Thursday, 29 March 2012

Rock Chick: Aftermath

'Back to square one then?' said the verger at the Sunday service following my rock-chick makeover. He surveyed my decorous wool dress with disappointment.

There was disappointment at school drop-off too, when I presented myself on the Monday in my bargain coat from Help the Aged.  'Tighter and brighter,' must be my mantra from now on, said one of the mothers, who advised me to embrace the heatwave with tube of Sun Shimmer Bronzer and diamante flipflops.

I sense, however, that my leopard-print adventure has done more that 18 months of parish cake-baking to enhance my standing at church and school. The coolest of the mothers who survey me know that, beneath my tweed cladding, lurks a temptress in Jimmy Choo shades.

The Vicar, glued to his laptop in his study, turned out not to be fine-tuning a sermon, but gazing with glee at my blog pictures.  Clearly the Church of England craves a hymn to bling.

My daughter, still in shock at the brief realisation of her dreams, has ceased to nag me to be cool. And because she has stopped nagging me I now have more of an urge to please her.

I have agreed to grow my hair so that she can lend me her silver scrunchy. I have replaced my split Wilko wellies with a pair of Hunters so that she can lay claim to a mother with a designer label. I have splurged at the Boots cosmetic stands and ornamented my naked dressing table with a collection of facial aids.

My comprehensive new make-up stash

And I have allowed her to choose my day-wear from the safe scope of my wardrobe.



It was my choice, not hers, to exile my hairiest tweed. I have glimpsed an alternative sartorial future which, if not leopard-printed, is daringly less woolly.

She and I have reached a restful compromise and I am relieved. Then, just as I am congratulating myself on my brighter, tighter future and restored family harmony, my mother rings.  She and the 9-year-old have compared despairing notes on my body image and she approves of the targets for my transformation.

'So will you be showing your legs a bit more from now on?' she asks.
'Don't know. Maybe.'
'And you'll do something with your hair?'
'Don't know. Maybe'
'And will you be wearing make up?'
'Not a bit of powder?'
'Something round the eyes?'
 There's a pause, then a sigh. 'Well,' she breathes at last, 'That is a disappointment.'

So - back to square one then!

Very many thanks to anyone who voted for me in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards. Thanks to you, I have made it as far as the Lit category shortlist. Any further prods to win me cyber-stardom would be hugely appreciated. Just click on the badge thingy above and then, I assume, the process becomes obvious. Oh, and if you have the energy to add to my nominations for the MADS awards by clicking the other icon I'll let you try on the leopard print!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Rock Chick

My rock-chick 9-year-old is embarrassed to have a mother who looks like this:

Instead she would prefer a mother who looks like this:

But, despite the shedding of my winter tweed and the purchasing of designer wellies, my efforts do not satisfy her and so she presents me with this: 

If I achieve all six targets she will buy me soap. 

I have spent the last ten years anticipating my Second Flowering, but the mirror merely shows an autumnal withering. So when one of the school-gate throng suggests that I take her at her word, I decide that I shall give natural processes a prod and dazzle my daughter at school pick-up. I consult some of the mothers whom she has wished me to resemble and they are thrilled at the prospect of helping new life emerge from my Boden corduroy.

The evening before my transformation, Facebook is abuzz with strategies for shoring up my face with cosmetic adhesives. Since my wardrobe is irredeemable, a call goes out and carrier bags are proffered surreptitiously at morning drop-off. 

I shave my chin in preparation and, after I have baked the cakes for the parish tea and set the church tea urn simmering, I am ready to be cool. 

The process takes 50 minutes and involves a rucksack full of paint and powder and the painstaking ingenuity of two mothers:

Eventually I emerge as a rock chick:

There are difficulties. I have forgotten to shave my armpits and so an emergency replacement must be found for the transparent, sleeveless top that was to reinvent me. The boots are two sizes too large, so I retain my hiking socks as wadding. And I cannot stand upright on stiletos, so someone lends me a pushchair with a baby in it and I clutch it like a zimmer as I teeter to school.

At the school gate I am a sensation

I stand as my daughter has trained me to do, with my right hip cocked and a car key dangling from my forefinger, only I haven't  brought the car so I borrow the keys to the church vestry.
BUT - my son brushes straight past and does not recognise me. And my daughter? Her gaze flicks over my Jimmy Choo sunglasses and she asks my neighbour where her mummy is.

