After moments or lifetimes

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

When the bots were tiny - or at least, as tiny as giant's children can be - we all piled down to the as-yet-unrenovated house my parents and sister had just bought.

By which euphemism I mean no central heating; uninhabited for several decades bar one old chap in one room; no kitchen; a surreal mis-mash of furniture and a positively Dickensian lighting 'system' of strings of lanterns tacked to the walls of corridors and draughty rooms; ancient banging shutters at the icy windows and the biggest, most brightly-lit Christmas tree we'd ever seen, blazing away in the cavernous hallway.

Over several days, we all piled in in drips and drabs; Edward and I smuggled an electric heater into our room, panicking that we Freddy might get cold.  As it was, the babies and toddlers were all bathed in kettlefuls of scalding water in the old butler's sink, bundled quickly into all-in-one polar fleeces and set free to stump about excitedly on sturdy legs, red faces beaming in the shadowy, flickering light.

Christmas dinner was cooked on a single gas ring and in a Baby Belling cooker that year. About twenty of us sat down on a mixture of camping chairs and delicate ancient chairs to eat the full works - turkey and sausages in bacon and sprouts and stuffing and Christmas pudding and white sauce.  None of the adults had dared brave the cold to wash, so we all wore a pall of plaster dust and grime; we piled on logs and jumpers, lit candles and held torches while we took turns to stuff the stockings and climb carefully up the dark staircase to lay them along the bed piled with higgled-piggeldy, snuffling, snoring filthy babies.

This is probably the last year we'll have christmas at that special house. All the families are moving on and it's just not viable any more.  My dad might at last get his dream of a tiny bungalow that's too small for anyone to visit ever.  We'll see.

On the 26th, we'll sit in the warm fire-lit rooms in black tie and eat a feast that's been cooked on a range in my mother's kitchen.  The lights will all work, though we'll probably turn them off to play Sardines.  There was talk of a goose, it was treated with deserved contempt by all the grandchildren; this year, they'll be wearing dinner jackets and silk dresses and be allowed to stay up as late as they like.

I'm the only one still small enough to get into the butler's sink.  It's probably time to go.

Learn, unlearn and relearn

Thursday, 29 November 2012

It's exams at school this week, which means that Rose comes home and consults her beautifully-coloured revision timetable, inhales supper, watches exactly one episode of America's Next Top Brain Surgeon and settles down for the evening with books and charts all over the kitchen table.  She appears with metronomic regularity when the cooker clock goes off, to give me scary bits of paper decorated with hieroglyphical formulae on which to test her.  I frequently mispronounce things or hold it upside down.  This makes her impatient and snappy.

Freddie trails in wearing the face of Dame Maggie Smith, throws off an experimental sneeze and cough or two and picks sadly at his supper, shoulders defeated.  I attempt amusing and memorable ways to remember the principles of refraction and Henry VIII's reasons for trashing the monasteries but no amount of winsome mnemonics or 5-minute bursts of Match of the Day will lift his morbid shroud of gloom.

Edward, sensibly, has buggered off to London for a few days work, his own tragic pall exacerbated by the dog being violently sick all over her basket at 4am the day he left; necessitating a trip down three flights of dark, chilly stairs to let her out into the freezing night, a shivering wait in the cellar while she retched theatrically, followed by a hijus clean-up operation.

I made a lemon and poppy seed cake for Edward's return.  I think, on reflection, there's very little more romantic than letting your wife sleep through the explosive effects of a rotting badger on the digestion system of a Weimeraner.  Except, perhaps, clearing up every last trace, in the frosty black morning, in your pyjamas and t-shirt.  Because you have wrapped the dog in your dressing gown, tucked her in beside your unconscious wife and left them to sleep a few hours more before waking the slatternly pair with strong coffee and and porridge.

That's how much Edward hates revision.

And occasionally, cake.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

What the f@*%? The kid lost a @!%$^ passport,
for Christ's sake.
 If I say this looks like the #&^!* mother,
this is what the %(%&!@ looks like.

Edward woke me up recently in the middle of the night, hissing furiously that we'd been burgled.  Apparently he couldn't find Rose's passport. I found it in her backpack. She went to France on a school trip.  In July.

Old friends will remember that the words 'Rose's passport' can turn me instantly into a pillar of salt.

It turned out that my throwaway comment at supper that night 'well, if you want to go to New York, it should be at Christmas time when it's all lit up and beautiful' had hit home.  Edward was mid-online-flight-booking when they demanded passport details.   Thus turning the lovely surprise into a midnight marital heart-stop.

However, daylight, a few days' distance and an appreciation of the most fantastic family surprise Christmas present in the world have restored my sunny nature.  NYC is probably my favourite winter place in the world, and we've got a whole week to walk ourselves ragged and revel in its icy sparkle.

The bots are beyond excited and can't wait to nip over to Hoeboken to Carlos Bakery to make sure Buddy survived the flooding, buy a box of enormous day-glo cupcakes and hopefully hear some of the world-class swearing that the big guy did when they crushed his sugar dinosaur.

Anyone got any more mainstream suggestions for entertaining them?

Songs that voices never share

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Some of the girls at school wore silk abayahs; the elegant rippling garment sliding off their shoulders as they came into the high-walled school yard balancing armfuls of books, boxes of cake and headscarf, past the unseen, unseeing male guard in his box at the gate.

Mine was cheap black nylon, picked up quickly for opacity and expedience; it never occurred to me that it could be a fashion statement.  It was, after many years of running barefoot, barelegged and light-hearted, an unfathomable garment on almost every level.

My headscarf was black net, with black roses embroidered on it.  Vaguely Spanish, wholly alien.  I never mastered the art of tying it tightly about my head so that only my eyes showed, nor did I want to. It often slipped off my fine, slithery hair and would be handed back to me with varying degrees of exasperation and affection by my teachers.

We went one day to the souk; I was fourteen.  There was a local girl a few years my junior.  Her scarf had slipped and her hair was on public show.  I stood and watched as she was cracked soundly on her bare skull by grown men with stout wooden sticks.  The shrouded women accompanying her formed a pathetic, impotent circle.  Their keening voices rose, counterpoint to the staccato, brutish shouts of the men.  She never once made a sound.  She hunched her shoulders and stood in stoic silence. My mother hurried my sister and I away down a narrow alley to wait for my father in his car.

