Tuesday, 14 June 2011

True love and rain

The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain while the rain in Scotland finds you wherever you may be. There’s no hiding place. Scottish skies play with you – tying silken threads of sunlight round your torso, they pull you gently into the open before throwing a bucket of cold rainwater over you. Behaving like a demented clown, enjoying the fun of the fair, Scottish skies use every trick in the book and every weapon in their armoury to tease and entertain you.

‘Come in May’ said J and H, our friends who brave the elements in Edinburgh on a daily basis, ‘ it’s always beautiful in May’

And so with everything we needed for an early summer break in the North we travelled relatively light to Gatwick airport; with just 3 bags and a borrowed McClaren buggy. A slow start on the M25 ground to a halt thanks to a rogue cow who’d wandered onto the hard-shoulder looking for daisies. A short holiday in the fast lane ended as abruptly as it had started and we were off again. After handing in our 3 bags we rolled through security easily and found our breakfast in Departures.

I was nervous about leaving Kent. I have to admit to not being very well travelled and this combined with a fear of the flight ahead of us meant that camomile tea would have been a better option than cappuccino. It wasn’t the actual act of ‘flying’ that made me nervous – it was the thought of Nipper having a meltdown mid-air and me not knowing how to deal with it.

The flight beckoned all too quickly and I carried Nipper down the gangway and onto ‘THE PLANE!’. She’d begun to get quite excited about the prospect of ‘PLANES!!’ a few days earlier. In my inexperienced-Mama way, I’d decided to hit her with every fun fact about planes I could and shout at the top of my voice every time one buzzed over-head. I figured if I got her excited about ‘the plane’, then that emotion would cancel out any ‘fear’.

We talked planes for days. Pointing them out in the skies like manic ‘Spotters’. Grandad even made the somewhat rash promise that ‘Daddy will fly the plane’, giving me repetitive nightmare that Nipper would force Daddy at pencil-point into the cabin and insist he ‘fly de plane’.....

I needn’t have worried though. She’s a thrill-seeker and a sticker fiend – these two character traits combined helped us to ‘weeeeeeeeee!!!!’ our way through take-off and sticker-book our way through the hour flight to Edinburgh.
‘This is Finley’ said H,
‘Hello Finley’ we chorused.
Nipper took to Finley immediately. ‘Finleeeeeeeeeeey!’ would become the soundtrack to our week as Nipper called and followed him all over Western Scotland. Cathy to Finley’s Heathcliffe, Nipper spent the week displaying model sharing-behaviour. In fact everything was shared – breakfast, baths, sticker books, the ‘chickens!’, soft-play experiences, wet feet and a little bit of snot.

The majority of our week was spent in the wing of an Edwardian house in Taynuilt, a pretty village close to Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. We experienced everything the weather forecaster could throw at us – snow-covered hills, hail, driving rain and a mini hurricane that knocked out the power to the house for a day and a night.

Nipper took every available opportunity to splash in the puddles. We drove for miles through rainsoaked hills, speeding through puddles and waving at the lochs as they blurred into one.

We went to Fort William for the day, saw Ben Nevis and hunted out as many Wizard castle for Nipper as possible. We ate blood red raspberry ice creams at the scene of Britain's most horrific massacre in Glen Coe, then Zoe threw hers up a few miles down the winding road. Stopping at another Wizard-castle, we striped her down and wiped the gore from her face as passersby took photographs of the beauty around us.

I fell in love with the bleakness of Oban in the rain and Nipper fell in love with Finley Hamish. She spent the week shouting his name and the word 'balls' - courtesy of our frequent dry-breaks in the soft-play centre in Oban.

Another favourite past-time was seeking out ‘the chickens!’ in between rain-breaks. Ten days prior to our arrival, the house had welcomed 4 news bright yellow chicks, whose little wooden house on the grass outside became a scene of fascination for Finley and Nipper.

The Edwardian house itself was bloody freezing, necessitating us to wear every item of clothing packed into our 3 tiny bags. In the evenings we’d snuggle under the duvets in the lounge, drink wine and listen to the rain as it playfully bashed the guttering. However, I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world. You can keep your modern lodges and your new builds, this old house had history, and maybe a ghost or two. It also had the best view in Taynult – with the hills hugging the loch below us, we watched the clouds skid across the ever-changing sky from the comfort of the battered old sofas.

Time spent with our Scottish/Australian friends in the dusty old house provided us with a treasure trove of memories to take home to Kent.

It was great, and J&H were right – Scotland’s beautiful in May. Whatever the weather.

*First appeared in Kent Life in 2012*

Donkeys and badgers and ostriches....oh my!

Donkeys and Badgers and Ostriches....oh my!

‘The usual places’ have their place, but on a Sunday afternoon last month we wanted something out of the ordinary, a hidden Kentish gem and a buried treasure. With the help of Google we found it; Badger Hill Farm and Cidery.

Hailing originally from the West Country, N's veins run yellow with cider, so the excitement was palpable;

‘We’re off to Badger Hill Farm and Cidery Nipper,’ Daddy whispered,
‘FARM!’ Nipper shouted with enthusiasm.

Farms had started to feature heavily in Nipper’s bedtime literature of late so the promise of ‘Baa’s’ ‘Moos’ and ‘Braying’ elicited further repeated shouts of ‘Let’s Go!’ and 'Pig poo!!!!' followed by an unusually quick passage from house to car.

Tracing A and B roads with our fingers we located Badger Hill Farm and Cidery close to the pretty village of Chilham.

Donkeys greeted the three of us as we parked up in the farm yard. Avoiding the water filled potholes, we skipped across the paths, passing pot bellied pigs in their sty’s and chickens who roamed free around the pots and barrels on sale in the courtyard.
We spent a happy half hour meandering around the tiny shop selling cider made on site, and picking our way through the courtyard chock full of more wind chimes than you could poke a stick at (and we did poke a stick at a couple, and knocked our heads on a few). In between the chimes we could hear the call of the wild from the fields behind the courtyard. Rounding the water butts and picnic tables we found a field of ostriches and a field of wallabies with ducks meandering between the two.

‘Big Bird!’ Nipper pointed at the big-eyed ostriches picking away at the grass and stretching their long nibble legs.

Badger Hill Farm passed the all-important scone-and- tea-test. We sampled flapjacks, scones and tea in the ‘cafe’ - essentially a battered old greenhouse home to a diverse collection of furniture and charming old highchairs. For a chilly spring day, the Greenhouse was surprisingly warm and snug and the trinkets hanging from every corner amused Nipper as she munched her way through her tea.

You couldn’t wish for a more unusual place to while away an hour. Some of the pots and barrels on sale look like they’ve been there for donkey’s years and many are broken and unloved, but following the chickens as they peck their way around them is a strangely romantic endeavour.

Nipper insisted on buying a bag of apples and carrots in the shop to take back to the donkeys who’d taken it upon themselves to guard our wheels in the car park. We fed them their reward and bid them farewell. As we clambered into the car to take the short drive to Chilham, the sun threw prisms of light through the raindrops and the donkeys brayed to us to return soon.

*First appeared in Kent Life in 2012*

Horoscopes

I think I’ve just stumbled upon one of the most disturbing sites on the internet – 2011 Predictions – a site ‘devoted to monitoring current events and their relationship to Bible Prophecy’.

I’d put ‘predictions 2011’ into Google in order to find out what was in store for Scorpios’ in 2011.....and I got four horseman of the apocalypse bearing down on me and a heap of theories that will give me nightmares for at least the first 30 days of 2011!

That’ll teach me. If I was a Capricorn I wouldn’t have even gone there. Trust me. I know about Capricorns – I live with one and my Mother is one. They plan, they make lists and they make life happen – they don’t surf the net asking what’s in store – they build the store and stock it themselves.

When I ripped open the £1 make-do horoscope-themed-calendar (which is hanging on the wall temporarily taking up the space set aside for the fabled photo one we ordered at the beginning of December!) a grinning goat greeted me. Capricorn – the sign for practical January.

The calendar informed me that Capricorns were; ‘organised, sensible, responsible and sceptical’. Which is just what we need this month now that bloated old Saggi-arse has given up the ghost of Christmas past and fallen asleep with dribble on his bow and crumbs on his arrow. We need the hoofed-ones to bring some normality back, some routine and we need them to take down the tree, sweep up the tinsel and pack the baubles in the loft.

I’m not sure what drew me to googling predictions 2011 in the first place – but if I had the time to analyse it I’d probably come back to the same old mouldy chestnut – I want to know about the future but I’m too busy living to make adequate plans that will enable a smooth trajectory forward. Richard C Cushing (possibly a Capricorn) said: Always plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark Wise words and ones I will take seriously this month.

Mum and N find organisation easy. I struggle with it. It doesn’t come naturally. I stared at a blank page for ages yesterday after making bold statements about writing lists. I’d been back at work for a day after a ten day break, plus another 12 for snow, and I was having trouble remembering what I did for a living......

Then decided to forget the small stuff and write a list of resolutions as a sort of make-shift ‘big plan’ for the year ahead. I managed to cobble together 3 resolutions in total. If I behave like a goat and stay organised,this year will be a breeze. I’ve pinned the ‘resolutions –plan’ to the fridge and I intend to stubbornly stick to it........well at least until the hoofed-one trots off and ushers in airy-fairy Aquarius in February.

Resolutions:
1.To use spell check EVERY time
2. To actually use the calendar
3.To avoid stress and plumbers.....and prediction websites

It's raining inside

One of those days/weeks

Tuesday 7:25am
I cracked open the laptop and looked through my emails. The weather forecaster had been predicting snow but they’d not said anything about torrential rain. The rain outside sounded epic and the kind that would give Noah bad dreams. I looked up to check the size of the rain drops. Nothing doing. No rain on the immaculate decking, no rain in the sky. But the rain in the chimney sounded bad........

‘Rain. In. The. Chimney?’ I spelled it out slowly to myself.........Bugger!
‘It’s raining in the house again’ I shouted at the top of my voice, running as fast as I could in my totes toasties across the laminate floor. I bounded up the stairs
‘No – turn the stop cock off!’ Nick shouted from the landing, so I turned tail and ran back down to the kitchen. With super human strength I pulled the dishwasher from the wall and turned off the stop cock.

