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… 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?)


Frances said...

Hello Jane.

It is a happy treat of a surprise to see you have taken to the writing of the blog! I am sure that I am not the only one who has been missing you.

The little pictures of those striped lads in action has got me imagining the sound track. Bet it has to be loud.

Here is a confession. I have no idea who Liz Jones is. She could bring her belongings to live on my block and remain totally anonymous. (Other somewhat recognizable faces have done so.)

I cannot remember which one now, but as I was roaming round the various UK Sunday papers online, last Sunday, I came across some woman's column with the topic of what it is really like for some wives who spend the week in the country while their husbands continue to travel daily to London. Did you see that one?

Long, long comment here. Will finish by saying have no idea about how to preserve black and white stripes. Maybe find the parent of some teammate of James's whose jersey is perfect. Or maybe, just let the colors merge! Smart little boy you've got there.


Pondside said...

Like Frances, I have no idea who Liz Smith is, although there is a whiff of something unpleasant about her name - was there a controversial article at one point, that was discussed on the site? Ah well, if she moves in you'll have fodder for many an interesting blog!

Ska, not a good mother but working on it said...

ha ha - i'd have loved to have seen your face. our boy does both rugby and football now, drives me potty i am afraid i can't stand to see him come home all covered in bruises and blood!

Elizabethd said...

I love the thought of the 'fur babies' leading the hunt, tails streaming behind them..View hallooo, miaow miaow!

Anonymous said...

She may join your aerobics class! Joy! hehe. I read her column if we get the Mail, she makes me cross!!

Faith said...

Oh you are bound to run into LJ arent you? How interesting..... can she really be as she comes over? (Frances, Pondside, you are not missing much - her column in You annoyed me so much I stopped reading it).

Rugby shirt washing - all I can advise is put that pink stain stuff in with the powder every time. No-one expects little boys to be clean anyway.

Queen Vixen said...

Spontinaeity (that is sooo NOT how you spell it but ...whatever) is vital. I am tempted to quote the Transactional Analalysts creed of 'the s word', awareness and intimacy being the building blocks of autonomy. Oh, I already did. But you stay with your eager anticipation and capacity to do things on the spur of the moment.

Susan Hill - she was responsible for me starting a family. Not literally of course, but one of her books.

As for the Teacher! HELLO! She should have been on the phone telling you that your son was a genius, and had extraordinary philosphical talents. You know that already though! She/he must have been asleep.

The fur babies are coming; Sweetie and the crowd. How funny! Keep us informed. Poor old Liz does seem to be having a tough time. A good bit of Exmoor air will see her right.

Queen Vixen said...

Please Please Please ignore ALL the glaringly obvious spelling mistakes in that last comment. Hang your head in shame Vix - no PhD for you!

Anonymous said...

New neighbours, how nice. Perhaps you should make the first move and pop round with a cup of sugar.

Definitely ghost stories tomorrow. I'm getting one ready right now!

Crystal xx

Norma Murray said...

No doubt Liz Jones will read your blog and be forewarned before her move. Maybe she is replying to it as I write, just like the other famous person did.
As for the Woman in Black. I found the ending so seriously disturbing that I don't even want to think about it again. Just the thought makes me shudder.

Fire Byrd said...

Oh so lovely to have you back, I've missed you.

As for son,he's just going through his morbidity stage, when children realise for the first time that death happens. It preoccupies them for a bit then they move on to something else.

Sam Fox said...

Aha! She's baaaaaaaaack! Liz Jones on your doorstep, lovely. Say no more. James is showing a bit of his maternal genes, methinks. Didn't know he was a Scorpio... watch out girls! Just give him a few years!


Posie said...

Oh loved the fact that R has turned to Buddhism to deal with pre adolescent daughter...eek looking forward to hearing what she turns to in a few years when daughter hits the teenage times ahead! Almond brittle after aerobics, love it!

Suffolkmum said...

