Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

São Paulo

It was business as usual for me and the boys this week. The typical day goes something like this...

I struggle out of bed at six o'clock, wake myself up with a shower and head downstairs to make a variety of different breakfasts. At six thirty I go and wake up the boys if they haven't already dragged themselves downstairs (this does occasionally happen, but usually they only bother to get up at six on the weekend when they don't actually have to!) For the next half hour we generally have a reasonably pleasant time, eating and drinking and finishing off the homework we should have finished the previous day.

After that, the nagging starts as I try and get both boys to brush their teeth, then brush them again properly, then get dressed, then get dressed in the proper clothes, then put their shoes on, then put their school shoes on instead, then make sure they have everything they're supposed to in their school bags, then collect up all the stuff they've forgotten to put in their school bags and do it for them. And all this has to be accomplished in twenty minutes, after which we can finally set off for school.

The first leg of the journey is a race to the front door, followed without fail by some variation on the following conversation:
"First the worst, second the best."
"No. First the best, second the loser."
"Well I was first then."
"No, I was first. You didn't touch the door."
"Dad. James is being mean."
"No I'm not. He was first the worst."
"No, Dad was first the worst. I'm second the best, you're third the one with the hairy chest."
"Stop, both of you! I don't care who was first. Now, out you go or we'll be late. Other way!"

Strangely, after all this, the fifteen minute walk to school is nearly always a pleasure. It's our opportunity to have a nice chat and answer all those difficult questions children like to ask their dad...
"Can I go round to Francisco's house after school?"
"How many days is it until my birthday?"
"Are there any black holes in Brazil?"
"What do you think is better, a dragon with strength 2 and poison 2, or a zombie with strength 1 and berserk and regenerate?"
And when I occasionally get the chance to say something myself, I'll take the opportunity to explain why the English won the battle of Agincourt or some other similar vital piece of information.

After dropping them off, I'm free to head across the road to the local supermarket, Pão de Açucar (sugarloaf) and pick up the day's provisions. I generally stop off there most days as there's usually a few things I need and I like to get fresh bread for lunch. It's then eight minutes back to the house (notice that it's half the time without the kids in tow!)

And then the day is my own. Six-and-a-half hours of non-stop, child-free fun. Actually, it sounds a lot better than it really is. There's usually a fair bit of domestic admin to wade through and this often involves a trip out to the shopping centre to pay bills, get cash or pick up those things I can't get at the small Pão de Açucar. Otherwise it involves sitting in and waiting. Waiting for the meter reader, or the alarm fixer, or the documents courier, or the gardener, or the air-conditioning service engineer, or the domestic pest control team (so far just mice and termites). I think this is why people have maids - so that there's always someone free to answer the door.

But once these things are out of the way, it's down to some serious writing. Just as soon as I've checked my emails, had a browse through Facebook, maybe played a little game or two. But then it's down to writing. The blog comes first though. I'll give it some thought, do a few paragraphs and then when I start to run out of steam on that I'll finally move over to the new book I'm doing for James. Except that it's coming up to lunchtime. So I'll take a break for nice fresh buns (with the Marmite I haven't actually imported) and a nice pot of proper American-style filter coffee. Out here, they tend to like their coffee very small, very strong and very bitter - not my cup of tea at all! - so although it might be nice to sit in a friendly cafe and watch the São Paulo world go by in an artistic/creative sort of way, I never bother because I'd rather work my way through a litre of smooth caffeine made by someone who knows exactly how I like it.

Anyway, by twelve-thirty I'm done with lunch and I really do have two hours of uninterrupted writing time. This is probably why I've finally managed to begin my book. Actually, I've begun it five times but I feel confident I'll move beyond Chapter One fairly soon.

I'm back at the school for three o'clock to collect the boys and wait around for an indefinite length of time until I can get them back home. Some days, we're out of the gate by quarter-past three. Some days we're still there at four. And James now has after-school activities three times a week so it's not that unusual to only be getting home at five. Which is quite handy really as it means I don't have to worry about how to spend my late afternoons - I just seemlessly go from childminder to chef and start thinking about what to give them for tea.

Tea is always a pleasure in our house.
"What's for tea, Dad?"
"Yick!" says David.
"Urgh, not fish," says James. "I hate that. Why do we always have to have that?"
"We don't always have it. We haven't had it for ages."
"Grumble, grumble, grumble."
And now substitute for 'fish' almost anything else you can think of - it tends to work the same way.

What we all do for the rest of the evening varies depending on mood and availability. If Helen is free, she does guitar practice with James. If she's not, I'll give it a go, though this is not such a good idea as I know next to nothing about playing guitar or reading music and James reacts to my suggested criticisms accordingly. In an effort to avoid the regular nagging sessions that develop at these times, I'm getting James to teach me how to play. And I have to say, he seems to be a much better teacher than student! Sadly, me too.

Apart from that there's a variety of other things that usually get done. Homework. Washing up. Jigsaws. Reading. Showers. Even, occasionally, some tidying up. We try to get David up to bed at seven o'clock but it almost always ends up being nearer half past. We try to get James up to bed at eight o'clock but it almost always ends up being nearer nine. I try to get myself up to bed at nine-thirty but it almost always ends up being eleven, though I can't for the life of me work out where the time goes. And then suddenly I have to get up in seven hours and do it all again!

Rio de Janeiro

Given that picture of domestic bliss and harmony, you'd think Helen would never be able to bring herself to go away. However, last week she did just that, abandoning the sticky heat of São Paulo for the even stickier, even hotter Rio. She was only there for three days, but during this time she managed to spend two-and-a-half hours in a helicopter, visit an FPSO (Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading) platform, visit the world's deepest wave tank, meet the president of Petrobras and even go off and do a spot of sight-seeing as well.

But more importantly, she got to wear some fabulous orange overalls and a big white hard hat - though this was not while she was sight-seeing I should point out. Rio may be dangerous, but it's not that bad. And she got to get sticky oil all over her hand. Boy, it doesn't get much better than that!

She's been to Rio a few times now and each time she comes back she says, "we have to go there. It's so much nicer than São Paulo." Sadly, it's also so much hotter and the children are not the sun worshippers their dad is. Also, all our holiday has so far been used up back in Europe and the next time the children have any time off school is for Carnival - which, unless you're twenty-five and childless is so not the time to visit Rio. So it will be a while yet before I get to see it for myself. In the meantime I get to look at the lovely photos.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Helen posted a link to your blog on FB and it was nice to see the Rio pics here. We had a great time at the FPSO visit! Not sure if she mentioned at home how both her and I were freaking out about the helicopter ride, while the other guys were life-tough on the whole thing. I hope you all have a chance to visit Rio as a family later this year! It´s nice at age 25,35,55,105 :)But I agree that Carnaval there is a little bit wild for families :)