Running back upstairs, the sight that greeted me was like something out of the Titanic. There was water spurting everywhere. The boiler had sprung a leak and it was determined to shower everything in its wake. We grabbed Zoe’s bath from the bathroom and filled it over and over again as the water kept coming. We even used her top ‘n tail bowl, but in truth, it didn’t hold very much and the water was coming out at all angles.

We struggled to catch the water with the baby bath for a good ten minutes before the water finally stopped.

Steve, our fantastic plumber, turned up within the hour and surveyed the scene.
‘The cold water pipe has come away from the boiler. Get your hairdryer out Vik and dry the circuit boards and I’ll be back with a clip to fix the cold water pipe back in place.’
As luck would have it, the supplier was all out of clips, so we spent another night and day without hot water and heat, and swearing about Rob Mcelwee and his cronies who were still talking about snow.

Steve fixed the clip late Wednesday evening and we enjoyed hot water and heat all of Thursday.......well, all of the daytime hours of Thursday, as at 7:25pm, the cantankerous boiler decided to blow a clip again and spray everything in sight. Unfortunately, we were out, so we weren’t as quick to the stop cock as we’d been on Tuesday morning.

I don’t know whose bright idea it was to put a boiler upstairs......oh wait, yes I do – it was the previous occupants. They obviously didn’t consider the implications of having a combi boiler, connected to the mains, sitting pretty in the 2nd bedroom above the lounge, as either a hazard or a worry.

As the boiler spewed forth from above, the walls of the lounge ran with tears and Tuesday’s water stain swelled to cover a third of the ceiling.
The scene that awaited us was worse than Tuesdays. We ran around with the baby bath again and Nipper at our heels shouting’ uh- uh! Oh deee-ah! Oh deee-ah!’

Friday 2:19pm
I’m scared. I’m waiting for 7:25 to come around again and for our Ground Hog Day to begin again.
The clip’s back in place, the water’s going where it should be and Nipper and I have just waved Steve off again. We like him a lot, but we hope he won’t be back. Truth be told, it will be hard to contact him because his day went something like this:
Inundated with calls from pregnant ladies (with boilers to fix), people with leaking emersions and a woman in Eynsford whose clip had pinged off again.
Steve rolls into Eynsford with the wind behind him and enough time to fix this clip and get himself over to the lady expecting twins in Riverhead whose gasket has blown.
‘Hello Vik, lead the way’.
‘Here we go Steve – the disaster zone – bedroom 2’...
Steve spent a good half an hour re-clipping the delinquent water pipe back in place, cleaning up the boiler and drying down the fan and circuit boards. Nipper and I watched with interest as he cleaned the ‘fiddly bits’. Nipper was very impressed by Steve’s phone/torch combination. She’d seen a torch before and she’d seen a phone before, but not one combined. It was small enough to squeeze between the burners and illuminate the damp patches on the thermo couple (‘m not making this up – I know my boilers!)
‘Would you like a ham sandwich Steve?’
‘No thanks Vik’
‘It’s nice ham from Norman’s’
‘No – I’m ok, I’ll be out of your way in a minute – let’s just fire this up. Turn your thermostat up and we’ll get it all warm in here’.
Nipper and I found the thermostat, cranked it up and returned to bedroom 2.
We stood next to Steve and admired the shiny pipe work going up to the boiler, we marvelled at the roar from the burners, then
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!
‘Bl**dy H***!’
The boiler blew up.
I jumped and Nipper screamed. I decided it was time for an afternoon nap, so we adjourned to Nipper’s room and left Steve with the smoking boiler. God damn it – a new boiler?
A nappy change later and Steve called us back
‘Vik – it’s fine – the boiler’s ok – I just left my phone in there, and it went bang’
‘You blew up your phone??’
‘Well, I knew it would happen one day. I nearly did it once before. It’s not a bad thing, at least no none else can get hold of me today or tomorrow either!’ he grinned.

Half an hour later and full of Norman’s ham, Steve left with his burned out phone in a plastic bag.

We have the heating on, the water’s pumping through the pipes and I’m as jumpy as Noah waiting for the rains to come again....... Does anyone have the number of a good plumber? Ours went up in smoke.

Dot to Dot

I’m not cut out to be a land lady. I’ve tried it, and have failed miserably. I promised the last tenant faithfully that I’d decorate the kitchen when they moved in. A year has passed, the kitchen remains untouched and the tenant’s leaving.

I’m rubbish at this stuff. In fact last week my tenant reprimanded me for leaving the bathroom light on when showing a potential tenant the place. Clearly, showing people round and turning lights on and off is too much for me. I have instructed an estate agent to help me. They were inundated with requests and booked in lots of viewings, which Nipper and I had to accompany, as holders of our tenants keys.

The first couple we met scared me. The woman belonged to the feted ‘Y’ generation. Why ‘Y’, I don’t know. But I’m an ‘x’ and maybe a little too laid back for these ‘y’s who seem far wiser and far sharper. She actually thanked me for coming round and I replied; ‘no problem, thanks for having me’. Before showing her and her meek boyfriend out.....

Yesterday morning Nipper and I went to meet an Estate Agent and a lady keen on renting my old flat.

We arrived early;-mainly because we'd got the time wrong and thought the appointment was 9:15 not 9:30, so our arrival at 9:25 meant we could change the panicked expression to one of smugness.

We parked the car in our old spot and walked around the block to find an elderly lady peering through the flat windows.

'Have you come to view the flat?'
'Pardon dear - you'll have to speak up, I can't hear a thing'
'Have you come to see the flat?'
'Yes! Are you the estate agent? And who is this?'
'I'm Vikki and this is Nipper - this is our flat. We used to live here. Would you like us to show you round?'
‘Yes please love – it looks lovely from what I can see. I’m Dot by the way.’
We then took the smartly dressed 'Dot' through the communal door and into the flat. As we held the door open for her, I couldn't help but be slightly startled by the azure blue of her eyeshadow, and marvel at her snazzy dog-tooth checked trousers and platform boots.

She told me she was a widow of 82 and that she'd recently had a fall (nothing to do with the platformed boots apparently - but all down to her careless landlord leaving bricks in the garden).

She told 'us' (because by this point Nipper was transfixed by the patterned trousers and continually nodded at everything Dot said) - that she was looking for a ground floor place as she couldn't do stairs. I explained that the agent had let it the night before and that she was going to ring her to explain. Dot said she knew this but was still keen to come down 'as you never know what might happen'.

She had a real sparkle in her eye. Unfortunately she didn't have a spring in her step to match. She was really quite wobbly (maybe partly due to the platform boots) and I felt the need to take her arm a lot. We glided about the flat together on the silky wooden floors and we showed her the bathroom with it's death trap high-sided bath. I just couldn't imagine Dot getting her leg over (so to speak) in there. I knew that if she took the flat, then I’d feel duty bound to come and remove the bath and fit a nice safe shower, with hand rails and everything.

The Agent finally showed up, but not before Nipper and I had fallen a little in love with Dot. I knew it would be hard for Nipper to tear herself away from the dog-tooth check, and I wanted to have more chats with Dot about her husband (dearly departed) who'd worked on the farm in Eynsford 50 years ago. I also wanted to know more about her two adopted sons and her one biological one - who'd popped out when they'd least expected it after years of hoping for a child!

The agent explained to Dot (quite coldly actually) that the flat was gone, but she was top of the waiting list. We took Dot by the arm and walked her (very slowly) to the waiting car - hiding her biological son Alan. We said goodbye and then I asked the Agent if she would try her best to find somewhere for Dot to go as she couldn't cope with her stairs at home.

I would have loved Dot as the tenant but the Agent had started the paperwork the night before and the new tenant has paid the agent the deposit. N pointed out though that I'd end up feeling responsible for Dot and would worry about her. I didn't tell him that I'd already played out nightmare scenarios in my head featuring Dot falling from her bed and smashing her hip on our hard shiny wood flooring in the flat. N's probably right, but Dot would have loved living in the flat. She would have been by the river, and a stone's throw from the Village Hall where she would have enjoyed 'Tuesday Club' - where the girls and boys of the over 80s go to play scrabble and drink tea on a Tuesday.

If I’d not taken on the estate agent, then I’d have chosen Dot in a heartbeat, but the estate agent was already halfway through processing what she referred to as ‘a very sensible candidate’. Sensibile? Cripes – that means they’ll expect the kitchen to be decorated then.....and the lights turned off......

Anyway, Dot's back in her three bedroom rented house in Pett's Wood (shudder). She'd love to come back to Eynsford where she lived when her family were young, and when the farm was a proper working farm and when the flat (she liked) was an old paper mill. So, if anyone knows of a ground floor flat going for a reasonable rent in the village, please let us know, we know a very smart lady who’d love it.

An apology

My mum always used to tell me ‘don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today’. Wise words. But I should add; these are the words of an organised woman. The words of a woman who knows where the pens are kept, who replaces the phone in its holder, who keeps a weekly shopping list and who knows exactly when the insurance renewal is up. I on the other hand could win awards for chaos.

I’m incredibly poor at time management. I don’t own a watch and I have a calendar I occasionally doodle on. This wouldn’t be a problem if I had nothing much to do. Unfortunately the reverse is true. I run myself raggedly off my own feet in a harried fashion trying to complete all the tasks I should have written down, with the pen I couldn’t find, and didn’t have the time to write down in the first place.
My mum has persevered over the years and continued to dispense advice on writing lists, on having a pad and pen by the phone at all times and on noting important dates on the calendar. I always procrastinate and always have an answer as to why these ‘fail-safes’ won’t work for me.

‘I can’t keep a pen in one place by the phone Mum – it just won’t happen – I’ll chew it, wander off with it, stick it behind my ear and lose it (not that I have enormous lug holes)’ and now I’ve added to the list ; ‘and Nipper will walk off with it’.
And in answer to the social chaos that often engulfs me;
‘I can’t keep a diary or a calendar mum – you know I never know what day of the week it is!’
‘Just like your father’.

