Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bells on my toes

If I am to make a go of this, I need to do more than eat pease pudding while I watch the cavalry engage in outwitting the enemy in the front line of the class struggle. I need to stop smiling nicely at other mothers in the hope they might want to make me their bestest friend. Up here, they were born in the same maternity ward as their bestest friend, they went to school with her and they probably married her brother. I need to get on a horse. That is what everybody else seems to do round here - ride. A ticket to ride might be my very own ticket to paradise. I could "get with the programme", talk tack and "trot on". In fact, if it works out, the horse could be my best friend - it's been done before.

The first stumbling block in waving a fairy wand to transform me from an East End Cinderella into the Princess Royal was the fact my head is too big. Apparently, we city girls have bigger heads than country gals. Much bigger. The word "freakish" may have been banded about. I arrived at my riding pal's farm all panting expectation; it might have looked like cold-palmed terror, it was merely the way we city types anticipate a close encounter with something that has bigger teeth than ours. Hopes of a rapid mount were soon dashed. My head was too big for all four of her hats; my riding pal phoned a friend. No joy. Just me then with the really big head. We don't just sit around in the country though; we take action. We jumped in her 4x4 and drove to the local market town, snacking en route on the horse's Polo mints. I only had one or two in case the horse could smell them on my breath later.

I have to say, I like country shops. They are much more interesting than city shops. You know what you are going to get in a city shop - it is going to be expensive, beautiful and a little predictable. They don't do predictable in the shops up here. The shop looked like it sold handbags and tops. As we climbed the stairs, I said to my riding pal: "I like those big wide leather belts." She may have snorted. "They're girths," she said. Still no idea what a girth is but I laughed along with her and went: "Oh right, girths." There were also saddles. I have never been in a shop that sold saddles before, along with bridles, bits and crops. I could go on. It was also some sort of mecca for equine grooming products. A bizarre "Hair Today" shop for the horse in your life. There was Plaiting Gel "for a truly professional finish", Horse and Pony Polish with an "extra rich shine formulation" to give "a speedy boost to the coat's natural bloom", Dark Horse Shampoo for the "dark horse in your stable.". It went on like this for shelves. I kept expecting to see a horse sitting in front of a mirror getting a blow dry while it caught up on Britney in Hello.

Luckily, it also sold freakishly large hats and away we sped again back to the farm. My hat is black velvet with a peak, large padded button on the top and cute taffeta bow on the back. It is padded (although it gave me an excruciating headache after half an hour) and disconcertingly, it has not one but three pictures inside it of a horse attempting to buck a rider. Whose idea was that? It also has a complex strapping arrangement around the back of your head and under the chin which feels like small hands are wrapped around your windpipe. I often feel like that. I am not sure I need to buy a hat for it. The hat weighs slightly more than a plant pot but would, I was assured, offer more protection.

Luckily my horse was short (12 hands) but then I am short so that was fine with me. She was an Exmoor pony, a breed I was told which is rarer than the Giant Panda. I have never ridden a Giant Panda so I am not sure which of them would have the advantage in a Darwinian head-to- head. They are a brown, shaggy sort of horse which usually roam wild on Exmoor. I was in the saddle by the time the word "wild" was used. "She can be a bit nippy," I was told. "Great," I thought. "My feet are far too close to her teeth." A Northumberland enthusiast for the breed uses them to graze down scrub and grasses on the dunes to let the wild flowers come through and encourage butterflies and birds. I did not think of butterflies the entire time I was gripping on to the horse with my knees and buttocks. Once I was strapped in, instructions started flying about - sit upright, press down with your heels, the balls of your feet in the stirrups, your elbows in, the reins held "like coffee cups" in your hands. (Latte or espresso? I wanted to know. You would hold them differently wouldn't you? What if you are thinking "latte" and the horse is thinking "espresso"?) The only thing that stops the horse are the reins. There was no brake pedal. I checked.

My riding pal ambled on with her immaculate seat and immense Irish horse of 17 hands - I could not see them but apparently they are there somewhere. The shaggy pony and I came to a working joggle; an arrangement whereby she agreed to carry me without throwing me to the hard ground and stamping on my velvet-hatted head and I agreed to go to mass every week for the next year. I even managed to look up long enough at one point to admire the wrap-around blue grey sea, the Farne islands, their lighthouses and the magnificence of Bamburgh Castle as we trotted round the green fields and I tried to persuade my horse not to tread down too many wheat shoots. I was worried the farmer might shoot us. Halfway round, my riding pal starts telling me how my shaggy pony bolted across the same field with its rider the last time she had been out. I am looking at her, thinking: "Why are you telling me this story?" Luckily, she saved her tales of a broken arm, a broken foot, her teeth through her lip, her black eyes and various other injuries sustained from horses until we made it back to the kitchen for tea and aga-toasted bagels. Before we got to bagels though, I had to dismount.

You would think if you had managed to get on a horse and then sit on a horse, you would be able to get off it. I think there is a fault in the design because there appears to be nothing to hold onto while you take your feet out of the stirrups and swing one leg over to join the other. Neither do I know how you swing your leg over when you have lost the use of both knees. Only the incentive of getting off the horse persuaded me to attempt the manoeuvre.

I used my hat to take away half a dozen eggs from my riding pal's chickens. I am not sure what else I can use it for. I am wearing it as I type. Maybe I could just wear it around and about. It might help me blend in.

Perchance to dream

You have different obsessions at different times of your life; breasts, sweets, sex, a job, a lover, a baby, sleep and, finally, when and how you die. It is possible to strand yourself in one or other but I have swept through and out the other end of most. I have not yet begun to draft my final words or plan my soily grave; I swear to God, though,I would be a nicer person if I got more sleep.

