Showing posts from 2014

Round Robin

Dear (note to Vicar: can you check your address book and fill in any dear friends I've forgotten) Well, here we are again at the end of another year! Who would believe it!! It seems only yesterday that I was penning my letter to you all for 2012 (whoops, yes, I rudely neglected to fill you in on our little successes and adventures last year!!) and now the end of 2014 finds me taking up my pen again, older (and hopefully wiser!!).  As I contemplate the looming spectre of middle age (yes, I had another birthday this year!!) I find myself turning philosophical and it strikes me as quite remarkable how one day follows another and one month leads into the next and so a full cycle of seasons begins and ends, each containing their own little triumphs and heartaches! The children continue to grow and develop as children are so wonderfully wont to do! It was a big day for us when the 12-year-old was selected to represent her class at District Sports!!! I'm proud to report that she w

The Price of Carelessness

A year ago this month my mother was run over on a zebra crossing while on her way home from work. She was not expected to survive her injuries and her family was summoned to her bedside to bid farewell. When, miraculously, she awoke from her coma she was no longer the cheerful matriarch who had been planning the family Christmas. She was the terrified prey of Russian spies whom she reckoned were trying to kill her. She was trapped in a prison cell and clinging to the wreckage of a sinking ship. She hung from my neck begging me to rescue her; she wept over imaginary parties that her family had failed to turn up to. There is not enough evidence to charge the driver with dangerous driving. Instead, he is to be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention. But here's the bombshell: there is no offence in law of causing injury by careless driving. Drivers can be charged with causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving or with causing death by careless driving. Bu

How to be a Stereotypical Vicar's Wife

'You're not a typical vicar's wife,' says the churchwarden as I'm manipulating the tea urn for church refreshments. 'You're not a typical vicar's wife,' says the sacristan as I'm piling dirty plates at the end of a parish lunch. 'Noone would guess you're married to a vicar,' says a Sunday school mother, watching me help a brace of toddlers to bring the gospels to life with a pile of Whiskas boxes. I am coming to the conclusion that they are right. At ministerial training college, where ordinands learn to be priests, there are no courses to prepare their spouses for the fine art of being a clergy wife. Often these spouses are creatures in shock having married a banker or a publican before the Calling came. They had lived in houses of their own choosing on secular salaries, baked cakes only on their childrens' birthdays and had lie-ins on Sundays. My Vicar was already completed when I married him so I knew what I was letting m

How to Spice up a Marriage

I'm discussing reliable waterproofing with a dog walker on the trudge back from school and suddenly we veer on to conjugal thrills. He tells me how a friend was dumped by her partner because he no longer found her exciting. Because of that, he says, he and his wife resolved to inject daily excitement into their marriage. I smile politely and make to flee, but he's still in full spate. 'So what I do first thing in the morning,' he continues, visibly invigorated by the memory of it, 'is make her a cup of tea. Another day I might do the washing up. Today it will be dusting. That's what we call excitement - we don't need no swinging from chandeliers.' As I listen I feel my own pulse quickening. The thought of the Vicar assaulting our black mould makes me dizzy. I picture him running the Miele nozzle over neglected crevices and gouging the remains of last night's supper from the plug hole in the sink. I stumble home in my mud-slimed wellies. The Vic


We modern women expect far too much from marriage says Rosamund Pike in the tabloid I'm squinting at over a stranger's left shoulder. We require our spouses to be our lover, mentor, playmate and best friend, whereas our corseted predecessors expected no more than a dress allowance and an annual baby. I am in complete agreement. There can be no finer husband than the Vicar, but he is not someone I would turn to when I crave a game of aeroplanes on the hearth rug or consult over the latest worrisome sproutings on my chin. This month marks 15 years since we pledged to be all and everything to each other till death parts us and, 15 years, on there's noone I'd rather sip tea beside in the marital chamber. But those 15 years have taught me that friends are a vital ingredient for a contented marriage. Our relationship would have been sorely taxed without friends to indulge my addiction to mud walks and garden centres. Friends shield the Vicar from my fascination with petro


I am squatting in the garage trying to dislodge cobwebs and mouse droppings from my cycle helmet with a leaf. The 9-year-old is watching me. 'You,' he says as I cram it onto my head, 'are the most undignified person on this earth!' I am consoling an ailing check-out assistant with a jelly bean from the pot I carry in my handbag for emergencies. 'Mum!' hisses the 12-year-old, 'don't you realise how embarrassing that looks?' I am watching Downton Abbey with an all-day breakfast on my knee when a poached egg drops into my slipper. The Vicar glances up. He is too kindly to pronounce judgment, but his eyebrows say it all. I am undignified. Middle-age and motherhood rob you of many assets - your rainy-day savings account, for instance, and reliable bladder control on the trampoline. But there is one loss that I do not mourn and that is dignity. Dignity, and the exhausting maintenance of it, dogged daily life in my younger days. When a stranger handed

