We made an impromptu trip to New Brighton, where Raspberry and Ares played in the sand, dug through the treasure chest (and discovered dinosaurs, now named Limousine and Desk), climbed on rocks, and eschewed ice-cream. And near the end of it, Ares started actively seeking out sand to eat because he was exhausted and he seems to get a massive oral fixation when he’s tired. We also found a 1972 copy of Enid Blyton’s The Children of Cherry Tree Farm at Literally, originally presented to one Craig Dixon by Mereside Methodist Church in 1974 for his regular attendance. It all made for a pretty decent day.
Also known as the first day we’ve spent out this week.
Or the day we spent all afternoon at FACT sculpting with salt dough.
Or the afternoon we met some very cool people who were also making salt dough sculptures.
Or the time I said “fuck it” to our unimportant errands because hanging out with people we’d just met was way more fun.
Or the first time Raspberry had played with dough in probably a year or more.
Or the first time Ares played with dough and wasn’t as interested in its tactile properties as I’d expected.
Or the first time [surprise, surprise] Ares ate salt dough and as usual, refused to open his mouth for me to extricate it, and went back for more.
Or the time Ares ate coloured salt dough and promptly puked up milk, and more milk, and even more milk, and of course, it was the one time I didn’t bring his burp cloth.
Or the time Raspberry made a giant minion head out of salt dough, even though she’s only ever seen the minions in their banana song video.
Or the time Raspberry made a little pot for one of the very nice people she met, who gave her the duck she’d made.
Or the day Ares didn’t nap until 4:20pm, slept for barely 50 minutes, woke up as we were walking down the street, and immediately pointed out a big truck, because that’s obviously very important to him.
Or the day we hurried post-haste from FACT to Lime Street station to meet Lucas, zipping into shops to buy rice noodles and straw mushrooms along the way for our pad thai dinner.
Or the day we had a really nice, laid-back afternoon in a really nice space.
I started sewing maps onto paper about four years ago. I’m not sure what spurred it but I remember itching for something new and artistic to work on and from that yearning, my embroidered map series was born.
In the past year or so, I’ve felt the maps becoming more of a burden, not that I’ve consistently been making them. The fun has long gone and sewing them became a chore. It’s said that if you no longer love what you do, then it’s time to stop, isn’t it? I think I’ve long been ready to move on, to try my hand at something different like screenprinting or letterpress or illustration, all areas I’ve been eager to dip my feet in for a long time.
I’m slated to do a print fair at the end of the month and I’ve been attempting some new work, but I think I’m going to try to sell the maps beforehand and see where that takes me. I somehow feel like if I don’t have them, it’ll be psychologically easier to move on to the next project(s).
That said, if anyone’s interested in any of the maps, they can be seen here, and here’s a breakdown of the prices with free worldwide shipping:
European borders (8.5″ x 11″) – US$15
South American borders (8.5″ x 5.5″) – US$10
South American borders (5.5″ x 4.25″) – US$5
And for the UK mainland:
European borders (8.5″ x 11″) – £10
South American borders (8.5″ x 5.5″) – £6
South American borders (5.5″ x 4.25″) – £3
Anyone who’s interested can leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’ll be nice to see the maps going to good homes!
I hate the way periods sneak up on you, when you’re just carrying on with life and then suddenly, you have to change out of your favourite comfy underwear because dammit, it came. That was me yesterday, although I actually waited until the end of the day because I wasn’t actually sure it had returned.
I was certain that I had many more months to go before having to deal with it again. After all, following Raspberry’s birth, my period didn’t return until she was almost two (I must admit that until I re-read that post last night, I’d always thought she was two-and-a-half, almost three when my period came back. What it really was was that I was sans period for that long, pregnancy included). Instead, I lasted all of fifteen months plus pregnancy.
I was in denial most of the day, since I was only spotting. The thought that perhaps the mild streaks of red might be symptomatic of some greater condition rather than merely being menstrual blood did cross my mind and I wildly extrapolated to having to call the doctor to figure it out. By the evening however, I was resigned to the fact that [sigh] it was just my period. A call to the doctor would just be ridiculous. “Nooooooooooo!” I howled to no one in particular, and grudgingly excavated a cloth pad out of the depths of my underwear drawer. I have a brand new menstrual cup to christen but I waited until today to use it as I’m a cup virgin.