Some time later, we took a trip to the desert. I left the picnic site and climbed with my brother up a pale, stony path in a rubbly, unforgiving landscape.  The top of the escarpment afforded us a huge view that made me feel both tiny and all-seeing.  There was a strange hot wind, and in the distance the rock shards made shapes that looked like German castles.

I sat down in the lee of the rock and the sudden, complete silence was crushing.  My brother had an expensive new camera and wanted me to pose.

I looked at that picture recently.  At my smooth, young face, my eyes crossed and my tongue poking out for laughs.  At my uncovered hair, blowing almost vertically in that burning breeze.

I thought about the nature of silence and I felt grateful that I can make a noise, speak, write.  I must remember not to to take such a gift for granted.

Dancing from within

Friday, 16 November 2012

"Fek's sake, I'll never get a signal up there.  Try your iPad. "
"No buggering way.  She's following me on Twitter as well."
"Nightmare.  And I forgot to put bloody trousers on."
"Revision it is, then."

If I had any shame I would be embarrassed at how long it is since I last posted.  It feels like a couple of days, so I have clearly fallen into a parallel space:time continuum that makes each second stretch to an hour.

I have had my nose gaffer-taped to the grindstone trying to finish what I started; not the most familiar of feelings to a bolter like me, but the rhythm of days you kindly prescribed (you know who you are and I thank you all) has held me fast to both task and chair and perhaps soon you can judge for yourselves if I wouldn't have been better off just defrosting the freezer or learning Swedish.

The seasonal rhythm continues outside my head too - the brown, dank landscape wears a flirty morning negligee of frost; the afternoon walks are muffled by a deliciously rank carpet of lime and scarlet.  The cooling pies and cakes have scented the kitchens of many women before me.  The muffled grumbles as bots are reminded of exam revision is also timeless; the furtive sneaking under bedclothes to broadcast complaint via phone and Facebook perhaps less so.

This afternoon, pea-soup fog permitting, I will break the rhythm with a two-day jaunt to see an old friend in Amsterdam.  There is a gallery opening, an exhibition of impressionism, some snert (ah, the fun we had with that) and that gut-aching laughter that comes from knowing where all the bodies are buried and not giving a fig.

I will be back next week. In more ways than one.

Leave a trail

Monday, 5 November 2012

We have a properly awful chain of shops here in the UK called Iceland. They peddle frozen offal and blandly derivative cack - tikka pizzas, sweet-and-sour samosas and other types of schizophrenic franken-nosh.  To persuade people to actually buy this nonsense, there are ghastly advertisements featuring the national sweetheart putting out plate after platter of aneimic prawn rings and frozen balls of poo with chocolate on, gurning madly amid the madcap antics of unattractive and ill-behaved brats, all with the tagline 'Mum's Gone to Iceland.'

Which makes one of my favourite blogs all the funnier, because that mum really did go to Iceland and wrote a delightful account of the trip and several more European and further-flung destinations since then.

Reading Trish's blog is like having a long-awaited letter from a very witty old mate.  Her travels feature her long-suffering Doctor husband and teenage son, and she manages to combine both irreverence and appreciation for her destinations.  She's a Newcastle girl and one after my own heart; she makes me laugh out loud and is one of the few people I could ever imagine actually travelling with.  I know that she'd see all the quirky, ridiculous and fanny-shaped things first and point them out with glee.

She's also annoyingly well-informed about the places she goes to.

An unexpected treat is her second blog, where she writes up the memoirs of her beloved dad, up to and including his time as a Cambridge undergraduate in the 1950s.  These are a complete delight; his intelligence, humour and right-on politics, both as a student and while doing National Service, have clearly gone straight to his daughter.  Which gifts, combined with her mother's old-school North-East tell-it-how-it-is make both blogs such brilliant reads.

And not a frozen prawn ring in sight.

By+Invitation+Only+SMALL+ICON.pngI am blogging today for By Invitation Only - please visit this lovely fellow blogger to learn more and to see links to a group of fabulous international bloggers

Little Annie's greetin' tae

Friday, 2 November 2012

The first year we lived in Barbados was on the wild East coast.   Not many tourists bother going over there; the swimming is dangerous and the tides unpredictable with very fierce currents. There are some beautiful old churches, though, with graveyards full of mossy, skewed stones.  If you trace the shallow, weathered marks with a finger, you can sometimes still decipher the names and dates; improbable centuries have passed since those souls first tried to eke a living from the barren land they'd been allotted.

These Irish and Scots peasants were indentured servants, fleeing famine, hardships or criminal records.  They were shipped out to work on sugar plantations for a set number of years before being granted freedom and land.  Because they were of no real worth long term, the plantation owners made no effort to feed or care for them when sick; the unforgiving sun burned those peely-wally* limbs so badly they became known as the Redlegs.** The stony, hilly terrain they were allotted was nigh impossible to cultivate and many starved to death.

Their descendants peopled our district.  Mr Wilson used to bring us milk every morning from the painfully bony cow he grazed opposite our house.  The milk was warm and delicious and came in an old ice-cream container.  It softened our bowls of cornflakes and sticky clumps of tawny sugar into a comforting mess.

His family also worked for friends of ours further down the bay.  Mr Wilson's great aunt Marie was the nurse to their baby boy.  She was as shrivelled as a forgotten apple, her faded dress flapping about her gaunt bare knees.  So gummy and wheezy and cackling; we were never sure what she was saying.

One day, I was sitting outside waiting for my friend to come and play and I heard Aunt Marie singing to the baby.  "Greetin' for anither bawbee, tae buy mair Coulter's candy." The same Scottish lullaby that my Pa used to sing to us.  It was a moment of utter surreality; the familiar words and tune floating about the breadfruit tree I sat under.

I often remember that moment and think of the centuries of mothers singing to their hungry children and  of that gnarled old crone who brought an unwitting moment of comfort to a homesick little girl.

*hijusly pale and freckled.  Almost blue.
** this is fascinating if you want to read more

I have remembered as much

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

There has been a great exodus down memory lane here recently.  My parents' recent 50-year celebrations brought a sheaf of unseen photographs of us all growing up, many of us at the ages my bots are now.  Rose was horrified. "Didn't you ever brush your hair, Mum?" She had a point.  Boris Johnson has my teenage hair.  It looks marginally better on him.

Freddie scanned every photo for signs of naughtiness, which, given it was the seventies, was a fruitful exercise. "Is that your Snoopy lighter, Mum?  Did you drink that rum and coke on the table? It's quite dark, did you stay up very late?"

