Tuesday, June 17, 2008

it was only a northern swan

It was my neighbour who suggested we go for a nice calming stroll around the lake at the local National Trust place but his contemplative conviviality was somewhat tempered by his complaining all the way round about the Trust's removal of the stepping stones near the tearoom; health and safety you see. My neighbour explained how when the Trust took over the estate in the nineteen eighties the old abbey actually still had a roof and all of it's windows but they were both stripped away lest a visitor trip over a fallen shingle and plunge through the stained glass. This was, he explained, the same time that the monks were sent away because they were a silent order so they refused to give anyone directions to the gift shop. This made me feel warm inside because you see it's only when you gain people's confidence that they share this kind of local knowledge.

We came across these little fellows by the water and as I wondered whether there was a really clever and original baby waterfowl inspired metaphor here if I could only see it they recognised the man who makes the pies for the farmers market and inexplicably leapt straight back into the water in a flash, and so the train of thought steamed off into the distance with my homesick thoughts still in the luggage rack, in coach B, over seat 42a, the one with the bit of old chewing gum stuck on the fold down drinks tray and the crumpled old Northern Echo with the crossword half completed stuffed behind it. Well, if you miss one there's always another along in a minute, metaphors that is, not trains. 'Fancy a brew Rilly?' asked a voice. It was my neighbour. 'Aye', I said, 'that would be super '.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

husbands in the south

Yesterday I was coming back from having lunch with some Labour Party chums in the local market town. I was feeling rather down in the dumps, I must say. Nobody understands what a struggle it is to have a husband who spends some of the week in his office a few hours away down the motorway you know, leaving me alone to look after the children and the nanny, and on top of that champagne at lunchtime always makes me a little maudlin so I really needed cheering up. Then I noticed one of my neighbours across the street. She’s a bit of a local but we always seem to get on quite well nevertheless so I went over for a chat to try and raise my spirits. I struck up a conversation and asked what had brought her into town. ‘My husband has a tour in Kandahar coming up Rilly’, she said, ‘so he’s shopping for new boots’. 'A tour?’ I replied, ‘That sounds rather fun. Kandahar; that’s near Harrogate isn’t it?’ I asked. She looked rather concerned and not, and in my view I'm afraid, about my rather more serious worries. I supposed she must have been wondering whether her husband would finish tiling the bathroom before he went away or something, but really, it’s just just me-me-me with some people, sigh.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

a year in the provinces

It's been a year since my family downshifted to the North and I was just wondering whether Strife in the North would ever be as successful as the Mayles and the O'Reillys had been before me when Milly ran into the kitchen. ‘Mummy’ she cried, ‘The vicar just parachuted in to the back garden!’ This was no surprise of course. It’s a large parish here in The North and the last incumbent had made it quite clear he was taking his bicycle with him when he retired. I followed my daughter outside where a large familiar grin appeared from under a billowing pile of red silk. ‘Oh bloody hell!’ he said, ‘where the fuck am I?’ I had rather hoped that after falling ten thousand feet from a plane and my face being the first thing he saw then some witty comment about seeing angels might have been the least I could have expected. Obviously a protestant, I thought. I didn’t hear that kind of language from Cormac Murphy O'Connor when he dropped in, and he went right through the roof of the greenhouse after his reserve failed.

‘I was sure this was the airfield!’ He said, ‘I saw the runway!’. ‘That was my drive dear’, I explained. ‘But what about that great big fucking cross on the grass?!’ he added. Well, I make no apologies for my herbaceous borders being arranged to show The Almighty where to concentrate the little amount of sunshine he saves for The North. My Church of England suspicions were confirmed when I saw that he was jumping with an organisation called the Red Devils. It was all for charity, it was explained to me. I just hope this doesn’t make people think only Anglicans are concerned about others. The Archbishop of York may have joined up with the Paras to raise money for charity but our very own pope already joined the Hitler Youth for their humanitarian work years before.

'This is all very embarassing', confessed the bishop, 'You won't tell anyone about this will you?' he asked. I smiled reassuringly. I thought I might mention it on my blog but that was the next best thing to keeping it a secret. The parachtists began arguing amongst themselves (yes, definitely Church of England) so I decided to leave them to it and quietly returned to pondering how I could break with the legacy of the downshifting memoir and reassure readers I wasn't just making it all up, sigh...

Monday, June 02, 2008

let them eat crisps

It can be so hard to find activities for the children during half term, so I gave up trying and left them at home with the au pair to go out for the evening. My husband and his ticket finding themselves at opposite ends of the M1 when the time came to go out a chance encounter with my neighbour meant that if I ran into any bears on the way I would have someone to push between them and myself. ‘But what does a northerner know about baroque composers?’ I asked after he'd offered to come with me. ‘Well’, began my neighbour by way of assuaging my doubts ‘I know what kind of washing powder they use’. ‘If you say Purcell automatic I’m going on my own’, I told him. We set off in silence after that.

It certainly was a trip down memory lane. The lady’s at the pub across the road from the venue was full of sixth formers from the school in the local market town adjusting large wigs and bustles. It was just like being back at my ladies College, sigh. ‘You must be Marie Intoilette’, I laughed as the cubicle door opened and a betrainered dauphine stepped out. I think she must have been focusing on her role too much to laugh. She wasn't very realistic anyway; When was Marie Antoinette ever seen with a Malborough Light? Its Gauloises dear; if you do this kind of thing again then do get some authenticity. To complete the whole Ancien Régime ambience there were even it seemed some sans culottes laid on to complement the courtiers from the local school. ‘They’re not very convincing peasants’, I told my neighbour. ‘They’ll be glad to hear it’, said my neighbour. ‘Evening lads’, he called across the street. There was something of an exchange across the street that could have been in 18th century french for all I understood of it although of the universal sign language of miming drinking a pint, tapping a watch and pointing back at the pub I think I got the gist.

It was a marvellous evening. For a couple of lovely hours the reality of everyday life was shut out as the spectacle unfolded. Of course we wouldn’t want to be ruled by a privileged elite with no experience of how ordinary people live and who just see the common folk as a source of taxes to fund their grand lifestyles and futile foreign adventures nowadays. Those days are long gone so thank goodness for Tony is all I can say. Evetually the music ended, the subisidy ran out and the bubble finally burst and my neighbour and I stepped out into the evening. ‘What’s that light pollution that’s stopping it getting completely dark?’ I asked. ‘That’s the sun Rilly’ he said, ‘it’s still only ten thirty’ he said, smiling. The twilight was rather kind to him, I thought, in fact the north as a whole seemed less scary when I couldn't see it quite so clearly. We wandered back to the pub to meet with my neighbour’s chums. Apparently it was my round. They do have long memories around here. ‘And five bags of porkies please’, I asked as the last pint was slopped onto the bar. ‘Sorry love, no scratchings’ said the landlord. ‘No scratchings!’ I exclaimed, ‘then let them eat crisps!’. ‘Eh?’ came the reply. ‘nothing’, I muttered dejectedly, ‘just the drinks then’, I sighed. Well, what can I say, I have been under rather a lot of pressure lately, sigh