Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Leap of Faith

Breasts dangle from the door lintel. Hair explodes from the walls. I can buy a hatchet to embed in my head and a polyfoam carrot disguise.

The assistant is harrassed. A small cross boy needs to be a Gruffalo. A small cross girl insists on the BFG. And, cramming the fancy dress shop, is a multitude of stressed parents, all cursing World Book Day.

I take fright at the frenzy and I hasten home. I can't craft and I can't sew but, armed with three J cloths and a paper doily, I shall magic my doubting daughter to Alice's Wonderland.

This is an entry for the 100 Word Challenge on the theme of 'A Leap of Faith' at Julia's Place

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A DIY Guide to the Middle-Classes

I wonder sometimes what I am. I have lived the last decade on an inner city council estate, amid Oxford academia, in a remote country town and in London suburbia. In the first we were, with our relentless consonants and sagging bookshelves, regarded as aristocrats. In the second, as the 'squeezed middle'. In the third, as city sophisticates and now, sometimes, isolated in my tweed amid the Ralph Lauren and the hoodies, I feel myself a bumpkin.

Class should no longer matter. Nowadays, for most of us, it's more a question of perception than birth. But the perception matters. My daughter battles to adjust speech, habits and dress to blend in with each new environment; the political parties compete to woo the amorphous throng they deem Middle England and Melvyn Bragg has started a television series on class and culture.

The British, he decides, no longer define themselves by class, but by the music they listen to, the books they read. I listen to Dolly Parton and Beethoven. The Vicar reads The Confessions of St Augustine and Martina Cole. I am none the wiser. And so I consult Twitter. I ask those who regard themselves as middle class to describe their symptoms and I am surprised by the response.

Confessions pour in. One Twitterer began by thinking of herself as working class then, acknowledging her Boden clothes, National Trust car sticker, jute shooping bag and the organic kale from her vegetable box, her conviction began to waver. Another says he knew that he had attained the middle class when his wife sent an emergency text when she ran out of creme fraiche.

The consensus seems pretty clear. We are what we eat. 'If I regard myself as working class, then I am working class surely,' says my Boden-clad tweep. It's a difficult call and so after, profound scientific sleuthing, I have collated the definitive guide to identifying your inner bourgeois. If you score more than six you have, like it or not, acquired a middle-class soul.

1: You can name more than six different cheeses.

2: You have, at least once, bought perfumed hand soap/a tin of shortbread/William Morris table napkins from a National Trust shop

3: You pay a weekly fortune for mysterious muddy knobbles in an organic vegetable box

4: You pride yourself on your liberal attitudes to everything and everyone bar quilted loo roll and call centre staff.

5: You have mentally planned your eight musical selections for Desert Island Disc.

6: You know what a pissaladiere is. 

7: You own, unread, the last three Booker Prize-winning novels and, also unread, a copy of Simon Jenkins' Thousand Best Houses and a guide to British birds.

8: Your big toe can tell the difference between Egyptian and Italian cotton bedsheets.

9: You've harrassed Boden to start an underwear range so that you are properly coordinated.

10: You spend your newly constrained finances on a fortnight huddled in a rain-rinsed Norfolk windshelter rather than admit to a half-price deal in Lanzarote.

11: You send a #middleclass tweet when you run out of pine nuts or spot a misattributed Dvorak concerto on Classic FM.  

12: You call customer services when your Landmark Trust weekend cottage lacks a coffee grinder.

13: Your children think Dairylea is a family petting farm

14: Your thrice weekly work-out is in a 'health club', never a 'gym'. 

15: You sign up to a wine club. I am not middle class enough to know what this is, but assume it's like that other boozy middle-class status symbol, a book club, only without the bother of obligatory literary opinions.

16: You know how to spell houmous (or is it hummus,hommus,humos, hommos...?)

17: You lay out a picnic rug and a Cath Kidston thermos in well-known beauty spots in frost, snow, monsoon and hurricane.

18: You have created, or dream of creating, a yawning basement kitchen with Fired Earth tiles and a family sofa.

19: Fast food means microwaved Cocquilles St Jacques from the 'chef-created' Menu From Waitrose range. [You never utter the word ready meal except in post-ironic/boho context.]

