Friday, 29 August 2014

Oh my word HOW PRETENTIOUS AM I? I"ve written a poem.

It's brilliant. (It isn't.)

I have a  new notebook and I just write all my stuff in it. Like "Buy pants" and stuff.

It's really a very splendid notebook. It has one of those place-marker ribbons in it and it feels lovely in the hand when open.  It deserves better than I can give it. It deserves to be got out at poetry readings and have pithy and beautiful things read out of it.

So I wrote a poem in it:


Make beds
Clean out cat litter
Empty dishwasher
Tumble dry towels
Contact all clients
Do paperwork - house
Do paperwork - job
Do paperwork  - kids
Find builder
Choose tiles
Sew on name tapes
Mend trousers
Dust porch
Open door
Walk through door
Walk down steps
Just keep walking
Walk more
Find grass
Find tree
Lie down
See sun through leaves
Half close eyes
Fully close eyes

What my children do with my phone

In my pocket I carry a modern miracle.

Truly, if you step back and look at your smartphone, and think what "phone" meant in the 20th Century it's miraculous. And we're not talking about the mists of time when I was in nappies. This is when I was a grown up, with boobs and a job and everything. A phone was a very different thing.

This kit is worth hundreds, hundreds of pounds.

And my kids think it is brilliant.

They can play games on it; they can FaceTime their grandparents; they can find out if Neptune is bigger than Uranus (hilarious!): they can even engage it in conversation, thanks to Siri (If you swear at Siri, Siri says "I would never speak to you like that."). Most of all they take pictures.

The next day, they're doing something genuinely interesting. I reach for my phone to get an instant snap. No room on the phone. Just full of their pictures.

And what pictures.

Me, from behind, with my muffin top hanging out of my Next skinny jeans and a pinny and my hair all greasy and crap. Again and again and again.

The loo, the toaster, the corner of a drawer, a grubby bit of kitchen floor. Again and again and again.

Their favourite subject for a photo, though: their beautiful selves. Repeatedly.

If one of my children should happen to find my phone lying around, they turn the camera round and click click click, away they go.

I flick through the photos to delete some and there they are:

Their floppy fringes; their big blue eyes staring right at me; sometimes the light is simply extraordinary.

You can see every contour of their incredibly soft cheeks. Even if they are pulling their funniest faces they are delicious.
Even if they have plainly done Something Bad (stealing biscuits, drawing on their faces… oh yeah and borrowing my phone without asking).

Especially as I know one day they will be Men. With stubble. Those cheeks just make me weep with their softness.

I've stopped deleting them. I'm keeping those photos in a file called "You're so vain". So when they are teenagers, we can see how they got there. Or I can look back at their youth and sweetness and have a little cry.

A Foraging Tale.

It's the season of Plenty. There are apples on the tree, the hedgerows are gleaming with haws, hips and of course blackberries.

The other day, we went up to Blackberry Tower a-foraging. (Is it just me, or does the word forage sound faintly rude? Like something you might do in someone's knickers? See also frontispiece: "He was foragin' in me frontispiece half the night, but nothing." for example.)

Anyway, I digress. I absolutely love foraging. In the bushes. For fruit. Oh, this is hopeless! picking blackberries. Once I get going, I'm like a machine. I'll delve right into the thorniest thicket, getting scratched to buggery in pursuit of the juiciest, most delicious berries.

At one point I felt like the bush was trying to pull me in. As if to say "ho ho, lady, don't get too greedy!" I started to feel like someone in a fairy tale. So I wrote the fairy tale. And here it is. It is quite long. And it isn't funny. And I've only read it once through so it's probably riddled with errors and inconsistencies. But if you have a cup of tea and a fistful of biscuits, you're welcome to read it. [please note: biscuits are compulsory]

The woman and the blackberry thicket.

There was once a woman who lived in the last house in the village. By her house there was a large thicket of brambles.

In the spring, she watched the flowers bloom pale pink upon the branches. As the summer faded, the fruit grew bright and dark until they hung like jewels among the leaves and thorns.

And each year, she would put on her stout gloves and her stout boots and go out and pick blackberries.

For weeks in the late summer and in the autumn, each day was the same. In the morning she picked and in the afternoon she cooked. She made jams and jellies,  curds and cordials, pies and cakes. The precious berries were boiled, canned, strained, jarred, cooled so that she could keep their deep sweetness throughout the long, hard winter.

