Showing posts from 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

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'

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 daugh

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 publ

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

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 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


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 ma

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!'


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 matro

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

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

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

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 publ

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 c

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 bel