A Note On Domesticity

Today’s kitchen knife has been sharpened. I try and do ’em all quarterly, but I can’t take a full day to sort the lot out, so it’s half an hour a day for ten days or so, setting them up for the next three months of cooking, prising open awkward jars and very carefully levering about through the gap at the top of the stuck draw which would open easily if you could simply use the fish slice instead, but of course, the fish slice is in the draw already and is most likely the thing jamming it shut to start with.

So. No disastrous moments, no abraded, or worse, sliced, epidermis, just the final delight of taking the edge over the 8000 grit whetstone for a while, washing the slurry off, drying the blade and then very carefully brushing it sideways over the pads of your fingertips so that it juuuuust skims over the patterns of your fingerprints and makes the whole blade sing quietly in your hand.

Y’know, if ironing had a moment like that, I might be inclined to be smoothing something over, right this minute.
The best part of ironing I can think of (apart from that 20 minutes or so when you’ve finally got the whole pile finished, and then the next damp heap falls out of the washer and into the bucket, ready for the airer) is fitted sheets. I found a way to fold fitted sheets that leaves them tucked neatly into themselves. The tidiness of the whole thing is amazing, if you’ve ever fought a fitted sheet, and the benefit comes in the moment of picking the packed sheet out of the draw, taking the folded edge in one hand, catching DD Ardeetha’s eye and crying “ABRACADABRA!” or, knowing her, “No, over HERE you little… BUGGER Darling!” and whip-cracking the sheet in your hand so that it bursts open into a big white parachute of Egyptian* cotton. Ardeetha cries out in delight and takes over the sheet, insisting that it’s a parachute (of the playground kind, the kind you all gather around and shake madly, possibly with balls bounding around in the middle and flying off all over the place, menaces to underfoot health and safety that they are). She shakes her side, insisting her toy bears have rides up to the ceiling and back in it and you have to perform prodigies of dexterity as you help three of four other of her toys shake the edges of the sheet, complicated by the way she tries to get them all to spread out around the edge while you need them clutched together with a corner of the bed sheet so the blessed thing goes up and down at all. After five or ten or twenty minutes, when she’s bored or too tired to think straight and is complaining either way, you can get the little darling on her way to bed herself and, an hour later, come back and make your own, with, at least, a very well aired bottom sheet.

*Probably.

Autism, Daughters, Disney.

I completely forgot to record that Ardeetha watched an entire film. That’s, like, all the way through, guys!
Ardeetha, for anybody coming in late, is not her real name, but, if you’ve ever seen Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay in the 1999 version of The Mummy, a character who took delight in travelling strapped to the wing of a Sopwith Camel*, you’ll understand why we nicknamed her after him; in her earlier years, Ardeetha was a real white-knuckle-ride girl, although she seems to have finally grown out of that, I’m sad to say. She seemed to be following in my own lunatic footsteps until she become A Lot Taller than anybody else in her class and lost her head for heights. Come to think though, I had the same problem and outgrew, or at least overcompensated for, it so there’s hope yet.
Anyway. Our ‘deetha is seven, blonde, tall for her age, and located well within the bounds of the Autistic spectrum. A movie’s-worth of attention is unprecedented.

So, background aside and on with the story. It was Friday, 25th of March, 2016 – actually my brother’s birthday, but it might just be celebrated as Ardeetha Attention Day around here from now on. Ardeetha decided that she’d start the first day of the Easter holidays by choosing to wear her Princess Anna dress** from the movie Frozen and Mrs. B. suggested that it might be a good to watch the DVD which has been sitting in readiness for the day when concentration and comprehension combined and Ardeetha could really appreciate what was going on; the average child, by the way, is capable of this level of concentration at four or five at least, so Ardeetha’s sticking to her own rate of about two years behind the curve, educationally, even if she’s four years ahead, height-wise.
Ardeetha agreed that she’d give the thing a try and I sat with her, expecting to get no further than end of the opening credits or, maybe, to the end of the first decent song, but we sat. We watched. We Formed A Heap (that’s where she lolls comfortably over you – comfortably for her that is). With prompting, she booed the real bad guy, although she might not have quite understood why, and then, uniquely, and I mean that as a ‘one of a kind’ moment, we got to the end of the film! Amazing. Alarming. Outstanding. Charming.
Previously, the best Ardeetha has ever done with a film is about forty minutes, and we were borderline stunned by that.

