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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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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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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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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Hot Gossip

One of the loveliest things about living in a small, rural setting, is the strong sense of community that is prevalent. For such a small place, there is a lot going on, which has been a great help in making us feel settled. Two events of the past week have cemented this warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging and I almost feel like a local.

erin The first was an invitation to join the Village Hall Committee as a representative of the playgroup, which meets there twice a week. Never having been much of a ‘joiner’, I reluctantly accepted on the premise that I would be sharing the tedium with my friend, who already attends the bi-monthly meetings. Relations are slightly strained between the playgroup and the rest of the committee as there seems to be a mandatory section in the minutes for bollocking us for various petty misdemeanours. Recent gripes have included:

  • The toys encroaching on the next shelf along, belonging to the badminton group who haven’t met since Miss Dunwoody’s* hip replacement in 2004.
  • The store cupboard door being left open which allegedly lets the cold air out into the hall. Which is generally arctic as they conveniently keep forgetting to put the heating on for us.
  • The toilets being left in an unsatisfactory condition. We have photographic evidence that implicates the knitting group who utilise the smaller meeting room on Fridays.

Perhaps with two of us in attendance we can kick some serious ass and show them who they’re messing with. The Vicar of Dibley meets Erin Brockovitch, if you will. Watch this space.

My second initiation test was similarly bitter-sweet. Whilst enjoying a Saturday morning in town with the girls, I received a text from my husband informing me that I was the subject of some intriguing village gossip. Initially I was beside myself with excitement and the feeling that I must truly belong if people are bothering to spread rumours about me. This was short-lived as I digested the content of the rumour which was this: someone in the village asked Gladys* who checked with Agnes* who in turn asked for confirmation from Morwenna*, if I was PREGNANT! I’m not proud of the string of expletives that erupted from my mouth in front of the children, in the busy play park, but I was incensed. I haven’t touched carbohydrate since January 2nd** and have actually managed to shift about 4lb. I’m really hoping it was my unflattering puffy winter jacket that fuelled this idle speculation. Apart from anything else, there is no WAY I would jeopardise the opportunity to drown my sorrows in Sauvignon Blanc on my fortieth birthday in May.

Still, it could have been a lot worse. Helen* from up the glen was the victim of mistaken identity and was wrongly outed as passing away on Christmas Day. Peggy* in the shop got a dreadful shock when Helen innocently popped in for a pint of milk a few days later.

I do love rural living.

*all names have been changed to prevent my 10 readers identifying any individuals.
**notwithstanding wine, baileys, left-over crimbo chocolates and the odd fish finger.

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Goals

All in all, 2013 was a good year. Aside from two huge losses, one slightly expected, the other a devastating shock, lots of wonderful things happened and it ended it exactly where it started, at a party in the castle, with me trying to avoid kissing 50+ people. It’s just NOT hygienic. The big difference this time was that we were hosts rather than guests, which had the surprise benefit of putting me off drinking too much. It was a strange but welcome sensation to wake up on January 1st with a clear head.
I do love a new year. It’s like a second chance to right the wrongs, to pour all your energy into good intentions and draw a line under the previous year’s fails. Naturally, I fully expect things to go to shit by February 1st, but here is a rough breakdown of my goals and expectations for 2014:

No more of this sort of thing.

No more of this sort of thing.

The Aga

  • I will build upon recent successes and host regular dinner parties for family and friends. I will not poison anyone, including myself.
  • I will not walk away and leave toast unattended then blame the Aga for the subsequent charred mess
  • Similarly, I will not leave my ‘moonblush’ tomatoes longer than the necessary 4 hours, and I will definitely not completely forget about them until I put something else in the oven the following day. Ditto decorative chillies, roast aubergines and bacon

Weight

  • I will put an immediate stop to the slippery slope I seem to be on, back to last year’s size. Having done pretty well at managing to shift a stone, it all went wrong after the summer and I’ve regained 9lbs. This is Not On and I will get back on track immediately. Consequently:
    • I will not eat between meals
    • I will not finish entire chocolate oranges/bags of tablet/ selection boxes, in one sitting
    • I will not mix carbohydrates and proteins. (It’s tragic, but it works)

    Hopefully these monumental small sacrifices will result in a slimmer, healthier, more fabulous me, just in time for my fortieth birthday, whereupon I will be comforting eating donuts and drowning my sorrows in Sauvignon Blanc for the rest of the year.

Family Life

  • I will not swear at the children within earshot. Of my husband.
  • I will nurture their creativity and not get stressed when they add onions to cake mixture or paint the furniture.
  • I will not resort to fish fingers more than twice a week
  • I will listen avidly to my husband’s chat about the biomass boiler and aim to understand the general workings of it which I can then share with interested parties, should I encounter any
  • I will listen graciously to my mother’s parental advice and not regress to my teenage self and slam the phone down on her

General

  • I will not neglect the chickens
  • I will read challenging and stimulating novels at bedtime, as opposed to playing Candy Crush relentlessly
  • I will dust regularly
  • I will memorise the family history so I can stop talking bullshit to visitors

I think that’s enough to be going on with. Now pass the carrot sticks and humous. *wails uncontrollably*

Happy New Year!

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Rainy days and scotch pies

After a record FOUR weeks with pretty much NO RAIN, it has finally cracked and we woke up to that ghastly sound of precipitation bouncing of the roof tiles. I thought the sun always shines on
Tiree. Like the song. After a mild panic about how to entertain the ferrets indoors with hardly any props we decided to cut our losses and head to the one rainy day option on the island – SOFT PLAY! Once again the Gods were smiling down and it was closed when we got there but in true Hebridean style the rain had already blown over and they were delighted with a trip to the play park which I’ve managed to avoid for two years*.

Our week is nearly over and I can sense a post-Tiree decline looming. I’m sure it’s being compounded by my atrocious ‘anything goes’ diet this week. My effective ‘low carb, no snacking between meals’ approach (1 stone off, hurrah!) has gone to pot as I’ve tucked into crisps, chocolate and biscuits and washed it all down with beer, cider and wine. image

I’ve been eating meals in between snacks and things reached an all-time low yesterday with the consumption of a scotch pie. HELP. The thought of not eating homemade bread smothered in Nutella makes me weep but I don’t want to go back to where I was at the beginning of the year. Maybe it’s just the sea air…

*nothing at all against play parks. It’s just the principle of the thing when you have access to miles and miles of empty beaches.

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