Monday, April 30, 2007

Living and learning

Had another German lesson today. I like my German lessons. They make me feel as if I am 12 again. I am tempted to plait my hair so tightly my head hurts and swing to and fro, balancing on the two back legs of my chair. I can now order beer. "Ein Glas Bier, bitte." I do not drink beer; I had better not go to Germany this week. Next week, I will learn how to order coffee and white wine. Then I can go.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

RKO landscape

Idle, city cynic that I am; here, I am constantly taken by a shake your head and pinch yourself surprise. I catch my breath sometimes, out and about, and think: “Beauty. Simply. Beauty.” Beauty will not be ignored despite my best and busiest endeavour and I never said, could never say, this was not a beautiful land.

There are days. There are places. Which are as if they have been painted by a master. You want to reach out to touch the bulked white cloud to see if it is still oil wet. You think that mellow green, grainy sand, ironed grey of the sea; how do these colours know the exact shade of a masterpiece? They do. Each time different. You breathe in. You expect the smell of garret and wiped cotton rags; not spring iced air. I drove across a moor, the Cheviot hills in the distance; the heather, brown, burgundy tinted; the whole, tufted with straw grass. You would think a hand had moulded the land, its curves caught with all the perfection of a sleeping Eve. I slowed the car. Then stopped.

An iron TV transmitter stood splayed in the emptiness. I am sure, I have seen a giant monkey climb it and roar out his black and white frustration. I watched the skies. I started to look across the perfect moor to catch a glimpse of angry ape. No bi-planes. No ape. My only companion, a white bottomed deer which turned to look at me. Listened to my Amy Winehouse. Liked her. Listened a while longer to her urban beat. Then. Casual. Leapt a fence to disappear back into the painted forest.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The sound of gunfire

I prefer not to blog about blogging. I feel it to be dull. I would rather blog about life. Sometimes, when you blog; the blogging spills over into your life. Bear with me for this one blog. It is going to be about blogging. It is going to be about life.

My child was hurt and bullied. Fact. Hurt in a variety of incidents. Hurt when other children turned their backs on him. Fact. Not the sort of facts you want around you. But real, damaging and out there. Fact. Fact. Fact.

When a child hurts; a mother feels the pain. More fact. She thinks: "What can I do? My child is hurting. I must make it stop." I am "the Mother who Blogged." Shame on me. Shame. Shame. Shame. A mother will, of course, defend her child but I could have been more British. Shut the door. Had a quiet word. It would have been sorted out. I thought about it. And, then I wrote about it.

I blogged again, and, once again. What can I say? It gets to be a habit. I "virtually" bent my blog over backwards to explain that staff acted swiftly and with consummate professionalism. As keen to turn things around, as they would be if my child was their child. In a way, my child is their child. They have introduced a friendship bench and buddies, more supervision in the classroom and directed play at break time. They are bringing in a behavioural expert and a new anti-bullying policy. I could not have asked for more. I am grateful for every moment of thought they have put into turning things around. I could weep over them with gratitude, each time I see a casual kindness to my child. A word. A sticker. A small hand taken and held.

As for whether it will work. I hope so. It seems to be. In the last little while, my son has not said, matter-of-factly, that nobody wants to work with him or that he spends his break time watching others play. I think "all being well", "fingers crossed" and "let's hope so", it should "come good."

My son is too small to ignore his feelings of hurt when children do not want to play with him, or when some child kicks out. Luckily, I am older. Old enough to enjoy certain ironies. To pretend I have not noticed snubs and coolness from women who would spend smiles on me quite happily before. That there are now women who do not pass the time of day as they might have done before. I am so old that I can choose to smile at someone whose face is tight with disapproval when she sees me. Someone who can scarcely bring herself to reply to an everyday question. And, I can take at face value, a sweet soul's concern for me because of the "upset" I have created. Luckily, I am a grown-up and not a child. If I were a child, I might think that I was bullied and tell my mother. Then, there would be trouble.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Spring is haunting me. You think you have it down pat. This is spring; daffodils and lambs, the pastel prettiness of an Easter card. Cliche and hold. Blackthorn blossom blizzards the hedge. Do not relax. Tulips triumph while cherry trees plant loud and lipstick kisses on the sky and spindly, yellow rape washes through fields.

