Friday, November 30, 2012


So November Knob-head activities have come to a close.  It was satisfying to vomit out the required number of words for NaNoWriMo before realising that at least another 30K will be needed to finish the first draft and have the story make some form of sense. Of course, this was the whole intention - get us procrastinators committed for a month and then, if/when we hit fifty thou', we'll be in for the long haul. Clever thinking.

Milly sat at my feet the entire time acting as mute inspiration, delivery man sniffer and wet-nosed break time alarm clock. She's been recited to, sung at and even had her opinion sought on alternative paragraph endings and descriptions.  I'm pleased to report that her work has been outstanding and she's quite simply the best Personal Assistant a writer could wish for (excepting the fragrant farts, of course. Then again, she could rightfully direct the same complaint back at me).

The 60,000 words were completed at a time when Sapphire's stomach issues had not only re-emerged but also joined forces with her 'plumbing at the front'.  No-one likes placing their feet into stirrups and having a man approach with a cotton bud and what looks like an oversized creme brulee gas torch but when you're thirteen years old, tired, sick and scared it gets beyond funny. "So Mum, how's your day going so far," she said quietly, trying her best to get her mind off things. "Can you hold my hand please?"  At least two days off school per week has become the norm but we thank modern technology, school website log ins and mates with mobiles for keeping her up to date with assignments and still in sight of good grades.

However with lingering illness, puberty, fluctuating friendships and a truck-load of pre-report card homework to do, she's been forced into the first row seat riding the rollercoaster of grumpiness, apologies, resentment, frustration, amusement, challenges, stomach aches, affection, anger, sulkiness and gratitude.  Love Chunks and I sometimes want to hand our own tickets back to the booth at different times but, together, we're a pretty formidable - and empathetic - force.

My endlessly busted Achilles is minor in comparison but still makes my invisible tail droop at not being able to do my favourite form of exercise combined with sweaty singing and idea generating.  As my stupid old woman muscle heals at snail-on-a-glacier pace, the treadmill has done a sterling job of getting bed sheets and towels dry, being so close to the window and radiator. Shame about the dog hairs and dust bunnies forming on the belt though.

Seeing some butt-numbing numbers flash up on the scales at a friend's place was an unpleasant reminder that an alternative form of exercise needed to be sought.  At forty four and with new (and desperately unwanted) age spots arriving on my face every week, swimming was the most obvious choice despite snow approaching and me already with several old winter layers to be removed.  Three times a week has since seen me reluctantly trudge in the freezing wind half a kilometre downhill to the pool, get undressed in a semi-open change room where male workers wander through at will and plonk myself into water that is far colder than you'd expect a heated pool to be.

It is here, whilst splashing up and down the lanes - right side here in Switzerland, by the way, not the left - that chapter ideas emerge, chlorinated and vibrant, ready for use. Hindsight flowers behind foggy goggles and offers decent alternatives in my reactions to Sapphire's tribulations; and Love Chunks' face appears on the bottom of the pool, smiling kindly at me.

It is also here that I discover rage.  Rage is new to me, as I'm the, 'Oh let the guy in, it's just another three seconds of our lives' forgiving old soul when it comes to cars.  Beeping horns are also alien to me and as long as I get that obligatory 'thank you' wave, life behind the wheel is calm and uneventful.  The swimming lane provides a direct contradiction.

Unlike pools in Australia that are usually marked, 'Slow,' 'Medium' and 'Fast' with about two lanes for each speed, Geneva has just two lanes. One is marked with a green tortoise and the other with a red hare; a rather cute solution for swimmers with potentially little or no understanding of French.  I'm egotistical enough to select the Hare lane as years of running have given me an endurance level that allows me to swim laps without stopping. Fat old girls can float, y'see. I was never particularly fast in Oz but always consistent, yet here in Switzerland, I'm a female Ian Thorpe without the fashion or the flipper feet.  I leave middle aged Canadian blokes and skinny French ladies in my wake, lapping them over and over again.  No rage yet, just overheated pride and vanity.

Lapping is fine, as long as there are six or less people in the Hare lane.  When there is more, and some clod decides to wind down by doing the backstroke or the breast stroke, my irritation awakes.  No-one, apart from Olympic athletes, can swim the back or breast stroke faster than freestyle which means that they no longer belong in the Hare Lane and should duck under the barrier and do their barely-floating version of a hungover frog in the Tortoise Lane.  Irritation rises to anger when I have to overtake the hairy-backed old guy lazily attempting back stroke and have his overly long fingernails scrape my sides whilst doing so.

Rage finally appears when I've overtaken the third bloody breast stroking bozo and we touch the end of the lane at the same time and he doesn't take one single second to notice that I've thrashed the water to foam whilst making up three quarters of a lap and want to take off in front of him.  No, this non-submersible turd ends up kicking me in the face as I try to get around him and not smack into the blind backstroker coming from the opposite direction.