How to Identify a Gentleman

'He looks the sort of man who'd take his weight on his elbows!' said my grandmother upon meeting my father for the first time. It was the 1960s and my grandmother was prescient. That bastion of English values, Country Life , has redrafted the definition of a true gentleman to bring the species into the 21st Century. The new rule book is more concerned with correct prejudices against fuchsia trousers than whether men vacate their seat for a female. Millennial Man, according to the magazine I find in the hospital waiting room, abhors cats, gladioli and Twitter and uses Facebook only to keep in touch with his 'many godchildren'. He suffers soporific theatre shows until the curtain falls and, crucially, only makes love on his elbows. My grandmother, evidently, could sniff out gentlemanliness at first sight. I feel slightly betrayed. The Vicar, I'd thought, was a gentleman, but he owns two cats. I haven't tested his opinions on gladioli and he seldom wears t

The Day of Rest

It's an hour before the 9am service. As usual I am running late. As usual the 11-year-old is insisting on a lie-in. And as usual I still haven't finished working out how to illumine the toddler minds in the Sunday School. 'It's the feast day of St Peter,' says the Vicar helpfully. 'Tell them Jesus called him from his fishing boat to be a rock on which to build his church and warned him he would deny his Lord three times before the cock crowed. He was told he would hold the keys to the God's kingdom so you could do something with a key, a net, a rock and a cock.' The 9 year-old is still shrilling delightedly over the cock when, with five minutes to spare, we sprint into the church hall to set up. The 11-year-old seizes the rock I've grabbed from the garden and pretends to be passing a giant stool. I shout at her. The 9-year-old appears to be holding a gynaecological consultation with an imaginary patient involving the net I've wrestled off a tub


Two years of toil have toil have managed to instil most of the times tables in my children. And two years of nagging have taught them to change a duvet cover. On the matter of etiquette, however, I have dismally failed. I endeavour yet again to show the 11-year-old how to place her knife and fork when she has finished eating. 'Wake up, Mum, and step out of your time machine!' she says, arranging them defiantly in a cross. I remind the 9-year-old to say 'I beg your pardon?' instead of 'Uh?' when he fails to hear strangers. 'Uh?' he replies. But it's in matters of telephone and doorbell etiquette that my failings are most mortifying. 'Hello my little pink and white butterfly!' trills my son on answering the phone to a caller I fear is from HMRC. Next time, my daughter grabs the receiver first. 'Yes?' she barks, then, 'Mum, it's some man!' When the doorbell shrills, the 9-year-old likes to be first on the scene. Some

The Last Word

'What's the last word you'll say when you die?' the 11-year-old asks from the back seat of the Skoda. 'Mine will be 'me'! Or maybe 'shopping'.' 'Mine will be 'f***!' shrieks the 9-year-old, gleefully envisaging a scenario where there can be no comeuppance. 'Dad's will be 'Jesus',' says the 11-year-old with withering scorn. 'What'll be yours, Mum?' Over the steering wheel I ponder. I've given much thought to my preferred Apocalypse meal (boiled eggs), companion (the Vicar) and venue (Waterperry Gardens), but none at all to my parting shot. I'd like to think it would be 'sorry' for the distressing number of things I meant to do but didn't. And the distressing number of things I did that I didn't mean to. More likely it would be my catch-all for every unexpected circumstance: 'blimey!' The children have tired of waiting for my answer. 'I bet yours will be 'mi


Some things in life are obvious. Such as prancing out in your underwear when the heavens open: And executing the reverent ritual of a Saucepan Dance during the Sunday lunch wash up: But maybe I take too much for granted. For my children, logic is an elusive concept. Years of training have given them some idea of the urgency of rain prancing and both have learnt to belt ballads over the soap suds with a potato masher mic. But when it comes to the realities of every day life, the blindingly obvious is lost on them. They have a fastidious fear of germs, but it never occurs to them to flush the lavatory. Their school calls me on frigid winter days to point out that they've forgotten to bring their coats.  Each week they receive with fresh outrage  the news that they have not earned their pocket money, yet each week they ignore the qualifying requirement to tidy their rooms.  They have yet to make the connection between their lack of clean tops and the backlog of di