Now, now. Bluebells crowd the mossed trees, gathering in shady places. I am used to city lands and tales of dark and streetsome terror when a woman walks alone. In a bluebell wood, you hear a movement in the crisp and wintered leaves and turn your head to catch nothing. You move through the narrow purple lines of nodding bells and think you catch them whispering. Whispers crowding out the truth; no one is there. I have always imagined bluebells to be the colour of a broken heart. Not that my heart is broken. Not now. My heart has been broken in its day like all good hearts. I think it mended. At least, its odd and purple pieces have been pushed back together, the torn seams sewn with clumsy stitches and it ticks on yet.

The country is full of seas. The prairie crops, grasses, bluebells on a wooded hillside move as the sea moves. This suits me. The feeling I have had most often since I moved here, is much as I imagine drowning to feel; the struggle and the fear. Driving today, I gripped the wheel as you would if you were in an ocean and held on to a floating, wooden spar. Some doubtless well-intentioned, busy, little body took it upon herself to tell me I am Not the Most Popular Girl in School. I am "the Mother who Blogged". This is not a good thing. I should know. The bluebells know it. As I trod water in my ocean, she reached out a kindly hand, laid it on my head as if in blessing and held me under.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mother mine

My mother is with us for a few days because my father was called away to Ireland. My mother said: "I can manage." Words which put the fear of God into me. She cannot manage. I said: "Of course you can." Then, we went to pick her up. She is sleeping in our bedroom; we are in the study. Last night, she got lost in our bedroom. I am not sure how long it took her to find the bed again. She said: "It's very dark in there." She is blind. I am sure it was.

I love my mother. I love her as my mother. I love her as my new child. When she visits, she still wants to do things for me. Folding clothes, washing up. Sometimes, I wash clothes so she has some to fold. Do not tell her that. Yesterday, I went to sit with her on the sofa. She said: "I wish I could do more to help. You need help." I said: "Mum. I have help. You do not need to do anything for me. You have done enough." She said: "I want to do more." Her face crumpled, pinked up and her traitorous eyes wept out their salty frustrations. I do not expect my mother to help me anymore. It is my mother who expects to help me. It is my mother who feels let down when she has to sit down.

My mother is not perfect you understand. I was once getting a manicure. The glossy girl doing the manicure was horrified. She said: "Didn't your mother teach you to do your nails? Didn't she teach you to look after your cuticles?" I smiled in apology and then shrugged. The girl in her smart white tunic with her own pretty, buffed up hands, was very young; too young for the unvarnished truth. My mother was too busy telling me to read books, to teach me to look after my nails. To this day, I blame her for my shoddy cuticles.

It takes some time to realise when you are a child, that your parent has become your responsibility. When we are out, I do not know whether to run after the four-year-old in case he flings himself into the road or stay with my hesitating mother for fear she trips and falls. I hover, equally useless, between the two of them.

Today, I took the baby and the four-year-old to a little play park in sight of a castle. My mother sat on a bench and the children sat on the swings. When we finished, we walked past the cricket green and stood by the road. I am pushing an over sized buggy; the baby has refused to get into it and is clamped to my hip with my left arm wrapped around her. The baby's refusal to cooperate leaves me with one free hand. I realise that I cannot cross the road with my four-year-old, a buggy, a baby, my mother and her white stick. I think about getting the four-year-old into the buggy but I could not then manoeuvre it down the pavement and up the other side. I think about getting my mother into the buggy but she would never get out of it again. I think about climbing into the buggy with the baby, dangling a leg either side, getting the four-year-old and my mother to hold on and straddle-walking it across the road. I decide that would kill us all. I abandon the buggy. I think: "I will cross the road with everybody and come back for the buggy." I start doing a complicated minuet. I hoik up the sliding baby, arrange my blind mother on my free arm and instruct the four-year-old to take granny's hand. Suddenly, a stranger waiting for a bus says: "Let me help." And I do. I let her help.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mothers and sons 2

Yesterday was blissful. I only realised how blissful, when I woke up last night and realised I was laughing in my dreams. I like the idea of laughter in the dark. I fell in love with my husband for any number of reasons - one of them a habit of laughing in his sleep. (I presumed, of course, that he was not laughing at me.) I had not realised, I could snatch the habit and make it mine.

