Thursday, January 31, 2008

Party time

Went to the party at a village hall on Saturday night. Did a lot of washing up. I mean a lot. Dinner for around 55 people is a lot of washing up but I felt obliged. There is a tradition in my family that if you go to someone's house for lunch or dinner you wash up afterwards. I think it is in small print somewhere in the Catholic housewives' handbook - "A good guest washes up after themselves". It comes somewhere between: "Do not commit adultery with the priest" and "Remember to take your temperature." After I finished scouring the last pan, I went out to the party proper and sat down with a whoomph on one of the red velveteen seats to catch my breath and admire the ceilidh dancing. I had been sitting down for about five minutes when a merrymaker came up to me and said: "Not joining in?" I felt like saying: "I am sitting down for the first time in an hour and a half. Exactly how joined in do you want me to be?" I did eventually dance. I hoisted my two-year-old daughter to balance on my boots, she reached up her arms, turned her smiling face to the skies and we walzed. Her tartan-netted party dress frothing between and around my legs, small hands in mine we twirled and turned. A mother and daughter in time. There must have been music.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Squeaky Clean

My life gets more glamorous as each day passes. First a rat takes up residence in the car and sets up a kebab shop or whatever it is that it is doing in there, I then spent this morning cleaning the men's urinals in the village hall. Friends are having a party tomorrow night and wanted everything spick and span so we set up a little cleaning party. I like blitzkreig cleaning - an every now and then full on assault, high tech chemical weaponry, does-not-happen-too-often-but-when-it-does-you-know-about it approach. I do not like the "little bit every day to keep on top of it" sort of cleaning. If I have to do that, I become very resentful and start muttering to myself like a crazy lady. Cleaning men's urinals is somehow far yukkier though than cleaning a ladies loo. In posh hotels in South Africa, they keep ice and lemon in them. I rather like that idea. I contemplated suggesting we do the same thing for the party tomorrow night but I am not sure we could keep the trough topped up with enough ice. Perhaps we could arrange a working party with the rats?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


So I finished the book I was writing and sent it through to the publisher's midnight Sunday, felt briefly relieved on Monday then plunged into an all-time low yesterday for some reason to do with "letting go". I woke up this morning and thought: "I really have to get a grip - it is a good thing to have finished not a bad thing." I got up, made porridge for the baby and the four-year-old, poured cornflakes for the six-year-old, made myself a cup of tea and drank it while I pretended to eat my own porridge. I looked up - 8.15am way too late in the scheme of things. I thought: "Packed lunch." Unusually the lunch boxes were in the car so I clambered into wellies, found the keys and went out to the car. One packed lunch box was fine. The other packed lunch box had been chewed by a rat. There is no way it was a mouse. There was a hole the size of a tennis ball in the bottom and both sides had been shredded. Not just a rat then, a hungry rat. I said: "Oh my God." I said it again. I picked it up and held it out in front of me. I said: "Oh my God." I turned it round gingerly in case the rat was still in it. It was not still in it but I said: "Oh my God" again anyway. I turned back to the car, reached in for one school coat then the other - I shook them both out. I carefully extracted one blue nylon book bag then the other. I slammed the car door shut, collapsed against it and said "Oh my God" again. This is what happens when you live in the country. I then realised although we have another car in which I could drive the children to school, it was blocked in by the Ratmobile. I said: "Oh my God" and climbed into the Ratmobile. I thought: "If I see a rat, I am going to be out of this car so damn fast." I reversed it down the lane and out on to the road much as Steve McQueen would have done if was still alive and did not think much of rats as navigators. I am not entirely surprised the car has rats. Presumably one weedled its way in through a hole or worse still, nibbled its way in. Thinking about it there was a brief spell when the keys went missing again, maybe a forager rat filched them and got a spare set cut and they let themselves in. A month or so ago, the farmer knocked down the barn behind us and we have been parking in the farmyard. I imagine there are quite a few homeless rodents around. It is hardly surprising if one or two have taken refuge in a handy car. Needless to say my husband was in London. I do not know if I can bear to empty the car out before he gets back. When he does, I may just say: "Darling I have a present for you. It is in the car. See if you can find it."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cherry Tree Lane

Occasionally, in the top class of my convent prep school, you were "chosen" - allowed to leave afternoon class, walk prideful down the corridor past the holy statues, through the empty assembly hall with its waxed parquet floor - a picture of a suffering saint gazing heavenward - then into the wiped clean, spick span kitchen. As a last huzzah, the dinner lady would leave a tray with a linen cloth set for tea. A china cup of course. You and your fellow good girl pupil boiled a kettle, poured scalding water into the teapot then with infinite care carried the tea to a nun. I say a nun. I cannot quite remember the who's and why's of the ritual. Only that it was, like all good rituals, entirely sacred. But if I cannot remember who swallowed the tea, I can remember the way the kettle always boiled too fast.

