3 Months – Realisations

Below are a few things I’ve learned during the past three months of motherhood.  I feel like some of these are not-so obvious and whilst others are, when you’re in the middle of an intense 2am cluster feed you find your mind crowded with all kinds of ridiculous notions of what you should -or shouldn’t- be doing.

  • Carpe f*cking Diem – that thing you need to do?  Do it.  Do it now or spend the next 3 days regretting your mistake.
  • Priorities.  If you couldn’t prioritise before, you’ll learn damn fast post-partum.  Got half an hour whilst the little darling naps?  Now’s the time to use that freedom wisely.  I categorise things in terms of how much will I regret not having done it later.  That, and can I do it one-handed?  If I can, it’s a lower priority.  This blog post?  Mostly typed one-handed on the phone whilst boobing overnight.  Prevents me from thinking that casting on another pair of socks to knit is a good idea.
  • Learn to let go and embrace the chaos.  As an adult, you’re far more of a control freak than you realise and are surprisingly regimented in what you do and when. You don’t realise this until you have a baby.  Our lives are ruled by the notion of time and babies are glorious little wildcards that quite frankly, shit on time and its constraints.  You wanted to quickly nip to the shops?  Oh nonononono.  Mama it’s time for a feed and yes I will take my sweet time.  Oh, and what do you know?  I’ve just decided to explosively fill my nappy and simultaneously spit up on your shirt.  You weren’t planning on doing anything for the next hour, were you?
  • That noise they make the first time they headbutt you in hunger hard enough to hurt themselves will make your heart break.
  • Be comfortable in your own skin.  There is no such thing as discreet public breastfeeding at the beginning.  Your little boob addict is hungry?  They will snort, snuffle and generally rub their face all over your boob except for the nipple. Accept that you’ll likely inadvertently flash people.
  • Your little rascal will mistakenly latch onto somewhere that isn’t breast and will give you what looks like a lovebite.  It’s inevitable.
  • Enjoy the small things.  Remember when you were 38 weeks pregnant and immensely proud of the fact you managed to epilate your legs without falling over or putting your back out? That pales into comparison when your little inhabitant is on the outside and you finally manage to have that hot cup of tea or a shower long enough to use a body scrub.  Or eat with both hands.  Relish those moments of bliss.
  • Nothing will rip you from a deep sleep like your little angel filling their nappy with that almost-comical squelch.  I say almost comical because it’s hilarious until you have to change it.
  • Never wake a sleeping baby.  Unless you’ve just heard *that* nappy sound.  Then it’s time to brace yourself and poke the lion with a stick.
  • They are noisy AF.  Whoever said “sleep like a baby” clearly never slept in the same room as one of the little buggers.  Sleep time is time to bust out those dance moves, mum.
  • Babies are fidgetbums.  Mine is a Fidgetbum of the First Order.  Fidgets whilst he sleeps, whilst he nurses, during nappy changes…  Enjoy the nappy changes before they learn to roll over or discover their hands, by the way.  Those are game-changers.
  • No matter what you said during pregnancy and how much you try, you will turn into that annoying sickeningly proud parent.  “Look! Alfonso has just managed to stick his fist in his mouth for the first time and made himself gag!”.  Considering you spend nine months incubating another human being, only for them to emerge looking like a seriously wrinkly, grumpy old man that appears to just scream “BOOB” incessantly for those first few weeks, these tiny developments will never cease to amaze you.
  • Trust your gut.  You think your Bambino is tired?  They probably are.  You suspect a growth spurt or teething?  Most likely is.  You got this; ignore the well-intentioned unsolicited advice from those unqualified and listen to your instinct.  Nine times out of ten, mum knows best.
  • You can successfully breastfeed.  No, they’re not fussing because you can’t produce enough.  They’re fussing because they’re telling your body to make more of that magic milk.  And no, you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby.  No you cannot spoil them when they’re this small.  But ultimately fed is best and you know what works for you.
  • If you breastfeed, you discover that if in doubt, boob is most likely the answer.  Aside from a dirty nappy or trapped wind, boob will resolve everything.  Pain relief?  Boob.  Comfort?  Boob.  Overtired?  Boob.  Grouchy?  Boob.  Hungry/thirsty?  Boob.  You just can’t go wrong.
  • Breastfeeding: Thought pregnancy cravings were bad?  Wait until The Hunger gets you. 2 minutes after giving birth it hit me like a freight train and I’ve been ravenous ever since.  It is possible to have a three course breakfast by 9am and feel hungry at 10:30, by the way.  Coconut yoghurt is the bomb.
  • Don’t under-estimate clusterfeeding. Get snacks, drinks and the TV remote because you’ll likely be here a while.  Ride it out; it won’t always be like this, honestly.
  • You will never feel a bond like this and you never expected it to hit you the way it has. Allow yourself to be proud and enjoy those moments where they smile at you with a mouthful of boob, or start babbling at you like you’re having a serious conversation.  These moments are priceless and are all too fleeting.  You will also never feel so protective of anything or anyone in your life.
  • Your body is amazing.  Yes, you may feel a bit battered, flabby, sleep-deprived and at times like a human milk machine capable of only watching box sets whilst the boobivore feeds, but when you think about it, this whole process is an absolute marvel and is not to be taken for granted.  Yes, those 4am feeds are a pain.  As are the 2am ones.  And that one at 5 where you usually have a fight over the nappy change.  It won’t be like this forever.
  • You understand more of what your parents went through raising you, particularly if you’ve got siblings and have just had your first baby.  You have all these apps and gadgets and Dr. Google to turn to when you have questions or concerns.  They didn’t.  Your parents had to do it old school and that’s pretty badass.  You don’t have to agree with everything they’ve done, but it should earn your respect, at least.  Still won’t make up for that time you weren’t allowed to go to that party, though.
  • Share their joy in the little things. Is sticking your tongue out the best thing since sliced bread? Embrace it and enjoy that right now, entertainment is cheap.
  • Be vigilant during nappy changes.  This is particularly addressed to those with sons. Chances are you too have fallen victim to the Anger Wee when struggling with a very indignant, hungry baby in the small hours.  I have lost count the number of times we’ve had an impromptu hair wash at stupid o’clock because I was too bleary-eyed to check where he was pointing, he let loose and it went all over him, in his hair and the changing mat.  Impressive.
  • Finally, wing it.  All mums do, and eventually you will master the art of blagging your way through the challenges your little human sets you to the point where it appears as if you actually have a plan.


