Monday, 14 August 2017

Welcome Home, Carenza

The train journey back from our lovely holiday in Orkney was a little melancholy.
But the gold at the end of the rainbow was that Carenza was returning home after three months’ solo back-packing in South East Asia.
I had never met anybody at an airport before and neither had Will.  My only experience was watching Love Actually far more times than I care to recount.  Will, who came too, had more experience – he had seen the Gavin and Stacey episode where they return from honeymoon.
“The Mum makes this stupidly huge banner, then she forces the Dad, who’s embarrassed, to hold the other end at the airport…….What’s that you’re carrying, Clare?”
“Um.  A banner.  I’ve rolled it up to make it portable.”
“Looks quite… large. How big would you say it was?”
“Kitchen table sized.”
To do him justice, when we reached Airport Arrivals, Will barely put up a fight as I placed the stick in his hand.  He also held up his own discreet and beautifully made banner.
Many people who came through the gate crowed with delight at the large pink banner.  Blonde girls seemed particularly to like it which was a good sign.
However, it clearly ruined some people’s day – those who were being met by relatives with less sizeable banners expressed their disappointment  resentfully.
For quite a long time we stood there at the ready. 
“I’m beginning to get banner burn.”
“Yep, my banner hand’s gone numb.”
But when Carenza finally arrived, the banner didn’t matter at all. 

After she had diplomatically expressed appreciation for our art efforts, we rolled up my banner , thrust it in the bin and went home with our girl.

Friday, 11 August 2017

When holidays end.

















Every night of our holiday we had been gazing out of the window at the ferry, moored overnight and glamorous with its lights on. It had added to the scene.
But this morning, when I looked out at the growing dawn, I realised with a shock that the ferry was actually there to take us away. In a sense, it had been all along.
Holidays are like that - hopefully you have such a good time that you wish it could go on forever. You begin to consider the local jobs market; slow down as you pass the windows of estate agents.
But however enchanting a holiday is, it will end. That's the very paradox which makes it so attractive.
I guess the only thing we can take back with us is our reflections.
I don't bother with New Year's resolutions, but at this time of year I do generally have a think about how to live more as if I'm on holiday even when I'm back in the daily grind. For me, it will probably be
getting my sketch book out more.
We'll see if I manage it.
And if I don't, well, property on Orkney did look very reasonable.
And I'm pretty certain I could retrain to work on a fish farm.


Monday, 7 August 2017

Tourist trap?

I've been  thinking a lot about tourism lately and the good it does versus the damage. 
Recently on Orkney we visited Maes Howe, the stunning Neolithic chambered tomb, where later, Vikings had left their graffiti. 
So often, I had pored over pictures and now I was about actually to enter the tomb.  Anticipation made my blood run faster.
We checked to make sure that no massive cruise liners would be disgorging their passengers on Orkney that day, then booked our half hour slot. 
We arrived fifteen minutes early, as instructed, and loitered in the gift shop full of tartan packs of shortbread and Celtic jewellery.  
By this time, the mystique had dissipated rather.  
As we waited,  I saw Pascoe trying out a virtual reality headset. It was for people who were not able to enter the tomb - not everybody could crouch down to get through the entrance passage. 
I tried it on.  I could see clearly the stone construction of the tomb around me.  Circles indicated where there were graffiti.  If I clicked on them it showed me the Viking runes and translated them into English. I could explore the tomb with an uninterrupted view
Why did we even need to go in, damaging it with our breathing and touching?

At last our turn was called, and a guide escorted us and sixteen others to the entrance to the green Telly-Tubby style tomb mound where swallows flittered round our head.
We crept along the lengthy passageway and the first thing I saw on entering the tomb itself was another swallow.  While everybody was assembling in the beautifully constructed stone chamber, I pointed out the swallow's nest to Pascoe, close by on the wall.  The guide said "Ah yes, those chicks are nearly ready to fledge."  As he spoke, the four young birds launched from the nest and whirled around our heads inside the ancient monument.
"Correction," said the guide, "The chickss have fledged."
Now a moment like that, I could never have gained from a VR headset.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

This is the life

I owed Perran a post exams trip. He chose Sofia. We broke our flying ban and went.
My objective was to live the high life. I wanted to come back with glamorous photos that looked as if I were saying "This is the life".
Only problem was that I was already completely wrecked from attempting to combine end of term lessons and admin with the London Summer School in Classics.
I managed the Roman archaeology and ancient churches, a slight sheen on my clammy forehead. I managed sitting in the many little parks staring blankly into space. I dragged myself around the controversial Soviet memorial. I enjoyed early evening cocktails, delicious Bulgarian dinners.
But then, when it was time to show what a cool and trendy Mum I was and to prove that I was not over the hill, I limped straight past all the bars desperate for my comfy hotel bed.
I was letting Perran down.
Until the third and final night. By eschewing the famous Bulgarian red wine and by simply inserting matchsticks to prop up my drooping eyelids I was finally able to stay awake through one cocktail at the Absolut Beach Bar.
Fairy lights and iridescent hearts twinkled in the lime trees. And a great live DJ mixed sounds. Perran looked at home. And for three quarters of an hour I felt like a grown up.
This is the life.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Beetroot crisps and kettle descaler