Daffodils die back. You think: "Shame, glory gone." Then, tulips arrive: "Ta-da". Trees applaud with branches of budding leaves and Spring moves on. I spent a spring yesterday with my six-year-old. Him and me. Just him and me. Innocent in gardens. We watched the sea spill down stone stairs, chased each other through avenues of pink blushed blossom and cast coin wishes. Northumberland is full of castles. He wants to live in one. He told out his wish, loud and proud and made a listening stranger laugh. As for me, I cannot tell my wish. The day moved on; we plunged back into another Eden, took a jar and microscope and watched insects turn to monsters. Naturally, we tamed them and set them free.

Later, a strange thing happened. The garden at my cottage has a secret, dappled corner where a stone bench rests its tired back against a wall. Purple flowering aubretia spills over the wall down to the moss matted, wooden seat. A small plaque with an engraving is embedded in the bench: "The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God's heart in a garden, Than anywhere else on earth." The man who created our beautiful cottage garden has been dead for four years. I liked him extremely. I more than liked him. The plaque was in his mother's garden; when she died, he found a place for it in his. It reminds me of him and I like to be reminded. Last night, I looked out of the kitchen window of this rented house. I was standing by the sink. I try not to stand by the sink. I find standing by the sink attracts the washing up. I have lived here 10 weeks. Yesterday, I looked up to see a small stone birdbath standing in the garden. On the side of the bowl, I could make out the faint tracery of letters: "The kiss of the sun...." Ever felt you were meant to be some place?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Give and take

This is what I have been given so far this week:
*countless kisses from my sons
*hugs (similar)
*a headache over my right eye
*a moment in the dark when my bed-ready baby, placed small hands against my cheeks, moved back slightly in my arms and gazed at me. Content enough with what she found, she moved again, forward this time, to rest her lips on mine.
*a packet of Viennese whirled biscuits. Later found by my four-year-old. Some he ate, some he crumbled up and showered in
*consideration by a stranger, kind enough to send round two gas bottles the same day I asked. Allowing me to light the oven and the children to eat hot food again. I am slightly scared of the oven. Recently, when I clicked the clicker, it did not light. I did not realise. Some minutes passed. I opened the door. I clicked again. A blue flame shot out. I burnt my eyebrow. My friends who were with me, sitting at my kitchen table, drinking my tea, laughed. I did not think that was nice. Of the oven. Nor of my friends.
*a barbecued salmon sandwich on a sunshiny evening as children played on grass
*a deal of worry when my six-year-old screamed out with night terrors.
*three broken nights courtesy of the children, (one each.) Sleep, I believe to be greatly over-rated.
*other people's time as they pause to glance across and into mine
*25 (not including my mother)pieces of advice, some of it good
*someone's patience who listened to me rant
*a glass of red wine
*a phone call from a world distant friend
*a party invitation for my eldest son
*a coffee and a cheese scone
*the benefit of the doubt by a nice woman
This is what I have given so far this week:
*not enough

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I wish I could name the birds as they spell out their songs. A fluted, chiming symphony of half familiar notes. A trill, a chirruped melody from green and rain-drenched leaves, a brushed percussion coo half-hidden in soft and drifting air. They talk to one other as the mauve light fades. Then, washes back, gold this time. Their voices lift, remark, keep time. Birdsong marks out a mellow soundtrack to my busy life. I have to stop. Awhile. I have to pause to listen. Then, it comes again. Sweeter for the silence that went before.

The tooth. The whole tooth

My front tooth chipped. What happened there? What next? Does it fall out? Do they all fall out? Do I keep them in a plastic box and frighten pet dogs with them? I will end up losing them. I will have to ring my mother and get her to come and find them. She will say: "You lost your teeth. The teeth I gave you?" I will have to go to the dentist and lie about flossing. I hate the dentist. It is like going to confession. All that guilt and regret. (Do I mean contrition?) I used to lie in confession too. I would have been in there hours. "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last check-up. Yesterday, I lost my temper 42 times and my teeth once."


