Friday, 27 December 2013


Amongst the cornucopia that comprises our extended families we surely have more steps, halves and exes than most. Many of the reasons why we have so many steps, halves and exes happened long before my beloved and I were married and rather than chew over the ancient history of how we reached this point, I try to use the mantra 'speak as you find'. Not always easy but better than looking back at things that happened so many years ago.

Family gatherings therefore can be rather challenging and although we were married nearly thirty years ago, I can still remember the machinations and negotiations that went on to achieve an acceptable order for the receiving line at our wedding. Christmas can be challenging for the same reasons.

Christmas has occurred here for almost all of the twenty five years we have lived in this house. When the children were little I never wanted to drag them from their newly acquired and rapidly unwrapped presents to go somewhere else so we made Christmas a celebration in our own home and anyone and everyone is invited. Tradition demands that it is always the same and only a few minor changes in the dramatis personae are permitted.

Christmas dinner takes place at teatime and with most of the family already staying, we only await the arrival of my beloved's mother and stepfather for the feasting to begin. So, early on Christmas afternoon, the other granny (not the intrepid one, obviously, as she will have been in residence for days by then) and Uncle John, her husband, arrive. The terms 'uncle' and 'auntie' are used for special people in our children's lives - too special just to be called by their christian or surnames and John is certainly one of these. He is the nearest thing to a grandpa that all but my oldest can remember. Both my father and my father-in-law died in very quick succession over twenty years ago and aside from Uncle Ernest (yet again, not an uncle or relative of any kind) who used to be the gamekeeper, then gardener and then just came for coffee every Friday and who also died quite a few years ago, Uncle John is almost a grandpa to the four children.

My beloved's mother will arrive swathed from top to toe in either pink or red, frequently including a hat and always sunglasses which she wears regardless of the weather and will not be removing even though she is inside. Behind her, hovering in the doorway is John, in a supporting role as ever, and waiting in our rather cramped hall whilst granny decides what clothing she will remove. I always wait for John, take his sheepskin coat and he'll say 'Hello, love,' in the same familiar rasping drawl.

During the cracker-banging, shouting, laughing cacophony of the meal, at some point John will find his way to the kitchen, glass of red wine in hand, and offer to help. I never let him but he'll stand and chat and for a few brief moments it will feel like we are brothers in arms. We'll chat about books or tennis or, latterly, golf - things we have in common, and although we could talk about a million other things, I know that's what it will be and I will also know that, perhaps more than anyone else, he will appreciate not just the lengths we have gone to today, my beloved and I, to make a lovely Christmas celebration for them, but all the preparation that has gone on before. And that will be a special moment amongst other special moments on my Christmas Day.

I don't think he'll be here this Christmas. Nor any of the Christmases that lie ahead. But I shall remember him. His rasping drawl, his sheepskin coat and his kind words. We often wished that he would raise his voice, to stand up and be counted. But that wasn't John and his way was the quiet one. 'Bye, love.'

PostScript: I wrote this a week ago. Last night, Christmas Eve, John passed away on the stroke of midnight. We will miss his quiet thoughtfulness. A sad Christmas for us this year.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

My Best Things about Scotland

There's been a lot of media coverage about Scotland's proposed independence but no one, I am noting, seems to be asking the rest of the Brits what we think about Scotland ceasing to be a part of the Union. And some of us do have a view - well, I do anyway. Of course, I realise that I will still be able to travel there and that Scotland will not be cut adrift floating somewhere in the middle of the North Sea with its bloody umbilical chord left trailing off the coast at Berwick. But nevertheless, I like Scotland just where and how it is. So selfish it may be but, rather than treating you to why I think Alec Salmond is irritating beyond belief,  I thought I should jot down the things that make Scotland utterly great and why I, for one, would like things to stay as they are. It's a personal choice and whilst I was writing this I kept coming up with other things to include but I had to stop somewhere so, in a rather random order,  here they are.

1  Edinburgh
Without doubt, one of my most favourite cities. We have had some really epic times there from back in the day when children numbered 1 and 2 went on school lacrosse tours there each year and we supported them by partying hard after the matches with hilarious consequences, to more recent trips for my birthday (when England beat Scotland at Murrayfield) and earlier this year for a riotous 50th when a whole group of us had a brilliant time - more partying but some sightseeing too. Fabulous!

2  Holyrood Palace and Mary Queen of Scots
What a girl! Mary managed to marry three times (going some, even compared to my own family's matrimonial record) and actually married the Earl of Bothwell, the murderer of Lord Darnley, her second husband. But the best bit of all is at Holyrood Palace where there is an alarming red stain on the floor of her apartments reputed to be the site of the murder of her secretary Rizzio who was dragged away from her and stabbed 56 times! I'm sure they put red ink on the floorboards regularly to maintain the stain but it's a great one for the children!

3  Men in kilts and bagpipes
Men in kilts are a joy to womankind everywhere and my first experience of this was when I went on a camping trip to Scotland aged about sixteen with a young Christian group (hard to believe, but true). On the first night of the holiday, we were staying at a youth hostel in Edinburgh rather than under canvas. As we humped our rucksacks up to the dormitory we were told by whoever was in charge that we would be woken in the morning by a piper. We giggled and forgot all about it until the morning when we heard, at very close quarters, the sound of bagpipes. I was volunteered by the rest of the group to step out into the corridor in my jimjams where I ran head-on into a huge, red-headed, bekilted piper. Unforgettable.

4  Durness
This was on the same trip which took us to lots of different places in Scotland including Skye (which also deserves a mention). The weather was mostly dire and the tents were soaking wet with a lot of shouting 'don't touch the tent' which people inevitably did thus causing the tents to leak water onto the sleeping bags. But after a week of fairly continuous downpour we arrived in Durness on a beautiful day and there was the most stunningly beautiful beach. I've been to some good ones since then but Durness remains a highlight.

5  Murrayfield
If the English can't win the Six Nations, my heart always wants Scotland to win - even before we packed Newcastle Falcons with Scotland players. We've been twice to Murrayfield. The first time the Scots thought they stood no chance and actually England didn't even bother to turn up - or that's how it felt - and the Scots were joyously victorious. The second time, on my birthday a couple of years ago, the Scots were so confident that they were going to win that they were delightful and charming before the match and surprisingly gracious afterwards. They lost, England won and it was brilliant.

6  Scottish Lacrosse
Number1 child went to Edinburgh University and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Continuing her lacrosse career from school she played for the University and then in her final year for Scotland. She had to learn Flower of Scotland for her international debut and it was a very proud moment to see her play and lovely that my mother and brothers were there to see her too. My father would have been so proud. And yes, there is Scottish blood in the children's veins - on my beloved's side. (See Uncle Bill).

7  Chris Hoy's thighs
I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Bradley Wiggins the other day and he was charming. That is, until later in the evening when presumably he had had a few sherberts and someone thrust a microphone under his nose. At which point he was completely obscene and pretty much alienated the 600+ people in the room. Sir Chris would never have done that and he does have the most impressive thighs in the United Kingdom.

8  Sean Connery
I know everyone has their favourite Bond but mine, by a country mile, is the original. Even in the Bond film, Never Say Never Again when he wore a terrible toupee. He was once voted the Sexiest Man of the Century (in 1999) and I can't argue with that. He has a marvellous voice and is, well, gorgeous.

9  Andy Murray
Of course. The man who battled just about everyone along the way to win the Olympics, the US Open and Wimbledon including the tennis establishment, the ignorant sports media who mainly seem to know about football and wing it on most other sports and all the other doubting Thomases of middle England. He is absolutely to be applauded and if he doesn't win Sports Personality of the Year it will be a gross travesty.

10 Loch Ness Monster
Even Yorkshire (which has most other things) doesn't have a monster. I love the idea of something prehistoric and unexplained and the black waters of Loch Ness just lend credibility to the legend. Every country should have a monster but then, if they did, perhaps it wouldn't be so special.

11 Braveheart
Terrible liberties were taken with the historical facts for this William Wallace film starring the Aussie Mel Gibson (were no Scots available for the part?) but it has some great moments and the battle scenes are epic. I'm very patriotic but even I was rooting for the Scots!

12  Uncle Bill
I've written about the Uncle Bill before but the late Sheriff Bill Hook of Morningside, Edinburgh was one of the finest men I have ever known. The English translator in Colditz during the Second World War, having been captured by Rommel, he was so modest and thought that no one would be even a little bit interested in his extraordinary life. He was a wonderful gentleman. Sadly missed.

13 The Proclaimers
Own up! Who hasn't stomped their way round the dance floor to those bespectacled twins, The Proclaimers' 500 Miles, shouting tunelessly and wondering what 'haver' means? Actually I looked it up and it would appear that it doesn't mean upchucking (which is what I have always thought) and it actually means talking foolishly which makes much more sense in the context of a sort-of love song!

