Darling Buds

May 1st

D-Day! No, not the liberation of Nazi occupied Europe but the end of Daughter No 2's subjugation to her MA dissertation and quickly followed, we hope, by the landing of a job commensurate with the very commendable efforts (and expense) of the past 2 years. As unofficial proof reader, I must say I enjoyed my small part in the project and if anyone would like to know more about the artistic/historical/social and political significance of costumes worn in the music hall ballets of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, I can recommend a good read. And now I can indulge my passion for all things floral and search out a suitable outfit for her convocation to be held in the Royal Albert Hall at the end of June. As it seems unlikely that we will be funding any weddings in the near future, I might even buy a hat!

May 3rd

Drop William off at the cattery in a caravan. I have taken his Wal-Mart blanket for extra comfort but find that no bed is provided and that all the other inmates are snugly - and smugly - nesting on beanbags provided by their better informed parents. Drive home and return with the Wal-Mart beanbag which is, of course, too big and threatens to engulf the litter tray. Leave the nice lady in charge to sort things out while William vainly attempts to catch a glimpse, through the frosted window, of a rather disgruntled horse in an adjoining field. Good job we're only away for the weekend.

May 4th

Arrive at our old stomping ground, the Travel Lodge, Hickstead for a weekend spent exploring Mid Sussex and visiting daughters in Brighton. After a detailed exploration of Burgess Hill and a whistle stop tour of Haywards Heath, we proceed to Kemptown for Thai curry and the chance to enjoy a live performance from singer/songwriter Daughter Number 3. She has a new song "What does it feel like (to be a mother)?" Well, keep reading, Darlin' and all will become clear. And, yes, I did shed a tear.

May 7th

Early May Bank Holiday but not for us as we arise early so I can fetch William (and the exiled beanbag) from the cattery ("Isn't he handsome, and so good") without paying for an extra day and Brian can pack for his trip to Brazil. At 4 pm he is still waiting for his lift to the airport where his flight leaves at 5.30pm.. William and I wave him off and then immerse ourselves in Deal or No Deal. By the time we get to Corrie we realise we have heard nothing more from Brian and assume he has at least made it as far as Paris. Tres bien.

May 8th

Unexpected return to the fold of Daughter No 2 as Boyfriend No 2 aka Danger Mouse has revealed his true colours and morphed into Roland Rat. Although secretly smarting from being branded "intimidating"* (if you thought that before, just try me now, Buster!) I refrain from any "I told you so's" and instead make appropriate soothing noises which seem to help. Brian, who doesn't do emotion, is doubtless congratulating himself on having escaped to another continent although he may muster a little indignation when he learns that he was the prospective father in law with no "joie de vivre"* That's funny, as William was remarking just the other day how often he enriches our lives with his merry quips and jolly japes. Daughter No 2 departs for Brighton and commiseration from No 1. I hope she fares better than me. Call me old-fashioned but in my day, "What do you want?" was not the preferred greeting when your mother rings up, even if you have just had a run in with the man from the PRU.

* For those without the benefit of private education, a translation from Posh to Daily Mail speak: "Your Mum's a ball-breaker and your Dad's a miserable git". Always refreshing to learn how one is perceived by others....

May 10th

We are glad to see the back of him. He was a huge disappointment, a fraud, an impostor, a sheep in wolf's clothing. I refer, of course, to Tony Blair, slavish follower of celebrity and trans Atlantic fashion who thinks we are the greatest nation in the world but wishes us luck for a future where the sky grows ever darker as the pigeons he launched 10 years ago come home to roost. Not even those gathered at Trimdon Labour Club seemed particularly enthused. In fact, you'd have thought some of them were there for a funeral....

May 12th

We come second to last in the excruciating spectacle that is the Eurovision Song Contest with votes from Ireland and Malta only. Not so great amongst our nearest neighbours then Tone, not that I wish to be associated in any way with our representatives, the execrable "Scooch" which sounds like something our female cat used to do across the dining room carpet when her anal glands were playing up.

May 13th

A good friend arrives from Canada. The rain, which began around the Bank Holiday and put paid to my wisteria, pom pom tree and prolific purple clematis flourishing almost unseen behind an overweening hebe, continues unabated so we eat a late lunch, chat, drink some wine, chat, read the papers, chat, eat some chocolate, chat, watch TV, chat, fall asleep. Sunday, perfect Sunday.

