Friday, March 30, 2007

no sign of the times

I was feeling rather down already when there was a knock at the door. When I opened it I found standing outside a woman brandishing a shorthand notebook and a scruffy man in a raincoat clutching a camera. ‘Oh, hello darling’, said the woman, ‘fetch the lady of the house for me, there’s a dear’ I think she detected my puzzlement. ‘Is she in then, you know, wife in the north , tell her the Sunday Times is here will you’. ‘Are you doing a feature on her?’ I asked. The woman leaned forward. ‘between you, me and the reclaimed antique gatepost’ she said, ‘I’m the new education correspondent and I’m just here to see if she knows about some stationery that we can't find and ask her where she left the keys to the cabinet with all the biros in it'. ‘She doesn’t live here’ I explained. ‘You need to go a bit further north’. The woman looked at me uncomprehendingly. ‘Bloody hell!’ she said ‘You mean there’s somewhere that’s even more north than this?!’ She thanked me for my assistance and walked back to her van muttering to the man in the dirty raincoat. I thought about how the Times education section had obviously gone downhill since wifey had left just as the Saint bartholomews orphanage and abandoned puppy rescue sanctuary newsletter had similarly declined since I stopped writing it. It made me think back wistfully to my last day there before I moved to the north, the orphans waving the last newsletter that I wrote at me and asking ‘please miss, more’ and the puppies looking forlornly at me through the bars with their big sad puppy eyes. I haven’t talked about my work with orphans and puppies before lest people should think I was just trying to exploit their emotions but it left a big mark on me. I had even resolved to give the profits from my book to help those less fortunate than myself, until I moved to the north and then there wasn’t anyone less fortunate than myself so I’ll probably just spend it on a cruise instead. The big sky satellite dish on the Sunday times van disappeared behind the trees as it headed up the A1. One day they would come back and it would be to write a big feature about me instead of just to find out what happened to the office stapler, and I sighed for the life that lay ahead and the one that I had left behind.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Grimm up north

Having detected just a hint of criticism in some recent comments on this blog, although it'll probably just be me being oversensitive again, which is a weakness I have, I thought about how I could make myself more lovable and I have therefore followed in the footsteps of another blogger who I read from time to time and started learning German. This will hopefully endear me to some of the locals whose consumption of budweiser shows a predelectation for all things german. The other reason for doing this of course is that the way things have been with my husband lately this might help break the ice a little. After all, you know what they say, German is the loving tongue. Bob Dylan didn't know what he was talking about by the way, in fact neither did anyone who listened to him without a lyrics sheet in front of them. He didn't even have a blog, for goodness sake. I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework in between adding some more photographs of the aga to my new Herr Flickr account which I had started up to complement Strafe, I mean Strife, in the north when Tilly came in from school ever so upset. I could see she had been in the wars again ‘Mummy, all the other children keep calling you the the fallen Madonna with the big boobies! She cried, referring to the the effects of the new baby on certain of my vital statistics. My new found teutonic confidence instantly came to the fore and I leapt to my feet. ‘For you Tilly, ze var is over’ I reassured her, and leaving my German homework texts on the table I took Tilly by the hand and marched her back to the school. I resolved there and then that if the headmistress so much as thought about telling me to listen very carefully I shall say zis only once , then I would deport, I mean remove, Tilly from that school straight away. I won't have people making tired and obvious jokes in doubtful taste about my efforts to learn german! I didn’t know if I could educate Tilly at home but at least she would have more living space and I knew that I had months of bed time stories lined up from my german literature studies. Yes, it’s Brothers Grimm up north you know, seufzt…

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

winkle picking

As I stood looking around at the hundreds of oysters that lay at my feet on the wet ground amongst all the other shellfish and stranded marine life I suddenly felt terribly disoriented, which was a very strange feeling but might have been because I didn’t actually think I was anywhere near the coast. And yet, I also felt curiously at home, perhaps because just thinking about how they made London underground travel cards from these ancient creatures gave me a warm homely glow inside. I leant over and picked up a salty shellfish. Prizing it open, I thought of Wife in the North as I beheld the beautiful and enchanting revealed pearl that glistened in the sun. Then, opening another silvery shell I thought about my own life and saw only a grain of sand lying in the moist mollusk. I thought about how Wife in the North seemed to mine a deep historical seam which I was sadly yet to discover and I thought about how her loyal followers would have gathered together even in days of yore before the advent of the blog comments box. I stared out at the flat, grey and calm expanse that seemed to stretch forever until my reflections were curtailed by a traffic policeman who asked me to please move away from the overturned seafood lorry, as they wanted to reopen the motorway. I smiled as I thought about getting my husband in the mood when he was next up in the north so I slipped a couple of oysters into my pocket, well, Rick Stein wouldn’t miss a small one, in his restaurant I mean, would he? I just hope they'll do the trick, sigh...

