't even care. It is good, that we spontaneously want to open borders, even if it means we will have many problems down the line.

The impulse is good, even though the impulse may be weak and short-lived. This impulse is also what makes us humans. So we really shouldn't squash the impulse with fears and logic.

Because, in the words of Margaret Hale, "Surely to give a dying baby food is not just a matter of logic."

It's not the ideal way to give to charity, and I hope that in time, I will grow better at being intentional with my money-giving, have a set sum and some rules so that this broken world of ours is better helped. But in the meantime, weak human that I am, I will do the impulse charity thing, because it is better, far better than the callousness that would grow in my soul from doing nothing.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Every Savage Can Dance: That Time We Went to Pemberley

Monday was our wedding anniversary (and a Bank Holiday, hurray!) so we took advantage of the long weekend to offload tearfully part from Patapon, who spent two days with his grandma wrapped around his little finger being a very good boy at Grandma's.

Such a hard time...

Apart from marveling at the crazy things we were suddenly able to do (have the bins on the floor rather than on top of furniture, leave the stair-gate open, have knitting needles lying around, C.R.A.Z.Y), we went to Pemberley. 

- We also tried, and failed, to find our lost proposal site in Oxford (amongst other things). Turns out there are quite a few parks in Oxford. - 

For some reason, they insisted on referring to Pemberley as "Lyme Park", but no-one was fooled.

Anyway, we ended up also having a Pride & Prejudice marathon when we got home (of course the BBC version, who do you take me for?) during which Simon patiently endured my endless reciting of the entire dialogue and continual interrupting of the film with "Well, actually, in the book..." (What can I say, he is pretty wonderful. Sorry ladies, not sharing.)

Darcy's pond

But apart from allowing me to pretend to be Elizabeth Bennet, it made me think of a short post by Leah Libresco

The whole piece is very thought-provoking (as always) but the thing which stayed with me is the example she uses, in her attempt at defining a type of near-good behaviour, which could encourage good behaviour if generalised. She mentions politeness as a near-good which could lead to a good (actual caring for the needs of people) but dismisses it mid-way through, as generalised door-holding is unlikely to lead to an increased genuine kindness and care for strangers.

My recent immersion in Regency drama however made me wonder whether she was thinking of too narrow a definition of politeness. 

You see, in Jane Austen's (admittedly very limited) social world, manners, good breeding and politeness are essential, because they come with genuine consequences. The lack of good breeding is a genuine impediment to social climbing. Poor manners can lead to your losing your character (just ask Darcy) because it is generally assumed that if you do not care enough to apply social norms, you simply do not care enough (which also implies that we are talking of a society which takes it for granted that people should care, but that's another post for another time).

Of course, this can be easily reversed, and much of Austen's novels deal with the charming, polite scoundrel, but such an environment does foster a degree of care, even if it is not prompted by truly altruistic motivations. In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, once he has been foolish enough to give the appearance to lead Louisa Musgrove on, considers himself bound in honor to marry her if she wants him. This is also the true meaning of Charlotte Lucas' urging Jane to show more affection for Bingley "even than she feels", because if her feelings are known in the world, a gentleman would have to either marry her, or lose the right to be considered a gentleman.

Similarly, the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice actually makes a mistake at one point, showing we no longer understand good breeding or manners at all. There is this famous moment when Elizabeth's father goes to interrupt Mary (who is rudely hogging the piano) by telling her "You have delighted us long enough, child. Give the other young ladies a chance to exhibit." In a later flashback, only the first part of the sentence is shown, giving the impression that the offence to manners is there. But in actual fact, although the interruption is too obvious and makes other people uncomfortable (which is Bad Manners 101), the real problem is the father's ironical comment on the other young ladies. He may be a philosopher, and think the marriage market immensely amusing in its absurdity, but his comment is just rude to anyone who will heretofore come to the piano to entertain the company. Yes, he is calling out the hypocrisy in the status-quo, but he is hurting other people's feelings in the process, and that is the essence of bad manners.

In general, all adaptations of Jane Austen novels for the screen have to resort to such obvious-ification of breech in manners, because we are so dreadfully illiterate in politeness nowadays. We miss the subtlety of the infractions Austen is making fun of, because we are looking for a set of rules, when real good breeding used to be defined without rules, but by a "delicacy of feelings" towards others.

One example of such a situation that springs to mind, is a nineteenth-century anecdote I read somewhere, about a man of low status recently elevated for some reason, and therefore invited to a French duchess's dinner party. Ignorant of social norms, he starts drinking his finger bowl, taking it for soup. 
Now, a hostess in such a situation has several options: 

- she could call him out (terrible breeding - only the parvenus are such sticklers for formal rules), 
- she can dismiss him as a newcomer and leave him, because he is of lower rank after all, what do you expect? (making her a poor hostess, also terrible manners.)
- or she could distract people and have a discreet word in the man's ear (better breeding). 

But in the original story, we are talking about a duchess, someone whose breeding is so refined it runs in her blood.

So she starts drinking the content of her finger-bowl as well. 

The essence of good manners is to be mindful of everyone's feelings but your own. 

Why do you think Elinor keeps quiet in Sense and Sensibility? How does Lucy Steele know she's got her completely silenced? Because Elinor is bound by good breeding. And someone willing to sacrifice "time and conscience", is willing to sacrifice the essence of good breeding for the letter.

Now, of course, such a world is not perfect, and it is exhausting to navigate, (ask me how I know, uprooted amongst English people - to give you an idea, think of John Cleese's character losing it in A Fish Called Wanda - {even in the toughest school I taught at, the sentence "that is just appalling manners" gave pause to unruly teenagers. Gotta love England}) but you have to care to a certain degree. 

I hear you shout "hypocrisy", and yes, of course that is true, but personally I prefer a world where you have to hypocritically pretend to care about someone else's feelings, to a world where it is perfectly acceptable to be rude and selfish and dismiss the feelings of others with a "haters gonna hate" (can we ban this phrase, please?) or "I'm the people equivalent of Marmite" (wittier -just - but you are still rude).