Thursday, 28 June 2007

Packing Asbo (or Jack-in-a-box)

I’m freaking out big time here. All around me I can hear the rustle of paper, the rip of tape, the thump as another box joins the pile. When the first lorry came lumbering up the drive I had a total wobble and found tears in my eyes. It’s been so long coming that I had got to the point where I thought it was never going to happen. Of course the sun had to shine today and the dew had to twinkle on the grass and the rainbows had to dance across our bedroom and remind me of our old cat, Bear, who used to race around hurling herself at the walls, trying to catch them.
That’s the thing, isn’t it, about moving. You leave behind so many layers of memory. Adrian, being Welsh and so (he maintains) genetically inclined to gloom, laments that we will have to leave behind Monty and Bear (our ex-pets) and did actually ponder exhuming them to bring them with us. I didn’t tell the removal men this as I made the first cup of tea of the day.
They are horrified enough already – at the never-ending miles of books and general detritus. I had fully intended to clean out each and every drawer and cupboard BEFORE moving but somehow time has caught up with me and I had the humiliating experience of watching a drawer-full of elastic bands, old bottle tops, fuzz and dust being carefully placed in a box. The shame. Fortunately a friend had reminded me that it is always a Good Thing to pack one’s underwear and any other potentially embarrassing items oneself – so this was achieved last night.
The movers are a jolly bunch. They’re leaving the TV until last so they can watch Tim Henman (why?) but otherwise are dismantling our home with indecent haste. I’ve already had to rescue the coffee pot and poor Asbo’s lunch from a box.

‘Why on earth do you want to move from here? It’s gorgeous.’ One of them said. Not helpful.
‘Bet this was snapped up in a minute,’ said another. At which Adrian and I looked at each other and burst into laughter.
‘Only nearly three years,’ said Adrian.
They couldn’t believe it.

There are four removal men. There is the tall good-looking one who Acts Professional and is clearly In Charge. There is the aged gap-toothed retainer who (bless) put a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Are you alright my love’ in that soft impenetrable Bridgwater accent (came out roughly as ‘yralrighmylurrrve’). There is the weaselish dodgy-looking one (who is loitering upstairs – I am SO glad I packed my own knickers) and the depressed downtrodden one who is doing the kitchen.
‘I always get to do the kitchen. It’s not fair.’
After three hours I can sort of see his point.
‘All the flipping glasses and crockery. I hate glasses and crockery.’
Who wouldn’t, given his job?
Not helped by the fact that whenever any of the others find anything remotely glass or crockery-ish they merrily trot it along to the kitchen to add to his pile.
‘You always do this. It’s not fair.’ The poor man will be packing china until midnight.

I should be working. I’ve got the changes through on the book and ought to crack on. But I really can’t concentrate. I’m all mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up. So I thought, what the heck, until they take away the table, I’ll do a blog. Adrian has just gone off to Tiverton to watch James play cricket. Finally, FINALLY, the boy has been picked to play for the team (someone was ill). He was so excited that the school let him call up to tell us as he wanted one of us to watch. Maybe our collective luck is changing…..

Thank you for all your comments and kind wishes. Yes, indeed, should I change the name of my blog? Am I no longer a ‘desperate’ woman? I’d like to think so. Adrian says that, when we move (and how often have I used that particular phrase) we will be calmer, more collected, more easygoing and jolly. We will laugh more, smile more, adapt a more laissez-faire attitude to the vicissitudes of life. Hmm. Can you really see that happening? So, what should it be? Diary of a ????? Woman? Or something different altogether? Answers below please.

PS - relax Camilla, the title is a joke....dear Asbo will come with us (I shall rue the day).....

Monday, 25 June 2007

The Last Weekend (and mad shoes)

It was our last weekend here and by heck it was a good one. James had his first ever sleepover (at school) on Friday night. So, while the child is away, the mice will play….. My dear friend Jane came down from London and met us at Woods (where else?). Gins were drunk. Wine followed. Food was fabulous. I was being careful though so what happened next was all Jane’s fault. She decided that she wanted an extra glass of wine for the road. Paddy, the owner of Woods, is a bit of a wine buff and prides himself on his cellar (the wonder of Woods is that you can pick any wine and just have a glass if you want)… So he bustled over to ascertain what kind of wine she fancied, vanished for a bit and then came back brandishing a bottle of Crozes Hermitage, insisting it was on the house. Jane had a glass. I said ‘No thank you’. Paddy poured Adrian one but he was drinking beer of course. Now, what do you do, faced with a full glass of something very nice. How rude would it have been to have ignored it? So I drank it and very lovely it was. At which point, someone (possibly me, I confess) asked what Paddy was drinking. ‘Champagne and pastis,’ he said with a bit of a wink. ‘Now that’s what you want if you’re having a party. Drink a few of those and you don’t know who you are.’ And off he went, chuckling, only to come back with three champagne flutes and a couple of bottles.
‘Nooooo,’ we said. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. Evil Paddy.

