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Well, I said to someone two days ago that I just didn’t know where to start. 

I have to accept that I will never be able to say it all.

So. Somewhere:

1) on November 15, E won the Kent Junior Piano Festival. If anyone is reading this who remembers, this was the big build up to the big concert. He won with Brubeck’s Take Five, Debussy’s Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum, a Bach something (!), and one of his own compositions for him on piano, and M on violin. He won every category, and the overall prize, becoming the Kent Junior Pianist of the Year 2008. 

2) His composition was called ‘Interruptions and Surprises’. Four days later we all got the interruption and surprise of our lives: he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

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There are many, many things to say about this condition — this major organ failure that suddenly exerts control over everything but everything in life.

We are coming back, all of us, to our lives. But it has been like a bomb going off. And I have an image of myself now trying to hold it back, to keep it contained, to soothe it.

But it won’t be soothed. It goes off, and you pick up the pieces.

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So. First things first.

1) he won’t die

2) he’s getting good care

3) he never was very unwell

4) friends and family have been just complete lifesavers. Thank you one and all.

5) I have never been so shaken in all my life. 

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Second things:

1) type 1 means insulin dependent, which means at the moment, injections 4x daily and blood tests 5x daily. He’s managing them all himself, has done from the beginning.

2) for those who know little, as I did, more facts: you cannot set levels of injections, and just do them. You must consistently track sugar levels in the blood through tests, then adjust the insulin according to what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how hot or cold you are, how much physical exercise you are doing or plan to do, what level you were before you started, etc. Etc. Etc. It is unbelievably complicated and difficult, and hey, we can do it — hey he can certainly do it — but I HAD NO IDEA. None.

3) good sugar control is the key to avoiding the risks of nasty complications, some of which are life-threatening. End of story.

4) there are many ‘forevers’: he will have it; we will worry about him in relation to it; he will carry it; his sister will worry about getting it; life has changed.

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They are back at school after a complete collapse of a Christmas break. E is thriving, still getting lots of top marks and just this week accepted a 100-page keyboard part for Jesus Christ Superstar. Good grief! He is an example of ‘getting on with it’.

M has suffered late in all this, only feeling able to wobble after the rest of us have steadied somewhat, but her strength is legend. Together we draw up a timetable for homework, violin, ballet, and already she knows that together we can all get back on track.

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Sigh. And us? We have some bad dreams. We’re tired. But we know why we’re here.


I had to pull over and cry. Obama’s acceptance speech was on the radio.

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Here’s the deal:

I never thought I’d hear a politician say the things he’s said. Ever.

I’ve never been proud of anything but America’s past. Certainly not her present. In my lifetime. Until now.

It’s been years since I wanted to be there. Twenty, to be precise. But today I really, really wished I were.

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Amen.

to a little bleat of joy: saw Mamma Mia the other day, R under duress and E hoping no one would recognise him. M and me just settling back for the journey.

Well, of course it had its cheesy moments (particularly in the first 5 minutes: R’s head well and truly in hands). But also had some wonderful ones that took me by welcome surprise. Much like Enchanted (which for similar reasons only M and I saw in the cinema) there are some truly delicious scenes of the good old fashioned musical, when everyone drops what they’re doing and starts singing and dancing…great stuff.

I also found Mamma Mia hugely moving. Not the whole thing by any means. But much of it was gutsily acted by middle-aged men and women — such stars in their own rights — whose commitment to the simplicity of the heart of the piece — loving and aging — shone through every moment. Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan in particular were just…luminous. Really.

Anyway, I found myself crying through the Dancing Queen sequence. Really. I was mortified, until I realised that the woman next to me was crying too. 

After poking around on You-Tube, I’m pretty sure that the clips are all pirated. Oh well. You just gotta see the movements with the song though, so I’ve stuck the best one I can find here. GO SEE THE FILM. Really. Whether you see the karaoke version I leave up to your own fine judgement…

Am waiting for hugely better photos than I took to wend their way from my brother-in-law before embarking on Italy and related subjects, so will meanwhile say what I’ve read the last few weeks:

1) The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak): at Valerie’s suggestion (or rather, insistence!). I fell right into this book, almost against my will, and found the narrator unusual and compelling. Liesel was a superb character, and Rudy, and Max and Papa especially. They were full of depth, colour and breadth immediately. It’s quite a feat I think to maintain strong character and nearly omniscient narration; one is often sacrificed for the other.  It was a journey. I loved the visual aspect of the book, and its typography too, and more than anything feel real relief that such an unusual book, with so many different components, can meet with real success. Like probably everyone else in the whole world, I wept all the way through the last 50 pages. I then passed it onto my sister-in-law. I could tell when she reached the same part, from her sniffing on the sunbed next to me…I was oddly disappointed by the ending, though, the very ending, as in the last couple of lines. They felt flat. Sorry to be so picky.

