Tuesday 13 November 2007

On seething and impromptu sex education

‘I’m warning you now, Jane, if there is any remote inkling of audience participation, I’m out of there. And no seething.’ So said my friend Rachel with a steely stare as we drove off to Taunton for one of our rare ‘evenings of culture’. Last time it had been the play Glass Eels, with absolutely loads of seething and writhing in, around and amidst the withy beds and rhines of Sedgemoor. Water had flooded the stage as the pent-up lust of the protagonists had oozed all over the show. We weren’t madly impressed. This time (my choice again, so no pressure there) we were off to see Derevo (Russian for ‘tree’ or so the programme said) in something called Ketzal. The troupe was founded in St Petersburg in 1988 and adhere to a ‘rigorous aesthetic derived from Japan’s postwar performance style of butoh’. The blurb went on to say, ‘Wiry and shaven-headed, the company members lead lives of monastic theatricality at their base in Dresden.’
It sounded suitably austere, suitably non-sexual. No seething here, no siree.
As I came back from the loo I spotted a notice that read something along the lines of:
There will be loud noises.
There will be flashing lights.
There will be scenes of a sexual nature.
There will be semi-nudity.’

Rachel looked at me, looked at the notice and raised an eyebrow. We trooped in, following the usual Brewhouse crowd which tends to be middle-class to a woman, all tweedy elderlies and arty middle-ageds wearing ‘interesting scarves and jewellery’ and either cropped or flowing hair; a few sullen teenagers; the odd precocious child.
We were halfway up the stairs when Rachel tugged my arm.
‘Oh my God, look at that..’
There was a man tumbling over the seats, over people, clasping a large plastic black bin-liner. Suddenly he stopped, lunged and thrust the liner over an unsuspecting man’s head, bundled him up and bustled him off.
Poor Rachel looked desperately around but there was no way out.
‘Please don’t let him see me,’ she hissed as we sat in our seats trying to look as small and inconspicuous as we possibly could.

It was absolutely incredible. Six performers – three men, three women (though I only realised that three of them were women about half-way through – and this even given the fact that they were all topless and wearing only some sort of nappies or thongs). There was writhing (lots). There was seething (tons). There were births and deaths and sex and God knows what really – including a very realistic elephant, whirling dervishes, spinning gonks and a man with a large arm instead of a penis.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about – apparently it’s a ‘déjà vu of the body’ which tells you….well, nothing really. Except that you will never see bodies like that; or images of raw gut-clenching beauty like that. Or be shocked and amused and horrified and scared all in the same 90 minutes. Oh, and there was water too. Obviously the Brewhouse have a bit of a thing about the fact they can flood their stage – because it started with drips, flashing jewel-like in the incredible lighting and they ended up sliding and (yes) writhing and seething in it, like aquatic creatures from the primordial slime. Then smashing and crashing it so it flew up in sheets and drenched the front rows.
Several tweedies walked out, sniffing with horror. The precocious children looked a little shaken. Rachel and I shot out as they took their final bows before they got any ideas about bundling us up into bags and taking us back to Dresden to become sinewy seething monks.

‘What about the bit where they were all born like a rope of babies?’ said Rachel on the way back. ‘That was pretty disturbing..’
But nowhere near as disturbing as the conversation I had with James a couple of nights later.

It was Friday night, the night before his birthday and I was sitting on his bed, wistfully remembering when he was born.
‘What were you doing this time nine years ago, Mum?’
‘Watching Lowri Turner in Musgrove hospital, if I recall.’
‘How big were you?’
‘Oh, vast…..out here…’ indicating an improbable distance from my stomach.
‘Wow. And how big was Daddy?’
Hmm. I had a bad feeling about where this was going and had to resist the urge to say ‘never mind’ and tuck him up and scarper.
‘Well.’ Long pause. ‘Men don’t get pregnant.’
‘So what’s their bit in having a baby?’
No, this so wasn’t fair. We’d agreed – five years ago – that Adrian was going to have this conversation when it came up.
‘Is it……?’ He pointed downwards with a grin. ‘Willies.’
‘Yup,’ I said firmly. ‘It’s willies.’
Hopefully that was it. But no. A look of focused determination came over his face.
‘So does the man put his willy in the woman’s belly button.’
‘Er, no. Bit further down really.’
Pointing vaguely and feeling my face start to burn bright red. Remembering all the books I’d read that said you should call a spade a spade and well…..
‘Vagina. It goes in the vagina. You know? You did vaginas at school, didn’t you?’
A look of shocked amazement mixed with total glee that he had information that would doubtless whiz round the playground come Monday.
‘Eeeuw, that’s disgusting. Does it hurt?’
‘Er, no. It’s rather nice actually.’
Then, realising I had a parental duty here to avoid teenage pregnancies, ‘But of course it’s something you don’t do until you’ve left school and are with someone you love and want to stay with for ages.’ Which sounded unconvincing even to me.
‘Eeeuw. You had Daddy’s hairy old willy in your vagonie? That’s disgusting.’
‘It’s not hairy.’
How did this happen? How did I manage to find myself discussing Adrian’s penis and our sex life with our nearly-nine-year old son? This was so wrong. Heck, we’d get into writhing and seething next.
‘But Daddy said that when boys get older they get hairy.’
Eh? So he’s got that far but hadn’t carried it through? I could have murdered him.
So I had to explain how some bits got hairy and some didn’t and then James started giggling his head off and going into flights of fancy about hairy bottoms and hairy poos and thank heavens it all dissipated and I was able to say goodnight and escape downstairs to drown myself in cognac.
It was obviously in the air, all this seething sex. So I’ve told Rachel that she can pick the next cultural outing – and meanwhile I’m going to buy James a nice book that explains all the ins and outs, hairy and non-hairy bits. From now on this is a non-seething house.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Size Zero Mother drives me to chocolate

I am being driven to chocolate, I really am. I am sitting here binge-eating Mars bars straight from the freezer. Actually I have now run out of Mars bars and have moved onto Milky Way which isn’t nearly as satisfying. When I run out of those I shall probably have no choice but to finish off the Apple Strudel cake. I have been so good too, eschewing all sugar and chocolate and what-have-you in an attempt to banish the dreaded candida (yes I did Grouse’s spit in the morning test and my glass was positively LADEN with strings – sorry, you didn’t really need to know that, did you?). Anyhow, I have been good, HAD been good until Size Zero Mother started on me.

It began yesterday. Not the best of times as I had a truly vicious hangover thanks to Paddy at Oaks who fed Jane and I several more large glasses of Armagnac than two women who had already consumed several bottles of wine have any right to drink.

She phoned up and launched straight in as if we had just been talking and one of us had popped out the room for a wee or something and then come back.
‘So, when you go to Marks and Spencer, you can pick me up a coat. I desperately need a coat now it’s getting so cold.’
I was slightly nonplussed. Not only because it’s the mildest November I’ve ever experienced but because….well…..
‘But, Mum, you don’t go out. Why do you need a coat?’
A sharp intake of breath down the phone. ‘I don’t go out because I don’t have a coat.’ Said very sharply with more than a tinge of asperity.
‘Right. OK. What kind of coat?’
‘Oh, you know. A coat.’
‘How about if I come over and we look through the Next catalogue and you can show me the kind of thing you want.’
‘I don’t want it from Next. Their clothes don’t fit me.’
‘No, I know. But if we find one you quite like, I can get something similar from Marks.’
Much harrumphing and irritation palpable down the line.
‘I just want a coat.’
‘Yes, but what kind?’
Long, short, mid-length? Wool, tweed, polyester, cotton? Zipped, buttoned, toggled? Hooded, collared, non-collared? Colour? Style? Parka, military, swing, cloak?
‘Just a coat. For God’s sake, it’s not that difficult. You know what I mean.’
Last time I checked, I wasn’t a mind-reader. I am guessing a sort of padded casual jacket type thing. But really, who knows? Whatever I get it’s bound to be wrong.

Just like the slippers. ‘They’ll have to go back, you know.’ They were exactly the same as the ones she’s always had – same size, same style, same colour. Aaaghhh. Big big deep breath. Buddhist daughtering came to mind. Centre, Jane. Ground yourself. Follow the breath.
‘Oh, and don’t cook me anything else. I’ve got the freezer jammed with meals. You don’t need to do any for ages.’

Well, one good bit of news at least. Except that today, while I was out, Adrian took a call from SZM in which she told him that she was ‘nearly out’ of food and that all she had was celeriac soup which she couldn’t possibly eat because ‘as Jane well knows, I can’t eat celery.’
He told her it wasn’t celery but celeriac.
‘Which is the same thing,’ she said.
‘Er, no, not really. Related but not the same,’ he said. Then continued, ‘Out of interest, why can’t you eat celery?’
‘I’ve NEVER eaten celery,’ she replied vehemently. ‘When I had rheumatic fever as a child I was told never to eat celery and I never have.’
Except she has. She always has. I remember clearly the celery soup that was her favourite (and my most loathed). And her saying you should always add celery and cut down on salt. Really, it’s getting mad.

So tonight, when I was hoping to sit down and try to catch up a bit with Nanowrimo, I will be frantically cooking batches of very odd meals. Just great.

Funnily enough my Nanowrimo ‘novel’ has suddenly spawned a harridan of a mother, a true fairy tale evil witch of a woman and a poor pathetic middle-aged daughter who spends her entire time bitterly mulling over her blighted life. What is really interesting is that it’s the daughter, not the mother, who is driving me really potty. Why on earth is she such a doormat? Why doesn’t she stand up to her vile mother? What in the name of heaven is the matter with her that she can’t just say ‘no’, that she is consumed with guilt and self-loathing?
Ah, how art mirrors life….

