Monthly Archives: October 2012

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Halloween for beginners

Halloween was always a bit of a non-event in New Zealand, and not only because my parents didn’t let us go trick-or-treating. Hardly anyone did, and as a result, in those deserted dusky streets of central Auckland, it wasn’t particularly safe. And then there was the shameless sugar-gorging and the possibility of dark forces at work… anyway, we didn’t participate. Until we moved to Hong Kong.

Surrounded by expats, many of them American, we were swept up into the fun of it all. I dressed as a witch and trawled around the apartment blocks with all the other kids and parents. Everyone was doing it and it really wasn’t scary or particularly exciting. But it was cool to be a part of things.

I was twelve then, perhaps a little too old to get into it for the first time.

And I’m still a novice. I’m not very good at costumes. I’m always trying to wrangle something out of the clothes and accessories I already own, and I don’t like to tease my hair up into a ‘fro. If I did I might go as a mad scientist. I could dress Louis and Elena in too-big clothes and we could be ‘Honey, I shrunk the kids.’

Instead, I think we’ll go to tomorrow’s halloween play-group as Hansel, Gretel and the scary old lady (yeah, so I’m going as a witch again…). If we can’t get hold of a giant lollipop then we’ll be either farmers, beach bums, or pirates. Weak-sauce, sure, but maybe we’ll make up for it by bringing exciting food…

Easy Halloween Party food on

I found great ideas online for themed food to take along, but the sweet side of things is covered so I’m meant to take something savory. That leaves me with two ideas:

– some kind of salsa dip with a spiders web drawn on top (made of sour cream)

– or cheese muffins with scary faces on top (made of vegetables cut and arranged creatively).

I have to take the bus to get there, so muffins it is. Hopefully the food and our costumes are vaguely recognizable and don’t require too much explanation: always a clear indication that you’ve basically failed at halloween.

Apparently this festival is a bit unpredictable in France. In recent years it has been a big deal and in other years a non-event. So we’d better get some lollies just in case.

We can always eat them ourselves if no trick or treaters show up… hm. Perhaps we’ll skip the lollies and just pretend we’re not home. Or demand actual tricks, as if we’re halloween purists.

In reality, I feel like an outsider, playing pretend, and not very convincingly, super-self-conscious in my lame costume. But then I think, hey, harmless fun, a few sweets, dressing up, it’s for the kids… why not? What are your thoughts/plans for halloween? Do you get into it begrudgingly, or enthusiastically, or not at all?


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A night out or a night out.

We’ve had two very different types of “nights out” recently: a date night, sans babies, and a full night ‘out’ – as in asleep. Hallelujah!

Saturday night we celebrated Luuk’s birthday with a visit to a new Paris bar – Dernier bar avant la fin du Monde, a play on ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and on the Mayan calendar, which ends later this year. There’s a countdown on the wall, and if that’s not the first thing you see when you walk in the door then you must be looking at the model Millennium Falcon (Han Solo’s ship in the Star Wars trilogy).

It’s a cocktail bar, really, with bright colourful drinks and not a long menu of things to go with them. Usually I’d think, hey fun drinks, at a description like that but I’m a big fan of long menus and I wouldn’t go far out of my way for a meal without one. (Organising a babysitter then figuring out the metro to a new place in Paris falls under ‘going out of my way’.) The appeal of this particular night spot is, of course, the theme, and with that the huge collection of board games! A whole wall of the main floor of the bar is dedicated to a bookshelf – half books (graphic novels and novels, sci-fi and fantasy… all the biggies and plenty of t’others) and half games (boxes and boxes and bags and tins…)

We ordered drinks (for me a Holy Grail, for Luuk a mint-packed mojito by another name, I forget exactly what) and then picked out a two player game and translated the rules enough to play three rounds. Then we had some food – a platter of delicious succulent beef, flavourful rice, salads and sauce, and another platter, less impressive, with bacon, something similar to bagel crisps, and a toothpaste tube of blue cheese dip. i suppose it was supposed to be space food. It was yummy, but strange.

We were both very tired and were home just the other side of ten.

The other ‘night out’ was last night. Now, this is going to get me in trouble with at least a few parenting-philosophy-fundamentalists (is that an appropriate description? Or is that description going to get me in even more trouble?)

Anyway, with Louis we tried this trick we heard about. Once a baby is three or four months old they can sleep through the night – as in, they don’t need food. Now, the world is far from in unanimous agreement about this, but then again the only thing they all do agree on is that babies are cute. The theory goes that babies get into a habit of waking at certain times, of getting fed at certain intervals, and that the habit can be broken in three nights. Just three. Three miserable little nights.

Theory says that if you don’t feed the baby for two nights in a row they’ll sleep through the third. Mean? Well, we’re not quite that cold. I smell like mum or milk, or a bit of both, so if I go to comfort Elena then I’ll end up feeding her.

