I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

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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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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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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Road Rage

I have been lured back to civilisation twice in as many weeks recently, to celebrate  several decades worth of birthdays. It’s as good a reason as any to make the 4(ish, on a good day when the Gods are smiling and the children aren’t doing convincing impressions of Damien from the Omen) hour journey back to my parents’ house, which becomes base camp for my various shenanigans.

There was only ever going to be one winner

There was only ever going to be one winner

This time last year my lovely friend organised a fabulous girly weekend away which was largely spent in a hot tub, drunk on Prosecco. This year, by marked contrast, we were subjected to what I can only describe as My Worst Nightmare – a three hour badminton tournament. I shit you not.  I tried everything to get out of it, even a note from my mum, but somehow I found myself on court, lumbering around like a hippo with less coordination than a drunk toddler. I like to think I provided the entertainment value. At a generous estimate I hit the twatting shuttlething four times (in three games) and ended up on my arse twice. Never again.

The second celebration that weekend involved a whole day and a night away from the kids which was sheer BLISS. Unencumbered by bored, whinging and occasionally just downright rude children, I was able to enjoy a fabulous day in Edinburgh, catching up with old friends, new babies and the all-important solo shopping trip to real, actual shops. It’s not that our local Factory Shop or Nickel and Dime don’t offer a wide range of interesting goods to peruse, (where else can you buy a colander, a bra and years supply of Persil?) or that I’m not becoming an expert in online shopping (apart from the jeggings which I still can’t talk about…)  but I do miss the thrill of big wide aisles, rails and rails of choice and knowing that you’re never more than a few yards away from a latte, a toilet or a cashpoint.

zombie-woman-costume

Her hair colour is frighteningly accurate

My goal was simple –  a go-with-anything, uber-flattering, smart/casual black top to wear to that evenings engagement. Naturally the novelty wore off after half an hour and I found myself wandering aimlessly, in a zombie-like stupor through the soulless concourses of the out-of-town retail park I’d chosen for it’s convenience. After three hours of fruitless searching, including a meltdown in M&S, I decided to cut my losses and flee the commercial hell-hole, empty handed save for a prawn sandwich and panic-purchased new jacket as I stupidly didn’t pack one. (Wait WHAT??? Clearly 40 years in Scotland has taught me nothing).

Fortunately my sister had a go-with-anything, uber-flattering smart/casual black top which she kindly lent me and we had a fabulous time at our friend’s 50th birthday party. The highlight of the night was an intimate living room performance by Yvonne Lyon and her husband who are a fantastic Scottish folk duo, well known in that scene but a wonderful new discovery for me. I bought their album for the journey home, thinking, what better accompaniment to a long drive through the scenic Scottish highlands.

Sadly no amount of stirring, soulful music could have ever have mollified what turned out to be the ultimate journey from hell. It all went wrong when I pulled up a forest track to have a wee which had become significantly non-negotiable about 5 miles previously. Suddenly there was a ghastly crunching sound and it was pretty clear I’d done something fairly catastrophic to my underside (of the car, just to clarify). I decided to soldier on for the remaining two hours as really there was no other option, it being a Sunday night in the arse-end of nowhere. Denial worked wonders and I managed to ignore the ghastly sounds coming from below (again, the car).  We were back on track when the youngest suddenly threw up a journey’s worth of healthy snacks (crisps and chocolate) all over the back seat and then decided to be fussy about emergency clothing because it wasn’t pink. I would like to report that I remained calm throughout but sadly we weren’t alone in that  remote lay-by and an elderly couple witnessed my tirade of expletives that culminated in two screaming children and a sobbing mother. Have a meltdown and carry on is my motto (get that on  a twatting tea towel NOW please) so off we set once again with a broken, stinking car and another hour to go.

The end was in sight when we turned off the main road onto the long and winding, single-track B842 which leads to our door but sadly fate was pissing itself once again. After two miles, cruising along merrily(ish), we got stuck behind a selfish twat of a 30-mile-an-hour driver who refused to let us past, despite my persistent horn-blasting, light-flashing and fruitless cursing of his soul. We had no choice but to sit tight (admittedly right up his arse) for the next twenty miles. I was an empty husk by the time we got home and vowed I would never, ever make that journey again.

Me after THAT journey

Me after THAT journey

Like childbirth (although I did get off lightly with two C-sections), one quickly forgets the hideous trauma of a nightmare journey and a mere two weeks later, I found myself heading back up the B842 for a 5th birthday party in our former home town. It nearly went to shit before we’d even left when I realised the DVD players weren’t working but there was nothing for it but to risk the trip without entertainment. I took a deep breath, swore heavily under my breath and blasted out Disney’s Greatest Hits from my iPod. Clearly I’d paid my dues and was blessed with text-book journeys, both ways. The children were angelic (or asleep), I remained calm throughout and the car stayed intact and vomit free. Hakuna Matata.

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January Blues

Half way through and I am a bit over January. It just seems to go on forever and with all the festivities packed away in boxes (or carelessly tossed into the indoor skip billiard room as the case was with a couple of fake Christmas trees and a plastic Holly wreath), it all looks a bit depressing and there is nothing to hide the dust behind. Having started the year a few minutes behind the rest of the country (I cocked up the countdown. My bad.), it has been a bit of a struggle to get back into the swing of things.

