Well, would you look at that?

>> Tuesday, 12 April 2016

It's been a month since I last posted.  A month. How did that happen?  Actually, scratch that question; I suspect that all I need to say is 'Easter Holidays' and anyone who has, has had, or ever plans to have, children attending school will probably understand.

The little darlings are back in class today though, so life has resumed it's normal rhythm.  Which is to say, I have been kicked out of the office because Husband is 'working from home' this morning and so I've been banished to the dining room table.  Not, in itself, that much of a hardship since it's closer to the tea and biscuits.  And the chocolate.  And the left-over Dutch Easter bread.  And - oh, jesus, I have to stop this right now.

*casts desperately about for a change of subject*

You might have noticed that productivity has fallen off a cliff as far as this blog is concerned.  That's because I have been 'finishing' The Great Work, aka My Novel.

*pause whilst tumbleweed rolls through the streets of 'Oh, Who Cares?'*

(Apologies for the gratuitous use of caps in the last couple of lines; they are of course totally unmerited, but, you know, it's My Blog.  So...)

An explanation now for the use of apostrophes around the word 'finishing'.  (A few of lines above  this - come on, keep up...).   Anyone who has ever spent *mumbles incomprehensively* years attempting to write a novel will probably know how difficult it is to actually finish it.  Especially a first novel.  An un-comissioned, un-represented, probably un-wanted first novel...

But, you know, that's just detail.  The difficulty that I'm trying to communicate here is in the finishing.  Because every time you think you've completed your ms (short for 'manuscript' - get me with the writer talk), you spot another typo.  Or a novice mistake.  God, the novice mistakes...  For example, if you're writing an observational passage in which a man has an unspoken thought, is it necessary to write '... he thought to himself.'?  No.  Of course it isn't.  Because that would be foolish.  I mean, who else would he be thinking it to?

It is, therefore, worth bearing this in mind whilst editing your ms (cough) down to the requisite sub-100,000 words.  If you don't you will just have to go back through the damn thing again to take the offending phrase out, each and every time you've used it.   And during this exercise you will of course find a million other phrases that sound trite, unconvincing or just down-right unnecessary and which will also need to be removed from the narrative for the sake of your sanity and more importantly, to avoid sounding like a 12 year old.

So, when I thought I had finished the ms (feel free to substitute 'damn thing' for ms if that seems appropriate - it did to me), it turned out that actually, I hadn't; there was still a fair bit of weeding to go.  And whilst I was at it, it seemed like a good time to drop in the additional narrative from another character's point of view that not one but two people Whose Opinions I Should Have Taken More Seriously At The Time suggested almost a year ago.  Which of course required a fairly hefty rewrite of about about 30% of the book if I was going to keep it under the 100,000 word limit.


It's done now.  And just to make sure of that I've taken a couple of precautionary measures.

1.  I've started on the next one.  Well, when I say 'started' (again with the apostrophes), I mean I've drawn a few spidergrammes and written the first chapter - the one that I will no doubt edit out in time but which seems essential to the plot right now.

2.  I've submitted the first Great Work to a couple of competitions and a couple of agents.  Will anything come of that?  Who knows.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and at least the ruddy thing is finished.  (Well - until I open it back up and decide to start tinkering again...).


Things I have recently learned...

>> Thursday, 10 March 2016

... since moving back to the UK.

1.  How to bleed a radiator.

This is no small thing when you're living in an older house with an antique heating system, I can assure you.  Waiting for your managing company (we're renting) to send over a handyman to do the job for you gets old pretty quickly - especially when you realise you can buy the tool to do it yourself (a brass radiator key, approx. £2.50 from your local hardware store) just down the road.  OK, so there might have been a slight issue with dirty water squirting out from one of radiators, but what the landlady doesn't see (evidence of) won't hurt her.

And at least now your children - acclimatised to tropical indoor temperatures after 6 years in properly insulated and heated houses in Russia - won't have to sleep under two sets of duvets.

I am Woman with Brass Radiator Key - hear me roar...

2.  How to change a light bulb

Bear with me here.  I DO know how to do this, obviously.  But after 6 years as a cosseted expat in Russia, where - according to our tenancy contract - I wasn't supposed to (I had to call The Management to send over a workman to do it), I must admit to being surprised by the frequency with which it's necessary.  Again, old houses and their suspect wiring, I suppose.

