Sunday, 18 December 2011

Round Robin

It's that time of year again! The carols, the fairy lights and the round robins dropping like bricks into the peace of family life. Christmas newletters are a literary challenge that I've never attempted, yet to which I have admiringly aspired. The ingredients are pretty straightforward: list the triumphs of your children and the traumas of people noone else will have heard of and season liberally with exclamation marks to make the plod through your engagement diary sound exciting. And so here, presented with requisite smugness, is my first attempt at communal Christmas cheer:

Our year began, as usual, on Jan 1st. I lay under the duvet thinking: 'Goodness, do I have the energy to face 2011?!', but as usual my wonderful children revitalised me. They came and lay on my face and trumpeted a salute to the dawn on their new plastic recorders. 
Both of them are very musical. Small son has mastered F Sharp on his instrument and we're hoping he'll branch out into B flat come 2012, so that he can serenade us with alternating notes. Daughter has taken up the piano with great verve. She insists on practising with the door shut and with Lady Gaga in the background for the beat, but when I last put an ear to the keyhole she seemed to have mastered John Cage's silent masterpiece '4'33"' with perfect fluency.
All in all, it's been a proud twelve months for our pair who, as we often chuckle to ourselves, have a lot more energy than we do!! Both of them frequently have green ticks on their homework books and sometimes even a comment in the teacher's own handwriting! 
Small Son was give a Level One award after swimming an amazing five metres!! He sank like a stone half way through, but the backwash of other bodies carried him the rest of the distance and I wept with pride when he was presented with his certificate! Most amazing of all for us proud parents, both of them have turned a year older! Where does the time go?!!
February 2011 was a month of culture: the Vicar and I nearly went to see 'The King's Speech'. We found a lovely babysitter and drove to the cinema on the dual carriageway, which reserves the right to frisk patrons because some of them keep knives in their bags. The Vicar always takes his best chopping knife with him to holiday lets because other people's kitchens are never equipped with ones sharp enough for vegetables juliennes, so its encouraging that our young people go forth prepared for every culinary eventuality. 
So there we were with our tub of popcorn on our first night out in a year and we sat there for nearly an hour before we realised we were in the wrong auditorium, by which time the film was half over in the right one, so we had to go home again and have oven chips!! It was great fun, though, to see Heineken adverts on a really big screen, so the evening wasn't wasted and the babysitter got a fiver, so she was happy too!!!
April was overshadowed by drains! No matter how many times I gouged leaves and snails and lumps of the Vicar's breakfast porridge (!!) from the drain outside the kitchen door, then globs of the previous night's supper would start streaming across the patio when I emptied the washing up bowl!! Soul-destroying! But then I thought of the poor people in Syria and Afghanistan and all they have to put up with and it did help put my own troubles into perspective. 
May 2nd saw us lunching with Sheila and Donald. We booked into Pizza Express and heavy traffic meant we arrived ten minutes late, but luckily they kept the table for us! Donald's been having a hard time with his in-growing toe-nail, but he was able to masticate on an American Hot in spite of it. Such an inspiration!
Summer saw me take over the Sunday School after our lovely teacher moved away to a village where people where people use blunter knives and bake their own tortillas! There comes a time when every woman needs an Aga!! I was a bit nervous as you might imagine (!), but it's amazing how a Pritt Stick and a loo roll tube can bring young minds to Jesus!
Hot on the heels of Summer came Autumn... and over the next two tightly-typed pages you can read how I nearly renovated the garden loo, of the really cute thing our tabby did with the Vicar's dog collar, of the awful thing that happened with Moira's alimentary canal, of how the Eurozone crisis affected my seasonal order from the Argos catalogue and how I tried my hand at growing beetroot.....   


And so another marathon year draws to a close! A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Saturday is Mammasaurus Day....

in honour of Mammasaurus. Before you ask, this is not me! My nails are frayed zigzags and rimed with coal dust and manure mulch. And I'll only touch lager. She'll know who she is, however, and, although I've never met her, judging by her jazzy digits, she must be an invigorating festive companion.


What on earth is in that glass anyway? Suggestions here, please.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Morning Glory

It is breakfast time and, as usual, I am late. Also as usual the cat pungently evacuates while I am making the lunch-box sandwiches. I pad outside into the freezing half light and scour the litter tray with the leaky garden hose and I return, soggy slippered, to the loaf. The second cat emits last night's dinner, poised acrobatically on the rim of the litter tray and the litter tray capsizes, flinging cat, turd and rolling wooden pellets all over the kitchen floor.

The children descend. They squabble over the last slice of white bread and over who should lever the toast up out of the Dualit. The Vicar hurries in. He wants to know what he could thrust down the finger of a rubber glove to make it stiff. I hand him a carrot. The children begin battling over the single unscarred desert spoon. The Vicar wants to know what he could stick down the rest of the Marigold to make it into a fist. I hand him a knot of carrier bags.

A cat leaps onto the breakfast table to sample Rice Krispies and Small Son jumps up screaming from his chair in case the cat starts on him for afters. Daughter screams at Small Son for screaming and the cat makes a terrified exit, upending the litter tray in its wake. The Vicar, flexing the now stiff rubber finger to see if it will suitably express the ecclesiastical message he wants to convey in Sunday's sermon, also exits and I clear up spilt cereal and spilt litter and spilt tears and marshal my small convoy to the front door for school.

Dimly, I remember other breakfasts. Long-ago breakfasts in my bachelor flat with still-hot toast, the morning paper and the Today programme wafting wisdom in the corner. And after breakfast an orderly departure to the station for an orderly day at the office.

In the middle of my rememberings my mother rings. We've spent a clamorous weekend with her and she is pining. 'Breakfasts are the worst,' she laments. 'It's so quiet without the children.'

