Sunday, 29 March 2009

Island Trip Part 10

Had a lovely evening last night with some Islanders, who cooked a veggie feast of deliciousness. We probably outstayed our welcome, as our host eventually just put down a firm hand and said:

"Right! Off you go!"

It was 1.30am at this point, and we'd been trying to leave for about an hour - but when we first announced we were off, the hostess returned with an enormous plate of cheese. Then people kept engaging us in interesting conversation, so we couldn't just get up and walk off! Well, I suppose we could have done, but then we wouldn't have got any cheese. And that would have been terrible.

Anyway, we were turfed out and went home to be in bed by 2am ... only to remember that the clocks had changed and it was actually 3am. We were to be up for 8am to help with the boys. 5 hours sleep. Not great, but not insurmountable by any means.

Then I discovered that I'd been given crab to eat. I discovered this by dint of the fact my feet suddenly swelled up and became burning hot, with the sensation of pinpricks crawling up my shins. I had an extremely restless night, up 4 times, but with all the goodness of her heart Fisher let me sleep until 9, and went and did the kiddies herself. God bless her and all who sail in her. Sister is not well at present, so needs all the help she can get, so me being unwell is just the worst possible timing.

Yesterday the boys were on very good form. Sister had a very poor night's sleep so we took them to Red Rocks beach and gave them a run so that she could take the time to nap. I think this must be one of the most invaluable things for a new mother - or, rather, a mother of a new baby. Having someone to cover for you when your eyes just won't open any more and your body is screaming out for sleep means you can actually function from one day to the next. Grabbing that extra hour might be the difference between providing a calm, healthy supper and whacking a frozen batch of fish fingers down in front of them whilst completely losing your rag.

I know that first time parents often want to do things all by themselves. I can honestly say that, from an observer's perspective, refusing ANY decent help at all is an act of utter foolhardiness. Kids are exhausting. I mean - they are beyond exhausting. And I don't just mean toddlers. Babies are quite tiring enough on their own. If you can have someone around who'll take your wean out for a spin in its pram while you grab some kip, embracing it with both hands seems the only sensible course of action. In fact, grabbing any source of relaxation when offered, even if you don't think you feel like it at the time, seems the only way forward.

Observation over. Blog over - for the moment.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Short Story

Before I copy and paste this, I have to give a reason as to why I'm doing so. This is not a good story. It is, however, the first piece of fiction writing I've done in an enormous amount of time. As such, putting it down in my blog is much like charting the first run you do after a year's break. I need practice, and I need to see how - if at all - I improve. So here, for all its flaws, it is.

The End

    This is the end.

I wish there were something new I could say about it, some great insight that a hundred thousand poets have missed over the course of human existence, but in the end it’s such an insignificant, unimaginative little thing.

We were in love. Now we are not.

You were never abusive. I was never abusive.  We fought, but only as ‘nice‘ people fight; acid splashes of words, fading to nothing over the course of time. How easily they were forgiven. The worst thing you ever said was that I was selfish. I probably said the same about you. Everyone’s selfish sometimes. We weren’t even interesting in our flaws.

I think we were passionate in the beginning, but even passion is ordinary. In the beginning, surely everyone’s stomach drops away at the lightest of touches? At that first, agonizing separation, surely everyone spends every waking moment with loneliness wriggling inside like desperate fish.

How did anyone ever think love came from the heart? It’s in the guts – the stomach, the bowels. Romance tends to veer away from guts. I suppose it’s down to the arrogance of humanity, wanting their most primal urges to be associated with beauty. Sexual love isn’t beautiful. Not in any way. It’s sweaty, sticky, irrational, animalistic. You can soft-pedal it by differentiating between sex and love, but even if you care about the person you’re writhing around with, it’s still as sweaty, sticky, irrational and animalistic. You just have more to talk about afterwards.

It’s all so boringly predictable.

We met. We were thirty-ish – old enough to have seen our fair share of broken relationships, but not old enough to be jaded. We were in different offices but the same building, and one year our Christmas parties over-spilled and we ended up drinking cheap vodka in your boss’s office. We talked for hours, until the sun came up and caught the motes of dust rising from the carpet. It was, actually, a beautiful sunrise. It caught the old stone of the buildings, touching them with pink until they glowed. We stood at the large window and watched, talking softly about ourselves.

Is there anything more satisfying that explaining yourself to someone? Even with an ordinary person it’s a joyous experience. When you find yourself with someone who coos with pleasure over every insight, matching it with their own like a child playing mental snap, it’s like a revelation. It fills you. I found myself trembling with the pleasure of it.

After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I tried to run into you at every available opportunity – a task made so much easier by the fact you were obviously doing the same thing. We started eating at the same awful café. Our work suffered as we threw caution to the wind, extending our lunch breaks as far as our colleagues’ patience allowed.

Eventually we went to dinner.

Eventually, we went to bed.

Then, for a long time, we couldn’t seem to stop going to bed. We would kiss for hours, missing the sensation so much that we’d dive straight back mere moments after pausing for breath. We went from careful, exploratory sex to astonishing, all-encompassing, perfect sex. We imprinted on each other - every curve and nuance learned. From there we could experiment, knowing always that if something was strange, something unpleasant, we could slip back into the familiar routine.

But experimentation takes imagination, and there’s only so much to go round. After a while the everyday nonsense of living intrudes, and in sharing bathrooms and illnesses, drudgery and exhaustion, habits and peccadilloes (none of them interesting), the heat begins to wane.

That’s where love comes in. If you love someone, warmth is enough. Warmth, in fact, is good. It’s comforting. Comfortable. It allows you to be relaxed, to shed outer layers, to be yourself. Perhaps, occasionally, you’ll remember how it was before and experience a pang or two of nostalgia – but it won’t be enough to send you into a world of glances with strangers, lingering drinks at the bar, tangled limbs and upheaval. You love this person. You’ve made a life with them. They know you better than anyone else in the world. The thought of starting again with someone new, someone who might not put up with your habits and peccadilloes, who might, in the course of an argument, call you something far worse than selfish  - no, that couldn’t be further from your mind. You are, at last, a Couple. You think in unison, often catching yourselves communicating in half-sentences. You know what, and what not to buy at the supermarket should you find yourself shopping on your own. You can choose each other’s meals off a restaurant menu, and it pleases you each time you get it right. In fact, you are so in tune with one another you’ve almost melded. Have you lost parts of yourself along the way? Perhaps. If so, you don’t mourn the loss. You’re better this way.

There are some people who love for the rest of their lives. They still feel their stomachs swoop, still have the imagination to experiment in bed. They play mental snap and ‘guess what I’m going to order’ and writhe and revel in the warmth of it all.

But not us. The game just wasn’t fun any more. We looked back and thought about love and saw nothing but the mundane. We’d done what everyone does. We’d experienced nothing new. For some people, that’s enough. For some, it’s success. For us, it was just one long, slow descent into sadness.

Love just faded into the background. No fireworks, no screams and broken crockery, no hate. If we wasted all those years, we’re not bitter about it. It’s just one of those things. Just the way life goes, sometimes. Just the end.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Island Trip Part 9

Not much to report today, so you'd think I wouldn't bother - but hey, it's me, and if I have a keyboard and 10 minutes to spare, the opportunity to dribble nonsense into the ether is irresistible.

Wreck went off to play with a school chum today, so we were blissfully kiddie free from just before noon til 3. We spent that time having lunch at the Island Café and putting some more thought into the island Treasure Hunt.


I've been sitting here on my bed listening to the playful sounds of children in the bath, and bloody hell if it hasn't all kicked off! I think Sister just wants to wash Gem's hair, and he has gone from 0-60 in microseconds. It's a full on tantrum, with "I hate yous" and even hitting out. Sister has kept very calm, which is more than I would have done in that situation. With the hitting out she threatened him with a week of no TV, but to no avail. He even shouted "I hope you DIE." Christ, don't children say the funniest things ...

