I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Taking the Plunge

wild-swimming-bubble

2017 is going well, despite the shakey start. My year began with some impressive stealth puking as I tried to hide my hideous hogmanay hangover from the family. I nearly got away with it but was overheard on FaceTime to my sister gloating about the skill involved in silent vomiting.

Fortunately the day wasn’t wasted as I was forced to get my shit together for a New Year’s Day loony dook in the sea with some pals. Knowing it would be kill or cure, I hugged the dog extra tightly and scribbled a brief “I love you there’s bread in the freezer the freezer is down stairs tell the girls not to ever waste their time watching Lost, Love Actually or the second Sex and the City movie.” note, as a precautionary, posthumous measure.

Fortunately, diving head first into the sea when the air temperature is barely above freezing, did actually cure me and I immediately felt human again and ready for anything. But mostly steak pie and mash.

I should fess up that this wasn’t an isolated incident (as in the loony dooking, it should come as no surprise that I’m renowned for spewing after 3 or 4 proseccos) and I’ve actually been regularly swimming in the sea since early December. Lunacy being the only required qualification, I got involved in this bonkers activity after offering to join a pal who was wild swimming for charity.

I looked forward to the first time less than my Caesarean sections but was pleasantly surprised when I came out alive and positively high on life. (Not dissimilar to my c-sects although I suspect that was the tramadol).”I’VE BEEN IN THE SEA”, I manically shrieked at random pensioners in Tesco. “YOU MUST TRY THIS”, I yelled millimetres from the terrified faces of my poor friends. “I STILL CAN’T FEEL MY FEET”, I confessed to my husband later that day. But I was desperate to do it again and even managed to persuade a few others to take the plunge.

Like-minded loonies

Like-minded loonies

We are now a proper group who meet at least twice a week to strip off and splash about with the seals at sunrise. I have become one of those people who wax lyrical about the health benefits of cold-water swimming and wear Birkenstocks (not yet, but it’s a slippery slope). There is just something utterly fabulous about gliding along the bay, watching the sun come up and the seals coming closer. According to research, it’s a great stress-buster, boosts your immune system, improves longevity and burns lots of calories. There’s also a lot to be said for screaming “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK”, in harmony, whilst submerging oneself in the sea in Scotland in January. Best of all it’s free, gets me away from the squabbling kids for half and hour and puts me in such a good mood I am nice to everyone for at least an hour afterwards.

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Happy Holidays, Celebrity Guests and Big Pants

A minute ago I was dreading the thought of seven weeks of school holidays and now it’s all over; they’ve been back for weeks, and  we are well into bramble season.

Once again my Instagram account betrays the truth and implies we had a scorching hot summer spent mostly at the beach. I do maintain it wasn’t as bad as the whingers are making out though – the temperatures at least made it to double figures this year and I have visible flip flop marks on both feet.

pizza-hut

We managed to grab a week away from castle chaos but were forced out of our Tiree comfort zone due to lack of available accommodation. Instead, we ensconced ourselves in a luxurious log cabin in the highlands, which compensated for being no where near a beach by being relatively close to an actual city (Inverness).  They also had free irn bru on tap and as as many tunnocks tea cakes as you could scoff (quite a lot as it turns out).  Highlights of the week included soft play, a pool with flumes and a multiplex cinema.  The kids experienced Pizza Hut for the first time and were more excited in Pets at Home than they had been at Edinburgh Zoo. I was denied a trip to 24 hour Asda but the excitement might have been too much – there was a high chance of me popping in for school uniforms and coming out with some nested coffee tables, a steam mop and a trampoline.

Safely back in our commercial dead-zone in Kintyre, the remaining 6 weeks flew by. I loved the lack of routine and with no school run in the morning, my blood pressure plummeted and I practically stopped swearing altogether. (Notwithstanding an audible “FUCK YOU” to the Aga, following a nasty finger burn. This was immediately copied by the youngest of course).

fuck you

Other memorable moments included a visit from internationally renowned adventure cyclist, Mark Beaumont who we had the pleasure of hosting with his film crew during a promotional extreme sport challenge around Argyll. When my husband first told me this might be a possibility, his boy-like excitement was met with an indignant, ‘WHO???’, from me. This was swiftly remedied by a quick Google session during which I learned all about his amazing cycling tours round the world and from Cape Town to Cairo among other incredible* challenges.

