Thursday, 3 December 2015

When your child goes missing...

It was 8am when the 13-year-old left for school. As usual I had forgotten to pack the 11-year-old's lunch, so as usual I was distracted by Hovis crusts when she called out a goodbye.

It was 11am when the school texted to say that she had not turned up. They asked me to ring but my calls landed in a voicemail box. I crouched over my phone and decided to think things through rationally.

I thought of how I had berated her for her messy room when I'd bidden her goodnight and how I'd complained of her rolled up skirt instead of a morning greeting. I thought of a man in a van snatching her off the street and of a secret tryst with a Facebook imposter. I recalled headlines of body parts in bin liners, of teenage runaways and hit-and-run drivers. I imagined all the empty Christmases of the future without my little girl in.

It was an hour before the school returned my message and told me that she had been in class all along. In that hour, the world shifted infinitesimally.

I spend a lot of time on my daughter -  a lot of time castigating her for smearing foundation on my towel and nail polish on the bath; for plundering the biscuit tin, skimping her homework, ignoring her bedtime and isolating herself on a computer screen.

I do not spend enough time sharing her enthusiasms, inviting her thoughts, appreciating her being. I often think nostalgically of the little girl she used to be; I can't remember the last time I treasured the young woman she has become.

Now the panic is over, I am grateful for that tortured hour. We are inclined to appreciate what we have only once we have lost it. But in my case it was given back to me.

I hope I shall remember now to overlook the superficial annoyances and be thankful for my blessings. I had intended to start tonight - but oh boy, the state of her bedroom when I went in to welcome her home!



Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Change

They say it happens to all of us sooner or later. It's just that you can never quite believe it will really happen to you.

You try to ignore the early signs. The disconcerting weight gain that means old favourites no longer fit and old styles no longer suit. The loss of interest in cherished pastimes; the hours of wakefulness while the household sleeps.

Then come the secret stashes of comfort food, exhausted afternoons behind closed curtains. There's the apathy, the anger, the addiction to soaps in the need for escapism.

What keeps you going are the highs. The sudden flaming enthusiasms, companionable shopping trips, heart-to-hearts in the bedroom and, always underlying, that intoxicating sense of possibility.

The change of life is a frightening thing. It requires total adjustment of everything you took for granted. You have to rethink the way you communicate, the way you think, where and when and how you go. You know the future depends on how you cope with it. It's a balancing act between holding out and letting go, speaking or silence, cosseting or independence.

What they don't so often tell you is that, in its vividness and unpredictability, it's glorious. And today it happened to me.  For the first time, I have become the mother of a teenager!

Happy birthday to my no-longer-little girl.




Thursday, 17 September 2015

Wild Life

Lately I've been counting the days till Tuesdays. Tuesday is usually the only night in the week that I get to go out. To put the bins out. Those three minutes inhaling the darkness and feeling the damp pavement through my slippers remind me of the nocturnal life that exists beyond my sofa rug.

Yes, Tuesday nights have tided me over pretty effectively these last ten years. But last week, when I realised my bedtime had inched forward to 9.30pm, I wondered whether I should Get Out More.

It's not that I don't live a life of vigour and adventure:





It's just that my fast living usually involves waterproofing and never takes place under cover of darkness. After 16 years of marriage I feel I deserve more.

It was surprisingly easy to arrange the assignation and the church hall seemed to the most convenient place to do it. Unsure of the dress code for untamed nightlife, I borrowed the school shoes my son has grown out of and some sinuous lycra from my daughter.

'Big booty!' exclaimed a voice as I crept into the dimly lit chamber. I was disconcerted when I realised I was required to take my full-length Turpin off before the excitement could begin. At this point I didn't even know their name. Shyly I disrobed. I felt naked out at night without a wheelie bin in my arms.

I'd prepared some small talk, just to break the ice as we got to know each other, but the stranger didn't bother with preliminaries. Down on the floor I was, on all fours, trying to gyrate my behind in rhythm with theirs. I studied the stained parquet on which I'd so recently played church bingo and tried to think of England.