Right - it's a couple of hours later and all is peaceful. After his appalling behaviour, Gem was left to calm down in the bath while Fisher tried to get Wreck into bed. He was quite upset by Gem's outburst, though, and wouldn't go - he just wandered around, naked, getting cuddles from Mummy. I decided to help Fisher out, and coaxed him in by a) pretending to be The Bedtime Monster and making him giggle and b) promising to tell him a Power Rangers story. Christ. That was possibly my least imaginative story ever - but thank God for the research I'd done earlier. Knew it would come in useful.

In the middle of the next story - Mr Stick - I heard Gem start creeping out of the bathroom. I ignored him. He shouted "boo". I continued with Mr Stick. He sidled into the bedroom slowly, slowly, until his toe was touching mine. I kept reading, until he eventually crept round to sit on Wreck's bottom bunk. I moved the book round so he could see the pictures and we finished the story together.

At the end of the story, he said:

"I heard you telling a Power Rangers story. Can you tell it again?"

Knowing that Gem's knowledge of Power Rangers is encyclopaedic, and that he's getting to the stage where his favourite game is correcting me, I refused to recite it again. Wreck didn't want to hear it anyway, so for their 3rd tale of the night I promised them a Magic Hiccups Story. This involves the inconvenient habit Wrecker has developed of giving a sudden loud hiccup, which whisks Gem and Wrecker away to a distant land, sometimes a distant time or even a distant planet, frequently landing them in hot water. It's a bit like Quantum Leap meets Arabian Nights - and this time I decided to send them to Ancient Egypt to meet the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun. I chose this because Gem has a book on the very subject, and I thought it would appeal. Unfortunately, half way through I became aware that I'd embarked on a bit of an epic. Twenty minutes later I ended tale before it got totally out of hand.

Have you ever tried speaking solidly for 20 minutes? It's not as easy as it sounds. It's definitely not as easy as it sounds if you've got a sore throat and barely functioning vocal chords.

Anyway, Gem found little to complain about in the story, and went to sleep swiftly afterwards.

I should mention, at this point, that half way through the story Fisher interrupted me to insist that Gem apologise to his mother for the dreadful way in which he'd spoken to her. He was very unwilling to do so, but we managed to persuade him and he went to her room and said sorry. After that, Sister went out to see the neighbours and borrow a spud or two for the top of our shepherd's pie. Fisher encouraged her to take her time about it, so she got to enjoy a glass of wine and a bit of chat before returning to the house. I think Gem really did upset her. I know he's only 5, but he sure as hell knows how to wound you. Kudos to her for remaining so calm. I would have totally lost my rag - and I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have helped at all.

Anyway - time to go and get supper. Catch you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Island Trip Part 8

Thank God for Fisher!

I've had a wonderfully relaxed day in comparison, with Fisher able to take over some of my tasks - including entertaining the boys after Gem came home from school. This has meant I was able to truly chill out with a book and t'internet for a good couple of hours today. Luxury!

Otherwise, our main event of the day was taking Wreck and Tertius to the beach for a walk with the dogs. Wreck was adorable, insisting on taking Baffie's lead on the way back and hanging on for dear life all the way back to the car, while Fisher held his other hand to keep him from being dragged along like bait. The pooches were quite good. They do respond to the whistle Fisher's bought - especially Baffie. Bri tends to finish whatever it is she's doing, thanks very much (usually poo/dead guillemot related), and then return for her biscuit - but she's definitely better than sans whistle.

Gem was sad when he came back from school, as Sister had to tell him that the cock, Ginger, had been killed on the road. I wonder who hit him with the car (Ginger, not Gem)? Strange that they didn't stop. Gem loved that bird and used to cuddle him like a teddy bear. Towards everyone else, Ginger was a savage beast. He flew at Wrecker, pecked the backs of my legs (luckily wearing wellies at the time) and attempted to pick a fight with me as I was feeding the calf. Sister isn't exactly wearing the laurel for him - but Gem was pretty upset. But he said he didn't want his aunties to know that he was sad, so he would pretend to be "a happy boy". Funny, the faces we learn to wear.

Despite all that, I am not going round the island examining the fronts of cars in search of cock blood and feathers. Miss Marple I ain't. (Probably more Hercule Poirot by nature anyway - without the little grey cells).

All boys were well behaved this evening, on good form, and there were no struggles over supper, end of playtime, or bed time. Auntie Fisher had to read the bedtime story - both by popular request and because my voice is nothing more than a pathetic whisper at present - and chose Maisies Book of Amazing Words (or something of that ilk). Gem gravely informed Auntie Fisher that "they aren't that amazing" - but Wrecker was truly thrilled by the whole affair, and I could hear his squeaks and giggles from downstairs. She's really good with them both. She always says she has no imagination and that I'm much better with them, but that's simply not true. What she has is patience, which is so much more rewarding for children. She can sit with them for ages, whereas I have a great idea but get very bored within about 5 minutes and want to go off and do something else. They love their Auntie Fisher because she gives them so much time.

A pleasant eve was spent in the company of steak, baked potato and the television. I'm now in bed - early - because I slept badly last night, and also because I really want to try and knock this stupid cold on the head. A good sleep should help the vocal chords.

Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Island Trip Part 7

Fisher's here!

Huzzah huzzoo.

Did the school run with Wrecker (following Gem in the school bus - how daft is that? Gem has a place, Wreck doesn't) and by the time I got back it was almost Fisher's due time to arrive. When she did I almost fell on her neck with joy. I didn't feel like I missed her much, but then I actually saw here and realised just how much she's a part of me. I can get by without her, but I'd rather not.

Anyway, the day has been spent in this manner:

1. Car picnic for lunch. Fish and chips from the Island Café, taken to Red Rocks Beach (or thereabouts) and eaten while sitting in the car, watching the waves crash, the rain drive against the windscreen, and the wind send the white tops scudding. We then went out in this filth to walk Baffie and Bridie, who were being little angels in the boot of the car.
2. Picked up Gem from school at 3. Went to get Wreck a haircut, kindly done by a proficient friend with kiddies.
3. Prised Gem and Wreck away from Star Wars Wii game post haircut, tea and cake. Tantrum. Gem announces he 'hates me.'
4. Back home, fed and watered boys, got homework done, gave Wreck his very belated birthday present - a set of foam struts with attachments and bits of material, from which you can make just about any kind of 'den' - a boat, a fort, a spaceship ... whatever. Boys delighted. Bounce up and down saying "thank you thank you thank you" to Auntie Fisher.
5. Boys bathed and in bed. Gem still not asleep even now, but not far away.

During this day, my voice has completely vanished. This has never happened to me before. I've almost lost it on a few occasions, but this time it's almost totally gone. Not only that but my throat is really sore again, despite it feeling much better yesterday and not troubling me at all this morning. I'm quite fed up. Not being able to talk is a major, major pain in the arse when trying to control children and dogs.

Right. Must away and help in the kitchen.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Island Trip Part 6

I can't imagine these daily updates are of much interest, but they allow me some time alone with my thoughts - not easy at present.

I went for a run today. With Gem and Wreck both at school I was able to grab enough time to head out for a 5k. I ran to the crossroads and back, which took me 40 minutes. It was truly awful. the wind blew in my face all the way back, and the undulating terrain was way out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone, remember, is curled up in bed watching DVDs, so it doesn't take much to push me out. However, this was TOUGH. At times I felt I was running on the spot, and going uphill with the wind battering against you is no fun at all. There were moments I thought I'd have to stop, but I didn't, thank god.

When I got back I looked on mapmyrun to see how far I'd gone.

2.5 miles.

This, surely, cannot be true. And I don't actually think it is. I tried to measure it in the car, but we were feeding the animals at the time, so reversed, went off road, and generally screwed up the distance. I think - I hope - it's actually around the 3 mile mark. Either way, 40 mins is a shocking state of affairs. Nor is my mood helped by the fact I couldn't resist lemon drizzle fairy cakes, or strawberry ice cream when they were offered to me. A small steak pie for lunch is hardly cause of celebration either.

I now have a stonking great headache, probably from too much caffeine and not enough water.