Three out of the four last nights have been disturbed by one or more children; two out of three nights, I have had to sleep - I use the term loosely- in the spare bed in the study to be closer to a cough-filled baby. Last night, I had a choice of distractions: I could listen to the gusting wind outside the house as it harried red-brick chimneys and bare-branched trees, or, I could tune into my hacking, pilgrim baby who tumbled her way round first her cot and then my bed, trying to find some peace. By 2.45am, I decided either she had to be medicated or I did. I carried her back into the darkness of her own room and found the new bottle of cough syrup. I pressed down and twirled away the child-proof cap watched by a murky Peter Rabbit, and groped for a silver spoon in the gloom. She coughed against my chest. "Ok darling," I murmured, "Mummy will make it better". (I don't know how long that one lasts - I figure it should hold until she is two.) I sat down wearily, bundled her gusting warmth into the crook of my arm and tipped up the sticky bottle. It emptied itself all over my bare leg. "Oh dear," I said out loud in the dark. "Mummy's poured cough syrup all over herself." For a moment, the wind outside died and there was silence. Carefully, I scraped a spoonful of blackcurrant linctus off my skin and swallowed it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A note to the wise

Somebody asked me if I was writing the longest goodbye note in history to my husband. Leaving it propped, not against a half-full milk-bottle but in cyber-space, for my virtual neighbours to read through a microsoft window. They think I want to scrawl in Cif and blood: "Darling, I am leaving you and this place. I am taking the small children, the large notes and as many houses as I can fit into my Louis Vuitton bag. Your dinner. Is in the hard drive." All things considered - living here, the move and what-not; I rather like my husband. I think I'll keep him - maybe for forever time. At least until we grow old and then dead together. If you close your eyes, then open the green one on the left and squint a bit, in a dim light, he looks like a Hollywood star. The kind who wears a Smith and Wesson slung round snake hips, sports a woollen poncho and chews a cigarillo. The kind that spits in the dust then kills you. There are all sorts of red rose reasons I would like to keep him, not just the cowboy charm and spurs. Every other month, he will say something to make me laugh so hard, I fall off a kitchen chair. I am not sure who, otherwise, could make me laugh like that now Benny Hill is dead. Anyhows, the children look like him, so how could I forget the man and I have grown to love the garage flowers he rescues from the forecourt and carries in with care. To which I say "Thank you" and "I'll put them in a vase". I even love the fact he said: "This blog thing", "Mmm," I pinched away a drooping leaf. "It's a bit like the South Sea Bubble isn't it?" I looked across the tired, grey daisies at him: "Do you know what happened with the South Sea bubble?" He spun the chamber of his gun, "No," he said and fired a glinting smile straight at me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Straight to the point

Sometimes it is as much fun getting directions as it is getting somewhere. My directions today went something like:
"Turn off the A1" (The A1 is like God up here - it's a given and you cannot avoid it.)
"Go past the church on the left" (There are lots of churches here. Everyone believes in God and the A1 - they have got to celebrate that fact somewhere.)
"Don't take the turning on the right" (Of course I do, I always do what someone tells me I shouldn't.)
"Take the next turning." (Why wait? Is my philosophy.)
"It's signed." (This may or may not be true. Probably not.)
"Go over the cattle grid." (Cattle grid? Who gets to their house over a cattle grid? Lots of people up here let me tell you. In fact, you're no one if you don't have a cattle grid. I am building one into the new kitchen.)
"Go up the track for a few miles."(This is generally the point you think you are driving to Scotland and will have to spend the night in the car with the three children. Needless to say, there is no mobile signal to ring for an emergency rescue.)
"We're the only farm up there."(Which is when you think: "Thank God. Civilisation".)

Today's expedition for lunch - having inveigled myself some company so transparently yesterday - also involved passing a sign saying "Horse-drawn vehicles and animals" at the second cattle-grid on the track. We had already passed the "Beware the bull" sign which always makes me feel acutely nervous in case he is waiting round the corner with a mask and a pistol. I could see the Cheviots stretched out in the distance; the beasted fields slipping away from their Gorse borders. "Where are we mummy?" asked my six-year-old. "About 1956." I told him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Beach boys

There are days I feel quite proud of myself for giving this a go and trying to carve out a new life for all of us. Today was not one of them. I just thought: "God this is such an effort" when I woke up, opened the wooden shutters and gazed out onto the foggy village street. I hate weekends up here when I am on my own. The week is bad enough but then, at least, I have help with the children and there is school to give the day some structure. The weekend though completely tips me over the edge of darkness; I roll down the scree, leaving pieces of myself along the way and by the time I reach the bottom there is very little left.

I decided it would be better not to be alone - when I say alone, that equals me plus three children and I turned to my phone book. I list the mothers up here all together. There's a slightly grey trail down the page of names; the trace you would get if you regularly ran a finger down it slowly, name by name, looking for someone to call. It is the mark of desperation. One woman was out; one woman's husband is only at home at weekends; I rang another woman once before when I felt this teary panic and she sounded so surprised at the call, I would rather not repeat the experience; one friend left to live away; two others have their own domestic difficulties; another, I had seen too recently for it to be respectable to call again so soon; a couple I know so slightly, a call would be bizarre. One mother I do like and I did call. She invited me round tomorrow but it still left me with today.

In the classic tradition of the unhappy female, I gathered the children up and went out to shop. I hate the supermarket in the nearest market town. My husband goes shopping there with the three children and tells me the shop assistants cannot do enough for him. They do nothing for me. They might occasionally say: "Do you want help packing? "but they do not mean it. They might say: "Do you want cash back?" but they want to ask me: "Why did you have three children? You can't control them." Instead, I prefer to make my own rounds of the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the newsagent, the chemist and the electric shop. When they know you live here and you are not a tourist, small shopkeepers do not seem to mind if you shout at your children. That can come in handy. The man in the electric shop was supposed to sell me an inside aerial which would make the television work. He sold me an aerial - the closest it came to making the TV work, was sitting on top of it; it certainly did not fetch down a picture from the skies.

After the shopping, I took the children to the beach. This is why we live here - one of the reasons anyway. "Right," I said, "we're going to the beach." My six-year-old jutted out his jaw. "I hate the beach," he said. I was not in the best of moods. "I don't want to live here," I said, perhaps over-hastily and not what the children need to hear, but the words pushed themselves out regardless. I blame the weather. "We live here so you can go to the beach. We are going to the beach. Whether you like it or not." My son shook his head. "I'm not going. I'm staying in the car. You go." Forced to chose between the beach or straight home to bed without tea, he caved and chose the beach where the fog was so dense, it obscured even the castle. The boys played in the misted-out dunes, doing what they call "adventuring" and I ploughed the sand with the buggy and a chilled baby. "There you see," I told them, the wind so cold it felt like it was tearing strips from my head to hang from its beaded belt, "isn't this nice?"