So Luuk goes in, gives her a cuddle and some water to drink, her doudou (french for ‘cuddly’ or ‘blankie’ I suppose), her dummy (the french for which is ‘tétine’)…

With Louis, we had two miserable nights and he slept through the third. Now, that was over 18 months ago and they’re very different children. We did not expect Elena to catch on faster, easier… but she did! She woke twice the first night and grizzled for maybe forty minutes in total (not all in one go). The second night she woke once, around four thirty with a little help from the dummy went right back to bed and woke at six… which, since daylight savings just ended, may as well have been seven. Third night she did the same at three-something and then slept till after six.

It’s too soon to crack open the champagne, but so far so good. If she needed feeding during the night, if she weren’t ready for this, then she wouldn’t sleep through, she’d wake and demand food. And I’d give it to her. But if she doesn’t need it then we’re all a hell of a lot better off for a full night’s sleep.

And I’m so relieved that a consistent full night’s sleep is a possibility in the near future. I’m having fantasies about my brain functioning, about whole days without failed attempts at a nap… without even wanting a nap. I can hardly imagine it.

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Plots, Parties and Plateaus

I have a villain! I’ve never had a villain before. My characters usually battle disembodied evils like fear or loneliness or always being control. There are those things in this story too, and it’s possible my villain will just bring them to the fore, rather than himself being the great evil to overcome. But we’ll see. Have to save some decisions for November.

Which won’t be a problem because so far I have one major first scene, and a handful of possible things that will come out of that. I have a cast of characters with lives intertwined, history and angst, dreams and fears… all that is in a big mess of papers with Louis’s doodles added for good measure.

Last November was the first time I plotted out, scene by scene, a whole novel before writing. I found Nanowrimo really easy after that. So maybe this year will go really smoothly, even with an extra child to juggle now. But it won’t be an empty month. There is at least one party to plan and pull off… perhaps in our tiny little apartment.

Louis is nearly two. I have plans for the cake and a rough idea of a guest list, but we might have to rearrange furniture to all fit in the same room. And we won’t all get seats.

Today is Luuk’s birthday, and Dad’s is next week. Between all the celebrations and nanowrimo (ie. fuel and/or rewards for words might tend edible-ways) I am a little worried about my weight-loss continuing. Even more so since I have apparently plateaued – I am the same this saturday morning as I was last. Eek! I skipped counting calories a couple of days this week, in the wake of horrible nights, so maybe that’s where I went wrong, or maybe this is the normal plateau a couple of months into a new diet. We have been eating LOTS of soup, which is all good in theory, but it’s also been colder and I’ve been hiding out indoors, getting less exercise, so maybe that’s the problem.

Anyway, I’m not gaining, so actually there’s nothing to worry about. And I’m certainly not dieting today. Not every day is a birthday, is a good dieting mantra, but today IS a birthday!

Luuk and I are off to Le Dernier Bar this evening, for fun cocktails and board games and overpriced but hopefully themed food. It’s this really geeky spot in Paris, with all sorts of sci-fi/fantasy paraphernalia from films and television all over the walls. There are games to play while you sample the fare – all geeky themed. Should be hilarious. I’m just gutted I won’t get to see the men’s urinals – something I never though I’d say – but these ones are special: the guys get to “ski” and chase penguins… use your imagination. Or don’t. Up to you.

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It’s a side-effect of tiredness, this scattered feeling. I do one thing for all of two minutes and then I get distracted and do something else and half the time I’m doing multiple things at once.

It’s exhausting. I get lots of housework and cooking done, but I don’t feel much sense of accomplishment and I certainly don’t enjoy the process (not something I expect out of housework, but cooking can be play and art and so much fun).

Things don’t get done as well as they would if they were given my full attention, beginning to end, but then again, when I’m this tired, perhaps getting anything done well is just asking too much.

Right now, Louis is having lunch (I’m about to wash him some grapes) and the Cauliflower soup (my lunch) is on the stove. I’ve finished tidying the toys/laundry out of the lounge but the vacuuming will wait till both babies are awake at the same time. There’s not a single clear surface in this, or any other, room in the house… but then I did say I’d leave the house as-is when I hosted coffee/play group next. I sort of want people to see how chaotic it usually is so that they don’t think I’m superwoman (being mum to two littlies and also writing novels)… but I couldn’t resist tidying this morning. My head was too foggy to work on the novels. And a tidy house helps with the fog.

I’d love for the dining table, coffee table, sideboard and computer desk to all be pristine… Where’s a cleaning fairy when you need one?

Two hours till playgroup. I will vaccuum (because babies tend to spend time on the floor, and then so do the mums, and… well, ew. Gross. It’s embarrassing and also possibly dangerous right now.)

I will also have two babies awake for most of that two hours. And I need to eat lunch before the second wakes up.

