Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Be That Train


On Monday, the boys and I took a series of trains, all the way from the south of France where my brother got married. 

Yes, a toddler and a nine-month old, 11 hours of train journey, right after a weekend of poor sleep and too much sugar and excitement for all. And Simon had left on the Sunday to be back at the hospital, so I had my sister-in-law with me, and her own two tired children. 

What could possibly go wrong?

So, it was obviously awful.

The boys were tired and cranky, I was exhausted and short on patience and Gabriel was making special use of his awful shriek (said shriek is pure mischief on his part, he is never upset when he wields it, just enjoying the power of his own lungs). But the thing I hadn't taken into consideration in my many hours of dreading the journey were the other passengers.

We took three trains in total, and they offered a perfect typology (in three parts, my geography teacher would have been so proud) of how people react to small children encroaching on their precious train space.

The first train (from the South to Paris) was middling. There were a lot of other families with babies (I suspect the train company of putting us all together to avoid complaints) and mostly people minded their own business, not helpful, but not aggressive either. And people did help me with the buggy and luggage when I got off. So we got on the middle train - the Eurostar - in reasonably good spirits.

How wrong we were.

As soon as we got on, there were audible sighs, glares and muttered reproofs. Bearing in mind the kids had done nothing wrong. The man next to us had two seats to himself and fell asleep instantly (so clearly, we weren't that noisy) so I sat there to give a bit of space to the boys. The man woke up after a while, glared, sighed, muttered and as soon as I got up, he pointedly put his feet on the second seat to make sure I would get the message that, yes, we were squashed like sardines in our seats, but his feet were more important.

That was only the beginning.

Then Gabriel started his shriek. From the comfort of their seats, out of sight and safe from eye contact or recognition behind us, started shooting up comments, complaints and disparaging remarks as well as demands that we make him stop. To no-one on particular (since no-one actually managed to own up to their own comments to our face) I said that if anyone had a magical way of making a nine-month old understand that his shrieks were bothering other passengers (and obviously us as well, but we weren't threatening to throw him off the train so our need was probably less dire) we were happy to hear their suggestions.

This carried on for the whole 3 hours (not always because of Gabriel, the other children were also DONE by then). Then when the Eurostar arrived in London, the other passengers cheered. They then filed out one after the other, going past us, imparting the occasional joke on how awful our kids were. 

Roughly fifty passengers filed passed us, passed women burdened with luggage, wrangling toddlers (who were doing their special blend of giraffe fight and headbanging) whilst trying to keep out of their precious way. They passed and passed and passed. Complained and passed. Until one lady, right at the end, offered her help. One. One person remembered the children and us were human beings, not just aggravations directed at them out of our obvious spiteful nature.

So I was pretty shaken up when I boarded the third train, London to home (on my own with the boys now). And it started badly. People were moving away from me, putting fingers in their ears and shaking their heads. 

Then one lady, on her way off the train, took the time to audibly say "Don't worry, you are doing a great job". An obvious lie, but it made me burst into tears to just have someone acknowledge the efforts I was making, instead of resenting my children's very existence. And then the mood shifted, instead of shaking their heads, people were giving me encouraging smiles, and when (after I had loaded the buggy, strapped Jude in and Gabriel in the carrier), with three minutes to spare before my stop, the loudspeaker announced that I needed to somehow offload everything, and make my way three coaches down to reach the platform, and Jude refused to budge, 3 different people came and offered their help, took my bags, encouraged Jude out, folded the buggy and helped me off the train.

Now the reason I am telling my tale of woe, is because I don't think I was in a train of bad people on the Eurostar, and in a train of good people in England. But I do think that just a couple of people can set a tone and make the difference between another person being made to feel hated or helped.

So if you think that the woman ferrying small children on her own is not actively spiting you with her bad parenting, if you don't think children under seven should be on house arrest, if you see someone struggling and you know the glare of strangers is heavy on their shoulders, you can do more than just a special hand sign, you can actively be a change for good, YOU can shift the tone with just one sentence said loud enough.

Next time you see a mother struggling with small children, don't be the Eurostar, be the kind lady.

Be that train.

Friday, 9 September 2016

7QTs: Not Crawling, Not Housekeeping and Temperaments

So I have lots of little points I want to make, but none quite enough for a post. What to do, what to do? If only there was a thing on the internet for unrelated jumbles of thoughts?


