Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amaia's glasses






Marcel dropped by for a few hours last week. Well, more truthfully, Marcel and his flatmates turned up here at 1am one night last week as they'd been at a gig that finished after the last train back to Edinburgh, and stayed till breakfast. Given how little Marcel is home, he deliberately got up at 8 to say hi to the wee ones. Immediately on seeing Amaia in her new (week-old) specs, he shrieked 'Jesus, who's shrunk mum, that's just scary!' Not sure I see it...?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Multicultural life descending into a government rant


Thomas cut the grass for the first time last weekend. I cut the edges. As I stand in the kitchen looking out over my garden, everything looks so familiar. I've lived ten years in this house, the longest I have lived anywhere other than with my parents during my childhood. The spring flowers are in bloom everywhere... And yet I feel like a spectator looking at something I find hard to recognize. It looks like my garden, it feels and smells like my garden, like my garden always looks. Yes, there are more spring flowers because every year I plant another few bags full, but otherwise nothing has changed, and yet it feels as if everything has changed. I struggle to recognize the world around me. Someone has taken it and flipped it on its head. The unimaginable has become boring and mundane. Just when you think nothing can surprise you any more, things take a new dramatic turn... The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and I for one am no longer feeling bien dans ma peau.

That's how things are in families like mine - some phrases and idioms come to you more readily in another language than your own. We are mixed-up citizens of nowhere and citizens of everywhere. A multiprise will never be an adjustable spanner, clous de girofle took many years to become cloves for me and although I know contreplaqué when I see it, I'm never sure if the English is chipboard or plasterboard.

And the languages and dialects are multiple - I grew up speaking only English, but of course my parents and more strongly, my grandparents spoke mostly Scots so from as early as I can remember I've been filtering more than one set of vocabulary on input and changing it for output. Uni brought French and German, then Italian and Swedish. After that I learnt the German dialect from Saarland - my first mother-in-law did try to speak to me in Hochdeutsch but always forgot a sentence in and so Kartoffeln slowly became Krumpe (though I've never written it down so I'm not sure of the spelling), a Hose became a Buks and that list became much longer than my arm - Mein liever Mann! Next up came Danish, of course and simultaneously with that came some more Swedish, some Norwegian and of course Schwäbisch (although my father-in-law doesn't speak much of it in my presence, it is Thomas's native form of German so can't be avoided.) We've just finished watching all three series of Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf (highly recommendable but beware the title is the only bit you'll understand if you only do Hochdeutsch!)

We dabble with little bits of other things of course - we went through an Icelandic phase a few months ago where we tried to guess how many words we could get without the subtitles and we actually spend our Saturday nights playing other similar games. We often find some Icelandic word strikes us simultaneously as cute while watching a drama and we turn to each other and ooh and aah in a way that is possibly inappropriate to the gruesome victim of a crime that is being uncovered as we smile at the words. We analyse cases and tenses and word order as we listen to the unknown - of course Thomas has a hell of a head start having both linguistics and old Norse but I can hold my own trying to follow Icelandic all the same - I know which questions to ask and he knows the answers, which kind of makes us the perfect couple - perfect for each other anyway, as no one else would want to spend their Saturday nights watching Icelandic snowstorms while analysing the genitive form of personal names!

There has not been a day for the last 32 years where I have not heard more than one language at home. I know to many people that makes us freaks, but it is the very essence of who we are and that is why the current political situation feels like it has cut us adrift and left us floating in a limbo where we've lost our identity. If the 23rd of June felt like a vote to invalidate the lifestyle we have chosen, May's ever-increasing right-wing agenda feels like an annihilation of everything we hold dear.

We are multicultural, multilingual, we embrace diversity. It almost feels like May has a window into my soul and she's attacking everything that makes me who I am. Leaving aside the appalling treatment of EU citizens who have lived here decades, who are the parents of UK children; their being hung out to dry and treated with contempt on a daily basis (that is a whole blog posting in itself), the things that matter to me are making sure there is health care for all, a net for people who fall sick, care for the disabled, help when people lose their job (even after they have had their third kid!) We now have unqualified administrators quizzing women about rape here in the UK, ffs! When 90% of rapes are never prosecuted, how few people will be able to claim help for their child, and how many victimized women and children will simply be pushed into poverty? It feels like we're one step from third kids having to wear some sort of symbol denoting they are the result of rape just to get a free school lunch and that makes me feel sick to the stomach. She wants to drag us out of the single market leaving us free of any trade deals for up to a decade when the country is at breaking point through her party's austerity measures. People voted for this because they were desperate and they believed the lies - when their situation becomes worse rather than better, we'll have riots. Her recklessness terrifies me. She wants to roll back human rights and environmental protections, she wants to court Trump and every dodgy Saudi Arabian arms dealer. She wants to invest billions in WMDs when there are children and pensioners who can't afford food and heating. She wants to bomb Syria then refuse asylum even to unaccompanied minors. It beggars belief. God knows my house is full but I'd have them here under my roof if it could help them - they're simply people who, unlike me, have not won the postcode lottery of birth. The bottom line is that everything I believe in is diametrically opposed to what the current government is pushing and now she's called an election to increase(!) her number of seats as the people of England seem to think she's by far the best thing on offer. Look at that list. This is the best thing on offer!?

