House moves and Hospitals

Nearly ten years ago Steve and I moved our family to a cottage in the country. It was the move from hell and we nearly bankrupt ourselves by bridging for a year. We didn’t mean to, but the people who wanted to buy our house decided that they didnt want it the minute the bridging was secured. It took a year to find a new buyer.

We’ve moved again.

Most people put their houses on the market in the spring in the hope of securing a sale by summer. They can then move at a time when it wont matter if all the doors are wide open to the elements, theres a chance that children wont miss any school, and they will be able to start new schools at the beginnning of the academic year.

We didn’t do that. We never do.

We have just moved across three counties to live on the border of Wales. We intended to move before Christmas… as did the rest of the people in our chain, but one thing after another went wrong and the whole deal nearly collapsed twice. The solicitors and surveyors then had Christmas off, and I honestly think the move was held together by estate agents who would be snapped up if they ever wanted a career change into therapy, and my husband. I remember a conversation with the estate agent here on the border (whom I still haven’t met).

‘There are a few problems this end and ****** is getting a bit fed up. She told me shes thinking of pulling out,’ he said. (The wife of the couple.)

‘What?! You can’t mean that!’ (House of my dreams, there isn’t another one like it… etc.etc.)

‘They’re doing their best but problems keep arising.’

‘I’ve had my house packed up for a month, we’re sitting here surrounded by boxes, we cant do Christmas, and my son is supposed to be at school! Maybe I’ll pull out!’

‘Calm down, they won’t pull out. Go and have a cup of coffee, and when you move here we’ll have a cup of coffee together. Everyones just a bit panicky.’

‘Make mine a gin.’

Clearly it all came together in the end, but that was in no small part due to Steve racing around the south of England getting people to sign things and then delivering them to the correct places, because everyone else was celebrating Christmas. To add to the confusion, and because we were supposed to move earlier, no one had phone lines, internet or post. The post had been redirected, and because some of us are up hills a few people didnt have mobile connections. A few people still haven’t.

It was chaos, even the solicitors said it was one of the most difficult moves they’d dealt with.

Three weeks ago the lorries were finally packed with all our worldly goods at 6am so that we could beat the motorway rush hour, the removal people had our approval that they had emptied the property, and a little convoy of four lorries (we carry a load of rubbish around) and three cars headed off from the cottage onto the M4, in the dark, with blizzards approaching from the west. The lorries had plans of their own which majorly involved breakfast, so Steve, me and the boys (and the dog), wandered west at our own pace.

We travelled for an hour and then stopped at a service station for breakfast. It was empty, and it felt as though we were out of school without permission (well, the boys were!) We giggled over plates loaded with sausages, bacon, hash browns, eggs, beans, orange juice and buckets of coffee. During one giggle I sat bolt upright.

‘Whats the matter?’ asked Steve.

‘Did you tell the men to load the freezer in the garage? (Shifting blame madly because I’d agreed the property was empty from the front seat of the car.)

‘No. Did you?’ (Shifting blame back.)

‘Oh my goodness! We’ve left the freezer!’

This freezer was bought in a sale. Its six feet long, and the men had said they’d load it last so that it stayed plugged in for longer. We’d left it…. but that was just the beginning.

Ben left his mobile phone at the service station as we rushed out, and when we got to the new house we couldn’t get in. As is quite usual, we sat outside waiting for completion and wondering what to do about the bloody freezer. Eventually completion occured, the boys, the dog, me and loads of removal men went in, and Steve went back up the M4 to collect a freezer and a mobile phone.

We moved in.

A few days later Steve and I were having lunch in a local pub when he got a call from our estate agents. The people moving in to our beloved cottage had left it empty for a few days for building work to be carried out. They thought there was nothing to steal. Someone went round in the middle of the night and took the Yorkstone patio. About £4000 worth.

The next day, (another lunch, another pub) Steve picked up an email that said the lady who left our new house had fallen down the stairs in her new home and broken her ankle.

Another email said ‘Do you know that you have also left a drawer of knives and kitchen equipment at the cottage?’

So we’re moving into our new home on the Welsh border. Slowly. Over a glass of wine one evening in our sparkling (literally…loads of quartz) kitchen, Steve and I were sympathising with all the bad luck of the people in the chain, and wondering if forgetting a freezer would count for ours? He reckoned we had got off lightly in this difficult move compared to the others.

The cold wine hit a nerve at the back of my mouth.

Yesterday, after a weekend of agony, I had emergency surgery for an infected wisdom tooth, and held up twenty patients at the cottage hospital.

Steve and I arent going to move again.


Holidays and Hospitals.

Is there a link? Does someone decide… ‘Oh, a holiday has been booked. We will therefore plan some kind of major event that will entail illness and inconvenience, possibly along with expense, pain, sickness, disability and battling with a foreign language. That should liven things up!’