May 15th

As the dismal weather continues and I don't even have to hose down the garden I feel justified in indulging in rather more telly than I can usually squeeze into my action-packed week. I have already mentioned Deal or no Deal which had started in the States before I left and to which I had paid no attention. Over the last couple of weeks I have become hooked not so much by the game itself but by the interaction of the contestants who are holed up in a hotel together for 3 or more weeks at a time (not a feature of the American version). Jokes are made, endearments exchanged and tears shed all of which is rather touching, heart-warming even, until you remind yourself that this is a concept based on avarice and seduction of the "something for nothing" gamble and it then appears in a somewhat different light. "Distasteful" is a prissy and uptight expression of disapproval but am I tempted to apply it to several other programmes such as How to Look Good Naked compered by the eerily androgynous Gok (get your bangers out) Wan, Sex - with Mum and Dad (parents and teenagers swop tips) and, perhaps worst of all, Virgin School. This last offering featured a sadly inadequate 26 year old man who had apparently confused sex with love (and who can blame him?) and thought that his virginity was preventing him from finding "a meaningful relationship". So off he goes (funded, presumably, by the excellent Channel Four as his only job was delivering the local free newspaper) to Amsterdam (surprise, surprise) where a trio of ladies of a certain age kindly take him in hand - and, ultimately, other body parts. Strangely, for someone so intent on experiencing "the full Monty", our subject seemed to have very little sex drive and was apparently not even "making love with himself". The resultant expose was, in my jaundiced view, deeply sad for all concerned, prurient and ultimately unnecessary as his sexual awakening did not result in his finding a girlfriend but only a job at the local cinema which, while arguably an improvement on pushing round a shopping trolley full of unwanted newsprint, would not sufficiently elevate his standing to deflect the negative reaction (i.e. bullying) that his participation in this programme will surely engender.

While broadcasting standards are dropping quicker than the nations' knickers (see Embarrassing Illnesses, Channel Four May 17th) I have taken comfort (and I dare to suspect I will not be alone) from the internet revelation earlier this week: to wit "oral sex causes oesophageal cancer" Perhaps I could now be allowed one very small "I told you so"?

May 16th

So General Sir Richard Dannatt has now decided what most of us already knew: it is far too dangerous to send Prince Harry to Iraq. At least our armed forces or their leaders are consistent. Neither the navy nor the army seems to be able to think ahead and project the consequences of their actions until they are set out in front of them, and all the world. Thank Goodness here, at least, second thoughts have prevailed. The pity is that Price Harry was ever allowed to believe that he could serve as a regular soldier. This disappointment may yet have serious consequences if this volte-face fuels Harry's disaffection to the life of public yet circumscribed duty for which he is destined.

May 18th

William (Merchant not Prince) is not pleased with me and is spending a lot of time outside either harassing a stripy cat from over the back or being in turn intimidated by a black and white fellow from 2 doors down whose enormous neck bell means he has to face down every cat in the street before they notice his tragic lack of street cred. I know very well why William is cross. We have not had the alone time I promised except for a blissful 24 hours between female visitors. Shortly after the departure of Daughter Number 2, we were settling down in our usual positions at either end of the big sofa facing the telly when he paused and gave me a long, thoughtful look. Crossing the usually jealously monitored divide, he pressed his body along the length of my thigh (swoon) and then completely took my breath away by laying his lovely head in my lap and gazing upwards in total, unmistakable adoration. So what, I hear you cry and maybe I detect a faint Yuck from the other side of the Pond? But this was a ground breaking, nay earth-moving event. William is not and never has been a lap cat. When drowsy he will permit, even invite, the gentle blowing of raspberries on his irresistible spotty tum but otherwise affection is neither actively sought nor given. I sat perfectly still, even ignoring 2 phone calls, which were probably from Brian offshore Brazil, while I pondered my incredible good fortune. At first I assumed this was a gesture of solidarity in acknowledgement of the emotional turmoil of preceding days but, although I will defend William's character to my last breath, I have to admit he is not the world's greatest empathiser and will usually run a mile (or at least as far as the nearest closet) at the first whiff of overcooked emotion. And then, gazing into those gorgeous green pools, the penny dropped. This was jealousy, simple if not very pure. William was blatantly re-establishing himself as Number 1. Not Cat Number One, you understand but my Number One priority. As an only child my status in our small family was something I never had to question - not always a good thing perhaps and an experience which left me very slow to interpret the dynamics at work in my new family of five (or six or seven and, once, briefly but very memorably, eleven depending on the number of cats) But now all was clear, in particular, William's immediate and determined antipathy towards Brian. With the exception of the sainted Timothy Ambrose, our very first pre-daughters family addition, it is long established family lore that Brian is jealous of the cat(s) so why had it never occurred to me that it could work in reverse? Well, boys, I'd say the scales are pretty evenly weighted. While I will be very happy to welcome Brian safely home from his Brazilian adventure, I don't think either of us is in any doubt about who I'd rather have snuggled up against my thigh, especially whilst squirming through yet another "Desperate Virgins" mocumentary.

