Thursday, November 29, 2007

Still in La la land

Went to the doctor's yesterday I still felt so poxy after the fall downstairs. Nauseous, headachey and zip brain activity. He peered into my eyes with a torch which always makes me want to shriek with terror, then made me walk in a straight line which I can never do anyway - drunk, sober, concussed or entirely sane. As a finale, he peered down the back of my pants. Usually I would quite like that but I knew it was not a pretty sight down there. At least, it was a locum. One of the problems living in the country is doctors see you at your very worst and then you get invited out and find yourself sitting down for Sunday lunch with them. You are nibbling your sausage thinking: "Last time we met you were looking up my nose." The doctor said it was not surprising I still felt so bad because the body needed time to recover and to rest after traumatising it. (What is this thing doctors have with "rest". It must save them a fortune on their GP budgets. "I prescribe Rest and a lot of it.") On the way out of the surgery I picked up some leaflets including "Avoiding slips, trips and broken hips - How to avoid falls in the home". The leaflets are aimed at the elderly but then who would pick them up if they said "For klutzes of all ages." Apparently you spend 40 years trying to minimise your cellulite then you hit 65 and have to climb into a "hip protector" which is a giant pair of knickers with concrete pads along each side . According to the leaflet: "Hip protector underwear cuts down the risk of a fracture if you fall" and "You should wear it day and night". I am not sure how my husband will feel if I started wearing hip protector underwear at night although I quite like the idea. It also says to consider a "personal fall alarm system" and if you have a pet "fit a brightly coloured collar so that you can see it more easily and are less likely to trip over it." I do not have a pet anymore but I could make the children wear collars. I got home and said to the girl who helps me with the children: "I am thinking of getting hip protector underwear to save me breaking my hip next time I fall over." She said: "Why don't you just wear a cycle helmet whenever you're at home." One pratfall and suddenly everyone's a comedian.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

La la land

I keep having to go lie down in a darkened room. Every now and then my husband says: "I think you need to get your head examined." Mind you he quite often says that. I rang the doctor and he told me you are fine providing you do not vomit twice in the first 24 hours which means you might have a bleed but to get lots of rest, not to work at the computer, drink lots of water and avoid caffeine. I put the phone down and thought: "I can't "not work". I'm on deadline" and then collapsed in a heap on the sofa. My brain has been a wide open, echoey sort of place. I could have stood in it and yelled "Halloooooooo" if I could only have thought what to say. Sometimes words went missing from my sentences and I discovered you can live without them. Sometimes the entire sentence went which is more difficult. Every now and then my husband would ask me a question and I would say "Gobbledi-blah-blah-meeeeurgh" and he would say in a worried sort of voice: "Should I take you to the hospital do you think?" and I would shake my head and say "I can't go to hospital - I'd have to shave my legs." Which proves reason had not entirely deserted me. I have had so much sleep I woke up at 4am this morning and decided I might as well get up and have a bath. I caught a glimpse of my arse in the mirror (usually I try to avoid this view). If the inside of my head looks anything like my backside I am going to be living in La La land for some weeks because it is black and blue. I am also slightly worried that a bang on the head can bring on a personality change. Maybe I will get nicer. That would be a terrible thing to happen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Heads or tails?

Think I'm concussed. Actually pretty sure I'm concussed. I keep. I keep repeating myself. Did the silliest thing yesterday morning - fell from the top of the stairs to the bottom. I believe my lambskin slippers to be haunted. I had just started to walk down the stairs and suddenly my feet flew up in the air, I crashed down onto my arse, thought "Bugger" then continued to travel bump, bump, bump down the entire length of the stairs. My head slamming onto every stair as I careered down. I think I may have screamed the whole way and was fit for nothing by the time I reached the bottom; just lay there sobbing. Luckily my husband was in the kitchen so he was there to pick me up. Think I may have traumatised the children. I was left with the most terrible headache and a throbbing noggin yesterday and this morning when I woke up, my head still hurt. I am bruised to blazes, jarred and generally jangly with aches and pains. I also feel periodically nauseous. Forget the concussion - what is wrong with me? Can you get late onset dyspraxia? I have turned into a klutz. In the past three weeks, I have sprained my ankle jumping off a fence, walked into a door and now fallen down the stairs. It is also the second time this year I have taken a tumble down stairs although my trip was shorter last time. Perhaps I need to try doing one thing at a time. When I jumped off the fence, I was thinking about history: when I walked into the door, I was thinking about the screaming baby and when I was coming down stairs, I was thinking about my six-year-old's reluctance to do homework and whether he would opt out of university in 12 years time.

