Welcome to Musings on the Mundane! The world as depicted in the media can often seem dark and overwhelming. So join me and my blog posts to marvel in the mundane and laugh at the little things in life.


‘Why are you watching with subtitles?’ I ask the Nearly-Beloved. Could it be he has actually conceded his hearing is not what it used to be? Can I finally read the paper in peace in the kitchen without the accompaniment of a sports commentary blaring out from the living room? Apparently, not. The sound is still on heavy metal volume. But the language is unfamiliar.

‘I didn’t know you were a fan of Japanese anime,’ I say, bemused. Unfortunately, ‘Princess Mononoke’ is as popular with my republican husband as our homegrown black sheep royals. It turns out it’s Grunting Teen who’s the Studio Ghibli fan. Only he’s forgotten to switch back to the terrestrial channels his parents are more familiar with. And the Nearly-Beloved doesn’t have as much expertise with the remote control as he claims.

Personally, I gave up on the ‘zapper’ several years ago. This was when, overnight, it cloned into three identical replicas of itself. Apparently, one hooks up to the TV, another operates the DVD and the third is wired to unknown zones in the ether. It’s all beyond my comprehension and one of the few benefits of having an adolescent living in the house. You see, Grunting Teen is the First Footman to my Scullery Maid. In exchange for cooking and laundry duties, he organises my screen time.

Some may call it giving in to ineptitude but I quite enjoy being waited on for a change. It’s my mother’s queenly prerogative. And even if my servant attempts an occasional uprising, I just have to whisper the words ‘Food, clothing, taxi duties…,’ and he soon remembers his place.

‘See, mum,’ he tells me, as I settle down for a night’s viewing, ‘I’ve set everything up for ‘Call the Midwife’ and the volume is just right. So, don’t let Dad go anywhere near the zapper, otherwise I won’t be able to concentrate on the PS4 upstairs.’ Just as well then that his father wouldn’t be seen dead watching ‘that rubbish’.

But today the Second Footman is in charge and, I’m sad to say, definitely second best at the job. There’s no lightning-fast hand-eye coordination here. Just a lot of muttering and slow finger plonking. My attempts at help result in the DVD player groaning into action and the quick confiscation of remote-control number three. When I suggest calling for backup, I’m met with a stubborn glare. The Nearly-Beloved continues pressing random buttons that light up, switching the picture on the screen from an Imperial palace to an advert for Pizza Express. Then suddenly we are on Netflix, followed by a YouTube climbing video and, before we know it, we’ve set up a series-recording of Peppa Pig. And all this to cinematic Dolby stereo sound that I suspect may soon have the neighbours banging on the wall.

As the time ticks closer to the opening credits of ‘Match of the Day’, the Nearly-Beloved concedes defeat. The First Footman is summoned and, with a smirk, restores order at the push of a button. ‘I don’t want you to do it for me,’ grumbles his father, ‘just show me, so I can do it myself.’ But Grunting Teen is no foolish lackey. He knows that ‘he who controls the zapper, controls the household’. Bowing mockingly in his father’s direction, he disappears upstairs quicker than the subtitles from the screen. I too disappear. This time to the attic.

 At least there I won’t be able to hear a blow-by-blow account of the match. And yet, after a while, the silence is all pervading. It’s too quiet. I retrace my steps and peer round the living room door where the football is in full play but the crowds are unusually muted.

‘Why are you watching with subtitles?’ I ask in surprise.

The Nearly-Beloved smiles. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever understood a word Roy Keane or Ally McCoist have said…’

Thankful for grey skies

As I look out at the pale grey sky of Sheffield, my phone pings with a post from a friend currently in Portugal. It’s all sun and smiles there as she basks in winter temperatures of 18C. Scrolling down to the other extreme, I come across another friend waving her skis at me from a snowy Alpine scene. I sigh and head off for my twice weekly visit to check on Darling Daughter and Little Angel.

