Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Juggling Wolves

Here's a wonderful mix I've recently been listening to non stop. It's by my boyfriend Huw and it's available to download for free at his label, Serein. Have a listen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Breastfeeding for a year

This wasn't going to be a baby blog but I need to write about this because it's so important in my mind, plus I've read so many lovely posts lately (including this one) about breastfeeding.

Next Tuesday I will have breastfed my son throughout his entire first year and I feel like I should mark this event simply due to the colossal amount of time that I've devoted to it over the last 12 months.

I have no problem with people who don't breastfeed. I know I was incredibly lucky to have a baby who latched on instantly and no troubles with mastitis or tongue ties and deep down, I know if I had had problems there is every chance I would have given up. Nothing can prepare you for the barrage of hormonal emotion that accompany the first few days after giving birth, and accompanied with having just done the physical equivalent of running a marathon and then having no sleep, I am surprised anyone manages to establish breastfeeding at all to be honest. A quite literally life changing skill which must be learned in a very short space of time in the most adverse circumstances.

As a failed 'home birther', I am really touchy about people saying that breastfeeding or home birthing with no intervention (I had gas and air and finally a hospital transfer for a syntocinon/picotin drip during the 52 hours I was in labour) is somehow due to having enough willpower or the right attitude. The Mule has some great posts, but this one makes me feel very uncomfortable. No amount of 'believing you can do it' will help after two continuous days of contractions every three minutes with no sleep, five hours of transition and a baby that is still in the wrong position to descend (do I sound bitter?). Sometimes you can want and prepare for something with all your being but it just doesn't work out through no fault of your own. It took me a long time to come to terms with that with my own birth experience and I apply the same logic to breastfeeding.

I am a person who always feels that they should be doing something, so the many hours I've spent trapped, sitting still, feeding my baby have sometimes been difficult for me. It has been an acquired art, as summed up in these posts that redeem The Mule for me: The Art of Stillness and While I Nurse You to Sleep.

In the early days, I was not at all prepared for the relentlessness of breastfeeding and how often babies have to feed. I was so grateful for a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor that I'd never recognise in the street who appeared at my house on day three of my son's life and gave me a chart to fill in with all his feeds and nappies. I couldn't have survived without that piece of paper over the first week, it reassured me and gave me something to hold on to through the huge wave of newness a baby makes in your life.

I also have the KellyMom website to thank from the bottom of my heart for confirming what normal feeding behaviour was and for teaching me to just trust my body and my baby to do what they were supposed to.

After a few weeks it all becomes second nature, and the feeling of knowing that your baby is growing through the efforts of your body, just has he grew inside of you is miraculous. I'm so glad I have managed to keep it going for a year and have produced this walking, dancing, unstoppably curious little boy that needed his first shoes already. I can't believe it really.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My holiday snaps.. let me show you them

North Wales. Land of mountains, rain and slate. We had a charming holiday with just enough sunshine for the weather not to be remarkably bad.

The house we stayed in was magnificent, filled with curiosities and history.
The dining room

Our bedroom
One of the living rooms!
I wore my new maxi dress and pretended I was in a period drama.
I can't get enough of mountains with clouds on them. I've got hundreds of mountainous cloud photos but here are two:

The mountains before Dolgellau
We went on daytrips to a few different places, when we could tear ourselves away from lounging around the house:

Portmerion was more surreal than I remembered

Conwy Castle

Magical mossy woods
Baby running on the beach
I had a birthday...
And a birthday cake! I'm now 27.
We could hear this waterfall from our bedroom
Chomping on my ice cream cone

The abandoned cottage in the grounds of Plas yn Rhiw
In the mines at Llechwedd Slate Caverns

My son was incredibly well behaved and brilliant on his first ever holiday.

Until our car broke down today I was anticipating holidaying for a few more days at my father's house in Oxfordshire but as we can't get there now it's back to reality next week.