I would not mind but I have one of those phone interviews with insurance companies later this afternoon where they try to figure out if you are a safe bet to insure. I have had one before and aside from asking you a variety of highly personal medical questions which immediately make you feel like you are about to die from some horrible disease, they have a whole section on dangerous pursuits - Do you rock climb...scuba-dive...rally drive?" I hope they do not ask "Can you walk and chew gum?"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Down and Out 2

I was sent down to London on the strict understanding I did not spend any money. The house still is not finished and we have not paid our last set of bills to the builders. It is a very middle-class sort of broke - big house no money sort of thing. Despite that, after my Northumberland mate disappears into the London sunlight, I contemplate checking into a good hotel in the centre of town. I only have a handbag with me. This is because I travel light when I do not have the children. The handbag has everything I need in it - purse, toothbrush, change of underwear, change of dress, lipstick, powder, mascara, novel, newspaper, notebook, pen, tube map and mobile phone (which works.) I wonder whether hotel staff would think I was a prostitute if I check in for the night with only a handbag. Would they ask themselves where my luggage was? Would they presume the handbag also contained baby oil and handcuffs? I decide I am prepared to be considered a prostitute for the sake of knowing where I will sleep that night. I use the mobile phone to ring a good hotel. The receptionist tells me it will cost £250 to stay the night. £250? I would have to take up prostitution to be able to afford £250 for a night in a hotel. Prostitution seems like too much trouble. I ring the London Diva. I say: "Hi, it's me. I'm homeless." She listens to my story of scruples and inhibition. She laughs. She says: "That's fine. Come stay with the 'B' team."

I spend the night with them and then go to my business meeting over breakfast. The woman I am breakfasting with wants bacon and mushrooms. She is not allowed bacon and mushrooms. She is forced to order "The Traditional Breakfast" for £10.95 and say "No eggs and no sausage." Oh and she wants toast and not a bagel. As the waiter moves away, she leans back in her chair to ask for bacon that is "crispy". I order scrambled eggs and smoked salmon which I do not eat because it tastes like plastic and when my tea comes I send it back after I taste salt from the breakfaster who used the cup before me. We spend three hours over the meeting and by the end of it, the white-aproned waiter hates both of us equally.

On the train back North, still hungry, I decide it is OK to have lunch in the restaurant car. It is a nice lunch. I have a table. I do some work. I drink some wine. I sit there till Durham then move back to my original seat in the buffet car. When I get back, I find a man sitting there who looks vaguely bemused as I ransack his coat and go through his newspapers searching for the Waterstone’s bag I left behind to mark my place. The bag has vanished. I search the floor and the overhead compartment and the luggage storage behind the seat but it has disappeared. It has my favorite brown hat in it which I bought in Germany a year ago and nine new notebooks. I curse. I had been searching for exactly these notebooks for three months and was wildly excited when I found them in the Piccadilly bookstore earlier that morning. Despite my husband's strictures about money, I had bought them.

I go back down the carriage to look for the guard. The guard is not there. I tell the steward who is leaning against the bar chatting to his colleague that my bag has disappeared and he asks me when I checked on it last. I tell him about three hours ago. He is not impressed with such a cavalier approach to my belongings. He says: “Things get stolen every day on the train.” I say: “Right.” He says: “There are 400 people on a train. Would you trust these 400 people with your stuff?” He asks me whether I still want to talk to the guard. I say: “No. Not if that’s GNER’s reaction to something getting stolen – there’s not a lot of point is there?” His buffet car colleague tucked behind the bar is silent throughout this exchange. The steward says: “Well, if you tell me what I can do about it, I’ll do it.” My opinion of him by this point is not a lot higher than my opinion of whoever took the bag. I start walking up and down the train trying to spot it. I even check the toilets. I see a Waterstone’s bag on an overhead shelf of a luggage compartment and immediately rifle it. A mildly irate middle-aged man tells me: “That’s not yours.” He obviously thinks I am trying to steal it. I tell him my bag has gone missing but I am not convinced he believes me. I do indeed look as if I am reconnoitering things to steal as I walk slowly past everybody’s tables, my eye snagging on their mobile phones and shiny laptops. I am thinking: “Why would anyone want my notebooks and hat when they could have your stuff?” The unsympathetic steward pushes his tea trolley past me and as he sees what I am doing he says he will keep a look out for me. I think: “It's a shame you didn’t volunteer to do that in the first place.”

