Month: December 2004

12.31.04 brilliant

I threw out my back, everyone I know has head cold, I’ve had to deal with tedious passport issues, I’ve fallen behind on deadlines, and this is our first holiday without friends and relatives. These factors might have made for a terrible holiday, but in fact, we are having a brilliant time.

We purchased the last available turkey from the market square, convinced a farmer to bring a baking pumpkin to town, and watched Swedish choristers perform at Great St. Marys. We made a proper meal and opened gifts and went on walks. Now we are listening to BBC radio broadcasts. There is a spicy apple cake in the oven and the boy is practicing riding his new unicycle.

One of our British friends  pointed out that our enthusiasm for life is rather frightening.

But it is also genuine.


12.14.04 education

Even though we know lots of really excellent teachers, and our kids were sometimes happy in certain schools, the whole thing was excessively tiresome and largely pointless. I let them go intermittently to make friends, not to be educated. 

In our opinion, education happens wherever you happen to be.

By moving here we had to accept that some of our ideals would be sacrificed to give the kids a chance to assimilate in the new country. That means sending them to proper school for the first time in their lives.

First shock:

My offspring have no transferrable grades, so they were placed according to age and achievement. What achievement, you might ask? In both instances, the headmaster asked what level of education we parents achieved. Upon hearing that both of us possess advanced graduate degrees, the kids were promoted to top tier.

Second shock:

The girl is now studying advanced subjects like physics, chemistry, and maths. We didn’t know what she was capable of, but she instantly excelled in the most challenging English class available. With no prior foreign language studies she was placed in advanced French – and caught up with the class within a few short weeks.

Whenever she has trouble at school she simply asks for help; if the teachers tell her that she should know how to do the work she replies Listen, I went to hippie schools, and they laugh and give her the advice she needs.

The younger child has another whole set of issues, because this country does not separate church and state in the matter of education. He was placed in a Church of England school because he lives in the catchment, not because belief is required. The boy is highly suspicious of the rituals and routines; he thinks that it is not safe to burn candles in chapel.

But the school is really excellent, and they teach all the world religions in a comprehensive manner. They’ve done an incredibly deep study of ancient Greece. They go to museums and institutes. They have music, and art, and the children are from all over the world; at last count, thirty different languages are spoken in a population of perhaps one hundred children.

The school is the most diverse and highest quality primary school I have ever visited, and from what I can gather, most of the schools in this city are in fact just as good.

I don’t mind the religious curriculum because I think that children should have a fundamental understanding of the history of society. It is up to each individual to form their own belief system, but we should all have an opportunity to know how and why our culture evolved.

Plus, I’m a sap for sentiment, and the children sing carols! From my home to yours: happy Christingle!


12.11.2004 jump

This city is not really a proper city; it is a market town, with very small streets, lots of which are made of actual cobblestones. Much of the place is pedestrianized, and what isn’t should be. Outside of the center, even the so-called major roads are nothing like what I’m used to in the vast automobile nirvana that is the American West.

In Seattle and Portland cars and pedestrians and bicycles have lots of space and mostly avoid any problems. Sure, there are accidents, and people do dumb risky things. But the streets are definitely wide enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to be out.

Here, the bus drivers whip their enormous vehicles around corners so fast the bus comes up on the sidewalk and could literally squash an unsuspecting passerby. Taxis drive two or three times faster than they should. Delivery trucks do whatever they like, and woe to the person or object in their way. There are people swarming everywhere, and bicycles streaming by constantly.

Back in the states I was notoriously paranoid about safety and could barely manage to ride my bicycle three blocks on side streets to visit friends. I liked being in my car; it was a solid safety shield. Moving here meant changing lots of daily habits, and at first I was not able to ride down even easy streets like Trinity.

But now I cycle everywhere. I didn’t force myself to do it; I didn’t even notice it happening. Over the course of six months I have grown used to the implied peril of the cars streaming past. I ride on the streets without fear.

I’m still cautious, but I am completely capable of spending a day on the bike, doing errands, riding down dodgy streets, buying groceries, making my way back to the boat again.

This morning we were crossing the street at an appropriate crossing point. A taxi coming toward us realized we were there and accelerated to force us out of the way.

I was not amused. Instead of doing what I might have back home — ceding the space — I jumped in front of the car. I leaned forward and looked at the man, then Byron and I walked very, very slowly, forcing him to wait.

There was much rude gesturing and for the first time I really felt properly acclimated to England.


12.02.2004 tempted

The best part of spending all of my time on a boat is that I have no internet access and thus am never tempted to spend hours doing random internet research.


12.01.2004 mystery

James changed his site design awhile back and I forgot to mention it… but you should go over and look because he has added a series of photographs of the Winchester house, one of my favorite places in the world.

Not so coincidentally (I am home rummaging for publicity stuff), I have a stack of his early work here on the desk. He did a series of me with my infant daughter, and they are gorgeous photographs, because James is excessively talented.

The baby is just a blurred streak of white, and I am mainly depicted as hair, but that is as accurate as you could hope for given our personalities.

Sadly James burned all of his early work; the proof sheet and two prints on my desk are the only bits left. I should probably put them somewhere safe. But then I would likely not find them again.


12.01.2004 patron

The galleys for the book arrived a few days ago. I read the suggested edits and started to evaluate the manuscript for the final push to publication. This project is almost done. I am even somewhat thankful that the first manuscript was stolen. The book is definitely better for all the extra work.

Before she was my editor, AEM told me that I should only publish the thing if I want to be the patron saint of pariahs.

Today I walked around this quaint old city clutching the manuscript and considering the point. It is perhaps a bit too late to worry about such things; the contract is signed, the cover art is done, the book tour is being planned.

If I could have chosen a career I would have picked differently. I would have been anonymous, buried in a government agency, quietly controlling my small part of the world from a desk situated behind a row of filing cabinets.

Instead, here I am, about to release a nonfiction narrative of sorrow and secrets. It is interesting to know so many creative people and realize that their work often bears no resemblance to their life, that people who can evoke emotions or delineate values are often nothing like whatever they create.

This new book of mine will surprise lots of people. If you read it, keep in mind that it is a book, and I am a person.


12.01.04 knocking

Byron is in Zurich and at the end of his talk the audience started knocking.