Monday, March 26, 2007

big breaths

I took a deep breath when the phone rang. I should have known it was going to be my agent. I would have been quite silly not to have known as I had to drive into town to take the call. ‘Rilly, darling..’ he began, ‘I’m here at the publishers, you’re on speaker dear’. This sounded very important. ‘I see Wife in the North has done breastfeeding on her blog, damn, she's good, and we think your blog needs more breasts in it, to give a more rounded picture, so to speak, so what do you think?’ I knew there was something, but I couldn't put my finger on it, then it came to me. ‘Just one snag', I said. 'Oh God, you're not pierced are you Rilly?!' exclaimed my agent. 'I haven’t got any nursing children’ I told him. ‘Hmm, that is a problem’, said my agent and another voice asked ‘Rilly, we really need breasts, this is Tim from marketing by the way, how quickly can you get a baby? What’s the lead time?’ As I tried to add nine months to the next time I could see myself having sex another voice came on the line. ‘Howdy Rilly, this is Hank in the New York office, listen, you really need to work with us on this one ma’am. In our polling, 64% of male college students and 97% of the soccer mom demographic answered yes to the question should Rilly Super get them out, as long she doesn’t do it at the Superbowl. Our American readers are counting on you Rill!’ I could see the point that London and New York were making, that such a personal and private mother-child intimate moment would naturally be expected to appear in the blog by my readers. Another voice, a woman, came on the line 'Konnichiwa, Rillysan, I am interpretor for Mr Nagashima in Tokyo office, Mr Nagashima ask can you write about your breasts being different sizes like Wife in North. Mr Nagashima say his wife very interested in this problem, In fact Mrs Nagashima have to wear padded kimono to match left with right and stop her walking round in circles.’ I'm not sure if they detected that my hesitancy was from a concern to keep my blog in the best possible taste. Tokyo came on the line again. ‘Mr Nagashima say, if no breast feeding in blog, readers not think it genuine account of family life but think probably all just made up to market book. Mr Nagashima have to go now, translation of latest wife in the north post in Japanese just arrived. Sayonara Rillysan’. New York came back on. ‘Gotta go too Rilly, gotta check the mock-up promotional Wife in the North barbeque apron. Be seein' ya!’ and he left me alone with my thoughts, my agent and the entire marketing department in London. ‘I’m not just making something up you know’ I warned them. ‘I’ll lose all credibility if Strife in the North isn’t totally truthful’ . There was a hushed murmering from the other end of the line ‘We know you’ll make the right decision Rilly darling’ said my agent and hung up. I didn’t think I could make up stories just to sell the book, just to keep people reading the blog. I would be deceiving people for whom total honesty was the very thing they most expected from me. This was just the story of an ordinary family, not Desperate Housewives meets Emmerdale. Suddenly as I examined my conscience, my deep ethical and moral contemplation was interrupted, and I could hear the baby crying…

Thursday, March 22, 2007

bruises are blue, Tilly Tilly

My excitement at Wife in the North's return has been rather tempered by her sombre tone and also by similar events in my own life. Tilly came home from school with a big bruise on her head and a distinct reluctance to tell me how it occurred today. When I questioned big sister about it I found out that it was as I had feared. She had got a lift to school with Freya’s mummy (the school is all the way over the other side of the road and obviously she can’t take the bus because some local children use it) and unfortunately, my impetuous daughter had got out of the car before Freya’s mother had put the step ladder up and poor Tilly therefore performed the time honoured act of falling headfirst out of a large agricultural vehicle, a fall commonly known as the Fulham Flop, after the district of London famous for it’s farms and rough terrain and therefore prevalence of such accidents. It’s a good thing I was back from my recent trip away to comfort young Tilly in her distress, so I made her a cup of cocoa and calmed her down in the old fashioned way, with a lullaby. Soon she was snoozing like a baby, sigh.