Ardeetha did watch Frozen a couplathree times over the next day or two, but may have got past it now; she hasn’t watched it in the last couple of days at Grandma & Grandpa’s, but she’s becoming highly situationally aware – that is, ‘I don’t do this sort of thing here because I do it over there‘. For example, yesterday, she was footstampingly, growlingly adamant that going to the zoo was NOT going to happen because she only goes to the zoo with Daddy (that’s me). We’ll have to see when she comes home from her visit, later today.

She’s Ardeetha. A trouble, yes, but a trouble who is learning that hugs and kisses bring major rewards – mostly because there’s been so few of them from her in the past. The trick is to savour everything positive, because clutching at straws is better than giving up and drowning in the sea of echolalia, repetitive singing, long quotes from short TV programmes, wandering attention and tired grumpiness.
Yes, this is a small story. A girl watches a film. So what? But it’s our girl, for whom it’s a big, big step. A step that may, one day soon, open up the possibility of such a small thing as going to the cinema – something which Mrs. B. and I haven’t done in years, by the by – we’re out of the habit – but something which I’d always expected to do with my child, just like my father did with me. His choice in films might just have been based on his own tastes, as I got older, after all he was a film buff: it was cruel to make him sit through too many Disney offerings. However, we shared some pretty good films I’d never have seen, otherwise – but that’s another story.

While I think about films, I want to mention the oddness that is accents in Frozen. It’s set (unusually specifically for Disney) in 1840s Norway, but the only person with a nominally Norwegian accent is some guy off in the hills, he’s named Oaken, Mrs. B. tells me, who runs a trading post (and sauna). Why did they bother? Then again, what accent would you have given a Norwegian shopkeeper? Accents are odd things; it took me until I read the subtitles to realise that Princess Anna was Princess Anna and not Princess Honour. Or at least ŏ-nuh. Ah, what am I fussing about? It’s Disney. With Disney, suspend not only belief but reality and racial inclusiveness (well, they are miners of European fairy tales, after all) and just enjoy the cute songs.

I’m glad they never got their hands on Lord Of The Rings, hey?

*It’s a biplane, by the way, and not an airborne ungulate.

**Ardeetha makes a fair Princess Anna. Princess Elsa is far too white-blonde and angular and, let’s face it, icy, to match Ardeetha’s looks or personality, whereas Anna is only slightly more strawberry*** in her strawberry-blondeness than Ardeetha and is a freckled nutcase; Ardeetha is a cheerful combination of fruit’n’nut in her own right, so the character is, if not made for her, then a good fit off the peg.

***People mostly agree on Anna’s hair being strawberry, but whether it’s strawberry blonde, strawberry brown or just plain strawberry is becoming, ah hah, a rotten tomato.

November Anniversary Moment

We’re on a bit of a holiday this week, what with wedding anniversaries and so forth, so I’ve been almost completely banned from writing The New Book. That means I’ve sneaked a thousand or so words in, but that’s close enough to not writing to nearly qualify  as  complying with the ban – at least around here. ‘Mrs. B. is not working, so why should I?’ goes the argument.

Spending some non-work time with Mrs. B. has been very pleasant. To wit, struggling in out of a cold, windy and wet afternoon, we settled down to finish the ‘picnic’ lunch we’d started in the car park of a car supermarket – a new car is called for and they had something roughly matching spec. – while we argued whether zero road tax and low fuel consumption plus a slightly larger engine  with an annoying sun visor beat a smaller engine on a new-this-year vehicle with a smaller engine and, frankly, not so good road tax. I have a feeling that the latter, Mrs. B’s choice, will beat the former – my choice, as you might expect. The visor, however, was a real pain and the car will be doing more travel east-west than north-south, if things continue as usual, making the visor an important feature of the car.

So. There we were, a bowl of green olives, a small plate of salami, a few crisps, iceberg lettuce, an apple and some Earl Grey tea, warm and looking out on a grey and wet cul-de-sac* afternoon and wondering ‘while it could be better, while we could have been somewhere sandy, warm and faintly sweaty, could it get any better than this?’

The taste sensation that is salami and olives and tea was so brilliant I had to note it down. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Italian olives and Italian sausage go well together, but a British Cuppa with a hint of bergamot? That came as a surprise. I was sad to finish my end of the picnic and move on to the decidedly non-Mediterranean flapjacks I’d forgotten to mention above – filling, but more a cardigan of a picnic item than the mouthwatering Linford Christie lycra shorts effect**  of the olives and meat.

