Monday, December 29, 2008

All is calm, all is quiet

So here I am, stranded in Kent, all alone in my parent's house. Of course the journey down South on Christmas Eve wasn't without incident; a steaming bonnet, broken power steering and a bright red battery light that wouldn't go off after a stop in a service station on the M11 80 miles from my destination. My Dad and Lurch (50 miles behind me with Danny Boy) advised me to carry on and not stop the engine. I did, with The Terminator swearing undying loyalty and promising not to leave me on my own. We made it over the Dartford Crossing without stopping and whooped and cheered as we arrived at El Vel and Sean Sean the Leprechaun's half an hour later. 'Happy Christmas everyone!'. Christmas was lovely, very relaxing and just family. The boys, Lurch and SSTL went for a long walk along the beach in the morning and then we had a fabulous traditional turkey with all of the trimmings.

Boxing Day was pretty much the same, although the boys were cranking up a gear and getting slightly more boisterous by this stage. I rang the AA on the 27th, they came out but said nothing was open and I would have to wait until Monday. I was supposed to be going back to work in Leeds. Lurch and the boys went off, as planned, on the early morning ferry to France. In the spirit of our recent home education experiences they are visiting war graves and possibly going to Ypres in Belgium too. So I had the weekend on my own.

Something strange has happened to me since. I've slept for 8 hours a night and am feeling totally relaxed to the point where my mental processes have broken through the perpetual low-level fug to a near clarity of thought. I'm not being bombarded with the usual artillery; requests to drive people anywhere (can't!), clean anything, break up fights, find anything, fix anything, empty or fill things. I've read Pat Barker's 'The Eye in the Door' and Sue Gee's 'Reading in Bed' and really enjoyed them. I feel like a different person, maybe this is what's really meant by a break?

It's also strange being back here without my family, and not being 18 again. I went to Tesco with El Vel and she pointed out grey, tired old faces that I didn't recognise. They're the same age as me, I know that because I went to school with them!

Yesterday we went for a walk (I went running) to the beach. On the way there we saw Alan, a neighbour of my parents, hoisting his Union Jack up the flagpole in the back garden. I hadn't seen him for years and he was certainly twice the man he used to be. After a quick chat we moved on. 'Blimey, he's put on weight, hasn't he?' I said to Vel. She made a face that was a cross between a bulldog sucking on a lemon and a crocodile smiling, this is how you can tell that she's feeling intense disapproval, although she would 'never say anything..' 'He's a fascist' she confided 'he's really nosy and knows everyone's business, he patrols the neighbourhood. He's even complained about building rubble here', she signalled to a nearby building site 'Dad and I were just having a very quick look through the windows and the builder invited us in for a tour, lovely man' she said.

We got to the beach and there are remembrance benches all along the seafront. I recognised the name of a girl I used to play netball with at school and the Aunt and Uncle of a friend of mine, and others I knew, it was extraordinarily moving. I ran half a mile one way into the biting, cold December wind, and then turned back. My parents were a short distance ahead, all wrapped up in hats, scarves and mittens, holding hands and battling the elements together as they'd done for nearly 50 years now. They didn't hear me as I approached at a jog. 'Get a room!' I yelled in my mother's ear as I passed. A startled stagger and a look that was pure bulldog was my response.

So now the AA have been and I'm here until tomorrow. The parents are at the golf club. Lurch has phoned and spoken to me in a strained tone with a background track of heavy fighting. I made the boys promise to let Lurch enjoy his holiday and to cut the brawling and behave and then I put the phone down, ran a hot bath with aromatic oils and pondered my third choice of novel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa's coming..

'Oooh, that looks good!' I say to Lurch, as we make our way around the throbbing Christmas Market in York. 'You want one?' he asks. I nod my thanks and tuck into a steaming crepe, filled to the brim with ham and melted cheese, all washed down with a hot and spicy cup of mulled wine. We move onto the next stall, specialist chocolatiers with a bedazzling array of hand-crafted jewels. 'Just a taster then' I'm transported to food heaven and buy a small crate to dip into on the long winter evenings, whilst tucked up reading in front of the fire. After an exhausting shopping trip I treat myself to a couple of mince pies and a cappucino. I love this time of year!

I don't love going to the dentist though. Until recently we had an excellent,kindly 60 year old dentist who played Radio 2 and turned on the fan heater to full blast in the waiting room to dry out the damp woodchip wallpaper. He had a heart attack and sold on his life's work. I took the boys for the first time last week. Now everything glows and shimmers; the dentist and her assistant must be about 24 with shiny white hair, shiny white teeth and shiny white uniforms, the boys were transfixed by the sheer, physical perfection, I had an uneasy 'Vanilla Sky' type of feeling as if we were in another world, brought on by the shiny leaflets offering wrinkle fillers and perfect smiles.

It was my turn today and I got ready. We've been waiting for an oil delivery for ten days so have had minimal heating and it's freezing. I put on my red fleece and a cream scarf and went to the bathroom to clean my teeth for the regulatory four minutes, plus flossing, plus mouthwash. As I approached the bathroom a little bit of magic happened, I caught a glimpse of Santa! It couldn't be, could it? It wasn't, of course, it was me! Yes me! All red-faced from the cold and the fire-heat with a festivity-laden stomach bulging out into my red fleece. I carefully turned the mirror to the wall.

Two fillings and £200 later I've made some resolutions. No longer am I going to a) turn myself into a Christmas pudding/bauble fit to hang on a giant Norwegian Spruce every year and b) sport Austin Powers style gnashers from the 1960's - time to move on, as soon as the house is sold I'm gonna get myself some 21st Century teeth!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Look at me!

