Hairy House

Hairy House

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Once Upon a Time....

 The Kingdom

Once upon a time, a creature crawled from the depths and he gathered all the people unto him and he said: 
"I have a wonderful idea.
"I would like to change this kingdom of ours. I would like to rape her oceans and lay waste to her earth, so that the rich may become richer and the poor shall become poorer.
"I would like to build a great wall around the kingdom so that those who are desperate will not be able to find refuge. 
"I would like to put females in their proper place - that is, I would like them to be valued for their sexual worth alone and paraded around like magician's assistants.
"I would like to take this kingdom back to the golden age when our technology was far behind that of other countries.
"I would like to make sure that only those people whom I consider to have an acceptable sexuality are able to officially declare their love for each other.
"And, instead of wasting money on starving children in other countries I would like to pay it, instead, to those of the rich who have decided to have children in this kingdom, so that they may profit from their  progeny."
And the people replied: "Yes! We must have this person as our leader."
And they all lived......

If you have enjoyed this story and would like to read more of my, let's say, rather less bitter writing, you could look for Tales of Music, Mystery and Mayhem on Amazon, or copy and paste this link:


Friday, 23 August 2013

Election Fever

So, we've got an election coming up and Rupert is out and I am too drunk  - after a small bottle of cider - to do anything useful, so thought I would write a blog post - for the first time in a while.

The last few months have been pretty busy, trying to finish two novels and get a string quartet up and running, gigs here, there but not everywhere, teaching and looking after three kids. Not that they need looking after as such, it's more about driving them places and yelling at them, nowadays. Most of our interactions are along the lines of "Where's my...." and "Who's left their socks on the floor again?" Very occasionally, I get to exchange a couple of words with my other half, but not often.

What I want to know is: is there such a thing as Election Amnesia, in the same way as one gets Childbirth Amnesia and forgets the blood and gore and agony of childbirth, in order to keep the human race going? Because, if this election is as bad as most, then surely we would have ditched democracy a long time ago?

At the moment I am favouring the idea of going back to a feudal system. The thought of being able to build a nice windowless keep, pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world at large is very tempting. Part of me thinks I should just be grateful that we don't live in Syria or Egypt at the moment, but at the same time I wonder - is this how it all starts? How did we get to the point when the major parties are battling it out to see who can be the most Xenophobic? The least compassionate?

I would go on, but am feeling so full of despair that I am going to join Juliette and her friend Keely and watch Justin Beiber. And if that doesn't say something, then nothing does.

Monday, 18 March 2013

A Flash of Fiction

It seems that Flash Fiction is growing in popularity, so here's an effort of mine, not entirely fictional, but more autobiographical.


"You know how much I love you, don't you?"
"Um, really?"
"You must know, I think of you all day. I lie awake thinking about you at night and then when I fall asleep I dream of you."
"But I need more of you. I need you all to myself."
"My dear, you know I can't do that. You know I am divided too much as it is."
"Please. I need you."
"I need you to myself and I also need to share you with my husband and my children. Please, just a little more."
"You don't have enough of me?"
"No, I don't. I need another day in the week, or even another hour in the day."
"That's ridiculous. You have me for twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year."
"But it's not enough."
"Look, people have asked for more since my very beginning. And I have never given it. You're wasting your breath, I'm afraid."
Father Time watched as the woman walked away, her shoulders drooping, and he shook his head. "Oh dear, there's one born every minute," he thought. "And I should know."



Sunday, 10 March 2013

A story...

So, I think it's time to post a short story, just because this is one I wrote for an exercise a while ago and it's been languishing in the depths of my short stories folder, unlikely ever to see the light of day. I felt sorry for it though and so thought I would give it a little airing. The exercise was to write a story based on one of the seven deadly sins. So here goes:

The Trouble with Tarts...

Sometimes I go through periods when I can forget about my Sin. For whole weeks at a time I don't even feel tempted to give into it, and so I start to think I've conquered it. I feel clean and light, as if I'm starting life afresh. I walk tall, because I am in control and I have, at last, mastered my Sin.
And then it comes creeping back, when I least expect it.
I wake up in the morning and feel fine, just as the day, or week before. I set off for work full of jubilation. “Good morning, how are you? Lovely day, isn't it?” I greet the other cleaners and they smile back and I can see the raised eyebrows, the “He's in a good mood this morning,” faces they make at each other.
I set to work with a will and then there's a text from my sister.
Hi Tom, are you free this weekend? Haven't seen you for ages. I worry about you being lonely living way over town, all by yourself. Church and dinner on Sunday?
I hardly bother to read to the end of the message, but toss the phone aside and carry on working. I think it means nothing to me so I don't even notice my Sin creeping up on me. It's like those times when it's a beautiful sunny day and you go to the cinema and when you come out again, the sky is grey and it's been raining and you had no idea. At first I try to ignore it, to pretend it's not there – the flat disappointment like an ache in my stomach. But as the day passes, it grows into a scorching hole of emptiness and I know I am weak, I know there is nothing I can do, that however hard I battle with myself it will come to the same thing this evening. My Sin is lurking, waiting for me and I know I will give in to it. All day I work as hard as I can, but it is there, looming at the back of my mind and slowly, the scorching emptiness becomes a lust that spreads and thickens, billowing up in my chest, pouring through my veins till the very sweat on my palms seems to be full of it.
The ridiculous thing is that I still pretend to myself I won't do it - that I'm going to go home and have a normal evening, watch a bit of TV, eat my dinner and go to bed.
By the end of the day, I am exhausted. I wait in line, board the bus, then stand, hot and sweaty, squashed against the bodies of other hot and sweaty and exhausted people. Perfume mingles in the air with the smell of sweat and fart and petrol; mobile phones play stupid tunes and beep and trill and I want to scream. The bus swings around corners and we all bump into each other, barely containing our irritability; but still the lust lies in my stomach, unabated. The further we go, the bus empties and I am able to find a seat. We are moving away from the part of the city where the pavements are swept and the shops sell expensive clothes and the restaurants serve food on huge white plates, at linen covered tables. The bus snorts and sneezes its way out to the part of the city where I live, where the establishments have their names written in neon lights and garbage lies out on the pavements; a place where temptation lurks on every corner, where there are girls dressed in lace and velvet and every fabric in between, flesh revealed in improbable proportions.
I hear my mother's voice so clearly in my head I wonder if I actually told her about my Sin.
For heaven's sake, my boy, how do you expect to resist temptation when you live here?”
And I hear my voice, replying in a mature, reasonable tone, the sort of tone I would never have dared use: “Ma, I can't afford it, you know I can't.”
Then why don't you get a proper job like your siblings? You could live in a nice part of the city where there are parks without needles and vomit on the ground and meet a nice girl and live a good life, like your brothers and sister.”
But the trouble is, I like this place.
I like the smell of curry and old Chinese takeaways and cigarettes that hits my nostrils as I enter my apartment block. This is my home, where I feel comfortable. This is the true me. I would like to think I'm the sort of person who lives in a nice flat by a park with no needles or vomit, married to a nice girl with nice children, who goes to a nice church every Sunday. But I'm not. I don't deserve that sort of life. That is the sort of life my brothers and sister live, with their clean wholesome families and their clean wholesome bodies, their nice houses, their nice jobs and their nice thoughts.
I walk up the dark, urine smelling stairs, and let myself into my apartment. I change into jeans and a pullover, help myself to a beer, feed the cat, switch on the TV. Sometimes I even sit down in from of the TV, the cat cuddled into my side and I stroke her, her warm head butting my hand. But there is a burning in my chest and the sweat is breaking out on my forehead and suddenly I don't even want to resist my Sin. Now I feel the excitement building and I'm not even pretending to fight it anymore.
I let myself out of the flat and run down the stairs, my feet skimming the treads. I burst out onto the pavement and there, right on the corner is a hot dog stand. That's where I'll start. I order a hot dog with onions and gherkins and slather it with mustard and tomato sauce, the saliva pooling in my mouth. Then I take a big breath and shove the food in, teeth tearing, gulping, swallowing it down, slimy onions, rubbery meat, the sharp kick of the gherkins and the mustard, the sweetness of the sauce all combining in my throat like a song.
Next door is a grocery store where I buy a blue frozen drink from a machine, struggling to hold the bucket sized cup steady as the icy mush pours into it, my hand shaking with anticipation. A mammoth bag of chips comes with it and a doughnut the size of a soup bowl, dense and sweet.
Then outside again, and two large slices of pizza from another stall, dripping cheese and pepperoni. I down them in three bites before a foray into the Indian shop next door to chomp down a bag of samosas - so quickly the chilli doesn't burn my tongue. The food is bubbling in my stomach now, but underneath there is still a small ache of emptiness that I need to fill and I know what to do about that.
The all night bakery, which I always leave till last.
I wander in, wiping the grease from my chin with the back of my hand and now I take time to survey the shelves, though I already know what I'll order. I come out with two bags and, stopping only to buy a tub of ice cream I make my way back to the apartment, to eat in comfort on the sofa.
First the strawberry tart, pastry thick and buttery, jam sweet and gelatinous, big enough for a family of eight, but I eat it quickly, gulping it down, only coming up for breath. Then comes the lemon tart, an explosion of sunlight in my mouth. I eat this one slowly, letting the pastry melt on my tongue, savouring the sweetness which is mine, ignoring, for as long as I can, the bubbling in my stomach. The sweat is breaking out on my forehead, around my collar.
I make it to the toilet just in time and for a while my body is one heaving, swelling, shaking mess, my legs trembling, my throat screaming and I am joyously, beautifully free at last as I take the punishment for my Sin and all my weaknesses and failures. Then I fall back, down onto my knees, head slumped forward on the cold tiles of the floor.
And then my Sin rushes back and there is nothing I can do. It comes swooping down, enfolding me in its embrace, reminding me that I am its child, that I will never escape, it will always be there, hanging on with its greasy, grasping fingers.
I get up, flush the toilet, wash my face and hands and go back to the sitting room and the tub of ice-cream.