She is horrified when she registers me, and then she is thrilled. She tries on the stilleto boots and the leggings and she protests when I reclaim my corduroy smock. 

I am worried about the Vicar. He is frightened by the diagonal seams on my skirt from M&S so he might not have the stamina for leopard print. But when he arrives for the church tea he is overcome with awe at my transfiguration.

I am triumphant. I tell my daughter that I have achieved my six targets in one go and that she owes me soap. She regards me with kindly patience. 
'That was just once,' she says. 'I meant you have to do it every day.' 

Very many thanks to anyone who voted for me in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards. Thanks to you, I have made it as far as the Lit category shortlist. Any further prods to win me cyber-stardom would be hugely appreciated. Just click on the badge thingy above and then, I assume, the process becomes obvious. Oh, and if you have the energy to add to my nominations for the MADS awards by clicking the other icon I'll let you try on the leopard print!

Thursday, 22 March 2012


A bit has fallen off my face. Last time I looked, a smooth pink contour joined my nose to my left eyebrow. Now there's a grand canyon. It's a bright morning and our bathroom faces east so I decide to wait until dusk and examine it again.

I borrow some Vaseline from my 7-year old's room and am grateful that he spends his pocket money on such things as J-cloths and washing lines and heavy duty lubricants. I rub it into the missing part of me, then peer closely with the Vicar's vest draped over the lampshade. It now resembles one of the cracks down my sheep-and-cow coffee mug: faint, but still There.

When my mother comes to dinner I keep the lamps down low and hide the candles. Twenty years ago she urged me to splurge on make-up to 'make the most' of myself. Now she urges the same 'to make the best'. There's a indefinable shift there that I do not like.

She says that I look tired. She asks if I've got anything on my face. She delves into her bag and waves a pot of apricot powder. I reply that I do not like cosmetics. I also do not own any. My mother, whose three drawers of Max Factor make her look twenty years younger, disapproves. She points out that my friend Serena has an Estee Lauder concealer stick that works wonders on her bags.

I feel my new fissure widening as she ponders me and she senses that it's time for diplomacy. 'At least,' she says brightly, 'you must have plenty of self-confidence to go out with a face as Nature made you.'

Very many thanks to anyone who voted for me in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards. Thanks to you, I have made it as far as the Lit category shortlist. Any further prods to win me cyber-stardom would be hugely appreciated. Just click on the badge thingy above and then, I assume, the process becomes obvious.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My Private Fantasies

The prompt from this week's 100 Word Challenge at Julia's Place is the red box

My private fantasies are stuffed in my sock drawer. Sometimes I spirit them out for savouring. 
A seaside cottage is the wildest, sketched in ink on the folded paper. Then a cedar tree casting blue shadows on a lawn I don't possess; a month on Greek islands, a crate of manure, a navy wool dress from Boden....
Occasionally, with appropriate guilt, I realise one of them. 
But, on Budget Day, the red box was raised like a cosh over the nation. ‘We're all in this together,’ says the Chancellor. 
I am already fortunate. Many aren’t. So I threw my secret list away. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

You know you are a vicar's wife when...

This week's listography at Katetakes5 has as its topic 'Five reasons I know I'm a...'. You get to fill in the blank yourself. First I thought I'd pick 'slattern', but I've already confessed much about my domestic indolence. Mothering Sunday has exhausted my motherliness, so that's out, and I had trouble thinking of what else I am, until someone hailed me as 'Father's wife'.

So - you know you're a vicar's wife when:

You find a dog collar in your knicker drawer.

You are the only one in trousers round a dinner table of (cassocked) male clergy

You are fluent in the afflictions and ailments of half the senior population within a quarter-mile radius

You can improvise emergency small talk about dialogical personalism if stranded with a bishop

You can, with a single kettle and five packs of Cheddar slices, host 70 famished faithful in your back garden.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

How Was it For You?

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new” (Acharya Rajneesh)

In the past, when I was merely a woman, Sunday mornings went something like this: hot coffee, hot toast, a Mozart CD and the newspapers. A tranquil stroll along the river to church and an hour of peace in a pew. A tranquil stroll back and five hours of peace on the sofa.