Other than that, it's been ok. After 11 it all kicked off a bit, as Wreck returned with a schoolchum and they became quite vocal. A third child dropped round for a bit - but they all left by the time Gem came back from school. Another Island mother, who speaks very little English, came round for some tea and played with the boys. Gem was quite subdued, for him, and has been all evening. We've had a very pleasant time doing Scooby-Doo word puzzles and chatting about butterflies. I read him a chapter of Enid Blyton at Sister's behest, and it didn't take long to make my blood boil. Example:

Two ragamuffins - a man and a boy - are walking along the beach. Dick says "I hope they don't come near us. I feel I can smell them from here." Then, when the boy sits in George's sand hole, she tells him to get out. When he doesn't, she and he square up and would have had a fight - only Dick comes running up and says "if there's any fighting to be done, I'll do it. Girls shouldn't fight."

The ragamuffin then pops Dick a whack on the jaw. So Dick whacks back, sending the ragamuffin flying. Ragamuffin calls Dick a coward for hitting someone smaller than himself. It then transpire that said ragamuffin is a girl, not a boy, and demands to fight George. Julian steps in, at this point, and says that fighting is forbidden, and ragamuffin should "clear off." This the ragamuffin does, bursting into tears as she does so.

"She's a girl all right," says the noxious Dick, at this point, before admiring her 'spunk' for attempting to fight him.

What a very strange woman Enid Blyton was, and how repugnant her morality is today. I lapped up her books when I was a child, but even then I recognised how out of touch she was. Girls did washing up, boys gathered logs. Girls were weak, boys strong. Girls needed to be protected, so the boys did all the dangerous stuff like exploring coal holes. And if anyone has ever read the horrendous story of the 'Put 'Em Rights', where the moral of at least some of the story is 'everyone should keep their place and not try and step out of the class boundaries', they'll understand just how much British society has had to overcome in the last 50 years. Having said that, I strongly - strongly - disapprove of altering the text to fit modern attitudes. I read a Magic Faraway Tree version that had changed the name Fanny to Franny, just because nowadays 'fanny' means ladypart.

Ladypart?? Jesus, what's happening to me? Got - to - have - adult - company - soon ...

Anyway - we should read Enid Blyton warts and all, and let kids find out about how attitudes have changed. If I'm reading a book to Gem and I think something's nonsense, I'll say so. That's how he learns there are two ways of looking at things. He hears a story where there's an issue of fighting, and he hears me say it doesn't matter whether it's girls or boys, fighting is wrong. He can make up his own mind who's right.

If he decides it's not me, I can always beat him. He's pretty small, after all.

Gem is pretty restless tonight. He didn't eat much supper because he was doing his puzzle - and allowing him to do it is yet another thing I've done incorrectly. The list is endless. Anyway, he's in bed at the moment, having been chased back by me as he tried to creep out and find some coloured pencils. (God I wish the spell check would FUCK OFF! If I want to spell coloured with a 'u' the way God intended, I bloody well will, and this Yankee-biased piece of dictionary crap can take a fucking hike. Likewise spelling realised with an 's'. But it doesn't have a problem with traveller with two 'l's. Why? Maybe it's just thick.) He's obsessed with insects, this lad, and wants to draw a background onto which he can stick his stickers of dragonflies, ladybirds, tarantulas, and the ever-amusingly named cockchafers.

I'm just wittering for the sake of wittering, really. I'd better sign off before wittering becomes blethering and blethering becomes ranting and I go to bed in a foul mood.

Fisher comes tomorrow!


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Island Trip Part 5

It's Mothering Sunday today, so I got the boys to make Sister some cards. While they were doing this (and Gemmill was doing sterling work on a "spring scene", including volcano, robin and chameleon) I got them to tell me all the ways they could think of in which "Mummy is nice". They were lovely - with Gemmill coming up with a veritable flood of ways, such as "makes my supper", "gets me dressed" and "buys me presents." Wrecker needed a little more prompting, but the moment he actually understood the question he rose to the occasion like a trooper. "Lets me get in her bed" and "tucks me in to my bed" were two of my favourites. Also "bought me Coco" (the bear) and "bought Gemmill Blue Ted" were rather sweet.

After they finished their beautiful cards, I wrote the reasons in a list inside and got the boys to address them and sign their names. Sister, in the meantime, was out having a terrible time trying to feed the farm animals by herself. I had charge of Tertius as well as the other two, and he was not a happy bun...


Sorry ... watching a belated Match of the Day as I type this, and we've just beaten Chelsea 1-0. GET IN!!

As I was saying - Tertius was extremely crabby, going through phases of crying and needing to be picked up and bounced. This mood lasted all day. I'm tellin' ya - I do NOT know how people cope with babies. It's exhausting, listening to something so miserable and inconsolable. Add this to Gemmill's general mood swings ("I HATE you" and "I don't CARE" being particular charmers) and you've got a real bundle of joy to deal with. However, it did turn out to be a good day.

After sister managed to overcome most of her woes in the farmyard, we went out and did the remaining animals in a Land Rover safari. Quite fun - but I'm a bit of a cow-aphobe, I'm afraid. Not normal cows - they don't concern me in the slightest. Just Highland cows. It's the horns, you see. However, I did my duty and offered to help Sister give them some feed in their trough. Sister's trough had a line of feed carefully and evenly doled out. Mine had a great mound of fodder at one end and several cow pellets scattered on the ground as I squealed and flapped off at the first sign of the cows getting frisky. Before you judge me - imagine the sight of this coming towards you, swinging its head threateningly.

Ok, this.

Next we headed into Arinagour, to the Island Café and a Mother's Day roast. Surprisingly, the place was completely deserted. I imagine people were either eating late lunches or eating at home - theirs or someone else's. As we waited forever to get our food, Gem and Wreck gave Sister their cards, and she was pretty delighted. Luckily, considering the wait, when the food arrived it was delicious (mmmm, pork belly. Mmmmmm, crackling) and I scarfed it down like a starving woman. Bad move. Ever since then I've been suffering awful indigestion.

Have I always suffered indigestion? I've certainly never noticed it before, but I wonder whether it's been so ever-present that I've just ignored it. Surely not. In which case, I have a horrible fear that taking Nexium has screwed up the balance of my digestive system. Can that happen? Who knows. Anyway, my throat is still present on occasion, but it really is so much better than it has been. My sore throat and cold continues but it's not so bad. Instead, I've knackered my back lifting nephews and my Achilles tendon is agony. God, I'm so falling apart at the seams it's not even funny. I really have to get myself thinner, fitter and healthier. It's a bit desperate now.

That little aside, er, aside, we followed lunch with a drive around the island in search of Island treasure hunt clues. It's not easy to find distinguishing landmarks on Island, but we came up with a few. When Sister said, in all seriousness, "cattle grid" as a potential point of interest, I knew we were scraping the bottom of the barrel. We ended up on a beach, driving along in the Land Rover, admiring the stunningly beautiful sands and spray. The boys and I had a quick run on the sand when Tertius started screaming (again) and Sister booted us out so she could drive up and down with him while exercising the other two bairns. We ran some foot races, which kept us all warm, and proved once and for all that I really am quite fat and slow. (No, I didn't lose against a 5 year old and 3 year old, but it wasn't nearly as easy as it should have been).

Next up was tea and impromptu scones at the castle with Granny (not mine - the boys'). This was fine, although Seigneur retired up to his study and didn't come down (he loathes me) and Granny thought my presence was solely for the reason of entertainment for the boys. "Auntie will play snakes and ladders with you," she said, which I did. Then, after I'd finished that game and sat down to eat a long awaited scone, Wrecker came up dragging a completely unidentifiable board game.

"Auntie will know how to play that game," says Granny, "and she'll play with you."

"No, she won't," says Auntie, "Auntie's all gamed out."

"Oh, why?" says Granny, blithely. I refrain from saying 'because I've been playing with them all fucking week, and I'm not their au pair.' I can't remember what I did say, but it was to the point.