Jane drank hers. Adrian took a sip and put his down. I drank mine even though I don’t like aniseed-flavoured things one little bit. I think that was the point at which I brought up about the night when Jane, eighteen, got off with the chemistry master from the boys’ school (not sure why I said that, but Paddy thought it was funny and Jane didn’t – particularly because she was also having a hot flush at that precise moment).
Then our cab came. I got up and noticed Adrian’s untouched glass and said (why, oh why?) ‘Can’t waste it. I’ll take it with me.’
Paddy laughed merrily.

So there I was, in a mini-cab, thinking I was wildly sober, sipping something totally disgusting. It was only when I got into bed and tried to read my book (Glass Books of the Dream Eaters) with one eye shut and the other squinting, desperately trying to focus, that I realised that I had overdone it. By a long way.

The next day was hell. Truly madly deeply hungover and without the option of lying in bed groaning. Had to whiz around Devon and Somerset to pick up James, go to osteopath, go shopping, pick up cars etc etc etc. Jane and I kept trying the food cure: bacon sarnies didn’t do it so we tried toasted tea-cakes (Jane swore by them – wrong, so wrong) and when they didn’t work we went back to town and had mad Welsh rarebit (which as children we always called rabbit). Opposite the tea-rooms is a very upmarket shoe shop. When it opened last year there was much muttering about ‘London prices for Londoners’ and truly I don’t see how you could get around here wearing a pair of purple satin pointy-heeled knee-high boots, lovely though they were.
Jane and I were a little hysterical by this point though and so had fun trying on mad shoes. She decided to buy a pair of very tasty and tasteful black slingbacks. Then she decided that I ought to try on the maddest shoes in the entire shop.
‘Slapper shoes,’ said I, perching in them and howling with laughter.
The owner looked a little affronted. ‘They were in Vogue, you know.’
So? Anyhow, Jane decided that they were so outrageous (and half-price because no-one on Exmoor was mad enough to buy them) that she would get them for me as a housewarming present.
And she did.
I’m not sure I have the guts to wear them to Speech Day on Friday. I’m not really sure I will ever have the guts to wear them anywhere (unless I’m invited to any brothels in the near future). But I think I might just get me one of those Perspex boxes and put them on display as an ormanent.

Sunday we lazed around for the morning, reading papers and then had a pre-prandial drink at the usual place before coming back for a vast roast beef and Yorkshire (yes, I know in June – but hey, not exactly barbecue weather, is it?) The rain held off for a bit and we played (attempted) cricket and then cranked the music up waaay high (for the last time) and danced our little hearts out on our hill. Ah but it was fabulous.
Then, as we were sitting down polishing off a nice Gigondas, the deer came. Four stags, their heads magnificent, came virtually up to the house and stood watching us.
‘They’re saying goodbye,’ said Adrian. It felt just like that, like a benediction somehow. They stayed like that for ages, just watching. Then slowly, so slowly, bowed their heads and walked down the hill.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Dancing on the Table

I have made a resolution that I must get out more. When we lived in London I was always out at some play or concert, exhibition or show. I was a wildly sociable soul. But country life sucks out the culture vulture. For starters there isn’t that much on – unless you like tribute bands of tribute bands or the local Am/Dram hamming (god help us) Lady Windermere’s Fan (again). Secondly what seemed like a good idea several weeks back when you booked the tickets, doesn’t look quite so appealing on a cold/wet/gloomy evening when faced with getting tarted up and heading off on a fuel-gulping trek across the moor. I have lost count of the number of tickets that have been left unused and, being a canny and careful Capricorn the waste is painful to the soul.
A few months back I purposefully went through the programme for the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton; found a few possibles and tried to round up troops to accompany me. One such was a folk band called Waterson: Carthy .

So off I went, through the deluge, to meet my friend Carolyn. True to form, she wafted in, all colour-coordinated and oozing serenity and Miss Dior while I was sitting there with my hair like a haystack glugging a spritzer hoping it would take away the distinctly vinegary whiff of fish shop chips (that I’d nicked from James in lieu of supper)….

I was expecting a bunch of old hippies and young grungies but the audience was, to a man and woman, ancient and respectable. The place was packed and Carolyn said she’d read a good review.