A Spring Christmas

Today it is Christmas. The tulips are shedding their petals in the garden and the Boden summer catalogue lies on the doormat, but over a festive lunch in the dining room we are opening our Christmas presents. At the head of the table is my mother. Piled around her are the gifts she had ordered before the doctor's car felled her that night in November. They've lain for five months, still in their jiffy bags, in a corner of my old bedroom. We'd resolved not to open them unless she came home and handed them out herself. It never seemed likely that that would happen. Three days ago, however, the woman who was admitted to hospital with little chance of survival left the rehabilitation wing walking and talking.  'I've been reborn,' she observes. 'I've become a baby again.' And in a sense she is right. Once an adventurous cook, she now fears making a cup of tea. Once a journalist, she has now forgotten how to type. She used to be a socialite; now she is


It's a radiant day. Londoners have shed their winter layering to celebrate the sun. A hand through the hatch of the ice cream van is tirelessly doling out  99s. New leaves are unfurling on the horse chestnuts and my children have torn themselves from their iPods to play Piggy in the Middle in the park. I drift into small talk with the woman who has spread her rug near ours. I've been struck by her high-spirited affection for her two small boys. We begin with the weather and graduate to jumble sales. Then she tells me how a stranger raped her in her native Zimbabwe. I notice there are knife scars on her cheek. The rape resulted in a baby. Her parents adopted it. They'd always wanted a large family. She was stricken with post-natal depression, but noone diagnosed her despair. She fled to England to escape her past. Her parents came too, bringing the child. The child closely resembles the rapist and she found it traumatic to look at him. Now she works as a live-in nanny


Katetakes5 whose blog inspired me to start my own, has invited her followers to celebrate 2013 with five photos from the family album. It must be an Irish thing doing this four months into its successor! I'd thought 2013 was a year that I'd prefer to forget, but my albums have reminded me how much there is to be grateful for. My 11 year-old is more grown up than me, her cosmetics collection more extensive, her behaviour more decorous and her hobbies more sophisticated - but this picture reminds me that beneath the Benefit foundation she is still my little girl. Disillusioned with school-gate gossip about SATs tests and marital relations I decided that we middle-aged matrons needed to Get Out More. This was the second in a programme of undignified conduct before pick-up time.  Reunion. The 9-year-old meets his cousin over from Oz.  My parents' 80th birthday party. My mother, five hours older than my father, declared that a melancholy date had

How to Be Normal

'Have you got your outfit yet?' asks the school-gate mother. I have been invited to her grand engagement party three weeks down the line. 'Is it fancy dress?' I reply, alarmed. The only disguise I possess is a French maid's outfit, required for a long-ago murder evening at theological college. I don't think it will be suitable for me to make a public appearance with the Vicar in a frilly garter. She is bemused. It is not fancy dress, but every female guest has been haunting TK Maxx to assemble a killer look for the occasion. Now I am bemused. My nights out number three or so a year. When it's curry evening with the Ladies from the Choir I don my chunky-knit dress in case of draughts. When, more rarely, it's a Do I rely on my funeral suit. It's the only garment I possess not made of pilled wool. It has never crossed my mind to buy an outfit. Now it's half an hour before the party starts and the 11-year-old has confiscated all my black viscos

Mothering Sunday

When the Vicar marvelled over a recipe for 'Penis Stew' in a Two Fat Ladies' cookbook, my mother roamed the Home Counties in search of an abattoir that would supply a bull's glory to expand his culinary repertoire. When intuition told her that I was ill was during a phone call from university, she got in the car at 5am and drove 120 miles to nurse me. When my newborns wore me down at night, a dressing-gowned figure would emerge from the guest room and bear them away till dawn. When I admired a garment or a garden plant it would turn up inside my luggage when I reached home. When the children grew, the bottom drawers in two chests were cleared to become treasure stores and were filled with novelties when they visited. When, the day after her accident, I was clearing the Christmas presents she'd begun buying, I found she'd remembered the rose hand cream I'd once raved over and predicted the 11 year-old's craving for a jewellery casket. Everythi

Life Essentials

The Vicar has confiscated the 11-year-old's iPod. 'You may as well,' she sobs, 'take away my life!' Upstairs she sags desolately, contemplating 24 hours without Instagram, Jesse J and hair-styling videos on YouTube. I am fascinated by her grief. Self-sufficiency, I tell myself, is one of the perks of maturity. Fate might rob me of any of my possessions and I'd be none the poorer, provided health and loved-ones remained intact. I enjoy the smugness this realisation causes me and, leaving her adrift without her prop, I go downstairs to make breakfast. Then the blow strikes. Someone's scraped out the last of the Marmite. The jar is empty. I have to face 24 hours without Marmite toast inside me. My complacency evaporates. I am not invincible. Shaken, I start to ponder the material objects to which I'm enslaved. The length of the list dismays me. I feel sudden empathy with my bereft daughter for I realise that I would struggle to live without: My well


