Thursday, 25 February 2010

Genetics: a practical demonstration

The other day I was on the phone and my eye fell on no less than six pairs of shoes on the floor, all huddled together having a little shoe party. They all belonged to the girls, who only have one pair of feet each, so it must have taken some time to assemble this little pile.

Bloody kids, I thought. Why can’t they ever put their shoes away?

Today I was in the same room, took an unwary step back and tripped over a shoe.

Bloody kids! I thought again, full of righteous anger. But then I had to laugh.

I looked down and realised the shoe was mine.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is today’s demonstration of the awesome power of genetics.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A tale of four chickens

No, this is not the continuing story of my little black dream chicken. I’m talking real chickens here, three of them, who came home as little balls of peeping yellow fluff a few months ago to live with my neighbour’s family.

My neighbour procured a Taj Mahal of a henhouse for the new chickens and installed them in the backyard.

“But what about the dog?” we said.

They have a German Shepherd, a lovely friendly dog, but still.

“She will eat the chickens,” we said.

“No, no,” said our neighbour, with quite astonishing optimism. “When we go on holidays we’re sending her to a boarding kennel where they will train her to love the chickens.”

We were sure she would love the chickens. With sauce. But our neighbour was convinced all would be well. This in spite of the fact that their dog has been known to devour slow-moving possums.

So they went on their family holiday, and we had the task of looking after the chickens while they were gone. The ducklings enjoyed the job, and I was very thankful that no chickens died on our watch. They were all present and correct when the neighbours returned.

But soon after the parents went overseas on their own, leaving the children in charge of the chickens. And the dog, who was now home from her peace-and-love-to-all-chickens brainwashing.

Not two days later, we were out in the yard when a little voice called over the fence, “Have you seen any chickens in your yard? The chickens have disappeared.”

“Honey, if they were in our yard our dog would have ripped them to pieces. Are you sure your dog didn’t eat them?”

“No, there’s no sign of them. They’re just gone.”

Much speculation followed at our house as to what might have happened to the three missing chickens. Had a fox got them? (But surely the German Shepherd would have chased off a fox.) Had they slipped through the fence and gone for a walk? Had they left for a chicken holiday of their own? And what would the boys’ mother say when she came home and discovered her chickens were missing??

Sad little notices appeared on telegraph poles round about, asking if anyone had seen three chickens, but no one came forward. When the parents returned from their holiday we heard that their dog had, in fact, done the deed. She’d dug a hole under the side of the coop big enough for the birds to get out – and then merely waited till they did to chow down. The evidence was discovered underneath the house.

Wait a minute, you say. Didn’t you say this was a tale of four chickens?

Hang on, I’m getting to that.

Meanwhile, I’d been telling the ducklings about the movie Jurassic Park. I even acted out my favourite part, where the T-rex comes through the fence when they’re in the stalled jeeps:

“And they’re in the cars and it’s pouring with rain, and the goat disappears and there’s this HUGE dinosaur. And the kids are in the car on their own and they’re all omigod!! and turn off the torch! And she’s all aargh!! and waving it around and he’s all turn it off! turn it off! And the dinosaur’s attacking and the guy gets out of the other car and waves to attract its attention and then the dinosaur sees him and he’s all oh sh*t

Meanwhile I’m waving my imaginary torch and pulling scared faces and pretending to be a stalking dinosaur. The ducklings found it highly amusing.

“We want to watch it! It sounds really funny!”

“No, no! It’s not funny. It’s really scary!! It’s dark, and raining, and there’s scary music. And even though I’d read the book and I knew what was going to happen I was still scared!”

But they wouldn’t believe me. So I let them watch it.

And they thought it was funny.

“You’re scared of everything, Mum,” said Demon Duck. “You’re such a chicken you’re going to grow feathers.”

“Hey!” said Baby Duck. “Then we can give you to the next-door neighbours to replace their chickens!”

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Moments of brilliance

I’ve just begun revising my first novel, Man Bites Dog, and I’m reminded of that famous comment about Wagner’s works: “Moments of brilliance, quarter-hours of great boredom”.

Well, “boredom” is a bit strong, but you get the idea. I haven’t looked at it in over a year, so it’s like reading a story by someone else. I can’t remember what’s going to happen next as I read. I come across some parts that are good but of course, being a first draft, there are many more parts that are less than stellar. (Even one part that made me yell “No, no, no!” and cross it out with much violence, hoping no one will ever find out I wrote something so cringeworthy.)

The happy moments give me hope I can wrestle a good book out of this mess. I’m doing Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course and I’m only halfway through the first of many steps, but I’m trudging on, putting my faith in Holly to guide me and my subconscious to pull some idea rabbits out of the hat. Gotta love those plot bunnies.

Bunnies … chickens … It’s a real farmyard inside my subconscious lately. Still haven’t figured out what happened to my little black chicken, dammit. I kept hoping I might dream of him again, but I’ve been away on a beach holiday, doing lots of tiring outdoorsy stuff, and sleeping the dreamless sleep of a very tired dead thing.

When I figure out how to drive my new camera properly I’ll post a photo of the view from the house we stayed in. It will make you all swoon with envy, it was so beautiful. But then I shall make you feel better by telling you about the mountain we had to climb to get back to our house from the beach, and the 5,083 steps inside the house itself, and how I borked my knee something severe just before we left, so that my holiday was just one big throbbing knee pain … and your envy will dissolve like a double Berocca in a glass of water.

“My goodness, but Marina deserved that view,” you will say.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last little while: revising, limping, computer-less. And now I’m home, and the ducklings have gone back to school, oh frabjous day!! and life can resume what passes for normal around here. At least, it would be normal if it weren’t for the physiotherapist doing things to my leg that I’m sure contravene the Geneva Convention. We don’t want to make a habit of that, oh no.