I am not permitted to call this a villanelle in unofficial communications

(O) Those who say can’t know. Those who know can’t say.
(D) My speech and silence are by law contracted.
(O) I trust my stopped clock only twice a day.

(O) The confidential briefing is today:
(D) [redacted] says [redacted] did [redacted];
(O) Those who say can’t know. Those who know can’t say.

(D) The men in suits want answers, on display,
(N) The public must be led astray, distracted.
(O) I trust my stopped clock only twice a day.

(D) The nuances of evidence I weigh
(N) Have been (for clarity) all but extracted.
(O) Those who say can’t know. Those who know can’t say.

(O) So now the speechwriters can freely say
(N) That he did not what I know he, in fact, did.
(O) I trust my stopped clock only twice a day.

(D) I saw it on the news, and turned away.
(N) The shell was left, the essence was extracted.
(O) Those who say can’t know. Those who know can’t say.
(O) I trust my stopped clock only twice a day.

Originally posted on Making Light.

Them’s the breaks, unfortunately

Just when we thought life was stressful enough…


I was giving Fiona a shower last night when she slipped and fell. When she got up, the little finger of her right hand was at a funny angle. It clearly hurt a lot.

I shouted for Martin, who called…someone (not sure who) in Dutch while I got her dried and redressed. M took her to the emergency room, where after some waiting, she got an X-ray that confirmed that she had a small break in the inner side of the lowest long bone of the little finger. The doctor adjusted it (which she did not like) and put a plaster cast on it. Martin brought our brave and solemn girl home at about midnight.

Fiona showed a lot of courage and class throughout this incident. She stopped crying very quickly, and started to look for upsides almost immediately. “At least I can wiggle the other hand.” “At least I can wiggle the other fingers on this hand.” “At least Alex can wiggle his fingers.” “At least the stars look lovely tonight.”

Alex, too, did a lot of good. He fetched and carried things to get her out the door (socks, things like that). He was then very comforting and amusing when we were alone in the house, and went to bed very easily when it was time.

Fiona is very tired today – she fell asleep just before we had to go get Alex, and I fully expect she will nap at least once more. But she’s being a good sport about asking for help, and eventually took the prohibition on riding her bike in her stride. (Eventually. After some argument.) She will be going to the hospital again on Tuesday to get the break checked and the cast replaced with something smaller and longer term.

I’m exhausted and pretty stressed about the whole thing (as is Martin), but she is doing well. And that’s what really counts.

Your books love you when you use them

You pull me from your shelves and lay me out:
My spine against the sun-warmed tabletop
My leather covers let to gently drop,
My coloured endsheets falling all about.
O straighten them, I beg of you, be quick!
Then spread my blank and creamy pages wide
And with an inky pen inscribe inside
Your formulae in lines both thin and thick.
The paper shivering as it receives
The graphs you draw on it. You fill my soul,
And still you write, until the proof is whole,
Then press your knowledge tight between my leaves.
You have your fleshy pleasures, but I find
I’d rather far be ravished by your mind.

Originally posted to Making Light.

Pooh meets Tolkien meets Cthulhu

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood
Where all that happens is for good,
Where Roo still plays on sunny days.
Pooh and friends once desperate stood.

The Bear of Little Brain then dwelled
Where honey with a U is spelled
Among the trees and bumble bees
And hero parties oft were held.

With Piglet trembling close beside
He roamed the forest, far and wide,
Where Heffalumps and Tigger jumps
Would make our heroes run and hide.

While in the background Rabbit fussed
And griped and (sotto voce) cussed
As Pooh was stuck and then unstuck
Uncured of his great hunny-lust.

The haycorns grew in sunlit dells
While daffodils and silver bells
On riverside did thick abide
And perfumed with ambrosial smells.

But deep within the river crept
A darker force, its anger kept
In check by him who, visage grim,
His watch maintained while others slept.

Until a game of Pooh-sticks played
Upon a new bridge in the shade.
When Eeyore won, his guard undone
Released the thing from where it stayed.

The cloud that crossed the sun that noon
Was not a bear on a balloon.
The darkness spread, and with it, dread
That reckoning was coming soon.

The grass grew withered, turning grey.
The river whipped up icy spray
And in the trees the honey bees
Mysteriously slipped away.

As ruin of their home they faced
Our heroes in their centre placed
Small frightened Roo, and Piglet too
While breath grew short and pulses raced.

And at the shore they made their stand
Between the water and the land
As eye met eye they knew they’d die
And with their blood stain red the sand.

Upon the bridge brave Rabbit hopped
The shadows rose and overtopped
The parapet.  Old Long-ears met
And stopped the dark, then lifeless dropped.

Then for his dead friend Tigger howled
And in response, the forest growled
Thence came a beast, like Death released
And Rabbit’s lifeless corpse befouled.

