Friday 31 August 2007

Second hand rows….

I am shell-shocked, frazzled and vowing never to return but return I must and virtually every term for the next 12 years.
The Boy is going into Reception next week and must be suitably attired. Now little boys (and girls) grow at an alarming rate and like new cars I feel that new clothes are frankly a waste of space and a drain on the economy. Basically I’m tight.
Luckily the school runs a second hand shop and it is from there that I have returned barley able to believe what I have gone through and all for a four year old. A mother’s love knows no bounds…
On entering the school, deliciously eerie with the echoes of children’s voices embedded in the very walls, I popped my head round the School Secretary’s door and asked for directions.
“Down to the end through the double doors by the kitchens then up the back stairs, you can’t miss it. Just follow the noise.”
Slightly puzzled I followed her instructions and on opening the double doors was knocked backwards by the volume of noise emanating from above. I ventured up the stairs thanking God I had seen fit to leave The Boy safe at home.
Nearly at the top I passed a triumphant looking Mum on her way down with two unusually quiet boys in tow.
“You’re a bit late aren’t you?”
Before I could ask for an explanation regarding this slightly cryptic remark, she had disappeared from view with a swish of skirt and a large hint of satisfaction. I continued upwards.
The sight that met my eyes on reaching the upper landing left me paralysed. It was like some dreadful bombsite with clothes littering the ground like dead bodies, piles of grey shorts higgledy-piggledy reaching almost to the ceiling. Heaps of navy blue boiler suits laid out on trestle tables and scavengers everywhere, lost bewildered looking children. A baby was crying ignored as its mother frantically searched in a pile of dark trousers for a 28-inch waist.
Another mother suddenly pounced pulling a rather wrinkled striped blazer from beneath a pile of art aprons only to find that it was firmly gripped by another. For and instant they glared at each other. There was a sudden hush and I thought for a moment that there was going to be a most unholy catfight. A tall formidable looking woman I recognised as Matron took a step forwards and started to speak. But manners were remembered and the blazer was released. Hungry eyes watched as it fell to the floor. And the two mothers expensively faced each other perfectly groomed, perfectly poised.
“Oh, please take it. I’m sure you had it first.” But the look on her face clearly read: Go on you greedy cow but just wait ‘til next time.
“No, no really it’s quite alright. I’m sure your need is greater than mine.” Said so sweetly that if you didn’t know better you might have completely missed the insult.
Quick as a wink the reply was out: “Honestly, it really isn’t a problem I was just on my way to the Outfitters and stopped by to drop off some second hand uniform to Matron. Saw this on the floor and was just about to put it somewhere safe but if you are quite sure – I DO love a bargain.”
Suddenly Matron was upon me blocking the rest of the exchange from sight: “Class?”
Panic! Why does she want to know that? Er? Now what? um ... Working? Upper? Middle? I thought it only mattered if you could pay the fees these days???!!!
Her: “What class is your child in?”
Me: “Oh, right Reception.” As I strained to check out who had won the coveted blazer.
“How big is your child?”
“Um smallish…”
I was given a quelling look and told where to find the uniform. I was just thinking Thank heavens that The Boy won’t need a Blazer until Year 3 when Matron boomed at my receding back.
“Don’t forget they’ll be starting off in Summer Uniform so you’ll need to get that as well as winter stuff.”
Just what I needed to hear! I would have to buy summer uniform both now and again in the spring as by then he’ll have grown out of it. And with that thought I ventured towards the piles of clothes only to remember I had no clue as to what either uniform looked like and I didn’t have the school list on me.
I sheepishly returned to Matron to ask if she could tell me what I needed. Before the words were out of my mouth she was rattling off the list with well-practised ease and I was diving into my handbag for a piece of paper and a pen to capture it before I forgot.
Needless to say I had to ask again and I was tersely handed a list.
“Please return it when you have finished.”
Like a whipped cur I scuttled away.
For the next hour or so I hunted among the remnants, which suddenly seemed very sparse indeed. I folded them neatly into piles so I would know where I had been. Every time that I thought I had something suitable I would find that it was either too small or too large, too stained or just too worn.
I couldn’t credit it. Even though all the clothes had old nametapes on them identifying whose they had been some mothers couldn’t even be bothered to send them to the Second-hand shop clean. Some clothes were so filthy they didn’t even look the right colour and one trouser pocket still had a snotty hanky in it all dried and crusty looking.
After nearly two hours I came away with two aertex shirts and a seriously faded but clean pair of grey shorts for the princely sum of £10. As I was rummaging in my bag for my purse Matron asked if I would like a coffee.
The landing was quiet now and as I stared about me I realised I was the only one there. I gratefully accepted and sank into the sofa in Matron’s office. She sat beside me shaking her head clearly feeling sorry for me. She patted me on the knee.
“Do you want a few tips?”
“Oh yes please!”
“Best thing is to plan ahead,” she said. “Find a Mum with a boy a few years ahead of yours, make friends and then offer to buy all her grown out of uniform. Mind you choose a neat one, one that cares. You may need to go for two or three Mums. Don’t just go for those wearing expensive clothes themselves or the ones driving smart cars I find they are frequently the worst. Their kids haven’t been taught to respect what they’ve got. Then come to me and I’ll tell you if the boy wears his clothes hard – deal?”
She held out her hand – we shook.
“Deal,” I said.
As I left she called after me: “I’ve made a note to put aside a decent blazer for you in three years time – I never forget.”