Lucas suggests that maybe it’s because Ares doesn’t nurse as often as Raspberry did. Who knows? The body works in mysterious ways. I suppose having my period again means my hormones are perhaps back to normal though? It does explain the rather sudden, pleasantly unexpected return of my libido in recent weeks. Putting two and two together in hindsight, it makes sense and had I known better, I would’ve anticipated the imminent arrival of my period. If I was really good, I might’ve even pinpointed it down to the day (ha!), but I’m not. Unlike some, I’m not one to celebrate my menstruation as I find it more of an annoyance than anything, but I suppose I’m glad for the return of certain normal aspects. Welcome back, shedding uterus. You weren’t missed.
Tuesday at the Walker Art Gallery
I was determined to see the Martin Parr exhibition so it was off to the Walker we went (he’s one of my favourite photographers and I’m lucky to have seen his work exhibited twice prior). Usually when we go to the Walker, it’s for a learning session or we just head to Big Art and the kids have their fun there while I spend a mind-numbing hour or longer making sure Ares doesn’t eat paper scraps. On this day however, I declared that we were actually going to see art before going to Big Art. Seeing that the exhibition was essentially that of street photography, I was in heaven, and the images didn’t disappoint. It also gave me a bit of a kick in the ass to do more street photography (unfortunately, I do practically nil these days). Because there was quite the myriad of images, I didn’t get a chance to properly see them all. Ares, who wanted to be carried around rather than crawl, was enthusiastically seeking out pictures of dogs or other animals in the images and signing every time he saw them. Raspberry initially viewed the images with me but soon got bored and draped herself over the furniture (she later left a comment on the wall about what she thought about the exhibition). Faced with the prospect of half-absent-mindedly hurrying through the rest of the images with antsy children underfoot, I decided instead to return another day, perhaps sans little people, with any luck. It’s the kind of exhibition I want to return to, and those tend to be hard to come by.
Wednesday at Tate Liverpool
Amid blustering winds, we trekked to the docks because dammit, I couldn’t face being inside all day. There wasn’t really anything particular I wanted to see there; I just needed a day out. We did see some new art, an exhibition of György Kepes’s work, which reminded me a lot of Moholy-Nagy and some of the Russian art from the early 20th century. I had a brief discussion with the gallery attendant about it, as I attempted to dredge up my limited knowledge of art history and mistakenly referenced futurism. He was nice though, and showed and explained photograms to Raspberry while I sat on a nearby bench to nurse Ares, attempting to eavesdrop on the explanation. Like the previous day, I wanted to see actual art instead of spending all our time at the Art Dock (the family room that’s the Tate’s equivalent to Big Art). It turned out to not be the best idea, as it was all art we’ve seen before and it merely resulted in restlessness and bouncing from one thing to another with barely any engagement. Granted, I wasn’t exactly into it either, having seen it previously and not being all that interested in it to begin with. Raspberry and Ares preferred to look out the window and at one point, were chided for having their feet on the windowsill (or really, I was, for allowing it).
So it was off to the Art Dock, where we spent way too long among the same stale pom-pom display that’s been there for over two months. The Art Dock usually has interactive, well-thought-out activities, so I’ve been disappointed by the pom-pom display that has little to offer, beyond some foam for my baby to chew into tiny, chokable pieces and my kid to fashion pipe-cleaners into hammers. I expressed my thoughts on two comment cards, slipped into their donation box because there was no where else to submit it to. Ares spent way too long tinkering on the computer keyboard and it was almost a Heculean task to extricate him from it. Every time I tried, I was met with high-pitched, ear-piercing shrieks of displeasure. I think he was tired, as transitioning to other tasks was hard for him all day. Faced with the unadmirable job of having to change his diaper, I let him type some more while I settled on the couch with a book about Louise Bourgeois and her work about the maternal. If I had to wait, at least I could read something interesting while doing so. As I skimmed the book, I realized I really should’ve read up on her work prior to giving birth so I might’ve made some pregnancy or birth-related art. Oh well. I’m going to look up more of her work anyway. We finally left the Tate after some tears and a water break. I usually like being there, but feeling scattered and like I barely saw anything good, I was just happy to leave this time.