I open the door with trepidation. I never know what I’m going to find. Some days a screaming, red-faced monster is thrust into my arms by a sobbing mess of post-partum hormones. Wild-eyed and hysterical, my sleep-deprived daughter proclaims her devil child will be put up for adoption unless intravenous caffeine is administered immediately. But today, thankfully, it’s all gurgles and giggling. Little Angel has discovered her hands and finds them hilarious. Super Son-in-law did the night shift so Darling Daughter is well-rested and wearing clean clothes rather than her usual, sick-stained dressing gown. ‘I think motherhood’s going to be ok,’ she announces, gazing fondly at the baby, who is enjoying the taste of tiny fingers. But then, tragically missing her mouth, Little Angel pokes herself in the eye and, just like that, the atmosphere changes, and the air is filled with banshee wails.

Returning home from my day of emotional extremes, I wonder what culinary delight will be awaiting me. You see, the Nearly-Beloved has taken to cooking as his contribution to grandchild care. The only problem is that he is no more proficient in the kitchen than I am. His first attempts at standard, pre-millennium school dinners are met with horror by his son, who proclaims liver and onions to be ‘disgusting’ and rice pudding to be ‘bland and boring’. But my husband isn’t put off, rising instead to the challenge of creating more ‘interesting’ meals.

‘Quick! Water!’ gasps Grunting Teen, spitting out a mouthful of black pudding madras. ‘I asked for spicy, dad, not flame-thrower hot!’ And even though the addition of strawberry yoghurt counteracts the heat, this now sweet and sour curry has been banned from future menus. The dessert of fruit pizza, whilst novel, and a nod in the direction of health, doesn’t improve my son’s mood. He’s been grumpy ever since he came back from school.

It turns out his recent grades are the problem. I point out that if he’s not at work or the climbing wall then he’s spending all his free time on the PS4 or with Polly Pocket, his pint-sized girlfriend. Maybe the answer is to spend a bit more time on his homework? These observations are met with a stony glare and a foot-stomping exit. But my words have sunk in and the following week he locks himself in his bedroom, studying until the early hours. The results are reflected in his new top marks. So why does he look so unhappy?

Maybe, like me, he’s been tuning in to the news headlines with their black and white coverage of the world around us. We’re either still Brexit or Remain, Vaccinated or Anti-Vax, pro-Djokovic or against. Whatever happened to a half-way house point of view?

But fast-forward a week and a happy balance has been found. Darling Daughter sends me a photo of Little Angel looking Buddha-peaceful in her Moses basket. She’s settling into a routine and life is no longer so full of rollercoaster highs and lows. As for the Nearly-Beloved’s recipes, a run-of-the-mill Spag Bol is his current go-to staple and what’s not to like about that? And Grunting Teen has realised that switching from ‘all play and no work’ to ‘all work and no play’ is not the way forward either. There’s a middle ground of having both decent grades and a social life.

What’s more, when my friends return – one with unexpected sunburn and the other with tales of blizzards cancelling all skiing – I give thanks for my grey skies. Extremes exist. But they aren’t always the best place to be.

Post-festive punishment

I wake up in the middle of the night with the sugar sweats. It’s my body’s way of rebelling against those invading forces from Christmas – Quality Street and Roses. They joined league with Tia Maria, Cointreau and Amoretto – foreign mercenaries who go undercover for eleven months of the year then rally to the war cry during December.

You see, even if the festivities are behind us now, the battle scars are still a visible reminder of the collateral damage we’ve suffered. And all of it is ‘friendly fire.’ We’ve no one to blame but ourselves! Oh, why did I think that a double helping of bhajis with my bhuna would make a victorious accompaniment to Ant and Dec’s Boxing Day ‘Take-away’? And was scoffing an entire Yule log really a just dessert for the post-New Year cease-fire in socialising?

I blame the Nearly-Beloved. He went behind enemy lines, plundering the goody-bag arsenal and liberating any remaining snacks. ‘They’ve got to be eaten,’ he told me. ‘We can’t just abandon them.’

But, judging by the Pringles-tin-shrapnel covering the floor, Grunting Teen has already stumbled into the mine field of unfinished sweets and savouries. Now he’s lying on the field-hospital sofa, his skin tinged Chocolate Orange.

‘Mum, I feel bare unhealthy,’ he groans. ‘I need to get fit.’

‘You can join me down the gym then,’ says his father, sucking in his stomach in an attempt to disguise the spare tyre acquired on inactive duty.

Thank goodness then it’s ‘Veganuary’, the month when we retreat to build up our strength and resources. No more idling in front of the TV, no more fancy food and drink, no more home leave. Instead, it’s back to boot camp and basic rations.