Years ago, in a previous life, my first husband and I went on a cheap bargain holiday to a Greek island. Within days he was suffering from an acute toothache which was obviously not going to resolve itself. In trepidation we sought to communicate the problem to the non-English speaking owner of the ‘pension’. He appeared to understand our plight, and insisted that we visit a lady who lived round the corner and up the first flight of stairs in a noisy Greek block of flats. We had no choice but to go, and soon found ourselves standing in someone’s apartment with chaotic family life going on around us. There was a dentist’s chair in the middle of the sitting room but that’s where any similarity to our medical system ended. We couldn’t speak Greek and the Dentist couldn’t speak English. My husband, very bravely, had a tooth removed whilst the children had breakfast at a table beside him, various adults wandered in and out, and the Dentist appeared to have a heated argument with somebody about shopping.

A few years later, with two small daughters, we went for a long weekend to Devon. On the first morning we took the girls  to play on swings in a park. I was watching them when the youngest one decided she’d had enough and got off. Her sister swung back and she walked into the space where the swing had been. I couldn’t reach her. Her sister swung forward and our smallest daughter fell and broke her leg. The entire weekend was spent in Torbay hospital.

Last year most of this family decided to up sticks and spend the summer in America. Ben, now aged 12, had been away with the school just before we left, contracted a virus, and vomited for the entire journey. The aeroplane ran out of sick bags somewhere over the Atlantic and America weren’t terribly sure they wanted us when we reached their shores. A stewardess advised us to play down his illness if we didn’t want to be on the next plane back. He continued to vomit for week afterwards, as did half his classmates, and we had to put him in a wheelchair to go to Disney.

We’ve just had a bank holiday weekend. My husband and I, and Ben, decided to go to Kent. We decided on Thursday, to go on Friday, and Kent was the only place with available hotel rooms. As we packed up the car on Friday morning I noticed that one of my eyes was pink. I stuffed in some ‘eye brightener’ and forgot about it. By the time we were half way to Kent  my eye was red and we stopped to get some proper drops from a Tesco pharmacy. I put them in, every two hours as directed, for 24 hours, and my eye got a whole heap worse. It went the colour of beetroot and the other eye started going pink. We went to A and E. I was diagnosed with a severe eye infection, given treatment, and told to go to the eye hospital if it didn’t improve in the next 24 hrs. In the morning the top half of my face was swollen. My husband thought we should go to hospital but I refused. I’m an ex-nurse, a very bad patient, and I thought we should give the treatment a chance to work. By the following morning I agreed to go because the swelling was worse. A and E at the eye hospital was crowded by 9am, with other holiday makers also having their trips livened up, and we had to wait ages. I’m not good at waiting in a place that I don’t want to be, and it gave me a chance to study my eyes. I decided that the treatment was working and the redness had reduced. Not the swelling maybe, but the redness. And as the tissues were reacting to the infection in the eye, if the eye was improving the tissues would too. I decided not to stay. My long-suffering husband was furious. We were booked in and he couldn’t see why I wanted to leave? I pulled rank. It might have been a long time ago but I was medically trained once and he wasn’t. The first person we’d meet in A and E would probably be someone with the same qualifications as me. He, very crossly, gave in, and we spent the morning going round Canterbury Cathedral with me in sunglasses.

I don’t go to hospital normally. As a family we’re not generally very ill. I suppose, as an ex-nurse, I can cope with things that might send other people to ask for advise. I’m quite good at deciding what might be serious and what will get better on its own without any treatment. Illnesses that are a bit challenging seem to save themselves up for holidays. I once bought a small daughter a new pair of special shoes with little heels for a treat because we were going to have a week in Cornwall. She wore them for a day, made her hip inflamed, and had to be carried around for the entire holiday.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I’ve checked it as well as I can but I’m sorry if there are any mistakes. I don’t think there are because I shut my bad eye when I was doing it. The problem is, I’m wearing sunglasses and I can’t see very well.

My best friend died yesterday.

My best friend died yesterday.

If you’ve ever read anything else that I’ve written you would know her. The person who said, ‘You’re making the boys use encyclopaedias for their homework? You’re bloody mad!’, and the person who recently made me change my facebook photo. ‘It’s a pretty picture. It just doesn’t look anything like you.’

I’ve known her for over twenty years. We both have northern roots so we started out with a lot in common. She befriended me, twenty-two years ago, at the school bus-stop when she was a beautifully dressed business woman seeing off her daughter, and I was a tired, scruffy, eight-and-a-half months pregnant mother seeing off my two girls. I asked her recently why on earth she spoke to me?  With her wonderful northern honesty and total dismissal of stereotypes, she said, ‘I just liked you.’

