January was rubbish. It rained so much I thought I might have to bring the animals in two-by-two, before I remembered all the chickens died (natural causes, honest*) so there’s really just the dog. Oh, and the feral kids. At least there are two of those.
You know its a bad month when the most uplifting occasion is a funeral. My aunt passed away peacefully and surrounded by love, on New Year’s Day after a tragic battle with dementia. Her funeral was beautiful, life affirming and inspiring. My cousin’s husband summed her up wonderfully in a poem entitled, “Quietly Remarkable” and left me wondering if I might have time to learn new skills like Aunty Judy constantly did. I think silversmithing, stained glass, stone carving, needle point and building schools in impoverished African countries (seriously, this woman was amazing) are perhaps a bit beyond me but I might at least learn a new crochet stitch.
Three solid weeks of relentless downpours nearly broke me. A significant low point was being woken in the small hours to a gentle pitter-patter sound, not of feet (which is common) but of bloody raindrops. Inside. Our bedroom.
We fixed the situation temporarily with towels and have now grown quite accustomed to the sound, much the same as one does with traffic sounds in a city. Its almost soothing.
There were some high points. Weirdly, I thoroughly enjoyed my six-year old’s birthday party especially as I learned from previous disasters and outsourced the cake. That afforded me more time to magically transform a bog-standard piñata into a fire-breathing dragon to fit the ‘Knights and Princesses’ theme that was demanded at the last minute. I could barely watch as the kids took turns at bashing the bejeezus out of my work of art but it held fast and refused to break. Things were about to get ugly as frustrations grew but the day was saved by my mate’s husband who is also our friendly local policeman. He whipped out his retractable baton, wielded it like Zorro and severed the beast cleanly in two. I wept silent tears over my artistry while the wee shites scrambled around for the chocolate coins** that spilled from it’s cardboard belly.
Luckily I had the foresight not to even entertain the idea of Dry January*** (I couldn’t deal with the irony) and was able to numb the pain of indoor puddles, wet dogs, David Bowie, damp logs and dear old Terry Wogan with plenty sauv blanc, cheap cider and malt whisky.
*Their days had been numbered since the wee bastards had stopped laying but fortunately mother nature stepped and kindly dealt with Steve, Daphne, Velma and Scooby. The fireworks on bonfire night finished off poor old Bunty.
**50p a bag, post-Christmas. Winning.
***a ridiculous fad in which participants avoid any kind of alcohol for 31 whole days.
I am still in a state of utter elation after my sister’s amazing wedding last weekend. Not just because it was fairytale wonderful, but also due to the fact that the kids managed to go a whole day without a major meltdown or a minor injury.
It was always going to be an epic affair – the gorgeous couple took a while to find each other so have both accumulated many friends and a good few more relations over the years. I did think Aunty Mary slightly exaggerated when she shrieked, “it’s bigger than Ben Hur!!”, on the morning before, though. (There were no chariots for one thing).
The enormity of the occasion really struck me at the rehearsal when I walked into the church and nearly burst into tears. It looked amazing, bedecked with stunning floral pedestals, all carefully selected by the groom as my lovely sister doesn’t know her daffs from her dahlias.
We were all handed a hefty pamphlet by the grumpy head usher (my husband) which turned out to be the Order of Service and the next two hours were spent in a shambolic muddle as we practised walking down the aisle (six times), the vows (it got VERY emotional) and where we should all be standing and when (it was like herding cats). It was all too much for my eldest who refused to come out of her pew, emphatically stating that she no longer wanted to be a flower girl. There was also a heart-stopping moment when my two year old niece decided to explore the pulpit and ended up teetering on the edge of a high drop, with nothing to break her fall but some lethal looking candelabra. Luckily we were in the right place for divine intervention and she tottered down, unharmed, allowing us to continue with the pantomime, I mean wedding rehearsal.
Hiding my concern from the worried bride, I reassured her that it would all come together on the day, everyone would miraculously know what to do and when and there would be no near-misses with toddlers and altar candles. I almost managed to convince myself.
