Monday, 28 May 2012

Marital Secrets

Every week, Julia at Julia's Place, imparts a prompt around which bloggers must construct a hundred words. I find it addictive. The idea is creative writing but I find those random challenges ferret out aspects of domestic reality that I might never have thought to blog about. This week, in honour of the Jubilee, Julia requires a poem that reflects the passing of sixty years. I have no idea how to write poetry and my domestic reality doesn't yet accommodate sixty years. But then I remembered my father's oft-narrated tale of a colleague on his local paper who returned stunned from a routine visit to report a couple's diamond wedding anniversary:

Side by side they sit in the parlour,
Serenity on chintz.
Her hand, fragile as the flowered porcelain, pours the tea
And, wordlessly, he thanks her.
Behind, their family drifts through the decades on the mantel,
The newlyweds briefly multiplying, 
Then, as years pass, shrinking back into a twosome;
Shrivelled but smiling in the silver frames.
Sixty years.
'What,' asks their guest, 'is the secret?'
'Give..' she quavers, 'and take.'
Her husband bears the teapot to the kitchen and, urgent, she leans forward.
A pulse of energy awakens the room.
Notebook poised the guest awaits new wisdom.
'I hate him, you know,' says the old lady.
He returns, tartan slippers treading meekly.
She flings a glance then, hissing, confides:
'I've always hated him.'

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Bottom Line

The lament reverberates up the stairs.  In the kitchen crouches our tabby, mewling. Frisbee never mewls.  He bypasses a brimming bowl of tuna. Frisbee never declines food. Evidently he is a cat in Darkest Misery. Then he cocks his leg for a cleansing and I glimpse a purpled puckered wound beneath his tail.

It is Sunday. I ring the RSPCA rescue centre, which rehomed him, and they advise the out-of-hours animal hospital. I ring the out-of-hours animal hospital and they advise that I speak to a consultant. I speak to a consultant and she fears a fox attack, an exploded abscess and a disabling infection and she urges us to hurry him in immediately.

And so I drive 12 miles to the hospital and pay £33 for an assessment and wait one hour for the consultant. And the consultant examines the alarmed cat’s undercarriage and pronounces her diagnosis: the ‘wound’ I glimpsed was his bottom!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

How to Conquer the School-Gate Catwalk

Stylish mummies are, I discover, building whole blogs around the outfits they wear on the school run. I am entranced by this idea. If we all put up photos of our early morning selves, we could trade invaluable fashion tips which would make the daily chore of outshining the other parents so much more companionable.

To start the ball rolling, and with the help of two small photographers, I've kept a picture log of the past week. Feel free to borrow any style tips for your own dawn journeys, so long as you credit this blog (a Post-it note pinned to a lapel would do the trick.)


The drought, as you can see, is still going strong. Underneath this waterproof coat (£30 from Harpers Bazaar surplus store in Malvern) I'm wearing a £2,250 Prada sheath dress and a rope of Swaroski diamonds. Please note the wellingtons. They're not any old wellingtons - they're Hunters and they cost me £64. The mud splashes were extra. Five mothers screamed over them when I first wore them to school. They are, therefore, a great passport to social glory, especially if coupled with a shiny quilted jacket from the Barbour Gold Label Glamour range (my elderly waxed Barbour has been disqualified by my daughter).
Total cost of outfit: £6,315.21p plus £64 for the Hunters.


Oh dear, raining again! But as you can see I've subtly varied the style today by removing the hairband. I've also changed my vest.
Total cost of outfit: see Monday.


There is a momentary respite from the rain as we leave the house, but the Met Office is pessimistic and so am I. I have opened the coat today, though, in a salute to spring and underneath you can see my denim slim-fit jeans (M&S £22), Boden summer top (£35 - a bit steep for 100 % viscose I thought, but Johnnie Boden can sell me anything) and a long-sleeve white T-shirt from Primark (£1.99).
Total cost of outfit, including coat: £88.99 plus £64 for the Hunters.


The sun is finally shining, although I'm taking no chances on my footwear. Could I draw your attention again to the Hunter label. £64 I paid for that! I like this picture because it was taken by a very small person and gives me an unaccustomed stature. The sleeveless top, which drapes nicely over my post-natal ripples, is from Age UK (£2.50), and worn over that Primark T-shirt which I rescued from the laundry basket. The corduroy boot-cuts are from Oxfam (£3.50).  The coat was bought in the Next 2007 winter sale (around £35). Possibly still available from vintage stores. 
Total cost of outfit: £42.99 plus £64 for the Hunters.


