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Showing posts from March, 2007

Watch Out, Watch Out! Big Lady's About!

Well, I’m back. Can smugly announce that the Chocolate Tombola was the hit number in the show. Raised £70 (sharp intake of breath) to be added to the Brownie pot for more life-improving, character-building experiences for my daughter and her little canary-yellow-and-shit-brown mates (who chose THAT for a uniform?). The good folk of the town were actually a) queuing to get in and b) queuing for the choccie stall. It was almost obscene, this rush for sugary indulgence – or, if nothing else, the chance to pick up a few cheap eggs for the grandchildren. There was one lady, rather oversized in a pink shirt and black tracksuit and unhealthy grey complexion, who handed over two quid, picked 10 tickets and won five of them! I gushingly congratulated her but was seething that my poor little daughter had just handed over her pocket money and got…well, as ever, precisely nothing (she’s not born under the lucky star poor thing, like her father who won’t even play snap because he always gets a bum…

Birthday Suit

Woke to cockerel – real not girls’ alarm one. Far too early. Head filled with what to put in jam jars for Brownie sale. Scary recognition that I have become my mother. In younger days would be waking, turning to handsome stud next to me and saying ‘take me now!’. Instead there’s some bloke stinking of stale alcohol, twitching and snoring heavily. Took a wrong turn somewhere. Try to get back to sleep in yoga corpse position with much exaggerated deep breathing. Fail dismally. Will get up and make tea. Rip open curtains in birthday suit just as walker passing by, thankfully does not look up. Must remember not to do that. Day is soft, milky. Sheep gathered artistically in high corner of field framed by dry stone walls. Go downstairs to kitchen, cat sits up on chair, blinks, jumps down and stretches – one of those paws-out-haunches-up-stretchy-spine ones. Maybe cats do yoga too…

To think that on Saturdays I used to go to the White Company Sale on the Kings Road, SW3. Now it’s the Brownies …

Crayfish and Cribbage

You get all your best stories down the pub. I was there on Wednesday, the dreaded Brownies night. Non-Brownie daughters and I head for the solace of the tap room while E learns to skip, make strange things and generally be a Helpful Person. Anyway, it quickly became clear I have barely scratched the surface of local goings on in the four years I’ve been here. I was there with another friend from school and his daughter. While the girls did things that three girls under 8 do, he and I swopped stories over wine and beer.

I have learnt that there is a whole world of wild men and wild food out in them there ‘ills. There is Mark the Master Mushroom Picker, for a start. According to this stalwart of the local food underworld there are hundreds of different varieties to be found. He won’t disclose all his hunting grounds, of course. But if you buy him a pint or two he might let a few secrets out, slowly, like sap oozing from a lopped branch. I have to say I hadn’t associated the High Peak wi…

Get Me to the Church on Time

I went to my eldest daughter’s Easter Service this morning. I was late, of course. I was meant to have been accompanying the children from school to church adorned in yellow fluourescent top (me, not the church). I arrived five minutes late, the school was eerily empty, silence hanging heavily where normally cacophony rules. The school secretary visibly sighed as I buzzed the door to find out where the church was – I fear my reputation already runs before me (after only two terms) as The One Who Offers Help Then Is Always Late (aka Useless To Us). Ho hum. Leopards, spots and all that. So I run to the church, unaccompanied and minus the workman’s jacket. I am greeted at the door by Teacher in smart black robe and crying daughter. ‘Oh good, you’re here, she was SO upset’. Rucksack of guilt just got heavier. I accompany daughter back to her pew and sit uncomfortably nearby feeling flushed and rather tearful myself. As a non-working mother you feel your choices have been around being ther…

Nowhere to Hide

I’ve just had an interesting one! Have been driving on air since about yesterday lunchtime but kept quite not being able to fit in quick dash to petrol station. Knew I was pushing my luck and was getting a bit sweaty palmed about it. Coasted downhill to deliver children to school but then forced to engage gears to get out of village. Safety net of petrol can for lawnmower in back (actually had some in it for once). Sit at temporary traffic lights in town, cursing the hold up, as engine ticks over – manage to pull away ok and just reach brow of hill in town before engine starts juddering. *****r! Have hit town at ‘rush hour’ so irritating people wanting to turn left and right and buses and lorries fighting for space through the traffic calming scheme, thus impeding my freewheeling all the way down the hill to Morrison’s and the now rather urgently required petrol! Engine finally gives out just before pelican crossing, 50 yards from target. Too irritating to stop and get mower can out n…

Milky Mornings and Italian Markets

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A peach-coloured sun hanging above a dusty mauve hillside peeped through my bathroom window this morning. Not so long ago it would have been pitch black at this hour making getting up so much more arduous. The late afternoons are no longer a time to snuggle up indoors with a cup of tea and Ready Steady Cook. At 4 o’clock in winter it always feels that there is nothing left of the day. Yet almost overnight we found ourselves on Monday playing with the children in the garden till past 7 o’clock. Suddenly bedtime becomes less urgent, the day still feels full of possibilities. Despite the fact this happens twice a year, in both directions – dark to light, light to dark – I still always marvel at how quickly we adjust to the new rhythms, forgetting almost instantly how it was just a few weeks earlier.

