Archive for the ‘Family Matters’ Category

An Alien Spaceship In our Garden

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

It’s hard to allow others to express their creativity. Especially if that person is my husband AND he decides to express his creativity in garden design. 9400949816_7a4819e43b_z

For the record: We’ve been together for nearly 25 years. So I must be a person easy to get on with. And certainly tolerant.

The Nymph rolls her eyes. Twice.

‘Why twice?’ I ask irritated.

‘One for  the ‘easy to get on with’ and one for ‘tolerant,’’ she replies.

I decide to ignore her. She doesn’t know what a marriage can be like, if one partner has good taste and the other… well …

‘You’re being unfair.’ Peirene again. She always takes my husband’s side. ‘He writes beautiful poetry. And as a first reader of your own novels, his editorial advice is often spot-on.’

‘Ye-es,’ I admit reluctantly. She’s beginning to take the wind out of my sails.

So let me tell you what has recently happened in our back garden, and you can judge for yourself.

Two years ago we spent our family summer holiday cycling through Romania. There my husband fell in love with the traditional carved gates that stand at the entrance to villages and farm houses. After much research he found a Romanian woodcarver online and ordered a custom-made gate to put into our backgarden. ‘It won’t be big,’ he promised me, ‘We will have a work of art in our garden.’

Last week the gate arrived in a van from Romania. In six separate parts. The Nymph opened the door and let the men carry everything through the house. I wasn’t there. Which was lucky. Because I might have refused to accept the delivery. The roof alone is huge – totally out of place in a North London backgarden –  and it’s already clear that it will look more like an alien spaceship than folk art. But my husband is determined. ‘Its pillars represent the tree of life, ‘ he tells me with sparkling eyes.

‘I think the Salon guests will love it,’ Peirene now says, as we are standing side by side staring at the still cellophane wrapped roof.

‘Yes, ‘I sigh. ‘As a curiosity and because they don’t have to live with it day in day out.’

‘You will get used to it,’ she puts her arm around my shoulder.

‘I guess I have no choice.’ I pause for a moment. ‘But you have to admit, Peirene, you can’t any longer accuse me of not being tolerant.’

The Nymph squeezes my shoulder.

Image by Nan Palermo, creative commons.

Green Love

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

‘Where were you?’ The Nymph is standing in the hallway as if she’s been waiting for me for a while. There is a hint of accusation in her voice. It does cross my mind that her attitude is not totally reasonable since it’s Sunday just after 4pm15026914893_20eaa95b81_z

‘At a yoga retreat with Rosa.’ Rosa is my 21-year old daughter and for the last three years we have made it our mother-daughter ritual to go on an annual yoga retreat for a weekend in September.

‘Why didn’t you ask me?’ Peirene blocks my way.

‘Because you are not my daughter. And this is something special I do with Rosa alone.’

I squeeze past the Nymph and head into the kitchen where I drop my bag. Peirene follows me.

‘No, I’m not your daughter. But I always assumed…’

I hear her voice shaking. Oh dear, my poor little Nymph, her insecurity can be quite endearing.

‘Peirene, you are very important to me. And it shows. I spend more time with you than with my husband and my children taken together.’

‘But you never do anything nice with me. Only with them. With me it’s always work work work.’

I have started to unpack the groceries that I’ve picked up from the corner shop on my way home.  Spinach and kale and chard and beets with their leaves still on.

Peirene interrupts her self-pity. ‘That is a lot of greens,’ she points out.

‘I bought these for you and me.’ I tear up the chard and kale. ‘Despite your worry that I neglect you, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about us over the weekend. And wondered how we could improve our lives.’ I put the green leaves into the mixer with some water, ginger and a few nuts and almonds. ‘A yoga retreat is not just about stretching and breathing, it’s also about healthy eating. Over the last 48 hours I have lived off amazing soups and green vegetable smoothies.’ I put the mixer on. ‘I’ve come back revitalised. From now on you and I will have a green smoothie each per day and raw vegetable soup for lunch.’ I pour the smoothie into two glasses and hand her one. ‘And we will start straight away.’