And that was that. For twenty years we have been friends.  Sometimes, when life wasn’t happy, we have lived in each others pockets. A gossip over coffee, copious phone calls through the day, and then the same conversation over a bottle of wine in the evening. When it was me with the problems I wondered how she coped, but she just did. Sometimes, when life went through changes and we were busy, we didn’t speak for ages. But it didn’t matter. It might be ages, but we just picked up where we left off.

We have known each others families, each others friends, the things that we like, and the faults that we have. It was her who told me that she knew I was struggling when my parents died, who adored my new husband before I did, and put me to bed once when I drank too much wine at a party. I travelled up north, years ago, to visit her much-loved mother in hospital just before she died. I knew her mother and it was acceptable that she, that generation, should pass. That is the natural order.

My friend dying, is not.

She smoked, my friend did. She smoked a lot. I smoked once too, but she ridiculed me, ‘You just can’t do it properly,’ she said, at my pathetic daily intake. Lung cancer got her in the end, but she told me that she had always enjoyed smoking and if she got her life again, she’d do it again. There is something quite refreshing about that attitude. I’ve had my life, it’s been shortened, but I did it my way. No regrets.

One day, less than a year ago, she appeared at the front door just after breakfast. ‘I don’t feel well,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what it is, … can we go for a walk?’

We went for a walk round the fields with our dogs, then she stayed and had lunch with me and that husband of mine that she likes, she felt better and went home. It was odd, it was unexplained, and it alarmed me. She was not anyone who ever complained about strange symptoms, but I, with my nursing background, was suspicious.

It was early summer. We all went on holidays, coped with children at home or returning home, enjoyed the sunshine and got on with life.

By October investigations had been done and we knew what was wrong.


Three weeks ago she started coming round for me to look after, because her husband, the business man she had worked for, desperately needed to do some work. He adored her, cared for every small detail, but had to have a couple of hours to himself. I can cope with patients, and how lovely to care for your best friend.

She was immobile, medicated, and complaining. She fell asleep a lot, had no pain, but couldn’t eat and resented the wheelchair totally. We once did battle.

‘I don’t want you falling in my house. Don’t you think the chair is a good idea?’

‘Ok. I’ll get in the chair… but only if you wheel me outside. I want a cigarette!’

She was gorgeous, feisty,  and opinionated. She told everyone the truth and they loved her for it. Yesterday, when she died, all her family and a lot of friends were at her house. She would have loved that.

My friend, as is the way with many cancer patients, drifted off because of a chest infection. We cuddled so much in her last days that I caught it too. Her infection was serious in her addled lungs, in mine it is just an inconvenience.

She’s gone, and all the people who love her won’t see her again. She picked me up at a bus-stop over twenty years ago and has been my friend ever since. She’s the first person who took me bowling, the first person to recognise my husband, the first person to see my new-born, and the person who has helped me most through life. She listened to my grumbles and she put me right when I couldn’t see the way. I can’t, at the moment, imagine the rest of my life without her.

Because, although I don’t think I ever said it, I just liked her too.

RIP my darling. xxx












And Friday 13th is next week.

Today, and it’s only 9am, I feel as though I might be in some kind of parallel universe. You know…when the world just feels odd? When it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to? When you begin to think, ‘Is it me?’

My husband came to say goodbye at about 7am when he left for work, and found me in the bedroom shaking the duvet.

‘Isn’t that the wrong way round?’ he said, enquiringly.

I looked down at our super-king size, stripey duvet and wondered how on earth I could have missed the fact that the green stripes were going up and down, and not side to side? And more so, how the hell it had happened? If it had fallen off in the night I could understand it; if we had both been unable to sleep like when we are totally over-excited before a holiday, or if either of us had got out and wandered around in the night and pulled the wrong bit when we got back in. But we didn’t. We both slept soundly and quietly last night, from beginning to end. And that big, heavy duvet hangs down the sides of the bed. It’s more likely to fall off than turn round.

Anyway, bed made and having given Ben, aged twelve, a bacon sandwich for breakfast followed by two more slices of toast because he was ‘still hungry’, he and I got into the car to take him to the school bus stop. We have nice mornings waiting for the bus; he’s quite a chatter-box and he makes me laugh. Today however, we parked, and within seconds I had a drama queen with me.

‘I’ve got a sore cheek.’

I could see his tongue investigating it.

‘I’ve got a really sore cheek.’

He prodded it with his finger.

‘It really hurts! It’s serious! Ow, it’s agony!

And he collapsed dramatically back into his seat whilst I looked on in amazement. His cheek? What on earth can you do to your cheek that didn’t stop you polishing off a bacon sandwich and toast half an hour ago? Ben once went to hospital with an attack of asthma and had a really nice time. They put him in a bed with a computer screen over it. Ever since then he’s been trying to find a reason to go back. I suspected this was the latest attempt. But his cheek?

