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Monday, 18 May 2009

be careful what you wish for

The pub is under new management again. This is the fourth set of owners we’ve encountered in the 3 years we’ve lived here. Each pair bringing a fresh surge of hope, both theirs and ours, to be dashed all round within months. Still, one never quite learns that hope is over-rated.
We’d all chattered about the mooted takeover with the avidity of the easily-pleased, lamenting the fact that such a nice village continued to lack a successful pub. It was on the market for months with nary a tickle of interest. Until then, once the then-current landlord was carted off by the police for the third and final time and an injunction served, there it was, bought (presumably at a knockdown price) by Turn’Em Round Tone, a snapper-up of failing pubs, magic at his fingertips when it comes to restoring Hook Norton to the menu and flashing the welcoming smile. Something which had been in short supply for so long; smiles having been limited to the anxious-desperate and the surly snarl, depending on which you encountered, her or him.

There was a launch at the weekend, with a free pig roast and a disco. The usual barmaid, Lucy, (knocking 40, 3 kids: it shows) was phoned at 2 and told not to bother coming in.
We arrived at about 8 and could barely slide in sideways. It all but induced a panic attack in E and I wasn’t far behind in wishing I was anywhere but. Just anywhere. It brought back the horrors of nightclubs in my youth. When Boy George had designs on my boyfriend. I might love a party but I hate crowds, the squash of people, the noise, the fear frankly of mankind in pursuit of a good time.
However, we struggled bravely to the bar to be confronted by Lucy’s replacements. Sluts, basically. A baying, jeering gang of youths had materialised, lured by hormones to slaver at the pillowy soft tissue on bold display. The lads stood in the area previously designated a No Stand area: it seemed so brave, but the habitual proliferation of signs (don’t stand here, don’t park here, dogs here but not there, no footballs, no kids, keep your children by you, keep back) had all been whisked away. A solid barman was all that was thought necessary for the laydees. No Adonis for us. Tone’s marketing was at the men. The villagers tutted slightly, grumbled. We like a good tut and eye roll.

Upstairs, slowly dancing round her mobile phone’s tinny pulsing of “I Will Survive,” was Mel, the fourth gin of the day doing its stuff. Beaten wife and afforded an extension on get orf my land by Tone to give her time to move on, her defeat was made plain by blatant comparison. That night saw as many customers in one shift as they saw in their entire year stretched out. Somewhere the prescribed 100 miles away, her ex-husband, Pete, could possibly hear the ker-ching of the till, the beat of the disco, could all but see the car park chock full, the success that could have been his, and without plentiful signage. He wailed, nursing his bloodied fists.
OK, so I made this paragraph up.

Made glaringly apparent was the gap in expectation and reality, the brutal difference between what you want and what you get. Fuss, fuss, fuss, but no-one had liked the basic sullen resentment doled out by Pete or his permanent defiance of the rules of hospitality – he once had words for a friend when she said that her food was cold, “if you don’t like it, you can fuck off,” he said. Big mistake when your husband’s captain of the cricket, and the fingers of interlacing village gossip which spread like swine flu’s meant to, ensures that everybody’s heard by Tuesday, and passed on a distorted version.
But this?

A new landlord had brought the predictable new hope, so the village turned out in force, the Olds elbowing all others out of the way in pursuit of free pork. Doggy bags concealed in the folds of their blouson jackets, shamed not by the tell-tale spread of greasy spots. The music thudded. The bar was several deep. What could one do but stare wide-eyed in a sort of horror at the bestial scene.
My chum snagged me a bar stool which I clung to as if it were wreckage from the Titanic and my one chance of survival in a sea of alien bodies.
Lucy tipped up and bore it well, a glazed smile her brave understanding of her sudden redundancy in a world where youth trumps and old bags go home.

Outside in the garden, the relaxation of rules had led to a certain feral quality triumphing in all of the children. They were kicking balls again with hearty abandon, neighbours’ fences reverberated with the thwack of missed goals. The underage and the overage were stealing goes on the fort-playground (a strict and unenforceable age range had been the prior norm). New kids were there, too, drafted in from the rougher reaches and called Kyle. Squalid little tramps swung dead-eyed on the fronds of the weeping willow. My inner headteacher flinched. I longed for a whip, and handcuffs. This Boschian soup needed quelling.

We lasted barely an hour and crept off defeated.
“It’ll never last,” E said as we shuffled home.
“I do hope not,” I said.
Next night, driving past, it was comforting to see that the circus had packed up and crawled back to whichever part of the local Beirut from which they had scuttled. The carpark was pleasingly empty. Through the window one could make out the sluts, hugging themselves since no-one else was there to do so, cold in May with this much flesh on show.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


Hoorah, have recently been, truly, the most rightful recipient of two lovely awards; one last week,which I busily snaffled and shoved on the sidebar, but then ignored the etiquette of sharing. Oops. So, my blog is fucking fantastic and for once it’s not merely me saying it, but Potty Mummy, who is clearly a very wise woman.

Anyway, in order to warrant it, I have to list five fabulous addictions, being: reading, chatting,
my family (2 legged ones only, sorry Lolly, back in your basket), skiing (whimper) Sauvignon Blanc (yum)

Then I have to pass it on, obviously I want to give both of them to everyone, but the new 5 are:
Real life mates, Rottie and Exmoor Jane, nuff said in both cases
New find: The Cigarette Diaries
General good-eggery and as a Happy Anniversary: Carol and Chris
Disappearing trick: Ernest du Cugnac because he sent me a divine e-mail once but has since buggered off so he might not really deserve it. Hmmm.

Anyway, here’s what you have to do, Chaps: “1. Pass it on to five other fabulous blogs.2. List five of your fabulous addictions.3. Copy and paste the rules and the instructions below.Instructions: On your post of receiving this award, make sure you include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them. When you post your five winners, make sure you link to them as well. To add the award to your post, simply right-click, save image, then “add image” it in your post as a picture so your winners can save it as well. To add it to your sidebar, add the “picture” widget. Also, don’t forget to let your winners know they won an award from you by emailing them or leaving a comment on their blog. Easy peasey lemon squeezy.”

Right the other award, the Kreativ one (I know, I know, shocking spelling issues), came from Carol and Chris and, this time the stakes are upped to include SEVEN things and SEVEN creative bloggers, so:
The first five loves are up there, the next two are, er, weekends and fudge, decent fudge, neither granular, slippery or chemical. Actually Tesco’s is surprisingly good and they are welcome to send me some any time.

My new recipients (and anyone else can nick it if they want) are:
Little Brown Dog for being so very readable
KittyB for her blog being so pretty (she looks like the back of a bus herself, poor love, but makes up for it in cake production and hen talk)
Pipany for being so talented and having an ├╝ber-magazine life
Potty Mummy for earning half a pair of sunglasses from writing
Elizabethm for all that gardening stuff
Welsh girl for wit and wailing at rotten blind dates
Fennie for elegant cleverness and lots of juicy facts slid in among the words (that's fact with a "c" and not a "r")

(*LATE FLASH* KittyB is stripped of her title for gross cheek. It passes instead to glorious Dave for services to knuckledusters)

So seven things each, 7 new bloggers, let me know, and by Christmas we’ll have spread out across the world.

And now for one or two catch up things:
My parents have returned safely from their mega jaunt so the cross’s ownership remains unquestioned and Clare will get her books back. The ancient dog is blooming. A new hamster is mooted. Can’t wait, naturally.
F10 has a bruise you can possibly see from there on his shin from the little shit. But his teeth are repairing. He is sanguine about both.
T12 still sees the need for serious limping, apart from at cricket practice when, happily, it recovers. This is clearly very good news.
The asparagus was delicious, we had it yesterday for we went with the nippers to the pub on the night, seated high in the hills staring at rolling greenery. England at its best. Plus the woman gave us a bottle of wine free which is just how pubs should be.
And off for a little collapse now, all those links have done me in.

Monday, 11 May 2009


Today E and I have been married for 19 years which must go to show that we mean it.

19 years has nothing of importance attached to it. The romantic listings on-line say firmly, in a Do Not Pass Go sort of way, that it has NO traditional materials or symbols or flowers attached to it. So that’s us told. But some more modern set-up, with an eye to a merchandising spin-off maybe, suggests Bronze, Topaz or Aquamarine. Perhaps these 3 sulked and got up a petition because they’re left out of the proper lists.
Whatever, I gave E a card I had knocking about, and he gave me one of a … cat we’d bought in readiness for F10’s Grade 1 piano exam. Think about it, how likely am I to be fond of cats? Exactly. He knows this; I know this; I feel mean for eye rolling; he feels worse for having lost the real card. I feel suddenly very mean indeed that there was a real card at all, lost or otherwise.
I’ll suggest that he keeps it, when found, for next year (but not in that fatal place, a safe place) for 20 years, the listings deign to admit, counts. China, apparently; dull, non? and not necessarily worth hanging around for.