I decide to risk the guard’s scorn and report the bag missing. The guard is called Terry and does not pour scorn on me. He says things do get stolen but not every day. He is genuinely concerned. He is sorry that my bag has been swiped. He tells me Darlington to Durham and the Durham to Newcastle stretches of the journey are particular hotspots because they are such short journeys. He says a thief can come on, steal something and be off again with his swag within minutes. Sometimes they stand on the platform, duck in, take the nearest item and are off again without even the price of a ticket. I say pathetically: “I know you can’t do anything.” He says: “I’ll have a good look for you” and he takes my number and says whatever happens he will call when the train gets to Edinburgh. When his first call comes in later that night, he has found nothing. About an hour later, he finds the bag as the train starts its journey down the line again. I do not know who is more pleased him or me. He tells me the bag was near the kitchen. We wonder if someone has picked it mistakenly thinking it was theirs though this seems unlikely. Or whether a thief had hoped for a bag of expensive hardback autobiographies for Xmas and got a bagful of blank notebooks and a funny hat and dumped them. Terry asks me which station I want the bag left at. We decide Berwick and he even rings me a third time to say he handed the bag over to station staff and they will keep it for me. I decide my adventures in London have a happy ending: I do not slide into prostitution, I get my bag back; the thief, as yet, has to buy his Xmas presents and Terry ratchetted back down the line knowing he made a difference.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Down and out

Had to go back down to London. Bumped into my nearest Northumberland neighbour while I was there who was also down for a couple of days work. How about that for a coincidence? To celebrate we had coffee and pastries in a chic pavement cafe. I rang my husband. I said: "You'll never guess what?" and explained I had just run into my friend. I figured I had better call in case someone else we knew walked by and presumed we were having breakfast together after a night of illicit passion.

So on the down side there was no passion in my trip to London but I did fit in a haircut which is always a good thing. I think I have been "letting myself go" a little for the past while. I wash obviously. But in the past year I have gone up a dress size and now my only question when I look at clothes is: "Will it keep me warm?". My lacksadaisical approach to my appearance got so bad about a month ago I cut my own hair. Not just my fringe. All of my hair. Not entirely off. Not like Britney but a pretty thorough scissoring trim down both sides. Not long ago I would have cut off my own hand rather than do such a thing to myself. Anyway, I got the haircut which is a start at least and I have made a resolution to make more of an effort.

Despite the haircut, the trip was a vaguely uneasy one all told. I was supposed to spend both nights with a friend. When I arrived on Tuesday, she was hideously stressed by a work deadline, a poorly child and the fact she was due to go away on holiday a couple of days later. She was so stressed it became blazingly apparent I could not stay there two nights or I would pitch her over into insanity. There was nothing I could do about the first night so we had a nice dinner and I said I would stay somewhere else on Wednesday. Of course Wednesday comes around and I kiss her goodbye and I think: "That's it. I'm homeless in London." I cannot go home early because my business meeting is not till Thursday. I am now caught between ringing someone else who will feel like she is my second choice or staying in a Travelodge. I seriously contemplate the Travelodge option but decide it would be so miserable I might throw first the executive trouserpress out of the window and then myself. It is at this exact moment I run into my Northumberland neighbour. I know people who would think this was the work of Jesus. There I am homeless in the Big City and I run into my best friend from home. Do I tell him my problem? Of course I do not. I cannot possibly tell him I am homeless in London and do not know where I am going to sleep. It sounds as if I am so dull my friend has decided she has asked me to leave. It would also sound as if I am inviting him to that night of illicit passion. Instead, we drink our coffee, discuss the relative merits of city and country, and I say "See ya" and wave merrily as we part.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Call for help

My baby daughter was sick for five days. Ear infection - "My ear hurts"; eye infection - "My eye hurts". Every little while: "I feel sick." Every wake-up time: "I want medsun". She wanted so much medicine I began to worry I had made her a Kalpol addict. The good thing about it was my husband was home for four of the five days and caught two of the cough-induced vomits. This is what you call a result. A messy one but a result. He is hardly ever home when the children are sick. Ever. And they used to be sick a lot courtesy of the younger one's stomach migraine. Like clockwork. Daddy would pull out of the road to go catch a train and the four-year-old would start vomiting.