Friday, February 23, 2007


Getting up was so difficult today I almost did not bother.If I had been given a choice or my children had shown a degree of compassion, I would be there yet. I finessed my sons into the sofa infront of a video in the hope of another couple of precious pillow minutes. It is not that I regard the television as an unpaid childminder; it's more of a dear family friend.The baby, however, is made of sterner stuff than the boys. She was awake. I had to be awake. I had brought her in to feed but after that, she was a lot keener to get on with the day than I was. I steadfastly refused to move; eventually, she clambered out of the large carved bed, clinging on to the sheet and lowering herself carefully on to the floor where she discovered my handbag. I did a mental review of whether she might find an ecstasy tablet, prompting horrified headlines and a visit from an under-paid, over-anxious social worker. I decided it was unlikely since I have never bought an ecstasy tablet. I have tried. Apparently, they do not sell them to the middle-aged. Reluctantly, I opened one eye to check she was still there and had not crawled off to fling herself down the stairs. She was standing by the bed, watching me. Next to me was a pile of money lying on the mattress - every note and coin I had loose in my bag. I felt cheap. I do not think a 15-month-old baby should feel she has to bribe her mother to get out of bed.

I got lost again today. I think that getting lost is becoming a metaphor. It is happening so often, I think part of me wants to get lost. Maybe if I got lost enough, I would one day, find myself on the fringes of London. Then I could ring and say: "You'll never guess what. I got lost. Guess where I am. I don't think I can find my way back." What made it worse was that my children noticed. I hate it when they notice I am lost. I think it diminishes their respect for me, which is probably low enough already now they pay me to get up. My six-year-old said loudly: "Mummy you are going the wrong way." I denied this. "I really think you have gone wrong mummy." Ofcourse, he was quite right. As I slewed the car round, narrowly missing a horse box, he said: "I was going to say something, but I won't." I pulled back on to the hedged and narrow road. "What were you going to say darling?" I looked back at him through the rearview mirror. "I was going to say 'I told you so'," he said. I could see the tiniest smile as he glanced down at his toy puppy, "but I decided not to."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

That Cabaret Life

Why won't children let their mothers sing? I like to sing. Admittedly, I can only remember the first line of any song. Still, I like to sing that line and do it tunefully. But children like to keep their songbirds caged and dark. "Don't sing," my youngest son dictates from the table where he plays with plastic soldiers, guns moulded and ready. "I mean it. Don't sing." He fires a cannon and three men die in friendly fire. "Why not?" I ask, my painted smile slipping as I stand in the spotlit darkness of my kitchen cabaret. "Why can't mummy sing?" I lob my question into the blackness and hear my six-year-old's voice: "We like it quiet." This from boys who moments before, arms spread wide and mouths a-roar, were jet screaming round the table. The super trouper flickers and turns off.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I have just been up to the cottage to see how the builders are doing. They weren't there. Well, I tell a lie. The decorator was there. He gets the prize for being the first one to say "That's not in the spec. That'll probably cost you extra. It's a big job mind," when I asked about stripping the wooden beams that run along the ceiling of the sitting room. The other thing that was not there which I was expecting to see was the outside kitchen wall. When I rang my husband in rather a hurry to ask him whether he took it back down to London with him, he told me that the builders had been knocking a hole in the wall for a door and it sort of fell over. Something to do with the lime in the mortar. My husband is a trusting sort of chap. I asked: "Are you sure they weren't holding the plans upside down?" but he said "No", he didn't think so.
Before he did that "Mind it's a big job bit," the decorator had been stripping the walls of elderly paper. Over the breast of the blackened hearth, there was a picture of a boy drawn by his sister on the plaster. Their names proudly spelled out in wax crayon above the family portrait. I would have said she was about seven when she did it and that she was standing on a dining room chair to reach as high as she did. Her brother was an unfortunate child. He had orange scribbly hair and blue crosses for eyes and teeth. He looked happy though.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I think there are two kinds of people in life - pancake tossers and people who do not toss pancakes. Today, two pancake tossers arrived in my kitchen with eggs, strawberries and smiles. The 14-year-old daughter broke eggs (not eggcups) with aplomb and tossed pancakes merrily from a buttered pan. She tossed them and her circus skilled mother dipped her knee to catch them on a plate. Sometimes, the laughing girl tossed a pancake and with all the confidence of youth, held her own plate out - fearless of a fatal fall. Sometimes, she just tossed them, let them fly awhile and then snatched them from oblivion, splat, back into the pan. Her mother taught her well. I love that age in girlhood. That adolescent "look at me with shiny hair tossing pancakes in the air" age. All performed with hungry boy and baby watchers agog with admiration.

Reluctantly, I admitted that I was not one of life's pancake tossers. I am too worried the pancake will decide it has had enough of me. Sadly and finally, it could bundle up its batter on the way down to the floor, to rest there reproachful and eggy. Worse still, it could fold itself in two and fly out of the open window, abandoning me to my empty pan and hollowed out expectations. Life surely has disappointments enough I think. Why would I invite disaster into my kitchen? I never toss a pancake.

Today though, I tried. It flew and flipped and landed back. Howzat.

Picking up the pieces

I broke my six-year-old's favorite egg cup. This was not good. I was trying really hard at breakfast. I had scrambled some eggs for one of them, boiled an egg for another, made porridge on request, fed the baby, spread three different flavour jams (pear and raspberry, raspberry and strawberry) in stripes on one piece of bread. I had not laid down silent on the crumb-strewn floor. I remained upright and mobile at all times. Then I broke the egg cup. Technically, the baby broke it, but really it was me because I said to my eldest: "She'll be fine with it, don't be silly" when she grabbed it and he wanted to take it back from her. She looked straight into my eyes to thank me for my trust in her, slowly opened her porridgy fingers and dropped it. The cup, last year's gift from the Easter Bunny, smashed leaving a yellow spotted cheetah holding nothing but disappointment in his arms. My six-year-old gulped, he folded his arms together, laid them on the table and buried his head in them. The despair I think was half because of the egg-cup and half because of me. My four-year-old came over. He laid a consoling little hand on his brother's heaving back. "Never mind," he said, "you can share my lion."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blog to book in 60 seconds

Should I write about the book deal? I wasn't going to because there is such a sense of unreality about all of it. But people seem to want to know what happened so this is it...

I blogged. Someone read it. Someone else read it. Someone else passed it on. The political bloggers linked to me and the world went mad. I blogged some more. Someone read it. Someone liked it. Someone passed it on. A publisher e-mailed me. A book was mentioned. Money was mentioned. I tucked my skirt into my knickers, said "Ok then" and looked for hidden cameras.

The Sunday Times, my alma mater, decided to write about it. They decided to do a front page story, a leader, run excerpts and take my picture sitting on a rock.I got cold and the world went mad.