He is a very impressive man (particularly when emerging from our downstairs loo in tight Lycra**) but extremely humble and down to earth. His wife was lovely too and we all took turns in holding their tiny baby while intense planning sessions were happening over breakfast. The final footage (#wildaboutargyll) may or may not feature our grumpy 4 year old who refused to move off the front step and our keen eldest who attempted to catch up with Mark on her Disney princess two wheeler as he sped through the arch.

fortyfucking2

There is no point in denying it.

Spending time gawping at a real live athlete had a positive effect on me and I decided to start jogging again. I’d reluctantly started working through the ‘couch to 5k‘ app back in May, following my 42nd birthday and a very unsubtle gift from my mother. She’d disappeared upstairs to rummage in her present bag, leaving me to imagine all sorts of wonderful gift possibilities from her many recent travels with dad (South Africa, Australia, New York, Liverpool…). Picture my face when I opened the M&S outlet store bag thrust into my waiting hands, only to pull out a pair of giant support knickers that made Bridget Jones’ substantial undies look like g-strings. “They’re very practical”, she shrilled. Indeed, but I have contraception covered, thanks mum. Anyway, it did get me running, briefly. I didn’t quite get to 5k – more like couch to garden bench but this time I’m more determined than ever.

Ignoring sarcastic remarks from my husband about weak bridges and pot holes, I’m now running (plodding) a reasonable 5k around the estate and I’ve been deemed “very fit” by our practice nurse who took my blood pressure recently. Since we are about to go into gin production, this will likely all go to shit but I am enjoying the label while it lasts. Also, those pants are actually amazing and make a multitude of spare tyres disappear. Cheers mum, I take it all back.

*Utterly bonkers

** I did swither about a photo but thought that might be deemed inappropriate

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Loss

Beloved Bubba Beard

Beloved Bubba Beard

Late night phone calls rarely convey good news and sadly we have received two devastating ones recently. The first was my mother-in-law informing us that my father-in-law had passed away peacefully in hospital. We had been with him all day so were expecting the call but it was still a dreadful shock to hear the words.  He had been stoically battling cancer for nearly three years but in the end his passing seemed so quick. We really thought he had longer.

It still doesn’t seem real that he’s gone and that we won’t see that mischievous smile through his silvery beard ever again. He was a wonderful man, full of humour and for all his ‘Laird of the Castle’ status, he was utterly down to earth and humble.  I was fairly terrified before I met him for the first time, not having had much experience with castle owners. I think I was picturing a terribly austere gentleman, posh and intimidating, especially when he emerged from the castle in a kilt,  but the reality couldn’t have been more different.  He was warm and welcoming and chuckled away at me and my husband’s insulting banter over lunch.

Throughout the past three years, since we made the move and took over the estate, he was a rock of support and took quiet pride in all we have achieved. (I say ‘we’, of course I mean my husband. He has now added a hydro scheme to his long list of achievements whilst I am incinerating things daily in the Aga again and regularly fucking up the washing machine*).

It was a joy to witness his relationship with the children. They adored their Bubba Beard**, and he them.  I’m not sure how much they understand about death and grief but I do know that they miss him terribly. We often visit the graveyard where he was buried. It’s on the estate and a short walk down the hill from the castle.  They love dancing among the daffodils and picking some for Bubba. Sometimes there are questions, “why do people die mummy?”, “why are some people baked***?”, “Can I be a mermaid when I grow up?”, all of which I try to answer honestly. I don’t believe in sugar coating the truth – “No you can’t be a bloody mermaid when you grow up – along with Santa and the tooth fairy, they don’t exist.”

Grieving space

The second heart-wrenching call came two weeks to the day after my father-in-law’s funeral.  This time it was a tragedy in my family and one which we are all struggling to come to terms with. My cousin’s 26 year old ski-instructor son had a fall whilst teaching a class in France and suffered a fatal head injury. A month on and it’s still hard to believe this has happened. He was so full of energy and passion and was truly living his dream. There is no doubt he inspired others – tributes have poured in from all over the world. He was such a big-hearted, exuberant guy and through my sadness, it is impossible not to smile at his memory. We shared many, many laughs over the years. He would always tease me about not having a proper job – I was an art student then temped for several years before finally completing a masters and starting a career far too late in life, which was then rudely interrupted by getting married and relocating to a castle in the arse-end of nowhere. We also shared the rare achievement of  having pulled a fast one on my granny (his great-granny), in a cunning rouse involving an unfinished portion of mince and tatties.