Thursday at FACT
Raspberry decided she wanted to go to FACT today and I’d promised her weeks ago that we could go back and see the Group Therapy exhibition again. She really wanted to take on the maze again, so that was first up. When we first saw the exhibition weeks ago, all four of us tried out the maze, which is meant to simulate the experience of psychosis, and it was jarring, to say the least. Being in there once is more than enough for me. Meanwhile, Raspberry did it twice today, both on her own (the first time, she needed a little help but when I proved useless, I exited the maze and she took it on on her own. I was more effective being a sideline cheerleader and assisting her by pointing out the path on the ground). I was quite impressed she managed it by herself. She most wanted to see a display of safety pins embedded within the maze and was thoroughly excited when she encountered it. While she meandered her way through, Ares busied himself trying on oversized headphones and attempting to tap on a frozen iPad. I couldn’t tear him away from it.
In the other gallery space, we headed for Raspberry’s favourite exhibit, which involves a projected, almost psychedelic image that changes based on your heart rate. Even Ares wanted to get in on it too, and he insisted I place the pulse monitor on his ear and laid down too, albeit, not on the right side most of the time. I love how he’s so much into imitating others now. Raspberry made her requisite chalk pastel drawings in response to her experience in the exhibit and did one for Ares too. As usual, there was chalk dust everywhere. We ended off in the foyer, which is where we usually start, spend way too much time there, and have little time to actually see the exhibits. I’m in love with the way the space is designed and with all the bright colours that shockingly, don’t clash. I’ll be sad to see it go when the exhibition closes. Anyway, our time in the foyer was limited this time, on account that it was getting late and we still had groceries to get. We were there long enough for Raspberry to read The Dark and to slip into the all-padded room. We’ll probably hit up the exhibition again before it closes in a few weeks. It’s a decent exhibition and we all seem to enjoy it.
While blue skies and bright sunshine drifted day in and day out past our living room window, we were cooped up inside for most of last week, bemoaning the fact that Raspberry had been inflicted with an unknown malicious virus that rendered her terribly incapacitated. We had an suspicion that she might’ve picked it up in Manchester over the weekend, but it was impossible to tell. It was the first time she’d ever been that sick, sleeping for hours on end, so it was more than a little frightening. What I thought would be a twenty-four hour malaise ended up stretching to almost a week. When it showed no signs of abating, Lucas took a day off to help out and we called the doctor, who agreed to see her at an emergency after-hours appointment. Languidly and clad in her pajamas, she made the walk to the clinic, described all her symptoms to the doctor with Lucas barely saying a word, and was diagnosed with a virus that had made feverish, her inner ear swollen, gave her a headache and stomachache, made her throat wickedly sore, made her puke once the day before, and diminished her appetite to stomaching little more than some apple, clementine, toast and (this is unheard of) lots of water.
Having Lucas around even for a day proved to be a godsend, as I was able to take a stir-crazy Ares away from the four walls of our apartment for a few hours (we ended up going to the library). Lucas was able to attend to Raspberry a lot more than I could with Ares (the first day she was sick, every time I went into the bedroom to check on her, she kept freaking out that Ares was going to climb onto her bed even when he wasn’t). All the sleeping Raspberry was doing enabled me to have one-on-one time with Ares, a rarity most, if not, all days. I attempted to teach him to make marks on paper but failed miserably as he couldn’t seem to get the hang of which end of the pencil would have to make contact with the paper. Regardless, it gave me time to draw and while he napped, I got the chance to write, something that I’ve let fall to the wayside lately. Despite the napping (only once a day, unfortunately), I think being at home made Ares restless and manic and bed-time was more than a challenge for him. By eight o’clock most of those days, I was exasperated and ready to pull a Homer Simpson-style neck-wringing.