Yes. I guess I am. I’m just like my dad. I’ll make no apologies for that. He’s a fantastic man. A creative, artistic fellow who likes a drink, a laugh, to garden and to keep going til he drops. He and my mum know how to live. They balance each other out. Mum writes the shopping list; Dad goes and buys it. Mum arranges Dad’s croquet matches; he goes and plays them (despite never knowing quite what the date is that day). That’s not to say that my mum doesn’t know how to party, or live life to the full, she definitely does; but she also manages to run a house, run dad’s diary and run the local photographic club. She does this with the aid of ‘lists’.

I’ve tried it once or twice, but I just couldn’t get into them.
Boring
Tasks
Things to do
Deadlines
Dates and
Instructions

I’ve never responded well to instruction and have always been rubbish at following directions, so perhaps this goes someway to explain my aversion for lists of instructions, masquerading as things to do.

I’ll admit, I could do without the stress of having just 2 hours to renew the car insurance before the bell tolls and we’re on the wrong side of legal. And I could also do with a reminder every now and then that a workman’s turning up on a given day, so I have time to remove the pile of yesterday’s clothes (crowned with my knickers) from the stairs.

Piles. I’m good at those. Piles of clothes. Mine, Nipper’s, the endless piles of wet towels and piles of papers, invoices, bills and plates in the kitchen. Last week though, the perfect opportunity afforded itself for me to take down the piles one by one as I began a desperate search for my accounts. 2009 – 2010. Not exactly a magical financial year for me, but essential to show a return of some sort.

‘Where’s the big yellow jiffy envelope?’ I called out from the dust of the dining room.
‘What big yellow jiffy envelope?’
‘The one containing my accounts’.
‘I don’t know my sweet – where you left them maybe?’ came the reply.
‘Well, I left it in here on top of the green box, carefully stacked on top of the black one, which was actually perched on top of all the cuttings on top of the removal boxes’. It would be disingenuous to call this a ‘pile’ – the invoices and bills had been carefully placed on top of what can only be described as a ‘giant haystack’ of boxes.

Somewhere in my disorganised mind I’d thought that this would be a safe place for Press Contact’s financial year.

I had to find the accounts. There was nothing for it – the piles had to become a thing of the past. They needed to be removed, and there wasn’t a painless way of doing this. I’d have to go through every single one of them.
Three days later and still no sign of the accounts. On the upside, the piles had been dissected, reorganised and, in some instances ‘re-piled’.

I sent an email to my ever patient Accountant entitled ‘I’m An Idiot’. I detailed the piles, the mess, the chaos and he soothed me with the words; ‘don’t worry, we’ll work it out’. He’s not dodgy or anything. He just knows how to read bank statements. He’s probably even one of those people who ‘opens them’. I should start doing that....maybe sometime tomorrow.

Birds, bees and cricket boxes

‘What’s this Auntie Toria’ asked Teddy, as he stumbled out of the shed holding his Dad’s old cricket box aloft.

‘Ermmmm.. well, it’s something you use when you play cricket Ted’
‘To help your bowling Auntie Toria?’
‘Erm, no...it’s part of your outfit’
‘What part?’
‘Erm, well it’s a protector’
‘What does it protect?’ he asked

I took a deep breath and decided to overcome my embarrassment and be honest; ‘It protects your willy Ted’

Huge peels of laughter as both Teddy and my younger nephew Alex rolled about on the grass throwing the cricket box between them – ‘IT PROTECTS YOUR WILLY! IT PROTECTS YOUR WILL’ they both sang.

Oh dear. So, the boys had come to stay at Nanna and Grandad’s for the weekend and would be going home with more than just their new favourite word ‘knackered’, learned from Grandad earlier in the day, they’d be going home talking about protecting their willies.

‘I’m protecting my willy, I’m protecting my willy’ sang Ted as he pranced about the lawn with his dad’s old cricket box stuffed down the front of his shorts.
‘Give it to me Ted’ pined Alex; ‘I need to protect my willy too!’

‘No one needs to protect their willy’s, let’s just put it back in the shed......’
said Grandad, the voice of reason, if a voice sometimes punctuated with mildly offensive vocabulary. Whether or not ‘buggered’ or ‘knackered’ are considered proper swear words these days, I’ve no idea, all I know is, I was soundly told off when I was Teddy’s age for exclaiming ‘RATS!’ to everything.

The exchange over the cricket box got me thinking, mostly about the birds and the bees and when we’d have the inevitable conversation with Nipper. She’d already started pointing at Dadda’s appendage when he stood naked in the shower. To be fair, she shows no fear of it, probably due in part to her over exposure to Norman’s sausages. She may even believe that due to Mummy’s propensity for cooking them, Daddy has taken a fancy to hanging one on his person (obviously he’s gone for the jumbo and not the chipolata).

Kids seem so ‘knowing’ these days. I was nine years old before I asked my mum whether Dad was Father Christmas. Teddy is only six but he comes out with phrases that are so adult. When I asked him the other day if he thought that the Yeti at Riverhill Gardens slept in the woods at night time he answered in a loud voice; ‘oh yes Auntie Toria’, then whispered in my ear; ‘I only said that for the other children Auntie Toria, it’s really a man in a suit – I saw the at the back when he turned around. I’m not sure where the cut-off point occurred and Teddy made the transition from ‘child’ to ‘man’ but he clearly doesn’t see himself as one of the ‘children’ – he’s a Small Person.

Small People seem so aware these days and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nipper came home from pre-school and asked us before the age of 3 about the birds and the bees. N believes that ‘they will do that at school for us and we won’t have to cover the topic’. However, I’m not sure I want someone else telling Nipper about the miracle of life; that’s what I’m choosing to call it today, yesterday I was calling it nasty dirty things when Nipper tried to order an adult video on Sky. It was clearly a mistake to let her entertain herself with the remote while I quickly replied to a work email but perhaps it’s a plan for later down the line, when I chicken out again when asked an embarrassing question.

Wrong number

Wrong Number

I was cutting it fine as I pushed the trolley, chock full of beer, cider, wine and nappies out into the car park of ASDA. I had half an hour to get home, unpack the shopping, make something to eat, read through my notes, before interviewing Sarah Price, the garden designer and artist behind the planting plans for the Olympic Park 2012.

As I haphazardly fitted the bottles of beer, cans of cider and nappies around the push-chair in the boot of the car my phone pinged. A missed call. It would have to wait. I threw the trolley to one side and drove out of the car park. It was another beautiful day; the 18th dry day in a row. And to celebrate we were having a barbecue at the weekend – hence all the cans and bottles (well, that’s my excuse!)

Once home, to save time I left the cans and nappies in the boot and concentrated on putting away the fridge items. Half a sandwich later and it was 2:05pm and my allotted interview time. I’d rung Sarah earlier in the day but she’d been busy in her garden, so I’d offered a 2pm slot and she’d jumped at it. And now here I was five minutes late. I grabbed the laptop, assumed my ‘interviewing ‘pose (laid back on the sofa propped up with two pillows and phone propped under chin) and pressed redial on my phone.

‘Hello Vikki’ said a friendly voice at the end of the line
That wasn’t Sarah. This voice was male for a start. I decided to wing it
‘Hi!’ I said breezily and went with a ‘how are you’ when I should have asked ‘WHO are you?’
‘Fine thanks Vikki, how are you?’ His repetition of my forename seemed rather smug in my complete absence of knowledge of his own.
‘I’m fine (I paused in the vain hope that he’d help me out and insert his name) – well, actually that’s a lie, I’m struggling with hayfever – any suggested cures?’
‘Well, you could try the local honey’
Ah – a clue; he was local.
‘I was thinking of going to Lullingstone to get some...’ I stressed the word LULL-ING-STONE, perhaps I knew him through Tom Hart Dyke, my gardening friend who I’d worked with for five years.
‘You could’ he replied.
Damn – maybe not. I’d try again...
‘It’s funny though, after all those years of working on Tom’s garden and I’ve never had hayfever before’
‘Ummm’ he replied.

Nope. He didn’t know Tom then. Who was he? And why was he on redial?
I was struggling. I was on the brink of confessing that I didn’t have a clue who I was talking to when he threw in the curve ball
‘Well, when do you think this weather’s going to break then?’
‘my turn to ‘ummmm...?’
‘I have to say it’s good for business though’. Ah ha – another clue.
Perhaps he was a deck chair salesman? a beach volley player? a Mr Whippy????
‘So, I’ll try to get to you by Friday.’

And that’s when it clicked. It was the window cleaner. I’d left him a message earlier in the day and he must have been the missed call when I was struggling with the malevolent trolley in ASDA.

‘Glen! Ah – that would be great GLEN. Glen!!!!!!’ I virtually shouted his name; GLEN! Ofcourse – it’s GLEN!!!! And I said it again for good measure, just to make sure he knew I knew who he was.

I think I probably sounded a bit more enthusiastic about his visit than is probably appropriate.

‘Ok then Vikki – really looking forward to seeing you’ said Glen flirtily.
Blimey – I’d been after a window cleaner for months, and now I’d found an enthusiastic and friendly one. Why then, did this fill me with disquiet?

Fete a compli

Fete A Compli
‘No Scout Fete! Unheard of. A wave of panic swept round the village. The news was discussed in Norman’s Butchers, in the Sweet Shop and in living rooms throughout Eynsford.

‘Why?’
‘Oh why?’
‘What will we do?’

Well, the answer was simple; go to the Farningham Fete......it’s not really as blasphemous as it sounds.

I should probably point out that there are joint-ventures between the two villages and they do maintain an entent cordial, but close as they are, with only a field separating the two villages, the two communities retain their two distinct personalities. Farningham stands apart from Eynsford and Eynsford apart from Farningham.

And so, on Saturday, Nipper and I set out to meet our buddy Sara for a spot of cross-border fete-ing.

 Sara and I have been going to fete’s together for a few years. It’s something we like to do. Give us some jiggery-pokery music, a cream tea and a novelty hat and we’re happy. We’d be happier in Eynsford, but Farningham’s a lovely village too.


As we walked through the only field separating Farningham from Eynsford, Nipper, Sara and I mused on the success of our facebook twinning page ‘The Eynsford & Farningham Massive’, which we’d set up for a laugh at last year’s fete. We’d been jointly inspired by Nelson Mandela’s call for unity and the massive, mixed crowd from both Eynsford and Farningham. Both prompted us to bring facebook to the village.

We’d started off with ‘9’ followers or friends and now had over 161. The love of our facebook friends had been a little overwhelming. Their images of the village and videos had entertained us in the long dark days of winter, and here we were a year on, a fete down, but not out as Farningham held its end up.

