Hebridean Hideaway

I am back in my happy place (i.e. away from my ironing pile). We are on our annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Tiree for a whole week of spending lots of time together in close quarters. So far so almost relaxing.

The journey to get here borders on the off-putting as it involves a 3.30am wake-up, a two hour twisty drive and a four hour ferry trip. Our hopes that the kids will sleep in the car on the way are always dashed and the little darlings manage to summon vast amounts of energy from hell-knows-where as soon as they are trapped on the ferry with limited entertainment.  I caught myself staring enviously at the parents of two pre-teen girls nearby whose sullen daughters totally ignored their mum and dad for the whole four hour sail.

Having not taken a long-haul flight since the Blair Administration, when we finally arrived I experienced the closest thing to jet lag in nearly ten years and crashed out halfway through a Good Housekeeping* article (How To Look Good in Selfies. Noted.).  The kids continued to bounce around like lunatics as they explored our (different from the previous three years) holiday house, culminating in a monstrous meltdown from the youngest who declared, “THIS HOUSE IS NOT TIREEEEEEEE”. Quite.

Appeased by giant Jenga, Nutella on white bread and 10pm bedtimes, they have settled in admirably. It also helps that my parents are also holidaying here in what must be their 33rd consecutive year (bar one**). We are on the other side of the island (5 miles away) this year but still see them everyday as mum needs her WiFi and Wimbledon fix (their cottage has remained largely untouched by modern technology in the 33 years)  while poor dad gets cajoled into playing My Little Ponies with the girls.

It’s very hard to put into words what I love about this place (because I am on holiday and cracking open the Strongbow™ at lunchtime) so here are some of the photos I have been posting on Facebook, just to piss off everyone on the mainland who are experiencing much shitter weather:

Tiree machair
Glorious machair
Ballevullin Beach, Isle of Tiree
Beachy mornings
Crochet blanket
Rainy afternoons
A swing park with a view
Play parking
Stunning Ballevullin beach, Tiree
Despite living very close to the sea, I can’t get enough of the sea.

I love that the Tiree 2015 album is almost identical  to the Tiree 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 albums but with slightly bigger and curlier-haired children in the photos. Old friends I’ve known from childhood are also holidaying here with their kids so it’s lovely to see the next generation relentlessly digging holes on the beach and frolicking in the waves.

We are nearly mid-way through the week, and already I am dreading leaving.  We have been blessed with better-than-predicted weather so have enjoyed happy mornings at the beach before retiring to the cottage for leisurely lunches followed by afternoons of blissful inactivity. Niall watches Wimbledon and deals with near-catastrophic bio-mass boiler issues back home, I crack on with my latest epic crochet project and the girls amuse themselves, twatting about pretending to be dogs or ponies or spies. It’s heavenly. Thoughts of epic laundry piles and monstrous baskets of ironing have been quelled by copious amounts of Strongbow™ and the obligatory Prossecco.  There is also still so much to do: the seals (we never make it), the north end (ditto), the pottery, the gallery, the weird shop that sells everything, run by a family that seemingly hasn’t aged for forty years (Niall thinks they are vampires), boogie boarding,  pony trekking and the annual lawn boule tournament which my mum takes Very Seriously Indeed.  I think we’ll need at least a month next year.




*For years I’ve been persevering with Glamour and occasionally Cosmopolitan, though they leave me feeling utterly inadequate in every way. Recently, however, I had an epiphany in the doctors waiting room whilst leafing through a Good Housekeeping. I loved reading about  Clare Balding’s style secrets,  how to detox my finances (should I ever accumulate any) and coping with empty nest syndrome (one can dream) and I have now fully accepted that I am well within their demographic. Also, I can steal my mum’s copies.

**dad took us to  Australia for six months, on sabbatical.  After much discussion, Tiree was declared too far for a holiday

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Road Rage

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.

There was only ever going to be one winner
There was only ever going to be one winner

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.

Her hair colour is frighteningly accurate

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.

Me after THAT journey
Me after THAT journey

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.

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Sin City

It’s autumn proper at last and the ground is a swirling mass of orange, yellow and brown as the trees are gradually stripped of their dignity. The unseasonably warm Indian summer outstayed its welcome by a few weeks, and I am relieved to be back in cosy layers which conceal lumpy bumps and summer indulgences.

Autumn Crumble
Autumn Crumble

My favourite thing just now is walking the dog with my fresh-air denying almost-3-year-old. Crumble is a wonderful companion and her enthusiasm for the outdoors is gradually rubbing off on the youngest child who can now manage a gentle stroll round the estate with only minor meltdowns. We ditched the pram a while ago which felt like a huge milestone but it makes walking so much more interactive (if excruciatingly slow) as we stop frequently to poke around in ditches and undergrowth, searching for treasures.

Bramble season was short but lucrative and provided a great energy boost for a flagging child (5 minutes into the walk) but unfortunately very few made it into puddings and I failed miserably at collecting enough to make jam. Next year I will be more organised (I absolutely know I said that last year).

This is never going to happen
This is never going to happen

Conker season is now upon us and I am obsessed with scrambling around under horse chestnut trees, hunting out their spiky offerings and cracking them open to retrieve the shiny treasure inside. Having pockets stuffed full of conkers is immensely satisfying although I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the hundreds I’ve collected. Pinterest offered up a few suggestions which I pinned enthusiastically, but the reality is that they will be chucked in a bowl and forgotten about until they are discovered, desiccated and shrivelled next year when it all begins again. It’s the circle of life.

I had to tear myself away from our autumnal haven recently to spend a glorious child-free 24 hours in Amsterdam with two art college friends. It was fabulous and the perfect place to wander around in the sun, chill out with beers in the park and catch up on our busy lives. I attempted to make ironing duvet covers and folding fitted sheets sound hectic but I’m not really in the same professional league as my two lovely chums. One works in film special effects in London while the other is a talented radio documentary producer in Dublin but we are united in our struggles to balance motherhood with sanity and inevitable guilt, regardless of our circumstances.

Happy ladies
Happy ladies

Having all been to Amsterdam before, we had no agenda other than catching up and drinking cocktails. We eschewed the usual tourist attractions – sex, drugs, Van Gogh – in favour of cosy bars and whiskey sours. Conversation veered between traumatic birth stories, marital gripes and the complex sub-plots on Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom as we nattered into the small hours, eventually stumbling into our plush Air B&B apartment for six hours of blissful uninterrupted sleep.

We managed to squeeze in a token gallery visit and the obligatory flower market the following day before heading back to the airport to go our separate ways. I love those girls and was sad to say goodbye but the excitement of seeing my other favourite girls kept me going on the long drive home.  That, a cheeky McDonalds pit stop and the Desert Island Discs archive on my iPod.

I was reconciled with the fact that the kids would be fast asleep in their cosy wee beds by the time I got home and was looking forward to a good nights sleep before an excitable reunion in the morning. Picture my utter horror unbridled joy when the little darlings launched themselves at me as I stepped through the door because they’d been too excited to go to bed. I really must go away more often.

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Hen Shenanigans

It’s not exploitation it’s art.

For a change I’m not referring to the feathered variety but more excitingly, the large group of women including one bride-to-be and several plastic penises, variety. The bride in question was my gorgeous sister-in-law to be and the weekend had been brilliantly organised by her fabulous four sisters at the stunningly beautiful Glenfarg house, not far from Perth.

I was almost as excited about the journey as the two nights away from the children. Four hours completely on my own with absolutely NO DISNEY music or irritating dvd noise from the back seat or petty squabbling or psychotic meltdowns. It was sheer bliss. For the first two hours but then I ran out of ‘Les Miserable’ and jelly babies and didn’t really have a clue where I was and had my own psychotic meltdown at the sat nav. “Tim” seems to have an aversion to main roads and much prefers a quiet amble down random country lanes which go on forever. I really lost the plot when he suddenly announced that my remaining journey time had gone from 25 minutes to 3 hours 40. I unplugged the smug, patronising bastard and decided to use the force instead, arriving not long after my ETA. In your FACE, Tim.

There was about 30 seconds of shy awkwardness as nobody knew everyone but this soon evaporated into a giant love-in of mutual appreciation for the fabulous bride-to-be and for the mothers amongst us, unbridled elation at the thought of two nights away from our little ones. It quickly descended into wine-fuelled hilarity culminating in penis hoopla. I failed miserably at not having a hangover so I could enjoy a lie in but with no children to bother about, it was manageable.

“I know him sooooooooooooo well”. But not the tune or the words unfortunately.

The following day was filled with craft activities and stovies* in the sun and afternoon naps and a hilarious life-drawing session with what must have been the most high-brow use of a male stripper, ever. The evening’s main event was a talent show at which I fulfilled a life-long ambition to be Elaine Paige. With my cohort, Barbara Dickson, we belted out “I know him so well”, compensating for lack of musical talent with comedy and terrible wigs.

Once again I broke my own rules of not drinking past 11pm and retiring to bed by 1am. With my musical comrade, Barbara, we were still glugging wine at 2am and eventually staggered up to bed a 3ish. Very insensible considering my epic journey but the world needed putting to rights and we even tackled Scottish Independence. Unfortunately I have no recollection of what we concluded.

The return journey was bearable thanks to a steady supply of sugar and carbs on the seat beside me and the thought of seeing those little faces again kept me going. I got the best welcome in the world ever and two days later, I have almost recovered.

Now it’s serious countdown time to the wedding which will now be less about the happy couple and much more about a reunion of all the fabulous hen ladies. Without the plastic penises.

