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.