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.

Leave a comment »

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

4 Comments »

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.

 

5 Comments »

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

Leave a comment »

Life’s a Beach

so THIS is what happy children look like

so THIS is what happy children look like

We had our first taste of summer 2015 last week. It was glorious – expansive blue skies, temperatures in the late teens and daylight til 8pm (which causes it’s own bedtime problems but that’s another blog post entirely). Me and the girls, and the dog, have been spending a lot of time at the beach which is so much more enjoyable now they’re a bit older and can be trusted not to toddle into the sea and drown or eat seaweed, stones and/or dead things.  I even managed a solitary stroll along the beach whilst they played happily together* on the rocks. Lost in my favourite pastime of searching for sea glass and pottery, it was only when I reached the end of the beach that I became aware of the panicked shrieks from base camp. “I NEED A POO MUMMY” echoed accross the Kilbrannan sound, alarming several seals and an elderly couple from Skipton** who’d pulled up to enjoy the view.  Turning swiftly on my heel I legged it back to the rocks, stopping only very briefly to pick up the odd gem of pottery (I really can’t help myself) and desperately hoping that I had baby wipes and a plastic bag to hand. Who was I kidding – I stopped all that ‘being prepared’ shit months ago, becoming arrogantly complacent when the youngest mastered toilet-training. Luckily I am as resourceful as I am unprepared and achieved a successful clean-up job with a used tissue and an empty crisp packet. Mummy 1, poo nil.

Another blissful afternoon was spent on a different local beach with nursery friends, whilst the eldest languished in school. It was bordering on perfect – picnic food,  crab nets, paddling, no poos, no “SANDY HANDS!!” hysteria and pockets full of beach treasure. Knee deep in the water, gazing out at the best view in the world, lunacy took hold and I decided the only thing that could make the moment more perfect would be a swim. Stripped to vest and pants (luckily only my poor friend bore witness to this sight), I waded back in and shrieked like a stuck piglet as I got deeper and deeper. There was no going back and with an audible scream of “FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT” ringing out across the bay, (I can only hope the kids thought I was saying “bucket”), I submerged my shoulders and took some strokes. The shock of this not killing me nearly killed me but I was under and swimming and loving it. I assumed it would be a quick in-and-out job but it really was delightful and I even managed to get my head under. The first swim of 2015 – done!  It wasn’t even a one off – after a very, very moving funeral last week, I decided the only thing thing for it was to Carpe the very warm diem and have a swim in the sea.  It was incredibly life-affirming and therapeutic, marred only by the three year old falling off a rock and landing on her head. She was fine, although it might be quite hard to tell for a while….

Hailstones in May in Scotland

Summer in Scotland. #funnynotfunny

After digging out my summer wardrobe (2 pairs of shorts and a scabby vest top), predictably the weather turned and for nearly four days it was the bleak midwinter again. Sleet, hail, wind and rain battered our ancient windows and we were back to lying in bed listening to the cacophony of drips landing in buckets in the attic.  I even had to turn back from a shopping trip into town as three cars were stuck on our hill because of the ball-bearing-esque hail stones. Conversation at the school gate simply consisted of all the mums huddling in the tiny covered entrance shrieking “WHATTHEACTUALFUCK??” as we reminisced fondly about the previous weeks beach activities.

That’s Scotland for you, which I light-heartedly said to our paying guests from Germany, half-way through their unseasonably cold and miserable week. The lady smiled sympathetically as if to say, at least we are leaving this Godforsaken land in a few days. The man just glared, silently. Fortunately the sun did reappear for their last two days and they left, all smiles and vowing to return.

I’ve packed away my shorts again and we’re all back in winter woollies with the fires on. The sea looks about as inviting as a bath of cold baked beans but I’m clinging to the memories of those two wonderful swims and wishing hard for the warm weather to return. I may even shave my legs next time.

 

 

*clearly hell was freezing over at this moment in time

**yes I do talk to everyone, yes I am turning into my mother

4 Comments »