A clock has struck somewhere unwinding spring. A buttered knife smears thick yellow rape across green fields. A silent shout and, in a beat, puritan twigged hedges break out white in blackthorn blossom. Daffodils dry and fall away to paper brown while green buds wait undecided on stirring trees, hopeful of more warmth. Seasons move in the country. In the city, you could think that seasons stood still. I was lucky to notice one slip into the next. The time it took to walk through dirty rain between tube and office. A glance from a window at grey sky scraps. A summer lunch on a slatted wooden bench, watching lorries ride by. One year ratchetting on to the next. Desk diaries spelling out the passing time. But, here, golden sunshine is striping spring on a champagne chilled day. Here, the seasons dance. You cannot miss them. They will not allow you to.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Coffee and a slice of day

This is my day:
6.15am husband kisses me tenderly to the sound of birdsong. "Bye then," he whispers. I hear the door close behind him.
6.20am boys wake up.
6.22am baby wakes up.
6.23am lie there wondering how much harm could come to the baby if I leave her to the tender mercies of her brothers for the next 20 mins.
6.25am hear loud baby wail.
6.26am get up. Extremely reluctantly.
6.28am go to bathroom. Remember that toilet in rented house is broken and has been broken for three days. Only flushable with large bucket of cold water. Husband away for next four days. My job to sort out.
6.31am to 6.52am Change baby. Get dressed. Look in mirror. Think: "Bloody hell." Go downstairs. Find rice krispies all over the kitchen floor after boys went exploring in new packet to find non-existent toy. Curse Kellogg's. Explain adventuring in the cereal packet is a dangerous thing to do.
6.53am breakfast. Remember that gas cylinders for cooker ran out last night. Abandon plans for bacon. Recommend toy-free cereal and toast.
7.45am upstairs to change baby and supervise dressing for boys.
8.05am discover four-year-old flooding the bathroom having given his toy rhinoceros a swim. Explain flooding the bathroom is not a good idea. Indeed, dangerous.
8.35am get in to car and set off for school. Realise husband has filled it with petrol. Cheer.
8.50am arrive at school. Find school has introduced a friendship bench. Cheer.
9.15am leave school to take six-year-old to doctor's appointment for check up and jab.
9.35am chase grumpy baby round the waiting room, attempt to read book to boys, persuade four-year-old off the slide meant for babies, attempt again to read book, abandon book, bribe all three with white chocolate to keep quiet.
9.50am see doctor
10.25am return six-year-old to school. Ignore his plaintive pleas that he does not want to play out at break time.
10.30am head for friend's house. Congratulate self for remembering to put in car, gift for new baby and siblings.
10.55am arrive at friend's house for coffee and the adoration of the babii with other mums. The health visitor is there. The health visitor who was my health visitor. That went well. Hand over gifts, wrapping paper (in a nice roll, why waste it?) and card with the ink still wet. Drink coffee. Draw in deep breath in preparation for the rest of the day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Is that you Lord?

I are doing that thing you do in the garden on a back lit Sunday afternoon when you have children. Playing "chase me" games. Wishing you could sit down and read the "Driving" section of The Sunday Times. The six-year-old has decided to put on his wetsuit for some reason when the four-year-old says: "Look, Jesus." I turn around. The child is from Catholic stock. He might be on to something. He is pointing at a statue lurking by the pond. This is a rented house. It has things you would not have in your own garden. A pond; nine toads; tasteful statuary. It does not have a visiting apparition of the Good Lord. I say: "That is a gnome. Why would you think that is Jesus?" I look more closely at the gnome. He is sitting relaxed in a stone carved chair. He is bearded. "Mmm," I think. He is leering; he is wearing short stone wellington boots; he is smoking a pipe. Definitely not the Son of God then.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fretting about home

I had efficiently found my mobile phone, charged it and set the alarm on it. What I did not do was check the clock on my phone was set at the right time. It was not; it was set an hour late. Yesterday, I had to make a whizz-bang, pop pop journey down to London. I only just made it out of the house by 6.15am for a sevenish train. Just in time for the children to wake up and cry. Real tears, that Mummy was going to London. Do they suspect I may not come back? I did not leave them alone. My husband might have been missing in action but I do have help with the children. I have enough moments where I come suspiciously close to lunacy; if I did not have help, there would be nothing suspicious about it. I would be bang to rights bonkers. I have tried doing without help; frankly, I wanted to kill myself. I have nothing but admiration for women who cope on their own at all times. I could not even pretend that is me. I keep saying to my fellow mothers up here: "Get some help. Get some help for God's sake." They just look at me. They do not seem to need help. They can cope. Everyone can cope better than me. I went to a lovely house the other day. All the carpets were beige. All of them. The woman has two boys. How does she do that? How does she keep it beige? I have only ever bought one carpet in my life. It was beige. What a mistake that was. She makes her boys take off their shoes. I tried to make mine do that. My carpet has not been beige for a long time.