 The End

 Love it or hate it, if anyone has any comments, would love to hear them. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Aging, cynicism and weddings.

There's no two ways of looking at it. I am growing old. 
I have a fourteen year old son who is hairier and taller than my husband, have started having to hold things further away from my nose in order to read them, and am nearing that dread age - 3010.
However, it's not all bad. The one thing that has surprises me is that, whilst getting older, I am also getting far less cynical and far less judgmental of others, which is funny, because I always used to think it was meant to be the other way around.
Music is one area in which this particularly stands out. I have recently started playing regularly in a gigging string quartet again, as I used to as a student and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Back in the days when I was a student, my friends and I could be very scornful about playing for endless weddings.
"They only want us for the look of the thing," we used to say, and "oh no, not another Canon, not another Eine Kliene Nachtmusik," we would groan.
Nowadays, I just enjoy playing the music. So what if it is Eine Kleine? It is still Mozart is it not, and how many people have the opportunity to play Mozart and get paid for it? And instead of thinking, "nobody can hear us, doesn't matter how we play," I have started to realise what good practise it is to play when you can hardly hear each other - it takes new ways of communicating, that's all.
And there might be the odd gig when you're not sure whether anybody noticed you were there. But the last gig we did, at a launch for Fiat, an old man joined in to sing Sole Mio with a beautiful baritone, and his wife had to drag him away. A few months ago, we had people fighting over the microphone so that they could join in with our Merry Widow rendition. What price that, eh?
And, when it comes down to it, there is no such thing as "just another wedding." Even if, on the surface of it, things might look similar; another bride in another white dress, more pink bridesmaids, another golf club, another flowered bower - at the end of the day, each bride, each bridegroom is different. For them it is a unique occasion, for their guests, their friends and families, it is a special time  and you can feel it in the air, in the nervous giggles of the guests, the tears of the mothers. And, if anything, it is a privilege to be part of something so momentous, to be adding one's own little piece of confetti to the shower.

And by the way, if you want to support the Brisbane String Quartet, please go to our facebook page and like us!!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Music Medicine

I was going to post one of my stories today as, the mood I was in, I was afraid that if I wrote anything else, anyone who read it would end up slitting their throat.
However, I went round to my friend John's house this morning to have a play. We are planning a house concert in a few weeks, but we spent the morning reading through some stuff that I am considering for an Earth Hour gala that I am playing in with the incomparable Leslie Martin, soprano extraordinaire next month. (Details to follow)
There were a couple of pieces we were considering, one of which I had never heard and an arrangement of one of the pieces I love most in this world - the Leibestod from Tristan and Isolde, by Wagner. But much to our amazement, it was the far lesser known violin solo from L'Amico Fritz that turned out to be the true gem. It is not, perhaps, a piece of great musical worth, not on a par with the original Wagner, of course. But it is quirky and fun, dramatic, romantic and unashamedly sentimental. I came away from John's house feeling like a different person - due, in part, to John's general gorgeousness, but also due to the wonderful fun of discovery and experimentation that comes with playing a new piece for the first time. (I since sat down to eat my lunch with a few pages of Call the Midwife, so now feel back to throat slitting mood, but at least now I feel I can cope with it!)
Some of my favourite musical and childhood memories come from when I was around ten years old in Saudi Arabia; every Wednesday evening my family and a few others would gather at the house of two eccentric doctors - the Harland's - and spend the whole evening playing recorder music. Purcell, Schikhardt, Bach, Telemann of course, Praetorious, Dowland, Schmelzer, Biber. There were piles of music, for two recorders, three, seven; music for trebles, tenors, descants, bass - we never knew what was going to come out next but we all sat around in a circle, air conditioning humming away in the background, Malcolm, with his unruly beard and moustache through which you could hear the wind whistling as he blew, Ruth, who stuck her fingers high in the air like sausages and could never understand why she couldn't play the fast bits, Erasmus, singing out of tune as he played the bass parts on his guitar, my sisters and mother, eyes shining with excitement, my father, not playing anything, but sitting on the sofa, guffawing loudly over Private Eye magazines. And we would play for hours, music that was fun, music that was interesting... and occasionally, we would come across a piece which made our hearts quicken and our spines straighten. It wasn't always by the most famous composer, or published by the biggest publishing house, but even so we would all know that, oh yes, this was it - this was the golden egg that we had all been looking for.
Sometimes, we would play a piece that was okay, but nothing special, but then somebody would suggest that: "why don't we try it twice the speed?" or "half the speed", or "more piano", or "more forte." So we would try it and suddenly the piece would come alive and the music would grow, pouring out of our recorders and around the room, around and into us all - music written centuries ago by almost forgotten composers.
So, the point of all this waffle, is for those parents who have decided that their children should play a musical instrument but are a little bit hazy as to why, or for those who want to learn how to play as an adult. The gift you are giving your children, or yourselves, need not be the gift of talent, nor necessarily the gift of skill, or discipline. It is the gift of creation - the ability to take a scrawl of black notes on a page and give them life; to make something wonderful and magical out of nothing. And what greater gift can you give?
Well, don't answer that, but I, for one, think it's pretty cool.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Music and Lifestyle