We then returned home, via the lovely marvellous Angelica for some extra milk for the nursing calf. Sister went upstairs to deal with Tertius, while I fed and watered the other two. We had some high jinx, perpetrated by me, and by the time they were in the bath they were getting away from me, rather. When Gemmill started snapping away at both himself and Wrecker with a pair of toe-nail clippers, I decided enough was enough. I then discovered something about Gemmill that, I believe, is a 'boy thing'. He's started giggling and laughing like a complete twat when you're telling him off. This seems to me to be a male defense mechanism, and makes me think, once again, how sensible I am to live with a woman. Gemmill obviously wants to show he doesn't care when you scold him, but it just fills me with unreasonable contempt as it reminds me of Boys I Have Known throughout the ages, and the fact that, at every age, they have reactions rooted in the same infantile response. Even some I know now. Well, one in particular.

Heh heh. That'll get people thinking.

I got Wrecker out the bath, and Sister came and - thankfully - took over from me. I was able to retreat downstairs and begin to watch Match of the Day. And that brings us full circle, 'cos that's where you, dear Reader, came in.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Update on Previous

Things have perked up a bit since Gemmill's return - albeit briefly. Sister has managed to wake up enough to take the dogs and Tertius for a walk, while I've been able to have an hour and a half's hiatus with a couple of episodes of 24 and some ibuprofen. This woke me up enough to be able to help Gemmill entertain himself, making his own biscuits, which he wanted to cut into bat shapes. Why? Because he was having a 'spooky party'. This involves bat biscuits, mummies (or mumees, as he would have it), a spooky mummy game, and hunt the mummy. 

He was recently bought a book on Tutankhamun. Can you tell?

He wanted to make the bat biscuits himself. This is his recipe:

Oats (indeterminate amount)
Water (enough to make the oats swim)
Fresh strawberries (2)
Dried apricots (1, mangled)
Flour (enough to make it sticky)
Honey (a good gloop)
Castor sugar (as much as you'd imagine)

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, gas mark 7. More sensibly, throw out of the window as soon as the wean is looking in the other direction. 

After the 20 minutes we removed a pale golden cowpat from the oven, and I began attempting to carve a bat out of the middle. Gemmill was very impressed, despite the fact my Batman-symbol bat looked like a massacred turd - and when I started trying to remove it from the baking tray it stuck firmly to the paper, which didn't improve matters. Bits of cowpat were flying everywhere, which Gemmill hoovered up with great relish. It's astonishing what that boy will eat when he's made it himself. Last night he made noodle soup (with my help) which was appalling - but he and Wrecker sucked it up like it was ambrosia, then had seconds. Gemmill had thirds. 

So he was very happy munching away on the cowpat, which I had to taste out of curiosity. Astonishingly - it was utterly revolting. 

Having completed the bat biscuit, we then turned our attention to mumees. Gemmill wanted to make edible mumees, but I managed to persuade him that it would be much funnier to wrap teddies in loo roll and have them holding biscuits. He agreed to this, dubiously, but as I started wrapping one of his favourite teds he became delighted, and commented:

"This was a good idea of yours, Auntie Sesh. I didn't think you'd have good ideas."


We propped the mumeefied teddies with hobnobs in their hands and Gemmill ominously demanded we now begin the 'hunt the mumee' game. This was going to involve wrapping 10 more teddies, at great risk to Sister's loo-roll supply, and the invention of an elaborate set of rules. I suggested we just draw a map to find the teddies we'd already done, but he was having none of it. Luckily, he became distracted by Power Rangers on the TV.

However, he's now sitting on the sofa wearing a helmet and a gold chest guard, staring blearily at the telly and waiting for the fun to start so he can leap into action as a Space Knight. 

It's all rather surreal. Now I'm off to try and make heads and tails of the Power Rangers story. I'm pretty sure Einstein's theory of relativity is slightly easier to unravel.

Island Trip Part 4

The other day, Gemmill asked me this question:

"Auntie Fi, what's a legend?"
I answered with my usual panache. He nodded sagely. Then:
"What's a dairy?"
Slightly surprised by the twist this conversation had taken, I replied to the best of my knowledge. Gemmill looked somewhat puzzled, thought a bit, then shook his head in bafflement.
"So ... what's legendary?"

Legend-dairy. Brilliant.

Anyway, we're all a bit under the weather today. I've got a heavy head and a nasty, nasty sore throat. Sister has been feeling sick, tired and sore of head and tum. Gemmill seems ok, but was very tired as he went to school. To give Sister a break and the chance to nap, I took Wrecker and Tertius to Cliad beach. Unfortunately, this was not a success. The wind was too strong and Tertius spent the whole time screaming, while Wrecker couldn't kick the football and I became swiftly crabbit. So, after only 10 minutes or so, I packed them all back into the car and took them into the village. There's a play park there, but Wrecker wasn't interested at all. He was really sleepy, and on the way back to the house he started drifting off. I only just stopped him from falling asleep, and got him into the house to lie on the sofa with his mother. I then headed out again in the car to see if we could keep Tertius sleeping for longer. On this trip, I learned that Project Trust is a mere 1.2 miles away, and my epic walk of the day before was merely 2.4 miles. Even if I was pushing the huuuge buggy, this is hardly a substitute for proper exercise. I really have to go out for a run soon, but feeling like I do right now, that's just not going to happen.

I'm hoping that the under-the-weather feel is due to the ferry trip still working its way through the boys' systems, but god knows. After all, they did spend hours in the Oban soft play area, diving through germ-infested plastic balls and landing face-first on apparatus landed on by a thousand children before them. It'll be just my luck to pick up some foul plague while I'm here. In fact, I don't think there's been an occasion in the history of my nephews where I've NOT picked up some lurgi during their visit.

Sister is still asleep, so is clearly not feeling at all the thing. Tertius is asleep on her lap, and Wrecker is sitting on her knee staring at Power Rangers (SPD - emergency!). I think I may be becoming addicted to Power Rangers. Cat is quite hot.

O God. I need to go home.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Island Trip Part 3

Went to Oban with Sister and the boys. Sister needed to go to a meeting about building the family home, so she took both boys out of school and left them with me for the day. I have to admit, I was pretty uneasy about looking after 2 tearaway boys and a baby all by myself - but Fisher came to my rescue, amazing woman that she is, by volunteering to drive all the way over to help me out. This meant I was left with the 3 of them for only a couple of hours, and we spent that time in the Atlantis Leisure Centre soft play room. It ended up being a piece of cake.

We then moved on to the beach, just round the headland. I've seen nicer beaches. In fact, I've seen nicer sludge packing factories, but it didn't bother the boys. Tertius napped merrily in his buggy while Gemmill and Wrecker played football with me until it was time to head back into Oban for lunch.

We went to Eeusk, which is a pleasant fish restaurant on the pier. Gemmill insisted on ordering a bowl of mussels for himself. He also wanted oysters, but I persuaded him to only order one, just to try it. I was quite firm with him over mussels as well, saying that if he ordered them and didn't like them, that was tough luck. He couldn't have anything else. He insisted that he "luuuurved them" so a bowl of mussels it was.

When they arrived, along with Wrecker's fish and chips, the waitress was astonished to hear they were for him, and put them before him with an "oh" of surprise. She was even more astounded to discover the oyster was for him, too. I waited for Gemmill to take one bite of mussel and whine "I don't liike it." But I showed him how to eat the first mussel with his fork, then use the mussel shell as pincers, which he enjoyed - and devoured each mussel with the gusto of a starving hound dog. Wrecker, too, was very pleased with the mussels, which he kept pinching off Gemmill's plate.

It was, in fact, a very enjoyable lunch - which I think is the first time I've said that. Sister was quite late in getting to us, and they started getting very bored before she'd finished eating her food, but otherwise they were pretty angelic. I went off in the car to check on Baffie and Bridie, who were curled up in the new car (Baby), sleeping like lambs. It took approximately 3 days for me to decide the 'no dogs in Baby' rule was impractical, but I still maintain that they have to stay out as much as possible, and DEFINITELY don't go in when they're fluffy and gross. They're sleek as otters right now, so don't make nearly as much mess as, for example, me.

After lunch we headed out to Dunstaffnage castle, where the boys kicked the football around a bit and we gave the dogs a bit of exercise. Then it was back to Oban for Tesco, buying the boys some bicycle helmets, and back to the hotel for tea and DVD. We waved goodbye to the life saving Fisher, and I started counting the minutes before she swoops back to the rescue (Tuesday).

