Tuesday, May 22, 2007

At Underwater World

A shark floats above my head. It is as if it were flying. It is alarming when it comes up from behind. I feel like I could reach up and touch its sleek underside. The shark does not look so much vicious as it does stupid, its mouth hanging lazily open. I am wondering why the sharks do not attack and eat the other fish. Perhaps they are just that well fed, or simply do not eat the types of fish they are housed with.

Naughtyman is enjoying the sharks but he does not go too close to the glass. He prefers to run up and down, shouting "hello, hello", anyway. He is a simple, warmhearted boy. He has taken to his granny in a big way. He is always pulling her by the hand, wanting to share with her. He wants to visit their house, he says. I think my children would be happier -- although there is not much in it because they are happy children -- in the UK. But I would think that!

I am not a fan of zoos or the like, but Zenella went to Underwater World on a school trip and wanted to go again. I knew I would be fascinated, even as I didn't approve. But I was even more interested than I had thought. Undersea is truly another planet.

For some reason, Underwater World has a small collection of animatronic dinosaurs. They are not very convincing but they convince Naughtyman. The rubber and plastic T Rex roars at him and he screams and starts howling. "I want to go home," he cries. I pick him up. There is nothing I like more in this life than to be a safe haven for my kids. Naughtyman pulls himself as close as he could, burying his face in my neck. Curiously, I feel safer when they do that. It makes me feel strong and bold, capable.

How much I love them! Sometimes I can scarcely look at them, my heart pounds so hard. I am overwhelmed by a nameless emotion. Whenever I feel sorry that my life has taken twists I would wish it had not, I remind myself that they are the destination it led to.

I remember when the bush down in the park at the end of our road was on fire. The sky was full of smuts, the smell of smoke overpowering. Naughtyman was as scared by it as he had ever been. I made the children tea and sat them at the dining table. Zenella would go to look at the fire, which meant being out of sight on the verandah, and Naughtyman would cry. "Where's Zenella?" he sobbed. He was scared that the fire had come to get her.

In the end, he couldn't take any more. He climbed into my lap and cuddled in. I held him close, and if I moved, he made me move back, so he was cradled just so. Eventually, he fell asleep, and I put him down in his cot. Usually, he will wake in the late evening, and ask for water, or a cuddle. But that night he slept through.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pedant, consede

Ah, 'tis a perilous business, to be a pedant. The urge to look very clever can so easily have you looking very stupid. Best not get into it if you do not recognise the pitfalls. One pitfall is supercede.

Although Brian is correct that "supersede" is the more common usage, although "supercede" is so commonly used that one might consider it a variant, rather than an error, he is all wrong about its etymology, leading him to say some stupid things.

If only supersede did come from a word meaning "sit above"! The sedan chair thing would then be almost poetic, a lovely etymology. Sadly, it's wrong, and curiously, it turns out that "supersede" is the variant, albeit the one that stuck.

Worse still, English borrowed the word as "supercede", because the word it borrowed was "superceder". The word that descended from was "supersedere", spelled with an "s". Yes, the Frenchies cannot spell.

And it gets much worse. Although "supersedere" strictly meant "to sit above", the French word meant "to delay" (among other meanings such as "to desist", which it also bore in Latin), and it was borrowed into English with that meaning.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Tub of mum

A friend of mine was telling me the other day that her young son has gone off the rails. He's not dealing drugs or stealing. No. It's much worse than that. He's into rap. Now if you want to hurt your mother, particularly if her politics are anything like progressive and her taste in music is indie lite, this is probably the way to go. One of her concerns in handling this nightmare is that the child will internalise any conflict, and his view of her will be soured by it. I say beat the little shit with a cane and let his psychiatrist sort it out in 20 years.

But the truth of it is that he will not be upset by her putting her foot down (say, by not allowing him to watch music TV). He will love her all the more for caring. Boys are like that. We strain and rebel against the love our mothers give us but we appreciate it all the same.

I had plenty of conflict with my mother when I was a boy. Sometimes it ended in my being clouted and sometimes in shouting on both sides. It didn't do me much harm and my enduring impression of my mother is more than favourable. When I think about how our lives were as children, and how my mother was, what I recall was how much she sacrificed for us, particularly given that she was by today's standards a very young mother. She spent her early twenties not pubbing and clubbing but bringing up three kids almost singlehanded. (Of course, that was her choice, but I don't think it was a particularly well-informed one.)

One of my oldest memories is of my mother and I walking the two miles from Helston to Porthleven, her pushing my sister's pram (or my pushchair; I'm hazy how old I was then, two or three) and me hanging on to the handle, the dog tied to the other. In my other hand I am holding a pot of mousse, still frozen, which I am eating, a poor man's ice-cream. The mousse is my treat, which I had every week without fail. We are walking because my mother has spent her last tuppence on it, rather than take the bus.

I don't eat tubs of mousse these days. But whenever I see them in the supermarket, I'm reminded of my mother. I do not know what she would think of her memorial's being a pot of fake-strawberry chemicals and milk but you do not get to choose how your children remember you. And I think that if you are a mother, unless you take a truly heinous path, you are destined to be loved, and rightly so.