I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

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.

 

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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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Festive Cheer

It’s taken a while for me to get into the festive spirit this year,  even though we are well into advent and for weeks Facebook has been awash with Christmas trees and pissed-off babies in elf suits. There is also another phenomenon that has crept into the nation’s consciousness which I believe has contributed to my festive malaise. ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is the latest costly Christmas extra I intend to ignore. (Last year it was Christmas Eve boxes which involves buying EVEN MORE PRESENTS. Wtf???).  I believe it was based on a book but you can now fork out £25 for an entire kit, complete with creepy elf doll that looks like the love child of the Child Catcher and Bride of Chucky. Already stressed-out parents must think of nightly tomfuckery for the sinister little chap to indulge in then photograph the result to splash all over social media. No thanks. I’m far to busy trying to finish off shoddily made homemade gifts.

Elf on the twatting shelf

Not in my name

In an attempt to get myself in the mood (and also out of the nightmarish bathtime/bedtime routine) I volunteered to help decorate the village hall with some of the committee members. Following a stern lecture from caretaker Philip, about the potential damage caused by sellotape and staple guns, we set to work with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. An hour later, after some impressive precarious ladder maneuvers by an elderly member of the team,  it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and very nearly an episode of Casualty.

IMG_8243

Derek was heavily influenced by Edith’s exceptionally large baubles

The castle remained a tinsel free zone for a few more weeks but I ramped up the festive blackmail and wielded my power over the kids like a crazed despot, emphatically cancelling Santa for the smallest misdemeanor. I love this temporary influence and have succeeded in correcting all manner of irritating behavior.  They now wear socks willingly, without the daily tantrums, that have been known to culminate in me throwing their shoes at the portrait of great, great granny on the stairs. They also now go to the toilet unaccompanied once again, following a couple of bat incidents in the downstairs loo, which for some reason put them off going alone. Obviously it will all go to shit again in January when I have nothing left to bargain with but I am enjoying the extra minutes in my day now I’m not trudging to the toilet one hundred times. Great, great granny looks quite relieved too.

At last feeling a bit more festive (helped by the obligatory Christmas pud session) I cajoled the kids, and miraculously, my husband, into joining me for the Christingle service at our little church.  This was a big hit last year and I’m determined that it becomes a family tradition. The kids were surprisingly well behaved and sat patiently with their oranges, sweets and cocktail sticks, waiting for the prompt from Rev. Steve.  Our youngest treated everyone to a tuneful rendition of Jingle Bells during a prayer but no one seemed to mind. Even my husband lasted the 45 minutes without getting too restless. He’s still recovering from the 90 minute ecumenical marathon that was my sisters wedding so I was particularly proud of him, although he did scoff his dolly mixtures before the service even started.

Merry Christmas

I decided to go for an ironic strapline this year

At last, with less than a week to go, I am fully on board with the festivities and the tree is up, looking splendidly camp in the hall.  All our cards have all been delivered and raised a wee chuckle – apart from my mother who didn’t recognise her own grandchildren. It’s always an epic task and every year I vow never to attempt it again but we have quite a collection now and it would be a shame to stop exploiting the kids. Writing 175 of them was a marathon which I accompanied with a bottle of rioja and several episodes of Homeland. I shudder to think about the gibberish I must have written and am half expecting some concerned phone-calls regarding my mental health.

The end is in sight and I’m limbering up to violate my turkey with whatever comes to hand before praying to the God that is Mary Berry that it will emerge from the Aga in an edible format.

Merry Christmas one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nemesis

We are branching out into weddings this year which is a Very Exciting Development for us. The old place lends itself perfectly to small, intimate ceremonies and it’s amazing how good it looks once a few truck loads of toys have been cleared away.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4's standards.

Practically minimalist. By Channel 4’s standards.

This venture has also forced us to clear out the dreaded Billiard Room which has been used for decades as a dumping ground store room for things-that-no-longer-serve-a-purpose-but-you-just-never-know-so-best-keep-it-just-in-case. We got excited a few months back when Channel Four got in touch regarding a documentary they were planning to about helping poor unfortunate castle-dwelling folk de-clutter their vast spaces. It was all looking very promising but sadly we were ultimately rejected as the room was bizarrely deemed to be not enough of a shit-hole for them.