Yesterday was a reminder of why we live in Australia.
The kids were all tired and lay around the house in a state of lacklustre. The HO in particular was hunched for almost the entire day, in front of a computer screen of some sort – either the family computer, his iPod, or his school lap top. But as soon as it got cool enough, I bullied them all outside – actually, the girls didn't need bullying, only the HO. For the next two hours they played in the pool and, after a quick dip to reassure myself that I was still brave enough to get in - even in less than 40 degree heat - I sat and watched them. The garden is rather overgrown at the moment, giving our pool a rather forest glade sort of appeal, so it was lovely to sit and crochet in the shade of the mulberry tree, whilst the rainbow lorikeets, the scaly breasted lorikeets, the sulphar crested cockatoos, the galahs and the Rosellas squawked and screeched and trilled overhead, watching my little darlings at play. (when they weren't fighting and calling each other names, that is.) But it reminded me that this was one of the reasons that we wanted to emigrate in the first place: in England when a teenage boy is hunched over electronic equipment, it is much harder to force them out into the drizzle/pouring rain/gale force winds/snow. Whereas here, most days of the year, I have no qualms about kicking mine out into the swimming pool.

Saturday night was a concert with Sarah Blasko and the Pops orchestra. I had never heard of Sarah Blasko before, but it seems that she is quite a big star here. The concert was completely sold out and there was a huge ruckus when she came on stage. I think though, that one must miss quite a bit, when one is sitting on stage. Either that, or one is getting old. I'm not sure what genre Blasko's music is - it is certainly not jazz, but not sure I would call it pop exactly or rock or punk. Long and deep and soul searching with lots of blackness. She has a lovely voice, and is very beautiful in a lovely natural way, I will give you this. But it must be quite exhausting to take oneself so seriously all the time. The audience, as I said, went wild, so, as I also said, one misses a lot, being on stage.
It was also an interesting concert, because the Pops orchestra has just been sold on to a new owner and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen. We are all feeling a tad uncomfortable about it, though of course, when there is more certainty, it could well be very exciting and a good thing for Brisbane as a whole.
The next Pops gig is in a couple of weeks and we will be playing for Glenn Frey. When I got the contract, I assumed that it must be a Scottish concert, a la Scotland the Brave. Then I googled Glenn Frey, and discovered that he was one of the founding members of the Eagles. Right, so no strathspeys, then. It's a good thing I googled properly and didn't turn up in my tartans, that's all I can say.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


So. We are slowly getting back into our normal lives here in Brisbane. Actually, it's not been that slow. Kids started school last week and were straight back into all the soccer grading sessions, Ta Kwondo, Kung Fu and ballet. Choir starts this week and I am back to teaching and so we are in our normal headless chicken acts. Hmm - possibly not a good term to use, since I intend to get more chickens this weekend...
It has been unseasonably cool this last week, making my morning walk with The Even Hairier One a joy – the air is full of mock orange blossom and the chatter of a million birds and the kangaroos have been gambolling around the dewy grass – and kangaroos really do gambol, much more so than sheep. Snow and ice, hot muggy winds and the scent of sewage are all a thing of the past – I hope.
The trouble is that it's so easy to forget, to move on. People keep saying that “oh yes, Australia is a land of extremes, we have always had bad weather,” etc etc. I know that's true, but still, the 1974 floods were meant to be a once in a life time experience and then the 2011 floods were just bad luck; but they seem to have been followed awfully closely by the 2013 floods. And I may be misremembering, but back when I lived in England, only 14 years ago, we didn't always get snow in the winter and when we did, it was pretty short lived. I don't remember schools and roads closing – not in the London basin at any rate – and yet this seems to be a normal occurrence now. Then there's New York. Two floods in two years, in a city where they have never been flooded before.
Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, as this is my blog so therefore it is my privilege! But maybe, just maybe this extreme weather is something that all the scientists have been warning us about for years. Maybe this is what Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough and highly qualified, brilliant minds like theirs have been wittering on about. Maybe this is what the weather is going to be doing for the next few years – getting worse and worse and more and more extreme, so that by the time my kids grow up, they won't be able to plan anything in advance and will have to make sure they always have a plentiful supply of toilet paper and candles and chickens and live on a hill.
Or maybe, on the other hand, I am just being completely paranoid. Maybe this is just part of a normal weather pattern and I should just start focussing my attentions on the Really important issues at hand – whether to vote for a man who believes that the world was created a few thousand years ago and that the Aboriginies should be grateful for the British invasion, or whether to vote for someone I don't particularly like or trust just to make sure that said lunatic doesn't get into parliament. Because this is what is filling the news at the moment, so it must be the most important matter, mustn't it?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Welcome Back...

Well, I finally got the clear blue skies I was hoping for – along with a stink of sewage emanating from our sinks and baths. So glad to be back. I have learnt many things over the last few days and here are some of them.

  1. It is not a good idea to walk the dog in tornado weather whilst wearing jeans - unless, of course, one has just spent five weeks eating and drinking and not exercising, in which case a walk with heavy weights strapped to one's legs might be a good idea. (though it might not feel like it at the time – especially if one is being hit by stinging, bullet-like rain.)

  1. It is not a good idea to have a septic tank system which is liable to overflow in storms – especially if it relies on a pump which needs power – unless one wants to spend 48 hours bring unable to flush toilets or use any water for fear having one's house flooded with raw sewage. Which I don't.

  1. It is not a good idea to raid the emergency candle store for a party, thinking that one will replenish supplies of candles before the next power cut.

  1. It is not a good idea to have a moulting labrador in the house when the floors are damp and sticky. To quote some guy who used to write songs: “Where'ere you walk, the floor shall be covered in fur.”

  1. Drinking copious amounts of coffee in order to combat jet lag does not help to ease back into a new time zone.

  1. When starting children at a new school, it is not necessarily a good idea, for their sense of equilibrium, to wing them across the world to a flood zone a couple of days beforehand.

  1. It IS a good idea to get your chickens slaughtered by a fox a few weeks before their coop is thrown across the garden by gale force winds. I think.

  1. It is not a good idea to have three cats who won't use a litter tray and are too wussy to go outside in a tornado.

  1. It is not a good idea to make repeated smug comments to snow bound people about swimming pools and heat.

  1. When all is said and done, we are still a million times luckier than most people in this world. At the risk of being nauseating, we still have each other and toilet paper. What else could you ask for?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Back home with mixed feelings