‘No way. I’m not drinking that.’ She puts both hands up in defence.

Unperturbed I push the glass in her direction. ‘Come on. It’s your turn.‘

The Nymph picks up the glass between the tips of her thumb and index finger as if it might explode. ‘OK. To do you a favour I will have a sip. But suddenly, I’m rather pleased I’m not you daughter.’

Image by Mike Licht, creative commons.

A Beer for a Book

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Sometimes people walk up to our stall and ask if we sell children’s books. When we say ‘no’ they tend to turn away. I then ask them: ‘Well, do you read?’ Often they shake they heads: 4652321435_82346d5943_z‘Unfortunately I don’t have time.’ they reply.

It always strikes me as odd how people want their children to read books but they don’t read themselves. As we all know: children copy their parents. And even as adults we easily fall back into habits we witnessed our parents do.

Our 15-year old son used to read. But no longer. A few biographies and autobiographies, a couple of novels a year. That’s it. My husband is dismayed. He claims that he read many classics at our son’s age, including Hardy and Dickens.

I certainly didn’t. In my teens I did not read excessively and, as for classics, only the ones I had to study for school. I began reading in earnest only in my early twenties. And I never liked Dickens. And still don’t. So I’m not worried about our son’s books habits. After all, he comes from a household with lots of books and book talk forms part of many dinner chats. I’m sure eventually he will find his way back to the excitement of reading.

But my husband isn’t convinced. So last year he struck a deal with our son. £10 for each 50 pages of Dickens. Oliver Twist to start with. In six months my son didn’t earn a penny. My husband proposed a new deal: a can of beer for 50 pages.

‘You can’t do that!’ I said. ‘That’s surely illegal.’

‘Let him be,’ the Nymph soothed me. ‘It’s for the good of literature. It can’t do much harm.’

‘Yes, it can, ‘ I insisted. ‘What if my son becomes an alcoholic?’

‘We cross that bridge when we come to it,’ Peirene responded matter-of-factly. ‘In the meanwhile your son might finish Dickens, start a Hardy, move on to TS Eliot. It won’t be long before he is reading The Looking- Glass Sisters.

She knows that she has me there. Not only would I be very flattered if Percy began to read Peirene books, he could then also work at the Roaming Stall. A young, good-looking man like him would surely sell many books. And he might even set a new trend among teenagers: reading foreign lit.

But I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. When I last went into his room, Oliver Twist was open on the bedside table. Page 39.

Image by Karl Baron.

Winter Sleep

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Peirene and Meike wish you a happy festive season, Fröhliche Weihnachten und einen Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr. Thank you for following our adventures this year. See you back here second week of January. Winter Chair copy

Family Competition

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

‘I will not be exploited as your family’s beast of burden!’ Peirene walks into the house with a flushed face and drops of perspiration on her 124753728_54ac2d7122_zforehead. I am confused. As far as I am aware, she just took our gift orders to the post office. Like every day for the last two weeks, there were quite a few envelopes but they all fit perfectly into the shopping trolley. And pulling it to the post office is not such hard work after all.

Peirene throws herself onto the sofa, fanning her face with a magazine. ‘Your son!’ she is gasping. ‘Half of the trolley was stuffed with his packages.’ She breathes in short bursts. ‘Get me a glass of water before I die.’

While I head towards the kitchen I can’t help smiling.

I often worry about my children’s future. Their lack of Germanic order exasperates me. I am convinced that they will never achieve anything in their lives without it. My proof? My son drops his coat on the floor or the stairs. I find his muddy football boots in the living room or kitchen or toilet. And his dirty clothes are thrown in the vicinity of the washing basket, but never ever inside. And my daughter, who travelled for six months on her own through South America and has just completed her first term at uni, returns home only to stand in my office six o’clock sharp: ‘Mum, when is dinner? I’m starving.’