He recovered when he saw the bus approaching and happily got on it as he is going to play with a friend after school. He realised that all hopes of hospital were dashed for the day.

I returned home at 8.30am to find a teenager up in the holidays. Very, very odd, until he reminded me he had a driving lesson.

The phone rang.

‘Hello? Is that you?’

I recognised the voice of a man I haven’t seen for ten years but who used to like me when I got divorced. In fact he used to like me quite a lot and was a bit of a pest. The children and I used to lie on the floor when he came round so he couldn’t see us when he walked round the house looking in the windows.

‘I drove past your house and saw that it’s for sale. Why are you moving? Are you getting divorced again? Can I come round? Are you in today?’


‘Sorry, I’m a bit busy today. Lovely to hear from you, but no, we’re not getting divorced. We just want to move. We’ve found another house that we like somewhere else.’

I thought it was probably best not to mention where.

So that is my morning so far, and it’s now 10.10am. I don’t know what will happen in the rest of the day but if its as weird as the start I’ll let you know.

I do know one other thing about today though. You know that Ben is going to play with a friend after school? Well, not straight after school because Ben has got detention for not doing his homework. The friend hasn’t, but he lives a long way from the school. Both boys should be getting the bus to the friends home at 4.15pm, but they can’t because Ben has detention until 5.25pm. Ben loves detention. He’s been before, for the same reason, and they gave him pencils and paper and he spent a happy hour drawing machines that he’d invented. He was very proud to show them to us when he brought them home. Today, he’s looking forward to going back. He checked several times this morning, when he forgot about his agonising cheek, that he’d got the slip of paper that gave my permission for him to stay after school.

The good, kind, well-behaved child, who doesn’t forget either to do, or to hand in, his homework, has to spend an hour in reception doing absolutely nothing, so that the secretary at the school can keep an eye on him until Ben has finished his latest machine designs. The kind childs’ kind mother will then drive ten miles to pick them up because there aren’t any more buses.

Well, it’s not right is it? Ben’s looking forward to detention having got over his near collapse with that well known condition ‘cheek pain’, and I got out of a strangely disordered bed to be asked if I was leaving my happy marriage by a man I haven’t set eyes on for ten years.

Roll on Friday 13th. It can’t possibly be as strange as today.

To: the intelligent and thinking people that read this blog.

This is an appeal to the above. I believe that you are clever enough to understand.


I have bindweed in my garden that is smothering my plants.

There are American crayfish in our rivers that are outnumbering our native species.

There are cockatoos in my garden that frighten the local birds.


We see all this, and we can deal with it.


In the sea there is chaos. No one owns the seas; no one will take responsibility, and most people don’t understand. If the sea dies, we die. I can’t inform everyone about the issues, but some people can. The seas are in crisis, the fish are dying, the reefs are burnt, the depths are full of debris and we are poisoning the marine mammals. If the seas die we have no future. Jelly fish will be the top predators and we don’t eat them. No cod, no tuna, no haddock, no salmon, no prawns, no lobsters, no mackerel, nothing to make skin products from, and none of ‘the most valuable food source available to us’.

Find out.

And while you’re finding out… don’t eat cod and tuna. They matter, and there aren’t many adult fish left. And if there aren’t any adults they can’t have babies. It’s not rocket science. I don’t have a great deal of information but I know that I can’t eat cod or tuna.

Pass this on. Blog it; tweet it; publish it; use my name; talk about it; or just understand whats happening to the seas.

Somebody has to.

This is important.


NB. The Marine Peservation Society can help. They produce a very simple information booklet that explains what is safe to pull from the sea, and where it is still safe to pull it from.





Devastating honesty and my profile picture.

My best friend is undergoing treatment for a medical condition at the moment. To help her through she has been prescribed a strong painkiller. It is effective and she is pain free and active. Unfortunately some of her inhibitions have been removed and it has left her devastatingly honest. Last week she came for dinner.

‘What were you thinking when you put that photo of yourself online?’ (My Facebook profile picture and anywhere else the magic internet has chosen to put it.)

‘It’s just a random picture that I thought clearly showed me. Everyone has pictures like that.’

‘Its crap. You don’t look like that at all.’

‘Really?’ I had actually been quite careful with the picture, being middle-aged and not thin, and was delighted when the profile picture missed out my wobbly chin. What a shame my best friend has spotted that.

‘Its rubbish. Here, I’ll take another,’ and she whipped out her mobile phone.

Now, it’s fairly well-known that I don’t like computers. I can only do the basics and live with so many boys that I don’t need to learn anymore. One boy was around that evening, so he and my friend snapped pictures and uploaded them whilst I sipped wine.

