I'm sure you wouldn't, but:

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Lolly is shorn to a shadow but somehow attracting compliments. I guess it’s pity.
She went in a 14 and came out size zero. But not in a good way. I need canine purdah to take her out in public and a thumping big pair of sunspecs.

We’d met on a walk, complete strangers, the groomer and me, and she fell on Lolly, “Ooh, yarrss! Lurffleee derrgg. Cudd Oi grumm urrr? Hef juss lurrrned? Durrn twenny arrrze kurrss.” (Brenda’s Dutch.)

£20 she said (I think), so what could I say but yes. Besides I’d be spared the normal embarrassment of apologising for the state of her fur since Brenda’d seen Lolly at her worst. And volunteered. Lolly adores jumping in rivers and emerging with her coat a dense trapping of damp cotton wool, with side order of badger and a dollop of dead crow. One learns the knack of shallow breathing.
I did, however, still have to phone her normal groomer who’d messed us about a bit but who loves Lolly to the extent of holding several photos of her on her mobile. She bit back metaphorical tears and I nearly bunged Lolly down the phone as a guilty consolation prize to recompense. E will want to know what stopped me.

So I took Lolly in, sensing dread that I was dumping her at the gas chambers. Were twenny arrrze tuition enough for my little Lolly?
This was at about 10 and Brenda said she’d phone in a couple of hours. So I skipped off air-punching my freedom, all guilt forgot. Bye Lolly! Missing you already. Not. Careful with that gas now. Freedom til noon. Yes!

I got me to the garden and ponced around primping and preening with plans for my yellow and blue border (segueing onto purple and orange). Such a pleasure to do without the inevitability of Lolly escaping in pursuit of cats, me a shuffling bundle of apology and rage huffing and puffing in her wake.

Brenda then phoned at half past one, I laid down my secateurs to hear the grunt of, "Heese gohne-a be layyy. Heese toikeen lerrnngg toime. Emm juss cummin up furr a breeedurrr. Hurr. Hurr. Hurr."
It was what could only be called a mirthless laugh and guilt washed around me, trespassing on my well-being. Bloody dog.
I returned pronto to my Pat Austin rose, my Euphorbia and my Cotinus Grace and shunted the brute from my mind.

At four, I rang. Well I felt I had to, and my fingers were buzzing with recalcitrant nettles. I was a little bit bored of gardening and hay fever was kicking in but it was as nothing to the exchange of phlegm chez Brenda. The line throttled with a coughing and a spluttering and I could all but feel the fur in the air. I sneezed sympathetically.
“Wurrr gohne avter curl ee a doi,” wheezed the groomer, tragically.
“Yes, yes,” I cooed. “Of course. I’ll be right over.”
“Tayke yurr toime,” came her death rattle of determination, these Europeans are made of stern stuff. “Hevv smurrl beets er feenerssh. Vunna du err gud jerbb.” Her voice dragged bravely along the gravel pavement of her throat.

I took F12 with me. We entered the back room and he fell about laughing, a gurgling drain of pure hilarity. I could see a market opening for Tena Lad. I had dropped off a noxious bag of fur and was collecting a pornographic pipe cleaner reeking of cheap scent. The transformation was startling. With burly chest, cheerful beard and hair-pin legs it’s not a good look, but Lolly doesn’t know and is a happy little thing. She turned liquid eyes on me. “Hoii!”

“She looks lovely,” I quavered – there was no way I could be seen out with her –handing over an extra tenner: blood money. Lolly bounced eagerly on the floor, most pleased with things taking advantage of the surprised atmosphere in the room to try to shag my leg. We took her home and she collapsed on her bed, knackered, slurping at bees and drooling. Small yaps punctuated small sleeps.

E walked in, “Christ!” he said, and flinched.

Each day the fur grows a little more, returning Lolly to some sort of social acceptability. She bounds in buttercup fields and romps through poppies, delighting in her summer frock. Before long, I’ll be able to drop the comedy moustache and trench coat.

“Had a stroke of luck today,” I told E last night. “The dog ran away …”
He perked up.
Lolly staggered to her feet, shook her collar loudly and irritatingly and swaggered round to wipe her face on the sofa.
“You said she ran off,” E looked peeved, cheated.
“Well, she came back, I went and found her. But it meant passing the house on the corner, it’s being done up and they were chucking out all the plants, I got a load of the irises.”

There was never going to be a meeting of minds over what constitutes a stroke of luck, and any sentence beginning “the dog ran away” which didn’t end in “and ended up in Glasgow,” was doomed to disappoint, particularly when all that came as compo was some knackered old discarded irises. They are however knackered old irises of a particularly pretty shade of a strong powder blue. And I have just the spot for them.

