Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Gallery: Black and White memories

This picture is of my grandmother. It's the only picture of her I have from when she was young, and I love it. She was born in 1912, and I think she's probably in her 20s here, so that makes it a 1920s portrait. From the hair and the fur stole, that looks about right.

She was the youngest of seven children. Can I just say that again? Seven children. That was quite a normal family size then. And it would have been eight, because she had a twin brother, who died when he was a baby. She outlived all of her siblings, dying in 2004 at the age of 92. But the last 20 or so years of her life were tough - she had a major stroke in her late sixties, and was totally paralysed down her left side. Before the stroke, she was a talented amateur painter, who I remember driving around in her Mini with a bevy of Pekingese dogs. Afterwards, she was fragile and walked with a stick. She was unable to paint, or even to hold a cup of tea properly, but she remained cheerful and positive, making friends with a whole new set of people at 'Stroke Club' and even travelling out to see us in Hong Kong.

As well as losing her daughter, my mother, when she was an old lady - a huge blow from which I think she never recovered - my grandmother was also widowed in her 60s, when my grandfather died of a heart attack. I was two at the time and I don't remember him. Until a few years ago, I knew little about him, other than that he had been serious, fairly religious and a conscientious objector in the War. But then a few years ago, my sister and I were given a stack of old letters - my grandparents' love letters from before they were married. They revealed a very passionate relationship - he absolutely worshipped her and they simply could not wait to be together. Here he is below. Rather handsome, I think?

I remembered then something that my grandmother told me when I got engaged. She looked at my ring, with its sparkling single diamond, and said that she remembered how her own engagement ring used to sparkle under the lights of the London Underground. She would look at it constantly, she said, admiring its gleam, and thinking how lucky she was to be engaged. I knew exactly how she felt. It was one of those moments of real connection when you almost see across the decades, and realise that the little old lady who you think of as 'Grandma' was once just like you.

This post is for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers, where you will find many other beautiful black and white photographs today.

Monday, 15 August 2011

How to successfully exhaust a 6 year old

How to successfully exhaust a 6 year old boy:

1. Sign him up for an 'all age' soccer camp, which runs all day, 9-4.

2. Have the soccer camp unhelpfully change its location from down the road to a 45 minute drive away, meaning he leaves the house at 8 and returns at 5. But stick with it.

3. Drop him, bewildered by his long car journey, at football field in the middle of nowhere.

4. Leave to play nonstop football in the baking sun all day, relying on him to reapply suncream himself (he actually did well, but missed the back of his neck one day).

5. Get there to pick him up and realise that he is much the smallest child there, and is playing on a team that includes hulking 10 year old boys and impressively talented 14 year old girls. Also realise that this is no nicely-nicely summer camp where 'everyone's a winner' - it's more like boot camp.

6. Rehydrate and remove sweaty socks and football boots; place exhausted child in car.

7. Just to make sure he's really tired, take him swimming afterwards to cool off.

8. Repeat on a loop for 3 days running.

Result: The surprisingly resilient child will hold his own, impressing coaches and older kids alike. However, he will be so exhausted by the whole thing that he will behave in an uncharacteristically quiet fashion all weekend: sitting decorously by the pool relaxing after a half hour swimming, playing nicely with his toys instead of careering about the house madly, and responding obediently to requests to tidy up.

In other news, here's how to put off a 4 year old from his forthcoming trip to Niagara Falls:

1. Tell him about the scene in Superman 2 where Superman rescues a child who has fallen over the waterfall.

2. In fit of enthusiasm, get the film from the video library and show it to the boys.

Result: 4 year old will announce that he no longer wants to go to Niagara Falls. He only wants to look at it from TV, and will not go anywhere near the top of the waterfall. What he will make of a hotel room overlooking the Falls, I am not sure. Still, at least he got the message that Superman will not be coming to rescue him.....

Friday, 12 August 2011

It couldn't happen here. Or could it?

Over the past few days, American and European friends alike have been asking me: what on earth has been going on in London?

I really have no sensible answer to give them, other than "Your guess is as good as mine,". Because I really don't have an explanation for the riots of earlier this week - what was it that caused so many people to go crazy, feral and lawless in the spate of a few hours?

You can blame poverty, bad parenting, or a lack of police presence. All of those may well have contributed (although, as one commentator pointed out, if all these kids were communicating by Blackberry, we're talking about a different kind of 'poverty' here). But it's not the only explanation. I can only think that it was a sort of near-hysterical copycat phenomenon, where people heard what was going on and got sucked into it. I'm sure there was some hardcore gang culture at the heart of it, but not everyone rioting came from that kind of background, or so I've read in UK newspaper articles like this.

For once everyone in America seems to know about it. When we had our UK election last year, nobody asked me about it, and when Europe was paralysed bhe the whole volcano/ashcloud saga, hardly anyone I know was even aware of it all. My 'mom' friends were interested in the Royal Wedding, yes, but the recent Norway shootings went unmentioned by most people. But these riots are on everyone's lips. And the unspoken question is: could it happen here?

