27 January, 2008

plop plop fizz fizz

Do you remember those old ads on the telly for Alka-Seltzer? Well, forget the plop plop fizz fizz, but OH WHAT A RELIEF IT IS! Exams over. Full stop.

On Friday we dropped Avery off at the exalted, dreaded, anticipated and entirely lovely St Paul's Girls School for her marathon, 6 1/2 hour exam. Her anxiety level was like this: halfway to the school she said mildly, "I'm nervous." Now, in her place I would for one thing not have been able to sleep, wouldn't have wanted breakfast but if I ate it would have come straight back up again, and would be curled in a miserable little ball in the back of the car. Not my intrepid offspring. Nope, nine hours' sleep, stuffed full of apple turnover, blueberries and salami (heavens, could that be true?), and one little vague aside as she approached the ordeal. Oh to be Avery, sometimes!

Well, John and I puttered around looking at our watches and wondering what she was being asked, thinking of all the wonderful exam lore that has been produced during the last month. "Then this girl next to me found out at the last moment that she had turned over two pages of her maths at once and missed TWELVE QUESTIONS!" These sorts of comments are uttered with a mixture of awe, fear and a tinge of smugness. "One girl had to be moved because the roof was leaking over her desk!" So three o'clock found us sheepishly taking our places in the huge phalanx of cool parents waiting for the Actual Sufferers to be reunited with us. In the enormous gymnasium the little things were sitting on the ground with their elderly Sixth Form minders, under paper signs announcing the alphabetical groups, and there was Avery, under a sign that said "Bodwin to Curran." "Look, my name's on the sign!" she said gleefully, as if this was an accomplishment. She appeared to be none the worse for wear, reunited with Jamie at the exit, shrieked and hugged and rocked back and forth. "Wasn't the maths WICKED?"

Well, there you go. All finished, except that two more schools have written to schedule interviews. Fine. But no more exams, no more frantically washing her and all our hands seventeen times a day with antibacterial wipes to ward off the rampant London stomach virus. No more worrying that she gets enough sleep even on a Saturday. No cancelling playdates to observe hideous amounts of exam-prep homework. No more English and maths teachers, who retire on Wednesday. What a relief. Now they can all play.

It's so funny to hear her speak when she emerges from a long British experience. It's not that she speaks with an English accent, although she can and sometimes drops into it if she's on the telephone with an English friend, or wanting to impress with her bilingual status. It's the expressions I notice. I need a long lunch with my friend 6point7 (wait, we just had one! but we didn't talk language), because she can always explain the exact circumstances when certain expressions or words are used. Here are a few I noticed in Avery on Friday. She always says "bit," not "part," as in "there were some really difficult bits." I think "parts" here is used just for raw chicken, and maybe theatre (or would they say "roles"? don't know). And "loads of questions," not "lots of questions." Is "lots" just for auctions here? And "straightaway," not "right away." Those are the things one would have to get just right if one were writing an English novel as an American. But they come second nature to Avery.

The one Britishism that is suddenly getting on our nerves is the insistence on mispronouncing the name of a particular American Presidential candidate. It reminds me of the pronunciation "Los Angeleez." Why? Anyway, here it is "Bear-uck" Obama, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Why on earth? No one in America has taught anyone to pronounce it that way. But this complaint is set against the undeniable superiority of the British news coverage in that they are even bothering to pronounce any candidate's name, or follow the election at all. In America I cannot imagine that the debate over whether Gordon Brown should call an election made it to the nightly news. Of course, perhaps if we could find an alternate pronunciation for his name we would feel more ownership of his decision-making. I will give it some thought.

There was an almost imperceptible lightening of the spirits in our household yesterday. After her acting class (Avery's been given the role of an Italian BOY in the class play: that should be interesting), she came home, sat down with her new American Girl doll from her Nonna, and we didn't see her for the rest of the afternoon. She gathered up her other American Girl paraphernalia (most of it from her two doting grandmothers, thank you!), did all their hair, changed their outfits, equipped them with their various belongings, lined them up on her bed, did their hair again. All afternoon. She emerged to have dinner and a nice piece of:

Nonna's Banana Bread (although I made it this time)
(two loaves)

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup softened butter
6 ripe bananas, mashed (approximately 3 cups)
4 eggs, well beaten
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With electric beater, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add bananas and eggs, beating until well mixed.

Sift together dry ingredients three times. Blend with banana mixture, but do not over mix.

Pour into 2 lightly-greased loaf pans. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until firm in the centers and the edges begin to separate from pans.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from pans. These freeze beautifully.


Well, it's a simply gorgeous day (John really did bring the sunshine back to London, thank goodness), I've just drunk an enormous glass of beetroot, Tuscan kale, parsley, ginger, carrot, pear and celery juice and I feel pretty righteous. Maybe a nice long walk in the park before we collect (there's a good Britishism for you, as if there's more than one) Avery from the "stable," she tells me, not the good old American term "barn." "Barn means you're likely to come upon livestock, Mommy," she explained. It's good to have a translator.

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