Only one more Bottle hanging on the Wall

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 Only one week left of the school holidays and I have exhausted my reserves of creativity, energy and maternal feeling. 7 O’clock marks the cut off point at which Mumzilla arises from the ashes of Daytime Mummy who has fallen, exhausted, face down into a vat of wine. The children have taken their holiday entertainment into their own hands. Harriet is now sleeping in a cardboard box – to simulate Camping rather than homelessness I assume but I do devoutly hope that Social Services are not made aware of this development. The Boys are attempting to knit themselves a nest – wearing special nesting hats they have retreated to the top bunk with all their most treasured possessions (and their sister’s knitting bag) where they have been busily constructing a veritable tarantula’s web of brightly coloured wool.

This is preferable to them watching Television as that just gives them ideas :–

One lazy summer evening – watching the children play and idly wondering why Ben was crawling along the ground – suddenly my attention was caught as they came closer and I could make out what he was doing. Closely supervised and apparently directed by Sam he was picking up tiny things and OOH NO – EATING THEM!  STOP!  It turned out that according to Chief Scout and School boy legend Bear Grylls – you can survive quite well eating ants – No. 1 son was the source of this wisdom but had sensibly persuaded Silly brother No.2 to do the experiment. 50 ants later Ben had rather a queasy night – “Probably the formic acid” was his sage elder’s sympathetic response. The next plan is to catch and ‘milk’ an adder for its venom – in order to concoct an ante-serum: rather hoping for total and abject failure on that one!

Similarly  – Shortly after a particularly wet afternoon when the children had been allowed to watch cartoons back-to-back it should not have come as a particular surprise to anyone that I found myself pulling cactus spines from parts of the Silly Brothers’ anatomies. It transpired that Daft Husband had acceded to the boys’ entreaties that these plants were their dearest wish and heart’s desire. Apparently he swallowed – without questioning – the line that botany, specifically of Desert plants, was the new enthusiasm.

A wiser parent may have made the connection between this new found love of cacti and the favourite Tom and Jerry Cartoon in which poor Tom’s posterior comes into close contact with one of these spiny articles and so our hero spends an uncomfortable passage up-side-down on the doctor’s couch. This scene is always met with hoots of laughter and replayed over and over again. Perhaps following the their most recent foray into the staging of comic practical jokes, and the difficulties encountered, the boys will be a more sympathetic audience to Tom’s plight.

I think Television may have to be banned as a bad influence.

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Oh I do like to be beside the Seaside

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The dog’s beach etiquette is very suspect. His initial enthusiasm, as demonstrated by wild running and digging which involved spraying sand over all and sundry, came to an outraged halt at the edge of the sea – bubbly waves being a brazen assault as far as the hound was concerned. He watched the children scrambling between the rock pools fishing for shrimp and crabs with patent disapproval but it was my venture into the sea for a swim that led to near disaster. Driven close to an apoplexy at the thought of losing me to this salty, whooshing, bubble mixture, my faithful friend – after a couple of half-baked starts – finally launched himself bravely into the water in order to rescue me from my folly. His lifesaving technique needs work – to the uninitiated it must have looked likely that I would not survive his attentions as quite a crowd gathered to witness my being first leapt upon (and pushed under the water) then on emerging from the depths being inexpertly but determinedly corralled back to the shore where apparently it was imperative that I remain – guarded and safe!

Meanwhile the fishing party was doing splendidly. Such was the success of the shrimping nets that, whilst the crabs caught were only big enough for a very exciting Crab Derby, the shrimps were definitely potable. The boys’ delight was unsurpassed. As the fire was built up they gleefully regaled their hapless captives with commentary on each stage of the process: The frying pan in readiness, the oil quickly warming to smoking heat, the hiss and spit of the garlic as it preempted the crustaceans’ fate. Then in they went – dramatically hopping and flicking in desperate attempts to save themselves but to no avail – within seconds they were pinkly delicious. The carnivorous boys fell on their prey as if they had seen no meat for days – the rest of us sampled these delicate morsels feeling somewhat guilty. But the theatre of the day did not end there: (not liking prawns anyway) Nearly Teenage Daughter was able to do full justice to her dramatic range as she wept and railed at our cruelty; our inhumanity to living creatures. She mourned the pile of discarded shells waxing lyrical on the subject of animal rights and gave them a Viking burial with full honours sending them to Valhalla in a driftwood ‘boat’ on the pyre of their unfortunate demise.