Anyway, without further ado:


Labilou is trying SO hard to crawl, it's hilarious. He gets on all four alright, does the Roll Over, the 360, the Oops I'm Going Backward Now, but mostly he does this (soundtrack in the background by Jude Songbird Should-be-napping Patapon - JSSP to his friends):

He's quite cheery about it though, and anyway, I'm in no rush to have him mobile (I learned my lesson the first time around thankyouverymuch).


To file under the "Parenting Rookies Think They Can Teach You Things" category, I've got this system about housekeeping which is working pretty well at the moment, I call it "Three Things" (which is a misnomer, but I don't care). 

I've read many a post about how to manage housekeeping with kidlets around, mostly revolving around the concept of "Do A Bit At A Time" or "Have A Task A Day" or "Twenty Minutes And No More". Basically hell for this choleric at the keyboard. 

Because how do I get to win at housekeeping can I feel like I have completed the task of housekeeping, if by definition I am leaving it unfinished? 

Easy: I just drastically reduce the definition of "clean house" to three things (and a couple more), I do them, tell myself I won achieved, and only tackle the rest when they get truly dire/ my mother is coming to stay. Easy Peasy. So "a clean house" is now: downstairs floors swept, counters and tables wiped, dishes done, toys picked up and bed made. Done. Laundry is an ad hoc thing depending on the weather (still rocking the "no space for a tumble dryer" fun over here), so partly out of my hands (which means I am allowed to ignore it a lot).

Why, yes, this photo has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

I may just have to patent this genius idea I think. I shall call it "Three Things, Or More Like Five Plus Laundry On Non-Rainy Days" I'm sure it will catch on in no time.


As you can see from the previous take, I have finished The Temperament God Gave You, and as anyone who isn't me would have been able to tell you long before, I am basically all choleric. So is my mother. And my older brother (with a dash of melancholic). My sister is a sanguine, my dad so completely a melancholic it's as if he had been following a script. My little brother is difficult to pin down, but probably melancholic.

Now Simon is phlegmatic-melancholic. And his family is all phlegmatic/sanguine.

Add that to the language barrier and I can't for the life of me work out why there has been so many misunderstanding and miscommunication between our families. If any of you can work it out, feel free to let me know.


My friends and family haven't quite been pushed to murdering me over my obsession with keen interest in the four temperaments yet, so I thing I will do a survey of my favourite historical characters and appoint them a temperament soon (No Bandwagon Left Un-Jumped is my motto).

Quick preview: Talleyrand was totally a phlegmatic-sanguine. Fact.


My friend dragged me to confession last week (because she is a good friend) and put a stop to months of spiritual sloth. To celebrate, I finally acted upon an Adoration prompting I had been ignoring for a while and started having a running list of prayer intentions. It's in a pretty notebook at the moment (I love notebooks - no, actually, I love all stationery), but I am thinking of having it on display.

No matter what the problem, a pretty notebook is probably the way forward

Such a simple trick, such a difference in the likelihood I will offer up frustrations instead of venting them!


To the Brits/ Knowers of Brits among you: I want to do a new "Lost in Translation" post, because they are the most fun to write, but every time I think about British ways, I end up focusing on all the Brexit-Doom-And-Gloom-Why-Do-They-Hate-Me funk, so I need ideas. 

Anniversary cricket

I've done: the north, the Ashes, the English summer, historical stereotypes, biscuits, cricket, the weather and tea. What is missing? Or should I do a "French people are weird" one?


That's it. But Kelly has more. I must dash and sing the nap-striker to sleep to his favourite tune of "Happy Birthday".

Where we found him last night

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Disappearing Act of Stay-at-Home Mothering

If you are wondering about the strange photos I chose to illustrate this post, they are every single photo I took in the past eight months that did not have the children in it.

Have you noticed how so many mothers replace their own Facebook profile pictures by one of their children? Especially if they stay at home?
Of course you have, it's everywhere! 

Not me, I'm on my profile picture. If you strain your eyes, you can make me out behind the boys. Totally bucking THAT trend!

Now it's easy to chalk this up to the usual motherhood clichés, you know, because stay-at-home mothers talk of nothing but nappies and poo. (Although, in my experience, people rarely ask me about anything else, so what am I supposed to do? Remind them that mothers don't shed their brains along with the placenta? Preposterous!).

Or you can simply point out that, hey, children are really cute! And people replace their profile picture with all sorts of stupid stuff (to which I will say, yes, I know, but I want to talk about something here, so we'll pretend it's nothing so easily explained away, you big spoiler-of-blogpost-intro!)

