Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Art of Disorganisation

Aha! Here we are on the first of many quick blog posts to be bashed out between the demands of being chief child entertainer during the summer holidays. I wrote this earlier, eldest child having breakfast ‘chez papa’, before he and I set out to attend younger child’s school’s leaver’s service, but didn't have time to finish it. And yes, much to younger child’s disgust, his school hasn’t finished for the holidays yet. He’s dealing admirably with having to get up early for school while his brother lolls in bed, but it’s only for a few more days.

Yesterday our main event, on the back of my previous post, was to buy elder son’s new uniform for high school. So smart! So grown-up! Cue more tears from yours-truly in the uniform shop, much to elder son’s disgust. ‘Mu-um,” he hissed, darting furtive glances at the (older) children waiting their turn to be fitted out with new kit. ‘Do you have to be soo embarrassing?’ But had I been making any effort to be embarrassing, this was promptly completely undone by the appearance of x-husband in the shop doorway, sweaty and disgusting in grey lycra. He was mid-jog, and thought he'd stop off to say ‘hi‘. Elder son was mortified. I foresee years in therapy for the poor dear. And to think both the x-husband and my good self consider ourselves entirely normal. Our child begs to differ.

Anyway, after being fitted out for his (so smart!)(and exceedingly expensive [better not lose any of it]) uniform, and once ‘jogging papa’ had taken over the childcare reins, I had the rest of the day to myself. So I did what any sensible, procrastinating blogger would do, and wasted the afternoon messing around online while studiously not-writing. But I did do one thing, and that was to attack the term-deep pile of school newsletters, and unopened post.

I don’t like to admit I’m the sort of slattern who doesn’t open her post, but if I’m busy, and I can see it’s nothing important, (which it rarely is!) then unopened envelopes tend to get dumped in a pile in the kitchen. Granted it’s not a particularly efficient system, and has its drawbacks such as the time I completely, and shamefully, forgot to renew my road-tax. Worst of all, it eventually gets to the point when the pile has grown so big I can ignore it no longer, and then it's a huge task to sort it all out. Like yesterday!

Some hours and one bin-bag full of paper for recycling later, I was congratulating myself on my diligence. And among the piles of marketing, magazines and other bumph I'd accumulated was the current copy of ‘The Yellow Room’ magazine's issue six. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a literary magazine of short stories, predominantly by women writers, and it’s always fantastic read. This issue is no exception. I sat down with a pot of tea, and read it literally from cover to cover. It’s very reasonably priced at £5.50, you can order it directly from the Yellow Room’s website. There are twelve short stories, of which my favourite was ‘Himself’ by Kirsty Mitchell, book reviews, and the usual editorial bits and bobs. It didn’t deserve to have been left languishing in amongst my unopened post for so long.

So I heartily recommend you pop over to The Yellow Room and grab yourself a copy, while I turn my attention to making resolutions. Perhaps, with elder son beginning a whole new chapter in school, I should try to turn over a new leaf, and be more organised. The trouble is, I’m always promising myself I’ll do that, and it’s never worked yet! I have raised disorganisation to an art form.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hankies At The Ready!

There’s not much in the way of fiction brewing down here in ‘Tales’. Instead, in what should have been a weeklong creative push ahead of six weeks of school holidays, the time is vanishing before my eyes as though somehow it’s been hot-wired to pass quicker than normal. I’m not writing, I’m sighing and wringing my hands. Why? Because at the end of this week my eldest baby finishes primary school, and so here endeth a long chapter.

Now, if you’d said to me even last week I’d be one of those red-eyed mamas weeping over their child moving onto the next stage in life, I’d have scoffed and said “are you mad? It’s great he’s leaving. I mean, high school is just so much more exciting. I’m pleased he’s leaving. Cry? Me? Bah. As if.”

But here in the grey light of morning, with the end looming, I’m not nearly so cocky. Tomorrow I’ve got to get through the traditional weep-fest that is the ‘Leaver’s Assembly’. Oh how I laughed at my friend who wailed through an entire roll of toilet paper during her daughter’s. How pathetic, I cackled; how ridiculous. But now I’m eyeing up the stash of toilet rolls in my cupboard, and wondering if she had the right idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to miss screeching down country lanes at top speed, horribly late twice a day on the school run. (He’ll catch the school bus, and youngest son goes off in a taxi.) I’m not going to miss the ‘dress-up days’ and jolly school fundraisers, the school politics, and the cliquey cattishness of the school gate. But having said all that, I’ve made some really good friends while the boys were at primary school, and, working from home, I’m going to miss ‘touching base’ with familiar faces each day. In fact, I’m imagining it’s going to be rather like the aftermath of my defunct marriage; you don’t particularly like each other, but you still miss each other once you’re apart. Strange, but true.

