Rennaissance Rabbits

When one’s children are ill one takes refuge in the television. There is no sense in going to bed when a child is unsettled, for being awoken from a deep sleep under the duvet is infinitely worse than being woken from a light doze on the sofa, or simply braving the exhaustion and staying up with something reasonably engaging on the box. The next day the child will be even more tired than the parent, which will make him, or indeed her, especially difficult to entertain in a constructive manner. Of course, the parent will be too tired for the constructive occupation of offspring in any case, so the TV is once again invaluable. It is only when one’s child has been ill through the night that one may tuck him in on the sofa under a fleecey blanket, with several pillows, a number of well-loved soft toys, an unlimited supply of juice, the odd cracker, and enough banal television to cook his brain, and feel like an exemplary parent. One may even avoid loading the dishwasher on the excuse of keeping the child company. It seems like a no-lose strategy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the honeyed tones of Mark Rylance can’t ruin it for everyone.


 Recently, the adult members of the S household have gotten around, finally, to watching Wolf Hall, the BBC adaptation of HiIlary Mantel’s novel of the same name. It aired close to a year ago, and was duly recorded, but only recently viewed. A few episodes in we have primarily been treated to a very good performance by Mark Rylance in the role of Thomas Cromwell, that coniving rotter of Henry VIII’s court. (Ms Mantel’s portrayal of the man is rather more sympathetic than Mrs S’s, or history’s, estimation of him.) We are already in no doubt of Cromwell’s scheming capacity for menace towards, for example, good Queen Catherine of Aragon and the sainted Thomas Moore. Of course, we are meant to understand how very damaged Cromwell is: beaten and abused by his father, leathered by the brutality of Rennaissance mercenary warfare on the Continent, and ultimately (spiritually) broken by the death of his beloved wife and young daughters…it’s no wonder he prefers politics to family.  Also — and this is a key narrative point of the drama — Catholics are mean and elitist too boot. Much has been said about the questionable historicity of the enoblement of Thomas Cromwell. (If one feels swayed to sympathy with Cromwell by Wolf Hall, simply keep in mind that this man orchestrated the dissolution of the monasteries. Suffering doesn’t make you a saint if it is palliated by revenge.) However, no rancour for the subject can really detract from Mark Rylance’s accomplished and subtle performance. 

Little N has been ill recently: a fever, maybe a bit of an earache, a sniffle, but nothing serious. She is simply a bit too sick to sleep well. So, being tired in the daytime, and still under the weather (which is, in any case, cold, drizzly and gloomy), she was tucked up on the sofa with cozy blankets, beloved cuddly animals, juice, etc, and allowed to watch her favourite show, Bing. This is a BBC animaion aimed at toddlers that follows the everyday escapades of a young rabbit named Bing. This bunny is cared for by Flop, a stuffed animal of uncertain species, diminutive stature, unending patience, and unfathomable folksy wisdom. We are not meant to wonder (though Mrs S of course cannot help herself) how it is that childrearing works in this cartoon world where all the toddlers (mostly rabbits with the odd elephant and panda thrown in) are cared for by these mature soft toys (mostly elephants, maybe a dog, and whatever Flop is) when the toddler rabbits are at least 50% larger than those who are apparently responsible for their welfare. And how are these mis-sized cross-species families formed to begin with? Where are the mommy and daddy rabbits? Ah well: traditional families are very passĂ© these days, and perhaps the producers assumed that patent absurdity produces less outrage than blatant post-structuralism. However, despite completely undermining the metaphysics of the family, Bing, like Wolf Hall, is a fabulous show. Unlike Wolf Hall, it is sweet. It understands children, and how one should speak to them (assuming that one has this rarified parental existence devoid of all time-pressure or other responsibilities: let us say it is aspirational). Flop is always gentle and understanding. Common Flop catch-phrases are “It’s all right, Bing. It’s no big thing,” and “Good for you, Bing Bunny!”. The show always has a lesson to teach, and it is not subtle. At the end of the five-minute episode, Bing comes on screen and recaps the story, explaining what he learned. Then Flop enters and summarises with the words “[i.e. Using the toilet]: it’s a Bing-thing.” Thus endeth the lesson. 

Bing and Flop

The real fly in the ointment is not the uncertainty of Flop’s ontology, nor the mysterious origins of the giant toddler-rabbits. It is that Flop is most definitely and unistakably voiced by Mark Rylance. (A beautiful voice he has, too!) This means that if one has, for example, spent the evening watching Wolf Hall while listening out for a poorly two-year-old, and the morning indulging said child’s wishes for a Bing marathon, incompatible narratives begin to nonetheless entwine themselves in one’s sleep-deprived mind. Mrs S is genuinely surprised each time Flop does not conclude an episode with the sentence “Politically-motivated execution: it’s a Bing-thing.” Likewise, when she resumes watching Wolf Hall, Mrs S will no doubt expect Thomas Cromwell to say, when mulling over the marital strife of Henry VIII: “It’s all right, King, it’s no big thing…if we accuse her of adultery and incest we can chop her head off.” Whether this overlap in cast imports menace into the simple morality of a children’s show, or inappropriately softens the edges of an adult tale of bad behaviour, Mrs S does not know, but watching, or rather listening to, either now makes her feel all peculiar in the head. 