No, unsurprisingly, I don't think the self-deletion of mothers out of their own profile is something to merely shrug off. Or simply declare (like a childless woman who spent an hour explaining to me when it was appropriate to have children) "you are SUPPOSED to be ready to give up your entire life in order to have children!"

What if I don't want to give up my entire life once I have children? What if I don't think it's right? 

You see, the reality of it is that "society" (hateful, unhelpful word, I mean "everyone around you who buys into the secular worldview") will then say both that you should just go back to work already and that you brought those children on yourself, therefore they are your problem to deal with (take the Pill woman!) Which is, obviously, incredibly helpful: If you stay at home, you're a useless non-contributing, brainless member of society, and if you dare to complain about it, you're saying that your children shouldn't have been born.

Thanks society, I'm so glad we talked!

I happen to think that staying at home with my children is the most important thing I can be doing. In the whole world. I also happen to believe that just because something is hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing. And staying at home with my children is worth doing, not in a check-and-balance way of every poo incident against every "I love you", but because I am raising persons, and I don't think any job I could do could be more important than that (which is further helped by the fact that I neither have a career I love nor desperately need the money).

My faith also teaches me that dying to self, sacrificing for others is what I should be doing. That God sees me and who I am, even if no-one else does. I know I can be the cathedral-builder whose work is for God's eyes alone. 

And yet, and yet.

And yet I can't help but wonder whether I am simply disappearing behind the children, whether my thoughts and fears, all the whirling world between my ears will eventually dry up and disappear, or worse, explode. Is this the burying of the talents, or the dying to self? I want to be a stay-at-home mum, but I sometimes doubt there is even an I left to be.

Consider this:

You read an article/book, your form thoughts, opinions. Being a choleric type of person (hypothetically) you want to express them. But first you have children to feed, bathe, dress, amuse and repeat, a house to clean, tidy and repeat.
You meet some friends who, luckily enough, share your faith and situation in life, who will understand you, so you start telling them about the book/article, but then a child does a thing, so one of you stops and deals with it, then you start again, but another child does another thing, and repeat. There may be a gap at one point, in which case you pour out as much of your thoughts as you can, disregarding the exhaustion in your friends' eyes, and they try to answer, but a child does a thing. In this halted way the time passes, and eventually every one goes home. Where you can feed, bathe, dress, amuse, clean and tidy and repeat, until your husband gets home. But it's the dinner-bath-bedtime rush so you two are on managing mode until all is quiet and the children are in bed and you can talk, at last. 

Unless you're too tired by now.
Unless you need a woman or merely a third party's opinion.

And what if what you want to hear is "me too"?

I used to have weekly meetings with two friends, without our children, nominally so as to discuss The Imitation of Christ. But we often strayed into anything and everything. We would laugh, cry, discuss uninterrupted. And it was glorious. 

But then life happened and we stopped. And I know not everyone needs to express every opinion. Not everyone is willing to leave the children behind, not everyone can. But I feel like I am slowly being erased into silence and invisibility and although I do believe staying at home with my children is what I should be doing, I am considering outsourcing the most important job in the world and get any other one instead, just for the sake of some human companionship.

I guess what I am trying to say is, go get yourself a book club, people. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Random Mid-August Book Dump

I understand that most bloggers offer a reading guide at the beginning of summer (on the strange assumption that summer somehow allows more time for reading - and maybe that is the case for non-parents on a beach, but I'd wager that's a fairly small minority of people; besides everyone knows that reading on the beach is extremely uncomfortable [on your front, your arms ache from digging in the sand, on your back they ache from holding up the book - strategically so as to cover the sun - sitting up, your back seizes up and by that stage you have to come to the conclusion that reading is just much nicer indoors - at which point you discover you are badly sun-burnt despite your factor 50 hourly lathering, and so huffily pack up and go home, where you belong]).

Why yes, absolutely, the beach is my favourite place! Can you tell?

But the beach with small children is a lot of fun.

Where was I?

Books. I was talking about books, before parentheses happened. 

So, one would expect I would offer a list of books before the summer, or at least wait until the end of the year to assess what I have read, but I want to talk about books now.

So I present to you: 

The Random Mid-August Book Dump

Here are the books I have read so far in 2016 (because I need some kind of break-off point), or failed to read, or am still reading.