My boy tells me he feels happy and sad. He is wildly excited to be moving on to high school, but wistful at the thought of finishing this chapter. It’s not the days he and his friends are counting down now, but the hours. And sure, I will still be chief cook and laundry-maid, but once he starts high school, I won’t be involved in the way parents are involved in primary school. It’s going to be nice to relinquish responsibility for what he gets up to in school, but it is going to be weird to have no contact with teachers and other parents, to have to rely on him remembering to tell me what I need to know. He doesn’t have a good track record on this front.

I’m guessing that if you’re either child-free or have younger children, and you’ve even read this far, your eyes will be sore from rolling, and you’ll be wearing the look of disbelief I myself would have been sporting if I’d read this garbage elsewhere last week. But this week it’s real; it’s happening to me. My boy is moving on. Everything is changing. And, for the time being, this is the only story I can write. Sigh…

Monday, 18 July 2011

English Summertime Blues

There seems to have been a party in my garden, oh yeah,
An' I wasn’t invited, though I don’t really care
About that.

(adopts stern speaking voice)
But I’ve got a very big bone to pick with the revellers.

(Puts hand on hips and looks mighty cheesed off)

They’ve trashed the delphiniums, and uprooted the sunflowers,
They’ve cowed the veronicas, and ravaged the poppies while
The peas have passed-out in a heap on the floor.
I don’t know who started this,
But it sure isn’t funny.

I’d been patting myself on my gardener’s back,
When along came the English summertime blues. (oh yeah)

(cue mouth organ, and much cursing and shaking of fists at the pouring rain.)


(and no, I'm not growing lettuce in a cat-litter tray, it's the bottom of the guinea pigs' first cage, innit?....and it's not supposed to look like a mini-paddy field either!)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Tic Tocc no14... A View

I've just spent an idyllic couple of hours down here in 'Tales'.

The children are 'chez papa', although they did call round to ask if I wanted to accompany them to an outdoor fundraiser for the local nursery. In the driving rain...

'No way darlings,' I spluttered, and hurriedly shut the door. Out in this? I've already walked the dog-of-small-brain and turned my hair wet-weather frizzy. Besides, I had just settled down with a large mug of tea, a box of 'After Eights' leftover from Christmas I found at the back of the cupboard, (hurrah) Deva Premal playing in the background, and my paints ready to attend to Kat's TicTocc challenge for this week. Stand in a field in the pouring rain? Not likely!! I suspect though, judging by the look of disappointment on his face, x-husband had his fingers crossed that I'd gallantly volunteer to take them. Not my turn darling! Sometimes being a part-time parent has its perks!

Anyway, enough crowing. Kat's 14th challenge had two options. You could either describe what was inside a building she'd photographed, or imagine the view from its window. I've been lazy of late, settling for the easy option of writing a sketch, whereas originally, I thought it would be fun to try different ways of being creative. So this week, I decided to paint.

Here's Kat's photograph

And here's the view I managed to paint in the twenty minute challenge. I hadn't finished, but I thought I'd better take a photo at this point just in case the next bit went very wrong. I ought to point out the rubbish clouds are actually splodges of silver glitter which didn't quite create the effect I was hoping for.

And here's the finished article.

I'm rather pleased with it! As you know from previous procrastinations, I've never learnt to paint or draw, and although I really enjoyed painting for TicTocc in the early weeks, I was afraid to keep trying. And needless to say, I've still not signed up fro the art class I keep telling myself I'm going to do....one day! But I like drawing trees, although I can't do them with leaves!

So I've eaten most of the chocolates, drank alot of tea, and I'm feeling very relaxed and pleased with myself. Meanwhile, outside it's still raining. Sorry boys!!! (but I'm sure you're having fun anyway!)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

'How to be a Woman' by Caitlin Moran

Just popping into 'Tales' for a very quick blog entry to say "Go and get hold of a copy of 'How To Be A Woman' by Caitlin Moran."

At the risk of sounding sycophantic, I love Moran's writing in 'The Times'. Her column in the Saturday edition's magazine frequently has me guffawing over my breakfast, much to the alarm of my children.

'How to be a woman' is a no-nonsense, no-holds barred examination of what it means to be a woman today. Peppered with memoirs and anecdotes, she asks how, with everything the feminist movement set out to achieve, did we end up living in times where younger women are expected to look like porn stars, while older woman succumb to botox; why there's no need to hate men, and why on earth women just don't have the same sized share of the life-pie as men.

It's superbly written and belly-chortlingly funny, while her frank honesty and openness is very moving. I might not agree with everything she says, but I totally recommend this book to everyone, men and women alike.

Monday, 11 July 2011


I started writing this for last Friday's 'Flash', but was sidetracked by baking for the weekend's village festival, so I didn't manage to finish it until this morning. (cakes went down well though, although admittedly wouldn't have done had anyone read this first!)

