Daffodils

While laying drains they found a body
immaculately dressed, black hair a centreparted book
neat pencil moustache still a waxy line,
eternal hands in posy clasp.

Lugubriously, they took his stats: five foot nine
inches, no wedding ring, a jagged scar
on his eaglebeak nose, tattoo of Englebert
Humperdinck over his heart, a moley back.

Like wasps the papers began to buzz:
“The Longest Wait” – “He Fell in Love, Into a 
Shallow Grave” – “E. Humperdinck Greatly
Distressed.” The frothing whys cast
leery nets that sieved the land for that girl
he’d plucked daffodils for.

The posy, crushed, was now in plastic 
marked ‘Exhibit A’, dusted for crumbs
(Was his last meal a clue? Digestive poisoned?
Toastie spiked?) His rictus grin was measured for
authenticity, his blood – now solid – scraped and
scrutinised for suspicious substances.

What didn’t figure – and maths was fighting 2 and 4
to work it out – was how damned happy 
this man looked, eyes melting at a vision
now many bus journeys away.

While the red-tops cawed about his date with 
death, Irina Crawley, optician, spinster, flame-
haired fawn, rolled down her shutters in
black flag mood and swore she’d never
wear that turquoise silk lace dress
to town again.

Creativity Catalysts

It’s always more fun writing in a group. The camaraderie, the coffee, the small talk between exercises – and then there’s the tickling urgency of the clock. But something more is shared. Crumbs. Oxygen. Time.

And you get to know people through listening to them read out their writing. Shyly, confidently, sadly, bitterly, laughingly, passionately. I get the feeling that despite sitting at a round table covered in waffly paper, tostadas and cafe con leches vying for space with sprawling notebooks, in fact we are on a boat, each one of us dipping our hand into the water as we speed along, feeling the cool liquid slip over our fingertips, sifting out seaweed, bits of fishing wire, perhaps even a fish.

Rumi once said: ‘In a boat down a fast-moving creek, it seems that the reeds are moving by. What seems to be changing around us is actually the speed of our craft leaving this world.’ With his words in mind, here are a few creative writing exercises to get your outboard motor spluttering into action, so that you and your writing can get out into the open sea.

Raid the Fridge

For this exercise you will need to invite yourself to someone’s house, let off a small remote-controlled firecracker or similar distracting device on their front lawn so they leave you alone in their kitchen for five minutes, and quickly open all the doors in their pantry, fridge, freezer, oven and write down twenty items of food.

Now, when you need inspiration to kickstart your writing, pick a word at random (it can help to write them on separate pieces of paper and pick them out of a hat). Let the smells rush through your nostrils, the tastes enliven your mouth, the image remind you of that Thai restaurant, your university days, an English summer day watching the cricket…(don’t forget to pick up your pen at this point).

Substitutes

Take two short pieces of your own writing or extracts copied from a book. With a coloured pen, underline all of the adjectives in both pieces. (You might want to use different colours for each one.) Now rewrite one of the extracts, substituting an adjective from the other piece for each highlighted adjective you come to. The more different the styles of each piece, the more peculiar and funny the exercise will be.

Photofit

Cut out pictures of people from Sunday newspaper supplements (usually more real and interesting than magazine faces). Keep them in a folder somewhere. When stuck for a character, take out the wad of pictures and one will jump out at you (try not to pee your pants when it does).

Rewrite

Pick a piece of your own bad writing, the worst you can find. Now swap it with a friend’s worst bit of writing, and each of you rewrite the other’s piece, changing it as much as you like. Having something concrete to hack to pieces, without fear of offending, is a great starting point when you’re lost for words.

Style Queen

Brainstorm all the styles of writing you can think of – comedy, horror, romance, fantasy, period drama, chick lit, tabloid, magic realism, futuristic and so on. Write them down on separate pieces of paper and fold each one up. Now write down possible scenarios, such as: child buying sweets from a shop, a teenage girl telling her parents she’s pregnant; a man running over a dog in his car; a politician accidentally using a swearword live on camera; a boat sinking; a couple arguing, and so on. Write each of these down on other bits of paper and fold them up.

Now close your eyes, have a rummage, and take one of each. Write the scene in the genre.

Swap Shop

Each person writes a title for their neighbour’s mini-story (one page or so).