Well, I've had my meeting with the Head of Year and she had interviewed the Head of every subject I'd mentioned and each had prepared a written report on Danny Boy. The History teacher had also waited after school to meet me. I had a written apology from the English teacher but the rest of the remarks have dampened my crusading spirit. Danny Boy has been identified as one of the brightest students in the year but he is an attention-seeking class clown who finds it very difficult to concentrate, disrupts other pupils and is desperately immature. The reason for his shoddy work is that he is slap-dash and doesn't spend anything like the right amount of time on his homework, doing the bare minimum to get by. It made for an interesting meeting. Danny Boy was squirming as Head Of Year revealed some of his half-truths and excuses. The upshot of it all is that it's up to him, plenty of other children are prepared to work. Tonight DB and I have learnt the verbs etre and avoir by rote, tomorrow it's Spanish... there is a six year sentence stretching before me and Lurch (who's now testing him).

Why is he such an attention seeker? I can only imagine he takes after his father who has sported many an eye-catching look in his time from Country Squire manque, complete with plus-fours (aged 16) to Eurocrat with a leather handbag and hand-tooled Italian loafers, a fine dandy indeed. I have never been comfortable in the spotlight.

My worst work experience ever was in Jamaica. I was representing the company, sponsoring an evening of Caribbean culture, which was being broadcast simultaneously on radio and TV. The MC was a restless, slightly aggressive man who seemed to carry a large colonial chip on his shoulder. He referred to me as 'The Queen's Representative' at all times, accompanied by a direct, challenging gaze and a savage smile. I couldn't understand what I'd done but half an hour into the show his delighted tones rang out across the island 'Would the Queen's representative please come forward for an exhibition limbo dance with our country's champion?' What! me?! I was forced into it, wearing a tightish linen business suit. I had to perform a limbo with a 6 foot 6 liquid limbed, breathtakingly handsome Rasta in front of 1,000 people in the stadium but also on TV. My mouth was dry, my legs and arms were wooden. The Rasta tried his best and so did I, contorting, shaking and shimmying but I was worse than John Sergeant, it was the most humiliating episode of my life. I was stone cold sober and, unbeknown to anyone else, four months pregnant! I still shudder at the memory.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My new career, stalker or eduwarrior?

So which is it to be? Last week I fell into the slough of despond or the trough of disillusionment, whatever... The reason for this despair is that I examined Danny Boy's school books. He has had several assessments in the last couple of weeks and appears to have gone backwards in every single subject. In History he has gone from a level 7 to a level 3 and, at the age of nearly 13, has spent about six weeks colouring in pictures of Henry VIII, devoting himself to shading yellow and green syphilitic ulcers on Henry's legs. WTF? His English book hasn't been marked by his teacher since the term began although he has, once again, designed a chocolate bar for the rest of the class to mark. Having been involved in Marketing and New Brand Development for 20 years I feel well placed to judge whether Shakespeare or I will leave the greater legacy to this country. So, I've decided that my new career is going to involve either stalking Ed Balls or stirring the masses to rebel against the dumbing down of education. I am on a mission.

The cavalry arrived on Tuesday, just in time for The Terminator's birthday. When I came home from work I could make out a dim halo of light shining on the driveway, yes it was Sean Sean the Leprechaun with a camping headlamp strapped to his forehead, finishing off The Guardian Sudoko in the car. El Vel was at his side, rubber gloves poking out of the suitcase, ready for action. As usual, to the utter bewilderment of Lurch, they brought their own towels and mugs as well as all of the half-finished food in their fridge. After five trips between the car and the house we managed to squeeze it all in.

I showed her DB's books and, as a former Deputy Head, she was appalled. I made a list of issues and phoned the Head of Year. She responded fantastically and is interviewing the Subject Heads and then Danny Boy, she and I will be meeting. Hope is glimmering, Danny Boy is scowling, I am crusading. The fridge is sparkling, the vegetable patch has been dug over and planted with purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages, and as I waved goodbye to my parents I felt that all was now right with the world. And relax...

Friday, November 14, 2008

They grow up so fast, don't they?

We spent half term with old friends in Hampshire. My friend from university married Lurch's school friend and they have two boys, exactly the same age as ours. It was lovely. On Halloween we went trick or treating, not that I really approve of that activity, but I relented. About 6 teenage girls came round to call for James, Danny Boy was all studied cool, simmering embarrassment and self consciousness but tailed along with the group. I noted that all of the girls were taller than me, and considerably thinner.

My friend and I took the two younger boys trick or treating. The last door they knocked on was that of a bent and twisted old man of about 98. The Terminator saw him approaching through the frosted glass front door and took his werewolf mask off. Eventually the door opened, The Terminator said 'don't worry, we'll go away' but the old man insisted on searching for something for them and, after 15 minutes he came back and gave the boys 5p to share. They said thank you very politely and my heart swelled with pride when TT explained he'd taken his mask off to avoid causing a fatal heart attack.

Back home to their cosy warm house. Matt's an architect and they've renovated some old stables. All of the children were playing in the garden and Lurch knocked up his speciality for us, Mojitos - topped with fresh mint. Delicious! Life was sweet until I heard the deafening tones of The Terminator from the garden 'You f***in' w***aah!' I inhaled the mojito suddenly, coughing and spluttering, aghast. I called them inside and asked TT what he thought he was doing shouting in someone else's garden, and him a guest to boot. 'Don't worry, Mum' he responded 'it's not real, we're playing Chavs and Robbers! It's so much fun swearing...'

