Current music

Dot writes: I thought I’d write one of my periodic listening diaries, so people could glance at it and think “Aha, that’s what a late-thirties mum in Dublin is listening to, then, I must immediately rush out and buy all of it”; and then it occurred to me that, just for once, this really is a list not just of my current music but of music that is actually current, as in, out pretty recently. Or very recently. Or, indeed, not quite yet, in the case of one of these. So, what’s hot with a late-thirties mum:

Ainslie Wills – Oh the Gold (EP)

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Like a Brother

This story is based on the song of the same name by The Basics. In view of that I’d like to stress that none of the characters is intended as a portrait of anybody.


One of the first pieces of advice I got given when I started living in shared houses was “never go out with your housemate”. This was when I was still a student, and the shared houses tended to have six or seven people in them and a lot of arguments over selfish refrigerator use and dumping people’s washing out of the machine; a recently split couple could be worse than a strong cheese for the atmosphere of such a place. Now I’m in a house of only three, but I’m remembering that advice. The other girl, Julie, is hardly ever around. She has a severe gym habit and a boyfriend on the other side of town. Most of the time it’s just me and Fergus.

Fergus is a quiet guy. Big, thoughtful, reliable. Has an office job, a civil service type thing, forms and databases. Spends his evenings tackling guitar solos in his room with the amp turned right down. That’s when he doesn’t come and sit in the kitchen and talk with me. Admittedly it’s mostly me doing the talking: he’s a good listener and I feel I can tell him things. He never needs anything explained, he always gets it. Or sometimes we’ll set up one of the laptops on the table, bring cushions, and watch a silly film together. We seem to have the same sense of humour.

And yes, I did sleep with him once. A bit over a month ago at the end of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure we simply went to the same room instead of different ones, and frankly it was rather a nice experience. But neither of us has mentioned it since and I’m not going to. I like our relationship how it is. Continue reading “Like a Brother”

Raw Reaction


Dot writes: sometimes when you get sucked in to a book, surfacing from it you feel strange and woozy and not properly connected to the world. I’m feeling like that right now after finishing Theo by Ed Taylor. The style of the book accentuates the feeling. It gives a child’s view of a chaotic adult world and the prose reflects a mind not wholly understanding what it sees, overstimulated and often confused. There are no quotation marks so it’s sometimes hard to tell where the speeches start and stop; Theo always seems to be running (he’s a ten-year-old boy) and switching between thoughts and impulses; paragraphs are often breathless, short clauses joined with ands. Everything runs into everything else in a blur of impressions that Theo is trying to comprehend.

Sometimes, also, books hurt. Theo is the story of a boy who’s the son of a rock star, Adrian, a guitarist in a hugely successful band at the start of the 1980s (The Rolling Stones are an obvious possible model, given Adrian’s difficult relationship with his creative partner, the band’s singer Roger). The adults around him are drugged-up, frequently drunk, affectionate but neglectful. His parents come and go from tours, court-cases and clinics. His main carers are his grandfather and a minder called Colin, who are almost as unreliable and useless as everyone else. Regular meals and laundry are things these people are utterly unable to manage. Theo knows what the ‘sex noise’ is like and hears it rather often; he observes that adults always lie to him. And I can’t help reading this as a mother and feeling terrible for the awful upbringing this poor kid is getting, exposed to things he can’t cope with, never paid any real attention. Early in the book he gets concussion and nobody really notices (it doesn’t seem to have permanent ill-effects). Particularly in the early stages I was finding this book very upsetting – even as I couldn’t stop reading and ironically ignored my own kids as I feverishly tore through it.

I read this book on the strength of a review by Tom Cox (he of @MYSADCAT fame). It’s a much better and more thorough review than this one. Here I just want to say – this book absorbed and harrowed me, and now I feel like I’ve come up from deep water. If Tom Cox recommends any more novels I’ll want to read those too.


The Watcher


They had made love, gone sight-seeing, had dinner and made love again, and now he slept and she watched him, her book in her lap. She considered the rise and fall of his breathing, his strongly-defined nose, the way he’d fallen asleep with his forearm across his eyes in a gesture that seemed not defensive but wholly undefended, exposing his armpit and chest. She couldn’t tell whether he was good-looking or not. He was both utterly desirable and utterly ordinary.