For me that is the great joy of seasons. I would hate to live in a part of the world where it gets dark at the same time 365 days of the year, where the only seasons are winter and summer and …

Waving Goodbye to the Grandparents

I’m looking out at my view, the sheep grazing lazily in a hazy sun-drenched landscape, their fat bellies full of spring lamb. It would be a lovely day for a walk or pottering around in the garden but I feel strangely listless. I have just waved goodbye to the parents, watching the silver car meander down the lane, red brake lights illuminating for the corners, until it passed out of sight. It is always a difficult moment. The house suddenly feels very empty and I become a little maudlin over the fact that they live four hours’ drive from here and that we miss so much of each other’s day to day lives. The harsh facts are that none of us are getting any younger and the girls are growing so fast.

I came back from my little break in Italy to hear excited accounts of all those wonderful things that grandparents find time to do: they’d played cards, curled up on the sofa with books, played endless games in the garden and, best of all, had a treasure hunt. Each granddaughter had been given a…

Arrivederci

The phone rang its extended continental beep. ‘Pronto!’ said a slightly bored sounding Italian teenage girl.
‘Chi parla?’
‘Sono Elena’
‘Ciao Elena! Come stai?’
So beganneth the conversation I had last night with the girl for whom I babysat when she was just a few months old. Sadly sixteen years have slipped by and she is no longer the chubby cheeked little creature she once was. I haven’t seen her since she was about six, so it will be quite a shock. After a long time without contact, it is hard to believe that tomorrow night we will be having dinner in Padova (Padua) with the wonderful family I once worked for. We left in 1992 after two glorious years in this ancient seat of learning in north-east Italy, a stone’s throw from Venice. We used to return frequently until another stint in Italy (Milan this time), new baby, a return to England, house renovation, house move, new baby, house re-build, new baby, house move – all in quick succession - took their toll on our time.

Padova is wher…

Teeth and Tittle-Tattle

This week is National Dental Week. Well, in our family at least. I went to the dentist on Monday. I went there on Tuesday. I went there again today. All thanks to a receptionist who, three months ago, seemed incapable of understanding that I would actually like to try and rescue a little time from my diary and go with the children all together rather than on three separate sojourns. Still, it made each girl feel special I suppose. They all sat there, swamped by the dentist’s chair, furry toys dangling above, spindly little legs stuck out. They all were cleaned and sealed. They all rinsed and spat. They all got their sticker and their balloon, variously inscribed with ‘I’ve had a whale of a time’, ‘Plaque Buster’ and ‘Don’t you dare put that drill anywhere near my mouth’….hours of pleasure. For them at least. I was less convinced: there’s always a shocking smell of old tramp in that place. I cast my eyes round the waiting room. Occasionally the culprit is obvious, at other times it is …

Watch Out, Watch Out, Toads About!

20th March 2007

Ah yes, it’s that special time of year again. The moment when the humble toad decides to risk the very survival of its species by recklessly attempting to cross the road. This is a particularly foolish act in a number of ways: 1) a toad is not the fastest creature on earth so a quick dash to the other side is not an option, 2) this perilous activity is undertaken in the gloaming on wet murky nights when bolt-eyed drivers with their windows fugged up have a cat’s chance in hell of actually spotting them.

Now, this seasonal problem is currently very much in the minds of those of us in the village who spend most of our lives hurtling up and down the lanes in our four-wheeled killing machines. The Buxton Advertiser has already put out a plea for some Toad Traffic Wardens to help our misguided little warty friends make it back to their breeding sites. In our case this is the reservoir and the raised pond I talked of yesterday, as it is in deep, still water that they like to …

The Early Bird gets the Worm

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It may be a well-worn phrase but how true it is. Not that I would know much about that sort of thing as the words ‘early’ and ‘me’ have never been knowingly put together. However, this morning I can enjoy the rare experience of feeling suitably smug and replete on my fat worm having just returned from a wonderful early morning walk.