The railway station is away, away along roads that cut through mist flooded fields. An Easterly wind blows the mists in from the sea. Despite spring sunshine washing over daffodil days, in the early morning and in twilight's heavy moments, the sea fret lurks in the village streets. It blocks out spaces behind the rough stone walls with its mist and North Sea mystery. At my cottage, you can stand and see it roll and lurch onwards, eating grass and lambs. Till everything, even the lighthouse, disappears in its soft, grey damp. Usually, not always, it will stop short of the row of cottages; it will stay in the field, knowing it has not been invited; fearing to come further. Sometimes, polite, I smile and walk towards and into its chill embrace. I like the sea frets. I like anything that frets.

It is a long way to London, travelling there and back took around nine hours and all for a business lunch. The lunch was good however and, bonus, at the end of the meeting, my companion handed over a box of German confectionery. The sweetmeat was called "Bethmannchen" (there should be an umlaut in there, but I have a resolutely English speaking keyboard). These Bethmannchen (do not forget that umlaut) are small baked mounds of marzipan, kept upright by three pale almond halves pushed into sugared flesh. I thought: "Bugger. I knew I should have brought pease pudding." But you can never find it gift-wrapped. The confectionery has a history. It dates from 1840; named after the four sons of Frankfurt's state councillor Simon Moritz Bethmann (Moritz, Karl, Alexander and Heinrich). Originally, there were four almonds. When Heinrich died, the confectioner cut the number of almonds to three.

So there you are. Your meeting is over. Your charming associate hands over his tasty gift and suddenly you are thinking: "Infant mortality", "Poor Heinrich" and "How old was he?". It is like finding out the currants in an Eccles cake represent the number of deaths there during the plague. As if Kendal mintcake is a monument to all those lost on ill-prepared Duke of Edinburgh trips in the Lake District. I say: "Thank you " and "How kind". I think: "I hope the children are alright." I wondered too, whether Heinrich's mother ever ate the three almonded confection, to taste between her teeth the grainy, sugared proof three sons survived.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lemon tarts and cloudy days

I am ridiculously pleased when friends take the time out to come up and see me. I saw one girl fresh from London's city fields on Saturday and promptly cried. My husband pretended not to notice. Unless he was not pretending. I am not sure which is the more disturbing. The friends who really matter to me and to whom I matter, have done their bit and travelled to see me. Even if they really did not want to. And some of them really did not want to. One urban diva hates it up here. She spends the entire time shivering; looking "shoot me now" miserable. Even more miserable than me. She still comes. Another, this one a Midlander, arrives and plants daffodil and tulip bulbs for me. As she brushes off soil from capable hands, she says: "You are definitely doing the right thing. God. Who would want to live in London?" Time is such a valuable commodity to all of us, that being given a gift of someone else's time is like being given a bit of what is best in each of them. In return, I can offer little more than "thank you for coming" and hope they do not ask if I am happy.

I am trying to fit in but sometimes a visit exposes you adrift in poppied mud, caught between camps. The other night I had a Northumberland neighbour round to dinner with my Londoners. I instinctively spoke out against a town I find grim, grey and forbidding. I have only been to this town once in sunshine. Usually, knowing that I do not like the place, it has chosen to rain on me there. At the very least, it pushes me around with chilly winds. My local friend, offended, immediately leaped to its defence; describing the town as "historic". I shut up. Later, when we were talking about what to do the next day, I invited my Londoners to a fete in a village hall. There was a silence of some seconds as they struggled to find a plausible reason not to go. I now look forward to the village fetes. A recent coffee morning with lemon cream tarts, tea and a tombola where my six year old picked up a bottle of Bailey's Cream, was a high point of the last month. I am a creature caught between two worlds.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pantry antics

Easter has been slightly crazy with the children stoked with chocolate, my parents staying with us and two sets of holidaying friends with their children flitting in and out of the house. I also took on some work which was a mistake, got flu and ofcourse, lost the car keys for six days. Oh, and I reinstated the pantry. Have broken the news to the builder but have not yet told the architect. The builder did not seem surprised. I am not sure how the architect will feel. We measured it out on the dug out floor. "It's not big enough," I said as I stood in the corner. "I need to be able to go in and shut the door." I think he thought I was joking. I was not joking. I want a lock, light, stool, book, bottle and glass. I always thought the Egyptians were on to something. Maybe, if the architect looks very unhappy, I will tell him that it could have been worse; I could have demanded a pyramid.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Tony, Tony, turn around"