The cousins all piled down for half term last week; we took the three boys to a pub to hear a skiffle band and eat pints of prawns. They wanted stories of their babyhood; my sister and I, slightly horrified at our incipient Alzheimer's, scoured our shrinking brains for new tales.  Happily, they are word-perfect on the family fables and were completely sidetracked at being allowed to fetch soft drinks from the bar like proper lads, so I think we got away with it. I vowed to try and write some down before they sling me into a retirement home; I berated myself horribly for not having kept up the Notebook of Adorable Things that has about nine entries.

Today, I am looking after a 9-month old baby girl for a friend.  She has eaten envelopes, the corner of a maths book and fistfuls of bread and honey.  She moves like a ninja whenever I turn my back;  she has pressed all the buttons and reset the printer forever.

I am remembering exactly how my own children were at this age; those gummy sticky beams of sheer joy, the primitive desire to cram absolutely everything in one's mouth, from a camera to the dog's tail, and the furious Glasgow-drunk fist-swinging before falling suddenly asleep under a chair.

It is also a matter of absolute astonishment that I even managed nine entries in the NAT.

The fire which enlightens

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Is that Master Edward in a feather boa? Don't be daft, he'd never be seen dead in fishnets. They're all bloody pie-eyed those Londoners.  Think they're hiding any left-footers? I can smell 'em. 

There was usually a houseful, crammed into a little cottage on the green in Newick in East Sussex.  We always went down for Bonfire Night, bringing duvets, sausages and booze.  The cottage belonged to Edward's parents who lived abroad, and we took full advantage of it.

It wasn't a typical Bonfire night; Sussex has a long and proud history of rebellion and to this day Bonfire Night is a celebration of poking fun at authority, remembering martyrs and expressing anti-Catholic sentiment with vigour.

That wasn't of enormous importance to us in out twenties, though.  We cared much more about the hog roast and the enormous cold-fighting brandies Edward poured that made it possible to stand in the raised front garden and overlook the parade as it passed under our noses.

It was loud and colourful and occasionally sinister.  The village, plus other nearby bonfire societies, turned out in their hundreds, dressed mainly as pirates for some reason.  If you really care, I'm sure it will tell you why here.  They streamed below the fence, with blazing torches and blackened faces, singing rebel songs and chanting.  They dragged behind them iron trollies to carry the spent torches; the sound of  metal wheels cannoning off the stone roads was mediaeval.

Being rather giddy by the time the parade started, we often dressed up in the things we found in the cottage; one year, a girlfriend and I put on in full tropical officer's mess kit and took the salute from paraders.  Another, we set up the ancient gramophone on the lawn and wafted about in kaftans, waving cigarette holders and offering cherry brandy from hip flasks.  Often, we had to reassure any Catholics in our party and persuade them to come out from behind the curtain indoors.

The firework display took place on the green right opposite the garden gate; a closely guarded secret until it was lit, the huge wooden structure lit up satirical pictures.  A priest pushing a baby's pram, the Pope in a variety of vulgar poses, any politician who'd failed to keep his electoral promises and/or his trousers on.  It was mad, wildly insulting to many people and usually very witty indeed.  When the two-story-high bonfire was lit at last and the Guy thrown upon it, the baying was fantastical to hear.  We would usually retreat inside at that point, leaving the village people to dare each other to leap the flames and keep the torches burning.  It would still be smouldering the next day as went across the green for the papers, then carefully carried our hangovers here for the world's best Bloody Mary.

The anodyne, health-and-safety-bonkers display to which we take the bots these days is  a far cry from that pagan excitement. Last year, we had to stand miles away from the fire, no hog roast and no brandy; the fireworks just went off, nobody was pilloried.  I bet all the Catholics felt safe as well.


Monday, 15 October 2012

A few years ago,  I stopped working in an office 9-5 structured sort of way.  I had worked like a driven banshee since I left university, so I was giddy with excitement and apprehension in equal measure. After about six weeks on the mummies-coffee-morning circuit I was a wreck.  For twelve years I had brought up my children, run a home and functioned physically on a daily basis without an awful lot of input from my peers.

This was a very different style of living.  The mummies consulted each other on absolutely everything; what to feed them, when they should go to bed, how long to do prep, The Facebook Question.  I inhaled a silly amount of caffeine and silently ate a stack of cakes as I absorbed the painful truth that most people ask for help.  They also spend quite a lot of time considering options, finding out how other people do things, and then slowly come to a conclusion, gathering facts along the way.

I panicked. I've never over-thought anything in my nelly. I teamed up with another recent-released-from-daily-grind Mummy and we whirled off into an 18-month adventure setting up a vintage and handmade homewares business. We belted about rescuing treasures from old junk shops and car boot sales.  We painted and restored, mended, stencilled, sanded and shabbier. We took stalls at little vintage and antique fairs and made bunting.  We made lovely cushions out of old-fashioned wool blankets and embroidered surreal and amusing and soppy things on them in colours that reminded us of the seaside.

After a lot of fun but not quite as much profit, we're going to do other things.  She, with a heart as big as Wales, is caring for less happy children than our own.  I, with a yellow streak down my back as wide as the Thames, am trying to write.  I have finished six out of ten short stories that I wanted to publish this Autumn and I am stuck.

My cupboards are alphabetised and there is nothing in my house, cellar or attic that is not labelled.  Should there be a pandemic, I could feed most of this county on the food I have cooked and stashed in the freezer.  My linen cupboard is more starched and anally organised than Martha Stewart's. The dog is skin and bones from daily hikes.

So I am asking for help.  How do you write? When, where? How do you shut the internal monologue off and the bloody computer screen on?

Just don't make me go back to those coffee mornings or i don't think I'll be able to get out of bed.

The golden thread that united

Friday, 12 October 2012

"You've bloody well done WHAT woman? Are you MAD? I told the whole sodding lot of them never to darken my doorstep again.  Lunch? I don't blasted think so. Anyway, I've blown the whole inheritance on Newcastle Brown Ale and pork pies and rum so they can sodding well bugger off."

This weekend, my Pa, the Northern Socialist, and my Ma will celebrate 50 years of marriage.   I say 'celebrate' because we are making them do something to recognise such an achievement.  We suggested theatre trips and jaunts to London, Michelin restaurants and a big party.  Like small children faced with unpleasant vegetables, they demurred, feigned deafness, twisted napkins and asked to be excused.

We compromised eventually; they would book somewhere local for a small family lunch and we would promise on our honour not to get them any presents or make a fuss.  Then they're going to slither quietly off back to Barbados and gather their thoughts with a dusting of silver sand and a frosting of Planters' Punch.