20: You hang your school and university alumnae photographs with proud humility in the downstairs loo.

For the record I scored 8.5. Please be publicly brave about your own tally below and let me know if you can contribute any more identifying traits.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Saturday is Caption Day....

at Mammasaurus. This photo is by popular request after the Startling Fact about my father that I divulged yesterday. The least you can do, then, is be witty about it!

PS The lager in the foreground is mine. My Dad would never be so unladylike!

Friday, 24 February 2012


Once upon a time an amiable, rum-drinking blogger called Kateonthinice was commanded to answer eleven personal questions, publicly, in the middle of the blogosphere. This she did with deftness and dignity. At the very same time time, a long way off, Melksham Mum was grappling a more fiendish task. She was required to disclose twelve 'fun' facts about herself, then answer twelve set questions, while remaining all the while witty and entertaining. This she too did with deftness and dignity. But there is a sting in the tail. Both were then obliged to devise questions of their own and swivel the spotlight onto a dozen blameless bloggers. And both have pounced on me. I am honoured and I am excited, but I am also alarmed for journalists are not accustomed to providing answers and readers are probably not very interested in wading through them.

Eleven fun facts about Me

1. I love violent rain. When the heavens open I dash out and prance round the garden until I am exhilaratingly soaked.

2. I once leapt up from a punt as it approached a footbridge, hauled myself up and over the rails and dropped back into the punt as it passed out the other side. Only I landed on the head of a young stranger and I was wearing a floaty summer dress at the time and he was friendless and grateful and for the next two days, actually, that memory is not very fun.

3. Er...

4. I can't think of any more fun facts about me. Everything I know about myself I've revealed before here.

Now for Kate's questions:

1. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about mums' lives today, what would it be and why?

Tricky one. We are all miracles of creation, but I feel God slipped up on two things: teeth and patience. As one toils through the fifth decade, one gets a bit short on both so I should wish for unlimited reserves the latter (with a few of the former thrown in).

2. How many hours or minutes of housework do you do per day?

I do spend several minutes a day thinking about it. Does that count? And since I've discovered hygiene wipes I swab the loo when I've cleaned my teeth.

3. If you could change careers, what would you change to?


4. What is your favourite cocktail?

Don't rate cocktails. Is gin and tonic one? That's fine when there's no beer about, but why would anyone be anywhere without beer?

5. What is your claim to fame?

Never made any claim to fame. I modelled for a Cadburys Chocolate Buttons ad when I was three and The Telegraph once ran a big picture of me when I mastered the rudiments of cat language from a 200-page primer.

6. What is the quirkiest object in your home?

My father, when he comes to stay. He owns a Vicky Pollard costume.

7. Charity Shop Or Designer Boutique?

Charity shop. 'Labels' annoy me. My winter coat was £8 from Help the Aged, bought in anticipation of funerals, and I picked up The Hits of George Formby cheap while I was at it.

8. How many hours of the day are you away from your own house?

Never. Just about never. Apart from trudging to and from school four times a day and manning the church tea urn on Fridays. My commute to work is up the stairs, over recumbent cats and toys-in-transit, to the vicarage guest room, except on Tuesdays when I drink lattes in a glass office.

9. What is your guilty pleasure?

Blogging and Tweeting. Officially I am Against technology. I haven't even learnt the number of the brick-like mobile phone my mother made me buy eight years ago. But blogging and tweeting have both unexpectedly ensnared me and are ruining my reputation so, like an addict, I tend to do both on the sly up in said guest room, while pretending urgent household chores to my family

10. Retro or Modern?

See answer to Question 9. What do you reckon?

11. What is the one challenge you are most proud of overcoming?
Vanquishing, with my pickaxe, an obdurate swathe of clay where my new pond was to be.

Next up, for any stragglers still with me, the inquisition from Melksham Mum. 

1. Who is your celebrity crush?

Always liked the look of Jeremy Northam and I'd swallow my own cooking for Doris Day, but crushes, no. I fantasise more about John Innes.

