How to hear the heartbeat on an ultrasound print

When you get an ultrasound during pregnancy, one of the things the doctor or tech will check is your baby’s heartbeat using something called “Doppler ultrasound”. Depending on the type of check-up you get, the ultrasound image they give you might include the heartbeat printed on it as a “waveform” – an image that shows the beats over time.

But, although they might play the heartbeat so you can hear it, they probably won’t give you it in an MP3 that you can listen to easily.

However, there is a way to convert the waveform into a sound on your own computer that you can save for yourself or send to friends and family. This will take a little bit of effort, but I’ll walk through it step-by-step. This can be done entirely with free software.

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Thoughts: Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Honestly I could end this post at “Everything Susanna Clarke does is sublime and all her books are books I wish I’d written, and everyone is correct that Piranesi is great”.

But I guess I won’t, because I love the sound of my own voice*.

Ugh Piranesi is just so good. Everything about it is perfectly tuned to my sensibilities – from the aesthetic of a giant labyrinthine House filled with eroding marble statues and the sea, to the mid-century English mysticism that Clarke plays with so pleasingly, to every twist, to every mystery left unanswered, to the tightness of the plot and the simultaneous lushness of the world and description. It’s somehow slow and immersive in the way of the best kinds of fantasy and quite pacy and tense.

I felt very deeply the “you can’t go home again” aspect of it. Mourning the things that no longer are and can no longer be and perhaps could never be, going to all this effort to find that things you thought could be restored were long gone. I felt it all hard. But there’s something weirdly comforting in the imagery of it. I liked that.

I don’t want to say too much, because this isn’t a book that should be spoilered, and I don’t want to write a load of cryptic praise either. I’ve had a pretty hard week, and I don’t think I could write anything in-depth and insightful anyway, and Piranesi deserves better than that. So suffice it to say that everyone is right – this is a great book and if you have the time, definitely read it. I’ll lend you my copy if I have to.

*tapping of my fingers on the keys as I give my overinflated opinions

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Thoughts: Der Alchimist, by Paulo Coelho, translated by Cordula Swoboda Herzog

I don’t usually reread books in German that I’ve already read in English – it feels like cheating – but this was for German class, and I hadn’t read it in well over a decade, and I remember liking it, to be honest, so sorry, arbitrary personal rule.

Say what you want about Paulo Coelho’s brand of self-help spiritualism, but The Alchemist is probably always going to be my favourite of his. It’s short, it doesn’t say more than it needs to, and I first read it in the still-raw aftermath of my parents’ divorce, when my dad was borrowing books from his much more spiritual brother and I was devouring them as fast as he got them. Shoutout to the Barefoot Doctor and The Five People You Meet In Heaven! Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was one that my dad had around and I never got around to reading till very recently, and I can only imagine how that would have gone. One of James Lovelock’s Gaia books sat by the door for a long time and I never read it. I’m pretty sure I read The Tao of Pooh though. Basically, it was a weird, formative time of my life, reading-wise.

I also read about five Coelhos, all of his books that had been translated into English at that time, after the huge success of The Alchemist. You can absolutely get burnt out on Paulo Coelho, and I learned my lesson.

I still find The Alchemist charming though. I like the mythic, timeless style, and the Andalusia-to-Tangiers-to-the-Sahara aesthetic. I’d forgotten a lot, but the things I remembered had really stuck with me – “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.” I almost filled up when we got to that line in German. It was like seeing an old friend again, and I’ve been feeling pretty isolated and down lately with Covid-delays affecting every single aspect of moving in to the new flat, and the constant thick cloud and snow for weeks, not to mention The Other Stuff. Don’t judge me.

I found some other books of his – Veronika Decides to Die specifically – a little… I don’t know. It’s hard to say whether they aren’t intended to be one-size-fits-all advice and his choice of metaphor is sometimes just dodgy, or whether he actually is a bit naive/insulting about the circumstances that can lead to people being unhappy? The Alchemist doesn’t really hit any of those notes, which is nice.