I'm wondering whether I'm getting my comeuppance for all the smug comments I've been making about clear blue skies, eating mangoes round the pool etc. We've got the mangoes, that's all well and good, but  I was woken to the sound of rain such as I've never heard before, last night. Apparently there've been tornadoes up North and we should be expecting some in Brisbane today. And it's either the cats way of welcoming us home, or they're too wussy to go outside in this weather, but poor Juliette had Tamara weeing on her bed last night, then as soon as she had changed the sheets, the ghastly cat poohed on them. Then Lydia knocked on the door around four this morning, to say that Tiger had poohed in the bathroom! Happy days!
So, is it good to be home? Well, it's great to be together again, poohing cats and all, though there is a horrible absence of chickens, since they were taken by a fox a few weeks ago. And it's nice to have some space again and to a certain extent, it's much more stress free. I LOVE my family, but you wouldn't believe how complicated things can become! I thought my parents-in-law were bad enough - they own their own solicitors firm and have worked together for ages, so it means that every tiny little decision, i.e., what we are going to eat for breakfast, needs to be examined in minute detail and argued over for at least an hour to ensure that there are no loop holes and everyone is getting their fair chance.
But my family take the biscuit. For instance, it was my mothers birthday on the 15th of Jan and so it was decided that we should celebrate. So far, so good.
"I'd like a Chinese meal," said Mummy.
"Okay. Shall we get a take away, or go out somewhere?"
"Who's making tea?"
"If we go out somewhere, then there's no washing up for the five thousand."
"Clara just made a pot of tea."
"But we finished that. We need more."
"If we go out somewhere, we can't take little children or dogs."
"Then maybe we should get a takeaway."
"Is someone making tea?"
"If we have a takeaway it means having five thousand people in Clara and Bruno's house again."
"Oh gosh, do you remember when we had chicken and rice for five thousand in Riyadh?"
"Oh yes, and it turned into a ceilidh?"
"If we went out maybe someone could stay and dog and baby sit."
"How many people want tea?"
"Do you remember that time we went out to the Chinese in Riyadh?"
"Do you mean the time that whathisname came with us?"
"With thingumajig."
"Oh yes, and do you remember when we took thingumajig to the camel trail?"
"Where's the tea?"
"So where shall we go?"
"Maybe we should have a takeaway?"
"Bruno said he would baby sit."
"The teas just brewing!"
"Shall we go out then?"
"To that place in Hemel?"
"Yes! do you remember when we went there for Bernadette's hen night?"
"Is the tea brewed yet?"
"Maybe we should have a takeaway instead?"
"Or we could ask if we could take the kids and the dogs? They're only little."
"Yes, but Elsa wees when she gets excited and Polly barks at men."
"Maybe we should get a takeaway?"
"Why don't we go out?"
"Here's the tea!"
Eventually a decision was made and we went our separate ways, me taking my three kids into town, with tea sloshing around my stomach like a tidal wave. Over the course of the the next three hours I had five phone calls from different people suggesting different venues, different kid sitters, a different food type and that maybe we should just all get a takeaway and cram into Clara and Bruno's house yet again.
In the end, the women of the family had a calm and relaxed meal at the local Chinese where, much to my intense relief, there was a buffet. The thought of trying to come to decisions over a menu had struck pure terror into my heart.
And we finished the meal with a nice cup of coffee.

Back home with mixed feelings

I'm wondering whether I'm getting my comeuppance for all the smug comments I've been making about clear blue skies, eating mangoes round the pool etc. We've got the mangoes, that's all well and good, but  I was woken to the sound of rain such as I've never heard before, last night. Apparently there've been tornadoes up North and we should be expecting some in Brisbane today. And it's either the cats way of welcoming us home, or they're too wussy to go outside in this weather, but poor Juliette had Tamara weeing on her bed last night, then as soon as she had changed the sheets, the ghastly cat poohed on them. Then Lydia knocked on the door around four this morning, to say that Tiger had poohed in the bathroom! Happy days!
So, is it good to be home? Well, it's great to be together again, poohing cats and all, though there is a horrible absence of chickens, since they were taken by a fox a few weeks ago. And it's nice to have some space again and to a certain extent, it's much more stress free. I LOVE my family, but you wouldn't believe how complicated things can become! I thought my parents-in-law were bad enough - they own their own solicitors firm and have worked together for ages, so it means that every tiny little decision, i.e., what we are going to eat for breakfast, needs to be examined in minute detail and argued over for at least an hour to ensure that there are no loop holes and everyone is getting their fair chance.
But my family take the biscuit. For instance, it was my mothers birthday on the 15th of Jan and so it was decided that we should celebrate. So far, so good.
"I'd like a Chinese meal," said Mummy.
"Okay. Shall we get a take away, or go out somewhere?"
"Who's making tea?"
"If we go out somewhere, then there's no washing up for the five thousand."
"Clara just made a pot of tea."
"But we finished that. We need more."
"If we go out somewhere, we can't take little children or dogs."
"Then maybe we should get a takeaway."
"Is someone making tea?"
"If we have a takeaway it means having five thousand people in Clara and Bruno's house again."
"Oh gosh, do you remember when we had chicken and rice for five thousand in Riyadh?"
"Oh yes, and it turned into a ceilidh?"
"If we went out maybe someone could stay and dog and baby sit."
"How many people want tea?"
"Do you remember that time we went out to the Chinese in Riyadh?"
"Do you mean the time that whathisname came with us?"
"With thingumajig."
"Oh yes, and do you remember when we took thingumajig to the camel trail?"
"Where's the tea?"
"So where shall we go?"
"Maybe we should have a takeaway?"
"Bruno said he would baby sit."
"The teas just brewing!"
"Shall we go out then?"
"To that place in Hemel?"
"Yes! do you remember when we went there for Bernadette's hen night?"
"Is the tea brewed yet?"
"Maybe we should have a takeaway instead?"
"Or we could ask if we could take the kids and the dogs? They're only little."
"Yes, but Elsa wees when she gets excited and Polly barks at men."
"Maybe we should get a takeaway?"
"Why don't we go out?"
"Here's the tea!"
Eventually a decision was made and we went our separate ways, me taking my three kids into town, with tea sloshing around my stomach like a tidal wave. Over the course of the the next three hours I had five phone calls from different people suggesting different venues, different kid sitters, a different food type and that maybe we should just all get a takeaway and cram into Clara and Bruno's house yet again.
In the end, the women of the family had a calm and relaxed meal at the local Chinese where, much to my intense relief, there was a buffet. The thought of trying to come to decisions over a menu had struck pure terror into my heart.
And we finished the meal with a nice cup of coffee.

Friday, 25 January 2013


So, it is all over. We have said our goodbyes and are now on the plane to Hong Kong.
"It's like having your heart torn out," Lydia said the other day and she's right. The last few days have been a blur of goodbyes and I feel like a washing machine on an endless rinse cycle.
I managed to drag the kids up to London one last time on Monday, walking them through the icy streets until their feet nearly froze off. We went up in the London Eye for a surreal look at London in the snow and the mist, but I have a feeling they enjoyed the seven minute bus journey from Leicester square to Euston much more. Oh well, at least we can qualify as proper tourists now! There were so many places I had wanted to go to in London, old haunts I had wanted to visit, places I've always dreamed of visiting, but for some reason we haven't had time to do any of those things. I had dreamt of going to a concert at the Wigmore specifically, but couldn't get tickets. One day I am going to come back to London all by myself and do all the things I want to do without any grumpy kids who just want to be at home watching TV...
Then, after London, it was goodbye to people. Goodbye to my grandmother in the knowledge that it will almost definitely be the last time I see ever see her - I thought that the last time we came, but since she is now 101, I suspect that the chances of ever seeing her again are quite a bit slimmer. What makes it even harder is that it's not even as though I can ring her anymore, as she is as deaf as a post.
Goodbye to my sisters, Lalla and Bernadette, Clara and Miriam and their lovely husbands, goodbye to my weird and wonderful parents, to all my nieces and nephews and cousins and their children, my Aunt and Uncle, my sister in law and my parents in law, my friend Emma and her family.
It's been harder than I thought, to be honest. In fact, if I'm really honest, I have been bowled over by my emotions on this trip. I was looking forward to it as a chance to catch up with people and to see some sights before returning home to Brisbane and resuming life as normal. But I feel as though I have fallen in love with England all over again - or rather, fallen in love with England, I should say. I have been revelling in the landscape, the old buildings, the atmosphere of age and history, the excitement and beauty, the culture and the cosmopolitanism - is that really a word? -  of London. Most of all it has been wonderful to spend time with my family. And I have been asking myself, again and again, why we moved over to Aus? And also, would we have moved to Aus if circumstances had been different?
When we left England, we only had one child and were young and adventurous and wanted to try living somewhere new, somewhere with the blue skies and heat that I had grown up with and that we both craved. When we left England, my parents and three of my sisters were not living there, few of our friends were married and none of them had had children. We didn't realise that life would move on so quickly and that when we came back we would be that much older and so would everyone else. We didn't realise that as soon as we left, everybody would move to England and start breeding. I don't think we realised quite how far we were going.
I guess I need to remember that if we lived in England, the novelty of snow would soon wear off. If we lived in England we would not be living in the Bennet's house from Pride and Prejudice, we would be lucky to get a tiny terrace on the outskirts of London; the people who have been making such an effort to see us in these last few weeks would resume their normal lives; we would be busy with our own lives and we would only see them once in a blue moon; trips to London would not be sight seeing tours, but would be undertaken as grey faced commuters battling with the vagaries of London transport.
And, on the other side of the coin, in just a few hours we will be swimming in our pool, eating our own mangoes, catching up with the many loved and wonderful friends we have made in the years we have spent in Brisbane. Normal life will take over and England will seem like a dream. I will be having my sleep disturbed by my cat again and hauling myself out of bed to walk my beautiful dog in the mornings. But most of all, at the risk of churning stomachs, I will be with Rupert again, we will be reunited as a family, and that is the only thing which really matters.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Fun with Top Gear