I’d love to work on my novel plan… but I should probably be realistic. Perhaps, after playgroup I can put Louis in front of an Elmo video and then get on with… researching what a steward’s role was in regency era England. I suppose I could read while I breastfeed. Always worth a try. But my kindle is all queued up a few chapters into The Eyre Affair and it’s unlikely I’ll read anything but that.

In fact… the soup is ready. Perhaps I’ll read while I eat.

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C’est une bonne idée!

It’s a good idea! This is one of those phrases I’ve mastered in French. Hurrah.

I still have to google-translate a lot though. I use that handy little gadget to check my french emails before I send them. And to figure out what on earth they’re talking about when they get all cute and funny in the french nanowrimo emails…

I’m not writing a novel in French, no. Heck no. But I am all signed up to the French nanowrimo community online, so I’m trying to follow a few conversations and summoning the courage to join in.

Meanwhile, I have an idea… peut etre, une bonne idée…


Lady Ailsa Bolton is the eldest and the last of her sisters to marry… if she marries at all. Surrounded by seemingly cautionary tales, she is cynical about the whole package: Marriage (gambling with happiness, really, and surely one family is enough trouble), child-bearing (life-threatening, potentially heart breaking, certainly back-breaking) and child-rearing (exhausting, easily mismanaged and potentially all consuming) cannot be the only option for a meaningful life. Surely there is an alternative for a resourceful, intelligent young woman in these modern times. Struggling between hope, boredom and restlessness, Lady Ailsa is off to London for her eighth season.

Until very recently David Clark was a bookseller-printer, but to everyone’s surprise (and everyone else’s great curiosity) he is now a fully fledged member of the peerage, the shiny new Earl of Brandon. He has the town house, the country manor, and the fortune to match. The old Earl’s steward has lined up a tailor, a dance tutor and an elocutionist, determined to have the new Earl do the name proud. David Clark is proud of his family business and unwilling to toss away his past life for the sake of a few toffy-nosed hypocrites. Least of all the disarming Lady Ailsa.

And I think I’ve stumbled on a title: An Heir Out of Place

Tehehee, I crack myself up.

Now, as Elena seems to be sleeping (or doing an excellent impression) I’m off for a (fingers crossed) nap.


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Creative Courage

There’s a certain base-line level of courage required just to get out of bed some days… okay, most days. But that doesn’t mean we actually get any choice in the matter does it? We face the day, like it or not, bravely, or not.

I think creativity is an act of courage.

Making chevre stuffed figs wrapped in proscuito was a little bit brave… but really how bad could it possibly have turned out?

They were, in fact, fantastic.

Trying to write a historical romance for nanowrimo risks a little more. It could be a waste of a whole month of mad writing and relationship-risking (nanowrimo always is a little bit rough on relationships, regardless of your genre).

My third courageous act recently wasn’t particularly creative, but I had no real choice in the matter:

Yesterday I went to the prefecture, by myself… in the dark. I speak basic french but I’m nowhere near fluent. My feeble attempts combined with eager friendliness are usually enough, but government agencies are meant to be all official and french-only, on principle, so I was nervous about going alone.

I was also nervous about the discomfort of standing in line for hour upon hour.

I got there at 7.30 in the morning, in the dark. I mucked around on my phone, getting annoyed at the slow internet access, until it got light. And then I read novel. The prefecture opens at nine and it took another hour and a half to get in the door. And then there’s a shorter queue, less than half an hour, before you get sent to another line, in the appropriate department. That line took maybe half an hour.

To cut a long story short, after four hours I came away with aches and pains and a titre de sejour – essentially ten years french residency! I can work. I can leave the country and come back. I am free!

So, my bravery paid off. Here’s hoping my historical romance is at least good for my writing craft.

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easy on the eating

Six weeks ago I set out to take control of my eating and exercise habits. I love food, both the cooking and the consuming sides of that shiny coin, but I was not at all conscious of really how much I should be eating a day, or how much I actually was eating.

So I found myself a calorie-counting app and vowed not to become diet-mad. I set my goal low – to lose half a pound a week. That’s like 250g. Hardly anything. Why so low? Well, I read about healthy weight loss and found that slow and steady is better for you and also more likely to last. Plus, I’m breastfeeding, which, calorie-wise, is one of those hard-to-calculate things. I haven’t tried to guess how many calories worth of milk I give a day… but I’m starting to get a rough idea because I’ve been consistently losing a whole kilo a week.

I have learned/noticed a few things since starting this:

– I enjoy eating more, and feel guilty less, when I know what I’m eating is within my recommended daily calorie intake.

– Veggies are worth next to nothing and can be both filling and delicious (not news, but important nonetheless)

Sweet and Sour Prawn on noodles – not exactly a low-cal meal, but not bad. Half the normal portion of noodles and double the veggies and pineapple (fresh!) – satisfying and full of nutrients.

– Cheese is dangerous.

Each scone is over 200 calories. Ouch. But they do keep you going for ages.
High cal is not all bad…

– Flour is alarmingly calorific. I really shouldn’t bake unless I’m having guests who will help with the eating.