One night she called out and I staggered out of bed and grabbed my dressing gown. My husband had only got to bed in the early hours because he was mired in a work crisis and was dead to the world. I had carefully left the bedroom door open because I figured she would wake up and by golly I was right. She did wake up and it was indeed much easier to hear her with the door open. Only problem was I forgot it was there and walked straight into it. This gave me a large lump on my eyebrow and cut my lip which immediately swelled up so that I looked like Marge Simpson, only without the blue hair. Naturally enough, as soon as I had whacked myself nearly insensible on the door she stopped crying. I crawled back into bed having inspected the damage and I lay there whimpering, thinking: "I am going to wake up in the morning and look like I have been walloped. People are going to say: "What on earth did you do? And I am going to say: "I walked into a door" and they are going to think "Yeah right"." But by the morning it had gone down. Now all I have left to show for it is a sore eyebrow and an ulcer on the inside of my lip from the cut.

Meanwhile, I decided I could not keep wandering around without a mobile phone. I do not have a good history with mobile phones. I have come to the conclusion, cars would rather I did not drive them and phones think I do not deserve them.

I have two mobile phones. I gave up using them because they were either flat or I could never get a signal. The reason they were often flat is that there is no incentive to charge them if you do not think you will get a signal. It can be a bit of a vicious circle and you fall out of the mobile habit. On Wednesday, I thought: "Enough. Call yourself a modern woman. You need a mobile phone so that when you run into trouble you can ring a man to get you out of it." Every now and then I try to sort out the chaos in which I live; one decision I made recently was to change banks. This worked very well but paying the mobile phone bill fell down the crack and when I picked up my old phone I discovered that the company had cancelled my service and I could not even use it if I wanted to. I paid my bill and the girl said to reconnect the service would be £35. I thought: "I am not paying £35 for a phone that never works" so I said: "It's been great but no thanks."

I picked up my pay-as-you-go. Pay-as-you-go is great till you discover you have run out of credits and cannot figure out how to top it up. There is no signal where I live. Unless you count the pigeons I occasionally snare and send back to London with coded messages like: "Send more coffee beans." I took the pay-as-go outside. I came back in because it was too wet. I took off my lambskin slippers (I feel guilty about them but not that guilty) and put on my wellies. I went out again. I walked along the access road waving the phone about as if I had poured gin and vermouth into it and was looking for a glass with an olive. No signal. I swore then went down on to the drying green where we dry our clothes in the North wind (whenever the tumble drier breaks down). Still no signal. I stood on one of the 44 molehills. Success - a signal. I tried to ring a number and a message came through with a three digit number to press. I called it and kept pressing "1" as you do till you talk to a real person. The real person was charming. I explained I wanted to top up the phone and he said: "No problem. What is your mobile number?" I said: "I have no idea." He said I had to ring off and get my sim card out and get the sim card number. I swore - but not at him. I went back in, trailing muddy footprints across the kitchen floor. I opened up the phone, swept away the sand which had inveigled itself into it and eventually extracted the sim card with my teeth. I wrote down the number and went back outside. I stepped back on to the mole hill, realised I had inserted the sim card in the wrong way round, swore and went back in. I unclipped the back of the phone, extracted the sim card, turned it around, clipped it up and went back out. I breathed deeply. I did the three digit thing, the pressing the "1" thing, and got another real and equally charming person. The signal was not as good this time, I think because I was slightly lower courtesy of having flattened the molehill from the earlier call. I explained I did not have the phone number but I did have the sim card number and gave it to him. He said: Great, thank you. May I have the first two digits of your four digit personal security number?" I said: "No, I have no idea what they are. Is that a problem?" He said: "Give me a minute please" and went to talk to his supervisor. I imagine the conversation went something like: "I have an idiot on the other end of the line. I am not sure she has any idea what a mobile phone is for, should I let her keep it?" Luckily the superviser had sex the night before and decided it was OK I could register myself, my debit card and get myself a new security code. We did all this, then the nice man in the call centre said: "I am afraid we are having problems topping up. You will need to ring back and do it yourself automatically." I contemplated burying the mobile phone in one of the molehills and telling the children they could have it if they could find it. I said: "OK, thank you for your help." I meant it, he was lovely. I called back and topped up the phone. It is simple when you know how. Yesterday, I go to use it and it tells me my sim card is not working. My friend who is with me when I realise this says: "I never have any problem with my mobile phone." I swear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bang bang bang