I mean, I DID change light bulbs in Russia, of course I did.  Especially since the alternative in Moscow was waiting at home for a frequently chain-smoking workman to arrive whenever he deemed it appropriate (after finishing his lunch / afternoon tea / morning coffee / not at all), watch him as he took his boots off at the front door, put on his battered tapichki (slippers to you and I), listen to him mutter to himself as he wheezed his way through the house with his plastic bag full of an assortment of different lightbulbs for different light fittings, and endure his rattling smokers cough throughout.

OK, that was just the first guy who used to come, replaced after a couple of years by Ivan Version 2.0 - less wheezy and much more jocular - but the memory of Ivan Version 1.0 lingers, much like the scent of stale cigarettes and B-O that he so generously left behind.

So, on reflection, then and now, much better to do it myself.

3.  How to deal with Husband's misguided assumption that the garden in our new house is my responsibility.

Actually, this one was quite simple.  We recently visited Amsterdam, and passed the flower market.

Husband:  "Shall we buy some bulbs to plant out the back?"

Me:  "I didn't know you like gardening!"

Job done.


Re-acclimatisation milestones for Expats

>> Tuesday, 12 January 2016

I think that this 'saying goodbye to our life in Russia' thing is getting a little bit out of hand.

When we left, I knew that we would miss friends, homes, and the weather.  Yes, the Russian weather.  What?  Never has a British winter seemed more gloomy, damp and grey than when compared to a bright, frosty, minus 15degreeC snow-bound Moscow January.  And don't get me started on missing the relentless social calendar of an expat living in Moscow.

I knew too that we would feel the difference on significant dates.  Boy #2, for example, recently had his first non-Russia based birthday celebration in 6 years.  He noticed that.  Quietly, and without any fuss, but he noticed all the same.  When the yearly photo album contains of images of parties with snow-man building competitions in the back garden and snow fort fights outside friends' houses, +8 in the UK and -8 in Moscow are not at all the same.

But what I didn't know was that I would notice the running down of our Russian supplies, or that this - insignificant as it is -  would give me pause.  It's not that we can't buy photo copy paper here, or baking parchment, or Ikea gift wrap, or any of those things that Husband still hasn't quite forgiven me for including in our shipment back to the UK.

I never meant to include them, by the way, but to simply toss them into the bin seemed too wasteful.  And then I never found time to pass them on - and frankly, fellow ex-expats, how tired did you get of giving a home to other people's unused kitchen supplies when they left the country and in their turn, couldn't bring themselves to throw it away?  I just couldn't bring myself to do the same thing.  Apart from the spices, obviously.  And the vanilla essence.  And the cocoa powder.  All that good stuff was 'gifted' to friends, I have to admit.  (But it was in-date, your honour.  Honest!)

So now I stand in the kitchen, in our new home BackHome, realising that we are about to run out of clingfilm, and that the next time I buy some it won't be the crappy budget version in the grimy and cavernous Auchan hypermarket out at Stroghino, or in the neat, tidy, beautifully presented but hideously overpriced Stockmann's at Metropolis, or even at the mid-range handily local Aliyya Parussa in Shuka, but at Sainsburys down the road.

And that still takes a bit of getting used to.


More Christmas fun and games...

>> Wednesday, 9 December 2015

'I can't go to my activity tonight, Mum.  My tummy hurts...'  This from Boy #2 who, bless him, was exhausted after an afternoon of PE and who understandably didn't relish the prospect of spending an hour racing around the gym doing a martial art.

I was tempted to let him stay home, but then remembered that we are paying for this activity via direct debit (so, the money leaves our account whether he attends the classes or not) and decided that with just one week left to go before the school holidays start, now was not the time to give up.  He's going to get 3 weeks off shortly anyway.  And we want him to learn about the importance of follow-through.  And commitment.  And all that good stuff.

So off we went. Walking through the dimly-lit car park outside the activity centre, he told me again that his tummy hurt.  Once we had ruled out this being a result of his drawstring trousers being tied too tightly (they were, but that was another drama), I asked him when the pain had started.  Before, or after dinner?

'After dinner', he answered firmly, wrongly scenting an opt out.

'Oh, don't worry then.  That's just the sprouts.  You'll be fine when you've had a bit of a run around...' Quietly, I resolved to make sure to sit as as far from the class as possible, for safety's sake.

'Sprouts?' His voice rose in consternation.  'We didn't have sprouts for dinner.  Did we?'

'Yes, we did, actually.'