The tiger bounced then, gold and red
And from him darkness briefly fled
But the black struck swiftly back
And left him broken, beaten, dead.

Above the heroes rose a bird
By Tigger’s death to courage spurred.
No longer meek, with claw and beak
Old Owl fought (without a word!)

Then Christopher Robin turned
And saw the river once more churned
With foul mud and Rabbit’s blood
As revenant, their friend returned.

At that their blood froze in their veins.
Abandoning their meagre gains
They huddled in, while with a grin
The zombie rodent sought their brains.

And as they stood in trembling row
And watched the beast they used to know
He reached right through and seized on Roo.
And though they fought he’d not let go.

He pulled his tiny captive through
Their hopeless clutches and withdrew
His prey, held tight, soon ceased to fight
And then, “Oh, bother!” exclaimed Pooh.

And at that sound the noises ceased
As friend and foe and eldrich beast
Turned in awe, and wond’ring, saw
The Might of Pooh at last released.

A gentle humming sound he made
And through the grass began to wade
And all he touched unclenched, unclutched
As he spread peace throughout the glade.

With Kanga weeping in his wake
His way to Rabbit did he make.
The foul hare, with yellow stare
In unclean voice then harshly spake.

“You rob me of my prey, then, Pooh?
Three friends for one I’ll trade to you
If I can choose the one you lose
I’ll end it now, bear.  What say you?”

The rabbit’s eyes then opened wide
And met with Eeyore by Pooh’s side.
His voice was grim.  “I choose him
And will not lightly be denied.”

Pooh turned and peered then at his friend
“I want this Unpleasantness to End
But what to do?  I can’t lose you.”
“It’s OK,” said Eeyore.  “I’ll mend.”

“Oh, not from this,” the monster smiled
And Eeyore’s fur with slime defiled.
As Rabbit healed there stood revealed
A tangled shadow, dark and wild.

It caught up Eeyore in its night
And he succumbed without a fight
While at his side his friends all cried
And darkness howled in grim delight.

Then in the sunlight played small Roo
While from the beach bounced Tigger too.
And Rabbit, dazed, in horror gazed
At hands still smeared with foul goo.

The donkey lay upon the hill
While darkness worked its foul will.
The friends he saved watched him, enslaved
And vigil kept as he lay still.

First he grew sqamous, then rugose
His skin drew tight and wrapped him close
Instead of hair grew tendrils bare
In writhing, twisting, twining rows.

But then he moved, and raised his head.
“I see that I’m not really dead.
I should have guessed I’d get no rest.
How typical,” the donkey said.

In time the rot seemed to reverse.
And Eeyore lived despite the curse.
“These psuedopods and Elder Gods
Are not so bad.  It could be worse.”

The hundred-acre Mirkwood

Old fat buzzer humming in a tree!
Old fat buzzer can’t see me!
Buzzy-loud! Buzzy-loud!
See the cloud?
Stop your humming and look at me!
Gold and black-bands, busy no-hands
Gold and black-bands can’t spy me!
Buzzy-loud! Buzzy-loud!
Leave your crowd!
You’ll never catch me in your tree!

– o0o –

Busy Bee and dizzy Drone,
Are swarming round to sting me.
I fly ever nigh in the bright sky,
But still they cannot bring me!
Soaring leaf, clever hunny thief;
you are dim and busy.
You cannot sting me, buzzing chief,
In your swarmings dizzy.

Originally posted on Making Light

Stopping By Woods on a Scary Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping by
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse gives out a cry
As, trembling, he wonders why
We stop and eye the darkened lake
Whose foul odours make him shy.

He gives his harness bells a shake
Which proves to be a grave mistake
As from the water dark things creep
To drag our wagon toward the lake.

The woods are dreadful, dark and deep
And as he screams, and as I weep,
We rue we woke them from their sleep,
We rue we woke them from their sleep.

Originally posted on Making Light.


(at home, in Dutch)

It’s taken us so many months to get to this point that sometimes I don’t believe we’re here. But we’re in our rented house in Oostzaan, with our possessions around us (many of them not even in boxes; some of them even in plausible locations).

One thing we still don’t have is internet connectivity. I’m typing this on my laptop to save on a data key and post from work. If you’re trying to email us, be mindful of this. I can read emails during the day, but my replies will be either short or composed offline. Martin has no net access at all, poor thing.

The move was an enormous effort, but what has really been hard is how much of it we have had to do separately. It started when I went off to work in Amsterdam for the month of July. Though that was pleasant in many ways, it was also profoundy disorienting for both Martin and me. We’re used to having one another as backstop in so many ways. When things went wrong last month, each of us felt so deeply isolated.