PS - the pic is of the Loo of Doom. So horrible that I refuse to go anywhere near it and really only remember what it looks like by looking at this picture. I keep hoping I will go down there one day and it will have vanished.
PPS - apparently I am arranging tickets and a bus trip to see some band called The Dropkick Murphies with half the reprobates from the pub.....this I don't remember. One of the dangers of too many armagnacs.
PPPS - my dear friend Jane is not happy with me. While at Oaks I was telling Paddy (owner) how she really needed a good man with a labrador (and actually the man wasn't totally essential) in what I thought was very sotto voce. Jane (who was standing at the bar) was apparently wincing as my voice was carrying rather too clearly and every single bloke there was, she said, looking her up and down 'to see the sad cow who can't get a bloke.'
I need to redeem myself so, if anyone happens to know any nice labradors (with relatively decent men attached), do get in touch.

Monday 29 October 2007

Nice surprises and nasty shocks

I love surprises. I like to think I relish the unexpected. But as I grow older I am becoming aware of a growing tendency to try to keep things safe; under control. It’s something I intend to fight, tooth and nail. Partly because it is the first step towards acute anxiety and I can see all to clearly where that leads with my poor Size Zero Mother – who can barely move for neurosis; who can’t stand it if even the tiniest thing is out of place or if people don’t behave precisely the way she expects them to. It’s a slippery slope and I would hate to follow her into that particular madness. But also, and more importantly, it’s hard to enjoy life if you aren’t open to a little spontaneity, a little wildness, a little anarchy.

Nice surprises light me up like a child. I still wait, eagerly, for the postman – hoping that there will be something exciting amidst the relentless bills and press releases on pile treatments: some thrilling news; some soul-catching letter or image; something just plain nice. Like a copy of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black maybe. A padded envelope with unfamiliar writing…open it up and there is a slim volume, with a chillingly spooky cover and tucked inside a note from Kitty. It's a ‘just because’ gift, a ‘what the heck’ gift…..how totally perfect and just before Hallowe’en too. Bless you, Kitty. I am reading it slowly, savouring it, only allowing myself to read it in the Oak Room in front of a big fire. Ghost stories should always be read thus – and this is a great one, in the fine tradition of M R James and Lovecraft. It makes me smile every time I go in and see it sitting waiting on the coffee table.

The garden is throwing up surprises too. As we peel away the layers of bramble and choking ivy, the carpet of thick weeds, we find odd things, forgotten things. A pathway, or is it the top of some old wall? Old bird boxes. A trainer (large, black, yuk). A woman’s shoe (small, red, old-fashioned, weird). Old plant labels. The remnants of a trug.

James continues to surprise me – as I suspect all children do. He has, all of a sudden, decided he doesn’t like football any more and has given his allegiance to rugby. So we have swapped Wednesday evening football training for Sunday morning rugby training. Gone is the shiny, slippery red nylon football kit and in comes solid black and white cotton rugby shirt. It’s a nice surprise, this one. Rugby seems a far more civilised game (despite its close proximity to warfare) – plus we’re greeted by the cheering sight of an open bar and by the scent of bacon sizzling on the grill.

He’s going deep too, my little Scorpio. I found a piece of work in his school bag – they were practicing questions.

Who will die first in my class?
Is the black hole real?
What will it be like in the year 6,000?
Will God ever die?
Who is the coolest person in the world?
Will England win the World Cup?

Crikey. But what really surprised me was that his teacher had made no comment – merely calmly corrected a few spellings and added a few capitals. Are all eight-year olds concerned about black holes and the demise of God?

Surprises are one thing but shocks are something else. Last night I went to aerobics and, before the class, I was chatting to my friend G who lives on a nearby farm. The music started up and we were just about to start marching on the spot when G said, ‘Oh, by the way, our new neighbour is going to be a journalist. Works for the Mail – I wondered if you knew her….’
No, surely not?
‘Liz Jones.’
Well, knock me down with a feather. It turns out she’s buying the absolutely gorgeous farmhouse next to G’s – where Adrian and I once went to a deeply strange dinner party in which the hostess (possibly the most painful snob I have ever met) fell asleep on the sofa in front of all her guests. But reading her latest column in You magazine I am beginning to get a bit worried about her (Liz Jones, not the snobby hostess). It appears (if you can believe a magazine column) that she wants to escape London and her miserable failed marriage and set up an animal sanctuary where her ‘fur babies’ (aka cats) can be ‘safe’ as there are ‘no roads or fast cars’. Hmm. I almost feel I ought to email her and warn her that Exmoor is pretty red in tooth and claw. She is moving into prime shooting country and one of her nearest neighbours is chairman of the local staghounds. Her fur babies will need to watch out for foxes and badgers (the very ones that stopped dairy farming on G’s farm after generations). Although her lane is small and narrow, we have boy racers here as well as anywhere and there are fatalities a-plenty. Most of all, she wants to do a Garbo and ‘be alone’ – should she be told that the whole of Exmoor will know her business within weeks, if not days or even hours?
‘She’ll write a book about her born-again farming experiences,’ I muttered to R as we sat drinking wine and eating almond brittle in the breakfast room (a fine post-aerobics tradition).
‘Or she’ll do a Madonna and start wearing tweed and take up shooting,’ said R with a shudder. Poor R. She has, in desperation, turned to Buddhist parenting in the hopes of taming the Mistress of All Evil (her nine-year old daughter).
Then again, who knows, Ms Jones might turn out to be a perfectly normal, decent ordinary person. Now that would be a nice surprise.

PS - I am so sorry I haven't been able to read many blogs of late - I will try to catch up ASAP.
PPS - anyone know how to get a black and white rugby shirt staying black and white (as opposed to black and brown?)

Sunday 30 September 2007

The sad woman all alone in row F

Ah the joy of mother and son bonding. Going off to town for the day, tickets in hand for a performance of Potted Potter. A spot of lunch; idle chat about school and friends and football and rugby. Maybe a little shopping. Laughing on the way home, remembering the best bits of the show. Playing the new CD the Fairy Godmother had sent (Anthems – despite being a high-powered barrister she’s very fond of her rock bands) very loud and singing along to the words: ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruuuuby..da da da da-da daaah…’ tunelessly but with great vim.

Except…… Hmm. Rewind to a few days ago when Adrian suddenly said, ‘Oh heck, it’s the football trip on Saturday.’
‘The football trip?’
‘Yup. Coach to Plymouth to watch Argyll versus Wolves. Training session at the club for the boys. Lunch. Watch the match. Gone all day.’
‘But, I’m taking him to Potted Potter. It’s on the calendar.’
We both looked at the calendar and there it was clear as day.
Double-booked. Poor James. He looked anxiously from one to other of us.
‘Mum, you’d like me to come to the theatre, wouldn’t you?’ Anguish etched all over his face.
Yes, of course I would but I know my son and I knew which would really hold the greatest allure so, with that doomed sense of sacrifice that runs through every mother’s veins, I gave him a hug.
‘I suspect you’d really like the football, wouldn’t you?’
Eyes brightened.
‘But you’d be on your own, Mum.’
James’ idea of hell.
‘Don’t remotely worry. Maybe I could take the Mistress of All Evil instead.’
James looked doubtful. Adrian looked askance. I shrugged. ‘Well, I only said ‘maybe’….’

But I didn’t of course. I wasn’t sure I could cope with a nine-year old goth with serious attitude and an overwhelming urge to rule the world, however much I like her parents and knew that a good person would have given them an afternoon’s break (I also have a sneaking admiration for the MoaE but in that sort of ‘wow, you’re something else girl, but thank Puck you’re not my child! way). Instead I found myself at the box office in Taunton asking if they had any tickets left for the show. The woman brightened visibly: ‘Oh yes, how many would you like…’
Er, wrong answer. I had hoped to sell them off.
‘No, sorry.’ Eyes glazed over.
So what do you do? I’m a Capricorn and we are known to be….shall we say ‘careful’ with our money. Two unused tickets hurt. No matter that it was fundamentally a children’s show. So I sidled in, the only person On Her Own in the whole theatre. The rational part of me said, ‘So what?’ The irrational totally barking mad part said, ‘Oh heck. They’ll think I’m a child-snatcher or a paedophile or, even worse (with Hermione Granger studied pause) a total saddo Harry Potter freak.

I put my bag on the other seat and looked around brightly, as if I were watching for my child who was coming along in a bit. The mechanics of how said mythical child would appear all on his own were, of course, pushed firmly aside. Maybe he had been dropped off by his mythical father (a divorced husband maybe that I can’t even face seeing momentarily in the lobby) or maybe he was a mythical teenager who had shuffled off huddle-shouldered while I was looking at shoes but would return any moment. Maybe mythical child was small and had been So Bad that I had put him on the naughty step and was waiting for him to ‘think about your behaviour’ before returning contrite to his seat (this one slightly worried me as what mother would leave her child alone in a theatre foyer, however heinous his crime?) Oh whatever.
I vaguely registered a bloke with a boy squeezing past to sit on my right. Hmm. Maybe I could attach myself to them. I smiled brightly in a sort of ‘ah, there you are’ way and then realised, to my horror, that he was possibly the ugliest man in the world. Nothing wrong with being ugly of course (she says quickly) and in fact there is something heroic and quite sexy about truly awfully ugly. But ugly with no style is grim. So, my ‘hello dear husband’ smile turned midstream into a ‘well, gosh here we are at an afternoon theatre show; ah well, never mind’ nod.