There’s only 1 cup of flour in this recipe, “Spring Onion Pancake,” one of my favourite Chinese side-dishes. 1 cup of flour… a whopping 450 calories. Probably best to make this when there are more than two people eating it.

Spring onion pancake, ready to fry. (And that empty honey jar is my rolling pin – ca marche.)

– My temptation time is in the late afternoon. (Step away from the patisserie.)

– Cucumber can be filling if you eat enough of it.

– Tiredness makes me more likely to snack.

– If I mix high-cal favourites with vegetables then it feels like I get more of the high-cal stuff than I actually do.

I put a whopping fat layer of mushrooms and courgettes underneath the ‘tartiflette’ (potatoes, cheese sauce and bacon… a French calorific nightmare of deliciousness). I then put sliced tomatoes on top.
And parmesan. Oops.

– Being productive and busy (in a good way) keeps me from getting hungry.

This is the kind of productivity I like.

– Fruit salad is fantastic.

– If I chop flavourful high-fat food (feta or blue cheese, salami, bacon…) into tiny pieces then they seem to go further. This works when mixing things together or when eating something on its own. I found this delish chocolate at the market and all the pieces are wafer thin. I can have three squares and feel like I’m indulging, without blowing the calorie-bank.

I’m as impatient as anyone, but I like the idea that a year from now I’ll be trimmer than ever. Despite what the media would have you believe, not everyone needs to lose weight, but I do. I have been overweight since I was a teenager. Except for a brief period just before and after my wedding (not thanks to a diet, but because of can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-in-love-ness) I have carried around about ten or twenty excess kilos, as far as all the healthy-weight diagrams would say.

I know myself. I know that I won’t be able to resist pain au chocolat forever, or for a week in fact. And, hurrah! I don’t have to. I just can’t have loads of cheese on my sandwich on the same day. I live in France, lucky me, and those baguettes are just incredible. I didn’t know what a baguette was supposed to be like before we got here. There’s no turning back. And that’s okay, so long as I don’t put too much butter on it. And if I can avoid eating it just before bed with hunks of blue cheese, so much the better.

My favourite weekday breakfast – 1/3 of a baguette with butter, half with dark choc sprinkles (of the dutch variety – ‘hagelslag’), and coffee. [Sighs happily] Only 328 Calories.

I get 2050 calories a day on my current regime. There’s plenty of room in that for a treat or two, so long as I don’t go overboard. I’ve been taking a ‘day off’ each week, where I don’t count basically. I don’t scoff whole bags of salt and vinegar chips (no matter how sorely tempted) but it saves me from doing maths at restaurants or when visiting friends. If someone serves me up a whole meal of cheese, I’m not going to say no.

I’ve barely mentioned exercise… perhaps that’s telling. I walk lots, in a normal week, and I’m hoping that will only increase. But this week has not been a normal one – Louis has had a horrible cough and cold so I’ve been keeping him inside. The weather’s been ick and unappealing, and on top of that I’ve been getting hardly any sleep (between Elena feeding all over the show and Louis waking up coughing)… but I’m snacking on grapes and apple and managed to keep it to just one blue-cheese-blow-out.

Tonight for dinner: burritos! I’ll pick up the last couple of ingredients before I pick up Louis from nursery. Assuming of course that Elena doesn’t chew my finger off. Then it’ll be take aways.

Ooh, sushi!


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The opening

Category : Art

The first few pages of a novel are key. The whole thing might be a masterpiece but if that first chapter isn’t effective then no one will stick it out and discover the fabulousness to come.

And so, I have gone over and over and over…

Here, for your reading pleasure (I hope) is the first chapter of a novel which I’m currently revising.


Saturday, 25 July 1981

They held their batons ready in gloved hands. Their faces were hard, expressions set, immovable, behind masks and shields.

Jamie Wright shrunk back into the crowd. There were two rows of people between her and the riot squad. Her breath, warm and wispy, clouded the air and mingled with the breaths of all these people, these protesters pressing against her on every side. They stood, anchored with iron conviction, surely not thinking about the way their breaths looked like cigarette smoke. Not wondering if the policemen had opinions or got to choose sides.

Jamie had an opinion. Several, in fact. That racism and apartheid were wrong, of that she was certain. But most of the crowd probably agreed with that.

The real question was about playing sport against an all-white team? Was facing them in a scrum as bad as supporting their politics?

Jamie wasn’t sure. Perhaps she should have mentioned that to Alice before they got out of the car and onto the pitch. Alice naturally assumed that Jamie agreed with her, which wasn’t entirely Alice’s fault.

Alice, with her dark wind-mussed hair — that’d be painful to brush — was standing between Jamie and the police. She reached back and touched Jamie’s thigh, then found her hand and gripped it tight, fingernails marking Jamie’s palm. Alice didn’t turn around. Jamie could imagine her face, expression as stone-cold determined as the coppers she faced.