Schools in parts of the country have apparently had to ask parents not to arrive at morning drop-off in their pyjamas. But worry not, on Friday the Vicar takes the children to school so today's outfit will only be seen by the postman and the Worldwide Web. The White Company dressing gown was an unwanted Christmas present received by my mother eight years ago and passed to me. It's the sort of dressing gown you find hanging on bathroom doors in the sort of hotels that put After Dinner mints on your pillow, so it would probably invite quite a lot of awe at the school gate. I wouldn't generally recommend white, though, because you have to put it through a hot cycle every couple of years and that thick towelling is a right bummer to dry!
Total cost of outfit: White Company dressing gowns cost around £60. The fleece-lined bootee slippers were a present from the Vicar so it would be rude to ask. 

What do you wear to school? Share your style tips here or post a photo on your blog and paste the link in my comments box. One day I'll learn about linkys...

Monday, 21 May 2012

A Passion for Balls

This week's 100 Word Challenge at Julia's Place must incorporate the words The flame flickered before... The Olympic torch must have inspired her, but I have cunningly manipulated the prompt so that I can boast about what I did on Sunday...

My daughter has become an overnight football fan. The fact that she’s never seen a game is no deterrent. She’s acquired a Chelsea plate, Liverpool pyjamas and an album of Match Attax which she exhibits mercilessly. 
So, after Sunday Eucharist, I agreed to my first match. Fearsome in tweed skirt and wellies, I assaulted that ball and any juvenile obstruction. I flung myself at the goal, my necklace lassooing interfering opponents. And I scored! 
Triumph ignited in me a passion for a sport I’ve never rated. Briefly, the flame flickered before middle age felled me and it was smothered by the mud I sprawled in.   


Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Age of Innocence

This week’s listography at Kate Takes Five is Five Things I Love About Kids. I wasn’t going to participate. Come Saturday afternoons I’m more minded to list two dozen things that exasperate me about kids. But the challenge set me thinking and the thinking prompted appreciative realisations about my bickering pair and consequently, by this evening, my weekend temper had sweetened immeasurably and I’d promised them crumpets for tea. I am, therefore, grateful to Kate.

Here are the five things I love about children:

Everything is a treat: that tea of buttered crumpets, a scour in the car wash, finding a worm, a turn with the Hoover, rainbows of petrol shimmering in puddles and watching the ball-cock rise and fall when lid of the lavatory cistern is removed. Actually, all of those things are still a treat for me, bar the Hoover, but whereas in children it’s an engaging enthusiasm, in adults it suggests an undeveloped mind!

The plastic laundry basket is a doomed cruise liner, a lion’s cage and a racing car. A square of loo roll tubes is conjured into Hogwarts castle and a shoe box and string is a rock star’s guitar. This is the childish quality I admire the most and envy so wistfully. The dolls house that once absorbed me stands dust-caked in a corner because I’ve forgotten how to bring it alive and my heart plummets when I’m required to be the Fairy Godmother/Albus Dumbledore/Miss Trunchball in games of make-believe for, while my playmates live and breathe a fantasy world, I remain impotently a middle-aged mother with a bathroom to clean.

Young children share their most intimate thoughts, fears and body parts. They’ll fall back, confident of waiting arms, when pretending to faint at their auntie’s beauty and sleep serenely, untroubled by forboding or regret, knowing that a kiss and buttered toast will launch a new adventure next morning.

This is an off-shoot of glee that irradiates the future. When I peer ahead I see dark clouds: a soaring mortgage, Iranian warheads, motorway pile-ups and a widow’s hump. My children see their next birthday party, a weekend with grandma, the glamour of secondary school and their first Ferrari.

Elimination of ironing
Because what on earth is the point when a newly laundered garment is going to be worn for an hour only before an anointing of ketchup/grass juice/body fluids? And when surviving clothes are balled up in overflowing drawers come bedtime? And it would be monstrous to iron the adult wardrobe while the children are unleashed crumpled. So the only rational, moral thing to do is to abandon the practice entirely. 