Classics I Should Have Read a Long Time Ago:

Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

I really enjoyed this one, even though I had VERY low expectations. Turns out it's not a pamphlet, or a Marlon Brando film. Just a really good story.  
For some reason I often half-expect all classics to be dull and then end up pleasantly surprised. Apart from Henry James. He is actually dull. Like, toothpicks-to-keep-eyes-open dull. 
I snapped this one up for free on Audible and it was read by Kenneth Branagh, who was, unsurprisingly, very good. Maybe once he's done all of Shakespeare for the cinema, he can do all the classics for Audible? (Kenneth always listens to me, so this is totally happening).

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

I know, right? What's wrong with me?
In my defence, they are not read to children in France, so it's one of those where I have to play catch up. And I had already listened to a dramatisation a couple of years back. 
Anyway, I think Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favourite. I think C. S. Lewis suggests Heaven much better than he describes it (looking at you The Last Battle).

Don Quixote - Cervantes

My thoughts here.

Men at Arms - Evelyn Waugh

I think I like it. I'm not sure Guy feels quite simpatico. Which is probably intended. Anyway, I'm giving it time, because the genius of Brideshead kept coming to me long after I had finished reading it. And because I don't have a choice, because I'm out of Audible credits. Waugh somehow manages to incorporate moments of comic genius (basically, Apthorpe) within a delicately drawn atmosphere of melancholy and mild decay. Haunting.

The Space Trilogy - C.S. Lewis

These were so good, they probably need their own post. Especially Perelandra. "What has been lost" indeed. And the Un-Man! Terrifying. Although I wonder if you need to be a Christian to appreciate that? My friend who read them before she converted remembers finding them preachy at the time.

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

I quite enjoyed it. I was a bit puzzled by one reference to Jesus as apparently the equivalent of Da Vinci, which sounded (looked?) annoyingly like the Jesus-as-great-teacher malarkey, but otherwise it was solid, well-written and I do want to read the others. Just as soon as our bank account recovers from my last Amazon order. 


Ten Christians - Boniface Hanley

Inspiring. Although the writing was not always up to the stories it told. But then again, condensing such stories into a dozen pages doesn't leave much room for subtleties. But it's a good intro.

The Temperament God Gave You - Art and Laraine Bennett

This one was a lot of fun, and quite a few good tips. 
I'm always dubious of books/gimmicks that claim they are going to change your life, because they don't (bullet journals? They're just diaries - with an inspirational video). This book is no exception. But it's fun and interesting, and has some good reminders. And I get to be called a dynamo. And feel a bit sorry for my parents.

L'Histoire d'une Âme - Saint Thérese of Lisieux

You know how sometimes you meet people who are definitely better than you, inspirational, clever, nice, and yet you don't really like them? Like that. With lots of guilt.
I wish I wasn't so shallow and could appreciate sanctity in all its forms. And there was a lot to take away. Maybe I just need to actually read it? The narrator on audible was appallingly saccharine. 

Murder-mysteries Binge Reading

The Inspector Gamache series - Louise Penny

Pros: will make you want to visit Quebec. Will make you hungry. The pace is nice, you do generally get who the killer is before the reveal, but not so soon that the entire book feels superfluous. Also, Louise Penny knows how to create an atmosphere. 
Cons: it gets VERY repetitive (how many times is it strictly necessary to mention Gamache's "soulful brown eyes"?) And I don't buy her description of the human psyche. Or art. And she talks about those more and more as the books progress. So I'm not reading any more of these.

Dead Cold
Gut-wrenching description of an abusive mother. A believable portrayal of elderly friends not simply marked by their elderly-ness. But be warned, there is a very annoyingly obvious letter enigma that the detectives seem unable to see until the very end.

The Cruellest Month
A seance, old friendships and a good mystery. Would have been worth it anyway, just for Rosa the duck.

The Murder Stone
A dysfunctional family, an isolated hotel. I liked "the ugliest man alive".

The Brutal Telling
Antiques. A cabin in the wood. A scary story. Shame the whole book rests on Olivier being a believable character. Which he isn't.

The Long Way Home
I skipped a few, because I was just not interested in Penny's over-arching thriller about the Sureté, and picked up again after the novel where everything came to a head. There is a lot about art in the book, and I disagreed with basically all of it. Penny only seemed to remember she writes murder mysteries and not tourism brochures at the very end, by which point I had just given up on the whole series, and the final scene didn't change my mind.

The Lord Peter Wimsey Series - Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers is the opposite of Louise Penny, she adds layers to her characters as the books progress. And despite Lord Peter's superman-like achievements at everything, all her characters and their motivations feel quite human. I read Gaudy Night last year and read all the later Lord Peter Wimsey books (post Harriet) as a result but I was yet to read the earlier ones, which are delightful. Maybe less depth, but more sheer enjoyment. And the puzzles are great (of the kind that keep you guessing until the end, but not because she kept entire swathes of information to herself, which always feels like cheating in a murder mystery). I only have one more to read. Which is very sad.