They can’t even look after themselves! How are they supposed to achieve what they want? All my role-modeling of hard work and discipline has not born any fruits.

I pour a glass of water for the Nymph. The facts, however, clearly contradict my worries. My daughter is organising an art festival at her college and my son has set up a business on e-bay – selling DVDs. It’s booming and he has even cracked the art of job delegation.

I hand the Nymph her water. She drinks, then closes her eyes. ‘Leave me alone,’ she mumbles. ‘I am exhausted.’

I walk upstairs to my son’s room. ‘You’ve exhausted the poor Nymph. I think you owe her an apology.’ I stop. ‘Having said that… I am impressed by your success,’ I continue in honest admiration. ‘How about expanding your e-bay shop and selling Peirene books. Like that you might be able to persuade her to continue doing the post run for you.’

He rolls his eyes. ‘Mum, my business works because I offer well known films, not some obscure books,’ he informs me.

‘Well, my son, then I guess you have to get the Nymph a very nice Christmas present indeed and promise to give her a smile and a hug whenever she carries your parcels to the post office.’

Image by Jos.

The Arrival of the Gremlin

Monday, October 6th, 2014

The post in our house used to present a problem. It would fall through the letter box onto the doormat. Husband stepped over it, Nymph skipped around it, children trampled across it. Everyone knew of course that I had to eventually pick it up 2793008572_7a72abe9f4_zto check for Peirene post.

But sometimes I would go on strike and refuse to pick it up for as long as I could without jeopardizing my business.

This little experiment had two results: Firstly: as I watched the post accumulating on the doormat, I became aware of a growing resentment towards my family. And secondly: Once a thank you letter from my mother-in-law lay unopened for a couple of weeks.  She has never quite forgotten or forgiven.

So, eventually I took an executive decision to save the peace of the family. And since there was really only one feasible option, I embraced it with joy in my heart. I became a martyr. Every noon I now bend down in submission to collect the letters from the doormat without a murmur of complaint.

And I shift them about six feet to create a second neat pile on the stairs.

But alas, calamity has struck. And I would like the world to know that I am not to blame.

It was our son’s 15th birthday last week. The previous week cards from his grandparents arrived. I recognized the hand writing. I collected them from the doormat and added them to the pile on the stairs. When I prepared his birthday breakfast, I wanted to put the cards on the table. But they were gone. I’ve searched the house, I’ve asked husband and children.

‘We never touch the post,’ they say truthfully.

‘But I didn’t touch the pile, either,’ I reply in all honesty.

‘There was money in grandma’s envelope,’ my son points out.

‘You will have to confess to my mother that you’ve lost her letter again,’ my husband laughs. He finds the idea amusing.

‘I didn’t lose it,’ I defend myself. I am not sure I find this a laughing matter. ‘And if you truly love me, you will ring your mother and confess to her that it was your fault. You mislaid her card.’

‘But I didn’t.’ he replies with unhelpful stubbornness.

We haven’t yet told my mother-in-law or my parents. I am still hoping Peirene might find them. I’ve sent her to Mount Olympus to seek help from the ancient Greek gods. But I fear the worst. Because it’s becoming clear that in addition to a classic nymph the house may also host a Celtic post gremlin.  And once a post gremlin captures a birthday card, it’s gone for forever and a day.

Image by Ben Becker.


Monday, March 31st, 2014

Women are from Venus and men are from Mars. Perhaps. But the distance between a teenage boy and his mother is even greater. We must be from different galaxies.Whitney

Fourteen and a half years ago my son was born. I looked at him with loving eyes, convinced I had given birth to the most stunning and perfect male creature that has ever walked the earth.

Since my husband has always worked away during the week, from Mondays to Fridays we used to be three at home: Our daughter, our son and me. My daughter has now finished school and gone travelling. So its son and mum home alone. The most stunning male creature and I.

We get on well. With few words.

I: ‘How was school?’

He: ‘OK.’

I: ‘Have you done your homework?’

He: Indistinguishable grunt.