I am actually incapable of understanding how anyone could think like that. When you remove free health care, you are saying that there are circumstances when it is ok to refuse someone treatment on the grounds of their income. It becomes acceptable to say 'You don't have enough money so we are willing to let your child die of a curable illness.'  I cannot comprehend that. When you remove people's rights to claim tax credits for a third child, you are saying it is fine to have number three starve if you lose your job. They claim it is to deter poorer people having a third child but when I think back to my own situation, my household was earning over £100K (and had paid many, many years of tax) when we decided to have number three. Under those circumstances, a third child is a valid and fairly uncontroversial option. I was not to know that a year later I'd be separated from the father with an income cut of 80%. I would love to know where it is the Tories think you can take the kid back to when hard times hit? Their world is very simple, but the real world isn't as black and white. My list of questions is endless. I would like to ask why as the mother I can't claim tax benefits for my number three but my ex-husband can start a new family and claim for two more new kids? I'm allowed two but my ex-husband is allowed four - hmmm. I would like to ask why my second husband, who had no kids, can't claim anything for his first two kids because he is forced to take on the financial responsibility left behind by the father of my first two? Realistically the very bottom line is that no one should ever have a third child even on over £100K because these days circumstances can change. Someone can be made redundant, fall ill or die crossing the road - oh yeah I forgot she's cut widow(er)'s allowance too. This is the best option, really? I feel sick and disgusted.

I feel an ever-growing desire to run as far away from the UK as my legs will carry me and never ever return.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Teeth and toes: a question for the musicians


I am not very musical. I mean, I enjoy singing along to the kitchen ipod while I am doing the dishes as much as the next man, but my ability to read music and play an instrument is almost nil. I don't even have the excuse kids have today that they didn't learn anything; music reading and recorder playing were compulsory in my day from the age of 7 to the age of 13, so I had ample opportunity to learn to read music, I was just crap at it. Given a whole day I could sit with a piece of sheet music, reciting Every Good Boy Deserves Favour over and over and writing it down, or even count the spaces as FACE but as for reading it at the speed you were meant to - no chance and the difference between wee coloured-in notes and wee blank ones, not a scooby...

So it never ceases to amaze me that Léon has managed to learn to play the violin. For a while, I figured he was ok, because his teacher was ok, but over the last year I've noticed he seems to actually know more than he's meant to. He decided to play with a couple of girls from his class (who have been attending the same music lessons). One day he mentioned that while they could only play with sheet music, he could memorize tunes after playing them just twice so didn't need to bother taking his music with him. I was well-impressed. I did, after all, take five years to learn Silent Night on the recorder (and can only play the chorus). I then found out that while the others bought music they wanted to play, Léon simply asks you to sing him a tune and then he can play it back to you. Recently because the school didn't have the sheet music for Lion King, he was asked to write it out for them, as he had taught himself to play it from listening to the movie. Then the others in the school could join in too. He was extremely proud when the head singled him out for special praise for having written the score for the show. I know this simply sounds like a bragging post, but you know me, I don't do bragging...

So there I was sitting yesterday in the living room, when he confided in me. 'Mum, do you know how I can write the music for the shows when the others can't?' Of course I didn't! So he went on to explain. 'I practise the music all the time when I don't have my violin here' Well that blew my mind to start with! How can you practise a song till you get the notes right, without the instrument you are playing the notes on? He grinned and pointed to his teeth. (Curiouser and curiouser). 'See my two big front teeth? I imagine them to be the first two strings, then I skip a tooth because of the spacing on the violin and use the next two.' Use the next two? What the hell does that mean? 'I play my top teeth by touching them with my bottom ones. Because I know what the notes sound like I listen to them in my head till I get it right and then I can play a tune straight off, no errors'. WTAF??? I must have looked dubious because he continued 'When I don't have my socks on, I can play the carpet with my toes too! And when I am sitting at a table, I can strum the table with my fingers. Because I am right-handed, I do it with my right hand, so that means I could play the tune on my violin with either hand, although I'm meant to use the left one!' Well blow me away! He hears the notes in his head when plucking invisible strings on his teeth and toes!!! I am gobsmacked. So here's my question to the more musical amongst you (ie the professional musicians on Thomas's side of the family!): Is my kid a weirdo, or do all musical people play silent musical notes on their teeth or toes till they get it right? In other words - is he normal or should I be saving up for a therapist/strait-jacket already?!