It wasn’t until the following morning that I looked at my computer, and when I did I was shocked. Who on earth was this grinning, double chinned, old woman wearing the same clothes that I had on last night?

The son was summoned to immediately reset the ‘random’ photo, whilst I pondered what to do.

Our youngest son is still young enough to think his mother is wonderful, so I found him to take another photograph of me. I told him to make it look as nice as possible, and he responded to the challenge with more of that alarming honesty.

‘Put your hand by your face, Mummy. No, not like that because the skin on your cheek is loose and your face goes up on one side. Put it under your chin.’

That’s a good idea. I adjust myself so I’m not lopsided and hope that I’m covering one chin.

‘Good, Mummy! That’s good! But in the picture your face is red now. It’s not so red when I look at you but it’s more red on the photograph.’

Now, I’m as good with cameras as I am with computers, and although I’m pretty sure you can fiddle with pictures and correct them, I don’t know how to do it. The boy thought he’d have a go and only succeeded in deleting the picture.

‘Never mind. Perhaps it would be better when I’ve got some make-up on. We’ll do it another day.’

My lovely son snuggled up with his arm around me and agreed. With more of that devastating honesty, he said, ‘That’s a really good idea, Mummy. You look lovely when you’ve got make-up on. It makes such a difference to your face.’

A few years ago, on a relaxing Saturday morning, I had a wonderfully warm and scented bath.  What a shame to waste all that lovely water I thought, and called our youngest boy to share the treat. Whilst he was coming, I towel dried my hair and brushed it all off my face ready to blow dry when he was in the bath. When he walked into the bathroom he did a double-take.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.

‘What have you done with your hair?’ he said.

‘Oh, nothing,’ I said, ‘its just wet from the bath and I’m waiting to dry it.’

There was a pause, and then, ‘Well, could you dry it quickly please, Mummy?’

Oh, the joys of total honesty.

I don’t know if any of you have seen my ‘random’ profile picture? I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what my boys have attached it to and I don’t know where it might have magically travelled to. What I do know is that I posed under a soft light for it, with my head tilted to just the right angle to disguise my saggy face, I smiled with my mouth shut, kept my eyes open, and was thrilled when Facebook deleted one of my chins.

Oh, and I had tons of make-up on.

I Have a Dream.

I’m sitting here with ‘Flightaware’ on my laptop, waiting for Kim, my diving daughter, to take-off from Heathrow and jet back to Grand Cayman. She’s starting a new job there, taking holiday-makers into the warm, blue Caribbean sea to look at all the fish on a tropical reef. She lives in a lovely house with two friends next to a beautiful, golden sandy beach, in permanently hot and sunny weather.  She gets to swim and mess about on boats all day and spend evenings with all the other bronzed professional divers in a beach bar.  The rest of us would have to spend a lot of money to do that, and she gets paid for it.

This is not a boast. Kim has worked hard. For several years she left home at 6am to plough 45 miles round the M25 in all weathers, to work in a shop, and get back home at 7pm totally exhausted and unable to muster the strength for a social life. She hated it, but she did it. She saved her money because she had a dream.

I have lots of children. One of the most important things to teach them, in my view, is to have a dream. To work out what the most important, achievable desire in life might be, and then go for it. And I don’t care how lowly that may be. If a child would be totally fulfilled by emptying bins, then so be it. Some children are academic, some are more practical, some like sport, some don’t, some of mine are happiest in the corner with a book, others are dyslexic and wouldn’t choose to even pick up a book. It doesn’t matter, I don’t care what the dream may be, the challenge is to find it.

When the children were young I encouraged them to reach for the stars. A friend once warned that I was setting them up for disappointment, but that hasn’t happened. ‘An astronaut? Of course you can!’. Kim, many years ago, came to tell me that she wanted to train dolphins after we had been on holiday and seen a show. I couldn’t see any problem with that, but we talked about the best way to do it. We talked about putting her in the best position to train dolphins. We talked about ‘fall back’ if she was unsuccessful. We talked about personal skills that would be needed, aptitudes, experiences that could be advantageous, and qualifications. She understood, she went for it, and along the way she changed her own mind.

All the boys have dreams. The youngest wants to be a world champion karate black belt at the moment, and that’s fine. He’s got a brown belt already, although his friend, the clean one, is presently a black belt and something of a champion for his age. Competition is good and achievement is extremely satisfying. As he gets older he will doubtless adjust his view of his place in the world, but if I can encourage him to believe that he will be successful there’s a big chance that he will be.

Kim’s now half way. Yes, to the US, and yes, it really does take me this long to type.  She has covered nearly 2,000 miles whilst I’ve done 500 words! Isn’t air travel amazing, and my slowness astounding?