For a while on those afternoons, as we waited in the kitchen, my friend and I talked about Mary Poppins. Did more than talk - tried to summon her, closing our eyes and wishing hard. Confusing our musicals, we clicked our heels and turned around, quite three times. The perfect number. To my surprise she never came. Perhaps she thought the nuns would burn her as a witch. The only apparition good Catholic girls prayed for then was the most Virgin Mary - mother not the nannying kind.

Yesterday as we travelled in the car, I put on a crackly tape of Julie Andrews to quiten down the kids and growled: "Listen." I listened too, sang along and thought: "At what point though did I stop being the plait-headed girl so desperate for a spoonful of sugar? At what point did I become the self obsessed Banks parents, the father grim and work-obsessed, the mother ditzy and political?" I think I am both, truth be told and that cannot be good. I would rather, given any sort of choice, plait up my hair, close tight my eyes, pirouette and hope that wishes would come true.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do or diet

I have never really tried to diet before - I was never sufficiently bothered to count or weigh what I ate and who wants to get weighed in company? You might as well have "Life's victim" tattoed on your forehead. Ever since the baby girl though I have been bigger than I want to be. I blame having children certainly not biscuits. I still have a natural body weight - the natural body weight of a fat lass. That's not entirely true but I am definitely "packing" at the moment and when you are short that is not a good look. The problem I have discovered is that even thinking about going on a diet made me want to eat my head. I thought: "I know I won't rush into anything I will buy a diet book." Even better, the diet book had a whole list of things you had to buy such as health supplements. Now I may not be any good at dieting or for that matter exercise but shopping is a cinch. I flicked through the book and tried out a few recipes which for some reason are full of double cream and mayonnaise. What this means is that I am eating what I would normally eat while snacking on full-fat diet food and increased cake rations because I am suddenly conscious that I am hungry. I think I might just "lose" the book and buy an elasticated skirt.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Crisis number 358

The five-year-old is just out the other end of another vomiting marathon courtesy of his stomach migraine. The car was repaired after its Christmas breakdown and was full of petrol. Before my husband left for London, he made a tour of inspection to check that none of the tires were flat. He said: "Right. I don't see what can go wrong this time."

That was yesterday at about 11am, shortly before he climbed on his train. At 8pm, I discovered that we did not have any water in half the house - that is to say the family bathroom upstairs and the shower room downstairs. Not a dribble. I cursed and eventually went to bed where I lay awake for most of the night listening to gale force winds storming around the house and banging their fists on the roof. Surprisingly the water problem had not mended itself this morning so after an earlier than usual school run (in case any trees were down) I rang the farmer who owns the barn behind us and the land around us. For historic reasons, the water (that was missing) is connected to the farm's supply. He said he would call the builder who is building him a new barn and make sure something had not been turned off. Unusually there were no workmen about probably because of the severe winds. I rang my husband. He said: "You are kidding." Then he said: "There's a stopcock."

In my experience there is always a stopcock and it is nowhere you know about. He told me it was in the farmyard so I levered open the door into the ferocious wind and staggered out. There was a small metal lid in the farmyard. I went back in and armed myself with a potato peeler and a spatula,levered open the door again and went back outside. I slid the potato peeler into a retangular hole on the lid and manouevred it off with the help of the spatula. There was no stopcock visible. Instead there was a lot of dirty looking water. I went back into the kitchen to get a bin bag. Because I needed a binbag, I had run out. If I had not needed a binbag I would have opened the door under the sink and a roll would have fallen out. Instead I found the largest carrier bag I could from Christmas and went back out. I knelt in the mud and plunged my arm down into the murky water. I thought: "I do hope there isn't some sort of deep sea rat down here." I thought: "This water is so cold my arm is going to drop off." I could feel something but nothing I could turn. I pulled my arm back up and counted the fingers on my hand. They were all still there.

