Summer rain

It’s raining and still a little light at 10pm. I’m sitting in my office room, which has been recently cleared of more than a hundred exam papers, and is calm, white, inviting. Today was my last day at work at the barnehage for a while. Summer holidays start tomorrow, and then I have six months leave in order to take up a full-time temporary post at the University College in my town. I’m excited and a little nervous. Before my summer holidays start for real, I need to finish off a very important job application, due Monday, but here I am, writing on my blog instead.

I felt a little strange at work today, because I didn’t know whether I was saying goodbye or not. The afternoon was warm with a threat of rain so the kids wore their rain trousers and boots and peddled madly on the tricycles and bounced on the bouncy balls and splashed in the puddles and dug in the sand. There are two job applications in the works, and if either of them comes through (far from a certainty) I won’t be coming back to work in the barnehage. I’ve been away a lot this semester, due largely (though not entirely) to my teaching commitments, so I felt less in tune with the place than I would have liked. In any case, I have good friends there, and Felix will continue to go there, so I’ll maintain a connection with the staff and the children. Several of the children in my class have just turned four, and I’ve been working with them for three years. To see them grow up from babies to chatty, clever little people who can write their own names in the role book is quite extraordinary.

Michael has been away this week but it is much less exhausting being alone with Felix now he is a little older. Can’t wait to spend more time with my little man throughout July. He’s so incredibly entertaining at the moment, and loves acting out scenes from his favourite Thomas the Tank Engine stories with his trains and buses, complete with snippets of dialogue and renditions of the theme song.

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Sixteen months: brought to you by balls, bubbles, puddles

In a couple of days, my darling, you will turn sixteen months old. You amaze us every day. You make us laugh. A couple of times this week you stretched your normal 6am wakeup to 4.30 am, which we weren’t exactly thrilled about, but as you smiled at us sweetly, your father had to ask ‘could you be any cuter?’ You took your first steps over a month ago but it has only been in the past couple of days that you’ve been comfortable just walking around everywhere without having to think about it too much. I think it’s made you much more relaxed in general. Today you were running in circles around your father in the kitchen, giggling.

Your latest words are ‘shut’, and ‘keys’. You are quite frustrated when doors are shut, but at least you have a word for it now. You are pretty much obsessed by songs with actions, and there are several we watch together on youtube every day, in addition to songs that go with your boardbooks, songs you learn in barnehage, and songs we sing in the car and in the bath. Some of your favourites right now are ‘Down at the station’, ‘Insy Wincy Spider’, and a very silly one on youtube called ‘Uh-huh’ (actually you really like all the youtube clips from Super Simple Songs). You adore your books and have taken to toddling off to pick the one you want to read next and bringing it back to me. Your favourites at the moment are any with flaps to lift, and any about trains. You love pointing out animals and practicing your animal sounds.

This weekend your parents were a bit grumpy and tired, but together we turned it all around. As it was raining today and we couldn’t think of anything else to do, we went across to the big shopping centre in Sweden again. Your father bought you hundreds of balls. When you discovered them after your nap, you couldn’t believe it. ‘Ba! ba!’ you said, tottering over to them and plonking yourself in.

Later I made us a cake. I turned 33 this week and took two of these cakes to work on my birthday, but I decided we needed one all to ourselves. It turns out a family of three can demolish a sponge roll in one sitting, even if one family member is less than a meter tall. (It’s also probably time a sponge roll featured on my blog again. Our new oven is better for baking than our old one. I’m always tempted to try out variations such as chocolate and raspberries, but I will record here for posterity that you cannot beat a sponge roll with strawberries and cream.) You insisted on eating your piece with a spoon. Mermos was also impressed and snuck in through the kitchen window to lick up the cream.

Just before your bedtime, the sun finally came out, so we headed into the garden. You ran around the trampoline for a while and had a poke in the sandpit, but got frustrated trying to walk on the lawn in your gumboots so I took you over to the driveway. Oh my. We have the best puddles. The cats couldn’t quite work out why you wanted to stand in the middle of them.