The only thing stopping me from strangling these inconsiderate imbeciles with the cords of their speedos or pulling back goggle straps a metre before letting it sting their faces is the counting.

Numbers. Order. Routine.

I dare not waste too much mental energy on these public pool pinheads or I'll risk forgetting how many laps I've swum.  Fourteen, Fourteen, Fourteen, is the chant until I reach the end. Fifteen, fifteen, fifte ----- oh for pharksake why does he think that swimming with a foam peanut between his knees means he'll be quick enough for the fast lane ---- bugger. Was it fifteen or thirteen...?  If in doubt, don't cheat. Thirteen, thirteen, thirteen, thir----- maybe I'll swim over the TOP of that stupid back stroking bonehead instead of around her....

When forty is finally counted, I hoik my dripping bulk out via the pool steps and do my best to saunter back to the change rooms, walking in slo-mo for coolness but really to avoid slipping on the tiles.  When I'm safely in the unlockable, saloon door individual cubicle, I slump down on the wet bench seat in exhaustion.

Three loads of washing to drape around the house, two specialist appointments to arrange for Sapphire, winter tyres to put on the car, a thrice-postponed lunch date and then, the writing.  Love Chunks' face appears in front of me again as I find the hill back home rather hard going.

Milly greets me at the door, full of joy as usual and as we go downstairs for a walk, my smile returns.

I'm so lucky to be here and will do my damnedest to make the most of it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Autumnal Brocante

I'm supposedly in the thick of NaNoWriMo (27,000 words at last count) and factoring in a sick Sapphire (three days off school) and my own four day migraine (still lingering), but hopefully you'll understand why my inclination to blog has been fainter than a Kardashian talent.

But autumn has arrived in Geneva and a brocante or two has been visited. Bring out the photos!

Firstly, a pencil sketch with '1881' written just above the signature. Yes, after I proudly popped it into an IKEA frame, Love Chunks pointed out that the stall owner could have just written the date in there, hoping a sucker like me would be eager to part with a huge ten francs. Fair point.

Another stall holder thanked her lucky stars when she had five copies of this old watercolour of Geneva and five of us duly purchased one each for two francs a pop. Clearly drawn in the days before the Jet D'Eau emerged from a busted pipe in the lake during 1886 or the UN was ever heard of. So, mass produced tat, but I like it anyway.

Found these French spice drawers and instantly fell in love with them. Not so LC or Sapphire, who both said 'Erk' when I stuck them in our admittedly-not-very-sympathetic Billy bookcase:

But YOU can see why I liked it, can't you? Glass drawers made in handy scoop shapes?

Ahem, moving right along. We have darling Milly, reluctantly being forced to sit in the corner and pose in front of my twelve franc bargain - an old wooden snow sled!

Perfect for storing Love Chunks' muddy shoe collection:

Peter Rabbit has always been one of my  picture books and Sapphire has a tiny figurine depicting Peter snuggled up in bed after his adventures. A Wedgewood plate for five francs - yes, thanks.

And a cheap poster of the classic WW2 shot of St Pauls' cathedral surviving the devastation of the blitz? In an IKEA frame that I realised was so unbelievably cheap because it didn't have any clear plastic cover or glass in it?

Second hand book sales are another addiction of mine. English versions preferred of course and when there's a twice-yearly clearance to help raise funds for more books AND a bunch of old Pommy ladies are selling cups of tea and fresh sandwiches filled with cheddar cheese and Branston pickle, I'll be there with bells on. And found, on the 'Antiquarian' table, this little beauty from 1909:

It was interesting to note on the spine that he was called Hans Anderson. No 'Christian' inserted in, unlike Danny Kaye's movie of 1952. "I'm Hans Christian Anderson, I've many a tale to tell..."

Even more interesting was that the book was a prize awarded in 1909 by the Vicar EA Johnson to the student John Jenner for 'General Proficience, Good Conduct, Punctuality and Regularity.' Poor mite; dumb as dodo dung but turned up anyway. Probably liked his prunes, too.....

Modern books aplenty of course. There's few things nicer than knowing you have a delicious pile of reading awaiting you.

.....with one additional selection that even Milly doubted I'd get through.

Yep. War and Peace. Brand new; never been attempted. Handed in for re-sale instead. Will it end up the same way again...?

Time will tell. Until then, there's always time to step away from the desk and wander outside for some autumnal squirrel spotting.

Monday, November 05, 2012


I'm a little over seventeen thousand words into the NaNoWriMo thing now and have realised that the IKEA office chair we bought a year ago for less than fifty francs is about as comfortable as being folded in a suitcase for long periods.  The back refuses to lean straight, so I end up impersonating a 'less than' sign by the end of the day.

I'm now forty four years old and, in addition to IKEA-acquired back pain was forced to celebrate my birthday a helluva lot earlier than I would have liked thanks to the very uncharacteristic behaviour of the Swiss couple living upstairs from us.

