Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Best is Yet to Come!

Well, I've spent quite a lot of time closeted in my 'satellite study' i.e. the tiny laptop desk adjacent the door in the main bedroom. It's been a real godsend and means that I can get some work done without being subjected to too much distraction. Daughter #3 seems really caught up in the whole rowing thing, opting (quite voluntarily) to go to the training sessions 3-4 times per week. This is a fantastic opportunity for her to become skilled in a sport that she is really enjoying, despite the fact that she capsized today and had to be assisted from the river by a couple of nearby fishermen (who assured they'd seen it all before). It seems to be a bit of an initiation thing - completely expected at some stage, and better now than in January! She is completely unphased by, and indeed a bit proud of, her bit of drama. It's a real commitment getting her there for the morning sessions, I have to be a bit strict about making sure she's out of bed, dressed and having a good breakfast before I take the dog for her walk. Still, we're all ready by nine am to drive to the rowing club where I drop her off, ensure that she's safely off up-river and make my way into the city centre. The weather hasn't been so great lately, so sitting on the riverbank with a book isn't an option at the moment. Plus I've got the Bright-Eyed Boy with me, who is eager to fritter his birthday money on stretchy chickens, mystery UFOs, magic 8-balls, Pokemon cards and the like. The Starbucks bill for his caramel 'frapuccini' has been astronomical since the schools broke up. Crusty French bread, pate and sliced tomatoes for lunch and then a quieter afternoon. Happily his football training recommences this weekend, so that should mean he feels a little less left out. Not too long until our trip away: I'm already anticipating the delicious arrival as the sun sets behind the sheer headland, hearing the house martins squealing as they dive over the olive groves and grape vines; the greeny-turquoise sea, the ancient sun-bleached bastion set with shaded linen clothed tables; perspiring rose wine bottles sitting in ice-coolers; hot silver sand; tiny cups of espresso; almond biscuits dipped in prosecco; the freshest of exotic fish on ice in the supermarket; sleepy afternoons swaying on the terrace swing-seat. Aaaah!! I can't wait!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Hols (groan)

O Cripes! The school summer holidays commence as from Friday this week. As per usual, I am completely mentally unprepared for them. Our scheduled week away isn't for a little while yet, so I have the opportunity to spend some quality time with the children before then. NOT!!!! I shall no doubt find it just as exercising as I did last year, trying to amuse them on a pittance, stay sane and produce some quality written work to hand in before my next supervisory meeting in September. At least this year I don't have the OU Advanced Latin to keep up (the sooner they transfer ALL their courses to coincide with the academic year the better IMHO), although I suspect that the discipline of translating a little of the Aeneid book II kept me from losing the plot completely. Anyhow - I'd better face up to a number of weeks of utter chaos and madness. I can certainly see the merits of Summer Camp.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sky Tours

The 'Sky' man is here at the moment, nailing a satellite dish to the external wall, so what with the drilling and banging and to-ing and fro-ing the atmosphere is not conducive to calm, rational or intellectual thought. I am ambivalent about the whole satellite TV thing and have no great desire to have x number of telly channels to go at. The bright-eyed boy however is beside himself with excitement and has been counting the days off until the installation. The husband too - a bit of a gadget enthusiast - seems to be Quite Keen on the whole thing (obviously, as he's the one who has arranged it all). I think that I see a satellite dish on the side of the house as a bit of a Mark of Shame ('here's a family who spend an unconscionable amount of time sat in front of the box'). There are very few programmes that I will put myself out to watch, or record, certainlyI NEVER watch films on the telly, or DVD as my attention span is too short and they're Not Real, are they? If anyone starts to relate the plot of a film to me, my eyes glaze over and I feel myself losing the will to live. Funnily enough, I DO enjoy going out to the small cinema in town, probably because it's rather lively and cool with its integral wine bar and bistro - it's a very pleasant social experience. I have to admit that it'll be nice to watch the more esoteric sports. and it has been a source of annoyance that the terrestrial channels have never shown the Giro d'Italia or the Tour of Spain. So we could watch the rest of the current Tour de France on Eurosport but as my husband says, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin's commentary has been such a part of our summer lives for so long that to change now would feel like a betrayal. It was during the second week of the Tour ten years ago that the bright-eyed boy made it obvious that he was about to make his way into the world. Fortunately, we managed to watch the remainder of the highlights before whipping off into hospital. Within 48 hours we were back in front of the peloton, slack-jawed with babe in arms.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Eye of Joy

On Wednesday we put the final touches to my AHRC nomination form. I can at last breathe a profound sigh of relief and think about the fact that I HAVE FUNDING FOR MY PhD STUDIES NEXT YEAR!!!!! I can hardly believe, after such a long time - this is the third consecutive year of applying - that I have finally been successful. I am enormously buoyed up by the whole thing and immensely grateful to all those people who have contributed their time, efforts and encouragement. I shall do my utmost to prove myself worthy of them and of the award. At last I will be able to immerse myself more fully into the academic life and feel that I am truly part of that community.