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Over shoulder boulder holders (or how to bag your man!)

Despite my somewhat drab exterior, with regulation boot cut jeans and polo shirt and maybe a fitted fleece when it is colder, I pride myself on my undergarments.
I never used to, tending to go for the ubiquitous washing machine grey knickers and mismatched bra of indeterminate age acquired from Marks & Sparks that I force myself and my attributes to squeeze into when required.
Occasionally on high days and holidays and all those times I expected or knew I would be revealing myself to scrutiny I would don a matching, sometimes even risky, rig out.
As my twenties passed me by it dawned on me that my natural vivacity, sparkling wit and charming personality were not getting me what I wanted on the man front and that in order to impress I would have to up the ante.
On this score I went a little crazy and I can honestly say as far as lingerie is concerned I have tried the lot: Wonderbra, Ultimo, strapless, basques, bustier, corsets, push up, minimiser, cross back, back loader, front loader, sports and maternity (tho’ of course this was after I had bagged my man!).
And with those have gone a variety of knicker styles – all matching of course! I’ve worn briefs, bikini, boyshorts, G-strings, Grannies, hi-cut briefs, hipsters, thongs, string bikinis, tangas and even thongboys – some obviously more successful than others. I dread to think how much has been frittered on covering my nether regions and attributes.
But it wasn’t until I actually ventured into that Mecca of lingerie emporiums that I finally snagged my man. By this time I was in my thirties and my attributes were waning: there were younger models on the block.
Taking advice from a buoyant 38GG who had positively bounced down the aisle I entered the hallowed portals of Rigby & Peller.
Seeing my bewildered, nay panic stricken, face on entering the kindly assistants pointed me to the back of the surprisingly bijou shop. There I perched on a circular bench clutching a rather down to earth cheese counter ticket awaiting my turn through the brushed velvet red curtains. Assistants bobbed in and out clutching a variety of garments all rather alarmingly big.
I mentally pictured Joyce Grenfell and started muttering Stately as a Galleon:“Stately as a galleon, I sail across the floor, Doing the Military Two-step, as in the days of yore.”
After 15 minutes of twitching and muttering on my part I started to flick through the myriad of glossy magazines available. Each one encased in a soft leather folder – formidable but eminently sensible – a bit like the brassieres I thought.
Finally my number came up and I was ushered into a cubicle and left there alone. Just as I was about to panic the assistant returned tape round her neck with a variety of packages for my delectation – I hadn’t even said a word.
With just one glance she had done what several boys of my acquaintance always boasted about and always got wrong – she summed up my attributes within an inch of their lives. This was quite a shock but without further ado away went my 36C cup and in romped a 32FF.
Now I know we’ve all scoffed at Trinny & Susannah and really not believed half the hype that is said about a well-fitted bra but girls they are SO right. I literally floated out of that shop. I felt confident, light headed even. I looked taller; I looked slimmer - heck I felt both! But best of all girls – within two months I bagged my man on a road trip to France.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

The man who was afraid of chickens….