Blogger readers sent best wishes. Blogger readers hated me. Blogger writers wrote like me. Blogger writers wrote better than me.

What has a book got to do with my life? I am not going to mention it in future because I feel it is just something I will do at the computer in between reality. But for the record, thank you to everyone who said: "Well done. Good on you." Some have been immensely generous in their support. Some (like my mum) have been happy for the world to meet them when they weren't necessarily looking at their best.

Blogging is a strange and wonderful thing. I reached out into cyberspace because I needed to - not in any expectation of a book deal. What is a book deal after all? Better than a book deal, any book deal, have been the kindly comments, e-mails and messages from strangers who aren't strangers any more who said: "I read you and you made me laugh" and "I read you and you made me cry". My book deal isn't so much about money, it is more to do with the fact that blogging is a force to be reckoned with. Ultimately blogging is people willing to commit time, effort and emotion. How cool is that?

There will be haggis balls and pease pudding at the book launch. If I finish it.

In sickness and in health

My morning so far.

I am asleep in a large wooden bed, unusually a husband slumbering by my side. I do not see enough of this bed. I like it. I enjoy its company but somehow we have drifted apart. I have been asleep for nearly two hours. The hands of the Mickey Mouse ticking clock march on and reach their destination. It is 2.40am. The silence lets out its breath and the door opens to reveal my six year old caught in the landing light. "Mummy, I feel like I'm going to be....bleaurgh". Our rented house has carpets. I sweep the wretched boy into the bathroom, trailing sickness after us and my husband wrenches himself from the warmth of the bed to fetch a bucket with soapy water for the carpet. My son refuses to go back to any bed but the one in my office so he and I curl up together with an empty tupperware box close by in case of emergencies. (Best to say "No thank you" to biscuits when the biscuit tin is full in my house although I am always very careful to wash it afterwards.) My poor white-faced, black-eyed child is sick at 3.15am and again at 4.20am. At 5.45am, his sister wakes up to be fed and I bring her in to bed. She is far from happy when she has to stop at 5.55am when her brother needs the biscuit tin again. I tuck the poorly one up and take the baby downstairs for a cock's crow breakfast with my husband. At 6.55am, he leaves for London. "Bye, darling," baby on my hip, I wave to him cheerily as he drives away.

When my four-year-old comes down for breakfast, I pour him a china bowl of strange rice crispy shapes, add semi-skimmed milk and lie on the kitchen floor with a soft woollen jumper for a pillow. The baby comes over to sit down on my head, then crawls away again. As I lie there, slightly chilly, I debate whether curling up on the kitchen floor is a symptom of mental illness and decide no one can see me so who cares. I have to get up when the doorbell rings. A mechanic stands waiting to fix the Volvo. I cannot find the keys. I say: "Give me a minute," and close the door. I clench my fists and beat my head with them to see if that will help me find them. It does.

Surprisingly, I found the china bowl for cereal without self-harming. My cousin who came to visit, organised my kitchen with startling ferocity. She talked me through her reasons for putting pots, pans and raspberry jams away. They have been placed around my borrowed cupboards and shelves with the same gimlet-eyed efficiency Wellington would use to deploy his troops in battle. Since I am the sort of general who would be hopping up and down with one foot in his shiny leather boot looking for the other one when the trumpet sounded, I have not got a clue where anything is. Last night, I ate my dinner with a spatula.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Machine versus man

All weekend machines conspired against me. I heard them whispering. The TV is ofcourse a dead zone, sulking because my husband refused to get it a satellite companion. They have taken revenge because a man in overalls fixed the phone when they believe it had the right to a duvet day or two. Worse than being without a phone was the fact I kept forgetting it did not work and would pick up the receiver and say "hello, hello?" like someone in a 1930's movie summoning a monochrome operator to the drama. I cannot even use my mobile. Up here, people have mobiles but more in hope than any expectation of using them. What century do we live in? Why is it necessary to stand by the bedroom window, open the wooden shutters and stand on one leg to make a call. The landline had only just been teased into submission when the car gave up the ghost. I cannot be sure but I think I hurt the Volvo's feelings when I said we had too many cars. This morning, my husband arrived just past 2am on a 24 hour stopover between work crises. He found me waiting for him, curled up in the darkness beneath a green silk quilt with a sick six-year-old. "How are you?" he whispered. "He's sick and the car won't start" I said. Tonight, my computer joined the ranks of the conspirators. "I'm not working," it told me, "I don't like what you write."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The brave and the fair

One of the things I like the very best in life is casual bravery. Not the uniformed and heroic soldier, a gun in either hand, carrying between gleaming teeth a wounded comrade from the bloody, muddy battle-scene. Though I like that too - who doesn't like a saviour? But I have particular regard for the everyday, matter of fact bravery of the civilian caught in accidental cross-fire; the bereaved, the lonely, the mothers of the sick.

My cousin has a daughter, elfin faced with a silken ponytail which slides down her slim back. She is seven and has one missing tooth. I know it is missing because today I saw the gap and looked; the tooth was definitely not there. On a half-term too-quick visit, my cousin flicked open her laptop and clicked the mouse to show me pictures of her daughter at three and kidney-sick. "Look, no hair," she said, smiled and pointed to the Jpeg'd child. I remember. I took her daughter to the village shop. Instead of a ponytail and pink feathered clip, her head was tufted bald and round, the soft hair harvested not by fairies but chemicals. There is nothing like sporting a child with cancer in your trolley to bump you, spit-spot, to the top of the queue in a supermarket. Other shoppers smile at you and pass you tinned goods so that you do not have to lean too far and the woman in front says: "I'm not in a hurry. You go first" as if you might have particular need of that extra minute or two with your trolley child. Your shopping too is not mother-wise but an altogether mix of slurpy yoghurts, cheese strings and chocolate bars. The shop a child might do if you said "Buy what you like darling". I had no intention of making a child with cancer scream out loud in a supermarket aisle by saying "No" to Pringles. Now, my cousin's lovely daughter is out the other side of pain. For two days, she bounced around my house in screaming fun games with my sons and babe. I held her by the ponytail and thought "Little one, I like your hair this way. "

Ding Dong

There are some days so bad, the only thing which could redeem them is a proposal of marriage. Friday was one of them. As I hunkered down by my pyjama-clad four-year-old to start cleaning his perfect milk teeth, he gazed intensely into my eyes. "When I'm big, I want to marry you." He paused. "If you're still alive."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This is an inter-galactic emergency

I have a headache. It is hardly surprising I have a headache because I just fell down the stairs, six of them at least. Why did I fall down the stairs? Because they were carpeted with slick, shiny wool, I was running and they were there. Because it is that sort of day. Every day is that sort of day.

