Monday, 29 June 2009

A Day in the Life

I have just come in from the garden, finishing abandoned tasks before the light fades completely. I have finally been planting plants which have been hanging around in their garden centre plastic pots for, in some cases, nearly four weeks now. Despite dipping them into the trough to drench their roots reasonably regularly, they were looking yellow leaved and unloved and I desperately wanted to show them that I cared. I really did. It is just, as ever, a question of time.

I had reluctantly gone inside at about 7.45pm to get the children into bed. N went off to Nigeria at 7.30 this morning, so I was doing my single parent bit as I so often do, even when he is not travelling. They had eaten tinned tomato soup and bread and butter (a favourite quick supper – spare me the lecture), and E had explained to her little sister that, although she preferred it to the one at school which has lots of bits and lumps in it (i.e real tomato soup), it really wasn’t very good for you ‘because, you see, it’s really bright orange and things’ (her mother, meanwhile, earwigging from her task of removing whole fields of ground elder from the herbaceous border, was pleased that the E-number discussion had clearly taken pleasing root in eldest child’s brain). Youngest was pleased to spend what remained of the evening with alarming orange stains around her mouth, nonetheless a cheerful reminder of a supper enjoyed and consumed without fuss or waste. Everyone’s happy.

So, what did we still have to do before bed could be achieved? (I had hoped for an early one. Vain hope.) Well, E had to practise her piano piece (Autumn, Vivaldi) for the Year 5 -music festival first thing tomorrow morning. I played it for her and told her that though it should be loud in parts, it need not be plonking. Lightness of touch was the key. (A tangible improvement ensued and I wish I’d told her that before she'd performed it for her Grade 1 test the other week.) She then had to print out some more homespun invitations from the computer for their all-in-one summer birthday party (42 children screaming around the place while the rain pisses down outside – spare me a tender thought on 12th July) which had to be named and put into envelopes. G had to go and wash from head to foot, covered as she was in mud from the party she’d been to this afternoon where, like my own worst nightmares, the Heavens opened as the clock struck 3pm and the party began – leaving 40 children screaming round the garden and throwing themselves down a huge blow-up double slide which had effortlessly turned itself into a water slide – except no-one was in a swimming costume as they sloshed through the lake of water at the bottom of it, plumes of liquid flying like Diana at Alton Towers (remember that shot?).

Indeed, it was a total monsoon. Anyone would have thought we lived on the Equator rather than in the Peak District this afternoon. We set off from home in 26 degrees and beautiful sunshine. 10 minutes away and, with the windscreen wipers on full frantic mode, I could still not see out of the windscreen as veritable curtains of water were hurled at the car from every angle. We were driving at 5 miles an hour, the window de-mister bellowing at us so we could barely hear ourselves think, negotiating 30cm flash floods on main roads, me muttering unkind words about ‘bloody parties and I knew we should never have said we’d go’. After all, we could have been at home in our garden enjoying the sunshine – a rare treat, let’s face it. But no, here we were doing some kind of Indiana Jones thing just for everyone to get soaked to the skin, or worse, the car broken down with a flooded engine. I couldn’t find the house. I couldn’t SEE the house for all the rain. My nerves were strained – and this was the second trip I’d done to Macclesfield today already, having hoiked them off to tennis lessons this morning at their school. I cursed my husband’s absence. Never bloody there when you need him. Blue balloons eventually found. Long drive. Smart house. Fountain. Gravel. Pond with coy carp and netting over the top. Lots of flashy cars and private number plates (they just LOVE private number plates round these parts). Tasteful blinds at the windows. Tasteful chairs and tables on tasteful terraces. Manicured lawns, sweeping parkland views. Would have loved to have been able to stay and have a nose round, even in the rain, but alas duty called and I had to turn swiftly on heel and schlep back through the torrents and rivers to home and, for once, the high dry land, hopefully to find my two other daughters still safely ensconced – one chained to the dining room table doing her history project (deadline fast approaching), the other chained to the coffee table in the sitting room doing her scrap book and watching television. I phoned them to let them know I was on my way back and to check that they were still alive. All was well and I’d spared them another wasted hour driving around the highways and byways of Cheshire and Derbyshire. They probably won’t even miss me when social services call to take me away.