We are broken. This is new and awful and unfathomable. My husband’s pain is palpable and I can’t even begin to imagine what my cousin and her family are going through.  I have attempted to deal with my own grief with lots of solitary wailing in the car and slow trudges up and down the beach, bawling into the wind at bemused seals. It helps, momentarily. Life has continued of course, as it must, just with slightly heavier hearts and longer pauses now and then as we learn to rely on our memories of these two remarkable, and very much loved men. Both gone way too soon, one inexplicably so. Life suddenly seems so much more precious and way too short to get upset about broken washing machines or burnt bacon. Which is just as well.

*Hotpoint Steve, our local engineer is now so fed up with being called out to the castle, he’s trained my husband how to fix the wretched machine. So far he’s retrieved a shopping trolley token, £3.25 in loose change, Princess Twighlight Sparkle’s left shoe, Mike Wasowski from Monsters Ink (mini figure), several rusted hair clips and a foam letter M.

**so named to distinguish him from their other beloved grandpa, Bubba Mike

***cremated. My bad.

 

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Damp

Fuck off January

I hate you January

January was rubbish. It rained so much I thought I might have to bring the animals in two-by-two, before I remembered  all the chickens died (natural causes, honest*) so there’s really just the dog. Oh, and the feral kids. At least there are two of those.

You know its a bad month when the most uplifting occasion is a funeral. My aunt passed away peacefully and surrounded by love, on New Year’s Day after a tragic battle with dementia. Her funeral was beautiful, life affirming and inspiring. My cousin’s husband summed her up wonderfully in a poem entitled, “Quietly Remarkable” and left me wondering if I might have time to learn new skills like Aunty Judy constantly did. I think silversmithing, stained glass, stone carving, needle point and building schools in impoverished African countries (seriously, this woman was amazing) are perhaps a bit beyond me but I might at least learn a new crochet stitch.

Three solid weeks of relentless downpours nearly broke me.  A significant low point was being woken in the small hours to a gentle pitter-patter sound, not of feet (which is common) but of bloody raindrops. Inside. Our bedroom.

 

My new pyjamas

We fixed the situation temporarily with towels and have now grown quite accustomed to the sound, much the same as one does with traffic sounds in a city. Its almost soothing.

 

Proud

There were some high points. Weirdly, I thoroughly enjoyed my six-year old’s birthday party especially as I learned from previous disasters and outsourced the cake. That afforded me more time to magically transform a bog-standard piñata into a fire-breathing dragon to fit the ‘Knights and Princesses’ theme that was demanded at the last minute.  I could barely watch as the kids took turns at bashing the bejeezus out of my work of art but it held fast and refused to break. Things were about to get ugly as frustrations grew but the day was saved by my mate’s husband who is also our friendly local policeman. He whipped out his retractable baton, wielded it like Zorro and severed the beast cleanly in two. I wept silent tears over my artistry while the wee shites scrambled around for the chocolate coins** that spilled from it’s cardboard belly.

PrincessCastleCake

Outsourcing. Where have you been all my life?

Luckily I had the foresight not to even entertain the idea of Dry January*** (I couldn’t deal with the irony) and was able to numb the pain of indoor puddles, wet dogs, David Bowie, damp logs and dear old Terry Wogan with plenty sauv blanc, cheap cider and malt whisky.

Sláinte.

 

*Their days had been numbered since the wee bastards had stopped laying but fortunately mother nature stepped and kindly dealt with Steve, Daphne, Velma and Scooby.  The fireworks on bonfire night finished off poor old Bunty.

**50p a bag, post-Christmas. Winning.

***a ridiculous fad in which participants avoid any kind of alcohol for 31 whole days.

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Festive Cheer

It’s taken a while for me to get into the festive spirit this year,  even though we are well into advent and for weeks Facebook has been awash with Christmas trees and pissed-off babies in elf suits. There is also another phenomenon that has crept into the nation’s consciousness which I believe has contributed to my festive malaise. ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is the latest costly Christmas extra I intend to ignore. (Last year it was Christmas Eve boxes which involves buying EVEN MORE PRESENTS. Wtf???).  I believe it was based on a book but you can now fork out £25 for an entire kit, complete with creepy elf doll that looks like the love child of the Child Catcher and Bride of Chucky. Already stressed-out parents must think of nightly tomfuckery for the sinister little chap to indulge in then photograph the result to splash all over social media. No thanks. I’m far to busy trying to finish off shoddily made homemade gifts.