Out they trooped onto the stage – mother, father, daughter and another bloke. All so at home with one another that they carried on nattering as if there were sitting at home in their kitchen.
As soon as they started playing I realised it was a mistake. This kind of back to its roots folk music is fabulous but really needs to be heard in a smaller space – in the crowded bar of a pub. I wanted to be sitting at a table with a bunch of mates, glugging back red wine or rough cider and tapping my foot or drumming my fingers on the wine glass. There is something about folk music (and jazz too) that doesn’t often translate that well onto a more formal setting. They were superb musicians and some of the arrangements were unusual and lovely, but I suppose I want more entertainment, more pizzazz if I’m sitting still with my knees up to my chin, penned in a neat row.

There was a lot of shuffling around the stage (from the mikes to a table with chairs where the ones who weren’t playing would sit and drink what I swear were cups of tea). They were so laid back with the whole performing malarkey that they actually came across as a bit bored. Oh gawd, here we go again: let’s bung out a few songs, have a few cuppas, sell a few CDs and bugger off out of here. For some reason they seemed to think it was hilarious that they were sucking throat lozenges, sticking out their tongues at each other. Yeeuch. I kept wanting to yell, oh get on with the music.

The woman next to me however absolutely loved all this shambolic nattering. She barked out the most peculiar laugh I’ve ever heard – this is where I wish I’d paid more attention to phonetics lectures and could reproduce it properly – and kept shouting ‘whoop whoop’ in my ear far more than was strictly necessary.

It made me think back to when I was at college in Manchester and we used to go to this tiny little Irish pub called The Ducie Arms. It was one of a terrace, though most of the street had been pulled own, and faced an area of bleak waste ground before the start of Moss Side. It was, at that time, one of the few places you could get good draught Guinness and we would go in, grab a few pints and sit down in the smoky fug. Inevitably someone would get out a fiddle and then a bodhran and maybe a guitar. A tune would rise up and weave in and out of the conversation. If you’d had a few too much of the dark stuff, it would be nigh-on impossible to stay seated and so up you’d get and jig around a bit (even, shame to tell, on the tables)…and someone would try to teach me Gaelic and be very impressed when I could repeat it nearly perfectly (I’ve got a good ear) not realising that I have an equally poor memory and would have forgotten it ten minutes (or a pint) later. So, IrishEyes, I’m a lost cause. Then someone else would try to get you to play the spoons and by heck that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Anyhow, that – to my mind – was how real folk music needs to be heard. So here comes another WWM (When We Move) resolution – to get out to see some of the small bands playing the pubs.

When I got back to Mum’s (we were staying overnight in Bampton as Adrian had been in London doing a tutored beer tasting for a bunch of loss adjusters) I found a lovely surprise. Adrian had bought me a copy of Loreena McKennitt’s new album, An Ancient Muse. I adore her music – a fusion of Celtic styles and Arabic music which is just totally delicious. I have played her other albums so much I can barely bear to hear them anymore so a new one was a total delight.

So now I’m sitting at my laptop (I’ve given up on the new desktop – the connection is hopeless) being soothed by the strains of Caravanserai. I wish I were clever like Cait (or her offspring) and could have it play at a click….but I’m not so you can’t. Jx

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Positive Thinking and Cosmic Eeyores

I’m driving myself absolutely potty. I’m still waiting to hear back from Hodder and Stoughton about the first draft of Michele’s book (the psychic memoir). I can’t crack on with it until I hear back and I have kept this time free in order to do the work. It’s beyond irritating as – given we are about to move – I had planned on having this project done and dusted by the end of June. Now it will get all snarled up in the move and I am in a totally foul mood about the whole thing.
What is even worse is that, far from thinking ‘whoopee, spare time’ I am sitting morosely at my computer achieving precisely nothing. I am not good at having spare time. My school, the esteemed Nonsuch High School for Girls (very pushy grammar school in Cheam, Surrey) instilled the puritan work ethic in me to such a point that I feel incredibly guilty if I am not sitting at my desk, working hard for at least eight hours a day. My friend Jane says exactly the same – she is possibly the most driven person I know, regularly working until 2am. In fact she’s coming down on Friday for a ‘farewell to Lee Farm’ weekend. We’ve been here nine years and she’s been down maybe half a dozen times. Too busy. Our headmistress would be proud of us.

So I could be cleaning the spare room for Jane. I could, let’s be honest, be cleaning full-stop. Despite the fact that our buyers have been such total phits I cannot somehow bring myself to leave the place in a total mess. But ‘taking time off’ to clean seems decadent. See what a weirdo I am? So, instead, I sit at my computer as if by dint of dogged loyalty to the screen, I can make something happen.