Mid-week, it appeared as if it wasn’t going to be a protracted illness, as for the first time in over two days, Raspberry emerged from her bed to read and was laughing at my dorkiness. However by the afternoon, she was back in bed. When it seemed like Raspberry was doing much better, we went out briefly to the library on Thursday and she seemed all right there, reading her new Naughtiest Girl book, but the trip home proved tough for her. She was determined to see the giant ants at The Lowry in Manchester before the exhibition closed on the weekend, so we headed there on Friday. While she enjoyed it, being sick was still taking a toll on her and she slept both ways on the train and the tram. Despite still feeling cruddy, she was similarly determined to make it to the launch of Cass Art, a new art supply store in town. Contrary to the weather forecast, it drizzled cold rain and that exacerbated her misery. Upon returning home, she crashed on the couch for the rest of the afternoon. She seemed much better upon awaking and our dinner hour was spent drawing rabbits over slurping sweet potato soup.
After almost a week of her roller-coastering illness, Raspberry was finally all better on Sunday, just in time to enjoy a cold, sunny day at a craft fair where she planted some cress seeds in a pot she decorated with a face, and for us to enjoy some not-very-chocolatey hot chocolate. Lucas arrived home from a weekend of refereeing in Kettering to an excited, generally well, but tired kid.
I did miss Raspberry’s presence after even the first two days of her illness, but I will admit that I very quickly got used to the extra time I had to myself, so much so that this week, I’ve had to remind myself that I have two active kids and that I can’t just sit down and post-process images and write for an hour. Ah well. I may not be glad for that or for the typical whininess that comes with Raspberry, but I’m glad she’s healthy again.
– Ares’ first time in the sand. He was so taken by the experience that every time he saw me approaching him with arms outstretched, he’d crawl backward or crawl away as quickly as a baby possibly can through soft sand. He even tried to do a headstand in the sand, something he’d only started doing a few days prior. He kept looking at his sand-caked hands and after I taught him how to brush the sand off his hands, he started doing it himself. No first trip to the beach is complete without the requisite sand-eating and naturally, Ares was no exception, much to my chagrin (you can see him eating sand in one of the above pictures).
– Homemade ice-cream: Ferrero Rocher-flavoured ice-cream beats Turkish Delight-flavoured ice-cream hands-down. There is just something too up-in-the-clouds, artificial about the latter. It must be the pink.
– One of my favourite second-hand bookstores is Literally, in New Brighton. The owner is delightful and charms kids with puppets and sea-faring tales. She also gives them paper boats made from map pages. I’ve found a number of vintage kids’ books there, including an old copy of Dick Bruna’s The Apple (with thankfully non-rhyming verse!), an old edition of Pippi Goes Abroad (yes, Pippi, of Longstocking fame), and a vintage copy of Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl Again. I’m a sucker for old books. And the best part is, I paid only 25p each for them. Score!
– The second time we went was on a sunny but extremely gusty day. The beach was busy, as unlike the first time, it was Easter break, and the windiness didn’t deter many people from dressing skimpily or in bathing suits. I’m certain they’re insane… or just English. Meanwhile, I’d stupidly under-dressed both Ares and Raspberry and they were both cold. Because of this, Ares didn’t play in the sand for very long, preferring to huddle up against me in the baby carrier. The wind was so strong that I watched as the sand just blew into my bag without any other help. I had to keep emptying my messenger bag for fear the sand would get into my cameras.
– Raspberry lost her fourth tooth (the bottom right incisor) while having her rocky road ice-cream. She accidentally swallowed the tooth, thinking it was a nut, and was in tears. I felt awful for her, as I know she treasures every tooth she loses. I half-jokingly suggested we could make her puke up her ice-cream or search her poop for it. She wisely declined both suggestions. When we got home, she drew and cut out a replacement tooth for her collection.
– We went back to Literally, in search of more vintage Naughtiest Girl books but came up empty-handed. I did, however, find a Little Golden Book (Funny Bunny). Those are hard to find in the UK. We have a collection of Little Golden Books but most of them stayed in Canada, so it’s nice to occasionally come across them here.