I shall miss her company. We shop a lot when she’s here, as most mothers and daughters do. A couple of days ago I bought a new foundation with her. After trying it out that evening I waltzed into the sitting room where she was watching television. ‘Does my face look good?’ I asked, tilting my head up.

She looked at me. ‘Yes.’

I waited.

‘What bit are you asking about?’ she said.

You can see why I shall miss her.

I got up early today to make sure that all the boys going to school were ready, and breakfast had been made. As usual, I savoured my solitary cup of tea before anyone else joined me. Now I know it’s the season for them, and I don’t mind too much, but we have ants. They are liberally sprinkled with ant powder if they dare appear, but that didn’t stop one brave one walking down my front as I sat with my tea this morning. He was despatched, and I thought no more about it.

Several hours later we were standing in the queue to check Kim in at the airport, when she leaned forward and plucked something from my hair. She tossed it onto the floor, and an ant crawled away.

‘Oh yuck!’ said the oldest boy in whose car we had travelled. ‘How many have you brought with you?’

I thought it was quite funny. Poor ant, really. It was probably a scout one and had been sent out to find food from a cupboard in the kitchen. I’m sure it didn’t expect to end up 30 miles away at an international airport.

‘I hope I haven’t got any on me!’ said Kim, ‘American Immigration doesn’t allow livestock!’

Well, we’ll find out soon. ‘Flightaware’ shows that the child who is fulfilling her dream has nearly made it over the pond. Her mother has written this, cried a bit, but is very happy that she’s on her way to do what she loves.

My dream, after all, is that all my children should fulfill theirs.





















Charity begins at Home.

Well, I’ve told stories about the young boys and the important issues in their lives. But now that two of the older children have come home for Easter, guess what the subject for discussion is? Discussion and debate, quickly followed by grovelling, begging and pleading. Manipulation and deception are in there somewhere too. Have you guessed?

It’s money.

One of these children is at university, and one is in a first job. One is doing charity work, one has to travel, both have on-going debt and both have to eat sometimes. Money is therefore a prime consideration.

Our son is attempting to raise major amounts of money for ‘Help for Heroes’ the charity supported by his university and which deserves every penny it can get. He is also a student, and therefore mostly penny-less. What I didn’t realise, having only shaken a bucket or donated online myself, was the amount of personal expenditure that is necessary before you ever get close to raising any money for anyone else. In the case of our son, who is undertaking a marathon bike ride, he needs: the bike; cycling clothes; advertising t-shirts; and a vast amount of cash before he could start rattling his bucket. He needs to raise enough money to book hostels, Channel crossing, food en-route and the plane fare back, on top of the vast amount they wish to make for the charity. And as I mentioned, he’s a student. Not a time of your life when you expect to be particularly flush with cash.

Last week this student came home. Two days later he was joined by our ‘diving daughter’ who lives on Grand Cayman. You may have heard of this island. It is British, it has a lot of banks and big hotels, and it is a very expensive place to live. Being a diving instructor in the Caribbean is clearly a delightful occupation. It does not, however, pay very well. She is happy, tanned, healthy, and very poor.

These two have come home for Easter.

Apart from obvious begging, ‘if I do that how much will you give me?’, it seems that every aspect of life is has monetary value. ‘What would you like for dinner’, has produced endless discussion about  how much they both miss take-away food because it’s so expensive, and how dreadful it is to always have to eat the cheapest things. Our son apparently ate a dozen eggs and a pound of cheese before he came home. ‘I bought them because they were on offer and couldn’t bare to waste them.’ What a shame that we keep chickens because he doesn’t want to see another egg for a long time.

Our daughter has paid her airfare home, and I keep forgetting how short of money that has made her. ‘Would you like to go shopping for the day?’.

‘I’d love to mother, but it’s not worth it because I can’t buy anything.’

They do help each other out though. Our son was finishing an essay in the library at his university last week. It was an important piece of work, had to be printed, and he didn’t have the necessary £3. As it was the middle of the night (a usual time for him to work), he decided to contact the sister who would still be awake on the other side of the world. At 4am here, 10pm in Grand Cayman, she, being dreadfully short of money herself, transfered £3 to her brother to enable him to print out his final essay of the year.

So it was all the more surprising when our son announced his intention, over dinner last night, to go out for drinks with his friends. ‘But you haven’t got any money!’ I said.

”Whoops!’, he said, and hid his face behind a newspaper.

‘I don’t understand! How can you not have £3 for an essay and yet want to go out for drinks with friends?

‘Oh no! I didn’t want to say that!’

‘But you did. Explain!’

‘I can’t! I can’t! I don’t want to tell you! It would spoil it!’

‘It won’t.’

‘Do you promise? Really, really promise? Oh no! I shouldn’t have said anything!’