I remember a card my Mum had sent me half way through my pregnancy, with a photo of a little boy toddling down a lane. And it’s hard to say exactly what I felt, except that it was somehow momentous, seeing you stamp around your very first chain of perfect puddles, and pick yourself up when you fell.

Quiet Saturday Morning

Last night I stayed up till midnight, for the first time in nearly four months. I did feel like crawling into bed around 10, and I was slightly ill with tiredness by the time I got there, but still – midnight! We had some of Michael’s international work colleagues over for dinner. I made roast tomato and carrot soup (yum), and then we had falafels, homemade hummus (I think I’m perfecting the recipe, and topped it with toasted sesame seeds), fried halloumi, roasted peppers, tzaziki, olives, sundried tomatoes, pita bread, potatoes, and a green salad with lettuce, cucumber and avocado. (It was fun expanding the cheese horizons of the Americans – one of our guests had never tasted Halloumi before, and I also gave her some Norwegian brown cheese to try, which she was pleasantly surprised by.) Then at Michael’s insistence (and after a decent pause), I made my childhood favourite: chocolate self-saucing pudding, which was appreciated by all. The kitties were the stars of the show, and enjoyed trying out the different laps, and cavorting with a toy mouse in front of an audience.

This morning Michael’s off at yet another meeting. I’m deciding whether to head off to the shops in Sweden (to be sucked in by a sale at my beloved Iittala outlet), or just to bug down here. Most of all I’d like to go for a coffee with one of my Adelaide friends, or cousins, or Aunts, or my Mum or Dad or brother. I wish there was a fairy who could whisk up our house and our lives and plonk them down somewhere in the Adelaide hills.

My Grandma had a knee replacement operation this Wednesday, and she is recovering well to our great relief. It was a really annoying operation, as she had it done a few years ago, but they discovered they had put in a faulty part that was shedding bits of metal into her knee, so had to take it out and do it again. The first time she had a quite a scare with clotting problems, but this time they were keeping an eye on that from the outset, so it’s all going well. I send her and Granddad all my love and I’m so glad it’s all going smoothly. (In true G&G style, they spent the two weeks before the operation on a bus tour of outback Queensland!)

And two more of my dear Adelaide friends have had a daughter! My poet friend and his wife now have a little Beatrice! (So four of my best friends have, between them, a Beatrix and a Beatrice, born only a couple of weeks apart.) I know my poet friend really loves the Paradiso, and listened to it on audio-book when he was recovering from his stroke. Beatrice is a lovely name – all light and hope and exploration.

So most of all I’d like to see my Grandma, and meet the little Beatrices, but there will be time enough for that next year. In a couple of weeks I get to meet my cousins and my Aunt for a weekend in Berlin, and the Michael’s parents are visiting, and in October I’m zipping across to the UK for a weekend to see my Leeds friends. And my family are with me here, even in the food I cook: Mum’s and Grandma’s chocolate pudding, Dad’s hummus, and the roasted peppers that my cousin Sal learnt how to make when she worked in a cafe.

This week Autumn has arrived – a chill in the air, a smell of apples and woodsmoke, and torrential, flooding rains. I’m loving our little house at the moment – I’ll post some ‘after’ pictures of all the work we’ve done soon. In other news, I’m 17 weeks now, and I don’t feel pregnant at all! In fact I feel better than I did before I got pregnant… We have another scan in a week – it will be nice to confirm that the little thing is still in there! Love to all. xxx

Flowers for Kate

The celebration of Kate’s life was a week ago. I couldn’t make it, but I was thinking of her. I found this beautiful tribute from her supervisor. And I read the transcript of the celebration. They wanted it to be a celebration, because she was a beautiful person and the only way she lives now is in our memories. They asked her friends to bring a garden flower to leave on her grave. These were all I could find.

