much more serious than that

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Chocolate, waffles + beer = brave + forward-thinking talent


My grandfather was a professional football player; interest in the game skipped directly from the Northern Socialist to Freddie.  Though too many cold Saturday touchlines being excluded from the fun ("football's not a game for lasses") and being made to hang out the sodden mismatched team strips understandably turned me right off the game.

Notwithstanding my anathema, Freddie insisted we all chose eight teams each to support through the cup.  His were chosen based on years of studying form, following transfer and performance at various levels; Rose chose the teams with the most beautifully groomed players; I chose countries I had lived in; Edward was at work and sportingly accepted the rag, tag and bobtail dross he was given.

There is a chart filling a wall of the kitchen which we have all raced to fill in after each match. The boys wrote a list of rules, including no door slamming or blaming the ref if your team lose (years of observing Edward).   You were encouraged to wear your team's colours and serve drinks and snacks from that country.

I had no idea football was such bloody good fun.  I'm completely hooked, and I have watched more matches in three weeks than in almost fifty years. I found myself all alone up at midnight watching the Belgium/USA match, into extra time, three nail-biting goals and the best-natured managers I've ever observed.  I've been watching while they are all out, or after I've sent everyone to bed, shouting at my laptop like a yob and killing myself laughing at the Suarez Bite.

Rose's teams are all out.  I have one left, Edward one and Freddie the two most likely to win.  (There is money involved too.  I've just read the extra rules that appeared yesterday.)

Freddie has plans to fill the house on Sunday with long, awkward boys, order several huge pizzas ("Delivered, mum, not home-made, this is important") and settle in for a marathon.  He's asked Edward to take me out to supper.  Apparently football's not a game for mums either.


Run even faster

Monday, 16 June 2014


This is still, frequently, the view inside my head

When I was small, Sunday mornings were the most heavenly part of the week.  We kids were dropped off at a stable to go riding on the beach while my parents read the papers in the dunes.

I always had to ride Topper.  He was wiry and malevolent and his toes turned in alarmingly. He had a snappy mouthful of yellow teeth and stubbornly trotted until his legs blurred before he finally gave in and leapt into a canter that felt just like a ride on a rocking horse.

The pony I truly loved was a beautiful Palomino called Stardust.  He belonged to the stable owner, Val, a tiny, toothless woman whose hands and mouth were equally filthy.  She was brusque, and tough as nails, but she spoke to Stardust with a tenderness never wasted on any humans.

She never let anyone else ride him, though I begged every single Sunday.  I brought him carrots and whispered streams of love into his toffee-coloured ears.  I still have notebooks filled with stories of Stardust and I riding off alone on wonderful trips where we slept curled together under the stars and took turns to save each other from hideous danger.  He was my first love.

The ride was an eclectic mix of local regulars and tourists who'd tired of the majesty of the Lakes. The tourists were easy to spot by their bright kagouls and mouthfuls of Kendal mint cake.  We locals had grubby hand-me-down jodhpurs and gave our Polo mints to the horses. The tourists were always seen as the Enemy, and we would circle them at speed as they wobbled along on the older, slower horses.

One Sunday, we local kids took off, as we always did, at a gallop.  To my excitement, I fell off in the sea, grabbed the reins and leapt straight back on.  I heard Val calling me back.  I know she would tear a strip off me in front of the clean Southern riders, so I affected not to hear and used my crop on Topper, charging miles ahead and staying far from her scary orbit.

I was first back to the yard and dismounted, flushed with victory.  Val came in last, riding one of the ancient horses and there, on a leading rein was a tourist, a grown man, for the love of God, on my beloved Stardust.

She told me that she'd tried to call me back because the tourist couldn't handle his horse and she wanted me to ride Stardust all the way home. But apparently, I hadn't heard her.  She fixed me with her small eyes and said what a shame that was because she could guarantee it would never happen again.

I pleaded, shamelessly, I may even have cried.  She left me to untack and refused to discuss it ever again.

In January this year, the Pretty One and I walked out dogs up that beach and met an old man who told us that Val's business partner had swindled her not long after and she had been forced to sell the stables and all the horses and go and work in a jewellery shop in Workington.

She hadn't lived much longer.  I wasn't surprised to hear it.


we shall hear angels, we shall see the sky

Saturday, 7 June 2014



There's a beach near the bots' school where we have gone since they were small enough for me to see the tops of their heads or be in a room with them for more than eight seconds without their lips curling involuntarily and the klaxon in their brains shriek 'NOT LISTENING.'