Having put a stop to the game we returned home a couple of days afterwards. A week or so later a shifty looking Danny Boy sidled up to me. 'What's wrong?' I asked 'I've got something to tell you' he replied, looking pale and drawn and at the floor, 'I've been looking at porn on the internet'. This time it was a cup of tea that I ingested. We sat down to talk about it, I found it very, very difficult, I was cross but he had told me. He then explained that all of his friends were doing it and one boy, Robert, spent every Friday night with a couple of Jack Daniels and Cokes surfing the world wide web. He'd given Danny Boy the websites. 'Robert's mother is a teacher and Robert is telling lies' I explained to him. I also told him that porn wasn't real life and that psychiatrists offices were full of young men who were unable to have normal relationships after porn addiction. What else can you say?

I subsequently found out that one of his friends had actually downloaded two porn videos, paid for with his father's credit card. The parents had to send their son's birth certificate to the company to prove that he was 12. Naturally, every computer in the neighbourhood is now fitted with new software and we're trying to hold back that crashing tide...

Friday, November 07, 2008

As you sow...

Rat a tat tat! I woke up to the sound of the door knocker and peeked out of the bedroom window, the shiny red post van was parked in the drive, again. Parcels and packages have been flying in from all over the world; portuguese grammar books from specialist London bookshops, CDs from Portugal and DVDs from Brazil. 'It's for you' I told Lurch, but he had already bounded downstairs to answer the door and unwrap his latest order. The elementary evening course is getting out of hand. I am about to commit Lurchicide. 'How do you pronounce cidades dos homems?' he asked, studying a DVD with intensity. I told him. A small furrow wrinkled his earnest brow 'I don't think Felipa said it like that', he then gave me his version, delivered in a forceful, swishing nasal twang. 'Has Felipa asked you if you come from Minsk, Belarus? And don't ask me again if you think you know best already. I told you I haven't studied portuguese for 20 years...' 'Ok, ok, I was only checking' Lurch sighed.

I am interested but Lurch is incapable of half measures. To humour him I asked him about the other people on the course. 'It's an odd mix' he said 'half of them are single women about your age and oddly enough the others are fifty something men who are married to Brazilian women. Felipa keeps asking them why their wives aren't teaching them at home, I can't understand it, they just look at the floor and don't answer her'.
I can and I was off on one of my favourite rants: Modern Day Slavery. I see these Youth Stealers in Sainsburys, miserable, grey haired paunchy men, being followed by tiny beautiful Thai, Russian or Brazilian wives, staring dispiritedly at the shelves through the bars of their supermarket trolleys, loaded with beer and cleaning fluids. I cannot believe that the practice of buying a wife on the internet is legal. I usually give the men a hard stare to show my disapproval. Lurch says it is none of my business and I am in no position to judge, both parties deem it a fair exchange etc etc but it just does not feel right to me. So, from Ipanema to Ilkley Moor. I explained to Lurch that the reason the Brazilian brides did not talk to their husbands was because they already had to do unmentionable things with them and a conversation with the Youth Stealers may very well push them right over the edge.

However, I don't want to risk alienating my two male readers so I'll desist with the rant. We start the day with a quick recap of the night before's pronunciation exercise. Danny Boy and The Terminator stare at Lurch over breakfast, incomprehension and bewilderment etched on their sleep-rumpled faces. The volume and nasal twang seem deafening at this time of day. We go to work and then when we arrive home the DVD goes on - 'Cidades dos homems' as I mispronounced earlier - a gritty soap opera about teenagers set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, made ever more difficult to understand because Lurch repeats everything like an exotic parrot in need of a hearing aid. Then to bed where he rustles the papers of his homework, once again asking me how to pronounce things and subsequently correcting me. It can only be a matter of time before Felipa moves him up to the next level, probably at the request of the rest of the class.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Smudge on my character

I have a skeleton in the closet and, after years of burying it, suddenly it's surfaced again. It's risen its terrible head because Lurch has started elementary portuguese evening classes.

In the 1980's I studied Hispanic Studies with subsidiary french at university. I could manage the french and spanish but I'm afraid that I began portugese in my second year, which was, coincidentally, one of the two most debauched years of my life. I had a new boyfriend and we used to go to a pub quiz every Sunday night. Monday morning 9.00am was my portuguese class. I think I made about 2 and after a term and a half I received a departmental warning and was told by my personal tutor that I wouldn't be able to go to Spain for my year abroad if I failed portuguese. I rallied and immediately bought all of my literature books in english and taught myself a code for translating portuguese to spanish to english. I only had to translate from portuguese to english and I managed to pass. I couldn't speak a word of it and my tutors were not impressed.

Cut to 5 years later and Colin, the european head of the global drinks company I worked for, had asked Human Remains to produce pamphlets on everybody to include 'skills they were too modest to mention'. After an attention-seeking entry of 'European' under nationality I also included portuguese in my language skills(hoping it wouldn't be noticed). 'My Favourite European Corporate Polyglot! Amazing! You are the only portuguese speaker in the company!' bellowed Colin at me. I tried to smile winningly and hoped he would forget but he was so proud of me, the European Corporate Polyglot.