Last night

Orange-fringed clouds at ten pm. A break in the rain. The grey, swollen river. I walk slow so as not to slip on the boards. At the harbour, a rather good band pump out melancholic Norwegian pop songs to an almost empty tented pavilion. The lead vocalist is the drummer. He is mesmerising. Families stroll with dogs and children. The ground is shiny and wet. The air has that beautiful cold smell of autumn. The restaurants on the harbour are still fairly full but the mood is muted. As I walk back over the bridge, the sheen of the streetlights on the drenched ground reminds me momentarily of snow.

Adelaide

I always find blogging more difficult from here. I guess it’s because many of the people who read the blog are just around the corner. But it’s been good. I’ve been hanging out with my grandparents, and my brother, and my old friends. And it’s good good good. There’s something about old friends which is just great. I also met my one year old second cousin who is cute.

Up until yesterday the days have been shiny and warm and bright. Yesterday it started to rain. After an initial grumpiness (yes I know Adelaide needs rain but not during my holiday) I let myself enjoy it. The white twisty trunk of the gum tree near my parents’ deck is now grey and slippery like wet silk. The air smells clean. The birds croak and chatter and fly about between the newly washed leaves. And the rain, when it comes, is sudden and fresh and noisy on the tin roof, and not like European rain at all.

Another funny thing happened last night. I was drinking a beer with my brother in the verander of a pub, and a very friendly lawyer kept popping out for a smoke. He chatted to my brother, and when he discovered that my brother is an artist, he gave him his card so he can invite him to his next exhibition. Then he asked me what I did, and when I said I had just finished a PhD in literature, he said his sister Kate is into literature too, she’s a poet. ‘Kate who?’ I asked, but I already knew. Kate Deller Evans and I had our first collections of poetry published together in New Poets Seven back in 2002. He said he was seeing her later, and he’d say hello. Living on the other side of the world, I have become unused to all this synchronicity!

Why you should still love Les Murray

I felt so tired this morning that I promised myself an early night tonight. Why is it not possible to get more done? I am making progress but I wish it were quicker.

I am working on my Les Murray chapter. I like his work very much. I’m not sure my chapter will do him justice. Actually, ‘like’ is not the right word at all. I adore his poems. He is a genius. His politics are also terribly problematic and unfortunately I have to deal with them in the chapter. But they don’t make me adore his poetry any less. (Not every single poem, but a lot of them.) I came across this beautiful review by Clive James that sums up one of the things so brilliant about him. He says Murray is an example of the way poets are ‘ unfairly interesting, as if they didn’t deserve to get so much said in such a short space’:

‘The severed trunk
slips off its stump and drops along its shadow.’

Not only do you wonder how he thought of that, you imagine him wondering too…

There is another good example in ‘The Power-line Incarnation’, a poem about how it feels to clear fallen power-lines off the roof of your house and find them to be still transmitting their full load of electricity.

‘When I ran to snatch the wires off our roof
hands bloomed teeth shouted I was almost seized held back from this life
O flumes O chariot reins
you cover me with lurids deck me with gaudies…’

The non-Australian reader need not think that there are outback Australians who call wires flumes. ‘Flume’, meaning an artificial channel, is Middle English following Old French, and comes out of the dictionary, not out of colonial usage. But the flumes, lurids, and gaudies seem appropriate here because the shock has sent the narrator back to the roots, of language as of life; the voltage has impelled a Jungian power-dive into the collective unconscious.

Isn’t ‘flume’ a lovely word? It sums up for me the electric shiver I get like get from moments like this in Murray’s poetry. Instead of writing my chapter I would like to write pages and pages about these incredible phrases. His bat poem for example. And oh, there are millions and millions. (If you click over to James’s review he discusses a few more.)

But these magic phrases are not the only thing that is wonderful about Murray’s poetry. He has all these elaborate theories about Australian identity, involving fusions of Aboriginal poetry, and Catholicism, and Gaelic poetry, and the Middle Ages, and the poor farmers, and about how he experiences belonging in the country the same way the Aboriginals do but also in the same way his Scottish ancestors did. Which of course is terribly problematic and you can’t really do that, and in designating certain groups as truly ‘Australian’ he’s alienating a huge proportion of the population.

