Sunday, December 30, 2007

in liltin' wifey territory

‘Mummy’ began Tilly. 'Yes dear?' I replied, quietly so as not to disturb the couple in the front row of the cinema whose snogging I had been writing down in my notebook of astute observations of everyday life. ‘Is Eva Green from Newcastle?’ ‘Why do you ask that dear?’ I asked. ‘Because it's snowing and she's not wearing a coat', explained Tilly. ‘I thinks she just kept that dress from Casino Royale dear’, I replied, ‘along with her make-up, character and leading man. ‘Mummy?’ continued Tilly. ‘Yes darling?’ I smiled. ‘If everyone’s soul follows them around in animal form what do they do when they want to go somewhere that has a sign saying guide dogs only?’ I was just thinking about that one when I heard ‘and mummy...’ I sighed. ‘You know this film is all about a fierce animal that’s really a king in a mysterious snowy land?’ ‘Yes dear?’ ‘So I take it CS Lewis’s Narnia copyright has expired then?’ she speculated. 'No darling, you don't und...' I began, but suddenly my thoughts were awakened. Perhaps if I went North I could come back with a good story to tell of wild animals, strange locals, and comedy trousers. ‘I’m going to The North children!’ I announced. I would take the train, I thought but remembering the new year engineering works I added ‘I may be gone some time’. ‘Will there be ice bears?’ asked Milly. ‘Don’t be silly Milly’ I smiled. ‘ I think wife in the north shot them all at the weekend’

I arrived at the station just as the train pulled in. It was a sad sight. The GNER colours had been covered over with the horrible new National Express stickers which were also stuck on the roof so they could still be read when the train was lying on it's side like one of their buses and on the side of the locomotive the Highland Chieftain name plate had been replaced with The Alex Salmond Express. I took my seat and as the train rolled away from the platform and into the unknown I began to write. ‘Excuse me’, said another passenger, pointing to a sign on the window, ‘this is the quiet coach, no electronic equipment allowed’. ‘Don’t worry’, I reassured him, gesturing towards my typewriter, ‘even valves weren’t invented when they made this thing!’ and began to tap away as the coach slowly and rather mysteriously grew ever more empty of passengers the further north we travelled.

I knew we had really reached the North when we passed a group of workman erecting the new Welcome to Wife in The North Country sign by the tracks. The train rumbled on and I wondered what other influence my inspiration could have had on Northumberland. Suddenly the intercom burst into life. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, began the announcement, ‘as the North Sea lies as cold, still , grey and unforgiving as the steel of a reiver’s sword and the river flows muddy brown past the silent stone walls guarding the mysterious secrets of the mist shrouded history of the ancient border we shall shortly be arriving in Berwick on Tweed’. I closed my eyes to steal myself for the arrival and breathed deeply as page after page of lilting possibilities scrolled past my eyes. ‘Please mind the gap’, concluded the announcement. I opened my eyes again and as the train coasted across the Royal Borders Bridge high above the dark Waterstones of the River Tweed I knew what I must do. I alighted from the carriage as soon as the train pulled in and called to the guard. ‘I say, what time is the next train?' I asked. ‘Where are you going to pet?’ he queried. ‘To my destiny', I answered confidently, 'as author of the great northern downshifting novel’. ‘That’ll be the 15.40 from Platform 2 pet’, he said. ‘Don’t be late though’, he added. ‘It’ll be standing room only on that service’.

Monday, December 24, 2007

fairy tale of old york

Dear everyone, here's wishing Strife in the North's very patient and understanding readers a super christmas and superer new year. How grim can it get up north? Am awful lot grimmer if you folks didn't visit and share my sorrow and pain, so thank you, sob. I'm too upset to write anything now so here's a song by Kirsty MacColl's dad. I just hope it doesn't get me into trouble, as he was from Lancashire, sigh...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

coming or going

My sleepy eyes opened reluctantly to be greeted by the early morning sun glimmering dim crimson above the bare frosty treetops rising through the billowing mist that rolled down the cold lazy river. ‘Oh for crying out loud will you shut those fucking curtains Tilly!’ I shouted lovingly at my daughter. ‘But Mummy, you said we could go Christmas shopping today’, sighed my darling girl. ‘We can’t go out’, I told her, ‘Daddy isn’t here to scrape the ice off the windscreen.’ ‘Oooh Mummy!’ sighed Tilly, and stormed off. I sighed too. I knew that the time to decide whether we were going to stay up north or go back to London was approaching as fast as I was losing the feeling in my toes that Tilly has left poking out from the duvet.

I remembered my children’s little faces when I told them we were leaving London. I should remember, it had taken long enough to get them to show an expression that would sound suitably poignantly innocent yet charmingly humorous when I descibed it in my book. My father had been more encouraging. I think he thought that by taking civilisation to The North I was finally following in the footsteps of his career in the Colonial Service. I remembered telling my best friend. ‘There is no life outside the M25!’ she had sobbed. I remembered telling the other reporters at the Sunday Times I was going to the north. ‘Where?' they had asked, perplexed. I took them into the next office where there was a national map of Britain on the wall but it only went as far north as the village where princess Diana was buried. Well, I suppose it is called Northamptonshire, sigh. There had been some good memories of course. I fondly remembered the Aga dressing ceremony held to celebrate the last local moving out of my street, winning the injunction against the silver band practising during Location Location, and then there were the locals of course.

I had grown rather attached to the local northern people I had studied for my book, almost as attached as I had become to the Umba Lumbas of Upper Borneo with whom I stayed in my authentic barn conversion at the very heart of their community while I wrote my first travel book Strife in the Wilderness: three months without Radio 4. I had found that these quaint charming northerners with their curious ways had rather grown on me. They have told me how much they love Strife in the North too, well, at least I think that's what they were saying, it's hard to tell sometimes, sigh. I felt I had really lived alongside these people in their daily lives, shared their struggles, understood their worries, borne their burden, and so had my nanny, cleaner, personal trainer, feng shui consultant and life coach. I knew that Strife in the North could be an even bigger money spinner, I mean genuinely heartfelt account of northern life, than the Umba Lumbas book so although I am comforted that my sister blogger whose heartfelt sincerity so inspires me will soon have to make the same choice I know it won't make it any easier when the time comes to have to ask my husband, are we going back home, darling, please, you gotta let me know...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

voyage of the fairly depressed

Well, I'm pleased to report Natalia's safe return from her rendez vous with the local party treasurer. She said when she first arrived she did receive some rather morally disapproving glances from the doggers at the other end of the lay-by but fortunately others turned up quite soon, in fact the darling girl told me so many Labour supporters sent their nannies and au pairs in disguise to give donations the whole event began to resemble the stoning scene in The Life of Brian. I asked her where she saw that awfully disrespectful movie and she said it was shown to the students in her citizenship class so I feel a stern letter to The Times coming up.

I was talking to my neighbour this morning about the most interesting case of the chap in the canoe. My neighbour says this is the most notorious case of someone disappearing from Hartlepool to start a new life on his ill gotten gains since Peter Mandelson left to join the European Commision. Actually, between you and me I'm beginning to suspect my neighbour might be a bit of a tory you know. Our Peter was somewhat cleverer than this Darwin chap of course because he shaved off his moustache and so it was years before anyone in Brussels recognised him. The poor missing kayaking chap nearly got away with it as well apparently because when the police asked for the canoe as evidence they found out Able UK had already dismantled it while they were waiting for permission for the ghost ships but sadly it seems as if although he'd been told Panama was just like The North; lots of canals and everybody still wears a a hat it just somehow wasn't home. I know how he feels, and if I wasn't thirty miles from the sea and completely out of sea sickness tablets, well, who knows what I might do, sigh...

On the subject of ghost ships, I know this blog has had something of the Mary Celeste about it lately, well, the fairly depressed more like, so thanks awfully for being so very understanding. It's just that it's so grim up north, sometimes I can hardly bear to talk about it, sob...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

from here to identity

I’m most awfully sorry for being so terribly terribly tardy in keeping this blog up to date. I must confess that I’ve been really rather concerned about identity theft lately and now that these child benefit discs have gone missing the whole business has caused me some great deal of worry. Can you imagine if those discs fell into the wrong hands and all the intimate details of my family life and all that terribly personal information about my children suddenly appeared on the internet and I didn’t even get any blog traffic or book royalties out it?! My neighbour is even more worried. He claims child benefit for his six children so I can see why he might be a little concerned although as the youngest is twenty five I really don’t know what consequences could occur that alarm him quite so much. I just hope that it’s so grim up north that nobody would even pretend to be me. I struggle to write the truth about my life and not have people think it’s all made up so I’m sure that nobody who was really only pretending could bring in the aga, the au pair, the big house and rich husband but yet manage to convey how awfully grim it is up north at all convincingly. Anyway, must dash as I have to send Natalia with a suitcase full of used notes and a false moustache to a secluded layby off the A19 to meet the chap from the Labour Party who collects my husband's donations. It's just good to see those chaps from the party are taking some measures to avoid computers and therefore anything underhand occurring, sigh. Back soon I hope, and thanks for bearing with me. Tootleoo chaps..

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

if you've got the tea, I've got the sympathy

Some times I think that blogging isn’t really the medium for me (did I mention I haven’t posted anything for ages?) and when I look at some of the struggling diary writers from whom I draw inspiration; Wife in the North, Ann Frank, I just don’t know how they keep it up. Anyway, let’s try and get this show back on the road. I’m afraid I have been unavoidably lying in a dark room recovering my composure lately (Did I mention I’ve been lying in a dark room recovering my composure?) after I came out of the butchers one day ( I always like to get some chicken for the girls and myself during the week as when I offer my husband a bit of breast or leg he just turns his nose up. Ffion gets her stuff there you know. She's lovely and her husband’s away lot too. I must ask her about what it is he does) when someone leaned out of a passing car's passenger window and asked me 'are you local?' She went on to ask which way it was to the northern heartlands and I told her I thought she probably needed to come off at the next junction on the motorway. After the car drove off I’m afraid that having someone even consider the possibility that I was a northerner caused a delayed shock and I came over all unnecessary.

It was just fortunate that my friend the nurse was nearby and she helped me back to her place. I came round in what I at first thought must be the scene of some kind of terrible accident in an MDF factory but then I realised it was her kitchen. ‘Would you like a cup of tea Rilly?’ said the nurse, reassuringly. ‘I wouldn't say no to a double decaf blue mountain skinny cinnamon latte’ I said. ‘Sorry, I seem to be right out of that’, she said, peering into her cupboard. ‘G&T?’ she proffered. ‘Make it a double’, I said, not wanting to be churlish and refuse her hospitality. ‘Nice kitchen’, I said, looking around. Perhaps I had been unconcious for so long that chipboard and formica were making a comeback now. My nurse friend smiled. ‘You know dear, you could get a kitchen twice as big as this one with an aga and an American fridge if you downshifted’. I told her. She smiled and handed me my drink. ‘You just give up work, buy a couple of houses, knock them through, call it a cottage and, err, that’s it’. I noticed some photographs on the window sill. ‘Is that your husband?' I asked. She nodded. ‘We’re divorced’, she said. ‘shift work, you know, takes it’s toll on a relationship’. I felt that now it was my turn to offer sympathy. ‘I know what it’s like’, I said, ‘being alone, I mean’. She nodded. ‘I miss my husband terribly’ I continued. She smiled weakly. ‘I only get to spend time with him at weekends, holidays, Christmas, the children’s birthdays, our anniversary, weddings, Valentines Day…’ I stopped as I could see my nurse friend was unaccustomed to receiving such moral support instead of providing it. ‘Thank you Rilly’ she said. ‘You’re a rock’ . I smiled. I just hoped she meant I was a southern rock, and not a northern one , and I downed my drink and smiled as we both soaked up the descending silence of mutual understanding.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

alonement

As I stood on the steps by the fountain a feeling of utter loneliness washed over me like the Atlantic over Kate Winslett's life raft. It was September. The children had gone off to wherever it is they go off to at this time of year and soon my husband would leave me too. I lit a cigarette as a figure appeared at the French windows with a suitcase.

‘What are you doing out here Rilly’ asked my husband
‘Oh, just imagining I was Keira Knightly
‘Well, you certainly could be her in the right light darling, oh, no, hang on, you just slightly raised your right eyebrow, damn, that’s just too much like acting to be Keira’
‘Are you leaving me then darling? Must you go to London, Must you?
‘Yes darling, I must’
‘Yes, I suppose you must. At least we’ll always have our last night together watching Atonement
'Yes, even if it was spoiled by all those Redcar people talking during the film about how much the film crew improved the sea front when they turned it into Dunkirk'
'Yes, sigh'
‘And to think they said it couldn’t be filmed’
‘Yes, who would have thought Allo Allo would work as a feature film’.
‘I say, isn’t it actually an Ian Mcewan novel darling?’
‘Oh, yes, of course. It’s about time someone did a send up of one of his books. He really does go on doesn't he?’
‘I don’t think it was meant to be a parody darling’
‘You mean all those daft misunderstandings and hammy accents were meant to be serious?’
‘Yes dear’
‘Gosh, well, that explains why the fallen madonna with the big boobies wasn't in it but if that’s how Hollywood treats highbrow literature these days then I really must be careful when I sell the film rights to Strife in the North.'
‘Strife in the what, darling?
‘Oh, nothing darling’
‘well, I must be going’
‘Yes, you must be going, goodbye darling'
'Goodbye darling'

With that he disappeared into the car and the sound of the tyres on the gravel drive faded into the distance. I didn’t know when I would see him again. How much older would I be when next I was with him? One thing I had learnt from Atonement, at least if I kept the same hair cut then no matter how much I had aged at least he'd still know it was me. The night grew cool. I should go in. I thought once more how terrible it was to pretend that something was true when it was all really just made up and went inside.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

miracle on sauchiehall street

I was still in standard class and rather hoping for one of the poor people to do something faintly amusing for the blog when the announcement came that the train was arriving in Glasgow so I rushed back to my husband in proper civilised people’s class. My husband was busy asking the guard where the train company got the doilies they put on the backs of the seats when I found him and we both peered reluctantly out of the window. I glanced down to the reviews on the back of my so called ‘classic’ guidebook to Scotland and compared my recollection of its descriptions to the view outside the window. As soon as I got back these Boswell and Johnson chaps were going to be hearing from my solicitor demanding my £7.99 back, that was for certain. My husband looked at his watch. ‘We’ll have to go straight to the concert darling’, he frowned, ‘Oh don’t be silly’ I said, ‘he’s bound to start late’. My husband looked up towards the sky. ‘Forgive her; she knows not what she says’ he said, to a suitcase. ‘Mere mortal men may be not always on time’ he explained. ‘But Van Morrison doesn't do late’.

The lights dimmed, the music began. The audience it seemed had apparently stayed on from some kind of white revivalist church meeting that preceded it. ‘I wish I was black’, sighed my husband, as that Belfast soul wafted across the auditorium. ‘I wish you were black too darling’, I said, by way of reassuring him and sharing the experience. The band eventually began on a song that seemed to involve spelling a woman's name. The religious fervour finally became overwhelming for some people in the audience. ‘I can walk! I am saved!’ cryed a man, leaping from his seat and throwing down his zimmer frame. ‘I can see!’ hallelujah!’, cried my husband, jumping to his feet and taking out his contacts. I felt a little uneasy but as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself I too leapt up. ‘I can hear!’ I called out, taking the cotton wool out of my ears. ‘It’s a miracle!’

Well, soon after that it came to the part of the evening when my husband and I found ourselves back out in the street, the warm evening air disappointingly providing no stereotypical Scottish weather to write about at all. ‘It was awfully nice of those two burly chaps in tuxedos to show us out by the fire exit’, I said. ‘Isn’t it great to miss the crowds’? My husband looked at me. ‘Yes dear’ he said. ‘And leaving half an hour before the end also helps with that of course’, he sighed. ‘I think I need a drink’, I said and we found an Irish theme pub so the evening wouldn’t be a complete wash out. We both looked sullenly into our guinness as the chap on the stool in the corner with the guitar playing covers launched into an oh so familiar number. ‘Sha la la la la la la’ said my husband by way of accompaniement. I gave him a long hard stare and we walked back to the hotel without speaking

Saturday morning arrived. It was my husband that suggested we took the metro back to the station. ‘The metro?’ I queried, ‘so you mean....?’ my husband looked puzzled. ‘Yes, like the tube’, He clarified. It would be like going home. Now I did believe in miracles. It was a little later when my husband tentatively said to me, ‘darling?’ I looked up at him innocently. ‘Do you think you might let go of the seat now, we really need to get off you know.’ ‘Why need to get off?’ I asked. ‘because we’ve been through the last station twelve times and one more might be unlucky’, he explained. I shook my head. ‘But it's like back home’, I said, clinging to the seat. ‘But darling’, said my husband, ‘you’re not in London!’ I shook my head. ‘Underground train’ I said pointing to carriage around me, ‘London!’. My husband sighed. ‘big muddy old river; London!’ I continued, and, indicating the other passengers, ‘loads of Scottish people; London!’. ‘But darling’, argued my husband, ‘we really do have to get off!’ ‘why get off?!’ I snapped. ‘because Rangers are at home today and you’re wearing your my friend went to Lourdes and all I got was this lousy t-shirt t-shirt dear’, he explained. ‘why get off?!’ I said. ‘Because we need to go back down south to the north darling’ explained my husband. I shook my head. ‘But its grim down south up north!’ I protested. ‘Won’t even a large G&T pursuade you dear?’ asked my husband. I stood up. ‘make that two'. My husband smiled, straightening his new Charles Rennie mackintosh cravat and we set off south for the north.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

grief encounter

‘Well,’ said my husband as we emerged blinking from the dark cinema into the late afternoon sunshine. ‘It was lovely to get away from work for a couple of hours’. It had been a lovely surprise when my husband had unexpectedly announced an illicit weekday afternoon trip to the pictures, although sadly his secretary Fabio joining us did have the effect that we couldn’t entirely leave my beloved’s trade at the cinema door. It had been a nice way to spend a couple of hours, an old movie, some popcorn, my husband and his secretary sitting just a few rows in front of me. ‘Interesting choice of film’, My husband said to Fabio, ‘The CGI steam trains were terribly unrealistic but I liked the bit where they sneak off to the pictures to watch an overblown romantic flick when they’re in one themselves that we’ve all sneaked off to see’. Fabio smiled. ‘The director’s cut is better’, he told my husband, ‘Trevor Howard leaves the station tea rooms at the end and gets on a space ship instead of the train back to his wife’. ‘Oh, Men!’ I sighed.

Sometimes I've felt as if I were just a made up character as well, living my life in black and white. Although of course, that being the case, the ending must have already been written when in reality most of the time it seemed more as if someone was merely making all this up as they went along. I just hoped I was a character in some great literary work and not in some stupid blog that only seems to get updated once a week lately. ‘I think those were real steam trains darling’, I said, as the famous dramatic climax of Celia Johnson’s hair falling slightly over her eyes resonated in my imagination. ‘It was made in 1945 you know’, I explained. ‘Oh crikey’, said my husband, ‘and it’s still not out on DVD yet dear?’ he laughed. ‘Probably’ I said ‘Not quite the same though.’ I sighed. My husband shrugged. ‘Of course it’s allegorical you know', I said, ‘all this stuff about them not being free to be together because of the social conventions of the time.’ My husband looked puzzled. ‘ Noël Coward being gay and everything’, I elaborated. ‘Noël Coward was gay?’ he queried. ‘Are you quite sure dear?’ It was almost as if he was teasing me but I knew he would never do that. ‘I’m a woman dear’ I began. ‘We girls can tell gay man a mile off you know’, I said. My husband and Fabio exchanged glances so I could see they were keen to get back to work now.

As we walked across the multiplex car park a gust of wind blew up the dust from the ground. ‘Oh, darling!’ I cried. My husband turned round. ‘I think I have some grit in my eye!’ I said, winking vociferously. ‘Oh dear.’ he began, then hesitated ‘Oh, I get it’, he smiled knowingly, ‘Ok, you win dear, I’ll drive’, and he continued on towards the car with Fabio. After a moment I shrugged my shoulders and as I watched to two men walk away across the tarmac, I thought I really should have been writing SITN that afternoon but my agent had been very quiet lately and nobody reads blogs in august anyway. Anyway, I'd detected that some people had found me too critical of the North on occasion, which was unfair because it is grim up north, and what I really needed was for my friend to come up from London and then she could moan about northerners and I could report what she said and I wouldn’t get the blame. Suddenly, my phone rang. It couldn’t be! ‘Air, hellair!’ said the voice, ‘Rilly, is that you darling? Its your old chum from London who really hates it up north speaking’, the voice continued. ‘Coming up to visit you dear, put the kettle on and see you in a few days, what!’. My husband turned around and look back towards me. ‘We’re going to the pub!’ he shouted, so I took off my shoes and sped after after them. As I got into the car I sighed. My friend was on the motorway on her way, my husband was here with me in the car, and yet strangely I couldn't escape the feeling, and I couldn't escape the song in my head, that I was all by myself...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Frantic and Friedman

I looked sceptically at my husband. ‘Surely you don’t mean the Dean Friedman is playing here in the village tonight?’ I said. My husband nodded smiling. ‘What are you crazy? How in the hell can you say what you just said?’ I asked. My husband showed me the poster. It was true, it was there in black and white, but why hadn’t he told me before? He knew I was a big fan. ‘You could have told me a little earlier!’ I snapped, looking at the time. ‘Is that why you’re angry?’ he asked. ‘No I’m not angry.’ ‘Maybe a little?’ ‘Not even maybe, but how am I supposed to feel with all the things you don’t reveal?’ My husband sighed apologetically. ‘What about the baby?’ I said. ‘We’ll take the children with us’, he shrugged. I glanced over to the baby engrossed in one of those things that au pairs give babies to play with. I sighed. ‘Baby stop playing!’ I told him. The baby looked at me briefly then carried on. ‘Baby now stop it’, I said, and turned to my husband. ‘You should know better’, I said. He shrugged and said ‘I know this is hard to do, but there’s no one to look after him but me and you’. I gave in and picked the baby up and we went down to the village Green.

The concert was absolutely packed so I gave Tilly some money and sent her to the bar whilst my husband and I turfed some locals off their seats. The baby started crying. ‘Baby I’m sorry’, I whispered. ‘I was wrong, I have no alibis, I was acting like a fool and I apologise’. I looked down into his sweet little face. 'Do you still love me?' I said, softly and the little baby look he returned to me said 'yes I still love you'. I should never have come, I thought, but when the man himself came on stage and all those bitter-sweet satirical songs about life and love and politics and relationships came flooding back into my memory the baby’s crying seemed to fade away. ‘You know’, began Dean, ‘sometimes it’s tough being an American in the UK lately’, he continued, ‘and I blame all you goddamn bleeding heart lilly livered limey liberals! George W Bush should come over here and kick your goddamn limey democrat ass!’ Crikey, I thought, Dean Friedman’s a neo-con? Now I really needed that drink. I turned towards the bar only to see Tilly subsumed in a crowd of rough young men in black t-shirts. I knew I had to get in there. I would have to rescue my daughter or I’d never get a bloody drink. My husband seemed to have disappeared but Dean Friedman had a free lap, sitting at his keyboard just nearby. I handed him the baby. ‘I’ll be back in a minute’, I assured him. ‘Just carry on dear’. The great man looked slightly concerned. ‘I can’t hold your baby Ma'am!’ he said. ‘What if he’s sick on my new shirt? I bought it especially for this gig you know, I wanted to look really smart’. I studied the loud American floral number in question. I was not exactly looking my best either so I was in no position to say anything. ‘Well’, I reassured him, ‘you can thank your lucky stars that we're not as smart as we'd like to think we are’ and I dived into the throng to save my G&T from being crushed by the crowd.

If the real Dean Friedman is reading this, we loved your set at RL last night, thanks for coming up our way, hope to see you again, and please please don't sue...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

the flattering prizes

I hadn’t planned on anything spontaneous happening in this family until at least the weekend however I was very surprised to receive a schmoozing award from Lady Macleod and I therefore interupt this interuption in service with an unscheduled entry. I think that Penny from And who cares also mentioned me in connection with this honour but like Tony Blair's congressional medal I neglected to collect it. Lady Macleod, for those not as adept at recognising the deeply hidden origins of surnames as I am (it's a gift, you know), is from that strange and mysterious land at the end of the M6 and by curious coincidence it was this week that my husband announced that he had booked a romantic weekend north of the Cumberland Gap for a few weeks time. ‘Glasgow is the city of love’, he assured me, ‘after all, where else has a kiss named after it?’ I have already been shopping for suitable outfits as I always like to blend in seamlessly, just like I do here in The North, and I think that going to Scotland to listen to an Ulsterman sing about the summertime in England will ensure we'll pass with flying colours any citizenship test that Gordon 'the brit' Brown may throw at us in future. Actually, I have a little bit of scottish in me, specifically my liver which will feel like it's going home in a few weeks. So, anyway, I think it’s the done thing to award some of these things myself so here goes. I should add, and I mean this most sincerly folks, that I appreciate everyone who reads and comments on this blog but for the purposes of this particular accolade, could the following please step forward and be terribly embarassed, thankyou;

JJ at life is all cobblers, keen member of the Northampton Town FC fan club branch of the lefty party and generally awfully decent sort of chap. This award is about people who have a community minded view of blogs and this is why she is in my list here, as well as having a nice blog too of course.

Beatrice, who does something on her blog which should really be extremely dull and which would, in many people's hands, be just that but she actually produces something really rather lovely and she pays attention to her commenters and she is also someone who says what she thinks, so she obviously has some Yorkshire in her, and I'd therefore better not fall out with her. I know she's already got one of these but that house she describes sounds enormous so I'm sure she can spread them around a bit

Linda at Got your hands full because she encourages the kind of thing that you're reading now by conducting and publishing in depth interviews with struggling young talented but unrecognised bloggers, and yet also people like me as well. I'm sure she's got about ten of these already but she's a journalist so I'll just tell her there's a free bar at the presentation ceremony.


James Higham, or whatever he's calling himself currently, because he seems to spend more time plugging other people's blogs than his own and he plugged this one recently as well. He's got one of these things too but I'm sure the black market where he is can turn this award into illicit vodka faster than you can say I wouldn't eat the sushi if I were you


Just about everyone else I can think off almost certainly has this already so I'm orf up the wooden hill to bedfordshire. I need my beauty sleep you know, oh god how I need it, sigh

Sunday, July 29, 2007

the ghost of wedding present

The sight of Tilly standing in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom wearing my wedding dress brought my own childhood memories flooding back. I remembered putting on my own mother’s bridal gown as a child, swirling around lost in taffeta and lace and netting and a child's dreams of bridesmaids and bells and of a handsome man who would sweep her off her feet. I remembered my mother telling me that her mother had also married in that very dress and when she had children she had promised her young daughter that she too would walk up the aisle in her old dress. ‘But I thought Granny was buried in her wedding dress mummy’, I had said, puzzled. ‘She was dear’, my mother had explained. ‘She just got a bit forgetful in her old age and forgot she'd promised it to me first. It all worked out for the best in the end', she smiled. 'Although I did have to switch dry cleaners after I was married’, she added. I imagined the same childish dreams in my own daughter’s head as she stumbled about innocently in the too large dress.

‘Mummy’ asked Tilly, seeing my reflection enter the room behind her. ‘Yes dear’ I smiled. ‘Why is your wedding dress all white?’ she asked. ‘Because white stands for purity and a fresh new start’, I explained. ‘Mummy’, continued Tilly, ‘what’s this veil for?’ ‘I smiled. ‘That’s so that on my wedding day no other men were allowed to see me except your daddy at the alter’. Tilly thought for a moment. ‘Mummy?’ she began, looking down the front of the dress. ‘Yes dear?’ ‘What’s this big icky stain?’ I was just thinking a little about that one when a laugh came from the doorway. ‘Another few minutes and that could have been your older brother Tilly!’ said Hilly, my eldest daughter. Well, I thought to myself quietly, half brother actually, but thought I’d better just award that point in the seemingly perpetual mother versus adolescent daughter battle to myself privately for the moment .'Who are you going to marry Tilly?’ Hilly asked. ‘I’m going to marry Daddy!’ said Tilly triumphantly. ‘And I’m going to be a princess!’ she announced. ‘You can’t marry Daddy, silly’ Hilly told Tilly, ‘Much as Mummy might tell you that it’s allowed in the country’, she said, ‘and anyway’, she continued, ‘you should never marry a man who looks better in a dress than you do, and anyway, the princess can’t marry the que...’

‘Hilly!!’ I snapped, very annoyed by now, 'I’m trying to do a poignant mother-daughter bonding scene for my blog here, so if you don’t mind…’ Hilly laughed. ‘Bloody hell’ she said, ‘Do people know how much you stage stuff just to get something to write on your stupid blog?’ I was rather annoyed at this suggestion, I must say. It did seem most awfully unfair. ‘Look Hilly, darling,’ I said, exasperated, ‘You said you didn’t want to be in the blog so just bugger orf and go up to your attic and read Harry Potter or something’. ‘Well!’ exclaimed Hilly, 'that has to be more realistic than your blog!’ ‘Oh, just go away will you Hilly, and be sure not to wake the baby!' Hilly’s jaw dropped. ‘You've had another baby?!’ she said. ‘Oh gawd, Hilly, how could you not know such a thing?’ I asked. ‘I don't read your f***g blog’, she said, ‘So how am I supposed to know what goes on in this family?’ she asked. I think she must have meant that more as a rhetorical question because she stormed off at that point and slammed the door. Down the hallway the baby started crying. I grabbed the wedding veil from Tilly and pulled it down over my face. If I couldn’t see anybody then they couldn’t see me either, I thought, so then somebody else would have to change him. Hidden behind my veil, I began to think that perhaps, after all, today was not a nice day for a white wedding, but tomorrow seemed like a nice day to start again...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

homesick blues

I was clearing out Tilly’s schoolbag this evening as they have finished school of course and I found a piece of paper. I asked Tilly what it was. I was rather brusque as I thought it was a school letter. She told me the teacher had asked all the children to write a poem about the thing they loved the most in the whole wide world. My daughter looked nervously at the piece of paper. She said the teacher told her that her poem was rubbish and old fashioned because it rhymed and then she ran upstairs crying, leaving me with the tear stained crumpled piece of paper. I unfolded it and began to read and it wasn't very long before I was sobbing too.

My Mummy, by Tilly Super aged seven

The baby he is burping
Her skinny latte she is slurping
With her laptop she is lurking
Watching other people working
Her brain she’s so exerting
We cannot get a word in
The world she is alerting
To the plight that she's been purt in
In London she’d be flirting
Down at the Fox and Firkin
Like Serge Gainsbourg and
Jane Birkin
But now she’s just hair-shirting
And when she looks through the net curtain
One thing is for certain
Inside she is hurtin'
And she is dreaming of The Gherkin


I’m so sorry, I don't think I can write any more tonight, it's late and I’m just too emotional, sob...

Friday, July 20, 2007

it shouldn't happen to a downshifter

‘Thank goodness you came doctor’, I said as I opened the door. Without further ado I led him to the patient. Tilly sat on the bed sobbing and her sister, who had been comforting her, looked up with an expression that suggested she feared we were too late. As we entered her room he conducted a quick intial examination and then climbed into waterproof waders and pulled a full length thick rubber glove onto his strong right arm and his big strong steady authoratative hand. ‘Is that really necessary for Harry here?' I asked the vet. ‘Sorry’ he said, ‘haven't had time to buy new kit, this is from my old job before I downshifted’. ‘Were you a farm vet before you moved to the North?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘NHS obstetrician’ he explained. ‘It must be a bit of shock working on a Saturday’, I said, glancing out of the window, now slightly concerned at how closely he had parked his jeep to the front door. 'What! Saturday!?' he stammered with a fright. 'Oh, sorry' I said, 'still on french time, they're a bit ahead you know!'. 'Thank goodness for that!' he sighed, noticably flustered. He leant over to examine my hamster more closely. When he began to shake his head I knew the news wasn't good. 'If only you'd called me earlier,' he said, the look on his handsome features preparing me for the worst. 'I couldn't have' I said, 'You were playing golf and had your phone switched off'. 'Well,' he shrugged, 'I did move here for the quality of life you know, work life balance and all that...' I sighed. 'There's nothing you can do?' I pleaded. 'Perhaps you and the girls would like to leave me and Harry alone for a moment', he advised with forboding. 'Come on girls', I beckoned to Milly and Tilly, and led them tearfully out of the door. We waited in silence, except for the children's sobbing. A shot rang out. There were some aspects of country life I would never get used to, I thought, as I looked down at the floor to avoid my daughter's tearful stares and saw all the mud that the vet had walked in from the garden onto my new carpet. The door opened and the vet appeared, accompanied by that dreadfully familar hospital smell, that heady mix of antiseptic floor polish, stale aftershave and spent shotgun cartridges that had such resonances of so many dark moments in my past. It made me think about my mother; her house always smells like that too. 'Any chance of a whisky?' said the vet. A tear welled up in my eye. I hoped he wouldn't notice, I wasn't brought up to show my emotions in public, unless there was a good chance of them appearing on the Tragic Life Stories shelf in WH Smith of course. 'I think I have a small grit in my eye' I said. 'Here..' he smiled, reaching for his forceps, 'let me get that for you...'

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

king's head revisited

The taxi from the airport dropped me off in the market place outside a familiar grand front door and almost immediately I recognised the old place. These were dark dark days that I had latterly endured. In moving to the north I had seen things that no southerner ever hoped to see. But standing here, under the hanging baskets, and looking at the prices on the menu, it was like being transported for a brief moment down south again. After all my travels of the last three weeks the place looked as if it hadn’t changed a bit. I went in to the bar. ‘What can I get you love?’ asked the lady who stood between me and the optics . It was as if I had never been away at all. ‘Gin and tonic, thanks’, I replied, with a nostalgic but slightly wistful remembrance of days long passed. I pulled up a stool. At the age of 39 the joints in my legs were now feeling stiff, and had been getting stiffer since I first turned 39 several years ago, as indeed had my gin and tonics. I looked around the bar. I had never been able to understand why I never saw any of the locals in here, but only well heeled tourists and retired civil servants from Guildford who came in after mass. ‘That’s £14.60’, said the lady behind the bar. No, I just couldn’t seem to fathom it out. I didn't mind though. ‘So you’ve just come back from holiday then love...’ she proffered. 'Only poor people go on holiday', I corrected her. 'I've been travelling. Am I really that tanned?’ I asked, admiring my complexion in the mirror behind the malt whiskys. ‘No, you just gave me a 100 euro note’, she pointed out. 'Sorry', I ventured, 'I've just got back from the airport, must be tiredness.' 'Oh, dear', she said, 'did you have trouble with the flights?'. 'Oh, very f****g funny', I snapped, and retired with my drink to the armchair around the corner which the hotel's teddy had been saving for me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

café au lit

Sunday morning. ‘Do you mind if I…’ he says, doing something French with a cigarette. ‘Well’, I hesitate, ‘I’m not sure if that’s allowed’. ‘Because of the smoking ban you would stop me having a little post coital gauloise?’ he asks. ‘No, but because you haven’t actually done anything coital’, I say. ‘You French are all mouth and no trousers’, I add. ‘Well, you English women', He retorts, 'you do not understand the ways of lurve, and shaving your armpits is enough to put any french man off, so I don't even know why you helped me out of the water and back onto the boat last night Rilly'. ‘Because if you had drowned I would have had to have slept with your twin brother to keep this tenuous and already perilously stretched and basically uneventful story going, and that might have seemed contrived’, I explain. He shrugs his shoulders. ‘And anyway’, I continue, ‘It just doesn’t seem right to do it in black and white’. ‘Colour doesn’t really suit French women’, he explains. ‘but I think it was the subtitles that really put me off, trying to read them the wrong way round like that’, I sigh. ‘Yes, sorry about that’, he shrugs. ‘And another thing’, I continue, ‘please give the tutoiement a rest darling; we’ve only just been introduced’. ‘But we are speaking in English now’, he protests. Well, you jolly well look to me like you're being familiar, I think to myself, but don't say anything.

‘Well, anyway’, he says changing the subject, ‘I hope you have had a nice holiday’. I sigh. ‘Things were rather getting on top of me’, I explain. ‘Although not your husband, evidently’, he replies. 'What about your children, are they not on holiday now too?' he asks. 'They'll be fine' I assure him, 'at home they can walk to the beach on their own'. 'You live near the coast?' 'About thirty five miles', I inform him. ‘Now, why don’t you make yourself useful and put the kettle on?’ I suggest. He gets out of bed and goes to make the coffee. Soon I will be going back to The North. I sigh, again. I can’t remember if I mentioned it but it’s grim up north and I will have to leave behind my brief dream of becoming the next Petite Anglaise as well. I realise I just have to make the most of my last morning on the shores of the Mediterranean so I reach for the radio and begin fumbling on the dial for Desert Island Discs and hoping he's got some english tea in.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

the hours

A figure appeared from around the corner. It was the waiter from earlier. ‘I thought I heard voices’, he said, ‘but it is only you’. ‘That was my inner monologue’, I told him. ‘Don’t try and be intellectual, you are english’, he replied. ‘You were talking to yourself’. ‘Actually’, I began to explain, ‘I was writing my blog’. ‘Like I said’, he responded, ‘you were talking to yourself’. I sighed. ‘So, you are the famous woman who moved to the north to give up work, buy an enormous house, hand over her childcare to the au pair and then write a book about how crap her life is…’ ‘Well’, I began, ‘there are a few of us, we’re a kind of literary community, like Bloomsbury’. The waiter did that kind of French look that you can’t really describe in English. ‘Doomsbury more like’, he said. ‘No wonder Virginia Woolf drowned herself when she moved to the country if she had people like you for neighbours’. I looked out over the sea. Now that would really get the book sales going, I pondered. 'In France we describe rich people who act like they are poor as BoBo' he explained, 'so it looks like there are bears in the north after all', he laughed. 'Don't try and be funny, you are french', I reminded him. ‘I heard a rumour that wife in the north is really a man’, said the waiter. ‘I think that rumour is about me actually’, I sighed. He looked me up and down for a moment. ‘I can see why they might say that’, he nodded. I gave him a bit of a hard stare. ‘Sorry about that confusion yesterday with Brian’, I said. ‘That’s OK’ said the waiter. ‘He was not in the sea very long and the Mediterranean is nice and warm, not like the North sea which is, how did you put it in your blog, 'cold and dark and foggy and menacing and which lies before you bleakly and darkly featureless and never ending, reminding you of the endless hours and months and years of your life''. I was very impressed he was able to quote from my blog but my warm rosy feeling of satisfaction was interrupted. ‘Oh God, I'm depressed now’ said the waiter. 'I don’t think I can go on’, and he threw himself over the side. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘the French may be intellectual but at least an Englishman would have had the decency to commit suicide the other side of the boat so as not to splash my laptop! Suddenly I realised I had to put such thoughts aside of course as an overwhelming sense of the urgency of the situation grabbed me and I realised I had to write down this conversation for the blog before I forgot it, so I went back to my typing with a sigh.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

all at sea

The phone rang. ‘Rilly!’ said my agent, ‘It’s your agent', he continued. You haven’t posted anything for nearly a week. Your readers need to know you’re having a terrible time on holiday!’ I hesitated a moment. ‘I’m on Iain Dale's yacht in Monte Carlo'. I told my agent. 'He invited me for cocktails to make up for not linking to me even though he's linked to Wife in the North’. ‘But your readers need to feel sorry for you Rilly, surely you can pull those emotional strings, even from the south of France’. ‘Ouch!’ I said. ‘What’s wrong Rilly?' he asked. 'I didn't offend you I hope'. ‘It's OK’, I assured him, 'This gold plated phone just gets very hot in the sun'. My agent sounded concerned. ‘Look, just do what you can, there’s a love’, he said. ‘Oh, but of course, I almost forgot’, he continued, ‘will you be able to update the blog from a yacht?’ Don’t worry’, I assured him. ‘I wrote this conversation weeks ago and asked my daughter to post it for me while I was away’. ‘You’re a genius Rilly!’ said my agent, ‘But however did you know what I was going to say?’ I laughed. ‘Men are very predictable’, I told him, ‘au revoir’, and I passed the gold phone to Tom Watson who was growing impatient to phone the shore and order more pies.

Suddenly the waiter came over with my pina colada. But wait a minute, what was this, a little blue parasol? oh sigh, before marriage, before children, before the north, it had been nothing but pink parasols but now it seemed as if I didn’t have control over anything in my life anymore. I bet you get pink parasols on Tom’s yacht, I thought with a sigh. A wave of sadness (hmmm, nice subtle nautical metaphor there) washed over me and a single tear welled up in my eye, ran down my cheek and dripped into my drink, perhaps seeking to be close to the ice cubes and feel like it was back home in The frozen North. ‘Garçon!’ I called out. ‘Oui, Madame’, said the waiter. ‘There is something salty in my drink, I think it’s brine’. I didn't want to admit to crying into my cocktail. The waiter raised his eyebrows. ‘Ah. mon dieu! Zat Brian, ee is a filthy buggeur. I’ ave told ‘im about ‘zis un oeuf fois before already! I will ‘ave ‘im thrown overboard immediatement Madame!’. The next thing I knew was a man being dragged from the galley and thrown over the side. ‘Toss me a line!’ cried the man in the sea. ‘I zink zer has been quite un oeuf tossing on zis boat for today Brian!’ said the waiter and turned to me. ‘Now madame, ow about I get you anozer drink?’ ‘Men!’ I thought, with another sigh...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

last of the summer whine

I walked into the bar at the hotel earlier this evening. Three other women were speaking English in the corner so I got a drink and went to join them. It turned out they had all downshifted to Yorkshire like I had. ‘Well, I said, ‘I never thought I’d get away on holiday, but my husband said he’d look in on the children from time to time and here I am with a lovely glass of Chateau de Chassilier'. ‘Oh darling', said the woman to my left, ‘I quite understand. My husband is away so much I have to tell the au pair what to do all by myself!’ I sighed. ‘My husband works in London’, I said, ‘and I only see him occasionally.’ The woman opposite me entered the discussion: ‘That’s nothing!' she said, 'My husband commutes to New York every day and then spends twenty two hours a day at the office before he comes home to write his northern downshifting novel’. ‘You’re lucky!’ said the woman on my right. ‘My husband works in the international space station, and you try running your own private equity firm and doing stunts for Bruce Willis after a twenty thousand mile commute!' ‘How often do you see him?’ I asked. 'I would see him tonight’, she sighed, 'but it's cloudy.' I looked down at my glass. ‘You know when we moved to the north we couldn’t find any glasses so we had drink the Nuits Saint Georges out of coffee mugs for the first week’, I smiled. ‘You were lucky!’ said the lady to my right. ‘Our builders didn’t even leave enough of a gap in the pantry for the wine cooler so we had to put the Chablis in the normal fridge when we downshifted!' ‘You were lucky!’ came the reply from across the table. ‘We used to DREAM of having a pantry! But the wind turbine that powered the authentic eco friendly Georgian electric sliding doors got refused planning permission so we had to tie the wine to the bullbars on the front of the range rover and drive around the village at a hundred miles an hour every night whilst reading a bedtime story to the children in the back seat just to cool it down!' ‘Luxury!’ came the reply. ‘We couldn’t even move into our house when we downshifted as the two houses we bought hadn’t been knocked through yet! How can a family live in one house?!’ We all shook out heads. ‘But’, the first lady said, ‘I'll tell you something, it’s so grim up north that if you tell people about it on a blog they won’t believe ya!'

Friday, July 06, 2007

breakfast epiphanys

‘Mummy’, began Tilly hesitantly at the other end of the line. ‘Yes dear’ I said. ‘You know those really tiny USB pen thingys?’ she continued. ‘You mean like the one that I wrote today’s blog post on before I went away and left with you children to put on the internet?’ I asked. ‘Erm, yes’, stammered Tilly. ‘What about them?’ I queried. ‘Do you think it would be a problem if the baby swallowed one mummy?’ she asked. I thought for a moment. ‘Well, I suppose if the lid was on then no files should be lost’ I reassured her. ‘I meant for the baby’, she said. ‘How would I know? Who do you think I am, Gina blaardy Ford!?’ I snapped, but then the full seriousness of the situation hit me. Oh Gawd, I thought, no blog for a whole week again. My agent was going to kill me. I thought quickly. ‘Tilly’ I said ‘There’s a list of emergency numbers by the phone’. There was a pause. ‘Oh yes, I see them’, said Tilly fearfully. She began reading down the list; ‘Interior designer…Fen shui consultant….Doctor….PC World…’ She was stopped by my interruption. ‘That’s the one dear. I have to go now because my pain au chocolate is getting cold. I’m counting on you girls to act responsibly now Tilly!’ and I hung up. I gazed out over the balcony and burdened with the demands of parenthood, shook the last drop of brandy into my coffee. My lyrical and insightful writings on the everyday life of an ordinary family may yet be recovered from this holiday, but I didn't know if I ever would be. Perhaps I needed to rethink my life, and at the very least start backing up on CD...

Monday, July 02, 2007

summer sunday

‘I love the South of France, Mummy’, said Milly with a sigh as the warm sea lapped gently onto the soft sandy beach. I gazed out at the blue waters of the Mediterranean where a few yachts bobbed gently beyond the golden sands under the warm southern sun. ‘I know darling’ I smiled. ‘What’s it like back in the North?’ I asked. ‘It’s raining’ answered Milly, 'and Tilly has a cold and she’s been sneezing over everybody’. ‘Well’, I began, ‘Perhaps I’ll bring you on holiday next year after I’ve finished my book. In the meantime, this call is costing me a fortune and I'm not made of money you know’. 'Yes you are', said Milly, ''We've been reading your blog while you've been away'. I never could get the hang of parental controls. 'You should be doing your homework, not going on the internet!' I told her firmly. Milly sighed. ‘Sorry Mummy’, she said. ‘I’d better go now too, I have to make hot toddies for everyone and I can’t find any brandy, only empty bottles.’ We said our goodbyes. I was due to be away for another few days but, thinking about my poor children being so unwell, I soon began to worry. I immediately rang my travel agent to try and get another flight home He was ever so helpful and when I hung up I was mightily relieved that I’d managed to rearrage my return flight. Thank goodness, I thought, I'd managed to get another week out here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

a hopeless dawn

Wife in The North poured out the last of the gin and wiped her eyes. She was even more upset than I was at not winning the most consistently entertaining Blogpower award. ‘Thanks ever so for coming round Rilly’, she sobbed. I smiled sympathetically, trying to hide my own pain at having lost to Bryan Appleyard. Outside, a tall ship sailed past on the ocean, it's rigging clearly visible to everyone for miles around. ‘You’ve been like a sister to me’, said Wifey. ‘I knew Bryan when I worked for the Sunday Times of course’, she began. ‘He was always ruthless, even back then. We always used to say don’t upset the Appleyard whenever there was a difficult job that needed giving to someone.’ We both took out our handkerchiefs and had a good blow, drowning out the North Sea fog horn just outside the kitchen window. ‘You mustn’t be too downhearted though, Rilly’, she reassured me. ‘Remember that Bryan gets paid to write his stuff. He doesn’t have to go to a proper job as well so he has all the time in the world to write his blog and promote himself’. I permitted myself a weak smile of agreement despite my own grief as my gaze wandered over to the black kettle and matching pot that sat atop the aga. ‘I suppose you have to be getting back’, she sighed, standing up. I nodded. ‘Perhaps you should take a holiday Rilly, darling, get away from it all for a bit’. she suggested. I thought that sounded like good advice. Suddenly she grabbed my arm. ‘Oh Rilly!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re not going to write about our chat on your blog are you?’ I smiled reassuringly. I walked down the garden path, and turned to wave goodbye. A cold wind blew in from the sea so I dug my hands deep into my pockets, and switched off the tape recorder. A holiday, I thought, was just what I needed. I got in the car, switched on the sat-nav navigation thingy, and typed in airport.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

sharing and shearing

‘G’day Sheila, I’m Bruce!’, said the man with corks in his hat and a kangaroo tattooed on his forehead, by way of introduction. ‘Hello’, I said, returning the greeting, 'and where are you from?’ Bruce put down his wobble board. ‘I’m from the Northern Territory, Sheila’, he explained. ‘Oh gosh!’ I said, ‘Do you live near wife in the north then?’. He shook his head. 'I think that’s Northumberland’, he corrected me. ‘Northern Territory is down in the southern hemisphere!’ I wondered why it was prefixed by Northern if that was the case but then summised that perhaps Northern was not simply a geographical term but rather a name given to the area of any country where the inhabitants preferred the company of sheep to that of people. ‘So, the farmer tells me you wanted to write about a sheep being shorn to appear as if you’re an agricultural worker doing seasonal and insecure work for long hours and earning minimum wage whilst living in a caravan in the farmyard because you can’t afford a house in your home village’. I nodded. ‘Rather!’ I replied. ‘Fair dinkum’, said Bruce, ‘First I need to calm the sheep down, this one’s a little bit cranky’, and with that he wrestled the sheep to the ground, where they both rolled over several times in a fierce struggle. ‘You might want to stand back love’, said Bruce, grabbing the ewe in an armlock, this could get ugly'. I backed away and bumped into the farmer who had come out from the farm house. ‘Fancy a cuppa pet?’ said the farmer. ‘He’ll be a couple of hours yet with that one’. I nodded and we both made our way back across the field. ‘We have to fleece them so they don’t fall over, because then they can’t get up again’, explained the farmer. We came to a halt. ‘Like this one’, He said, looking down on the ground. ‘Damn ramblers’, he said, prodding the figure lying on it’s back, unable to get up due to the weight of it’s rucksack, with his stick. ‘Is it male or female?’ I asked. ‘hard to tell’ said the farmer. ‘I think they’re a gender on their own, like a mule, that’s why they like carrying around all that stuff’. I thought for a moment ‘How do you think it ended up on it's back like that?’ I asked. ‘Probably met Bruce’, said the farmer. ‘When backpackers meet an Australian they play dead, it’s a kind of defence mechanism’, he explained. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘what will you do?’ The farmer pointed his shotgun at the rambler’s chest. ‘Best just to put ’em out of their misery, same as you would with a sheep’, he said. ‘Grab that mate’, he told the rambler, who took hold of the barrel as the farmer pulled him up. ‘Fancy a cuppa at the farmhouse’ he asked the rambler. ‘Oh super’, said the rambler’, newly stumbling on two feet. ‘Cream teas only £50’, the farmer told our new friend ‘Oh lovely!’, was the reply. I looked back at Bruce, who was trying to provoke the sheep into attacking him by dangling a steak just out of reach whilst poking it with a stick. The sheep was still in full possession of all it's wool but at least someone was going to get fleeced today, I thought, following the rambler into the farmhouse kitchen, and looking forward to a piece of Crocodile Dundee cake.

Update: Don't forget you still have two votes in the Blogpower awards, one today and one tomorrow. Thanks!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

smells like teen sheepdip

A sleepy little head emerged from beneath the covers and sleepy little eyes opened to greet me. ‘Mummy’ said their sleepy owner, my daughter Milly, sleepily, ‘Yes dear?’ I smiled. ‘Is it Saturday?’ she whispered. ‘yes dear’, I nodded, smiling. ‘Well just f**k off then will you mummy’ she said and disappeared back under the duvet. I pulled the covers back and she glared at me ‘You need to get up dear, you’ve got your first riding lesson today, remember’. Milly sighed. ‘But why do we need to learn to ride Mummy?’ she asked. ‘Because you two haven’t done anything entertaining for this blog for ages and if you don’t start performing for the readers then I’ll give you both to Madonna for adoption. We live in the north now remember and she’s on the look out for third world children like you’. There was another groan. ‘But Mummy, we have to go to school all week, can’t we have a lie in at the weekend?’ she asked. ‘Well!’ I snapped, ‘and what do you think I do all week then?!’ I was quite annoyed now. She looked perplexed and thought about the question for some time. ‘Actually, mummy’, she began, ‘what do you do all week?’ I was quite indignant now. ‘Well, for a start I, erm, and then I have to, err, you know, umm, and then there’s all the, ahhh, errr, to do as well!’ I had had enough of this. ‘I want you and your sister ready to go to the stables in half an hour or else I’ll ring wife in the north and swap you both for her children. Let’s see if she can write amusing stories about family life when she only has you two to work with!’ ‘Will you come with us to the lesson Mummy?’ asked Milly. ‘I will be along later dear’, I said, ‘but first I have to see a man about a sheep.’ ‘what about a sheep?’ asked Milly. ‘Well’, I explained, ‘He’s going to chop off all the sheep’s fur so I can write about it on the blog’. Milly thought for a moment. ‘What’s his name Mummy?’ she asked. ‘Alan’ I said. She thought some more. ‘So he told you his name was Alan the Shearer then, mummy?’ ‘Yes dear, what’s so strange about that? Actually his friend will be there too.’ ‘And what did his friend tell you was his name, mummy? Asked Milly. ‘Hmm, let me think, Freddy I think he said, Freddy the Shepherd.’ ‘Mummy’, Milly began, ‘you know you said you wanted to reach out and get to the heart of the North East?’ ‘Yes dear?’ I replied. Milly sighed and raised her eyebrows ‘Keep working on it mummy, You've got a way to go yet I think’, she said, looking very wise for her years, and then she pulled the duvet over her head and began pretending to snore very loudly. I don't think Milly takes me seriously sometimes, sigh, in fact I bet she doesn't even know that you can vote every day untill the 13th June in the blogpower awards.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

vote early, vote often

It's grim up north, but you can make a difference. Please help by voting for this blog in the Blogpower awards. If you won't do it for me, do it for the children. You know it makes sense. Click on the link below, I'm third from the bottom of the list, alphabetically, as Rilly Super, and you can vote once a day until the 13th June. Thank you, sob.

Vote here

I've promised the children they can have new shoes if I get enough votes, well, when I say new shoes, I should say I meant they can just have shoes full stop. Thanks for the nominations and let's just all hope none of the candidates gets carried away and starts taking it a bit too seriously. Please have a look at the other categories while you are there because some great blogs with which you will be familar and which you will want to support are nominated as well.

tagging along

I have been electronically tagged by the lovely Nunhead Mum of One to disclose eight previously unknown facts about myself. As this is very much a ‘confessional’ style of blog there isn’t much intimate and personal detail that hasn’t been included already but Ill have a go anyway:

1. The chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge fought a duel to decide who had the honour of me attending their university. They both missed, as hitting educational targets is rather red brick, after all.

2. Even though I knew Iain Dale when his famous diary was just a single sheet newsletter run off on one of those manually operated duplicating machines and delivered through the letterboxes in his cul-de-sac when Iain did his milkround he still has not added Strife in the North next to Wife in the North on his blogroll and I try as I might I cannot think what I did back then to upset him.

3. I'm often asked what do I think is the attraction of this blog. I put it down to the fact that in these busy times people do not have time to watch paint dry anymore, but they do still like to read about it.

4. It is a great regret to me that I have no recollection of the births of any of my four children due to the amount of drugs I was high on at the time. This applies to their conception as well and I feel equally, erm, regretful about this too, sigh.

5. I want to live like the common people, I want to do whatever common people do...

6. I failed my maths O-level

7. Very badly, which is why I had to withdraw my book advance in cash and count it on the kitchen table, a hundred and seventeen times

There are my eight facts then. Thank you for bearing with this blog whilst it struggles through this month apparently lacking in meaning or purpose, but I suppose at least I’m not alone in that respect, and thank you as well to anyone who nominated SITN for the blogpower award. Would I get expenses to go down to London to attend the ceremony does anyone know, it’s just that I have a meeting down in town with my agent coming up...