14 Union Flag
Now of course this isn't Scottish but if they go, the blue bits on the flag have to go too. And although I can take or leave our national anthem (something of a dirge in my view and hardly anyone knows the second verse which is much better than the first, let alone the rest) I like the Union Flag whether it's hung the right way up or not.

So here's a plan... let's all hug a Scotsman whenever we meet one between now and September 18th 2014 and show that we love and appreciate them and that we don't want them to leave. I shall be starting with Sir Chris, Sir Sean and, in due course, Sir Andy. I leave the rest to you...

Monday, 25 November 2013

Senior Moments

Last week the intrepid granny came to stay as part of her cunning plan to simplify Christmas. Now that she has sensibly stopped terrorising the other motorists on the M1 when she makes her way up to Yorkshire and lets the train take the strain instead, she is not as able to cart all the Yorkshire-bound Christmas presents up here for the annual festivities. So she decided to come up for two days of full-on, no-holds-barred Christmas shopping and wrapping. This all took place last week and after a day of shopping which started at 8.45am and finished at 3.45pm, we both needed a very large drink! And of course, the intrepid granny is up to her usual tricks, her current favourite being as follows: When she is in the sitting room watching the television, drink in hand, whilst the rest of us are variously working, cooking, doing homework, etc, she will suddenly let out an ear-piercing shriek. Cue the rest of us (though the twins have wised up now...) dashing in to check that she has not had some sort of seizure.  No, she is fine but there is someone on the television that she wishes us to see. This could be anybody from a representative of any political party other than the one she supports in which case this is followed by a torrent of abuse which would make a sailor blush (the Scottish Nationalists are at the top of her current hit list). Alternatively it could be any member of the Warwickshire or England cricket teams in which case she would merely like us to stand back and admire.

I was, however, more drawn by another group of people older than me (yes, such a thing does exist though in increasingly smaller numbers as time marches on). Our lane is part of a popular walk for ramblers and there was a large posse of silver ramblers complete with backpacks, matching anoraks (husband and wife models), dogs and sticks on our lane the other day. When I buzzed up to the village in the little car to collect number 4 from the bus, they all stood obligingly in the hedge whilst I made my way past. Five minutes later they were clearly less thrilled to be doing the same thing again but I had now collected number 4 and we were heading home. The following morning when I walked the dogs, there was a good scattering of litter on the lane and with some irritation I picked it up and stuffed it in my pocket. Now I usually associate litter with a) teenagers, b) white van men and c) townies but I don't think any of the above eat egg and cress sandwiches from a well-known and rather upmarket supermarket. Take your litter home, old folks!

And finally, I received a belter of an email from an old (in the sense that we have known each other a long time and he is a little, but only a little, older than me) chum and as it is a true story, it deserves (permission granted by my chum) to be included here. I have taken the liberty of editing the original a little but it arrived under the heading 'Drugs Bust in Newton Kyme?'

This is the story:

  • After 2 hours of tennis this lunchtime I returned from Leeds and parked my car in the public carpark in the centre of Boston Spa to do some shopping.
  • I went to the convenience store first, returned to my car and put the items in the boot.
  • Then I went to the hardware store, returned to my car and put the items in the boot and then got into the car and drove out of the carpark.
  • Immediately I realised that I'd forgotten to go the chemist for some nasal spray. Luckily there was a space on the High Street just 50 yards away from where I had originally parked, so I pulled in and dashed into the chemists.
  • I bought the spray and had a laugh with the assistant who said it was the Isotonic version and she joked that I'd better be extra careful!
  • Laughing I went back to the central carpark and, of course, no car!!!  Jeez, I thought what do I do? I'd left my mobile in the car.
  • I returned to the hardware store and used their phone to dial 999.
  • The operator brought up all my details in an instant, almost including my inside leg measurement! He said there would be someone there very shortly.
  • I returned to the carpark and was wondering did I forget to lock it etc? Then I thought I'd better go onto the High Street to await the police.
  • Then I immediately saw my car parked where I'd left it, opposite the chemists!  I saw blue lights and two cop cars pulled up, jamming the High Street.
  • After I had explained, the cops said they'd cancel the alert and I was free to go. As I drove the 2 miles back to Newton Kyme I was reflecting on what a plonker I had been!
  • However just as I turned off the main road there were two further cop cars waiting in a side road and immediately they raced towards me, boxing me in!
  • Then a further (unmarked) police car arrived within seconds and boxed me in good and proper! Three cop cars in Newton Kyme. Is this a world record?
  • One of the cops reached in and removed the ignition key just in case I had ideas of ramming the front car and making a break for it!
  • I have to say they were all very courteous. I had to produce my photocard driving licence and insurance etc and they let me go. They were absolutely marvelous. They didn't heave me out and spreadeagle me across the cars like they do on American movies.
  • Anybody driving by must have thought it was a serious drugs bust!
I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed that my friend wasn't spreadeagled over the bonnet but I can only say, there but for the grace of God go us all! Thanks for sharing! 

I couldn't find a suitable photograph so here's number 3 playing tennis with a wooden racquet that might well be as old as some of the characters featured above!

Monday, 11 November 2013

A tale of two black ties

About a month ago, this last weekend was designated as two early nights, a whole heap of gardening and some Strictly-watching, fire-hugging inaction. What it turned out to be was rather different...

It's not often that I find myself at two black tie events in the same weekend. It is much more likely to be two black tie events a year now that we have grown up (or at least grown more sedate) from our madly social thirties and forties. However, the truth is that twice this weekend, I put on my posh frock (not the same one, obviously) and killer heels for charity. But the two events were so hugely contrasting that I thought I should share. You never know, you might have been at one of them, but I think I can confidently say that I was the only person at both!

Friday night's formal event was held by, not for, Dementia Forward, the charity which I, as part of Acorn, am proud to support. The guest list was made up of Dementia Forward staff, volunteers and supporters - put me in the latter category - and clients and their husbands, wives and carers. It was a glorious celebration of two things. The first was the incredible achievement of winning the National Nursing Times award for Mental Health Care. This had been presented at Grosvenor House in London earlier in the week and is a great achievement for the team. They had rebelled against the one-size-fits-all approach to dementia, set up in their own right, taken a huge risk and made their service more client-centric that anything else on offer. And the Nursing Times rightly gave them the plaudits they so greatly deserve and held it up as an example to others. Brilliant!

The second excitement of the evening was in the guise of a premiere for a short film made by Dementia Forward and starring not just the workers and volunteers but also those lovely individuals and couples who are so easily written off and written out of the script of life. The film was incredibly moving and featured a screen kiss from the lovely Mack and Freda who are such keen participants in all that Dementia Forward offers. Their love and their life together are a testament to all of those affected by dementia. This was followed by an Oscars ceremony presented by my dear friend Patrick Dunlop of Strayfm who has magnificently helped us raise the profile of dementia in the area and did a stirling job of presenting the awards and kissing just about everybody who won!

All I can say is that every time I attend an event with Dementia Forward, whether it's Singing for Fun, one of the regular luncheons or last Friday's dinner, the room is so full of good feeling that I can float home on the memory of the courage, determination and selfless love of the people involved. If ever you're feeling sorry for yourself, go along and sing at Christ Church on a Thursday morning with the Dementia Forward group and I guarantee you'll feel better.

A mere twenty four hours later and I'm in the other dress and killer heels to attend the Firecracker Ball with my beloved. I suspect we may have been late replacements but we were happy to go and party on down. The Firecracker is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Barnardo's and they aim to raise over £100,000 so it was a seriously all-singing, all-dancing event from Bangla drummers and dancers, the biggest, sparkliest marquee I've ever been in and a really top band - Ali Campbell from UB40 no less. For me, however, the two highlights of the night were meeting the South Yorkshire Police Inspector who spoke bravely about child sexual exploitation in his area and was the main speaker at the Ball. He has an incredibly tough job to do and the press have rightly lambasted the Police for not tackling child grooming in the past. But it sounds like real progress is being made at last.

The second highlight was having my photograph taken with Bradley Wiggins - just before his minders put a stop to people coming up with exactly the same ridiculous request as me. Apparently he was there as a private guest. Top tip, Sir Bradders: if you don't want people to spot you at these events (and I was very polite when I asked for a photograph as you can imagine), then don't wear a grey pinstripe suit to a black tie dinner. My beloved pointed out that I was much braver about going up to Wiggo than I was when we were at a similar event a few years ago when Jonny Wilkinson was there. Simple explanation coming up: Wiggo is a man who wears lycra and cycles very, very fast. Jonny Wilkinson is a god. That is all.

So I'm posh-frocked out at the moment and looking forward to a quiet weekend where my most glamorous function is going to see my son play his trumpet in a concert in Harrogate. And that's enough for me.
Sir Bradley Wiggins with the only woman in the room without a spray tan or botox!