2. What is your tipple of choice?


3. Who was the first musical act you saw live?

Michael Jackson in Romania. For a newspaper article. Not that I actually saw him. He was an occasional pinprick figure on a virulent horizon. Mostly it was people gyrating in cut-off bin liners.

4. What was the first car you owned?

A Skoda Felicia. When I was 32. It was a felicitous choice. Even when I once left the keys hanging in the driver's door overnight noone tried to make off with it.

5. Where were you born and do you still live anywhere near there?

I was born (and lived out my first year) in Richmond, Surrey and now, after a brief tour of the Home Counties, live at the other end of the capital. Near enough in miles but, when you're wedged in a snarl of Eddie Stobarts on the M25, very very far.

6. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?


7. Can you speak any foreign languages fluently?

I'm supposed to speak German fluently and French with competence but, like the teeth, bits keep dropping off with age.

8. What fictional book would you recommend I read?

Tom's Midnight Garden.

9. What is your best skill?

Like many expensively-educated people I find myself ill-quipped for most things in life. But I've carved a living from writing...

10. Facial hair (on a man!) - Yes or No?

No. But my husband is pretty tolerant of the stray bristles that are upsettingly sprouting on me.

11. Marmite - love or hate?


12. Brandon Flowers - Hot or Not?

Never heard of him.

Nearly done now. Just have to pass on the challenge to eleven bloggers to please Kate and twelve for Melksham Mum. I don't know that many bloggers. So I'll just try to tempt a few favourites who have probably suffered the imposition already.

Here come the Girls
The Voice of Sarah Miles 
Random Pearls of Wisdom
Reluctant Housedad

These are the 11 questions I should like them to answer:

If you could have an audience with any British monarch which would it be?
What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?
If you appeared on Desert Island Disc what would your luxury be?
What kind of museum or gallery exhibition would you cross a city to see?
What would you choose as your last meal?
If you became leader of a political party what would your slogan be?
What piece of music makes your pulse race?
What human quality to do value most highly?
What is your greatest regret?
Can you do a forward roll (if yes, photographic evidence is required)
What would you like your epitaph to be?
What ingredients do you rate in a blog?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Flip Side of Virtue

The Vicar tells the congregation that Lenten sacrifices make us nicer. The surrender of favourite indulgences grants us time and energy to expand and explore our life and nature. 

I am persuaded and I am inspired. I resolve to give up lager and Bendicks Bittermints and watch my Being blossom.

That night the Vicar is out of humour. He is silent over dinner and scowls at the water glass where the red wine should be. I point out that Lenten sacrifices make us nicer. He stares. ‘You said so,’ I remind him. He sags. ‘I was,’ he mutters, ‘talking bollocks!’

This is an entry for a 100-Word Challenge on the subject of 'Flip Side'. See more offerings at Julia's Place

NB This incident is, of course, almost entirely fictional!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Bad Hair Day

'So, are you doing anything exciting this evening?'
'Doing anything exciting this weekend?'
'Have you got anything exciting planned for the holidays?'

I hate hairdressing salons. I hate the perky questions distorted by the water sluicing my ears. I hate the magazines that are lobbed into my lap with 101 cures for cellulite and the tales of mother-in-laws' kinky relations with household appliances. I hate the black overalls that advertise the white dust blizzarding from my scalp. And I hate being confronted with my own decomposing reflection in a spotlit mirror.

Give me a dental surgery over a pamper parlour any day. Dentists don't expect you to make small talk while they're drilling a molar. There are no mirrors in dentists' lairs. And my dentist has earned my grateful allegiance: he told me that I have very high-quality saliva.

Twice a year, though, I slide shaggily into a faux leather chair in our local hair emporium. Twice a year I am asked what I want and reply that I don't know. Twice a year there is a silence as we contemplate my drooping yellow tresses. And twice a year I envisage, briefly, a glorious resurrection before the wall photos of frightening-looking women with virulent explosions of hair unnerve me and I ask defeatedly for a trim.

For the last half decade I've been anticipating my Second Flowering. I'm not sure what form it will take, but I imagine myself rising phoenix-like from my corduroy fetters and mesmerising the check-out queues at Asda. Hairdressing salons, however, make me realise how remote this miracle remains. They remind me that my evening plans invariably involve my tartan sofa rug; that my weekends are spent wrestling slime from the kitchen drain and paddling through manure puddles while my daughter learns to ride, and that the holidays are when I catch up with my mother.