There's a Truth here that I do not have the energy to acknowledge. But, come supper time, when my twosome are fitting carrot sticks into the wrong (facial) hole, I fancy I detect the faintest echo from the future. Embrace stress and noise and neediness, it urges me, for the sound of Silence, when they are spent, is not always as fulfilling as memory pretends.

Monday, 12 December 2011

An Unbending Woman

The former Sunday school teacher asks me, after Mass, if I can touch my toes. She swoops effortlessly and taps the ends of her polished boots. She's a year older than I am. I put down my hymn book and ease myself over. Unfamilar strings twang sharply in the backs of my legs and there's a slight cracking sound that causes the sideswoman to look up. My finger tips judder to a halt just below my knee caps.

The sideswoman comes over. She too swoops and taps. She's six years older than me. Both of them start bending and stretching at the top of the nave, triumphing in their pliant sinews. I try another heave and make it as far as my ankles.

I am depressed. Two years ago I discovered that I can no longer do forward rolls. The former Sunday School teacher can. She proved it last summer in the churchyard. I daresay the sideswoman can too, but I am feeling cross so I don't offer her a platform. There is one thing I can do and I offer to show them behind the vestry curtain, but the churchwarden starts to call out the winning raffle ticket numbers and everyone moves off.

The thing that I can do is a headstand. Cartwheels are now beyond me and recent attempts at a bridge dislodged something unidentifiable inside. But I can stand lengthily and elegantly upended. It's my one accomplishment in which my nine-year old feels pride. But suddenly it ceases to please me. For nothing has to bend in a headstand. You stand as stiffly straight with your brogues waving as you do when sedately planted and it's the bending that's now unnerving me. I hope that my diminished powers have more to do with a reckless summer with my pick axe than with creeping middle age.

As I leave the church, I drop the church newsletter. Once again I ease myself over and lunge, but someone is too quick for me. A passing parishioner plucks it from the pavement and tucks it smilingly under my arm. The parishioner is touching seventy. I grin furiously and stride off as sinuously as my Sunday tweed allows me and I resolve to hive off the vicarage guest room for organised assaults on my framework.

By this time next week I shall bend in the middle, even if the mirror shows that I have no discernible middle left to bend.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Christmas Music

Bibsey has commanded me to reveal my favourite Christmas song. Truth to tell, my heart sank a little. I risk losing cherished subscribers when I expose my musical preferences, and if I were to disclose what I listen to whenever I put up the Christmas tree I would undo two months of effort to present myself as an edgy Woman of the World.

Moreover, since festive song has been piping me round the supermarket aisles round here since late summer, the old favourites have lost a little of their lustre.

I feel a bond with Bibsey, however, for she admits to being almost as much of a domestic slattern as I am. So for her sake I give you one that reliably thrills me:



Saturday is Caption Day....

over at Mammasaurus. My rescue cats have been surprisingly merry since they moved in to the vicarage. Not quite sure why.



All caption suggestions gratefully received.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Curse of the Road

I like to keep the language pure in the vicarage. It degenerates occasionally when the Vicar loses his keys, but the children have developed a range of wholesome culinary curses for use in extremis. 'Fromage frais!' yells my daughter when Ribena streams across her homework, and 'Fudge!' or 'Fried fritters!' if we can't find the remote control before 'Strictly Come Dancing' (NB: strange how they all start with 'f').

My efforts, however, unravel on the road. 'Bugger!" said my then two-year-old when she grasped the wheel of her new Little Tike car. I erupted. 'I have to say it,' she replied reasonably. 'I'm driving!'

White Van Man, advancing mercilessly down a narrow side streets, provokes from me adjectives that would make a docker blush. Three-lane roundabouts,  unexpected filter lanes and anything involving the London North Circular turn me loud and foul and empurpled. My mother friends, contrastingly, sing along serenely behind the wheel to High School Musical and diffuse back-seat battles while negotiating three-point turns.

Maybe it's a testosterone thing. A visiting vicar relates how he was gingerly conveying his mother-in-law through a stressful conurbation. 'That was a tricky round-about!' she remarked. 'That's the f***g round-about,' piped an infant voice from the back.

So far my children respect the irrational schism between Car Mummy and Kitchen Mummy and do not mine my vehicular vocabulary for domestic use. They regard it, rather, as a necessary part of driving.

Playground insults, banned by school staff, have far more resonance in childish minds. 'You f***g idiot!' rages my brother when an Audi cuts him up. 'Daddy!' says my niece. 'It's very, very rude to say 'idiot'!'

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tooth Fairy

Something has unsettled me since we moved to London. It's not so much the fact that my nine-year-old now felt-tips tattoos on her forearm, or the inventive things that local youths can do with a steak knife. It's not even the pungent  knotted sacs that swing from the lower branches in our local park.

No, the thing that has most unsettled me is the unreliability of London tooth fairies. In our provincial days, when teeth first started tumbling, you could count on a quid beneath the pillow. The blood, the gore, the anguish were washed away by the certainty that fairy gold could be translated into a bumper bag of Haribos next morning.

Perhaps two recent house-moves and the sheer number of teeth have overwhelmed the magical benefactors. For now my children place their shed pearls doubtfully amid the bedding. 'Of course, the fairy will come!' I assure them with a conviction I do not feel. Last time I placed a Post-it on my laptop, reminding the fairy to drop by, but she was evidently held up on the North Circular for the reward didn't appear until late next morning when tears tugged her lazy conscience.