(pause – half an hour later).. And by heck it works! The phone rang and it was Michele saying that she’d had a message from the editor saying it was absolutely fabulous and required very little extra work… Which is fabulous BUT (you heard that coming) I just wish the flipping editor would tell ME…and would also tell me what the ‘very little extra work’ is…so I can crack on and do it. Grrrrr, grrr and triple grrrrrr.

My conversation with Michele was funny – as our conversations always are. She is relentlessly upbeat, a total positive freak, committed believer in Cosmic Ordering and creating your own reality. I’m far more doomy and gloomy, a Cosmic Eeyore.
‘It’s going to be amazing! It’s going to be HUGE.’
‘Yeah, maybe. But it depends on how they market it.’
‘It’s going to change our lives.’
‘I’ve thought that before about books….I was going to be a brand once…’ This said in a very depressed tone. An editor at HarperCollins once got it in her head I was going to be the next Martha Stewart (a sort of cross between Delia and Kirsty Allsop but with a spiritual edge – yes, it’s a strange concept which is perhaps why it never came off). At the time I was very sniffy about the whole thing – thinking it would be prostituting my integrity to have my name on a candle. Fool! Anyhow, the branding was quietly dropped and, with every book I put out, I become more and more cynical as I watch them drop with a quiet little splash into the seventh circle of remaindered hell.

I wasn’t always like this. Once I was as relentlessly positive as Michele. In my twenties I spent hours upon hours and several trees-worth of paper, writing that ‘I, Jane, love and approve of myself’ and ‘It is safe, fun and exciting for me, Jane, to be totally successful.’ For a while they worked really well – the work poured in, so did the money. I was on TV and working for a national. Life was good. I think it all fell apart when I tried the biggie (for me): ‘I, Jane, now choose to be slim and gorgeous.’ I piled on another stone. It was as if my consciousness, higher being, whatever, suddenly took a reality check and said, ‘No sireee.’

So, while I still think it’s great to be upbeat, fabulous to see the positive, I tend to deal in shades of grey nowadays, rather than stark contrast black and white. Life isn’t always easy and I do think that, if you commit yourself hook, line and sinker to the Positive At All Costs movement, then you condemn yourself to feeling a failure when it doesn’t pan out quite how you thought. Also (and maybe this is my puritan school upbringing coming out again) I still can’t help but think that a little bit of the dark, the tough, the hard, doesn’t do one any harm and can even do a lot of good. Look at Paris Hilton (well, I’d rather not, but you know what I mean). Poor little rich girl. Never wanted for anything. Ended up being thrown in jail and kicked her heels when they wouldn’t let her take in her own bed. Now, of course, she says she has found God and is a reformed character. Oh, and she’s going to do a rap record based on her prison experiences. Have to say, it’s quite impressive really. Talk about seeing the positive in everything. Actually the more I think about it, the more you have to confess that this cloud really did have a silver lining. Brand Paris….you watch, there will be a jail range soon. Maybe there is something in this positive thinking after all.
‘I, Jane……’

PS the pic at the top is one taken about twelve years ago, after a draconian diet and a lot of make-up. I have used it relentlessly for all publicity shots ever since and will do so until I am about ninety. This one on the right of the mad woman waving an umbrella menacingly is what nine years on Exmoor does to a woman!!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Two weeks - and counting

Two weeks to go. As James and I drove to the bus this morning he said, ‘In two weeks time I’ll be saying goodbye to the farm forever. I’ll be thinking that I’ll never come here again. I think I’ll probably be crying a bit.’
I think I will too. It’s been the best of times, the worst of times, these nine years here. I moved in when I was heavily pregnant (in retrospect quite the most stupid thing to do, given I had absolutely no support system out here, didn’t know a soul.) I had the pregnancy from hell followed by the birth from hell followed by infection and post-natal depression. I wasn’t ever a natural mother. Babies terrified me (and still do). Add in the persistent insomnia and I was a wreck. I used to drive, half-dizzy with tiredness, sobbing my heart out. I realised, very early on, that we had made a mistake; that, beautiful though this valley was, we had come at the wrong time. Adrian, however, was in love – in love with the land, with walking, with chain-sawing, with tramping.

I have had happy times here, but I have never really felt settled. I have felt as if we’ve been camping out, borrowing the house. I have never had the urge (which I had in previous houses) to claim it, to cajole it, to work with it to make a wondrous magical home. So, now we are on the verge of leaving, it is with very mixed feelings.

I will miss so much:

· The early morning sun flooding in through the bedroom window.
· The house martens roosting under my office window and giving me an air show throughout the summer.
· Watching the weather sweep across the valley – lazy drifting snow, columns of rain, the odd rainbow, a one-off whirlwind.
· The avenue of maples, with candy bright rhododendrons – the tawny owl greeting us as we come home in the evening.
· The stream – with James’ island and Jack’s deep plunge pool. Beloved of herons. We never did see an otter.
· The fire in my office…
· The space – huge kitchen, huge living room, huge bedroom.
- Being snowed in from time to time – and tobogganing down the hill.
· The red deer.
· Having no immediate neighbours.
· Watching the sheep and cattle on the hillside opposite.
· Watching the hunt – the hounds working the gorse.
· Our spring water – tastes like heaven.
· Closing the gate on Christmas Eve and shutting out the world.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I will miss being surrounded by pure raw nature. When I think of my ‘won’t miss’ list, it all seems a bit pathetic. Maybe, to coin a phrase used elsewhere, I’m selling my soul for ‘country convenient’. I don’t know.

I won’t miss:

· Driving absolutely everywhere.
· The endless clearing of docks/bracken/thistles/
· The steepness of the hill – worse than a Stairmaster.
· Not being able to get a takeaway.
· The weird electrics – if you have more than two appliances on, the lights flicker.
· Losing the light early in winter.
· The pot-holes on the drive.
· The bridge that seems ready to collapse at any moment.
· The bats – in the bedroom.
· The need for endless forward planning – the lack of spontaneity (oh, I fancy baking a cake – ah, but we haven’t got this or that).

See what I mean?

It’s a hard time to leave. Summer here is exquisite. When I think back over the last two years of trying to sell, I still can’t believe it took so long. How could anyone NOT fall in love with this perfect little patch of Exmoor? How could I think of leaving it?

Monday, 11 June 2007

The Vampire Bat (a home-grown horror story)

There’s a horror film being re-enacted in our house right now. Every night as the sun goes down I lock myself in the far bedroom, jamming tight the windows, slamming shut the door, lying quivering in bed, listening for the slightest sound, the merest disturbance in the air. Praying. Hard. I cannot rest until dawn breaks through and the hope of the new day emerges. Then, at last, I can fling open the windows and fall into the deepest slumber. Safe at last.

It’s bat season.

I have absolutely no idea why but, every June, we get bats in the house. Funnily enough, when it first happened, I wasn’t that bothered. I’d merely open the windows, slam off the lights and wait for them to figure out the Exit and leave. But as the years have passed, my nerves have worn thin and now I am very nearly phobic. I don’t mind them outside, flitting round at dusk. But I cannot abide them in the house or – more particularly – in the bedroom.

The first one of 2007 arrived a couple of days ago. I was sitting in the living room, feet up with a large glass of Pinot Grigio, watching The Holiday (execrable film), when a large one started doing its wild circling routine. Squawked a bit and hauled in Adrian to deal with it.
Then, several hours later, in bed I woke with a sense that Something Was Wrong. Lay there, heart thudding, listening. Nothing. Checked on James – fine. Came back, turned on the light and read a bit (Gardens of the Dead – not great). Adrian, having partaken of cheese (makes him snore) was in the back guest room. Felt tired, turned off light. Lay there in the dark, wondering what was wrong. Then a low sort of ‘thrum’ and my heart sank. Sort of lost it, I’m afraid and let out an involuntary wail. Which, of course, woke up James.
‘What’s up Mum?’
‘Oh, only a silly bat. Don’t worry.’ Pause. Duck. Small scream.
No response. Adrian sleeps like Dracula at noon.
‘DAAAAAD!!’ James not remotely worried but smartly figuring his higher-pitched cry might wake his father. Frankly a stake to the heart might be a better idea.
Finally he stumbles out, looking quite like the undead, sort of takes in the situation and calmly lets the bat fly into his end of the house and shuts himself in with it.
I don’t like this cavalier attitude. I like to see things disappear. I like to know for good and certain that the trespasser (be it bat or spider or whatever) has been returned to its proper place (ie NOT in my house).
Last year it reached epic proportions. I didn’t sleep for a month. One memorable night Adrian turned the bedroom upside down and did that sort of pained male thing of throwing up his hands and saying, ‘Well, it’s not here.’
‘But it hasn’t gone. Ergo it must be here.’ Muffled from under the duvet.
‘But I can’t see it and I’ve looked everywhere. So it can't be here.’

How stupid and typically male is this? I thought back over his running commentary on everywhere he had looked and realised that the one place he hadn’t checked was - horror of horrors – the bed. I peered down the back of the (headboardless) mattress and – Oh My God – yup, there it was….all curled up all but three inches from where my head had been for the last half hour. Cue total hysteria and a severely chastised husband.

This year we were prepared. The chimneys had been blocked solid with paper. The doors were all shut as were the windows (even as the temperature soared). Yet still the puggers get in somehow.
‘Like a mist through the keyhole,’ muttered Adrian. Not helpful at all, Van Helsing.
I meanwhile, have taken to barricading myself in the far room, crucifix firmly round my neck, garlic at the windows, muttering prayers and imprecations. I jest – but only just.

PS – great responses to my blogging question – thank you all…

Friday, 8 June 2007

Why We Really Blog

The more I blog, the more fascinated I become by the process. I’ll be very honest, when I first started I saw it merely as a very outside chance of helping to sell my house. Country Living readers were my ideal audience of prospective buyers and as the site (insanely) didn’t offer an on-line Houses for Sale section and I wasn’t allowed by the chatroom rules to yell ‘BUY MY HOUSE’ I figured blogging might be a subtle way of finding a buyer. Too subtle by far of course because I didn’t get one single viewing out of it! I suspect I wasn’t the only one who started blogging with ulterior motives. Obviously lots entered the competition, hoping for a slot in a magazine (though let’s not linger there, eh?). Others, I would imagine, hoped a blog might highlight a business. I’d love to know (honestly) why you all started blogging.

But, if I didn’t find a buyer, I most certainly found a heck of a lot more. Just as I think so many of you did. I’m a lousy diary keeper – my handwritten diaries are just jotted notes – ‘did this, did that, read this, watched that’….there is no poetry, so soul. When James grows up he will be horrified to discover that, for the first few months of his life, his demented mother kept a note of every single ounce of fluid taken and every bowel movement passed. For years I kept a dream diary but that reads like the diary of a total madwoman scrabbling in her attic. The joke is that, in my work, I frequently exhort people to ‘write out their feelings’, to ‘keep a journal’, to ‘write letters – you don’t need to send them’. Yet I never once took my own advice. I argued that writing as therapy wasn’t ideal for one who earned her living with words. I used to paint instead. Now I can’t seem to paint but, curiously, blogging has let me write.
I find that both writing and reading blogs has a very intense psychological effect. Reading other people’s experiences (particularly when they – as so often happens – mirror your own past experiences) can plug you straight into confrontation with forgotten or suppressed emotions. And I notice that, as I wrote that last sentence, I have slid conveniently into the second person (rather than the first!).

Starting with a blank page is also incredibly powerful. What will your fingers (my fingers?) type? What will splurge out? I am becoming more aware that writing about deeply personal issues becomes much easier when you don’t physically know the people. I have not become involved with any on-line communities before this one (except for a brief period nine years ago when I joined a US-initiated forum for expecting ‘moms’) so do not know if the hugely high level of support here is common or unusual. It seems unusual to me. Sometimes, when I read a seriously kind or insightful comment, I find myself sobbing over my laptop….. wonderful cathartic tears that otherwise would not surface.

I have become far more aware of my own thought processes while writing. I am realising that my tendency, when things start veering towards the very personal, is to make a joke, to turn it into a funny story. I am not sure I have the sheer guts to tell it just as it is, the way so many of you do. But maybe I will….one day further down the line with this curious form of on-line therapy.

I’m also in wonder at the way the blogs and the purplecoo site inspire me – not just with recipes and gardening hints and so on, but also with the sheer courage and guts of people, the fighting spirit, the against all odds stories. On that note, I’d just like to say that if anyone hasn’t read HerontheHill’s post about her local school closing – please go to the blog link on the right of this….and sign the petition for Downing Street. Rural communities really do need local schools and if we can help to save this one, then blogging really does have a deeply therapeutic purpose, on a community level, not just a personal one.

Thank you all – for everything.
btw, the pic is taken from an incredible spa in Austria - Viva-Mayr.....

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Only Gay in the Village wears gold lame