Then they had me up again, thrusting my stiff hips at them and massaging my cotton contours. 'Big, big booty!' cried the voice and I began to worry about bladder control.

By the end of that rendez-vous my thighs throbbed from unaccustomed demands and I was aflame. I think I could acquire a taste for nightlife, but next time I'll leave my thermal vest off  before attempting Zumba!






Sunday, 31 May 2015

Summer Style

I am not a great fan of summer. I prefer to remain resolutely in my thermal vest, hoping that the weather will take a turn for the worse. But there comes that point, earlier and earlier it seems to me, when the forecasters threaten Mediterranean heat and I am obliged to excavate my summer wear from under the spare room bed.

That necessitates the annual hunt for the iron to tame cottons after months in cramped hibernation. And the iron, which has also spent months in hibernation, short circuits the kitchen while the Vicar has the roast in the oven.  The only way to avoid risking the Sunday lunch is to donate the crumpliest clothes to the local cat charity. The rest I hang in place of my winter woollens where I contemplate them with misgivings.

In winter you know where you are with a pair of wellies and a swaddling of corduroy. But it's a struggle to know how to dress suitably for the essential routines of summer:



Shorn of that vest, hidden attributes are liable to sag publicly as you go about your daily business:



 Even a barbecue evening can require painstaking sartorial adjustments:


And suddenly ones Sunday best has to adapt to those inevitable seasonal demands:


On frigid May mornings, by swapping your cable-knit for your 12-year-old's classmate's swimsuit, you can rise to the occasion, only to find it exposes body parts that the razor hasn't yet explored:


Experience has taught me to throw something sturdy and wipe-able over ones lacy camisole tops when wafting forth on a summer afternoon:


The trouble is that you compromise that floaty, sun-kissed style that the clothes catalogues urge on you when the temperature rises. However, the children, behind the Vicar's back, have shown me that there is a simple way to dress practically for these unpredictable conditions while retaining that summery floral look:



How did you pack for a summery, fashionable half term?

Monday, 13 April 2015

A Life Sentence

This was my mother two years ago:



This was the newspaper where she had been features editor for 40 years:




This was the zebra she crossed on her way home from work on the night of November 26th 2013:




This was the consultant from the adjacent hospital who failed to stop in time:




This is the hospital where my mother spent five months recovering from her injuries:




This is how many times the court hearing was delayed to accommodate the driver's defence team:




This is the magistrates court where the trial took place 18 months later:



This was the sentence, along with costs and a £15 victim surcharge, when the driver was found guilty of driving without due care and attention:




This is the sentence my mother, brain-damaged, disabled and dependent, is serving:




A stiffer sentence would not change anything. The driver was not speeding or phoning or drunken. He made a fleeting mistake. A mistake anyone of us could make when we drive a familiar route home. A mistake that cost my mother her job, her dignity and her independence and which he relives every time he gets in a car.

But the fact that someone flashed by a speed camera will automatically receive a harsher punishment - penalty points and a £100 fine - shows that there's something wrong with the law. Speeding counts as dangerous driving whether or not there's a victim. Running someone over on a zebra because you were not looking properly is driving without due care and attention and only if they die does the law, as it stands, recognise the consequences.

My mother nearly died from her injuries. The magistrates were unable to take this into account because the offence of causing serious injury by careless driving does not exist. It should do. Not so that weary doctors who don't look where they're going are obliged to face jail, but so that the charges acknowledge the difference between damaging a bollard through inattention and damaging a woman on her way home from the office. So that families don't have to wait 18 months for what counts as a minor matter to reach the front of the queue in court. So that the lawmakers and anyone who gets behind a wheel appreciates that it doesn't require death for a life to be destroyed.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Life of Decorum

The Church, I always thought, is a bastion of dignity and decorum. It was logical to assume, therefore, that when I married in to it, some of these qualities would rub off on me. I am not alone in that delusion. The eyes of strangers remain lifeless when I am introduced by name. But when that qualifying epithet 'the Vicar's wife' is added, as it always is, they gaze with new interest and respect. They see, I suspect, someone who starches her underhose and spends Saturday nights pulsing over box sets of Songs of Praise.