I bought a painting of it last year at a local art fair; the artist told me how her life had cracked open and she and come here to start afresh.  This was the first view she had of her new home.  The painting shimmers and she told me her jeweller friend had given her a bag of diamond dust that she'd mixed  into the paint she used for the sea.

It's a perfect bowl of changing sky; beige sand and curving banks of navy blue shingle, huge oyster and mussel shells crunching underfoot.  When the tide goes out you can walk for miles on cool watery ridges.

The promenade is Victorian, offering careful pleasure in swan-shaped boats and swathes of stern forest-green bathing huts.  They cost as much as houses in the North.

On this beach, the bots have thrown off little stripy uniforms, free from the exhausting strictures of clapping and finger-painting and shot, chubby-thighed and squealing, into the sparkling sea.

They have played cricket here, had class barbecues, sand-sculpture competitions.  I'm sure they will also come here, furtively and tentatively believing they are the first generation to thrill to booze-fuelled disobedience and all the fun that brings.

They snorted in that teenage way when I told them that there was diamond dust in the painting and said I'd been ripped off and was a mug for a fairy tale.

I drove them in to do huge exams this week and went down to the beach with the dog.  She squealed excitedly, remembering the time before the cool detachment of the school bus when we came down every morning after drop-off and knew all the dogs.

I let her out in the bright early sunshine and she disappeared off across the flats, running up excitedly to friends old and new, sniffing them just to make sure.  I followed with a genteel tea and fistful of poo bags and looked at the spangled, glittering sea.

There's diamond dust there alright.




gasping

Sunday, 18 May 2014

When I was about 12, my most treasured possession was my little blow-up dinghy.  A give-away from a mosquito spray company, it transported me across the coral reef of the Caribbean in front of my house to the deep azure waters beyond.  In it, I could avoid the treacherous sharp coral, and more importantly, the black, spiny sea-urchins.  If you were unlucky or clumsy enough to tread on one, the black needles would poison before you could call for help and you would die a hideously painful, though mercifully swift, death.

I would skim across the reef, stiff as a board, with my toes pointed into the front, paddling furiously to keep as much of the bottom flat as possible.  My snorkel and mask were permanently welded to my head.

It was a strange song I heard diving out from the reef; the tuneful froth from my mouth as I dove, the scratching hiss of sand and broken shell moving rhythmically far below me, the squeak and hum in my ears as I sank deep below the water.

I took my little plastic oar with me to poke about and move things - we were not so ecologically careful in those days.  Or perhaps it was the innocent cruelty of childhood that led me to shove my oar, quite literally, into a dark hole.

It stuck and I pulled hard, my flippered feet swelling me urgently back and forth.  My breath blew like thunder.  It came free with a brown thing attached - I thought it seaweed, and brushed at it with annoyance.  It was the rubbery, prehistoric spiral of an octopus that followed angrily out and we hung eye to eye in the turquoise water as I realised what it was.  I had already lost an oar to casual beach thieves so my priority was to keep this one.

Lucky for me, the beast cared more about his privacy and huffily billowed back into the gloom, while I shot, bubbles rattling from my open mouth, back to the surface.

This week, I have written off a car, celebrated a birthday and negotiated a sticky, tricky conversation.

I'm whizzing back up to the sun now.  I think I've still got an oar about me.  And I know the urchins will only sting, not kill.

What is to be seen

Saturday, 10 May 2014

With all the new schools, new countries and new mathematical systems, I am mathematically illiterate.  I thought, fleetingly, that geometry was beautiful and precise and that algebra was essentially solving puzzles, but the majority of it was hieroglyphics to me.  With fingers, I can do any sum under twenty.  Sixty if the bots are at home and I can be arsed to take my wellies off.

I ended up doing Maths Studies for Baccalaureate - it is essentially colouring in tessellations and predicting whether you'll get an ace of hearts.  One of the few things I remember is truth tables - or was it logic?  The two were sadly not always synonymous in my chaotic school life.

Either way, I rather loved the spare, clear elegance of if and then.  If I get 39 points then I can escape to University.  If I hide my lighter up my sleeve, then I can have a sly fag before drama.   If I read Walden to the end without stabbing myself, then I will discover, allegorically, the secret of solitary self-reliance.