They’d met at a reception in the museum where she worked and she’d been caught by his charm, the way he had – and this was, when she thought about it, an unusual and very engaging virtue – of listening properly to what was said to him, and answering the question he had been asked. He had more questions for her than she for him that evening, intelligent questions about the exhibition she’d helped curate as well as about her part in it; he made her feel noticed and interesting. The next day he dropped by and took her out to lunch. She liked his voice and what was, to her, his mildly exotic Northern Irish accent. He told her stories of his large Catholic family, but also a little about his work as a political journalist. And now here they were, on this holiday while he had a paint-job done in his flat, ready for her to move into it.

She found that she was full of ridiculously cliché’d urges to cook his dinners (though he was a better cook than she was) and have his babies (she was still young enough for that). She was moved and made grateful by his desire for her, his straightforward delight in her body with all its flaws. She knew from experience as well as common sense that their mutual infatuation would not last at this pitch, but she hoped that the kindness would remain; that they could be for each other a place of safety, where they were, in all their weakness, accepted and known.

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Yoghurt and raw ale under the microscope

Ken writes:

The title is intended literally, I’m afraid. I got out my microscope today and had a little play around.

Yoghurt at 400x magnification
Yoghurt at 400x magnification

I first had a look at some of the boys’ yoghurt that they’d left lying around. I diluted with a little tap water and had a look. You can’t see too much from the photo. I think the debris you can see is probably some kind of protein. When I increased the magnification to 1000x I could definitely see motile particles, which I took to be bacteria (the rest of the field wasn’t moving so that eliminates the possibility that I just had too much liquid sloshing round on the slide). The little movers were pairs and chains of little circles (cocci?). I couldn’t get a decent picture unfortunately. The photos were taken with my phone, incidentally.

raw ale, iodine stain, 400x magnification
raw ale, iodine stain, 400x magnification

This one is interesting. I stained the slide with iodine, because I want to see if there was any unconverted starch in my beer. Unconverted starch stains black in the presence of iodine. You can see form this picture that there are indeed two lumps of it. The rest of the tattered looking stuff is protein, I think. A raw ale is one that hasn’t been boiled. It’s naturally cloudy because it still has a lot of protein in it. In the bottom of the picture, the circle with a thick dark outline is a tiny air-bubble. You can’t make out any actual yeast in this photo graph, but there were a couple of yeast cells visible in the live microscope version of this picture. Unfortunately, the iodine killed off any bacteria so I couldn’t see any little swimmers like in the previous picture. I think I will try to repeat this later without the iodine.

The Shepherd’s Crown


Dot writes: Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a poignant read. It starts with the death of one of his most beloved characters, Granny Weatherwax; clearly he was thinking about his own imminent death from Alzheimer’s, which came in March this year. I’m not the only one of my friends who was quick to buy The Shepherd’s Crown when it was published on 27th August, and my facebook feed has been busy with comments on it. On the one hand I’ve been seeing warm and emotional comments from readers, people who finished it crying and describe it (well, one friend described it) as “glorious”. On the other hand there has been considerable annoyance at an article by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian in which he wonders why there is such a fuss over this book, as “life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers” – and admits he hasn’t read a single word of Pratchett’s work and doesn’t mean to.

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The Piper by Dot


I wake to find him beside me, head on my pillow, one arm flung across my breasts in a gesture of casual possession. I don’t remember him coming in; I must have been deep asleep; but now in the still dawn light I watch him dream. I wonder what occupies his sleeping mind, what fears or fantasies, scenes from TV or echoes of the everyday. His lashes curl against his cheek; he’s so close I feel the soft touch of his breath. He is mine and I am his.

Then, quite suddenly, he’s awake. Now he’ll want me to go downstairs with him. I’d like to drift slowly into the day but I know from experience that doesn’t work; he won’t get up without me, but he’ll become more and more lively and loud, starting with inept knock knock jokes and progressing to somersaulting onto my stomach. This is not a recipe for family harmony. So I get out of bed and take his little hand, and we go downstairs together.

Continue reading “The Piper by Dot”