On a sober note, a lot of this revolves around baby, and whilst the little soul is unspeakably precious, the most important thing I personally am struggling to make sure I don’t lose sight of is myself, and to jettison that impulse of trying to be super-mum.  I wasn’t always a mum and I need down time too.  It is so incredibly hard to shake off the expectation of being a natural-born superwoman once your baby has arrived.  Your already superwoman by virtue of the fact you’ve decided to raise another human.

Oh, and guilt.  You’ll have plenty of things to feel guilty about at a later stage in life, no doubt, so be it safe co-sleeping, or realising they watch TV with you in the evening, save the guilt for another time.

The dishes can wait.  Play time with your smiley little Sleep Thief, however…

Inane Whittering #17: An Ode to Fridge Magnet Poetry

Today I suddenly found myself looking at our fridge magnet poetry. I’ve been back at my parents since the end of March, and I’m surprised that this is the first time since then that I’ve actually taken the time to read it all.

Poetry can be incredibly diverse: one the one hand you have sonnets, there are ancient sagas, the slightly off-the-wall classics such as Blake, and then you get the Byrons, the Sassoons and the angsty teenage “You’re the love of my life” stuff written by wannabe drama queens of today that you see on various sharing websites. One thing’s for certain: I remember doing poetry at school and it was hideously boring.

They tried to do a multi-cultural poem that most of the class didn’t really understand and neither were they interested in it. They were more interested in painting nails and other girly stuff that I thought was as equally boring. Sad, but true.

Well, I say hideously boring, but the only poetry I ever took an interest in is nonsense poetry, as those of you who have read my previous post on The Jabberwocky and its translations will know.

If only there had been a form of poetry more engaging and interesting to the teenage version of myself, then I probably would have started with my wordplay and manipulation of imagery a lot earlier.

On second thoughts, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t.

One of the main reasons I find nonsense poetry so interesting is because it makes me think. At least, it makes me think in a far more abstract manner than “normal” poetry, for want of a better word, does. It certainly encourages me to play with imagery and produce things such as describing something as “bright black”.

My solution to the whole poetry problem in schools? Fridge magnet poetry. Wanting to get a bit of Shakespeare into the curriculum? Never fear, there’s a Shakespeare kit (which features on our fridge at home and further on here). Foreign language exam coming up? No worries, we have a German kit, too.

As the German kit in our house has not quite yet developed to the same level as the Shakespeare, I shall leave that for another time.

In any case, I think that fridge magnet poetry is seriously undervalued. The number of evenings spent gathered, sniggering around the fridge like school children has certainly provided more entertainment that most board games that you end up being forced to play at family gatherings.

Cluedo? Oh no. We don’t play SquabbleScrabble any more, either. (And anyway, I received the equivalent to a lifetime ban as apparently you have to stick to the one language when playing? Spoilsports. They claimed it was unfair if you start speaking gibberish and called it Roospeak.)

In any case, I think I can safely say that my family are downright weird.

The one thing that is very apparent is that there are varying types of fridge magnet poetry. Some have the tone of a biblical commandment:

Thou will let him be vile at sea

Whilst some are a tad risqué:

We would be on earth, but alas circumstance has slain our passion king

I sleep with my tempting romeo as I love to rub his frothy wagtail

Prince sword fickle in o nunnery

Need an excuse for no homework? No problem:

Trouble is, I hast wilteth

Other phrases have a distinct style and the author is nearly always obvious:

The queen doth bestow dire wind on me then treachery doth soon bolt out

which is followed by:

Brest canst only quicken arrow spot of discontent as I bid thee war and say swod oft

These, however, are by no means a match for the classic:

slain by far toil

Say it out loud and think school boy humour. I can say that this was without the influence of alcohol. Anybody familiar with the phenomenon that is “Dad humour”?

Yeah. All I can say is apple. Fall. Tree.

But best of all, you get the epic Shakespearian sagas which are clearly dramatic works that have taken several alcohol influenced hours of sniggering, gesticulating and musing on the complexities and the finer points of life and human existance:

Well farewell noble trifle,
What straw seizeth golden fortune o’er ere?
Alas, after much woe and thought
From said,” o scorn melodious humility
& break every damn goblet!
How can one wage above?”

Overcome ladys, yield paid your arm,
Beware no jest;
Thus horse is up your breach but no mercy,
So thence there’s sorrow morrow.