Never have ten minutes passed so slowly. Never have I been so relieved to see lights go down and a show begin. And actually it was very good. Very funny. I laughed out loud a few times and then had to curtail myself as a woman sitting on her own laughing is a bit tragic. Needless to say I didn’t jump up to try to hit the ball in audience participation Quidditch. And I didn’t volunteer my services as Seeker for Gryfyndor or Slitherin. I just sat very quietly and, at the end, gave a theatrical sigh as if to say to the world (as if the world cared) ‘Ah well, typical of the horrible divorced husband/morose teenager/naughty child – get OFF that step, you little creep). Seriously though, if you have children who are potty about Potter I’d heartily recommend it.

We met up early evening at The Bridge (the fourth of Dulverton’s pubs) for supper and rolled back up the hill. It dawned on me that this was probably going to happen more and more. Either I was going to have to develop a taste for sport (having spent my entire life studiously trying to avoid it) or I was going to have quite a few solo shopping and theatre trips ahead of me. I suppose I could always adopt the Mistress of All Evil.
Hmm, going solo sounds just fine to me.

PS - picture is of the Light of Flickering Despond in the kitchen. And you thought this house was lovely?!

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Feeding Size Zero Mother (with no help whatsoever from Nigella Lawson)

I have been a bit down lately. Nothing warranting hugs or pictures (honestly, truly, please don't), just a low-level not-as-good-as-I-should-be. Partly it’s because I’ve had a recurrence of the reactive arthritis I developed after catching a virus in Italy three years ago. But mainly it’s because Size Zero mother is doing her level best to drive me demented. Her weird eating habits have been getting so extreme of late that Something Had To Be Done. I tried to get her meals on wheels but, faced with her incredibly long (and in many parts totally inexplicable) list of culinary pass-nots, they shrugged their shoulders and ran for the door. Supermarket read-meals are a no-go area for much the same reason. So now I am cooking for her, running up batches of food, freezing them and racing them over every so often.
This is, shall we say, challenging as the list of ingredients she is ‘allergic’ to or ‘intolerant’ of runs to, at the last count: red meat; wheat and all wheat products; dairy produce (cow); potatoes; onions; tomatoes; celery; nuts; seeds; corn; mushrooms; kidney beans; cauliflower; peas; fruit; dried fruit (apart from bananas and occasionally plums). And that’s just this week. Also, everything has to be cooked until it more or less falls apart in the pan so her teeth can cope. When I try to tell her that this severely limits what I can cook, she more or less tells me I lack imagination.
‘Have you watched Nigella?’ she asks imperiously.
Er, no Mum, I’m too busy catching up on work or cooking to watch TV. Obviously I don’t say that – I just shake my head mutely.
‘Well, she uses leeks instead of onions. She says they’re much easier.’
‘Don’t really see that, Mum. After all, what could be easier than onions? Leeks need all that cleaning to get out the gritty bits.’
‘Oh no. Absolutely not. Nigella says you can get them ready cleaned.’
‘From where? Waitrose?’
‘Oh no. Everywhere does them. Nigella says so.’
Does she really?
‘Anyway. There are positively tons of things I can eat. I love vegetables.’
‘Yes but Mum, it’s pretty hard when you don’t eat tomatoes, onions, potatoes or mushrooms – most recipes seem to use those.’
‘Well, I gave you a book with recipes I could eat.’
Er, yes. Like ratatouille for example, with spidery writing dictating: ‘No onions, use peppers not tomatoes’. Hmm, so not really ratatouille then.
‘Well, you should watch the programme, Jane. Nigella knocks up these wonderful meals in next to no time. It’s really easy. She does it with all her friends round too.’
I’m not sure who I want to murder most – mother or Nigella. Truly, it’s a nightmare.

Yesterday I had to take her to the doctor’s as she has come off all her medication and is ‘feeling weird.’ Small wonder really as most normal people a) talk to their doctor before merrily stopping taking Betablockers, Digoxin, Co-amilofruse and Prozac and b) when they do come off them, they do it slowly. Not my mother.
So did it matter that she wasn’t on the meds?
The doctor shrugged. ‘When she had her last cardiology assessment she scored 150 beats per minute for 30 seconds. Most 83-year-olds would be dead after that. So I reckon her heart is pretty strong.’
‘So you’re happy that she’s not taking anything now?’
He shrugged again and gave me a look that said, clear as day, that my mother was a total nutcase in his eyes and that he heartily wished she were not on his list, and what was he supposed to do, go round and shove the tablets down her throat personally?
‘If she can’t take the betablockers, shouldn’t she be on something else? Like calcium channel blockers, for example?’
‘Would you take them?’ He looked at Mum and she had the grace to look sheepish.

Did he agree that we needed to do something about her anxiety?
‘I’m taking chamomile tea,’ says mother brightly. The doctor gives me ‘the look’ again.
Could she have CBT or CAT? No, but she could see ‘Geoff’, the counsellor. OK, now this is cruel and I don’t know Geoff from Adam but immediately I had a vision of round-toed sandals and socks, baggy cords and a stripy tank-top. Still, it’s a start. If he can stop her worrying about what to do if the phone rings while she’s answering the door, or can make her realise that it’s not the end of the world if someone sees her without full make-up, then it will be a Good Thing. If he can maybe persuade her that avoiding wheat while eating cake (er, yes, the normal wheat flour type of cake thing) then I will probably marry him and have water-birth babies with him.

Anyhow, enough of all that. All part of life’s rich tapestry. But it did make me think about the long-lost homework on ‘what I do when I’m feeling down…’ otherwise known as the Mood-boosters. So here, for what they’re worth, are the things that make me feel better, no matter what.

1. Crying. Sometimes there’s nothing for it, a good bit of full-on totally feeling sorry for myself catharsis is just fabulous. It doesn’t take much to make me sob: certain pieces of music; certain memories; reading about women having a tough time in childbirth…..I’m off, wailing and heaving the shoulders and lunging at Asbo who usually wriggles away (unless it is a Really Important Cry in which case he will earn his Chappie by snuggling up and being sympathetic).
2. Alcohol. I know that it’s a depressant and not really ideal. But. But. But. When life is really crap, the sound of a glass being filled can be nectar to the soul. Gin & tonic; brandy mac; Fleurie; Crozes; Pinot grigio; something fizzy (couldn’t really give a toss if it’s posh poo or cheap cava) – all raise the spirits (and even more so if glasses are clinked with good friends – real friends).
3. A tough hard workout. It’s usually the last thing I feel like doing but I know that, if I can make myself go to the gym or do an aerobics class, after a while the combination of pounding music and sweat pushes the doldrums aside. Something to do with all those endorphins I suppose.
4. Get a massage. I love nearly every kind of bodywork going – the tougher the better. By tuning into my body, I find that my mind often lets go and stops being quite so pathetic. I have trained both Adrian and James in the fine art of the neck rub, the foot rub and a truncated form of Indian Head Massage so, if I can’t get or afford a pukka massage therapist, I’ll nag them until they have a go.
5. Read. But only if it’s a really good page-turner. The one thing I couldn’t live without would be books and if life gets really shitty, I just run away to a distant corner, curl up in a blanket and read.
6. Watch a really good film. When I lived in cities and got really low, I would take myself off to a matinee. Sitting in the dark, with a big bag of popcorn and a coffee, being transported to another world was sheer heaven. Now I have to resort to old favourites on DVD – Into the West is my all-time feelgood movie – even with Ellen Barkin’s cod Irish accent.
7. Do a bit of divination. I got my first pack of tarot cards when I was about twelve and have been doing the tarot, the runes and the I Ching ever since. I don’t do them as a fortune reading exercise really; more a way of asking advice. Is it a supernatural power or simply our higher consciousness? Don’t know and don’t really care. It works.
8. Bake. I don’t do much cooking (apart from Zero Mum’s) but there is something magical and alchemical about baking. I love the way that you plonk a sloshy pile of goo in the oven and it comes out as a cake or brownies or whatever. You get to lick the bowl (back to childhood in a second!) and eat the results. Definitely heart-warming, if not remotely healthy.
9. Make my gratitude list. This sounds a bit worthy but it really works like nothing else for me. I think of ten things that have happened that very day for which I’m grateful. Could be teeny tiny – like James slipping his hand into mine or the sharp grapefruit tang of my aromatherapy candle. I try to keep it specific as otherwise it can become a bit rote…. But somehow it puts it all in perspective. Life ain’t that bad.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Adrian chews carpet

Something strange is happening. I used to be the impulsive one; the one who started major projects just as sensible people were going to bed: ripping down wallpaper; rearranging the furniture; lugging sofas up and down stairs, getting stuck and yelping for help. Meanwhile Adrian would roll his eyes and mutter darkly, ‘Why are you so damn impulsive? Why can’t you just wait?’
So I was somewhat bemused, as I lay in bed last night, to hear the distinct sound of ripping and tearing.
‘What the hell?’
Stumbling out of bed and peering over the banister to see Adrian setting into the hallway carpet with a Stanley knife.
‘What ARE you doing?’
‘Pulling up the carpet.’
Now, we had both decided the carpet needed to come up. For many reasons.
a) It was a sickly acid yellow (and not in a cool Designers Guild sort of way).
b) It was speckled with black spots all along the edges (and that wasn’t part of the design).
c) It smelled. Bad.
d) It was contributing to the General Damp Problem by dint of providing a soggy soft moss-like sponge for our dripping pipework.
e) We had peeled up a corner and discovered – oh joy! – the widest, most delectable floorboards we’d ever seen.

But then we had both agreed we would not be precipitous. We would wait for the Right Moment before ripping and tearing. Which begged the question…..
‘Why now?’
‘Er, I don’t know. It just sort of came over me.’