Postscript: Talking of trumpet-playing, number 3 played The Last Post at our village Remembrance Sunday service yet again. And I never cease to be moved to tears by it all. I now know there were just 52 villages in Great Britain where no lives were lost in World War 1. Ours was not amongst those 'Thankful Villages' as they are known and the death toll in our little village ran to double figures in that war. We rightly and respectfully remember them.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Waiting for the third thing

The rule of three or omne trium perfectum as it is correctly known is the phenomenon of things happening in threes and when two things have happened in this house I am always waiting for the third. It is no coincidence that my unpublished novel (yes, still trying to find an agent) is called The Rule of Three as this is a truth that holds good in our lives - for good or ill.

This week has been something of a minor disaster-fest at the little house on the prairie and things started unravelling on Wednesday. It was early evening and having cleared away the supper and restored order in the kitchen, I was lighting the fire in the sitting room accompanied by the junior dog who whines until the fire is lit and she can settle at my feet next to the pile of newspapers (I'm usually still working my way through the previous Saturday and Sunday papers until midweek). Amidst the crackling of the fire and noises from various televisions, a faint 'help' was audible - just. I assumed the sound had originated from one of the screens - wrongly as it turned out. Returning the coal bucket to the boiler room I encountered my beloved covered in debris. He had been sitting on the throne in the downstairs loo with his laptop on his knee when the ceiling collapsed on him! By way of explanation, about a month ago, we had a leak under the bath (directly above the aforementioned loo) which was fixed by our lovely plumber, Steve (of whom more later). He did say at the time that the waste pipe had been leaking for some time and things were fairly wet under the bath. We hoped that things would dry out in a satisfactory manner. They didn't - and the loo ceiling had disintegrated all over my beloved and the floor of the loo. A major clear-up was called for in the short term and a subsequent call to the insurance company.

Whilst all this domestic stuff was occurring, number 1 child has been in Los Angeles touting her acting skills around the film and television industry capital of the world - hopefully, with some success, and if things come to fruition no doubt it will be blogged about. Anyway the plan was for her to have the last two days of her three week trip to the States in San Francisco, staying in a nice hotel courtesy of her parents and having a look round that most unique cosmopolitan city. Due to fly out of LAX on Friday morning, or Friday evening UK time, to San Francisco before heading back to London on Sunday, all had been going well. Meanwhile on Friday evening we were in a pub (now there's a shock) with friends when my beloved's phone rang. It was number 1 asking us if we had heard the news of the gunman at LAX and that the airport had been evacuated. She was safe, of course, and luckily had somewhere to stay courtesy of the brother of my schoolfriend Genevieve who has been absolutely brilliant. But all domestic flights had been cancelled and she was not going to make it to San Francisco in the next twenty four hours. Cue my beloved re-organising hotels and flights because number 1 struggles with the phone and that makes life difficult over long distances.

Two disasters down and I am on the alert for the third. On Saturday morning I check the tyres and gears on my bike extra thoroughly before heading out - just in case. My beloved goes off with various weapons to go shooting (he always looks lovely when he's going out to kill things ... ) and I hope he's going to come back unscathed. Then England beat Australia and I think we're going to be ok. Maybe this time no third thing.

It's now twenty four hours after the airport crisis and we are still wrestling with the flights/accommodation issues in another continent because the domestic terminal is still closed. My beloved is cooking dinner whilst skypeing with number 1 and I am sorting out the fire with the whining dog and looking forward to Strictly. Then from the kitchen a yell of something much worse than the 'help' of earlier in the week. I dash through to find my beloved soaked to the skin doing the equivalent of 'Dutch boy with finger in the dyke' under the sink with a lot less success. The cold pipe (direct from the mains) has perished and our stopcock is almost impossible to turn. There is cold water rushing out all over the kitchen floor at considerable pressure. Cue child 3, my beloved and me with buckets and towels trying to stem the flow whilst we try to get hold of the lovely plumber again.

To cut a very long story short, we left a message on his mobile but that got no response and eventually I tracked his address down on the internet as he had once applied for planning permission (what a marvellous tool the internet is in a crisis - so much for anonymity!). I drove up the village, banged on his door, rang the bell and finished up hammering on the window in a way that might have been scary had it still been Halloween, before his daughter who rushes about on a tennis court with me in the summer came to the window. Because he is a very kind chap, he came out in the pouring rain and saved our bacon - well, our kitchen anyway and it no longer resembles a swimming pool.

Child 1 is on her way to San Francisco though she won't get further than the airport as she flies home from there without the time to explore the city and we have the number for a builder who might be able to repair the ceiling in the downstairs loo.

Deny the power of omne trium perfectum at your own risk!
Looking gorgeous when going out to kill things. He looked slightly less gorgeous when soaked in the kitchen later!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Windmills of your Mind

A small scrap of sadness this week. The death of Noel Harrison. The son of the actor, Rex Harrison who so brilliantly talked his way through the songs in the film of the musical My Fair Lady as Professor Higgins, Noel Harrison is otherwise only known to me as the singer of the Oscar-winning theme of The Thomas Crown Affair, Windmills of your Mind. Surprisingly, since I was only 12 at the time, I bought the single of Windmills of your Mind and its poignant lyrics still resonate with me now.

It seems an appropriate song for this time of year as autumn tends to have a less than uplifting effect on my own mental windmills and there seem to be a lot of endings and departings just now. Not that I didn't love the celebration of autumn colours on our last weekend trip to the Lakes to Low Graythwaite Hall with our village chums. The trees were definitely dressed in their stunning autumn best and the roaring evening fire that greeted us on arrival was perfectly in tune with the mood. After a massive and delicious feed, charades were next on the menu and no-one present is going to forget the singing dancing doctor's mime of The Pelican Brief for a long time! The following morning, segway (again!) and a picturesque walk round a rather small lake followed by a very big lunch was the order of the day before returning home to a surprisingly tidy house and two tired children, one of whom had had two very chilly nights under canvas. No, we didn't chuck him out, it was part of his A level PE.

On Tuesday we said farewell to a lovely man, Charlie Clayton, who had been in our outer circle of friends for more years than I care to recall and with whom I had also had the pleasure of working. He was just one year older than me and his funeral was a testament to his fun-filled, friend-packed, all-too-short life. He was a kind and generous man and if ever a funeral reflected this, his did in spades.

It's a sign of the season too when southern friends start dropping in to stay on their way to shoot in the North. However late at night the last glass of red is consumed, the following morning they are up early and dressed in their shooting breeks ready to be off and away to kill things. As long as they don't want me to join in, it's fine by me.

And then, my beloved's younger brother, with whom we have shared many holidays and so much fun, arrived on Friday. He is having a mid-life gap year and setting off this week to Austria to be a ski instructor for a season. His parents (MIL and my beloved's step-father) live nearby and they came for a slap-up tea, allowing me to indulge in some post-Great British Bake Off cake and scone-making and I am rather proud of my made-it-up-as-I-went-along blackberry and apple muffins. Less proud, of course, of my scones which I could have rebranded as fat biscuits!

Over breakfast this morning, we suggested to BIL (brother in law) that he adopt a different persona for every week of his sojourn as a ski instructor on the basis that he will be teaching a completely new group each time. We hope he will start with his own take on Leslie Phillips ("Ding Dong") as he has already mastered the voice. He seemed less keen on blacking up for a week even though my beloved offered him one of his many shades of make-up to take with him. Apparently, even Sri Lankan tones didn't appeal.

So, as I write, the autumn leaves are being ripped off the trees by Hurricane Jude and the last of the apples will no doubt be strewn across the lawn by the time we get back from watching Newcastle Falcons play London Irish at Kingston Park with our friend Declan O'Kidney this afternoon. Definitely time to batten down the hatches and prepare for winter.

If you'd like to listen to Noel Harrison, forever dressed in a polo neck sweater, which is how I remember him, here's the link:

Postscript: Between the writing of my blog and finally getting it out in the ether, another of my musical heroes, Lou Reed, has also passed away. Walk on the Wild Side was one of the anthems of my sixteen year old self, and had my parents been able to discern the lyrics they would, I am sure, not have allowed me to play it at such volume. "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side..."

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

What Grannies get up to!

I don't know what the collective noun for grannies is but I'm working on it because we seem to have had a very granny-filled few days up here.

The intrepid granny arrived on Thursday and when she is about to join us for four days, or four weeks, I know I need to be well-rested and physically at my peak because grannies can be exhausting! TIG (the intrepid granny) arrived by train on Thursday lunchtime and before we had left the environs of York, we had to stop at the garden centre. Granny on a mission! Actually, TIG is especially good at doing all my pots and troughs in the garden so off we go round the garden centre picking up bargains of the plant and bulb variety using her special club membership - grannies certainly have an eye for a good deal! So car packed with suitcase, heather, pansies and bulbs we head back to the little house on the prairie for what was an action-packed and exhausting few days.

Thursday evening was the gala event for the Harrogate Antiques Fair and as each year, Acorn (my charity, in the membership sense) is the Fair's nominated charity, I had to head into town in the early evening appropriately dressed in my LBD for some hostessing/raffle ticket-selling action. My beloved and number 2 child brought TIG along for some wine-quaffing and general browsing later in the evening and she met up with a posse (there's the collective noun, now I come to think of it) of other grannies. A family dinner later and we're back home because we need to pace ourselves for the action ahead!