There is a part of me, however, that is very reluctant to rejoice too much: a little worm of caution gnaws at me telling me that the money isn't actually in the bank as yet, not to count my chickens etc.

This is where I appeal to that little-known 'Eye of Joy'. The 'Eye of Joy functions in much the same way as its better known talismanic cousin the 'Evil Eye'. Anyone who has been to the eastern Mediterranean cannot have failed to observe the dark blue and white symbols that are liberally on display, particularly on things like the prows of ships, or hanging from rear-view mirrors. They are to ward off the 'Evil Eye', a malevolent force that can invoked to bring misfortune to the unwary (I've got one hanging in my kitchen, brought back from Greece). Just as being unprepared can lay one open to the force of evil, so can overconfidence and the premature celebration of good luck. It is customary to receive good news with an acknowledgement that things can go awry, that events lie in God's hands and that he can withdraw a blessing as well as bestow it. The uttering of a brief apotropaic formula ensures that the expected good luck or anticipated event will materialise, and that the utterer's confidence is not misplaced. And that is what this last paragraph has hopefully ensured: that I shall receive my dosh!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Babies on Planes

Just read a light-hearted and amusing article in the Times online concerning travelling on planes with small children, and boy! Did the comments reveal an abyss-like divide in opinion!
Basically they fell into two camps: those who didn't understand what the fuss was about and those who apoplectically raged against parents who insisted on 'inflicting screaming babies' on their fellow-travellers. What was really disturbing was the amount of naked hatred on display in the latter group, and not just from people who didn't have children. It just confirms my opinion that western nations have become so distanced from the natural rythmn of life and procreation that they see themselves as exempt from participation in any of its correlations. Obviously, if the future of civilisation was left in their hands, mankind would probably die out within the next couple of centuries! (and if they were representative of it, thank God! some might say)

We've always travelled abroad with our kids since they were a couple of months old, not because we're 'selfish' (in requiring a holiday: apparently that is selfish), but because the only way to integrate a child into society is by letting him or her be part of it from birth. Not that it's easy - but it is a damn sight easier on the continent than it is in the UK. By gradually accustoming children to new situations and gently increasing their duration it is quite possible to habituate (don't I sound pompous and po-faced?) your child to something like sitting at table for a three course meal, or through a concert, or a reasonably long car journey. Like most exercises, this requires progressively increasing the activity in length and - very importantly - being prepared to cut it short if there is any adverse reaction, and try again later. But that's easier said than done on a plane, so initially diversionary tactics are best employed: a new toy whipped out of a handbag, lolly, 'talking' hand-puppet etc. Put yourself in your child's shoes...what would appeal to you? And actually, it does seemed to have worked - we might be just lucky, I suppose - but ours are incredibly sociable and relaxed, and able to sit still without figetting for reasonably long periods of time. Now they are older and will read or amuse themselves with their music whilst travelling, but I can't say we've ever dreaded making a journey with them - ever. Nor were they ever disruptive.

Imagine if children were customarily excluded from the adult milieu: how could they ever know how to behave when eventually allowed to participate? Children learn by observing their parents. If they are unlucky to have parents who keep them metaphorically locked in the nursery whilst they themselves go about their adult lives, berating others who include their children in their activities, they no doubt will grow up espousing the same views!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Cold Fish

I've just finished Diana Athill's Somewhere Near the End (blogged about elswhere) and mused that her lack of empathy and conscience is similar to that manifested in the autobiographical writings of Simone de Beauvoir. Musing upon that further, I have a niggling worry that the flaw that troubles me somewhat in these writers' perceived personalities (perceived, because one can only see what they commit to print) may also be present in my own. My husband has, in the past, commented on my lack of sympathy, to which I reply that - as an emotion - it is largely useless and self-indulgent. There are family members who will, on witnessing a child graze its knee (for example) will emote and commote along with the infant, uttering torrents of comforting babble. My reaction would be a brief hug and a rational assessment of the damage, its treatment and diversion from the injury with another engagement. Guilt, as well, I count as a redundant emotion. It cannot change what has been done and equates, to my way of thinking, to emotional flagellation. Events are either under, or not under, your control. If the former, think hard before you act: if the latter, what could have been done anyway? Life goes on. I think that this attitude was inculcated during my childhood. There, there, never mind, these things happen. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it. Maybe I'm a bit warped! Or a Stoic? Epictetus is one of my heroes too. What you cannot change, you must change your attitude to. Call me a hypocrite, but it doesn't seems that appealing in other people!