The idea came from a review of a book on poisonous plants ('Wicked Plants' by Amy Stewart, reviewed by Anthony Lyman-Dixon in the current issue of 'Herbs', the journal of the Herb Society) in which the reviewer criticised 'yummy mummies' for blindly encouraging their children to taste plants. 'Tales' is, as you might have guessed from some of the stories here, rather interested in herbs and poisonous plants, so it was too good a prompt to miss. Here's the outcome, hope you enjoy it.


The raspberries were not doing well. Tansy straightened up, planted her hands on her hips, and blew a long lock of coloured blonde hair out of her harassed face. No amount of rummaging in the foliage was going to yield the kilo of ripe, plump berries she needed for tonight’s dinner party dessert. She had been visualising the envy on her friends’ faces at both her dexterity as a cook, and her green-fingered prowess in serving up home-grown food. Now she ran the risk of being spotted buying ingredients in Waitrose. It wasn’t what she’d planned.

She sighed as she pondered what to do. Meanwhile, Seth and Oliver had strayed onto the next-door allotment, and were kicking plant pots. Mathilda was squishing ladybirds, and the baby, Daisy-Lou, was eating soil. Tansy swept her fingers through her hair. What to do? It was so tiresome the raspberries hadn’t ripened. The allotment book said they should be ready.

“Ollie, Seth,” she called to her two older children. “Come on darlings, Mummy has to go shopping. Nothing’s ready here.” She bent down and scooped up Daisy-Lou, squawking at the soil smeared over her broderie-anglaise sundress. “Mathilda, why didn’t you stop her,” she snapped at her pig-tailed daughter. “I told you to watch her. Come on!”

“Have we got to go to the shop?” Oliver glowered, his eyes dark under his floppy blonde fringe.

“Yes darling,” Tansy breezed, strapping the baby into a car-seat.

“I want a comic,” Seth said.

“Well, I want sweets,” said Matilda.

They hadn’t driven far when Tansy had a bright idea.

“I know darlings,” she said. “Seth stop that. Matilda, take that out of your mouth. Oliver, I’ve told you not to do that. Let’s go to the ‘pick your own’ farm at Harefield. We can pick some raspberries. Won’t that be fun, darlings?”

The children erupted into a torrent of vociferous protests, but Tansy ignored them and turned up the ‘Baby Brain’ disk on the car stereo. It was a splendid idea, and she was pleased with herself. ‘Tansy saves the day’ she thought, dipping back into the fantasies that revolved around her friends’ envy. Life was good.

She led her straggling, squabbling brood across the fields. Under duress, they picked two punnets of big, ripe, luscious raspberries. They were almost done when Tansy noticed the herb garden. Herbs, she thought with a flare of inspiration. What a wonderful idea. No one would know they weren’t home-grown.

“Come on darlings,” she said, beckoning to Oliver, who was busy squashing ripe strawberries. “Let’s pick some herbs.”

“Look darlings, this is lemon balm. Here smell it,” she tore off a few leaves and held them up. Reluctant, the children sniffed, but their interest was snared. The leaves did smell lemony. “Taste them,” their mother urged. So they did, pulling faces at the bitterness, but bubbling with intrigue.

“What else can we find?”

Matilda pounced on a wafting fennel. Seth found parsley. Oliver pulled a face at the rosemary. The children scampered through the garden trying this, and tasting that, Tansy congratulating herself on capturing their interest. Basil, rocket, bergamot, angelica; there was nothing they didn’t stuff into their eager mouths.

“Edible flowers,” Tansy pointed to a bed of nasturtiums. “Try them darlings, they’re wonderful.”

“What about these?” Oliver said, picking a bunch of tiny purple flowers from the hedge. “They’re a nice colour.” He stuffed them into his mouth, chewed, and nodded. “They’re nice. Try them.”

“I think they’re some sort of violet,” Tansy pretended to know. “ Hmm. They’re weird. Weird but nice.”

They were on the way back to the car, when Oliver began to drag his feet and groan.

“I don’t feel well,” he moaned. “My tummy hurts.”

Matilda insisted hers did too. Tansy sighed, and checked her watch. She needed to get home quickly. There was just time to get the raspberry pudding made and into the fridge. But one look at the childrens’ faces made her stop with a gasp. They were equally pallid with a sweaty, green hue. Seth doubled over and was sick over Matilda’s shoes.

They were all being sick by the time they got home. Tansy crawled to the telephone to call the doctor. She managed to ring only one friend to say the dinner party was cancelled, before she fainted in a heap from the convulsing pains in her stomach.

The raspberries, forgotten, went rotten in the back of the car. Tansy never did get round to hosting that dinner party. And none of them, not one of them, ever ate anything involving herbs ever again.