PS I'd like to thank some new readers who left comments buried deep in blogs I wrote about a year ago. Very much appreciated. I must have ticked something some time which enabled these to be forwarded. Savvy or what.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


“So what have we here with this young man then?” The old man’s knees cracked when he knelt, sounding like an expensive mistake in a fireworks factory.

He’d taken a while to set The Walk in progress: a deal of disembarkation and cumbersome coat work, and painful stretching to slam shut the car boot. The clipping on of the lead had been clumsy.

Lolly and I had done a lap of the little park and stopped because, to Lolly, any speck of fur however, frankly, hopeless, is a Must-See situation. He had turned to Lolly and bent down to, I don’t know, make the most of her. I stiffened as he passed his hand through her ripe fur, fearful of a seizure, that the odour release would trigger a heart attack.

The old man’s dog, an exhausted ball of knitting wool the cat had given a good seeing to, panted a worrying sequence of near-death gasps. Perhaps she was olfactorily fragile, too. Lolly bounced on her stiff little legs with an energy which is wearisome to me and terrifying to the weak.

“What we called then, boy?”

“She. She’s a she,” I said apologetically.

“A she!” he carolled, and a couple of sparklers went off in his legs. “Sorry, boy. So what kind of fine young fella are we then?”

“Well, a soft coated Wheaten Terrier,” I said anxious she might send him flying.

“Beg pudding!” he bellowed, creaking to a stand. “You’ll have to speak up, hearing’s on the way out!”

I was shouting as it was and somewhat too tired for this fruitless exchange of information. I upped the volume.
“Wheaten Terrier! Soft coated!” My throat hurt.

“Marvellous, well done, boy!” he roared. Then, “What’s one of them then?”

Lolly shoved her face up the ball of knitting wool’s bum which promptly fell over.

“Sorry,” I said. Not for the first time in my life. “And yours, what’s your …” ball of wool?

“Just a Yorkie,” he said, his voice softened by love. “Little bit arthritic aren’t you, boy. Him and me both. Falls over all the time, silly old thing.” He whisper-hissed, lest the dog hear. “Best be off.” He gave the lead a tug. “C’mon Bella.”

Lolly and I stood and watched them go. Lolly sat, tucked in neat, energy contained, sweet and streamlined, and looked up at me. Such a good boy. Sometimes.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


F12 was pointing and making gagging noises, the cause of which was hard to pinpoint since, although he had stuffed his face with a whole half muffin, the panicking horror was greater than a mere sudden aversion to peanut butter would suggest.

I frowned. Had he of a whim inherited his father’s freak-out over chicken and sausages? Listeria Hysteria? It was true that I was grappling with a punnet of chicken breasts and mashing them into a marinade – I can all but hear the noise of E fainting somewhere in cyber-space. If there’s one thing the man can’t abide it’s a spot of meat handling. Ideally, when it takes place, he should be in another county and under mild sedation. I should be clad in hairnet and latex, a floor length apron, and enter a sterilised zone via a holding cell where I would be whooshed with a big shower spray and doused with an antiseptic douche, preferably one not wildly available in this country due to its nuking capabilities. All instruments to be sterilised after use.
Lacking such facilities he has to make do with me wiping a cloth and wielding a disinfectant.

His repulsion used to be expressed in a mere facial tic, like a cat thinking of a dog, maybe, an involuntary spasm. Then the notion of sell-by dates, and my woeful inattention to same, upped the ante, upgrading the distaste to a revulsion. Now I have to explain and vindicate the welfare and housing arrangements of every piece of chicken that enters the house. It is always apartheid chicken, segregated into its personal wing of the fridge, on its individual Rule 45, kept apart for its own protection, and that of others as he all but hears the Salmonella cells doubling and quadrupling, breeding and breathing, thickening the air, calling to maggots and E coli, summoning its hellish cohorts, its partners in grime.

It makes the preparation of a normal meal into something quite other and his fear has begun to infect me. On tottering out to the bins with the packaging (no longer can it be slung in the kitchen bin, it must be outed and ousted to the great outdoors) I then panicked – had I touched the key of the lock of the door with a contaminated hand? Maybe I had. Totter back with the spray. And did I touch the handle …? spray to make sure. And use a bit of kitchen roll not the Normal Cloth. As it is, the Normal Cloth spends an abnormal amount of time in the washing machine glumly spinning round thinking, “What did I do to deserve this, this death by suds?”