And then it was time to Play The Young Mistress Home. A tradition involving playing guitar until Ardeetha Vuvuzela’s taxi swings into sight and developed while waiting for the same to happen. You have to do something while you’re watching from the window and I can stand, one eye ready for movement at its corner, the other reading the stave in front, and get two minutes or five minutes or ten  minutes practice before she rolls in, if the traffic is rotten. This has lead to debate over whether Our ‘deetha would arrive home if I did not, in fact, play the guitar; perhaps, if I didn’t play her home, she would be held in Schrodinger’s Cat Space, neither home nor at school, until I struck some notes. Then, of course, the debate turns to whether an impending child is worse than a late child. Now, from a parental point of view, a late child is probably worse, unless you know why the little darling is late and have joyfully allowed some other poor sucker the parents of one of their little friends to invite them around for tea, but, from the point of view of a couple with their feet up and enjoying some ‘Us’ time, an impending child is a prolonged sunny spell before the All Britain Rain Festival: an unwelcome thing, but something you don’t want to be caught complaining about in the presence of the uninitiated public.

Being nervous about maintaining a child in potentia and doubly nervous of holding her driver there too**** I hoisted the guitar and played a few bars of this and that and, in no time, our own cheerfully grumpy child stomped into the hall, as dejected in arriving at her parents’ house as any “whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school” was in leaving his.

And so the olive-meat-and-tea moment was shattered for ever, never to be quite recreated, Ardeetha actually sat quietly, eating a bagel and getting crumbs on Mummy’s computer, while the sun set behind the grey clouds, light fading to the south along the A34 behind our garden fence and more rain scuttled across the roof, making at least two out of three of us glad we were in here, keeping warm, rather than out there, wishing we were.

Happy Anniversary for Thursday, Mrs. B. Whoever decided we should get hitched in November and not May? Ah yes. Your Mother. Our Mistake: we told her about our engagement.
Good thing too, eh?

 

 

 

*take that as you like. We live in one of those twisty, housing development, get-as-many-houses-in-as-you-can-while-conning-the-punters-it’s-exclusive roads that goes nowhere, apart from reverse gear in the turning area at the end, but the afternoon is very much like that, too.

 

**thank Mrs. B. for that one, not me!***

***”Put the comma where you fancy.” – Mrs. B.

****A punctual man but never a happy one. Ever. Especially at the prospect of being late for his next passenger.

A Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman for NaNoWriMo Authors

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You’re past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You’re not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You’re in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone…

Click the text to see the whole post. [Y’know, I might have to go and create a theme with better definition on these links. I can barely tell there’s one there, I don’t know about you?]

I’m in the doldrums a little, myself, so sharing words from a master of twisted tales is, I hope, also going to inspire me through this awkward moment when most of the major players have just survived a set-piece confrontation, the dust is settling, the ambulances are on their way, they turn to each other and say… and say… uh… PROMPT?

I looked at NaNoWriMo1 a few years ago. Honesty? I thought that anybody committing to an average 1,667 words every day for a month had to be off their rockers. My output, I think, slows exponentially. I seem to do better when I have three half hours than an hour and a half; the problem is, if I stop, I lose the flow of the narrative and I lose the will to go back if I’ve moved on to something else – that’s why I try and write first thing, after the kitchen has been shuffled into some sort of shape, post-breakfast, and before I really have to get on with real-world jobs.
Not to say I don’t have respect for people who can put their heads down and get that novel written in one month. I do feel a bit like a club runner, lean, bibbed with a low starting number and on the start-line ready to run a marathon, only to be surrounded by a crowd of airhorn-blowing 5K Fun Runners dressed as emus and pantomime horses, but, annoyed by the cheering, whooping, happy to be here mob as I might be, I’m still glad they are here, keeping the game alive and almost happy that there are people close by who might just catch the same addiction – that need to get out there everyday, do the distance, get the words or the miles down no matter what the conditions and obstacles, be it shin-splints, writers-block or awkward daughters who want you to stop what you’re doing and make them a sandwich, because waiting ten minutes is twelve minutes too long: in fact, just the problem I’m having this very moment – you don’t get more current than that.

So. Good luck NaNoWriMo People! As the man says:

“…keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you’ll be on the downward slide, and it’s not impossible that soon you’ll be at the end. Good luck…” – Neil Gaiman.

