Am moving chairs and tables in village hall in readiness for afternoon talk on Rose Growing when two well-dressed women come in and ask for directions to village tea-rooms. On realising that they have already passed it, remark that It Didn’t Look Very Lively; can’t help feeling that their experience of villages on cold February afternoons may be rather limited.
Guest speaker arrives in hall and announces to waiting committee members that a) our village is Very Far Away b) he doesn’t like gardens, gardening, the place where lives, most of the places he has lived previously, or community-based pub quiz evenings c) he has had to borrow a projector which will probably not work. Things fortunately begin to look up when after several minutes of determined conversation I discover a shared fondness for Northumberland and that one of his daughters used to live in the same town as my sister, and his talk turns out to be very good; though there is some distinct Muttering when he observes that in his experience women tend to struggle with pruning as they are Naturally Nurturing.
Go home, make special tea for children to mark the beginning of half-term, light fire and begin to wonder whether I may in fact be the very epitome of Naturally Nurturing womanhood. Plan to prune roses tomorrow.
Tuesday sees first Horticultural Association committee meeting of 2016; plan activities for forthcoming year, compare rumours about village pub developments, and have animated discussion about Curry. Revelation that I will turn fifty the day before our summer coffee morning met with comforting mixture of teasing, reminiscences and wise advice, though find myself not altogether uplifted by comment that You Will Still Always Be You.
Helpers’ team at pensioners’ lunch club on Wednesday joined by lady who played my mother in village production of An Inspector Calls twenty years ago; have happy time discussing gardening gloves, worst-ever holiday jobs, and The Shepherd’s Life, which apparently Divided Opinion at recent meeting of WI Book Club. Lunchers seem in fine form, despite blustery dark day and my usual inability to provide requested combinations of tea, coffee, milk and sugar at end of meal. One couple explain apologetically that they will not be able to attend next month’s talk on rose-growing as they will be attending a wedding in Bangkok, and everyone wishes our team leader well for her trip down Amazon next week.
Opening Night of village pantomime this evening. Fortunately for all concerned, own involvement in amateur dramatics now confined to watching, though may allow myself slight bit of Audience Participation as long as children don’t come.
Sister has booked Bargain Short Break in holiday village not far from Paris and asks if I would like to join her. Tussle with conscience about abandoning domestic duties in pursuit of own selfish pleasure proves mercifully brief, and soon find ourselves on suburban bus amongst tired Parisian commuters on cold and dark Friday evening, in search of New Experiences. Have both decided to Travel Light, and in our black coats fondly imagine that we blend in seamlessly – though can’t help noticing how young all French people are these days.
Holiday village proves almost empty and luxuriously comfortable; are both so entranced by unimaginable ease of life where have only ourselves to worry about that spend weekend doing little but talking and reading, venturing only to local supermarket and pool complex for occasional swim (brief) and sauna (lengthy); by the time we head to city yesterday morning are in almost unprecedented state of relaxation. Paris beautiful as ever in pale winter sunshine, and joys of walking alone Seine and through endless lovely streets made all the sweeter by thoughts of normal Monday morning routines. Visit Pompidou Centre for required dose of culture and Merci to make us feel Hip, and indulge happily in perennial fantasy of new life as intellectual but stylish Parisienne nipping out from chic city-centre apartment for animated philosophical discussions with polo-necked neighbours at local café.
Arrive home late and am touched by definite signs that children have Missed me. Realise that own actual life is really Not Bad At All.
After very happy and very lazy few days of Christmas celebrations, feel restored in body, mind and spirit, and distinctly Mellow; wonder vaguely whether I might be altogether nicer and calmer person if my life always consisted of reading, playing with Christmas presents and watching Agatha Christie and Shaun the Sheep.
Begin vaguely to contemplate inevitable return of Normal Life and start drawing up usual list of pleasantly unrealistic ambitions for forthcoming New Year; have considerable sympathy with Katherine Mansfield’s two wishes for 1915 (“to write, to make money”), and fantasise about being cool and Modern cook; but, for now, turn, as I always do at this stage of Christmas, to late mother’s 1961 Constance Spry Cookery Book to find recipe for Devilled Turkey Bones.
Tell children yesterday that am going to local cathedral city to Make A Start On Christmas Shopping; foolishly ask whether there is anything I can get for them while I’m there, and spend much of morning in Boots staring in some bewilderment at men’s haircare products. Get rather flustered trying to stuff various apparently essential items of school uniform into own carrier bags in Marks and Spencer under watchful eye of otherwise idle shop assistant at till; she says she is very glad that she doesn’t have to touch Some People’s Bags (which, she tells me, look as though they have been Used For Carrying Potatoes).
City not yet particularly Christmassy, and while the dreaded Christmas Soundtrack is blaring out in some shops, buskers outside are still sticking to slightly out-of-tune versions of “Let Her Go“. Manage to find quite a few things that I would like, buy one small item for my daughter, and can only hope that retailers are not mistaken in their clear belief that colouring books for adults are the answer to everything.
Happy evening watching candidates on The Apprentice produce terrible children’s birthday parties on a budget of £2000 apiece.
To London yesterday for periodic rendezvous with former colleagues. Bump into lady from village who is off to meet family in local town; family now includes, she thinks, about 22 great-grandchildren, with two more due in February, along with a great-great-grandchild. Feel, unusually, rather lost for words.
