On reading and not writing

August 30, 2016

I’d sort of given up on blogging, since life was just too hectic and I wasn’t finding time to do anything much at all. But then I found that life without blogging was not necessarily more productive than life with blogging. So I’ve decided to start again. Even if it’s just a way of checking in and saying “this is what I’m reading and not writing”. So to make it sort of easier to write, I’m doing a Q&A.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

winnicott A: I’m reading Winnicott by Adam Phillips. I’m enjoying it but it’s definitely harder to read this on Kindle. I lose the thread and it takes days to pick it up again. I’m interested in Winnicott because he’s more hopeful than Freud or Klein. He was also one of the first clinicians to stress the primary importance of the mother-infant relationship. He says there’s no such thing as a baby, only a baby in relationship with its primary caregiver.

He stresses the importance of playing, of creativity, of holding (physical and emotional), and of transitional objects. He’s interested in aggression, in real and false selves, and in many other things as well. I just wish that I had more time to read and think.

I’m also reading “Towards an Emancipatory Psychoanalysis: Brandchaft’s Intersubjective Vision”. brandchaftIt’s long, it’s good, it’s dense. I’m reading this for our self-psychology reading group, and so it’s one chapter a month. I’m also reading this electronically since the physical copy was very expensive. Even with the pound taking a slight dip with Brexit fears, books are still outrageously expensive.

I need to find a good novel to read. Maybe a re-read. The last novel I read was “The Little Paris Bookshop” which was good but not great. I always feel a little guilty saying that. Is it me? Is it the book? A combination of the two? Seeing a Goodreads rating of below four stars also tends to make me think that it’s not just me.


Q: What are you writing at the moment, if anything?

A: I tend to write a lot of concussion reports since it’s rugby season. To be honest, I really dislike them. I write the minutes of meetings. I write off and on in my journals (both electronic and book-form).

Q: What would you like to write?

A: I would like to write some sort of memoir, but I know that that’s not possible at the moment for a number of reasons. Firstly, I could never bring myself to write about my family knowing that they might read it. And secondly, I need to work on my writing fitness.

Just today I thought that I would like to write about my mother. It’s a difficult topic but it just feels right. For a long while I thought I should write about my dad. Since he is the more well-known of the two (famous even, one might say). Sons writing about their fathers seems more logical, right? But actually the more difficult story would be the more interesting one. But I can’t write about it here. Part of me thinks that I would have nothing to say. But I know that’s not true. I also have a whole drawer full of journals which I could trawl through. *sigh* It’s complicated.

And you? What are you reading at the moment? And writing?


Empathy Tuesday

September 23, 2014

A shout-out for Empathy today. Great short clip by RSA shorts and Brené Brown.

I’m also interested in looking at the roots of empathy in childhood. Two clips which I sometimes show my students are the “Still Face Experiment” and the “Emotional Baby”. In the “Still Face Experiment”, a mother initially reacts to her baby’s distress with a non-responsive face. She then comes alive again in the interaction and it’s a moving example of disruption and repair. The “Emotional Baby” video shows a baby crying in response to the emotion of the mother’s voice singing a moving song.

Our own ‘baby experiment’ is ongoing. Tessie is almost five months old now and is doing well. Both L and I are doing less well and are suffering from sleep-deprivation. Those night-time feeds are a killer (for L – I get to change a nappy and go back to bed). Tonight will be the first time I get to feed Tessie in the middle of the night (if she wakes up, which has become her norm now). I’m really not looking forward to that, but if it means that L gets some sleep then it will be worth it.

I suppose it does help that Tessie is a cute baby (aren’t all babies?) When she gives me one of those smiles then I can get over my need for sleep (at least for a while).


Which brings me round to this. If you don’t see me around the blog – commenting, reading, posting – then this is why. We’re hanging on.



October 6, 2013

leah driveway smaller

Hello from a summery Cape Town. The fourth term has started and I can’t believe it’s less than 10 weeks to the end of term. We’re counting down to January 15th when the big move happens and I’m trying not to worry too much about all the things that we need to do before then.

Today I want to share some Leah-isms. Yesterday was a classic example. We were at The Book Lounge (my favourite bookstore in Cape Town) for storytime. The theme was friendship and after the reading, the staff got the 10 children there to make friendship bracelets. When it was all finished, a mother and daughter came up to us and asked if the girl could give Leah her bracelet. I said “thank you very much, that’s very kind” and they turned to leave. At that moment, Leah pipes up.

Leah: I don’t want the bracelet!
Pete: Yes, you do. It’s a lovely bracelet which this little girl has kindly given you.
Leah: I don’t want it. I throw it on the floor!

At which point of course I wanted to disappear through the floor.

    Some other sayings which I’ve jotted down at the back of my journal:

Dada’s driving the steering wheel.

Go away, Dada, into the sea!

It’s mama’s turn to read the story. Dada must go and shave his stubble.

The potty’s NOT the place!

Mama’s got a kind face. She’s got no stubble.