1that’s National Novel Writing Month. On November 1st, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30st. It’s aimed at anybody who ever thought “y’know, I could write a book…” It began in July, 1999 in San Francisco, but was moved to November because the weather was better – for staying indoors and writing, that is. There are no prizes for getting 50,000 words in on time, except an icon which can be displayed on the internet and a inclusion in the list of winners. There’s no registration fee, either. There is a healthy community spirit and help for awkward things like writer’s block, although any professional journalist will tell you there is no such thing (especially if the alternative is explaining the concept to an editor). It’s ‘national’ to the United States of America, but a map of the world displayed on the NaNoWriMo Homepage shows that writers from all over the world participate. The whole thing is very cool.

Zen Pencils and Bill Watterson

I’m not due space to write a post for a little while, but I thought I’d share this cartoon from over at Zen Pencils, based on Bill Watterson’s advice (he of Calvin & Hobbes stardom). The whole thing is incredibly applicable to the way I’ve ended up living my life and I have several million tons of respect for the man, who did what he wanted, stopped doing it when he wanted and never caved, much to his editor’s (or was it his agent’s?) pain, to the demands of the merchandisers, who would have coined it, spreading cuddly Hobbes figures over the world. As well as everything else which could have a picture of the pair stamped upon it, of course. For myself, I would have flipped out at the chance to buy Monster Killer Snow Goons(tm), but that’s a loss I’m willing to live with when I get the chance to check out BW’s ability both as a humorist and as an artist.
Y’know, For years, I pronounced the man’s name as if he were the son of a watter, whatever that is – a person who measures electricity by the yard, maybe – but, according to a moment on the BBC, I understand he’s more a son of water.
Who knew? Apart from him, I mean.

In a rush of enthusiasm, I was going to share the cartoon directly, but I don’t have permission to do that, so it’s up to you click the link, and go and read 128. Bill Watterson: A cartoonist’s Advice.

And hey – Gavin Aung Than and his Zen Pencils blog are pretty cool, too.

Dissonance

?1 n: That moment of acute annoyance when you stand in front of a bookcase holding six more books and realise, no matter how hard you stare at the bloody thing, you are not going to be able to slot, slide or even slip one bus ticket into the collection, let alone six books.

The same sensation is probably experienced by cats when it comes to shut doors and unopened cans of pilchards.
Except they have a better chance of a successful outcome – people rarely have a tame librarian who will, effectively, open the door and the pilchards, scratch between your ears and, by the same incomprehensible method as they employed with the shiny metal thingy to open the door and the shiny, different metal thingy to open the can, create you an extra shelf. Although perhaps, if shiny metal thingies are the secret, I could get a crowbar from the tool shed and…

1The French2 probably have a word for it, even if I cannot call one to mind.

2It’s the sort of thing they do. You can’t stop them. Like their habit of sneering at British food – and no wonder.