As is ALWAYS the case, my technique of fearing the worst (which I learned from my dad) resulted in a perfect day from beginning to end which we are all still smiling about. Amazingly, all four flower girls sat through the hour and a half long service without so much as a whimper. All the thanks go to the groom’s lovely sister in the pew behind, who plucked a never-ending supply of distractions from her magical handbag, including several Sylvannian Families, sticker books and some finger puppets. My own contribution was a klip-it tub of M&Ms, which in hindsight was a huge mistake. Not only did they rattle loudly as my youngest tried to prise them from my grip during a lengthy prayer, but then the lid sprang off, scattering the brightly coloured candy all over the tiles, just before communion. Luckily Father Jock politely ignored the discordant sound of crunching underfoot as the congregation made their way up for the holy sacrament. The girls were intrigued by this ritual and demanded to be given the ‘sweeties’ as well. I tried to explain that it was actually the body of Christ but was met with a rather incredulous shriek of, “WHY ARE THEY EATING JESUS????”.
It’s hard to choose a favourite moment of the day as it really was all so fabulous. My gorgeous sister looked amazing in her stunning dress and shone the whole day. My dad looked so proud as he walked her down the aisle in his morning suit. More often sporting high-vis gear or a boiler suit, he very nearly upstaged the bride. My mum eschewed mother-of-the-bride pastels and turned heads in stunning black and cerise. She looked amazing as always, but no occasion is so glamorous that my mum won’t get down on her hands and knees and clean the heels of ladies shoes after they’d been standing on the grass. I lost count of how many times I heard the words, “ I love your mum and dad!”, during the day. They are totally amazing and I will never moan about excess baggage or pineapples again.
My younger sister and I tried our very best but were too pre-occupied with little ones to be any real use as chief bridesmaids. That mantel was happily passed to the groom’s sister who, as previously stated, saved the day again and again. She very nearly missed her brother’s vows as she gallantly changed my niece’s nappy after she’d made her own special offering behind the pulpit. We redeemed ourselves slightly during the band break when we delivered our heart-felt speech to our beloved big sister. It was a miracle we pulled that off due to transatlantic distance and zero rehearsal time but we got plenty of laughs and I celebrated with glass after glass after bottomless glass of Prossecco.
It was fairly devastating to say goodbye to everyone the following day (having successfully masked a monster hangover) and it hasn’t really sunk in that my sister is moving cities when she returns from her lengthy honeymoon (FOUR WEEKS!!), but the memories of the wedding will see me through any come-down blues and it’s impossible not to be over the moon that these two fabulous people have found each other. There is also much to look forward to at home and we are well into my favourite season of the year. Not long until Halloween, the bonfire night pyre is well under construction and I’ve even started my Christmas shopping. Happy, happy days.
I have been lured back to civilisation twice in as many weeks recently, to celebrate several decades worth of birthdays. It’s as good a reason as any to make the 4(ish, on a good day when the Gods are smiling and the children aren’t doing convincing impressions of Damien from the Omen) hour journey back to my parents’ house, which becomes base camp for my various shenanigans.
This time last year my lovely friend organised a fabulous girly weekend away which was largely spent in a hot tub, drunk on Prosecco. This year, by marked contrast, we were subjected to what I can only describe as My Worst Nightmare – a three hour badminton tournament. I shit you not. I tried everything to get out of it, even a note from my mum, but somehow I found myself on court, lumbering around like a hippo with less coordination than a drunk toddler. I like to think I provided the entertainment value. At a generous estimate I hit the twatting shuttlething four times (in three games) and ended up on my arse twice. Never again.
The second celebration that weekend involved a whole day and a night away from the kids which was sheer BLISS. Unencumbered by bored, whinging and occasionally just downright rude children, I was able to enjoy a fabulous day in Edinburgh, catching up with old friends, new babies and the all-important solo shopping trip to real, actual shops. It’s not that our local Factory Shop or Nickel and Dime don’t offer a wide range of interesting goods to peruse, (where else can you buy a colander, a bra and years supply of Persil?) or that I’m not becoming an expert in online shopping (apart from the jeggings which I still can’t talk about…) but I do miss the thrill of big wide aisles, rails and rails of choice and knowing that you’re never more than a few yards away from a latte, a toilet or a cashpoint.