‘Tell me where you are getting money from!’

‘Ok. But promise you won’t change it!’

I nod.

‘Ok. Well, when I was about ten years old you gave me a bank account. You put £20 a month in for pocket money.’

‘Ye-s?’ I remembered.

‘Well, you never cancelled it. I found it and I’ve been spending it. Its a lifeline!

Our daughter from Grand Cayman smiles and giggles.

‘You too?’ I enquire.

It turns out that all of the children who have left for university, or even finished university, have kept very quiet about the £20 pocket money that they were given every month when they were small. And I don’t care one jot.

These children are working hard and achieving things that I’m very proud of. If pocket money will buy a drink when they’re all grown up, well, that’s fine by me.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t mind,’ I say, and then deciding that deceit should not be encouraged, I add, ‘But you should have told me!’





Should anyone reading this wish to donate to the boy who misled his mother and went out boozing, details can be found at:

The website is:


PS. We’re really very proud of him.



































Small boys, Showers, and a Man-trap.

My 12-year-old son Ben, had a friend round to stay overnight at the weekend. The friend is 11. Before you imagine that the years difference means the friend will be smaller, shorter and less mature, allow me to correct your image.

The friend bowled in at least 4 inches taller, with size 9 feet, perfectly washed and styled hair, and immaculate clothes. My son was scruffy, had no shoes on, and I think he’s avoided the shower for a week.

What a difference in maturity of these boys. Appearance apart, they played delightfully. Like puppies they ran round the garden shrieking, knocked over all my daffodils, and took turns to tie each other to a pole which once had a delicate and nurtured vine attached.  Then they disappeared into a nearby field to look at a pony and begged for carrots to feed it.  I said ‘no’, when asked for a bucket of water to wash the pony because it looked muddy.

When bedtime came I suggested that they might shower tonight so as to be clean for the next day and not have the hassle of queuing for the bathroom in the morning. The friend nodded enthusiastically, said he liked showers, and could he have one night and morning? Slightly shocked, and looking at my dirty child, I agreed. Ben noticed that this was, in our house, odd behaviour for one of the youngest residents, and immediately rectified his attitude. ‘Oh, and I’ll have one too. I’ve changed my mind. I like showers as well!’

Showered and smelling sweet, they were packed off to bed at 10pm. They went to sleep promptly in the way of the teenage years that they are verging on, and were sound asleep all night. The friend then slept on through the morning. He was roused eventually by Ben, who had been silently watching his friend since he woke up at the crack of dawn as usual. I, equally, had been downstairs with breakfast ready for hours because that’s when Ben gets up. It was all a bit of a surprise to me, and a big learning curve. I’ve had small children leaping out of bed in the morning for 30 years, and the last one is about to stop doing it.

When the sausages and beans on toast had been devoured for breakfast, (and the friend showered, just him, because it Ben really couldn’t face the reality of 2-showers-a-day) both boys shot off to play again.  After a couple of hours they were back in the kitchen for drinks.

Ben: ‘You know that ‘man-trap’ in the shed, Mum?’

Me: ‘The one that came with the cottage? The one that we put up high, along with the scythe, so that no-one could touch them because they are so dangerous you mean?’

Ben: ‘Yes. Um, well, is it really a man-trap?’

Me: ‘I don’t know. It’s probably an old animal trap but it’s so big that we thought it might have been intended for poachers. In the old days poachers used to steal things and landowners wanted to catch them. It was cruel, but they were caught with big man-traps. Anyway, you know you’re not supposed to touch it, don’t you?’

Ben: ‘Yes. You said it was a man-trap and we can’t get it to catch men. But we thought because it’s not an animal trap it would be ok.’

Me: ‘What on earth do you mean? I might have said it’s a man-trap, it’s more exciting, but it could be an animal trap.’

Friend, looking worried: ‘Oops.’

Me: ‘Ben! What have you done?’

Ben: ‘It’s ok, its ok, don’t worry, we’ll go and get it!’

Me: ‘Why? You’re not supposed to touch it! Where on earth have you put it? What have you done?’

Ben, swiftly exiting kitchen with his friend: ‘Don’t worry!’

Me: ‘Why mustn’t I worry? What have you done?’

Ben: ‘Well, we needed it to push down the barbed wire on the fence.

(I begin to go a bit pale. I can feel it.)

We pushed the fence down with it, then we put it in the field. You said it was a man-trap so we thought it wouldn’t catch the pony. You didn’t say it was an animal trap, so we thought the pony would be fine!’

I stand in the kitchen pondering. It might be old and rusty, but it’s a vicious looking thing. They shouldn’t have touched it. Everyone says the traps can spring, even if they’re old. Maybe they shouldn’t even be fetching it! And what about the pony!