Exhausted, more mentally than physically, I was delighted to hear Sister suggest a takeaway after the boys were 'down', and even more delighted when she said she'd go and get it. I was less delighted when, at 9pm, with Sister off getting the food, the fire alarm in the Caledonian Hotel went off.

My first reaction was "oh for fuck's sake." I half expected it to stop of its own accord, but when it didn't after 10 seconds or so, I leapt into action. I'd been left with the baby monitor and the charge of the kiddies, so down I went to Sister's room. They were all still fast asleep, although Gemmill was just beginning to stir, his hands to his ears and a look of discomfort on his face. I woke him up and got him to get his boots on. He was worried and watched my every move with big eyes, but did as I said. I tried to get Wrecker up, but that boy sleeps like a dead thing, and he simply wouldn't be roused. I told Gemmill to wake him while I got Tertius from his cot, but he had no more joy than I did, so I had to try and lift him up as well as Tertius. I couldn't do it, so thank God for Gemmill, to whom I was able to give Tertius - the fattest, heaviest baby you ever did see - and lift Wrecker. He immediately started to cry. Unfortunately, Gemmill couldn't carry Tertius, so I had to take him back and carry both him and the large, unwieldy form of 3 year old Wrecker as well.

I'd like to take a moment's pause here and wonder what the hell I would have done if I were built like, say, Koios. There's no way Koi could have carried both baby and large toddler. I found it took most of my strength. Three children are not easy to manage, and my hat goes off to anyone who does so.

Anyway, down the two long flights of stairs we headed, and I was rescued by a man who must have been either a grandfather or a man with several years of fatherhood behind him. He took Wrecker with practiced ease and murmured comforting things to him as he screamed in his ear. Gemmill was scared at first, but seemed to listen when I pooh-poohed all the fuss as almost certainly a false alarm, and was very good and calm.

We went outside, across the road, and the fire engine turned up with lights flashing and siren squealing. This was very satisfactory, as far as Gemmill was concerned, but Wrecker continued to cry and cry. Not long after, Sister returned from the curry house and greeted us with blazing fury. This, apparently, was the second time a fire alarm had disturbed them during a stay, and the first time had caused all sorts of long-term repercussions for Gemmill, who'd had nightmares about fire for weeks. I stopped myself from pointing out that it could, actually, be a real fire - because I didn't believe it myself, and because it would hardly be helpful when I'd spent all that time reassuring Gemmill with the thought of a false alarm.

It was, of course, nothing more than the exhaust from a shower that set it off, so we were soon back in the Cally. Gemmill was wide awake, but after a bit was persuaded to settle with Shaun the Sheep on DVD. Sister and I were therefore allowed to enjoy our long-awaited curry.

This disrupted evening has meant that today, the day we've got off the 6am ferry, the boys have been regular terrors. Gemmill has had several tantrums, told Sister he hates her, told me he hates me, and hidden under various tables in right royal sulks. Wrecker hasn't been so bad, but even he's on the cusp and is now fast asleep on the sofa, meaning he'll be furious when he wakes. He always cries for ages after a nap.

The moral of all this is that, while I'd still like to have had the choice myself rather than nature doing it for me, I have absolutely no desire to have children. I'm not fond of babies. They cry far too much, and even when they're happy I feel no attachment to them. They do not engage my brain in any way. Small children are better, especially when they get to an age where, sponge-like, they want to learn things - but even then, they simply exhaust me too much. I am not of equable temperament, and you simply can't have mood swings with children.

So, while I'm not at the end of my tether yet, I'm very glad to be back on Island with a stable routine around me. Both boys will be back at school tomorrow, which will give us a bit of a break - at least until 11.30, when Wrecker needs to be picked up from nursery - and then I've got the weekend and Monday to get through before Fisher arrives with the pooooooches!

Can't wait.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Island Trip Part 2

Arrived! The weather is rainy and dull but not too cold and the nevvies have been delightful. They always are for the first few days, while I'm still a novelty. This will change as I become more and more established and therefore as dull as their boring old parents. I'm gathering rosebuds while I may.

At the moment, Gemmill and Wrecker are at school. Wrecker gets back at 11.30 though, so it's a short period of calm in which I'm taking the opportunity to Blog. There's not a huge amount to report, except that I was treated to a late Sunday lunch at some friends. I think it's the first Sunday roast I've been cooked in about 10 years, and a real treat! I also drank too much and felt woozy for the rest of the day. However, the rest of the day lasted until 9.15pm when I flaked in front of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and decided to turn in. I was asleep by 10 and didn't wake up until 7.30am - up at 8. That's what CalMac does to you.

Took the boys to school, which was fine, and am now preparing for the next onslaught.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

IslandTrip Part 1

Well bum-titty-bum.

I arrived in Oban - arsehole of nowhere (but quite pretty) - yesterday after Fisher dropped me off at the Caledonian Hotel. The first person I saw was Sister's Pa-in-Law, who considers me the bum-fluff of the universe. He ignored me. I ignored him. It worked well. Unfortunately, I keep seeing him (he's sitting opposite me as I type in the bar at this very moment) so keeping up the pretense of not noticing him is getting harder. Nevertheless, he has no desire to speak to me, nor I to him, so this is the civilised option.

Anyhoo - after checking into my little stable stall (only not as roomy) I went out into Oban to do some shopping. I wanted to pick up a few treats for Sister at the local deli, which I did - including some Serrano Ham and some luvverly looking cheese. There was a particularly delightful Brie on the countertop which I couldn't resist. Am a sucker for Brie. I then made the mistake of calling Sister to ask if there was anything she needed. There was. I therefore went in search of:

1) A dummy. Surprisingly hard to find. You now have a choice of tooth guards, tooth soothers, and things called 'silicones'. Nothing is called a dummy nowadays. Perhaps it's non-PC? Still, job done, on to number 2.
2) A cheap whisk and a pair of cheap scales. Whisk found in nearby home shop. No scales. Scales found in home shop on other side of town.
3) Books for nevvies. This wasn't requested by Sister, but I can't pass a Waterstones without popping in.
4) Long sleeved t-shirt for nevvy 3. Alas the only shop that looked likely to provide such a thing was shut for - I kid thee not - a 'fashion show' - at 5 pm. If I say it was M&Co, all natives will understand the preposterous oxymoron of the above.
5) Called it a day.

Now, something rather unpleasant happened during the course of all this. I discovered that Oban has a particular pungency not unreminiscent of foul drains. I first noticed it in Boots, picking up the dummy. It was faint, came and went, and I thought nothing of it. Then I went to the first home shop and thought the man who helped me was one of the most rancid smelling human beings I'd ever encountered. I wondered whether he'd dropped a wind package just before I came in - and whether he'd been eating cowpats for lunch. I left hurriedly. Unfortunately, as I was wandering round the second home shop, I became aware of the smell following me. Gradual dawning realisation left me with a creeping horror. It was me!! I'd taken the pooches for a walk with Fisher before she left and must have trodden in dog crap!! And I'd been traipsing it round town!!! What hideousness.

I made a quick break for the hotel, via a handy puddle. The suspicious brown stain was easily removed, though, and surreptitious examination reassured me that my shoes were no longer stinky. I therefore went into Waterstones for books.

While buying entertaining but educational books for my nevvies I was distressed to discover that the smell had NOT gone. In fact, as I stood waiting for the till, I was overwhelmed by a horrible, horrible waft of foulness. I was aghast. This could mean only one thing. It was genuinely, awfully, ME! I could not imagine what I'd done to myself - but there was only one course of action - gather up my bags and head to my room to shower and scrub myself head to foot with gravel. I bent, and as I grabbed my bags, a full waft almost sent me reeling.

I burst into merry, relieved laughter. At a quizzical look from the till man, I explained how I'd been followed by a stench all morning and had just come to the conclusion it was myself - until that moment. Instead:

"It's my Brie de Mieux!" I chuckled. To which the till man retorted:

"So it IS you."

Thanks for that.

Anyway, that was the extent to which interesting things happened yesterday. I spent the entire evening watching Comic Relief, deciding to donate £5 every time they made me laugh out loud. I donated £15.

