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!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I was very busy working yesterday when the appearance of a flickering, shadowy rectangle in the bottom corner of my computer screen caught my eye. An e:mail from a name I hadn't seen in about 15 years, heralding a big event - The Convent Reunion! Log on to Friends Reunited to see more! Quickly abandoning my urgent project I logged on to read my message: 'Fiona Sykes is organising a Convent School Reunion on the 18th October and you are invited, 100 people confirmed already, see attached list' - quick click and there before my eyes swam the ghosts of my past. I read Fiona's profile, she had been a big friend of my sister Claire and a typical Convent School party animal, what high jinks was she up to now, what decimation of society had she left trailing in her wake? 'Teacher, married to a farmer with two children, attending bible class twice a week and NO! not as some joker has written on my profile an alcoholic single mother of 4, between jobs in East Kilbride'. Good, she's still got her sense of humour then, promising for the reunion.

Claire and I were sent by our parents to The Convent because of the radical politics of the Headmaster of our local comprehensive school, El Vel did not concur with free love or drugs and so it was we were sent to an altogether more austere place of learning. I was 11 and Claire was 13 and we were both a lot more interested in the concept of free love and drugs than we were single sex, religious schools. I threatened a violent suicide with a potato peeler, Claire ran away to my Grandmother's bungalow two streets from ours, all to no avail. We were measured up for the brown tunics, brown and gold ties, brown hats and yes, the cliche to top it all off, thick brown knickers. Off we went.

We were both very happy there in the end. Claire was the 80 year old Headteacher's pet and used to teach maths to 70 children at once if the Headteacher was off sick or away on urgent religious business. I was in a riotous class of 38 that became notorious by the end of our o'level year; two girls were expelled for putting their 'details' on a card in public phone boxes along with the Convent telephone number and the legend 'Sister Philomena is very, very cross with you'.

The school tradition of getting the thickest girl in the class to ask Sister Elizabeth what oral meant in the sex education class (mainly based around rabbits) was passed down to poor, dim Susan O'Leary who duly received the time-honoured response of 'that, Susan O'Leary is for animals and you are in detention!' We were also advised before the Christmas festive season by Sister Elizabeth that 'if you girls are attending any parties where there will be boys who may switch the lights off have the courage to stand up and turn that light back on in the name of Jesus!'

Happy, happy days and lovely interesting people. I clicked on the 'yes, I'm interested' button and went back to my work with a smile on my face.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hot and Bothered

Obviously the heat's not a problem as it's been soggy, grey and damp for days now, although the sun's shining today, hurrah! Lurch urgently put his apron on, rushed into the garden and is beavering away chopping up guinea fowl ready to put on the barbecue or 'braii' as he refers to it.

Lurch loves a braii, he won't have a gas one and he performs a special ritual whenever he lights it (ie. as often as he can). He cleans it out thoroughly, by hand, and then painstakingly assembles a mini-mountain of coals, by hand again, pours tons of lighter fluid over it to make sure that whatever meat he cooks will have an evenly distributed marinade, or 'taint' as I prefer to call it. The next stage is spending about forty minutes frantically fanning it with a dustpan, he always leaves the back door open so that smoke wafts into the house, curling into every corner. Then, once he's satisfied that it's 'going like a train' (same expression, every time), he comes inside and, with a surgeon's precision, washes his hands, leaving coal dust around the sink, on the soap and up the wall and indelible marks on the towel as he dries his hands, I'm looking for some black ones, actually. He says he is 'born to braii'.

I find this time of year very tiring, lots of rushing around, finishing things off, celebrating the end of things and preparing for next term's things.

We've had two school letters about Danny Boy this week. The first was from the government's young, gifted and talented resource asking him to join. We asked him what he was gifted and talented in and he didn't know but took it as an affront and went off to sulk in his room. I phoned the school and the Head of Year asked me if I'd received her letter about DB underachieving. No, I hadn't, so she explained that he was going to be monitored to make him focus and put him on target to achieve what he should be achieving. He is apparently gifted and talented in Science, Geography, History and, to everybody's amazement, Religious Education. I took the opportunity to complain about his english teacher and we'll see what happens next year. I appreciate the fact that the school is trying to do the best for him but he is a terminal daydreamer, I have to say. Good luck to them!