I have just found the man from the electricity board in the small barn sitting on top of all the building paraphernalia surrounded by about forty chickens. He’s a gibbering wreck and has obviously been shouting for ages as his voice is quite hoarse.
I can’t understand why I didn’t hear him but there again it could be because I had the radio on very loud in my office so that I wouldn’t be able to hear Dear Charlie throwing up next door. Dear Charlie says he’s a bit of a bell weather when it comes to bad food and glares are me balefully as if it was my fault he’s got food poisoning. I haven’t so it can’t have been anything I cooked. I blame it on all that popcorn he ate when we went to the cinema on Sunday. He was most beastly and ate the majority of it himself so that by the time the Movie started there wasn’t a scrap to be had.
Meanwhile back to the man who came to read the meter. I only discovered him when I noticed out of the corner of my eye Ollie my white cockerel running across the lawn as if the wrath of God were after him.
Obviously I thought something dreadful had happened to the chickens – foxes, Hen Harriers, the dreaded mink! Switching off the radio I could hear a faint: HELP! So dashing outside I was confronted with a gaggle of chickens and a very flustered cockerel all darting in and out of the barn.
I ventured inside and there he was. A man afraid of chickens. I helped him down and shooed the girls away. Ollie was being most annoying and kept flapping at me while the man tried to hide behind me – I got quite cross and was about to tell the silly man off when I noticed that he had gone very, very white! Thinking that he needed to sit down I bundled him into his car and called the chickens to me. Biddable things they followed me to the grain bin for some food.
I was just returning to apologise for my chicken’s behaviour and explain it was because they thought he was one of the builders who always feeds them his sandwiches – he [the builder] hates the way his wife makes them but hasn’t the heart to tell her after 10 years of marriage! He has a standing order at the Village Shop for prawn cocktail ones - when to the screeching of tyres and the grating of gears I saw the meter man leave in a cloud of dust down the drive. I have no idea if he did his job or not but I don’t think he’s coming back again in a hurry.

Thursday 23 August 2007

What makes us grown up?

What makes us grown up? What defines a grown up and do we ever grow up? A recent discussion on the Nanny State sparked by the introduction on a ban on smoking in public places has got me trying to define responsibility, growing up and whether as a society we chase after youth so much that we are actually striving to be childish.
When I remember the adults in my life, usually from the perspective of being a child, they seemed so poised, so in control of their lives, to be frank plain organised and of course pearls of wisdom dropped off their lips like rain drops off the scaffolding outside my window.
Where have all the adults gone? Who can I look to, to show me how to be a grown-up? Is there a grown-up ideal? And if not can I fashion one? Do I have the skills to be a grown up?
But what is by far more scary is: will I be able to pass on what little skill/knowledge I have about being an adult so that my children will have the opportunity to be grown up in turn?
So what is a grown up?
For starters there is a certain selflessness about a true grown up. Less id and ego more super ego. There is an ethical integrity - they are the people we lesser mortals look up to for moral guidance.
Perhaps having two World Wars one after the other killed off too many grown ups and left the remainder with the belief that they must be doing something wrong. The resulting sea change was so strong – playing as it did to the id or child in all – that like a ball rolling down hill the momentum took over until the change was out of control - the problem is no one noticed.
There is so much I wish to explain regarding my theories about grown ups but I am tired and I will not be able to express myself adequately. Perhaps as I expound I may find enlightenment or just plain clarity….

Monday 20 August 2007

I'm not sure what they are doing...

I am not quite sure what my builders are doing; I know what I asked them to do and I am pretty sure they are doing it but HOW they are doing it is beyond me.
Financial constraints being what they are there is only so much that we as the owners/clients can afford. There is no point in me gazing rapturously at Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Period Home or dare I say it Country Living - what has to be sorted out is as far removed from those glossy pages as I am from being the next Kinsella.
The priority list was drawn up: Roof, Render, Chimney, Windows, Doors, interior walls, electrics and plumbing. Not a colour swatch in site, not even flooring! As with any old building – and this one is pushing 500 years - the deeper you delve the more there is to do.
It should be easy to see what there is to do but render has a habit of covering up all sorts of sins: dry rot; death watch beetle, wood worm, the fact that the sole plate has completely disintegrated and how no one, least of all my builder, could believe the house has managed to stand up for this length of time!
The first thing Geoff, the wood stroking hippy builder, did on arrival was to immediately slap in four acro-props across the big room underneath the main beam. He then showed me why. There was no tennon attaching the beam to the main frame of the house and someone in the last 20 years had removed a support on the other side.
I had always laughed about secretly and not so secretly wanting the house to fall down. Geoff showed me how very close we had come. Chopping off the render he revealed the extent to which the house was coming apart. A salutatory lesson for any listed building owner.
Concrete render had led to rising damp and dry rot through the whole sole plate upon which the main frame rests; botched building work had seen the removal of a floor integral to keeping the house from falling down, a lopsided roof with more weight on one side than the other caused more pressure on the sole plate leading to a buckled brick plinth and a rotation on various nodal points. It was no wonder acro-props installed!
“Do you think your husband should move from his room now?”
Blanching at all this information I agreed. The only thing separating Dear Charlie from annihilation had been a rather long and rusty nail and a great deal of cobwebs.
As building work progressed Geoff had revealed to me – with somewhat macabre delight – all the botched jobs, mind-boggling ineptitude of previous incumbents. Suffice to say I blame it on the Georgians.
Many houses in Suffolk have what I call a T-shaped floor plan. The original timber framed building at right angles to the Queen Anne/Georgian/Victorian frontage not many properties have been Georgianified.
Mine was.
This has meant that a Medieval/Tudor L-shaped building has undergone radical surgery to fit the 1830s ideal. Gone are the frumpy and possibly nay bulky oriel windows to south and east and gone are the tapering doors, intricate ceiling carvings and probably ancient mullions. To be replaced with nebulous regularity – albeit glazed.
In order to reach this ideal the frame was forced to fit. So we have windows placed in front of mainframe beams making it impossible to open them let alone look out of them but when has fashion ever played second fiddle to practicality.
What does this leave us with in the C21st century? An extreme muddle. Planning - or listed building regulations - mean that we have to have a slight psychotic renovation. Therefore we add wood - huge great beams - to rectify all the Georgian muddle, yet we have to add windows a la Georgian and put them in front of huge great studs. So externally we remain the Georgian ideal and internally - well we muddle through…So Back to Geoff and what he is doing – I haven’t the foggiest but at least Dear Charlie won’t find himself covered in rubble.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Missing him like mad...

