Bye January


Hands up who is currently living with a snot goblin?   Child Number Three is making barking noises at the moment.  There were five children off in Child Number One’s class a couple of weeks ago.  Kids barfing.  Parents barfing.  Everyone barfing.  Child Number One has escaped so far, but as I have two other children, and it is currently sweeping through the school, I have two more tempting opportunities to hold a child’s head over a sink awaiting me in the next few weeks.

Child Number Two had very painful legs last week.  I am of the view that unless you have lost a limb and the bleeding cannot be stemmed then you get up and go to work or to school.  I was also not sure if it was a case of Skivitilis. I therefore administered paracetamol and sent her on her way.  When I collected her from school, she was not feeling very well at all, and we decided that unless there was an impressive overnight recovery, she would stay home and rest the following day.  The next morning I needed to get some petrol so I could collect the other two children.  Immediately after I ended an unexpected call from The Mother of the Year Award Committee,  I wrapped Child Number Two up and popped her in the car with the plan that she would be back on the sofa within the hour.

Whilst I was filling up the petrol, I realised that I should not be filling up with petrol, but diesel.  Never done it before, believe me, won’t be doing it again.  No, I didn’t start the engine.  I decided to do what any sane person would do in these circumstances; panic.  I ran into the petrol station in a flap and the lady serving very calmly told me to telephone my breakdown people and they would advise me what to do.  She would shut down the pump and take my mobile number so I could take poorly child into the coffee bar for warmth.

I ran back outside and made the call.  A recovery was necessary and it would be ninety minutes.  Ninety minutes in a freezing car with a poorly child.  Man of the House was in a meeting all morning so I telephoned the next best thing – his secretary and decided to tell her all about it.   She said that she would tell him as soon as she spoke to him.  I telephoned a retired relative for assistance – they were going out for a cup of tea in the afternoon, so for reasons unknown to the rest of the English-speaking world, no one in their house was able to assist. So I did what I should have done in the first place; I telephoned the Oddfather.  The Oddfather and his wife, The Godmother, are family friends, without whom I would, on many occasions, have been buggered.  He was there within twenty minutes.  He took crying Child Number Two, from a tearful me, collected The Hound and they were all ensconced on his sofa before I could say ‘Transylvania Two.’

So began my wait. During this time a male member of staff helpfully pointed out to me that my cap does say ‘diesel’ on it – what a pity I am not able to take him with me everywhere to point out everything that I do wrong.  His female counterpart decided to be more constructive and gave me a hot chocolate. Ninety minutes turned into two hours, two hours turned into three, and three turned into four.  I felt increasingly envious of people filling up their cars with the correct fuel and then going about their day.  One of my friends felt increasingly envious of me sitting on my own with a hot chocolate and a magazine for hours on end.  If I could have felt my feet by that point, I would have agreed with her.

The recovery truck arrived.  Four hundred pounds, yes four hundred pounds, worse off for my own stupidity and a lot of inconvenience to several people, I got the car back the next day.

By the end of this already trying week it had also become apparent that my deaf and aged cat was giving up her very long and hitherto healthy life. I asked the vet to try and get her to eat.  I thought that after seventeen years I owed her that.  The vet tried, but after twenty four hours, we decided that enough was enough and rather than let her starve to death, it was time to let her go.  So I stroked her head, kissed her and said goodbye.  The only thing that made it feel better was walking out into the waiting room to humans who smiled at me knowing exactly what had happened in the room, and the owners of wagging tails who had absolutely no idea but appreciated a fuss from a red-faced and tearful woman who needed it more than they did.

Never have I spent so much money in a week and felt so unutterably crap. I was cross with myself for doing something so idiotic with the car.  I felt angry that a cup of tea was more important to someone who ought to feel better, than my poorly child.  And the soul of my furry companion of the last seventeen years has flown and it is going to take me a long time to get used that.  But as always, try to take the positives.  The lady who insisted I have a hot chocolate on the house.  The recovery driver who told me about the person who drove out of a car park, through a fence and straight into someone’s back garden taking out a trampoline (blessedly with no one bouncing at the time).  The Oddfather coming to my rescue once again.  Friends offering to help with my children.  The vet so kind in making a difficult day bearable.  Man of the House bringing fish and chips home because he knows I love it.  The kindness of strangers, the kindness of friends.


