Saturday, 22 September 2012

Liaisons dangereuses

My daughter is now at the age where everything is ripe for investigation, tasting, testing and exploration. Long gone are the days when you could safely deposit her on the bed, sort out the washing and then change her nappy. Deposit her on solid ground nowadays and she is likely to race off in any direction, and usually the one you least want her to - towards the cooling steam iron or the bookshelves (once again!), for example. Last Saturday was Food Saturday in this house. Today is likely to be Child Safety Lock Saturday, as I haplessly screw devices to the inside of cupboards to prevent our little safe cracker from getting out all the pots and pans! It can be quite cute of course when you see a small pink dolly being pushed across the floor in a colander. But adult laughter should never, never ... well ... hardly ever, come at the expense of a child's socialisation. I probably shouldn't worry so much!

But there's the rub. How much is too much worry and how much is not enough? My wife and I consciously try not to get too concerned. 'Only get up from your seat if there's blood' is our latest counsel of wisdom. That said, since I started writing this blog post, I have had to remove bits of paint from my daughter's mouth and was horrified earlier to find that she had slyly picked up the Metanium nappy cream after her nappy change and was casually sucking the end of it - with a mixture of dribble and sodium trioxide running down her chin. Cue panic? Or cue forced water consumption over the next half an hour? In my case, it was both: I panicked and she was made to drink the water (it's usually harmless by the way, as I have since found out).

There is some curious correlation between insouciance and braving risk, which goes in tandem with the correlation between anxiety and risk avoidance. Intellectually, I belong to the former tendency; emotionally, the temptation is to belong to the latter tendency. In the concrete I'm normally of the former tendency until something happens - like Metanium ingestion - at which point I become a fervent adherent of the latter for a few brief moments.

The risks are potentially huge but passing at this point in our daughter's life. I don't suppose she will be absentmindedly ingesting Metanium when she's fourteen. Currently, I'm most concerned about the unforeseen consequences of parental inattention - mostly mine. I read with horror a few months ago about the Milanese dentist who forgot to drop his daughter off at nursery and left her in the back of his car all day ... in Milan's heat ... she didn't stand a chance. Usually, these things are rare, but then when they happen, there's no foreseeing them. It's guardian angel territory.

Just to sketch in some detail for the long term, I bought this week Anthony Esolen's Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child. I'm not planning to destroy her imagination, honest! Nor am I trying to frighten myself. But it all makes one wonder whether those old German imaginations were not right by basing all their stories in dark forests. The world is a wonderful, joyous place, except when it's not ...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Pleasures of a Late Summer

If I've not been the near the blog this week, it's because I've been enjoying myself too much to jot down anything resembling ordered thoughts. I won't say life in Birmingham is always as sparkling as it currently is, but the last ten days have fizzed with some abandon.

Just as Sky Sports gives ridiculous names to days laden with important games, so last Saturday earned the nickname in our house of Food Saturday! After the monthly Kings Norton Farmers' Market in the morning, we headed off mid-afternoon to the opening of a new community bakery two miles away in Stirchley.  Loaf has opened up in an old billiards shop and its cookery school nestles next to the new Stirchley community stores with organic and ecologically funky goods. There is a promising range of loaves - our favourite thus far being a spent-grain loaf made from grain previously used for brewing - and an interesting range of classes (bread baking, urban foraging, pizza making, etc.) which for the moment remain beyond our modest budget.

On Monday I wanted to make something special for the wife and so (after frantic scouring of various cook books) came up with monk fish, croutons and pork belly skewers alongside savoury rice. I love this way of cooking - which is rather "unkosher" according to Mrs S but nonetheless extremely tasty (and she didn't complain!).  The beans and courgettes in the rice came from our garden. The monkfish and porkbelly came from Sainsbury's! I hasten to add that this is not normal for our Monday repast but I have been on holiday this week, and, well ... as I said ... I wanted to do something special.

The special week continued on Wednesday with the arrival of an old friend with whom I went to see the final match of the England-South Africa T20 series at Edgbaston. I am hardly a cricket afficionado. I loathed cricket as a child after watching too many Geoff Boycott moments on the TV. I only took to it when living in a village in my early twenties, at which time there was little to do on the long summer afternoons but wander down to the cricket ground and watch the local cricketers getting slowly stewed at the bar before going out to bat against some visiting demon bowler. I am hardly now a fan of T20, preferring the slow-cooking of a four day match, but it has its own charms and - since England won - I couldn't fault it!

Sport, food: I promise I have not given myself over to the modern equivalent of panis et circenses. It's just that sometimes I think life has to be enjoyed rather than endured. Hmm, is that so novel? 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Of time and space

The second half of August proved to be busier than expected, hence the hiatus in blogging.  Academics generally take one of two attitudes to the summer: do nothing so as to recover from last year's burn out, or work like mad because you'll never get anything done during term! The latter has been my approach this year, though I confess I'm looking forward to a week off next week before the rentrée.

So, it's been a period of wide-ranging reading. I have on my desk a variety of things. Georges Duhamel's Querelles de Famille, a reflection from the 1930s on the pollution of noise, waste, mechanisation and 'everything modern', has kept me entertained. Beside it lies Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage [sic], a rather amusing but challenging essay about the impact of electrification on the dissemination of information. McLuhan, who gave us the expression 'the global village', argues that electrification has tipped the balance away from visual to auditory culture. Now, there's a man who grew up with the radio! Surely we have tipped back in the other direction now, with our PlayStations, iPads, x-Boxes and 56" plasma screens. What still remains true from his analysis is that the instantaneousness - is that a word? - of communication changes the social matrix in which our actions unfold. Put in laymen's terms, this anticipates the age of social networking where we know more about our Facebook friends than about our next-door neighbours.

With these, I'm also ploughing through Philip Nord's France's New Deal, a recent study of how the modernisation which swept through France after World War Two - rationalisation, bureaucratisation, planning, technocracy - was by no means a post-war phenomenon but was thoroughly prepared during the pre-war years and even anticipated under the Vichy regime. Ooh, là, là!  This one of those touchy subjects which the French are still anxious about: God forbid we should do anything that the Vichy regime did! Yet, the Vichy regime was in some ways very modern. This is the grand irony of the counterrevolution: to be so opposed to the revolution that its hostility acquires a mimetic intensity. René Girard has written about this process at length. Perhaps I'll blog about it at some stage.

Otherwise, there is little to report from here, other than a rash of jam making, a visit from in-laws and a further crop, albeit small, of edibles from the garden.

For various reasons soon to be disclosed, Mrs Sudlow informs me I'm running the agriculture next year. Prepare, say I, for le plannisme!