We’ve found, since moving into town, that things frequently just ‘come over us’. Usually alcohol. After nine years of having to be sensible and tossing coins for who became the designated driver and not being out too late because of driving to the school bus the next day has taken its toll. We are like teenagers leaving home for the first time: all sense of moderation has been flung into the ether. Since moving here, it’s been one non-stop party. Well, what do you do? Someone drops by and you offer a G&T/Pimm’s/glass of fizz, don’t you? It would be rude not to. Just as it would be exceedingly rude to go round to someone’s house for dinner/drinks/party and not pay suitable homage to their hospitality. But a few nights ago, it did dawn on me it had got a little out of hand as I found myself, on my hands and knees, climbing up the spinney steps in the pitch black after one too many glasses of Cointreau.

Anyhow, back to the carpet. Up it came in a frenzy of ripping and tearing and shredding. Hmm. Yes, there were some lovely wide boards but also some horrid new skinny pine ones and also a few patches of, er, chipboard. Not such a good look.
Then Adrian went a bit green.
‘Oh heck. We’ve just taken up the only thing between us and the Asbestos Cellar.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. It’s got a ceiling.’
‘Er, I don’t think so.’ Shining a torch down through the wide gaps between the multi-coloured patchwork of floorboards.
‘Oh ***t.’

Ah well, we have a site meeting for the asbestos removal on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, both Adrian and I have developed coughs. Psychosomatic or what?
PS - I shall, when I can bear the endless wait for uploading, bung up some pictures that show the house in its less attractive guise.....bet you can hardly wait.

Friday 17 August 2007

The feral children of summer

It’s reached that horrible tipping point in the holidays when children are turning feral. Well, at least mine is. The summer is stretching out for too long… There is grumbling and whining and whinging and where once he would eat most things, now anything other than chips or pizza is met with a moue of distaste or out and out retching. Any suggestion of drawing a picture or playing guitar or, heaven forfend, playing in his room is met with total horror. If there are no friends on offer to play with, James would quite happily spend chunks of his life shunting between TV, PC, Gameboy and PS2, eyes glazed, thumbs frantically beating out some arcane beat. He needs entertaining. The dread word 'bored' rears its ugly head at all available opportunities.

When did it change? When did children stop being self-sufficient and suddenly need shepherding every step of the way. When did they stop knowing instinctively how to amuse themselves and instead need lessons in play?
I suppose if I’m fair, he doesn’t have good examples in front of him – Adrian and I spend large chunks of the day glued to the computer screen. But it distresses me, this cyber-childhood. I can’t help but think back to when I was eight (oh gawd, says Adrian, here we go again – living in a cardboard box, on tuppen’th a week). But really I didn’t have much in the way of toys yet I don’t ever remember being bored. I would head off on my trusty old bicycle, sandwiches stowed in the basket, and spend the day with a friend or two, poking around in the woods, or fishing for tiddlers, or borrowing ‘Sandy’ the most disreputable mutt in the neighbourhood, which for some odd reason made him infinitely desirable. Mandy Cotton and I would fight for the honour of holding his lead as he made his royal progression, cocking his leg at regular intervals and hopping on three legs for long periods (why?).

A visit to the cinema was An Event. We would queue for hours and The 101 Dalmations still makes me wince as I remember queuing three times and not getting in. One screen cinemas eh?
Swimming was special. We’d queue again, listening with eager anticipation to the wall of sound within. Waiting for our half-hour in the hot sticky little pool that was probably more wee than water. There was barely room to move, let alone swim…and every five minutes numbers would be yelled out and one batch of children would reluctantly clamber out while a fresh batch would sidle their way in.
Then again I could spend hours sitting up in an apple tree just thinking or reading. Or I’d devise secret societies and enrol my friends, giving them badges and certificates and making them undergo endurance trials and other tests of proficiency, loyalty and girl power. I was always trying to make money and would come up with a project for each summer. One year it was an art gallery – and parents, friends and relations would have little choice but to purchase one of my ‘works of art’. The next it was a craft fair (match boxes painted and decorated with shells and sequins; knitted pot holders; felt egg cosies; dried flower bookmarks). I tried a museum which really was totally lame. Most successful (and certainly most lucrative) was the haunted house tour in which I would vanish at one point to flush the lav, racing down to ask if they’d heard the ghost knocking in the pipework. Like all good entrepreneurs I had the marketing down to an art – not only where they charged to enter but I also fleeced them for ‘badges’, ‘postcards’ and instructions on how to remove ghosts (which involved, if I recall, liberal amounts of lemon juice and a lot of shouting).

James however knows all about bored. We haul him off on walks but he gets grumpy after a mile. I suggested hut building in the spinney but he wanted me to make the hut for him (which surely defeats the object?). He’ll play football and cricket endlessly but needs another child to play with (whereas I can clearly remember spending literally hours throwing a ball against a wall – to the point where the woman who lived next-door finally complained that the repetitious noise was bringing on her migraines).
Am I being unfair? Maybe I was just a more introverted child, happy to be left alone with my imagination? My imagination conjured up an entire stable yard of horses and ponies in my suburban garden. There were the thoroughbreds Atlendor and Aragorn (guess my childhood reading); the naughty Dartmoors Whisky, Rum and Brandy; and my favourite Arab mare Misty plus others whose names and manes I have forgotten in the mists of time. Their stable was the shed and I would set up jumps on the lawn (broom handles and rakes on buckets) and, slapping my bottom with a crop, jump perfect clear rounds to the applause of the ecstatic crowd. When it rained I would sit on a special chair, over which I put a particularly fluffy bathroom mat and pretend I was riding, hour after hour, lost in the hills and moorland of my mind. Or, when my mother finally confiscated the mat (she ‘needed’ it for the bathroom) I’d sit and watch rain drops dribbling down the window, laying bets with myself as to which would win. But if I suggested this kind of pastime to James he’d think I’d gone totally mad. I don’t know, maybe it’s a girl thing.

It doesn’t help that children can no longer run free. Adrian and I endlessly wonder if we’re cotton-wooling James. Other children of his age seem to run free around town – but I fear that James is still not street-wise enough. Then, inevitably, there’s the horrible fear of What Might Happen. It’s a small town, he would be in screaming distance of at least four people he knows at any time but still……. At what age do you let children enjoy the freedom we took for granted?

So then you have to wonder, are we creating these stay-at-home cyber-children? We dislike the electronic babysitters but – in our hearts – maybe we feel they are safer than allowing children to be children. I read back this blog and hate the sound of my own voice….so righteous, so nagging, so ‘in the good old days’ pious. I guess all children are different. It would be a boring world if we turned out children who were perfect mini-me’s. I love it that James doesn’t support Arsenal, like his father. That he doesn’t ‘do’ spooky, unlike his supernaturally-obsessed mother. He’s his own boy and that is great. But…oh but….I do wish that just once in a while I would see him, silent in a tree, gazing off into the mid-distance, off with the fairies…..

Monday 13 August 2007

The Black Hole of Renovation

It sometimes feels as if we have fallen into a black hole. Hellloooooo, we wail plaintively, looking for people to help us repair the bonkers house. We cup our ears but hear nothing but the echo of our sad little voices (and the distant sound of cheering from the cricket pitch). Before we went away I had finally – after much dithering – decided on the Architect of Choice (wooed by a website with House & Garden type pictures of drop-dead gorgeous houses that had been lovingly restored and remodelled by AoC). He specialises in old houses and has green leanings – what could be better? Merrily emailed him. Email bounced back. Tried again. Boing. And again and again. No joy. Walked by his office – shut. Tried phoning – no reply, just a jaunty ansaphone that doesn’t permit messages (er, why?).

So we put him on the back burner and renewed our efforts to track down our ex-Aga man (who has been happily sorting our heating and Aga needs for the last fifteen years). He too has gone AWOL – calls not returned over the last six weeks. Once again the ansaphone clicks on, another message (even more mournful than the last).
‘Hi Paul. It’s us again [yes we say who it was!]. Er, not sure if you are getting our messages or if you’re away on holiday [longest holiday ever] or if you’re just really busy [how busy can a heating engineer BE in summer?]. Or maybe you hate us and want us to be cold and smelly. Whatever, it’s cool - just please just phone and let us know eh?’
OK, so we didn’t say the last bit verbatim but you get the drift.
At this point Adrian was so depressed he phoned the fish man – just to get the joy of a reply.

It really is a bit grim. We need the Rayburn. We really do. The day we moved in we went to wash up and found freezing cold water coming out of the taps. I went to run a bath (sorely needed) – and an inch of luke-warm water sort of juddered out. We phoned up our vendor rather sheepishly and she laughed in a sort of ‘he he he, not my problem any more!’ way and explained the situation.
‘Ah well. If you want hot water you have to turn the heating ON and turn all the radiators OFF.

‘Oh, and you can’t have all the radiators on anyway – it overloads the boiler.’
Great. I am pretty stoic but I do like a nice hot bath and I thought I’d grown out of boiling kettles to do the washing up.
We really must get a nice clear Order of Works to follow before winter kicks in. I can see fresh air through the windows of my study and James is nervous at how the slant of the hall seems to be getting more acute as the weeks go by.

I wonder though if, hand on heart, I’m trying to delay the inevitable. Maybe there is such a thing as negative cosmic ordering – perhaps I am somehow making these people vanish into thin air because in my heart of hearts I am dreading the start of the renovation? Truly I feel a bit sick at the thought of finding out the extent of what needs doing. The phrase Money Pit comes frequently to mind. Then there is the upheaval, the mess, the haemorrhaging of cash, the sauntering and careless whistling of workmen, the endless mugs of tea, the mountains of sugar (I think of Milla and wince). Not AT Milla of course, but at her accounts of life ruled by builders. Sometimes I think I’d rather just stay as we are – living with the inch of water in the cellar, the damp stains up the walls, the wobbling staircase and the slanting floors. I think I could get used to vinyl wallpaper and curtains that looks as if armies of cats had been having ripping contests. A seventies kitchen? So nearly back in fashion (just a shame half the doors are missing and the others lurch when you open them). Maybe we should treasure the bathroom with the tiles that clash with the wallpaper that clashes with the carpet that clashes with the curtains (not to mention the little hat of a lampshade that, yup, clashes with everything)……oh, forgot the Bath Knight thingy that lowers you into the bath and the plug that has to be held in the entire time the bath fills (to a giddy four inches - oh the excitement).