Do you know how I really know there is a God? My (blind) mother found the car keys this evening. Hurray! Six days they were missing. I went through the house, garden and gutter inch by inch. We rang the police and asked in the nearest pub to see if anyone had handed them in. I ransacked my sons' drawers, wardrobes and under bed, darksome places as if my boys were teenagers and I was looking for cannabis. We were visited by friends up from London with three teenagers of their own; I put a £50 bounty on the car keys and set them loose. Still nothing. I offered my own children a £5 bounty. Zip. Nada. My mother gets put in charge of the baby and starts amusing her by going through a toy box and bingo. The baby had presumably filched them and then staggered over to one of her crates of toys and dropped them in it with all the other good stuff. I would not mind but I had been through the boys toys in case they had done the same thing. My mother had prayed to St Anthony (the Catholic saint you pray to when you lose things). I had prayed to Saint Anthony. My 82-year-old Aunty lit three candles on successive days to Saint Anthony. (Apparently, I owe her 30 pence. Infinitely cheaper than the adolescents.) It turned out my boys were innocent of any car key crime, my husband is a man of infinite patience and I still need my mother. The best bit, aside from the fact it was my mother who found the keys, which in itself I consider deeply cool, was that I could rescue the bunny ears and face paints from the boot. That is how we had tea. Late, but with whiskers. It crossed my mind, while I was painting rabbit noses over freckles, that I could say a prayer and ask him where my London life went.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Small mercies

Realised this morning that the boot of the still locked Saab contains the baby's buggy, my wellington boots and all the CDs which put me in a good mood. It also contains three sets of white rabbit ears attached to plastic headbands (facepaints included); two bags of golden wrapped chocolate chicks, two bags of rainbow wrapped chocolate eggs and three little furry toy rabbits. That is to say the car has eaten Easter.

I suppose it could be worse. I could have woken up tomorrow and been forced to tell the children the Easter Bunny had died.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

God, what a day

Do you know how I know there is a God? It is not because a dozen earnest young people with backpacks carrying a large wooden cross walked by my window this morning. (Last week, I saw a woman leading a beautiful white horse. I knew it meant something but I did not know what.) The cross did not take much figuring out. It was either a warning to stop blogging or a sign I was about to have a bad day.

It was a bad day and the reason I know there is a God is because I have lost the car keys. Usually my husband loses the car keys. And after everything I said about him persistently letting the car run out of petrol. All I spend when that happens is time and an impressive amount of bad language. Replacing the car keys is going to cost more than £1,200. (I should actually say "car key" because obviously we do not have a spare. Why would we have a spare? It is not like we are ever going to lose it. ) It is going to cost this huge amount of money because you have to reprogramme the car's "brain" and "send away". Who knew the car had a brain? I find the fact that the car has a brain almost as worrying as the fact mine is missing along with the car key. I would so love to blame the children. But I know it is my fault. I keep putting things down and completely forgetting where they are. I have now searched the house six times to no avail. I lost them yesterday morning and thought I might find them before my husband got back from London late last night. No such luck. What is worse, is the fact that he is turning the house inside out and not a word of blame has escaped his lips. I hate it when he does that.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Blonde bombshell

I was reading the boys a bedtime story and my six-year-old starts combing through my hair with his fingers. It reminds me that I haven't checked for nits for a while and I really should. Check the children that is, not me. If I get nits, I am shooting myself. He says: "Mummy, you have blonde bits in your hair like I do." I think this unlikely. I am the dullest and most resolute of brunettes. He pulls my hair closer to his eyes as if he was thinking of buying it. "A sort of grey blonde." I know my hair is now threaded with grey. I just pretend not to.

There is an advantage in having children late in life aside from an impressive number of City Breaks in your thirties; people presume you are younger than you are. I have a baby. That means I could be anything between a clueless 13 and an ambitious 47ish.(Older, if I was desperate or deluded.) Ofcourse, I do not have spots and I do have grey hair, apparent even to juveniles. That rules me out as a teenage mother then. According to a photo, a friend sent me this week, when I smile I also have score marks down from my eyes, stretching diagonally across my cheeks out to my ears. I was not impressed. Who sends their friend a photo of herself looking like her granny? I had noticed the lines criss-crossing my face when I got up in the morning but I hoped they shook themselves out after a few hours. They do not shake themselves out.