Unfathomable nicknames

I had a vague memory from my childhood about a chat I had either with my mum or my dad about nicknames. They told me they had ruled out the name Andrew for any male child as they disliked the name Drew, although they didn't mind Andy. With that in mind, I wasn't 100% sure about calling Charlotte Charlotte when she was born. I liked Charlotte, and didn't mind any of the Lottie diminutives but my downstairs neighbour at the time (a bloke named Charles (Charlie to his mates)) had a young daughter who was about four years old, named Charlotte (Charlie to her mates), and I wasn't too fond of that sort of androgynous name, so it worried me our Charlotte could end up a Charlie too. Incidentally, Marcel used to refer to the neighbours as 'that pair of Charlies downstairs', which made me smile, given he was only two!

We eventually plumped for Charlotte, figuring we could steer the direction and hoping the Charlie downstairs would make it less likely we'd end up with two in the one close. Also, given we spoke French at home back then, the Lotte syllable was the most prominent in the pronunciation of her name. At first she was only Charlotte, then once she started crawling and wrecking Marcel's lego, she became 'Naughty Lottie' and eventually dad shortened that to 'Lots'.

Today, at home, in the family, she's Lots, and to her schoolfriends she's still only Charlotte. I have the odd friend from her toddler days who still refers to her as Lottie, but that's about it, or was about it, until the unforeseen happened.

Léon started calling Charlotte Chim! Chim? Chim? CHIM? Where the hell did that come from? It must have started three or four years ago. After hearing 'Chim will you....?' for the tenth time one afternoon, I shouted at him 'Where the hell did Chim come from?' His deadpan reply 'It's short for Chimmy Chamallow Lot'. Well, now I know! On further pressing, he explained Charlotte had bought  him a bag a marshmallows in Primark, that were named Chamallows, so he expanded that first to Chamallow Lots, then to Chimmy Chamallow Lots, then immediately reduced it because it was too big a mouthful, but somehow he ended up reducing it to part of the name that wasn't part of the marshmallow's name or Charlotte's own name. Confused? Me too!

When I had Charlotte, did it ever cross my mind her brother would shorted it to Chim? Nope (funnily enough)! No amount of forethought would have avoided that one, so I guess Charlotte will be Lots to five of us, and forever Chim to Léon.



When I had Amaia, there seemed, of course, only to be one obvious short form: Maia, and for the first couple of years that was how it went. She was called Amaia, or Maia by both friends and family.

How simple. How predictable... Spoke too soon.

At dinner one night maybe two or three years ago, I thought I heard Marcel mumble 'Mike, can you pass me the salt?' While still looking round the table for the visitor I had obviously not spotted in the large crowd that is my family, Amaia, without a second glance, picked up the salt and passed him it. I must have misheard... A few weeks later, I overheard Léon shout something upstairs that sounded remarkably like 'Do you want any noodles, Mike?' and again Amaia replied. This was getting weird. How do you get Mike from Amaia? Am I just thick, or what? So I asked. Yet again, the explanation was contrived - 'Well', Léon told me, 'when Amaia was wee, Marcel used to call her Maia. Sometimes he'd use silly voices to make her laugh so occasionally, he'd call her Mai-ers, which sounds like Myers, so he lengthened it to Mike Myers, and then shortened it to Mike, so we both call her Mike as well as Amaia!' 

OMG! Are there not already enough names to learn in this bloody family without renaming people after bags of marshmallows and famous actors? At least the Amaia one, I kind of understand, I still have no clue where the Chim came from, but quite frankly, I'm scared to ask for a deeper explanation as I'm sure it'll blow my mind completely.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Speckyitis

Various members of my family have down with a new ailment over the past two or three weeks - speckyitis. Sigh.










Given I've been wearing specs for reading since my early 40s and Thomas and Amaia have now joined the full-time wearers brigade, that only leaves Charlotte, Marcel and the hamster to go before we can apply for a whole pack of guide dogs!

Friday, April 07, 2017

Modern kiddie pastimes

With the immaculate timing of freelance, the two weeks of full-time work I'd been expecting last December turned up the first day my kids were off school for two weeks and one day for Easter... have I mentioned how much I love my job recently? So I have been trying to work 8-30->1 every morning and then 8-30 in the evening till around midnight, so they aren't completely left to their own devices.

On Wednesday, I asked them to find something to do while I was busy, and stupidly thought they'd read a book or watch a movie - how very last century of me. After two days of silence and camaraderie (I should have known they were up to something!) Léon presented me this morning with this! I presume that is what they 'found to do'!