Friday 4 January 2013

Prehistoric parenting

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mother

I feel as if I am emerging from a dormant state. I open my eyes wide and I finally exit the kitchen. No more slaving over a hot stove, no more clearing up. The e-cloth is threadbare. Christmas is officially over.

At the same moment, a tiny prehistoric creature emerges from an egg the size of a full stop. It has become the newest member of our household: a Triops! This species of crustacean is blessed with three eyes and has existed for millions of years, just hanging out in ponds. The Triops ancestors shared an ecosystem with Tyrannosaurus Rex and now we have one living in our kitchen in a petri dish.

The un-parented Triops 
© 3drenderings |
Middle Child was given a "Terrible Triops" kit for Christmas. Ever since we have been peering into our puddle of Volvic spring water, attempting to spy our tiny vibrating hatchling.

I explain to Middle Child that the Triops is a hermaphrodite. "What's that?" comes the inevitable reply. "It means," I say, picking my words with care, "that she doesn't need a daddy to have babies." 

Middle Child pauses for thought. He wipes away a layer of snot laminating his top lip. "So you're like a Triops then," he says, looking me straight in the eye. "You are a herm-afo-dite."

In a manner of speaking, I suppose I am (Errant Husband has taken a sabbatical from parenting). It is also well-known that I have an all-seeing eye at the back of my head. So that's what I am: some kind of human-Triops hybrid.

My eldest comes downstairs - the Quiet One. "What's for supper?" she asks. It is pretty much all she has said today. 

"I'm not sure," I reply, "I've only just cleared up lunch." Then in an attempt to distract her, I say: "Look! The Triops has hatched."

Quiet One leans over the dish. "It's a shame it never gets to meet its mum." 

"What?" asks Middle Child.

"Read your booklet nim-wim. The adults live for about a month, hatch their eggs and then they die. When the babies hatch, it starts all over again."

Middle Child looks to me for affirmation. "So they never get to meet their mum?" he asks in a trembling voice.

"No, love." Middle Child promptly bursts into tears. 

Upstairs there is the echo of a wail. Non-walking Toddler has woken up early from her afternoon nap. I go wearily up to fetch her. Maybe mother Triops was onto something when she cut parenting out of the loop. After all, the species has survived in identical form for more than 200 million years.

Non-walking Toddler stands up in her cot, cheeks flushed and arms akimbo. I pick her up and breath in her warm, yeasty smell. Ah! Maybe there is something to be said for evolution and intensive parenting.

Middle Child appears at the door. "I love you Mama," he says, his face still smudged with tears. I hug them both tight until they shriek.

Downstairs, Quiet One gives an uncharacteristic yell. We all thunder down into the kitchen to discover another hatchling. It is a conundrum - how has this species made it to 2013 without evolving? Middle Child gives his best T-Rex roar to welcome the new arrival.

"Is supper nearly ready?" asks Quiet One, covering her ears.

I sigh and glance round at my four walls. Oh well, I may live in the kitchen, but at least I don't spend my days swimming around a petri dish. Evolution has won me that much.

Hermaphrodite Mum is a fictional creation of Emma Clark Lam

Sunday 30 December 2012

Paddling in the flood

Welcome to the waterpark! Antediluvian pastimes are over. In the era of the flood, there is a new attraction in Henley-on-Thames. Throw on a pair of wellingtons and come on in. The water's lovely! This year is the wettest on record for England since records began in 1910. No wonder we are obsessed with the weather.

The river Thames bursts its banks
The River Thames has burst its banks and is twice as wide in places
Credit: William Lam

The Angel on the Bridge, Henley-on-Thames
Anyone fancy a pint? Of river water?
Credit: William Lam

Henley Bridge
The famous arches of Henley Bridge are half submerged
Credit: William Lam

The bandstand at Henley-on-Thames
Henley's Ark - the bandstand in the park has become an island
Credit: William Lam

Benches in the river Thames
Sitting ducks
Credit: William Lam

The carpark at the River and Rowing Museum
Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent marooned with only a paddle
Credit: William Lam

Man and boy in flooded river
Knee-high boots are recommended 

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Old acquaintance be forgot?

In amongst the mobile ringtones and the ping of my computer, there is a new sound in our house: the shuffle of a letterbox opening and the plippety-plop of many envelopes falling to the floor. 

Where once I might have left the bank statements languishing on the doormat for days, now I pounce upon the Christmas cards with relish. There is something satisfying about those handwritten envelopes and the promise of what lies within: news, photos and tidbits about a life on the other side of the world.

Christmas is many things, but in my mind it has become a time to consolidate friendships. Facebook does a good job of tending the outer circle, but Christmas cards can reach beyond that network to aunts and uncles, childhood chums and even old work colleagues. The sort of people you rarely see anymore, but still like to hear from.