Alice was the brave one, always ready to fight for her corner, or Jamie’s corner for that matter. Even if she got in trouble.

And here they were, in some trouble.

And their parents didn’t even know about it yet.

Alice’s hold on Jamie’s hand was the only hint that she was scared. Fear must have been written all over Jamie’s face.

The police advanced. A chant started as if it had been well-rehearsed. Jamie imagined the protester’s cloudy breaths intermingling in the air and being inhaled again and again, imparting this common knowledge, this sing-songy statement that rose with every step, “The whole world’s watching.”

Really? The whole world? Even if they wanted to, the whole world did not have access to a television, let alone one that broadcast a rugby match in New Zealand. Anyone who did, who chose to tune in, would surely be hoping to see a rugby match, not a protest rally.

The whole world’s watching!” Over and over.

My courage rises with every attempt to intimidate me,” thought Jamie — Elizabeth Bennet’s voice popping into her head? At a time like this! — she would have slapped her own hand for her lack of focus, if Alice hadn’t been holding onto it so tightly. But, oh! what she’d do to be at home, this very moment, reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time.

She wished she could duck back another row or two. Alice had a good grip on her hand. If she pulled hard, she could bring Alice with her, into relative safety. But Alice probably wouldn’t want that.

Surrounding them, a blue circle of police advanced. The group of protesters seemed so small now, when only fifteen minutes earlier Jamie had been swept with this mammoth crowd onto the pitch. She had chanted then, when the words sounded joyous and noble.

A man to her right spoke loud and clear. “Evil will triumph if good men do nothing.” His was the only voice she could distinguish and his words sounded like they might be his last. Hopefully they weren’t, because Jamie couldn’t think of a single articulate thing to say, and if his life was in danger then hers was too.

He caught her looking at him and affectionately forced her to loop her arm with his. Alice let go of Jamie’s hand to do the same with the people on her left and right.

The group started to move, forcing her to step forward, and then sideways, or risk falling over and being trampled on. Men yelled out of time with the chant and she turned to see what was happening.

Alice’s friends, Peter and Gareth, who had driven them here, had been separated from the group, were being manhandled by blue uniforms with black batons. A flying glass bottle hit one of the policemen’s helmets.

The cop let Peter go and he went for the other policeman, trying to free Gareth. Jamie watched, resigned to Peter’s failure. Only a couple of hours ago they’d been teasing Alice about her purple backpack, and now they were getting arrested.

Bottles kept flying and the policemen raised their shields to cover their heads, apparently no longer concerned about the group of protesters, and fair enough. The mad rugby fans were far more dangerous, liquored up and impatient to watch some sport. And apparently armed with plenty of empty beer bottles, the perfect weapon against stirrers and hippies.

Jamie tried to stay low, unusually grateful for being shorter than everyone else around her. She looked around wondering what her father would think. Would he want them to stop throwing the bottles if he knew his daughter was in there? He wasn’t generally one to support mindless violence or bottle breaking, especially when the glass was left on the road and punctured his bicycle tires. He might think this was justified though.

Politics and sport don’t mix.” She could almost hear his voice. He always knew exactly where he stood, and why, and he didn’t move.

The crowd surged again and Jamie skipped to keep up, heart hammering against her spine.

A brown bottle glided toward her, almost beautiful in its perfect arc across the sky. She felt trapped in its trajectory like a possum in headlights. She had assumed that the worst result of this ginormous lapse in her judgement would be her father’s reaction. It seemed impossible that a bottle could hurt more. Perhaps her father would forgo the punishment, in earnest joy that she had survived, and think that it might suffice to give her a half-day’s lecture on bad company corrupting good character and how schools today just aren’t what they used to be.

No, they have electricity now,” had not been a wise response.

The bottle connected. With Alice. She cried out and pulled her arms free of her compatriots to grab her head. The group surged backwards and Alice stumbled. Jamie pulled herself free of the wild living organism they’d somehow become a part of. She hauled Alice to her feet and linked arms. Alice was breathing fast, out of rhythm, panicking. She held one hand to her face, covering her eye, fingertips white, digging into her forehead and hair.

Racist bastards.” Alice pulled herself together, linked arms with the martyr-voiced man, and picked another policeman to glare at. “Am I bleeding?”

Jamie looked and nodded, swallowing hard. Dark blood dribbled from Alice’s hair line.

Bugger.” She joined in the chanting with greater fervour than before.

Call it off. Call it off.” A new chant began while the crowd cheered for everything the police did.

One of the protesters started singing the national anthem. Jamie started to feel like she was on the right side of things.

“Hear our voices, we entreat. God defend our free land.”

Alice tripped and slumped, her weight pulling Jamie down, but somehow she didn’t lose her footing. She’d found the equivalent of sea-legs for staying upright in a mad crowd. The man on Alice’s right helped and they pulled her up.