Can’t wait!

*best hangover cure EVER. Google it non-scots.

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Inglorious Mud

I am getting close to being over winter. There have been precious few crisp, frosty days which make everything look magical, and far too many dreich and windy ones which have kept us house-bound and fractious. The kids are tough, I don’t doubt they’d be out rain or hail, “jumping up and down in muddy puddles”* but I’m still adjusting to country life (I like to tell myself) and schlepping about in mud and leaves, in the pissing rain isn’t my thing yet. Or ever. Mud is the enemy. I’ve managed to get the car stuck in it three times this winter, in various locations around the estate. I was humiliated enough the first time as I made the call of shame to my husband who, after much piss-taking, got me out with the help of a couple of strong blokes he’d commandeered for added mortification.

Picture posed by superior model

The second time was marginally worse, compounded by the added obstacle of a large rock which was effectively pivoting the car. I really don’t think you could plan a manoeuvre like that. If I hadn’t been crying with shame, I’d have been rather pleased. Needless to say Niall and the same two strong blokes were crying with laughter.

After the third incident I briefly contemplated fleeing the country(side) and changing identity rather than admit I’d got myself into another muddy mess. I really don’t know how it happened. One minute I was driving merrily up a dirt track, en route to deliver a Christmas card, the girls fighting happily in the back, then the next minute the car is aquaplaning across a river of mud, leaving us stranded in a squelchy field. Again.

My husband hinted that there might be something in my Christmas stocking which would prevent future muddy mishaps so naturally I started daydreaming about a brand new 4×4 purple range rover with a sound-proof seat divider** and built-in rear-seat automatic snack dispenser**. Picture my feigned delight when I unwrapped a fetching pair of bright orange wheel grip traction mats.

Is that Spring I can sniff or have I misjudged the Ariel™ again?

*©the worst kids programme ever commissioned
**seriously though, can this be invented NOW please?

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Road Trip

Me and the girls took a second trip ‘up the road’* last week. I’d blocked out the horrors of the last journey back and was genuinely excited about packing up the car and heading off, just three of us plus Elaine and Barbara for company. Once again my bubble burst, barely an hour in and too far from my planned stop in ‘Inverbloodyrary’. I don’t know what sets them off but the occasional whinge becomes relentless screaming that no amount of jelly babies or Dont Cry for Me Argentinas, can abate. I always say, if you can’t beat them up, join them and I managed to stun the little darlings into silence with a 120 decibel tirade if my own**.

20131016-220434.jpgWe got there in the end and it was a wonderful visit, full of special moments and lots of laughs and some penguins. To cut a long story short I shall summarise it in numbers:

Miles: 360
Jelly babies: tons
People, big and little: 26
Boozy girly nights out: 1
Boozy girly nights in: 1
Occasions that grandpa was coerced into playing a dog/baby/patient by Zoe: 54
Brand new alloys on spanking new car belonging to parents, badly scraped: 2***
Retail opportunities: 17
Pandas: 0

It was a blast but lovely to get back. There’s a point in the return journey, when you turn off the main road and you know there is still 20 miles of tortuous single track and the kids are building up to another meltdown but you don’t care because you actually are “NEARLY THERE YET”, and suddenly you are driving up the hill with The View at the top and there is the beach and the trees and the bridge and the gate and the avenue and the arch and the castle. And home.

*local speak for visiting civilisation or anywhere with a McDonalds
**a technique learned from my mother. See ***
***I don’t want to talk about it

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I decided to take the girls on a wee visit to BofA for a few days to catch up with parents, friends and Sainsbury’s. I was worried that it was too soon and I wouldn’t want to leave but I definitely feel like a visitor and that Torrisdale is home. Also, I couldn’t cope with the expansive aisles in Sainsbury’s and the plethora of choice and variety. I popped in for some bananas and spent £90.

Even the journey was better than I anticipated, despite a major breakdown 2 hours in. (Me, not the car). We all recovered with a half-way ice cream and some dog-snogging. (The kids, not me).
After that it was plain sailing but boring as hell as they fell asleep and radio 2 fell out of range. Must dig out some old cassettes for the journey home. I’m sure mum still has Elaine Paige and Baraba Dixon: The Hits.*

It has gone Very Well Indeed and has been lovely to catch up with people, including a couple of antipodean bonus extras. Mum and I have narrowly avoided a monumental clash a couple of times, but we did manage to keep a lid on it so there was no storming out and running down the street this time. We shared a very special moment watching a blind Japanese pianist play
Rachmaninov at The Proms – my late aunt’s favourite piece. It was very moving, up until the moment mum reached into her bag for tissues and pulled out a large cucumber**.

I do love her.

*Yes, it was news to me too
**it had been missing for a while, along with half an avocado which is worryingly still at large.

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