Had three bang bang bang nice things happen on one day. I dropped the car off at the garage in the village to get the new tyre put on and went round to have tea with the little old lady who used to live along this row. She moved because she does not drive and she was on her own up here and wanted more independence. "Didn't want to be a burden" - (I am so being a burden when I get old. A big one. I am looking forward to it.) I go down occasionally for tea and cherry cake with occasional cherries. I had only been a couple of days before but she lives near the garage so I walked across and rang the bell. She came to the door and she looked so pleased to see me standing there on her mat. That is it. That was the first nice thing. The tea and cake and chat were all good too but it was her smile when she saw me. I put it in my pocket and I am keeping it. When I went back to the garage to pick up the car and pay, the garage owner who is a strong silent type told me I had done for the tyre "good and proper" driving it home after I realised I had a flat. I shrugged. I said: "What can you do? I was in the middle of nowhere. I had the baby. I didn't have my phone. My husband was away in London so he couldn't have done anything. I had exactly the same thing a couple of weeks ago and it took forever until someone passed by who could help." As I say, this man is the quiet type. With oily fingers, he rifled through some paperwork and pulled out a couple of business cards and said: "Keep them in the car. You can always call us and we'll come and get you sorted." I mean how good is that? Last time the RAC would not even come out to me and the AA could not find me. I am tempted to have a microchip embedded in my ear and let him track me with satellite technology 24/7. Then I got home and had to ring the farmer who owns the fields hereabouts because I wanted to know whether he used names for the fields and if he did whether they were the historic ones. As it turns out some of the names are the same and some of them have changed a little in the past 240 years: what was Dinner Flatts is Dundee Flatts; Garner Flatts, Gardiners and Wheat Riggs, Wheat Ridge. He told me this and then said: "We're away for a couple of days but when we get back, we'll ring you and come round for supper." I think I live here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


This morning, the sky was bruised blue yet the light was gold and true. I had dropped the boys at school,was driving home and saw an arc of splintered light as bright as I have ever seen. In London, years ago, I saw a prism, a stripe - no more, when someone I once loved, died and thought: "That gleam in this gritty dirty sky, that gleam is meant for me." Today, between the hedged gaps, we glimpsed the rainbow's fall to earth, scattering its colours in the grass. I said: "Look, look, there are two" as the other, shadowing, pastel bow appeared. The baby and I gazed content. I looked back to the road, a car approaching. I braked, swerved slightly, hit the only curb on the country lane and my tyre blew. Again. I thought: "Bloody hell. Bugger the tyre. I'm getting home this time" and drove back slowly, my road ahead, ribboned through the coloured "Welcome to Northumberland" arch.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mapping out the past

It is a cold, gold, old time of year as autumn readies itself for winter. Trees which flared like brands plunged into the earth, have lost their claim to flame; embered leaves, dead and dusty now, tumbling over their roots while grey hawthorn hedges twist and turn in the low slung sunshine thrown splendid across the fields. I thought: "I live in the country. I'll go for a walk."

I have a copy of a map from 200 years ago, the fields named: Wheat Riggs, Bottle Banks, Gin Quarter, Old Cow Pasture, Kings Chambers. Wells and a windmill, limestone quarries where once men gouged out the land, all etched in ink. I like history on the page or on the ground. I thought: "I shall walk around Barley Close to the pool where marsh grasses grow and deer drink and once there was a ford." I walked down the winding lane and over the rough ground edging the new sown crop, the land sliding out to the horizoned Cheviot hills, till I found the blue green pool water, bullrushes and reeds swaying in the picked up hurly burly wind. I walked around the pool, its leaf beach empty of deer, slender grey trees and dead nettles guarding the privacy of a lost and ancient Britain. My way blocked, I scrambled onto a lichen painted fencepost to better clear the strung out barbed wire. I paused, considered, jumped; my ankle turned on the rutted ground and I thought: "You just cannot trust the countryside." I limped slowly back to the cottage and the present. I think I may have sprained my ankle.