Tuesday, 31 July 2012


Together the flames is the prompt for Julia's 100 Word Challenge this week. I imagine we're supposed to wax fluent about the Olympics, but now I've watched the diving and the gymnastics I'm unmoved by our national sporting fervour. Instead, I thought of a small stone village in the Derbyshire Peaks that I recently visited. Eyam seems lonely, windswept and unremarkable until you realise that almost all of the oldest cottages bear an inscription...

Death arrived in a bale of cloth from London. The tailor aired it before the fire and as the household huddled together the flames released the fleas. Randomly the plague claimed victims in the knot of small lanes. They could have fled but, to contain the horror, the survivors sealed off their village and awaited their fate. Today plaques brand the cottages where whole families died. Rocks in a field show where a widow buried her six children. Within a year, three quarters of the village were dead. The disease perished with them but, three centuries on, the vitality of their sacrifice remains indestructible.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Five Joys of the Summer Holidays

I love the prospect of the long school holidays. Hot days idling with the children in National Trust gardens. Family gatherings round a barbecue. Boden dresses. Church fetes. The merciful hibernation of my alarm clock.

I dread the reality of the long school holidays. Hot hours idling with the children on the M25. Petulant offspring picking black bits of the char-grilled chicken. The last-minute dash for children's summer wear in packed shopping malls. The dawn chorus of guests staggering home from our neighbour's latest 'get-together'. The constant, interminable bickering.

Katetakes5's latest Listography invites us to list the five things we most relish about the summer break, which is timely since I'm just unpacking from a miraculously hot week on a Cornish beach.

Now that I've stowed my squabbling pair in front of Grease and poured myself a Peroni in the spare room, I feel equal to considering these hidden joys. Five is quite a feat, but here, after much mental cudgelling, are five reasons to rejoice when school breaks up:

1. You get to know your kids better. I mean for days after a holiday, sand trickles forth from cavities you never knew existed in the human body into parts of the house you never noticed before. You further intimacy on a mental level too, of course. Following a lengthy debate about which light switch you'd rather be in the vicarage if you were a light switch and which Spice Girl you'd rather be if you were a Spice Girl, you feel newly in touch with the infant mind.

2. The daily routine takes on the thrills and suspense of a fairground ride, only for free, as you spin dizzily between housework and child care, whilst watching your work deadlines in stomach-churning free fall.

3. Money ceases to be real. In term time I calculate the price per sheet before committing to a loo roll brand. In the holidays I'll willingly surrender whole wads for RNLI teddies and posh ice cream cones.

4. A homework sabbatical.  I'd thought, when I'd flung my A-Level books into a neighbour's skip, that I was done with prep for ever. Now, not only do I have to muster the energy to endure the stumbling nightly tracts from the Oxford Reading Tree and to invigilate maths when I could be pruning my tea roses, I have to dredge my brain for times tables and rudimentary fractions so that I can fake academic dignity before my 9-year-old.

5. Above all I love the alchemy of summer holidays that can turn one from this: 

to this:

What, for you, are the most lovable aspects of the long school holidays?

Friday, 20 July 2012

How To Be a British Beach Babe

A new survey shows that women spend more readying their bodies for a beach holiday than they do on the holiday itself.  £472 is the average required to help us hold our own by the poolside, according to research by Debenhams.

I am relieved to discover that I am not alone. This year we are ditching our annual jaunt to some Mediterranean hotspot and are heading to Cornwall. The idea was to save money. The sums we've spared ourselves on airfares and car hire have, however, been swallowed by my extravagant summer accessories. I insist, you see, on feeling good on the sands, and perfection comes at a price:

These thermal vests should flatter any contours and shield my skin from the most extreme summer temperatures. I've experimented and can fit all three at once under my beachwear.

Who says that essential accessories can't be funky! This is small enough to stow in a handbag and, in extremis, to shove up the three vests when stretched on my lounger.