No, it’s no good. It must be faced. So I pour myself another glass of the red stuff and flick through a few copies of Period Living or Country Homes & Interiors and dream…..

Thursday 9 August 2007

In Praise of Northumberland

Long time, no blog…..blame two weeks in Northumberland (plus the bonkers house and the Amazonian garden). Our holiday didn’t begin auspiciously. I really didn’t want to go (still madly in love with the bonkers house and loathe to leave it) and so packed in a bit of a grump. Actually felt envious of our house/dog sitters! Then, of course, we managed to get ourselves caught in the floods in Gloucestershire and very nearly spent the night on the M5.
As we arrived in Seahouses, Adrian had a decided sneer on his face.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t like it.’
He ummed and ahhed and finally admitted it was a case of horrible snobbery mixed with an upbringing in a seaside town. OK, so Seahouses is no Southwald – it’s upfront and brassy, with ticky-tacky gift emporia and a hoard of fish ‘n’ chip shops and some truly revolting architecture. But I loved it. After all, you’d have to have a soul of lead not to sigh at the view from our cottage window: boats bobbing in the harbour, waves crashing against the wall; the Farne Islands glistening and so close you’d almost think you could doggy-paddle over to them. An expanse of the perfect wide sandy beach stretching away, punctuated by the solid mass of Bamburgh Castle. Far away, a blue impossibility, Lindisfarne, Holy Island nudging the horizon.
Adrian came round (I thought he would)…wholeheartedly admitting he was wrong and I was right (that was a moment to savour). Suffice to say, we all fell in love with the land of the North and shall be returning next year for sure.
I won’t bore the socks off you with a blow by blow account but let us say there are many reasons to visit and, out of very many, these were our favourites….

1. The most beautiful beaches in the world (probably). OK, California has bigger surf and the Bahamas have whiter sand (and warmer weather) but truly if you have children or dogs (and if you don’t) there are no beaches better….. You park your car on a verge, wander through sand-dunes and find your own bit of paradise. Perfection. No rules - dogs prance merrily and nobody tells you not to swim here or sit there. It all polices itself very nicely, thank you.
2. Barter Books in Alnwick. Adrian spent hours upon hours in this bibliophile heaven. A HUGE second-hand bookshop based in an old railway station. Comfy sofas and chairs all over the place; pots of coffee on the brew; stacks of toys and a model railway running overhead to amuse the children….
3. The Cheviots. Greedy old Northumberland. Stunning beaches AND drop-dead gorgeous hills and moorland. Exmoor with knobs on. We walked to Linhope Spout, a modest hike with the reward of a pretty fabulous waterfall at the end of it.
4. The people. Friendly, down-to-earth, wicked sense of humour. After two weeks they were kind enough to make us feel like locals.
5. Castle overload. Heck, if you’re into ten foot thick walls and turrets, get thee to Northumberland. Turn any corner and there you go – big ones, little ones, solid lived-in jobbies, desolate madly romantic ruins. To be truthful, after you’ve done about five they all start segueing into one big fortification. But at least you get some mileage out of the swords and shields you bought at the first one.
6. Hadrian’s Wall. At which we (along with every other parent in the vicinity) try to ram a bit of history down our beloved children’s throats. ‘Gosh look….this is where they had their baths. Did you know that the Romans were such an advanced civilisation….’ ‘Hey, Mum, look at me rolling down this bank.’ ‘It’s a fosse…’ Oh, give up. Buy a copy of Eagle of the Ninth (that you will read out of nostalgia and which will be stoically ignored in favour of Harry Potter septimus) and move on. At least you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth out of your National Trust membership.
7. Hexham Farmer’s Market (Saturdays). Adrian in foodie heaven buying up local meat, pasties, cakes, veg, pickles…blah blah blah. Needless to say we ate VERY well (honourable mentions too to Swallows fish shop in Seahouses and the butchers in Bamburgh).
8. Scary as hell boat ride to the Farnes. The rest of the boats are big buckets that stolidly roll around the islands. We however were told that Aqua Trax was the boat for us, and Lloydie the man to show us serious seals and birdlife. Thanks @themill! ‘Oooh, isn’t this fun,’ as we speed (yup, it’s a speedboat) out of the harbour. ‘Aaagh, when will it stop?’ as we lurch onto open water and I think we’re going to die at every 90 degree lurch. When I wasn’t in mortal terror of my life, I did manage to oooh and aaah over the seals and puffins and so on. Fruity and deeply non-PC tales come free with the fear factor.
9. Newcastle. This of course was the main reason we went to Northumberland – to make pilgrimage to ‘the Toon’…..James is (for reasons we will never fathom) a committed Magpie. He threw his last nine months’ pocket money into the maw of the St James’ Park shop and emerged with many black and white souvenirs. Then we wandered around town – and what a very nice city it is too.
10. Purplecooers. Ah, the sheer joy. Saw @themill a few times, met her lovely family and was plied with copious libations of Fleurie…..she’s a total joy and I do so wish she didn’t live at the other end of the country. Had a lovely lunch with Crystal (and met Angel too for the first time - hurrah!) and toured her very spooky house….both Angel and I had exactly the same reaction as we went into one part of the house – palpitations out of nowhere. Deeply weird.
I am still awed by what a lovely bunch of people you all are…. Adrian is slightly perturbed that our future holidays may be picked on account of which blogger lives there, rather than more rational approaches...but hey, I can think of worse places to visit than Shropshire, Suffolk, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Scotland, Ireland, France, New York, Canada, New Zealand....I know, I know, I've missed a bucketload but you get the idea....

I could go on and on but I think that’s enough for now. I felt truly desolate at leaving. It is one of the most beautiful places in the British Isles and one that is blissfully unspoilt – for now. Part of me wants to say, ‘well actually it was really crap – avoid it like the plague’ so it will remain untrendy and divine. But I can’t lie – truly it is fabulous. Do yourself a favour and get thee up there (or down there), preferably renting out Spitalford….and say hello from us.

Thursday 19 July 2007

Before we go.....

Just thought I'd show you our lovely housewarming gifts.....in case I fail dismally in figuring out how to do them in the common room! First up, Bodran's wonderful wind-chime....

It's a rotten picture - I'm no photographer - but hopefully you can see the idea.....

We had a huge thunderstorm a little while ago - incredibly dramatic and a brief power cut to go with it. But, from the sound of things, it's been even more insane up north...

And, to the right we have Frances' divine painting....which is now sitting on the mantelpiece in my study......

And, while I have your attention, can anyone tell me what the heck this plant is? it is all over our vegetable garden and I'm assuming it's a weed of some pernicious nature - as nothing benign is that prolific.......awful picture, sorry, if not clear enough will attempt another one on our return - by which time it will probably have taken over the entire garden.....

Tuesday 17 July 2007

A ghost of our own

We have a ghost. About five years old with long fair hair and wearing a long white dress. Now personally I would have said the latter is a mistake in this house, neck-deep in dust and madness. But there you go.
We found out about her through my cousin, Catherine, who is over from Australia on a visit. Catherine has inherited the spooky genes of the family (we have all manner of spiritualists and odd religious fundamentalists in our history – most of us more or less came out the womb reading tarot cards).
Anyhow, she came over along with size-zero Mother and her own (not size-zero) mother, Aunty Wendy, to have a nose around the new place. We had a rather nice Thai takeaway (oh the heaven that is a takeaway, after nine years without) and a few glasses of the good stuff and I was saying how warm and embracing the house felt.

‘Funny really,’ I said. ‘I thought it would be a spooky house but really it isn’t at all.’
Catherine was wandering around the Oak Room (or as Adrian calls it ‘the Baronial Hall) at this point. Then suddenly she went ‘on point’ – truly, if she’d been a gun dog she’d have had one paw up and her tail stiff as a brush.
‘There’s a little girl here,’ she said.
Oh no.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked, giving off big vibes of ‘please don’t tell me anything seriously weird.’
‘Absolutely.’ She went on about the long blonde hair and all. I was, let’s be honest, sceptical. After all, it’s a pretty archetypal image, even down to the long white (possibly grubby along the hem-line) frock.
‘Have you got a cellar?’
Yup, two actually.
‘One with a door with a window above. Some kind of heating thing there.’
Oh stop it. Yes we have a cellar exactly like that with the remains of a huge old under-floor heating system.
‘Er, why?’
‘She was locked in there as punishment.’
Now this we don’t need to hear.
‘She’s very benign though. She’s not angry or vindictive or anything.’
Well that’s fine then.
I love the idea of ghosts but not in my house. It’s like mice and bats and other forms of wildlife – they’re great as long as I don’t have to share living space with them.
So, anyhow, they all headed off back to the safety of size-zero Mum’s nice friendly ghost-free house and we were left – with a ghost.
‘I wish she hadn’t said that,’ said Adrian.
‘Yup, so do I,’ said I.
‘I’m going to be looking for her now. Out of the corner of my eye and all.’
‘Yup. Me too.’