Monday, June 04, 2007

glummer holiday

I'm most terribly sorry for not having posted anything for a week but it has of course been half term and I thought I should try and spend some time with the children, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about on the blog. The holiday has been a bit of a disappontment though. One day we drove down to London to go to the cinema. The local northern cinema hasn't quite got the latest releases yet in fact I think their main feature last week was the The Great Dictator. Besides being in black and white, I hardly think a film about some unelected leader giving himself draconian powers is relevant to us today and trying to concentrate on a film whilst some chap sits under the screen playing with his massive organ is hardly an experience to take you away from real life for a couple of hours is it. My husband had reassured me that the film we were going to watch would really help me relax so we sat there eagerly awaiting inner peace and contentment and flexible joints. My husband hurriedly checked the tickets when about four hours of people swinging from yard arms and walking planks began. It seemed that Pilates in the Carribean had been an unfortunate misprint in the listings. I'll Just have to buy the DVD I suppose. If I wanted to spend the afternoon with a whole bunch of people swinging I need only have gone to the next village. Not only would I save a tenner on the ticket price but I'd get a G&T as well. Anyway, best not mention that whole subject as my agent might send me on one of his spend a token day doing some local activity to make it look like you're blending in whilst getting some good copy for the book days and there's some sacrifices I won't make for my art, although that G&T does sound sound attractive, sigh. Anyway, now it's all over, the children are back at school, my husband is back in London, and all I'm left with is the memory of a few hours spent with a man with a penchant for heavy eye makeup, well, and Johnny Depp too, sigh.

Monday, May 28, 2007

sixth sense

The builders had been very busy on the cottage all week so I thought I would drop by and see how things were going as I was at a loose end this weekend. When I got there the cottage was deserted. I stood, all alone, in the empty kitchen. I stared at the wall. The wall was now completely plastered, unlike me unfortunately. My husband had forgotten to order supplies for the weekend. The nearest decent wine merchant is bloody miles away from here and I would rather suffer the raving DTs than be seen setting foot in Bargain Booze. The decorators had only finished the day before and the aroma of fresh paint and turpentine tantalized me like that heady mix of aftershave and pheromones coming from a handsome stranger on the crowded tube on a hot day. It had been a long time to get to this point. The cottage was old, that’s why we fell in love with it, but it was the wrong kind of old so we totally gutted the place and replaced that old oldness, which let’s face it was so last century, with the much more fashionable new old look that I’d seen when reading all those period home magazines that my husband buys in motorway services and hides under the mattress.

I stood and listened to the silence. I have spent my life learning to listen, it’s my craft, my art. My skill has become an intuition, a sixth sense. What I love to do the most and what I’m best at is simply to listen and to understand what other people think and feel, although obviously I only really want to listen to people who think and feel the same things as me. That’s why I listen to Radio 4 and only read the Sunday Times. I listened to the kitchen wall, then I talked to it, in fact a surprisingly good conversation was soon struck up, better than any with my agent that's for certain. With him it really is a case of talking to a brick wall. ‘Whose house in the village is the fairest of them all?’ I asked the wall. ‘Why your’s is of course, darling’, said the wall, ‘and you’re looking pretty damn hot yourself Rilly, if I may say so’. I smiled modestly and breathed deeply. For the first time in a long while I didn't feel so tense. I was breathing in more than air, I was breathing in the future, and happiness, I was breathing in hope, and above all I was breathing in seventeen different kinds of solvent based decorating products and it felt good.

When I got back from my communing with the new house Natalia was looking very concerned. ‘Mrs Super’, she said, ‘I’m worried about Milly’. ‘Whatever is the matter dear?' I asked, rather preoccupied with whether we should have ordered Dimity instead of Tallow with which to paint the inside of the broom cupboard. ‘I think your daughter has been spending too much time reading Wife in the North, Mrs Super’, she replied gravely. ‘I don’t know what you mean dear!' I snapped, 'it's quite impossible to spend too much time reading Wife in the North!' Suddenly the subject of our discussion herself appeared in the doorway. Natalia and I both turned to my daughter. ‘Well, she looks fine to me!’ I told Natalia. ‘Mummy!’ Milly began excitedly. ‘Yes Milly, what is it dear? You’ve had Natalia all worried about you, you know!' I said. Milly’s gaze shifted to somewhere over my shoulder. She hesitated for a moment. 'Mummy', she began, 'I see dead people'. I looked at Natalia, looked at my daughter, and grabbed my keys. I hoped the hope of the doomed that Bargain Booze was still open.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

dimming of the day

The weekend arrived. My husband called to inform me he had to spend a few more days in the South of France with his secretary Fabio, the Belfast sink that was delivered yesterday turned out to be a protestant, I had forgotten to post friday's blog entry and the interiew therein described which I had done for the lovely lady from DollyMix had, I feared for a brief while, been left on the editor's cutting room floor. This weekend marks three months since I reached out into the interweb and although I thought nobody would read this blog it turns out that in cyberspace, someone can hear you scream. I read somewhere that there are over seventy blogs on the internet and this one has the loveliest readers of all of them so thankyou, everyone that visits. I hope you all have a super weekend and when you are out enjoying the sunshine try not to think of me sobbing uncontrollably over a sodden keyboard, lamenting all of my lost dreams, alone in the north as the rain beats mercilessly on the window, beating out the sombre drawing to a close of another dark and lonely day, no, you mustn’t think about that. If there's one thing I'll never do it'll be to exaggerate my own struggles in a desperate attempt to elicit sympathy, no way José.

Friday, May 25, 2007

ladies who launch

‘Ah well’ sighed the reporter ‘They did warn me it wouldn't all be hobnobbing with famous people in this job’. She peered at me across the table in the corner of the Badger Baiter pub in Keighley. ‘One day I’m interviewing Nora Jones, next day...' she looked me up and down. I didn't look my best, I admit. '...next day, Nora Batty. Nowt but bloody Noras lately!' I smiled meekly. ‘I tell you what’, she said, inhaling deeply on her big cigar as she balanced the twins on her knees. ‘This smoking ban’ll be the death of this business’. I nodded, and tried to concentrate on my agent’s exitement at announcing the launch of my media career with this first proper interview. ‘You mean the pub business?’ I asked. She shook her head ‘No, Journalism’, she replied. ‘This is your first interview then pet?’ she asked. I nodded. ‘Aye, thought as much’. She looked down at the twins and raised her eyebrows. ‘Work life balance, heh?’ she said, ‘Bollocks’ . She paused. ‘Run along to bar now girls, fetch mummy another vodka. Make it a double, it’s like pulling teeth with one’. She blew some perfectly formed smoke rings which floated above the table as we waited for the girls to return. ‘I met that girl from 'my boyfriend is a twat' last week, you know’, she said. ‘Now she were a real lady’. ‘But I’m a…’ I sighed, what was the point. Her daughters returned with a large vodka. She looked at her watch. ‘Oh bugger it!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’m late for Dulwichmum's book launch, we’ll have to leave it there pet’, and she got up to leave. ‘Have you got any more questions?’ I asked 'well…’ she began. I looked hopeful. ‘Are you going to eat them chips or not pet?’ I shook my head and she grabbed a handful off my plate and pushed her way out through the door, wiping mayonnaise from her chin with her sleeve. I sighed and quickly wrote down the address of Dollymix where my women who blog interview would soon appear. I just hoped that when I wrote about this interview on the blog Linda the journalist wouldn't spot any minor inaccuracies which might have crept in to my account as a result of the amount I had had to drink that lunchtime. I thought it would probably be alright. I finished my bloody nora, I mean bloody mary, and went to look for the ladies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

the belles, the belles

It was by a curious coincidence that following the wistful remembrances of youth described by M&M, who has the misfortune to live even further north than me, the poor girl, my own childhood memories were pricked by the news of a new St Trinians film. I did feel a pang of regret that I was not asked to act as educational consultant on the production but if my agent tells me that wife in the north got the job because she was The Times education correspondent then that would be but another arrow in my broken heart, sigh. I did just want to dispell the rumour right now that the downshifting blogger's friend, Tom Watson is to star in the new movie as Billy Bunter. Thomas is a lovely young man and I won't have that kind of thing put about, thank you very much. I rang my husband to see if perhaps a rare trip to the cinema could be on the agenda but he was in a meeting so I told his assistant Fabio, who answered the phone, to pass on the message to my husband but to remind my beloved that I hoped he didn’t expect me to sit and watch him drool over a bondgirl for two hours. Fabio, however, the darling that he is, reassured me that it was Rupert Everett as the headmistress that was the performance to which he and my husband were really looking forward. Fabio is so very thoughtful and immediately upon sensing my unease reassured me that he was absolutely certain that my husband would come up and watch the film with me when it eventually arrived in The North because it would have been so many months by then since he had watched the premiere in London, for which he and Fabio had VIP tickets. Fabio then advised me that I should hang up. He and my husband were on business in Cannes, he explained, and stressed business, and they had both forgotten to bring the adaptors for their phone chargers. I put the phone down, took off my straw boater and school tie and sighed. I would find something else to re-engage my husband's amorous interest. I looked at my watch. I was late for my german class.