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Make a list of, say, ten proverbs, quotes or hackneyed statements. (Try http://quotes.dictionary.com, or http://www.phrases.org.uk if you get stuck.) Now choose one at a time and create a scene that illustrates the statement without mentioning it explicitly.

My favourite: Chinese Scribbles

Each person begins with a strip of paper. At the top they write something – anything, song lyrics, a strange image, a bit of speech, whatever. The more abstract, or the harder it is to draw, the better.

Now everyone passes the paper to their neighbour, who draws what you’ve written. They now fold over your writing and pass it on to their neighbour, who writes what they’ve drawn. Continue thus, folding over the last-but-one contribution each time. Feel free to fall off the sofa laughing, shrieking with absurd glee and spurting your beverage out through your nose as you see the wildest creatures ever created in Biro evolve from the primordial soup of your communal imaginations.

Unroll the strips of paper when there is no more room to write and read out the Chinese Whispers. (The drawings are usually the funniest bit. Be sure to invite someone who has no qualms about drawing abysmally.)

With that, dear writing readers, I leave you to your beckoning pens, hoping they will moonlight for you as oars.

The Gospel According to Mum and Dad

Lately, I have been pondering the best ways to parent.*

(*This is a complete lie. I am constantly worrying about it. I am frankly obsessed.)

The simplest advice I have heard so far, apparently given by members of the Jerrahi Sufi order from Turkey, is that the only things you can offer your child are a good name, good food, and a good example.

Names, check. Caveboy’s main name is Shamsudeen (Shamsie for short) – having Rumi’s spiritual master and poetic muse as a namesake can’t be bad. Rosa Nour is for her part endowed with hints of exquisiteness, resilience, Divine light… (let’s ignore the thorns).

Food, check, more or less. No deep-fried Mars bars on our menus at least.

Example…ah, now that’s a different story. It makes sense, of course. How many times have we heard the hackneyed phrase that ‘kids are like sponges’? They don’t learn how to live in the world from a how-to manual, that’s for certain. (Now that would be a book worth its weight in gold!) We parents are their blueprints, their paradigms, the pioneers in every habit and prejudice and turn of phrase. The gospel according to Mum and Dad is, without a doubt, the main reason people seek out therapy of one sort or another. Recognising the dictums your parents imprinted on you as a child as the ‘tape’ you run when in need of authoritative advice, and not your own, proven experiences, will (so the thinking goes) show that tape up as the cold, impersonal celluloid that it really is.

So, now that we’ve neatly wrapped up all our complexes inherited to us by our forefathers (hey, ancestors don’t get off any lighter! With the wonders of modern genetics they are brought right back, like a scientifically-endorsed psychic hotline!) we can move on to our children. And the complexes we will inevitably give them, like it or no.

For those interested in some great advice on how to parent with compassion and respect, check out this very thoughtful blog post on The Parenting Pathway. Alternative, Google ‘good parenting’ and spend the next fourteen years reading all the hits, by which time your kids will have grown up and will already be seeing a psychologist for your absenteeism.

Personally, I got stuck on the very first of Carrie’s basic steps for dealing with gentle discipline: getting the rest and time you need to be a centred, calm, balanced individual, capable of giving your children the best of yourself. If only this blog post were a personal promise to come to your house, give you a footrub, put your kids in the bath, make you dinner, put on a funny film and tell you you’re great, all wrapped up in one giant, sisterly hug. When I have one child who wakes up almost every hour, despite all my ‘good’ techniques (not letting her fall asleep on the breast, yadda yadda yadda) and another child who wakes up most nights several times to for various baffling reasons, my eyes will barely stay open long enough to read one paragraph of all that good advice.

(I have been trying to come up with jokes to help me laugh it off: ‘I’m so tired I went to visit my granny, in advanced stages of dementia, and she told me I was rambling.’ ‘I’m so tired I picked up my handbag and it miaowed.’ ‘I’m so tired I can’t even be bothered to work out a punchline for this joke.’)

In all of my reading to date, even the wonderfully helpful No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, nobody has yet offered a cure for the mind-curdling exhaustion that looking after small children entails. It stands there, blithely ignoring all the tips and suggestions that concerned friends throw at it, like an obelisk in a hurricane.