Empty Room

It’s just screaming, ‘roller-rink’ at me.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, that room is now completely empty thanks to a sterling effort from my husband and father-in-law. I am particularly proud of the latter who after much gentle persuasion, managed to throw out a mountain of 40yr old paperwork, 3 boxes of video tapes (the kids were all like, WTF are THOSE??) and several redundant vacuum cleaner parts . The rest of the crap has been rammed into two upstairs rooms to be dealt with later, ideally by another documentary team. (Come ON Channel 4 – we’d make great telly).

I got a bit above myself at a meeting with the chef (who incidentally is also the nurse, the school bus driver, a mother of four and a farmers wife, which is a career in itself. She makes Miss Rabbit from Peppa Pig* look like Waynetta Slob.), and found myself volunteering to make a dessert for the wedding feast. I chose a Chocolate Nemesis which I vaguely recall making years ago in a previous incarnation as a cafe worker in Edinburgh.

chocolate nemesis slice

Picture stolen from internet but mine wasn’t far off this tbh.

Luckily I had the foresight to do a practice version as the helpful world wide web informed me that it, “famously never works” and was the “the ruin of a million mid-Nineties dinner parties”.

There are only 4 ingredients but you need a bloody truckload of each:

  • 675g dark chocolate
  • 10 eggs
  • 425g sugar
  • 675g butter

My practice version involved a mercy-dash to a neighbour for eggs and chucking in a bit of cheapo cooking chocolate as I’d underestimated the dark chocolate situation.

It’s pretty easy:

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water
  • Beat eggs and sugar in a 40yr old Kenwood blender, keeping an eye on 3yr old child who has a tendency to add random items to the bowl**
  • Slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs mixture and pour into a lined 27″ spring form cake tin. This sits in a Bain Marie of water.
  • Panic when you realise the top of the Aga is too hot and the bottom oven is too cool.
  • Have a “fuck it” moment and leave the bastard thing in the bottom oven all night
  • Retrieve it in the morning and, as you remove from the tin, marvel at how clever you are to produce such an amazing looking  ‘notoriously difficult’ dessert.
  • Two hours later, curse yourself for not putting the twatting thing in the fridge as it collapses in a gooey heap on the plate, and your kitchen begins to resemble that scene in Trainspotting when Spud tries to conceal a nasty accident***
  • Hurriedly scoop it into ramekins then belatedly leave in fridge to set before distributing to in-laws and neighbours
  • Collapse into sugar/cocoa coma as you realise you’ve ‘accidentally’ ingested at least half of it.

Simples. It was all alright on the night, luckily, as I remembered to do the fridge thing and plates came back satisfyingly empty.

UPDATE: Have literally just this minute retrieved another one from the Aga for today’s wedding and it’s all looking good. I think this could really become a thing. Nevermind the documentaries (that aren’t happening), get me my own cookery show.

 

 

 

 

*if you are hitherto blissfully unaware of the heinous Peppa Pig franchise, you are a lucky, lucky bastard.

**I was making a pavlova and turned my back for 30 seconds. The Kenwood started emitting a hideous clunking sound and the 3yr old was looking a tad sheepish. I retrieved a 3″ screw from my fluffy mixture.

***Don’t google it.

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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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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

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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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Drama

It’s been all-go around here lately – break-ups, punch-ups, gay kisses, graduation ceremonies, a near-catastrophic sailing trip and a surprise pregnancy. Wait, WHAT?? Oh yes, that was Dawson’s Creek*, I must stop getting it confused with reality.

Weirdly, reality has almost been more exciting over here in our little corner of ‘where the hell IS that???’. It’s been all TV film crews, gigantic diggers and a near-catastrophic chimney fire around here. We’ve also had a brand-new arrival in the family, which comes top of my lengthy, Fabulous Things list. (Right above the gigantic digger).