I always think that beachwear should be brightly coloured and, if possible, striped to get you into that holiday humour, so I should certainly strut the summer look in these, especially when accompanied by my other rainbow extravagance below:

The real cost of a beach holiday is, of course, absorbed by those soothing scientific potions. You can't let your kids frolic half-clad or venture a summer swim without them and, although, like everyone else, I have half-empty stashes of the stuff left over from previous holidays, there's never a reassuring use-by date. So off I went to Boots to buy a new supply, which should hopefully see us through the next two summers:

I've been saving my guiltiest extravagance until last. The highlight of beach body is, of course, the swimwear in which you flaunt it. I searched long and hard for the perfect costume and, finally, I triumphed. The confection below has everything: the seasidey stripes, a cosy and capacious brushed-cotton fabric, beneath which I can fit those three vests, and enveloping leg sections which will keep the breezes out. I've twinned it here with a pair of wool tights for maximum effect:

Hold on! Just listened to the weather forecast, which is predicting slightly warmer temperatures next week. That might mean I have to surrender the tights so I've had to get my shrinking wallet out yet again to make sure that I'm prepared:

Right, I'm off! See you in a week. While I'm gone, do tell me: how much do you spend on your beach body? 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Perils of You Know What

Pssst! Huddle round, for I could be in big trouble if I'm overheard. I'm talking about the Olymp..., no, sorry, I'm not allowed to say the word. I mean the Games - no, no, not allowed that either. The international event where Team GB takes on - hang on, am I permitted to say Team GB? No? Could you hold on a minute while I consult the two lists of words banned from by the London Olympics Games & Paralympics Games Act!

The Act, I'll mention while you're waiting, was passed in 2006 to preserve the profits of the Olympic organising committee LOCOG. Pardon? Sorry, I meant - to preserve the integrity of the Olympics brand from those who might seek to exploit it for private commercial gain. Drat, I said the O word again!

This Act forbids any unauthorised person or business to associate themselves with the O******* by  using two or more words from List A (such as the various ways of writing the year we are currently in), and the conjunction of List A words with one or more from List B (including 'summer', 'London', 'gold', 'silver', 'medal'). It also makes it a punishable offence to feature any interlocking rings similar to the O****** logo.

Of course, this is perfectly reasonable, for people are seeking left right and centre to exploit the London Olym... - er, the Herculean sporting endeavour in our nation's capital (NB is Hercules all right to mention, or are all Greek myths out of bounds?).

There was that Dorset butcher, for instance, who arranged his sausages into the O****** rings. The florist in Stoke-on-Trent who tried to attract custom with wreaths echoing the logo. The Leicester lingerie shop which was forced to remove five sporty mannequins and hula hoops arranged you know how. The British Sugarcraft Guild, those cunning opportunists, who wanted to hold a not-for-profit O******-themed cake-decorating competition and that avaricious old lady who made a doll with an O****** logo on its top to sell at a church bazaar. And now me, brazenly mining the event on my blog to encourage more hits and win myself a career as a top writer.

With such flagrant attempts to cash in you can see why Britain's largest warship stands ready on the Thames, why fighter jets are poised for action for the first time since World War II, the army has been mobilised and people's flats are being turned into missile bases. You can't be too careful of such a valuable brand in these mercenary times.

I am worried, though. The Act, which allows courts to criminalise mischief-makers who exploit those banned words and logos, also grants the police powers to enter land or premises and to 'remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article' (like this one?). This is presumably why a feature about O****** censorship, which featured a cartoon of the logo, has been removed from the Daily Mail website.

I am worried because,  now I come to think about it, the O****** logo is all over our vicarage:

As every vicar's wife knows, this is one of several reliable methods for keeping those unruly plastic dog collars in check.

I was emptying the washing machine in my usual hurry and it all fell randomly on the floor. Does this mean the police will come rummaging through the Vicar's drawers of smalls?

Obviously I'm going to have to find another way to store domestic essentials.

Millinery, salads, stationery, hairbands, my daughter's jewellery collection and the Vicar's small change for parking meters could all land us at the wrong end of the arm of the law. Social media, you see, is not exempt from these new rules. Anyone, for instance, who photographs themselves at an O****** event, then posts the picture on Facebook, could face charges, alongside the fools who bring their own chips into the O****** precincts and undermine the profits of the G***'s sponsor McDonalds. And as for those who abuse the London skyline by taking a family snap with someone who happens to be carrying a torch or a quintet of hula hoops....

I'm off-line and off on holiday next week. If, in the meantime, they come to get me, I hope all you generous cyber friends could muster a few coins towards my bail.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Sin City

The rain turned the road into a river. It bullied the trees and slashed through the glow of the sodium lights. And, by the score, they crept through the wet, confident that all witnesses were abed.