But – I don’t think his poetry is brilliant simply in spite of his weird politics and his intense spiritual visions. I think they’re bound up together somehow, they come from the same place. So while I can unpick the unsettling way he aligns the Middle Ages with Australia, in some ways I don’t want to, because his vision is compelling and marvelous. It is a myth, yes, and there are real problems with some of the things he implies, but what he gives outweighs by far anything we can objectively say is problematic about his poetry.

And I was going to talk about how reading his ‘The Idyll Wheel’ – a suite of poems based around the Australian seasons – while holed up in my study listening to The Magic Flute in a snowy Norwegian February made me cry. But I have to go to bed now otherwise my new curfew will count for nothing and I will be a slow writer tomorrow morning. But the poem reminded me of how some weird woman on TV in England said she’d hate to have a Christmas in Australia because you’d know winter was just around the corner, and I thought – she knows nothing, winter is the least of their problems right now. Winter is unimaginable right now. As Les knows well:

Weedy drymouth Feb, first cousin of scorched creek stones,
of barbed wire across gaunt gullies, bringer of soldered
death-freckles to the backs of farmer’s hands. . .

. . .

. . . needy Feb, who waits for the raw eel-perfume
of the first real rain’s pheromones, the magic rain-on-dust
sexual scent of Time itself, philtre of all native beings

An eventful journey

Today we explored a windy Monaco. (I mean windy as in lots of wind – but I guess the streets are windy as in curvy too.) There are extremely posh Christmas decorations. The buildings are a strange mix of extravagant and tumble-down. A miniature apartment will cost you two million euros.

There are steps and elevators everywhere. Driving (and helping whoever is driving avoid crashing into cars or pavements or the walls of the underground car park) is terrifying. Locals park their cars on footpaths, half a centimetre away from stone walls and the cars behind them. But the sun shone brilliantly and from the window of our warm apartment it looked positively summery.

Getting here was another matter altogether. We drove up from Barcelona, setting off at about half past four on boxing day, planning to get half way. (What were we doing in Barcelona, I hear you say – cheap flights.) It rained and rained. The motorway was closed because of snow, and we were re-routed around the coast. We drove slowly, taking comfort in the caravan of other re-routed traffic. As we descended into a seaside town, I looked down at the fierce white waves through the blackness. The ocean’s going crazy, I said. We drove lower and lower, towards the sea foam. The road was on a cliff above the sea, but the waves were reaching it. Traffic slowed to a snail’s pace. I was afraid. It was a different fear from a customary – oh this is a bit hairy but we’ll be ok. It felt like there was a small but undeniable possibility that things could go badly wrong. A wave buffeted my window. I decided that being swept out to sea in a little car would not be my preferred way to go. And then another wave, huge, hovered above us before smashing down and completely engulfing the car. The car didn’t budge, but we couldn’t see a thing. When it cleared, we inched forward. Shortly after this we reached the town centre, and it was clear that the worst weather had already passed. The beach and the roads were covered in rubble. Two telescope machines – you know the ones you put money in and then you can look out to sea – were completely smashed. The police directed us onwards, upwards, towards snowy roads that snaked around the cliffs.

We kept passing abandoned cars stuck in the snow. Again the worst had passed, and we travelled on without a problem. The motorway was still closed. The third time we tried to rejoin it, we had to negotiate our way through a traffic jam of cars that wanted to go the other way (the road toward Spain was shut). Finally, we made it on to a near-deserted motorway. On the other side, a long, silent line of at least one hundred lorries had decided to call it a night.

Looking at the bright blue sea, you’d never know.