Monday, May 21, 2007

all clichés great and small

‘Rilly, darling’ began my agent. I sighed. I knew what was coming. ‘have you read Wife in the North this weekend?’ I had indeed. ‘She’s talking bullocks dear, and so should you be!’ I paused before answering ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been doing since you told me you could get me a book deal dear, which I am increasingly thinking, by the way, is nothing but a figment of your imagination!’ ‘Rilly, I assure you it’s just a matter of a few final details, how to translate talking bullocks into Japanese so it remains the brilliant and sparklingly original witty pun that it is in english, how shabbily you should be dressed in your publicity shots without people thinking we were trying a bit too hard to make you look like a normal struggling housewife, that kind of thing.’ My agent is very convincing. He is the top agent in London, they say, well, he says. However, I refuse to resort to innuendo about studs and rumps and beefcake. This blog is high literature and if I can’t write the book I want based upon my grim life then I will just have to return to my novel where I'm not under pressure to resort to cliché and stereotype. ‘I’m not going to try and turn this blog into a James Herriot story you know’, I told my agent. ‘That’s already been done and much better than I could do.’ ‘Oh gosh!' exclaimed my agent, 'who by?' 'Erm..' I said ' by James Herriot’. ‘Crikey, he sounds awfully good’, said my agent, ‘do you know if he’s got a book deal at all?’ I sighed. Anyway, if I wrote lovingly about farm animals and then it came to light I had complained to the council about the cockeral that woke me up well before ten almost every morning it wouldn’t look good. I said my goodbyes to my agent and read through the letter from the environmental health department. ‘Dear Mrs Super’, it began, ‘further to your complaint about noise from the farmyard near your house we have now agreed that no cocks should be allowed within half a mile of your bedroom’. As if that was going to change anything, I sighed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

hinge and bracket

I gazed out through the hole in the wall of the cottage and sighed. It reminded me of the hole in my heart where my old life used to be. My husband stood outside, all innocent and smiling, the walls of the garden surrounding him like the edges of a photo. He was framed by the yard, a bit like that poor chap Lord Levy really. A door would soon fill the space, a door that currently lay out in the sun, unloved and unhinged, would soon fit into place like the rest of my life. I felt a bit like the door, exposed to the wind and the sun, to the gaze of passers by, when all I wanted to do was find a door shaped space where I belonged, keep my family warm, and shut out the North all together. Soon there would be a new door and a new dawn. When Gordon Brown takes over, everything will fit into place for everyone, just like it will for me. Everyone will buy the house next door and knock through and the housing problem will be solved. Everyone will have to take over the house to the left of them of course otherwise it would be chaos, like when somebody uses their neighbour’s desert spoon at a dinner party. That's why we need the government, to make sure everyone uses the correct cutlery. I looked down at my diary and crossed out ‘chase builders for door’ and drew a thick line through ‘vote in labour leadership election’, then I looked over to the windows suspended in the breeze, a fresh coat of paint and now hung out to dry. Life’s a bit like that, I thought to myself. I rang Natalia to remind her to collect the children and pick up some Pimms on the way and then reflected some more on doors and the end of Tony Blair's good works, sigh.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

strife of bath

Father Patrick seemed to appear from nowhere and I was unable to make my escape before he caught me. ‘Ah Rilly, my child’ he said ‘I wondered if I could have a word’ I knew what was coming. ‘Look, if it’s about the pew and the confessional door incident, that was Mrs Arkwright, I swear’. ‘It’s about the holy water Rilly’. 'Oh', I sighed. ‘Traditionally, the church’s allocation has always been one immersion per child per lifetime. Is there some kind of problem at home my dear?’ I told the children to hurry up and get dried off. I suppose it was only a matter of time before my use of the font for post-babtismal ablutions was spotted. ‘We haven’t got a bathroom’ I said. 'The builders are four weeks behind.' ‘I’d love to help, really, Rilly’, said the priest, ‘but there’s only so much holy water available, global warming you know, and you're using so much the church is having to tanker it in from Rome’. ‘But how did you know?’ I asked. Father Patrick smiled. ‘The lord moves in mysterious ways my child’, he said. ‘You left this by the way’ he said and handed me a rubber duck. ‘And I believe this is your’s too’. He held out a tube of veet. ‘It’s not mine' he said,' and Father Connor insists he never squeezes his in the middle’. 'Well', I sighed as we left, 'so much for helping the needy!'

A rough looking man in an apron stood behind the counter. ‘I need a baarth’ I told him. The man stared at me blankly. 'You do sell baarths don’t you?’ I was irritated with him already. Northern and trade, the very worst combination. ‘I can do you four candles pet’, he proffered, grinning. I sighed. ‘This a baarthrum shop, is it not?!’ I snapped. ‘That is what its says on the sign’. ‘Hmm, well, we got the work experience lad to do the sign didn’t we. The school's don’t teach ‘em to spell owt anymore', he sighed. Another man appeared behind the counter. Words were exchanged between them. ‘Oohhh, you want a bath, why didn’t you say so pet?' With that he led me towards the display area. ‘Here’s a very popular model love’, he said. ‘Do I look like someone who bathes in fibre glass?' I asked, annoyed. 'We may be a normal struggling family but we're not that poor you know!’ ‘Well’, he said, the next model up is this steel bath, a very good make’. I was now becoming very annoyed indeed. ‘Less poor than that too dear’, I said, motioning him to move along. ‘We have this lovely cast iron model, very exclusive’. ‘What about that one over there?’ I said pointing to a large roll top resting on feet shaped like swans and adorned by gold taps’ ‘Ah, yes, The Cherie, a very good choice, our most expensive bath.’ 'I’ll take three’, I said. ‘Pay the man dear’, I told my husband. 'And I do hope you won’t even think about delivering the showroom model by the way, young man!’ I explained. ‘I distinctly saw some northern children sitting in it earlier!’ and the very thought made me shiver. I would have to go home and summon up all my strength before we even started looking into toilets.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

resignation, resignation, resignation

I picked up the local paper. A large photograph of a proud smiling young local man in military uniform looked out from the front page. I sighed. Yet again somebody else’s bad news had pushed my bad news from the headlines. My agent was going to be furious. I used the newspaper to mop up some baby sick. Just then the phone rang. ‘Rilly, darling!’ said a man’s voice. ‘Who is this?’ I demanded. ‘It’s me dear!’ said the mysterious stranger. ‘You remember, 1997, you, me, the vicar?’ ‘Tony? I thought we weren’t going to mention that night again, and anyway, haven’t you got something else on today?' Then I remembered that was the year I got married and sighed. ‘I’ve got a big surprise for our wedding anniversary!’ my husband told me, excitedly. ‘I’ll pick you up in an hour’. I yawned. He only ever got that excited when he had managed to get Barbara Streisand tickets. What could he possibly have in mind?

I should have known. We stood in the drizzle. Trimdon Labour Club on a wet thursday lunchtime. The great orator, up north for his final oration, but we were out in the cold. 'It’s not that I’m ungrateful’ I said ‘but didn’t you think to get tickets dear?’ I asked my husband. ‘Yes, but the chap from the party I gave the money to was arrested by Scotland Yard five minutes after I left. That kind of thing’s a bit hit and miss at the moment. If anyone tries to sell you a raffle ticket today, just say you haven’t got any change. It’s too risky’. ‘Remind me, why are we here again?’ I asked. ‘Tony Blair is part of our history!’ he exclaimed ‘You’ll be part of my flippin' history if we don’t get in the warm soon!’ I told him. ‘Oh look, I can see some people I know, I’ll see what I can sort out’ he said and he shuffled off with an ‘air hellair’ here and a ‘good to see you old chap’ there until he faded from earshot and from sight.

‘Mummy, why do you like Tony Blair?’ asked Tilly, tugging on my sleeve. ‘Because Tony Blair likes people that work hard dear’. ‘Like Natalia you mean, Mummy?’ ‘Mummy works hard as well dear.’ Tilly looked at me blankly. 'Mummy?' I looked down at her inquisitive expression. 'have you ever met the prime minister?' 'You'll have to buy my memoirs dear', I replied. ‘Mummy?’ 'Yes Tilly?’ ‘Who was that man that Daddy was talking to?’ 'That was Peter Mandelson dear.’ ‘And why did Daddy put his hands in his pockets?’ ‘I think he was just trying to look working class dear.' ‘Mummy?' ‘Yes Tilly, dear?’ 'Who are those men dressed all over in orange and shouting at Tony Blair?’ ‘They are very bad men Tilly.’ ‘Are they terrorists Mummy?’ ‘No, dear, I don't think so, they must be Liberal Democrats’. ‘Mummy, one of those bad men said Tony Blair drops bombs on children. Tony Blair's not going to drop a bomb on me and Milly is he, Mummy?’ 'No dear, he only does that to bad foreign children, but maybe we’ll move a little closer to Wife in the North and Tom Watson over there just to be on the safe side.' ‘Mummy? ‘Yes Tilly, what is it now?' ‘Why are you wearing a red rose?’ ‘Because if I buy a rose it offsets the carbon emissions from Tony Blair’s private jet from London, dear’. ‘Mummy, I need a wee’. ‘Oh, I can’t take you now Tilly, I’ll miss the speech, go and ask one of the men in orange jumpsuits to take you.’

‘When is Tony going to make his big speech?' I asked the lady next to me. ‘It was over an hour ago pet’, she said. ‘We’re just waiting for the raffle to be drawn’. I looked down at my glass of champagne. The bubbles had gone but the raindrops falling on the surface made it appear not quite completely flat and the cold damp northern wind had kept it cool. I looked up and a single raindrop fell on my face and ran down my cheek like a tear, like having a real emotion.