I have come to the conclusion that after reading all of the advice, trawling all the forums, driving yourself bonkers trying to figure it all out, the only approach that does not involve a perpetual sense of disappointment in oneself is that of accepting it. The whole kit and caboodle: crotchety behaviour, imperfect affection, even wonky teeth and a predisposition to keeping pet newts. Run headlong towards your crummy, substandard parent-self and just give it the most enormous, loving, honest hug imaginable.

And if that is the conclusion offered to me in my chronically sleep-deprived state, then I believe that is in fact the point of it all. Bag all the hot tips, guys. Don’t even try putting money in the mental meter. Bewilderment is, as the Sufis say, the only way to witness to Divine Reality; ‘tear down the house to find the treasure buried beneath.’ It’s all in the best hands you could possibly imagine.

Now go to bed!

Liebsters on Toast with a Recycled Steak

This morning as I slipped out of bed – disentangling myself from the snoozing baby, mumbling as she dreamed of my boobs (well, I’m glad that someone does, anyway) – I had the whimsical notion that today I would get an award for something.

My powers of intuition didn’t inform me more precisely as to what award it would be. Would I be spontaneously applauded in the supermarket for heroically saving a small child from being crushed by a falling stack of tinned sausages and beans? Would my Waldorf-inspired, hand-sawn olive wood toys (stacking blocks, pretend toast, even vegeburgers!) and the accompanying green felt spinach leaves and red woolly ‘steaks’ be chosen as cleverest recycled use for a sock? The Booker prize is a little out of my reach, since my novel is still crawling forward like a snail through molasses after a particularly heavy dose of Valium. But there are trillions of awards out there; wasn’t it only right than one of these days one of them would fall by default on my humble electronic doorstep?

The heavens answered my subconscious prayer, and this very day I was given a Liebster Blog Award by the preternaturally brilliant Resourceful Rose, whose cunning methods of thrifting and thrilling with little more than balloons, string and PVA glue will leave you slack-jawed with admiration. Thankyou Rose!

If you have yet to come across (or, heaven forbid, have been awarded) a Liebster Award, let me elucidate ya. It was apparently created with the aim of showing appreciation for small blogs (of 300 subscribers or less) and helping those bloggers to give a nod to their own favourite bloggers. I’ve yet to discover the murky origins of this award but let’s just say for the sake of argument it was a good soul keen to see the meek inherit the earth, the lion lie down with the lamb, the tea strainer nestle up to the carving knives, or something of along those lines.

The great thing about these awards is that the number of them given increases exponentially, every minute of every day. Since the award recipients nominate 3-5 people whose blogs they admire, very quickly the quantity of Liebster-loved blogs is multiplied as much as to the power of 5.

And if we are all (as I clearly am) so thoroughly excited at having been given this accolade that we go ahead and nominate our favourites on the spot, then I calculate that it will take approximately no time at all before everyone has been awarded a Liebster. Nevertheless, I am tickled pink at the thought that all of us getting our moment of appreciation – truly the perfect populist award.

So here are my nominations:

1) Life in Morocco, by the thoughtful and artistic Norah – a must for those interested in the reality of Marrakesh beyond the Lonely Planet;

2) Yohosame, for Sufilicious musings, music, rapturous photography, thoughts on life in the States and on the states of the soul

3) Madre Mia! Aka Space Mum, for her delightful and very à propos space logs from the future where mothers will all have fast forward buttons (and hopefully a pause button for the kids…)

That’s enough for now. I have to go and stitch some 100% recycled material toys, whittle crochet hooks from green olive shoots for the Steiner school fête, plait wool to hang the curtains I made there, write a poem, do the dishes, finish my creative writing class homework, and down half a dozen herbal and homeopathic remedies for rushing about too much and getting in a tizz.

Do I get an award for all that, too?

Cobenchiots

Wonder lust

What is the relationship one has with a person sitting nearby in a public place, on a train, say, or at a park? Someone you have noticed, perhaps exchanged glances with, averting your gaze and they theirs lest the proximity make both of you uncomfortable?

A ‘bench cohort’, one might call them; a ‘companion’ sounds too chummy, and ‘sharer’ implies you have something in common with them, other than a strip of manky carpet seating or a length of wood inscribed with teenagers’ names and who they fancy. I like ‘cobenchiot’, although it is, lamentably, a bit weird.