But it’s ok. By the time all this information has been sifted through, the trap is back where it should be and both boys still have all their limbs.

The next day the friend is picked up by his mother, and he’s says he’s had a brilliant time. He’s a lovely boy, and I ask the mother if I can borrow him again to remind my son to keep up to speed with showering. I recently told Ben to his hair needed washing, and to go upstairs and do it. He was back ten minutes later, smelling lovely, and wet. As we had a cuddle I noticed that his knees were covered in mud.

‘I thought you just had a shower?’

‘Yes. I did.’

‘But there’s mud all over your knees!’

‘You said wash my hair! You didn’t say knees!’

I give up. Is it me? I obviously need the friend back to teach Ben to wash properly, and I’ve just ordered a ‘Quoits’ set and a pack of giant playing cards for the garden. I hope they might prefer them to a man-trap.








Rural crime and an unfortunate day.

Did you have a good day?

I’ve written about a bad days before, and I once wrote about the ’worst day of my life’, but with the best will in the world I can’t say that what I’m about to tell you could be described as ’good’.

The clocks changed over the weekend and threw out my early morning arrangements for a quiet cup of tea before the boys get up. I love those ten minutes, and I love them even more now that its light at 6.30am. On Monday morning I overslept and got up at the same time as the boys. I immediately had to do breakfast, sort out the sports kit, find some dinner money, and check that homework would find its way back to school. Oh, and somehow find time to dress myself.

It was a busy start, but not frantic, and I was soon back from the school run. Once the breakfast was cleared, the beds were made and the washing was on, I sneaked out into the glorious sunshine to sit and read a book.

At 10.30am my husband came to find me and told me that he had just been sacked. The project that he’d been working on had been cancelled and the whole team was out of work. Very positively, he said not to worry he was sure something would turn up as this is the nature of his contractual employment. He would just get in touch with a few contacts.

I believed him, and remained where I was in the garden.

As I sat in the sun I became aware that there were black, oily marks on my hands. Then I noticed that I had transferred them to my clothes, and when I went inside and looked in a mirror, my face and hair were daubed as well. I washed, changed my t-shirt, and went back outside to check the chair I made been sitting on for oil on the screws or the springs. No, the screws were made of plastic and were clean and dry, and the springs were so far underneath that they could not be reached. I retraced my steps and checked everything I had touched that morning, but I couldn’t find any oil. Never mind I thought, I’ve probably collected it all on my hands, smeared it around a bit, and it’s all gone now.

In the meantime, the washing had finished and I hung it out on the washing line to dry in the sun. Wonderful. I love the fresh smell washing dried outside. I recovered my book and settled down to read again.

I reclined my chair in the gorgeous heat, and as I did so oil smutted legs came in to view. My hands, newly washed, were dirty again. My t-shirt, freshly on, was also streaked. Where on earth was it coming from? I sat and pondered. As I did so, I noticed that my clean washing had tiny black specks all over it. My gaze shifted upwards, and I saw that the chimney was wafting black soot onto the breeze. Tiny black particles were showering down on me and the washing.

My husband wandered out. I told him about the chimney, the smuts, the dirty washing, and the soot – which, now that I looked, was drifting around everywhere. He told me that the phone lines were down and the internet wasn’t working. He couldn’t send his CV anywhere and he couldn’t start looking for another job. He could, however, phone the plumber who came last week using his mobile. The plumber who came when all our oil was stolen, to sort out a new supply to feed into our boiler without carrying the debris that collects at the bottom of a tank when it‘s emptied.

He phoned the plumber, and the plumber told us to turn the boiler off right now as there was a fire risk. The debris must have got through, and he would come tomorrow.

So, that meant, no job, no internet, no phone lines, no heating and no hot water. I boiled kettles of water to wash the smutty clothes, and then decided to spend most of the day in the garden where it was a lot warmer than inside the house.

The children came home at 5pm and, as is their habit, turned the television on for an hour before dinner. It wouldn’t work. The satellite system had frozen. We must have rebooted it ten times before we gave up. Add ‘no television’ to the list.

After the boys have had dinner in the evening, I like to watch television. Television, with a glass or two of wine, is my relaxation. It clearly wasn’t going to happen. The television was not going to co-operate, and tempted though I was to polish off the bottle of wine in compensation, my husband and I decided that we would give up on the day and go to bed.

We had a quick dinner for two, sent the boys upstairs, and then swiftly followed them. At least I would be getting up well rested the next day and had a chance of a quiet cup of tea in the morning.

There is a Grandfather clock at the bottom of the stairs. As I passed it on the way up to bed, I noticed that it had stopped. Fully wound up and totally reliable, it has never stopped before. The old clock had given up at 8.51am, which is almost exactly the time I first stepped out into the garden to sit and read, and the soot came floating down.

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