Showing posts from June, 2012

The Steamy Secrets of Success

Ed Miliband is my age and he's running the Labour Party. James Harding is my age and he's editing The Times . I always assumed that it was a lack of vision, skill and drive that's kept me toiling over features in the vicarage guest room, but now I realise where I went wrong: I was drinking the wrong hot beverages. Coffee fuels the highest achievers, according to a survey, and 70 per cent of the country's top earners rate coffee over tea. This truth must have percolated through the national subconscious, for 45 per cent of adults questioned by the pollsters reckon coffee has a higher social status than a nice cup of tea. Now they tell me! Of course, survey's sponsor, the coffee machine manufacturer Nespresso, has a vested interest in these findings. But I am already persuaded. There is a raw machismo about the modern coffee experience. The team of invariably good-looking baristas operating a wall of formidable machines. The air of urgency as they lunge and thrus

How to Be a Modern Vicar's Wife

Marriage to a vicar is a science. It requires mastery of the hot water urn, for tea fuels parish life. It requires dexterity with chrysanthemums and an encompassing memory for human biology. At the church flower festival I display all of these. I swill glasses, tweak blooms and enquire after a spectrum of parish ailments. I'm balancing a spire of dirty plates when an old lady clutches my arm. 'I'm so glad you're not a typical vicar's wife,' she says. 'Fifty years ago you'd have been a slave to the parish, but you - you just do your own thing!' The picture below is the prompt this week's 100 Word Challenge from Julia . It reminded me of my weekly rendez-vous with the church tea urn, the power behind the prayer, and, particularly, a disconcerting reaction as I toiled over the buffet lunch during last year's flower festival. 

A Luddite Conversion

I began my blog last October because someone told me that Luddism and journalism were incompatible. I signed up to Twitter in December because someone told me that blogging without tweeting was a voice in the wilderness. I was a cyber-virgin and swiftly I became addicted. I loved gleaning fragments from domestic tedium to craft into a story. I felt frantic affection for anyone who troubled to comment. Twitter interactions from strangers were more of a thrill than a phone call from an old friend - and an irresistible distraction from dusting and deadlines. Most of all I was struck by the generous spirit in the Blogosphere. Veteran bloggers were tireless with tips and promotion; comments, unlike online reactions to newspaper articles, were always kindly. If people disliked a post they would pass on in discreet silence. I was wary, however, of cyber friendships. Virtual hugs tweeted at a stranger's affliction, intimate comments between folk who had never met unnerved me.  I was

A Tribute

The daily papers bear obituaries of great lives newly ended. And, daily, great lives end unremarked by the media. Today my father-in-law died. He was 86. And because he was, without celebrity, a great man, I want this small corner of cyberspace to be dedicated to him. He was vivid character. His hair, boot-black into his 80s, was rarely cut and flapped in a tall, wild halo when he strode the Derbyshire peaks. He would confound waiters with riddles and break solemnly and unexpectedly into rhyming verse. He had a curious allegiance to Izal loo roll and tinned potatoes. He pedalled a frenzied mile each morning on the exercise bike at the end of his bed and when he opened the front door to us he would perform a sweeping bow. He was an insatiable intellect. He would court opinions on the Winter War over breakfast. Because his mind was never channelled by a national curriculum or a university degree, it ranged freely over arts and science and he devoured books on mathematics and vintolog

Courting Controversy

I do not like to be a dissenting voice. A peaceable nature and an idle intellect cause me to go with the flow when possible. But recently there has been a widespread prejudice that has provoked me. I hear it aired uncontested at the school gate, at family dinners, at the Co-op check-out and in the national media. I've tolerated it for as long as my patience allowed me, but now I feel moved to speak out. I love the rain. Proper rain, mind. No sane person likes drizzle. Hours, I spend, poring over the Met Office weather maps hoping for those two sturdy rain drops as fervently as others long for the symbol of the sun. When the real hard stuff sluices down our window panes I feel the sort of euphoria which other people pay a small fortune to achieve. I stand at the front door gazing raptly at the rods of wet scouring our path tiles. I dash suspensefully across the garden to measure the rising levels in my wheelbarrow. And, from my window, I watch soaked people scurrying down the


I like to think my character is improving. I feel sympathy for oncoming drivers stuck in motorway jams instead of Schadenfreude and I derive far less pleasure in watching rain drench pedestrians beyond my window. My 7-year-old has yet to acquire my moral poise. He rejoices uninhibitedly in the predicaments of others. 'It gives me such joy!' he lisps raptly, eavesdropping on his sister's scolding. I fear he will develop a destructive nature; become a double-agent for a sinister regime or a newspaper columnist. And I fear my enjoyment of his enjoyment - for in the dark recess of my mind I realise that my self-improvement is illusory. The latest prompt for  Julia's  addictive 100 Word Challenge is to add 100 words to the phrase  in the dark recess of my mind.  The constraining word count doesn't give me room to mention that my angel-faced son insists sweets and sugars, on which he feeds rapturously, fill his invisible pouch of venom and enable him to provoke exp