Knowing Me, Not Knowing You


I thought that I would have got it all sorted by now.  I thought that I would have seen everything.  Of course, I only thought this when I was about eighteen, and that was a time when my mentality was rather like my friend’s five year old who declared yesterday that he would stop counting after thirty nine “because there aren’t any numbers after that”.  Now that I have discovered that there are numbers after thirty nine, I wonder if I will ever stop being surprised by the world around me.  Not that I spend everyday leaping about because everything is just too much, but often I discover something and am left thinking “good grief, I didn’t expect that.”  You know what I mean?  Like it being the current fashion for women to remove their eyebrows and then paint them back in.  Didn’t very little and very old ladies do that when we were small along with a purple rinse to complete the look?  In fact, dying your hair grey and then purple is a thing now isn’t it?  What is that?  Geriatric-chic?  The Elephant (see Dumbo blog).  President Fart and his tiny button.  Rolf Harris.  I was surprised by all of it.

I have just put down a book to write this piece.  It is a serious book covering about 3,000 years of history.  I have just read a section which if I have read it correctly, claims that there was once a couple of Vandals, one called Suebi and another called Alan.  Now I have no wish to question the author as she has a brain the size of Jupiter and I do not.  However, I have known a few Alans in my time, and I also once met a canary of the same name. Alan the Canary seemed like he may have benefitted from meeting Colin the Cat, but Alan the Humans were pleasant company and all perfectly well behaved.  So I read this thinking to myself, “Alan?  A Vandal?  Are you quite sure, Bettany?”  This is small fry in comparison to something else that I found out about the other day, which shouldn’t have caused me to raise an eyebrow and yet it did.

As many of you know I live on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.  It is a beautiful part of our lovely country, and I am very fortunate to live here.  A number of people visit  the area enjoying the walks, scenery and the pubs.  Every Sunday me, The Three Childerbeasts and Man of the House are treated to a selection of people enjoying a bracing walk which also involves them staring in at us eating our Sunday lunch.  When we start waving at them and the children shout “hello Starers” these people tend to realise that we are not an exhibit and quickly move their gaze and their pointing (yes, they point) and pretend that they were actually admiring the shed.

Now there are a number of lovely establishments in the area to suit all tastes and all budgets in which you may wish to rest your aching fingers and your weary feet.  Apparently there is also one venue where you would perhaps only go if you have a very specific taste.   If I were to tell you that I was told that it was carpeted for comfort and not with linoleum for ease of cleaning (as I had assumed), you might begin to catch my drift.   I found the website (yes, there is a website with photographs) where there is, for me, a complete head-fuck of chintz in the bed and breakfast area and leather and wipe-clean surfaces elsewhere.  I showed this to Man of the House to read and he declared that he stopped reading when he got to the word ‘enema’.  Another friend, until that moment a woman whom I (and she) had considered to be an experienced and broad-minded person. She asked me what an “inspection chair” was.  I replied that I was unsure but I did not think it available in the DFS sale which was a shame because it ends this Friday.  Reviews also report that the breakfast is excellent.

I was shocked.  I shouldn’t be.  I’m not a nun.  And I don’t think a nun would be shocked either. I firmly believe that if there are two consenting adults in private then what they get up to is entirely their business and their business alone.  This venue is not near to my house. The website would suggest that the business is run in an entirely discreet and professional manner.  Statistics would dictate that there a number of entirely unpublicised places inbetween.  My eyes tell me that there are many, many private homes with couples living in them also in which I assume there may be also some sexual activity at some point.    So why was I surprised? And why am I surprised that I am surprised? I have absolutely no idea.  But if I bump into anyone called Alan asking for directions when I’m walking the Hound, I’m running for the hills.


The Brown Dog


img_2596The Big Day is over, you’ve bought everything, wrapped everything, cooked everything and rather unlike The Little Red Hen, everyone else has unwrapped it all in a tenth of the time it took you to source it, buy it and wrap it in the first place.  And they have also eaten everything that you have lovingly bought and prepared in a similar timescale.  Whilst you are glad that everyone enjoyed it, you do wish that the food didn’t take twice as long for you to prepare it as it does for everyone to eat it.  I think it also safe for me to presume that there has been the annual festive strop from a family member who didn’t win at the Christmas game of chance and they simply could not be placated with a piece of chocolate orange (note to Terry’s – don’t think we haven’t noticed that you have taken the middle bit out and put the price up – you’re on a very short lead).  Naturally there was the mystifying gift from a family member or friend whom you haven’t seen for years.  And I’m afraid that by Boxing Day that Mariah, the only thing I want for Christmas is for you to be mute.  It’s done people.  Well done everyone.

