You just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

3 Mar

It’s 10.02 pm and l am lying in the dark, the backlight of my iPhone turned low as I type under the duvet. A germy splutter sprays my face, followed by a sharp kick in the abdomen and a plaintive ‘Mummy’, before her full sleeping fist lands across the bridge of my nose…

Homeland-homeland-30373154-1600-1200

Wonder if she got Next fleece pjs for Christmas?

Ok, so I wasn’t expecting to get through the whole of Homeland, Season 2, in one evening – I mean, it has been waiting now for over 2 months for a night such as this. But one whole bloody episode would have been good. Really good.

Three hours ago, I had it all. Work and study deadlines met, clean house (as a result of blitz before weekend visitors who didn’t stay as long as expected – always a bonus, no matter how much you like them) and exhausted child zonked out by 7pm. This was IT. If ever there was a time for the waiting box set (or the less sexy sounding ‘run of Freeview series-linked recordings’), it was now.

So maybe you’re thinking well, come on, you did have three hours, more than enough to make a sizeable dent in your tantalising high-gloss US drama. And, yes, you’d be fair enough; it was not all the baby’s fault. Sadly, it was the excited over preparation for this particular viewing experience that did for me. This meant that once eventually settled, I was only 15 minutes in when the wailing and spluttering started. The need for ‘mummy’s’ presence (in bed with her and away from the frozen tease of the tv screen) was non-negotiable: my baby girl grasped my face in her hot little hands and thumped her head definitively down onto my chest. CIA? FBI? Abu F*cking Nassir (to give the man his full title) himself? It matters not – all rendered powerless. Game over.

Does anyone else do this? Or is my life out in the sticks now so out of whack, that the watching of a tv show in my own home, alone, now constitutes a major social event?

remote controlThe TV is all set up, remote in position, cushions plumped and lamps on. Ooh, I’ll just get some snacks in to go with the wine. Yes, the posh glass and that gorgeous Spanish terracotta dish, both suitable for such an occasion. Maybe I should put my Christmas fleece pyjamas on and get really comfy? I know, I’ll just check my messages, email, Facebook, eBay bids, the News (the Queen is unwell afterall), just so I’m sure there is nothing that will distract me once I get into it. Shall I remove my contacts and put my specs on? Did I empty the kitchen bin? How pretty my nails look in the lamp light. I’ll just move the angle of the tv a bit. Ah, perfect. Just puuuuurfect. Hit the play button! Hit it NOW!

But no, instead, I shall now spend the week (it’s been started, so there’s no going back to the previous state of untouched promise) trying desperately to catch bits of Homeland, Season 2, on the hop, rewinding and pausing, whilst dealing with many other things. A most unsatisfying state of affairs – especially when watching a show with affairs of state (and characters) as complex as this one.

If I get the chance again, I will grab it. Just like kick-ass Claire Danes would grab the chance to break into an Afghani prison cell and coerce from a haunted anti-US terrorist his electrifying dying words . Yes I will. I won’t waste it. As long as there is wine, and snacks, the cushions are plumped just so, and the Queen hasn’t got a cold…

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Attention, you are now running on reserve battery power…

21 Feb

This crystal clear utterance from my laptop sums it all up.

battery power

Features of my day in bullet points:

  • No childcare/ fiendish toddler
  • Penalty notices
  • Walk in health centre
  • Passionate job applications for jobs I don’t want
  • Crap and irretrievable emails sent in haste
  • Bloody Kipper the Dog (on a loop again)
  • Lost Ebay bids
  • Forgotten passwords
  • Arguing with my mother (pointless and exhausting)
  • Missed birthdays/ missed deadlines
  • Updates cannot be completed as STORAGE DISK IS FULL, please delete files to free up space.
Ebay fail

Ebay fail

I am incapable of any further attempt to complete my late essay or construct a sassy blog post.

My Mac and I are ALL USED UP.

We are now running on reserve batt ……

ALERT: Identity “under permanent construction” – who on earth do I think I am?

12 Feb

My identity as a process not a fixed state...