Unfortunately, allies and enemies alike have gone for the same tactics. The Nearly-Beloved returns unamused from his work-out. ‘The place was rammed out,’ he complains. ‘Full of amateurs who can’t tell a dumbbell from a kettlebell. And they need to fix their scales – I can’t have put on that much weight!’

Grunting Teen is also unimpressed. He headed for the climbing wall. And, for once, couldn’t complete his usual route. Apparently, all the holds must have been changed. What other explanation could there be?

Morale is low. The troops need cheering up. But the provisions stock is now bare. I dish out a soup, concocted from blackening veg, liberated from the bottom of the fridge. It’s supposed to be healthy and heart-warming but instead it’s bland and bleak. For afters there’s a skirmish over a bruised apple. The losers end up with a squidgy tangerine and over-ripe banana. We all go to bed hungry. Sleep is sporadic and interrupted by more sugar sweats.

Fast forward two weeks and Grunting Teen is back route-marching to school every day, his stamina and fitness honed by a diet devoid of carbs from the now empty ‘forbidden cupboard’. At the gym the Christmas-present-conscripts have gone AWOL, their New Year’s resolutions abandoned by apathy. Only the professionals remain. The Nearly-Beloved has regained control of his body. He’s returned to tip top military condition and now views the festive season defeat as a mere blip in the fight against flab.

As for me, I’ve been debriefed on my reckless conduct and detoxed of all sugar. I’ve survived an intensive training programme and am now ready for action. I should be honoured to be recruited to the fitness battalion. But being a member of this elite squad has its drawbacks. Who wants to go for a run when it’s gloomy and grey outside? And swimming is surely too much effort on a cold, wet day?

Which is why, as hail batters the windows, I’m caught defecting from my post.

‘Mum, what are you doing?’ gasps Grunting Teen, star-jumping into the room.

I wipe my lips in vain. But the chocolatey crumbs reveal me as a deserter to the cause. That rogue box of Fox’s biscuits down the cellar is my undoing. Good job they haven’t yet discovered my secret stash of Walnut Whips in the attic…

New Year surprise

As Big Ben chimes twelve, I half-heartedly clink glasses with the Nearly-Beloved. My hopes of boogying the night away have been scuppered. Omicron and middle age have put paid to my partying. The latest Covid variant has gate-crashed the festive season and only the young and intrepid are brave enough to join the rave. No midnight knees-up for me. Just a humble Hootenanny with Jools whilst my other half moans about the miseries of the last twelve months. So much for New Year’s Eve excitement! I down the remains of a lukewarm Prosecco and head for bed.

The plus side is I greet January 1st with bright eyes and a clear head. Not so the Nearly-Beloved who stayed up watching re-runs of Glastonbury with his good friend Glenfiddich and is now somewhat the worse for wear. ‘Good riddance to 2021,’ he mutters as I hand him a glass of Alka-Seltzer, ‘But I can’t see the year ahead being much better.’ This is not the introduction to 2022 that I need, so I put on my running shoes and leave in search of inspiration.

It’s so easy to follow the same old route. But a new year calls for new challenges, so I set off for the city centre and a run along the canal side. I haven’t been here in years and am surprised by what I find. Victoria Quays has been tastefully redeveloped and the canal basin is host to brightly painted, spirit-lifting barges. I carry on along the tow path, passing the occasional walker, who offers me a cheery greeting. It’s hard to remember that a year ago we were in Lockdown 3 when pedestrians would jump into a nearby bush to avoid all contact with an incoming jogger. But now we are all multi-vaxed, so even with Omicron on the loose, the sense of danger is much reduced.

As I run on, the surroundings become less industrial, the path opens up into grassy, tree-lined areas with birds flying past and ducks bobbing on the water. It’s positively bucolic! I pass several fishermen, who tell me they’ve caught carp and pike this morning. With all the doom and gloom of global warming, it’s good to know that this once polluted canal has had a major clean up and is no longer stuck in its ‘Full Monty’ version. I’m glad I made the decision to run here – I didn’t realise how much had changed.

Arriving home, I enter the house at the same time as Grunting Teen. He’s returning from his first New Year’s Eve sleepover at the Liberal Parents’ house. And, judging by the sight of him, not much sleeping has been achieved. ‘Happy New Year, mum,’ he says, folding me in a six-foot hug that smells more of bear and beer than boy. 