Tonight my son suspensefully mummifies his molar in a wad of loo paper and tucks it under his pillow. 'What if the fairy forgets again?' he asks. 'She won't!' I reply resolutely. And she doesn't. I leave a pile of coins on the top stair to jog her memory and the following morning £1 has replaced the damp package. But my son does not seem celebratory. I ask him what's amiss. 'The fairy leaves Ruby and Dylan £5 when they lose a tooth,' he mutters.

Damn these city tooth fairies! They didn't remind me of London weighting.

Click here to see more Funnee posts at Actually Mummy's plus a three-year-old's perception of the tooth fairy

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Saturday is Caption Day....

over at Mammasaurus's blog. Think of a witticism...




and flaunt it here. All suggestions gratefully received.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Girl-About-Town

I am facing a Night Out. I've had two of these in the year since we moved to London: Dolly Parton live with a visiting vicar and chicken korma with the ladies from the choir. But this night out is different. It's in the city centre with a glamorous ex-colleague, whom I've not seen in the decade since we bore babies. And I am worried.

I am worried about the parting from my friendly tartan sofa rug and my Primark slouchers. I am worried that every outdoor garment I possess is made of tweed or pilled wool. I am worried that I will not manage opinions on the Greek bail-out and the obesity crisis with an intellect shrunken by Balamory. And I am worried that the Vicar will forget to put the bins out. Above all, though, I am worried that I am so worried.

I pull on my edgiest cable-knit and I buff up my spectacles and I am a scuttling woolly figure reflected in shop windows. But when I breathe the thick brothy air of the Underground I am energised. I stride to the ticket barriers feeling a girl-about-town and tap my ticket into the slot with the flair of a seasoned commuter.

Except that I've forgotten that you no longer tap tickets in slots; you swipe Oyster cards on pads. And I've forgotten that the blue of my Oyster card is the same blue as my debit card. And I've fed the debit card into the slot and it hasn't come out again.

I seek out a ticket inspector. I am relieved that he is young and good-looking and that I am a blonde girl-about-town. 'What were you thinking?' he marvels, whipping a screw driver from his trousers. 'It must have been something very exciting!' I say, and I discover that I am simpering.

He thrusts opens the slot and prises my card from clenched metal jaws and I stand there trying to look ornamental. And then I glimpse my woolly reflection in a glass barrier. I realise that it's not gallantry he's directing at a beguiling young blonde; it's pity for a befuddled middle-aged matron. And I stride onwards, trying to walk tall, but I don't feel a girl-about town any more: I want my tartan rug.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I'm a celebrity...

Kateonthinice has devised a cunning new meme to expose the essence of her fellow bloggers. She has cast a handpicked dozen onto a desert island and escape is forbidden until we have completed 11 questions.


1. What one thing about being a parent makes you scream 'Get me out of here!'?

Evenings, when my Beer Moment tantalisingly approaches and the kids appear to be caterwauling the Ring Cycle while nude-wrestling in the bath.

2. What skills, if any, do you have that would be useful in the jungle?

I can lick the end of my nose. This could be handy when my sleeve runs out. I am still pretty accomplished at climbing up trees; just not so reliable at getting down them again.

3. How are you likely to annoy people if you were stuck with them for three weeks?

I shall alienate the entire company the minute I'm let loose on the cooking pots.

4. What is the worst thing you have ever eaten?

Anything cooked by myself. No, hang on  -  tongue! A huge cow's tongue on a plate with the bubbly skin still on. To please a formidable German actuary with whom I had digs as a language student.

5. What luxury item would you take into the jungle with you?

My journal and fountain pen. Life, when transcribed in blue ink, makes better sense to me.

6. What is the most daring thing you have ever done?

Parachute 3,000 ft out of a plane while strapped to the belly of a stranger. To please the same formidable German. I angled a toe wrongly upon leaping, so we somersaulted wildly over Bavaria and yet still the Englishwoman in me felt obliged to make small talk as we spun. It was less frightening than the tongue, though.

7. Who would you miss most if you went into the jungle with a bunch of strangers?

The vicar. And the children, of course, but the thought of that bath-time wrestling has unnerved me.

8. What celebrity, alive or dead, would you like to have with you in the jungle?

Doris Day, my cultural idol, would be the obvious choice, but she shares her bed with a dozen dogs and a vat of vaseline and her off-screen appetites frighten me. Dolly Parton would, therefore, be safer. She can do things with a dulcimer that you wouldn't believe and her natural assets could be a useful buoyancy aid should we try to float free of the island.

9. What would scare you about being in the jungle?

Crawling and slithering and itchy things and things with in-built body armour and eyes on wavy stalks.

10. After leaving the jungle, you go to a luxury hotel. What would be the first thing you did on reaching your hotel?

Eat peppermints.

11. Why is the person who tagged you a star?

I've never met Kateonthinice. She loves rum which I hate and hates spinach and walnut soup which I love and she flashes her breasts when she's joyful which would alarm me. But her blog shows a determined woman who has survived many battles and recorded them with poetic eloquence. It's a pretty safe bet, therefore, that she is a star.

I have now to choose new castaways and I nominate Millandboonwannabe and Sahdandproud because their culinary skills would transform the allure of a bug and larva bake. Crystal Jigsaw, Herecomethegirls, The Last Slayer and Midlifesinglemum can help them consume it.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Fancy Stress



Time: 8.20am; Setting: the vicarage hallway. 

The plot so far: we are stressfully hunting down matching shoes for the walk to school after a sticky, delaying incident with the cat litter tray.