On a warm, sunny day in early March, Carrie and I met up at Otterspool for what turned out to be a lovely afternoon. We started off at the playground but progressed to a pleasantly long walk along the promenade toward the Britannia Inn, where Carrie so graciously treated us to hot chocolate. Tom and Becky had their bike and scooter respectively; Raspberry tried out Tom’s bike once, with Carrie holding onto her but she wasn’t confident enough to try again. It was an almost three-and-a-half mile walk there and back and Carrie encouragingly gave the kids targets to reach to keep them moving. As they ran and whizzed down the prom, the kids gleefully played a game of emergency, which involved collapsing and playing possum while the others ran over in mock [laughing] panic to save them. Near the end of our walk, Raspberry pointed out that no one had complained about the distance we walked, which was impressive when you’re talking about little kids. We thought there’d be more time for them to play on the exercise machines but as one might expect, things with kids take much longer (even when they don’t complain) so we had to nix that. Despite a moment of disappointment at not being able to hang out with our friends for longer, Raspberry still very much enjoyed her afternoon, as did Carrie and I, as we couldn’t stop raving about it, because really, it was that nice a day.
After hearing about the sand dunes and the red squirrels at Formby, I wanted to make it out to there last summer but for unknown reasons, didn’t. So two weeks ago, when Lucy suggested a trip out to Formby to see the squirrels, I jumped at the chance to go so together with her and Carrie and our collective brood of seven little humans, we hopped a train out to the squirrel reserve.
The funny thing is that at the reserve, I saw all of one squirrel. Granted, I didn’t look very hard (if at all) and most of our time was spent watching the kids dig in the sand and climbing trees in the picnic area, but having never been before, I truly expected squirrels to be running rampant, to be inhabiting every tree hollow, to be perched in every branch (okay, every other branch). But alas, they must all have been on vacation or scared off by the Easter break crowd. Urban squirrels are common back home. When we lived in Ottawa, the squirrels would scamper along the window sill outside, much to our cat’s frustration. Perhaps we currently live in too urbanized an area for there to be squirrels. Beyond the odd sighting in a park on the outskirts, I can quite safely say I’ve seen nary a squirrel in the almost two-and-a-half years I’ve been here. I do miss them a little.
It was more or less a decent day, hanging out with Carrie and Lucy in the sunshine and watching the kids run free. Because we were there with the intention of walking and seeing the squirrels, none of us were prepared for sand play. The kids borrowed buckets and shovels from some others who did have the foresight to bring beach equipment. Beginning with Evie, the girls wanted to be mermaids with sand tails. I was surprised Raspberry did too, as she typically doesn’t care for mermaids. Ares had a ball crawling around and digging in the sand and of course, eating it (well, it was on a stick that he decided to chew). When the sand got boring, he discovered a log to straddle. I felt bad taking him away from that as we were leaving.
Unlike Ares, Raspberry was on edge, and cried repeatedly from the moment we arrived, about various travesties like being startled by a door shutting in her face or a broken stick or accidentally poking herself in the leg or being unable to come down from a ledge two inches above the ground. By the end of our time in Formby, I’d had it and was infinitesimally close to losing my mind. I’m almost certain there was no less than ten instances when she cried or howled. It wasn’t until later that evening when I was unpacking my backpack and finding most of her uneaten pizza, that I realized that her episodes were probably due to hunger (we’d all eaten on the train ride there and I’d thought she’d eaten more than she actually did). Talking it over with Lucas later, we were acutely reminded of the mismatch between her age, her intelligence, and her emotional regulation. We established that the next time something like this happens again, I need to be firm and we’ll be leaving whatever place we’re at, in an effort to remove the triggers. Thus far, nothing on this scale has yet occurred (thankfully!) so we haven’t had to put this into practise yet. Fingers crossed that we won’t ever have to, but I think it’s a pipe dream.
Anyway, obviously we’ll have to go back to the reserve to properly seek some squirrels out. Note to self: it’ll be during term time and it’ll be with a well-rested, properly-fed child.
It was our first time in Sefton Park this year, as we met up with Zsofi there last week. The girls had a great time collecting fallen daffodils. Their haul was so large that a random passer-by came up to Zsofi and I to chide us for allowing the kids to pick that many. However, she was thoroughly embarrassed when we explained that the girls weren’t picking the flowers, but merely getting the ones that were already broken off. Ha. Ares and Danny had a field day crawling around in the grass, undeterred by the pokey bits of chestnut husks amid the daffodils. Ares, who is still very much in his oral stage (to borrow Freud’s psychosexual development stage lingo), curiously bit through daffodil stems and sticks. And then there was me, exasperatedly extricating bits of bark from his mouth and flinging the offending pieces far away into the grass.