Still, while incarcerating the marinating meat in an all but lockable Tupperware, prior to returning it to its isolation wing in the fridge, I have taken to developing this insane anxiety that I might just lick the raw meat, or smear it on my face. Do something wildly inappropriate just to make flesh the fear. I can see how madness develops.

Meanwhile F12 is still pointing. And spasming. Ah yes, his own private source of horror. A scrap of cling film casually tossed aside when I was in Busy Biddy in a Pinny mode yesterday, making pizza dough.
Cling film! His eyes go big, his hand gestures wildly. He looks dizzy. Hyperventilation is but a pace away. I roll my eyes and put it in the cupboard.
“The bin, the bin!” he wheezes.
What? The bin with the chicken gizzards? Our horrors meeting and mating, chatting and sharing ideas.
My own fear is of spiders. Which makes total sense. The random movement, the sudden dart. A fear for which the bin alone is not sufficient prison. But then I’m totally sensible with completely rationale phobias. Unlike them. Them’s mad.

Monday, 13 June 2011

turn over

F12 was given last Thursday and Friday to spend at home as Study Leave prior to his Year 7 exams which start today.
“That’s not fair,” grumbled T14, “Why should he get two days at home watching television?”
“He’ll be working,” I said primly. If wishes were horses ... God knows there was plenty to do.
“Shut up, T14,” said F12. “Stop doing me down. What about my self-esteem?”
A child more possessed of self-esteem is hard to imagine.

We had woefully underestimated the amount of revision to be done. And when I say we, I mean he. I had been snapping and nagging and whining for weeks, let alone drip-feeding wisdom throughout the year (“if you’d just read through your notes each night...”)
My friend, G – efficient, son in F12’s class – produced a revision timetable: greater love hath no better definition than that such a thing is then shared with the competition. But the days slipped by and the amount due to be done was daily piggy backed onto the next day, and then the next, and then the next week. The probs with attending a school which covers Key Stage 3 in two years, and not the more normal three. It soon stacks up.

So these Study Days were allotted and pretty soon the rumours went round among Boy Parents that the Girls were deep in Study-Sleepovers and were revising in pairs.
G texted: “makes you want to vom.”
We were taunted by the star charts they would make for each other, the curly clouds in different felt pens, the issuing to each other of little hearts and flowers in mutual reward; their resolve just to do one more hour, ok, let’s make that two. Giggle giggle, little hug, and noses back to the books.
In stark comparison to Boy Work: Pokémon and lolling on the sofa.

G texted: “the girls are just too aggressive with it all. Have visions of them swottily driving up the class averages and poor boys impaling themselves later on guilt spikes. Bloody girls!”
We agreed. It was ghastly. We imagined the shiny eyes, the thrilled faces, the focus. It was easy to picture the perfect recitation of every irregular verb going, the creation of nifty acronyms. It was official. The girls were far too keen and high-achieving and committed, and in their spare time wedded to their violins and welded to their hockey sticks.
Our only hope lay in the time-wasting intrinsic in the colour coding, the glitter pens and the opportunities they would already be taking for laying down excuses against not coming top.
G texted: “every little helps.”

I texted: “there will be some, surely, awash with headaches and leg aches and lies and general boy-esque slack reasons for not getting on with it?”
F12 pfaffed about making some noxious brew and calling it coffee.
I texted: “There’s value in them getting a raw score, not just biased in favour of excessive revision.”

F12 went upstairs to tackle BBC Bitesize. Pokémon-type noises soon issued from what is laughingly called the Study.

G texted: “Some will not be working too hard, I am sure. I am not going to worry any more. Have wasted time on maps and now see maps not included in list from school. Feck.”
I texted: “Have jettisoned music. Attempting history tomorrow, but languages are going to have to fend for themselves.”

On the Friday, I had to take the car in first thing to the garage. The bit hadn’t arrived. Surprise. So it was Tesco for me and then home, drowning in bags to find F12, sitting in his pyjamas and a long Wee Willie Winkie hat, watching “The Simpsons,” a worrying mug of hot chocolate slopping about cheerfully above the pale carpet.
“Why aren’t you doing your maths! And get that cup out of here!” I screeched so gnat-high that it was clearly off his hearing range.
He threw his hands in the air. “What do you expect?” he said, “I need supervision. I’m not to be trusted.”
I headed off the hot chocolate and denied physics its triumph.