Ever the romantic, my morning was spent in light chores: loos and basins and hoovering. Yum. Then, what next, what next? The washing? Oh, yes, pleasey. Up on the line it went, greedily snatched by a bossy wind, slapping a trouser leg in my face, the lot hopefully half way to Sweden by now. It recalled my wedding day when, with our slot booked at the Register Office for 2 pm, 1 pm found my father and I polishing the Jag. The caterers slouched by, “Looks like rain,” one said, thrilled, her tongue doing unspeakably smug things in her cheek.

Then, since the school is not allowed to administer that lethal narcotic, Calpol, I strolled up to dose F10 with it myself. We had to spend (say it quietly) £95 on an emergency dentist for him yesterday. The x-ray revealed an eye tooth jabbing at other roots. The bit where the inside, the skeleton, meets the outside, ie: teeth, freaks me out. It’s possibly been worse for poor F10 whose visceral screams of pain sanctioned the cheque writing. I'm horrid, but not that horrid.
The dentist furnished us with a bouncy blister pack of antibiotics, red and yellow, as jaunty as Willy Wonka sweeties. The blurb tells us sternly that the E-numbers can induce asthma, seemingly a legitimate by-product in pursuit of pill beauty. We’re also reminded that the capsules are not sweets, and must be kept from children. It’s all gone crazy.

I arrived in the playground just as F10’d been kicked hard on the shin by that nasty little sod who’s tormented him for years and years. They had to take it seriously with me hanging around although F10 growled gamely that it was an accident. Never in life, dear boy, deny the chance to bring a miscreant to book, fair or otherwise. The hooligan was scolded; I gave him a hard, blood-curdling glare, his sullen eyes meeting mine deadly from beneath his plasticky quiff. And then, joy of joys, on entering the office to “record the incident”, we found the headmaster lurking, so he had to say that he would have a word with the brute, too. An anniversary present indeed, quite to put the cat in the shade.

T12 was very surprised that F10 had planned to go into school at all. “Dead cert for a day off, that?” he thought. F10, being more of a studious bent, does not consider mere agony as obstacle to his learning.

Only lightly wounded himself, T12 had had last Thursday off, a day spent in deep hobble, with much gallant wincing, and then checking that all in a large radius had noted said wince and reacted accordingly. Preferably with chocolate, cushions, concern, and an earnest request that he run through the injury again, “Do tell, T12, and yes, please, start right at the very beginning.”

Brushes with medical authority are mercifully slim in our house and I hadn’t had to do a hospital run for 9 years. We arrived there at 8, a few minutes before it opened and despite being the only people there who weren’t staff, still had to endure an inexplicable wait while I overacted beneath the steady gaze of CCTV, a guilt-inducing beast if ever there was. The delay stemmed from malfunctioning equipment so in the end he couldn’t be x-rayed which was tantamount to tragedy.
Most displeased, T12 glanced around for hustle and bustle, admiring whispers; perhaps he might be made a case study of, for future generations to argue over. There was none of this. Just a sturdy lass, bolstered in stiff navy, who called me Mum and prodded and poked. Most miffed he was at being then despatched without much ceremony, having hoped openly for crutches, and silently for a wheelchair. He left his shoe at home (to increase limping opportunities and the need for Brave Faces) and, because it was raining at school on Friday, his poor classmates took it in turns to carry him. The saps.

It didn’t rain 19 years ago and it’s not raining now. Today’s triumph over the brute echoes my mother’s protectively sharp words with the caterers then. Time ticks on, the cast of characters morphs, but things remain largely the same. F10’s stoicism brings tears to my eyes; T12’s drama queenery, vying with his pout that the very limp he so adores meant that he was put in at no 11 in the cricket yesterday, makes me laugh like my father’s fantastic speech did way back then, cobbled together minutes before while he prowled the corridors in his socks, albeit not in search of crutches. 19 years might be mere bronze, topaz or aquamarine, it might have brought me but a photo of a bloody cat, but there’s asparagus and a bottle of bubbles in the fridge and things could be worse. Hoorah.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

so long

My father, who doesn’t type but seems to manage his iMac well enough to read my blog, e-mailed. It would be erroneous to condemn this for terseness since I can picture the flattering time taken in its creation, “I’m fed up with eBabe. Please arrange an uplifting piece mid-May for my return. With thanks.”
Who says the telegraph is dead.
I hastily inserted the mememememe below, just in case, to provide the necessary buffer. See? What a good girl.

