Tuesday, June 17, 2008

it was only a northern swan

It was my neighbour who suggested we go for a nice calming stroll around the lake at the local National Trust place but his contemplative conviviality was somewhat tempered by his complaining all the way round about the Trust's removal of the stepping stones near the tearoom; health and safety you see. My neighbour explained how when the Trust took over the estate in the nineteen eighties the old abbey actually still had a roof and all of it's windows but they were both stripped away lest a visitor trip over a fallen shingle and plunge through the stained glass. This was, he explained, the same time that the monks were sent away because they were a silent order so they refused to give anyone directions to the gift shop. This made me feel warm inside because you see it's only when you gain people's confidence that they share this kind of local knowledge.

We came across these little fellows by the water and as I wondered whether there was a really clever and original baby waterfowl inspired metaphor here if I could only see it they recognised the man who makes the pies for the farmers market and inexplicably leapt straight back into the water in a flash, and so the train of thought steamed off into the distance with my homesick thoughts still in the luggage rack, in coach B, over seat 42a, the one with the bit of old chewing gum stuck on the fold down drinks tray and the crumpled old Northern Echo with the crossword half completed stuffed behind it. Well, if you miss one there's always another along in a minute, metaphors that is, not trains. 'Fancy a brew Rilly?' asked a voice. It was my neighbour. 'Aye', I said, 'that would be super '.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

husbands in the south

Yesterday I was coming back from having lunch with some Labour Party chums in the local market town. I was feeling rather down in the dumps, I must say. Nobody understands what a struggle it is to have a husband who spends some of the week in his office a few hours away down the motorway you know, leaving me alone to look after the children and the nanny, and on top of that champagne at lunchtime always makes me a little maudlin so I really needed cheering up. Then I noticed one of my neighbours across the street. She’s a bit of a local but we always seem to get on quite well nevertheless so I went over for a chat to try and raise my spirits. I struck up a conversation and asked what had brought her into town. ‘My husband has a tour in Kandahar coming up Rilly’, she said, ‘so he’s shopping for new boots’. 'A tour?’ I replied, ‘That sounds rather fun. Kandahar; that’s near Harrogate isn’t it?’ I asked. She looked rather concerned and not, and in my view I'm afraid, about my rather more serious worries. I supposed she must have been wondering whether her husband would finish tiling the bathroom before he went away or something, but really, it’s just just me-me-me with some people, sigh.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

a year in the provinces

It's been a year since my family downshifted to the North and I was just wondering whether Strife in the North would ever be as successful as the Mayles and the O'Reillys had been before me when Milly ran into the kitchen. ‘Mummy’ she cried, ‘The vicar just parachuted in to the back garden!’ This was no surprise of course. It’s a large parish here in The North and the last incumbent had made it quite clear he was taking his bicycle with him when he retired. I followed my daughter outside where a large familiar grin appeared from under a billowing pile of red silk. ‘Oh bloody hell!’ he said, ‘where the fuck am I?’ I had rather hoped that after falling ten thousand feet from a plane and my face being the first thing he saw then some witty comment about seeing angels might have been the least I could have expected. Obviously a protestant, I thought. I didn’t hear that kind of language from Cormac Murphy O'Connor when he dropped in, and he went right through the roof of the greenhouse after his reserve failed.

‘I was sure this was the airfield!’ He said, ‘I saw the runway!’. ‘That was my drive dear’, I explained. ‘But what about that great big fucking cross on the grass?!’ he added. Well, I make no apologies for my herbaceous borders being arranged to show The Almighty where to concentrate the little amount of sunshine he saves for The North. My Church of England suspicions were confirmed when I saw that he was jumping with an organisation called the Red Devils. It was all for charity, it was explained to me. I just hope this doesn’t make people think only Anglicans are concerned about others. The Archbishop of York may have joined up with the Paras to raise money for charity but our very own pope already joined the Hitler Youth for their humanitarian work years before.

'This is all very embarassing', confessed the bishop, 'You won't tell anyone about this will you?' he asked. I smiled reassuringly. I thought I might mention it on my blog but that was the next best thing to keeping it a secret. The parachtists began arguing amongst themselves (yes, definitely Church of England) so I decided to leave them to it and quietly returned to pondering how I could break with the legacy of the downshifting memoir and reassure readers I wasn't just making it all up, sigh...

Monday, June 02, 2008

let them eat crisps

It can be so hard to find activities for the children during half term, so I gave up trying and left them at home with the au pair to go out for the evening. My husband and his ticket finding themselves at opposite ends of the M1 when the time came to go out a chance encounter with my neighbour meant that if I ran into any bears on the way I would have someone to push between them and myself. ‘But what does a northerner know about baroque composers?’ I asked after he'd offered to come with me. ‘Well’, began my neighbour by way of assuaging my doubts ‘I know what kind of washing powder they use’. ‘If you say Purcell automatic I’m going on my own’, I told him. We set off in silence after that.

It certainly was a trip down memory lane. The lady’s at the pub across the road from the venue was full of sixth formers from the school in the local market town adjusting large wigs and bustles. It was just like being back at my ladies College, sigh. ‘You must be Marie Intoilette’, I laughed as the cubicle door opened and a betrainered dauphine stepped out. I think she must have been focusing on her role too much to laugh. She wasn't very realistic anyway; When was Marie Antoinette ever seen with a Malborough Light? Its Gauloises dear; if you do this kind of thing again then do get some authenticity. To complete the whole Ancien Régime ambience there were even it seemed some sans culottes laid on to complement the courtiers from the local school. ‘They’re not very convincing peasants’, I told my neighbour. ‘They’ll be glad to hear it’, said my neighbour. ‘Evening lads’, he called across the street. There was something of an exchange across the street that could have been in 18th century french for all I understood of it although of the universal sign language of miming drinking a pint, tapping a watch and pointing back at the pub I think I got the gist.

It was a marvellous evening. For a couple of lovely hours the reality of everyday life was shut out as the spectacle unfolded. Of course we wouldn’t want to be ruled by a privileged elite with no experience of how ordinary people live and who just see the common folk as a source of taxes to fund their grand lifestyles and futile foreign adventures nowadays. Those days are long gone so thank goodness for Tony is all I can say. Evetually the music ended, the subisidy ran out and the bubble finally burst and my neighbour and I stepped out into the evening. ‘What’s that light pollution that’s stopping it getting completely dark?’ I asked. ‘That’s the sun Rilly’ he said, ‘it’s still only ten thirty’ he said, smiling. The twilight was rather kind to him, I thought, in fact the north as a whole seemed less scary when I couldn't see it quite so clearly. We wandered back to the pub to meet with my neighbour’s chums. Apparently it was my round. They do have long memories around here. ‘And five bags of porkies please’, I asked as the last pint was slopped onto the bar. ‘Sorry love, no scratchings’ said the landlord. ‘No scratchings!’ I exclaimed, ‘then let them eat crisps!’. ‘Eh?’ came the reply. ‘nothing’, I muttered dejectedly, ‘just the drinks then’, I sighed. Well, what can I say, I have been under rather a lot of pressure lately, sigh

Saturday, May 24, 2008

peggy seeger (in colour)

‘Darling’ I said, turning to my husband. ‘yes dear?’ he whispered. ‘You promised there wouldn’t be anyone playing the banjo in the North.' ‘Shush!’ came a voice from the row behind. ‘And what’s this woman doing playing in the village if she’s so famous anyway?’ My husband looked annoyed. ‘She and Ewan Mcoll used to come here and walk the fells in the sixties’, he explained. ‘She was just saying how little the village has changed’. Except that everything was in black and white back then of course, I thought. He went back to chewing his cuban cigar, sadly frustrated from completely authentically emulating Che Guevara by the smoking ban . It was a relief to hear the village was mostly full of southern downshifters even back then, but then I thought perhaps it was simply that she hadn’t been in town long enough this time around to listen to the village, only enough to see it.

It had been a difficult time lately and I suppose I should have just been grateful for some time with my husband. The Labour party had been having some terrible election results. I don’t know why people are so upset at raising taxes on the low paid. Don’t they know that if poor people are allowed to keep their own money they’ll only waste it on lager and satellite dishes. They should give more of it to people like me who’ll appreciate it and spend it on nice things instead. It's called redistribution of income. I wish people would pay attention, sigh. Then there was the Telegraph. Can you imagine? me? in the Torygraph? I couldn’t wear my Tony Blair for Pope t-shirt for a whole week out of shame.

I only found out about the suggestion that I was actually two men when the chap in the paper shop gave me a funny look when I went in for my Guardian. I think he fully believed I dropped my bag full of lady’s personal items just to prove some sort of point. It wasn't my fault, these feminine requisites are hard to come by up North and you have to buy up all you can when they're in the shops. The carrier bag broke under the strain, that's all. On reflection of course I can quite understand that rumour because if I really was a man than my recent output of three blog posts in two months meant there would have had to be two of me at the very least to maintain that kind of productivity.

The concert neared its end. At least Peggy Seeger had got through a whole gig without being deported, which was something I suppose. I wondered if I would still be writing Strife in the North when I was 73, and whether I would be so left wing as to make Joan Baez look like Margaret Thatcher. I sighed. As I gazed sadly at my George Bush count down keyring that I bought by way of blending in I thought about the singer's hope that Dubya would go soon and peace would come, but then unless he was going to be taking my children with him when he retired there’d be no peace for me this November, that was sure. sigh. 'Maybe we should bring some free love into the world ourselves later', I said to my husband, romantic and dangerous with his beret and cigar, but he reminded me we had a meeting with our interior designer about the colour scheme for the conservatory first thing so we should get an early night and put being spontaneous in our diaries for next weekend.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


My darling daughter was so moved this week by the news about Joan Hunter Dunn that I detected a certain influence from all the articles in the papers in the poem she wrote at school about myself and her father. She obviously sees her father's relationship with her mother is equally passionate and inspiring as anything Betjeman wrote about. I can't write anymore, as my tears might short out my keyboard, it's not easy being a muse, sob.

The Downshifter's Love Song

Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn
Has seen the last setting of the Home Counties sun
Daddy is such a great fan of John Betjeman
When we heard the news we just had to fetch him in

When Daddy met Mummy she was engaged to Harold
But Daddy got her, lock, stock and double barrelled
a Camberley honeymoon, but the stay wasn’t lengthy
Mushrooms and pines spoiled the smell of the M3

Daddy misses Surrey, tells us often, doesn’t stop
Both the county and the one with the fringe on top
So his weekends home our sense of bearings do disturb
And this corner of a northern field stays a London suburb

He loved her at thirty, at forty too, the joy
Always willing to swallow and she looked like a boy
When against her warm body he’s found quietly nestling
We know she’s beaten him again at arm wrestling

Before we were born they gave up their games of tennis
For nearby windows her backhand did menace
Now often although no court or net has it seen
We wonder where the warm handle of her racket has been

With the power to inspire him Mummy was imbued,
His enthusiasm for his work not just spurred by her nude
Although their Sunday nights spent staring at the ceiling
Must make a week working in London rather appealing

She always follows him to the car, tears in her voice
Oh Darling when will you ever make a choice?
Mostly it’s whether to pay the builder cheque of cash
But sometimes their rows slow his London bound dash

And whatever the words that are left unsaid
We know there is something ominous ahead
When they sit in the car till twenty to one
Daddy and his own Joan Hunter Dunn

By Milly Super aged seven and three quarters

Saturday, April 12, 2008

the teasmade of buttermere

It was my husband’s idea to spend the Easter holidays in the lake district. I’m afraid being away is why I haven’t been terribly frequent in updating the blog; It's the damp you see, although on the plus side I can now grow watercress on my laptop. it's not been an easy holiday and the indignities faced in this expedition were only heightened by watching a Melvyn Bragg documentary on the little television in the room about great northern literature which didn't mention Strife in the North even once, although I suppose the time the presenter spent plugging his own book meant that broadcast minutes were at a premium.

The children soon found lots to do so there I found myself alone, one afternoon, just me and the teasmade. I gazed at my bedside companion and it was like looking back into the past to a simpler time, that smooth white procelein skin, that round innocently smiling face, those small delicate hands, that temprement at once compliant and willing to please yet also with a way of letting off steam that was most pleasing to behold . It was no wonder that people came from all over the land to gaze on such elegant and simple beauty whilst the rain beat ceaselessly on the panes, rain that, as Coleridge wrote in his journal on 12th February 1752, could dilute your laudenham just by opening the curtains and looking out of the window.

Suddenly Milly and Tilly burst into the room and the rural idyll vanished before the rudely re-emerging modern day. ‘How’s the sailing going girls?’ I asked. ‘Did the pirates make you walk the plank? You’re all wet!’ Milly shook her head. ‘Tilly dropped the health and safety risk assessment’ she explained, ‘it was heavy it went right through the bottom of the boat’. I smiled. ‘better drowned that duffers, eh girls!’ I laughed. ‘Mummy’, begain Milly, ‘We’re not actually in Swallows and Amazons you know’. ‘Oh’, I queried, ‘why ever not?’ Milly looked serious. 'It's too sad, all those children are going to reach adulthood at the end of the thirties and then be killed in the war’. She explained. ‘We might as well cut out the middle man and play Atonement!’. I sighed. ‘Well’ I said, ‘that’s spoiled the ending of that book for anyone that reads my blog!’ I growled. ‘Well anyway’, said Milly, ‘if we pretended our names were Roger and Titty and Nancy imagine the kind of childish innuendo you’d make out of that in your stupid blog’.

The children left leaving a damp patch, well, at least somebody has messed up the hotel room this holiday I thought, and I looked out at the lake and wondered if my daughter was talking things far to seriously, Imagine Arthur Ransome conjuring up the dark clouds of the thirties I thought. I mean, where is the worldwide financial crisis, the Olympic Games being used as propaganda and the comfortable and fortunate desperately trying to pretend it won’t happen to them? I closed the curtains to shut out the periscope that I was sure had just surfaced near the ice cream van on the jetty, put the kettle on and went back to watching Look North through my Claude glass.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

north riding lessons

Yes, well, where was I; Saturday morning. So, there I was, stood with the stable girl as the children had their riding lesson. ‘When do you think they’ll get real horses?’ I asked. ‘Rupert prefers to start with the simulator’, she explained, ‘it keeps the insurance premiums down’. I nodded in understanding. ‘So how’s business?’ I asked. ‘OK’, she said, ‘but Rupert has booked me to give some lessons for that southern downshifter’s children, you know, the one with the blog, life in the north or something I think it's called’. ‘But that’s great isn’t it?’ I suggested, nervously. My stable girl friend wasn’t so sure. ‘I’ve read her blog’, she said. ‘She regards us working folk as little more than dancing bears to entertain the folks back home and sell more copies of her book’, she said. ‘You know, if she was here now I bet she’d even report this whole conversation in her blog’. ‘Well’, I said, ‘that’s journalism my dear’. She shook her head. ‘Living my life and doing my job in my own home town wasn't a news story before she turned up here and it isn't now’, she said. ‘What she does is just happy slapping in tweeds’.

I looked down and shuffled my feet and we both turned back to the girls. There had been a bit of a mishap and Tilly was holding her horse’s head under her arm, and the rest of the horse under the other arm. She started to cry. ‘You wouldn’t leave me crying when there’s room on your horse for two would you Milly?’ she pleaded to her sister. ‘Yes', said Milly, 'F**k off Tilly!’ Suddenly the sound of galloping hooves could be heard approaching along the beach. The next moment a great white horse came into view, its rider’s fair hair flowing in the wind, a cloud of spray from the sea whipping up around it. The horse came to a halt in the yard. ‘Ayup girls!’ said the rider, ‘jump on!’. My daughters dropped their hobby horses and leapt aboard. ‘Back in a while Mrs Super’, called the rider, as she pulled on the reins, turned the horse and galloped off towards the horizon. ‘But Milly’ I cried out after my vanishing beloved children, ‘you’ve got the car keys!’. I turned back towards the stable girl. ‘Who was that masked metaphor?’ I asked, but she was reaching into her bag for lunch. Her arm emerged and she turned towards me holding something up. ‘Fancy an apple?’ she said.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

the schlong good friday

It was lovely to see so many people from far and wide at the stables open day. Soon after we arrived I saw a couple of Londoners who were exchanging the traditional southern greeting: ‘What are you looking at?!’ said the first. ‘Are you talking to me you slag?!' replied the other. It’s so good to be reminded of home, I thought, as they beat each other to a pulp behind the manure pile. The warm memories that welled up inside me made me quite forget the cold north wind that whistled around my breeches. My daughter Tilly interupted my homesick reverie however. ‘Crikey, that’s enormous!’ she exclaimed, running over to a big horse in the corner of the yard, and she wasn’t pointing at his tail. ‘Like Fabio’, giggled Milly. ‘What kind of horse horse is he?’ Tilly asked the stable lass. ‘he’s a stud, my dear’, said the girl helpfully. My daughters giggled. ‘Like Fabio!’ ‘Does he run in races?’ asked Milly. ‘No’ said the girl, ‘his job is to be special friends with the ladies when they get a bit frisky’. My daughters looked at each other in feigned solemnity. ‘Not like Fabio then…’ they both said together, and started giggling again. I sighed.

‘Where is your father and his secretary anyway?’ I asked the children. ‘Fabio is over at that stall and Daddy has gone to look for some lunch’, said Milly. Suddenly I saw a familiar figure in the distance, Rupert? Could it really be him, taming that new young filly, breaking her spirit and making her bend to his will? No, It couldn’t be and he didn’t seem to notice me. I wandered over to see what Fabio was buying at the riding gear stall. ‘Have you got this in his size?’ he said, holding something up and pointing to my husband. The lady behind the stall looked slightly annoyed. ‘We don’t have that in men’s sizes dear’, she explained. ‘Ha!’ said Fabio, so you won’t sell this to me, Well!’, exclaimed Fabio with huff, ‘you are only refusing to sell me this because he is a not a woman!’ ‘No dear’, replied the lady, ‘because he is not a horse dear’. I was just going to ask Fabio if he should perhaps try Soho or the internet but then my husband appeared. ‘OK chaps, lunch is here!’ he cried. ‘You’d never have thought that new macrobiotic organic place in Islington would have opened a northern franchise, but look at this; carrots and straw; cutting edge cuisine guys! Rilly must really be having an influence around here!’

Finally, after a long day, I was at last lying in bed sharing that longed for peaceful moment with my much missed husband. ‘You couldn’t get me a glass of water could you dear?’ I asked him softly. ‘Oh’, he moaned, ‘it’s cold, Fabio, get Rilly a glass of water’. Fabio groaned. ‘You won’t even get your wife a glass of water? What a terrible husband you are sometimes!’ he said. ‘Shhhhush!’ I told them both, 'you’ll wake the baby’. ‘Mummy’, said Milly, ‘can Fabio fetch a hot water bottle if he’s going downstairs?’ ‘And for me too!’ said Tilly, ‘Milly’s feet are like ice! Why do we all have to sleep in the same bed anyway mummy?’ ‘Because it will sell more copies of my book in America dear’, I explained, exasperated at my daughters evident naivety in the US rural downshifting memoir market. Just then the baby began to cry, some doubtless unspeakable polish phrases began to emmanate from the au pair, and the peaceful bank holiday I’d hoped for seemed to disappear in a crash before my eyes. I just grabbed my Catherine Cooksons (and no, actually that isn’t cockney slang) and fled downstairs to my laptop, and my book, and…but what was this, a message on my voicemail. ‘Air Hellair Rilly, Rupert here, don’t think I didn’t see you earlier, what! I just thought…’ I put the phone down, No, I couldn’t. ‘Mummy the baby’s been sick!’ cried Tilly down the stairs. I looked at the clock; 2 AM, I shouted back up the stairs: ‘Milly, Tilly, get dressed darlings, riding lessons this morning!’

Friday, March 21, 2008

up the ash tree climbs the ivy

Up the ivy climbs the sun. There have been racing yards in Middleham, whose castle served as the childhood home of Richard III, since the 18th century and the annual Good Friday open day is a good opportunity to meet some northern celebrities and blend seamlessy in with the locals, so off we set into the bright, but forecast to be shortlived, early spring sunshine to…’Mummy’, said Milly, looking over my shoulder. ‘Yes dear’, I muttered, stopping typing. ‘I find your use of Betjemen to invoke some kind of nineteen fifties rural idyll that probably never actually existed unconvincing and furthermore your attempt to dignify your inane witterings about your daily life by feigning an interest in the history and heritage of The North are, to be perfectly frank, rather laboured’. There was a moment of silence. ‘Gosh Milly, what do you suggest dear?’ Milly looked at me with exasperated expression. ‘Just stick to doing knob gags Mummy’, she offered by way of counsel. I turned to look at the snow now falling past the window and sighed. Returning to my so thoroughly scorned attempt to embellish the story I know that Milly really meant that perhaps I needed to get back to basics, just stick to the facts. I hit delete, typed the schlong good friday into the title box and began to write...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

north and south

I knocked on the door. Footsteps were heard in the hallway and my neighbour opened the door. ‘Hello Rilly’ said my neighbour, ‘what’s the matter love?’ ‘I think I’ve run over a cow’, I told him. ‘Not a sacred one I hope’, he smiled. I lowered my gaze. I didn’t need to say more. ‘Fancy a brew?’ he asked, standing aside from the door. I went in. ‘Come on through’, he said. ‘I’ll put kettle on’. Just then the phone rang. My neighbour picked up the receiver. ‘What’s that?’ he asked the caller, ‘trouble at mill you say!?’ he repeated, grinning at me. I smiled embarrassedly. With a few more words he ended the call. ‘You mustn’t worry about those Londoners pet’, he assured me. ‘They’ve never heard of Galileo down there, still think the universe revolves around them’. 'Galileo?' I queried. 'Aye, Galileo' he said. 'Hmm, Galileo' I pondered. 'Rilly, let me go', he said, 'kettle's boiling', and I unhanded him so he could make the tea. I moved a little closer to the fire as my neighbour clanked mugs in the kitchen and with my damp feet starting to warm by the hearth I was sure I was feeling a tingly sensation I hadn’t felt for a long time; static, it must be, I thought to myself, bloody northerners and their synthetic carpets, and I wondered if my neighbour had any brandy in, sigh..

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

boyz n the sisterhood

Last week of course it was international women's day and as an ardent feminist I was naturally keen to participate by giving a talk as an ‘inspirational woman’ but alas the invitation I received asked me to do a speech encouraging bright young gels to give up their careers and write blogs and my publishers banned me from doing it as they didn’t want to crowd the market. What's more the charity nude lady bloggers calender I posed for had all it's copies seized by the obscene publications squad following a terrible rumour about Girl with a one track mind's picture for February.

It looked then like I was sadly just going to spend another morning playing Woman's Hour Bingo with Freya’s mother but she had Mary Wollstonecraft, men, and something else beginning with M that I can't even mention on her card so I never stood a chance. The game lasted all of thirty seconds and then we just listened in silence to a novelist tearfully recounting her emotional journey of recovery and self discovery after not quite remembering where she'd left her car keys. My husband saved the day however because knowing how much it meant to me he and his ever loyal secretary Fabio attended the Million Woman March down in London on my behalf.

Unfortunately only a couple of thousand turned up. My neighbour said that a million women did originally set off to go to London for the march but, what with no men to read the map, well, that's just the kind of attitude we're protesting about, sigh. My husband told me all about the keynote speaker. Apparently she stood on the podium for two hours just looking really annoyed and everyone had to guess why she was upset. I don’t know why my husband commented on this, he’s been married ten years, sigh. He's obviously spent longer away from me than I thought. Sadly they were asked to leave when their sincere attempt to blend in was tragically misinterpreted and anyway they would have had to leave the march for sexual equality early regardless because there were three hundred ladies loos but no gents, so that's one in the eye for the patriarchy I suppose, sigh

Monday, March 10, 2008

desperate house of commons wives

I bumped into Ffion just the other day. She and I have so much in common, Two women, both married to a William who’s very important and spends a lot of time in London, Both far from home. The politics might come between us, her husband is more interested in matters of high diplomacy but we Labour chaps like to deal with the grass roots, because, after all, the roots are all that's left of the grass after the napalm has finally burned itself out but if she wasn’t a Tory and I wasn’t so jolly well working class I’m sure we’d get on very well. Actually, I’m not quite sure what class Ffion is from as she’s welsh and they probably have their own devolved class system in Wales now so perhaps we can be chums after all.

Anyway, the reason I mention it of course is that as the jetlag finally starts to get to David Attenborough who sadly reportedly now so is identified with that gorilla scene that he starts crouching down and whispering whenever anyone so much as opens a packet of peanuts in his earshot the BBC has done a series on the rare and exotic within our own shores and in their search for working class people their researchers even visited my own village although they didn’t find anyone to be in the show as the whole population had just been moved out to make way for filming a gritty but heart warming northern drama for ITV. Milly rather reduced my chances of being interviewed on TV though as when she answered the door to the BBC she told them her mother neither worked, nor had any class, sigh.

This isn’t the first time the girl has hurt my feelings like this. Just the other day she came home from school very pleased with herself. ‘I got an A in science mummy!’ she proclaimed proudly. ‘And the teacher said I could be an engineer at Wilton or Corus when I’m older’ . My heart sank. My own daughter, going into trade, in the North! I fought back the tears. This had been a Labour Party family as far back as I could remember. We’d always stood up for the poor and powerless like Lord Sainsbury, Rupert Murdoch, Roman Abramovich (even my neighbour says poor old Roman must be feeling hard done by at the moment: I'll make a socialist out of him yet) Our family had always done proper jobs that made you proud to go to conference, jobs that were tough and dirty but had to be done; public relations civil servants, left wing playwrights, Sunday Times columnists. My daughter's announcement of an interest in commerce felt like my fountain pen being pushed through my heart.

‘But darling’ I said, choking, ‘don’t you want to write a blog like mummy when you grow up?’. Milly just didn’t understand. ‘I can still write a blog even if I have a job can't I?’, she said, quizzically. Oh, her youthful innocence! What would she write about, I wanted to ask her, Today I went to work and came home watched a bit of telly before going to bed? Tears welled up in my eyes. Didn’t she know that a really successful blog was one about other people doing stuff. My God, providing your own material for your blog? Whatever next? ‘But Milly, think of your family!’ I cried. ‘Think of your Grandfather who fought in the war!’ Milly raised her eyebrows. ‘Grandfather was born in 1947’, she said. ‘But think of your Great Grandmother who threw herself in front of the king’s horse!’ Milly sighed. ‘But it was beating the favourite Mummy, which Great Granny had bet the house on without telling Great Grandaddy’, she retorted. ‘Anyway’ continued my heart breaking daughter, ‘If I got a job I could get dooced and then my blog would be even bigger than your’s!’ I sighed a big sigh. That’s my girl...I think….and I wondered if Ffion had the kettle on...

Thursday, March 06, 2008


The Kansas Bar and Grill next to the cinema here in the north seems to have closed. Naturally I don’t normally frequent such places but I had grown rather fond of it. With it’s Brokeback Mountain midwest shop fronts, sawn off wall mounted red convertible with surfboard on the back seat and ceiling suspended crop duster plane it just seemed to conjure up all those things that aren’t quite one side of the ocean or the other, Bill Bryson, Henry and Shea's Mildenhall rendition of Drift Away, The inside of Miss Baroque's flat. Sometimes of course you can have too much American influence with your after-film martini so to get away from it all I can always go straight home and watch the government announce their foreign policy on the news. Of course I usually disapprove of anything that pretends to be something else, and as you know, with this blog it’s facts alone that are wanted, and what's more I really don't know why anyone who works in an office or a factory feels the need to seek out such escapism; if they think their life is hard they should try downshifting! I shall miss the old place though and now when the Greyhound turns off the A19 at Stockton it just won't be the same. My neighbour says I'm only sad because it’s the nearest bar to the cinema but he’s got no heart, and now I'm empty and aching and I don't know why...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


You know sometimes this blog leaves me feeling like one of those shop window mannequins, naked and on show to all the world, although without nipples that you can scrape the ice off your car with, sigh. The only time before I started Strife in the North that so many people saw so much of the inner me was when I went into labour in the foyer of that obstetricians' conference. I still rue the Super family tradition of children taking their middle name from the doctor who delivered them: Milly’s full name runs to three sides of A4. I fear when she gets married the priest may need a reserve to takeover when he looks like contravening shift hours regulations. Anyway, this is just a short post to say thank you for reading and thank you to those very nice people at a certain newspaper who found room amongst the full colour pull-out supplements on Prince Harry's dry cleaning issues to mention my own ordeal. Unfortunately, although my presence in the North has also now been leaked by the Guardian weekend listings magazine the RAF have said they won’t be flying me to Oxfordshire so I shall just have to muddle on, relying only on my au pair to tell me whether the people I’m talking to are speaking polish or are just local. In the world of naked people saying thank you of course, we all look to one person, who also proves Canada obviously isn’t nearly as cold as it’s made out to be, oops, sorry, wrong link, I'm still just getting the hang of this, try this one, and thank you for reading.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

cleaning up

My agent rang me last week. I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He told me he’s been too busy promoting my daughter's book about growing up neglected by a mother writing a book about how much she cares about her children . ‘I’m worried Rilly’, he told me. ‘People think you’re too posh. You need to do something common’. I wish I hadn't asked him what he had in mind. ‘Why don’t you write about cleaning toilets? The readers will love it, think you’re one of them’. I’m not sure my agent even reads my blog sometimes. ‘I support the Labour Party’, I told him, ‘what do you think I am, bloody working class or something? Do you think Harriet Harman cleans toilets?’ I put to him. ‘Look Rilly, Wife in The North did it when her agent told her to. Why do I just get the stroppy clients, huh?’ I asked him if I couldn't just make something up. He said readers would be able to tell it wasn’t true because they were so used to my gritty social realism. ‘But this house has got four toilets!’ I said. My agent had bigger plans. ‘The village hall!?’ I cried, but then remembered the village hall only had two, so I quit while I was ahead.