Today, the stylist brings out a razor and begins shaving my neck. This is a symptom of maturity that I had not predicted. While the hairs of my head are clogging my bathroom plugholes, my neck is growing its own winter pelt.
I can see small talk bubbling up in him as he readies his blades. Briefly, wildly an impulse seizes me. Clubbing, tonight, I shall tell him, in my silver cobweb sheath dress. A weekend balloon trip with a posse of male models and the Easter break in a shark tank in Dubai.

'So, doing anything exciting this evening?' he mumbles through a mouthful of hair clamps.
I glance down at a magazine strapline about what someone's ex did with the family gerbil. I lack the energy and inclination to compete with real life. My Second Flowering will have to be indefinitely postponed.

'No,' I reply. And we lapse back into our usual silence.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Saturday is Caption Day....

over at Mammasaurus. Please help celebrate the beauty of youthful romance in the box below. Fortnum & Mason wedding list available on request.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Various Uses of Rubber

I have ordered a new pair of wellies from Amazon for the daily walk to school. My current hardly-at-all-old pair has developed a fissure along one toe. I only noticed this when I was wading along the stream that flows brownly past bobbing Argos bags en route to the afternoon pick up, and I was not pleased. They are a glamorous pair with pink spots and white swirls, bought to ease my daughter's pain in ackowledging a wellie-wearing, stream-paddling mother in public.

I now distrust wellies with spots and swirls, so order a safe-looking green pair. Better to be waterproof than glamorous. Royal Mail gets them as far as my door, thrusts through a 'Sorry you were out' card, and promptly loses them. Amazon is sympathetic and dispatches a replacement pair. This also makes it to my door and again a card is left. This time I decide to pick them up in person from the Royal Mail depot.

The man behind the glass screen makes off with my delivery card and probably has a cup of tea and a nice sit down because it is a long time before he returns. He looks cheerful. 'We've lost them,' he says. I suggest that they might be keeping company with my first vanished pair. The man gazes at me amused. 'What would you be wanting them for anyway?' he giggles. Evidently he suspects kama sutra with a sack of John Innes.

He shuffles off for another look - or another reviving beverage. I realise that a queue has built up behind me and am embarrassed, but to my surprise they beam contentedly back at me. 'It's not wellie good, is it?' says an elderly man. 'I think they ought to give it some wellie!' pipes up another. This one could clearly run and run which is just as well because the Royal Mail official is evidently now enjoying full afternoon tea. Eventually he returns, still chortling, and tells me that the parcel is thoroughly missing, but that I can write out a form and I might get some stamps instead.

I go home and tell Amazon that a certain London postman seems to have a rubber fetish. Amazon, apparently accustomed to this, sends an unquestioning refund and advises me to buy my wellies from a shop. And so I do and now all is well, except that my once jovial encounters with my postie now make me blush.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Happiness, I once thought, as I peered from my spinster flat at my neighbour's washing line, must be hanging a man's Y-fronts alongside your undies. The visible confirmation of romance.

Now my washing line sags with undies large and small. Family intimacy exhibited in the vicarage garden, and it still gives me satisfaction to behold the array. But happiness? I distrust happiness. It is a fleeting, unsustainable thing that eludes those who clutch at it too closely. I am content with contentment. A sense of fulfilling and fulfilment. The comfortable consciousness of worth and good fortune.

An absorbing book and my sofa rug is a nightly contentment. A newly-scrubbed sitting room a rarer one. An adequate income, good health and banana bread. The knowledge that my children are sleeping under nearly-clean duvets upstairs while the Vicar cooks me Thai green curry. That is contentment.

The trouble with contentment is that it can drift into smugness and then into apathy. Occasional wild swoops of happiness are required to keep it in healthy repair. And it's happiness that Katetakes5 wants us to consider. Having fruitlessly tried to pin it down, she has sought definitions from her children and suggests that we all do the same. Before I consult my small oracles, however, I am inspired to ask myself the question. What causes me happiness?

