Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is it me?

Yesterday morning I was en route to see my doctor in a taxi driven by a large distinguished-looking Nigerian man, possibly in his late 50's. The radio was playing, and on the news they announced that Jade Goody's family were finalising her funeral arrangements.

This prompted my driver to comment on how sad it was, and I agreed saying that the disease had taken her quickly. He nodded and added but what had really shocked him, was the death of Natasha Richardson. I agreed that that was indeed a shocking and sudden tragedy. And, of course I had to add, 'And on a nursery slope of all places!' I have long rationalised my fear of skiing by pointing out that you can actually die from it, although personally until poor Natasha Richardson, I have only ever heard of one other person, namely that unfortunate Kennedy cousin who was skiing backwards while trying to catch a football.


My driver, not to be outdone by my Kennedy story, went on to name every person he has known personally, as well as sports people and celebrities, that have died suddenly and unexpectedly. Including an aunt of his that came to the UK for a visit, had a routine medical, and was told her body was riddled with cancer, despite exhibiting no symptoms or experiencing any pain. "Just like that! She never got to go home again, " he said somberly.

At this point, on my way to an internal exam by my gynaecologist, I had had about enough death and cancer talk for a lifetime, and attempted to change the subject by asking my driver if he missed Nigeria.

He told me he missed the weather, the people, the life he had there. He said that people over here don't give a damn about anyone, whereas at home they take time to enquire as to your health and the health of your family pretty much every time they see you.

"Here," he said, "a friend of mine was dead in his flat for four days before they found him. Four days! What kind of place is it to live when people don't even know you are missing? And the neighbours? Forget it! Here you don't even know them. Back home if you were missing even for a day someone would come and knock on your door to see if you were OK."

So we were back to talking about death again, and I did wonder to myself, what the hell is it with me and depressing taxi drivers? Another person I have encountered, not once, but twice from the same cab company, is a thin cynical man from Afghanistan who is full of doom and gloom. OK, so he's probably entitled to his depression what with things back home being as they are. But sometimes, you know, at the end of a long day when you are on your way to see your girlfriends for a glass of wine to help you unwind, you just don't want to hear about how the Americans are getting their targets wrong and killing and entire 200 strong wedding party, including babies, children and the bride and groom.

Our new nanny started yesterday. She's Italian, and a nanny by day and artist by night. And not just 'an artist,' in the sense that everyone who owns Photoshop calls themselves one, but someone who actually exhibits and sells stuff. I happen to like her work a lot, although I tell myself this had nothing to do with my decision to hire her. But yes, I did take a look at her website to try and spot any homicidal tendencies in her paintings. I think I detected a bit of heartache and angst in and amongst some of it, but nothing psychotic, which is always a relief when the person in question is going to be caring for your small child.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rory Stewart on Kabul

Last night my friend Patrick and I went along to the Royal Institute of Architects to hear Rory Stewart talk about Kabul and his work there for the Turquoise Mountain Project. In a nutshell it's a non-profit organisation that's working hard to regenerate the historical buildings in Kabul. They've also built a primary school (for boys AND girls), have workshops that employ local craftsmen to pass on their (prior to this dying-out) trades, and have removed tons and tons of rubbish from the streets employing practically every unemployed man in the city. This really is a nutshell because they have done and do a lot more and most importantly are giving the people of that city a sense of national pride and heritage.

Anyway, so listening to someone like Rory talk and meeting him in person has a two-fold effect on someone like me; The first is that I think, 'Shit, this guy has done an incredibly meaningful amount of stuff with his life and had some amazing adventures for his age.' (He is two years older than me, so I assume he is quite young, because I don't think mentally I have left 26). Then secondly, and related to this, comes the realisation that Rory isn't actually that young, he's 36, which makes me not that young either. But yes, still relatively young in terms of what he has achieved. Anyway, so I come out of the experience feeling as though I have largely failed to make a contribution to shaping and changing this world for the better, and I feel old.

So all in all an enjoyable evening then.

People like Rory Stewart are also a serious reminder to me of why I do not want to stick my child in front of the television for extended periods of the day, or in a push chair while I peruse the mall for pleasure. These are not conducive things to encourage a child's natural curiosity in the world, or to instill a hunger for knowledge. Unless we are talking about shoes and handbags that is, the importance of which should not be sniffed at.

Rory spoke in a magazine interview of how each morning en route to school his father would take him fencing in the park. Now that is the kind of thing we remember from our childhood - that meaningful time spent with parents where they are engaged with us and teaching us, rather than all the CBeebies shyte. Saying that, I do feel that all those episodes I watched of 'The Smurfs' played an important role in my emerging creative development and later my ability to stay in the room with an argument. But that's by the by.

