Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Soviet Short Stories

Soviet Short Stories: Parallel Text Soviet Short Stories: Parallel Text by Peter Reddaway

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I bought this back in the mists of time when I thought I would be learning more Russian than "my brother is an engineer". It has the Russian down one side of the page and the English translation down the other side, and is designed to make it easy for the student so the translation is pretty literal rather than literary.
I avoided reading this for a while (15 odd years) as I thought all the stories would be about tractors and collective farms. But actually I enjoyed them, as examples of writing from a particular culture and time, and I found the notes useful. My favourite was Making Snowmen, where a teacher supervises her class making, well, snowmen, and is led to muse on their futures after a sullen child proves to be an artistic genius in the making.
"It is true they are no good at making snowmen, but there is some other thing which they can do splendidly and inspiredly, something as yet unknown to me or to themselves. At the moment they have in their hands snow, plasticine, coloured pencils, building bricks, wooden pieces of construction kits - so little! The time will come when they have at their disposal all materials and all the elements, the open spaces of the earth and of all creation, all words, all sounds. And who knows what it is given to them to create!"

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A 1930s Christmas

Extreme gift buying stress (don't try to buy anyone a special holiday for a special birthday without involving them in the buying of it is my conclusion, in case for some reason their nearest and dearest are unaware that the date you have chosen together is the one date of the entire year that they apparently cannot possibly leave the country, leading BA to demand an extra monkey on top of what you have already paid for the privilege of changing flight and hotel times ) has led me to return to a more festive age. Well, more festive for some.

The Perfect Christmas, published in 1932, is my heritage Christmas Bible. Here are some things I should be doing over Christmas, according to its hallowed pages:

  • Persuade my guests to eat nothing but fruit and salad on Boxing Day, ostensibly for the sake of their digestion but actually because its the servants day off and I have no idea where the kitchen is let alone how to turn the oven on
  • Put a package together for some "come down in the world" at the workhouse, containing things I'd like to have in their situation - razor and shaving soap for example (?) and a pack of cards. Clearly those who have been poor all their lives deserve nothing.
  • Be absolutely sure I have enough soda water
  • Send out the Christmas Pudding in good time to sons and nephews in regiments abroad
  • Entertain my house guests with jolly wheezes like the Underground Game (rival couples set off in opposite directions on the Tube - kind of assumes you live in London) and the Woolworth's Game (supply guests with a sixpence each and challenge them to buy the best bargain, bargains to be chortled over after tea)
  • Invite my poor country cousin up for Christmas but be sure to pay for her train journey and give her a black lace evening frock (or the money for a permanent wave) so I can be seen out with her in public. She will also require a gas fire and a hot water bottle in her room, apparently these country cousins feel the cold.
I must be off to buy some more soda water.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Swine flu immunity

I have just been vaccinated against swine flu. Ha, take that, swine flu! A wait of half an hour to see the nurse, which is pretty standard fare at our GPs. Bet the one time I am late though they are running on time.

The injection didn't hurt at all and I so far have none of the swelling arm/ immobile arm/ painful arm others have reported, touch wood. Have to say, our medical services in Hackney are not doing much to promote the jab - I had to ask the midwife what I should do to get it and she sounded a bit surprised I wanted it at all - "oh, they'll be really pleased to see you" she said, implying there's not that great a take-up. Well, maybe if you, you know, actually contacted pregnant women and told them it was available and how to get it, you might get a better take-up? Just a thought.

The last midwife I asked, before the vaccine was available, was actively discouraging: "ooh, it's so difficult to know what to do isn't it, with these new vaccines" she said, helpfully.

Of course I still feel a bit weird in case there's something the matter with the vaccine that noone knows about and I have put my baby at risk. The whole thalidomide thing is never far from the mind when a new vaccine or treatment comes along for pregnant women. But I had to make a choice and this is the choce I made. Bit scary.

Edited to add: Obviously the wood I touched wasn't sufficiently woody, as six hours after the injection my arm started to stiffen and ache. It's still a bit achy, but not so bad, 24 hours later.

Monday, 7 December 2009

I discovered Discover

Why didn't I know about Discover in Stratford before?It's brilliant! We went there on Saturday with HackneyChild and two of his chums (and their parents of course, I'm not capable of looking after three two year olds even with the help of Hackney_Bloke).

It wasn't a great start when HackneyChild wept bitter tears at being forced to get off the train at Stratford instead of continuing for half an hour or so to Essex which is what usually happens, although he enjoyed the many diggers going about their business on the Olympic site. And we were a bit dubious about being directed around a corner that looked like somewhere the drug dealers of Baltimore might ply their trade. But no, Discover is the best thing that you can do for £4.50 (or something, the payment system is weird) on a rainy Saturday.

I can't begin to list all the things that make it great, although HackneyChild keeps asking me to do so (he is under the impression Discover is actually the house of one of his friends - he's going to be really disappointed when we go to her house for real). It's hard to describe, but the laid-back atmosphere combined with the real imagination and creativity that has gone into designing the place makes it amazing. There are lights that you can jump on that make noises, a pirate ship with little caves and treasure, books everywhere, craft activities that you can take up and leave of your own accord, things to climb, things to post, buttons to press...

Also, you can bring your own food (well, you kind of have to) and it is brilliantly located on the line from us to Essex so any Essex-dwelling friends and relatives could meet us there for a great day out (hint). My only downsides are it's a bit pricy once you have paid for a whole family (you can get a year pass for £40 or something, which I guess would pay for itself after five visits with child and parent), and the presence of the shop just as you go in does tend to make children think they can play with all the toys in there, since they can play with everything else. But they didn't seem to mind HackneyChild appropriating handfuls of cars and fish which we put back later.

It would be a great place to go with a baby and a toddler as you could plonk yourself down with baby and toddler isn't going to come to much harm hurtling round the pirate ship. The only thing stopping me from doing that when HackneyBaby arrives is coming back I'd have to somehow get over the bridge between platforms at Hackney Central with pram, or take a long bus ride.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Filming at Town Hall

According to Hackney_Bloke "they" are filming another period drama at Hackney Town Hall. I wonder what it could be.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

I Heard The Owl Call My Name

I Heard the Owl Call My Name: I Heard the Owl Call My Name: by Margaret Craven

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I thought this was a gentle, evocative book which I enjoyed for its descriptions of the Canadian Indian (there may be a better word but I don't know it) culture.

At first I thought the book lacking in dramatic conflict - the main character the young vicar is so nice, and seems to be accepted pretty readily by the village even though the book suggests tension over whether he will be or not. But the drama actually comes from the conflict betwen young and old in the village and the village culture and the outside world. The key message comes when the vicar goes to see the salmon returning upstream to spawn, and one of the girls cries at their death, but the vicar says that they have fulfilled the purpose of their lives so their death is not sad.

So, a lovely easily read book which I may read again; I just feel there could have been a bit more conflict in the main character rather than making him all good and other characters who are clearly set up to be his foils, like the teacher and the anthropologist, all bad. Maybe the character of Mark could have had some of those traits internalised in himself. But then maybe the book would not have been so gentle.

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