I went back in and rang the local water board for complicated conversations about pipework and they agreed to send someone. Meanwhile the farmer's builder arrived with his builder's mate. I went out to them and the builder told me he had checked the stopcock and turned it a few times, that they had checked the farm and the farm still had water which implied the problem was our end. They went away. The man from the water board arrived in a van, took the plumbing equivalent of a stethoscope to the tap in the kitchen and the tap upstairs. Apparently neither of them have a cough bad enough for antibiotics. He went out to the stopcock and did something to it then came back in. He wanted to talk to the farmer. I said: "The farmer said it's fine. They haven't turned anything off." He really wanted to talk to the farmer or was going to wash his hands of the problem (had there been any water that is). I rang the farmer and let them talk. Their conversation did not get me any water. I rang my husband and let the man from the water board talk to him.That did not get me any water either. The man from the water board went away. Before he left, he said: "Get a plumber". Meanwhile the farmer arrived with his farm manager and the builder. I am not sure what they did with the stopcock - I figured they were grown men and it was their business. It did not get me any water. They went away. Finally the plumber arrived. He went up to the loft, checked the tank, did something to a different stopcock then said: "The pump's not working. Where's the fuse box." I found the fuse box (it is attached to the wall and cannot go anywhere which is always helpful). There was one small black switch which I flicked and there was water.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Bears with sore heads

Yesterday my boy turned seven. Thank God. Thank God it's all over. The cards, the presents, the relentless bloody joy of it all. I do not have to have a good time now till November when it is my daughter's birthday. I held out against a large children's birthday party this year on the grounds the builders needed our money more than we did. Instead, we drove for an hour to the nearest city and saw a movie about singing chipmunks. (I have never understood why mothers do not get a spa retreat day on their children's birthdays let alone have to go to movies with chipmunks in them.)Before the film, we went for a Chinese buffet. The boys wanted to eat sausage and chips which was not really the idea of taking them there; we compromised on sausage, chips and prawn crackers. Half the restaurant's clientele was clinically obese. (I say this with a certain sympathy as a woman who is a dress size larger than she was last year. I am blaming the water.) It made me wonder if we should all perhaps stop going to buffet restaurants where the management allows you to go back as many times as you want for refills. There is a sign at one end of the counters: "Please be considerable when taking the food. Anyone abusing it by wasting food, be asked to pay a supplement of £5 per portion." There was also a warning that: "Customers who take large portions of crabs are not being considerate to the other diners, this dish is limited, please share it with everyone." (Disappointingly, "crabs" was off yesterday or perhaps it had been eaten up by the inconsiderate.) Anyway, today is a home day, later I will take down the Christmas cards, put away the new toys on shelves and then all we have to do is take down the 12 foot Christmas tree without breaking anything or anyone.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

I always review my year. Usually though I do it either on New Year's Eve at dinner or on a beach walk the next day with my husband and my gay best boyfriend; we say what was good and what was bad about the year, mark it out of 10 and write our resolutions in the sand (you might as well start the way you mean to go on.) This year though my best boyfriend was spending New Year with his partner and we had London diva and her family up and it completely went out of my head. Why was that? Is it that I do not care about the past any more? (Unlikely, I am catholic and have been in therapy, I virtually live in the past.) Do I think there is no room for improvement? (Obviously a far more difficult one to answer.) Or was it just that I got so busy - my four-year-old turned five on New Year's Eve, my six-year-old turns seven on Friday and my parents are still with us. I figure I can relax on Saturday( the third Saturday in September that is).

So the year. An extraordinary one.
The bad things included:
*tears and fears my six-year-old son was not happy at school. The situation was resolved but it took time.
*ongoing anxiety about my five-year-old's stomach migraines.
*intermittent loneliness and the blues about where I was and what I was doing.
*missing London, London, London.
*the suspicion I am getting really old.

The good things included:
*blogging and making friends in cyberspace.
*the chance to write a book (- the money was quite nice too while I had it. Builders are an expensive habit).
*living in the renovated cottage with space to swing a cat. (Shame my cat did a runner pretty much as soon as we arrived in Northumberland).
*seeing the good things about life in Northumberland.
*recognising I had, despite myself perhaps, made friends here.

So the year then is a 10. (I always mark a year higher than my husband. Last year, we were living in Northumberland at his instigation because he wanted to live here, we had a beautiful baby daughter who had just turned one, he had bought himself a new car and he gave the year six and a half. Six and a half! He is lucky he made it past the bongs.)

As for resolutions
*to shout less and be more patient.
*to revise the blog and make it more whizz bang (this one might take a while).
*to revise my life and make it more whizz bang (alternatively to get more sleep).
Actually, I just remembered why I did not do the review and resolutions, I think I was too busy being anxious about making the decision about whether we stay in Northumberland or return to London. The decision is made - I just do not want to say it out loud yet.