I realised I had nothing to fear, nobody spoke portuguese so I basked in his admiration until the fateful day when he cantered towards me, waving a piece of paper, yelling 'The Brazilians are coming! I've prepared your itinerary, let's go through it this afternoon!'. I felt sick to the stomach, he had scheduled in 5 key brand presentations in portuguese, to be given by me, followed by a tour of London by helicopter, with me as translator, and a fabulous dinner to end the perfect day, with me as translator again. I had done the same with our French and Mexican distributors so there was no reason for him to presume I wouldn't be able to do it. My knees were shaking, I couldn't speak. Eventually I had no option but to tell my immediate boss, sobbing with worry and shame. She laughed her head off and rang Human Remains to explain my lack of expertise. They arranged for me to go on a residential 'Active Listening' course on the appropriate days and I got out of it. I have never been more ashamed or relieved in my life. Colin was bitterly disappointed and harangued HR but, saints that they were, they wouldn't budge.

So Lurch began his course. When he arrived home after the first lesson I shouted 'boa tarde' to him. He came into the bedroom with a quizzical look on his face 'I'm no expert but isn't it boa noite when it's dark?' he asked. 'Hmm, maybe' I grunted. 'I told our teacher that you had a portuguese degree by deception' he countered. I said nothing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Routine, interrupted

When I work in Leeds I have a routine that is automatic; rush out of the house about ten minutes later than I would like to be, hair wet, no make-up, clutching my mobile phone to make sure I remember it and dash off in the car to try and beat the Leeds rush hour traffic. Stop on the way (usually in a traffic jam) and put velcro rollers in my hair and make-up on my face about twenty minutes before arriving at the car park. When I get to the car park I change into my trainers to do the fifteen minute power-walk from the car park to work, aware that I sometimes look very strange, depending on my outfit/footwear combo. However, as stated before, a woman over the age of 40 in the UK is rarely given a second glance and is blessed with an unspoken invisibility cloak. I haven't got a purple hat yet but I'm sure the moment's not too far away.

Last Monday I set off from the car park more slowly than usual (my thigh muscles were burning from the run) and got about a third of the way there. I was distracted from my normal robotic routine by a commotion behind me as I was crossing the road at traffic lights. There were two feral-looking men with pinched faces shouting, swigging from cans and careering along the pavement. One of them had a bloodied nose and fresh scabs all over his face. I hurried along a little faster, feeling quite threatened even though it was early in the morning. The shouting got louder and they got closer and closer, I ended up breaking into a slow jog, but they were still catching me up. Other workers were crossing the road to avoid them but it was too late for me. I sped up again, clutching my handbag and suddenly I felt them grab me from behind. I turned round screaming and looked straight at the shaved head and bloodied face of the most frightening one. 'What do you want?' I yelled. 'Don't panic love, I'm sorry for scaring ya but we couldn't let ya go to work like that...' he still had his hand on my arm and then his friend reached out to touch me too. 'What do you mean?' I asked, preparing for my dress sense to be insulted by a hoodie.

'We can't let ya go in the office with a roller stuck to ya jumper darlin'!' and he produced a bright yellow velcro roller from my back.

I apologised profusely and we ended up walking to work together - the scabby one admitted that he looked terrifying but said that he'd been set upon on Saturday night by some 17 year olds when he'd been roaring drunk, tottering around with a take-away and got beaten to a pulp. He then advised me to get some ghd hair straighteners that wouldn't stick to me and we waved goodbye. Afterwards I realised that none of the business women I passed said anything to me about my dayglo roller. How strange!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Great Big Run

I collected my schoolfriend from the station at 5.15pm on Saturday and we immediately went into our usual routine. We lined up the Nurofen Plus, loo roll, jelly beans, Lucozade tablets, Lucozade carb gel, Lucozade Sport, change for the bus, thermos flasks, numbers and safety pins, ankle chips, change of clothes and baby wipes plus lipstick for me; there's nothing like an unmade-up purple face in the hideous pictures, taken without knowledge by the professionals, to make you feel like re-mortgaging.

This year we were both inexplicably nervous, perhaps because we'd missed last year and I was worried about my knee and not doing enough training. I'd also been suffering from a psychosomatic cold all week which had panicked me into imagining a total, fatal collapse on the side of the road, breathing my rancid last into the face of a poor St John's ambulance volunteer.

Lurch cooked the boys supper and schoolfriend and I ate huge amounts of vegetable lasagne. I had excelled myself during the week in the carb loading department; coffee and cakes in every local tea shop and mountains of pasta and had denied myself wine for two weeks, apart from a couple of blips when things really got too much. I had worn my tracksuit non-stop at home to get myself in the mood, even Lurch noticed and remarked 'there's a whiff of the Vicky Pollards about you these days'. My preparation could not have been more keen. Off to bed at 10pm, awake in a cold sweat at 2pm, 4pm and then up at 5.15 ready for the trip to Newcastle.

The Great North Run is such a moving and inspirational race. It was chilly but bright as SF and I arrived at the starting line with the 52,000 other runners and we both started blubbing at the radio interviews with fundraisers. We also chatted to lots of people and were totally impressed with a 65 year old woman with an 18 year old's figure. She had only started running at 53 after a school reunion where she saw some little old ladies and realised they were her classmates, her best time was under two hours, she was brilliant fun. Schoolfriend and I are hugely competitive and she was confident. We have an agreement to start together but run apart. We were off, with a big high five from Chris Hoy - funnily enough I didn't notice Tony Blair or anybody else at the start.