Christmas cards on display
Messages from auld acquaintance
The memories I share with these acquaintances make up the patchwork of my past. Our interaction is proof of another self that I inhabited years ago - now evolved but not quite shed. Each snippet of news also reminds me of how life plods on outside my narrow sphere - children grow up, marriages are made and broken, loved ones pass away. 

Robert Burns expressed something of this in his poem about remembering long-standing friendships. As one year ends and another begins, it has become a tradition to take stock of the communities that surround us.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne! 

In this age of efficiency, Christmas cards have also managed to outlast the grasping tendrils of technology. The joy of slow communication has seen a resurgence recently, and aside from a few typed newsletters, cards still bear a written hand and travel the old-fashioned way. Admittedly they are arduous to write, but cards received bring a tangible token of friendship onto our thresholds.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Mother Christmas

It is that time of year again. I work myself to a standstill and then some old guy in a red suit takes all the credit. Worse still, I am complicit in perpetuating the lie. Thanks to my dishonesty, my son fervently believes Santa is up there with the superheroes.

I hate to bring feminism into this, but how can we ever achieve equality between the sexes when women bear the brunt of Operation Christmas?

A Santa nutcracker nestled in pine branches against a white background
Santa gets all the credit
© Photographer: Lisa F. Young | Agency:

Presents (includes wrapping and delivery) √
Christmas cards (includes post office queueing) 
Food shopping 
Cooking of Xmas lunch 
General list management 

Phew! And that's on top of normal life and all the other grey, nameless chores women accomplish in a working week. We are the unsung heroes of Christmas logistics. 

Still, there is something contagious about the excitement building in our house. Letters to Santa are being penned and theories on how he manages to get round all of those homes in one night are being expounded. For the little people, Christmas is stupendous - a heady mix of magic, wakefulness and wish-fulfillment. I am not so jaundiced that I can't remember the heart-thumping thrill of Christmas Eve.

I just wish we stayed a little closer to the truth and called our festive superhero 'Mother Christmas'. Maybe kids would even believe in her existence for a little longer. Because let's face it - only a woman could juggle that many baubles and get home to cook the turkey.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

Thursday 6 December 2012

Coaching Anna Karenina

Imagine the scenario for a moment. A Russian aristocratic woman meets with a life coach. Note that the light has been extinguished from her grey eyes.
Coach: Hello - thanks for coming. What brings you to coaching?
AK: I have no cause for joy. Laughter jars on me painfully.
Coach: What is it you would like to achieve from this session?
AK: I need to escape from my troubles. I am conscious of my own humiliation.
Coach: If you were to tell me a story about yourself, what would it be?

Where to begin? Earlier this week I attended a discussion on the philosophy of personality, organised by a life coach as part of his training. In an hour and a half, we covered nurture versus nature, identity versus behaviour, the plasticity of the brain and our need for reflection. There were about a dozen people present and almost as many views on the formation of personality. 

Keira Knightley arriving at the UK premiere of Anna Karenina
Did Anna Karenina need a life coach? 
© Featureflash |
The basic premise of the discussion, however, was that human beings have an innate desire to self-improve. Life coaching exists as a form of counselling to help us to realise our potential and, if necessary, change direction. Since civilisation began, human beings have used all sorts of practices - religion, exercise, drugs, education and even surgery - to enhance their attributes and abilities. Life coaching joins that list.

So what has Anna Karenina got to do with all this? Self-improvement, or character development, is also the engine that drives most novels. All those great protagonists - Pip of Great Expectations, Jane Austen's Emma, Madame Bovary - set off on a journey to self-discovery, or ultimate self-destruction, depending on their fate. 

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Ibiza press covers Sister for Margot

The news sites Ibiza Spotlight and The Ibiza Sun have both marked the launch of my new novel, A Sister for Margot. The island of Ibiza figures largely in the book and I spent a significant chunk of my childhood there so I am delighted that these sites have decided to cover its publication. An article is scheduled to run in the paper version of The Ibiza Sun next week.

A Sister for Margot is partly set in Ibiza
Ibiza features in many scenes of A Sister for Margot
As you may know from a previous post, I whiled away many an afternoon writing the book on the terrace of my grandmother's villa in Port des Torrent. I hope that my proximity to the subject has made the passages set in Ibiza that much more sensuous! 

One of my main characters, the orphan Ruby, is brought up in the expatriate community of Ibiza and she thrives under the influence of her grandfather's eccentric friends. The book attempts to portray the youthful, hedonistic side of Ibizan life, as well as the retired artists, diplomats and services personnel who have made the island their home.

Ibiza Spotlight, which launched online in 1999, is a source of news, information and services about Ibiza. The Ibiza Sun is an independent, free newspaper and website.

Click here to read the Ibiza Spotlight article on A Sister for Margot
Click here to read The Ibiza Sun's coverage of A Sister for Margot

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot