Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You silly asses

Donkeys. They are nice animals; a bit smelly, rather useful on mountain passes and beaches and their milk is the nearest animal milk to human breastmilk. However, they really should learn the Green Cross Code. Yesterday I read with mounting horror that a group of our hee-hawing, equine friends had been run over on a road in Mursley near Milton Keynes. You might imagine that they had strayed innocently on to the road but no they were sitting in the middle of the road. Along came an unsuspecting motorist and bang, the eeyores copped it. Why oh why donkeys were you sitting in the road? Was it a protest at the closure of a donkey sanctuary? Were you laying down some ass-phalt (do you see what I did there?), were you just tired and fancied a sit down. So many questions, such thick donkeys!

Wielding rightful English

There was an interesting item on the Today programme yesterday about English as it was spoken pre-Norman conquest. Right that sentence contained about 6 Latinate/French words. So my aim today is to write this wielding only English words.

As you will see, it's hard. What did the folks from across the grey water-way do for us? Gave us lots of new words to wield although I do rather like the straightforwardness of our rightful English words.

Short telling this one owing to lack of Frankish words! Come back William the Conqueror, all is forgiven.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Costume-Drama Affective Disorder

I have been inexplicably weepy this afternoon. It all began with a dramatisation of 'Emma'. It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am a push-over for a costume drama. Yep, I'm an absolute sucker for men in tight trousers and floppy shirts, nice frocks, good English, manners and a bit of nicely pitched melodrama.

I watched the final episode of Emma today on IPlayer, fully conversant with the ending as I've read the novel and seen at least two TV/film adaptions of it but nonetheless enjoying it immensely. I know very well that Mr Knightley marries Emma but I found myself overwhelmed with emotion when he proposed to her. The tears flooded down my soppy face and then everything set me off from there on.

I believe I am suffering from a little known condition called CAD: Costume-Drama Affective Disorder for which the only known cure is back-to-back viewing of Top Gear and Panorama. Of course CAD only affects those who are for some reason susceptible and I'd just said goodbye to someone I care about and was feeling a bit pensive. Not the time to watch people in low cut frocks emoting. I should have known and watched something bracing and slightly annoying like Ray Mears or Location, Location, Location, programmes that elicit more constructive emotions like ire, disdain and irritation.

But no, stupidly I opened myself up and ending up having a prolonged blubbing session about just about anything I could blub about. Feeling lots better now, thanks awfully for asking.

The end is NI!

Last week I received a letter that felt like something of a marker in the story of Patrick. Patrick, I was told, will be issued with an NI number early next year. All I need do to make this possible is send in some details so that he can join the ranks of those of us that pay tax and National Insurance. Hoorah!

I was reminded of his earliest days. When he came into the world new and shiny, it felt as if he only belonged to me and my family. But slowly paperwork accrued around him - birth certificate, NHS card, hospital record, health visitor record; endless bits of paper about him that rendered him part of 'the system'. I remember finding this a rather depressing rite of passage but one acknowledged as necessary unless we were about to run away and live in a caravan somewhere, even then I'm pretty certain the bloody paperwork would have found us.

So here we are almost 16 years later and he is yet again being pinned down. Again I know it's necessary but I feel a certain ambivalence about the whole thing. This young man in the making is being categorised, recorded and numbered before he's even begun.

Still he's just told me his aspiration is to be a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) so the NI number will be redundant anyway!!! Hopefully that's a joke and I take comfort from the fact that he knows what a NEET is but it's hardly a lofty ambition. Mmmm, perhaps I will send off that paperwork!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Welcome to the world little Alfie

This morning I received a text at the ungodly hour of 3am. My surprise soon turned to utter delight as I read the text and learned of the safe arrival of a little boy, to be called Alfie. His mother has been on a journey that I know only too well and I found myself blubbing with joy for her when I read that the much longed for baby had been born.

For Alfie's mum, like me, has experienced the tragedy of stillbirth at term. A year ago her little girl Maggie died in the womb just as my William did some 13 years ago. Like Maggie's mum I was soon pregnant again although my first attempt ended in an early miscarriage. However, about a month later I was pregnant again (I was nothing if not fertile!) with Flora.

A pregnancy after stillbirth is no fun. When I was pregnant with Patrick I lived in sunny ignorance of any potential disasters but now I knew that the worst things could happen, that you couldn't trust in yourself or nature. Indeed nature could be indiscriminately cruel.

I tried to enjoy my pregnancy as much as I could but there were awful moments, like the week after I had a Nuchal Fold test when I was called by the clinic telling me the baby had an increased risk of being Downs. It felt as if everything was against me, as if I couldn't rest for a moment, that there was no room for cosy smugness - it was going to be a battle all the way through with myself and with life itself. Worst still I received this news when I was quite alone, with no one to support or comfort me. It felt as though someone was using me in a sadistic game.

Fortunately the hospital consultant put the Downs risk into a statistical context, explaining that the very fact that I had had a stillbirth at term increased the odds, even though it didn't really signify that much. And so I soldiered on, leaving work a little earlier than I might normally have done as the stress was extreme, and eventually giving myself up to an elective section at 38 weeks.

Flora arrived red, roaring and clearly cross to have been turfed out of the womb rather earlier than planned. To me she was unbeliveable, a gift I hadn't dared to expect. Part of me was too frightened to love her just in case she was taken away from me, how could I deserve her after failing so spectacularly before, letting everyone down? Patrick, then about three, was more sanguine, hardly noticing his new sister, far more interested in the Thomas the Tank Engine toys Flo had 'bought' him.

As time went on I realised that despite her delicate frame, this was a robust baby with a strong hold on life. She wasn't going anywhere and I allowed myself the overwhelming maternal feelings that were filling me up.

Even now I look at my children as they sleep and watch to see if they are breathing. Even now I wonder irrationally if 'someone' has seen me being too sure of myself and will take them away from me, telling me I don't deserve them. Mostly though I see that they have their own, individual stake in this life which is nothing to do with me and that's a worry but most of all a joy. I hope that Alfie's mummy and daddy will have the same joy - they really deserve it.

Welcome to the world Alfie. You are a very special boy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Parenting by Pizza

My children are with their father today. I will never forget the first day they went off with him (and not even to go away from their home town). I felt totally devastated and drove away with tears blinding me, my chest heaving with great choking sobs. I thought I would never get used to it but I did and now when they are away I do things I need to do or things that are just for me (a novel concept at the beginning) and I find I miss them but it doesn't kill me. The important thing is they come back and for them where I am is home.

Today, as on countless occasions, the children have gone to Pizza Express with their father. Pizza Express has become the venue of choice and indeed seems chock full of absent fathers 'treating' their children to some quality time. It's as if all wrongs can be righted by a bottle of Sprite and a Margherita pizza. I wonder that social services or Relate haven't thought of having outposts in branches of Pizza Express, they are so full of part-time dads making a window for their part-time children. Ditto Toys r Us and McDonalds. What a wasted opportunity for the support services.

'That's three Margheritas, two Sprites, a beer and a parenting workshop please'

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Say no to smilies

I've recently changed my email account to a Googlemail account. Not only has this given me a more cumbersome address but it has put temptation in my path in the form of that execrable threat to good communication - the smiley! Writing a message to a friend the other day I was sorely tempted to make my meaning clearer with the use of a smiley face or one of those 'whatever' faces. As my finger lingered over the inane smiling face, something more noble within me cried out 'No, stay your hand!'.

Yes gentle reader, would Charles Dickens have resorted to the angry one to express Magwitch's frustration with Pip in the graveyard? Would Oscar Wilde have inserted a couple of 'whatevers' in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' to let his readers know that a witty bit was coming up? Would George Eliot have used the confused one in 'Middlemarch' when Dorothea Brooke discussed the finer points of religious philosophy with Mr Casaubon? Of course not and not just because they hadn't been invented. No, they used the written word with such intelligence and subtlety that there was no need for buffoonish smiley faces inserted here, there and everywhere.

So I moved away from the emoticons and did this instead. :-) Much better!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Five good deeds

Flora makes her promise at Guides tonight and suddenly realised she had to think of five good deeds she had done. It was a tough call and after a little imaginative thinking we came up with five, four of which will need to be performed retrospectively.

However, I am in no position to be smug or self-righteous. Could I come up with five good deeds myself? Probably not. I avoided running over a pheasant at the weekend - reasonably good but the pheasant didn't care. I washed the kids' school uniforms but that's what I always do so that doesn't count. Er, I loaned two skirts to my friend's daughter about a month ago - hardly Edith Cavell material. See it's quite hard and I don't think any of mine will put me in line for the Nobel Peace Prize or a Victoria Cross.

I am going to have to find someone to do a good deed for very soon but in the meantime I think I'll call in one of Flora's - the dishwasher needs stacking.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Pemberley moment

Anyone who has read 'Pride and Prejudice' and/or seen one of the dramatisations will remember the Pemberley Moment. It's where Elizabeth Bennett sees Mr Darcy's pile (ahem) for the first time. Curiously attracted to Mr D but put off by his haughty manner, the cynic might wonder at her falling for him completely once she sees his great big gaff in Derbyshire. Jane Austen means us to see the house as a metaphor for Mr Darcy's taste, discretion and suitability for Lizzy but she was never one to balk at issues of money - indeed P and P is fundamentally about money - so I don't doubt that she meant it as a bit of a joke too.

It was as I turned into a field in West Dorset recently that I had my own Pemberley moment. There it stood - a beautiful cream and brown showman's trailer - standing proudly by the hedge. How could I not feel my heartstrings twang as I saw it there in all its pikey glory.

'And to think of all of this I might have been mistress...' I thought. Oh OK I didn't think that at all. However I did think that once the faint smell of wee and rather stronger smell of fags subsides and it's been buffed up and in some places gutted, it could be rather nice.

Fortunately for its owner, my regard is not based on how smart his gaff is being less mercenary than Lizzy (poor Lizzy didn't have a lot of choice really) and a modern woman. However even in the 21st century I felt a certain frisson as he strode 'manfully' around his trailer (well you can only do about seven strides but you get the picture) fiddling with his oil fired heater and thinking about where best to site a Rayburn.

Yes, there's nothing like a man with his own caravan to get you going!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ten questions

Flora has two interesting pieces of homework to do this week - ten questions you'd ask Jesus and ten good things about Dunstable. You might imagine that ten questions for the putative Son of God might be harder, taking in matters theological and metaphysical. But no, believe me trying to think of ten good things about Dunstable is far more difficult.

Once we'd listed the beautiful Dunstable Downs, proximity to London and historic Priory church, we were running out of ideas. I felt a little guilty about this as part of me wants to 'big up' our benighted town centre with its full range of pound shops and estate agents and urine scented night clubs.

There's nothing else for it - make it up! Let's mention the stunning sea views, charming bijou shops and fresh mountain walks. If all else fails we could use one of one of our questions for Jesus and see what he thinks.