It was a tough race, I'd forgotten the hills again and really struggled at 4 miles, my legs were hurting and I was boiling hot, thankfully the Geordies were out in force, children were squirting runners with water (I think!!) and kind people were handing out ice pops from their homes (don't eat the yellow ones), all gratefully received by me. Several onlookers were smoking tabs and drinking cans of lager and I would have given everything I possessed, even the boys, at one point to trade places but I forced myself to keep going. At 6 miles I started to feel OK and swallowed nearly the whole packet of Lucozade carb tablets. I had also drunk 2 bottles of Lucozade Sport but still took on board a further pouch of Lucozade at one of the stations. The eleven mile hill is normally my worst point but the sugar rush helped me to carry on without walking and suddenly at 12 miles I realised I could probably get a personal best if I just tried to hang on. I swallowed the Lucozade carb gel and gave it my all. 800 metres to go, 400 metres to go, 200 metres to go with the crowds cheering us on along the seafront and I managed to sprint the last bit to achieve a personal best of 2 hours 7 minutes and 24 seconds. Woohoo! But I was nearly sick at the finish line due to Luco-nausea, tablets, gel and isotonic drink combining to create a near volcanic effect in my stomach. Yuck! Will not be touching that stuff for some time, however I'm grateful for its help.

Met Schoolfriend at the family bit, trying not to gloat, she didn't know her time but her daughter texted her to say she had done it in 2 hours 6 minutes and 42 seconds!!! Pipped at the post by 42 seconds!! 2 all now. Still, we were both thrilled with the result. Got home, happy, sore and tired, had a lovely hot bath with a glass of champagne and fell asleep at 9.00pm.

I would like to say a big thank you and a big congratulations to everybody who did it and made it such a brilliant race. Cheers!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Is this you?

Nobody except Lurch knows I'm a blogger so I was asked at work to discover as much as I could about bloggers for a project on consumer segmentation. I spent a lot of time investigating, but that doesn't mean I'm neurotic. This is one article that summarised a lot of others, thought you might be interested!

Computers in human behaviour (somebody tell me how to do a link!!)

The Big Five personality inventory measures personality based on five key traits: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness [Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory. Psychological Assessment 4, 5–13]. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that individual differences on the Big Five factors are associated with different types of Internet usage [Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2003). Loneliness and Internet use. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 71–80; Hamburger, Y. A., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2000). Relationship between extraversion and neuroticism and the different uses of the Internet. Computers in Human Behavior 16, 441–449]. Two studies sought to extend this research to a relatively new online format for expression: blogging. Specifically, we examined whether the different Big Five traits predicted blogging. The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men. These results indicate that personality factors impact the likelihood of being a blogger and have implications for understanding who blogs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back down to earth

So we're back in the swing of things, with a vengeance. It's a busy time of year again and after all of the reflection time in Africa we've returned to a life of non-stop action. We've finally had two viewings on the house. One while we were on holiday and the feedback was very good but they weren't in a position to buy. Then Lurch went to Madrid with work and his parents came to stay. The estate agent's call meant that I cleaned and spruced for five hours, refreshing the house with Crabtree & Evelyn India Hicks room fragrance for a mere £21 (it's worth it to mask that cigar smoke) while the in-laws took charge of the children. I was so excited! There was a knock on the door and a middle-aged Geordie, dressed in the most expensive, gorgeous pale green and cream silk coat, appeared in a perfumed waft. 'Is there a pub in the village?' she asked and I knew in a flash that all of my efforts were in vain. I was right, she thought it was overpriced and needed a lot of work doing to it, you can tell when people think an en-suite jacuzzi is standard that quaint and old is not for them. C'est la vie.

Things have been moving on the family front. Pete and Wendy are having the worst of times. My lovely but very immature nephew was thrown out of University for failing a resit and has transferred to another university near Pete's house so that he can commute daily and get back on track. He's got a £7,000 drinking debt. Pete said the interview with the Head of Economics was one of the most excruciating 15 minutes of his entire life. The other twin has decided to stay in Canada for another gap year. Poor Wendy is having terrible problems with chemo. It's making her so ill that she's had to be hospitalised to be re-hydrated to be well enough to have the treatment and she's so tired she can't even watch tv in bed. Claire's eldest son, on the other hand, has got into Cambridge to read Economics and her second son was told that his art gcse was one of the ten best in the country. Vel's too scared to tell Pete.

Danny Boy told me his interview re: underachievement with the Head of Year went very well, I asked him what his focus targets were, 'I can't quite remember' was the answer. Lurch has had a long chat with him and I'm hoping it's done some good, but how do you get the balance between independence and making sure they do their work? The Terminator is back at cubs and was given a trophy for his area success in wrestling, he's been waiting for it for a while but his face was like thunder. 'What's wrong?' I asked him in the car 'look at it!' he replied. It was engraved with the words 'runner up'. 'I was joint winner' he announced 'I've seen a shop near Tesco that does engraving, I want you to tell them to scratch out runner-up and replace it with winner, I'll pay' he said. How can two boys be so different?

Back to the football season too; the highs, the lows, the goals, the substitutions, the injuries, all the drama is there for the taking. I might as well just get used to it!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Family holidays part 2

We left Livingstone and decided to go to Lake Kariba. Lurch said no problem it's mostly tar roads so it should be quick. He hadn't been to Zambia for four years and there hadn't been any investment in the roads. We set off on the main road from Livingstone to Lusaka. I have never seen anything like it in my life, it looked as though a meteorite shower had just fallen, it was chock full of pot holes and everybody was driving on the side,in the middle to the left and to the right to avoid them. We joined a dusty, snaking conga for three hours, led by 4 Jeeps in convoy driven by men with very short shorts and very long grey beards, wearing maroon polo shirts with 'the Jesus film project' embroidered on the front. We didn't stop to ask them what they were filming.

