Archive for June, 2008

embarrassing to admit i finally understand that awful brooke poem

I miss Cambridge. My commitment to contrariness is the stuff of legend. I particularly miss Grantchester, which is a fairly obvious sublimation of the extent to which I have always missed Grant and Kirsty.

San Francisco, my equal in contrariness, is doing its utmost to win back my affections. On Friday we left the kids with a babysitter and went to the Lumiere to see Werner Herzog’s film Encounters at the End of the World. As we arrived a limo pulled up and a whole bunch of people in fancy dress got out. I regret to say I was quietly sarcastic about this, because they turned out to be the producer/cinematographer and several of the interview subjects.

Encounters is about Antarctica. Unusually for a Antarctic film it was made for no budget under the Artists and Writers program; so there were no minders following Herzog around whitewashing everything, ho ho. This shows, especially in the early scenes, where McMurdo squats on Ross Island like a filthy little mining town, and we spend a good deal of time talking to the service workers who make up 90% of the population.

If you like Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Antarctica, funded by the same program, you’ll love this film. Herzog likes the same misfit-idealists for the same reasons. And it’s not all righteous social anthropology either. You can’t really point a camera anywhere down there without seeing something unimaginably beautiful and strange. Producer Henry Kaiser is a specialist diver who blasts holes in 20-foot-thick ice with TNT, then swims in the ocean underneath.

The footage from those dives is otherworldly. There are aliens down there.

Encounters may be the best science fiction film I have ever seen.

After the excellent Q&A, Jeremy and I headed out into Russian Hill walking randomly. I wanted to try Petit Robert, although I had no idea where it was. We walked briskly up Polk, under a friendly fog, past wine bars with warm laughter spilling out. It all felt very French and lo, there was Petit Robert. Jeremy had rabbit risotto and I had moules frites. We split a bottle of really delicious pinot blanc, and the dessert came with milk jam, a kind of dulce de leche that catapulted me back to the alfajors my sister used to make by boiling cans of condensed milk, when I was a little girl.

On Saturday we went to Spanish class then drove out to the newly-reopened Warming Hut for sandwiches. I was not-quite-subliminally looking for a place as pretty as Grantchester. Crissy Field is not it; it’s striking but not beautiful. Still, I loved seeing one of the Pier 39 sea lions porpoising along right in front of us.

“Sea monster!” Jules cried joyfully.

We spent the afternoon at the Dyke Rally in Dolores Park. It was too crowded for me, I don’t really like human beings en masse, they are strange, unaccountable chimpanzees. But it was lovely drinking chardonnay with Ian and talking about Europe. We agreed that San Francisco looks and feels like a frontier town compared to Paris or London. Ian says that no one is allowed to build anything in Barcelona until they can prove the new building will be much prettier than the old one.

Today we took both kids to see Wall-E. Jules particularly loved it and was able to follow the plot very closely: “Robot! He has lost his friend. Oh! He has found his friend again!” I cried, because I am a big girly wuss, and also because the dystopian beginning – an Earth of garbage – is much more plausible than the hopeful end. I tend to think the future will look more like McMurdo and less like Grantchester or Oz Farm, but I hope I am very wrong.

Oh! I forgot to mention that a neighbour brought his kid to Martha & Bros this morning. Not his human child. His baby goat. An orphan from the herd he keeps down at the Port of San Francisco. She was adorable and soft, and capered about. A goat in the cafe! Maybe I am wrong!

doctor julia

I can’t remember who gave her the medical kit, but it’s the Best Toy Ever, as Doctor Dog is the Optimal Book.

It goes like this. I recline in an attitude of stoic suffering.

J: You VERY sick.

She puts the thermometer under my tongue. I accept it.

J: Very good!

She feels my forehead with the back of her hand.

J: You RILLY hot.

She gives me an injection.

J: There! All better!

Repeat 11,000 times, cuteness undimmed by repetition. My daughter the doctor!


It’s been filthy stinking hot in California for a couple of days but tonight the weather has changed; I can smell the rain coming in on a cool wind through the wide-open bay windows.

The children are asleep. Even though it began with taking Jeremy to the airport for yet another business trip, we had a wonderful day: Talbot’s Toys and Martha’s birthday party.

I feel dislocated, as if my roots go no more than an inch into California soil. I miss my Londoners sorely. And yet the jacaranda we had left for dead is covered in green foliage and flower buds. Hope hurts after such a long absence, like the ache of a muscle long out of use.


C: What are the meds for?

R: For the CRAZY.

C: Is that true?

R: Yup.

C: What does the crazy look like?

R: You can’t see it. It’s something you feel.

C: What does it feel like?

R: It feels like the dark.

C: It feels like the duck?

R: No! Like darkness.

C: Like duckness?

also i am sneezy

Cambridge already seems like a dream.

The only proofs that we were ever there are my new bras from Marks and Spencers. They are excellent, and improve my posture. So well do they lift and separate that I have nicknamed my boobs Church and State.


The children were perfectly behaved on the flight home; Julia slept on my lap for four hours. The house is much smaller than I remembered. The cat is frenetically overjoyed to see us. Jetlag’s a little bit easier to deal with when you’re flying west and it’s staying up late rather than going to bed early.

I dreamed Veronica Mars had murdered someone and covered it up brilliantly. An odd, depressing dream, set in Oxford.

I’m reading a biography of Rosebery. Little thrills me more than cracking the spine of a new book about a Victorian liberal. Because I am an old coot.


I wonder sometimes where Counting My Blessings shades into outright confabulation. There’s a whole other version of this morning, where Claire had a full-blown tantrum when I turned off the TV to take the girls to the park. I was furious and undercaffeinated and hungry and headachey, so I handled it as badly as you can possibly handle an angry five-year-old. Claire’s tantrum and my fury lasted all the way down the street, until I threw everyone onto an opportunistic number 7 bus into the middle of Cambridge, which is how we came to have coffee at my favourite cafe.

On the bus I held Claire’s hand and we apologized to each other, and then the morning turned into the one described below. All I’m saying is, that first comma there is glossing over rather a lot.

goodbye river, goodbye ducks

Packed, had coffee at my favourite cafe, walked through Cambridge where these guys were busking; had to stop, arrested by the utter beauty of their singing. Walked to the playground in Jesus Green, where Jeremy met us. Played. Walked home, saying goodbye to the playground, the Green, the ducks, the river, the bridge, the locks, Cambridge. We’ll have to come back, and for longer.

What the trip has taught me: home is my pack now, Jeremy and the girls. We can make a good life for ourselves wherever we happen to be. Makes the future a little less scary. Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.

perfectly splendid, thanks


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens

…and how was your day?

the single best sentence any human being has ever said to me

R: I know this is very nerdy, but I love the end of Diaspora where the Yatima character is relieved that there aren’t going to be any more adventures, so it can get on with teaching itself maths. That’s what I want to do when the girls are off to college. Learn maths properly.

J: Yeah, we can do it together.

air claire


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens

guitar heroine


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens