Friday, September 30, 2011

The man with the ponytail

"Hey! Hey!" The three-year-old, in an accusing tone, pointing out of the car window. "That man has a ponytail!"

The small guy, immensely weary, age seven, dragging his eyes up from his book. "Where?"



"There! The man with the ponytail!"

"Oh, OK."

"Why does he have a ponytail?"


"Do you have a ponytail?"

"Cretin. You know I don't."

"Why does that man have a ponytail? Why does he?"

"I dunno. Some men do."

"No they don't."

"Yes they do. That man has one."

"What man?"

"Oh do shut up."

"Does Daddy have one?"

"No. You know he doesn't."

"Yes he does."

"He does not. Shut up, please."

"Daddy hasn't got any hair!"

"Yes he does."

"He doesn't. He doesn't have any hair."

"He does so! Will you shut up."

"No! Daddy hasn't got any hair, but he does have a ponytail."


Sometimes I wish family cars came with a plastic screen between the front and back seats, like a New York taxi.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Verbal restraint

As regular readers will know, one of the things I miss about being in the formal workplace (and consequently the subject of my occasional semi-wistful bloggery) is the swearing. I have no idea if other professional workplaces--accountants' offices, perhaps, or legal chambers--are as sweary as art galleries, whose denizens rival printers, mechanics and even various off-duty doctors of my acquaintance for volleys of creative verbal filth.

It's a terrible truth which antenatal classes and parenting manuals somehow omit to inform you of (and if they were to, no doubt the birth-rate would decline even further): when you stay at home to look after small children, your swearing days are over, or are at least cruelly curtailed. Many women take up part-time work again for that very reason.

If, like me, you come from a long unbroken line of champion super-heavyweight Olympic-grade swearers, you will find this unintended consequence of parenthood both a terrible imposition and a personal liability. Although in the right hands swearing is both funny and clever, it is neither when issuing forth from the angelic mouth of a three-year-old. Verbal restraint is required. For the first time I have understood wherefore 'sugar' and 'flip', though as yet I have not plumbed those feeble saccharine depths.

The Periodic Table to Swearing, by Modern Toss

Consequently, at our house creative substitutions of the Beavis and Butthead variety are occasionally required. But in the hands of the small guy, who has ears like a bat and a great love of colourful language (he does share the industrial-strength DNA, after all), this can quickly lead to conversations of the following nature:

"Zip it, fartknocker!"
"No, you zip it. And don't say fartknocker."
"No, you zip it, Mum."
"Zip it! I mean it."
"OK." (Whispering.) "Fartknocker."
"Heh heh. Nothing." (Very faint whispering.) "Fartknocker."

Etc. As I've noted before, this is not the sort of conversation you'd ever imagine you'd be involved in. But after you have children you're lucky if it only happens once a day. And if it's as mild as this. I've gained a new-found respect for my own father's clearly superhuman powers of verbal restraint.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Art dinners

Tintoretto, Last Supper, oil on canvas, Venice, Italy, 1594. Via The Art Writer

Over the years, I have been to a lot of art dinners. Some of these have been relaxed, stylish, enjoyable affairs: others have not. I've eaten dinner with art people after exhibition openings in cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurants where dinner is a thinly veiled excuse for terrible Karaoke performances. I've been to small well-mannered art dinners in private rooms and clubs, and I've been to the kind of big riotous dinners which end in arguments over the check and no one remembering who ordered what.

I'm familiar with all the tricks and types; the rueful pocket-patting 'lost wallet haka'; the drunken uninvited plus-one; the person who orders several expensive bottles of wine and leaves early, paying only for their food; the person who wishes only to discuss their current multiple international projects; the person who insists on recounting at length the compliments paid to them by other more famous people; in fact, I'm familiar with the whole catalogue of art dinner crimes. I'm also well-versed in the strategic sit-down. This is a technical move in which you hang back and then make a rush for it at the critical moment in order to be seated by interesting fellow-diners. (Or at least not stuck at the end of the table, wedged into a corner with the dull ones. Or having to sit with your legs inelegantly astride the table leg. I never fancy that much.)

Due largely to the dampening effects of earthquakes both on exhibition openings and restaurants, I haven't been to an art dinner for some time. But the other week I was invited to one. I was quite excited about this. So excited, in fact, that I forgot myself completely and started boasting about my past prowess at the strategic sit-down manoeuvre. "Oh yes," I caught myself saying airily. "The important thing is to know exactly when to sit down. It's all about the timing."

I think you may have an idea of where this story is going.

I got to the restaurant a few minutes early. I hadn't been there before, though I'd heard good things about it; a Thai restaurant in a small suburban mall, which has had great reviews. (With the central city closed, the good neighbourhood businesses are really coming into their own.) It was noisy, fragrant with spices, filled with couples and families and small groups of people eating dinner and talking animatedly. Black-uniformed waiting staff circulated busily through the room. There was a long table over to one side. "I'm here to have dinner with a big group," I said to the harrassed-looking maitre'd. "But it looks like I'm the first one here."

"Please sit down," he said, gesturing to the long table.

"Do you mind if I wait over here?" I asked. "I'll feel a bit of a dick sitting at that big table by myself."

"No, please sit down," he answered, his professional smile tightening. So I did. And in the modern style, passed the time tweeting about what a dick I felt.

Some minutes passed. I read the replies to my tweets, variously facetious and sympathetic. I checked the clock. I began to feel uneasy. Had I got the time wrong? Had I got the date wrong? Had they cancelled and no one told me? A waitress came over and took my drink order. "Don't worry," she said kindly. "Your friends will probably be here soon." The glass of wine took ages to arrive, and still I sat there, pretending I had important business to do on my phone, all alone at a table for twenty.

It took nearly half an hour before people started to arrive. Advancing on the long table, a couple looked at me with interest, but kept going, down to the other end of the table. Clearly they didn't want to sit with me. Which was fine, because I didn't know them. But then I was struck by a horrible thought. Had there been a double-booking? I got up and went to the other end of the table to talk to the strangers.

"Are you here for the art thing?" I asked.

"No, it's a dinner for Heidi," the woman answered.

And then I was struck by the most horrible thought of all. "This restaurant is called Sema, isn't it? Sema's Thai Cuisine?"

"No, this is Corianders. Did you want Sema? It's over there, across the walkway."

The woman was roaring with laughter. She was incredulous. "Surely you realised this is an Indian restaurant?" And of course, as I looked around, it was unmistakably so.

At Sema's, my party had already been there for half an hour, the bottles were open, the conversation was flowing, and there were only two seats left at the end of the long table. Happily, everyone present was interesting and I wasn't required to Have The Leg.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Forgive me

At school recently, the small guy and his classmates had a go at writing poems in different styles, using models written by great modern poets. The small guy felt a particular affinity with the example he read by William Carlos Williams, and wrote this in homage.

This is just to say

I have put
a rat
your bed

in which
you were
probably going
to sleep

Forgive me
you said
you liked