Hush now baby, don’t you fret
Mummy’s gonna write about you on the internet

And if that don’t cheer up your gloomy look
This is all great material for mummy’s book

You’ll look back on this and think it’s groovy
When you see yourself fall over in the movie

Hush now baby, stop all this commotion
Mummy’s gonna use you in her self promotion

And if mummy’s book doesn’t sell
Kiss goodnight to the film rights as well

So remember that your childhood adversity
Will pay for you to go to university

Hush now baby don’t you worry
It’s not as if there’s any tarmac in the north to fall on like there is in Surrey

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the future's orange

The future’s orange as a certain advertising slogan says and although my future may be the Orange Prize my present is the thogger, which has been handed to me, a little oily, by a very nice man who resembles Lembit Opik’s twin brother, that’s the twin that spends less time with his trousers off as he’s only a stripper and not a Liberal Democrat. This is for bloggers that make you think. I believe it is good form to nominate some others who make one think, but I haven’t been doing this very long and we don’t have electricity for enough hours in the day here to allow me to have really got to grips with all the blogs out there yet however to enter into the spirit of things, and hoping that next year these will be a little more personal, here are some blogs that make me think.

Wife in the North for making me think that you don't have to have had a terrible childhood or be a lesbian to be the next Jeanette Winterson.

Bronteblog for making me think that living in the north with consumption and no sex is hard but is still the best route to getting a book deal, Hollywood interest, and a Kate Bush song in your honour.

Jack Havana for making me think I must always be sincere as sincere can be in this blog or someone will send me up.

Alpha Mummy for making me think that a ceasarian story and a cake recipe in every post is the future of blogging, and for making me think that if I plug this then the Times will do the same for me, just like they did so splendidly for Wifey

Girl with a one track mind for making me think, well, I think I'll keep that to myself actually except she does make me think I would never have fallen for that fake flower delivery scam, oh hang on, that was the Times as well wasn't it so I hope this doesn't cancel out number 4.

I'd better go now, it's late and I have to get this ballgown back to mutterings and meanderings for her Young Farmers do. I'm crying all over it and it's dry clean only, in fact my eyes are as puffy as the sleeves, sob.

Monday, March 19, 2007

only the lonely

I saw my agent while I was in London last week. ‘We’re really pleased Rilly’ he said, ‘the book's coming along nicely’. He peered down at the manuscript, reading a witty neologism here, a poignant paragraph there. ‘They haven’t made the final decision which department to give you to for marketing purposes, Chick-Lit, or Wrist-Slit-Lit, but I know they really want to do something with this…’ I noticed his attention drift away from me as he began to read a particularly wistful and moving description of when the range rover drove through a puddle and got slighty muddy. Tears welled up in his eyes and began rolling down his cheeks. He was soon weeping uncontrollably. ‘Is my writing really that emotional?' I asked. He shook his head. 'I’m Sorry Rilly, this just makes me realise how much I miss wife in the north, I wish she’d come back from holiday, reading her stuff’s the only pleasure I have in life these days’. I rummaged in my handbag and put every tissue I possessed on the desk.' I know dear' I consoled him, 'we all miss her' and, hoping that Wifey would be back soon for all our sakes, slipped out of the office to leave the poor man alone with his grief. I hope his lonely tears didn't cause the ink to run too much on my book manuscript. That was the only copy.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

hell's bells

Sunday morning and, back in the north, I sit in bed, missing my husband who has returned to London. We passed, like ships in the night, exchanging a wistful glance across the central reservation of the A1, he on his way back to London’s fair city, I on my lonely return into exile. I am banish-ed, there is no life without Islington’s walls. From the village church comes the bells' toll, do they toll for me? I hope not, they’ve got no bloody business tolling on a Sunday morning when people are trying to have a lay in. Church bells, like other people's children, should be seen lovingly described in the pages of Joanna Trollope novels but not heard. I should go and storm into the church and give them a piece of my mind, but I don’t want to cause a scene, at least not a scene from the end of the The Graduate anyway . The pen is mightier than the sword, or rather my new Aga laptop is mightier than the sword and uses more metal in the construction too. Some people sniff that a laptop that requires your nanny to help you carry it and which runs on burning woodchips and ramblers' trousers collected from barbed wire fences is nothing but a status symbol and something from PC World is just as practical for writing to the environmental health officer about noise from people doing things that you don’t do and at inconvenient times. They’re just jealous because they haven’t got a car with adequate suspension to transport it. They're absolutely essential when you live in the country and everyone has them you know. It looks like that letter means my Sunday is spoken for. It’s a good thing I don’t do anything on Monday to Saturday or that would really be a bother. Oh, for the peace and tranquility of home, but wait, the bells have ceased, now a glooming peace this morning with it brings, and a chance to work on more subtle shakespearean allusions for the blog. A woman's work is never done, sigh...