As we rounded the corner of the High Street we could hear the welcome strains of a jig. Cars and vans vied for space with a large 1930s bus which had been parked up in the High Street thanks to the History Society.

Bunting waved a friendly hello as the wind picked up and I wondered how the micro light landing had gone down this year. We’d missed it due to Nipper’s nap, but we weren’t downhearted as the program promised more country dancing, racing ducks and strawberries than you could wave a novelty hat at. There was also the bonus of EPIC’s Photography exhibition and yearly competition.

Eynsford Photographic Image Club, known as EPIC, and run by my mum, are a hardy bunch of photographic enthusiasts, usually to be found annually exhibiting their wares in Eynsford, but due to the non-Scout-Fete, currently to be found lodging at the Farningham Fete. A treasonable act? Not according to my mum who’s been given Farningham church and its blessing for the day.

Mum and Dad had tastefully lined the pews with the club’s prized shots and spread the display boards down the aisle.

 Sara and I manoeuvred the pushchair through the exhibition with aplomb "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" at the entries in the ‘best photo of Farningham Cattle Screen Competition’ (they need to think of a snappier title for next year). It would appear that being in god’s house was a double blessing for mum as she came away with the first prize rosette for her take on the cattle screen. ‘Fix’? Well, that’s what my partner said when I got home later.......

The Fete proper proved to be a winner too on the day. The three of us upped our carb intake and sampled; walnut cake, lemon drizzle cake, strawberry cream teas followed by two punnets of strawberries and large dollops of cream. There was no escaping the jigging- jiving band. Literally no escape as they’d dotted speakers in every corner of the field necessitating us to up our volume. Nipper enjoyed the band though and slapped her thighs like a later day Dolly Parton on sugary speed.

All too soon the duck race heralded the finale of the fete and an end to our summer ritual. Part of me wishes we’d taken a stall to encourage more members to join our ‘Eynsford And Farningham Massive’ facebook page, but you can’t force these things. More will join us over time as they come out and admit their dual love for both villages.


urggghhhhh!

‘urrrrggghhh’
‘it’s ok – just relax....breath’
‘urrrrghhh’
Much sobbing ensued as poor Nipper tried again in vain to pass poo, and I’m not talking about the yellow hairy variety with an appended ‘h’.

‘It’s ok sweetheart.....it’s just Hooman Pooski – the pesky Russian poo’.

I can’t actually trace the day it started, but I’ll admit; it’s disturbing when you start to anthropomorphise things, especially nasty, foul, stinky things. But since Nipper had started to pass, what I described to the Dr as ‘human poo’s, it seemed soothing to give them a name so that once deposited in the bin we could grin and say; ‘Good riddance to Hooman Pooski’. The Nabokovian character had a couple of brothers who’d joined Nipper’s nursery, but ‘Colonel Fartski’ and ‘Professsor Vomitski’ were less troublesome than Hooman Pooski who was really very good at reducing Nipper to tears.

We took Nipper to see Dr C this morning and she prescribed laxatives. It’s disturbing to give your one year old something you’ve seen your Grandad imbibe, but Dr C said it would be good to do for a couple of days to break the cycle. I really hope it does break the cycle as the pair of us have been cradling Nipper and rubbing her back and belly and popping her into unorthodox yoga positions for weeks now, just to aid the poo release.

All this talk of poo seems so natural now that I’m a mum, but thinking back pre-Nipper, I don’t think I EVER had a conversation about excrement. Now though, I go through the motions with anyone who’ll listen. My knowledge of poo could rival a bedpan wielding nurse and I can now talk poo better than the dreaded McKeith woman.
It’s no surprise that you get obsessed by the stuff; one of the first things you do as a mum is acquaint yourself with it. It started the minute Nipper popped into the world, and to be honest It’s quite fascinating. The first few days of poo were black as soot. This stuff went by the space-age name of ‘Maconium’, and sounded to me like something Superman might be familiar with. We then embraced the ‘chicken korma’ phase, which seemed to last for about five months. With the addition of solids to her diet, Nipper began to reveal her full armoury; perfect cylindrical balls of poo, as beautiful as gem stones were followed by nappy explosions full of chemical waste.

Sweetcorn, raisins, carrots and even a whole lentil have been observed in the poo; because, here’s the thing; I can’t help myself from having a good look. I’m a nappy-reader; a skewed fortune teller who’s eschewed tea leaves in favour of the brown stuff. With the help of some sweetcorn, this morning, I’m sure I saw the face of Boris Johnson. I had half a mind to email his PR and tell her I thought Boris was in the sticky brown stuff (again), but then decided against it.

If the Dr’s gloop works its magic, then apparently things will get much easier. We’ll use a lot more nappies (and the dustmen will refer to us as The House At Poo Corner) but at least the tears will stop. Hopefully by this time next week Hooman Pooski and his mates will have left our house for good and the only tears associated with poo will be those caused by the yellow-hairy one kamikaze-diving out of the crib in the middle of the night.

ABC easy as.....

ABC easy as one, two, three, as simple as doh ray me, abc, one, two, three baby you and me

Imagine getting up and putting on wet clothes, day after day after day, pulling on walking boots, eating rice and beans, day after day after day, dodging electric eels, drug smugglers, angry Amazonian Indians, day after day after day, fishing for piranha, braving thousands upon thousands of stings from wasps, mosquitoes and scorpions, day after day after day, avoiding pit vipers, lightning strikes and bows and arrows day after day after day. Easy as one, two, three? ABC didn’t think so either, but last week Bill Weir- ABC television’s intrepid anchor man – agreed to brave two days in the Amazonian jungle to film explorer Ed Stafford as he continued his bid to become the first man to walk the length of the world’s longest river.

Bill and his fearless producer/cameraman Bart flew down from ABC’s headquarters in New York City to join Ed on the banks of the River in Brazil.

The Amazon River; a place of legend, danger, disease and death. Ed’s home for the past two years and one of the most beautiful, diverse and essential places on the planet. The story of how ABC, Bill and Bart ended up alongside Ed in the Amazon goes something like this.....

Ed is my ‘free client’. When I set up my business in 2004 part of my business plan stated; ‘I will work 80% fee paying and 20% free’. My accountant told me I was mad.
I worked for a succession of brilliant and mind-blowing causes for free and enjoyed every minute of it. Then in 2007 I met Ed Stafford. He told me he would like a bit of advice and help from my client Tom Hart Dyke, on how NOT to get kidnapped in the Colombian jungle. (Tom knows a thing or two about kidnapping having the distinct misfortune of being held hostage in the Colombian jungle for 9 months in the year 2000.) Tom and I agreed to meet Ed and his friend Luke in The Malt Shovel in Eynsford to discuss kidnapping and talk jungle. To be honest I was only there for the beer and sausages – but I ended up leaving the pub with more than just a full belly, I left with my new free client; Ed Stafford. His bid to become the first man to walk the length of the world’s longest river would become my obsession too over the next two years.

Ed set off on 2nd April 2008 (he would have set off the day before but phaffed about and missed ‘fool’s day’ by a whisker). He also set off with his expedition mate Luke Collyer, but after 3 months the boys fell out and Luke came home. Thanks to their falling out I had my first splash for Ed in The Guardian and The Mail and the boys spat was discussed on the BBC Breakfast sofa. The ball was rolling and the press started to build.

Later in 2008 I fell pregnant and slashed my client list from 6 to 2, keeping The Spelling Society and Ed Stafford on my books. I now worked 50% fee paying and 50% for free. My accountant told me I’d lost my mind.

I managed to place a steady stream of stories on Ed around the globe and the monthly press releases were beginning to yield fruit along with the mentions in blogs around the globe. Matt Power from ‘Men’s Journal’ got in touch made his way down to meet Ed in the jungle. His outstanding piece has since been nominated for an award.

The novelist Mark Barrowcliffe joined Ed for a week and his story made The Guardian and The Mail.

Magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller, CNN Travel, FHM and Outside Edge all profiled Ed’s walk. Then in February this year a friendly Kiwi named Bart dropped me an email asking about Ed’s journey. Bart phoned me and we chatted about London, the jungle, and above all Ed’s amazing adventure. Bart had just moved ABC offices from London to NYC and being a Kiwi was an adept traveller and a born adventurer himself. I googled him and found out that he’d narrowly missed being blown up in Afghanistan. He seemed just right as a travelling companion for Ed and after speaking to him on the phone I knew Ed would enjoy his company.

And so, last month, with a camera and an anchorman in tow, Bart travelled to the Amazon to report Ed’s journey.

Bart’s film was shown three times last Friday (21st May) first on Good Morning America, then later on The Diane Sawyer Show and even later on Nightline. So now, quite a few Americans have learned about Ed’s mental and physical endurance test.
People wonder how he keeps going. Well, it’s easy, as easy as ABC, one, two, three; he keeps putting one foot in front of the other, making sure he avoids the pit vipers and electric eels.

If you have a minute to spare, then visit his website and view his films. As you read, Ed is still walking. He will continue to walk until he reaches the shore. www.walkingtheamazon.com

.

Lady Science

Lady Science

‘If you put your thumb over the hole and lift it, we can walk the radiator to the patio and empty it’ said Neil-the-plumber.

‘With this?’ I said, giving Neil the thumbs up.

‘Mmm’ he nodded. Obviously happy that I knew where my thumb was.

You might want to try using the thumb on the other hand to plug the radiator’
‘Ah – I see, so my ‘lifting-hand’ is free’.

Neil looked puzzled – I don’t think he’d heard the ‘right-hand’ referred to as a ‘lifting-hand’ before.

‘Erm...? Yes, with your ‘lifting-hand’. Ok, are we ready now’

Yes, thumb was in place, lifting-hand was poised, I was ready to put my back into it, and I was determined to lift the radiator from the wall.

‘On three... one...two...three.. lift....... lift.........are you lifting now Vikki?’
Blimey these radiators were heavy. I was lifting, but nothing was happening.
‘URRRGGGGhhhhh’ Nope. Nothing doing.

‘Okay. You tried, but I think we can say lifting radiators isn’t for you.’
Pause.
‘You can remove your thumb now’.