Now I have been graced with motherhood and one day a year is dedicated to celebrating my transformation. Today is that day. And my morning went like this:

1.   Unblocked the kitchen drain that had flooded the patio with purple ‘porridge’

2.   Laundered the school uniforms

3.   Served breakfast

4.   Washed up breakfast

5.   Mounted the kitchen worktop to scrape the scurf of the tops of the units.

6.    Hung out the school uniforms

7.   Washed the kitchen floor

8.   Helped ten infants conjure flowers out of coloured cardboard in Sunday school

9.   Supervised homework

10.  Cooked lunch

11.  Helped to construct an Easter bonnet

12.  Arbitrated three quarrels

13.  Replenished Marmite, bread and loo roll at the mini mart. In the rain.

14.  Read five chapters of The Twins at St Clares

BUT -  I was roused before 7am by toast and tea tilting suspensefully on a tray over my pillow. I was presented with six paper tulips, two modelling-clay roses, a crooked trinket pot, a cardboard picture frame and a tube of shower gel. I had a briefly harmonious child under each arm, before the day resumed like any other. 

Except that it wasn’t quite like any other. Because, somehow, that dawn affirmation had transmuted the daily chores. The scrubbing, the scraping, the sluicing and the supervising didn’t seem so much like chores today; they seemed like tributes to my children – celebrations of my good fortune. 

So I told myself. 

Sofa indolence and all-day pampering would not have fulfilled me so much as extracting the snail, the sludge and the throng of dead slugs that were blocking the drain. 

So I told myself. 

For the gratitude, in clay and cardboard, for being a good mother made me want conspicuously to deserve it. And so I scrubbed cupboards that didn’t really need to be scrubbed. And cooked a meal when I usually fling fishfingers. I even lined up the jaded school shoes and polished them. To prove myself to myself, as well as to the children.

By this afternoon, though, my radiance was fading. The drizzly trudge to Co-op felt like any other shopping trip. When the fourth quarrel erupted I cussed and scarpered. Motherhood had lost its fleetingly regained novelty.

‘Mummy!’ drawled my seven-year-old who was browsing Amazon on my laptop. ‘Yes!,’ I   snapped suspiciously. He was perusing Nintendo games and I could guess what was coming. But – ‘I’m so glad,’ he said, leaping on me and my washing basket, ‘that you’re my mummy!’ 
And suddenly, as I hauled another load downstairs, sifting soiled underwear seemed a privilege.

So, how was it for you?


Friday, 16 March 2012

Mothering Sunday

The Dailymum has kindly passed on a meme to help me celebrate myself this Mothering Sunday. These are the questions:

Describe Motherhood in three words

Enervating. Enriching. Unglamorous.

Does your experience differ from your mother’s? How?

I didn’t nag her for iPads, Rihanna and Ralph Lauren.  My mother was a 1970s rarity – a full–time career woman. It was my father who fetched us from school and scorched our corned beef fritters. Whereas I wedge my career in amongst school hours and launder infant underwear between deadlines. 

What’s the hardest thing about being a mum?

The guilt and the fear. Guilt that you are not feeding them, schooling them, entertaining and encouraging them as perfectly as they deserve. Fear that calamity will claim them.

What’s the best thing?

When they are silently asleep. Only when I watch them lying trustingly on their pillows, well-fed and well-cleaned, do I feel a fully successful mother - especially if I’ve remembered to wash the sheets.

How has it changed you?

This is where I say that it has made me more patient; more giving; more understanding. But it would be a lie. It has made me irascible. I flee from my children when they bore me. I garden when I should be feeding them and blog when they should be in bed. I skimmed a page of mother quotes in the hope of identifying a quality I could claim, but they were all irritating or vainglorious, except for the Spanish proverb: ‘an ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy’, which I could use when the Vicar bunks the washing up. But motherhood has developed in me cunning - useful for ensuring pea consumption and for turning a loo roll tube into any farm animal.

 What do you hope for your children?

A courageous mind, a generous spirit and a contented home. With a nice annexe in it for me.

What do you fear for them?


What makes it all worthwhile?

My son searching ‘I love my Mummy’ on Amazon.

I'm supposed to tag more mothers, but I'm not sure there's time. Motherventing, Kateonthinice and Katetakes5 have you done this one?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Adrift in Drought

This week's 100 Word Challenge from Julia's Place requires us to incorporate the words 'but I turned it off'.  Which is timely because...