Harper Hero -  I have it on good authority that her first name has nothing to do with the Beckhams

Harper Hero – I have it on good authority that her first name has nothing to do with the Beckhams

My gorgeous niece, Harper Hero, was born last week, 4 weeks before she’d planned to say ‘hello world’ but at a good healthy weight. She needed a wee extra stay in special care but has lived up to her fabulous middle name and is due to come home shortly. They are coming to visit in May, from New York, so It will be another couple of months before I can sniff her fuzzy head. In the mean time I’m making do with daily FaceTime calls to my amazing wee sister who has been plugged in to a hospital grade breast pump for over a week.

The arrival of the gigantic digger on site heralded the start of the construction phase of the hydro electric scheme that has been six years in the planning and the cause of numerous bouts of IBS for my stressed out husband. It is VERY exciting and whilst I can’t claim to have any clue what it will do or how it will work, I do know that it is yet another example of Niall ‘getting shit done’ which he is definitely winning at as I can’t even stay on top of my ironing pile.

Not my dad. Thankfully.

Not my dad. Thankfully.

I can’t really say too much about the film crew as it is Top Secret and may not come to anything but it was a very exciting day and I did briefly feel like a VIP, as opposed to a sleep deprived slummy mummy with dubious personal grooming habits. It did get me thinking (and worrying) about how we would come across on telly though. Someone** once described my family as being one part The Osbournes to two parts The Good Life which perfectly summed up our household of four hormonal, strong-minded women and long-suffering dad with an affinity for home grown vegetables. Thinking about my own special little unit, I would say we are a pleasant mixture of The F@!king Fulfords, Monarch of the Glen and Downton Abbey (if Lady Mary spent her days fishing turds out of baths and cleaning up dog sick).

I’m still too traumatised to talk about the chimney fire which happened on my watch while my husband was away for a few days. If it hadn’t been for the heroic efforts of my father-in-law, breathless from extensive chemotherapy, I shudder to think what might have been. Fingers crossed for some dull moments coming up.

*the end is in sight. Six series in four weeks. There’s one hell of an ironing pile waiting for me.

**I’m pretty sure it was my charming brother-in-law

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Flu and Teen Angst

The January Blues were chased away by the February flu which gave me something really ghastly to be pissed off about, instead of just moaning about the weather. It has been doing the rounds. The school roll plummeted to an all-time low after Christmas as pupils started dropping like flies, stricken with the lurgy. It was all we talked about at the school gates (the two of us left) – so-and-so had to be helicoptered out with a temperature of 105, her from up the glen has had it for 3 weeks, wee Jack was coughing so hard his ears were bleeding. You get the gist.

Me doing the school run

Me doing the school run

I tried to carry on as normal but with the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, it was hard not back slowly away from flemmy toddlers and visibly shield myself from hacking adults. It was almost a relief when the youngest started sneezing.

Mercifully the children got off fairly lightly and were able carry on behaving like hyperactive lunatics, addicted to Scooby Doo and Tesco Value Jaffa cakes (I challenge anyone to taste the difference). The little one even refused a morning off nursery. I’m having her DNA tested as I fear I may have picked up the wrong child three years ago in hospital. I am the queen of sickies. Or was – when I had a real job to skive from. I’ve learnt that it’s impossible to malinger in your sick bed when you are a stay-at-home parent with a minor, under-appreciated role in the family business. Bottoms still need wiped, bed linen still needs ironed, dinner still needs to be retrieved in the nick of time from the Aga.

I tried warding off the lurgy with whiskey and lemsip cocktails but it got me in the end and made itself quite at home for three whole weeks. I’m only just beginning to not sound like Kathleen Turner. It was fairly hideous but luckily coincided perfectly with a visit from my parents and the discovery of all six series of Dawson’s Creek* available for free on Amazon Prime. While my fabulous parents took over bottom-wiping and Aga duty (I let them off the ironing), I recuperated in peace with angst-ridden, overly-articulate American teenagers for company. I almost enjoyed myself.

It's not that I'm ungrateful but.....

It’s not that I’m ungrateful but…..