2) The Gathering (Anne Enright): Booker prize winner last year. I liked it alot. Can’t say that I loved it, but I thought it very well written, extremely so, subtle, enticing, troubled and troubling. The narrator here is very particular, specific first person, and the play with time and memory was very, very effective. However: once again I found myself dissatisfied with the ending. I felt that it didn’t quite hold up to the writing. The book was actually about elusive things, so it is no surprise that much of the book felt elusive… Yet, yet… I’d be curious to know what others think. I wonder if it never really, really got down to brass tacks? The constant veering away from subject by the narrator made the book feel veering away? Maybe. However, I am delighted that for once a rather slim volume, with a limited framework and canvas, made it to the Booker table. As a general rule, ‘limited canvas’ books are my favourites — and not the British public’s or Booker judges’. With John Banfield’s book two (?) years ago, room for variation seems to have started with the Booker, for which I am relieved….

3) Engleby (Sebastian Faulks): well, a different order of book I thought. Almost French somehow, in its methodology. There is a fundamental mystery here, but the book is not a mystery book. There is a oddball character here, but the book is not about that either. Somehow. Somehow — despite flagging a little, the narrative loosening in tension to the point of near collapse in the middle — the book becomes about how certain minds work at the edges of certain worlds, certain points of extremis that few if any of us know or understand. Yet the character, caught in this, being this, is also compelling, human, and strangely sympathetic. The book achieves this balancing act through near technical acrobatics I thought. I can’t give it away, but suffice to say that once a certain aspect of its creation is revealed — the whole endeavour takes on a completely different and more complex and gripping quality and motive. It’s impressive. It’s also funny — very dry, ‘smart’, almost cringingly so — throughout. And unlike the previous two books, the rather anti-climactic ending didn’t bother me. Where the other books I think are despite possible intentions dependent upon the narrative — Engleby isn’t. So I didn’t feel its lack in the final pages.

4) Noughts and Crosses (Majorie Blackman): young adult book passed to me by E, who read it for eight hours straight, barely stopping to eat. This again was quite compelling reading, though for different reasons. Its premise is one of the world being ‘reversed’ in discrimination, e.g. people of colour being powerful (‘crosses’) and white people being powerless (‘noughts’). It’s a star-crossed lover tale at heart, with politics, money, parenting and growing up thrown into the pot. The interesting aspect of the book is that the characters’ X or O status is rarely pointed up: there are few physical descriptions, and the world is close enough to ours such that as a white reader I had to remind myself many times of the ‘reversal’ of this imagined world. I was mortified and chastened time and again to realise that in my head I always imagined the people with power to be white — and the people without power to be black. Of course, I am liberal enough to know and think I understand that we are all complicit in our society’s racism. However, I have never read anything that so effectively brought me face to face with my own paradigms. The writing itself I felt was inconsistent — some wonderful moments, but also some rather weak ones (lots of adverbs, point of view slippages etc). Plot-wise though I couldn’t fault it. The writer set something up and followed it through, even if we didn’t want to see it…

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Of course the reading pile has no end. And much of what I read on holiday was just that — good holiday reading. I find that I am always trying to balance ‘keeping up’ with ‘reading off-centre’. Holiday time is where I do the former.

I’m now reading one of R’s books, given to him by  student, and one he read on holiday: The Life of David Debrizzi (Paul Micou). So far, it’s frankly hilarious.

And I’m desperate to read Sue Guiney’s Tangled Roots. And a writer E is now reading, who I think is just superb from my snatched evening reads to him: Siobhan Dowd (Bog Child and The London Eye Mystery). AND I read Caroline Smailes’ In Search of Adam some time ago and still haven’t reviewed it here! Not fair! I WILL.

 

In the last few days:

1) A single magpie

2) An older man standing in front of his house, black tie, searching the road for his ride

3) A young man in the same, glancing at his watch,  on a street corner

4) One church, weeping. Afterward, children running through the garden.

5) Yesterday another church, full of celebration. Then suddenly, weeping.

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Never known such a time for sorrow and beauty side by side. One way this, another way that. An almost daily parade.  

Last week, M attended the funeral of her friend’s mother with me. We cried together. Later, on the way to the village hall and cake and tea, she held my hand and said that it felt right for her to be there. It did, and was.

 

I HAVE MOVED

From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning

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Who am I?


A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.