It's funny, the gift thing in our family - we all love giving them but aren't terribly gracious about being recipients. I will ponder the wherefores another time.  What we have done, to our enormous glee, is secretly contact every single person with an email address, phone or Facebook that was at the wedding, met them later, was taught by either of them, shared sporting, literary or musical passions or was just sucked laughing into their orbit.

We told these old friends that the olds were being royal pains in the arse and refusing gifts, so we wanted to make them one instead. A book recording all the gifts they have passed on to their friends, grandchildren, neighbours, colleagues. A book that details the gifts that they have and how they have used them over the past 50 years.  So we asked them to write their thoughts and maybe look out old photos instead of sending stuff.

It has been an eye-opening fortnight collating the bugger.  Seeing one's parents through an entirely new prism has been extraordinary.  Some of the tales and people were well-known, faded and comforting, old blankets we were happy to see. Some stories made us cry a little bit - they seem to have committed acts of extreme kindness and secrecy. Many just made us wonder how any of us were still here and functioning.

But the golden thread that shines through every one is the gift of their hospitality and laughter; my mother conjuring fabulous suppers on stoves in half-demolished kitchens, on barbecues on windy moors, in deserts.  She seems to have mended marriages and hearts along with split trousers and unravelled socks.  My father's socialist and sporting philosophies are still quoted in Canada, Berkshire, Barbados and Antwerp. There are grown men out there who are still terrified of him on a football pitch, in a boxing ring, guarding his teenage daughters. Every single person mentioned how much he had made them laugh.

We're going to take turns reading them aloud over lunch tomorrow. We're giving the six bots the really soppy ones.  That'll teach them.

Whistling blackbirds and the sun of October

Monday, 8 October 2012

October is a wonderful month.  I love the rhythm of routine, the cosy lamp-lit evenings, the smell of the first fires and the sweet crackle of pork belly on a Sunday.  But it is also a month of gravitas.  Much more so than September, with its frivolous conceits - new uniform, new faces, pencil cases bristling with sharp points of resolution.  No, October is where the real thing starts.  It's a month of putting your money where your mouth is, of living up to all those easy promises made in September - reading the books, sustaining the friendships.

Seductive one-last-time Indian summer sun gives way to briskness and the need for serious clothes - the unyielding clamp of long boots adding purpose to a stride; the serpentine shrug of scarf and weighty heft of jacket.  Darkening nights demand a sporting commitment too. Training under sodium light as the fine cold drizzle haloes the scene is a far cry from the flirty kick-about of last month. New uniforms soften and fade, pummelled in mud and pride.

Decades ago, I started University in October; cold blue skies filled with cascades of Cathedral bells; nose-tingling coldness and a sense of freedom and promise. New books and new friends, many of whom are still there, cracked and worn but still capable of making me question, debate and laugh until I can't breathe.

Bounty is rare, but worth seeking.  Spiny sloes will bring a throaty sweetness in the black of winter if you hunt now.  Dress for thorns and sudden downpours.  Fill your poacher's pockets with tiny crab apples and your larder with jewelled amber pots.

Many Octobers ago, came a wonderful gift. Wrapped in a white blanket embroidered with oak leaves, my long, self-contained daughter with wise eyes and see-through hair.  Whose birthday we have celebrated with pumpkins and witches, ghost walks, bonfires and curry. Who is, bar none, the best gift of all.

First, a little cake...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Baking, as we used to say when we were small, always got my mad up. There seemed absolutely no margin for error or indeed creativity, Baking was just so Draconian.  And boring.  Cream the sugar and the butter, always.  Until your aching arm fell off.  No tasting, no extemporising, just clinical orders.

At one of my many schools, I did a year of what they called housecraft.  At 11, I just wanted to eat cakes.  Instead, we were dictated the rules of the kitchen, the order in which to wash up, how to keep the cloths clean, how to order the cupboards, how to remove stains with baking soda, clean windows with vinegar.  I was achingly bored until I was asked to leave the class for cleaning the cake batter bowl with my bare hands.  Then licking them.  The following term I helped with the baby swimmers instead.

Cooking, on the other hand, seemed to positively encourage such wanton sensuality. Such blowsy measurements, so many methods - a handful, a pinch, taste as you go; simmer, fry, roast, sear.  No hanging around waiting for things to bake, rise, prove. It's an ongoing process; the food is ever at the end of the wooden spoon.  It seemed more sociable too; people gather round a stove for tasting, discussing, adding, telling tales.

When I got very thin and miserable a few years ago, a clever friend asked me to make some cakes.  I finally had an oven that stayed at a constant temperature and some scales that measured to the nearest nanogram, so why not?  I also had many amazing bits of kitchen equipment that did all the drudgery, and so I baked my way through several books.

I discovered that there is a certain comfort in the strictures of regulation, the removal of any personal input which makes life, should you need it to be, rather clear and straightforward.  Here are your weights and measures, here is the method. Do not deviate and all will be well. Your kitchen will smell like a buttery golden childhood and after the exact amount of time, you will be rewarded by the springing triumph of a risen cake.

Now that I am perfectly happy again, I still take great pleasure in the strict discipline of baking.  A fifty shades of flour if you will.  The thwack of spatula, the whip of whisk.  The bossy dictation of the rules I must follow if I am to have pleasure.  The naughtiness of a stolen finger lick. The achingly interminable wait for the timer to go off and the sweet release of cake from tin.

I don't think I've got my mad up any more.

Drowsy with the harmony

Friday, 28 September 2012

Freddie, Rose, your mum and dad have arrived.  See, they've made a banner.  And that's quite a big camera they've got. Should your dad really be standing on that table? Ah, that's sweet, they know all the words.  And they're dancing, how charming.  Look, your mum's crying her head off.  Aren't you going to say hello?

This year, both the bots were finally old enough to go on the senior school music tour.  Two coach loads of singers and musicians, plus overexcited teachers, go for a week every August to somewhere fantastic in Europe.  They sing and play jazz and swing in squares, by lakes, in churches.

It was Freddie's birthday while they were away.  He was a bit thoughtful about that and so we suggested Edward and I fly out for a week.  We would attend the concerts and on his birthday take them, any little chums they cared to invite, out to dinner.  Rose immediately asked to be excused; the whole thing would be embarrassing. And anyway, they had a rooftop pool at the hotel.  And anyway, it was Freddie's birthday, not hers.  And anyway it would just be really, really embarrassing.