I can no longer fool myself. Nobody in their right minds would think I was in my twenties. I am clinging onto the semblance of thirty-something looks and rapidly losing my grip. The last time I went to London, the only men to eye me up were in their sixties. When did that happen? When did I turn into eye-candy for granddads? I am old. My children have started to notice. That is how old I am.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Whine and wine

I went to get the baby up this morning and she looked at me as if I was the best thing ever to have happened to her. I am not sure how it was for the baby, but for me, the day went downhill from then on.

I have given in on the pantry which I wanted built in to a corner in the new kitchen. I needed a pantry so that I could hide things; tins, saucepans, mess, children, myself occasionally. I really wanted a pantry. The architect really wanted me not to have a pantry. I held my ground right up to the point I caved. I decided at a site meeting at the house this afternoon that I simply did not care any more. I barely want a kitchen. Frankly, a wine cooler would do me. I have discovered that some people drink so much that they do not just have a bottle chilling in the fridge. They have a fridge just for bottles. Now a wine cooler. That is worth going to the wire for.

(Did I spell that right? Some people just read me for the spellings.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Milking it

I milked a cow yesterday. Well, I did not exactly milk her but I was there when she was being milked. We went to visit my friends who keep cows, Holsteins with a few Ayrshires thrown in. I think 400 cows is a lot to take on pet wise. I would have thought one would be enough but people up here like their animals in bulk. They tend not to have just one dog, they will often have two; an old one that limps and a young one that doesn't. They would never have just one chicken, they have to have a yard full. Occasionally they will have a horse, but they are happier if they have a spare in the boot. Maybe they were deprived as children. My father has the same thing going on with sweet stuff. There was never enough sugar during the war so he now has at least three, ideally four, spoonfuls in his cup of tea.

Holsteins are the main milking breed in this country, having taken over from Friesians. I did not ask whether the Friesians objected to being taken over in this way and had brought in the United Nations. UN incompetence may well be the reason that "Holsteins rule OK" ofcourse. Thinking about it, I may well have seen Friesian Power graffiti and the odd mural on the lime mortared stone walls up here.

A high yielding milker will give 35 litres a day compared to a low yield cow which is only good for 25 litres. It must be a head-hanging shame to be known as a low yield cow in the milking parlour. The equivalent of being small town damned as "no better than she should be." I can relate to that. I wonder if cows have feelings to hurt. Those big brown eyes look like they have known what it is to love and then lose. The eyes alone mean you have to give them the benefit of the doubt on knowing heartbreak times.

I did not want to hurt any more feelings which is why I did not mention the smell to my dairy farmer friend. Cor blimey, you could slice it up and sell it. Although I am not sure who would buy it. Everywhere you looked a cow had her tail up peeing green water. Part of you expects them to pee milk for some reason. You can pretty much put money on a place smelling if it has its own slurry tank. "Slurry" is a technical term for animal pee and poo. I quite like the term, I may use it with the children. It is an astonishingly efficient system because the farmer feeds the cow soya, barley and silage (which is fermented grass); the cow yields its milk (be it a lot or a little) and also pees and poos. The farmer then spreads the pee and poo all over the land to grow grass and crops which he feeds to the cow, etc. Recycling cow style. Cows could become very fashionable if only the dairy industry was not hitting the buffers in a way that is so very eighties, so very coal.

A high yield cow is not necessarily a pretty sight for a breastfeeding mother. That giant pink, varicosed swinging udder makes you wince and think: "Rather you than me, Daisy." I mean what would they do if the shoe was on the other hoof? Would they hook us up to sucking rubber tubes? I put my finger in one to see how it felt, ( a tube that is, not a cow.) Quite nice, actually. It was a sort of soft, rhythmic pull. I could see with some tasty dairy cake infront of you and Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show on in the background, there could be worse ways to spend your time.

In the parlour you walk along a trench between two rows of bovine backsides. "Do they ever kick?" I asked my guide nervously. "Occasionally. Not often," came the reply. I hesitated to point out, you would only have to be kicked in the head once and that would be Goodnight Vienna. "We just don't want to make them nervous," I was told. Me? Make them nervous? Which one of us is more likely to make the other one nervous? Call me an old-fashioned Catholic, but I would think the one with hooves.