I have a whole week to prepare for my son's first birthday party. How long can I stretch out preparing sausages on sticks and making a cake......?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Venturing North

We are going up to North Wales on holiday soon and I'm so looking forward to it, despite ominous reports of incoming storms from some inconvenient jet stream. I will just take my wellies and ignore the rain. Words cannot describe how much I am craving a change of scene.

I have been roaming the mountains of Snowdonia on Google street view in anticipation and looking at the pictures of the huge mansion we're staying in. It has a library, roll top baths, seven bedrooms and this is the view from the veranda, from which even storms will be beautiful:

The house was once rented by Percy Bysshe Shelley, his tenancy culminating in a mysterious nighttime 'shooting incident' and flight to Ireland that inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!

My holiday reading is going to be this amazing tome, which I've already started:

I had absolutely no interest in or knowledge of the 17th Century diarist Samuel Pepys until I followed his diaries on Twitter where his exploits were delivered to me in real time by some brilliant person.

He turned out to be this philandering, petulant businessman with a penchant for chasing women, drinking and naval accounting and I immediately wanted to find out all about him. The book has had a good beginning with men with no ears, carnivals, executions and kidney stones all featuring prominently so far.

I would now like to receive all my important yet difficult literature through the medium of Twitter, perhaps Dante's Divine Comedy (I could never get past book one) or Homer's Iliad could now be provided to me in 140 character installments requiring only a second's attention span at a time? Get on it someone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Go to the ant, you sluggard!

From when I went to Marrakesh, a city of storytellers
I went to a storytelling workshop once and the tutor said that everyone had one story that they most identify with, that chimes with how they live their life or what they are. They said that if you search hard enough in your life, 'your story' will become clear to you.

People have written books about this and it's a lovely idea, probably related to encourage everyone to seek out more stories than they ordinarily would. Our brain is wired to work and learn in metaphors and all stories you come across feed directly into this stream of knowledge and pattern matching.

My fellow storytelling workshop attendees got really got excited about this idea, all sorts of stories were immediately brought forth, fantasy novels, fables, children's books, adult fiction, traditional tales, jokes, nursery rhymes, the little engine that could - I didn't have anything to add but I thought about it a lot after that day.

My childhood was full to the brim of books and stories, influencing my every childhood thought and action. It's actually cringe-worthy when I think back of how I lived my life like a character in a book. I wrote my diary in the style of Anne Frank, I took nature notes on boring British hedgerow wildlife like Gerald Durrell in My Family and Other Animals, I tried to live like Just William and I genuinely though I had a daemon like Lyra from Northern Lights. I could have given Scheherazade a run for her money.

Another gratuitous Morocco photo.. isn't it incredible though?
I'm not complaining but I do mostly feel like I'm on a capitalist treadmill that I can't get off until I feel like I've got 'enough' money or assets. Due to not having a full time job anymore and working freelance when I'm not at my part time job, I never feel like I've done enough to provide my share of money for new family. Of course this urge will never be satisfied and is even more sad because I'm very aware that this self inflicted guilt is due almost entirely to the culture we were all brought up in. With this in mind, I do have a story that chimes with me at the moment but it's very banal and obvious, and definitely only because of this life stage I'm in that eveyone must go through (unless they are extremely financially fortunate): young, relatively broke, having rashly started a family...

The story is of course, The Ant and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop's more smug fables. A grasshopper skips and plays music in the summer sunshine whilst the ants work tirelessly to gather food for the colder months, also finding time to make snide comments to the grasshopper. When winter comes, starving of hunger, the grasshopper asks the ants for some of their food and is verbally shot down for his idleness and left to die. The depressing moral is stated: 'To work today is to eat tomorrow', and the growing sense of guilt that one is dithering over Aesop's fables instead of finding new ways to make money to feed your family comes crashing down. Even the Hebrew bible's Book of Proverbs gets in on the ant worshiping action by insulting the reader: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest".