So I set him about his history and, some time later – after, in fact, another trip to the garage – went to check on him. He was deep in Shaman lore and the Cro-Magnon cave paintings. I twitched. Whither Tudors?
“Have you heard of this tribe?” he asked, pointing me to a page in his book.
I was soon drawn in. It was fascinating: early spirituality, the Sungir burial ground, the Ain Ghazal clay collection, the moundbuilder sites.
“You’re meant to be doing the Norman Conquests, really and the monasteries, Henry VIII, just the British stuff,” I said weakly. I hated it. Denting his enthusiasm and dragging the second child in as many weeks back from something more interesting, back to bloody Henry VIII: I bet he never let himself be dragged anywhere else. What we don’t know about Anne Boleyn and her 6th finger isn’t worth knowing. The curriculum returns to it again, and again.
It represents everything that I hate about modern education, that it no longer is that, e-ducere, to lead out, but e-shove-in-o.
I gave him The Tudors, he went off with The Greeks.

G texted: “on a major cull. Too much to do. Stopping for lunch at 2. D counting the minutes. Need wine.”
I texted: “F feeling confident. Heart plummets.”

I came across him in the sitting room. Lying on his back and talking to himself.
“Don’t you think you should be revising?” I said.
“No, darling. I don’t.” Darling! He stood up, “I’m going to make some coffee.”
E walked through the kitchen as F12 was mopping up the sideboard.
“Tell him to revise,” I hissed.
“When do his exams start?” E asked, surprised.

They’re in there now, puzzling over geography.
Is there a grimmer subject than geography? And so much of it, I know now; know, that is, in terms merely of the title of topics we actually know nothing about: isotherms and tectonics, relief and settlements. Clueless, he’ll sit there, the false balloon of self-belief swiftly fizzling flat. Will he even remember to read the instructions, those hellish requirements to do one from Section A, etc?

Need I say that I’m dreading the fall-out, the public reading of results, the girls writhing smugly from positions of colour-co-ordinated success? The boys glowering and baffled. I can see it all. Not for nothing did my old boss call me Cassandra. But some lessons you just have to learn yourself. As F12 is about to find out.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

choo choo

The platform was dense with those waiting. Either to meet what are tediously referred to as Loved Ones or to catch the train that wasn’t there, to be shunted further into the bowels of the country. It should have arrived at just gone 9 and it was now half past ten.
The guard was trotting up and down, loving it, bobbing here and there, totally unable to dispense meaningful advice and utterly in his element. His semaphore paddles bounced useless on his thighs. The information board kept edging forward, without explanation, the arrival estimate of the train, clicking it just out of reach.

I was waiting for my Loved One who was returning from Lords. We’d been a week in Cornwall and he had ducked out early to watch a spot of cricket.
“Any idea why it’s so late?” I asked the guard
“Delayed,” he said, thrilled. Which cleared everything up.
“My husband texted to say that the train was stuck in the middle of nowhere,” I said.
“Oh no, it won’t be there,” he said. “It’ll be somewhere else.”
Across on the other platform, a solitary person waited. His face an uneasy sweaty mix of anxiety and boredom. He smoothed his hands on the long ruffles of his long skirt and crossed and uncrossed and re-crossed his legs. Perhaps the Victoriana bootees were uncomfortable.
“’s fucking shite, that’s what it is,” a man to my left said.
“’s fucking outrageous. Orra comploine.”
E texted. “Moving backwards.”
I told the guard. “Ah,” he said happily, “That’s Gloucester for you.”
The chap in the skirt flounced off, holding his hem high up the steps. I half hoped he had plans of breaking into the car - would a man in a long dress fancy a spot of joy-riding in a Toyota? It would be one way of getting rid of it.

When E finally got in he was smiling with relief – we few, we happy few. “Nearly a stabbing at Swindon,” he said. “People were going crazy. One man insisting on a taxi. We all bonded over our compensation forms.”
The unspoken chill in the air was that the compensation is delivered as vouchers for more rail travel. Surely no one wants to get on a train twice?

The last time I went on a train I missed it. There was a problem – on-going, but unannounced at the station – on the tube en route to Paddington so, after being stuck without explanation in a tunnel for 20 minutes, we were disgorged at High St Ken.
“’s fucking outrageous!” shouted a girl. “Sorry,” she said, catching my eye. “But it’s so crap. I’m ashamed of this country. We get these people, clients, they come here and I’m ashamed. Third bloody world. It’s not like this in China.”
When she talked about work her right hand bent out – I understood later that a major part of her job, when not stressing about foreigners’ perception of the infrastructure of our transport system, was collecting dry cleaning.
Her hand shot out in anticipation of invisible clothes hangers. “’m not even meant to be in today, ‘smy day off. But she,” her dry cleaning hand jabbed, “she can’t bloody work out which car to get from the car-pool without me going across London and showing her. Christ!” She lapsed into hopeless boss speak, “‘Tee-nah, if it’s not too much trouble, darling, it’s all so confusing!’ Fuck. It’s my bloody day off! And which of us is on a hundred K?? Hey, let’s get a taxi. I’ll pay.”