Behind closed doors, however, vicarage life has been a disappointment. Dignity and decorum, precariously simulated through my twenties, fled the moment I took my vows and neither has been seen since. It's not just the fact that, when I am mid way through an Adele impression, an archdeacon is liable to emerge from the Vicar's study, or that I'm required to host total strangers in my polar bear dressing gown when the Vicar runs late for a meeting. It's that the whole behind-the-scenes business of bearing Christian witness can be - well, undignified.

'Can you make me a crown of thorns,' the Vicar asks as he arrives with the morning tea. And so much later, while the kids' supper is smouldering in the oven, I grab a thorn-proof bag and dash to the park to gather materials. Too late I realise the bag contains half the household cleaning equipment. 'Are you all right?' asks a dog walker as I crouch in the mud wrestling a duster that's become impaled on a bramble. A bottle of Pledge rolls out from between my ankles. I realise it's my mental well-being he's concerned about. I look as though I'm dusting the blackberry bushes.

There was that Sunday, early in my new role, when the bell tolled for the Sunday service and the parish matrons promenaded to church while I straddled a Fairy Liquid bottle in the vicarage kitchen and filleted it with a steak knife. The Vicar had lost all his dog collars - those errant plastic crescents that worm their way into the most intimate parts of a household - and my emergency improvisation served the purpose. Until the end of Mass, that is, when I noticed the royal coat of arms emblazoned on his neckline and the words 'By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, manufacturer of soap and detergent'. 'I thought it was a special one for fancy occasions,' said the churchwarden comfortingly.

It's not that I resent joining the throng of tailored commuters on the tube home from work with a large fluffy sheep's head protruding from my brief case. You have to accept donations for the church fete raffle when and whereever they are offered. I've grown used to the annual chore of scraping mummified grapes off the family fruit bowl so the feet of the faithful can be washed in it on Maundy Thursday and when I have to raid my sanitary stash to conjure up Abraham's beard or stiffen the forefinger of a Marigold as visual aids for the Vicar's sermon, I rise resignedly to the occasion. I can even recall that incident with the nipple tassles without blushing.

I cling to the hope, though, that the unglamorousness of vicarage life is belied by my graceful, boiled-wool bearing. I like to think that the queue in Co-op sees a woman of poise and gravitas. The sort of woman who bakes a near flawless banana cake for a new parishioner and takes it round in welcome. Soon afterwards the new parishioner announces he has a reciprocal gift for me. Chocolates, I hope, or a floral tribute. He arrives on the vicarage doorstep bearing a thrillingly large package.

I smile graciously and wait till he's gone before tearing off the wrappings. And I found…that that new parishioner had taken one look at me in my Sunday hat and decided to buy me this:









Monday, 16 March 2015

Revelation

It was 10am on Sunday. I had done the laundry, served the breakfast, baked a cake, washed up, prepared a stew, riddled the fire and laid out squash and biscuits for the cubs and scouts in church.

When, I thought, does Mothering Sunday begin?

2pm on Sunday. I had attended church, served squash and biscuits to the cubs and scouts, sat through the Annual Parochial Church Meeting, cooked the lunch, washed up and mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors.

When, I thought, does Mothering Sunday begin?

7pm on Sunday. I had sorted the under-stairs cupboard, changed the sheets, crashed out of a Monopoly game with the children, made their tea, washed up, fetched in the coal, unblocked a drain and performed an emergency dash to Co-op.

And it began to dawn on me…

…I had relished every minute of it all. I don't usually find the vigour to bake after breakfast. The bed sheets had at least another month of wear left in them. The kitchen floor hasn't been washed since our tabby vomited up bird parts last autumn and ordinarily I leave my kids for hours on their iPods rather than face a board game.

But this Sunday I was unusually energised. Even the fistful of drowned slugs jamming the kitchen drain gave me satisfaction. And there was enough of this miraculous energy left over to be nice to my children who, startled by my novel sunniness, suspended hostilities, ate my stew without weeping and hung the laundry on the drying rack.