They had a loud party.  At this time last year, Guilliame left a prominent note about his upcoming party sticky taped in each lift, entry door and a copy in everybody's mail box.  Whatever carousing occurred, it occurred without us hearing a thing.

This year, however, they had different plans. No notice but lots of noise.  My guess was that they'd eaten (and drank, clearly) out somewhere and, in the forgivingly warm fug of fondue and booze decided to invite everyone back to their place to continue on.

At midnight, I was driven to the living room.  Not by the party (although the girls could have done me a favour by kicking off their heels. Parquetry floors become painful percussion instruments when stilettos are clacking on them), but by Love Chunks.

He was due to leave for the US the following morning and, perhaps to ease my sadness at his absence on my birthday, his ENT system decided to put on a snoring performance not heard - or suffered - for at least a decade.  No amount of whispered threats, loud sighs or sharp pokes in the back to turn the hell over made a shred of difference to the Angry Elephant Bellowing at a Whipper Snipper sounds he was emitting.

In the living room, the party was kicking on.  Midnight was fine, but at 2am the scraping chairs, loud laughs, screeching giggles and singing Happy Birthday (in English) for the tenth time was officially being classed by my bloodshot eyes as inconsiderate.

My book was fascinating, but not to the extent of blocking out the noise from LC or upstairs.

Then the doof doof started. At 2:30am.  It was high time to grab the front door key and take some action.  

Ratta tatta tatta went my knuckles on his wooden door.  Guilliame opened it to see me with sticky hair, ugg boots and dog breath.  "I've had enough mate. Turn the music off and please be quiet."

'Mate' slipped in from god knows where.  Guilliame was torn - he looked over his shoulder at the chaotic hilarity occurring in his dining room and back at the exhausted old bag in a brown dressing gown standing angrily in front of him.  "Sorry," he said quickly, shutting the door in my face.

Back downstairs, it was a relief to hear the music end.  The chair scraping, yelling and parquetry percussion continued until well after 3am.

Love Chunks' alarm went off at six.  Drowsily, he whispered, "Happy Birthday, love," before turning on the shower.  Milly heard the waking sounds from her bed in Sapphire's room and trotted in to nudge me. "Yeah yeah, I'll take you down for a whizzer."

Passing through the lobby, my aching eyes spied the intercom by the entry door.  

BSSSSSSSST BSSSSSSSST BSSSSSSSST!!  I hammered Guilliame's button to the world-recognised rhythm of 'Do Me A Favour: Drop Dead!" before scooting outside.  If his intercom was anything like ours, it would have drilled through his hungover subconscious and scared the crap out of him.  His heart would have required at least ten minutes of deep breathing and checking the fish eye peep hole to get back to less than a hundred beats per minute again.  Good.

As for blame, he would have had neighbours upstairs, downstairs and to the left and to the right to consider as angry intercom-abusing arse wipes.

For good measure, I went BSSSSSSSST BSSSSSSSST BSSSSSSSST!! on the way back upstairs.

..... was that wrong?

Friday, November 02, 2012

November Knob head?

I'm an idiot.

Most likely very arrogant.

Undoubtedly vain.

And incredibly optimistic.

I've decided to have a go at National Writing Novel Month or NaNoWriMo for short.  November has been allotted for all aspiring novelists to vomit up at least 50,000 words by the end of the month.  Really it should now be called International NoWriMo because it has spread way beyond the US and has done so for a number of years now.  Never mind; I'm wasting precious time....

Word count is key: not editing or quality or re-writes or second - let alone final - drafts.  

As the (old and ageing) Princess of Procrastination, InNoWriMo (as I'm now going to refer to it) might be the only way that one of my three ideas for a novel gets done.  The one I've selected is not likely to bowl anyone over with surprise or knock 'em out with creativity or insight, but somehow seems to be the one that's been calling me over the past few weeks; begging me to give it some time and effort.  

Of course, this ridiculous challenge falls within a month of appointments, commitments already made, floors so filthy they crunch when you walk on them, Love Chunks being overseas for two weeks and thus conferring temporary Single Mother status on me and ..... Sapphire's stomach issue rearing its ugly, unwanted and undeserved head again.

The pain, exhaustion and white-faced fatigue has returned for her.  Three days off school so far and a few minutes ago she went dejectedly back to bed, knowing that unless a miraculous turnaround occurs tomorrow she won't be cooking my birthday cake or having her best buddy over to stay.

In fact, when Elmo is invited into her bed, it's clear that she's sick. Not that she'll let me show you the photo I took which would have left you with a much nicer visual image to continue your day with than the mental nightmare of me being handed a pair of sterilised rubber gloves and a syringe by the doctor in order to obtain a special 'sample' for the Zurich clinic that left both Sapphire and myself horrifed and doubled over laughing at the same time. "Good!" I gasped, "Stay that way and make it easier for me!"

Results come back next week and, until then, I have a poorly teenager and a dog who is already bearing the brunt of said teen's handiwork:

Wish us all luck....