Tell me mirrors lie. Please. Mine are being most unpleasant at the moment, showing a baggy saggy wrinkly lined old harridan that I really don’t recognise at all. Who is this person? In my mind’s eye I am still she of the taut jaw, the smooth cheek, the unfurrowed forehead. I also think I have reverse body dysmorphia – whereas most people think they are fatter than they really are, I am convinced I am thinner. I look at clothes and imagine myself in them and then try them on and am shocked and horrified when a) they don’t fit and b) they look atrocious.
Last Christmas I had this idea that I would invest in a slim black trouser suit – I would wear it to parties with killer heels livened up by a shimmer of a glittery gold or silver vest. In my head I looked a stunner – Cate Blanchett at the very least. In the changing rooms of Marks & Spencer cruel reality struck. I tugged on the vest, all shiny squares of glittery gold and spun round in horror. I was the living embodiment of The Only Gay in the Village, squeezed into gold lame, a tubby bauble of a woman. I couldn’t help myself – a small scream came out totally involuntarily. Several women in other cubicles called out ‘Are you OK?’
‘Yup, fine, just er……got my finger caught in the zip.’
‘Do you want a hand?’ chirruped the sales assistant.
‘Nooooooo,’ I yelled, ‘I’m fine, all sorted!’ in a sort of bright merry voice.
Much huffing and puffing ensued to wriggle out of it. Another fine vision wrecked.
Now the same thing is happening all over again, in this the season of parties and balls. When I lived in London it was so easy. All my friends were artists or musicians or in the media and one could be iconoclastic (indeed it was expected) – anything went as long as it was imaginative and dramatic. But here in the country, strict dress codes prevail. I have been badgered to go to a fund-raising ball (I’ve never been to a ball!) and given the strict advice that dresses are worn, long dresses, proper pukka evening dresses. I spent hours trying things on and have come to the realisation that it simply isn’t going to happen. Unless I lose three stone in two weeks, this Cinderella will not go to the ball.

Sleep deprivation does not help my mood. Last night was my fourth bad night….this time not helped by the wind rattling the frames and a frond of wisteria tapping at the window. I need the Duvet Diet – apparently lack of sleep can cause weight gain (now that diet just HAD to come from a woman!)…so the only answer is more sleep. Yes, yes, yes! However, before I can crawl back into bed, I need to write a feature on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – hardly a cheery topic. I also have to visit my mother, who is not in good shape. Hey ho. Isn’t getting older fabulous?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Sports Day and Kansas bloggers

I’m in a right old pickle at the moment. Stuck between two computers for starters. My new one keeps losing its Internet connection which was driving me potty enough (plus it’s got the dreaded Vista on it – aaaghh). But now, to add insult to injury, the crappy keyboard they generously gave with it won’t work – the space bar sticks intolerably. So I am back on the laptop in the breakfast room and have to say it’s a joy to be on XP again. Though, shamefully, the dreaded Spider Solitaire is still on here…..I shall resist!

Once again I’m sleep-deprived too. The night before last we had a girls’ night at Linda’s. Great fun but my heart sank at the thought of a late Sunday night. I used to think nothing of staying up to the wee small hours and then getting up and going to work. In fact, when I worked on the Evening Standard, it was par for the course to go to a party, get home at 4am, write your copy and phone it over to the copytakers before falling into bed for a few hours before getting up and going back into work. How in the name of heaven did I have the stamina? It sounds like a glamorous job but was pretty grim really – I still wince at the memory of trotting after Bob Geldof (he walks VERY fast) asking for a brief quote with him snarling ‘F**k off’ in dulcet tones.

Anyhow, back in the present, I got two hours sleep and felt like hell yesterday. We pitched up at Sports Day with me feeling slightly out of it. I thought it would never end. Forty odd races and variations on things being thrown and bodies jumping high and long. The weather lunged from sizzling sunburn heat to shivering wind and cold – hence the sight of some of the yummy mummies wearing slivers of dresses and slingbacks with not so fetching vast padded fleeces over the top. I loathe Sports Day. It brings back far too many memories of ritual humiliation via 100 metres. I have weak knees (comes of being a Capricorn) and for some inexplicable reason my knees would give out at precisely 50 metres at which point I would fall flat on my face and have to haul myself to my feet and limp the remaining distance while all the rest of the girls had long returned to their seats. So I found a tear in my eye watching the little tubby girl stumbling along at the back of the fleet, sleek, pony-tailed pack.

James, thank God, has not inherited any of my genes that I can detect. He loves sport. I still don’t really believe it and so sat with a slack jaw as I watched my little boy, way ahead of the field for two laps of the 800 metres. He had peaked too early though and fell back towards the end but managed to come fourth (which I thought was damn fine given he was the only one of his year competing against older boys). He came third in the 200 metres too and I thought I would burst a blood vessel as he charged towards the finish, with me bellowing at him like a fish-wife (apologies to fish-wives). So much for me sitting quietly as instructed. In the house relay, the baton was dropped and they came last – James was disgusted.

As far as these things go, it was well-organised. While many of the races were finals of heats run earlier in school, a few others were (reading between the lines) subtly designed to allow the non-sporty a chance to have a go without humiliation. For instance a never-ending relay race with 25 team members and some ‘free’ races. It wasn’t ‘prizes for all’ (halleluyah) but somehow managed to combine sporting competitiveness with a ‘have a bash’ mentality that was pleasing.