Strategies

Tried a new work strategy today of writing down everything I did and how long it took me to do it (hat-tip to galaxy). Not counting breaks and procrastination, I worked solidly for five and a half hours. That’s a bit embarrassing, but there you go. I’m tired now. My brain doesn’t want to make any more connections. The first thing I did was read over the last third of chapter 5, and identified the problem I was skirting and needed to be solved. I then re-read a few chapters/articles to help me clarify what I needed to understand. I then made a list of possible arguments/conclusions/implications. This cut through the block I had, as previously I had felt that I needed to come up with the answer straight away, couldn’t do it, and so avoided it. This time, I let myself think: ok, it might not be this, but it might be. And it might be this… Otherwise you manage to talk yourself out of all possible arguments and you never get anywhere.

Then I went back to another major critic and tried to clarify some more things. Realised that the problem I was having in chapter five was linked to some major contextualisation and positioning work that I need to do in the introduction. So wrote a list of things that I want to address in two to three paragraphs tomorrow, which will go into the introduction.

I’m still feeling a bit wary of theories and methodologies, but it’s got to be done. And attacking it through a problem that needs to be solved in my final chapter will (I hope) give me the clarity I need to start bringing it all together. I ended up with eleven scrawled pages of notes, and a couple of paragraph fragments that might make it into the thesis somewhere.

Even though this is still slow-going, at least I worked in a sensible, methodical manner today instead of throwing my hands up in despair. One day at a time!

Also, luckily, it’s raining. Rain is good for writing, good indeed. From my desk, I can see it channel down off the tin roof and hear it land in the courtyard puddles.

Rain

It’s raining, again. I want it to rain forever. I watch the trees and bushes of my street sway in the grey wind. It’s seven a.m. An hour ago (she’d worked out the time differences wrong) my cousin rang to tell me one of my best friends had a stroke last night. He’s 31.

There’s no one to talk to. I thought writing might help – not him but me. I feel sick.

He’s a poet. We used to pour over drafts together in the university refectories. When his book got published a couple of years ago it was strange to see the poems on the white pages like finished beings. Endless permutations of each were still embedded in my mind. He’s a perfectionist. Often he would scrap a whole poem and just save one line, which would sometimes take years to find a home. I remember the poem he was writing when I first met him. It was going to be a sonnet. It ended up a single line in a very different poem.

My cousin says he can’t talk clearly or move his arm, but they think he understands people talking to him. They don’t know how bad it is. He has been ill for years. He’s coped, but he looked dreadful when I saw him this February. They’ve done all sorts of tests but no one knows what’s wrong. It’s just stupid.

I’ve never seen anyone so in love as my friend and his wife. They met as teenagers and married young, and have been happy. I can’t imagine what she is feeling.

I feel sort of close to him in this grey rainy stillness. We used to stay up all night together finishing our last minute English essays. I remember standing outside with him in the early hours of the morning under my veranda in the rain. Adelaide rain, at night – dark, glossy, strong. In my memory, Adelaide rain is always exciting and vibrant and full of life. My friend has written the most beautiful rain poems.

I don’t know if it’s raining in Adelaide but if it is I hope he feels it. I hope where he is, in his body, in his mind, there is a place of stillness, where water falls, and calms and washes and restores. I hope the rain brings life. I don’t know how to pray any more, but I want the rain to be my prayer. All night, without ceasing.

Hikers in the Mist

Yesterday I climbed Ingleborough with the Leeds uni hiking club. Ingleborough is one of my favourite places, and one of the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales. This status (its height, not my fondness) has led to the construction of the ‘three peaks challenge’, where you climb Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent, all in one go. This is 37.5 km, and a couple of years ago I did it in 10.5 hours, though I could barely move afterwards. Yesterday it was just Ingleborough, but unfortunately we didn’t get much of a view! We also got soaked to the bone (well, to the socks and the undies, which is worse), and spent far too much time standing around in the wind and the cold, waiting for stragglers or looking at rocks. The walk leader was a geology student – fair enough if the sun is shining. But it was nice to get out of Leeds. It’s such an amazing mountain, speckled with white limestone. Hopefully one day I’ll see it again in fairer weather.