Martin-the-plasterer put down his trowel and helped Neil to effortlessly lift the radiator to the garden.

I like having workmen in. The chat is always good. Always quite ‘boy-sey’. It brings out another side of me. A kind of girl-of-the-world, knowledgeable side.

Earlier on, I’d impressed Neil with my ‘vortex theory’; the importance of having all radiators steaming away on full at all times, in order to give equi-distance heating around the house. I’d explained that if you turned a rad off upstairs, then the cold air upstairs would suck all the hot from downstairs. Thereby negating any perceived ‘saving’ of having the upstairs rads off, or turned down.

Neil, a man with an intricate knowledge of heating replied; ‘just tell him you want it hot in the house and to stop turning off the rads upstairs.’

As Neil and Martin expertly removed the remainder of the radiators and emptied them outside I found myself saying; ‘That’s a lot of water in there’.

‘Uh huh’ replied Neil.
‘Funny – I thought there was only 2 pints in the system in total – that’s what I was told’
‘Two pints?’ Neil laughed, ‘now there you go again with your lady science’.
Lady-science???

Excuse me, but I have an ‘o’ level in physics. I was also one of Mr Philips favourite students, and that had nothing to do with bringing him a bottle of red wine at the end of our second term. I was good at physics. Okay, I’ll admit I was hopeless at the other two sciences; Chemistry and Biology, but if you asked me to split an atom, I’d have a good go with a prism and a cone. And I can still recite to this day the speed of light; 185,000 miles per second. I think. But don’t quote me, just in case........

According to Anthony Zimmerman Jones (an intelligent sounding chap) ‘Physics is a systematic study of the natural world, a discipline that attempts to quantify reality through a precise application of observation coupled with logic and reason.’
I’d show them a ‘science-lady’ for real.

‘Cup of tea? Bacon sandwich anyone?’
‘Now you’re talking sense’.
First I put fluid dynamics in action and filled the kettle. I then employed Newton’s three law’s of motion. Moving from an inert state (my favourite state), I accelerated across the floor and plugged the kettle in.
I then employed full force and cut through the bread. A crusty old loaf, it employed equal force acting back, necessitating some elbow grease. Moving on to thermodynamics, I put the frying pan on the stove and whacked up the heat. (Regular readers of the blog may uncross their fingers at this point as I rarely burn bacon.) I let good old thermodynamics do its stuff and transfer heat, via various energy changes within the physical system of the frying pan. Assessing the density of the bacon at regular intervals, I flipped it and crisped it up a treat.
A hot knife through butter, some HP sauce and black pepper and logic and reason are coupled; observe – a cup of tea and the perfect bacon sandwich. Served, thanks to Lady Science.

Norman's sausage

Norman’s Sausage.

A wonderful thing to behold. Hanging in the window for all to see; a bumper meat feast for the village of Eynsford . Queues snake down the High Street to the War Memorial.

Norman’s sausage is famous on high days and holidays in the village of Eynsford. Norman, a generous man, provides the sausages for the annual fete barbecue, and at the end of the day, there’s not a pork sausage to be found in the village. Gone. Devoured. Happy fete-goers trundle home with traces of mustard on their lips and an abiding memory of Norman’s finest.

I was brought up on Norman’s sausages. We’d have bangers and mash once a week, with baked beans in the winter and runner beans in the summer. Dad would draw yellow lines down the side of his plate with Coleman’s mustard and I’d drown mine in pepper. A family feast, enjoyed by the four of us, week in, week out.

I have to say that I could go without Norman’s liver served with onions (in fact, Rags-the-dog ate most of my share of Norman’s liver), but the sausages, well, they became a thing of legend for me.

Give me a sausage and I can create a dish. Last week I made spring sausage hotpot (the leeks being the ’spring’ element). The week before I served up sausages on a bed of leek and apple. Both dishes were a triumph in their own special sausage way.
However, give me anything non-sausage related to cook and I’ll burn it, cremate it, undercook it or just plain ruin it.

The other week  a photographer friend of mine was due for lunch. Half an hour before he was due to arrive I had a slight panic; there wasn’t much to eat in the house. Just a frozen pizza and a limp lettuce.

Another friend suggested I open a jar of olives and throw them and some capers across the pizza, thereby transforming it into an Italian delicacy (how posh is he?). However, upon inspection, my cupboards were barer than I first thought. No olives, and definitely no capers. However, a quick root around in the freezer revealed a bag of cocktail sausages, bought and forgotten for Nippers first birthday in March. Spurred on by the presence of sausages (all-be-it-the–non-Norman-variety) my creative juices began to flow.

‘Who needs olives, when you have sausage?’ I mused aloud
Cocktail sausage isn’t that far removed from pepperoni, right?
I popped the pizza and cocktail sausages in the oven and let my Outbox distract me for 20 minutes.
After the ‘allotted’ cooking time given on the back of the packet, my cocktail sausages still looked anaemic and more surprisingly, the ten minute pizza was looking a little floppy, so as the doorbell chimed my friend's arrival, I decided to whack up the oven.

After a couple of drinks I decided to serve dinner. My friend was surprised by the cocktail sausages. He said he hadn’t had them in a long time, and hadn’t had them as a starter before (they proved too greasy to add to the top of the pizza in the end).
‘What do you think of the pizza? I asked
‘It’s fine – I like my pizza’s crispy’ he replied
‘It’s better than half frozen – that was the other possible outcome of lunch’ laughed N.
Git.
‘What can you cook then?’ asked my friend smiling broadly.
Before I could answer, N interjected; ‘Well, she can cook you paddy-field-rice, pasta that’s been boiled to death and turned to mush and she can burn just about anything she turns her hand to’.
‘That’s a little unfair’ I retorted; ‘ I can cook a good sausage’.
‘True. She is good at cooking sausage recipes – as long as they’re from Norman’s and not out of a packet! ’
‘What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever cooked?’ my friend asked, clearly enjoying my culinary grilling.
‘I experiment once in a while and sometime it works....’
‘More often than not it doesn’t!’ laughed N ‘Remember Pancetta and Tuna Pasta????’
‘Pancetta and tuna?’ my friend grimaced.
‘Yep.‘
‘Let me explain.....I thought the pancetta looked a little sad on its own with the red onions so I decided to open a tin of tuna and throw it in....’
‘The resultant tuna and pancetta pasta was probably the first time anyone had decided to combine pork and fish.’ Laughed N.
After my friend left, I asked N why he thought I was such a bad cook. he gave the matter some thought then replied
‘Firstly; you suffer from attention deficit disorder when it comes to cooking; there is always something more interesting going on somewhere else; on the laptop; on the stereo; radio;tv; anywhere but on the hob; and secondly, and perhaps more fatally, you never follow a recipe.’

I have resolved to make an extra effort this month. May will be the month I learn to pay attention to the hob. May will also be the month when I follow the recipe book to the letter.

I have a secret weapon to aid me; Norman’s finest and a book entitled 101 things to do with sausage.

Tales of the unexpected

Tales of The Unexpected
I don’t know if this one would have made into the show or been introduced by Roald Dahl himself, but as I write, Ron Grainer’s upbeat theme tune to the TV show waltzes round in my head.
I’d better start at the beginning; that’s traditionally known as a very good place to start.......

Time: 11:28am Place: Wiltshire
Tail backs elongated our journey from Kent to Somerset and ‘gawping’ delayed us on the Salisbury plain as drivers slowed to look at the Stones. Stonehenge: A place of legend and tale-telling, and also the scene of Tess of the d’Urbervilles self sacrifice at the end of Hardy’s most compelling novels centred around illegitimacy.
I gawped at the stone circle, as I always do. N kept his eyes fixed on the snaking traffic ahead and muttered about building a tunnel under the Stones. I said it was never a good idea to dig beneath things like that, as you’d never know what you might find.

Time: 1pm Place: Sparkford, just outside Yeovil
We finally arrived at the homestead. We devoured lunch and then caught up on news. My only complaint: N’s non-participation in the general chit-chat. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed his reluctance to engage in conversation with his elders. It happens a lot. He’s not unique either. All my girlfriends moan about the very same issue. Men. They don’t like to share information with their mothers.
N’s reluctance to speak, much, isn’t a problem. But it does mean that the owness is on me to chat. I’m quite good at opening my mouth and letting words fall forth. I can do it all day long. I often do it in the dead of night too, when everyone, including myself is asleep. It would be helpful though if someone would invent a filter that I could fit to my cake-hole to stop the social tourettes which I suffer from, frequently.
My social tourettes comes from a fear of ‘small talk’. I’m not brilliant at it. I’m not sure what actually constitutes ‘small talk’ – the weather? Aches and pains? Future holiday plans? The new car?
Time: 7:28pm Place: The Dinner table
After a super chicken stiry fry I’d run dry on small talk; I’d run through our house renovations, the weather and Nipper, so I threw it open to Q&A. So, how’s Uncle C? Have you seen Rupert and Jill lately?
N’s mum dished up her Zabaglione. I don’t know whether it was the sugar, or the sherry, but my social tourettes kicked in with force.
‘Do you remember when we took Rupert and Jill to House on The Hill?’
N sniggered.
I knew why he was giggling. Rude devil. I caught his twinkly gaze and giggled.
‘What’s funny?’ asked his mum
‘Do you remember that meal at House on The Hill with Rupert and Jill?’
‘Yes – it was lovely’
‘Well......’ I look at N to double-check, silently that it’s ok to share the information.
‘Well, that’s the night we “conceived” Nipper’.
N coughed and choked on his pudding.
Was that a frown?
‘What did you eat that night?’ Asked N’s mum
‘Rissoto.’
‘Mmmm’ she nodded sagely.
‘ I felt sick for days after, we’re pretty sure it happened that night’.
More coughing from N in the corner.
Time: 8:28 Place: The Sparkford Inn
‘I can’t believe you!’
‘What?’
‘Telling my parents when we conceived Nipper!’
‘I thought you were ok about it – you were smiling away!’
‘I was laughing at the way Rupert and Jill rhymed with House on The Hill – I didn’t for one moment think you would share the information about what occurred later that night. Imagine if I’d done that to your parents!’
I’ve always prided myself on my communication skills – I make a living using them – but clearly I’d mis-read N’s expression. I’d mistaken his smile as a ‘knowing’ one. I’d never had him down as a Pam Ares fan either – never having heard him laugh at a rhyming couplet before.