Right, so I think I know who I want to be, how I want to be perceived, and who I want to be identified with, but how far is that the real me and my true self? And, as a naturally theatrical ‘individual’, how far is this true self the ‘front stage’ performance I present in my everyday social interaction (Erving Goffman 1959).

So, this post may be a bit of a move away from the visceral domesticities of my previous ones but one can’t indulge solely in nappy changing, sock tantrums and washing machine cycles without some cerebral musings into the nature of blog writing and how one is being perceived. I think it is worth mentioning that never did I imagine that when I did eventually get to set the world alight in the blogosphere I would focus my writing on being a beleaguered mother. I honestly thought that having a child would be a little addition, an extra dimension, to an already ‘fully formed’ and self possessed individual with lots to say about the world at large.

My identifications with other social groups such as state school teachers, born and bred Londoners, ‘dysfunctional singletons’, English graduates, contemporary feminists (in the Caitlin Moran style of ‘girls rock’ feminism) and Indie music fans are all perhaps how I tended to enjoy defining myself; the identifications varying in prominence depending on my social situation. David Buckingham‘s essay on Identity (Yes, another social group that defines me at this stage in my life: MA student at London’s IoE!) and the multiple identifications we manage in our construction of identity, has helped clarify how parenthood has become a key social and psychological factor in my sense of self. I find myself following various ‘Mommy in DM boots’ style blogs since starting this course and feeling a real sense of affirmation of who I am as part of this specific collective.

The irony of this – our individual identity being so dependent on our relationship to group collectives and social identifications with others – is an issue which leads to many of the complexities surrounding identity as a concept. ‘Identity politics’ and the dangers of ‘essentialism’ (generalisations that assign marginalised groups a single identity) are caught up in this. Buckingham summarises the fundamental conflict that arises: that in trying to take on the dominant powers through promoting solidarity and group identification, ‘identity politics‘ as social activism can reduce and disempower the individual in their multiple dimensions. It can also have a negative impact on binary oppositions who stand outside the group. Looking at the ‘power’ of and perception of online groups like Mumsnet.com – the criticisms of an anti-male agenda and its role as a target for political support – might be an interesting discussion for a future post, maybe.

Coincidentally, this week ‘Mom at Work’, a fellow blogger (albeit in a different league – her articulate posts sucked me straight in after a recent appearance in the Freshly Pressed feed), has chosen to write about how her identity has been affected by being a parent. Her words resonate with me totally in my current situation. This blogger’s comments on how, for most in her new post-grad class of independent and intelligent women, the ‘mummy’ tag seems to override all others, are particularly amusing and apt for the focus in this post. It’s great stuff. Check out how futile she found it trying to resist using the ‘And I’m a mom and I love it!‘ line as her one extra defining fact about herself after basic ‘circle’ introductions:

As is typical during these first class sessions, there was a lot of introducing going on in my classroom – my name is so and so, I work at such and such, and so on and so forth. One at a time we went in a circle stating our name, age, educational background, occupation, and one interesting fact about ourselves. Amazingly enough, all of the women in the class responded with the same response, which was some variation of “I’m a mother and I LOVE being a mother!”

Some of the “interesting facts” included: “My boy just turned three and one quarter years old and he’s my world!” and “I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and even so I decided to start over with a six month old!” and “My kids are all grown, but they never stop being my babies!”

There were ten women in the classroom, including me and the professor, and of these ten women only two did not mention children – the foreign student, who had enough trouble just spelling her name for us, and me. One woman did not have children, but feeling the pressure perhaps of so many experienced ovaries she dug deep into her toolkit and found two nieces and a nephew with which to define herself…

(‘Mom at Work’: EXPIRED ID in my blogroll.)

social media heart

Moving away from Mummy Blogger identifications … Identity and Social Networking Theories

NB. Please excuse any lack of coherence – this is an attempt to cover a myriad of suggested questions from my course tutor whilst maintaining my developing ‘blog identity’, still in its unstable infancy.

To move on to theories surrounding identity, Erving Goffman’s ideas on social interactions as ‘performance’ are an area I hope to explore in my foray into blogging and myself as an online construction. The idea of ‘front stage’ performance versus a more ‘honest’ ‘backstage’ self is one that needs reexamining in light of the contemporary and digital world we now live in.