Which brings me back to the importance of having a non-crack taking ex-con nanny that can also teach my child while minding her. We'll hopefully have reached our decision next week and I can start the serious business of having some time to myself. Hmm, time to myself ...I don't really remember what that feels like, so I don't quite know what I am going to do with it. Watch this space ... .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The interview

So I've been interviewing a bunch of people for the nanny position. I don't really know how to 'interview' per se. Mainly I just have a conversation with them and try and remember to throw in some key questions like, 'Where does one get the best crack in London?' And, 'What do you do if someone takes your bunk in prison?' The answer to these and similar questions yields a surprising wealth of information about the interviewee.

One woman kept remarking how little Julia was and asked me if she was sick, had been premature, and if she ate properly. I was was like, 'Are you kidding me, there are women who would kill for a little waistline like that' (homage to David Sedaris), but I didn't. Our child is slight. She's on par to tall for her age in the height stakes, and she's on the slender side in terms of weight. No muscle wastage, nothing wrong, she's just slender. Hell, that's what I call a quality problem.

Another didn't stop talking, about herself that is. With absolutely no awareness of Julia in the room. Julia could have been dangling from the light fixtures playing with matches, and she wouldn't have noticed. I mean, if you are going for an interview as a nanny, surely you make some effort to interact with the child right? Weird.

On the plus side I have seen at least four people that I would hire, so that is a relief. It's good to know that of all the psycho child minders out there, some of them have at least politely chosen not to apply for the job of looking after our child.

I want to plug a photographer that came and took some family pictures of us this past weekend. Her name is Melanie Moss and her website is melaniemoss.com. She's got a very relaxed nice way about her and took some fantastic photos for us. If you want some pictures taken of yourself for that reality TV interview, or photos of your new baby or children, or some nice family shots for the walls or that Christmas card, I highly recommend her. She's also not overpriced. In fact, she's very reasonably priced for a London-based photographer. So take a look.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My time's flown, and haven't you grown!

We are interviewing again for a nanny. I've tried doing the earth mother thing, but earth mothering an increasingly active walking, talking, climbing dynamo for 12 hours a day is becoming tough going. I think both she and I would benefit if she had someone else to come and take over for a few hours that has a bit more steam in their boat.

I placed an ad on a jobs site and have had about a hundred replies. A lot of the young women who applied are foreign, and expressed an interest in improving their English while working in London. Fair enough, but how does one hope to improve their English looking after someone who has about 20 words of human language, and mostly favours 'No' and 'Whoo Whoo?'

One candidate is an ex 'Disney on Ice' skater. I imagine her cracking open a beer and sharing tales with Julia of back-stage affairs, brutal ambition, and knife turning betrayal. Those ice skating people have seen it all.

We had a fantastic time in South Africa. Cape Town is a must for anyone. You need to drive though. And then I'd avoid the motorways because as is true of much of South Africa, and indeed the world over, motorway drivers are all psychotic. But yes, Cape Town has so many wonderful things to do and see, and one really gets a good feel for the country's beauty and diverse culture. Not least of all by encountering a vast shanty town beside the motorway minutes after leaving the airport.

We ate a lot of good food. You don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well in South Africa, and this is not just because of the exchange rate invariably being in your favour if you are a foreigner. Food is just generally quite inexpensive, tasty and well prepared pretty much everywhere you go. And if you are in Cape Town and like fish, well, the city is your oyster. OK, bad pun, but you get the idea.

I practically lived on deep fried calamari, which they do so very well over there. And it's not those shitty little rubberised rings either. No, these are proper big pieces of the stuff deliciously fried, and oh so good with some lemon butter sauce on the side. Because eating it deep fried isn't enough to clog the arteries, you definitely need the sauce to complete the coronary. And then there are prawns, oh and good steaks. Hmmm, I definitely miss the food there.

The V&A Waterfront in the city of Cape Town is fantastic for shopping. They have a large craft market selling the more Africany type stuff, and it's worth bargaining because prices are pretty steep thanks to tourism. If you do like African art, and want a genuine bargain, I'd recommend trying vendors that sell on the sides of roads which you will find in places like Fish Hoek and en route to Cape Point.

We attended my sister's wedding in Johannesburg which was a blast. We arranged an in-room babysitter and basically reverted back to our pre-baby pre-parenting ways for the night. Read: Much alcohol, much bad dancing, much talking of shyte. It was good to feel irresponsible again if only for an evening. Until the next morning that is, when fortunately Roberto and various family members were in a much better state to take care of Julia while I walked around feeling sorry for myself.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don't drink like that anymore. Parenting on a hangover and or low blood sugar is a seriously bad idea and I advise against it at all costs.

And on that note I hear a certain young lady waking from her morning nap ...

Over and out