The week of the actual removal was more of the same. The schedule was as complex as a ballet:

  • I returned home on Thursday 26 July, and was (as usual for the commuter lifestyle) fried on Friday the 27th. Nonetheless, we packed our possessions into boxes all weekend.
  • Monday 30 July the kids went to their childcare places. I packed, and ran errands in town.
  • Tuesday 31 July started with Martin going to the van hire place to get a van for the move. Although he had arranged it well in advance, it took him longer than we had hoped to get it home, because the paperwork was not in order. Then he helped me with two items I couldn’t manage on my own and went to work, taking the kids for their last days at their childcare places. And I started packing boxes into the van. I had it most of the way packed when it was time to take the kids for a final farewell to Mother Goose, the nursery they’ve been at since Alex was 9 months old.
  • The morning of Wednesday 1 August, we put the last items into the van. Then Martin’s family came over and we had a last lunch together. And in the early afternoon, Martin drove the van away with all of our things in it. That night, he took the ferry across from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. In the meantime, I cleaned the house, packed our suitcases, and played that we were camping out with the kids.
  • It was very early on Thursday 2 August when I got the kids up and into a taxi to the airport. We flew to Schiphol, touching down just about when Martin arrived at the new house from his ferry. So by the time the jet set had had lunch, taken the train to Zaandam, and taken a taxi from there to Oostzaan, he’d done the checkout with house owners. The kids explored their new home, and we started unloading boxes from the van. It was a quick turnaround – three hours later, he was gone, and I was alone with the kids in a strange house, in a strange country. Not that they were discontent – I put the pedals back on Fiona’s bike, and she and Alex spent the entire afternoon playing with bike and scooter in the garden.
  • Friday 3 August was setlling in time. I unpacked many, many boxes, put lots of things away. The kids and I went out to the grocery store (on foot), then they persuaded me to go for a bike ride. We rode for about an hour all told (well, Fiona and I rode. Alex rode his scooter). In the meantime, Martin arrived in Newcastle on the ferry, drove north to Edinburgh, met up with his parents, tidied a few more things in the Scotland house, and flew across to Schiphol.
  • Saturday 4 August was much more relaxing, apart from the two hour bike and scooter ride in search of a bike shop (we were going in the wrong direction entirely!

And what details should I tell you about?

About the house, which is beautiful, but huge? The space is good, but I worry that we will become too accustomed to it; barring a lottery win we can’t afford to buy something this size next year.

I could talk about Fiona, who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. Instead of only riding her beloved bike when (a) the weather is good, and (b) there’s a parent to keep an eye out for her so she can travel the 30 meters to the letterbox and back, she can step out into the sunshine and ride it all the time, back and forth from the front garden to the back. Alex comes out too, and the two of them play long elaborate secret agent games on their vehicles.

Alex is mostly absorbed in Pokemon Diamond version (at which he is very good, though too hard on himself), but he’s been taking time out to ride his scooter, eat Dutch cheese, and watch Sonic the Hedgehog DVDs (it’s comforting when he’s tired).

I could mention the kindness I encountered from Dutch people throughout the difficult day’s travel to Oostzaan, from the friendly immigration officer to the forgiving train conductor (turns out you need a discount card to get a reduced fare for a child…I didn’t know) and the charming and funny taxi driver. The lady at the Albert Heijn meat counter who started giving the kids lunchmeat (which they loved), and the fellow customer who chuckled at Fiona’s earnest explanation of how “lekker” is “yummy” and “heerlijk” is “scrumptious”, and the meat was “lekker heerlijk” – yummy scrumptious.

I could talk about riding on the road with Fiona, who is remarkably brave for someone whose previous riding experience was all helmets and sidewalks. I keep myself between her and the traffic, of course, and Dutch drivers are very careful of cyclists (I also only allow her to ride on very quiet roads). But she is in transports about cycling next to me on the road, which is a layer of maturity and togetherness she can’t get over.

I could describe my trial of my commute on Saturday evening, when I discovered it takes about twenty minutes to bike to the office and about an hour to walk back with a bike with a flat tyre.

I could talk about our attempt at a Sunday drive, which ended at the side of a road with two children throwing up (carsickness and dehydration, in ascending order of age). We abandoned the trip, but went cycling and scootering instead in the afternoon, and found a little beach on the local lake. It was about 20 minutes’ ride from the house, and the kids gleefully threw off clothes and went in (Alex in his shorts, Fiona in her underwear – there were plenty of little girls there in just bikini bottoms). Then we rode home to where Martin was setting up the office space, all but glowing from the fun of it all.

Or I could describe what life is like in a country where I don’t speak the language – how much it is like being deaf, in that I am excluded from verbal communication. Indeed, I don’t always even hear when people speak to me, since I won’t be able to understand it even if I do hear it. Not everything is easy.

For good or ill, we’re in the house, and this is the new home.