I, returning from my annual night out, watched disgusted. The city was slimed with lascivious activity. On every street corner they were, in couples. Slick bodies pulsing. I stepped over them as best I could, averting my gaze from their urgency.

Tomorrow I shall write to my MP. Climate change will put an end to the winter fuel allowance. Instead every righteous household should receive a summer allowance.

Of slug pellets.

Julia's latest 100 Word Challenge requires us to add a hundred words to the line The rain turned the road into a river. Which isn't really a challenge at all, since I can't remember a time when our roads weren't a river, or when my children's innocence was put so much at risk...!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Parenthood

Everyone - except me - is talking about the must-read bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. I was briefly excited, thinking it was the latest Farrow & Ball catalogue for the minimalist middle-classes. Now I discover it's a sort of DIY manual for repressed housewives. I can't say I'm keen. I'm comfortable with my repression and night-times are occasions for catching up on back issues of Gardeners' World rather than wading through a stranger's exhausting erotica. Mummy 365, however, has invited fifty bloggers to share their own parenting fantasies for the next cyber sensation: Fifty Shades of Parenthood. Now that does appeal, for fantasies I have aplenty, especially one, which goes something like this:

Nerving myself against the familiar surge of shame, I study it properly for the first time in months. It is dishevelled, matted with slime trails, a far cry from the alluringly-trimmed attraction that has, in my younger days, given so much pleasure to so many.

Years of child-rearing and middle-aged fatigue have killed off the passion. At the end of a long day I would just as soon lie down with a novel as face such vigorous demands, and now it reeks of neglect. I know that I have to rekindle the flame that I feel still burns deep within my suburban recesses if I am to become once again the woman that I was. It's just that, at my time of life, I need to do it in the morning before fatigue saps my suppleness, and in the mornings there are the children...

I do not want their minds sullied with my longings. The Vicar, unsuspecting, takes them off to Dunkin' Donuts. I have unfettered hours before me and I clench each of those precious moments in sweaty palms as I grab the emergency supply the Vicar keeps by the bedside and hurry to the place where I know I can find gratification.

There is a moist ripeness that is, even to my practised senses, almost indecent and temptation rears all around. I thrust at the luxuriant growth, my eager fingers stroking first a rigid smoothness, then, above it,  pliant, clammy folds. Closing my eyes, I inhale that once familiar musk. Memories of past indulgences float guiltily before me. I know beyond all doubt that, despite the clamouring of my conscience, I shall yield.

There is that moment of euphoria as I take possession, and that furtiveness as I pay my dues, hoping that that the Vicar will not guess my betrayal.

Back at home, I hurry through the preliminaries. I trim and tidy the unkempt tangle, pick off the globs of slime and, sinking my fingers into the humid depths, I gently widen the hole. Then, with a sigh of satisfaction, I insert my trophy through the bushy growth.

It is extraordinary how a hybrid tea rose can revitalise a jaded border. Sated now, but shamed, I ready myself to explain to the Vicar why his £12 of parking change has vanished from his bedside bowl.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Importance of Couch Potatoes

The 100 Word Challenge this week requires us to add 100 words to the sentence Murray was just about to serve for the Championship. It took me a moment to work out that it referred to Wimbledon. But then I, along with several million other Britons, were otherwise engaged on Sunday: 

Andy Murray was just about to serve for the Championship. The nation was poised on the edge of its sofas. Even clouds, swollen with malice, briefly held their breath. And I went for a walk. Other people's balls do not excite me. A kick-about in the park and volleys with the Vicar are amusements I can understand, but the only thrill about Wimbledon is that it it was predicted to bring Britain to a standstill. I wanted to see how London looked empty. The streets, however, teemed. It's scandalous, this indifference to our national glory. Next year I shall become a tennis evangelist - so that I can shop queue-lessly during the finals.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


I am the sort of mother who wishes her children's lives away. When they were helpless newborns I longed for the day when they crawled. When they crawled I longed for the day when they walked. When they walked I was impatient for speech, when speech arrived in a volley of vacuous questions, I counted the years until intelligent conversation and when intelligent conversation budded, I looked forward to the liberty of school days.