Whose Body
A mysterious body in a bathtub, who is NOT that of a recently disappeared financier. Clever, immensely entertaining. Plus I discovered Inspector Parker, who was barely present in the later books, but is a great character.

Cloud of Witness
Peter Wimsey's siblings become suspects of murder. Also, you will chuckle with the author at the end if you know French literature well. If not, it's still a great puzzle. And the drunken scene at the end made me very happy, for some reason.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Problems in times of death and war veterans. Sayers re-visits shell-shock very ably in this one. 

Unnatural Death
An incredibly chilling murderer in this one, but an impossibility to prove foul-play, and a good twist I had not guessed! How I love those!


A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson does the Appalachian Trail. As always, dry wit, a lot of amusing anecdotes and joyful failure. And Katz. Katz is just great. Going for walk as a way to pass the time after weeks of hiking, "because that is sort of what we do".

Father Elijah - Michael O'Brien

Set at the end of the 1990s, a fantastic Apocalypse in modern times: orthodox, believable, chilling and it will stay with you long after you close the book. I wonder whether I should read the others?

SPQR - Mary Beard

Not very useful if you don't know anything about Roman history, but fascinating if you have just finished listening to The History of Rome (which you should listen to) and want to know the historical debates, controversies and methods used to create the narrative we know.

As You Wish - Cary Elwes

Quite fun. The writing is not exactly great, but the anecdotes are very enjoyable, especially if you know The Princess Bride by heart. Which I do.

The Martian - Andy Weir

So much fun. A few added scenes (and lots of language) compared to the film, but I still enjoyed it a lot despite having already seen the film when I read it (bonus point: I was reading it in Matt Damon's voice in my head). Not exactly great literature, but that is not the point.

A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

Urgh. Kate Atkinson. I keep reading everything she writes, and I keep getting mildly annoyed. There always is a hippy mother, a strict, cold one, and childhood trauma of some sort. And the twist at the end is not particularly original. I think I should have read Life After Life instead, but I am getting Second World War fatigue at the moment. How about the rest of history, writers? Not interested?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling

My (horrified) thoughts here.

It's All in Your Head - Suzanne O'Sullivan

O'Sullivan is a neurologist who specialises in seizures, and whose experience of patients with pseudo-seizures gave her fascinating insights into the wonders of psycho-somatic disorders. A very necessary book, which needs to be widely read to help relieve the shame of patients who are made to feel like "it's all in your head" is synonym to "you are faking it". Very good.

Books I am still reading

What? Doesn't everybody have ten books on the go at once?

The Pilgrim's Progress - Bunyan
The next in the classical education project. I need to remind Simon that we are supposed to read it. We both kind of conveniently forgot after a dozen pages. SO dull. Or maybe not exactly dull, more annoying. Must power through.

Scoop - Evelyn Waugh
I have picked this up so many times, but I have been stuck for months. I just keep getting the impression I am missing the jokes altogether.

The Inklings - Humphrey Carpenter
Very interesting look at C.S. Lewis, his brother, Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends. Lots of fun titbits and insights into favourite authors. My uncle gave it to me when I was 17, but you know, better late than never.

The Way - Josemaria Escriva
I am reading it one chapter at a time at adoration on Saturdays. Aphorisms like a kick in the bottom. Escriva doesn't pull punches, and that is just what I need.

The Imitation of Christ - Thomas a Kempis
I started this one as Lenten reading with two friends, but then babies and jobs happened so that we had to discontinue the book club. I'm still hoping we'll get to resume soon. Maybe for Advent?

The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
I am currently listening to it, but I think this is a book that needs to be read (even though that statement goes against everything I believe about poetry). Maybe I need to read then listen again? I just keep feeling I've missed things, and losing my way.

Paradise Lost - Milton
This one is such a revelation being listened to! I am loving it!

The Wallet of Kai Lung - Ernest Bramah
Because it was mentioned in Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, I had to check it out. Quite funny. I am not taking it as an accurate representation of China in the early twentieth century though, never fear.

The Thrifty Cookbook - Kate Colquhoun
So many useful and clever tips!

Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel
This just arrived at the library for me, so I am only 3 chapters in. But they were good chapters!