This morning I was roused by my internal alarm clock. I peered blearily at my watch in the gloom and thought it said it was close to 6am. After 5 or so minutes of waking myself up by shouting loudly inside my head, I switched on the light and started getting up. Then I had the aforethought to read my watch in the light. It was 4.30.

At 6am I received the wake up call I'd ordered. It was much harder getting up the second time - and utterly horrendous to trudge downstairs with my huuuuge suitcase and be told the ferry was cancelled due to Force 9 gales.

So, I'm now stuck in Oban for the day. There really is nothing to do in this little toon. However, it's Man U against Liverpool (kicking off right now) so I'm off to the pub to watch it. Hopefully I'll live.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Pinched From Running & Thinking

In My Pants iTunes

1. Changes in my pants.
2. Fingers in the Factories in my pants.
3. On My Own in my pants (which I'm quite relieved about).
4. Lost On the Stoop in my pants (possibly suffering from Alzheimers? And almost certainly about to be arrested).
5. Middle Eastern Holiday in my pants.
6. Brockagh Braes in my pants. (Time for a waxing?)
7. In the Crossfire in my pants.
8. Champagne for my Real Friends, Real Pain for my Sham Friends in my pants.
9. Virgin State of Mind in my pants. (Waaahahaha!! Funny cos it's true).
10. Moons and Horror Shows in my pants. (Again, astonishingly accurate. At least I have the decency to keep my moon covered, though.)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Thoughts on Abuse

I caught an advert the other day which shocked me. It said that 1 in 4 women suffered from domestic abuse. I immediately scoffed at this. 1 in 4? Are they expecting me to believe that 25% of women are abused by their partner? There are 6 of us in the Cheeseboard. That means that, statistically, one of us is being abused. It's not me. It's not Fisher. So which of Spartan, Pro, Wheeler and Badger is domestically violent?

Obviously, this thought was preposterous to me, but I couldn't get that statistic out of my head. 1 in 4?? It couldn't be right. So I did some digging on t'internet and discovered that it's not true ... not in the sense I'd taken it, anyway. It's not 25% of women. However, according to womens aid, it is 1 in 4 women - over the course of their lifetime. 6-10% of women in any one year. My immediate reaction was "thank God." Remember, I was going from the hideous thought that 25% was the claimed number. It only took a second, though, before the horror of this situation hit me. 6-10% in one year?? Let me try and put that in some kind of rough perspective.

Population in the UK is 61 million. Let's say half of those are women - so 30.5 million.

1 in 5 people in the UK are under 16, which makes 12,200000 - divided by 2, making 6,100000 females under 16. So, we're talking about 24,400000 women. Except we're not, because domestic abuse drops sharply as women get older. Let's say we're talking about 20 million women in the UK. I'm probably hideously wrong. 20 million out of 30.5 million of an age to have a domestic relationship? Well ... it sounds ok.

So - 6-10% in any one year. At best, that makes 1.2 million women affected. At worst, it's 2 million.

2 million women being abused by their partners in a year. And there's worse to come.

Over 2 women a week are killed by their partner, or ex-partner. I think the advert I watched said domestic abuse is the primary cause of death in women between the ages of 15 and 55 - but don't quote me on that.

Domestic abuse worsens during a woman's pregnancy, and if there are children in the house.

I could go on. I could mention that most domestic abuse goes unreported. I could also mention that it's not only women, that men suffer domestic abuse as well - but that the numbers are considerably smaller. I could go on and on. I won't, because there's just too much. But I will say:

Of all female homicide victims, 42% are killed by current or former partners. 4% of male homicides are due to their partners. However, I'd ask how many more men are victims of homicide than women in general? I know that men are around 3 times more likely to be victims of assault, so I'd imagine that the numbers of male homicide victims are much larger than female - but I don't know.

I'd also like to point out that domestic abuse isn't just physical. According to the government, it's defined as:

"Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality." This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour killings'."

Domestic abuse, in other words, can be compltely non violent. Here are a list of the signs of domestic abuse, according to women's aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening
  • Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don't want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn't happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.
The thing is - I'm pretty sure everyone I know has experienced one of these at some point, and not one of us would consider it domestic abuse. I know I've been on the end of one of Fisher's rages, and the same is true for her. And "sulking"? Heck ...

So, the question is: are the reports of domestic abuse always justified? Is a woman going to have a blazing row with her partner and decide to call it in as a method of punishment? And if this is the case, do those statistics get recorded? I'm not saying that screaming abuse at someone is ever acceptable, but there is a level of rage that's forgiveable as human nature. Surely? I mean, as part of living. It's ridiculous to suggest that everyone treat their partner with respect every second of every day - even if it's what we should all attempt. There's a massive difference between having the occasional screaming match, where names are called and plates are smashed - and a consistent level of daily abuse. I do wonder how many times the police are called as a tactic in 'winning' an argument. Don't get me wrong - I'm not belittling the numbers here, but I do think there might be a couple of issues that are overlooked.

Personally, I think whatever can be done to help victims of abuse - male, female, domestic or public - should be done. However, I'm not sure people are getting to the bottom of things. Violence seems to be viewed in a very strange light. In my opinion, all types of violence are unacceptable. The only time it's appropriate to raise your hands to someone is in self-defence - and if everyone accepts that violence is taboo, self-defence shouldn't be necessary. I don't care if you're a man hitting a woman, a woman hitting a man, a man hitting a man, a woman a woman - all are utterly, totally despicable. It's the imposing of will by a physically stronger person over a weaker. It's nature's greatest mistake. Being able to control a situation simply because you can batter people into submission is a way to total destruction. But time and time again you see the glorification of violence. Instead of moving away from the idea that solving problems by having a good punch up, the popular media - especially in the US - now seems to be suggesting that women should be karate kicking, wielding guns and fist-fighting with the best of them.

One of the generalisations about the sexes is that women are less violent. This is a GOOD thing. Nowadays we're supposed to cheer Lara Croft, Temperance Brennan, Miss Jupiter - all the butt-kicking, wise-cracking heroines being churned out by the entertainment industry. Frankly, I'd take iron-willed, sharply intelligent Florence Nightingale over that lot any day.

Violence begets violence. We've known that ever since humanity was able to think introspectively. But what do we do? Continue to show it as aspirational, as escapist fantasy. And now you can show men and women in fist fights (where women almost always win) on prime time television. It's a bit sick, if you think about it. I know, I know - you're not really supposed to think about it. It's just entertainment ... right?

Except entertainment tends to reflect those situations the population deem socially desirable - and a new breed of superhero women who kick the living bollox out of men is just fiiiine.

Not to me. I believe the only thing that's going to reduce abuse of all kinds is education, and as so many people take their social education from the TV, I don't think it's wise to continue to portray violence as second nature - and 'cool' to boot. Personally, I think a man beating up a man is as despicable as a man beating up a woman. It's still a stronger person dominating a weaker one for their own sense of power. However, there is a difference between two people looking for a fight and battering each other in some ridiculous primeval power-struggle. Two twats make a fair fight, I suppose.

We don't live in Utopia, so there are a couple of things that need to be done. Firstly, I think every girl over the age of 13 should be given every opportunity to build her confidence. Something happens to girls around that age; often they go from being happy, secure queens of their own lives to blushing every time they're called on in class, never making a wise-crack, believing they're somehow not good enough. At the same time, boys start developing their own brand of confidence, which can be even more intimidating to girls. So: girls need to be encouraged to perform; to show off their intellectual or physical skills (and if your mind immediately turned to a dirty joke then, just ponder what that means for women - that their physicality is almost instantly related to sex) and to be able to hold their own in mixed groups.

I'd like to give a shout out, at this minute, to the world of horses. In this area, girls undertake a very physical, very difficult task and compete in mixed society, excelling as often as their male counterparts. Horses are an area where men and women take part equally, with neither party thinking they're a 'guest' in the other sex's arena. The women I've met who are wholly involved in this area tend to be brimming with confidence. Trouble is, it's also a class issue. It does tend to be moneyed children who get involved - and that means it's difficult to know whether it's class that helps confidence as well. I think it does - but I also think there are more moneyed girls out there with a lack of confidence than assurance. Put 'em all on ponys! In fact, there should be a government initiative, right now, that puts every girl and boy on a pony.