So me, and her and my wheeled luggage and her invisible dry cleaning cut a swathe through the crowds and we caught a cab and he drove like the clappers and I got to Paddington Just In Time, Tina’s cries of “RUN!” speeding me on …. down the concourse, round the corner, up the platform, to see the train, to run some more …. to be denied a foot in the carriage.
The guard, a piggy, just stood there. “Door’s shut now,” he said with a little smirk. “Health and Safety.”
“Please open the door,” I said.
“No,” he said. Like that. Just, "No."
I stared at him through the window and he stared at me for nearly a minute and then the train rolled off.
I cried.
For I knew that this being England, that common sense had long left town. Presumably hitching or on a moped. It was my son's birthday and I was due back to make cake and I wasn't going to make it, in either sense of the word. In buying a ticket, I hadn’t simply bought the right to travel from London to Cheltenham but I had availed myself of ”a product,” being one seat on one train only. Everything is product now, from pensions to shampoo, bleach to trains.

My friend Susan had been on a train. She’d had a 24 hour clock confusion and got on the 7pm train rather than the 17:00 one. She is 52 and the carriage was nearly empty. She was relieved to sit down. The guard all but elbowed her out, chivvying her to alight at Swindon, to go to a cash point, to draw out £50, to wait an hour and to buy another ticket for this leg of the journey.
She apologised and pointed out that this train was cheaper than the one for which she had bought a ticket, that it was a simple mistake, that she was tired and the train was empty. It was a dark and windy night. It was November. She is tiny, and beautifully spoken, but lacking a credit card.
“You’ll have to get out and go to the cash point,” he said. “Your ticket isn’t valid.”
Her one fellow passenger said "May I?" and reached for his wallet, and bought another ticket for her. The kindness of strangers stepping in when the system is heartless and happy to throw you to the wolves.

I went to the help, ha ha, desk, heart a-sunk.
“You’ll have to get a new ticket,” the man said, “This one’s no longer valid. ’s too late,” he said. “That ticket was only valid for that train. Need to buy a new one now.”
“But it wasn’t really my fault I missed it,” I said. “I allowed nearly an hour to get from Sloane Square to Paddington. It’s six stops, I thought it would be enough. It took ten minutes the other way yesterday. I could drive from Cheltenham to Oxford in an hour. There was a fault on the line.”
The man couldn’t care less about that. I don’t know why I bothered. He punched my Oyster card and shook his head. “Insufficient journey time allowed.”
There was further nonsense since my seat reservation ticket was missing somehow rendering my ticket even more invalid, and I couldn't make him see that since the reservation was for a train which was now somewhere near Reading it surely couldn't be THAT important but apparently it was and it just showed the customer service man how very foolish I was and how very little I know about valid tickets. “Nah, you’ll have to go and buy another ticket.”

A serpentine queue, like the desperate line for returns at IKEA, was threaded through the ticket hall.
He all but flicked me away with a dismissive paw. As flies to wanton boys are we.

A little lad in a high vis jacket trudged like my shadow towards the monstrous Stalinist queue. I became aware that he was there and that he was frowning and that he kept muttering, "That should be plenty of time."
"I know," I whimpered prettily, eye to the main chance.
“You allowed plenty of time,” he said again.
He shot a glance over at the grim kipper of a customer service manager then shimmied with resolve. Chest out, shoulders back. He queue-jumped me ahead of 60 people trapped in queue-hell and he got my ticket re-stamped and I travelled home without having to shell out £70.

It was a massive triumph over the Kafka in Wonderland bureaucracy of Modern Britain, although it’s never that simple since there was more nonsense in Bristol (I had to go the long way round) where all the boards and signs said that the connection up to Cheltenham left from platform one and, lo, there IS no platform one. And no-one who worked there seemed to know anything about it.
"Oh, that'll mean platform 3," said a weary passenger. But of course.

I was telling my friend Simon about it later, he doesn't get out much. "What was the problem?" he said, quite reasonably, "you missed the train. Couldn’t you just get the next one" Poor innocent. Has no idea that life isn't like that anymore.

So we don’t want the vouchers. But it seems incumbent upon us to claim them. Apparently they pretend not to receive the forms, so the Swindon Band of Brothers were telling each other to scan them in, then they can't be "lost". The games we play. The games we have to play. The good times ended with Thomas the Tank Engine.