Speak! You vile precedent!
We vow at all twire wherefore get loath by sullen vow,
Nay more love this direction.

Ambition dost strive when perchance ado,
Mind your wit to use about ghost hunting,
For impatience was madness and dire kingdom lose a drunk.

Record full wonder of mercy who say they suffer defunctive window blinds,
Could a midsommer beseech thy enemies to kiss despair and die?
Galeth doth speak of stanly; curse tongue of death day,
Our poor wench not eaten, like, if art a bloody tempest die like thine dair will.

Nor toil here, o chronicle lord, shall winter plead or weep?
‘tis frailty hadst haste’d,
Were oak to see well – thou damdt myself.

Foul reason I am sweating,
Is unfold her villain, where the wicked laughing which goes nay mouth.
How art my convent; methinks, tale hast pluck, Denmark.

Do dream she know well, vaunt & slinging you oftly vow, herein est un idle borrower on my thandess, toil by far questioning goblet
Woe, ‘doris.
Why chance almost found sun!

Fool! Marry cold steel maiden:
God hither.

And remember, when in doubt:

Always ask for the night witch.

Travellings: Deutschland #4 Catchup I

Okay, so the following post was written at the end of my second week here and I simply didn’t find time to post it. And then I posted a disgruntled rant from work. So here’s what I wrote before the rant, and I’ll write another catch up entry to make up for my lack of updates.


Living abroad is bizarre. It’s certainly one thing to go to university and move out of the family nest, but when you move abroad it’s a combination of all the usual stresses and weird emotions on top of a language barrier, a different culture and most often, few or no friends in a place that you’ve never been to before.

Things certainly improve once you actually find something to do and your days have a structure to them – I finally started work on Thursday afternoon and now have a project to work on. The thing I’ve found the most difficult is trying to break out of my bubble. For those of you who’ve done the whole living somewhere alien to you where you don’t know the language, perhaps you’ll know what I’m on about. I had this on school exchanges, too. I still think in English and I don’t feel that I’ve learnt much, apart from the meaning of “freizügig” (from when talking to friends/colleagues about the work permit, or Freizügigkeitsbescheinigung before you get any ideas) and the word “Kaff” – I think that’s how you spell it. Oh, and that you only describe a place as being am Arsch der Welt when you’re with friends, and not when you’re talking to your boss. (That was an amusingly awkward situation at work once I’d used that particular phrase.)

So in some respects, things have brightened up considerably compared to crap mood I was in at the beginning of the week when I couldn’t work because the Vogons of Bavarian Bureaucracy didn’t want to play ball. Oh, and for the record, as an EU resident, no you don’t need a work permit or the registration certificate to work here. I asked the Vogon who kindly gave me my work permit – although in true Bavarian style he made me wait the 15 minutes until my allotted time, even though I was early and there was not a soul in sight. He wasn’t doing anything when we walked in. Personally, I think he spent 15 minutes playing Pacman or Tetris.

You can now imagine my confusion when I woke up this morning and felt…sad? I don’t know how to describe it, but it certainly wasn’t happy. Things are looking up – I leave the hotel tomorrow and move in with my colleague D and her flatmates for the next 2 weeks; all of whom have made me feel incredibly welcome. (Even if it means I have to engage in debates about the state of Britain which are then followed by Tekken championships on the PS2 until the small hours)

I can only describe it as an ache – an ache to be with people I know and love – which is silly, because I’m sure that by this time next year, I’ll have people who I know I love here in Munich too. One of the things I miss the most is being terrorised by my cat. It sounds stupid, but I miss the crazy little furball. I do miss the way she’d occasionally come into my room around 3 in the morning and purr in my face until I woke, only to manoeuvre her way onto my pillow, a token paw on my face and a tail under my chin.

Ironically, I’ve more or less just burst out laughing and received some worried looks as I’m sitting out in the sun typing because my music player has just decided to play a recording I made months ago of the cat purring into my Dictaphone. Coincidence? I think not.

My original plan was to spend this morning reading in the sun (with a shawl on so I don’t turn lobster again) and then have a wonder this afternoon and see if I can find anywhere other than a Starbucks that will sell anything resembling tea as we know it in Britain. Except on my way out, my new best friend here at the hotel (#5, I think) offered me cup of tea – never say no to a friendly German offering you tea – so I’ve not actually gone anywhere today, oops. The thing that really made me smile? I wasn’t allowed to pay (“es geht auf mich” I think = “it’s on me”) and milk was brought with the tea without any prompting. Needless to say, I’m impressed, if not touched. Maybe my comment about being as straight as a roundabout was wrong. In any case, I’m not complaining – I got a lovely smile and a free cup of tea.

For those of you unaware, in Germany (if I’ve understood things correctly) one of the most bizarre things you can do (think cardinal sin level for true tea fanatics) is to add milk to your black tea instead of the usual lemon – I know, lemon. From a British perspective, adding lemon is to us what adding milk is to the average German. The result being that you often have to ask for milk when you order tea here, although in your average café you’re more likely to end up with Kaffeesahne (the creamy stuff they put in coffee). Oh, and you have to actually ask for either Black Tea or Assam to get anything that vaguely resembles English Tea. Herbal Tea drinkers, however, will be at home here.

I’m sitting out in sun at the back of the hotel, where it backs onto the tube station and where the buses park. Two bus drivers (who evidently have time to kill) have come over and are now playing one of the most enthusiastic games of table-top football (I forget the proper name, but it’s the one where you have handles which you use to control the rows of players) I think I’ve ever heard. It’s certainly hilarious to listen to – if I’ve understood correctly, there’s a forfeit of some description for the loser.

One of the things I’ve found myself doing a lot is comparing here to Britain – I’m trying not to use the word home because I’m hoping it’ll make things easier – and one of the things that has struck me the most is how down-to-earth these people are and how superficial British society is. I mean, there’s no way in London that if I were to get on the train, somebody would offer me their seat. Yet here, it’s common for men to offer women their seats, and should someone older board the train, then gender regardless, you offer your seat. (Although be careful, some people are touchy and get cross that you’ve offered them a seat) I know that’s not English people being superficial, in fact it’s just common courtesy, but when I speak of being superficial, I’m talking about clothes. Most people couldn’t give a toss about what you wear and neither do they particularly have dress codes for clubs the same way we do here.

In fact, talking to people, it’s far better to not wear any makeup; a complete contrast to how I perceive British society whereby to be attractive, a 4 inch layer of gunk is mandatory. In general there seems to be more of a focus of personality and people as themselves – at the end of the day, that’s who you are: you. It makes so much sense and I think leads to people being far happier – if you’re at ease with yourself and comfortable in your own skin, then it’s far easier to enjoy yourself and life in general.

What I will say though, and I’m still adjusting to this, is how men look at women. Now, as a young girl who’s lived for 2 years in London, it’s unsettling when you get on the tube, say, and realise that people are looking at you. I don’t mean this in a paranoid way, I know people look at you, but this is looking at someone; as in holding your gaze and taking in their appearance. This rarely happens in London and when it does, it’s generally done by people who you wouldn’t go near with a barge-pole. I had it happen to me on one of the days here when the temperature reached the mid to high 30s – I only had my hair bundled up out of my face (in a way that my father deems scruffy) and had my usual jeans and trainers with a t-shirt on. Speaking with D, I found that she felt as equally unnerved by it when she first arrived here. Here in Munich, it’s not restricted to the manky gits carrying clinking plastic bags filled with booze who stink out the best part of the carriage, but occasionally smart-looking men in suits or students sitting next to you trying to catch a sneaky glimpse out of the corner of their eye. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing thing – it’s not just the Undesirables that do it, but anyone. D said she spoke to her flatmates about it, who couldn’t understand her issue over the whole thing. Apparently from their perspective, they’re appreciating what they’re seeing – nothing more, nothing less.

I still check to make sure that I’ve not got food down me or stuff in my hair, though.

In any case, I’ve been whittering on for quite a while now, so on one last note – yesterday I was told by a colleague that I speak German with a light French accent. I have no idea how I’ve managed that one – I explicitly forbidden to “gossip in French the entire time” by my advisor before I went.


Travellings: Deutschland #3 Disgruntled Rant

The German stereotype is that they’re efficient, hard working and that they know how to build machinery. So far, I have found instances where the efficiency has been brought into question and today I can honestly tell you that there is at least one piece of machinery that they can’t seem to build. And let’s face it, if the Germans can’t build it well, few people can.

The item of machinery in question is the vending machine at the bottom of the building. Since I started work here nearly a month ago, it has refused to do as I have asked every single time. Today, I have had little sleep, have currently got low blood sugar which is slowly getting worse and am generally in a bad mood because I’M HUNGRY. So I decided that in order to generally stay concious and also for everybody else’s sake, it would be a good idea to wander downstairs to pay extortionate vending machine rates for not very much.

I have just spent the best part of 15 minutes repeatedly arguing with, swearing at and becoming increasingly bad-tempered at the serious lack of cooperation from the bloody thing. (And so received some strange looks from passers-by) I put money in about 15 times (sometimes having to put more in because the crap-arse piece of German rip-off technology decided to eat my money), only for it to spit the money back – the machinical version of waving 2 fingers at someone and blowing a loud raspberry. The worst bit? To buy food in the canteen here at the university, you need an electronic card because the system’s cashless. Mine is in my wallet – with my money – which for some reason isn’t in my coat or my bag. So not only have I been bested by a crap hunk of metal, I have to sit here hungry and try to work (which is nigh-on impossible) and I only have the odd bit of small change to try and buy lunch.

I thought it was only Mondays that were supposed to be crap?

Oh, and I did write a post about a week or so ago, but forgot to post it. I’ll post it soon, promise.


Okay, reading this several hours later this is a little harsh in places. I should probably add that there are lots of things that the Germans do a lot better than the English – but then again, that’s not particularly difficult to do these days – their public transport system is impressive enough. And kudos to German guys too, who, unlike British men, seemed to have moved on from the stage where showing affection/interest consists of name-calling, pulling hair and flicking snot balls at a girl.

Not that I’m speaking with experience in regards to the last point on that list, mind.

Travellings: Deutschland #2 Deutsches Museum

I have decided that day 8 (today) is going to be a lazy day – it is a Sunday after all. Yesterday was spent wandering around the Deutsches Museum for the best part of the afternoon. Imagine the Science Museum crossed with the Imperial War Museum and from a German perspective. It’s truly an amazing place (particularly if you’re a history/science person or a petrol-head) and there’s no way you can absorb everything in a day, so I am determined to go back at a later date.