Book I abandoned

Taliessin Through Logres

As I was reading The Inklings, I was very curious as to what Charles Williams' writing was like. The answer, in the words of my friend: obscure, very obscure. So I gave up. I'm not even pretending to keep this in the "currently reading" list. 

Coming Up Next

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Although I am fed up with the Second World War, I've ordered this one through the library. Because I have no logic. 

Three to Get Married

As per Auntie Leila's advice. I can't wait to get to it!

Officers and Gentlemen
Unconditional Surrender

Also known as: the rest of the Sword of Honour trilogy. Come on Audible! Renew credits!

A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters
An Acceptable Time

Or: the rest of the Time Quintet. I just really like Meg.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: a Review

These days I have a rather ambivalent view of Harry Potter. 

I used to love the universe so much but now I am not sure anymore. The whole debate on whether or not it is bad for Christians to read is leaving me mostly bewildered, so I wouldn't hazard an opinion on that particular can of worms, but I am rather puzzled as to whether it is just good literature. It's certainly fun, and the story is engrossing, but the older I get, the more wooden the characters seem to be, and the dialogue appears dangerously close to naff.

I still sent Simon to pick up the new one for me yesterday, if anything because otherwise my 17 year old self would never have spoken to me ever again (yes, we dialogue frequently, don't you?). It is a play, and so also an extremely quick read, but that is just about all the good I have to say about it. I think the choices which were made for this latest instalment were systematically the wrong ones. 

For those who haven't heard, the story follows Harry Potter's son Albus, and his friend Scorpius (son of Draco Malfoy) going back in time for various reasons. I haven't liked it much. The whole going back in time thing seems mostly devised to pander to a nostalgic audience, by revisiting some iconic episodes from the previous books, the plot more of an after-thought cobbled together as an excuse for people to fork out more money, rather than just go back to read their favourite bits. It's as if the playwright (it is not very clear whether that is JK Rowling herself)was constantly making little in-jokes then pausing expectantly, as if to say "Get it? Get it?"

In the original stories, the truly mesmerising part was the wizarding world, its rules, wonders and complexities. Most of the characters, and especially the main ones, didn't ring particularly true and the plot was not going for originality (which is not a problem in itself, just a fact about the type of story it is). What kept people (or at least, me) coming back, was the detailed inventions of the world Rowling created.

Enter the play. Which subtracts the wizarding world altogether. 

Now, that may be different if you actually go to see the play, I don't know, but I doubt it. The action systematically fasts forwards through the daily life (out of necessity due to the lack of space in a three-hour play) to leave us purely with actions and quips (which are occasionally funny). Very little time is spent at Hogwarts, most of the action seems to be happening in various offices, where people have crises and make jokes.

Dialogue was not Rowling's strong point, it still isn't. The whole failed relationship between Harry and his son is complained about but never explained or indeed properly shown. It is more declared into existence by the characters, and the same goes for most of the action. It's only towards the end that we are finally given any kind of insight into the two new protagonists (Albus and Scorpius) and therefore start caring about them, which is exactly the wrong way round. The habit Rowling had of describing the school year, and then packing the action right at the end may have been a tad predictable, but it made sense. You cared for the characters before they were in danger.

And the characters are the main flaw. The dialogue simply fails to bring them to life. Harry is a rather unconvincing father (my sister would say he was already an unconvincing teenager) and Albus makes very little sense. Rather than letting us guess at the characters intentions, which is the beauty and ambivalence of theatre, here everything is over-explained and spelled out, and the explanations just don't convince. Everything is nicely tied together with a bow, people are neatly psycho-analysed, but it doesn't work. 

So I am going to pretend this new episode has not been written, because it is rather an argument for the "against" column when I ponder whether the whole series is something good and true I want to introduce to my children.

Friday, 15 July 2016


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W. B Yeats, 1921

A few thoughts:

1. Beauty points to truth, whether the author intends it or not.

2. Yeats always strikes me as a man with a blindfold, groping about and creating a strange mythology from the shapes he feels, but incapable of the act of will necessary to remove the blindfold, or even aware of it as a possibility. A bit like how my entire English Lit class was unable to answer our professor what should have been blindingly obvious, namely that Dover Beach was about the absence of God (nope, didn't even cross our minds).

3. "Mere anarchy" strikes me today. A lesser poet would have said "sheer anarchy". But that's what anarchy is, petty and less than.

4. We're fine. The family's fine, they hadn't gone to see the fireworks. I don't know how many more times I'll stomach having to write these words this year, though. 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Just in case you were wondering how it feels

When I come back from France, when the train emerges from the tunnel, sad as I am to leave my family behind, do you know what the overwhelming feeling is?