Public and private boundaries are blurring and it can be said that ‘private’ lives/’true selves’ now are increasingly part of a ‘cinematic life’ and a product of the media orientated culture we live in. Personal diaries and private family videos are plastered all over Facebook – and net curtains are distinctly out of fashion. The ‘back stage’ has been hauled into the forefront. Whilst watching strangers tweezing their eyebrows or snuffling in their sleep, as cameras capture endless inane reality on shows like Big Brother, it seems that the significance of Goffman’s idea of ‘front stage’ social performance in the Britain of the 1950’s has undergone a fundamental change. Social awareness and identity construction in Goffman’s terms appears in these contemporary cases to be minimal; the seemingly unconscious ‘honesty’ presented here is apparent and clearly part of the show’s appeal, and perhaps demonstrates the external media’s (as opposed to the individual’s) control of personal identity.

So is there a big distinction between personal identity and social identity anymore? Does conscious self reflection make your ‘identity” more artificial?? How honest can our online identity be where we appear to have so much more room for experimentation and ‘creativity’? Is it any less honest than our offline identities? And, are the two merging as we actually become what we strive to construct on our social networking home pages? All questions I won’t pretend I can tackle here…

Anthony Giddens gives a much more contemporary view of the changing nature of identity in the ‘digital age’. He focuses on how modern consumerist culture has forced us all into the business of taking our identity seriously, or at least to be more explicitly aware of our constructions of self as online commodities. His view that we are now liberated by the ‘multiple possibilities’ of online culture suggests that we can now be more creative and diverse in our constructs of self, part of a broader process of democratisation. He implies the move away from the traditional age where identity is pegged on gender, age, class, race etc. to an age where “…lifestyle, media consumption, and affinity spaces” (Guy Merchant) define us more dominantly .

Whilst I like Gidden’s optimistic theory, Michel Foucault‘s warning that this is just another form of ‘governmentality’ is one that must be taken into consideration when looking at the impact social networking technology is having on the very concept of individuality. His view that technology is now just another way of exercising power over the individual is fundamental when debating how far technology is shaping or being shaped by broader society. Where Giddens talks of self reflection, Foucault talks of self surveillance and monitoring. He claims that, like with most organising social forces, people actively seek to regulate themselves to conform to the dictates of society. This is an interesting debate – are we really expanding as individuals on the net or constantly honing our online ‘selves’ to conform to ultimately limiting norms?

As someone who always felt that they were the leading protagonist in their own novel (or the ‘star’ of their own movie), I have always felt that my personal identity was a ‘performance’ to be weighed up and reflected on; a ‘narrative’ to ‘keep going’. Writing my personal diary as a gushing, emotionally charged 13 year old, with a gurgling hatred for my younger brother and an obsession with Duran Duran, I had read Anne Frank and I knew that I had a readership to present to (even if it was only my future self). My anchored identity (older sister of two brothers) overlapped with more transient identifications (my passion for Simon le Bon) and this overlapping continues today in my social networking ‘performances’. Thankfully, the natural “fluidity and malleability” of my identity has eroded some of these more transient aspects of my adolescent identity, and parenthood and financial independence has added more defining anchored identifications. Yes, I am permanently under construction …

Fill me up buttercup

Fill me up buttercup

Leaving gift ...

Leaving gift … Grubby Pete obsession

Creative and arty

Creative and arty

Academia...

Academia…

The constant awareness of self identity in contemporary society described by Giddens is evidenced in the widespread use of Facebook. Scanning through the 10 or so ‘profile pictures’ in my photos is testament to the multiplicity and ‘fluidity’ of myself as an individual construct. Over the last 4 years or so, I have seen fit to present myself in many ways: there’s me with all the boys in a Camden pub, a pint in each hand; there’s me in specs sitting in front of an interactive whiteboard; me again in a floral dress at a country wedding; tenderly cradling a new born baby in my arms and so on. As well as the I LOVE LONDON icon of a red bus (used during the 2011 London Riots), the close up of just the baby’s legs kicking out in knitted pink bootees is worth a comment – what has happened here? My sense of self at this point appears to be solely wrapped up in an another little being… Mmm.