By the time we waved off the coach, prior to our dash to the airport, Freddie had also decided that he'd be fine on his birthday, and in fact, we really didn't need to come to any of the concerts.   It would probably be embarrassing.

I had made a list of the paintings and sculptures I thought we should see.  I organised early-morning bookings at the Florentine museums, googled restaurant reviews and made reservations.  We sorted out a hire car and printed maps and directions to the five concerts they were performing.

Our hotel, which turned out to be a castle, was in the absolute middle of nowhere.  It dated from the 14th century and was a cicada-filled paradise; great scented bushes of ancient greying lavender and rosemary; crumbling ochre walls; thoughtful spots of shade for the wimpy Inglesi. That dry, throbbing heat for the sun-worshipping Scot. Heaven. That first night, the bots texted - it's fine, don't come.  Please.  You'll be embarrassing.

We negotiated attendance at one evening concert.  The tiny cobbled square was pinpricked by candles; we perched on rickety old chairs and tried not to cry or clap too loudly.  The bots muttered 'Hi' as they ran past at the end. It took three hours to drive back to the hotel.

The next morning, we cancelled the tightly-packed schedule of reservations we'd made.  We didn't see a single masterly brushstroke.  Not a solitary marble rump.  Not a shaving of truffle passed our lips.  Instead, we spent the entire week reading by the deserted swimming pool. Giddy with solitude and  freedom, we played Marco Polo, pushed each other in and did cannonballs. I did yoga and fell over a bit.  Edward found an old wooden ladder and scrumped white peaches and tiny pears from the orchard.

How really, really embarrassing.

A gate to make good friends

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

"McKenzie, sit! Stay! Roll over! A--a--and have a biscuit! Good dog.
Who comes here through the snow?
Lucy in a bikini and Jim with a bleeding nose. "

There is a towpath near my house that runs for four miles to our main town; on one side, the creek and the other woods and fields.  When my dog was a puppy, I took her to the fields and completely failed to train her.  Watching her dopey pink grin bounce joyously through long grass, in the complete opposite direction to the ball, is a highlight of every day.

I had long been aware of the unlikely friendships that grow between dog owners.  Also of the horrible rivalries, jealousies and feuds.  But that's a story better told by this talented tale weaver. Anyway, I was welcomed by this new family and Lucia and I expanded our little group of friends.

Joan walks McKenzie, an immaculately clipped Westie.  She carries treats for all the dogs, makes them sit to attention and put up paws and generally elicits the sort of command-and-control that has ever eluded me. She walks briskly, and is aways appropriately dressed.  Sometimes, I stand in my flip-flops in dripping rain beside her watching my dog, who will do absolutely anything for food and a tickle (it is beneath you to comment on this), sit ramrod straight and feel a little uncharitable.  She is also convinced my name is Lucy and says, between titchy biscuits and one-word commands, "Lucy and Lucia, what a funny pair."  After three years, I have lost the will to correct her.

Jim's scowl is etched through to his soul.  I like him enormously, he is a proper old curmudgeon  Not a twinkly-underneath-Bill-Nighy-via-Richard-Curtis crosspatch.  No, he really is the proper thing. He refers to everyone, men and women alike, as 'bastards.'  Last Christmas he told me that he loathes his sponging family and planned to get blind drunk for three days to blot them out.  He swears like a trooper and his half-blind Collie hates all the other dogs.  Lucia's hackles go up and she slinks warily by. He has trained his dog to run in the bushes rather than on the path to stop her attacking them, and he shouts 'You mad bitch, bugger off into the bushes, NOW.'  I amuse myself hugely by shouting "Oops, sorry" and leaping sideways when I hear him. After two years, I was rewarded by a solitary barking laugh.  It made my day.

Bill, the Labrador walker, is stocky and bow-legged and has spent his life sailing.  His dog is grey-muzzled and stays close to the sweet old sou'wester'd man.  We amble along, our dogs carrying stupidly long branches and he tells great tales of the sea and races lost and won.  It is another language to me and I frequently say "fabulous, what fun" as he's describing a maritime fiasco.

When Lucia and I dashed down between showers this morning, the three of them were gathered on the path.  There was clearly trouble.  The farmer has blocked the entrances to all the fields with brush, barbed wire and great signs in red paint warning us to stay off his property. He has apparently had enough of the local kids having fires and drinking cider and riding motorbikes round at top speed.

Joan  reasonably pointed out it is his land after all.  Bill suggested we get up a petition, which he will deliver. He wondered if there should be a committee.  Jim said he was going to come back this afternoon with wire cutters and set fire to the piles of brushwood.  He said if the farmer stops him, he'll chin the bastard.  I might go and help him.

The Surrealists on Holiday

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A few lifetimes ago, I was in Falmouth, Cornwall, with several hours to kill and so found myself in a  small room, looking at some of the most extraordinary and arrestingly beautiful photographs I had ever seen.

In 2004, Anthony Penrose, son of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, discovered a cache of photographs taken on holiday in 1937; his parents had taken a house at Lambe Creek on the River Fal and invited a bunch of friends - artists, poets, some wanted by the police, others by furious fathers.  

The black and white images, some snapped, some carefully staged, were taken mainly by Roland Penrose, and heavily feature his wife, the traumatised, troubled and talented Lee Miller. At that time she was already a successful surrealist and commercial photographer, whose later images as war correspondent for Vogue were some of the most harrowing and important photographs taken during and in the aftermath of World War II, including the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau. Read this.  You will be transfixed.

It was a tiny, delightfully curated exhibition; the photos were simply mounted and I felt as though I were pottering about a sunny house, nosing at the holiday snaps of almost all my artistic and poetic heroes.

For three weeks, with Europe on the brink of war, they ate, drank, slept, quarrelled, took lovers, swam and fished in sunny creative bliss -  the Surrealist poet Paul Éluard and his wife Nusch, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, Henry Moore and Eduard Mesens all turned up at some point to join the poets, artists, photographers, sculptors and writers. 

They looked like they were having a ball - Lee larks happily in many of them.  In one photo she is backlit, her pale hair haloed against the sun as she hangs from an upstairs window, in another she demurely pours tea from a silver pot, dressed in dowager tweeds.  The groups laugh; wreathed in smoke, they lie across one another on deck chairs, on grassy slopes, on slumpy chintz armchairs.  Max Ernst has wrapped his head in what seems to be freshly-sheared sheep's wool and embraces Lee.  They look naughty, silly, frequently drunk, bursting with creative spirt, their love of the surreal and ridiculous evident in every shot. 