So now my people-to-find list has an extra item on it. It now reads:
- find architect
- find builder
- find someone to help with garden
- find someone to fix Rayburn
- find someone to fix hot water
- find ghostbuster

Mind you, I’m already getting advice on the latter.
‘You want Father X. He’s terribly good at that sort of thing,’ opined someone at a party we went to over the weekend.
‘What, even though I’m not Catholic?’
‘Oh no, he won’t remotely mind. He really is very good.’

By heck, a bonda fide exorcist in the town? How utterly thrilling.

But I’m not sure I should exorcise my poor little ghost. It seems a bit extreme (and tantamount to child abuse) to throw bell, book and candle at a five-year old (even if she has been dead for God knows how long). So I shall see how we go, my ghost and I. Maybe she will want to be released at some point and then I'll see if I can find a way to help her. Until then, well, it's live and let live (so to speak).

PS - for Un Peu.....here's the bonkers wallpaper!

Friday 6 July 2007

A new beginning

What a difference a week makes. This time last week all hell had broken loose. Adrian was sitting in the estate agents while the removal men were sitting in the pub. Anguished calls were whizzing between agents and solicitors. All our worldly goods and chattels were in two removal trucks blocking the main road into town. Our buyer had, true to form and my darkest suspicions, b*******d up again. Somehow, between him and his inept solicitor, they hadn’t got his mortgage sorted properly and the money hadn’t come in on time. Adrian was, to put it mildly, stressed.

I, meanwhile, was sitting in a marquee several miles away, blissfully unaware of the ensuing drama. It was James’ speech day and I realised, for the first time, just where all our money was going. Forget any idea of smarter schools, better equipment, better teaching. Nope, send your child to an independent school and by heck you’re paying for posh tents, veritable gardens of flower arrangements and Terry Waite as the speaker.
‘How much d’you reckon they’re paying him?’ whispered my friend R (the mad but lovely Irishwoman who is not known for her tact).
‘Enough.’ I muttered.

I have to say though, however much it was, it was worth it for he was fabulous. The children of course had no real idea of who he was but the parents were riveted by his speech. I hadn’t heard the tale of how, after several years in prison, he had finally met a friendly guard who agreed to smuggle in an English book. Unfortunately neither he nor his accomplice spoke any English. Terry was overcome with excitement when the book was placed in his hands and could barely wait to rip off his blindfold (he had to put one on whenever anyone came into his cell). The door closed, he pulled it off and turned over the book: ‘A Manual of Breastfeeding.’ Can you imagine the disappointment?

The next one was Dr Spock’s Baby and Childcare and he realised, with horror, that the kindly soul getting the books was firmly stuck on the childcare shelf. Eventually he hit on a way to get over what he wanted. He drew a picture of a penguin. Now, he could have been REALLY unlucky and got the sex life of penguins but no – his ruse worked and the next book was Laurie Lee’s When I Walked out one Midsummer Morning (published, of course, by Penguin Books). The irony of the title wasn’t lost on him.

Most of the prizes were for older children and I was beginning to fidget a bit, desperate to get outside to switch on my mobile and find out if I had a home or not. But then, to my total delight, James’ name was read out – he had won the governor’s award for effort. Up he went, face like a poker, not a trace of emotion as he shook Terry Waite’s hand and took his prize. Then, as he walked back from the stage, he caught my eye and broke out into a huge beam and gave a double thumbs-up!

Outside, a superior cream tea was being served but I swerved off and called Adrian.
‘Er, it’s a bit sticky,’ he said, his voice sounding thin and taut. ‘The money hasn’t gone through on time. We’re waiting to hear if we can get in tonight. Oh, and our buyer is still fifteen hundred quid astray of the price.’
I barely heard what people were saying to me. I ate an entire cream tea without even tasting it. No wonder I can't lose weight - and what a total waste to boot. Then the phone rang again and Adrian sounded like a different person.
‘It’s OK. We’re in! Come on home!’

It was mayhem of course. The removal men were clearly desperate to get out (well, it was a Friday evening) and we were desperate to get them out and so stuff was pretty much dumped wherever a space could be found for it. James discovered the fish pond and promptly named the fish Cheetah and Tiger. Jack bounded enthusiastically (he had bonded fast with the removal men who bizarrely didn’t seem to mind a small terrier hurtling round their ankles).

Then, suddenly, they were gone. We walked round our house in a daze. It felt wonderful. Never mind that you could barely see any of it for boxes. Never mind that the smell of damp rose up like a miasmic bog and that the downstairs loo was a botanist’s dream. Never mind that the floors listed wildly and that you could see daylight through the window frames. It might be a restoration nightmare but it was our restoration nightmare and we all loved it to bits. Funny thing but it felt ours immediately. It felt as if it simply shrugged off the old owners almost in an instant and opened its arms to us. It has the loveliest warmest feeling; a nurturing generous house. Not a single backwards glance, not one (Milla, you were so right – but then you usually are!).

We got the beds made up and decided that – as it was nearly 8pm – it was time to go to Woods in search of supper. We had a right royal welcome – the locals cheered when we went in and one of the old lushes nearly broke into tears he was so chuffed. ‘Well done, well done, well done,’ he kept repeating (I think he’ll go on saying it every time he sees us for the next few years actually). We tucked into steak rolls with onion marmalade and a huge bowl of home-made chips. I sank a few glasses of Beaujolais; Adrian a fair few pints of HSD and James overdosed on Fentiman's ginger beer. When we went to pay the bill, we were waved away…. ‘Oh, away with you!'

That night, as I tucked James up in bed, in his new room, I suddenly thought back to speech day (which already seemed months in the past) and said: ‘So, what was Terry Waite like?’
James thought about it a bit. ‘He was quite nice,’ he said, then wrinkled his nose a bit and waved his hand in front of it... ‘but he was a bit whiffy.’
I must have looked startled because he shook his head firmly.
‘But, Mum, it wasn’t his fault. He’s been in jail for five years, you know, and they didn’t have any baths. He couldn't help it.’

Thursday 28 June 2007

Packing Asbo (or Jack-in-a-box)

I’m freaking out big time here. All around me I can hear the rustle of paper, the rip of tape, the thump as another box joins the pile. When the first lorry came lumbering up the drive I had a total wobble and found tears in my eyes. It’s been so long coming that I had got to the point where I thought it was never going to happen. Of course the sun had to shine today and the dew had to twinkle on the grass and the rainbows had to dance across our bedroom and remind me of our old cat, Bear, who used to race around hurling herself at the walls, trying to catch them.
That’s the thing, isn’t it, about moving. You leave behind so many layers of memory. Adrian, being Welsh and so (he maintains) genetically inclined to gloom, laments that we will have to leave behind Monty and Bear (our ex-pets) and did actually ponder exhuming them to bring them with us. I didn’t tell the removal men this as I made the first cup of tea of the day.
They are horrified enough already – at the never-ending miles of books and general detritus. I had fully intended to clean out each and every drawer and cupboard BEFORE moving but somehow time has caught up with me and I had the humiliating experience of watching a drawer-full of elastic bands, old bottle tops, fuzz and dust being carefully placed in a box. The shame. Fortunately a friend had reminded me that it is always a Good Thing to pack one’s underwear and any other potentially embarrassing items oneself – so this was achieved last night.
The movers are a jolly bunch. They’re leaving the TV until last so they can watch Tim Henman (why?) but otherwise are dismantling our home with indecent haste. I’ve already had to rescue the coffee pot and poor Asbo’s lunch from a box.

‘Why on earth do you want to move from here? It’s gorgeous.’ One of them said. Not helpful.
‘Bet this was snapped up in a minute,’ said another. At which Adrian and I looked at each other and burst into laughter.
‘Only nearly three years,’ said Adrian.
They couldn’t believe it.

There are four removal men. There is the tall good-looking one who Acts Professional and is clearly In Charge. There is the aged gap-toothed retainer who (bless) put a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Are you alright my love’ in that soft impenetrable Bridgwater accent (came out roughly as ‘yralrighmylurrrve’). There is the weaselish dodgy-looking one (who is loitering upstairs – I am SO glad I packed my own knickers) and the depressed downtrodden one who is doing the kitchen.
‘I always get to do the kitchen. It’s not fair.’
After three hours I can sort of see his point.
‘All the flipping glasses and crockery. I hate glasses and crockery.’
Who wouldn’t, given his job?
Not helped by the fact that whenever any of the others find anything remotely glass or crockery-ish they merrily trot it along to the kitchen to add to his pile.
‘You always do this. It’s not fair.’ The poor man will be packing china until midnight.

I should be working. I’ve got the changes through on the book and ought to crack on. But I really can’t concentrate. I’m all mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up. So I thought, what the heck, until they take away the table, I’ll do a blog. Adrian has just gone off to Tiverton to watch James play cricket. Finally, FINALLY, the boy has been picked to play for the team (someone was ill). He was so excited that the school let him call up to tell us as he wanted one of us to watch. Maybe our collective luck is changing…..

Thank you for all your comments and kind wishes. Yes, indeed, should I change the name of my blog? Am I no longer a ‘desperate’ woman? I’d like to think so. Adrian says that, when we move (and how often have I used that particular phrase) we will be calmer, more collected, more easygoing and jolly. We will laugh more, smile more, adapt a more laissez-faire attitude to the vicissitudes of life. Hmm. Can you really see that happening? So, what should it be? Diary of a ????? Woman? Or something different altogether? Answers below please.

PS - relax Camilla, the title is a joke....dear Asbo will come with us (I shall rue the day).....