‘Did you have a nice time, sweetheart?’ I ask. ‘Yeah, it was well good,’ he replies, ‘I think 2022 is going to be okay, innit?’

‘You’re right,’ I reply. ‘At least the schools will be open, unlike last January. And all things considered, 2021 redeemed itself half way through the year. It can’t have been as bad as dad makes out.’

‘2021?’ interrupts the Nearly-Beloved, now looking a lighter shade of green. He waves his phone at us. ‘I’ve just been reviewing my annual photo book online. Turns out the year was better than I remembered. See, I’d forgotten about my mum’s 90th and that family reunion in May.  And there’s some lovely pictures of our holiday in Pembrokeshire, those two weddings we went to and the arrival of our little angel.’

He smiles and I smile back. The internet and fresh air have done the trick. Sometimes we just have to look back to see that things weren’t as bad as we thought and that also they have a tendency to change for the better. Let’s hope the trend continues into 2022. Happy New Year!

The Christmas Round Robin

It’s the time of year for sending and receiving Christmas cards. Some, posted through the door by neighbours and friends just contain a season’s greeting and a signature. It’s a cultural convention, showing good manners or affection. Others are a yearly minefield – the ones sent from a past life – ex-university flat mates, former work colleagues, or that friend who’s still on your list simply because you went to Primary school together. They are meant to make you feel remembered. But sometimes these annual Round Robins leave me wanting.

The gold-embossed card with the personalised photo full of sparkling Hollywood teeth has me trembling even before I open it and reminds me that Grunting Teen is well overdue a post-pandemic check-up. If only, like Georgina from my student days, I’d gone into a career in banking, I too might have had a second home in the country. The news in this year’s update is rather self-congratulatory. With her generous divorce settlement, she’s bought a lovely pad in Chelsea. And despite having to cancel her skiing trip and a safari this year, she’s still managed to yacht around the Greek islands and pop over to Paris and Porto. Suddenly my day-trip to Cleethorpes loses its sparkle… As for little Hugo, Grunting Teen’s contemporary, he apparently aced his GCSEs and bagged a summer internship with a top-class firm in London.

‘How come I ended up pot washing?’ demands my son, muttering under his breath about the North-South divide, private education and a useless family with no ‘connections’.

‘At least your parents are still together. And you got your job on your own merits,’ the Nearly-Beloved tells him.

And I suppose, he’s right. The grass always looks greener…

Next, I open the slightly risqué Santa greetings full of in-house references, which makes me nostalgic. The days when I had work mates to share banter with has long gone and although a free-lance career has lots of benefits, I miss the comradery that goes with being part of a team. As for our annual festive bash, it was always a highlight. When I express my regrets to the Nearly-Beloved, he looks baffled.

‘You couldn’t wait to leave,’ he says. ‘And besides, everyone’s been working from home for most of the last two years. As for the Christmas party – if they haven’t cancelled it yet, they’ll probably be unwrapping Omicron on the 25th December!’

I nod. Again, he’s got a point. The grass always looks greener. Until suddenly it doesn’t… Smiley Sue, who got her nickname in Y6 for her relentless positivity, doesn’t seem to have had much to smile about this year. Illness, redundancy, and enough family drama to fuel a soap opera.

As I relay the news to the Nearly-Beloved, he shrugs. ‘That’s sad,’ he says, ‘But it’s not as if you two are in touch very often.’

His comment strikes a chord and before I know it, I’ve got out my mobile and typed in Sue’s number. She’s amazed and delighted to hear from me. Once I’ve sympathised about her situation, we move on to reminiscing about our school antics and time flies by. It’s only when Grunting Teen pops his head round the door, groaning ‘I’m well hungry,’ that we end the conversation, promising to meet up in person in the new year.

As I put down the phone, I reflect on why I still send Christmas cards to people who no longer have a starring role in my life. It’s definitely a way of remembering past lives and friendships. Occasionally it’s a way of reconnecting. And it’s also a reminder that the grass on my side is actually green enough.

A special present?