Elf on the twatting shelf

Not in my name

In an attempt to get myself in the mood (and also out of the nightmarish bathtime/bedtime routine) I volunteered to help decorate the village hall with some of the committee members. Following a stern lecture from caretaker Philip, about the potential damage caused by sellotape and staple guns, we set to work with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. An hour later, after some impressive precarious ladder maneuvers by an elderly member of the team,  it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and very nearly an episode of Casualty.

IMG_8243

Derek was heavily influenced by Edith’s exceptionally large baubles

The castle remained a tinsel free zone for a few more weeks but I ramped up the festive blackmail and wielded my power over the kids like a crazed despot, emphatically cancelling Santa for the smallest misdemeanor. I love this temporary influence and have succeeded in correcting all manner of irritating behavior.  They now wear socks willingly, without the daily tantrums, that have been known to culminate in me throwing their shoes at the portrait of great, great granny on the stairs. They also now go to the toilet unaccompanied once again, following a couple of bat incidents in the downstairs loo, which for some reason put them off going alone. Obviously it will all go to shit again in January when I have nothing left to bargain with but I am enjoying the extra minutes in my day now I’m not trudging to the toilet one hundred times. Great, great granny looks quite relieved too.

At last feeling a bit more festive (helped by the obligatory Christmas pud session) I cajoled the kids, and miraculously, my husband, into joining me for the Christingle service at our little church.  This was a big hit last year and I’m determined that it becomes a family tradition. The kids were surprisingly well behaved and sat patiently with their oranges, sweets and cocktail sticks, waiting for the prompt from Rev. Steve.  Our youngest treated everyone to a tuneful rendition of Jingle Bells during a prayer but no one seemed to mind. Even my husband lasted the 45 minutes without getting too restless. He’s still recovering from the 90 minute ecumenical marathon that was my sisters wedding so I was particularly proud of him, although he did scoff his dolly mixtures before the service even started.

Merry Christmas

I decided to go for an ironic strapline this year

At last, with less than a week to go, I am fully on board with the festivities and the tree is up, looking splendidly camp in the hall.  All our cards have all been delivered and raised a wee chuckle – apart from my mother who didn’t recognise her own grandchildren. It’s always an epic task and every year I vow never to attempt it again but we have quite a collection now and it would be a shame to stop exploiting the kids. Writing 175 of them was a marathon which I accompanied with a bottle of rioja and several episodes of Homeland. I shudder to think about the gibberish I must have written and am half expecting some concerned phone-calls regarding my mental health.

The end is in sight and I’m limbering up to violate my turkey with whatever comes to hand before praying to the God that is Mary Berry that it will emerge from the Aga in an edible format.

Merry Christmas one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh Happy Day!

We’re going to need a bigger aisle…

I am still in a state of utter elation after my sister’s amazing wedding last weekend.  Not just because it was fairytale wonderful, but also due to the fact that the kids managed to go a whole day without a major meltdown or a minor injury.

It was always going to be an epic affair – the gorgeous couple took a while to find each other so have both accumulated many friends and a good few more relations over the years. I did think Aunty Mary slightly exaggerated when she shrieked, “it’s bigger than Ben Hur!!”, on the morning before, though. (There were no chariots for one thing). 

The enormity of the occasion really struck me at the rehearsal when I walked into the church and nearly burst into tears. It looked amazing, bedecked with stunning floral pedestals, all carefully selected by the groom  as my lovely sister doesn’t know her daffs from her dahlias.

Rev. Vanessa took charge

We were all handed a hefty pamphlet by the grumpy head usher (my husband) which turned out to be the Order of Service and the next two hours were spent in a shambolic muddle as we practised walking down the aisle (six times), the vows (it got VERY emotional) and where we should all be standing and when (it was like herding cats). It was all too much for my eldest who refused to come out of her pew, emphatically stating that she no longer wanted to be a flower girl.  There was also a heart-stopping moment when my two year old niece decided to explore the pulpit and ended up teetering on the edge of a high drop, with nothing to break her fall but some lethal looking candelabra. Luckily we were in the right place for divine intervention and she tottered down, unharmed, allowing us to continue with the pantomime, I mean wedding rehearsal.

The rehearsal did not go well

Hiding my concern from the worried bride, I reassured her that it would all come together on the day, everyone would miraculously know what to do and when and there would be no near-misses with toddlers and altar candles.  I almost managed to convince myself.