Now my oldest is nine and I want time to stop. I dread the transformation of adolescence as vigorously as she plans for it. I have no map to chart me through these turbulent years, for I was not a normal teenager. Doris Day was my pin up, tree-climbing my hobby and hand-me downs from the church warden my preferred daywear.

My 9-year-old, however, declares that she will marry a Chelsea footballer who embraces tattoos, body piercings and a daily night out down the pub. She studies her face in anxious anticipation of spots that will indicate the onset of puberty 'because then I get to be moody'.

She asks anxiously if ladies are allowed to swear. She begs trips to Hollister so she can ready her wardrobe for her teens. And she is experimenting with a gentle rebellion against all things are not cool (God, Clark's shoes, Classic FM, homemade fairy cakes, correct consonants, my waterproof coat, Skodas) and evangelising about all things that are (Juicy Couture, Barratts's shoes, Jesse J, cheese strings, silver people carriers, white leather sofa suites and Blue-nosed Bears).

Instinct warns me not to protest too vociferously, but she notes my trepidation and, pitying, hastens to set my mind at rest. 'I will have to swear when I'm a teenager,' she warns me kindly, 'but I won't smash windows.'

Friday, 6 July 2012

Famous Five

A Littlelightwork, a brand new, witty, sophisticated Dad blogger (go and boost his stats as soon as you've read this. The fact that he's my brother is mere coincidence!) requires me to post up pictures of five famous people whom I reckon I resemble. It's a meme thing devised by Diary of a Dad and a tricky one for I don't even resemble myself these days. Cameras and mirrors show an unrecognisable middle-aged matron with eye bags and chin bristles, whereas I'm certain that the reality is closer to this:

Here, however, is the unvarnished truth (you can see the resemblance if you close your eyes):

Now, I do my best not to go round looking like famous people. I have never craved the spotlight and paparazzi lenses vex me. Hours I spend each morning trying to suppress any hint of Claudia Schiffer or Keira Knightley, although I've been told I bear a passing resemblance to that woman who writes for The Guardian:

I got a shock, however, when I opened my paper to find myself staring back out at me. Myself with better groomed hair, eyebrows, lips, clothes and poise that is. The likeness recedes when I compare the photos, but my boss, my neighbour, my best friend, the Lady who Does the Flowers and old mates of my brother's, whom I haven't seen for 12 years, all hastened to tell me that they'd seen my alter ego sashaying across their TV screens. So Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, must share some distant gene:



Then it happened again. I was reading of a heinous murder and a baffling disappearance and my own smug security was shaken by this:

Yes, there is the unnerving risk that Lord Lucan, should he be alive and at the same Tesco check-out as me, might mistake me for the wife he allegedly tried to bump off.

Talking of aristocracy, it's a little-known fact that, in the early 1980s, Lady Di modelled herself to some extent on me:

Lady Di

Thirty years on, as I grower longer in tooth and jaw, I have more facial kinship with Emma Thompson:


Emma Thompson

To be honest, I don't like the way things are going. Old cherished bits of me are dropping off, while new unwanted bits are sprouting on. Meet me here, same time, same place in in another two decades: you'll find I shall look like Andrew Marr:

At this point I'm supposed to tag more bloggers, but none of the bloggers I follow seems to like being preyed on, so I throw it open to you: whom do you resemble?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Procrastinate Now!

Today I face two work deadlines, three weeks of laundry, four important phone calls and a school gardening club. My time is finely carved, yet there is one thing I know I shall devote myself to unstintingly: procrastination.  

This week researchers announced that we waste three years of our lives and 69 minutes of our day putting off essential tasks. Some of us can squander as much as two hours in 24, especially if we are women and especially if we live in Cambridge.  Now I am a woman and I once lived in Cambridge where, as I recall, we did indeed neglect needful chores such as stocking our larders and cleaning our rooms in order to fathom cosmic mysteries in The Bath inn.

I am therefore amply qualified to procrastinate and procrastinate I do with gusto, which is why I'm writing this blog post instead of rinsing the family smalls. I take issue, however, with idea that those of us who have perfected this art are wasting our lives. Why, while other people are toiling over their tax returns, I am totting up notional bills from The White Stuff catalogue. While they waste hours a week ironing tea towels I'm inflating the annual profits of Waterstones with assiduous novel-reading. The adrenalin rush the night before the tax return deadline gets the job done far more quickly than if I'd committed my leisure to the task in early summer - and everyone knows that tea towels don't need ironing.

