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Archive for December, 2010

Well, we don’t, but it scans.

Weekword will be late today. The Little Girl has chickenpox. That means the children can’t go to nursery. So I’m behind on work, shopping, Christmas… and blogging.

I’ll catch up eventually!

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Joye chose synasthaesia for this week’s word. Synaethesia literally means ‘coloured hearing’ and is used to describe the experience of using one sense where another is more normal – hearing sounds, tasting colours, and so on.

We are lucky enough to own a painting by the synaesthete painter Elizabeth Stewart-Jones – she did paintings in which she represented how various names ‘looked’ to her. Here is my husband’s name:

I always found synaesthesia very interesting but was pretty certain that I didn’t have any kind of synaesthetic wiring. Until, a few years ago, we went to a restaurant called Dans Le Noir. It’s a restaurant that is completely, pitch dark. And you don’t know what you’re going to be eating (you can tell them about allergies and general preferences). You’re led in (the waiters are all blind or partially sighted), placed at a table with lots of other folk and your food is brought to you.

It’s very strange. You realise how much your sense of taste is guided by being able to see what you’re eating. You find out about simple things you can’t do without being able to see: e.g. pouring a glass of wine. You need to hold the glass in one hand, and the bottle in the other – you can’t have the glass on the table or you won’t know where to put it. How do you know when to stop pouring? Ah, hook your finger over the glass. OK. Now you need to put the bottle down. Where does it go? You need a free hand to feel for a space but you haven’t got one. Someone has to take your wine while you put the bottle down.

When you get up to leave, you have to wait to be led out. Mr S&S and I were seated opposite each other, so I had to stand in the dark waiting while the waiter fetched him. I felt extremely vulnerable and it was hard to be so dependent.

Anyway – as we were seated among strangers, we all started to talk together. And after 20 minutes or so, the oddest thing started happening. As people spoke, I started to see flashes of colour coming from their places. One was flashing turquoise, one a soft, pulsing orange. At first I thought it was some odd light effect, until it became clear that nobody else could see it. And it carried on – after I’d been speaking to someone for a few minutes, I’d start to see the colour of their voice. So there you are – my one experience of synaesthesia.

Check out Joye’s blog to see the other sense experiments!

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We’ve had a somewhat unseasonal cold snap lately – a village near us was the coldest place in the UK one night – at minus 18 degrees C. Brrrr! The snow started falling a week past Friday, and it’s still there. We haven’t had any post since … a week past Thursday, and it has made the logistics a bit difficult. I am dreading the fuel bills, too.

But it is terribly pretty, so here are some pictures.

These were hanging outside the bathroom window:

And it’s not just outside. I saw some very pretty snowflake window stickers in a catalogue, but being too much of a skinflint thrifty to spend what they were asking, I made some snowflakes out of paper (you remember, the sort you make by folding paper and snipping it) and hung them in the window on lengths of cotton. I have done the living room and kitchen windows, and as they look so pretty from the outside, I plan to do the whole house in time for Christmas. I love the way they turn in the air currents – it gives a nice ‘snowfall’ effect.

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On Monday we met a friend for a wonderful lunch in West Kensington, so as we were in the neck of the woods, we decided to take the children to the Natural History Museum. Who am I kidding? I love the NHM and the children were just an excuse. We agreed that we would leave at the first sign of boredom, so expected to be in there no more than half an hour (the children are three years and 18 months).

Three hours later we left at chucking out time. The children both loved it, which is very pleasing. The main event was, of course, the dinosaurs. The Little Girl, in particular, was extremely taken with the dinosaurs. The lighting in the dinosaur area is very dim, so I gave up trying to get informative pictures, and got all arty with the shadows instead.

The Little Boy seemed interested in the dinosaurs, the big model of the blue whale and all the stuffed animals in glass cases. But what seemed to entrance him were the carvings all over the walls and pillars. It’s one of the things about the NHM that I especially love, so I was pleased to see that he’s already so discriminating.