As is ALWAYS the case, my technique of fearing the worst (which I learned from my dad) resulted in a perfect day from beginning to end which we are all still smiling about. Amazingly, all four flower girls sat through the hour and a half long service without so much as a whimper. All the thanks go to the groom’s lovely sister in the pew behind, who plucked a never-ending supply of distractions from her magical handbag, including several Sylvannian Families, sticker books and some finger puppets. My own contribution was a klip-it tub of M&Ms, which in hindsight was a huge mistake. Not only did they rattle loudly as my youngest tried to prise them from my grip during a lengthy prayer, but then the lid sprang off, scattering the brightly coloured candy all over the tiles, just before communion. Luckily Father Jock politely ignored the discordant sound of crunching underfoot as the congregation made their way up for the holy sacrament. The girls were intrigued by this ritual and demanded to be given the ‘sweeties’ as well. I tried to explain that it was actually the body of Christ but was met with a rather incredulous shriek of, “WHY ARE THEY EATING JESUS????”.

It was very nearly perfect

It’s hard to choose a favourite moment of the day as it really was all so fabulous. My gorgeous sister looked amazing in her stunning dress and shone the whole day.  My dad looked so proud as he walked her down the aisle in his morning suit. More often sporting high-vis gear or a boiler suit, he very nearly upstaged the bride.  My mum eschewed mother-of-the-bride pastels and turned heads in stunning black and cerise. She looked amazing as always, but no occasion is so glamorous that my mum won’t get down on her hands and knees and clean the heels of ladies shoes after they’d been standing on the grass. I lost count of how many times I heard the words, “ I love your mum and dad!”, during the day. They are totally amazing and I will never moan about excess baggage or pineapples again.

Maids of Dishonour

My younger sister and I tried our very best but were too pre-occupied with little ones to be any real use as chief bridesmaids. That mantel was happily passed to the groom’s sister who, as previously stated, saved the day again and again. She very nearly missed her brother’s vows as she gallantly changed my niece’s nappy after she’d made her own special offering behind the pulpit.  We redeemed ourselves slightly during the band break when we delivered our heart-felt speech to our beloved big sister. It was a miracle we pulled that off due to transatlantic distance and zero rehearsal time but we got plenty of laughs and I celebrated with glass after glass after bottomless glass of Prossecco.

It was fairly devastating to say goodbye to everyone the following day (having successfully masked a monster hangover) and it hasn’t really sunk in that my sister is moving cities when she returns from her lengthy honeymoon (FOUR WEEKS!!), but the memories of the wedding will see me through any come-down blues and it’s impossible not to be over the moon that these two fabulous people have found each other.  There is also much to look forward to at home and we are well into my favourite season of the year. Not long until Halloween, the bonfire night pyre is well under construction and I’ve even started my Christmas shopping. Happy, happy days.

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Retail Therapy*

*Therapy was required afterwards, just to clarify.

With just under three months to go until my sister’s wedding, the bride and I decided it was time to face the inevitable and take the kids to Edinburgh for a day of dress shopping. They are two of four flower girls, forming part of the eight-person entourage which will accompany my sister down the aisle. This merry tribe spans four decades and also comprises myself, my younger sister, her eldest (who, at two, is the youngest), my cousin’s fifteen year old daughter and the groom’s two nieces (six and sixteen).  I’m so impressed that my low-key, down-to-earth, doesn’t-like-a-fuss sister is having more bridesmaids than Lady Di and K-Middy (a meagre five each).

Loads of Bridesmaids

Artist’s impression

We naively thought that kitting out the wee ones would easy-peasy but this proved not to be the case as we emerged from the seventh shop empty handed, emotionally battered and covered in chocolate (the kids – I tried to placate them with penguin biscuits). There was simply sod-all the way of choice – they only tried on two dresses, neither of which were quite right.  An assistant in one shop helpfully explained that all their wedding stock was located in their Glasgow store. I resisted the urge to seize her by the lapels and scream, “for the love of God, WHY?????”, and gave her a withering look instead, as we shuffled round the revolving door to face the next disappointment.

The novelty of being in a city quickly wore off for my feral waifs so we decided to quit while we were way behind and handed them over to our cousin for the afternoon. We had a much more gruelling challenge ahead – underwear shopping with our mum.

Construction workers

Work commences on my new bra

As both of our dresses are strapless (although I may wimp out and add some), we require a significant framework of support underneath to shore-up our not-insignificant assets. Whilst my well-endowed but amazingly pert big sister could probably still pass the pencil test and get away with something subtle and stick-on, I can hold the TV remote control, a pepper grinder and the Sunday supplement under my saggy fun-bags (although not all at the same time) so require something slightly more solid. With mum standing by with a helpful running commentary, (“I can’t stand naked brides!”, “Should you be strapless at your age???”, “Have you ever used an avocado hugger??”**), we were mauled and groped by the lovely Jeanette in House of Fraser, Princes St (I’ve had less intrusive smear tests…) until three items of concrete underwear were successfully purchased. (Mum took pity on the pathetic, greying, threadbare bra I had arrived in and bought me a new one, which accidentally cost almost as much as my sister’s wedding dress. She’s still talking about it.)