I spent all of yesterday driving around with a silvered spaceman toy in the footwell of the passenger seat. Just when I thought I was safe from his cultural imperialist tendencies, he would blurt out: "This is an inter-galactic emergency" and "I am Buzz Lightyear. I come in peace." Between the children and their paraphernalia, it is surprising I ever feel lonely. When we moved in, I counted the soft toys as I lined them up against the wall in the living room - 81 of them. All of them judging me with their little beady or woollen eyes as I attempted to put straight the wreckage of my life. Even more disturbingly, I know they weighed me up and found me wanting.

But I think the noise pollution put out by toys is worse than the acute feeling of paranoia they can engender. It is not just Buzz. Yesterday morning, I was struggling to find my way to school because I now live in a different house which means I have to drive along different roads. The problem is you drive by different fields which all look the same as the fields you used to drive by. I was running late because that is what I do, and looking for a turn-off which could have been anywhere, when my six-year-old decided to "start up" his orange plastic steering wheel. This engine noise is the sound another car would make if it joined you on the back seat and it distracted me long enough to miss the turn-off. I have to admit I did not say "Oh dear, Mummy just missed the turn-off". It was definitely one up from the "bloody, bloody" of the weekend. My six-year-old, with the infinite forbearance of a child for his mother, turned off his wheel while I manoeuvred my way back to the turning. Thinking about it, his teacher recently told me how advanced he was verbally. I wonder how advanced he really is. I must remember to teach him that discretion is an under-rated virtue.

Once I managed to deliver the boys to school, inter-galactic emergency averted for the moment, I was able to spend a glorious afternoon packing up more of the cottage kitchen. Highlights included chiseling soldered coins off the microwave, discovering a pan of pasta quills from before we moved and too many mouldy coffee cups to mention. Mould so thick you could lift it out and wear it as a hair accessory. I do have previous on mouldy coffee cups. I even have previous on the remains of a duck casserole which I forgot about the night before a fortnight's holiday. My housemates of the time, put a heavy cast-iron lid back on the pot and kept it for me. I do not think that was a nice thing to do. I think they could have washed it up. I ended up burying it in the garden. In future years someone will find it and figure it for a muti killing.

Today has not been much better, although at least I got through it without my electronic Disney sidekick. After the school run, I had to tear round a showroom with my builder looking at kitchens before abandoning him at the plumbers to go eat lunch with my six-year-old as part of the school's open week. This open week means my son expects me to be at his side at all times. He was less than impressed by my "Shall we do lunch then darling? I've got 45 minutes." (I didn't say that to him but I wanted to.) I blame time poverty; I still have not finished cleaning out the kitchen, we still do not have a working TV, apparently the dishwasher is faulty and last night the lights downstairs fused about 20 minutes before my newly installed internet connection gave up the ghost. When I rang, just short of 11pm, British Telecom politely me told to call back at 8am. Eight a.m.? When do they think mothers want to use their computer? Nine am? "Oh look everybody, the big hand is at 12 and the little hand is at nine, Mummy is just popping upstairs to start work then". Absolutely, once I have finished moving us out of our own house, unpacking everything in the rented house, deciding which consumer durable I am going to take to pieces first and calling India to talk down a jet.

When I got back from the school lunch, things at home were no better, both my four-year-old and the baby were in hysterics. Apparently he had wanted to come to lunch too and she wanted to see if she could cry louder than he could. I had to say to him: "You and mummy can go to lunch together tomorrow OK? Just you and me." I resisted saying: "I have got 45 minutes". Maybe this is what Buzz means by "inter-galactic emergency." Worst of all I forgot to buy my husband a Valentine's Day card. Actually, that was not the worst thing, I forgot to buy one and he remembered.

Did I mention, my head hurts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

So long. Farewell.

That went well. The rented house looks like a shipwreck. Clothes, books, toys and bedding are strewn across each and every room while in the hallway, plastic binbags breed like something from a low-budget sci-fi movie. I keep thinking: "Socks for school tomorrow" and realise I have no idea where they are. Then I think: "Knife, I need a knife for the bread". No idea either. I may send the boys to school wearing saucepans on their feet.

Then, it all got much worse because my husband left to catch the train for London. He is away for three weeks on a work deadline. Just before he left, the children wanted a hug so he went upstairs to kiss them goodbye. This gave me the chance to pour and swallow the remains of a bottle of chablis in the kitchen and burst into tears. I had just got my act together and he came down again to tell me he had screwed the tops of the children's wardrobes on so they would not come down and kill them but I had to ring the TV repair man tomorrow because the TV is not working. I stopped crying at the thought of three weeks with three children and no TV. But by the time we said goodbye, I was already snuffling away again. As he headed into the night with his smart trolley-dolly suitcase on wheels, I closed the heavy wooden door behind him and went back to the kitchen to pour another glass of whatever I could find. Cooking oil probably. I was just about holding it together till I heard the siren wail of my six-year-old from the top of the stairs. Two minutes later and my husband cracked open the door to slide in a stray children's car seat; he glanced up the staircase to find a sobbing six-year-old dressed in a robots' sleepsuit with his legs wrapped round his crying mother. "We'll be fine. Go and get your train. Hurry up or you'll miss it." I waved him away. As the door closed heavily behind him again, my four-year-old came out of the bedroom. He kelt down and kissed me: "I love you mummy," he said and lay next to us on his tummy as I patted his brother's back and rocked him gently back and forth. "Shush now," I whispered. "Shush. We'll be fine."

Marriage and mayhem

Ok, the move. I am at risk of spontaneous combustion. I am at risk of the children coming to find me and finding instead a flaming office chair and a pair of charred sheepskin slippers, smelling of burnt wool and cheesey feet. If you could scream on the internet I would do it. What was I thinking? What was I doing agreeing to move house in such a cack-handed way? I hold myself responsible. I believed my husband when he said it would be OK. It was not OK. It still is not OK. The idea of a white transit van pulling up to the front door and loading the house into it did not work. Hah! Who said it would? Who thought it would? Ever? In a month of Sundays? I feel like I have one of those creatures inside me that give Sigourney Weaver such hissy fits. An alien locked brooding behind my rib-cage, all teeth and slaver. One that does not like my husband one teeny-tiny bit. I want to do that thing they do in unfunny comedies, bang-your-forehead with the heel of your hand and say "Duh" and do it really hard.