Friday morning and we're out early because granny, having threatened but not actually made any major purchases at the Antiques Fair the night before, needs retail therapy so a little light shopping in Harrogate was in order. We had to get back in plenty of time because she was being collected for some granny bridge which she and the granny posse of the night before had planned. I'm sure she said she'd be back in a couple of hours but nearly four hours later, and rather giddy, she returned. She absolutely assured me that no wine had been consumed (the jury is still out on this one) but she had acquired all sorts of village gossip (my village, not her's) that I didn't know. Aah, well, that's grannies for you - always in the know.

On Saturday morning, I headed up to the village courts for some social tennis and TIG said she would walk (about a mile and a half) up to meet me. She arrived, impressing my friends with her energy at walking from home. Actually, my beloved had given her lift to the end of the lane but we didn't let on! So wrapped in everyone's sweatshirts like a cricket umpire she watched the tennis, dodging the odd ball and refusing to be ball girl.

After lunch, I thought I might have forty winks on the settee as we were due to go out on Saturday night and I thought a pre-nap might be in order. Apparently TIG didn't notice me on the settee and bellowed at me at very short range to help her with the gardening. So much for a nap. She said something like ... I was wearing the same colours as the settee so she didn't notice me there ... but I think she was just cracking the whip really.

On Sunday morning, after a bit of personal-statement-for-university stuff with number 3, I'm back to the Antiques Fair for my three hour shift with number 2 child. More raffle ticket selling and then just as we are getting to the end, along comes TIG. She's checking out a few more jewellers and antique dealers before we go off for lunch at Betty's at Harlow Carr and a nice long walk round the gardens. No rest for the wicked then. So finally back home and as I glance at my facebook page, I see a video of another granny doing Gangnam Style along with her family on Saturday night.

How do they do it? I can barely keep up. Whatever they're on, we definitely need to be taking it.

Three generations and my mum (TIG) looking particularly fab!

The intrepid granny at Harlow Carr, refereeing the boxing hares.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Stop the Clocks

If anyone had said to the teenage or twenty-something me that my happiest times would be in my forties and fifties, I don't think I would have believed them. And yet, here we are with a lovely family and everyone - including the intrepid granny - happy, fit and well. Which is precisely why I would like to stop the clocks now.

The intrepid granny is busy most weeks whacking a golf ball round eighteen holes, watching cricket, and now learning to play bowls - good effort, granny! - and the children are all variously doing well. The older two have been indulging and continue to indulge in a spot of globe-trotting: one to Vietnam and the other to Dubai, Singapore and shortly to LA where she will be touting her acting skills round the casting directors and producers in the television and film capital of the world. The other two are in their last year at school and already we are doing school things for the very last time.

The last time... it feels so final and whereas they may be ready to fly the nest like the swallows who practised lining up on the telephone wires all last week and now have set sail for warmer climes, I am most definitely not ready. Years of love and attention, hoping to make them independent and strong, helping them learn their spellings and table manners, throwing and hitting balls, teaching them games, listening to them practise a whole orchestra of musical instruments, washing, cooking and yet more washing. The results of all this will, A-levels permitting, be lavished on strangers and new friends hundreds of miles away this time next year. Am I taking this on the chin? Well, no, not really.

Last week, when my now-upper sixers donned their uniforms for their last September at school, they grudgingly allowed me to take their photograph - and jolly grumpy they looked too. I can't expect them to understand that for the last twenty three years I have been ironing school uniform, checking that they and their siblings have all the right kit for the school day ahead and then attempting to muck out (in almost the equine sense) their messy bedrooms, before starting work. My whole day has been timed around their return and the range of activities we have packed into their out of school hours. Now all that is just a year from ending.

The other reason for stopping the clocks is that I am one of those people who loves, loves, loves spring and summer and finds the whole hideous lack-of-light, necessity of wearing socks because my feet get cold when I'm sitting at my desk and the dire need to switch the central heating on in autumn and winter really disheartening. I refuse to say 'depressing' because, when I have my more rational head on, I know that there are lots of good things to look forward to in the coming months. We have a great weekend lined up at Low Graythwaite Hall in the Lake District - yes, again!, a fiftieth (we have such young friends - ha!) and a whole load of parties, concerts and dinners and then Christmas. We are, we know, very lucky.

So stop the clocks please because it's all fine just now and I want it to stay that way.

Postscript: Just a few things in case you wondered... I am very much enjoying Bake Off and had the good fortune to meet the delightful John Whaite, last year's winner, during the summer and very lovely he was too. I met Michael Palin and Richard and Judy too but that just sounds like name-dropping!  My utterly brilliant golf team, Mrs Barr's Boys won the Acorn Golf Day - presumably as a result of my inspirational pre-round team talk! Also the current population of the little house on the prairie is, for the first time since early August, two adults, two teenagers and two dogs - exactly as it should be.
 'Must you take our photograph every September?'

The very lovely John Whaite - winner of last year's Bake Off.

Me and my boys in our tasteful matching polo shirts!

Friday, 23 August 2013

All's well that ends well...almost

Unlike last summer's magnificent family holiday, this summer's offering has been a series of short breaks and escapes involving various permutations of the dramatis personae of the little house on the prairie. There was the wedding in Saint Tropez which I refuse to count as a holiday because almost every moment was spoken for even before my beloved and I took off from Leeds Bradford airport. Then there was my important supportive role as companion to the lovely Louise in Portugal - well obviously, it would have been rude not to.

More recently, there was the fabulous five-day break with the singing dancing doctors and Skip and Mrs Broccoli in Majorca which number 3 and I were lucky enough to join. And then as soon as we got back, number 4 went on her coming-of-age girls-only holiday also to Majorca which was most ably supported by the singing dancing doctors who were on hand to offer air-conditioned accommodation respite (their hotel did not have it and it was 40+ degrees) and fried egg sandwiches as required. And while number 4 was gadding round the nightlife in Alcudia, my beloved went off in the van to support the fantastic Neil Jones and friends who ran - yes, ran - from Leeds to London to raise money for Cancer Research. An utterly brilliant effort and I am in awe of their achievement.

Then just a day or two with everyone - my beloved, moi, 3 and 4 plus various houseguests - before I skidoodled off to the intrepid granny's which provided a handy base for looking at universities with 3 and 4. In case you're interested ... liked Nottingham, wowed by Bath and quite liked Oxford Brookes though not for sport. We also managed to include in our three-day, all-action trip lunch with my oldest, dearest childhood chum, Alps, who has a fabby restaurant in Bath - The Circus - do go if you're ever down that way! Also met up with brother 3 and his two daughters so a bit of cousin-bonding going on, and a trip to the RSC to see All's Well that Ends Well which might almost have summed up AS level results day on Thursday. Almost...

So the beloved and I have been like the proverbial ships in the night so a brief escape was definitely in order. This took the form of a two-day break at the fabulous Low Graythwaite Hall in the Lake District, b&b and home to Basil and Sybil (or David and Manda, as they are more correctly known). David and Manda moved there some three or so years ago, leaving Harrogate and jobs behind, to try their hand at b&b-ing and very good they are at it too. So two days of walking, eating, resting, segwaying and playing games with the aforementioned plus other dear friends, Wheezy and Ebabe, before we returned home to 3 and 4, plus one lodger and now the arrival of Milton - the doggy equivalent of the late, great Tommy Cooper - who is with us for three weeks whilst his owners, number 2 child plus partner, loll about in Vietnam.

So now from this constantly transient house, I have packed number 4 off to Leeds Festival to do some music appreciation combined with camping too hideous for anyone over 30 to contemplate. She went with roughly the same set of don'ts from me as her recent holiday in Majorca - except that possibly the ones about drinking on balconies and not going jetskiing were probably unnecessary! So we are down to three residents, one lodger and three dogs. For now...

The fabulous Circus restaurant in Bath with chef Ali, my gorgeous godson Kips, manager Geoff and me and the intrepid granny!

Yes we can segway! Top fun in the Lake District with Ebabe and Wheezy.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Don't let me go in the Karaoke Bar!

After our brilliant trains, planes and automobiles holiday touring USA last year, the original plan (in as much as anything gets planned in this house) was to return to Portugal this summer with our rather extended family. However, my beloved is too busy with work commitments to factor in any kind of holiday at all, so, holiday-wise things were not looking too promising a few weeks ago.

Then number 4 child decided to go on her coming-of-age holiday with two of her girlfriends to Majorca. Swallowing hard and trying to put all my motherly anxieties to one side, we agreed and currently she is larging it in Alcudia but in receipt of a whole list of instructions from moi: no piercings, no tattoos, no sex, no returning to your drink, no balconies, no jetskis and so on. Or, as one friend put it,  I have just provided her with the complete bucket list!