Small Son: [as we head for front door] 'By the way, I've got to bring a firefighter's outfit to school today.'
Me: 'Now you tell me!' [Thinks quickly] 'Go and grab your navy trousers and  Bob the Builder helmet.'
Small Son: 'I don't think they wore helmets in 1666.'
Me: 'You've got to be a 17th-century fireman?'
Small Son: [patiently] 'Yes Mum!'
Me: 'What did they wear?'
Small Son: 'Dunno.'
Me: 'Probably tights and tunic. Quick, ask your sister...'
Small Son: 'I'm NOT wearing tights!'
Me: 'Did they even have firemen in 1666?'
Small Son: [disapproving] 'No Mum! They had firefighters.'
Me: 'You have precisely 60 seconds to turn yourself into a 17th-century firefighter.'

Luckily Small Son decides that the fearless firefighters of Restoration England wore jeans and a red Primark fleece. I am not going to argue and we hurtle out of the door almost on time. 

A week passes.

Time: 8.20; Setting: the vicarage hallway

Small Son [as we head for the front door]: 'Mum, it's the Harry Potter day today. I said I'd go as Dumbledore...'


Find more Funee posts at Actually Mummy and more stressy ones at Herecomethegirls

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Bishop's Eye

The Archdeacon is coming to dinner. This is a problem because the Vicar, who does all the cooking, is out all day and so the catering will be left to me. I cannot cook. The Sunday school teacher, whose cup cakes rise half a foot high, knows this and is worried. She offers to leave a three-course meal for three on the vicarage doorstep because the reputation of the parish is at stake.

I do not like this idea because also at stake is my pride, so I tell the Vicar that the Archdeacon can have an all-day breakfast. All-day breakfasts are the only thing I can cook. Now the Vicar is worried. He says it's a helpful thought, but maybe he can stay up late after Parochial Church Council the night before and pile wine and proteins into the slow cooker.

Next evening, as the doorbell rings I realise that I do not quite know what an archdeacon is, but I do know that it's venerable because the Vicar has bought the same duck breasts that nourished a passing bishop. Therefore, I rush up to consult Wikipedia so that I can make intelligent remarks when he's got his coat off.

Wikipedia explains that the office of archdeacon is often described as the 'oculus episcopi'. I can't see how to turn this into small talk, so I seize on a bit about overseeing the welfare of clergy families and decide that an enquiry about the state of North London clergy marriages will be my conversational overture.

But just as I'm poised to beguile him, I fret that I might have looked up Area Dean instead and so I panic and ask shrilly for his views on Waitrose's Seriously Creamy Milk Choc Ices. Luckily he likes ice cream and the topic blossoms into Cornettos and we hardly notice the time passing until the Vicar enters and introduces theological ethics.

I chew on my breast and digest the discovery that oculus episcopii, when off duty, are perfectly normal dinner guests, except that they masticate at table in a cassock.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Tomboy

My daughter has an announcement to make. She assembles us all on the back lawn and allows suspense to thicken.

'I am going,' she declares importantly, 'to become a tomboy.'

I am surprised. Her all-pink bedroom is full of all-pink Barbies and her favourite pastime is Claire's Accessories. But the childish spirit must not be quelled and so I congratulate her and tell her that she'll be able help with my manure mulching. She looks aghast and says that she's going in to change.

Shortly afterwards her head pokes out of her bedroom window. 'What do tomboys wear?' she yells. Then she reappears in carefully coordinated jeans and shirt and trainers. She tows a bag behind her as she climbs the apple tree and draws from it a pair of sun glasses, an iPod and a hair brush.

I offer her a spade to help with the shovelling. 'No thanks,' she shudders. 'I'll get my clothes all muddy.' And she dons the sunglasses and the iPod and reclines on a web of branches and at the end of the afternoon I am crusted with rotted dung and she is exultant as she climbs carefully down from her perch.

'Poor Mummy!' she says, eyeing me with disdain. 'You should become a tomboy too!'

For more clean family fun visit SunFun at Actually Mummy's

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Music Therapy

Flossingthecat was dancing on mashed bananas when, unbidden into her mind came the image of Me, hunched over a record of Doris Day. And so, intrigued, perhaps that a vicar's wife would listen to anything so raunchy, she's tagged me into sharing music that thrills me.

Doris will have to top the list, naturally. But what to choose? That forsenic analysis of the human condition, 'Booglie Wooglie Piggy: Oink Oink' or the optimists' anthem 'Que Sera Sera'? I decide to go radical. Interminable motorway journeys are relieved by the shifting pictures sketched by clouds and so I shall always empathise with Joni Mitchell, as improved upon by the Girl Next Door.








There is, beneath my thermal layering, a cool woman waiting to break out. For I have, now and then, ventured beyond the 1950s and sniffed the cultural air. I've tried Dolly Parton and The Monkees. I've even made it into the 80s with the parting shots of Abba.

But my coolest moment came when I was trailing a duster over the vicarage skirting and from the radio came song which launched me onto the coffee table in a spontaneous, elastic-muscled jive - just me and my can of Pledge. Eight years on, it still causes me to do acrobatic things with my Miele:









When the recent past was less harmonious; when the future was frighteningly obscured, I would speed up into foggy hilltops and blast Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man from the car stereo. The transluscent chords of Agnus Dei would lift me out of the Skoda and into a realm where jobs and mortgages and self-pity seemed briefly trivial.







Due acknowledgments to Mammywoo for thinking up the idea in the first place. I tag Millsandboonwannbe for some melodic romance.

Saturday is Caption Day....

at Mammasaurus.




Don't waste your witticisms -  share them here:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Fairies Outfoxed

Nine is an enticing age: old enough to nag for body piercings; young enough to believe in fairies.

I tell my tweenager of the miniature feasts that I used to leave out for the fairies and of the miniature thank-yous that they would bestow in return and she is agog to feed the little folk herself. I'm not sure if fairyland abutts our part of London and I'm not sure if modern fairies will tolerate junket. Hoummous, she reckons, is a surer bait.