My life is productive and fulfilled because I procrastinate.  The French understand this. Last year they declared an International Procrastination  Day, although celebrants were welcome to defer their festivities. 'To procrastinate,' said its founder David d'Equainville, 'is to refuse to do what the context - be it from bosses, administrative obligations or a culture of results - asks us to do. We absolutely must take the time to think about the tasks we accept to execute or else we will lose all control over our lives.'

He confirms what I have always known. Every day I take the time to think about making the beds. Come evening we are in them again, and I rejoice in my forbearance, for why smooth the duvets when, a few hours later, they'll be disordered again? Every day I contemplate my towering in-tray. When, weeks later, I get round to tackling it, most of the deadlines and requirements within have expired and can be effortlessly binned.  When a household appliance breaks down I patiently work round it. The Vicar mocks my scientific theory, but it's a truth I've often experienced that ailing electrical equipment is healed by a nice long rest. Why, my printer sprang to life after a six-month coma. Only for half a morning, admittedly, but  I'm hopeful another season of recuperation will fully resurrect it.

At 5pm most evenings I panic about what to feed the children because I've put off stocking the fridge. But, after a soothing hour of digging in my borders, I will invariably discover a carrot and a half emptied tin of proteins in an overlooked cupboard and the crisis - and supermarket drudgery - is averted.

Those who dismiss procrastination as laziness are benighted. It is simply a sensible savouring of the moment. Marcel Duchamps spent half a lifetime dawdling over a few surrealist art works but was hailed as a genius when he died.  Marcel Proust turned procrastination into a literary art form and Douglas Adams famously relished the 'whoosh' of missed deadlines passing over his head.

Scientists have even come up with an equation for the habit U=EV/ID, which is mathematical proof that procrastinators are not ineffectual idlers, but strong minds who have mastered the skill of stretching time. If investment bankers had procrastinated a little more they might not have gambled the national economy. If governments dallied before they pronounced they would face fewer humiliating U-turns. And if you tea-towel ironers are still not persuaded, Shakespeare has the clincher, for as David d'Equainville says: 'If Romeo had put off his suicide a bit on Juliet's tomb, the two love birds could have grown old together.'

Are you an expert procrastinator? Have you suggestions of more 'essential' chores that can be painlessly put off?

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Finding my Feet

When I venture outside, as many of you already know, I usually wear these:

For church, glamour and my annual Wild Night Out I exchange them for these:

But for the most part of most days, I am shod in these:

Sunshine, however, throws me. My footwear has to endure the mile walk to school and back. It has to accommodate the fact that my nail varnish remover doesn't work and that the Vicar's stored his razor in an unknown new place, so I can't mow my shins.  And so, when things hot up, I turn to these:

All of the above, except the Hunters, cause my young daughter pain. Especially my vintage M&S Footgloves (above). Because the mothers of other local 9-year-olds express a more proper sense of self in variations on these:

When a batch of family prints arrives from Photobox, I feel the pain too. I look, I realise, like a vicar's wife. Maliciously, the sun decides to shines as I ponder this, and so my boots are no longer feasible. I decide, therefore, to go shopping. My young style advisor comes too, for she doesn't trust me unleashed in a high street on my own. We try wedges and kitten heels, platforms and flipflops. I pace the aisles in canvas and leopard-print, Nike trainers and diamante bling. 

Some of them are unkind to my corns. Others bully my budding bunion. Most of them topple me before I can attempt lift off. At last I seek sanctuary in the shoe shop beloved of my elderly mother. There I find a heaven of rubber-grip heels, sturdy strapping and insoles cavernous enough for my arch supports. And so I brace up to summer in these:

My daughter is disappointed, but placated. I am briefly jubilant. Until, that is, I realise that new sandals unleash a costly train of events. I shall have to invest in new nail varnish to cover the obstinate shreds from the spring heatwave and in transparent plasters to conceal my burst blisters. I shall have to master the science of toe-nail clippers and, since the concealing graces of tights are now impossible, I shall have to buy my own razor. 

Mercifully, as I tot up the cost in money, time and patience, the sun recedes. Next morning we awake to the customary downpour. And I, radiant with relief, tog myself up for the school run: 

How do you preserve glamour when the sun shines?