We had planned to go into London today. I wanted to take the kids to St Paul's and then across the millenium bridge to the Southbank and along the river. However, when the girls didn't get to sleep till midnight, due to a series of over tired spats and coughing fits (Juliette had apparently hidden the hairbrush - as one does - and Lydia had apparently deliberately used up all the hot water) I began to realise that things might not go to plan. Then, when I was woken up at 4am by Sam vomiting in the toilet, any hope I had of seeing the city I love most, went up in smoke.
So my sister Bernadette has taken the girls ice skating at Gadebridge park and I am sitting at home in front of Top Gear with the HO instead. Part of me is dreading going back to Oz, saying goodbye to all my sisters, returning to Oz without having accomplished one of my biggest dreams - to go to the Wigmore Hall (all the concerts I wanted to go to were sold out), without having seen half the people I really wanted to see, without another tour of London; but a part of me is longing for blue skies, to see my lovely dog and, most of all to see Rupert again. It is costing a fortune in international calls to my mobile here, as much as anything else! And my heart nearly broke when he said that, with only him in the house, there is no point in loading the's that for a measure of loneliness?
It's been snowing a lot these last few days. Thick fat soft snow which coats the roads and pavements like icing and makes you feel as though you are walking around on top of a massive Christmas cake. Snow which has closed a lot of schools so that the streets have been full of gleeful children being pulled along by their parents on bright pink and red sledges. Snow that melts and freezes over night, making the roads treacherous and forcing people to abandon their cars. Snow that is so cold that I have to mince along in my made-for-a-Brisbane-winter-boots, in order not to fall flat on my bum to begin with and then because I can't feel my toes. Snow that has caused trains and even planes to be cancelled...
We did manage a trip to London the other day. The idea was to meet up with Rupert's parents at their office on Great Portland street at 12 so that we could have lunch and then Sam could go off with Grandpa for a mosey round the Natural History Museum and we females could go shopping for presents. But I was determined to see something of London as well, so I bullied the kids into going to Trafalgar square first. We got the tube to Leicester Square and walked from there.
"How far is it? Why do we have to walk? Why can't we drive? Why can't we just go straight to see Granny and Grandpa?"
I did my best to hold my head up high and stride on, convinced that once the children were standing in the great square itself, all argument would cease. We came down Charing Cross Road and there was Trafalgar Square, the water of the fountains sparkling in the winter sunshine, the clean, now pigeonless stone of the statues shining gold. Whitehall stretched ahead of us, covered in a milky mist, the spires and domes of Westminster floating, ghost like in the air. This is the London I love, the London of Jane Austen and Dickens and John Garfield; the London of blood thirsty Tudors, plotting Admirals, evil Earls, lusting Lords. (Okay, also the London of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron, but we can gloss over that.) Looking at the plunging horses and proud lions caught in stone, my heart swelled with excitement.
"You've got to be joking," Sam said. "Please don't tell me that we have to go into the art Gallery."
"Well we only have twenty minutes," I replied, "so it won't kill you."
And indeed it didn't. The fact that he went straight to the toilets and then went straight outside again to wait, may have helped to save his life of course, though I have my doubts. The girls and I headed inside and I discovered a love for Degas - I've always loved Degas, but never really realised how infinitely superior to every other French artist he is. And yes, I did say that. I would have been happy to spend twenty minutes just looking at Degas, but unfortunately, the girls wanted to see more. But I was thrilled when we got to see another painting I have always admired - the Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein. I have always wondered what the funny, bony stick thing was in the foreground and was excited into a state suitably embarrassing to my Tweens when I realised that it appears as a skull, when viewed from the right. And I am sorry if I am displaying my deepest ignorance, but that's the way it is. The Tweens couldn't quite see what the big deal was, but then again, with all the 3D pictures and movies etc that have been just an accepted part of their childhood, I guess that's sadly understandable.
Anyway, after our whistle stop tour of the National Gallery, it was up Regent Street to Oxford Circus.
"This used to be one of the most famous shopping streets in the world, children. People would come here to drive up and down in their carriages, just to be seen."
"Just look up there, at the little dormer windows five flights up those beautiful Georgian buildings. Wouldn't you love to have a little flat up there, and be able to look out over London on a lovely day like this?"
Oh well, I guess my love of London is not rubbing off on the kids as I had hoped.
After lunch I took the girls to Libertys. I remember Libertys as a beautiful, old fashioned shop, full of the scents of lavender and other flowers, bursting with fascinating merchandise, a place where one had to squeeze between tables overflowing with goods, a place where one was bedazzled with colour, with bright Liberty prints, beautiful craftsmanship, perfumes and textures that tantalized and tickled the senses. I had been dying to show it to the girls.It was a great disappointment to find that it has now gone all modern and up market, so that, once inside, one could be in any smart department store - Myers or David Jones in Brisbane, Debenhams, Harvey Nicks, even Harrods (through which we dashed the other day).Yes, there are still the famous Liberty Prints, notebooks and diaries and writing paper, all coved in them, but they are all lined up on neat white shelves in clean, homogenous rows. The soaps and bath wear is all piled up neatly in bright lighting like a Marks and Spencer. If it wasn't for the carved Timber stairs and wrought iron fake timbers round the doors, I'd have had serious trouble interesting the girls at all. Apart from the chocolate shop that is. We did quite well in the chocolate shop, it has to be said.
And that's all for now, must get back to Top Gear. Just can't wait to see what moronic statement JC is going to come up with next. But if this is what it takes to bond with a teenage boy....

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Let it Snow!

Snow at last! And not the  weak wishy washy snow that melts as soon as it hits the ground, which was what I was afraid we would get. We woke up on Monday morning to a shining white crust of snow covering every available surface. It wasn't terribly thick, but the fact that it had settled at all was a source of wonder to the kids. I made them get dressed in a hurry - it only took about an hour and a half - so that we could go up to the local park -  I was convinced it was getting warmer and that the snow would melt before they had had a chance to experience it properly. But just before we set out, Juliette cried: "It's snowing again!" And when we looked very hard, we could just see the minute flakes falling from the sky. By the time we had made it to my parent's house, five minutes walk away, the snow was falling thick and fast. We picked up my father and my baby sister Miriam and her two tiny doglets, Polly and Elsa, and walked to the park with the snow whirling through the air, a silent ballet of soft, fat, cotton wool ice.
The local park  - Warner's End - presumably where poor Warner met his maker - is probably about four acres of grass with a few massive fir and cedar trees. The little shopping centre at the end of it has always seemed a tad run down and seedy, but if you turn your back and look out at the park itself and ignore the thundering of traffic from Northridge Way, you can easily pretend you are in the grounds of some stately mansion, it is so lovely. And I had forgotten quite how beautiful snow is. The  white lining that lies along the top of every branch, every leaf, the green of the evergreens beneath, the very purity of the snow is staggeringly beautiful. And it was wonderful to watch the children; when your kids are little, through the aching trauma of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion, you have the joy of watching them discover their environment; seeing their faces light up with delight when they pour water from a cup, when they feel the first sifting of sand through their fingers, the explosion of a mango in their  mouths, the wash of a wave against their legs. But then they grow up and become tired of life - everything is boring, or embarrassing, or old fashioned or daggy etc etc (for the big hairy one in particular) Which was why it nearly brought tears to my eyes to see them running around in the snow together, throwing snow balls at each other, laughing (yes, even the big hairy one), putting out their tongues to feel the snow in their mouths, gazing in awe at the ice crystals in their hair and on their clothes, making snow angels on the ground.
We spent quite a while just playing around in the snow until we realised that the doglets were covered in great lumps of ice that had cleaved to their fur, at which point we realised we would have to go home before they turned into snow dogs. The girls very self consciously made a snow man in the back garden of my Grandmother's house, I think more out of a sense of duty than anything else, but now at least they can say they have done it.
It hasn't snowed since, but the frost has been so thick that one could almost make snow men out of it. In it's own way it is almost as pretty as the snow. Miriam took me to Berkhamstead yesterday -  the posh town near to Hemel - and we drove down roads lined with trees and hedges that were covered in a thin filigree of silver. It's breathtakingly beautiful until you get out of the car and then your breath is taken in quite another way - it's like being punched in the stomach by the cold - cold that pierces every part of your clothing, that flies up your nostrils so that your nose runs, freezes your cheeks and lips so that you can hardly talk and makes your glasses so cold that every time you walk into a shop or house you spend the first few moments bumbling around with fogged up vision. Have to say I am looking forward to some heat and blue skies....

Monday, 14 January 2013

London Adventures

Something I meant to mention in my Enkirche blog, but which I left out - because I was writing it in the middle of a small sitting room with at least fifty people holding seventy five different, animated conversations around me - was the music that we came across in our mountain trek. All the way along the path across the top of the mountains, are placards with hiking songs on them, lyrics and music both, some with harmonisation as well, put up in the hopes of boosting the morale of the weary traveller. Personally, I think that would be a great thing to extend to life in general - wouldn't it be wonderful if every five years of one's life one had a special, morale boosting song to sing whilst navigating the torturous path?
We went to London today. Juliette was meant to be meeting my mother-in-law to go see Cirque de Soleil at the Albert Hall. I had been planning it in my head for a while.
My plan went thus: We would all go up together, bright and early, buy a nice picnic from M&S and then have a lovely wander through Hyde Park, taking time to play with squirrels a la Snow White, (all bathed in the halcyon light of winter sunshine, childish wonder and familial love) enjoy the monuments, maybe take in a ride in a silly boat on the Serpentine, before meeting my mother-in-law on the steps outside the Albert Hall, whilst impressing the children with the imposing facade of my once nearly home for four years, the Royal College of Music. The remnants of the party would then educate themselves by perusing the museums until time to meet up with Juliette again.
This is how the day really went.
After losing my rag with the children, we finally made it out of the door by 11:30, Sam moaning all the way to the train station because his shoes had worn down to a thin piece of sharp metal at the heel. Were lucky enough to catch a train immediately - so immediately that Sam did not notice the £20 that must have fluttered from his pocket as he ran for the train. Got to Knightsbridge where I had misremembered the existence of a Marks and Spencers. Eventually found an H&M - the only shop in the area which sold shoes under £300 - dragged a reluctant 13 year old through the female section and bought the cheapest shoes available, whilst 13 year old moaned and groaned and carried on as though I was trying to kill him, by buying him shoes which wouldn't hurt him with every step. Then raced down to Hyde Park Corner, took out a mortgage to buy some sandwiches at Pret a Manger, legged it to Hyde Park, gulped said sandwiches down before setting off at a brisk pace towards the Albert Hall.
"Oh look Mum, there's a squirrel, isn't it sweet?"
"But Mum, you've got to take a picture!"  
"But Mum, it's so sweet, can't we stop and play with it?"
Got to Albert Hall in time. Met Granny, disposed of Juliette.
"Look children, there's the Royal College of Music where I studied for four ye- "
"Can we go to the museums now please because we're soooo cold?"
"You know, children, I spent four years there. I met so many people, had so many friends it was the place where - "
"Yes, can we go to the museums please?"
So went to museums. Now, have to just say here that this part of London - Kensington, Knightsbridge, Gloucester Road - is my favourite part of London, not just because I spent four interesting/miserable years there. It seems to me to have all the best parts of London in it - it has history, it has great architecture, it is full of embassies which makes it cosmopolitan, as well as being quintessentially English. It has broad roads with grand Georgian terraces, as well as, if you look closely, tiny alleyways lined with ancient mews houses. It has wonderful museums, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the V&A. It has shops and yet is also residential. And, on top of all that, it seems to shelter an England that has died out in most other places. There aren't many other parts of England where you will see a family with several boys, ranging from seven years old to teenagers, all with beautifully combed, short back and sides and wearing identical outfits -  perfectly ironed, collared shirts, V neck jumpers, corduroy trousers and lace up, brown leather shoes. The mothers and daughters wear knee length navy skirts, navy tights and dark woollen jumpers and wear Alice bands in their hair and a string of pearls, whilst the Fathers wear chinos and a collared shirt and a tweed jacket. They walk slowly and politely and obviously live out their lives doing slow polite things on the Cromwell Road - when they're not dressing up in red coats and taking part in gymkhanas, or chasing and killing defenceless animals, I suppose. Today I even saw a lady pushing what could only be described as a perambulator.
Anyway. Had a look at the Red Zone of the Natural History Museum, which was full of incredible fossils and all sorts of rocks etc. Then decided to go to the V&A for a cuppa as had heard that it was good for that and we were in sore need of it by then. However, the cafe looked like feeding time at the zoo, so we gave up on that, simply whizzing around the fashion section to look at their wonderful collection of fashion through the ages - well, from 1700 something to 1900 something - then made it back to the NHM. The cafe there was much quieter so we ordered coffee for me and pots of tea for Lydia and Sam. I don't know if it's meant to be a posh way of serving tea now, but was faintly horrified when their tea pots turned up with what looked like old sanitary towels hanging out of them. However, thankfully, it turned out that they were merely weird let's-use-as-much-paper-as-we-can-tea-bags-to-try-and-look-different, after all.
Much restored by caffeine, we then ventured back into the Museum proper - the green and blue zones - and spent another very happy hour or so mooching around looking at dead things and models of Blue Whales. The museum was due to close at 5:30 and we weren't due to meet Juliette and Nancy till 6 so had been worrying as to where we would hang out for half an hour, without catching hypothermia, but luckily we weren't turfed out till 6. Which meant we only had to hang around waiting for half an hour, as Nancy and Juliette had tried walking to High Street Kensington Tube Station, instead of South Kensington, where we had agreed to meet. We eventually found each other, however and none of us has yet had to make an emergency dash to hospital so all is well and good.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Well, Rupert went home today. We've only been parted for ten days before and that was ten years ago; I won't see him now for more than two weeks, so am feeling a bit down. So, I will tell you all about Germany idyll.
My sister, Lalla ( or Camilla, to give her her real name) is married to Rupert's brother John and they have a beautiful house in a delightful village called Enkirche in Germany. We rose early on Monday morning - 3:30 am! - and flew to Frankfurt Hahn from Standstead, where the other Bignalls met us and took us back to their place.
Enkirche is one of many villages along the Mosel. This is wine country; grapevines are planted in rows up the steep sides of the mountains (well, the very tall hills) that rear into the sky either side of the river. In some places you can see the little trains, like roller coaster cars, that workers use to haul themselves up and down the hillsides. And every so often there is a village, made up of gingerbread houses lining the cobbled streets. All the roofs are as steeply sloped as the mountains, covered in overlapping slate tiles like fish scales; some of them are crisscrossed with timbers on the front, others covered in vines, most have casement windows growing from the roofs. Lalla and John took us into BernKastel Kues for lunch on our first day. It is an impossibly pretty town, filled with cobble stone alleyways leading to tiny squares, each with their own Christmas tree, or a statue of a bear, or a fountain with stone snakes entwined round a stone goblet. Nothing is straight - the alleyways meander, the houses lean across them, as if whispering secrets to each other and, though we arrived on the 7th of January, the Christmas decorations were still up, conifer branches entwined around doorways, strings of twinkling fairy lights strung between buildings. One building, painted white with the inevitable crisscrossing timbers, had twenty four brightly painted shutters depicting scenes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes - a giant advent calendar. We had lunch in a Weinhaus, sausages and dumplings, pork steaks, all things German and very delicious and washed down with beautiful local wine.
All stuffed and sloshing, we ventured out into the town again and climbed up to the local Castle, because, yes, of course, there is ruined castle looking over the town. From the top there was a beautiful view of the Mosel valley in the evening light, but of course I went into paranoid mother mode and kept yelling at the kids "keep away from the edge!"
I have no problem with heights - or depths, as the case may be - for myself, but let one of my children lean over a wall at the edge of a cliff and I am a mass of teeth jangling, feet fizzing fear, so that I end up ruining the whole thing for everybody. They're perfectly safe, I tell myself, they're old enough to know what they're doing, they're not going to jump off. I clamp my teeth shut as hard as I can, but then, before I know it, the words are out: "keep away from the edge!" in my best screeching harridan voice.
Then it was back down the mountain/hill and off to Lalla and John's house which is gorgeous. A tall, three floored building, not counting the cellars, with odd shaped rooms and corners you don't expect. It took me a while to work it all out, as I seemed to be constantly coming upon rooms I hadn't expected, round corners I had forgotten about! We dumped all the kids - our three and two of theirs, Meirion and Elisabeth (their eldest, Cecilia was in London, but the others are grown up enough so that we didn't need kid sitters, yay!) and went out to see if we could fit more food in our stomachs. We could. We did. Wine as well. It's a hard life.
The following day we climbed to the top of the ridge of hills and walked five kilometres to the next village, Traden Trabach. (A lot of these villages have double barrelled names, because they grow both sides of the Mosel. one side is Traden, the other side Trabach the other.I think.) The walk was beautiful, along forested paths steeped in golden and orange leaves that wound between rocky outcrops covered in brilliant green, shining moss. Every so often, there would be a parting in the trees and a beautiful vista of river, mountains and higgledy piggeldy gingerbread villages would open up in front of us. At some point we walked through a village perched on the top of the hills, all cobbled streets and timbered houses again, and then we walked down the hillside, through a pine forest, where the air was green and the ground a springy carpet of needles. Traden Trabach is a beautiful village with - wait for it - lots of winding cobbled alleyways winding between timbered gingerbread houses. We considered stopping off for coffee, but we had another engagement - a wine tasting with one of J and L's friends.  dumped the kids and spent the next couple of hours drinking a selection of delicious wines - yes, we were still having it tough. Phillip, the owner, also has a guesthouse and he showed us proudly round the rooms which he had just finished setting up. If anyone feels like a holiday in the Mosel valley, they could do worse then go and stay at his place...
John and Lalla left early the next day. By now, Rupert's impersonation of a hippo that
I had been treated to for the last few days had turned into a full on fever. this had it's advantages as it was getting rather cold and all we had to do was gather around him to keep warm, but I was also rather worried about him. We shut up the house and drove to Traden Trabach to the pharmacy where he did a great charade of sneezing for the pharmacist and was given paracetemol which helped. then there seemed hardly any time before we were driving through the icy rain to the airport and back to England.
Arrived in England to discover my mobile had gone missing, Juliette had left her new Christmas book on the plane and we had lost a bottle of wine. All good things come to an end I suppose.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Well, its been a few days of much excitement.
Wednesday evening, Rupert, Sam, Lydia and I went into London, my favourite city of all time. Rupert and Sam were off to see QPR beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Lydia and I were off to see The Nutcracker, performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. We separated at Marylebone Station and L and I made our way to Covent Garden. It was rush hour, so rather crowded on the trains and Lydia was rather daunted, hanging on tight to my hand; but I loved it. I love London, as I think I may already have implied, and I love it especially at night, when the lights are bright and the air is full of excitement as people make their way to the restaurants, theatres, cinemas and Nightclubs. Of course there are also the grumpy commuters, frowning into their kindles and pushing their way, iron faced through the crowds, but I won't mention them. On arrival at Covent Garden itself, we dashed into an Accessorize in the hopes of finding Lydia a replacement for her muddy trainers, to wear with her beautiful dress, but to no avail. We then dashed to the Opera house shop to buy her some £3 binoculars as she had left her glasses at home. Then at last we made it to the Theatre, where we had seats in the stall circle, the closest I've ever been to the stage, in the ROH. I have to say that the ROH knows what it's about. All the red velvet and gold fittings, the glowing, mushroom lamps that curl from the balconies - this is the way theatres should be! And The Nutcracker itself, was lavish and spectacular, as is right, the dancing liquid and full of character and I will NOT make any disparaging comparisons to Queensland Ballet...The choreography was by Peter Wright, after Ivanov and was mostly good, though there were bits that defied the understanding - the grand pas de deux, for instance, where the music soars to great heights of passion, crying out with agony in all its full bodied string sound and the dancers on stage are standing still, grinning out at the audience with just the odd waggle of the leg - yes, I know they were beautiful waggles, highly skilled waggles even, but they still did not come anywhere near to interpreting the expression of the music, which is what dance is all about, is it not? Or am I missing something here?
Met Rupert and Sam at Marylebone station and trained home together, Lydia and me content, Rupert and Sam rather less so....
Drove all the way to sunny Peterborough a couple of days ago, to see rellies - my Father's two sisters, Helen and Barbara, plus their husbands and Aunty Helen's daughter Kathryn, with her two boys, Tom and Charlie.
When you haven't seen relatives for a while, you like to make a good impression, so I made all the children, even Sam, have a shower, before we set off. It wasn't a bad drive really - it should have taken just under two hours, but due to Rupert's strange conviction that he knows better routes to places he's never been to, than the sat nav, it took just a bit longer. An hour into the journey, Lydia announced that she was feeling a bit sick. We did the normal parental sympathy murmuring, but didn't think much more about it, as it is five years since any of our kids were car sick - the last time being on a visit to my Grandfather last time we were in England. Then half an hour later, there came a little voice from the back: "I've just vomited all over myself," accompanied by the rancid smell of half digested raspberries.
I had three pieces of toilet paper in my handbag and Rupert had a tissue.
"We must pull over," my beloved spake.
"And do what?" I asked.
"Clean her up," he said.
"With what?"
"Okay, let's keep going then."
So we arrived at Aunty Helen's complete with vomit covered child. Aunty Helen, however, is nothing, if not a brick, and within minutes, Lydia was showered and smelling nicely of soap and dressed in a pair of trousers three sizes too big for her. We spent the afternoon deep in recollections and story telling, being brought up to date with everybody's lives, learning more of the history of my grandparents, arguing as only Willmotts can argue, all whilst drinking copious cups of tea. This is, after all, what life is about. Then there were hugs all around, before we disappeared back down the M1, full of the knowledge that we would be unlikely to see any of these lovely people for another few years.
Yesterday was a visit to Hampton court - the palace built firstly by Cardinal Wolsey, claimed and added to by Henry the eighth, together with Anne Boleyn and then his later wives, and, after that, by various Royals.
With a great deal of shouting and stamping, threats and bribes, I managed to get my family out of the house by 11:20, and we were at the palace by 12. But for any who are reading this and haven't been to Hampton Court, I must hasten to add that you should really try and make a whole day of it, like we didn't. It is rather large.
It is also rather wonderful, I think. You walk through the first set of gates and into Base Court - a vast, unevenly cobbled courtyard, surrounded by deep red brick walls which soar to a skyline of tall, crenellated chimneys. It is easy to imagine that it hasn't changed much since Tudor days, though there is also a rather sparse, hygienic air to the place which I don't suppose is particularly authentic. Still, there is an atmosphere of age, of stories, of lives lived and ended, which seeps from the old stone and under your skin. Even Sam, who was determined to hate every minute of the experience - HC is old and therefore rather too much like his parents -  had a spring to his mooch and a light in his eye, by the time we had finished in the palace.
We all enjoyed the kitchens the most. This was partly because we are all Bignall/Willmotts and so food has a certain fascination of course, partly because the audio tours for this part of the palace were excellent, whereas for the rest of the place they decidedly weren't, and partly because, I think, it was all genuinely enthralling. These were, after all, kitchens that were built to serve hundreds of people at a time, several times a day - apparently the average Tudor courtier ate a diet which consisted of 75% meat so an entire, vast room was given over to roasting spits. There are vast cauldrons, built over brick fireplaces, for stews and the like, an alleyway, known as Fish Court, built deliberately to be in constant shadow and therefore stay cold and damp, with many rooms off each side for the storage of cold meats, fish and vegetables. (Seems odd that one would have to go to such lengths in this country, but never mind) There are offices for the poor kitchen clerks who had to keep an eye on everything that went in and out of the kitchens - the thousands of dead animals and fish of every description, cartloads of vegetables and fruit. There are wine cellars full of wine barrels (unfortunately empty) and, of course, a truly authentic shop selling Tudor fudge and toffee, aprons with suits of armour printed on them, swords for turning sausages on the barbie, mugs with Henry the 8th's grumpy face glowering at you.
Unfortunately, we had to race over the last few rooms as darkness was rapidly approaching outside and the kids were desperate to see the maze. I was desperate to see the rest of the gardens, but we were just too late for that. When we arrived at the maze, I was a bit disappointed for the kids as I knew they had been expecting something more like the maze in The Goblet of Fire, with ten foot, impenetrable hedges, and this was rather tinier, the hedges (possibly because it was winter) rather sparser, so that you could see right through them in a lot of places. However, once inside the maze, it transpired that it was still possible to get lost and by the time we found our way out again, the kids were red faced and breathless, their eyes shining.
So, apart from that, we have been shopping in Sainsburys - very exciting, I kid you not - having curries with friends and my lovely parents, making dashed journeys across the country to visit more relatives - my cousin Vicky who I haven't seen for about twenty years - and pick up clothes our kids have left behind in various places. I seem to have written rather a lot this time so I won't go into much detail about our escapades, simply glancing over the moment when Rupert jumped out of the car whilst queuing to get into a carpark, so that he could make a visit to the gents, leaving me to park - forgetting that this was the first time I had driven a manual car in five years. I would just like to thank the kind people who waited while I sat, half in and out of a parking space, desperately trying to find the section in the manual which would show me how to find reverse gear....

