27 September, 2007

things to appreciate


















Do you ever have one of those days when everything you encounter seems like something you just can't live without, and you start worrying about when they won't be there anymore? Or am I just morbidly fearful and Scandinavian? Well, I have those days quite frequently, and so today I've decided to turn myself around and instead of worrying about losing them, just concentrate on being glad I have them. I don't know how successful this strategy will be, going directly counter to my usual method of making even positive things potentially negative, but I'll give it a try.

I have to start with this morning's visit to the "Cafe Rouge" at Avery's beloved school. Every autumn the French teacher organises a coffee morning to benefit the Macmillan Cancer Trust. All the mothers at school are invited to come, in carefully organised groups, and sit in the dining room of the school and be served croissants and coffee by our little gulls. All this is accomplished in what I will again describe as "French," and is very funny. There is a little script on each table denoting what the gulls are meant to say, and what the mothers must say in response. Believe me when I say that any deviation, however small, from this script is met with the blankest of stares. "Bonjour, madame. Bonjour, mademoiselle. Vois avez choisi?" and so on.

Now while I feel understandably that my child is practically perfect in every way, I have to step up and say that her French is not, shall we say, her strongest point. In fact it's dire. How this can be when one of my few talents is foreign languages, I do not know. But even so, we had fun. "Mummy, I'll go get your pain au chocolat, but I don't think you'll really want it, and if you want me to, I can eat it for you." And silly me, I actually asked for three further helpings which it then turned out I did not want. I really think these children would benefit a LOT from having several helpings of pastry at 10:30 in the morning every day. They were all very chipper.

I kept thinking that this time next year, she'll be at a different school, and I will not be welcome anywhere near. I won't be able to buy myself a seat in her school dining room. And soon after that she'll be getting to and from school on her OWN, unbelievably, so no more of my official favorite moment of the day, when she emerges laden with all her clobber and lots of stories about her day. Sob.

Then, get this sad news flash: her uniquely wonderful headmistress has announced her retirement in July. Double sob! From day one, she has been the perfect combination of stiff upper lip and warm hand on one's shoulder. A sense of humour, great tact, genuine love for each child, the whole nine yards. Of course they will find a great replacement no doubt; I would imagine it's a pretty plum job. But it will be an enormous loss. So I stood and chatted with her after the gulls had gone back to class, and we made plans for the Leavers' Annual Book which we're planning to organise all year: a photograph of each child, plus a piece of work from every single one. That will huge fun to accomplish. Sob.

Then, let's see, I sat up very late one night this week and just chatted with my mother. Too infrequently does this happen. It's the time difference, and the general sense that once it's late enough to call her, there's school pickup, homework help, dinner to organise, eat and wash up, bath, stories, songs. But this week I just sat down when everyone else was asleep and we had the nicest time. I got brought up to date on their household projects, and health and cuteness of their new cat, my grandmother's health. And of course there is no better audience than a grandmother for stories about a remarkable child, so I got to spill all my little tales to the one person besides her other grandmother who never gets tired of hearing about Avery. And who is always on my side, in any dispute! I love that.

Also, on the subject of things to love, yesterday I came out of my study to find a note in the hallway from our next-door neighbor saying, "Dear Kristen, Have you lost a torty kitty? There is a very friendly one in the garden that I have never seen before, and I wondered if you had an escapee. Janet." Because yes! Tacy and Hermione have become vagabonds. They discovered, somehow, nearly two years after we moved in, that they can squeeze through my open bedroom window and escape. And after accompanying them a couple of times, I decided that it was worth the tiny risk of some predator being back there (or that rarest of criminals: the kidnapper of worthless mutt cats), and they've been happily coming in and out since, many times a day. Hermione came in once, with something in her mouth. I screamed slightly and said, "John, you've got to go look. If it's dead... and if it's not..." So we both went stealthily over to where her little tabby body was crouched protectively over her prey, and looked. It was a leaf! That first day she went out, she killed at least six leaves and brought them proudly in to give to us, so like fools we find ourselves saying, "Good hunter! Good kitty!" Clearly we both need to get a job.

And yesterday at my class was one of those days when I really adore living in London: the amazing variety of people you meet! Plus I guess when you narrow your cross-section of humanity down to people who want to write autobiographical short fiction, you've already got an interesting bunch. Or at least a memorable bunch. Well, this group of thirteen students promises to live up to its statistical potential. We've got two professional translators: one of Dutch instruction manuals (how big can that market be). He expressed his sort of existential dissatisfaction with his job by observing, "No matter how good you are, and how much you get praised, your greatest accomplishment is in being just like someone else, only in a different language. I need to express MYSELF." In instruction manuals? Why not?

Then, funnily enough, another translator, who's translated all Jean Cocteau's original screenplays. For what purpose, one is tempted to ask, but it's a big city. She's also a psychiatrist, naturally. Then there's a lady who's apparently thrown up her in West Sussex to learn to write her life story, and finds Hammersmith the most confusing place in the world to find one's way around. And a French girl with a degree in comparative literature from the Sorbonne, and a West Indian lady with a lilting voice and giggle, and a lady who speaks French, English and Arabic, and of course my friend Dalia, Lebanese-born and raised in Nigeria and English boarding schools, who's a life coach.

We had a great first day, with one glitch that only time will tell how we can iron out: one of the students, a very frail little lady with a superbly luxurious Italian gilded notebook, interrupted the tutor after perhaps the first ten minutes of the class had gone by and said, "You know, I have no hearing at all in this ear, and very little in the other. I have not heard one word you've said." Silence. What could we do? "You've got to throw your voice, you know," she continued, "throw it right to me. And if anyone else speaks, I cannot possibly notice." Hmm. The tutor said that she would try to speak up (writers are notoriously soft-voiced, Dalia pointed out!) and then gamely suggested that if anyone wanted to make a comment, to raise a hand in warning. "But you see," persisted the lady, "If I'm trying to read your lips, I cannot possibly also be looking for people putting their hands up." Oh dear.

And before we could think of a solution to this, another lady said politely, "And please, no writing on the board, or if you do, you must please tell me what you've written. I have no sight." The tutor looked truly dashed at this point, and a man in a wheelchair said kindly, "We're merely talking about access issues here. Perhaps for our deaf friend we can all speak very firmly, and for our blind friend we can make sure we do not communicate in a way that requires sight. It's all just access issues." All these people have my complete respect because I feel certain if I were similarly challenged, I would just stay home and shrivel up. The blind lady had a fascinating computer system whereby she typed what she was hearing into a laptop and then somehow the laptop spoke back to her what she'd written, in little headphones. And she explained that having this process occur whenever she wrote was actually very instructive, because hearing your own words spoken to you gives a whole new perspective on what you've said. Now that's a positive attitude.

Well, I think my experiment in enjoying rather than dreading has paid off! I'm feeling quite cheerful. We're headed to the skating rink with Avery and Jamie, and then off to Richmond tonight to see "Shadowlands," with Charles Dance who is one of my favorite British actors, and I've just been reading some fantastic reviews. I'll be sure to report. TGIF!

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