One year, a traveller passed by her house at bottling time. He smelled the rich, delicious air and hailed the woman: “Woman! I must buy some of your jam!” So she gave him a jar, and he gave her a gold coin. She put it in a large stoneware pot in the kitchen.

Soon, another traveller came: “Woman! I must have some pie!” So she gave him a pie and he gave her a gold coin. She put it in the pot.

By the beginning of Advent, the woman’s jam store was less full than on other years. But in the stoneware pot there lay enough coins to buy a thick coat, a beautiful warm shawl and a skein of the finest lambswool to knit some winter socks.  Although she could not have the wine-dark flavour she loved, she was warmer than ever that Christmas.

The spring came. The woman watched the flowers bloom pale pink upon the branches of the bramble thicket. As the summer faded, the fruit grew bright and dark until they hung like jewels among the leaves and thorns.

She put on her stout boots, her stout gloves and went out to pick blackberries.

Every morning of that late summer and autumn, she picked blackberries. And every afternoon she cooked. By the end of the season, there were a great many bottles and jars in her store cupboard.

Travellers came from far and wide to buy the woman’s delicious preserves and cakes.  “Clink… clink… clink” the gold coins dropped into the stoneware pot.

By Advent, the woman’s jam store was scant. But there were enough coins in the pot to buy a fur-lined hat, a velvet jacket and a goose feather eiderdown for Christmas. So she didn’t have very much jam for herself? Still, look at all these wonderful things her work had bought her!

But while the woman thrived, the creatures who lived in her garden did not. Her industry had stripped every last blackberry from that thicket. The poor birds, who relied upon the fruit to help them through the winter were suffering dreadfully.

The Chief Sparrow went to visit Nature.

“My people are starving! Our children are hungry! The woman has taken our blackberries and turned them into jam. Please, Oh Nature, please help us!”

And Nature combed her long white hair and pursed her lips in thought.  “I’m so sorry for you. My resources are few, but I will see what I can do.”

The spring came. The bramble thicket put on an amazing spurt of growth. It grew up towards the sky and out across the grass. Nature had provided enough for everyone.

The woman watched the flowers bloom pale pink upon the branches of the bramble thicket. As the summer faded, the fruit grew bright and dark until they hung like jewels among the leaves and thorns.  

She put on her stout boots, put on her stout gloves and went out to pick. In the morning she picked and in the afternoon she cooked.

But this year, unlike the other years, the juiciest, fattest, blackest berries remained tantalisingly out of reach. The woman battled through the thorns but still they hung there.

So the woman went into her house and brought out a ladder.

She propped up the ladder and carried on picking.

By the end of the season, there was an enormous quantity of jars in her cupboards. And by Advent time, they had almost all gone. But there were enough gold coins for her to buy the most magnificent Arabian carpet upon which to warm her toes and a new silk petticoat. Because silk next to the skin is quite the cosiest thing at Christmas and any other time.

But the birds were still unhappy. The Chief Sparrow went back to see Nature.

“Oh Nature. Thank you for your bounty. We saw the extra blackberries, but we are still hungry. As fast as they grew, the woman harvested them and turned them into jam. What can we do? There’s nothing on that bush now but thorns!”

Nature combed her long white hair and pursed her lips in thought. “Winter without berries is tough. There really should be enough. I’ll do something else - off the cuff”.

Well, the Spring came and once again the thicket grew – high and wide and strong and thorny.  The woman watched the blossom bloom pink on its branches. And as the summer faded, the fruit grew bright then dark until they hung like so many jewels among the thorns.

And the woman put on her stout boots and her stout gloves and she brought her ladder and she started to pick.

But even with the ladder, some of the fruit gleamed just out of reach. So fat, so juicy, so tempting.

So the woman found a long stick with a fork at the end. She climbed the ladder and used her stick to help her pick every last blackberry off that bush. And every blackberry went into a pie or a curd or a cordial or a jam. By the end of the season, her cupboard was full to overflowing.

By Advent, the jar was chock full of gold coins: enough to buy taffeta curtains for her sitting room and a shiny copper kettle to make her tea.

But oh, those poor birds. One more time, the Chief Sparrow went to see Nature.  He explained that once again the greedy woman had stolen all the berries and left none for anyone else.

