I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Emerging

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Spawnwatch: not as good as Homeland

Nothing says ‘spring’ like a bowl full of frog spawn festering on a window sill. We seized the brief spell of sunshine at the start of the week to collect this slimy treasure and lovingly recreated a pond environment for it in an antique crystal bowl. I didn’t fancy its chances left in the kitchen – too much prodding and tempting additions such as juice, salt and play dough, so we’re keeping it in the porch where it can be properly forgotten about, only to be discovered in a few months time, putrid and desiccated. So far so fascinating though. Each day those tiny dots change ever so slightly and I have high hopes of hatching out some wriggly tadpoles. At least I did until google informed me that the process takes up to nine weeks. I don’t think my attention will hold, never mind the children’s.

Strange golden light. No idea.

Strange golden light. No idea.

Snowdrops and newborn lambs also scream ‘spring’ and there are carpets of the former all over the place and plenty of the latter at a nearby farm to go and bother. I love this time of year. The days are lengthening and there are longer spells of sunshine, interspersed with hail, sleet, snow and torrential rain (and that was just this morning). The estate is looking fabulous with the trees just budding, daffodils about to burst into bloom and even the sea is beginning to look inviting. Is that summer I can smell or have the kids been eating Ambré Solaire? Again.

Not quite as exciting as watching frog spawn doing nothing was my first meeting of the Village Hall Committee. As a representative of the playgroup, I was prepared for the worst. Our little group has had bother with certain members of the VHC in the past and as predicted I received a scolding about lights being left on swiftly followed by another toungue-lashing about lights being turned off. I have a funny feeling we can’t ever win. Fortunately however, most of the members are lovely and I’m related to two of them (by marriage) which I assumed would be a big asset. This proved not to be the case when my mischievous father-in-law deliberately volunteered me for a curtain sub-group, set up to discuss soft furnishings for a refurbished room. I expertly managed to feign delight whilst simultaneously shooting him evil glances. In the end though, I wouldn’t have missed curtain group for the world. We spent 9 minutes discussing fabric, linings and attachments and then passed a happy couple of hours chatting about books we are reading, Scottish Independence and sundry village gossip, finishing up with a live hula-hoop demo. Best night out in ages.

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Party Time – Run For Cover

Once again it has been party central around here although sadly not the grown up kind involving cocktails, 80s music and fake moustaches*. We have clocked up a total of five in a fortnight, comprising two firsts, one second, one third and one fifth. I say, ‘WE’, I of course mean ME and the kids. The invites were all extended to the dads but my lovely husband responded with his stock phrase, “I would rather pan-fry my testicles”. Quite.

In principle, kids parties are wonderful gatherings of darling little people, coming together to celebrate the special day of one of their own. In reality, and I include my own efforts in this, they are melting pots of chaos and tantrums, veritable war zones with multiple sugar-fuelled dictators bombing around, each demanding ALL the prizes but refusing to play by the rules. This is your reward for the weeks of stressing about invites, games, food and party bags as well as the yin/yang panic about far too many kids coming or nobody turn up at all.

Not actual events. But actually, fairly accurate.

Not actual events. But not far off, TBH

For the under-fives, other kids parties are equally as horrendous as your own as all parents must be constantly vigilant, ready to appease squealing infants, separate sparring little ones and occasionally bandage up open wounds. To calm things down, you muster your best ‘kids TV presenter’ voice and chime the fateful words, “Lets play a game!”. That’s when the shit really hits the fan. The worst offender by far is the seemingly innocuous ‘pass-the-parcel’. I don’t know which sick bastard originally came up with this volatile activity but it really should be banned, along with Neknomination* and smoking in cars. The theory behind the game is wonderfully simple. One prize hidden under multiple layers of paper, each to be peeled off by whoever is holding the ticking time-bomb parcel when the music stops. There are two schools of thought about controlling where the parcel lands. The modern way is a bastion of diplomacy and gives everyone a turn whilst making sure the birthday boy or girl never gets their hands on the prize. One mother took equality to a new level recently when she included a prize in every layer, and enough for everyone. Murmours of respect from the other parents rippled round the room until the game quickly descended into the usual bloody carnage despite her valiant efforts. The old-school method is brutal in its execution and simply involves stopping the music randomly, resulting in the high probability of disappointed kids and an even quicker descent into bloody carnage. It’s really nothing short of torture for children. Give them a present which is then snatched from their grasp by another pair of greedy hands and repeat, ad infinitum. It’s hardly surprising it never ends well. At the most recent gathering, pass-the-parcel descended into such unbridled conflict, I half expected Orla Guerin to pitch up to comment on proceedings.