The unease felt by recognising that closeness must vary with different degrees of Englishness. Someone who is only partially English, perhaps a Spaniard who has spent ten years of their adult life working in the Home Counties among natives and has acquired some of the primness that accompanies most of our everyday encounters, might follow the protocol of ignorance that is unwittingly enforced by cobenchiots in their reasonably equidistant bottom placement.

As far as I can surmise, in places far removed from the drizzle and damp that makes us instinctively gather our gabardines around us to waterproof our backsides, the distance necessary to cause actual huffing and grave bodily squeamishness is far reduced. In India, the classic example we hear is that of women being shocked and horrified if a man touches their upper arm, and yet if you travel third (i.e. ordinary) class on a train there you are guaranteed an intimate knowledge of the person nextdoor’s body odour, and possibly also a souvenir of it to take home with you. Beats a postcard for realism, anyway.

I am intrigued by the strange, elastic quality of space that we humans like to toy with, desperate to stretch it when we feel claustrophobic, yearning to shrink it to nothing when our heart’s desire is at an unreachable, aloof distance. And the awareness of another being in our sphere of consciousness, their back, their sunburn, their perfume, their twitching as they turn a paperback page, their shoulders ebbing and flowing as they breathe – if we tune into it, without them ever cottoning on, could we know them? Know them better, even, than if we sat down at a table with a mutual friend and exchange pleasantries for half an hour over sushi?

The thought makes me reel back, hoist the No Entry flag, withdraw hastily from the threat of humanity approaching. Who’d want to be touched – emotionally, I mean (oh aren’t we such prudes!) by a stranger? Isn’t there something rather exhilarating about the naked expression we can have with someone we will never see again? And I mean that without ever leaving the park bench, without removing a single item of clothing, without any of the sordid salivary exchanges that spring to mind (oh don’t be so pure…I know you thought it, too).

A benchmate, that is the closest word I can think of to express it. We share a bench, not knowing each other’s names, family histories, favourite telly programs, breed of pet cat, hidden ambitions, proximal dentist appointments, annoying ways of never quite finishing the washing up. But we share a bench, and that is a great, deep, marvellous, expansive thing, a relationship to wonder at, a closeness to savour in its silence, a fleetingness that can teach more than thousands of sutras or years spent in prayer.

Here we are, now we are gone, and the bench is still there. Complete with ‘Kelly Luvs Graham 4 Eva, IDST.’

The Egg of Certainty

Eggs of Certainty

Much has happened since my last message in an electro-silicon bottle.

The Cave has been transplanted to a new residence, twice; we are now the proud and faintly dusty inhabitants of our very own, home-built home.

A new Caveniece was born. (Joy!)

The ‘Danger of Work’ siren has been sounded, opening up possibilities such as running a Spanish class, as long as I can somehow extract another couple of hours out of each 24 hour period. (I may have to resort to dynamite.)

A marriage teetering on the brink of collapse is slowly picking itself up by the scruff of its neck, giving its ears a good clean, and looking – if not impeccable – at least significantly more chirpy.

My novel, which – if you know me, and I think practically all of you do, unless you are being paid to boost my blog hits – are sick of hearing about, is also moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, clicking its heels with merriment.

Most revolutionary of all, thanks to my new readerly obsession ‘Nonviolent Communication’ by Marshall Rosenberg, I am (mostly) removing all the provocative words from my vocabulary, thus dramatically reducing my risk of getting up other people’s noses.

(“When I {see you cutting up my tablecloth with my sewing scissors}, I feel {outraged} because I have a need for {my tablecloth to be in one piece and not ribbons, you wretched little…oops.}”)

Having therefore reaching the giddy heights of supermothering, I would like to share with you the secret of my almost Hello!-worthy success:

This Hogmanay, in an effort to consolidate our joint resolution to stay centred and not get in a flap during 2011, my best friend and I developed a new T’ai Chi/yoga move. It involves stepping out each foot with a whoosh of the corresponding hand, coming to a kind of Maori Haka stance (terrifying grimace is optional but seems to add to the ceremonial feel of the move).

With an audible grunt of effort, bring each hand forward one after the other, and then rush them together towards your bosom, emitting as you do so a powerful roar. This may come out sounding like a lion regarding its domain, or vole being trodden underfoot; it matters not. The effect of centring is achieved.