“That woman has such gall! There should be enough for all! She’s riding for a fall” quoth Nature who, in spite of a habit of speaking in bad rhymes, was a decent sort.

It was a raw Christmas Eve that year. Cold, but not pretty. The kind of night where the wind howls in a chill from the North. The woman was shutting her taffeta curtains in the sitting room when her eye caught something pale glowing in the moonlight out in her bramble thicket.

It was palest palest pink. It was beautiful.

Or was it a trick of the eye? She blinked, shut the curtains, padded across her Arabian Carpet and went to bed under her goosefeather eiderdown, shaking her head at her silliness.

On Christmas morning, the palest pink glow had gone; it had been replaced by red. The woman put on her warm winter coat andher extra silk petticoat and went outside.

Her bramble thicket was producing fruit! Ripening by the minute, from hard lumps of green, to bright red, berries were growing deep in the very centre of the bush. 

The woman went to get her stout boots and her stout gloves and her picking ladder and her forked stick.

By the time she came back, the berries were deep, dark purple. They were fat with sugar. They were a little Christmas miracle! A present from Nature.

The woman grasped her stick. She climbed the ladder. She reached out for the plump fruit dangling before her eyes. She couldn’t reach. Just a little stretch more? No. Not quite. 

Holding her stick by the very end, stretching her arm as far as she could, the woman found the berries were still out of reach. Just a millimetre off.

As she held that impossible, finely-balanced position, teetering over the heart of the bramble thicket, the woman felt something strange: the tug of a thorn on her lambswool sock.

Nothing unusual about that, when you are in a blackberry bush. But it came again. Tug.... tug. The woman tried to free her leg but the tendrils of the plant wove themselves into the fabric of her socks.

A sharp pull came at her hair. The thorns had grasped it too. The more she wriggled and tried to free herself, the more she became entangled. The thorny branches entwined themselves into her thick woollen coat.

Soon, the thicket’s grip on her was so strong she was powerless to resist. It pulled her off balance. It pulled her off her ladder. She landed face down in the blackberry thicket. She writhed and screamed. But no help came.

Very quickly, the tendrils of thorn became enmeshed all around her,  until her clothes were completely covered and her hair was completely covered.

If anyone had been passing on that raw Christmas morning, they would have seen only her screaming face peering out from the blackberry thicket.

By sunset, they would have seen nothing: just an ordinary blackberry thicket, next to an ordinary cottage. The woman was gone: consumed by her passion for blackberries.

The only out-of-the-ordinary thing to see was the cottage door, still ajar. Through that cottage door flew the birds. They warmed themselves that Christmas day by the woman’s fire.

When spring came, they took feathers from her eiderdown to line their nests. They watched the flowers bloom pale and pink on the bramble bush. As summer faded, they watched the berries grow bright and dark on the bushes until they hung like jewels among the thorns. All through the late summer and autumn, they feasted.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Middle-Aged Ladies' Bottom-Shrinking Classes

Now that I am officially a Middle Aged Lady, I feel moved to attend a bottom-shrinking class. 

I have noticed that my cake and biscuit consumption can no longer be offset by simply pottering about the shops and dancing in nightclubs.  Largely because I hardly ever do either any more. 

Calling it a Middle-Aged Ladies' bottom-shrinking class makes it sound quite gentle. But once you're a Middle Aged Lady you have to work hard, really hard, to shrink your bottom. 

You have to do circuits. 

Circuits is presided over by Wendy. Wendy is made out of solid muscle. Wendy will make you do things with weights. Wendy will make you sweat till you leave a little damp patch on the exercise mat. 

Don't get me wrong. Wendy is no concentration-camp guard, although with her black lycra and smile there is something of the dominatrix about her. She's actually much kinder than you think when she's exhorting you to "work harder, faster". If you lack childcare and should have to bring a toddler, Wendy will patiently hold the toddler's hand while you repeatedly slam a medicine ball into a mat, or do burpees. And she'll laugh along when you fall off the gym ball, again. 

She patiently goes round telling you to keep your shoulders back, squeeze your core or lift your knees higher. 

Not fun. But the results are worth it, right? 

Well boo to you! It is fun. (I know! My sports-shy, cocktail-quaffing, shop-pottering younger self is aghast.)