motorbike

thumb sucking

rock pub

Now that the novelty factor of this incredible tool is settling, some of the negative social implications are becoming more apparent. Facebook’s lack of creative space, corporate control over lay-out, content, privacy and advertising as well as the diversity of the ‘friends’ you have to ‘appeal’ to in your ‘impression management” can make it quite a stressful experience. I have actively hidden from my newsfeed people who I consider friends (that is anyone you would get drunk with or go on holiday with) as their posts bore me. That’s not always because they’re boring but because I know what to expect from them. Facebook has limited them, and this online predictability is not the same as offline. Unlike lots of carefree Facebookers, I am careful about my own Facebook posts as I am aware of overloading others with my ‘identity,’ so much so that I occasionally delete posts that sound either too braggy or smug or ‘samey’, the ones that on reflection make me feel uncomfortable about my ‘performance’ and how I’m perceived. The relentless and explicit maintaining of my ‘narrative of the self’ is getting tiring under these constraints. I often bore myself.

Dear Friends, I used to love you but now you bore me. I don't want to know...

Dear Friends, I used to love you but now you bore me. I don’t want to know…

Facebooking is certainly a ‘front stage’ performance for me, although in the old fashioned sense, I know for many others (the Big Brother generation?) it is not. They are more in the Giddens mould where there is no distinction between ‘front stage’ and ‘back stage’; social norms nowadays embracing ‘real voices’, ‘warts n all’ honest expression. The democratic nature of this cannot be dismissed but again, it is quite overwhelming and not something I find particularly edifying.

As Merchant describes, I am responsible for managing my own narrative and identity, fuelled by action and of course ‘performance’ (increasingly online). In an attempt to answer my initial question, I feel I do live up to this ‘performance’ even when ‘backstage’. Although I choose not share with an uncertain audience overly private emotions, relationships or events (and narratives with no physical respondents can always be made a little more ‘satisfying’!) I tend to conform to the norms expected of the identity I have constructed and maintained. Clearly I do not regale my employers or students with inappropriate information on how many pints I can consume or how I like dancing in my underwear to Pulp , but this construction I have nurtured gives me some leeway, as my life choices and the time I live in have ensured many freedoms. Many of my more mundane or challenging life experiences are hurriedly, almost unconsciously, being written up in my head, not necessarily for others but to maintain my own coherent sense of self! I am aware of myself as a cultural product, susceptible to media structures and narratives – this ‘artificiality’ does indeed represent me, and I’m not sure what this means…

The blogosphere has opened up new possibilities and inspiration for exploring ‘individuality’ online. It appears to be a space where more sustained presentation of aspects of the self and a more creative construction of identity can take shape. Even if that does mean writing as ‘Brian the Pigeon‘. Your audience are discerning and not obliged to read you because they get drunk with or go on holiday with you. Whilst there are still concerns about the constraints and implications of ‘networked individualism,’ you’re required to “work harder at producing yourself” communicating without the ‘rich multimodal interaction’ of a physical respondent (Merchant). Care is taken with your writing and your quality of expression, extra dimensions of identification can be added in your blogrolls and theme choices, and you do get immersed in the more developed opinions of other bloggers with something to share – all of which lead to increased self reflection and a greater awareness of identity.

After all this deliberation, I think it would be best to finish with a focus on what all this means for the kids, the Net Generation … Buckingham’s essay on the role of digital media and youth identity brings into view the dangers of technical determinism. As a teacher of teenagers, his writing has helped, above all, to confirm for me that the basic tenets of media education must be applied to this new social networking technology and addressed in the educational context. Ultimately technology serves the interests of the producers who make and develop it. People must be taught about the limits and constraints of social technology in these terms – if our notion of identity in the contemporary world is to be increasingly shaped by online construction than we must be aware of the implications.

So to refer to Jaron Lanier’s prophetic words about the role of technology in the future demise of the individual self:

I am not a gadget. Well, not yet anyway.

