Monday, 27 July 2009

The Finishing Line

For me, one of the most disappointing things about myself – second only to the fact that I have a list of the most disappointing things about myself – is that I’m a finisher not a starter. Lots of my close friends are starters; really creative starters, with a capital C. Artists, TV makers, theatre directors, interior designers, I hang out with them all. I think that’s what attracts them to me: the knowledge that when they get bored of an idea I’ll take it, tidy it up, file it and send it off with a clean invoice.

It’s something I used to worry about a lot, when I was still busy carving out a career in a world full of natural creatives. My most successful career progression to date came from an interview for a dream editorial job on a monthly glossy. Without intending to, I managed to confide in them that I would be rubbish at the job, but I’d make an excellent managing editor, something they weren’t actually looking for. I think the exact phrase was, ‘I’d love to be the artistic type you’re looking for but actually I’m just dead good at schedules.’ They hired me, and I organised for several happy years.

Having children is like taking a master class in starter-hood. But even after several years of extremely productive starting, the moment that I’ve closed the bedroom door on a successful day of feeding, entertaining and instructing is my maternal high point. Much more so than the ‘Oh joy, here comes the paint’ moments.

And, as I slide rapidly from newborn motherhood into the endless life-lessons phase, I’m realising that by definition I need the ability to see the bigger picture, and not expect to have things tied up nicely by the weekend. I think I’m predisposed to tackle motherhood as a project with lots of successful endings, rather than a process with lots of exciting beginnings.

More of a concern though is how this finishing instinct has continued to develop in the rest of my life too. I know we’re all inclined to shut the front door and get into our pyjamas at 8pm on occasion, but I think I have become truly professional at avoiding starting anything that I can’t finish before Newsnight. The fact is that there are several phone calls I should make at the moment, but I don’t have the ability to solve the problems or take away any of the pain at the other end. So I’m simply avoiding the issues, and hoping that someone with a more creative approach to life is finding the right words where I’m not. Then I can just send them a thank you card when it’s all over.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Involuntary Throw

‘Welcome to my world’ is a phrase I don't really like. It’s a lazy devise used by smug under-stressed people who are fully aware that the situation they’re describing is one most of us would swap our washing, ironing and aging relatives for in a second. It also seems to imply you’re not living in the same world with the same glamorous levels of pressure and responsibility in the first place, which is rarely true.

Most of the time it’s actually just a friendly, conversational devise I know, it’s just that’s not the way I’ve heard it used in the past half an hour…

Anyway, welcome to my world: first day of the summer holidays so, of course, exciting bit of new and extremely time-consuming business on the horizon, all potential play-dates settled in Italian villas for the duration, and swine flu. Well, sore throats and bad tempers at the moment, but I’m preparing for the apocalypse. And things are getting tense already.

There are lots of things you learn about yourself when you become a parent that you would never have been able to guess before entering your first labour ward. Many are good, most involve crying, and some are destined to shape the next decade of your life in their persistent presence. For me, the latter is my inability to remain calm when objects are being thrown. And the knowledge that objects will be thrown regularly and at random from now until early September has been the backdrop to all the waking time I’ve spent with my children over the past week.

In my experience, the involuntary throw will take one of two classic forms. The first is an unconscious movement on a trajectory in direct opposition to the line of sight. It usually occurs when the child is consumed by a brightly lit TV screen but simultaneously feels the need to dispense of a juice cup, so hurls it over the shoulder without thought for what lies behind. This is your everyday involuntary throw: it’s easy to master, it isn’t age exclusive, and it’s the precursor to the common habit of dropping clothes neatly on the floor just inches away from the wardrobe or washing basket when you’re all grown up.

The second occurs when the child is holding something with excellent aerodynamics while standing within target range of a family heirloom, designer lampshade or aging relative. In this case the throw itself is a conscious movement, but the desire to hit the target is involuntary and deeply instinctive. In this case, no amount of screaming or power staring can prevent the inevitable.