One truly hopes Mark Rylance is not a devoted method actor. (But if he is, Mrs S would very much like to know what kind of animal he pretends to be when he practices Flop.)

Upon reflection: a giant toddler bunny being guided by a small stuffed I-know-not-what is a passable description of either show. It’s picturing Damien Lewis with bunny ears that causes the metaphor to break down.

When N gets up from her nap Mrs S will insist on watching Frozen instead. Expect soon an essay on how Anna is a much more satisfactory heroine than Elsa…

Tea and Navel Gazing

On an ordinary sort of day Mrs S drinks four or five cups of tea. The first is always Extra Strong. This is a pragmatic decision: she doesn’t always get to finished this first cup before leaving the house, and she rarely gets breakfast, so maximising the caffeine concentration and brewing a cuppa with enough substance to stand a spoon in, are the best ways to resuscitate and sustain her brain, which tends to stutter and flicker until at least 8:30, or noon, or whenever. The next two or three cups are ordinary, pleasant, refreshing, and so forth. Their primary function is to facilitate the transition between tasks. They are consumed upon returning home and before beginning household chores, after lunch and before writing, after writing and before beginning dinner, or as needed for warmth, or in lieu of productivity. In truth, any, or every, one of these cuppas Mrs S could easily forgo. The only one she actually yearns for is the cup she makes after she tucks the children into bed. This cup she thinks about all day. This is the cup she wants to have even as she brews her first cup. This cup of tea is the summit of the day towards which she climbs on shaking knees from dawn to dusk. This cup of tea means comfort and respite. It means her tongue, actually sore from being metaphorically bitten so hard on so many occassions, can rest (or, indeed, be frivolously unleashed — poor Mr S!). It means she can stop pretending to have patience, for tomorrow is time enough to once again grope towards virtue. It means the cessation of babble and chatter — for all the S children are ‘talkers’ — and the chance to do some task of her own choosing uninterrupted, or just think about what she wants to think about without worrying that she will, in the process, burn dinner. No other cup of tea is like this cup of tea. It’s not always even that good, for it often gets stewed while the dishwasher gets loaded. But whatever its shortcomings, it will always be that  cup of tea: soothing in body and spirit. Comfort requires the same particularity as suffering, a here and now: it cannot happen in a diffuse or generalised way. It needs this song, this person, this book, or, more often than not, this cup of tea.

*          *          *

All of this rather exaggerated soul searching, with the trite non-revelations it occasions, is annoying to Mrs S, who, afterall, left highschool years ago. (And discovering such depths of worldly attachment in one soul is distressing, for it usually signals a very rough Lent on the horizon.)  But it has brought about consideration of her other conceits and attachments. This blog, for example. She has been neglecting it shamefully. The whole point of the thing was to acquire some form of discipline in narrative composition. It’s been more than a month now since she mused about the improbability of becoming either rich or holy. Of course, she’s been busy. She spent a few weeks in the US visiting the Matriarch. She’s been trying to bring some order to a household with three young children. To her credit, she has actually been working assiduously on the novel. There is no end to the excuses, both good and suspect. 

Mrs S does not lack things to say. She has no shortage of ideas for the blog. A few of them might even be worthwhile. Finding the time and the discipline is the difficulty. But beyond that, the constraints of form Mrs S has placed on this blog are wearing on her. Writing always in a narrative form, in the third person, makes it hard to write about some topics, or make the resulting essay feel contrived or overwrought (most of these are never published). Basically, if the only narrative link is “Mrs S was thinking about X, and you should too” or “Mrs S read Y, and it made her irrate in a manner you may find insightful and amusing,” this is never going to be a good post. Or, rather, the daydreaminess that would be required to make these sorts of things into good posts is too time consuming to fit around the house, children and novel. It seemed like such a good idea when she was starting out. In her mind it was this blog that made her a writer, rather than a failed philosopher. (You may laugh at the conceit: it’s not as though she was fighting an international reputation.) 

Devoted readers of Adventures, Considered — Heavens, there may be a dozen of you by now! — needn’t worry that the blog will be shut down. But Mrs S needs to consider the format. While in the US, she paid a visit to a convent of cloistered nuns, Sisters of the Visitation. Chatting with her old friends about the blog, she commented that she didn’t quite know if it was a parenting blog, a Catholic blog, a writing blog… Mr S suggested it was a Catholic-themed parenting blog. Mrs S, having asked for her work to be defined, immediately took umberage at any attempt to do so. The nuns who read the blog commented on the First Blessings entry. Mr S has long prefered It All Adds Up. Mrs S most enjoyed writing about Jane Austen and the Brontes. The most popular posts, by a long chalk, were on the Refugees and taking children to church. There truly is no clear genre to the blog.

This means that Mrs S finds her blog in the annoyingly self-regarding category of ‘Personal Blog.’ Ah well. Having pulled her head out off her own posterior just far enough to realise that no one has thought of her as a philosopher in years, and that, for a writer, having a strong voice and having a schtick are distinct and oppositional categories, Mrs S shall reconsider format and the like. She will not promise never to tell a story about her family in the third person again, but she shall cease to try to shoehorn all her subject matter into this form.

Thus endeth the semi-obligatory, over-earnest public soul-searching ahead of the reimagining of a blog.

I really need a cup of tea.