I don’t have a winky. I have a flower.

I’m not going to vomit today.

Dada, come and see! It’s the bin-bus [the dustbin truck].

Stay me here!

Me: Leah, would you like a baby brother or sister to play with?
Leah: No! That would be NOT a good idea!


September 13, 2013

Dear blogging friends, things have moved on considerably since I last posted. We’ve sold our house (finally) and have now put in an offer on another one. The offer is being submitted today to the owners (who live in Canada) and I’m really anxious about how this is going to work out. I don’t know if I’ll be more relieved if we get the house or if we don’t.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that we have sold short and bought long. I tend to over-think these things but ‘buyer’s remorse’ is a real possibility here. Our prospective new house has a lot of potential but it also has some glaring flaws. It needs a completely new kitchen to start with and it also has only one bathroom. There are other numerous little irritating flaws and the house needs a lot of TLC.

It will be exciting if we get it but there has been so much interest in this house in a very short space of time that we practically had to beat the other buyers back just to get in the door. When we first arrived to meet the agent, another buyer was camped out the front gate with a child on one hip, her cellphone clamped to her ear and another child sleeping in the car. As a result, we felt bad about taking too long with our viewing since we knew that one of us (or the agent) would need to wait outside while she went in to have a look. I eventually kept watch over the sleeping child while the mother (with the other girl in a backpack) made her inspection. Her ruthlessness in leaving her daughter with a complete stranger did make me wonder how cunning and calculated she might be in the house-buying stakes as well.

Returning to the house, we were pleased that it has a much bigger garden than our current house with space for a pool. It has some nice period touches, solid wooden floors and ‘good bones’ (as the agent tried to spin it to us). There is also the possibility of turning the single garage into a practice room / study for me. On the downside, it has an absolutely awful kitchen and only one bathroom. The ceilings and built-in cupboards are in need of some serious paint and in total we are probably looking at about two months of work before we can move in.

But one step at a time. Submit. Wait. Then plan.

I’m both confident and unsure at the same time. The agent is submitting at least one other offer at the same time and we’ve lost out before so we are pretty worried. The agents’ expression when she heard how much we were prepared to pay was definitely one of surprise but the words she used were “very fair”.

The part of this that makes me sick to my stomach is the comparison between this house and some of the other properties that we are seeing. Admittedly these houses are a bit more expensive but the finishing in some of these places is immaculate. The pools are gleaming, the wood is polished and we find ourselves totally charmed and entranced. These homes purr and prance by comparison. They also have flaws or aspects of them which are not quite right for us. And this new house has a cheerful garden and puts on a brave face on a sunny day. But it’s been badly neglected and I wonder if we aren’t being seduced by the challenge.

Another time I should tell you about our experience of the “wheeler-dealer” estate agent that sold our house. We fired her after she broke our trust but she managed to wheedle her way back into the picture and then cleverly shoehorned both us and the prospective buyers into a deal. On the night that we finally signed, Leah told her to “stop talking” and then put her finger to her lips with a loud “Sshhh!” But that’s another story. Have a good weekend.

The house that got away

August 1, 2013

An update on the house saga. We have had three show days, 50 people through the house, one offer (which we rejected) and now have two estate agents marketing our house. The reason that we are selling has partly fallen away since the house that we wanted got snapped up by someone else. But since we were in selling mode we decided to keep on trying. The question remains though: is it better to sell first and then try and buy somewhere else or to stay for another year in our current house?

The estate agents tell us to sell while our architect (not really ‘ours’ but the ex-boyfriend of a colleague) tells us to renovate. Actually he was very considered with his advice and was not pushing us to renovate. His ex-girlfriend on the other hand (who is still in love with him) would like us to renovate. I suspect there could be an ulterior motive there but she is also speaking from her own experience of happy renovation.

In the meantime, I have reluctantly been trying to fix some things at home. On Tuesday I painted a wall and yesterday Mrs Couchtrip and I went shopping for lights. In the shop we had an argument about the right size of the globe-shaped light-fitting that we wanted to buy.

“It’s definitely this size,” says Mrs Couchtrip. “I’m 99% certain.”

“Well I’m the one who has actually changed the lightbulbs and I think it’s the smaller size.”

Since she was 99% certain and I was only 80% certain we went for the bigger size. And who was right? I was.

Back home we decided to give the bigger one a try in the dining room and put the smaller one in the kitchen. We unpacked the box, looked at all the different components and the complicated instructions. And then we put them back in the box and thought about hiring a handyman instead. Today I feel a bit more confident. I mean, how difficult can it be to change a light-fitting? Apart from the arm ache involved with standing on top of our biggest ladder and stretching up to the ceiling, I can’t imagine that it’s terribly complicated.

In the meantime, we still drive past the house that got away. We’ve largely stopped the “if only” comments but this house is now the standard for any others that we see.

And we’re also trying to keep up our spirits by making fun of gently teasing the estate agents behind their backs. Our first agent, who locked us into a sole mandate before going off for three weeks’ medical leave, has become Hilda the Horrible. Mrs Couchtrip has heard rumours that Hilda is not entirely ethical. We don’t have any major gripe with her other than that she sent her inexperienced assistant to try and sell our house while she was off getting a knee replacement. In retrospect she was also wildly optimistic about the time it would take to sell our house and the offers that we would receive. She even boasted that it might not make the first show day. Hah!

Sunday sees Show Day number four (and the first with our new estate agents). These two look like Laurel and Hardy. They are also optimistic that we will see “the One” on Sunday. Mrs Couchtrip and I are not holding our breaths.

Our House

June 20, 2013

Our House 3

We’re in the process of trying to sell our house (pictured above) and it’s not an easy task. Two more lots of people came to see it this afternoon and found it unsuitable in different ways. For the first woman, living alone with her daughter, there wasn’t enough security. The joint driveway is a worry for her, and for many others it seems. We’ve found it actually adds to our security since the neighbours who live behind are a middle-aged, retired couple who are home a lot and who can keep an eye on things when we’re away. But, as the first woman pointed out, the main gate is low enough for anyone to jump over if they’re set on it. And this would keep her awake at nights.

Lots of people like the house but want more space, either in the house or in the garden. They don’t like sharing a driveway and feel less secure knowing that they don’t have complete control over their own security. The neighbours might forget to close the gate for example. And what if they (the neighbours) decided to sell and did so to an obnoxious family? I’ve seen more than one family stop looking right there.

We’ve already found a slightly larger house down the road that we like. It has an extra bedroom, a solar-heated pool and a large playroom for Leah. We’ve both said that we could happily stay here if we can’t sell but in the meantime we have to put up with the discomfort of scrutiny, the inevitable criticism of our lovely house, some more show-days and a long wait.

Otherwise, things are relatively upbeat this week. It’s the first day of my school holidays and I’m really relieved this term is over. We’ve all been battling colds and flu’s and other ailments (the little one for example seems to be backed up until Christmas). And the weeks of rain haven’t helped. But every now and then we get a gloriously sunny day and we forget all about the gloomy skies and the attendant anxieties.

AntidoteReading-wise, I’ve got a few books on the go. I’m still reading and enjoying The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I’ve also renewed my Audible subscription and bought a detective thriller for L (The Bat by Jo Nesbo) and a psychology book for myself. Oliver Burkeman writes on psychology for the Guardian and I’ve enjoyed his columns in the past. With The Antidote he tackles the cult of positive thinking and shows how negative thinking (or just balanced thinking) can be a lot better for us. It’s too early to say whether I’m going to like the majority of what he has to say. But I’ve enjoyed the balance between the drier academic discussions and the more personal anecdotes such as his ‘Circle Line tube experiment’ and the background to Albert Ellis. Basically, he’s against positive thinking and for all the right reasons. But so far he hasn’t engaged with Positive Psychology itself but rather with the cult of positive thinking of people such as Norman Vincent Peale as well as going into a detailed discussion of Stoicists old and new. I liked the ideal of “negative visualisation” as a kind of innoculation against getting too upset about things. Applying this technique to our house situation, I do feel a bit calmer but also resigned about it. I’m wise enough to know that things are seldom as bad as I fear they are. The estate agent says to give it time (and it’s only been one and a half weeks so far with one show day, which coincided with a long weekend). I’ll let you know how things pan out.

On turning 43 and reading Bluets

April 18, 2013

KB collage1

Pictures of Kirstenbosch this past Saturday. Late summer sun shining on Castle Rock. Red balloons in the trees. A quiet bench. I was in a bit of a mood. Still digesting turning another year older (43). Nothing to feel bad about really. Tea on my birthday with family two days earlier. Lovely presents (including some really interesting books, many of them chosen by me).

Admittedly Leah had a complete meltdown on the evening of my birthday. It was a good thing we hadn’t planned to go out. Screaming. Refusing supper, bath, bottle, bed. Climbing out of her bed. Telling L and I to “Go away!” It’s all relative of course. I told L that I thought our daughter had the beginnings of a mood disorder. “This is not normal! Our daughter will end up with Bipolar.” L in tears.

So to Kirstenbosch on the Saturday. By myself for an hour. A book (Bluets) to finish but I was disappointed. I loved parts of this book but as a whole it was disappointing. As a memoir there was so much she left out. As a meditation on the colour blue and what it meant to her in that period of her life it was amazingly powerful but also …. skimpy perhaps? It didn’t fit the mould of memoirs that I’m used to.

But as always, just thinking about this book makes me appreciate it more. And I know that when Litlove reviews it, I will see it again in a whole new light. But on Saturday I was grumpy. And the book didn’t help. I think she captured the intangibility of the colour blue and also the intensity of emotion. (Very crude plot summary: she was a bit depressed at the end of a relationship.) The result was a disturbing but also inspirational read. We love (people, colours, things) and then those things disappoint us. Life goes on.