In numb shock from the humiliation, my big sis and I made our way to the ground floor to wait for mum whilst she negotiated the first of many loo stops. We started to get worried twenty minutes later when, having completed three laps of the perfume counters, she still hadn’t reappeared. Mum at large in a department store is a dangerous thing – it’s not been unheard of for her to pop in for a pair of tights and emerge with a food processor, (“it was very reasonable”).  Sure enough, she eventually appeared at the top of the escalator clutching a heavy package which turned out to be 2 sets of luxury 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  “They were a BARGAIN” she shrilled, whilst subtly hinting that her arms were about to drop off from carrying them down from the top floor.

Taking it in turns to lug the world’s heaviest bed linen across town, we headed to Jenners, that ancient bastion of Princes St which we hoped would be filled with gorgeous flower girl dresses that didn’t cost a million pounds. Entering through a secret back door which only my mother seemed to know about, we quickly found ourselves utterly lost in Menswear, en route to our first, critical port of call – the loos. A sign beside a lift informed us that the toilets were located on the 4th floor but said lift inexplicably only travelled to the 2nd floor and spat us out nowhere near the correct staircase that led our destination. After roaming despondently through Formal Ladieswear, stopping briefly to try on ill-fitting garments, we chanced upon another lift which a cheerful assistant informed us would have taken us to the 4th floor had it not been out-of-order. The loo situation becoming desperate, we dragged our tired and aching bodies (AND mum’s sodding sheets) up the final four flights of stairs, praying that mum’s demands for a defibrillator were merely for effect.

Kathy Bates, Misery

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘THE LIFT IS BROKEN???'”

Suitably relieved (in the nick of time), we continued our journey to Children’s Wear. This involved several more fruitless lift journeys and at one point we found ourselves in a creepy basement which seemed to echo with the despondent wails of previous lost shoppers. That turned out to be my sister who was slowly losing the will to live and was coming close to calling off the wedding and eloping.  Needless to say, when we eventually found the kids department there was bugger all choice and even that had a price tag of over £200.  We consoled ourselves over piss-weak, lukewarm tea and a dry scone in Jenners cafe (naturally located on the fucking 5th floor) and bonded over our nightmarish experience, vowing to never cross that shop’s threshold again.

I’ve never been so relieved to return to our retail-void in the arse-end of nowhere where frankly, if the Factory Shop doesn’t stock it, you probably don’t need it.

**Don’t even ask

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Hebridean Hideaway

I am back in my happy place (i.e. away from my ironing pile). We are on our annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Tiree for a whole week of spending lots of time together in close quarters. So far so almost relaxing.

The journey to get here borders on the off-putting as it involves a 3.30am wake-up, a two hour twisty drive and a four hour ferry trip. Our hopes that the kids will sleep in the car on the way are always dashed and the little darlings manage to summon vast amounts of energy from hell-knows-where as soon as they are trapped on the ferry with limited entertainment.  I caught myself staring enviously at the parents of two pre-teen girls nearby whose sullen daughters totally ignored their mum and dad for the whole four hour sail.

Having not taken a long-haul flight since the Blair Administration, when we finally arrived I experienced the closest thing to jet lag in nearly ten years and crashed out halfway through a Good Housekeeping* article (How To Look Good in Selfies. Noted.).  The kids continued to bounce around like lunatics as they explored our (different from the previous three years) holiday house, culminating in a monstrous meltdown from the youngest who declared, “THIS HOUSE IS NOT TIREEEEEEEE”. Quite.

Appeased by giant Jenga, Nutella on white bread and 10pm bedtimes, they have settled in admirably. It also helps that my parents are also holidaying here in what must be their 33rd consecutive year (bar one**). We are on the other side of the island (5 miles away) this year but still see them everyday as mum needs her WiFi and Wimbledon fix (their cottage has remained largely untouched by modern technology in the 33 years)  while poor dad gets cajoled into playing My Little Ponies with the girls.

