Child’s play

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.


World in union

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.

What a Country Life!

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.

When Two Worlds Collide

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.

Progress Report

Weather crisp, bright and beautiful. Head to town in search of shin pads, Lord of the Flies and school trousers (Skinny Fit) with a pleasant if entirely unjustified feeling of brisk New School Year efficiency. Arrive early for daughter’s final school Progress meeting, and stand in  sunshine chatting rather wistfully to her friend’s mother, who works in Tesco’s and says that she has been watching all the parents buying Value duvets and kettles recently and can’t quite believe that This Will Be Us Next Year.

Daughter has recently started part-time waitress job and I am doing my bit to help by a) telling her all the things that Annoy me when I’m being served and b) reading extracts from recent TripAdvisor reports (she has also read them and assures me that she was not the Local Teenager who poked the bread to confirm it was gluten-free).  Am reminded of own youthful part-time jobs and can’t help feeling very relieved that they were never subject to online review.

Have all sorts of September resolutions to be better and brighter in every way. The boys say they are Actually Going To Work Hard This Year.

We shall see.

We Cater for Pleasure

Not sure that I can blame recent hopelessness of diary-keeping entirely on school holidays, which children now seem to manage very well without noticeable maternal involvement – though do somehow still feel that normal life is On Hold until new term begins.

Have recently returned from second trip away with family; eschew more obviously teenage-friendly destinations in favour of remote cottage in North Yorkshire surrounded by sheep and cattle, and six miles from nearest shop, and am relieved that after surprisingly sunny week of walking, throwing stones in rivers and visiting Yves St Laurent exhibition holiday is pronounced Better Than We Thought It Would Be. Younger son fortunately avoids public use of what he fondly considers to be a Northern accent and confines his mimicry urge to rather unsettlingly accurate versions of my own musings on What Family Holidays Were Like When I Was Young.

Back home to find farmers already ploughing the fields, garden looking distinctly faded, and evenings undeniably Drawing In. Feel overwhelming desire to visit Dreamland.

End of Term

Long, long school term finally staggering to a close. Spend evening with husband and sons at school’s Sports Presentation Evening; undeniably thorough reports on every fixture of past academic year are fortunately interspersed with silly videos of teachers lip-syncing Troublemaker and endless puerile banter between PE staff, so do not feel entirely out of place.

Bump into childhood friend in queue for interval wine, and am rather taken aback to discover that she has recently become a grandmother; find it equally hard to picture friend’s mother (forever fixed in my mind as epitome of casual Seventies glamour) as a great-grandmother, and quite impossible to imagine myself now being of any use whatsoever if confronted with a small baby; but delighted that friend, daughter and not entirely planned granddaughter all seem to be Flourishing.

Have planned to go away for a few days tomorrow with family; weather prospects for Friday distinctly gloomy, and children showing tendency to mutter that they Just Want To Stay At Home And Relax, but nonetheless remain confident that a little adventure will do us all A Power Of Good.

Summer’s ripening breath

Perfect weather for the Annual Horticultural Association Coach Outing on Thursday, and everyone’s polite muttering about lack of air-conditioning in our Luxury Executive coach is soon forgotten at first sight of Great Dixter; house, gardens and surrounding countryside all looking stunning in July sunshine, and find it impossible not to smile at complete strangers when confronted with such glorious Technicolor exuberance.   Am, childishly, excited to bump into well-known Head Gardener down one narrow path, and tell him (no doubt to his great relief) that The Gardens Are Looking Good.

Return trip takes us through one ridiculously picturesque village after another, and we make afternoon stop in particularly charming town where I buy plasters, book about Homer, and a solar-powered hula girl model. Man from Head Office has meanwhile been despatched to fix coach’s air-conditioning, and we travel home in cool Executive comfort and general agreement that it has been A Lovely Day.

Spend yesterday doing best to resist Siren Call of garden and make some headway on overdue deskwork (efforts to resist further village duties having proved almost wholly futile). Decide that my confident observations to son about “Romeo and Juliet” in preparation for his Controlled Assessment on Monday might carry more weight if I had actually read the play,  so do so, and find own intermittent concerns about teenage relationships usefully Put Into Perspective.


Temperatures are rising and Tuesday walking group heads to beach for swimming, sunbathing or (in my case) fully-clothed paddling at water’s edge.  Generous and capable friend arrives with freshly-baked muffins and cafetière of coffee for us all, and we discuss Greek economic situation, summer dressing, and the many advantages of being middle-aged – though rather suspect that we have more advantages than most.

Village Garden Safari at weekend generally adjudged A Success;  slightly nervous before arrival of first visitors on Saturday, but soon get into the swing of boasting about the roses,  apologising for the vegetable patch, and trying to explain why we generally call tortoise Tortoise (visitors are not impressed by this).  Everyone very friendly and kind, and full of helpful suggestions for Slug Control.

Much talk about Heatwave tomorrow. Daughter is attending university open day and will have to battle with London Underground, and sons as usual seem to have several demanding sporting events apiece. I plan to do very little indeed.