Wednesday 5th September
The birthday of Daughter Number One. The card and cheque are already dispatched and Numbers 2 and 3 in charge of celebrations so we can relax. I also have a job interview but have to postpone as labyrinthitis shows no sign of moving on. Brian and I have much sought after tickets for the Police reunion concert in Birmingham tonight which is posing a bit of a conundrum as neither of us is really fit to drive. In the end, inevitably, Brian takes the wheel and says he is fine although a tight manoeuvre in the multi-story car park obviously causes pain. After a reasonable meal at Café Rouge - free of charge as it took 75 minutes to arrive - we get settled in the concert venue for an evening which will make us both proud and sadly ashamed to be British. The Police were fantastic; sharp and energetic with some complementary arrangements of so many blood-stirring, evergreen songs. During the support which featured one Joe Sumner (competent if somewhat derivative) two "gentlemen" of a similar age to ourselves took their seats immediately behind us and began to talk at full volume either to one another or into their mobile phones, employing sickening overuse of the nation's favourite Anglo-Saxon adjective. Of one accord, Brian and I turned and asked them very politely to "keep it down". There was no immediate response but in the interval one half of the duo announced in plangent and unmistakably confrontational tones that he had permission from his wife (via mobile phone) to "f*****g enjoy myself and annoy anyone I want to as long as I don't f*****g swear". At that moment The Police took the stage so we were spared the opportunity to make any response as they swung into "Message in a Bottle" which the one without conjugal carte blanche proceeded to bellow, word perfect, into my left ear thus rendering Sting totally superfluous. Two or three ruined numbers later I hit on the innovative and totally effective strategy of curling my A3 sized £10 ($20) programme into a sort of Elizabethan collar around my neck and aforementioned ear and, hey presto Sting, was restored and lout obliterated. With some small trepidation I awaited reprisals but none was forthcoming and after a particularly spirited rendition of "DE DO DO DO, DE DA DA DA" which had me boogying in the aisle, I heard him mutter "I f*****g hate that song" and then take his exit, apparently piqued that he and his sidekick had not succeeded in ruining our enjoyment of £80 seats, the amusement of disaffected 15 year olds, not apparently well to do 55 year olds with an obvious if mystifying appreciation of the work of one greatest songsmiths of the late 20th Century. Would this have happened in Texas? I strongly doubt it. We went to gigs all over Houston and Austin from the Cynthia Woods Pavilion (where we saw Sting) to the Continental Club, from Austin City Limits in Zilker Park to Hayes Carll at the Saxon Pub and never met with even the slightest discourtesy or bad vibe. Reason for quitting the UK - could be. It certainly ranks way above front loading washers and miserly integrated fridge/freezers.
Monday 17th September
Shock and possibly horror - I have got a job! Yesterday I was so poorly I had come to the reluctant conclusion that I would have to cry off the interview at the last moment, not a strategy which I would normally endorse. However, at 6 am this morning I felt stable and strangely calm so decided to show my face as promised. My only objective was to get through the morning, which featured not only an interview but also the observed teaching of a bottom Year 9 (8th Grade) science set, without making a complete fool of myself. Afterwards, whilst fairly confident that I would still be able to hold my head up amongst the good burghers of Middletown and anticipating my escape to a self-congratulatory coffee and cake in an oft patronised town centre purveyor of such refreshment, I had not the slightest expectation of being offered the post, still less of accepting. Perhaps I only did it for the enjoyment of the look of total stupefaction on Brian's face and the not dissimilar reaction of some, but certainly not all, of those with whom I shared this startling news. Perhaps I did it for myself and in solidarity with my daughters, all of whom are now contributing, in one way or another, to "the education of our nation". Whatever, I'm off to Primark in search of some trendy but inexpensive working girl apparel. As Brian cautioned, "Don't go spending too much, will you? You know, just in case....."