I am a newfangled Nelly. I take my milk skimmed. It tastes like water and it is not exactly my drink of choice. My farmer friend paused to dip Cow 131's shitty teats into disinfecting bubbles and carefully wiped them off with a paper towel. He squirted some milk into a plastic cup and offered it to me. It felt warm in my mouth and sweet; tasting of innocence and summer days. "That's lovely," I said. "Why do they pasteurise it?" I took another mouthful, swirling it round my teeth for the full effect. "To preserve it. To get rid of the bacteria. The E-Coli, that sort of thing." I still managed to swallow.

If you do not have a cow handy, a pint of milk in a supermarket costs around 35 pence a pint. My friend, the dairy farmer gets just 10 pence a pint when he sells it while supermarkets are reported to make a profit of about 6 pence a pint. My friend knew of three herds being sold off in Northumberland over the next month or two courtesy of the crisis in the dairy industry. I do hate supermarkets. Maybe I will grow my own milk and buy myself a cow if there are some going spare. I should probably buy two to fit in.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Running on Empty

I think it would be entirely unreasonable to divorce your husband because he let the car run out of petrol. I think you have more of a case the fifth time it happens. That is since we moved here.

I had a therapist when I lived in London who wanted to look for the meaning behind everything. That is what they do after all. They are probably the most optimistic people in the whole world, thinking they can find a meaning to life. I was never quite sure since I was not supposed to ask him questions where he was from. Well, you could ask a question, but he would not answer it. I think, perhaps, he was from the Netherlands. Consequently, whenever I find myself veering off into armchair psychology, I do it in a Dutch accent. Why does my husband persist in letting the car run out of petrol? Make that: "Wvy doss he doo eit?" Doss (etc) he want to punish me? Rescue me? Prove how much I need him? Does he want me to stay in one place? Is he clipping my wings because he thinks I might fly away? And what am I doing by trusting him with this particular job when he has consistently failed to complete it to my satisfaction or indeed, the satisfaction of the car? Do I welcome the opportunity to be angry with him? Do I want to be stranded and rescued like some saddo fairytale Princess?More simply; are we both idiots?

It is after all, not that complicated to fill a car with petrol? You point the nozzle in the right place and stuff comes out the end. It is a boy's job. If he is here, I expect him to do it. If he is not here, I fill the car with petrol. I drive it up to the pump; point it, fire it and pay for it. What I do not do, is run out of petrol. (Unless, that is, my husband was supposed to fill the car before he cleared off to his London office and just didn't bother to tick the box. Then, I do occasionally run out of petrol. Running out of petrol is rapidly becoming one of my hobbies up here. I never ran out of petrol in London. I took the tube. It never ran out of petrol either.)

Friday. Again. On the school run, the last day of term. I was on my way to pick up the six-year-old; the Dixie Chicks were on, loud, when the Saab shuddered. I could not believe it was going to happen again. I drew in closer to the hedge, managed to roll back off the narrow country road into the nearest opening and laid my head on my arms on the steering wheel. If someone were to paint me at this junction, at this juncture in my life, that is how they would ask me to sit; my face hidden, my head resting heavy, seeking sanctuary in the cross of my arms. If the painting had a soundtrack and you could press a red button to listen to it, it would not be the Dixie Chicks, it would be a low, long moan.

I tried to ring him. Naturally my mobile was flat. I do not know why I carry it really - possibly because I am a creature of sad and ineffective habit in the same way as my husband. Luckily, a little lady looked out of her house to see me stumbling around, kicking clods and with my hands in my hair. She let me use her phone. She must be one of the few little old ladies not to be a fan of BBC TV's Crimewatch because I am certain I had the eyes of a murderously intented lunatic. While I was waiting for my husband by the side of the road, another mother on the school run drove by; she smiled and gave me a nice friendly wave. I gave her an equally friendly wave back and thought: "What do you think I am doing by the side of the road, I wonder." I climbed back into the car to wait, ramped up the music, closed my eyes and started shaking my head slowly from side to side. This is how my fellow mother found me five minutes later when she drove back having decided as she wended her merry way onwards to school that I probably should not have been by the side of the road looking like I wanted to kill someone. It was very kind of her to return. I think to myself even if running out of petrol is not in itself a good thing, it does restore your faith in human nature the way people go out of their way to help you recover from your idiocy. I was, however, quite keen for her to leave before my husband turned up in the other car so I could shout at him very loudly.

But that was Friday. Another day entirely. Today, I woke up and my husband said: "Happy anniversary darling. Nineteen years ago, we kissed for the first time." It was April 1 then too.