This is a big fat ramble, ain't it? Bascially, to sum up, what I'm trying to say is that women lose their confidence at a very young age, making them susceptible to patterns of abuse. If we can create an uber-race of strong, confident women, it will go some distance to combatting domestic abuse. I'm NOT saying that abused women just need to stand up for themselves - I'm saying that if they learn from a young age that they're worth more than a violent partner gives them, it should help cut the numbers of people in abusive relationships. They may well be able to cope with verbal abuse without letting it dominate them, too, which would nip the start of a bad pattern in the bud.

This is an unfinished, unpolished thought stream. There are issues here too delicate for my clumsy thoughts - but the nutshell is: give a sense of strength and power back to the abused, and teach those who may be vulnerable from a young age that they have worth.

Now I must go and massage someone.

Shall I Be Motherf***er?

With my usual whimsy, I decided I would invite the neighbours round to sample some experimental baking. Always good, I think, to become swiftly known as the Letitia Cropley of Bankfoot*. I'm not a baker, and have only recently started trying my hand at scones and such - but I vowed and declared to create a new, original recipe this year, so why not start with some interestingly flavoured scones?

The neighbours duly obliged by showing very willing, and we ended up with 3 of the local lay-deez pouring Earl Grey down their necks (or Assam - yes, we provided a choice) and tucking into the scones. I'm delighted to report that there wasn't a nibbler amongst them.

The first guest was Assisi, who is a hugely friendly golden retriever of a woman, who we met because she walks her collie - Zach - up our road twice every day. She also always has an old man in tow. I think she walks them both. It became ridiculous that we were exchanging friendlier and friendlier waves without speaking, so we eventually stopped the car and said hello. She was delightful, and since then we've had her round for dinner with Epona & Shah (direct neighbours). She's bats about animals, and brings treats for the dogs as her contribution to the gathering - as well as treats for us. This time she arrived bearing a vast and utterly delicious lemon cake, made with condensed milk. And, presumably, other stuff - otherwise it would be a bit wet.

Our second guest was our neighbour-but-one, Ina. We met her at our New Year first foot, and she struck me as slightly shy but with a lifetime of having to talk to hunters, shooters and fishers behind her, and thus the skills to cover her shyness. Anyway, she was very happy to come along, and brought some home made apple jelly.

Lastly was Epona - whom, after running 30 minutes late, I called to remind. She'd taken some cough medicine, fallen asleep and completely forgotten. Anyway, she legged it down the road and was soon scarfing down scones with the best of us.

So that - along with Fisher 'n' me - was our merry band. We had a good chinwag, ate huge amounts, and parted on good terms some 2 hours later. And what was my experiment? Why, here's the menu:

6 orange & Grand Marnier scones with macadamia nuts.
6 white cherry infused scones with black cherries inside.
6 raspberry, ginger and Pimms scones.
Tray of cream-cheese brownies, served with rhubarb and ginger jam.

And, believe it or not, they were all munched with much glee. This, of course, has done nothing for my bid to lose the hideous amount of weight I've gained over the last few months. And when I say hideous, I mean hideous. In a desperate bid to get back into the swing of exercise, I forced myself to go to the gym this evening. This is the result:

1 mile run from gate to gym, 1.1 mile (almost), in 12 minutes. Long, slight uphill. Short but steep downhill.
1 fast mile on treadmill in gym - 9.03 mins. Is this my fastest? I really should keep track. I know I did 9.04 at some point. But, on the other hand, I was using the crap machine which has a habit of hiccupping and nearly sending me flying off the back every time I speed it up or slow it down. It's a feffin' death trap! So I hardly trust it to give an accurate pace, and it always seems easier to use, so who knows? Anyway, I felt pretty good about the mile. I also did some weights and a few tummy crunches. I've decided I really, really need to work on my abs as I'm lordotic and my hamstrings are very tight. Strong abs should help my posture and therefore my sacro-illiac probs too.

So that's that. Too much lard, not enough exercise, and a depressing amount of weight to lose. How shite is that? On the other hand, I can't seem to find anyone else with my scone recipes, so I may indeed have invented new scone flavours. That's something to celebrate - and so is the loveliness of having sociable, chatty, foodie neighbours.

*See Vicar of Dibley for reference.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Spa, Blar & Spar

To finish off our little trip into Northumberland, which was very relaxing and much needed, we went to a hotel with Pro and Koi. The hotel of choice was Cameron House, on Loch Lomond, which promised luxury such as you'd never seen. We were much looking forward to it, and sped into Edinburgh on Saturday morning to pick up an excited Koi. I was ashamed of the state of Helga, Fisher's clapped out old VW golf, as she was particularly filthy thanks to mucky dogs, and had also developed an alarming roaring/whining sound in her engine. Koi's only comment was that it was rather like riding next to a Jumbo Jet engine at full throttle - but luckily it was a short (ish) journey to Loch Lomond from Edinburgh and we arrived before Koi became a rocking, drooling mental patient.

My first impression of the hotel was disappointing. I'd expected a country house hotel. In fact, Cameron House is one of those hotels who very obviously cater for opulence and therefore lose 99% of their charm. It's like a small version of Gleneagles, complete with prominent helicopter on the lawn and sprawling accommodation park filled with luxury chalets. I, being uncomfortable with opulence (frankly, I think it's tasteless and crass) immediately tensed up and worried Koi would hate it.

We left Helga with the valet, who probably caught cholera from her interior as I never saw him again, and went to check in. Our rooms were pleasant, but no better than any better-than-average hotel's, and we spent very little time there before setting off in search of some lunch. We didn't want to overdo it because, thanks to a windfall from the gods, Martin Wishart's had had a canellation the previous day and we were bumped up from waiting list to guest list. Huzzah! So we went to the boathouse. While it was pleasant enough, they'd gone a little crazy with the New England country-club theme, making it all a little self-conscious. The food was good, though, as you'd expect from paying £12.50 for a salad. Delightfully, Fisher picked up the lunch tab - and I was much appeased by the enormous vat of very good coffee they placed in front of me. We also had very delicious puddings - me a bannoffee pie, Koi a praline terrine, Fisher ... something else. Can't remember, but she was very pleased with it. (Not wanting to overdo it at lunch went rather out the window when we saw the pudding menu).

As we finished our puddings, Koi got a call from Pro saying he'd arrived and would meet us in the lobby. We finished up and went to greet him. We grabbed a quick dram at the bar, then he and I decided to head off for a spot of golf, while Koi and Fisher walked the dogs and yammered contentedly.

The golf was, as always, mildly hilarious. We both managed to hit a few good shots, but being winter greens it was more like playing 'bog golf'. We squelched our way round 7 of the 9 holes in an hour and a half, during which time I managed to bag a birdie, sink a 30 foot putt, lose one ball, find one ball, fail to hit a single decent shot off the fairway, and collect an enormous quantity of goose shit on the wheels of my trolley. Pro hit some good shots off the fairway, was consistently good on the green, lost several balls, and managed not to kill a goose. I cracked up when Pro, irate at having a poor run of drives off the tee, decide to welly one with a wood - on a 193 metre hole. Naturally he hit it clean and true, at which it flew about 150metres beyond the flag, practically making it to the next hole. The moment he gets his swing right, he's just going to walk all over everyone. He can hit it further than anyone I've ever seen. He's bagged a 350m drive at the range - and he's a total beginner. Frightening stuff.

After bog golf, Pro and I headed back to the hotel to meet Fisher & Koi, who'd been for a swim in the leisure centre. Time was knocking on, but I noticed in passing that the centre had squash courts - so Pro and I raced down for a game. We managed to bag 80 mins of court time and had a great time exhausting ourselves racing up and down. We were due at Wishart's at 7.30. We finished our game (last one 9-8) at 7.10, changed into finery in the leisure centre changing rooms (I forgot a hairbrush, which could have been interesting but luckily my hair decided not to play silly buggers) and raced off to meet Fisher and Koi.

