It’s actually a good sign when I don’t blog in a while; it means I’m busy living in the real world, not the virtual one. But I don’t want to forget what’s been happening.
We got to see my grandfather’s cousin’s family, whom I last saw 30 years ago. Weirdly, they resemble me: A’s hair curls like mine; V’s interests parallel mine. It was odd to feel so comfortable with people who are, by any measure, strangers. A. just turned 3 years old, and is technically some sort of aunt to Sophie. Really, though, she was mostly jealous of having to share her grandmother’s rose-garden, so she spent a good deal of time pulling Sophie’s hair and stealing Sophie’s toy teacup. A’s parents amiably declared that she was being “a perfect cow” and “a little devil.” That may epitomize the biggest differences I’ve noticed in British childrearing: kids play rougher and parents aren’t afraid to insult their children.
We got to see the house of a man who curated the Tate Gallery in the 1930s. Sophie declared that most of the modern art was “messy” (she’s right, and she’s unrefined in her tastes), but Sophie was fascinated by some of the stones, and stairs, and especially the statues. She told me which statues were happy and which she thought were sleeping or crying. For one particularly smug-looking bust, she explained that it was his birthday.
We got to see a church that was first built in the eleventh century. It was locked, but a sign on the door said to pick up the key in the nearby modern-art gallery, so we did, and Sophie loved sitting in that spacious one-room-schoolhouse-sized whitewashed soaring space. She drew her own modern-art picture on the back of a brochure, and was jealous that I didn’t let her help sweep out the nave or help place a coin in the collection box. Ben wants to see it, so when we go back, I will let Sophie do those tasks.
Sophie has mastered some of the playground equipment that was too hard for her two weeks ago. Sophie has chosen a favorite sidewalk musician, downtown, a particular violin-player whom I happen to enjoy too. Sophie also relished a chaotic playgroup we went to this morning at the nearby church. Each of the churches around here sponsors a weekly neighborhood playgroup, and thirty children running raucously around a hall would have intimidated Sophie back home, but here she just dove right in to the chance to play with more toys than she has seen in weeks.
We have also befriended one neighbor whose 3 kids have adopted us so thoroughly that today they climbed out a first-floor window this morning in order to play with Sophie when we walked by. Even the 19-month-old baby climbed out that window, though I did help him down when he was teetering on the windowsill — until their mother came to summon them back in. This makes me happy, because Sophie clearly is missing her friends from back home, too. She keeps reciting the names of the children from her daycare in California.
I have learned that the West Indian aisle at the supermarket contains the tastiest food in Britain. I have also learned that squash juice is not made from squash. I have found a favorite used-book-stall in the central market, and have been reading Evelyn Waugh and Laurie Graham and some other really good stuff while Sophie naps. I have also almost finished my own academic manuscript, and now face the terrifying prospect of sending the complete manuscript off to a publisher. That’s the news from Cambridge.