Things are returning to a version of normal now. We are nearing the end of the last of the THREE banana cakes my mum heroically baked and I’ve returned all the teaspoons and utensils to their rightful place. I’m feeling much better and sound more like my old self, rather than Bonnie Tyler on testosterone. Fortunately though, as it’s lashing down outside and barely two degrees, I can malinger a bit longer and cosy-in for series three of Dawson’s Creek, which from memory depicts exactly the same anxieties and insecurities of the first two series, but with more facial hair. I’ve never been happier to be in my forties.

*For the unfortunate uninitiated, this was an American series in the late nineties which followed the complex, overly analysed and frequently tortured love lives of a group of teenagers in a small East Coast town. I was a few years the wrong side of the demographic the first time round and now I’m the same age as their parents. Bite me.

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Wolf Hall

There has been a big gap in our lives since just before Christmas when all the good telly finished and gripping dramas were neatly wrapped up into satisfying conclusions. With the exception of The Missing which I am still cross about (poor James Nesbit just wanted closure). Oh, and Homeland, which ended so badly I thought I’d dreamt it. (Yes my dreams are that dull. I need to get out more). At least The Fall was satisfactory, unless they pull a fast one and the baddie survives for a third series. Surely Gillian Anderson has run out of silk blouses and lower rank officers to shag? (Interjection: Stella “no fucks given” Gibson is my absolute TV heroine of 2014).

Anyway, when I heard rumblings on Twitter about Wolf Hall, starring Brodie from Homeland as Henry the Eighth, my interest was piqued, so much so that I offered to review it on a national radio show (The Fred Macaulay Show, Radio Scotland, next Wednesday!).

Sorry not sorry

Sorry not sorry

It nearly all went wrong for me during the opening credits when I read the line, “Based on a novel by Hilary Mantel”. My heart sank as I realised this wasn’t going to be all thrusting codpieces, bare-breasted maidens and gluttonous red-headed monarchs beheading wives like Hugh Fearnly Wittingstall preparing ginuea fowl. Instead it was shaping up to be high-brow, historically accurate and downright educational.

In the old days, Before Kids, I would have happily devoured a historical novel or two. I loved Rose Tremaine’s wonderfully lewd, Music and Silence and have read Anna Karenin twice. Now however, I’m lucky if I can finish a Sunday supplement and generally nod off in bed after a round or two of CandyCrush. I have dumbed down significantly.

I stuck at it with Wolf Hall, eagerly awaiting Damian Lewis’s grand entrance, and passing the time by playing, “what’s HE/SHE been in?”. Meanwhile, as I screeched out, “that’s the wee chap from Love, Actually!!” (it was) and “is that him from Queer As Folk??” (It wasn’t), my husband sat with one eye on Wikipedia, helpfully pointing out who was who in terms of the actual plot.

It was very dark, and I mean that literally. There were lots of candlelit scenes in which it was difficult to make out who was talking, all though generally they were all called Thomas. I thought it was just our ancient telly, which is deeper than it is wide but there have been complaints.

I worried for the safety of little Grace, (Thomas) Cromwell’s daughter – twatting about in angel wings is just asking for trouble in a period drama – but was utterly shocked when her poor sister and mother also died of the bizarre sounding ‘sweating sickness’. (I am never exercising again). Poor old Cromwell already looked like life had given him lemons before the invention of lemonade, but he rallied marvellously and did his best to save his chum (Thomas, obvs) Wosley from murderous Henry, who was still notably absent.

Nearing the end, with no executions and no Damian Lewis, suddenly there he was, tucked away at the side in a court scene, no pomp and no ceremony. I was a little disappointed but I have been ruined by inferior productions, deliberately camping things up for telly. (I’m thinking of The Tudors a few years ago. Utter filth. Loved it.)

Clever friends who have read the book say it’s an excellent adaptation and I certainly couldn’t fault the plot (as I know eff all about history). The acting is fabulous and I soon stopped shouting “smile for fucksake” whenever Cromwell appeared (played superbly by that chap who wasn’t in Queer as Folk) as it was clearly just his character and he’d been through a lot.

I will watch next week as we’ll get more of horrid Henry and I think Cromwell cheers up a bit as he plots to severe England’s ties with the Catholic Church just so our Henry can get laid. Seems a bit extreme but who am I to argue with Hilary Mantel or Wikipedia.

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