Having all thoroughly enjoyed and exhausted ourselves in our different ways it was time to head home – via the fish and chip shop – where, strangely, there was no mention of the Rights of Cod.

A Post Card from France

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Arrived safely on foreign shores. All family members intact and reasonably cheerful. Was hoping to pass self off as glamorous French woman – or perhaps Italian – but cover blown immediately by nearest and dearest. Children’s table manners and general behaviour so bad as to give the game away at one glance (not to mention the highly nationally identifiable Pink Trouser and Cricket Hat combo that is the favoured holiday wardrobe of His Grumpiness).  By day 3 the novelty of the 30 minute walk from the Gite to the village to collect fresh bread and croissants had rather palled so the Children were all thrilled by my brilliant idea of visiting an enormous water park with flumes, fountains and other such excitements.

I had, however, totally forgotten about the extraordinary French preoccupation with skimpy swimming trunks – All males in the family thought it very funny until it was made apparent that “Shorts Sont Interdit”. There was a brief but undignified skirmish (in the Best Benny Hill tradition) that saw my Refusnik Husband, who was pseudo-nonchalantly attempting to ignore the signs and feign ignorance, being pursued and finally out-paced by a lithe female swimming attendant roaring “pas de Bermudas”.  It was made very clear that in order to use the pool they too needed to don the ‘Budgie Smugglers’. These were helpfully sold for extortionate amounts by handy vending machines in Child and Adult sizes – One size fits all supposedly – Children and Adults in this family are clearly the wrong sizes! The Silly Brothers looked very funny rushing around holding onto their voluminous pants and the Poor Oppressed Husband was barely able to move in his teeny tinies (nor for some days afterwards due to chafing!)

Make Cake not War

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Delusional attempts to pass myself off as a Kirstie Allsopp type Domestic Goddess have met with somewhat varied results. Tried with fellow WI chums to make a summer of retro chic but mostly produced soggy messes.

So far, under our collective belt, we have wowed the crowds with Crowns and Cocktails in the company of Gurkhas dancing with knives, made posies with a Pantomime Drag Queen and discovered that some of our number (who will probably not remain nameless!) had accidentally cheated in a baking competition – It turns out that Packet Cake Mix is a substance straight from the devil and all his little pixies. The Grand High WItch of the Central WI federation was extremely clear on this point!

Still undeterred by this rather mixed reception of our collective talents –and in a fit of enthusiasm, our bouncy, tigger-ish Social Secretary decided we should embrace the rural-idyll–thing. So, in a moment of weakness, we agreed to man the WI Cake Stall at the county fair and set about bullying an enormous amount of cake from kind and oppressed friends and family. This having been reasonably successful the Stall was a shared fantasy of bunting, antique china cake stands and flirty aprons: a realistically Country Life trestle table groaning with homemade comestibles. Looking very pleased with ourselves we set about the business of selling.

Things we have learnt –

  1. Take a calculator – we suffered all the indignity of a group of grownups struggling with their mental arithmetic who have had to apply to a small child for help with their times tables.
  2. It is important not to leave the husbands in total charge of the children en masse. The males grouped along age lines – the older ones heading for the beer tent not to be seen for several hours but on collection having been found to have made lifelong friends with each other and a band of Morris dancers. The younger cohort having equipped themselves with weaponry (plastic swords won at the lucky dip) headed off in the opposite direction into an adjacent field where war commenced. The Sons of The WI versus The Village Boys. The strategic planning of our offspring owed much to a combination of Calendar Girls meets Brave Heart. From opposing hill(ocks) they roared insults for a goodly while, then as a single unit dropped trousers and Mooned in a warlike manner – the Village Crew charged with swords (and inflatable hammers) drawn to avenge the insult and full-scale battle was enjoined.
  3. Read the labels on donated foodstuffs – handmade Dog Biscuits slipped under the radar and our mistake was only uncovered by the brutal honesty of a small customer.