Zambia is full of people on shiny, aluminium bicycles; echoes of the famous scene with Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid everywhere - old couples on bikes, whole families pedalling along on one bike and even a man with a live pig strapped on the back, we didn't see one overweight Zambian in the villages. Danny Boy had become fearful of African towns, we couldn't understand why but he explained that the poverty was scaring him, so we picked up hitchhikers from villages who sat next to the boys in the back of the car, I'm not sure if that helped or hindered DB's understanding. The Terminator, on the other hand, remarked that the people smiled a lot more in Zambia than Yorkshire and looked a lot happier, he wondered whether it was because they didn't appear to be at school or work much. Lurch told him it wasn't as simple as that but I had to agree with The Terminator, Zambians did seem really relaxed and cheerful.

After a hellish journey avoiding Zambians on bikes coming at you in the middle of the road with no lights and unidentified pot holes everywhere we arrived at Lake Kariba and set up the tents for the night. I dragged myself into bed, my ovaries felt like they were exploding and my knees were seizing up. We decided to stay for a couple of days to rest properly and again it was wonderful. The lodge owners were lovely and took the boys out fishing for the afternoon for a few dollars. They came back at dusk saying they had had the best day of their entire lives. They caught about 30 fish and threw the remainder to the crocodiles in the farm on the lake. Danny Boy was thrilled to hear the croc's jaws crunch. Later that night the owners set up a table by the pool with glowing hurricane lamps for us and we had a fabulous feast of fish and chips.

Then onto Lusaka and Chipata before arriving at the highlight of the trip, South Luangwa national park and Flatdogs Camp. Lurch had stayed there before and we were treated like old friends. The park was outstanding and Flatdogs was fantastic; hippos and elephants wander around the camp and you have to check the pool for animals in the morning, before diving in. We also had beds in fixed tents, the luxury! We drove ourselves into the park where Lurch found the bones of a dead warthog. Always one to flout the rules he got out of the vehicle and started kicking the skull to try and dislodge a few teeth to take home with him. The rest of the visitors looked on in horror but fortunately nothing got him and he wasn't strong enough to take a trophy home. We probably should have joined a game drive as there was a leopard kill of a pregnant Impala, a python eating an Impala and 5 week old lion cubs around a buffalo kill! Two Swedish ladies were unable to eat their dinner after the drive and a brave single dad from England on safari for the first time was very worried about what his 9 year old daughter was going to tell his ex-wife about her holiday memories. Nature is red in tooth and claw indeed.

Lurch took lots of photos and we met some lovely people there. The Zambian president also died during this time and his body was flown all around the country for people to mourn, which they did with a vengeance.

All in all a thought-provoking, beautiful but wild holiday. I can't say I look rested in any way, more like the elderly love-child of Worzel Gummidge and a lizard with a greasy t-section if the photos are anything to go by. We will return though!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Family holidays part 1

So we were off! We had to wait until the postman arrived before we could leave as Lurch was expecting a box of cigars from a website in Gibraltar. They were dirt cheap, apparently, and they didn't materialise in the post, little did I know how significant that was to be.

El Vel and Sean met us at Gatwick, took our car home with them and off we flew on the night flight to Windhoek, Namibia. We got about 6 hours sleep so once we picked up the beast with the roof tents we continued to drive for about 4 hours north before camping overnight. The next day we didn't manage to set off until 10am as a result of poor organisation and then drove for another 5 hours, heading towards Zambia. Same thing the following day through the unrelenting scenery that was the Caprivi Strip in the North of Namibia, burning bushes and an arrow-straight road, not even a curve to lend any change. The boys were pretty bored by this stage but being good, reading in the back of the car. I was beginning to feel fractious as Lurch had promised me the driving wouldn't be too bad. Lurch, on the other hand, was metamorphosing into a snarling monster - I had no idea of the extent of his nicotine addiction and he couldn't find a cigar in Namibia to satisfy his cravings. He was horrendously foul tempered.

We finally crossed the border into Zambia and we were all looking forward to staying in the Waterfront in Livingstone, which sounded fantastic in the guide book. 'No need to book' said Lurch. More like 'no vacancies'. We eventually found somewhere else but I was tired, dirty, bones aching from rooftents and roads and bitterly disappointed. As we drove into the campsite we had a huge row and Lurch swore at me. I gave him the international sign of the middle finger when the children weren't looking, but I'm afraid the 6 elderly South Africans on the pitch next to us were. In the middle of it all a lady came and asked me if I would like a pedicure for $15, telling me she could get rid of my cracked, dry skin and restore my feet to human being status. A chink of light! Lurch responded from his foetal position for me 'Don't worry, I'll clip her toenails for free, we're on an economy drive!' I turned on my poor old heel and stomped off to the bar on my own and watched the Olympics with the barman whilst I calmed down.

I returned to the pitch an hour later to discover that the boys had told Lurch they never wanted to hear him swear at me again and he was very sheepish indeed. 'Time for the spa then' he said and I looked around for the beautician but he had his car keys out and actually meant the supermarket Spar. Never mind, all was calm again.