Buckingham, David. “Introducing Identity.” Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 1–24. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524834.001

Merchant, Guy. “Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication.” E–Learning, Volume 3, Number 2, 2006 doi: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.235

W*rk is a four letter word.

8 Feb

It has been 5 months and 2 days since I officially ‘worked’. Actually, if I’m honest, that’s 5 months and 3 days. I’m not sure all the final day cuddling, weeping in stock cupboards, and swigging prosecco in the staffroom before heading pub-ward at noon, can really be called work.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve done it, that I’ve actually gone and left. I turned up at that establishment (that’s my place of work – not just the Westbourne pub) through its different incarnations and my various and evolving professional roles for nigh on 10 years. It was the best of times and the worse of times. No matter how exhausted, stressed out, angry or overworked we were, the job never bored me. My colleagues were incredible and I knew it was the right place for me. Big personalities, educational politics (literally – Ed Balls and the Right Hon Michael Gove making regular visits), daily troubleshooting,  youth culture, social diversity, absorbing histories and shaping futures – all in the heart of West London… As far as I was concerned, I was always where it was at.

So I am truly surprised now at how little I miss it.

Brown Bear

GET ME OUTTA HERE!

And what have I replaced my all consuming ‘work’ in the inner city with? Omitting the obvious and ongoing feeding, nappy changing, general housewifery and structured activities for child etc, here is an account of how I have filled in the gaps today. This is absolutely the truth, in chronological order (believe me I wouldn’t make this up as it doesn’t say much about my ‘work’ as a ‘Midsomerville mother’ on a precious day at home with my little one):

7.30am: Remove L’Oreal’s ‘Raging Ruby’ nail varnish carefully and impressively applied to every finger (including nails to be fair) from my 2 year old’s hands. I only slipped away for 4 minutes for a shower, yer honour.

(Please note, this kind of activity – having a sneaky shower – can only generally be carried out using a method I have pre-trained her in: I call out her name every 20 seconds or so and she dutifully replies “Yes Mummy!” This ascertains she is not choking to death, or already unconscious, in the next room. This routine however has its flaws; its main flaw being that, if not choking or unconscious, a small child can quite quite happily shout “Yes Mummy!” while carrying out any number of indescribable operations.)

8.30am: Remove contents of bowl of warm Reddy Brek from Brown Teddy (he is still sitting in kitchen sink soaking wet as I am unsure what to do with him next).

The good hand; quite fine motor skills for 2!

The good hand; quite fine motor skills for 2!

9.30am: Restore all books diligently hauled from main bookshelf and dropped down the stairs back to their former shelf positions (No simple task: I am an English teacher – book order and categories are of utmost importance).

10.30am (Whilst on phone to a friend):

a) Retrieve child, stuck fast and wailing, from under guest room bed where she had wedged herself between the old fold up camp bed and a step ladder.

b) Realise in horror 12″ record collection has been defiled and records removed from sleeves before toddler indicates enthusiastically that the ‘wheels’ are ‘over there’ … Er, where’s that then? That’ll be down the back of the radiator which, on this chilly morning, is very much on. Naked vinyl and hot metal … Nooo! Thankfully Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper and various rarities by the likes of The Only Ones and The Jam are made of tough stuff; evidently songs that endure both the test of time and attempts at physical annihilation.

Nooo!! Not the vinyl ...

Nooo!! Not the vinyl …

11.30am – 1.30pm: (Whilst logging on and attempting to draft a new blog post with some academic reference and intellectual depth):

a) Cajole child into telling me where my bank card is – the most critical of the cards and receipts tipped out of purse and currently lying on kitchen floor. The ‘little horsey’ one (well done, I’m with Lloyds) is eventually located in her small wicker basket amongst her other treasures: a small conch shell, some pussy cat wrapping paper and various bits of lego which she has an irrational attachment to.

b) It is now, after scrubbing at the wooden high chair joyously scrawled over in black eyeliner pencil (surprisingly hard to remove – the nail varnish remover already out from earlier has come in handy), that I shall give up thinking about adding any deep and meaningful comment to this blog.

