Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Time stands still

One thing we have learned about having twins is that there are times when the clock just defeats you. I say the clock; perhaps I should say the revolution of the earth (if you believe in that sort of thing).

We haven't been married that long (close to three years, though who's counting?). And I think that having married in early middle age, we still want back from our day the sort of change that we could have counted on as singletons. I mean, you'll always have a few hours of an evening to feel like you are human again, won't you? Whatever the schedule, there will always be a decompression period during the hours of darkness, offering itself up like a guarantee of sanity, won't there?

Quite, but it is paper thin. How can I put this? "Twins eat time". Or how about

E=MC2 where E is parental fatigue, M is madness, and C is chaos (all squared by twins of course!).

 The days blend into one, the feeds become indistinguishable, nappies heap up in corners like spent cartridges, and, as Yeats wrote after a sleepless night with a grumpy toddler, Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

One accepts all these things as a parent. This is the price of having those delightful little bundles who, after driving you slightly round the bend for an hour, melt your heart with their indescribable magic. But I never calculated the loss of time beforehand! Everything goes by the board. Correspondence is neglected, phone calls are never made and, mais oui, blogs grow dusty with disuse. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the nursery.

It's at time like this that I like to think of the words of the great Canadian bard Neil Peart:

I let my past go too fast
No time to pause
If I could slow it all down
Like some captain
Whose ship runs aground
I can wait until the tide
Comes around.


If I could slow it all down! If only!

At least I still have time to listen to music (if it can be heard over the caterwauling!)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Silence is golden

I have on the coffee table beside my chair Georges Duhamel's Querelles de famille. It is a patchwork quilt of a book in which Duhamel, a now largely forgotten French novelist and essayist, sets out his case against the creeping encroachment of technology on life in the France in the 1930s. The picture is fascinating and alarmingly contemporary in all its resonances.

Duhamel had made his name just after WWI in which he served as a field surgeon. Fifty-one months on the front and over 3,000 operations gave him the raw material for two fictionalised accounts of his experiences, Vie des Martyrs 1914-1916 and Civilisation 1917. Like Querelles de famille, these works are a patchwork, or to use a more noble term, they are impressionistic. The author approaches his goal not using the sharp lines of rational discourse but rather through suggestion, allusion, example and juxtaposition. The particular stories are for another time. In Duhamel, what emerged from this war experience was a sound distaste for rationalisation and mechanisation. Months on end of removing shards of shrapnel from every nook and cranny of men's bodies will do that to anybody, even to one who applauded every new advance in surgery so as to be able to repair, or at least to palliate, the damage done by the awful mechanisation of war.

Querelles de famille was written just over ten years after the end of WWI and at a not dissimilar interval before the outbreak of WWII. The logic of Ford and the spirit of Taylorism were just beginning to have an impact on French industry. Rationalisation was a growing theme among a new generation of thinkers who would pave the way for the technocracy of the 1950s and beyond. On the home front, consumer society really started here also, the explosion of the 1950s being anticipated by the growing availability of disposable and quickly obsolete domestic playthings which, according to Duhamel, were beginning to fill up the poorly-managed rubbish dumps of the 1920s and 1930s.

I was going to tell you also about the noise pollution which Duhamel so strongly decried.... But that will have to wait. As if on cue, my eldest twin boy - on the left here - is currently yelling and, well, I cannot think straight! You would not think he could make such a din!

Oddly enough, all of a sudden, Duhamel's suggestion for a Parc national du silence seems strangely attractive ... unless you're four months old!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

What goes around comes around ...


... and I've been around a bit since last I blogged!

Is there anybody there? said the blogger, 
Looking at his flatlined stats;
And his blog in the silence whirred away
Like Eliots's purring cats.

This blog was always likely to lie dormant for a little while, given that its vocation is to celebrate what Pieper and Borgmann define unsatisfactorily as leisure or focal points. One needs time to breathe in a world full of words and that is not a proposition that ought to be enunciated.

That said, my recent failure to show up has been more connected to events chez Sudlow. My wife gave birth to baby boys in February - a tremendous moment. The crest of happiness this moment brought to our household was immediately cast into shadow when it proved that one boy, John Henry Joseph, was having breathing difficulties. By the end of the same day we had a diagnosis: TAPVD, as the cardiologists called it. Bad heart plumbing, to we laymen.

John on the right and Pip on the left ... or is it?
Fast forward several months of endless hospital visits, chaotic childcare arrangements for our toddler daughter, and some serious worry and prayer, and John is now happily ensconced at home next to his identical twin brother (Philip Charles Benedict), a blessed recipient of the surgical brilliance lurking at Birmingham Children's Hospital and the proud wearer of a four-inch scar. Jobs a good'un, as they say from where I come.Twins are not as hard as I thought they were, but the difficulties they pose are wholly unimaginable before you're in the situation. We often find ourselves wishing we had a third arm or simply the gift of bilocation. But of course, alongside the double trouble, there is double joy. The boys are now four months old and like to live, thank God!

Anyway, now I've explained why I've not been at school, I can tell you I will be back here hanging out a little bit more regularly and very much as before. I thought of ending this post with the famous words of Fray Luis de Leon who, after some years of incarceration while he was being investigated by the Inquisition, was released and returned in triumph to his lecturer hall where he had been arrested. The students welcomed back the famous theologian with shouts and clapping, and when the tumult had died down, the good friar looked up at his audience with a sparkle in his eye and said 'Dicebamus hesterna die' ... which roughly translates, 'As I was saying.