So Livingstone, land of milk and honey, a buzzing thriving place full of enterprise and industry and we loved it.The following morning we ordered a taxi to the Victoria Falls and Benson arrived to pick us up wearing a T-shirt with the slogan 'I'm with Barack Obama, and you?'. We hopped into his taxi which was adorned with white fur that kept wrapping around Danny Boy's neck as we gathered speed, and had a lively conversation about US politics. Then we arrived at the Falls. I have never seen anything like it in my life. The Falls are spectacular and we were awe struck. We spent a morning walking around them and then went to meet Benson at the allotted time to take us home. He wasn't there so we waited for half an hour; Lurch was pacing again and then Benson's friend Pearson came to get us as Benson had been held up with other business. Lurch was uptight and I explained the nicotine scenario to Pearson, who sympathised kindly. Pearson took us to the Spar again and we got a few things for dinner. When we came back to the car he had visited every possible place in the shopping centre to try and locate a cigar for Lurch. Failing in that he then took us free of charge to the Royal Livingstone and Lurch found a cigar for US$150. I reminded him of our economy drive and he didn't buy it so Pearson took us home. We were to encounter Zambian kindness like this on many more occasions. As we were leaving the following morning one of the South Africans came over wearing khaki shorts, displaying his vast naked gut adorned with a silver white scar from open heart surgery. 'When you get to England, open this and think of me' he said and handed over a bottle of South African brandy 'It was good to meet you'. We were astounded as we'd been so awful when we arrived and it made me feel ashamed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


So, we have been frantically getting ready for our Zambian trip for the last few days - I say we... Lurch spent the day with his feet up reading the paper or watching Carry on Cruising, but then again he has spent the last six weekends working and he is SO stressed. Fair enough. Boys thoughtfully have been changing their clothes on the hour every hour - they are now wearing tiny clothes destined for the charity shop and, if I could tie their hands behind their backs, I would.

I have hardly had a spare moment to myself, why? I'm afraid it's that time of year, or should I say every 4 years, yes it's the Olympics. Whilst everybody else is bored or vaguely interested I have had to fit my washing, ironing, shopping, social life, work etc around an extremely heavy schedule of viewing; the opening ceremony (big WOW! is all I can say, there were tears in my eyes at the beauty of it and I nearly booked a ticket to China there and then) boxing, swimming, synchronised diving, archery, extremely long bike rides, rowing, badminton and gymnastics. I love it, all of it. I think it's to do with pure admiration for people spending their whole lives training for one moment, however strange, it's absolutely incredible. I will miss most of it though as we'll be in Zambia and Lurch assures me televisions will be few and far between. He believed me when I said I was getting up at 3.50am to watch the swimming tomorrow, that's how engrossed I am.

Which leads me on to another subject, I am concerned about my Great North Run training, how am I going to do it in Africa? Any advice would be greatly welcomed. I have visions of early morning runs, to avoid the heat, finishing in being hunted down by savage packs of hyenas and eaten for breakfast. Will have to consult local experts, put on my trainers and hope for the best. Work has given me the She Wee so my night-time dilemmas are sorted. We're leaving on Wednesday and I can't wait now.

I am looking forward to our small, sometimes very stressed family spending a lot of time together without housework, schoolwork or just plain work interfering। I am looking forward to relaxing by pools and reading lots of novels. I am looking forward to exploring Zambia and meeting new people and experiencing new things.

Crisis! Lurch has just walked in to say that it will be freezing in the roof tents at night and we need winter pyjamas. Got to go, will have to re-pack and read a few of my favourite blogs before we leave. Hope to be able to visit a few internet cafes and report on the trip in Lusaka. If not, have a lovely summer, will be back in September, bar any hyena incidents...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Island Hopping

Now we're all back home again, safe, sound and slightly damp in the shadow of the North Yorkshire Moors. The boys have finished their island hopping and I went to pick them up and stay for a few days with El Vel and Sean. Lurch stayed behind and threw himself into a work frenzy.

I was brought up on an island off the coast of Kent. From a very early age I used to proclaim to anyone who'd listen that I would leave that goddamn small town one day and never return. I don't know why I felt so strongly because I now realise what a great place it was to grow up in, too many Jackie magazines, probably, and a deep unfulfilled desire to be a family member of The Brady Bunch and live in America.

Once I had left 'the island' as all natives call it, I remember meeting somebody at a society wedding in London who expressed great admiration for the fact that I'd 'managed to get orf!'. Praise indeed. Anyway revisiting 'the island' was fabulous and we went to the beach every day where the boys enjoyed walking through the mud flats, throwing mud at each other and trying to skim the rocks that form the main part of the beach.

El Vel and Sean, or I should really say El Vel, had imposed a strict regime, as I knew they would. DB and TT weren't allowed upstairs at the same time, except to sleep - result = zero fighting. They weren't allowed any sweets most of the time but could have ice creams if they ate half a ton of Grandpa's home grown beans and some fruit - result = no more runny nose for The Terminator, a consequence of his normal vitamin deficiency when I'm in charge.

There were only a couple of incidents. The Terminator, unable to contain his chavtastic nature completely, stood with his back to a beach jam packed with London taxi drivers on holiday, dropped his swim shorts and yelled out 'Is my moon shining!'. El Vel was not amused and dragged him up the beach to sit it out for half an hour's 'reflection time'. They had also been taken for a haircut in the barber's and El Vel had to confiscate 'Nuts' magazine from Danny Boy when he showed The Terminator a 40DD stunna! accompanied by the enthusiastic exclamation 'nice hooters!'. I blamed Lurch. El Vel says she has a reputation to maintain on 'the island' but, on the whole, was very pleased with them.