The first hall I walked into was dedicated to various types of craft – it starts off with boats and rafts from the earliest designs and then walks you through various historical stages and improvements with a mixture of miniature and life-size models – some of which you can go inside and take a look around. Then there’s a fascinating section on engines and the individual components until you reach the aircraft section. Out of all the sections, I spent the best part of my time walking around the aerospace and “astronautics” – their wording, not mine – sections. I have to admit I have a thing about flying things (I blame the cat’s influence, personally.) There were helicopters, gliders, jets, propeller craft, rockets; the lot. The bit that really pleased me was when I managed to recognise a Messerschmitt (see, Matt? Proper spelling just for you :p) without having to read the placard – silly, I know. And in another hall, there were life-size replicas of the very first flying machines – Bleriot’s craft in which he made his successful crossing of the Channel included – as well as replicas of the first hot-air balloons and wing-like contraptions that were used to glide. The interesting thing here is that one side of the hall is dedicated to flying creatures, the physics behind their capability to fly and how they inspired the creators of our modern-day flying machines.

Replica of Bleriot's aircraft which crossed the Channel
Replica of Bleriot's aircraft which crossed the Channel

Then there was the more science-y bit and less of the Imperial War Museum side of things. There were entire rooms dedicated to various means of providing energy: how we mine for oil and gas, hydro-electricity and of course nuclear power, amongst other things. Then there was the really interesting section on lasers and their role in modern industry, the process of casting and smelting and a load of other machinery bits that I couldn’t understand because it was all in complicated German and by this point my brain had given up and turned to a pile of mush. I did understand the section in the optics room on holograms – those were pretty cool.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in this section, but by this point it was mid-afternoon and I was hungry. There is also a section on musical instruments and astrophysics – there is, I think, some form of an observatory there, neither of which I saw. Oh well, looks like I’ll just have to go back another time. What a shame. I also made a new friend in the form of a grumpy-looking chef in the café-type place on the ground floor of the main building – shame he only spoke Bavarian to me, so communication between us was fairly limited – I think I guessed what he was saying correctly; he only looked confused once – but out of all the customers that left, I was the one who got a wave: best friend #6.

And yesterday evening I managed to film some of the amazing lightning strikes we seem to be getting most evenings. At the moment it’s averaging 26/27 degrees today, although the past few days have been 28-30 degrees with very little cloud. For the past few nights, however, the weather breaks and there are the most amazing thunder storms with lightning – they last for at least an hour, if not several. By the next day, however, it’s all cleared up and there’s no sign of the stormy tantrum from the night before.

lightning snapshot
lightning snapshot - the most impressive was a strike the spanned the entire horizon

This morning was spent outside around the back of the hotel in the sun reading. I decided to turn into a bit of a sun-lizard (lizard because I’m rather cold-blooded in that I need my surroundings to be warm to feel the warmth myself.) Except I’ve had to come inside now because I have a tendency to go from alabaster to a lovely shade of lobster very quickly. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading (finally) Guy Deutscher’s book “The Unfolding of Language”, which I mentioned in a previous post. Okay, I didn’t mention it, I waxed lyrical about it, but that’s only because I wish I’d read it earlier and the points he makes in the book make so much sense I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t occurred to be until I sat down and read about them.

Personally, I think this would have helped explain any tricky aspects of one of the modules I took this year on the development of the German language because there’s an entire chapter on the types of language change and he doesn’t just reference German (which is both helpful and not at the same time.) The only drawback is that although the material is explained in such an accessible way, (and is not only gratifying to read, but you also feel like you’ve learned something whilst actually enjoying it) the actual linguistic terms are not always introduced to the reader. So if you wanted to research it further, you’d either have to already be familiar with the topic, or be about to study it, in which case you’d understand the processes, and would just need to learn the correct vocab. Then again, maybe I’ve found it easy/enjoyable to read because I’ve already studied the topic and found it gratifying that I knew what he was talking about in some chapters and could smugly scan the pages – it’s not often that you feel you’re on the same wave-length as someone with the brain the size of a planet.

Marvin the paranoid android from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
"Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't."

In any case, there are chapters which I know I will want to go back to and read a second time – although I understand things on a basic level, there’s still a lot to absorb and internalise. In the meantime, I shall let its contents take a while to sink in and read another book also by Deutscher called “Through the Language Glass”, which takes you through the differing perspectives and I suppose cognitive abilities that different languages give you. Prepare for me to rave about that one too in the near future – bear in mind that I don’t start work for roughly another week and there’s only so much of wandering around museums I can do before I get bored.

Having said that, I do plan on visiting the Alte and Moderne Pinakotek in Munich – from what I’ve heard/read, they’re essentially massive art galleries – the “Alte” for classical and “old” works, and the “Moderne”, well… for more modern artists, surprisingly.

Oh, and in the past two days, I’ve only been into a McDonald’s once – see? I’m improving all the time.

Ciao :)

Inane Whittering #9/Musings #6

First, apologies for having gone silent. I have been dealing with exams, birthdayness and now I’m preparing for my adventures in the Bavarian Beer-Monster, Munich. I got a Kindle for my birthday, with the hope that it would save space in my luggage.

Being a part-time book-worm, this has been absolutely fatal. The ability to simply click a button from the kindle whilst you’re sitting in bed at 3am having finished the first gripping tale in a trilogy appeals to the worst side of human nature – that impulsive, I-want-it-now side of our personalities.