Then we moved into that period between Christmas and New Year.  No one was quite sure what day of the week it was, even if you were required at work.  During this time everyone was very stoically trying to “get through the chocolate” and “finish off the Christmas Cake”.  We became, as we do every year, a nation of nibblers; sausage rolls, a forgotten selection box, the cheese…nothing was beneath our attention. Except that rather sad looking bag of unopened salad languishing in the veg drawer in the fridge.  I am sure that by looking at a bag of salad that you absorb it’s nutritional value – it certainly seems to apply to Scottish shortbread.  Every year it takes us this interim period to polish off the Christmas food, sometimes with more family members and friends being drafted in to assist or vice versa.  That is what I love about being British, we are always willing to help each other out in a crisis.  One of my friends came over with my goddaughter for the day and we decided that the offering from my fridge was insufficient for our needs, so we went out.  For an All Day Breakfast.

Now the kids are back at school, everyone is back at work and routine begins again.  I find this bit of the year quite difficult.  When the leaves fall in Autumn, there is the tantalising promise of the time in Winter when we can all be tucked up fireside reading a book whilst it rages outside.  Or getting Hygge to coin a popular phrase.  It’s lovely.  The children are looking forward to Christmas, we all enjoy the school play, this year Sister B made cranberry gin….we’re all getting ready.  By the time that Christmas is over, we are not getting ready and Winter is the reality that is facing us. And it is cold and dark and wet for the next two months at least.   I am either outside with The Hound who during this time of year is brown rather than black, and I am carrying half a pound of mud on each boot as I try and make my way across a ploughed field.  If I am inside I am trying to cope with The Three Childerbeasts and their endless creativity for creating more mess. I don’t know about you but I have more washing than it is humanly possible to get through.  Ever.  If the ironing pile gets any higher I fully expect a family of muntjac to knock on the door and ask if they can move in.

And whilst I am struggling through all of this, I often wonder two things to myself. The first is: how on earth do women who work in paid employment manage all of this and their paid jobs?  I used to with Man of the House doing half, but I have no idea how we’d do it now.  Besides, it is a truth universally acknowledged and backed up by statistics that women still do the lion’s share of the housework.  As if the lion’s share is a prize to be won – yey, well done girls, you win a pair of marigolds and the loo brush!  And the second is: I used to have a paid job where multi-national companies listened very carefully to what I had to say.  They used to ask me for my advice, pay me for my advice in fact, and when I responded they would show all the signs of considering it very carefully before giving me their instructions.  Maybe not forever, but for now, I have given that up.  And I have given it up in exchange for speaking directly to someone on the very contentious subject of “juice with bits in” so they can (and they do) look me in the face as I am speaking to them and then just walk off as if they never heard me and I have never existed.  I suppose you could say that as I have made and squeezed this persons out of my own person that I have only myself (and Man of the House) to blame.   But it doesn’t stop me wondering.

I love the Seasons and how they change.  The importance and the necessity of the leaves falling and rotting to make food and the way for the new life in the Spring has not passed me by.  Winter is vital to that cycle. Hedgehogs, badgers, foxes, barn owls – all our peculiarly British wildlife – so beautiful and so very precious, seem especially so in Winter.  I know that with my head and I love that with my heart.  My logical brain tells me that it is lack of vitamin D, a lack of a vitamin that helps my general feeling of wellbeing, and my body has less opportunity to produce that when there are fewer hours of daylight available. As with so many things, I do wish my head and my heart could come to a more satisfactory arrangement between the two of them and then let me know what it is.  Because it’s been dark for months now and it’s beginning to feel like I’m in Narnia and that it may be a blessing to be turned to stone – not a good place to be.  My only solution, unless anyone has a better one, is head down and press on like the rest of you.  With the rest of you.  And if any of you feel like struggling across a very muddy field with me sometime in the few hours of daylight that we do have over the next few months, then, me and The Hound would be delighted for you to join us.

Happy New Year.