My goal was simple – a go-with-anything, uber-flattering, smart/casual black top to wear to that evenings engagement. Naturally the novelty wore off after half an hour and I found myself wandering aimlessly, in a zombie-like stupor through the soulless concourses of the out-of-town retail park I’d chosen for it’s convenience. After three hours of fruitless searching, including a meltdown in M&S, I decided to cut my losses and flee the commercial hell-hole, empty handed save for a prawn sandwich and panic-purchased new jacket as I stupidly didn’t pack one. (Wait WHAT??? Clearly 40 years in Scotland has taught me nothing).
Fortunately my sister had a go-with-anything, uber-flattering smart/casual black top which she kindly lent me and we had a fabulous time at our friend’s 50th birthday party. The highlight of the night was an intimate living room performance by Yvonne Lyon and her husband who are a fantastic Scottish folk duo, well known in that scene but a wonderful new discovery for me. I bought their album for the journey home, thinking, what better accompaniment to a long drive through the scenic Scottish highlands.
Sadly no amount of stirring, soulful music could have ever have mollified what turned out to be the ultimate journey from hell. It all went wrong when I pulled up a forest track to have a wee which had become significantly non-negotiable about 5 miles previously. Suddenly there was a ghastly crunching sound and it was pretty clear I’d done something fairly catastrophic to my underside (of the car, just to clarify). I decided to soldier on for the remaining two hours as really there was no other option, it being a Sunday night in the arse-end of nowhere. Denial worked wonders and I managed to ignore the ghastly sounds coming from below (again, the car). We were back on track when the youngest suddenly threw up a journey’s worth of healthy snacks (crisps and chocolate) all over the back seat and then decided to be fussy about emergency clothing because it wasn’t pink. I would like to report that I remained calm throughout but sadly we weren’t alone in that remote lay-by and an elderly couple witnessed my tirade of expletives that culminated in two screaming children and a sobbing mother. Have a meltdown and carry on is my motto (get that on a twatting tea towel NOW please) so off we set once again with a broken, stinking car and another hour to go.
The end was in sight when we turned off the main road onto the long and winding, single-track B842 which leads to our door but sadly fate was pissing itself once again. After two miles, cruising along merrily(ish), we got stuck behind a selfish twat of a 30-mile-an-hour driver who refused to let us past, despite my persistent horn-blasting, light-flashing and fruitless cursing of his soul. We had no choice but to sit tight (admittedly right up his arse) for the next twenty miles. I was an empty husk by the time we got home and vowed I would never, ever make that journey again.
Like childbirth (although I did get off lightly with two C-sections), one quickly forgets the hideous trauma of a nightmare journey and a mere two weeks later, I found myself heading back up the B842 for a 5th birthday party in our former home town. It nearly went to shit before we’d even left when I realised the DVD players weren’t working but there was nothing for it but to risk the trip without entertainment. I took a deep breath, swore heavily under my breath and blasted out Disney’s Greatest Hits from my iPod. Clearly I’d paid my dues and was blessed with text-book journeys, both ways. The children were angelic (or asleep), I remained calm throughout and the car stayed intact and vomit free. Hakuna Matata.
Christmas was wonderful although already it’s a distant memory of over-indulgence, Downton Abbey’s tortuous Christmas special and an epic two-hour Playmobil assembly session (hungover) that began at 5.30am.
We are now back home and preparing for the next Big Event of over-indulgence (but thankfully NOT Downton or Playmobil) – Hogmanay. We are hosting again this year as its easier with the kids and is a great excuse to use the posh room*. Also, there is the welcome bonus of being inundated with kind offerings of booze which kept us going until spring time last year.
As I fret over smoked salmon blinis (I think that plan will be shelved as I’m not entirely sure what they are) and Parmesan biscuits, I’m trying to steal some moments to reflect back on the past year.