Friday, March 16, 2007

about last night

I shaded my eyes from the sun as he set down the coffee by the bed and opened the blinds to let the bright London sunshine flood into his apartment. ‘I suppose you have to be getting back to your husband’, he said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Staring down into the still swirling coffee I nodded. ‘I know you must miss him, having to come away on your own like this’ he said. ‘yes’ I replied quietly, adding with a girlish grin ‘but you could say there are compensations.’ He smiled. ‘I got a couple of good woe-is-me-I’m-so-lonely blog entries out of it’ I said and his expression became more serious and understanding. ‘Oh, yes of course’ he said. ‘Just one question though Rilly...’ he began. I looked up from my coffee. ‘What’s with the always keeping one foot on the floor deal ? Is that a northern thing?’ 'No, silly’, I said, 'it’s just because my blog only alludes to that kind of thing , in a way that’s just enough to cause a knowing nod from the reader but firmly leaves them at the bedroom door. I have a question too', I said, pulling a pair of knickers out from under the bedclothes. ‘Whose are these?’ 'Oh', he said, 'I had girl with a one track mind over the other night.’ Oh, I said ‘you’re not…’ ‘In her book?’ ‘You are?’ ‘Page 74.’ ‘Crikey’, I said, ‘I think I’d better get dressed now.’ ‘You are dressed’ he said. ‘You told me it was because in the north it’s so cold and damp you have to sleep with all your clothes on or else you’ll get consumption.’ I got out of bed and as I looked at my slightly crumpled self in the mirror I realised that, for want of any original material coming my way in the forseeable future, my hope of getting a sex blog to turn into a companion volume for Strife in the North was just another aspiration that I abandoned when I moved to the north, left behind in my lovely house in Islington along with the light fittings, the carpets, and my dreams, sigh.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

and you may find yourself another part of the world, sitting in the window of the Islington Yo Sushi, letting the days go by wandering around the underground, watching all the people walk past outside in the street, wondering how many of them notice the lonely woman behind the glass contemplating her fate only to then go home, and remembering that wistful expression looking out at them as they checked their tie or their makeup in their reflection earlier in their dreary day, begin their daily blog entry with 'I saw that Rilly Super in town today!' and then their commuting life won't seem so grim after all.

You may ask yourself how long since you were back home and experiencing the long forgotten delights of home made North London cuisine. You may ask yourself why up North can't you get any fish that isn't battered never mind not cooked at all, in fact you can't get anything that isn't battered north of Milton Keynes, the last outpost of civilisation as you travel regretfully up the road of tears that is the M1. How, you may ask yourself, did I get here? I can't remember where have I parked my large automobile? How did I get this beautiful blog? How did I become this beautiful wife?

And you may tell yourself this is not my midlife crisis, and you may tell yourself I'm sure I didn't order this, and you may ask yourself hmm, not sure if I wouldn't mind some gravy and scraps on that. And then an old flame, a once in a lifetime, with eyes as blue as your bluefin tuna before it was caught in muddy waters, and a smile that can defrost, skin, fillet and deep fry a frozen haddock at fifty yards comes in through the door, and you're free all day, and you may tell yourself, my God!...what have I done, but then you may ask yourself, oh sod it, who's ever gonna know?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

time out

I’m afraid the dischord this week with the daughter that I don’t have for the purposes of this blog because she won’t sign the release form has left me rather drained so I’m going to take some time out with my Time Out and go home for a couple of days to have some me-time, see a movie released in the last three years, have a drinkable latte, prise my agent away from the office for lunch whilst wife in the north is away, and just get away from it all in general. I’ve left the children with my husband and Natalia and have written out some phonetic polish phrases in case of emergency such as ‘Mummy’s been gone two days now, can we have tea yet Natalia?’, ‘Nanny, put that man down, I think the house is on fire!’ and 'No Natalia, I think you must have misunderstood the man from the camera club who works at the garage when he told you he was a top Hollywood supermodel agent’. I know women out there will understand, I’m not deserting my husband, in fact I don’t think I can put it any better than in this old favourite of mine which has a sentiment I think we could all learn from. It could be me on that verandah in fact, the porch is just like the one we had in London. I used to have a dress like that in London too. I used to know all those words off by heart when we lived in London, I used to bel... sigh. I’ll be back at the weekend so please stand by your Rilly and I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