After Zsofi left, we took a slow walk around the pond. Raspberry scaled slopes, rocks and tree trunks, and ducked into caves. Ares, who’s wild about canines, madly signed “dog” every time he saw one (and believe me, there were plenty, as it was a beautiful afternoon) and gestured with an “ehh, ehh!” whenever a water bird came into sight (he does know the sign for “duck” but often signs “chicken” or “bird” when he sees a duck). We encountered a family of moorhens and their babies on the water and stopped for a long time to watch and marvel at how tiny the babies were. As expected, Raspberry declared that she wanted a moorhen chick for herself. She has a tendency to want certain animals after she sees them, you see. Because it was still Easter break, the playground was insanely busy, so much so that there was actually a lineup for the baby swings. Raspberry played for a bit, darting around all the other kids and repeatedly blending into the crowd. Ares wanted to get down to crawl around but I thought it wasn’t the best idea with so many people about. I promised both of them that we would return once school was back in session and the parks would be quieter. Raspberry agreed and while Ares didn’t say anything, I’m going to assume he shares our sentiment. Going to Sefton Park conjures up memories of all the long, lazy summer days we used to spend in Churchill Park and makes me miss our proximity to it. But at least we have this option, even though it’s not close by. Anyhow, I’m looking forward to more days there now that it’s spring, and I’m sure at least Raspberry is too.
We spent a sunny Saturday in Manchester yesterday, hitting up the Manchester Print Fair and the John Rylands Library. I love going to print fairs to draw inspiration for my own work and the Manchester Print Fair, held only twice a year, never fails to disappoint. It was wonderful seeing and chatting with many of the artists I’ve met at previous fairs. It’s always so refreshing to get out of the parenting headspace (which feels like all I ever do every day) and immerse myself in art for a bit. I find I really need that these days. Raspberry was decked out in her brand new glow-in-the-dark bug shirt, which won her a couple of compliments. There were also workshops at the fair, and she had a good time screenprinting, rubber-stamping and doodling with Posca markers and coloured Sharpies. She drew a purple fox (which I was impressed by, as she hardly ever draws anything besides people these days) and made two drawings (one of a monster under clouds and another of a ghost caught in the rain) for two of the artists we know and got a pocket mirror as a trade, which she carried around for the rest of the day. The workshops served as a nice break from me dragging Raspberry all over the fair. There wasn’t anything similarly entertaining for Ares though and beyond the fact that he was tired (he did nap halfway through), he didn’t seem amused by the fact that I was toting him around to tables and tables of artists selling their wares, and he just wanted to crawl around to stretch his little legs.
I think he was relieved when we finally left and headed over to the library, where he suddenly became very chatty among the tomes and let me tell you, there’s nothing like the shrill shriek of a baby in a dark, echoey public space with people trying to soak up the atmosphere, to make you feel self-conscious. Similarly, Raspberry was more or less oblivious to the ancient books and was determined to complete her trail with the kind of single-mindedness found only in young children. I marvelled at the archaic building on my own. I did manage to get her interested in Later-day Saints, a hilarious exhibition of illustrations of saints situated in contemporary times. We popped in a coin to watch a mechanical dragon and old lady having tea, and were tickled by the unexpected results. Ares alternated between wanting to crawl and wanting to be held and fought tooth and nail against being put in the baby carrier when I had enough of this up-and-down business. He’s in a table-loving phase and after I set him down at a 130-year-old desk briefly, it was quite the challenge getting him away from it after.
Trail completed, Raspberry set to work making a dragon’s egg in the craft area while a fatigued and destructive Ares overturned containers of coloured pencils and sent them flying all over the floor. We left soon after, after the dragon’s egg was sufficiently stuffed with pom-poms, after encountering an older white guy who irked me by saying “xie xie” (thank you in Mandarin) to Raspberry’s spontaneous outcry telling him her locker was occupied, after browsing the gift shop, after I picked up a postcard. All in all, a good day.