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year!

It's funny how one forgets how very English, England is. Yes, I'm afraid I'm still revelling in it all. The last few days, we've been traipsing between Rupert's parent's place near High Wycombe and Hemel Hempstead and everywhere we go, we pass roads and towns with names which are teeth achingly evocative of English history - Stocking Lane, Hollis Way, Water End, Spring Coppice Lane, Great Missenden, Little Missenden, Gadebridge, the Red Lion Pub, The Kings Arms, The Queens Head, The Green Man, The Fishery Inn. How can you look at these names without being reminded of May Poles, Morris Dancers, Knights of Camelot and Kings of old. And everywhere we go, we are guided by the Queen - or by a sat nav which sounds remarkably like the Queen anyway. "Bear slightly right," she says, in her high, clipped voice, which sounds as though she is talking through a mouthful of Prunes. "Turn slightly left, prepare to arrive at a roundabout." That last one is my favourite. How does one "prepare to arrive"? With a marching band, perhaps? A choral anthem?
a couple of days ago, I shamed myself when Rupert's father took us all up in his helicopter. It's a tiny little two seater - a green bubble with a tail sticking out the back and a rotor on the top. The windscreen extends from above your head, to your feet and most of the doors beside the seats consist of window. John took each of the children up first and they all came back with huge smiles on their faces, bouncing around with the thrill of it all - at least, the girls did; Sam deigned to allow a slight smile to crease the corners of his mouth, which was his version of being pleased. I had a fly in the helicopter a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was more than happy to go up again. But this time it was different. As the bubble lurched upwards, soaring above the trees and then on, up into the grey sky till all of England seemed to be stretched out below us, I felt nothing but panic. "Now, I'm just going to make a turn towards Princes Risborough," John said and the helicopter turned on its side, leaving nothing but a sheet of thin Perspex between me and a drop of hundreds of feet. I honestly tried to look out over the horizon, to enjoy the sight of the rolling fields, the tiny church spires and the crazed meanderings of ancient hedgerows and to remind myself that John has flown all over Europe without a single mishap. But instead, I found myself clinging onto the seat with both hands - as if that would help me in any way. In the end I had to swallow all my pride and plead with him to take me back, which he did, swinging the helicopter through another death defying turn to do so. I put my newly found queasiness down to a car crash I had a few months ago, when the car I was driving, complete with five little girls, suddenly went out of control, dancing and bucketing all over the road, before finally ploughing into an earth bank, a mere twenty yards from a narrow bridge. Or maybe it is just that I am a complete wuss.
Yesterday was New Years day and, in what I hope was a sign of things to come, the sun came out. Excited by this unusual event, we hot footed it to Ivinghoe Beacon near the Dunstable Downs. As children, we had oft frequented the Beacon - the top of which was used in pre Roman times as a place to light warning fires - and I had remembered it as something of a trek to the top, whereas, in reality, it was a mere ten minute amble through sticky mud to its windblown crest. It seemed that the whole of the Southeast of England was out to take advantage of the weather, but there was a lovely atmosphere - people all wrapped up tight against the elements, laughing and leaning into the wind to take photographs, flying kites and remote controlled aeroplanes, dogs of every description running and playing and sniffing around the many muddy wellies - a very jolly holiday. And the sunshine continued, lighting the fields up to glowing golds and greens, shining off the white-grey stone tower of Dunstable Church. Though we have been longing for snow, I, at least, was glad to start the New Year with a day like this.