With minimal shopping days left until Christmas, the Nearly-Beloved descends into panic mode. Apparently, Amazon Prime no longer guarantees delivery before the big day, so my ‘special present’ may not arrive in time. I raise an eyebrow in mock surprise. After all, I’m used to a hastily wrapped box of chocolates and wilting bouquet from the local garage. Plus, the usual ‘desperate husband’ Christmas Eve shopping spree is no longer a possibility since two of Sheffield’s go-to department stores have now closed down. Sniffing an opportunity, I suggest a day out in York. His face falls until he realises his only other option is to brave the virusy pits of Meadowhell. At least York is full of pubs…

We head for a drink to recover from the trauma of the delayed rail trip, full of the rule-defying unmasked. But pubs are safe, apparently. Omicron only inhabits public transport, shops and work spaces – it can’t handle a pint of bitter. Besides, this local hostelry is unseasonably empty. Some people at least have cancelled their Christmas parties…

As we split up and I browse the market stalls, I come across a few extras for Darling Daughter and some fun stocking fillers for Grunting Teen, who, for once, has impressed me. No need to pick up presents on his behalf this year. ‘Already sorted, mum, innit,’ he tells me, looking with an air of superiority at his dad. ‘Thanks Polly’, I whisper under my breath, knowing that this uncharacteristic preparedness is totally down to his pocket-sized girlfriend.

And although I’m not a shopper by nature, I’m enjoying this outdoor experience. Indoor retail therapy, with pandemic restrictions, simply doesn’t work for me. I’m now of an age where I need my specs to peruse any purchases. And while I can negotiate my way blindfold round the local supermarket, any unknown store presents a great risk. If bifocals and masks are involved, I only have a ten second window of opportunity before the world goes misty and I crash into the nearest display. I’ve tried snug-fitting face coverings, anti-fog lens atomisers and downwards breathing. But I’ve found from bitter experience that the suffocated, mace-spray-wielding, Darth-Vader look doesn’t go down well with in-house security guards.

At least here I can breathe easily and see where I’m going. And today there’s no rush either. I’ve already got my main gifts, bought from Sheffield independents as my way of thanking them for staying open throughout difficult times. I’ve had it with the John Lewis’s of this world. And internet shopping is currently in my bad books too, citing delivery problems to non-UK addresses. This means my Lost Boy in the Netherlands will go present-less this Christmas. Thank goodness, he’s his father’s son and hastily suggests we just have a zoom call on the day, instead of ‘sending unnecessary stuff’. And he’s right. For if nothing else, the pandemic has taught me that it’s people not presents that count. So, I’ve sent him a thoughtful card with heartfelt words of love.

Still, it’s nice to look at ‘stuff’ which differs from the ubiquitous chain store offerings. And every now and then I come across some lovely earrings or a pretty scarf that would be ideal to open on Christmas Day. I take a snap and post to the Family WhatsApp. There’s nothing like a subtle hint…

As I arrive at the station to rendezvous with the Nearly-Beloved, I wonder why he looks guilty and out of breath. Is that a box of chocolates poking out from his bag?

‘Did you buy what you needed?’ I ask.

He nods unconvincingly. And with a wife’s innate detective skills it’s not long before I uncover the truth. It so happened that rugby was on the pub’s big screen, shopping skipped his mind, and the WhatsApp photos were all in vain. Let’s hope he has some particularly well-thought-out words of love to accompany those garage flowers. And that special present had better turn out to be very special indeed …

Who’s the mug?

Today I break a mug. Not any old mug. The cheesy mug with the big red heart that the Nearly-Beloved bought me for our ‘China’ anniversary many moons ago. It may not have been the cruise along the Yangtze River I’d been hoping for but at least it was lovingly chosen…

The problem now – apart from confessing my sin – is which mug is going to replace it?

In ideal families, who live in tidy, designer homes, tea is drunk out of colour co-ordinated cups that match the palette of their kitchens. Alas, not in our household!  My kitchen cupboard is an orphanage to a motley crew of abandoned or purloined pottery. What’s more, certain mugs already have an owner and woe-betide anyone who tries to drink out of those!

Grunting Teen has staked a claim on the ‘Cadbury’s’ mug. He’s welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. It may give him the old-fashioned feel-good factor with its vintage air and authentic crack down the middle, but to me, there is something fundamentally wrong with drinking tea out of a cup that contains the word ‘chocolate’ on it.