Although, I shall attempt to return later to add some reflection on my day …

Order and organisation: there is evidence of clarity of purpose in m life, there is.

Order and organisation: there is evidence of clarity of purpose in my current lifestyle, there is.

The trench at the bottom of the drive.

The trench at the bottom of the drive.

8pm: So, the strains of Eastenders are now receding and my perfect little girl is in the sweet realms of a deep sleep; her peaceful, rosy beauty takes my breath away. Events have continued in pretty much the same vein for the rest of the day. Edited highlights include a tantrum about wearing socks, squashed ham sandwiches down the back of the sofa and two complete outfit changes – how the kid managed to sit in a raw egg in her new Verboudet tunic I just don’t know. But before continuing, I need to add a little note for I know what all the parents out there are thinking: the reason we did not spend a substantial amount of the day out at playgroups, the library or the park, like most normal people with ‘active’ toddlers would, was that we literally could not leave the house. We were barricaded in – by red plastic security fences, flashing JCB diggers, and a 6 foot trench on the entrance to the drive.

The jolly men in yellow hard hats were prepared to seal off the road, dismantle the red fences and lay a temporary board over the drive for me should I need to get out but quite frankly, I reasoned, a quiet day at home was just what we needed.

Barricaded in.

Barricaded in.

Ah, and now how to judge the achievements of my day? Well, Poppy is alive, clean and fed, and the house is pretty much in the same state as it was when we woke up this morning. That’s it. I have ‘worked’ non stop and that’s it.

And man, do I feel proud of myself.

So, instead of reflecting on identity and one’s carefully crafted online presence (which I do have lots of ideas about, honest, especially about the nature of Facebook ‘friendship’), I shall treat this as a stop gap post, and pour myself a large glass of red wine. Ooh, there’s that new episode of Lewis to catch up on… (Shame the Midsomer Murders this week was a repeat). Night all.

“Forty, mumsy and wry / I moved from London and I … “

24 Jan

Well, alright, I’m not quite there yet – but not far off, and the temptation to manipulate a Morrissey lyric in this fashion is irresistible. “Sixteen, clumsy and shy/ I went to London and I…” he sings in The Smiths’ sweet, melancholy little ditty ‘Half a Person’ (worth a click if you are new to The Smiths). I find that, as my title implies, not only am I now a whole person in my own right, I have in effect acquired ‘half a person’ in the last couple of years. An extra little person, that is, and not that extra ‘baby weight’ I still vow I will be rid of.

Hands up Baby! I love them.

Hands up Baby! Love ’em.

So, Midsomerville has become a more permanent reality in my life. Having torn myself from my cool London teaching job, I am now forced to treat my home as more than a fantasy weekend retreat (where we occasionally wear fake moustaches and drink port).

The decisive factor in this move? An enchanting little creature, whose thoughtful brown eyes, quirky pout, artistic little hands and hilarious mannerisms have captivated me utterly. It’s easy to wax lyrical about one’s own children and the effect they have on you but, hey, to cut a long story short, I really do like this kid. I think she’s dead cool. Poppy rocks my world in a way that I suppose London used to. Poppy Julia Liberty. She is named after my dear friend Jules, my sparkling soul sister, who I shall miss every day for the rest of my life. And The Libertines, whose reunion gig I survived at 9 months pregnant in the mud at the Reading Festival in 2010.

What? I'm sick, let's get through this however we can ...

What? I’m sick, let’s get through this however we can …

Today the snowy magic of Midsomerville has been transformed. Even the most idyllic scenes have taken on that post-snow, shabby, ‘down-market’ look. Dirty lumps of greying snow hang on to lamp posts, garden shrubs, roof tiles and wheelie bins. Bit depressing really as what this place really has going for it is it’s “outstanding beauty”. We missed the opportunity to illustrate our blog with the glorious and abundant ‘cozy’ images of our winter wonderland as we were confined by our sickness. We are still not 100%. Today’s blog is prompted by our need to venture out as we are beginning to behave strangely. Poppy has not been to nursery. I have done nothing but take baths, wipe things down incessantly (the child mainly) while developing an unhealthy dependence on CBBC‘s Mr Tumble.