It struck me then - a truth I have never realised before. Mothering Sunday is not about being feted by my children; it's about earning them. The chores were a tribute, not drudgery.

Today I have lapsed back into my customary cantankerousness. There was nothing invigorating about packing the school lunch boxes. But, when I quail at the thought of enduring Key Stage 2 spelling lists this evening, I shall try to remember yesterday when I was newly grateful for my children, instead of expecting them to be grateful for me.

How was it for you?







Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothering

In a remote part of the cemetery is a small stone urn, dwarfed by the tombstones around it. Inscribed on the sides is simply 'Mum' and 'Dad' and the year of their deaths in the 1960s. There's no headstone or kerb, nothing to show it's there except, this last December, the glow of coloured lights from a miniature Christmas tree placed beside it.

Such a tiny testament to such huge love. Fifty years after their deaths, someone somewhere can't imagine Christmas without their parents a part of it. Fifty years on, that aged someone marks Mothering Sunday with lily-of-the-valley and a spray of pink rosebuds.

I am awed by the enduring power of human relations and daunted by the expectations it implies of parenthood.

That devotedly tended urn exposes the void that is left when parents pass on. And it shows me the impact we have, for good or bad, on our children.

This Mothering Sunday I shall overlook the wash load that my 12-year-old forgot to hang up, the mascara she's smeared on my bath towel, the raid on the biscuit drawer that no one will admit to.

I shall try, as I soothe sibling conflicts and wrestle fractions on school worksheets, to see my chores as a privilege. For domestic demands, that I sometimes feel diminish me, are building a legacy which I hope will power my children on through the decades when I am just a memory.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

I Love You

I am not always affirming with my children. I assume my love shows in my painstaking plucking of burnt bits off the suppers I cook them and in the hours I spend hanging round in New Look.

Maybe, though, this is not enough.

'Do you luuurve me?' asks the 10-year-old on the walk home from school.
'You know the answer to that,' I say absently.

He ponders.

'If I was a bench would you love me?'
'Eh?'
'If I was a gas pipe and you were a gutter would you love me?'
'Um…'
'If you were a washing line and I was clothes would you dry me?'
'I…'
'If I was a sign post and you were a lamp would you light me?'
'Well, I….'
'If I was a bin and you were a recycling bin would you sit with me.'
'How long can you keep this up?'
'If I was a lavatory and you were a p….'
'YES!' I interject hastily. 'I LOVE you!'

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Workout

I like to keep my intellect in good repair. Whenever the Vicar finishes a chick-lit novel I bag it for my bedside table. I'm serious about my looks. Every six months or so, when my hair can no longer be restrained by my bath hat, I pour a friend a gin and she shears it for me. I have, though, never given much thought to my fitness.

It came as a shock, when I hit 40, to realise I could no longer do a forward roll, but I found other evening pastimes that respected my unbending joints.



When my back began protesting at tasks I used to take for granted, I was regretful...


…but I failed to heed the warning signs. It was only when I struggled to heave myself off our sagging  sofa that I decided I must face what the other school-gate mums embraced routinely and embark on a fitness regime. They all subscribe to David Lloyd, but I reckon no gym can beat The Vicarage with its state-of the-art facilities and 24/7 opportunities for body-honing. My daily workout has made a new matron of me. Why, the churchwarden, when trying to estimate my antiquity last week, only added a year to my age!

The Stepper


I usually spend twenty minutes a day on a stepping routine to boost my cardiovascular fitness and strengthen my quads, glutes and hamstrings. Adding a weight-bearing element helps slow bone mineral loss.

The Treadmill


The sprint to 9am Sunday School at 9.04am each week has improved the flexibility of my joints, invigorated my circulation and helped fight cellulite.  And this vigorous church treadmill is, of course, so very good for the heart.

Rowing Machine


The forward and backwards motion raises the heart rate and increases oxygen uptake, but the real beneficiaries are my rhomboids, trapezius and lats as I flex my back and shoulders. Thighs and calves also get a surprisingly thorough workout as I brace for the thrust. Traditionally, of course, this exercise is performed sitting down...