Then I phoned them. But the planned big goodbye, prior to their trip away, dissolved into a predictable, “I’ll get your mother,” from my father, leaving me talking to myself. You have to entertain yourself in my life.
My mother bustled onto the line. I could hear the busy sashay across the seagrass and quaked slightly.

“Now, darling,” she said, “I’m in the middle of doing your father’s lunch.” This is code for Make it Snappy, honey, you’re last in line.
But she was sad because they were just back from depositing big black dog in dog-hotel, dog being very much on her last legs so my mother felt guilty and wretched and was raw from an epic farewell, and I was up for playing Mrs Nice because I’m kind like that.
Tears bring briskness. I understand that. They’re meant to pop the coil at ten years old, not hang on, however beloved, until gone 15. Newfoundlands that is, not mothers. Or, wise up, Newfies, with the requisite capital N (which my spellcheck quite rightly queries), to those in the know. Which by association I am, although I assert my right to protest that I am but a parvenu, and only elevated thus far by dint of the Newfie before last, Rupert, being drafted onto me by my fond mama (fond of Rupert you understand, more than me) as my bridesmaid. Really. A red ribbon and all. And you wonder why I have a dog thing?

“Have you packed? Ready to go?” I tried to inject a little eagerness into proceedings, a little briskness of my own of the Encouraging and Moving Swiftly On variety.
“Yes, well, almost, just one or two last minute things, which might call for a trip out to the Mall.” Ahhh, yes, happy panicking moments dithering over sun-factor 30? Or 40? at Boots out at Cribbs Causeway. We’ve all been there: no holiday complete without, and often the highlight, although way back factor 30 didn’t exist and the idea of 40 would have been thought "silly."
“But, if we die while we’re away, the books on the hall table are Clare’s.”
“First things first,” I said, the brake on the sardonic: the holiday’s meant to be fun, yes, not a call to last rites. My mission had been to wish them well on their jaunt round Petra, Libya, Sinai and co and, if anything, I guessed she might remind me in which books she hides the tenners.
“She’ll want them back.”
I promised to make it a priority. To be honest, I wasted time nursing a foolish fantasy, should death-talk kick in, that she might say something gruff, something rough and ready like, “You’re not a hamster and God knows you’ll never be a Newfie” (splutter), “but, if we die, you’re, well, you’re not too bad. You’ll do.”
Instead, I muttered my new mantra, ‘hall books, Clare; hall books, Clare’ a couple of times to give it a chance of staying in my memory.

There was more.
“And the cross, by the bed, large Indian thing.”
“Yes?” I said, for me, for me, to guard against the devil
“That’s for Andrew and Sarah, it’s written on the back so you won’t go wrong.”
“Fine, well, great, OK. Consider it done. Really, you mustn’t worry. Yes. Now make sure you have a fantastic time.” Half of me wondered which one of us would notice first that I was speaking as if to a 90 year old.

My brother rang. No 90 year old nonsense here. I asked him if he’d managed to speak to our parents before they went away.
“Yeah,” he said, “load of stuff about what’s ear-marked for Janet.” Janet being the cleaner.
“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t get Janet, I got Clare. Did you get Clare?”
“No,” he said, “Who’s Clare? Clare can fuck right off.”
“They’re Clare’s books.”
A telephonic Gallic shrug. “Et?”
“Did she say she loved you?” I asked, buoyed by the distance between Gloucestershire and Paris to venture bravely into intimacy land.
“No?” he said, surprised. This surprised me, him being ole wonder boy. “But she wouldn’t, not unless they actually did think they were going to die, that’s when you say that sort of thing. Afraid you’ve a long wait, old love, dream on.”

“Oh,” I said. “OK, there seems to be this cross.”
“Yeah, he said, “Andrew and Sarah…”
“Yes,” I said, remembering my semi-fervent promise, that which had fought with a need to remind my mother of Eliza Doolittle, the drunken aunt and the hat pin (My Fair Lady for the shaky of reference-getters) and been overcome. “What did you say.”
“I said I’d bear it in mind,” he said. “Best I could do.”
Quite why he remains her favourite baffles me.