Now, I'd like to make mention of a small fact here. I was wearing sweaty squash clothes. I took a shower. I washed my hair. I then changed into a dress. I put on high heels. I even donned make-up. I don't think much of myself visually at the best of times, but I think I looked pretty good. Pro was complimentary, which was very gentlemanly of him. It took both of us just under 20 minutes to get ready and look sharp. We went across to the main hotel lobby to meet our 'Others' - only to discover neither of them were there. I went to my room, Pro to his. I found Fisher putting the finishing touches on her pampering, and we went down together - now a couple of minutes late. Pro then emerged and told us to head on through to the restaurant, as Koi was still doing her hair and would be late. So we three went to Martin Wishart's without her and enjoyed a G&T. She was 10 minutes behind us.


That is all.

Except that I should also, for fairness, add that she lost her necklace and was hunting for it like a maniac, so might not have been quite so late had that not occurred. Anyway, it didn't matter a jot, except to make me ponder the selfishness of vanity. I'm not talking about Koi here - she lost her necklace, which can happen to anyone and is a perfectly valid excuse for lateness, and it really didn't matter as we were only a short walk from the rooms and could enjoy a comfortable drink while waiting - but there does seem to be an acceptability to people - mostly women - thinking it's more important to go through the ritual of primping than be on time. So, because the mascara has to go on just so, and the hair has to be curled la, people are kept kicking their heels. Women - it's about time you got over yourselves. Know what? Nobody cares if you're wearing eye shadow or not. Nobody cares if your nails are varnished, and they certainly don't care if your toes are painted. Mascara, lippy, good hair - those are the staples. Maybe foundation if you're having a bad skin day. Everything else is superfluous and, if you're running late, should be ditched. Make up can be applied and look good in under 2 minutes.

Ok, enough. Let me emphasise again that the above wee rant only came into my head because Koi's lateness set off a train of thought - not because I think she was late through selfishness and vanity. I didn't care that she was late at the time, I don't care now, I never cared. Clear? Bon.

Wishart's was incredible. We spent over 3 hours at dinner, and every moment was a pleasure. We spent a great deal of time discussing whether to have the taster menu or not, and decided that yes, we would. It meant everyone having the same thing, but the advantage of this was that we got to discuss each course from the same page, as it were, and nobody got food envy. There were several courses - a starter, an intermediary, a fish course, a main course, a cheese course, and pudding. There were also amuse bouches and petit fours. Laughably, Koi admitted defeat over a teeny tiny pistachio macaroon. It was one of the amuse bouches. In fact, it was the very last amuse bouche. She groaningly complained that, had she not had pudding at lunch, the macaroon wouldn't have defeated her. I refrained from pointing out that she could have had all but one tiny mouthful of the lunchtime pudding in order to fit in the teeny tiny macaroon, as she was suffering at the time and I didn't want to make things worse.

Anyway, we had a truly wonderful time. Chat flowed, booze flowed, laughter flowed, and we revelled - revelled - in the food. It wasn't quite Devonshire Gardens but it was a bloody close second. And afterwards we retired to the bar for a whisky, Koi fell asleep on the sofa, then woke after her catnap raring to go, just as the rest of us became bleary eyed. An exciteable young man at the bar asked for a taxi, then came bouncing through the lounge squealing:

"I'm going by helicopter! Can you believe it?"

His thrill was quite endearing. Less endearing was his earlier decision to peer down my cleavage as I stood next to him at the bar. Forgive me but it's not like my cleavage is easy to miss. You don't need to stare directly down it to appreciate its canyonesque qualities. Still, he was pretty drunk. Maybe he was astonished at the sight of a 4 breasted woman ordering 8 drinks.

We retired, well content. But the treat was only half complete! Next day we'd booked ourselves into the spa for the afternoon.

Ah, the spa! Truly lovely - even for one such as me, who finds spas only moderate entertainment. We rose, had a tolerable breakfast at the Cameron Grill, and whiled away the morning playing a game of snooker. Koi and Pro kicked my and Fisher's butts, partly because of their superior skill, partly because we are so unutterably awful we kept giving them 4 point penalties. I have to say, Koi's a bit of a ringer at snooker - even when distracted by Pro, who loathes being outshone by Koi and attempted to sabotage her, even at the expense of his own team. Anyway, they won - and then it was time for the spa.

We headed off, having to drive there, and soon found ourselves decked in dressing gowns and swimming costumes, awaiting marvels.

Our first stop was the rooftop hot pool, which was delicious, delightful, de-lovely. We sat in the warm, warm water with steam rising all around us, letting the bubbly bubbles drift, with cold rain on our shoulders and faces. The view was obscured by mist and rain, but we could see just enough of Loch Lomond and the surrounding mountains to be enchanted. We could feel our muscles relaxing by the second. Wonderful.

Over the course of the afternoon we visited saunas, the swimming pool, steam rooms, the hydro pool, and the bistro. We'd thought we couldn't possibly fit in yet more food, but come 3pm we'd discovered a wee hole into which we could plug a club sandwich and a spot of pudding. It was fabulously decadent to sit eating elegantly presented food in our dressing gowns and swimsuits.

We finished it all off with another trip to the outdoor rooftop pool, which had filled with quite a few people but was no less delightful for all that. The view had cleared considerably, and there was now a little rainbow dancing over the hills. Suitably enchanted, we were able to end the trip on a real high.

Last but by no means least, I must mention that we'd arranged to split the Wishart's bill with Pro & Koi getting the food and Fisher & me getting the booze - but in a fit of fabulous generosity, Koi and Pro insisted on buying dinner themselves and would hear nothing against the plan. We are therefore slavishly grateful for their thoughtfulness, and for the experience of Wishart's on Loch Lomond, which will surely live long in my memory.

We bade farewell to a noticeably more chilled Koi & Pro and headed home, at long last - and here we've been for a whole week!

Now, I should mention yesterday's joys. I know - how much longer can I rabbit on? Not much, is the answer, but I do have some news.

You see, 2 days ago we sent Helga off to and got thruppence ha'penny for her. Put it this way - we then went into Edinburgh and bought a mattress. Helga didn't cover the cost. But pooh, I say! She was a clapped out old bucket, and getting any money at all for her was a miracle. Then, yesterday, we picked up our replacement.

This, my friends, is Baby.
Nobody puts her in a corner.

We took her for her first trip last night, down to Edinburgh to see Spar and Blar. They'd kindly recorded the Oscars for me, as I wanted to see just how appalling they were. I heard Hugh Jackman was doing song and dance numbers! I was so looking forward to mocking, jeering and laughing - but the highlight programme didn't show any of the cheese, only the winners. I was pleased Kate Winslet didn't cry - it would have been most un-British of her had she done so - and even more pleased by the whistle 'n' whoop communication between her and her Dad - which was, again, suitably British in its lack of reverence. I wonder why actors and film makers think anyone really gives much of a crap about their awards ceremonies? They think falling audiences is due to the manner in which they're presented? Like getting rid of the comedians as hosts will bring the audience flooding back? And Hugh Jackman performing song 'n' dance routines will have bums so firmly on seats you'll be prising soft furnishings from colons for weeks to come?

I think not.

Anway, the Oscars was a sad disappointment - very dull, no remarkable moments, no Michael Moore getting booed or Italian actors walking over seat backs - but the evening was great fun. Spar, in honour of the American theme, cooked American cuisine. God help us. This basically took the form of vast quantities of meat - hot dogs, steaks, Cajun chicken - and fried stuff. Naturally we therefore consumed vast amounts and felt sick. We also talked houses, as they're on the search for the perfect family home for Wee Baba and generally had a good yatter.

It was past 11 when we headed home, so I hope they're not both pie-eyed today. It was much appreciated as a pleasant mid-week interlude. Tomorrow I'm off to meet up with Pro, Badger, Janus and the Doctor for pizza and a movie. The movie is The Watchmen, which I'm thrilled to be getting to see in film form. I only read the graphic novel a few months ago, and I think it's genius - so here's hoping the film doesn't screw it to the wall.

Thanks for sticking with me, if you did - and if you gave up half way through, I don't blame you.

Until next time.