I: ‘You still need to practice your trumpet.’

He: ‘Later.’

I used to be a puritan about meal times. No music. No books. No screens. Meal times were there to make conversation. Now, I have discovered a different way.

At breakfast I read my book, he reads his. And at supper time we prop up the i-pad in the middle of the table and watch documentaries. We’ve already watched a few on how to become a solider in Afghanistan. And at the moment we are viewing a fascinating series about astronauts.

Every now and again, however, I still feel obliged to share words of deep wisdom, such as:

‘Brushing your teeth is important. You only have those sets of teeth and you need to keep them for a few more decades.’

Or: ‘Your brain is like a muscle. You have to train it. That’s why you have to learn all these different subjects in school. The more subtle and stronger your brain muscle becomes, the more you can do with it in later life.’ I was particularly proud of this last as an ingenious piece of advice. And he acknowledged it with a special one word answer:

‘MBS.’ Mum’s Bull Shit. I lifted myself on to my toes and tried to give him a slap on the back of his head. He ducked away shrieking with laughter.

So here we are: two different galaxies orbiting in space. But there is one thing that links us. The black hole through which we can time travel towards each other. Rhubarb crumble.

‘Your rhubarb crumble is the best, ‘ my son praises it in an unusual long sentence whenever I serve it. And my heart once again melts. He is indeed the most perfect male creature that has ever walked the earth.

Image by Whitney.

Mother’s Pride

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Peirene, this is a blog that may require you to avert your eyes, as I know that otherwise you run the risk of a jealousy attack. Duckling. Image by bmajoros

Because the blog is about another inspirational female creature in my life:

My daughter. She is a star.

Last year, she failed to get into the university of her choice. This year she received an offer. She will start in October. It wasn’t luck. It was determination and hard work. She didn’t want to settle for second best so she overcame her disappointment and anger and rose to the challenge to prepare herself in a way that left almost nothing to chance. She read all the Greek tragedies, she practiced interview techniques and, best of all, was prepared to seek and take advice.

Now she has a golden year-off in front of her. Three weeks ago she boarded a plane to Berlin. She had no friends in that city, no accommodation and no job. Initially she found herself in a miserable youth hostel out in the suburbs. But she didn’t give up.  She had a lucky break, a few acts of kindness and now she is sharing a flat with a 20 year old German woman who studies medicine. She has also found a full time job in a company translating websites from German into English.

She is an independent young woman. I am incredibly proud of her.

Next to my desk on the wall, there are two pictures of her. One shows her standing on a white sunny beach in a blue bikini, a smile on her face, arms thrown up in the air. It was taken last summer when she went to Thailand with her friends. The other photo presents a four-month old baby lying in my arms.

Each time my eyes travel between these two images –I feel happiness, for the time we had together while she grew up. I also feel the satisfaction of a job well done – by my husband, her and me.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel bereft now that she has ventured into the big wide world.

It’s a beginning of a new era. She’s out there on her own. And that’s where she should be, where she has to be in order to continue growing.

And she knows when to ask for help.

On Thursday evening at 10pm, I received an email from her, entitled ‘Mummy, darling :)’ – that was a worrying sign. Could I look through a translation she’s done for work, it wouldn’t take long – only an hour or two – and she needs it by next morning . The email ended with five kisses xxxxx. If I am lucky I usually receive one x.

Needless to say, I couldn’t resist all this love and did as requested.  However grown up she might have become, I must admit that it’s nice to be needed.

Image by bmajoros.

Marriage on the Rocks

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Divorce rates soar in January. My husband and I haven’t yet filed for divorce. But the man is playing a risky game. photo

Last Sunday I was woken at 7am by a commotion in the next room. For a fleeting second I wondered if my son was planning to take over Peirene HQ for band practice. I turned around to put the arm around my husband. He was not there. He’d probably gone for a run – one of his long list of New Year’s resolutions. About to slide back in to sleep, I was overcome by a sense of unease. I’d better check what’s going on next door.