That left number 3 with no holiday on the cards until fabulous friends, the singing dancing doctors and Skip and Mrs Broccoli asked us to join them in Majorca. These two families holiday together in almost adjacent villas in the hills above Puerto Pollensa and their three sons are amongst number 3's best mates and, despite the lack of comedic presence of my beloved and the gorgeousness of number 4, they still wanted us to come. And well, it would have been rude not to. Or that's my excuse!

So we have just returned from five fantastic days of lying by the pool, eating and drinking (the latter almost to excess but it wouldn't be a holiday otherwise), swimming, cycling and, unfortunately, singing. The cycling was delightfully downhill from the villas which stand a few hundred feet above the resort and made freewheeling down pleasurable but potholey! Of course, the return trip was always a hard slog uphill with extensive use of the lower gears and was, in my case, pitifully slow.

The big night out (and there is always a big night out, isn't there?) was spent in Puerto Pollensa starting with cocktails at the Lemon Bar. I know it's girly but I like a pina colada and I generally manage not to sing the utterly terrible lyrics of what must be one of the cheesiest songs ever written. Then on to Stay, a really lovely quayside restaurant where fourteen of us enjoyed the all-inclusive menu, working our way through starters, amuse-bouches (no idea how you make that plural but that's my best attempt), main courses, puddings, wine and liqueurs. Now it's an interesting thing but I used to think that it was cointreau that gave me a terrible hangover but actually, older and wiser now, I know if I have had so much to drink that I order a cointreau, the damage is already done!

Then off for beers (sensible head on at this point) before being dragged into the karaoke bar. How did this happen? I can't sing but somehow I appear to be reprising a rendition of 9-5 which I swore I would never sing again (fortunately not alone on either occasion). And then somebody (you know who you are but I would hate to blight a promising career in accountancy by naming names...!) insisted we had jagerbombs. Where is my self-control at this point? Anyway, then Skip decided that we would sing Friday I'm in Love by The Cure which I only ever think I know the words to when I am properly sloshed.

Back at the villa, having refused to race a fellow resident up the hill (with high heels, handbag etc - not a good plan) I went to bed thinking a very bad hangover was heading my way. But I am older (a lot) and wiser (a bit) so in the middle of the night I went down to the kitchen and consumed the entire non-alcoholic liquid contents of the fridge door and consequently felt unreasonably and undeservedly well the next day.

Then there were cycle visits to old Alcudia (lovely, narrow streets with pretty bars) and Pollensa - ditto but with a big hill and a church on the top to which, yes, we climbed. And a boat trip to Formentor to the beach which was lovely. And then sadly it was time to return to Yorkshire.

But the other thing about our holidays, apart from the big night out, is that there is always a slightly competitive element. So not managing the famous beach pyramid of Portugal trips, we did attempt to get twelve in a dinghy and here is the picture to prove it.

Big thank you to Skip and Mrs Broccoli for feeding and nurturing number 3 who says that I am no longer his mother (Mrs Broccoli is apparently) and merely a random woman and especially to the singing dancing doctors, and their boys who gamely shared a bathroom with me and never left the towels on the floor once! Thank you so, so much.

The boys - who managed to stay out way later than their parents!

Finally: My beloved is currently driving the support vehicle for Run2London, the 250+ mile run from Leeds to London by Neil Jones, Chris Lawrence and Alan Copp for Cancer Research UK. This is an amazingly brave and no doubt painful challenge for these three guys and they are hoping to raise a fantastic £50,000. If you would like to help them, here's the link:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cricket Tea and Scones

I have just had a look at a blog I wrote in 2011 about Feast - the big bash which takes place in our village each year the first-ish Saturday in July. What I enjoyed reading about the 2011 weekend of fancy dress, pipe band, sports and fairground attractions was the reassurance that some things stay blissfully just the same.

We've lived on the outskirts of this very sociable village for over 25 years now and one of the things we love is the summer (especially when the weather decides to play ball as it is currently) when the village becomes the hub of all sorts of social and sporting activities. Sometimes it feels as if we haven't staggered further than the sports field or the pubs or the homes of our gorgeous neighbours for weekends on end! Once we've had the May Day weekend with the schoolchildren dancing round the maypole and the most unlikely scarecrows gracing village gardens, summer seems to speed on apace towards Feast, the Fun Run (never done it and never likely to), tennis tournaments and the Burty Cup. And the same good friends as well as folks that we hardly see during the miserable winters of recent years all come out to enjoy the fun. We look in amazement that the children seem to have grown at least six inches taller over the winter and the youngsters who competed in the fancy dress of yesteryear are now enjoying their first experience of the late-night dodgems at Feast as carefree teenagers (possibly with a certain amount of under-age alcohol on board!)

This year's Feast was no exception or rather, it was, in my world. I had forgotten my responsibility as washer-upper at village tea when I agreed to do 2nd team tea on Feast day. Actually what I had done was exchange one afternoon of washing up and waiting on for the same thing about 100 yards away in the cricket pavilion rather than the village hall. The requirements for cricket tea appear to be as follows: four loaves of sandwiches, four cakes and 'please can you make scones with cream and jam?', quiches, cocktail sausages, crisps etc served, of course, with lashings of tea and squash - not in the same cups. All of the above was cooked the day before apart from the sandwiches which were buttered and filled whilst the British (well, mostly Welsh) Lions whupped Australia.

So twenty two hungry men fed and a quick change later, we were in the pub for supper whilst our teenagers did exactly as their older siblings before them - enjoyed the fair, joyfully made themselves feel sick on The Edge and made the most of the freedom of unsupervised fun whilst occasionally returning to their parents for more cash. We enjoyed supper in the pub before the braver amongst us were strapped into seats on The Edge or did some rather aggressive driving on the dodgems.

One week later and it's the full-on weekend of tennis tournaments starting with the juniors on Saturday who hurtle about the court with great enthusiasm and, in some cases, considerable skill, with the very serious shaking of hands across the net at the end of every match and a prize-giving and bbq to follow. Then on Sunday it was the adults' turn, except that some of our juniors are now so good that we have promoted them to play in the adult event as well. After three hours of mixed (sometimes very!) doubles, we had two pairs ready to battle it out in the final. And battle they did - it took a tie-break to conclude matters with Mrs Broccoli and the singing dancing doctors' son coming out on top.

Half an hour and a shower later (of the bathroom variety) and we reconvened at Mr and Mrs Bonjour's house for a splendid bbq cooked by chaps who all mysteriously turned up in blue shirts (why?) and the children who ranged from five to eighteen played rounders all together with great spirit - partly perhaps because of the number of beers they had consumed and, for clarity's sake, I refer here only to the teenagers.

So one more summer weekend gone, packed with memories to be stored up and revisited in the long, cold winter months. One more weekend to go before the holidays proper start but the highlight of that will no doubt be the Burty Cup - a limited over, 6-player cricket event named for the late, lovely Neil Burtwhistle who was so encouraging to number 3 child when he first started playing adult cricket. And yes, I'm baking again!

Why would you ever want to live anywhere else?

The boys in blue!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Living the Life of Riley at Villa 775

I am not ashamed to admit I have been living the life of Riley for the last few weeks. First, we went to the all-singing, all-dancing wedding in Saint Tropez - as if we do that kind of thing all the time! Then we took number 2 and her partner to London for the first day of Queen's to watch plucky Brits do what plucky Brits do best at tennis (apart from Murray obviously) and factored in a glass of wine or three on the 32nd floor of the Shard and dinner with number 1 and her partner at Malmaison along the way. Then last week, I skipped off to the Algarve to have a sneaky four days in the sun with my dear friend and Acorn supremo, Louise.

Villa 775 has been the backdrop for a number of hilarious girly tennis trips over the years but sadly those came to an end when it became apparent that I am the only one who still plays tennis. Anyway, fabulous memories of Umpa Lumpa dancing at Maria's, far too much 'drink it, it's only fruit cup' Sangria/Pimms and laughing at, and with, Alex and Rosie until I wept. So when I got the text from Louise inviting me to join her for a few days 'chillax', as the Barnsley lodger would say, I negotiated a pass-out from my beloved, numbers 3 and 4 (cries of "you're going on holiday again!") and the intrepid granny who was swanning off to Ibiza herself and the Jet2/Ryanair bookings were made tout suite.

Arriving at Leeds Bradford early on Sunday morning, there was a large group of tattooed men in matching t-shirts already drinking at the bar. Thinking: 'I hope Deano's stag weekend is somewhere other than Portugal', I checked in and, boarding the plane, was delighted to see that nobody was sitting in my row or on the other side of the aisle, nor indeed in either the row in front or behind. Marvellous, I thought. And then Deano's stag party boarded... next to me, in front and behind. Just me and eighteen jolly stags. Actually they were very polite and once we had established that I was not the stripper, they offered me champagne (too early) and only held my hand on take off and landing - because they were nervous, rather than me!