Amid bucketloads of rain and gusty winds, we took a trip to Manchester on Sunday to check out their Chinese New Year celebrations. Lucas was refereeing a volleyball game at the university, so it was just Ares, Raspberry and I braving the weather in Chinatown. We could’ve stayed in Liverpool, but we did that last year and honestly, despite Wikipedia saying that the city is has the oldest Chinese community in Europe, its Chinatown has little more than Chinese restaurants that open late in the day and is just plain disappointing. After that experience, I was determined to head to Manchester for Chinese New Year this year so that’s precisely what we did (even though I contemplated staying home because of the weather). Raspberry has never experienced a proper Chinese New Year with all its red-packet, tasty-treats, visiting-family-and-friends festivities and while I can’t offer her that at this time, I thought it would be interesting for her to at least have a glimpse of some of the other festivities surrounding the new year.
The train to Manchester was ridiculously busy, with standing room only because they only had half the number of carriages as they normally would. I thought the train might end up being a little like those in Tokyo. A girl very kindly offered Ares and I her seat but Raspberry and Lucas stood for most of the journey. Raspberry, being Raspberry, kept complaining that she wished people would get off and she could get a seat. Needless to say, it was quite embarrassing. Lucas got off at Oxford Road while we went to Piccadilly, so we could go to Fred Aldous to get Raspberry’s birthday photobooth portraits done first.
I’d initially thought about heading back to the station to pick up the free shuttle bus to Chinatown but somehow we ended up walking there instead. Chinatown was really busy even though it was raining. I’d hate to think how much busier it would’ve been if it wasn’t that wet. It was hard to navigate through the crowd and nearly impossible to see anything that was happening. I think there was either a dragon or lion dance (surprisingly, not a very loud one) going on in the square, but we couldn’t make our way through the crowds to see and given my short stature and with Ares strapped to me, I couldn’t hoist Raspberry up to see anyway.
Somewhat frustrated by our inability to see or do anything, we ducked into the Manchester Art Gallery to get warm. We had our lunch in a hallway, where Ares didn’t seem all that interested in another baby who kept smiling at him. Unlike Ares, the baby was walking and was likely older than him, but Ares seemed absolutely enormous next to her. The gallery was running a chopstick-decorating workshop (read: wrap strips of stickers around disposable wooden chopsticks), so Raspberry did that while Ares tipped over bowls of stickers and I chatted with an older lady volunteering there. She said babies (Ares, specifically) have inscrutable faces and she was determined to get a smile out of him. The whole time we were there, he didn’t oblige. The room we were in partly overlooked a street where the Chinese New Year parade was happening and standing on a huge tub by the large windows with other kids, Raspberry was lucky enough to see the dragon go by. I’ve seen it before so it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t see very much. I pointed the dragon out to Ares, but I don’t think he could really tell what I was showing him or he really didn’t care.
There were events running at two other locations besides Chinatown, so we went to see what else was happening there. At Albert Square, there were tents selling various Chinese trinkets. Raspberry had the opportunity to write a new year wish in exchange for a fortune cookie and red packet containing a chocolate coin (incidentally, she wrote, “I wish my wish will come true”). I offered to write her Chinese name on it for her and for the first time, I learnt what her name sounds like in Cantonese. There was little else that was interesting, so armed with my map, we headed over to St Ann’s Square where I knew there was at least a craft workshop that Raspberry would like. As I tried to find my bearings, two older Caucasian guys who’d just crossed the street came over and one of them asked if I needed help with directions… except that he asked in Mandarin. I was caught off-guard but told him I was impressed with what he said as I figured out what he meant. For the record, he was able to point me the right way.
I’d been under the impression that there was more happening at St Ann’s Square, but it was even quieter. I guess we’d missed all the activity. Raspberry did some firework origami run by a girl with an interesting accent wearing a shimmery gold skirt and yellow shoes. Raspberry gave up quite quickly when it didn’t work out for her so I had to encourage her to keep trying. Her inability to persevere really frustrates and annoys me; I don’t know where she gets it as neither Lucas nor I are that way. Sigh.