Party food is a good distraction from the hysterical aftermath of the games and allows parents a brief window to recover from post traumatic stress, whilst the little darlings fight amongst themselves over marshmallow top hats, chocolate crispies and cheesy balls. I have learned over time that you can never have enough of the latter. Sausage rolls are a waste of time, who are we kidding serving cucumber and carrots and there were even chocolate crispies left over at India’s 2nd birthday party. Cheesy balls, however, are in a different league. There is never so much as a crumb left and I’ve even witnessed desperate toddlers searching under furniture for discarded balls of bright orange, MSG-filled loveliness. God help the child who helps itself to another’s cheesy balls. Ban Ki-moon couldn’t pacify the situation.

I can only hope things improve as they get older and parties actually become enjoyable for all concerned. Reports from the ‘other side’ suggest that this is indeed the case but until then I shall be politely declining all invitations as I shall be happily preoccupied with pan-frying my testicles.

*I LOVE a fancy dress do
**Like, WTAF????

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Homeland

Winter evenings are cosy, quiet affairs at the castle. There are fewer impromptu social gatherings than in the summer and it takes a monumental effort to leave the log-burning stove to face the elements to get to the car to go somewhere after dark. Then there’s the predictable, you drive, no YOU drive, argument. It never ends well and we’re not usually on speaking terms when we eventually reach our destination. It’s much safer just to stay in with a bottle of wine and a box set.

Keeping us glued to the Chesterfield wingbacks for the past couple of weeks has been series one and two of Homeland, which I thoughtfully gave to my husband for Christmas because I’ve been desperate to watch it for two years. We missed this when the rest of the world was watching it because we were caught in that toddler/newborn sleep-deprived maelstrom and couldn’t cope with watching anything more challenging than Countryfile.

As predicted, Homeland had us gripped from the start and we were soon dealing with a three-episode a night habit. This is a brilliantly executed romantic thriller which follows the ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship highs and lows of the two main characters, one of whom is Carrie Mathison, a bipolar CIA agent and the other Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a former American prisoner of war, held captive in Iraq for 8 years. Thrown into this heady mix is the ‘is he/isn’t he an al Qaeda sympathiser’ sub-plot, Sergeant Brody’s troubled marriage and Carrie’s CIA colleagues, most of whom think she is madder than a box of frogs.

Homeland: the original Rom-Dram

Homeland: the original Rom-Dram

Carrie begins to fall in love with Brody whilst conducting an illegal 24 hour surveillance operation on his house. We’ve all been there. She confesses all at a secluded cabin upstate, having manipulated a relationship in order to prove her suspicions that he is working for the bad guys. Brody takes this rather well and it becomes clear that in matters of the heart, feelings are mutual. Their path to true love was never going to run smoothly though and cracks soon start appearing. Suspicions heighten towards the end of series one, culminating in Brody’s failed suicide bomb attempt on the ‘Veep*’ and Carrie’s further decent into crazy for being totally right about everything whilst being utterly disbelieved by her patronising male colleagues, who eventually escort her off for electric shock therapy before giving her the sack.

In series two, things start to look up for our star-crossed pair as, back on the payroll, Carrie is completely vindicated when proof of Brody’s suicide mission emerges. By declaring her feelings to him during a tense interrogation scene (in which poor Brody gets his hand stabbed by one of Carrie’s moody workmates) she turns Brody away from the dark side and persuades him to become a double agent. Things couldn’t get much better when Carrie brings about the demise of the uber nasty Abu Nazir, al Qaeda big cheese as well as Brody’s former tormentor and on/off bestie. It’s all looking rosy, especially when Brody calmly confesses to killing the Vice President in order to save Carrie’s life (now that’s romance) but with another six series planned it wasn’t all that surprising when the relationship was thrown into further turmoil during the explosive season finale.

We were left wanting more and desperate for answers. Series three only concluded on TV at Christmas time so we will have to wait a while for the DVD and in the meantime I will try to forget that my motor-mouthed sister gave the game away on Boxing Day, revealing a vital twist in the last episode. I am still working on forgiving her.

*Vice President. This was a penny-dropping moment as I’d been hearing that term for ages, wrongly thinking it was something to do with hair-removal.

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