In your face, Jane Asher

In your face, Jane Asher

I did manage to muster excitement for our eldest’s 5th birthday and invited her entire class back for pizza and cake after school. The four of them had a wonderful time and my grown-up girl didn’t seem to mind that her Scooby Doo cake wasn’t the three tier effort, expertly iced with fondant figures of the whole cast that my sister-in-law had helpfully shown her on Pinterest a few days previously*. She appeared to be delighted with the £2.99 Scooby Doo cake topper hurriedly purchased from eBay which arrived in the nick of time and was rapidly stuck on top of some ready-rolled fondant. At least the sponge was homemade.

Me walking the dog

Me walking the dog

The weather isn’t helping my January blues as we are being treated to a Proper Winter this year. We’ve had lightening storms, no phone for a fortnight, gales, no TV for two rounds of over a week (I.e. no Peppa Pig. Every cloud…) and now we have snow. And ice. And more gales. I’m not really a softie when it comes to the elements, especially now we have a dog – I’ll happily don my fleecy onsie, duck-down jacket and novelty bear hat to take her out at 6.30am, rain or hail – but when weekend plans are disrupted and I have to tell two excited children that we won’t be going to the biggest soft play centre in the world Glasgow (once again, every cloud…), it’s a tad frustrating. I’m feeling our remoteness for the first time and the distance from old friends and my family seems bigger somehow. Still, it’s not all awful. Springtime is round the corner (and down the road a few miles) and all the snow makes everything look even more amazing. Also, with the lawn now carpeted in a delicate layer of crunchy white frost, it’s much easier to see the dog poo on my daily round of turd spotting. Silver linings all round.

*we had words.

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Muddy Puddles

It’s my favourite time of year again already – the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, everything is a little bit soggy (and that’s just inside) and my ironing pile is dwindling by the day as bookings finally start to slow down.

4  years with no sleep is starting to take it's toll

4 years with no sleep is starting to take it’s toll

On the social front, however, this time of year seems to have the most going on of all the seasons as numerous events provide excellent excuses for a party. Halloween kicks it all off and great fun was had (by me) carving pumpkins, face-painting witches and vampires and baking sundry ghoulish items for the playgroup party. We even managed some guising this year as the kids are a wee bit older – downstairs to granny and grandpa and across the lawn to Aunty Carol’s. Zoe’s well rehearsed joke* earned her yet more sweets to add to the enormous haul she’d brought home from school, blatantly undermining the patronising A4 leaflet we’d been handed recently about healthy snacks.

Sugar levels were still fairly catastrophic for the next big event a few days later – our youngest’s third birthday party.  Learning from previous experiences, I did things slightly differently this year and served alcohol. Not to the kids obviously, but as the grown-ups considerably out-numbered the little ones, I thought it was only right. It certainly took the edge off it. When pass-the-parcel descended into the usual hysterical chaos (and that was just the winner) we just knocked back some more prossecco and topped up our glasses.

Chuffed with this effort

I’m improving

I wasn’t really planning on a theme and my heart sank slightly when India demanded a Peppa Pig cake but a quick search on Pinterest (at 3am, thank you insommnia) revealed some less challenging options. Basically a round chocolate cake with some plastic figures stuck on it, surrounded by chocolate fingers. Easy peasy. I decided to continue the theme with some of the games and laboured for hours on a papiér mache Peppa Pig piñata. It was a work of art but then I decided I couldn’t bear to watch the little ones bash the crap out of it so I turned it into a treasure hunt instead. We also had musical muddy puddles and pin the glasses on daddy pig, but to be honest by then we’d all drunk far too much and forgot to actually play them. The kids went home happy and the mums were driven home tipsy so all in all it was a huge success. By the time her actual birthday came around two days later, even India herself was a bit over it and squawked, “why am I STILL getting presents???”. Quite.

"Isn't that Bubba's favourite chair???"

“Isn’t that Bubba’s favourite chair???”

An estate bonfire party concluded the celebrations and was a lovely occasion to gather everyone together for the first time in ages. And more importantly a chance to rid the castle of some lingering items belonging to the in-laws. Luckily it was dark when they arrived so my dear old father-in-law was blissfully unaware that his eBay rug which had seen many, many better days had been cremated along with other broken pieces of furniture and empty gadget boxes that had long outlived their original contents. I just have to pray that he doesn’t come looking for the box that once contained the analogue portable telly that was scrapped years ago or the three legged chair that succumbed to woodworm in 1986.

Now we are almost midway through November and I think it’s safe to start mentioning the C-word. (Not THAT one, although since my mother used it in a surprise outburst on a family holiday in ’98, it has definitely lost some of its potency). I’m loving the Christmas Countdown twitter feed and my excitement is building by the day. Next week I have a whole day of Christmas pudding making with my ‘Good Life’ chum, Tracey. We’re doubling Delia’s usual recipe so should end up with two large puddings each. Last year it took a team of five just to stir it but was such a wonderful activity to mark the start of festive loveliness and there’s nothing quite like a homemade plum pud on the day.

It’s probably a tad too soon to start hassling Niall about Christmas trees but I’m looking out my festive playlist and will have no qualms about blasting out a bit of Mariah Carey whilst mixing up the pudding. 44 more sleeps!

*”Why was the sand wet? Because the sea weed.” You’re welcome.

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