Weights




Regular resistance training can increase your basal metabolic rate by up to 15 per cent and for every additional pound of muscle burns 50 calories a day.


Press ups



Every evening I extract the cats from under the beds in order to shut them in the kitchen for the night. This lowering and lifting from plank position engages arms, chest, abdominals and other core stabilisers and so strengthens the upper body muscles. The New York Times decreed it 'the ultimate barometer of fitness'.

Aerobic Dance


The nightly ritual of dish-washing has an important impact on heart and lung efficiency and releases endorphins to improve mental health. For maximum effect, stick Elvis Presley on the stereo, grab a mic (a hand whisk or potato masher are useful for this) and start boogying round that tea towel while you're drying the pans.

How do you keep fit?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Dirty Linen

I am not the most vigilant of housewives. I can't boil the kettle without setting fire to the tea towel. I didn't realise that my new dressing gown has a polar bear hood with ears until a parishioner pointed it out in Co-op and I was startled when the hard lump that had distorted the marital duvet cover all week revealed itself to be my son's missing school uniform.



However, there is one domestic chore over which I am painstaking. Laundry seems to fill otherwise stalwart souls with dread. It needn't. Over many years of domestic management I have perfected a routine that eliminates the most onerous aspects - like ironing, for instance, and the ordeal of Folding Away. For your sakes, I'm prepared to air my dirty linen in public so that you too can keep on top of the family smalls without heartache.

Usually the vicarage line basket looks like this:


Occasionally it looks like this, but that's usually when I've tipped everything out to hunt down my mobile phone:


Transferring one drum-loads worth to the washing machine once the lid no longer shuts has a reassuring visible effect and that's all you need do to keep up appearances for the next week or so. For when the wash programme has finished I leave the contents to marinade for a few days by which time the funny smell justifies another short cycle and defers the Evil Moment of Hanging It All Up.

Next comes the exciting part - sorting through the treasures that miraculously emerge from a hot wash. A bit like a high street ATM is our Bosch - you insert a sheaf of Y-fronts and out comes hard cash (and innumerable bonus extras). Money laundering is big business in the vicarage - but I have to say that Cadbury's Flakes taste better unwashed.



The Evil Moment of Hanging It All Up is made more evil by the blight of socks. It's a curious fact that however many washes you do none of them ever matches up, even when they're all black or striped.



Embrace this as a good thing, though. It means you can put the singletons into a transit camp under the bed which saves you sorting them into their drawers. When the Vicar finally notices that he's run out of black socks he just buys new ones. 

Once you have ornamented your airer with underwear, you can take it easy for a couple of days until you find that the lid of the linen basket won't shut again. Then, of course, you have to clear the rack to make way for the next tranche. To do this, fling the relevant items outside the relevant bedroom door and leave them there. This is not indolence, this is teaching your children independence. 



Within the week they will have tired of stepping over them to get to their iPods and will gather them up and thrust them back in the linen basket to save themselves the trouble of putting them away. Whereupon you repeat the drum-filling, marinading, rewashing, hanging process and thereby also avoid having to wrestle clothes hangers and half-hinged wardrobe doors. 

I can't lie. There will come a point when the landing is inaccessible because of the linen mounds, the laws of gravity forbid any additions to the linen basket, the drying rack is still sagging with last month's washing and the family has run out of underpants. At this stage you do have to bite the bullet and find homes for the backlog. This process need never, though, under any circumstance involve an ironing board. Sheets slept in for a night will only crease up and wrinkles miraculously smooth from clothing after a few hours of wearing. 

Nor need you bother about folding. They'll inevitably be hurled to the floor when family members are seeking their missing chewing gum/haemorrhoid cream/dog collars. Simply employ your child's recorder to batten them down so that the drawer/door shuts and, while your neighbours are toiling over their ironing piles, go get a life in front of The Home Show

The vicarage linen cupboard

Have you any labour-saving tips to share? Or any spare black socks in search of a life partner? 





Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Second Flowering

Years I have waited for my Second Flowering to commence. Once I had shed the scent of Napisan, I thought, I would rise resplendent from the mire of motherhood and bedazzle Waitrose check-outs with new radiance. An epilator and a selection of brand new vests have been on standby for the Moment when it happens. The trouble is, it shows no sign of happening.

And so I decide to hurry things along a little. I invite a friend round with a mascara stick. She shows me what to do with lash clamps and gel pens. She turns my eyelids blue and silver and fills in crevices with pink mortar.

Over the ensuing days, with lesser skill, I replicate her efforts. And, as I face the world with Cleopatra eyes, things do indeed begin to happen.

The churchwarden comes hurrying up to me as I jive round my brolly at her 50th wedding anniversary bash. 'That man over there,' she giggles, 'has just pointed you out and said, 'she's going to be a beauty when she grows up'!' I peer at an elderly gentleman hunched myopically in a distant corner of the church. It must be my mascara, I think. 'It's because you're dancing like a six-year-old,' explains my daughter.

I'm chatting to a fellow mother under a lamp post outside the scout hall. A car crawls along the kerb and comes to a halt alongside us. Two youths peer out of the passenger window. 'We're being picked up!' marvels my companion. It must be my mascara, I think. Then the car slides into reverse and the youths lean out to greet a blonde who's been awaiting them in the shadows further up.

I'm discussing bathroom cleaning products and Syria with the man at the Boots check-out.  'You will forever linger in my mind!' he grins as he hands me a voucher for anti-ageing cream. It must be my mascara, I think. 'It's because you went on so much about your black mould,' hisses my daughter.

I am becoming disillusioned with Second Flowerings. I've spent £15 on beauty aids, but no heads turn in the Communion queue and the Vicar is oblivious to my coal-black lashes. Even the young man who pursues me through Co-op turns out to be returning a tin of Vaseline I've dropped.

Then, as I serve teas to school children in the church hall, a Year 6 girl peers at me closely. 'You're wearing mascara!' she remarks. I am jubilant. 'You're the first person who's noticed,' I say. She looks at me pityingly. 'Anyone would notice,' she replies. 'It's running all down your face.'

Has your Second Flowering begun yet?






Monday, 26 January 2015

School-gate Fashionista

Nearly three years have passed since, inspired by a new generation of mummy bloggers, I shared my tips on how to conquer the school-gate catwalk. Things change in three years. Fashion moves on, circumstances alter and body parts start slipping. High time, therefore, that I show you how my style has evolved to meet the demands of 2015 and how you too can get the look that turns heads on the school run - or, in our case, hike.

Logistically, this sharing has proved a challenge. My usual photographer has started secondary school and is unavailable and the Vicar eats muesli at 8.30am and can't be disturbed. Moreover, the 10-year-old has refused to capture some of my more, er, retro ensembles. Here, however, is a photo log of my sartorial week so you can see how a woman's wardrobe moves with the times.

Monday


2012                                        2015


Some of the striking fashion differences in this picture can be explained by the fact that the first was taken at the beginning of summer and the most recent in mid January. Winter, for instance, calls for The Hat. The Hat guarantees you stunned stares from fellow parents and is a useful nesting place for tissues when you don't have pockets. It was a Christmas present from my mother three years ago, so you'll have to guess the price and origins. The scarf was courtesy of the Vicar and, if moth holes are as reliable an indicator of age as tree rings, it's passed its fifth birthday and is equally priceless. Who needs plastic surgery with a coat like this (£32 from Harpers Bazaar army surplus stores in Malvern)? Beneath it I'm wearing tartan pyjamas (Primark £8) and a pair of pink bedsocks (99p from the 99p Stores). The most obvious transformation is the wellies. Alas, my original Hunters only lasted two years before admitting several gallons of the local stream on one morning commute. This replacement pair was also a present from my mother. Genuine Hunters, don't you know. Price on application. Total price: £40.99 and some. Plus the Hunters.

Tuesday



The secret of sartorial success is to turn heads while adapting seamlessly to circumstance. My legs are modelling skinny jeans (£21 from M&S before you were born). Luckily the coat (£32 from Harpers Bazaar army surplus store) hides the evidence that cream is far too pale a hue for the unpredictability of our route to school. If you zoom in you'll see the label on those boots show they're genuine Hunters. Total price: £74 plus The Hat and Hunters.