America has, of course, had its fair share of rioting in the past (the 1992 LA riots are an example). And there was looting on a grand scale after Hurricane Katrina. But would we ever see gangs rioting in the middle of Manhattan, rampaging down Fifth Avenue? There have been some violent mobs in Philadelphia recently, but they've introduced a curfew to sort it out. American police are always armed, and look quite hardcore (except around here, where they mostly hang out in the ice cream shop and supermarket carparks, occasionally putting on a blue light to catch someone speeding). Not that I'm advocating armed police on the streets of the UK - and I'm certainly not an admirer of America's gun culture.

Anyway, I'm rambling. My personal opinion is that yes, it could probably happen in America - people are people, and when lawlessness takes hold, people can act like animals. But would it be stamped out more quickly? I'm sure most Americans would think "yes". But then, up until last week, we British would probably have thought "it couldn't happen here". And on that note, I'll leave you with this Pet Shop Boys classic.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Gallery: Water

One of the best things about living on Long Island is the fact we're surrounded by water. Even better than that, we live in a harbourside peninsula with sea on both sides. As I drive to the shops or pick up the boys from school, I get to see the sea - and there is something remarkably uplifting about it, even on a cold winter's day.

We go down to the seashore in all seasons and I love capturing its beauty on film. Whether it is the icy, still waters of Long Island Sound in winter,

or the fierce Atlantic rollers on the South Shore.

In the summer, we swim in it.... the spring and autumn, we paddle in it...

...and in the winter we just walk on the beach and marvel at how the sea can freeze over.

And sometimes - as in last night when I took this rather blurry iPhone shot of the harbour after a rainstorm - I just catch a glimpse of it as I'm walking through the town, and it lifts my spirits.

This post is for The Gallery: this week's theme, water.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Waxing lyrical

After two years in our house, the local mice (the bane of our lives in London) have finally cottoned on to the fact that we have two very messy children who spill food all over the floor, and we have started to have the odd rodent visitor.

Last week's encounter ended up in farcical fashion. I saw a mouse in the hallway and we were trying to shoo it out the door, but what with the overexcited Littleboys chasing it and me hysterically shouting, the poor thing was terrified and crawled into Littleboy 2's Croc. Cue much shouting of 'Eeeuw' from all except The Doctor, who manfully carried him outside and deposited him under the nearest tree.

To prevent any more such episodes, I had purchased a couple of glue mouse traps which I found at the supermarket. These are little trays of very, very sticky glue, which renders the mouse immobile if he is unfortunate enough to step in it. Not the most humane mouse trap, but effective (and I really, really don't want a mouse infestation here). But it goes without saying that if you put your own hand in the thing, you also get stuck in very, very sticky glue....

Anyway, I had stuck the glue traps on top of a cupboard, out of human way (or so I thought). Until last night The Doctor managed somehow to stick the back of his arm into one of them. He first had to rip it off, and the glue is now still wedged into the hairs on his arm, causing much complaining.

Of course, I was the sweetly sympathetic wife. "Ah. Now you know what a bikini wax feels like," I told him. (There is some history to this. Last week I went off for a bikini wax on a Saturday morning, and asked him to look after the boys - he had made a semi-sarcastic comment about how he never gets to go and do things on his own at the weekend, to which I replied; "You think a bikini wax is fun?").

Needless to say, he was not amused.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

American boy

Littleboy 1 seems to be becoming more American than ever as a result of attending summer camp.

As well as him starting to call me 'Mom' rather than 'Mummy' (at which point I usually look around me, and say "Who's Mom? I don't see a Mom around here?"- it amuses me anyway) we have had several little debates over words and instances where I really haven't understood what he was going on about.

Standing in the queue for a water slide one day, he informed me that 'that boy is cutting me!'. I whirled around defensively, looking to see if someone was trying to hurt my son somehow and preparing to berate them, but saw no evidence of this. "What on earth do you mean?" I asked him. "He's cutting me! He's cutting the line!"

"Ah, you mean pushing in!" I answered. Yet another US expression I hadn't heard before.

Yesterday it rained, and despite it still being about 28 degrees outside he returned from camp wearing the jumper we'd been asked to provide at the start of camp. "You're wearing your jumper!" I said. "At camp we call it a jacket," he said.

"Well, it's not a jacket. It's definitely a jumper - or you could also call it a sweater, here, or a jersey."

He laughs hysterically. "How can it be a jersey? It doesn't have a baseball team on the front!"

A new enthusiasm for baseball also means that I have to play it with him in the evenings and am learning all about home runs and foul balls. I think my son is a little unimpressed that I talk about 'bowling' instead of pitching and keep trying to equate it to rounders. I am not good when it comes to these US sports and have only just worked out that one of the games he plays at camp is 'cone ball', not 'corn ball'.

But never mind. He has three days at a 'soccer camp' next week and I know all about that (well, more than I do about baseball anyway). I'll nonchalantly make some remark about the offside rule as I drop him off. Just have to remember not to call it football.......