Friday; I could not help with the move because the permanent amber alert we are on with my mother, switched to red. I spent a ghastly day watching my mother being brave and cleaning up old lady poo. My husband therefore had started the move alone. Not quite alone. Because of the pea-brained way we had decided to move house, the builders had to stop building and heft furniture and general deitris out of the cottage into the van. My husband thought they were being nice, I think they decided getting rid of us was a day well-spent.

Saturday; apart from the blizzards of last year, today's was the worst weather I have come across since we arrived almost 18 months ago - 3 degrees, driving wind and rain that wanted to hurt you. The only good thing to be said in the weekend's favour were the three friends who came to our rescue including a Northumberland farmer who arrived with a horsebox because that is how you move things in the country. I was so grateful to them I wanted to cry. They all did a lot of "Come to me, come to me, over to me. Nope, nope. Me, I said. That's right, over to me." Even if you were useless at spatial mechanics, I figure that if you say "Come to me" often enough when you are moving something large and heavy, you can probably get most things round a corner, out the door and into the van. If these large kindly men had not been wandering about my house shifting wardrobes, I think I might have killed my husband. Only the thought that the large kindly men would probably make very good witnesses for the prosecution, stopped me. At one point, I ended up driving behind my husband who was in the hire van. I flashed him eight times and peeped the horn continuously to get him to stop because we were about to go through a flooded section of the road. He drove on oblivious. I know you should not say these things with children in the car. You should at all times present a united front but I might have said "Your father is a bloody, bloody idiot" as he sped his way through the flood, abandoning me, the three children and the low-slung car in the black as pitch-darkness on the other side of the water. We were lucky; we made it through in first gear by keeping to the centre of the road. When we got home, my traitorous six-year-old ran in. "Why didn't you stop the van Daddy?" My son looked back at me with china-blue eyes: "Mummy says you're a bloody, bloody idiot." I tried to look like he made the last bit up but I do not think my husband was convinced. Over dinner that night, he said: "I think I have done really well today and yesterday. My arms are tired." Usually, I am more than prepared to play the "Yes, I think you are marvellous too, darling" card in the game of marriage but I stood up and filled the kettle instead.What I really wanted to say was: "What about me? How well am I doing? I only moved house 18 months ago. You have just made move again and you told me I wasn't really moving because it was only down the road. You lied. I could still be at home in London. "

Sunday: all day, I kept saying that the only thing I wanted was my computer in place and the internet up and running by close of play. Was it? No. At 10.30pm when the builder rang the doorbell to discuss building plans and I said to my husband "It's too late, tell him to go away, I have to have the computer up and running tonight." Did he say: "Yes, you are right. I will tell him to go away." He did not. He said: "He's here now" and went to let him in. This meant I did not get the computer running last night. Sometimes, I stop and ask myself whether I have actually said what I thought I said to him. I have to think really hard whether I just thought the words or whether I said them out loud. When you get married and you stand there in an ivory satin dress with its slightly grubby train caught up in a loop that weighs down your wrist, at some point in the evening, an apple-cheeked couple will totter arm-in-arm across to you. Your great aunt, or someone who looks like she could be, will take your manicured hand into her little bony hand. She will look up at you and say: "We have been married 138 years haven't we Arthur?". Arthur, who is leaning precariously on his stick, will say "Eh? What did you say? ". She will put her hand on his arm and she will shout into his good ear: "A hundred and thirty-eight years, haven't we Arthur?" and Arthur will nod emphatically. "My advice to you," and she will draw you so close that you smell parma violets on her breath, "is never go to bed on an argument." You look across their munchkin heads and you think: "How wise." When you are a wife and not a bride, you remember your great-aunt's violet-scented advice of that night and you realise, she must have been senile by then.

Monday/today; I drive my six-year-old to school. I drive back to the wrong house because I had, understandably in my opinion, momentarily forgotten where I lived. I curse. I drive back to the rented house where I am now living to find my husband running up and down the street. As I open the door of the Saab, he tells me I drove off to school with the keys to the Volvo and to the hire van on top of the roof. He put them there. He has miraculously found the keys to the Volvo a mile down the road at the roundabout. He cannot find the keys to the hire van. There are no large kindly men around. I contemplate killing him. He says he wants to cry and that he is going to have an asthma attack. I decide killing him might traumatise the baby and my four-year-old who are still belted into the back of the Saab. Instead, we drive very slowly down the road with my head out of the passenger window looking for the electronic fob. As we crawl along the road, a friend's car passes us and we wave cheerily to the driver. I am not feeling remotely cheery but I am mindful of my husband's reputation locally. When my husband locked us out of the cottage, the driver who just passed us had to scale a ladder and vault over our bedroom window to let us in again. He must be 60 if he is a day. I am pretty sure he told people. We drive on into the village and I start going into shops to see if anyone has handed the keys in. What I really want to say is: "My husband is an idiot. Have you seen his carkeys?" What I actually say is: "You haven't seen any car keys around have you?" Eventually, the lady who works in the butchers directs me to a woman down the road, who has handed them to another woman who has handed them into the local school. I find them and say thank you.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mothers and daughters

My mother is a fastidious, ever-busy little body, neatly suited and booted with hair like the Queen. She smells of Chanel No 5 and floral perfumes that carry jasmine notes. Not yesterday though. When I arrived, her hair was spread across the pillow in an iron-grey frizz and she was lying still and sad. Loudly, I said: "Mum, mum, it's me" and I placed my hand against her cheek as I do with my own children and I bent to kiss her. "Is it you?" she grasped my wrist and pulled me closer into her and hung from me like an eight-year-old daughter would and cried into my neck, sobbing at the latest pain to strike. Sickness is a heartless robber, preying on the old. It carries a rubber cosh and a cold barrelled gun that it holds smack against an old lady's wrinkles while it shouts into her face: "I want your dignity, right now. Hand it over, you old bat." The Daily Mail should run a campaign.

She told me the nurse was going to give her an anemone. I thought this unlikely. The bustling Scottish nurse arrived, not with flowers but with rubber gloves. Mother mine, teeth biting into the cotton pillow and tears falling onto my hand shrieked in silence as the nurse got on with it. Old age smells of shit and shame not Chanel. Do not go there. Find another route into the hereafter. Old age is not the way to go. People are not nice to you. They do not bring you flowers. Instead they carry rubber gloves and make you cry and bite the pillow.