I bought a pickaxe when we moved here and sought solace in savaging the vicarage garden. From the soil I extracted seven ancient keys, 32 bricks and a femur. Into the soil I put horse dung, roses and deadly monkshood. As the plants grew I felt myself take root in our new landscape. The progress of peas seemed to chart my own flourishing. When I faltered, I pickaxed ponds. Then they announced the hosepipe ban. My serenity may wilt along with the unwatered garden and so, nozzle poised over my unfilled third crater, I panicked. But I turned it off.   

Sunday, 11 March 2012


There is a shark in our local swimming pool. It cruises beneath my nine-year-old, jaws stretched in anticipation of her flailing heels. Back stroke is deadly for the shark, undetected, threatens to swoop from the depths and clamp her from behind.

The most dangerous thing about the shark is that it is invisible and therefore unavoidable. She knows only that it lurks somewhere in those turquoise depths awaiting her.

Each week, nonetheless, she returns from her swimming lessons with flesh unscathed. But new perils must be faced at home for there are monsters in her bedroom. They unfurl when the lights are dimmed - nightmare shadows on the wall. The fluffy pink dressing gown hanging off the doorknob morphs into a hunchback; the light with its shade, a crone in a witch's hat, and invisible horrors issue through the black slit where the wardrobe doors don't quite close.

'Nonsense!' says the Vicar who doesn't believe in hauntings. But I have lived with monsters too. Their forms shift with age. Bathrobes and lampshades no longer terrorise me and I am brave about cracks in cupboard doors.  My monsters lurk on motorways waiting to engulf my children if they travel without me. They take shape on the landing if my wee ones sleep in longer than usual. They leer at me from the depths of the future in which nameless horrors may be skulking.

I must therefore be patient about the shark even though, from my superior vantage point, I can see that that the scary deeps are empty.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Pinnacle of Evolution

I am, I'm told, one of the 'most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection.' I am always keen on a compliment, especially when it comes from a Cambridge academic who has spent months of scientific research to reach his conclusion.

Not that I am alone on the evolutionary summit. Everyone in their 40s and 50s is up there with me, lording it over the flanking generations. Shrivelling flesh ? Delinquent hormones? Thickening chin bristles, ladies? Cherish every symptom, for it is, according to a scientific new book, Nature's way of shaping us into 'an elite cast of skilled, experienced super-providers on which the rest depend.'

But I could have saved the author, Dr David Bainbridge, a good deal of toil, because his findings have long been obvious to all of us mid-lifers. I knew, as I simultaneously interviewed a psychologist about body odour, typed an opinion on whippets on someone's blog post, extracted a foreign body from a molar and burned four fish fingers, that I was straying pretty close to super-power. Why, my decomposing contemporaries and I can achieve social benefits undreamed of by those crippled by youth.

With cunning born of experience, we push back scientific boundaries: I have, for instance, devised a reliable way of accomplishing wrinkle-free laundry without ironing (I remove my contact lenses).

We have adapted physically to surmount the challenges of community welfare: I have evolved bespoke muscles to push three manure sacks up a rocky slope in a punctured wheel barrow.

We have acquired the stamina to withstand threats to the social fabric: I can, with a matronly stare, quell a traffic warden.

And years of creating emergency banquets out of a tin of kidney beans and a Ketchup bottle have bequeathed us the forager skills that nourished Early Man into civilisation. Stone Age folk, Bainbridge tells us, did not regard the few frail ancients who made it past 30 as burdens; rather they revered them for the survival skills and traditions that they could impart. My super-sensory abilities, which can distinguish Bendicks mint crisps from Elizabeth Shaw with a single inhalation, would have been the difference between life and death in perilous pre-history. And as for traditions: I uphold the sanctity of the semicolon even when I'm texting.

Still, it's good to have ones amateur knowledge legitimised by a professional. And Dr David Bainbridge ought to know what he's talking about, for he is a renowned - er, zoologist. It goes without saying, surely, that what works for a Guinea baboon is bound to apply to a middle-aged matron.

You can read more about middle-age perfections in Middle Age: A Natural History by David Bainbridge (Portobello Books). And middle-aged readers can share their painstakingly evolved superpowers below.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


In a deep stone recess where spare chairs are stacked there is a cadaver. You glimpse it only when, sated with gothic opulence, you return up the cathedral steps. 

The sculptor's art has petrified the bones and sinews beneath the rotting flesh. Originally it had also petrified the figure – a medieval prelate – intact in its grand regalia: life and death lying side by side. Now only death remains in all its horrifying humility.  