Monday 25 June 2007

The Last Weekend (and mad shoes)

It was our last weekend here and by heck it was a good one. James had his first ever sleepover (at school) on Friday night. So, while the child is away, the mice will play….. My dear friend Jane came down from London and met us at Woods (where else?). Gins were drunk. Wine followed. Food was fabulous. I was being careful though so what happened next was all Jane’s fault. She decided that she wanted an extra glass of wine for the road. Paddy, the owner of Woods, is a bit of a wine buff and prides himself on his cellar (the wonder of Woods is that you can pick any wine and just have a glass if you want)… So he bustled over to ascertain what kind of wine she fancied, vanished for a bit and then came back brandishing a bottle of Crozes Hermitage, insisting it was on the house. Jane had a glass. I said ‘No thank you’. Paddy poured Adrian one but he was drinking beer of course. Now, what do you do, faced with a full glass of something very nice. How rude would it have been to have ignored it? So I drank it and very lovely it was. At which point, someone (possibly me, I confess) asked what Paddy was drinking. ‘Champagne and pastis,’ he said with a bit of a wink. ‘Now that’s what you want if you’re having a party. Drink a few of those and you don’t know who you are.’ And off he went, chuckling, only to come back with three champagne flutes and a couple of bottles.
‘Nooooo,’ we said. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. Evil Paddy.

Jane drank hers. Adrian took a sip and put his down. I drank mine even though I don’t like aniseed-flavoured things one little bit. I think that was the point at which I brought up about the night when Jane, eighteen, got off with the chemistry master from the boys’ school (not sure why I said that, but Paddy thought it was funny and Jane didn’t – particularly because she was also having a hot flush at that precise moment).
Then our cab came. I got up and noticed Adrian’s untouched glass and said (why, oh why?) ‘Can’t waste it. I’ll take it with me.’
Paddy laughed merrily.

So there I was, in a mini-cab, thinking I was wildly sober, sipping something totally disgusting. It was only when I got into bed and tried to read my book (Glass Books of the Dream Eaters) with one eye shut and the other squinting, desperately trying to focus, that I realised that I had overdone it. By a long way.

The next day was hell. Truly madly deeply hungover and without the option of lying in bed groaning. Had to whiz around Devon and Somerset to pick up James, go to osteopath, go shopping, pick up cars etc etc etc. Jane and I kept trying the food cure: bacon sarnies didn’t do it so we tried toasted tea-cakes (Jane swore by them – wrong, so wrong) and when they didn’t work we went back to town and had mad Welsh rarebit (which as children we always called rabbit). Opposite the tea-rooms is a very upmarket shoe shop. When it opened last year there was much muttering about ‘London prices for Londoners’ and truly I don’t see how you could get around here wearing a pair of purple satin pointy-heeled knee-high boots, lovely though they were.
Jane and I were a little hysterical by this point though and so had fun trying on mad shoes. She decided to buy a pair of very tasty and tasteful black slingbacks. Then she decided that I ought to try on the maddest shoes in the entire shop.
‘Slapper shoes,’ said I, perching in them and howling with laughter.
The owner looked a little affronted. ‘They were in Vogue, you know.’
So? Anyhow, Jane decided that they were so outrageous (and half-price because no-one on Exmoor was mad enough to buy them) that she would get them for me as a housewarming present.
And she did.
I’m not sure I have the guts to wear them to Speech Day on Friday. I’m not really sure I will ever have the guts to wear them anywhere (unless I’m invited to any brothels in the near future). But I think I might just get me one of those Perspex boxes and put them on display as an ormanent.

Sunday we lazed around for the morning, reading papers and then had a pre-prandial drink at the usual place before coming back for a vast roast beef and Yorkshire (yes, I know in June – but hey, not exactly barbecue weather, is it?) The rain held off for a bit and we played (attempted) cricket and then cranked the music up waaay high (for the last time) and danced our little hearts out on our hill. Ah but it was fabulous.
Then, as we were sitting down polishing off a nice Gigondas, the deer came. Four stags, their heads magnificent, came virtually up to the house and stood watching us.
‘They’re saying goodbye,’ said Adrian. It felt just like that, like a benediction somehow. They stayed like that for ages, just watching. Then slowly, so slowly, bowed their heads and walked down the hill.

Friday 22 June 2007

Dancing on the Table

I have made a resolution that I must get out more. When we lived in London I was always out at some play or concert, exhibition or show. I was a wildly sociable soul. But country life sucks out the culture vulture. For starters there isn’t that much on – unless you like tribute bands of tribute bands or the local Am/Dram hamming (god help us) Lady Windermere’s Fan (again). Secondly what seemed like a good idea several weeks back when you booked the tickets, doesn’t look quite so appealing on a cold/wet/gloomy evening when faced with getting tarted up and heading off on a fuel-gulping trek across the moor. I have lost count of the number of tickets that have been left unused and, being a canny and careful Capricorn the waste is painful to the soul.
A few months back I purposefully went through the programme for the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton; found a few possibles and tried to round up troops to accompany me. One such was a folk band called Waterson: Carthy .

So off I went, through the deluge, to meet my friend Carolyn. True to form, she wafted in, all colour-coordinated and oozing serenity and Miss Dior while I was sitting there with my hair like a haystack glugging a spritzer hoping it would take away the distinctly vinegary whiff of fish shop chips (that I’d nicked from James in lieu of supper)….

I was expecting a bunch of old hippies and young grungies but the audience was, to a man and woman, ancient and respectable. The place was packed and Carolyn said she’d read a good review.

Out they trooped onto the stage – mother, father, daughter and another bloke. All so at home with one another that they carried on nattering as if there were sitting at home in their kitchen.
As soon as they started playing I realised it was a mistake. This kind of back to its roots folk music is fabulous but really needs to be heard in a smaller space – in the crowded bar of a pub. I wanted to be sitting at a table with a bunch of mates, glugging back red wine or rough cider and tapping my foot or drumming my fingers on the wine glass. There is something about folk music (and jazz too) that doesn’t often translate that well onto a more formal setting. They were superb musicians and some of the arrangements were unusual and lovely, but I suppose I want more entertainment, more pizzazz if I’m sitting still with my knees up to my chin, penned in a neat row.

There was a lot of shuffling around the stage (from the mikes to a table with chairs where the ones who weren’t playing would sit and drink what I swear were cups of tea). They were so laid back with the whole performing malarkey that they actually came across as a bit bored. Oh gawd, here we go again: let’s bung out a few songs, have a few cuppas, sell a few CDs and bugger off out of here. For some reason they seemed to think it was hilarious that they were sucking throat lozenges, sticking out their tongues at each other. Yeeuch. I kept wanting to yell, oh get on with the music.

The woman next to me however absolutely loved all this shambolic nattering. She barked out the most peculiar laugh I’ve ever heard – this is where I wish I’d paid more attention to phonetics lectures and could reproduce it properly – and kept shouting ‘whoop whoop’ in my ear far more than was strictly necessary.

It made me think back to when I was at college in Manchester and we used to go to this tiny little Irish pub called The Ducie Arms. It was one of a terrace, though most of the street had been pulled own, and faced an area of bleak waste ground before the start of Moss Side. It was, at that time, one of the few places you could get good draught Guinness and we would go in, grab a few pints and sit down in the smoky fug. Inevitably someone would get out a fiddle and then a bodhran and maybe a guitar. A tune would rise up and weave in and out of the conversation. If you’d had a few too much of the dark stuff, it would be nigh-on impossible to stay seated and so up you’d get and jig around a bit (even, shame to tell, on the tables)…and someone would try to teach me Gaelic and be very impressed when I could repeat it nearly perfectly (I’ve got a good ear) not realising that I have an equally poor memory and would have forgotten it ten minutes (or a pint) later. So, IrishEyes, I’m a lost cause. Then someone else would try to get you to play the spoons and by heck that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Anyhow, that – to my mind – was how real folk music needs to be heard. So here comes another WWM (When We Move) resolution – to get out to see some of the small bands playing the pubs.

When I got back to Mum’s (we were staying overnight in Bampton as Adrian had been in London doing a tutored beer tasting for a bunch of loss adjusters) I found a lovely surprise. Adrian had bought me a copy of Loreena McKennitt’s new album, An Ancient Muse. I adore her music – a fusion of Celtic styles and Arabic music which is just totally delicious. I have played her other albums so much I can barely bear to hear them anymore so a new one was a total delight.

So now I’m sitting at my laptop (I’ve given up on the new desktop – the connection is hopeless) being soothed by the strains of Caravanserai. I wish I were clever like Cait (or her offspring) and could have it play at a click….but I’m not so you can’t. Jx

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Positive Thinking and Cosmic Eeyores

I’m driving myself absolutely potty. I’m still waiting to hear back from Hodder and Stoughton about the first draft of Michele’s book (the psychic memoir). I can’t crack on with it until I hear back and I have kept this time free in order to do the work. It’s beyond irritating as – given we are about to move – I had planned on having this project done and dusted by the end of June. Now it will get all snarled up in the move and I am in a totally foul mood about the whole thing.
What is even worse is that, far from thinking ‘whoopee, spare time’ I am sitting morosely at my computer achieving precisely nothing. I am not good at having spare time. My school, the esteemed Nonsuch High School for Girls (very pushy grammar school in Cheam, Surrey) instilled the puritan work ethic in me to such a point that I feel incredibly guilty if I am not sitting at my desk, working hard for at least eight hours a day. My friend Jane says exactly the same – she is possibly the most driven person I know, regularly working until 2am. In fact she’s coming down on Friday for a ‘farewell to Lee Farm’ weekend. We’ve been here nine years and she’s been down maybe half a dozen times. Too busy. Our headmistress would be proud of us.

So I could be cleaning the spare room for Jane. I could, let’s be honest, be cleaning full-stop. Despite the fact that our buyers have been such total phits I cannot somehow bring myself to leave the place in a total mess. But ‘taking time off’ to clean seems decadent. See what a weirdo I am? So, instead, I sit at my computer as if by dint of dogged loyalty to the screen, I can make something happen.

