Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood


Here comes the sun

And I say, it’s all right. All the darkness of a long New England winter (and a grudgingly prolonged New England spring) leaves cobwebs in the cupboards of even the healthiest mind. As part of the mental overhaul that feels as necessary this time of year as planting beans and enjoying the first roses, I’m cultivating what the motivational speakers would call an attitude of gratitude. Y’know, where you count your blessings and put ‘em all in a cheerful little basket against the next rainy day.

The human brain is a funny thing. Negative experiences and feelings make an instant and sometimes lasting impact, whereas positive events – so scientists say -- must be repeated or held in the mind for some time to really sink in and stay handy. Watch a cat napping in the sun for a good example of how to do this. You choose a good spot, settle in, and just, like, really go there, for twelve hours or so, until you’ve soaked up enough warmth to function as a portable heater for the next twelve.

With that in mind, here’s what my cognitive solar panels are running on this week:

The Oxo mango slicer. Form and function in one handsome package. You’ll never struggle with a recalcitrant mango again. Slide this baby down through the fruit, then do the criss-cross inside-out hedgehog thing with the two perfect halves you’ve effortlessly produced, and make two children happy simultaneously. Pause to marvel at the ridiculous size of the stone left over, and wonder briefly if the mango is one of those fruits whose seed must pass through the digestive tract of an animal in order to successfully sprout. A komodo dragon, probably.

The Famous Five. Yeah, they’re racist, sexist, and improbably slim given all those slap-up lunches, teas, dinners, and suppers, but I say, what an adventurous crew! I’ve been re-reading these to Busyboy (with appropriate elisions and rewordings – it’s awfully queer, but the phrase “suspicious foreigner” just seemed wrong), and am reminded all over again how fundamentally thrilling these archetypal, bluntly delivered stories are. Tunnels! Ruined cottages! Pre-teen children wandering unsupervised over islands, moors, and beaches! Third-act criminals who are easily outfoxed! A faithful dog! It’s topping stuff. And George is the perfect role model for a new generation of transgendered kids. Anne’s not a bad old thing either, especially when she dumps a bucket of icy water over a boy who is so rude that even Busyboy was shocked.

(Plus, hoorah! The classic adults-only Comic Strip versions are on Youtube, here and here.)

Dirty Sugar Cookies. Cooking is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration, especially if you live in a tiny walk-up apartment in the city, have a kitchen that’s the size of most people’s dining tables, and two children who are all mouth and no trousers when it comes to sampling your valiant stabs at exotic cuisine. Iron Chef takes a back seat to Ironic Chef, as the indomitable Ayun Halliday channels her inner Julia Child and makes up for a childhood of picky eating. It’s a wonder she hasn’t chopped her fingers off, dashing between the kitchen and the keyboard the way she does. This is immersion cooking, with full and frank narration. If you’ve ever cursed like a sailor at a recalcitrant mango, or tripped over a toddler while tossing a pancake and still caught it! this blog is for you.

My Dishy bag. Ah, the simple pleasure of a decent everyday bag that happens to be gorgeous as well. It’s the perfect size and shape (holds a purse, three paperbacks, two spare nappies, and a drink bottle), a fabulous way to use the sort of teatowel you always leave in the drawer for best, plus it’s useful for smoking out the covert Aotearoa-lovers out there.

Speaking of bags, I can’t believe it took me this long to acquire some non-disposable shopping bags, as the city we live in marches slowly towards banning the plastic kind. I feel better already about being kind to the planet (even though plastic bags are allegedly only 0.2% of the local garbage stream, they are disproportionately given to wafting themselves up into trees and remaining stuck there), and it’s made carrying the shopping into the house so much easier. Four of these do the work of a dozen flimsy plastic ones, of which one always split on the way up the stairs, always the one with the eggs in.

A walking baby. He knew how to do it, and had marched up and down the kitchen a few times to show that he could. But he still preferred to drop to his knees when there was a need for speed (which for this guy is all the time). I didn’t fret at all, because it was less far to fall, and besides, it made us all laugh to watch this little cartoonish guy rocketing past, leaning waaay back for balance and pumping his little elbows like pistons, looking like a hardened speed-walker who’d worn his legs down to the kneecaps without noticing.

Just this weekend, however, he got it: the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey started playing as he rose to his feet, raised his hands to shoulder-height in primal primate fashion, and then started moving one foot after the other as if he had only just discovered they were individually hinged at the hips. Five thousand circuits of the downstairs and upstairs later, I think he’s got it; by jove, I think he’s got it.

Matthew McFadyen. Well helloooo, Mr Darcy. I only just caught up with this latest film version of Pride and Prejudice, and it’s true what the critics said – it’s more Gothic than Regency, but all the hotter by that very token. In between appreciating the painterly brilliance of the cinematography and set-design, I admired the director's choice to play Mr Darcy not as a stiffly pompous fellow with optional broomstick where one should not be, but as a tongue-tied, stammering fool for love. There were perhaps one too many gratuitous pussycat grins from the unspeakably pretty Ms Knightley for my taste, although she was a creditable Lizzie, and Donald Sutherland performed a nice twist on a good old part as good old Dad. All in all a lovely production, with that rare thing: a fully-imagined inner life for poor old long-suffering Mary "you have delighted us long enough" Bennet.

The beginning of swimming season, and with it the happy sight of a five and a half year old Busyboy doing cannonballs off the diving board into twelve feet of water. Not just cannonballs, either, but also doodle-bugs (inspired by this fine book), which are apparently like cannonballs but marginally stealthier, in that you don’t actually yell “CANNONBALL!” as you do them. Although I’m sure the good citizens of England’s south coast would agree that if you’re anywhere near the point of impact, a doodlebug is ultimately about as stealthy as four-plus stone of very fit boy hitting twelve feet of water, bottom-first.

And you? What cheered you along this week? And what will carry you through the (blessedly short) New Zealand winter, or wherever you are?

PS Has anyone been to Iceland? Got any tips for travelling there with kids?

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