The Terminator's report referred to 'blips in behaviour' but congratulated him on 'beginning to walk away from trouble' so maybe there is some light at the end of that long dark tunnel. I was rather anxious, though, about his 'amusing tales of home'. I can imagine.

I've also spoken to Wendy who had her first chemo session last week and was violently sick for four days. Her ice cap didn't work either so she's had to go and order a wig. She's not allowed to cook in it because it's nylon and heat shrinks it! She was struggling to find a silver lining, so I cheered her up with chat about my £1,000 bill for the car and possible lunch time suspensions for The Terminator if he keeps fighting at school, along with arguing with Lurch about whether or not we should be going to Zambia for three weeks. She felt much better by the end of our chat, she said.

So, term is ending in a few days and the end is in sight, thank goodness...

We're going on a mini-break, just the boys and I with my school friend and her two daughters. We're going camping to the Isle of Wight. I'm really looking forward to chilling, chatting, catching up, drinking wine by candlelight and exploring a new place. Fantastic!

Then the boys are going to stay with El Vel and Sean, Sean the Leprechaun for a week. They've been instructed to pack tennis racquets and golf clubs as V&S are the Veteran King and Queen of the golf club. They will love it, The Terminator will have to eat all of his vegetables, home-grown by Sean, and Danny Boy will have to tidy his room and make his bed every day as El Vel takes no prisoners on the domestic front. Roll on the summer holidays!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Mouse that Roared

I went to the meeting about the proposed airport site this week. We all gathered together in the village hall, discussing the torrential rain and how badly our vegetable patches were growing. People were milling about, drifting in and out, finding seats, greeting and gossiping. By the time the Chair of the protest group stood up to make a presentation there were about 30 people present. He started off by saying that we all knew the details of the plans (obviously I hadn't read the letters properly so I didn't, but kept my head down) and he outlined the proposed luxury hotel and upmarket airfield plans. Wow! I started imagining myself having a hot stone massage in my lunch break after wangling a nice little job there, bliss...The lights dimmed and the powerpoint presentation started. We were plunged into Heart of Darkness territory with planes crashing near illegally planned runways, mangling children in the playgroup situated too close to the site and tortured, sleepless nights from the noise of the planes. I could almost hear the 4 horses of the Apocalypse clip-clopping past the village hall as he roused us into terror with his fighting talk.

'Speak up, I'm deaf and I can't hear you!' thundered an old lady in the front row with a neat grey bun and some fantastically expensive diamonds. At full volume he explained that the Committee had hired one of the top lawyers in the country who had previously worked on plans for a premiership football team's new site and 3 major airports. What! How had they bagged him? Was that level of expertise really necessary? He went on to explain that they didn't take the coffee offered on their visit to London because it would waste time and therefore about £500. I had to hand it him - the lawyer was taking the local council to pieces, I wouldn't want to be in their incompetent shoes. Somebody asked who was paying for it but was interrupted by 'Bun of Steel' bellowing 'I told you I was deaf Chairman PLEASE SPEAK UP!'. Chair meekly apologised and carried on outlining press plans. Husband of 'Bun of Steel' sporting his 'n' hers hearing aids interrupted proceedings by yelling 'Bugger the Darlington & Stockton Times, let's go straight for THE Times!' By this stage I had to feign a hayfever attack so as not to make enemies in the village.

(picture similar to 'Bun of Steel' but she wasn't smiling)

The Committee had scrutinised all planning applications on microfiche in local records and had uncovered a host of errors through painstaking commitment to the cause. I had to admire their dedication. No stone was unturned in their efforts to make their environment safer and better. Forget the drug Czars in London, Gordon Brown ought to enlist the help of some of these passionate, educated brilliant people who aren't scared of anybody to help solve some of this country's problems!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Yorkshire's got talent!