There is an unearthly silence in the house broken only by snapping crack of Blue tarpaulins that swathe half my house from eaves to foundations when they wave in the wind.
The dogs are silent.
The cats sleep.
I can’t even hear the chickens.
In fact I am focussing on the silence and it is so empty.
Because The Boy is not here.
He is not surreptitiously sneaking around his bedroom when he knows he should be in bed then pretending to be asleep when I look in. He’s not saying he needs to go for a wee or a poo or that he needs some water or a banana or in fact that he even needs me.
He’s with Granny and Grandpa.
And the hole a four year old leaves in a home when he’s not there is enormous! A four year old can’t help living, can’t help creating life. There are no toys scattered all over the sitting room; there are no crumbs or ketchuppy smears on the kitchen table, there are no towels littered around the bathroom, there is no trail of clothes leading to his bedroom door. His bed is not slept in.
I am counting the hours until his return and when he does then no doubt I will forget he’s ever been away and get annoyed about the toys not being put away, that all his clothes are everywhere they shouldn’t be, that he won’t go to bed when he’s told, that he’s pestering me when I am working, that he’s exhausting!
But until that time – I’m missing him like mad…..

Monday 13 August 2007

In Memoriam

In memoriam

It is with deep sadness that I report the demise of Dotrice (Dot). She passed away sometime during the night of August 12th 2007 to the accompaniment of a raging rock party in Silver Street possibly around midnight.
Dotrice was born, I believe, to a chicken fancier - now moved towards Thetford - sometime in 1999. To all intents and purposes she was a Light Sussex bantam chicken one of two acquired in 2002 to act as guardians and companions to Castor & Pollux.
Castor & Pollux were the remnants of a family of 11 saved from certain death by starvation by Mattie the builder in 2002. Their mother had wilfully abandon her whole family because they had slipped down between the bales in the barn and she, having secured one chick, was in too much of a hurry to get going to persuade or seek an alternative route to safety for the rest of her family.
The twins, with their brothers and sisters, were hand reared in the big room in a large cardboard box, which was taken out every day at great inconvenience to Dear Charlie. In their formative years they survived two attempts on their lives from Tigger the Jack Russel. The first saw the demise of two of their family, the final assault, leaving them deeply traumatised, saw the death of all the rest of the family and ensuring that Tigger had a kill total of nine on the leader board - a margin that has yet to be narrowed by any of the canine inhabitants of Rookyard Farm.
Dotrice was chosen along with three other hens Ethel, another light Sussex bantam, Blue and Ginger, Old English Game bantams. On arrival they were all shut up with Castor & Pollux in a renovated Chicken shed. The said shed (known as Stalag 57) had taken three weeks to prepare at a cost said Dear Charlie which would have made a Sultan blush.
Within a few weeks the new inhabitants had settled themselves in and were happy to wander aimlessly in their pen occasionally being visited unbeknownst to their owner by the feral cockerels, who could not believe their luck. So it was with some surprise to their owner that Blue and Dot went broody and no eggs were forthcoming for the rest of that year.
It was at this point that Ethel was found legs up in the nest – diagnosis death by overfeeding. From this time on Stalag 57 was no more – the pen was dismantled and the Stalag Six (now five) became a truly free range.
It cannot be said that Dot was a particularly taking hen; where Blue was fierce and proud, Dot was mild and gentle. Where Ginger was fussy and overbearing mothering all in her path, Dot was a more laissez faire mother. In fact she was more of a laying machine than hands on broody. I never saw her with a feather of chicks around her ankles.
Her sheer longevity earned her a place among the favoured coupled with the number of her progeny which survived. However toward the end of her life when she could no longer scamper away form danger her sheer guts and cussedness finally came to the fore. It was not unusual to find her the centre of a cacophony of barking terriers and bombing whippets but these affronts to her dignity barley ruffled a feather and this calm attitude towards life ensured a cessation of interference from the canine fraternity.
Her last day was spent underneath the Greengage tree where the pickings were rolled directly in front of her for her delectation. It must be noted that her eyesight was dwindling and she no longer enjoyed the guided tours round the garden lead by Ollie and Stan the two major cockerels in the flock.
An additional incentive to remain aloof was the persistent attention of some of the younger cockerels – suffice to say their cards have been marked and it won’t be long before the axeman cometh
My last memory is of shooing her off the tray of freshly picked greengages and then selecting the ripest I could find and letting her eat it out of my hand….Dotrice’s body was found on Monday August 13th. She was buried in the wood.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Tomorrow and tomorrow