Thank heavens then for Facebook’s clever ‘Year in Review’ feature as my memory seems to stop at two weeks ago. My vague recollections were duly confirmed: it was a bloody great year. The pictures, randomly selected by the algorithm, perfectly displayed a year of precious moments with friends, family, the kids, the puppy and an enormous catfish (WTF Facebook?). I couldn’t help thinking that something was missing though, that it was all a bit rose-tinted, and frankly, vomit-inducing so I turned instead to my status updates which gave a much more honest view of 2014.
Here are some of my favourites:
I’m not going to bother with resolutions for 2015 as I failed miserably at last years (dust regularily?? Was I on drugs??) but I can only wish for more of the same happy, special moments, although I can live without the gigantic catfish, if I’m honest. See you next year!
*i.e. the only one that hasn’t been trashed by the kids. Yet.
It’s my favourite time of year again already – the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, everything is a little bit soggy (and that’s just inside) and my ironing pile is dwindling by the day as bookings finally start to slow down.
On the social front, however, this time of year seems to have the most going on of all the seasons as numerous events provide excellent excuses for a party. Halloween kicks it all off and great fun was had (by me) carving pumpkins, face-painting witches and vampires and baking sundry ghoulish items for the playgroup party. We even managed some guising this year as the kids are a wee bit older – downstairs to granny and grandpa and across the lawn to Aunty Carol’s. Zoe’s well rehearsed joke* earned her yet more sweets to add to the enormous haul she’d brought home from school, blatantly undermining the patronising A4 leaflet we’d been handed recently about healthy snacks.
Sugar levels were still fairly catastrophic for the next big event a few days later – our youngest’s third birthday party. Learning from previous experiences, I did things slightly differently this year and served alcohol. Not to the kids obviously, but as the grown-ups considerably out-numbered the little ones, I thought it was only right. It certainly took the edge off it. When pass-the-parcel descended into the usual hysterical chaos (and that was just the winner) we just knocked back some more prossecco and topped up our glasses.
I wasn’t really planning on a theme and my heart sank slightly when India demanded a Peppa Pig cake but a quick search on Pinterest (at 3am, thank you insommnia) revealed some less challenging options. Basically a round chocolate cake with some plastic figures stuck on it, surrounded by chocolate fingers. Easy peasy. I decided to continue the theme with some of the games and laboured for hours on a papiér mache Peppa Pig piñata. It was a work of art but then I decided I couldn’t bear to watch the little ones bash the crap out of it so I turned it into a treasure hunt instead. We also had musical muddy puddles and pin the glasses on daddy pig, but to be honest by then we’d all drunk far too much and forgot to actually play them. The kids went home happy and the mums were driven home tipsy so all in all it was a huge success. By the time her actual birthday came around two days later, even India herself was a bit over it and squawked, “why am I STILL getting presents???”. Quite.
An estate bonfire party concluded the celebrations and was a lovely occasion to gather everyone together for the first time in ages. And more importantly a chance to rid the castle of some lingering items belonging to the in-laws. Luckily it was dark when they arrived so my dear old father-in-law was blissfully unaware that his eBay rug which had seen many, many better days had been cremated along with other broken pieces of furniture and empty gadget boxes that had long outlived their original contents. I just have to pray that he doesn’t come looking for the box that once contained the analogue portable telly that was scrapped years ago or the three legged chair that succumbed to woodworm in 1986.
Now we are almost midway through November and I think it’s safe to start mentioning the C-word. (Not THAT one, although since my mother used it in a surprise outburst on a family holiday in ’98, it has definitely lost some of its potency). I’m loving the Christmas Countdown twitter feed and my excitement is building by the day. Next week I have a whole day of Christmas pudding making with my ‘Good Life’ chum, Tracey. We’re doubling Delia’s usual recipe so should end up with two large puddings each. Last year it took a team of five just to stir it but was such a wonderful activity to mark the start of festive loveliness and there’s nothing quite like a homemade plum pud on the day.
It’s probably a tad too soon to start hassling Niall about Christmas trees but I’m looking out my festive playlist and will have no qualms about blasting out a bit of Mariah Carey whilst mixing up the pudding. 44 more sleeps!
*”Why was the sand wet? Because the sea weed.” You’re welcome.