If we were in London now, I have an idea that we would be wrapped up warmly and heading up to the Natural History or Science Museum. Big, airy spaces perfect for buggies, they are cheaper than trawling an indoor shopping mall (which if we’re honest has just as many exciting artefacts and activities for a toddler). Museums usually provide just the right amount of contact with other children, have decent coffee opportunities and are acceptably edifying for both her and me.

But we’re not in London.

And here are our options:

My girl at the Natural History Museum

Ready for action at the Natural History Museum

  • Visit the Post Office – this is always an event. But as we have nothing to send to anyone today, a bit pointless. Oh, hold on, we could post my application for a new Tesco Clubcard.
  • Walk to the pond by The Butcher’s Arms and attempt to engage some fed-up ducks; ducks who are now so bored with us, they wait until we leave before eating the breadcrumbs we have lovingly thrown at them. This is true. I have sneaked a look back when we are departing and seen them waddling over to eat when they think we are no longer watching them.
  • Hang on. Let’s go into ‘town’! Apparently, there’s a big, airy, edifying museum there. There may even be a bus running out of the village today. It’s called … the Museum of Rural Life – hmmm. Well it’s that, or the shopping mall. And after our last experience in H&M, which involved an unpaid for pair of Hello Kitty earmuffs, I am not so keen.

So, if there’s anyone out there (seriously, we haven’t seen that many humans in the last week), we shall report back on our day’s adventures. That’s if we really can make it out of the village…

Welcome to ‘Midsomerville’!

19 Jan

Ok, so this is not going to be the brilliant first splash into the blogosphere I imagined. The snow lays 20 cm thick outside the house; there is little movement, and it’s eerily quiet out there…

And inside here?

My head is fuzzy, my nose fizzy and my throat burning – and I have totalled only 3.5 hours sleep over the last 24 hours. This is mainly due to my 2 year old daughter, who is also unwell. Same symptoms, but with the exhilarating bonus of projectile vomiting thrown in. Result: we are on our fourth bath of the day, the washing machine is providing a constant background drone, and we are not moving from the suitably resourced bedroom where I have just logged on, and she is watching Kipper the Dog on a drowsy yet determined loop.

Not used to feeling genuinely rubbish, we are not enjoying this at all. The cosy relish of all day TV watching, and excuses to eat and drink things one usually wouldn’t (those little comforts when one has a mild sniffle) are not to be had here. This just ain’t fun.

For a start, it’s the weekend – the illicit excitement of days off work/school is therefore not valid. Secondly, everyone has panic bought all the milk and, more importantly, all the good red wine from the local shop (lack of plural to be stressed). Finally however, and perhaps most crucially, I need somehow to get a scintillating blog on the go that doesn’t reveal me to be a complete moron, or worse still, a dullard.

Ok, so as I said, this is not going to be the brilliant first splash into the blogosphere I imagined… And you can hopefully understand why, today in particular, my ‘musings’ could tend towards the ‘murderous’. Hey, who knows, with a bit of sleep and a lot less vomit around, future posts may be quite different.

For those of you confused by my blog title, you may not be familiar with the TV show Midsomer Murders, a traditional ‘whodunnit’ crime drama characterised by its quintessential Englishness. In looking up this brand of crime drama (see, I am taking this seriously), I have established that it is a classic example of the ‘cozy’. The ‘cozy’ murder mystery is a genre represented by the iconic English ‘tea cozy’ (a little woollen jumper worn by a teapot to keep its vital contents warm) thus setting the tone for the genteel machinations of a range of stock English vicars, little old ladies, eccentric aristos, tweedy bookish gents and bored middle class housewives etc. Indeed all those who are most likely to regularly ‘take tea’ (of the teapot and chintzy cake stand variety).

Frankly appalled by the range and absurdity when googling images of this item.