If you are doing it correctly, you will look – to the ignorant masses, at least – like a demented Samurai warrior cracking a colossal egg onto his/her chest. I like to think of it as the ‘egg of certainty’, since it seems to confer an instant jolt of conviction (no, not to a high-security prison for the mentally insane). When I remember to do it, I can almost feel the loincloth of Gandhi around me, bestowing upon me the simplicity and the daring to ‘be the change I wish to see in the world’.

Yes, that’s right. Forget about clean oceans, pollution-free agriculture and harmonious children helping old ladies to find their teeth. What I really want to see in the world in 2011 is lots of people roaring into the void, with a wild, carefree expression on their faces, imagining they have just smashed the most tremendous power-egg known to man upon their brave, unflinching, majestic chests.

It’s time, people. Shall we begin?

The Incredible Hug

Me Being Really Good at Hugging

When I was about 12, I made this very fervent and slightly pathetic little prayer:

“Please please please Allah, make me really good at EVERYTHING.”

I was in the PE changing rooms at school, after a particularly useless attempt at playing hockey, waiting for a shower under the eerie eye of the lesbian PE teacher who everyone said would whisk the shower curtain away while you stood there, trembling and naked. This was back in the day where lesbians were considered, to small children, more terrifying than vampire banshee ghostbats.

There I was, shivering in my horrible red and thoroughly un-Islamic gym knickers with scrunched up eyes, praying to the Doer of All Things Good Such As Reminding You To Bring Your Gym Kit So You Don’t Have To Wear Something Skanky Out Of The Lost Property Bins. (That’s beside the point. Stick to the point, Medina.)

So I have been pondering this one recently, the frustrated ambition (not the lesbian ghostbats), being as I currently am about as capable of launching a successful creative career as a piece of old chewing gum squashed into some tarmac. To give you a bit of context, my main classification of success these days is not walking out of the door with baby poo on my trousers, or cooking food that tastes like something scraped out of an archaeological dig.

Not long ago, while mindlessly surfing the net with a sleeping baby attached to my boob on afternoon (as one does), I stumbled across Hyperbole And A Half, a blog of such staggering hilarity that I spent my entire glorious hour of peace while the whole rest of the house was asleep poring through the blogger’s archives, by turns breathless with laughter and despondent at my own comparative lack of creative direction.

OK, so it wasn’t just envy at her marvellously witty illustrated posts, but also at her 3600 something followers. Yowzers. How does one get so well read? Is it really just a case of being great?

I tried to put the baby down so I could go back and read; she grabbed on tightly in her amazing sleep reflexes (don’t drop me out of the tree, mother squirrel). I tried to sleep, having gone to bed at 1am and getting up with two somersaulting kids at 6am after very broken sleep, and by this time was a gabbling lunatic, but I couldn’t. Tried to get up, but every movement out of our hug made Cavebabe flinch in her sleep and threaten to wake up with a caterwaul.

So I lay there, feeling about the emotional equivalent of an over-microwaved MSG chicken flavoured Pot Noodle, as creatively inspired as a blob of factory-made cheese (not even the interesting stinky stuff) that had been squashed into the underside of someone’s sock, depressed at not being amazing enough.

Then it struck me: why did I need thousands of blog followers to be classified as amazing? Why couldn’t I just be amazing at something basic and human – like hugging? Cavebabe didn’t need a super-fantastic famous blogger mother. She needed a really amazing hug. Surely that was far more useful, in that exact moment, than having a vast glittering presence in the murky depths of the blogosphere.

Where did this insane need for mass approval come from? At school, I did amateur dramatics, I sang, I played guitar, performed my songs, danced, took part in gym displays. I was an all-singing, all-dancing, straight A success machine. Apart from being crap at outdoor sports, that is.

But I no longer have the shadow of exam grades, University requirements or competitive friends to keep this creeping phantasm alive, the will-o-the-wisp of worldly success, the eyes boring into my back declaring whether or not I am SOMEBODY based on what I have achieved. I would like to start dedicating some serious time, instead, to something far more important: the art of hugging. A real hug is, after all, what would pretty much solve all of the world’s manifold ills.

Imagine, for a moment, the warmth of arms encircling you, transmitting their owner’s tenderness and care in a sort of infrared love-wave, water in their cells dancing with desire for your wellbeing, their dance inviting the water in your own cells to join in, passing on their infectious ease, correcting the kilter of your subtlest movements, healing every invisible wound.