The most compelling photograph was of an open-air picnic; two topless women and three men - shocking for its time, it is the faces which intrigue me the most; expressing open joy, bashfulness, eroticism, thoughtfulness.  The rough low table bears empty plates, bottles, glasses.  There are huge cushions to lie on; the sun dapples through the woods.  It has become a well-known image, but at that time, I had never seen anything like it. My fascination and admiration for Miller, as I have learned more about over over the last decade, has mushroomed.

I have seen many exhibitions of Miller's work since.  I even attended a surreal dinner hosted by her thoughtful, charming son and featuring some of the mad dishes she created in her later years, when food became her obsession. But for me, the images mounted simply on the walls of that simple little room in Cornwall, were the sweetest and most seductive introduction to an artistic movement that I can imagine.

I'm not sure when Paul Eluard wrote the poem below, but I think it captures Lee's essence perfectly.

For the splendour of the day of happinesses in the air
To live the taste of colours easily
To enjoy loves so as to laugh
To open eyes at the final moment

She has every willingness.

there ain't no need to go outside

Monday, 24 September 2012

"Come, my babies, let us dance dance between the raindrops"
"Fek's sake, I'm covered in stud marks and I've got hypothermia, are you mad woman?"
"And I can't see the new One Direction video cos the shagging internet is bust. I wish Madonna would adopt me."

When I was a small girl, pedalling furiously about on my sturdy bike, looking for wrongs to right and injured animals to bandage, the weather was usually on my side.  Anything below a Force 9 gale warning and I would be belting outside after breakfast, free, off up trees, climbing walls, licking the satisfying blood-like taste from my palms after swinging about on rusty iron poles.  And really, in the north of England, you're pretty safe if you prefer inclement times.

But the famed Summer of '76 was a nightmare of glaring sunshine, and I was like a stray dog in a dustbowl depression-era film, mewling unhappily and slinking around to cower in the shade, unmoving.  My mother would slather us in Ambre Solaire oil, a smell that to this day spells sticky enforced displeasure.  And we would be sent out to Make The Most of It.  I hated it.  I would be winkled out from behind the curtain, re-reading the bit where Ginger dies in Black Beauty, wallowing happily in great hiccoughing sobs.

That summer was followed by emigration to the West Indies. We had sun every sodding day.  I lost the joy of hearing chilly rain splatter heavily against the window, the haunting song of blasting wind and the indescribable pleasure of uncurling your raw, scarlet claws from your bicycle handles and feeling the prickling sting as you shoved them under hot water.  But you get used to anything as a child and soon we were berry-brown and barefoot and couldn't remember log fires or twilight or slush.

It came back in spades, though, yesterday.  Lamps were on all day, I cranked up the heating, gleefully dug out my boots from the attic. The internet fizzled out, some branches came down.  Fantastic.  The bots' matches were called off half-way through and they were as navy-blue as their kit as they dripped miserably on the doorstep.  I ran hot baths, roasted chicken, lit candles, shook blankets.

They moaned like mad about the cold, the grey sky, the rain coming in under the back door.  "You love this, Mum, don't you?" they accused crossly.  They did prep, theatrically thumping about and shivering, incandescent at being cut off from Facebook, internet research into King Lear and respiratory disease.

I made gravy and moved soggy mountains of blue stuff about it the laundry room.  I made those unconvincing soothing noises that come from a place of unspeakable smugness that never again will I have to do prep or enforced team sport.  I could hardly keep the smile off my face. Today it's still slashing down.  A man is coming soon to hang great thick blackout curtains over the huge windows in Rose's room.  The second they're up, I'm taking the dog, a huge mug of tea, a loo roll and Black Beauty upstairs to road test them.

Illustration here

In heaven, where there is no depreciation

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hellair?  Lorst property? I'd jest like to report a lorst telephone.  What's thet? You've only a  gramophone and a tin of peaches?  Look again, sir! Now you're jest being silly.  Do I sound like the type of gel who'd wear size twelve brogues? What, a whole bagful of them? What unspeakable fool would throw those away?

Like many Englishmen, or perhaps it's just chaps in general, Edward doesn't see the point in getting new things when he already has a whatever-it-is that is perfectly serviceable.  On honeymoon, we stood on the dock at Fort William waiting for the ferry to Iona.  We had left London in the hottest August on record and found ourselves standing, with the worst sort of Champagne hangover, in the slate-grey stair-rod rain which usually welcomes folk to Scotland.

Edward squelched off and reappeared in a full-length Drizabone, towering above the crowds like a jackaroo in exile.  He was giddy with the thrill of purchase.  "It's an amazing coat, look these straps go round your legs for riding and if it snows it just slides off this cape thingie.  And the best thing,"  he fished about in the ridiculously huge pocket.  Out came a half-bottle of peaty, oaky Oban single malt, whose smoky scent will forever take me back to that squally day of tilting ferry and a springy heather climb, the sudden sunshine on John Smith's grave, dolly's cottages in colours to shame the ferrous skies and above all, the kind of easy rolling laughter that dances on the edge of everything when you are young and excited and let loose on a bottle of whisky at 11 am.

We moved house later that year, not in an organised fashion.  Still young and excited, I was pregnant and prone to sudden narcolepsy and memory losses.  I packed all Edward's footwear, (the shoes that had been made for him as a 21st present, brown Church's brogues for Sunday country pub walks, his smart black Loakes for tramping the Square Mile, his ancient wellies that were the only ones big enough for his feet, yards of wooly sock and acres of threadbare corduroy) in a black bin back.  The same kind that I was merrily filling with all the crap superfluous to our next house and flinging down the chute into the communal rubbish bins.  I will spare you the details of the horrific subsequent mix-up, but you may be assured that the sound of rolling easy laughter was absent for several days.

His phone dates from the last century, just.  He has tried to teach the bots to be proud of sentiment and frugality.  However, we three all have iStuff.  Edward's Nokia has sellotape keeping the battery in and never gets a signal in the pub.  It has almost a decade's worth of photos on it and every morning he clicks the noisy buttons to read the papers online in Delhi, Sydney, New York.  He says, "This is all I need, look at this, I'm reading papers across the world from bed."  The bots say "oh Dad, your phone makes us want to cry."