Thursday 20th September
Family solidarity has been uppermost in my mind for several weeks now. Back in August, Brian and I spent a week on the Weardale/Cumbria border enjoying the generous loan of his cousin's holiday cottage although it was actually my family we had come to research. The exploration of various overgrown churchyards and bleak rambles along the source of the South Tyne proved more confirmatory than revelatory whilst my admiration for my matriarchal forbears, in particular the 2 Elizabeths, my great and great, great Grandmothers, who successfully raised 11 and 9 children respectively whilst farming that inimical terrain was raised to new heights. On my return, and in somewhat topsy-turvy fashion, I offered up the family name to Google and was immediately directed to an Australian website where a very distant relation had meticulously excavated the family history to its French and Irish roots and, of particular interest to me, documented the fortunes of my 4 great, great uncles who emigrated to Charters Towers, Queensland, then a gold-mining mecca, in the 1880s and 90s. A rather thrilling e mail correspondence led to an exchange of old photographs, some from Australia labelled "Unknown, can you identify?" Sadly, it seemed as if the response would have to be a negative or at least unsure until the last photo which, totally unexpectedly, had me screaming and crying with joy. (much to the alarm of visiting Daughter Number 2, engrossed in the, to unenlightened old me, superfluous mysteries of Facebook in her bedroom). It was a family portrait of 6 redoubtable Edwardian ladies and there in centre back was the unmistakably beautiful, fatefully melancholy, face of my Grandma, Phoebe Alice, aged approximately 21. The other ladies were her five elder sisters, Ester, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah Jane all of whom, apart from next in line, "Auntie Jennie", had died long before I was born but about whom I had heard so many stories from my mother. Not all of these stories were happy ones to say the least and often encompassed petty feuds and jealousies which, possibly unintentionally, caused suffering to other family member, my mother amongst them. Coincidentally, I had recently found myself in the middle of a similar situation involving my only 2 remaining blood relatives on this side of the family and was, in my virus-weakened state, rapidly running out of patience. But now I strongly felt that the reappearance of this photo, which I never knew existed, was a message not to give up and when I heard the story behind it survival I was convinced. The photo was taken at a studio in Newcastle upon Tyne, sometime in the early 1900s and sent to the uncles in Australia, which one(s) I don't know. Some 15 years ago a lady with the same family name but not a member of our clan was researching her roots and fell into conversation with the owner of a junk shop in Charter Towers. He unearthed a box, presumably from a house clearance, which contained several photos with this family name written on the back. They meant nothing to her and she passed them on to my distant cousin whom she had met in the course of her research. He could not identify them either (I think but cannot prove that at least one other also features 4 generations of my family) but kept them in an archive until he heard from me, out of the blue, last month. And for once, I encountered a man who endorsed these "irrational" sentiments as my cousin movingly wrote to me "What once was lost, is now found. Your grandmother and her sisters have found their rightful home". With Brian's generous and tenacious support, I am happy to say that my current family rift, if not healed, is at least heading towards a more satisfactory resolution and I hope the Elizabeths, who strove so hard, in the face of so many hardships and strikes of Fate, to nurture their families - this family - will give us their blessing.
Tuesday 25th September
Of course William has not been impressed by the hours I have spent exclaiming over sepia-tinted images on the computer screen. In fact he has not been impressed by life in general lately. At the end of last week he was once again obliged to visit the cattery for a couple of days. Although I had been scrupulous not to reveal the travelling basket, bean bag or WalMart blanket in advance of our departure, he had obviously been earwigging and therefore ready with a BAFTA winning performance as the cat who is too ill to go to the cattery. Unfortunately he had pulled this stroke once before so was then obliged to dig even deeper into his thespian repertoire and give an Oscar winning performance as the cat who appears to have died on the way to the cattery. Once at the farm and in the main enclosure for once not the caravan, curiosity, the bane of every feline, got the better of him so he then segued into the re-enactment of a New Testament parable, although not carrying his own bed which was uncomfortably wedged underneath my left arm along with chequebook and vaccination certificates. Arising from my own couch at some unearthly hour on the Saturday morning in order to retrieve him before the till rang up another day's bed and board, I surprised him snogging with the proprietor, Janette, and was therefore hard pushed to make the requisite regretful noises about her imminent retirement. Later in the day I was tempted to make some very uncomplimentary comments about the cleanliness of her establishment when I discovered numerous flea-bite scabs the length and breadth of My (perfidious) Darling's hitherto unsullied tum. To my knowledge, William has never, ever, hosted a parasite of any description and despite intensive combing spraying and the employ of inspection skills honed to perfection on Tim, Dylan, George, and Morris, not to mention repeatedly nit-infested daughters, I was unable to identify, let alone capture, the malefactor. All I can think is that it struck while he was deeply asleep on the over-sized, super luxurious pet bed and overdosed on the plentiful supply of virgin blood to the point of self-immolation. Let's hope so because once it turns its attentions to Brian, the misery of labyrinthitis will be as nothing to the bashing my poor ears will undoubtedly receive. Fleas or no fleas, I'm not frit cos my friend and I have to make the most of our last carefree days together.....