You better get her out of here.” He said, then kept singing, “Men of every creed and race.”

A voice boomed over the loud speaker. “The game has been officially cancelled.”

The crowd booed but Jamie, amidst jumping and cheering, was using all her energy to keep Alice upright. How would they get out of there alive? The rugby crowd surrounded them on all sides. It was a full house. The police suddenly looked like allies.

The man beside them pushed forward to the front line and hauled the girls with him, foisting them on the first cop he could reach and risking a baton to his arm or head. Jamie turned to thank him but he’d run back and joined the front line of protesters, yelling more than singing, “God defend New Zealand.”

The cop helped hold Alice up, sheltering them with his shield. He jogged and half-dragged them to the gates.

The ambulance was surrounded. The cop stopped . Jamie looked at him. He seemed very young to be policing this sort of thing. He should be writing parking tickets and talking to teenagers about drugs, training beautiful but dangerous German Shepherds to bite the padded arm and not the other one.

Jamie remembered Gareth’s car. It wasn’t as if he would be using it. “I’ll drive her.”

The cop let them go. Jamie imagined him watching, admiring her gumption, her bravery. She skirted around the rugby fans, who were distracted by a vocal protester being escorted from the field.

The car was left unlocked, keys tucked away on top of the visor. If only Alice, who actually had a drivers license, had been conscious. But she was slumped in the passenger seat, head leaning on the seatbelt, which Jamie had buckled before realising they weren’t going anywhere fast. She put the keys in the ignition, turned them, started the car and immediately stalled it.

She thumped the steering wheel. “Come on. How does this go? How does Dad do it? Okay, I can do this,” she looked over at Alice, relieved to find her unconscious, if only to be without an audience for her humiliating attempt at driving. “Clutch, ignition, gas.” She revved it too loud and drew the attention of some onlookers.

Hey!” Someone yelled, followed by “Oi!”

They pointed at the car and ran at it, throwing a beer can at Alice’s window. She woke her up and gave them the finger as the car lurched forward.

Jamie revved and revved, clutch in or out, but it kept her from stalling, no matter how much they lurched or how many curbs they jumped, until they got past the gate and onto the main road. Then she drove like a granny, barely getting out of second gear and riding the clutch for whole miles. Probably.

One block from home she realised that going home might not be the best idea. She pulled over and flicked on the radio. The protest was all over the news. A plane had been stolen from Taupo airport – a good part of the reason the authorities had called the whole thing off. And this was the first time a game in New Zealand had been broadcast on South African television. So maybe the protest would make a difference. If nothing else, it’d piss a whole lot of people off.

She turned off the radio, stomach turning. Her father would know. He’d be irate. And that was even before he discovered her involvement.

Telling him now, straight up, with this stuff coming over the radio, might actually give him a heart attack.

Alice needed a doctor, or at least a first-aider and a bandage. Jamie tried to recall what they’d learned in school CPR classes, but of all her education, all she could think of was a calculus rule (dy divided by dx equals a – a straight but not horizontal line) and what ‘dramatic irony’ meant, something she’d finally got to grips with on Friday afternoon.

She turned the car, traversing the curb on the other side of the road, but only for a few meters. She was getting good at this, rising to the occasion. Even if she managed to hide the afternoon’s events from her father she’d have to come up with a good excuse for being such a good driver when he finally started teaching her.

Her family doctor might call her parents so she went to the one down the road from school where all the girls went to deal with issues they didn’t want their parents to know about.

It was closed. How many would be open on a saturday?

Jamie was no fan of her grandmother’s religion but this seemed like a good time to have a gracious, generous and forgiving supernatural being on your side.

Alright God, if you’re there, show me what to do.”

She sighed and looked around. A piece of paper was jammed into the back seat window, blocking her view. It read, “EQUALITY BEFORE SPORT” in rough, black, painted letters.

That explained the entourage that followed them from the car park. Alice was still out, her head leaning against the window of the car.

Jamie saw a phone box across the street and decided phoning Alice’s parents might be her best bet. She stepped out from the curb and stopped dead in her tracks as a bus whooshed past, as if out of nowhere. Its breaks squealed to a halt and Jamie imagined people standing in the aisle being catapulted forward.

Jamie went to the phone box, inserted a coin, and dialled the familiar phone number. On the third ring she noticed the bus destination — Hospital.

She hung up the phone, ran across the road, figuring the bus driver would be a safer driver than she, and certainly more legal. She held up her hand to stop the bus, and with her other hand opened the car passenger door. Alice tumbled out. Jamie jumped in the way and her knees hit the road, her own weight and Alice’s forcing the stones into her skin. She tried to move but had to push into the road and couldn’t manage lifting Alice with her arms as well.

Alice roused again and crawled past Jamie to sit on the pavement. At this point the bus driver approached. “You better not throw up on my bus.”