‘Pontypool RUFC’, circa 1978, is obviously a no-go area. It came as part of my marriage vows and has a special shelf all of its own. Thank goodness I didn’t drop that! And ‘Smiley Fish’ is also out of bounds. It’s sunny in a charming Mediterranean way but, as the only non-chipped drinking vessel, it is invariably reserved for guests.                                            

Maybe I could risk the ‘Star Wars’ mug? It once held an Easter egg. But the handle has been superglued back on and I fear the Force may long since have abandoned it…

Then there’s always the cutting edge ‘German Bauhaus’ masterpiece, purchased on a whim from a museum shop in Dusseldorf. It’s cool and Teutonic. Yet its slanting design is unnerving. What’s more, it has a superior air that mocks you at the first sign of spillage.

I could resort to ‘Boring Stoneware’, the sole survivor of the class of four. But its bland respectability means I keep it in reserve for any visits by officialdom or in-laws.

Maybe ‘Psychedelic Spots’ – an heirloom from my student days – could get promoted? But on second thoughts there’s a reason why I’ve always kept it out of sight…

‘Nasty Bee’ is an obvious no. It’s the mug of last resort, usually only offered to workmen or the Nearly-Beloved when he’s in my bad books.

That leaves the assortment of plastic cups which hang out on the naughty step. They are the remnants of childhood, and have never quite grown up. ‘Teletubbies’, with its lingering smell of toddler tantrums and sticky Ribena, is an old favourite. It was such fun with its swivelling middle that I could never bear to part with it. But to drink from its slightly chewed, germ-infested rim is dicing too closely with death.

So, by process of elimination, my new mug of choice must be ‘Someone Special’.

It was given to me by one of my former students, and despite its oversentimentality, it is strong, sturdy and the only thing in the household that still appreciates me.

As I celebrate my decision with a cup of ‘Special’ tea, the door opens. The Nearly-Beloved is home. It’s time to beg his forgiveness. Underneath it all he’s quite a softie, a closet romantic. I hope he won’t be too upset about the breakage. After all, he knows how much his thoughtful gift meant to me by the very fact I managed to keep it intact and crack-free for over a decade.

But memory is a strange thing. It turns out I needn’t have worried. The man who swore he’d taken days to pick out the ideal anniversary gift looks at me in confusion. ‘That tacky, old mug?’ he asks bemused, ‘I never liked it anyway…’

The Grammy Awards

I am in post-ceremony mood. The feelings of elation have died down to be replaced by a sense of disbelief and a slight nervousness. Am I really worthy of this honour? Will I live up to the high standards expected of my fellow nominees?  I’ve never received such an accolade before. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance… Then a few weeks ago, Little Angel made her first stage appearance and I became a Grammy – an award-winning Grandmother. But do I deserve it?

This role is new to me and takes a bit of getting used to. Day 1 and I’m high on adrenaline and dopamine. Day 2 and the cortisol kicks in. There are unfortunate setbacks, a prolonged hospital stay and the realisation that I now have an extra person in the world to panic about! Thankfully, by the end of week 2, I finally get to meet my granddaughter. But, oh my goodness, she’s so tiny! And despite the fact I’ve had three children of my own, who’ve somehow survived to adulthood, I’ve totally forgotten all knowledge of babies. Even Grunting Teen, who is ‘well proud’ to be an uncle, seems more adept than me at handling this squawking creature with its wobbly head and thrashing limbs.

The Nearly-Beloved remembers his limitations and keeps a secure distance, under the pretence of taking photos. He’ll save his cuddles and come into his own once a ball is involved and kicking practice is called for. The paternity leave of the modern father is a mystery to him. In his day I suspect he found his office a welcome haven for a sneaky nap. But Super Son-in-law appears sad to be returning to work. And Darling Daughter, who’s been full of happy hormones, suddenly morphs into a blubbering mess at the news she will be home alone.

All eyes are on me, the one with the flexible job that can be fitted round general dogs-bodying and teenage taxi duties. Surely a bit of baby-sitting is not beyond me? But am I up to it? I fear not.

‘I can always ask my mother to help out…’ suggests my now Not-so-super Son-in-law, playing his trump card. Well yes, of course, Nemesis Nana would be the ideal solution – she’s already on grandchild number three. Calm, competent, cool in a crisis – she can read a story whilst supervising craft work and simultaneously cooking up a nutritious meal. I’d better tear up that acceptance speech right away…

‘No, your mum will be happy to come round,’ volunteers the Nearly-Beloved on my behalf. I smile sweetly back and vow to make him suffer.