secret sibling

Not much time to be lilting and lyrical today I'm afraid. There's trouble at mill, as they say here in the north. My eldest daughter who, rather unreasonably in my view, refused to take part in this blog, cruelly branding my normal uncommercial account of normal family life in the north as 'The Osbournes in Barbours', claims that she has been mentioned in the comments section in breach of our confidentiality agreement. Please of course don't tell her that I told you that she told me this and don't tell anyone that I told you not to tell them that I told you. It's a real shame that I'm not allowed to tell you about the row she and I had over this because it's just the kind of thing which would make a really good read. I have to go back now and find out if Hilly, which may or may not be her name, if she really exists, has indeed been mentioned on this blog and then try and glue together the spode and, if there's any glue left after that, try and piece together our mother-daughter relationship, which would, ironically, also make a really good blog entry which makes the whole affair even more tragic. As I said, I'm not allowed to mention our little tiff, which was nothing really, but if you drop by Chez Rilly in the next week or so best keep your Hunters on untill Natalia's got all the broken glass up. You couldn't make any more of a mess, which I cannot confirm that there is of course, than there is already. Well, I suppose this kind of thing happens in every normal family, which is what we are, sigh.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tilly Elliot

Tilly, charming and delightful as always, was ever so excited as she rushed into the kitchen just as I was taking the scones out of the oven. I knew why of course, but I still pretended not to have heard the news that today was the day the film crew arrived to begin shooting the new film version of the stage musical version of Billy Elliot. ‘Whatever is it dear?’ I asked feigning lack of knowledge that Easington had now become so gentrified with all the Londoners turning the old terraced miners’ houses into weekend places because they loved the north so much they had started to shun the more picturesque villages because they kept finding everything they did reported on the internet by the many bloggers who had moved to such places in search of fresh air, fields and film deals, that the film company had to look elsewhere for their backdrop and had decided upon our village. ‘Mummy, mummy!’ began Tilly, excited, charming and delightful, ‘there are lots of men with black faces all over the village!’ Gosh, I said smiling, I’m sure it’s nothing to be concerned about dear.’ ‘But Mummy, isn't that why you and daddy wanted to move away from London?’ 'Oh silly Tilly', I reassured her ‘There's no need to worry, they’re miners!’ ‘What’s a miner?’ quizzed my daughter in her typically charming and delightful manner. ‘Well, in the olden days before you were born there were lots of miners, but they didn’t vote conservative so Maggie Thatcher had to sack them all, because that’s what happens if you’re naughty’. I beckoned Tilly to come outside with me to see that these frightening working class people were really nice and from the south like us, just like everyone else I allowed the children to speak to in our village.

I led her up to one burly blackened miner. ‘Way ay lass!’ he said by way of greeting. ‘Mummy, it’s Gandalf from Lord of the Rings!' shouted Tilly, in her charming and delightful innocence of Sir Ian Mckellen's true status, and of his ability to bring more magic to the screen in his acting than even Gandalf with all his powers. ‘Hello darlings’ said Sir Ian, ‘are you here to watch the filming?’ ‘Oh yes please!' exclaimed Tilly. Just then the director called out over the megaphone ‘CAN ALL THE SINGING MINERS PLEASE LEAVE THE SET, I JUST WANT THE DANCING MINERS!' Obviously the same director as The Producers, I thought. ‘Oh, that’s me!' said Sir Ian, ‘got to go and shoot the big tap number! See you later darlings!’and with a flourish and a ‘don’t start without me boys!' he turned to the gathered synchronised bobbing miners lamps and tap danced over to the MDF colliery wheel illuminated in the beam of the film lights. ‘Is he the star of the film mummy?’ asked Tilly, as Sir Ian theatrically tripped over a cable in his rush to begin the scene and landed in a heap next to Renee Zellweger, Billy's dance teacher in the film. 'No', I replied, smiling at my amazing ability for wry observations and dry wit, ‘it’s just a miner roll’. I must remember that one for the blog, I thought, and we all went back home and gathered around the aga for tea and scones with strawberry jam and lashings of Joanna Trollope