There’s also the whole “oh, it’s only £3/4.99” aspect, which after several books, can add up to quite a bit. However, it has meant that I have read several books that I wouldn’t normally have read. This was because I spent hours trawling through the free “classics” section, which resulted in me “buying” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in English and in French, “Crime and Punishment”, “The Divine Comedy” and a whole hoard of Mark Twain’s work.

It also resulted in me buying “Sweating the Metal” by Alex Duncan, a Chinook pilot who’s served in Afghanistan at least 3 times and was awarded the DFC – the highest medal for bravery within the RAF – earlier this year. Think the Afghan version of Chickenhawk. I couldn’t put it down and had to be reminded to interact with other people/eat/drink.

Regardless of your point of view on the war in the Middle East, this is certainly worth the read – I can’t remember the last time I read such a humble and down-to-earth account where all the acts of bravery are recounted as if it was a standard part of the job.

In other words, I simply cannot reccommend it enough to you.

My current read (although not on the Kindle this time) is a book called “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher. This guy is stupidly smart. I mean, he’s Israeli (so speaks Hebrew), but speaks English perfectly, has taught in German universities (so speaks German too) and studied Maths at Cambridge before doing a PhD in Linguistics there. As you do.

Anyway, back to the book and enough of being intimidated by the guy with the brain the size of a planet. Think of it as linguistics for beginners – it does stretch your brain a bit if you’ve never studied linguistics before, but it’s laid out in a fairly accessible way.

Which is quite surprising, really. Most of the literature in this field is written in such a complicated way that just looking at the covers makes my brain melt. Anyway, there are lots of example sentences involving seals picking fights with walruses and the like and the most amusing little ditty the author himself wrote about the frustrating nature of the English verb system:

“The teacher claimed it was so plain,
I only had to use my brain.
She said the past of throw was threw,
The past of grow -of course- was grew,
So flew must be the past of fly,
And now, my boy, your turn to try.
But when I trew,
I had no clue,
If mow was mew,
Like know and knew
(Or is it knowed
Like snow and snowed?)

The teacher frowned at me and said
The past of feed was -plainly- fed.
Fed up, I knew the what I ned:
I took a break and out I snoke,
She shook and quook (or quaked? or quoke?)
With raging anger out she broke:
Your ignorance you want to hide?
Tell me the past form of collide!
But how on earth should I decide
If it’s collid
(Like hide and hid)
Or else – from all that I surmose,
The past of rise was simply rose,
And that of ride was surely rose,
So of collide must be collode?

Oh damn these English verbs I thought,
The whole thing absolutely stought!
Of English I have had enough,
These verbs of yours are far too tough.
Bolt upright in my chair I sat,
And said to her “that’s that” – I quat.”

He then goes on -as you would expect- to mention Mark Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language” from his book, “A Tramp Abroad” – also worth a read, if you haven’t already. (See this post for the link.)

Perhaps one of the most interesting things mentioned in the introduction is the debate on language acquisition and the argument of “innateness”, or for the unacquainted: the discussion on whether language is “hard-coded” into the brain at birth. The author mentions this purely to say that whilst it’s fascinating and rather impossible to solve, he won’t be addressing this issue much, if at all.

He does, however, outline the basic arguments, which can more or less be simplified down to the whole “nature vs. nurture” argument. I blame the best part of this somewhat circular disagreement on a certain Noam Chomsky. I used to be of the opinion that it was a mix, but to be honest, language is as much a skill as it is a tool, both of which are refined as we age.

However my opinion changed when I recently read an interesting article in the Scientific American where it was trying to work out whether it’s possible that humans could evolve. The short answer: no. Why? Because some organs, such as our eyes and brains are at the peak of evolution. They simply cannot be refined any further. The brain, for example, can be bigger – take elephants, for example – but because the structure is so huge, it’s highly inefficient and therefore slow (a bit like trying to control Tsarist Russia, I suppose).

On the other hand, if you were to take the human brain and cram as many, much smaller neurons in as possible, they begin to fire so many synapses that all you get is “noise” and then they fire randomly, thus creating a rather chaotic situation where the brain is no longer capable of controlling the signals sent.

In other words, our current brain model is pretty damn optimal. Eyes too, which is really quite reassuring, when you think about it. It has also taken millennia for us to reach this impressive stage and so I find it quite hard to believe that changes (in language) so fluid, and which occur in an evolutionary blink can be “hard-wired” into something so carefully sculpted over aeons.

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what if only the basics are hard-coded and the rest learnt?” Up until fairly recently, I would have agreed, that, yes, the universals – as they’re known as in linguistic circles – do have a lot going for them. That was until I read this article which casts doubt on the entire thing and has meant for some linguists that the whole world in now rather upside-down.

So basically, it’s all as clear as mud. Where do we go from here?
This is yet another one of those unanswerable questions like “which came first, the apple, or the potato?” (If that doesn’t make much sense, go read WATB: Potatoes)

I’m still working on that part. I’ll let you when I’ve come up with something.


This post is powered by Bombay Sapphire and Schweppes Tonic Water.

The girl who couldn’t sleep

This is something I wrote a while ago, but I thought I’d put it up here to apoligise for being boring and quiet as of late. I am working on something to start putting up here – if you’ve not read The Wuzel and the Butterfly, then shame on you. You might find it useful, so go on, have a look.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who couldn’t sleep. One day, when she was walking home, she realised that she was being followed. It was a small creature; part rabbit, part cat. But before she could say anything to it, she was attacked by a dragon.