Travelling home passed the Stones yesterday, on our way back to Kent, I ruminated on how long the Stones had been there. What they’d seen. And, more crucially, how far we’d come in just over a century. We now threw up our own stone circles in tribute to the millennium and we ate dishes from around the world. We’d come a long way in a hundred years since Tess felt the need to sacrifice herself at the holy alter of Stonehenge for her shenanigans out of wedlock.

I tried to imagine Tess sitting comfortably across the dining table from Alex’s parents, sharing their tale of illegitimacy over his mother’s Zabaglione. Nope. That tale of the unexpected belongs firmly in 2010. May 2010 to be precise. Place: Somerset.

Rolling with the punches

Nipper and I have been running around like mad things this week. Nipper’s been running head long into things, falling down and shaking off the blows to the head like a pro boxer, while I’ve been rolling with the punches delivered by my current projects which include; witchy goings on in London, publicising the problems journalists have with ‘diarrhoea’ and one man’s insane bid to be the first man to walk the length of the Amazon River.

Let’s deal with the ‘diarrhoea’ issue first. With the help of Hold The Front Page, I put out a survey to national and regional journalists, testing them on their spelling and asking which words they’d simplify if they had the chance. Top of the pops; Diarrhoea. It gets most hacks in trouble. The coverage from the ensuing story saw The Society on radio and in print again, and the story made the top ten most discussed stories of the day on the web.

The publicity was aimed to bring awareness of The Spelling Society’s 102nd AGM, which was held last Saturday in the hallowed halls of Birkbeck College. I wanted to generate press interest in the Society and perhaps encourage new people to attend the AGM.
London, April 24th 2010. The day before the marathon and the hottest day of the year so far. Pedestrians smiled at each other, the City was transformed. It was a wonderful day for an AGM.
Birkbeck College, a place of love and learning, populated by foreign students and....granny's in pop socks and slippers? Was I imagining it or did I hear the pop-sock, slipper wearing octogenarian in the lobby of the College asking for the 'spelling society'? I'm not sure, but she was deceptively nimble on her feet as she sped past me nearly knocking me over with her shopping trolley on wheels. I must have been imagining it - I knew all the members of the Spelling Society, and I didn’t recognise this lady. I stared after her as she dragged her shopping basket towards the lifts.
A new member perhaps? Brought in by the diarrhoea hoo-ha?
I carried on loitering in the lobby playing the guessing game; 'is that The Times journalist?'. I’d managed to book Joanna Sugden, education reporter from The Times, to come and speak to us about The Times Spelling Bee, and I needed to find her quick as the meeting was about to start.
After a dizzying few trips up and down in the elevator, I found Joanna in the corridor outside the meeting room. I poked my head around the door, and yes, there in front of me; the lady from the lobby. Her shopping trolley carefully stowed by the door.

Joanna Sugden’s presentation on the Bee was entertaining and heartfelt. It detailed how she struggled to spell and how she was scared that last year's Spelling Bee would 'out' her in The Times office as the only one who couldn't spell. But, how over the ensuing weeks, this 'shame' she felt, also propelled her to learn how to spell correctly. She told the members gathered that she now knew how to spell.
Joanna threw it open for Q&A. That's when the mystery guest, minus her shopping trolley, jumped to her pop-socked feet and began a ten minute rant on the state of spelling in the UK. At one point I’ll admit to being a little scared as to where this was going as she advanced towards us bellowing; 'YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP I'M DEAF AND CAN'T HEAR ANYTHING!!!!!' She leaned over our table and continued to inform Joanna of how her sister knew how to spell and how she'd never caught her out in the 80 years they'd been writing notes to each other. And this was all due to them being taught correctly when they were young. Jack, our experienced Chair, tried several times to interject and to calm her, but being deaf she decided she could quite legitimately cock a 'deaf-un'.
In the end I stepped in; 'Thank you very much for your thoughts on how spelling should be taught, but perhaps it would benefit us to hear a little more of what the Times plan re spelling this year.'
'OH, I CAN'T TALK TO YOU LOT. YOU DON'T LISTEN! I'VE GOT A BOOK HERE AND I WANT TO SELL IT IT'S ONLY £10 AND IT WILL TELL YOU HOW TO SPELL'.
Jack; 'How many copies do you have my dear?'
; 'FIVE'
Jack: 'May I offer to buy them all here and now?'
:'WHAT?'
Jack: ' May I offer to buy them all here and now?'
:'I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME.'
Jack: 'There's one condition though ....that you sit down and we continue with the meeting'
: 'I KNOW YOU - YOU DID THIS LAST TIME, AND I WON'T BE SILENCED'.
‘Last time?’ Surely I can’t have missed this firebrand ‘last time’. Then it dawned on me. I missed the 101st AGM last year, coming as it did just three weeks after the birth of Nipper.
The 102nd AGM of The Spelling Society continued apace after Joanna’s presentation. We all enjoyed a friendly lunch in the foyer, swapping stories of the year gone by and vowing to make a further splash in the press in the coming year.

Witchy goings on were afoot on Monday. I’d tracked down a Green Witch who lived in the not-so-green and verdant Camden Town. I should explain; I have a thing for witches and living by the moon. It’s something our forefathers did and it served them pretty well. They’d sow their seeds at a certain time of the lunar calendar and reap the rewards at harvest.

My Camden witch, although tattooed and a regular clairvoyant on Psychic TV, is a devotee of living by the moon. After a vegetarian fry up (apparently when the moon’s in Mercury it’s ok to fur up your arteries) we headed for the Lock and a chat on camera about everything lunar-y.

Commando

Baby Swim Class. Three words that strike terror in my heart. Baby Swim Class. Shiver. Every Wednesday from 1:30pm til 2:pm. Sevenoaks Leisure Centre. Be there, or be.....well, just about anywhere else on the planet please?

I started it. I only have myself to blame, but the big question I wrestle with each week is – should I stay or should I go? The indecision’s bugging me. I bet Jones/Mellor never foresaw their iconic track as the soundtrack to a young(ish) mum’s weekly swim nightmare, but their song sticks in my head like an earworm, gnawing away; ‘You’re happy when I’m on my knees....’

We spend a lot of the half hour class on our knees singing nursery rhymes. I’m not too bad at the nursery rhyme bit – it’s taken me a term but I know the words now to ‘if you’re happy and you know it splash your hands’ and I’ve mastered ‘Humpty Dumptey’, but my knees kill me. I leave the leisure centre hobbling like an arthritic octogenarian.

It’s not just the kneeling that’s a problem; it’s actually getting to the class on time. I’m not the kind of person who likes routine. I hate appointments and meetings – by their very nature they stipulate that you be somewhere on time, and I’m not good at that. Don’t get me wrong, I can get places, but I tend to like to go under my own steam and at my own pace. I drive N mad – I give him ETL (estimated time of leaving) as we get ready;
‘I’ll be five minutes’
‘Yes, yes’ he sighs unbelieving. ‘and the rest’ he usually adds.
‘I promise – just five more minutes.’

So, getting myself and Nipper washed, fed, dressed, packed and ready for swimming every Wednesday lunch is a big deal for me. The planning starts when we get up at 7am – I start to plan the plan and plan on putting the plan into action when it’s time to action the plan. Usually this takes all morning, and before I know it, it’s ten to one and we’re still in our PJ’s and lunch is still cooling and my legs remain unshaved. Gah!
The darned fish fingers took forever to cool this week and finger food was stuffed into Nipper’s mouth with just minutes to go before departure time. I piled our bags and the bug in the car. Towels? Yes we had loads. Dressing gowns? Yes, we had two. Food for after? Yes we had enough to weather a nuclear winter.
My plan this morning had been to wear my swim suit under my clothes, thus speeding up the changing procedure on arrival at the pool. I quickly popped my swimsuit on and threw some jeans and a hoodie over the top. Nipper’s pj’s looked quite sporty so I didn’t bother to dress her – a ‘track suit’ would be fine for a visit to the leisure centre!
A fifteen minute drive later and we were in Sevenoaks wrestling with the ticket machine in the car park. No change again. It never gives change. I karate kicked it before unpacking our bags from the boot and hanging them from my neck and both shoulders whilst simultaneously hoisting Nipper out of her car seat.

We sprinted to the changing rooms. We had five minutes before the lesson began. Just enough time to throw a swim nappy and costume on Nipper and peel off my layers to reveal my nifty two piece. The changing scenario is a lot quicker now that Nipper can stand and walk. She actually stands still while I undress. When we first started swimming she’d refuse to stay on the changing table and would repeatedly attempt to touch the void, hurling herself at the rock-hard tiles below as I wrestled with my jeans. In those days an extra arm would have been a bonus.

Bang on one and we congratulated ourselves as we paddled down the steps of the pool.
Good Lord! It was cold this week.
Splish splash splosh. Rubber ducks, balls, floats, nursery rhymes. Our 30 mins passed quickly, and before Nipper knew it we were out, her swimsuit and nappy were off and she was bundled into a warm towel. I on the other hand shivered and shook in my two piece. It’s impossible to simultaneously dry yourself and your little one. One of you has to stay wet and cold while the other’s dried and dressed, and it wouldn’t be fair for a one year old to ‘take turns’ each week! So it’s always Mum who freezes her two piece off.

Nipper was good this week and I managed to dry and dress her in double-quick time. I popped her shoes on and let her play with the drain in the middle of the changing room while I rooted around in the bag for my pants.
Knickers!
I knew there was something I’d forgotten.
In my rush to leave the house I’d left my knickers on the radiator in the hall. I had a choice. Wear the wet bottoms of my suit under my jeans and display my wet bottom or go Commando.............
‘Going commando" is reputed to have begun with commando and special forces military units who, worried about chafing, decided to forgo their pants during combat.
Being a working mum is a little like belonging to the special forces; we’re sleep deprived, we’re resourceful; we can multi task and we can negotiate in combat (I watched a mum the other day separate her warring children with four short sharp words. Impressive!) So perhaps ‘going commando’ is something all mum’s are born to do. Whatever, it was the choice I made that afternoon.