So – back to this evening - while G scrubbed herself down, I washed little L’s hair which was dry and matted (almost as abandoned as my plants). I poured over the conditioner and tied it all up in a smart turban with a linen towel. She loves hats and scarves on her head. She picked up my dark blue pashmina the other day at the pub, when she and I were having lunch as a treat on an inset day, and said in an unfortunately shrill little voice ‘Look Mummy, I’m a Muslim!’ Cough. Didn’t seem quite appropriate at the village pub in the depths of the Peaks. ‘Yes, lovely darling, now let’s take it off, shall we?’ It suited her though. She pulled the same stunt while we were in Turkey, having observed the girls at the market in Fethiye. She wrapped an orange headscarf with sequins dangling off the edge of it round her head, tucking it behind her ears quite delightfully, and, well, quite looked the part, it has to be said. Funny little creature. Anyway, back in the bathroom, I sent her upstairs to get on her pyjamas (she’s such a little twiglet that she’s currently sporting a nightdress which is for a 3 month old! – though it is a tad short, it has to be said) before we then lay on my sheetless bed (stripped in a moment of enthusiasm but not yet re-made) and finished her school reading book all about donkeys. Lots of complicated words, took forever. By this time E and G had joined us and we curled up together to listen to L practising her recorder pieces for her Big Concert on Tuesday. It was quite painful. E started to giggle. This annoyed L. G just continued brushing my hair which made me feel calm, despite the screeching notes in my right ear. Finally, though, I could stand it no more and declared emphatically that this rehearsal should be finished in the morning. Just then N called to let us know he was safely arrived in Nigeria and that it was basic accommodation, to say the least, and very hot and sticky. I suffered no envy.

We climbed the stairs to their bedrooms, pulled curtains and said goodbye to the day, me twittering the while about how I still had so many jobs to finish in the garden and around the house. With that I heard the rain splattering on the velux window on the top landing and rushed outside to rescue lemon cake, mobile phone, place mats, deckchair, scrap book (mercifully The History Project was already inside) and the other detritus of our day. By the time I’d flung everything into the kitchen, cursing, it had started to ease and I soon found myself pottering about completing my tasks and feeling totally at one with the world outside. The air was damp and soft and as I weeded around my sickly looking garlics the heady citrus scent of the lemon balm behind me was intoxicating. I finished putting dark loamy compost from my wonderful heap around the plants I had placed in their position in pot or border. I did a little desultory weeding around the paths and terrace and tidied up abandoned tools and now empty plastic pots. Every now and then I glanced up and took in the milky grey views across to the reservoir or over the valley to the escarpment. The sheep bleated softly in the background and the birds sung their evensong. The dampness threw up so many heady scents of grass, honeysuckle and rose. Through the lit windows of the house I could see that all was chaos within – the laundry room with piles of clothes, washed, unwashed, ironed or waiting to be ironed; the kitchen table littered with the remains of their al fresco soup supper, clothes discarded from this morning, school bags, tea cups, magazines, tennis raquets and a hundred other miscellaneous items which roam the house in vagrant fashion, never quite finding a home; the kitchen sink piled with unwashed pots and pans, the worktop covered with dishes ready for the dishwasher. How I would love for it all to be in perfect order, but you know, if I have a choice, I would always rather be tending to my garden, breathing in its sweet air and feeding my soul with its shapes and perspectives, its dark corners and its wide open lawn, looking up from my tasks and seeing the world from on high.

Goodnight all. It is now midnight and I still have a bed to make.


Mark said...

Great post - I loved the images of the evening, the kids asleep, the house in chaos and you pottering, gathering thoughts and collecting the day together.

I seem to spend my life searching for order, especially when stressed. Tidying after kids though is like the labours of Sisyphus.


Cait O'Connor said...

What a fantastic post HH.

We can always find peace in the garden can't we? Make the most of the children, they grow so quickly and remember Dull Women Have Immaculate Homes.

Pipany said...

Loved this. So know how you feel, particularly about the garden and the need to be out there rather than inside sorting. I enjoy both on occasion, but the garden always calls stronger. Harder doing it all on your own too. Great post x

elizabethm said...

I loved this one HOTH and remember it so well from when I was a full time single mum, long ago thank God.
I love the sense of your contentment with your life and your garden and utterly share the feeling that if you can it is better to be outside. The other stuff will get done somehow but will never match the snatched hour of gentle pottering with your plants.

seashell cosmos said...

Me too, love being out in the garden and you brought back memories when my kids where younger-especially looking at the clock and still needing my own bed made! Great post. Also the tomato soup, which everyone loves here. What a beautiful photo on your blog header!!

Philippa said...

Just loved reading this C. We have SO much in common these days :) x

Lola said...

Ciao! Both Fridge Food and this blog are going to be places I will hang out in often.
Thank you for stopping by over at my kitchen and becoming a regular. In it you'll always find a meal (not always expressly made, it'll either be reheated or made with leftovers) domestic bliss, kids, hearty food and fragments of a messy journal. The wine will be good and the company excellent. I'm glad you've pulled up a chair.


Catharine Withenay said...

Tomato soup - a surefire favourite all round.

My husband won tickets to see a show in Buxton in September: presumably we're not living so far away from you as I think I am!

CAMILLA said...

What a really lovely post, I could spend hours in my garden, trouble is I always tend to be doing other tasks instead. Loved reading about your sheer contentment in your wonderful garden HOTH.


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