It’s very hard to put into words what I love about this place (because I am on holiday and cracking open the Strongbow™ at lunchtime) so here are some of the photos I have been posting on Facebook, just to piss off everyone on the mainland who are experiencing much shitter weather:

Tiree machair

Glorious machair

Ballevullin Beach, Isle of Tiree

Beachy mornings

Crochet blanket

Rainy afternoons

A swing park with a view

Play parking

Stunning Ballevullin beach, Tiree

Despite living very close to the sea, I can’t get enough of the sea.

I love that the Tiree 2015 album is almost identical  to the Tiree 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 albums but with slightly bigger and curlier-haired children in the photos. Old friends I’ve known from childhood are also holidaying here with their kids so it’s lovely to see the next generation relentlessly digging holes on the beach and frolicking in the waves.

We are nearly mid-way through the week, and already I am dreading leaving.  We have been blessed with better-than-predicted weather so have enjoyed happy mornings at the beach before retiring to the cottage for leisurely lunches followed by afternoons of blissful inactivity. Niall watches Wimbledon and deals with near-catastrophic bio-mass boiler issues back home, I crack on with my latest epic crochet project and the girls amuse themselves, twatting about pretending to be dogs or ponies or spies. It’s heavenly. Thoughts of epic laundry piles and monstrous baskets of ironing have been quelled by copious amounts of Strongbow™ and the obligatory Prossecco.  There is also still so much to do: the seals (we never make it), the north end (ditto), the pottery, the gallery, the weird shop that sells everything, run by a family that seemingly hasn’t aged for forty years (Niall thinks they are vampires), boogie boarding,  pony trekking and the annual lawn boule tournament which my mum takes Very Seriously Indeed.  I think we’ll need at least a month next year.

 

 

 

*For years I’ve been persevering with Glamour and occasionally Cosmopolitan, though they leave me feeling utterly inadequate in every way. Recently, however, I had an epiphany in the doctors waiting room whilst leafing through a Good Housekeeping. I loved reading about  Clare Balding’s style secrets,  how to detox my finances (should I ever accumulate any) and coping with empty nest syndrome (one can dream) and I have now fully accepted that I am well within their demographic. Also, I can steal my mum’s copies.

**dad took us to  Australia for six months, on sabbatical.  After much discussion, Tiree was declared too far for a holiday

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Nemesis

We are branching out into weddings this year which is a Very Exciting Development for us. The old place lends itself perfectly to small, intimate ceremonies and it’s amazing how good it looks once a few truck loads of toys have been cleared away.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4's standards.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4’s standards.

This venture has also forced us to clear out the dreaded Billiard Room which has been used for decades as a dumping ground store room for things-that-no-longer-serve-a-purpose-but-you-just-never-know-so-best-keep-it-just-in-case. We got excited a few months back when Channel Four got in touch regarding a documentary they were planning to about helping poor unfortunate castle-dwelling folk de-clutter their vast spaces. It was all looking very promising but sadly we were ultimately rejected as the room was bizarrely deemed to be not enough of a shit-hole for them.

Empty Room

It’s just screaming, ‘roller-rink’ at me.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, that room is now completely empty thanks to a sterling effort from my husband and father-in-law. I am particularly proud of the latter who after much gentle persuasion, managed to throw out a mountain of 40yr old paperwork, 3 boxes of video tapes (the kids were all like, WTF are THOSE??) and several redundant vacuum cleaner parts . The rest of the crap has been rammed into two upstairs rooms to be dealt with later, ideally by another documentary team. (Come ON Channel 4 – we’d make great telly).

I got a bit above myself at a meeting with the chef (who incidentally is also the nurse, the school bus driver, a mother of four and a farmers wife, which is a career in itself. She makes Miss Rabbit from Peppa Pig* look like Waynetta Slob.), and found myself volunteering to make a dessert for the wedding feast. I chose a Chocolate Nemesis which I vaguely recall making years ago in a previous incarnation as a cafe worker in Edinburgh.

chocolate nemesis slice

Picture stolen from internet but mine wasn’t far off this tbh.

Luckily I had the foresight to do a practice version as the helpful world wide web informed me that it, “famously never works” and was the “the ruin of a million mid-Nineties dinner parties”.

There are only 4 ingredients but you need a bloody truckload of each:

  • 675g dark chocolate
  • 10 eggs
  • 425g sugar
  • 675g butter

My practice version involved a mercy-dash to a neighbour for eggs and chucking in a bit of cheapo cooking chocolate as I’d underestimated the dark chocolate situation.

