Monday, 29 October 2007

Nice surprises and nasty shocks

I love surprises. I like to think I relish the unexpected. But as I grow older I am becoming aware of a growing tendency to try to keep things safe; under control. It’s something I intend to fight, tooth and nail. Partly because it is the first step towards acute anxiety and I can see all to clearly where that leads with my poor Size Zero Mother – who can barely move for neurosis; who can’t stand it if even the tiniest thing is out of place or if people don’t behave precisely the way she expects them to. It’s a slippery slope and I would hate to follow her into that particular madness. But also, and more importantly, it’s hard to enjoy life if you aren’t open to a little spontaneity, a little wildness, a little anarchy.

Nice surprises light me up like a child. I still wait, eagerly, for the postman – hoping that there will be something exciting amidst the relentless bills and press releases on pile treatments: some thrilling news; some soul-catching letter or image; something just plain nice. Like a copy of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black maybe. A padded envelope with unfamiliar writing…open it up and there is a slim volume, with a chillingly spooky cover and tucked inside a note from Kitty. It's a ‘just because’ gift, a ‘what the heck’ gift… totally perfect and just before Hallowe’en too. Bless you, Kitty. I am reading it slowly, savouring it, only allowing myself to read it in the Oak Room in front of a big fire. Ghost stories should always be read thus – and this is a great one, in the fine tradition of M R James and Lovecraft. It makes me smile every time I go in and see it sitting waiting on the coffee table.

The garden is throwing up surprises too. As we peel away the layers of bramble and choking ivy, the carpet of thick weeds, we find odd things, forgotten things. A pathway, or is it the top of some old wall? Old bird boxes. A trainer (large, black, yuk). A woman’s shoe (small, red, old-fashioned, weird). Old plant labels. The remnants of a trug.

James continues to surprise me – as I suspect all children do. He has, all of a sudden, decided he doesn’t like football any more and has given his allegiance to rugby. So we have swapped Wednesday evening football training for Sunday morning rugby training. Gone is the shiny, slippery red nylon football kit and in comes solid black and white cotton rugby shirt. It’s a nice surprise, this one. Rugby seems a far more civilised game (despite its close proximity to warfare) – plus we’re greeted by the cheering sight of an open bar and by the scent of bacon sizzling on the grill.

He’s going deep too, my little Scorpio. I found a piece of work in his school bag – they were practicing questions.

Who will die first in my class?
Is the black hole real?
What will it be like in the year 6,000?
Will God ever die?
Who is the coolest person in the world?
Will England win the World Cup?

Crikey. But what really surprised me was that his teacher had made no comment – merely calmly corrected a few spellings and added a few capitals. Are all eight-year olds concerned about black holes and the demise of God?

Surprises are one thing but shocks are something else. Last night I went to aerobics and, before the class, I was chatting to my friend G who lives on a nearby farm. The music started up and we were just about to start marching on the spot when G said, ‘Oh, by the way, our new neighbour is going to be a journalist. Works for the Mail – I wondered if you knew her….’
No, surely not?
‘Liz Jones.’
Well, knock me down with a feather. It turns out she’s buying the absolutely gorgeous farmhouse next to G’s – where Adrian and I once went to a deeply strange dinner party in which the hostess (possibly the most painful snob I have ever met) fell asleep on the sofa in front of all her guests. But reading her latest column in You magazine I am beginning to get a bit worried about her (Liz Jones, not the snobby hostess). It appears (if you can believe a magazine column) that she wants to escape London and her miserable failed marriage and set up an animal sanctuary where her ‘fur babies’ (aka cats) can be ‘safe’ as there are ‘no roads or fast cars’. Hmm. I almost feel I ought to email her and warn her that Exmoor is pretty red in tooth and claw. She is moving into prime shooting country and one of her nearest neighbours is chairman of the local staghounds. Her fur babies will need to watch out for foxes and badgers (the very ones that stopped dairy farming on G’s farm after generations). Although her lane is small and narrow, we have boy racers here as well as anywhere and there are fatalities a-plenty. Most of all, she wants to do a Garbo and ‘be alone’ – should she be told that the whole of Exmoor will know her business within weeks, if not days or even hours?
‘She’ll write a book about her born-again farming experiences,’ I muttered to R as we sat drinking wine and eating almond brittle in the breakfast room (a fine post-aerobics tradition).
‘Or she’ll do a Madonna and start wearing tweed and take up shooting,’ said R with a shudder. Poor R. She has, in desperation, turned to Buddhist parenting in the hopes of taming the Mistress of All Evil (her nine-year old daughter).
Then again, who knows, Ms Jones might turn out to be a perfectly normal, decent ordinary person. Now that would be a nice surprise.

PS - I am so sorry I haven't been able to read many blogs of late - I will try to catch up ASAP.
PPS - anyone know how to get a black and white rugby shirt staying black and white (as opposed to black and brown?)