It’s about ~following your dreams~ I suppose. It’s about being brave enough to do the things you want to do, and not being too afraid that you’ll reach your goal and your life will lose meaning. And it’s kind of about accepting what comes your way while you’re on that journey. It’s spiritual, but also weirdly practical. It still isn’t one-size-fits-all – sometimes the universe is not on your side, and you have no control over that – but it fits plenty. If you read it with that little grain of salt and self-awareness, I think it’s fine?

And it’s not actually so hard to read in German, so bonus!

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Thoughts: Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Back on the YA train!

We got the film of this at Sneak some time in 2017 (sob), and I have a soft spot for Groundhog Day stories (and I liked the ending) so I was happy to put it on the list. So, there are going to be a lot of spoilers ahead just because of the nature of the story (Groundhog Day style mystery). If you’re planning to read it, I recommend getting it done instead of reading my thoughts on it. It’s incredibly bingeable. I kept meaning to draw it out a bit but nope could not stop.

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Thoughts: The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose

First book review from new flat! We have no kitchen and it is a minor nightmare of inconvenience, thanks covid! But it is ours.

I really liked this one. Yes, it’s pretentious, and in a lot of ways nothing happens, and it revolves around Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present piece? installation? but it came at the perfect time and was exactly what I wanted. Something quiet and gentle and emotional. Sometimes books get lucky that way.

And confession: the fact that I’d heard of The Artist Is Present before reading the book made me feel a little smarter and more cultured. Just a human thing, I guess.

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Thoughts: The Burning World, by Isaac Marion

I watched Warm Bodies at Sneak and read the book at my earliest convenience, and really liked it. Quirky zombie romance, full of heart and black humour, exploring the choices we make to be human. Later, I saw that there was a sequel and added it to the pile.

I kind of wish I’d just taken Warm Bodies as a standalone…

Spoilers ahead.

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Thoughts: Selected Poems, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi

From children’s fantasy to soviet poetry. Such is the world of literature.

There’s a good translator introduction in this slim volume of poetry, which I appreciated but which also made me sad I can’t read Russian. It set out clearly the wider historical interest of the poems and poet (some of the first mainstream poetry to come out of the USSR into the West, and not overtly political, but concerned with ordinary life) and the direction the translators took with the work.

I appreciated it because I am also a translator, and I find this stuff interesting in general, but also because poetry is a particular challenge, a complex interplay of meaning, teferences, imagery, wordplay, rhyme, typography, words that pull a thousand times their own weight in the reader’s mind, all as economically as possible. You sort of can’t do it really. There are always compromises to be made, and the better the work, the more compromises you need. And that’s not even touching on the fact that different cultures* prize different things as “good poetry” – some cultures love identical rhymes (check out French holorime to blow your mind) and others consider any rhyme at all cheap and lazy (there’s no glory in rhyming anything in Japanese). Some cultures prefer following structured forms and others consider freeverse more clever. And probably every language has some unique features by which it can judge its poetry that don’t even exist in the target language. So sometimes even translating something “faithfully” can do the work a disservice.

The introduction explained that Yevtushenko is a master of wordplay, rhythm and rhyme, but the translators didn’t even attempt to recreate it exactly in their translations, focusing on other aspects instead. Understandable, but sad nonetheless. I kept wondering how it would read in Russian, whether it would be more pleasing to the ear. But these are things we can never have. Unless I learn Russian, I suppose.

I liked the poems as a whole, some more than others. They may have lost their original mystique to a Western reader, of a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain, but they still hold a certain time and place pressed between the pages, fresh and real. Zima Junction, the longest poem and I think Yevtushenko’s most famous, really is lovely.

One thing I will say if you’re reading on Kindle (I don’t know about other ebook versions) is that the transfer of text to digital hasn’t been done perfectly. I assume the publisher used one of those programs that automatically detects the text, but they also seem to have failed to give it even a cursory proofread – every time there’s a “t” followed by an “l”, it’s rendered as a “d” presumably because of the original typeface. There are a couple of places where things like this happen and it’s jarring to have to pause and decode the word visually.