She transfers her dolls house dining suite to the patio and fashions a microscopic feast from bread. Her brother transfers his dolls house dining suite to the patio and heaps faux gold plates with Hundreds-and-Thousands. And I wonder long and hard what modern fairies leave for their benefactors.

The same, it would seem, as their 1970s predecessors. I know, because I glimpsed it, that tiny silver-foil baskets bearing tiny sugared eggs were left that night on the tables and that the tiny plates were emptied.

But the children never know it. Because when, come dawn, they hasten outside, there are screams. The Vicar hastens outside and he screams. The dolls house chairs and tables are upturned and scattered, the baskets mutilated and the sugared eggs gone. And on the lawn is a chewed dead piglet and a chewed dead frog and half of a lady's slipper.

The piglet, we find, is of life-sized rubber, but the frog is unpleasantly real and we shall never know what happened to the foot that had worn the slipper.

The children, ever hopeful, want to try it again tonight, but I am dubious. The rioting intinct that violated our town in the summer has evidently spread to fairyland and I'm barring my doors.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Social Intercourse

'Do you like wanking?' my mother asks the bishop. I am startled. I have much to learn about ecclesiastical etiquette, but this does not seem a proper way to address a visiting prelate.

The bishop, however, is unperturbed. He tells my mother that he likes wanking very much and they embrace jovially by the chapel door.

I am relieved when I discover that he was reared in war-time Bristol. 'Wank', my mother has often explained to me, was a blameless word for a walk in the West Country dialect of her childhood. She only learned that this was a localised definition on her first day as a London career girl, when she told her new colleagues of the lengthy one that she'd enjoyed before work that morning.

My mother and the bishop are thrilled to share a lost verbal heritage and wank side by side all the way across the churchyard. And I follow at a safe distance and reflect on the unpredictable social adhesives that can bind strangers.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Versatile Blogging

Oldermum has kindly awarded me a green square labelled The Versatile Blogger. Presumably that's because I've demonstrated versatility by managing to display, in the course of two Saturdays, photos ranging from an elderly gentleman standing in a doorway in a funny hat to a scarecrow standing in a garden in a funny hat.

In order propertly to merit this award, I must:

1: Thank the person who tagged me.
2: Share seven facts about myself.
3: Pass the award on to 15 deserving bloggers.

I must also master the technology to import said green square onto this website. My versatility may well not extend to this, so you might have to imagine it - it's green with flecks on and has four straight sides.

So -

1: Thanks again Oldermum.

2: The Secret Seven:

I have kept a journal every day for 28 years. Narcissism presumably drives me, plus an idea that, if I were one day to re-read them all chronologically, some kind of order might emerge out of life's randomness. Translating daily monotonies into blue ink gives them a sense of purpose.

I have never become sophisticated enough for wine-drinking. Lager by the half pint is as far as I've got.

My ingredients for bliss are a spade, a barrowful of compost and a needy herbaceous border to shovel it onto. And a lager and scone for after.

Five years after buying the thing, I haven't memorised my mobile phone number.

I have an inexplicable aversion to peas, hairdressing salons, remote control handsets and visitors' centres.

Every time I cook rice I burn the saucepan. In fact, every time I cook anything I burn the saucepan.

I can still do an elegant headstand. This is a useful ice breaker when small talk runs out in parish gatherings.

3: I am too new to blogging to have identified 15 blogs I could pass the award on to. Those I admire (see below) most will certainly have tasted the green square long ago.

So instead of presenting a gong, I shall simply thank Katetakes5, Himupnorth and Sahdandproud for their patient advice and encouragement as I've blundered blindly into cyberspace (but if any of the three of you have not had your versatility officially recognised, please help yourself to the badge, if you can work out how to!).

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Saturday is Caption Day....

....at Mammasaurus' blog.

A spot of after-school hob-nobbing helps children's social training, for you never know who you might bump into.





 All caption suggestions gratefully received. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Where I Do It

Sahdandproud has displayed his biscuit-eating head-quarters (where he also does a bit of writing) on his blog and is now keen to know where I do it.

The truth is, up in the guest room, as far as possible from the biscuit tin, so that I burn off maximum calories in the regular commute to and from it. I'm glad of the interruption, for this is where I battle writer's block and where my kittens battle my mouse.




To the right is the sheaf of deadlines that I'm supposed to be meeting this morning and on the screen is Mr SandP's website and Twitter tag over which I'm idling instead. The calendar and the trees remind me which season we're really in, for the guest room is so frigid I'm in thermals all year round.

I would like to nose into the secrets of Katetakes5, Himupnorth and Mills&Boonwannabe. With thanks to Bibsey for the original brainwave.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Issues with Tissues

There is something magical about washing machines. You stow in Y-fronts and a knot of school uniforms and you draw forth conkers and fancy rubbers. I found a gentleman's watch last week, the same day, by coincidence, that my seven-year-old lost his. My boss found a mobile phone that had whizzed round with her woollens. Sometimes my whites emerge rainbowed with liquefied wine gums. On lucky days there'll be a clutch of coppers stiffening a gusset; on really lucky days it's a quid.

But  -  I have an issue with tissues. Like that malicious, lurking tea spoon when you've just drained the sink, there is always a tissue in the trousers. My floors are snow-flaked from my progress to the top-floor drying rack, and a confetti of white shreds floats down on the stairs when I hang up the smalls.

I am resigned to the inevitable, but I shall tweak the inevitable to my advantage. I have ditched the own-brand tissue boxes and the pretty pastel shades. I stalk Personal Hygiene in Waitrose pondering the water resistance of Kleenex and Papura. I've trialled Ultra Balm on Delicates and spun Balsam Fresh on the hot cycle. I've even discovered Tissue World Magazine and probed its online archives for chemical pointers.