We bought a very good children’s book on dinosaurs in the shop, and this has become a bit of a favourite. On the way home from the museum, the Little Girl, oblivious to the social etiquette that you Do Not Talk To Strangers On The Tube, engaged the man sitting next to us in conversation about the dinosaurs. He very gamely kept up his side of the discussion, and when he heard about the ‘ver’ ver’ big teef!’ he looked suitably alarmed. At which point, she leant over, put her hand on his arm and said, reassuringly, ‘They were all dead though!’. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many strangers on the Tube smile at me at once. Apparently, ‘They live in the big house now because they’re dead, but when they had skins on, they lived outside’. So now you know…

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There was a hiatus in blog activity last week because Family SowandSew went to London. Mr S&S and I lived in London for four years and moved to Wales when I was expecting the Little Girl. When we left we told everyone that we’d go back for lots of visits but had reckoned without the logisitics of travelling with small children and how busy we’d be. So this was our first trip to the Smoke since January 2008. I was slightly worried that I’d have forgotten how to do London and would walk under a bus or something, but it all came back to me frighteningly quickly; in some ways it felt like I’d hardly been away.

So, would you like to see some pictures?

Our first full day was one of those lovely crisp and sunny winter days, so we wrapped up and went to Greenwich. We enjoyed a big walk in Greenwich Park, and the children had fun spotting the very friendly squirrels.

I found an interesting winter-flowering shrub:
I must identify it because it’s just what I need for the garden.

The views over London from Greenwich Observatory are wonderful. You can just make out how small St Paul’s is compared to all the modern buildings that surround it: It must have seemed unimaginable even fifty years ago that St Paul’s would be dwarfed like this.

And I love the contrast between the early 18th century Royal Naval College and the new buildings at Canary Wharf.

At the Observatory itself, you can see the all-important British Standard measurements: and a rather fine clock: It’s unusual because it’s an analogue 24 hour clock, and a very early electric one.

There’s also an exhibition explaining Greenwich’s historical role in maritime time-keeping. We didn’t look at it, but I did take a photo of this sign because it made me giggle:

Then it was off to meet some friends, find some lunch, and look at the shops – including a rather lovely looking greengrocer:

before going to look at some boats on Deptford Creek.

We ended the day with a walk back through the park just before it closed, enjoying the view of London all lit up. At night, they mark the Greenwich meridian with a green laser, which entranced the Little Girl.

More later!

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Cath C chose ‘pyrophoric’ as this week’s word.

My first reaction was ‘pyro-what-now?’. It’s not often I come across a brand new word, but this one was unfamiliar. I got as far as ‘pyro – that means fire’ and then had to admit defeat. Cathy kindly supplied the definition: something pyrophoric is something that combusts spontaneously in contact with air. (The derivation is from pyrophorus = ‘bearer of fire’ which made me kick myself.)

Anyway, I have been thinking about spontaneous fire and it’s been a bit of a lateral exercise. Fire is pretty central to our lives – we have a woodburner in our living room and our heating and hot water come from a wood/coal burning range. But although I’d love a bit of controlled pyrophoria (is that a word?), for us the making of fire is a laborious process, involving newspaper, kindling and the carting about of logs and coal.

So, the thing that I kept coming back to is a phrase from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Which is a beautiful phrase, I think – and yes, the flash of a kingfisher on the river does look like a burst of blue flame. But here’s a confession: I don’t have much time for Hopkins, generally. My mother finds this very disappointing, as she is a big fan, but I find him very annoying about 90% of the time. (Sorry, Mum.) I like the sprung rhythm, I love some of the imagery, but he’s over-wordy and has a tendency to labour points until they clunk.

So no, I’m not a Hopkins fan. But sometimes, as in the phrase I quoted, there is something incandescent – an image so well expressed that it flashes across the mind and then stays there, smouldering quietly. So, thank you, Cathy, for prompting me to remember it – and reminding me that inspiration can lie in the most unpromising places – even the work of a poet who gets on your nerves.

Go along to Cath C’s blog to check out the other participants!

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