Sunday, March 11, 2007

maybe it's because I'm a liberal

...that I love London so, although I'm stuck up here in the north now unfortunately and I don't know if I mentioned it before but it's grim. I also love wife in the north of course, who seems to have had an uncannily similar weekend to my own. On Saturday my husband and I both went down to the cottage so we could feel good about helping the village by combining two houses into one and reducing the village's carbon footprint by displacing an entire family from the community. While we were down there I’m afraid I got rather annoyed with the builder fellow who's doing the knock through. Now I’m a liberal, and this family occupies four houses at present and you can't get much more liberal than that, and being a liberal means that everyone should speak like I do wherever I go because a liberal is the only thing to be. As far as I'm concerned it’s no more acceptable for someone up here in the North East to call me pet than it is for a waiter in some foreign clime to give me a dirty look when I order the polenta slowly and loudly in Cheltenham Ladies College english. That's just pure prejudice on his part and we all know what a jolly bad thing prejuduce and condescending stereotypes are, don't we boys and girls! I've decided that when my husband moves up north we will reclaim the north for the God, Harry and received pronunciation! I'm sure if those Gideon chaps started putting Forster in hotel bedrooms instead of the bible that would be a start in showing people how to behave. We may no longer have the empire but now the north has become the white man's burden and with my huband at my side we'll jolly well re-colour the north pink just like in the good old days!

But for now though, Sunday has arrived and as I write this my husband and Fabio are on the sleeper back to London, making the sacrifice of sharing a berth to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As I close the front door after them I contemplate that he's left me again with nothing but the children, my veet squeezed in the middle (men!), the joint account chequebook and an aga catalogue mysteriously stuck together at the centrefold. Just as I gather my thoughts, my new mission to achieve universal radio 4 pronunciation receives it's first impetus as Milly asks me 'mummy, do we own some seaside all for ourselves now?' 'Whatever do you mean dearest?' 'Well mummy, when Fabio had left with daddy, Natalia asked us what we thought now we'd seen daddy's beach'. So many people not like me, so little time to change them, sigh..

Friday, March 09, 2007

the prodigal papa

My husband arrived late yesterday from London. He looked ever so pleased to be up north with his family again. ‘You look ever so pleased to be up north with your family again’ I said, sharing my writer’s intuitive emotional insight with my beloved. ‘You bet!’ he said, ‘you’ll never guess who I was on my train up north with today! Only wife in the north's husband!' ‘Oh golly’ I said. 'I’ll tell you something though Rilly darling,’ he began. ‘I jolly well hope you don’t go getting ideas and telling everyone about us on the internet!’ I smiled reassuringly and lovingly at him. ‘Oh, and hope you don’t mind, brought some work home, you know my secretary, Fabio, don’t you dear?’ ‘Ciao, Signora Super’ smiled Fabio, and in the distance the hooves of an untamed stallion thundered into the northern sunset.

We’re still living in the rented house, which only has one bedroom, and one bed, but it’s so lovely when we’re all together. Last night the girls Milly and Tilly, Natalia the polish au pair, my husband, my husband’s secretary Fabio (my poor dear love, just can’t seem to leave work in London when he comes up north, he’s very important you know ) and myself all sat in the bed and waited for the embers of the fire to finally leave us in darkness so we could all put down our Catherine Cookson novels and go off to sleep. When I’m alone I find it hard to get off, but last night with my devoted husband by my side I can honestly say that I got more zeds than there are in the name of Natalia’s home village.

In the morning Milly gave me a puzzled look as I rubbed my eyes and tried to get the two cafetières that I could see before me to merge into the one that I knew was actually there. ‘Mummy’ she began hesitantly, ‘yes Milly dear’ I said. ‘Tilly and I are a bit worried about daddy.’ ‘Oh gosh girls, why ever might you be worried about him?’ I queried. ‘Well’ said Milly, ’you know how people lose their memories when they get old like you and daddy, well I think daddy’s losing his memory.’ ‘We all forget things’ I said, 'even children!' ‘Yes, but mummy, why else last night did we hear father keep asking Fabio who’s the daddy?’ ‘I expect it’s just because he’s been working late darling’ I reassured her and poured my expresso into an eggcup.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

downsizing damp

I wandered down to the cottage with Tilly today for a site meeting with the builders, an ancient ritual which all us brave restorers will have experienced. Sometimes I think it's taking longer to knock the place down than it took to build all those centuries ago. The walls may be coming down but the costs just keep going up. I got so exasperated last week I even let off steam to the district nurse when I saw she was in her office when I visited the surgery with Tilly one day. 'Oh!' I cried, 'Everything takes ages around here and sometimes I think it's just impossible to get anything done on your house for under a quarter of a million up here in the north'. She looked at me in what I could see was her shared annoyance at such high building costs and I knew she was thinking exactly the same thoughts as me. It was obviously a common problem. 'Hold this while I get the scissors' she said, handing me the umbilical cord. 'I mean, my God,' I said turning to Mrs Arkwright from number 14 down there on the delivery table 'You obviously can't even get a ceasarian around here, how bloody dark ages is that!?'