Met at the airport by the lovely Richard, the only difficulty we encountered was getting out of the car park. The barrier had broken and was being manually operated by a befuddled fellow who, at one point, was the recipient of some serious advice delivered by an enraged Richard who felt we had queued for long enough and stormed out of the car and gave the chap a proper talking-to (think Percy Sugden in Coronation Street if you get my drift).

Back at the villa, we waved off Stephen, Helen and Richard back to sunny Yorkshire and settled down to some serious relaxation. Louise admitted to having done virtually no exercise during her first week's sojourn, but, because I am a bit of an exercise-junkie, all that was about to change. Day 2 and we set off to sort out the bikes. No hire car so bikes and feet were our only means of transport. Having walked most of the way round the resort and organised bikes, I was then ready to organise a little light tennis. "I am digging my heels in!" said Louise as we walked past the Praca. Apparently only so much actual exercise can be done without stopping for milk shakes/pancakes/pina coladas - though not all at once!

The bikes were delivered by the delightful Riccardo (obviously the Portuguese equivalent of the recently departed - in the airborne sense - Richard) who was very proud to tell us that one of the two bikes (I suspect he says this to everyone) was used by Jason Isaacs - cue production of the autograph of Jason Isaacs alias Lucius Malfoy. He also gave us an excellent cycle route which took us through glitzy Quinta Do Lago, which has grown enormously over the last few years, and on to a nature reserve track which finishes at the end of the runway at Faro. Nearly three hours of cycling done and yes, it's milkshake time!

We also did a more challenging - hill and traffic-wise - cycle to the beach at Quartiera where my companion had previously road-tested the best chicken and chips in the area and we managed to sleep off our Sangria on the beach before wobbling back to Val do Lobo for pancakes and pina coladas (more of "I'm digging my heels in!" from Louise).

The highlights were definitely two meals at Maria's on the beach which has been transformed brilliantly and has changed hands for the better. We were looked after on both occasions by Matthew - there'll be a Portuguese spelling of that, but Lord knows what it is - and we managed to walk off our squid and wine on the way back to 775.

There was, of course, a brief trot round a tennis court but the Tennis Centre was very quiet and is definitely in need of rejuvenation. Shame though. It is definitely a case of faded glory now.

So a thoroughly relaxing few days in the sunny Algarve and back to reality and rather a lot of work over the next few weeks. Louise and Meme (and Richard, of course) - thank you!
 Here we are at the end of the runway...
 Louise definitely dug her heels in about sharing her banoffee pie!
And this is what those bad boys got up to whilst we were away - beer with champagne chasers at The Who concert with Skip and Mrs Broccoli!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Saint Tropez - Yeah Baby!

I freely admit to having been a bit 'bah humbug' in the weeks approaching our recent trip to Saint Tropez. I've lived most of my life in Yorkshire and strongly suspected that we (my beloved and I) were about to visit the Rip-Off capital of Europe. As I said, I have lived in Yorkshire for too long not to expect something approaching VFM (Value for Money) in all things - a concept as foreign to Saint Tropez as Yorkshire pudding.

We had been invited to attend a wedding celebration in Saint Tropez with an itinerary of events across the weekend, so we set off on Friday from Leeds Bradford, an airport joyously rejuvenated to make it look even more like a motorway service area than ever and about as comfortable. The plane had a goodly number of wedding guests plus two couples who were not connected to the wedding but were old friends of ours so once we were airborne, I was allowed to nap whilst my beloved 'worked' the plane - something which probably irritated the air hostesses no end but left me happily in snooze mode nearly to Nice. Once safely in our hire car, we sped towards Saint Tropez using the sat nav on the phone rather than the one in the car which wished to address us in German. Of course, my beloved can only follow instructions for so long before going off-piste which he did, ignoring directions as usual but we did, nevertheless, get to our hotel in plenty of time.

The hotel was a fine example of a good idea taken to extremes. Called The Kube, everything was cuboid - right down to the loo seat which did not make for a comfortable ride and therefore did not impress my beloved. The famous Ice Bar wasn't there - presumably melted, unlike my croque monsieur which was the temperature of ice cream in the middle and hot on the outside. But otherwise, it had a couple of very beautiful (though cold) pools and somewhere to lie in the sun so it fitted the bill. Actually it didn't fit a bill that any Yorkshireman expects to pay because just parking the hire car in the hotel car park was 40 euros a day - ouch!

With our friends who were staying in the hotel with us, we made our way into town for the Friday night drinks event with the bride and groom and very nice it was too. And then, we headed off into the centre of Saint Tropez to find somewhere to eat. We can never resist a place named after us so Beaux Arts or BA BA (I know, it's a stretch) as it was signed outside seemed the right choice and we made our way past the bouncers into a very chic restaurant where all the beautiful people seemed to be eating steak or sushi and drinking champagne. We ordered (not champagne which started at 125 euros a bottle) and sat and people watched. Within minutes the music was cranked up to high volume and we were surrounded by people dancing on chairs and in the small spaces between tables. You didn't need a partner, you just danced and yes, my beloved did just that. Brilliant!

Saturday morning and the sun lounger has my name on it. Meanwhile our lovely friends who'd been in the hotel gym by the time we got out of bed had headed off into town to see the sights and eat a delicious seafood lunch (of which more later). We slobbed by the pool until it was time to put our glad rags on for the next part of the wedding celebration - the reception at a beach restaurant. There was a strict timetable for this, but being France, everything ran about an hour and half late. But the wine flowed, the sun set romantically across the bay and there were speeches and dancing till the small hours when we walked, shoeless, back to the hotel to get a few hours shut-eye before the next event.

The following morning we had arranged to see my brother - no, not because he lives in France but because he was on holiday fairly nearby and we hadn't seen each other for over six months. He arrived with the latest Doris, which is how he refers to his girlfriends and we had a lovely catch-up by the pool. He had vastly entertained me the previous day by texting to tell me that he had told the Doris in question that he was five years younger than he actually is. Firmly told not to let the cat out of the bag, this, of course, makes me five years younger too and the intrepid granny has subsequently informed me that on the same basis she would like another 80th birthday party!

Our lovely friends in the hotel were ill. They had been ill all night and since the only thing that they had eaten and we hadn't was the delicious seafood lunch in the harbour yesterday we can only assume it was that. So we set off with our other friends, Sadders and Sue, to the bride and groom's lunch at the beach. This was probably the highlight of the trip - sitting just a few feet from the sand, eating really spectacularly fresh fish and watching the sea lap gently on the shore. Except that this was occasionally interrupted by the middle aged (and older) nudist men strutting their stuff on the beach. It's enough to put me off my prawns!

At the end of the celebrations we made our way back into town to find a quiet bar. Walking down a street towards the front, we bumped into chums, Andy and Claire who have a boat here in the harbour, and before we know it we are whisked away for drinks on their boat. Now I know nothing about boats, but... it sleeps eight plus crew, every inch of it is polished to perfection and if I did like boats, this is the one... but we'd have to sell at least one of the children even to pay the mooring fees, let alone fill it with fuel.

So now we're back in Blighty, catching up on work and washing, applauding our children for not having a party whilst they have been home alone and Saint Tropez feels like a distant dream - until we get our credit card bills!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Call me Bradley!

There are some notable events which happen year on year and are not related to birthdays and family celebrations. One of these is the Acorn Bike Ride with which I have a love-hate relationship. Acorn is my charity of choice and I've been involved since the very beginning thirteen years ago when we started raising money for people with dementia and their carers locally, and research into scleroderma at Leeds General Infirmary. One of our big annual events is our 100k (62 miles) sponsored bike ride which takes place each May.

The Acorn 100k Bike Ride is now in its seventh year and I've written about it before (My Big, Fat Biking Blog) and usually I come at this event unprepared, unready and unfit. This year was going to be different.

Firstly, having ridden on begged and borrowed bikes in previous years, this year I purchased a proper road bike. Doing the bike ride on a cycle with big, bobbly tyres and a frame that weighs a ton is simply making life hard for yourself so the new bike (named Alwoodley for reasons too complicated to explain but it is enough for you to know that it's glitzy) weighs next to nothing and has tyres as thin as bra straps. Excellent. And because it is such a sleek machine, I have done proper - yes proper - training, clocking up over 100k every week for the last month or so. Therefore all my body parts which usually take a massive pasting on the day are perfectly honed for the task in hand.

In previous years, my cycling partner has been the lovely Tim who has been happy to chat to me up hill and down dale for the five or so hours it takes for us to do the ride. He has tolerated me stopping to chat to all the marshals I know (that would be nearly all of them) and has joined in my bitter complaints about the bumpiness of Alwark Bridge which comes near the end when one's nether regions have already had enough. This year Tim was unable to ride so the singing dancing doctor, Philippa (the fastest woman on a bike in our village) and her very tall friend Clare agreed to take me under their wing instead. However there were to be no stops apart from lunch. Now this point I had to negotiate. Daughter number two was marshalling and there was no way I could cycle past (on the eve of her birthday) without stopping for a hug. Also my lovely tennis buddy who bravely does a marshalling post near the end and therefore has to sit there for hours deserves a brief pause in proceedings.