My children is the answer that I know that I should start with. And when they stagger in soft pyjamas into our bed in the mornings, or jive with me to The Bee Gees round the supper table, they do. But equally, they cause me frustration, irritation and exhaustion. And, more often than all of these, contentment. My herbaceous border in late June. That is a taste of happiness. A hand-written letter. A swim in wild sea. A comment on my blog. What might make me happier? Regained sight for my father. A utility room. Resumed life one day in the town that came to feel like home.

I ask the parents at the school gate. 'My family,' says one. 'A pamper weekend,' says another. 'I don't do emotion,' replies a third, causing me to ponder. Is happiness an emotion? Or is it a condition towards which we are pre-programmed to strive ? I consult the Vicar. What makes him happy? 'Do you,' he asks, 'mean eudaimonia or beatitudo?'

And so I turn to my children. I have hopes of wisdom from my nine-year-old. Recently, when asked how they would deploy imperial powers, her brother replied that he would ban school and make chocolate free for all. My daughter decided that she would liberate the persecuted people of Syria.

'What,' I ask my son, 'makes you happy?' and I can see in the rear-view mirror processions of sugared fancies pirouetting through his mind. 'Sweets,' he instantly replies.

Then I repeat the question to my daughter and sit back in expectation of transformative childish insight. There is a pause as she grapples philosophical truths. And then she pronounces. 'Real Uggs,' she says. 'And Ralph Lauren shirts. And this may be asking a bit much because you are a bit old..' she eyes me hopefully: 'A baby sister, please.'

What is happiness? If you don't know, ask your children and share their wisdom here, or else take part in the blog hop to crack the mystery.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Feeble Sunshine

Sahdandproud, Random Pearls of Wisdom and The Voice of Sarah Miles have bestowed upon me the February Sunshine Award. I don't like sunshine in February; I like snow, and I have to say that as memes go this one is pretty daft. But it's impolite to ignore a kindly tag, especially from a man like Sahdandproud who can craft Margaret Beckett out of a potato. Before I can claim the honour, I have to answer the following probing questions. Hopefully the revelations therein will bring sunshine into your chill, dank February.

Favourite colour: Depends, doesn't it. In a herbaceous border, blue, obviously. In my wardrobe, green. Or sludge.

Favourite animal: Cat. Or it was until my tabby weed on the guest room duvet. Seal then. My collection of fluffy toy seals won me my place at university.

Favourite non-alcoholic drink: Er, water.

Facebook or Twitter: Twitter. Gossip in 140 characters is a still-evolving art form.

Favourite number: 54. That's the age at which, by means as yet unidentified, I mean to become rich and leisured.

Favourite day of the week: Monday. It's the Vicar's day off and the day on which we make ourselves queasy with a pub ploughmans and the Daily Mail.

Getting or giving presents: You have to say giving, don't you, to boost your blog stats - but it's my birthday next week....

Favourite pattern - For Heaven's sake, who devised this meme? Bare branches sketched against a night sky.

Favourite flower: deadly monkshood. Because it's blue (see above).

Now I have to pass this ordeal onto a handful of others who irradiate the blogosphere. So, get soul-searching:

Can I go now?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mother Love

I fear sometimes that I do not love my children correctly. When they are asleep I am suffused with maternal longing. When they are at school the house is incomplete. But often, when they are clamorously with me, I endure rather than adore them.

Bickering over who gets to sail the seas in the laundry basket; amnesia over basic vowel sounds in school reading books; rejection of anything green or vegetal in my nourishing dinner-time gloops, and a mysterious inability to flush the lavatory, subdue my proper sentiments. Half an hour after their school coats are flung across the hall floor, I skulk in the spare room craving their absence.

This cannot be right. Other bloggers write paeans to their babies, love leaking from every line. When, in motorway jams, I ponder solemn tributes to my own pair, flying foodstuffs kill off my inner poetry. It worries me. I would bore through a volcano for my children. I would brave a burning house and ride a tsunami if it spared them pain.