Firstly, it's a bit like school. We're grown up now; we're parents; we're responsible for everything all the bloody time. For an hour a week (or two if you're keen), somebody else bosses you about. It's such a relief not to be the one making all the decisions. You will do squats with bicep curls (awful), then the bridge with overhead lift (dreadful), then Mountain Climbers (sheer hell!)  and there's nothing you can do about it. 

Secondly, it's women working together. In the Olden Days, we'd have been down by the river, bashing our laundry on the rocks and sweating and laughing. Or we'd have been harvesting, or  - I dunno - whacking rugs with those curly wicker things. Something physical and hard work, but together. Now all that housework takes place behind closed doors. And while I'd never swap my Bosch 250 for a pile of rocks and some caustic soda, doing the washing isn't something we share anymore. 

Thirdly , it's a tiny bit like clubbing.  With drugs and everything. 

I'm going back a bit now (Middle Aged Lady, remember). But you know those times when you were in a club and the DJ plays a CHOON and it appears as though everyone has come up on their E at exactly the same?  And the buzz is just amazing and you're using your body, and getting sweaty and you're in a room full of people and everyone's smiling and thinking "this is brilliant, I really am alive!" Well you get that. Fleetingly. Occasionally.  And that's what keeps me going back. 

Actually, what really keeps me going back is the pain, the terrible pain when you stop. 

Your buttocks feel like fists of pain, the front of your thighs are agony. You can't do stairs any more without leaning hard on the bannisters. Let's not even talk about sitting on the loo. 

Go once a week and the pain will last for a day, maybe two. Leave it for a fortnight, or - worse - a month, it'll fuck up your life for a week. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Hand-made Christmas - an apology.

I love to make things. It makes me so happy.

Planning projects, finding materials, locking myself away with knitting needles, sewing machine or craft knife is just heaven. It's as if you're doing something useful and productive, but without the useful-and-productive thing being actually that useful.

The trouble is, I'm just not that good at it. In fact, everything I've made is just a little bit rubbish. I'm not very good at finishing things. As in, there are a lot of half-made projects in my house; but also as in I'm not nearly pernickety enough.

The corners of my sewing projects are a bit, well, un-cornery. The sewing-up of my knitting is far from  invisible. My decoupage? Oh lord, my decoupage is lumpy.

And the projects I choose to make: weird, just weird. A pair of knitted breasts; a Ferrero Rocher box emblazoned with a Rod Stewart collage; a packet of chocolates that look strangely like poos: "Loulou's Lumps".

For the last few years, I have elected to use my handcrafting "skills" to make presents for my beloved friends and family.

Poor bastards.

I don't think my brother will ever recover from opening his giant stripy gloves. "There's no such thing as too much space for thumbs, Loulou." Tactful boy.

As the man in receipt of this year's Ferrero Rocher/Rod Stewart collaboration, he'll be glad we aren't seeing each other this year. He'll have plenty of time to compose his face before the Christmas Skype this afternoon.

My theory is: kids'  presents are about "how long can I keep you busy before you start fighting with your siblings?" For adult males, it's "How much can I make you laugh on Christmas morning?"

What the shops want me to buy for my grown-up brothers can do that. A stick-on-moustache? "Vintage" aftershave gift-set? Or if I want to get them something useful, there's vouchers. Vouchers? Oh I dunno... It doesn't say "thoughtful" does it? And in order to make a voucher worth having you have to blow the budget you've carefully agreed. You can make that budget go so much further if you hand-make.

So, dear family and friends, this Christmas you are opening a parcel of something that looks like crap. (Literally, if you're getting Loulou's Lumps) Sorry.

But here's the process:

- I thought about you when I planned it.
- I thought  about you when I bought the bits and bobs I needed.
- I thought about you with every cut (and occasional slip) of the craft knife, every slop of the PVA, with every wobbly seam and every time my swearing machine refused to cooperate.

In every frayed edge, dropped stitch, mis-shaped lump, in every "no seriously, what actually is it?" there is love.