So know what you mean about blogstipation - I've got it too! Lovely to see you writing again here though. I've got a Scorpio James too, who also often comes out with strange things - but I do think yours is showing a touch of genius there! Isn't it his birthday tomorrow? Not sure how I know that, you must have mentioned it somewhere, or of course I may be wrong! Oh dear I do hope poor old Liz isn't imaging a cutesy rural idyll full of flopsy bunnies. The country is a bit tougher than that!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

First, the rugby shirt -- no idea. My son's is supposed to be maroon and white, but is now maroon, black and white.

Second: Liz Jones. Is she not the most self-obsessed person in the world? At least from reading her column. Years ago I actually emailed her advising her to dump the husband -- way before his infidelities came to light. Did she listen? NOOOOO. She emailed back and said it was a difficult time for him, etc. I hope she's a good neighbour to you.

Nice to have you back in the blog world.

Cait O'Connor said...

Great to read your blog again, it's always worth the wait though. Reading Susan Hill by the fire, that sounds wonderful, especially tonight! I love presents that are sent out of the blue for no special reason. I think everyone has said it all re your new neighbour (!) and I can't help much with the washing. Tried Vanish?

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

In no particular order:
rugby shirt - had two obsessed rugby playing sons, total waste of time to look for the black and white.
Susan Hill - wonderful, present and reading by the fire, just perfect.
Liz Jones - awful, fur babies? give me strength. Wear a scary hat. I am a nice and ultra tolerant person but I still know a whiny bore when I see one.
Welcome back.

CAMILLA said...

Darling Jane,

I have always loved your blogs, from the minute I first met you, full of wit and interesting fluent writing.

Well I remember reading LJ page - We're Cool For Cats. Heck, she had better watch out if moving to the country, anything can happen if Fox's are about. Good job that my Daisy Boo is not a neighbour, she loathes Cats, would have them for supper. Dogs can lay on their back too and expose their tummies, I know my JRT does. I love all animals as you know Jane, just worried that they may become a "cropper" those fur babies.

Your James is a Scorpio like my son, deep thinking, modest, and passionate in what they do in life. Pity that teacher did not comment on Jame's piece, I think he is quite a genius, full marks I say. There is a liquid called VANISH, comes in a bright PINK bottle. Think one has to rub vigourously with this before popping into the wash cycle, gets rid of most stains.


Lovely to see you blogging again, Jane - over the past couple of weeks I've frequently clicked over to your page only to be greeted by that depressing flourescent light again. V much enjoyed your blog, as always - although it's got me thinking a bit about my growing aversion to surprises as I get older. Must do something about that - I found myself taking worryingly to my bed the day before my son's birthday party last week in anticipation of all the unaccustomed excitement... Although anywhere near size zero I am plainly not.

Hmmm Buddhist parenting - does that involve sitting cross-legged chanting, a beatific expression on one's face whilst one's offspring merrily runs amok? Sounds like me on one of my "trying to cope" days.

Here's hoping LJ turns out to be one of life's good surprizes.


Anonymous said...

love the sound of you peeling back the covers on the garden - sounds like frances hodgson burnett!

Anonymous said...

Scorpio eh? Brilliant people!

Lovely to see you back...what the heck am I on about, with my PC have been missing, both my own chance to blog and enjoying all the lovely blogs here.

A handful of salt in the wash is the trick according to Mrs Perfect House and Garden down the road from me, her grandson plays - we are told - and his outfits are immaculate.

Of course that could be because he sits on the sidelines, couldn't it? Worth a try tho'.

Sally Townsend said...

Fur babies ! Dear God. Meethinks she will be your NBF soon. tee hee hee.

Zoë said...

oh dear, wonder if she will comment again this time?

@themill said...

Awaiting the dinner invitation, are you?
The rugby shirt? - don't even try.

Exmoorjane said...

Rugby shirt is now sort of white-ish - I think it realised I wasnt;' going to admit defeat. Oh, and I've just been told that LJ already has a deal for the 'Exmoor' book - though the farmhouse described on Amazon bears no resemblance to the one I visited!

Pipany said...

Great to see you blogging again JAne. I think a break is in order sometimes (says she who should be working!). The Woman in Black is a wonderful book and I love the idea of reading it by the fire too. Sorry, not familiar with LJ either but look forward to hearing more. xx