But the daily grind does not allow for heroic ardour. Or does it? Yesterday, to please my twosome, I sat through 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked' in a deserted multiplex while 'The Artist' was screened tantalisingly in an adjoining auditorium. And it struck me that mother-love might not be spectacular. It might not even be smiling and sweet-natured. But it is heroically there each time we surrender glamour and excitement for the fulfilment of our young.

True mother love, I begin to realise, is:

Crouching behind the ironing board in the understairs cupboard during hide-and-seek.

Saturday afternoons wedged between Hello Kitty tote bags and leopard- print nail extensions in Claire's Accessories.

Keeping the eight times table stashed down a bra strap so you can be one step ahead of your 9-year-old.

Offering tireless nocturnal counselling when Emma Watson fails to reply to her fanmail.

Picking every tomato chunk off a pizza Margherita.

Painstakingly adjusting furnishings and lighting to eliminate all monster-shaped shadows from bedroom walls.

Shaving off your winter pelt for a frigid half hour of 'Fun Day' in the local swimming pool.

Surrendering a Malteser from your Christmas box.

Marching through motorway service stations bearing a beach bucket brimming with vomit to the loos.

Handpicking dolls house crockery from the matted filth in the Hoover bag

Anointing sinister itches in unwholesome places during the night hours.

Carrying sodden tissues/licked sweet wrappers/regurgitated hair bobbles in your coat pocket until you remember to notice a bin.

Playing houses inside a cardboard box from Amazon.

Being open all hours for a cuddle, even when it breaches the sanctity of your evening Beer Moment; even when 'Call the Midwife' is just starting; even when, cradling your sobbing small one, you can feel spreading damp across your new Boden cashmere.

Battling anguished imaginings when a school expedition returns late, when they climb skywards up a tall tree, when they erupt in purple rashes, that something will one day happen to them. Because the inevitable companion of mother-love is dread - of a world that would be unendurable without them. 

You parents are all heroes. You just might not fully realise it. But feel free to boast of your sacrifices here so we can all admire each other.

PS Unhappily the Chipmunks survived the shipwreck. So they'll be interminably back!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Small Talk

The question 'So what do you do?' is, The Guardian tells me, an offensive, boring and predictable way to launch conversation at gatherings. I can see the problem, but a ban on it removes vital social ballast. 'Can you still do handstands?' is an alternative that I've tried occasionally, but people tend to smile and edge away. Predictability is desirable among strangers.

Now my social life is impeded by a further taboo. A casual acquaintance is battling severe depression. 'How are you!' is a frivolous greeting as we wait twice daily at the school gate for we both know full well that she is drowning, but a solitary 'Hello' seems abrupt. 'Lovely day!' won't do either for it's dark as pitch in her world. But silence, when you're wedged close, is only acceptable between intimates and strangers. And so I've worked my way through her wardrobe, admiring stray garments to fill the gaps and I longed for the season to change so I could start on her winter wear.

The man who hails me on the way home is, however, oblivious to the perils of cliched social overtures. 'And how are you today?' he asks heartily, shoving a clipboard into my left eye ball. I recognise a 'chugger', primed to coax from me my signature and bank details for one of the richer national charities. I subscribe to several charities. I give money to hunched Big Issue Sellers and people who don't rattle their tins in my face, but I do not like to be accosted.

Chuggers, however, don't accept polite refusals. In my corduroy and collapsing hat I'm visibly a vicar's wife and they pursue me down the street imploring my bounty. This time, though, I am ready. 'I'm so glad that you care,' I answer piteously. 'I've battled projectile diarrhoea all morning and noone else will come near me.'

And I enjoy the unprecedented sight of a chugger reversing at speed. Fizzy with victory I devise canny repellants for the cold callers who interrupt my dinner to ask if I've drawn up a will and for the gas salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses who take root on the vicarage doorstep. But from now on, whomever I'm greeting, I shall steer clear of the hackneyed 'How are you?' It will serve me right if people answer me truthfully.

