Wednesday, 28 December 2016

It's Christmas... doggy style.

This blog has eaten a huge amount and collapsed on the sofa. My brother’s dog came for Christmas, however, so here are his holiday snaps to keep you entertained until I’m back again next week. Over to you, Bruno. I'm having another Baileys.

I'm gonna buy me a train ticket - first class.

Wherever I lay my paws - that's my basket.

Romantic dinner - but not for me.

Park life - where am I?

At last, a clear road.

Take me to the pond.

I found me a girl.

They had this.

While I got this.

Flaming pud!

I believe in Father Christmas, cos...

he got me this.

Love Bruno x


P.S. Only some paws in their game.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What price freedom?


There was a time I used to pity people with teenagers and adult children. How awful, I thought, not to have cute little kids anymore. But now I have teenagers and one adult child I think it's great. And I say this even after Eldest just knocked a precious wedding photograph off the stair wall with his enormous rucksack within minutes of arriving home for Christmas, sending it smashing to the floor, requiring me to drive to the framers next morning to have the glass replaced.

Shattered glass.

One reason I like having teenagers and one adult child is that you can leave them, as we did on Saturday night...

"I am sitting in bed in a bed and breakfast in Bedfordshire, drinking a pint, eating crisps, watching the Strictly final, about to go to the party," I text a friend, in reply to one she sends me.

It should have been Danny.

"Boys back home alone?" she texts back.

"Yep," I reply. "Eldest in charge."

"Good luck," she returns.

Mmm. Leaving Youngest and Middle One is one thing, we’ve done that quite a bit recently with no problem at all, but leaving Eldest in charge is quite another. 

The first time we tried it, back when he was about 15, we got a phone call from Middle One at the dinner party we were attending to tell us that instead of putting Youngest to bed in a sensible manner, as instructed, Eldest had secretly hidden in his brother’s wardrobe and leapt out when his lights were out, scaring the bejesus out of the little fella.
Coming out of the closet.

"Did you used to do reckless things when you were twenty?" I ask Husband as we're putting our glad rags on to go to the party.

"Qualify reckless," he says.

"Damage to yourself, others, or property," I say.

"I walked on bridge parapets after a few drinks," he says. "Waterloo bridge springs to mind."

Take it to the bridge.

Later at the party we’re reunited with a group of university friends. I met them all on the very same occasion - back in 1985 - that I met my husband. He was then twenty, and encouraging them to wedge themselves off the ground between two walls in a corridor. Later, all five likely lads lived in the same house in their second year. I used to invite myself round. A lot. In the summer between their second and third years I moved in uninvited, Paula Yates-style, except less glam. I recall a craze they had for tikka-saucing everything before cooking it, particularly sausages.

Just one of the lads.

I find our old friend Johnny, whose party it is, over by the vodka luge. "Do you remember when you used to set fire to your farts?" I say.

"I work in insurance now," he says.

"And you told me I was lucky to be going out with Husband because he's so much better looking than me?" I say.

Johnny closes his eyes and puts his head in his hands.

"I’ve just seen pictures of us in your photo montage in the coat room," I say, "and you were right."

Studying the old photographs in more detail I’m struck by how similar Husband and Eldest look. Some of the faces Husband is pulling are the exact same ones Eldest pulls now, perhaps because Eldest is the exact same age Husband was then.

"I think maybe we should go straight home tomorrow and not go for that walk in the countryside like we said," I say to Husband, when I find him later hunched in a corner of the marquee eating two burgers, his own and the one he got for me.

"Why?" he says.

Next morning when we load up the car we find we have a flat tyre with a screw in it. Perhaps we drove over it on the journey up, or perhaps someone put it there deliberately. Either way we have to go into Bedford to find a Kwikfit, abandoning all hope of going for that walk in any case.

In Kwikfit I ring home. "Everything okay?" I ask Youngest, who actually answers the landline.

"I'm the only one out of bed," he says. "Last night we ate pizza and watched The History of Aardman."

The idea of all three sons being such good boys - eating pizza and watching TV together - warms my heart so much that I don’t even mind that I am sitting in a Kwikfit reception area in Bedford. 

Returning to the house we find everything as it should be. The floor swept, surfaces wiped, bins emptied, all in its rightful place… only for one tiny thing: a wedding photograph, its glass shattered in pieces on the hall floor. The exact same one that had just been repaired.

Love E x


P.S. We had a really good time at the party, though, despite that screw in the tyre costing £150.00 for a new one, plus another £10 at the framers for more glass.

It was a goodyear.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Four in a bed.

“And will you be spending Christmas at your house with your parents in your bed again this year?” asks my friend Karen when she rings for a chat on Saturday morning, which really makes me laugh. She’s referring to the year my parents over-stepped the mark not only coming into our bedroom to open their stockings from Father Christmas with us, but into the marital bed too, without a by your leave. We looked like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We’re a close family and all that, but there are limits.

Eight feet in a bed.

I’ve been in denial about Christmas and done nothing about it except throw myself into a guest room redecorating programme - in the hope that they might actually stay in there - and buy a new double bed for Eldest. Karen’s question forces me to address it.

In the absence of a plan to the contrary I guess we’ll be doing what we usually do. I have a theory it’s the wife who dictates Christmas traditions in most families based on what her own family did, because most men aren’t that fussed and generally do what they’re told. In no particular order then here are some of the things we usually do, because I say so...

Hold the line please caller.

Some kind of wonderful - I always wrap the many hundreds of presents it is apparently my sole responsibility as a woman to wrap while standing at the ironing board to save my back, watching It’s a Wonderful Life. It's my wrapping backing track (boom boom). I have to look up for that bit when she's on the phone and he's trying to not to be in love with her, though. Call me a soppy old romantic... cos it's true.

Movie me - I always book an old movie for Eldest and me to go to. Having a son doing a film degree is a Godsend. I drag him to all sorts of girly stuff and he has to take it like a man. Last year it was Dr Zhivago at the BFI and I cried all the way through. This year it’s Meet Me in St. Louis.

Chinatown - for a dim sum lunch with friends. We used to go skating first too but this year we're giving that a miss. We reckon we've chanced our collective arms not breaking any between us too many times before. Plus, it’s damn pricey.

Get ready to party - I'm not talking about a drinks party here like the sort we usually go to, you know: a plastic cup of mulled wine and a Marks and Sparks party snack, imprisoned in a corner by a guy in a comedy Christmas jumper who does some kind of job in computing. Oh no, this year we've been invited to a proper one, with a vodka luge and dancing. Actual dancing. I'll be that loony on that dance floor all night. In my new boots.

Stew on it - Christmas Eve I cook a beef stew like my mother did, and before that my grandmother did. Husband would rather it was a pie, which he reckons is "only a stew with a hat," but I’m refusing to put the lid on it because... it's my prerogative (what is it with men and pies?).

Mr Postman.

Spin that record - I have Happy Xmas (war is over) on the kitchen speakers very loud on Christmas morning. “And so this is Christmas and what have you done?” sings John. It always gives me goosebumps. I can think of plenty of things I haven’t done. I haven’t applied to do that MA. I haven’t finished that novel, the one I was enthusiastically writing and abruptly stopped writing mid-December last year. I haven’t sent back the boys’ fencing kit bought last Christmas that was all the wrong sizes, although I did just put it on eBay and so far there are five watchers.

Bit of a show - we always go to a show or a panto with my brother, sister-in-law and their girls (Oh yes we do). This time it’s School of Rock, which I also know by heart because with two guitar-playing boys in the house that film has been played A LOT, that and the other Jack Black classic: Be Kind Rewind, which if you haven’t seen I highly recommend, cos he’s funny.

Opening the stockings - it's the first thing we do Christmas morning, then we open all the other presents mid-morning. One year in Canada we had a family staying whose tradition was to open everything the minute they woke up. My mother thought this common. I remember their mother pointedly saying, “well, we have do it the way they do it in THIS house children, and that's all there is to it."

Bit of a puzzle.

Puzzling - my dad likes to do a jigsaw because that’s what his father did. If pieces don’t quite fit he shoves them in to complete it and my friend Fiona pops round and sorts it out later. She’s an architect. This year it’s a 1,000 piece map of London so it'll be interesting to see if he tries to jam Cockfosters where Chelsea should be. They'll be riots.

Getting pissed and falling out - there was the year my mother and I had a whopper about a trifle, literally about a trifle, I’m not even saying it was trifling. We appear to have reached some sort of entente cordiale lately though and haven’t rowed in ages, a year at least. I can't explain. Could it be my new zen approach? Could it be because - at the grand age I am now - I realise I’m lucky to have her? Dunno. Either which way it's only three days of biting my tongue. How hard can that be? Just so long as she doesn't climb into bed with me on Christmas morning.

Love E x


P.S. I didn't say all that to Karen by the way, I just said of course.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Something occurs to me.

My mother is looking at a picture of Hitler on the front of her birthday card. She is sitting at her kitchen table with a glass of prosecco in one hand and the card in the other. "It's from a newspaper, in 1939," she says. I'm in York to see her for the day. The card she is holding is from Middle One. He made it for her. 

"Yes," I say. "Read what he put inside." You are the best thing to come out of 1939 - it says inside.

"That’s nice," she says.

"Yes," I say. "He’s favourably compared you to Hitler."

My mother throws her head back and guffaws at this, and so does my father. It occurs to me that my parents laugh a lot, and that when I'm with them I laugh a lot too.

Not to be confused with my mother.

My mother’s friend Anne pops by with a card and joins us at the table. “I feel I know you, Elizabeth,” she says, as we all sip prosecco and eat cheese scones. I realise she's talking about my blog, which I forget some people actually read (hello, Anne).

After opening all the other cards my mother turns to the one from my father, which he bought from a shop. It says - I wonder where I left my glasses. I wonder where I left my keys. I wonder what day it is. Welcome to the wonder years. My mother laughs again, then looks inside. To a wonderful wife, he has written.

After Anne has gone the three of us get a bus into town. My mother goes straight for the back seat and I follow and sit by her side. We have lunch in a tapas bar. "We come here a lot," says my mother, "the food isn’t that special, we just love the atmosphere." 

I order a beer, my parents order enormous glasses of red wine. In addition to my mother's birthday my father is celebrating one of his books being revamped and brought up to date with a new forward by some hotshot American sociologist. He talks about his work, both paid and voluntary, and my mother talks about her work, now all voluntary, and copious. It occurs to me that my parents are some of the busiest people I know.

"Take a picture of me with Libby Lou," my mother instructs my father, who is sitting opposite us across the table.

"Eugh," I say. "I look dreadful in pictures now, maybe because I look dreadful now."

"What do you mean?" says my mother.

"Too old," I say.

"Getting old is nothing to fear," says my father, "it’s great."

"It’s horrible," I say.

"You get over that feeling," he says. "You can finally be what you want, you don’t care."

It occurs to me I'm already being a lot of what I want and being any more of what I want might not be a good thing.

Neither one of these pictures is my mother.

"Rubbish," I say, looking at my parents, in a tapas bar, smiling, holding huge glasses of red wine. "It’s all downhill from here."

"You’re very pessimistic," says my mother.

"I am," I nod. "I like it. It minimises disappointment. Plus it's that voluntary work I do, ringing housebound old people."

"You’re like that joke," she says. "The pessimist says ‘at least life can’t get any worse,’ and the optimist says ‘yes it can! Yes, it can!’"

Walking through town after lunch they show me some of the pocket parks they’re involved in renovating for York Civic Trust. We stand in one in Davygate, in the darkness, under a skeletal tree.

"We’re on top of dead people here," says my mother, as we watch living people rushing by in the street, frantically shopping for Christmas. "Graves, moved from St Helen’s churchyard when the Georgians built the Assembly Rooms."

"Sad," I say, "ploughing up a delicate old graveyard so Elizabeth Bennet can meet her Mr Darcy at a ball."

"Yes," says my mother. "But the Assembly Rooms are beautiful."

We leave the pocket park and kill time having tea in Betty’s Tearooms, because there isn’t enough of it to go back to the house and out again to the station for my six o’clock train.

In Betty's my parents are treated like royalty because they eat here every week on the same night and have done so for twenty-five years, possibly longer. I once rang up and had their bill paid for them as a thank you I was so sure they'd be in there, and they were.

When I'm safely in my seat on the train they remain on the platform, waiting. As the train pulls out of York station they wave. I watch them standing there together, smiling, arm in arm, he very tall, she very small, until they’re no longer visible because of the bend in the track. And it occurs to me that my parents have the happiest marriage of anyone I know.

Love E x


P.S. Their secret? He does what she says. She thinks he's amazing.

Good times. 
(This one definitely is my mother.)