I had, however, resolved to remain calm this morning down at the cottage. In the kitchen our guide, our builder's new young assistant, reached up and placed his hand on the wall, shaking his head. I noticed how his muscles were so wirey you could certainly supply all the electricity to the new reproduction period swimming pool through them. Not only that, his thighs encased in those tight jeans were so thick and strong they could easily replace the oak beams that held up the authentic venacular wet room and sauna. He was as tall as the old yew we chopped down to build the double garage, his eyes were the colour of the blue mediterranean tiles in the third ensuite bathroom and his jaw was chiselled out of the very same ancient rock from which the cottage was built before we got started on it. Suddenly I felt a childs elbow in my side. 'Mummy!' nudged Tilly. 'Yes dear' emerged I from my day dream. Tilly raised her eyebrows at mummy's lack of attention. 'The man says you've got a damp patch'. Glaring at our builder and pulling Tilly in front of me I exclaimed indignantly 'Well actually, I said, I left my bicycle out in the rain, not that it's any concern of your's, mister!' and I took Tilly by the hand and we stormed home.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Newcastle, New Title

I went to Newcastle, where they have the nearest working telephone to my village, to pick up a message from my agent in London today. 'Rilly, dear' he began, 'Ran your idea for the new title of your book about how grim it is in the north past Viking-Penguin earlier and they say The Satanic Mills really works for them dear, on so many levels. They had a big hit with something similar a few years ago as I recall, went down a bomb, and as well as that whole Salman Rushdie meets Chariots of Fire meets Jilly Cooper eighties nostalgia thing (you're a genius dear!) they reckon if they send a couple of their Australian lads up north to wind up the spiritual leader Geoffrey Boycott about The Ashes they can even get a fatwah out on you. Apparently Komeini asked for 5% last time and although they reckon it might cost a bit more this time around as we're dealing with those awful Northerners instead of the Iranians it doubled the sales back then so it's worth a shot. Anyway, got to go darling, I'm taking Wife in the North to Fifteen. The staff there all feel sorry for her with her grim life you know, being disadvantaged themselves, so we get extra helpings, talk soon dear..' and as the dial tone replaced my agent's enthusiasm over the handset I thought to myself, could I really be so successful as an author writing about how grim it is up north that I could afford to buy a bigger place down south? The truth really is stranger than fiction...

Monday, March 05, 2007


'Hmmm', frowns your agent, peering at you over the top of his spectacles as he ruffles the pages of your latest manuscript, 'I presume this is just a working title'. 'Er, oh, of course' you reply as you recall the long northern winter of toil it has taken to finally come up with Petite anglaise in the north with a one track mind. 'And you really need to include some short and snappy pieces which give the impression that you have other things to do in your life than blog but not that you've nothing to write about because not much of interest has happened to you lately'. You're already mulling over his advice as you get up to leave. 'Oh, Rilly dear, one more thing...' he calls out as you reach the door. You turn around in anticipation 'Send wife in the north in on your way out, there's a love'

Sunday, March 04, 2007

sunday morning

In my husband's London flat I sat in the bed, my husband next to me. ‘I’m sorry’, he said, ‘I think I’ve just been working too hard’. I confess that he introduced into the conversation an adjective which had not occurred to me in respect of the man at my side at that precise moment. He almost unconsciously raised his arm and pointed the remote at the VCR and as Meet me in St Louis flickered onto to the screen I wondered why even my reading aloud from the colour charts in my best seductive tones and dressing only in come hither fabric swatches didn’t seem to turn him on today. I just couldn’t think what could be the problem although I wracked my brains for what seemed like an age. ‘What are you thinking about?’ He asked, noticing my pensiveness. ‘Oh, nothing’, I replied evasively, ‘just the cottage’. ‘And what’s that supposed to mean!?’ he snapped. I’m sure I didn’t know what he was talking about so I felt around on the floor beside the bed and grasped one of his body building magazines. As I began to flick through it, trying to take myself away from this awkward situation, I wondered why despite subscribing to all these fitness magazines he had not yet got around to buying any weights himself but I reasoned it was because he didn’t want to have to transport them up north when he came to live with me and our daughters in the near future and he was just committing all those exercises and poses on the well thumbed pages for when he started his new healthy regime in the north. Yes, that must be it. Suddenly I realised he was crying. I snuggled up to him and softly told him he mustn’t get so upset, that these things happen to every man from time to time. ‘Sorry’, he said, ‘this number always gets to me’, as have yourself a merry little christmas began and he turned up the volume to allow Judy Garland to drown out his sobbing, and leave me none the wiser regarding his reluctance to come and live with me. I began fumbling around on the floor again. ‘What are you looking for now?’ He asked. ‘Somewhere to plug in my laptop’, I said. ‘I haven’t written anything on my blog for hours. I can’t just sit around here all day, my readers need me’. I had pencilled in the diary to write about sex this weekend but it looked like now I might have to make something up and I hoped that the readers of my hitherto truthful blog wouldn't notice. I felt very alone, even my friends had only rubbed salt in the wound when I'd talked about this problem. ‘All relationships have sticky patches’, said one, not realising I would give my right arm for a sticky patch in my own relationship. As I tapped on my keyboard, oh how I wished for just a simple sign from my husband, just one, to give me a single clue, to let me into that locked closet where he kept his feelings. While his attention was diverted I slipped some of his muscle mags into my handbag. I knew he wouldn't mind, what is marriage all about, after all, if not sharing? I knew though that when he moved north everything would be alright, from now on our troubles will be miles away...