My mother is the best reason I know for living a life of decadence and debauchery. No cigarillo smoke, gin slings or mistakes between the sheets. Instead, a life of heroic virtue, good deeds and care - her own aged and bone-tiny mother, an early husband who coughed blood and died, arthritic sister, small pupil-children taught to bake, cancer patients, the list drones on, and me, ofcourse. The parish council, the school governing body, the catholic educational board. Her reward for all that goodness? An invitation to a garden party - too sick to attend, sorry - and an old age of broken health. Well poo and phooey! Her goodness did not keep her well. She still got old and sick and I will learn by her mistakes. I will inhale smoke from pink cigarettes, drink absinthe and have unrepentant sex with strangers in dark places. I will buy my sons a kitten, call it "Trixabelle" and torture it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Moving on

We are due to move tomorrow. My husband, however, has adopted a policy position on the move and decided we do not need to pack anything. Cardboard boxes, tea-chests and plastic crates are just so last year that we have refused to use any of them. What he is going to do is drive a white transit van up to the back door and throw things in it. This does not necessarily strike me as the best idea but my husband says it will work. I must say I cannot face doing it on my own having gone through the upheaval of moving when we came up from London, so I have decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and do it his way. His plan - I say "plan" I do not know the word for the opposite of "plan". I need a word to wrap up in nine letters or less, the idea of sitting at your desk working hard to meet your professional deadlines while you drink tea, eat digestive biscuits and utterly ignore the really big hairy mammoth gallomphing towards you straight out of your personal life.

The plan then, (for want of another word,) is to manhandle the contents of the cottage out into the van on a room by room basis, drive it two miles down the lane to the rented house and then unpack the contents and install them on a room by room basis into the rented house, recreating our life exactly as it was before. Perhaps, he was a museum curator in a different incarnation. In fact, he could probably submit it for the Turner prize. He could call it something like: "Our life - a mess in two places." If I videoed it while he was doing it, he would probably win. I want to know before we start this ad hoc "moving is such a lark tra-la" process, whether he is going to mark everything up with blue chalk so each apple core and mouldy coffee cup will be carefully put back in their original spot.

I blame myself. I think I am coming to the conclusion that what I have always regarded as a certain easy-going quality is in reality, a deep passivity. Part of me thinks "You have to be joking" and wants to stand and giggle while it all goes on. But the other half of me increasingly wants to jump up and down in rage and shout "We move tomorrow. Move! Do you know what that means? We need to be sorting things out, putting them in piles, throwing them away. Good grief." That is the point at which I take a deep breath. I honestly do not mind the chaos and relentlessness of it all most of the time. Just occasionally I wonder what it would be like to live a Von Trapp sort of life (before Maria arrived). I bet he could always find his car keys for instance. I think I am partly feeling this way because I was told off by a friend in London for being so meekly acquiescent to the chaos of our life. "Doesn't everyone live in chaos though?" I pleaded with her. "No," she told me as she bundled me efficiently along a North London canal path from her high powered office to a pastel coloured haven that looked like a toy-shop but actually sold coffee and iced cupcakes. "I don't live that way. Most people don't. You shouldn't." I know she is right. I just don't know what to do about it. I do know that all my closest friends keep telling me to get a grip on my life. I can refuse to eat the cupcakes they put in front of me, I can put my fingers in my ears and hum while they talk, I can take refuge in feelings of hurt and self-pity, but deep down I know they can't all be wrong.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

At the window

The nights are dark here; darker yet when my husband is away. A short necklace of orange pinpricks breaks the darkness at the edge of the village across the fields and occasionally, a car's headlights will sweep down the lane, their hurrying beam broken by wintry hedges. If I crane my neck out of the study window, I can sometimes see a light from a friend's farmhouse along that lane. I like to see that homely light and think: "My friend lives there." But the brightest light around is the Longstone lighthouse of Grace Darling fame. Its white golden beam sweeps around and out to the shushing black sea and then around again every 30 seconds. When I have yawned enough at my desk to know that it is time for bed, I will check one last time on my sleeping and oblivious sons, pulling up feather-filled covers and kissing dangling feet. Then shucking off the day and its clothes on the landing, I will carefully lift the iron latch to my bedroom's wooden door, catch it with my finger, then drop it quietly back in place. I pause and listen with intent to see if the baby's sweet breath has caught in protest at my breaking and entering into her night. If she slumbers on, barefoot I edge around her cot to weedle my way through cold silk curtains, one naked shoulder and then the other. I lean my forearms on the horizontal bar of the sash window, then rest my warm head against my forearms and watch the beam slide round to me. I am wondering what I will do when we move into the village where I will have no lighthouse to bid goodnight. I am wondering whether its beam will miss me or slide by oblivious to my absence at the window. Miss me, I think.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Love letters

When I was young and peachy, men wrote poetry for me - all of it bad. A little older and earnest suitors would quote Dante and Marvell, at length and in letter-form. I have had my share of those who missed me and wrote to tell me of their sighs. Indeed, I have done my own share of letter-sighing. But there came a time, I put away the ribboned, heart-felt bundles of my youth and wed a letter writer. Married, there is little need to write your passion down. Instead you write "Darling, please remember to buy milk". Who else then is there to write to me of love?
This afternoon, when I got home, fatigued and city-worn, a torn cream corner of my heaviest paper was propped against a wild dog and a soft furred cheetah which both sat proud on a plastic stool. "Welchm homw mummey," the letters tumbled across the page, hasty to escape. Later, my eldest, urgent boy hurtling in from school, threw himself at me. "Did you like my note?" he demanded. "They were my spellings. I might," he pulled away slightly, "have got one of them wrong." "No," I shook my head and hugged him mother-tight. "It was entirely perfect."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Just one of those days

I have had one of those days where you go with the flow or you go under. After a weekend with my achy-breaky mother and father, ("Mummy, you have been away 100 days," my 4-year-old told me when I got back,) I hared off to London for meetings about work. The builders started today but that was OK, my husband could take care of them. First warning that all would not be well was the fact that I discovered on the train, my mobile was dead; I decided that was alright because I did not have to ring anyone. Not until the train shuddered to a grinding halt and it emerged that someone had stolen the overhead lines on the track. Who would do that? What do you do with second-hand train lines? Start your own train company? Do you sidle up to a likely lad in your local boozer and go “Psst. Wanna buy a lot of electric cable - I mean, a lot? Like train track lot. Got a train track, have you?”