She stood there, too frightened to move, and just as the dragon was about to gobble her up, the small creature darted out from behind a tree and sunk her small sharp teeth into the dragon’s tail. The dragon roared in pain and went crying home to his mum.

The girl wanted to thank the cabbit, (for that is what the creature was), and so she made dinner for them both. The cabbit asked the girl why she couldn’t sleep and the girl explained that sometimes she couldn’t switch her mind off, but mostly it was because her heart was sad and at night it cried.

The cabbit decided that she wanted to help the girl who couldn’t sleep, so she tried all kinds of things, but nothing worked. Eventually, the cabbit decided on desperate measures and resorted to using a frying pan.

The girl who couldn’t sleep slept that night.

Sleepy time

Musings #5

I said that the next thing I’d ramble on about would be being commitment-phobe. I lied. Don’t hate me.

I decided not to ramble on about the difference between being emotionally claustrophobic and being a commitment-phobe because I had an Archimedes moment. It was one of those moments when you’re in the bath contemplating life, the universe and everything and you suddenly have the most amazing, splendiferous notion as to why things are the way they are and you then have the urge to share it with everyone. Except in my case, I decided to finish having my bath first before trying to write anything down; ended up having dinner and now I want to write my marvellous idea.. it’s all a bit hazy.

So, please, dear reader, be gentle.

I’ll start from the beginning (not half way through this time) and try to explain from where this fragment of lunacy emerged. Yesterday I managed to sort out a flat to live in for my year abroad working in the ceiling-mines of Munich. Which has left me to do a fair bit of pondering (and thus give me a reason to completely ignore all my work sitting in front of me). So, thinking about the whole “going-abroad-to-pretend-to-be-a-real-adult-who-can-look-after-themselves-and-be-completely-normal-and-boring” thing can make you a tad.. sentimental? Anyway, I suddenly came to the conclusion that there are certain roles that people play in our lives, and wherever you go, you should be able to find someone else to fulfil that role.

The first one that came to mind was The Comforter. This is often a parent figure or another mother-substitute. (Please note substitutes and supplements should be used as part of a balanced diet) This person is the rock in your life who keeps you from doing anything outrageously stupid (like ringing your boss/ex and giving them a damn good piece of your mind) and who you can’t imagine being without. This is often the hardest role to find a substitute/supplement for, yet it is perhaps one of the most looked-for.

Then there’s The Fellow Loon. The Fellow Loon is someone with who you feel completely at home with and appearances don’t matter. You can let go and let it all hang out with your Fellow Loon. The only proviso is that you’re both as bat-shit crazy as the other.

Fellow Loon
hjskcm;uamkufzsxyxnfawfuw BOOM

The Wet Blanket. The Eeyore in your life, always pointing out the perhaps inconvenient repercussions of your wonderful ideas and hi-jinks – can often lack self-confidence. (This person is generally also quite cuddly, but may need help in reattaching their tail.)

The Distraction – the on-off boyfriend/girlfriend where you’re not sure what you feel for them, but when things are a bit boring, you feel the urge to get back in contact to spice things up a bit with a smattering of drama.

The Brother Substitute – the fraternal role sometimes played by someone with whom you thought you had a spark, only to realise that it wasn’t /that/ kind of spark. These are the guys who insist on walking you home every time you meet, who stand up for you and get annoyed on your behalf. They’d probably also go to the ends of the earth and back if you asked them. Oh, and they’ll always insist on buying the drink. These are perhaps the most difficult people to find – the sincere, the honest, the respectful, and the ones who can talk about guns and WW2 until the cows come home (though that last part’s not required).

The Sister – the sisterly influence in your life where you commiserate about boys/men, work and generally talk clothes, make-up and all kinds of weird and wonderful things. This sounds similar to the Fellow Loon in a way, and I suppose it is because of the silliness involved and the level of comfort that both of you will draw from each other. But the support/strength that you get from each other is different. Trust me. Oh, and most likely one of you’ll steal the other’s shoes/makeup and you’ll argue. Then you’ll realise it’s all too stupid, make up, and then do each other’s hair.

The Diva – everything in their life is the worst/best thing ever and they demand your attention and affection. They often serve to make you appreciate the simplicity in your own life and to be appreciative of the small things. Often things can be about look and status and this can help remind you that life is simply too short. However, only so much time can be spent with these people before you go crazy. The bad crazy. Where you turn into one yourself. The Diva is also incredibly flamboyant.

Faaabulous, darling

The Understated Companion – the person who you don’t really acknowledge enough, if at all. They do all the little things in the background to try to make things easier for you and they often manage to do it with such subtlety that you remain blissfully ignorant.

The Quiet One – always watch the quiet one. You never know quite what they’re thinking.

The Token Ginge – much loved, much teased and generally an okay person. Often considerably geeky, although may be slightly touchy on the subject of hair colour.

The Insufferable Optimist – the ever happy, bouncing, eager, puppy-like person in your life. They can be ever so slightly annoying when things are stressful, and if left unattended for long enough, may start shredding toilet paper. Also loves to be scratched behind the ears and playing fetch.

Happy puppy

The Bad Influence – the inner devil. The person responsible for all those times when you announced that you had work to do and that you’d stay in that evening, only to be persuaded to go out “just for one drink”. Five hours later and you stagger back through the front door having had a good time, but sadly your essay’s not written itself, so you end up drinking numerous cups of tea to sober up to try and finish the work. Good in moderation.

