I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

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


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


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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