I did just read though about how in Greek mythology (the good old Greeks), it was actually the ant who was the bad guy in a kind of counter-fable. "It relates that the ant was once a man who was always busy farming. Not satisfied with the results of his own labour, he plundered his neighbours' crops at night. This angered the king of the gods, who turned him into what is now an ant. Yet even though the man had changed his shape, he did not change his habits and still goes around the fields gathering the fruits of other people's labour, storing them up for himself. The moral of the fable is that it is easier to change in appearance than to change one's moral nature." Well I'm all for that, and I'm always trying to work on my 'moral nature'.

Perfect for children as their meaning is so blindingly obvious, Aesop's fables are a stream of patronising morality in the Pantheon of traditional stories. If you prefer your stories a little more funny, subtle and bewildering, you could do worse than get a copy of Mulla Nasrudin stories, of which this one is my favourite:
A man is walking home late one night when he sees an anxious Mulla Nasrudin down on all fours, crawling on his hands and knees on the road, searching frantically under a street light for something on the ground.

“Mulla, what have you lost ?” the passer-by asks.

“I am searching for the key to my house,” Nasrudin says worriedly.

"I'll help you look," the man says and joins Mulla Nasrudin in the search.

Soon both men are down on their knees under the streetlight, looking for the lost key.
After some time, the man asks Nasrudin, “Tell me Mulla, do you remember where exactly did you drop the key ?”

Nasrudin waves his arm back toward the darkness and says, “Over there, in my house. I lost the key inside my house…”

Shocked and exasperated, the passer-by jumps up and shouts at Mulla Nasrudin, “Then why are you searching for the key out here in the street ?”

“Because there is more light here than inside my house,” Mulla Nasrudin answers nonchalantly.
Maybe that one is my story.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gol-e Gandom - Dr Lloyd Miller

One of my favourite pieces of music, Gol-e Gandom - Lloyd Miller. Popularised in recent times by its inclusion on the amazing Spiritual Jazz album.

"Dr Lloyd Miller (b. 1938) is an American musician who is well known for his research work on Persian music.

Lloyd Miller received a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Utah. His thesis was entitled Music and Song in Persia. While writing his thesis, he spent 7 years in Tehran as an arts writer for several publications and a PR person for the Center for Preservation and Propagation of Iranian Music.

He is native in English and fluent in Persian and French. During the 1950s and 60s, Miller played with top jazz artists in Europe like Don Ellis and Eddie Harris. Miller was interested in eastern culture and music.

He moved to Iran and mastered Persian music as well as Iranian folk music genres under the supervision of masters Dr. Daryush Safvat and Mahmoud Karimi." wikipedia

A quote from his YouTube channel:

"We implore all artists and fans to assist in the struggle to retain and maintain authentic old pre-electronic age music genres which have been passed down over the centuries and to eschew with vigor any invasion by western contemporary and pop styles. When massive modernization is forced on us by multinational corporations to undermine and eradicate traditional arts, the result is cultural genocide which is more devastating than any holocaust. Phasing out valuable authentic ancient traditions by polluting them with low-level contemporary pop styles eventually erases our roots and leaves us as naught but dust to be blown to oblivion by the evil winds of commercialism and consumerism wherein there is no place for acoustic ethnic instruments. Please help fight cultural genocide by avoiding all electronic, modernized and westernized cheap 'art.' Let's fight to keep our roots from being severed and avoid being turned into zombified consumers of contemporary crassness. It is time for all music to go green, to turn from crass thumping noise and ugly electronics."