But at 7am the next day I’m certainly not smiling. Nor is Darling Daughter who looks in need of a blood transfusion. ‘I’m just so tired,’ she sobs, thrusting a sleeping bundle at me followed by a list of instructions and a hasty exit. I sit, straight backed and rigid with Little Angel in my arms, hoping that if I don’t move, she will be none the wiser. But the moment her mother leaves the room, the abandoned one’s eyes flash open. Nemesis Nana has obviously warned her about me, as she takes one look and starts howling. I feel like howling back. But in the recess of my mind, I remember that liquid refreshment is the answer. Unfortunately, there is no gin in the cupboard. There is however, an all-singing-dancing baby espresso machine that froths up a bottle of milk in no time. And magically the howling stops to be replaced by contented sucking.

It’s all starting to come back to me. Cradle in a semi-upright position. Support the head. Even I can manage that. And yes, there’s a bit of a burping blip. And yes, the nappy changing could’ve been smoother. And yes, I may have to work on dressing skills. Still, I think Little Angel has forgiven me for sticking her feet in her sleeves and mis-popping her vest. For now, she’s snuggled up safely, all pinky-cheeked and rose-bud-mouthed.  So, whilst I may not yet have reached Nemesis-Nana’s high standards, I think I could get used to being a Grammy…

Garden Wars

I am on gardening duties, following the Nearly-Beloved’s instructions.

Or to be more precise, I am not.

‘I said dead-head not destroy! Into a pile not spread round the lawn. And why have you dug up those bulbs I plantedlast week?’

Before long I’m banished to the wasteland behind the apple tree to deal with the nettles and brambles as punishment.

You see, the Nearly-Beloved’s idea of a great garden is a neatly manicured lawn, fringed by a choreography of colourful foliage and flowers in a weed-free area. I, on the other hand, am a fan of overgrown wilderness mixed with a hint of anarchy and a splash of eccentricity. But marriage – that union of two different sides – involves compromise. And, over the years, the Garden Gestapo has taken over, chaining up my free spirit by banishing my bird boxes and silencing my wind-chimes.

I dig on until the spade hits a memory from the past – of care-free times, young children and laughter.

‘Look at this,’ I exclaim in delight, ‘that stone frog the kids used to play with. It’s lost all its colour but still got its sweet smile. Ah – happy times.’

The Nearly-Beloved does not have the same recall.

‘Bloody garden ornaments littering my lawn! Throw it away.’

But the bin seems too final for such a faithful friend.  Waiting until the Joy-killer’s gaze is distracted I find Little Frog a safe hiding spot at the side of the shed.

Continuing to dig, I realise that I’ve stumbled across a safe haven for ornamental undesirables. For there, cowering behind the brambles is Timid Mole and not far away – a chipped, moss-covered shadow of her former self – lies White Cat. And, oh my goodness, could that earless lump lying on its side, once have been our proud Lady Siamese?

Checking that all is clear, I stage another rescue, before returning innocently to my digging.

‘You’ve not come across any more of those atrocities, have you?’

I smile the smile of the oppressed who’ve suddenly been thrown a life-line.

‘No, that was the only one…’

But I know now that more rebels will seek sanctuary and before long Bouncy Bunny, who’s sacrificed his tail to the struggle, hops out of hiding and leads me to the greatest find of all – Old Brock. War-damaged, his hero stripes are no longer recognisable, but he’s all in one piece and ready to lead his battalion again.

And over the next few days, I tend to their wounds, washing off the mud and sanding them down. But how can I restore them to their former glory? It’s not safe to go out and buy paint – that would arouse too much suspicion. Instead, I make do with underground materials salvaged from the cellar. A tin of white gloss, a pot of black enamel and some long-discarded bottles of child’s poster-paint help repair the damage.

‘Sorry – it’s the best I could do,’ I apologise to Lady Siamese, whose fur is now more purple than grey and whose eyes are not the blue she was once famed for. But Little Frog is charming in green, with black spots cunningly disguising his chipped skin. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny, it has to be confessed, are a little too shiny, and Timid Mole’s features are impossible to distinguish. But Old Brock is a triumph – a call to arms!