I drew back the curtains to find a snowy vista laid before me lit brightly by a rising easterly sun. Sometime during the night the marble-sized hailstones of the previous evening (so big they’d crashed down the chimney into the grate, scattering ash everywhere and leaving a sludgy mess for us all to admire) had turned to flakes and left a thin white blanket over the hillsides. Aha, I thought, we shall walk to school. Well, we didn’t manage that as time, of course, ran out somewhere over the Coco Pops. Instead, I parked in the centre of the village and walked the girls the last few hundred yards. A little fresh air is better than none. We negotiated the wedd…

Mother's Day Musings

Mother’s Day dawned in a whirlwind of sun, hail, sleet, snow, three over-excited little girls and their resigned-looking father. All I really wanted was a quiet lie-in. Instead I had to raise myself from my slumbers to a shrill chorus of Happy Mother’s Day, much jumping on the bed and a barrage of home-made cards and drawings all of which I had to admire and praise; a breakfast tray of cold tea and toast and soggy shreddies and a wonderful bunch of flowers from my husband. This year there was even the added excitement of a handmade photo frame with a picture of Eldest Daughter in her Brownie uniform and a talking toy parrot which repeatedly screeched ‘Happy Mother’s Day, Tah Dah Yeah, Mum’ in my left ear courtesy of my youngest. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When they finally all got bored I was left to read the Travel pages of the Telegraph in relative peace, lie in an oil-scented bath with Gardening Which? and learn that I have made a pig’s ear of pruning my fruit canes. Sti…

How the Tumbleweed Blew into Town

16th March 2007


I‘ve just walked to the top of the hill, to admire and sketch the view and to think again about how I came to be here.

It was a damp, misty November afternoon three and a half years ago. We had driven up into the hills from the flatness of the Cheshire plains. Down there the lank grey blanket was soul-crushing while up here, where at every twist of the road sheep loomed murkily out of the grassy bogs, it was mysteriously poetic. Here there was a sense of place my southern eyes thought no longer existed and a timelessness which remained with me long after our return to London. We drove over hill and dale, through attractive villages of grey stone houses – less dark and brooding than Cornwall or Yorkshire – until we reached the one that was to become our home. I will never forget driving down the lane that leads from the main road: golf course on the left, reservoir on the right, small fields with the ubiquitous sheep, then just before the stone railway bridge a small whi…

'Glitzy' High Peak Swings into Pole Position

15th March 2007


‘GLITZY’ HIGH PEAK SWINGS INTO POLE POSITION

I’ve just turned to page 3 of my local rag. I can’t see Samantha Fox in all her glory but it’s looking a bit racy nonetheless. There’s an unbelievably blurry photo (narrow your eyes and it could be 3D) of what could conceivably pass for a swingers gathering (quite popular round here, so my cleaner tells me). Four scantily clad ladies of a certain age (they love a bit of cleavage up north) are seemingly throwing back their heads in laughter (or ecstasy?) while a man in a dickie bow kneels in front of them, hands outstretched. He’s either a dwarf or the stripper at a hen party about to perform some lewd act or other. A lone man to the left of the picture is clapping, two others to the right are looking at the camera with the sort of rigid smiles that suggest they may have a rather stiff pole up their backsides. And there’s a load of leery people lurking at the back trying to get in on the action. Oh hang on, no, look, I’ve just …

Bonfires and Brownies

It's been a perfect day for gardening. Having done some essentials in the house I donned my boots and headed outside into the sunshine. I am amazed every year how excited I get about those first shoots of Spring. Having planted, rather belatedly (as with everything in my life!), some tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs that I purchased with gusto in the autumn, it is such a joy to see them pushing through the soil.

I decided to give the place a tidy-up. I started by raking up the last of the autumn leaves from the borders that have been left blanketing the soil over the winter. I think the risk of frost is now minimal. In fact this year has been exceptional for its lack of those magical mornings when the sun slants through the naked branches onto crisp fields of white; frozen droplets bejewel bare twigs, mist floats off the reservoir, and the air is crisp and sweet with negative ions. I feel a little cheated in that respect but am happy to embrace the energy of the new season.