‘Have you been caught speeding again Rilly love?’ asked the lady who has the village hall keys. ‘I haven't been sent by a judge this time, I just want to help the community’. I said. ‘Are you unwell pet?’ she asked. ‘Just let me in at four, and can you lend me some of those rubber gloves that poor people wear please’, I told her. Well, I got to the village hall and just had to keep remembering that my agent had assured me of royalties on five thousand extra sales if there was a good toilet cleaning story in the book as I went into the gents. Oh God. Nobody has suffered for literature this much since Seigfried Sassoon’s agent sent him to the Somme. Phone for sex said the graffiti. Oh well, I thought, I suppose this is all for research. I took out my phone and dialled. ‘Hello’ said the voice. ‘Fabio?’ I replied. ‘Mrs Super?!’ said Fabio. ‘Is, erm, my husband there?’ There was a pause. ‘He is tied up at the moment’, came the reply. My husband works so hard when he’s down in London, the poor darling, sigh. I hung up, finished buffing up the durex machine and then my mop and I headed for more familiar and friendly territory in the ladies.

Elizabeth's relationship with Darcy indicates Austen's rejection of the patriarchy of the Regency period someone had written on the wall. I disagree, rather although romantic love and long term commitment are quite distinct Darcy leads us to believe that the one leads to the other thus leaving women trapped in relationships that can never be fulfilled someone else had scrawled below. I sighed. If only men know what women talked about in the ladies. As I began dusting off the chicklit vending machine I paused. I reached in my pocket and found a pound coin. Pushing it into the slot I pushed a random button on the machine and a book fell into the tray at the bottom. ‘Hmmm’, I thought, bending over my bucket to pick it up, Pride and Prejudice. I sighed, as I leaned on my mop, but with a ribbed chocolate flavoured cover. Now why didn’t I think of that? I peeked out of the door to see if there was anyone around, leaned my mop against the wall, slipped the lock on the cubicle, put the seat down on the loo, and settled down to my book. My agent (men, huh) would have to wait, sigh.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the french rejection

‘Bonjour’, said the rough looking man as I stepped into the shed hidden deep in the woods. ‘You must be the new gamekeeper’, I said tentatively. He shrugged, not taking his eyes away from hanging the freshly caught ferrero rochers from a game hook. I felt a little frisson as his big rough hands worked amongst all his big rough gamekeeper stuff in his big rough shed. ‘Oui’, he said. ‘I 'ave downshifted from France’ . Crikey, I thought, that must be the first time anyone retired from the Dordogne to buy a cottage in Barnsley. ‘So how did you come to get this job?’ I asked. ‘I played ze garde-chasse in ze French version of Lady Chatterley,' he answered, ‘and I discovered I liked being an English gamekeeper’. I nodded in understanding. ‘It was very brave, a French actor playing a northern working class englishman’, I said. ‘Well’, he thought for a moment, ‘I thought if Juliette Binoche can get away wiz playing Catherine Earnshaw, 'ow bad can I be compared to her?' ‘

'I suppose it was the fresh air, being in the country, living with nature that made you become a gamekeeper’, I proffered. He shook his head. ‘Non’, he said, correcting me (translation: no), ‘it was shagging the landowners wife of course’. Well, I reflected, he was French after all. ‘All upper class English women are desperate for it, n’est pas?’ ‘Well, I’m sure I couldn’t possibly comment!’ I said, trying to sound convincing. I really didn't want to shed my inhibitions innan actual shed. He shrugged again. ‘so err’, I began, ‘has their been anyone special?’ He looked up. ‘Zer was a woman’, he said, ‘but she broke my urt’. I looked down, embarrassed. ‘Did she tell you she loved you then go back to her husband, is that how she broke your heart?’ He looked at me strangely. ‘No, she broke my urt, she put her foot right through ze floor of my urt over zer’, and he pointed across the room. ‘Mon dieu!’ he sighed, 'I mean, who goes in an urt wearing high heels?’ I kicked off my shoes quietly.

‘So, what can I do for you Madame Super?’ he asked. ‘Have you got any eggs, say half a dozen?’ He shrugged, again, and I thought he really should improve his repertoire of stereotypical French gestures if he wanted to be in my blog again. ‘I ‘ave only got one egg left’, he told me. ‘Oh well, I shall try somewhere else then’, I replied. ‘Oh, so one egg is not un ouef then, eh?’ he snapped with a huff. ‘Look’, I said, annoyed, ‘Just tell me where I can get some eggs’. he raised his eyebrows. ‘You could try Sean Bean next door’, he said. ‘Sean never has any trouble getting ze birds to lay for him...hello?...Rilly?...oh...where did she go..?’