Jamie stood up and brushed at her knees. “We need to go to the hospital. My friend hit her head.”

Yeah well that kind of thing happens when you’ve had too much to drink. How old are you anyway?”

We didn’t drink anything, I swear. She hit her head, or rather, it got hit.”

Okay,” he did not seem convinced but apparently wasn’t overly interested in further explanation, hoisting Alice from the curb and leading her to the bus. “You got fare?”

Jamie grabbed their backpacks from the back seat and locked the car. Their bags were heavy, packed full of their alibi: books for a study group at the public library. Jamie had genuinely thought that’s where they were going, so her bag was the heaviest.

The bus dropped them right outside the hospital and Alice had woken up enough to walk in without assistance. Jamie, carrying two backpacks, hovered at Alice’s side, closer than usual, watching her friend’s face, anticipating another collapse.

The charge nurse had someone phone their parents. Alice was taken to triage and Jamie sat on the edge of the waiting room, listening to the radio news tell her nothing she didn’t already know, and imagining what her father would say. He’d be in the car now, on his way to the hospital, listening to the same broadcast and ranting at the empty car. She couldn’t bring herself to imagine what he might say to her. She couldn’t imagine any scenario in which he would not find out exactly where she’d been.

Alice returned to Jamie’s side with a bandage taped to her head. Alice’s mum arrived first and Jamie’s sense of foreboding only increased. If only she’d also been injured, then Dad might be distracted and concerned, and maybe she’d have a chance of going on to lead a relatively normal life.

Alice had to get sutures. She went off with her mother. Jamie sat and watched the sliding doors go back and forth. There were a lot of similar injuries coming in, undoubtedly from the cancelled rugby game, and she considered making her own way home, removing herself from a place that might indicate her whereabouts earlier that afternoon.

The door slid open and Joyce Wright stepped into the waiting room. Her purse was clutched tightly under her arm, brow furrowed. She walked quickly without definite direction, eyes scanning the room.

Jamie stood up, “Mum!”

Darling, thank God. Are you alright?” After a tight embrace she let Jamie go and examined her face and arms for wounds.

I’m fine. Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

But why are you at the hospital? God, I was so worried. Your father was glued to the television, giving it a telling-off again. Have you heard? They called off the game because of protesters. Who’d have thought? He’s going to be impossible. Perhaps you should stay with Alice.”

Jamie cringed.

Is Alice hurt?”

She hit her head. They’re just suturing her up. They said she’ll be fine.”

What happened?”

Don’t worry Mum, she’ll be fine. Her mum is with her.” She was about to ask to be taken home but remembered what awaited them there.

What happened?”

She hit her head, she had to have sutures.”

Yes, I got that bit. Where were you?”


Jamie, tell me the truth.”

But Dad will actually kill me.”

I won’t let him.”

Please don’t tell him. I didn’t really mean to go but everyone went and I didn’t have a ride home. It’s not that I agree with them, not really anyway. But it all happened so fast and I had to go with Alice. If I hadn’t no one would have been there to help her. She might have been killed. It was really bad.”

Jamie realised she was crying when her mum pulled her into a hug and her wet face made contact with the scratchy woollen jersey.

They took the long route home. Joyce parked on the road and they sat in silence for what must have been ten minutes, wondering what would happen.

Better get it over with.” Joyce finally broke the silence.

What if you told him I was pregnant and was going up north for a year? I could go live with Grandma.”

You’d rather go to church than go inside?” She shook her head, “I’m not going to lie to your father. I’ll try to explain your side as best I can but I hope you don’t have any hot dates in the next six months, six years maybe.”

Jamie sighed and shook her head. “I never thought I’d be grateful for the total absence of interesting and attractive boys at school.”

That’s my girl.” Joyce led the way inside. 

There you have it. I’d love feedback, of course, especially about…

– anything you found particularly great (so I don’t delete it in further revisions)

– anything that was confusing

– anything boring

– anything distracting or breaking the flow

Thanks! Whether you give me feedback or not, it’s lovely to have readers.

If you’re curious about what was going on, here’s some info about the 1981 Sprinbok tour, and if you want video there’s a great documentary film, ‘Patu‘, all about it.

  • 1

a coherent thought

I don’t think I’ve had a coherent thought, beyond ‘go to sleep’ and ‘holy cow, cheese scones have a lot of calories in them,’ all day.

I was up numerous times in the night trying to calm down Louis who has picked up some nasty cough and was quite wheezy. I had trouble sleeping to begin with and then had to get up to feed Elena a couple of times as well… it all added up to a pathetic smidgen of sleep.

So today was pretty much a write-off from the beginning. The overall goal: sleep.

But Elena isn’t having that. I think I got a nap this afternoon but it felt like I was woken just after I nodded off. The clock tells me differently, but my head doesn’t believe it.