It’s pretty easy:

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water
  • Beat eggs and sugar in a 40yr old Kenwood blender, keeping an eye on 3yr old child who has a tendency to add random items to the bowl**
  • Slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs mixture and pour into a lined 27″ spring form cake tin. This sits in a Bain Marie of water.
  • Panic when you realise the top of the Aga is too hot and the bottom oven is too cool.
  • Have a “fuck it” moment and leave the bastard thing in the bottom oven all night
  • Retrieve it in the morning and, as you remove from the tin, marvel at how clever you are to produce such an amazing looking  ‘notoriously difficult’ dessert.
  • Two hours later, curse yourself for not putting the twatting thing in the fridge as it collapses in a gooey heap on the plate, and your kitchen begins to resemble that scene in Trainspotting when Spud tries to conceal a nasty accident***
  • Hurriedly scoop it into ramekins then belatedly leave in fridge to set before distributing to in-laws and neighbours
  • Collapse into sugar/cocoa coma as you realise you’ve ‘accidentally’ ingested at least half of it.

Simples. It was all alright on the night, luckily, as I remembered to do the fridge thing and plates came back satisfyingly empty.

UPDATE: Have literally just this minute retrieved another one from the Aga for today’s wedding and it’s all looking good. I think this could really become a thing. Nevermind the documentaries (that aren’t happening), get me my own cookery show.

 

 

 

 

*if you are hitherto blissfully unaware of the heinous Peppa Pig franchise, you are a lucky, lucky bastard.

**I was making a pavlova and turned my back for 30 seconds. The Kenwood started emitting a hideous clunking sound and the 3yr old was looking a tad sheepish. I retrieved a 3″ screw from my fluffy mixture.

***Don’t google it.

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Full House

Essential items for a weekend in the country

Essential items for a weekend in the country

We are bursting at the seams this weekend after the the staggered arrivals of every member of my immediate family, including the New York contingent with my brand new baby niece. I have been beside myself with excitement all week as well as stressed up to my eye balls planning meals, baking cakes and making beds. Hell, I even dusted.

There was a momentary panic mid-week when I realised I already had a 3 week old pineapple so that when my mother inevitably produced one from her selection of cool bags there would be two of the bloody things decomposing in the fruit bowl. Luckily it was a play group day so I hacked the thing to pieces, cleaned off the bloody bits (this is why I don’t buy pineapples – lethal things) and served it up to flabbergasted children who failed to hide their disgust. “WHERE ARE OUR TWATTING JAFFA CAKES????” they shrieked as we mums dodged pineapple missiles from behind our tea cups.

My parents duly arrived with enough Prossecco  to float the titanic (AND a pineapple, of course, plus seven avocados), followed a day later by my big sister, her gorgeous new fiancé and her fabulously sparkly new engagement ring that was wafted subtly in our faces at every opportunity. Tense negotiations were conducted in the drawing room regarding the wedding plans as bride and groom went head to head with the financial backers (mum and dad). Having been through this ourselves, my husband and I nervously paced the floor outside, waiting for raised voices, profanities and/or tears. Sadly there were none of the above and the date and venue were duely booked without even a mention of catastrophic landslides or fruit kebabs. (Don’t even ask.)

The U.S. faction arrived the following day and the family reunion was complete. It was wonderful to be together again and we had plenty to celebrate – the engagement, several birthdays and most importantly of all, the birth of beautiful baby Harper Hero who didn’t mind at all being passed from cooing aunties to doting granny as well as random unrelated inlaws and broody friends of mine.

This occurred

This occurred

They are ensconced in the holiday flat downstairs for a whole week which is fabulous. Lots of head-sniffing (of the baby) is occurring as well as blatant kidnapping of her older sister who loves spending time upstairs with her ‘big’ cousins. I have them all to myself as mum and dad departed earlier in the week (with the pineapple) as did my loved-up big sister, although her wedding continues to be the main topic of conversation.

After the successful negotiations with our parents, it looked as though her biggest issue would be keeping the peace between her ugly sisters as we fought over who will be chief bridesmaid. Luckily for her, after several hours in the outdoor sauna, interspersed with some ice-cold plunging, we were sufficiently bonded to call a truce and will be walking down the aisle as equals, although one will be a significantly shorter and fatter equal. My bad.

I’m trying not to focus on the tearful departure and being separated from my gorgeous nieces. It won’t be for long as the wedding of the decade will bring us back together again in a few months and in the meantime, there will be hours of Transatlantic FaceTime spent fighting over peach or purple taffeta dresses. Meringue anyone?

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