Poor Rose is mathematically blessed and will be doing GCSE a year early.  This weekend, as a sensible antidote to teenage hyperbole and contagious hysteria, school has taken her group far away to a forest, in tents, with three tons of pasta each and a squirty bottle of golden syrup.

Last night it threw down buckets and today is blowing wild and sunny; that fabulous, illogical weather that polka-dots the pavements with blossom confetti and induces madness with jangling new leaves and gusts of blinding, sunlit rain.

They will be soaking and starving when they get back; they have no phones, only maps and notebooks. They have to record fauna and count wild ponies and species of meadow-flower.  Thoreau would approve.

Thank heaven she's good at maths; it would be a nightmare removing those great sodden boots every time she got to eleven.

Five things that make you crazy

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Sit still.  
Ten more minutes of this 
while we pipe in a bit of Clinton Ford 
and you'll be right as rain and 
back running the country in no time.

This month's topic for BIO made me panic a little bit - how to distill those years of lunacy and the subsequent mending into only five things.

I have experienced both depression and mania and while I can't claim the former was any fun, the latter can be helpful. Set up a business in an afternoon, write a dissertation in days, renovate a house single-handedly.

But it's bloody tiring being bonkers, and so, after many many years of talking and reading and crying and rocking in corners and soul-searching and all the tediously predictable things people do in the search for peace of mind, and which, au fond, are only of interest to oneself, here are my top five ways to shred your sanity.

1. Being surrounded by unhealthy people
Especially if you are of a bent to mend and they are of a bent to drag along self-indulgent and self-inflicted drama.  Look closely - is it really such bad, bad luck all the time?  And is it really your problem or do you want to be needed too much?   Either way, when the curtain goes up on another act, politely excuse yourself and find a bathroom to clean.

2. Not getting enough sleep or exercise
Everything looks worse when you're exhausted and unfit.  Get out of your house and walk about; at the very least you can look for interesting new places to be glum in.  I guarantee you will feel marginally less so by the end of a brisk walk.

3. Eating crap processed pretend food
Make yourself soup.  Everyone can manage that.  Nourish yourself, body and soul.  If you eat rubbish, it gives you the absolute mean reds.  And its horribly inelegant.

4. Pleasing everyone else before yourself
I find martyrdom desperately unattractive.  I also find many martyrs want far too much recognition for their sacrifices than real-life saints would ever expect.  They are also often passive aggressive nightmares.  And frequently lack direction and purpose, so use the excuse of putting other needs first to mask this.  As long as you are not unkind or neglectful, following your own path will help keep you off the meths.

5. Spending time in the wrong place - mentally, emotionally, physically
Tough as hell to admit you're not where you should be, and often a nightmare to extricate, but really listen to your instincts.  You won't be the first person to have made a mistake. And anyone who judges you for it should be sent immediately to Coventry for a long long time.

Don't go too far though, there's a little bit of madness in all creative people.

The broad wing of time

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Seriously? 
You look THAT much older 
than fifteen years ago.

Edward turned thirty the night we got our first Labour Government in 18 years.  It kicked off a period of almost-American hugging of strangers, singing in the street and crying in public.*

None of which I realised at the time, as I had got fantastic tickets to a lovely little play and sold my soul for a seat at the most fabulous luvvies restaurant for post-play deliciousness, expensive cocktails and shameless, libellous eavesdropping.

At the interval, having sat with a smacked-arse face through the first half, he announced he wanted to go home.  I had wondered how a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative would deal with grinning Tony and the un-English leaping and whooping, so I was not too surprised.

I suggested we went to the restaurant early and drown his election sorrows.  To my surprise, he declined, and mooched off along the river, glumly and silently ignored the pile of presents, and went to bed.

It turned out that he was gutted at the end of his youth.  Having previously skipped about in a state of Peter-Pan-dom, he could not believe he was a grand old man of thirty.  It took days for him to even realise that Labour were in power.

I will spare you the carnage that was his 40th.

He is 47 tomorrow.  We have a pile of hidden presents, some stashed fizz should he wake up with a smile and some very strong coffee if not.  The children know not to mention numbers and to exclaim hourly at how much younger he looks than last year.  I have planned nothing more elaborate than a walk on the beach with the dog.  We might stop for a piece of cake if the storm clouds keep away.

A new Government is, it seems, totally beyond any of us.

*Of the British public, you understand.  Not Edward.  In a million years.