Then comes a revelation. The shreds have lately turned blue and drape the family knitwear in detatchable ribbons instead of explosions of white lint. My young son, also lately, has taken to stashing wadges of blue paper hand towels from ladies' lavatories. The events, I deduce, are connected and the way ahead is clear. Out go the fancy boxes of 3-ply and in come industrial quantities of Airtex Absorbant Hygiene Rolls.

They don't look stylish on a dinner date, but ladies, they wash beautifully!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Middle-aged Spread

I have bought myself a new top from Zara. This is partly because it was £3.99 and partly because I can fit my thermal vest under it without the edges showing. I think it's rather an elegant new top and, although it is cream and therefore not compatible with rotted manure, I wear it while teaching the school gardening club to mulch beans.

'Do you have a baby in your tummy?' asks seven-year-old Sonja, thrilled.
I laugh shrilly and make a joke about doughnuts.
Later, I tell one of the new school fathers about the remark and pause pleadingly for reassurance.
'So, are you pregnant?' he asks, peering.

I go home and survey myself in the guest room mirror. There is a definite billow where my belt buckle is protruding beneath my new top. Only I'm not wearing a belt; the bulge is a spare handful of me.

I suck in my breath and tell my daughter about Sonja and the new school gate father. She studies my midriff appraisingly. 'It's obvious you're not pregnant,' she concludes. 'You're too old.'

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Saturday is Caption Day

It's Picture Caption Day over at Mammasaurus and a chance to air the family album. If you are tiring of fireworks, put your mind to a suitable witticism for when I next go to visit my father. All suggestions considered!


Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Facts of Life: Part II

My daughter is staging a show in the sitting room. Usually she swirls one of my winceyette nighties to the Hits of the Monkees. Today, though, she is wearing a black mini skirt (bought by her grandmother), a black crop top (bought by her grandmother), strappy black high heels (ditto) and a black leather, metal- studded waist clincher (ditto ditto).

'I am a hard girl,' she sings, 'and I need a man who likes it rough.' On the sitting room stereo, Lady Gaga decides that she can't sleep with a man who dims her shine. My nine-year old sings gustily along with her.

I am in a dilemma. She hasn't a clue what she's singing about. If I snap it off she'll suspect adult mystery. She'll interrogate me for enlightenment or, worse, interrogate her street-savvy class-mates. And so I sit tight and watch her gyrate and I reflect on the snares of motherhood.

She'd spent her savings on the CD with my reluctant sanction. 'Explicit lyrics' warned the label of the Jesse J album she'd coveted and so I'd deflected her to this one. I am an unqualified arbiter for a modern pre-teen. The complete works of Doris Day devoured my own youthful pocket money and it's never crossed my mind that I should Google each song title before braving HMV.

Later I hide Lady Gaga under the laundry basket and put my edgiest Doris Day on for tea time. 'Tenderly,' Doris sings, 'and breathlessly, make love to me, my darling. Possess me!' My daughter's stops chewing. 'Why,' she asks, 'would loving someone make you breathless?'

I tell her to eat up her boiled eggs and I stalk to the stereo and rip out Doris and put on 100 Best Hymns.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

T is for Tussling

I've just happened upon the weekly photo gallery at Sticky Fingers where the letter T is the current theme.

I thought of Tea bags because they cushion me through life's worst miseries, but  they do not photograph excitingly. Then I decided that I like Tussling more. The excuse for infantile behaviour in public is one of the glories of child-rearing and, when it is combined with my other great love, autumn leaves, Tussles are a matchless Tonic.



Monday, 31 October 2011

Mass-Murder

It is the Sunday morning service and we are gutsily singing 'For all the saints who from their labours rest', while above our heads is a painful sizzling sound, like ripping Sellotape, as a myriad cluster flies are zapped by an ultra-violet exterminator.

As, in the musical climax, the saintly deceased reach the 'calm of paradise', our voices are drowned by a long and mighty fizzing. Something large and airborne is having trouble shaking off the mortal coil. Even the Vicar, in his gold-trimmed chasuble, looks uncomfortable. My peaceable husband has a warrior outlook when it comes to the lower links of the food chain. On summer evenings he leaps gymnastically about the bedroom, swatting midges with the Church Times until the walls dribble blood.

This morning's violence is inevitable. Cluster flies have colonised the church in readiness for winter. Their whine gives an Amazonian flavour to the chancel, and they are dropping dead into the Jammy Dodgers. There is something Not Right, though, about mass murder during Mass.

But mass murder is worryingly infectious. Later I'm vacuuming the stairs and spy a tiny spider crouched on the skirting. Usually I liberate spiders through the window, but this one is too small to grasp and after a squeamish hesitation I aim the nozzle and suck it into oblivion. And suddenly a mad thrill of power seizes me and I patrol the house with the Miele, eliminating unwanted lodgers.

My house is now cleaner than it's been in a long while, but my conscience is not and it occurs to me that church may purify the soul, but it doesn't do much for my character.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Listography - five top toys of all time

Katetakes5, fretting efficiently over her Christmas lists, is anxious to identify the top five toys of all time. Parent bloggers are invited to spare each other a fortune by listing their soundest investments in infant pleasure. This troubles me. My six-year-old rejoices in jay cloths, Post-it notes, cotton wool pads and twine. They form flaccid sculptures under his bed and have cost me half a dozen Hoover belts. My nine-year-old's wish-list would enrapture the auditors at Claire's Accessories. I'm the only one who plays Sylvanian Families in our house. But below are five ingredients that have, over years, made child-rearing that much easier.