Right now Louis is playing happily on the couch, and Elena is bouncing/dancing in the Jolly Jumper to a little Billy Joel. I sat down to work on my chapter one fix-ups. I got some great advice and ideas from The Other Writer’s Group on Saturday night and now I just need to apply it. I need to find a smooth way to integrate a few tit-bits about the exact setting and circumstances of the opening scene so that it makes more sense. It seemed easy at the outset, but sitting down ten minutes ago I drew a whole lot of blanks.

So I wrote this instead. Perhaps I’ll make another coffee and try again once Elena has gone down for a nap.

At least Louis is a placid invalid. That should be conducive to productivity. I doubt he’ll be going to nursery tomorrow. My chances of finishing this draft by Friday are not looking great. But I’m too tired to care.

  • 3

Louvre Actually

I tried, I’m sorry, I really did try not to make a play on the word ‘Louvre’, but they just kept coming to me and in the end I felt it would be tantamount to dishonesty not to share at least one of these with you.

Just the one. Now that’s self control. Feel free, however, to share as many as you like in the comments, cause who can’t use a little corny to kick off a monday morning?

Yesterday, after over eight months in Paris, we finally set foot in the Louvre. Not just the one foot, either. Louis walked a lot of it in fact – little legend in his monkey gumboots and funny ‘pardon my french’ top.

We discovered that pushchairs are allowed (hurrah!) and so there’s no reason to avoid it anymore. (Sure, there were all those stairs in the metro, and plenty in the museum, but Luuk and I are able-bodied adults, and we’re both trying to loose a few pounds. Hours of walking and the regular weight-routines of carrying a pushchair and another child up a stair case isn’t entirely unwelcome.)

Having a pushchair meant we got to jump the security queue – which is the famously long line outside the pyramid. Inside, we took a spacey (as in something out of a space ship) elevator that seemed to float in the middle of the room, down to the basement level, where there were dozens more queues.

The elevator is in the center of the spiral staircase, at the bottom.

But these ticket lines moved more quickly. Luuk and Louis lined up while I fed Elena. And then it was 11.30 and we were getting peckish, so we had lunch – before the rush.

And we thought, how sneaky! We’ll go see Mona Lisa when everyone else is having lunch.

So much for that. But I can make something of this…

We then explored the rest of that floor, of that wing, of the museum. Which is a lot.

The Louvre, c’est grand. Duh, and no less so if I say it in French.

Louis led us around at an often alarming pace, but he was stopping and looking at paintings nearly as often as he was stopping to play with the barrier fences.

Unfortunately, playing with the fences too vehemently sets off an alarm. Just a little alarm, but an alarm nonetheless.

Despite the pace, we managed to enjoy looking at some great paintings, and some horrific paintings (which are also great, I am sure, but it wasn’t the first word that came to mind).

This one (of the great and not horrific category, I think) jumped out at me because it sums up my life… well, some of the time.

While others sleep, I feed a baby. (I also like scarves and going barefoot.)

Louis crashed hard just as we got to the English artists section, right at the far end, and just wanted to play on staircases. So we let him do that while we saw the last of that room, and then we did a bit of a rearrange with the kids. Elena, till now, had been in the buggy. It was Louis’s turn for that so I strapped Elena to my front and buckled Louis in, and off we went to find the Egyptian relics.

Louis nodded off before we found them. And we only got a little bit lost. You have to take circuitous routes to use the elevators sometimes. My respect for people in wheelchairs is increasing every time I take a pushchair into Paris.

En route we discovered hallway upon hallway of greek and roman sculpture (and other stuff that looks greek and roman to the untrained eye – which is the only kind I have… year 13 classics only takes you so far.)

Artemis, I think. (Above)

Now that’s something to aspire to: create art of such value that in centuries to come, when they can only salvage a bit of a chunk off the side, they’ll still mount it on the wall and put a frame around it.

We also walked through this exhibit showing the excavated remains of the Chateau de Louvre – basically the fortifications of a moat. That fat pillar in the middle, that’s where the draw bridge would go down. Yes, I feel like I’ve stepped into a fairy tale.

We also stumbled upon some really old stuff. Surprising? Not especially, being in a museum and all, but these examples don’t look their age: 13-11C BC. BC!

And then there were the Egyptians…

It’s just like in The Prince of Egypt. Wait on.

All the way through I kept thinking how much artefacts and art remind me of books and films, which made me think of that line,

“So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around.” – Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail.

She puts it nicely I think. Some things, like hieroglyphics and sphinxes and anything over 3000 years old, takes on such mythology that it becomes like fiction – in a powerful and meaningful way – it seems like it’s part of an epic story.


We’ll have to go back, of course, but Luuk was threatening to fall asleep (and at this point he was carrying Elena, so we couldn’t let that happen) and my legs were getting wobbly. We couldn’t see any more and maybe, at a generous estimate, we saw a third of the museum. Even baby-free, after a few hours surely anyone will start to get input overload, and aches and pains. Fortunately, we can go back.