Didn’t get a coffee at church as I was on prayer duty after the service.  Arrived home gasping.  Delighted to find the kettle already half full of water, I flicked the switch, made two coffees.  The milk sank straight to the bottom.  That was odd – it couldn’t be sour as I’d only bought it yesterday.  Desperate for coffee, I took a gulp. 
Uuuuugh.
Should have spat it out, not swallowed it.
Vaguely, I remembered Nigel saying something about descaling the kettle.  After the last time I drank descaler, we had an agreement that Nigel would label the kettle.  Clearly he had reneged.
I drank lots of water.  Then a bicarb solution on the grounds that it was alkaline. 
More uuuuugh.
I rang 111 hoping for some sensible first aid advice. 
Apparently now was a good time to play twenty questions.  Was I breathing fast, bleeding from anywhere, in pain?  Somebody would ring me back.  Eventually.  I was busy throwing up when they finally did.
Cindy from 111 had a very comforting voice, but my confidence was short-lived - I had to spell the name of the descaler twice while she looked it up on her poisons database.  She put me on hold for a very long time and afterwards began calling the Kilrock descaler “Kilroy”.
Then she began the same game of twenty questions again.  Half an hour had passed and I had still received no sensible advice. 
“Tell you what,” I said, “Let’s say goodbye.  I’ll ring you back if I feel worse.”
In fact she rang me back. “When I looked Kilroy up on my database, it said you should go to A & E.”
Nigel calculated by how much he had diluted the acid and we thought we could probably take a risk.
So we went for the Sunday walk we had planned.  About a mile from the car, my gut was churning  and I had to race off into the undergrowth.  One of the twenty questions had been about whether I was passing any blood.  Now I looked down aghast.
Everything was red.
As I picked my way back to the path, I was wondering how I would tell Nigel I was dying.
Then I remembered – I’d eaten beetroot crisps the night before.

Tempted to fake that I was dying anyway – that’ll teach him to descale his wife.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Graduation

11.20 am
As I write this, we are sitting in nose-to-tail traffic on the M4.  Perran is to be in his seat in the Wills Building by 12.45 at the latest.  Before then, he must have picked up his gown and graduation tickets from the Richmond Building.  But our ETA is currently 1:40.  We have already abandoned hope of the photo session we’d booked.  And even when we get there, parking will be tough – we thought we’d left plenty of time, but apparently not.
There has been a crash ahead.  As callous human animals, we are measuring only the inconvenience to our own lives.  I force myself to say a prayer for those whose world has just been turned upside down by the road accident.
But then it’s back to us again.
This was supposed to be a carefree day, all dressed up in our best clothes, tipsy on sunshine, prosecco and happiness. 
And now Perran might miss his own graduation ceremony.

8.30 pm
On our way home now.  It has been a splendid occasion.
This morning, the traffic had started moving and our ETA dropped rapidly, like a tide of disaster ebbing. 
We rubbernecked at the wrecked Landrover.  The headroom was largely intact so we hope the passengers and driver survived.
In Bristol, the graduation ceremony was brisk yet meaningful, cleanly choreographed and garnished with homilies of good advice. Afterwards there was the pleasure of meeting the parents of Perran’s friends.
It rained heavily, which shouldn’t be allowed at graduation ceremonies, but we were just pleased to be there.  Even the rain made us happy.

And now it’s time to say a little prayer that we get home safely.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Last Bash

After exams finished Perran stayed in Bristol until the rent ran out.
We didn’t mind.  Those last days as a student are so precious.
Then home for a short space. Then off to Spain with thirteen friends for a week. And then we were expecting him home sometime Tuesday. 
The exact timing seemed vague.
I came home from one job and had a cup of tea.  He wasn’t home. I went out to another job; came home and began preparing dinner. Should I make some for Perran? Perhaps if I cooked something with the tomato sauce from the fridge… In fact I couldn't find the sauce. On the shelf where I had expected it to be was a can of beans I didn't remember opening. 
Nigel came in.
“Heard anything from Perran?” 
“Nope.  And I’m not sure if he’s even got his keys.  Perhaps we should just install an enormous cat flap in the back door.”
“I’m sure he'll turn up. I'm just off to change out of my work clothes.”
Then from upstairs he called sotto voce "Clare, Clare. " 
Mirroring his quietness, I tiptoed upstairs. 
There asleep, face down on his bed and fully clothed was our son.

Bless him.