There’s also a table at the back as a pronunciation guide to the Russian names and words which appear in the poems, which is a really nice touch (the translators say that even if you’re reading Russian to yourself it’s important to know where the stress falls on the words, which I absolutely agree with, especially in poetry where rhythm is so important)… except in the ebook version at least, it’s missing the accents to denote stress. These little flaws are a disservice to the book, poet and translators, especially because it’s so short and surely it wouldn’t have taken much time or effort. It just says that the publisher didn’t consider it a priority.

* And yes, of course, one culture will contain many, many schools of poetry! Not just English language poetry either, we’ll have none of that.

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Thoughts: The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am officially back on the reading train. Choo choo.

The Girl of Ink and Stars, as well as being a Thing of Thing and Thing title, is another book for younger readers, but a solid level younger than Orangeboy. If you are not a young person, this may impact your enjoyment of the book, quite understandably, because it isn’t really for us.

Still, it’s really rather lovely. It opens in this deceptively idyllic island life, shut off from the outside world (with slightly off country and continent names – Europa, Amrica, Afrik, Chine – that could be either fantasy or a result of the island’s isolation), but quickly you realise that some shady stuff is going on. The island’s governor is not a good person or a good ruler, and there’s something larger, non-human and bad on the way.

It plays with this idea of the privileged living alongside the poor, in the friendship between the two main girls, Isabella, daughter of a cartographer whose job has been rendered obsolete by the enforced isolation of the island, and Lupe, the daughter of the governor who enforced the isolation. Lupe is a product of her upbringing, impractical, a little spoilt, oblivious to the reality of life for the vast majority of the village outside her house, and the book doesn’t shy from it. She’s a fundamentally good, kind person, but she is also what she’s been made to be. I don’t think I’ve seen a book aimed at this age of audience really engage with that sort of inequality before, and I found it really interesting to see.

It also touches on the responsibility that goes along with privilege, and the consequences of shirking it, which touched some environmental nerve in me (especially given the nature of the disaster threatening the island and the way it manifests). There’s still plenty of magic involved though, and I don’t know if I’d call it eco-fiction or anything.

There’s a nice thread of the power of storytelling and mapmaking as well, these human ways we have of chronicling space and time, and learning from the past.

It starts quite lightly, but it got its hooks right into me, and I ended up desperate to know how it was going to end. It’s a strange little book, and though it would be fair to say that I heavily suspected it was going to have a happy ending of some kind, I had no idea how it would get there, or what that happy ending would look like.

And yeah, okay, now I have my ending, I sort of want a sequel.

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Thoughts: Orangeboy, by Patrice Lawrence

I can’t say too much about this one, because the unfolding sense of mystery was one of the best parts. It’s a little younger than my usual reading material, actual YA, not YA aimed at 20somethings, if you catch my drift, but I was so into it that I honest to god snapped at Spuggy for interrupting me during a particularly tense part.

It’s about Marlon, a 16 year old London kid, and the way gang culture overshadows families and areas outside its immediate grasp, reaching through space and time. I loved the characters, how complex they were, the history they had and the compromises they made to live and do what they wanted or needed to do. Lawrence also does that thing that British storytelling does really well, of portraying something of the naffness of reality, if you get what I mean? Marlon is a smart little nerd kid on the fringes of danger that is far out of his experience and depth, and everyone around him knows it.

I really enjoyed this, and it was a chunkier read than I was expecting, full of warmth, teenage banter and silliness, and a backdrop of black London life and culture as well as the darker issues it sets out to explore. Marlon does some stupid things, but I was never frustrated with him. He’s doing his best, and that’s all you can ask of him.

Yep, recommend.

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Thoughts: This Sporting Life, by David Storey

I’ve been pushed out of a lot of comfort zones lately, over and over again, but this one at least I chose to leave. I know absolutely nothing about rugby league (or rugby union for that matter). Buuut is it really about the rugby league? Of course not. It’s about life, and class, and growing up, and masculinity.

Some spoilers follow, as ever.

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