Could anyone give me more tips on how to repel bounty-seekers? There's only so much one can do with diarrhoea.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Disturbing Secrets

Oldersinglemum, having revealed her inner being on her blog, desires to know seven of my secrets in order to earn a 'Tell Me About Yourself; Your Blog is Great Award'. And MotherventingSahdandproud and Random Pearls of Wisdom have tagged me to do something called 7 x 7 which also requires seven secrets plus seven blog posts that I have particularly admired. I definitely do not have enough secrets to go round all of them. Most of my secrets are secret for good reason. I am, however, prepared to disclose the following, provided that they go no further than the worldwide web:

1: I once did a bodyguard training course which obliged me to carry my large male trainer over my dwarfish shoulder and to be carried down a riverbed over the shoulders of eight different men. They said if I hadn't been there they would have used a log.

2: I am writing alternating paragraphs of a spoof Mills & Boon bodice-ripper online with my brother and am in terror of penning the inevitable romantic, er, climax.

3: I am evangelical about gin picnics. Instructions: pour gin and tonic into child's school water bottle and purloin two plastic Winnie the Pooh beakers from the kiddie cupboard. Lay in olives or Pringles according to taste and budget. Invite a friend (optional). Haul to the nearest open land, the higher the altitude the better. Consume. Allow extra time and caution for the return journey.

4: I once, that one had best remain a secret.

5: I have perfected a strategy for removing a thermal vest on the top deck of a bus without many other passengers noticing.

6: I have never recovered from the thing that my late grandmother once told me about donkeys.

7: I hate fudge

And here are seven blog posts that I really wish I'd written myself:

The Joy of Bad Sex Guides by Maidinyorkshire
I Am Doing Nothing by Northernmum
Por-No by The Male Nanny
Bells by HimupNorth
Flames by Snooandme
How I Love a Good Valeting by Flossingthecat
Accidental Parenting: Naked Beans Night by Morethanjustamother

If any of them wish to take up the baton I'd be pruriently interested. If not, I don't in the least blame them.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Alter Ego

My friend Caroline rings me. She's very excited. 'I saw your alter ego on telly!' she exclaims. I am intrigued. I ask Caroline what my alter ego was doing. Imagine, fleetingly, a model on a catwalk  - my alternative self, half a foot taller and with a few of the creases ironed out. 'She was explaining the history of lavatories,' Caroline says.

A few days later I find an email from a long-lost mate in Worcestershire. It tells me that my 'identical twin' was on television recently. Studying lavatories. At church, one of the Ladies Who Does the Flowers bustles up. 'I've been meaning to tell you,' she pants. 'There was a lady who was on TV who is the spitting image of you!' 'Was she talking about lavatories?' I ask and she nods, thrilled at  glamour-by-association.

My brother, meanwhile, mentions that his old university friends, who haven't seen me for twelve years, have marvelled to him that my double was promenading across their TV screens on Thursday nights. So when I meet my old soulmate Serena for coffee I tell her that I have a duel existence as a television presenter. 'I've been dying to say...' she cries excitedly. 'My parents rang me to tell me that your carbon copy was doing a history of...' 'Lavatories?' I offer.

Weeks pass, then I open the newspaper and see myself peering out at me. A younger, better-coiffed, better-groomed self, but still, a likeness so unnerving that I race to Youtube for confirmation. And it's true. Lucy Worsley, author of the book and TV series A History of the Home, bears an uncanny resemblance in hair, eyes, forehead and manner. And she is utterly compelling on the subject of lavatories.

It is a strange thing to see yourself as you might have been if you were Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, with a 1st from Oxford and a back catalogue of intelligent books on heritage. The clamour of my children as they brawl in the bath recedes briefly as I imagine myself writing best-selling volumes in a minimalist south London loft apartment, fingering royal snuff boxes instead of dribbled Weetabix and chairing forums on gargoyle preservation instead of adjudicating a spat over the last Bourbon Cream.

A shriek from the bathroom recalls me to reality. My seven-year-old has decided to investigate gender biology and his sister is aggrieved. Lucy Worsley, in her fitted wool tops, haunts me as I mediate and bully the pair of them through the bed-time routine.

But later, when lager has composed me, I check their sleeping forms and I am seized with new marvelment at their perfection. And I collect soiled damp clothing from bedroom floors and partially digested raisins from under the sofa cushions and suddenly I am glad that I am not Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces with a minimalist south London loft apartment, because I know that behind every unglamorous chore is a blessing.