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Briefs and Counters Chapter Two

‘Hello’ said the stranger as he approached the counter. Celia smiled nervously. ‘Are you being served?’ she asked. ‘I just dropped in to pick up my order’, said the stranger. ‘Oh’ replied Celia, trying not to look flustered. ‘What name please?’ The stranger told her his name. Winchester, Ted, Squadron Leader, DFC, KPMG, RSPCA. Celia crouched down to the draw marked ‘W’ and opened it reverentially. She peered in and lifted out the customer’s order: Boxers in RAF blue, with squadron leaders stripes and gold braid. She held them up to the light, the gold braid glinting in the sun.

‘You know’, began the stranger, 'I spend my whole life above the clouds but I don’t believe I’ve ever been as close to heaven as I am seeing you’. Celia blushed. ‘You’re mocking me’, she smiled nervously. ‘Well’, said the stranger, ‘judging by the number of stripes on those pants a small compliment is the least I can do because it seems you just gave me a promotion, those are Air Vice Marshall’s underpants. Celia’s embarassment was now unbearable. She replaced the object of her uncharacteristic faux pas in the draw and took out the right ones this time. ‘So have you just finished work?’ she asked, trying to change the the subject. Ted nodded. ‘Just finished Red Arrows practice’,he explained. 'Just fell out of my seat you know, did a loop the loop, saw the blue in your eyes down below and thought I must still be looking up at the sky. Actually, I'm just on my way to the puppy rescue centre and orphanage where I help out in my spare time’. Celia sighed. ‘Hmmm, those look like mine’, he said.

Celia was relieved. The shop got a lot of custom from Ted’s squadron. Those Red Arrows pilots seemed to need new pants after every airshow , but she had never had Ted in her department before. He was different. ‘They go very well with your helmet’, she said. Ted lifted his visor ‘Thanks err..’ he said leaning forward ‘...Thanks Jane’. ‘It’s Celia’, said Celia. ‘Sorry celia, must be going blind or something’, he laughed. Celia gazed into his eyes and hoped he didn’t notice the little heart shaped jet vapour trails streaking across them. ‘Best be going, those orphans need me’, and with that he saluted her, tucked his pants under his arm and left Celia’s briefs counter. Would she ever see him again, she thought. ‘Will I ever see you again?’ she asked. Ted looked downcast. '’Fraid I have to go to a new posting in the north soon’, he explained, ‘so I’ll be moving back to my family’s ancestral gothic mansion up there’. She realised she mustn’t have such thoughts about a customer, who she might never see again. Who knew what might happen to him all alone up in the hostile wilderness of The North, so she set about tidying the athletic supports draw and tried to put the tall, handsome, brave, caring, thoughtful Ted Winchester out of her lonely, single, unhappy, manless mind, but she soon found she had to sit down, just a little breathlessness, she thought, nothing more…

Thursday, February 14, 2008

angels of the north

Milly came home from school slightly perturbed by her school craft project. ‘Mummy’, she asked, ‘how do you make a Northumbrian cross?’ I had to confess I didn’t know so I asked my neighbour. He told me you make a Northumbrian cross by telling him Middlesbrough are a point above Newcastle in the league and just laughed, and he usually is so very helpful, sigh. I decided we should have to go to Northumberland to find a cross in situ so the girls and I jumped in the car and headed North. Soon a large figure loomed high above the road. ‘what’s that big statue of Mummy?’ asked Tilly. I looked up at the imposing sculpture which had stood on a hill and wistfully looked south down the A1 for ten years now. ‘I think she’s a London downshifter dear’, I explained, and drove some more.

Soon the A1 turned muddy as the tarmac ran out and the car got stuck in a tractor rut so we pulled off and found ourselves by the sea. This was the very coast where Christianity first arrived in this country of course, and without Aiden braving the Vikings, the scots and the tourists all those years ago we wouldn’t have anyone to chain themselves to railings outside Jerry Springer the Opera today. Pilgrims still come to this spiritual stretch of coast to this day to drive out onto the Holy Island Causeway as the tide is coming in to be baptised by the North Sea in the comfort of their own car.

There, amongst the dunes we came across the object of our quest, the ancient cross of Saint Cuthbert, leaning over with the very weight of it's antiquity but still reaching towards the heavens after all these centuries. I thought of all the weary travellers who had stood at this sacred spot and thought their holy thoughts, thought ‘I wish it wasn’t the eighth century and blogs haven’t been invented yet so I could share these profound insights I’m having right now because if I write it them a book they'll only end up in a vault in London where nobody can see them’, perhaps listened to the eerie voices of wind and the waves, then looked at their watch and wondered if they were going to miss the rush hour, then thought it’s a pity that great big castle spoils the view, damn developers, then turned their tired and sandaled toes south and bid farewell to the angels.

Soon that time came for me too. I turned to the children and smiled. I had my own angels, I thought, I didn’t need any one else’s. ‘Mummy’, said Tilly. ‘I love you too’, I said, knowing instinctively what she was going to say. ‘I need a poo’, she said. ‘Come on then’, I told them, sawing off the cross and putting it in the boot. We got in the car and shut out the wind, I typed ‘the north’, into the Satnav, and in the back of the car an angel passed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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