All in all we were less a collective of Goddesses and more a band of gibbering loons.

Murder most Horrid

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The Squirrel autopsy has taken place under clinical and controlled conditions, with all the best technical equipment, by trained staff – Or – on the kitchen table, with Craft knives from the art shop, by the Silly Brothers, under the slightly-less-lackadaisical-than-usual supervision of Somewhat Coerced Husband.  Owing the to the rather pungent aroma the kitchen subsequently had to be evacuated and was declared out of action in order for the air to clear – so lunch had to be reconvened at the Pub. Discussion of the Case may have put the other clientele off their steak and chips.

The Cause of Death established: Broken Ribs and Punctured lungs – could be attributed to Falling – but the question remained –Did he fall or was he pushed?

A full investigation was launched; Detectives Sam and Ben (suitably attired from the dressing up box) cordoned off the scene and began their forensic examination. Something was rotten in this small plot, this idyllic English village green – a fingertip search for clues unearthed rather more than expected. There, amongst the cat poo, pine cones and general detritus, we found fresh wood shavings!

On looking up it could clearly be seen, next to the squirrels dray, several large branches had been removed. The plot thickened – but who would want to kill a harmless tree rat? Taking into account the surrounding circumstance and dramatis personae it became easier to understand, the motive was becoming clearer. The deceased had been a witness to and the victim of a crime!

The Evidence

  • Point 1: The Maintenance of the Squirrel’s tree is a hotly disputed issue – every year warring parties amass under its spreading branches to uphold their respective positions – the LittleTrimians versus the BigLopians. Discussions become acrimonious and are abandoned due to lack of consensus – and so the tree grows unhindered.
  • Point 2: Some person or persons unknown had, under the cover of darkness, removed vital elements of the habitat and domicile of the deceased.
  • Point 3: The Deceased had no doubt witnessed this covert assault and either quietly been got rid of in order that He may not speak out – Or more prosaically, had gone to sleep and needing his midnight pee stepped out onto a branch that wasn’t there.

Question: was it murder or reckless endangerment?  I foresee a blood bath at the next residents meeting.

Life is one LONG party

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Poor Ben has recently been hobbled by my over literal approach to life. On receiving a themed Pirate invitation to a party I duly sent him dressed to impress – complete with eye patch and wooden leg. Unfortunately it seems that all party invitations are now themed with pirates or fairies and the mother had not requested fancy dress. It was In fact a sports party – running races and the like. Ben lost quite badly what with the one leg and obscured vision. Luckily he is not a very competitive soul otherwise he would have been irreparably damaged.

End of term high jinks have had their effect as I discovered when I turned up to collect Nearly Teenage Daughter from the Abbey Choir Party – not a rip-roaring affair one would have thought but they had made the most of the opportunities afforded to them. Whilst the older ones were otherwise occupied, doubtless nefariously, in the crypt– the younger element, had headed for the Tower and balustrades. On my arrival I could follow their progress by the trail of terrified tourists fleeing the scene all being convinced that they had been hooted at by the ‘famous’ Abbey Ghosts.

These Ghouls were apparently busily engaged in devilry and dancing on the roof. The ingenious little beasts had made dramatic use of a winning combination of Choir robes, floodlights and the courtyard echo. What Larks!

And so the LONG summer vacation begins.

Let them eat Cake

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A Girl with a Plan

The Dog has ‘let himself down’. He has acquired a taste for cake with the help of Smallest Daughter. They have perfected the art of ‘team work’ – her with her nifty opposable thumbs and skilful tool use and he with his expert clearing of evidence – they are a crack squad of thieves.

Never at my best when required to suddenly produce many, many cupcakes I had actually managed this impressive feat – actually made them, not just bought them and roughed them up a bit to simulate home-made-ness.  Foolishly leaving the kitchen unattended as all cake was safely entombed in tins I returned just in time to witness the symbiotic relationship of Girl and Dog. A chair had been drawn up; the lid was off the cake tin; Smarties had been gobbled; icing licked; and cake dropped to the Dog-Hoover: They were 20 down, 40 to go.