Friday, March 02, 2007

southern sojourn

This weekend I’m off to London to visit the queen, well, ok, not really, just my husband for a weekend of gay abandon. It will be so nice to go home for a couple of days and indulge in those little pleasures, a cappuccino, people whose accent I can understand, colour television. When I come back I shall bring coffee and chocolate and nylon tights to sell on the black market. I’m leaving the children with my parents who, thank goodness, crashed the car again this week so the darlings won’t be going anywhere with my father behind the wheel. He is so keen to blend in I think he has found that exchanging insurance details is a good way to meet people. When I speak with him he often begins with ‘you’ll never guess who I bumped into the other day’. I think the locals have all grown rather fond of him and often speak about how much they love to come across that old chap who’s retired up north coming towards them in his car on the wrong side of the road at walking speed because it gives them an amusing story to tell when they eventually get to work. Of course we both find it a little awkward sometimes, my husband and I, when we sleep together for the first time in a few weeks, he seems a little forgetful of the procedure, but I find that if I whisper Farrow and Ball paint colours into his ear that soon gets him in the mood so wish me luck! This does mean that Strife in the North will also be having the weekend off but I do hope you’ll come back next week. It’s been great fun this week and lovely that people have come to read about how grim it is up north and I promise you that next week, I’ll be back. Have a jolly good weekend won’t you. Tootle pip!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

wringing the changes

Haven't much time to tell you how grim it is up north today I'm afraid but today is one of those days when I rilly think about how my life has changed. The washing machine is broken again, perhaps it was continuously having to wash the children’s clothes after they'd been brushed against by one of the local children coming out from their MMR injections and trying to pass their autism on to my own darlings, or perhaps it was my sitting on top during the spin cycle thinking about Colin Firth one too many times but nevertheless it was down to the river with the washboard today to hunker down amongst the local women and try and get those nasty northern germs off our southern clothes. 'Why do you all gather at this same spot to do the washing?' I enquired. 'because the outdoor privies all empty into the river just down there', it was explained. 'What kind of washing powder to you mostly use?' I asked. 'Serf', came the reply. I began to suspect then that not all of the local women had staggered down to the river laden with laundry simply because they had all been pestered by the au pair to let her have the range rover on her day off, nor that they had all been re-reading Bridget Jones Diary on the tumble dryer again so I tried to conceal the designer labels from my Primark pounding and Wilkinsons wringing fellow washers but alas it was inevitable that someone would notice eventually. ‘Shouldn’t you dry clean Lacroix pet? Said the hunched up old woman next to me on the cold foggy slippery muddy foggy cold muddy foggy slippery foggy bank, hardly visible behind her headscarf and layers of charity shop clothing. She was so old and haggard I asked how long she had lived in the village. 'I came up here last year when I left university' she said. I thought I could get an amusing book about northerners and their amusing northern ways out of it for people to read on the Picadilly line. They told me the americans would lap it up too'. I shivered as a northern cloud blew across the northern low winter sun and the cold northern river fell under a northern shadow, and also as my new friend told me that today was her 24th birthday. ‘where’s the nearest dry cleaners?’ I asked. ‘Copenhagen’ she said, and we both carried on scrubbing our washboards, like an all girl northern aquatic skiffle group, just as if it were 1956. Watford Gap, Watford Gap, Oh to be only fifteen miles from the Watford Gap…sigh