Friday, 30 January 2015

Four Women and a Map 1: If a Thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

My friends, Cath, Cecily, Dee and I are hitting that empty nest territory.   Between us, we have raised nine daughters and two sons, surely a great contribution to the UK and its future, but we have earned little money or glory.

And now, it must be the case that we are free at last to take our time in our own hands and do what we want to do.  It will keep our minds off the absence of our offspring.  We all know people who have bought a new sports car or taken up marathon running.

Our aspirations are more limited.  In September, we decided we would walk the Ridgeway, an ancient, long-distance foot path which stretches for 85 miles between Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and Overton Hill in Wiltshire. 
Not a major ambition, achieved by perhaps thousands each year in the course of a long weekend.  We should do it easily.
But we are not quite as free as we thought: aged parents require more and more care, and none of them live on our doorsteps.
Our children arrive back from university or fledgling jobs and we must seize these precious opportunities to spend time.
Plus, the routine responsibilities of house, garden and married life remain. Not to mention, part-time jobs and efforts for charity.
And then our bodies are showing wear and tear – carrying a heavy rucksack for many miles is beyond us.  
Maybe we should put the whole thing off and wait for a moment when all four of us are free from domestic emergencies and injuries.  
But maybe that moment will never come. 
We decide that we will be the best kind of hero and walk the Ridgeway anyway, inch by inch if we have to.  In a slightly crap and much interrupted manner, we embark. 

We agree with GK Chesterton that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.  

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Secret of Good Parenting

People fret about how to be good parents, particularly during the troublesome late teenage years, so Nigel and I have established one simple criterion.

Our parenting tip came to light when I was out hiking with Carol, Caroline and Diane. 
“You know,” Diane said, “Even though the girls are grown up now, I can’t rest at night until I know they’ve got home safe.”

“Yes,” agreed Carol, “I often find myself listening for the key in the door.”

“It’s so worrying,” said Caroline, “When they’ve said they’ll be home at a particular time and then they’re not.”
I hadn’t said anything.
“What about you, Clare?”
I hesitate, then:
“Actually, we have trouble remembering who’s at home and who’s not and who’s out and who’s in.  Quite a few times now, we’ve double-locked the front door and gone to bed.  And it’s only at breakfast we discover we’re one short.”

Silence.  Rapid blinking.

“I mean, their friends’ parents usually give them a bed for the night.”

Silence continues.

“So now it’s a joke in our house.  When Nigel says ‘I’ve been a Good Parent tonight’, it means he hasn’t locked any of the kids out.   Ha ha ha ha ha.”

But none of them joined in.


Funny, you’d think they’d be grateful that we’ve distilled the mystery of parenting into one clear principle.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Hobbits and Old Friends

"If only I was in the Theory of Everything instead."
Last January about eight of us met up to remember Malcolm Mladenovic who died of a heart attack in 2008. 

The outing we usually undertake together is one that would have been his choice – a sci-fi/fantasy film then a meal.  Wine is raised in a toast to him, which is inappropriate as he was always teetotal.

This year there were twelve of us, blinking, astonished that a whole year had passed in a flash.  
We must be getting old.  
Last year’s film was The Hobbit 2, and one advantage of time passing so quickly is that Nigel and I clearly remembered how terrible it was.
So this year, as our friends passed into the maw of The Hobbit 3, we quietly filtered off right and went to see The Theory of Everything instead. 
The only down side was that afterwards, when we met up with our friends in the pub, we could not join in the head-shaking and giggles over the Hapless Hobbit.  But at least we could raise a glass to Malcolm.  It is a tribute to him that so many were prepared to turn up and sit through the Tolkien Travesty III in his honour. 

But then, it only seems like yesterday that he was still with us.  

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Packing away the perfect Christmas

All through the merriment of Christmas dinner, opening gifts, muddy walks, meeting up with friends there was a moment looming that I was dreading.  On the eleventh day of Christmas, Nigel, Perran and I were to drive home from our visit to the Northumberland grandparents.  But Pascoe would head straight back to Edinburgh and Carenza with him.  And Perran was booked on the 5pm train back to Bristol. 
One moment there had been five of us, eating mince pies round an open fire, the next just two. The house that we came back to was freezing cold and an evil smell wafted from the compost bin which we had forgotten to empty.  
And to add insult to injury we had to take down  the Christmas decorations. 
If anything can add gloom to an already desolate scene, it is the sweeping up of glinting shreds of tinsel.  If anything can make a cold day colder, it is the stacking away of Christmas cards full of warm greetings. 
I sank into a post-yule Slough of Despond.
But then my phone lit up.  Pascoe and Carenza were visiting Edinburgh zoo and were busy on WhatsApp.  They were posting pictures of animals that reminded them of us. 
And they had picked quite cuddly ones.

Thank heavens for the virtual world.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Diabolical drive

If I roll out of bed at 6am, and straight into the car, I can be with my parents in Cornwall by late morning.  That is at any rate the theory.
This morning however, the M4-M5 junction was shut and the tail-backs immense, so instead I navigated through Bristol.  All this took time, so I needed a rest break at Exeter.  If I hadn’t had the rest break, I wouldn’t have ended up stuck five cars behind a house.  Yes, that’s right, somebody was transporting a whole house on the back of a lorry, taking up both lanes of the A30.  I see I have already used the phrase “immense tail-backs” and I don’t want to over-use it. 
In addition, there were long stretches of M4 and M5 had been traffic-coned down to two lanes, often, it seemed, just for the hell of it as no roadworks were to be seen.
So it wasn’t until 1.30 that I arrived at the house where I was born.  After over seven hours of driving, you might have expected me to be wrecked, but instead I was ready to take my parents out for a stroll along the river. 
What had kept me in such good spirits? 
Carenza was with me, coming to visit her grandparents, stopping me from stressing with her desultory banter. 

And now we are side by side on the sofa in front of the fire.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The terrifying journey of the three wise men

From Mapshelfshire
 Carenza has arrived back from uni, but my term continues.  Left in the house on her own to put up the Christmas decorations, she appears to have got bored and texts began arriving on my phone.
"The terrifying journey of the three wise men:"
to the Bead Mines of Masterbedroomia

to the burning embers of Sittingroom 
to the frozen Jarstack of Fridge
to the seal colony of Mantelpiece
through the jungles of Windowsill
to the Herb Corridor of Death


Will those Wise Men EVER get there?



Thursday, 4 December 2014

End of Term



Whenever your term ends, it is the rule that you feel it should have ended a week earlier.  Those last few days stretch into eternity.
Is my throat sore?  I feel a bit achey.
Tell yourself you don’t!
 Swallow crates of vitamin C tablets and chug Echinacea.  The end of term is coming and you will survive.
Don’t picture the soft bed, the warm central heating, the decadence of a lie-in.  It will soften;  with near fatal consequences.
Instead, greet the predawn gloom, shunt the car into first gear and keep going. 
Oh, sorry.  Up until now, I’d been writing this piece for both commuting schoolteachers like myself and university students like my children, but I now realise I need to re-write that last bit for students:
“Instead, get up when it’s well and truly light.  On December days when this doesn’t happen, don’t bother to get up.
If you do get up, saunter along to the railings where you last chained your bike and discern whether it’s still there.  If it is, meander into lectures; if not, go back to bed (default setting).”
And this, my friend, is why a degree is a bad thing – it means that adult life never looks good, by comparison.  Never again will you have so much fun, or so many lie-ins.
Enjoy.