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


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.