With our wet suits stowed in the bag and our towels folded and packed, Nipper and I left the pool for another week. I felt like I was walking on air. No hobbling this week. I’d discovered a new found freedom – I was the opposite of the Tena-lady – I was a woman without. And it felt wonderful. Nipper slept all the way home in the car while I marvelled at the new found freedom of wearing no pants...........and thanked god several times that I’d chosen my jeans over a mini before we left the house this morning.

In between the nappy changes

In between the nappy changes and the construction of ever elaborate castles make of Mega Bloks, I sometimes find time to do my work. Whenever people ask me what I do, I find it difficult to explain. A friend of mine, who’s known me for a considerable time asked me the other day; ‘What exactly is it that you do Vikki?’. ‘Erm....well, I write a bit, and take photos and put them together as press releases and then try and place people on the radio or tv. Sometimes it works, but it never really feels like work, if you know what I mean’.

A day at the coalface (if there are any left in the country) or a day down the mines (any of those left?) that’s work. Messing about with words isn’t exactly what my beloved granddad would have called work. He broke his back and ruined his body doing 12 hours shifts 6 days a week at Fords in Dagenham. A janitor, and not a mild mannered one, ‘Jimmy Lane’ cleaned up after the men had spilled their oil. Pouring cold water on it, and swishing it about with a mop, wasn’t easy. God only knows what Jimmy Lane would have made of my working day this week. Which went something like this......
Tesco’s finest had just stomped through my hallway leaving wet footprints in his wake and Nipper was delighting in spreading the newly delivered items about the house when the telephone rang.
‘Miss Rimmer?’
‘Yes’
‘Hello, my name is David and I’ve worked out a system that’s going to revolutionise the way we spell’.
Oh dear.
‘Would you like me to tell you about it?’
‘Erm....’
‘I’ve done away with a consonant’.
I had visions of him bludgeoning it from the English language. David then decided it would make for an amusing game if I could guess the done-for consonant.
'P?', I said.
'No, try again'.
'Erm - Q?'
'No - try again Miss Rimmer'
'U?'
'That's a vowel Miss Rimmer (a little laugh from him). Try again'.
Oh for Pete’s sake! I had a pile of washing to go through and Nipper had progressed from moving the shopping around the house to opening packets and mixing the contents on the rug, and here I was guessing consonants like a clueless contestant on Countdown.....
'T?'.
'Now, come on - try again'.
'I don't know, David, you'll have to give me a clue'.
'Quick, quick, quick - it's in this word - quick'.
I'd guessed Q and U so I went for 'c'.
Nope.
'K???'
'Bingo - you have it Miss Rimmer - I've done away with 'K's'.

His written treaty arrived in the post the next day. The opening line of his letter apologised for his handwriting, apparently he had a problem with the muscles in his wrist, he also explained that he didn't own a computer.... So I waded through 12 pages of handwritten thoughts on doing away with 'K'.
It’s not a bad treaty. Have you ever tried to explain to a child why the word ‘knife’ begins with a ‘k’? I haven’t yet either, but I’m sure the day’s not far off.....

He rang again this morning. I explained that I only worked for the Spelling Society as their publicist, and as a ‘neutral’ I didn't really have any views on spelling reform or methods of reforming, but that I would pass it on to Jack Bovill the Chair. After making me spell Jack's name twice he finally let me go. His mother needed helping out of her bathchair...... Ok, maybe he didn't say 'bathchair' but it was something similar.
He may have been a little odd on the telephone but his desire to cull the alphabet from 26 letters to 25 isn’t as mad as it first sounds. Theodore Roosevelt sent memos about the White House with simplified spelling. George Bernard Shaw left money in his will to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet for the English language. Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie were all poor spellers, but you wouldn’t turn them down if they applied for a job now would you? Richard Branson famously struggles with his spelling yet he’s one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the world. Spelling reform as a topic has enthused many over the years, but somehow I doubted that David’s killing of K would inspire the changes desired by the Spelling Society, however, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t pass it on to the correct person at the forthcoming AGM of The Spelling Society.

In the meantime I needed to work out a way of placing the Spelling Society in the public consciousness via the news. Suggestions on a postcard please....and that’s Vikki with two ‘k’s.........

Two black eyes

Nanna’s ill, Mama’s ill and Grandad’s got the sickness bug; all thanks to Nipper. But with two black eyes, a grazed forehead, a bruised knee a molar poking through and snot with a capital ‘S’, Nipper topped the league table for ailments this week. Dadda’s got a different bug; decorating fever. He’s a man possessed and all in good time for Easter Sunday also known as ‘DIY Save Our Souls Day’. The project: our lounge. And so, this weekend, along with half the country, we made our way to Homebase and set about unfolding the dust sheets.

Despite falling prey to ‘the snot’, Nanna took care of Nipper while we scraped the ‘snots’ from the newly plastered walls. My nose was running with a watery ‘goo’ and so, with no hand free to wave a white hanky, I plugged my nostrils with tissue and pulled on my overalls.

Inspired by ’60 Minute makeover’ N painted the ceiling and walls with 50-50 water-paint in under an hour. I on the other hand managed to lose an hour ‘cutting in’ around the door and sockets. Cutting-in is boring. It’s the decorator’s assistant’s job – that and making tea. I made a lot of tea over the weekend. Strong Builders-tea. Big mugs of steaming copper-coloured liquid. Caffeine seemed to help oil the sore throat, loosen the catarrh and mask the fluey ache in my body.

If only I was as fit as N. He’s Iron Man. He thinks nothing of cycling the 40 mile round trip to work and back. And he doesn’t even have to lie down in a darkened room before getting on his bike to return home. Nope; he goes to the gym at lunchtime instead. He’s unstoppable. He doesn’t need a ladder either to paint the ceiling. Impressive stuff. I on the other hand am a breeding ground for virus’s. If a butterfly flaps his wings in China the draft will give me a cold. A flock of butterflies had been busy in China last week and I had the mother of all colds.

I must have been bad in a former life; no other explanation for the constant stream of streaming noses, sore throats and the over consumption of paracetamol based drugs over the past six months. And so, with no rest for the wicked I continued painting with N – trying my best to keep up with him brush stroke for brush stroke.

After two solid days of painting we’d broken the back of the lounge (which now resembled a huge white cube) and despite repeating over and over; ‘my god it looks so much bigger’ I’d managed not to annoy N with my constant sniffing and snorting. But now the difficult bit – we had to move the furniture in and decide upon ‘fabrics’.
It’s a truth universally understood that decorating and paint charts can lead to argument and even divorce. We’d done quite well so far – we’d torn our new house apart since November and had decorated three rooms so far, without argument; thanks to ‘cream’. We’d gone for cream walls and cream carpets – some might see this as a cowardly colour option, but with a toddler in the house we were being bold. Colour is important to both of us, unfortunately we reside at opposite ends of the colour spectrum.

You can go through our house and sort things into piles ; those that belonged to me and those that belonged to him prior to giving up our respective flats and moving in together. We are split down boy/girl or blue/pink lines. My bold red and pink paintings, my multicoloured rug versus N’s collection of blue prints and love of anything made from glass or steel. And so, over the next few months, our lounge, with its newly painted cream walls, will provide the venue for our style stand-off as my pink sofa stares down N’s big blue beast of a settee. The bare bulb and bare windows will taunt the bare walls – who will win? Will we have pink or blue curtains? A pink drum pendant or a steel-boy light fitting? Will we ever agree on what prints to hang on our smooth cream walls?....and will the snot ever end?
On the up-side, a stash of Easter Eggs currently reside in the neutral zone in the lounge.

Water works

Water Works...........

‘What’s that noise’ N said, as we stood in the kitchen filling the washing machine with Nipper’s mucky clothes.
‘The rain?’
‘That’s not rain’ he said as he made a dash for the stairs. I scooped Nipper up under one arm and threw the rest of her soiled outfits into the drum before setting off after N.
We could hear the rushing water but we couldn’t see it.
‘It’s coming from somewhere under the bath’ he said
‘But where’s it going?’ I wondered aloud
As I ran back downstairs I could see water cascading down through the light fittings in the kitchen. We had a leak, and it looked and sounded like a big one.
‘We need to turn the water off – do you know where the stop cock is?’ I called back up the stairs. ‘No idea’ came the reply. It’s a good job I did. With superhuman strength I pulled the dishwasher away from the wall and located the tap.
‘What shall we do now?’ I asked
‘Call a plumber??’ N responded.
Ten minutes later Neil-the-plumber had the situation under control. Twenty minutes later John-the-electrician condemned the kitchen light but made everything safe for us. ‘You’re going to have to wait for everything to dry out before we can turn the lights back on down here’ he told us. Adding; ‘If I was you I’d have driven round to ‘their’ house and given them what for’. ‘Their’ being the previous owners. We knew we were buying somewhere that needed a bit of work, but that bit of work had turned into full scale renovation and a huge hole in the bank account over the past 5 months.
Disaster had followed disaster from the moment we picked up the keys, which actually turned out to be fairly redundant as the front door could have been opened with a cheese knife. Safety and security weren’t watch words for the previous owners. Doors and windows were also an anathema to them. We replaced the front door the minute we walked through it and then two weeks later the patio door fell in on top of N. Thankfully Nipper and I weren’t in the room at the time.
A full rewire of the house from top to bottom was ordered due to health and safety and so it came to pass that we were still mid-renovation five months into living in our ‘dream home’. We’re used to the bare plastered walls, the ripped up flooring and the shower that’s never hot, but the burst pipe was taking the biscuit.
It had been a ‘trying’ day. I’d dropped Nipper off at the nursery in the morning, explaining that I’d popped a couple of changes of clothing in her bag as she’d had a couple of nappy explosions over the weekend that were linked to teeth, and also to chemical waste. The supervisor at the nursery hadn’t found my joke in the least bit amusing. She didn’t want a child with the Norovirus near the nursery gates, that alone in ‘Roo’s. I explained that Nipper wasn’t ill, and that she’d been running around like a mad thing all weekend and that her nappy had been clear this morning. I duly kissed her on both cheeks and scarpered.

Three hours later and I received a distress call from the Nursery.
‘This child is ill. She’s pale. She’s done a terrible nappy and she needs a bath. This is not teeth!’
‘I’m on my way’. I grabbed a bath towel (not sure why!) and raced down there.