Last night, in a taxi after a long conference-and-drinks in London, the phone fell out of a hole which has inexplicably appeared in the Driza pocket after a solid 13 years of wear.  It was returned, hurrah for black cab drivers, to Edward, but had been sat on by a large passenger and may be beyond repair.  The bots have been online before school, squabbling about os-something and does he need a cloud.  They cannot wait to help him choose a new one.  He is inconsolable.  I've just put a bottle of Oban on the Waitrose order.

A mistake is to commit a misunderstanding

Monday, 17 September 2012

"Bloody brilliant party, Mr Floyd! And excellent nibbles, thank you.  Shit! Here comes that woman with the frightening criminal haircut.  Quick! Everyone inside and hide in the cellar. Bring the sausages with you."

In the mid-nineties, Edward and I were expats in a place I rather disliked and which was the utter opposite of the bucolic, lush, verdant English countryside in which we had courted and for which we longed.  One leave, Edward rented a fantastic thatched house for us on the Dart Estuary in South Devon.

Though far from cluttered, it was perfectly furnished with rustic, rescued treasures.  Hand-thrown mugs for our coffee, which we sipped in the bright summer mornings, watching the river bustle noisily past the end of the garden and feeling exactly like sleepy animals from Wind in the Willows.  The chairs were mismatched and perfectly comfortable in the way a chair can only become after it has borne witness to the theatre of life through a thousand bottoms.  The kitchen featured ancient freestanding cupboards filled with a charming, chipped and chic assortment of china, enamel, pottery and copper.  I fell completely in love with it and couldn't wait to entertain all our friends whom we hadn't seen in a year, and whom I had invited down from London for some fun.

None of them turned up.  I rang them from the call-box on the corner of the lane and wondered why they sounded stilted and distant.  Their excuses were insultingly crap and I felt a bit annoyed. I wandered back along a sun-dappled road past an Inn that I realised with star-struck greed was run by the garrulous and hilarious TV chef Keith Floyd.  Well, at least we would eat well this holiday.  I popped in to book a table and was met with absolute indifference.  Added to my mates dumping me and a particularly disastrous haircut I was still coming to terms with, I was pretty narked off.  Especially when Edward went off that afternoon in the car to buy logs.  In bloody August.

I remember vividly sitting in the garden reading the fabulous Island in the Sun by Alec Waugh, a haunting, salutary tale on the dangers of taking events at face value and believing you know what others are thinking.  When Edward got back, I had made Pimms and was lost on a 1950s Caribbean plantation with all its undercurrents of politics, danger and racial tension.

That night, he proposed to me, by firelight.  Of course I said yes.  The Ceylon sapphire he produced had been hidden in his sock drawer after a business trip to Sri Lanka, about which he had been uncharacteristically secretive, thus getting right on my wick for several weeks.  He had called the London chums before we few home on leave and told them in no uncertain terms not to come to Devon as he had other plans which they'd all bugger up, and not to say a word to me about it.  He'd already booked the table at Floyd's Inn, and been equally forthright with the staff, knowing I was bound to go in and spoil things by booking another table.  We went to dinner there, the food exquisite, the grumpy patron less so.  He appeared at our table, bizarrely, with a teddy bear, and told us that marriage was over-rated.

I was reminded of all this earlier this month when I listened to an old interview with the late, much-missed Keith Floyd, who said that during his time running that Inn, he'd been broke, overworked and deeply unhappy in, I think, his third marriage, his TV star on the wane as his producer had dumped him for Risk Stein and was battling bowel cancer.  I just thought he was rude.

I am sorry that, as I have done so often, I leapt effortlessly to a quite erroneous conclusion.  I suspect it won't be the last time though.

They think warm days will never cease

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Blackberry picking in Cumbria in the 1970s was an endurance sport.  The cliffs from which we harvested once held a Roman amphitheatre; occasionally, your welly would encounter the russet stone remains of something ancient and you could follow the curved line of centurion's seating through the huge ancient thorns.  If you slipped, there would be a split second to decide between saving yourself from slithering down spiky perilous falls or saving your precious berries.  If they fell, black beauty winking heartbreakingly in the gorse and coarse grass, the Northern Socialist would be unsympathetic.  "Aye.  Bad luck.  Start again."

The sun would always be out, lighting up the usually murky Solway Firth, and the bucket would fill with a satisfying blue-black heft.  I loved it, though of course we kids moaned like mad.  I loved the tiny thorns that would catch in my ink-stained fingers; the thrill of silently finding a great cache of huge fat blackberries hidden from view and quickly, greedily eating the biggest one of all in an act of breathtaking defiance.  I loved the depths of sweetness that would explode with mellow lusciousness; the shock of the occasional badly-judged blackberry which puckered the mouth and sent me quickly into the damp depths of the bucket for another to take away the taste.

We would come home that week to a saccharine fug in the kitchen; the huge old windows running with condensation; the battered jam pan rattling fiercely, hissing clouds of sugary steam; glossy amethyst smears on cold saucers.  Blackberry jam is my Proust's madeleine - one lick of the knife and I am eight years old again, devouring slightly burnt toast with a slab of cold butter and a seed-flecked puddle of complete heaven.

When we moved our little family out of London eleven years ago this week, I went first, staying with my parents in their mad old house.  Edward stayed on to downsize our conference company from over twenty down to four, and supervise the house and office moves.  I put Rose into nursery school and went with my parents and Freddie up the downs to pick blackberries and fight the feelings stirred up by my little girl's first big steps.

I sobbed silently a little bit, stealing comforting sun-warmed handfuls of perfectly ripe blackberries; the absolute silence we have up the downs throbbing a little in my ears.  My Ma and I picked and talked about the stoicism we need in the face of motherhood.  The NS had stayed in the car to listen to the lunchtime news and when we climbed back in, eyes red and mouths and fingers stained magenta, he told us how the world had changed in a very new and final way.

Even watching the news, as we all did, all over the world, over and over, that strange and awful day, it didn't make sense. One of our competitors lost 16 employees and 65 delegates, doing exactly what we did every day.  And yet, I had to get Rose from nursery school and shrink my world to match her life and somehow, we all stumbled through, as did everyone else - the heroic, the brave and the terrified alike and here we are, eleven years later.  I sometimes think of the girls I knew who had never become mothers, whose lives had ended in sudden nothingness on that sunny New York day eleven years ago.

I have just been up the downs with an old colleague, who has become a dearly loved friend. Our girls are teenagers now and are taking even bigger steps. We need the same maternal stoicism as we did for the first ones.  I craved the comfort of toast and blackberry jam; we unpacked buckets and dogs from the car.