The French One – also known as the Immaculately Dressed. This is the person who’s always dressed and coiffed perfectly for the occasion; always with the perfect figure, generally wears scarves and always looks chic – often with that effortless “I-got-ready-in-10-minutes” air. Will typically like good food and drink (wine, not ribena) and can be quite the romantic. I’m not talking about the stereotype; these people DO exist. In fact, they do these things so effortlessly, you feel like a tramp.

Gizz'a kiss

This list is by no means finished – I might continue it at a later date, but for the meantime:

Sleepy red panda
I shleepz now. Kthnxbai

Musings #4

My friend pointed out to me today that my rabbits and horses theory doesn’t work. Her reasoning was that she knew people who she thought were cats.

It’s a fair point: cats like to be independent for the most part, and act aloof like nothing really matters, only to then come back to you either for food or to steal your bed for the best part of the day. Then there’s the school of thought that says that the Egyptians once worshipped cats as gods and that cats certainly haven’t forgotten.

Except I’m not quite sure that there are cats in life – I mean, sure, there are those who are independent, sleep a lot, like staying clean, aren’t too keen on water and like being scratched behind the ears; yet deep down, they are dependent on other people, and that trust or dependency will take a while to grow.

So in that respect, they’re both a rabbit and a cat. I found this a tad confusing to begin with, until I came up with a solution:


Cabbits are those who appear to be independent and distant. (And a little bit bitey at times..) They’re also generally quite cute and furry; often found with a tail. They act aloof and have that kind of regal air about them, and they like you to come to them, rather than seek you out. But at the same time, they’re secretly dependent on you – far more than you could possibly imagine; unless of course, you yourself are a cabbit, in which case you’ll know exactly what I mean.

To the untrained eye, a cabbit can be difficult to handle: how do you live with a creature that on the surface appears to be so cool and distant, yet scratch him behind the ears in the right place and he’ll roll over onto his back and let you stroke his tummy? (Tickle on pain of death/loss of hand.)

To be honest, it depends on the cabbit. Some are more open to change than others. The thing is, you need to give the cabbit the space he needs: the moment a cabbit feels trapped, back into the rabbit warren he goes, yet not enough interest and it may seem that you don’t care; something which cabbits find most painful.

If you find yourself with a cabbit, give him time to get used to spending time with you – coax him out of his defensive cat state and encourage him to be more rabbit-like. However it should be said that a) be prepared to have the odd stand-off with your cabbit, they often tend to want everything done their way (and to steal your bed) and b) you may need a large supply of feathers, carrots, soft cushions and catnip.

Warning: use catnip with caution – may cause lots of purring, silliness and munchies:

Cat with catnip toy looking guilty
Ah. You're back early. This isn't what it looks like, promise.

Musings #3

Today I realised that we’re all caterpillars. Now, before you jump to the conclusion that 1) I’ve been taking those funky tablets that call out to you or 2) this is a rather poor attempt to emulate my success with rabbits and horses, hear me out.

It struck me that the world is a strange place and is rather scary at times. (Well done, Sherlock. You better watch this one, she’s quick..) Okay, it’s scary a lot of the time and every now and then, it’s all rather overwhelming – what with all the goodbyes and strange new places and people we meet. I certainly have been feeling the overwhelming thing a lot recently, particularly when it comes to the year abroad. Quite frankly, the idea of spending a whole year in Munich, like some kind of responsible adult (pffffffffftt!), staying out of trouble and learning an entirely different language and culture seems rather… well, daunting. And that’s not including the days where I’m incapable of getting out of bed:

Zonked raccoon
Not gonna happen.

But then I suppose there will always be things like that, no matter your age or experience. Before, I’ve thought of life as a game, full of challenges horses that life sets you – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes it’s a draw. But it’s down to you as to what you take from it – which is royal pain in the arse if you’re that scared that you’ve regressed to the age of 3, quite frankly just want Mama and for it all to just go away.

So, going back to my realisation that we’re all caterpillars: if life is game whereby you’ve got to give each challenge your all, the challenges will result you transmogrifying into something new. Except the catch is that you don’t know what it is you’ll turn into, and because you don’t know, it’s scary. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that we start off as caterpillars; they’re fairly harmless little creatures.

The first challenge, I would say, for most caterpillars is university. Now, this first stage I have to admit is something my father said to me, (in one of his more… coherent moments) when I was trying to explain why a part of me didn’t want to go to university: if I’m honest, I was scared and didn’t know how I was going to manage. He said to me that at that moment, I was a caterpillar, and when I went to university, I would go into my cocoon. Yet by graduation, I would have fully become the butterfly that I’m meant to be. But I don’t think that it applies to just me, it applies to everybody.

We’re not all the same, however; we’re all individuals. Some become the rabbits or horses in life – or worse, squirrels. Some become the bravest of lions; others the meekest of mice; some become the most loyal companions you’ll ever know; some incredibly vain and pampered; and then there are those who don’t know how to deal with the weird and wonderful things in front of them and become ostriches, burying their heads in the sand – able to run from their problems, but never free to fly away.

I suppose we all have potential, it just depends on whether we choose to tap into it or not. Or rather, it’s not what life gives us, but what we make from it. I know, I know, this whole post is turning into one humungous cliché.

But if you do anything, make sure 1) you sure as hell enjoy it and make the most of it, and 2) you don’t end up drawing the short straw and become one of life’s spiders. The poor buggers get such bad press.

Lovable spider
Image found on the hilarious "Hyperbole and a half" (click image for link)