The eve of Bike Ride Day is always the big bake. Everyone on the Acorn Committee plus a few chums do a massive cake bake the day before because we give everyone a terrific tea when they get back. But there is usually some small (or big) hitch the day before which, because I live nearest the route, lands in my lap. So I have muffins, Cornish fairings and chocolate rock cakes on the go in the kitchen when the phone rings...

Last year, a lane on the early part of the route was flooded the day before and we thought we might have to change the route at the last minute involving me driving round to find alternatives on Bike Ride Eve. This year, a call had come in to say that part of the road through Boroughbridge (on our route) was undergoing road works and would be closed on the day. Of course, we go through all the procedures with the Police and the County Council to ensure that all the roads are clear and the necessary permissions have been granted. Also I have been riding the front and back end of the bike ride as training for the last month or so and no advance notices of road works have been in place. Hmmm...

Baking paused, I hop in the car and drive to the aforementioned spot and yes, there are a dozen or so workmen, numerous bits of machinery and three-way traffic lights. I parked up and found a helpful workman to talk to and he explained they were subcontractors and were not working the following day but another subcontractor would be on-site to surface dress the road involving complete closure for the whole of Saturday. He helpfully took me to the supervisor who was asleep in his van (it was lunchtime after all) and he promised to have someone from the main contractors phone me back.

Meanwhile, the formidable Louise, who is in charge of us all at Acorn, was taking another form of action and had contacted our signage friends, HACS who have close contacts with the County Council.  Well, the man from the contractors never phoned but I tracked him down anyway and the long and the short of it was that the roadworks were postponed to the Sunday to allow our 650-plus cyclists through. Phew...

So back to the actual Bike Ride and once my pre-ride duties with our brilliant photographer Giles Rocholl had been completed, the foursome (singing dancing doctor, fast Philippa, very tall Clare and I) set off. My fears that I wouldn't be able to keep up were unfounded. Despite a brief stop and hug with daughter number 2, we arrived at the lunch stop at 10.15am, two hours from the start and nearly halfway! And we made it to the end with only one minor collision (note to self: don't stop suddenly, even at water stops), to be greeted by fast Philippa's husband - Il Presidente of the Cricket Club - and number 3 child at 1.15pm (on their way to cricket) which means that, discounting half an hour for lunch, two negotiated stops and the minor collision, we completed the route in 41/2 hours - my fastest ever!

Not only that, but, because apart from sore knees, some fatigue probably caused by staying out till 1.45am that night carousing, I think that if it ever stops raining I might go for a cycle later. Now that is a result.

Postscript: The Acorn Bike Ride 2013 raised an amazing £50,000 - wow! A huge thank-you to everyone involved: bikers, bakers, marshals, registration team, car park team, lunch crew, signage and food sponsors and our fabulous main sponsor Tim Naughton (loving those socks, Tim!)
Cycling and waving... who'd have thought I could do that without falling off!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Seventeen again... again!

'Mum of four seeks counselling to survive seventeen year old twins'. Imagine that in an agony aunt's column. Someone must have written it, surely?

Well here we are. The twins (numbers 3 and 4 for new readers) are seventeen today. Adorable, sociable, well-motivated (and that's just me!), they are a pleasure most of the time when they're not grunty, grumpy, unreasonable and gobby. And outside in the yard there is a gleaming, fully-airbagged, not-too-nippy car ready for them to learn to drive. Lucky them! I have felt the need to remind all my children that no such new car greeted my seventeenth birthday morning and even though they are sharing, they are very fortunate!

I do, however, remember the other two reaching their seventeenth birthdays and, more particularly, the process of them learning to drive. Number 1, who was just about to enter her 'wild child' phase, was exceptionally challenging because, in order to hear what I (in the passenger seat, gripping door handle with one hand and the hand brake with the other) was saying, she had to take her eyes off the road to lipread - unless I shouted, which I did, a lot. On the morning of her test, she drove to school with me in the front and her three siblings in the back and managed to lodge the car on the stone gatepost of the school. Through gritted teeth, I told all of them politely to get out of the car whilst I managed to reverse the vehicle off the aforementioned gatepost in front of a crowd of students, teachers and parents. Later in the day, number 1 texted me to say that she had passed her test. Words failed me...

Then number 2, always in a hurry with life (she has unfortunately inherited my impatient streak) always drove too fast, was determined to pass her test first time like her sister and turned into our lane far too quickly with me (gripping on both sides as per usual) shouting to her to slow down. We nearly made it round the bend ... but not quite. She went on to pass her test first time as well.

So, imagine my utter delight when our dear Irish friend in the village announced that he had enjoyed teaching his two daughters to drive and he would happily take the twins out practising. My gratitude to Declan O'Kidney knows no bounds! And number 4's godmother has also offered and she can remember what the first two were like so she is probably aware of the terror in store.

There is, of course, the possibility that I am just rubbish at being their co-pilot/driving instructor (although getting two through their tests first time may suggest this is not the case...) but I am more than relieved that I probably won't have to do too much of the white-knuckle stuff this time.

So, if you are out and about on the roads of North Yorkshire and you see a rather smart (currently), black Kia with L-plates: dive in the hedge, park up off the road and breathe deeply whilst thinking sympathetically about the adult in the passenger seat with nerves of steel.

Yes, these two - but not the one in the middle, obviously!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

"History? It's just one f*****g thing after another."

Rudge's words from one of my all-time favourite films/plays, The History Boys, have been echoing in my head of late because, if that's what history is, then certainly we have been making history of all the wrong sort at the little house on the prairie this last week.

First of all, we had the Great Mouse Attack. We live in the country and rodents and other furry creatures are an accepted part of our lives ... outside. However, when they cross the threshold they become THE ENEMY! Firstly they infiltrated the barn where number 4 has her bedroom. She actually had the presence of mind to photograph one with her phone. It looked rather large for a mouse... just saying. Smallest child removes herself back into her old bedroom in the house, thus providing me with two bedrooms where I cannot see the floor, let alone vacuum it. Poison distributed in various places in the barn and now we wait. Then whilst sitting at my desk the following day, another mouse appeared - a tiny one this time - from under the skirting board at my feet. Cue more poison carefully barricaded in so that the dogs could not reach it. Dogs are obviously useless at mousing. Already we have a garden where squirrels/rabbits/mice have eaten most of my tulip (my most favourite flower) bulbs so clearly the dogs are not striking the fear of God into anything out there. And now we have a mouse swanning about the house which the dogs are ignoring.

The mouse then decamped to the conservatory where number 3 attempted to corner it in a saucepan - as if - before summoning help. More poison carefully barricaded in where the dogs can't reach it. And finally after nearly a week I am daring to hope we are mouse-free again. Just waiting for that rotting dead animal smell to confirm my suspicions.

Then on Sunday, number 1 came home from her week in Edinburgh in the play Translations (you probably know all about this if you have been following the blog as I have been posting her blog on here - she writes better than me anyway!). She has been driving my car whilst in Mold (Wales) and Edinburgh and was returning it prior to moving on to her final tour destination, Belfast. Now the car is covered in what can only be described as pterodactyl poo - not the size of normal bird droppings and completely black and very hard to remove. Anyway, my beloved used the relatively new washing up brush to remove them so now we need a new one of those.

On Monday morning, number 1 and I are having some all-important mother-daughter time with a cup of tea and a catch-up - "Botox?" "Yes really, it made her eyes look all piggy..." - when I enquired what time her flight to Belfast was on Tuesday morning. She checked: "It leaves in an hour and a half - today!" So we pack directly from the tumble dryer into her hand luggage and set off at a charge to Leeds Bradford airport where yes, she made the plane. Phew...

And by the time I got home, the phones/internet had crashed. The result of the high winds last week, I believe, which also took down two trees in the garden. Actually, now we have cleared it all away, the garden looks better so perhaps sometimes these things work out for the best. Not, however, the phone and the internet which has made the two of us who work from home very irritable and given children 3 and 4  a lesson in what life was like just a few years ago when we had no internet. If I manage to post this, it will mean that the internet has been restored, for now anyway.

So, there you go. As Rudge says: "It's just one f*****g thing after another" and as we return to what passes for normal here, I am just waiting to see if my mobile phone is going work again - dodgy signal - although at least I didn't drop mine in the bath. But that's another story...

Monday, 22 April 2013

A week of Bed Rest

Genevieve's latest blog, returning to London for a week's r and r before heading to  Theatre Clwyd in Wales. 

After a full week in Dublin, we finally get to drop our props, discard our scripts and come home.

London has never before been so enticing nor welcoming - the jam-packed underground, the high-octane pace of the nine-to-five commuters, the teenagers loitering, the drunks carousing, the tired mothers pushing their prams wearily calling along the other three or four kids in tow and amidst all this bustle I am grinning zanily because I am finally back at the place I have called home for the past five years. People take no notice of me, because that is a Londoner's trademark - exchange eye contact with no one.