Stealing from the home kitchen is bad but theft from the Museum Café in the Sydney Gardens is much, much worse. The Dastardly Dog, now regarding Cake as fair game rather like rabbits but easier to catch, made a full-scale assault on a large Lemon Drizzle standing tantalizingly within reach – it was seen, grabbed and gobbled within seconds.

Automatic doors leading to beautifully laid tables may have to be rethought. The Dog is now persona non grata in Bath as he does persist in coming out without his wallet leaving others to pick up the tab!

Olympic Fever and a Promethean Warning

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Whilst being deeply resistant to all things athletic even I have noticed that we are in an Olympic year and the Games seem to be rather present in the minds of the British Public. We are a parochial lot and prefer things if they are local. At the School sports day the Games Department took the opportunity to demonstrate the difference between us ordinary mortals and those Grecian Gods of the Athletics’ Field. The Headmaster’s race – usually between the Junior and Senior school Heads was pepped up this year by a sprinkling of Olympians.This race will remain in the memory of those who watched as a warning to us lower beings – NEVER CHALLENGE THE GODS! Someone had the bright, if rather unkind, idea that in order to entertain the crowd, and perhaps even things up a bit, the participants should attempt the 3-legged Race. Things I hope never happen to me have always been many and varied but now include being strapped to an Olympian who is running. The Poor Headmaster – in his tweed ‘Sports’ Jacket (suitably dressed for the occasion) was half-carried, half-dragged the length of the field by a nubile 20-year-old half his size. The indignity!

As President of Bath WI (titter-chortle) I also managed to get embroiled in the Great WI Olympic Torch Relay.  Hippy Chick Secretary and I were invited to come and collect the Torch one afternoon from a small village on the outskirts of Bath. Unfortunately we rather underestimated the formality of the occasion. Being multi-taskers it occurred to us that we could fit in a dog walk at the same time so arrived into the meeting of the Ladies of Bathhampton rather worse-for-hair (and mud). The assembled crowd of WI stalwarts were preparing for The Great Handover with speeches and poems, certificates and medals. One of their members (not one of whom was under 80) had been coerced into a puce velour track suit and sweatband in honour of her role in the ceremony. She had been despatched to the pub next door with instructions to arrive at the trot in keeping with the history of the torch (they had been doing their homework). With due pomp and circumstance, after only a short delay as it seemed the jog from the pub may have been over ambitious, we were receiving the WI Olympic torch – which in keeping with the WI part of its origin – looked distinctly home knitted. Sherry was drunk and photographs by the local paper taken! Hippy Chick and I rolled out to take the Torch on the next leg of its journey, in the car, via the school pick up, with constant admonitions to the dogs – It is not a stick – don’t chew it! Give, GIVE, good dog! We were very relieved when we and the torch arrived at its next destination and it was handed over– again with due solemnity – and only a few small tooth marks to add to its aura of antiquity.

Babes in the Wood

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In preparation for the coming onslaught of survival training I mistakenly attended the wrong fitness class. Having been sure that I was in for some gentle Pilates it was rather a shock when the Techno Latin dance tracks started up and ‘booties’ (not to mention boobies) where being shaken all over the place. There is something rather disturbing about the enthusiasm with which some of the jiggling and gyrating was performed – particularly by the over 70’s – but you have to hand it to them – they were much better at it than me! It turns out that I had accidentally wandered into the Zumba class of horror. The only difference between this class and an actual nightmare was that I was fully dressed rather than totally naked – although given the level of jiggle I am not sure that it made an awful lot of difference.

Well, having survived that – nothing could phase me now. In fact I was rather well prepared for this year’s excursion into the woods Ray Meer’s Style. Forewarned is forearmed so having had previous experience of this sort of expedition I was looking forward to yet another weekend of no sleep, ‘Lord of the Flies’ children, and Desk Bound Daddies, pretending to be Backwoodsmen, embarrassingly attempting to impress their sons. Any improvement on this expectation would be counted as a win.