Some days were never meant to start; these are the days when nothing happens. You mean for something to happen for things to get done but they sort of don’t. While you are not watching all your good intentions stream out the door like the mist that pours downhill at daybreak in Devon. Beautiful to watch and impossible to stop.
So in a zombie like state the day begins and begins and begins until before you know it its lunchtime and all the morning has been frittered.
So you start yet again, a false start: then the phone rings, the newspaper beckons, the builders need tea, there’s a delivery, e-mails to answer, a sudoku to complete, and so the pots and pans languish in congealing water, the damp washing festers in a corner, and a miasma of frit flies hover over the empty wine glass beside the computer. The clean laundry drifts in piles waiting for collection, the clothes from the holiday remain tightly packed, the tent remains in the dining room table and I, well I just write about it all and remind myself that tomorrow is another day…

Monday 6 August 2007

Boden Girl: Quality counts...

I’ve been given a back handed compliment, one as I sit here I am NOT enjoying – but are you ever meant to? No of course not. For you see I am being picked on this time because of my name and certain attributes are being applied to me regardless of their veracity.
I am a Boden-Blogger. A named Boden Blogger. Fair enough I like Boden. I like the clothes. I aspire to wear the clothes. Unfortunately I am far too ungainly, unsophisticated and fat for the clothes and frankly I cannot afford them. But hey! How many women who read Vogue can actually aspire to wear the clothes let alone look good in them?
I admit I have blogged about Boden. I admit I have envied those who wear Boden. But only in the case of a wistful longing to be as stylish, sophisticated, fashionable and well turned out as those who do. Doesn’t every woman yearn for those things from time to time?
I am being portrayed by the Times and in particular by columnist Kate Muir as a fluffy airhead wannabe who makes token gestures to the latest fashionable cause in the wake of the trend setters portrayed in the society columns of the really smart tabloids such as the Telegraph, the Times and Saturday’s How to Spend it magazines.
I am the excluded deluded middle class neither one thing nor the other. Considered a fool because of my innate sense of fair play, taken advantage of as I allow others their say first, derided for my “posh” accent and old-fashioned manners.
And I am deeply offended. My secret is out. I have NEVER worn Boden. How on earth will I hold my head up high when I get back on the school run?
Isn’t it bad enough that I cannot afford a new Land Rover? Actually I cannot afford a new car full stop. Bugger the carbon footprint the damn thing is still roadworthy ergo I drive it. A simple cost analysis reckoned that it would be cheaper for me to carry on driving the gas guzzling death trap for the next ten years than to buy the latest eco car and that even factored in diesel at £2 a litre!
As for travelling abroad – wot???!!! Have you seen our mortgage?!!! Yurt! Please – I have a lovely Kyham Classic XXL as recommended in Good Housekeeping. Saved a fortune at a friend’s Fortieth the other month.
And would you like to know what I am wearing now? A pair of rapidly disintegrating Wrangler jeans - boot cut 'cos Hell I have to try to balance out somethings in my life - a vintage (well it was bought in 1993) navy blue Benetton polo shirt with bird poo effect white paint splotches and the biggest secret of all – matching bra and panties from Rigby & Peller still going strong some three years on…quality counts you know.

Go on you know you want to...


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