With…

The times they are a-changing

Something’s not quite right. It’s a lovely day again. Soft air, the scents of spring with a hint of summer to come. No more excuses not to walk the children down the lane to school. So off we set, breathing in the grassy farmyardy smells and merrily swinging our plastic bag containing the two empty birds nests I found in the garden yesterday. The topic this term at school is ‘Materials’and the various things you can do with them. They’ve made lumpy grey recycled paper out of shredded newspapers, been to a local quarry to study stones and now they’re doing weaving. Yesterday a local artist came to the school and helped them weave a living pergola in the playground out of willow twigs. It’s designed to be a little shady retreat from the summer heat (hope springs eternal in these parts). It’s really rather splendid and, as ever, I was in awe of what our little village school manages to achieve. So anyway, I felt particularly chuffed when I found these abandoned nests as they were marvell…

Pheasants and things

I looked up from dishwashing and saw a pheasant on the lawn. I decided to go and have a closer inspection, maybe take a photo. It was a beautiful day again after all (diary note - that makes three in a row now). I snuck carefully up the side of the lawn, camera at the ready, to where it was ambling about. Too far away still. Must get closer. Sneak up some more. Bother, sun in eyes. Golly, don't pheasants have good camouflage - can't see the bloody thing at all now he's snuffling about in the shrubs. Ah, hear he comes, just get the camera......Oh God, it's Molly coming to be companionable, with immaculate timing of course. Pssst, Molly, bog off...can't you see I'm trying to take a photo of a pheasant? Molly, MOLLY...crouches low and hurtles into the bushes. Pheasant squawks, flies inelegantly over wall and away. Bloomin cat. Good to have you back. Honest.

Moll likes her wild stuff. In London she frequently came out the wrong side of a scuffle with the fox that le…

Found

Molly is back. The 'miao' at the back door was the sweetest I'd ever heard. She re-appeard just as Eldest Daughter was putting the finishing touches to her Missing Cat notice. She'd chosen a picture of a tabby off the internet. It was a close enough resemblance I suppose - and at least it wasn't orange with eight legs. Which would probably have made it an octopus. That would have looked strange pinned on a telegraph pole in the village. 'Missing Octopus. Washed away in floods. One tearful owner. Please do not pan fry if found.'

But I digress. We opened the door to the little furry face and she poked her nose in a little tentatively before allowing her body to follow. She was unmarked, unscathed and after a purry cuddle headed straight for the cat bowl, oblivious to the distress she'd caused her owner. A little food was digested, a bit of licking afterwards. She did look a tad sheepish. If she hadn't been neutered I'd have guessed she'd been r…

Missing

Molly is missing. However bright the day (and yes, we have another good one - diary note) my heart's gloomy. I know she's only a cat. But she's our cat and she's part of our family. The girls include her in their drawings and in their writings. She's sometimes depicted as orange with 8 legs. She is in fact tabby with four legs, but no matter. Perish the thought that I would ever want to harm their tender creative instincts with harsh criticism. The point is that she is a very sweet cat. In fact the sweetest cat that I have ever known. No bitchy clawing she when being tickled under the chin or being dragged by a three year old in an alarming manner across the kitchen floor in an attempt to pick her up. And if they succeed she will sit there looking, well, merely slightly disturbed, as her fur is stroked the wrong way and her legs left dangling. Now the children are all at school she is my cosy little companion, curled up on the chair by the Aga, pottering about the …

On a day like this

Good grief. It's a sunny day. Reason enough to make a diary note. But as I said, I live in a very beautiful place and on days like this it is hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Truly.

The sun is streaming through the window, the veins of the poinsettia in front of me opaque in the translucent ruby of their leaves. The grass in the fields across the lane is a vibrant green broken only by the ragged darkness of the dry stone walls. No sheep today, just the skeletons of the sleeping trees, a trail of woodsmoke from the village below and the heather-clad escarpment in the distance sharply defined by a winter blue sky. A cockerel crows. The light is so shiny and bright that everything glistens. The puddles sparkle, shadows dance. Several walkers pass by, making their way steadily uphill, revelling in the beauty of the day. After the relentless gloom of recent weeks, this is one to cherish. Your spirits soar. It's a good feeling.

However, it is also a very rare feeling. You …

The best laid plans

I live in a very beautiful place. Not exactly where I'd planned on living but, hey, the best laid and all that...

At 15 I knew I wanted to live in France, marry a Frenchman, live happily ever after. England was not for me. I was born and brought up in the south of England, not far from the coast, France always just over the watery horizon. I studied French. It was all in place. So how exactly have I ended up in the rain-soaked North West of this smitten Isle, my Mediterranean spirit caked in mud and mist?

There begs the question. Well, I can well and truly blame my husband. An easy target I know, but true. He comes to me one dark November eve down south and says ' How do you fancy Manchester?' 'Not a lot', says I, up to my neck in builders rubble and baby crap, the cracks in my facade apparent but gone unnoticed. 'Ok' he says.

So how was it that barely 5 months later I found myself driving up the M1, tears streaming down my cheeks, to a whole new world, a cou…