Sunday, March 30, 2008

north riding lessons

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

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

Saturday, March 22, 2008

the schlong good friday

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

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

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

Friday, March 21, 2008

up the ash tree climbs the ivy

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

Thursday, March 13, 2008

north and south

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

boyz n the sisterhood

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

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

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

Monday, March 10, 2008

desperate house of commons wives

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 06, 2008


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

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


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

Saturday, March 01, 2008

cleaning up

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

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

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