Father's Day

A journalist, mourning the golden age of Fleet Street in The Spectator magazine recalled a 'twinkle-toed' colleague, who 'tap-danced on the office desk singing Powder Your Face With Sunshine .' That colleague was my father. I, remembering the golden-age of infancy, recall a long-skirted figure with a head piled with bananas, emulating Hollywood's Brazilian Bombshell, Carmen Miranda, during bathtime. That figure was my father. My father, in the 1970s, was a pioneer. While my mother went out to work he became a stay-at-home-dad. It was he who devised chase games to brighten the uphill walk home from school and who cooked us suppers of corned beef fritters and home-made chips. He was the only dad in the school who owned an evening gown worn to startle us with impromptu theatricals. Tirelessly, the man who had interviewed the Beatles and travelled the world for a headline, read us Listen with Mother stories, played London Bridge is Falling Down on the bed a

An Alien Birth

'What did you think when you saw me for the first time?' asks my 9-year-old. I cough up a cornflake. When my slimed and bloodied first-born was laid on my chest I remember very clearly my reaction: 'Get it off me!' I shrieked to the midwife. Most women who write of their birth experience describe a transcending bliss. My own mother still melts at the memory of meeting my infant eyes for the first time. I longed for the birth of my baby. I charted her foetal development in a foot-high stack of pregnancy guides. I gazed raptly at the readied cot that would one day contain her. I even gave up lager for six days a week. But, when the moment arrived, I was terrified by the idea of a separate living entity issuing, sci-fi like, from me. For the first days of her life I fed her and changed her and rocked her with appropriate devotion. I would have leapt from a tower block to keep her from harm. But I could not fully fathom the fact that this self-possessed small person b

Artistic Awakening

If I were ever to come by £1million I should spend it on three things: a canal across my garden, a giant wheel of Stilton and a painting by Atkinson Grimshaw. My youthful bedroom was plastered with greetings card prints of Victorian paintings and a poster of Atkinson Grimshaw's Liverpool now hangs beside our kingsize. I have never, however, managed to make the clergy stipend stretch to an original work of art. But recently I wandered past the masterpieces in the Tate Britain's art galleries. Among the Picassos, the Whistlers and the radiant visions of Turner were some startling contemporary wonders: an ironing board tethered to a twin-tub, for instance; an Ordnance Survey map of Dartmoor with a hand-drawn circle on it and a long, dangerously bent ladder. On my return a revelation blinded me. I may only dream of possessing the Picassos, the Whistlers and the Turners, but my home is full of priceless artworks; I just never had the eyes to see them before. Like this: Barb

A Humbling Devotion

Julia's 100 Word Challenge this week requires a report that captures the essence of the words There's a real  buzz about this place . I immediately thought of Arundel's Roman Catholic cathedral which I happened to pass last week during a walking holiday. Churches are normally deserted places first thing on a week-day morning, but I was intrigued by the buzz among a throng waiting outside the locked doors. So I waited with them to see what was to be seen and I was awed by what lay through the gloom within.   A crowd was queuing by 9.15am, expectant as shoppers in the January sales. It was the smell that struck first when the doors opened: the intoxicating aroma of 1,500 flowers carpeting the cathedral nave. It's a tradition observed since 1877, the unfolding events of a century symbolised by patterned petals. For two days each June it shimmers beneath the soaring stonework, then, in seconds, it's trampled by a procession bearing the sacred Host on the feast of Cor

Saturday is Caption Day

over at Mammasaurus . Although I don't do the laundry as often as I should, yet my washing machine is rarely empty. The more captions you can suggest the more energy I'll have to put next week's school uniforms through the hot cycle.

Extreme Parenting

At night, shortly before the bedtime stories, my children like to watch people die violently. Often it's witches tumbling off cliffs or the tops of windowless towers. Sometimes it's a schoolgirl slain by a snake's stare or a teenager murdered by a graveyard curse. Once, inadvertently, it was Bill Sykes dangling from a noose. I'd forgotten that there was a darker side to Oliver! than tuneful pick-pocketing. Tranquilly my pair look on, chewing crumpets, and tranquilly they retire to bed with their teddy bears. Disney and Harry Potter have trained them to watch extinction with a steady eye. Last night, though, they were traumatised. Night lights had to be improvised and guardian angels invoked. But last night there were no cartoon bodies hurled from heights and no Lord of the Dark Arts felling foe. They had watched a fetching evacuee bond with a fetching old man in a glorious flintstone village in Buckinghamshire. In one scene in Goodnight Mr Tom , the evacuee's

My Olympic Moment

There's an infectious Olympic meme doing the rounds and Herecomethegirls  has spread it to me. Once the gymnastics is over, I have very little interest in the Olympics, but I am a sporting spirit and so here's my contribution to London 2012. If every-day tasks were Olympic events what would you get a gold medal in? 
 I am expert in the art of deferment. I can spend so many hours wondering whether I ought to start some cleaning that there's no time left to locate the duster. I neglect my in-tray for cunning numbers of weeks so that the tasks within it become obsolete before I have to confront them and, by the time I've put off hanging the washing out for a day, it smells so funny I have to re-run the cycle and delay the extertion. Heck, I've even found Christmas cards I never got round to posting the previous year so it spares me having to write another batch on Christmas Eve. I also excel at slug-baiting, although I know blood sports are out of fashion these days