May 20th

The conquering hero returns fresh (or as fresh as you can be after 24 hours of travel) from the delights of Rio and the sights of Copacabana or have I got that the wrong way round. I easily win my bet with the Good Friend as within the hour he is trawling the house for anything that has dared to misbehave in his absence but finds only a failed light bulb in the study so it is the turn of the garden to be razed and pruned into submission. Fortunately, the reduction of the leaves of the pom pom tree to fragile lace by a plague of voracious black caterpillars and the mysterious demise of a hitherto rudely healthy purple clematis on the back fence trellis (aka William's handy access to stripy cat territory) go undetected.

May 23rd

The application of eye make-up to no longer adequately functioning orbs poses something of a conundrum. Keep your specs on and you can see where to put it but can't reach the area. Take them off and the results are, well, not good. Apart from the time that I, one early (ie pre noon) morning in a dimly lit bathroom, applied blue eyeliner instead of brown pencil and unwittingly caused the check out lady at our local HEB supermarket to fear that aliens had landed in Spring, I can just about manage the eyebrows which remain stubbornly white-blond with the interesting addition of some super long, super wiry ginger Viking throw back whiskers. These I can manage to subdue with tweezers as they are easily identified in a bright light with the aid of my very best specs and a magnifying mirror. Overall maintenance, however, has to be delegated to the professionals. Back in the UK I have so far found no-one to equal the ruthlessly efficient Vietnamese Wal-Mart franchisees who had them hot waxed into shape in the twinkling (or watering) of an eye and all for $7 including tip (3.50 at today's exchange rate). British beauticians are far too tentative and although the experience may be less nerve wracking, the results simply do not last so that within the week I'm hunting for my specs to find the tweezers and by the end of the month bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dennis Healey's long-lost love child.

Saturday 26th May

Another Holiday weekend, a phrase full of promise so rarely fulfilled. Already the dice are stacked with a doleful weather forecast (rain, wind and more rain) and my hopes of a productive and mutually satisfying session of house and garden improvement have been well and truly dashed as my petition for the attachment of some inoffensive half-moon baskets to a section of unattractively barren garden fence has received a reception commensurate with a demand for the instant erection of an all singing, all dancing conservatory - or orangery as I believe they are now known in the Hyacinth Bucket social set. This does not bode well for the installation of the new ceramic kitchen sink, the purchase of which ran into difficulties when our expectation that the sales assistant might know a bit more about his products than how to enter an order into the computer was met with mulish indifference. Even this all too common frustration, however, did not induce the levels of stress engendered by my innocent suggestion that we might also replace the standard bath taps with a slightly more sophisticated configuration which would no longer necessitate the employ of an old plastic measuring jug every time I want to rinse my hair. In the face of this totally outrageous demand the man who once installed a whole central heating system in our Victorian starter home and re-plumbed two bathrooms in our previous house, beat a retreat to the backyard and (William's) garden bench for ten minutes mind-calming contemplation before beating the bounds of Onceuponafarm Estate in running vest and trainers, after which I was allowed to make his tea. Tonight we are invited to join friends at a local restaurant. We'll try not to turn it into a kitchen sink drama but if the flow of eau de vie doesn't allow us to tap into any bonhomie, we'll just have to force it, won't we?


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