Because I am home.

As a foreigner, you always have to try a little bit harder, being that little bit more British than the Brits, because if YOU don't know about the War of the Roses, the colours of the various tube lines or the county Milton Keynes is in, it's because you are Other. Never mind that born and bred Englishmen/women do not know these things (I have spent a lot of time explaining the War of the Roses to English people, actually). When YOU don't know, YOU emphasise your outsider status.

Immigrants know that. Most of the time they accept that. We do have to work that little bit harder to build our homes, but we get to build one, and most of the time we are simply grateful for that. And we feel we have a right to be where we are, because that is where our home is, where our community is, where the familiar streets and well-known sights are. The smells, the sounds, the rain. All of this spells home, all of this we love because it is home.

This street outside my house is not just any street, it's the one down which Jude took his first hesitant steps behind his wheelie dog. This bus is not any bus, it's the one Gabriel rode four hours after he was born. All of it precious, all of it irreplaceable. 

But today we were reminded that working harder was not the only thing required of us in order to be able to build our homes. Today we were shown that nothing we can do is ever enough.

Now my neighbours denied my right to call my home my own. They chose to pull my house down, they knew it could damage theirs to do so, because theirs were leaning on mine, but they chose potentially dramatic instability for the privilege of evicting me.

Of course this is an imperfect simile, of course there were good reasons to want to leave, but not a single one of these good reasons was ever used during the campaign. Like it or not, this was a campaign of hate. People were not making an informed decision over complex policies, because that is not the arguments they used to debate. The arguments they used were all about getting rid of migrants, European or otherwise.

Getting rid of ME. Pulling MY house down.

More than half the population wanted to push me away so badly, they were willing to gamble economic stability.

But this was my home.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

You. We hate YOU.

So, some of you might know that Britain is soon to have a referendum to see if they want to stay within the European Union or leave it. 

I have resisted talking about it so far, partly because Britain leaving the EU is actually something quite painful to contemplate, but mostly because the entire "Vote Leave" campaign seems to consist of chanting "Britain! Britain! Britain!" and hope that it somehow constitutes a valid argument.

It doesn't. And therefore it does not require a counter-argument. Unless I am prepared to start shouting "EU! EU! EU!" back, but so far my self-respect has held.

Also, as before, this is something that would impact my life immensely, but in which I do not get a say. 

I am following closely though, for obvious reasons. I may have to ask for a visa all of a sudden (I bet they are going to LOVE the self-employed/stay-at-home mum label, it screams "worthwhile migrant" to cash-obsessed officials), or somehow find £45,000 per year or be deported back to France, because even the Singh Route would then be closed, and my husband is not yet earning enough money to be allowed a foreign wife and bi-national children. 

I have to contemplate the break-up of my family, simply because people are chanting "Britain! Big! Winner! Boo foreigners!" and somehow gathering a following in doing so.

Do I sound angry? Well, angry does not begin to cover it.

I remember talking with a Scottish friend about the Scottish referendum, and how he said that many of the arguments of the English in that case were emotional and personal, rather than engaging with the very real issues. To which I answered that if Britain voted to leave the EU, I too would have a very hard time not taking it personally.

And I think  therein lies the issue. There are very real problems at work, but make no mistake, it is also deeply, intrinsically, personal

Because people I know who are willing to vote "Leave" would also be the one marvelling at how exotic my bilingual children are, they are the ones who would scream "Migrants go home!" but then say "Not you, Isabelle, you're alright, you speak English/you make Pimm's at the start of the Test Match season, you can stay! We mean them!"

One hateful article I will not link to was calling for the government to apologise to every parent whose nursery place had been stolen by "Piotrs", and every woman who had to wait for a spot in the labour suite "swarmed" by "Svetlanas". And at first I was deeply hurt. Here was a woman who I had never met, but she was calling for my children to be turned away from school. She thought the coming into the world of my beautiful, unique, specific boys was cause for someone to apologise.

But if I met the author personally, chatted with her, introduced her to the boys, joked with her about the three-day-long English summer, I'm pretty sure even she would make an exception. Not you Isabelle, of course, you're alright.

And I'd wager there aren't many "Piotrs" who wouldn't find a single English person willing to make an exception for them. Not you Piotr, you're good fun at the pub, we mean them.

Very rarely do we hate specific people we know because they are part of a group. Very often we hate the anonymous "swarm". The picture in our mind's eye of crawling, scowling, overtaking and ill-defined "foreigners".