As I entered the Nursery one of the assistants gave me a pained look and said; ‘she’s just done another one........ and it’s not nice’.
I walked through to the cot room. Nipper was laid out on the changing mat and a very harassed assistant was attempting to quieten her down and clean her bottom at the same time.
‘This is not teeth’ she said and flashed me a look, which can only be described as ‘disapproving’; I was a terrible mum. I’d left my sick child with these people and she’d covered them, and everything else, in poo. Foul, stinking poo.
‘There are her clothes. I’ve washed them through’ she said.
I’d lost my voice. I didn’t know what to say. I could see what they were all thinking; ‘you knew she was ill, and you still brought her and her poo into the Nursery. Shame on you.’
Shame. I felt it. Nipper had dealt it, and I definitely felt it.
I made a hasty retreat from the room clutching Nipper to my breast. They were right – she did need a bath. And so did I now. I stopped in the annex to put her coat on and that’s when the water works began. I cried and cried. I cried for being a rubbish mum, and I cried for the shame of bringing Nipper’s poo on everyone. But more than anything I cried for having left my child with others when she should have been with me.
The assistant found me crying in the annex and asked me what was wrong. I said; ‘nothing, I’m fine’. I couldn’t explain that she’d made me feel like a terrible mum.

Nipper and I left the Nursery. Nipper promptly burst into song, chirruping away in the back of the car. I decided a quick once over by the Dr was warranted. Dr suggested leaving off milk for a few days and making sure she got enough fluids, but she agreed with me that she seemed fine in herself.
Parent’s evening at the Nursery tomorrow. I don’t want to go but N says we can go in there and hold our heads up high. I’m not so sure – I can still smell the poo on me. Good job Neil-the-plumber’s here as I write. He should have fixed the bathroom in time for me to shower the shame from my body before we leave for parent’s evening tonight.
Nipper’s fine. We’ve had no more explosions since the once reported by the Nursery over 24 hours ago.

Water works

Water Works...........

‘What’s that noise’ N said, as we stood in the kitchen filling the washing machine with Nipper’s mucky clothes.
‘The rain?’
‘That’s not rain’ he said as he made a dash for the stairs. I scooped Nipper up under one arm and threw the rest of her soiled outfits into the drum before setting off after N.
We could hear the rushing water but we couldn’t see it.
‘It’s coming from somewhere under the bath’ he said
‘But where’s it going?’ I wondered aloud
As I ran back downstairs I could see water cascading down through the light fittings in the kitchen. We had a leak, and it looked and sounded like a big one.
‘We need to turn the water off – do you know where the stop cock is?’ I called back up the stairs. ‘No idea’ came the reply. It’s a good job I did. With superhuman strength I pulled the dishwasher away from the wall and located the tap.
‘What shall we do now?’ I asked
‘Call a plumber??’ N responded.
Ten minutes later Neil-the-plumber had the situation under control. Twenty minutes later John-the-electrician condemned the kitchen light but made everything safe for us. ‘You’re going to have to wait for everything to dry out before we can turn the lights back on down here’ he told us. Adding; ‘If I was you I’d have driven round to ‘their’ house and given them what for’. ‘Their’ being the previous owners. We knew we were buying somewhere that needed a bit of work, but that bit of work had turned into full scale renovation and a huge hole in the bank account over the past 5 months.
Disaster had followed disaster from the moment we picked up the keys, which actually turned out to be fairly redundant as the front door could have been opened with a cheese knife. Safety and security weren’t watch words for the previous owners. Doors and windows were also an anathema to them. We replaced the front door the minute we walked through it and then two weeks later the patio door fell in on top of N. Thankfully Nipper and I weren’t in the room at the time.
A full rewire of the house from top to bottom was ordered due to health and safety and so it came to pass that we were still mid-renovation five months into living in our ‘dream home’. We’re used to the bare plastered walls, the ripped up flooring and the shower that’s never hot, but the burst pipe was taking the biscuit.
It had been a ‘trying’ day. I’d dropped Nipper off at the nursery in the morning, explaining that I’d popped a couple of changes of clothing in her bag as she’d had a couple of nappy explosions over the weekend that were linked to teeth, and also to chemical waste. The supervisor at the nursery hadn’t found my joke in the least bit amusing. She didn’t want a child with the Norovirus near the nursery gates, that alone in ‘Roo’s. I explained that Nipper wasn’t ill, and that she’d been running around like a mad thing all weekend and that her nappy had been clear this morning. I duly kissed her on both cheeks and scarpered.

Three hours later and I received a distress call from the Nursery.
‘This child is ill. She’s pale. She’s done a terrible nappy and she needs a bath. This is not teeth!’
‘I’m on my way’. I grabbed a bath towel (not sure why!) and raced down there.

As I entered the Nursery one of the assistants gave me a pained look and said; ‘she’s just done another one........ and it’s not nice’.
I walked through to the cot room. Nipper was laid out on the changing mat and a very harassed assistant was attempting to quieten her down and clean her bottom at the same time.
‘This is not teeth’ she said and flashed me a look, which can only be described as ‘disapproving’; I was a terrible mum. I’d left my sick child with these people and she’d covered them, and everything else, in poo. Foul, stinking poo.
‘There are her clothes. I’ve washed them through’ she said.
I’d lost my voice. I didn’t know what to say. I could see what they were all thinking; ‘you knew she was ill, and you still brought her and her poo into the Nursery. Shame on you.’
Shame. I felt it. Nipper had dealt it, and I definitely felt it.
I made a hasty retreat from the room clutching Nipper to my breast. They were right – she did need a bath. And so did I now. I stopped in the annex to put her coat on and that’s when the water works began. I cried and cried. I cried for being a rubbish mum, and I cried for the shame of bringing Nipper’s poo on everyone. But more than anything I cried for having left my child with others when she should have been with me.
The assistant found me crying in the annex and asked me what was wrong. I said; ‘nothing, I’m fine’. I couldn’t explain that she’d made me feel like a terrible mum.

Nipper and I left the Nursery. Nipper promptly burst into song, chirruping away in the back of the car. I decided a quick once over by the Dr was warranted. Dr suggested leaving off milk for a few days and making sure she got enough fluids, but she agreed with me that she seemed fine in herself.
Parent’s evening at the Nursery tomorrow. I don’t want to go but N says we can go in there and hold our heads up high. I’m not so sure – I can still smell the poo on me. Good job Neil-the-plumber’s here as I write. He should have fixed the bathroom in time for me to shower the shame from my body before we leave for parent’s evening tonight.
Nipper’s fine. We’ve had no more explosions since the once reported by the Nursery over 24 hours ago.

Swan Lake and a first birthday party

It was Nipper’s birthday last week, and like the Queen she had two; her personal and her official. Her personal birthday was celebrated on Friday with chocolate cake and family. Her second birthday was celebrated last Saturday with a ‘children’s party’. Those two words ‘children’s party’ send shivers down the spine propelling many an adult to run for the beer, while others run for the hills. Having no prior experience of ‘children’s parties’ we were blissfully ignorant of any associated trauma in the run up. I admit that I had a lot on – I was in the middle of testing 400 media professionals on their spelling for a National survey, I’d been publicising Ed Stafford’s exploration to walk the length of the Amazon River and Nipper and I were coping with new teeth and learning to walk. So, the party didn’t receive an awful lot of planning. Invites went astray, invites that should have been proffered never made it and party bags were hastily thrown together thanks to the pound shop.

Saturday was upon us with an early start. 5:30am and Nipper and Pooh were chatting. Again. What's wrong with Pooh – is he just not bear/Man enough to tell Nipper that's it's too darned early for chatting? Up with the lark we milked her (!) and then dressed her and ourselves and finished breakfast by 7am. We then cleaned the house. N's parents got up and the plans swung into action thanks to N’s mum who is very efficient and good at organising things. Thank god.
'What's next? What's next? What needs doing?' was a familiar refrain from N’s mum in the kitchen.
'I don't know, I've never thrown a birthday party for a one year old before. Let's inflate the swan!'
N then spent two hours inflating a giant purple swan, assisted by his dad. They had to use a variety of nozzles. There was a lot of man grunting. Finally the swan was inflated in the centre of the lounge and we opened the ball bag full of ball pit balls and threw them in the swan. They rolled around looking like marbles in the bottom of a fruit bowl. Very sad. I'd underestimated and bought 100 balls. N calculated that we needed around 600 more in order for the swan to be referred to as a 'ball pit'. Balls. The Swan was the ‘entertainment’ for the 14 invited children. Balls. We needed lots of them.

So, we left Nipper with Grandma who managed to feed her while simultaneously icing fairy cakes with the letters 'z' 'o' and 'e'.

We drove to Nugent Park close to Orpington. Not my favourite place but it was home to the Early Learning Centre and a mecca of balls. N suggested we take the opportunity to have lunch. But I knew his game - he just wanted time out from party planning. I said we needed to get back. We bought 600 balls and then duly got caught in traffic on the Sidcup road. Time was ticking away. The guests would be arriving soon. Nipper would be waking........

The party was due to start at 2:30am. We made it home from ball-pit-ball-dash at 1:45. At 1:46pm I realised that I'd made a boo-boo. I only had alcohol in the house. I'd arranged a kids party and had forgotten to buy anything softer than 100 ball pit balls. Balls. N got back in the car and drove 7 miles to the nearest shop to buy squash while I got Nipper up and dressed her ready for her party.

20 adults and 14 children arrived. Nik returned with the squash. Phew. We poured ourselves a beer or two, followed by champagne. The swan was a great hit. My nephews Teddy(6) and Alex (4) from Bromley, rode the swan relentlessly. They bent the neck, pulled it, kissed it, kicked it and generally behaved like deliquent Bernie Cliftons. They’re brilliant. The best nephews I could wish for – proper boys. 12 other children also enjoyed the swan.

The lounge sweated like a nightclub. Our bare newly plastered walls were running with sweat. Not sure why.

Everyone enjoyed the champagne, beer and wine (I'd ordered a lot of that!) and the 2 hours flew by. We toasted Nipper, people drifted off and the swan died a graceful death due to a puncture wound in her neck - probably precipitated by the Bromley Boys. Who cared? The party was great. We’d made it through our first year as parents and our first ‘children’s party’ (permission to shudder).