Wednesday




Ditto Tuesday. The jeans are the same as yesterday. No point muddying two pairs of trousers. Note the designer Hunters which lift the whole ensemble. Total cost: £74 plus the Hunters.

Thursday


2012                                                            2015  


A menacing forecast and a tardy alarm clock mean we're driving today. That allows the mud to dry on my army waterproofing while I show off my contours in spring green. The coat was bought in the Next Christmas sale in 2007. £35 I think it was.  I should point out to those wanting instant gratification that that coveted distressed vintage look takes years of patience to achieve. Within it I'm sporting a skirt bought in the same Christmas sales as the coat, only across the mall at Boden (£35), and a jumper from Debenhams (£20) with Oxfam polyknit as insulation(£4). The boots bore a £180 price tag from Hobbs. To calm me, the assistant told me they should last five years. Ten years on they still have most of their parts attached. Total price: £274.


Friday



If you want to speed up the morning drop-off, wear moss green corduroy cut-offs and watch your little ones sprint the last hundred yards to school to avoid being seen with you. These were £4 from Barnardo's in Godalming. The average property price in Godalming is £513,000, so probably these crops were worn by a stockbroker's wife before me. The day after this picture was taken, though, they mysteriously disappeared from my wardrobe. You'll notice the scarf and coat have changed. It's essential for a woman's wardrobe to show variety. The former was a tenner from Covent Garden market. The latter is a genuine designer Barbour, although not the right kind of genuine designer Barbour according to the 12-year-old who only recognises the shiny quilted Gold Label Glamour range. A tissue in the pocket dates it to circa 2008 when I bought a box of Superdrug multi-coloured 2-ply by mistake. £80 as I recall (the Barbour, not the tissues). And no, those aren't my Hunters. I had to borrow the 12-year-old's wellies due to an aquatic calamity on yesterday's school hike home. But I hope you appreciate that they still bear the Hunters label (£19 from TK Maxx). Total cost: £113.

Now it's your turn. How do you combine glamour and adaptability on the obstacle course that is the school run?


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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Not for Publication

The 10-year-old is sagging over his homework book. He has, he explains, to write about Something Funny that has happened in the family.

An unwanted thought comes to mind: 'You know that story I was telling yesterday about Great Grandma's lavatory light switch and the chipolata?' I say.
'Oh yes!' he exclaims, brightening.
'Just make sure you don't use that one.'

There's a crestfallen pause. Then he perks up.
'What about the thing you and Auntie did at Christmas with the Brussels sprout?'
'That,' I say firmly, 'is not for publication.'

Further silence. A procession of memories discomforts me. I censor each one of them and cast urgently about for an example of wholesome hilarity which will show the vicarage in decorous light in the school staff room. 'I suppose you could use the humping game,' I suggest doubtfully. The humping game is a high-suspense competition involving ant hills and always takes place in public. The 12-year-old groans: 'That's not funny, Mum, that's just sad.'

I decide that the safest option is for the 10 year-old to make something up. 'But don't make it embarrassing or undignified,' I say, 'and show it to me first because Dad has to face school assembly tomorrow.'

A short while later he returns with a scribbled sheet. 'Mum and Auntie were washing up,' he reads out. 'Us kids went rushing in because of the terrible noise. They were both wearing saucepans on their heads and yelling a Tina Turner song into a potato masher. We thought it would be safer to join in so we all grabbed kitchen utensils as microphones and then Grandpa stuck his head round the door and waved his good leg to the music and Dad rushed in to complain about the noise, but even he couldn't resist and he grabbed a whisk and began boogying round Mum's tea towel.'

'That,' I say, 'is very original. There's only one problem.'
'What's that?' asks the 10-year-old.
'You might have to read it out in class and, as you know perfectly well, it's the gospel truth!'


Auntie in washing up mode





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Friday, 16 January 2015

A Day Off

9.15am Return from the muddy two-mile hike to and from school drop-off.