(pause – half an hour later).. And by heck it works! The phone rang and it was Michele saying that she’d had a message from the editor saying it was absolutely fabulous and required very little extra work… Which is fabulous BUT (you heard that coming) I just wish the flipping editor would tell ME…and would also tell me what the ‘very little extra work’ is…so I can crack on and do it. Grrrrr, grrr and triple grrrrrr.

My conversation with Michele was funny – as our conversations always are. She is relentlessly upbeat, a total positive freak, committed believer in Cosmic Ordering and creating your own reality. I’m far more doomy and gloomy, a Cosmic Eeyore.
‘It’s going to be amazing! It’s going to be HUGE.’
‘Yeah, maybe. But it depends on how they market it.’
‘It’s going to change our lives.’
‘I’ve thought that before about books….I was going to be a brand once…’ This said in a very depressed tone. An editor at HarperCollins once got it in her head I was going to be the next Martha Stewart (a sort of cross between Delia and Kirsty Allsop but with a spiritual edge – yes, it’s a strange concept which is perhaps why it never came off). At the time I was very sniffy about the whole thing – thinking it would be prostituting my integrity to have my name on a candle. Fool! Anyhow, the branding was quietly dropped and, with every book I put out, I become more and more cynical as I watch them drop with a quiet little splash into the seventh circle of remaindered hell.

I wasn’t always like this. Once I was as relentlessly positive as Michele. In my twenties I spent hours upon hours and several trees-worth of paper, writing that ‘I, Jane, love and approve of myself’ and ‘It is safe, fun and exciting for me, Jane, to be totally successful.’ For a while they worked really well – the work poured in, so did the money. I was on TV and working for a national. Life was good. I think it all fell apart when I tried the biggie (for me): ‘I, Jane, now choose to be slim and gorgeous.’ I piled on another stone. It was as if my consciousness, higher being, whatever, suddenly took a reality check and said, ‘No sireee.’

So, while I still think it’s great to be upbeat, fabulous to see the positive, I tend to deal in shades of grey nowadays, rather than stark contrast black and white. Life isn’t always easy and I do think that, if you commit yourself hook, line and sinker to the Positive At All Costs movement, then you condemn yourself to feeling a failure when it doesn’t pan out quite how you thought. Also (and maybe this is my puritan school upbringing coming out again) I still can’t help but think that a little bit of the dark, the tough, the hard, doesn’t do one any harm and can even do a lot of good. Look at Paris Hilton (well, I’d rather not, but you know what I mean). Poor little rich girl. Never wanted for anything. Ended up being thrown in jail and kicked her heels when they wouldn’t let her take in her own bed. Now, of course, she says she has found God and is a reformed character. Oh, and she’s going to do a rap record based on her prison experiences. Have to say, it’s quite impressive really. Talk about seeing the positive in everything. Actually the more I think about it, the more you have to confess that this cloud really did have a silver lining. Brand Paris….you watch, there will be a jail range soon. Maybe there is something in this positive thinking after all.
‘I, Jane……’

PS the pic at the top is one taken about twelve years ago, after a draconian diet and a lot of make-up. I have used it relentlessly for all publicity shots ever since and will do so until I am about ninety. This one on the right of the mad woman waving an umbrella menacingly is what nine years on Exmoor does to a woman!!

Friday 15 June 2007

Two weeks - and counting

Two weeks to go. As James and I drove to the bus this morning he said, ‘In two weeks time I’ll be saying goodbye to the farm forever. I’ll be thinking that I’ll never come here again. I think I’ll probably be crying a bit.’
I think I will too. It’s been the best of times, the worst of times, these nine years here. I moved in when I was heavily pregnant (in retrospect quite the most stupid thing to do, given I had absolutely no support system out here, didn’t know a soul.) I had the pregnancy from hell followed by the birth from hell followed by infection and post-natal depression. I wasn’t ever a natural mother. Babies terrified me (and still do). Add in the persistent insomnia and I was a wreck. I used to drive, half-dizzy with tiredness, sobbing my heart out. I realised, very early on, that we had made a mistake; that, beautiful though this valley was, we had come at the wrong time. Adrian, however, was in love – in love with the land, with walking, with chain-sawing, with tramping.

I have had happy times here, but I have never really felt settled. I have felt as if we’ve been camping out, borrowing the house. I have never had the urge (which I had in previous houses) to claim it, to cajole it, to work with it to make a wondrous magical home. So, now we are on the verge of leaving, it is with very mixed feelings.

I will miss so much:

· The early morning sun flooding in through the bedroom window.
· The house martens roosting under my office window and giving me an air show throughout the summer.
· Watching the weather sweep across the valley – lazy drifting snow, columns of rain, the odd rainbow, a one-off whirlwind.
· The avenue of maples, with candy bright rhododendrons – the tawny owl greeting us as we come home in the evening.
· The stream – with James’ island and Jack’s deep plunge pool. Beloved of herons. We never did see an otter.
· The fire in my office…
· The space – huge kitchen, huge living room, huge bedroom.
- Being snowed in from time to time – and tobogganing down the hill.
· The red deer.
· Having no immediate neighbours.
· Watching the sheep and cattle on the hillside opposite.
· Watching the hunt – the hounds working the gorse.
· Our spring water – tastes like heaven.
· Closing the gate on Christmas Eve and shutting out the world.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I will miss being surrounded by pure raw nature. When I think of my ‘won’t miss’ list, it all seems a bit pathetic. Maybe, to coin a phrase used elsewhere, I’m selling my soul for ‘country convenient’. I don’t know.

I won’t miss:

· Driving absolutely everywhere.
· The endless clearing of docks/bracken/thistles/
· The steepness of the hill – worse than a Stairmaster.
· Not being able to get a takeaway.
· The weird electrics – if you have more than two appliances on, the lights flicker.
· Losing the light early in winter.
· The pot-holes on the drive.
· The bridge that seems ready to collapse at any moment.
· The bats – in the bedroom.
· The need for endless forward planning – the lack of spontaneity (oh, I fancy baking a cake – ah, but we haven’t got this or that).

See what I mean?

It’s a hard time to leave. Summer here is exquisite. When I think back over the last two years of trying to sell, I still can’t believe it took so long. How could anyone NOT fall in love with this perfect little patch of Exmoor? How could I think of leaving it?

Monday 11 June 2007

The Vampire Bat (a home-grown horror story)

There’s a horror film being re-enacted in our house right now. Every night as the sun goes down I lock myself in the far bedroom, jamming tight the windows, slamming shut the door, lying quivering in bed, listening for the slightest sound, the merest disturbance in the air. Praying. Hard. I cannot rest until dawn breaks through and the hope of the new day emerges. Then, at last, I can fling open the windows and fall into the deepest slumber. Safe at last.

It’s bat season.

I have absolutely no idea why but, every June, we get bats in the house. Funnily enough, when it first happened, I wasn’t that bothered. I’d merely open the windows, slam off the lights and wait for them to figure out the Exit and leave. But as the years have passed, my nerves have worn thin and now I am very nearly phobic. I don’t mind them outside, flitting round at dusk. But I cannot abide them in the house or – more particularly – in the bedroom.

The first one of 2007 arrived a couple of days ago. I was sitting in the living room, feet up with a large glass of Pinot Grigio, watching The Holiday (execrable film), when a large one started doing its wild circling routine. Squawked a bit and hauled in Adrian to deal with it.
Then, several hours later, in bed I woke with a sense that Something Was Wrong. Lay there, heart thudding, listening. Nothing. Checked on James – fine. Came back, turned on the light and read a bit (Gardens of the Dead – not great). Adrian, having partaken of cheese (makes him snore) was in the back guest room. Felt tired, turned off light. Lay there in the dark, wondering what was wrong. Then a low sort of ‘thrum’ and my heart sank. Sort of lost it, I’m afraid and let out an involuntary wail. Which, of course, woke up James.
‘What’s up Mum?’
‘Oh, only a silly bat. Don’t worry.’ Pause. Duck. Small scream.
No response. Adrian sleeps like Dracula at noon.
‘DAAAAAD!!’ James not remotely worried but smartly figuring his higher-pitched cry might wake his father. Frankly a stake to the heart might be a better idea.
Finally he stumbles out, looking quite like the undead, sort of takes in the situation and calmly lets the bat fly into his end of the house and shuts himself in with it.
I don’t like this cavalier attitude. I like to see things disappear. I like to know for good and certain that the trespasser (be it bat or spider or whatever) has been returned to its proper place (ie NOT in my house).
Last year it reached epic proportions. I didn’t sleep for a month. One memorable night Adrian turned the bedroom upside down and did that sort of pained male thing of throwing up his hands and saying, ‘Well, it’s not here.’
‘But it hasn’t gone. Ergo it must be here.’ Muffled from under the duvet.
‘But I can’t see it and I’ve looked everywhere. So it can't be here.’

How stupid and typically male is this? I thought back over his running commentary on everywhere he had looked and realised that the one place he hadn’t checked was - horror of horrors – the bed. I peered down the back of the (headboardless) mattress and – Oh My God – yup, there it was….all curled up all but three inches from where my head had been for the last half hour. Cue total hysteria and a severely chastised husband.

This year we were prepared. The chimneys had been blocked solid with paper. The doors were all shut as were the windows (even as the temperature soared). Yet still the puggers get in somehow.
‘Like a mist through the keyhole,’ muttered Adrian. Not helpful at all, Van Helsing.
I meanwhile, have taken to barricading myself in the far room, crucifix firmly round my neck, garlic at the windows, muttering prayers and imprecations. I jest – but only just.

PS – great responses to my blogging question – thank you all…