I awoke to the soft, tuneless strains of Lurch warbling away 'oh yes I'm young, gifted and black..da da da da..' I opened one eye to see him in the bathroom, in his boxers, fuzzy fish white belly wobbling gently to his own rhythm, the picture of pure happiness. He had an alcohol free night last night. I think some people don't suit drinking, it makes Lurch melancholy and he sleeps much better without it.

Lurch's musical talent runs in the family. We got Danny Boy's first secondary school report this week. For music it read 'Danny has below average musical ability' and went on 'she must concentrate harder' finishing by stating that 'Alice must try to perform better in year 8'. Aha! caught out by the cut and paste function.

The big romance has finished too. DB isn't sure who finished it but one of Daisy's friends told him that she was holding another boy's hand at the school sport's disco and DB talked to her about it, eventually agreeing it was better to be just good friends. Thank goodness for that, no more weekend driving and forking out shedloads of cash. Danny Boy said he'd got quite bored with walking around at lunchtime with Daisy and her friends chatting about girly stuff instead of playing football with his pals. He's dipped his toe into the teeming pool of new love, bewildering attractions and fizzing hormones and has decided to stay out of it for the time being. He spent the weekend happily playing lego with The Terminator, building dens, whittling wood in the forest and re-reading his favourite book: His report also said he was quite immature.

After the trials and tribulations of the early part of this week I've really cheered up. I was partly down because it was my birthday and I was entering a new demographic cluster. Having worked in marketing for so long I know exactly what the new classification means. I'm over it now, though. Life's too short at my age! So, on Friday, Ms Dynamite and I had our first meeting with the manufacturers we're going to be working with. We drove over to Barnsley to visit two of the most creative, dynamic, straightforward fifty-something men I've ever met. They put some of the global FMCG clients I've worked with to absolute shame. Straight-talking Yorkshiremen sitting on a gold mine of fabulous products that they've developed with their considerable expertise. We had a riot and we're all really excited about working together. Ms Dynamite and I had a great day and are going to spend a day a week working on the business. I'm so excited, not something I've felt about work for some time.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Auto Terrorist

By that I mean that one of the tools in my skillset is my ability to terrify myself into action. I get scared about a few things; money, health and the children. My talent for inducing utter, chest-tightening, buttock-clenching fear can be demonstrated by my quest to give up smoking a few years ago. I'd given up plenty of times, been there, worn the patch but had never succeeded for very long. So, armed with acute self-knowledge, I bought John Diamond's book 'C'on the 1st of December and inhaled 10 times the amount of cigarettes of any poor chain-smoking laboratory beagle. By December 31st I was a wreck, couldn't breathe, was petrified of going to the dentist (mouth cancer), doctor (lung cancer) and couldn't wait to stub out the final tab. Which I did on New Year's Eve and have never smoked since.

My car went for an MOT last Friday and was returned yesterday with a bill for £1000। I went to pick Danny Boy up from a sports presentation and the car stopped dead on a roundabout at 9।30pm। Lurch had to come and get me and I was really late for Danny Boy. He was waiting in the dark with a load of scary older teenagers lurking nearby, fortunately another Mum had kindly turned her car around when I phoned and gone to pick him up.

The house has not had one viewer, still! All news about housing is beyond bad and to top that, as if plans to build a 200 foot high waste disposal incinerator a couple of miles away weren't hideously offputting enough, we had a villager's protest meeting notice pushed through the letterbox about a proposed airport and hotel being built two miles away. Lurch said he is now utterly immune to all bad news and wants to enter a darkened room, stay there and switch off the world. I also heard a news report on Radio 4 stating that middle-class Californians were now living in their cars as a direct result of the credit crunch.

Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that Danny Boy was running slowly towards me, smiling joyously with an epee in one hand and a cream parchment Oxbridge offer in the other. I turned around proudly and saw David Van Day from Dollar flipping burgers in his van, getting sweaty, and harrassed with the queue of people. The next thing that happened was that his lovely assistant appeared with a bottle of replacement ketchup and it was me! He yelled at me for being incompetent and I woke up, cold with fear. I know what I'm doing. I'm terrifying myself into action..