And so, under cover of darkness, the animals take up position once more in the garden. Lady Siamese disappears under the holly bush. White Cat and Bouncy Bunny patrol behind the shed. Little Frog stands guard, unnoticed beneath the ferns, whilst Timid Mole and Old Brock are ninja shadows between the tree trunks.

Yes, they may have to wait and bide their time patiently. But it’s only a matter of when not if. For they are ready, cute and therefore unstoppable, to stage a coup when the grandchildren of the future arrive to rescue them.

Car Blindness

My next-door neighbour smiles bemusedly at me as I pretend to be searching for something on the pavement in front of her house. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money’, I mutter in explanation, as I retreat back up the road and get into my Nissan Micra. The truth is much more worrying. I have once again narrowly missed being caught trying to break into her Citroen! This is no indication of criminal tendencies, I hasten to add, but rather a severe case of ‘car blindness’. I have no notion of the different makes of car. In my eyes, a Mini and a Maserati merge in their ‘maroonness’, a Lada and a Lotus are lookalikes in lemon, and a Beetle and a Bentley blend together in blue. My brain registers the colour – red, the size – small, and the position – on the street outside my house, and concludes that the car must, therefore, belong to me.                 

My lack of automobile awareness is incomprehensible to the Nearly Beloved. When he asks me where my friend bought their new Qashqai, it takes a while to register he means a car rather than a cardigan. And then I can only recall that the colour, which was previously white, is now black.

It’s not that I’m disinterested in cars, it’s just that to me, their prime function is to get from A to B without breaking down. This lesson was taught me by my very first purchase (metallic, small, terrified of hills), with its dodgy handbrake. It had multiple health problems and often needed emergency care. If only I had concentrated on prevention, rather than cure! Looking after the lights, testing the tyres and organising the oil all seemed too strict a regime to follow until one day little ‘Goldie’ went into cardiac arrest on the motorway, with steam billowing from her bonnet. The AA paramedics arrived, gave her a Castrol transfusion, and then towed her away, warning me I would need to drastically improve my nursing skills. But instead, I outsourced Engine NHS to my more mechanically minded other-half.

Delightful Daughter despairs of me, complaining, ‘You’re hardly an advert for Girl Power, are you mum?’ She, in contrast, is a competent modern woman, known for jump-starting batteries, replacing windscreen wipers and keeping an eye on her treads. She’s a serial motoring monogamist, treating her rides with respect so they stick with her for the long haul.

I, however, am always parting company with my fickle means of transport. With Goldie in the morgue, I headed to the Motor Maternity Unit and returned with ‘Girl Racer’ (sporty, go-faster stripes, always up for a burn out). She was a party animal but fell in with a bad crowd. Late one night she ran off with a gang of joy-riders and was found head-first in a wall.

‘Hand-me-down’, my father’s old car (blue, solid, good in tight spots) replaced her. But whilst dependable, he couldn’t cope with the demands of a growing family and was forced out by ‘Family Beast’ (black, 7-seater ‘don’t mess with me’ giant). I have to admit, I shed a tear when he was lost at sea in a freak flash flood.

The compensation received stretched only as far as ‘Mr Make-do’ (dull, grey, uninspiring). There was no love lost between us. He never forgave me for allowing the children to treat him as a waste paper bin, reversing him into a skip, or scraping his sides in the multi-storey car park. In revenge, his electrics blew up and I spent a chilly winter with my windows never fully closing, before I finally traded him in for ‘Mum’s Taxi’ (red, reliable, easier to spot). She’s served me well through three adolescences as a moving, metal confessional where secrets inadvertently get spilled.

So far Grunting Teen has kept his lips tightly sealed. He doesn’t give much away on our car journeys, just gripping the door handle and occasionally slamming his right foot down in the door well. But he appreciates the lifts so refuses to join his father in laughing at me when I swear ‘car blindness’ is a ‘disability’ not something I have made up.

In the end, I resort to taking photos of where I last parked so I can distinguish ‘Mum’s Taxi’ from all the Doppelgangers on the street. It’s only when the next-door neighbour knocks into me that I realise I’m not the only one suffering from this problem. ‘Can I just get past you to my car?’ I ask.

‘Yes, of course,’ she replies standing up red-faced. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money, that’s all.’