What do you love about kids?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Terror of Silence

Adults – civilised adults – talk to you. Children talk at you. My children talk at me all the time. They’ll relay the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows through the crack in the bathroom door. They’ll list their favourite footballers from their Match Attax cards. They’ll embark on a joke that has no known ending while I’m perfecting a tweet and they’ll test their recollection of the first names of all the teachers in their school when Gardeners’ Question Time is starting.

This ceaseless, guileless prattle can be endearing. It can be exasperating and, occasionally, it can cause me to flee to the nettle bed behind the garage.

But yesterday, in hospital, a mask was placed over my daughter’s face, her eyes rolled back and she was silenced. Her silence muffled even the screams of a child in the next treatment room while we paced the corridor outside.

When, eventually, we were summoned, her eyes were open but she was still silent. I would have endured the highlights from five packs of Match Attax for a syllable.

Today, the head in the bed has been in full flow again. She has compared the attributes of Emma Watson and Bonnie Wright, planned her marriage to Frank Lampard, recounted her latest dreams and verbalised a selection of new hair dos. 

But today I have absorbed it raptly because I have listened to childish silence and it terrified me. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Scientific Knickers

Julia’s 100-word Challenge this week wants us to incorporate the words liberty, empire, apple, yellow and enormous. She has evidently been excited by a recent trip to New York. I was going to duck out, then I remembered a snippet I’d just read in the Daily Mail.

I aspire to a pear-shape, but the reality is more of a withered yellow apple. Child-bearing has killed off my crop-tops and poured me into the more accommodating contours of empire-line smocks. From behind I’m still skinny, but, front-on, strangers are apt to congratulate me on my happy event. However, today’s newspapers announce M&S’s scientific knickers which will subdue my post-natal midriff into a wasp waist. My glee is enormous. An alchemy of polyamide and elastane; panels, padding and mesh will sculpt my flesh while allowing my lungs full liberty, so, henceforth, an hourglass figure in a sheath dress will be manning the church tea urn. 

Friday, 11 May 2012


At the start of the year, my 9-year-old declared herself Pony Mad. Her rolled-up bedside rug became a steed, her wall was plastered with posters of cavorting colts, her table was cleared to make room for home-spun tack and her pink unicorn hobby horse was retrieved from retirement and stabled beneath her kitchen chair.

Then, following a weekend with her cousin, she pledged herself to Harry Potter. The table was reorganised as a tribute to Hogwarts, Alan Rickman glowered above the bedstead and the pink unicorn was metamorphosed into a flying broomstick.

Next, a play-date with a precocious friend turned her into a fashionista. The bedroom became a boudoir and the table became a repository for old perfume bottles, scavenged jewellery, lip salves and hair ornaments.

Now, after another weekend with her cousin, she is a football fan. She begged a trip to Sports Direct to spend her savings on a Liverpool football shirt (‘Although I’ll get Chelsea or Arsenal if they’re cheaper!’). The potions have been banished from the bedroom table to make room for an album of football cards, the walls are decorated with photos purloined from my unread newspaper and she appears for breakfast in full sports gear dribbling a football along the landing.

I watch these transformations with amusement, exasperation and a slight twinge of envy.

When I was young I wanted to be a nun (so I could look like Audrey Hepburn in a wimple), a dustman (so I could ride on the step at the back of the 1970s refuse lorries) and a deep-sea diver. My bedroom was a desert island, a ship’s cabin, a boarding school dormitory and a thatched village for my dolls-house people.

But it’s been a while since I felt a passion to reinvent myself. Currently my ambitions are to conquer the black mould on my bath sealant and to coax a flower out of my peony. I look no further than the next batch of church cakes and the school parents’ evening.

My bedroom is just a bedroom with a permanently unmade bed.

I am content, but not striving. I have, however, hopes of a Second Flowering. It will arrive some time in my 50s when I am liberated from childcare. When it comes I shall be a hippie in Goa, a plantswoman in Dorset, a pianist, a coxswain, a beer binger or a contortionist.

I shall study my reflection in black latex and in that nun’s wimple. Multiple avenues will yawn before me and I might even…oh heck, I can smell the family fish fingers burning! I’ll be back when I’ve done the washing up…

What did you want to be and are you it? And tell me in confidence, what would you like to be next?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How (Not) to Woo a Millionaire

My parents have met a pair of millionaires in the middle of the Baltic. The millionaires have a smart pad in London and a yacht on the Med. I am not interested in money. It is the soul, of course, that counts! But I am interested in the yacht. I like to imagine myself bobbing about on it if the friendship blooms. It would re-conjure our beloved old caravan holidays, only with plumbing instead of a bucket.