Merry Christmas. I'm sorry I'm not there to see your bemused faces this year.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The one about leg hair

Why, when I am a natural blonde, have I been cursed - cursed I tell you - with the pelt of an otter on my legs?
Actually, not an otter, because I think sleek, glossy brown fur would be a) insulating and b) rather beautiful. If I could grow a thick pelt, I might look like a sort of lady faun. A sexy Mrs Tumnus, in my high heels, with my twinkly eyes. And my furry buttocks.
But no, I have nasty, dark hairs that seem to morph from relatively innocuous blonde to black as soon as I bare my legs on a sunny day. The worst are the ones on the back of my thighs. Not the downy, sparse blonde hair, gleaming in the sunlight I imagine when I feel them. Actually, thick and -in comparison to my Scottish-Blue complexion - DARK DARK and slightly curled. Like my pubes have sent out a mission with a view to colonising.
In fact, it all feels a bit like guerrilla (gorilla?? Oh Ha bloody Ha) warfare down there. There's an inexhaustible supply and appetite for sacrifice among the enemy personnel. No matter what weaponry I use, on they come. On... on... on. I shave, they come. I wax, they come. More expensive weaponry, more blood, sweat and tweezers, here they come, over the crest of the hill. Marching, marching, marching on. It's my superior technology versus their sheer force of numbers.
Okay, so if you're Mediterranean, you're looking at me as if to say "get over it, girl. I've been doing this since I was 12". BUT... BUT.. my dusky friends... now add in the corned beef legs, the broken veins, the not-being-able-to-hang-up-a-washing-without-getting-sunburnt. In May. Where's my compensation? Eh? You have your delicious skin tone that means, once those legs are smooth, you can just bare your legs. Like that. Without thinking. Not me. To get my legs smooth and lightly tanned, is hours of work. Even the palest fake tan looks like orange streaks against my stilton-y legs. By the time my legs are summer-ready, the leaves are falling off the trees.
Maybe this is my punishment for being a bit vain about my fast-growing and luxuriant head hair *swishes in slow-motion*. Probably. I'll just have to keep being a trouser girl. Or stop giving a shit. Well, I'm getting there...

A 10th anniversary message. Late but nonetheless sincere

This year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. We didn't have a party - though we'd planned to. We sort of forgot. We had a lovely weekend camping on Exmoor though. (We quite often do this instead of grand plans and it's almost always better.)
But I've been thinking: I didn't speak at our wedding. I suppose I wanted to let him get a word in edgeways for once in his life. But maybe I'd say a few words at an imaginary anniversary party. A party that would somehow involve speeches (because we are that grand). So here is what I'd say:
"Let's raise a glass in celebration of a one-night stand that went horribly, horribly wrong.
Before I met S, I had a list of requirements for a new boyfriend. I wanted a grown-up: own car, decent job, own hair. [cue laughter: he's bald bald bald] But, across the crowded party, my eyes were drawn (not for the first time, I'm afraid) to a shiny, shaven head. What can I say? I have a type and it's a niche market. But it was the smile that kept me looking.
An evening talking nonsense at party 1 led to party 2 and more nonsense. Then - trumpets sound! - our first kiss. Let's make it clear: I was not going to kiss this man. For once, woman, you are going to have a male friend. You are not going to snog him, ruin it. Just keep it clean for once. Skip the awkward morning after, keep him forever.
Well, the moment - and his lips - loomed large. I just remember seeing the white out-of-focus disc of his face approaching (did I say we'd had tequila?) and thinking "Oh, I'm not going to be able to get out of this one!" He was so funny and friendly, I wasn't exactly going to push him away. So in he came for the clinch.
There is a picture of us, taken almost immediately after this kiss. He is looking a little bit dazed and a little bit stoned (well... it was a party). I like to think he looks a bit smug. I am looking sheepish (and so YOUNG!). I'm pointing at my mouth as if to say "oops!" but my eyes are shining.
So, let's glaze over the details but - ho hum - we went back to his place.
And to use a footballing analogy. It's not so much that it was a great match (I mean, it was fine, honey) but the post-match banter was amazing.
There was no awkward morning after.
I did get to keep him forever.
And because you guys [at the imaginary party, remember] want to get on with drinking and chatting I'll probably leave it there. I won't embarrass you by saying that my favourite thing in the world is still lying in bed chatting and giggling with him. And that I wish we did it more.
I won't tell you how pleased I am that I kept him. That he is the most amazing husband and father, because he looks after his boys and me with such love and hard work. How we all know we're at the top of his list of priorities at all times. He's my best friend - and he's a bloke!
I won't tell you all that. But just for the record. It's true."