The impulse to kiss bare skin must also come from this same primordial touch-balm; your lips are where your skin is thinnest, where the tingle of love crosses the barrier between people most easily, benevolence crossing the semi-permeable membrane of your talking apparatus and silencing it.

This is where I really should be striving for excellence, in making my arms available for limitless loving, in offering all hurt beings a truly incredible hug.

Chocolate Brownie Stew

Dinner at the Cave tonight is going to be a particularly eccentric affair.

The leftover broad bean, courgette and lamb stew I brought back in a biscuit tin from the Jumu’ah today – a Sufi kitchen special to celebrate the return of the Hajjis – somehow, supernaturally, managed to share its juices with the dessert I stashed away for Caveman. The stew now has a faint topnote of chocolate brownie, which I think works in a nouvelle cuisine kind of way.

The quinoa is not burnt. It is merely smoked.

I think my advanced state of hairbrainedness it is because I have just found out that a friend of mine is pregnant, and I am exploding at the seams with excitement but being sworn to secrecy (look, I’m not mentioning her name, so don’t even think about it). It’s funny how, even with the limited experience I have with my two little tadpoles, I immediately find myself wanting to offer advice.

All of a sudden I am a walking encyclopaedia, brimming with suggestions on how to sleep well at night with a distended belly (useless – still six months away), synopses of the great debates in the mothering world (to put them to sleep on the boob or not? Hey, this is about as political as it gets for me at the moment) plus all that blather about shellfish and blue cheese and cat poo.

In between rattling off information faster than the speed of light, I want to give her one of those hugs that will inoculate her against the wave of buried fears, innaccurate conditioning, paranoia, irritations and unexplained sadnesses that seem to surface in the whole, hormone-churning experience of pregnancy and early motherhood like zombies rising up out of their tombs.

(What? You were perfectly chipper throughout? Please go be uncomplicated on someone else’s blog. Allow me to wail melodramatically on my own turf.)

It strikes me now that the process of clearing out the gutters of the subconscious, the drains clogged with dead leaves and old crisp packets, might actually be one of the ways we (unwittingly) prepare to teach our children to survive in the world.

Yes, I know. This sounds frighteningly like a theory. But bear with me, patient readers. All will become clear.

Let’s create a hypothetical situation: a mother-to-be has suffered various traumas in her life. She fell out of a treehouse ages 6. She was told she was fat aged 12. She was rubbish at netball.

Now, as a grown woman, she is pregnant with a baby girl. What will happen to this child if the mother does not resolve her own issues around treehouses, cake, and netball? This darling little munchkin will, no doubt, be umbilically bound to repeat her mother’s horrors as she grows up. She learns from her a fear of heights, a desire to shrink her waistline undermined by a compulsion to gorge herself on cheesecake, and a feeling of inadequacy whenever wearing red elastic gym knickers in a public place.

(I am starting to feel I have written this blog post before. I must blame my mother for not resolving her tendency to repeat stories.)

But we, as noble, fur-clad cavewomen, are clearly made of sterner stuff. Quite aside from slaying sabre-toothed tigers and devising interesting meals with only some twigs and a handful of witchety grubs, we are embarking on a mothering adventure that embraces all the highs and lows, the insights and frustrations, the image of ourselves in the mirror of our kids which sometimes reflects bliss and golden innocence and other times the vile little snot-nosed brat within.

Am I just projecting an imaginary community of she-warriors, babies tucked under one arm while they do battle with demons and foul weather? I wonder. Please comment if you are one of this army of progesterone. And now I will return to my smoked quinoa and chocolate brownie stew, with rippling muscles capable of wrestling Gorgons and Hydras hidden beneath my apron.

The Glass Half-Awesome

Wherever you go in Spain, you will hear a steady stream of compliments. ‘Guapo!’ old ladies coo adoringly at passing children – ‘gorgeous!’. ‘Hasta luego, guapa!’ girls call out to their friends as they say goodbye. So many Spanish people have this trait that it makes me think it must be genetic. I shall christen it the ‘Guapo Gene’.

What is so wonderful about the Guapo Gene is that it doesn’t matter if you are obese, bald, have a patch over one eye or spinach between your teeth; someone, somewhere, will call you guapo.