And the glory of the cathedral darkens a little with this reminder that the most awesome earthly forms – whether bishop, beast or building – are skeletons in disguise.  

This week's 100 Word Challenge at Julia's Place immediately - and probably irrelevantly -  conjured a long-ago visit I made to Lichfield Cathedral. The prompt (intended to prompt pieces on horses, yes, I know!) was this picture:

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

How to Be a Supermum

The 9-year-old has presented the 7-year-old with a 5-step guide to Becoming a Better Brother:

 1) Start wearing Hugo Boss
 2) Start wearing hair oil
 3) Substitute trainers for regulation school shoes
 4) Be seen talking to the 'in crowd' in the school playground
 5) Become a Chelsea supporter

If he adopts all five she will forgive him for not being a twin sister on whose hair she might practise French plaits.

The Vicar, evidently, is a lost cause, for he is merely required to adopt Adidas footwear and to sing hymns less loudly at school assemblies.

Then she borrows a biro and sketches a picture of her ideal mother and she labels it, optimistically: 'My Mum'.

Her ideal mother looks like this:

Her real mother looks like this:

She mistakes my horror for grief over my own failings, and she tells me that she will let me off the designer hair, the painted nail extensions and the tunic top blaring 'Love' if I will consent to buy real Uggs and a silver people carrier. 'I'm doing this for you,' she says patiently. 'So you can be a supermum.'

My amusement is matched by forboding. Designer clothes and designer gadgetry are the social currency in our school playground. Self-worth is measured in terms of Ralph Lauren and ipads. My daughter has just sacrificed twelve weeks of pocket money on a Ralph Lauren T-shirt from eBay. 'So that I can talk about it,' she says, 'like the others do at lunch times.' A classmate's struggling single mother has bought her 8-year-old an ipad because she'd found that half the form claimed to own one and she feared that she had failed her daughter.

I am hardened against most overtures. I insist on T-shirts from H&M and an ipad fashioned from a Rice Krispies box. A minuscule man on a polo horse cannot move me and I have invigorating prejudices against Uggs.

But I can see that behind the superficial yearnings are issues of id and ego, and I know that evolving identities must be humoured. And so I exchange my birthday bobble-knit for skinny jeans and I scrape the manure scabs off my Barbour jacket for Barbours, The Telegraph tells me, have unexpectedly gained street cred.

I have not, however, reckoned on biology. Ipads are old hat this week. Even Ralph Lauren lurks knotted in a drawer. One of the mothers is expecting. Now babies are the must-have accessories at the school gate. My daughter lurches out of class agog. Her eyes slide unseeing over my revamped winterwear and she forgets to draw my attention to the Puma tracksuit sashaying by.

'What I really want,' she says, 'is for you to have a baby.'
She's braced for my reaction. She has already devised the clincher.
'If you have a baby in your arms, ' she concludes cunningly, 'I'll think you're a supercool Mum and everyone else will think you must be young!'

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ornamental Nipples

One of the ladies of the choir sidles up to me after the Sunday service. She looks furtive. From her handbag she draws a pink carboard box which I hope might have chocolates in. Behind plastic lid nestles a pair of black diamante-studded nipple tassles.

I carry a burdensome assortment of essentials in my handbag, but the addition of nipple tassles has never crossed my mind. The Lady from the Choir explains that they were a long-ago gift and have never had an airing. She wonders if they would come in handy for the next Saturday Caption picture on my blog.

I am grateful but I am uncertain. I believe in undergarments that are fulsome, frill-less and thermal. Behind me is the stern and elderly lay reader. I'm certain that she too believes in undergarments that are fulsome, frill-less and thermal.
And suddenly I cannot resist it. I make my way over and proffer the box. 'Have you any idea,' I ask, 'how one sticks these on?'

The lay reader settles her glasses and peers. 'What are they?' she demands and I explain. She frowns at the box then hauls herself upright on her stick. She glares at me with a mouth that slightly twitches. 'I wouldn't know,' she quips. 'I have a different kind at home!'

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Saturday is Caption Day....

over at Mammasaurus. Below is one of my few remaining skills. One day it could save a life. I can also lick the end of my nose and do remarkable things with spinach.

If I fall under a bus this will be the last picture ever taken of me. So what would be a dignified caption?