He once sent me a YouTube message. I'm not even Welsh but I appreciated his message and it meant a lot to me!:

Dear Eleanor,
Thank you for the kind words. I checked your site and heard your fiddle playing and liked it. It is great to see that some of us Welch folk still play Celtic music. I have been removed from the homeland and when I visited Rhyl and Holyhead a few times it really bothered me that the bloody Brits took away my language and I don't understand anything. But Welch is one of the most difficult languages I ever tried to figure out, more than Persian or Armenian. The other side of our family were Brits; so I guess that side won and now I'm just a stupid Yank. In case you are Welch, keep the culture and traditions alive so we don't finally disappear from the world. And keep playing, you will be famous some day if you keep humble and just play great.
Lloyd Miller

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wants, not Needs

1) Violin bow
Despite how this is technically a 'wants' list, I really do neeeeed a new bow after my cheap one snapped last summer. I still have a very old and expensive bow that was bought when I got my violin years ago, but the it needs a rehair and I'm worried about it breaking during the loud thrashing a gig requires. I would like to have this as my gig bow and keep my old one for sedate practices and acoustic playing.
This lovely black carbon fiber one from the bow shop has an ebony frog; mother of pearl Parisian eye and slide and nickel silver fittings. It's £49.50, a very good price for a tough bow, but I will need to save up for this.

2) Necklace stand

A silver stand for my necklaces.

They are currently tangled up and draped over a picture frame. Not that I can even wear them with a baby clinging to me all day but it would be nice to be able to properly sort them out and admire them on my way to the changing mat.

3) Heath Robinson - Contraptions

A book I've wanted for ages.

"As the champion of pragmatic man, Heath Robinson presented a vision of the British as an unflappable, ingenious and slightly demented breed of inventors that persists to the present day. The British are still a nation of garage-haunting amateur engineers who will recognise the inhabitants of Heath Robinson's world, with their pot bellies and pots of tea, archaic faces and sturdily commonsensical approach to the problems of existence. How to hunt tigers by elephant, how to get an even tan, rise with the sun or put out a chimney fire, these and many more pressing questions are answered in the pages of Contraptions."

4) Lord of the Rings BBC audio collection

The BBC did an amazing full cast audio dramatisation of Lord of the Rings in 1981. I had the cassette box set when I was young and used to listen to it over and over until the tapes fell to bits. Bizarrely, I used to listen to it whilst spending many hours attempting to build a rocking horse out of match sticks (it was some sort of kit). Well that never got completed.. but I can never quite imagine Lord of The Rings without also thinking of match sticks and PVA glue.

Ian Holm was Frodo in the series so it was all the more exciting when he appeared as Bilbo in the Peter Jackson film, which I was almost certainly a 'fan girl' of. I'm sure the cast in that film must have spent a long time listening to the BBC series as there are loads of similarities in how the characters are realised. Haha, I've just found out that Bill Nighy was Sam... which I never knew before!

There is a CD version on Amazon and I MUST LISTEN TO IT AGAIN! I must also read The Hobbit again before seeing the film.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


It's August, the month of my birth, celebrated amid damp British summers year after year. It's raining.

This time a year ago I was 35 and a half weeks pregnant, I had mere days of work left, I had all his clothes washed, toys and nappies arranged and was just beginning the interminable limbo of waiting, not always patiently, through the final stretch..

I was excited, terrified, uncomfortable and I was also feeling miserable:
"All that is going on in the world makes me consider just how much the decision to have a child is an enormous risk and responsibility, considering the world we are subjecting them to without asking. Young people being shot as they try to escape across a lake in Norway, babies in Somalia dying of malnutrition, hate mongering media, the threat of global recession with Obama's debt talks shuddering to a halt, the acidic taste of awful jokes about the death of someone who had no access to true understanding and help. It feels like the world is in tatters, the mindless pursuit of money and control, the lack of compassion and heart in so many people with so much power, religion warped beyond all recognition and used to justify atrocity.

It's all one can do but hide away in a flat they can barely afford to rent, take out their meager savings from the bank to put under their mattress despite money fast becoming subjective and useless and dig up their lawn to grow things to eat. We are teetering on a knife edge, and yet people still go on as is nothing is happening.

I am sitting here pointlessly wondering if having children is the right thing to do, or if it's the only thing to do. I suppose the way to protest and try and contribute to any kind of decent world future is to live positively and as sustainably as you are able, try your hardest to combine compassion for others, "goodness" and not behaving like an idiot in everything you do, bring up your children as sensitive, decent people - and I have so far to go.