As always, evil comes when we deprive people of their humanity, when we refuse the personal encounter. I would like the English people I know to remember that, because when you vote "Leave", you will not be making an abstract statement against a vague swarm that you think caused all your problems. You will be specifically saying "You, Isabelle, Jude and Gabriel, you are not welcome here."

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Smaller Cross

Puddleglum. via

Lately I have been suffering because of a Lesser Hurt. You know the kind, the hurt which knots your throat in a ball, but also makes you feel ashamed, because it feels like you are overreacting. The kind that makes you suffer, but that you will not ask prayers for, because it is not a PROPER hurt. The kind that ruins a beautiful day, even though your marriage, children and health are fine.

A friendship strained, making bad memories resurface.

A slight from your siblings making you feel left out.

That kind of hurt.

They also have a knack of appearing when PROPER hurts are happening around you. When you should really feel thankful, when really, it is for others that you should pray.

The Lesser Hurt often comes with frustration: Why am I being so childish? Why can't I just go past this? Why can't I just concentrate on all the good in my life instead of constantly channelling my inner Puddleglum?

Eventually this afternoon, I did what I should have done from the start, I took it to Adoration. 

And I thought about Saint Thérèse's Little Way. Which is strange, because she is a saint I do not feel much affinity with (it probably isn't helped by the fact that the narrator in the audiobook of the Story of a Soul I own has the most cloying, sing-song, sappy voice in the universe). But it made me realise that what I was suffering under was indeed a little cross, but it was one, and it was worthy.

And as it turns out, when you bring your hurt to God, He does not tell you to "man up!", He does not #firstworldproblems you. He does not think you silly, say you are overreacting, ask you to look on the bright side. Nor does He magically erase the feelings or the issue. 

You see, even if right now, yours may seem a very small cross, He will still help you carry it.

I thought some of you might need to hear this too.


"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."

Thursday, 21 April 2016

History Geeks Gonna History Geeks

You know how I like history? (You don't? Hello, new reader! Do stay, but be warned, I do like history A LOT).

So, as a notorious history geek, I went and did a thing. To be perfectly exact, Simon did a lot of it. But I digress.

Patapon has now reached the age where he's talking up a storm, loving all the new words, doing adorable distortions which we only half-heartedly correct (except "avidoosh", we are never ever correcting avidoosh. He is going to university still thinking that is how you say "elephant". Don't you dare tell him otherwise!). It is fascinating to see him navigate the two languages, which he does remarkably well, and delighting in sounds.

"Tout Tourne", for example, is delightful ("Everything's spinning" for the non-francophones)

One thing he does not do however, is discriminate. As far as he is concerned, a word is a word. It is not high-brow, or impressive or vulgar. It's just a collection of sounds. 

Enter the thing we did.

If any word is just a collection of sounds, then why teach him "Thomas the Tank Engine", just because it is meant to be child-friendly? Why not, I don't know, this one instead?

So we went ahead and printed a few historical characters,taped them to his shelves and taught him to recognise them. So far we have Elizabeth I, Bob Dylan, Karl Marx (Patapon's favourite), Louis XIV, Gandhi, The Beatles, Henry VIII, Pope Francis ("Pa-pi-fa"), Napoléon, Cardinal Richelieu, Caesar, Alexander the Great and Einstein. We discussed having Adolf Hitler, but the thought of our toddler having a picture of him in his room did give us pause, so we decided against it in the end.

Now, before you start shouting at me because he is way too young for formal education, let me be clear: he LOVES it. Most of the time, he is the one who wants to play.

Secondly, we are under no illusion that this is in any way educational. Give it whatever spin you want, he simply doesn't know who these people are, even though he can recognise them in Gombrich and their names sound familiar. 
Maybe because we have done this, he will feel like they are already old friends when we do start actually teaching him about them. Maybe. Maybe not. I am ok with that. 

I think the only way in which this can be useful is more as an expression of our family culture. Patapon is the son of two history geeks, who frequently talk about the ins and outs of Napoléon's career or the role of Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna as chit-chat during dinner. He will be free to reject this as he grows more aware of what he likes, but right now, we're just going to be happy history geeks together. Because that's what we do.

Besides he's never watched a single episode of Thomas the Tank Engine in his life. As far as he is concerned, "Tomash" is his friend "Ovil"'s daddy, who taught her how to recognise Hera and Apollo, and whose tome on Shakespeare he likes to use as a construction block. 

Geeks, you know. There are more of us than you know.