Hoops  The sort you see in Victorian etchings being bowled along with sticks. Modern descendents are rainbow-hued and pleasurably pliant with built-in rattle sounds and twinkly spangles. Ours have functioned as fairy rings, skipping aids, lassoos, bridles and ground-hugging boomerangs. They are the highlight of home-made assault courses and, when whirled round the midriff, handy for dislodging Mummy's fleshy extras.

Hobby horse  Yes, the Victorians were in to these too, but a century and a half hasn't dulled the appeal (only added a neigh when you tweak the right ear). A pink unicorn and his chestnut companion have been stabled beneath the kitchen table for the last five years. They have galloped their owners to school and doubled as Harry Potter broomsticks. Now they are easing my daughter through the first longing pangs of pony madness and, at £4.99 when I last endured Toys R Us, they are usefully cheaper than the real thing.

Orchard Games  Any and all of these inventive board games, but 'Tummy Ache' wins in the vicarage. 'Looks like Mummy's cooking!' cries my little one gleefully when he draws from the card pile a maggoty stew. It was mastered aged three and remains a reliable after-school time-slayer. It's portable, suspenseful and, most valuable of all, it makes a helping of broccoli desirable.

Build It Construction Set  My husband gets a man in to hang a towel ring, but he and the six-year-old have conjured ducks and trucks and robots and dinosaurs from these chunky plastic bolts and screws. It's two dozen toys in one when you wield the outsized spanner, and, three years after its arrival from The Early Learning Centre, it still keeps both boys peaceably out of my way.

Slide  I'm not sure if this is allowed because it's big and expensive and does not enhance a herbaceous border. Our basic blue chute rewarded my daughter for her first successful potty trial. Seven years on it's still in weekly use. It's also a social ice breaker: test a guest with a challenge to sample it. If they rise to the occasion you've found a worthwhile new friend.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Downton Effect

My married, forty-something friend Emily says that she has had to buy condoms and there was a problem. I'm not sure that I want to hear of this problem over toad-in the-hole, but she continues.  The condoms, she explains, came in packs of five  or packs of twelve. Emily is a thrifty girl. She always buys eggs and loo rolls by the dozen, but this twelve-pack confounded her. The problem was the use-by date: 2013. 'Am I realistically going to get through twelve condoms in two years?' she mused to herself in the middle of Family Planning. Reason prevailed and she saved £3.30 on the five.

I am interested in this because I've read in the papers that couples in their forties have more vigorous relationships than those twenty years younger. Then I notice that our companion, Serena, is silent. Serena is also forty-something and she is also married. I ask her roguishly whether she'd have bought a dirty dozen. She says that her money would be more usefully spent on a set of replacement Hoover bags.

Now I am intrigued. I decide to quiz a couple more middle-aged friends, and, under the pretext of mentioning the church roof appeal, slip in a question about their conjugal routines. One replies that her husband finds his fulfilment in Delia Smith. Another has a husband with needs that are not culinary and that tend to interfere with Saturday Live. And so they've reached a polite compromise. 'Go on, then!' she sighs patiently, 'if you'll make me a cuppa after.'

A third friend mentions Downton Abbey. When the credits roll and the National Grid surges with the boiling of nine million kettles, she and her husband generate their own electricity on flattened sofa cushions. 'After every episode?' I ask incredulously.

Downton Abbey keeps me up twenty minutes after my usual bedtime. When it's over I barely have energy to squeeze the toothpaste. Then I am enlightened. That ravenous couple began their breeding early. They now have teenagers who hibernate for most of the weekend in their bedrooms, while the rest of us are wiping toddler tantrums off the living room walls. I realise that this is, in a way, good news and I resolve to tell Emily that in 2013, when her eight-pack has expired and her kids are grown, she'll be splurging on bumper boxes again.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cat-astrophe!

Suddenly we have acquired kittens. Two pretty brothers hailed us from a cage in the rescue centre and begged us loudly for a home. But first we had to prove ourselves to the scary lady who wielded a fat folder. She paced through our house, examining our plumbing and our characters, seeking nerve-wrackingly for a cause or just impediment why we and these two felines should not be joined together.

So grateful were we to be found worthy that we agreed at once to expand our family. Now the house smells, the curtains are shredded and there is an unexpected IMP@ct oN my W*rking LiFE. The kittens Per@MBULATE A%cr*SS mY KEYBoard and take naps on CAPS LOCK so my editors at THe GUardiAn will think I'm SHOUTING. They take my computer mouse literally, claw a passage up my back and nest flatulently in my best hat. My guilty, secret Boden fund has been swallowed up by jellied rabbit pouches and I'm buying nappy bags again. But this is why it's all worth it:

Friday, 21 October 2011

Go-Cat

'Cats,' says the woman blocking my trolley in Oils and Condiments, 'help children develop in a different way.'

I'm not certain what she means by this. Whether feline companionship makes children caring and responsible, condemns them to a life on anti-histamines or fosters a violent enthusiasm for small rodents.

My daughter is desperate for a cat. For two years she's been decided on the name - Frisbee - but has lacked an animal to bestow it on. Now everyone is telling me that pets are as vital to a child's emotional growth as sleepovers and probiotics and I know that they are right, but I don't want to face up to it.

The sad truth is that middle age has made me cowardly. Long ago I planned to be a spinster with 17 cats. My two moggies shared my pillow and my dining table. But age, kids and matrimony got in the way. Now I worry about paw prints on my White Company bath mats, jellified lamb chunks putrefying in the kitchen, pigeon entrails draping the stairs. I worry that now I can get away with cleaning the house every five weeks; post-cat I can't. 'Cat hair isn't a problem so long as you don't wear black,' says Woman by Condiments. But my husband is a vicar. He wears nothing but black. And paying a funeral visit with a thickly moustachioed behind will impair his gravitas.