The more cynical among the ex-pats here would have you believe that it is down to a fundamental duplicity in the Spanish character, sown during the religous persecution of the Second Republic when tens of thousands of Catholic monks and nuns were massacred and their chapels looted by communist-minded Republicans, and watered throughout the highly conservative Franco years, when Republicans were in turn forced to take their beliefs underground for fear of being taken into the woods and shot.

It might well be true that people’s opinions here are hard to decode. On an average market day in Órgiva it is not uncommon to see German sadhus in full orange regalia, French monks in Tibetan Buddhist gear, Algerian Sufis in white robes and wildly coloured turbans, and even, on occasion, an elderly gentleman in a fine suit wearing a green moustache. Not once have I seen a Huevero* bat an eyelid.

However, I prefer the theory of the Guapo gene. In the same way that smiling actually increased the levels of seratonin in the brain, thus making you feel happy, and that laughing falsely as is practised in Laughter Yoga leads almost immediately to riotous real laughter, I have come to believe that telling the world it is beautiful actually makes it seem more beautiful.

Furthermore, being told you are gorgeous on a regular basis – as anyone who reads those hallowed institutions of scientific knowledge, women’s magazines, already knows – makes you feel gorgeous. The belief is implanted, watered, and in time it takes root. Real flowers blossom out of plastic ones.

It might sound fake, but on that everyday level of waking up in the morning without a terminal sense of dread about the impending awfulness of the day and the utter pointlessness of life, I will choose to think of the glass as half-awesome. And the glints of light in the water will be made brilliant through its half-awesome lens.

* Hueveros/as are people from Órgiva, from the word huevo, or egg. A huevera, incidentally, is an egg-carton. The name supposedly dates back to a time when the church’s twin steeples were painted egg-yellow.

The Naughty-off

What do you do with a child who throws everything he gets his hands on across the room?

I have been trying the tactic of confiscating the things he throws, puzzle piece, clothes (pulled out of my wardrobe – grr), wooden blocks. But you can’t confiscate everything, leaving your entire house void up to the dado rail.

So I say in my most self-assured voice, ‘Well it looks like you don’t want to play with this so it’s going away for a bit.’ Or, ‘Oh I think the panda got hurt that time – I’ll have to take him off to hospital.’ Or, once it’s happen six trillion times already, and in a most headmistressly manner, ‘If you can’t play nicely with your toys young man, they’ll get taken away and you’ll never get to play with them again!’

Puerile? Me?

What with the deliberate wees in annoying places (on the battery charger, the dining chair, the crate full of potatoes and onions, yes I know – I don’t call it the Cave for nothing) and the incessant throwing and the sticking his fingers into whatever we’re cooking/eating (and God only knows where his hands go when I am not looking) I am starting to think I have an extraordinarily naughty little boy.

How Eliza Welch in the film Motherhood could be so perpetually fraught when her 3 year old son plays silently in the living room while she writes her blog, pushing a little wooden swing about meekly, I really have no idea. Manhattan with kids, I can see might generate a good deal of histrionics. But my God, woman! Your kids don’t kick their baby sisters in the head on a daily basis! What on earth are you wailing about?!

A friend of mine, whose son shares Caveboy’s birthday and who is about to have her second baby any day now, declared we ought to get our boys together and let them have a naughty-off.

I can imagine it now: every single jar in the kitchen is emptied onto the floor – rice, mung beans, jam, peanut butter, all oozing together in a rainbow-coloured slurry. Books have every page torn out of them, and then smeared with the mung bean/jam concoction. Furniture is turned over to see which makes the more interesting noise as it splinters. The walls are decorated up to about 4 foot high in whatever colour marker, crayon, felt pen they can lay their hands on. And the mung bean/jam goo also. Wardrobes are emptied. Computer screen smashed. Contents of fireplace thrown giddily about like fairy dust.

Strangely, just thinking about it makes me feel quite abnormally gleeful. Am I secretly a deeply naughty child, longing for an expensive vase to smash to smithereens? Perhaps children only drive their parents bananas because they manifest our suppressed desires and we therefore envy them for it.

I hear myself sometimes chastising my son for his high jinks, and cringe at the sound of my own voice: patronising, finger-wagging, uptight tyrant. So then I end up on the floor with him, tickling him tired, or cutting castles out of cardboard boxes, getting excited about bits of old socks we could use for blankets for his menagerie of tiny stuffed animals, covering the living room with slivers of coloured paper while we make lanterns and concertinas and stars.

The laundry and the dishes be damned.