Frankly astounded by the range, creativity and absurdity when googling images of this item. (Image via Etsy.com – Andrea Lesley Crochet)

Set in the fictional county of ‘Midsomer’ (which I find to be a much more true to life depiction than I ever imagined growing up in the multicultural and eclectic high streets of North-West London), these ‘chocolate box’ mysteries, revolving round the thatched cottages, picturesque churchyards and country lanes of the English home counties, have always held a fascination for me. So much so that I left my London flat and bought a charming ‘project’ Edwardian semi in one such place. Many who meet me now almost always find this quiet obsession a surprise. I suppose it’s not quite in keeping with grimier obsessions I’m perhaps more well known for: passionately following dirty ‘indie’ rock bands around, blagging backstage ‘passes’ and stalking ‘poetic’ drug-addled musicians ‘in n out a’ London’s dodgiest boozers being some… I once worked out I had been to see one trilby-clad, grubby-fingered, tabloid fiend 20 times in a 12 month period. Along with the huge financial implications, I dread to think of the impact on my students whose media education was inevitably tainted with my enthusiastic and disproportionate anecdotes surrounding him.

The American poet Sylvia Plath once said something along the lines of how she would be ‘flying between two mutually exclusive places/things for the rest of her days’ (apologies SP for misquote). I think she linked it to neurosis or some such syndrome, but I have always found this comforting when I think of my own ‘mutually exclusive’ obsessions: the buzz, the colour, the pace and the brash ‘reality’ of London life versus the quiet politeness, seeming order and idyllic rural ‘prettiness’ of the English country landscape. A place where people still pride themselves on wearing traditional green wellies, polishing the family silver (no joke) and hiding the microwave in the converted outhouse. I have been ‘flying’ back and forth (‘flying’ being metaphorical as my mode of transport has been the generally unlucky First Great Western Train service) from the West London academy where I work to ‘home’ in a South Oxfordshire village for a few years now.

The fact that Sylvia ended up putting her head in a gas oven at 31 years old is something we won’t dwell on, as I centre on now being properly ensconced in my ‘alternative’ fantasy world of ‘Midsomerville’ after years of trudging the London streets. Drunken lock-ins at ‘historic’ pubs, sleeping on strangers on Piccadilly night buses, boho Soho breakfasts, dubious gigs in Brixton, lectures in Bloomsbury and markets in Notting Hill, the smell of the Underground is as natural to me as the smell of a freshly baked Victoria Sponge to Miss Marple. I was there when we won the Olympics cheering with the Turkish cab drivers who ran the joint next to ‘my’ sandwich bar. And I was also there the next day, as the same Turkish cabbies and I shared looks of shock and incomprehension, when we realised that the Edgware Road Tube Station had just been blown up, and I was frantically ferrying school children with tube dust in their hair off the street for registration…

So for me, it really is ‘London ’til I die, mate’ – it’s in my blood.

Down and dirty in the Big Smoke with Amy n Pete...

Down and dirty in the Big Smoke with Amy and Pete…

Camden Crawl

My roots: the buzz of NW London
(Image courtesy of LondonTown.com)

Why then, do I hanker after quaint tea rooms run by matronly old ladies, ivy-clad church porches, hedgerows and country lanes, jam-making and village halls? Why do people who spend their lives continuously improving their ‘Farrow and Ball’ period properties or playing ‘Bridge’, and are so bored with their idyllic lives that they have to officially break up their afternoons with a gin and tonic, intrigue and delight me so much? I’m not sure. Growing up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie may have something to do with it. I love Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles only of course) and Miss Marple almost as much as I do say Morrissey (OK, an honorary angst-ridden Londoner) or Amy Winehouse or The Clash.

Now that I have had a child and have given up the London job, the flying between ‘two mutually exclusive places’ has had to cease – on a daily basis at least. How I adjust to this and life now more heavily weighted to this English ‘cozy’ ideal is something I shall attempt to share in coming posts. I am quite pleased with the ‘Midsomer’ pun in my blog title, I feel by compiling a title that includes my surname, I am fulfilling the egocentric nature of this blog and indeed the whole personal nature of blogging. So, here it is again: welcome to the actually more mild than murderous musings of ‘Midsomerville’. And do feel free to leave whenever you please (once you’ve had a nice cup of tea, of course) …

My spiritual Great Aunt – I adore you, Miss M. (Image via Little Grey Pixel)