[Bittersweet: Solanum Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
All parts of this woody climber are poisonous, including its bright red berries. Ingestion increases bodily secretions, leading to vomiting and convulsions.] Info from 'The Poison Garden Website'.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Crafty Green Poetry Collection

(I've been meaning to post this for weeks...)

Juliet Wilson is a poet and environmentalist living in Edinburgh who, amongst other things, blogs over at Crafty Green Poet. If you haven't visited her before by clicking the link at the side of this page, you are missing a fascinating blog illustrated with Juliet's own wonderful wildlife photography.

She has a collection of poetry out at the moment called 'Unthinkable skies', which I heartily recommend. Following this link will tell you everything you need to know about how to get hold of a copy. She writes with true verve and passion, and with just a sprinkling of wry humour. Most of all, if you're anything like me and just a little daunted by scarily inaccessible poetry, Juliet's work never leaves you wondering 'just what was that about?'

Go on, go and order a copy of 'Unthinkable Skies'. It's a very beautiful collection from a very talented poet, and a very enjoyable read.

Tic Tocc no12...Home Truths!

So it's Tuesday, which means a new TicTocc challenge. But in case you think I'm being unusually impressive and 'on-the-ball', actually this is last week's, and yes, I've only just written it. But I wanted to do it because I loved my idea, only any spare minutes, never mind twenty have been in short supply.

Kat asked us all to imagine an inanimate object coming to life. If you follow this link, you can take a look at what everyone else has done. For my part, I've written this.... And for once I've followed the instructions and taken only twenty minutes.

The Car's Home Truths...

Y’know, I regularly ask myself ‘How did I get here?’ How the hell did I get here? And by ‘here’ I mean sitting at the top of this crumbling drive in the middle of nowhere, my paintwork being ruined with sticky tree sap from that wretched Silver Birch, not to mention being coated by the dry soil blown as dust from her miserable vegetable patch, the part of her garden which so encapsulates her life: all bluster and talk, grand plans and castles in the sky, but when it all comes down to it, nothing to show but a few scraggy plants and whole lot of emptiness.

It wasn’t like this with my last owner: oh no. She took pride in me, and the same in herself. I can see her now, striding towards me, her hair immaculately pressed, her suit freshly-cleaned, and her un-scuffed shoes polished and gleaming in the sun. She’d open my door, shut it gently, and say ‘Good morning Guinevere’, before starting my engine, and driving off at a civilised pace, not over-revving and spinning my poor wheels because, yet again, she is horribly late. How I miss those days; how I miss her.

This one – I will not call her ‘my owner’ since I pray it’s only a temporary arrangement – hasn’t even given me a name. I am merely ‘the car’. She pays no attention to me, and I don’t even think she’d bother to top up my petrol where it not for the fact I would then be unable to move. Actually, I devote huge amounts of time to working out which parts of me I can manage to break, thereby meaning I could have a reprieve from being driven around like a common rally car. I quite like the garage where she takes me whenever I break down. They oil the places a car likes to be oiled, if you see what I mean. Mind you, I don’t often have to try and break bits by myself; she manages that. Honestly, I hadn’t been here for a week when she made me collide with the side of the house, ruining my pristine paint. I was distraught, but I consoled myself that at least it would mean a trip to the nice garage to be lovingly restored. Fat chance! She hasn’t even bothered to try and polish out the scratches, and it gets worse. She’s bashed my wing-mirror so many times, it’s now completely broken. But has she bothered to mend it, even though she’s been told it would mean me failing my MOT? Has she heck. I hate living here. I wish I could trade her in for a new owner. I want to go back to my old owner. Any owner would be better than this, come to think of it.

And my lovely interior, oh how it makes me weep. My last owner used to vacuum my upholstery every Saturday. She used to wipe down my dials with a soft, polishing wipe. This one does nothing. I am covered in dust, old parking tickets, empty sweet wrappers, long hairs, sticky sweets and half-eaten chips the children, only marginally more disgusting than she, have rammed down between my cushions. And the worst horror of all – that thing they call a ‘dog’. She lets it ride inside me, and the damned thing sheds its white and black dog-hairs all over my seats. Oh how it makes me shudder. Oh I wish she’d never bought me.

If cars ruled the world, there would be a law against her.

Friday, 1 July 2011


My husband pauses on one leg, briefcase in hand, and glares down his heron’s beak nose.

‘Grass needs cutting,’ he says.

I follow his eye, and look. The grass is lush; a riotous spread of ripe seed-heads, ribwort and dandelions swaying as pouting, blowsy poppies scorn his expected order. And I look beyond, to the bottom of the garden where Lev is working on the patio, laying each slab with the same loving care he takes when he lays me down in the long wild grass, and parts my luscious thighs. The cool grass against my naked flesh, the primal earth’s scent in my nose; he’s been reminding me how it feels to be alive. But he’s nearly done here. Later he will be gone. And then I will cut the grass.

I smile to myself, and say ‘yes dear.’
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