Time Marches on

Monday 5th March

OK, so I caved in and have been out and about in the Pretender. I'm glad we got it, so there. Driving around Middletown is hazardous: horse, ducks, a trillion roundabouts, scandalously deep and unmarked potholes and some impatient so n'so forever glued to your rear bumper. UK drivers, not all of course, but a sizeable and I fear increasing minority, are rude, selfish and potentially very dangerous. Some of the stunts I've witnessed (by mature drivers, not just kids) have taken my breath away. Why are we in such a hurry? In my book, it would have to be a pretty dire emergency to cause me to drive at 50mph on the wrong side of the road from the big roundabout to my house on Onceuponafarm Estate, some 500 metres away. Oddly, although there was usually a freeway collision on the news most evenings, I felt much safer on the road in Texas than I do in Ruralshire and yes, I had the real McCoy not a Pretender, the roads were much wider and traffic generally slower but drivers were also more cavalier, making U turns at the drop of a stetson, exiting the freeway across 4 or 5 lanes at the very last minute, overtaking from both sides (a legal manoeuvre). The difference, I think, was that if they could do these things it was also expected that you could and probably would do the same and should also be accommodated. I witnessed no episodes of road rage in Texas but when you know that any driver might legally be carrying a shotgun on the dash (board), I guess you are pretty careful about where you stick your fingers.

Wednesday 7th March

Went swimming again today. I love to swim so why am I so lazy about going to the pool? Of course the bits that come before and, more pertinently, after the immersion are not much fun, especially if you arrive just after the Lower Fourth Hockey Eleven have left their mark on the premises. I am a good swimmer; it is the only sport at which I've ever shone (north eastern girls' grammar school junior champion 1967) and I can still give the lunch time punters a run for their money. Technically, I suppose, that should be a breaststroke but it will only leave me open to misinterpretation and give Brian the opportunity to point out that you certainly get more pounds for your penny these days. Some chaps, although obviously not those who feel short changed because their wives only looked like Twiggy's second cousin for the first 20 years of their marriage, might consider it a bonus.

Friday 9th March

William went to the vets today for his boosters. We had some explaining to do. "No, he didn't go to America, after all. County Durham seemed a kinder fate". We drove in the Fiesta to placate Brian who thought we might have difficulty parking the Pretender (as if, in another life I was Reginald Molehusband! I am rather fond of the word "Mole" and the little creatures themselves but I dare say I wouldn't be if they were digging up my lawn although they can excavate as many golf courses as they please. In Houston I was initially horrified to find jars of Mole Sauce on the supermarket shelves - well, it was dark brown - and the other day I bought a skirt which was alarmingly described on the receipt as "distressed mole". I think I could have had them under the Trade Descriptions because it was obviously, and reassuringly, synthetic. Back at the vets, William behaved in exemplary fashion, submitting with his usual sang-froid to the prodding, poking and jabbing but with rather less equanimity to the dental examination which revealed some heavy plaque deposits and general gum retraction. Where have I heard this before? At least he will undergo his ordeal with the benefit of general anaesthetic; in Houston my rotten British teeth were comprehensively, ruthlessly and exorbitantly root planed after the administration of only a "local" which left me dribbling like a stroke victim for days.

It is a good job that William has been "boosted" as he is off to the cattery in a couple of weeks while we visit old friends in their new south coast pad. Sadly our very favourite cat hostelry had closed down in our absence with boarding accommodation now converted to summerhouse and personal gym - business must have been good. On the recommendation of his former landlady, I have booked William into the "Fur Inn", cattery and small animal hotel, which I fervently hope will not prove to be, as suggested by Daughter No 1, a fraudulent feline B&B establishment run by Cruella de Ville. Brian says he will pay twice the going rate if it is. I wonder if they do a nice line in skirts?

Monday 12th March

Just returned from dropping Daughter No 3 at the station. Actually she drove herself and did a pretty good job after an almost 4 year lay off just weeks after passing her test. She even coped magisterially with a nasty little Chav in a sports version Smart car who thought he would pull out where he had no business to be and then mouth unkind words through the windscreen when she refused to give way. Her father and I really enjoyed her fleeting visit and so, surprisingly, did the usually visitor phobic Mr William but then it was No 3 who begged to rescue him from a dank and gloomy RSPCA barn one miserably cold February day an incredible 6 years ago.

I wonder if he remembers those cosy evenings, contentedly watching and apparently enjoying the carousel of animal antics (drinking, fighting, mating, rejecting of offspring) which is Eastenders from his cradle in the crook of her elbow? As far as I am aware, he has not shown much interest in the box since those early days but the other night the sad plight of an alpha male ring-tailed lemur suffering from the very worst case of coitus interruptus united William and both his parents in total fascination around the big new, shiny, fits in the Texan entertainment centre armoire by a whisker, TV. Although perfectly cognisant of his Mama's love and sympathy for certain big eyed, stripy, priapic- tailed creatures, William was truly amazed at the extreme empathetic reaction provoked by this sad depiction of thwarted desire. Even more puzzling was the Lodger's determination to maintain an air of studied indifference as his other half was variously overcome by uncontrollable shaking, periodic choking and fat, splashy tears which rolled unchecked down her oddly smiling cheeks.