Am as always delighted to be in London, despite wet and windy November weather and noticeably increased Police Presence at station; am somehow reassured by sight of one elderly lady’s determined efforts to get views of particularly burly officer on best Underground route to her destination. Meet friends near site of office building where we first worked together some twenty years ago; try not to see recent demolition of building as in any way metaphorical.
Head to Sir John Soane’s Museum which none of us ever quite managed to visit in many years of working almost next door. Find it interesting but strangely depressing, and am not sure that even promise of catacombs’refurbishment in 2016 will tempt us back; are all relieved to settle down for an afternoon’s talking about everything in nearby café, and while, sadly, we cannot actually Put The World To Rights, feel, as usual, much better afterwards.
Apart from slight Technical Hitch with village hall microphone (resolved by son running home for emergency AA battery), Horticultural Association Quiz Evening on Saturday seems to go off quite smoothly, and it is with happy mixture of relief and excitement that I head to Twickenham on Sunday for semi-final of Rugby World Cup. Elder son’s very generous and organised godfather has invited us to join him, and while I am clearly No Expert on finer points of Rugby Union rules (son keeps asking me whether I Understand What Has Just Happened), am fully able to appreciate a) drama of passionately-contested match b) power of 80,000 spectators singing, shouting and cheering their hearts out and c) particularly handsome Argentinian players. Am utterly enthralled by whole experience.
Take children on half-term visit to admire sister’s temporary accommodation; surrounding park looking even more beautiful with trees in glowing autumn colours, and children spend some time taking photos of selves and cousins as though for in-depth Country Life article on eccentric Landed Gentry, before heading off together on bus to nearest McDonald’s. (Adults opt for local pub.)
Return home to find e-mail from friend in America who is visiting family in England next week and wonders whether I can Squeeze Her In amidst my village duties. Prospect of next week and its scheduled mix of jumble sales, almshouse trustee meetings and Gift Aid inspection visits suddenly seems much brighter.
GCSE Revision Evening with elder son. Seems barely five minutes since was attending GCSE Revision Evening with daughter, and heart rather sinks at prospect of undertaking any more Joint and Interactive Revision Activity Tasks in company of other Family Units who all seem to complete required exercises very keenly and without heated arguments under their breath about correct approach to Mind Maps. Fortunately find ourselves amongst like-minded group of son’s friends and their mothers, and have surprisingly enjoyable time; agree that teachers’ recommended methods are probably preferable to own well-remembered exam preparation techniques of procrastination and Vague Reading Without Really Taking Anything In.
To village hall last night for players’ performance of One Man, Two Guvnors. Play much as I remember it from universally acclaimed and sell-out London run, sadly, but manage plenty of genuine laughs thanks to spirited contributions from friend, son’s friend (who has best lines, almost all unsuitably Risqué), and enjoyably unstable scenery.
Spend morning feeling unusually but pleasantly like Banksy as I plaster village with posters to advertise fast-approaching Horticultural Association Quiz Evening.
To village hall on Friday evening for postponed Horticultural Association talk on Growing And Showing Daffodils, carrying as contribution to advertised Refreshments my batch of mini-quiches, which husband says Definitely Look Home-Made. Speaker knowledgeable but friendly, and regales us with inside tales from The Daffodil Society (highly competitive but much less cut-throat than The Chrysanthemum Society, apparently) and numerous photographs of completely perfect specimens grown from £10 bulbs. Chair reminds everyone about our Annual Quiz Evening in a fortnight’s time, and I do my best to give impression that question-setting is at suitably advanced stage (have almost completed one round).
Football season now in full swing and am allowed to attend son’s match this afternoon on strict condition that I Don’t Say Anything. Do not, naturally, obey, but make some effort to be less Vocal than usual, and enjoy listening to seasoned co-supporters’ very definite views on every aspect of the game. Own knowledge of football remains rather rudimentary, but am at least able to explain with some confidence to one player’s grandmother which way our team are shooting.
Read daughter’s copy of “The Great Gatsby” and wonder whether I have finally found my perfect novel.
Sister has sold house, and after various complex manoeuvres is house-sitting for charity landlord of vast but neglected country mansion until she and family find Dream Home. Cannot resist opportunity to inspect, and head off to ____shire in manner of Jane Austen heroine to find mansion, park and surrounding village looking exactly like set of BBC costume drama in soft evening sunlight, and delicious Taste of Greece supper from Lidl waiting in servants’ kitchen. Spend happy evening exploring corridors and discussing Madagascar, petits fours and fridges.
Following day visit mother-in-law in residential home; run through customary conversation, several times, and am just showing her photos on my phone (mostly Selfies of younger son) when smiling young woman enters lounge with drums and castanets and announces that it is time for their Musical Afternoon. Escape is impossible, so spend next hour singing along to Music Hall and Country Classics (everyone else is word-perfect), and listening to animated debate on who did the best version of I Love You Because (conclusion: Jim Reeves). Am surprised to find how much I enjoy it, and by the time the kindly kitchen staff bring round cups of tea and slices of Swiss Roll feel rather disconcertingly at home.
Return to own home in time for normal collage duty at church Harvest Crafts morning. Vicar tells me that ____shire is Quite The County Nowadays, but own county not looking bad at all on these glorious autumn days.