I was waiting for Lucas to text me when he was done but there was still no word from him so for a while, we were at a loss for things to do. We walked for a little bit and came upon the Royal Exchange Theatre and were lured in on the promise of a craft store and a warm, dry place to hang out for a bit. We’d never ventured to this part of the city centre before and had never been into the theatre. The space used to be a trading hall in Victorian times and looks resplendent, with colourful lights contrasting Corinthian columns. It was nice and quiet and Ares was glad to get out of the carrier to stretch his legs. We all had a clementine each and while I was feeding Ares his, he accidentally lost his balance and tumbled off the bench, bumping his head. Of course, a security guard just had to notice him at the exact moment he fell and came over to see if Ares was all right. Having still not heard from Lucas, we wandered around the space briefly until we were told by the aforementioned security guard that the building was closing. I’d initially thought he was being all judge-y when Ares fell (yes, in my two second interaction with him) but he turned out to be quite nice, telling me how he’s worked there eleven years and the building still astounds him. Anyway, we got to see a bit of the space (an exhibition on crafts based on cartography!) but we didn’t fully get to explore the Royal Exchange so another visit there in the future is definitely in order.
Unsure of what else we could do (given that it was past 5pm on a Sunday evening), I suggested we head back to Chinatown in search of some Thai durian cake. We’d picked some up at a Chinese supermarket there way back in September 2013 but haven’t located any in Liverpool. Since then, I’ve repeatedly told Raspberry that the next time we were in Manchester’s Chinatown that we’d pick some up.
The first grocery store didn’t yield any durian cake. In fact, when asked, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy and for a split-second, a look of disgust crossed her face as the words “durian in a tube” spilled out of my mouth. The store did, however, have the exact laksa spice that’s been impossible to find in Liverpool for the past few months, so I excitedly cleaned out their shelf (I’m not as crazy as I might sound. I only bought seven packets). I tried to find the same store we went to back in 2013 but was convinced it’d moved and had been replaced by a gambling place. We went to another supermarket and after trawling the aisles with little luck, I asked a guy cutting shallots at the counter and got overly-excited when he knew exactly what I was talking about. I picked up three tubes and at her request, promised one of them could exclusively be Raspberry’s.
The cashier spoke to Raspberry, who was munching on a rice cake, in Cantonese, asking her if it was sweet. I had to translate for her as she has no knowledge of the language. I was actually surprised by how often people spoke to Raspberry in Chinese. The guy at the table where she wrote her wish spoke to her in Cantonese and Mandarin and when I said she couldn’t understand either, he switched to English. Perhaps the assumption is that she knows either since she’s with me and I’m very noticeably Asian. Although, it irks me that some Caucasians speak to me in Chinese (like the guy who helped me with directions). When I was at Marks and Spencer the day before, a lady giving out milkshake samples unexpectedly wished me “gong hei fat choy” and I just smiled and said thanks. It’s not like I really celebrate Chinese New Year, so argh to that and to white people attempting to speak to me in Chinese.
Anyway. As we were leaving Chinatown to head to Oxford Road station to meet Lucas, I heard all these mini-explosions. I knew exactly what they were, as I used to play with these when I was a kid. There were so many kids with them that I actually stopped a couple with two kids to ask them where they got them. The woman pointed me toward one of the supermarkets, but I suspected someone must’ve been giving them out for so many kids to have that simultaneously. I thought it’d be fun for Raspberry to play with and since we had time to spare, we briefly headed back to Chinatown to try to locate the supermarket that supposedly had these little fireworks. Except that since I’m terrible with directions, I couldn’t exactly find my way (even though I was convinced I knew where I was going) and with only a little bit of time to meet Lucas, I gave up and promised Raspberry we’d try to find them the next time around. Interestingly, it was at this time that I came across that supermarket that I thought had moved. It was just a block directly opposite where I thought it was. Oops.
I can’t believe that with all the times we’ve been to Manchester that we’ve really only been to their Chinatown twice. I really must change that as not only is their Chinatown miles better than the non-entity that is Chinatown here, but their grocery stores have much more too (next time, I’m going to try to locate the individually-packaged seaweed that I used to munch on all the time growing up). Chinese New Year there wasn’t anything like what I had growing up, but I suspect that unless we’re actually in Asia and around Chinese family and friends, it’ll be hard to replicate that experience. Having never actually experinced Chinese New Year beyond seeing a lion dance and hearing firecrackers go off last year, Raspberry said she enjoyed the day though. Lucas and I gave her a red packet for the first time ever (two days late!) so I think that might’ve helped too. Maybe we’ll head back to Manchester again for Chinese New Year next year, or maybe not. Whatever it is, I’ll like to try to swing it so we have at least a bit of a different experience next year.