Tuesday 13th March

This morning's discovery, beneath the guest bed, of an elderly and terminally flaccid banana brought an unwelcome reminder of a new and uninhibited behavioural trait in the young women of this family which, even as a reasonably broad-minded mother of many years' experience, I find particularly unpalatable. During her recent short visit, like Daughter No 1 before her, No 3 brought along a small food parcel containing an apple, an orange, the (rejected) banana and packet of oat cakes (No 1, never noted for fiscal prudence, had included not only the aforementioned items in her essential extras but also an avocado pear, 2 lemons, a generous lump of root ginger and a selection of herbal tea bags). I now know that these dietary supplements have their origins in a culinary calumny and (sub)urban myth which has besmirched my good name as mother, to wit that I fed my growing offspring a monotonous and malnutritious diet of pizza and chips; a heinous act of maternal abuse which has been held responsible for every adolescent heartbreak from spots and puppy fat to the shape of their cheekbones and colour of their hair. Have they forgotten all those vegetable cobblers, chilli sin carne, tuna fish lasagnes and endless Chicken Tonight casseroles accompanied (at their request) by mountains of roast potatoes and vitamin packed green veggies with which I succoured my picky brood? Not to mention the pies, crumbles and Eve's puddings (made with our very own fruit) which were so irresistible that even a passing stray Ginger Tom was inspired to break down a locked cat flap and excavate a crater in the billowing golden sponge, a crime initially laid at the door of a righteously indignant Daughter No 3 - it was totally obvious she couldn't possibly have fitted through the cat flap, not on a mother-imposed diet of unrelieved saturated fat. And what if pizza and chips were served on the one day of the week when, after a full day's work, I was on taxi duty to piano lessons, swimming club and the essential and oh so laborious Duke of Edinburgh Award (which, I am now scornfully informed, no-one in university admissions gives a **** about anyway) - OK, guilty as charged, so shoot me. Being a Mum is not the doddle some people like to imagine. Being a Mother (as designated by Daughter No 2 on the day she entered the 6th form (11th Grade) and her elder sister left home thus allowing her to reclaim her usurped birthright as Head Daughter and instigate a new Soviet-style era of filial repression - "not that dress, Mother") is even tougher. What, I wonder, when she arrives tomorrow for some well deserved Master's dissertation R&R, will No 2 be bringing in her personal survival kit? Given her admirable propensity for thrift and efficiency, I'm hoping it will prove nothing more threatening than an economy-sized sized jar of multi-vitamins.*

Wednesday 14th March

So the UK is going legally carbon reductive. A smug Tony Blair received congratulations from scarily robotic Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over satellite link on BBC TV. And no, Tony will not be driven around in smaller, more environmentally friendly vehicles in future and he will certainly not be giving up his (celebrity sponsored) foreign holidays but sacrifices have been made: the room from which he was speaking in 10 Downing street is now lit by exclusively energy saving light bulbs. Well, whoopee-do. Until comparatively recently, I had spent the whole of my married life groping my way around older houses barely illuminated by low wattage light bulbs and "warmed" by central heating systems either installed or modified by my dear husband to produce water which was not only not hot enough to scald a child (v. good) but also inadequate in both temperature and quantity to provide a modest bath or shower lasting more than five minutes (v.v. bad and, in the case of Daughter No 2, almost bad enough to instigate a Daughter/Father divorce). I have patiently stood over toilets which refused to flush completely and whose cisterns took forever to refill and (perversely) been long denied the benefits of double glazing and also electrically powered gardening tools which, when they did eventually materialise, mysteriously became a male only preserve. In Dec 2003 we moved (in anticipation of our further removal to Houston, the unreconstructed capital of energy squandering excess) to an almost new house, just the kind of property which we had hitherto derided and despised. And Lo, there was light, in every room, lovely bright dazzling light which left us blinking like, well, distressed moles and all pervading warmth, enough hot water for half a dozen luxurious immersions (and no-one was maimed) instantly re-filling toilets and, above all, a deep, eerie quiet. And all at less expense to both our personal pocket and the ozone layer. I don't know, notorious softie that I am, if I could go back to "period" living, all it's many aesthetic charms not withstanding, and probably won't be allowed to anyway (Brian hopes he never has to paint another original soft wood window for the rest of his life). Always on the dainty side, compared to T Blair Esq's, our current carbon footprint must be the size of William's paw print- and we won't mention the 3 years of transatlantic flights and the 40 mile V8 powered trips just to share a cup of coffee and a chat, will we?

Friday 16th March

I have bought a pair of jeans. Like so many things in life, it seemed a good idea at the time even if they did come in a size which I never imagined would ever grace my wardrobe. Even at my skinniest, I have never been a fan of body hugging denim and certainly never wore jeans in steamy Houston where, of course, they were regulation dress for the entire male and much of the female population. My inclination has always been to remain a loose woman. In the shop the jeans seemed surprisingly comfortable and even, as Daughter Number 3 kindly confirmed, "quite slimming". After just five minutes of wear, however, the usual problem made itself know as my crotch sank gradually but inexorably, Kevin-like, towards my knees. You see, although I have somehow acquired a Texas sized butt I have yet managed to retain a waist of more restrained English proportions and jeans large enough to accommodate the former leave an irritatingly large gap around the latter. The addition of a belt didn't seem to improve matters much and, I'm afraid, having attracted unwanted attention whilst surreptitiously hitching up my pants in Sainsbury's car park, (although revealing nothing more inflammatory than the waist band of my serviceable M&S black cotton knickers) the new jeans will be quietly laid to rest, alongside their many fallen comrades of the Inch War, in the charity shop bin bag. Recycling; I wonder what Tone and Arne do with their cast-off designer duds? Mine, by the way, were from Bon Marche and you don't need GCSE French to know what that means- easy on the bank cred, instant death to street cred.

*It was a sachet of drinking chocolate. Now that's my girl!

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