The realisation of my reluctance is as shocking as the discovery last year that I can no longer do forward rolls. When the Cat Subject is next raised I tell my daughter: 'We'll see'. I'm hoping that I can justify a year or two of 'seeing', by which time she'll have switched her ambitions to an iPad 3.

She knows that and says that instead of a cat I could have new baby. She's heard that older people like me can get one off the internet.

That night I dream that I've adopted infant twins. I wake up sweating. I promise my daughter that tomorrow we're going to get a cat.

Now head over to Actually Mummy's new Sunday Funny to see more of the comic side of parenting 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Facts of Life

I am walking my daughter and a visiting six-year-old through the park. On a bench is a couple embedded in each other's larynxes.
'They're having sex!' says the six-year-old conversationally.
My nine-year old notices me freeze. 'Don't worry, she consoles me. ''Sex' means kissing.'
I am unthinkingly relieved. Then a horrible thought dawns. If sex means kissing, does kissing mean sex? What might she tell her school mates about daddy's goodnight peck? I realise that the Moment has Come and, as usual, I am not ready for it.
I tramp onwards in weighty silence while I muster my shreds of courage. And then, with agonised effort, I tell her. 'Sex,' I gabble, 'is kissing ... without clothes on.' But I am whistling in the wind. The girls are shrieking with glee over fallen conkers. The moment has passed and I don't have the bottle to resurrect it.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Importance of Being a Luddite

My daughter wants an iphone. I am Against it. I tell her lamely that it's too expensive. She says she'll pay for it with her £1 a week pocket money. I tell her she's only nine years old and I was 35 when I got my first mobile. She says she's the Only One in her class without one and that even the French teacher illustrated conjugation with the assumption that 'We all love our iphones'.

I pause. I'm not why sure why I am so viscerally dismayed by the notion. Probably it's to do with my instinct that anything that wasn't around in the 1970s is unnecessary to child development. Which is why my children can feast unfettered on Iced Gems, but I have vigorous prejudices against Haribous.

We put on a DVD of The Railway Children (1970) and my intolerance suddenly crystalises. 'See that!' I say jabbing zestfully at Roberta's tumbling hair. My daughter stares at me, anxious. I tell her about the sacred rituals of Coming of Age: how maturity in more ordered eras was marked by the putting up of girls' hair and letting down of their hems. 'Now,' I conclude, 'the only milestone in adolescence is a diptheria booster.'

I can see enlightenment dawning. 'The day you start secondary school you can walk there on your own for the first time with your first, brand new mobile in your pocket and you'll be 11 years old and feel 10 ft tall.'

My daughter nods. 'I think I like that idea.' There's a pause. 'So can I save up for a Blackberry?'

Monday, 17 October 2011

Keeping Abreast

Eileen mentions that there is a bag of breasts in the vestry. All sorts of oddments have found their way to that dank back chamber since the church was reordered, but I hadn't noticed mammaries among them.

Eileen explains that she's been knitting them in the evenings. Eileen is very good with wool. She can knit crinolined mice and fancy tea cosies, but she's not the sort of person you would expect to knit breasts. I do not want her to think that I am not a Woman of the World, so I ask very casually what the breasts are for and she explains that the ladies of the Mothers Union have been asked to knit them for the maternity wing in the local hospital. The nurses are no longer allowed to touch their patients when showing them how to suckle their newborns and so Eileen's breasts will be used for demonstration.

I am briefly silenced as I conjure visions of midwives modelling globes of pink purl stitch and suddenly I am worried. Eileen is a gentle, proper white haired lady who never misses Mass and feels it is her Christian duty to Rise to the Occasion. I am therefore anxious about what I will find in the vestry when students of urology and gynaecology are banned from touching human flesh.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Truth about Mothers

My daughter thinks that I do not stand trendily at the school gate. 'This is how you've got to do it,' she says, buckling my right knee with one hand and swivelling my toes together so that my left hip slews out and jabs Dillon's mother. Then she rotates my arm into a teapot spout, unfurls my index finger and instructs me to dangle my car key from the end of it like Summer's mum does.

We both turn to look at Summer's mum. She stands there in a floral maxi dress, flesh bronzed at the Tantastic tanning salon, a Peugeot key swinging from her fibreglass nail extension. Then we look back at me. It doesn't help that I don't have a car key. If I did, I point out, it would be a Skoda key. It also doesn't help that I'm wearing my customary school uniform of corduroy stuffed into wellies. 'You look like an old countrywoman,' my daughter says. I find I mind this. Not the countrywoman bit. I nurture the usual urbanite fantasy of marshalling regiments of marrows in a cottage garden. I mind the 'old' because it's very nearly true. My husband's shaving mirror told me brutally so this morning.

So when I return for school pick up I've put on a denim skirt my mother bought me when she wanted me to get out more, my Moment of Madness from Barratts ten years ago (glistening black knee boots with a two-inch heel) and I've brought the Skoda. I gingerly arrange my left hip in one direction and my right arm in another and hang the car key from my forefinger. I'm buffeted, in this precarious position, by the backwind of fleeing school children.

Then my daughter appears, dishevelled in her school track suit with a smear of school dinner on her forehead. 'Mum!' she hisses, 'You're so embarrassing!' Through her wilderness of hair I see Summer's mum craning swan-like over her daughter from her Louboutin-style wedges and I see Summer ducking crossly away and I realise that shortening my skirts and lengthening my nails and cocking my contours like Lily Cole will serve no purpose. Mothers are, just by dint of Being, an embarrassment.