And the friendship does bloom. My parents are invited to the smart pad in London. My mother ponders a gift for a woman who has everything and decides on a jar of Lidl's pickled herrings. So irresistibly do they evoke their Baltic cruise that she buys another jar for herself and swallows a few spoonfuls for a night cap.

Next day they rev up the Skoda for the trip into town and my mother forgets the herrings. They speed back and she lunges into the fridge and grabs the jar and she hands it to the hostess who is thrilled and grateful.

Back at home again, my mother is probing the fridge and finds the second jar of fish. Unopened. The truth dawns. She has beguiled her grand friends with a half-eaten jar of herrings with the Lidl price tag still on.

I sadly relinquish visions of yacht bobbing and am looking into caravans with plumbing.

What should you give a woman has everything? I'll reward the most successful suggestion with a postcard from my first yacht holiday!

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Microscopic Giant

The prompt for the latest 100 Word Challenge is this sphere of prehistoric bones in the National Museum of Scotland. 

It reminded me of awed afternoons in Oxford's Museum of Natural History.

The Gothic contours resemble a dinosaur’s rib-cage so I feel I’ve been swallowed whole. And they’re echoed by the skeletal giants that motionlessly prowl the aisles. The Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis and Camptosaurus prestwichii once roamed nearby fields; now they’re poised in reinforced glass cases. Their names are as daunting as their dimensions. But, for me, they’re dwarfed by a flea concealed in an upper gallery. It’s detectable only though a magnifying lens, yet it wears minute hiking clothes. I’m awed by the power and perfection of such a microscopic being and by the humorous tenacity of the human who clothed it.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The National Trust has compiled a list of things that every child should do before the age of 11 3/4. One of them is to climb a tree. I would go further. Tree climbing ought to be a regular activity until the age of 65.

There is, however, a problem. Our local council proposes to ban tree-climbing in all its parks, including the large semi-rural one that my children and I walk through to and from school each day. In future, I would have to pay £500 for the privilege of swarming one of the oaks in the wood, unless I could satisfy the council that I had a reasonable excuse. Retrieving a stuck kite would not be a reasonable excuse, for the council plans to ban kite-flying too.

For £500 I could take out a six-month membership of our local David Lloyd gym and my children could exercise safely in a risk-assessed, temperature-controlled environment which has a mission statement and a latte machine.

But I shan't.

I shall continue to encourage them to climb trees and I shall continue to climb them myself. If need be I shall stage a one-woman protest from the crown of my favourite horse chestnut. For tree-climbing brings with it benefits that would be seized upon by a more enlightened authority:

It taught me diplomacy as I battled my brother over the most accommodating branch in our grandmother's garden.

It fostered my intellect as I revised for my A-Levels among the leaves of a local sycamore.

It forged friendships as I trialled new acquaintances with the offer of beer on a bough.

It bonds generations.

It has quickened my wits and my muscles and developed my social outreach as, with increasing regularity, I have had to call upon passing walkers to help me down.

Above all it has given me a unique perspective on the world through a lofty screen of leaves. There is a peace at the top of a tree that is seldom found outside churches and there a communion with Nature, as you dangle from gnarled bark, that is unequalled on solid ground.

In its heart of hearts the council understands this for, in its best-loved park, it has overruled local opposition and leased prime acres to Go Ape, the forest adventure company which, for a substantial entrance fee, enables customers to, er -  climb trees.

Would you let your children climb a tree? Can you suggest a 'reasonable excuse' to spare me a fine should an official discover me or mine dangling from a branch?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Magic of Mothering

This week's 100-word challenge at Julia's Place requires us to use the word ruby. It just so happens that...

It strikes me, as I try transmuting a pair of Doodles into Dorothy’s ruby slippers: parenting classes omit crucial aspects of child-rearing. They are eloquent about weaning and potty-training, but they don’t touch on how to conjure a flock of sheep from Whiskas boxes or improvise a Victorian maid’s cap from a wedding garter.

Primary education is less about times-tables and more about encapsulating historical and literary landmarks from household flotsam.

My advice to new parents is to relax about the intuitive routines of feeding and hygiene. They’ll need all their energies for mastering conjuring tricks when their children start school.