On the way home I met up with four of my former schoolfriends from The Convent, we are most probably going to the reunion, followed by a big night out. One of them runs a pub, one is an artist-in-residence, one works for BA and the other works in a maternity ward. They are all single parents and two of them have sons on the autistic spectrum. I cannot believe how hard things have been for them and how much they've had to fight for their sons not to be expelled from a succession of schools. They have all faced difficult legal battles but seeing them was just the same as it used to be twenty years ago and we were screaming with laughter for most of the afternoon. A lovely summer so far...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Holidays

So, here I am, back up North after the mini-break. I was actually quite worried about the Isle of Wight by the time we left, early on Wednesday morning; various dubious descriptions of swirly wallpaper, terrible food, the 1980's and early departures in miserable drizzle had made me apprehensive. I had moved beyond irritation with Danny Boy, The Terminator and Lurch and had turned into a raging bull, sick of lost property, letters from the school about underachievement and my own unappreciated slave labour - I've been down that grim road many times before. The boys didn't appear keen to get in the car with me but Lurch was certainly enthusiastic, up early to wave us off with a cheery smile.

We had a great journey - I generally refuse to stop en route as I hate wasting time and money in service stations so the four hours south passed quite quickly with only a few of the usual complaints that I completely ignored. We got the Red Funnel ferry at Southampton and had the tent up and the barbecue on by 7.30pm. School friend and daughters were there to welcome and help us and we all started to relax.

We had a fantastic time, the weather was brilliant the campsite was lovely (Grange Farm in Brighstone) and we are all tanned, relaxed and renewed. The dynamics of a holiday with an old friend are completely different to family holidays. Lurch likes to 'crack on' and move around at high speed but we took the time to sit and chat and drink coffee at leisure. We discussed how stressed we were with the children and School Friend offered me honest appraisals and useful solutions to my family issues. I returned the favour. The Isle of Wight was lovely, we travelled around, had dinner in the pub or fish and chips (abandoned the effort of the barbecue after the first night) and we all went swimming in the sea.

School Friend and I drank wine by candlelight at night, gossiping about fellow campers and I spent some time reading. I only managed 1 book - The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill, which I secretly really enjoyed. I also started Wild Decembers by Edna O'Brien but wasn't in the mood for atavistic knuckle-dragging tales, it reminded me too much of the tedious torture of my Portuguese literature finals.

By the end of the holiday family equilibrium was restored, I was feeling deep maternal love and affection when I handed them over at Pete and Wendy's to El Vel and Sean Sean the Leprechaun. The Terminator had spent every penny of his £10 holiday money on sweets and, in the space of four days, had become a walking Type 2 diabetes time bomb. Danny Boy's mop of hair made peripheral vision impossible and I gladly relinquished all responsibility to The Maestro. El Vel was in the starter's blocks itching to unleash order. Marigolds, Vanish and Sean's home-grown vegetables were primed and ready. I was so grateful but slightly ashamed that she is so much more competent than me.

Got back home and Lurch appeared very pleased to see me, still haven't quite worked out why, maybe he's started taking his malaria tablets for Zambia early and the side effects have already kicked in. Phoned the boys tonight to be told by The Terminator that he's a little bit bored because Grandma has banned all fighting but that he ate runner beans, poached salmon and new potatoes - no sweets. Danny Boy's hair has been cut and he has been lectured about the value of education and focus. They've also been swimming in the sea and played golf. They both want to move back South again as well and I must say I'm having second thoughts myself...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pushed to the limit

Well, what a week that was. I have most certainly over-committed myself with my enthusiastic determination to get more work. I worked all week until about 8pm most evenings and then had the day planned with Miss Dynamite on Friday, plus I was on standby to interview a top businesswomen, who was proving quite diva-ish and tricky, at 11am on Friday. On Thursday evening I went to watch The Terminator play cricket and was waylaid into the clubhouse for a glass of dry white with some friends. 'This is the life', I thought, relaxing. Got home and was extremely chilled, Danny Boy had also had a cricket match and Lurch had picked him up. We all settled down for an early night.

Lurch was asleep in minutes and ,within minutes, was snoring like a fatally obese warthog. After an hour and a half I moved in with The Terminator in the spare room. At 1am I woke up to agonised screaming 'my foot, my foot, it's killing me!'. Rushed into DB's room and examined his foot, he appeared to be in agony. No swelling, could move his toes, got him some Calpol and told him to go to sleep. 2am yelling again, woke Lurch, TT and me up, no change in foot, Lurch said he'd sprained it and no action was required, just painkillers. 3am screeching 'OUCH! OUCH! etc again, woke us all up again. Told him not to wake up TT with noise he screamed 'I ALWAYS KNEW YOU LOVED HIM MORE THAN ME!' felt motherly love and concern was reaching the end of its elasticity, however resisted temptation to punch him and said if it still hurt I would take him to A&E in the morning. Lurch said don't do it, he's only sprained it. Hourly screaming finally broke me down at 5.00am and I took him to A&E. Drove along with DB screaming at every slight bend. I was now convinced he'd snapped his Achilles tendon. Missed the turn-off due to extreme fatigue got there and DB said he couldn't manage to hobble so I had to load all 6 stone of him on my back and stagger up the stairs to A&E.

2 hours and an X-ray later, slight sprain was confirmed and doctor said to rest his foot that day but that he should be able to do 10 mile sponsored walk on Monday! He sat cheerfully in wheelchair while I pushed him to the car, joking 'I want that one, I don't like it' hopped in bed with the TV on when we got home and then 'remembered' that he was missing a science test that day, whoops!