But can anyone really say this better than Arnie?




Thursday, 27 December 2012

It's Christmas time

... so what better reason to potter back to my old haunts and hang out for a while? Since late October, when I last blogged, I confess to a mixture of overwhelming work and solid disinterest in blogging. It's hard to describe the place I've been in, but it might be word-fatigue or something like it. Language has been peeling off experience like some bad Foucauldian wallpaper. I've been needing different outlets. Blimey, I've even started baking!

Domestically, life is rather full. My wife and I are expecting twins in February so daily life has been more complex than expected. On the work front, I've been doing my own duties and filling in for various absent colleagues, so there was no respite there.

It all makes one wonder whether the old truisms about creativity and academia are true: that they are not compatible with family life! Then again, I feel they certainly are; I just haven't cracked the solution yet.

Spiritually and mentally - the reasons for which this blog began - I suppose I have been focusing on getting on with life, rather than blogging about it here. I hate blather more and more each day. The Twelve Days of Christmas are providing their own opportunity for some focal practices. Today, we celebrated St John's feastday with blessed wine and lamb's heart for supper. Why can't our days be always filled with such symbolism? My wife and I toasted each other the traditional St John's toast: I drink to you the love of St John, and while I took a swig, she just tasted a little, having committed herself to avoiding alcohol and caffeine while pregnant. I have a menu planned for the rest of the Twelve Days. Tomorrow, the feast of the Holy Innocents, we will have pigeon. On Saturday, feast of St Thomas à Beckett, we'll have a good English stew of beef shin - even though St Thomas was a Norman!

What is the point? Ultimately, it is about the depths of things. It is about the depths of things, when all we feel we have to hold on to are the fragments and ruins, the flotsam and jetsam; it's about being the rogue dandelion on the crumbling brick edifice of a wall set for demolition. How much our functionalist and pragmatic world clamours for us to live on the surface! How much we are stifled by living at such low altitudes!  

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, as old Oscar said. I think, however, I prefer Gerard Manley Hopkins's version of the same idea. It's less cynical and less self-conscious.

 
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;       
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Linked-In

My friend and colleague Professor Paul Scott has just opened a blog at Cufflink Catholic.

Paul has been displaying a series of cufflink shots on Facebook for some months now, and it was only a matter of time before this extravagant procession of aesthetic cufflinkery broke forth in search of a new platform. The narrative of his initiation to cufflinks is a veritable rebirth story, told with a waft of fine incense and the respectable echo of memory. I recommend it to you.

Meanwhile, I stagger from pillar to post, but mostly from lesson planning to admin task, in search of research time, illumination and copy. Notable achievements of the last few weeks include an almost perfect tarte tatin which collapsed only when it was being extracted from the pan, a new, key insight which might provide the start of my next book, and another birthday. By way of a present, Mrs Sudlow finally gave way to my incessant pleading and bought me a kitchen blowtorch. I cannot tell you how happy this has made me!

So, go over to Cufflink Catholic and say hello (both of you). 

With Professor Scott's cufflinks and my new incendiary prowess, I'm reminded of Chesterton's famous dictum: give us the luxuries in life and we will dispense with the necessities. Like all Chesterton's sayings - such as 'If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly (even if you do it badly, in other words) - it is a paradox. What he means - says the blogger, indulging in a shameful act of overbearing glossaria - is that if we revel in the celebratory side of life, those things we consider necessary in the prosaic quotidian will be seen for what they are: frequently unimportant.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A fragment and a ruin

The last three weeks have been spent in a blur of work. It has been what we call preciously la rentrée (it sounds so much better that 'back to school'). I've been something of a fragment and ruin myself, staggering back home after lengthy days in dementedly boring meetings, or being spun in the hurricane of contemporary university bureaucracy.

These are heady days for higher education in the UK. While we have not a penny more to fund us, the students find themselves now paying anything up to £9,000 for a year's tuition, and so expectation seems racheted up several notches, even though we're still paddling the same somewhat leaky canoe.

It was with great delight that a few weeks ago I was asked to serve on something known as the Wellbeing Committee. The paradigms that prevail in this august assembly will be apparent even to the casual reader when you consider that their version of improving staff wellbeing involves free yoga classes, eye tests, blood pressure checks, etc. I confess to being thrilled to learn that they were planning to have a 'wellbeing bus' on campus in due course! What could be better? I am planning to launch my own suggestions at the next meeting: that staff wellbeing would be immesurably improved by regular 'bring a cake to work' days, flowers in the corridors, and quarterly carnivals (during which, for example, wet sponges can be flung at an 'enstocked' Vice Chancellor).

Meanwhile, life goes on in other ways. We enjoyed our local monthly farmers' market on Saturday and visited our new culinary discoveries: the Kitchen Garden Café for lunch and La Banca for supper. For our afternoon stroll on Sunday we took off to Evesham where Simon de Montfort met his end in 1265, all in the service of 'justice and truth', according to the celebrated Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln (but he was a big head, so what would he know?).

Yes, the bits are coming back together, the ruin is improving, and hopefully, I'll get blogging a bit more regularly now the dust is settled. No promises of course :-)       

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 ...