9.40am Arrive in church No I to set out forty chairs and six tables for the community singing group. Commence nine commutes down the aisle with the water jug to fill up the tea urn.

11.00am  Serve tea to 107 singers.

11.20am Wash up 107 tea cups in the last three inches of hot water dispensed by the tea urn.

Noon Clear away forty chairs and six tables.

1.30pm Chaperone the Vicar's cassock on an emergency dash to the dry cleaner.

2.40pm Repeat the muddy mile to church No II by the school to fill the tea urn.

3.15pm Serve tea and squash to 13 parents and children.

4.15pm Clear away 13 tea and squash cups and mop juvenile footprints off the new laminate in the church hall.

5.00pm Start writing a press release on the Heritage Lottery grant towards the church organ appeal .

5.30pm Return to church No I to make up 12 mattresses for the winter night shelter. Set out three tables and 14 chairs for the guests. Commence nine commutes down the aisle with the water jug to fill up the tea urn.

In the midst of the mass irrigation of singers, an elderly lady pauses to receive a cup of tea from me: 'So,' she says conversationally, 'you're not working today then?'

 Do you work?!





Sunday, 11 January 2015

Sunday School

It's 8.53am. In seven minutes my Sunday school is due to start a mile up the road, unless, by divine providence, the Vicar has forgotten his sermon notes again and has to dash back home to retrieve them.

I am supposed to be in the church hall laying out pots of craft glue and orange plastic chairs for my handful of young charges. Instead I am on my knees in the vicarage guest room, rummaging through the wardrobe for a ball of brown wool. It's impossible, I've realised, to explain the baptism of Jesus without brown wool.

All I can find is a skein of glittery red tapestry thread. Jesus and John the Baptist will have to be scarlet-headed punk rockers rearing out of a tissue-paper River Jordan. It's now 8.57am. Only the 10-year-old is coated and shod, ready for the high-octane speed trip in the Skoda. The 12-year-old is lying across her bed wearing one leg of a pair of track suit bottoms and diamante headphones. The amorous agonies of Jesse J have deafened her to my bellowed summons. 'Nothing to worry about!' she says as she hunts out coordinating accessories. 'Sunday's meant to be all about lying in!'

9.03am and we are careering up the lane where the church is. The congregation is already half way through the first hymn as I sprint to the door, sowing Pritt Sticks among the memorial stones through the holes in my craft bag. 'Nothing to worry about!' says the 12-year-old, laconically following. 'There probably won't be any children there.'

Once I've wrestled the moody iron door handle into submission and fired two last Pritt Sticks down the nave, most of the congregation have clocked our arrival. And I have clocked the fact that half the infant population of the borough are awaiting me in the children's corner.

Twenty of us cram into the hall. I explain about the river baptism and the Holy Spirit hovering like a dove over Jesus while two of the audience embark on a game of shriek-tag round the table legs. We slather glue over the tables and each other's coat sleeves and a residual amount makes it onto craft paper to enable us to recreate the baptism with tissue paper and stripy fabric squares. The planned half hour turns into 50 minutes. I suspect the Vicar extends his sermons when my name's on the Sunday School rota to test my faith and fortitude.

Then I see the church warden waving frantically through the window. The mayhem of my ministry has drowned out the bell summoning us for Holy Communion. The congregation has embarked on the final hymn as we surge dinfully back into church, trailing a collage of punk John and Jesus and pooling glue over the parquet.

Luckily, the worshippers look kindly upon the infant flock as they hold up their handiwork. Even more luckily, the Vicar looks impressed. 'So, what does the picture show?' he asks. There's silence and I panic. Did I actually remember to name the river Jordan and John the Baptist? I'm relieved when a small boy puts up his hand. 'It shows two men in pyjamas with a hula hoop,' he explains.

The Vicar is looking less impressed. 'Do you know what this is?' he asks, holding up the large red Sunday School bible. This time there is no hesitation. Another small child shrills in reply: 'It's a bus!'

Does anyone else want to take over as Sunday School teacher?