The thick curd of makeup finally removed and my face is relishing the bracing cold wind as winter shows no sign of abating. My suitcase is unpacked and I have resisted the temptation of burning every item that I have spent the last seven weeks wearing. The boyfriend, far more domesticated than me, has put it all in the wash. I am adorned in my favourite purple onesie, striped hat, spreadeagled on the sofa with the cat on my lap.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven"  William Wordsworth

Now don't get me wrong, I love my work. You only have to digest the last four blogs to get that message loud and clear. But - a week of sleep. A whole week of being able to drop my head onto the pillow and waking up at a normal hour without adrenaline coursing through my veins, the shaky hands, the constant replays of each night's performances drumming through my brain at an alarming pace. Despite the show becoming almost routine, the ritual of getting to sleep each night has been almost as arduous and exhausting as the performance itself. You shouldn't have to try hard to fall asleep when you're tired.

A week of normal meals. A cooked meal. Using an oven or a hob. A knife and a chopping board. A pan or good heavens - a wok! Going into the local supermarket was truly like walking into Selfridges with an ex boyfriend's credit card. Or opening presents on Christmas Day. A most bewildering comparison - for I have not been trundling through the Sahara or walking the North Pole. Only eating ready cooked meals and sandwiches for the past seven weeks.

After four days, my boyfriend Alex has finally coerced me out of the house. It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I have just eaten my breakfast. We jump onto the bus and slip into Shoreditch, delightfully empty of those pretentious toffs that normally frequent it. We push into a pub and order Coronas. The barman takes my order without question - without asking me to repeat it (for us English sound so foreign to the Irish...or just me) or informing me which poet, author, playwright, famous person used to frequent the place. I need a break from the Irish jollity. Two Coronas, straight up, cash in hand. Job done.

An hour or so later, I'm blessed when two of my girlfriends turn up to catch up on the news. It's wonderful to see them - everything familiar draws me like a moth to a flame and I stare rapt at the same two friends - the duffel coat my friend always wears with the scruffy boots, the red lipstick and smart work clothes of my other friend. They excitedly ask me about the play and I cast their questions off wanting to know more about the latest gossip: who has kissed who, how our team is playing (we all play rugby), is everybody happy. Has everyone missed me? Typical attention seeker.

Then two or three Coronas later, I suddenly find myself lost. Not drunk. Lost. Everything is exactly the same as I left it. And whilst I am still savouring it like all those old creature comforts, it suddenly finds me feeling unsettled - like it doesn't make a difference whether I'm here nor there. Life has gone on.

I had a long conversation with Alex about this bout of insecurity on the way back. I felt really disrespectful - unappreciative, because I was so grateful and happy that my friends had come to join us and yet feeling this slight sense of resentment that all these things had happened without me being there. I felt displaced. Like I wasn't a part of it anymore. I needed to be on stage, doing my job and cajoling the audience into the story, making them love or hate my character. I wasn't needed in London.

He said some good things - not the things I wanted to hear, but the things that would make me think more about what all these feelings of insecurity really meant. One of the reasons why I love him.

And I realise I am incredibly lucky. You sort of always know this - happy family, great friends, good job, have money etc etc - but it gets thrown around like a cliche - it sort of floats beneath the surface of everyday life like a sturdy round comfortable cushion on your backside. We all undervalue it and we all wish we didn't - because it's wrong.

I work in an industry where you are expected to be able to drop everything you are doing at any given time. Us actors seem to spend our lives waiting for this. New parts to play, new experiences - the world is constantly revolving and you with it. And I embrace these changes - they're hard sometimes and I can be homesick. They're hard sometimes and I can feel incredibly low about myself - what am I doing here, why did I think I could be an actress? But the more corners and bends in our lives - the better people we are for it, challenging ourselves and adjusting. I become a better actress too. And at the end of all that acting ruckus, wherever we might be, I get to go home and devour this sense of the familiar. Savour London. Cherish friends and family. And whenever I go away again, I go with their best wishes. I can't berate them for continuing to live in my absence.

A week of bedrest has done me good. I've slept well, ate well, seen my friends, the boyfriend and am ready to face the play with a new sense of vigour. And I have found a new sense of peace - everything I have in my life will be here, not necessarily waiting for me, but even better - welcoming me, when I come back. And in the meantime - I will live, live, live life to the full and relish every wonderful sensation that comes with doing the job I love. Even if our next tour stop is the darkest depths of Wales.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Family Circus Hits Dublin

Guest blog from Genevieve's tour with the play Translations.

"A happy family is but an earlier heaven" George Bernard Shaw

Last week I talked about the futility of trying to keep the performance of 'Translations' the same. That in my exhaustion lay the very premise that I could no longer hold onto a concrete emotion if it was repeated night after night.

A short summary of 800 words or so in my last blog.

It is now Friday night and the pubs in Dublin, all 1,000 of them, have closed for Good Friday. Dublin is now like a ghost town - eerily quiet and the weather came to serve this purpose as snow has been sprinkling down on the city all day. The streets are empty except for the tourists and the taxi drivers, and those in the know who have gathered at O'Connell Street station to buy a one-way ticket to nowhere. For Madigan's Bar at O'Connell Street station is one of the only licensed pubs to sell alcohol on Good Friday and in order to buy an alcoholic beverage, you have to purchase an inter-county train ticket.

My family are in town. And surprisingly, they are not cooped up at Madigan's drinking Guinness. Instead they are sitting but 50 yards from me, encamped in the second row of the Gaiety Theatre waiting for me to come on stage. And the opening night nerves are back.

My family consists of my mum and dad, my 24 year old Antonia and twins Robbie and Sabrina who are 17 years old. My childhood was made up of haystacks, green fields, obstacle courses, a menagerie of animals and a lively chaotic home. My father in the kitchen cooking up a storm, my brother hitting a tennis ball outside, Sabrina encamped on the sofa and mum simultaneously doing the ironing whilst reprimanding her for not doing her homework. Antonia and I bickering away at each other, childishly but equally persistent in having the last word. Like Owen in Translations says "What's that smell this place has always had?", family and home immediately bring a sense of the familiar and yet a million juxtaposed memories come to the fore. Time and place incongruent but the essence always the same. A fiercely proud and protective bunch we are - and after six weeks we are together again.

When I was born deaf, the doctors told my parents that I would never be able to speak. My parents were told firmly that I would need to be sent away from a young age to a school for the deaf and that all my family and friends would have to learn sign language as a means of communicating to me. This was the appropriate response of the medical industry in the 1980s. But I was my mum and dad's first child - and this was far from the perfection one automatically expects with a newborn baby.

My mum fainted.

But, the moment they left the hospital with that news, their response to the doctors was a resounding no. They didn't follow the road that the experts had laid out so rationally. My mum would leave her job and teach me how to talk. I would go to a mainstream primary school, I would have hearing friends, I would have the life that they envisioned for me deaf or not deaf. No easy feat. And now after 27 years, it is possible to recognise that as a streak of stubbornness, denial and resistance to conformity so inherent in our family's genetic makeup as much as a show of brave resistance.

Teaching me to speak was painful. I was finally fitted with big hearing aids at the age of 4. My mum began the battle of teaching me to recognise that sound could be created and that it meant something. The kettle boiling, my father laughing, the knock on the front door. That these funny warblings that came out of people's mouths with these red lips moving unfathomably were a code for communication. That if you put two and two together, the code was cracked and you could understand them. It's entirely a logical premise.

But if the average person has a vocabulary of 2000 words, and every syllable enunciated and articulated has to be pieced together into a word - let alone a sentence, both my mother and I had a very steep hill to climb.

I can speak. I can speak more fluently than my parents even dreamed of. I've been able to follow my goals, ambitions, dreams - most of them, little hindered by my deafness. And whilst in the acting world, my voice is not perfect, I am carving a successful career for myself. And now with my first theatre role under my belt, my family are here tonight to witness that hard work and investment they made in me, the whole of my life. As our director often likes to say "No pressure".

There is an unforced irony that I'm playing a character who discovers her voice. Sarah, who doesn't speak until her love for Manus pours out of the woodwork, is impelled to speak a whole sentence for the first time. This cyclical nature of my mum watching her deaf daughter play a character who is trying to discover her voice is difficult to ignore. So I can't help but wonder what her response to the play will be. Suddenly I find an untapped emotion in this fear that it might bring back painful memories for her. I am desperate for them to be proud, not of me as their daughter, sister, for that is redundant, but of me in my transformation to a professional actress. It's never mattered so much.

The nerves which had finally started to subside have regurgitated again. The Pink Floyd are playing, the caffeine is kicking in and I am safely locked in my dressing room manifesting all sorts of distractions to prevent the sense of dread washing over me, that my family are lurking only a few feet away in the second row of the theatre. For who could be a more important audience?

I hope that at the end of the show, my mum will be able to turn to me and say "Genevieve, you've made it." And then we can all go and drink Guinness and count our blessings.