There is also something rather pleasing about Blogger. I love all the comments from old friends – guaranteed to bring a wide smile. And I also love that, every so often, I find a comment by someone outside the purplecoo community….I trot off and find another fabulous or thought-provoking or laugh out loud blog and then have to ration myself or I’d be off, following links, wandering freefall all over the land of Blog. Today I found iota – a UK woman in that strangest of strange lands, the mid-West of America. There, it transpires, Sports Day is Field Day. Her children are learning to speak with American accents and I learned that ‘camp’ (that great US institution) is not a few weeks away in the forest, but can be a one-day course. Fabulous to get that insight into another world – and all at the click of a mouse. Now, of course, I am wondering about her life – how did she get there? And how come she knows the Poltimore Arms on Exmoor, one of the most ‘off the map’ pubs it’s possible to encounter?

PS - the odd picture is part of a mural in the Eden Project - though at a push it could be some ancient relay race!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Inbetween days

My father-in-law came out of hospital yesterday, which was fabulous news and lightened us up no end. It meant we fairly flounced off to Barnstaple, eschewing the link road and wending our way over the top of the moor via Brayford – a gorgeous route. Adrian headed off to buy provisions (he adores Butchers’ Row – a narrow street of food shops) and to browse leisurely in the music shop while James and I took ourselves off to have a coffee. Somehow I ended up buying stuff for everyone except myself (how common is that?) but didn’t mind remotely. We stopped off for lunch on the way back at the Poltimore Arms – a good old-fashioned pub.

Murphy, the grey, is back with us for his summer holidays – and I’m trying to work out how to persuade our horrible buyers that they should do the decent thing and let him stay on. James and I took him some of his favourite extra-strong mints and gave him a big hug (I’ll miss him something rotten). Then we set up a target by the stable and practiced our air rifle shooting (James went on a young shots day on Friday and was keen to show us how well he can shoot).

I’d forgotten how much fun it is – it plugged me straight back to my teenage years when (having joined the Venture Scouts because I fancied one of the boys) we used to shoot air pistols and rifles in the rather odd environs of the scout hut. It was a skill that came in handy when I went to university in Manchester and found myself living in a vast monster of a house in Whalley Range. The back yard was overrun with rats and we’d hang out of the first floor window shooting them with an air pistol. Barbaric teenagers.

There were six of us students living in the house but one room housed an entire family of two adults, two (horribly malnourished) children, a morose cat called Blue and three ferrets (Dracula, Fang and one whose name escapes me). The eldest boy, who was about twelve but looked six, used to go rabbiting in Alexandra Park – and I think the family lived off rabbits and potato cakes.

I digress. I tried to buy our reading group book in Waterstones – but no joy. The book was there (according to their computer) but not in its rightful place and therefore nowhere to be found. I wandered around aimlessly, rather hoping it might just jump out at me and ended up buying instead a couple of books for my nephew – David Green’s Black Swan Green and The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. I am saving David for my holiday treat but I have just finished reading Gideon Mack and loved it. The tale of an agnostic Church of Scotland minister who meets the Devil (and finds him a goodly companion) was strangely moving and made me think a lot about the nature of belief, faith, love, death, settling for second-best and reality. I’m now knee-deep in Prince of the Clouds by Gianni Riotta, a book which on paper I would never have read in a million years (it’s about a military strategist!) but in reality is a total joy.

I have calmed down about our buyer. Yes, he is a greedy unpleasant man – but that’s his problem. I just want to move on. Leaving will be hard but there is much to look forward to. I think my only real sadness is that we haven’t had the time/money/expertise to use the land properly. I had planned to have horses and get back to riding. Adrian had wanted to do a bit of a smallholding and have a small brewery. But it didn’t happen. We have planted trees and held back the bracken and coppiced the woodland. It has made me realise - in very real terms - that we never own land. We look after it – that’s all.

In many ways, it will be a relief not to have to keep it all going. James will no longer go on thistle patrol. Adrian can hang up his strimmer. I can stop my battle with ferns and bracken (though I fear I will exchange one patch of ground elder for another). Already the house feels like it’s slipping away from us, removing its attention. That gives a wonderful lightening in my soul. I thought this would be an easy house (after our last one which was a right prima donna) but it’s been insidious and clinging.

Sorry, this is long and disjointed. Thoughts are tumbling out of me at the moment and I think that’s why I don’t feel like blogging – I’m not sure it’s fair to subject you to such confusion. This really is the liminal time – we’re leaving but not quite left; we’re going but not quite arrived. The hallway is filled with detritus, flotsam and jetsam on the beach (that ultimately liminal place). Enough, enough……

Pic is a small herd of red deer, in our big field, a few evenings ago....