Home Working And Its Pitfalls

And there we go.
1,500-odd words, and believe me, grouped together, some of those are pretty odd1 off to the proof-reader in Austria.2 Only yesterday, she informed me, as a friend, you understand, that I needed a better dotage.
Dotage.
What?
OK. This is an inhouse term we use… in the house, actually. If we use it outside, people think we’re barmy – and rightly so, in my opinion.
Only the other day, I heard a woman recounting the tale of her Autistic Spectrum3 uncle and the things he’s added to their own internal family dialect. When he was happy he would exclaim “It’s a double-decker bus ride!” When he was sad, he would cry, in tones of misery “The hills are ALIVE with the sound of MUSIC!”
And I can see what he means.
Not, I hasten to add, that I am suggesting that Autistic folk are barmy. More that the neuro-typical amongst us may have a little more leeway in conventional expression, but still opt for codes which mark us out – possibly as people to move away from as quickly as possible.
So. Dotage.
Once upon a time, Mrs. B. and I had a shared office or study upstairs at the front of the house. It caught the afternoon sun nicely and was a great for watching the world go by when, in fact, I should have been working out Border Gateway Protocol problems and testing router password strengths (using White Hat hacker techniques, of course, for the benefit of the company I was contracting to. Officer.)
Then Our ‘deetha arrived. Eventually, we cleared out the small back bedroom, or Dumping Ground, as I informally termed it, and it became her nursery. Then she grew some more. It wasn’t an ideal nursery, anyway: the pipes from the boiler run beneath the floor and the evening temperature in the summer can reach an airless 27 or 28°C. The front office had to go. With a fair degree of sweating and complaining, I swapped two large, over-laden desks around the house – one to the downstairs front bedroom, the one which used to be a garage and is still insulated about as well, and the other into the back bedroom, which I took as my workspace.
It was at this point that Our ‘deetha started to learn to speak – she was getting on for three and it was about time. Eventually, the questions ‘where’s Mummy?’ and ‘Where’s Daddy?’ started to arise. I was sitting in the back bedroom, ‘playing’5 on the computer, as Mrs. B. would have it, when I heard Ardeetha ask “Where’s Daddy?”
As I called down, there was a sotto voce reply which had far too little in the sotto department, for somebody standing at the foot of the stairs.
“I think he’s in his dotage, sweetie,” muttered Mrs. B. as I called out “Here’s Daddy,” or something similar.
“Oohhhh. Daddy’s in his dotage!”
And off went our girl, happy with both a new word and the position of her acknowledged father.
Eventually, Mrs. B., hankering for space to put visitors and an inveterate house-stirrer and rearranger, demanded I move to join her in the freezing front office and turn my boiling back office into the small bedroom it was designed to be. I complied, holding my back theatrically.
However. In that time, I had quit the joys of IT and was now a full-time stay-at-home parent. Very similar6 to IT, but with even worse pay. I now worked from the kitchen when computer-stuff needed to be done. Left in single possession of the out-of-sight-out-of-mind ‘Mummy’s dotage’, Mrs. B. worked and gently scattered stuff. Stumbling out of there at the end of the day, tidying was not in her mind and, it being ‘her’ area, I didn’t go in to mess. Who wants a well-intentioned but uneducated-in-your-ways cleaner fiddling with the papers on your desk? I used to need a day t least to sort my stuff out again if somebody at work had tried that gag with my desk. I wasn’t about to bring that level of annoyance and acrimony-creating stupidity to my own hearth, etc, etc.
And then Mrs. B. had a brilliant idea. I’d just got the dining area sorted out very nicely. ‘Why’, she thought, ‘don’t I leave this messy, dusty, chilly office and go and work on the dining room table? I am Brilliant!’
This, however, puts her within hearing, very close hearing in fact, of me, in my dotage, in the kitchen.
Now, for me, writing is a lot like reading – mentally, at least. The brain has to sink down into the reality of the story; the world outside fades and there we are, slinking along behind a machete-carrying psycho-killer as they slide up to the Tumnus Household in the forests of Narnia7. Being asked to re-engage the brain to discuss details of a contract, or parking arrangements, or whether there’s WIFI now in Beatrix Potter’s house, or being asked to cha cha, is a real jolt and it takes time to get back into the flow – if you can remember where you were at in the first place.
My proofreader had more than the usual list of ‘I think you may have meant…’ entries; I explained the difficulties, adding “and my feet are cold on these floor tiles” to the list; she, in turn, informed, as a friend, you may remember, that I needed a better dotage. And the only dotage in town is the messy, stirred about, ex-garage, ex-downstairs front-bedroom, now ex-Mummy’s dotage.
Now. Would you think I was being paranoid, if I suggested that I’d suddenly had the suspicion that Mrs. B. had moved slightly, more irritatingly, closer so that I would see the gap and move in to clear the place out, at which point she could return to her rightful place, a place great for watching the world go by when, in fact, she should be digging into that exciting world that is contract management?
Who knows. Around here, neuro-typical is a feature: we try and work around it as best we can.

1Well I mean ’em to be, anyway.

2Isn’t globalisation wonderful?

3I know I mentioned the other day we have the condition as a feature4 of the family, but I don’t intend to go on about it too much. It’s just that the word ‘Austism’ does make the ears prick up. Once, it was ‘paragliding’ or ‘would you like a drink?’ which caught my attention. How life changes.

4As in the IT phrase ‘It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.’ that is, ‘a bug we couldn’t fix but we learned to cope with – here’s the workaround’. A bit like the way Gmail’s ‘five second undo’ feature arose from an approximately five-second delay in getting a sent mail processed. It was simply rebadged as a ‘hey, I forgot to say’ or ‘NOOOOO! I didn’t mean that, bring it BACK!’ device. True, as far as I know.

5I think I was re-purposing one of our old desktop tower systems as a Linux server with Samba, to allow the Windows boxes in the place to share the filesystem, but to the none techy, that’s playing. I am not bitter.

6There’s NEVER a manual when you need one, if things go wrong in public, it’s definitely your fault, no matter what you thought when you started the job, you are on call 24/7 and your working life is commanded by a person who really does have the intellectual and emotional capacity of a toddler. See?

7There’s some pretty weird fanfic out there.