'But I don't like sprouts!'

'Well, you ate them.'  He looked at me disbelievingly.  'What do you think the green stuff in the chicken stir-fry was?'

'Cabbage?'  I shook my head.  'Spinach?'  Again, no.  'Broccoli?'

'No.  Sprouts.  And you liked them, didn't you?'

He looked at me and turned away in disgust.  'I can't believe you got me to eat sprouts and didn't even tell me.'

I called after him as he entered the gym.  'It's nearly Christmas, Boy #2.  Of COURSE there are sprouts!  You might want to check your cereal bowl tomorrow morning, too.  Who knows where they'll pop up next...'



And you also know it's Christmas when...

>> Thursday, 3 December 2015

... you find yourself eating a Bendicks chocolate mint at 10am because the friends who visited you at the weekend and brought it with them did not do their duty and finish off the box before they left.  Honestly.  Call yourself some of my best mates?

...after your previous post about having run out cinnamon, various friends and relations leave smug comments on your fb feed - or worse, leave links to recipes for cinnamon biscuits.  Oh yes, sis, I'm looking at you... (not a sponsored post, by the way).

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

(Gosh yes my sides are splitting...)


You know it's Christmas when...

>> Tuesday, 1 December 2015

... you find yourself in front of the herbs and spices at the supermarket and realise that the gaping hole under the letter 'C' is where the cinnamon used to live.  It's moved out now, gone into hiding, probably until February.  If you haven't bought your cinnamon by now, you're toast.  Although not the cinnamon-flavoured version, obviously.

...  the £5 pack of smoked salmon in the chiller cabinet seems like a good idea to add to your trolley.  Not that it features on any list, or in any meal you've planned in the next week or so, of course.  It's just that, well, smoked salmon.  Christmas.  Can't have one without the other, surely?

... whilst you're at the till on the same supermarket visit you accidentally knock a packet of gift tags shaped like stars off a display fixture onto the floor.  You pick it up - and buy 3 sets.  Now THAT's what I call product placement.

... on the way home from school, your older son makes a passing remark about needing £2 tomorrow for 'Christmas Mufty Day'.  With a sinking heart, you ask for more details.  "You know, Mum.  When you get to wear your own clothes instead of uniform.  Except that they need to be Christmas clothes."  Which Christmas clothes exactly is he thinking of, you ask.  "Ummm...  the ones you're going to sort out for me?"  By tomorrow, obviously.

...  on your subsequent dash to the shops you not only find the perfect Christmas jumper for your older son at an affordable price, but you see one that takes your younger son's fancy, too.  Closing your mind to the certain fact that by 11am on Christmas morning the jingle bells on the latter will be driving you insane, you buy both.  Because, well, it's Christmas, innit?




>> Thursday, 5 November 2015

I miss Moscow, no doubt about it, but there are so many things to love about living back in the UK and not least of them is how much more engaged my sons are with the world around them.

School helps with this and every week Boy #2's headmaster gives the children a summary during assembly of some of key events events happening worldwide.  Recent highlights include the Syrian refugee situation, and the scandal surrounding exhaust emissions from diesel cars,

Yesterday morning on the school run Boy #2 surprised me by mentioning the fact that one of this week's topics was the fact that the sea ice around Antarctica reached record levels during the last Antarctic winter.  He made no suggestion that this might mean global warming is less serious than many people previously thought, and we discussed the question of whether the gains in the amount of sea ice in the southern hemisphere would cancel out the losses in the Arctic.

On balance, we agreed, that was unlikely.

I did some research when I got home, and unsurprisingly it turns out my 9 year old son was more clued up on this than many of the people a good deal older than him who are spreading misinformation on this topic.

Not only does the increased level of southern sea ice in winter in no way equal the contraction of the Arctic ice cap, it is in fact a tangible sign of climate change.

Why am I posting on this?  Well, in my fb feed today there was a video from the United Nations Foundation (thanks Michelle Garret for the share) promoting #EarthToParis, a call for all of us to get involved in highlighting to our leaders that the time for action on global warming and climate change is not in 100 years time, or in 25 years time, or when a new government takes power after the next elections, but now.

Watch the video - and then, if you're not convinced, watch the one below that succinctly explains in only seven minutes why a few gains in sea ice on the southern ocean in no way counteract the damage that is being done elsewhere.

#EarthToParis; please pay attention and have the courage to make some hard choices.  If not for your own sake, then for your children's.


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