But the brambles have all been cleared so ramblers can see the sea.  I don't understand the role of pectin, and anyway, the bots hate blackberries.  We walked for miles instead, under a bright azure sky, watching the buzzards hover and the sun dazzling on the sea.  We followed the curve of the downs, emerald patchwork fields falling away below us, fat highland cattle watching lazily through silly long fringes.  We talked about being mothers.  We cried a little bit but we laughed a lot more. It was just as good as jam and toast.

A soul controlled by geography

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"My dear young ladies, what a pleasure! Do come in and meet these delightful young men in search of wives.  This is Captian Johns, hasn't seen a woman since 1837, don't get downwind of him.  Reginald Blenkinsop is a keen tennis player and renowned Sodomite.  Hattie and Gertrude hate your guts already, you pretty little things.  And I'm usually pissed as a rat by 11am and likely to try unspeakable things at garden parties.  Tea?"

The day the Olympics started, we had a gluten-intolerant little friend to stay.  This pleased me on two counts - the bots and Edward would have someone to host and would therefore be less likely to notice that I had wiggled out of watching the Opening Ceremony; and if they did, it would be on the grounds that I was stuck in the kitchen making a gluten-free cake.  With Xanthan gum.  And Xanax.  And spelt flour and carob and chia seeds and Pritt Stick.  So I had an excellent excuse to miss it.

Old chums here will attest that I am far from sporty.  Also, and I am not proud of this, I could only too well imagine the mimsy little apologetic 'show' we would be inflicting on the rest of the world.  A bit of bad hip-hop to show how street and multicultural we are, some cliched old cock-and-bull all-inclusive watered-down inoffensive bollocks that would leave me yawning or apoplectic.

So when they all shouted excitedly at 7pm that it was starting, I enthusiastically yelled back that I would be through in a tick - fingers, covered in gluten-free stickiness, firmly crossed.  But they did a sort of Olympian intervention on me and I found myself standing, apron-ed and floury, in front of the most amazing sight I have seen in years.  Dark satanic mills, Windrush, Brunel, Poppins, Great Ormond Street and a little ordinary street.  I was utterly transfixed and to my profound astonishment, felt, for the first time in my globetrotting citizen-of-the-world life, extraordinarily proud to be British.

Thus it was with a slightly altered mind-set that I began reading The Fishing Fleet, a fascinating account of the women who have left these shores for India over the past couple of hundred years, to seek British husbands in far-flung corners of the Raj.

First the East India Company paid them £300 a year (a fortune in the 1700s) to travel to India, sight unseen and marry a British bachelor.  Then, as the word spread, and many marriage-age women were staring down the twin barrels of governessing or pitied spinsterhood, the women's fathers paid a 'bond' of £200 to get their daughters married off.

The politics of being sold (whether your pimp be the EIC or your own father) aside, this is a fascinating read.  Anne de Courcy is a cracking chronicler of women's lives in days gone by, and there are gems on every page - the empty cabin filled with your own furniture, the spectacularly mad dressing-up-and-games to pass the long voyages, the astonishing amounts of booze they sank and the squirming awfulness of the cattle market when they arrived.  There are funny, touching and downright tragic stories of the ladies of the fishing fleet, and Ms de Courcy has had very special access to original letters and photos which make this book a nosy parker's delight.  There are shocking bits of racism and snobbery too, even in historical context.

Jingoism and xenophobia are the shameful cousins of patriotism and I wonder sometimes if we British really know what to feel about our national inheritance.  A few short weeks ago, with teary eyes and dough atrophying in webs between my fingers, I know exactly how I felt and it was lovely.  In the morning, I bought a gluten-free chocolate cake from Waitrose.  I don't think anyone cared.

the wave that has passed by, be recalled

Monday, 10 September 2012

"Are you coming in, Ethel or what?"
"Doubt it, think I'll just dither about on the step attention-seeking and threatening to faint until you all lose patience and pelt me with whelks."

Over the summer, we spent a happy annual week with family in Wales near a tiny seaside town, where the nearest neighbours are sheep farmers with tough, freckled, big-hearted lads about Freddie's age, who are initiating all the cousins in the dark art of jetty jumping.

The trick is to time the jumping for when the tide is out and the leap is stomach-droppingly high.  Later on, the tide comes in and the ancient bell below the pier tolls sonorously, announcing time for the small fry and tourist kids in new wetsuits.  The coolest kids jump in ancient board shorts, flipping, diving, pretending to fall.  Rose and her cousin Annabel have been jumping with the local toughs for a few years now; Freddie has always point-blank refused.  Even the high-tide soft-kids-from-London jumps were met with his bare feet planted firmly against the wooden pier edge.

Each day, he would announce over breakfast that he was going in this time, get kitted up, come down to the jetty and greet everyone, and then decide he didn't want to jump after all.  He'd then spend an hour being preached at, hassled, counselled and cheered on by the lads, sister, cousins, assorted aunts and uncles, locals and total strangers.  He would get thumbs-up in the evening queueing for hot chocolate 'hey, Freddie, did you go in? Never mind, bet you jump tomorrow.' Each evening, he'd listen to the girls' tall tales, see their matted-sea-hair, runny noses and huge grins, and swear blind that, next day, he'd jump.

Edward and I hung about cajoling, bribing, getting the camera out, putting it away again, spending fortunes on flotation devices, goggles and hot chocolate. By the end of the week, neither of us could handle the pathos of the towel-wrapped figure shivering and peering white-faced over the edge for another second, and decided to pursue land-based activities that would leave us all less traumatised.

On the second-last day, a cousin came to relieve me of lifeguard duty so I could take Freddie to the honey ice-cream factory for pride-salving cones.  She raised an eyebrow, I shook my head, we sighed and I turned to gather the towels, shoes and resolutely dry boy.  A huge cheer went up, followed by a splash and more cheering and clapping.  Freddie had jumped in and I had bloody well missed it.  He appeared a minute or two later covered in saltwater, snot and triumph.

'Come on then,' he said, grabbing his towel and marching off down the pier.

'Is that it?  Don't you want to hang out with the lads? Can I get a video of you jumping?'

'Nope.  I told you I didn't want to because I wouldn't like it, I did it and it was just as horrible as I thought. So now can we go and get honey ice-cream and can everyone stop going on about it.  I won't be doing it again, I knew I'd hate it and I did.'

I'm not going to labour the point here, but 1. I'm back and 2. some of you might just end up taking me for honey ice-cream.  You know who you are.