Iota has tagged me into a list of cosmic questions to which she requires answers. Self-exposure alarms me, but Iota strikes me as the sort of person I'd like to have as a next-door neighbour so for her sake I'll bare all: What is the view from the room where you are currently sitting? The empty playground of a children's nursery and the family Skoda which I had meant to get round to washing last year. Do you buy lottery tickets? Of course not. I'd hate to risk becoming an overnight millionaire. If you had to live in the Arctic Circle or on the Equator which would it be? The Arctic Circle. I'm fond of tobogganing and dislike heat. What's the novel inside you (you know, the one that everyone is supposed to have)? I'm the only person I've ever met who doesn't have a novel inside them. To console myself for this deficiency I channelled my literary energies into a large diary when I was 14. I haven't missed a day since, so should you

Hardcore Living

Recently a BBC researcher contacted me and asked if the family would be willing to be filmed for a series on vicarage life. Obviously, narcissism urged me to say yes. I could be the next Amy Childs, only in an M&S cardie. The church teas on Fridays would be seething with fans wanting to bond with the Vicar over a Jammy Dodger. And watching the episodes would keep me going through the suspenseful wait for the next series of Rev . Indeed, said the researcher, a real-life  Rev is what they are after. A heart-warming, fun-filled glimpse into family life in a vicarage to follow Songs of Praise .  It was at that point I knew we had to say no. Any fly-on-the-wall portrait of our vicarage life would have to be shown after the 9pm watershed to protect the nation's children. I myself would find it hard to stomach: Graphic footage of me wrestling my chin bristles with deadly steel weaponry in the bathroom and, sheathed in rubber, delving for the plastic Smurf someone's dropped down


I've never been much of a one for shopping. Security staff scrutinise me as I stand immobilised by apathy near store exits while companions contentedly browse. The vicarage laundry basket brims because I lose the power of motion before reaching detergents at the far end of the supermarket. In the past I surmounted this deficiency by wearing clothes till they shredded and rinsing the vicarage smalls in Head & Shoulders. Now, however, I have children and my children persist in growing and currently scarcely a month goes by without an emergency dash round shoe shops to replace essential footwear. And on these occasions I marvel that I used to deem shopping a hardship for high streets with two kids in tow are like this: 11yo: Oh my gosh, Mum, I need this pore eraser. Me: You don't need it; you want it. 11yo:  Mum, you're so medieval. Make up is my life! 9yo: What are 18 nines? Me: Um… 11yo: I've got to get it! Me: What is pore eraser? 9yo: MUM, 18 nin

How to Repair Self-Image

It is the Sabbath and I am prising cat hair off my warmest corduroy. My house guest is peaceably eating marmalade in a woolly jumper when a holler from the 11-year-old diverts us to the vicarage sitting room. Only it is no longer a sitting room. A sign on the door announces Sexy Salon. The coal scuttles have been moved aside to make room for three pink crates of cosmetics. Fairy lights are strung across the Vicar's favourite armchair and reading lamps have been trained on the sofa. The 11-year-old breaks it to me gently. I am in many ways a good person, she says, but I have trouble with both glamour and dignity. Me having trouble with glamour and dignity She tells me that, since it's Sunday, she's prepared to sacrifice half an hour to school me in both and thereby make me feel better about myself. My friend's two daughters are surrendering a chunk of their Sunday for a similar purpose. We are both manhandled into seats, the reading lamps are aimed at ou

Being an Embarrassment

My brother are I are hand-jiving to Bonnie Tyler in the front seats of the Skoda while we wait for a red light to change. We deem it a tribute when we see that two men in an adjacent white van are filming us on their mobiles. The 11-year-old ignores their beaming appreciation. 'Mum,' she shrieks sobbingly, 'You are EMBARRASSING!' I have always known that there are two certainties about motherhood. One is the guilt that roots itself in the maternal heart from the moment you meet the gaze of your newborn; the other is the embarrassment that your existence causes them as soon as they start school. I perpetually mortify my children with my wonky red beret, my fastidious consonants, my attachment to pen and ink and my tendency to extract the life stories of check-out staff.  My daughter dies a little inside each time I wear wellies to the school gate. My son ducks out of sight when I try a headstand in the vestry. What I didn't expect - and what my offspring fail t