We all imagine we don't contribute to all the awfulness going on in the world but underneath it all we know we all do.

God, now is really the time to make a more concerted effort with these things."
I am feeling so much more positive about this responsibility, now I have my son here with me.

My body is a shell of its former self, my emotions are shredded, I cry at anything remotely sentimental or nostalgic, but alongside all this, what a privilege and a challenge it all is to be responsible for a human life. To love someone with all your being and have the chance to consciously bring up a whole new person to live in this world.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sans Soleil

Chris Marker, the French film director, has died aged 91. There is a lovely obituary in the Guardian where I learned that when asked to provide a photo of himself, he often sent a picture of a cat because it was his favourite animal. I might start doing that but with elephants.

Most famous as the director of La Jetée, a sort of post apocalyptic, black and white, 'photo' story, I much preferred the accompanying Sans Soleil (1983) and it's one of my favourite films.

Sans Soleil is what is apparently known as a 'non-linear film essay' (stay with me here) and it is the perfect thing to watch late at night with all the lights off as it is a hypnotic, emotional, contemplative and very absorbing film.

Here is the opening:

The film consists of travel footage, mostly of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and Toyko in Japan, with a female narrator reading letters sent back from these places by an unknown traveller. It shows reality in all its grimness as a sad and graphic scene of the death of a hunted giraffe makes clear. The many sequences of people across the world living their daily lives somehow make the banality of life so beautiful and timeless, it's almost unbearable to watch.

There is some beautiful music also, I love the sounds in this clip:

It's on YouTube but in French, which isn't much use if you are as bad as languages as I am but it's definitely worth renting and watching in homage to Chris Marker. RIP cat lover.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

July 10th, 2006 - Don't forget

I wrote this in 2006, after returning from travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway.

A deformed girl who didn't have the use of her legs chalks the story of her life in perfect Chinese characters on the pavement of Beijing. A homeless man reads it.

I've been sitting on my computer at my parents house for a week endlessly and cleanly extracting sunflower seeds from their black shells with my teeth, a technique I finally perfected whilst spinning through the Gobi Desert almost two weeks ago..

When they run out I think I will have to go to a pet shop to buy more. Going away seems like a dream and I can't believe how much I detached in only two weeks. The savage air conditioning on the Southern Railways trains into Brighton seemed unnecessary and over luxurious. Our climate does not need air conditioning.

People smiled on Southern Rail all the time, but their smiles were empty. Perhaps the Russians have got it right, why smile when it's meaningless? Save laughing for little Russian girls on the train, excited about meeting Australians and British, who'd like to have more English lessons because she really enjoys them but can't because her school isn't open for long enough during the week.

Going to a supermarket for the first time since I've been back was a revolting experience. Everyone I saw seemed shockingly obese, piling their enormous trollies with mountains of needless sugar and cloying, artery choking, advertised food. Everyone looked pasty, pale and blonde and flabby, dressed stylishly, but missing an essential element of human definition and I felt physically sick at the entire aisle dedicated only to greasy pointless crisps.

I hated the huge, spoilt, grunting, superfluous, Americanised English.. shuffling around their swinging fat past the shelves, gloating over their expendable income and tooth fillings, there were no people with rickets, no gentle almost imperceptable air of Buddhist calm, no sense of desperate struggling to overcome poverty placed upon them by insane governmental regimes, no children with deformed hands asking for money or food, no old withered men smoking and drinking vodka or green beer expertly.

No one is fat in Russia, when you eat, in restaurants, from babushkas on the train tracks, in a homestay, the portions seem tiny, but when you eat them, you are full, and its only your warped sense of size overtaking you from back at home, where everything is swollen and thrown at you from the flashing lurid marketing.

I heard on the news about a fatal plane crash in Irkutsk, Siberia, filled with children going to the adventure camp at Lake Baikal, where two weeks ago, at dusk, I walked up the long hill to the top to meet this view: