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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Of Mice and (Wo)Men

Slowly, slowly, Granny surfaces from not quite terminal exhaustion, breasting her way to some kind of mental equilibrium, if not anything you might recognise as alacrity, let alone sparkle. The workshop, though over, still lingers - not just in terms of washing/clearing up. etc, but, literally, in the form of ponderous Russian participant with exercise-fanatic Chilean psychiatrist wife (he addresses her as 'darlink', very sweetly) who have stayed on till Friday to scuba dive. Not on Granny and Beloved's land, naturally. Each morning at 8.30 they breakfast on cheese, bread and coffee, at 9 they depart for the coast, returning in the evening to drink brandy in the company of Beloved (him) retire exhausted to bed (her - apart from being an exerciser, she doesn't eat much; go figure: maybe she could use some of her own psychiatric services.) Beloved complains the Russian is the least intelligent of the participants and wishes he was one of the others. Granny points out - tartly - that the man is discussing complicated issues (very) in a language not his own - his language not even an Indo-European one - and in a subject not originally his own either (he trained as a physicist) and that Beloved himself should be so intelligent. This almost silences him, but not quite. Granny does not take part in the discussions, intelligently or otherwise. She is too busy sorting out the house after last week's influx: the pile of washing is almost as tall as she is. (OK, she's a midget: but. Enough is enough.)

It all went well; or seemed to. The food - of course - for between 19 and 24 people - was magnificent. Granny cannot take all the credit - at least half went to her beloved Lucy (yes the one she met in those extraordinary circumstances: if that means nothing to you go here) who was the kitchen partner from heaven, and not just as a superb cook. There are two kinds of women: those who walk into a chaotic kitchen and reduce it instantly to order; those who walk into an ordered one and reduce it instantly to chaos. She'll leave you to guess which was which in this case. Enough to say that thanks to her - and to the wonderful neighbour who came in to clear up every afternoon- chaos was only ever in passing: and that every meal appeared on time more or less and was seen to be good. It was even sometimes seen to be good by the neuro-chemist participant who has demonstrated that rats actually show pleasure by laughing ('vocalising' in scientist-speak) but whose own gastronomic pleasure previously appeared to exist solely in the products of Macdonalds. He confessed to having had more new culinary experiences in one week than in his whole life. (A few of them an experience too far judging by the almost full plate that reappeared in the kitchen.) He did smile as he said it. A bit like the rats.

Academics really are an odd lot. Apart from most of these being partnered by someone from another nationality - Americans with Chinese or Spanish, Norwegian with Mexican or German, English with Greek, many worked hundreds of miles apart from the partner of the same nationality or not. The pair of Greeks, though, one of whom worked in Crete, the other in the Midwest are about to change that; the poor woman was heading for her first winter in Iowa. Both of them are in fact not only Greek but Cretan: she even has the dark curly hair and the profile of those on the walls at Knossos: all very intriguing and rather beautiful, but an oddity in Iowa, Granny thinks; she has read her Bill Bryson.

The other Greek woman, the depressed one, afraid of mice, did not have such a profile. Phobic or not, she cheered up considerably once the sun came out and the wind dropped, once the scientists started discoursing and the meals started appearing. As for the mice themselves... well there was one lurking in the conference/dining room, judging by the persistent excitement of the Tiresome Terrier; who was removed at once. But terriers being at least as persistent as mice if not more so, she reappeared through the other door. And was removed again; to appear, again, and then again and then again, amid the smothered hilarity of those who knew about the problem. The Russian never got it. 'What's the matter with that dog?' he kept enquiring in his almost parody of a Russian accent. 'Oh, she's just excitable, that's all,' Beloved or Granny or Lucy would say, chasing TT out for the third, fourth, fifth time. She had to be tied up in the end. Since the mouse-phobic lady never got it either - nor, fortunately, did the mouse - the cartoon scene of screaming woman on chair while serious scientist prated on about neuro receptors or Socrates (this was a very wide-ranging workshop) complete with power-point slides, some of them ritually joky, was avoided. Pity really.

What else? Too much to say, much too much, so Granny won't, except to add that she and Lucy did get some playtime. They went to the beach once and down to the mudflats to exercise the beautiful wimp and look at birds, several times. Granny's most beloved and rare spoonbill has reappeared. Huzza to that. Lucy loved him almost as much a Granny does; though he does seem as much a parody of himself as the Russian's accent is of him; birds with extra-big bills are like that.

And now Granny has to get back - despite the piles of dirty towels/sheets/duvet covers - to her real work. Her agent wants her to produce a full draft of Going Mental by the London Book Fair in March. (Though she is not that hopeful of selling it in the present publishing climate, it's encouraging she wants to try.) Granny will try and get another episode up here in another day or two. The sun is shining, the land delicious, she really could think of better things to do; but you know how it is with writers... (Lucky you if you don't.)

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