Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the french rejection

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

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

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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Briefs and Counters Chapter Two

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2008

angels of the north

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

the long and windy road

I do love the children but they've really been getting under my feet lately. I wouldn't mind but they haven’t done anything entertaining for the blog for ages either. The final straw came when Tilly asked to be paid twenty thousand pounds a year as a researcher on Strife in the North. Although this blog’s meticulous politician-like pursuit of factual accuracy could certainly justify that amount I was a little nervous of putting her on the payroll and declaring my commercial reliance on the children to the authorities. ‘Can’t you take them out somewhere dear?’ I asked my husband, exasperated, by way of encouraging him to spend a little quality time with his daughters. My husband looked a little blank. ‘How about taking them sledging?’ I suggested. My husband doesn’t spend much time in our village. I could see he needed a prompt. ‘You’re wandering where there’s a good tobogganing hill.’ I offered. My husband nodded. I pointed to the news about the A66 being closed then went back to my typing. That big hill up at Bowes would make a lovely sledging run and my husband would bring my children back safely because he was an expert in outdoor survival, having watched amost all of Touching the Void on DVD at our friends house before feinting, from the thin air he claimed, because our friend's living room is upstairs.

Some time later the door opened loudly and I heard children’s voices in the hall downstairs then thudding footsteps on the stairs. Tilly burst in. ‘Hello dear’, I said, ‘did you have a good day?’ Tilly explained disappointedly that when they got there nearly all the snow had been cleared ready to open the road. ‘You should have come earlier’, a man in a high vis jacket had told them , seeing the toboggan as he had brushed the snow from the windows of abandoned vehicles to peer inside for anyone they might have missed the day before. ‘That’s the first time anyone must have said that to your daddy’, I muttered. ‘Mummy’, began Tilly, ‘Yes dear?’ I smiled ‘Milly said that last night in the blizzard the survivors ate the people who died of hypothermia’. I sighed. ‘Well dear’, I explained, ‘northerners are used to frozen food’. Tilly looked uncertainly reassured. She hadn't really trusted my judgement on culinary matters after the incident in the cafe when I'd told the waitress I only wanted fried bread with my breakfast if it was focaccia. ‘They couldn’t afford organic even if they could grow anything up here darling’. Tilly nodded. ‘And anyway’, I continued , ‘I’m certain there are no cannibals this side of the welcome to Cumbria’ sign’. I remembered my neighbour telling me about the ingredients of Cumberland sausage and although I couldn't recite it line by line it definitely included lost ramblers. Apparently reading all those Beatrix Potter books has put them completely off eating animals over there. My neighbour even told of how Renée Zellweger had a close shave on her first day of shooting Miss Potter , so close that she was left with a false left leg. Although physically she ended up only being wooden below the knee doctors were tragically unable to save her acting.

‘Mummy’, said Tilly. ‘Yes, what is it dear?’ Tilly looked a little pale. ‘You know you usually only see one crow tugging at an animal corpse on the road.’ ‘Yes dear’, listened I, sympathetically. ‘Well today we saw a whole crowd of them because the road was closed’ I smiled lovingly. My daughter continued; ‘And you know you hardly ever see more than one journalist around here’ . I nodded. ‘Well today we saw two TV trucks and daddy nearly ran over a cameraman who was dashing over the road to film a smashed up car from the night before before it was towed away’ I sighed. ‘Mummy’, said Tilly, sheepishly, ‘I don’t want to be journalist like you anymore, I want to write made up stories instead’. I gave my daughter a big hug. Although it looked as if, with nobody to hand on to, when I retired it could be the end of the road for Strife in the North, at least I’d saved twenty grand. I poured a glass of wine and switched on the radio.