So it was with resignation, rather than trepidation, that I allowed myself to be loaded onto a bus and sent far away from civilisation – back to basics –into the wilds of Oxfordshire.  In fact so inured was I, to this no-frills life, that the sight of a depressed looking individual, trailing the ‘bog spade’, on their reluctant journey to commune with nature, raised in me only the wry smile of the seasoned sufferer.

Actually this crowd of comrades were of a rather different stamp from the previous victims – this lot had ‘form’ (in fact they included some great mates and some who were destined to become so). The tales of suffering told by the pioneers had meant that this group were rather self-selecting. We all knew what we were about, so we listened to the tales of derring-do by the boy in charge of our motley crew with tolerance and patience – for about 5 minutes.

Rarely has a human being managed to alienate and irritate a crowd more thoroughly and speedily. Through the subsequent hours and days we passed through the stages of irritation, outrage and disbelief on a never-ending loop. And my goodness did this shouty NCO bring out the worst in the grownups! The children just raised their eyebrows and carried-on-regardless but it was the adults who found emulating their sang-froid verging on impossible.

Not giving addicts their fix is a dangerous game. Adults on rising, after not-enough-sleep and too-much-whisky, need caffeine not mackerel. Not since the unfortunate incident across the water has there been a Tea based mutiny but it was a close run thing in those woods. By withholding the necessary boiling water, and using it for washing up, Our Little Hitler was running a serious risk of lynching. So when he took it upon himself to demonstrate Cover and Camouflage–otherwise known as hide and seek – by secreting himself under the wood pile it was only the knowledge that, it was definitely witnessed, and would certainly be regarded as ‘with intent’, that prevented various of our number from dropping large lumps of tree on top. We contented ourselves with liberally scattering pine needles and any poison ivy we could find to help with the hiding and ensuring that all the children went to look in other, much further away, places for a good hour – what a lovely hour that was!

There was something about this individual that invited rebellion.

Uh Oh!

We all found our own small protests: For some it was the illicit dash to the fish and chip shop when supposed to be gutting and smoking our own catch; For others a mad dash for the tea when the Camp Commandant wasn’t looking; but for me and another desperate mummy – we channelled our inner schoolgirl, heading out-of-bounds with contraband glasses of wine, for a naughty cigarette (I haven’t smoked in 14 years). Being caught and marched back into camp only added to the experience in our eyes as we collapsed in a gibbering, giggling heap behind a bush to attempt to regain our dignity and poise before having to encounter any of our children. Not grownup yet it would seem.

Sartorial Unconcern or Balls to DJ’s

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Subtext: I really, really don’t want to!

Informed Oppressed Husband of the need to dust off his Dinner Jacket with the offer to get it dry cleaned in time for social occasion in two days time. He looked shifty, then brazenly smug, as he announced that he had thrown it away because it was ‘a bit small’ and he ‘didn’t like wearing it anyway!’ He was quickly dispatched to find a replacement because ‘No – a suit would not do’.  OH grumpily stomped off in the direction of the shops but was back, wreathed smiles, suspiciously swiftly, sporting a small carrier bag under one arm. Apparently he had been struck by a notion of such brilliance that he couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. Not wanting to waste the ready on an article of clothing that he hated anyway and wore as little as possible it occurred to him that the local charity shop was just the place to find a replacement. And so it is if your ideal look is the wide lapels and flares of the 70’s deeply imbued with the exotic fragrance of moth balls. On the grounds that these things never fit anyway he had applied a broad-church approach to the concept of fit and was now the proud owner of a dinner jacket that I can only suppose previously belonged to Patrick Moore. The jacket is voluminous (or ‘comfortable’ apparently) and the trousers have the added attraction of being so high-waisted as to keep the entire stomach region nice and cosy. This is all an utterly see through and obvious attempt to ensure that he is never again required to attend what OH calls a ‘fancy dress occasion’ – let alone be forced to dance. I am ignoring the provocation.

Had a jolly time at the dance and any event that culminates in loading a happily sozzled Opera singer into back of the landrover can only be regarded as a success.