In both instances, my response is always several minutes of irritable shouting using vocabulary based on responsibility and guilt that’s aimed at a child at least five years older than the one in front of me. Which doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Blogging Blog

This weekend I decided to learn how to increase readership on my blog. There is of course a huge bloggy industry in place to teach me exactly how to write a blog so successful I can live on virtual ad revenue for the rest of my days. So clearly the first excellent piece of advice is to write a blog about how to write blog. The appetite for self-exploration of the art of blogging seems to be insatiable. However, the appetite for actual real-world self-exploration, which is my slightly reluctant category admission, is tiny. If indeed a thing. I wouldn’t even register on Ad Words.

I realised this after finding that the first two pieces of advice on all blog-making blogs were no.1: Make it clear what you’re marketing / selling / pushing and no.2: Keep it short and frequent, with daily drops and constant updates. Even I don’t want to give myself that much attention. And if I did, I’d be disregarding handy hint no.3: Make sure your style and content is high quality, interesting and readable.

My problem is well documented and standard dinner-party material for any www.immigrant – I simply don’t get it. Even if I understood how it all worked, I don’t understand how people would know to look for me. It’s Sunday morning, you’ve got your coffee and your papers and the same old familiar faces will be there to entertain you in the same page position, type-face and word count as last weekend. These lucky writers have no need for suggestion no.4: Join a blog circus. What?

Is it possible that I’m the wrong generation, already? When my daughter was little, a colouring book and crayons were the restaurant essentials. Now her four-year-old brothers have a whole different routine: order juice, remove all ice from juice, position bendy straw at perfect angle, unlock the iPhone, choose the most suitable app for mood (ie car racing game or chill-out music video), sit quietly for an hour and a half while parents enjoy an uninterrupted supper and worry obsessively that their children have lost the ancient art of pestering and bickering.

Which I think is now known as Twitter. The constant stream of second-hand information about stuff that other people have done all day while you weren’t looking. A great deal of my time is spent hearing about what my loved ones have been experiencing first-hand while my reality is mainly borrowed. It’s a comfortable position to take. However, it’s getting me nowhere. I’m off to join the circus. Tomorrow.

Monday, 6 July 2009

A Life More Extraordinary

In an attempt to look busy in a less casually-dressed way, I have taken on a small interior design project. I’m reinventing my husband’s boardroom so it stops looking like a boardroom, working with little more than a lot more design acumen than I actually have.

So it’s a jolly around Alfie’s Antiques market searching for that elusive bargain Chesterfield. Meanwhile, another wave of acquaintances are packing-up their 3-seaters and relocating from the bright lights of Zone 2 to the leafy beyonds, and beyond that even. More bedrooms, bigger gardens and a mortgage equivalent to a Hampstead parking permit are the main reasons. A strangely displaced feeling and a sense of foreboding seem to be the main outcomes so far.

But it’s those of us left behind who feel most uneasy about these migrations, as we’re forced to justify the conditions and expense we continue to choose over all the attractions of Not-London. It’s quite tricky to articulate why the smell of Holloway Road is more invigorating than a freshly cut meadow.

I do often feel a sense of un-attachment to my surroundings – by which I think I mean daily reality. It’s like the strange sensation of hearing three small people breaking into my bedroom at 6.45am, whispering about whether I’m awake. The reality of their existence comes as a new shock each morning. The fact that I live in a city still catches me sometimes like an aerial reveal of Central Park in the opening credits of yet another film. It’s just cool, and it just makes you smile.

Part of the reason I love living in London is that I have to work less hard at being considered interesting. You just sort of assimilate your surroundings: the closer you live to famous shops, national galleries and BBC outside broadcasts, the more culturally aware, politically opinionated and generally on-trend you must be.

And it’s also an accepted assumption that city life is hard work, which makes me a bit tough as well as a bit cool. Since researching soft furnishings for the boardroom, I’ve found that if a sofa is angular, to huge to fit through a front door and so firm it’s actually painful to sit on, it will be called Capital, or Modular, or Awkward. If, however, it’s so soft and floral that it threatens to eat you alive with incestuous gossip and church fundraisers, it’s definitely designed for anyone living outside a pizza delivery zone.

Everyone I know is striving for the life less ordinary, and rightly so. And you can’t buy that with a postcode. Even the less ordinary quickly becomes average when there are hundreds of other people doing the same less ordinary stuff in the same less ordinary neighbourhood. But when your general outlook is as absurdly Polly Anna as mine, and your need for clear signposting towards the road less travelled as great, a north London doorstep is the start of the yellow brick road.