I get to my first meeting an hour late. It is an important meeting. I have not met the person before. I am already at something of a disadvantage because I am late. I am at even more of a disadvantage when I realise I have been waiting in her glass-walled office, examining the books on the shelves as you do, my back to the wide open plan seating area outside, with my skirt firmly tucked into my knickers. You are not telling me nobody saw that. You are not telling me people weren't emailing each other about the mad woman with her skirt in her knickers and deciding whether anyone was going to tell her or let her leave that way. You thought that just happened in sit coms didn’t you? Well, it happens in real life too. It happened to me. How I laughed.

Because I was running so late for the next meeting, I then missed my train home. That should have been it. But no. When I got into a cab to go round to a friend's house, I didn’t realise that I was actually speaking Yiddish or Portugese or a mixture of the two. Naturally enough, the cab-driver took me not to De Beauvoir road where I wanted to go but to Bouverie Road which is obviously how you say it in Portugese and several miles from where I wanted to be. Then, and really it would have been better if I had given up the ghost at this point, I rang my husband. The builders have discovered rotten roof joists in the arches we are converting. They may all have to be replaced(the joists rather than the builders). The builders had been on the job an hour before they made their discovery. One hour.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Catholic superstition

There is a window halfway up the staircase of my parents house. There, the glass swirls around itself in a thick and crazy dance. You cannot see out and you cannot see in through it but as a young child when I climbed the stairs, a plaster Sacred Heart reached out wide to me from that windowsill, his heart aflame, ready to embrace. So familiar was he, burning for us all, that I forgot him quite; but one day when I was total grown, I glanced across and noticed that although his heart still flared, the plastered crimson of his cloak and the chestnut of his hair had faded back to white. Undeterred by age though, he reached out still for the souls that climbed the stairs. Then horror, my sightless mother, dusting, knocked him off his perch. His arm fell off, his holy head rolled far and snap - his body broke in two. A second suffering for this ersatz Christ. Guilty catholic woman, tearstreaked at the demise of her companion through 50 and more years, gently placed his body in a box and bag-wrapped it. An Asda shroud. Accomplice father dug a garden hole, said a quiet prayer and buried quick her shame. Now a new, most sacred heart stands sentry on the sill and blesses those who slide by on their aged way up and down the staircase rails. I do not like this newcomer to the family home. I think his cloak too bright, his head too big, his heart too tame a flame contains. While underneath the clay soil where tortuous rose roots grow, the broken saviour burns on and waits for resurrection day. My mother confesses to me later: "I think there may be someone by the bushes too. I can't remember who."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Honour thy father and thy mother

Since, my parents crashed their car, I have been struggling to break the tight-fingered grip of small children and get down to see them. My four-year-old hates me going anywhere at the best of times and he was unconvinced by my argument that granny and granddad needed me. He told me: "Granny can look after herself. She's old enough."I just hope he does not go into a caring profession.

Every time I rang, I could hear my mother's agonised groans as she inched her way across the fitted carpet to talk to me or to fetch my father. My mother's best friend was looking after them which was an enormous help to them but made me feel even worse. There she was, popping on the kettle, persuading them to eat while I was miles away, effectively letting them get on with it. First of all, I could not go because I was too sick with flu, then I was told no one would thank me for giving my mother what remained of my cough so I was to stay away until I shook it off. When I was relatively cough-free, my eldest came down with the same thing which kept him awake half the night and out of school the next day, then the four-year-old needed a hospital check-up for a recurrent stomach migraine. I finally thought I had everything organised and everyone well enough for me to be able to spend a long weekend with my mother and father. I was heading for the breach - a bit late, but better late than never. The builders start on Monday but I had already told my husband that he was going to have to clear out the house next door by himself this weekend because I could not reach on that. I had, however, booked childcare to provide weekend cover so he could shift boxes and rant about how much rubbish we have accumulated. I was set - the guilt eased slightly. That was till this morning when my nanny rang to say she had vomiting and diarrhoea and was not coming in. The roses were bought and lay gorgeous across the back shelf of the car, the leatherette bag was zipped, the baby all but in the car-seat, but I was going nowhere. I ended up wailing down the phone to my broken-ribbed mother - she really needed that, by the way: "I'm so sorry, I wanted to look after you but I can't. I've got to look after (sob) everyone else (gulp, sob.)" And I felt so guilty. I felt as guilty as I would have if I had been calling to say: "Look, I'm not coming. I've decided to take a city break in Prague. I'll drop you a postcard."

Actually, from where I am standing Prague sounds quite good.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ferreting around

I am seriously contemplating getting a ferret for a pet, maybe even two ferrets, because you keep them in pairs. This is something, rather like the hunt, I would never have previously considered in my metropolitan life. "Oops there goes my ferret," on the tube would not get you any award as Passenger of the Year. But today at school, one of the women told me that she keeps a ferret (its companion ferret died). You handle them from when they are a "kit" and they get used to you and play with you. As I mentioned before, we do not have a cinema up here so needs must on the entertainment front. She told me that ferrets play with cat toys, have straw in their hutch and like a blanket to sleep in. Hers enjoys a nice shampoo in the bath. I do not know if they use this time to discuss their respective holiday plans. Her ferret also likes lying over her shoulder; I could encourage mine to lie around my neck to keep me warm. It would certainly be a post-ironic take on my fake fur scarf and if any animal protesters attacked me for wearing real fur, I could just shake the ferret at them and hope it spoke up for me. I could also tell all my London friends "Look darling everyone is wearing them this season." The critical thing apparently is not to feed them raw meat because they develop a taste for it and get aggressive. They will not wait in line in shops, shout at the TV, that kind of thing. Instead of blood-dripping meat chunks, she feeds hers dried cat food. They have their young at this time of year and the woman said that the pet shop in the nearest market town would soon have notices along the lines of "Wanted - good home for ferrets". How do they decide that one? Maybe they check you have got the Discovery channel.

Two points make me hesitate. The first; I seem to think they are very smelly although my contact in the ferret world denied this. "They just smell of ferret," she said. I do not necessarily think that is a good thing, particularly if you are going to hang it around your neck and make it part of your ensemble. That and the fact I do not know how the ferret would feel if we went back to London. She might mooch round all day, missing her little ferrety friends and moaning about the quality of the coffee and the lack of a decent hairdresser. I am not sure I could do that to her.