Books were lying in a big heap on the floor. My husband was balancing on a ladder to reach the top shelves.

‘We need more book space,’ he declared. I nodded. ‘So I am reorganizing, sorting through and…er… deprioritizing books that we don’t need any longer.’

I stopped nodding. ‘Do not touch my books,’ I said.

Some marriages survive because of different bathrooms or separate duvet covers. Our marriage has endured for 20 years because we don’t mix books. We don’t even share books. We often have two copies of the same book. We stop short of having individually allocated book cases, but we have assigned ourselves distinct shelves. I don’t like my books sharing space with other books. And I organize my books my own way, thank you very much. He knows this.

‘I wouldn’t dream of touching your books,’ he said. Reassured, I went back to bed.

Fifteen minutes later he brought me a coffee. ‘I like to move a few of your books. Just to another shelf,’ he said with a sly smile.

I sat up straight. ‘I have told you already…’ Then I softened. ‘OK. You can move some.’ I told him exactly which ones. I felt like a generous, kind-hearted wife.  After all, I was willing to compromise to make my man happy.

When I checked later on, he had done as he had been told. He’s a good man. He loves me. He would not jeopardize twenty years of marriage.

On Monday morning on the way to my desk, my eyes fell on the shelf closest to me – my shelf. I froze. There were his books instead. A scream of horror escaped my lips. I called him at work.  He laughed nervously. ‘I thought you might not notice.’

Needless to say, for the rest of the week our marriage has been on the rocks. However, come Friday, we had established a temporary ceasefire. We are sharing for the first time in our lives a shelf. On the left are his books, on the right are mine.

It’s fine for the moment.  I’m biding my time. He will start a new job soon and then – when he is travelling on business – I will buy the complete works of Maurice Blanchot (my current favourite) and restore the shelf to its rightful owner.

Wholemeal Pancakes

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Maternal guilt sometimes takes bizarre forms. But one thing is sure: competing with a domestic goddess doesn’t help.pancakes

I am working slightly too hard at the moment, and often on weekends too.  For a few weeks now I’ve been telling myself I should safeguard the weekends. But that’s easier said than done. This Sunday I gave a talk about Magda at the South Bank Centre, next Saturday I will have to man the Peirene Roaming Stall.

Therefore, guilt feelings towards my family – not necessarily justified – occur more frequently than usual.

Knowing that I won’t be around for lunch today, I decided to serve a glamorous breakfast with home-made smoothies and American pancakes a la Nigella Lawson. My children love them. Nigella cooks them with white flour. My ambitions, however, went further. Not only did I want to serve my family what they love but I also wanted to provide them with healthy nourishment. So I used wholemeal flour instead. The end result you can see on the left. Not very pretty I had to admit. Nevertheless I put them on the table. A pancake is a pancake I told myself.

My family nibbled at a couple and then quietly opted for the croissants my husband had bought from the corner shop.

I didn’t blow my top. No I didn’t.  But I could have. Oh yes. And they knew.

There was once another occasion, many moons ago, when I had laboured for hours with love and affection over a meal for my family. I can’t remember the recipe. But I know it was exceedingly healthy – probably involving a combination of beetroot, spinach, liver and perhaps a few chickpeas. Our son in his highchair threw the food on the floor. Our daughter closed her mouth and put her head on the table. My husband asked politely what we were having for pudding. And I blew my top. I took food, plates, bowls – the lot and threw them into the bin. Then I rang my mother-in-law. I told her that her son had refused to eat my food. I handed the receiver to my dumb-struck husband and stormed out of the kitchen.

I went for a run and calmed down and, later, I asked my husband what his mother had said to him. ‘Oh dear,’ were her only words. What a wise woman.

So the moral of the story: 2013 is still my husband’s lucky year (as I have mentioned on a number of blogs in recent months): His mother did not receive a phone call. As for my children: they headed out for their Sunday well-fed on croissants. And I? I have decided to never second-guess Nigella again.